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! 😇

Having my cake AND eating it

Cake has not been a thing for me for ages

Well, diabetes does that to you. And I love my cake, and I miss it, although I do concede that my sweet tooth has diminished considerably. I tried baking with artificial sweetener, but the amount required resulted in that, ahem, unfortunate side effect they warn you about on the packet when you eat too much sugar-free anything… Plus it didn’t really taste very good. A bit chemical and one-dimensional. All in all, not worth the effort. So I kept looking and trying. Eventually, I stumbled on this YouTube video.

I made her cake, but it wasn’t quite there yet; the Husband and I both found it a bit…. inoffensive. This is the wrong word, but I can’t find a better one. It was perfectly nice, but to our palates it came over slightly flat. No flavour predominated, and we found it lacked a bit of punch. So I’ve tweaked some of the ingredients to make it reflect our preferences. Also, we have discovered that the flavours develop and become much more interesting the next day, so it’s worth holding off rather than diving straight in.

Instead of sugar or sweetener, this recipe uses date purée. Now, before anyone reads the ingredients list and jumps online to comment about how dates are full of sugar too, I should just point out that they’re low GI, being full of fibre, and also offer several nutritional benefits: significant levels of antioxidants, B6, potassium, iron, manganese and calcium. Which is not, of course, why I was using them, but it helps!

Here we go, then. I bring you Chocolate Date Cake. 200Kcal/836Kj per cupcake. Well, it IS cake…

700g/24oz date purée, made from:
500g/18oz pitted dates, soaked for 1 hour in:-
200ml/8oz boiling water
3 dessertspoons of instant coffee
2 teaspoons of bicarb soda
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.
Blend all together with stick blender. Should result in 700g/24oz of finished purée
250g/9oz wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
80g/3oz cocoa
5 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extra
250ml/9oz vegetable oil or melted butter

Make the purée. Set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F.
Line two cake tins with baking paper or or two cupcake pans with cupcake cases. I like cupcakes because portion control!
Blend the eggs, vanilla and oil/butter.
Sift together the flour, baking power and cocoa into a large bowl.
To the flour mix, add first the date purée, then the egg mixture. Mix well by hand, then beat either by hand or with a mixer until the last of the flour is absorbed.
Scrape down with a spatula, then spoon into the cupcake cases or lined cake tins. Do not overfill, the mixture rises well.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake: 30-35 mins for cupcakes, 40-45 mins for cake tins. Test with a skewer or toothpick to ensure they are done in the middle. Best left overnight before eating for maximum flavour development.

Makes 24 cupcakes or two layers of chocolate cake.

I won’t be making this often, since even the individual cupcakes are 200 calories each and that just doesn’t work well in a diabetic diet, but for an occasional treat it’s a reasonable compromise. I have frozen half the batch and will wait and see how they survive the process. Bringing out one at a time is a much better way to deal with cake cravings than having a whole batch sitting in a box on the counter, and of course, the fact that they need to be defrosted gives you a chance to tame your snack inner monster!

The Husband would like you to know they work well with ice cream. I wouldn’t know… 😇

Nothing to see here

Isn’t that what they say?

When there’s actually quite a lot to see, but they want you to move along? I, on the other hand, have literally had nothing to see for quite some time. But now I have things to show and tell.

Let’s start with… Baking. I have always been fascinated by cooking from the Southern states of the US. The names of the dishes are mysterious and wonderful, the combinations and flavours can be strange to UK and Australian palates, and many of the ingredients are not at all easily obtained here. But one thing I’ve always loved the sound of is ‘biscuits and sausage gravy’. For breakfast, mind you. Now obviously, these are American biscuits, which closely resemble our scones, rather than being the sweet, flat, crisp jobs we dunk in our tea or coffee. And sausage gravy? Not the rich, meaty brown liquid we make from our Sunday roasts, but a thick, pale, creamy sauce flavoured with crumbled ‘breakfast sausage’. This latter ingredient isn’t snags, or bangers (‘links’ to my US friends), it’s a large roll of seasoned sausage-meat cut into thick slices and fried, served with eggs, etc, for breakfast. I haven’t seen breakfast sausage anywhere in Australia*. You can take a pork snag or two and squeeze it out of its skin, mash it up and that will do the job, fried in a skillet and crumbled. After that, add flour, seasoning and milk, and stir till the whole thing thickens. It takes patience but is very tasty. Anyway, failing the sausage gravy, I made biscuits. I think they turned out rather well! Yummy eaten warm with butter. I would have added honey except, you know, diabetes… If you’re an expert biscuit baker, I’d love to know what you think of my amateur effort.

