Mar 31, 2018

This Easter.

A certain someone wanted to make doubly sure that none of his Easter chocolate would melt this long weekend.  The Moet is just a distraction.  Let's focus on the strawberries instead...

It's no secret that I love the Easter long weekend.  The only evidence of blatant hyper-commercialisation of Easter is the fact that hot cross buns appear in our supermarkets on New Years Day.  There's none of the pressure of Christmas to both cater all the meals of the break to Donna Hay levels and beyond.  There's none of the relentless build up in the retail industry to find that perfect gift for your nearest and dearest (though I do love the Easter long weekend sales... bargains and four days over which to casually peruse them).  

Instead, Easter is four days plus (if you're me and got Thursday off) to contemplate the religious significance of Easter if you wish but also spend some quality time with family in a city that's noticeably less highly strung than it normally is.

No wonder I wore a grin this wide as I rocketed out of the work car park Wednesday afternoon.  

I'm happy to report that I managed to transport 16 Lindt milk chocolate bunnies to kinder on Thursday afternoon.  In 30 degree heat without any of them melting or getting decapitated along the way.  Not blowing my own horn or anything but in some ways that was just as hard as if I'd delivered 16 perfectly iced cupcakes to school...

My other school mum win of the break has been discovering my hidden talent for making rock pets.  

Elmer's School Glue is the best.  It dries clear and holds both googly eyes and pom poms with the tenacity of slime sticking to every soft furnishing in your lounge room.  It's even guaranteed to keep those eyes (and the gastric contents of your pet rock) firmly where they're meant to be throughout the fidget spinner 'rides' your resident five year old may wish to treat their pet rocks to.

This is Mr and Mrs Rock settling in for the night on a couple of blankies and a matching blue recorder.  I'm on the look out for more rocks to add to the family.  And that rogue bottle of red OPI I thought I still had.  To paint mouths on.

This weekend's feature baking project involved chocolate, surprisingly or not.

As an aside, Lindt's 70% Smooth Blend is amazing.  Both in cakes and on its own.  I just remembered to take a photo of the packet for you before it went into the recycling.

The other key ingredient were those overripe pears I mentioned in a recent post.

Curious?  It was the Chocolate Pear Cake by Kirstin from A Pastry Affair.

Everything was going so well.  Until it came time to unlatch the mixing bowl of batter so that I could pour it into my cake tin.  It was firmly stuck.  So firmly stuck that I needed to WD40 the entire mixing bowl and stand mixer interface before gently tapping on the bowl handle with a tea towel wrapped hammer.  How's that for application of the basic sciences (and WD40)?

I highly recommend Kirstin's suggestion to top the batter and pear slices with grated dark chocolate and raw sugar because while time consuming, it makes your baked cake look like this...

Almost cookbook perfect.

The cake was delicious, densely chocolatey and also very moist thanks to the pear.  The sugar and chocolate crusted topping was brought it all home for me.

The cake was definitely the star of Good Friday lunch.  Competition was intense, though. The chicken and broccoli pasta bake was a huge hit with the children as well while the baked salmon was a hit with the adults.

Aside from the feasting, we've been building Lego with purpose here at SSG Manor 2.0.  I've finally finished the Creator London Bus I bought myself for Christmas. For some reason, Master SSG didn't like the route number Lego gave this bus so he's made his own labels with a more pleasing number on them.  He's also managed to fill the bus with a  pair of Lego bicycles and some favourite Lego people from other sets of ours.

It's been a weekend for exploring with my trusty red backpack as well.  Newly attached to my backpack is one of the Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers I picked up in LA earlier this year.

Coincidentally, this was also the weekend I visited the new Bath and Body Works store in the basement of the QVB.  Very impressed with the stock levels (practically everything available in the US is also available here) and also that the PocketBacs aren't too ridiculously overpriced.  The store itself is true to the feel of the US stores and I'll definitely be back for a shop soon.

Unsurprisingly, a fair bit of long weekend retail therapy has already gone down.  I'll update as and when I receive my various orders but to begin with,,, NARS blush.  How good it is still?  It's been years since I've owned one and I'm deeply regretting our estrangement. I just bought Torrid to replace my current Milani blush. The texture is as amazing as it was back in the day.  It's so easy to build up and buff out (been using my new $5 MINISO brush with good effect).  It lasts all day and the colour is glowy without any frostiness or macroscopic chunks of glitter resting in unfortunate areas of my face.

