Sunday, 31 January 2010

To begin at the beginning....

We arrived in Salzburg on a Sunday morning. No snow was the first surprise! The extreme cold was the second...continental Europe has such a dry, bitter, cold cold - not like us island Brits, where it usually has a damp edge to it. This made us cough when we breathed in too fast, and snuggle deeper into our coats, scarves & boots - so grateful for piling on the layers, even though it made us feel ungainly. Austria still has the wonderful tradition that all shops are firmly closed on a Sunday and I love that. Our stores are open every day (sometimes 24 hours) and I love the stillness os a city that's closed. It keeps one day special, to be spent with family & friends or just alone....enjoying the slower pace, reading newspapers, eating when you feel like it, napping when the need arises...

So that first day we wandered the freezing streets, revisiting old favourite places, seeing what was new and what had changed since our last visit. This was my 28th time in Salzburg, so I know everywhere quite well by now and the streets & squares are like old friends.

It was our wedding anniversary, so I'd booked a special dinner for us in a favourite restaurant. If you've never visited Salzburg, I can only describe it as a precious jewel of a city. It is surrounded by mountains and divided by a green & fast flowing river - the Salzach. Our first dinner was at M32, which stands on top of one of the mountains, the Monchsberg. To reach it, there is a huge lift cut into the mountain (it's possible to walk up and down too - but better in the warmer months, and in daylight! )
The room is a wonderful mixture of modern and traditional.....the lighting and deep colours make it romantic but spacious and it has a luxurious feel that I love.....
Beautiful red amaryllis filled the vases and the glasses sparkled against the white, white linen. We ate warm carrot & olive salad, home made tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, local perch bathed in foamy wine sauce, ginger panna cotta with pineapple & sour cream ice cream, we drank crisp dry Austrian wine that tasted of the freshness all around us and we talked and laughed and just enjoyed being together in this beautiful place with nothing to worry about for a few days...

After supper, I ventured out into the freezing night air to take some photos Bbrrrrr...
but worth it I think. This is the Altstadt, the oldest part of the city and the place that Mozart was born. In the right top corner you can just see the huge, white fortress that has overlooked and protected the streets below since the 1100's. I took a better picture of it when we went to the restaurant again for lunch a few days had snowed by then too...

And the Salzach river that divides the old and new parts of the city is banded with bridges...some pedestrian and small (the Mozartsteg is one) and some large and carrying traffic (the Staatsbrucke is in the distance)

It is the perfect place for a few days of beauty, relaxation, food and elegance...small enough to see on foot, large enough to keep you entertained whatever your interests.

I shall leave you with a little angel who stayed in my mind long after I saw her. Cosy and snuggled in the snow, the picture of calm & peace.

February beckons tomorrow, and then the world (at least the Northern Hemisphere) will begin to wake from hibernation once more.

So much to look forward to! xox

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Salzburg, City of Chandeliers....

We're just back....I wanted to start my posts on our wonderful trip with  pictures of  some of the glorious chandeliers I saw everywhere.
sadly not candle-lit these days, but still beautiful...
and giving a flavour of what they must have looked like in their elegant heyday!

More very soon xoxo

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Simple Things & Never Forget....

Today is very special. It is the my beloved Mozart's 254th birthday and also Holocaust Memorial Day. I think that these events belong together. Mozart's music celebrates the triumph of love & humanity over darkness, it's soaring beauty bringing joy & hope to everyone who hears it. And the liberation of Auschwitz, 65 years ago today, reminds us that -despite their best efforts- those who sought to destroy an entire race, and others who didn't conform to their twisted ideals were, finally, vanquished. Hope returned to the world that day, despite the terrible suffering that went before, and good ultimately triumphed. I will be wandering quietly through the beautiful, ancient streets of Salzburg , giving thanks for the life of an inestimable genius who was given to the world on this day, in this place. But I will also carry in my heart a prayer for those who lost their lives and loved ones in the greatest genocide of all. We owe it to them, truly, to never forget their suffering.

