Friday, June 29, 2012

Winter Vegie Planting

Here on the upper upper north shore of Sydney our climate is somewhere between Temperate and Sub-Tropical. Really it depends on the year and what El Nino/La Nina is doing.

In anycase my winter plantings are for a garden that does not get frost in winter (we did have a frost once, about ten years ago, so I take my chances :-)).

If you are wondering what to plant in your area check out the wonderful Gardenate website.  It'll give you a good idea, the comments are often full of useful info as well.
Winter Planting according to the Eco Garden in Fagan Park
Seedlings are SO expensive.  One punnet is $5.98 in Swanes - given the high mortality rate in most home gardens, its just not worth it.  I went for the manky $2 ones, but really I should've put in seed about two months ago (ahem).  Anyhoo, this box set me back $10 and I should get something out of it, or the white cabbage moths will.

Cos lettuce, dwarf beans, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage
My brassica's bed is presently filled with a few sad and abused, blackfly covered leeks (yum) so I shall be setting forth and clearing it out before I get this lot in the ground.

Anyone else out there winter planting?


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Meal Plan Thursday: Salmon Stir Fry

I've been getting organised and planning our weekly menus...
Salmon and Egg Noodle Stir Fry

Salmon and Egg-Noodle Stir Fry

150g dried egg noodles
1 tbs olive oil
400g skinless salmon fillets, cut into 2cm pieces
1 small brown onion, cut into thin wedges
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 large carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
1 large red capsicum, thinly sliced
150g sugar snap peas or snow peas
1 bunch bok choy or choy sum
2 tbs shaoxing wine
2 tbs kecap manis
1 tbs soy sauce
Coriander leaves to serve

1. Cook egg noodles following packet instructions or until just tender. Drain
2. Heat wok over high heat. Add half the oil and heat for 30 secs. Stir-fry salmon, in batches for 2 mins or until golden. Remove from wok.
3. Heat remaining oil in wok. Stir-fry onion and ginger for 2 mins. Add carrot and capsicum and stir-fry for 2 mins. Add sugar snap peas and choy sum and stir-fry for 2 mins.
4. Add noodles, salmon, shaoxing wine, kecap manis and soy sauce. Stir-fry until heated through. Serve sprinked with coriander.

Oven baked mushroom risotto

Pork with apple and cranberry sauce

- with sweet corn and bacon

Silverside with steamed potatoes and white sauce
- cooked in the slow cooker


Lemon and herb chicken bake

Cherry, apple and almond friands

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Cupcake Party

We had Miss Nearly 8s birthday party last week.  It was a cupcake decorating party, and we ended up with a house filled with chatter, delight and very happy little girls.
I like the red octopus
Miss Nearly 8 desired the colour theme of the party to be her two favourite colours, pink and red...
And So It Was
Sorry for boring beforehand pic
All others filled with Other People's children :)
And for her cake I made an 8 shaped red velvet cake.  I actually don't have a pic of it iced because I did it the morning of the party and was panicking :)
Just imagine it covered in lurid pink icing, pink and red smarties and edible glitter!
Red Velvet cake is an interesting recipe, it uses buttermilk, and baking soda with vinegar to rise. The icing is tangy cream cheese.  I use Smitten Kitchen's wonderful recipe.

It was a lot of work. Nearly a week of cooking and cleaning to get everything up to scratch. But Miss Nearly 8 had complete ball and is still lit up with delight.  And that made all the effort worth it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Day The Dishwasher Died

Its the first day of the school holidays and I've come down with a cold.

Just. Perfect.

I did, for a few foolish hours, decide to go natural and beat it with Ease a Cold.  Then my nose wouldn't stop running and I had to cook dinner, and the thought of cooking with tissues shoved up each nostril was Too Much To Bear, so now I'm dosed up on the heavy duty ColdnFlu tablets.

So much better.

At the end of last week we had Miss Nearly 8s birthday party.  A cupcake extravaganza which I shall post about tomorrow (if I haven't DIED in the meantime).  Every year, about a week before Miss Nearly 8s party, an essential piece of home equipment fails.  Last year it was the oven and this year its been the dishwasher.

This led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

HOW? (I asked the Universe) HOW? can I survive without a dishwasher?

