Monday, November 29, 2010

The countdown to the perfect advent calendar

The latest hunt in the land of Charles Whyte revolves around Christmas decorations. The theme usually starts with red, white and a touch of vintage. Rustic wooden touches, brown paper and linen usually grab me, as do birds, doves, angels and glimpses of typography (especially of the French variety). Lucky I enjoy making things as I don't find much in my style in the stores and, as I found out on the weekend while on the decoration hunt, the shops are already horribly busy.

Last year it was a wreath I was struggling with but now that I've found what I was looking for in that department (blog post to come), the hunt has moved on to an advent calendar. What better way to enjoy the lead up to Christmas than a beautiful calendar? The little treats inside are just a bonus, but who doesn't like a daily gift?!

The advent calendar yearning all started with this Inside Out cover in 2008. Sadly, there was no stockist information for the perfect stocking advent calendar picured above. Some clever stylist (ggrrr) is probably responsible. Sooo need to get a sewing machine and learn to sew to make all these things I like.

Then in last year's December Home Beautiful magazine there was this printed advent calendar. Almost perfect, but it is from the wholesaler Mediterranean Markets. Poor little 'general public' me has had to write an email to them to see if there is any way to get it.

 I quickly perked up when I saw a few rusty bucket advent calendars online as I thought I could make these easily myself.

 Aspen & Brown rusty bucket advent calendar (around 30 pounds but delivery within UK only)

 Image from Boxwood (supplier not specified)

 Pottery Barn Bucket and branch advent calendar ($299, no shipping outside US)

After visiting Lincraft, KMart, the Reject Shop, the $2 Shop and various other discount variety stores, I am at a loss as to where to find mini tin buckets. This is the only one I found and its got too much going on for this project.

$3.95 from a $2 shop in Highpoint

To rub salt into the wound, I saw mini white tin buckets being used to display stock in a shop over the weekend but they didn't know where they had been purchased. There are lots online, like this beauty, but all overseas as far as I can see. I only have a day left!

On the upside, I found these Morgan and Finch star pegs for advent calendars in Bed, Bath and Table for $14.95.

The ever-smart Mrs Tee suggested I try mini noodle boxes so now I have an interim solution while the rusty pails come my way (or I learn to sew).

Tomorrow they will be stuffed with little treats and strung up somewhere. Let the countdown begin.

Update: The advent calendar is now in place and helping us enjoy the Christmas spirit. What do you think?

Full blog post here.

The Lettered Cottage

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spring Love

There is but four days left of spring to enjoy so I must share this gorgeous image with you as a reminder that 'In Springtime love is carried on the breeze'. Time to get out there and enjoy it. Bon weekend, dear reader.

Spring Mantle by The Lettered Cottage

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I wanna be a Kawaii Kid

Truth be told, I am wishing I was a teeny tiny tot today because I am swooning over gorgeous little girl clothes. And who wouldn't like to re-live their childhood sometimes? If it means being fed, watered and generally doted on, I'm there. Just dress me up in these sweet threads from Kawaii Kids. I promise to be a good girl and I will not stomp in the enticing puddles outside.
 BubbaGrubb tee and bloomers
 Sooki Baby France Frilly Skort
 Sooki Baby France Nappy Pant
 Sooki Baby Etsy Dots Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Tee
 Sooki Baby Mushroom Printed Playsuit
Little Sailor Girl Swimwear

This week, we have welcomed a niece into the world, hence the excitement over finding pretty little things online. On a trip to my husband's home town of Birchip in north-west Victoria earlier this year, I discovered that a kids shop had opened in the main street.

For a tiny country town, this is a big thrill! And it is cute to boot. I found some uber cool union jack jeans at the time for a nephew, but I spotted all the girls pieces at Kawaii Kids and have been hoping since that the new addition was of the female variety. Why? A) the nephew to niece ratio was sitting at 6 to 1 and b) there are so many cute things to buy for little girls. Incidentally, kawaii means cute in Japanese.

Lucky for me, since it is a very long drive to Birchip, Kawaii Kids started out as an online boutique and continues to have a very successful online presence. Both the Birchip and online stores stock Japanese and Korean inspired clothing and accessories but there is also a range of boutique and handmade labels. Plus cute cards and prints to decorate a child's room, like these from The Little Humbugs.

They ship all over the world so check out the website, or if you're feeling in the mood for a roadtrip to the open expanses of the Mallee plains, drive 310km up the Calder and, after a turn or two, you'll be greeted by  the big, red bull . You have to love supporting small businesses, especially those having a go in little country towns. All going well, there will soon be kawaii kids roaming streets across the world and I hope I'm not too big to be one of them.

