Saturday, April 25, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Gunfire breakfast

Today is Anzac Day - a day that is very important for Australians and New Zealanders. It is a day where we gather together to commemorate the sacrifices that have been made by those who have served our respective countries.It is always an emotional day, and a special day, but it was more so today because it is the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipolli.

Over my years of blogging I have written a number of posts about Anzac Day so I won't talk too much more about the history of the day. Instead, I thought that I would share my day, and one particular aspect of it for Weekend Cooking, because today I did something I have been meaning to do for years and years but never quite gotten around to. I went to the Dawn Service at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.

A number of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about the fact that I had never actually been to a dawn service and she said that she hadn't either. Given that it is the 100th anniversary we both agreed that this was the year to do it, and so a plan was born. We figured that if we both committed to it then neither of us would be tempted to rollover and go back to sleep because it was too cold or wet, we were too tired or whatever the excuse was we came up with on the day.

We therefore headed into the city around 4am and made our way to the Shrine of Remembrance, a building I had only visited for the first time back in January, and joined around 80000 other like minded people to wait for the coming dawn. One of the most incredible things was realising how quiet that number of people can be sometimes, particularly during the minute's silence.

I get emotional whenever I hear the Last Post play and today was no exception but there were many other emotional moments too, such as hearing the hymn Abide with Me interspersed with a gun salute and hearing current and former service men sharing stories not only from WWI but also showing how the hardships faced back then can be linked with our current soldiers who answer the call whenever they are required to serve around the world.

I thought I would share a couple of the photos I took before getting to the foody part of this post.

Shrine of Remembrance in the pre-dawn light

Looking back towards Melbourne from our possie near the shrine

One of the things that they did for this year was ask the community to knit some poppies. Yesterday they formed a carpet in Fed Square, one of the major public spaces here in Melbourne, but today they lined either side of Princes Bridge which was part of the route for the parade that also happened today. It is a pity that it was so wet today as the poppies looked a bit sodden but it still looked very effective.

Now onto the food part....

Up until this week I don't believe I had ever heard the term gunfire breakfast, or if I had it had definitely slipped from my somewhat porous mind. I was talking to my sister about coming into the ceremony and she mentioned staying for the gunfire breakfast. This is apparently part of the traditions of Anzac Day with a lot of Returned Services Leagues (RSL) putting on the breakfast after local ceremonies. For ours, a gold coin donation was requested with proceeds going towards charities that work with former soldiers.

What is the gunfire breakfast? Glad you asked. Back in World War I, the diggers would be given a breakfast of .... before they faced going over the top and into the path of danger and for so many of them potential death or injury. During the ceremony today, they talked about the original gunfire breakfast consisting of black coffee laced with rum, some beef and potatoes and maybe some biscuits, although there does seem to be a bit of conjecture around the definition of what made up a gunfire breakfast. Regardless, I am not sure that I would feel the need to eat much if I knew that at some point in the coming day I would be facing imminent death!

Today's breakfast wasn't fancy, and possibly not all that recognisable by original diggers but still there was no actual gunfire so that's a bonus.  The food today was provided by the catering corps of the army. Probably my first and perhaps last time to be fed by such a group!  It was interesting because we were standing near the family of a soldier from the catering corps so we got to eavesdrop on their conversation. It turns out that today to feed however many thousands of people stopped for breakfast there were 10 tents that between them were expected to serve up around 900 kilos of sausages alone! Must be a huge logistical event!! I presume that we were eating powdered egg rather than the real thing because otherwise it would be difficult to imagine breaking that many eggs! Apparently there were also a lot of Anzac biscuits that were being given away but we didn't end up lining up for those!

So whilst this might not be the prettiest or tastiest breakfast I have ever had, it certainly had a lot of meaning and seemed like a perfect way to follow the dawn service.. It consisted of sausages, eggs, onions and bread. We did end up heading back into the city to find nice coffee, something the coffee lovers with me insisted upon!!

Below is a list of links to posts I have previously written about Anzac Day

2013 - Quote from Daughter of Mars by Tom Keneally
2012 - Joint post with Maree from Just Add Books
2011 - Acknowledging indigenous diggers/I was only Nineteen
2010 - My grandparent's story/reading war stories
2009 - Two up.
2008 - The Last Post

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sydney baby!!

