Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas in Estella

This little girl from church had a speech and drama concert on Saturday so this hair had been slept on once, but I was transfixed. Isn't it beautiful?

It was very hard for Bethany to wait until 4pm as she had woken up excited about the Christmas party that is held for our suburb by the local progress association. The face painting was the very first stop. Jossie looked a bit like a manga character.

Bethany was a cat. The pose above was her very own.

It is lucky I took photos quickly as the paint around her mouth disappeared quickly.

Toby didn't get his face painted but went in for the games. Three-legged races are very difficult. Andrew and Andrej went in one too and Andrej was most put out when they didn't win. I watched a lady jumping in the sack race and asked Andrew to remind me never to participate in one of those. She wasn't even a busty lady but it looked very uncomfortable and just wrong.

Sophie had on the sweetest Santa outfit but was hard to pin down for a photo.

Santa arrived in a fire engine (?) and commenced giving presents to all the children in our suburb.

The children don't mind waiting in a queue when presents are at the end. I wondered if children from all over town ever thought of coming as you don't have to prove that you live here. We're very lucky, I suppose, to be surrounded by countryside rather than other suburbs and yet still be so close to town.

Inside the bag, amongst other goodies, were bubbles, Bethany's favourite short-lived amusement. She tries several techniques to find the best. A lot of the detergent ends up on her dress.

The downside of this particular technique is that detergent ends up in her mouth......

Despite the threatening weather and occasional rain it was a wonderful party. Like Hugh Mackay said, we have the herd instinct and as more and more of us live in households of only one or two people, we need to get together with the herd outside of the home. Community in the park, delightful.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


We're building a digitally literate family. You can never have too many computers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Seasonal Madness in Sydney

When people used to go on to me about how busy this time of year is, I would roll my eyes and think "It's just a few parties, get over it!" Now, with five family members all doing different activities, I get it. I could go to three Christmas parties just for my own work. Then there is the massive end of year ballet concert with endless performances Bethany must attend, matron of honour duties (the wedding is a month and a half away), lots of people on leave at work and that is before we even begin to think about Christmas presents, travelling on Christmas Eve and what we are going to do with Milo. I have two summer reading clubs to get organised but was able, instead, to go to Sydney for a public libraries conference.

Claire (library manager), Margot (Information Services Librarian) and I all got up at the crack of dawn on Monday morning and drove to the airport. The flight only takes an hour and we were at our hotel in Darling Harbour by around 8am. We left our bags and headed to the conference centre near World Square. We spent a lot of time on the Monorail over two days...

The conference was very worthwhile. The theme was sustainability and there were some great speakers including Hugh Mackay the brilliant social researcher and author of one of our book club books, Winter Close. I could share what I learnt but I'm not sure you'd all be thrilled and, lets be honest, the chance to go to Sydney with colleagues and shop and eat was just as exciting as the conference.

This cool shoe shop was at the bottom of World Square. Most people at the conference went down to Darling Harbour for the conference dinner. We had used up all our budget getting the three of us there so we skipped the expensive dinner and went out on our own.

My attempts to organise a restaurant before we left didn't quite work. We had dinner in China Town, not at the best restaurant ever, but it was fun. We bought some cake to go and then went on the mini London Eye. Poor Margot was a bit frightened when we got to the top! I tried to take photos from inside the bubble but they didn't work very well. I did, accidentally, get a classic shot of Claire telling an amusing story but she made me delete it :)

The city is very pretty at night, I could have walked and walked. Instead, we walked back to our hotel for tea and cake. Margot had black forest cake.

Claire asked for something chocolatey an I chose this brownie for her - it was a bit much. I forget that other people can't tolerate extreme chocolate like I can.

I had this rather delightful tiramisu. It was light, creamy and with just the right amount of coffee.

We had an enormous breakfast at the Novotel before our second day of conference. I confess that after lunch we skipped a session to go shopping. We went to the Queen Victoria building where Claire and I headed straight to Victoria's basement. I bought a three tiered cake plate for an upcoming high tea for Mim.

We also had a lovely time on the top floor of the QVB before rushing back for the last session.

The QVB does look very pretty at this time of year.

