Friday, 28 December 2012

It's all in the packaging..

I love wrapping presents. It dates back to my time in retail. Working part-time in a Bridal Registry of a major department store meant that I understood and appreciated the art of wrapping well. Choosing coordinating paper and ribbons, ensuring the tape was invisible, mastering the art of bow tying...

Many stores provide such wonderful wrapping and packaging that it saves you the trouble of doing it yourself. Usually an offer too good to pass up at such a busy time of year.

And now that the Christmas rush is over I have made some half-hearted attempts to clean up the debris. Not surprisingly for a self-confessed hoarder, I've been loathe to throw away some of the gorgeous Christmas wrapping and packaging that adorned some of the sweet gifts from friends and family.

Truth be told, I'd keep all the packaging, wrapping paper and ribbon if I could... however, space restrictions do not permit this extremely environmentally responsible approach.

Here are some pics of a few favourites - and yes, I'm keeping these:

Cute Reindeer and Santa bags my mother-in-law used for the kids. They had glitter noses and coats (and were only $2.50 from Target!)

Gymboree bags harnessing old fashioned style and fun

Gumboots bags shaped like a lunch box and adorned with wonderful pen drawings of reindeers andd trees had to be my favourite by far!

This gorgeous red bag had the special contents wrapped in red tissue with silver wreaths - I will admit to squealing when this came my way!!

Kikki-K who always do a Swedish Christmas with style:

And here's a pic from Kelle Hampton's blog - beautifully wrapped gifts with brown paper, string and lace paper doilies under her tree. Something to try for next year.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Walking in the rain

Heard a story from an interstate friend I caught up with today (we only see each other once a year, and it was a heart-warming visit) about her sister's church in the western suburbs of Sydney. After attending church on Christmas morning this week, there was only stragglers left in the car park when a wet and bedraggled family made their entrance.
Turned out the late-arriving family of two parents and five children had received a church flier in their mail box, advertising a free Christmas lunch. The family had walked literally for miles, in the rain and cold to get to the church. Only problem was the free lunch had been held on the 23rd.
My friend said that of the three remaining families at the church, one had raced home and cut up their Christmas ham, bringing it back for the family. The other two families had raided the church freezer for cakes and meals. They'd then driven the parents and kids back to their home.
I wish I'd known this story when we were tucking in to our ham (which my mother-in-law cooked fantastically) and pulling crackers, and opening our gifts and feasting on gorgeous dishes and desserts. We had so much fun together and did remember to thank God for his many blessings throughout the year and especially at Christmas time.
But it would have been a timely reminder again of just how much we had to be thankful for, if we'd known about that family walking miles to church in the rain.


Friday, 21 December 2012

The Quail Quandary

Every Christmas I cook for a few family and friends functions. Some just contributing a dish, others I host and hence have to enter in to the vortex of menu coordination. I enjoy these challenges, using my own cookbooks, magazines and the net to find the exciting and the exotic. Whatever angst there might be in the preparations is usually justified by the spectacular end result. Usually.
One Christmas I'd painstakingly prepared a sophisticated menu of dishes I'd never tried before. Rule #1: Choosing untried dishes for a major celebration is a BIG risk. One that is hardly ever worth taking. But I broke this rule because, hey, I only had three children under four years at home to otherwise distract myself.

Racing to the shops a day before the big event, sans children in the small time frame I'd managed to arrange, meant I was only slightly frazzled before I'd even begun. Rule #2: Try not to leave all the food shopping until the last minute. The shops are manic then, and so are you. Holding my long list of obscure food items I arrived at the butchers to discuss the main ingredient. What I hoped would be the piece de resistance of my menu: Quail. Rule #3: Avoid Quail.

With my already bulging shopping bags piled on a too thin little ledge in front of the glass counter (why is that ledge so narrow, what is its purpose??) we discussed quail quantities and preparation complexities. Suddenly, my bags were toppling off the edge and crashing to the floor. There was a spectacular shattering noise - as a glass bottle of Japanese rice wine vinegar smashed in to a million pieces, the liquid quickly spreading in a large pungent pool. Did I mention this butcher was in the middle of an extremely busy shopping centre, and that the bags fell into an extremely crowded thoroughfare?

I remember blinking back tears and staring up at the (thankfully nice) butcher, thinking, if he says one harsh word, I'm going to lose it in public, big time.
"Don't worry love," he said instead, perhaps realising he was staring at a donkey on the edge, "These things happen. I'll call the cleaner. Now about that quail.."

