Monday, January 4, 2010

New toy and program recommendations

We decided to buy a laptop for Christmas. We were given some money for a family present by hubby's parents, some more from my brother, and we put in some, and found a decent laptop for a very good price. It came with Vista, but, being a Toshiba, we were able to upgrade to Windows 7 for about $30. Can I say - I'm in love! It works so much better than our other, second-hand, slow computers! I can sit in the recliner, with the laptop on my lap and fiddle with my pictures, write fanfic, and blog. ('Cause I'm back - honest!)
Anyway, along with the laptop, you also need programs. I like writing, amongst other stuff, and so need an office suite. Rather than pay more money than I have for Windows, I use Open Office. To be honest, I now prefer Open Office to Windows. For my photos, I use Picasa. I did get the Creative Memories program, but have gone back to Picasa. For me, Picasa is easier, especially since I use my photos for blogging, adding to Flickr, and other stuff. I don't do digital scrapbooking, so I don't need that functionality. And I just prefer the look of Picasa.
When I need to do more with a photo that Picasa can do, I use Gimp. This is a free Photoshop alternative. I don't have a lot of experience with it, and certainly can't justify the cost of buying Photoshop just to touch up some photos. I really can't compare it with Photoshop since I've never used the other program, but it appears to have similar functionalities.
So, anyway, I'm now a very happy camper, playing with my photos, writing my stories, and doing other stuff without huge lumps of money going to other people. Very happy :D And hopefully my experiences can help some others.

Lazy Beef Satay

The original version of this recipe was for a satay marinade, and (from memory) consisted of:
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs oil
3 tbs ketchup
3 tbs peanut butter

Well, I never used it as a marinade, but decided to turn it into a sauce instead of using a packet mix for beef satay (one of my favourites - yum!) So this is what I made for dinner tonight (serves 5-6.)

1 tbs olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 capsicum, thinly sliced
650g beef minced
1 tbs sweet soy sauce (ketcap manis)
3 tbs tomato sauce
3 tbs crunchy peanut butter
1 tbs curry powder (to taste)
500g frozen mixed vegetables
rice to serve

Saute the onion and capsicum in the oil, then brown the mince. While that is browning, mix the sauce.
3 tbs crunchy peanut butter. I just used a generic brand, and am generous with this recipe. I use the Australian Metric measures (20ml tbs) and don't mind if it's rounded ;)

1 tbs sweet soy sauce (ketcap manis) - the original recipe implied the more typically known soy sauce, but since this is supposed to be an Indonesian dish, I use the Indonesian variety of soy sauce (which is also yummier, though thicker.) er... I also ended up using 3 tbs sweet soy sauce, so the dish ended up being a bit sweeter than usual. That will teach me to measure without thinking about what I'm measuring :o

3 tbs tomato sauce - not puree, but more like ketchup.

Because I'm a lazy cook, I freeze my mince in meal-portions (not the lazy part, just smart) and then just dump the frozen meat straight into the frying pan. It takes a bit longer, but I'm not hovering over the pan, so I'm fine with that.

I have to be quite generous with my curry powder, as it's *really* (really!) weak. I would easily use 1-2 tbs of the stuff. I need to get some more, and not buy that brand again. (Some generic brand mild curry powder, I think. Some things are better in a brand name.)
Brown off the powder a little, till it's aromatic, then mix the powder in with the sauce. (That way you don't get unevenly flavoured mince.)

I add extra water to extend the sauce, and to ensure the vegetables have a little something to cook in. Also, it seems to make the sauce creamier than without. I just use the original bowl I mixed the sauce in for the water, so that I can scrape the last of the ingredients in.

At this point, I just cook it until the vegetables are done - 10 or so minutes. When the vegetables are done to taste, serve over hot rice.

