Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmaaaah-s

Merry Christmas!

From here

...and here

and here

and here


and here!

Thank you all for dropping by my humble little blog. See you all again soon, after a brief break!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Eye spy a bit of bling

OK, actually, that's a lot of bling. A whole entire shop of bling. This photo was taken earlier this year outside a shop in Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. Yes, everything in that shop window is literally covered in diamantes. We stuck our heads into the shop but it was just way too much bling for us, it was overwhelming.

Bling overload

Between all of the silver diamantes there is a a line from the Queen song, Bicycle Race written down the side: "Bicycle races are coming your way so forget all your duties, oh yeah". Crazy.

Thanks to Miss HB for choosing this week's theme and allowing me to reminisce about Tokyo weirdness, and to Cindy for hosting Eye Spy!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Onions make me cry

So I wanted to make these beautiful caramelised shallots that I had been oggling for months over at Smitten Kitchen. I thought this would be an easy task. I was telling a co-worker about this amazing recipe for roasted shallots and how excited I was to try it, and she asked me why on earth I'd want to roast shallots. She was thinking of...

... which is what I call a spring onion, and what other people call green onions or scallions. So I explained that I actually meant these shallots:

And it turns out what I call shallots are also called eschallots or French shallots... and there are also Dutch shallot varieties as well. But my co-worker thought that French shallots/eshallots were just baby onions, which are what I call pickling onions and are different again:

You can see why there was confusion...

So I had placed an order for shallots with my green grocer, before I'd had the conversation with my cooworker and I received:

Which is what I call a salad onion! Had I had the conversation with my cooworker beforehand, I would have asked for French shallots or eschallots. These onions are extraordinarily potent, and I decided since I had them and had nothing else to do with them, I would roast them up anyway.

The recipe says to roast them for ~30 mins, but I left mine covered at 180C for about 3 hours. They were absolute, melt in your mouth, beautiful roast onion heaven. Honestly though, I think it's cheating. If you roast anything in butter and red wine vinegar and honey (which I used instead of sugar) for 3 hours it's going to taste amazing. This Sunday we are having an early family Christmas with Gib's family, so I think I will have to recreate them. With eschallots. Or whatever you want to call them.

"The Birds" Barbie - terrific!

I was never ever a Barbie fan growing up. Nope, no dolls here (softies on the other hand...). However, as a teenager I got into Alfred Hitchcock movies and I love The Birds. So when I saw this Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" Barbie Doll over at Boing Boing I was quite thrilled. You know, I think this is the perfect role for Barbie. I'd even consider making this my first ever Barbie doll purchase. Love it!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Eye spy a burst of colour

Oopsies, a little late again. I guess it's just that time of year. Introducing my little robot tissue holder that my Japanese friend, Erika, and her family gave me. (Please excuse the dodgy, late at night, not-quite-adequate lighting in the photo, heehee). I love this little guy! He is one of my most favourite posessions. Unfortunately my robot tissue holder has been getting a bit of a work out lately as I have managed to catch a cold. But he definitely brightens up my drab computer area.

Thanks to Flossy-P for this week's theme, and to the lovely Cindy for organising Eye Spy... wanna join in?

Wrapping is totally overrated

I know wrapping totally makes a present special, and I think it's really cute and really appreciate it when other people go to the effort for me (I love that a lot, actually) but when it's the other way I completely lose inspiration. I apologise in advance to any family members who receive presents from me. In fact, recently I gave a friend her Christmas present in a green shopping bag.

Well, it's green. Surely that's festive enough?

I've been seeing all of these awesome bloggers get excited about wrapping and I've been feeling pretty bad about my apathy towards wrapping presents.

Laura over at Bugs & Fishes makes me feel ashamed

So I was very relieved to read Georgie Love's Ultimate Guide to Gift Wrapping: scrunch paper around it, and then sign it from your pet. I like it. It's good to know I'm not the only one.

Georgie Love knows where it's at.

It's tempting.

