Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve Party

Another year, another Christmas. The second in my new place and the second time I hosted Christmas Eve for the family before the more traditional turkey and pudding on the day at Mum and Dads place.

So for this feast I created a spread of canapes around my penguin inspired advent calendar (the orange, blue and black thing at the back). Food included cherry tomatoes stuffed with goats cheese and cranberries, oven roasted oregano sea salt pita crisps (oh so simple but very nice, just store bought pita bread cut into triangles brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and oregano and laid on a baking tray in the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up very nicely). There was little tartlets filled with tuna, cucumber and lime and another with roasted eggplant, sundried tomatoes and serrano ham. I had a cheese platter with a lovely French goats cheese rolled in herbs and an Italian pecorino matured in honey and hay. I made a cauliflower, cheddar and tuna dip (just those three ingredients whizzed round to creamy purree and seasoned). There was cucumber rounds filled with hummus (very tasty leftovers from a friend who made it themselves) and salami. Then there was a decadent salad in Christmas flavours, the base is chicken poached in galangal, kaffir lime leaves, ras el hanout and a touch of chilli, that was then shredded and combined with snowpeas, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, coriander, fennel, roasted potato and sweet potato and caramelised red onions.

Dessert was a special, I had made my gingerbread cake the week before for a barbeque and had some left over which I crumbled up into the base of trifle glasses and then added a splash of rum, grand marnier, morello cherries and a chocolate hazlenut cream poured over the top to make little Christmas flavoured trifles. I even toasted my own hazlenuts for the cream component.

Finally here is a glimpse of my Christmas Tree. This is for me the most special part about Christmas. No lights or tinsel here either, each decoration has been collected throughout my life and travels. Every baubel hanging on there is different and interesting and is attached to a memory from my past. Food might shift and change around from year to year but this tree will always be with me (albeit a different pine tree to hang it all from of course)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reflections on Japan - Part 1

Well I've been back from Japan for a couple of weeks now... at least I think it is, it might still be closer to a week but with so much work on my plate its hard to tell any more. Space issues on my computer meant i had to wait to get my photos burnt onto discs from someone elses but now I finally have them and can start sharing... I'm just starting to look through some of the first early days at the moment so here are some views from Kyoto around its famous sites of the Golden Pavillion and Ryoan-ji

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An announcement

Well finally I am officially engaged. It was not so much a surprise for me as I have known it was coming for some time ever since my dear other half scouted out ideas for rings from me and with a few initial consultations with my jeweller in which I talked about what I liked and didn't and the concept I wanted for my ring (sparkly, uplifting and wrapping and nurturing, much like a birds nest).

I was told to be dressed and glamorous by 4pm and he picked me up half an hour later (definitely a gentleman to give me extra time to figure out just how those suspenders I  bought for the occasion fitted together with the lovely vintage inspired stockings with cuban heel)

He drove me to Woolwich which is where we had our first real conversation and our first kiss together. I was asked to get out of the car and go down to the Pier. Along the way I passed three ladies who commented on my rather glam appearance for an afternoon stroll and I just blushed and mumbled something about being led on a mystery tour led by my boyfriend, they smiled and nodded and went on their way and I stood at the pier waiting.

He followed shortly later with a bunch of a dozen champagne roses and a picnic basket containing a bottle of baby moet and chandon and two ritzenhoff champagne glasses (full points for not resorting to plastic for the occasion.) He got down on one knee and read a little poem and proposed to me and my ring is just heavenly.

Afterwards we went to Sepia for dinner and enjoyed a long degustation dinner with many delightful dishes and beautiful matching wines before retreating home.

