Monday, 29 August 2016

A Simple Sunday Supper

A simple supper makes for a relaxing change to the roast dinner I quite often bake on a Sunday evening. Every now and then, I simply don't feel like the full production so I make something much easier and with a lot less washing up! On the Sunday just passed, I made these quick and delicious parcels filled with different cheeses and grated zucchini. Mmm...

Scrumptious Cheesy Parcels

These parcels are filled with delicious ingredients, baked in the oven until golden and brown and can be served up with salad or baked beans or soup. They are easy to make and even easier to eat. You don't even need cutlery if you serve them up with just a little pot of sauce or chutney for company. (You will need a napkin though!)

Loosely following Susan Austin's recipe, from her fantastic cookbook, Frost Bite: Freezer Recipes for Toddlers to Teenagers, I made them like this:

 Mix together 180g fresh ricotta, 1 grated large zucchini, 1 egg, 60g parmesan and 60g tasty cheese.
(I grate zucchini onto an old tea towel first, fold it up and squeeze out all excess moisture.)

Defrost 3 sheets ready-made puff pastry. Cut each sheet into 9 little squares.
Place spoonfuls of cheesy ricotta mixture in centres of half of these pastry squares.
Lay the remaining pastry squares over the tops of those with filling on them.
Press around four sides of each parcel to enclose filling and seal.
 Cut a slit in top of each pastry parcel. 
You can then brush with egg/milk wash if you wish (but I don't bother).
 Bake in a hot oven until puffed and golden.  Yum!
You can make your cheesy parcels a bit fancier by adding extra ingredients to the filling if you wish. You could add fresh herbs, finely chopped spring onion or little pieces of semi-dried tomato. And, if there are any leftover (which invariably there are not at our place), you can enjoy them for lunch the next day.

What do you make when you just want a simple Sunday supper?




Friday, 26 August 2016

My Home-Mixed Trail Mix

Trail mix, made from nutritious nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dark chocolate is a delicious snack. While you can buy prepared and packaged Trail Mixes at the supermarket or health food shop, it's a very simple thing to make your own. 

All you have to do is choose your ingredients and mix them together. In my home-mixed Trail Mix, I put in these yummy ingredients:  coconut chips, whole almonds, dried cranberries, currants, dark chocolate chips, pepitas and sunflower seeds.

Delicious and nutritious Trail Mix ingredients.

Put an equal number of scoops of each ingredient into a jar. Secure the lid and shake until you have a lovely jumble you can dip into when you need a little snack. Yum!

 A handy and healthy snack.

When mixing up your own, you can add whatever nuts, seeds and dried fruit you have on hand. You might like to use cashew nuts instead of almonds. You might prefer sultanas to currants. You might add pieces of dried apricot instead of cranberries. All variations would result in a yummy mix that's good for you!

Trail mix is great to tip into little take-with-you-tubs when you are heading out. Having it in your bag stops those hasty, hungry purchases of packaged snacks like chips and chocolate bars. It's so much better for you too than over-salted, trans-fat laden and super sweet snacks.

So, if you have a spare five minutes this weekend, why not make up your own version of a Home-Mixed Trail Mix. Let me know what you put in yours.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Garden Visitor 6

Native birds visit our garden every day. There's food for them in the form of bugs and grubs and juicy worms. There are birdbaths for drinks of freshwater and feather-cleansing, splashy swims. There's shelter and "just-right" nesting spots in the many trees and shrubs in and around our garden. The verandah railings, fences and tree tops offer perfect places to perch and observe the world before taking flight. And, of course, the humans provide much entertainment as they go about their work in the garden...and occasionally toss up (or dig up) a free lunch!

 A kookaburra waiting for a free lunch!

Kookaburras are among the birds that visit us daily. They love to sit on our back fence and wait for  tasty morsels to present themselves. When one's infectious laughter begins, it's not long before a whole riot of them are cackling away together; a distinctive avian chorus that echos out and around the hills.

Nicknamed "the laughing jackass", the kookaburra is such an iconic Australian bird whose laughter is always welcome here in our garden. Their joyous noise is a lovely reminder of the power of laughter in one's day!

I hope you'll find something to have a long laugh over today. (Just start with a chuckle before throwing your head back, opening your beak and cackling wholeheartedly for a significant length of this!)


p.s. If you'd like to read more about this unique bird, the Birdlife Australia website has a great profile. There's an audio file, at the bottom of the webpage, that you can click on to hear the Kookaburra's laugh.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Terrific Tuscan Kale

I grow dark and leafy Tuscan Kale, not because it is a trendy "superfood", but because it is an easy-to-grow and productive plant to have in a vegetable garden (and I don't want to pay "superfood" prices for a bunch of it at the shops either ;)

 Tuscan Kale growing in my veggie patch.

This distinctive member of the Brassica family, with crinkled and very dark green (almost black) leaves, is believed to have originated in Tuscany. Hence the Italian translation of its other commonly recognised name, Cavolo Nero, as "black cabbage".

