Monday, 10 December 2012

Getting Christmas-ey

For most of my adult life my Christmas tree was a table centre decoration made out of pine cones. It was enough for me when I was single and not really that into Christmas except as a time of the year to get jolly. Then when I got into a serious relationship we didn't bother with a tree then either, we were a working couple with no children, I guess I thought that we'd do the tree thing when kids came along .. they never did so I still didn't have a tree.

When I met my husband the first year that we were married he did the most wonderful thing .. he went and bought me the biggest tree that would fit in our tiny house. I think I cried. I guess I didn't realise that I wanted a tree for Christmas time, or that I really wanted one of my own to decorate and enjoy. I love that tree, but last year we weren't going to be home for Christmas so it just seemed silly to put up this huge tree when there wasn't really going to be any reason for it. It felt a bit bah humbug.

This year we are going away again but I really wanted to do something to make it feel like Christmas. I've been talking about doing a Christmas wreath and I will but it has to wait til a bit closer to Christmas as I want to use native flowers and plants from our garden or the river if there aren't enough flowering round here.

The jam.

I did make a pastry wreath that was filled with home made raspberry jam. It was hard to make actually and I'm not normally good with bread at the best of times but it tasted pretty darn good even if the look wasn't quite the same as Donna Hay's.

I panicked and took it out of the oven a bit too early so it isn't browned on the top like it should be ...  Terry loved it as you can tell by the fact that I couldn't get a pic of it before he got his bit with ice cream.


It was gone in a day, no wait I tell a lie, there's still two bites left, isn't it funny how that last bit of something yummy gets left behind, like you don't want to be the one who took the last bit, we'll share it later with ice cream I think :)

I had heaps of jam left over, so Terry used some on toast then I couldn't work out what else to do with it. I figured it wouldn't last long if it wasn't in a jar so I wanted to use it up. I made some Jam Drop Cookies. They were delish and probably the reason that there's still some wreath left. Oh well the diet can start again next week.

I still don't really want to drag out the big Christmas tree and try to fit it into our over-crowded lounge room so I decided to do a minimalist tree this year. In keeping with the native Aussie theme I seem to be having this year, I decided that my home made tree would be a bit of bottlebrush out of my back yard. I went and chopped a branch off one of the red bushes in the back yard then stuck it in a pot I made years ago when I was having a go at pottery. Then I decorated it and put the few presents we have got so far under it.

I Love It!!

Then I found another thing for my Christmas decorating spree .. not quite as Aussie I know, but just too cute to pass up .. the red front door mat.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Critters by the River

On Sunday the weather cooled down a bit so Giz, the amazing Staffy and I went for our walk by the river and we enjoyed it so much that we went a bit further than we normally do. Giz was pretty chuffed that we did as we passed the boys hitting cricket balls in the nets, at first she couldn't work out what that noise was, then when she saw what fun the boys seemed to be having she was fascinated. I thought she was going to stand and watch them for hours, it was pretty funny actually, was almost like me when I spot a bird I am particularly interested in and will stand and watch. And that brings us to the other reason we enjoyed our walk so much, I saw a bird that I've never seen before!

So I thought it was time I posted up some pics of some of the critters that Giz and I have come across on our walks. You've already seen pics of the Sulfur Crested Cockatoos (Cocky's) and some Galahs (Cocky's too). We've also spotted a few Eastern Rosellas on our travels.

They're pretty hard to get a good photo of, they tend to take off as soon as you get near them, and these pics were captured on my phone which doesn't have much of a zoom.

Another day I did catch these pics of one who hung around on a fence while Giz and I crept closer to him.

He's on the fence in front of some other critters we spotted once on a walk by the river .. horses. Giz doesn't like horses, I think they are too big and kinda freak her out.

Another day we spotted some more Cockies hanging out on a small side arm of the river that we walk across in our rambles.

Some others birds aren't as shy as the Rosella's and just as brightly colored, Giz and I watched this pair of Green Grass Parrots for ages one day and they were playing in the grass just a couple of meters from us as I snapped a heap of pics of them.

Then there are the lazy guys, although Corella's are usually getting into some kind of mischief. This guy was too sleepy to do anything.

It isn't only birds down by the river, there's other types of critters to be seen too, and Giz and I were pretty chuffed to catch this guy.