At the moment my head is spinning trying to keep on top of various plans, I am going to Japan for two and a half weeks in only two weeks time, so I want to start planning the wedding in full speed but I should focus on the trip first but it is hard to focus right now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wedding of Marion and Mark – 09.09.09

Well Wednesday the 9th of the 9th 09 heralded the wedding of my friend from university Maz and her boyfriend Mark. (He likes numbers and proposed on the 8th of the 8th 08) It was a lovely wedding at one of Sydney's prettiest churches - St Marks Anglican Church in Vaucluse. The reception was held in the church gardens on a sunny spring day with views to the harbour. There was sparkling pink moscato to drink and the canapes that floated around were enjoyable. 
I particularly loved how she had set the gardens up for the wedding and she used the bonbonnerie gifts of little basil herb pots very well to add layers of colour and texture, it was a design element that worked well for their low budget and I for one am grateful for the delicious addition to my balcony's herb patch. The gifts table and cake table were also very charming, I just love all the old wooden tables. Overall this wedding was such a classic English Garden Wedding.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Painting Presents

It is my friends wedding next Wednesday morning and I have bought her a nice bison ceramic salad bowl in a pretty sagey green colour with wooden salad servers. Lately I have gone off purchasing wrapping paper, the designs are either boring or horrendously expensive and just not in my budget but the time the present is purchased. I have a big roll of brown paper I'm using as a base for everything and I just wrap it in an unusual style with odd folded flaps or oragami flourishes at the end, then I can wrap ribbons round it or stick a small bit of feature paper from my supplies to it. For a wedding though something special is required so I dug out my roll of Chinese Silk Paper and paints and did a brush painting of some blue flowers... I forgot I was going to put yellow centres on them once they had dried and in the confusion I wrapped the present before going "oops" I still think it looks find though. 

A few weeks ago for my friends birthday I did her a chinese brush painting of a mountain landscape. She was the one who kindly gave me a framed picture of a duck for my birthday. I decided to make this into a scroll type painting with two balsa rounds. 
The Japanese Haiku in the top corner is very nice and when I get home I will look it up and add it onto this post in a bit

I wish I had a scanner to get a better image of these, they photograph poorly with my mobile phone

A year of nesting

This weekend I celebrated a year of having left the nest. Saturday started off simply enough with a walk down to the Kings Cross Markets for breakfast and some stops at the fruit and veg, deli, supermarket aisles. On the way back, the cake shop had miniature croquemboche's for sale so this was perfect, a little tower of decadence to carry carefully home and enjoy on the balcony in the afternoon. There was also a little mini bottle of Möet that I had been saving for an occasion and so this too was shared. A simple celebration but quite fine and dandy indeed. 

On Sunday I had my Grandmother over for afternoon but as usual forgot to photograph my creations. I made leaf shaped honey and lavendar madeline cakes, crackers with english cloth bound cheddar cheese, another with a lovely soft french chevre with Italian proscuitto and a broadbean and mint purree with pork and fennel salami. I also made these cute little cupcakes that are inspired by the concept of a fruit custard tart. You make the basic vanilla cupcake recipe, scoop out a bit in a centre, fill with custard (home made from scratch, no powder involved) and then topped with some fruits (strawberries, blueberries and golden kiwi fruit) and glazed with a little melted strawberry and vanilla jam. I was running late though and rushing at the end to have everything laid out so the doorbell rang before I could photoshoot it. All I had left was two dodgy ones at the end of the day to remind me of the occasion. Everything else was demolished. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Aspiring to the Art of Food

Since moving out of the family nest and establishing my own it is interesting to reflect on how much my thoughts and priorities have switched. 

Previously I would be far more outward minded, thinking about the world around me and how all the dots connected, considering the twists and turns of society, the things that inspired me and the things I despised in the world. I would follow the news more and think about the events that impacted on us or what they said about us as people.

Now though I have new challenges which I am dedicating my time to and relishing in many ways. I never expected my blog to wind up focusing on so much food but I do love a good meal and I am trying to improve my cooking by massive strides. It helps that I have taken to it quite naturally and I have a well developed palette from years of eating good tasty food. 

Yet I want to achieve more than simply making a meal that tastes good. Gradually I want my dishes to start looking like little artworks as well. This is of course a hangover from being too busy to paint much any more either. 

That is is of course the challenge of new responsibilities, your thoughts and energies are refocused on other  things in your life whilst prior passions get left behind, at least for a while. 