At the end of the conference we caught the monorail back to Darling Harbour and said goodbye to this, the view from our room.

We arrived home around 8.30 0n Tuesday night and on Wednesday I was at work 'til 9pm for the end of year book club party.... but that's a story for another time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The very best Christmas Cake

I don't know if you have heard of 4 Ingredients. Two Sunshine Coast friends decided to get together and write a cookbook full of simple, quick recipes - all with 4 ingredients or less. They aren't chefs, they don't even like to cook but the book was a massive success in Australia and they have written several more. Rachel Bermingham is one of the authors and she came to our library on Wednesday for an author talk and taste-testing. Being more of an at-least-twelve- ingredients girl, I can't say that I was overly excited but despite the inconvenient time (her choice not ours) there were around thirty people who came to hear her story.

I won't relay her tale of achieving her dreams but I will tell you about the fruitcake she brought to share. It was made with 3 ingredients. One packet of mixed fruit, fruit juice and flour. I didn't taste it, not only because I am not eating cake until the wedding but because I just couldn't help but think of the Christmas cake I was to make the very next day and couldn't eat such a sad version. Everyone there loved it. Some people just don't like to be in the kitchen and aren't really fussed what they eat. Not me.

This is the second year that I have made a Christmas cake. Granny passed on the baton, and her recipe, to me. It is made not only with many ingredients, but with much love and tradition. It is also the best fruit cake that I have ever tasted. When Christmas is closer I will make my own marzipan and give the cake a thick layer of its almondy goodness. After a few days, when that has dried out, I will make some gorgeous white icing, not like fondant, that melts as soon as it hits your tongue. For now, I will share my family recipe for Christmas cake. It will take a while...

Brandy and rum to soak
2oz (56g) dried dates
2oz (56g) dried figs
2oz (56g) glacé apricots or pineapple
2oz (56g) glacé cherries
4oz (113g) chopped peel
8oz (226g) sultanas
8oz (226g) currants
8oz (226g) raisins
2oz (56g) blanched almonds
2oz (56g) walnuts, chopped
8oz (226g) butter
8oz (226g) brown sugar
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
1 teaspoon each Parisienne, vanilla and almond essences
1 teaspoon each glycerine and golden syrup
1 dessertspoon plum jam
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
4oz (113g) dark chocolate, melted
10oz (285g) plain flour

1. Prepare fruits and sprinkle with equal quantities of brandy and rum. Leave overnight or longer (I leave mine for a few weeks if I have time).
2. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly.

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in well.
4. Add glycerine, golden syrup, jam and orange rind and juice.
5. Add melted chocolate.

6. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with fruit and nuts.

7. Spread into 8 inch square tine lined with 2 sheets brown paper and one sheet of baking paper, extending 2 or 3 inches above tin. Lining the tin is the least fun part.

8. Bake in very slow oven for 3 1/2 - 4 hours.

9. Brush hot cake with brandy and wrap with a double layer of foil to keep the top soft. When cool, take out of tin and wrap with foil and place in a container until needed. This cake keeps pretty much forever.
I count 27 ingredients!

What I like about summer

I'm not a summer person. I usually spend the hotter months pointing out what a great penal colony Australia made, moaning and wishing to move to Scotland. Complaining isn't very nice so I'm going to be positive. I really like that I can do the washing at night, hang it out in the dark and get it off in the morning. Drying washing is no trouble. I like getting out of bed and not needing to rug up. I like nectarines, grapes, peaches, rockmelon, cherries and mangoes. I like air-conditioning, especially at the library. Other than that.....

I worked on Saturday and look what I found on the road. He was walking along on the road and I thought he might get run over so I hopped off my bike and as I approached he hid in his shell. I picked him up to move him and water poured out of his shell. I do hope he wasn't saving that water to drink...

I have, in the past, given a photographic tour of the library but didn't include the non-public areas. When I tell people that I don't have many desk shifts they are surprised.

What do library staff do other than lend books? All permanent staff members have desks and have work to do when they aren't lending books or helping people on computers.