I am in Sydney this weekend for the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australia conference, and I have to say I am excited to be here! I have long looked at the HNS conferences that have been held in the US and the UK and wished I could be there and finally it is our turn. Not to mention the fact that I have been doing lots of drives to the airport to drop other people off and pick them up but finally it is my chance to get on a plane and go somewhere!

My friend and I flew up on Friday morning and so we got to do some touristy stuff which was fun and then there was the opening reception tonight. I am not sure I am going to write a whole lot about the conference but I thought I would share a few photos over the next couple of days.

I will start with a bonus in relation to the weight loss I have been talking about recently. Today, I was able to get on the plane and not feel self conscious at all about being too fat for the person that I am sitting next to, or about something as simple as doing up the seatbelt. On previous journeys I have either had to really struggle hard to get the seatbelt done up or even just hide the seatbelt clip under my clothes and pretend that it was done up as the flight attendants walked through the plane. The other day I was talking to my beauty therapist about the fact that you are always thinking about your weight when you are overweight and this is a classic example. I was so excited by how easy it was to do it up that I even took a photo which just looks odd but what the heck, I am sharing it here anyway.

Once we checked in to our hotel, we spent the afternoon doing the tourist thing. I said to my friend that I am travelling with that I wanted to just hang out at Circular Quay, and she was initially not keen. In the end that is basically what we ended up doing but not before we spent some time walking through the gorgeous Queen Victoria Building here in Sydney.

Firstly, here's the view from the top of our hotel, which was built in the late 60s and you can quite honestly tell. Accommodation in Sydney is so expensive, so whilst it would be great to have a gorgeous hotel room, who can afford that!!

The QV building is now a shopping centre and it is gorgeous. We could quite easily have spent a lot of time looking at some of the more interesting shops, and maybe having some coffee and cake and just appreciating the interior, especially one of the clocks

We walked to the Opera House and then back around so that we were standing under the bridge looking back towards the Opera House. Of course, that means that there are plenty of the quintessential Sydney photos, although I am looking very windswept because it was windy.

And to give you some idea of exactly how windy it was....

Tonight was the first session for the conference and very dignified it was too. Champagne, some delicious finger foods, more champagne, a welcome address by Kate Forsyth and an opening address by Sophie Masson, a book launch for Felicity Pulman and then a discussion panel whose topic was ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?’.

And now, time to sleep before another big day tomorrow!! Before that though. Did you notice? I almost talked about bookish type stuff in this post!! Go me!

Monday, March 16, 2015

On recognising my own achievements

Today I have been doing the internal equivalent of a Kermit the frog arm flail from excitement because I reached a major goal on my weight loss journey. So, yes, I look a bit like this but just not as green or as skinny...yet!

It’s been really interesting to talk to people recently. Everyone is being really encouraging about the weight loss journey and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to say something. But here’s the thing. Sometimes people say things that they mean in an encouraging way but they come out a bit differently. So, for example, someone I know keeps on telling me that I am so skinny. And I have lost a lot of weight but there is no way that I am skinny. There is still plenty of work to be done. Still at least another 20kgs. At least. Or there was the man in the coffee shop the other week who told me that not only did I look so much better but that I was a much nicer person now. What the heck does that even mean? I am the same person that I was, same personality. The fact that they didn’t rate me before potentially says something about them rather than me.

But I do find myself thinking about how I recognise my own achievements. Most of the time when someone says to me “oh my goodness you have lost so much weight”, my instant reaction is to almost dismiss the compliment with a comment along the lines of I have so much more to go. It’s not like I can’t see the weight loss now. It took me a long time but I can definitely see the changes in my face and certain parts of my body. For example, I love the fact that I can see and feel my collarbones now and I like to feel my shoulder bones just because I can!!

What I don’t want to do is get to the point where I think that I am done now. If I stayed at my current weight could I be happy? Probably. But the fact is that I want to get lower. My next goal is now another 5kgs away and then 5kgs after that etc. Right now I can walk into a normal clothes shop and find stuff that fits, not everything, but some at least. Another 10kgs and I should be able to walk in and buy almost anything.