On the other hand, with certain people, I do tend to go over the top with wrapping. My dad is notorious for weird wrapping, and hates to wrap things unless it's in 100s of layers of paper, or in a giant boxe when you're giving them a match box. He's the master of wrapping things to look like what they are not. Or having little wrapped boxes that lead you around the house, or under the house, that give you a clue to where the next part of the present might be. Last year, Gib and I "wrapped" my dad's present in a wooden box that had to be unscrewed with an electric screw driver. And the wooden box came after about 5 layers of newspaper, and finally Christmas paper.

So I think I inherited my dad's wrapping attitude.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Another meme... from Bug and Pop

I'm not usually a meme person, so I'm not sure what has gotten into me of late. Perhaps it's that full moon that has been out and about lately. I saw this meme over at Mikes and at Cindy's blog. I thought it was cool too and would join in!

1. Were you named after anyone? Yes, Beth from Little Women (which I always find amusing, given my small stature). I have never read the book though.

2. Do you still have your tonsils? No, I got them out 2.5 years ago and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. All through my undergrad years I was perpetually sick with colds and chronic tonsilitis, always always tired. Since I've had them out my health and energy have increased by a gazillion percent. I have only had 4 colds since then!

3. Would you bungee jump? Erm, no. Two feet on the ground for me, please.

4. What is your favorite cereal? Porridge. Creamy porridge with fruit, like apricots. But in summer I'm a weetbix with a sprinkling of muesli type girl.

5. Do you untie your shoes when you take them of? No, I'm lazy. I don't untie them when I put them on either, unless I absolutely have to.

6. What is your favorite ice cream? If I have to go a traditional ice cream, then butterscotch. But my favourite is berry sorbet (not strictly an ice cream)

7. What is the first thing you notice about people? Their posture

8. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? How I always have to be go-go-go. I think I inherited that from my dad. The art of just chilling out is something I have never aquired.

9. What's the last thing you ate? Teddy bear biscuit and a cup of coffee

10. What are you listening to right now? The air conditioner in my office

11. Last movie you watched? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

12. What did you dream about last night? My two pet rats

13. What book are you reading? Well open in front of me is a book called "The Neurology of Eye Movements"... unfortunately not exactly light reading for a Sunday morning...

14. Summer or winter? Winter. Definitely winter. And how awesome is this wintery Melbourne weather in the middle of summer?!

15. Do you have any special talents? Not really. I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Speedy last minute snacks

It's that time of year when there's always people popping over or you need to bring a plate to some event somewhere. Here we have two recipes that I've made from stuff on hand and actually turned out well. Thankfully I remembered to write down how I made them so I can recreate them if necessary! I thought I'd better put them here, because the scraps of paper I wrote them on wont be so permanent (or so readily searchable).

Carrot & chickpea dip with pita bread dippers

I made this when I had eight people coming over and was concerned that I perhaps I don't have enough pre-dinner nibbles. So I whipped up a dip and crackers.
Bits in the fridge and cupboard:
1/2 tin chickpeas
2 carrots (you could use pumpkin or sweet potato)
Jar of tahini (although peanut butter would work too, I reckon)
Curry powder
Cayenne pepper
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

  • Steam 2 carrots in a steamer or microwave
  • Dry roast 2-3 tbsp curry powder (or to taste) and 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, dry roasted in a pan for 1 min until fragrant.
  • Blend together carrots, chickpeas, 2 tbsp tahini, 1 tsp olive oil, S&P and spices until smooth. Add a little water if it's too thick.
  • Meanwhile, take a piece or two of leftover pita bread, chop it in triangles, spray with oil and sprinkle with a little salt, bake for 5 mins in a hot oven or under the grill until brown and crispy (if you're using the grill, just flip them after a couple of minutes - and keep an eye on them!).