Gardening. As you’re probably well aware by now, we have a caravan (travel trailer). We keep it in the front yard on a not quite level piece of ground between two flower beds. Because of the curved, banana shape of the outer, raised bed, nearest our front boundary, it has been difficult to back the ‘van into her spot when we come home. So I have shortened and straightened it. Which involved heavily pruning some ornamental trees (ixora, hibiscus, variegated ficus, azalea, Bankok Rose and Snow on the Mountain), shifting what felt like several hundred edging bricks, hacking out soil, repositioning irrigation pipes and some power-weeding. Total time, 2 days of hard labour, but so worth it. I also enlisted the Husband and his angle grinder to remove the old and nasty mailbox which lives in that raised bed. It had finally rusted past the point of no return so that rain more or less guaranteed soggy mail, and will be turned into something more useful in its next incarnation. We also got rid of the ‘ornamental’ street number some aesthetically-challenged previous owner had crafted out of welded steel chain and tack welded to the supporting post… A new, functional, powder-coated steel mailbox improved matters no end, and I wrapped the now-disfigured post in a square of imitation buxus panel. It looks rather fetching…

And finally, Sewing. I have finally got back to the Twilight quilt, and the first two rows are sandwiched and quilted, although I’m not sure you can tell from this photo. I’m using a rather beautiful purple Rasant thread, which blends rather well, but also has a pretty shine. It’s made by Amann, and is  cotton spun on polyester core thread which is both strong and smooth-running. So far, so very good! I’m quilting a cross hatch a hand’s-width wide, which is enough to safely hold the layers together but also results in a very soft and drapey finish to the quilt. There has also been activity on my Hopscotch quilt blocks, but I’ll leave reporting on that until ScrapHappy Day.

Amazing what a long post I’ve written about nothing at all!


*If you’ve seen it, do tell me where, as it’s just the sort of thing the Husband would love…

Domestic, er, bliss….

I have almost reached the bottom of the pile.

We got home late on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday I unpacked, put away, cleaned, and did 4 or 5 loads of laundry. Mouse spent the entire first evening walking around the house and lying down on empty patches of floor, our bed, the sofa and his three beds, to re-establish his own personal ‘flavour’. He managed to be under foot the maximum amount of time, but the delight on his furry face at being back was so touching I hadn’t the heart to ask him to go and lie down.

Now that we’re back and I’m fully in the swing of domesticity again, I’m looking back fondly on some of the meals I didn’t have to make myself.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, in that order.

How easy it was to keep the caravan tidy, the beds made and the dishes done. And how very good it is to have a bit more space again, despite the domestic requirements!

(A point of information: we don’t have a hot water system in the caravan. Until recently, I had to boil the kettle several times to get enough hot water to wash up. And then I had a brainwave! A hot water urn. It holds 8 litres (nearly 2 gallons) of water (enough for two loads of washing up) and can hold it at the boil if necessary, but also keeps it at perfect washing up temperature all day. It’s plastic, lightweight and can be stowed away for travel.

It’s good to be home, but I do still have my fingers crossed that the trip down to NSW we have booked in October will go ahead. It will give me a chance to catch up with friends and family, as well as satisfying my slight homesickness for the region we’re going to.

Just at the moment, it’s not looking great; the number of cases in Sydney is climbing exponentially as cases come into the country with returning travellers, and then run amok in the local population, some of whom are not especially compliant…  By the time we’re supposed to leave, we’ll both be fully vaccinated. Wouldn’t it be nice if that allowed us to cross the border freely…?

Once I’ve finished all the domestic stuff, I can finally turn my attention back to the sewing room and my newly-serviced sewing machine. Oh, and my plans to completely rearrange the whole sewing room. Eeek!

Looking forward to it 🙂

Please explain

There is a catchphrase in Australia which addresses egregious mistakes and idiocies or being caught out in obvious lies.

It’s known as the ‘Please explain’, after the now-famous usage of said phrase during a televised interview, by an outspoken female politician of notoriously inflammatory, racist and extreme right-wing views*. She had not understood the interviewer’s use of the word ‘xenophobia’…

We nearly used it ourselves today.

Having all three greatly enjoyed our evening out at Dunwoody’s the other night, we thought we’d give it another go. The Husband jumped on the phone to make a booking for tonight, only to be told “we don’t accept dogs” when he did so. He pointed out that we’d had a dog with us only a few nights ago; had the policy changed? Apparently it had. We withdrew our booking. After a moment’s thought, I suggested we call back and speak to the duty manager for clarification, and perhaps a reason for the change.

Having given them a good review on Mouse’s blog, I was quite prepared to call them out for back-tracking. Mouse had behaved perfectly – better, in fact, than some of the younger guests. The other guests had liked him, and he had not caused any inconvenience to anyone.  Maybe I could go on TripAdvisor or Google and tell our story, because I always make a point of giving good reviews where they are deserved. Dog owners need to eat too, and well-behaved pets should not be excluded arbitrarily by whoever answers the phone because of a personal preference or faulty interpretation.

We got the duty manager. You’ll be happy to know that Dunwoody’s retains its shiny halo 🙂 Policy has not changed, and they do allow dogs in the outdoor dining area. All three of us will be there tonight for another sally into the delights of the menu.

Sometimes, you just need to gently ask “please explain?”…


*Please note that if you happen to agree with this politician’s views, I am not interested in entering into debate and reserve the right to deal with comments on the subject as I see fit.