Saturday, August 23, 2014

To grey naturally..... or not?

When you get to a certain age, as I am.... which is just over the top of 40, the issue of hair becomes a little more problematic.

Do you give way to the grey?

I have naturally really dark hair, which means that when my first grey hair appeared in my 30's, it was so glaringly obvious I yanked that thing out before I had a heart attack from the shock. But it didn't stop there as I soon saw with a sinking heart - they just kept coming and coming, until one evening standing in front of a mirror very pregnant pulling out grey hairs absent-mindedly while my midwife was chatting away to me in the background she said to me, "you might as well give that up. You're not going to win the battle," and I realised that the day would soon come where youth would give way to middle age and I would have to make the decision.

I have friends who have made the decision to grey naturally and gracefully, and I so admire that and they look good! Amazing actually. I thought about it, really I did. For one quick minute. Then that moment passed. It was fleeting.

I just can't do it. You see my hair is high maintenance. It's curly, it's frizzy and I have lots of it. One drop of rain on my hair or one percent hike in the humidity and whoosh - my hair is twice the size and I look like I have an affro. (Can I just stop here and say, God Bless the inventor of the flat iron).

So this year that time of decision came. I had to do something about it, because it was getting to a point where I'd be having a conversation with someone, and their eyes would drift up to my fringe or the top of my head and I knew they had been distracted by a silver, shiny thing, and I just couldn't pull them out fast enough! So I began to colour hair - for the first time in my life, and even though it has increased the amount of money I spend on my hair, it is so worth it.  This photo is 3 days (and one wash) after my most recent colour.

At first I was so afraid of the hair dyes. I have inherited my grandmother's lovely soft, English, white, sensitive skin. Even fragrance in my moisturiser will turn my face into a tomato, so I had nightmares of ending up in hospital after an allergic reaction to the dyes. You know the stories. Just google hair dye allergy. You'll run screaming.

It has taken me awhile to settle in with a hairdresser here in Tauranga, after my wonderful stylist in Christchurch. After a year of going from one to the other, I came back to one of my original choices, Adoux Hair.

They reassured me in regards to the colour in my hair, gave me a couple of patch tests which yielded no startling results, and so I booked in for my first semi-permanent using a colour closely resembling my own natural colour.

I love my hair colour. I don't want to try anything else. If I was tempted to be daring and go for something completely different it would be red. I love red hair. I think it's amazingly beautiful.

The great thing with a semi is that it's very light. It doesn't actually give full coverage, so it appears more natural. I don't think it lasts as long as a permanent, but I just book in every 6 weeks or so. Towards the end of the time, I just use one of these colour crayons to touch up the bad patches. These are available in department stores, and are a lifesaver!

I'm loving my hair stylist Kathleen from Adoux. She is not only fun to talk to for the almost 2 hours it takes to cut, colour and style my hair, but she really knows what she's doing, so I feel like I'm in safe hands.

What do you think? Hair is one of those things that we women agonise over. Colour, style, frizz, volume, health. I've gone through stages where I've wanted to change it up, and I really want to grow it longer, but with my naturally curly hair that takes forever! But I'm getting there slowly. I don't think I'll ever cut it short - it just goes really wiry and out of control. Long suits me best, and right now I'm loving the length, the very subtle layering and the side fringe. I keep thinking I'll change it and do something wild and different, but in the end I keep coming back to this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shopping in Greytown - Part II of our Weekend in Martinborough

This blog post has been waiting to be written for weeks. Funny how when you decide to dedicate most of the working day to writing, somehow, weirdly,  my blog has suffered. I have finished 2 books though, so that must say something.

When we had our weekend away in Martinborough, as we drove through the little towns smattered along the highway, Greytown was the one that really caught our attention. Beautiful old villas and homes, and a main street with their shop front facades that make you feel as though you're stepping back in time to old fashioned New Zealand - except with coffee. We loved it! So we came back to spend the morning there on our last day.

