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Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Retrospective

"Come quick dear friends, I am drinking the stars"
                                                                                Dom Perignon 

The year did not go at all how I planned. I was going to slow down and have less commitments but maybe that was my guardian angel preparing a clear path for our major life change this year.

I didn't entirely let go of the Living Better With Less group but I am more of an active organiser with lots of others as the group members have also stepped in to organise and plan too. I did a radio interview with ABC Tas about our group and we had an "expo" at the Fiesta on George back in October. A big highlight for me was meeting Steve Solomon and his garden (here)

The group also got to forage for olives earlier in the year, had a guest speaker about cheese making, learnt how to make soap and deodorant and dabbled in gardening by the lunar cycle and much more.

The volunteer/fundraising focus was firmly on Kidney Health this year with with the Big Red Walk, two fashion parades and a garden tea party and dialysis group luncheons. There are so many good people in the community all working away quietly and I would like to recognise them and thank them for all they do and providing us the opportunity to help.

Julien turned one and has attended his first shearing lesson.

I organised another knitting tour, this time we toured the north west of Tasmania and visited the Tasmania Weavers Spinners and Dyers Guild.

But our biggest and all consuming project for the year has been the move and renovation of our new home. To be honest, if we were 10 years older, we wouldn't have been able to do it. It's not about the money, it's about the sheer physical requirements and mental fortitude that this job has required. We still continue to scrub and still there is no kitchen but we have no regrets and are loving life. Again, thanks to the dear friends who helped and gave us positive messages of encouragement.

We've really enjoyed the opportunity to start another garden and already I can see the design being as fluid and changeable as our old one as we learn to garden in another climate zone.

Next year I believe we will complete the inside and have all rooms functioning at the very least and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't have a poly-tunnel or glass house of some sort so we can grow citrus as winter temps typically drop to -5C here and sometimes a smattering of snow!

So onwards dear friends, the only thing that can stop you achieving your goals is lack of heart and imagination. Find a moment in every day, no matter how small, to say " doesn't get any better than this" and you'll lose count of your blessings.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas on the Harbour

Still having no kitchen in sight, eldest daughter invited us to Christmas in Hobart with breathtaking views from the heights of Bellerive. It was magical but also the hottest Christmas I have ever had in Tasmania - 36C (96.8F)

I managed to prep all of my two dishes using a small (and I do mean small)bench top oven and the thermomix. I elected to do a rolled roast loin of pork and a hazelnut meringue from the Christmas 2015 issue of Australian Country Style magazine (their photo on the left as I failed to get one simply because it was all about enjoying the moment let's face it). The recipe in the magazine is on page 82 and called Slow Cooked Pork Loin Stuffed With Pistachio and Pickled Raspberries but my version used black currants instead as they are what we are picking from the garden at the  moment. The beauty of pork is that it lends itself so well to a great variety of fruits; apricot, prunes, pear, apple and certainly black currants, in fact I think the black currants offer a better robust choice over the raspberries.

The black currants were soaked in balsamic vinegar for 24hrs and then strained reserving the black currants for the stuffing mix. A couple of tablespoons of brown sugar were added to the vinegar and then it was simmered down to a syrupy reduction for glazing. 

The stuffing is a combination of torn breadcrumbs drizzled with butter and roasted to golden combined with slow sweated chopped onion and mixed with chopped bacon and pistachios for lovely nutty crunch and tangy black currants.

After stuffing and tying the loin it was placed on quartered red onions to keep it off the bottom of the pan and white wine added and some water which later goes on to become a final sauce with the addition of some left over glaze. 

The recipe was a bit involved but it is worth buying a back issue just for this recipe alone if you missed a copy but you'll definitely want it for the Roasted Hazelnut Meringue with Boozy Cream and Berries.

Again, the black currants were king in this recipe too and so under-rated by folks who just want to add lots of sugar to them and turn them into jams or cordials.

There is no better way to top off a special but somewhat weighty meal than with a light meringue and fresh fruit and this version is like eating Ferrero Rocher and all the best fruits of summer.

The roasted hazelnuts were divine and a zesting of lime rind, exquisite. So easy but big impact among your guests. Above right is the version from the magazine.

Teddy stuffed a turkey and put a whole orange in the cavity that infused a wonderful subtle citrus flavour into the meat (and oh that view of the harbour as we cooked and dined!)

Every window was open and cross current breezes captured and chased in each room. The sky brilliant blue and the water reflecting the same. Our setting, red and gold.

Our glassware the Ritzenhoff Champus that I have been collecting for her each year for the past 12 or so years. They are individually designed by different designers and I stuck to a gold theme which has come together into a lovely and practical collection. We drank soda water most of the day for it was even too hot for champagne!

You can get a digital download of the Christmas 2015 issue here for just a couple of dollars. I am not affiliated in any way or receive kick backs, I just include the link because it is a bit hard to find and I found it to be a particularly good issue with interesting stories and great recipes. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Take a Moment For You

Take time today for yourself.
Tomorrow will be all about the food and the vacuuming etc but today, take time for yourself.
I am being entirely pragmatic about this because, come the 25th, there is nothing surer than photos.
(I have to assume that the majority of readers are female as I don't ever get comments from men but if you are out there, I'm sorry this post will probably bore you.)

