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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Designs by The House of Isabella

Today Isabella spent the day conjuring up new fashions with her Harumika set. She had such a lovely time and whipped up so many amazing outfits so quickly (these are just a few). Although I'm not usually a big fan of fashion dolls and activities for kids the ease with which kids can use this system is very empowering as they really need no help at all from an adult. You can also use whatever fabric and trim you have around the house so it's a very open-ended activity.

We also made some very simple puppets this weekend as Henry wanted to act out the story of the 'Three Billy Goats Gruff'. Again we went for simple and quick as I really wanted to capture the kids enthusiasm for the project. So often when I have gone to the trouble of getting the 'right' supplies out and an area set up to make things the moment has passed and they are onto something else.

We each drew our own puppets and coloured them in (or stuck on cotton wool for the goats) then cut them out and stuck them onto bamboo skewers. The bridge was from our Thomas the Tank Engine set, the river was made from two pieces of blue paper we had in the paper box and the field the goats were trying to get to was a green shoe box lid. The kids improvised the script based on the traditional story (who's that trit-trotting over my bridge?) and I sat back and enjoyed the show as the 'audience'. They had such a great time and I finally learnt the lesson the folks at Playschool have always known - it's about the ideas and enthusiasm, not the designer craft supplies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cabbage, Onion, Apple

What do you do when you find yourself with a savoy cabbage, an onion, an apple, some bacon and some butter? You make 'Cabbage a la John', the cabbage for people who don't really like cabbage. John is John Reed of Heide fame and I made this recipe last night after seeing it in 'Sunday's Kitchen'. All I can say is 'wow'!

Basically you just cook up some bacon in butter (I know, I know) then layer handfuls of shredded cabbage, onion and apple with a little salt and pepper and a little marjoram if you have it. Put a lid on the pot and allow it all to steam, shaking the pan occasionally to stop it catching on the bottom. It's not much in the looks department but the taste more than makes up for it.

This dish was a household favourite at the Reeds and John and Sunday would have made it with vegetables and herbs from their kitchen garden, apples from their orchard and freshly churned butter which they made themselves every morning. Unfortunately I'm not that well set up so it was supermarket supplies this time but next time I might try and source my produce from the local farmers market - I think Sunday would approve of that.

What have you been cooking up? If you'd like to see some other lovely things people have been making check out Pip's links over here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Little Black Dress

Uploaded on March 4, 2010by dovima_is_devine

Earlier this week I bought Isabella her first Little Black Dress (well it's more of a tunic really to be worn over leggings). After all, she is 6 and my mother bought me my first LBD when I was 2. I don't remember that one, of course, but Mum always described it as a beautiful black velvet number which raised quite a few eyebrows on one so young.

Since then I've had many LBDs. During the 1980s and 1990s I had several on the go including a groovy Saba designed empire-line one with long sleeves (past the wrists and over the hands) and scoop neckline which I wore every chance I got. I also had quite a few different sleeveless sheath-style dresses made of cotton, linen and crepe. I wore them to work, to parties, to pubs, to the theatre - anywhere really. That's what's so great about the LBD. You can dress it up or down with accessories and shoes. It can be elegant, playful, gothic, romantic, edgy or demure. Audrey Hepburn knew this all too well.

I don't actaully have an LBD at the moment which is something I feel I must remedy. You really can't complain that you have nothing to wear when you have at least one beautifully fitted LBD in your wardrobe. If you have one in yours I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Five Faves

'Charleston' originally uploaded to Flickr on July 29, 2008by UGArdener
Here's what's making me smile this week:

1. Teas from my T2 tasting box especially the Chai and Gunpowder Green. These were a present from my lovely family for Mother's Day and I've got to say they got a lot of bang for their buck because this little box may well hold the secret to mummy having a 'good' day.

2. The lovely Henrietta children's stories by Martine Murray (this link takes you a great blog too). If you like mischeivous little girls with over-active imaginations you will love Henrietta. We have even adopted her code for 'hurry up' which is VQS (Very Quick Sticks).

3. My favourite bookshop Readings has finally opened their new cafe in Hawthorn after many months of renovations. The cafe is called Bread and Jam for Frances and is an outlet of Dench Bakery in Fitzroy. Bombolone and Quince & Almond Tarts - yum!

4. Reading Notebook magazine for the cosy autumn ideas.
5. In response to my post on 'Sunday's Kitchen', Debby (who writes the wonderful blog Cooking Up A Storm In A Teacup) reminded me that it was time to revisit some Bloomsbury loveliness.
Don't forget to check out the other people playing along with Pip at Meet Me At Mikes.
Hope you're having a great week.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday's Kitchen

Mantlepiece in Sunday's kitchen as it appears today

Yesterday I bought a beautiful book called 'Sunday's Kitchen: Food and Living at Heide' co-written by my friend and one-time colleague Lesley Harding. I can't tell you just how beautiful it is. It's full of evocative black and white photographs of John and Sunday Reed and the artists and writers who sought refuge at their property on the Yarra in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg (now Buleen). It also includes many coloured photographs of the gardens, the paintings they inspired and recipes used by Sunday to create simple bohemian feasts.

If you don't know about Heide you can read more about it here and here. In essence, it was a community not unlike the Bloomsbury group with John and Sunday at the centre acting as mentors, promoters and philanthropists. Artists such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, John Perceval and Mirka Mora were closely associated with the Reeds whose support helped them during crucial periods of their artistic careers.

