Update and New Beginnings

How do I write down an update to sum up my life right now? I have tried four times and deleted all of them. Its a bit hard really. So I’ll begin it by bullet pointing.

  • New baby, Xanthe Kylie Louise Hills. Arrived 22nd November 2016. Born at home, no complications. She is incredibly delicious. Gets nibbled every day and keeps me awake at night. Quinn the son has started school (WHAT?!) in April. Love him, he is hilarious and growing up so quickly. Quite hard work at times but thats to be expected with all the changes.
  • Kylie, my love, rock and local funny man is also a zombie tired wreck who is ever hopeful he might get some… sleep at some point in his future.. possibly not in the next few months!
  • Cara – My little sister who was in an awful car accident 18th October 2015. She is in a Christchurch care and rehab facility. She is awake but needs 24 hour care, rest and gentle rehab. This is going to be a very long journey, for her, for her family and friends. We have small signs of her being still with us, but its cloudy in there and beyond hard to try and get out. We do whatever we can to help. Head injuries suck. Head injuries that would kill most people suck even more. Keep her in your thoughts and send whatever get well vibes you can.
  • Creative stuff. I painted a few pictures before I hit huge pregnant. Loved it. I have started a crochet blanket for Xanthe’s big bed. Always knitting, always sketching.
  • Food and Health. Things are tracking really well now. I have worked hard to find out what my body thrives on food wise and have been feeling the healthiest I have been in years, even when growing a baby and having no sleep. Shows how bad I got before i took back some control.
  • Garden, ticking along, quite neglected at present. With all the time spent breastfeeding I have used that time to read books and listen to podcasts, mostly about gardening and permaculture. I have been SO inspired, hoping to apply said inspiration and get in the garden soon. Many new layouts have been sketched, methods to make new beds researched… trying to get Kylie enthused to help also a daily activity… he helps, but usually to keep me happy… which I guess works well enough, I just need some other garden geeks to chew their ears off instead of Kylie!
  • I would like to be filling up this blog more. I have an itch to write, take pictures and create a space to catalogue exploits and ideas, even if largely unread… I know my family and friends read 😀

I’ll leave with some random piccies I have been taking recently. Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

Margaret Mahy Family Playground

Xanthe Hills 6.5 months

Health Message Video

She’s pretty intense so don’t switch off because she scares you! Libby Weaver has a really important message. If you can only take on a small amount on she can help. I have drastically reduced how much sugar I commonly eat, or caffeine I drink in the last 6 or so months. I decided to do this after I brought her cookbook and read her introduction. I usually just grab it for ideas and jump off points as it has good guidelines to follow in terms of what not to eat when your eating potatoes or rice ect and what foods will help you get what you need from your food. I also try and get in more nutrient dense food throughout the day. With smoothies and healthier snacks. Not just the sugar and flour options that seems to be the easiest to make and find. I feel SO MUCH better than what I did and I now keep to a nice enough weight to keep me from feeling rotten about myself. Without the huge amounts of exercise (which I need to do more of!). I love her “rushing women’s syndrome” message too. I guess what I am trying to say is that I hear how people are struggling with sugar addiction, or going on chocolate binges – I have been there and it never felt good. This little change in attitude and constant desire to try other sorts of food has been an enormous help.  I have not gone totally health mad overnight, just a little bit here and there and its working and I’m not stopping. There are little “off the path” sugar binges but then I get straight back to eating how I was and those sugar binges are becoming less and less attractive. In fact now if I am given a yummy baked goods, I give it to Kylie to take to work and be shared among many after I have one piece with a cuppa and REALLY enjoy just that, instead of scoffing it all back for a “pick me up” throughout the day. I feel like I have a way to go though. I really want to have less wheat (not no wheat, just less) and try to figure out how to make good food that toddlers/kids like and adults.. that is easy and quick to make (with a toddler interrupting constantly)! I will probably write more about all of this in future because I have come across quite a few good recipe websites and blogs, books and even made up my own recipes along the way. I would love to share them more!