Give yourself a nice face mask moment to make you feel glowing and re-newed. I also tint my brows and lashes so I won't look washed out in photos as I am going greyer and fainter. I buy the kit and do it at home saving squillions and it is dead easy. Just like putting on mascara. In fact I prefer it because I always end up with burning eyes at the salon when the peroxide invariably leaks into the eye. You'll be doing a lot of washing up over the next couple of days so give yourself a five minute hand massage with a rich emollient hand cream.

Here in Australia you'll most probably find yourself in open toe footwear so a lick of heel balm now and a bright nail varnish will make you feel groomed on the day. 
Select what you'll be wearing and make sure it's pressed and ready to throw on once Christmas morning chores are out of the way and have a double duty apron ready to protect your outfit for the day too.
My family think I am a control freak because I like everyone in white on Christmas day but honestly, family photos do turn out lovely when there is not a lot of colour competing. With neutral colouring like white, the photo seems to become about the people. If you can't get everyone on board then you are better off turning your family portrait black and white.

Aside from anything else, taking an hour for yourself today will give you some space for reflection and a moment to breathe, No matter what intentions we may have about a low key Christmas, I always find things get a little stressful juggling guests, cleaning, menu timing etc.
Feel better? Good,
OK, now go get 'em Tiger.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Personalised Shopping Bag

A personalised shopping bag is another great gift and I really love this one my step-mother made for me some time ago. The picture is entirely stitched on her sewing machine using a programme.

She used this photo in her programme and reproduced it with thousands of stitches.
Pretty amazing huh!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Knitted Silk

My mother is allergic to wool so for Christmas I have knitted her a scarf in silk. This should be very comfortable next to her skin and it has lovely drape. It could even be used as a table runner really.
The pattern is "Fern Lace Scarf" by Knitting Pixie and is available as a FREE download on Ravelry.

I've used a combination of two different hand dyed silks that I purchased from

The pattern is a very easy repeat over 12 rows. Admittedly, it was much easier if I put the knitting down at row 12 and I did have to unpick a couple of times because I forgot where I was at sometimes. My yarn was about sport weight so I used 4.5mm needles. It is not a very long scarf but certainly enough to knot in front. I am very happy with the end result and the pattern really showcases the yarns lovely textures and colour variations.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Beer and Chilli Peanut Brittle

We still don't have a kitchen but I've had this recipe pinned all year for Christmas presents and so it was to Mum's kitchen I de-camped for the night. We had such a good time though I am astonished it all turned out as I kept stuffing up the multiplied quantities. You will find a couple of versions if you google this recipe, but I'll tell you my version further down. I think some candy making experience will give you confidence. There are some variables to note in candy making and I gathered by the comments under the recipes I read that some newbies struggled. It is incredibly moreish and you will need to make a batch for the cook also. So here we go....

I used per batch - 

260g of raw sugar
200g of lager beer
600g of salted peanuts
1/2 teas ground dried chilli

Pre-heat oven to 180C and line two non-stick biscuit trays with baking paper. By all means lightly grease with butter but we only did it with the first lot and kept recycling the peeled off baking paper and it worked fine.
In a medium sized stock pot on medium heat, combine the sugar and beer, stirring gently till the sugar is dissolved.
Add the peanuts and reduce the heat and simmer for about 15mins stirring occasionally. At this point the liquid is quite reduced and thicker, partially absorbed by the nuts and steamed off.
Remove from heat and mix in chilli. (Add a couple of teaspoons of salt too if you are using unsalted nuts.) 
Tip the mixture onto the biscuit trays and place in the oven.
The next step will take approx 15 mins but you do have to watch it to make sure it doesn't burn. If your oven isn't even you may also need to switch trays and shelf positions during cooking. What should happen is that it will self level a bit bubble away turning a bit more toffee. 
Remove from the oven and place on cooling racks to set.
The paper should peel away easily when cold and you'll be able to break the sheet into rough chunks.

Some notes-
This is best made during dry hot days and humidity will definitely have a bearing on the "snap" to the brittle. Likewise store in air tight containers to keep brittle.
If you are making subsequent batches, DO wash you pot and spoon between batches to prevent crystallising the sugar. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Copper Polishing Is Child's Play

Copper polishing - Fun for all the family!
You should have seen the boys faces when I explained what their next "chore" was at the weekend.
I want you to take that big bottle of tomato sauce and smear it all over those pots.
They loved the slippery, tactile feel and that sort of forbidden feeling about playing with food.
Then it turned into a science lesson about the acid in the tomatoes reacting with the tarnished coating on the copper. I can just imagine Mr 9 when he gets back to school this week.

The sauce is the perfect medium for being able to lay down an even coat and just sit there a while to do it's job. After a while, a bit of a scrub with a brush and a hose down. Maybe they will need a coat or two more but I'm just pondering how stripped back to shiny I want them, a little verdigris is nice too.

