Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some Food for Halloween Weekend

Halloween is not a big celebration here in Australia but this year it falls over the Melbourne Cup (very) long weekend, which is four days for us this year.  My daughter has a friend in her class from Chicago and she has become infected with the Halloween spirit and is desperate to go trick or treating on Halloween Eve (tonight).  I suspect this will involve us driving hopefully not too aimlessly around looking for houses with balloons.   

Anyway, we have done lots of cooking.   

If I did not have this largely random blog I think I would have a blog called Things on Toast, or possibly, and more depressingly, Demolished Houses of Melbourne.    Whilst they might seem like very specific topics, I don't actually think I would run out of posts for either!  

My current favourite thing on toast is avocado.  Not just any avocado. It must be perfectly ripe (to be honest anything other makes me feel physically ill) and cut into chunks and gently mixed with Greek feta chunks, chopped coriander, olive oil, lemon juice and salt.   And served on thick bread.  Complete and utter Thing on Toast heaven.

How can so much greenery not be good for you?

How great are these tiny skull biscuits?   Quite scary I think,   I found some Halloween cookie cutters in that Vortex of 20$ redcurrant jelly: Essential Ingredient.    The children have hysterics every time they eat them. 

Less successfully the kit contained a black cat and bat shapes.  Which is pretty apt because my Small Spiderman son has morphed into Small Batboy.  I had to buy him another costume so I could peel off and then wash the Spiderman one. 

I even managed to find a not-too-garish balloon or two.  I love this because it looks a bit like the spiders are trapped inside.  Which is on any view the best place for them. 

I have trouble persuading my daughter to eat breakfast.  Not surprising really when you learn she doesn't like eggs, butter, milk on cereal, 99% of the cereals available and porridge, fruit unless its wet and cold and most kinds of bread for toast.    But what she does like, which I found out accidentally when they were giving little cups of it away in the supermarket, is granola.    

Nigella Lawson's Feast has a wonderful granola recipe.  This one is the chocolate (ie cocoa) and peanut one.  I made a huge batch this morning and too my surprise it is exceptionally good.

In keeping with the creepy theme we then made chocolate cupcakes with black icing and little tombstone cats:

And finally, something grown up:  a roasted pumpkin, pine nut, raisin and rocket salad which we ate for lunch today with some roast lamb. 

Now for the dressing up...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Best Rooms of 2010...?

Australian House & Garden does a feature every year where they list the top 50 rooms of the year.  The 2010 picks have just been released.   There were quite a few which did not grab me at all as they looked too styled, too display home, or just a teeny bit ugly.  These are my five favourites:


You can see that I like white, clean and bright.  And this did get me thinking about this question: what exactly is Australian style?   

There is a lot one could say on this topic, one could mention our 'easy going' inside \ outside sunny lifestyle.   But that forgets of course that a substantial part of the south of the country has cold winters and even snow.   One could talk about how we love to use colour, but then what about all those lovely white and neutral interiors we see everywhere?  Or we could look at all the natural timbers and fibres we use, or our hard edged modern back extensions.  

My answer is much simpler, and harks back to the days of the Australian Impressionists who, inspired by the French, gathered at Heidelberg outside Melbourne to paint in what was then a radical new style.   They found that the light in Australia was completely different to the light in Europe.  It means that they had to adjust their painting technique and subject matter and colour to address the hard squinty brightness of the light.

This is illustrated by these wonderful works, all painted in the same year:

Charles Conder 'Herricks Blossoms' 1889

Arthur Streeton 'Golden Summer Eaglemont' 1889
(this is now an inner suburb of Melbourne)

Arthur Streeton 'Windy and Wet' 1889

I think this hits the nail on the head.  The light in Australia is different to the light in other countries.  It is harsher and brighter (and burnier, as I have found out at some cost).  This means you have to decorate and design differently.  You need shady spots, and you have to be careful with too much white.  It means that colours show through clearly and cleanly, so the shade of red which may look burgundy in a room in France is fire engine red here.  And that lovely white Swedish room may cause sun blindness here.

