Juggling

Another word for busy with no tangible outcome!

I have lots of things on the go, I’m actually quite busy, but nothing really post-worthy on its own, which is why the photo is pretty random – we took doggo and a picnic to the newly-developed Riverside leisure area in Mackay for a bit of a change. Beautifully done: loungers, tables and chairs and benches under cover, very nice amenities, ample rubbish bins, and best of all, a couple of free filtered-water dispensers for people and doggos. We’ll be going back again soon.

The entire central panel of the Delft quilt is now entirely stitched together, a mammoth undertaking. I’m currently cutting borders/ working out what I want the corners to look like, preparatory to taking the project away with us when we go travelling at the end of January, as handwork. Stitching the hexie edges onto the straight border should be challenging, as well as tedious time-consuming. It’s easy for things to get puckered and bubbly if your stitch tension is too tight.

I’m making a skirt out of a thrifted pair of pants. It’s a work in progress… If it works, I’ll show it.

I made a work apron out of a pair of the Husband’s old work pants. More on that for ScrapHappy Day on the 15th.

I made a waterproof iPhone hiking pouch for a friend. Fold-over press-stud top for waterproofing, and zippered bottom for quick access.

I made a set of 3 ‘feminine hygiene’ kits for a young lady of my acquaintance who is going to need them soon. Ecologically friendly, washable, comfortable, colourful, practical, discreet, and nothing to landfill or the sewage system.

The red kurta is still on Rosita, my dress form. I have opened out the side seams and basted in muslin panels to act as patterns for the eventual final inserts. And there it has stopped. For now…

I have a green silk thrifted top that is waiting to be altered with a patterned silk insert. It’s a gorgeous colour, but as an occasional-wear item it’s not high on the To Do list.

I just finished making a set of napkins from some beautiful French red and white striped linen. I wanted super-large ones (nearly tea towel-sized), and you just can’t buy them that size.

I carved, vacuum-packed and froze the rest of our Christmas ham. I made pea and ham soup from the bone and smallest scraps. The shells from 2kg (4 pounds) of prawns are still sitting in a bag in the freezer waiting for me to make a stock from them for a bisque. The soup I made from the two chicken carcasses is almost history already. And that’s the end of the Christmas leftovers.

I am 3½ pages into the instruction book for my latest miniature kit. The booklet is 24 pages long… The kit is a surprise gift for someone, so I’m not going to be showing any pictures, but it’s one of the most content-intensive ones I’ve seen, so there are literally dozens of pieces to make for it. And I’m on a deadline. Why do I do these things to myself? Oh yes, because it’s heaps of fun!

And finally, we gave Miz Lizzie the caravan (travel trailer) a major bath and beauty treatment. After years of restrictions, we are finally getting ready for an out-of-state 1400km/870 mile trip down south to Nambucca Heads in northern NSW, where the Husband and I will both celebrate birthdays with friends and family. Miz Lizzie is looking very clean, shiny and spiffy. She will shortly be off to visit the caravan repair yard, to have two more inline bilge fans fitted to her new air conditioning system to help the cold air shoot out faster. The new system couldn’t be fitted in the old location due to size, and the new ducting is much longer, so the built-in fan loses efficiency and the cooling is reduced. We fitted one in-line fan at home to test whether it helps. It does, so she’s off this coming week to get the rest of the work done before we go away. I hope it gets done fairly quickly, as we had to strip the interior to get at the relevant ducting, and it all has to go back in again before I can clean and start packing!

So, as you can see, my comparative radio-silence has not been evidence of idleness, but rather of too many irons in the fire and not enough completion.

So clearly, my word for 2023 will continue to be FINISH.

Practice run

I did a little pre-Christmas baking.

I wanted to see if I still had enough manual dexterity to decorate a batch of gingerbread people. I think I’ve still got it – what do you think? I started by added gold candy stars, but moved to red and white mini candy canes when I ran out. I think I prefer the gold stars… maybe time to get some more, for the next batch?

