I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Queen for a Day

One of the disadvantages to having triplets is that you often feel as though you are being pulled in three directions - literally. DH and I have always tried to give the kids time to themselves - one-on-one time with either parent, time to do their own thing, or time to just do what they want without the input of the others. It's hard to achieve - for a while there DH was giving their kids their very own "Daddy Day" on a Sunday. A good idea quickly became a bad idea - it was costing a fortune, as the kids would milk their Daddy Day for all it was worth. They wanted movies, amusement parks, museums, lunch out, treats...often all of the above on the same day. Not cheap! Then they started to compare what they had done with one another - and demand the exact same treatment - so there are some movies DH has seen three times! I occasionally work on a Saturday, which meant that we never had family time as DH was on parent duty one weekend day, and me the other. In any case we had to call an end to the plan for the time being. For now, we look for more meaningful ways to indulge them, and we do it less often to make it worth more.

Today DD2 and I took the day off (me from work, she from the rigors of kindergarten) to attend a performance of The Australian Ballet. It's something she has wanted to do for a long time, since she herself has been in ballet for almost three years now. After much procrastinating on my part, this, it would seem, is how a queen lives!

To be a queen, you must start your morning with a proper breakfast. Hot chocolate (4 marshmallows) and a just-warmed fresh croissant with strawberry jam. Note the bag in the background which is carrying all your most precious posessions, from McDonald's toys to magic rings to hi-bounce balls. All totally necessary for an outing to the ballet, darling:

Then you take a carriage (okay, suburban train) into the city, while enjoying a spot of morning tea (part two of the croissant.):

While you patiently wait for the show, lounge gracefully in the foyer of The State Theatre (best to take your royal subject, "ballet bunny" along as well):

Upon entering the theatre and walking towards your seat (front row, dead centre, natch), you see this, and immediately fall over in shock (literally, tripped over a stair) The falling over should be done gracefully, and then you should shout, "MOM! THOSE ARE REAL BALLERINAS!!!!":

...and THIS should be the look on your face when you realise that you not only understand what "arabesque" means, but you can do one too. Keep this look on your face ALL DAY, and make your Mum's (the Queen Mum) heart swell. Yes, that's pink eyeshadow on one eye - a Queen should always do her make-up before stepping out, and should not notice when one rubs one entire eye's worth off on her Mum's sleeve.

I'm not sure what god was playing at when he gave me a girly, dress and skirt wearing, make-up loving, all singing, all dancing, fashionista drama queen whose life plans include growing up to be a REAL ballerina and oh yeah running the whole world while looking gorgeous... but I'm glad he did.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Glutton for Punishment

This is another one from Sue Lawrence's Book of Baking. I should have known this was not a good baking book (for me) based on my below experience but I plowed on ahead anyway! Since I've gotten it out of the library for a month, we might very well be stuck with shit recipes for a while. Blondies are not something I've baked before - they just seem so...well, wrong somehow. In any case this recipe was easy and quick - she describes it as a "doddle to make" - and I thought I'd give the book another shot.

280g / 10oz light muscovado sugar (or caster, honestly!)
115g / 4 oz unsalted butter
2 large eggs, beaten
175g / 6oz self raising flour
2 tsp vanilla extract
100g / 3.5 oz chopped pecan nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F and grease a deep 23cm / 9 inch square cake or brownie tin.
2. Melt the sugar and butter together in a pan over low heat (or in a microwave) and stir.
3. Gradually add the eggs, beating until smooth. Sift in the flour and a pinch of salt. Stir through the vanilla, and then the nuts (if using.)
4. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until just firm all over. A skewer inserted will have moist crumbs (but not raw batter) clinging to it.
5. Cool in the tin for about 30 minutes. Cut into squares and eat.

