Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Personal Fashion Challenge

In some areas of life I consider myself quite a creative person; the clothes I wear is not one of these areas. But I am a visionary, and I dream about the day I walk out the door and people actually notice me for what I am wearing. I want to be that girl who other girls wish they had the confidence to dress like. My neighbour and good friend Sharon is one of those girls. She always looks amazing, styled perfectly in one-off vintage pieces, Sharon is a head-turner. I will often play dress-ups at home, trying on outfits and convincing myself I should leave the house in them. Sometimes I even get dressed up for an event, and then at the last minute, chicken out and change back into my safe clothes.

But now, I think it is time for a change. After too many days of looking in the mirror and feeling drab, I have decided to set myself a challenge. I want to make over my look, to match the person I am inside. I will start slowly, so as not to scare myself back into submission. For the first few weeks, I aim to wear ONE outfit a week that scares me a little, or maybe even a lot. Luckily, my very own fashion consultant and personal cheerleader lives just across the fence. We had a session in my bedroom last night, with me trying on the 'scary' clothes I have and putting together outfits. Because I have actually been buying interesting clothes for a while, but they just never make it out of the house....

So without further ado, here is this weeks outfit:

Where I got it all...

Black slip: Principals
Tights: Farmers
Boots: Hannahs
Pendant: Verabel

This is a HUGE change from my standard jeans and cardi combo. I was very proud of myself and I actually felt great in these clothes! And, I got compliments, which is always a nice boost :)

Boozy Wild Blackberry Homemade Ice Cream

Late in the Summer, Paddy and I went foraging for wild blackberries, which we stuffed into bottles and covered with vodka. After two months of waiting, shaking the bottles daily, we were left with a divine, VERY drinkable, blackberry vodka. We were also left with the berries, which we strained off after the two months. Paddy had a genius idea last weekend, and we decided to combine these delicious boozy blackberries with cream and condensed milk and make the world's easiest homemade ice cream!

A bit of ice cream research told me that fruit is best added to ice cream batter when it has been cooked, as this reduces the amount of water in the fruit and decreases the risk of the ice cream crystalising. So, the blackberries (after being strained from the vodka) were cooked down n a pot for about 15 minutes until they turned into a compote-type thing. The rest is so easy, you could leave your small children to do the work, and relax with a nip of wild blackberry vodka.

Something I love about making my own food from scratch is knowing exactly what goes into it, and this is no excpetion. I have never really liked commercial ice cream, but this homemade stuff is something I could see myself developing quite a liking for...

Homemade Ice Cream

500mls cream
1 tin sweetened condensed milk

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then gently fold in the tin of condensed milk. Pour mixture into a container, trying not to eat toooo much as you do it, and place in the freezer on a level surface. After an overnight stay in the freezer, it will be done! Pretty easy huh?

To make a fruity ice cream, leave the ice cream to set for 2 or so hours and then fold in the cooled fruit compote. I would also leave the ice cream to set for a few hours before adding other heavy flavours such as chocolate. This prevents all the fruit/chocolate sinking to the bottom of the container.

The sky is really the limit with this ice cream! My neighbour has made several batches, including brandysnap flavour, lemon flavour, Kahlua flavour and a lovely stracciatella (chocolate chip). My mind is busy with ideas for the next batch... I'm thinking gingernut?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leftovers Lentil Salad

I saw a version of this leftovers lentil salad on an episode of River Cottage and have made a few different versions of it lately. The original uses leftover fish, but as I am deathly allergic to fish, my version tends to use leftover roast meat instead. This version is made from the offcuts of a roast wild pork shoulder we had for dinner on Friday night. I plan on using the bones to try my first ever batch of pork stock, to be made into a barley and vegetable soup later in the week.

I love the earthiness of lentils and they are so ridiculously cheap. Combined with the meat offcuts, some fresh veges from the garden, some of my homemade feta, and a tangy dressing, this salad was a delicious meal for a warm Autumn night. This salad would be just as good without the meat, for a vegetarian version of a yummy dinner.

Leftovers Lentil Salad

1 cup dried lentils, cooked until soft but still with a slight crunch (you don't want lentil porridge)
Whatever leftover meat you have, chopped into cubes
Large handful of spinach, roughly chopped
2 carrots, cubed
Handful of parsley, chopped roughly
About 1/2 cup feta, cubed

Dressing (adapted from here)

2-4 anchovy fillets, drained (optional, but they add a delicious saltiness to the dressing)
2 tsp hot English mustard
2 tsp brown sugar
5 Tbsp olive oil
4 tsp cider vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Place dressing ingredients in a mortar and pestle or food processor and blend until combined.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss with dressing. Enjoy!