What have you been up to this Easter?

Mar 29, 2018

Lovin' Life 29/3/2018: Easter Break!!!!!!

The Easter long weekend is so close I can practically taste feel it...

A tray (or should that be a jangle) of jingly, red bowed chocolate bunnies have been purchased ready to be given out after the last bell at school today.

Grocery shopping armed with brunch from the Woolies sausage sizzle.

The Easter feasting shopping has been done.

Good Friday lunch will be at my place this year.  The menu is going to be short and simple.  Less fussing over the food will mean more time to relax into some special family time with a drink or two.

Fruit salad as dessert after that sausage.
The Hot Cross Buns have been purchased.

And eaten.

I don't know what your Easter long weekend breakfasts look like but this is how mine does. On repeat for all four days.  

A new (to me) recipe this year is a ridiculously easy and addictive microwave chocolate fudge created by Bake, Play, Smile.  The original version calls for Baileys but I used Kahlua for my first attempt.  I'll be trying it again with Baileys too.

All you need is a tin of condensed milk, 400g of dark chocolate, 70g butter and a 1/4 cup of Baileys / Kahlua.  The liqueur is added after the other ingredients are melted together.  My tip is is watch is carefully after the first two minutes of melting as I overcooked my first batch.  Stir thoroughly after each burst in the microwave to ensure that the ingredients are evenly cooked.

It makes a very dense and moreish fudge.  When made with dark chocolate of a high cocoa percentage, the fudge sets more firmly but still needs refrigeration for storage.

I'm getting the hang of baked cheesecakes.  This is my latest effort before the pineapple upside down layer went over the top.  I made it for an early Easter lunch at my besties and the leftovers have been serving me well for a sneaky weeknight dessert since then.

This weekend's baking project requires some ripe pears. Hoping they'll keep in the fridge until tomorrow.

The drink are chilling in the fridge as well.  Ice cubes have been made and I've a supply of oranges on hand for that all important sliver of rind to drape across the ice in glasses of Chandon with Orange Bitters.

The Haigh's run has been done.  Except I forgot to get a supply of dark chocolate peppermint frogs for myself.  Christmas and Easter are my favourite times of the year to visit Haigh's.  There's an air of excitement and a sense of giving as customers browse the store for special gifts.  I always think the samples you get at the counter are especially deserved after you've deliberated on the perfect gift for the people on your list.

This year's giant Kinder eggs featured Hello Kitty and I think Star Wars.  We only had Hello Kitty at my local Woolworths.  I was very impressed with how cute the play set was.  The detail and quality are pretty impressive for a $5 egg. Might pop back and get a couple for myself.

Looking forwards, I'm eagerly anticipating lounging in bed over the next few mornings with a mug of tea and the last (!!) of the Chief Inspector Gamache novels I bought for my Kindle.  What will I do when I finish them?  We're going to the Easter Show on Saturday and hopefully our favourite swimming pool on Monday. In between, I'll be doing the housework languidly because I'll have four days over which to do it.  And I'm sure I'll find some time to browse an online sales event or two.

Be well and I'd like to wish you all a safe and happy Easter break.

Mar 27, 2018

Sweater Season. MINISO's Ultrasonic Facial Cleansing Brush.

I don't know for how long my enthusiasm will last but I was so excited to be wearing (by necessity) a knitted sweater over my gym clothes this week.  It was a chilly (by Sydney standards) 14C Tuesday morning.  

Which makes me think that the heat we had over the weekend is possibly on its last legs until spring.

Never mind, I think we will have little reminders like this Paleteria ice cream cart at Myer Sydney to keep us going until the return of the golden weather.

There were so many tempting flavour combinations but finally a plain mango ice cream won the day for Master SSG.

It wouldn't be a leisurely stroll through the city without a stop at MINISO would it?

The large brown teddy was $7.99 and Master SSG's current 'bestie'.  It's wonderfully plush and well 'stuffed'.  Pretty impressive quality for the price.