Review: Ehh. In this case the flavour was really, really good - all caramely and sweet without being cloying. The texture was good too - really chewy, soft, squishy brownie goodness. It ws nice, except... see the picture above? See how nice they looked? Like Madonna and Sean Penn, it didn't last. As the brownies cooled, the entire middle section got flatter...and flatter...and flatter until the outside edges were still nice and high (but texturally great) and the middle was less than 1 cm high (less than half an inch.) (texturally, not great.) We easily devoured the entire thing, but I like my brownies to stay about 2-3 cm high, not become pancakes. So other than the mysterious flattening out (and yes, the flour was fresh), they were pretty damn tasty. I might experiment with this one too - perhaps adding a bit of baking powder to just 'lift' them a bit, or cooking for marginally longer to get the middle a bit firmer. Maybe the issue is the sugar - I'm planning on trying it again with the muscovado, when I find it. Either way a good base recipe which requires more playing but failed in it's initial run. I think I'm into this whole blondie thing now, so if anyone has a good recipe, leave it in the comments and I'll give it a run.


For those who know me IRL and those who don't:

1. My mobile phone got stolen last night. If I haven't emailed you already, can you email me and tell me your contact details? I'm clueless as I stopped using a phone book years ago and stupidly stored it on my SIM card, which is now in the hands of some asshole criminal.

2. The sourdough starter failed to start, so we're starting again with the starter. (Okay, I totally love that sentence.) The six-day bread has now extended into 9 day bread. It WILL get baked. It WILL.

3. My sister, BIL, and my gorgeous nieces and nephew arrive next week for a 12 day visit, so I'm doing lots of posting now to keep everyone happy. Don't be surprised if I disappear while they are here.

4. I got an A on everything I've handed in for the year thus far (!!), aced the various exams, and I've just got ONE more test left (on Thursday.) Yeee-haw!

- emzee

A Few of my Favourite Things

I adore libraries. Where else can you have access to an entire bookshop, FOR FREE, which has a great returns policy, doesn't mind if you dog-ear the pages (although courtesy dictates you shouldn't), has books on every topic you're interested in, stocks best-sellers, has back issues of all the magazines you can't justify buying, and these days has high speed Internet access? Libraries totally rock. I don't love the whole shhhhhh! have to be vewwy vewwy qwiet thing, but I cope because I am among paper. With words. You know my whole M n' M procedure? I've got one for library books, too. Best I not go into that or you'll start to believe the rumours about me.

Most often I stick to the fiction section, but sitting in the "readers recommend" shelf (eg the stuff the librarians can't be bothered to put away) was a baking book - Sue Lawrence's Book of Baking. I opened it to have a look and the first recipe I came to was the one which said, "take this book home!" It incorporated 3 of my favourite pastry things - chocolate, meringue and lemon. Now I don't usually like all three together, and I'm definetly not sure about the lemon and chocolate thing, but finding this recipe first was kismet.

Chocolate Meringue Cake
115g / 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
115g / 4 oz golden caster sugar*
3 large eggs
55g / 2 oz cocoa powder
100g / 3.5 oz self raising flour
50ml / 2 fl oz milk

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites (saved from above)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
140g/ 5 oz golden caster sugar

For the lemon curd cream**:
2 heaped tablespoons (homemade) lemon curd
200g / 7oz creme fraiche

* I didn't have golden caster sugar, so I just used standard (in the US: Superfine) caster sugar and added 2 T of golden syrup. I don't really see why the golden version is necessary in the first place, so feel free to enlighten me if you know.

** I was lucky enough to have my SIL's lemon curd in the fridge. I used DOUBLE the amount of curd, and straight cream instead of creme fraiche.

1. Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F and grease two 20cm/8 inch cake tins (do not use deep ones).
2. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well between each. Gradually sift in the cocoa, flour and a pinch of salt. Pour in the milk and mix lightly until smooth. Spoon half into each of the prepared tins, smoothing out to the edges.
4. For the meringue, beat the whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then gradually add sugar and continue whisking until thick and shiny.
5. Spoon the meringue gently over both cakes and bake for 20 minutes or until meringue is golden. Cool completely in the tins.
6. Carefully remove from the tins and place one cake, meringue side up, on a plate. Beat together the lemon curd and creme fraiche and spread over the top of the meringue. Put the second cake over this, meringue side up. Eat on the day.

...and here's the review, in pictures:

This mixture was a bit of a nightmare. It was really thick, really dense, and quite bitter - seems like a LOT of cocoa for such a small amount of batter. It took a fair amount of patient pallet knife action to get it to the edges of the tins.

I got all excited by this sight in my oven - bubbly, gorgeous craters of meringue. It didn't last.

Within mere seconds of the cakes (gently, gently) coming out of the oven, the meringue had collapsed spectacularly. Which, going by the picture in the book, is meant to happen. I was still sad about it though!