This makes quite a lot, and would easily serve four hungry adults. Or in my house, two hungry adults with lunch the next day :)

I shared this post on Real Food Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Touch of Cold

I have been feeling not that great over the past few days; most likely I have ended up with my neighbour's head cold. My throat is on fire, my muscles ache and I have more snot than I know what to do with (TMI? Oh well...). In some nice way, the weather has decided to come to the party, presenting a drizzly, grey few days. This has been a wonderful excuse to stay snuggled up on the couch with warm things and catch up on some reading.

Consequently, this is what has been featuring in my household over the past few days...

Freshly squeezed lemon and ginger juice, with manuka honey.

Organic, homemade stock...
...which Paddy lovingly turned into healing broth for me.

Steam baths, for the ol' sinuses.
Copious amounts of tea.
Grren smoothies. This one was banana, blueberry, spinach, organic yoghurt and raw milk, chia, flaxseed and coconut oil.
Fresh juices. This one was apple, beetroot, ginger, lemon and mint.
Hops and lavendar baths.
Orange juice.

Naps with Max.
And of course, hot, hot buns. Because no Easter would be complete without them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Food Matters

I think everyone should take the time to watch this documentary. It is an insightful and informative look into using food and nutrients as medicine, to heal your body naturally; something I have been interested in for the past few years. Watch this documentary, learn, and ask questions.

"Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food". Hippocrates 460 BC.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thrifting Find

Thank you to those lovely people who commented on my earthquake post. Your thoughts and kind words mean a lot to me. I felt it was really important to write down my experiences, and the process of putting it into words, while very emotionally challenging, was also quite cathartic. Mine is only one of hundreds of thousands of stories, and I urge you, when talking to people who experienced the earthquake, to ask them their story and allow them an opportunity to share.

Now, onto something I am very happy with. A timely trip to the local Sallies this week saw me purchasing this beautiful table for the ridiculous sum of $90! I have long dreamed of having a large dining room table, in which to entertain on. We have many dinner parties and our teeny weeny table makes the whole experience rather cosy, to say the least. This grand beast seats at least eight people, and probably ten at a push. Yahoo!! A real upgrade!

New table, complete with washing drying and the half-finished crossword.

The table comes complete with paint marks, scratches, vivid lines and I'm sure a few teethmarks. In my head, it used to belong to a lovely family who raised their children around it; sharing homework, stories and many, many dinners. The children have all left home now and the table needed to go to another family. Enter me! I am yet to have children but I can definitely see in future, them all cosied around this table, working on their homework, making biscuits and painting pictures; their own paint and teethmarks being added to the story.

Here it is last night, being christened with it's first dinner party. Sharing food with friends is one of my favourite things to do. Last night I made tomato and spinach barley risotto and crusty spelt and seed garlic bread. My friends brought the salad and dessert. A perfect way to start this table's journey with my family.

Oh, and just for smiles, here's Max, being cute as ever...

His favourite sleeping spot on the couch.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earthquake: Two Months On...

It's two months today since the world as I know it changed forever, and I think it is time I shared my own experiences of that day.

On February 22nd, 2011 at 12.51pm, the ground beneath the feet of Canterbury shook. It shook so violently that it tumbled buildings, crushed cars, rolled boulders down hills and shattered lives. It also shattered the security and peace of the life I viewed as pretty much perfect, prior to that minute. I had finally, after six years of study, begun my first, real job; I owned a home with my partner of six years, the love of my life; I had an amazing group of friends who I am grateful for every single day. Life really was good. The earthquake took that away from me, and hundreds of thousands of others. It took from my city fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and partners. It took from us the happy, peaceful life that once was. I can't even tell you the final death toll, as I stopped following the media a few days after the event. Why would I need to watch it on the news? I was living it.

Everyone has an earthquake story, and here is mine:

I got up that morning, like every other morning, still buzzing from a fantastic weekend with my friends. We had been out for an incredible dinner to celebrate mine and one of my friends' new jobs. Many laughs were had, like every night out with my friends and plans were made for the following weekend. I went off to work in Ashburton, an hours drive from Christchurch city. The morning went by as usual. I had a client booked for 1pm, who arrived early. I hadn't met this client or her mother before, so we sat down to have a chat. Not long after, an earthquake started. Now, this is nothing unusual for me, as earthquakes happen in Christchurch all the time. They don't normally bother me and after waiting for a second to evaluate the severity of it, I am usually back to what I was doing before it is even over. This one was evaluated differently. The mother of my client grabbed her and we moved into a doorway. The quake was long, much longer than they normally are, and very swaying. It was like being on a boat on slightly rough sea. It startled me a wee bit, but I never thought about the fact that I was 85kms away from my home, and the effect it may have had there. We went back to the session, feeling a few aftershocks here and there. The session finished up, about 45 minutes later, and I farewelled my client and her mother. Checking my cell phone, I had several texts: one from Paddy, asking it I felt that, and one each from my parents, seeing if I was okay. That was fairly standard, as texts are often exchanged after large ish aftershocks, just to see how every one is doing. I tried to ring Paddy but the lines were down, and a small part of me started to worry. I tried again and again, getting more panicked every time, until I finally go through to him. We had a very short conversation checking each other was okay. He told me everyone was fine but the school was being evacuated and he was going to head home. I said I would finish my last appointment, and see him around 5pm. We said our love yous and goodbyes and I hung up. Keep in mind neither of us was anywhere near any source of media, and at this point, had no idea what had happened in the city. I packed up my things and made a phone call to my colleagues in the Ashburton office, to check they were okay. Everything was fine there but the lady I spoke to said she thought I should go home. I was planning on finishing out my day, but after that, I began to feel uneasy. I rung to cancel my appointment and tried to get back through to Paddy to tell him I was coming home. The phone line was out again. I got in my car and needing petrol, drove to the petrol station. In the few short minutes I was in my car, listening to National radio, I began to get an idea of what had actually happened up in my home town. This was not just another aftershock. The cue at the petrol station was huge and I began to get panicky. Shakily I filled up my car and cued to pay. People were not really talking, they all, like me, were on a mission to get home. I tried to call my mum at the petrol station, I got through to her and started to cry, telling her I was scared and had she spoken to my brothers, one who has special needs and one who works in a restaurant in a large hotel in town. She had heard from one, and said dad had heard from the other. I felt a little bit more at ease, and she reassured me everything was okay and to drive home safely and keep in touch. I got on the road, for what was to be the longest drive of my life.

A trip that usually takes me an hour, took almost three. The traffic was bumper to bumper in both directions from Ashburton to Christchurch, and gridlocked once I hit the outskirts of town. I was glued to the radio the whole time, trying to take in what I was hearing. The CBD was destroyed, buildings had collapsed, buses were crushed, and the worst of all, people had died this time. The miracle of September 4th was just that; a miracle. This was reality. It all got a bit much for me about 45 minutes into my drive. I began to have a panic attack, on a long stretch of bridge. I managed to breath through it until I got over the bridge and then I pulled over and broke down into hysterics. I tried to ring Paddy and my parents and I couldn't get through. I was beside myself, on the side of the highway and I didn't know what to do. Eventually I had no choice but to pull myself together and keep driving. The longer I spent on the side of the road crying, the longer it would be until I was home. Tears blurred my vision, but I kept driving. The radio was telling me the city was destroyed, especially the CBD. I live very close to the CBD, only a few kilometres away, and I was convinced I would have no home left to go to. I knew Paddy was okay over an hour ago, when I had spoken to him, but aftershocks were coming thick and fast and all I could do was hope and pray he was still safe. Eventually I made it into the suburbs. The devastation was unreal. The roads were torn up, there was flooding and liquefaction everywhere, lights were out and there were people everywhere, walking, grim-faced, trying to get home to their own families. I spent a lot of time looking at faces as I sat in my car, stuck in traffic, and I still remember them now. Many were fighting back tears, all looked very somber. No one was really talking. We all knew this was bad.

Waiting in traffic only a few hundred metres from my house for over half an hour was torture. I thought about abandoning my car many times but, I didn't know what I was going home to- the weather was packing in and if my house was gone, my car may be all I had left. I waited and waited, texting Paddy regularly, not knowing if they were getting to him, and not receiving anything back from him. Finally I pulled up the driveway; I was home. Feeling Paddy's arms around me was the biggest relief of my life. He was safe; we were together. I started shaking and couldn't walk properly. He told me the house was pretty much okay, and he would walk me through it, showing me the damage. A friend of ours, who lived in Diamond Harbour but had been at Uni had walked to our house, as he had  no where else to go. He would not be able to get back to his house for at least a few days due to the Lyttelton tunnel being closed and rock falls. I started to cry when I saw Simon, saying to him I was so glad to be home and that he was okay.

