Jun 29, 2012

Hello, Seven Day Weekend!!!!! Travel Memoirs With A Difference.

After a week of putting mind over matter, I've finally limped across the finishing line.  It's now Friday evening and a whole week off beckons.  I'm still calling it a seven day weekend though because even from here, it doesn't feel like it's going to be long enough.

The irony of starting annual leave on Workaholic's Day is one that I will safely enjoy from the comfort of my sofa.
The crazy thing is that despite all my moaning and dying swan posturing over the last few days, I was actually a bit wistful when I recorded my 'absence message' for voicemail and flicked on my 'out of office' message.  Work's always not as bad as you think it is when you're winding things down for a break.

Image from www.stylingyou.com.au
I finally caught up with Offspring last night.  I don't know what upset me more - that there are only two episodes left to the season or Nina and Patrick's 'goodbye' over cups of lemonade.  It is true, sometimes, isn't it?  That sometimes two people are so right for each other yet they seem to 'bring out the worst' in each other when they're together but are completely devastated when apart.  I have a feeling though, that Nina's unexpected news may see her and Patrick crossing paths again.  In true Offspring fashion, though, I just can't think how it will all pan out.

It hasn't all been about Offspring plot developments at SSG HQ (aka the sofa at SSG Manor with both the arctic fox throw and blue triangle pillow on top of it).  I've read both of Mike McIntyre's travel memoirs from cover to cover and had a think about life as I did so.  McIntyre is an established journalist who has worked as a travel reporter for the LA Times and has also contributed to a number of other American publications.  The 'easy reading' style of his work belies the power of the images and thoughts he shares about two life changing trips he took.


'The Kindness of Strangers' is Mike's memoir of travelling across the US with only his back pack, pair of legs and street smarts.  The only rule is that he can neither pay for anything or accept cash from the people he meets.  Mike meets a wide cross section of American society and to me, part of the fascination of this novel was realising how different parts of the US are compared to the cities I have already visited.  That places like New York City, San Francisco and Hawaii whose cultural diversity made me feel quite at home may not be representative of how many American cities are.

As Mike travels across the cultural and physical landscape of his country, he finds friends and generosity in the most unexpected places.  The gifts he receives are not just items that physically sustain him through the journey but he is told stories and experiences acts of humanity that help affirm his faith in his fellow Americans.

Mike's second memoir, 'The Wander Year' is the novel form of a series of newspaper columns he wrote about a year long trip he took with his now wife Andrea.  The premise of this journey was simple.  To take a year away from the routine of everyday life and backpack around the world.  Thankfully, money was allowed!

The novel is divided into brief essays about each city that Mike visited with Andrea.  It's the ultimate arm chair traveller's read.  Mike's perspective as a forty something backpacker provides an original take on what many would consider a gap year rite of passage.  Along the way, some of Mike's preconceptions are challenged in a good way and at other times, his gut instinct about the people he meets proves to be sadly on the mark.  It would take away from your own enjoyment of the novel if I were to describe specific countries here but just know that passages from 'The Wander Year' will probably come to mind when you visit the cities Mike writes about with such warmth and humour.

I'm feeling completely relaxed already.  There's a lot to be said for starting a break with a bit of arm chair travel and good television.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone and let's see if I can be a bit better about blogging now that I've got a bit of time on my hands!

Jun 28, 2012

Stockholm In September. Free Form Lasgana.

Hej dear readers!

It's the middle of winter, I'm getting cabin fever (on top of everything else) and there's only one thing to do to lift my spirits - make plans for a getaway!

You know how there was Dubai in December?  Well...
Image courtesy of http://www.blog.dhr.com/

The bump and I are heading to Stockholm in September.  I'm nowhere near believing that it will every happen, but apparently, it happens to everyone.  I will wake up one day and feel like myself again.  Sometime in the next few weeks is what I'm told.  So actually going on this holiday will not be as impossible as it sounds from where I am right now.  From a pregnancy point of view, September is probably the best time for me to fly.

Image courtesy of aff.bstatic.com
I've fully embraced my glittering future (how I took it all for granted when I could reliably feel like my usual self day in and day out) and booked a room with a view at The Radisson Blu Strand Hotel.  It doesn't have a gym but it does have easy access to Djurgarden (The Royal Game Park) where I can go for walks and take in large lungfuls of Swedish air.


