Saturday, 28 September 2013

a finished pair of socks!

At long last I have finished the socks for my sister's birthday which was two days ago.  Not only are they finished, but posted and received and she loved the denim colour.  This was in the Yummy sock yarn bought in Newtown some years ago.  I found it boring to knit as it pooled in many places.  I tried to minimise the effects of the pooling by being careful just where I put the heel  to split things a bit.

As you can see, these are hot off the needles with no blocking. I think she will make use of these where she is housesitting now.  She is south of Canberra and the district is colder than Canberra.  Tonight's minimum for Canberra is supposedly -2°C.  I made her some 8 ply socks some years ago which she wore inside until they dissolved into holes.  She should be able to wear these  with joggers to keep her feet warm.  When she's finished at this house, she has another month in a similar area but slightly more inland, so they will probably be needed there too.

Up here the maximum was over 30°C. The contrast is ridiculous for a car trip of just over three hours.  We were sweltering on Friday and she had sleet blowing horizontally in the gale.  We had the wind but had bushfires.

I have started another pair of socks.  The picture isn't bad for the poor light but the colour is really a very rich, vibrant ruby.  It's called Tart by Madeleine Tosh.

The socks are Mojo by Donyale.  I've looked at this pattern many times over several years and finally decided the time had come to do it.  I'll make a donation to the charity suggested  by her providing clean water.  The pattern is a mix of different patterns arranged within the sock stitches.  After the toe cast on, the sock was turned inside out to give the purl finish.  The other sock has stocking stitch on the toe.  I am not fond of toe up socks but have made several pairs of socks that way.  A long time ago.  These have an afterthought heel.  When I get that far, I'll consider if I diverge from the pattern to do my usual short row heel or if I'll be different for once and stick to the pattern.

Do you ever wonder what to cook for dinner?  I do.  Often.  I enjoy cooking, but just for myself it can become tedious.  I was reading a group on ravelry and found a link to this recipe.  Man pleasing chicken.  I had all the ingredients, so decided to try it.  There's no man here to please with my cooking but it certainly pleased me.  It smelt delicious, the more so because I have recently started eating the 5:2 plan and yesterday was a day of low kilojoules, just 2000 kj over two meals.  I was ready for something different tonight.

It was very easy to prepare once I had thawed the chicken thighs.  I discovered I did not have the full amount of Dijon mustard so topped it up with some grainy mustard.  This was actually a good move.  The grainy mustard made a pleasant crunchy topping on the chicken thigh.  I forgot to put the fresh rosemary on the top to serve and I think a mix of rosemary and lemon zest would be good.  The flavour was good and different.  Although I knew what was in the recipe, no one flavour predominated.

Best of all was that there were six thighs in the pack, so I have another two meals.  I think it would also be good served cold as a lunch dish with salad.  The chicken was moist and tender.  A couple of minutes to stir the rice wine vinegar, maple syrup and mustard together and then into the oven.  It could scarcely have been easier or quicker.

I had a few mushrooms and some fresh asparagus in the fridge.  I put them into a pyrex dish along with a sliced button squash.  That had some leftover garlic butter added and I put that in the oven with the chicken towards the end of the cooking time for the chicken.  A good grind of fresh pepper and dinner was done and enjoyed.

Even better is that there were four pieces of chicken leftover, another two meals all done and dusted.  I'll keep one in the fridge and freeze the other.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

ah, nostalgia

I have sometimes remarked, as has my sister, that I seem to be turning into my mother at times.  I use some of her phrases  and have recently found myself turning to some of her recipes.  Nothing wrong with that, actually.  She was a good, innovative cook who used garlic and other strange vegetables well before her peers.  I recently made a chocolate slice which still goes by the name of fudge in the family.  Not at all the gooey concoction of that name now.

The smell of it cooking brought back to mind, the times I would walk around the side path to the back door as I returned from  school.  I could smell she'd been cooking fudge from quite a distance  away.

I grew up in what was then a semi-rural suburb of Sydney.  Lots of open space, unpaved roads, no footpaths.  There were several market gardens in my street and a poultry farm which sold us freshly killed chooks for extra special occasions.  We took our billy can down every morning for rich creamy milk for breakfast and cooking.  Eggs were sent up by the farmer regularly.  The rabbitoh man drove a horse and cart around regularly selling rabbits for meals.  The ice cream man came every Sunday lunch time and there would be a rush to buy wavers, two flat, crispy pieces of icecream  cone material.  These sandwiched a wedge of icecream which was wrapped.  Sometimes we would get a block of icecream.  The freezer in our fridge was tiny, so this had to be bought as needed.  It would be served with hot, freshly made caramel sauce.  The sauce was my responsibility from about eight years of age.

Dad  was a teacher at the local  school and I walked there and back with him every day.  About 15 minutes it took and we did not have a car till I was 12.  Our house was one of several in the street which had been left as a shell by a builder when he went broke and just disappeared.  No floors, internal wall, ceilings, fitting etc.  Dad built the inside of the house every afternoon after school.  I have some yarn ordered which is called 1950 kitchen cupboards.  I'll post a photo when it arrives, but yes, our cupboards were painted in very similar colours to this yarn.

