Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Going cuckoo for a clock

Today I picked up a cuckoo clock! Yes, it's December and I should be buying for others and not myself but I couldn't resist (and it's just so easy to find things for yourself, don't you reckon?!). 

I've already hung the clock on my dining room wall with all my white picture frames. The photo above is of my Dad, taken in England before his family came out to Australia.

I love the white clock against the black (Dulux Domino). Ignore those empty frames. I do. To be honest I forget they need filling until I photograph that wall. Below is a shot from further back to give you a better idea of how it fits with the photo wall. 

Now can you guess where I got this nifty, little clock? Aldi! I rarely go there but I always check out their catalogue because they sometimes have cool catalogue items for a limited time. The cuckoo clock was in store from today (check it out online here). By the time I got to my local store after work there was only one white clock left and four or five black ones. 

Now in case you think I'm cuckoo for getting excited about a kitsch clock, I'm not the first for falling for this design in recent times. Cuckoo clocks have made a bit of a comeback in the past five years or so. Apartment Therapy has featured them (here) and Lady Melbourne even has one (here). They must be alright :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oh deer-y me, it's nearly Christmas!

I've been gone so long, I feel like an impostor on my own blog! I do apologise for the long, unexplained absence but I can't promise it won't happen again. Life has been busy and my mind has been elsewhere. I will explain properly one day (soon hopefully!) but for now my mind is on Christmas decorations. It seems ludicrous to me to be speaking of Christmas already (where do the years go?!) but it is only weeks away after all.

I was spurred on to get into the spirit a few weeks ago when the Domanye catalogue arrived in the weekend newspaper. The Domayne accessories always lure me in, even though I've never purchased anything substantial, like furniture, from the store. This year, it was the antler decorations that had me popping into the store at the first opportunity. I picked up a couple of these "Pure antler decorations" for $5.95 each.

And a pair of these "Antler ornaments" at $6.95 a pop. 
I'm already using the antlers on my ottoman coffee table for a bit of interest. I adore antlers for some reason. 

After the purchase, I admit I felt quite happy with myself and a tad smug for starting to get organised for Christmas. Then the weeks ticked by and I confess there has been no more Christmas preparations to speak of. Not one gift has been purchased (looks like I'll be adding to the ugly, December shopping crowds). I'm realising that I enjoy the Christmas decorating and menu planning more than the actual shopping. I love wrapping gifts and then giving them, if only I could skip the actual shopping. Who's with me?!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to hold onto your creativity by a whisker (and sew a patchwork cushion and bunting for a nursery)

This blog is all about the things that make my heart sing and my latest project is no exception. Making something new always provides a big thrill when it works. So too does making something special for someone you love. When they like and/or appreciate the results, it's worth every minute devoted to the task. The real feel-good factor though is simply in the making.

A very special friend (and probably my oldest one, given we met in our good old primary school days at Tarnagulla) had a beautiful little girl on Monday. She loves vintage and hand-made things so something special was in order. For her baby shower a few weeks ago, I made a patchwork cushion for the nursery using a red fabric with little cream stars and a cream fabric with light blue, green, pink and red apples and pears (both from Spotlight's Montreux drill range). It was my first attempt at a patchwork and I didn't really know what I was doing. I simply cut nine 15.5 cm squares and went for it! I'm chuffed with the result. Who needs a pattern when freestyle sewing is so liberating?!

In preparation for meeting the gorgeous, angelic, little Aiva today, I set myself down at the sewing machine yesterday morning and got busy making a bunting (or row of little flags). I love these things - co cute and cheery! I used the same fabric as the cushion (it got the mumma's approval) and roughly followed an online tutorial from Craftaholics Anonymous this time (click here to view). A rotary cutter and mat would have made the job easier, but I got it done, and couldn't help announcing "I'm so smart" to the Mister when it came together and actually looked good! Making things really does provide such a feel-good factor! I even took photos of it dangled above our mantle especially for the blog before I gave it away (no mean feat these days). 

I hadn't used bias binding before (remember I only started sewing last year - more of my sewing projects in the menu above) and I was very happy with the way it brought everything together so neatly. Here's a closer shot on the mantle with my other Spotlight find - a David bust statue that reminds me of the European sculpture gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places in New York City. 