Having followed the rest of the procedure, the finished product looked precisely as it does in the book (note background below), even with decorative lemon curd dripping...

As a cake though - it sucked. I like the idea of this, but the recipe in this case failed me. The cake itself was really not sweet at all, and really dry. The curd thing worked, but only because I used loads more curd than was required - and if I'd used the creme fraiche, there again would be not much sweetness. The meringue, although sweet, squashes down to hardly anything so it's not adding a lot in the taste stakes either. I also assumed that the meringue would somehow "stick" to the cake...and it didn't, really. Well, let's just say Kiki and I managed to easily peel it off the top when we got sick of eating dry cake! Overall not a fabulous cake, but I've already thought of how to re-construct this to make it better. Stay turned for the emzee version of this flavour combo...experiments await.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Saturday Afternoon in Winter

My Saturday morning was spent running around a wet, cold footy oval trying to out-chase a wild bunch of 6 year olds in a chaotic game of Scarecrow Tiggy (in other words, helping out at DS's footy training). This was then followed up by my shoes and DS's footy boots dropping clumps of wet grass all over the floor of DD2's dance studio, where a muddy DS and I watched 45 minutes of la-da-dee-dah flouncing, followed by a dash to the supermarket to grab some bread flour (couldn't find it, had to call DH and get him to look at the markets on his side of town), by a dash home to do some cooking and some baking and some house cleaning and some "ooohhhhh- I love winter" thoughts. Earlier Saturday morning was spent with DH saying, "You know, we should make some bread. I'd really *like* some crusty bread, like a ciabatta or something." A few years ago I went through a bread making phase - as in, new loaves of varying kinds every weekend. They never came out all that fabulous (this is in my pre-pastry goddess stage) but we loved the warmth, the smell, the total triumph that comes from 10 hours of effort (including rising time.)

At the time I invested in a number of bread baking books, and was all into using grains like quinoa, millet and the like. Since that foray, I've not really been into the bread thing, except as a very occasional thing. However a winter's day like today required the books to be cracked open once again. Difference this time is I've done quite a few bread and yeast subjects at culinary school, plus worked in a bakery environment, plus I'm cuter than I used to be. (Okay, not that that makes a difference.) In any case I can now tell when a bread has proved enough, when it's been kneaded enough, how to knead properly, and so on. I let DH pick the bread he wanted - after all, this was his idea! After perusing several books, we settled on a recipe from "Bread Baker's Bible: Traditional Bread Recipes from Around the World". From the "British Breads" chapter, we picked the simple sounding by divine looking "Cheese and Onion Loaf" - I think it was the inclusion of 200g of sharp cheddar which sold it to us!

Nothing ventured, nothing gained we headed into a world of kneading, and kneading, and kneading...

It was at this point that I thought, hmmm...best get some soup on to go with this fabulous bread I'm making. Since DH had (on my request) come home with a whole chicken (along with the flour!), there was really no other choice than to make my sister's Chicken Soup:

After it's initial rising, the dough is knocked back and divided into 20 pieces, which are put into the tin and then lavishly buttered:

...and here is where it gets interesting. I'd been using the heating vent on the floor, as it's so damn cold here at the moment my house isn't really very warm. Well, warm enough for humans but not for bread to rise quickly. So I decided to create a makeshift prover by turning my oven on to the lowest temp (80C) and shoving the loaf tin in, covered with a damp cloth. I figured the bread would rise as the temp rose, and I'd shut off the oven when it reached temperature. Thus, not getting too hot, but warm enough for my bread to double. Geez I'm clever! It worked:

Right about here is where I ran into technical difficulties, again! DH and I were positively starving, but that bread wasn't anywhere near ready yet. The soup had bubbled away, wafting it's Jewish Penicillin goodness all over the kitchen. We'd thrown out 4 loads of trash (from the house cleaning effort), several loads of recycling, two loads of laundry and tons of odd cleaning jobs later we felt entitled to a life-affirming treat, to whit:

The bread you see decoratively angled on the side is NOT our onion and cheese loaf, but some slices of fresh, soft raisin Challah from Glick's. For those wondering, I made this same soup about two weeks ago, but with a non-free-range chicken. YES, you can taste a significant difference!

