Jan 31, 2012

Thinking Frugal for Frugal February.

You know how I don't do Valentine's Day?  Well, what I do seem to do every February is decide to make it a month of frugality and pledge to cut spending more severely than the Euro Zone and the US economies combined.  It's my credit card statement that does it to me.  It never fails to sadden and puzzle me as to just how I managed to run up such a high spend and have nothing nice to show for it.  Endless deductions for work related expenses, insurance, car repairs and so on.  Necessary but oh so uninspiring and unglamorous.

I'll be straight with you and confess that it's not always the most successful of endeavours.  I usually realise this sometime around the second week of the month but this year, I'm going to see if I can make it to the third week of the month with my savings goal achieved.  My goal for this Frugal February is to make just one big ticket purchase for the month and make only one online purchase as well.  I will also leave my credit cards at home with Mr SSG should I be out window shopping.

Just so we all don't feel too deprived this month, I have conveniently placed a few online orders through late January - to give me something to talk about over these lean weeks.  I am hoping, though, that this post will help keep me accountable and on the straight and narrow.

This year's planning for Frugal February started with a bit of spending in order to save.  I had to spend $30 at Coles in order to get that 8 cent per litre saving on petrol coupon.  It turned out to be harder than usual to get to $30 because I already have a house fully stocked with everything thanks to the genius of Costco (which did contribute a significant proportion of said ugly credit card statement).  But I got there.

Thanks to this tube of super glue which I needed for my turn as SSG Manor's home handy person.  I was afraid that I'd not be able to type this to you tonight on account of my fingers being stuck together with the glue but thankfully my little project went off without a hitch.  Don't forget the toothpicks when using super glue!  It really does make spreading the it easier.  Mr SSG knows some pretty cool stuff.

I really had no choice but to get that bottle of Elvive serum after all.  It took my total at Coles to $30.  What can I say?  I'm a child of the 90s and cannot be persuaded to break my hair gloss routine.  Especially when it gives 48 hours of shine, contains Argan oil and is around $11 to boot.

Finally, some preparation that didn't involve spending any money.  I have made a beef curry in the slow cooker to freeze and have on standby when the call of home delivery threatens to derail my frugal plans.

Then, I made a culinary leap of faith and served the curry with quinoa.  I hope the Indian curry purists and Spanish grain crop farmers are not deeply offended by this cross cultural use of a curry and a carbohydrate.

For dessert, we had cherries.  It's been an amazing season for them, hasn't it?  There weren't too many around Christmas where I live so it was a very pleasant surprise to be able to find them this late in this weird summer we're having at the moment.

Wardrobe wise, I've risen to the challenge of shopping my wardrobe and making what I have work for me.  My aptly named Red Phoenix Emporium Run For Office necklace has made it with me to work every day this week.  It is only Tuesday but I think I'll be wearing it for the rest of the week too.

Dress- David Lawrence, necklaces - Red Phoenix Emporium,

Here I was on Monday wearing some serious monochrome print.  It definitely needed that burst of orange too, I reckon.

T- bonds, necklace - Red Phoenix Emporium.
Today the necklace went solo.  I was feeling very monochromatic.

That's about it form me tonight, people.  I'm off to work out further ways to Run For Office tomorrow.

Have a lovely evening and think frugal!

Jan 30, 2012

La Clinica Skin Care Heroes Giveaway

La Clinica have recently launched a new range of serums and treatments and I was lucky enough to receive a care package from Julia and Rita-Marie.  We've also decided that another La Clinica giveaway is in order and are squeezing in this one just before Valentine's Day.  So if you're interested in self gifting this V-Day (the only way to do V-Day, in my book) then read on.

Where off duty skin care super heroes hide in my dresser.

I've been using two of the Hero products for the last couple of weeks now and can say from personal experience that though they may not be dressed in lycra and made of kryptonite, they are definitely now my skin care super heroes.  All Australian, 100% certified organic and reasonably priced for the quality - you can't ask for much more these days.

$37.00 50 ml, all images from this one onward are courtesy of www.laclinica.com

The Rebalancing Vitamin A Boosting Serum is suitable for all skin types and aims to restore radiance and glow.  It is applied after cleansing and followed by your usual moisturiser.  I've been using the serum in the mornings and find that it is easily absorbed without leaving any oiliness behind.  It's a good base if you usually wear make up during the day.

