Friday, 30 September 2011

Today I wish for...

  • A bigger kitchen with two dishwashers. Actually, if I'm being honest, three dishwashers would do very nicely. That way, I never have to put anything away. Just fill, and use from the dishwasher (the way I do now).

Southern Exposure
 
  • Self-cleaning floors. They make self-cleaning ovens, why not floors? Three times a day please.
  • Someone to come and fill those three dishwashers with what I've got on my benches right now, and cook my husband and I a lovely meal tonight. 
 Vanessa

P.S. OOoh, just thought of something else. My very own gardener, like the one Jamie Oliver had on his programme, Jamie at Home. I would love my very own patch of organic fruit and vegetables, but I want someone else to do all the hard work. I'll do all the hard work in the kitchen...

you know... once all the dirty dishes have gone...

Monday, 26 September 2011

A great find

Have I ever mentioned that I love garage sales? This country does them so well. When we first arrived two years ago and needed a load of stuff for the caravan, I went out and found kitchen goods, electrical appliances, and a fantastic portable fridge freezer.

Over the last couple of years, I've had some amazing buys, some of which have been brand new toys and books, an unopened hand-made wooden baby mobile, funky chest of drawers for the boys and a 14ft trampoline.

I went through a phase before Kian came along where Saturday mornings were for garage sales. It's a lot of fun especially practising your bargaining skills.

So far on the Central Coast, I haven't had much luck. Mostly junk. Until I saw a sign for a garage sale in Wamberal at the weekend.

An entire table of cookery books. Almost new cookery books. It turned out the lady ran a catering business and had to quickly get rid of hundreds of her books.

I could have bought plenty, but I made a rule for myself a while ago not to buy unless I definitely definitely had room for it.

The books were all $5. I spotted The Accidental Foodie by Neale Whitaker, ex- Food Illustrated editor, and instantly picked it up. I thought I was holding onto it pretty tightly, but I must have looked unsure, because I then hear you can have the books for a dollar.  

A dollar. It was in immaculate condition.

It's a coffee table book, on the one hand (if you go for that type of thing). But on the other, it's full of tales of great cooks and writers: Nigel Slater, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Kevin Gould, Sybil Kapoor, Maggie Beer, Darina Allen, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack.

I bagged another two books and came home.

Every moment I've had in the last two days I've curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and that book. A garage sale gem.

Vanessa 

P.S. How do you pronounce it? Ger-AAA-j or Gar-idge? I wonder if it's similar to lounge and living room? You know.... If you say it one way, you're posh, and if you say it the other way, not so much?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Saturday in the kitchen

Graeme took Luca swimming this morning and Kian slept for over two hours (OMG), so I decided to do something I never get time to do anymore: potter in the kitchen.

I labelled jars, sorted out my baking cupboard and discovered I had far too much in the way of store cupboard ingredients. A big container of sesame seeds, bags and bags of almonds, enough rolled oats to see me through a few winters and several packets of pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Time to have a clear out.

With maple syrup in the fridge (my sister-in-law is Canadian and always bring us back a nice jug), I start thinking home-made granola. God only knows why I spend good money on fancy mueslis and other cereals when it's so easy to make a decent granola at home — especially when I already have everything in the cupboard. It's that 24-hours-in-a-day problem I suppose...

I go to my trusty place for recipes: BBC Good Food. I'm a bit biased, really. I used to work for them — write recipes for them, restaurant reviews and kitchen design features and I also on occasion went into their kitchens in west London to test recipes.  No recipe makes it into the magazine unless it's been tested over and over, unlike many other publications and websites I could name. And it's not just about the testing; the recipes are well written (if you can forgive the omitting of seasoning in most recipes) and for the most part it's food I really want to eat.

And it's great when I'm in a hurry and I can't put my finger on the right cookery book. A quick search and usually there's a good choice of dishes.

In this case, I opt for Good-for-you granola. It could have been written for me today. I've got exactly 250ml of maple syrup left (I'm always doubling recipes). And I add a few extra bits and pieces.









So I spent the morning mixing, licking, baking, tossing and nibbling (makes very good nibbling), while... 
Graeme and Luca made chocolate cupcakes (and I did some more licking of their bowl).

Result was a nice big tub of granola that should last us a couple of weeks, except that... 



