Monday, 30 January 2012

Back to school!

Well the time has come, down here in New Zealand, for our children to head back to school (excuse me for a moment while I do the happy dance!).  I know a lot of kids are very anxious about the start of the new school year, so I always think that a few home-made special treats packed in the lunch box makes the new start just a wee bit nicer!  So my little son and I have been busy doing a bit of baking to fill the tins with lots of treats for the school lunch box. 

Chocolate chip cookies are a favourite in our family.  After all is there anything more comforting than a cold glass of milk and a cookie (or two!).  A second favourite of the family is chocolate brownies.  I think a lot of people have a special recipe for both cookies and brownies, here is my favourite brownie recipe:


I like to give credit where credit is due, but sadly I do not remember where I got this recipe from.  I have been using it since I was a teenager (and at the time living in New Hampshire in the USA).  It may have come from the Nestle chocolate chip packet, but alas I am not sure.  Either way it is rather nice!
1 and 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter (6 ounces or 170 grams), melted
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup baking Cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)


 1. PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F/180 Celsius (160 for fan bake) or gas mark 4. Grease 13x9-inch baking pan. 

2. COMBINE sugar, butter and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared baking pan. 

3. BAKE for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky (if you like a drier less moist brownie just leave them in about five minutes longer). Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into bars.

When I asked my son what his favourite part of the summer was, he told me it was 'all the beach days with Mummy, Daddy and his furry little brother, Max the dog' - oh bless!  I am going to miss having my little man home with me, I may just have to pour myself a glass of milk and have a cookie or two to cheer myself up!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Summer seems to be rather fical this year, here in the little land downunder (NZ not Australia).  One day we have glorious sunshine and the next gale force wind, rain and chilly temperatures.  I have decided that I 'musnt grumble' and have embraced this mixed bag of temperate delights instead. 

So on Friday while poor hubby was still labouring at work, the sun decided to shine in the gorgeous village of Island Bay, so my young son and I headed to the beach.  It was just lovely!  The beach is notorious for having rather chilly water, but this didnt deter any of the little children and after awhile, even my 7 year old stripped off and went diving into the azure blue water.  Mum and Nanna stayed nice and dry on the hot sand! 

I know I have mentioned Island Bay in Wellington quite a bit, but it really is a gorgeous wee seaside village with the most delightful blend of families and cultures.  There is a fairly large Italian community and as I child I would play with the Italian children and spend time at their homes, which I think is where my love of cooking first began.  I can remember one wonderful family - the Iovine's whose home on Trent Street was always so warm and welcoming.  Mrs Iovine would make the most amazing Italian dishes - she even made her own mozarella cheese at a time when it was hard to buy in New Zealand.  The thing I adored about these dear people was their passion for life, their exuberance and their love of their family and friends - magnifico!

This painting below is one of my favourites, from the fabulous artist Rita Angus.  It is titled 'Boats, Island Bay' and I just adore its child-like depiction of the boats from this very special fishing village:

 Alas the good weather was not to last and as luck would have it once the weekend arrived, so did the chilly weather! It was the perfect excuse to get all cosy inside and introduce my  7 year old son to one of my favourite childhood authors; Joyce Lankester Brisley, who wrote the magical 'Milly Molly Mandy' stories about the childhood adventures of a little girl growing up in a quintessential English village.  Although Joyce Lankester Brisley had these stories published in 1925, the adventures of Milly Molly Mandy have a timelessness about them due to their simplicity.   They range from tales about visiting the seaside, growing a garden or getting a lovely new bedroom (my favourite!).

 Oh how I longed to grow up in an English country village like Milly Molly Mandy did!  My own little corner of the world as a child was rather more suburban New Zealand with the nearest shop being miles away up a giant hill (or so it felt like at the time when I was sent on errands to buy bread or milk).  The grass is always greener!  It was a joy to travel back in time to my childhood and share that bliss with my lovely son, so thank you Joyce Lankester Brisley!  I dont think I ever really want to grow up...

It’s good to be sitting still
And it’s good to be running wild,
And it’s good to be by yourself alone
or with another child

And whether the child’s grown up
Or whether the child is small
So long as it really is a Child
It doesn’t matter at all.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Birthday bliss!

Well I had my birthday this past week and I have to say that they really dont hold the same delight they did when I was a child 'sigh'.  Somehow aging is not nearly quite so thrilling as it once was, ha ha!  However, my lovely family gave me a really sweet day filled with all the things that make me smile.  Hubby served me freshly baked croissants and coffee for breakfast, while my dear little son was very keen to help me unwrap my presents.  This year I got a really 'big' present - something I have coveted and desired for many years.  Hubby (he who hates shopping with a passion) amazed me by hitting the sales after xmas to purchase this gem..below.  My gorgeous shiny new kitchenaid mixer - oh the joy!!!