We had the SILs around this morning to strategise Christmas day catering. They were happy to help us with our slight excess gingerbread problem… Thankfully, Christmas is going to be nice and simple; the Dowager will be on a cruise, so everyone else will be happy with a buffet meal, but lunch (rather than dinner) was preferred so that some of the younger members can spend time with other family in the evening. It means we probably won’t eat on the deck, as it’ll be just too hot at that time of day, but we have enough comfy chairs for inside, and doggo will have to give up his sofa just for the day… There will be lots of reproachful stares and starvation impersonations, but so long as there’s a steady stream of treats and bits of chicken, he’ll cope.

So far, my catering is limited to roasting a couple of chickens, carving some ham, making a salad and some cupcakes and arranging stuff on platters and in bowls. I think I can cope with that, and anything else I want to add is a ‘nice to have’ and not necessary.

Now, that sounds like a restful Christmas!

Contentment

I do love a peaceful potter in the back yard.

It’s been a good day. Nothing hurt, I made progress with the sewing, and I finally tried out a recipe I’ve been looking at for a few days. Chicken Mushroom Strudel from this YouTube video. I made my pastry strips wider as I was in a hurry, but I don’t believe it looks too bad, maybe not as elegant as his, but certainly extremely tasty!

It’s easy once you have everything assembled and ready to go, and the recipe doesn’t need anything complicated.

I found this little thing on the grass under my callistemon tree. It’s been windy today, and I think the unused nest simply came adrift and alighted gently on the grass, unscathed.

It’s a woven work of art, incorporating grasses, paper, fluff, leaves and hair.

Food growing. The first tiny tomato is showing itself, the lettuces are growing strongly despite the early heat. It helps that I have things in shade after about 11am or everything would boil alive.

The stem of Ducasse bananas is finally filling out. Instead of looking as if they’re carved from wood, all sharp angles, they’re filling out nicely and in this heat it won’t be long until I can cut the stem to hang in the garage to ripen fully. After that, I can chop down the two largest banana plants and let the new growth come through to fruit next year.

Roses. I don’t know how they manage in this humidity, but this lone bush has been pushing out the pretty creamy yellow and pink flowers for months now. Anyone have any idea what it might be called?

The Girls are still cranking out tasty brown cackleberries at full strength.

They get several hours of fresh grass and insects each day in a different shady spot each day and it certainly shows in the egg quality and colour.

We couldn’t possibly keep up with the output, and today, I exchanged half a dozen for a bag of vibrant red medium-sized chillis. Not sure of the variety, but I think they probably aren’t hugely hot given that they come from the garden of 96 year old Wal over the back fence. I shall turn some into paste for the fridge and some will be dried and ground into chilli flakes.

And now, back to my needle.

A very local economy

It’s about as local as it can get.

I have free range chooks, who lay 4-5 eggs a day. They eat grass, grubs, weeds, kitchen scraps and organic free range layer grains. That many eggs is too many for just two people, even having eggs for breakie every day. So my neighbours across the back fence and I have a good deal going. They have a tomato glut just now (mine aren’t anywhere near ready yet). Every few days, I put half a dozen eggs in the basket on the back fence. Every few days, I get tomatoes back, and if they have none just then, they pay me for the eggs.

Today was tomato day. These are the interesting ones. The regular tidy ones have gone straight into the fridge to be sliced for salads and sandwiches.

These are sliced, drizzled with garlic olive oil, seasoned with oregano and chicken salt* and baked at 180°C for 45 minutes. And to make good use of the oven while it’s on, I’m also doing a tray of sweet potato wedges, also oiled and seasoned with chicken salt and smoked paprika. I shall probably have some of the tomatoes and wedges with a poached egg and some salad for lunch. Eggs and tomatoes are a marriage made in heaven in my opinion.

All grown within 20 metres of each other and my house. Local.

*Chicken salt is an Australian thing. You put it on your hot chips (french fries) and anything else that needs a salty boost. It consists of salt, ‘chicken flavour’, paprika, onion, citric acid, garlic, rice flour, pepper and celery seed. Just like regular salt, only much more interesting!

