Gypsies, Food Planning, French Decor and Finding Your Feet

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Local Libraries are a rich source of recently published books, including Mandy Sayer’s, “Australian Gypsies Their Secret History”, which traces the arrival of the first Gypsies in Australia as convicts on the First Fleet, including James Squire, the brewer, whose company still exists today.

Her meticulous research across Australia reveals the origins of Gypsies and their history in Australia. Interestingly, Sayer’s research highlights their ability to adapt to the host culture while still maintaining their own traditions and mores.

Sayer traveled extensively and records the movements of many families and changes to lifestyle as they leave their nomadic lives and settle. Traditionally, the Gypsies preferred to work for themselves and still prefer to work within their family or social groups.

An easy to read, well researched and informative book.


After reading so many blogs about meal planning written by very well organised and inspirational people, I printed off a grid, made a plan and went shopping. Unfortunately, I forgot we were going to the cinema the very first evening of the plan, so not a great start. Will keep trying.


Also another book from the library, written by Australian Jane Webster, who has written two other books about her family moving seasonally to France where she hosts cooking and shopping events for paying guests. Beautiful photos and inspiring story focusing on the renovation and decoration of their chateau in Normandy.

The cover is gorgeous, but hard to read the title, ditto chapter headings.  The photos accompanying each chapter are very chic, French and beautiful.



Went to the cinema to see Finding Your Feet. Full of humour and human frailty  and some sadness; this is a very entertaining film. Funny with a great cast. Some wonderful photographic shots of London, too.

Today is Dog Biscuit Day! Dogs will be pleased, just like every other day when they’re given a biscuit.

Dog biscuits were developed in the mid-19th century by an American, James Spatt. He’d been visiting Liverpool, in the UK and saw street dogs hungrily  sniffing out and eating dropped ships’ biscuits.

Made in London, his recipe included both meat and vegetables. Useful for training, these little treats now come in a wide range of flavours and sizes and remain very popular.

Louis, our dog, has trained me well. He often stops in front of the cupboard where his biscuits are kept, looks meaningfully at the cupboard door and then at me and back at the door, and yes, often I give him a biscuit.


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Shrove Tuesday, St Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year

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Crepes leading up to Shrove Tuesday.

The word “shrove” derives from shriven, which means being forgiven. Shrove Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is traditionally a period of fasting, or giving up little luxuries, such as chocolate.

Shrove Tuesday dinner treats.

The ingredients symbolise Easter and Springtime (in the Northern Hemisphere)  Eggs represent creation, flour represent the staff of life and milk represents purity.

St Valentine’s Day this year falls on Wednesday, 14th February which is Ash Wednesday. Tricky if you are giving up chocolate for Lent.

There are so many theories about the origin of St Valentine’s Day, more commonly abbreviated to Valentine’s Day now. It has evolved into a celebration of love.

The exchange of cards originated in Victorian times, resulting from the mass production of printed materials.

Victorians were also very interested in floriagraphy, the language of flowers so their choice of flowers  often conveyed hidden meanings

Chinese New Year or Spring Festival begins on February 16th and ends on the second of March.

No firecrackers for us nor red envelopes, but lots of delicious little snacks eaten with the family at our favourite yum cha restaurant.

This is the Year of the Dog. Dogs are honest and loyal and the truest of friends. People born in the Year of the Dog apparently make reliable partners.

Have you celebrated this week?

February 14th is Valentine’s Day and also, in Australia,  Library Lovers’ Day, celebrating how we love libraries and how they have helped shape our national identity. Libraries result in countless hours of entertainment and knowledge through books, CDs, activities, story telling and access to newspapers and other sources of information. You can also download films and documentaries……and it’s all free.

There is one public library for every 15 000 people in Australia. Drop into your local library to find out the events planned this week and enroll if you’re not a member.


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Making, Cooking, Growing

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MAKING heart patterned giftwrap.

I’ve printed some giftwrap to decorate the table next week. We don’t really do anything special on St Valentine’s Day but like to do special  things together during the year.

This paper is so easy to make. You need a cardboard tube, red acrylic paint, a folded sheet of paper towel, a saucer and a sheet of paper to print on. I used  litho paper but most paper would be suitable.

Pour some paint into a saucer after you’ve squeezed/deformed your cardboard roll into a heart shape. ( It’s very easy!)

