Summer of the shawlette

March 20, 2011

One of the nicest things about being a knitter is knowing other knitters. Especially when those knitters knit you something rather beautiful. You really appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort that someone’s put into a knitted gift when you’re in the habit of doing the same thing yourself.

This beautiful citron shawlette was made for my birthday in December by my good friend Suzie, who is an amazing knitter and deserves to have minstrels sing ballads in her honour. And being a knitter who understands the needs of other knitters, she kindly included the ball band in the gift, to satisfy my fibre curiosity. Naturally I have since lost the label but if memory and tactile examination serve, it’s got a large amount of something wonderful like cashmere or alpaca, and some merino. That’s about as precise as it’s getting today, people.

Everyone comments on this when I wear it. And I’ve discovered something even better than saying, ‘I made this myself’. It’s saying, ‘My friend knitted this for me, she thinks I’m worth all the time, money, and effort she put into this, and don’t you think I’m just the most blessed person on Earth?’ Which is rewarded with many strange looks, as the non-crafters just don’t understand.

Luckily everyone can appreciate the subtly varying shades of lilac and smoky blue, the beautiful softness, and the meticulous construction. None more than me, though!

When January rolled around I realised Suzie’s own birthday was coming up soon, and what better way to thank her than in kind? Luckily we are kindred spirits and I happened to have a skein of Malabrigo sock in my stash in a purple I knew she would love. And damson seemed like the obvious choice of pattern.

Because I’m an adult who’s completely capable of organising her own life and not at all prone to unrealistic assumptions about how much time I have, I of course started this shawl at T minus 2 weeks and knit feverishly every evening, every lunchbreak and at most social events. Totally not overestimating my abilities at all.

Because wonders will never cease, I managed to get it to Suzie only a week after her birthday. That’s me: reliable, realistic, and winning at life. Still, Suzie seemed appropriately pleased, and the project made me realise that damson really is a fairly quick knit, and shawlettes are probably the best knitted gift you can give a female friend or relative, given the lack of sizing issues.

My purple damson is ravelled here.

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Blackberry and blueberry pie

February 20, 2011

I love the variety and quantity of fruit available during summer, and if I were to make a list of my favourite fruits, the different sorts of berries would certainly come somewhere near the top. I’ve attempted to make such a list in the past but the occupant of the top position changes depending on what fruit I’m currently eating, so it’s really more of a top-ten-fruits-in-no-particular-order list. But berries are definitely in the top ten.

Yesterday the farmer’s markets were overflowing with blackberries and blueberries of the plumpest and sweetest type, so I decided to celebrate by making them into a pie.

A few tips: using only egg yolks (add a bit of extra water) and working your pastry as little as possible ensures it won’t shrink or bloat into an enormous chewy lump. This is because egg whites act as a raising agent (not ideal in pastry), and rolling and kneading will develop the gluten threads, destroying the crumbly, ‘short’ texture. It’s easiest (and quickest) if you use a food processor to rub the butter into the flour. Shortcrust pastry demystified (you can thank me later).

Blackberry and Blueberry Pie

The filling is fairly oozy especially when warm, so add some gelatine if you’d like it a bit more solid. However sometimes the messiness adds to the enjoyment: as with mud pies, so with berry pies.

1 quantity Jamie’s sweet shortcrust pastry (you’ll have some leftover so pop it in the freezer)

500g blackberries

250g blueberries

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1-2 tbs lemon juice

3 tbs sugar (or to taste)

1-2 tbs cornflour

23(ish)cm glass pie dish

Make the pastry according to Jamie’s instructions. While it’s resting in the fridge, start the pie filling.

Put the sugar, cornflour, lemon zest and juice into a saucepan and add the blackberries. Stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved, then increase heat to medium-high and cook until mixture thickens, ~5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

While the filling is cooling, line your pie dish. First butter and dust with flour to keep pastry from sticking, then cut 6mm slices of pastry and lay them over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Wet your fingers, press together the edges, and even out any inadvertent topography until you have a nice smooth surface. Pop it in the freezer, pie dish and all, for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 180°C.