So, on this contemplative day, the beautiful Dawn at May All Seasons Be Sweet To Thee has asked us to post our Simple Pleasures. I've been thinking of mine ever since, and it's quite hard to choose but I shall try::

The soft, sweet, biscuity smell behind my dog's ears
Stroking the silky hair that covers the nape of my niece's neck
A warm bowl of porridge with salt & maple syrup on a cold winter morning
Catching a train I thought had left
Switching on to an episode of Frasier I've never seen
My husband cooking supper
My husband, full stop
Switching on the car radio & hearing Mozart
Sun breaking through clouds unexpectedly
A full moon
Geese flying by in formation
A new notebook
Candles burning on a windowsill
Clean, fragrant sheets
A huge bunch of bright anemones
A cake coming out of the oven perfectly risen
Comments left on my blog
Hearing the title music to Little House on the Prairie
My mother's voice on the end of the phone
Laughing with my sister until our stomachs hurt
Just before a favourite movie starts, as the lights go down in the cinema
The first star on Christmas Eve
Being alive

To be continued......!

Spare a moment to write down, or think about, your own Simple Pleasures today. I'm so grateful for mine xox

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Wedding Cakes & Chocolate Temptation!

I promised I'd post pictures of the wedding cakes I made this week so here they are. The large one for the bottom tier was fruitcake, the others victoria sponge. I'm so pleased with the way they turned out! The bride is just going to put fresh flowers on top, which is why they have been left plain (a DIY wedding!) Also I'd though you'd like to see the Chocolate Truffle Cake that I mentioned at the end of my last post, the one that so tempted me....!

I am off to Salzburg for a few days now, so will have plenty to post when I return!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

And the answer is....

Thank you so much to everyone for your comments and suggestions on my last post. There must be something wrong with my eyesight, I think! The name of the print on the pyjama bottoms (I can't believe I've just written that!) is, of course, Fantastic Mr Fox! A special well done to Morwenna at Bluebells & Butterflies who got the actual name right in her comment!
Most people thought the same, too - I thought that Kary from My Farmhouse Kitchen was going to give me back some credibility for a moment....but no, in the end, she too saw Mr Foxy!

I, on the other hand, was quite convinced that it was an Eagle Owl, especially as they're nocturnal birds & associated with sleep! What others (ie. everyone!) sees as the tail, looping behind his back, I saw as two wings, one tucked behind his back & the other gesturing. Oh well, I shall admit defeat & book an appointment at the optician!

China update: I'm falling in love with this girl, she is the dearest dog! Sweet, gentle & calm. Even Alice is learning good manners from her and learning to share her Mum & Dad! She's still our best girl, of course - we've only borrowed China after all, but I will be sorry to see her go! I won't think about that yet , as Natalie has only just landed in Australia!

I have to take a chocolate cake out of the oven now...the smell is just amazing! Luckily it's an order & not for us, or I would be getting ready to dig in - in the manner of Frank Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond !

Monday, 18 January 2010

China Girl & Days at Home....

My good friend Natalie is off to Australia tomorrow to stay with my sister & family (she's Esther's best friend too!) and we're looking after her Shar Pei, China, while she's gone. What a gorgeous dog she is! She's 8 years old, and didn't have a happy start in life (can you believe that her ears were sewn shut when she was young? How cruel can people be, and how loving & forgiving dogs are!) but luckily she found her way to Natalie & now has a lovely life! As you can see, she's made herself at home. Alice wasn't very impressed to begin with. "WHO is this big dog, coming into MY house & cuddling up to MY mum" you could almost hear her say this morning! But China is so sweet & docile and doesn't seem to notice the fluffy, indignant terrier following her every move - and there's no aggression between them, so all should be well. I'll keep you posted!

While I was writing the list of my favourite things for my 101 Award last week, I kept looking over to this corner. I couldn't actually put it on my list then, it just didn't fit. But I have always adored this table (given to me by my Mum & Dad as it didn't fit into their house any more) since I was a little girl. It's a tavern table, 18th Century (my favourite period) and shows that it's been well-used & well loved through it's hundreds of years by it's knocks & chips (all of them made years & years ago). I love it's golden patina & the marks beer tankards have left on it's surface...and now it stand in a corner of our 18th Century home and holds some of my treasured books & photographs & is loved all over again!

