Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas baking: almond bread

The lead up to Christmas can be such a wonderful time. I think I might even like it more than the day itself. Now I don't mean the shopping with the hoards or driving around on the chaotic streets. Hate all that. It's the Christmas decorating, baking and catch ups I love. When the tree is up and the stockings hung, the carols go on full blast and I mix bags and bags of flour and sugar with towers of butter! So far I've brewed up gingerbread, mini rocky roads, salted caramel fudge, cookies and cream fudge, date, raison and hazelnut liquor truffles and my old favourite, almond bread. My mum used to make this and I've been baking it for at least the last six years. I always make at least four loaves and give it away in clear cellophane bags tied with pretty ribbons (The wrapping is important! I also love wrapping presents nicely. What can be more exciting that opening a pretty package?). Almond bread is also great to serve to guests that pop in ** over the festive season. Great with a coffee or a bowl of cherries. 

Almond bread 


2 egg whites
½ cup caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks 
1 cup plain flour
120 grams unblanched almonds


Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry.
Add caster sugar gradually while continuing to beat.
Fold in vanilla and lightly beaten egg yolks.
Sift flour and fold in with almonds.
Place in loaf tin that has been lined with baking paper.
Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
When cool, wrap in a glad wrap and leave for 2 to 3 days.
Slice with a sharp knife as thinly as possible.
Place on a baking tray and dry in oven at about 120C until golden but not brown.
This should take an hour at most. Turn off oven and leave to cool.
Store in an airtight container. 

** A note on popping in. No one pops in when you want them too, do they? When the house is clean and something delicious has just come out of the oven, all your friends and family are no-where to be seen. The act of popping in seems to be dying off and I wonder if it's a generational thing. I admit that I like a bit of notice when having guests. I need time to pull off my ancient slippers with the paint splotches and wash all the baking dishes! But I have great childhood memories of family friends popping in when growing up, especially at this time of year. So, now that the cupboards are stocked with freshly baked goods, should I put the vibe out for a few pop ins?!?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mini Oreo Cheesecakes

I'm always coming across recipes and thinking how perfect they would be for people in my life but then their birthday comes around and I struggle to remember which winning dish I was going to make for them. Well yesterday was one of my *little* brother's birthdays and I remembered the winning recipe. Oreo cheesecakes! My brother loves cheesecake, enjoys an Oreo or two and I love making clever little things that I haven't tried before. So it was a winner before it even began. 

Mini Oreo cheesecakes with the standard size ones behind

This recipe was simple and worked really well. The result was delicious (birthday boy's opinion not just my own!). I'm so glad it did as my brother has been extra important this year. After Leo was born in April, he popped in nearly every day to cuddle Leo and say hi. It was so good to have his company when I was getting used to being home with a baby. Not to mention how good it was to know that he was happy to hang out with Leo for a few minutes if there was something I needed to get done. That certainly deserves a special recipe in my book. 

Oreo Cheesecakes 

Source: 3 Square Chef. Originally from Martha Stewart Cupcakes.
Makes 15

21 Oreos, 15 left whole, and 6 coarsely chopped (or you can use a combination of mini Oreos and standard size ones like I did. I made 12 standard and about 20 mini)
450 grams cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla essence)
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 135 celsius. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Use mini muffin tins if you are using the mini Oreos. Spray liners with non-stick spray. Place 1 whole cookie in the bottom of each lined cup.

With an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat cream cheese until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar, and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla. Drizzle in eggs, a bit at a time, beating to combine and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Stir in chopped cookies by hand.

Divide batter evenly among cookie-lined cups, filling each almost to the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until filling is set, about 22 minutes. The mini ones take less cooking, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to overnight). Remove from tins just before serving.

Note: the standard size cheesecakes look great turned onto a plate for serving. The mini size are tiny bite size cheesecakes and they don't look as neat when turned out of the paper liner. I recommend baking in thin white liners so you can see the Oreo through the bottom when served in the liner. Unfortunately, I only had mini brown liners at home and I couldn't see the Oreo imprint through it. 

* Disclaimer. My brother is 24, not that little really, but once a little brother, always a little brother. Right?!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tomato, butter bean and chorizo salad

When I made this tomato, butter bean and chorizo salad for a family lunch this week, I knew it was about time I shared it. Last December, our lovely neighbours made it as part of dinner and I immediately asked for the recipe. They went one step further and loaned me the recipe book it was taken from - The Edible Balcony by Indira Naidoo. So strong was my love for this salad that I brewed it up numerous times over the festive period. Since the ingredients aren't highly perishable, I found it a good salad to make while travelling around the countryside to family gatherings. In the morning, I'd cook up the chorizo, cut the onion and mix the dressing, then transport them in separate containers to avoid the dreaded salad sludge. Once at the destination, I simply had to chuck them all together with the tomatoes, tinned beans and parsley. Delicioso!

