Saturday, 2 December 2017

BLOSSUMS and SHADOWS - Lian Hearn

My first foray into Lian Hearn's writing was the Tales of the Otori which is a series of historical novels based in Feudal Japan. 
I struggled with the characters' names but became totally engrossed in the stories once I remembered who was who. 

Blossums and Shadows is a very different book. It is based on historical events in Japan in the mid 19th Century but is narrated by the fictional character Tsuro. It was a period of internal division and rivalries between the hundreds of domains at a time when the semi-feudal government of the Shogun was beginning to crumble. Coupled with external threats of foreigners who arrived with guns and modern warfare ideas, Japan was in a very volatile state.

Tsuro is the daughter of a local doctor. Being a female, she cannot be a doctor so she works in the pharmacy. Her older sister has been married off and moved away so Tsuro is isolated. Tradition dictates that she too will marry someone of her father's choosing but he is broadminded and allows her some leeway. Eventually Tsuro marries a young doctor but life and love are complicated, particularly when children are not forthcoming and the country is on the brink of war. 



This book has a huge cast; of course with names unfamiliar to me so I am unable to distinguish between christian and surname which seem to be used interchangeably. To make it more difficult, changing one's name on a whim seems to be quite commonplace. It took me days to read the first few pages of the book as I repeatedly had to refer to the character list. The story includes both fictional and real historical people which added to my confusion. 



Perhaps it was my difficulty with the character names or the historical content but I found the book lacked flow at times. I never really understood who Tsuro was despite the difficult and unconventional life she led. The story includes a heady mix of politics, love, war, gender identity issues and male domination, all of which Tsuro tries to describe. I feel it was all a bit much for one character in one story to cover.  



I have had a fascination with Japan since a visit in my early twenties so I have posted some beautiful photos that I found free for public use on the internet. The links are below if you wish to explore more. 



Saturday, 8 July 2017

My generous Montville Rose




This is my gorgeous Montville rose growing very happily in the front garden. It was given to me by Mum and is the offspring of her bush in Maleny, Queensland. The bush was huge and I desperately wanted one of my own so Mum, who could never resist growing something for free grew one for me. Quite simple apparently. 

A study of Google, suggests that the Montville rose is actually the Duchess de Brabant, a large, bushy old fashioned rose. 



This glorious specimen is growing at "The Shambles," a private country garden in Montville. 

The photos on their website will make you drool. Take a peek here. 

https://montvillegarden.com






Anyway, the reason I am writing this post is because I have succeeded in growing another from a cutting. 

I realise this looks like a stick with a few leaves sticking out of it growing in a cut off soft drink bottle and yes, it is, but I am very excited. 

I butchered the bush in late March, not the best time to try to grow cuttings in Brisbane. The weather was still hot and humid so chances of success were slim. We were far more likely to end up with a mouldy dead stick. This one brave cutting held on and after a couple of false starts where leaves formed and then dropped off, we now have a strong little beauty with lucious green leaves. 





This is her Mum, 3 months after cutting back. At the time she was touching the eaves and was about 2m across. With a few shots of super fertilizer and plenty of water, she generously flowers continuously for us.



Isn't she beautiful. 

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Plant shopping

I have been to the nursery again. This time it was to Templex, in Algester, Brisbane. It is the most amazing nursery you could ever visit and is worth a trip just for the sculptures and ambience even if you don't want to buy a plant. 

Plants are something I cannot resist so this trip was destined to result in some much loved purchases. Here is my bounty.



Abutilon- Chinese Lantern



 These beautiful plants have delicate shaped flowers that look a bit like a petticoat. They come in many colours and can be grown from seed but it is a lottery for which colour the flowers will be, so I have bought a ready made plant. I am hoping to standardise this one so will leave it long and lanky and stake the main trunk. 

Lily Pilly- 'Allyn Magic'






 This is a small Lilly Pilly that I am hoping to grow in this small  red pot as an outdoor table decoration. 


Pratia


This is a delightful ground cover with soft vibrant tiny leaves and flowers. I will divide this so that I can use it for mini potted landscapes. 








Trident Maple


 I have always wanted a maple tree but the climate in Brisbane limits the choices. 

It has now been potted in this gorgeous, simple white ceramic pot that I paid $9 at a roadside pot shop on the way home. 
We have been trying to grow moss for the last few months to put in our pots and at last we have had some success. 
This is not a bonsai. It is a small plant in a lovely little pot. I don't think I will ever be able to produce true bonsai, but I think this little maple is beautiful.

I also bought this stunning pot from the same roadside pot shop. It only cost me $19 and will be perfect for the fig tree that I rescued from the kerbside pickup in the dark one evening. It was lying on the ground in a broken pot and hadn't been cared for in a while. It will be exciting to pot it up and will post photos when it's transformation is complete.  




Happy planting! 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Simplest Peanut Satay Sauce


There are some recipes that are timeless. Do you remember the 70s and 80s when the 'in thing' was the prawn cocktail- nude, little prawns hanging over the side of a dish containing the ubiquitous thousand island dressing? Let's not forget the shredded lettuce. Just in case you have forgotten, I found a photo on Wikipedia to jog your memory.  

