Sunday, February 28, 2010

Colour me happy

My new bag is my sunshine, not my only sunshine but it certainly makes me happy when skies are grey. That bright pop of colour has ignited a longing for more and I now find myself hunting for other vibrant bursts to colour me happy. So far, so good. This rainbow cardigan reminds me of one my mum knitted for my little sister in the eighties. It's a little earth child but oh-so-nice for a quiet Sunday as autumn approaches. While the verdict may still be out on the legitimacy of colour psychology, there is no denying that a favourite colour can brighten my mood, even if only fleetingly. The cardigan was a bargain purchase from Caroline K Morgan. I am not especially a fan of this label but it's provided a few quick-fixes over the years when fast fashion has won over quality wardrobe investments.
On my long, wonky fingers is an OPI nail lacquer called  'Manicurist of Seville' thanks to a trip to Oz Nails and Beauty Supply with SJC. I usually save bold polishes for my toe nails. As a reformed nail-biter, it's probably got to do with not wanting to draw attention to my nails that were bitten to the quick and red raw for too many years. That may be an exaggeration, but they were far from pretty. Then there is the wonky factor. The top of my middle left finger bends to the left and my right one bends to the right. They're a little crazy but on the same token, they provide a sense of wonder and pride because my nana's hands and my dad's hands have/had the same wayward tendancy. So I'm throwing caution to the wind and embracing colour and the marvel of gentics. Beware of the wicked witch in the west. She's the one with her nails curled into fists or pushed deep into her pockets to hide the evidence.

A note about Oz Nails and Beauty Supply: It's a mini-mart of sorts selling everything from emery boards to professional spa pedicure chairs. Located in an industrial strip of Ballarat Road, Braybrook, Victoria, you are unlikely to stumble upon it unwittingly. However, if you are up for a little adventure, they sell OPI nail lacquers for $11 (pretty much half price for professional polish used in many nail salons).

Pictured above are my OPI shades (L-R 'Manicurist of Seville', 'OPI on Collins Ave' and 'Samoan Sand') with a vase that doesn't match much else in our home but it means something to me. My darling Lucy and I found it in an op shop one day, intending to use it in a mosiac. Art therapy perhaps? Even if Lucy returns to Australia and convinces me to create my first mosiac, I don't think I could bring myself to bring a hammer down on this vase of memories. It reminds me that the dearest friend is one who will just be with you when you need them, passing you cups of tea made just how you like, preparing your meals and opening your eyes again to all the good and nice things in the world. Like rainbows. Miss you Lucy Lou. Wishing you rays of sunshine in your heart until summer heads your way.

Oz Nails and Beauty Supply
Unit 3/244 – 246 Ballarat Rd, Braybrook VIC
Phone: 03 93182202
Open 7 days

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A black forest

A cake can mark many an occasion, some less celebratory than others. Recently, I farewelled a boss who has now gone to manage another team. Her "last" day co-insided with her birthday so a cake was in order for a day of mixed emotion.

I received the Susannah Blake book, 500 Cakes in my work Kris Kringle last year. At the time I tested the book's breadth by checking that it contained all my team mates' favourite cakes, so I knew my boss loved a black forest cake. Given my shared love of this German classic and my weakness for all things layered, my decision to whip one up was a no-brainer. Reviews from my hungry colleagues were very positive but it was filling. Note to self: cut smaller slices in an office full of women. The actual cake was very tasty but slightly dense, presumable to make cutting it into thirds easier. I was expecting something fluffier and more dessert-like overall, but it was a classic 'cake' just as the description suggested.

Black Forest Gateau

200 g (7oz) butter, at room temperature
140 g (5 oz) caster sugar
3 eggs
190 g (6 1/2 oz) self-raising flour
85 g (3 oz) cocoa
120 ml (4 fl oz) buttermilk (or 60 ml milk mixed with 4 tbsp plain yoghurt)
90 ml (3 fl oz) milk
850 g (1 lb 14 oz) tinned pitted cherries, drained
4 tbsp Kirsch
625 ml (1 pint) whipping cream, whipped
Dark chocolate curls to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F / Gas mark 4).Grease a 23-cm (9-in) round cake tin, then line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour and cocoa over the bowl, then fold in. Stir in the buttermilk and milk. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Pick out a few of the best-looking cherries to decorate the top of the cake and set aside. Using a serrated knife, carefully slice the cake horizontally into three layers. Place the bottom layer on a serving plate; drizzle about one-third of the Kirsch over it and top with about half the remaining cherries.

Spread with about one-quarter of the whipped cream and place the second layer of the cake on top.