Finally, *the* bread got baked...the smell of onions and cheese melting were literally making DH salivate. Ohhh, it smelled just, well, heavenly.

This is how he (and I) ate it - with a jolly great smodge of South Cape Persian Feta. (Clearly, more cheese was required.)

...and this is how much is left, after we all dived into it. It's not the best bread I've ever made, but it's soft and warm and hearty and onion-y and cheddar-y and just right for a winter Saturday afternoon. The best bread I've ever made is actually a pine nut cob I made several years ago. However I'm hoping that the "best bread ever" award is going to come from this:

Yup, that's a starter for a San Francisco Sourdough. Yes, it's sitting on my heating vent. Yes, this bread takes 6 DAYS to make from start to finish. Yes, I'm crazy. Stay tuned.

Cheese & Onion Loaf
1 onion, finely chopped
45g / 1 3/4 oz butter
450g / 1 lb unbleached white bread flour
6 g / 1/4 oz sachet dried yeast
5ml /1 tsp mustard powder
175g / 6oz grated mature cheddar (go for a really sharp one!)
150ml / 1/4 pint lukewarm milk
150ml / 1/4 pint lukewarm water
salt & ground black pepper

  1. Grease a large loaf tin. Melt 25g (1 oz) of butter in a frying pan and sautee onions until golden. Set aside.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in 3/4 of the grated cheese and all of the onion. Make a well in the centre. Add the milk and water; blend to a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  3. Return to the bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm spot and leave to rise until doubled (about an hour, depending on your heating vent.)
  4. Turn out onto a lightly dusted surface and knock back, then knead lightly. Divide into 20 equal portions and roll into rough balls.
  5. Place into loaf tin 10 rounds (5 in each row). Brush with melted butter. Place the remaining 10 balls on top and brush with melted butter again.
  6. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until dough reaches the top of the tin (try the oven trick, it works.) Meanwhile preheat oven to 190C / 375 F / Gas Mark 5.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
My Sister's Chicken Soup
My sister learned how to cook this from my parent's Guatemalan maid. It's good, but I've improved it somewhat, so this recipe has my changes.

1 large chicken (go free range, organic, whatever. An expensive, good quality one)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (3 inch)
3 stalks celery, cut into pieces (3 inch)
1 large tomato, whole and unpeeled
1 large onion, whole, peeled
2 bayleaves
5-6 black peppercorns
sprig of thyme
small bunch of celery leaves
Chicken stock cubes - either 3 T or a few cubes (sacrilege, but it works)
Salt & Pepper

  1. Wash the chicken thoroughly, including the cavity. Remove any giblets or other random bits (but you can include the neck.) Place into a pot of cold water, making sure the chicken is submerged by several inches.
  2. Bring to the boil and skim any scum off the top. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until all the scum has come to the top and you've gotten rid of it.
  3. Throw in everything else, except the final salt & pepper. The stock cubes aren't all that necessary if you're using a really good quality chicken, but if you are using a cheap chickie then it's just a way of intensifying the flavour and adding salt. I like the OSEM brand, but use any decent one.
  4. Simmer for about an hour. At around the 45 minute mark, use a spoon to squish the tomato against the side of the pot to release the juices.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pot and (carefully, it's hot) remove the meat from the frame. Either serve in chunks (yummy dipped in BBQ sauce) or shred and put at the bottom of the bowls of soup.
  6. Strain the soup, but keep the celery and carrots. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve piping hot over the chicken and vegetables, with fresh bread, plain white rice (cooked), couscous or mandalach or whatever takes your fancy. Tastes even better the next day, or freeze and use as you would stock (for risotto, etc.) (Yeah, like it will last that long.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

He Can Make It Happen

It has come to my attention that this past Sunday was Father's Day in the US. Given that Father's Day is not celebrated here until September, and that my Dad has enough undies and socks to last him, I thought I'd give him a gift of a blog post. So this one is for, and about, my Dad.