I will not dwell on prawn cocktails any longer but rather I will share the simplest peanut satay sauce you will ever make. Many years ago I found a recipe that didn't require roasting peanuts, grinding peanuts, mixing things with the peanuts, etc,etc. It was great and I made it many times but often I would either not have all the ingredients in the house or forget to put something in because I no longer used the recipe. 

Fast forward a few more years and I was looking for tasty recipes for my annual family get together. The weather in Brisbane in April is beautiful and perfect for a barbecue so we decided to cook chicken sticks and sausages and anything else our guests wish to bring with them.

I didn't even look for the recipe this time. 
My peanut satay sauce now has only 3 ingredients.


1 can coconut milk
6 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce- more if you like it hot.
(This makes a large quantity.)


Method
Heat slowly and stir until well combined.
Simmer until desired thickness.
If the sauce starts to separate, stir vigorously and it will recombine. 

Ideal accompaniment for any meats, to dip raw vegetables in or spice up roasted veggies. 



Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sweet Crusted Almonds


Almonds are a great source of protein and make a great snack but in pursuit of making them taste not just delicious but truly amazing, the addition of extras can pack on the calories.

This is another of my low, fat nut recipes. I used raw sugar; only because I didn't have brown sugar when I wanted to cook and a trip to the shop was a bit much. The raw sugar gives them a crunchy, light crust which is delicious.


INGREDIENTS
3 cups of raw whole almonds- about 750g
1/3 cup raw sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon- more or less to taste 
1/2 teaspoon ground rock or sea salt 
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD

1. Preheat oven to 135 degrees Celsius (275F.)
2. Line large baking tray with baking paper.
3. Whisk egg white, vanilla and water until thick and foamy.
4. Add cinnamon, sugar and salt.
5. Whisk until well mixed.
6. Add almonds and stir until evenly coated.  
7. Spread evenly onto baking sheet.
8. Bake for 30 minutes.
9. Stir and separate any that are stuck together.
10. Reduce oven temperature to 100 degrees Celsius (205F) and bake about 30 minutes until dry.  
11. Stir and leave on tray to cool. They will become crisp once cool.
12. Store in airtight container. 

For a bit more of a kick check out my Spicy Spanish Almonds Recipe





   

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Spicy Spanish Almonds



These delectable almonds are another of my range of delicious nuts. For some bizarre reason they seem a bit more 'masculine' than my traditional sweet roasted macadamia nuts so I cooked a batch for brother's birthday. 

INGREDIENTS
3 cups of raw whole almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1 teaspoon ground rock or sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water

METHOD
1. Preheat oven to 135 degrees Celsius (275F)
2. Line large baking tray with baking paper
3. Mix sugar, spices and salt in large bowl
4. Whisk egg white and water until thick and foamy
5. Tip almonds into egg white mix and stir to coat 
6. Tip into spice and mix to coat
7. Spread evenly onto baking sheet
8. Bake for 30 minutes
9. Stir and separate any that are stuck together
10. Reduce oven temperature to 100 degrees Celsius (205F) and bake about 30 minutes until dry.  
11. Stir and leave on tray to cool. They will become crisp once cool.
12. Store in airtight container. 

A few interesting facts about almonds

  • The trees and their blossoms are truly beautiful.
  • Technically, almonds are the seed of a tree.
  • They are a member of the Amygdalus family and related to other fruits that contain hard pits, including cherries, plums and peaches. 
  • They thrive in mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers in full sun.
  • Nutritionally they are praised due to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fibre, antioxidants, vitamins like riboflavin, and trace minerals such as magnesium.


Friday, 10 February 2017

Strawberry Hazelnut Cake




When you ask somebody what they would like for dinner, you have to then be prepared to create what they have asked for. On this occasion, the request was for "something healthy." Damn, there goes my ideas of a luscious chocolate cheesecake or a cream laden pavlova.

I dragged out a "Slimmers' Book," that obviously hadn't seen the light of day for many years and began to flip. There were some quite nice looking recipes in it, but most with watery looking sauces and over proportioned with vegetables. There were, however, some tasty looking desserts that looked ideal for this horrendous, humid weather we are surviving through at the moment. 

This hazelnut strawberry cake is delicious, but I have to confess I made some small modifications, so it might not be as "slimmers" as it was originally. Not too decadent though.

INGREDIENTS
Cake
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup castor sugar
  • 1/3 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/3 cup ground hazelnuts


Strawberry filling
  • 125g light cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry or raspberry jam
  • 1/2 of 250g punnet strawberries


Cream cheese topping
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence


Decoration
  • Remaining half punnet of strawberries
  • Small amount of ground hazelnuts.

METHOD
1. Grease deep 20cm round can pan and line base with baking paper.
2. Beat eggs and sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until thick and creamy.
3. Fold in sifted flour and hazelnuts.
4. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
5. Bake in a moderate over for 30 minutes.
6. Turn onto wire rack to cool. 

Strawberry Filling
7. Blend or process cream cheese, jam and 1/2 punnet of strawberries until smooth.

Cream cheese topping
8. Blend or process all ingredients until smooth.

Assembly
9. When cake is cold, cut in half horizontally.
10. Spread with filling and top with remaining cake.
11. Spread cream cheese filling over cake.
12. Decorate with reserved strawberries and ground hazelnuts.
13. Refrigerate for several hours.