Preserving madness

The garden has done pretty well this year. To make me quite happy the tomatoes went a bit “bananas”. I have never to date managed to grow so many. I can tell you what I did, but as most gardeners can tell you, I was also lucky; avoiding ravenous insects and disease.  But the slightly mad thing was me, designing and drawing individual labels for each batch of preserves.  I am still a designer at heart and the latest design trend is “hand lettering”. I have always rather admired this and decided to hand draw, scan and print out our preserve labels this year. Not just one “blank” label, but specific labels for each thing. Yup mad. I did three. Then made a blank one. 🙂 I did have a few self imposed”rules”. It must be hand drawn (no re-touching just sizing and pencil lines maybe allowed). Below are the results, pretty “newbie” looking I think, but I am still pleased, if I had let myself tidy them up (or trace them and make look professional) they would have never have made it on the bottles.

Tomato ketchup tomato sauce courgette relish

Liqueur label

First I would sketch out a super quick idea, then measure the label in my workbook to twice the size. Then pencil out the final, colour in with black ink pen. Scan, size down by 50%, digitally rub out errant pencil lines I forgot to rub out then repeat them across a A4 size file and print them out, cut them up and attach to the jar/bottle!

workbook labels

Foraging in Christchurch

With all the walks around the neighborhood lately I have been noticing and picking up walnuts here and there, little did I know I was mistakenly stumbling into an addictive and quite popular Christchurch (and indeed the world) pass time. Urban Foraging. It happened thus; I mentioned in passing conversation to my lovely ladies the walnuts I had been spotting who then agreed on their wonderfulness and told me all about  a “map”. I decided I needed to find this allusive treasure map, how does every modern girl start her education these days? Yes indeedy I went “googling”.

Christchurch Forgaging Map was found here. Although I have been told by these fellow foragers that not everything is on there, for there is an unspoken rule. No-one revels their spots, the good spots are found only by chance or rumors. Places where wild asparagus grows, the biggest sweetest chestnuts, the yummiest mushrooms – these spots will be harvested in secret and locations taken to graves.

The generosity and spirit of sharing must be very strong in the people that setup the map, from what I can tell this world would be a very secretive one to break into.

On the foraging note we collected Chestnuts in Hamner when we were there a couple of weekends back. I roasted them up and ate them with salt, Kylie and I both agreed they were worth finding more and foraging some locally. Lovely and sweet, I love sweet things with salt. Mmmm..

This is what they look like before a good roasting. Note they are not the “horse chestnuts” Which are poisonous.

Ready for roasting:

I have yet to have any success foraging for edible mushrooms. I have some verbal descriptions of what to look for. But really am a little scared to just try them… the consequences being rather dire. I continue to look on my walks and take photos with my phone, but I think I need someone who knows about mushrooms to take me on a tour… I will let you know if I have any success.

Here are some links to get you started on foraging or to help your already formed habit:

A blog (not very current) on urban foraging.

The facebook page – yes theres one for everything these days.

A bit about the people that started digitising it all

A small part of an old book on food gathering in New Zealand (look out for this book in second hand book dealers!)

Walnut Trees

Have fun exploring. I think the best part of all of this is just paying attention to the trees and the ground and appreciating what we can eat for free and its healthy! Not only that if I have time I will take a bike instead of the car and stop at the local park or graveyard just to look around and see what I can see! I am getting a new appreciation for our parky urbanness that is Christchurch.

Quince Preserving

Its all about food here at the moment. On our walk to the local farmers market the days steal did not come at the markets but on the way there. A local boy was setup minding crates of quinces he had picked off their quince tree in his families backyard. I got 10 quinces for $2 (maybe $4). Pretty happy I was.

quinces 1

The following weekend was a jelly and jam session. I set out to make jam – but did not peel or core said quinces so in order to avoid core bits ending up on peoples warm toast (I got a little confused between recipe instructions from the interweb!) I used our muslin cloth and drained the pulp of its juices and made jelly instead. There was still lots of yummy smelling pulp leftover… waste it, I could not. After adding a little quince juice drained from the night before and a little water (plus lots of sugar) I let it bubble and wizzed it in the food processor – followed by pushing it through the sieve. Core and seeds delt to, Quince jam we have!

quinces 2

The jelly is so delicious- it tastes like flowers on toast. Almost like another flavor of turkish delight. Jam has yet to be tasted. I would share recipes – however the final save came from the recipe book finally found in the middle of this jam process and not the internet. It has been missing since the move and was hiding on the recipe book shelf the entire time… what can I say, that’s what my brain is like at the moment!  I was given it by my sister in law (and brother – but she does the shopping!)  and the final instructions and recipes originated from that. The book is called “how to store your garden produce” It has recipes but also useful info on the overall jamming and jellying process…. which applies across the board for all jammy things. We still have lots of apples to preserve and I need to go out walnut foraging for the this years stash of nuts!