Since moving up into a bigger role at work last November, I've often been disappointed in myself for not having  anywhere near as much energy for my creative pursuits outside work. There's been less time spent on renovation projects, furniture makeovers, painting (both on the house and on a canvas), baking, sewing, creative writing, even reading and exercise (though not sure that's classified as a creative pursuit but it certainly helps to give me the energy for them). And there's been fewer blog posts, much to my dismay. Even when I do spend a few blissful hours on a project, posting it here is another project in itself. Thank you dear reader for sticking around. I'm even forgetting to photograph my baking efforts and eating out adventures - a real blogging sin. At least I'm not missing out on culinery discoveries, I have that area well covered! The upside of all this (and I always think there is a positive lurking in most things) is the feeling of joy when I do devote time to a little project. I refuse to give up entirely, even when it would be so much easier. Plus I love having my fingers in a few pies, and I have a single, stubborn finger hanging onto the pie dish containing the tastiest pie of all. It's called "Interests Outside Work". Hope you were able to devote some time to getting creative this weekend too. It feels good. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

New York treasures for home

New York treasures for Charles Whyte HQ. 
L-R: 36 alphabet discs from PB Teen, Jonathan Adler Cheval salt and pepper shakers, 
Anthropologie 'J' and 'E' hooks, clock doorknob and chalkboard jar. 

A couple of years ago my brother returned from a holiday to the US with friends and disgustedly told me that a girl he was travelling with got so excited at Disneyland that she ran ahead of them all day exclaiming how excited she was. At the time, my brother and I rolled our eyes together and I empathised with him wholeheartedly. How annoying indeed.

Fast forward a few years to my New York City holiday last month and I found myself frequently so excited that I wanted to run into places and I had to stop myself exclaiming "oh my God, this is so exciting." Times a'changing and so are we all. If my brother ever reads this, he will give me heaps. Que sera sera!

One of the things I was so looking forward to on our holiday was the chance to visit some of the US stores that I'd heard so much about through blogs, the internet and TV/movies. Homewares stores are my kind of Disneyland, especially in a country that does everything bigger.

Armed with my list of 'must visit shops' and the Google maps on my mobile, I rushed around the city and finally got to see for myself amazing stores like ABC Carpet & Home, Jonathan Adler, Anthropologie, West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. The prices were so good in most places compared to here in Australia. It killed me not to be able to buy everything. Here are my main finds for our house, after the shower curtain that I blogged about here

The Jonathan Adler store in Greenwich Village is so gorgeous and colourful, it was impossible for me not to be happy in there. I'm a big fan of his book 'Jonathan Adler on Happy Chic Colors' so I knew I had to take something home with me. 

I finally settled on the Cheval salt and pepper shakers because they screamed JA to me. And they were small enough to cart home. With only a tiny hole on the top of each, they look just as comfortable in a living room as a dining room so it's a cheat's way to get a piece of the happy chic aesthetic. 

I would have loved a couple of these Jonathan Adler horses but at around 35cm high and $US295 each, it wasn't going to happen.

The cheval shakers have found a home on the mantle and inspired a few other changes here too. A pop of red worked for me for about a day until the clutter of extra frames irked me and I moved the two red pieces to a new picture ledge in the kitchen. Not very "happy chic" of me, I know, but the red wasn't good with the yellow and pink touches in this room. If you look closely in these pics, you can see another Jonathan Adler influence though in the form of his Greek Key print that I painted last year (full post here). 

Anthropologie is a store I've waited years to see and because of that, my expectations may have been slightly overinflated. It was more rustic than I anticipated but I loved the home accessories and the prints used in the clothing (not so much the styles, a little old for me perhaps?).  I went to both the Rockefellar Centre store and the one at Chelsea Market. The 'J' and 'E' hooks, clock doorknob and chalkboard jar in the top picture are all Anthropologie finds. The hooks have found a home behind our bedroom door. I love, love anything with vintage typography, especially initials. They probably deserve a more public home but we didn't really have a space and at least here they can be put to use to hold towels and things. 

