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!


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Farewell January, you've been grand

The boy goes back to school tomorrow after the summer holidays and to be honest, I am ready to get back into a routine.That is not because having him home from school is challenging anymore because basically he is old enough now to look after himself, if you call staying up all night playing games and sleeping all day looking after yourself. He was also away a couple of times including one stretch of two weeks where he went to Perth to stay with my relatives.

I have to say that this summer feels like it is ending, and that is despite the fact that we haven't had much hot weather at all and there is officially still a month of the season to go. I don't remember having this feeling in previous years and when I look back I think it is because I have managed to pack a fair bit into this January.

With the intention of actually doing some blogging I thought I would share some pictures from my January. We started the month off with a day at the beach, on one of the few hot days we had, and boy was it hot! That day started off with a bit of a frenzy though as I realised that I no longer have any bathers that actually fit so had to rush out and buy some. The major thing I realised on this day out was that I really did let my weight stop me from doing some things. I wouldn't have said I did if you had of asked me a year ago, but the reality was that this was the first time I had been fully into the ocean in years. I had waded in up to my knees on occasion but not strode into the waves confidently. I was a bit worried that the lily whiteness of all that skin being exposed to the sun might cause some blindness for bystanders but no one said anything.

There was time spent being a tourist in my own town. I had a friend come over and I took them to some of my favourite places, but we also went to the Shrine of Rememberance. It is a place I have seen before but never actually been to. I didn't realise that you can climb to the top of the shrine and get a 360 degree view of the city. I will definitely be going back there again. That whole weekend was awesome and I think is pretty sure to feature among my highlights for the year!

There was good food and good company including an Australia Day barbecue, farewell drinks for a friend who is moving to Perth, drinks by the river on a fine summer evening, catching up with friends, a retirement do where I go to be a lady that lunched and even some cooking for other people that I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.

There was a night at the tennis at the Australian Open

And a night of dancing. Hours of dancing to both modern music and awesome 80s pop.

There was also lots and lots of basketball in the last week of January. This is a big part of my routine for the next 8 months or so.

And there were movies, including Mockingjay, The Water Diviner and The Imitation Game, which is my favourite of the movies I have seen.

Oh, and the shopping. There was a lot of shopping!! I cleared out my wardrobe at the end of December and got rid of all my really fat clothes. Whilst I am trying to be a little controlled buying new clothes that may not fit for long, I must admit that it is really, really exciting and fun to be able to walk into a normal clothes shop and find things that fit and look good. In the last ten days I have bought 2 dresses, 4 tops, a pair of jeans, a pair of leggings, a ring, a set of bangles, shoes, earrings and a handbag. I am becoming a lady who likes to shop, which is something I would never have said about myself.

What you won't notice in here is any mention of books, and that is because I haven't actually finished a book this month. Not even one.  Shocking, but true. I am, however, really enjoying the going out and living life! I feel as though I have a lot more capacity to enjoy life at the moment. It is an unexpected bonus of losing so much weight. I always went out and did things but not like I did this month. Long may it continue.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Feeling Saucy

I did something new to me a few weeks ago. I made a tomato pasta sauce from scratch, and it really wasn't that hard. The thing that has excited me about this is how versatile this sauce was once I had made it. I had never really thought of how many different ways you can use a sauce. So in this week's Weekend Cooking I am going to talk about the different ways I used this Tomato Pasta Sauce.

First though, I posted the recipe as part of my most recent weekend cooking post for Garlic Prawns, but I am going to repost it here too.

Tomato Pasta Sauce

1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 kg ripe tomatoes, chopped

Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion, carrot, capsicum and garlic. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until onion softens.

Add tomato. Increase heat to high. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until tomato breaks down and forms a sauce. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Transfer sauce to a food processor and process until smooth. Return to pan. Use immediately or either freeze or store in sterilised jars.

I originally found this recipe in the most recent Diabetic Living magazine. I really liked that the magazine not only posted the recipe but also that it then used it in other recipes through out the magazine, like the Garlic Prawns recipe.  One of the suggestions on how to use the sauce include to toss through cooked pasta with chargrilled chicken and seasonal vegies and then top with basil leaves, parmesan and pepper. It was mentioned that you can either bottle this in sterilised glass jars or freeze in 1 cup portions. 

