Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mildura makes me happy

 Mildura always makes me happy so a quick visit just before Christmas was a perfect way to lead into the festive season. 

First stop after a few hours on the road and some speed shopping was Fine and Sunny to test out their little cafĂ© and browse their beautiful wares.  A cold iced coffee with a jam swirl biscuit was just the caffeine and sugar hit I needed, delicious!

For dinner that evening we made our traditional stop at the Pizza Cafe for antipasto, pizza and a cold beer.  Fast, friendly service and tasty food was just what the doctor ordered for kids and adults alike.  

We tried the special pizza of the day topped with eggplant, olives, capsicum, prosciutto and mozzarella.  With a perfect crispy base and just the right amount of topping, the pizza was a winner.

Saturday morning and we make a happy discovery.  Since out last visit Stefano's Cafe Bakery now has a children’s menu. This means a more affordable option for the kids and the plastic cutlery is also a welcome addition.  There were no complaints from the junior gourmet travellers about a fluffy pancake served with lemon curd, maple syrup and a strawberry.

I enjoyed an indulgent serve of French toast with poached fruit and cream…yes at breakfast time!  The toast had a thin, crispy, cinnamon and sugar crust and a sprinkle of fresh mint leaves was welcome in amongst all the sweetness.  Poached pears and raspberries were hiding under the toast and with a hint of spice they finished off the dish perfectly. 

We enjoyed our breakfast al-fresco under the grapevine canopy and just for a moment pretended we could live like this full time!

Incredible coffee was devoured and we made our way towards the Murray and the Sunraysia Farmer's Market

My preferred dried fruit supplier for my sourdough fruit bread; Tabletop Grapes. 
An array of beautifully presented, fresh produce was on offer at the market and it was a relaxing way to shop and chat while the kids enjoyed an obligatory visit from Santa.

As I said, Mildura always makes me happy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Toys with character for Christmas

On a recent trip to Mildura I visited one of my favourite second hand shops S & L Trading looking for something interesting preferably related to vintage or old caravans.  This recent enthusiasm has been sparked by the beautiful book My Cool Caravan which is full of cute retro vans that have been lovingly restored by their owners.

My own caravan is a long way off so in the meantime I am searching for the toy variety…preferably old with a little character.  I quickly found this Ford Thames Airborne Caravan made in Great Britain by Corgi Toys.  A little searching took me to the very interesting website of Andrew Wood where I discovered that these vans were made between 1962 and 1966.  

My little van is clearly pre-loved but in good condition complete with internal shutters on the windows, swinging back doors and a slightly perished cushioned seat in the back.  I love it!

On the same trip we acquired this three wheel children’s bike which came with a cute home made tin trailer.  This is a Christmas present for our kids but I am not sure who is more excited about it, us or them? It is difficult to resist the timeless quality of these toys.  Do you have any old toys from your childhood that hold special Christmas memories?  Merry Christmas.

For more lovely vintage finds link up with Sophie at Her Library Adventures

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Zucchini Chocolate cake

I have found the perfect way to deal with large zucchinis found lurking in the vegetable patch.  This cake is dense, moist and not too sweet…who knows it might even be slightly healthy!

 Zucchini Chocolate cake – recipe adapted from The best of Jackie French

185g butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
 1 ½ cups of grated zucchini
1 ½ cups of self raising flour, sifted
¼ cup cocoa
2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind, optional
¾ cup of milk

Cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs one at a time; gradually stir in the other ingredients.  Stir just enough to combine ingredients – don’t overbeat.  Grease a cake tin, pour in batter; bake at 200°C for about 50 minutes or until firm.  Leave for 5 minutes before turning out onto a cake rack to cool.

The original recipe suggests icing with chocolate icing but I took the easy option with this one and simply dusted it with icing sugar.  There were no complaints from the cake testers in the house!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The simple things at Christmas

In these hectic days heading towards Christmas I am reflecting on the simple but beautiful things that really make me smile.

These gorgeous crocheted and knitted stars are made by the very creative Jodie over at Jellywares with 50% of the sales going towards charity.  Handmade treasures that have been made with love while also benefiting someone else…for me this is the true spirit of Christmas.

A handful of perfect tomatoes from the garden.

Terry took this photo of a little Christmas beetle in the garden yesterday morning (that is our name for them anyway!)

What is making you smile this weekend? 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Crafty Sunday

Yesterday I finally managed to get a little festive spirit into our house.  For me Christmas is all about the food and I love getting inspired by my collection of both old and new Christmas magazines and cookbooks. 

The morning started with a big batch of mini gingerbread men to give as gifts to family and friends.  These mini men always make me smile but they are rather time consuming!

 From the baking we moved onto a home-made advent calendar partly inspired by Cathie and her beautiful blog Melbourne Epicure .  Annabelle decorated some of the boxes until she became more interested in filling them with the tiny treats.  I had a little play with the textas to finish the project and this was our result.

