Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Packed with a punch!

About a week ago, I managed to catch myself a nasty flu virus, enough to completely knock me out in a matter of 24 hours.  I haven't had a flu as bad as this in years.  On the first day or so when I was starting to feel pretty infected by 'something ugly', I really wanted to nourish myself, thinking that this would do the trick and I'd be back to normal in no time.  Well, with all of my good intentions, unfortunately no amount of nourishment could take the place of heavy strength antibiotics that I quickly needed to kill off the bacterial infection that had infested my body.  One of the sad facts about life is that you can do 'all the right things', but if you are unlucky enough to 'catch' something and get sick, then you will.
However, this shouldn't stop you from eating well.  I have developed a love of gardening and take much pleasure in growing vegetables in my garden at home.  I also have a couple of fruit trees.  Feeling as though I wanted and needed to give my body plenty of 'the good stuff', as I like to call it, I had harvested my garden a day earlier and used some of this to make some sensational vegetable soup that was totally 'packed with a punch!'  This post is dedicated to the wonders of some vegetables that are readily available, easy to cook with, are extremely good for you and taste fantastic.  Who needs to buy expensive multi vitamins to take everyday when you can simply eat well and get a complete range of vitamins and minerals naturally in the fresh food that we eat.
The first basic ingredients I put in my soup were onions and garlic.  These seem to be in most dishes that I cook.  So I added 2 onions and not just one or two cloves, but the whole head of garlic, peeled and crushed. "Garlic cloves contain many minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that have proven health benefits and have been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. The bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. It contains many anti-oxidants like carotene beta and vitamins like vitamin C."  Fortunately, I can never have too much garlic in my cooking and use it almost everyday in my kitchen. My family and I love the taste and the smell of it.
I often use a lot of onions too in my kitchen, so they were an obvious start to my soup, peeled, chopped and browned with the crushed garlic in my big soup pot. "Onions are a rich source of chromium, the trace mineral that helps tissue cells respond appropriately to insulin levels in the blood. They are an also good source of antioxidants which are found to have anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic functions.  They are also a good source of vitamin C, mineral manganese and the B-complex group of vitamins".
As a base for my soup, I like to mix in a good couple of tablespoons of tomato paste in with the garlic and onions at this stage.  It gives the soup a great taste and texture, similar to that of minestrone.  You can see how I make minestrone (which is very similar to this) in my other blog, 'Laura's Little Italy' 
Now my pot was ready to add plenty of 'the good stuff' from my garden.  Here I am washing spinach, silver beet, broccoli and kale, all home grown.  It is a fantastic feeling to walk outside and pick something to eat. Firstly, you may know broccoli as a 'super food' and this is why.  "Broccoli is one of the very low calorie vegetables and is an exceptionally rich source of vitamin C. Further, it contains very good amounts of vitamin A and is an excellent source of folates.  It is a rich source of vitamin K and B complex group of vitamins like niacin and riboflavin. The flower heads also have some amount of omega-3 fatty acids and is a good source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and phosphorus."  Wow!  Can't feel too bad about eating broccoli now, can you?  

