Tuesday 27 December 2022

How we made a paper fireplace out of a cardboard box for Christmas

This Christmas we made a fireplace out of a cardboard box and craft papers to sit behind the Christmas tree.  Our house does not have a fireplace and, being in Australia, there is no need for a fire at the time of year.  The reason to do this was for a fun team craft project.  As it was I ended up doing most of it.  I looked around for some instructions for both the fireplace and the garland but couldn't find much so I am sharing what we did.

I was inspired by this Pinterest photo.  I planned to do it as a flat piece of cardboard but when looking for a piece big enough I found an old box for a flatpack chair.  We decided to keep it as a box.  I covered (glued) the front with a few pieces of A3 yellow paper and then measured out the bricks on a few pieces of red A3 paper.  (I also saw some people use a sponge and red paint to make the bricks.)  I enjoyed gluing on the bricks.  It felt like bricklaying.  I left some yellow at the top.  I pasted on 4 smaller pieces of black paper to make the fireplace.

Then I had some yellow paper, some red and some stripey yellow/orange/red paper from an old calendar.  I cut them into thin wavy flames and a few shorter ones.  Arrange them on the black fireplace.  Most of the yellow should be pasted on first.  Also paste a few brown logs at the bottom of the fireplace.

The most difficult part for me was to make a paper garland to "hang" from the top of the fireplace.  I looked and looked online and finally looked at what I had cut from craft papers and old calendars.  The box was on its side so I could arrange the leaves and flowers in different configurations to check about having enough variety and enough foilage to make the garland.  I pasted the flowers in the middle and gradually pasted the leaves either side with a variety of green hues.

The fireplace looked fun behind the Christmas tree.  Because it was a box we were able to place decorations and cards on top of the fireplace.  Of course we call it the mantlepiece.  The cat was quite happy to sleep in the box.  We enjoyed saying that the cat was sleeping in the fireplace!

On Christmas Eve we hung the stockings by the fire with care.  (One for Sylvia and one for our cat.)  Actually it was rather inconvenient to try and hang the stockings because there was no place to hang them.  I just taped the stockings with duct tape to the top of the fireplace box.  They looked cute, though if the fire was real they would be burnt to smithereens.  The real problem came, according to Sylvia, when taking down the stockings.  Oops!  It seems the duct tape was a bit strong.

And here is our cat Shadow on Christmas Day looking like a fearsome large cat in front of a tiny tree and tiny fireplace.  You can tell by his hat that he thinks he is the king of the castle!

Saturday 24 December 2022

Christmas in Melbourne and Geelong

It's Christmas Eve.  I've baked lots of food.  The presents are under the tree and we are watching Carols by Candlelight.  I have some festive photos I have seen around Melbourne and some Christmas trees so I will squeeze in a last blog post before Christmas.

If you haven't seen santa about, he is working at Chemist Warehouse - check his staff ID.

Coburg Night Market was back this year after 2 years covid absences.  The weather was so wet it had to move from Bridges Reserve to the Supermarket carpark.

It was good to see some fine food ad craft.  We had mac and cheese ball subs and chips.  Very good. 

Gift shopping advice from Mary Martin's bookstore at Vic Market.  I love "don't get your tinsel in a tangle".

The Mural Hall in Myer was the giftorium this year. 

Santa was setting up behind the big Christmas tree when we went to the launch of Christmas at Highpoint.  Sylvia enjoyed seeing fireworks through the skylight.

Our first time at a carols service for three years was on a fine summer evening. 

The Grinch is very popular in our house so I liked this Grinch Christmas tree at the amazing gift shop at the Vic Market.  If you look closely you will see some sold signs because apparently the Grinch was quite popular this year.

Sylvia and I had a drive around our local streets to see some houses lit up with Christmas lights.  There is always some spectacular ones.  Especially this one in Shaftesbury St in Coburg.  I love the snowman in the box.  Sylvia loved the bear.  We had to queue to go in to see all the decorations in the front yard.

More Shaftesbury Street.  They have so much amazing Christmas decorations and raise money for charity.

This house in Stewart Street in Moonee Ponds was pretty impressive too.

After going to Geelong to see my parents one recent weekend.  These trees in Johnson Park caught my eye.

Upon closer inspection I was even more impressed that each tree was decorated by a different primary school.  The themes were really impressive - the Geelong Football Club, Aboriginal motifs, a nutcracker, native birds.

