Sunday, January 30, 2011

Instant gratification - spaghetti

I could eat pasta every night. But I don't because my children would revolt. Most of the pastas I make are improvised although I have a couple of favourites that I make regularly. Mr Neat was particularly complimentary about this one so I thought I'd share. The measurements are approximates so you might have to adjust to get the taste to your liking.

Mr Neat's Favourite Spaghetti

2 spanish onions

4 cloves garlic
4-6 japanese eggplants (the small skinny ones)
4 trimmed bacon rashers

about 600g lamb mince
about 400g / ml tomato passata (I just pour in a bit over half the bottle)
large tablespoon fruit chutney
teaspoon brown sugar

I always use my big le creuset pot to make this but you can use whatever you like!

Heat small amount of olive oil in your cooking pot. Add finely diced onions. Cook slowly so they don't catch. I do a mixture of sweating and sauteing (Amy! Help!) Add finely chopped bacon and eggplants. When eggplant is starting to soften add the garlic. Cook until onion is soft and translucent. Be careful not to brown or burn the garlic. Add mince and cook through until well browned. Add passata and fruit chutney. Allow to simmer for a while until reduced. Add brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with al dente spaghetti and top with shaved parmesan or romano cheese.

And remember this will actually taste better the next day so you can make it the night before, bung it in the fridge and reheat it for dinner the next night. It also freezes. Oh and I use this sometimes as a base for Shepherd's Pie or as a filling for lasagne.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fabulous Friday Finds - Kokeshi

Kokeshi are the new Babushska (Matroyska). At least in my opinion. And they are just so lovely. Here are some old kokeshi, some new kokeshi and some you can make yourself!

x Sarah

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" and other stories

One of the great things about the kids getting a bit older is that I can read on holidays during daylight hours. Sometimes not much but some days I could lose myself in a book. Bliss. So what have I been reading?

I've just finished Kate Grenville's The Secret River. It's not new. It came out in 2005 and is a companion novel to The Lieutenant (also brilliant) which I read first, cos I'm a dummy.

The Secret River about a former convict, William Thornhill, and his experience in early Australia. It starts with his impoverished, bleak childhood in London and the daily scramble just to stay alive.

Kate Grenville's writing just keeps getting better and better. She captures the sounds and smells of the age and the heartbreak of cultural misunderstanding and racism. It's a terrible part of Australia's history but Grenville doesn't lecture or preach. She tells her story, imbuing all the characters with believable humanity. It's utterly compelling and the sense of foreboding makes you wish you could get into William Thornhill's ear and warn him of what lies ahead.

Before that I read something rather different by the very clever and sometimes a bit showoffy Ian McEwan. Actually I shouldn't say that - I'm just jealous. So, Solar. Very modern and very British and with one of the most unlikeable (or is it unlikable - help Amy!)characters I've come across. Which makes it kind of tricky when Michael Beard, Nobel Prize winner and scientific genius, is the story. He's a serial philanderer, glutton, self-absorbed squalid human being. And McEwan writes him brilliantly. Yet I didn't feel myself engaged or enthralled as I read. Stylish and clever, indeed but remote. That said Mr Neat really enjoyed it as did numerous friends. So what would I know!

OK, now this is becoming a long entry. If you stay with me you deserve a prize.

Before Solar, I read the wonderfully titled A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. The cover kept telling me how hilarious this book was and indeed Marina Lewycka does keep the tone light and is generous with whimsy and a sense of the ridiculous. But there's no escaping the tragedy that underlies this tale of immigrant life in Britain and the stories from the old life that can't be forgotten.

Home stretch now. Mr Darwin's Shooter. Mr Neat bought it for me at our favourite boutique - Chez Vinnies for $1. What a scandalous bargain. This is a detailed and complex tale of the life of Syms Covington who shot, cleaned and prepared the specimens for Charles Darwin over a long period and rated barely a mention in Darwin's writings. A really enjoyable piece of historical literature that captivated me for days and then left me feeling somewhat lost when I was finished. But isn't that what good books are meant to do?

So now I need a new book.

What have you been reading?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Instant gratification - passionfruit shortbread biscuits

Last summer my passionfruit vines finally gave up and died and I never got around to planting new ones. This summer was a sad passionfruit-less affair which has made me resolve to plant several new ones.

If you have a passionfruit vine or a fruit bowl full of passionfruit here's a fabulous recipe. You can swap the flour to make it gluten-free too.

250g butter, softened
1 1/3 cups icing sugar mixture
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1/3 cup rice flour
4 tablespoons passionfruit pulp (I sometimes use more!)
If the crunchy seeds bother you (or your kids), trying straining the passionfruit before mixing it in.

Combine butter, sugars and flours in large bowl of food processor.  (I don't have a food processor so I just use my trusty sunbeam mixer) Process until mixture is combined. Add passionfruit. Process until mixture clings together.

Transfer mixture to lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth. Divide mixture in half, roll each half into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Cut logs into 1cm slices Spaces slices on a lined oven tray and bake for about 20 minutes at 170 degrees celcius. Cool on a wire rack.


x Sarah

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anyone need some vintage napery?

My mum and I have been going through some boxes from her garage and found some vintage napery - some crochet, some embroidery, some tatting.

It's mainly dainty sort of pieces in beiges and whites. I have seen some clever sort of people turn such things into beautiful clothes for girls, but such skills elude me!

If you are such a person or know someone who is or simply love a bit of old world charm, then leave me a comment or shoot me an email: sbarnettATbigpondDOtnetDOTau I will even post the pieces out to you (if you live in Australia, that is!).

x Sarah

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Instant gratification - anzac biscuits

As I am in a kind of creative and motivational wilderness there has been greater need to bake. Not that my waistline really needs this sort of therapy. But there's a need to make something, to finish something, to feel something has been accomplished.

In my house it is impossible to make anything in the kitchen without the aid of Mr 4. Anzac biscuits are the best thing to make cos you use one bowl - no mix master required - they take a few minutes to whip up, 15 minutes to cook and there's that cool thing that happens when you add the bi-carb soda to the melted butter and golden syrup.

So here's an easy recipe if you're lacking in the anzac biscuit recipe department.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dessicated coconut

125g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon of cold water

1. mix dry ingredients together
2. melt butter in saucepan over medium heat
3. add golden syrup to melted butter
4. dissolve bicarbonate of soda in cold water
5. stir bicarb soda mix into melted butter
6. quickly pour butter mix into dry ingredient and combine
7. roll ingredients into balls and place on lined trays - not too close or you'll end up with one big bikkie!
8. bake for 12-16 minutes on 180 degrees C
9. cool on trays!

x Sarah

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

if only i could draw....

It's a source of great frustration to me that I can't draw or make visual art. My friend Cath-the-art-teacher says that everyone can draw so let me qualify my complaint - I can't draw well. And I wish I could. I look at the ease with which some, including the lovely Miss 9, can create something with a few strokes of the pen.

If I could create lovely things with pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, paint, collage - anything really, then I might visit these people - night owl paper goods.

Isn't that lovely - a picture printed onto timber. In the meantime, here are a couple of works by people who can draw.

The first two are by Canadian artist Helen Dardik and the bottom two are by Australian artist - Kristina Sostarko (inaluxe). You can find their work on etsy.

Hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year.

x Sarah