Hubs, on observing the state of his wife, made an emergency call to our fix-it guy.  He lives close by and dropped in an hour later.

The verdict was this: The circuit board has shorted out, the dishwasher will not heat, it will cost $450 to fix it. A new dishwasher will cost you $600, you may as well get a new one.

In simple terms the circuit board needs a spot of solder on it, but the best option is to get a new dishwasher??

What the??

We're supposed to just throw it away?

Even worse, this problem with the dishwasher not heating is apparently a "known problem." If its a known problem, why is there not a cheap easy known solution?

It took us aback, and made us think about the resources which are being wasted, the empty pointless consuming which we are expected to buy into, and it made us think about money.

And the upshot of all this thinking was that... and this is something I never ever thought I'd write... we will be going dishwasher-less from here on.

I thought I needed it.  I thought it was making my life so much easier.  But three weeks in, and I'm not missing it that much at all.

The kitchen in tidier - no dirty pots waiting to go in the next load, no dirty plates stacked waiting until someone unloads the thing.  Washing up, drying and putting away happens in 20 minute bursts throughout the day.  The kids help.  They think its fun.

Yes, its more work. I'm not saying that we've taken an easier option.  But I don't mind it.  Its the better choice.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Perfect Hot Chocolate

This is how I make hot chocolate.  Its often known as French Hot Chocolate or Chocolat Chaud.

Trust me, once you've tried it, you will never, ever drink milo again.

Slow Method:

1 ½ cups whole milk
2 ½ Tbsp. water
2 ½ Tbsp. brown sugar
3 oz. lindt chocolate, (milk, dark or both) bashed into bits

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, water, and sugar.
Place over medium heat and whisk occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.
Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture just to a boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate.
At this point, blend the mixture. If you have an immersion blender, you can do this directly in the saucepan; if not, you’ll need to transfer it to a traditional blender. Either way, blend for 1 minute (on high speed, if using a traditional blender - and take care(!), as hot liquids expand when blended). The finished mixture should be very smooth and frothy.

This recipe is adapted from:

Quick Method:

Microwave milk until hot (about 1 minute for a mug)
Add lindt chocolate - I use both milk and dark
Microwave for another minute (don't boil it over, messy)
Lick spoon (mind its hot)
Serve in beautiful cups
It will make your children love you more.


There's another variation of this recipe HERE

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June in the Vegie Garden

The vegie garden is coming along, slowly, as its winter, but coming along nonetheless.

Beans, planted during my Great Garden Disaster, will be producing in the next few weeks.
Dwarf beans
Self-seeded Pak Choy, nearly ready for a stir-fry...
Pak Choy + weeds
Row of lettuce, am already using the leaves in salads
Butter lettuce
And weeds, oh the weeds
Kale, carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, spring onions and broad beans are all coming along nicely as well :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Is our telly filling up with Oompa Loompas??

I cannot watch this new show, The Living Room.  Mostly because its overflowing with pointless dross that no ordinary person can achieve (build your own holiday home in a weekend - anyone?), but also because its presenters are all tinged Orange.  I keep thinking there's something wrong with our TV, but then I change channels and no... its them, they're all just a wee bit Orange.
The Living Room
Ten Breakfast
There's another show called Snog, Marry, Avoid. It takes deluded young ladies (and a few gents) from the North of England, who like to go out nightclubbing in their undies covered in nothing but an inch thick layer of dark brown foundation and fake tan.
She may look hilarious
But in her heart
She thinks she looks hot
It strips the make-up off these girls and shows them how beautiful they are with minimal make-up and a dress on.  Sometimes the girls see the light and tone it down, but often they don't.

And though it is meant as a light-hearted exercise, the sub-text of how these girls are rarely able to see themselves as beautiful without thick make-up, hair extensions and breast implants, is heart-breaking.  If their skin is not brown they don't feel pretty.

In most cases family, friends and boyfriends are telling them they look ridiculous. But they don't see it, they cannot understand that they are naturally beautiful.

Is this happening in Australia? Yes. Of course it is.  The ongoing trend to looked 'tanned,' and the inability of people to put their own health before their own so-called beauty, has lead to sun beds being banned in NSW from 2014 onwards.

