Monday, October 26, 2009

More Pumpkins!

I made a promise of donating a dozen decorated cupcakes to Master 5's school fair... without realizing that we were out of most of the ingredients I needed (thanks to my husband's pancake making!) Once I bought the ingredients, and the cakes were made late at night, I had a small window of opportunity to decorate the cakes on the day they were due: between picking up Master 3 from preschool, wrapping a birthday present, ensuring Little Miss had a nap, packing for the family's night away in Northern Virginia, and picking up Master 5 from school. I bought a packet of pumpkin-shaped candy while shopping that morning, and thought that these might be used somehow. With little time to plan, I decided I would make mini-pumpkin-patch cakes.

It is a bad habit of mine to attempt something new when there is no room for error. By the time I had finished decorating the 12th cake, I thought I had just about worked out how to pipe an icing leaf! I also wish I had given some consideration as to how these would be transported - a difficult task while juggling children and a 'delicate' decoration.

We didn't make it to the school fair as we were attending a birthday party. This was a shame as I was hoping to witness my very first 'cake walk'.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pumpkin Soup (with a Thai twist)

With all the abundant pumpkins and squash about, we have been eating a little more pumpkin of late. Beyond Pumpkin Pie and Jack o'lanterns, pumpkins are not such a regular food item in the US. Pumpkin Soup, however, seems to be gaining popularity.

My favorite pumpkin for soup is the Butternut Pumpkin (as it is known in Australia, but referred to as Butternut Squash in the US). I generally make my soup with onions fried with cumin seeds, cubed pumpkin, chicken broth, and cream. I make this dish more kid-friendly by sprinkling with crisped bacon bits (bacon cut into small squares and cooked in the microwave between sheets of paper towel for 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp), and/or serving soup with cheesy garlic bread (crusty bread slices spread with garlic butter and grated (sharp cheddar) cheese and baked in the oven for 10 minutes or so).

I have been frantically searching for a recipe I used several years ago that used Thai flavors including coconut milk and a very pungent 'blachan' or shrimp paste. I had little luck in my search, but happened upon two recipes that 'kind-of' were like what I was looking for. The recipes are here and here. I combined these into my own version below...


1 ½ pounds peeled and cubed Butternut squash/pumpkin
Vegetable oil / spray oil
1 tblsp chopped lemongrass (soft white, internal stem only)
3 red fresh birdseye chillies, seeded and finely chopped (or less, to taste)
2 tsp shrimp paste (Blachan)
4 cups water (or vegetable / chicken broth)
1 small onion, chopped
1 (13½ oz / 400ml) can coconut milk (unsweetened)
2 tblsp lime juice
1 tsp salt

Cilantro / kaffir lime leaves / basil / grated lime zest to garnish

Preheat oven to 400℉. Peel pumpkin and cut into cubes. Very lightly coat with vegetable oil and spread onto baking tray in single layer (spray olive oil is good for lightly coating pumpkin). Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked and very slightly browned.

In large pot, fry onion, lemon grass and chilies in 1 tblsp vegetable oil until onion is translucent. Hold your nose and add shrimp paste. Cook for one minute.

Add water or broth and cooked pumpkin. When heated through and pumpkin is soft, puree using a stick mixer. (take care not to splash yourself with hot soup).

Mix in coconut milk and salt to taste.

Reheat soup to serving temperature. Stir through lime juice. Serve soup garnishing with choice of chopped cilantro, torn basil leaves, finely shredded lime leaves or lime zest.

If time is tight, pumpkin can be added to soup raw (roasting helps to intensify flavor).
Shrimp paste is highly pungent and can knock your socks off. It is available in Southeast Asian grocery stores. The Cooks Thesaurus suggests using Anchovy paste or anchovy fillets mixed with a bit of water as a substitute.

If available, Kaffir Lime leaves are perfect to add to the soup as it cooks - and make a nice garnish if sliced very finely

The soup was a little 'hot' with 3 chillies. Perhaps one would have been sufficient for younger palettes although Little Miss loved the soup and ate three servings! Master 3 ate his without (too much) complaint while Master 5 complained of burning lips and demanded water be on hand (but still ate it!)

Use approximately half the water/broth to begin with. Add more after coconut milk has been added if soup is too thick .

Lemon Huggles

Master 3 is big on *huggles*. This is his description for a hug or cuddle... with a very unique theming element. A 'squash huggle' is the most popular variation where we hug each other very tightly and make appropriate 'squished' sounds. A 'group huggle' includes as many family members that are available. A 'tummy huggle' often ends with a raspberry being blown on the recipients tummy.

I was intrigued when the request was made the other day for a 'lemon huggle'. Anything 'lemon' in nature is not unusual for Master 3 as it is his all time favorite flavor. However, a 'lemon huggle...?!? I asked him to describe it to me. He told me matter-of-factly that one needed to "put some lemon in your mouth... and then give a huggle" as if it was so totally obvious and I was just so clueless.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Play Dough

Master 5 is constructing an artwork at the moment using the theme 'beauty is'. I asked him to brainstorm ideas for what 'beauty is'... he came up with a list, including "hundreds of colors of play dough mixed together". I thought he might somehow be able to incorporate play dough in his artwork - so went in search of a recipe - so we could mix up a variety of colors (but not necessarily hundreds!)

I have been put off by play dough recipes in the past - due to the vast quantities produced, or the massive amounts of cream of tatar required (an expensive addition when all one can buy are small containers at high prices).