Repeat with more Kirsch, cherries and whipped cream. Top with the remaining cake layer. Drizzle the remaining Kirsch over the top layer, then spread whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake. Chill for about 2 hours then serve decorated with the reserved cherries and dark chocolate curls.

Serves 8-10

Source: 500 Cakes by Susannah Blake

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Garner holds the west in her monkey grip

Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942, the eldest of six children. Forty years later I was born in that very town, the second eldest of six children. She is one of Australia's most well-respected writers, I'm not! But hey, she got a forty year head start so I might still have time :)

Last night I saw Ms Garner herself at a special event hosted by the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, Ideas in a newly renovated wing of the State Library. Dear Corky and I swooned at the Florence Broadhurst wallpaper around the staircase. How I love FB. More on her designs another day, today is Garner's day.

As she answered Jennier Byrne's questions, glimmers of Garner's upbringing in the regional city of Geelong emerged. The audience could only laugh when she called herself a "loud-mouth broad", then drop our lips in appreciation as poetic threads rolled unwittingly from her tongue. An inquiring mind, and the evocative way in which she transfers her observations on to a page, seem to be her gifts.

Helen Garner's 2008 novel, The Spare Room is littered with references to Melbourne's inner west, so I couldn't help but mention how much I had enjoyed this after I stood in line for a signing. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to bring my copy along so she signed her first novel Monkey Grip instead. In lovely old-school teacher writing, she wrote:
'To Ellise-
in Footscray
Helen Garner'

and as she handed the book to me said "I love that part of town". On ya, HG! I'm pretty sure she lives in the west herself, not that I dared ask.

I will leave you with this extract from The Spare Room:

"I wasn't used to taking the Broadmeadows train at mid-morning. It was empty and rather calming, forging along the river, past the Docklands stadium and out through North Melbourne. It racketed across the dry creek bed; it slid between the old warehouses and ran parallel with the steel buttressed brick wall that held Bellair Street back from the railway line. I never quite trusted that wall not to collapse on to the tracks; yet there it stood, fifteen feet high and bulging but still stable, accepting the morning sun on its pocked and rosy surfaces. Something softened in my chest and I took the first proper breath of the day. All right. Let this ludicrous treatment be what it is. Go home and put your house in order."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Birthday Bliss

Sketch inside my birthday card by Leezette Chapman

For a child raised in a family of six children, a birthday is a rare chance to eat, do and receive all your favourite things, or at least some of them. While I may not be able to get away with calling myself a child anymore, I most definitely take the opportunity to indulge on my birthday. Age has never worried me, but then I haven't reached 30 so I guess there are plenty of '0' birthdays ahead to have me slinking under a rock come February.

As you may have guessed, I have just celebrated my birthday and I can confidently say that my heart was singing. Not that there was any hunt involved. The thrill of a birthday is not in the chase, it is in sitting back and seeing what comes your way. Having friends and family that know just what to give and/or bake you is one of life's blessings. Somehow, it surprises me each year and I find myself practically humming like my sister. It's a cinch to tell when she's happy because she hums, and hums, and hums. Almost like a tweeting bird.

I love birds and I love birdcages but not together. I'm not much for pets. I know, I know, it's a little odd and cold-hearted, I've been told. I like birds soaring above or hopping along branches. One of the things I miss most about the country is waking to the sound of birds then opening the curtains and jumping back into bed to gaze up at the huge expanse of sky punctured only by treetops. What does this have to do with my birthday? Well...

My artist mother finally finished a painting for my birthday. It has been a long time in the making but that just makes it all the sweeter. Birds swoop across the canvas, a birdcage dangles from a streetlamp, old buildings hide in the background and French words are scrawled over the scene. It's a calming aqua for our bedroom with touches of pink and chocolate. For an abstract painter, it's very whimsical but exactly what I asked for. I couldn't be happier. Photo to come.

This lantern from my gastro friend is shaped like a birdcage too and satisfies my white, French country slant.
More birds swooped in on greeting cards and affirmation cards, then some bicyles started rolling in.

This kikki.k notepad and pen is a slice of pedal pushing perfection from my cycling idol. 'A Box of Birds' contains the little wooden stand and 24 uplifting messages from my work mates. They had no idea but I am a fan of Little Affirmations and have another set in this range called 'A Little Bird Told Me'. One for work, one for home! All with difference messages and illustrations by Kate Knapp.
I loved too many things about my birthday to mention them all before you fall asleep, but I cannot sign off without mentioning my beautiful yellow Cruz bag from courtesy of Charles himself. It was top of my wish list and I cannot fault it. I even love the smell, mmm leather. I wish I could get me five bags from that site but I have been too spoilt already this year.