Super Speedy Savory muffins

Muffins always save me when I'm in a pickle. At 10pm last night I suddenly remembered I had a lunch to go to and had to bring something. The reason why I like muffins is because, unlike most baked goods, little precision is required. All of these ingredients were leftovers that I had in the fridge or cupboard. I didn't quite have enough milk, and didn't have any fresh, frozen or tinned corn, but did find a tin of creamed corn way up the back of the cupboard. The cream corn worked out really well actually and I think it's a great addition to savoury muffins. I'll have to remember that one in future! Oh, and muffins freeze well. How good are muffins?!

My muffins included:

2 cups self raising flour
1/4 capsicum (about 3/4 cup, diced)
3/4 cup frozen peas (it's all that was left in the packet)
1/2 onion (about 1 cup chopped)
1/2 carrot, grated, sqeezed with paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
1/2 tin creamed corn
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (I had soy on hand)
100 g butter, melted
3/4 cup grated cheese

  • Fry the onion in a little oil for about 5 mins until soft
  • Stir the onion, capsicum, carrot and peas into the flour
  • Combine the creamed corn, eggs, milk and cheese
  • Mix the wet and dry mix together until just combined
  • Spoon into 12 muffin pans. Bake at 200 C for 15-20 mins fan forced.


I spotted this Australian-inspired little meme over at She Has the Logic of a Puggle by Leah and thought I'd join in. Bold means I've done it.

1. Started your own blog.
2. Slept under the stars.
3. Played in a band.

4. Visited The Great Barrier Reef.
5. Stood under the stars in the outback, the real outback – think Uluru.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to the Gold Coast’s theme parks – anyone, you take your pick.
8. Climbed a mountain.
9. Held a praying mantis.

10. Sung a solo.
11. Bungee jumped, jumped out of plane, been paragliding or hang-gliding, hot air ballooning – you get the idea, you’ve been hundreds of metres about earth in a seemingly flimsy contraption.
12. Visited Melbourne.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
15. Had a child. Raised a child. Worked with children.
[I was a children's party host, and now I work with children]
16. Had food poisoning.
17. Been to the Snowy Mountains.
18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Visited the Brett Whitely studio in Surry Hills, Sydney.
20. Slept on an overnight train or bus.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Been backpacking.
23. Taken a mental health day.

24. Been buried in sand with just your head and toes sticking out.
25. Held a possum, kangaroo or koala – or any other native Australian animal.
26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Been in a fun run.
28. Been on the Blue Mountain cableway.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset. [Who hasn't watched a sunrise or sunset?]
31. Played, or watched, summer cricket.
32. Sailed, kayaked or canoed our beautiful waterways.

33. Seen the Daintree.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Visited an Aboriginal settlement or mission.

36. Learned a new language.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Toured the Sydney Opera House.
39. Tried rock climbing (indoor or outdoor), abseiling or just simple bushwalking.

40. Visit Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art.
41. Been to the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
42. Sunbaked at Bondi.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant.
44. Visited Broome.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance.
47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone fishing.
49. Seen Tasmania’s old growth forests.

50. Been to the top of Q1, on the Gold Coast.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.
55. Been in a movie.
56. Driven the Great Ocean Road.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class [in both senses of the word!]
59. Visited Norfolk Island.
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold Girl Guide biscuits.
62. Gone whale watching.
63. Got flowers for no reason.

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma. [I'm a difficult bleed, and a fainter... but I can take blood from you!]
65. Gone jet boating.
66. Visited Port Arthur.
67. Bounced a cheque.
68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favourite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Australian War Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.
72. Pieced a quilt.

73. Stood in Federation Square.
74. Been on the Murray River.
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Travelled, or climbed, over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Three Sisters at Echo Point, Katoomba.
80. Published a book.
81. Visited St Mary’s Cathedral, in Sydney.
82. Bought a brand new car.
[I don't think matchbox cars count...]
83. Been to Hermannsburg.
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible.
86. Visited Parliament House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox.

89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous. [I met the members of Deep Purple]
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.

