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I buy a lot of cookbooks, but rarely ones on Chinese or Malaysian cuisine. Because these are so familiar to me, I need to look over the recipe list first to see if there are any that I recognise. Unless the name of a dish brings back a flood of taste memories, I’m unlikely to make a purchase.

When I read the contents of the Dumpling Sisters’ new cookbook, I couldn’t click the “buy now” button fast enough. You might recall that these lovely girls taught me to make dumplings via Food Tube last year. Since then I’ve been eagerly subscribed to their channel, watching every new video clip as it’s uploaded…

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Their tender braised brisket sealed the deal for me…

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It was the perfect opportunity to test out the beef I’d had delivered recently from Country Meats Direct. I received two rolled brisket roasts in my order, which I divided into 500g portions…

I followed the recipe in the book, which varies slightly from the video. The beef was brought to an initial simmer for 30 minutes, then rested with the heat off for a further 30 minutes, before simmering for a final 60 minutes. I added in the softened bean curd skins at the end as instructed. The finished dish was moan-inducingly good, particularly on soft rice noodles.

Here’s the ingredients list:

  • 500g beef brisket
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 3 small pieces of ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • large pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper (I substituted white pepper)
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 dried whole chillies (I used two)
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 30g dried bean curd skins

. . . . .

This very tasty noodle dish from the book also caught my attention…

It’s the easiest thing to make, simply boil up whole wheat pasta and toss it in a sour and sweet sauce. I had fresh egg noodles on hand, so I used those. The sauce was a combination of chilli oil (plus goop), sesame oil, Chinkiang vinegar, soft brown sugar, salt and spring onion. The girls also recommend adding fresh chilli, but we’d used our homemade chilli oil, and the noodles were quite fiery as is.

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If you’re looking for a great Chinese cookbook, do check this one out. The Kindle copy I bought from Amazon is well formatted and easy to navigate. The recipes are simple, comforting and delicious!

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It’s sooo cold here in Sydney at the moment!

I’ve been sewing polarfleece sacks to snuggle up in. They take less than half an hour to make and I find them much warmer than a regular blanket – the bottom is sewn into a pocket that keeps feet extra toasty.

These are very simple to make once you can work your head around boxing the base. I don’t bother with hemming the edges as fleece doesn’t fray, but you could easily do so if you’d prefer a neater finish.

I wrote a detailed tutorial in 2009, but it’s buried in the archives, so I thought I’d repost it here. This was my first (and last) attempt at drawing diagrams with Microsoft Paint. I hope they make sense! The boxing technique is a good one to master – it can be used to add a flat bottom to a tote bag, or a square top to a thermos cosy.

Stay warm, folks!

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Materials :

  • 2 metres (or yards, it doesn’t really matter) of good quality polarfleece
  • sewing machine and thread (I guess you could do this by hand if you wanted to)
  • scissors
  • tape measure

Note: I’ve taken photos of a small model I made to show you how to box the corners – hard to explain, but easy once you can see how it’s done.  Please note that it’s not to scale (and I don’t have giant hands).

1. Fold the fleece in half lengthwise, right sides together, so that one selvage is on top of the other.  Stitch a 60 – 70cm seam as shown, about 1cm in from the selvages.

pf sack12. Line up the middle of the fabric with the seam and pin (still right sides together – don’t turn it out yet).

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3. Cut away an almost square from each corner – 13cm/5″ wide by 14cm/5.5″ high. Note: you’re cutting through two layers of fabric.

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4. Now stitch across the bottom, using a 1cm/½” seam allowance.

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5. Now we need to “box” the corners. Open one of the squares and line the bottom seam up with the opposite corner of the square you cut out. Here are lots of photos (not to scale):

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6. Sew across the corner.

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7. Repeat on the other side, then turn the whole thing right side out.  All done! You could also hem the top edge as well, just to be neat, but it’s not necessary, as the fleece won’t fray.

Now…sit on the lounge, tuck your feet into the pocket (with the selvage seam at the back) and wrap up warmly!

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In  my kitchen…

…is a lime green Polartec cover for my insulated granny flask.

With the colder weather, I found the thermos wasn’t keeping water hot for quite as long, so I sewed a cosy for it. Since taking the photo, I’ve made a thick fleece coaster for it to sit on. It’s surprising what a difference a little insulation makes…

In my kitchen…

…is my first delivery from Country Meats Direct.

A few weeks ago, Murray put a flyer in my mailbox offering to sell grassfed Black Angus beef direct from his father’s property in the Hunter Valley. They only deliver to a limited area, and had recently expanded to include our postcode.

At $14.95 a kilo and sold in 10kg lots, it certainly isn’t the cheapest meat on offer, especially as the price is the same regardless of cut. But we’re keen to support Aussie farmers wherever we can – most of Pete’s uncles are or have been graziers, and we know how tough it can be for them to get a decent price for their stock.

