Thursday, December 29, 2011

looking back, looking forward

I always enjoy this time of year, the lull of days between Christmas and New Year. For me it is a time to reflect on the year, to clear out cupboards and drawers, and look ahead to the New Year. I’m not one for making resolutions but I do like to think about what I’d do differently or the same in the New Year, and to write a fresh list of hopes and ambitions.

I spent yesterday editing the family photos I took in 2011. I have a first edit of about 280, there’s more to trim before creating an album. With the switch from film to digital photography I think fewer people print photos and instead opt for sharing them via their phones, email, facebook and online albums. I like the process of creating a hard copy album and then being able to sit and share the memories and stories without looking at a computer screen.

I hope that you have all filled up on precious moments this Christmas and that you are having the chance to get sand between your toes and feel the splash and salt of the ocean, or your version of that wherever in the world you may be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

back to the beach

Finally the weather feels like summer. Soak up the beach via these pics and I'll see you back here next week. Wishing everyone a very joyous Christmas. The beach is calling...

...merry christmas...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

christmas retreat

The week before Christmas is filled with activities preparing for the day to celebrate with family and friends.

So, when I decided to pack up and drive two hours from home to take the boys to my nana’s house in the countryside for a couple of nights this week I felt like there must be at least 10 things I’d forgotten to do and how could I be going away right now.

 The reality was with nana around to entertain the boys I was able to make panforte, finish writing cards and sew pants for River and Sol all with relative ease and minimal interruptions. And between cooking, sewing and writing I took walks with River and Sol in the ‘enchanted forest’ as River calls the gum tree forest on nana’s property. A little piece of bush magic…

When we return home to Peninsula the traffic will have started streaming with holiday makers. I'm so glad to have had time in this peaceful sanctuary and I hope you've enjoyed the 'escape' even just for a moment in pictures.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

strong bread

In Byron Bay on Australia’s east coast it doesn’t need to be Christmas to enjoy the delightful panforte made by talented artisan bakers Faith and Sally. I spend winter in Byron with my family and I always return to Victoria with Faith and Sally’s panforte, that they make year round, for my nan who then slices it wafer thin to make it last to go with as many cups of tea as possible.

Panforte originates in Italy and literally translates to ‘strong bread’, a specialty in the region of Siena it is also known as Siena Cake. It dates back to the thirteenth century and there are a number of stories to be found about the origins of panforte. One being that farmers for the Convent Montecellesci made panforte as a tribute to the nuns.

This Christmas I’ve experimented and made my own as gifts for friends and family. Nan tells me it is as good as Faith and Sally’s. I’m not convinced about that but I am happy with the spicy, nutty, fruity, chocolatey result!

This recipe is gluten free and was inspired by the recipe in ‘More gorgeous gluten free’ by Carole Hofflin. The recipe is very flexible, you can substitute any number of the ingredients. Carole’s recipe calls for 300g of mixed peel, I’m not a fan of mixed peel so I left it out and added dates and cranberries. Switch the walnuts for pecans. And so on.


400g whole almonds, blanched
250g walnuts, roughly chopped
250g raisins
250g currants
250g dried figs, chopped
100g dried cranberries
100g glace ginger, chopped
150g dried dates, chopped
300g dark chocolate, chopped
100g brown rice flour
100g almond meal
3 tspns cocoa powder
2 tspns ground cinnamon
1 tspn white pepper
1 tspn ground nutmeg
1 tspn ground coriander seeds
300g honey
100g raw or brown sugar
30ml water

Pre-heat oven to 160C degrees.

Into a large bowl place walnuts, dried fruits, rice flour, almond meal, spices, cocoa and chocolate.

Mix all ingredients well.

Toast the almonds and while still hot add the to the mixture.

Place the water, honey, and sugar into a saucepan and gently bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves and taking care not to burn.

Pour the sugar syrup over the fruit and nut mix and stir quickly and thoroughly.

Tip mixture into a lined (bottom and sides) lamington tray.

Using the back of a wooden spoon press the mix evenly into the tray.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool completely before removing from the tray.

Cut into rectangles or triangles and store in an airtight container. It will keep for several weeks.

Optional: dust with pure icing sugar. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

the gift of a day

I gave my friend a gift today. It wasn’t a gift I could wrap and it didn’t cost any money. It was, the gift of a day. A precious gift of time to herself and I felt so joyous to give it.

My friend is a mum raising her four-year-old daughter on her own. To any mother, time to themselves is a rare and fleeting commodity to a mother flying solo with their children it is even more elusive. So, a whole day for my friend to be, think and feel as she wanted. No questions to answer, socks to be found, stories to be told, games to be played. Just her own thoughts to be had. Uninterrupted.

I love giving gifts and I got so much out of this one because I understood how much it meant. Even when during the day the children squabbled and Sol cried and my friend’s daughter asked, ‘Can you do something about the crying?’ I just smiled to myself and thought of my friend and I felt so happy.

My point of sharing this is not to say ‘how good am I?!’ rather to take a moment to shine a light on the incredible work parents do, the energy it takes to parent and to the importance of supporting each other to do it – especially those parents doing it on their own.

Each day really is a gift. Christmas drawing closer, the coming together of family and friends is causing me to feel reflective and immensely grateful for the gift of each day, for the gift of children, my own and other people’s, and for family and friends.

Surprise a friend with a gift of a day or a gift of a meal. Not because they're sick, or they have an appointment, or they're grieving, or just had a baby. Just because.

