Sunday 30 December 2018

Gnocchi with pesto and asparagus

My low energy levels have kept my cooking simple both in the days leading up to and following Christmas this year.  On Christmas Eve I often make pizza but as we had already had pizza the previous two days, I took advantage of gnocchi and asparagus from the farmers market and herbs from the garden to create a simple green dinner.

The man from the Take Me Home Italian food company at the farmers market has a great sales patter.  He tells customers that his gnocchi must be either dropped into the sauce or fried but never boiled.  Anyone who boils his gnocchi will not be his friend.  This made Sylvia very cross.  She loves boiling gnocchi. 

However on Christmas Eve after a day feeling poorly in front of the telly and taking naps, she was in no condition to help with dinner.  When I gave her a taste of the crispy fried gnocchi - plain for her - she was quite taken with it and ate a small bowl of it.  I was glad to see her eating as she had been off her food.

The gnocchi with pesto and asparagus went down well.  Some filling food with a good amount of greens was just what I needed to get me through a big night of present wrapping, making panforte and watching Carols by Candlelight.  And it was delicious.  It is the sort of food I would be quite happy to have in the new year if only the asparagus people at the farmers market had not finished up for the season.

This will be my last post of the year,  I will be back early in the new year with my reflections on 2019.  Meanwhile have a fun and relaxing new year's eve.

Gnocchi with pesto and asparagus
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe
Serves 2-4

2-4 tsp olive oil
1 packet gnocchi (I think this is 500g)
about 3 big dessertspoons pesto
500g asparagus
handful of spinach

Fry gnocchi in olive oil over medium high heat until  brown and crispy.  While it is cooking (mine took a while as the gnocchi was cold from the fridge) cut asparagus into small pieces, as small as desired, and lightly steam until just tender (I did this in the microwave).  Stir in pesto, then cooked asparagus and spinach.  Serve warm.

NOTES: My meal was not vegan but you can check that your gnocchi and pesto is vegan if you want your meal vegan.  You could serve with some parmesan cheese, basil leaves and/or cashew cream.  I was going to stir in a spoonful of cashew cream but mine had been in the fridge too long!  This would be great with green gnocchi.  I took some liberties with the pesto recipe and used cashews instead of pinenuts and parsley as well as basil in the spirit of using what we had.

On the Stereo:
Broadchurch soundtrack: original music composed by Olafur Arnalos

Friday 28 December 2018

Christmas - cheesmas tree, food, presents and random thoughts

I hope you had a great Christmas (or relaxing break if you don't celebrate).  Our was a good one, filled with lots of good food but a bit subdued because Sylvia was sick.  One of my fine achievements before Christmas was to make a Cheese Christmas Tree or a Cheesemas Tree.  It suited my energy levels!  So here are some photos of food, presents and a few random thoughts at the end.

We made gingerbread men for Sylvia's class Christmas party.  We kept a few of the good ones aside which Sylvia decorated with icing and M&Ms.  She then arranged them on a silver plate, wrapped in cellophane, tipped more M&Ms in and tied up with silver ribbon.  We decided it looked quite professional!  I am not sure what her teacher thought.  My sister who is a teacher says she gets so many chocolates it isn't funny!  Teacher presents are hard but I think homemade at least has a bit of heart in it.

Life has been so busy that we hadn't made pancakes for ages.  On the Sunday before Christmas we had a lazy day starting with vegan fluffy pancakes, layered with nutella and topped with raspberries and Smalt cold smoked maple syrup.  Sylvia was wary of the smoked maple syrup but we were both really impressed with how good it was with the pancakes.  They were so filling that I was glad she helped me with the stack.

On the Saturday before Christmas we bought lots of fancy cheese so we could make the Cheesemas tree.  This is not an original idea.  They are all over the web.  However we still had to think about what cheeses to use.  It probably would have been good to have a softer cheese but by the time I was done, I had only used about 5 of the 9 cheeses.  We are still up to our elbows in fancy cheeses.

