Monthly Archives: February 2013

Grab bootstraps. Pull up.

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Wildflower © Sunshine Scrapbook

Wildflower © Sunshine Scrapbook

I don’t know about you, but getting to the end of a month always makes me want to pause and take stock of where I’m at. I feel it’s time for some big changes and challenges in my life. So far this year has been busy and fairly pleasant, but the progress I’m making on certain goals is decidedly underwhelming.

Such as Goal #5 – Get to my goal weight and maintain. All the wonderful dinners and parties and special meals I’ve been indulging in (not to mention the random baking sprees) have done little to improve my diet, health or weight.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not the kind of person to have a complex about my weight. I’m not obese or anything, just not as fit and trim as I’d like to be. Nor is my diet as healthy and well thought out as it ought to be. It’s something I want to change. And instead of continuing to say I want to change, this time I actually want to do what it takes. Time to grab the proverbial bootstraps, and yank!

“I think I’ll start tomorrow,” she says, finishing off one of the last currant whorls…

Seriously though. Tomorrow a new month begins. Don’t-mess-with-me March. I plan to take action for my health. Here’s how:

1. Go vegetarian for a month. Or in my case, pescatarian. No beef, no lamb, no pork, no chicken. I’ll still eat eggs, dairy and fish, though. March is a good month to tackle this goal (#36). I don’t foresee that it will be too tough to accomplish, since I don’t eat much red meat anyway. But cutting out bacon and chicken will be a tad depressing. On the upside: maybe in achieving this goal I can learn to cook two more new veggies and cross off Goal #46 at the same time 🙂 Ninja won’t want to join me on this, though, so I’ll continue to cook meat for him.

2. No baking. Sheesh. A whole month without sweet creativity in the kitchen? A bleak prospect indeed! One exception to this will be the Minnie Mouse cupcakes I’ve been asked to bake for a kiddies’ birthday party around the middle of March. I’ll just try not to sample too many of these myself then…

3. Keep a food diary. Hey, wait! Don’t run away! I promise not to spam your inbox with my daily diet 😛 This will be for my eyes only, to keep me in check.

4. No unhealthy takeaways. On the rare occasions that I do need to eat out, I’ll order the healthiest meals I can find. Nothing deep fried, cheesy, meaty or sweet. That includes drinks such as the KFC Very Berry Krusher, which has single-handedly krushed my diet this summer. *pines away*

5. Stick to my exercise routine. I’m doing a variety of exercises (I’m no gym bunny, so I do it all at home), including weights, cardio, jogging and stretching exercises. I’ll be aiming to stick to it for at least 30 min per day, 3 days per week, for 3 weeks in March, as Goal #4 stipulates.

6. Reduce salt, sugar and refined/processed foods. I’m not ready yet to go on a total health-freak whole-foods organic-only diet. There will still be times when I need to use refined flour or salt or other modern evils. But I’ll limit these as best I can.

Overall, I just want to take a step in the right direction, not make an idol of my healthy diet. As Jesus said, what goes into a person’s mouth doesn’t matter as much as what comes out of it, from their hearts (Matt 15:10–20). So my diet changes will be sensible rather than sensational. I don’t want it to take over my life. Still, I’ve got a good feeling about this. I look forward to seeing some positive changes over the next few weeks 🙂

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Currant whorls and a guilty conscience

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Oops, I did it again. It’s been a quiet day. Chores all done. No work deadlines or pressure. And so… I baked.

Sigh 😛

This has really got to stop! And it will, soon enough (keep an eye out for the next post). But for now, let me share with you my mom’s recipe for a delicious tea-time treat called currant whorls. A dry, biscuity snack that’s not overly sweet. Perfect with a cuppa on a quiet afternoon…

Khushi enjoying currant whorls for tea time

Ingredients

2 C flour

1/2 t baking powder

pinch of salt

125 g butter

1/4 C water

1/3 C brown sugar and 3 t ground cinnamon, mixed together

Currants

1 egg, beaten

White sugar

Method

1. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a food processor.