Finally being with Paddy in my not-too-damaged home was not the end of this awful day. Now began the mammoth task of contacting all of my friends. As phone lines were down, I sent texts to my closest friends, in particular those who worked in the CBD. Most were fine, some I didn't hear from for ages. Then, I got the terrible news that my friend, whose new job we celebrated only a few days prior, was in the CTV building, which had collapsed. At the time I remember feeling sick to my stomach, but then being able to comfort my friend on the phone, who had rung to tell me the news (calls got through sporadically) that it was going to be fine, they would get him out. We just needed to be patient and send him all of our strength, because he was going to need it to help him get through this. As we still had no power or water, we ended up at my parents for tea and I sat, glued to the News, with the laptop beside me and my cellphone in my hand, hoping and praying for the news that they had rescued him and he was coming home. We went home later as both Paddy and I wanted to sleep in our own bed. The power came back on and we stayed glued to the rolling news coverage, again checking Facebook every few minutes for updates. Still, nothing. I went to bed that day at around 2am, barely slept a wink thanks to the ongoing aftershocks and a racing mind, and was up again at 5am. Instantly, I went to Facebook, knowing that if he had been rescued it would be on there. In my heart of hearts I truly felt they would have pulled him out that night. I expected to spend that next day at the hospital, around his bed, joking but relieved of the happy outcome. But still, nothing. If it was possible, I think the day after the 22nd was even worse. I sat on the couch and did not move for the entire day, watching rolling news coverage of the devastation of my beautiful city. Watching and hoping for the news that didn't come. It was, quite possibly, the worst day of my life.

It was three long weeks until they finally recovered my friend's body. Three torturous weeks of waiting and hoping, because, if you don’t have hope, you have nothing. And so we hoped, we prayed, we spoke to him, wherever he was, telling him he would be okay and we couldn't wait for him to tell his story. When the news finally came that they had found his body, it was the most intense sense of disbelief, sadness and relief, all at the same time. Disbelief that this had actually happened. A building collapsed and killed my friend. Doesn’t this kind of thing only happen in movies? Is this really my reality? Apparently so.

The last few months have been surreal, to say the least. I said before that the world as I knew it is no longer, and walking around Christchurch, it is quite obvious that this is still true. For weeks after the earthquake, the sound of helicopters flying overhead was normal. Army men were on every street corner. No water. No sewerage. Sporadic power cuts. An ongoing feeling of anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I haven't ventured near town yet, I don't want to. The photos floating around on Facebook and in the news are enough to bring me to tears, even now. The thought of seeing the devastation with my own eyes is too much.

Life goes on in Christchurch. Aftershocks hit almost daily, they say we will have 'increased earthquake activity for the next 50 years'. I get up in the morning and go to work, and Paddy does the same; but little things are different. Everyone is exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that a few early nights can't even touch. We have a comprehensive emergency kit in our garage, torches beside our beds, a plan for what to do and where to go if it happens again. And, most importantly, every goodbye counts. Because, as we now know, it may be the last one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


We have a new member of our family, as of a few weeks ago. Allow me to introduce Max, the spoodle. He also responds to MaxiPad, Maximus, Maximum Cuteness, Maximum Hotpants and Oi.

He is naughty and cute and makes us feel happy, all at the same time :) Oh, and he feels like a teddy bear and gives a great spoon (he prefers small spoon). I think they call this puppy love?...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheesemaking At Home

I have rather fancied myself a cheesemaker for quite some time, and I finally took the plunge a few days after the earthquake and bought a cheesemaking kit! It was a bit of an impulse buy, while I was at Bin Inn buying spelt flour for my spelt bread, I spied a vibrant purple box that claimed I could easily make cheese at home. So, I thought, there was no time like the present to give it a go!

My first attempt was a delightfully easy cream cheese. It needed a bit of salt, which I never got around to adding, because it was all consumed rather quickly, but it was still delicious and the perfect consistency! Second up was feta. This took a little bit more time, but only in small parts over a few hours. For example, I needed to scald my milk and then add the rennet and culture and let it sit for an hour. Then, stirring was required, and finally draining the set curds from the whey. All in all, I probably spent around 20 minutes actually actively doing something. The feta turned out amazingly! It's salty and creamy and is much, much better than anything I have tasted from the shops for quite some time. I made it with cow's milk, not the traditional goat's milk, but all in all, I am pretty darn happy with the outcome. My third variety of cheesy goodness was halloumi. This squeaky, salty wonderfulness reminds me of the 'queso' or cheese I ate when I was in Costa Rica. It doesn't melt when heated, but holds it's shape, going soft and ever so slightly chewy in the middle. This also required not too much time on my behalf, but the making was spread over a few hours. The final product was divine! I grilled it and served it up on a salad of noodles, spinach, capsicum, carrot, fresh basil, coriander and mint, with a spicy Thai dressing of olive oil, wine vinegar, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, brown sugar, soy and sesame seeds.

