30 July 2014

Fan mail

Other bloggers sometimes do posts about the weird and wonderful keywords used in Google searches that land on their blogs. I don't tend to have strange keywords used, although the most popular search phrase is "fruit faces tutorial" (here you go - you're welcome).

However, I did recently have an ... interesting conversation with someone on my blog Facebook page. I showed it to a friend and she laughed and immediately said, "You have to blog this!"

I later showed it to another friend and she laughed and said, "You have to blog this!"

So this is me blogging it! I used Lego minifigures to reenact the private message exchange, and I've copied and pasted the messages exactly into this comic strip, without any editing. I won't share the person's name, but he was from another country and his middle name is Tiger, I kid you not.

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And because I'm nothing if not generous ... HAPPY BIRTHDAY, INTERNET STRANGER!

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27 July 2014

Tea trolley makeover

The house we live in is a mid-century home that haskind of a weird layout (which, luckily, suits us well) with the kitchen on one end of the house and the living room on the other.

Recently we've taken to eating dinner in the living room together while watching our favourite TV show (I know, I know ... and we used to be so good, sitting around the dinner table every evening ...) Carrying the full plates through the house was a messy accident waiting to happen, and also meant we had to make extra trips for drinks, condiments, etc.

I decided that we needed an old-fashioned tea trolley. I started looking on TradeMe (New Zealand's version of eBay). I couldn't believe how expensive they were! Plain, old tea trolleys in not-brilliant condition were starting at $20 and rapidly reaching higher amounts.

Luckily, after watching new listings for a while, one was listed with a buy-now price of $20, plus it was near Grant's place of work so he could collect on the way home.

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As you can see, it was pretty old and grubby. The wheels were caked in rust and the wood was marked in places. The plywood of the tray surfaces was sound but the varnish had faded and cracked. But I wasn't concerned as I had plans for it!

The first thing I did was make cross braces for it. I adore cross-braced furniture and even my engagement ring has crosses on it (see here). Our dining chairs chairs have cross braces too and I thought it would be sweet if the trolley matched.

I started by creating a cardboard template that would fit exactly into the end of the trolley.

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I then laid that onto a strip of wood and marked the cuts at top and bottom.

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After cutting the wood I checked to make sure it would fit.

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Then I went ahead and cut the other three pieces. I put two of the braces together and marked where they crossed.

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Then I cut halfway through the wood ...

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... and scored with my craft knife.

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Now, here's the part where you'd use a nice, sharp chisel. Alas, I didn't have one so I had to make do with a screwdriver and hammer. Don't be like me. Buy a chisel. (But if you can't or don't want to, a screwdriver will do.)

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I used my craft knife to get the last of the wood out of the way, then repeated with the other piece of wood.

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With the notches, they slotted together well. I put some glue in the middle and clamped them together (the tissue is to prevent marks from the clamp as the wood was fairly soft.)

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I nailed the braces in with small nails and this doohickey which enabled me to whack the nails in such a confined space.

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The nails are barely noticeable.

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Voila, the cross braces are in!

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The next step was to caulk all of the gaps.

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And then I sanded the trolley, primed it and painted it with three coats of white, with clear varnish on the actual trays. I also removed the wheels and de-rusted them with phosphoric acid, and added a handle on either end.

To add the handles I drilled through from the outside using the correct size bit for the screw that came with the handle, then drilled a small way from the inside using a bit that was slightly larger than the screw head (I used a piece of masking tape on the drill bit so I'd know when to stop). This ensured that the screw heads were sunken so I could caulk and paint over the holes.

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Ta da!

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Here it is all dressed up. It's been so handy, not only for dinner but also for wheeling laundry baskets around the house for delivery, as well as for snacks and drinks when entertaining.

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And because we all love a before-and-after:

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25 July 2014

All about meatballs

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I used to think that making meatballs was a bit of a hassle. You have to add all of these ingredients, then make the balls, and then fry them in oil. I don't like eating fried foods so I didn't make meatballs for years.

I've since come to realise how easy they are, and that they are super versatile and a great way to use up inexpensive ground meat. We call ground meat "mince", so that's what I'll refer to it as in this post.

One of the benefits of making your own meatballs is that you have total control over what goes into them. You can use any kind of mince - venison, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb; whatever takes your fancy or is on sale at the grocery store.

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Start off by putting your mince into a big bowl. You could just go ahead and start forming the balls now - meatballs really do not need a bunch of additions. I know that many recipes say to add egg (for binding) and then you have to add breadcrumbs because the egg has made the meat too liquid. But really, if you form the balls well the meat holds together just fine as you cook it, so no egg or breadcrumbs are necessary. Good news if you have egg or gluten allergies.

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I like to add some herbs and / or spices. If you're not sure what to use, here's a quick rundown of how I use them: marjoram goes well with beef; basil and oregano add a lovely Italian flavour and suit most meats; sage goes well with pork and chicken; thyme suits most meats but is especially good with beef or pork; rosemary is delicious with lamb or chicken.

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Don't forget that you can also add spices like ground chilli, curry powder, Cajun spice mix, Chinese 5-spice mix, etc.

I sometimes add finely-chopped ingredients such as fruit or vegetables, depending on the meat. For this recipe I used onion. You want to keep the pieces really small as they won't have long to cook when you cook the meatballs - or go ahead and pre-cook the additions as I have with the onion here.

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Once I've mixed the meat and additions together well (I use my hands or a hand mixer - the kind you use for baking) then I move onto my favourite kitchen tools - my scoops. I have a set of four scoops. The three largest are Pampered Chef scoops and the smallest one is from Amazon. For meatballs I usually use the second smallest one, which holds a tablespoon. If I'm putting something into the meatball (more on that in a minute) then I use the second largest one, which holds two tablespoons.