Years ago, before I had children, I loved to shop in antique stores. It is such a luxury! Old books were my weakness, but I seldom have time for browsing through shops these days, so it's always a treat. And Greytown is simply brimming with shops full of lovely old things.

I loved this blue and white platter, because it is Foley. And Foley is my Great Grandfather's last name. I don't think there is any connection between the china and my particular Foleys (they were printers and farmers), but my grandmother collected a few Foley patterns, and it is nice to carry on the tradition. This one was very badly cracked and stained though, so at $95, I didn't think it was worth buying.

It was rather fun finding these little shops down some side-street alleys.

Greytown is full of buildings like this, that have been restored to their former beauty.

Another lovely, rambling antique store.

This little shop had hand-made delicacies, like syrup and preserves and candy. The Quince syrup was my favourite.

 We loved this store that sold handmade pieces from New Zealand artists and New Zealand nostalgia.

We did buy one picture here that we fell in love with. I'm saving it for our new home before deciding where to hang it, but isn't he adorable?

After our morning of wandering down the main street of Greytown, we drove a little further north, towards Carterton to a French bakery which had been recommended to us.  The Clareville Bakery. Apparently, we were told, they make and sell the best Cronuts.

A good cup of tea was just what was needed after a morning of antique shops, and they weren't kidding about the cronuts. The best, lightest, creamiest cronuts I've ever had, and they were so good, we called in on our way home the next morning to get two more. It's a good thing for my waistline that I don't live close to this bakery.

The last time I was in the Wairarapa was many, many years ago, and it was so much fun to go back as an adult and see this area. If you ever get the chance to visit it's so beautiful with rolling, green hills and farmland dotted between the towns. The area is booming with vineyards and restaurants and boutique shopping. We loved it. I would relish the chance to visit this area again.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tangerine Marmalade

I always thought Marmalade would be hard to make.
But it isn't. In fact, it's the first jam recipe I've ever attempted without having the recipe spelled out in detail in front of me.

Last weekend, we took a little drive into the country to visit my dear friend Angie and her husband. Angie was one of my bridesmaids when Rob and I got married 17 years ago, and I have to say how awfully nice it is to now be living in the same town.

Angie's mother-in-law helped pile up three bags of beautiful, freshly-picked ripe Tangerines for us to take home, and she told me the recipe right there as we walked back over the fields to the house, and it's truly amazing that I remembered it because I can be a tad obsessive compulsive when it comes to recipes, wanting to make sure that I get it just right.

Picture Source

The Marmalade is a huge success. My husband has been eating it by the spoonful and has declared it the best Marmalade he has ever had - it just has that right balance of sweet and sour.

Here is my recipe:

Tangerine Marmalade

14 Tangerines (approximately), with nice, unblemished skins
4 large Grapefruit
2 Lemons

Cut the pithy ends (top and tail) from the Tangerines, Grapefruit and Lemons and discard.
Slice each one into quarters and remove the internal pith at the core and any seeds.
Then cut into small slices, skin and flesh. Try and keep the slices as narrow as possible.
Soak overnight in water or tangerine juice - whatever your preference. I used water, because I was running out of time, but I think the juice would make it extra, extra yummy.

The following day, bring it all to the boil and boil for 45 minutes. You will need to keep an eye on it, because it can catch on the bottom of the pan and burn.
Let it cool slightly and then measure the pulp. I got 9 cups of pulp.

For each cup of pulp add one cup of sugar. I used this special sugar that aids in the setting of jam, but I did have to add regular sugar as well, to make up the 9 cups, although I do admit leaving out about 1/2 cup of sugar - and taste testing as I added sugar. We don't like our jams too sweet.

Bring to the boil, stirring all the time until jam-setting point is reached. Either use a thermometer or the old-fashioned method of a small plate placed in the freezer for 5 minutes. Remove and add a few drops of jam. Swipe your finger through the middle of the jam. If it doesn't run, it's ready.