Some of my extended family came round later in the day to help me celebrate and hubby surprised me again with a birthday cake he had made.  This is the only the 2nd cake he has ever made in his forty something years on the planet (the first was a joint effort when we were first married 14 years ago, as I was so shocked he had never baked).  Knowing I love all things feminine and girly he set out to make me a very girly cake and boy did he succeed!  I think my seven year old self would have been rather impressed with this cake all those years ago!  Ta da!

Unfortunately the sun decided not to put in an appearance on my birthday, despite it supposedly being summer here in New Zealand.  In fact it was quite a stormy day with howling winds and rain pouring down.  However, I am happy to be by the sea in any weather whatsoever, so head off to the coast we did.  It was magical watching the huge waves smashing into the rocks and racing up the beach.  I am afraid most of my photos didnt come out very well, but the one below is a favourite one of the island, which gives 'Island Bay' in Wellington its name.  Most of my family live in Island Bay and I spent many happy days at the beach there while growing up.  Now days the beach is a favourite spot of my young sons, so la dolce vita continues!  As you can see in the photo below, it was rather stormy that day...

So am I any wiser now that I am another year older?  I would like to think so, he he.  I think this year I am going to try and live more like a gay man, ha ha.  I think every woman should have a gay best friend (aka GBF)- they are wonderful creatures who make the world a better place.  One of my dearest friends in high school and college was my gay best friend.  Now I dont want to stereotype all gay men here, but in my experience they tend to be utter domestic goddesses, fashion stars and health freaks. My GBF  has impeccable taste and an amazing eye for design, but the thing I always loved the most about him was his ability to make me laugh.  We went through some tough times together when we were young.  Just when I graduated from University I was diagnosed with a horrible health condition that required major surgery right away.  I remember the day I finally got home from hospital.  We went for a gentle walk together in the woods near my home.  Eventually we came to the river and someone had tied a very frayed and precarious looking rope to a tree way above the river below.  My friend stood there, designer sun glasses in one hand and the rope in the other, lamenting loudly over what kind of idiot would place such a decrepit old rope there, when suddenly he lost his footing and whoosh!  He swung out over the river, holding on to the rope with only one hand, as I stared after him in utter surprise.  However as he swung back, the look of horror and shock on his face made me realise quickly that he had not intended this tarzan-like display at all - rather he had sliped and swung out by accident.  In the next moment as he lost his grip on the rope and fell with a loud splash into the river below, I almost burst my stitches I was laughing so hard!  Luckily my dear friend was fine, just a little damp with a slightly bruised rear and a very bruised ego!  Oh happy days.  My friend put this picture below on his facebook page recently and I simply love it, so dear friend in honour of you and your simply fabulous ways I will share it here. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Hello 2012!

When I look back on 2011 what comes to mind is what a dark year it was for the world.  The planet was besieged by natural disasters, there were victorious uprisings for freedom marred by horrific violence, numerous wars raged around the globe and the financial situation remained bleak at the best of times.  I thought this poem below was rather fitting...   
And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,
And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.
~Thomas Hood
Through the dark times of 2012 the one thing that kept me cheerful and optimistic was my family and friends.   Many of my dearest friends are scattered around the globe and our only way of keeping in touch is via the internet, but it really is bliss to be able to do so – to share their lives for a moment or two.  One of my very dearest friends lives about an hour away from me, over a small mountain (commonly referred to here as ‘the hill’).  We only get to see each other in person a few times a year – more during the glorious summer months when the journey is easy and of course much less in the winter when the road over that darn ‘hill’ is often treacherous.  Yet every single time I do get to see her, I come away feeling blissfully happy.  She is one of those magical people who really make the world a better place – especially for me.  I am always inspired by the life she lives, by her calmness, by the love she has for her children and husband, by her devotion to her friends and the community she lives in.  Her home always feels welcoming and warm, it’s stylish and beautiful (a real dream home) but she never appears upset or irritated if the children make a mess or guests stop by unexpectedly.  
The other wonderful person who has taught me some valuable lessons over the past year is my darling son, age 7.  My son is adopted – I had cancer at age 29 and wasn’t able to go on and have biological children – but at age 34 my husband and I were blessed enough to adopt a simply gorgeous 12 month old baby boy.  I can’t imagine life without him – he is a real treasure!  My son’s greatest gift is his love of people and his sunny outlook on life.  This is a child who wakes every morning with a giant smile on his face, rearing to go.  He is the exact opposite of my husband and I – we are bookish, introverted ‘geeks’ – our son on the other hand is super extroverted, outgoing and popular.  And so on New Year’s eve, when my husband and I decided to ‘stay in’ and have a cosy, quiet send off for 2011, our darling boy demanded we head off to the beach in the evening instead.  It was magical – we had the place to ourselves (well apart from a few seagulls), the air was warm and perfumed with the smell of the salty sea and we had a wonderful time – so much better than slumping on the sofa and watching telly!
My son's most special friend of all, may I introduce 'stinky teddy'!  (Dont ask!)

And so dear friends as we head in to a wonderful new year, may I wish you all a journey filled with adventure, laughter and most of all love!   

My hubby and my son on the beach, living in the moment, New Year's Eve 2011