I have previously spoken about my Dad in this blog. If I were to be completely honest about my Dad, I probably wouldn't be able to be 100% complementary. He can be rude, annoying, irritating, stubborn, demanding and sometimes downright mean. He isn't the guy you go to for tea and sympathy (unless you make your own tea, and unless you want a healthy dose of "stop complaining and do something about it" sympathy). He isn't exactly, shall we say, non-judgmental or accepting of other people's cultures, faiths, and life choices. He doesn't debate anything, as it's all his way or no way. He isn't the guy who will compliment you, and he definetly won't do it on the day when you really need it. He often is unsympathetic to other's problems, has the attention span of a flea, and sometimes fails to appreciate others and what they do for him. He's not exactly Citizen of the Year.

However. My Dad is a man who makes things happen.

There are many, many things which I admire my Dad for. Personality traits which he has that I don't have, but I sometimes wish I did. My Dad is a risk-taker. He'll buy random dirt plots of land in far-away countries and make them into castles, and earn a small fortune. He'll try the same scheme somewhere else and fail spectacularly, but that won't stop him from trying again. He is, in some respects, totally fearless. He's of the "if you don't try you don't succeed" generation, and as such he takes the risks, and reaps the rewards. However, he's smart enough to admit when he gets it wrong, and he uses those lessons to get it right the next time. He is stubborn, to a fault. That stubbornness is his best weapon, as it means he never, ever takes 'no' for an answer. He's believes in himself and his plans SO much, that nobody, nothing, and a "no" answer don't get in his way. How many people do you know that have so much confidence? In his vocabulary there is no "can't", there is only "didn't try hard enough." So many times in my childhood I experienced my Dad making the impossible, totally possible. He and my Mom moved to the US with a small child (my sister), nearly no money, and good but basic English skills. It didn't take long before he'd passed the California bar, taken on a Masters' degree, opened his own practice, bought a house, taken on more qualifications (in real estate)...and eventually made and lost several fortunes. It hasn't been easy. It hasn't been simple. It hasn't been fun, especially when the fortunes got lost. It has, however, been a lesson for me in what tenacity and spirit can do for a person. My Dad is a man who makes things happen.

My Dad likes the rest of us to think he isn't emotional or sentimental. Unfortunately for him, that facade fell apart pretty quickly when I chose to move overseas. One of the best things to come out of it is that my Dad calls me, just to chat or re-tell the same jokes he's been telling for years. He doesn't do it often, but when he does I always hang up with a smile on my face, laughing from the punch line I already know. He misses me - but won't tell me he does - and he expresses that missing me by nudging my Mom to call me more often. He's funny in that way - you think he's all tough, but then when you least expect it, he comes through for you. My Dad is a man who makes things happen.

When DH and I found out we would need fertility help, my Dad randomly called me one day and said, "Okay, you've been married 2 years. I *know* something isn't right there. What's going on with grandkids?" Needless to say I burst into tears, as I had been keeping it all a secret until then. He listened, and then said, "So Michelley Zisi, what are we going to do about this?" and then volunteered money, connections, whatever we needed to get through this. In the end we didn't take anything from him, other than a phone call once in a while to check in on us. My Dad is fiercely loyal - his stubbornness to get his own things achieved is no more or no less when it comes to his kids and grandkids. I know without doubt that if I needed help achieving something big - help of any sort - he would be the one I'd call. My Dad is a man who makes things happen.

There are a lot of things which connect my Dad to me in funny ways. Firstly, I look a lot like him. More than once (this is really true!) I've been stopped by people in LA, asking if I am his daughter. He gave me the "zee" in "emzeegee" and that has followed me around my whole life - in another post I'll explain it but suffice to say it was another example of my Dad getting what he wanted. We share a love of really, really bad jokes - and the ones I tell, he already knew, while the one's he tells, I've heard hundreds of times before. I admire his intellect. He's not cultured (he sleeps through plays, is bored by concerts, can't stand museums, etc) but geez, he's smart. LIFE smart. And this intelligence is yet another reason why Dad is a man who makes things happen.

My Dad taught me to make things happen, too. I'm also stubborn - and tenacious, and all the qualities which he has (except potentially I'm a bit nicer about it.) He's taught me to be a DO-er, not just a talker. I could go on and on about him, and what I've learned from him. At the end of the day I adore him and am frustrated by him in equal measures. Like the job thing. I adore the fact that he believes in me and my abilities, but I'm frustrated by the fact that he can't believe that pastry cheffing is what I WANT to do. That adoration and frustration are exactly what made him a good Dad in the first place - he's always going to be in your corner, but you might not like what he has to say about the corner in the first place! He's always been (sometimes unreasonably) demanding of me, but paid me back with love and affection and funny crinkly blue eyes which laugh - sometimes the laughing is at me, sometimes the laughing is with me. Either way, he's my Dad, and he loves me (even though his love doesn't count, because has to.)