Needless to say, a trip to Ikea headquarters will have to be on my list of places to visit.  If you've been to Stockholm, I'd love to hear about some of your favourite places.

When my head hasn't been in the clouds dreaming of the holiday, it's been hard at work in the kitchen challenging preconceived notions of what a lasgana should look like.  Which is a long way of saying that I made Julie Goodwin's Free Form Mushroom Lasgana for dinner the other night.

The recipe was from the July 2012 issue of The AWW.  I was reading New Idea simultaneously and I wish they'd leave the Duchess of Cambridge alone and stop speculating about what her abdomen may or may not be carrying every time she steps out in public.  I'm sure she and the Duke will be more than happy to share the good news about a baby (or food baby) when the time is right.  It's such a private issue for most people and whoever you are, it really is your right and yours alone to decide how much you want to share about it, and with whom.

The lasagne was really easy actually.  I sauteed 800g of sliced mushrooms in some oil and melted butter before adding a couple of tablespoons of flour, chicken stock and tomato paste to form the sauce.

The tricky bit was cooking the individual lasagna sheets (pre bought, of course, at Coles).  To keep the separated, I draped the cooked sheets over the edge of a bowl.

I got a bit impatient after cooking enough lasagna sheets to serve everyone for dinner and chopped up the rest of and cooked it like pasta.  I mixed the left over mushrooms in with these extra bits of lasagna sheet to make a few meals to freeze for later.

The lasagna was a big hit.  Even though I only had finely grated parmesan to garnish and not the artistic flakes the recipe suggested.  For a sauce that was 80% mushroom and meat free, it was very robust and filling.

After such a virtuous dinner, we had fruit tarts for dessert.

Freedom is so close I can almost taste it.  Tomorrow is my last day at work before 7 whole days off.  My agenda for the week is to wake up, listen to my body and just do what it tells me to do.  I can't wait.

In the meantime, soldier on, everyone.  Friday is nearly here.

Jun 25, 2012

Couch Potato Days. Veggie Straws.

If I were to be very honest with myself, pay television is one of those things that I could do without most of the time.  I usually have so many other things I want or have to do that at best, the television only gets turned on for some background chatter when I'm on my own in the house.

However, winter well and truly caught up with me over the weekend.  The flu from last week migrated to my stomach and left me the worse for wear.  For the entire weekend.  Through all that glorious sun.  

I didn't think it was humanly possible for me to spend an entire weekend on the sofa, but I did.  Propped up by pillows and swaddled in a collection of throws and blankets.  It's now Monday and I've progressed enough to sit at my laptop for a few hours but I think that's going to be my limit today.  Besides an appointment with my GP after lunch.

The thing is, Foxtel came to be my dearest friend over the weekend.  I just didn't have the energy to concentrate on reading anything for too long and even surfing the internet required too many brain cells.  All I needed was some mindless entertainment that I could passively absorb whilst I was horizontal on the sofa.

I started off well.  I got through all my back episodes of the current season of The Good Wife.  Then I had a few soothing hours of cookery on the Lifestyle Channel - food safaris through exotic cuisines, three course dinners whipped up in half an hour and mind boggling creations made entirely of chocolate.

Then morning tea time rolled around and with it, a craving for junk food and junk television.

Who am I trying to kid with these Garden Veggie Straws from Costco?

The fine print - there's potato, tomato AND spinach in each addictive straw!
I know I should have been eating fresh tomatoes, spinach and potatoes but somehow, in my moment of need, the appeal of their sea salt dusted straw incarnations proved too much to resist.

So I sat down with a bowl of straws and changed the channel on Foxtel to E!, the channel you need when you're stuffing your mouth with chips.  About the Veggie Straws, if you're in the market for an 'airy textured' potato/tomato/spinach kind of chip, these would be your go too snack.  They are insanely addictive (especially when trying to keep your brain cells alive whilst watching Kim in New York City from a few months' back when she was married to Kris) and aren't too salty or oily.  For best results, I recommend having a bottle of vitamin water on hand.  Coke or Pepsi would just be undoing all the good work with the vegetables you're eating by the handful.

