Christmas baking: vanilla shortbread

Tray of homemade shortbread  

I love cooking for my family and friends. Having people in our house and feeding them, nourishing them, gives me great joy. So it should come as no surprise that I love giving gifts of food too. Recently I’ve been giving out jars of our olives and small slabs of homemade quince paste but wanted to do something more Christmassy.

Shortbread with wooden knife to make star imprintI think homemade biscuits are a beautiful Christmas tradition and this year I decided to jettison my fear and attempt shortbread. 

Stack of homemade shortbread_edited-1    Stack of homemade shortbread side on

I don’t know why it scared me but it did – something about not overworking the dough. I always like a forgiving dough and shortbread seemed just a little too precious for my liking.

Trio of Christmas tree shortbreadsTurns out I had shortbread all wrong. It’s really not too tricky.

These turned out so well (although the next batch will leave the oven just 3 minutes earlier so they stay perfectly pale all over) and I decorated them very simply.

Trio of homemade shortbreadI popped some greaseproof paper inside paper bags  – to stop grease stains from the high butter content – and gave them out to our school crossing guards who do a wonderful job of glaring at speeding cars and generally keeping us safe as we brave a busy thoroughfare on our way to school each morning.

Bag of shortbread with holly stamp

What about you guys? Any favourite Christmas biscuits? Do you give homemade food as gifts?

Crumbly homemade shortbread

Well, that’s been a veritable flurry of pre-Christmas posts hasn’t it? I assure you I will return to my sporadic ways from now on. I always seem to get a Christmas ant in my pant right before Christmas about documenting all the good stuff.

I hope you and yours have the MOST wonderful Christmas or other festive celebration – be happy and safe and sound. I do truly wish you all love and light.

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Island of the Gods: a trip to Bali

Silhouette temple Ubud golden light

Every morning I wake at 5.30am, just as the insects start their relentless stridulation and the roosters their crowing in earnest.

Rice fields Ubud with yellow flags

This early rising is unusual for me. Then again, the tropics have always agreed with my body clock.

Entry Balinese house_edited-1

I sit on a wooden platform, set within the lush jungle on a steep hill, perched high above the rushing river Os below. As the sun rises slowly behind the palm trees on the ridge opposite, it gently burns away the thick, morning mist drifting up through the lush valley.

Os River Valley

Through the trees are glimpses of emerald-green, terraced rice paddies and the still morning air, is broken only by the occasional whooping bird call or the sound of over-sized foliage falling from the canopy.

Rice fields Ubud and edge of Villa Vajra

As the sun finally rises above the treeline, its golden light illuminates the garden. Delicate spider webs appear as if out of nowhere, suspended between over-sized fronds, last night’s rain drops sparkle like jewels on deep green leaves and pale leaf tips glow with a bright translucency.

Offering at Villa Vajra

From the other side of the river bank the rhythmic tok, tok, tok of a temple drum starts slowly, increases in urgency then slows again until the last, lone, beat fades to silence.

Sunset over rice fields in Ubud

And the scent. Well, I wish I could tell you it is the heady fragrance of frangipani and tuberose but it is overwhelmingly eau de DEET-infused insect repellant. It’s cloying but essential at this time of day.

Ricefields near Chedi Ubud

I am in Bali. And I apologise for coming over all overly sentimental, but I feel like I’ve come home.

Palm silhouettes against sunset

I haven’t been here for 11 years. And that time was for one short terrifying night and day. Long-time readers might remember the story but if you are newer here, you can read the background to all of this in this post I wrote from Jakarta last year. I feel the need to warn you that it’s a bit of a harrowing story. But if you are interested in why being back here in Bali, in paradise, after so long is making me cry (in a good way!) each and every day, then that post gives you all the background you need.

Old Balinese lady, Sebali

However, if, like me just now, you don’t really want to contemplate anything that came before or the whys and wherefores, but just sit and be, then I hope my photos will simply convey a small sense of the deep beauty of this place.

Young rice with water droplets, Sebali, Ubud

It’s so good to be back.

Looking down to living bale, Sebali

PS: I have finally got around to starting an Instagram account. You can see some other Bali shots over there and I’ll be updating regularly over the next few days of our trip so follow along if you’re interested. Click here.

My chips love me and the feeling is mutual.

You’ve seen the miraculous Easter bunny bread and now I give you the loving chip.

Love heart chip

Google Reader is so May 2013.

Interior piano side

Google Reader, as you may or may not know, is shutting down at the end of this month.

If you subscribe to my blog via Google Reader and would like to keep receiving my posts, you have two options:

1. The simplest way to make sure you don’t miss any twirling betty posts is to subscribe via email and have them delivered direct to your inbox by filling in your email address in my side bar over there on at top right of my site. You do have to gimme your email address (obviously) but I don’t EVER (and won’t ever) use it for anything other than delivering my ramblings/projects/recipes. And perhaps sending you the odd love note because I am so grateful you subscribe.

Okay, I won’t send love notes. Unless you want me to. Call me, kay?

2. Move to another feed collating service such as Bloglovin’.  They have a simple importing process that means all your feeds are brought across with just a few clicks. Simple. Painless. Free.

