Friday, September 30, 2011

A farewell to jeans

I need to start with a quick Flute story.  I was there yesterday for lunch with a friend (we go there because it is close to his work, really it is about the convenience) and I ran into some friends who were visiting from interstate.  They had come to check it out based on this blog!  How exciting that my blog inspired something.  I hope you guys enjoyed your selection, even if being lunchtime on public service payday meant that the selection was more limited than usual owing to what must have been an early rush..

Given that I was already there, I took the opportunity to pick up some delightful desserts as S and I cooked dinner for my Dad last night.  I bought us each one of these gorgeous treats - caramel mousse topped with apricot crumble and accompanied by a creme filled profiterole topped with a strawberry.  Yum-o and awesome value for $6.50 each!

But today's blog is really an ode to pants, jeans, trousers, etc.  This is not a fashion blog, I don't do outfit shots, but for the next month I will be, as I take part in Frocktober.  For the whole of October I will be packing away my pants, in fact packing away my separates and spending my time in frocks.

I do love dresses, I always have.  But I also adore my jeans.  They are so comfy, so useful, so easy to wear.  Last October I really missed them.  But they are being put away for good reason, this year I'm hoping to raise at least $3,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation as they look for an early detection test and ultimately a cure for ovarian cancer.  You can follow my progress over on Everyday Hero, or just check out the photos here as I push the limits of appropriate dressing.  How many cocktail dresses will I wear to work this year?

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Today we are having some seriously weird weather.  The day began with a thunderstorm so massive that one friend reported their car alarm was set off by the thunder.  Since then we have had downpours, showers, sunshine and wind, sometimes all at once.

I don't mind a bit of wild weather.  It is interesting to watch, every time I look out the window today there seems to be something else going on.  And holding a hot mug of tea in my hands with the rain pelting at the window (even if it is the office window) is one of those things that is 100% guaranteed to make me feel instantly cosy.

I was intending to start this blog entry with a definition of cosy, yet apparently the Internet isn't able to provide me with one!  Not even Wikipedia could define it.  So here are some of my thoughts on what cosy is, please let me know what yours is.

Cosy - a feeling of warmth and comfort eg:
  • Snuggling with a loved one under a doona
  • Sitting in front of an open fire with a warm beverage in hand
  • Having a pet curled up on your lap
  • A comfy chair, a good book, a lamp and a mohair rug on a cold night
  • A hot cup of tea on a cold rainy day

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blossom Tree

Last autumn I wrote about the beautiful show that the tree outside my office put on for my enjoyment.  It took a break for a few months, letting the winter sun through its branches to attempt to warm up my, at the time freezing, office.

Well the office aircon is fixed, the weather is warming up, and my tree is back delighting me.  The whole thing is now covered in massive balls of heavy, pink blossoms.  Not content with multiple layers of delicately ruffled petals, this tree produces its flowers in clusters so heavy that the branches are actually weighed down by them.  It looks fantastic.

Many of the other blossom trees are already on the way out, being taken over by bright shiny new leaves, but as long as the wind doesn't blow too hard I think I've got a good few weeks of enjoyment still to go with this magnificent tree.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Unexpected Day Out

There are lots of reasons why Canberra is a great place to live, not the least of which is what living here gives you access to.

Today, despite the inclement weather, S and I decided to head out.  We were intending to visit the War Memorial, however as we drove along one of Canberra's main roads, Adelaide Avenue, we noticed that there were a great many cars parked on the median strip.  Yay, we thought, it must be the food fair at the Thai Embassy which is always an exceedingly popular event.

Sure enough we could soon see streams of people heading into the embassy, so we decided to join them.  However with the numbers of cars it was a fair way up the road before we found a place to park.  By then we were opposite the Lodge (the official residence of the Prime Minister) and we noticed streams of people were headed in there too!  So being joiners, we headed over to that side of the road to start with.