94. Saved a pet.
95. Been to the site of the Eureka Stockade.
96. Swum in The Whitsundays.
97. Been involved in a lawsuit.
98. Owned a mobile phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.
100. Read an entire book in one day.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Cute jordy bag tutorial

The other day I mentioned that I was absolutely flat out sewing. I finished making Gib's costume and the pants were a success, however since I finished them last Saturday, Gib, the pants, a camera and myself are yet to be in the same room together for more than 5 minutes.

So instead I will share with you a little present I made for a friend in Japan this afternoon. I know I'm a little late for the post but I am hoping that it's quicker to post things to Japan than it is to the USA or Europe at this time of year! It took me about two hours from start to finish. That is, from choosing fabrics, taking calls from Gib who was bored at work, cutting it out, and sewing it up. I've been thinking looking at a few bag tutorials lately, but finally settled on this one for a square-bottomed lined bag. I really liked the shape of the bag and how it sat. The instructions were very easy to follow and I was very pleased with the result.

The overall size of the bag I made bigger by about 5 cm all over. I added a pocket to the inside of one side. I also made two straps instead of one (ok, that was an accident. I forgot to allow for the fact that I had increased the bag size and just cut the strap as the instructions said).

Ready for shipping to Japan, along with a bunch of Australian tidbits that my friend goes crazy for!

Eye spy something in my garden

Yes folks, I'm back from my brief blogging hiatus. My diary is full with Christmas catch ups and parties and shopping and sewing for Christmas... oh, and there's a PhD in amongst that too. I'm a little late on my Eye Spy post (I loved this week's topic, picked by the wonderful Ms Curly Pops), but Gib found this gorgeous beetle our front garden this afternoon. Just amazing to see one of these beetles in action. It's a shame my little point-and-shoot couldn't quite capture the brilliance of the green on his elytra.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Can't talk. Sewing.

I've got a few posts in the pipelines, but none finished. Have been literally flat out sewing! But to keep you amused in the mean time, here's some cute things I spotted over at Think Geek:

DIY bendable drinking straws...

Brownie pan: apart from all of the "even heat distribution blahblahblah" stuff, the feature I liked most about this pan was "Two delicious, chewy edges on every individual serving". Yum!!

I like the sound of this cook book. I'm intrigued by the possibility of cryogenic martinis (the concept itself, because I really hate martinis) and also edible origame... however I think I'll skip the DIY edible underwear, thanks.
Nerdy salt and pepper shakers. Neat! Here's the site's pepper explanation: "It would be awesome if we could put the entire makeup of peppers' flavoring agents on its container, however there isn't enough room for the more than 100 volatile compounds visible in ground black pepper"

Space invaders chopping board
. What more needs to be said?!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A fun way to shop

I hate Christmas shopping, but not when it's combined with a whole shop full of cute things to buy and "ginger beer, regular beer, sandwiches and more fun things"! Tonight is Mike's Christmas Shopping Shindig! See you there!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Eye spy... what I want for Christmas

I’m excited by Cindy’s new Eye Spy meme! This Christmas I am looking forward to having all of my wonderful family around (my awesome big bro is home for Christmas for the first time in 3 years!), reflect on the good health I’ve been enjoying and give thanks that I have a very comfortable, happy life. But this is what I’ve got my eye on...

This is my dear, bucket of $%@# car.
I really want it back on the road for Christmas.

The whole topic of my car is a bit of a sore spot for me. I bought it second hand from a friend of a friend for cheaps. When I went to re-roadworthy it, every time it was about to be booked it in to VicRoads something would go wrong, like a burst water hose, or dead turbo. About 6 months after it was finally roadworthied, the alternator died, but Mr Fix-it Gib was busy finishing his degree so there was some... delay... in fixing it. A few months after the alternator was repaired there was a problem with the oil pump (we didn't know it was that at the time), which quickly lead to the engine and turbo (again) dying. Since then, the car has been off the road for about 6 months while we've been getting the parts to replace it. It's not so much a cost thing as a time thing, because we and our super cool friend who loves rebuilding cars in his spare time can repair it so that keeps costs low. He just happened to be working on a spare CA engine, you know, for kicks in his spare time, and was happy to finish it off and plonk it in my car. Our crazy friend reckons it will be on the road by Christmas.