Another suggestion is to use the sauce on pizza bases and top with vegies, prawns and some low fat cheese.  Whilst I didn't follow this suggestion exactly, I did make a pizza on wholemeal pita bread using this sauce as the base and topped it with poached chicken breast, red onion, red capsicum, baby spinach leaves and topped with some baby bocconcini because I had most of these ingredients left from the salad that I made to go with the prawns I posted recently. It looked and tasted awesome!

One of the recipes that the sauce was used in in the magazine was a Cheesy Tomato Gnocchi which sounds delicious but I am not the biggest gnocchi fan so not sure if I will make it.

There were two other things that I did with the sauce after I had made it. I was pretty excited with the idea of actually using the pasta sauce as exactly that. I was going to have proper pasta for the first time in months. The only way I have been having pasta for the last nine months is in lasagne. There is actually no reason why being diabetic stops you from having pasta as long as you watch your serving size which according to the recommendations should be around a cup of cooked pasta. The biggest issue is that most of the time we eat way too much and then we top it with lots of tasty but not necessarily all that healthy other ingredients. 

I had my dinner all planned out. I was going to have some chicken with pasta and tomato sauce and some steamed vegies. Only problem was that my teenage son, who loves to eat raw pasta, has eaten all the pasta in the house. The only type that we had left was risoni, the rice-like pasta. Good low GI food but not precisely the pasta dinner I was looking for! It ended up being a bit of an odd dinner all round.

The final way I used it was in the following recipe which I originally found in Symply Too Good To Be True book 2. This has fast become one of our favourite meals to eat. I am always amused by the dietician's comment which is "At last a chicken parmigiana that tastes like you find at the pub but without it being high in fat". Now, it is good but it doesn't taste like a great chicken parma from the pub! Here is the original recipe:

Chicken Parmagiana

4x125g skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
75g 97% fat-free ham slices
4 tblspns no-added-salt tomato paste
1 cup 25% reduced-fat grated tasty cheese

Preheat oven to 180C fan forced.

Flatten chicken breasts using a meat mallet. Place on a baking tray that has been coated with cooking spray. Place ham slices evenly on top of each flattened piece of chicken, spread 1/4 of tomato paste over each breast, sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 25-30 minutesor until chicken is cooked through. 

Since I started making this I have done it as described above but I have also made it just using canned tomatoes that have been strained and using Tomato Supreme (which is a mix of tomato, capsicum and onion) but this time around I used the pasta sauce and it was definitely super tasty! One thing is that I don't tend to flatten the chicken breast all that much as it stays nice and moist. I also tend to only have half a chicken breast and use the rest the next day or for lunch.

Just from this one time of making this sauce from scratch I am definitely inspired to make it again, to freeze some servings ready for those days when I just need something quick and tasty and to make some of these things again as well as maybe trying something new! It also sounds super organised which is something new and unusual for me.

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, January 11, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Garlic Prawns

Last week I talked about a memorable meal and I am going to touch on that theme again this week. This time I am going to go back even further to a trip to Perth when I was maybe 19 years old. Yes, that far back!

This time my trip down memory lane takes me back to a day when I went to Fremantle. I happened to be in Perth at the same time as a friend from work so we met up and went down to Freo and did touristy things. It was getting to the point of being past lunch time when we decided that we were hungry and we decided to eat at a somewhat kitschy restaurant.

I chose garlic prawns which was served with white rice and oh my goodness, so good, When I think back it was probably a pretty simple version of garlic prawns. There seemed to be only prawns and lots and lots of finely chopped garlic. There must have been something else in there to aid the flavour but I have no idea what that would have been.

Unlike the dish I mentioned last week, after a couple of failed attempts a long time to ago to find another garlic prawns dish that I like I have stopped trying garlic prawns if I go out for dinner.