Tomato, butter bean and chorizo salad
adapted from a recipe by Indira Naidoo

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

400g butter beans, thoroughly washed and drained (original recipe specified 100-150g butter or cannellini beans. I chose to use a whole tin of butter beans as I like them and it makes the salad go a little further)
1 x 250g punnet cherry tomatoes, halved (original recipe specified 20 cherry tomatoes which is a similar quantity to one punnet but too specific for a salad if you ask me!)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Olive oil, for pan-frying
250 g mild or spicy chorizo, sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper

Sherry vinegar dressing

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (original recipe says you can also use sherry vinegar)
squeeze of lemon (optional)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the 1/3 cup specified in the original seemed too oily)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Place the beans, tomatoes, onion and parsley in a bowl.
  • To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a jar with a screw-top lid and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the salad and set aside for a minimum of 5-10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.
  • Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. Toss in the chorizo and cook for several minutes until crispy.
  • Mix chorizo into salad and serve immediately. 
Buen apetito!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cafe Love - 6 Grams

Driving home from dinner with friends near Highpoint on Sunday night, I noticed a warm glow from a shop. With a quick swirl of the head, I spotted tables and shiny red chairs under a big sign that read '6 Grams'. My heart was already beginning to sing when a quick Google search revealed it was indeed a new cafe about to open on Tuesday.

So it was that I drove excitedly back to check it out yesterday afternoon. Now being that it was their first day of trade, I am not going to critique every detail of the experience, especially given that I was rushing to get elsewhere and forgot to take a photo of my order (poached eggs on sourdough toast. I know, gotta get one of the more adventurous options next time but I can't get enough runny poached eggs since not being able to eat them during pregnancy). 

Five Senses Coffee

In any case, it is the freshly fitted out interior and decor that I find satisfying. Its got that industrial vibe that's so popular now, though I'm still thrilled at spotting all the little touches. I love the huge central table with yellow lettering down the legs that nods to a colourful, albeit very different, past. Old traffic signs, vintage telephones and garden walls keep me enthralled while I wait. Not overdone, just enough to keep it interesting. The aforementioned red chairs play a big role in the overall good cheer of the place, as do the yellow tiles splashed on the huge counter at the front. 

Back dining room with peek holes into the kitchen

But what's a cafe without people - namely the service they provide and, of course, the food they put in front of us? To begin, the people here are warm and friendly, happy to chat and looking for feedback to help them improve whatever they can. Manager Vittorio tells me they'll be introducing specials connected to Africa to retain a little of their heritage. I'm sure he sounds Italian and I must look a little confused because he tells me not many people believe a white man with an Italian accent can be African!

Turns out Vittorio is from Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, a country bordering Sudan, Ethiopia and the Red Sea. Eritrea was an Italian colony for about 50 years up to 1941 so that explains the accent! Vittorio spent six years running The Abyssinian, a restaurant in Racecourse Road serving traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean food. 6 Grams is definitely more a modern cafe with a little nod to Africa. With very few options for a caffeine-fix in Maidstone, Vittorio is keen to fill the gap for those who don't fancy sitting in a shopping centre cafe at nearby Highpoint. I, for one, am keen to return to linger a little longer and try something with an African twist. 

6 Grams menu

6 Grams on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A chair to finish the nursery

The wing chair for Leo's nursery required a month to be made, so I was almost happy when he didn't arrive on the due date because I'd only ordered it three and a half weeks beforehand. I couldn't hold him in forever though, even for a chair! He was eight days late but the chair was even later, eventually arriving two weeks late.

I'd been nervous about having a chair made in my choice of fabric and having to commit to it before seeing it finished. I sweated over the fabric choice. There were hundreds of options and I can be a procrastinator when deciding on big items like this. A neutral fabric would have been an easier choice but I really wanted something a bit more fun and distinct.

Eventually I settled on a Warwick fabric called Mystere Honey.

I found the manufacturer on eBay (seller rosemedley). They are a small, Melbourne company and hadn't made a wing chair in this colour before, so I had to visualise the fabric on this chair. 

Not long after ordering the rug, I stopped in my tracks while reading Domayne's Winter Launch 2013 catalogue because there were a few items covered in the Warwick Mystere fabric. I loved how the colour appeared in the catalogue, making me feel less nervous about my choice. Though being a velvet, I knew it would look different depending on the lighting in the room. Here's a shot of an armchair from the catalogue. My chair only looks this colour when it's really bright which isn't often given it's the middle of winter in Melbourne. 

Last time I shared a picture of the room, the wool dhurrie rug from Temple & Webster had arrived but there was a sad space in the corner.