After a week of using the Rebalancing Vitamin A Boosting Serum, I went to work with a nude face.  It was a brave move but I'd also slept in and was running terribly late.  Even under the harsh fluorescent light at work, my skin did look more hydrated than it usually does first thing.   It also felt 'plumper'.  I think I've found myself a 10 minute sleep in right there.
$53.00 30 ml

But the all time miracle worker award would have to go to La Clinica's Vitamin C Ultra Serum.  The goals for this serum are to rejuvenate and clarify and it delivers both in bucket loads.  My skin felt smoother the first night I used it and I do notice a change on the nights I forget to use it.  It doesn't sting like the glycolic acid based skin treatments do and because this is used everyday, the result appears to last longer than a once weekly treatment.  It's also a fair bit cheaper than the treatment skin wipes I use once a week.

Now it's over to you.  Thanks to La Clinica, I have 3 prizes to giveaway. I've linked back to the official website for each so you can have a read and decide which would most suit your needs.

Prize number 1 is a 30 ml Anti Ageing Stem Cell Complex 3 Facial Serum worth $60.00 AUD.

Prize number 2 is a 30 ml Firming Lift Caviar and Pearl Repair Facial Serum worth $100.00 AUD.

$42.00 100 ml

Prize number 3 consists of a 100 ml Rebalancing Vitamin A Facial Mask worth $42.00 AUD and a 50 ml Organic Green Tea Emergency Booster Serum

Here's how to enter, same as always:

  1. Be a follower through Google Friend Connect or via twitter @sydneyshopgirl
  2. Drop me an email at sydneyshopgirl@hotmail.com with your follower / twitter name, a postal address and what you'd like to win - prize 1, 2 or 3.
  3. Entries are open now and close FRIDAY FEBRUARY 10 2012
  4. Entries are open world wide.

Best of luck and thanks again to La Clinica for their generous sponsorship of this giveaway.

Jan 29, 2012

Childhood Dessert. The Good Wife Returns.

Of all the simple pleasures in life, nothing brings more contentment than that favourite dessert of your childhood.  For me, the dessert that takes me to that happy place is vanilla ice cream, canned lychees and a good couple of tablespoons of the syrup from the can.

My childhood consumption of lychees and ice cream was a strictly after dinner, at the dining table experience.  The number of lychees in the can were divided equally among my brothers and I.  My mother also kept a watchful eye on me to make sure I didn't tip all the syrup into my bowl and over my brothers in regard to just how many scoops of ice cream they balanced in their bowls.

At SSG Manor, there are no such rules.  The best time for eating lychees and ice cream is any time in the evening after a particularly harrowing day.  For maximum therapeutic effect, I eat mine from the sofa and recline to watch the television whenever the need takes me.  I do, however, walk my dirty cutlery to the dishwasher at the first available ad break rather than leaving things to get sticky on the coffee table over night.

Can you believe that we're heading into February this week?  Already.  January just seemed to go by with a snap of time's super fast fingers.  The newspaper is getting thicker with the return of its regular supplements and holiday programming seems to be tapering off on the free to air television channels.

The Good Wife has returned to Channel Ten.  I've been a responsible citizen and not downloaded anything off the net or googled for spoilers - but I have been on Ten's website catching up on the double episode I missed last week.  Thanks again, twitter for the heads up.

It all sounds very exciting for Alicia this season though.  Things with her husband may be about to change dramatically and she also finds herself working longer hours with Will.  It may take the whole season (or longer) for the 3 of them to open their lines of communication with each other and to stop messing with each others' minds but rest assured, I'll be there for every wistful camera close up.

In the mean time, there is Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) to keep me entertained.

His ability to simultaneously play mind games with all the rather strong female characters to get his desired outcomes is one of sub plots that fascinates me most.

And the Winner Is....

Congratulations to Miss Kitty-Cat who won the Red Phoenix Emporium 'I'm A Sydney Shop Girl Too' necklace give away.

Miss K, if you could send me an email with your postal details and I will forward this on to Willow and Lotus.

Thank you everyone for your support of the giveaway, RPE and my blog.

Stay tuned for more give away goodness next week.

