Monday, December 31, 2012

It's over (or is it? ...)

So, in slightly surprising news it seems that I made it, 366 days without a drink. At New Years on the stroke of midnight there was a cheer, and a lovely bottle of french champagne was opened (donated by the lovely Dr M.) It was a very good tipple, and a generous offer from an amazing cocktail party host, but something was a little missing. This drink, what used to be my favourite amongst favourites, wasn't tasting so good. It seems that I've lost the taste for alcohol.

Not that I let anything like that stop me. After the second drink I was merry but content not to drink any more. And I think that's just where life post-teetotal 2012 is headed. Alcohol is part of my life, it is woven into the social fabric of my existance. And it is lovely to have the choice to have a beverage or two if I feel fit. But I am no longer its mistress and the desire to drink far less is a welcome one.

Given my new line of work, a drink or two on occasion will be warranted. A pint with the beau at the wonderful Crimean (with dumplings!!!) or a cocktail or just a glass of wine with dinner (that we've resolved to try and eat at the dinner table instead of in front of the TV) will be delightful, but not mandatory.

I wish Sammy all the best of luck with a Teetotal 2013, and best wishes to any one else who takes up the challenge. It is hard, and bewildered many people, but so worth it.

I might post a couple more times here, looking at longer term benefits and musings about my year without booze. And I'll definitely blog more over at Totally Inept Balcony Gardener just as soon as I work out how to put photos up. If beer is your thing, you should check out my partner's blog (link coming soon) which is about his Year IN Beer! Instead of pulling a teetotal 2013, he is drinking a different beer each day, no double ups! Luckily he drank his Jan 1st beer last night just after midnight as he is sporting a cocktail-induced hangover this morning.

Happy New Year everybody!

Friday, December 21, 2012

One week to go (almost)

We've hit the pointy end of the year and it feels great. I've been so busy with uni that I've barely had time to think about anything other than education, let alone post here or in Totally Inept Balcony Gardener. Even sewing has taken a back seat to things, though baking making to squeak in on a couple of spare Saturdays. With 10 days off from school now I hope to rest, enjoy Christmas, sew some things and write an essay.

The Christmas parties have given me a little bit of a pull to drink, just because of the awesome amounts of champagne on offer (and the ample stress that comes with this time of year) but I held strong. Indeed it has pretty much become a non-issue. I whinge a little that I want a drink when others have one, but I'm not sure there is much conviction behind it. I'm one of those people who needs to fill a silence and sometimes whinging is the easiest way there. Maybe, it anything, the whinging is a habit that needs fixing ... :)

Ok, now to let tyhe garden blogging world know where I've been.

Merry Christmas everyone

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Less than a month and a half to go

As the end of this non-drinking year draws near I've began thinking about drinking again. No, I don't mean drinking now, but next year. What can/will I drink, how much will I drink, when. There is no way I will never have alcohol again, and a certainty that I'll reintroduce it to my diet Jan 1, but definitely, yes definitely, it will be in moderation. The thing is, I'm a little scared of drinking again. I'm scared of:
  • Hangovers. I saw my lovely other half go through one the other day, and I have many, many memories of awful hangovers I've given myself. Yes they can be avoided by drinking in moderation but even sometimes a bad wine or a little too much (2.5 glasses instead of 2) tipsmyou over into hangover territory. It's not only that I can't afford to take a day off anymore, but I just hate the pain, the headaches, the nausea.
  • My Health, or people's aspersions about my health. Most specifically it is my Dr and rheumie's idea of my health. I feel like it was only when I stopped drinking that the persistent health issues were taken seriously. Now I know that this wasn't the case at all, and it just needed time for the diagnosis to be confirmed, but it felt like eliminating one possible factor meant something. I know moderate drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle, and goodness knows that not drinking didn't help my weight problems one iota, but I just can't seem to stop this lingering doubt. I really should stop worriyng about other people's perceptions.
  • My Health Pt 2 - I'm now on medication and feeling but better than I was. And alcohol doesn't really interact with it, so there are no problems there but I am still scared. Scared that it will interact, or that it might make me sick, or that I'll turn green with purple polkadots.
  • Forgetting my limit. I had a bit of an issue with this in the past. It wasn't that I had to drink to get drunk or anything, it was more that I just got caught up in the social aspect of it all. No, not drinking games or the like, just having fun with friends over a drink or two would turn into 3 drinks, 4 drinks, another bottle and before I knew it I'd gone beyond giggly and was going to feel it the next day. I know my limit, I know when to stop, but I know me, and I know I get easily carried away when I'm happy and in a social situation.
But these are just fears, and I have a lot of stupid fears in life. They're phobias really, some common (spiders, heights, snakes) while others are rather strange (darleks, though that's somewhat cured, telephones, conversations that is, and making calls not the objects themsevles, and people brushing their teeth - that's a real doozy.) I can't let fear rule my life. And there are good things to drinking too. I'm convinced it will help relax me and ease my headache. That's just as irrational as my fears, but it is a positive delusion. Hopefully in the next few months I can overcome these silly fears and become the balanced drinker I know that I can be.

