Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sago Revival!

[Boiled, sweetened sago with stewed plums and cream]

I am happy to report that I finally found some sago last Friday, in Woolworths, on the bottom shelf in the section where you'll find rice cream and maple syrup, between the canned fruit and the dessert items. The exact place where my logical-thinking brain told me I would find it. Nice one, brain.

Anchor's Lion Sago is the only brand they stock, however, which I feel is severely over-packaged: A tiny bag of sago seed inside a box that is at least two times too big! Most of what is inside is air! I would have much preferred to purchase my usual McKenzie's Seed Tapioca as I feel it is more appropriately packaged, but I had no choice. I was tempted to purchase every box in stock but I limited myself to just the two, which should last a few months at least (although at the rate that SJ is eating it, perhaps not).

If I am wanting to make something quick and easy for dessert, something that feels light but is actually rather filling, I boil some sago in milk and sweeten it with sugar and vanilla essence. I eat mine with stewed fruits and cream, or you could do what SJ does and sprinkle it with Milo. He insists it is tasty, a vanilla-jelly with chocolate-malt sprinkles. Personally, I'd rather just stick to the fruit.

To make the sago featured in the picture above, all you need is:

1/2 cup sago seed
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tspn vanilla essence

Soak the sago seed in the the milk (refrigerate. Obviously) for at least an hour; the longer you let it soak the less time it will take to cook.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and sago to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir constantly until sago is clear and mixture is sticky. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla essence. Pour into bowls (or moulds, if you want to be clever) and refrigerate until cool. Then serve.

So easy, right? This recipe usually provides two to three servings, depending on how much of it you'll eat in one sitting. If you need more, double the mixture and use a larger saucepan - the sago increases in size as it cooks so you'll need the extra space.

Now I really want to try cooking sago in coconut milk. I'm a huge fan of Asian-inspired desserts: They are so deliciously simple. One of my all-time favourites is sticky black rice pudding (which is cooked in coconut milk) - truly delectable. Since sago and black rice have a similar sticky end result, I can't see why I couldn't make a sticky coconut sago pudding, sweetened with maple syrup. How good does that sound? (The question is rhetorical)

I am drooling at the mere thought of it.

Edit 16/7/12: DO NOT cook sago in coconut milk! DISASTER! It goes like glue, looks like cement and tastes little better. It would appear that black rice and sago are nothing alike.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Mail Out: Reuse & Recycle...

Using scraps of paper leftover from scrapbooking projects and envelope making to create a bit of modest mail art.

Of course, I only dabble in it, adding a bit of colour to my envelopes when the mood takes me. If you'd like to see some truly amazing, beautiful mail art designs by "mail artists", then I recommend The Elevated Envelope.

Written correspondence has been a hobby of mine for a long time, & Monday Mail Out is a weekly feature whereby I can share my love for the lost art of letter writing. I hope my experiences will encourage others to send out letters on Monday too, and have them rediscover the joy of sending and receiving mail. If you have a blog, feel free to join in.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn...

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

Silent in the Grave is the first novel in the author's Lady Julia Grey Chronicles, a series of murder mysteries set in Victorian England, told from the perspective of the delightfully unconventional Lady Julia Grey.

Set during London in the mid-1880s, Silent in the Grave begins with the death of Lady Julia's sickly husband, Sir Edward Grey. Assuming Edward had finally succumbed to a long-standing hereditary illness, Lady Julia is mortified when Mr Nicholas Brisbane, a private investigator in her husband's employ, suggests that Edward was murdered.

Dismissing Mr Brisbane's claims as ridiculous and unfounded, Lady Julia settles into her period of mourning and her new life as a young and wealthy widow. However, twelve months later whilst sorting through her deceased husband's belongings, she stumbles across evidence that indicates Mr Brisbane may have been correct in his assumptions and that Edward was indeed the victim of murder.

Lady Julia then sets out to convince the mysterious Mr Brisbane to take up the investigation into her husband's death, and the two begin an intriguing and dangerous adventure to find a killer who lies in wait, ready to reveal to Lady Julia their secrets.

