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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!

I recently bought some of these super cute piggy wrappers, just enough for handing out and making a few lanterns. I’ve been calling them my Day of the Dead piggies, but my very Chinese sister doesn’t approve (superstition dictates no mention of mortality during the CNY period)…

I dragged out my old instruction books…

…and made some old favourites…

…as well as a couple of new designs…

This one really tested my spatial skills, which are rubbish at the best of times…

Chinese New Year lasts for fifteen days, so there’s plenty of time left if you’d like to make a lantern. You can buy the red packets at most Chinese grocery stores, or substitute red mailing envelopes. Sometimes you can get them free from the banks as well. Here’s my tutorial for a very simple ball shaped lantern, and an even easier one for a single packet decoration.

. . . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I sorted out my lantern making supplies and took all my surplus stock to Reverse Garbage.

As I was going through them, I found these gorgeous old world wrappers – I’ve hoarded them for over a decade because I loved them too much to give away, knowing that they’d be discarded minutes later. I thought they might get a longer life if I gave them away as bookmarks, so I dragged out my old laminator and guillotine and set to work.

I made these ones as well…

Chinese New Year is always snake bean season in our garden, and we’ve had a bumper crop this year. We’ve picked this many every day for the past couple of weeks…

We feasted on them for our New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner…

We had chicken rice and homemade dumplings…

And Malaysian prawn crackers of course, fried to order…

. . . . .

Wishing you every happiness and the best possible health this Year of the Pig! And in honour of the swine, I hope you get to enjoy many delicious meals with your loved ones! ♥

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Ottolenghi Simple

Yotam Ottolenghi is visiting Australia at the moment, so it seems a good time to put up this post which has been sitting in my drafts for a few days.

I bought his book SIMPLE at the end of last year in iPad format. So yes, it has an exit plan – at any time I can just delete it from my library. But I can’t see myself doing that any time soon, because it’s brilliant.

I have several of Ottolenghi’s other books and they’re very inspiring but the recipes are complicated and often too much work for a family dinner. This one however, as the title proclaims, is simple. Last weekend, having come home excitedly with discount berries from Harris Farm, I made two of the desserts from it.

The first was the Blackberry and Plum Friand Cake (here’s a link to the recipe)…

It used five of our backyard eggs – whites only, so I turned the yolks into microwave custard to accompany it (recipe is here). I used all five yolks in the custard, even though my recipe only specifies four, and it was completely fine…

We had friends over for dinner and the entire cake was demolished for dessert…

The following day, I tried the Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake. If you’d like to give it a go, the recipe can be found here. Our lemon tree is on holidays at the moment, so I used one of the many limes I have in the fridge…

The cake was moist and very moreish. Big Boy and Small Man had three slices each…

I can’t recommend SIMPLE highly enough! The e-book is  well formatted, with lots of hyperlinks for easy navigation, and about half the price of the hardcover version. You will need a tablet or a computer though – I don’t think it will work very well on the original black and white Kindle. Enjoy!

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When I posted about my adventures at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, Claire left me a comment (thanks Claire!) to tell me about the Plants with Bite exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Pete and I popped in for an explore last week and it’s great!

Entry is free and even though it’s not a huge space, there are oodles of carnivorous plants on display. Including lots of very robust Venus Fly Traps (anyone who has ever tried to grow these at home will tell you how easily they die off)…

Tiny, sticky sundews, with sparkly globules that catch bugs like superglue…

Butterworts and bladderworts, although I didn’t take any photos of the latter…

And the most wonderful array of pitcher plants, both the North American ones that grow on the ground…

…and my all time favourites, these Nepenthes or tropical pitcher plants. Known colloquially as “monkey cups” (as monkeys have been seen drinking rainwater out of them)  the pitchers form from the end of specialised leaves.

Apparently there are 170 different varieties currently known…

The exit is guarded by Audrey II, straight from the theatrical production of Little Shop of Horrors…

I always try to buy something in support when I attend a free exhibition, so I came home with a Gardens magazine and stick-on tattoos, because I’m a child…

I was told the display will be open for at least the first half of this year. It’s based in the Calyx at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and well worth a visit if you get a chance. Make sure you have a good look at the green wall while you’re there – it’s the largest in Australia!

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I was messing about with my denim stash yesterday and ended up making this little bag from the leg of an old pair of jeans. It was the perfect size for our neighbourhood bread deliveries.

It worked so well and was so quick to make that I started experimenting with other fabrics. Three hours and ten bags later, and I’m happy to share the instructions!