Another veggie that is 'packed with a punch' is spinach. "Fresh 100 g of spinach contains about 25% of daily intake of iron; one of the richest among green leafy vegetables and is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.  It also contains good amounts of many B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, folates and niacin. 100 g of farm fresh spinach has 47% of daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Its leaves also contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc." Need I say anymore about sensational spinach?
But wait......there's more, much more.  I also added kale to my 'packed with a punch' pot. "Kale is very rich in vitamin A and vitamin K. 100 g of fresh leaves contain 120 mg or 200% of daily-recommended levels of vitamin C.  This leafy vegetable is notably good in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 and thiamin. It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus." And to top off my home grown additions to my super soup, I added silver beet. "Like many leafy green vegetables, silver beet is rich in a dazzling array of minerals. It has high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, iron, potassium, vitamin A. Silver beet is also rich in folate, zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fibre, and vitamin E".
So are you starting to see how we can all get many vitamins and minerals naturally in fresh vegetables?  It is as easy as this.  Asparagus is plentiful at the my local Fruit Shop at the moment and I can can't resist but buy a bunch every time I shop there.  In the pot it went! "Fresh asparagus contains fair amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K.  Asparagus is a good source of minerals, especially copper and iron. In addition, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus."
One of my all time favourite vegetables is egg plant.  I have a couple of young egg plant seedlings in my garden and I'm dreaming of growing some big, fat, juicy egg plant of my own soon.......wish me luck!  I added a couple of these to my soup creation for another 'punch'. "Eggplant is very low in calories and fats but rich in soluble fibre. The peel or skin (deep blue/purple varieties) of aubergine has significant amounts of chemicals called anthocyanins that have potential health effects against cancer, ageing, inflammation, and neurological diseases. It contains good amounts of many essential B-complex groups of vitamins and is a good source of minerals like manganese, copper, iron and potassium."
The asparagus and egg plant and are all washed, chopped and into the pot they go.
I had a couple of monster mushrooms in the fridge that I thought I would add too.  This pot of soup just kept packing those punches as I went along. "Mushrooms have a surprising amount of nutrients including: Niacin, Riboflavin, Folate, Phosphorus, Iron , Panthothenic Acid, Zinc, Potassium, Copper, Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Selenium and Thiamin".
At this point, my pot was rapidly filling with loads and loads of 'good stuff', I was nearly done......but not quite as I was on a roll!  In went some red kidney beans for fun. "Red kidney beans are a source of fibre-rich complex carbohydrates, which should play a large role in your diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Carbohydrates provide energy for your body's cells and are the sole energy source for the nervous system".  I added some lentils to be extra good. "Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fibre, lean protein, folate and iron.  Lentils contain some soluble fibre, but are an outstanding source of insoluble fibre."
Tomatoes are another one of my big favourites. "Tomatoes are an excellent source of antioxidants, dietary fibre, minerals, and vitamins. They contain very good levels of vitamin A, anti-oxidants and are also good source of vitamin C and potassium. Further, they carry average levels of vital B-complex vitamins such as folates, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin as well some essential minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and other trace elements."
OK, for the grand finale, I had to add a couple of carrots. "Carrots are exceptionally rich source of carotenes and vitamin-A. Carotenes are converted into vitamin A in the liver. Beta-carotene is the major carotene that is present in these roots. Beta carotene is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant that helps protect body from harmful oxygen-free radical injury. Fresh roots are also good in vitamin C and in addition, they are especially rich in many B-complex groups of vitamins and compose healthy levels of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus."
You can see from this picture that by this stage my pot was very full and it was time to let it cook.  I had much pleasure in preparing my array of vegetables and making them into a soup that I knew I would love to eat but that would also do me the world of good.  As I was preparing this soup, I knew it was good for me but I wanted to find out exactly why and how.  Hence, this post complete with some researched facts and figures on the wonders of fresh vegetables.
You can also add stock to your soup for an extra flavour kick.  If you don't object, adding a smoked ham bone also gives this soup an amazing flavour.  But on this day, my super soup was going to be a vegetarian one, dedicated to my garden and love of fresh food from Mother Nature.  Here is my soup cooking away and the aromas in my kitchen were amazing.  Adding a dash of salt and pepper to the pot doesn't hurt either.  I like to enjoy a big bowl of this 'punchy' soup with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top to give it an extra flavour boost.
I let my soup simmer for a good couple of hours and enjoyed a bowl of it for lunch.  As you can imagine, I made plenty (as I usually do when I make soup) and I packaged it up into single serves and freezed it for later on.  It is great always having some soup handy for those days when I need a good 'pick me up'.