Anyway, I finally made my overloaded way home where I later cooked my complicated feast, which everyone enjoyed - except perhaps me who had spent hours trussing quail, making strange side dishes to complement quail and then eating what I deemed to be a rather tasteless and unexciting main meal. Frankly I was too exhausted to pick through the extremely small bird full of bones. The quail and I would definitely have been far happier if he'd been left in the wild, to happily do whatever it is quails do.

My point is, whether you're cooking for one at Christmas, or cooking for ten, don't choose recipes where the ingredients or preparation (or both) will leave you feeling like a wrung out dishcloth by the time you sit down to the meal. Simple fare, tasty, tried and true, is often best.

That said, I found this picture on pinterest of a roast quail with blackberries and balsamic glaze.
It looks divine.
I wonder if I've left it too late to order some quail?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Gingerbread House tradition
We've made gingerbread houses!
They may not be the works-of-art kind, like the one above. Instead they are more like the kind where a pile of lollies was dumped from a great height, and whatdoyouknow? Some of them stuck.

We did have to work around a toddler who ate pieces of wall while the making was in progress - cue bloodcurdling screams from the owner of that house. Then there were the three older kids who could not stop licking the icing from their fingers and ate so many lollies they were ALMOST sick.

The whole thing has taken us a few days because everyone got a bit overwrought in the decorating process (including their mother), so now the gingerbread is slightly soft. Which may explain why it was so easy for Arch to put his hand through the roof of someone's house, just after I took a cute photo of him "admiring" the others' work. (Cue more bloodcurdling screams from the owner of that house). Sigh. Donna Hay would probably not be impressed with our efforts.

However, this was a Christmas tradition that we were determined to carry out. Yes, even if the journey proved traumatic at times..

Look how calm everyone seems...

..and here is the lolly-eating culprit, caught red-handed!

Yes, that is a chocolate smartie in his mouth.
Let's admire his teeth, while he still has some.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Sad times

Hearts are aching everywhere for the parents of Newtown, Connecticut. For those who have lost their children, parents, teachers and friends in such a tragic way. It's difficult to imagine their pain and loss at this time.

I listened to President Obama's address (at the inter-faith service) on the radio this morning - and was deeply moved by it.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in praying that he has the courage and fortitude to persist in pursuing the issue of gun control in the United States -so that no one in a wintery town a week before Christmas has to face this horror ever again.

For God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish
but have life everlasting
John 3:16

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Let it Snow

The kids have started Christmas/Summer holidays confoundedly early this year. At least that's what it feels like. Other years we've gone away to the beach for a week or two, and still been home in time for Christmas. This year however we're all at home with a couple of weeks to kick back and enjoy the long run up to the holiday season.
enjoy being the operative word. Jesse announced he was bored on the first morning. Love nine-year-olds.
Ellie and Mim have been madly scribbling away at cards and pictures for assorted relatives and friends. Paper, glitter pens and metallic markers are spread from one end of the house to the other.
I decided the chaos of the Christmas tree was getting me down and so took every string of tinsel, lights and decoration OFF the tree and started again from scratch. I redid the tree using only white, red and silver ornaments and woolly pom poms. I think it looks lovely.  Mim on the other hand, later asked when I was going to decorate the tree because there was "nothing on it" and it looked "totally boring". Oh well, only have myself to blame that no one in the house is a minimalist..
Speaking of which, we visited a new op shop this week. I'd spotted it on our way back from seeing a dramatic production of The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, recently for Mim's birthday. It proved to be a most valuable trip.
Upon entering the store, we had an ooh ahh moment at the collection of Brambly Hedge plates, about a dozen in all displayed behind the front counter. Having sold (and collected) some of the plates myself in the mid-1990s, I knew I was looking at an impressive array of rare designs. The Mid-Winter plates were produced by Royal Doulton in the 1980s and are  beautiful. They'd priced the grander ones quite highly, but I got this one "The Entertainment" decorated with holly, a plum pudding and an array of friendly mice in front of a hot fire, for just $30.