I think he was a Water Dragon, and he was there with his wife who was just about invisible in all the leaf litter, he had a few more colors showing than her but he was also doing a pretty good impression of a stick til he spotted something tasty on a tree behind him and ran to catch it.

But the thing we spotted on Sunday was the most exciting so far (tho lizards are always exciting).

This is the best pic I could get of them, this guy hopped across the road in front of Giz and I but none of them would stop moving for long enough for me to get a good shot of them. There were about half a dozen of them hopping round in the leaf litter and grass at the side of the path, and a couple of them were even climbing up the trunk of a tree and checking out what was between the bark. I had to find out what they were and I did, they are Grey-Crowned Babblers.
Now I just need to find more of them to get a better pic of them, next weekend Giz and I are taking to good camera with us :)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Fresh Is Best

I gave up smoking on the 6th of August. I didn't memorise that date (I'm hopeless with dates at the best of times) I started a diary on the first day that I gave up and never wrote a second entry, but it has come in handy for me to look up the date. I haven't had a smoke for about 4 months, not that I'm counting, actually I had no idea til I looked up the diary and have been just telling people, if they ask, that it's been a few months. One of the most depressing side effects of giving up has been the weight gain. I've always loved food, and I've had my battles with my weight but usually managed to keep it pretty sensible (the only time my weight has been totally out of control was the last time I gave up smoking and I didn't lose that weight til after I took up smoking again .. seeing a pattern here?)

The trouble is that you crave things, it's the nicotine that you are craving I'm pretty sure, but since you can't get that you turn to the next thing on the list .. food. The sweeter that food is the better. I started pretty well inhaling whole packets of Tim Tams and any chocolate ice cream or cake was not safe near me. I think they even started hiding the sweet stuff from me at work. I found these sugarless berry mints which are just delish and I figured as they were sugarless they'd be just the thing to take care of my cravings ... therefor the morning after the night that I sat in front of the telly and watched a movie eating two packets of these things was not pretty .. sugar free lollies carry a warning along the lines of how they have a laxative effect with excessive consumption. I went back the the Tim Tams, chocolate ice creams, cakes and also found some solace in greasy KFC and carbs ... my favourite midnight snack become toast lathered in honey. Things were not looking pretty.

About a week ago I hit a threshold in my weight, there's a certain level where I seem to be able to say enough is enough .. time to wake up and start eating properly again. I've started to diet, low carb, high protein. I've done this diet before and it worked like a champion. This time has been harder but I'm feeling determined. The idea is to eat as much fresh vegies as you like, make sure you have protein with every meal and have snacks of protein in between. Eat 6 times a day in small amounts. Cut out sugar and bad carbs like breads. It's pretty brutal at first but when you've lost the weight you can ease up a bit and start back on some carbs and natural sugars but watch what time of the day you eat them. It becomes a lifestyle change as you change to healthy eating habits for life. I had screwed that up by taking up a Tim Tam addiction, I knew what to do to stop it.

Eat healthy, I went shopping for fresh fruit and vegies at my local supermarket. They went bad within days of coming home. I started having to buy them almost on a daily basis or I would just slack off cause I knew there were no fresh vegis at home and I'd buy Indian or Thai take away on the way home from work,  then I found out about grocery shopping online. You put in your order, someone else does all the dragging a trolley up and down the aisles trying to find the best products for you needs, then you just go pick it up at the supermarket on your way home from work. Seemed too easy, had to be a catch .. there was. They don't pick the best produce, the first time I did this I got 500g of beans which had to be thrown away when they were unpacked, they were actually slimy and I couldn't believe someone would put those into a bag to send to someones kitchen. Most of the other vegetables I got were much the same. I'd just have to go pick out my own fresh vegies. I decided one weekend not so long ago to go check out the local fruito.

Do you remember your local fruito? There used to be one in every suburb when I grew up in Lake Macquarie. When I left home and lived in Newcastle, I started shopping for myself, they were cheap and had great fresh fruit and vegies with lots of variety. They seem to have disappeared and the ones the have survived are overpriced. There is a chain of fruit and vegie shops that has been trying to break into Dubbo, there's been a lot of controversy about them in town lately with a lot of locals really pushing to get them as their produce is so fresh. I used to not understand this sentiment, this chain has been in Newcastle for years and it was never that great, no where near the likes of the local fruit shops to be found everywhere. Then I realised that here there is no choice, you can get your poor quality vegies from the major supermarkets, or pay through the nose from the one fruito left in town to get good quality food. I decided to pay through the nose, it may be a bit more expensive but the first bean I brought home actually snapped when I broke it with my fingers, I've been getting soggy beans that have been kept in cold storage for too long and hadn't remembered how nice real fresh vegetables are.