It has been a very busy Christmas period with some nice catch ups with friends and events.  The most since covid hit our lives.  I am off for a final tidy before bed and will head to Geelong for Christmas lunch tomorrow and then hope for some rest (and more blogging) over the rest of my holidays.  Covid is still infecting those around me so I wish you a healthy and happy Christmas. 

Sunday 11 December 2022

In My Kitchen - December 2022

Christmas looms large.  I am counting down the days til I have some holidays.  Two weeks seems long but they will be behind me quickly. I have been cooking more but still finding it difficult to find time for blogging. I am loving stone fruit.  Cherries!  Nectarines!  Peaches!  Smoothies!  Life is not back to pre-pandemic normal because it will always have its own odd moments.  Covid numbers are surging but quite a few festive activities have returned this year.  I am in the odd situation with work Christmas parties where I still haven't settled enough into my new job to know many people (thanks working from home) but will go to my former workplace's Christmas party to see lots of familiar faces.  November brought disappointing news that all the plastic we had been dropping off at supermarkets for recycling is instead just mouldering in warehouses.  And the weather continues to mess with our heads.  Spring finished at the end of November with not one day reaching 30 C for the first time since 2001.  Every now and again it gets warm and then the cold weather returns and mocks us for putting away our winter clothes.  Today is 27 C and tomorrow will be 17 C.  Honestly, I am not missing the heatwaves but am a bit sad at how freshly cut Christmas trees are so much smaller this year thanks to the weather.

Above is a selection of festive food we have been enjoying.  Pfeffernusse are an old favourite.  So is White Christmas though Sylvia does not think she has had it before.  (Surely she has!)  The raspberry and vanilla pudding was nice but I really should have served it with custard.  The chocolate santa was rather nice.  And the little gingerbread house ornament is pretty cute!

Shortbread is such a Christmas treat.  This packet was chocolate covered and the quality we have come to expect from Walkers.  Delish!

Sylvia decided to have a go at making these rice krispie treat Christmas trees.  They were very nice but a bit soft to hold on the stick like an icy pole!

The sticks we used were these green pocky.  The packet is adorable.  The overly chemical apple flavour was not.

More pleasing was this Pavlova kombucha.  It didn't really taste like pavlova.  This is no surprise given that pavolva is toothachingly sweet and kombucha is rather tart flavoured.  But I was amused that they even tried the flavour.  Apologies for the odd photo with the lid blurred out.  That was one camera experiment that did not work as expected!  You might notice that every photo stars my wooden kitchen table, demonstrating how little time I have had for photography! 

Sylvia was very happy to buy a grinch Christmas mug.  She loves the 2018 animated Grinch move.  We have watched a lot of Christmas tv and the Grinch has been on a lot.  The hot chocolate with nozzle cream, marshmallows and sprinkles has not been such a common occurrence.  Sylvia would love another gingerbread shaped kinder surprise but it seems the surprise was that it was a once only! 

I made gingerbread pancakes with blackberry sauce recently for brunch.  They were delicious even though we were having such as slow day that our brunch was at about 2pm.  I was not happy with the photo and hope to make them again and blog them with my version but for now you can link to the New York Times version.

More festive purchases.  Baby crackers!  Sylvia has plans for these.  Not sure if there are plans for the icing decorations.  The white chocoolate flavoured chocolate is amazing.  Actually White Christmas is so sweet and intense that a block or two of this chocolate is about the amount that it should always be served.

A sign that I am cooking more is that I have made a couple of batches of my favourite sourdough bread.  My sourdough starter got so neglected and grey and smelly that I threw it out recently and took on some of my mum's starter (which actually came from my starter so it is still in the family).  It has been lovely to get back into a familiar routine and enjoy the sound of just baked sourdough bread crackling on the wire rack and eat a soft fresh slice of the bread.

I have made Celia's sourdough bread recipe so much that I had stopped needing to consult the recipe.  After many months break from the recipe, I had to go back to my notes.  Unfortunately they were written many years ago and I had to remember how I had developed my procedure.  I made the bread twice with beeswax over the dough for the overnight rise.  The one above was a warmer morning when it rose monstrously and had to be scrapped and washed off the beeswax.  After that I saw my cat fabric bowl covers and remembered that this was what I had been using recently.  A reminder I need to update those notes!

