Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Bountiful Barbecue

You might have worked out by now that we love barbecues at our place. I have even named our BBQ Bertha! A few weeks ago, I felt like getting a bit creative and made what I like to call 'The Bountiful Barbecue'. I want to show you what I got up to as you may get some ideas for your next BBQ from this post.  I usually reserve my cooking posts for my 'Little Italy' blog and when I was trying to work out where to put this one, I decided on 'Live a Little, Love a Lot' because this is exactly what I was doing, putting a lot of love and passion into the evening meal that my husband and I enjoyed alone. We had the weekend to ourselves as our children were away and had a bountiful BBQ for two.
I started off with making my own tzatziki. This is so very easy and when you know how, you will never buy this from a supermarket again. Simply grate one cucumber, crush garlic and mix this through some Greek yoghurt. It is that simple. This is also great to have on hand when you cook lamb, the perfect addition to your own home made souvlakis.
Enjoy your own tzatziki dip with some crusty bread for a pre dinner nibble. It is delicious.
My first barbecue item was Asian inspired meat balls. These provide a nice change from your usual hamburger mince. Here are the ingredients: soy sauce, ginger, black pepper, garlic, brown sugar, finely chopped spring onions, beef mince, one egg and bread crumbs.
Blend these ingredients together and form meat balls that have a really interesting flavour.
You can then put them on to skewers to make cooking them on the barbie easier.
Who could have a barbecue without a succulent pepper steak? Here I have some lean sirloin steak covered in crushed black pepper.
To make a sensational sauce for your pepper steak, try this. Combine cream, beef stock, brandy, horseradish and brown sugar in a pan over medium heat. This tastes fantastic over a barbecued pepper steak.
I really enjoy mushrooms cooked on the barbecue and these ones are superb. I stuff them before cooking with chopped spring onions, bread crumbs, chopped smoked ham, Parmesan, olive oil and oregano.
Here are the mushrooms ready to go. Again, this is a really interesting mix of flavours and they taste great on the barbie.
Another all time favourite of mine that is very easy, is a hot roast tomato salad, cooked on the barbecue. Lightly cook your tomatoes on the hot plate until soft. Then combine olive oil, honey, capers, garlic and soy sauce, pour over your tomatoes. This has a real tangy bite to it and is a great addition to you plate.
And last but not least, try some honey soy chicken skewers. These are the ingredients for your marinade: olive oil, soy sauce, honey and ginger. Combine in a bowl.
Cut up your chicken breast fillets into cubes and marinate in this blend for an hour or so.
Then skewer the chicken pieces with chopped spring onions and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Yummy!
Here is the bountiful barbecue for two. Usually we eat outside, but on this night it was too cold. Add to my barbecue creations some greens and a glass of red, and you have one super special BBQ! As I always say, it never hurts to live a little and love a lot, even when you are having a barbie :) xxx

Monday, 7 September 2015

Live the Rainbow

I did a painting once for an old friend and called it 'Live the Rainbow'.  It was a pretty wacky and wild piece, with a smiling face sitting under a big rainbow, complete with big Yin and Yang signs in the corners.  As always, it was bright and bold and lots of fun.  I was trying to give this friend of mine a happy painting to look at that would remind him of our friendship, but also, most importantly to depict a good life that was balanced, colourful, joyful and vibrant.