I left the tub on the stove. The stupid ceramic stove that looks like all is off, when it's still searing hot from when Graeme was melting chocolate.

We had a good giggle. Eventually.


Vanessa

Thursday, 22 September 2011

My cheeky monkey

Both boys are in bed. Too tired to even walk into the kitchen, but I'm ravenous, so I manage to carve a bit of leftover roast lamb, all garlicky and oregano-infused. I warm it through and get some pitta out of the freezer. I tell myself I can put up with lamb and dry pitta for dinner, but it needs something wet. I force myself to blitz together the contents of a can of chickpeas, some tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and a dash of cumin. Not bad.

Time for my favourite part of the day.

Yes, of course, I adore my children, but there's nothing like sitting down to relax after 20 hours of mothering (I'm including my nightly yo-yo efforts).

Especially today. Luca has been, well, vocal to put it mildly.

Here's a rundown:

We're out shopping this morning and Luca's in the play area. I say it's time to go.

Soon. Not just yet. (Exact words uttered very calmly and self-assuredly.)

NOT JUST YET?? Truth is, I was too speechless to argue.

Kian keeps crawling over to him in the day: (Yells) I want Kian to keep his hands to Kian self!

I've finished hanging the washing out and head inside, but Luca demands I watch him on the trampoline. I can't, so result is a full-blown tantrum. An all-screaming-and-flailing tantrum. ON THE TRAMPOLINE.

I ask him to pack away his cars and blocks this evening: Have to wait a minute!

 

But if I consider he made me laugh today when he handed our shopping at the checkouts and said: Here you go lady.

And if I think back to yesterday when he said: I missed you today Mummy.

And later at the table sweetly whispered: Thank you for my dinner (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh).

I suppose it makes it all worthwhile.

I didn't even know Graeme had taken these lovely photos

No comments please about exposed bottom

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Nine months on...

I thought it would be easy second time around...
It isn't.

I thought I knew everything about getting a baby into a routine...
I'm still trying.

I thought I knew about sleep deprivation at two months... and six months...
(I hope I'm not saying this in a year's time.)

I thought it was hard-going with one child...
I didn't have a clue.


But then, I didn't know how amazing it would be.
(sometimes)

My beautiful baby is nine months today.



Friday, 16 September 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Well, that was spring folks

I'm grumpy.

Kids driving me round the bend again?

Well, yes. But that's not why I'm crabby.

It was stinking bloody hot today. The car was hot. My legs and arms are covered in bites from being out in the garden for five minutes pushing Luca on the swing, and what's more, Luca wants to keep a fly as a pet.

Yep, the flies are out and I managed to squash one of the little blighters (or so I thought). But before I could get rid of it, Luca had spotted there was life in it yet and helped it onto a sheet of kitchen paper.

It didn't matter how many times I told him not to play with it. He was ignoring me.

(Truth is, Kian was watching him and so it meant I had a few minutes' peace while I made their dinner, so I turned away and pretended I didn't know what he was doing.)

Then I hear: Look Mummy, he's crawling!

And a bit louder: He's crawling, look!

For once Luca, I can't share in your love for all things creepy crawly. I will happily watch you dig for earthworms and play with them. I respect that you love all the garden snails and that you don't mind their frothy trails on your arms and chest as they crawl all over you. 


I'll even let you bring home those technicoloured beetles we often find at the beach. But I'm drawing the line today. You have managed to bring back to life a yucky fly that I chased around the house for several minutes trying to swat. 

So I say nothing.

I think he needs something to eat.

Great. 

I'd like to keep him, Mummy.

It turns out he wasn't that attached to it, so I win.

I still feel irritable. I'm already missing spring and all its softness. Summer means there will be others like that fly waiting for me to leave the flyscreen open just that little too long.

And now it looks like they have a friend to help them.

Vanessa

P.S. I am secretly glad that Luca doesn't share my irrational phobia of bugs (seriously, what am I doing in Australia???). So I've done the right thing, found out about a fab website called the Bug Shop (part of Butterfly Skye's butterfly release and insect education) and ordered a butterfly chrysalis kit. Can't wait. Let's see if I'm brave enough to see the life cycle of a stick insect in my home.

Skye Blackburn's Bug Shop



Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Simple pleasures

The boys are wearing me down. I'm exhausted and fed up.