Although I enjoyed this story as a whole (especially since I'm presently obsessed with anything Victorian), I was quite annoyed with the author's decision to leave the ending so deliberately open. Yes, I understand this book belongs to a series, but I prefer it when each story has the ability to stand on its own and be appreciated for what it is: It's own story. I felt the author was trying to force me into wanting to read the next book in the series, but I would have done that anyway, even with a closed ending. The deliberate linking of the books I feel to be completely unnecessary.

Silent in the Grave is also very much an introduction to the rest of the series. The author has spent considerable time detailing Lady Julia's blue blood background, her unconvential upbringing, Victorian custom and class divisions, and introducing charaters who will be an integral part of this and future novels. This means the investigation that Lady Julia undertakes with Nicholas Brisbane is slow moving, as is the inevitable development of their relationship. There is a lot to be revealed in this novel as the author sets the scene for future adventures between the pair, and although there are times where seemingly not a lot happens, the detail the author has put into this story is anything but boring.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Sago Saga

Last Friday it began.

After we'd both finished work, SJ & I headed to the supermarket to do a "staples shop", where we purchase all those staple items one should always have in the pantry, stockpiled, ready to use at any moment. SJ & I do one of these every month or so as we find this is a great way to save on food costs since there's always something to eat in the cupboard.

When I was writing up the shopping list on the Thursday evening prior to the shop, I noticed my supply of sago had become drastically low: I had barely a tablespoon worth of seeds remaining, so onto the list it went.

Now, in the past I have never had any problem finding sago in the supermarket, but I have to admit it has been at least 12 months since I last had to purchase any. The great thing about sago is that it is inexpensive and a little always goes a long way, and if kept in an airtight container it doesn't expire. It was a popular dessert when I was growing up, my nanna making it regularly and serving it with stewed fruit, rhubarb or simply with a bit of milk and sugar. My mum would make a fluffy sago pudding in the microwave, light and sweet. It has remained one of my favourite desserts and for me, sago is a staple item. I simply couldn’t imagine life without it.

No, seriously. I couldn't. Some people need chocolate to survive, I need sago.

So, you could imagine my surprise (and horror) at being unable to find it in the supermarket last Friday evening. I have always been able to locate it in the section where they stock things like rice cream and maple syrup, somewhere between the canned fruit and the dessert items, on one of the bottom shelves in simple packaging that proclaims either “SAGO” or “SEED TAPIOCA (*SAGO)”. But it wasn’t there. I frantically searched every row, checked every empty space, every tag: NO SAGO.

Assuming the supermarket-powers-that-be had moved it elsewhere I started a store-wide search of the most obvious places I could think of. I even asked one of their employees where I might find it, but they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about and I’d lost the patience to explain it to them.

Because if you don’t already know what sago is then you don’t deserve to know!

SJ & I finished the shopping, with me grumbling under my breath something about the stupid supermarket having hundreds of different kinds of Tim Tams but not a single bag of sago. But then on the drive home I thought I’d come up with a solution: The local IGA. Only a small supermarket in our tiny town, but where a lot of elderly people do their grocery shopping, and the elderly eat sago.

Or so I assume.

So, first thing Saturday morning I sent SJ down to the IGA (I was still in my pyjamas) to bring me home some sago. He assures me he checked the shelves in the space between the canned fruit and the desserts and found the tag on the shelf where the sago should be but alas! there was no sago! So he headed to the front counter and asked the girl if they had any sago out back since there wasn’t any on the shelf. Apparently, the only sago they have in stock at any one time would be on the shelf. Clearly the elderly had beat me to it.

Or is there some kind of worldwide sago shortage that I don't know about?

I am now on a continuing hunt for sago and when I find some I’m going to buy enough to last me a century. Of course, now that I know I don’t have any I really, really, really want it. I’m dreaming of fluffy sago puddings and the day I can make this rhubarb and sago combination.

We’re calling it The Sago Saga of 2012, SJ and I, although I suspect SJ says it in jest. I, on the other hand, am entirely serious.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Mail Out: A Postcrossing Update.