Dip it into the paint. If it seems too thick just dab it on the paper towel once, then print onto the paper. I printed in a pattern but randomly placing the hearts looks good, too.

MAKING  cucumber agua fresca ( Spanish for “cool water”)  a light, cool, non-alcoholic drink popular in Mexico and America. I had some in a cafe during the week and loved it so looked up the recipe.

Infuse one medium thinly sliced cucumber, a sliced lemon (lots of recipes use lime), 12 mint leaves and one litre of filtered water overnight in a jug in the fridge, stir the next day and enjoy. Different recipes add sugar and some blend all the ingredients to make a thicker, stronger drink.

I felt “as cool as a cucumber” on a hot and humid day!

COOKING ginger cake. This recipe made a very big cake.

The dry ingredients were mixed into the cooled, wet ingredients then cooked. Smelled good cooking!

A very big cake. ( recipe Womans’ Weekly Cookbook)

Topped with ginger icing, then some red grapes scattered with chopped, crystallized ginger. I prefer the ginger flavoured icing more than the lemon one in the recipe.

GROWING baby spinach  which we eat all year round and also coriander to use as micro greens on salads. The coriander will bolt and go to seed in this hot weather if left to grow, but immature leaves scattered on salads taste very good.

This is my 86 year old computer competent mother scrolling through my blog. She has been staying for a few days.

Today is Toothache Day which is really about educating people to avoid toothaches and promote good dental routines. The focus is on good dental hygiene and suggests you have a yearly checkup as well as the usual daily care to prevent toothaches.

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Food Glorious Food

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Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. Reading Gillian’s blog Tales from a Happy House,  I was interested in her goal of cooking two things a month from neglected cookbooks which she participated in as part of the Cookery Calendar Challenge. I’ve got plenty of unused cookbooks too!

Despite a massive sort and clean out of recipe books some time ago I still have lots to choose from, so I just closed my eyes and pulled one out at random. It was Anneka Manning’s “Good Food”. I can’t remember using this cookbook but was quickly attracted to a recipe for Ginger Beef Stir-fry with Shiitake Mushrooms and Noodles.

Ginger Beef Stir-fry without the mushrooms because I’m the only one in the family who eats them. Very nice dinner.

Ate these corn fritters with tomato chutney as an entree before the ginger beef stir fry.

Picked these limes from our tree. They smelled so good. Lime Chutney was the second recipe I made from “Good Food”. We are really enjoying this chutney.

The prepared limes cut into half then quarters and the pith trimmed off.

The limes were soaked for 48 hours with salt then chopped roughly and  mixed with seedless raisins.

Boiled the limes and raisins with brown sugar and vinegar. Let it simmer about 90 minutes and then bottled the chutney when it was cool.

Beautiful sourdough loaf.

Sourdough, mortadella and lime chutney.


In the continuing war against waste I turned these leftovers into a chicken flan. I chopped up the leftovers, added some grated cheese, a little flour and cheese and baked it. We ate it cold with a green salad.

This was lovely cold and used the whole bowl of leftovers. Next time I make it I will line the glass dish with baking paper as the egg mixture stuck despite buttering the dish. I think I’ll sprinkle some grated cheese on top if I make it again. This recipe is from Wendy Gower’s blog, My Abundant Life and can be used with any leftovers. It’s too hot to turn them into soup, my usual solution.

In non-food news this is a wonderful tradesman fixing our stuck drawer. Something was preventing it from opening and all the usual tactics hadn’t worked. Frank pulled out all the drawers under it and was able to get his arm behind the stuck drawer and into the top to flatten the box fouling it. You can just see his fingers. Clever Frank. Now I’ve moved things around so it wont happen again.

Today is Sled Dog Day, honouring the sled dog teams who were the main means of transport in freezing terrains for centuries. Using dogs to pull sleds probably originated in the mountainous areas of Northern Asia.

A team can pull a sled for 40 kilometres (about 25 miles) averaging 32 kms (20 miles) an hour and were vital in polar expeditions and general transport  in freezing terrains such as Alaska.

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How to Make a Living Ivy Topiary Wreath

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Easy to do, great looking and a lovely gift, its time to start growing an ivy topiary wreath if you want to give it as a Mothers’ Day gift or just as a pretty addition to your courtyard or garden. They are attractive and need little care except watering and twisting the growth around the wire frame. Well established wreaths need clipping back about twice a year.