As luck would have it, it turned out that today was the annual open day for both the Lodge and Government House (the residence of the Governor General).  We queued up and headed in.  I've been in the grounds of the Lodge before, but never in the residence itself, however I had heard numerous times about how small it is.  The Lodge was meant to be a temporary building to house the PM until an official residence could be built, however the problem is, what Prime Minister could ever say that they were going to build themselves a better house and not get electoral backlash?  The result is that the leader of our country lives in a lovely house, that could host a dinner party for maybe 20.  A nice place to live, but hardly somewhere that you could have international receptions!

The rooms really are smaller than you would expect, ok, it would make a really nice home, but it probably isn't what anyone would think our Prime Minister would live in.  It was great to be able to see it all though.

From there we decided to skip the Lyons Club sausage sandwich stall and head over the road to the Thai food festival.  It was the usual crush of people eating vast amounts of delicious Thai food.  At high school, my year included the daughters of both the Prime Minister and the Thai Ambassador.  I wasn't friends with the PM's daughter, hence why I had never been in the lodge, but I was lucky enough to be good friends with the Thai Ambassador's daughter.  As a result, I'm quite familiar with the Thai embassy.  It is a gorgeous series of buildings all built in traditional Thai style and on the open days, it is surrounded by numerous stalls selling all sorts of delicacies along with traditional Thai crafts.  There were performances happening, music and games, a real festival atmosphere.  We sampled a few things, satay sticks, curry puffs, strange balls of chicken (I think) on a stick.  All were very yummy.

But our ticket to the Lodge had also given us entry to Government House, so we didn't linger long.

What the Lodge lacks in grandeur, Government House makes up for it.  Set in gorgeous park like grounds just above the lake, it is magnificent.  Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos in either building but trust me when I say, the reception rooms at Government House are magnificent.  It certainly is the grand setting in which you would want to host foreign dignitaries and in fact they had the dining room all set as if for a banquet and had around the room menu cards from a host of such functions.

We didn't see any sign of Julia Gillard at the Lodge, however our Governor General, Quentin Bryce was wandering the halls of Government House chatting with people.  She is fantastic, I was so impressed, I'm sure she had been doing it all day.  Everyone I saw her talking to was from interstate and you could see how amazed they all were that she was actually there.  In Canberra we get used to seeing politicians etc around.  You run into them in the shops or restaurants, I nearly collided with Julie Bishop walking down the street last week (she was committing the sin of dialing her phone whilst walking), but I can certainly understand why the visitors to Government House today were surprised at turning a corner and meeting the person who actually lives there.

After touring the house, S and I wandered the magnificent gardens for quite a long time until the cold sent us home.  It certainly wasn't the day we expected, but boy was it a great one.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Flute - Apple and Walnut cake

It has been a little while since I blogged about a delicious Flute bakery treat.  Today I got there just after opening.  It was brilliant, for a moment, it was just me in the shop and the shelves were packed full.

The macaroons were piled high.  Usually I see it with just a few and lots of empty space left.  The breads were stacked in great piles and the danishes, filled brioches and individual sweets filled every spot looking (and smelling) amazing.  For a moment I contemplated how much cash was in my wallet (they are cash only) and pondered just how much I could purchase.  But I brought my self back down to earth and returned to the job at hand, you see I had come in search of a cake.  There must have been 20 on display but the one that caught my attention was this delicious apple and walnut gluten free cake.

It was amazingly moist and delicately spiced.  It had a smattering of currents, chunks of walnut, the delicious tang of apple and a great hit of cinnamon and nutmeg.  If left to my own devices I'm pretty sure I could have eaten the whole thing, because it was also really quite light and fluffy. 

Like all Flute cakes it was beautifully presented, topped with three tiny preserved apples.  Ahhh, this bakery can do no wrong!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lace Tights

Today I'm wearing my Jonathan Aston "Sweet Roses" lace tights.  The picture is not me, somehow I thought it really would step over the limit of office comradery to ask one of the guys to take a picture of my legs.  Seriously, that would have to be some kind of office harassment case waiting to happen.  Also I'm wearing a work appropriate knee length skirt so the picture gives you a much better idea of what they look like.