Working out how to do it was fun.  I had some really green olives which were quite murky coloured by the time I got them out so I turned to some asparagus instead.  The whole thing was quite a mess with all the chopping and arranging. 

Sylvia decided to do her own tree.  I liked how she arranged the rice crackers around it.  I did some arrangement of crackers beside my cheesemas tree but my board was not big enough for it.  Sylvia has pointed out that one of the crackers on my photo below is the wrong way round.  I had a lovely lunch from the cheese board and then put a lot of cubes in the fridge that we have been nibbling at.

Below is the snack mix that we opened for the cheeseboard.  The little crackers were great with little chunks of cheese and of course the pretzels were important for the trunk.  I also ran out to the garden to chop some herbs for that Christmas sparkle.

It is very hard to avoid all the Christmas products in the supermarket.  One of the best packages was the Cadbury chocolate biscuit selection.  We don't buy many of these biscuit boxes so I quite enjoyed deciding which biscuit to choose.  However we are still making our way through them so today they had to go in the fridge to avoid them melting on a 36 C day.

Something I rarely buy is Christmas cake.  I always enjoy some of my mum's cake.  So this year I decided I would make my own.  Then I was honest with myself about having no time for it.  (Just like the gingerbread house we were going to make before Christmas also fell by the wayside though the dough is still in the fridge hoping for an opportunity before New Year).  And I found some Rhubarb Christmas Cake at the farmers market.  At $22 it wasn't cheap but it looks lovely and I am looking forward to opening it.

On Christmas Eve Sylvia was not well and had a few naps and then fell asleep without too much excitment about Santa.  We didn't find time to drive out late to see local Christmas lights after the summer sunset, nor did she have the energy for us to see the Christmas lights in Geelong (both of us were asleep by 9pm on Christmas Day).  But she did occasionally ask if she could open a Christmas present early.

And even though Sylvia was under the weather on Christmas day, she still had a lot of excitment for giving and receiving presents.  She got lots of fun stuff: slime kit, chocolates, a NanoRoom Cat Room Set, ice cream scoop, lunchboxes, Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls, tree decorations, a diary, a garden kit, magnetic cat hooks, a new cat drink bottle etc,

The slime kit from my parents was a great hit.  Sylvia couldn't wait to start making slime.  Literally.  I think she made a few in the afternoon before crashing .  Then she made more the next day with her cousin.  I was less enthused at having to clean it off furniture, clothes and even her cousin's hair!

E and I received some lovely presents.  Chocolates, shortbread, socks, books, a calendar, erasers, a computer cord, a lovely Christmas apron and a cute snowman decoration.  Also not pictured is a soda stream which is yet to be set up.  After an early night on Christmas Day, I was up early (for me) at 6am and had a lovely time reading Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales in my parents' quiet house.

As for the food, as usual we ate well with lots of family traditions being honoured.  I made an overnight version (which I will share) of my cranberry nut rolls to eat withe jarlsberg cheese for Christmas Day brunch.  I didn't remember to get cranberry sauce or oranges for juice.  Luckily I had a couple of oranges that we had used for pith.  We combined the juice with some passionfruit drink and soda water.

As usual we opened presents and had brunch at home before heading to my parents for more presents, Christmas lunch and a sleepover.  My mum had set up a lovely cheese platter for nibbling while we opened presents.  My mum set up a table for 15 or 16 with a fancy new centrepiece.

I made my usual Christmas nut roast to eat with a dollop of cranberry sauce alongside my mum's roast potatoes, roast pumpkn, peas and my sister's cauliflower cheese.  It was a delicious lunch complete with pulling crackers, wearing ill fitting hats and telling terribly jokes.

For dessert there was pudding and custard, cheesecake, pav, berries and individual trifles.  All delicious.  My niece amused me by eating her pav with a shovel from a Christmas cracker!  We also had punch (a mixture of tropical juice, ginger ale with some mint and strawberries on top).