Hanging towels on the hook behind our door wasn't working anymore because of my scarves. I should have tidied them for the photo, oops! Keepin' it real for ya. At least you can see that hanging a damp towel over my scarves wouldn't have have worked. Gotta look after the scarves people and keep them smelling sweet! And now there will be no mixing up our towels with a hook each. 

Speaking of vintage typography, I continued the theme with the alphabet discs I picked up at PB Teen. I'll be using these discs (by Chronicle Books, see here) around the house as labels or decoration and as gift tags. Think I'm too old for PB Teen? Ah, uh. I've heard plenty of people online lusting after the colourful bedding, cute cushions and even beds from PB Teen, particularly their 4 poster bed. When I saw a store on Second Avenue (at 76th Street) just a few doors down from the Upper East Side apartment we rented in our second week, I had no problem paying a visit. It's a very small store but full of treasures for teens and non-teens alike. There's more range online, so have a look and tell me you wouldn't be happy to own some of it. 

As for the Anthropologie jar, it is hanging out on our kitchen bench. I wrote 'bribes' on the little chalkboard label and we pop favourite lollies in there for each other if we need to bribe the other to do something! The Anthropologie clock knob hasn't been put to use yet but I have no doubt a home for it will be found one day, giving us another means of remembering a wonderful trip. I just love having little things in our home to remind us of special people, periods, events and especially holidays. Are you the same?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cooking with coconut

All the eating out in the last post makes it sound like I’ve given up cooking. On the contrary, coming home renews the joy of cooking. After eating out so much on holiday and being out of our routines, we all seem to crave a basic, home-cooked meal. Sometimes I just want a bowl of steamed broccoli. All it needs is a smattering of salt. 

I had the next best thing when we returned from New York - tofu and veges. After a few hours unpacking and sleeping, we hadn't made it to the supermarket before our bellies were rumbling. Perfect excuse to get a fix of Vietnamese food.  A Melbourne homecoming at Sapa Hills, Footscray!

But back to cooking. A visit to A. Bongiovanni and Son in Seddon provided the perfect inspiration. While we were away, Lauren at the Footscray Food Blog posted about this wonderful new gourmet grocer (see post here) and shared the good news that they are stocking Coyo, one of her favourite yoghurts. Coyo is a natural, coconut milk yoghurt (dairy and gluten free) with the apt tagline “Heaven in a mouthful”.  I bought it thinking of desserts, but after tasting it I was inspired to cook lots of comforting winter meals. One ingredient inspired my cooking for a week. What a find - I dolloped it on everything!

First came the roast pumpkin and coconut soup, served with a dollop of Coyo in place of cream.  I found a great recipe in the Marie Claire Seasonal Kitchen book that wasn't too far from a traditional pumpkin soup but with an extra zing from the addition of coconut milk and a small red chilli (sorry, I can’t find a link online but there are lots of similar ones around if you don't have the book). 

Pic via

Next was pan-fried fish with Thai sauce from (recipe here). The fish marinated in sweet chilli, soy, fish sauce and lime juice was simple and tasty served on jasmine rice with broccoli. For the piece de resistance, I mixed the Coyo into my cooked jasmine rice. D-licious! 

Pic via Donna Hay

Finally, I made a Donna Hay thai chicken and bean curry for friends (recipe here). The cherry tomatoes and basil add a lovely freshness to this cozy classic. I'll leave you to guess what I dolloped on top!

I love how one great ingredient can inspire a whole host of dishes. Next time I buy Coyo, I think I'll see how it works in sweet dishes. Just need some inspiration. Raspberries? Toasted coconut? White chocolate? Send your suggestions my way! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coming home

An amazing dish from 'The Pint of Milk': sauteed exotic mushrooms, walnut sourdough, taleggio and truffled chestnuts $14

As we head over the Queensboro Bridge bound for JFK in a yellow cab, I soak up every last glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. For the first time in weeks, I am truly still. No plans, no must-sees, nothing new to take in. Flashes of the past weeks fill my thoughts in a pleasant blur, yet I’m not sure I’m ready to leave the frenetic energy of this awe-inspiring city behind.

“I’m really sad to be leaving,” I say aloud as my eyes glaze momentarily.

“Me too,” says the Mister beside me. “But it was a really great holiday.” He squeezes my hand.