I worry far more about things like what to wear when than I ever used to. It’s a bit odd really. I had a conversation with a friend a couple of days ago about how it is more about taking pride in your appearance. I’ve been buying new clothes, shoes, accessories and it has been fun but it’s also a bit strange. Does it really matter what you wear when and wear? Apparently in my new world it does. And it did in my old world as well but it was different. Part of the reason why it was different is that I couldn’t recognise myself properly. Not sure if that makes sense but let me try and show you an example and hopefully that will help. A couple of months ago now I cleaned out my wardrobe. I got rid of almost everything I had in there that was too big now and there was a huge pile of clothes. If you had of asked me about those clothes I would have said that I had some favourite clothes that I liked to wear but I wouldn’t have necessarily said that I had much in the way of nice clothes. A friend’s sister came to look through the clothes that I had and took the vast majority of them and she was rapt. She kept on saying oh my goodness, there are so many nice clothes here.

I guess what it comes down to at the moment is that I am trying to work out what my new normal feels like. And it does feel very different to my old normal. I feel much better emotionally and much better physically but there are some days when it just feels very strange.

And in the hopes of recognising my own achievements here are a couple of photos which show the transformation so far. The photos where I am wearing the purple shirt were taken in July last year. At that point I had already lost around 10kgs. The photos where I am wearing pink were taken two or three weeks ago. I would totally make the one where I am standing sideways my Facebook profile photo if I didn't think it would look a bit weird.

Probably should have done my hair properly before taking these photos and cleaned up the bedroom. Oh well, next time.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Romantics Anonymous

A couple of years ago I started watching and posting about foreign films, most of which happened to have a foodie feel to them. One of the first films that I watched was Romantics Anonymous. I started writing the post about this film at least 18 months ago after I had watched it for the third time. Last weekend I watched it again because I wanted a feel good movie, so maybe, just maybe, this might be the time when I actually finish writing my post about it.

Romantics Anonymous is a delightful comedy about a chronically shy young woman with a talent for making chocolates who starts working for a man who is terrified of just about everything, but especially of women. In some ways, this has quite an old fashioned feel about it, maybe a bit like an Audrey Hepburn comedy perhaps. It is charmingly funny in a predictable kind of way but it doesn't matter that it is predictable because it is well done.

Our story starts with Angelique who goes to a family run company, The Chocolate Mill to apply for a new job. She thinks that she is going to be a chocolate maker, but rather finds herself working as the sales rep for the failing company. Angelique has long had an incredible talent for making chocolate but her shyness means that she has always chosen to sit in the background rather than take the credit for them, but talking to anyone is definitely way outside her comfort zone

The Chocolate Mill is a company that is being run, pretty much into the ground, by Jean-Rene. This isn't deliberate but rather his is a company that makes a good product but hasn't moved with the times. He also has his own issues with shyness and anxiety which he is going to counselling for. Challenged by his counsellor to a series of actions, Jean-Rene and Angelique begin to spend time together with interesting events occurring, falling in love along the way. But can two people with such emotional hangups tell each other how they feel, let alone work out how to be together, and at the same time save the company from going into liquidation.

The chocolates all look amazing and I would happily have had a few more minutes of that in the movie.

One of the things that I do find myself wondering about this movie is what the main male character would look like if it were made in Hollywood. The main male character here has appeal but he certainly doesn't look like a Hollywood rom com leading man. At the moment there is a French film festival on in Melbourne and one of the films I would like to see stars this same actor whose name is Benoît Poelvoorde. The leading lady, Isabelle Carré, is gorgeous (of course).  I am hoping to actually get to see it, but if not I will definitely be looking for it on the World Movies channel in the coming months.

This is a movie that is a bit like chocolate itself. You know that it doesn't have a lot of substance but it still tastes good when you take a bite! Worth watching. In fact, worth watching several times apparently.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Weekend Cooking: My mousse problem

We have a chocolate mousse problem in my house. This weekend, I am determined that I am going to come up with a solution that might not solve the problem, but at the very least means I get some mousse occasionally. Let me try to explain.

As I have mentioned numerous times, I am in the process of losing a lot of weight. Most of the time I am doing this just by eating sensibly but every now and again I need a treat so that I don't feel as though I am completely depriving myself. Sometimes that means a couple of squares of dark chocolate, sometimes a couple of biscuits but sometimes I want something desserty.

In the interests of trying to have some low fat but tasty treats on hand, I started buying twin packs of low fat chocolate mousse, and for a few weeks it was all good. I would have one tub of mousse, which conveniently comes in a size that is enough for the taste of a treat but also means that I don't overeat because it is a single portion serving. Then, a few days later, I would have the other tub and be content. That all changed after my son, the not so little chef, tried one of the mousses....and liked it a lot.