Jan 28, 2012

Cocooning. Celebrations Are In Order.

You know I'm serious about spending the weekend cocooned from the trials of the outside world when I don't even leave the house to have Saturday breakfast at my favourite cafe up the road.

Coffee this morning was hand scooped from this jar of Moccona.  I pride myself on how I actually used a teaspoon as opposed to pouring straight from the jar.

I applied similarly high standards of kitchen utensil use to our poor loaf of banana bread.  It's one of those great mysteries of the kitchen as to how I can use a bread knife on banana bread and still come up with a triangular shaped slice.  It didn't just look strange and it didn't toast evenly either.  Just as well I slathered it with cream cheese, which helped to even out the width a little.  My food styling this morning didn't stop there.  I drizzled honey over the top of the cream cheese because it makes cream cheese taste like carrot cake frosting.  After breakfast, I had a little lie down while my pancreas recovered.

Staying at home cocooning is one of those double edged swords.  Staying at home per se costs nothing.  There's all this extra time to do the house work and plan a home cooked dinner with whatever's in the kitchen but on the other hand, there's all that extra time in front of the computer at 9 am feeling virtuous that you haven't spent any money all day.

Which brings me to the Gilt Group.  A random tweet got me curious about this Alex and Aexandra's members only online 'sample sale' and before I knew it, I found myself browsing the 'sale of the day' that was made for me - Missoni Accessories.  I will report back when my order arrives in the next couple of weeks.

Nothing like a photo of a bottle of champagne to diffuse the impact of  a reference to those Trying Times of mine.

I didn't break out the Costco Champagne just to celebrate the purchasing of cut price Missoni.  I've officially dodged the operation that was planned for next week.  My blood tests were fine this week and I am now officially a blood test free zone until become a citizen of Planet IVF.  I'm telling you, I'm a completely different person to who I was last week.  A weight has lifted off my shoulders and calmness has returned.  I have a sense of finally being able to move forward and leave the last 3 months of uncertainty behind me.  The way the world is at the moment. you take what you're given in the miracles department and say a little thank you to God while you're at it.

But back to the champagne.  It really does come from France, hence the ability of Costco to label it champagne.  It's not cheap though, $30 a bottle compared to Chandon at $20 and Moet at $49 (both Costco prices).  Mr SSG really likes it.  He reckons it is a champagne with body and reasonable value for its price point.  From my point of view, all I can taste is chocolate and that can only be a good thing.

From champagne to quinoa.  I don't really know how to link the two.  I bought both at Costco?  Anyway, I'm finally getting in on the super grains fad.  On its own, it has this nutty flavour and a very firm texture.  I'm having it as a side dish with a tofu stir fry tonight.

Boiling it is like watching tiny corn kernels sizzling away in oil, waiting to pop.  And that image is about the only vaguely unhealthy thing about quinoa.  The kitchen  smelled fantastic as it cooked.  Very wholesome and organic in an earthy kind of way.  Completely made me forget that I'd had a pre dinner glass of champagne (or two).

I took the advice of my clued up twitter friends and cooked 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups of boiling stock for 12 minutes before letting it rest with the lid on for 15 minutes.

My vegetable and tofu stir fry was based on this Kylie Kwong recipe.

You really need a strongly flavoured dish to go with quinoa but what quinoa doesn't have in taste on its own, it makes up for in texture.

That's it from me tonight.  I'm reliving Christmas by watching a back log of taped Jamie and Nigella programmes.

Jan 26, 2012

Australia Day 2012. Grey Skies and Reflections.

Happy Australia Day!

In my mind's eye, my little corner of Australia will aways be a place of clear blue skies, sparkling water and dazzling sun.  It's pure cliche but aren't so many cliches based on at least a grain of truth?

Even when I find myself cooped up indoors because of the rain and work (more so the work if truth be told), it's hard not to have a little smile when I remember what today is all about.  It's a celebration of Australia and all that this country represents to its diverse citizens.

The reality for many of us in our daily lives is not endless beaches and wide open plains but rather commutes, congestion and crowds.  Australia in 2012 is a land of change.  We face issues common to the rest of the world - the rising cost of living, border protection, our role in world conflicts and the moral dilemma surrounding our television networks and their obsession with increasingly demeaning, manipulative and invasive reality television series.  Okay, perhaps that last point just really gets me but does anyone else feel the same when faced with the ads for reality television programs?