In the meantime this is my latest creation. On the base is a pancake/fritter consisting of pulverised corn and fennel mixed in with a thick pancake batter to make a nice hearty fritter. On top of that is some shredded chicken which I poached in water with a teaspoon of ras el hanout spice mix to give it a delicate yet rich flavour. Then scattered on top is some pistachio nuts, toasted pine nuts, cranberries and coriander leaves. On road testing this got full marks for taste and flavour and I rather like the beautiful colours in with its jewels of red and green on a golden base. Now all I need is a name for it. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It may only be half way through July yet the sight of snowdrops popping up fills me with pleasure. I have always thought there was something quite magical about this particular flower that I have loved ever since I was a small child. 

In amongst the branches of the tree houses that formed my early life my friends and I were enthralled with the world of Cecily Mary Barker's flower fairies, we each had our different favourites and mine was not the more popular rose, lavender or sweetpea, nor was it the bright columbine or fuscia flowers my friend adored. My favourite was the snowdrop along with the willow and gentle forget-me-not. Even as a child I was more of an introvert who preferred to reflect quietly along the river banks than frolic around in bright colours with the other fairies. 

The snowdrop is a flower that is delicate yet tenacious. It's flowers are fragile, quivering little white bells on the end of bright green stems. From a design perspective they are nicely balanced with the stem colour being carried through into the delicate spotting design along the petals edge. They crush easily, wilt easily but they are strong and determined little things popping up when it's still a bit cold and taking those first steps into spring. I took them to heart as a metaphor, I can cope with the cold and desolation when things are not always rosey. I may be fragile in some ways but strong in others. It appears as a lonely flower sometimes yet its role is also a herald for better times ahead. I am not an obvious beauty yet if you peer closely and can appreciate the subtleties then yes beauty is definitely to be found there. Of course it is not a complete metaphor by any degree, but rather a sliver of a whole.

So it was with great joy when I went home to check on mum and dads place while they were away, to clear the letterbox and sweep the fallen camellias from the drive, that I spotted these lovely little darlings springing up at the base of the old magnolia tree. Again this is part of their beauty, growing up at the base of a tree, adding that little splash of green and dashing flair to the trunk of a tree whose own magnificence is further upwards. I brought some of them home with me and popped them into a humble glass bottle. As I sit here drink my tea they do indeed still bring a smile to my face thinking of their beauty and the memories they conjure up for me of idyllic days amongst the garden beds. 

I had forgotten the beauty of these flowers in many ways, I guess I wished to distance myself from the struggles of childhood, to reach forward into new things, at the florist I would select something different and unusual, a striking native or an amusing broccoli-like creation. Orchids and other exotics would grab my attention and I had no time for the humble snowdrop. Now though I am willing to embrace it again, to enjoy my rediscovery of it. I guess in ways too that I have settled now into my new life and am comfortable embracing the old, perhaps also it is a hint I am beginning to feel ready to start thinking about children and how I will guide them into life. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Vive Le Tour

Time speeds past and it is already July. What happened to June, how did it get so buried under pressing duties, long work hours and endless things demanding my time and energy. 

For me July heralds the start of the Tour de France, a great event that I have been following for quite a number of years now. I never really took to sport and nor can I claim to be much of a cyclist at all. Yet despite this there is something quite appealing about this particular event. The scenery itself is so spectacular and no other sport can claim such a stunningly beautiful stadium.

So it is such a pleasure to snuggle up late at night and sleepily watch the roads of France unwind before you. The photographers have a real visual eye for capturing fascinating things and so many of the people it passes are also making their little contributions to the event with their roadside decorations. 

So in the spirit of the Tour de France I have baked some bicycle cookies, they are a ginger/cinnamon flavour with a hint of lemon peel. 

Now if only the members of my Fantasy Cycling Tour will start performing so I can stop regretting the decision to omit Cancellara and Cavendish from my team. Fingers crossed and good luck to you Cadel... 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Birthday with the Queen

This year I was able to enjoy a nice relaxing Monday in which to celebrate turning 26 thanks to the Queens Birthday falling on the same date. The whole long weekend really was a chance to simply relax and enjoy.

On the Saturday night my parents came over and joined Geoff and I for a kaiseki dinner at a local sushi restaurant - Zushi. It was a great meal if somewhat overwhelmed with food. There were 8 courses all together and they didn't skimp in portions, a platter of sashimi came with at least a dozen pieces each, a sushi plate came with 8 nigiri, one course was a whole steamed snapper to share between two. There was also lobster miso soup, tender chunks of wagyu beef with mushrooms, an egg custard thing, dessert and a trio of appetisers. 