My mystery birthday dinner turned into a real surprise with a trip to see A Midsummer Night's Dream in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. I'm not sure if it was the celebratory Pimm's at Madame Brussels with friends earlier, the genius of Shakespeare or the skill of the actors, but it was hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Not to mention the hamper from the Botanical which we nibbled on throughout.

I was so lucky to have several cakes and other culinery delights whipped up for my special day. So many that I can't possibly squeeze them all into this post so stay tuned for my next post on birthday food with recipes and a lowdown on the Botanical hamper.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love Blooms

Photo source: NutterButter

I'm not much for Hallmark Valentine's Days complete with cards of the aforementioned brand, extravagent gifts (save the diamonds for a meaningful occasion gentlemen) and dinners at I-want-to-be-seen-here restaurants. That's not to say I don't like the idea of a card, a gift or a special meal shared between loved ones. Far, far from it. Genuine, personal and meaningful are just three little words that should be part of any plan for the upcoming Day of Love.

I believe in blooms picked from over the neighbour's fence, little notes tucked into lunch bags and using heart-shaped cookie cutters to inject some love into everything from a shortbread to an otherwise dull pile of mash (ooh, can someone try that?! Red, hot idea: roast some beetroot and blend with potato!). Let's not forget a kiss and a wink to round it off.

Married, engaged, partnered, single, dating, divorced or otherwise, flowers are for everybody. They don't have to be "from" somebody, they just are. The glorious florist in Flinders Lane, Melbourne (Whitemoss) has this saying posted on their website: 'Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful.They are food, medicine and sunshine to the soul'. Just walking by Whitemoss is good for my soul. One look at that white, decorative bike bursting with blooms puts a spring in my step. Enter the tiny store and they'll give you a 101 on flower varieties if you ask for it (or need it, like me). Some snowballs caught my eye awhile back and I had to have them for home because I'm a fan of their cousin, the hydrangea. The florist wrapped them in the tres chic Whitemoss style (dark paper with a paper doily wrapped around the base), answered all my questions about the variety and wrote the botanical name for snowballs (viburnum) on a business card for me. You'll get cheaper flowers elsewhere, but Whitemoss provides the whole experience for special times.

For a cheap thrill, just walk by and appeciate their displays. The current Valentine's Day window features big pink letters that shout "LOVE IS THE DRUG" above bags of blood and chemical formula scribbled on the windows. I laughed out loud when I saw it for the first time. A little avant-garde, a little genius.

Excuse the hasty photo, I took it while trying, unsucessfully, to dodge the pouring rain earlier this evening.

1a/241 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 2221

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stampede for handwritten letters

There is nothing more personal than a handwritten note and nothing more exciting than finding one in your letterbox. Receiving an envelope that has somehow made its way to your home after being pushed into a red box on the side of a street many miles away is miraculous in itself.

They say letterwriting is a dying art, and while I'd like to believe it isn't true, I've recently realised that it is indeed on its way out. I want to dig my heels in and revolt! Helping my mum sort through years of old cards and letters recently highlighted how much communication has changed. It was such a delight to read all the letters from her mum and gran who have long since left the earth. The letters were obviously written in place of expensive "STD" phone calls. They contained so many tidbits that it was obvious they hadn't had a telephone conversation in a number of weeks, if not more. There was always a plee to receive a reply to hear about one thing or another. Imagine only hearing sporadic updates on exciting family developments, like how your new grandchild is settling into life outside of the womb?! 

The thing I enjoyed most about trauling through boxes of letters from my ancestors was seeing their handwriting. I feel a little pang whenever I see the handwriting of someone who is no longer living. Handwriting is so personal and, to me, such a special reminder of a person. How can their writing "voice" and their unique letter formations remain, but they don't?

My answer to keeping handwriting and letterwriting alive is to get some rubber stamps. They give letters that vintage edge and they make sending letters fun. Back in my pen pal days, I used stickers to jazz up my writing paper and I dreamed of having an address sticker! It's been a long time coming, but I've finally realised my dream in the form of a rubber stamp. With some inspiration from vintage-look Cavallini & Co stamps and some much appreciated help from talented designer Ros, I now have this little gem that is a real highlight of becoming a home-owner:

Coupled with a wooden alphabet stamp set ($24.95) from another of my favourite shops, kikki.k, I've been able to make little cards to give to friends and family (see top photo). It even comes with four colours of ink, so I can match the stamps with my writing paper. Whoop!

Oh, the small joys. That's what life's all about, right?