But our reality exists in a pretty spectacular context.  There is a recognition of the problems we face as a  nation and the freedom of speech and thought to work towards solutions.  Our ability to embrace change is crucial to our future and there are signs that this change has already being felt.  This year's list of Australia Day Honours recipients recognised intellectual and cultural endeavour over sporting prowess, challenging the single ideal of 'the Bronzed Aussie' as the symbol of the Australian people.

This year's Australia Day Speech was given by the prominent neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo.  He used the address to speak about what he feels are the big issues facing this country.  Two main themes were explored in his speech - the rise of anger and rage and its consequences on the innocent bystander and the continued presence of racism, subtle or otherwise.  As individuals, we may not have the power or influence to change policy, but we can change our own reaction to anger and racial prejudice.

Jan 25, 2012

I've Hit Bottle! French Onion Soup Roast Turkey.

I've hit the bottle.  The very bottom of a bottle of a hair styling product, to be precise.

It's only taken me about 5 years but by golly I've done it.  I now have a sneaking suspicion that in the 5 years I've been out of the hair gloss loop that this product may now be both discontinued and obsolete.  But  none of this has taken any of the gloss (!!) off my achievement.

To celebrate hitting the bottle and surviving an extra long, extra slow and wet drive home, I popped into Coles and found a replacement.  My good old Elvive is still available.  It's now around $11.  It took all my will power and sense of adventure to not buy it again.  After all, if I'm going to using the same thing for another 5 years, I might as well invest in newer technology.

Seeing as Pantene's Aqualight has been so good to me, I thought I'd give their Clinicare range a try.  I found this Luminising Elixir for chemically stressed and damaged hair for $20.  It's made in Japan which I found pretty interesting and reassuring.  The country that has given me years of good hair (thank you hair straightening and henna conditioning colour) and superior full face makeup removal (thank you Shu Uemura facial cleansing oil) will surely continue to provide through its provision of supermarket hair care.

After half an hour trying to open the tamper proof box, I finally got to the elixir - with a pair of scissors.  It has a pleasant, soft fragrance and is best applied on towel dried hair.  Readers, I went above and beyond tonight.  It's the night before a public holiday (so a technical Friday night) and I actually Parluxed my hair.  I know.  Just so I could tell you whether or not using the elixir lead to 'supremely smooth hair with shine and elasticity even at the tips of (my) hair'.  It's also a bit cool here in Sydney tonight and I didn't want to get a neck chill going to bed with wet hair.

I'm now sitting here patting my hair as I type.  It does feel smooth.  I've just checked for shine using my iPhone as a mirror and shine is indeed present.  Advertising campaigns seem to suggest that elasticity is best tested by tying strands of your hair around your finger in a knot and tugging.  My hair isn't long enough so I can't really comment on any increase in tensile strength of my hair.  What I can say is that my hair hasn't gone all sticky with this product which is encouraging.  I will report back in a couple of weeks with a longer term evaluation.

I have yet to make soup from a packet of Continental French Onion Soup Mix - there are just so many other good things to make from it.
The treasures I find in my freezer never cease to amaze me.  Just this weekend, I unearthed this oven roasted turkey breast left over from Christmas.  After a bit of google chef-ing, I found this unique way of cooking it to prevent it from drying out.  It turns out you can slow cook turkey using one of my favourite ingredients - a sachet of French Onion Soup.

All you need to do is dust your turkey with the soup mix and pop it in the slow cooker.  I placed my turkey on some scrunched up foil to prevent it sticking to the slow cooker.  Just a splash of water over the base also helps make a gravy from any of the meat juices.  I cooked my 1.25 kg boneless breast for 4 hours on high.

It turned out perfectly.   Very moist and with added flavour from the soup mix.  The turkey was served as a roast dinner on Sunday night.

Tonight, though, the leftovers were reworked into a lazy wet weather dinner.  Turkey and cheese melts.  The reason that bottle of Kewpie Mayonnaise is in the photo is that I had this feeling that ketchup and mayo would be prefect with the melts.  It was a vision that just came to me.  I was right.

