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I was sitting at the dining room table, singing to myself.

“You don’t bring me flowers…anymore..”

Pete interrupted me.

“I think you mean…’at all’. I never bring you flowers.”

Sigh. Such is life when you’re married to an engineer.

. . . . .

Shortly after this conversation, it was Small Man’s 21st birthday. I pointed out that it was technically my “birth day” as well, so that wonderful husband of mine bought me the most amazing thing.

It’s a chrysanthemum stone, a quite rare and unique piece from Hunan, China. Formed during the Permian period (248 – 290 million years ago), the unusual floral shape was created by celestite and calcite crystals growing in a radial “petal” formation in between layers of mud. The stone was then carved to emphasise the natural flower-like shape of the white crystals.

It’s a substantial piece, weighing over 5kg and standing nearly 30cm tall. Intriguingly, the flower formation goes right through to the back of the rock…

I’ve read that the chrysanthemum stone was the official symbol of the Chinese imperial family. It is still highly prized in China, where it is believed to promote harmony and change. Here’s a photo taken from the side – you can see the thick layer of white crystals over the black matrix…

The stone was purchased from RocksnCrystals in Paddington, a wonderful store run by the lovely Stu and Sarah. It’s definitely worth popping in if you’re in the area, as they have some beautiful specimens on offer.

The chrysanthemum stone has found a perfect home on our living room corner shelves…

Pete refers to his gift as the “eternal bloom” and claims that he never has to buy me flowers again. I think he’s probably right! ♥

The latest furoshiki technique I’ve been practising is called Suika Tsutsumi (Watermelon Wrapping).

It’s a bit fiddlier than the simple bag (tutorial here) or the library bag (here), but still only needs two square knots. Tie these carefully and correctly to ensure they don’t pull undone…

1. Lay the furoshiki face down and place the melon (or other round object) in the centre…

2.  Bring up two corners and tie them in a square knot, leaving a small gap…

3. Turn the furoshiki and melon/pot around and repeat on the other side…

Leave a slightly bigger gap this time…

4. Holding a knot in each hand…

…pass the second knot through the gap beneath the first one…

5. Adjust the knots to neaten and to ensure that the item is well balanced. Make sure they’re all securely tied. You should be able to carry the item with one hand holding onto the top loop…

6. Variation: if you’re using a larger furoshiki, pass one knot through the other, then untie and twist the ends before re-tying…

I rarely have a melon (or a bowling ball) to wrap, but this technique works well for everything from a pot of rice to a bowl of salad. If you enjoy cooking or baking, you’ll probably find it very useful. Here’s how I wrapped two loaves of sourdough, flat sides together, for delivery to a friend…

The furoshiki fever is spreading fast – I’m making them as birthday gifts, mailing them to friends interstate, and haunting Daiso stores to find unusual tenugui (Japanese hand towels) to sew together (panda and sumo furoshiki in the photos above).

Last Sunday, I tied a backpack from two cloths and used it to carry meat home from the butcher. Later that evening, I made a smaller version for my adorable little neighbour…

If you’d like to have a go, you might enjoy our earlier posts. Have fun! ♥

Thank you all for your lovely comments on Small Man’s birthday post, and for sharing the happy occasion with us! ♥

. . . . .

The conundrum with party food is this: I can’t bear the thought that there might not be enough, but prepping on that principle always results in a mountain of leftovers, and I can’t bear to waste any of them. So visitors are always pressed to take home boxes of food, while we attempt to creatively upcycle whatever remains.

With all the pastry offcuts from the sausage rolls

…we made a dozen curry puffs. Filled with chicken and potato, they were good both hot and cold…

. . . . .

I used the leftover antipasti in a quadruple batch of our filled foccacia. Double-smoked ham, Italian Prosciutto, Parmesan, Fromage D’Affinois, membrillo and sun-dried tomatoes all went into the mix…

Two giant slabs of focaccia came out of the oven…

Half a slab went to Will and Bethany, who’d brought an antipasto platter, and the rest was cut into large squares and frozen. The boys have been eating them for lunch with leftover hummus

This worked particularly well and I’d urge you to give it a go the next time you have leftover antipasti. Almost anything can go in, even the tiny scrappy bits!

Our Small Man has turned twenty-one.

It’s a big deal.

As those of you who have been following along for the past decade will appreciate, it hasn’t been an easy road for him. He’s had stage 4 cancer, which in turn led to learning and social difficulties, anaphylaxis-inducing allergies, and a variety of other health issues. At one point, we weren’t sure he’d make it to twenty-one months, let alone twenty-one years. I’ve written a bit about this in the past, so I won’t rehash it all here, but you’re welcome to read these posts if you’re interested: Small Man; Giving Thanks.

When we asked our son how he would like to celebrate, he replied very much in character by asking for a “modest” party. So we invited only those who knew him well and loved him nearly as much as we do. We tidied up the back deck and spent a day cooking in the kitchen.

We made pork and fennel sausage rolls from scratch, starting with kilos of homemade rough puff pastry (following this great YouTube tutorial from River Cottage)…

Despite my best efforts, the birthday cake was seriously ugly.

I started with two of our chocolate slab cakes and then attempted to join them together with icing

Thankfully, Small Man didn’t care how it looked…

…and our friends were all happy with how it tasted – most came back for seconds…

As always, the chicken liver parfait was very popular. I used free range livers from Harris Farm Markets in Leichhardt and a heavy-handed pour of XO brandy…

We deep-fried a mountain of Malaysian prawn crackers.

Monkey Girl and I discovered that they were sublime spread with the parfait…

Maude’s gojuchang and caramel popcorn was inspired by Lorraine’s Peking Duck popcorn recipe. It was a huge hit…

There were platters of antipasti, loaves of freshly baked sourdough, giant slabs of pizza, and many, many bottles of French champagne. We all had a wonderful time…

Small Man, we love you and we couldn’t be prouder of the young adult you’ve grown up to be. Thank you for being such an important part of our lives, and for allowing us to be part of yours! ♥

Remember my earlier eel adventures? Don’t panic, I’m not putting the twitching video back up.

When my friend and Italian chef Carla Tomasi heard I was frying fresh eel, she sent me her recipe for anguilla in carpione – a pickled eel dish traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s delicious and very easy to make, once you get past the squeamishness of handling pulsing slabs of flesh.

Cut the eel fillets into pieces, then dust them in seasoned flour. Keep them as cold as possible and work quickly to avoid the twitching! Fry the pieces gently in a combination of butter and oil until cooked through…

In the meantime, bring to boil ¾ cup oil and ¼ cup red wine vinegar, with a bashed clove of garlic, a pinch of fennel seeds, half a sliced onion, two bay leaves and a piece of chilli (dried or fresh). Drain the eel pieces and place them in a bowl, then pour the mixture over…

It will keep well in the fridge for at least a week – make sure the eel is submerged in the liquid, topping up with more oil/vinegar if needed…

The skin becomes quite rubbery when cold, so I trim it off before eating (it’s fine when first cooked). The tender pickled eel is tangy and delicious, and particularly good on buttered sourdough toast…

Thank you, lovely Carla, for sharing such an interesting dish with me! ♥

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