Pot and seal in sterilised jam jars.

photo credit: andydr via photopin cc

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Weekend in Martinborough

We have four children, and right now, life is pretty full on. When they tell you that the baby stage is the busiest stage, don't believe them, they're telling you lies! It gets busier as they get older, trust me!
And they don't go to sleep at 7pm like they used to.

So, to have some down-time and time just for us, Rob and I try to get away on our own at least once a year for a couple of nights. We've had fun in the past choosing places to go - not too far away, and nothing very expensive. We've been to Wellington to watch a show, and we've been to little country bed and breakfasts and this year we chose to go to Martinborough, which seems a little off the beaten path, but is a thriving little town on the lower east coast of the North Island, very similar to my home town of Blenheim with its burgeoning vineyards and boutique shops and restaurants and dry climate.

We stayed at the Brackenridge Country Spa and Retreat for two nights.

It's just a couple of minutes outside of the town and was so nice to walk into their immaculate cottages, light the fire and collapse in front of it for a couple of hours.

We were booked to go out for dinner that night, but it was such a beautiful evening - I couldn't resist taking a few photos of the pretty light out the back door.

For dinner we went to the Tirohana Estate. Honestly, we were completely blown away by the place. We pulled up in the dark and parked right outside the front doors. Silly me had brought the wrong shoes, so I was taking my time getting the right ones onto my feet, with Rob hurrying me along because two of the staff were waiting for us at the door to let us in. The service was amazing before we'd even gotten out of the car! From the moment we stepped in, to the warm room with the fire crackling away, the cheerful welcome with a little glass of something wonderful, to our table by the fire, to the beautiful food, it was a really pleasant evening, and a lovely start to our weekend. I'd love to go back there again.

And we came home and crashed by the open fire. I love open fires, don't you?

I don't know if it's just this year, but we were exhausted. Two days of this wasn't long enough, but it was so good just to relax and have no time pressures or little children needing attention and caring for. Thank you to their grandparents for taking care of them for those two days. The only thing I didn't like about the Brackenridge, which was perfect in every other way, was their terrible wifi service, but in some ways that was a good thing, because I was forced to stay away from the internet, which is rather an addiction of mine.

If you can, I highly recommend just getting away like this once a year, at least, with your significant other, especially if you're in that busy stage like us with lots of children. Even if it's just somewhere local, it's a chance to recharge and reconnect and just relax and unwind. That is probably the best marriage advice I can give!

The following day we spent wandering around Greytown, the cutest little village, with some amazing shops, but I'll write about that in my next post, as it deserves a whole post of its own.

We bought this weekend from Grabone - which also came with a special spa package - massage, facial and eyelash tint/eyebrow wax (for me). Hot stones for hubby. Could that be any more perfect!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bed Jackets are Kind of Sexy

I've been knitting since I was just a wee girl. My first project I completed was a deep purple jersey with a big white star across the front.

I don't always feel like knitting. It's one of those hobbies that I come back to when the urge strikes, and for the last two years I haven't really felt like it - I think partly because the winters where I now live are very mild and not very winterish.

But this year, the urge to knit struck again, and I have several projects on the go all at once, which probably isn't the best of ideas, but it's how I roll, generally.

The sudden desire to get knitting again came with a shock one night when I got into bed to read before I turned out the light and realised that it was actually quite cold. I pulled the blanket up around my neck, but that is not very practical for holding a book. And then I remembered bed jackets. They've kind of gone out of vogue now, but after searching etsy and ravelry I found a whole lot of patterns still available. But many of them were old or hard to follow, or not the kind of bed jacket I was looking for, so I went down to my local knitting shop and asked the old ladies there.

"You're the second person to come in this week and ask about that," said one of them to me.

See... bed jackets are coming back in, and I think they're kind of sexy - and alluring.

But they didn't have any patterns, alas, but after some brain-storming we settled on a light summer cardigan instead, and I'm knitting it up in a pink mohair wool.

I also knitted a very pretty green hat to wear to netball on chilly mornings, but I've only been able to wear it once - it just hasn't been very cold. I got the pattern here on Ravelry.