It started getting to the point where I would buy two twin packs and put them in the fridge and then come home thinking tonight I am going to have a mousse only to find that they were all gone. On occasion there might be one left for me but all the others would be gone because he was hungry. Yes, I have a typical STARVING teenage boy in the house. And that's fine. I don't mind that he wants to eat them because of the cost. Usually it is about $1 for a serving, but it's the fact that I am eagerly anticipating a treat and then they aren't there!

The other week I thought I would try to buy some non low fat mousses as well as the one that I like for me, but that didn't quite work out as I had hoped because he likes mine better than he liked the other ones so he ate all of his and all of mine too!

So, in the interests of trying to have the occasional serving of chocolate mousse I think I have no choice but to try and see if I can find a recipe for chocolate mousse that can fit into my eating, that I can portion out so that  I am not eating too much, and that the boy will still eat. These days, when I am looking for a recipe that will fit these criteria then it is the Symply Too Good To Be True cookbooks that I refer to, and once again I have not been disappointed. So, this long weekend seems like a good time to try making it myself.

This recipe is actually for Chocolate Mousse Pie but I am not sure that I will be making the pie part, not least of all because I am not familiar with the brand of biscuits that are mentioned.

We'll see if the boy likes this mousse shall we.

Chocolate Mousse Pie

12 low fat choc chip cookies (Paradise Lite®)
1 tablespoon (15g) Flora Light® margarine melted
¾ teaspoon skim milk
cooking spray

24 squares (100g) dark cooking chocolate
1 x 375ml can CHILLED evaporated light milk
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons gelatine
¼ cup boiling water
2 x Jarrah Choc O Lait® sachets

Before starting make sure your evaporated milk is CHILLED. Place chilled canned milk into freezer for 1 hour before making filling.

To make base: In a food processor crumble biscuits. Add melted margarine and milk, process until combined. Coat a pie plate with cooking spray then spread biscuit mixture over base, pressing firmly. Refrigerate.

To make filling: In a small ceramic bowl melt chocolate in microwave on high temperature for one minute. Leave to sit in microwave while you prepare other ingredients. Make sure evaporated milk is very cold. In a large mixing bowl beat chilled milk and vanilla essence until really thick, using an electric beater. Add melted chocolate and blend well. Dissolve gelatine completely in boiling water then add Jarrah sachets, mix well. Pour mixture into milk, beat continuously until well combined. Pour mixture over biscuit base, refrigerate until set.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Farewell Summer! Hello Autumn!

It seems crazy but, officially at least, summer is over and today was the first day of autumn. This is always something that surprises my Northern Hemisphere friends who officially still have three weeks or so of winter but here in Australia the seasons changed on the first day of the month.

When I posted last month I mentioned that I had a great summer and that it really felt like a season of fun this year. February continued on in that manner too and so again I thought that I would share a few photos. The social life looks set to continue unabated through until some time in April and I have some really exciting things coming up over the next few weeks too!

Here are just a few highlights

Barefoot bowling, also known as lawn bowls with a sausage sizzle and cheap beers thrown in. Awesome fun, especially when you realise exactly how quickly your friends get competitive about everything!! Follow this was a barbecue with friends, and lots of drinks and laughs. What more can you ask for?

A day at the cricket. The Cricket World Cup is on at the moment in Australia and New Zealand and I had to take the opportunity to catch a game. And what better game is there than Australia versus England at the MCG on Valentine's Day. Me and more than 80,000 other people! The day was warm, the company was great, the weather was perfect, the beer was cold (albeit expensive) and the game was a cracker!!

I've already done a whole post on my White Night Melbourne experience so I am not going to recap again but I will say again that it was a really memorable night from the cocktails at the beginning of the night, to dinner at a nice restaurant and then wandering around seeing the sites.

And for the final day of summer, I could not have asked for a better day, despite the fact that it has been a very ordinary week work wise. I spent the day down at one of the coastal towns at Torquay attending a Sustainable Hook and Vine festival, basically seafood and wine. The grilled barramundi and salad I had for lunch was so good and I may also have tucked into some delicious ice cream. Diabetes? What diabetes? The person who I went there with is actually someone I met years ago through blogging. At the time we met online she lived in Scotland and then she moved to Melbourne a number of years ago and we try to catch up on a regular basis.