Monday, November 5, 2012

November Update

The most amazing fuschias are flowering in the balcony garden at the moment, I just had to share them with you. I'm gearing up for another hectic summer so the blogging has taken a little hiatus while I ramp up the relaxing, and I am afraid the blogging break willbe even when I venture into the world of teaching. I've been visiting my new school and getting prepared for the summer intensive that is all part of Teach For Australia. It is such an exciting turn in my life, and I look forward to my new career. However, it does mean I have to get the 'me' time in now. Apart from that prep, here are some highlights of my recent, alcohol-free weeks:

My dear friends bought an amazing house (their second!) and despite the fact that champagne was flowing I managed to steer clear and stay sober. And I didn't miss it, even though it was top shelf stuff.

Medication for my health issues has begun to work and I am feeling soooooooooo much better! The brain fog is still there on occassions but I can finally exercise again, which is a big relief. At some stages it was getting too hard to walk to uni and that is only 10 minutes up the road.

I went on a holiday to Adelaide. It's been the month for holidays - my rellos went to America, my folks to Vietnam and Cambodia and my cousin to New Zealand. Gee, I think they got the better deals out of that lot!

The garden is amazing! I'll post about it on Totally Inept Balcony Gardener soon. The tomato plants (all 28) are growing madly, there is a white eggplant, a yellow zucchini and a few mini cucumbers as well as a tonne of apples on the apple trees. I love my balcony garden, it makes me smile every day. Here is a view from both angles to give you the best impression of my second story green wonderland.

I've been sewing more dresses. I did this lot when I was in Adelaide and there are more to come. Mum donated a lot of the fabric (love you Mum!!!) while some came from op shops in SA. I aim to finish another 20 or so before TFA claims my waking life.

Op shopping - more wonderous finds. So far the Goodwill in Adelaide wins the best priced fabric award - all lengths were $2.50! I found some anazing vintage fabrics there, and have turned some into articles of clothing for deserving girls around the world already. I also found some great green goblets to break the teetotalness with this new years. Add in a few dresses, some threads and some bias binding and it was the best op shop trip yet. My lovely friend R who shopped with me managed at least 15 articles of clothing, so it really was the best day!

Phone games are addictive. Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes I am looking in your general direction.

The apartment next door has the cutest ginger cat who visits us almost every night (once they've gone to sleep methinks.)  As long as he doesn't wake me up (we sometimes sleep with the doors open) then I'm totally fine with the visitation 'arrangements'.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Sorry for the short hiatus, but I hightailed it to Adelaide to visit the folks before my teaching intensive starts. I have a lovely time hanging out with my mum, sewing another 14 dresses for Dress a Girl, op shopping with a dear friend (and finding a goldmine of fabric, trims and a kilt) and vegging out with my favourite puppy dogs:

In other news Dress a Girl received my first donation, which renews my faith in Australia Post. Now to sew a few more while I still have some time. The balcony garden is looking amazing, and I'll post some pictures of the adventures in tomato growing on the other blog shortly. All in all, one month of freedom left before I start my teaching course. Let's see how much I can accomplish before then.

Friday, September 28, 2012

More Magnificent Op Shop Finds

Remember that 20 cent broderie anglaise I posted about a little while ago. Here is what became of it:

Matched with a little blue floral and plain blue cotton (and lined with some other cotton) it became a delightful little girl's dress. Op Shop sewing is my new favourite thing and a couple of weeks ago the sewing stash increased with more wonderful op shop fabrics.I intended to post about it and took a few pics, but time got away from me. In the meantime some of the smaller pieces were turned into things. Highlights include:

 This large piece of thai silk. It has been hemmed around the edges so it has taken up residence as a lovely table cloth. Yes I know it is a little bit posh to use thai silk for a table cloth - but it was only $2 so I don't feel that guilty.

These pink beauties haven't been used yet, though the houndtoothish one is earmarked for a dress, and the paler pink number for a skirt. The top one is over 3 metres by 90cms wide, while the bottom one is over 4 metres by 112 cms wide! Neither cost more than $4. Bargain prices for amazing vintage fabrics.

 And just when you thought it couldn't get any pinker it is time ... for some more pink:

This cute pink gingham was purchased for the princely sum of a dollar. It must have had a bad turn with the iron because by the looks of it, it used to have a former life as seersucker cloth. It had a few bubbles to it but these had lost their groove. It also made it a little stiffer than other fabrics but I thought it had character. It served its intended purpose well - as one of the dress I submitted for the Dress a Girl Campaign. I know I've said it before, but it is a great cause, so go check it out! I used this pink dress to practice button holes, and added a few bits of trim and patches I had in the stash.