Sunday started off slowly with a wander over to Paddington to share a French omelette and pastry at the boulangerie near Five Ways. A quick yum cha at Fu Man Chu with my friend Jasmin before catching up with the other girls for hot chocolate, waffles and ganache pieces at Boon. Food and conversation is a pleasure that should never be underestimated.

In the evening Geoff took me to Le Pelican on Bourke street where I had the sand whiting entree which came served with a delicious potato mash, crispy crouton with olive tapenade and seafood bisque sauce to meld it all together with. Geoff ordered oysters so I had a few from his plate. For the main it was Seafood Pie - filled with smoked fish, asparagus and broad beans whilst Geoff had the duck two ways, slow cooked confitted leg and roasted and spiced breast, his dish came with some very nice leeks and cubes of beetroot. Desserts were spectacular, I had the Grand Marnier Souffle and Geoff the Chocolate Fondant, a warm melting blob of joy. The table next to us had ordered some amazing Creme Brulee's so next time I shall try that (they were served in a wide flat bowl so had lots of toffee and a cylinder of chocolate and berried rising from the centre. 

And so to Monday. Another sleepy start to the day before brunch at Forbes and Burton which was very crowded and we ended up jammed onto a tiny table. We shared Bubble and Squeak and "Hot Vanilla Rice with Sexy Pears" and yes the pears are sexy. Then the return to the home nest to visit Mum and Dad. Dinner is about family favourites, chicken leek and bacon casserole and Delia's Squidgy chocolate Log with a mixture of the rich lindt mousse and the tangy prune filling. 

So to some presents which are rich in those lovely little 'twigs' for making a comfortable home...

These beautiful cups are by Madhulika Ghosh and are inspired by Tibetan Buddhist prayers. The fine translucence porcelain evokes the Himalayan light and they are very divine. Geoff did well to pick two really nice pieces after I had simply directed him to the artist and the shop where he could buy them. I'm sure as the years go by he will gradually grow in confidence to learn how to buy things undirected. He also bought me a couple of books and some chocolate. 

My best friend Jasmin painted me this gorgeous painting of a Chinese Wood Duck with Peony Flowers. We had recently done the Chinese Brush Painting course together so it is a great reminder of how much fun we had together doing the course as well as looking very fine on my wall. I also got some nice ceramic bowls from Alison, artist finger puppets for the fridge from Susan and some wine from Emma. 

Mum and Dad gave me a nice alpaca blanket, some dvd's and a book, a small crystal bowl for serving cream in and some Yen for spending on my trip to Japan coming up in October. So after a long weekend of indulgence it is now simply back to work and settling into life at 26.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A dinner party splashed in red and green jewels

It was wonderful to shake off some dust and leap into the role of hosting a small dinner party for my parents and partner. Nor is an excuse needed, after all it's a good chance to try a few recipes I hadn't tried before without the pressure of a 'special event'. First up a nice slow cooked lamb. Unfortunately I didn't have time to photograph the final dish as I was too busy chatting away and satisfying peoples stomachs but I have a shot of it half way through. I can tell you that after some further slow cooking I tore up the lamb into shreds and chunks, scattered pomegranate seeds, toasted pinenuts and mint leaves. The colours were lovely but my guests were well and truly ready to tuck in. 

The previous week I had bought a lovely long tart dish, perfect for a recipe that I had been eyeing off for some time and it was good to make it before the raspberries and figs disappeared until next season. It is a burnt butter tart with pistachio meal and with figs and raspberries embedded in it. After cooking, added is a raspberry caramel drizzle and some more pistachio nuts to bring out a lovely array of colours. My only disappointment is realising I don't actually have a suitable long plate for serving such a tart upon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A sort of Spring Cleaning

The painters are in a definite dispute with building management so work is suspended till further notice... so time to move some stuff  back onto the balcony and try and make the most of the remnants of sunshine around... It was also the first weekend in May which to my mind is always a good time for a spot of 'spring cleaning' though technically for me its Autumn, but it's one of those anomalies you still feel despite the differing hemispheres... bit like the whole snow thing at Christmas... I really enjoyed sitting out there in the morning despite the cold with a cup of tea. 


