and then, the light was different

light1One of the aspects that has always annoyed me about our house is that the light (downstairs, and in the courtyard, at least) really isn’t that great. At all – I mean no sunlit windows.

Yesterday, in one hour, that totally changed.

light2 light3Next door to us, the house was quite decrepit and knocked down earlier in the week, but yesterday, they removed the overgrown trees that lined our fence. This was good for quite a number of reasons (they dropped a lot of leaves and crap onto our driveway and paving, which stained and were really hard to clean up), but mostly, I think, because it completely changed the light we receive in the house and courtyard.

This makes me very, very happy.

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On a side note, we’re trying to revitalise our garden beds at the moment. Last weekend I did a butt-load of weeding, and put new top soil in where needed. But we’re in a bit of a sticky spot possum-wise. They. Eat. Everything. (Well not everything, but all the pretty things!).

Plants possums eat (so far): marigolds, geraniums, basil, oregano, parsley, tomato leaves, pumpkin leaves.

Plants possums don’t eat: lavender, rosemary, chives, lemon balm, mint, bay tree.

I’m all for having lots of rosemary and lavender in my garden, but I’d like some more eager flowering plants too. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to keep replacing plants eaten by voracious possums, and I don’t really want to put up netting to keep them out (I’ve even tried putting cayenne pepper on the leaves to deter the possums and the keep at it!). So if you have any possum-friendly (or rather, possum-resistant) planting ideas, I’d LOVE your advice. They don’t seem to like the onion-family, so I’m thinking that vegetable-wise, leeks are probably a good option (and spring onions too?). I’m also going to give chillies a go.

We have a four-day weekend here for Easter (starting tomorrow), and I have a relaxing weekend of reading, gardening and cooking planned. It’s going to be SO good just to be able to relax for a few extra days – it’s been such a hectic start to the year!

 

 

recipe: lemon and almond biscuits

IMG_5303Sometimes, biscuits are required, and these, friends, are some of my favourites. With a moist, tender crumb, and delightfully chewy bits. Put everything in the food processor, and you’ve got your dough. Shape, cut, and bake, then drizzle in a extra lemon-y syrup. Gluten and dairy free, they’re perfect with a morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee, and a long chat.

IMG_5307There’s an optional add-in of Limoncello here, and while I opted out this time, it’s a great extra. These would also be superb flavoured with orange rather than lemon zest (in which case you could put Grand Marnier or Cointreau in the syrup). I really love these biscuits – they have a great mouthfeel, and I love that they’re softer than you’d expect a normal biscuit to be. I hope you like them too!

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Lemon and Almond Biscuits

Makes about 36

Adapted (heavily) from The Cook’s Companion, by Stephanie Alexander

  • 375 g finely ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw castor sugar
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 egg

Syrup

  • 1/3 cup raw castor sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon limoncello (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C (355 F) and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  2. In a food processor (or by hand, if you don’t have one) combine ground almonds, sugar, zest, juice and egg. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingers.
  3. Divide dough into 2 long rolls, and form with your hands until their diameter is about 2 cm.
  4. Cut into little logs about 2 cm long, place on baking trays, and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and cool while making the syrup.
  6. To make the syrup, heat sugar and water in a small pan until sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. Add limoncello (if using) and lemon juice. Allow to cool a little.
  7. Arrange biscuits in a shallow tray and pour warm syrup over. Leave for 5-10 minutes until well soaked.
  8. Store in an airtight container, dusting with icing sugar before serving, if you like.

sewing: bunting canopy

bunting2

Today, for you my friends, I’ve got some photos of a project that I’m so in love with, and absolutely thrilled with the results. A bunting bed canopy! In an effort to start using up my rather large collection of craft/sewing supplies (I’m an obsessive hoarder of fabric scraps!), I decided to make some bunting in order to use up all the little bits and pieces of fabric that I had stored away.

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bunting1I have to say, I’m so happy with the results! It was a very easy project – the only annoying part was turning all the flags right side out and ironing them – which you could probably complete in a weekend, depending on the size of your fabric collection. Bonus: this project should probably be free, I didn’t spend anything to make it, as I already had all the fabric, thread, etc that I needed. Free interior decoration? Most certainly!

