Sunday, 29 June 2014

Beware of the Dinosaurs

I've always enjoyed gardening and I learnt at the knees of my mother and grandmother. I am keen for Joseph to get into gardening so I have been busy trying to do some fun stuff to get him out there and enjoying the garden.

My first project was my work in progress bug hotel. I constructed it from a CD rack, which now in the age of iTunes we found wasn't being used. I still have a few shelves to fill, and more bamboo to cut! I have now planted a small herb and bug attracting garden in front of it, my hope will be to extend it over time. Joseph and I have been on a few stick collecting expeditions and he also helped me choose some plants.

One of the things I love is things in miniature. We have some dinosaurs that we picked up cheap at an NCT nearly new sale a few years ago which have been lying abandoned in the toy box. So I have repatriated them and put them to use.

Gardening is about having fun. Get out into your garden today and have a play!

This was the result at 7.30 last night!

Also you might be interested in this post on Not Even A Bag of Sugar today

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Pumpkin *sort of* Scones

Pumpkin scones are an Australian country tradition made famous by the Queensland Premier's Wife - Flo Bjelke-Peterson. Coincidentally the Bjelke-Peterson's sort of settled in Tasmania and for some time had some tea rooms in Sheffield in North West Tasmania the home of murals.

Pumpkin scones are a different method to your normal scone and far more forgiving for the novice baker. Firstly there's no rubbing in, you cream the butter and sugar. Secondly nearly all the moisture is provided by the pumpkin. This can cause confusion so I will explain as I go along.

A note on pumpkin. Proper pumpkin (Australian definition) is blue skinned. I prefer a Queensland Blue (which are enormous) or Jap pumpkin. I am sure you can use canned pumpkin, but I would think you would need to full amount of milk. In Australia butternut squash is referred to as pumpkin and that is what I used.

Just a note on flavour. Butternut squash is perfectly pleasant but it isn't pumpkiny enough. I would add some cinnamon or nutmeg next time to compliment the flavour.

250 grams prepared squash (directions below) - I cook a whole one then weigh the resulting puree*
30 grams butter
50 grams caster sugar (golden is my preference)
300 grams self raising flour (for additional rise add another teaspoon of baking powder)
milk (no more than 80 mls of milk and you may need a lot less)

1. First peel your pumpkin. I just use veggie peeler and do it whole. Cut the pumpkin in to largish dice place in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. Cook gently over medium heat, stirring, until soft. You may need to add more water but don't drown it. Alternatively microwave with a small amount of water according to your devices instructions (I don't own a microwave).

Puree or mash your pumpkin. I use a stick blender, you can use a food processor or old fashioned masher. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Once cold weigh it out.

2. Cream the butter and sugar, by hand, with a hand held mixer, or I cheat and use kitchen aid. Add flour and pumpkin and mix til combined, adding milk to form a sticky dough. I needed only a tablespoon or so. Reserve your left over milk.

3. Flour your board and tip out the dough, using well floured hands. Knead briefly to bring it together and press to about 5cm thick then cut out rounds. I use a well floured fluted cutter. The reason being is you won't twist it. Twisting gives an uneven rise. You will lose the flutes on baking but no matter! You can use a glass or straight edge cutter.

4. Place your scones on a floured tray or lined with baking paper, the scones should be touching. They will stick together as they bake but that's intentional, it gives you soft scones with a good rise. If you space out they will dome and not be as easy to split.

5. Brush the scones with milk, and bake for approximately 15 minutes. My oven isn't even so I turn at 7 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and transfer to a tray to cool.

I got a bakers dozen out of this mixture 13 scones.

Serve them as desired! You can serve them the traditional way with jam and cream, or just with butter, or low fat philadelphia. They go well with soup too, the sugar doesn't over power at all.

I made these on the evening of England's first world cup match against Italy, my sister in law said should have done the cream as a cross, it didn't even cross my mind! So do that if making them for the next England game.

*Leftover squash - your average squash will be around 500 grammes. The left over puree will freeze and make another batch. You can use it for baby food of course should you have one. It will also go into soup, stews or mix with mashed potato for fish pie or shepherd's pie topping.

I hope you enjoy this traditionally Australian recipe.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Simply Superb Sempervivums

When I was  a child I was introduced to gardening by my grandmother. My nana loved flowers, pansies, hydrangeas, bulbs and lavender. She was a traditional cottage garderner in many ways. I loved her colourful displays on the farm in Lilydale, at her home in Mornington on the Eastern Shore of Hobart, and her last garden, the one she managed at our own house, where she lived with us until she died.