I must have thousands of photos that I have taken over the last couple of years, sitting on my computers and today I have had a quick look at some recent ones for fun.  I have selected a few that I like and posted them here.  As I look at them and think about what they mean to me, I have realised that I actually do 'live the rainbow' and what a special, valued and treasured way of life it is.
I am blessed with 3 gorgeous children, the youngest getting ready to start school next year. She is a little gem, full of personality, confidence and beauty.  Her name is Julia and she has just turned 5 years old.  She is at Kindergarten this year, having a wonderful time learning and preparing herself for school.  She brings me home some very interesting paintings and I adore them.  You can see that she has a wild imagination and puts a lot of effort into her work.  Her art work is so young and innocent, so childish and new, that it always reminds me of the wonder of childhood, as she explores, develops and learns.  She has a sharp mind and this is shown in her work. Julia would have to be the colour blue in my rainbow, her favourite colour.
This is a photo of my garden last Summer, my most loved season of the year. I spend hours out here and enjoy to grow a huge supply of fresh, organic vegetables. There is something so fantastic about being outside in the sunshine and fresh air. My garden is always evolving as I continue to improve on it, it seems to be a constant process that never stops.  We don't have a huge property and live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, but I make the most of it and have used every bit of space that I have. My garden is my happy place and I like to see it thrive, I call it my little jungle at this time of year. My garden is obviously the colour green in my rainbow, lush and full of life.
Here is that little girl I was just telling you about, my little dynamo, Julia.  This photo was taken as part of an activity for Kindergarten where she had to spend time with 'Simba', a funny, floppy soft toy. We went to the local shopping centre and here she is in front of the Florist. When I think of my daughter, I think of just this, a little blossom amongst a mass of colourful flowers. She brings me immense joy.
Birthdays are a special time in my family.  Here my first born son Adam, is turning 12 and about to demolish his birthday cake. I make a fuss for my children's birthdays, I cook them their favourite meal on the day, we celebrate as a family, always have a special cake and I hope that this will give them some treasured memories of their childhood to carry with them through their life. Adam is fast growing into a handsome and responsible young man, he makes me proud and is the colour purple on my rainbow.
Now that Winter is over, I have to say that I am very happy about this.  But the cold didn't stop up enjoying a beautiful day at the beach along the Victorian surf coast recently. The tide was out and the water was a shining sheet, on top of a huge expanse of sand.  My kids played along the water's edge and we walked along the peaceful beach. The beach is another one of my special places, I have always lived near it and could never be very far away from it.  It is magical and the rhythm of the waves rolling in and out is so soothing. In Winter, the salt air is so fresh and crisp, we had a great day that day.
I could never stay indoors all day and all night, even in Winter. I like to spend time outside and this year, we spent many afternoons and evenings enjoying an open fire and cooking roast dinners on my rotisserie spit.  Here is a funny photo that I really like of my son, Marc, and I, holding up our 'Winter weapons'. He has his stick and marhsmallows ready to toast on the fire and I have the skewer ready to load up the spit. Marc is my second born son, a real character, Mr Personality, cheeky, with lots of spunk. He is adorable and is the colour orange on my rainbow.
Any excuse to dress up is a good one for me.  For a few years now, I have had fondue nights at our place in Winter.  This year was a great laugh, here I am as 'Sister Soul'.  The night had a 70's Disco theme combined with Christmas in July. Welcoming friends into our home and having fun nights like this, with plenty of good food, music and good vibes, is one of my specialities and over the years, we have had lots of nights like this. I love to get people together, to share in the good times, have a bit of fun......after all, you're only as old as you feel! Winter is the perfect time of the year to indulge in fondue and is always a winner when you're feeding a crowd. I am the colour yellow on my rainbow, the colour of sunshine on a Summer's day.
My husband and sons are mad car enthusiasts and this year I was dragged along to a festival called 'Greazefest'. It had many very groovy cars on display, rockabilly fashions and music and was a good day out with the family. My husband has lots of good ideas for fun family things to do and we should make the effort to do more.  As the kids get older, it is becoming easier to go out together. On this day, I was amazed at how loved these vintage cars were and what wonderful condition they were all in.  My boys loved to see them all up close and learnt a thing or two.
We have a wonderful open range zoo near our place and it has an African theme.  There are countless animals roaming in open areas and visitors can travel throughout the zoo on a bus and see them up close. Here I am with my children, basking in the hot sun on a Summer's day. Right now, I am dreaming of being able to dress like this again for I am so sick and tired of rugging up to beat the cold. It is always a fun day out at the zoo and my children love it. I enjoy teaching them about animals and how to care for them.
I couldn't possibly 'live the rainbow' without painting, could I? I have recently rediscovered my love of creating art and painted a piece for a friend's birthday. I often set up my paints on the outdoor table, in the middle of a sunny spot and paint in the garden. I put on some classical music and lose myself in it all. It was a complete joy to do this painting and since then, I have started another one, but this one is taking a bit longer to do. But at least I'm back in the swing of it all and have all my painting gear at the ready for whenever the mood strikes me.
I could not 'live the rainbow' without this man, my husband, David.  We have over come many challenges in the 20 years that we have been together and continue to go from strength to strength. He is a big calming force for me, as solid as a rock, although he can be a nuisance too! Marriage is never easy and is certainly not all about romance, champagne and takes a lot of work. At times, I feel as though I could strangle him because he can be so irritating and I am sure there are times that I don't impress him either. But at the end of the day, we are so much a part of each other's lives now that these negative feelings never last long. We know, more than anything, that we are a great match and work together to achieve a certain quality of life that we are both very proud of. David is the colour red on my rainbow, the colour of my heart.
My boys were both Scouts for a few years and last Mother's Day, I went along with Marc for a special night for mums. The activity for the night was for the kids to dress up their mums for a night out at the Logies. Here you can see that I have a lovely 'dress' on and superb make up, all done by Marc. It was great fun and we both had lots of laughs. My boys have learnt many valuable life skills from Scouts and I have enjoyed watching them participate in many fun and interesting activities.
Cooking is another one of my big past times and source of enjoyment. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, making many home cooked meals, sometimes experimenting with new recipes and always using all of the fresh produce that I grow. Marc loves Italian food and one of his favourites desserts is Tiramisu. So for his birthday, I made him a whopping big bowl of Tiramisu that doubled as his birthday cake. I enjoy good food and I love to cook it, I take pride in it, get a lot of satisfaction from bringing people pleasure when they eat it and I find it lots of fun.
I could not 'live the rainbow' without this lady, my mum. She is an incredible influence in my life and I am very close to her. She also enjoys to cook and we often get together and get busy making some sort of creation.  Here we have made some fresh egg fettuccine and it turned out perfectly.  We made 3 sauces that night and enjoyed a family feast. My mum is very special, I care for her and much as she cares for me. She gives me strength, keeps me strong, showers me with love, gives me hope and courage and has taught me so much about life. She is an exceptional human being and is the colour pink on my rainbow.
I will finish off with this photo that pretty much sums it up. In life, we all have our own rainbow, we all have many things that we do each and every day that are full of beauty and colour. Beauty is all around us, you just have to take the time to look. Take time to enjoy simple pleasures, take time to enjoy the journey, take time to hug your children, take time to do the things that bring you pleasure, forget your worries for a while and look around you at how many day to day things are joyful. Remember to live a little, love a lot........and live the rainbow :) xxx