If you want to make this gluten free, you pretty much just need to watch the soy and tomato sauces.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My New Camera

I got a new camera this week! I've wanted one for a long time, and had my sights set on a digital SLR because... you know... it's fancy! But I came across one particular camera last week which challenged my thinking. It was the Fujifilm FinePix S1500. It was in my price bracket (thanks to a tax refund) and you can't attach anything to it, except a tripod, and I'm seriously thinking about getting one of those. And that's the beauty of this type of camera. It does all kinds of wonderful things, but I don't need to spend much more money on it, unlike an SLR, where the basic camera is $1 000 (or more) and then you lenses, then filters, then ... It all adds up, and I don't have that kind of money to splash around. That's what I have my scrapbooking for (insert evil chuckle.)
So then I shopped around. I looked at what I was getting, and how much it would cost. After looking at a few different cameras, I came back to the Fuji. For the money I was paying, it was as much as I needed, and enough to learn on. Maybe one day I will upgrade to a proper SLR, but not this year. And, with shopping around, I ended up getting the camera, the camera bag, the memory card, and batteries for the price of the camera alone at the original shop.
So... Piccies :) All of these are straight out of the camera - isn't it wonderful?

This is a cactus/succulent/thing that is growing in my garden for some obscure reason.

This is growing in the lawn. It has escaped from someone else's garden, which these plants are notorius for. Mum has some, and they are forever popping up in random spots in the lawn.

The bottle-brush has just started blooming. This shot is looking up at the plant, and then to the eaves of the house, but because it's on Macro setting, it just sort of blurs into that greenish background.

No idea what this is. I thought it was a camellia, but the flowers don't look like it. Any ideas?

This is the old Toowoomba Council Building at night. I could not have gotten this photo with my old camera (I tried - blech!)

I'm actually entering the Coucil Building and the Bottlebrushes into a local photography competition with the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers. The photos have to be a minimum of 4mp, and my new camera is 10mp, so that means I can crop the photos a little, if I need to. My old camera was 5mp, and that means you only have a very little amount that you can crop before it drops too low.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hummingbird Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

So I had some bananas going bad in my fridge, which is just such a shame - don't you think? What to do? What to do? I know - Hummingbird Cake! (Insert evil laugh here.) (Wipe drool - sorry.)

This is what is left after 2 days. Actually, less now :D

Hummingbird Cake

So... Grab your 23cm x 30cm roasting pan or 9" x 13" baking pan (as the case may be) and line it with some baking paper while setting the oven to 180C (approx 360F.)
You will need
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour OR 1 1/2 cups plain flour, and 3 tsp baking powder
1 cup brown sugar (I don't press down, but suit yourself)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sultanas ('cause - hey! extra fruit!)
3 eggs
3/4 cup melted butter
2 cups mashed bananas (I used 3 really(!) ripe, medium-sized ones)
1/2 cup undrained crushed pineapple

Mix the flour (and baking powder, if needed) sugar, cinnamon, and sultanas, and set aside.
Mix the eggs, butter, banana, and pineapple.
I've found it better to dump the dry onto the wet in this sort of recipe, since you want to be quick with the mixing, and this way you don't get flour hiding at the bottom of the bowl when you pour it into the pan. So mix - pretend it's muffin batter - and pour into your lined pan, then bake at 180C/360F. This took me 30 minutes, but my oven tends to be a little slow, so start checking after 25 minutes.

Cream Cheese Icing

250g cream cheese, softened
80g butter
2 tsp vanilla
500g icing sugar

Mix the cream cheese and butter until smooth, then add the vanilla, then the icing sugar. (I used a icing mixture, but pure icing sugar is fine, and gluten free, as the packet proudly proclaims.) I didn't use all the icing last time I made this, so I still have some left over (threw it into a ziploc bag, and put it in the freezer before I ate it all) but I don't think I would bother next time - it wasn't that much, and it spreads well over the cake.

You should get about 24 serves from this cake - about 5cm x 5cm squares (2" x 2".) Not an overpowering flavour, but very nice.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Coming Home

We drove into Brisbane today - 110+km, about 90 minutes, each way - so that David could look at some trucks. He wants to get into driving trucks, and already has work lined up for him, so it's just a matter of getting the vehicle. I drove home, as I have done other times, and found myself waiting for one particular moment - the first view of Toowoomba. About 5km east of the Helidon exit, you come around a corner, and, if it's dark enough, you see the lights of northern Toowoomba spread out, and I know that home is finally not that far away. And I smile.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who's Morticia?