[A magical bookish postcard from the USA]

You may recall (or not) a recent Monday Mail Out post about the Postcrossing Project and my decision to sign up for it, made very much on a whim. It's what happens when work becomes mundane and I'm so bored my brain feels like it is going to disintegrate entirely and I'm desperate for something interesting to occupy my time. We all have those days. Right?

[Another bookish postcard from The Netherlands]

According to my Postcrossing profile, I have now been a member for 49 days. How time flies! During this time I have sent 7 postcards, which have travelled a total of 43,309 km, to people in the USA, Russia, Belarus and The Netherlands. I know that 3 of those 7 have been received successfully, and another 2 are presently skirting the globe as we speak. The remaining 2 I suspect have been lost and will expire in the next 10 - 11 days: Postcrossing is proving an interesting experiment on the reliability of the post. I had not expected to encounter losses so early on in the piece.

[A viewcard from France; the message was in French & I've no idea what it says]

Over the past 49 days I have also received 4 postcards, the first a horse from the Czech Republic, the most recent books and bunnies from the USA. I'm intrigued by the choices, and so far not one has been particularly predictable.

Yesterday afternoon I spent (too much time) creating my first handmade postcard, which went out with today's post. It's yellow with flowers and a carousel and glittery bits. It's going to sparkle all the way to the USA.

[A lovely horse from the Czech Republic]

It has since become my Friday afternoon routine to log into Postcrossing and arrange another postcard. I then use the weekend to make my thoughtful selection and it's in the post by Monday morning. Simple, blissful, postal fun.  
Written correspondence has been a hobby of mine for a long time, & Monday Mail Out is a weekly feature whereby I can share my love for the lost art of letter writing. I hope my experiences will encourage others to send out letters on Monday too, and have them rediscover the joy of sending and receiving mail. If you have a blog, feel free to join in.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Announcing the Vegetarian Cookbook Giveaway Winner...

It's finally time to announce the winner of the Oxfam Shop Vegetarian Cookbook giveaway, which I was inspired to host in honour of Rhonda Hetzel's Meatless Meals challenge.

First, however, I just want to say thanks to everyone who stopped by and entered the giveaway over the past few weeks. There were 21 entrants overall, but the lucky person who will be receiving my used-but-in-excellent-condition copy of Oxfam Shop's Vegetarian Cookbook is...


Congratulations Sue! Could you please contact me by email (sorcha dot sidhe at gmail dot com) at your earliest convenience with your postal address so that I may pop this little beauty of a recipe book in the post. I really hope it will become a regular reference tool in your kitchen!

I'd also just like to add that it has been really interesting to read everyone's comments and gain a greater insight into how vegetarians and non-vegetarians think and feel about meat consumption. It has been especially heart-warming to see all the meat-eaters out there so willing to make the changes necessary to reduce their meat intake and give vegetarian meals a try. No one is particularly keen on change, especially dietary change, but the end results are incredibly rewarding. Trust me on that one. All that is required is a little persistence and patience.

I wish everyone the best of luck in their aim to eat less meat. If ever you need suggestions or motivation, please feel free to drop me a line. It would be wonderful to hear from you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Small Hand by Susan Hill...

The Small HandThe Small Hand by Susan Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The lawn
Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn..."
T.S. Eliot (To Walter de la Mare)

A delicious little ghost story, The Small Hand is by the same author who wrote The Woman in Black (once a stage show, now a movie).

The Small Hand's protagonist is Adam Snow, an antique book dealer who one day finds himself lost in the Sussex countryside, where he stumbles across a derelict Edwardian abode and garden known as the White House. Drawn into what was once a public garden by its now overgrown dark charm and mystique, Adam unmistakingly feels the sensation of a small child slipping its hand into his. So begins a series of frighteningly haunting events that will reveal to Adam (and the reader) a forgotten past and a disturbing hidden secret.

Wonderfully enticing, The Small Hand flows effortlessly from start to finish, the author easily conjuring images of the forgotten Edwardian house and garden and the spirits that reside within. A story where the power of the dead sends shivers down the spine, this novella is a classic ghost story with the intrigue and suspense expected, and a slightly cliche, non-happy ending.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Mail Out: Playing Catch Up...