2. Cut in butter and process to breadcrumb consistency.

3. Add water slowly. Only add enough to form a stiff dough: you don’t want it to be a sticky dough though.

4. On a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar or flour, roll out the dough into an oblong shape about 3 mm thick all round.

5. Sprinkle dough with the cinnamon mix. Spread currants on fairly thickly.

6. Roll up the dough carefully, loosening it from the surface with a spatula and pressing the roll close together.

7. Carefully cut slices from the roll and place on a greased baking tray.

8. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with white sugar.

9. Bake at 200 °C for about 20 minutes, until the whorls are golden brown.

10. Cool on tray a bit, then carefully prise off and cool completely on a rack.

It’s quite a messy recipe, especially if you spill a lot of egg on the baking trays, but the results are worth it. The only problem for me is that Ninja isn’t fond of raisins or currants or baked fruit of any kind. So I guess I’ll have to take some of these along to Bible Study tonight, before I eat them all myself. You know how it goes: a guilty pleasure shared halves the guilt 😉

I even tried to share the guilt with the ratties, making (cinnamon-free) mini star versions with a piece of leftover dough.

  

These crunchy treats keep well in an airtight tin. I hope you’ll try them sometime 🙂

Lipizzaners: the dancing white stallions

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Recently I was able to tick off another goal on my 101 list, namely #88 – Go to a Lipizzaner show. South Africa is privileged to be home to one of only two officially recognised performing Lipizzaner groups in the world. The other group is the original Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which made these incredible white horses so famous in the first place.

You don’t have to be a horse person to appreciate the dancing white stallions; the beauty of this art form has instant and widespread appeal. To see such powerful creatures so finely tuned to their skilled handlers is awe inspiring indeed. I’ve wanted to attend one of the Lipizzaner shows for a couple of years already, so it was exciting when our schedules worked out to go to one this weekend.

Here are a few pics from our day with the horses. Some of the photos aren’t such great quality, as in my excitement I only realised too late that I had the wrong setting on my camera for the lighting conditions at the time 😦 But anyway, you should still be able to make out some of the amazing movements the horses perform.

Presenting a tribute to the horse

Presenting a tribute to the horse

A few interesting facts about Lipizzaners:

  • All Lippizan foals are born black, gradually turning grey/white as they grow older. A handful of the horses stay dark all their lives.
  • The South African Lipizzaners are only trained and ridden by women.
  • The original horses had to be smuggled into South Africa during World War II, and at one point even disguised with tar and dirt, to make them unappealing so that they would not be killed for meat.
  • Only stallions are used for performances, although the breed mares are an important part of the programme too.
Performing the levade: a very precise lift off the ground

Performing the levade: a very precise lift off the ground

As the announcer explained to us, the levade is very different to the horse simply rearing up. If you look closely you can see the extreme control needed in the hind legs… it’s definitely not an easy position for the animals to hold.

Performing the piaffe: a very slow, controlled 'trot on the spot'

Performing the piaffe: a very slow, controlled ‘trot on the spot’

Apparently the horse is not meant to advance by more than a hoof-space during the piaffe. It’s a movement that looks so simple at first, until you realise how much training it must take to teach the animal such control.

A dark Lipizzaner leaping with all fours off the ground

A dark Lipizzaner leaping with all fours off the ground

I can’t recall which movement this dark horse was performing at the time (the pic doesn’t show it very clearly); it could have been the croupade, ballotade or capriole.

A stallion performing the courbette: a 'bunny hop' movement

A stallion performing the courbette: a ‘bunny hop’ movement

This was quite a surprising movement to see: an enormous, powerful horse ‘hopping’ on its hind legs like a bunny!

The final part of the show

The final part of the show

The show ended with an amazing, varied parade of six riders and their mounts. What made the day even more exciting was that after the show we were allowed to walk past the stables and feed carrots to the horses.

Nom nom nom!

Nom nom nom!

A wonderful day all told, and a chance to admire these superb animals that have been dancing with humans for centuries. Watching them, I was reminded of another white horse:

“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True … And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.”