Longtime readers might remember I love trying new products with vegemite.  I pounced on these Le Snak cheesy Vegemite snacks that reminded me of the days I would buy Le Snak for snacks for work and later for Sylvia when she was little.  The cheesy dip is an odd beige colour, yet again showing how vegemite can result in odd colourings when you mix it into foods.  But true to form it tastes lovely when dipping the biscuits into the cheey vegemite dip.  A bit of a novelty but good fun.

Imagine dinner dreamed up by a 13 year old.  Would it be spaghetti, tofu bacon, melted cheese and garlic stuffed potato balls.  This is the sort of beige comfort food that is very welcome after arriving home from work on my bike feeling totally wrung out by a busy day.  It might have had more colour if we had had more tomato sauce to stir through the pasta and over the potato balls.

Here is my attempt at making the carb on carb delight of spaghetti on toast a little healthier.  The toast was spread with avocado, then topped with chopped cherry tomatoes, chopped olives, spaghetti and grated cheese.  I also added some capsicum, cucumber, carrots to make myself feel healthy.  But who was I kidding!  For all the additional vegies, this was really about crispy cheesy spaghetti under the grill.

This was one of my fave meals recently.  I made a cherry walnut lentil salad (sort of based on this salad) which was pretty good except it needed more balsamic vinegar but I ran out.  I served it with corn chips, pickle and yoghurt dip, cherry tomatoes and microwaved asparagus.  Really good!

Finally, one of the biggest political stories was the Victorian Labour party romping back into power, with Premier Dan Andrews in his historic 3rd term of government.  Compare this with the LNP opposition whose newly elected leader had to confirm a very close victory before putting himself forward for the leadership.  I voted on the day at our beautiful primary school art deco hall which comes with a long queue, a cake sale and a sausage sizzle.  Luckily I put  $20 in my pocket before forgetting my wallet.  The above photo shows what $20 will buy: a gingerbread man, piece of rice krispie slice, some caramel slice a cactus cupcake, a chocolate crackle top biscuit and a slab of Smalt's amazing Caramel Fudge with smoked salt.  If I had remembered my wallet I would have also bought a vegan sausage, even though at $6 they were twice the price of meat sausages.  Another time!  

And speaking of politics, a few stories to make your jaw drop to the floor: Violet Coco in prison for holding up the traffic on Sydney Harbour Bridge in a 25 minute demonstration, our former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison was shamed with a parliamentary censure for taking on 5 secret ministries, and most sadly, Britney Higgins who has bravely spoken out about her alleged rape has had her trial abandoned and her mental health is too poor for her to continue to a retrial.  No wonder we need Christmas to cheer ourselves up!

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her gorgeous festive hand drawn header.

Sunday 4 December 2022

Potato gem and tofu bacon skillet casserole

It seems that when I say Pomme Noisettes, many people don't understand.  They seem more commonly referred to as Tater Tots (as the Americans say) but we always called them Pomme Noisettes as a child.  In Australia now they are marketed as Potato Gems.  They were such a great treat as a child and recently seem to have come back to popularity.  This potato gem skillet casserole appealed for that nostalgic appeal and also because it looked beautiful and appealing in the way it is presented.

The recipe I had in mind that I had seen a few times was potato gems arranged over a tomato and chorizo stew.  It was one of those recipes I saw everywhere until I went looking for it.  It was not ideal as I wanted to use my cast iron frypan and I have read that tomatoes and other acidic foods are not great for the cast iron.  Instead I decided to make a creamy stew of beans and vegies. 

Then Sylvia expressed interesting in it but she wanted to have tofu bacon instead of beans and we worked out which vegetables suited her.  I found a few vegetarian recipes for inspiration (Inquiring Chef, Holy Cow, Kitchen Confidante).  I fried the tofu bacon, mushroom and capsicum in separate batches.  I added in the corn and peas and added them to a creamy cheesy sauce.  Sylvia enjoyed helping with the preparation, especially arranging the potato gems on top of the stew.

I made these about a month ago on a warm day but it was still a wonderful feeling to take the frypan out of the oven and revel in the golden potato gems with creamy stew bubbling up between them.  We both enjoyed it for tea, though I think I enjoyed the stew more than the yummy potato balls.  It was all the better because there had been a shortage of potato gems in the supermarket when we had been planning it.  The excitment of finding them eventually in a supermarket further away than our usual, was almost as exciting as tasting the hot bubbling creamy potatoey stew.