"Someone must have collected these for years!" I exclaimed to the man at the counter.
"She was a lovely old lady", he agreed. "I asked her was she sure she wanted to part with so many beautiful things, but she said she did."
"Didn't she have anyone to leave them too?" I couldn't help but ask. I realise china and glass isn't wildly popular these days, but surely she had some relative who appreciated her treasures?
"No", he said, looking a little sad. "She said she had no family left."
It was a sobering thought as I stared up at the immaculate collection of beautiful objects. A timely reminder that Christmas can be a lonely time for many. And that as lovely as treasures on earth can be, we're reminded that moth and rust destroy..

Not in any way sure that my girls are going to want any of my earthly treasures when I no longer have need for them, I nevertheless continue to add (modestly I hasten to say) to their number. This 1940s pink transfer ware caught my eye. Yes it has a tiny chip out of the rim, but it was only $3 and too lovely to leave. Imagine it with hot chocolate and a marshmallow or two bobbing on top - so lovely.

You can't quite see it here, but these four wonderfully festive glasses have a gold line around the middle. The design of the heavy base and wide mouth is modern, but the heavy base shot through with bright colour seems to suggest they are older, maybe 1960s? At $2 each they were a steal. And on this silver plated tray ($5) they make any table festive. The kids have all chosen a colour, and we'll enjoy them very much (hopefully without breaking them..)

Despite reasonably warm daytime temperatures, occasional swims in the pool and regular ice cream eating (we tried the new Hobbit Crunch flavour at New Zealand Natural today, it's yum - although personally I can't go past the butterscotch walnut, but maybe that's just me) - LET IT SNOW is being hummed around our house as we continue to tweak the decorating, light the lights and wrap the gifts. And what do you know, that looks like light snow fall appearing on some of our photos, and a snowflake or two. Magic!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Hamper = Heaven

I spent three happy hours last week with a friend trawling a shopping centre for the end of year gifts for our Year 2 teacher. I may not have been the world's most conscientious class parent, but buying the Christmas gifts on behalf of the class was fabulous fun. THIS I could do.

We didn't want to get the anonymous gift voucher, handy though they may be (we'd done that earlier in the year for her birthday). Instead we decided to tailor a hamper of happy and bright items that would show our twenty-something, newly married, gorgeous Year 2 teacher our appreciation for a great year.

Hampers make me happy - all your gift giving efforts are not relying on ONE item. It is the scattergun approach, multiple items have more chance of hitting the mark, of meeting the recipient's taste. While a reasonable amount of $$ is required, I love the challenge of getting the most items and pleasure value for the set amount. So whether you have $40 to spend, or $140, there are endless possibilities for finding a collection of treasures.

Handy advice for buying a teachers hamper gift:
  • Too late for this year, but someone gave me the idea at the start of the school year to give your teacher a (written) spot quiz of their favourite things (colour/author/magazine/food/drink etc). Then when it comes time for gift giving, guess work isn't required.
  • If you know specific things your teacher likes, such as tea or coffee, decorator or current affairs magazines, chocolate or cheese, this will help you theme your hamper. For example, for a mad coffee drinker buy a sumptuous dessert cookbook, travel mug, coffee beans, gourmet sugar, coasters; For tea drinkers buy tea cup and saucer, teapot, gourmet tea, napkins, macaroon recipe book, teaspoons; etc
  • If your theme is more general, it would be hard to go wrong with something like  pampering (hand cream + manicure kit + candle + bath bag): reading (magazine + book or book voucher + night light + book mark), cosy night in (hot chocolate powder + marshmallows + board game + dvd or cd + comfy cushion); summer holiday pack (sunscreen + beach towel + magazine + hat/beach bag); gardening (garden gloves, trowel, magazine, seeds, pots, bug spray, hand cream)
  • If a theme subject doesn't readily come to mind, you could choose a particular colour or food group to focus on. Other ideas are all things organic, fair trade, blingy, crafty..
  • Keep a running tally of how much you're spending - if you blow all your $ on one thing, make sure it is good enough to be the main thing, as it's hard to have a hamper with only one or two items.
  • Wait until you've got all of your items before buying a box/basket for your hamper, just so you get the right sized receptacle. We found a large $4 hat box in The Reject Shop that had glittery polka dots all over it + used cellophane for wrapping.
Our hamper included:
  • Cup, saucer and plate from Myer from a very bright and fun Maxwell & Williams range called Veronique. It goes with all white dinnerware, but marks itself out as something special.
  • Australian Women's Weekly Baking Day cookbook has retro recipes of favourite baking ideas + some great home crafts. A cacophony of colour and pics, we particularly loved the velvet writing on the cover.
  • bright 3xpack of paisley tea towels and Deco mirrored photo frame (both from Bed, Bath & Table)
  • we then added a gorgeous tin of Madame Flavour White with Rose tea, large box of chocolates, and a snazzy bottle of hand cream.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Merry Tales

I love displaying Christmassy books around the house, and reading them to the kids of course. It is instant festive artwork to decorate a spare surface, and provides ready celebratory reading material within an arm's reach.