Are you doing any Christmas crafts yet?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Green is good

 Recent rain followed by some refreshingly cool weather has left my garden a pretty shade of green.  Everything looks so much brighter with the dust washed off and some new growth emerging.  So today I am sharing some moments from my week; all with a green theme.

Firstly, a second hand purchase.  This groovy old chair came in a set of 5 with a matching green table from my favourite treasure trove in Mildura at Stockdale and Leggo.  The tabletop is featured below.

My freshly clipped topiary olive tree.

I am thrilled with these slightly unusual but beautiful Tromboncino Zucchini which are just starting to produce and threatening to invade half of my vegetable patch.

Finally, this deliciously rich and chunky pesto recipe.  Perfect served on a piece of bread, with pasta or potatoes.  Enjoy!

The papa’s pesto – recipe adapted from The Real Food Companion, Matthew Evans 

80g (1/2 cup) pine nuts*
2-3 gloves garlic
70g (about 2 cups gently pressed) basil leaves
250 ml (1 cup) extra virgin olive oil
40g Italian parmesan cheese, finely grated
40g pecorino cheese, finely grated
Makes around 430g

Put the pines nut and garlic in a food processor and process to form a paste.

Add the basil leaves, then pulse, scraping down the sides regularly.  Add half of the oil, continue processing, then add the cheeses and the remaining oil and pulse to just combine.  The pesto will remain bright green in colour unless you over-process it.  Season with salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste.

Store the pesto in a sterilised airtight jar in the refrigerator for 1 week, although it is best consumed within a few days of making.

* I substitute the pine nuts with almonds as I tend to have almonds on hand more regularly and also find pine nuts turn rancid quite quickly.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

The humble spud

The humble spud...we usually grab a bag of them at the supermarket and eat them roasted or perhaps mashed for the kids and don’t give them much more thought.

little hands inspecting a Kipfler

Digging up our own potato crop last week was incredibly satisfying and also produced some delicious meals.  I planted several varieties and the most successful was King Edward.  I think this was mainly due to this variety being planted in a better patch of soil.

I came up with this little salad after an impromptu Sunday dinner invitation to our neighbour’s property.

Scarsdale potato salad

A good handful of small potatoes, I used Kipfler
A few baby carrots
A good handful of fresh salad and herb leaves, I used rocket, basil and oregano
A few tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
A few nasturtium flowers, optional

Place potatoes and carrots in a saucepan of water and bring to the boil.  Simmer until just tender.  Drain, return to saucepan and add some of the olive oil.  Toss to coat potatoes and carrots and allow to cool.

Combine potatoes and carrots with remaining ingredients in a large bowl, dress with extra olive oil if necessary.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Garlic, bread and butter

In April I planted tiny slivers of garlic in to the vegetable patch and have waited patiently ever since, eagerly anticipating plump bulbs to be used generously in almost every savoury dish that I cook.

Last Sunday was harvest day and I was not disappointed.  To celebrate our little crop I made this magnificent garlic bread…you must try it!

Garlic and parmesan bread - recipe adapted from Seasons, by Donna Hay

1 loaf sourdough bread
125g butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
sea salt and cracked black pepper
½ cup (40g) finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).  Use a sharp serrated knife to slice the bread into 1cm-wide pieces, ensuring you don’t cut all the way through the loaf.  Place butter, garlic, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the butter is melted.  Add the parmesan and basil and stir to combine.  Carefully separate the bread slices and brush the insides with the garlic butter mixture.  Wrap the loaf with foil and place on a baking tray.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden.  Serves 6.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The famous CWA scone

This morning with the lure of a famous CWA scone with jam and cream for morning tea the kids and I headed off to Menindee for the official opening of the new CWA hall. 

The community was shocked back in 2009 when the CWA burnt down but with the help of hard working volunteers the old hall has been replaced with a new, shiny building.  The new hall provided welcome relief from the hot sun as we enjoyed a delicious scone, took some food photos and chatted to friends and family.

I couldn’t leave without a jar of golden Passionfruit Butter made by one of the talented CWA members.  May the hard working ladies of the CWA continue to thrive in communities such as Menindee.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Garden Salad

Few things in life are simpler yet more rewarding than picking a salad straight from the vegetable garden.  No supermarket queues, no over priced or out of season produce and no food miles!  I love to pick a mix of salad leaves and soft herbs such as mint, basil and coriander.

In a few weeks I will have the added luxury of tomatoes still warm from the sun and pretty yet peppery nasturtium flowers.  For now though the simplicity of fresh leaves and herbs with a little bread and soft cheese is perfect.

Simple Scarsdale Salad

A good handful of salad leaves (lettuce, rocket and or baby spinach)
A good handful of soft herbs (mint, basil and or coriander)
A few slices of quality bread, preferably sourdough
A piece of delicious cheese, a soft goat cheese or creamy feta is perfect
A good glug of quality olive oil

Slice the bread into cubes and fry lightly in a little olive oil until golden.  Allow to cool.

Combine salad leaves and herbs in a large bowl.  Add bread, crumble over cheese and gently combine.  Dress with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!