I seem to be a bit obsessed with eating seafood at the moment. My go to weekday dinner at the moment is pre-packaged steamed fish in a Thai coconut sauce with brown rice and baby broccoli. I am using the precooked rice so not only does this meal taste good but it also takes approximately 5 minutes to cook. I had this a couple of times this week. Then yesterday I had prawn pad see ew from the Thai restaurant near work yesterday and I bought sardines to have for breakfast tomorrow. And then there was the new recipe I tried tonight from the current Diabetic Living magazine. There are a number of recipes I am keen to try in the current magazine but as soon as I saw it I knew this would be the first recipe I would try.

There are actually three components to this meal, but the hardest thing really was chopping the vegetables for the sauce. Other than that, it is pretty simple really. And I have to say the salad was a winner! I don't usually do the dressing thing but this was quick and simple and tasty.

Garlic Prawns

2 tspn extra virgin olive oil
2 tspn light margarine
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg (500g peeled) green prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact
500ml (2 cups) tomato pasta sauce (recipe below)
4 slices (250g) sourdough bread or gluten free bread, to serve

Spinach, tomato and bocconcini salad

100g green beans, blanched, diagonally sliced
50g (2 cups) baby spinach leaves
1 small red capsicum, cut into thin, short strips
3 egg tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
50g bocconcini, torn into wedges
3 tspn red wine vinegar
1 tspn extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to season

To make spinach, tomato and bocconcini salad put beans, spinach, capsicum, tomato, onion and bocconcini in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Whisk vinegar and oil in a small bowl. Season with pepper and set aside.

Heat oil and margarine in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium high heat until foaming. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the prawns and cook, turning often, for 2 minutes or until almost cooked.

Add sauce and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until prawns are tender and sauce is heated

Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat. Divide prawns between small serving dishes. Serve with bread and salad

*For a variation, you can replace the beans with sugar snap peas or snow peas, and the bocconcini with low-fat ricotta.

Tomato Pasta Sauce

1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 kg ripe tomatoes, chopped

Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion, carrot, capsicum and garlic. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until onion softens.

Add tomato. Increase heat to high. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until tomato breaks down and forms a sauce. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Transfer sauce to a food processor and process until smooth. Return to pan. Use immediately or either freeze or store in sterilised jars.

I think you are probably going to hear more about the sauce next week!

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, January 04, 2015

Sunday Salon: 2014 stats

It would be remiss of me to not do a round up of my reading for 2014. Of course, that  also gives me yet another opportunity to lament how badly my 2014 reading really went.

Let's stop talking about what I didn't read and concentrate on what I did read.  I was quite pleased and a little surprised, to see that there were 15 books that I rated as being rated 4.5 or higher. There was only one book that I rated as a 5/5 read though.

And what an awesome book it was. Given that it was the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I it is fitting that the one book that I gave the maximum rating to was a book that explored that time. In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl follows a young woman who travels from Australia to look for her brother who has joined up despite the fact that he is underage. She becomes a nurse in a hospital in France. We follow both Iris's story as a nurse and her grand daughter Grace who works as a doctor but is having trouble balancing work with her role as a wife and mother. An excellent read on many levels.

So let's get stuck into some stats.

I only read a grand total of 66 books in 2014. 66!!  Last year I talked about the fact that I only read 219 books. Now I am thinking that 219 was a really good effort. I know for some people that 66 people would be a good total, but for me it is my worst reading year in at least 10 to 15 years. It is also important to put that in perspective.  As at June I had read 54 books. That means that in the last six months of the year I only read 12. And even that is a bit misleading because I only read one book in both November and December!

So I mentioned previously that in 2013 I was a bit disappointed with my total of 219 books and that was because the previous year I read a massive 291 books. I also could justify that a little because I read a lot of big books in 2013 but that isn't the case in 2014 either. All up, I read a total of 22696 pages. A fair proportion of the books I have read were by new to me authors - a total of 28.

Last year I was pretty much evenly split between reading in e-books and print with a good chunk being listened to in audio books. 2014 was different because I barely read any e-books and I pretty much stopped listening to audio books late in the year too. Or that is how it feels anyway. Let's have a look at the chart and see how it really was.

