A truly beautiful Minxy mix of charm, inspiration, practical advice, and pretty projects to simplify and beautify your life and home. - Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Domesticity
This is such a glorious book. It’s all about the joys of being a girl; indulging in fashion, celebrating our special rituals, traditions and friendships and what makes us unique, with recipes for making simple, delicious food and craft projects galore. Maggie’s What’s Happening to Our Girls? came out a few years ago and it was a sobering read, sharing in-depth research about the effect mass consumerism and the sexualisation of children has on our teens. Secret Girls’ Business is the antidote.
Why Maggie wrote Secret Girls’ Business:
“Life’s pretty complex for teen girls right now. While they have more choices, they’re way more anxious about their looks, possessions, and bodies. This generation of girls also has less confidence and creativity, few friendships across the generations and life experiences. Most of their spare time is spent on packaged entertainment or shopping. And their preoccupation with celebrities means often they know little about their own story. We need to encourage girls in fun ways that give them a new sense of what they’re capable of.”
And it does. I love this book – if you’re a teen girl or you have one in your life, buy it now.
‘Tis the season. On Sunday we had the first of many children’s parties to attend over the next six weeks or so, and for Leela’s 4th birthday, friend of the family Shannon De Costa made this amazing cake.
The bar has been set, ladies. I might stick to tiers of cupcakes this year, or commission Shannon or the Strand Arcade’s Sweet Art.
I visited the new Argentinian restaurant, Porteno in Sydney’s Surry Hills last night. Not for naught have the team behind renowned Spanish tapas bar, Bodega made a name for themselves: this is insanely good food in a Grand old Hacienda-style environment. And quite apart from the food, the decor is spot on – from reclaimed pressed tin ceilings to framed fifties adverts and the handmade wood & hide screen upon entry. Even the ladies room’s lovely, with its antique ceramic basin and ornate mirror. El Caballo Blanco came to mind; I half-expected a Palomino to strut by dining room arches while resisting the urge to lick my plate clean.
Click here for a proper foodie review by Terry Durack.
My friend Katrina – who knows how much I appreciate a thoughtful, handmade gift – slaved over a hot oven to make her own version of delicious, toasted granola as a pressie for my last birthday. Filled with Persian figs, almonds and macadamia nuts from the Orange Grove markets, along with a whole heap of other honey-roasted goodness, it was such a treat. And see how she packaged it? All I can say is YUM… and what a fab idea for xmas, don’t you think?
Plus here’s another great foodie idea – cute kids’ sandwiches. Bunny-tastic! I picked it up yesterday at Revolver, my new favourite cafe in Sydney’s Annandale. Co-owner Chieko makes them fresh herself every morning with a Japanese sandwich press, which I Googled to find here. I gotta get me one of these. “Kids love ‘em!” said Chieko’s partner. He’s right: Olive devoured hers in two seconds flat. The filling? Very Aussie Vegemite & cheese.
Recently I was asked to organise my dear friend Katrina’s baby shower. It’s always an honour when someone involves you in a special event in their life, but this one in particular made me acutely aware of how rare and precious such occasions are.
Yesterday dawned, sunny and sparkling on the NSW Central Coast town of Terrigal, while two families spent an industrious morning setting up and preparing a sumptuous array of food. Husbands and boyfriends disappeared to the local bar around midday, before ten fabulous women sat down to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate impending new life over champagne, lunch, Pimms and afternoon tea.
The theme? High Tea with a Twist, Alice in Wonderland-style. Guests were asked to don their best English eccentric get-up, and send a very chic woman on her way into motherhood with style. And with everyone rising to the occasion, it just so happened that it worked.
Remember times like these?
I approach cooking as I do craft: it has to be simple and, above all, satisfying. That’s why this is my kind of cookbook.
We have a tiny kitchen (far too small for more than four to eat in comfortably), so I often cook in advance when we entertain. So last night, for example, when our dear friends Sonia & Michael came over, I made soup and roast. Sonia brought a delicious banana pudding and some icecream for dessert. The only thing left to do was serve up upon arrival, leaving me free to sit down and enjoy some wine and a chat. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
On my list for the next occasion from this gem of a book? Lemon gnocchi Sorrentina, Five-hour fall-apart leg of lamb and Chocolate nut tart. Yum.
