Monday, April 27, 2015

5 weeks break - cooking crumpets was not a success

Ages ago I found a crumpet recipe and though wow, I have to try that. I had visions of hot, fresh crumpets for breakfast. I thought I could experiment with lours and delight friends with old favourites turned gluten free.

Sadly I was not happy with my efforts. They take hours to make.  You leave the batter to foam, then pour into egg rings on a hot, greased pan. No matter what I tried they stuck to the rings. I'm very sorry to say the results didn't seem worth the effort. Not when crepes and pancakes are quick and easy. My bread is improving all the time. Crumpets can go on the low priority list.

If anyone out there has mastered them and has any tips to share, I'll reconsider.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 weeks break - learning to crochet

Ah I have not done any craft for ages. I recently saw a design for a sweet little crochet flower made with a button centre. I have made a few granny squares in my day but I'm no expert in crochet. And of course I had set myself a challenge by choosing a project that didn't come with a pattern. Oops.

My friend Kate came to the rescue. She is so clever, she looked at the photo and made a lovely little flower, then taught me how to do it.

Its a perfect activity for these wet days when I am sitting in front of the fire to keep warm and dry.  I will be a great activity to keep my fingers busy during the winter nights.

I've had a great time rummaging through my vintage button collection for buttons with four holes of a suitable size. Even with the smallest crochet needle I could find its a tight squeeze to stitch in and out.

These will be turned into long garland necklaces.

What fun!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

5 weeks break - stumpwork embroidery cufflinks

One of my great loves is stumpwork embroidery.  If you don't know it stumpwork is the art of 3D embroidery. Pieces are created on a flat piec of fabric, edged with wire and cut out, The loose piece is usually then added to another work to add dimension.  I specialise in making jewellery from my stumpwork.  (Commissions always welcome)

As stupid as it sounds, I often deny myself the pleasure of doing things I love. I commute, I work, I cook dinner, I complain I'm tired and go bed to work early.  Aah.

Finally I have the time, energy and head space to create.

Again its raining and raining. Its freezing cold.  I have the fire roaring, sitting stitching tiny embroidery leaves in autumn colours.

The edge is made from copper wire and picked out in buttonhole stitch. The details of the leaves are created in thread painting, long and short stitch.  A lot of people don't like long and short stitch but I think its the most forgiving stitch of all. It gives the ability to create subtle changes of colour.

When complete, I carefully cut out the shapes using sharp scissors and a good magnifying lamp. It takes hours to cut them out precisely and remove all the tiny fibres of fabric outside the wire edge.

Preserved with fabric stiffener, my lovely leaves are glued into cufflink findings. My husband commissioned them last autumn, so I made him two sets, from 4 mis-matched leaves.

You can see some of my other work here

Monday, April 13, 2015

5 weeks break - pine mushroom schnitzels

Here's another recipe idea for using Pine Mushrooms. I chose the smallest button Saffron Milkcaps we picked on Sunday for this dish.

After cleaning the mushrooms with a dry paper towel to brush off dirt and pine needles I trimmed the stems a little.  I mixed breadcrumbs with freshly ground salt and pepper and dried marjoram.  I double crumbed the mushrooms by dipping in egg, crumbs, then repeating.
I deep fried the mushrooms which quickly formed a crisp crust.  

Served with Donna Hay's coriander mayo.  Delicious.  This will actually work for any type of firm fleshed mushrooms but pine mushrooms are so special having such a short season.

5 weeks break - Curry pasties

Last week we had a planned black out. The power was off about 3 hours longer than expected which wore thin once dark fell.

As I knew about the black out before it happened I planned my day around cleaning out my chest freezer. It wasn't an exciting job but it was a good job to get done. Its certainly been on my list too long. My chest freezer is in the laundry and I really went to town, cleaned out cupboards and drawers and completed more de-cluttering. So that fell good. I threw out some of the contents of the freezer but I re-discovered some great food that I forgot I had.  

One of those finds was several tubs of forgotten lentil and vegetable curry.   
Today I turned the curry into delicious pasties or curry puffs if you will.  I added some spinach, a spoonful of curry, turned the pastry over and crimped the edges. A little egg wash and bake for 20 minutes. Yum.

Tip: If your curry is a moist soup style you will need to drain it first. Pasties and lots of liquid don't mix.

