Friday, 29 January 2016

A Beach Walk 1

I love long beach walks. Traipsing along the edge of the ocean, my own footprints trailing along behind me and the sand stretching out before me. The warm sun that gets higher in the blue sky the longer I walk and the warm waves that promise a refreshing swim once the walking is done.

I walk this stretch of beach regularly. There is a certain rhythm to my walking that seems to fit in with the waves that roll into shore and that wash back out again. I think too, being outside, in the midst of such beauty, slows one's thoughts and pace to be more in keeping with that of nature. One could not hurry in this place!

The beauty of sand, sea and sky on my beach walk.

As I wander along, there are always little pieces of the natural world that make me stop, crouch down and look or scoop up and hold into the light. Each one a tiny treasure. If you had been my companion today, walking alongside me on the sand, sea foam tickling your toes, we would have come across these small things together: 

A curving spiral.

 A leaf and a teardrop.

 A new grass on the dunes.

Two perfect halves of the one butterfly.

A wet, white feather.

 A tiny shell dwarfed by another.

A piece of a rainbow.

Small wonders like these always leave me feeling glad that I look down as I walk! I hope, this weekend, that you will have some time of your own to surround yourself with nature. I wonder what treasures you'll find.


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Back-to-School Biscuits

Is there anything better than homemade biscuits on arrival home from school? Gobbled up quickly and washed down with a glass of cold milk, they are a much-loved afternoon treat at our place.

After school nourishment.

This recipe for chocolate chip cookies is based on one I found in a cooking magazine called One Handed Cooks. They are flour-free and egg-free and freeze very well. These little biscuits are perfect for helping to fill the tummies of hungry children before they shake off their school day and go outside to play! (Please note that these biscuits are unsuitable for a child with a peanut allergy.)

Back-to-School Chocolate Chip Biscuits

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon baking powder, aluminium free
1/4 cup coconut sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup tiny dark chocolate chips

Place all ingredients, except the oats and chocolate chips, into a food processor and blend until well combined. Add the oats and chocolate chips and pulse until just combined. Roll teaspoonfuls of mixture into balls and place on prepared baking tray. Lightly flatten with gentle press of your fingers or a fork. Bake in a moderate oven until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with a chilled glass of milk or a healthy smoothie.  

Enjoy and make sure you leave some for the children! 


p.s. The recipe for Chickpea Cookies, on which the recipe above is based, can be found here on the One Handed Cooks website.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The First Day Back Blues

It's the first day back at school for my beautiful boy today after a long and happy holiday. I'm not quite sure that he, we or "Sir Steve" dog were quite ready...

Oh, woe is me!  Are the holidays really over?

Can't you see I'm sleepy?

I am too cool for school!

Despite all of Sir Steve's shenanigans, we made it out our front door and arrived at the classroom door on time. A minor miracle! 


p.s. All photos taken by my beautiful boy...clearly fascinated by his favourite canine subject!


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

An Unexpected Rockmelon

Sometimes, the best surprises that happen in our garden are offered up by those plants which just "pop up" from self-sown seeds. From cosmos flowers and little lavender seedlings to rampaging pumpkin vines, such serendipitous finds are both free and welcome in our garden.

A rockmelon or cantaloupe fruit on the vine.

One such unexpected joy of late has been this  rockmelon (cantaloupe) vine. I did not plant it and I can't remember the last time we ate one, but a seed germinated in our soil all the same. Upon my discovery of it, I lifted the vine up onto a wire frame to give it support. I watered it when the weather was hot and dry and I fed it too with some weak worm tea. And it has produced a heavy, round and juicy rockmelon. Just one fruit so far but what a treat!

The sweet, orange  flesh of the ripe rockmelon.

We snacked on wedges of our chilled rockmelon on one of the hottest days we've had here this Summer. It was cool and fresh and juicy:) If we are lucky, and our sole rockmelon vine produces another fruit, I would like to try using it in a sweet, icy sorbet (imagine that on a hot Summer's day).

Plants such as this rockmelon, that self sow and grow, not only offer up free flowers, herbs, fruit or veggies but they also show a gardener like me what can be grown in my soil and what spaces and aspects within the garden offer ideal conditions that support a particular plant's germination and growth.  