My mum and dad had friends over in the evening and my dad's family visit for a late lunch on Boxing Day.  Lots of leftovers were enjoyed with some salad and bread.  As always, I was glad to eat my nut roast while others ate turkey and ham.  We had a laugh at some of the Christmas presents.  The drone that drowned in the river.  The hats that were too small.  And the odd socks (it seems to be a thing to sell socks that don't match).

We still have nut roast and lots of sweet food.  Below is a sample of sweet food.  Included are the chocolate mince tarts and the panforte that I made on Christmas eve.  Not included are my mum's caramel tart and Christmas cake,  and my aunts toffee date pudding.

Now here are a few random moments:
  • I was happy to hear a nut roast was part of Christmas dinner in the Miffy rabbit cartoon Christmas special.
  • I loved the UK Christmas No 1.  We Built this City on Sausage Rolls is just brilliant and lots of fun to watch.  Good one LadBaby.  And the profits go to charity.
  • One bizarre part of the holidays was catching up with family and friends whom I had not seen for ages and hearing too many holiday accident stories.  A broken foot from scrambling over rocks at Kakadu.  A broken nose and split lip from a fall in Dubai airport en route to UK and a badly dislocated shoulder and lots of bruises slipping on rocks on the way back from a waterfall in Hawaii.  Ouch!
  • As usual we enjoyed watching some British Christmas adverts.  The John Lewis advert with Elton John receiving his piano is just beautiful and the Irn Bru Snowman advert is disturbing.  I keep having the line "he nicked my Irn Bru, he's let go of my hand" in my head as the boy falls from the sky.
  • Sylvia borrowed a graphic novel from the library that she told me was about a detective called Eggnog Holmes.  It turned out to be Enola Holmes but I wish it was Eggnog Holmes, which is so much more amusing.
  • I was pleased to stumble upon the gorgeous story of the Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell.  I sometimes would listen to it with my parents on the radio but have not heard it for years.
  • There seemed to be lots of articles about being thoughtful about the way we celebrate Christmas - or perhaps I was more in tune to them.  One that I really liked was Dreaming of a Green Christmas: here are 5 ways to make it more sustainable in the Conversation.

How to make a Christmas Cheese Tree

You will need:

One large chopping board or flat platter

About  50-100g of cheeses - these should be different colours and textures.  I recommend a red leicester, a camambert or blue cheese, some good cheddar (we like a smoked one), swiss cheese, a cheese or two with add ins like herbs or dried fruit.

Assorted vegetables (I used cherry tomatoes and raw asparagus) and pretzels (unless you want gluten free).  You could also use pickled vegetables, olives, sundried tomatoes, dried fruit or fresh fruit such as grapes or chopped apricots.

A few fresh herbs - I used basil, parsley, thyme and chives from the garden

Small star cookie cutter, if you have one

Crackers, to serve.

How to assemble:

Chop the cheese into dice, going for smaller ones for the top layers.  Chop vegetables or other add ins into dice.

Arrange cheese, vegetables, pretzels etc on platter or chopping board in contrasting lines of descending width so it resembles a tree.  Check that it is shaped nicely along the sides.

Place some pretzel sticks (or vegetable or pickle sticks) for the trunk.

Use star cookie cutter to cut a star for the top - we laid a few stars on top of each other to give the star lots of points.  We used sliced swiss cheese as it was easy to cut into a star without crumblng.

Finely chop herbs and sprinkle over the tree and around.

Put any extra cheese cubes in a tub in the fridge or serve alongside in a bowl.  Serve with crackers.

On the Stereo:
White Christmas, Bing Crosby

Monday 24 December 2018

Christmas photos in Melbourne

The baking is done, the presents are wrapped, mince pies and a stocking await Santa, and Carols by Candlelight is finishing on the telly.  I just need to do a quick tidy, pack for my parents place and set the breakfast table!  It has been a busy festive season.  Today has been busy, and Sylvia has been sick so I am glad to be almost ready for the big day.  And I am looking forward to some rest after Christmas Day.  Before I finish up, I have some Christmas photos to share, mostly from out and about in Melbourne. 