Anyway, I LOVE these tights.  That is right LOVE - with capital letters.  I spent more on them than I've ever spent on a pair of tights, but luckily they seem to wear very well so are actually decent value on a per wear basis.  They definitely good value on a per comment basis.  Every time I wear them I'm bound to get a comment.  I wore them out on the weekend a couple of weeks ago and got 6 comments, including 3 random strangers who stopped me in shops to comment.  Now that is one hard working pair of tights!

But mostly I just love how they make even a rather ordinary work outfit a bit girly and special.  They are lace, with roses and a backseam.  What more could I ask for?  They also remind me that sometimes it is ok to spend a bit more on something special because they make me feel great - does that make me shallow?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Feeding the Family - Lamb and Quince Tagine and Strawberry Mousse

I quite enjoy cooking just for myself.  I find it is a great chance to experiment, try new ideas and make things up with the knowledge that if it is all a terrible failure I can just have cheese on toast for dinner.  But that said, it really is nicer to cook for others.  It isn't just about providing people you love with delicious food, it is the sharing of the meal.  The gathering around the table to eat and talk and laugh.  Plus it is always nice when people say they like what you have cooked!

Thursday night has been family dinner night for a very long time and it is nearly always at Mum and Dad's house with Mum doing the cooking, but recently I've been chipping in.  I love having the opportunity to give Mum the night off and to fill my home with people and food and usually two small, hyperactive dogs.  Also, being my family it means I can still experiment a little in the knowledge that while they won't hold back on telling me something is a failure, they will be fine with it.

One of the marauding duo being extremely cute

For this family dinner I turned to my new cookbook of Moroccan and North African Food.  As an avid fan of cookbooks (I like to browse them like magazines) I now have self-imposed rules about buying them to ensure that I don't end up with hundreds.  They need to have pictures of every dish, it needs to be actually achievable, ie not requiring 300 hard to source ingredients, it needs to cover a food type that an existing book doesn't and it needs to make my mouth water when I read the recipes.  This is a Women's Weekly cookbook which means it almost automatically meets the first two points.  I'm only just learning about North African food, so that covered point three and I want to make just about every recipe in it, so that was point four covered off.  The biggest difficulty was deciding what to cook first.

In the end I decided to make the lamb and quince tagine with pistachio cous cous.  Of course it isn't quince season so I ended up using a suggested alternative of green nashi pears.  I don't know that Dad liked it, to start with he doesn't like cous cous, but everyone else thought it was great.  My brother in law had two huge servings.  The nashi worked really well and the lamb was incredibly tender.  I will be making this again!

For dessert I was inspired by the large numbers of gorgeous strawberries available at the moment to make strawberry mousse.  I've only made it once before but it is easy and delicious.  I topped it with diced strawberries marinated in cointreau, some thinly sliced mind and a little sugar.  The recipe only calls for one egg white, I think I would double that in the future to get a fluffier mousse but this was certainly very deliciously strawberry, a great spring dessert.

Strawberry Mousse
500g strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon gelatine
250g lite sour cream
1 egg white whipped to stiff peaks

Blend the strawberries and icing sugar together to a smooth consistency with no lumps.

In a small jug place the gelatine and 2 tablespoons of cold water.  Stand the jug in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine dissolves and the liquid becomes clear.  Allow to cool to room temperature then add to strawberry mixture.

Refrigerate until the strawberries start to set - 30-45 minutes.

Add the sour cream a spoonful at a time until well combined and there are no lumps.  Gently fold in the whipped egg white, being careful not to lose the lightness.

Pour into 6 half cup capacity dishes and refrigerate until set.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word Bubbles - I'm addicted

Just a quick one today to alert you to my new addiction - word bubbles.  It is awesome, you get 3 letters and 60 seconds to make as many words as you can starting with those letters.  For someone with mild dyslexia in the form of a serious inability to spell (as you may sometimes notice on this blog) it is probably quite good for me.  At least I tell myself that when I swear I'm only having one more game.