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The same old, same old

Do you ever get the feeling that your days are getting very repetitive? Do you ever get the feeling that you need something new, something different to do? Do you ever get the feeling of total boredom, lack of enthusiasm and know that there has to be more to it than this?  Firstly, I guess, it is necessary to define exactly what 'it' is. For me, 'it' is basically what I do for fun, what makes me tick, what fills in my days, what keeps 'the mouse chasing the cheese', what stimulates me, what makes me feel good. So, the first step for me is to start writing and working this through, in the hope that by the end of this post, I have a plan........or at least to feel a whole lot better.
I've always suffered from one simple problem. I thrive on a new challenge, a new task, a new venture, a new project, a new activity or a new job. But then once I've mastered it and completed it, or feel as though I know it very well and it is no longer a challenge, I get bored, restless and look for something new again. This is a bit of a curse for people like me with 'busy brains', the constant need for stimulation, for excitement, for change, for new things, the need to 'work it out'. This is a battle, for we are always seeking that buzz, that need for accomplishment, for learning something new. I enjoy having a 20 track mind, but I have to say, there are many times I wish I wasn't so much in need of things to keep it occupied.
Having said that, I am also strictly a creature of habit, sticking firmly to a very regimented routine.  I like structure, order, discipline and often follow the same pattern each week in an attempt to manage my family and my life in general. But when this all gets very monotonous, I start to get frustrated, aggravated, agitated and know that I have to make a change somewhere in this pattern to get that happy vibe flowing through me again.
Now I don't blame my 'bored, neurotic housewife status' (that many must think I have), on this dilemma, no, not at all. Anyone that has half a clue will know that there is A LOT of work involved in raising 3 kids. I made the choice many years ago to sacrifice a 'high flying, corporate career' for my life as a wife, mother, care giver, chief cook and bottle washer. And this is all good, believe me, I wouldn't change this for the world and honestly have no regrets about this. It is a personal challenge, a need to create, explore, excel, develop, expand that I am talking about today, a need to improve, refine the way I do things and to keep active and satisfied, both physically and mentally.
It doesn't help that it is cold and grey at home where I live, either. Or the fact that I face the never ending problem of paying my bills and never being able to find much 'play money' at the end of each week.  But I'm sick of using these things as excuses, it's time to grab the bull by the horns and get moving, get motivated again, solve these 'problems' and get on with it! So now, what to do? What to do?
I am very fortunate to have a wonderful support network in my family and close friends who know me very well. They understand my annoying complexity and always help me work things through, each in their own way. I have people around me that help me understand myself and also give me encouragement and ideas. I know one thing for sure is that I will always need people, people to laugh, sing, dance and sometimes even cry with, to kiss and hug, for there is no way I would survive in isolation.
The first step, I guess, is to follow my passions and expand on these. So I will dust off my oil paints, dig up some more dirt in my garden, keep on writing (for whatever it is worth) and cook something new. I'll invite some people over for a mid year, Winter blues 'pick me up' night. This is the first step. Then I will go out into the world, meet new people and learn something new, maybe study again. I'll revamp by business and immerse myself in all of that. 
This is all often easier said than done, for finding the motivation to actually get up, get moving and get started is harder than completing the task. But I will do it, you know I will. I'll just repeat to myself, 'I think I can, I think I can' and then soon enough, I'll be doing it. I'll make sure that I don't neglect my responsibilities, but I'll give myself some new wings to stretch and fly a little bit further.
It will take time, it always takes time, but slowly and surely, I'll work through it, chip away at it bit by bit and make something out of 'it'. Positive self talk, people, never underestimate the power of positive self talk! Works a treat.
Well, there we have it, I think I've just created myself a little plan.......and I feel better, too! I've let it all out and worked it through. Where would I be without my beloved blogs? Works for me every time. 