5 weeks break - Day 17 exploring Macquarie Rivulet

This afternoon I went for a small bush walk along the edge of the Macquarie Rivulet at the bottom of Macquarie Pass, Green Valley.  I drive this road every day to and from work but I have never stopped to discover its delights.  Oh I've thought about it, said "I should".  But that's the problem with life isn't it? You get into habits, you avoid doing fun things because you have somewhere to be, something you have to do. By taking 5 weeks off work I am able to go where the wind leads me and today it lead me to this idyllic spot.  A short walk from the main road there is this lovely swimming hole where the water trickles over stones.   Here are a few photos from my visit.

 The tree canopy reflected in a muddy puddle always reminds me of my favourite Escher artworks.
 Fine maidenhair fern fronds along the path.
 I don't know wht this plant is but it was popular with bees and butterflies.
Stunning fungi sprouting from a rotting log on the rainforest floor.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

5 weeks break - baking potato bread

This bread is the most amazing recipe as it makes a firm but moist loaf of bread with beautiful texture and a light garlic taste. I've adapted it from I don't remember where sorry.

If you use a bread machine place the ingredients in the order listed. I find it a bit moist and usually have to take out the dough and add a little more flour before its ready to bake. I highly recommend letting it rise and baking in an oven, but feel free to let the bread machine do all the kneading for you.

·         1 cup of water
·      2 tablespoons butter
·      1 egg
·      4 cups bread flour ( I used wholemeal spelt)
·       2/3 cup mashed potato - boil or steam 1 large or 2 medium potatoes and mash with 1 extra tablespoon of butter
·      1 tablespoon sugar
·      1 1/2 teaspoons salt
·      1 clove of garlic peeled and crushed

·      2 teaspoons yeast
      Mix together all ingredients and knead well. Let rise.   Roll out into 2 long sausages. Twist together then place in a lined bread tin.  Leave in warm area to rise again.  Bake until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, 20-30 minutes at 200C.

5 weeks break - Day 16 mushroom foraging

At last its that time of year, the autumn rains have come and the wild mushrooms have begun to appear in the local forests.

Howard and I went out this morning to forage for Saffron milk caps or pine mushrooms. These delectable delights secret a bright orange sap making them very easy to identify.

Its early in the season and plenty of people were out and about but not the number we will see in a few weeks when things get into full swing.  We worked hard for half a basket but got plenty for a few meals.

There is a delightfully simple way to cook these pine mushrooms.
Clean with a dry piece of paper towel then slice the mushroom.  Cook over heat in chilli infused olive oil and crystals of rock salt.  Serve on fresh bread toasted to make a delicious bruschetta.

Sorry I ate it all and didn't take any photos of our cooked dinner. Go cook your own :)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

5 weeks break - day 15 Harper's Mansion, Berrima

I don't know if you ever play the tourist in your own town but I do sometimes and its fun.  A great way to discover new treasures and see your home through fresh eyes.

In Berrima, a small historic village in the Southern Highlands of NSW, there is a splendid grand old home called Harper's Mansion.  It wasn't open to the public when we moved here and when it did open about 6 years ago we'd spend many an hour in the village already so didn't ever go into the house. Until today.

I had a great time!

I was shown around the house by a knowledgeable guide who told me the history of the house from the mid 1830s until 1970 when the last tenant left and the house was a complete ruin. The Southern Highlands chapter of the National Trust own the house and have restored it beautifully. They rely on donations, ticket sales and use of the property for private functions.

From convict beginnings to this grand house in a few short years, sadly James and Mary Harper didn't get to revel in the splendour for long as James died only 9 years after its completion. Situated on top of a hill, the symmetrical two story house has a straightforward charm and would have dominated the village throughout its history.

The extensive gardens are modern but contain many heirloom roses and interesting herbs.

Pineapple sage
The original well from the 1830s

I walked through the maze. My first ever time in a maze. It was so much fun. I went round and round in circles giggling all the time. The other people going through laughed as they kept bumping into people from different directions to the last time they saw them.  The maze is made from Leylandi and it smelt gorgeous, trimmed to perfection. I want to go back and do the maze again.

If you are in the area I recommend a visit: 

Friday, April 10, 2015

5 week break - Day 14 cultivating oyster mushrooms

Back in 2013 I did a course with Milkwood Permaculture in cultivating mushrooms.  I have neglected it over the past year more or less but hey, as I'm on leave I've had the time to start up my cultures again.