Now that I know rockmelon can be successfully grown in our garden, I just might deliberately plant some next Summer and make that sorbet.

Do you have unexpected plants popping up in your garden? 


Monday, 25 January 2016

A Plum and Rosemary Cake

Fragrant rosemary loves the Summer heat and, in my garden, just seems to grow taller the hotter it gets (while the rest of us are wilting). Summer is the time too for plump, purply plums. Together, these sweet seasonal stonefruits and finely chopped rosemary make a lovely topping for an afternoon tea cake. 

I made just such a cake on the weekend and it was soooo good! The plums, sticky and sweet from their baking in the oven, and the rosemary, with its herby, savoury notes, were a different and delicious combination. Of course, if you didn't have plums you could use a glut of apricots or peaches instead to justify the baking (and eating:) of this scrumptious cake.

As I searched for afternoon tea inspiration in Emma Galloway's gorgeous cookbook, My Darling Lemon Thyme, it was her recipe for a Peach, Rosemary and Yoghurt Cake that caught my eye. It looked jammy and delicious and I wanted to immediately make one. I had no peaches...

...but I did have four ripe plums! I pitted and sliced each plum. I finely chopped roughly a tablespoon of rosemary leaves and mixed them with just a few tablespoons of light brown coconut sugar. (You could use raw sugar or brown sugar.) This became the topping for the yoghurt cake. But, it's not a topping that sits atop the cake batter. Instead, the coconut sugar and rosemary are sprinkled generously over the base of the cake tin and then slices of plum are arranged there too. This decorative and delicious topping is then ready for you to cover with cake batter and to reveal (with considerable fanfare, of course) when you invert your golden cake after it has baked. An upside-down cake!

 Cake batter hides a delicious topping.

Golden brown and ready to turn upside down.

Soft, sweet plums and flecks of rosemary are revealed. Yum!

While you may not have Emma's recipe, I think this topping would work well with any yoghurt cake (such as this recipe on the London Bakes blog).  The baked plums were as jammy and sweet as they promised to be and the rosemary made its presence felt but not in an overpowering way. Served with a big dollop of thick, fresh cream it was very much a hit with the good friends we shared it with. 

It's a cake I will definitely make again. Perhaps with peaches next time. Or apricots. Or nectarines...


Friday, 22 January 2016

A Simple Softie 2

This, everyone, is Helga. My endearing little elephant softie. Do you like her flappy yellow ears? I do!

A soft and sweet softie.

Helga was a very simple softie to sew. A perfect project, I think, for a beginner to practise some basic skills and experience success.  I did have to unpick the seam I sewed to join her two sides together because I realised (too late, of course) that I needed to have most of her tail inside her tummy when I sewed her up so that she would actually have a tail when I turned her right-side out! Little things...


That's better! 

Once I had sewn successfully almost all the way around her, to join her two sides, I turned her right-side out and the rest was easy. 

Right side out. A little thin for an elephant though!

The blunt end of a knitting needle helps to push stuffing into corners and curves.

I  looked at these very helpful tips and tricks for stuffing softies here and watched this You-Tube tutorial on how to use ladder stitch to close the opening (see photo above) so it's practically invisible. 

Finished and ready for cuddles.

Now she is a plump elephant! She is ready too for a journey through the post to a little child in need of a special softie to carry and cuddle. I'm sending her to the Mirabel Foundation as part of the Softies for Mirabel Handmade Toy Drive which I found out about here on Pip Lincolne's blog, Meet Me at Mikes. She will be matched up with just the right little person. I wonder what name her small owner will give her? I'm pretty sure it won't be Helga!  I hope they will like her flappy yellow ears, perfect for whispering fears and dreams into.

I hope you have a lovely weekend that is as sunshiny and bright as Helga's yellow ears!


Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Simple Softie 1

In line with my desire to do a lot more sewing, I chose an endearing little softie as my maiden project in this new year. I deliberately chose something very simple (on which to begin honing my almost non-existent sewing skills) and set myself up with a basic free pattern and an easy-to-follow online tutorial available here on the Birch Organic Fabrics blog.

Together with some scraps of gorgeous fabric from my stash, a freshly serviced sewing machine and a pair of new, sharp scissors (which absolutely must stay in my craft cupboard so as not to be blunted with paper and sticky tape!!!) I had everything I needed to begin.

