AHQ: dressing the line

That’s the bit when they shuffle to and fro in close formation marching in order to ensure the line is straight.

Screen shot 2014-10-30 at 5.09.42 PMThere’s been a fair bit of line dressing under my sewing machine needle today, but the results are pretty acceptable if I say so myself. This pretty, floral and, let’s be honest, downright girly quilt features some tidy straight lines! I’m about a third of the way through the quilting. For a miracle, I haven’t uttered a single curse, drawn blood or had to unpick anything (so far, anyway!). This quilt is going to go out to its new owner full of positive vibes…

I hope I can finish it tomorrow; today has been filled with getting plumbers to quote for the 5 or 6 jobs that need doing round the house. I also have some GF baking to do for one of my customers first thing, so it’ll just be a couple of hours in the afternoon, when the Husband has his pre-night shift sleep.

More soon.

De-Stumped

The Botanic Gardens have come through triumphantly!

My mystery shrub/creeper is Burnie Vine, Trophis scandens, an Australian native endemic to the tropics in the fig family Moraceae which explains its ability to, on occasion,  strangle out other trees and shrubs. The birds love the ripe fruit and spread it far and wide, so despite the fact that I’ve given it a crew cut, it’ll spring back undeterred.

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The crew cut clippings. Just one or two, then….

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A perfectly nice little mandarin tree – I think – which was being strangled and now has light, air and nothing wound tightly around it for the first time in years.

It’s lurking in a part of the garden that hasn’t been cleared properly yet, so when I do finally get in there, clad in long pants and sleeves, boots and gloves, I will take it down to a stump. That’s if the green ants don’t eat me alive first… It’s going to be a sweaty and laborious process.

The plan is to remove the palms and lower branches, and raise the canopy of the large ficus a little so you can at least walk under it without leaves brushing your head. There are some nice shade loving plants under there which I’d like to expose a little. This area’s going to be in Chookonia, and the Girls will need some jungly shade to scratch around in and some shelter when the rain’s torrential.

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The jungle that’s waiting to be dealt with. There’s a fence at the back of that lot, about 3 metres back, and I need to find it!

I think I need to get the sprinkler out in the front yard; I was photographing ducks on the front lawn this morning, and now I look at the photo, the grass is looking a bit crispy. It’s a wonder they find it at all appetising. I like these birds; they’re Plumed Whistling Ducks, they don’t have that self-satisfied standard duck quack, they have quiet peeping voices, and they’re slender and a little more delicate in frame than most ducks. They hang around in groups of half a dozen or more, grazing on lawns in the area. What I really want is to get some magpie geese down on the ground, but they’re irresistibly drawn to the lake at the golf course over the road and fly straight over our heads.

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Whistling Plumed Ducks, all nicely lined up for morning inspection!

 

The Gnocci Gnostic

In case you were wondering, the dictionary has the following definition of Gnostic:

         “of or relating to knowledge, esp. esoteric mystical knowledge”

Now I know that normally speaking, gnocci would not be considered particularly esoteric or mystical, but I’ve always believed that making gnocci from scratch was exclusively for aged Italian nonnas, experienced chefs, or factories with huge machinery. Being none of those things, I’ve suffered the shop-bought stuff for years, first the gluteny jobs and now the much less satisfactory gluten free items.

But no longer. I have cracked the Hidden Knowledge of the Italian Nonna. Perhaps it’s something to do with age, or turning into a Grumpy Old Woman… Anyway I have just polished off the most delicious plateful, and feel compelled to share.

 Here we go. This recipe serves 4 generously unless one of them is exceptionally greedy.

There are 4 ingredients: 700g (1 ½lbs) floury potatoes, plain (all purpose) flour (the normal kind or GF, whatever you prefer), 1 large egg, generous pinch of salt.