These are some of our book club tubs. Designing and implementing programmes such as the RRL Book Club is what my team does. Programmes for pre-school children, school kids, youth , adults and the aged. There are newspaper articles to write, wikis to update, these days we tweet and Facebook. Summer reading clubs for kids, youth and adults. Author talks, launches and other events to organise, teaching Internet classes and helping people choose which books to read next. We do keep busy.

Our work are is on the lower ground floor and has only one window that lets in natural light - not from outside but from the rest of the library which has external walls of glass. Sometimes we see teenagers getting rather amorous under the stairs.

Lunch table to the right, my desk, and bike, on the left.

This is the view from the door back into the library. That red couch is a lovely spot to sit and read. I rather wish I was there now as it is 43 degrees today (109.4F). At least my washing is getting dry.......

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lighter Chocolate Cherry Cake

Women can have such a difficult relationship with food which makes celebrating a bit tricky. There is a truly beautiful, very slim woman at work who is very often detoxing and dieting. I suppose women are just like that. Still, for her birthday last week I did want a little celebration we could all join in on so I made her a chocolate cake....but lighter.

I found the original recipe here.

Lighter Chocolate Cherry Cake

100g dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons Marsala
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
2/3 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 600g jar Morello or sour cherries
1 grated apple
Icing sugar to dust

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line the base and sides of a 20cm square tin.
2. In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate, sugar and sifted cocoa, stir to combine. Stand for two minutes for the chocolate to melt, stir again until smooth. Stir in Marsala.
3. Lightly beat the egg yolks and whisk into the chocolate mixture.
4. Fold in flour.
5. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold through chocolate mixture.
6. Fold through cherries and grated apple. Pour into lined tin, smooth top and bake for 35 minutes, or until cooked.
7. Dust with icing sugar and serve, reminding people how very good this is for them.

Mmm, chocolate made without child slavery.

Nobody could pick that this was a cake without butter or oil. Less sugar was used but it was perfectly sweet. Moist, dense, chocolatey goodness. In order to have a taste (the birthday girl insisted seeing as she was abandonning her detox) I called it slice :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

I'm finished!

After a concentrated effort I have finished my uni marking two days early. I have grown up! No longer ruled by procrastination, able to choose delayed gratification and now I can relax over the weekend. Actually, I'm working tomorrow but at least it is super cool at the library.

I have a recipe to share but it is late and I need to walk Milo. This photo should calm the fears of any family members who were concerned when I used all the fruit cake fruit in Mim's wedding cake. It isn't as early as I would have liked but here is the fruit for our Christmas cake.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Can't blog, must mark.

But I have photos.... I'll keep marking in a minute. On Friday I went to lunch with my friend Sara. She teaches at TAFE so we went to the TAFE restaurant. I was so hungry that I forgot to take photos of our mains - Sara had pork with an apple and fennel salad and I had chicken on a pumpkin and baby spinach salad. The food is cooked by students and the waiters and drinks staff are all students. Sara made them a bit nervous! For dessert we shared a trifle tart with creme patisserie (!) I did manage to bite my tongue and not tell the students that I am the spelling police because no-one likes a smarty-pants. Despite the fact that it was made out of a French bakery it was most delicious.

We also went halves on the panna cotta which was also lovely even if the students bought tinned pineapple when they were meant to get fresh.

On Saturday Bethany had a party to go to and we all, except for Andrew who stayed home painting the bathroom, went too. It was a fairy party.

I think these little cappuccino biscuits are very sweet (don't worry Sue, I didn't eat one, though cake is the real enemy of the moment, not dark chocolate which is very good for you).

The weather was just right and I really like the way the green and shady garden looks out on a parched, yellow paddock. Don't get me started on the flies though. Have they become super bold and immune to Aerogard?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Way to my Heart or Chocolate isn't Cake

The way to my heart is through chocolate and Andrew knows it. He was in Sydney for work and went to Haigh's for me.

A beautiful present.

Getting better.

Where to start?

With the one who lost his insides during the trip.

He was mint. I also had to eat the one who was covered in his insides - she was a mandarin cream. I just licked clean the foil wrapped one :)
If I only have two a day, they will last me for ten days! Can I do it?