Tiny seedlings of Tuscan Kale grow into tall, sculptural plants. I grow this kale towards the back of my veggie garden as it needs space to be tall and for its long, crinkled leaves, to arch outwards. It provides some shade too, as the weather warms up, for plants growing nearby.

 Tuscan Kale needs room to grow.

The white cabbage butterfly do like to lay their eggs on Tuscan Kale as they do many other Brassicas. I simply check underneath the leaves for caterpillars and remove them if I find them. The magpies that visit our garden love a free caterpillar or two!

Tuscan Kale is very nutritious and delicious. It's easy to pick just a few leaves, as you would a pick-again lettuce, and use them in cooking. I favour the smaller, tender leaves. You just have to make sure you cut out the tough, central vein from each leaf before chopping or shredding.  I like to add Tuscan Kale to salads, omelettes and quiches. I mix chopped kale into fresh ricotta, as I would spinach, to make a filling for puff pastry triangles. Kale chips and green smoothies are pretty trendy too.

 Delicious leaves.

If you don't already grow Tuscan Kale, I hope you will give it a try. It's very easy to grow, very versatile to cook with and very delicious to eat. 



Friday, 19 August 2016

The Sweetest Sweet Peas

A little bit of beautiful has bloomed in my garden today. The first sweet pea blossoms have opened, all delicate and pure white! I have breathed in deeply their spellbinding fragrance and paused a while to remember the trellises of them that my grandparents grew. I picked a few stems too just so that I can catch glimpses of them, and drifts of their sublime perfume, when I'm not out in the garden.

A little bunch of the sweetest sweet peas.

Sweet peas are my favourite flowers. The wait for them to bloom, after planting months before,  feels long but when they flower they are, in my humble opinion, beyond compare!  They simply make my spirits soar. A day when one picks their own little bunch of the sweetest sweet peas cannot possibly be anything other than wonderful!

Oh, my! Blues and whites and greens on old linen.

I have put my little white sweet peas in a tiny, deep blue glass bottle from times gone by. Sitting atop an embroidered linen cloth, stitched long ago in flowers of blue and leaves of green, these old-fashioned blooms hark back to simpler times. Tiny, delicate sweet peas and tiny, delicate stitches. My kind of beautiful!

I hope you have the loveliest of weekends. Perhaps you'll catch the scent of sweet peas, or another delicate flower, on the breeze.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Back to the Sea

Under heavy, grey clouds and beside waves reflecting the muted colours of the sky, I walked by the sea. Along a deserted beach, with the cold wind whipping at my shirt sleeves and even colder waves washing over my bare feet, I felt rejuvenated after weeks of illness and days yearning for the ocean. Away from the sea for too long and I notice its absence.  Upon returning, I noticed its calming presence and its beauty.

Dark, grey clouds above the waves.

 A blue jellyfish washed ashore.

A tiny, glassy jewel from the sea.

 A single seagull's feather.
 Driftwood on a deserted beach.

For me, the ocean is a place that is restorative and centering. It's a place where I can be alone with my thoughts. A place where Mother Nature is my companion. Perhaps it is for you too. 


Monday, 15 August 2016

Crafting Gfits

Whenever I am gifted a handmade treasure, I think of the time, skill, effort and love that has gone into its creation. I imagine the maker deliberating over their choice of yarn or carefully painting a hand drawn image or choosing the most favourite of fruits for a jar of jam. Last year, my mother gave me a beautiful, peacock blue cardigan that she had knitted for me. Whenever I wear it, it is like wrapping her arms around me.

There is a warmth that spreads throughout one's own heart when presenting another with a handmade gift and seeing that the receiver appreciates all that is wrapped up under the paper and ribbon. I love to make simple gifts but the things I make always come together slowly. That is why I have begun making gifts for Christmas now ... because it will take me many months to finish them! 

 One completed gift ready to be wrapped up with fragrant soap.

A gift not quite finished...yet!

I find inspiration in the gifts I have received from others, in craft shops and in books from my local library. Over the weekend, I found these two books at my local library that have lots of ideas for handmade gift-giving. 
Note the word EASY on both covers!

There is also lots of inspiration online. There are so many creative people out there! This year, I am going to make some beautiful, hand-stitched felt doves using this pattern. I would also love to roll out some soft clay and make these sweet keepsakes. I think both the doves and the keepsakes would be small and special additions to any Christmas parcel. 

Are you crafting for Christmas yet? What are you making?


Friday, 12 August 2016

Chicken and Leek Pie

Piping hot! Flaky and creamy! Irresistible and nourishing! Warming and comforting! All these words describe a Winter pie; a pie that fills a home with that enticing "just-baked" aroma and one's heart (and stomach) with a warm contentment on a cold night. 


Made with leeks, broccoli and thyme from my garden and the leftovers of an earlier roasted chicken, this pie was everything a Winter pie is meant to be. 

 Golden pastry and a creamy filling. YUM!