Daughter tried on a skirt today. She doesn't usually wear skirts, but she had a bad case of "nothing to wear!" so I braced myself, and entered the dungeon. er... Bedroom. Yeah.
Anyway, the first thing I did was look at her bed. She has one of those bunk beds with the double at the bottom, and the single at the top. Since her room (the former garage) has a long set of shelves high on the wall, she uses the single top bunk. The shelves run the entire length of her bed (a little longer, actually) and it gives her a massive bedside table thing. And the double bottom bunk is her teen-wannabe dumping ground. I don't think she realised I had entered her lair ... I mean bedroom ... until those dreaded words boomed out (I can have a carrying voice at times), "Beth, come here!" "That doesn't sound good"
So we had a conference. "What is clean and what is dirty?" The pile decreased. Well, shifted, anyway. Then I started looking through her drawers. We won't go into the whole folding issue at this point. She has promised (ha!) to fold her clothes. I started pulling out clothes, and found a long pencil skirt in dark brown. It has buttons up the front, and a split at the back. "Mum, it's broken!" "No, that's just so you can walk. So you won't be like Morticia."
"Who's Morticia?"

I have failed.

I have failed my duty as a parent, and especially as a mother, by neglecting my daughter's education so disastrously. How could I not introduce her to that most elegant of sitcom mothers? To the show that poked fun at everthing bland and banal? To the reason I love black ;)
Well, I made a good start with YouTube, but I think that I'm going to have to hunt down some DVDs. Wish me luck.

Oh, and once we had the whole "Who's Morticia" issue settled, then came the "What do I wear with this?" issue. I hunted through her drawers, and came up with three tops - one pink/purple/other colours stripey thing, one plain pink (bit more muted shade), and a green top. "Does green go with brown?" she asked.
"Sure it does," I assured her. "Have you never seen a tree?"
Now she's claiming tree status.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Learning to Cook

I don't really remember much about learning to cook. What I remember is, at age 10, being told to go upstairs and put the sausages on and start the potatoes. By age 14 I was the Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer, as Mum was working full-time, and was pregnant/had a baby, who turned out to be intolerant of cows milk, and required soy milk. And not the nice, neat soy formula you can get now. My 24yo brother was on tinned, concentrated soy milk that stained everything it came in contact with, before, during and after consumption.
Anyway, I want all my children to know how to cook before they leave home, and to be good at it. I want them to be confident that they can cook healthy, tasty meals from whatever they have, and also to be able to plan weekly menus to look after themselves and their respective families. So Bethy is learning to cook.
These photos came from a recent foray into the kitchen.

Having peeled the potatoes (because they had green skins) she is now carefully cutting them into chunks for mashed potatoes.

Carefully adding them to the boiling water.

I bought 'rissoles' from the butcher - they were cheap, but not something i really like to buy regularly.

Mashing the potato. Bethy wanted Vege Mash, which is something I started years ago to get the children to eat their vegetables. Simply make your mashed potatoes (butter, milk, cheese - yum!) and then stir in your steamed mixed vegetables. Of course, this won't work if you have a fussy child that can't abide things touching other things. I understand it happens, but thankfully none of mine are like that.

Drain the rissoles on paper for a few minutes before serving.

And I didn't do a thing. Just gave directions when she asked.

Tonight she made Tuna Casserole while I was shopping. Which involved several phone calls ;) I made her wait until I got home before adding the milk to the roux, as hubby has absolutely no idea, and he was the responsible-parent-at-home. The onions were a little ... caramelised ... but that was ok. It just gave a little more flavour to the sauce. The eggs were perfect! Hard-boiled without being rubbery, and no green rings around the yolks. I had been very clear about the cooking of the eggs (wait till they come to the boil, boil 10 minutes, remove from the heat and immediately drain the hot water, cover with cool water, and replace the water when it got too hot) and she did them perfectly. I let her know, as I was cutting them, that they were, indeed, perfect.
Unfortunately, there were no left-overs. Sigh...