[Letters awaiting reply]

[Today's Outgoing: 2 letters + 2 postcards]

[A bit of mail art for Rae]

I had been doing so well at keeping up with my mail, but busy weekends and a week away means I didn't send a single letter for three weeks. THREE WEEKS!

You know what that means? It means I'm swimming in letters, which is never a bad thing, but it can get a little overwhelming at times.
And of course everyone I know decides to write me at the same time. There is a consistent stream of incoming mail at the moment but not all that much going out...

It's usually the case that three letters a week keeps me on top of my mail, ensuring that the person I'm writing is receiving a timely response. So, having not written anything for three weeks I had hoped to write at least 6 letters over the weekend to try and catch some up, but alas! I only managed two. I blame this on mothers needing attention yesterday. Apparently it was Mother's Day, or something.

I really hope all the mums out there had a fantastic day, by the way. We went out to the Boolcunda and had a bush BBQ with SJ's parents at this lagoon. The weather couldn't have been any more perfect and there were ducks in the lagoon. DUCKS! We also saw emus and so many kangaroos that I actually lost count. There were also ewes with their lambs. Bailey-dog sniffed himself into a slumber. It was a lovely afternoon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a series of stories based around the extraordinary survival of an illuminated Jewish prayerbook known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The story begins in 1996 in Sarajevo immediately after the Bosnian War. Hanna Heath, a rare book expert from Australia, has been sent to investigate and report on the Haggadah. Each historical clue found within its pages begins a new story of the book's travels across Europe over the course of 500 years, and of the people who assisted in its creation and survival.

From 1996 the reader is transported back in time, first to Sarajevo during World War II where the book is rescued from the Nazis; then to 19th Century Vienna during the rise of anti-semitism; Venice at the time of the Inquisition; Barcelona and the Jewish Exile from Spain; and Seville in 1480 where the creator of the magnificent illuminations is revealed.

Despite the whispers of Jewish history thread throughout this novel, People of the Book is more about the central character, Hanna, than it is about the Haggadah. Hanna Heath begins as a self-absorbed, shallow and sometimes dull protagonist, yet through a series of emotionally intense events woven between the history of the Haggadah, Hanna's character begins to shift and change. Forced to resolve a life-long conflict with her mother, to bounce back after a professional embarrassment, and face her fear of committment, Hanna is humbled and becomes a far more selfless individual.

Although I felt the story started a little slow, the moment the history of the Haggadah begins to be revealed the novel picks up pace, and it pays to be patient. I really liked how the author intertwines the different historical periods, bringing the story together and tying it off neatly at the end. An intriguing historical fiction with interesting characters and a modern twist.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Returning to Rhythm...

[Blue Mountains]

I arrived home last Sunday morning from my little getaway, and it never ceases to amaze me how even the slightest diversion can send life off-kilter. Even though it is great to be home (I missed SJ and the dog-son, and I'm fairly certain they missed me too, even if they'd never admit it), this week is very much about finding my rhythm and returning to my usual routine.  

[Quarantine Station]

Today Bailey-dog is at the groomers getting an overdue haircut and wash. I harbour dreams of shampooing the carpets on the weekend, as long as the weather isn't too bad, and there are seedlings that need to be planted in the veggie patch. I also need to bake many, many things. Despite our Indian Summer I remain optimistic that winter is just around the corner and so are the soups, breads and puddings, and that cozy, comforting time of year.


My week away was most enjoyable, though. I had a wonderful time in Sydney with my middle sister, and in the Blue Mountains and Quarantine Station with my friend, Laura. It was a busy week and I took more photos than I'd ever be able to share here, but if you click on the mosiacs above they will take you to my Flickr Photostream where you can view more.

Now I am looking forward to getting back into my usual blogging routine. I've missed writing here and even more than that I've missed reading all my favourite blogs, which I would normally check on a daily basis but have not read in almost two weeks! I'm hoping that by the time the weekend rolls around life will finally be settled back into the usual swing of things. Work has been hectic as I play catch-up and The Three Sisters have nothing on the mountain of mail I have to reply to. I also have book reviews to write and share, the exact number of which I seem to have forgotten...