We have had a very hot start to Summer, with temperatures above 40C (104F) for the past few days. For this reason I never decorate with snowy themed Christmas decorations - it just feels all too wrong. While the fashion for flocked (fake snow dusted) Christmas trees has finally hit Australian shops, I prefer to theme with greenery and silver tones, which feels slightly more cooling on a hot day.
I've been baking up a storm since our long school holidays started (Romy's Chocolate biscuits about to go into the oven are pictured above). One thing I've been meaning to share on the blog is a literally life changing discovery I have made. I think I first became aware of Martha Stewart using mini ice cream scoops to measure out cake batter during the occasional time I caught her tv show, and I probably filed it away somewhere mentally. Earlier this year I decided I was sick of uneven height cupcakes, remembered the ice cream scoop thing, and so bought a small one from Wheel & Barrow to ensure easy measuring and distribution. This was so successful it then lead to hunting for smaller and smaller scoops suitable for biscuits until I found The Holy Grail of Scoops - the OXO brand small sized biscuit/ cookie scoop. I bought it from Williams Sonoma, and it is no exaggeration to say that this thing has changed my life. The speed with which you can scoop and release is unprecedented, and the fact that all my biscuits are now even sized is very pleasing to me. It's the little things...
Of course the biscuit distribution then lead to the next progression - using it for other things, which is where it has saved so much time and been life changing on a busy week day. Family dinners are generally fairly trying at our house. I have one fussy eater, and children who in general all have different tastes. Some one will be crying/ sulking about what I've served pretty much every night of the week. But one thing the entire family enjoys are meatballs, and I have a variety of different meatball recipes that I turn out. Unfortunately they can require a lot of pfaffing about with teaspoons and hand rolling etc. But the scoop works for these too, and it's cut the prep time down to about a minute for an entire batch of meatballs.
Here are a favourite above - Ottolenghi Chicken and Zucchini meatballs with Sour Cream sauce from the Jerusalem cookbook. They are supposed to be burger sized, but meatball sized works better for children and can also work well as finger food with an adults drink party.The meatballs are also gluten free, and the recipe is fantastic - tasty for adults and kids.
Another favourite are classic spaghetti and meatballs, which I make using a Bill Granger recipe (minus the chilli). It has a lot of herbs so they have a fresh flavour and the bread in milk trick makes them stay moist. If you have a thermomix (as I have) then meatballs are the easiest thing in the world to make as it does all the grating, chopping and mixing for you, so a batch of meatballs from start to getting cooking will take around 5 minutes.
My second big food recommendation is not quite so life changing but has helped speed things up as well. It's a pancake pen, pictured above and purchased also from Wheel & Barrow. I don't use this for actual pancakes, a ladle does just as well for that, but for pikelets and blinis it's perfect. I'm a veritable production line churning them out for an after school snack/ lunchbox filler or for drinks with smoked salmon.
In big news around the house, the long awaited Dining chairs finally arrived. This was perfect timing as another two of the old dining chairs broke in the week leading up to their arrival, so things were getting desperate. They are so comfortable I'm pretty sure our next dinner party will be a very late one. For all those interested in why I've chosen an upholstered chair having in the past pointed out that with children they become repositories for food, these ones have a clever design that solves the problem. The covers are removable and are velcroed under the seat, so they look fully upholstered, but can be wriggled off and washed as needed. The chairs are from Molteni & Co, and I purchased them directly from an Italian online retailer as the local importer price gouged so badly that they had added a fat 120% margin onto the full retail price + shipping+ tax + import duty comparable pricing from Italy.
The garden has been growing like crazy in the heat, although we have woken this morning to cooler temperatures, rain and grey skies (which are very welcome). While my roses have mostly fried in the past few days and the flowers are looking a little crispy, other plants just love it. The Crepe Myrtle is shooting out in all directions and putting out fuchsia coloured flower heads.
All the perennial grasses have gone crazy
Back corner of the garden
Same garden bed a few months ago in Spring
I've also planted out a whole heap of black flag irises in the garden and can't wait for them to bloom. I have a thing for dark foliage plants and flowers.
Baby irises to the front, mini agapanthus to the right
a lone David Austin Heritage that's opened out
It's been a while since I've reviewed any books - this is because I've not read a great deal as the end of year has been so busy. But Faux Fuchsia recently sent me this book on Nancy Lancaster, and I absolutely loved it. Nancy was a founding partner in Colefax & Fowler, the venerable English decorating firm, and lived an interesting and quite pampered life (she was independently wealthy, plus married into money several times over). Her fascinating with houses with patina and age and layers and her ability to create a mood in a room was unparalleled, and she is credited with creating the English Country House look, which is amusing considering she was originally from Virginia in the USA. So much of the book resonated with me with her philosophy on decorating, I highly recommend it. The main thing I liked was that she bought things that she just loved and felt right, rather than what was in fashion or was considered the best quality by others. She would happily mix high and low well before that was a concept.
If you're looking for an unusual gift for a garden lover, then this book will appeal. It's vintage style cover grabbed me - it is a reissue of the original edition of "Down the Garden Path" by Beverley Nichols. I picked it up when visiting Hobart a few months ago.
Here he is on the back cover.
He was a very popular writer in Britain, and wrote a semi fictional series set in a country village. This was his first book, written about the creation of his own garden, and the descriptions of purchasing an English cottage, his difficulty with his domestics, and trying to find plants that would grow in his garden are very entertaining.
With all the hot weather my sun dresses have been getting a work out. I rarely write anything about my own wardrobe on the blog these days, I'm really not sure anyone is interested… but I've had to purchase a couple of new sundresses to replace a few that were looking very worn out after hard service. This one appealed to me in its vaguely Dolce & Gabanna style tile print. It's from Binny and is a tent dress in a thick cotton, so not only cool on a hot day, but good for expanding waistlines over the Christmas period!
Busy times, but I think that's caught things up a little. Hope you're not being baked wherever you are in the world and that all your end of year prep is in order.
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