Talking turkey and hitting the bottle in the same post.  It could only be the night before a public holiday.  Have a lovely Australia Day tomorrow, everyone.  Stay dry and if you're working like me, may it be q*iet for all of us.

Jan 24, 2012

Mi Goreng Is Mr August. Hamptons in the Workplace.

First up tonight, thank you to everyone who's given me great food and shopping ideas for London.  It's only a matter of weeks before I'm meant to be flying out and now that you've given me places to be, I can concentrate on the big issues like whether I'll need wellies and whether I should buy them here before I go.

Compared to the rest of Australia, the weather has been rather cool and pleasant.  We even had rain today and it looks as if it's not going anywhere in a hurry.  Even on Australia Day.  So maybe a pair of mock croc Hunter for Jimmy Choo wellies isn't as insane an idea as it sounds.  The only problem is where to source?  Any tips would be great.  Just leave me a comment.  Thank you.
Image courtesy of rdujour.com

I received my copy of the Taronga Zoo wall calendar with the Sunday paper and I have to say, those Sumatran tiger cubs do not have a bad angle amongst them.

The triplets have the cover and my good friend Mi Goreng is Mr August.

I could pick him in a crowd any day and I've even labelled the cover photo for your reference.

Nothing much exciting's happening in my world at the moment.  Except that I whipped out my Ralph Lauren furls this morning.  The furl bracelet was the inspiration for today's Hamptons in the workplace outfit.  There wasn't actually that much to inspire, all I needed to do was put on the dress and some pearl studs but it's quality not quantity.

I'm going to spend this evening in the 80s.  Young Talent Time is back and the first episode is being repeated on Channel 7 tonight.  Are you liking it?  I must admit, the bit I'm most looking forward to is the final song, All My Lovin' being sung by Millsy.  I have such affection for the song, I was hoping to add a clip of the Johnny Young version from YouTube but spookily, none of them seem to be working at the moment.

Jan 23, 2012

Chinese New Year At SSG Manor.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!  Happy Chinese New Year, everyone.

I hope you've had a wonderful, food and family filled time of it.  It's the year of the dragon and I hope this year brings us all good fortune, happiness and nothing but happiness.

The good last minute Reunion Dinner hostess always remembers to put her can of lychees  (bought on the way home tonight) in the freezer so that they are nicely chilled for dessert.

I'm hosting the Reunion Dinner for the members of our family in Sydney at the moment and it's all completely under control.  Dessert is in the freezer and our mains for tonight are all ready and waiting to be reheated when everyone gets home.

Mr SSG and I received red packets in the post and a telephone call at the weekend from our parents interstate.  So I've nothing to do really, while I sip my glass of CNY bubbly except tell you what else we've been up to this Spring Festival (as CNY is referred to in China).  Starting with dessert, of course.

Mr SSG and I visited Chinta Ria Mood For Love at Westfield Sydney last week.  I'm a big fan of the original Chinta Ria at Circular Quay (which reminds me, I need to go back gain soon) and I was curious to see what Simon Goh had come up with on the 6th floor designer food floor.

Mood For Love is a romantic vision of Malaysia in its colonial days.

Red shuttered windows and distressed brickwork greet you at the restaurant's entrance and it is visually quite a departure from the sleek silver and black marble of the rest of the retail complex.

The red melamine bowls and black lacquered chop sticks took me back to the hawker's stalls of KL.  The glowing lights of JB HiFi being the only reminder that I was in fact in the Sydney CBD.

It's pure romance with a touch of the clandestine eating at Mood For Love.  A copy of the menu appears at the front of the restaurant, stapled to a wall and slightly distressed.  The full menu in the restaurant comes sealed in a large brown paper envelope.

Mr SSG and I were here only for the desserts but I suspect we will return for a full meal very soon.  One of my favourite memories of trips home to Malaysia with my mum are the glorious coconut, pandan and palm sugar flavoured desserts.  The desserts of other South East Asian cultures are a challenge for me but the desserts of Malaysia are my downfall.

We  ordered two desserts to share from the menu entitled, 'Are You In... Sweetheart?'.  See what I mean about Mood For Love being more than just a place to eat?

Pandan sago $8.80
Mr SSG ordered the Pandan sago and it was amazing.  Just enough palm sugar under the coconut milk and soft pandan flavoured sago.  It was light and refreshing and healthy, I'm telling you.