Heide is a very special place. Walking around the grounds and through the houses there is still a very palpable sense that John and Sunday are right there beside you. If you're in Melbourne there is a complementary exhibition showing at the moment so pack a picnic and make the pilgrimage. If that's not possible you might like to follow Sally Heath's blog 'A Season of Sundays' which has been inspired by the book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Land of the Liquid Amber

I live on the outer edge of what are known as Melbourne's leafy eastern suburbs (or as I prefer to call it the Land of the Liquid Amber) and let me tell you autumn is a pretty special time of year out here. I wish my camera could accurately capture what Harriet Keeler described in 1900 as 'not simply a flame, it is a conflagration; in reds and yellows it equals the maples, and in addition it has the dark purples and smoky browns of the ash'.

Although not native to Australia the Liquid Amber is very popular in the Melbourne and many houses along our street have enormous trees in their front yards. Councils have also planted them in avenues along major roads and along smaller side streets so as you drive around the neighbourhood you are constantly assailed by a blaze of colour with each display more spectacular than the last.

Winter is certainly on its way with temperatures falling sharply especially at night. The hot water bottles and extra blankets have been resurrected and for some reason we have all been craving little nibbles. Popcorn either plain or with cinnamon and dried apple has been popular as have these spiced almonds using new season Australian almonds.

Spiced Almonds


2 cups blanched almonds
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground chilli (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil


Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix through with your hands until all almonds are covered in spice mixture. Spread nuts on a prepared tray and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Eat while still warm or cool completely before storing in an airtight container for snacking later (I've also used this spice mix on one of our many batches of popcorn).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Originally uploaded to Flickr Commons on June 2, 2009by National Media Museum

This is only my second Mother's Day since we lost Mum and to be honest I find the build up to the day quite difficult. Unfortunately the focus on breast cancer awareness which swirls around Mother's Day means that I am often caught off guard by those little cut-out pink ladies who remind me of all the wonderful women whose light was dimmed too soon.

Tom and the kids know how emotional I can be around special holidays so they went out of their way to make the day special for me. There was no chance of breakfast in bed as the kids were far too excited but we had a lovely breakfast around the kitchen table of croissants, danishes and jasmine tea.

As for presents I was extremely spoilt. The day started with lots of presents including a tasting box of 12 teas from T2 and a beautiful red tea canister. Next came Season 1 of 'Glee', 'Easter Parade' and 'On The Town' on DVD. Isabella also gave me two lovely handmade cards and a pair of black Ray-Ban Wayfarers knock-offs the likes of which I haven't worn since the 80s! She knew that I had just broken my sunglasses and when she saw them at the Mother's Day stall at school she was sure she had found the perfect gift, bless her cotton socks.

Hope you and your family had a great day too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Make Do and Mend

Yesterday I bought a great British magazine called Selvedge. It's not new but I had never seen it before as it is quite expensive and I guess a lot of newsagents here don't bother to stock it. The issue I bought was No 32 and it has some great articles in it about textile use/creation during World War II. One such article explores the role of embroidery in wartime from the homefront - where it served to calm nerves, boost morale, extend the lives of clothes and provide 'a happy outlet for my love of finish and gracious living' (Eustace Woods) - to the prisoner of war camps in Singapore where it served a very different function being used by Day Joyce as a 'hand-steadying, mind-employing, secret thought recorder'.

Another article explores the trade in luxury goods that continued throughout the War for those who could afford it. Companies such as Burberry, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason offered things such as torches and pocket flasks made of silver and crocodile skin to make your night in the Anderson shelter more comfortable while Saville Row tailors kept officers in bespoke suits and formal outfits. One company even offered a silk-lined, calf leather, gold-buckled gas mask in place of the cardboard ones issued by the government. It's hard to fathom why anyone would believe that they needed one of these either to keep up appearances or to increase their chances of survival in a bombing raid isn't it? Some things money just can't buy.

If you would like to find out more about the whole 'make do and mend' ethos you should check out Mrs Sew & Sew a blog created by the Imperial War Museum in London. Sadly Mrs Sew & Sew seems to have stopped blogging but it still worth a look for the interesting posts and links.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring In Sicily

Originally uploaded to Flickr on March 28, 2007by Macorig Paolo

Inspired by Inspector Montalbano's passion for Sicilian cuisine I recently splurged on a lovely new cookbook called Spring In Sicily. Not only does it have 60 or so delicious recipes but it's packed with hundreds of coloured photographs showing off the island's amazing scenery, built heritage and abundant natural produce. As Austalians were initially introduced to Italian cuisine in the 1950s by a wave of post-war migrants from southern Italy (particularly Calabria and Sicily) it's not surprising that there is something quite familiar about this style of food.

Some of the Inspector's favourites are there like Sarde Beccafico (fresh sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and currants) but his favourite Pasta 'Ncasciata, a baked pasta dish that has to be seen to be believed consisting of among other things pasta, minced beef, salami, boiled eggs and bechemel sauce, is not. On a whim I decided to 'google' it and low and behold there were pages and pages about it many of them referring back to the Montalbano series.

Although I'll have to work up to the Pasta 'Ncasciata, I have cooked a couple of things from the book already including Polpettine con Ricotta and Insalata Pantesca (potato, tomato, olives and red onion dressed with capers, oregano, basil and olive oil) and I'm itching to try the Gelo di Anguria (Watermelon Jelly decorated with pistachios) and sweets using ricotta as the hero ingredient.