After reading this post, you may not be able to look at your veggies in the same way again!  I trust that you can now see the incredible health benefits of fresh veggies that most certainly take care of your vitamin and mineral needs naturally.  The garden and its produce is truly amazing and never ceases to amaze me.  Those many, many unassuming plants that 'grow things' in the earth are most certainly 'packed with a punch!' :) xxx


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Bountiful Bendigo

Last weekend, we took a little, Sunday drive to an historic town, not far from our place, called Bendigo.  It was a chance to enjoy the drive, take a look at some spectacular architecture, enjoy lunch and the sunny say and bring home some great pottery (one of the things this town is famous for). Bendigo is a major regional city in Victoria, approximately 150 kilometres north west of Melbourne and is the fourth largest inland city in Australia. The discovery of gold in the soils of Bendigo during the 1850s made it one of the most significant Victorian era boom towns in Australia.  So join me now as I show you around this magnificent place and tell you a bit about its history as we go.
Bendigo is well known as one of the major towns of the Victorian gold rush. Gold was found at Bendigo Creek in September 1851.  News of the finds brought an influx of migrants to the city from around the world and transformed it from a sheep station into a major settlement. Once the alluvial gold had been mined out, mining companies were formed to exploit the rich underground quartz reef gold.  Since 1851, about 25 million ounces of gold (777 tonnes) have been extracted from Bendigo's goldmines, making it the highest producing goldfield in Australia in the 19th century and the largest gold mining economy in eastern Australia. The city took its name from the Bendigo Creek.
In mid-December 1851, the rush to Bendigo had begun and by April 1852, Bendigo Creek was regarded as a goldfield in its own right. By June 1852, it is estimated that there were 40,000 diggers on the field – a huge number considering that in February, pre-gold rush Melbourne had a total population of only 23,000.
Our first stop once we arrived, was to have coffee in this magic garden, next to the Bendigo Art Gallery.  Spring has certainly sprung in Australia and here you can see a magnificent display of blossoms.  Bendigo is important in Australian history and the city’s beautiful Victorian architecture and gardens show the wealth and prosperity that this town enjoyed in the late nineteenth century – the period during which this gallery was founded.  Bendigo Art Gallery was founded in 1887 - Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Year.
After coffee, we wanted to make sure that we made it to Bendigo Pottery, located just outside the town in Epsom. I always enjoy visiting this place and looking at the pottery that is simple, yet very classical and useful.  Bendigo Pottery is Australian owned and operated and is Australia's oldest working pottery.  Established in 1858, the pottery has operated continuously in Epsom since 1863.  Bendigo Pottery has the most significant collection of ceramic wood fired kilns left in the world.  There are 10 kilns in total, with 5 bottle kilns, 3 circular kilns and 2 rectangular kilns. No longer used, the old kilns are now part of the Interpretive Museum with one of the circular kilns having been converted into a theatrette. The last firing of a wood fired kiln on the site was 1989. The kilns are all listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
On the site is a large factory which continues to make all the Bendigo Pottery product using a range of different production techniques including hand throwing, slip casting, jolleying and pressing. All product is now fired in natural gas fired kilns.  Above is a sample of what the pottery looks like.  This is my collection that I have gathered over the years.