I know someone whose mother died in the 1980's and when they packed up her home they found an Arthur Streeton painting hidden under her bed.   Why would you hide the work of such a wonderful artist?    

(Images: (1)(5) Australian House and Garden (6) from the book 'Living the Modern - Australian Architecture) (7) - (9) from the National Gallery of Victoria)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tree Search Completed

I found a tree at Going Going Green in Hawthorn.  

I decided against umbrella trees on the basis that they are an evil profligate weed type thing in Queensland.  Thanks for the tips Anita and Littlemissairgap.

I decided against a palm on the basis that every time I looked at one I had an uncontrollable urge to listen to Willie Nelson and Neil Diamond (my mother's favourite singers to play during her 1970's parties) and eat lots of pineapple chicken and salmon mousse and steak Diane.  

I decided for ficus on the basis that it was the only tree suitable for indoors in the whole nursery, and you know how I hate to leave any place to which I have made a Special Trip empty handed.  Plus which, Rouge told me that Sydney is crawling with fig trees at the moment so I thought I would follow the crowd (it's easier and less risky than setting trends).  

Here it is, Woody Allen, in his sunny little corner.   They don't like the cold so I figure it will at least last until next April.   There is still quite a lot of room above for it to grow up and indeed out if it needs to.   

This room is in the front of the house and I may be spending some more time in here, because this is what I have to confront every time I leave the children to their own devices in the back of the house for more than 5 minutes:

(Explanation: this highly engineered and delicately balanced construction comprises almost all of the couch cushions which have been flung off willy nilly and used to construct a dungeon in which my son can sit and make his Lego robots.  And you may not be aware of this but Cushion Dungeons MUST remain intact for all of the daylight hours, unless you want to be subjected to banshee screaming and floods of salty tears.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A hankering for an inside tree

I wonder when exactly it was that indoor plants fell out of fashion?  I know that people still have them but do you remember exactly how ubiquitous they were?  Palms especially.  And maidenhair ferns.  And what about those hanging baskets made of some kind of barky moss?

I really like the idea of an inside tree.  It must be sculptural and dramatic.    I think it is one of those 'I had one in my childhood home therefore must have one now' impulses.  I will try to control it for a few days I think.

Grant K Gibson

Ellen Pompeo's house in Hollywood.  

Some musician's room (I assume) 

This tree is thriving.   To say the least.

Awful blatherglam name check living room in Reed and Delphine Krakoff's home.  But I like the plants.

Most of the big leaved trees above are figs.  Not sure how available they are in Australia though.  I went off to the nursery yesterday and found these:

Umbrella Tree.  Grows outside in Queensland.  Inside in Melbourne.   Nice big leaves. Maybe a bit spindly? 

Palm.  Pretty basic.  But nice big leaves.   And unkillable.

And this is the spot I have in mind.  Once the lamp and chair are moved.  Stay tuned for the purchase

(Images; (1) Grant K Gibson interior design (2) (4) Elle Decor (3) Design Sponge (5) Vogue (6)(7)(8) Jane)

Friday, October 22, 2010

A little Pink House and a thank you

I grew up in a two story pink house with a terracotta roof.  A pale pink, chosen by my mother, who said she always wanted to live in pink.  That spoiled me for life and I still swivel my head sharply when I drive past a pink house.  Sadly they are not as common as they used to be.   Most houses (like cars really) these days seem to be beige, grey, beigey green or greeny brown.  Or white.  

After mentioning here how much I love pink and green, this divine little card landed on my desk this week, from fantastic photographer based in Vancouver, Janis Nicolay.   The exact same colour as my childhood home.  Now that is synchronicity is it not?    Thank you lovely lady.   Please go to Pinecone Camp to see her fab photography and great recipes.     (And please forgive the not very good IPhone photo of the card).