I secured the bunting to the ceiling using removable adhesive hooks, so there’ll be no damage to the paint. I love the brightness and colour that it brings into our bedroom, which was looking a little plain before. I’ve still got a few leftover flags and binding tape, so I’m thinking I’ll make a few more strips as gifts.

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Also, my favourite pillowcases! These were embroider by my great-grandmother (Nanny Kay), and I inherited them when she passed away. They’re so beautiful, and I love them to death. One day, when the case itself wears out, I think I’m going to save the embroidery and frame it. I can’t tell you how special it is to have something that was made by Nanny Kay, that I’ll have forever.

I hope you’re having a lovely day!

it almost feels like autumn

autumn2Well, as much as we get autumn here in Brisbane, it almost feels like it’s here. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. I am so SO looking forward to winter, but I don’t want to let autumn rush by too quickly. Feeling inspired by Kaylah at The Dainty Squid’s list of seasonal goals, I decided to think about the things I’d like to achieve this autumn.

autumn3 autumn1

My goals for autumn 2013:

Watch at least 4 Studio Ghibli films. I’m really excited for this goal! I’ve only seen My Neighbour Totoro, and Spirited Away, so I must watch some more! I love the stories and animation – it’s just wonderful. I’ve got Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, and a few more on my radar.

Take more photos. I’ve really enjoyed using my camera more lately, and I’d like that to continue. I’d also like to use my camera more outside of my house – I’ve developed a bit of a phobia about taking photos in public, so I’d definitely like to conquer that.

Finish off current projects. I realised during the week that I had 5 (!) current projects, and with full-time study that’s just way too much! So I’d like to spend some time finishing off all the little things I’ve got going. Moving forward, I’m definitely going to limit myself to one project at a time.

Knit a beanie. Obviously once I’ve accomplished the last goal! This will be a good way to practice my knitting and use up some of the spare wool I have around.

Work on making my study a wonderful place to work. I’d like to migrate from the couch when I’m from home to my actual desk, which means figuring out a way to make our office a nicer place to work.

Clean up our garden. I’ve started making inroads on this goal already, but there is still a lot of weeding to do, and I think our soil needs some work. Once that’s done, I’d like to plant some vegetables and more herbs.

That’s it! I’m really looking forward to the weather cooling down, tights and jumpers coming out of the closet, and lots of soups and stews. Happy Autumn!

 

iced tea mixology

IMG_5195I’d like to say we’re tea-enthusiasts in our household, but really, we’re tea-crazies. Hot, cold, sugar, honey, morning, afternoon, and night. There are few things a really good cup of tea can’t fix, or at least put in perspective. In the photo above, clockwise from bottom left, you’ve got Ruby Red Rosehip, Black Rose, Honey Vanilla, Peppermint, and Vanilla Mint. (This is just a selection of our collection…we also usually have a plain black tea, a Chinese green tea, and a chai in rotation too.)

IMG_5185 IMG_52291. Ruby Red Rosehip with blueberries and lemon balm.

Now, if you love tea, I highly, highly recommend you invest in a decent tea jug (pictured above). I use this one (also available here), and from the moment I brought it home, it’s been true love. My preferred brewing method is a cold-brew or sun-brew: fill the jug with filtered water, place 4-6 tablespoons of tea into the tea compartment, screw the compartment into the lid, close the jug, give it a good shake, and leave it for 2-4 hours (either on your kitchen bench or outside in the sun) depending on how strong you’d like your tea to be.

That’s it! No hot water, no trying to cool hot tea. Once it’s brewed, all you have to do is pour over ice, and add any extras you desire. Most of the teas I’ve shown here are herbal or caffeine free (which I prefer because when I make iced tea, I drink a lot!), but you can make iced tea with practically any loose-leaf or bagged tea. I thought I’d share a few of my favourites, with ideas for making them even more special.

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2. Honey Vanilla with cloudy apple juice and lime.

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3. Black Rose with lemon.

IMG_52004. Vanilla Mint Virgin Mojito (lime juice and fresh mint).