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I hope you can relate in some way, or maybe I have given you a little bit of encouragement and motivation too. Or maybe you are smiling and thinking, 'There goes Laura again on one of her missions!' I vent, then I blog, then you read and then we are both happy. Until next time, stay warm, stay groovy and always walk on the sunny side of the street :) xxx

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The big chill

Runny noses. Sore throats. Chesty coughs. Cold feet. Yes, it's Winter in Australia and we're almost one third of the way through it......I'm not counting the days much, really I'm not!? I know that each and every day is a new one and we can't blame the weather for everything.....BUT, I don't like the cold, not one little bit and it's not just that, my whole routine and what I like to do, is rudely disrupted by this retched season! So, I grin and bare it, moan and groan a little bit about it, get busy and stay happy, doing my best to ignore the big chill.
My children were all born in Winter and I enjoy celebrating each of their birthdays (as all mothers do). I have my open fire to keep me warm and comforted, my wattle trees to blossom, my central heating in my house to keep us all comfortable.....but apart from that, that's it, Winter can't go away fast enough.  Some people use Winter as a time for hibernation, regeneration, a time for slowing down and recharging for later in the year and I kind of get that.  All I want to do when it is grey and cold is eat and sleep.  But this is not my first preference, I am way too active for that and I usually have that much going on in my head that this is really not an option for me.
I need to be in my garden, I need to walk long walks, I need to star gaze at night, I need to feel the sun on my skin, I need to breathe fresh air, I need to listen to the birds and the wind blow through the trees.......I can't do any of these things stuck inside my temperature controlled lounge room now, can I? I miss my BBQs and turning my sprinkler on in my garden. I miss my cotton dresses and my sandals. I miss swimming at the beach and the smell of my sun tan lotion. I miss the sun so much. I miss having all of the doors and windows open and feeling the breeze blow through the house. I miss having a clothes line full of fresh, clean washing and seeing it dry in the open air.
So I try to make myself feel better by cooking lots of soup. I have adjusted to Winter now and just put up with it. I seek beauty amongst the doom and gloom by watching nature take its course. I eagerly wait in anticipation for signs of Spring, knowing that it will come, it always does, every year. My oven gets a good work out as I bake and roast a lot at this time of year. I survive on cold and flu tablets when I need them and make sure I have a good supply of tissues. I try to boost my natural immunity with lots of vegetables.
On a positive note, I had a thought the other day for some fun.  Winter is the perfect time for a fondue night and I know how to have a mean fondue night! So I might just get that organised very soon and some friends and I can indulge in some warm, Winter comfort and knock ourselves out on pots of warm, melted chocolate and creamy, tasty cheeses.  Yes, sounds like a plan.
My little girl is turning 5 next week and I will enjoy making this day extra special for her. Then in August, my son, Marc, will turn 9 and I'll have to get creative for his special day......and then, before I know it, it will be Spring, yahoo! The days will get longer, the sun will reappear and I'll also turn another year older and be super glad about that. At my age, I look at my birthdays like an achievement, feeling very lucky that I'm still here, kicking on, doing my thing, raising my family and loving my life.
As soon as Spring is here, I can start planning my Summer garden and planting new things. I'll dust off the barbie and put the fire pit aside for another year. I can start my sun worshipping again and generally feel so much better. I can put my jumpers and boots back into storage and start sporting my little 'Summer numbers' again. The leaves will reappear on my Silver Birch trees and my garden will take on a whole new life again. I'll be able to spend more time doing things that make me feel alive and super charged. I'll do a good Spring clean and make the house all fresh and bright again.
But I still have a while to go before all of that. I had better not get too excited, well not just yet, anyway.  I will have to work hard at keeping my family and I germ free through this flu season, warm and comfortable. And I will, like I do every year. I'll keep roasting those roasts, toasting those marshmallows, cooking that soup, buying those tissues and wearing those socks and boots.  Yes, I'll put my head down and concentrate on living a little and loving a lot, while I survive the big chill :) xxx