Fast, and too fast

First, the fast.

Well, they make quite a big piece.

Considering this is the idle handwork of a 2 week holiday, that’s quite the size, wouldn’t you say? It’s not like I was doing it all day, every day, but once I get started it’s virtually automatic and I don’t have to pay attention. I need to start cutting into that new piece of blue fabric, and also make a start on some of the more scrappy pieces I have. There are two scrappy flowers in this layout so far, where each petal of the flower is a different fabric, but a few more will leaven the mix. I also need more pink hexies for the flower hearts; currently I only have gingham ones and I feel the need for more variety. I also have a few scraps for the lighter blue divider hexies, so I should probably get those made up and tidied away.

And now, the too fast.

Before we went away, I hung a stem of Ducasse, or sugar, bananas up in the garage to ripen slowly. You pick them when they have filled out, but are not yet yellow, and hang them somewhere cool. They ripen slowly and out of the reach of fruit bats and birds, and you can cut off a hand at a time.

Well, the weather has turned warm, the garage is warmer and the little bananas are ripening fast. So I’m offering them left and right to the neighbours. But we’ll still end up with too many to keep up with, even if I have peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch every day for a month and send the Husband to work with them.

What’s worse is that there’s a whole other stem out there, which hasn’t yet filled out but which will surely follow suit now that the temperatures are rising. I shall have to make large batches of banana bread and freeze them. I find dried banana too sweet.  Anyone out there have a tasty recipe for something other than banana bread/muffins which will help me use up my unmanageable excess?

Oh, the hardship of life in the tropics…

Storing up gold…

I have had a plethora of passionfruit.

My own vines are still too tiny to produce, but all around the neighbourhood, there are green globes hanging in great profusion from passionfruit vines. Often, as the fruit ripens, it lies unattended and unwanted on the ground for the birds to attack. There are just so many, and when they fall outside fences or on the verge of the roadside, I pick them up and bring them home. When I have enough, I hoard the resulting gold.

The fresh pulp produces the most intensely coloured and flavoured juice when you have sieved out all the pips. I had 150ml, just enough for a small jarful of passionfruit curd.

Experience has taught me that home grown eggs just have too much flavour for the classic curd recipe of fruit juice, sugar, butter and egg yolks; the mixture ends up ‘eggy’ if you use enough eggs to set the mixture.

So I added 75g caster sugar, 3 tblsps cornflour (corn starch) and a tiny pinch of salt to the juice, stirred constantly in a small pan over low heat until the mixture thickened, cooked it for a further 5 minutes, still stirring, and then added a tablespoon of cream at the end to enrich it. You could also use unsalted butter or coconut cream instead; the former will give a more ‘classic’ flavour, the latter a hint of tropical yumminess. It’s a little runny when warm and just made, but sets up firm in the fridge after a few hours.

This stuff is dynamite. It’s intense, tangy and vivid on the tastebuds. Some of the passionfruit weren’t 100% ripe and the acidity is just what is needed to prevent the mixture being dulled by the starch. Dessert tonight is a tablespoonful stirred through a small bowl of Greek yoghurt. Just heaven.

It won’t keep, so I’ll have to eat it quickly. Oh, the hardship…

Autumn colour

Melbournians all wear black.

It’s not a rule, it’s just that they do. And it seems the city itself produces an antidote to all this urban cool by going just a little crazy with the autumn colour.

We were meeting at The Terrace café at Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. My friend Ann and her husband were due to join us, but he wasn’t well, so that will have to wait for another day. However, I did get to catch up with two family members and Chippy came with us, so it was still a fun outing. Hot soup and toasted sourdough and hot chocolate on a cold day are really good!

Afterwards, we walked through the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens to get back to Flinders Street Station (both to shake down the lunch and enjoy the spectacular views), waved the young rellies off and piled into the train to get home to warm up.

That evening we went out to eat. Chippy is a wonderful cook, but we were looking for an excuse to eat out, so curry it was…

Dosas with a butter chicken filling and a trio of dipping sauce, gravy and chutney, so good. And of course, eaten with the hands for the authentic experience.