Peel and cut up the potatoes, boil till they break apart when you stick a knife in. Drain immediately and thoroughly, and set aside till completely cool. When they’re cool, put them through a potato ricer, or mash them very thoroughly. Set a big pot of water to boil on the stove. Heap the mash up on a floured board, make a well in the centre, add the egg and the pinch of salt, and a half cupful of flour to start with. Bring it all together and knead gently. It’ll be desperately sticky and will adhere to your hands like chewing gum to the bottom of a shoe. Add more flour. Knead some more, add more flour, knead some more. Repeat until the dough is just dry enough that it doesn’t stick to everything and you can put it down again once you’ve picked it up. Pinch off a piece the size of the top joint of your thumb. Roll into a ball, flatten slightly, and drop into the boiling water. If it holds together and rises to the surface after a minute or two, you’re done. If it falls apart, add more flour, knead, and try again. There was no point in taking photos at this stage. It looks revolting and everything is white and blobby.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about as thick as a man’s thumb. Cut into 8 sections. Take each section and roll into a ball. Rock the tines of a fork across the top surface to make grooves (to hold the sauce; it will slide off smooth gnocci). Put the gnocci into a colander and tip gently into the pot of boiling water. Stir gently, just once. Wait. When all have risen to the surface, wait another minute, then drain, and serve promptly, dolloped with your favourite sauce. We had beef & tomato sauce with fennel and chilli.

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Divided potato dough. How would YOU have made it look interesting…?

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Roll it into ropes. It helps if your hands are floured.

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This shows the sort of size the little pieces should be. Make them too big and they won’t cook at the same rate as smaller ones.

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Groovy, baby!

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Totally gratuitous meat sauce shot…

The gnocci taste fresh and potatoey, not starchy and strange like the ready made ones. They’re tender but not mushy. It’s fiddly, but I reckon it’s totally worth the fiddling about.

Excuse me, I need a large nap. And I may not eat again for another few days, if then….

Yellow Bird

I’ve been messing about in the kitchen again.

This time, I’ve made an adaptation of a cake known to many of you as Hummingbird Cake, and recently featured by Jamie Oliver on the Comfort Food series. Obviously, mine’s gluten free, and I’ve made a few other adjustments too. So rather than pretend it’s ‘proper’ Hummingbird Cake, I’m calling it Yellow Bird Cake, after the tune they play on steel drums in all movies when they want to indicate a Caribbean setting. After all, what could be more tropical than bananas, pineapples and passionfruit? And these are the flavours of Yellow Bird Cake, together with dark brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of allspice. It’s filled and topped with a creamcheese and passionfruit blend which is delicious enough to eat by itself with a spoon.

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Probably the least glamorous cake shot of all time, but oh Lord, the flavour!

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This slice lasted ooh, let’s see, 10 whole seconds after the photo was taken and then it was GONE. The Husband’s slice lasted an extra 5 seconds….

Yes, alright, there are sticky crumbs and smears on my plate. And yes, I did fairly extensively lick the bowls and spatulas. And yes, the cake won’t win any prizes for looks because I went a little crazy with the topping and filling, so it’s extremely oozy, but it’s sooooo goooood!

Ingredients:

Cake:
350g (12oz) gluten free self raising flour (or use all purpose with 2 tsp baking powder)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
large pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
250ml (8 fl.oz) vegetable oil (I used olive, but sunflower or a nut oil would be nice too)
350g (12oz) soft dark brown sugar
4 small very ripe (even black) bananas, mashed
440g (15oz) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Filling/topping:
250g (8oz) cream cheese at room temperature
Pulp of 2 passionfruit (you can sieve it if you want. I didn’t)
300g (10oz) icing (powdered) sugar

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4/350ºF.

Grease and line the bottom of 2 springform 23cm cake pans.

Sieve and blend together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the mashed bananas, oil, eggs and pineapple in another bowl till thoroughly blended, then gently fold them into the dry ingredients until there are no dry bits or flour showing. Don’t over mix. Divide the batter between the two cake pans, and bake for 35 – 40 mins until golden and springy. Run a knife around the outside, cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on wire racks.

To make the filling, in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese till smooth, then add the passionfruit pulp and icing sugar, and beat until it’s just smooth. Refrigerate till needed – it will firm up a bit more in the fridge. You could consider adding the passionfruit pulp a bit at a time, in case yours are very large, you don’t want the filling to be quite as squidgy as mine… a firmer filling will be tidier.