We then headed back into town for a walk and to gaze at the amazing buildings and gardens.  As a legacy of the gold boom, Bendigo has many ornate buildings built in a late Victorian colonial style. Many buildings are on the Victorian Heritage Register and registered by the National Trust of Australia. 
As soon as you arrive in Bendigo, you can't help but notice this beautiful fountain.  It is eye catching and right in the middle of the main road in town.  The Alexandra Fountain would have to be the most prominent monument in Bendigo.  The fountain was officially unveiled by His Royal Highness Prince Albert Edward Victor of Wales on 5 July 1881.  The fountain was made from 20 tonnes of highly polished Harcourt granite and includes dolphins, unicorns and nymphs.
Bendigo has the stunning Rosalind Park, a Victorian-style garden that is quite large and covers a big area in the town centre.  It is a great place to sit and relax.  It features a large statue of Queen Victoria. The gardens are home to many native species of animal including brush tailed and ring-tailed possums, ducks, coots, purple swamp hens, micro bats (small insect eating bats) the grey-headed flying fox, several species of lizard, owls and the tawny frog mouth.
There are many monuments in Bendigo that you can see as you walk through the town.  The Bendigo War Memorial Obelisk, located outside the Bendigo Soldiers' Memorial Institute Memorial, commemorates conflicts after the First World War, including the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam and Kuwait. The front inscription reads- "This monument has been erected by the citizens of Bendigo & district as a tribute to the men & women who served their country in all campaigns since the Great War 1914 - 1918. World War II 1939 - 1945."  There are more inscriptions on each side of this monument paying respects to others also.
Another important aspect of Bendigo's history and the gold rush, is that many thousands of Chinese people arrived in Bendigo at this time.  Within ten years, the Chinese miners and merchants made up 20% of the Bendigo population. In the 1870s an impressive imperial dragon known as Loong was sent from China. He is now the oldest Chinese dragon in the world and is the highlight of Australia’s oldest event; the Bendigo Easter Festival.  While most of the Chinese gold miners returned home when the alluvial goldfields declined, a small population remained to form the Bendigo Chinese community which has continued to influence the city.
A traditional Chinese Joss House, built in Bendigo, is a reminder of its rich Chinese heritage. It was constructed of timber and hand-made bricks during the 1860s by the local Chinese, who were plentiful on the goldfields. The temple is one of the oldest surviving constructions of its kind in Australia and was painted red - in Chinese tradition this represents strength and vitality.
The Joss House was constructed to worship the god Kwan Gung. Kwan Gung was a Chinese general (AD 221-26) and the miners worshipped him as a judge, guide and protector. The building was restored by the National Trust upon advice received from a Chinese historian and is the oldest Australian joss house still in use today. 
After enjoying lunch, it was time to head back home after a relaxing and enjoyable day.  It had been great to take in the history of this regional centre and feast our eyes on the town's beauty.  I was happy that I could add to my pottery collection too!  With many stunning buildings and wonderful gardens and monuments all through the main city centre, it is a nice place to visit here in Victoria.  You can almost feel the experiences and see the people behind all of the stories that this place can tell.  I highly recommend Bendigo as a great day out to those that live here in Melbourne and for my other valued readers around the world, if you ever come down under to Oz, why not visit bountiful Bendigo :) xxx