So, in the hope I can smile at my children again...

... we bake,

The simplest biscuits - recipe below

we stare at the sky's amazing colour,

I really did just point and shoot at the sky
we picnic,

Kian chewing on a slice of apple for the first time

and we smell the flowers.

A neighbour's front garden

Thank heavens for beautiful spring days.

Vanessa

P.S. Magic happens when you cook flour, butter, sugar and egg together, don't you think? And a bit of magic is what I need at the moment. By the time I'd boiled the kettle for a second cup of tea for Luca and I, they were literally out of the oven. Quick and a good recipe for little cooks.

Here goes: whizz 200g self-raising flour, 100g butter and 80g caster sugar in a food processor till they become crumbs. Add 1 egg and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and the mixture should bind together nicely. Roll into long sausage shape (about 6cm thick) and slice into rough 1cm rounds. Make indentation with your thumb (or your little helper's thumb) and fill hole with your choice of jam (keep jam out of helper's reach or they'll be spooning more into their mouth than onto biscuits). Bake in 170C oven for 10 mins. Cool on a wire rack so they harden (we scoffed quite a few, though, before they got to that stage).



Monday, 12 September 2011

Something to make you chuckle

I'm quite certain now that all this broken sleep for the past eight months has left me a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock.

I'll tell you why.

In brief, when our hairdresser came round the other evening, I decided I wanted a real change. I used to have a fringe when I was younger, but then I had much straighter hair.

I seem to have forgotten this entirely.

And because I see Luca's dead-straight hair all day every day, I have somehow deluded myself into thinking we have similar hair and that I could have a fringe like his.

I had a fringe like this in mind.


Instead, I have ended up with this.


A Hideous. Frizzy. Mess.

Even the birds are giving it a wide berth.

Why, oh why, didn't I listen to the hairdresser? She warned me it wouldn't be a thick fringe. She warned me that I would have to train it. And deep down I knew she was right.

But I tried to convince myself that a) I'm not too lazy to blow-dry a few strands of hair every morning, b) I have a thick, glossy mane of hair and c) I actually care what I look like.

Now, I've got to wait for it to grow out.

Vanessa

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A dig at Jamie

Woke up this morning seriously regretting that takeaway last night. I drove around and liked the look of a small funky Thai noodle bar and restaurant. All the usual suspects on the menu. We played it safe with Pad Thai.

Or so we thought.

A greasy, icky-sweet meal.

I regret it, because aside from it being crappy food, I actually had the makings of a half-decent dinner in the fridge. Some goat's cheese, a few fresh herbs, portobello mushrooms... And I probably could have rustled something up in less than half an hour.

But, see, I didn't.

This is my issue with the likes of Jamie's 30-minute meals. Yes, Jamie, I too can cook (muster the energy) and have a dish on the table in minutes.

But. Jamie. Does your kitchen look like this when your kids are finally in bed and it's time to start cooking all over again?

No, I didn't leave the drawer open to make photo look worse; I have a bad habit of leaving cupboard doors and drawers open ALL the time!

Well, does it????!!!!  

No. Didn't think so. If it did, you'd grab your car keys and do what I did last night.

It's very easy to be inspired to cook when you have a super duper slick tidy kitchen with gorgeous materials and acres of bench space.

I think the challenge for Jamie, and all the others who bang on about how it's quicker to cook than go out and order something (yes we know, we're not stupid!), is to do it when there are no clean chopping boards, when every saucepan is soaking somewhere in the kitchen, when the dishwasher is already full, and when you've done all the stacking you can possibly do without risking the whole lot smashing on the floor.

Can't be bothered? Hmmmm.

There. I feel better now.

Vanessa

P.S. Forgot to say that Russell (you know, that most unwelcome house guest we had living here for a while who pooped and made it look like the work of fifty mice) was found in my potato drawer one night. Lucky for him, Graeme took the whole cabinet outside and set him free. BUT, he won't be lucky next time...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fine dining chez nous

What a great week it's been on the food front. My husband, studio manager by day spearfisherman the rest of the time, has come home with not one, not two, not three... but SIX eastern rock lobsters.

Six crays over six days...