Yet in the media, on these vapid shows that are shoved at us 24/7, the presenters are going darker and darker.  And looking tackier and tackier.

What has happened to natural beauty? Why is the definition of beauty becoming so desperately fake?  How have we become so shallow that vanity is now a multi-million dollar industry?

Well, I dont have the answers.
But, I do think we all need to be stauch advocates for natural beauty. Object to fakery, point it out, argue against it, educate our children about it, especially our girls. If we can build them up and make them believe that they are beautiful, by telling them Every Single Day, then it will make a difference.

I'm also thinking we should get the Snog, Marry, Avoid team out here to give our bourgeoning population of TV presenters who are just starting to verge on the Oompa Loompa end of the colour spectrum, a 'make under'.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Sydney Stitches and Quilt Show

Don't read this post if you are expecting photos of quilts. Phone battery died. No photos :(.

Did pick up some lovely crossies to do.  The show was mostly focussed on Quilts, but it was still good to see some stitching stalls there and be able to get hold of designs that are not easy to find in stitching shops.

/Start Rant

However, the small designers who are selling these... you need to look at the presentation of your designs.  When I buy a crossie design I expect it to look professional.  Wonky photocopies scream cheap and nasty, and if your printer is running out of ink THEN REPLACE IT.  Not appreciating one of the patterns below that is so faded I can hardly read it.

You also need to get someone to proof-read your instructions, typos are so easy to fix, AND your explanations are pretty incomprehensible.  I've got 25 years experience of cross-stitching under my belt and I'm still puzzling over what you're talking about in some sections.

/End Rant
From Chatelaine Designs
Inspiration: Rosewood Manor
Quaker Diamonds: Rosewood Manor

And some surface stitchery to do when I'm feeling brave...
Tree of Life: Roseworks Embroidery Design

Purchase of the day was my scissor keeper though...
Most glamourous scissor keeper ever
Also doubles as a tiara for visits to royalty

Friday, June 15, 2012

Using All The Things: Manky Bananas

When bananas were $16 a kilo (due to various cyclones wiping out the crop) my children could not get enough of them.  Now those dark days are over, and bananas are a reasonable price, they won't touch them.  

So, Manky Bananas is a regular occurrence here at Chez Nicholas.  I loath to throw any food away (the chooks get most of it, but they don't like bananas much either) so I have a delicious, easy, banana nut muffin recipe...

Manky Banana Nut Muffins

2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 - 3 overripe bananas 
1 cup brown sugar 
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
2 eggs 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1/2 cup nuts, chopped (any nut will do)

With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk, whip the bananas and sugar together - for a good 3 minutes. 
Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat well.
Mix in the flour until just incorporated. 
Fold in the nuts. 
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins to fill them about halfway. 
Bake until a toothpick stuck in the muffins comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. 

Totally yum :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lingerie Football

Yeah, so some Aussie chicks are keen to play American football in their underwear - and should this contact sport result in a bit of nudity, so much the better.  They're, apparently, more than happy to flash their well toned bits for the edification of of red necked blooded Aussie males.

And so with this little bit of marketing genius, raunch culture becomes just a tiny bit more mainstream...

From Sexpo to Lingerie Football, raunch culture is moving out of the adult shops and into our lives.
Its being normalised.
Like tattoos, piercings, bondage (50 Shades) and girls snogging other girls.
We don't have to look hard or far to find it.
I don't object to raunch. Each to their own, and have fun.
But please, keep it off my TV, and away from where my kids can see it.
Part of the delight of raunch is that its a little bit naughty, a little bit secret.
If its leading the 6pm news, being flashed in my face in advertising campaigns, and making my kids ask really awkward questions, it soon loses its allure, and becomes cheap and nasty.

I sympathise with the female athletes who are taking part in it.
If football was like writing, and I lived to do it,
If I had a shit hot bod that I spent hours every day making utterly stunning,
If someone told me that to earn a decent living doing what I loved, I'd have to do it in my underwear, then I'd consider it. (Oh OKAY, I do write half my books in my pjs - so it kinda counts)
But it is sad, so sad, that these athletes have to strip off to play the game and get a decent wage.  If they choose not to, and play their footy in shorts and a t-shirt then they can forget the money (and probably get called a butch lezzie for their pains).
That just doesn't sit right with me.