Saturday, 6 September 2014

'Getting jiggy with it!'

In the words of the hilarious Austin Powers, I just LOVE 'getting jiggy with it!!'  I am so very fortunate to have many wonderful memories of people and good times.  With the wonders of digital technology, do you have thousands upon thousands of photos stored on your PC and your phone and countless USBs and many other camera chips that you haven't got around to organising yet?  Well, that's me. I really need to get onto storing all of my photos properly for safe keeping.  But in the mean time, I have had a look at some photos that are within easy reach and have selected a few that I like a lot.  They are in no particular order but great to look back on, just the same.  There are many, many, many more but here is just a select handful that really tell a story about how sunnyday397 gets 'jiggy with it!'
What better place to start than with Master Marc.  For his 8th birthday, he flew to Sydney with his Dad for the day and managed to get a seat in the co-pilot's seat on his way off the plane.  Here we have one ecstatic, little boy that had a magical birthday.
We usually have a family dinner on the day of my kids' birthdays and here is a shot of the night of Marc's birthday that I really like.  Some members of my family just hanging out together in the lounge room and the star of the show is our daughter, Julia, doing a great dance move.
Taken recently in August this year, this is us.  My husband and children, together with me, all smiles.  A very natural photo of us all together.
As you may have read in my last post, I celebrated my birthday last week.  Here is a happy photo of some of the people that shared in this celebration with me and it was loads of fun.
I managed to survive last Winter with the help of my open fire.  It gave me enormous comfort and relief from the freezing cold.  As my Face book friends know all too well, I wrote many, many posts on this subject at the time and they will be very relieved to know that it is now Spring (and I have run out of fire wood) so I am hoping that I can move on from this now!!
This one makes me laugh.  Here is 'Vampirella' from 'Planet Draculon' all ready to go to a friend's party.  That was fun, changing my look completely with a wig and funky costume.  Another good night.
My friends know that I thoroughly enjoy getting us all together.  Here is a fondue night that I had at my place.  Fondues are a great way to eat and easy too.  They are always a big hit at my place.
We gobbled up fruit dipped in a warm chocolate fondue and crusty bread smothered in a Swiss cheese fondue.  Yummy!
Our little Marc has a passion for aviation and last year for his birthday, he had a flying lesson in an ultralight plane.  A beautiful shot of his glowing face and his total and utter excitement.
My beautiful boy, Jack, who lived to the ripe old age of 14.  He was a magnificent pet, as was his sister, Kimba and they are both sadly missed.
I love to cook outdoors and here we have a shot of our rotisserie spit.  The aromas when this is cooking, the tastes and texture of the finished product are amazing and very delicious.
This is a classic photo that I adore.  When I get together with the lady, we have loads of fun and can most definitely talk the legs off several chairs!  She shares many of my passions in life and is a very dear friend.  Here you can see how comfortable we are with each other and so happy to be together.
Taken in Williamstown, this is a beautiful photo of me and my brothers who I don't get to see very often as we live far away from each other.  But when we get together, we share a special connection and understanding that I value very much.
This is Awesome Adam, alias the next MGP Scooter Pro.  This boy of mine loves riding his scooter and always enters the scooter competition at Moomba each year.  He's gutsy, confident and not afraid to have a go.
I like this photo very much as it reminds me of a lovely lady that I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of years ago.  We became very good friends.  Just when we were getting to know each other more, she had to return home to live overseas, but I have fond memories of lots of laughs with this lady.  We still keep in touch and I am so glad about that.  I hope that one day we will meet again.
Family gatherings are very special and important.  At my place, no one leaves hungry and always with a smile on their face.
A beautiful photo of my husband and a special friend.  I feel as though I have known this lady forever and she has been a wonderful influence and inspiration in my life.  When we get together, we can talk about any subject, freely and openly.  We analyse, debate and disect many topics, inside and out.  We share an understanding about many aspects of life and living and this gives us a special connection that I am so fortunate to have with her.
My garden, where would I be without my garden?  I have developed a passion for nature, nurturing it and watching things grow.  Great food for the soul.
Friendship is a special thing and here is my husband with an old mate that he has known since he was a teenager.  They are now back in touch with each other and when they met again here, for the first time in many years, it was like no time had passed at all.
Any excuse to carry on is a good one for me!  This is a funny shot of me with my groovy pants on, taken at a party at my place.  Give me a funky tune, turn up the volume and off I go!
 A happy photo with my baby girl who is my little ray of sunshine, each and every day.
I like this family photo taken at one of the dinners at my place.  My kids absolutely adore their Uncle and Aunty who always make them laugh.
 My glowing birthday girl, with her beautiful smile, total exuberance and loving nature.
I always like to have a party and here is a shot of Julia's 4th birthday, where I had lots of fun turning the house into a colourful place full of balloons and streamers.
 My dancing girl who is like my living doll.
And finally, an amazing shot of us in Thailand last year.  This holiday was brilliant as my husband and I had the chance to experience many magic places, people and things.  We hadn't been away together for a long time and we had a blast, from start to finish.

When I look back at the people and good times in my life, for me, it is most certainly all about living a little and loving a lot.  These photos (only a handful of many) sum up in a nutshell what is important to me and give me enormous happiness and fantastic memories.  Oh, and being a little bit zany and loving 'to get jiggy with it', always helps! :) xxx