A day later, another cab drops us at home in Footscray. It’s Sunday morning and the street is deadly quiet. Nothing moves, just our breath as it hits the cold air. Our car is still here! Inside, everything is as we left it. Not perfect, but clean, and it feels like home. The deep chill in the air has permeated inside, yet somehow I feel cocooned and warm. I love seeing all my things again and, for the first time, feel as though we have plenty of space. I remind myself, not for the first time in the last few weeks, that we are lucky. So easy to forget.

While nothing changed on the home front while we were gone, the rest of the west seems to have progressed at a rapid pace. In the weeks since returning, I’ve been like a kid in a "candy" shop checking out all the fabulous new places - Common Galaxia in Seddon is hitting all the right notes for me and just down Victoria Street, A. Bongiovanni & Son is winning my heart by making it easy to source speciality groceries (too many wonderful baking supplies for my own good). The Mexican taqueria chain, Guzman Y Gomez has made a quick bite before a movie much more attractive at Highpoint. The Reading Room at Victoria University in Footscray is now providing a coffee fix and eats to the wider community, not just students, so of course I had to sample their tasty wares. I made the effort to (finally) try The Pint of Milk in Newport and was not disappointed. I can't stop thinking about the nutty, earthy dish I ate there (pictured above). I’ve revived my sense of community by getting re-acquainted with my not-so-old favourites: Besito in West Footscray, Elceed in North Melbourne, and neighborhood favourites West 48 and Ebi Fine Foods.  Is the west really going off or am I just trying to tell myself that I don’t need New York, there is plenty happening here?!

I've discovered that it's possible to wish you were still on holiday and be happy to be home at the same time!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Going dotty in the bathroom

Confessions of a dork: I went to New York and brought back a shower curtain. Not even by accident. I had it planned on my list of things to buy in NYC after seeing the huge range of shower curtains on US websites. I've been trying to make do with our less than perfect bathroom and knew a vibrant shower curtain would add the little something required. 

Here in Australia, we are lucky to have more than five shower curtains to choose from in any one shop. They don't seem to be objects of desire here and I'm not sure if that's just a preference/fashion thing or because we have more space for separate showers (not over a bath) that don't require curtains or because all homes here seem to be modernising to minimilist bathrooms without a curtain in sight. Whatever the reason, the floor to ceiling walls of shower curtains at Bed, Bath & Beyond on 6th Avenue made my jaw drop. I'd already found and fallen for the classic Marimekko Kivet design at Crate&Barrel and snapped it up on sale with a curtain liner and set of roller rings. Even on sale, it was over $60 for the three items but totally worth it as I've never found one I like better at home. 

So, what was the bathroom like before the arrival of the cute, spotty curtain? First, let me say while our bathroom is very uninspiring and I'd love a new one, I know there are far worse bathrooms around and I'm thankful that at least this one is functional. It just needs a little sparkle while I save my pennies and consider whether it is worth the investment to renovate. But let's rewind to how it was when we bought the house in January 2010. 

First to go was the small mirror. 

With both of us trying to make ourselves decent at the same time on weekday mornings, it was a necessity to get a bicycle mirror built for two. 

We lived quite happily for awhile until the purple tile strip just had to go and get the Dulux Domino treatment that had already worked a treat in the kitchen and dining area (see post on that here). A light sand, a few strips of tape, two coats of paint et voila.

The plastic, cream taps have always hurt my eyes and the Mister successfully changed the bath and shower ones over to a simple silver type when he installed a new shower head. Unfortunately the taps at the basin proved tricker to remove. We need to get a plumber in but we haven't got there, mostly because we are not sure if it is worth it unless we were going to get a new vanity and if we do that it opens a can of worms in terms of where we start and finish. Seems a waste if we might get a new bathroom in the next two years. So for now we make do with a cream vanity with ugly cream taps against white tile (cream on white, ahhh!). 

An easier fix on a vanity is door knobs so I hit up Provincial Home Living as I've done whenever I needed knobs around the house (for the kitchen dresser, the hall stand, the lamp table in the living room). 

As for the terracotta tile, there's no easy fix but as a distraction I've used an Ikea Sveje rug in here (we put a bath mat on top when we shower). 