When I was about 9 or so, I got really upset about something - I can't remember what now. My Dad's only response was to say, "It doesn't matter, Michelley, because *I* love you." To which I replied in a very pre-teen fashion, "Yeah, but your love doesn't count. You HAVE TO love me." To this day, when my Dad says, "Love you, kid" he then follows with "But I know it doesn't count."

He - and I - are wrong. His love counts for a whole hell of a lot.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Editor's Note: My Dad read this, and according to Mom he claims none of it is true, except for the last part. *sigh*

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In The Middle of The Night

So this morning we enjoyed the late breakfast company or Drs J & M, who admitted to us that in the wee hours of the morning, they were thinking up imaginary charges in restaurants. So, for example, if you bring your own wine (a common practice in Australia), a restaurant may charge you a "corkage" fee to literally open and pour the bottle. The delightful doctors have since come up with such gems as "porkage" (for when you bring in your own pig), "dorkage" (for when you BYO nerd to dinner?) and so on and so forth....clearly, one loses all sense of normalcy at 4am. Apparently it all got very silly very quickly. The crazy thing is, I didn't find this quirky activity all that strange. I myself have a middle-of-the-night thinking activity, and this is it: crappy rhyming jokes. Jokes which are AWFUL, which I make up on the spot, and tell long-suffering DH, and he has to STAY AWAY OMG OMG THIS ONE IS SOOOO FUNNY and then listen to my laughing through it for several minutes before I can tell it. Eventually I tell it, he says a droll, "yeah. very funny. goodnight." and tries to roll over and ignore me. Note I said *tries* to roll over and ignore me.

Seconds pass.

I wait in the darkness.

I think.

I smile. I suppress a giggle. I momentarily think that I should be nice, that DH needs his sleep, that I should just...OMG but this one is SOOO funny!

I say, "OKAY! WAIT! You gotta hear this one too!" and then I deliver the joke (more of a riddle really) and make him try and think of the answer. I give him about 2.3 nanoseconds before I yell, "Give up?" and I shout the answer and start giggling, and so on and so forth. Repeat ad nauseum, until he literally begs for mercy.

Yeah, I think DH should get a medal too.

Here are some examples of my bad late night jokes:

(based on words ending in -ellow)
Q: What do you call a guy rolled in turmeric?
A: A yellow fellow

Q: What do you call a really laid back guy?
A: A mellow fellow

Q: What do you call a guy with a really loud voice?
A: A bellow fellow

Q:What do you call a red guy whose body jiggles?

All together now....
A Jell-O Fellow!

(and yet more, ending in 'undies')
Q: What do you call dirty underwear?
A: Grundies

Q: What do you call fat people's underwear?
A: Ton-dies

Q: What do you call Outback Australian underwear?
A: Dundies! (as in Crocodile...)

Q: What do you call underwear you wear at a party?
A: Fun-dies

.....yes, I'm sitting this and laughing so hard that it's hard to type. Fundies! HA! I said FUNdies!

Oh dear god. Now I've lost it completely.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Say It Isn't So!

We have to get a dog.

As in, HAVE TO. As in, SOON.

Suddenly everyone around me is pregnant, talking about babies, and doing the whole "baby thing" in my presence. I hate babies. They're boring, messy, noisy, and I totally, definetly see no room in my life for a baby. I already HAVE three babies, and I DO NOT NEED any more. Moreover, I don't WANT anymore. DH and I made this decision a long, long, long time ago. This is our family, and we're happy with it. As a rule, babies and I don't get on, and to have any more would significantly change our lifestyle, not to mention probably send me reaching for the anti-depressants, weight loss pills, and a whole box of doughnuts. WE DO NOT WANT BABIES IN THIS HOUSE. My kids can walk, talk, feed themselves, dress themselves, have intelligent conversations, act like humans are meant to - and I LOVE that.

So why, then, do I find myself feeling...dare I say it...just a teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, minute amount of jealousy? Why do I find myself feeling just a bit....clucky?