Kawaii Kids
33 Cumming Avenue
Birchip VIC
Phone: 03 54922785

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Layered chocolate cake (she did ask for chocolate...)

It's not a new obsession, my fondness for a layer cake (remember previous posts on dreamy vanilla cake and black forest?) 

Even on a Sunday night after my high school reunion and a week working interstate, I couldn't resist making a version of the Donna Hay layered chocolate cake from her book Simple Essentials Chocolate. After all, it was to celebrate my new boss' birthday and her only hint on the cake front was CHOCOLATE. She said it, I listened. Weary as I was, a deep enthusiasm for these decadent layers kept me going as the clock ticked again and again to remind me of the late hour.

In the end, I had to give up on icing it and resume in the morning due to the warm weather we are getting in Melbourne right now. The truffle icing was very runny and needed longer to cool. Here's what it looked like after pulling it from the fridge in the morning...

Then after the icing was complete (I love the height of two cakes on top of one another in four layers - so grand. Please excuse the smears on the plate)...

And ready to be eaten...

I'm usually an advocate of following a recipe closely for the first time and making my own "improvements" and variations the second time around, but not this time. The recipe called for 750 grams of mascarpone and as much as I like like the stuff, I swapped this for 500g of light cream cheese beaten in the MixMaster because my local supermarket was selling 250 gram tubs of mascarpone for more than $6 a pop... nearly $20 right there before you even think of the other ingredients including 400 grams of chocolate. I also omitted the liquer and I would like to say that was a conscious thrifty move on my part but the truth is I've only just re-read the recipe and realised I forgot it! Oops. This is what happens when you bake so late and before work (unfortunately, this is when I mostly have to do it). The good news is that it didn't seem to stop my workmates hoeing in and that's the main thing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Got any blacker? Dining in the dark

After eleven months of other priorities and deliberating over paint or wallpaper, a decision has been made on the colour for our kitchen and dining area. We are sticking with the colour wrap (painting 2 walls in one colour and the other two in another - white in our case) but gleefully saying good riddance to our inherited eggplant/deep purple walls. Loving how the sample turned out on the wall and sooo excited to finally be doing it. Here are my inspiration pics for this room:

Image: Decor Pad

Image: Decor Pad
Image: Bettsy Kingston
Image:Sofiaa Interiors

 And some general black inspiration...
 A bathroom belonging to Gwenyth and Chris
Birdgage wallstickers from

Black is not always associated with happiness but my heart sure sings when I peep at the area I've started. This is one black hole I can't wait to spend some time in. 

Update: Click here to see the finished black and white kitchen/dining paint job.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Charles Whyte opens quince paste factory

Watch out Maggie Beer. The Charles Whyte kitchen is making some seriously good quince paste in seriously cute, professional packaging. When I found small, plastic containers in the perfect size at Chef's Hat in South Melbourne, there was no holding me back. I started my own little production line where I was the factory manager, team leader and general hand. It was so fun filling tub after tub and lining them up on our dining table. I love anything en masse. Whether it's rows of plants in a garden, shelves of matching crockery or plates of colourful cupcakes, everything looks better in multiples.

All good factory managers know that you can't do everything and experts must be called in for certain tasks. Enter my talented Mister who had to join my little production as graphic designer and chief label maker. Even if I have the creative vision, he is much better at working out how to lay things out on the computer and has the brains and patience to print on round stickers without having a meltdown. Yay! I was just so excited when I stuck all the labels on and lined up the containers. As you will see from the photo, I've put my blog address on the labels in a not-so-subtle attempt to recruit readers. It's not easy getting a blog readership so I'm luring people in the way I know best - through their stomachs!

Since I first made quince paste earlier this year, I've tried to document my own simplified recipe. The various recipes I consulted all stipulate that you tie the cores in a muslim cloth and boil with the fruit. Quinces are very high in natural pectin and therefore have an abundance of setting power. I've always found that the paste sets beautifully without getting the extra pectin from the core, so I discard the cores and save bothering with the muslin cloth. Perhaps it would be set a bit harder if you kept the cores in while cooking, but I quite like being able to spread it easily. Here's my simplified recipe.

Quince paste

2kg quinces (approximately 6)
Around the same weight of sugar

Wash the quinces well to remove fur, then quarter and core. Place fruit in a large pot and enough water to just cover the fruit. 