You need:

* four or five ivy cuttings

* vase or jar with water

* potting mix

* pot

* clothes hanger

Select the size ivy depending on the wreath you want to  make. This is a small leaf variety. I have two made with bigger ivy leaves which are much bigger wreaths.

Put four or five cuttings in water until small, thread like roots appear. I leave the vase out of sunlight in the kitchen until the roots appear.

Plant out the ivy and leave it for about six weeks to get established. I only use a fish emulsion on the new plant, but water regularly and keep it in dappled shade.


Now shape a coat hanger and bend the hook to a right angle to secure in the pot. I’ve made the circular frame from wire before but now just use coat hangers. I’ve also secured the base in a cut out circle of polystyrene in the past but now just embed the hanger in the soil.

Transfer the ivy to its final pot or embed the hanger in the existing pot. Gently twist the ivy around the frame. You’ll need to keep doing this every month. Soon you’ll have a pretty Ivy Topiary Wreath.

Today is Australia Day, the day Austalians reflect on what it means to be Australian, to celebrate contemporary Australia and to acknowledge our history. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people from nearly every country in the would have created a dynamic society in an amazingly beautiful country. Today many Australians will enjoy a barbecue with friends and family and then, tonight, the wonderful fireworks all around the country.

Happy Australia Day!

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Making Scones

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This is sultana scone dough almost ready to be cut into scones. I use a small rolling pin to roll out the dough which was my son’s Play Dough rolling pin many years ago and is the perfect size for this job.

I prefer plain scones but these sultana scones were very good… although they look funny!

Scones are thought to have originated in Scotland in the 1500s. They remain an important part of morning and afternoon tea rituals around the world. Scones can be savoury, such as cheese or pumpkin scones, or sweet, like date and sultana. They can be served hot with butter or cold with jam and cream. Generally, they are round but can be square, triangular or diamond shapes.

This recipe is from The Golden Wattle Cookery Book. Printed in 1968 I use it so often. It includes instructions for rendering fat, making baking powder and self raising flour, how to brine and smoke bacon, how to freshen bread and scones and even instructions for making tea ( in a pot) and coffee. Interesting to read and reliable recipes.

Scones and strong tea go together so well! I grew up on a farm and our sheep were shorn during the school holidays. It was my job to carry the wicker basket to the shearing shed with morning tea for the shearers. It had scones and some cut cake or slice, all wrapped in grease proof paper. There was a jar of sugar, a bottle of milk and teaspoons. The billy of tea was carried separately and was strong and aromatic. It smelt wonderful! I don’t drink tea but like the smell so much I have a candle called French Morning Tea.

Hot, delicious sultana scones, just add butter. They were gone very quickly.

Winnie The Pooh

Yesterday was A A (Allan Alexander) Milne’s birthday. He was born in 1882. Best known as the author of many childrens’ books, but particularly Winnie the Pooh, he was a well respected playwright before this book was published. It became hugely successful and over shadowed his previous works.

“It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like ” What about lunch?”

Winnie the Pooh

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What Are Your New Year Resolutions?

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What does New Year mean to you? Here in the Southern Hemisphere it is summer and long school holidays, so many Australians are meeting friends and family, enjoying time with their children, trying to keep cool  and making plans for the New Year.

Lots of people are talking about their New Year resolutions, their goals for the year and even their “word” for the year. My goal for this year is to waste less food, so much the same as last year, but I must try harder.

Changes made last year included a worm farm for scraps and peelings, fridge soup to use up vegetables, turning almost anything leftover into a soufflé or frittata, but plans change or food gets overlooked and things end up being thrown out.

We have a very small garden area. I have tried composting ( hello rats) and a bokashi bin ( hello evil smell) so gave up on both. My research points to meal planning. I’ve printed meal planning sheets before but only stuck to the plan for about a week. More effort required!

I’ll keep reading blogs written by highly organised women, (and so far they have all been women), and I’ll discuss options with the family, write a list, shop, then try hard to stick to the plan. This is my plan! What’s your New Year plan?

Yum cha with friends. So tasty, so relaxing, great company.

Lovely lunch.

When my Mother saw these Hot Cross Buns in the supermarket she said,

” We’ve just celebrated his birth and now we’re crucifying him!”

Did you know January 11th was Morse Code day? One of the most important innovations in communications in the 19th century, it was the basis  of the World’s first high speed communications systems.