More stovetop to oven recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:
Nicki’s Nana’s chulent
Mexicale pie
Tahini stew with feta and dill dumplings
Vegan stovies (potato stew with home made 'mince meat)
Vegetarian cassoulet

Potato gem and tofu bacon skillet casserole
An original Green Gourmet Giraffe recipe
Serves 4

Neutral oil (such as rice bran oil) for frying
1/3 batch of tofu bacon, fried
2 cups diced mushrooms
2 capsicums (1 red, 1 green), diced
1/2 cup frozen green peas
60g tin of corn, rinsed and drained
1 dessertspoon of butter, or margarine
1 dessertspoon of plain wholemeal flour
2 cups milk, approx (I used soy milk)
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 handful grated cheese (I used mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan)
750g frozen potato gems (pomme noisettes or tater tots)

Preheat oven to 200 C.

Prepare tofu bacon and vegies:
Separately fry tofu bacon (if not already fried), then mushrooms, then capsicums in oil in cast iron pan.  Set aside with peas and corn.

Make the sauce:
Melt butter (it melts fast on cast iron) and stir in flour in cast iron frypan.  Stir over low heat for a minute or so until the roux smells cooked.  Slowly add in milk, stirring frequently to make sure the mixture does not get lumpy.  Once all milk is stirred in, increase heat and gently bring to the boil.  Stir in cream cheese and grated cheese until melted.  The sauce should not be too thick so we can mix in add-ins.

Assemble and bake:
Stir vegies and tofu bacon into cheese sauce.  Arrange potato gems on top to cover the creamy sauce.  Bake for 45 minutes until gems are golden brown.  Leftovers can be kept in the fridge in a tub and heated up over a few days.

On stereo:
Midnights: Taylor Swift

Monday 28 November 2022

A halloween lunch platter with Jack Skellington Cake


As regular readers will know, we hold a lunch each year around Halloween to remember our twin boys.  It has been difficult holding any gatherings since Covid hit almost 3 years ago so it was nice this year to have my parents visit to remember with Sylvia and her dad.   Sylvia and I had a lovely time planning the lunch.  As usual we spent time going through Pinterest for fun ideas.

I took a day of leave for the lunch but worked the previous day.  Fortunately Sylvia was at home and able to bake cookie shapes while I worked.  (I loved that there was some Halloween decoration in the lift lobby at work.)  I would share the recipe Sylvia used for the cookies but it came from in her head with just one phone call to me to discuss how hot and long the cookies should bake.

I knew that we didn't have lots of energy to prepare food so we kept it simple.  While I baked a chocolate cake after work, Sylvia piped icing over her cookies to make them look amazing!

The birthday cake was very simple.  I made a favourite vegan chocolate cake.  (Unlike the linked recipe I baked it in a 20cm round cake tin rather than 2 x 15cm cake tins.)  We made a simple buttercream of butter, icing sugar, lemon juice and a little water as needed.  Sylvia decorated it with oreo cookies and shoestring licorice to look like Jack Skellingtonn (from the Nightmare Before Christmas film).

And because we had bought oreos and shoestring licorice, Sylvia decided to make some oreo spiders.  They were pretty simple.  She separated the two sides of an oreo, used some melted white chocolate to attach the 8 licorice legs and placed the other side of the cookie back on.  She used an edible pen to draw eyes on some white (scream) m&ms and stuck them to the top with more melted white chocolate.

They looked pretty cute.  Sylvia also made some savoury spiders with olives, stuffed with cream cheese and a caper.  She poked 8 holes in the olive and poked 8 rosemary legs in these holes.  Then she cut out some Swiss cheese into a circle that sat on water crackers and she stuck the olive spiders on a blob of cream cheese.

We had fun putting most of the spooky food on a Halloween platter that you can see at the top of this post.  The cookies and spiders were the stars but we also packed it with grapes, crackers, sausage mummies, poky, red capsicum, yellow baby tomatoes, cheetos, popcorn, strawberries.


We had a smaller platter that was less impressive but a bit healthier.  Bread, cheese, guacamole dip (another of Sylvia's specialties), grapes, raspberry cheese, crackers, sausage mummies and red capsicum.  It was a fine lunch with generous slices of Jack Skellington chocolate cake.  Lovely!