Five minutes later, my bowl was empty and the sisters K had moved on to nude yoga and organic colonics.  It was time for me to move on channel wise as well.

Luckily, Giuliana and Bill were on!  The Rancics would have to be my favourite reality television couple.  They're good fun, down to earth at times, over the top at others but always genuine. I also have a soft spot for G's collection of Missoni.  The new season of Giuliana and Bill starts this week in Australia and it will be bittersweet television because the season will begin in the aftermath of Giuliana's breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Knowing that she's come through it in real life as well as now awaiting the birth of their son through a gestational surrogate will make those first few episodes less painful to watch.

Buoyed by watching more positive reality television, I gave the Veggie Straws a break and snacked on these delicious strawberries.

Before settling back on the sofa for a bit of 'You're Cut Off'.


Which is basically 'Big Brother' involving a cast of 9 self confessed 'Princesses' who find themselves cut off from their parents (or ATM machines as one father observed) and forced to live with each other in 'lower middle class', shared housing.  The ladies and their antics are made for reality television and it will be interesting to see if their attitudes change over the 8 weeks of the intervention.

Much happier viewing is 'Brides of Beverley Hills'.  It's camp, it's got fairytale moments, it's got tears and perhaps most surpassingly, the 'princesses' who are the brides come across as real women who are all terribly excited and happy to be getting married.  The bridal gown fitting room becomes a glamorous back drop to some touching stories - a bride who has her late sister in her heart as she chooses a gown, the bride whose widowed dad came along to her fittings.  Somehow, the over the top material displays of love in this series don't feel as offensive as they did in 'You're Cut Off' because of the genuine emotions of everyone in this show.

And there you have it, my weekend in reality television.  I think it's time to wean myself off the Foxtel remote and ease myself back into the real world.  I'm hoping this day off will help me get back on my feet for work tomorrow.

Take care and catch up with you soon!

Jun 22, 2012

Friday Night: Thermals and Other Things.

Winter does strange things to the best of us.

Which is why I can totally relate to this 2005 photo of Mischa Barton when she decided to hit the street wearing her thermals as outerwear.  I believe they were made by the brand Primp.  I have to admit that at the time, I was so under the spell of Mischa / Marissa Cooper that I did buy a (presumably) fake Primp top off Ebay which I also wore as outerwear back in the day.  

The point of this random recollection is that thermals are one of the best things about winter.  For mere mortals, they're great under day clothes or ski gear at ski resorts and they make excellent pyjamas in the privacy of your own home or ski chalet.  In fact, I'm wearing a set of my Target thermals as I type this post.  But I'm sparing you the photo because it's really not as pretty or as exciting as Mischa's infamous pap shot.

Moving on to more contemporary celebrities.  I have @MsShoeGal to thank for the following visual which she tweeted earlier this week.

I'm 36 and I still thought that grin was just for me.  Along with 18 other people I know on Facebook.

This week, my ration of McDonalds was a box of cookies.  The hamburger cookies always make me smile.  Sadly, the cookies don't taste the same as they did in 1983.  They're sweeter and don't have that almost burnt crispiness along the edges that I really loved about them.

At the other end of the biscuit spectrum in Sydney is the official (because it was in Australian Gourmet Traveller) word that Laduree is to open at Westfield Sydney this July.  A matter of weeks away!  There doesn't appear to be a specific date confirmed but I'm hoping it will be sometime during my week of early in the month.  Or perhaps it will be around Bastille Day?  I've read from other sources that the macarons will be imported from Switzerland?  Which sounds crazy to me but there you have it.  Stores are also planned for Melbourne and Perth.  I'm also keen on trying the famed hot chocolate that the metrosexually suave Monsieur Macaron swooned about in the AGT article.

To take the 'M' word alliteration just a little further, I've got my very own Mount Metalicus on my sofa at the moment.  The ladies at online ordering did a great job of tracking down two items from B&M stores as the online stocks had run out.  Which is why my order from the first winter sale was a little late in arriving.