Bring to the boil then simmer until soft. Blend fruit in pot. It should be moist but not too runny.

Weigh fruit and add an equal amount of sugar (I needed 1.9kg). 

Return to the pot and cook over a low heat for several hours (around 3.5 hours). Stir occasionally.

Mixture should bubble slowly and become deep red in colour. 

The mixture will set on a saucer in the refrigerator when it is ready. If not, add a little lemon juice and cook for a while longer. Pour mixture onto a tray lined with baking paper or into small containers or pots. 

Allow to air dry for a day or two then store in the refrigerator.  Quince paste keeps for up to four months. Enjoy with cheese.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A ray of cup and saucer sunshine

Everyone needs a cup that makes their heart sing. When all else fails in life, get yourself a cuppa I say and use a cup you love. It's the solution to writer's block, it's the answer to that craving for a little something, it's a warm vessel of comfort... nothing like a cuppa.

As one that appreciates abundance, a generous cup is my style and I have been happy with Country Road's bistro mugs in red and white stripes and solid red for quite some time.  If I had room in my kitchen, I would get myself a few of these babies though - jumbo pop cup and saucer's from T2. All the refinement and elegance of a cup and saucer but plenty of room for a decent drink. Oh, and not to mention the delightful splash of yellow to brighten the mood. Swoon. Surely, I can fit one or two?!

T2 jumbo pop cup and saucer $22

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Free Mini Blueberry and Maple Cheesecakes = happiness

Regular readers will know that I work hard to focus on the little things in life that make my heart sing. It's my way of appreciating the good things happening in life right now rather than thinking I'll be happy when I get a pay rise, or when I'm waif thin or when I'm rich and famous. Waiting to be happy in that way could be the longest wait of all, so I try banish those thoughts and enjoy the journey.

In the past year, a free cookbook has made my heart sing on several occasions and now a volume 2 has now been released. It's possible that I liked it at first because it was free but now that I've tried and tested lots of recipes from the first book, I know it must be the creamy Philly that is slipped into every recipe that gets my tastebuds going and has me thinking happy thoughts. The book is kind of a sneaky sales ploy, but I've let that slide because of the beautiful layout and the reliable recipes. I can always make the recipes using a different brand of cream cheese if I'm feeling defiant :) To get your own copy of Simply Heaven Volume 2, buy any three Philadelphia products in one transaction from Coles while stocks last. Go to the website for details.

I'm yet to make anything from Volume 2, but I've enjoyed a tomato, broad bean and asparagus salad from Volume 1 plus Spanish style chorizo pizza with homemade base, Mediterranean meatballs with couscous, chargrilled lamb with cream cheese polenta (see previous post), mini blueberry and maple cheesecakes and who could forget the white chocolate and hazelnut ball (also shared in a previous post). I'm looking forward to making the Moroccan lamb backstraps with garlic cream and chickpea salad, the sweet potato gnocchi with sage and garlic, the sweet polenta hotcakes and the pizzas to name a few eye-catching concoctions from Volume 2.

It's never any fun being the only happy thing on the block, so today I am sharing another of the tried and true recipes from Simply Heaven Volume 1. I decided to make these mini cheesecakes even smaller by using mini muffin tins and they worked well. The size ended up being a perfect, simple solution when bringing a dessert to share at a large function. I could make them the day before and they went a long way, but best of all, they didn't take up a lot of room on my dessert plate so I could sample lots of other delights. When there are multiple desserts on offer, I like to try a little of everything and I know I'm not alone! Enjoy everything in moderation :)

Mini Blueberry and Maple Cheesecakes

2 cups sweet biscuit crumbs
100g butter, melted

375g Philadelphia block cream cheese, softened
½ cup caster sugar
3 eggs
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup pure maple syrup
150g blueberries, fresh or frozen

Icing sugar, for dusting
Extra blueberries, to serve

1. Combine biscuit crumbs and butter. Press into the base of 12 x 1/3 cup capacity greased and lined muffin pans (I also used mini muffin pans so the mixture went a lot further and more pans were required). Chill.

2. Beat the cream cheese and sugar using an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, sour cream and maple syrup and beat until well combined.

3. Pour the mixture into prepared pans and sprinkle over blueberries. Bake in a moderately slow oven 160°C for 35 minutes. Allow to cool in pans before removing. Place onto serving plates, dust with icing sugar and serve with extra blueberries. Serve warm or chilled.

Source: Simply Heaven - 75 irresistible savoury and sweet PHILADELPHIA recipes for all occasions.



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