Gib and our crazy friend, fixing the car. Again.

I've thought about selling it (but who on earth would buy it in its current state?!), but when it's on the road it's such a beautiful car. I love my car to bits and we've been through so much together. And it's a matter of pride now. To be honest, I think this is going to be one of those times when in about 30 years I'll look back and laugh and say "Haha! Wasn't buying that heap of crap Silvia a poor decision? But wasn't it fun!". And I wont ever be able to give crap to my children for their odd car purchases. It is a freaking cool car though. When it's running.

I should mention that I don't actually use my car all of that often, as I walk to work or carpool with the family, and I'm fortunate enough to live within close proximity to shopping centres, good places to eat and a good train line. Its intention was to always be a weekend car.

But I still want my car back.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Deconstructing Dark Cloud's pants

For years Gib has yearned to have pants like Dark Cloud's from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In about a week he needs a costume for an event we are attending, so he's going as some sort of warrior, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to give them a go. I'm not aiming for his pants exactly, but a similar style.

The problem:

I've been trying to take still shots from the DVD and work out how on earth they made those pants look so damn cool. I thought it would be straight forward, but there are surprisingly very few shots of the pants at angles that make it easy for working out how they are made. It's been hard to work out whether there is more than one layer, or if its just folds because the legs are really wide, or if there's a split somewhere. I have thought that maybe they were constructed like hakama...

... or wrap pants ...

... or Thai fisherman pants ...

...and after watching and replaying various sections and replaying over and over again, it's still too hard to know. The best view of the pants in full was in a scene where Dark Cloud was cartwheeling down sand dunes in a fight scene, and the pants billow out in full. I'm pretty sure from that the pants are just one piece, and the things I thought were splits are just folds (but the fabric is quite fine, so it looked like it could be a separate piece).

The conclusion:

I have come to a workable conclusion (as in, I don't care if it's wrong, this is how I'm doing it) that the pants are massively wide fisherman pants made in 4 panels, and the extra layers in the legs are just extra pleats that tuck in at the front.


I took Gib down to Ziguzagu in Richmond and we picked up some beautiful hemp fabric that I've dyed black (or tried to. They are dark brown and still ok. My constant disasters when it comes to dying fabric can be left for another post!). I'm going to work with two patterns and nut out a pair of pants from there. They might turn out nothing like Dark Cloud's, but it'll be damn fun trying to make it.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Following from a random thought...

A while ago over at Sixteen Bluebirds, Fi said:

"Please tell me I'm not the only one who tries to pronounce the word verification letter-thingy? You know, "meddegxej" and "bxftsp" and stuff like that?"

Yes, I'm definitely in the school of people that tries to pronounce them too! And for some reason I've remembered that little post for all of this time. I remember it whenever I get an amusing verification word. But that post has popped into my head more frequently of late because it seems almost every single word these days seems to be less random and more... pronouncable.

So, for those of you out there who try to pronounce the blogger verification words: do you think they have become way more pronouncable recently?

It's like diabetes, but not

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Just a minute in... November

I spotted Jess' Just a Minute post and it reminded me to do mine! I missed last month's but I hope you will forgive me. This month has been a bit up and down: mostly up with a few downs, but I'm going forwards rather than backwards.

Discovering... about 2 hours ago that someone had tried to break into my car, presumably for a joy ride. I think this is one of the few times I can say that it's fortunate that my car's engine and turbo are dead, and the transmission is on its way out. I don't understand some people in this world.

The Silver Chair in the Chronicles of Narnia. Yep, still reading it. I like to pretend it’s because I’m savouring each book, but really it’s because am only capable of reading one or two pages of a book before falling asleep at night. PhD reading never ends, but that’s completely fine with me. My “new and exciting journal articles to read” pile is a bit monstrous now, but on the plus side, I’m finding don’t need to pause every sentence to check what the words mean.