And then we got the happy news that my husband's nephew and his wife are expecting their first baby later this year (making me a great aunt for the very first time), and baby knitting is the best kind of knitting, so I opted for a little cabled hat. I am a slow knitter, so I can't take on a big project like a shawl or blanket with only a few months to go before the dear baby arrives. My mother recommended this little hat and it is fun to make. I haven't done any cable knitting for years, and it is a favourite. I love baby wool the best, don't you?

And of course, I have knitted two fox hats for my daughters, and some of their friends have put in requests as well. They did turn out very cute. Another Ravelry pattern.

And when all of these are finished, I have another hat I want to knit. A 1920's style cloche hat inspired by Downton Abbey that looks very fetching. I have the wool for it (the red wool at the top of this blog post), I just need the time now.

Knitting is very relaxing and I often find myself pulling out my work to sit down in front of a good movie. I've been catching up on Downton Abbey lately and I also enjoyed watching this series on YouTube. Everytime I look at my green hat I think of the Edwardian Farm series. Today I am watching an old favourite, Sense and Sensibility. What do you like to do while knitting?

Friday, June 13, 2014

How Do You Take Your Tea?

When you grow up in one of the British colonies, tea-drinking is just part of your culture, part of everyday life.

Maybe because it's ingrained into me from the women in my life that the first thing I ask a guest to my home is, "would you like a cup of tea?"
When travelling, we'd sometimes call ahead to my grandparents or aunty or parents when we were 10 minutes or so away and they'd say, "I'll put the kettle on," which is just another way of saying, "I'll have a nice, hot cup of tea ready for you to revive you when you arrive."
If you watch Downton Abbey, you'll know that tea was always given as a remedy for shock or grief or some kind of nasty surprise. Sweet tea was a balm to soothe the soul from the harshness of reality.
"You've had a shock. Sit down and I'll make you a cup of tea." I've even had that said to me, so the tradition hasn't quite died out yet.

Tea drinking is as much a part of our diet as bread and scones.

So when my American friend Jamie told me someone had given her a tea-infuser recently, and that she was more of a coffee drinker than a tea drinker, I welcomed the opportunity to introduce her to the delights of tea.

The traditional teapot, while beautiful to look at, and ornamental in its sentiment and history, is not really a popular, practical household item now. Maybe it's because we're all too busy to 'get the good china' down, although I must admit I still bring mine out for very special occasions, or if large quantities of tea is needed. Tea bags seem to have become the norm for most tea-drinkers, even (horror of horrors, you put the teabags into the teapot), probably because of their ease of use and they're quicker than tea-leaves. But we were introduced to a tea-infuser many years ago, and once you've enjoyed the rich, full aromatic taste of tea leaves spooned directly into the water, there's no going back really.

So this is how I make a proper cup of tea using a tea-infuser. I don't own any teabags anymore (except herbal teas), and I enjoy at least 3 cups of traditional tea a day. My husband is more of a tea-drinker than I am, so we use a pot that is small enough for one cup, but large enough for two, if I am drinking a cup of tea with him.

As my grandparents like to call it, the 'kettle' is now the 'jug'. That very useful invention of the electric jug that boils water in a matter of a few minutes.

Then I spoon about two heaped teaspoons of my favourite (Dilmah) Ceylon tea, into the infuser.

Then you let it steep for a few minutes. Isn't 'steep' a lovely word? How long you leave it to steep depends upon how strong you like your tea. Before I had children I didn't really care how strong or weak my tea was. Just how it came, was fine for me. But since the pregnancies, I no longer like strong tea. I don't know what that is - it's just one of those things. So I usually add no more than 1 teaspoon if making a cup for myself, and I don't let it steep very long.

Pour the tea into your teacup, leaving enough room at the top for milk, if you like it white. Do you like your tea white or black. My Nana liked her tea black, but I've never been able to drink it like that unless I load it up with sugar, and then it's too sweet.

