Oct 30, 2011

Grounded. Ground Beef Burgers.

My wistful post about holidays on Friday could possibly remain in the dream phase for a little while longer because yesterday afternoon, our national carrier got grounded.  It's the news that has stopped the nation days before the race that stops the nation.

News and social media went nuts from around 5pm yesterday after the announcement was made.  The Queen left Perth without telling Mr Joyce and the unions that she was Not Amused.  In hindsight, perhaps this may have hindered rather than helped, Mr Joyce being Irish and all.  Then Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport gave a press conference stating that he was Extremely Disappointed.

The chaos has gone global.  Heads of state in Perth for CHOGM are stranded, as are the extra police who flew in for the meeting.  Passengers all over the world are scrambling to find emergency accommodation and thousands have missed holidays, business meetings, weddings, funerals, reunions and other precious moments.

There is so much spin at the moment and the social media is making all this information and opinion available to the world instantly.  An airline is losing $20 million AUD a week, 3 unions are fighting the airline with demands that some say are fair and others say are not.  There is so much political mileage from this that the leadership issues everyone has been muttering about for the last year may come to a head very soon.  This is the biggest industrial dispute in Australia since the maritime union stand off in the 80s.  There was also Ansett in 2001 and that didn't end well.

Who knows what's going to happen next?  Who knows who is right.  For the moment there's drama, conspiracy theories and emergency hearings left, right and centre.  Was there any strategy behind the timing of the lock down?  I only hope everyone is well caffeinated for the turbulent days and weeks ahead.  I also think we are driving to Melbourne at this stage.  Or else paying desperate prices on Virgin for the hour long flight.

Fortunately, life at SSG Manor has been nowhere as dramatic.

Though the laundry room now smells of Heavenly Flowers because Dew Drops and Fresh Mountain Air (or whatever its correct name is) Ambi Pur cartridges appear to be discontinued.

The laundry now smells as pink as the packaging.

It was burger night at SSG Manor last night.  Mr SSG and I sought inspiration from my back catalogue of Donna Hay magazines and one of Bill Granger's cookbooks, Everyday.

The final recipe was a hybrid of Bill's LA Burger and a recipe from a Donna Hay burger special from 2010.  We used 500g of organic ground beef (yes, it is mince but I'm going with the QANTAS grounded theme today), an egg, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, half a grated onion and seasoning.  We freestyled the seasoning.  Instead of ground fennel (Bill's recipe), Chef Google tells me that cumin or dill (or both?) are good substitutes.  Then we added Worcestershire sauce (Donna's recipe), cracked pepper and some celery salt.

Mr SSG was the burger patty man.  Here he is looking all he-chef with the mince mixture.

On frying the patties, we added some grated cheese to one side.  It was all too complicated to melt cheese on the buns under a grill.  It was just that kind of evening.

Our gourmet ingredient were grilled asparagus and red onion.  We kept the sauces simple - Heinz tomato ketchup and Real Food's mayo.  They were pretty awesome burgers, if we do say so ourselves. Really easy to make and less effort than getting dressed up, driving and finding parking at the local pub.


Before I go, did you know Taronga Zoo has announced the birth of 3 Sumatran tiger cubs?  Their mother's name is Jumilah and their father is Satu.  There's even a competition to name the cubs.  The names you submit for the 3 cubs have to be Indonesian.  In case you were wondering, Mi Goreng has already been submitted.  By someone you know very well.

Oct 29, 2011

The Dress Must Go. I Played I Spy.

It was only last week that my super cheap tie die look khaki beach dress from SES made its first appearance for what I thought was going to be start of summer.

Today, it's on the line and looking more grey than khaki.  Especially against the immaculately manicured lawn of the back garden.

How much more non colour fast green dye does this dress have left to give?  I don't think it's going to stop until the whole dress is off white and all my towels are greige.  It's time to say goodbye to the dress.  It has done more harm than good.  I might need to hit ASOS for a replacement.

It looks like the sun is playing games with us this weekend.

Even driving with the sun roof open isn't going to make the sun shine again when its made its mind up to hide behind the clouds for the rest of the day.

Yesterday, the only grey to be seen was on the pavement.  

I was wearing my favourite pair of shoes from Camper.  I bought them in Melbourne about ... 7 years ago?  And they're still going strong.  They're my lucky shoes.  I bought them on my first trip to Melbourne.  I remember thinking on that trip how much I'd love to live there.  I was staying in a serviced apartment off Lygon Street for a study programme and it felt like a home away from home.  It was a completely different way of living to what I was used to back in Perth.  