Lemon Extravaganza!

Bags of Lemons were collected off the lemon tree at the old fat before we moved. Three shopping bags full to be precise. We even left ripe yellow lemons behind for the new tenants (and lady lady as it turns out). I will miss that abundant tree. We have one here, but it is still a small one, has little lemons growing on it though which is exciting, a bit too green for eating just yet.

autumn lemons

We managed to give away one bag worth of lemons to friends equally in love with lemons and then I set to work in the kitchen – I had a list of recipes I wanted to try.

First there is the Moroccan Preserved Lemons from David Lebovitz I totally mucked that up by not having enough lemons to fill the jar and thinking – I will get some more at the grocers. Forgetting to do so over and over again, until my lemons grew a lovely white fuzz all over them. This person just wasted a whole bunch of lemons! So bad!

I have also been wanting to try my hand at cordials, so I made a simple lemon cordial and then a lemon and ginger cordial. Both are delicious. Kylie also had some spare vodka from his distilling so I have also started (needs to age) some lemon liqueur.

autumn lemons

Last but not least, I LOVE lemon curd, LOVE LOVE LOVE, nom nom nom. Like it much? After being high on sugar fumes I found this recipe for sugar free and dairy free curd. I had no coconut oil, so I used butter, but did use just the honey and it was still absolutely yummo.

Have a great weekend everyone! I know I will – off for adventures in Hanmer Springs!

Mid-winter Christmas Party – plus recipes

midwinterparty 3midwinterparty 1

Well Christmas has been and gone….. so we decided to do it again. This time in the middle of our winter. Some Christmas fare just tastes better when its cold. Its also so much more fun to have the decorations out twice a year rather than once!

Great times were had by many (i hope… at least they said so). I grew worried that there was so much food not being touched when people first started to arrive. But there came a moment the hunger must have started because all of a sudden the food was gone and we were being showered with praises over the gingerbread men!

I had fears we made too much gingerbread men and we would end up eating them all week and growing little bellies as a result. But alas there was none left at the end of the evening. They make great party food. There was almost a society formed to teach the most humane way to eat them and shocked glances and were seen as a person ate the little men from the feet up, rather than head down (apparently its a quicker less painful death from the head down).

Today you will get the gingerbread men recipe. I will post the Christmas mince pies and egg nog later in the week.

Gingerbread Men
(from joy of baking recipe)

3 cups of Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Ground Ginger
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
113g Unsalted Butter at room temp (we still use salted if thats all we have)
1/2 cup White Sugar
1 Large Egg
2/3 Cups of Molasses (we used Red Seal Blackstrap Molasses this time)

First sift and mix the dry ingredients together. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, add egg and molasses until well combined. Then slowly add the dry mixture. Divide the dough into two and wrap each with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 2 hours minimum. (This time we made our dough 3 days in advance and just kept refrigerated until we were ready to roll out and bake.)

When ready to roll out, lightly flour a surface and roll out dough until about 1/4 inch thick. Use a ginger bread cutter to cut out the cookies, using a spatula transfer from bench to a tray covered in baking paper.

Bake for around 8-12 minutes (they seems to cook really quick – so be vigilant!) Leave on tray for a short amount of time then once holding together well enough transfer to a cooling rack until they are room temperature.

I am no decorating wizz yet, but I did find the frosting from the original recipe too soft. Mine was not right either, would not stick to the little man as I was piping it. You can press decorations into the men when they are hot. But wait for them to cool completely before icing.

Autumn catch-up

Jars of liqueur
Alot has been happening in our little household of late. Mostly good things. Like the above photo suggests. Kylie has been busy. In our house the roles of cooking are generally shared but we have our preferred goods. Kylie likes to make; preserves, relishes and jams. He also distills his own alcohol to create liqueurs. The photo above is some raspberry liqueur and a caraway seed concoction. We also found apples on special and had tonnes of green tomatoes that didn’t ripen so the traditional apple and green tomato relish was made. Good thing too, we are down to only two jars now and the new stuff has to age a little.