My cheesemaking kit is from Mad Millies (who has a fantastic website, by the way), and if you are thinking of giving cheesemaking a go, I highly recommend this as a starting point! I bought my kit from Bin Inn, but there are other stockists around the country and you can buy everything online if you prefer. I haven't bothered buying the equipment kit; I fashioned a bain marie-type set-up with a small pot inside a larger pot to keep the milk at the right temperature, and, the kit I bought came with it's own feta mold and strainer. The one think I think I will need to purchase is a thermometer; I am borrowing a friend's preserving one at the moment.

So go on, have a try. And let me know how it goes! I would love to hear about anyone elses adventures in cheesemaking!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spelt Bread and Homemade Baked Beans

Ok, I admit it, I'm addicted to River Cottage. If the self-sufficient lifestyle appeals to you at all, I strongly suggest you investigate the British TV series, River Cottage. Based on the lifestyle choices of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a city-dweller turned country, River Cottage is the ultimate escapist TV for a day-dreamer and long-term planner like myself. Lately, with the earthquake being such a present component of my life, and the weather turning more wintery by the day, snuggled up on the couch with a cup of peppermint and lemon balm tea, watching any or all of the River Cottage series' and dreaming of the day when I can own my own self-sufficient paradise, makes the day seem a little brighter.

An episode I watched recently introduced a new grain into my baking repertoire. According to Venerdi, spelt is "an ancient grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Spelt is a relative of wheat that has not undergone centuries of selective breeding. It contains significantly lower levels of gluten, and in a more easily digestible form". It has a mild, nutty taste, not unlike wholemeal flour, and is a pleasure to bake with. After a quick trip to the local Bin Inn, I was pleasantly surprised to find spelt flour stocked, amongst a wide variety of other, more novel flours. Home I trotted to trial my new flour, using a recipe based on spelt rolls made on my beloved River Cottage. I googled 'spelt bread + River Cottage' and discovered the recipe below, which turned out wonderfully. Link here.

The method I am explaining below is my interpretation of the no-knead bread process, which I am adapting for a lot of my bread-making now, when I have the time. I will do a more complete post in future about this, but for more information, see here. This recipe can also be made in the bread maker: add all ingredients and mix on the dough cycle. Once the cycle has finished, shape and bake as below.

For bread in the morning, follow the steps below; for bread in the evening, reverse them (e.g mix in the morning, leave all day and rise and cook in the evening).

Spelt Bread

200 grams spelt flour (I got mine from Bin Inn)
300 grams high grade white flour
10 grams salt
7 grams yeast
300mls water

Place flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. If using yeast granules, sprinkle over the water and leave for a few minutes, or, add instant yeast directly to the bowl. Add the water and mix with your hands, slowing bringing it together to form a ball. Cover in gladwrap and place in the fridge over night. In the morning, remove bowl from fridge and leave to sit for half an hour or so. Then, turn dough out onto a floured surface. It should have risen to almost double it's size over night. Gently knead the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic; then shape into a large ball (or whatever shape you desire). Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for another half an hour or so. Place risen dough on a floured baking tray and make three deep slashes across the top with a sharp knife. This will help the dough to not explode when it bakes. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes or until brown, and hollow when you tap it's bottom. Leave to cool on a rack for a while before slicing.

This bread is delicious with butter, or cheese and chutney, or, try it with these homemade baked beans below and you won't be dissapointed!

Spelt bread, before baking
Homemade Baked Beans

1 cup dried haricot beans
1 kg fresh tomatoes
5 cloves garlic
Handful of fresh herbs (I used thyme, oregano and basil)
Slug of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse beans under running water and place in a bowl or jug. Cover with boiling water and leave to soak for at least an hour or even better, overnight (while your bread rise in the fridge!). Meanwhile, half the tomatoes, smash the garlic cloves (skins can stay on) and lay them out in a large roasting pan. Scatter the herbs over top, season with salt and pepper and finish with a slug of good olive oil. Roast in a low oven (150 degrees Celsius ish) for 1-2 hours or until broken down and caramelised. Leave to cool and then pass mixture through a fine sieve to remove the bits and pieces.

Boil the soaked haricot beans in fresh water for an hour or until soft. Drain and stir in about half of the roasted tomato sauce (or, as much sauce as you like). Warm through and serve on fresh buttered spelt bread with a sprinkle of parsley. Yum!!

This sauce freezes well and makes a fantastic base for soups and pasta sauces.