Wollombi Photos are still to come... I didn't really take a lot up there, too busy relaxing and painting instead... but for the moment instead I have some photos from the bushwalk last Saturday. We walked around the Duck Tolling Ponds nestled between McCarrs Creek Road and West Head Road in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park. It was a short walk but quite  thrilling... at the start there is a lot of nice cool pools to stroll amongst and dip your toes in the water. Further along you track along the top of the ridge whilst the creek falls into lower terrain. There are some amazingly dizzy views which were difficult to capture via camera, the perspective gets flattened out in the mere two dimensions of pixels. One not so pleasant part though was along a muddy track where three leeches decided to hitch a ride on my feet... guess thats what happens for bushwalking in strappy sandals... 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Return to Wollombi

It's been almost a week yet much has happened... Last Friday was one of those horrible long days that would never end with a dose of thank god its Friday as I finally got to trudge home. It was a long week stuffed full of deadlines, I didn't take a single lunch break all week and there I am at ten past five arguing with my manager as to whether or not I could leave twenty minutes early... by quarter past an agreement was reached, do this small ten minute job first and then you can go... so there you go I wind up with a five minute early mark and I should be grateful... 

The weekend involved Saturday markets, a bushwalk, dinner with friends, Sunday back home to visit Mum and Dad and help move furniture for the painting work they are having done. 

Then finally the Monday to look forward to... no work to go to... just escaping to the wilderness of Wollombi and one of our favourite places - the wild edge retreat up there. I had forgotten just how nice it is to wake up amongst the gum trees and the flittering little birds. Peaceful but all too short a trip... and now a week has passed since that last Friday and I'm still tired, but for different reasons not quite understood... perhaps it is merely a longing to be back in that serenity... Sitting on the verandah of Keith Tulloch's winery on a wednesday afternoon when the rest of the world seems so far... and then having to leave, and return, to all the mess and disorganisation I left behind and wondering where to pick up the pieces of my scattered mind... 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pumpkin for one

I bought a rather sweet little baby pumpkin at Fratellis the other day, it was so adorable I wanted to do something interesting with it and also try to keep it whole rather than just chop it into chunks and turn it into wedges of roast pumpkin or blended into a soupy pulp. 

One thing that surprised me looking through my cookbooks was at how few references there were for pumpkins, some books didn't even have a single recipe featuring it. Jamie had some under 'squash' but my mums trusted hand me down copy of Delia's complete cookery course didn't have a single mention of pumpkins or squashes... am I missing something here? Why the unpopularity?

Anyway I had a baby eggplant which I diced into small little cubes and some tomato also diced and some chopped anchovies, (I would have added onion and rice but I'd run out of room by then) some seasoning of oregano, salt, pepper and a dash of cardamon and I squashed all this into the centre of my deseeded pumpkin... It ended up being just the right portion for one, warming without being too guiltily fattening... 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Travesties and Caterpillars with an appetite for mint

I pattered out to my balcony this morning to water my plants (in the painting lull I decided to allow them the freedom to enjoy oxygen and sunlight before being returned to the bath tub to live in exile.) 

I was rather shocked to glance down at my mint, surely it couldn't have died overnight, but there it was all bare sticks without a single leaf on it. Closer inspection revealed it wasn't some sudden heart attack but there was some stubs of leaves with definite chew marks. Something had had quite an extensive nibble of it. 

I am quite a tolerant person, when leaves of basil turn up with large holes missing I just shrug and say that is part of nature, the insects are entitled to contribute to my small little eco system of a few herb plants in a pot... but this... this was overstepping the mark...

I managed to find three culprits, large bloated caterpillars of a bright neon green, their appearance was quite absurd really, just little balloons of bright green that when squished just turned a more liquidly translucent green smudge. To completely destroy every single leaf on a plant is to deprive that plant of its ability to grow. How can it photosynthesis after such abuse. And so I declare my balcony garden to no longer be a neutral territory for insects to congregate within, trespassers will be squashed.