Start with two rectangles of fabric – approximately 15″ x 11″ (38cm x 28cm). Also, cut a strap 2½” (6½cm) wide by whatever length you prefer.  My handles all ended up different lengths, determined by whatever scrap I was using…

Place the rectangles right sides together. Cut 2″ (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners…

Sew the bottom and side seams, then overlock around the top. I overlocked all the seams just because it’s easier, but you could straight stitch and finish them if you prefer…

Now open up the fabric in the corners and match the side and bottom seams…

Stitch to form a boxed base…

Turn the top edge over and hem. At the same time, hem the long sides of the strap. At this point, down tools and go and iron everything as it will be harder to do so later…

Centre the strap over the side seams and attach it in place with two rows of stitching. That’s it, all done! Easy, right?

These bags are proving to be very useful! They’re the perfect size for one of my loaves…

…and for BYOing two bottles of wine to dinner…

I’ve made them in quilting scrap, denim, tea towels – just about any sturdy non-stretch fabric will work…

If you’re a bit more experienced and want to try making the bag from old jeans, you’ll need to make sure the leg circumference is wide enough (most skinny jeans won’t work). Make sure you have a sturdy sewing machine and walk the needle over the thick seams or risk breaking it (I learnt that the hard way).

Here’s how I cut the bag out of a jean’s leg…

I love how they turn out, but mitering the corners is a bit trickier. You could, of course, just leave that step out…

I love quick and easy sewing projects like this! The dimensions can be easily adapted as needed, so in theory the basic pattern could be used for everything from lolly bags to shopping totes (although the straps might need changing for the latter to provide more support).

I’ll be making them as bread and wine carriers, but I suspect we’ll find a multitude of different things to do with them.  I hope you’ll give them a go! ♥

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Our Urban Village

I came home recently to find teenagers on our back deck, using our wifi.

Don’t worry, they had permission. The internet had gone down at their house, so they’d hot-footed it across the road to use ours. The fact that we weren’t home didn’t make any difference.

And for the umpteenth time since we moved here nearly 30 years ago, I gave thanks for this wonderful urban village that we live in.

We love our house, but it’s just bricks and mortar at the end of the day – what makes it special is the neighbourhood it’s located in. I recently came across a post I wrote six years ago, and it occurred to me that while some of the faces have changed, the essence of our community hasn’t. It’s still a street where folks say hello, share food and conversation, and look out for one other. And it made me wonder – what makes a neighbourhood a village? Why is our little corner of the inner west so magical?

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to live in a village. Perhaps it’s what every new immigrant wants – when my parents arrived in the late 1960s, barely speaking English and the only Chinese family in the area, they left behind all their loved ones. I was only four, but old enough to remember the noise and laughter and camaraderie that filled our house back in Malaysia. We went back for (very) occasional visits as I was growing up, and I have vivid memories of family and friends, gathered around kitchen tables, eating and talking loudly. It seemed to be a wonderful way to live.

So I feel incredibly lucky to have found this neighbourhood.

I love that we’re able to share our food, time and resources in a relaxed, easy way. Mark mows our front lawn, Jane brings me cocktails, and last week, Graeme dropped over sashimi plates and smoked meats. PeteV bought us a fancy bluetooth thermometer for Rosie the Smoker, so that we could sleep through the night rather than getting up three times to check the thermostat. Maude spends early mornings crocheting and drinking tea with me, Margaret made us a jar of her secret family chutney, and on a really good day, June will drop over a plate of her amazing Hungarian cabbage rolls.

In return, we hand out loaves of bread, share our old vintage ports and force feed everyone experimental chocolate. Last weekend, we pulled out an entire bed of perennial leeks from the garden and left them on the back deck so that the neighbours could come and help themselves.

I say “in return”, but in truth, it’s never been a case of quid pro quo. None of us keep track of what we’re giving or receiving, because what’s actually happening is that we’re building a community. Every neighbourly exchange gives us an opportunity to interact, nourish and build relationships, while always respecting each other’s personal space.

It also makes our village a safer place to live – when Pete and I go away, the boys have a dozen numbers to call of folks who will drop everything and run over if they need help (not that it’s such an issue now that they’re both adults). We keep an eye on each other’s houses, chase runaway pets down the road, and text when we think something might be amiss.

Let me give you an example of how well it all works. Darling Norma passed away a couple of months ago at the grand old age of 92. She’d had several strokes and couldn’t remember our names anymore, but she’d been able to keep living at home, on her own, largely because of her neighbours on both sides. They would drive her to doctors’ appointments, take out her rubbish, ring to tell her there was someone at the door (she was quite deaf), and so much more. Norma was born on our street, but it was Jane and Jacinta’s love and care that made it possible for her to spend her final days here.

Over the years, we’ve watched our sons and the other neighbourhood babies grow up and head off into the world, going to university, travelling overseas, starting careers and getting married. I hope that one day, they too will all find villages of their own. ♥

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