Bake your tart shell for 15 minutes or until starting to dry out. While it’s baking, roll out half of the remaining pastry. With the cookie cutter of your choice (I used a star because, y’know, I have this thing for stars), cut out enough shapes to sparsely cover the top of your pie. Put the shapes carefully on a lined baking tray, and when the tart shell comes out of the oven, pop them in for about 5 minutes.

Once blackberry mixture is almost cooled, stir through the blueberries: adding them at this stage keeps them from bursting. Pour the berry filling into the tart shell and lay the pastry shapes over the top. Put the whole thing back into the oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown.

Divine served with thick double or clotted cream, either warm or cold.

New favourite blog

February 18, 2011

I’ve long had a bit of a thing for woodland animals (e.g. all those owls, the stag on my door). So it should come as no surprise that the blog taking up most of my stringently-rationed internet bludge-time lately is devoted to foxes.

If you’re likewise inclined, head over to fuckyeahfoxfriends for all the wonderfullest fox pictures.

Socks

November 10, 2010

I just discovered these socks for your chairs, by chris&ruby, via inspire me now.

If that’s not the cleverest and cutest way to stop furniture scratching your floors, I don’t know what is. And the best part is you could easily knit them yourself!

Happiness in the post

November 9, 2010

There’s nothing like a big box of yarn to brighten up your Monday.

I’ve been rather busy

August 4, 2010

Spinning

Knitting

Dabbling in other crafts

And travelling!

And I promise to tell you all about it as soon as I’ve got a minute :)

A bite to eat (a drink as well)

July 30, 2010

A bite to eat, tucked away in the residential southside suburb of Chifley, has an alternative vibe that’s otherwise difficult to find in Canberra. But it’s not just the atmosphere that keeps the regulars coming back. The food and drink are also top notch, a fact confirmed by the cafe being twice voted ACT’s best cafe in the delicious. magazine cafe awards.

No matter what the time of day, A bite to eat’s fare is fresh, tasty and inventive. The seasonally changing menu has an emphasis on vegetarian cooking, with influences widely varied: English, Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian to name a few. Whether you enjoy a lazy breakfast, a working lunch or just pop in for an exceptional coffee and a slice of freshly baked lemon and rosemary cake, the food is sure to satisfy. Open every day except Tuesday, breakfast is served all day on weekends and until noon on weekdays. Dinner is available Wednesday – Friday, and the cafe is fully licensed so diners can enjoy a quiet drink at any time of day. Bookings are usually a good idea.

While you’re waiting for your order to arrive, take the opportunity to absorb the cafe’s eclectic decor. From the first step inside the door, it’s clear that this cafe is unlike any other in the city. Think retro furniture, mismatched vintage crockery, touches of modern design, and a collection of old snow domes. A large pinboard adorns one wall, sporting postcards, comics, thankyou letters and photos. My favourite parts are the huge front window with its collection of comfy-looking cushions, and the many different lampshades. But alternative though it may be, A bite to eat is not reserved just for hippies and art students—on any day customers can include young families, besuited executives, elderly couples and groups of bright young things. I’ve been there with my husband, with my best friend, and with my parents; I’ve even attended a baby shower there. Though upbeat, the cafe is as welcoming as your nanna’s kitchen, with the added bonus of much superior coffee.

On a bright Saturday morning in May, Phil and I visited for a much-anticipated breakfast. There are many aficionados who’d say A bite to eat makes one of the best, if not the very best, breakfasts in Canberra. I would definitely agree. On this morning the menu included sourdough fruit toast, banana pizza, and a smoked salmon and potato creation. While the choice was difficult, we had plenty of time to mull over our selections whilst standing in the long line waiting to order. Weekend breakfasts are popular here.

Coffee was definitely going to feature, and our flat whites were perfectly made.

At peak times the wait on food can be as much as half an hour, but this doesn’t seem unreasonable given the cafe’s huge capacity (a large L-shaped room inside, a courtyard out the back, and tables on the footpath). In any case the drinks are usually fairly prompt. And between admiring the interior, the conversation of your companion, people-watching, examining your vintage cutlery and deciding which of the condiments to use when your food arrives, there is plenty to keep you occupied.