Reflecting... on my decision to finally leave my dojo after 15 years and forge my own path in karate. It's nothing to do with karate politics or anything like that, just realising that my ideas have grown into something different to that of my instructor. One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and it was even harder telling my sensei I had to go. Honestly, leaving a dojo is worse than breaking up with a boyfriend. But I’m learning that sometimes it’s important to follow what heart tells you.

Learning... that my grandma has myeloma, which is a type of bone marrow cancer that affects plasma cells. I don’t see my grandparents all that often, but I’ve been making sure to get to the hospital and check that the doctors are treating my grandma well. It’s chronic and can be managed over the long term, but still, not the sort of news you want to hear.

Sewing... loads of things for Christmas (aprons, pot holders, wheat bags, other bags of all sorts) as well as some clothes for Gib. I’m feeling really inspired to sew right now, which is handy given how much I’m planning to get through before Christmas.

Enjoying... the sunshine, but also how it’s not revoltingly hot at the same time. Great weather for sitting on the veranda eating lunch or having a cup of tea, gardening and going for nice, long walks.

Eating... all of the delicious stone fruit that is just coming into season! There is nothing I love more than nectarines. Oh, and peaches, and cherries and apricots... mmm... and mangoes...

Photo by atomicshark

Thanks Jen, over at August Street for hosting Just a minute... what have you been up to this month?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Pickled onions are now pickling!

Ok, so to finish from yesterday...
  • After you have your nicely infused vinegar, strain it through some muslin and set aside.
  • Rinse and wipe down the onions using a clean towel to remove any excess brine. Pack your onions into sterilised jars (although part of me wonders why you bother sterilising the jar when you're about to add loads of vinegar to it, but I still do it anyway). I use the blunt end of a skewer to pack them in nice and tight, but I'm sure there's an easier way of doing it that I'm yet to discover. Remember, if you're using chilies, put them in first.
  • Pour the vinegar over the onions and fill to about 2cm from the top. I like to use a funnel to do this (that might sound obvious but I just tried using a ladel for years and I'd make a horrible mess). Optional: Add a few of the spices for extra decoration and to help the flavour develop, although note that sometimes you'll get a little bit of sediment forming from the spices if you do this.
  • Pop the lids on your jars and seal them. I prefer the water bath method myself, which I do in a very deep pot.
Et voila!

Wait at least two (but I always wait four) weeks before eating.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Time to get pickling!

Another thing I like to make for Christmas presents (and for myself) is pickled onions. I'm getting them done now because it's at least 2-3 weeks before you can eat them after they are in the jar, although I like to leave them for 4-6 weeks, just to be sure. I get a bit nervous at the thought of eating pickled onions that aren't quite fully pickled. Don't ask me why.

I think the secret ingredient in pickled onions is honey. It gives a lot more depth in flavour to the pickled onions. Oh, and the long, bright red chili. It makes the jar look really pretty and also gives the pickled onions a bit of kick. I've been making pickled onions annually for about 5 years now, and my recipe has adapted over time, but this is the one that I've used for the past 2 years and was the best yet.

Day 1: Brine the onions
  • 1.75 kg pickling onions, peeled, topped & tailed (roughly enough for 5 x 500 ml pasta sauce jars)
  • 150 g salt
  • 1.5 L water
Dissolve the salt in the water: it may need to be heated gently for the salt to fully dissolve. Add onions. Leave in the brine overnight (or two nights, if you run out of time on the first night, like me).

Day 1 or Day 2: Make the spiced vinegar

Make the spiced vinegar. I prefer to make this the same night I cut up my onions, to allow the spices to really infuse through... and also because I am lazy and like to just make it and pop it in the fridge and forget about it. You can make it the following day, just remember to allow the vinegar and spices to infuse for at least 2-3 hours. Use whatever vinegar you like: I use a combination, generally because I don't have enough of just one type lying about the house. I do like to add at least a cup of apple cider vinegar give it a slightly sweeter flavour and because it gives the vinegar a nice golden colour, which contrasts beautifully with the red chili and white onions. For a few years I used the honey from my friend who was a backyard apiarist, but unfortunately he moved interstate, so now I just use whatever rich flavoured honey I have on hand (leatherwood or similar).

