Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Joy to the world

Oh joy, oh joy, Santa brought me a bike! It was salvaged from my mum’s bike graveyard and given a new lease on life by my beloved and my little brothers. Amazing what a basket, pack rack, brake pads and new chain can do for a relic. So far, I’ve only ventured a few blocks from home to Puckle Street and Queen’s Park but I did get the opportunity to carry home some shopping in the basket. Super exciting!

I am now on the look out for a comfortable saddle, preferably tan in colour and an old school helmet. Unfortunately , the helmet I inherited from my brother doesn’t have that leisurely vibe and makes me look like I’d rather be on a racer (nnoooo!). Also on the ‘to do’ list is lacquering the basket to protect it from the weather and give it a deeper colour.

Santa also surprised me with this lovely globe. The first time Santa saw something like this he thought it was dumb because the world doesn’t sit like that. So glad he come around and realised that it has superb form regardless of the North Pole's position. I love it!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Waiting for a Wow Wreath

What is it with all the green, plastic wreaths out there? Where do I find a simple, classy wreath for Christmas? I've been asking myself these questions for the last few Christmas' so last year I resorted to fastening my own from a coathanger (above). What do you think? Not sure if a coathanger can be described as classy but I like it more than the mangy green ones out there. The french hens are on a garland from Provincial Home Living and cost around $15. The little red, sequinned bird was also from Provincial and was around $4 from memory. The red bows with the bells were next to nothing at a discount variety store.
By next Christmas I would like to have a plain wreath woven from twigs that I can redecorate each year like my mum does. I found a gorgeous one in the December 2009 issue of Country Style magazine by Wildwood Weaving (picture below). It has a rustic feel with a nest perched on it, and even though it looks like it would have taken time and skill to create, I'm just not prepared to pay $170 for it if I'm planning to remove the nest at some stage.

Looks like I'll have to wait for 2010 to find the perfect wreath. Something special for our first Christmas in our own home...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Painting a peaceful Christmas

Unique Christmas cards seem to be increasingly hard to find or quite expensive to give out en mass. After a fruitless search, I decided to make my own with a watercolour pencil, paintbrush, water and some textured card. My inspiration came from French hen ornaments found at Provincial Home Living and an old card from an organisation that I volunteer with (AMES). Home-made things can be hard to pull off and I have to admit to being a little worried about how these will be received. I can only hope that my friends like the personal touch. If not, I can always pull out that saying that is used so often at this time of year..."it's the thought that counts!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Call me vintage

The past year has seen a style-freeze in our household while we searched for a home of our own. No significant purchases were made in case we bought something that wouldn’t fit, wasn’t needed or didn’t suit the style of our next home. So you can imagine the delight I’ve experienced in recent weeks imagining all the charming interiors I can now plan for our Victorian cottage. Good riddance to the style-freeze.

I love the little arrangement I found in a home mag with the vintage phone (see picture above). Despite spending an evening at the Coles magazine stand, I haven’t been able to find the magazine again to tell you the title and issue. That looks like a Bakelite phone from the 1950s to me. While the ivory is gorgeous, I understand it to be harder to come by than the black. I’m hesitant to start scouring second-hand stores for one in fear of becoming like my mother and losing several hours a week in op shops. Ebay is the go. I’ve lost out on a few as they are selling for more than $150. There is currently a bid on a very nice one for a whopping $250.

Perhaps this explains why Big W have recently advertised an Oricom retro phone (above) for under $60. I applaud them for bringing the trend to the masses but isn’t the beauty in the history? Somehow I don’t think the Oricom will conjure up images of British housewives from the 1950s in the same way as a truly old model.

I’m heading to my husband’s family farm on Boxing Day and it’s been suggested I make my way into the shed to find myself an authentic vintage bike. Wonder what my chances are of finding an old phone to complete the scene?!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chasing bicycles

My search for a vintage-style bike has again been the reason for my heart breaking into song, only this time the tune was sapped of joy with a visit to a bike shop.

My lovely friend Corky found the Progear retro ladies bike for me complete with basket, pack rack, mud guards, chain guard and cushy seat. Priced at a reasonable $349, I thought I'd found "the one". And when I went to Ted's Cycles in Footscray and saw that it was on sale for $299, I started thinking that the universe must be providing for me. Huh, no such luck. They only had it in a 15.5", they can't get the bigger 17.5" in for several months and "the man" said I really need a 21" to suit my height. Hello Mister, they don't make ladies bikes that big so I'm either destined for a life of riding with my knees hitting the handlebars or I have to get another men's bike.

For now, I'll have to leave the Progear retro to the lucky non-statuesque ladies of the world and put the call out for another alternative.