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Eating From The Garden

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Several sorts of chillis growing in the garden. Above are Numex Twilight Rainbow. They are so pretty but quite feisty!

Gathering cayenne peppers to make chilli jam.

Our son split the peppers and scraped out the seeds, then put the chillis into the food processor.

Processed to a pulp.

Then cooked with apple cider vinegar, sugar, water and pectin, following Nigella’s Chilli Jam recipe.

Pouring the jam into sterilised jars. Strong chilli aroma!

The finished  chilli jam. Very pretty, very strong.

Our son adds the jam to “pep up” lots of dishes.

Picked spinach which I chopped and steamed for dinner, adding it to baby beans and diced bacon. Stirred in a jar of pasta sauce and poured it over tortellini.

Picked some baby beetroot, then oven roasted them for salad.

The roasted beetroot with roasted kumara (sweet potato), cos lettuce, thin slices of Camembert, sage from my Mother’s garden and traditional oil and vinegar dressing. A delicious salad and worth getting stained fingers preparing the beetroot.

Not edible, but also from the garden, the pink and red Pierre de Ronsard roses are in full bloom.

January  is BRAIN TEASER month, so enjoy a cryptic crossword, play a game of cards, complete the quick crossword in the paper or settle to an online strategy game. I find keeping the rats off the tomatoes sufficiently brain teasing. Let me know what is successful, please.

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Christmas Eating, Making and Gifting.

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The Yule Log made by my sister in law. It was part of the Christmas feast we enjoyed in Beverley, about two hours from Perth. It was a lovely day.

Cheese, cherries and chutney, perfect. My husband buys me a china pot of Stilton every Christmas and it is delicious!


We had ten for Boxing Day Lunch and I made HAPPY NEW YEAR Rosemary Laurels.

To make

1. Make a circle from a piece of rosemary and glue the overlapping ends. Secure with a peg until it dries.

2. Print off and cut out your message. I glued a scrap sheet of A4 paper to the back to make it stronger, then cut.

3. Put a dab of glue on each end of the message, press onto laurel.

4. When the glue is dry ( I left it  overnight ) add a piece of ribbon.

These laurels looked pretty and smelt great.


A Gingerbread House Gift. Such a lovely surprise from special friends. Thankyou!


We all like books for Christmas! My mother has gone home, we are living off leftovers, things have been put away and now we have settled to some reading.

This enormous pile belongs to my husband. He is very pleased with it . He haunts second hand book sites online for titles he wants after he’s seen them in the bibliography of other books.

Books about painting Australian flora and fauna, Paris and cooking…..must be my pile.

Louis found Monkey in his stocking and is very pleased with him. Determined to get to the squeak he has already chewed his side seam.


We’ve just had Fruit Cake Day. Very convenient straight after Christmas when so many of us make Christmas Cake. Yesterday was Card Playing Day which is also handy when so many of us  are on holidays. So, cut the cake and deal the cards and enjoy it all today.

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Making Our Gingerbread House

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To begin making the gingerbread dough, I melted the butter and mixed it with sugar and golden syrup. Looks unattractive, smelt wonderful.

The dough coming together.  The recipe is Mary Berry’s from a BBC TV site and includes the templates to make the house.

Ginger was first cultivated in China and was used as medicine. It arrived in Europe via the Silk Road, and the biscuits became so popular in England, it became the staple of Medieval Fairs, spreading to Holland, France and Germany.

Queen Elizabeth Ist had her gingerbread biscuits cut and decorated to represent certain characters in her court, a fashion which quickly became widespread.

Gingerbread Houses originated in Germany during the 16th century and became very popular when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, where the main characters stumble upon a house deep in the forest, decorated entirely in sweets.

To make the house pieces, I divided the dough into five balls and began rolling, before placing the templates on the dough and cutting them out.

The house pieces ready to put in the oven.

Used the leftover dough to make biscuits. They were very popular with the family and visitors.

Made royal icing and began constructing the house, using jars to support pieces until the icing dried.

The decoration was a joint effort and took two days, leaving the icing to dry before doing the next stage.  Aesthetics took second place to fun in this project.

The house is wrapped in cellophane and is on display. We’ll declare it open for eating on Christmas Eve.

As we head towards Christmas Day, commemorating the birth of Jesus, many of us in Australia observe festive traditions, such as singing carols  and lighting candles, visiting family and friends, decorating our houses, cooking special food, wrapping and exchanging gifts and attending church services.


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