When the cake halves are cool, sandwich together with the filling and spread the remainder over the top.

Then get stuck in!

 

Worth every moment

I just wanted to share this with you.

A while back, I made my first quilt for AHQ (Aussie Hero Quilts). We make and send quilts and laundry bags to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force without expectation of a response; they are, after all, on active duty and they have one or two other calls on their time. Sometimes, though, you either strike a chord with what you’ve done, or you strike it lucky.

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 5.09.41 PMThis quilt did both. Just look at that smile!

At times like these, I truly understand how much they enjoy knowing that someone other than their nearest and dearest is thinking of them. And it makes it all worthwhile.

Right, back to pinning together the latest one.

Morning tea in Paradise

We treated ourselves to the morning off.

By which I mean, we zoomed through the chores and deliveries, and then jumped on Miss Scarlett for a spot of therapeutic roaring around the countryside in the sunshine and fresh air. Our mission today was not only to get out of the house and away from all the jobs screaming for our attention, but also to rediscover a fabulous place for morning tea which we’d found when on an outing with friends from the British Vintage Motorcycle Club.

And find it we did. The Old Station Teahouse is a converted old wooden railway station building which has been set down in lush tropical surroundings, complete with huge trees, creepers, birds, flowers and shady verandahs. The lovely Michele very kindly agreed to share with me the recipe for one of the nicest cakes I’d had for a long time: Chocolate, Date & Almond Torte: exceptional and gluten free. The Husband of Chiconia wolfed down home made scones with fresh raspberry conserve and cream, and we also wolfed down some really good iced coffee. Oh, it was dreadful, and our suffering was extreme…. It’s a fabulous place, and I particularly wanted to find it again so that we can take future visitors there.  So any friends out there reading this: get your skates on and pay us a visit. I promise you won’t be sorry….

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And you have this just down the road at Cape Hillsborough. Copyright http://www.queenslandforeveryone.com.

I’ll be experimenting with the recipe soon, and when I’m done, I’ll post it. I want to play around with the texture and quantities a little first…

 

AHQ: stolen hours

Here and there over the last two days I’ve snuck an hour or two of stealthy sewing.

Generally it’s been a guilty pleasure, since I’ve known very well that there’s a long list of other, more constructive, things I should be doing. But bother the list. This is what I love to do, and if I could only find one or two bits of important equipment (the stitch ripper for example!), my pleasure would be complete.  I finally gave in and bought a reel of thread, since I couldn’t find the box that had the threads in it.

So here’s the almost complete top of the AHQ Scrumptious quilt. All the strips are now pieced together and the edges are trimmed. I have to measure it again, and add either white sashing round the outside too, or perhaps just the binding will be enough once it’s quilted. I reckon a couple more hours of solid work will see the top finished.

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 6.51.27 PMThe poor Husband of Chiconia is part way through 16 straight days of night shift, covering for a colleague who’s away. While he’s home and also awake, I’m trying to spend the time with him, since we have no off days together for a couple of weeks. This means not retreating upstairs to the sewing machine unless he’s engrossed in something else, and sadly the chores have made it clear they will not do themselves, so I’m not progressing as fast as usual with this quilt. On the upside, we have from time to time thrown responsibility to the winds and have taken off on Miss Scarlett, our Big Bike, for a little outing and adrenaline rush… All unpacking and no fun makes Kate a dull blogger.

On a completely different subject, we had a Willy Wagtail making free with the trickling water in Frogtopia. He had quite an extensive bath, shook off, had a bit of a shout about it, took another bath, and while this was going on, a Sunbird came to inspect proceedings as well. Both of the little darlings are helping to keep the place clear of insects, so are welcome. The froglets, of course, headed for cover while all this went on, knowing full well that the birds’ larger cousins are not averse to a spot of frog protein in their diet…

Right, back to the evening handwork, which is fast turning into quite a large number of EPP hexies in mostly black. I have no idea what it’s going to become, but until I locate the box that contains Steampunk, it passes the time.

More soon.