Dress - Metalicus, sweater - Soon Maternity, leggings - Supre, necklace - Run For Office, Red Phoenix Emporium.
But we finally found each other and I wore my Visions dress in ruby kiss today.  I love the warmth of the red.  It softened the blow of my make up free face at work today.  I've got the dregs of a head cold at the moment and it was all too much to even try and shield the world from my blotchy face with a slick of tinted moisturiser.

I've heard from a few readers who've been sucked into the all consuming world of Little Things and I apologise for all the hours you've wasted there.  The worst thing about it is what you do when you've solved that last puzzle.  Until the next set of puzzles is released, I've found the current Louis Vuitton catalogue a good substitute.  The location is Mexico and the feel is summer.  The challenge is to find the handbags hidden in the artfully constructed scenes on each page of the catalogue.  There's even a cheat's booklet included.

I'm going to make a start now.

Have a lovely weekend everyone and keep taking those vitamins!  Head colds are tedious because you're never quite sick enough to take the day off work but you're made miserable enough at work to wonder why you even bothered.

And on that cheery note....

Jun 21, 2012

Parking the Car. Semi Synthetic Sandwiches.

You know your day is off to a good start when you can find street parking in Newtown.  Not just any kind of street park but the kind where your meagre parallel parking skills will not be called into action.

Granted it was around 8 this morning but still.  Newtown, people, Newtown!  There may be lots of carbon foot print conscious locals but there are also plenty of out of towners like myself that flood the streets during the day for work, coffee, medical appointments, coffee, medical appointments, coffee, people watching erm ... coffee.  My spirits did sag a little when it out when it came to paying for the parking.  I had to try three different parking meters before I found the one whose credit card slot worked but all in all, the morning was a success.

I made such good time that I had a hot chocolate at Luxe.  One of these days, I'll be strong enough to be able to have breakfast after 6 am and have breakfast here.  One of these days.

Knit jacket - Zara, necklaces - Red Phoenix Emporium, bangles - House of Harlow 1960, tank - Gap, tousers - Gap.

And I wore some Zhanel from the Zara near Oxford Circus, March 2012. 

The trousers are from Gap maternity and they are the best work trousers.  They look exactly like the regular line but have a seamless waistband that's firm and doesn't look too bad even if you do throw caution to the wind and recklessly wear a top that ends at the waist.

Gap's maternity tank tops are also worth looking into.  They are a great length and very comfortable.  They don't ride up at the waist at all.

In hindsight, I was a bit overdressed to go round to the ostetrician's but these days, an outing in an Outing.  I head Baby SSG's ticker again, I don't think I'll ever get sick of or be blase about hearing those soft but strong gushes fill the room.  I also think my tailored jacket wearing days are numbered for this pregnancy because the midwife declared that 'it's definitely up there'.  I'm pretty sure this was in reference to the baby and not my stomach.

Speaking of stomachs and by extension food (do I ever not these days?), I have a new food obession.  Sandwiches made with toast.  None of this toasted sandwich business but cold fillings in toasted bread.

Of course, this runs contrary to what everyone else at work has for lunch so while there are 2 sandwich presses in the kitchen, there isn't a toaster.  So I bought this $8 beauty from KMart at the weekend and have been using it all week.

This was a modelling photo only.  Of course I've been using it in the staff kitchen and not under the smoke detector in my office.

Armed with a loaf of wholemeal bread and some Coon cheddar slices, I began my week of sandwiches.

That cup of instant soup will be the subject of another post.  I'm also obsessed with those fancy new cup a soup sachets.

On Monday I added a rather expensive tomato and some sea salt for a good old cheese and tomato sandwich.
Why is it that canned chicken always reminds me of Jessica Simpson and her tuna versus chicken dilemma?

By the middle of the week, I'd walked past the sandwich display at the cafe too many times and started craving chicken and avocado sandwiches.  Don't judge me but the safest (and quickest) version I could come up with involoved avocado in a tube and canned chicken.  At least I think they're the lowest risk of listeria option but google was a bit vague.

Anyway.  The avacado was actually pretty good.  Straight out of the tube, it actually looks like mashed avacado and not an anaemic wasabi (wasabi, sushi .... don't get me started on how much I miss the pair of you together). 