Shout and rattle our cages we might, but its here, and its probably going to stay.   The promoter sees a market, and there is demand (apparently 'fans' have been begging for Aussie lassies to be playing Gridiron in their knickers for years - really? they have?  But then parents of disabled children have been begging for support since the time of Menzies, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, no one ever listens, poor patient 'fans')
6000 people attended this 'harmless fun' (the promoter's words) in Brissy the other night.  Yes, some very naive families left in horror, especially when the blow up doll was produced, and the kiddies got to see three men from the crowd crash tackle a lone player (hey, just like men's football, a move that'd be called assault in every day life is a-okay on 'the field').  But, it would seem, the numbers were there.

An Australian Lingerie Football league.

Yep. Its a proud, proud day, for all of us.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Winter Citrus

The citrus trees in the front garden are getting their act together.

I love winter citrus, so bright and beautiful.
This tree is about five years old
I planted our lime tree last year, its got about ten limes on it :) and they are perfectly ripe right now.  Pass the tequila.
Ripe Limes
Plus cicada shell
And mandarins (Honey Murcott) just starting to get a little colour
Honey Murcotts
Tree about a year old

  • At this time of year collar rot can be a problem.  Its been dry for several days, but the ground around the trees is still saturated, so I've moved away any mulch that was in direct contact with the trees trunks.  
  • I also did some weeding around the bases of the trees, citrus hate competing with weeds.

Friday, June 08, 2012

And it all blows over...

It is hard having a special needs child in a mainstream school.

There is no way that Miss 6 should be in a specialist Autistic school, she is far too high functioning for that ever to have been on the table, but there are schools with programs for gifted students with learning disabilities, and schools that are different to hers, ones that run at a much much slower pace.  You see I have my girls at a private selective primary school.  In fact its one of the top schools in the state.  And, I'd just like to boast here, Miss nearly 8 is one of the top students in her class.  Already onto Year 3 work in some subjects, despite being just half way through Year 2.

Yep.  In a school of little clever sticks, I have one of the very cleverest little sticks.

I do not push her, by the way.  She likes to learn, she likes to do her homework. I never, ever nag her to do it. If she doesn't want to, its up to her.

It wasn't until the end of last term that I actually realised how well she was doing.  I met the other Mums for coffee, they were all... "Isn't Miss Nearly 8 doing well..." and I was all "Yeah, whatevs..." and they were all... "No, she's doing REALLY well, how did you not know that??

So I asked the teacher, and she was all... "Didn't you know??"

Yes. A Tiger Mother I am not.

Ahem.  I digress.  Back to Miss 6.  So, as you can see, its a fast paced school with high academic goals. Miss 6 is very happy there. She is a much loved member of the school community, and everyone knows her.  All the staff, from the groundsmen to the Headmistress keep an extra special eye on her.  But lately I've been wondering if she should repeat, or change schools... I'm wondering if she's in an environment in which she can never succeed, and if its fair to keep her there.

To change her school would be hell, and so would be repeating her.  It would be tough on all of us no matter what we decided.

Following Monday's debacle I met with the headmistress to discuss Miss 6. I was not ready to have that meeting, it was foisted on Hubs and I, but ultimately it was a good thing.  Everyone is clear on where we stand AND I was able to bring up a few issues (such as a spot of bullying).

The part that pleased me the most was that the school is willing to keep Miss 6 with her class, but teach her at her own pace.  Through primary and, if needed, into High School.  Tailor a program to her.  It could be a good solution.

I still don't know.  I have a billion questions to ask of everyone that is involved with Miss 6, the school and us.  This is such a big deal, after all.  There are so many pros and cons, and I want to make sure I consider them all.

So, calmness at Chez Nicholas is kind-of restored.  We spent today at the athletic's carnival.  Miss Nearly 8 won a ribbon. I missed it because I was at Westfield buying a hip flask of scotch to keep me from freezing to death on the sidelines.

Yes. Mother of the Year, me.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Centre of a Shit Storm

Finally, finally got some time to write, and I have a sweet novella bubbling away involving love amongst the oil rigs in Central Australia.  And you know what, dear readers, I'm having so much fun writing it.  I so needed this!