Ideas for extras:

  • Lemon, lime, orange juice and slices (any citrus really, depending on the flavour of your tea)
  • Fresh berries
  • Apple slices
  • Fresh mint, lemon balm
  • Apple juice
  • Sparkling mineral water
  • Cranberry or pomegranate juice
  • Honey or maple syrup
  • Other fruit: peaches, pineapple, melon, etc

Whose to say, in fact, that you can’t mix different flavours of iced tea? No one! My favourite stall at the markets on a Sunday is the iced tea man, whose mix of Jasmine and Peppermint is amazing.

I make iced tea very regularly, it’s so refreshing, and in the hot weather, there is nothing I’d rather drink. If you don’t like drinking plain water it’s a great way to stay hydrated, and much better for you than soft drink or straight fruit juices. I also love to make them when I’m having friends over – it’s such a good non-alcoholic alternative to have on hand.

Well, that’s my manifesto of iced tea mixology! I’d love to hear about your tea experiences, or if you have any more ideas – I’m all about sharing the tea-love!

 

 

 

recipe: mexican-inspired skillet sweet potato

sweet potato2Hola!

To say we’ve been on a bit of a Mexican food kick lately, would be an extreme understatement (to say that one week, we ate Mexican 6 nights would not be a lie). We discovered an amazing, amazing taqueria (that does ‘Mission’ style Mexican food – apparently it originates in San Francisco?). It’s only five minutes down the road from our place, inexpensive ($9 gets you two tacos, $11 the most enormous burrito I’ve ever seen), and so, so good.

What I really appreciate, and gets me really excited to start exploring Mexican cuisine, is just how allergy and intolerance friendly it is. Most meals are gluten free (excluding the burrito, which traditionally uses a wheat-flour tortilla), the vegetarian option is just as exciting as traditional meat, you can easily go vegan, and it’s fresh, filling, and delicious. After a long time feeling like I couldn’t eat out anywhere because of my dietary needs, I can’t tell you how amazing and exciting it is to have an option that I want to eat, AND that’s pretty much as good for you as anything I could make at home.

An aside: familiar readers (and friends, and family) will know that I used to harbor an extreme aversion to coriander (cilantro) – sometimes I wouldn’t even be able to finish a meal because there was coriander in it! Well, I have some news – I am completely and totally converted to the coriander-lovin’ family! I can’t get enough. The little hints of it in the tacos, nachos, salads, and salsas I’ve been eating recently have nudged me little by little into the coriander zone.

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So, this recipe is an homage to my new love, coriander. I woke up last Saturday wanting something a bit more special for breakfast, and I already had homemade guacamole in the fridge, so bam!, this happened. Even though I made it for breakfast, it could easily be lunch, or dinner. I think it would be good topped with a poached egg, or a few black beans scattered in there, or chopped fresh tomato (or sour cream, or cheese, or…you get the idea). I can’t call it traditional Mexican, but it’s certainly Mexican-inspired. Enjoy!

Mexican-Inspired Skillet Sweet Potato

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, skin on, diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 pinch whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 spring onion/scallion, finely sliced
  • 1 small handful coriander, chopped
  • 2 handfuls rocket
  • 2 generous spoonfuls of homemade guacamole (recipe below)
  • Sea salt
  • Hot sauce (to serve)

Instructions

  1. In a large frying pan, over medium heat, heat the oil.
  2. Once hot, fry cumin seeds for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add garlic and sweet potato, and a small pinch of salt, frying gently for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add a dash of water to the pan, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook sweet potatoes, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through.
  4. Once cooked, turn heat up to high, and remove lid. Add both paprikas, mixing thoroughly to coat the sweet potato. Continue to cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, to get all the edges crispy, and develop some nice browning.
  5. Place a handful of rocket in the bottom of each bowl. Divide the sweet potato between the bowls. Top with guacamole, coriander and scallions.
  6. Serve with hot sauce. Enjoy!

Lime-y Guacamole

Makes a lot!

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • sea salt

Instructions

  1. Cut avocados in half, remove pit, and scoop out into a bowl.
  2. Mash avocados with a fork (you don’t want a smooth puree here, a bit of texture is what you’re aiming for).
  3. Mash in lime, coriander and salt.
  4. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until needed. Will keep for a few days in the fridge.