It also makes me wonder how my brain works when the letters nec come up and I thought of necrophilia before I thought of neck. 

Do try it, just be prepared for hours to have gone by without notice:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You never know till you ask...

There is that old saying, you never know till you ask.  Well the last few weeks have certainly proved that to me.

As I've written about before, this October I'm organising a charity dance event, Rock your Frock to raise funds for ovarian cancer research.  I'm hoping it is going to be a great night, there will be plenty of good music, lots of dancing, I'm planning a fun activity or two, plus there is the chance that there will be men in dresses.  And you always know that the minute a man puts on a skirt, it is going to be a good night.

As the weeks have passed, the planning has gone on and it has started to come together.

However the most amazing thing has happened - free stuff has started rolling in.  I just asked people and the next thing I knew, I got the venue for free, the sound and lighting equipment for free, and all of a sudden it meant that every dollar that comes in the door can go straight to charity.

But the generosity that has really knocked my socks off has been the prizes, oh my goodness the prizes.  I was hoping to be able to gather a few prizes together so that I could have a raffle, or maybe even a silent auction.  I really hoped that some of the dance schools who were attending would donate a prize, and they sure did - at last count 4 dance schools have confirmed prizes and I think there might be one or two more still to come.  Spurred on I started asking around ... and then the prizes really started rolling in!

There is the gorgeous handbag, the flowers, the jewellery, chocolates from Koko Black, a massage, tickets to The Stomp, HP donated 2 (!!!) photo printers and an X-box!  To be honest, it is all slightly overwhelming and completely humbling.

A month out from the event, I'm getting so excited, surely with this much goodwill we are guaranteed a fantastic night.

If you are Canberra based, or will be in Canberra that weekend, do come along.  The details are:

Rock your Frock - the Frocktober Dance Party
Saturday 15 October 2011
7pm - late
German Harmonie Club, Jerrabomberra Avenue, Narrabundah
Cost $10, tickets at the door with all proceeds to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Choc-bit Cookies

There are some foods which are so intrinsically linked to a memory, that it doesn't matter how many times you have them out of that context, one taste and you are instantly sent back there.

Choc-bit cookies are one of those for me.  To start with they aren't cookies, they are little cupcakes, but that is what they have always, and will always be called in my family.  The recipe comes from my Dad's family but it was what Mum did with them that locks them in my memory.  Mum used to make massive batches of them and would freeze them, three to a freezer bag.  Then they would go in our lunch boxes.  By morning tea they were defrosted and I had them pretty much every morning tea for most of my high school years and a good proportion of primary school too.

You might think after so many years of having them every day we would get bored of them, but I don't remember that ever happening.  I even developed a little ritual about how to eat them, where I would nibble them away, counting each choc-bit I found.  It was such a standard part of each morning tea that I would have to report to my friends on how many there were.

Today I made a batch.  While S liked them, without all that history, they are just a nice cupcake to him.  I however was savouring a memory, and yes, I had to nibble away and count the choc-bits!

In case I've inspired you to try them, here is the recipe:

8oz (250g) butter
8oz (250g) sugar
6 eggs (or 4 yolks 3 eggs)
6oz plain flour
6oz SR flour
6 tbls milk
grated lemon rind
1 pkt dark choc bits

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time (I like to add a slurp of vanilla extract at this point too).  Beat in the flour, milk and lemon rind until well combined, then fold in the choc bits.

Spoon mixture into small cupcake cases until 2/3rds full and bake at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden on top.  This makes a massive batch, I made a half batch yesterday and that was about 20 cupcakes.

They are delicious eaten warm from the oven and also freeze very well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Flash Mobs

I love a good flash mob.

The people who think the idea up and coordinate the group are brilliant.  The participants of a good one are clearly committed.  But the thing I really love is the expressions of absolute wonder and joy you get on people's faces as they are surprised by whatever fantastic performance suddenly and unexpectedly leaped into their day.