The room feels a lot more complete with the chair, even though there are a few other things I'd like to do in here, namely another artwork for over the cot (haven't decided if I will create something myself as I did with the others here). For now, I love putting my feet up and watching the world go by while feeding in this sunny corner.

Best of all, Leo seems to enjoy cuddling up on the chair. Well, I don't really know that for sure. He definitely enjoys the milk I feed him while we're on the chair, so that's a start. I think his favourite spot in the room is the change table! Perhaps it's the undivided attention he gets on there, or maybe the nice feeling of having a dirty nappy removed? Whatever it is, I just enjoy the smiles and cute noises he makes on there. Can you see him in the picture below, holding his stuffed puppy and waiting patiently for his mummy to take photos?! What a little beauty he is.

Speaking of the change table, I've added more baskets since the baby arrived. I particularly wanted somewhere handy for the dirty laundry, so one basket at the bottom is devoted to that, but there's now lots of storage generally which is always a good thing. I'm not a big fan of stuff not having proper "homes"!

I'm currently working on a nifty little home for picture books so stay tuned for that. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Welcome Leo Reid

Leo's birth announcement by Saint Gertrude Design and Letterpress

We had a baby! Somehow he is already 12 weeks old today.

Our little man, Leo, was born on April 24, eight days late. He weighed an impressive 10 pounds (4538 grams) at birth and was 54 centimetres long. My only explanation for how I did it was having five weeks off work beforehand! Lots of time to listen to relaxation music and birth preparation tracks. By the time labour came, we were so ready and excited to meet our baby. If I'd known how big he was I may not have been game to do it with just a TENS machine and some gas. I should mention we did an active birth class through Birthready and we found it invaluable in preparing us for birth. We are also so fortunate to have received brilliant care at the Royal Women's Hospital. To think this is public health care is amazing and makes me thankful to be Australian.

We didn't know we were having a boy and we found it easier to agree on girls names. Just after Leo was born, the Mister had to whip out our shortlist of boys names and quickly settled on Leo Reid. We liked that it was an old name but short and easy to spell as opposed to our surname McLoughlan which has many variations. We chose Reid as it was also my late father's middle name so he'll have a little piece of my dad with him even though they won't be able to meet in person.

He's a beautiful boy and the funniest thing is watching him smile when we tell him that! He's even more beautiful now that he sleeps in his bed regularly during the day. When the Mister returned to work after four weeks, it took me awhile to get him into a good 'eat, play, sleep' routine. In the first weeks, he got so many cuddles from visitors and us but all these cuddles and gorgeous naps in someone's arms are not sustainable once you're home alone. A mother needs a few moments to herself or she can momentarily forget how lucky she is!

I can't pretend I've mastered it all by any means. Yesterday he really resisted his sleep in the late afternoon. Generally though, we feel we have been so lucky and stumbled on a really happy, content baby. I now understand why people use the phrase "he's a delight"! He really is. That fact doesn't change the enormous adjustment to being a full-time mum at home. I don't think I expected to be looking for stimulation outside parenting or contemplating part-time work so soon. Getting out of the house each day is pretty essential for me. Sometimes it's just going for a walk with the pram and grabbing a coffee, other times it's taking advantage of the many activities and groups for new parents - I've been to a mums and bubs exercise class, 'rhyme times' at the library, a pram walking group and 'gather and chats' organised by the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Plus I'm in a mother's group organised by the local council full of lovely local mums and their babes. I enjoy all these activities with Leo but I crave doing my own projects and hobbies. There are only snippets of time available and it's hard to feel I'm making progress on something. 

Being a mum and doing all I can for Leo's development is my first priority, but if I'm really honest, most of the associated tasks feel repetitive. I guess it's this repetition that is the foundation for routines and the stability children need. So it's a matter of balancing the needs of the baby with needs of my own. The age old balancing act! At least I know I'm far from alone. I haven't decided when I will return to paid work. I don't want to blink and find him grown up.  He is just so adorable right now so I try to savour each moment. Even the constantly dirty nappies!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

DIY nursery art

If you looked really closely at my last post on the rug for the baby's room, you may have noticed the colourful artworks I created to brighten the room and decorate one section of the very high, bare walls.

Let's get a little closer, shall we?

Doesn't seem quite close enough so let's break them down.

I've been collecting ideas for artworks or prints I thought I could create for awhile on Pinterest (check out my board here). The larger piece on the left was inspired by two things - Rachel Castle's embroidery artworks like this one:

And a DIY nursery artwork from the blog Aux petits oiseaux from which I borrowed the words. 

I had my mum mix up the colours for me, incorporating all the colours I am using (or plan to use) in the baby's room.  My mum is an artist so has a far better knack and confidence for mixing colours than I do (there is a glimpse of the abstract she did for our living room in this post and a photo of the piece she for my bedroom a few years back in this post).