Mushroom science 101:

Take an existing mushroom, cut some tissue from the inside and place in a petri dish of agar (seaweed gelatin and food for the growing fungi).  Leave until the dish is full of fluffy white fungi.  Transfer to grain to let it grow some more, then straw and let the mushrooms, or fruit of the fungi, to grow.  Add humidity along the way.

The course was wonderful. Day 1, I was convinced that I could never learn it.  The science hurt my head. If this was what high school science class had taught me I would have loved the classes.  All the theory in the world is useful if you can see no useful application for it. Please hear that science teachers out there.

Overnight I got determined and went back to the course with renewed vigour.  Some wonderfully detailed notes later as well as some practical experience and yes I can cultivate mushrooms from a tissue sample. See some of my other mushroom stories here.

So I got out my kit today, prepared my agar plates and let them cool. Then I took samples from my fresh oyster mushrooms.

Now I wait. I hope I achieved a suitable level of sterility so no foreign matter contaminates my dishes. I'll let you know when I get to the next stage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 weeks leave - Day 12 the weather has turned cold and wet

The cold, wet weather has really set in for a few days.

I've used some of my new firestarters already keeping warm.  Today I just stayed home. It was a great day for a sleep in, some reading, yoga in front of the fire.

I am half way through my second week off and I am content with myself all day. The last few nights though ... I wake in the early morning with the remnants of disturbing dreams colouring my mood for a little while. All the dreams have had a common thread of work, of frantic running around and deep feelings of anxiety.  My days are calm and quiet although I have not yet given myself over to a day of complete nothingness. I feel I have to achieve something.  I'm trying to keep a balance between doing and being. I am tired of my sleep being disturbed with that frenetic energy and anxiety though.

I cooked some basil pesto, made a batch of soap too.  But then I took myself and my doggies for a long walk into town. I rugged up against the chill and off we set. It was nice, we walked quickly. No point to it but to get out. Oh and to get some exercise.  We all liked it.

Tonight I am watching the last season of Dr Who and well, blogging.

The other thing I did today was make spinach and ricotta gnocchi which I enjoyed for my dinner.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

5 weeks break - Day 10 rainy day tasks


We got all the mulching complete before the rain came in again. Just as well its been pouring.

So plenty other tasks to move on to:

Howard stripped the paint off a vintage metal rocking chair. I found it at the tip shop a few years ago and repainted it but our local weather isn't kind to metal. The fog wraps its tentacles around everything and makes it rust. All our outdoor furniture needs repainting - on the list for my 5 weeks off.  This chair is a particular comfy favourite.

Meanwhile I decided that a change in weather was on the cards and made a big batch of firestarters.  A lot of people round here sneer at the whole concept of firelighters but when your kindling is damp, or the wind is simply blowing in the wrong direction, some days its hard to get the fire lit. And when you've been at work all day and the house is cold a firelighter is a welcome cheat.

Made from empty egg cartons, wood shavings and melted wax these firelighters are fantastic.  My suggestion - make a production line of it and it doesn't take long to make several dozen. 
My prediction - there won't be enough to get through winter, although I'll come close, so I'll need to do another batch in a few months time.

5 week break - Days 9 and 10 Mulching garden waste

The rain has let up so we're out in the garden, pruning, trimming, weeding.  As they say, autumn is a lovely time to garden and it is indeed.

On Sunday (Day 9) we spent hours trimming the front garden, making things neat. I feel like we have neglected the garden for months, but I find once established it can be put back into shape with just a few hours work.

By the end of the day we had piles and piles of garden waste.

So our big job today (Day 10) was to turn all the garden waste into mulch.

Meet the mulch monster:

This monster machine turned all our trimmings into bags and bags of super fine mulch for me to spread throughout the garden as I continue my weeding. It chops it so fine in fact that it always makes less than I expect.

Howard is the expert in using this monster, I'm merely the fetch and carry girl.  Here are some tips to making mulch:

Tip 1 - a big petrol mulcher doesn't like moist, fleshy materials so no grass or weeds. Alternate between woody material and green twigs and leaves to keep it working.

Tip 2 - keep your pile dry. If it gets caught out in the rain it may be weeks until its dry enough to mulch.

Tip 3 - be safe!