And it’s quite a pretty interface. Visually-minded peeps will like.

piano interior 2

If you’re not sure which path to take, can I be cheeky and urge you to subscribe via email? Each new subscriber gives me a warm inner glow and lets me know I ‘aint writing into the ether. Although perhaps I should be given I use words like ‘aint.

These interior shots of my beautiful old piano are simply window dressing. It’s really an admin post but I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave you with nothing good to look at.

I had the piano tuned recently and I was mesmerised by the repeating patterns within. I’m going to take it up again some time soon. Even doing scales is very therapeutic if, like me, you like mind-calming activities. Yes, constant scales. The family will LOVE that.

Interior piano Schwechten

My great grandmother bought this piano and had it shipped from Germany to Melbourne in a salt-proof, lead-lined box aboard an ocean liner. I can imagine it being loaded at that end by the makers with an “Auf wiedersehen Klavier, meine liebling”  and received  in the antipodes with a “this is a bloody heavy box, mate”.

Just like the Aussie patois, it’s a beautiful thing.

Unexpected echidna.

echidna

Much better than an expected echidna, yes?

Do you know what an animal that lays eggs and then suckles its young is called? Well, apart from just plain fecking weird, I mean.

We call that type of animal a monotreme, amigos. And there are only two types of monotreme in the world.

Here is one I prepared earlier.

Echidna 2

This little chap was just walking along the side of the road when we spotted him and as soon as I got in close to snap him (with my camera – I’m not into punching wildlife) tucked his head away so he was just a spiny mass. But I waited patiently and that cute little bill soon appeared again.

Echidna spines

The only other monotremes are platypuses. Or is it platypi. Anyway, both of those.

And we all know what the reaction of the first Englishmen to see a platypus specimen when it was sent back to England was. Yes.  “WTF is that”?

To be honest, actual proof that they said that exact phrase is hard to come by but imagine what you would say if all you had ever known were fluffy English meadow creatures and you were suddenly confronted by a furry, duck-billed, four-legged, webbed-foot, beaver-tailed nocturnal amphibian. That laid eggs.

Exactly.

I wish unexpected echidnas (or platypussies) in all of your futures. They’re the best.

Vale Kathreen Ricketson

You might remember a little while back I did a post about the wonderful Action Packs for kids produced by Kathreen Ricketson of Whipup.net.

I am simply devastated to tell you that Kathreen and her partner, Rob, passed away suddenly last week. They were on a the trip of a lifetime around Australia with their two beautiful kids and many, including me, had been following Kathreen’s posts avidly.

Kathreen and Rob drowned off the coast of WA. Their kids were on the beach with friends.

There are simply no words for what I feel for those kids. I can’t stop thinking about them.

Kathreen was one of the leading lights in the craft blogging world and her death has left so many people reeling.

The funny thing about this blogging biz (both writing your own and reading others) is that you form bonds with people you’ve never met and possibly never will. Sometimes you don’t even really have any contact with them but get to know them through their writing. They let you into their world and you get attached. Sometimes deeply. There are thousands of people out there who are feeling Kathreen’s loss keenly and who are shedding tears for her babies.

From a personal perspective, when I first started blogging a few years back, Kathreen gave me lots of warm support and encouragement when a couple of things rattled my confidence and she also gave me my blog its first exposure to a wider audience when she published one of my tutorials on Whipup. We had never met but shared a number of email exchanges, most recently after my Action Pack post. I was and will be eternally grateful for her support of a new blogger. I looked up to her in almost every way – as a blogger, creator, galvaniser of community, giver of support and beautiful, thoughtful mother.

She gave so much, in so many ways, to so many people and her death leaves an enormous gap in the crafting community.

I’m just profoundly sad.

Another thing about the making community is their support of each other. Inundated with requests from people asking how they could help, Kathreen’s family have set up a trust fund for her kids.

You can donate via Paypal using otilijaandorlando@gmail.com or go to this post on WhipUp for details on how to do a transfer or direct deposit. There are instructions for both Australians and overseas residents.

I’ll just leave you with the last bit of advice from Jules who had to undertake the heart-breaking task of writing a post on Kathreen’s blog letting people know she had passed away. You can read the full post here, but it’s this last bit that we should all take away:

“…In the meantime, hug your children extra tight tonight, kiss your partner good bye, call your family and friends and say I love you.”

And if it feels right, make a donation towards Kathreen’s kids’ future. It can never be the same without their parents, but they might at least, down the track, take some small solace from the outpouring of love towards them, in their mother’s stead.

Can you feel the love?

Ceramic heart necklace - personalised 2 Bol au chocolat with homemade marshmallow heart Gold dust ceramic heart necklaces Green ceramic heart Soap confetti hearts in heart package Grey heart fabric confetti You rock red banner - red floral cake - aqua heart - square Heartbeat cross stitch heart wrapping paper Polka dot love heart badge pin brooch Love heart pop Denim headband with red felt heart 1

Navy amore with red heart

Hope your Valentine’s Day is chockers with love my darlings.