My mother is also a gardener. I used to bemoan her style, foliage over flowers, creating interesting and stunning displays, a lover of wild natives, and of foliage, flowers too, but always a concentration on green. It made me laugh the other day when my husband complained of my own garden "it's lovely but it is rather green". In my defence I do have plenty of colour in the front garden, and in pots around the back. But yes, I have inherited the love of form, texture and shades of green.

I bought a few rock garden plants two years ago. They all did rather well, but I was particularly intrigued with Sempervivums. I hadn't really come across them before, and hanging out in the alpine section, there they were. They looked lovely in my rock garden, I had two. And I was happy.

Until my old friend but foe Pinterest. I did a search for Sempervivums and found some amazing ways of using them. You can see my board here. And now, yes, I have discovered the love of foliage, of creating interest with things that aren't known for their flowers.

I discovered a use for strawberry pots. I had a pot that was never that great at strawberries, the cups are too deep, the top too wide. The drainage isn't right for strawberries, being too flat the water goes through too quickly. I found a new purpose for it.

Imagine my delight when on our recent trip to Germany I discovered that sempervivums are all the rage there and picked up 10 for just 99 cents each! And the lovely thing about sempervivums is true to their US name of Hen and Chicks, they keep on giving, you can easily divide and replant the darlings.

If you think you have brown thumbs, try Sempervivums. They tolerate full sun and don't mind a bit of shade, in fact they need a bit. They don't like to be overwatered. I never water mind. They do like good drainage, however we have pretty heavy soil and they don't root deep, so plenty of light compost and gravel when you plant and they are happy. They keep having babies, and you can separate them off and replant them when you need to.

They are the most intriguing little plants, forgiving, easy to care for, and fascinating to grow. Ideal for little fingers too! Have a look at my boards and perhaps choose some sempervivum projects for summer!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

An Honest Post about Weight

Being a size 28 is a weird thing. When you are 24 it's not an easy place to be. In the 1990's it was really difficult. I had to go to Melbourne to buy clothes most times, as Tasmania had only one or two places that did clothes that big, and all the fat girls would end up looking the same.

I've lost weight a couple of times in my adult life. The most recent was 2005 when I went down to a size 16. I lost six stone. Suddenly I could shop amazing places and things fit. I would marvel as a pair of "normal" jeans would get over my hips and do up.

But, and here's the thing. I loathed the way I looked and felt in my new shrunken skin. I felt scared, vulnerable, visible. The thinner me wasn't "me". I wasn't the Kylie I knew. I have absolutely no pictures of that time. I hated the way I looked, the bones starting to protrude, my hourglass figure. I missed my padded comfort.  And so I gained, not all of it, but a lot of it.

Now I am a size 20-22 and the 20 ish side of that. And this is my brain's happy weight. I feel fit enough, my mobility is good, I can swim and walk fast and do what I want. I have nice clothes that I feel comfortable in. I've been within a stone of this weight for around 7 years now.

However, I know that whilst my brain is happy, my heart is not. No not that undefined feeling which could be soul or spirit. My heart. That thing in my body that pumps my blood around.

I know that my body needs to lose fat to be happy and healthy. My brain, however, is terrified. I eat healthily. Given a choice between a salmon salad and fish and chips I will happily chose the salad.  I deliberately sabotage myself my bingeing once a week on high fat foods. At the moment my poison of choice is Lotus Biscuit Spread. It's easy to eat and calorific. If I stop this sabotage I will lose weight.

And I want to, I think. My body wants to. I want to walk for miles, taking photos of things I see, I want to walk fast with my best friend in his wheel chair, who goes very fast. I want to do runs for charity again. I want to play football with my little boy. I do all these things. I limit my exercise because I know if I do the things I want I'll lose weight. This is just so crazy.

I'm not a vulnerable little girl anymore. I will still be strong when I'm smaller, and in smaller clothes. I will still be me, won't I?

I am frightened of not being a the plus size fat girl. I am happy being the fat girl in my brain, I really am. I love wearing my clothes, I feel confident. I don't really care my arms wobble and my stomach is fuller than it should be.

However, to live a long happy life I need to lose weight. And keep it off.

And I need my friends to help me.

Help me accept that even when I'm thinner I will still be safe.

And hug me when I cry as my smaller self emerges again. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Aussie Garden

I have always had a garden. Sometimes my garden has been borrowed, like the time I lived in a basement flat that used to be the servant's quarters of a large house in Launceston. The garden was almost reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett's creation in The Secret Garden, large, with lots of different sections. Down the bottom was an old swimming pool. At the time it wasn't a guesthouse/hotel just a collection of flats. The landlady asked me to tend the garden for a reduction of rent, and I loved it. The main features were rhododendrans and azaleas, that I would lovingly deadhead and fertilise.