Don't worry, it wasn't all pink as you can see by the assorted collection below:

 Most of these were at least a metre in length, and ranged in price from 50cents to $2. A quick wash and they were good to go. Some were used as lining. The grey is earmarked to become a work dress. The brown stripes became pyjama pants (intended for the lovely other half but were so botched by my lack of sewing skills that they remained as mine.) Most of the other fabrics also became (or will become) girls' dresses. Wanna check them out? Well you can't, because that's for another post ... but if you really must know the blue dress at the beginning of this post was also submitted. Along with 18 others!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Pavlova a la Prue

This is going to be a recipe post of sorts. A dear reader asked for the chocolate hazelnut pavlova recipe and I wish I could add a link, but really I just made it up. But I am happy to oblige so here is the recipe a la Prue. I can even promise that it will be step by step, just like a Women's Weekly recipe, and it will have some pictures like ALL good WW recipes. But unlike recipes from any WW book it isn't triple tested. Recipes to me (except for pasta dough and biscuits from the WW ones) are a guideline, a starting point, an idea. I don't follow them religiously and I'm pretty poor at measuring in most cases. I play with them, make up my own, and measurements are certainly flexible. So with the 'recipe' I give here feel free to add your own flair, play with measurements and generally do as you please. Because I do, and it is a lot of fun.

Chocolate Hazelnut Pavlova - twice taste tested and met with approval.

I used different measurements each time for this and both worked out well. Don't follow them exactly if you think I am a bit out. Use your own thoughts, and go with your instincts if you want a bigger or smaller amount. I'll also break this up into its three component parts to make it easier but the overall ingredient list is:

6 Eggs separated
2 - 2.5 cups castor sugar (it depends on how sweet you like your custard, but the sugar in the meringues is a little less negotiable)
1 pkt hazelnut meal - (the 175gram or 150 gram one is best)
Cocoa - 1-2 tablespoon cup or more, depending on how much you like cocoa. You can use drinking chocolate instead of this if you feel so inclined.
1 block of really dark chocolate (99% Lindt is amazing in this, the bitter the better because this does tend to be super sweet but cooking dark chocolate or even milk will work just fine, simply add less sugar to the custard)
Milk - 500mls give or take
Cornflour - 1-2 tablspoons
Vanilla sugar (optional, but it goes amazingly in the meringue and in the custard too)
Chocolate bits and other chocolate goodies like flake, caramello. No set amount, just cram them on top!

Base - Hazelnut Pavlova

From the ingredients listed above you'll need the:

 6 egg whites
1.5 cups castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (optional but super amazing in ANY meringue. I get mine from Gewurzhaus on Lygon Street and it is delicious.)

This is the meringue bit, and I took inspiration on ratios and timings and temperatures from a lemon curd pav recipe and meringue I used to make as a child from the WW Beautiful Biscuits book. That's the old '80s version, not the new fangled version so you'll need to get lucky at an op shop or school fete to get your hands on one of those. Or there is always ebay.

Step 1 - Put 6 eggs whites (or as many as you want, just remember it is one cup of castor sugar for every four egg whites) in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form. You will want an electric beater for this, or at least a horde of willing helpers because you will be beating for a LONGGGGGGGGGGGGGG time. If they are firm peaks don't stress, this is fine too. You be the judge.

Step 2 - Gradually add castor sugar (and vanilla sugar it you have decided to use it) to the stiff egg whites, about 1/4 a cup at a time, beating constantly at a mid-high beat. The recipe says 1 tablespoon at a time but I'm never that patient. Basically you want to let it begin to dissolve, and evenly distribute, hence you don't dump all the sugar in at one time. 

Step 3 - Once all the castor sugar is in beat it on high for 15 minutes. I kid you not, 15 minutes. This seems like ages but it will make it one glossy and firm meringue - and you will need it firm particularly as you are about to do steps 4 and 5.

Step 4 - Add in 1/4 cup cocoa or drinking chocolate, whatever you have on hand and mix it a bit.

Step 5 - Discard the beaters, and lick the tastey, tastey meringue off them if you wish (don't forget to unplug the thing first or risk tongue amputation.) Dump all the hazelnut meal into the meringue mixture and fold it through with a wooden spoon. It'll take a little while to mix in but you can be a bit rough with it. If you've beaten it for 15 minutes your arm will be pretty tired anyway so you probably don't have the strength left to stuff it up.

Step 6 - Place the mixture onto a big baking tray that has been lined with baking paper. Forgot the baking paper or don't have any??? Then never fear, a swipe of butter or oil, and a sprinkle of cornflour will help make the meringue not stick to the tray. Pile it up high, and pile it up evenly. You could draw a 20cm circle in the paper and make sure you meringue between the lines but I am far too lazy for that - and besides no matter how pretty it is,  this sucker is going to sink a bit anyway.