We had what would now be an enormous block of land, and dad lovingly planted a garden.  He had not just green thumbs but a whole host of green fingers as well.   Lots of flowers as well as fruit trees and vegetables.  Swane Bros nurseries were at the bottom of our street and when they moved, Mrs Swane let him take as many of the prize-winning  roses from the garden as he  wished.  Just beautiful, and much better than having them ripped out by a developer.  Manure for these was collected in our old pram from the paddocks around the poultry farm.

On our way home from school we would call in at Cuthbert's nursery where he would buy seedlings.  They are still there but sell a different range now.  He taught  Betty Cuthbert  who won several gold medals for sprinting at  the Olympics.  Mrs Cuthbert would make a wrap from newspaper and while Dad may have asked for a dozen lettuce seedlings, she would get them on her trowel and wrap them up.  Many more than he asked or paid for.

So what has prompted this fit of nostalgia?   I think it's spring.  My birthday herbs are thriving.  The basil I planted last Thursday, four days ago, appears to be settling in, even though the seedlings were tiny, and the radish seeds I planted at the  same time are sprouting.  All over the box of potting mix, tiny leaves are pushing through the light covering and reaching up to the light.

They are a bit difficult to see but they are definitely there.

Dad had a beautiful garden and while the flowers were beautiful, so too were the vegetables.  There were several passionfruit vines and we picked ripe passionfruit every afternoon.  Many of them never made it inside.  He had a bed devoted to strawberries about five metres by five metres.  This was great till we started to share a tiny bitser stray with the neighbours.  She liked strawberries even as a puppy  and would nose around in the bed.  She only ever took the ripe ones, but we had to be quick to get them before Annabelle did.  She also liked young beans and would eat them straight from the plant until dad planted climbing beans and we then took the high up beans.

Row after row of radishes were planted each week and I ate them straight from the plot after a quick rinse under the laundry tap.  There were bananas down the side path  and several peach trees.  Peaches picked from the tree on a summer's day and eaten warm from the sun are amazingly good.  He grew all our potatoes and most of the other vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli etc.  I picked mulberries from an enormous tree in the corner of the back yard.  The downside was I  always had purple fingers in mulberry season and I was the one who had to snip off the stems before mum cooked them.

Later in life Dad studied part time at Ryde school of horticulture and  topped the year every year.  One of my saddest memories of  him was at the beginning of the Alzheimers which eventually took him.  We sat on the back verandah of the mountain home he had built for retirement where he had made another beautiful garden from rough scrubby bush.  He complained to me that he knew the name of a shrub we could see.  He knew he knew it and had planted the shrub.  However the  name  was tantalisingly close in his brain, but he just couldn't put a name to it.  This bothered him enormously as he did not know what was wrong.

I had a great garden when the boys were small but let things go.  I think the spring feeling has me looking forward to using the herbs and certainly has me anticipating the radishes, fresh with a sprinkle of salt.

So some reminiscences prompted by my radishes on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.  I'll finish with a picture of my spring shoes.  Bright red and very cheerful.

Friday, 20 September 2013

not spanokopita

Cindy who blogs over here, has been testing recipes weekly.  Some of them are delicious and I have used them, but the one for pasties which she tried a few days ago did not really appeal to me.  She also said that the combination of both pasta and pastry was a bit much.

When I was growing up, my mum  would often make a pie.  Her true meat pies are legendary in the family and it seems as if my youngest son has inherited her mantle for making them.  Mine are given 8/10 and hers were classed by my sons as 12/10.  She made her own delicious pastry.  The meat was cooked with mushrooms and wine by the side of the wood stove for hours.

However, when I was younger, there was more  emphasis placed on economy and filling us up than on beef and burgundy pies.  She was a good cook and we ate good healthy food but occasionally she would make a pie with Tom Piper steak and vegetables which came in a tin.  I remember they smelt great but I didn't much like meat then and like the tinned stuff even less.

One rule which I picked up was that if there was pastry, then there was no mash.  I can remember early times of marriage when my husband was horrified there was no potato to eat with his pie.

Now Cindy's recipe which she posted had cooked macaroni or similar in a cheesey sauce, all encased in pastry.  A bit too heavy on the carbs for my liking.  She thought so too. A bit like potatos and pastry on the same plate.

I was thinking through the week about what could be done about it.  I remembered the Greek pie spanakopita which uses filo pastry.  I had baby spinach which needed to be used.  I had Tasmanian fetta cheese, I had a couple of rashers of bacon.  I had puff pastry, I don't buy filo for just myself as it dries out before I can use much of the packet.  I did have puff pastry.

I cooked the finely chopped bacon and some onion, along with two big cloves of garlic.  I added the baby spinach and put a lid over the pan till it was wilted down.  I usually make the spanokopita with raw spinach and sometimes it cooks down so much there is a  big space under the pastry.