You know what?  My semi synthetic sandwich was a pretty respectable version of the original with the 'fake' bits tasting like the real thing.

And with that, we're nearly at the end of another week.  I'm a night behind everyone else so will be watching Offspring while dinner cooks itself in the oven.

Stay warm!

Jun 19, 2012

The Voice. Marion's Singapore Noodles. Bouncing Back Like Tigger.

Well, helloooo!!!  If I could make those words Tigger bounce for you, I would.  I'm about 230% the person I was yesterday thanks to some time on the couch holding a pity party for myself before sleeping for what felt like 3 days.
Image courtesy of http://www.smh.com.au/
The price I paid for this dramatic turn around is that I slept through the final of The Voice Australia.  Congratulations, Karise!!  One thing I really enjoyed about the Australian version of The Voice was the fact that none of the finalists were 'pop' artists.  They all have incredible talent in other music genres and their competition singles are doing really well on the iTunes charts.  I hope that their success adds another diamension to the Australian mainstream music industry. 

From The Voice to Masterchef. 

I was recently approached by Magnum PR to see if I was interested in reviewing Marion Grasby's latest addition to her Marion's Kitchen range of meal kits.  Marion was a finalist in the 2010 series and as far as I know, is the only finalist to have a food range available in supermarkets nationwide in addition to her book, 'Marion: Recipes and Stories From A Hungry Cook'.

Marion decided to develop the Singapore Noodles recipe kit based on feedback from fans of her Facebook page.  A quick and tasty version of these noodles proved to be the most popular choice amongst her fans.

The kits are described as having 'all the essentials in one box' and retail for $6.99.  This was the first of Marion's products that I have tried and I was instantly won over by the colourful, friendly and informative packaging.

Each kit is meant to serve 4, but if you're catering to pregnant woman and her husband who has built up a huge apetite from singlehandedly doing the weekend's housework, for the Singapore Noodles, it's closer to 2 full serves plus some leftovers (minus the noodles) for a lunch or light dinner.

The only ingredients not provided in the kit are your choice of meat, an onion, stir fry vegetables and 2 eggs.  Marion offers suggestions for the meats and vegetables she likes using.  I also chose to add the suggested garnishes of fresh coriander and spring onions.

In addition to the comprehensive intructions on the back of the box, each ingredient sachet offers fun, numbered prompts to help you in the heat of the stir frying moment.

I especially enjoyed the curry powder instructions where the heat of the noodles could be altered depending on whether you used one or two powder sachets.  Cute and clever.

It was very easy to follow the instructions and each sachet worked as it should.  The noodles softened after the 10 minute soak in cold water and cutting them into shorter lengths and Marion's instructions suggested really did make the stir frying (and eating) easier.

There was even an exciting (for me) chef moment where the beaten eggs needed to get cooked in the wok whilst the rest of the stir fry was still present.  I just managed to pull it off.

The end result was a light and filling meal.  The taste was different to what I'm used to, with a zingy 'Thai' flavour in addition to the heavier Chinese flavours but I'd definitely give Marion's kit another go if I felt the urge to make Singapore Noodles at home again.  Thanks again to Sophie and Sascha for asking me to sample this kit and also to Marion (@marionskitchen) who kindly replied to my tweet with a request for a return tweet when my review was on the blog.

Cardi - M Missoni, dress - Isabella Oliver, necklaces - Run For Office and Faux Fuchsia Orange by Red Phoenix Emporium.
The bright colours of my Singapore Noodles dinner inspired my outfit for today.  Nothing like a bit of Missoni on a sunny winter's day.  I've made some wise investments this year on the internet and they say that nothing breeds success like success.  Which is how I like to explain the fact that I've placed another order at Isabella Oliver today.  All heavily discounted, I might add.

Well, that's about it from 230% me.  I'm so glad to be feeling sparkier and just in time for this glorious week of sun forecasted for Sydney right now.  I've even taken a punt on the weekend and booked dinner for Saturday night.  That's right, a date night off the couch!

I'm all set for an evening with Australian Gourmet Traveller, a cup of tea and the world of Lara Bingle on the television.  I wonder which of her fashion designer pals she'll drop in on this week?


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