In terms of the quality of the books that I read, my go to grade continues to be 4/5, something that I don't envisage changing any time soon, but I as I mentioned above I was pleased that such a high proportion of them were 4.5 or 5 out of 5.

As usual, I continue to predominantly read books written by female authors. Given that this has been so consistent for a few years now I don't see this actually changing anytime soon.

My genre reading stayed pretty consistent with previous years. Romance tends to dominate with general fiction, historical fiction and YA. 

A few other little stats. 

My participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge continues to influence my reading in a big way. This year, 24 of the books I read were by Australian female authors. It is hard to believe that it is only a couple of years since I was happy to just read 10 books by Aussie authors, regardless of gender! The only other challenge that I made any progress in was the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge where I read 12 books.

This year I reread 3 books. One of these was a surprise to me. I read a book which I didn't remember at all. It was only when I went to add it into my spreadsheet that I realised that it was already there!!

And there we have it. 2014 in a nutshell. Whilst I think that I will probably have the same kind of reading this year as I did last year I do hope that I can be a bit more consistent throughout the year rather than practically stopping reading at all in the latter part of the year.

Currently reading

Outback Ghost by Rachael Johns

Up Next

Lets just see if we can finish one book before we worry about the next one!!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Beef and Shiitake Stir Fry

Over the last few years I have shared a number of posts about memorable meals. These have ranged from a simple meal of bread and cheese in France to goulash and chocolate cake for breakfast in Hungary but this week I wanted to talk about a meal that I had closer to home.

Many, many years ago I went out to a Chinese banquet with a group of friends. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember it was in the centre of Adelaide and I think you had to go downstairs to get to it. I have no idea what else we ate, but one of the courses was a beef and broccoli stir fry with oyster sauce. It was so delicious. Ever since them I have been in search of a repeat of the perfect experience, with mixed success. I quite often order beef and vegie stir fry in oyster sauce which is good, but just not quite as good as I remember. Maybe I have remembered it as much better than it actually was.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I borrowed a number of books from the library including the 4 Ingredients Diabetes book which is endorsed by Diabetes Australia.  I was pleased to find a recipe for Beef and Shiitake Stir Fry in there which I thought was probably worth trying. I have had mixed results with the 4 ingredients cook books in the past. I have used them to try some new ideas and then gone onto explore more complex recipes with more success at a later date. For example, a while ago I tried a tomato and pasta recipe that I thought was pretty bland but then that led me to try a recipe for Pasta Pomodoro which was delicious and wasn't that much harder that the 4 ingredients cook book.

One thing I liked from this recipe is that it challenged me to use ingredients I wouldn't normally use. Broccolini is a vegetable that I must confess I didn't really see the point of. Why not just used normal broccoli, but having used it in this recipe I have now gone on to buy some baby broccoli too which I am usually having with steamed fish and brown rice which is really delicious. The other thing is that shiitake mushrooms aren't always available from my supermarket so it is interesting to see what difference different types of mushrooms make to the taste.

The boy isn't particularly fond of this recipe but I like it enough to have made it a few times. Maybe he'll come round once I serve it up a few more times. That has happened before.  I usually serve it up with steamed basmati rice and take the leftovers to work for lunch over a couple of days. Maybe now I need to go and search for a more complex and subtle flavour combination. Watch this space.

Beef and Shiitake Stir Fry

500g rump steak, sliced
2 bunches broccolini, cut into 4cm lengths
200g shiitake mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce

Heat a nonstick wok or frying pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons water, the beef, broccolini, and mushrooms; season to taste with pepper. Stir fry until the beef is just browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oyster sauce and stir-fry until well coated and the vegetables just tender

Author's note:

I used oyster sauce which is high in sodium simply because I had it. To lower the sodium you could substitute oyster for black bean or hoisin sauce if you have them. To increase carbohydrates, toss through 400g of cooked rice noodles, though you may need a little extra sauce. Simply create by mixing 2 tablespoons of water from the cooked noodles with 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce.

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.


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