Stockist notes:
I've seen Cavallini & Co stamps at the heavenly Zetta Florence stores in Fitzroy and Armadale, Victoria (a feast for your eyes and you must go if you live in or visit Melbourne), Dymocks bookstores and my favourite Castlemaine shop, Malmaison (no trip to the Central Victorian Goldfields is complete without a peek in this magnifique gift and homewares store).

kikki.k sells Swedish home/office products through their stores around Australia and New Zealand and online.

My address stamp is 21mm x 51mm and was made by Swift Rubber Stamps in the Melbourne CBD. Send them your artwork file by email and they can post it to you (handwritten envelope cannot be guaranteed :). Otherwise, Google "rubber stamp manufacturers" closer to home. As I was able to pick my stamp up, it came in a brown paper bag with the words "Ellise $25.99" handwritten on the front. Je t'adore Swift!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Riding to Willy

Riding into a city at peak hour is scary. Not that I've tried it, but I want to. With Anna as my inspiration and Raquel as my guide, chances of accomplishment are rising, albeit at a leisurely pace. Riding over gullies and debris is more my terrain, a busy road with stressed drivers is not. Road rage and tooting horns send country girls packing. Bike paths are a saviour but slowly, slowly, I've been venturing out.

We clocked up 22 kilometres riding to Williamstown and back today using a healthy mix of busy and quiet roads with some easy, breezy bike paths added to the mix. The guide even said she was proud. Here, here!

It was such a beautiful day for a little outing on two wheels. Quite warm, but a pitstop at the Icecream Shoppe on Nelson Place helped, as did a little rest under a big tree overlooking the water and the city skyline.

Fears of not being able to move tomorrow are rising. Shoulders are a little tense, legs are feeling like they did their bit and the coccyx doesn't want to make contact with a bike seat for awhile. Ah, but what a relaxing way to pass an afternoon. Poor Charles was left to build us a garden shed on his own. I'm lead to believe it is better described as an outdoor cupboard. Whatever the case, it is certainly a delight to have a home for tools and camping gear.

Surely, you'll forgive us for gnawing on our slow-cooked lamb shanks after an afternoon like that? As for positively licking the mash and red wine juices from the plate afterwards...I'm sorry Nana, I'll eat like a lady tomorrow.

Icecream Shoppe
199 Nelson Pl, Williamstown VIC 3016
Phone: (03) 9399 9594‎

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crepes and cupcakes for a lunchtime escape

Eating out alone is up there with going to a cinema by yourself on a Saturday night. Or so they say. I tend to disagree, particularly on the subject of eating out and especially if the meal in question is lunch. There is nothing like escaping to a miniscule table in a crowded eatery with a notebook as your sole companion. A solid, tangible, dependable companion! And so supportive when you need to vent, or better, escape the every day with creative musings.

When my beloved Dad passed away, I felt like a little girl lost in a world that no longer made any sense. The world had stopped, yet I had to go to an office and fool myself that this was somehow important and, worse, answer that horrific question "how are you?" Lunch time was my escape from the artificial light; an hour window to see, taste or do whatever I chose, even if that was nothing but sink into a chair in exhaustion. Enter comfort food, tables for one, full notebooks and that lovely universal question asked by Waiters: "how can I help you?" Let me tell you the ways...

Even in happy times, I embrace a little alone time. Thankfully, I work almost on top of some of Melbourne's must-visit laneways that are the perfect lunchtime escape. This week, a ten-dollar note got me a savory lamb fillet crepe with hommus, eggplant, mint and lime from Aix Cafe Creperie Salon in Centre Place and a red velvet mini cupcake from Little Cupcakes in Degraves Street. A mouth-watering piece of France and a perfect, sweet morsel in the space of one lunchtime, now that's what I call happiness. Both shops are tiny so you will need to pray to your god if you enjoy the eat-in experience. With my unashamed love of all things French, I feel a seat in Aix Cafe Creperie is a must if you want to be momentarily transported to another land and time in the space of a lunch break. As for Little Cupcakes, join the queue and be happy to get something before they sell out. These little treasures will brighten any desk.

Aix Cafe Creperie Salon
24 Centre Place, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: 03 9662 2667

Little Cupcakes
Shop 7, Degraves Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: 03 9077 0413

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gifts for gastro friends

Dukkah is a combination of Middle Eastern spices and flavours, made from pistachio nuts, hazelnut, sesame seeds, almonds, coriander, cumin, pepper and salt. It’s divine served with Turkish bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or glaze. We also enjoy it sprinkled on chicken breast and served with salad as a simple weeknight dinner.