Carefully cut out pieces for a sweet little softie. 

One side! One ear!

Two sides! Two ears!

Tiny eyes and a little flowery tail too.

All pinned up and ready to sew together. 

After an hour or so of careful cutting and sewing, my little softie is taking shape. Tomorrow, I'll carefully sew almost all the way around the edge (no doubt there will be some unpicking of wayward stitches) and then turn her inside out ready for some soft, fluffy stuffing and a final flurry of hand stitching. 

I hope you'll come back to meet Helga, the elephant. I'm looking forward to introducing you!


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Gentle Rose

Beads of water on floaty pale pink petals.

There are so many shades of pink roses but this one, Duchesse de Brabant,  is my favourite. I planted one in the garden of our first home and now one grows in this garden too. 

This tea rose is old-fashioned and sweet. The pink petals that make up its cup-shaped blooms are floaty and  fragrant. Its pale beauty graces our garden often as it flowers repeatedly throughout the year. 

Light pink roses are said, amongst other emotions, to symbolise gentleness. A rose like this one is a perfect reminder to be gentle with oneself, with others, with the plants and animals who share our world and with our Earth.

Perhaps you have room for a rose in your garden. 


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Pear and Blueberry Breakfast Muesli Muffins

In the quiet of the morning, and after a good soaking the night before, I mixed together the healthy and nourishing ingredients for these delicious breakfast muffins. A wonderful wheat-free alternative to toast!

Fresh and warm from the oven. Mmm...

Following Jude Blereau's recipe, from one my favourite cookbooks, Coming Home to Eat: Wholefood for the Family, I began, just before bedtime last night, by combining fruit-free muesli, wholemeal spelt flour, greek yoghurt and filtered water in a big glass bowl and leaving it the fridge to soak overnight. This morning it was nice and thick and ready for further additions of baking powder, egg, honey, melted butter and fruit.

Whisked egg & honey ready to be mixed into the soaked muesli mix. 

Our own blueberries, frozen and plump, are the perfect addition to these muffins. As they cook, the berries become jam-like and oozy. Their flavour teams beautifully too with diced pear, fresh or tinned. While blueberries and pear are a delicious combination, these muffins lend themselves to all kinds of fresh fruit additions. Think of an apple and cinnamon combo. Mmm...

Lovely fruits to be mixed in and a crumbly coconut topping...for the top!

After I gently folded the fruits in,  I filled my muffin tray with generous scoops of the fruity muffin mixture. Almost to the top! Then, just before placing them in the oven, I sprinkled them with a crumbly topping of desiccated coconut, coconut sugar and cinnamon. 

A sprinkling of crumbly coconut topping before baking adds the final touch on top.

As they baked, these muffins filled our kitchen with wafts of cinnamon-scented goodness that only served to intensify the rumbling of my tummy for breakfast. I couldn't wait to have one (or two or even three) with a glass of fresh, cold milk. And, half an hour later, they emerged from a warm oven, ready to be devoured.

Some for now and some to be frozen for quick breakfasts on future mornings.

Jude Blereau is passionate about her muffins!  If you would like to read more about her muffin ways, this link will take you there. If you scroll down, you'll find her recipe for classic muffins. They are just as delicious and nourishing as these breakfast versions. 

If you have your heart set on having muesli muffins, then Teresa Cutter has a recipe where you only have to soak some rolled oats for 10 minutes. 

Whatever you have for breakfast tomorrow, I hope it's nourishing and delicious!


Monday, 18 January 2016

Washcloths on the Weekend

My knitting needles were clicketty-clacking away over the weekend as I set about finishing off two little gifts for two of my most dear friends. Washcloths, soft and practical, were cast off after the last rows of each were completed and both were then wrapped up with creamy soaps and essential oil blends; the scents of each carefully chosen for each recipient. Simple, handmade gifts!

Waves of fresh greens and white emerged as I knitted up this pattern. It was a quick, easy knit and I am now keen to try this variation to be knitted on the diagonal. Different!

Waves of fresh greens and white and a little loop at the top.

Soft, organic blues knitted up into this waffle weave washcloth. I first found this  pattern, by Deb at Homespun Living blog, in Rhonda's Hetzel's beautiful book, Down to Earth. It was the first I ever knitted up and it set me on the path to even more knitting!