Sunday 6 November 2022

In My Kitchen - November 2022

We are having an odd spring that starts with some hope of sunshine and in October we had a ridiculous amount of rain.  The rain and the floods around Victoria have been record breaking.  The price of living keeps going up.  I have recently spent too much time with the electrician, the vet and then dentist.  I have got appointment times wrong and even got so confused as to think eggs weren't vegetarian at a recently brunch.  I am just glad not to be in the UK where Liz Truss self imploded as PM and replaced by Rishi Sunak who has a very low bar to reach.  But there is progress too.  I have finally got my bike serviced and am back on public transport after too long of avoiding both.  I have made some good meals at home, had a few nice sociable meals and my new job is going well, despite some challenges transitioning from Mac to PC.

Above is one of our nice rituals we have hung onto: Friday night is pizza night!  It is a bit odd as I am not working on Fridays at my new job.  I am so used to relaxing with pizza at the end of a work day but Fridays are usually busy anyway.  On this day of the above pizza - potato pizza from Heaven with capsicum and sun dried tomato as extras - we had postponed pizza to Saturday.  I had eaten brunch at the Boot Factory with my brother and his girlfriend, then lunch with my friend Eliza at Fattie Prince.  It's a long time since I ate three meals from a cafe in a day.

I bought this packet of dried watermelon out of curiosity.  I am not a huge watermelon fan and found the dried version to be ridiculously sweet.  It is not something I can even think of any ways to use it in recipes.

Another purchase that I am not so sure about are these Brazilian cheese bread balls.  They were sort of gluggy like uncooked bread.  I am sure I cooked them long enough but as I read what I have read I get less confident of this.

We have tried some new preserved strawberries from the supermarket.  I liked the gently dried strawberries.  Even better was the freeze dried strawberry crisps.

We bought these Cookies and Screem M&Ms for Halloween.  Stay tuned to see how we used them ....

Another curiosity purchase.  They were weird layers of sweet corn chips.  Good to taste but not really something I need to buy again.

We also had to try these cheese toasties Twisties.  Now that was a gimmick.  Twisties already are cheese flavoured carbs.  They weren't as orange as regular cheese Twisties.  And there is also something wrong about the term "cheese toastie".  I am not sure of the origin of "toastie" but it is not a traditional Aussie term that is suitable for a traditional Aussie crisp.

I was pretty excited by a new kombucha flavour - raspberry and blackcurrant.  It was delicious.  Them there was the summer fruits cheese and raspberry flavoured freeze dried apples.  A pleasant reminder that summer fruit is coming.

Sylvia is already excited about Christmas, even before Halloween.  So here is some festive and scary food - gingerbread men and skull chuppa chup lollypops.

I have been cooking a bit more evening meals.  This one was a hit with Sylvia.  It is a hokkien noodle stirfry with green capsicum, red cabbage, mushroom, soy sauce, garlic, sweet soy sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice and fried tofu.  We have had it on repeat a couple of times since.

Another quick weeknight meal was this spaghetti dish.  I cooked the spaghetti with a splash of pasta water, a drizzle of olive oil, some seasoning stirred well together with a spoonful of cream cheese and a some grated cheese.  I then added some lightly microwaved red capsicum and asparagus.  This was a lovely meal.

I confess to sharing some of Sylvia's joy in the festive season.  We had an outing to Spotlight and found this star embossed rolling pin and a few miniature Christmas trees.  I am still not sure which recipe is a good one to use with the rolling pin as the embossed stars will disappear on any baking that rises.  I have seen recipes for embossed cookies but need to hunt some out.

We also found a 10 piece gingerbread house cookie cutter set.  This seems a good compromise between buying a gingerbread house kit (with pre-made gingerbread that is drying out on the shelves) and making a gingerbread house from scratch (where it is always a bit of detailed work to cut out the shapes in the right size. 

Here is the pieces as listed on the back of the packet.  It looks like it will be easier making a gingerbread house this year.  Now we just have to replace the icing piping bag that split in the Halloween biscuit decorations.

I was pleased to find a solution to going to the supermarket without a bag for groceries.  I usually have a couple of octopus straps.  When I was at the supermarket recently I found an empty box on the shelves that I could strap to the back of my bike.  The only problem was that it made Sylvia crave violet crumbles after seeing them all over the box.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her wonderful hand drawn header.