I used her colours to paint strips of each colour on white cardboard. After two coats and some drying time, I lightly pencilled on the letters required to write 'every day we love you' in lower case and the French translation 'tous les jours nous t'aimons' in capitals. I wasn't worried about creating perfect letters as the aim was to create something with a child-like sense of fun. After cutting out each letter, I used clear craft glue to stick them onto white card and popped this into a white frame from a local variety store for $15. I used the same cut-out method for the dot artwork too and a smaller version of the same frame (about $11 for this one). Rachel Castle's screen printed dot artworks inspired this design.

The final piece in this little cluster is a ampersand design found on Google images (unfortunately I don't have the exact source as I printed it many months ago). I simply cut out the printed ampersand, traced around it with pencil straight onto a thin canvas I had in the cupboard (probably from a $2 shop) and filled it in with some of the leftover aqua paint used in the other pieces.

Next up are some silhouettes I tackled with my mum. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours one afternoon at my dining table surrounded by paper and paints. I showed her these animal prints by Me and Amber....

Before I knew it, she had created these beauties: 

They are just hanging out under the red lamp for now until I get around to hanging them. So cute!

Meanwhile I was stencilling and cutting out deers to create this:

For now, this one sits atop a set of Expedit shelves in the room with a framed image from a Typo calendar (middle) and a painting by my little friend Sophie (on the right). 

I love the colours in the ferris wheel. Isn't it brilliant that you can create artworks from images that grab your eye in everyday items? Calendars are great for this.

The same calendar also has an image of balloons that I will frame in the same Ribba frame from Ikea (just not keen to tackle an Ikea trip at 40 weeks pregnant!).

So there you have some DIY affordable art to brighten up a nursery (or any room). I am hoping to add a huge zebra painting above the cot at some stage. Just gotta sweeten up a certain artist ;) Wish me luck. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A rug to warm the baby's room

I love the internet but sometimes it opens up ideas and possibilities that are hard to attain. Similarly, I love this country but sometimes it is so hard to find products here that we see so frequently on the web. Rugs are one such item. Australia is only just catching onto the bright, modern rug trend, with chevron, moroccan tile/trellis and other geometric patterns. For the baby's room, I almost felt like the only option was a black and white rug in a stripe or chevron, but I kept delaying buying one because I worried the room would be too grown up with the newly dark floorboards and charcoal paint strip. As much as I want a room that fits our home's style for all of us to enjoy, I also want it to be a fun room that will stimulate a child's imagination. I'm so glad I held out.

About three weeks ago, at almost 38 weeks pregnant, a darling friend text me about some fantastic rugs that had just come up on the members-only online shopping site, Temple and Webster.  I was logged in and admiring them on my phone within moments. Suddenly waiting in the hospital for an appointment became exciting! Within half an hour, I'd text the colour and pattern options to the Mister, made a decision and ordered the rug pictured above and below.

It's called a Hiranmayi Indian Dhurrie Rug from The Weaves Collection and is hand woven in pure wool. At 280 x 190cm, it also covers a lot of floor space and makes the room feel so much cosier. I'm in love with it! Especially the pattern. So glad I didn't have to settle. 

The colour is described as 'Gold'. Four weeks ago I ordered a wingback armchair and a footstool in a Warwick fabric called Mystere Honey. It's also a dull yellow so I am crossing my fingers that they work well together. The empty corner in the left of the room is where I plan to place the armchair. I'll post more about that soon.

As Temple and Webster is a sale site, this rug is no longer available there and I can't find it anywhere else online. However, I did spend a lot of time seeking out rugs so I'm going to pass on details of others available in Australia that I considered.

I was excited by the chevron rugs at Jolie Interiors  but the 12 week lead time and the limited colour choice of pink, grey or navy held me back.

Gilles and Franck had something similar with more colour options but they appear to just be starting in the business and operate through Facebook. Without a fully functioning online store, it seemed too hard and uncertain for me.

I'm really impressed with a new range of rugs from Freedom and checked them out several times in store (always so nice to be able to view before purchase). At $249 they are also very affordable. Unfortunately, they are quite gender specific (and we don't know what we are having) or black and white.

My back up plan was the trusty Ikea Stockholm rug. Certainly not a unique choice but very versatile and affordable. It comes in two sizes but neither seemed right for our room - one being too small, the other perhaps too big! And of course, it is black and white - a colour combo I love but would prefer in, say, our dining room. 

So, slowly we are getting a few more design choices closer to home. My choice of rug arrived in just over a week and has made my heart sing ever since. I can't wait to add a floor cushion or two and spend some quality time on it with our little friend. Just gotta entice him or her to come out into the big, wide world!



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