Step 7 - In the oven it goes, at 150C for 15 minutes, then 120C for 45-50 minutes. After that's over turn the oven off and leave the pav in there to cool. This makes it super and crispy on the outside, but moist in the middle. While that's cooling I'd suggest having a long cup of tea, maybe a bit of a read or watch some West Wing (I think that's what we were watching at the time.) It is going to take a few hours so take the time to chill out. All relaxed - good - then it is on to making the custard.

Chocolate custard

You don't have to make chocolate custard just for this recipe. Chocolate custard it is delicious at any time. Custard is delicious at any time. And if you don't want to separate eggs then you don't need to. I just use whole eggs when I'm making custard on its own and it works just fine. But here is the recipe for this layer and these are the ingredients you will need from the list:

those 6 remaining egg yolks (keep them at room temp, they'll be fine)
1/2 cup -1 cup castor sugar depending on how bitter/sweet your chocolate it and how sweet you like your custard. I like really dark bitter chocolate with about 2/3 cup of castor sugar.
Milk - 500mls but you don't have to be too exact
Cornflour - 1-2 tablspoons
Vanilla - 1big gulp (1 teaspoon for those counting at home)
Vanilla sugar (optional, but it also goes well in the custard)
1 block of really dark chocolate

* Now if you want to be super cocky you can put some cognac or kahlua in this custard. You could add it with step 1. It is super decadent and totally awesome. Except that this is a teetotal blog, so for this year at least I'm going without the alcohol in this recipe.

Step 1 - Put milk, vanilla sugar, vanilla and castor sugar in a medium saucepan on the stove over medium temperature until sugar(s) is/are dissolved. You do want to stir this a bit while it is heating, but no need to be obsessive. I always do step 2 while I'm doing step 1 in this recipe. You want this milk to be quite warm, almost hot, but if it is boiling you'll have to let it cool down or your custard will be a curdled mess. I'd like to say a little more than baby bottle warm is the temp you need, so I will say it. You can add a tablespoon or two of cocoa to the milk too if you like, or even drinking chocolate, but you don't have to. My tea/coffee/hot chocolate section is in easy reach of my stove so it usually leads me to experimental chocolate additions.

Step 2 - While the milk mix is cooking, whisk egg yolks and cornflour vigourously in a large(ish) bowl. It'll go pale after a few minutes so whisk it until it is that colour and lump free.

Step 3 - Add the heated milk to the egg mix very slowly, in a fine stream, whisking constantly. I borrow the lovely other half to help out with this part as I am a bit too unco to get the flow right. But you can do it on your own (ihave, but shhhhh don't tell him that.) Make sure you whisk the mix the entire time to make sure it combines. Adding the hot ingredient to the cold ingredient reduces the chance of curdling.

Step 4 - Once it is all whisked and mixed and probably super frothy (don't worry that froth will go down eventually) add it back to the saucepan you heater the milk in and put it back on the stove, low-med heat. Stir/mix the custard for a few minutes, sometimes lots of minutes, it depends - but until it starts to thicken. You might be stirring for a while thinking goodness ... hurry up ... will this mix ever thicken ... has it thickened and I just don't know it??? - but don't worry, when it happens you will know  and it will be a noticeable difference.

Step 5 - Once thickened take it off the stove and mix in the broken up block of chocolate. Stir continuously until combined and then transfer to a container for cooling.
 Any container will do really. And that's your custard done.

Chocolate top - and custard middle and pav bottom

Ingredients - the other two bits you just made, cooled and ready to go.
Any chocolate stuff you want on top and I mean ANY CHOCOLATE STUFF!
Berries - yeah you could add berries, but why bother, this is a chocoholics wet dream so don't water it down with something healthy

Assemble the thing shortly before serving, or at the very least only a few hours before. It will keep just fine in the fridge but it will sink and smush together. It is still tasty, but it gets a little moist and the pavlova turns into more of a torte.

Step 1 - Place the pav base on a serving plate or simply the biggest plate you can find.

Step 2 - Put the custard on top of the pav base, covering it generously. Use a spoon, a knife, whatever you feel like. It is like icing a cake but more tastey.

Step 3 - Arrange chocolate bits on top of the pav. Keep adding more and more, don't be stingey. Add white chocolate bits too, and some of the good stuff your mum keeps hidden that she thinks you don't know about but you totally do. Add in last year's liquer chocolate from christmas - they'll be treasure bombs for the over 18s who aren't on a teeltotal year.

Step 4 - serve and enjoy and try to avoid a diabetic coma from eating more than one slice.

I've probably not explained this overly well, and it is darn wordy, so feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or seek clarification.