This is the MINISO take on beauty blender sponges.  It was $4.99, I haven't tried it yet but it does look a bit less angled than my current favourite from Real Techniques.

There's also a range of makeup brushes in store.  Most are $4.99 and there are also some sets available too.  I'm impressed with the make of this particular brush.  It has what feels like a wooden handle and densely packed bristles that are firm but not scratchy.  No fallout of bristles either in the week that I've been using it.  The handle is relatively short but sits comfortably in the hand.

I was most eager to try MINISO's take on the Clarisonic.  This versions cost $29.99 AUD and is labelled as 'Deep Clean Ultrasonic'.  It's battery operated (two AAs)  and comes with a stand and spare brush head. 

There are no instructions in the box but then it's pretty straightforward and intuitive to use for anyone familiar with electric facial cleansing brushes.

I've not tried Clarisonics, can't justify the $200 - $300 price but the MINISO version does feel and look bulkier than the Clarisonics I've seen in stores.  MINISO does sell replacement brush head separately but I didn't look closely at whether they offered different intensities of cleansing.

There's only speed on this model.  It makes a subtle buzzing noise when operated and did get a little warm in my hand towards the end of use.  I found the intensity of the handset speed coupled with the brush hair 'hardness' quite harsh on my skin, it actually felt dry after I'd cleansed.  It's too early to report on whether it's helped clear up problem areas I have on my chin.  Because I use a lot of Alpha H as well, I don't think I'll use this brush more than on alternate days.  It's reasonable value for the price, though.  I'm happy to have started with this brush rather than a more expensive version because I'm not sure yet whether this will be a long term component of my skincare routine.

Are you a Clarisonic fan?  How long did it take for you to see results?  Or have you tried the MINISO version? 

Mar 26, 2018

Life This Week 26/3/2018: Story of My First Name.

Do you have a Starbucks name?  Something that's not your real name because no matter what that is, it's going to get misspelled as attempts are made to hear you say your name repeatedly over the sound of the espresso machine and background chatter of a Starbucks at any given hour of the day.  Bonus points if it's also something that you'll remember when it gets called out a few minutes later and you're stuck in the zone people watching or scrolling on your phone.

The origins of my Starbucks Name can be traced back to November 8 2014 when I wrote this:

If there's one thing that consistently gets lost in translation between the Australian and American accents, it's the way we each say 'e'.  On face value, this might not seem like much of an issue, but matters come to a head very quickly when you're in the line at a Starbucks in North America and the final stumbling block in your placing an order isn't that you want a grande fat free, super skinny decaf piccolo latte with a shot of sugar free hazelnut syrup (I made that up, you didn't think I'd seriously have that as my regular order at Starbucks, did you?  Then again.... ) but rather what to write for your name on the side of your cup?

I have quite a few 'eee's in my first name and when they come after an 'egh-l', you can tell that I was put in the Starbucks line to create disruption to the ordering process.  My name has been spelt 'La' and 'Laa' and it was only a matter of time that I was going to get myself a triple A 'Laaa'.  Which is why my Starbucks name came into being.

If I do say so myself, Lala is the perfect Starbucks name.  Four letter total, two repeated and legible in even the most messy scrawl.  As I'm usually on holiday when ordering at Starbucks, Lala also gives off that perfect vacation vibe.  Lalas embrace holiday hair, a messy bun at the nape of the neck with a pair of sunglasses perched high on their brows in lieu of a headband.  They wear Birkenstocks with everything and they always seem to have two more shopping bags than they can safely carry down the street.

Since then, Lala and I have had many memorable food and beverage ordering moments in the US.  What's more, many of them have occurred at outlets beyond the Starbucks chain.

When I went to Shake Shack in New York.  I'm still just a bit jealous of my host's name, Imani.  

I just like the way Lala got written on this Starbucks order.  Bubbly, a bit sassy and larger than life.

When I was Lala in LA waiting for my Dry Bar appointment.

When I was in New Orleans and getting an Iceburger for dinner one night from MOOYAH.  An Iceburger is basically a regular burger served in a lettuce 'bun' rather than a bread based one.  It was amazing and I am still searching for a place in Sydney that serves something similar.

I wonder what adventures I'll have next with my Starbucks name.


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