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Terrific Thailand 2015 - Days 10 & 11

We had 2 days left in Phuket.  Day 10 was a full day and on day 11, we would fly home that night. We were satisfied that we had already had the total Thailand experience, having done so much in such a short time. We had ideas for our next visit, making it different yet again and this time, taking the whole family. It had been a constant 37 degrees during the day and only 24 degrees at night, every day and every night. We had fantastic weather, with only a couple of hours rain one night. It had been a brilliant holiday and all the planning and thought that we had put into it was well worth it.
Day 10 was spent going very slowly.  I spent most of the day by the pool, trying to escape the heat that was starting to bother even me by this stage.  Now I love hot weather and really don't like being cold at all.  But at home in Melbourne, the temperature can vary quite a lot in 24 hours so it can get hot but will also cool down.  In Phuket, this doesn't happen.  I had forgotten what the cold felt like, my ankles and feet were swollen and I really wanted a break from the heat.
This view was just outside our apartment and I would walk down the steps to the pool. You can see the heat haze in the photo, the beautiful palm trees that were everywhere and the inviting cool blue of the pool. All of this I did enjoy very much.
I spent a lot of time in this spa bath bed that was in the pool.  You could lie down and feel the water jets all around you.  The sun would beat down on me and the spa would relax my ankles and feet. This was bliss. So after a slow, relaxing day, for me in the pool and for David, in the cold air conditioned rooms, it was time to get ready for our last night out and we had grand plans.
That night was just the same as always, very, very hot.  We would be walking and going to crowded venues so I dressed in what I like to call 'sensible Thailand' attire.  That is a singlet (nothing else was needed on top), flowing skirt that was comfortable, sandals and of course, I had very sensible hair, tied up completely. One more thing, definitely no make up because it would be dripping off me within 5 minutes anyway!
I couldn't take enough photos of the brilliant markets that were on almost every corner at night.  Full of interesting things for sale, always very colourful and the place was always busy.  Here you could but fresh juice.
If you're into seafood and you want it fresh, look no further than Phuket.  Doesn't get much fresher than this! You select your seafood live and then it is prepared for you. There was always a huge range of seafood to choose from swimming around in tubs right in front of you.  Even the restaurants do the same thing, it is live in tubs at the front door and you pick your dinner as you enter.
This looked like fun.  You see many fish tanks like this around the place.  It is full of little, live fish that swim around and you soak your feet in the tank as the fish swim frantically around you.  This would be a weird sensation, but very popular amongst the tourists for yet another form of massage.
So it was our last night and we went to our regular Phuket hang out for dinner and drinks. We like the atmosphere at Nicky's, the drinks and meals are good, there are no hawkers and the music is good too.  Just our style!
I'm sun drenched, I'm hot and sweaty and I'm starting to get very tired.  I'm starting to look forward to seeing my home but I was determined to see out the night and take home more wonderful memories of our well deserved break from the reality of our rat race at home.
You can't go to Phuket without seeing the infamous Bangla Road.  We went here on our first night so it seemed right that we see it one last time on our last night.  It is a crazy place, the hype is intense, the bars are full of people, the music is loud and the girls are always out in full force, ready for a good night.
By this stage, I had seen it all before and this time, I found Bangla Road a bit boring.  I didn't want any more to drink, the music was repetitive but Dave just had to go to a bar, take a good look at the girls and soak up the atmosphere.  So we had a drink at one Club, the girls danced on the bar in front of us in tiny shorts and singlets and Dave was happy. It wasn't a late night and we were back at the hotel in good time after having fun, as always and bidding the Phuket night life farewell......until next time.
The next morning it was Day 11, our last day on our 'Terrific Thailand' tour.  Just downstairs from our hotel, was this very groovy coffee bar.  The coffee was good, nice and strong, just how I like it and I often stopped in here in the mornings for an espresso.
We were pretty organised on our last day, most things packed early and our fridge empty. We had managed to get through all of the fresh food that we had bought at the markets and had to try and stay cool and dry for we were flying out that night.  We took one last look at the neighbourhood and this is a great example of the gardens in Phuket.  There is not a lot of space like at home for gardens, but that doesn't stop the Thai's from having a strong appreciation of nature, with gorgeous, little gardens, complete with ornaments that high light their beliefs.
I took a photo of this corner and hill that we had walked up and down so many times.  The buildings are interesting, I loved the plants and trees, all so different from Melbourne.  Not to mention the scooters, there were always many scooters, zipping up and down the narrow roads.