Fate had her own plans for me and when I did make the big move from Perth and the big city over east that I was to call my second home turned out to be Sydney.  Where I'm living a suburban life that's just a few notches  more hectic than life in Perth.  You can take the girl out of Perth but you can never take the Perth out of the girl.

The detail on my shoes gave me licence to wear my neon apple green cardigan from Target with two of my favourite Red Phoenix Emporium necklaces - Jade City and Jade Fuchsia.  Those cardigans from Target have really gone the distance for me over autumn and winter - they machine wash like a dream.

The lucky shoes did their thing when I gave in to Friday afternoon fatigue and got a Diet Coke from Maccas.  It's all the ice cubes in soft drinks from Maccas.  That why I always go back for their premix beverages.  Is anyone else a premix fan?

Look what I won when I lifted the I Spy tab on the cup.  A serve of small fries or sliced apple.  The dilemma of what I will choose when it comes time to cash in the coupon.

It wasn't all about me, the little trip to the shopping centre yesterday afternoon. We were having an afternoon tea at work so I had to buy some baking.

That's about it for me.  I'm being even more low key than usual this weekend.  Working and trying not to put anything else on my credit cards because those holidays I talked about yesterday really aren't that far away.

Take care and have a lovely weekend.

Oct 28, 2011

The Next Best Thing to Going on Holiday.

I don't know about you, but I am in dire need of a holiday.  I'm counting down the days until the Yarra Valley (15) and Dubai (36) and the fact that these are both numbers less than 50 fills me with joy.  I've got quite a few days more of work to get through before D-day (including this weekend) so I'm just going to have to make do with holiday memories.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy what I do but other parts of my life have done their worst on my energy levels and general sparkiness.  I never thought I'd ever be in need of a holiday for emotional rather than work related fatigue.

Holidays have meant different things to me over the years. 

My first holiday to the USA and Canada was also the first holiday I had financed completely on my own.  It wasn't just an opportunity to see iconic buildings and cities in the flesh, it was an achievement.  The saving, the planning, the travelling with a group of friends.  It was also in the days before digital cameras became as commonplace as they are now so I don't really have any photos from the trip that I can easily upload.

This teddy bear was something I bought in San Francisco.  It was made for me at a Build A Teddy Bear store.  I have so  many happy memories of that holiday.  We were on a tight budget which somehow made us search harder for things to do which in turn made us see more of the places we visited.

I first skiied in Aspen.  How pretentious does that sound? 

I lived the life of a ski bunny for a week.  Every morning, I'd pad across the heated floor boards of our apartment at the Gant and make a pot of perocalator coffee.  We'd have breakfast before getting into our thermals and ski clothes for a day spent mostly upright on the runs.  Then we're return home to soak in the outdoor pool as snow started to fall in the evening.  How can you  not return from a holiday like that with your equilibrium restored?

Going to Japan was the result of weeks of meticulous planning of an itinerary involvings several train rides between the cities we were going to visit.  I remember listening to Japanese Ear Worm CDs for weeks as I drove to and from work.

I look back at the photos I took on the trip (the first major holiday with my DSLR camera) and still cannot get over how I survived the heat.  Not to mention being able to see so many facets of modern Japan as well as its rich history.  We got by with my rudimentary Japanese, the supreme efficiency of Japanese mass public transport and perhaps most importantly, the unfailing hospitality of the local Japanese who were so kind and helpful wherever we were.

In 2011, holidays have come to represent a chance to escape and recharge.  They have punctuated a year of seemingly endless pain and sadness with brief interludes of carefree laughter.  Being completely in the moment in a place thousands of kilometres away from home brings about the physical change that is sometimes necessary for the mental shift to take place.

Hope and something to look forward to have been just about the only coping mechanisms I have that have worked reliably this year.

Future holidays of 2011?  Bring.  It.  On.   I'm more than ready for you.

Oct 25, 2011

No Sun and Non Iron.

At least I enjoyed summer while it lasted.

I had a chilled mango cheek after dinner last night.  It was the perfect way to cool off after the first really warm day of October.  I barely turned a hair at yoga later that night.  Even though it was a class that involved back bending, head down, over a chair (in a very non burlesque manner).