That is the thing about a flash mob, it is about people creating entertainment for other people for no material gain.  It is entertainment of the purest sort and a movement that I hope never dies out.

I got sent a link to this footage of the Copenhagan Philharmonic playing Ravel's Bolero this morning.  It is sooo worth watching, from the brilliant opening of a conductor conducting a single snare drum, to the full might of the orchestra.  And the expressions on the faces of those watching is just magnificent.  The dawning realisation that this is not just busking, the kids entranced by the music, the parents conducting along and the one lady at the end just standing looking about her as the musicians disappear, clearly with no idea what just happened.

If you need to smile today, take 5 minutes and watch this, it really is guaranteed to make you feel good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My friend the Internet

When Internet and I first met I had the feeling we would be friends.  Here was a place I could find stuff out for assignments and contact my flesh and blood friends.  Over the years, Internet and I have grown up together, developed new interests, new connections, new ways of doing things - like shopping.

For a while I worried about buying things online, would my identity be stolen, would things arrive, would I become some sad, sorry statistic that my IT savvy friends laugh about?  But eventually I got into the groove and now I do a vast amount of my shopping with my good friend Internet.  Last year nearly everyone's Christmas presents came from the cyber realm as does things as random as my perfume and wine supplies.

But it is my wardrobe that is benefiting most from this friendship.  I've become a bit disillusioned by the high prices, limited range and poor quality that I find in so many Australian shops.  I think I've bought one item of clothing in an actual bricks and mortar store this year, despite many hours of wandering them.  Instead online shopping has captured me.

One of the things about an online purchase, however, is the delayed gratification.  You browse, mull, select and pay, then ... nothing happens.  Not for a little while at least - well other than the credit card bill arriving.  But then, almost like a surprise, the mail arrives and with it a parcel and even though I know that I paid for the contents, it is like a present.

Today a present arrived in the form of a parcel from ASOS.  It had two dresses that will be perfect as the spring weather warms up and a fantastic skirt for tango.  My good old friend Internet, you really are the best!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Spring has sprung and love is in the air

The first day of spring - it is amazing how flipping over a page of the calendar can be so very exciting.  How it can bring a smile to your face as warm as the gorgeous spring sunshine.  In reality the season of spring has been here for a couple of weeks now, but there is something about the first of September that just makes the world a little bit brighter.

The first of September is a significant day in my family not just because it heralds blossom, sunshine and the promise of summer, but because it is my parents' wedding anniversary.  Yes those two gorgeous people at the top are my parents on their wedding day.  The rather romantic date had more to do with the fact that it was the first Saturday of the school holidays (Mum was a teacher) than the change of season, but the symbolicness wasn't lost on anyone.

Do you remember the 90's sit com "Mad About You"?  The very last episode was told from their daughter's perspective about how her parents had the perfect relationship.  Perfect not in that it was all roses and stardust, in fact there were fights and silences and hard times.  It was perfect in that no matter what happened, what challenges life threw up, through the good times and the bad times they got through it all together.  That they were stronger as a unit, each was part of the other.  My parents are just like that.  The past decade or so has been a rollercoaster.  Mum and Dad have had amazing challenges, it has been tough.  But you know, I look at them and I see that couple in the picture, still smiling full of love even if there is a bit more experience behind it.  I often wonder if I have the strength that would enable me to survive what they have and I hope that I can live up to the amazing example of a real life together that they have set.

I guess most people celebrate their wedding anniversary quietly as a couple, but being my family, no celebration is really complete without the whole crew in tow.  Add in that Thursday is family dinner night and there really seemed to be no option other than for us to all celebrate together.  So tonight, us kids are taking Mum and Dad out to a rather gorgeous restaurant.  It will be a fitting way to celebrate what is and will always be a very special date.

I know this picture is a little bury but I had to include it to show the magnificence of my Dad's maroon suit - they had wedding cars to match.  And the bridesmaids wore avocado (as in the colour not the fruit).  Ahh the beauty of a wedding in the 70's.