Into a big bowl went this, along with quite a bit of chopped fetta and some grated tasty cheese.  Season to taste.  Feta can vary in its saltiness, so  taste  before adding any extra salt.  I didn't add beaten eggs to the mix or use ricotta as well as the recipe above suggests.  If I make spanakopita, I usually make it in a pyrex bowl so use the eggs then.

I thawed some puff pastry and cut two circles.  I could perhaps have stretched it to three pasties as I had some of the mix leftover.  Put the mix down one half of the pastry, moisten edges and fold over and crimp together.  Place on baking sheet on some baking paper.  Use a pastry brush to brush outside with beaten egg. Mine were cooked for 25 minutes at 190 degrees as my oven runs very hot and fierce.  It made a good meal with some salad, although I think I could no longer call it spanakopita.  Things had changed somewhat.  I think they would be good cold on a picnic but smaller.

Spring has sprung here and my birthday herbs are thriving.  The ginger mint is unusual.  At first it just tasted minty, but then there was a definite after taste of ginger.  I filled a foam box with potting mix two days ago and have eight basil seedlings planted, tiny at the moment.  My mind sees pesto.

Also planted some radish seeds, just a few from a packet as an experiment.  If they work, I will sow a few more at a a time.  I haven't had the cockatoos on my balcony since I moved the table near the door away from the edge of the balcony.  So I will be watching all this with interest and anticipation.

I was cutting up a few salad bits and pieces to have with a sandwich for lunch today.  Have you seen these delightful bambini mozzarella balls?  I like the cheese but usually have the baby bocconcini or even the larger.  I bought these a few weeks ago and they definitely are cute little bambini.  The taste is mild and sweet and went well with my lunch.  I think they were about $4.50 or perhaps $ 4.99 for the tub.

They would go well almost as a garnish on a plate of savouries.  The cucumber here is a long skinny Lebanese cucumber, so you can compare the bocconcini to the cucumber slice.  They are about as big as my little fingernail but basically sherical.  I bought them at Coles.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

so, where have I been?

An extended absence on my part, not really intended.  It just happened.

I spent some days in the southern highlands.  Last year, it was -6° C one afternoon and overnight.  This year, one day was around 30° C.  Too warm for this time of year, really.  The Highlands were beautiful.  Much of the blossom was out and trees were covered in puffy little balls of flowers of pink or white.  I didn't take my camera, so have no decent photos of it.
I went with my friend and we stayed at a different motel to the usual.  We are not looking for luxury as we rarely spend any time in the motel during the days.  Clean comfortable beds and bathrooms so we sleep well at night.  The usual abode was being renovated.  The rooms were done a couple of years ago, so I hope they did the bathrooms this time round.  Always clean, but extremely dated and tiny and cramped.

We went over the road to a Best Western motel.  Much more expensive but it seems to have spoilt us for our usual.  Lots of facilities which we suddenly found we needed.  My room had a big bath as well as a shower.  Bigger actually than the bath at home.  Free wifi, good beds dining room for breakfast.  We used to buy breakfast at a cafe as the breakfast at other place was nothing wonderful.  This was fine, cereals with lots of fruit etc and toast and good coffee or breakfast cooked to order. This time we sat in a bay window with a fountain just outside and watched the birds coming to the feeder.  They had the same order of appearance each morning.  Pretty gardens and all mod cons.

The only down side was the heating.  It had been cold and then there was a very warm stretch.  The place was centrally heated so I found I just had a sheet over me most of the night.

My friend is still having tests done to determine his chest problems which were triggered by dust etc at Royal Easter Show.  Just like last year, but this year they haven't cleared.

Son with the bad back has been told he may never be really truly recovered.  Not good news.  They sold their house where they were living along  with other real estate.  As they haven't moved to France and my guess is they won't, they had to move in with DIL's mum.  He could not help at all with packing and moving and I think the whole process has been quite emotional for them.  He had a birthday.  I was knitting a cowl for him, but it's still in the naughty corner after being ripped back three times.  At least it is now spring, not autumn as it would be in France.

He's now taken antibiotics for the bone infection in his back for six weeks.  Huge tablets.  DIL calls them horse tablets.  The first medical estimate is he will need them for six months and most say probably longer.  Then he has to work out what treatment he will accept for the unstable disk which was the subject of the first operation a year ago.

I was given some herbs and a planter for my birthday by friends.  The herbs have  taken off in the warmer weather.  I already had a  thriving lavender, but now have a variety.  The baby spinach is bursting out of the pot.  I have  tried some ginger mint which is pleasant, not strong.  The spearmint is coming on well.  The feathery plant is salad burnet which has a taste reminiscent of celery.  Two sorts of chives are springing up and I have used some in some  chicken mince for dinner tonight, along with  garlic and chilli.

I think I'll make some meatballs with it or perhaps some larger rissoles.