On a lighter note we saw a great play tonight 'Travesties' by Tom Stoppard... brilliant fun, so many ideas and linguistic tricks bubblling in there that it is hard to get a grip on just what your thoughts are... the first thing we said to each other was more along the lines of "geeze, imagine trying to learn all those lines... impressive" indeed I think the actors certainly had to work hard for their money on that one. But it was great

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farewell Summer

I have to admit now that summer is definitely over, it is cold and wet, I trudge home in the dark shivering and huddling in on myself. I shall very soon abandon the freedom of my sandals and switch to stockings and boots. 

One thing I am already beginning to miss is the fruit, the season is so short, I really loved all the peaches and nectarines, lychees, mangos and figs. 

For Christmas I received a fantastic fruit hamper from a client at work (a career milestone I think to receive such a thing finally) and it was a joy to eat. 

I bought a couple of plums on the weekend but they were disappointingly floury so I had to stick them in a pan with a splash of cointreau to make them delicious again. 

I am rather sad not to have had the chance to make another custard fruit tart again. I made one for a party and it was gobbled up far too quickly so I only got one piece! (There is a picture of it here with the slices of yellow peaches, white peaches and plums laid out ready for the custard (made from scratch, no powdered stuff here) to be poured over the top and put back in the oven to crystallise into its yummy glory. 

Also on the baking line there is a photo of my hot cross bun cupcakes I made for Easter.

So in raise your glasses in honour of the summer gone and perfect picnic weather...

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Shannon Garson Nest

Now to the fun stuff... nesting...

I've always loved the imagery of a nest, those beautiful intricate lines woven across each other. The nest is spectacular visually, it draws you in and you can just admire it for long stretches of time, always picking up new details within it. 

The notion of nesting in terms of the domestic space is also appealing. I've flown the big nest in which I grew up as a chick and now I start the process of gathering together the twigs and branches to form my own nest. On the phone to my mum I will joke about going shopping for 'twigs' or items for my new household. I have completely ignored a whole years worth of clothes hanging on racks in favour for a nice cushion (cushions are a warming factor so this technically counts as a feather) or a lovely ceramic vase or bowl such as the above piece. 

The piece is by Australian ceramicist Shannon Garson. I bought this at Planet not long after I moved in so its a nice little motif for my own nest. Contemporary beautifully designed objects is one of my passions and I am slowly collecting up some nice examples. I will post up some more examples of what I have collected so far in due course. 

I chose to call my blog A well feathered nest due to this dual inspiration I find within nests, the creativity of their form and their sheltering aspect of warmth and protectiveness. My blog is to be about creativity and domesticity

Motivation to Blog

So its been more than 6 months now since I moved out of the home nest and into my own place. At this point I should be organised... but I'm not... The inside was actually all looking just right for Christmas, the balcony took a little longer but by the end of January it had taken shapen too... and then the painters came. 

The apartment I moved into is going through a process by which the entire building is to be repainted. They were starting on my side so come February all my balcony things have moved in amongst the rest of the place, it is a more crowded nest now and frustratingly progress has halted on the painting and we are in limbo whilst painters argue with building managers. 

I in turn feel my own life falling into that same stasis of waiting for the paint to dry. The novelty of having lots of reading couches and extra chairs clogging up the space in a hodgepodge has worn off now. The nest is looking messy but what motivation is there to make it all gleaming and tidy if these large objects so misplaced continue to remain so. 

I've never been good at keeping appointments in a diary, I've also stored them in my mind and never missed a beat... but things are getting on top of me and I am losing track of all those threads, I missed my hairdressing appointment, the rollover of my term deposit account and quell horrer... a performance at the Sydney Theatre company. Obviously I need to start keeping track of things on paper somewhere but being so unused to it I forget to put things in and the cycle continues. 

Negative mutterings aside I was glancing through some old notebooks and remembered a rather productive time in my life when I was keeping a blog of sorts (before the term took off) and how it took me out of the mental bog I was in back then and I wound up with some good pieces of writing in the process.

I was also reading some interesting and inspiring blogs on Sunday and thought, well why aren't I doing this sort of thing anymore. So here I am.