  • 1 litre white vinegar
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 15 g all spice
  • 15 g coriander seed
  • 10 g black peppercorns
  • 10 g mustard seeds
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup honey (or to taste)

Heat all ingredients to boiling, cover, simmer for 15 mins. Allow to cool and infuse for 2-3 hours at least, or overnight.

Day 2. Packing and pickling

You'll have to wait until tomorrow for the next installment. I'm actually putting the onions and vinegar into the jars later tonight because I realised I wont have enough time to finish them tomorrow, and leaving it til Thursday to jar them up is a bit much (I love pickling because it is flexible, but I think I'd be pushing there boundaries there!). When I'm done I'll be too tired to post, but it builds the excitement anyway... in case there are any of you out there who also get excited by pickled onions!

People who know how to make freaking awesome pie dough

I don't make or even eat pies very often (they're a little rich for me and I need to keep a bottle of Mylanta handy afterwards!), but when do, I want the dough to be freaking awesome. I am usually inspired to bake a pie when there is a large gathering and I need to bring a plate, so basically when I'm out to impress. But there's a definitely a knack and the books make it sound so easy. Like sponge cake recipes. And I've made plenty of crap pies while trying to impress!

I've found two great tutorials for making pie dough though: one that uses a mixer, and the other that swears by hand mixing.

  • Smitten Kitchen, one of my all time favourite food bloggers, recently posted a follow up post on how to make really flakey pie dough. The original, easy to follow, fool proof pie crust tutorial can be found here. I have to say, I'm completely with her on the no-shortening thing (I hate the taste and texture). The combined tips and explanations from both of these bloggers has helped my confidence immensely when it comes to pie making.

I know there are probably a gazillion more posts out there on how to get the perfect pastry, but these two have given me the most help and inspiration, and have yielded the best results, so I haven't bothered to look further. Having said that, if you've got any tips to share I'd love to hear them! I love having little collections of ideas on a topic!

Tomato and onion tart by Beyond Salmon

Friday, 21 November 2008

A gardening confession...

This is going to sound incredibly lame, but I hate getting my hands dirty. I hate getting dirt under my nails. I hate my hands feeling dry and dusty (my skin is actually prickling at the thought). Worse, I also hate the feeling of those cheap, nasty $2 leather gardening gloves too, because they also leave my hands feeling dry and dusty. It's gotta be the super dooper soft cloth inndards with the super tough plastic coating ones for me - ultimate for ripping out that freaking periwinkle.

A person who loves gardening but hates dirt. And nasty gardening gloves. Crazy, hey?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Curse of the periwinkle

This is a bit of a work in progress in the garden at the moment. We're trying to clear the backyard of blue periwinkle. Blue periwinkle, like the innocent looking and very popular arum lily, is a noxious weed in these parts and notorious for seriously choking up the local waterways. It just sort of arrived in the backyard and proceeded to take over. Probably about 1/4 of the whole garden is covered with the stuff - and it's not a big backyard.

From the top

From the bottom

I really should have taken a before photo, but I got so into ripping it out that it totally slipped my mind, so just imagine that all of that dirt area was covered with blue periwinkle. It's a pain to clear because it grows in tight nodes and you have to rip out the roots or the fragments just grow back.
"Spreads locally mainly by stems that root at nodes. Seed is apparently rarely produced in Australia. Long distance dispersal occurs via stem fragments and crowns dispersed as garden waste or by water."
But we're slowly getting there. It's all down the side of the house as well. Our very ambitious Grand Ultimate Plan is for the plants in our garden to be indigenous, or at least native. It's amazing how quickly extra birds and pretty butterflies come through the backyard just by adding a few more local plants. There are a few remnant patches nearby and there are local parks and waterways, maintained by local environmental groups, that we're getting some inspiration from.