On this morning I’d ordered roasted mushrooms on sourdough with spinach, cheese and broccoli pesto, which was absolutely divine. Although I’m not a vegetarian I just can’t stomach meat at breakfast time; my idea of a good breakfast cafe is one that offers vegetarian options beyond pancakes. A bite to eat definitely fits this bill. Phil opted for bubble and squeak with poached eggs and harissa tomatoes and a side of home-baked beans. Delicious, fresh, and definitely different.

If you only try one cafe in Canberra, my recommendation is A bite to eat. It ticks all the boxes, with food that is both fantastic and surprising, great coffee, a funky interior and a convenient location (only ten minutes’ walk from Woden plaza). A bite to eat is open from 8am Wednesday to Monday, closing late Wednesday to Friday only. Food is freshly cooked and of very good quality. Prices reflect this but both breakfast and lunch menus include cheaper options. We paid just under $40 for two hearty breakfasts, a side dish and two coffees. Special options include vegetarian, vegan and gluten free meals. Restrooms are available onsite and there is free time-limited offstreet parking around the Chifley shops complex. A bite to eat is located at Shop 8, Eggleston Crescent, Chifley ACT.

Rating: 5 cups.

I want a knitted leotard like Rihanna’s

June 3, 2010

Okay, it’s strange, but it’s definitely awesome!

Rihanna wore this onstage in Athens, according to ninemsn. Gotta love interesting knits popping up all over the place. Remember Cate Blanchett’s crocheted dress?

Pendulum remix ABC news theme

June 1, 2010

I heard this on Triple J last night and had to share…

Perth band Pendulum have remixed the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s news theme.

AWESOME.

Peanut butter cups, anyone?

May 29, 2010

I finally perfected this recipe and had to share. If you’re addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (like me), you will probably greet this post with a mixture of greedy delight and concern—because having not only a large quantity but a better quality version of these on hand is bound to be dangerous!

This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Peanut Butter Squares in her fantastic book, How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love Nigella, I love her recipes, and I love her eccentric turn of phrase, but in my opinion she got this one wrong. The original version was just too sweet, and any peanut-butter-and-chocolate aficionado will tell you that the true beauty of this marriage lies in the pairing of sweet with salty.

For those of you with access to the original recipe, the main changes I’ve made are to reduce the amount of sugar in the peanut-butter base, and to increase the peanut-butter to chocolate ratio.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Slice

75g dark muscovado sugar (subsitute brown sugar, but muscovado is really what you want)

150g icing sugar, sifted

75g unsalted butter

300g peanut butter (smooth and crunchy are both fine, depends how you want the texture of the slice)

flour, to bind (I used rice flour to make this gluten-free, how much you need will depend on what sort of flour you use and how oily your pb is)

200g milk chocolate

100g dark chocolate

50g unsalted butter, extra

Put the muscovado sugar, icing sugar and peanut butter in a food processor and whiz briefly until combined (if you don’t have a food processor first think seriously about buying one as they are the most useful kitchen appliance ever, then stir the ingredients together in a bowl). Melt the butter and whiz into the peanut butter mixture. Add the flour between pulses, a sprinkle at a time, or until the mixture binds together and is no longer wet. Don’t worry if you still have small lumps of muscovado sugar, it’s nicer that way. Press this mixture into a baking tray lined with baking paper (choose the size of your tray based on how thick you want the slice to be).

To make the topping, melt the chocolates and butter together until smooth. An aside about chocolate choices: I’ve recently been buying chocolate chips as an express chocolate cooking option, since they are already in nice small bits. However for this recipe I wouldn’t recommend the sort that say ‘holds shape once baked’ as your chocolate mixture will be a bit dry and not easily spreadable. Go instead for ‘chocolate melts’ (or if you have time and inclination, buy a block and break it up).

Let the chocolate cool a little and then spread over the base. Put the tin in the fridge to set. Serve at room temperature, cut into squares. Attempt not to eat the lot in one go.

Here is all that is left of mine. Not so pretty, but damn tasty!

I’d like to point out that I didn’t eat it all by myself, I made this to take into work for morning tea. And there are at least two dozen people who can corroborate this story.