Happy gift giving.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

break the farce

Finding a breakfast cereal free of sugar of any kind is almost impossible. Today I may have done the impossible. Artisse organic cinnamon spelt flakes do contain barley malt extract, however it is the second last ingredient listed instead of the second as is the case with most cereals containing sugar, and there is less than 1 gram of sugar in the whole 300g box (pictured below). I can live with that. I found this in the health food aisle of Coles supermarket. (Does anyone else find it curious that there is a health food aisle? What does that say about the rest of the food sold in supermarkets?)

There’s a lot riding on a nutritious breakfast, it sets you up – or down – for your day. Who really thinks eating sugar for breakfast is a good idea? I’d say no one but really most people opt for convenience over truth.

Food manufacturers push health claims on the front of the packet, while the truth is in the fine print, the ingredients label.

So, what to do?

Avoid buying packaged breakfast foods that goes for cereal, breakfast bars and breakfast drinks.

Instead, go for the whole grain – oats, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice – and make porridge. A TEASPOON of honey or maple syrup on a wholefood porridge is better than any packaged cereal.

Poached or boiled eggs on good quality bread are a good option.

Avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice on toast.

The weather is warming up here in Oz making fruit salad a good start to the day with some whole grain toast and nut spread.

If you do buy cereal look out for these words: maltodextrin, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, sorbitol, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, sucrose, name a few other names for sugar. Not to forget maple syrup and honey.

While we’re at the breakfast table, so to speak, watch out for other high sugar hijackers like yoghurt and fruit juice. Much healthier to eat a piece of fruit than drink a juice. Real yoghurt does not contain sugar. Try natural yoghurt with no sugar and stir in some fresh fruit and if you must so the kids will eat it add a small spoon of honey. Sugar is addictive. If you are making changes remember you are weaning yourself and your family off something you have been consuming for years. It will take time and possibly a few tantrums but they will pass. If the sugar options are not in the house they can’t be eaten and they can’t be the trigger for a fuss.

For readers with new babies – congratulations! – I’d recommend not getting yourself into a situation where your child is demanding sugar by not introducing sugar to their diet right from the start. My two year old loves natural yoghurt because he has never eaten yoghurt with sugar in it – a very strong case of what they don’t know about can’t hurt them! 

I’d love to hear about your favorite real food breakfast.

Monday, December 12, 2011

money for jam

For River’s kinder Christmas fair it was my job to make marmalade to sell. I turned to a trusty Women’s Weekly cookbook for the recipe because the book’s recipes are triple tested so even though I’d never made marmalade I could count on it working it out. I hoped.

I turned a blind eye to the incredible amount of sugar it takes to make jam. There is fantastic profit to be made from jam, hence the adage ‘money for jam’. Oranges and lemons were donated, as were the jars, the only expense was the organic raw sugar.

Wow. Making marmalade is labor intensive! For the uninitiated, there is a lot of rind peeling and fine slicing to be done. It is somehow meditative though, even with River and Sol at my heels asking for snacks and games to be sorted.

After the slicing and chopping came the ‘stewing’ of rind, pulp, sugar and water until boiling and ready to set. I love testing to see if it is ready to set, a spoon of hot marmalade on a saucer out of the freezer. If it sets with a ‘skin’ it’s ready.

While the jam bubbled on the stove-top, the jars and lids were sterilizing in the oven below.

It was time to fill the jars.

The whole process was immensely satisfying. And profitable.

I’d love to hear about homemade creations that have been successful for fundraising for your child’s kinder or school.

A jar of home made jam or chutney makes a wonderful Christmas gift because you made it! If you’re feeling inspired here’s the recipe I used. I varied it though as I didn’t have limes and I used raw sugar and it worked out fine.

Citrus Marmalade

4 large oranges (1.2kg)
3 medium lemons (420g)
4 large limes (400g)
1.25 litres (5 cups) water
1.6kg (7 cups) white sugar approximately

Step 1: Peel all fruit thinly; cut rind into thin strips. Remove pith from all fruit; reserve half, discard remaining pith. Chop flesh coarsely, reserve seeds.
Step 2: Combine flesh and rind in large bowl with the water. Tie reserved pith and seeds in a piece of muslin tied with kitchen string; add to bowl. Stand at room temperature overnight.
Step 3: Place fruit mixture and muslin bag in large saucepan; bring to the boil. Simmer covered, 25 minutes or until rind is soft. Discard bag.
Step 4: Measure fruit mixture; allow 1 cup (220g) sugar for each cup of mixture. Return mixture and sugar to pan; stir over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Boil, uncovered, about 40 minutes or until marmalade sets when tested on a cold saucer.
Step 5: Pour into hot sterilised jars; seal immediately.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

cut + paste christmas

We don’t have space for a big fat Christmas tree with all the trimmings so this year while Sol, my two year old had his nap I decided River, my five year old son and I were going to make our tree. 

River looked bewildered when I rolled out a sheet of brown paper and explained, “We’re going to make a collage Christmas tree”. “But where is the tinsel and baubles?” he asked, “Why isn’t the tree on a stick?” “You’ll see,” I smiled encouragingly secretly hoping my idea would work.

Step one: Measure how tall you want your tree to be and roll out brown paper to the length – leave enough room for an angel or star!

Step two: decide on your colour theme and cut or tear images in that colour from magazines. We also used coloured paper squares in two different shades of green.

Step three: draw a pencil outline of your tree and star or angel.

Step four: you can either lay out your images and then start sticking or start sticking and see where it goes.

Step five: fill in any small gaps or curious shaped gaps with pastel colour or paint.

Step six: hang your tree.

Step seven: using sticky tape attach any decorations you wish. We have hearts sewn by our late great friend Sandra, a knitted Christmas tree from our clever crafty friend Rachel in London (picture at top) and yes a few baubles too.

Ta da! 

Simple, fun and if I say so beautiful.  
I breathed a sigh of relief when River announced “Mum you have the best ideas ever.” Success!

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