We have a few ferns leading down to the backyard (the property is on a hill) and we thought it would be totally awesome to have bracken (Pteridium esculentum) growing in the more dry parts of the backyard, to keep the continuity in the backyard and because it's indigenous. Although I have no idea where to get bracken - you can't just buy it because it grows from spores and doesn't take so well to transplantation. And strangely enough, many people think it's a weed (mostly stemming from farmers' dislike of it because it makes their cattle ill) so there are many websites on the struggles on how to remove it (once the spores are settled, it's hard to remove), but not how to get actually some in your backyard.

Failing on the bracken idea, we might just trawl the list of indigenous plants supplied at Kuranga and see what we can buy.

Monday, 17 November 2008

This is... my favourite thing from nature

Even though I put forward the topic this week, I actually had no idea what my favourite thing from nature was! However, after much thought, I realised that my interest was very broad and could only be reduced to this: Australian bushland.

Courtesy of wikipedia

There are the muted greens, the dryness of it all, the variation in shapes in the foliage. Then there are the coastal bushes too, with their fat, furry leaves. When I was young, I never ever tired of long family car trips with miles of dried grasses and eucalpyts. As I got older and learned a little bit about native plant physiology (it always comes down to physiology and "how stuff works" for me), the bushland that I had loved as a kid suddenly had a new level of awesomeness. Like learning how the odd features of coastal plants, like their furriness, help them to survive. Or why eucalypts suddenly sprout leaves from their trunk after fire - and look pretty silly - was because of a fascinating process called coppicing, where buds under the surface of the trunk suddenly sprout to compensate for the leaves lost in fire. Actually, all of the eucalpytus' adaptations are pretty cool. It's combined beauty and function makes it a never ending source of fascination for me.

Thanks to Three Buttons for letting me choose this week's theme, and for hosting This is!

Gardening bag - finished!

Well it took me about half an hour to finish off the bag after my frustrations from the other night. I have to say, I was rather pleased with the outcome and may even make one for myself. I hope my cousin who I'm giving it to for Christmas likes it. It has lots of spacious pockets for spades, forks, gloves and fresh flower cuttings. But I reckon it'd make a great bag just for taking out and about too, like for a picnic.

Very straight-forward to sew. Approximate time to make: 3-4 hours.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Gib and I are celebrating our 3 year anniversary today! Hooray! Um, it means I'll be a day late in doing my This is... post (my first late one!) and in showing you all the photos of the gardening bag. But I can assure you they will totally be worth the wait (maybe)!!

I could gush for hours, but I wont. I think this photo pretty much sums us up.

Friday, 14 November 2008

A 15 minute powernap could save your sewing

I should know better than to sew late at night, and especially after a glass of wine. But yet, I still decided to roll with it, eager to get a Christmas present out of the way. I am making a gardening bag for my cousin, from Lotta's Simple Sewing book. At one point, right before I was going to stitch the handles in, I was feeling a bit smug, thinking "Oh wow, I can't believe I have almost finished this bag without having made a mistake yet!". And then I tried to work out why the lining was fitting awkwardly. And then I realised that I had sewed the base in sideways. I have no idea how that happened. Not a biggie, but still frustrating. That's the point where I threw it down on the table and walked away. I probably would have continued had I not been so smug the whole evening about how well I was doing, getting everything right.

If you drink, then sew, you're a bloody idiot

Take a break, fatigue kills your sewing skills

Overall though, like all of Lotta's patterns, even though this is one of her more complicated patterns, it is still very straight forward. There are a few bits where you have to make some pleats, and really that's the most complex part. And again, her time estimates were spot on (or would have been had I not sewn the base in sideways).

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

This week's 'This is' theme!

Ooh I was stoked to be asked to name this week's This is theme. Over the past week or so I've been hanging out in the garden, heading down to the beach to enjoy the warm weather, listening to fruit bats arguing in the trees. There are the big things, like clouds and oceans, and little things like bugs and flowers, and I find thinking about them as a whole is very humbling. So with that in mind, this week's theme is:

This is... my favourite thing from nature