Here we have a classic example of the scooters in Phuket.  They are such a great way to get around for many people there.  They are often very elaborate, brightly coloured (as are most things in Thailand) and so zippy.  It is amazing how there seems to be little road rules in Thailand as all of the cars, trucks and scooters weave around each other along the roads and up the hills.  But it is most certainly ordered chaos, there is very little 'road rage' and most drivers are polite to each other.  The traffic gets busy but always flows, just amazing.
We stopped at a little road side bar and had our last Singha beer.  This beer, the local Thai beer, is most certainly great to drink in this climate and really goes well with the hot and spicy Thai food. When we buy it at home, usually in Summer to have at our BBQs, it always takes us back to this place that we love.
For lunch on our last day, it was back to our favourite local Thai restaurant for my last big fix of authentic Thai food.  I love it, so fresh and spicy, full of flavour.  This time, it was Coca Cola with our meal, the bottles were cute and always served with plenty of ice.  We enjoyed our meal and by this stage it was mid afternoon and we walked back to our hotel. It was then a matter of relaxing in the cool air conditioning, doing last minute checks of our luggage and waiting to get picked up and taken to the airport that evening to fly back home.
We had put 6 months of planning into this holiday, our second trip to Phuket.  We waited and waited for what seemed like ages to go back to where the sand, the sun and the soup are hot.  This time, our adventure was different to our first experience, we tried new things, saw new places, all with a bit more knowledge of what to expect. It was truly sensational, we loved everything about Thailand; the culture, the food, the history, the people, the spirituality, the climate, the gardens, the beaches, the islands, the night life, the party atmosphere, the tranquillity, the beauty, the sunshine.........all of it, we feel very comfortable here.

We are planning our third trip to Thailand with the whole family and this time, will spend more time further south of Patong, at beach side resorts and move around a bit more, staying in different locations.  We know that our children will also love it, as their mum and dad do......and if you have taken anything away from reading my posts in this series.......maybe you will love it too.  Until next time, remember this blog's a little.......and this case, love Thailand a lot! :) xxx