My favourite Malaysian dessert are kueh dar dar, brown sugar flavoured coconut inside pandan flavoured crepes.  An aunty of mine was legendary to a whole generation of hungry primary school aged expats back in Perth.  She was a big fan of visual impact and she liked her crepes to be a green closer to jade than Laduree.  She also liked extra palm sugar (which she magicked into Perth from Malaysia) so her coconut filling was a glossy, deep brown.  The only concession she made to the tamer tastes of Perth was to use desiccated coconut from Coles.

Kueh Rolled Me Green is Mood For Love's sedate almost Bergdorf Blonde version.  Subtle flavours, delicate textures and very moreish.

Kueh dar dar $8.80
The crepes are a delicate Limoges tea cup green and the coconut filling more amber than brown.  They are also served only in pairs and with a light dusting of sifted icing sugar.  My aunty always erred on the side of over feeding and she always served no less than 10 rolls at a time in doily lined takeaway containers, covered with double glad wrap just to make sure.

We made short work of dessert as you can see.

No after dinner stroll in South East Asia is complete without window shopping so Mr SSG gamely accompanied me to the Nespresso store to have a look see at the Shanghai Tang Nespresso machine.  It costs and auspicious $588 and the answer is still N-O from Mr SSG as to whether one could come home with us for the newly decluttered kitchen bench.

Chinta Ria... Mood for Love on Urbanspoon

Back in real time now and it's just about time to serve dinner.

There are a number of traditional foods that people like to have for their reunion dinner at Chinese New Year.  Spring rolls, steam boat, yee sang (the lucky chopstick toss salad with anything luxe you can get your hands on like grape fruit segments or raw salmon) or in my case, Malaysian chicken curry.  I'm not 100% sure if curry is traditional but I cooked mine in a red Le Creuset to up the auspiciousness factor and added extra flavour with tomato paste and a can of crushed tomatoes.  Which now makes it a Franco Italian Malaysian Chinese chicken curry.

The best thing about Malaysian curry is that even the serving instructions tell you that it is best served with either rice or bread.  Buttered white toast has got to be my favourite accompaniment to chicken curry but tonight we're going for jasmine rice.

For all the sceptics, the coconut flavoured evaporated milk worked a treat,  You can't tell from looking that I didn't use coconut milk.
As I'm in charge of the SSG Reunion Dinner (so in charge I named it after myself), I also got to pick the entree which was....

I'll be honest and say that my package of duck pancakes came from Costco but Coles and Woolies stock them too.

Peking Duck!!!!  We're just cutting to the chase actually.  It's all about the duck pancakes for me.  The fiddly san choy bow and noodle dishes that are also traditionally part of Peking Duck service will not be making an appearance at our place tonight due to time and stomach restraints.  I've got my eye on the prize and that prize tonight is canned lychees and vanilla ice cream.

The beauty of this kit is that everything is microwaved.  There are 2 duck drumsticks in the package, not just the pieces of crispy duck skin that are traditionally served at restaurants.  The way ducks are prepared for Peking Duck is a story on its own.  Air has to be pumped between the skin and the meat before cooking in order to get that crispy goodness in the skin.  Standards are somewhat relaxed at SSG Manor.  Two and a half minutes on high in the microwave is as complicated as it gets for the duck I'm serving tonight.

A large sachet of Hoisin sauce came with the duck pancakes which suits me down to the ground.  One of my favourite things on Peking Duck nights is to just have the sauce with a stick of spring onion or cucumber.  So I made extra crudit├ęs for tonight.

So, how does off the supermarket shelf stack up to Chinese barbecue restaurant?

Maximum effect for minimal Monday night effort.

Pretty darn well is my verdict.  The duck actually cooked rather nicely in its microwave safe plastic packaging.  The meat was very tender and though the sauce was richly flavoured, it wasn't overly salty.  The Hoisin was authentic and there was plenty of it for my extra cucumber and spring onion sticks.  There was more than enough duck for the 10 pancakes.

And we're done for another year.  Too much food and lots of family love.  It's what Chinese New Year is all about.  I'd best be off, mum's on the phone for a New Year's chat with all the current residents of SSG Manor.


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