Monday, December 31, 2007

A New Year

On this, the last evening of 2007, I find I'm reflecting on what has happened over the past twelve months.

There's been plenty of good food, new experiences, and good company.

I've decided to take control of my body and what I do to it by joining a gym, beginning to lose weight, learning to make exercise a part of my life, and making better food choices.

There's also been a relationship breakup and the rediscovery of single life, and new friends. I'm working on my discomfort with new people.

I've shaved my head, confronted my fears of heights and crowded spaces (neither are conquered, but it has begun), and settled comfortably into my home.

I've decided what I want from the next twelve months, and I'm putting things in place to achieve these goals.

Have a great evening and 2008 everyone. Sink a drink or two for me during your celebrations, have a happy and safe evening, and catch you all in the new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Season's Greetings Everyone

Hi Everyone,

After getting soaked and freezing this morning at work, I'm now packed and ready to jet off to the sunny skies in Brisbane, then south to Woodenbong, the closest thing I have to a home town.

The countryside around there can be quite lovely, although I think I may be biased. I'll attempt to take some good pics to share with you all when I come back.

Until then have a happy and safe festive season.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eating Out: High Tea at the Windsor

111 Spring Street, Melbourne
P: 03 9633 6000

Afternoon Tea at The Windsor. Sounds posh, doesn't it? I tell you, it feels a bit posh too! This lovely old building has been around since 1883, and it's been well-kept. If you're wanting the afternoon tea be sure to book.

It's the little things that make me smile. The old silver settings, with the "W" engraved lightly in the plate. The nice table cloth. The details on the ceiling and architraves... Mel and I have been saying for months that we want to do this, and a couple of weeks ago Mel made the wise move of saying "right, that's it, we're doing it now!" and booked us in for today.

A glass of bubbles, cups of tea or coffee, and your very own cake stand of goodies is what you get. I won't reiterate the menu for you, exactly - you can look that up. But I will tell you a little about what we ate.

The sandwiches were an interesting mix. I've never had smoked salmon before (heck, until a couple of months ago I'd never had any type of salmon!) so I dived into those sandwich wedges curiously. Hm... not bad. The rare beef ones were bland, but nice, the ham and chutney ones took me back to my childhood, and the egg sandwiches were lovely.

The sweet cakes were, well, interesting. I'm quite done with chocolate now for a while, and the lemon meringue tart was let down only by the pastry (otherwise it was lovely, I could have happily scooped out the lemon and the meringue bits and had a bowlfull of just them).

The scones were a little bit of a disappointment - a bit dry, and not risen very much. Perhaps they didn't add enough "lifter" to the mix, perhaps they over-worked them... but the jam and double-cream was bliss!

I think I'd love to do this once in a while - perhaps once a year or so. It was a lovely afternoon, and watching the rain pouring down through the old windows was pleasant.

When Mel puts up her review I'll be sure to add the link!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cumin and Kumara Scones

Kumara? What the fecking hell is "kumara"?!?! Ooohhhh, I see: sweet potato. Huh. Ok then.

I made these some months ago - I got this recipe off the internet SOMEWHERE, but it was a while ago, and I now can't remember which site I copied it from. When I do remember I'll be sure to give them the kudos. I was a little hesitant about trying this one, as I'm not a fan of cumin at all (hell, I don't even know how to pronounce it, there seems to be several options. I seem to be falling towards "cue-min"). But, while you can definitely SMELL the cumin, the flavour doesn't overpower these little dough-balls at all. Absolutely freakin' dee-lish-us straight from the oven with just a smear of butter (shame I accidentally deleted that picture), and equally nice after a zap in the microwave. Nice and soft, too. Try 'em, I dare ya.

Cumin and Kumara Scones

450g self-raising flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
2tsp icing sugar
2tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup cooked kumara, mashed (works out to about 150g-worth)
50g melted butter
150ml chilled milk
180ml chilled water
extra milk, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200C. Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the kumara, butter, water and milk and mix with a spatula or round-ended knife blade until it forms a sticky dough. With floured hands (VERY important, cos it's VERY sticky), press dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into desired shapes*. Place onto lightly floured oven tray and brush tops with extra milk. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden and cooked**. Serve warm with butter.