This room makes me want to paint my red dining room pink.   Maybe it is just that spring is finally in the air and for the first time yesterday since about April it seems, I felt the sunshine on my shoulder and it made me happy.

Now, to two Aussie bloggers who have done good.  Kellie Collis this week opened up her online store Ada & Darcy.  It was a long time coming but it has some great stuff.  And she is a girl after my own heart, who loves pink and green.   Well done Kellie - your store is bright and happy and sparkles just like you.    And once I get my act together my credit card will be paying you and your goods a visit.   Here are my favourite pink and green items. 

This week Anna Spiro was named as one of the worlds leading interior designers for 2010 in in the top 100 designers for 2010 in the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the year awards.   And what would be the point of a pink and green post without Anna.   A very talented lady.   All of this whilst moving house and having a new baby in 2009-2010.  You put us to shame girl.  

Wishing you all a sunny weekend. 

(Images: (1) Decorpad (2) Janis Nicolay (3) Suzanne Kasler  (4) Country Living (5) House to Home (6) - (9) Ada & Darcy (10) Black and Spiro window display)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

(Short) Story of a Pavlova

As I mentioned here, I am pretty happy cooking with eggs.  Even without a beater.  And pavlova I love especially.   I did not know this until pretty much just now, but apparently pavlova, named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, originated in New Zealand, not Australia.    So that is another thing, like Russell Crowe, that we Australians have inappropriately taken from the Kiwis and claimed for our own.  Okay, you can have Russell back. 

This week I made mini pavlovas for the children.  By mini I don't mean bite size.  I mean the size of a large burger.   The first one I made and finished had such a pitifully short life I thought I would share its journey.  

The very best thing about pavlova is the transformation of the egg whites from clear liquid to these satiny pillows.   It is an amazing chemical reaction to the beating and air. 

The critical ingredient in a pavlova is cornflour (or cornstarch).  This is what makes the pavlova soft and marshmallowy on the inside (unlike a meringue which is crisp all the way through). 

 This recipe makes enough for 4 mini pavlovas of about 10 cm diameter. 

You can also roast the strawberries for the topping (not for very long however) but for this one I used fresh ones from Western Australia. 

Here is my son tentatively touching the cream trying to work out how to eat it. 

Here he is having another go.   He then asked me to cut it up into chunks for ease (and speed) of eating. 

Exactly three minutes later, this was the result.   From bowl to mouth?   About 60 minutes.  

He enjoyed it so much that I forgot it was only half an hour until dinner.   Not surprising then that he wasn't that interested in eating any dinner.  Mind you, this is my week for negligent mothering.   On the weekend the last nappy in the house broke when I was putting it on and rather than go out to buy more I gaffer taped it together for the night.    Sometimes I do feel like I am running a not very good quality and possibly about to be de-registered creche.  


4 egg whites (room temperature is best)
pinch of salt
250 g caster sugar
2 tsp of cornflour
1 tsp of white wine vinegar

For topping - whipped cream, vanilla essence and strawberries OR passion fruit seeds OR mango. I feel very strongly that pavlova should not have a mixed fruit salad on the top. 


Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees. 

Using an electric beater, beat the egg whites and the salt together in a clean bowl on a tea towel until reasonably firm and shiny peaks form. 

Beat in the sugar, a spoonful at a time until all is incorporated. 

Fold through the cornflour and vinegar.

Place a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray and using a metal spoon, scoop 4 evenly sized spoonfuls of mixture onto the sheet.   They should be about 10 cm across. 

Place in the oven and then immediately turn down oven to 150 degrees.  Let cook for about 30 - 40 minutes until the outside is crisp and slightly browned. Turn of the oven and let sit for a further half an hour.
To assemble, put a plate over the pavlova base and gently invert.  Whip cream and add a drop of vanilla essence. Spoon cream over the top and then place fruit topping over in a nice pattern.

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