Now I have to admit here that I don't know for a fact that the chain supermarkets do keep fresh produce for too long in cold storage but I do know that the stuff I get from them is far from fresh. It comes to me soggy from day one, the deli produce doesn't seem to last as long in the fridge as it used to and the vegetables go bad very quickly. Getting a bean that stays crispy for a whole week is incredible and I guess I didn't even remember that they could last that long or be that crispy and they have flavour!! Needless to say I'm now a total convert, I'll never buy fruit or vegies from the supermarket again. As I write this I guess I have to qualify, the fruito just doesn't have the range that the supermarket has so I am thinking to myself that I will cave in and buy stuff from the supermarket from time to time when I can't get something I really want. Of course that thing is likely to be unattainable because it's out of season, so the thing I get from the supermarket is likely to have been in cold storage for at least 6 months. Ahh and there we have that viscous circle starting up, the demand is for a huge range of produce, regardless of the season, so the big companies who want our money supply it to us, but at a cost.What do we really want, fresh quality or stored quantity, I know which I would prefer.

And now for the exciting bit, and the bit that the photo above relates to. I've said a whole heap of times on the bike blog that I like to buy local, and I do. I believe in supporting your community with the hope that the businesses and services that I enjoy today will still be here tomorrow. Going to my local fruito is one way I'm continuing that commitment, buying fresh produce straight from local farms is another way and totally doable. Every second Saturday Dubbo has a fresh farmers produce market down by the river, well it's not right on the river but just near it. We've had a look once before about a year ago but it's something that I always forget about. I used to work the first Saturday of every month so that meant I missed out (I only just found out that it's on twice a month so I always thought I'd just missed out on the one chance I had to go). Now I'm getting a few Saturdays off, something that I've elected to do for myself and I'm loving it, it meant I could go the markets this morning. The photo at the start of this ramble is part of my haul, not bad eh.

It's not just vegies, there's meat as well which I didn't realise when we went, so I didn't take a cooler bag and we couldn't get any meat, next time. There are also a farm bakery types stalls, they looked awesome and I can just see some of those country kitchens baking these goodies, and smell them ... I resisted. There was a honey stall with honey beauty products as well as beeswax candles of all shapes and sizes. Not to mention the Chili man and the couple of Lime stalls, I got stuff from both of those ... amazing flavours. There are some art and craft types things there too sometimes, doing the rustic art stuff made out of scrap metal. And there are some garden stalls too, selling all sorts of native and not so native plants .. and that's where I found this ...

It's a Sturt's Dessert Pea and the minute I saw it my heart skipped a beat. I have loved this quirky native flower since time out of mind and it has such a special place in my heart for some reason. There is definitely nostalgia there, it was a major art project of mine in school, I dropped out of school early and any memories of the time I did spend there are always so special to me. But this was the first time I had ever seen one in real life, and I could take it home!! I bought one instantly and I'm hoping I don't kill it too soon, my prowess with living plants is well known to everyone who knows me. If I ask nicely maybe my green fingered husband will help me, though he has already told me that they don't survive here, I'm gonna prove him wrong! I love these markets so much now.

 I got home and set about photographing vegies. Now that's an interesting project and was fun to do even though my little point and click camera frustrates me sometimes when it wont do the close ups I want it to do. I think I ask too much of it sometimes, maybe I should fork out for a DSLR. Then the next thing I did was to make a Tabouli from the parsley I got today. We both love Tabouli and I'm trying to make one a week for us to munch on with lunches. There's something cathartic about chopping parsley, it's repetative and can almost put you into a trance, but the smell is amazing.

That turned out great and now I have planned a whole menu for the week for the rest of the awesome freshness that I got today, starting with the dinner that we are just about to sit down to. I used the sweet potato we got today and the last of the beans I bought a week ago, they are on their last legs but still crispy and tasty, with some chicken and chick peas. The oven is screaming at me now so I'll go rescue it .. sorry no pics of that, I'm too hungry to wait while pics are taken :)