I found the following recipe over at Moms who think blog. This blog also includes a number of edible dough recipes!

Here is the recipe.


1 cup flour
½ cup salt
1 cup water
1 tblsp oil
2 tsp cream of tatar

Food coloring

Place all ingredients except food coloring) into saucepan. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until a ball forms (ingredients form a stiff dough).

Divide dough into several balls. Carefully mix color gel through each ball of dough until desired color is reached.

Store in a ziploc bag or covered container.

I have been using the Wilton color gel food coloring. I was recommended this brand by my friend Jo - who always came up with 'dramatic' looking cakes - the colors of which I could never obtain with the supermarket food dyes I had been using. These gel colors have been a good investment as they have lasted a number of cake and cookie events.

In the future I will buy bleached, cheap flour - it seemed a little extravagant using organic, unbleached and unbromated flour for this purpose ;-)

Apparently, cream or tatar is a by-product of wine-making.... so if you have a vineyard handy, this might be able to be purchased it in large quantities for a reasonable price.

This is the artwork produced by Master 5. He won first prize at his school and at County level. He won a Highly Commended at District level. 


image from post
This morning I listened to an interview with Frank Warren - the man behind the idea for PostSecret. I had heard vague things about this project in the past, so it was good to finally know the name of the project and find out a little about the original intent.

The project commenced in 2004 with Frank requesting anonymous postcards be sent to him, describing a personal secret. The postcards must be homemade. The response was huge and Frank still receives some 200 postcards with secrets, via mail, per day. This is in addition to the 'online' secrets he receives via email, Twitter, etc.

Beginning as an experiment, this project has consumed Frank's life and he now does speaking engagements, has written a couple of books, and has assisted in many ways he had never fathomed - including being questioned by the FBI, assisting in Suicide prevention programs, etc.

Fascinating, compelling, upsetting, uplifting... and at times scary! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Things I have learned in my life so far...

all images from stefan sagmeister site
This is a lovely site. It began as a project by Stefan Sagmeister as a list heading in his diary... and grew into a collaborative project with people submitting imagery relating to things that they believe in or are 'fairly sure about'. There are some lovely and original photographs, montages, video and slideshows - using typography in interesting ways to describe a message or thought.

Photographs by:
Rachel Katstaller & Eduardo Lovo - Designing makes me happy
Marie Loïc Sénamaud - Every Aquisition weighs me down
Ruxandra Duru - Beauty Inspires Me

Found via a Twitter on mapbrisbane

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's for lunch?

Coolish rainy afternoon... what's for lunch? How about some goat cheese toasties?


4 oz soft goats cheese / chèvre
2 slices ham, chopped
½ large onion, chopped
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp chopped herbs (parsley, oregano, basil)
6 slices crusty bread

Preheat oven to 400.
Gently heat olive oil until fragrant. Fry onion until softened and golden in color.
In small bowl, combine cheese, onion, ham and herbs.
Spread onto bread and bake in oven for 15 minutes or until topping is warm and bread crusty.

Notes & Variations
Add some paprika or freshly ground pepper for more adult tastes.
Use thick slices of baked ham (leftover Christmas ham is perfect) or fry several chopped bacon rashers with onion (omitting olive oil).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Doh the deer!

As I raced to get my camera to take a photo of the *cute* deer in our backyard, it decided to help itself to my basil! I was horrified to see that the deer had decapitated seven full-blooming chrysanthemum plants earlier this week... although I thanked them for resisting the temptation to eat them before our Little Miss's garden party.

When we moved in to our house, I mentioned to several neighbors my plans to plant a vegetable garden next season. This statement was met with non-subdued guffaws and wishes of 'good luck'. Witnessing up to nine (yes, 9!) hungry deer in our garden at one time, and being informed that deer can easily jump 8 feet from a stationary position... means that a vegetable garden might indeed be a challenge.

I tried to thwart devouring deer by planting herbs close to the house. Obviously, with the deer adding my herb garden to their smorgasbord, this hasn't been totally successful. I now declare it deer season in our garden. My planned arsenal of weapons is going to include an exuberant 3 and 5 year old with flailing arms, and some strategically placed cayenne pepper.

Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

52 Suburbs

all images by Louise Hawson
I was really inspired by the 52 Suburbs project undertaken by Louise Hawson after reading an interview with her at Inside Out. The year-long project is based in Sydney, Australia - Louise's home town for over 30 years - and focusses on one of Sydney's 637 suburbs each week. I totally agree with her philosophy of forcing herself to look at a city through tourist / new eyes to "search for the beauty in the 'burb". Louise sees this beauty in people, architecture, history and nostalgia, nature, a fair share of tattoos and the purely mundane.

I love how Louise juxtaposes (most often two) beautiful images, using texture, shape, color, pattern, number, ethnicity, concept... as the relationship.

All photographs by Louise Hawson

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kia Hing-Fay

all image by Kia Hing-Fay

What a delight to reconnect with an old friend Kia. I was checking out the Australian Inside Out blog site and came across Kia's gorgeous crocheted rattles, digit dolls and applique kits. With a unique name like Kia Hing-Fay, it had to be my lovely friend from Brisbane! We had lost touch when Kia and her husband Chris moved to the UK... then we left for the US. I'm always amazed how the internet can play such a role in reconnecting broken links.

All photographs by Kia Hing Fay