I love having people over for dinner, and with Olive so small we tend to do a lot more of it these days. Even if I’m rushed for time, I like to set the table and have at least a few minutes to chill and relax. My top tips for achieving such zen-like calm before guests arrive on a busy weeknight:
1. Make a chicken casserole: this is my own concoction, comprised of brown onion, garlic, half a bottle of white wine, 2 x chicken thighs for each guest, mushrooms, carrots, bay leaves, oregano and a mixture of chicken and vegetable stock. Brown the onions, chicken and mushrooms, then slosh in the wine, stock and the rest of the ingredients. Cover and simmer on a low heat for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally, after which time the chicken’s so tender, you won’t even need a knife. Serve with mash and steamed green beans – the only things to prepare during the entire time you’re entertaining. Voilà.
2. Lay a pretty table: the fact you neglected to vacuum, hid the unmade bed behind a closed door and the garden’s a bit weedy will be forgotten with the perceived effort of a well-laid table. A tried and trusted diversionary tactic.
3. Buy-in dessert: it could be icecream, macaroons, tarts or even a nice block of chocolate. Why stress yourself out preparing another course in such a short space of time? (unless, of course, you’ve the foresight to get going on it the night before – in which case, you’re more disciplined than I am).
4. Ask for help: whenever friends ask, ‘what can I bring?’ I used to say ‘just yourselves’. Now, I ask for something little like flowers from their garden, which saves a trip to the florist or market.
After years of hosting dinner parties to varying degrees of success it’s finally sunk in; our friends are coming to spend time with us and, providing we don’t poison them, couldn’t give a fig about much else. Running around like a headless chook only makes everyone edgy and causes them to wonder why they came.
Look at these gorgeous hydrangeas Ella & Keith brought over on Friday night, stored in the crackle-glazed vase from Koskela Mark & Olivier gave us for Christmas. They sit atop the new runner I just made for the living room, a still-living reminder of an evening well spent.
Popped into Adriano Zumbo’s store on Monday to stock up on macaroons (black sesame, fig, pink grapefruit and strawberry balsamic, amongst others) and had every intention of arraying them prettily on a plate and photographing them for the site, but they didn’t last the night.
Took me a while to drop off to sleep with all that sugar in my system… yum.
I’ve long been a fan of Manna from Heaven treats, available at the Eveleigh Farmer’s Market and all the best cafes around Sydney, but now the talented Rachel Grisewood (recent winner of the SMH Foodies Guide 2010 Award for Excellence in Cakes, Biscuits and Pastries) has brought out her first cookbook through Allen & Unwin.
My clever friend Catherine Milne commissioned Rachel to write it and I can promise you, it’s a beauty from start to finish.
The recipes work, too – a couple of weekends ago the lovely Katrina made a plateful of the lemon polenta cakes and they were just as good as the shop-bought ones… which might be why I ate not one, not two but three of them in one sitting.
I’m feeling too all over the place at the moment to concentrate on a novel, so the books on my bedside table are, if you can believe it, cookbooks. But not just any cookbooks – two beautifully written tomes, each with an ethos I heartily agree with.
#1 Bourke Street Bakery: the ultimate baking companion by Paul Allam and David McGuinness
I love this book – not least because I’m somewhat addicted to eating there every second day. Just looking at the pictures makes my mouth water and has me fantasising about becoming a master baker (whether I will remains to be seen), but the writing’s so evocative I’m actually enjoying just reading through the intros.
“Bourke Street Bakery evolved in a beaten-up old car. Two friends talking about their dreams and aspirations makes for a long drive… Our vision of the perfect bakery was small, rustic, homely and timeless; we wanted to create a bakery people would feel comfortable in and make food that people wanted to buy every day… We kept the focus on the quality of ingredients rather than the aesthetic.” Spot on.
#2 Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights by Sophie Dahl
I fell in love with Sophie Dahl’s writing when I read her semi-autobiographical novel, Playing with the Grownups a few years ago. Writing’s clearly in the blood – the gel is a genius when it comes to describing her love of food and the importance of eating well.
“Baked haddock ramekin: Don’t make this in the first throes of love or when you have people coming over. Haddock is not, and never will be, a sensory aphrodisiac. Is is, however, delicious.” Hilarious. Love her. There’s also lots of references to her famous bohemian family, days as a model, travels around the globe and beau, Jamie Cullum if that’s your bag. Buy it now.