We did dress up a little too much for the venue, I’ll admit, but Chippy and I enjoy a little Indian-style glamour. Black and gold for her, pink, orange and navy for me!

Today, we’re meeting Lucy again for lunch. She’s flown up specially from Sydney, so it would be a shame not to make the most of it. But first, I’m spoiling myself with a pedicure whilst the Husband reads the papers and enjoys a cup of coffee.

Life is hard, but someone has to do it!

3,287 days

We have been married for 9 years.

Some people were dubious at the beginning. We hadn’t known each other long at all, we lived very far apart, had very different lifestyles and backgrounds. But we knew. And we weren’t spring chickens any more, and, well, carpe diem and all that.

I think older people have learned the art of getting along, of not insisting on being always right, or in charge, or better. We have arguments, like everyone, but resolve them before going to sleep at night. We express our issues instead of stewing, or believing that the other should be able to read our mind, or ‘just know’. In short, it has been, and continues to be a successful and happy marriage.

So yes, it was very recently our ninth anniversary, and although the Husband was on day shift on the day itself (and therefore required to go to bed at 8.30pm), we decided that yesterday was a suitable substitute.

And I had planned and hoped and worked to be able to get into the dress in which I got married. And dear reader, I did!

I think it’s going to become a tradition, to wear it at our anniversary dinner. Just because I can.

The Husband was going to go for the full wedding outfit too, but I persuaded him that he was OK to go rather more casual, and he just wore the shirt, tie and shoes.

We got married beside this pool, then walked into the restaurant (on the right) and had a smashing lunch.

We went to the venue where we got married (The Ocean International), said hello to the manager (Hi, Hannah!), with whom we’ve remained friends ever since, and had the most delicious dinner. Listen to this:

Seafood Assiette: Seared Shark Bay scallops with panko and black sesame seed crusted chicken livers, truffled cauliflower purée and salmon roe. Poached prawns and avocado salsa, salsa verde and seafood remoulade. Citrus, peppper and polenta dusted calamari, radicchio salad with finger limes and bush tomato.

I mean, it sounds complicated, but it was fresh, and light, and zingy, and flavourful and not at all heavy or filling (and was extremely diabetes-friendly).

The dessert?  Not so much….

I had the Black Forest dessert (mainly because it was lactose free). I wasn’t sorry I chose it.

Disks of squidgy choc fudge brownie, layered with whipped coconut cream and preserved sour cherries, decorated with a strawberry and edible flowers.

Not light, not at all diabetes-friendly, but totally yummy. And I finished it, although it was a teeny bit of a struggle by the end!

Oh, and I had a glass of champagne. I haven’t had any alcohol for nearly a year, and it went straight to my head, in a nice way.

We had a lovely, lovely evening. I’m looking forward to the next 9 years!

A Notable Brisket

We splurged a little recently.

There’s a local grazier, Note Park Grazing, who raises beautiful grass-fed, hormone-free Brangus beef cattle just 20km/12 miles down the road, so he’s about as local as it gets. He sells both online and out of a refrigerated van which is parked at various local sites on different days of the week on a schedule, and he does a roaring trade. One thing I like about him is that he sells the whole cow, not just the pretty bits, so you can buy organ meat, ribs, stock bones, oxtail, beef cheeks, etc, and also prepared foods such as pastrami, salami, jerky, magnificent pies, sausages, and so on. (He also does ‘beef events’ at his property a few times a year, and we’re hoping to catch the next one, but I digress). We bought a few things from him, including a 4.2kg/ 9lb4oz beef brisket. The meat comes vacuum packaged, with the date and weight on it, and while it’s not cheap by supermarket standards, the meat is of such super quality that I don’t mind a) paying a bit more and b) eating a bit less! I also like that I can recycle the plastic vacuum packaging.