 Coburg Night Market on a good night! (Pita This / Pita That)

 Coburg Night Market valiantly soldiering on during a rainy night.

 Some wonderful Remaki Christmas decorations on our tree (paper angel and what Sylvia calls the "red onion").

 Christmas tree and decorations in Federation Square.

 Christmas tree in Fed Square looking towards Flinders Street Station.

The Gingerbread Village.  Much better this year in a new venue in Fed Square with more room.  Here kids line up for Santa.

 Brighton Beach beach houses.  Love all the details.

Flinders Street Station, made our of gingerbread (see the real thing above).

Dinner on visit to Fed Square and City was Lord of the Fries.  Dessert was Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  (Sylvia and E had Krispy Kreme special Christmas doughnuts.)

 Love the display on the Made in Melbourne shop.  (Again we see the iconic Flinders Street Station.)

Myer Christmas windows.  An arty Alice in Wonderland.  Santa at Myer too busy to see Sylvia.  Next year we try David Jones.

Lovely summery decorations in the city.  I visited two days before I went on holidays for a month.  Was so nice to take proper lunch bread but too many people for comfort.

 Loved the Christmas yarn bombing in the city.

Loved these native Christmas wreaths at the farmers market while catching up with a friend on Saturday.

Caught up with other friends later on Saturday.  Had fun visiting Melbourne Museum and checking out the history of the Myer Christmas Windows.

Finally here is part of sylvia's Christmas display in her bedroom.

Now I am off to put the finishing touches on the house.  I hope you have a very happy Christmas, Festivus, holiday etc.  I will be back in a few days with a few more Christmas posts.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Our favourite Christmas picture books for children

As a child it was as exciting to take out the Christmas books as the rest of the decorations.  They were all the more special because we could only read them a few weeks in in the year.  Since our 9 year old daughter was born, we have collected some beautiful Christmas books.  Today I bring you a bakers dozen of favourite books, mainly from those we own but also including a few we love even if we don't own them.

1. The Jolly Postman Christmas Book by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

If you peruse lists of best Christmas books online, this book is always included.  The Ahlbergs have to be one of my favourite authors for toddlers.  Their illustrations are so detailed and full of interest,  and their writing seems so natural and yet so much fun to read.  The Jolly Postman Christmas Book (based on the Jolly Postman book) has a brilliant premise of having envelopes on the pages that kids can dip into to find invitations, letters and presents.  And the story is magical.

2. The Naughtiest Reindeer by Nicki Greenberg

This one is lots of fun to read aloud as well as the hilarious illustrations.  This book always has us laughing at what this naughty reindeer gets up to.  And I love how Mrs Claus is your typical Jewish Grandmother.  Nicki is a local author and we are big fans of all her books.  If you like this one, there are 3 more about the naughty Rudy.

3. Room for a little one by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockroft

This is one of the best books I have seen around the Christmas story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  The illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful.  The compassion in the story is heartwarming.  The sort of sentiment that we need to remind us of the spirit of Christmas that seems so lacking in our world today.

4. The Christmas Pantomime Story by Rebecca Patterson

Another book I love reading.  The story is set in a school doing a nativity show and the personalities of the kids are spot on.  The main little boy is a tad clueless and very amusing.  We also love the important angel and the little girl with a stomach ache.  It is told by the main character in exactly the way that kids tell stories and manages to avoid the mawkishness that is so common in kid's Christmas books.  The little details around the school and the expressions on the faces is priceless.

This is a very sweet book with lovely vintage illustrations and a simple message that Christmas is a time for sharing and giving.  The little bunny called Boo is so cute as he learns about Christmas from Belle's delightful guidance.