* I turned it onto the floured surface, and then gave it a VERY light knead to work in a bit more flour, as I found the dough was still far too sticky.

** It might have been the size of the ones I made, or my oven might be slow, but I ended up leaving them in there for about 20-25 minutes, before they turned a nice colour and cooked through.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

ROADTRIP!!! Daylesford for a Day

Did you know that Daylesford is only about 95km from my front door? Which means that I really do have no excuse for not having visited this gorgeous part of Victoria before now. With a couple of days off work I decided "What the hell, I'll do it" and went up for a day.

On arriving at the town I saw signs pointing to Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens. "Sounds alright" I thought, so off I went. The gardens were small, but lush, and home to this monster of a tower. Tall, and thin, and the stairs were enough to make you dizzy. But I climbed it, and the views were lovely, if somewhat blocked by the old trees (darned trees, who put them there?! hehe).

See that blue thingy waaaaay down there? That'd be the trusty old Pulsar. He performed quite well on the trip, and must have some mountain-goat genes as he handled incredibly well when I took him on gravel tracks (the one at Mt Franklin was mostly bare rock).

From the gardens I found my way to the old Convent (Cnr Daly & Hill Streets, Daylesford. P: 03 5348 3211). This was a truly beautiful place, with so much history. It's now a museum and art gallery, with the most amazing gardens surrounding the buildings, which are a mixture of old and new parts.

Here's part of the front of the building, looking up the hill through the greenery. The first picture of this post is also from the garden. Just beautiful, so calming.

Yet another piece of garden. How great does this look?! I took so many pictures just of the grounds. Also at the convent there is a cafe, Bad Habits, and a restaurant and function room.

Of course, as the cafe offered a devonshire tea I had to partake. The home-made scones were delicious, with thickened cream and sweet strawberry jam. Lovely. Unfortunately it was one of the most expensive I've ever had. Still, it was good, and the atmosphere was lovely.

The gallery and museum at The Convent are interesting, although there is a small entry fee (adults $5, unsure of children/pensioner costs). I spent a pleasant hour and a half wandering around looking at the two floors of artwork. A third floor, much like a small basement room, makes up the museum, with some interesting pieces from the days when the building and grounds were a convent. A little eerie down there, what with the candles and low lighting. But interesting.

From there I decided it was time to check in to my cabin at the Daylesford Victoria Caravan Park (Ballan Road, Daylesford. P: 03 5348 3821). On my way back into town I noticed the sign for Jubilee Lake... you can hire canoes to paddle around the lake, although when I was there the weather was overcast so there were no people, and the canoes were huddled quite forlornly on the shore, waiting for the sun to come out so they'd be wanted again. I can imagine this place would get quite busy in the summer months, kids screaming in the playground, BBQs sizzling, young couples rowing their way around the watery expanse... I must go back for a look on one of those days.

Of course if you go to Daylesford you HAVE to go out to the Chocolate Mill (5451 Midland Highway, Mt Franklin. P: 03 5476 4208). YOU MUST! It was built several years ago by the owners, and it is a bonafide straw-bale house with earth render. What's this mean? 900 straw bales were used to build it, and inside it's cool and funky (and I mean cool as in both temperature and appeal). The smell hits you right between the eyes. Yup, that's right, it goes right up your nose. All chocolates are made fresh on the premises. Caramel and ganache chocolates are made using fresh cream and butter, so you have to eat them within a week or so. Yeah right, like anything you buy here will last THAT long. BTW, I'll never enjoy Cadbury chocolate again. Or basically any other mass-produced chocolate, for that matter. Free talks are given at 11am and 2pm daily. The walls also have some background information on the chocolate, and how the Mill came to be.

Naturally I had to buy me something. I got two boxes of christmas chocolates (plain belgium chocolates), a bag of their 70% dark chocolate, a bag of their fruit and nut clusters, and a sample box that contained chilli mama ganache, caramel cups, cocoabana truffle, port truffles, and peanut butter cups. Possibly something else too, but I can't remember. Ooohhh so good. There's also a cafe out there that offers limited goodies - tea, coffee, hot chocolate, spiders, some soft drinks, ice cream...