Whilst I haven't been posting very often or even visiting other people's blogs very often, I do see a little bit of what is going on in blogland and I have noticed that there have been a number of people whose blogs I have loved over the years who have decided that the time has come to say goodbye. I must confess that the thought has crossed my mind too and not just occasionally. Is it time to walk away from just under 10 years of sharing my life with other like minded people? Has my lack of posting meant that the people who have been part of this journey have lost interest? Has my lack of book related posts mean that I have confused the focus of my little place in the internet?

Here's the thing though. I still feel like I think like a blogger. Maybe that will always be the way that I think, after 9 years of habitually thinking about the posts I am going to write. Some of those never saw light of day, and some of those posts may have potentially been my best ever but there are also hundreds of posts that did get published.  I still think about the posts that I am going to write, and have at least two that are practically done. Maybe one day soon, one of those posts might even be about a book.

Speaking about books, I actually finished a book in February!! Hoorah! Does that make me a reader again? Maybe too early to declare that I think, especially seeing as book club is tomorrow night and I have only read about 50 pages of the book!

Monday, February 23, 2015

White Night Melbourne

If you live in Melbourne you are very lucky to be in a place where there is always something happening. There are lots of big events, especially sporting events, but there are often big cultural events too ranging from big name international concerts, to film and literary festivals, art exhibitions and more. One event that has brought a lot of these elements together over the last 3 years is an event called White Night. I haven't been the previous 2 years but this year I was determined to g and so I gathered some friends together for dinner and then went and enjoyed just a tiny part of the spectacle.

So what is White Night? The event was based on something that has been run in Paris for a while called Nuit Blanche, and White Night is now run in various cities around the world. Here's how the website describes it:

The event runs from 7pm to 7am, and visitors will be able to experience the visual art, exhibitions, spectacular illuminations, music, theatre, special dining experiences, film, design and performances on display in venues and major cultural institutions right across the city centre.
Sounds good right? I certainly thought so and so did an estimated crowd of around 450000 other people! Despite such large numbers it didn't really feel that crowded. I have certainly felt way more crushed at New Years Eve events in the city. There were more than 90 different things that you could see and do, the vast majority of which were free and with the displays lasting all night it did mean that you didn't all have to be in one place at one time. Unfortunately, whilst the event lasted all night, I certainly can't anymore but we gave it a good go. We chose to start the night out with dinner with friends at a nice Italian restaurant that I had been wanting to try for years and then headed into the city. It was a very warm night and be the end of the night I had certainly walked far enough to build up a ladylike glow, but  had so much fun! I don't know why I had been reluctant to go before, maybe because of the crowds, but I certainly will be going back again at some point in the future if the event continues.

One of the interesting themes for this year related to Alice in Wonderland in celebration of the 150th anniversary of it's publication and so I thought I would share some of those photos with you all.

We started at the State Library, one of my favourite places in the city at the best of times both because of the building itself but also the inside of the gorgeous dome. I have posted lots of pictures of both the exterior and interior before (one of the posts is here). There were Alice related projections on the front of the building, and hordes of people viewing them. We then went inside the dome and saw it in a whole new light. I love going to the dome. Normally it is the gorgeous light filled place that I love to go to the top viewing gallery and look down on the people below who are busy working away at desks that have old fashioned green reading lamps. This time we were on the ground floor in darkness looking up at the image that was projected on the walls all around us whilst accompanied by haunting music.

There were a number of other Alice in Wonderland themed events but we really wanted to just focus on a few things so that we could really appreciate what we saw rather than feeling we had to rush from one thing to the next. Our next stop was on Flinders Street. The Forum is one of the more interesting buildings in the city and it lends itself perfectly to being used as the base for these kinds of projections. These buildings looked amazing and then there was a drumming band really adding to the atmosphere.

Last stop on our trip down the rabbit hole was one that on the side of one of the main train stations. It is an iconic Melbourne landmark even without being used as a canvas.

It wasn't all about Alice in Wonderland. The other building that we went to was a bit out of the way but it was well worth the effort to get there. The Exhibition Building is an important building in Australian history, being the home of the first parliament following the creation of Australia as an independent country. It is a gorgeous building located in lovely parkland (although that wasn't as important given that it was dark). Rather than share photos, I thought I would share a video showing just some of the effects. The theme was 4 Elements and featured dancers and music that matched the seasons. It was amazing!



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