6. Aliens Love Panta Claus by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

This is a really fun book with lots of amusing aliens doing silly things with underpants.  Our favourite page is the tree decorated with underpants.  In fact there was a tree not so many years ago that had a few pairs of underpants thrown on it in homage to this book.  Fortunately the slew of scatalogical Christmas books has happened a bit late for Sylvia so most have passed us by and we have just had lots of underpants laughs.

7. Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry and John Lawrence

This gorgeous old fashioned book, illustrates the meaning of generosity and community so much more beautifully and meaningfully than most Christmas books.  It is about what we have to give and share when others are in need.  Many people come to the house on Exeter Street and are given shelter whether it be on a mantelpiece, in a dresser shelf or in a kitchen sink.  We love the large picture of all the rooms in the house towards the end and counting all the people within it.

8. How many sleep til Christmas? by Mark Sperring and Sebastien Braun

This book about Daddy Grizzle and Little Pip is beautifully illustrated.  It takes the bears through all the fun preparations for Christmas, reminding us that the festive period is a journey not just a destination.  It is written to appeal to both excited kids and tired parents but I like that it acknowledges tired parents can get excited too.

9. Grumpy Cat's First Worst Christmas by Stephanie Laberis

This book is Sylvia's choice.  She tells me she loves it because it is so funny and Pokey is so cute, especially covered in sprinkles.  Grumpy Cat is unrepentently anti-Christmas.  Sylvia's favourite Grumpy Cat moment is when he knocks the E and L off the NOEL on the mantlepiece, not just because it is funny he wants NO to replace NOEL but also because there is something very amusing about cats batting things off a table or shelf.

10. A Little Cowboy's Christmas by Marcia Martin and Eleanor Dart

This was a favourite book of ours as kids.  In a family of 7 kids we usually shared everything rather than owned individually.  So I was surprised to find I had written my name 4 times on this book when at home recently.  My mum said it belonged to all of us!  It is about a little boy who asks Santa for a horse for Christmas and how he gets his wish but not in the way he expected.  Understanding that we can be happy with presents even if they aren't exactly what we expected (or don't own books even if we write our name in them 4 times) is a an important life lesson.  Another life lesson for me is that a book can still read well even if one page is missing!  We loved our Christmas books and they got a lot of wear and tear.

11. Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

This book is worth reading just for Pig's Christmas list at the back of the book.  We have spent many happy evening laughing over these.  Some of my favourite are "a unicorn (real not fake)", "false teeth" and "a pet (giraffe would be good)".  But the whole story is a great laugh.  Pig is such a greedy selfish pug but you still have to giggle at someone who dares to call Santa "you old yuletide galoot".  And he gets his comeuppance at the end in such a wonderfully festive way.

12. Stickman by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer

This is the only book in the list that I have not actually read in full.  We love the Julia Donaldson telemovies of her book and this one is a favourite.  From what I have seen the book is filled with the same delightful prose and illustrations as the movie.  I really love the yearning to be with loved ones that can be part of the Christmas delights and sadness.

What do you wish for? by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker

This is one of the most charming and magical Australian Christmas books.  There are lots of great Aussie Christmas books but it is very hard to strike a balance because the long warm days in the sea and sun in Australia with the cosiness of watching sparkling festive lights in the cold and dark that are the traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas.  What do you wish for is the story of a group of kids writing down their wishes before holding a play in a park.  It finds that moment in Australian Christmas nights where the dark descends late on a balmy evening and the twinkling fairy lights bring a little Northern Hemisphere magic.  We love reading all the wishes and picking our favourite kids.

And what do I wish for?  I am now on leave for a month but I wish for more time to tidy and bake before Christmas, I wish for more time with family and friends, I wish for quiet time curled up with a book, I wish for time for another blog post before Christmas and I wish you a happy time in the crazy period leading up to Christmas.

There are lots more lists of favourite Christmas books online.  Here are a few I really like which remind me there are many more beautiful and entertaining Christmas books to read:
Red Ted's Art's Reader's Favourites 2013
Guardian Reader's Favourites 2010
Children's Books Daily 2018

Let me know if you have a favourite Christmas book.