Picture source: The Melbourne Bicycle Centre (Clifton Hill) catalogue.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bake me delicious

One of my great loves is to bake. I started very young under the guidance of my maman. I wouldn't say "under her watchful eye" because she was always busy looking after her large brood. With so many mouths to feed, she was never far from the kitchen though and helped me understand what "folding" and "greasing" meant and what an ounce was. Soon, I became the family's birthday cake maker and relished those occasions because it meant I was allowed to ice those cakes, usually in chocolate, and decorate them with candles. In those pre-Google times, I was limited to my mother's modest recipe book collection and relied heavily on a Margaret Fulton book and the Tarnagulla Primary School cook book, both of which are heavily stained with cocoa and butter on my two favourite recipes!
Times have changed and I now enjoy finding and making new recipes, only repeating recipes that are accurate and fly off the serving plate. Also one ounce is no longer measured as two tablespoons, rather 30 grams on my electronic scales, and everything is beaten in my lovely Sunbeam Cafe Series Mixmaster (bless my Nanna and Grandad) not with a hand-held rotary beater of the non-electric variety.
When a Christmas market was organised at my workplace recently, I decided to realise my dream of making a living from baking. I creamed butter and sugar every night for a week and spent any spare moment looking for suitable containers and ribbons for the finished products. At the end of the 2-day market I was left with one container of biscotti, an order for six more gingerbread men and a new appreciation for those who bake for a living. It would seem to me virtually impossible to be paid for all the hours slaving over a hot oven so I'm putting my dream of being a pro baker on hold for now and doing it for the love of it. Here are the fruits of my labour:

Twinkling Star Orange Shortbread
Makes about 40 cookies (depending on cutter size)

• 250 g butter, softened
• 1/2 cup caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons orange rind, grated
• 1/2 cup rice flour
• 2 cups plain flour, sifted
• 2 tablespoons raw sugar, for sprinkling
• 100 g dark cooking chocolate (optional)
• 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 160°c conventional/140°c fan forced.
2. Beat butter, sugar and orange rind with a pinch of salt in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Fold in flours and mix to a soft dough.
4. Lightly knead mixture on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 8-10mm thickness.
5. Cut mixture with star cutters. Sprinkle each star with a little raw sugar and place on a baking paper lined tray.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until pale golden and firm.
7. Cool on a wire rack.
8. Serving suggestion:- Melt chocolate and oil together over a pan of simmering water or in microwave and drizzle over stars with a fork.

Source: Coles Catalogue November 2009
Special note: Given this recipe was taken from a Coles catalogue and it was my first attempt at it, I was very pleased with the result. The orange brings a welcome (but subtle) change from traditional shortbread.

Makes: 30 - 35 (Approx.)

• 125g butter
• 1/2 cup treacle or golden syrup
• 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tablespoon MasterFoods ground ginger
• 2 teaspoons MasterFoods mixed spice
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
• 1 1/2 cups self raising flour, sifted
• Decorating pens, to decorate (I made royal icing and piped it on instead - see below)

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C (conventional/fan forced).
2. Combine butter, golden syrup and brown sugar in a small pan and melt. Remove to a bowl and cool. Stir in egg yolk and remaining dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Turn out onto plastic wrap and press into a flat disc. Rest in fridge for 1 hour to firm up.
3. Roll dough to 7-8mm on lightly floured surface and cut gingerbread men or other Christmas shapes from dough. Place on baking paper-lined tray and bake for 7-10 minutes until firm. Stand on tray for 5 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool. Decorate with icing pens.

Source: Coles Catalogue November 2009

Special note: Another great recipe from the Coles catalogue. The ingredient quantities are very similar to the Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) recipe that I tried a few days earlier but I found the Coles method of melting the butter, golden syrup and brown sugar made a much better dough (far less dry). I am usually a big fan of the AWW "triple-tested" recipes so I am surprised to say that I wouldn't recommend their gingerbread recipe.

Royal Icing

1½ cups pure icing sugar
1 egg white
2 to 4 drops lemon juice

Sift icing sugar. Beat egg white lightly in a small bowl, using a wooden spoon. Add icing sugar one tablespoonful at a time, beating well after each addition. When icing reaches desired consistency, beat in lemon juice. Amount of icing sugar required depends on size of egg white.

Source: Australian Women's Weekly

Pistachio, fig & lemon biscotti
These biscotti are low GI and low fat.

Ingredients (serves 30)
• Melted butter, to grease
• 55g (1/3 cup) pistachio kernels
• 3 egg whites
• 80g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
• 1 tbs finely grated lemon rind
• 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted
• 80g (1/3 cup) finely chopped dried figs

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a 7 x 25cm (base measurement) bar pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base and 2 long sides with non-stick baking paper, allowing it to overhang.
2. Place pistachios in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and set aside for 5 minutes or until skins soften. Drain. Peel off skins and dry on paper towel.
3. Meanwhile, use an electric beater to whisk the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks form. Add the sugar, one spoonful at a time, whisking well after each addition, until sugar dissolves. Add the lemon rind and whisk until combined.
4. Combine flour and figs in a bowl. Use your fingers to separate figs and coat in flour. Fold fig mixture and pistachios into egg-white mixture until just combined.
5. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Turn onto a wire rack and set aside for 1 hour or until cooled to room temperature.
6. Preheat oven to 160°C. Use a serrated knife to cut loaf crossways into 5mm-thick slices. Place in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool on tray.