Graeme has been walking on air all week. He says even though he goes out to work every day, it's nothing compared to the feeling of going out and bringing food home for the family. I guess it's that ancient hunter gatherer thing. Except instead of a groin cloth and a stick, it's a wetsuit and a speargun. Or in the case of lobsters, bare hands versus fancy dive gloves.

I want to make sure we cook them properly and we follow Hugh FW's method in the River Cottage Cookbook. Hugh points out there's plenty of other goodies aside from the rich white meat: "the creamy meat inside the head, the browny-green liver inside the body and the pink coral that often lines the shell of a female lobster".

I'm keen to try the lot, although Graeme grew up not enjoying the brown meat. It's nose to tail eating, or as I call it, feeler to tail eating.

I hope you don't think this is just showing off – I suppose it would be different if we went out and simply bought them, but...

OMG! What a treat. The meat was sweet and delicious, and Hugh's right, the brown stuff is yummy too. We whipped up a simple seafood sauce and ate them simply with some home-made chips.


Before someone writes in to point out you're only allowed to catch two lobsters at a time, this was actually over several dives. I'm relieved to say that Graeme takes very seriously the ethics side of fishing. No undersize specimens, no females with eggs (as of this week I can identify a female lobster) and no soft-shells (lobsters that have just shed their shell are very docile and weak, so it wouldn't be fair).


Someone won't stop getting them out of the fridge

As if that wasn't enough, he also bagged an octopus, a squid and a couple of fish.

He's on a roll. It's been a dream for a very long time to be able to do this. I just have to accept that my hunter is out on Sunday mornings now.

Vanessa

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Spring has sprung

I had no idea that today marks the first day of spring. We've been here over two years now and I still can't get used to everything being upside down, back to front!

Winter is such a sweet sounding word for me down here. I hated winter in England. Those dark, gloomy days were miserable. It's one of the main reasons we moved. Funny how I've spent most of my life eagerly waiting for spring and the hot days that follow. And now I'm happy to ignore the fact that summer is almost upon us... and those wretched bugs. Blurgh!

I guess that's why I wasn't even looking for spring to arrive. I've loved the weather over the past few months. Warm bright days and cool nights. You can do all the summery outdoor stuff in the day, and still have an excuse to cook a hearty stew or a roast for dinner at night when it's cold outside. It's been perfect.

Speaking of roasts, I often get asked what I cook at home. I think everyone somehow imagines that I'm serving up souffl├ęs, making pastry and pounding curry pastes every night of the week. Once upon a time, yes. My food is still very much ingredient- and flavour-driven, but I'm like every other mum out there: I want food on the table pronto.

A favourite that I confess to making a little too often is my mum's shove-it-all-in chicken dish. There's no recipe. It's veg, a nice free-range bird, stock.

Whatever vegetables I have get cut into large chunks and go into a large roasting dish – think potatoes, carrots, courgettes, onions, parsnips. Sit the chicken on top, season well, and add whatever herb takes your fancy – I never miss an opportunity to smother chicken in tarragon. Pour in enough chicken stock so that most of the vegetables are covered (you want some to be poking out to crisp and caramelise) – around a litre does it for me. Then leave it in a hottish oven to do its thing for about an hour and a half, depending on the size of your chook and if your oven, like mine, has two settings: off and hot.

Crisp, salty, herby chicken skin is what we all fight over – Luca included!

The day will come again when I massage herb butter over the bird, cradle it on an onion and garlic trivet to flavour the gravy, make roast potatoes (the proper way), Yorkshire pudding and a silly number of vegetables all prepared differently – how much time did I have?? – then lovingly make the gravy adding this and that to get the flavour just right. Yum. I can taste it now.

Until that day, it's one pots, super-quick curries and baked whole fish (something else I do to death).

With spring has come new-season mangoes from the Northern Territory. Very exciting to see them at the greengrocer this week all piled up high and smelling sweet. I bought some along with a bag of passionfruit.

Luca's dessert was very well received tonight

Maybe if I just think about the food coming our way, summer won't be so bad after all.

Vanessa

P.S. In case you're wondering how the above can be deemed pronto, I am actually referring to the time spent in the kitchen. I personally don't mind something cooking on its own for hours on end – as long as I can be somewhere else! In fact, I prefer those slow-cook recipes, because they invariably mean there's plenty left over. My boys wouldn't survive without leftovers and as such I plan my meals with leftovers in mind. More on that soon...