~ Revelation 19:11, 14 ~

I highly recommend going to see a Lipizzaner show if you ever have the opportunity 🙂

Montecasino Bird Gardens

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If you’re ever in Johannesburg, South Africa, and looking for an all-round entertainment experience, Montecasino is pretty hard to beat. A gorgeous faux-Italian-villa complex, it’s home to a big casino (of zero interest to Ninja and I), tons of stores, fancy hotels and a beautiful bird park, among other attractions.

An entrance to Montecasino

I’ve always enjoyed Monte because the special architecture makes me feel like I’m somewhere in Europe for a while, rather than just in a mall in the middle of boring old Jo’burg 😉 This weekend was our first trip to the bird gardens section of Monte. And wow, what a treat! Here are a few of the pics from our day out…

A tower at Monte

Another side of Monte

You’d never say this building just houses a carpark!

The amphitheatre for the bird shows

So much for the beautiful buildings. Here are some birdie pics I snapped on the day… helping towards Goal #75 on my list, namely: Take photos of 101 different birds.

South Africa’s national bird: the blue crane

A stunning blue-bellied roller

Blue-winged kookaburra

A crow picking up litter as part of the bird show

Ninja fed nectar to this blazing beauty: a green-naped lorikeet

Guira cuckoo

Even more beautiful than the usual toucan: a keel-billed toucan

Macaw kisses

Cheeky macaw: a beauty and a beast!

Saddle-billed stork

A striking scarlet ibis

A note about my kind of birdwatching: It’s exciting for Ninja and I to add such a variety of birds to our ‘lifelong bird list’. We’ve never claimed to be professional birders, nor do we aspire to be. If we want to list a keel-billed toucan on our ‘spotted’ birding list, we will – just because we’ve seen it in captivity doesn’t mean we haven’t seen it! Heaven forbid we turn our casual hobby into a fuddy-duddy set of rules. We birdwatch because we admire God’s creation, not because we have anything to prove. I’ve got nothing against the professionals, but really guys, there’s no need to roll your eyes at us for not only listing birds we’ve spotted in the wild. The odds of us ever seeing something like a toucan in the wild are less than nil, but we’re glad to have seen one at all.

Just thought I’d mention that…

Anyway, another cute bird we interacted with was an overfriendly hadeda ibis that followed us around and ‘nibbled’ with its beak at our fingers and toes 😀

The friendly hadeda

Hadeda gently nibbling my foot!

Sweet little birdie

Montecasino Bird Gardens also showcase a few other creatures, including sloths, lemurs, duiker and meerkats. Ninja was tall enough to reach over the top of the meerkat enclosure and capture this super image of one of the sentinels:

Meerkat: all whiskers

So if you find yourself in this city with time on your hands, the Monte Bird Gardens offer one great way to spend it!

Valentine’s mousse-and-custard trifle dessert

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If you hadn’t noticed by now, you’ll soon realise that I’m a sucker for desserts. They knock me down and tie me up every time I plan a special dinner! Although I’m not a big fan of chocolate (too much dairy and my throat reacts badly), I couldn’t pass up a chocolatey, decadent dessert to end off our special romantic dinner.

Armed with some Woolies duo white-and-dark choc mousse, Woolies mini chocolate cake slices and some homemade custard, I made this terrific trifle:

Here are all the ingredients together:

First I crumbled the mini cake slices (sans icing) into the bottom of each bowl…

Then I added 125 ml milk to each batch of the mousse powder and whipped them up…

I layered each of these with the homemade custard, to form a classic layered trifle. On top of the final mousse layer I poured custard into a heart-shaped cookie cutter (which I should have done later once the mousse was set, but oh well!).

And I finished off the decoration with silver dragees (which I should have added just before serving, because they ‘melted’ into the dessert since I made it the day before and kept it overnight in the fridge).

A little messy (read ‘authentically homemade’) but the effect was worth it! Delicious, and the perfect end to our dinner 🙂

Valentine’s dinner decor for Goal #35

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A few quick pics of the decor and table layout I used for the Valentine’s dinner

The theme was red, white and silver… and yes, those are cake forks! They were for spearing the tempura fish and dipping the nuggets into the mayo. I couldn’t find the two-pronged forks I was looking for.