Of course life, observing this, has thrown several spanners my direction in the last couple of days.  Two family members sick, horrific weather (meaning children inside with cabin fever) and I somewhat naively set off something of a shit-storm at the kids school today as well.

Having a special needs kid in a mainstream school is like walking an endless tightrope.  You manage, negotiate, represent, soothe, apologise, tiptoe, stamp, shout, thank, appreciate, hold your tongue and above all keep smiling no matter what.

Being an introvert of generally irritable disposition, none of the above is my forte.  But, the role of managing Miss 6 at school falls on my shoulders.  And mostly, through care and effort, I do okay at it.


Today I fell off that tightrope.  And it was spectacular.  I won't go into details, it was just a case of 'policy' versus 'common sense'.  But it resulted in me sitting in my car sobbing with a combination of frustration and grief over the whole crappy situation.

There have been phone calls, meetings and more tears.  And I have been summoned to the principal's office for a meeting that I am not yet ready to have, and will have to articulate things I'm not yet ready to say.  Its gone on all day and I am tired and stressed.

So, imagine my surprise when I get a text from a friend.  "Look outside your front door." It said.

So I did.

There in the dark was a bag, with wine and crepes and chocolate.  And a note of support and hugs and love.

Never have I needed a surprise like that more.

So thank you dear kind Dianna :)  You have, once again, picked me up when I was at my lowest ebb, and I am so blessed to have you in my life.  Hugs back sweetie.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Setting Myself Up For Failure

So here we are on Day 3 of my Unattainable Challenges.  So far I'm doing outstandingly badly, but I have excuses, oh yes, there will be self-justifications.  Let us commence...

I called these Challenges "unattainable" mostly because I am vastly hilarious, though I do have a life-long habit of setting myself goals I cannot reach - yes, I suffer badly from the whole setting myself up for failure mindset.

If, on the off chance I do actually achieve a goal, I immediately move the bar further away. For example, goal was to clean the bedroom, half killed self cleaning bedroom, goal reached, so adds bathroom onto the list.

I know I do this, and these days, though I make my long lists, I do not give myself such a hard time if I don't achieve All The Things.  I do expect a lot from myself, but I'm getting reasonable about being unreasonable in my old age!

So, calling my June goals Unattainable is just a little reminder to myself that sometimes I expect too much.

In this context let us examine my goals...

  1. Writing... LOL. sigh. Have been stuck at thinking up a title and which story plot I will use for the novella.  Do have a file in scrivner called JuneShortStory which is shaping up to be the novella at this point.
  2. Clearing up house... house overrun by children, have given up until Monday
  3. Mindful of Spending... HA!  Also four new car tyres hasn't helped (*weeps*)
  4. Miss Nearly 8s birthday party... sunk into denial
  5. Mid-Life crisis... proceeding nicely thank you
Well, there we have it.  I think we can all agree that from this point the only way is up.

Stay tuned.

Also hubs says I need to put more photos in my posts...  Here is one of my pet Unicorn
And I shall call him Squishy, and he shall be mine...
~ Dory - Finding Nemo ~

Friday, June 01, 2012

Unattainable Challenges for June

1st of June today, and to celebrate the first day of winter I have decided to set myself a few completely unattainable challenges

  1. I'm taking part in 50ks in 30 Days - a writing challenge run by Romance Australia.  In the next 30 days I hope to write
    1. A 35,000 word novella
    2. A 15,000 word short story
  2. I will be de-crapifying the house.  Hubs is starting a new job this month and its going to mean a pretty radical shift in how the house runs.  In preparation for this I'm getting the whole steaming heap organised.
  3. Being extremely mindful of our spending.  Yes, there will be even more cheap-arsery than usual around here.
  4. Get through Miss nearly 8s birthday party (every time I think of it the voice in my head goes nooooooooo *cough* ooooooooo)
  5. Having a mid-life crisis (oh lordy yes, meditation and chinese herbal remedies will be involved, and no, its not going to be pretty, elegant or graceful)
In the midst of all this I might even crack out a few blog posts.  But if I'm quiet think of me working diligently away to better myself and my family (HAH) or rocking in a corner babbling to myself.

Its alllllll good. :)