With my chocolates safely stowed in my cooler bag I made my way to The Mill Markets back in town (105 Central Springs Road, Daylesford. P: 03 5348 4332). I'm not sure what I was expecting, but certainly nothing this big. It took me about 45 minutes to work my way through the first room, and I thought I was making good time... then I passed through an unassuming walkway and found this... a massive shed-like warehouse of goodies. Some antiques, some genuine collectables, and some junk - just the type of stuff I like wandering through!

There were some other places I checked out, but I was a little pushed for time. I think I need to go back and spend a few days exploring Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. I want to have a better look at The Blowhole, and actually check out the springs in the area. Perhaps when I'm not on quite so tight a budget! Unfortunately I spent a day there, and then the next day had to mosey on up to Bendigo and across to Shepparton before heading home.

All up the trip was around 600km including all the to-ing and fro-ing between attractions. Easy driving. Had a fantastic time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Baking: Banana Date Loaf

My fondness for the website is no secret: it's one of my first ports of call when I have an ingredient and want some ideas for what to do with it. So with a couple of nicely-ripe-and-squishy bananas just begging to be used, where else would I go?

I won't type up the recipe, you can find it here. You'll notice my chunks of date fell to the bottom - I think my mix was a bit too moist. But if you're looking for a REALLY easy, quite yummy cake, give this one a try.

Gym: Update!

Hi All,

Well, I had another fitness assessment tonight.

Results since beginning:

Weight lost: 5kg (nearly 6kg)
Blood Pressure: greatly lowered
Resting HR: wow... now down to 65bpm. Back in August it was still 75bpm. When I started it was even higher
Biceps: 3cm lost
Waist: 27cm lost
Legs: 3cm lost
Calves: 2cm lost
Waist/Hips Ratio: now 0.75 (last assessment 0.78) No idea what that was to start with.

So there you go. Results could be achieved quicker, the reason they're not is my own fault. But hey, kilo's keep going, and centimetres keep disappearing, so I'm happy enough. If I really ramped up my gym sessions and radically changed my diet things would happen quicker, but for me that wouldn't be sustainable. So I figure I'm getting the results just changing things slowly, so that's good enough for now. Here's hoping my trip home to mum's at Christmas won't undo all this good work: she feeds everyone like a stockman!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hehe, I'm Silly

Hehe, I'm such a silly doofus at times... the Principal Advisor's EA in National Office offers regular "Lucky Dip" prizes for people who suggest the best caption for a picture, or answers to a quiz, things like that. Well, I won something! A caption I suggested for a photo (showing new PM Rudd and US President Bush) was one of the winning suggestions! Yay me :-)

The Deputy Sheriff star is now blu-tacked to one of my monitors, and the gummi-worms are long gone. All in all, a nice goofy start to a Friday! Next post will probably about my wild adventures in Daylesford next week. Stay tuned....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Eating In: Mmm, Chicken

Now, I don't know about other families, but in mine a BBQ just isn't a BBQ unless you have at least three different types of meat or meat-product. Last night I had a BBQ at my place with my dad and his lady-wench and, true to family tradition, I had meat three ways: sausages, steak, and chicken. Of course there's some salad involved as well - coleslaw, lettuce, tomato, cheese...

With the chicken I decided to try a variation on a idea Ollie (who I went to uni with) gave me years ago, so I cubed a single breast from what must have been some type of mutant chicken, based on the size of it, and marinated it in a small-jar's-worth of dijonnaise for an hour or so (personally I love Maille brand dijonnaise). I then threaded it on the skewers with pieces of onion and green capsicum. I'm really annoyed that I didn't take pictures - they looked lovely and fresh and yummy. Maybe next time. But what really blew my mind was my dinner tonight.

After making enough skewers for the three of us there was plenty of chicken, capsicum and onion left, so I threw it all together in the marinade and left it in the fridge overnight. Tonight I cooked it up in a frypan with a little added chilli, a little garlic, and a tiny amount of brown sugar and dished it up on top of jasmine rice.

It might not look all that pretty, but DAMN it was good. Try it - you won't be sorry.