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Using a scoop for each meatball means that they will all be uniform in size, which is what you want. This means that they will all take exactly the same amount of time to cook.

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I scoop the meat into my hand and roll it into a ball. Sometimes I add a little something into the middle - in this case I added a small piece of cheese into the centre of the beef, for cheeseburger meatballs, making sure to seal the meat around it well.

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For this mixture I used pork mince, sage, and finely chopped apple (no need to pre-cook the apple).

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After I roll the meatballs I press down on them a little - you can see the slightly flattened one on the left, and the unflattened one on the right.

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You really don't have to do this, but I like to because,
1) it creates a slightly larger surface that touches the pan and gets nice and golden,
2) they cook quicker as it is a smaller distance from the pan to the centre of the ball,
3) they are easy to turn and don't roll around the pan,
4) the meat shrinks slightly when cooked, so they pull up to a slightly more rounded shape anyway

Cooking the meatballs can be done either in a sauce (for example, a marinara sauce for spaghetti - just throw the raw meatballs in and simmer until done), or they can be baked or grilled, or done in a pan, which is what I prefer.

I don't pour in a lot of oil to fry them. Instead I brush each meatball with a little olive oil.

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I put them into the pan oiled side down, and brush the top with a little more oil as they cook. If you are using fatty meat then you won't need to do the oiling. For small meatballs like this, which are about as thick as my thumb, I cook them for 2 minutes on each side.

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Flip them over for the second side to cook, then transfer to a plate. If your meatballs are getting burnt before it's time to flip them then turn down the heat of your pan.

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Once your meatballs are rolled you don't have to cook them right away. You can go ahead and freeze them, but only if your meat wasn't frozen before. If you've used meat that you have defrosted, then go ahead and cook the meatballs first, and then freeze them.

To freeze the meatballs, lay them in a suitable container ensuring that they don't touch each other (or they will freeze together).

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If you have multiple layers you'll want to put a piece of parchment paper in between the layers.

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Don't forget to label them - a piece of masking tape works great.

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Meatballs really are versatile. They can be eaten on their own, or served in a sauce or on a kebab with other ingredients. They are great hot or cold, with pretty much any side dish or in a salad or on a sandwich. You can make them big or small, flat or round (or even baked in a loaf or in muffin tins if you don't want to roll balls). You can blend your own mix of meats and herbs and spices.

Here are a few suggestions on variations:
  • Chicken mince with finely chopped ham and pineapple
  • Mushrooms with beef or pork mince
  • Rosemary and garlic with lamb mince
  • Cranberries and sage with turkey mince
  • Finely chopped dried apricots and curry powder with chicken mince – serve with chutney
  • Apple and sage with pork mince
  • Spinach and feta with chicken mince
  • Beef, chicken or turkey mince with oregano, pepperoni and garlic for a pizza flavour
  • Basil and a small piece of mozzarella in turkey or chicken mince – serve with a tomato sauce with or without pasta
  • Mint with lamb 
  • Lemon zest and herbs (e.g. basil, oregano, thyme) with chicken mince
  • Taco seasoning with beef mince – serve with salsa and sour cream 
  • Beef and pork mince seasoned with coriander seeds, cloves, salt, pepper and nutmeg for a boerewors (South African sausage) flavour 
  • Orange zest with duck mince
What is your favourite way to eat meatballs?
What flavour combinations can you suggest? I'd love to hear from you!

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23 July 2014

What I wore

Another go-to outfit lately. The tunic is wool and lovely and cosy.

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Black top: Tesco
Red tunic: thrifted
Polka-dot cardigan: The Warehouse
Leggings: Kmart
Boots: The Warehouse

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21 July 2014

Day in the life vlog

Another day-in-the-life video that I filmed a few weeks ago, on a Saturday. (If you're reading in a feed reader you might have to click over to the blog to watch.)

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19 July 2014

Mr Nutcase

I was recently approached by a company called Mr Nutcase, who offered one of their custom cellphone cases for me to review. I received the case at no cost to myself but all opinions are my own.

In fact, I waited for a little while before doing this post as I wanted to see how the case held up with some use.

I have an iPhone 4 but use my old iPhone 3GS for Best View, as I preferred to have a separate number. I chose to order a custom case for the Best View phone, and decided on a plain white one with the graphic from our logo. (Please excuse the grainy pics; we were having very gloomy weather when I took these.)

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There are various templates on the Mr Nutcase site - you can choose a style and upload your own photos, or simply have one photo on the entire case. There are also different styles of cases, for various phones, and they also do iPad cases. I chose the hard shell case. The image is printed on the back and the sides are transparent.

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While I had a little trouble with some of the templates, uploading a single photo worked fine. Overall I found the site easy to navigate, and I love that they offer free shipping worldwide.

The case fits the phone well and has held up absolutely fine. The turquoise house in the logo printed a little more green than it should, but other than that the printing is crisp and sharp. It seems somehow embedded in the plastic and hasn't scratched off at all.

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Overall I think it's a great product and will consider ordering from them in future. If you'd like to order your own custom case, you can even upload your photos directly from your Facebook or Instagram account. To celebrate this new feature Mr Nutcase is offering you 30% off when you order a new case. Simply enter Facebook30 at checkout (I don't get any kickbacks or rewards for this post or when you place your own order; the only compensation I received was the free case.) Offer expires 30 July 2014, so get in there quickly :)

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17 July 2014

Little crate makeover

It's amazing what a difference a little paint and a label maker can make to a cheap thrifted crate. I use it to stash my iPhone armband holder, sunglasses and headphones.

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