I fell in love with the delectable mix known as dukkah at a winery lunch near Mildura in late 2008 and then kicked myself for not buying a jar. I didn't make the same mistake when our friends Sally and Ryan took the Mister and I to Mount Zero Olive Farm while holidaying in nearby Halls Gap a year later. Our jar soon ran out and, once again, I knew I should have bought more. How happy I was on a trip to the Abbotsford Farmers' Market to see the Mount Zero stand and hear that they travel to a Melbourne market most weekends.

When my gastro(nomic) friend, Stacie, commented on the Mount Zero dukkah months ago, I made a mental note to scout out another jar for her birthday. With Christmas and moving, I knew I wouldn't be getting to the weekend markets, but a call to the lovely people at Mount Zero uncovered a whole list of Melbourne stockists, mostly gourmet delis and grocers. A quick trip to a local discount variety store for some little dishes to serve the dukkah, a hunt for my favourite balsamic glaze (Mazzetti brand, around $6.50 from Coles) and there it was – a gift for a gastro friend!

If you’re ever in the Grampians region, it’s worth a visit to the quaint Mount Zero farm (open everyday from 10am -4pm) to see a real biodynamic grove while trying some of their award winning olive oils and other delights. There is nothing like the feeling of buying direct from the source, but not everyone wants to drive 290km from Melbourne for the privilege. Lucky, online shopping has made it to the Wimmera! See the Mount Zero website for details.

Mount Zero Olives
41 Mount Zero Road, Laharum VIC 3401
Phone: 03 5383 8280 or 03 9315 1410

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More Brothers and Sisters

I love my Brothers and Sisters and by that I mean the American drama, not my four brothers and singular sister. Oh, did that sound bad?! Just quietly, my real-life brothers and sisters couldn't be better, but that would just make for a boring, soppy story. And that's pretty much what all my brothers think of the TV series in question. Last Christmas when I was watching the DVDs for hours on end, I copped a lot of flack for my viewing choices, or choice (singular), as it was.

Admittedly, Brothers and Sisters is a very American, very over the top, very pretentious show centred around the wealthy Walker family. But, but, but, I just love the mix of so many different personalities in one family and the dynamic it creates. And did I mention the amazing cast? Starting with our very own Rachel Griffiths (playing Sarah), and not forgetting Calista Flockhart (Kitty), Sally Field (Nora), Balthazar Getty (Tommy), Dave Annable (Justin), Matthew Rhys (Kevin) and Rob Lowe (Robert)... and I havent' even mentioned half their partners yet. I love them all. They do a lot of silly things, but they're like family - you know what they're like and you love them anyway (as long as you can moan endlessly about them to your mum or brothers and sisters).

As much as I loathe to be sucked into a TV show, with this one I'm in too deep. I first saw it on free-to-air TV and knowing my viewing habits, probably caught it in the middle of the season. Not one to reserve a day and time for a TV show, I picked up season one on DVD. Once the second season DVD came out, I needed to share the love and recruit some followers so my DVDs started doing the rounds. My sister won't even return some of them and I have a sneaking suspician that the housemates that also fell under its spell may have them clutched to their chests to this day.

One friend got so sucked in with me that we got told off for anti-social behaviour by our partners. They threatened one-episode-per-day restrictions which we baulked at, until we realised that a season could run out in days and all we were left with was a sad, empty feeling. Enter the Internet where US dramas are available months before they air in Australia. Warning: you'll have to say goodbye to your monthly download limit.

Brothers and Sisters is now up to it's fourth season, currently showing on the 7 network at 9.30pm Monday. As my inability to committ to a TV show is deep-seated*, it remains to be seen whether I'll be tuning in each week. One thing is a given, I will watch every episode at least once.

*Television was not a part of my childhood as my parents preferred us to be playing outside or doing something creative inside. Mostly I read books. A lot. At one stage, my parents got rid of the TV altogether but I don't even remember. My childhood friends remember it much more than I do. I guess it was wierd to them not to watch cartoons or play on a Playstation every afternoon. The little amount of television we watched became a family occasion. As daggy as it sounds (and is), I remember us all watching Hey, hey, it's Saturday together. And later it was Seachange. I'm not even going to bring up The Bill or Parkinson! The worst thing to come out of this is that every so often I hear people reminiscing about old TV shows and I have no idea what they're talking about. And I'm not very good at Super Mario (or any video game). Neither of these things bother me. Just don't ask me how I fell in love with someone who adores having a TV so big that it overwhelms any room you put it in!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Oh joy, season four of Brothers and Sisters started on channel 7



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