Each person got the following welcome gifts: a heart-shaped chocolate, a miniature Valentine’s mug and a magnetic page marker with a Scripture verse on it.

V-day 2I made the namecards with items I had on hand: coloured paper, craft scissors and craft stamps.

V-day 3Simple but sweet 🙂 It’s the little touches that make all the difference.

Tempura hake nuggets, mini baked potatoes and a veggie trio

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Instead of the same ol’ chicken drumsticks I’ve made for previous dinners, for the Valentine’s dinner I chose a fish recipe instead. After much deliberation I decided on hake nuggets in crispy tempura batter. I didn’t want a thick batter such as the one usually made with egg and flour, so I used self-raising flour and soda water instead.

After browsing various websites I learnt the following basics of tempura:

  • everything, even the flour, should be well chilled before coating and frying
  • the oil must be very hot and deep enough to cover the fish
  • fish must be defrosted before use (you can do this in a bowl of water)
  • expect a mess!

Here’s my batter, made of 1 cup self-raising flour and 400 ml chilled soda water:

I first dusted the thawed fish pieces with self-raising flour. When the oil was ready, I mixed up the batter and dipped the fish into it, immediately transferring the nuggets to the sizzling oil.

I was anxious to get all the pieces in the pot while the batter was still bubbly, so I ended up with a batter-and-oil-splotched kitchen within minutes. Thankfully my dear friend was standing by to help me mop up some of the mess! Anwyay, I fried all of the pieces at once, and drained them thoroughly on absorbent paper before serving them (on kitchen paper) with the rest of the main meal:

To make the tangy mayo, I thinned lite mayo with a little milk, then added paprika, salt and dried herbs to taste. (You could easily make endless variations on this, with hotsauce and other flavours.) The tempura batter absorbed a lot of oil, so it was good that we only had a few pieces each – that way it wasn’t too rich. The mayo was a great addition because the batter had no salt in it, but I’m sure salting the fish once fried and adding a squeeze of lemon juice would be just as fantastic.

The baked potatoes were also lovely and oh-so-easy to make. Wash and dry potatoes of a similar size. Rub them all over with butter (this makes the skin crispy; if you want soft skin, rub them with oil). Then sprinkle with salt and bake at 190 °C for 1 hour, turning once after the first 30 minutes.

I chose a ‘red’ veggie trio to stick with the Valentine’s theme of red and white. I sliced up some purple carrots, dished up some pickled beetroot, and put together some cute tomato hearts. The tomato hearts were a lucky find from The Inspiration Room on Facebook. Perfect for V-Day 🙂

Hosting a Valentine’s dinner

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Ninja and I don’t usually fuss over Valentine’s. In fact, I’ve only received one V-Day gift from my man in all the years I’ve known him: to celebrate our very first Valentine’s together in our first year of dating. I was warned then not to expect a repeat performance, ever. I don’t mind so much, really, because Ninja shows me he loves me in dozens of non-clichéd, non-commercialised ways every day 🙂

But this year I wanted to celebrate Valentine’s with our closest friends, and use it as an excuse to cross off Goal #35 on my 101 things in 1001 days list. I suppose I’ve technically met Goal #35 – Host a dinner party – several times already (such as here and here), but I hadn’t cooked for four guests yet (the max our little dining table can accommodate!). So Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to spoil my friends, complete a goal, give a nod to the clichés and push my hostessing skills even further.

I’m pleased to say the evening was a great success 🙂 Take a look at the mouthwatering menu:

You might recognise the starters from the 7-course dinner I made for our anniversary last year. Once the stuffed ‘pizza mushrooms’ were served, we all gobbled them up so quickly (gobbling doesn’t really suit a fancy dinner, I know, but that’s exactly what we did) that I forgot to take a pic. Anyway, you can see the recipe and the results here if you missed it the first time.

I also forgot to take a pic of the first part of the dessert: mixed berries with white chocolate shavings. I’m sure you can imagine it for yourself, though… the berries I used were fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. If there weren’t so many other creamy items on the menu (mayo, sour cream, mousse etc), I would’ve melted the white choc and added a little cream and vanilla essence to pour over the berries instead. Yum!