This brings us to where we were a few weeks ago. At this point we had a clear shower curtain with a white damask print from Freedom.  

You may just be able to make out the huge brown bottle on the bath. That's an old apothecary bottle I picked up in a junk shop near Eildon after a camping trip in January. Think it was only around 10 bucks - score!

After almost 24 hours in transit from New York, we stumbled wearily into our home sweet home and within a day I had the new shower curtain ironed and hung. 

Is that dotty or what?!?!

It provides a little more privacy than the old one too. 

Like the rest of the house, it's a work in progress with a few ideas yet to be actioned. I keep thinking of the tip in Deborah Needleman's Perfectly Imperfect Home to consider the bathroom as a room rather than an afterthought. Love that idea.

And while my bathroom is never going to win any awards, I'm enjoying it much more. Best of all, my 4 year old nephew Hugo appreciated the changes. He walked out of the bathroom on his recent visit from Brisbane and said "Aunty Ellise, I see you have new curtains in your bathroom". If a little boy has noticed, I think it can surely be claimed as a win!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Celebrating 30 with a few of my favourite things

I turned 30 in February and decided to celebrate with a few of my favourite things. Mostly I wanted an excuse to have a dessert table! As a sucker for all things French, it was easy to draw inspiration from Marie Antoinette and her supposed cry to "let them eat cake". Planning the little touches of an event is half the fun and I've been keen to share them, it's just taken me awhile. So here we go...

An invitation totally sets the scene for any bash, so I knew there was only one designer for the job. My super talented cousin Amy of Saint Gertrude Design and Letterpress totally got the look I was going for. She nailed the design first time with a decadent, vintage typography cake. Apart from having to edit my own schoolgirl French (or at least try to), it was ready to print. Amy used a gorgeous aqua on white cotton card and printed my initials and address on the back of a pale pink envelope. Heart Saint Gertrude.

The invitation reads:

Bon Anniversaire Ellise
Please join me to enjoy
a few of my favourite things
Gateaux, fromage, vin, et toi!
18 Fevrier 2012
Elceed Cafe
610 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Respondez s’il vous plait: 10 Fevrier 2012
0428 000 000 (Ellise) or 0407 000 000 (Justin) 

The 'piece de resistance' - my Elceed dessert table with birthday cake centrepiece made by my mum and mum-in-law. 

For the venue I chose Elceed, a favourite cafe in North Melbourne. I wanted to start the party in the late afternoon to suit the 'high tea' style menu, and Elceed provided the perfect backdrop with the natural afternoon sun that filters into their back room and courtyard. The whitewashed walls were the perfect neutral backdrop needed for the dessert table to shine and the location is central (convenient for guests) but leaning west (so I can claim it as my stomping ground). Most importantly though, the Elceed team were willing to hold a private evening function (not what they normally do) and create a customised menu with both desserts and finger food in a slightly French vein. Here is what we decided on and then devoured:

Rosewater meringues with Persian fairy floss
Profiteroles with mocha cream
Lavender cupcakes
Pistachio cupcakes
Raspberry custard tarts (and variations with blueberries and kiwi fruit)
Chocolate coated strawberries
Vanilla bean cupcakes with white chocolate icing decorated with a mix of amazing, large roses and white chocolate shoes and handbags (a very kind and delicious gift from my talented workmate Mish).

French cheese platters
Mini chicken and mushroom pies
Mini Leek and Meredith's goats cheese tarts
Garlic prawn baguettes

Poached chicken, chive and mayonnaise sandwiches
Cucumber sandwiches
Salmon and cream cheese crepes
Ham and cheese croissants

My friend Sally used the fonts from the invitation to make labels for all the food printed on a mix of pink and aqua paper. Not sure why but I love cute labels on plates of food! 

Sadly, I did not get photos of the savouries (the night flew by) but all the guests shared happy food memories well after the event. Hannah, Bill and the Elceed team did an amazing job and worked so hard to serve everyone. Anyone with a dietary requirement was made to feel like a king or queen with special food delivered to them. With both sweet and savoury options, there weren't any of the food shortages that you sometimes find at a finger food function. In fact, we sent lots of guests home with little bags of cake that we couldn't possibly fit in.