So, since the two of us can’t eat a 4.2kg brisket in one go between us, I had to break the brisket down and repackage it. We’d recently bought a Food Saver small domestic vacuum packing machine* because I hate food waste and if I get my vegie garden going properly, I want to be able to preserve the food rather than let it go bad. It wasn’t expensive and will pay for itself over time.

So I got to work.

The result was four portions of brisket. After trimming excess fat and removing most of the membrane, I cut them according to the thickness of the meat so they’d cook evenly: weights approximately 800g/ 1lb12oz, 900g/ 2lb, 1.1kg/ 2lb7oz and 1.2kg/ 2lb9oz. The latter is in the oven as I write, and I’ll have to remember to take a photo of the finished thing before we dive on it like a pair of wolves. Any photos of this bit are a triumph of posting over greed…

Succulent is too paltry a word… You could carve it with a spoon. And those potatoes are practically fondant in texture.

I made a dry rub to add flavour before I put the meat into the bags (which is why there’s a dark red/orange tinge to the meat. The recipe is one I’ve used several times before, and posted about most notably on my Pulled Pork. I make a lot of the rub up in advance and keep it in a jar for occasional use. This big piece of meat demanded a fresh batch, so that’s what I did. The vacuum will push the rub into the meat so over time the flavour will infuse the meat  and the briskets will be exceptionally tasty when we finally come to cook them.

I generally cook brisket placed on a layer of potatoes, in a Römertopf clay pot set in a cold oven. The heat is then turned to 160°C/320°F and for this piece, the 1.2kg, I’ll cook it for 5 hours. It would take a bit longer done conventionally, say at least another couple of hours. If your oven is a bit hot, lower the temperature a bit more. The smaller pieces would take even less time. It comes out of the pot meltingly tender and tasty, with most of the fat rendered out, and lots of delicious beef broth underneath it. The potatoes will be falling apart, but they are mainly there to act as a trivet under the meat so it doesn’t boil in its own juice, and the Husband will snarf them down anyway. The dry rub will have imparted a delicious smoky-sweet-savoury flavour.

I thank the contented, well-fed and gently raised steer that provided this delicious food… 

*Everyone calls them Cryovac® machines, but that’s a brand, so I’m avoiding it since my machine isn’t. It’s like calling a vacuum cleaner a Hoover, I suppose…

Christmas cookies

My first venture back into baking…

I stopped baking when I got the diabetes diagnosis. It just wasn’t safe to expose myself to any quantities of tasty baked goods, as my willpower, initially at least, wasn’t up to the challenge. The Husband, a true saint, backed me up, and has willingly sacrificed his own access to the good stuff in order to support me in losing the excess weight and maintaining my blood sugar at safe levels.

Seven months down the line, I’m able to control myself! So it was time to do some seasonal baking for the benefit of the Chiconi Fam, who came for Christmas lunch. No need to impose my dietary restrictions on them… Everyone got a little carton with five bickies to take away afterwards. Tasty, but not a sweet overload.

The red velvet cupcakes with white frosting and sprinkles were fine, but nothing spectacular, so I’m not bothering with them. The bickies (cookies to my American/Canadian friends) are another story. I haven’t baked bickies/cookies much, aside from my default, 20-minute start-to-finish Peanut Butter Cookies. But I saw this recipe on the Emmy Made YouTube channel, and wanted to give it a try. Y’all should give it a go, it’s a winner.

Ready to go into the oven. Top left to bottom right: spice thins, jam drops, raisin, peanut butter and double chocolate

You make a Master Dough, to which you subsequently add a variety of flavourings for different variants. It’s a smart, time-saving idea, and it works really well. I made her suggested variants except for one, and tried one additional option of my own.

The dough is delicious, versatile, well-behaved and forgiving. It’s not too sweet, and is yummy enough to eat raw, if you’re not concerned about raw egg (which I’m not). It cooks up quickly and responds well to both dry and oily additions.

Plus, Emmy is such a delightful, funny and inspiring presenter, and makes me laugh out loud at least once every time I watch her, whether she’s testing a recipe or trying some weird food. Worth a visit, people!

And in case you’re wondering? No, I didn’t have any bickies! 😇