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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Neglected Garden...

Look at the sorry state of my neglected garden. After so many years of drought I think I'd just really given up on the whole enterprise. Not being able to water the garden except with a bucket and watching things wither and die year after year was so deflating. The only things I've really had any success with have been my herbs and a few vegies.

This winter, however, has been amazing. So much rain! Lush green grass is growing where there used to be brown, brittle little shoots - and the weeds! A small magnolia that has never flowered is suddenly abloom, the blueberry has little pink flowers and no matter how many times I pick up the dead camellia heads there always seem to be more within a few days.

I feel quite inspired!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

National Bookshop Day...

The Paperback Bookshop, Bourke Street, Melbourne by Diego DeNicola via Flickr.

Today is inaugural National Bookshop Day in Australia. It's been a tough year for bricks and mortar bookshops this year so today is a great day to get out there and treat yourself to a book (or two, or three). Here are a few of my favourite haunts...

I love the Paperback Bookshop because it has a great selection of titles (particularly fiction) and because its open until 11pm most nights which makes it a great place to rendezvous with friends especially if you're on your own. The only problem is not buying too many books that then become a burden for the night!

Readings, Lygon Street, Carlton by Snipergirl via Flickr. Ah, home away from home. I also love the store in Hawthorn. Amazing range and palpable love of books radiating from the walls...

Hill of Content, Bourke Street, Melbourne by Michael Coghlan via Flickr.

This little gem has had a number of new closures in past years but has somehow managed to hold on. I remember my Dad telling me about the Hill of Content when I was little. The first shop on the site opened in 1922 and was known form its 'quality antiquarian, second-hand and fine new books'. There are no second-hand books there now but its still a great place for high quality hardcovers of the 'coffee-table' variety especially in art and design, gardening and travel.

Image via

These days if I come over all antiquarian there is only one destination for me and that's Kay Craddocks Antiquarian Bookseller in Collins Street. Time Out Melbourne has described it as 'the sort of proper ye olde shop you expect to find magical ammulets...a fantastical place full of the finest, rarest books and probably a gateway to Narnia if you look hard enough.' See how exciting bookshops can be?!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Early Spring...

Fresh Laundry by Chiots Run via Flickr

See-sawing stockmarkets, sovereign debt out of control and and rioters in the streets. Not the best of weeks was it? I'm not really in any position to fix the worlds larger problems so I've been sticking pretty close to home this week and trying to take more notice of the changes happening in my own backyard.

I've been reading a very interesting book called The Comfort of Water by Maya Ward which chronicles her walking pilgrimage up the Yarra River from the port of Melbourne to its source up near Mount Baw Baw. In it she mentions how the local Wurundjerri people recognised not four but six or seven seasons. This makes a lot of sense to me. I think 'Early Spring' has definately arrived. Not only has the weather been a little warmer lately but there is lots of cheery golden wattle blossom about as well as the more European prunus and cherry blossom. I haven't had a chance to take any photos but I don't think I could top Sophie's images over here. (I haven't seen many wombats about but I'm sure they're out there doing their thing! )

Even closer to home I've been on a bit of a health kick drinking lots of Madame Flavour Green, Jasmine and Pear Tea. I love the pack and the little silk pouches that hold large tea leaves. I think it's also lovely that it comes with a little letter from Madame Flavour letting you know that you can use each teabag three times. What a generous spirit!

We've also been enjoying this delicious Raw Broccoli Salad found over at Stonesoup. The great thing about this recipe is that there is rarely a time I wouldn't have all these ingredients in the house. I was a bit unsure about all that raw broccoli but it was really quite delicious and it was so simple to make that I made the kids do it! We were playing cafes anyway and they often make weird and wonderful (and sometimes inedible) flavour combinations so this made a welcome change. I love Stonesoup's five ingredient philosophy but in Bella's world more really is more so she added some baby spinach leaves and marinated fetta with great results. We'll definately be making this one again.

Raw Broccoli Salad via Stonesoup

Let's hope things settle down a bit this week and that certain members of the global community step back and take a good look at themselves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cumquat Jam

Recently, two of my lovely work friends raided their mother's cumquat trees for me. I do have two of my own little trees but they are not yet producing in jam-making quantities. I absolutely love cumquat jam and the fact that it's not easy to find commercially means that I never tire of it (as I do when I OD on cherry or apricot jam!).

Having made my first batch I couldn't wait to tuck in but I'd forgotten that citrus and I have not been getting along so well lately and one teaspoon of this jewel-like jam left me with an ulcerated tongue and skin that felt like it was on fire. I can't tell you how depressing that was...Maybe you'd like to make some and I'll live precariously through you?

Cumquat Jam

1 kg cumquats

1 kg sugar

1 lemon (juice and peel)

1 litre of water


1. Slice the cumquats as finely as possible.

2. Peel the lemon with a vegetable peeler then julienne the strips so you have nice thin strips of peel.

3. Place cumquats (seeds and all*), lemon peel, juice and water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until skins are tender.

4. Add sugar and stir to dissolve then bring to a rolling boil for about 25 minutes.

5. While jam is boiling sterilise your jars by washing them in hot soapy water and drying them in a low oven for about 30 minutes. Alternatively you can just put them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher. I never really know how much jam a recipe will make so I usually prepare 5-6 jars just in case.

6. Check whether or not your jam has reached setting point (to test, place a small blob of jam on a cold saucer. Once the jam has cooled a little it should wrinkle up if you push it with your finger). You need to be brave at this point. Don't let the jam boil for too long or it will become progressively darker and will set like a rock. If this does happens don't despair. As long as it is not burnt you can still use it. It will just be hard to spead on bread but will be lovely warmed up as a glaze for meats or a sauce for ice-cream, pancakes etc).

6. Take jam off the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes or so to allow the fruit to distribute itself evenly. Skim off any foamy looking bits and lift out any seeds you see.

7. Pour the jam into sterilised jars making sure that there are no air bubbles. You can fill jars right to the top as the jam will shrink as it cools. Make sure you clean the inside and outside lip of jar with a hot cloth to remove any spilt jam.

8. Seal while jam is still hot, label and store in a cool, dark place for as long as you like!

* you can take all the seeds out, put them in a muslin bag then add the bag to the mixture but I find that they generally rise to the surface while the jam is cooling so I just skim them out then!)