When we moved here 4 years ago the back garden was just lawn. Slowly we have done things like construct a rock garden and do some planting. There's a lot more to be done. With the help of my Pinterest boards I am starting to formulate a plan. I would love your help and input!

 In the back left corner is the rock garden, then my patch at the back with my garden seat. Growing happily are hellebores, clematis and a honeysuckle, with a few other bits and pieces for good measure. The right has a repurposed book shelf containing some instant colour. Along the left fence will be the Aussie garden.

I am hoping to plant a Tasmanian tree fern, which I think should do well here, and a few other Aussie plants, some of whom I think will meet a sticky, unglorified end as the ph levels of my soil I doubt are quite right, but I'll have a go!

I also plan to make a bug hotel with Joseph and have started collating some ideas. I want to make sure we have some more bee plants in the garden. Our local fire station has bee hives and I want to make sure we can support their bee population.

I'm looking forward to my birthday on 3rd June and will treat myself to some plants and time in the garden.

I will keep you updated with my progress!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Adventures at Comic Con

Many moons ago Daniel was talking about attending a Comic Convention once he got strong enough in terms of his stamina in his wheelchair and managing his anxiety. I mentioned I wish I was thinner as I'd love to do cosplay. Daniel laughed at me and told me anyone could cosplay. I did some searches and found quite a few plus size Poison Ivy cosplayers and thought "yes I could do that".

I will do another post about my journey to finding my Poison Ivy, and how I did it.

I arrived bright and early at Comic Con in Birmingham and waited for Daniel. This was a good time to see some of the others and there was a group of three lovely young girls, all curvy in very cool cosplay outfits, completely sewn by themselves. You can find their Tumblr here .

Daniel finally arrived, and he looked completely stunning. His beard was back, his costume looked amazing and the wheelchair really did stand out with the Stark Industry stickers.

I really enjoyed dressing up as Poison Ivy and got a lot of attention and comments. I had never attending a comic con before, much less tried cosplay, and I think I am hooked!

I found the actual convention good but frustrating as there were so many people, and a whole empty hall, It would have been better to spread the stalls over both, or have the signing and talk area seperately. As Daniel says in his post, the noise was a huge issue.

I managed to have the beginnings of a panic attack. The crowds got to me, and I felt a bit responsible for Daniel as I knew crowds aren't his favourite thing either. I'm also struggling sleeping and being overtired really didn't help.

I was really brave, I am actually quite a shy person but there were two people I wanted autographs of. The first was Scott Adkins. I know of him as the manager of Holby City but he's now more famous as a rather dishy martial arts actor. He was very sweet and posed for a picture.

I debated getting another, as at £15 a pop they aren't cheap but I really wanted Billy Murray from The Bill. He was there because of his more recent work doing voices on video games. I waited patiently and he said "oh I am glad you came over, where is your handsome friend in the wheelchair?" I explained he was in the cosplay area. He was very kind and signed a picture, but no picture with him sadly, because he didn't have a minder I think. But it was great to speak to an actor I idolised and to find him to be a nice person.

My main feeling about the day is one of pride. Daniel and I have been friends for over two years now, and if you'd told me that one day we'd be dressed up at one of the busiest comic events in the country I would have said you were mad. We have come such a long way in our friendship and have grown in confidence immensely. I am now planning my next one, and this time my costume will be much more unique!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Hummingbird Cake

I love baking. It's not something I do often these days, because with there only being three of us I end up eating too much, but when I do I love to cook something that I enjoy eating and sharing.

Having blogged yesterday about Poke Cake assembled with predominately manufactured ingredients I thought I owed you the real thing.

Hummingbird cake, not to be confused with the delicious confections from the Hummingbird bakery, is something that I was introduced to when I was living in Tasmania. I often used to go to the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston which was in the centre of town. It had an amazing Chinese Joss House which was sometimes actually used by the Chinese community, and the most amazing art displays. It also had a tiny cafe with the most incredible homemade cakes.

Originating in the Deep South of America Hummingbird cake is one of my favourites. Recipes vary but it always has banana and pineapple. It can contain carrot. The version I chose to make has both walnuts and pecans, of course you could just use one or the other, or leave them out if entirely necessary, but both makes a difference. Walnuts are more bitter, pecans are buttery and softer to the bite.  Without the nuts it's still fine, but unless there was a really valid reason for ommission, leave them in!