In Arch's room there's a few favourites like Mr Snow (sort of Christmassy, well wintry..) and Merry Christmas Maisy. It's December 5 and I can safely predict that Mr Snow is going to disappear well before December 10. There's only so many times one can read a typically verbose Mr Men story before wishing Roger Hargreaves a very unmerry end. Anyway, The Fourth Wise Man is a great story, but doesn't explain why baby Jesus and Joseph are missing from Arch's nativity scene. They've been gone for days, I only hope they decide to return before December 25th!

Next, I discovered this great thumping tome, The Selected Illustrated Works of Charles Dickens, including the Christmas Books for $4 in an op shop. Published by the Wordsworth Library Collection it is over 1400 pages long with reproductions of many original engravings and illustrations. We've never tried to read through Dickens' Christmas works before with the kids  - but this year may be a good one to start. Problem is, we'll probably still be ploughing through it mid-2013.

Oh and couldn't resist including the takeaway coffee cup from Muffin Break - love their Christmas designs this year.

Below is a title I just love from the Baby Lit series I posted about recently, Little Master Dickens: A Christmas Carol for any serious budding lover of  Dickens is a colours primer - and as with all of their editions, beautifully produced with stylish pictures to enjoy.

Here's a sneak peak inside:

I may need some of that purple drink soon - the kids have their last day of school today and the l o n g holidays are looming ahead. No, we'll be fine, really.

A long time favourite, I still remember the first time I discovered a silhouette illustrated tale by Jan Pienkowski. It was years ago in the school library. I was about sixteen and gasped at the magical quality of his beautiful work. The Christmas tale is a classic, using the text from the King James, the kids love to read through this book together every year.

and finally, here's one of the little resin nativity scenes I picked up in Koorong for $5 each. Put into the little gift bags and presented to them on December 1, each child has their own set of figures to display and care for.

Rejoice! A child is born..

Thursday, 29 November 2012

cooking, craft and cards

Yesterday I made 48 ginger snowflake, Santa and sleigh biscuits for two class parties, and they looked very appetising. However there was no time to take a photo as we did the decorating (icing in a can + smarties) while eating breakfast and with the general chaos of getting ready for school, photos were the last thing on my mind.

Here's a little selection of some of the Christmas cookery items I am currently amassing in the flurry of party food preparation that is overtaking filling our time.

Decorative Christmas cupcake papers are everywhere, from the supermarket to more upmarket kitchen stores. I'm planning on making lots of chocolate cupcakes and doing a cream cheese frosting with a holly decoration (ala mini puddings) on top. the red and white stripey papers are my favourite, but the cream coloured ones are cute too.

I found these great stripey goodie bags from which are perfect for rocky road and other nibbles we like to make and give as gifts. The gingerbread house is a modest abode, but anything bigger can get out of hand! They only cost $5 each from Ikea (buy your own lollies) and will make a great holiday project for each child.

And here we have a contender for the best/worst (it's a fine line) Christmas Craft of 2012. Last Christmas my award went to the green macaroni wreath one of the kids bought home. It was so awful it was sort of cute, and I found it really hard to throw it out.
Here we have a pomander, or more precisely a pomander that has been sat on while Eleanore waited for me to pick her up from school.
Naturally she was devastated (she wasn't the one who sat on it) as this Christmas craft had taken about 3 days to complete. I tried to make it better by assuring her we could transfer the cloves to an orange at home. Three hours of piercing an orange with a wooden skewer later, I was wishing I'd hoyed the lemon out the car window and taken her to McDonalds for consolation instead.. 

Here's a picture of some great looking pomanders - my efforts don't appear quite as inspiring as yet, I may need more practise..
These beautiful flower sadly won't last until Christmas Day, but they are looking spectacular next to some Christmas cards and little photo books I love displaying on side tables in the lead up to a new round of celebrations.