Speaking of cake, I had seen this beautiful two-tier pale pink cake with a white silhouette motif online and couldn't take my mind off it even when I was quoted several hundred dollars for it. I kept staring at it longingly on the Pinterest board I created for the party (click here to view the board with all my inspiration pics) until it finally dawned on me that I knew two excellent bakers who might just agree to the challenge - my mum and mum-in-law! Even though they live almost two hours away from us, a couple of years ago they happened to move only ten minutes apart. Perfect for a joint cake challenge. My mother in law iced and decorate many a fruit cake for weddings back in Birchip but never enjoyed making the actual cake. My mum, on the other hand, is less decorator more baker, so it was the perfect combo. Most importantly, they agreed to the challenge. My mum whipped up a large and a small round white chocolate mud cake, iced them with white chocolate ganache (the icing alone contained 1kg of chocolate!) and delivered them to my MIL who covered them perfectly in fondant icing and  piped the little dots all around the bottom of each layer and around the white circle that the silhouette attached to. My mum took a piece of the pink fondant icing and cut out it into the shape of my silhouette using a photo as a guide. It looked wonderful and created the perfect centrepiece for my dessert take. Both the icing and the cake tasted amazing for days (I LOVE that sickly fondant icing!).

So much food, you must be thinking, didn't the guests need something to wash everything down? Indeed they did. As a welcome drink, I made a version of one of my favourite cocktails, the French martini served in Elceed's glass jars. From memory, I think I used 30ml Chambord raspberry liquor per drink with 15ml vodka and 120ml pineapple juice (much more juice than normal but safer to serve, more palatable and less expensive). Each drink was topped with frozen raspberries and served with with Emerald + Ella striped pink paper straws. I love these straws and was thrilled to have an excuse to buy these online and use.

After the welcome drink,  the drink options were:

 Grandin Methode Traditionnelle Brut (coz it's French and a nice, affordable sparkling)
Toi Toi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (coz they make the best Sauv in NZ, it was recommended by the wine guy in Dan Murphy's and 'toi toi' sounds French!)
Kronenbourg 1664 lager (coz it's French and the Mister approved)
Pipsqueak Cider (coz I like it)
San Pellegrino sparkling natural mineral water (again, coz I like it)

The French beer Kronenbourg is not hugely popular here in Australia so lucky the Mister is up for adventures of the beer finding variety. Most bottle shops, including big ones like Dan Murphy's and First Choice, only had one or two boxes/slabs in stock, so even with a smallish guest list of about 50 people it took us a couple of trips over a few weekends just to buy the beer! Speaking of the guest list, we have huge extended families and with limited space and budget, I had to make the tough decision to only invite immediate family and some friends.

But back to the drinks, the service was so good that in the next few days I was hearing from everyone how it great it was that the staff remembered what they were drinking and made sure they always had what they wanted.

You may just be able to make out in the photo below that I tried to dress the part in a pink dress. I found pink satin shoes to match with a black peep toe. Over the toe is a little raised netting feature so I made a fascinator for my hair with a piece of black netting from Lincraft. I had a fantastic night as you would expect when surrounded by all my favourite things. As is usually the case with a celebration, the day after the party was equally fun, devouring leftover food, opening presents (so many divine cookbooks) and generally enjoying the company of family and friends from out of town. My heart was really singing in true Charles Whyte style. For me, turning 30 was about embracing what I love and doing things in life that make me happy. I think the party achieved that - it's just trying to do what I love every day that is a little harder at times. 

Finally, I mustered up all my (very limited) design skills to create this 'Merci beaucoup' thank you note. I've tried to give them out as I've seen people but somehow this year is just slipping through my fingers so there are a few outstanding. If any of my lovely guests are reading this and thinking 'where's mine?' I am very sorry. I love you! Thanks for sharing my special celebration. You make the days between the celebrations better too! If you helped me in any way, hopefully I've mentioned you above and/or you know how much that means to me. Thank you to Nina, my darling, crazy, little sister who travelled from Brisbane for the occasion (not sure if she will read this but I forgot to thank her on the night and she is my only favourite sister so I must show her the love). Lastly, thank you for reading if you made it this far! Celebrate birthdays! And eat cake for breakfast! Xxx

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