Chicken and Leek Pie

knob of butter
2 leeks, washed and sliced
2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup of small broccoli florets 
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 handfuls of diced leftover roasted chicken
3 ready-made puff pastry sheets

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons plain flour
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cream
1-2 teaspoons mustard
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to temperature recommended on your pack of puff pastry. (Mine was 220C.)
2.  Defrost 3 sheets pastry while you make the filling and the creamy mustard sauce.
3.   Gently cook garlic, leeks and celery in melted butter in a large saucepan over a low heat, with lid on, until soft. Stir regularly.
4.   Add in carrots, broccoli, frozen peas and thyme, replace lid, and continue to cook until carrots and broccoli have softened. Stir regularly.  5.   Melt butter for creamy mustard sauce in medium saucepan. Stir in flour to make a smooth paste and cook for couple of minutes.(This is important so your sauce doesn't taste floury.)
6.   Add in milk and whisk. As the mixture starts to bubble and thicken, gently mix in cream and mustard. Stir or whisk until thickened and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7.   Stir creamy mustard sauce and chopped chicken into softened veg to complete the filling.  Remove from heat.
8.   Quickly line the base of a medium-sized pie pan with pastry. 
9.   Spread the filling evenly over the pastry base.                                                                      
10Lay more pastry over the top of the filling to form "lid" of the pie.  Fold and press to join pastry lid with pastry base. Cut a few slits in lid of your pie with a sharp knife.

11.  Bake until pastry is puffed and golden and pie is piping hot. (It is very important that your pie is very hot to ensure leftover cooked chicken has been reheated safely.)
12.  Enjoy with fresh green beans.    

* This recipe is not suitable for reheating.* 

Do you have a favourite Winter pie?



Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Here & Now 4

Today, it is People's Day at our city's show, affectionately known as The EKKA. Although a public holiday, we won't be off to the "big smoke" to join the throngs of folk on the rides, in the pavilions and at the dagwood dog stands. We'll be here instead, in our home, enjoying the now of a slow, ordinary day together. 

 Seed pods dangling like ornaments from the bare branches of a Plane Tree.

 A warm and nourishing homemade pie. Delicious!

 Yearning to get back to the sea.

Loving // The nostalgic scent of the first sweet pea bloom in my garden.
Eating //   Homemade Chicken and Leek Pie with creamy mustard sauce. Delicious!
Drinking //  Filtered water with a squeeze of lemon juice every morning.
Feeling //   Exhausted after almost three weeks trying to recover from the flu.
Making //   Simple gift cards using sweet snippets from the dust jackets of picture books.
Thinking //   How beautiful the seed pods on the Plane Trees are this Winter.
Dreaming //  Yearning for long and restorative walks by the sparkling sea.

You might like to see what others have on their Here and Now lists by visiting their links on Sarah's beautiful blog, Say, Little Hen!  Always so much inspiration!

Have a lovely Wednesday, be it an ordinary day or a special one. Whichever it may be, I hope you find the beauty in it.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Cornflower Blue

The intense colour of the cornflower is an almost indescribably beautiful blue. The tightly formed bud offers up only a hint of the vibrant petals it hides until the flower is almost ready to emerge. Then, when those petals burst forth, their vivid colour is deserving of a name all its own:  cornflower blue

The beautiful and blue bloom of a cornflower.

Cornflowers come from humble beginnings. They grew wild in the cornfields (wheatfields) of Europe, from which they derive their name, and it is said that they were tucked into the buttonholes of hopeful bachelors in times gone by. Now, their striking blooms lend their name to the colour of the world's most valuable sapphires.  

Artists too have sought to capture the beauty and colour of cornflowers on their canvases.  Australia's Margaret Olley, whose vibrant still-life paintings I adore, loved flowers and painted them prolifically. She produced many featuring cornflowers, including this one held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

Just a hint of the colour to come.

If you can imagine some of this beautiful blue in your own garden, then you can grow cornflowers. They love a sunny position and well-drained soil. This year, I have grown them among the happy jumble that is my main vegie patch. They are just coming into flower now and I look forward to each one opening up and greeting me with a distinctive burst of cornflower blue.


p.s. Margaret Olley said of her own work "My paintings are about celebrating life."  How wonderful then that so many of her paintings featured fruits and flowers, jugs and cups and teapots. Ordinary life. Worth painting. Worth celebrating.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Exploring Home: Windy Hill

On a blustery hill, not far from a little country township in Far North Queensland, there are wind turbines that dominate the skyline.

One of twenty wind turbines on the aptly named Windy Hill.

While the trees on this hill are bent sideways at the urging of the strong winds that blow here, these towering turbines stand tall and straight and white in a landscape deep green and dotted with cows. Their huge blades rotate with a distinctive "whispering whoosh" as they harness the power of the wind. 

  A man-made feature in a rural landscape.

 Straight and tall.

A distant view of the wind turbines.

The power of that wind is an alternate source of energy to that generated by the burning of fossil fuels, like coal. While I don't know the costs of building a wind farm like this one or how much energy is generated by all twenty of these turbines or how many homes that powers, I do know that wind energy, like solar, can be harnessed.  And I feel, in a world grappling with the issues of global warming and climate change, that cleaner, alternative sources of energy are an important part of the future.