Every year I make a few Christmas photo cards with pictures of the kids - it gives me and the wider family a great record of how they looked that year. See shutterfly for some fabulous designs and deals.

Stationery card

Colorful Joy Christmas Card
Turn family photos into personalized Christmas cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Food and Fun

I love the way the shops are filling with stands of baking stuff for this time of year. It's like they know people are going to want to bake - and I must say following my stupendous pumpkin pie (for thanksgiving - photo to prove it) and my dismal attempt at cake pops (for Mimi's birthday - photos destroyed), I am now focusing on the multitude of events that require some form of  catering, that are standing between me and Christmas...

While I have some wonderful Christmas cookbooks that I love to peruse and occasionally even use, there are so many school events in the next two weeks that require a plate of party food this year that I have now embraced kiddie culinary delights of the boxed variety.

Do you remember that scene from I Don't Know How She Does It (I've only read the book, not seen the movie, so I assume it made it to the film) where the stressed out Mum, Kate Reddy, is painstakingly re rolling the tops of bought mince pies in flour, so they'll look home made? I would never do that.  I don't have the energy for pretence. Anyway, it's sort of half home made if you have to break an egg into the mix..

Meanwhile, we were excited to take the kids out last weekend and buy a new Christmas tree. Our previous one (fake too) has done fifteen years of good service, but was looking a little tired. Actually it was looking sad, and I pretty much demanded a new one. Wow haven't fake trees improved in fifteen years too! Our new tree has three different styles of fronds all mixed in - it's pretty realistic and is way taller than our old one.

Hilarious to discover that like with the purchase of lounges, what appears to be a small Christmas tree in the shop, can actually prove to be quite massive when you get it home.

Mim attempting to decorate (I usually selectively do a quality cull of kids efforts - thankfully their enthusiasm to decorate wanes quite quickly if you microwave popcorn and place it directly in front of the television).

Mimi hoping against hope the candy canes are edible

Mim declaring that unedible decorations are her absolute unfavourite

All romantic thoughts of a sophisticated colour scheme for decorations have (as usual) gone out the window as we have unpacked the boxes of decorations and entered into a manic rush to see how many we can fit on the tree. Sigh. Martha Stewart never had to deal with this...

Favourite decorations so far:

light up angels from Myer

pudding baubles from Ikea

velvety clip on birds from Bed, Bath & Table

Beaded trees and stars from Lincraft
What are your favourite decorations? I'd love to know..

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Shades of Fall

In the spirit of thanksgiving - traditionally linked to the northern hemisphere FALL season and of all things autumnal - I've been looking around my house for inspirational colours and objects. Okay so we're not in Autumn in Australia - that's okay, trifling things like which side of the world you're on don't have to stop you from decorating...

One of the first things I noticed and liked about our present house, was the intact art deco bathroom. The vibrancy of emerald green wall tiles, edged with sophisticated black, scream 1930s. It made me want to don a flapper dress and swoon against the yellow (yellow? hmm, not so keen on that) bath straight away. In a strage pairing however, the cool elegance of the walls are brought down to earth by a chequerboard tiled floor of  pumpkin inspired tones: flat terracottas and ochres, speckled greys and nutmegs, and a hotchpotch of spicy accents. The "pattern" eludes me, but the colours have grown on me. It doesn't show the dirt and always feels warm and welcoming.

Penguin classics are an obvious PUMPKIN orange highlight to any bookshelf. My brother and sister-in-law are currently selling their home and their penguin classic collection has no doubt impressed many would-be buyers. Don't think they're throwing them in with the house though.

The coffee pot, creamer and sugar bowl pictured above have been a favourite of mine for years. Made by English Ironstone Tableware I love the orangey brown on creamy white african inspired pictures. The edges of the handles are printed with a giraffe pattern. I discovered it in an antiques store in Brisbane years ago, and it always looks great on display.

And speaking of autumnal (love that word - try to use it at least once a day) colours, don't stop at oranges and browns. Reds and yellows are obvious inclusions - and can be wonderfully set off by unexpected pops of pink and white. Peachy colours are very flattering too if we're talking fashion.

Here's some of my fave things, pics from pinterest and beyond:

jaegar princess pea coat; kate spade mug; kitchenaid mixer

and last but not least (because I love photos and collages):

Clockwise from left:; the conran shop,;
goldfinch,; yellow sandals,