Today, the only sun I could find was on the side of my 1.59 kg packet of Sunsweet pitted prunes / dried plums from, you guessed it, Costco.  We're back to ugg boot and flannel pyjama weather, it seems.  I packed away all my winter boots and coats over the weekend.  I'm always too early in doing this when the season changes from winter/spring to spring/summer.

The early bird always gets wet feet in the late spring rain.  I only had open toed sandals at my disposal this  morning in the beat the peak hour morning rush.  The early bird also gets cold.  I forgot to bring a cardigan to work.  Rain and grey skies makes the temperature feel colder to me than it actually is.

Dress- Brooks Brothers, bracelet - Hermes.

Today's outfit was based on the premise that it would be a sunny spring day.  Hence the crisp shirt dress and red bracelet.  The dress was another Hawaii find.  From the outlets at Waikele.  If you ever despair at finding well priced, nicely cut work clothes in Australia may I suggest cutting your losses and heading to the Brooks Brothers' outlet?  It's a few doors down from the Ralph Lauren outlet.  I regret not investing more heavily in Brooks Brothers whilst I was there, to be honest.

Non iron would have to be my 2 most favourite words on a shirt dress's care label.  Brooks Brothers are true to their word.  I've washed these shirt dresses, hung them to dry and have only had to 'non iron' them.  Which I define as waving an iron around an item of clothing that's just been washed but because it is an item of work clothing, it sort of has to see the underside of an iron before it can be worn.  I'm not kidding, these dresses really only need the bare minimum of contact with an iron.

My favourite number would have to be the US dress sizes which are mostly single integers and a good few numbers down from your standard Australian/UK size.  Such is my love my US dress size number, after getting out of my work clothes this evening, I had a slice of ricotta cake before dinner.  That's body confidence for you.

That's about all from me.  I'm off to cocoon on the couch for the rest of the evening.  Date Night's on pay and I've some great novels on my Kindle to get through.  I refuse to watch Celebrity Apprentice.  Refuse.

Oct 24, 2011

Half My Breakfast on Bondi. The Other Half at Home.

That's weather irony for you.  I'm sitting cooped up inside on a Monday that is perfect beach weather reflecting on a Sunday where I was actually on the beach but with grey skies above and a cardigan over my beach dress and bathers to guard against the chill in the air.  I didn't even make it into the water it was that grim on the beach.

Yesterday, Mr SSG and I went to Breakfast on Bondi.  It was the first time the event was held as part of Crave, Sydney's month long annual festival of food.  We had perfect driving conditions across the city to get to Bondi when we set out at 5 in the morning.  It was almost like being on the roads in Perth.  It was also the first time I'd ever driven east of the city and to Bondi Beach no less.  Famed for its lack of parking. 

The closer we got to the beach, the more people I saw walking with picnic baskets, rugs and camping chairs.  All with one destination - Bondi for breakfast, music and Bill Granger.

Bondi was an early riser on Sunday.  She must have had an early night the night before as well as a strong coffee at 4 in the morning because she was fully prepared for the breakfast.  Tents for food stalls were set up on the concourse outside Bondi Pavilion. 


There sand tractors were doing their last laps of the beach before the humans took over with their beach running and swimming between the flags.

And chaperones were on the ground, leading breakfast goers to the area between the flags where the breakfast was to be held.

I kept a beady eye out for a place to lay down my picnic rug whilst Mr SSG made a beeline for the beach side baristas. The promotional material for the even took great pains to confirm that yes, baristas would be on hand from the start of the morning's precedings. This is Sydney after all and this is a city that loves its coffee first thing in the morning. No ifs, ands or buts.

Yes, that's right.  Our gourmet breakfast that I had planned weeks in advance for the picnic was 4 bananas and some fruit juice.  With bananas at $6.98 a kilo, I've been making up for the lean months and eating them at every available opportunity.

The media estimate that at least 5000 people attended the event.  Families, locals out for their run or swim, tourists, foodies - it was the kind of event everyone could enjoy. 

The sun managed to shine through the cloud laden skies.  We sort of missed the actual sunrise, sitting on the beach, but it did get noticeably brighter by the minute.  The new day was welcomed by the sound of didgeridoo players who weaved through the crowd on the beach.  Their music added a haunting sound track to the morning. The humming notes reverberated through the air and our bodies.  Conjuring up images of the original identity of Australia's people and giving me hope that their culture never be forgotten as the nation's identity continues to be redefined.

These are some photos of my favourite moments.

A rainbow coloured cooler bag and formal picnic set nestled in the sand.