This version also contained mango and passionfruit. A real fruit cake. One of the amazing things about Hummingbird cake is that it keeps really well, it still is moist and fresh a few days later, if it lasts that long. Hummingbird cake needs a cream cheese frosting, with plenty of citrus flavour in it I think. However the cake is fine unfrosted, and is a great addition to lunchboxes unfrosted. If you leave out the mango, up the tinned pineapple and leave out the passionfruit it becomes a lot more budget friendly.

I used the BBC website recipe for Hummingbird Cake which originally is a Great British Bake Off recipe. The only alterations I made was I used self raising flour instead of plain and bicarbonate of soda, and I used rapeseed oil, as its local, and brilliant.

What's your favourite cake?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bad Food Bake Off - Poke Cake

It's no secret that I have a serious Pinterest habit, I love it. I pin all sort of things, and one thing I pin are recipes. Nothing annoys me more than seeing a really lovely looking finished article then discovering the main ingredient is a packet mix. Much to my delight my fellow Pinterest addict Tattooed Mummy feels the same way.

However when the aforementioned Tattooed one started sending me pin after pin of revolting recipes I knew desperate action was required. We had to make one.

I chose "poke cake" as it just appealed to my over developed sense of kitsch. I also (don't judge me) had the "fixings" (I daren't call them ingredients) in the house. I had to ammend the recipe as it called for cheesecake pudding mix and all I had knocking about was vanilla pudding mix. As a compromise I made a cream cheese frosting. I shan't replicate the recipe as you can find it here

So here are the ingredients, nice and simple. I happened to have the Red Velvet cake mix in the cupboard. Don't ask me why I just did ok? The pudding mix was a Christmas gift from my mother in law who lives in Germany.
Mixing the cake with some electric help. Not even my 4 year old would go near poke cake.
The batter happily sitting in its little dish.
When it comes out of the oven you poke holes in it and let it cool a little.
Meanwhile you make the custard.
Pour it on top of the poke cake and let it sit in fridge to firm up
Then top it with frosting. Now I was good and made my own from scratch. What you should really do is use Cool Whip or other frozen cream frosting which sadly is unobtainabe easily in the UK.

There the finished article!

Verdict: Do not be tempted to make this. I am the sweet tooth queen and I couldn't eat it. My husband, perversely, did like it, and my 4 year old wouldn't touch it.

Nothing beats home made cake, but poke cake isn't even the work of the devil, it's worse than that.

It's the work of multnationals who try to convince us that cake making is hard, that we need help. It isn't and we don't.

The Tattooed One has a linky. Find a recipe, make it, blog it and link it!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

I Should Be so Lucky

I was in Starbucks today. Tired and a bit grumpy, its the end of my working week and I decided I deserved a coffee. They have a policy of taking names. I really should just lie and call myself Anna or something, or Eric. No too late. "Kylie" I said.

The young, hip dude started to giggle "Really? Oh I love her so much, she's awesome". I smile thinking "look here smartarse just give me my coffee and no one gets hurt", waiting for the next line. Yep not to disappoint laughing boy says "oh do you wear the gold hot pants too?", giggling at the absurdity.

Yes, clearly, mate. My size 20-22 rear end just looks fantastic in hotpants not to mention my thighs that can be seen from the International Space Station and mistaken for the surface of the moon.

All I share with Ms Minogue is a name and an Aussie accent. We don't share a wardrobe. Sadly we don't share men either.

Growing up noone was called Kylie. There were no famous ones. Then in my teen years "she" appeared. Now what you have to remember is that when Kylie first appeared she wasn't the cool gay icon hanging off Michael Hutchence's arm or singing duets with Nick Cave. She was a dag. The singing budgie.  With impossibly curly hair and dodgy choices in boyfriends (Jason anyone) and hair dos.When I first started working at a call centre everyone thought it was just hilarious my first manager was, of course, called Jason. It could only happen to me! He was also disappointed that I didn't look amazing in hotpants (no I didn't try)

I'm not overly bothered about my size. I have had lovely boyfriends and husbands (yep I'm on Mr Kykaree number 2). I've been pretty lucky to have been blessed with curves. I've fought my size, I've dieted, I've exercised, I've loathed my body, some days I still do. But other people seem to like it, and I'm just me. I wouldn't be me if I wasn't the shape I am.

However I am not defined by my size and I refuse to be made to feel inferior or ashamed, or be the butt (pun unintended) of gold hot pants jokes. I may look like a jolly fat person, but I have feelings too.

Yes my name is Kylie but it just could have easily been Nicole......Kidman anyone?