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

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

Salad
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.






Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Perfect is Boring

Sometimes I think the words Perfection and Fear should go hand in hand.

There's a revolution happening among some of my friends. There's a revolution happening with me. Years ago we were involved with a christian organisation that taught that if you made the right choices in every area of your life, you would gain true success in life. Success in marriage, career, family, finances, that it would even make you closer to God, favoured by God.

But I've been learning these last few months that the mirage of a perfect person and a perfect life is as fragile and hallucinogenic as shifting sands. It's there right before you, within your grasp, shimmering and beguiling and always, always out of reach.
And I don't believe God ever intended it to be that way for any of us.

Photo Source

Because life is not really perfect, is it?

I don't have to be perfect to be happy.
My life doesn't have to be perfect to be fulfilled.
I don't have to make perfect choices to be successful.

We've all been there. We're afraid to make the wrong choices. We're afraid to anger God. We're afraid to spoil our reputation. We're afraid that someone might say, "she's complicated" or "she has issues" or "needy."

Ugly words. Words with stigma.

Ok, so I'm not deliberately going to go out there and make a mess of my life, and deliberately choose the wrong choice, just so I can get life experience. No! God forbid!
I don't think anyone chooses to be knocked down, or in difficulties. No. What I'm saying is that sometimes, even with the best of intentions we're going to do the wrong thing. But it's the lesson learned that counts, and it's what we do with that lesson.

We want to appear perfect. We want everyone to think we have it all together.
Our perfect Christmas cards, our perfect hair. Our perfect figure. Our perfect homes. Our perfect, prestigious job. Our perfect lives. Our perfect choices. We want to show the world that we are successful, and that success has come to us because we made the right choices about everything.

In the christian world, these issues of perfection are even more exacerbated. In the church, where, of all places, it shouldn't be prevalent. We go to God because we know we're not perfect. He is our safe place. He's always there for us when we make the wrong choice, and we realise all over again our vulnerability, our failure, our humanness.

Nobody can achieve perfection. Nobody.
We all have something to cope with in life.... our own cross to bear, because life is not perfect, and it never will be. Sometimes these bad things come to us through no fault of our own, but sometimes you have to accept that you are going to make wrong choices, you are going to make mistakes, you are going to be foolish. But from that comes beauty and an interesting life, a person with depth and courage and wisdom.

Photo Source
If you could go back to your childhood self, what would you say? What advice would you give, knowing that whatever you said would stay with you through to your adult years?

I would like to go back and tell myself that it's ok to make the wrong choice sometimes.
That from the wrong choice would come Wisdom. Experience. Personal growth.

Trying to achieve perfection without the lessons along the way is fruitless and will probably end you up in therapy.

The richness of life, the value of lessons learned comes through sometimes getting it wrong. We shouldn't be afraid to be wrong. To be a fool.

Perfect is Boring.






photo credit: bobrayner via photopin cc
photo credit: peasap via photopin cc

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Frivolous Fancy

This morning I went shopping.
I needed two things... sunglasses (because I just broke my good pair), and a gift for a friend in America. That was it. Just two things.

But on the way to my destination I  passed a most tempting shop, and there in the window as I swept by, my eye catches a glimpse of a beautiful red bag. A travel bag. I slow my walking pace. I pause. I turn. I hesitate. It looks so stylish. I imagine myself boarding the flight for New Caledonia later this year.... and now there is no resisting. I retrace my steps, enter the shop. Pick it up. And it's mine

Bags are my obsessive compulsive disorder.



Truth be told, I find it extremely difficult to pass over anything that is red.

Bags are my retail weakness.
I know (don't deny it), that every woman has a retail weakness. Something you find it really hard to pass up, even if you don't need it. What is yours?

The most popular are shoes.
I have a friend who can't stop buying bras.
Scarves.
Nightwear.
Jewellry.
Nail Polish.
Lipstick.

My retail obsessive compulsive disorder is bags.
I know that my husband is going to read this blog post sometime today while he is at work, and he will be rolling his eyes right now!

I can't help buying bags.  This is my current everyday handbag. It was my Christmas gift to myself. It has lasted 3 months so far - which is pretty good for me.



This was my favourite bag ever.... until the strap broke.


I have beach bags....


And American brand bags....


And little bags.... (a coin purse is a bag right)?


And waterproof bags....


Bags are my retail therapy weakness.

What is yours?

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Flower of A Generation

When I watch this video clip, my heart is full. Full of the hope and promise of our generation. But I want to reach down into it and pull myself out. I want to reach back into the past and clasp my hand and running, take me far, far away from here. There is beauty in this clip, and there is pain. It is not only my pain, but the pain of many, many others, built on over the passing of many, many years.

I am in this choir. The year was 1993.  As you watch this, look at all the faces. These are the familiar faces of many of my old friends. Young women and young men who I knew and who I lived with and worked with.

"Name after name, which I cannot read, and which we who are older than you cannot hear without emotion; names which will be only names to you..... but which to us summon up face after face, full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour, and intellectual promise; the flower of a generation..."
Chariots of Fire


Full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour, and intellectual promise; the flower of a generation....

The christian organisation we sing with here was the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a ministry whose mission statement was to "give the world a new approach to life." We young people were the hope of the future. We were the guinea-pigs. We were going to carry God's commandments and blessing to the world, to the next generation.

But for many of us, the reality became something very different. Now, twenty years later, we are re-uniting on different ground. The internet has brought us back together again, now as adults, along with the slow, chilling awakening that what we were involved with back then would ultimately be detrimental to many of us, to our health and our relationships and our families and our lives and our spiritual growth. We are sharing our lives, sharing our stories. We are pouring our hearts and our pain out to each other, and it is bringing healing and laughter and friendship and joy.

There has been much in the, mostly American news, about the resignation of our old friend, and spiritual mentor, Bill Gothard. As we read and talk with each other, and as we process it all, the unique bonds we shared back then are rebuilding - but this time rebuilding on truth, and a joy that comes in hearing of an old friend who is now 'out' of the cult. They are free. We are free to celebrate together. To cry together over our pain. To comfort each other over our hurts and our pain and our disillusionment.
We who shared this rich, and promising history are finding the true blessing of God in finding freedom.

This moment of time in our youth when our eyes were closed to the truth, but not to God.
When our hearts were bound up by rules and fear and deceit,
When the God we loved became the God we feared,
When service to God became service to a man,
When wickedness prevailed behind closed doors.

The doors have been opened, the light is dawning, and the darkness is leaving. There are scars, and many of them run deep. Some are healing over, but some never will.
Changing a mindset and indoctrination is not something that can be done quickly or lightly. Everyone is on their own personal journey, many having to strip away everything we knew and start again. Finding our way back to the true God. Back to His unconditional grace, that was there all the time, but we couldn't find it.

As we lay those burdens down, we are learning to find the beauty in the ashes.




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