On Saturday morning, Nick (another partner in the business) delivered my first order. I’d specifically requested cheaper cuts – we don’t eat a lot of steak, but I was happy to have some eye fillet in the mix. Here’s how the meat looked on delivery…

I spent a cheery hour or so repacking the meat into vacuum sealed bags for the freezer. We’re very good at stretching out meat, and this quantity will provide us with more than a dozen family dinners. This is what we plan to do with our purchase:

  • 6 x 500g mince – each packet is sufficient for one dinner for four adults, either as pasta sauce, Mexican style mince, meatballs or keema.
  • 6 x 500g brisket – this is a favourite Chinese stewing meat and again, each packet will feed the whole family, accompanied with rice or noodles and stir-fried vegetables.
  • 1kg osso bucco – four large pieces, enough for one dinner.
  • 1.3kg gravy beef – this will be used in a stew or curry. Leftovers might be turned into a pie the following day.
  • 3 x 350g pieces of eye fillet – we’ll use these in our tender beef on rice, as well as in stir fries and noodles.

My order was a little under 10kg, so I was charged the reduced price of $140. If my maths is correct, each meal will work out at about $2.50 in meat per person…

I made braised beef brisket last night for dinner (post to follow) – the meat was flavoursome and tender…

In my kitchen…

…are treats from my recent visit to Eveleigh Markets. They include pink kiss potatoes, purchased from the Highland Gourmet Potato company…

…a generous bag of Swiss Brown mushrooms, picked the day before I bought them…

…Small Man’s favourite apple juice, grown and crushed in Thirlmere (about an hour out of Sydney) plus a kilo of freshly picked Pink Lady apples…

…and a bag of water cress from the Darling Mills stand, which we ate as salad the following day…

In my kitchen…

…is a very generous gift from the lovely Ella Dee – macadamias from Macksville, NSW…

In my kitchen…

…a surprise present from my friend Francesca of Almost Italian. The sarong will be put to good use as an outdoor tablecloth once the weather warms up, and the Balinese sawa wood board will be perfect for cheeses and antipasto…

In my kitchen…

…is yet more meat, bought a few weeks ago. I love Cape Grim beef, so when I saw this piece at Harris Farm Broadway, I put it in my trolley…

Following a Jamie Oliver recipe, we paired this  with a mushroom sauce, baked potatoes and beans. The 500g steak was more than enough for the four of us…

Finally, in my kitchen…

…are baked treats from Kraving K – the latest Sydney cake sensation. Big Boy and Monkey Girl queued up for over an hour to buy these for us last Saturday. I love that they’re out and about seeking food adventures of their own…

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Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen this month?

If you’d like to do an In My Kitchen post on your own blog, please feel free  to do so. We’d love to see what’s happening in your kitchen this month!  Please link back to this blog, and let us know when your post is up, and we’ll add it to our monthly listing. Please upload your post by the 10th of each month.

Small Man, who is studying for his HSC (matriculation) exams, desperately needed some R&R. So last Friday, we drove out to Penrith to the iFly Indoor Skydiving Centre…

Our son, who passionately enjoys this sport, launched himself into the wind tunnel with enormous glee…

I had great fun playing with the slow motion setting on my new iPhone…

When the kids were finished (Big Boy and Monkey Girl both flew as well), we had a chance to watch the experts hone their skills…

Their instructor Mark then had his turn…

It’s a fabulous (if expensive) way to work off a little tension. Small Man is very keen to go back, so we’ll try and find another time for him after the HSC trial exams.

Penrith is an hour’s drive from home, so it was 5pm by the time we came home. Instead of cooking dinner, we all hopped onto the Light Rail and went into town to Big Boy and Monkey Girl’s favourite sushi restaurant (Umi Sushi Haymarket). Pete studied their huge long fish tank very carefully – it was very clean and well maintained…

The sushi was very good, and we were amazed that you could have a whole scampi for $6.50…

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On Saturday morning, Pete and I popped into the Rocks. We were greeted by the most amazing view from the platform at Circular Quay station…

The Museum of Contemporary Art have a new exhibition on display called Energies: Haines & Hinterding, showcasing the work of  Australian artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding (both based locally in the Blue Mountains). It’s a very unusual collection which allows the viewer to experience unseen energies through visual and audio mediums.

In the Level 1 Gallery, the large Haines installation Geology lets the spectator interact and control an enormous video display. The photos below are of Pete conducting the creation of the planet…

A large part of the collection is audio-based. By tracing the black ink lines with their fingers, viewers can cause changes to the radio signals which are being transmitted through the headphones…

These large radio antennas capture the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun and transform it into audible sounds. In effect, this artwork allowed us to “listen” to the sun (although as Pete pointed out, there is no actual sound in the sun because there’s no air – I was very glad to have him with me when visiting this exhibition)…

Yet another radio antenna, this one being very long wave, captured invisible energies from all around and converted them into static which could be heard through the accompanying headphones. To be honest, I was a bit over static by this point…

…but I was very taken by how the wires inadvertently turned the regular studio lights into a multi-faceted beam…

I stood there for ages studying how the beam of light split halfway through and touched the ground at two separate points. It was non-existent from the other side of the artwork. No one else seemed to notice, but I was completely entranced…

After viewing the exhibition, we went to the MCA Cafe on the top floor for a quick lunch. The view from the roof is always grand, but this was the first time I’d seen this statue…

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Strolling through the Rocks Markets after leaving the MCA, we paid a visit to our fossil friend Tom. He had a couple of irresistible new treasures, including this amazing and rare (but fragile) black amethyst crystal formation…

This small block of dendritic limestone is also known as a picture stone. These are often described as “nature’s paintings” and I find them fascinating. I can see faces in this one, can you? (At the bottom, in the middle.)