Enjoy your mulchings, your garden certainly will

Saturday, April 4, 2015

5 week break - Day 8 Burrawang Easter Market

One of our favourite outings of the year we faithfully traipsed off to the Burrawang Easter market this morning in the pouring rain. Wonderful stalls down the length of the main street make this market a must do on the Southern Highlands calendar. It was heavy rain this year - the last couple of years have been fine - but often the autumn rains come just in time.  When you live where we do, if you stayed home because it was raining you'd miss a lot of outings. Boots and coats came out and off we went.

We came home with ewes' milk cheese, olive oil infused with truffles and chilli, fudge and fresh organic almond butter. No antiques captured our eyes this year but they often do.

Its still raining so again, we are seated in front of the fire.  Watching movies, chilling out.  Week 1 is over in a flash and week 2 begins.

Friday, April 3, 2015

5 weeks break - Day 7 cooking homemade potato chips

Good Friday, raining outside and I have a hankering for fresh potato chips or crisps as they call them in the UK. 

I need 
  • potatoes
  • oil
  • salt

All check. 

Howard's the chip expert so I peel the potatoes, heat up the deep fryer, get everything ready for the master. Howard has been making chips for years. They are a great party trick. The biggest challenge is not eating them all as they come from the fryer, actually letting some make it to a bowl. Ever seeking the perfect chip Howard wanted to try a new technique - an hour later we sat down to enjoy our crispy chips.  Slow food!  Howard is still on a quest for improvements but I thought they were great.

So I peeled and washed the spuds. Howard thinly sliced and rinsed again. Then we laid them out on trays to dry.  At first we tried a baking paper lined tray in the oven but they just stewed in their own juices. Our next trick was cookie cooling racks on the top of our hot combustion stove which worked a treat. They actually got thinner - don't leave them too long however as they'll cook. 

Deep fry until crispy. Drain on paper. Sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. We enjoyed them in front of the fire with a crispy white wine and firecracker cheese from Tilba. An indulgent treat but good, simple fare.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 weeks break - Day 6 driving home

Day 6 driving home and exploring the South Coast of New South Wales
My theme for 2015 is Discovery and whilst that has all sorts of wonderful philosophical meanings it has one very simple explanation - go discover new places.  I spent my trip home visiting some of the lovely little towns along the drive and found some treasures.

First stop Bermagui. 

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Strangers in Paradise vintage store.
Mister Jones is a very sweet little coffee shop.

Bermagui is famous as a fishing village.

Stop 2 Central Tilba

Central Tilba is a gorgeous little heritage village full of charming shops, interesting characters and the famous South Coast Cheese Factory.  Tilba is picture perfect. And the cheese is seriously good if you like vintage cheddar with some bite. Yum.

Stop 3 Mollymook Beach

Mollymook is off the highway from Milton and Ulladulla and I've never taken the time to divert down there. I'm glad I did today, its a lovely beach.

There's nothing much there but the Beach Hut make the BEST hot chips. I could see myself having a relaxing few days at Mollymook.

Stop 4 Milton

Milton is a lovely little village set high on a hill just north of Ulladulla, NSW. Milton has a lovely feel of community despite the busy southern highway blasting through, full of cafes, antiques and home wares shops. Today I stopped at the bakery for the first time and bought sourdough to go with my Tilba cheese and some hot cross buns. 

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Stop 5 Home! 

I do like exploring and there are so many lovely places a stones throw for home, hmm I must get out more often and see what wonderful places I can find.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

5 weeks holiday from work - Days 3-5 a trip to the beach

Sunset over Wallaga Lake

Day 3 -5
I headed south to spend a few peaceful days alone at the beach.  I found a delightful retreat via Airbnb that fit my needs perfectly. The farm is quiet, on a lake, 5 minutes from a wild and wonderful beach and run by a delightful couple. I kayaked every day admiring the pelicans, pied cormorants, black swans, ducks, herons and oyster catchers that call the lake home. I got up close and personal with large jellyfish too.  I existed on flat bread, hommous, yoghurt and fruit and was happier for the simple fare.

Kayaking around Lake Cuttagee

My holiday cottage at Tranquility Farm, Cuttagee

Early morning kayaking on Little Lake Cuttagee

The sunrises were as pretty as the sunsets this week.

The afternoons I spent walking along the beach, taking photos, collecting stones and sea glass.

I needed these days away. As much as starting with housework this trip was about setting the tone for my break from work. Breaking routine, starting new healthy habits and just being. Not trying to deliver what anyone else needed was a powerful tonic for me.


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