I don't take sugar in my tea if I have it white, but there's no right or wrong - it's purely up to your taste. Two generations ago my grandmothers would put out a little china bowl with sugar lumps. One lump = one teaspoon of sugar. Such a tidy way of taking sugar in your tea. No little granules to spill on the cloth as you transfer it to your cup.

So that is how you make a cup of tea with an infuser, although I am unsure of how qualified I am to write a post on making tea. My great-aunt once told me I couldn't make a good cup of tea, but my excuse for that now is that I only had teabags to work with. Do you like to drink tea? And have you tried it with an infuser?

And of course, what could be more pleasant than a good cup of English tea, taken with an American Brownie.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chelsea Winter's Summer Chicken Salad

Somehow, no matter how much you love cooking, when you have to do it every night for 6 people, who may or may not be indifferent to what you cook, the sheer love of creating something beautiful goes out of it sometimes.

Some nights it's just pure survival. Whatever you have planned for dinner, you just do it, get it into their tummies and move on to the next thing. When you have sports and school meetings and homework and early bedtimes, cooking up something fancy and beautiful just isn't high on the priority list.

But even the busiest of families get tired of eating the same things week after week. 
I still hate chops (lamb chops that is), because it was the staple meal that my mother used to cook for us growing up in a busy house. 
I think my kids are going to hate rice, sausages and chicken nibbles. They are my stand by. 

So when, after watching Chelsea Winter win Master Chef NZ in 2012, I went out and bought her book, I honestly didn't expect to find so many amazing recipes in there that I could use on a weekly basis. My shelves are full of celebrity chef cookbooks, and after trying a few they usually sit there gathering dust because they're either too complicated or the ingredients are hard to find.

But not so with Chelsea's book. In a week where I had a mental block for any inspiration on meal ideas - I was going around the family and asking them for their favourites, and just about all of them said 'nacho's' (seriously? again?), and in desperation I pulled down Chelsea's book from the shelf and decided to do one every night for the entire week.

And all of them have been a hit, not only with me, but with all the family as well. I need to crank out a meal in about 30 minutes prep time or less, or I don't even bother with the recipe unless I'm entertaining or preparing for a special celebration. And every one of Chelsea's recipes that I tried, met that deadline, and yet were beautiful to look at and delicious - several great big steps up from the 'old standbys'. From her Buffalo Chicken Nibbles to the Prosciutto, mozzarella and basil pizza, to the Easy Butter Chicken (and the best I've ever made), and the Snapper with butternut puree, we have not been let down. I've made these multiple times already and always, always the kids and my husband ask for it again. But so far, the one recipe that takes the Blue Ribbon Prize for us, and my merry band of critical eaters is by far the Summer Chicken Salad. The herb and feta dressing is to die-for! I kid you not - I could lick it out of the blender - only my husband usually beats me to it.

We have been having some really hot, humid weather here in the Bay of Plenty this summer, and this meal just makes it all feel better - it's light, healthy and very, very good. And after asking Chelsea's permission, she has said I can share the recipe with you. This is from her book At My Table.

Thank you Chelsea, for being so awesome, and so generous to let me share it. You can find Chelsea on Facebook here, and her website is here, where she has lots more recipes available.

Chelsea Winter's Summer Chicken Salad

Herb and Feta Dressing
2 tbsp mayonnaise or aioli
1/4 cup feta
2 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp honey

olive oil for cooking
2 large boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp paprika

1-2 cups mixed salad leaves, tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ripe cherry tomatoes
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cob cooked sweetcorn, kernels cut off
1 avocado
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
handful crispy noodles

Preheat oven to 220degC.
To make dressing, process all the ingredients in a food processor. Taste and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and add more honey or lemon juice to taste.

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the paprika on one side. Cook, skin side down, for a few minutes until golden and crispy. Turn over and cook for another minute or two.

Transfer to a baking dish and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the breast. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly.

Arrange the salad ingredients on a plate, top with the chicken and drizzle the dressing over.

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