I've been baking this weekend, this victoria sponge was for an order on Saturday morning (I LOVE victoria sponge! But never get to eat it...I just love the thought of it!)

And I'm making a wedding cake for friends this week, so here is the start of it.....

and I'll post the finished article when it's done! Just the bottom tier is fruitcake, the top two are sponge so I won't be making them until Thursday. And NO fancy bits, I just have to ice them with plain white fondant as it's a small wedding & the bride wants to put her own fresh flowers on top as decoration (phew!)

And finally.......I want the opinion of my gorgeous readers on the picture below!! It's the subject of much debate in this house, that'll make you laugh I'm sure. The picture is of Paul's new pyjama bottoms, given to him by Esther & Phil for Christmas. The print is a repeated one of a certain creature and I'd like your opinions on which creature that might be! We have very different views and I'm not going to give any clues as to my opinion on the subject. So, just for fun, let me know what you think! And I'll let you know the name of the print in my next post & see if you agree & tell you who thought what! Happy happy Monday, everyone xoxo

Thursday, 14 January 2010

OOh! My first award!

The lovely Morwenna at Bluebells & Butterflies has given me the Happy 101 Award! And it's made me very happy so thanks to her!
One of the rules of winning the award is that I have to list 10 of my favourite things, in no particular order, so here goes:

1) Arriving at Brisbane International into the arms of my sister
2)Walking with Alice in the hills on a crisp but clear & sunny day
3) A good day writing my book
4) Spending time with Paul, doing anything really!
5) My garden in Spring, Summer, Autumn - yes & Winter!
6) New stationery & beautiful new books
7) Standing in Salzburg Cathedral, on New Years Eve at 5pm, totally dark except for candlelight & hearing the choir sing Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. Or just listening to Mozart, anywhere.
8) America, spending time with wonderful friends there, eating & drinking a little too much & laughing just enough!
9) My niece & nephews climbing into bed with me first thing, their feet freezing cold & a little grubby!
10) Being with my Mum & Dad & seeing them happy.

And the ten blogs that make my day....hhmm. Difficult to list just 10. Here goes:

Dawn at May All Seasons Be Sweet To Thee Just gorgeous!
Kary at My Farmhouse Kitchen Lovely gardens & words
Hannah at Hannah's Country Kitchen So clever & sweet
Sharon at Sharon Lovejoy writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island A gem
Blair at B-Mused Happiness in blog-form!
Oliver Rain (she doesn't give her real name!) at Oliver Rain Writes so well about her busy life
Deb at Smitten Kitchen Everyone's heard of this one, a classic
Jen at Cake Wrecks Makes me giggle just to think of it!
Silke at Metamorphosis A lovely new find
Cherry at Cherry Menlove An old friend, getting better all the time!

So I think I've fulfilled my brief? Just need to let them all know now! Didn't add Morwenna to my list because it just all goes in a circle...and anyway, it goes without saying I hope! xox Thanks again!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Vegetable Heaven & the perfect lunch...

One of my very favourite cookbooks, when I'm in need of inspiration, is the wonderful 'Vegetable Heaven' by Catherine Mason. It's what I would call a 'non-vegetarian vegetarian recipe book' in that it isn't full of worthy wholemeal dishes, just amazingly different meals that are colourful, simple & really tasty. It is also beautifully illustrated with original paintings (no photographs) by Elda Abramson (you can even buy prints of the pictures, so gorgeous are they!) So today, a thaw set in...but it was a little bleak & cold, so we had a day completely at home and I made Spinach & Mushroom Pie topped with Parsley Mash from the book...and I HAD to share it with you, so good was it! Paul had thirds!

To serve 2 (greedy) or 3 normal people!