A soft waffle weave washcloth in organic blue cottons.

I plan on knitting some more washcloths soon as a few of our own washcloths need replacing and I like to have a little supply of finished cloths too so that I have something handmade and on-hand to give as gifts throughout the year. Saves many a trip to the shops!

Do you have a little collection of handmade gifts that you give to friends and family during the year? 


Friday, 15 January 2016

A Garden within a Garden

Are you well rested after our stroll through the Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens yesterday? Ready to cross the stepping stones with me? A small, serene garden beckons and it's my favourite place to sit, be still, listen, think and wish within the wider expanse of these much larger gardens. Come with me into the Japanese Garden...

Stepping stones over a little stream.

I do not know very much about this ancient style of garden design but I know how this garden makes me feel. Quiet. Calm. Contemplative. It's a feeling cultivated by the way that the plants, water, stones, bridges and buildings within this garden are so deliberately placed to achieve balance. At every turn, beautiful views await...

 Reflections on the water.

Looking through the trees.

 A carefully sculpted feature tree.

The vibrant blooms of the crepe myrtle.

Another vibrant bloom. Orange this time!

A trickling waterfall. 

A full stone water basin.

Can you hear the water basin filling with a trickle from the bamboo pipe? My boy, much younger than he is now, would float leaf boats and azalea petals in it. He'd choose a heavy stone to put in too, only to put it down again when my head signaled a "No" instead of a "Yes!" I'm sure he would've loved to drop one in (and I'm sure he did many a time when I wasn't watching!) just to hear the "plop" as it hit the surface.

My beautiful boy and I have spent many an hour here together. When he was so much smaller than he is now, we'd share a picnic lunch in the shade, after his mornings at a nearby kindy and before a long drive home. It's the perfect place to picnic; to watch what hovers above the lake, flits about in the trees or makes its presence boldly felt in the hope you'll drop a crumb or two (those cheeky lizards!).

My son spotted this lizard. Can you?

It's the perfect place to come to too if you want an experience of the harmony that a garden can bring. I'll leave you here for a while then, to soak up that peacefulness, shall I? 


p.s. Enjoy your weekend. We have a special boy's birthday to celebrate and a lawn to mow. It's great weather for grass here where I live!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Nature in the City: Botanic Gardens

When planning family outings, we seek out nature whenever we can. There's just something special about the sand and sea of a beach, the lush green of a forest, the cooler air of a mountain or the gurgling and gushing of a river that relaxes everyone and lifts one's spirits.

When we don't have time to venture far from home, to get our nature fix, we find ourselves exploring our lovely sub-tropical city. And so it was, on a warm Summer afternoon not long ago, we spent a few hours wandering about in the Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens in Brisbane. 

Diverse, thriving plants surround you in these rambling gardens. We encountered a wonderful array of wildlife, at home among the foliage, and happy to be the focus of a curious boy's attention. Water features prominently too, from a lake blanketed in lilypads to the trickling waterfall and water basin in the Japanese Garden, its liquid presence always feels reflective and calming. 

While one could hurry to try to see everything, we prefer to amble, following the lead of our son as he traces the paths, familiar to him now (after years of visiting this green oasis) and which lead him to his favourite parts of the gardens. Of course, we will end our meandering stroll, as we always do, sitting in the fragrant herb garden, on a wooden bench made for three, eating ice-cream!

Shall we go for a walk together now then? 

Lush, thick plantings near the lake. 

The tall and beautiful trunks of bamboo.

Reaching up to a cloudy sky.

A beautiful, stone rose features in the rose garden.

Are your legs a little weary yet, after walking so far? Come on, there's still much more to see!

A real and fragrant bloom.

 An inquisitive duck impatient for the duck feeding to begin!

 A spiky water dragon (lizard) resting in the water at the edge of the lake. 
(I think he thought he was camouflaged!)

 The roof of the tropical dome, our son's favourite place in the whole garden.

Inside the dome, looking up!

Looking across the dome. 
People toss coins into the water here...perhaps they make wishes!

Tansy growing prolifically in the herb garden.

A rocky path beckons...

And, who could resist rock-hopping across these big stones? Tomorrow I'll lead you across and show you my favourite place in these gardens. It's serene and peaceful and waiting for us.

See you tomorrow.