A hot air balloon peeking out from behind Bondi Pavilion.

That much needed cup of coffee from the baristas on the beach.

At 6am, the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra welcomed the morning with music from Peer Gynt.

I usually start my day with a classical music radio station playing through the house as I get about preparing myself for the day ahead.  I find that classical music brings a kind of clarity to my mind and stirs my soul in a way that the news or commercial radio doesn't.  A live orchestra on the beach intensified that sense of awakening about a hundred fold.

Eventually, our stomachs got the better of us and we left Bondi Beach for home.  Leaving a mini city of white tents, a hot air balloon and beach blankets behind.
I found breakfast closer to home.  The salt air and the sand of the beach always whips my apetite into a frenzy.

I had a spinach and fetta danish from Baker's Delight.

As well as a muffin from Coles.  The muffin was a pleasant suprise.  It was probably the nicest muffin I've eaten in Sydney for quite a while.  It was fresh, it contained plenty of mixed berries and crumble - just like the label said it would.

Oct 23, 2011

Macaron Making - Under the Influence.

There's something about overcast Sunday mornings.

They inspire you to tackle seemingly impossible baking projects.  For some reason, I got it into my head this morning that I was going to make my own macarons from scratch.

I think everyone has a macaron story.  Mine is as follows.  The best macarons I have ever eaten were in Tokyo.  It was August 2010 and we had eaten at Beige the night before for my birthday.  When we were about to leave the restaurant, I was given a box of 3 macarons by the concierge.  I had them for breakfast the next day and the salted caramel macaron was my absolute favourite.

As luck would have it, I was recently sent this Masterchef macaron set by the lovely people at Kitchenware Direct.

It retails for $24.95 through their website.  The set includes 6 nozzles and a reusable piping bag.

Not only that, but the October 2011 issue of Donna Hay magazine featured a 'how to' guide for making macarons.

How could I possibly fail?  In hindsight, I think the glass of sparkling was a little premature.  If I have any words of advice for my fellow macaron novices, it would be this - don't drink and macaron.  You might think that making a perfect macaron is a nice little project to go with Sunday drinks but be warned, it is not as easy as it may appear.

I can't blame my tools though.  I think that the Masterchef kit was good value for money.  The bag and the nozzles were easy to wash and survived my inexperienced hands.  The trick to the bag is that the nozzles go inside the piping bag.  The piping bag need to be hand cut so that the nozzle fits snugly in the opening.  I used the plain wide diameter nozzle to make my macarons today.

To fill the piping bag, I placed the nozzle and bag inside a tall glass before filling with the macaron batter.

There's one more bit of preparation required before you lay hands on ingredients and that is to prepare your baking trays.

As per Donna's guide, I traced 4cm circles onto baking paper as a guide for when I piped the batter onto the baking trays.  Remember to turn the paper pencil side down on the trays.  Macarons also bake at a very low preheated oven temperature of 130C.

The macarons are made from  11/4 cups icing sugar, 1 cup of almond meal, 3 egg whites at room temperature and 1 tablespoon of caster sugar.

The Kitchenaid working hard to peak those imprecisely separated egg whites.

The egg whites are meant to be beaten to stiff peaks with the caster sugar (on high speed).  I regret not using white vinegar to clean my mixing bowl because I think there may have been residual fat on the beater which prevent me from getting those perfect, peaky egg whites.

Undeterred, I added the icing sugar and almond meal to the egg whites and then piped the batter onto my baking trays.  My batter spread rather badly and quite a few rounds lost their perfect proportions as they sat out the 20 minute wait before baking.  After piping, the trays need to be tapped gently and allowed to rest until a skin foams over the top of the batter.  The Masterchef kit worked very well, it was my batter that was at fault.

Once the macarons are baked - crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, they are left to cool completely on their trays.

I made the vanilla buttercream from the same edition of Donna Hay.  I got to scrape my last vanilla pod for this.  The empty pod is going into my caster sugar jar.  Just like the celebrity chefs advise.

Making macarons is an art.  I managed to make 8 vaguely presentable macarons from a recipe that was meant to be enough for 24.  Mine look very rustic indeed in comparison to the perfect specimens from Tokyo.  They did taste delicious though, probably because I'd been slaving over them all morning myself.  I hope to improve with practice and try a salted caramel recipe next time.

Special thanks go to Brad from Kitchenware Direct for providing the macaron set for today's post.


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