The Spinach & Mushroom Layer....
15g (1 tbsp) butter - or similar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled & finely chopped
200g mushrooms (I used a mixture of chestnut & field) roughly chopped
180g cleaned spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, smashed & chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon (i used a few splashes of dry white wine)
salt & pepper
120g creamy Gorgonzola, in chunks (I used Bleu d'Auvergne)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I used flat leaf as it was in the fridge!)

Warm the oil & butter in a large, deep saute or frying pan. Fry the mushrooms & onions gently, stirring from time to time. When they are just about tender, add the spinach & garlic & cook until the spinach is wilted (I just crammed the leaves in & put the lid on, so they wilted in the steam!) Add the lemon juice (or wine) & salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly before stirring in the cheese & parsley. It should be cool enough that the cheese doesn't melt totally. Spread into a baking dish (approx 22cm x 7cm deep but I used a bigger one as it was all I had handy) Preheat oven to 220c (425f, Gas 7)

Parsley Mash

400/450g (approx 1lb) plain mashed potato
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten (this lightens the mash & makes it slightly 'moussey' so don't be tempted to omit it)
2 tbsp milk (I used some left over creme fraiche)
salt & pepper

Mix all together well & use to top the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with 30/40g fresh grated parmesan cheese & bake in the hot oven for approx 20/30 mins until golden & bubbling.

We had ours with a winter chicory salad, but you could cook an additional green veg (peas would be lovely) or just have it plain!

It tasted so savoury & good. But everything I've tried in this book has been. It was given to me by my oldest friend, Isobel - friends since we were 6 - and I am ever grateful to her. Never more so than this afternoon when we ate this delicious, warming lunch! x

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Cold day, hot food....

We're meeting up with a group of friends this evening, and all walking to a local curry restaurant....whch led me to think about just how much I love Indian food, especially at this freezing time of year. The bright, hot, fresh flavours. The wonderful contrast in textures between rich sauces, light rice and crispy poppadoms. The fresh coriander and squeeze on your tongue from the fresh chilis - not eye- wateringly hot, but you must be able to taste them! I have so many favourites, but onion bhajis, spinach bhaji, pindi chana (chickpeas), okra...always plain basmati rice...sometimes brinjal (aubergine), mango chutney, lime pickle - my mouth is watering at the thought! The restaurant we're going to is a very good one, and BYOB too, so I'll just drink Diet Coke...I can't stand beer, and I don't think any other alcohol really goes with curry. It's really the perfect food for cold weather, especially when you feel a little over-stodged with casseroles & stews! Enjoy your weekend suppers too, whatever you eat & wherever you are xo

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....

This was the view from our bedroom window this started to snow at 7 last night and has hardly stopped since! As I write, I'm looking out on a new blizzard, yellow-grey skies & footsteps filling up again on the path below.

I must admit that, as someone who now works from home, I really love snow days. And we haven't had weather like this for years and years. I was talking to an elderly neighbour this morning and she can only recall more snow falling in this town in 1947 & it's a pretty rare occurrence! I've checked in with my parents, who live high up in the hills and always have much more extreme weather than we do - they're fine, and my youngest sister is staying with my nephew William, so they're warm, dry & well-stocked! Alice really adores it and we've been out several times this morning...she dives into the biggest drifts, pushing her nose in and 'pronking' about like a Spring lamb!

I know that it won't be here for long, so while it is I'm going to savour it. I've put a shoulder of lamb to slow-cook for Paul's supper, made a pot of coffee & I'm settling in for a Frasier afternoon.....enjoy your wather too, whatever it's like! It's one of the few things we can do nothing about, after all! xox

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Images of Christmas...

We had a Christmas morning visitor.....

Alice is behind my legs - I wouldn't have been out there otherwise! BBrrr..

William loved his new fire engine.....!

Alice opening a sneaky present...

And one from New Year!

We had a wonderful time! I hope that, however you celebrated, you had lots of fun too! 2010 has really begun now......I so look forward to enjoying the months ahead with you.

Happy January! xoxoxox