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Hope you’re all having a glorious weekend!

When Pete and I met our new friend Valentina recently, she paid us a lovely compliment. She thought we were dating. It’s nice to be thought of as new lovers, when in reality, we’re very, very old ones.

Some of you will have seen this photo before. When it was taken in 1984, we were just 19 years old, and we’d been together for about six months. Since our engagement in 1986, I can count on one hand (ok, maybe two) the number of days we’ve been apart. We spend a lot of time together – much more than most married couples – and yet we’ve never tired of each other’s company, or felt the need for “alone” time.

If I was ever asked what I have to show for my life – this is the first thing I would offer. Our close, loving relationship has survived the many obstacles life has thrown at us. It hasn’t been easy, but over our 32 years together, we’ve grown closer than we ever thought possible. This has been my life’s work. It gives meaning and structure to my existence. It defines me.

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And then, there are these two.

Our sons make me so happy that sometimes I think my heart will burst. Even as young adults, they constantly delight us, and I’m always amazed by how sophisticated and varied their daily conversations can be.

Big Boy has a razor sharp wit and a backbone of steel, tempered with loving, gentle kindness. Small Man is quirky, enthusiastic, and ever so slightly brilliant. We found out the other day that he’s taught himself the Cyrillic alphabet and is currently learning Japanese Kanji (for fun).

Our parenting goal has never been to raise academically or fiscally successful children. We’ve never pushed them to excel at sports or music, nor have we intervened in their choice of friends. Instead, we’ve worked hard to ensure they have healthy self-esteems, respectful attitudes towards others, and kind, compassionate natures.

Along the way, we’ve celebrated their individuality – our children are so much more than mere byproducts of our genetic mingling. They have their own distinct personalities and opinions, and a unique outlook on the world. I will often turn to them for perspective and advice.

Every aspect of our family dynamic – the laughing, crying, talking, debating, cooking, eating, teaching, sitting, driving, watching, holding, comforting, nurturing, sharing, rejoicing – all these glorious moments, which even at the worst of times were glorious by virtue of the fact that we were all together – these are the moments which define me. These are the things that I measure myself on.

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There are other things too.

From a very young age, I’ve needed to make things with my hands. It used to drive Pete crazy, but because he’s a saint, he soon became very adept at finding ways to store the paraphernalia associated with my various hobbies.

My enthusiasms have always been a big part of who I am, and the satisfaction I get from creating something from raw materials is enormous. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s a vintage crystal spider, or a loaf of bread, or a polarfleece jacket pieced together from scrap.

Recently, the sourdough mania has taken on a life of its own.

It has become so much more than simply turning flour and water into food. Baking bread has led to friendships within my immediate community and, through the sharing of Priscilla, with a world-wide family of sourdough bakers. It has enabled me to connect with like-minded individuals around the globe in a meaningful, rewarding way.

To a large extent, I believe we’re all defined by our human interactions. My immediate and extended family are amazing, as are my wonderful all-weather friends (I don’t need just fair or foul weather ones). They enrich my life, and I treasure them greatly.

And over the years, this blog, and my interactions with all of you, has become a large part of who I am and how I see myself. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I work very hard not to promote Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I’ve basically ignored all those articles on “how to have a successful blog” – I don’t tag my posts, I don’t attend blogger functions, I don’t stay on topic. So I know that any of you who read my ramblings, or even more generously, take the time to comment, have found your way here because you’re genuinely interested in what I have to say. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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As our close friends know, bits of our life are hard at the moment. That’s not surprising – very few people make it to their 50s without trials and challenges along the way. But these difficulties rarely make it onto our blog – not because I wish to present a glossied up version of our lives – but because I refuse to let them define who I am. Yes, things do get a bit tricky at times, and some days that can feel overwhelming, but right now, at this moment in time, life is grand.

This moment, as I sit here in the quiet of an early Sunday morning, scribbling on a scrap of paper, sipping hot chocolate, listening to the hum of the oven, feeling the warmth of the gas heater, watching my dough rise – this moment is perfect. And really, this moment is all we ever have – it’s our only reality.

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I believe…that we need to make conscious choices about what we allow to define us. And that if we take our measure from the positive things in our lives rather than the negative ones, we’re far more likely to find enduring happiness and contentment.

I’d love to know what defines you. If you’re inclined to share, please feel free to leave as long (or as short) a comment below as you wish. ♥

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