Source: Good Taste - May 2005, Page 98. Recipe by Emma Braz, Sarah Hobbs & Jan Purser
Special note: I have been making almond bread at Christmas time for many years, following a tried and true recipe that always makes a simple, tasty and crunchy almond bread. I have been meaning to make this fancier pistachio and fig version for years so I was initially disappointed when making it the first time as it seemed a little too chewy for biscotti. I guess it was the due to the figs -even the dried variety are a little moist. A few days in an airtight container seemed to solve the problem. Mmm, crunchy biscotti once again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A place to call my own

I feel I must come clean, dear reader, and reveal to you that one of the forces behind starting this blog was the purchase of my first home. The ink is drying on the contracts, the banks are rustling up some wads of cash for us to lend and we are dreaming of our gorgeous Victorian cottage, wondering what changes will come with home ownership and contemplating that awful task that is moving. But look how cute it is! And imagine it after we have poured our souls and a fresh coat of paint over it!

The process has conjured up that feeling of being “on the cusp” and started me wondering if we are entering heaven or hell (of the mortgage variety). How is living in our own home going to be different to living in any of the five rental homes I have shared with my beloved since flying the nest? Maybe this is a momentous period of change that must be documented. Maybe this is a time like any other time and I’ll send you all to sleep. Whatever the case, it seems like a good time to start a story. “It all started on December the 1st, one year and one month after the blogger’s marriage to the best boy in the world (herein known as Charles). We follow the exciting and exhausting journey of moving and setting up home in Melbourne’s inner west and find ourselves joining the search for particular items that will make our homes, and perhaps our lives, complete. Charles and Whyte is about enjoying life on the cusp of fabulousness and finding all those things that make our heart sing.”

At some point, I will have to address the concept of living in the present because I can already feel all the psychologists out there thinking “focus on today, not tomorrow”. Until then, I’ll enjoy my quirks and gaze at other people’s houses looking for the perfect colour combination for my own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


So what's making my heart sing today? Ah, it's the Electra Amsterdam Classic 3i bike. I've been lusting over vintage cruiser bikes for awhile now and the one above has just captured my heart. It's often parked down Flinders Lane, not far from my office in the Melbourne CBD and I took this photo a while back. It wasn't until this week that I decided to saunter past ever so innocently to check out the brand because nothing else I've seen compares. A quick Google search uncovered a whole new world and I was introduced to the mastery of the Electra bicycle.

"Blending classic European character with just the right accents of cosmopolitan cool, Amsterdam is today’s reinvention of this truly timeless design. With a swank silhouette, refined outline and astute attention to detail, Amsterdam’s alluring blend of attitude and elegance dresses up or dresses down, and can rock-it up scale bohemian or breeze along with sophistication and smarts looking stunningly chic." Or so says the sales blurb as found on several websites like harborcountrybike.com.

Small problem, it's about a thousand aussie bucks. Ouch. Lucky I am a hunter and have already sniffed out an alternative. It has nothing on the Amsterdam but it's a fifth of the price so I'm being open. The Repco Bermuda cruiser is sold through Big W stores and comes in black for men and blue for ladies. Check it out at:

Now I just need to find one of those gorgeous cane baskets that is so cheerfully perched on the 'Flinders Lane Amsterdam' (as I shall call it). Perhaps I should leave a note for its mystery owner?!

Charles Whyte's raison d'être - enjoying being on the cusp...

I’m on the cusp. Always on the cusp. Never quite there. Like a swimmer at the edge of the pool, waiting to dive in and start the race of their life, but I never enjoy the rush as my head hits the water. I’m in and anxious to reach the finish line without marvelling that I’ve made it to this point. I see images of lithe bodies springing from the water’s edge, arching up and over and down until a fingertip slices the water’s crystal edge and they are swallowed by the blue expanse. Like a 1950s postcard, all yellow blinding sun and lots of blue like a summer holiday that stretches from spring to autumn. The swimming costumes are always red or polka dotted. I see this but I am never part of it.

I’m on the cusp. I’m enjoying that feeling of being close. I can almost touch it. I would bask in the feeling but I’m too busy preparing for when I finally get there. I can’t sit back yet and enjoy the moment because I’m pondering the final few touches. I mustn’t settle yet because that smells a little like death to me. The search is like a heartbeat, a rush of adrenaline, my lifeblood.

One day I’ll be there and I’ll have everything I need. I won’t need to take pictures on my mobile of all the things I want. I won’t need to write lists of all the things I need to do. I won’t need to say anything because it will all have been said.

Until then, I have much to say and do and even more to lust over. So come with me and enjoy being on the cusp. We’re so close to being fabulous. Just a few more gourmet meals to master, some final touches on our home sweet home and one or two sweet nothings to mutter.

x Whytey



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