I’ll post separately about the main meal and the mousse part of the dessert. As you’ll see, this wasn’t a particularly healthy dinner, but who wants skinny-this and low-fat-that on a romantic evening? Not I! 😉

Time for a reality check

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Sigh. I’ve been thinking recently about how many loose ends I seem to have cluttering up my mind and my life. And also how a perfectionist like me always makes the mistake of setting impossible standards to cheerfully destroy all hope of achievement… I realise that the goals I aspire to and the standards I expect of myself are getting in the way of my sanity. So I reckon it’s time for a reality check 🙂

Firstly – no. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to that Fascinating Womanhood experiment I started with at the beginning of this blog. The idea isn’t bad, but the tedium of constraining myself to only one type of post (and that on a rather thorny topic) isn’t so appealing anymore. I’ll probably still work my way through the book, applying as much as I can to my own marriage, and I might post about it sometimes. Or not.

OK, glad that’s off the table.

The other thing I’ve been thinking – and this may come across as either really flaky or fairly realistic – is that my list of 101 goals needs tweaking. Yes, again. Not a major overhaul, or anything… But some of those aspirations are (still) poorly formulated and neither realistic nor achievable. Others are just too easy for the timeframe. So here are the goals I’m changing:

Goal #4 – Exercise at least 30 min/day, 3 days/week, 3 weeks/month (the previous goal of 5 days per week was exhausting to try to meet, because it left no time for my body to recover… silly me!)

Goal #9 – Go on 3 hikes (one hike would be over too soon)

Goal #14 – Read one passage per week from my German Bible (I’ve struggled to get these language goals right since I added them, but this is now simple and doable)

Goal #25 – Work through my entire ‘Teach yourself Hindi’ textbook (this isn’t easier, but it should be more doable)

Goal #38 – Visit 10 different museums and/or monuments (the more the merrier, and adding monuments makes it more doable too)

That’s all. See? Not too bad! Just the slight adjustments in course that are necessary for meeting goals while doing this busy thing called life 🙂

And now, on the upside, here’s how I’ve been faring with some of the other goals on the list:

 

Goal #34: I’ve been doing the following reading lately:

#6: “Crow Lake” by Mary Lawson

#7: “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom

#8: “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden

#9: “Chasing Windmills” by Catherine Ryan Hyde

#10: “The German Boy” by Patricia Wastvedt

#11: “My Name is Salma” by Fadia Faqir

#12: “A World of Difference” by Leona Blair

#13: “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer (currently reading)

 

Goal #35: Done! I hosted our best friends for a Valentine’s Dinner… which I’ll be posting about soon 🙂

Goal #46: I’ve tried two new veggies lately:

#2: Patty pans

#3: Purple carrots

Goal #54: As you know, I’ve applied henna once already…

Goal #62: I’ve bought the sheet of temp tattoos; now I just need to start using them.

Goal #90: The letters of the alphabet I’ve used up for movies so far are:

B = The Bourne Legacy

H = The Hobbit

L = Life of Pi

M = Memoirs of a Geisha

P = Pride and Prejudice

R = Red Dog

T = Tree of Life

Goal #100: I’ve written the first letter to an old friend who influenced my life, and gave it to him for his birthday.

 

Each day brings a new opportunity to make a memory or meet a goal 🙂

Make a ninja ‘dojo’ party decoration

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The centrepiece for the table at Ninja’s ninja-themed party was the cardboard ‘dojo’ we made:

I can’t take credit for this one at all, because…

  • the tip-off for the idea came from this lovely blog
  • the template and instructions came from this helpful website
  • and the hard work of putting it together was done by my Ninja himself!

I’m sure you’ll agree the results were great. HP Activity Centre’s template is supplied in full colour, but we only have a b&w printer. Still, I think the greyscale actually worked better and made it look more suitable for an adult’s party rather than a kiddies’ one. I used small ‘love palms’ to resemble bamboo (I checked: real bamboo was ridiculously pricey!) and placed some small, smooth pebbles around the dojo to soften the effect.