These have come out of old hot water cylinders and boiler washers. They go perfectly with my copper theme for Christmas this year but unfortunately won't fit the tree stand but they'll look nice as planters or maybe present barrels or drinks tubs at family gatherings filled with ice. Wouldn't they be gorgeous overflowing with white petunias and poinsettia? Maybe I'll turn all three into a quirky water feature for the garden.....

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Woodland Tree for Christmas 2015

This year we have chosen a real tree from Killiecrankie Farm and it's taken on a woodland bird sort of theme.

Colours include forest green, satin sage green, light brass and bright copper.

A couple of white cotton wrapped ornaments with feathers in sparrow browns.

A shining star and coppery flowers and berries.
A hand painted egg sent by our travellers in Europe last year.

Little birds peeking from within.
Even a small nest with eggs.

Very simple, like a wild wood tree, no garland, no streamers, no ribbon.

Lavender Sachets

Home made from our house this year are simple lavender bags for drawer sachets.
Simple in style but a twelve month process to get to this point.

The lavender is home grown and harvested on a warm sunny morning after the dew and hung upside down in paper bags to dry for the season. After quite a few months the heads then have to be rolled and stripped by hand. I haven't found an easier way, perhaps you have one? It takes a lot of lavender to produce 10g of heady seedy stuffing.

Cotton fabrics are washed, dried and ironed and then we used a seed packet as a template.
I say "we" as the shearer did all the sewing while I cut, turned, pressed, stuffed and tied.

The simple bags were stuffed with about 12g of lavender, leaving a few centimetres of head room. The top was machine sewn with a matching thread and cinched with a complimentary bow purely for sweetness. Not only do these scent drawers and cupboards but they also deter insects and a gentle squeeze every now and then will release more of the volatile oils and last for years.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Julien's Lullaby

New star in a midnight sky
In heaven all the angels fly.

Soft wings so true and 
All things they will be bring to you

One is sorrow, one is peace
One will come to give you sleep

One is comfort, one is grief
One will take the tears you weep.

Tonight all sing
Oh angels a new-born king.

(From "Journey of the Angels" music by Enya and lyrics by Roma Ryan)
Julien's favourite lullaby.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Red Bridge

Completely boring post alert, but this blog is also for my own selfish benefit too and there are just times and places sometimes when ordinary memories must be captured.
Just down the road is the Red Bridge, a very significant crossing for the town. The park adjacent to it provides free camping grounds and is a haven for all sorts of animals but most especially ducks. My grandson is learning all about animals and the sounds they make and a duck "visit" is a fun part of that learning. He is wearing my daughters hat that she had when she was little 25 years ago. It's a "Kidday" made in Australia from 100% wool felt and leather banded. They definitely don't make them like this any more and I am so glad I kept it. Hopefully it will be passed to many more grandchildren.

As you can see, the Red Bridge was built in 1838 to link the southern and northern parts of the town. Literally named because the convict made bricks are so red and I have to wonder if it is due to the high level of bauxite in the area that they so vivid. The bridge bears lots of traffic and now carries huge trucks carry enormous loads, certainly more than the builders would ever have dreamed of, but still it stands and with no significant repairs all these years later.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Digging It With The Dirt Demi-God

Steve Solomon is a Growers Guru
The Living Better With Less Group had the honour of a tour of his garden this weekend and one and a half hours flew by as he spoke to us passionately about soil health, nutrient balance, seed dilemmas for small growers and plant spacing for optimum yields.

Steve lives in suburbia on a large block and grows all the food for his family all year round.

Everything lush, healthy and disease resisting. He grows for food and also extra for seed. Growing from saved seeds saves $$$ and you can be assured of genetic material suited for your area, climate and vigorous.

He spoke about his huge line of asparagus that he keeps contained width-wise between the parallel wires. This limits the sprawl and also makes weeding and access easier. He tells us that over a few years he selectively culled all the female crowns and kept only male plants a) because they produce larger spears rather than putting their vigour into seed production and b) by culling the females he avoids the prolific seed drop and thus delays over-crowding for years.

Another shot of his garden and a climbing frame for peas and beans. In the very first photo, Steve and I are standing in front of his healthy kiwi fruit vines covered in flowers. Down the western side he has espaliered fruit trees and berry bushes. A netted tunnel of raspberries is heavily cropping and you can just about hear the plants singing.

Steve is 73 and very fit and looks at least 10 years younger than his age. What struck me especially was the way he is still learning and still experimenting with growing. Further proof that you never stop learning. Reluctantly we thanked him and departed and I have to tell you the experience has been very profound for me. My mind has been in a whirl, thinking of all we spoke about, trying to catch hold of it and not let a snippet of information be missed. 
Afterwards we enjoyed a bountiful shared lunch at a fellow members beautiful mud brick built house by the Tamar river. Wonderful times and memories to treasure.

If you have the opportunity, Steve's books are well worth the investment. This is the copy I covet. I wish all of you could have joined us and benefited from his knowledge and passion.

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