Me? I like to bake, cookies, cakes, chocolate things… I also like to make dinner (so does Kylie) I have made a few things in the last week I think need sharing with you all. First it was this yummo sauce. We had it with steak, fresh bread and potatoes, but it would be pretty yum with chicken or just roast vege. I choked and spluttered when the chillies went in (need stronger extrator fan). But man was it a treat! Speaking of treats last night I went to a birthday dinner, that I made the cake for. BOY did I come out a popular one, this upside down banana cake recipe was so good. REALLY good with whipped cream. Other sins I committed this week was to bake a batch of these cookies AGAIN. This time I only managed to pass off a only a few before I ate the bulk of them. SIGH. I feel I must add another confession; I made this yummy lemon slice, which successfully lured a visitor. What else was for dinner this week? Indian foooood. Another bliss place for me.

I have a stratagem:  to do my baking just before the weekend, so others eat it before the week starts, so I am not alone in the house with the yummy food…

And finally; I am bringing in the bacon! Yes I have work again, a bunch of very cool projects have lined themselves up and I am no longer watching the clock tick by waiting for something to fill my day besides adding to the pantry with baked goods and knitting or crocheting until my hands ache. Speaking of knitting and crochet… nah lets wait til next time.

A yummy bread recipe

For todays post I am going to share my bread recipe. There have been many experiments in the Quentin de Manson / Hills kitchen for awhile now. Trying different recipes, combining them and generally playing. It’s just so much yummier and more filling (not fulfilling, actually physically FILLING the belly.. nom nom) to make your own – if you have the time! I have no bread maker or those mixer things people use to knead their dough so its all done by hand, with bowl and wooden spoon! I rather enjoy it.

2 cups Warm water
3 tsp Dried yeast
2 tsp Honey
2 tbsp Butter (softened)
2 1/2 cups White flour (high grade bread flour)
2 cups Wholemeal flour
2 tsps Salt
Handful of Sunflower seeds
Handful of Pumpkin seeds
Handful of Linseed
1/4 c of LSA (linseed, sunflower & almonds ground up together)

Mix the warm water, yeast and honey together. Set aside for 15 minutes or until frothy.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and put in the butter followed by the yeast water and honey mix. Mix with a spoon until combined enough to start kneading. Sprinkle the work surface with flour and knead until you have a beautiful smooth and elastic dough.

Set to rise for around forty-five mintes to an hour. (until doubled in size) – For New Zealand homes on a cold day use the airing cupboard or a heated room.

Line a bread tin with baking paper (my bread tin sticks) and take the risen dough and put into your bread tin. Leave it to continue to rise again for around an hour or until risen to the height you like. (I try to avoid the dough rising and spilling over the sides of the tin – because it doesn’t fit in the toaster! )

Here is the bit you will need to experiment with: The oven. In my oven I cook for 40 minutes at just under the 200 degree celsius mark (turning the loaf around half way through the cooking time). But Mum bakes it for just 20 minutes! When I baked mine for twenty mintes it did not cook in the middle and all came apart on me when I attempted to remove it from the tin. If your oven is an oldy like mine I would er on the side of longer – unless you know how long it takes. If you have a food thermometer smittenkitchen has something to say about that.

I am no bread expert and I am sure I will try many more in the days to come. However I am rather fond of this one –  toasted with butter and Almond butter spread on the top. Quite delish! Thanks are due to mumsie for the basic recipe and smitten kitchen for the recipe with butter that was O so tasty, but had a crumbly texture, so i combined my mums (with New Zealand ingredients) with the yummy parts of a smitten recipe.

To be Oh so tacky – as said by Julie on Julie and Julia – everything tastes good when there is butter in it. (that might not be the EXACT quote, but its something like it)

Valentines Day Swimming Extravaganza!

To warm up my fuzzy Monday morning brain I thought I might post a little on my lovely weekend. It started with a Saturday swim at the beach. First beach swim for the summer (i know soo slack) it was divine! I finished it off with some knitting.
knitting at the beach
We came home to start our baking and cooking fun. I made some more banana cupcakes, this time with chocolate icing and cinnamon. Using my icing funnel bday gift!
banana cupcakes
On Sunday we headed out with baked goods to a friend farewell pool party, where I was far too busy splashing around in a swimming pool to take photos. So I will leave you with a photo of my earlier-in-the-week attempt at making the kiwi classic pavlova. It was quite delish! Inspired by Jess over at spinning a yarn blog. It was messy and falling to bits, apparently that’s how they should be. I glued it together with vanilla cream…
I also made more cookies in the week (to use up chocolate chips) using this recipe, its fab i recommend! I sent most of them away to Kylie’s work so I wouldn’t eat them all. So addicted to baking right now.

Have a great week!