We gotta get a dog.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Generous Dollop of Bullshit

I am speeding towards the end of the semester, and I couldn't be more grateful. This has been a crazy, stressful school year and I'll be glad when it's July and I can sit back and relax. Before that happens, I have to turn in one more massive assignment, one smaller one, complete one theory and one practical exam (on offal/veal/beef), create and serve two buffet dinners and complete one test on menu pricing. I'm doing this all in the next 2 weeks! Today I am turning in the massive assignment - basically we had to invent an imaginary restaurant, and not only create and cost the menu but produce an actual table menu (literally, to the quality that it could be placed on a table at your restaurant). We also had to consider the type of restaurant, type of clientele, suppliers, and also produce a roster for the staff working at the restaurant. Needless to say this project took quite a while, and really did mimic what you might need to do to start up a restaurant in real life. In other words, this was a hugely important assignment, and it's one of the few culinary theory subjects I've done where I know I will use this information in the future.

One of the hardest things to do was to come up with the 'concept' - the type of restaurant you wanted. Once that was done, we had to write the menu in what is known as "modern descriptive style" - in other words, LOTS of words, but no titles, and no single-line descriptions. Basically the usual poncy-frou-frou crap you see on menus in high-end restaurants. I agonized over this for ages, as I wanted to meet the criteria but not come across as full of shit. After all, the 'Silver Birch' is "...a small (30 seat), elegant restaurant located in a affluent bayside suburb of Melbourne" and not a full-of-gobbeldy-gook-talk French place. It was only after I completed this assignment that I came across this, and I realised how much time I had wasted. Bugger! Still, I think I did a pretty good job, and if I don't get an 'A' then heads will roll.

...and for those that are curious (note, this is a Summer menu). It might not be ground-breaking gastronomy, but it is a menu full of things I would actually want to eat:


Warm salad of baby spinach, maple-glazed roasted pumpkin cubes and creamy King Island chèvre topped with warm slices of succulent grilled lamb


Sunshine-inspired gazpacho of vine-ripened tomato consomeé with avocado, sweet corn, fresh coriander and finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice


Tapas platter laden with paprika and eggplant dip, marinated chilli and garlic Mount Zero olives, Spanish sherry-doused roast mushrooms, paper-thin slices of jamon and pomegranate glazed chorizo served with warm bread



Free range chicken skewers marinated in a Thai-inspired combination of flavours including sesame oil, fresh lemon grass, chilli and lime. Served atop a generous curl of hot wok-tossed noodles


Pan-fried salmon served draped in a house-made wasabi mayonnaise. Served on a bed of nutty rice pilaf and accompanied by a medley of freshly steamed vegetables napped in butter


Rosemary and garlic rubbed grilled Porterhouse served with smashed new potatoes, grilled sweet corn and roasted red capsicum



An individual round of flourless orange and hazelnut cake served with a fragrant honey and orange blossom reduction and a dollop of hazelnut praline double cream


A decadent, luscious lavender-infused crème brulée served with fresh house-baked lemon madeleines


A generous wedge of rich bittersweet chocolate tart covered in a velvety raspberry ganache and served with plump fresh raspberries




A refreshing combination of prawns and scallops served as a ceviche flavoured with lime, coriander, radishes and Serrano peppers



Sheets of house-made fresh pastry filled with a delicate mousse of smoked salmon, cream and chives and served with a soft, creamy Heidi gruyère sauce



A refreshing trio of house-churned tropical fruit sorbets –Passionfruit, Mangosteen and Pomegranate - topped with a cloud of spun sugar


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Birds and the Wees

Conversation in a car, and I have no idea how this started:

Child: So then a man takes his vessel, and it goes into the egg...
Child 2: and then the egg becomes a cell, and then the cell becomes a baby!

Mum: A what? A vessel? What?

Child: Yeah, you know, a VESSEL. The thing that sticks into THE EGG. You know, THE THING, Mummy. You *know* this. The vessel remember?

Mum: Um...vessel? Don't you mean the...

Child 2: Wait! Wait! Now I remember. It's not called a vessel. It's called a ...*thinks hard* ...A SQUIRM. YES! A SQUIRM! Da squirm goes into the egg, which then becomes the cell, which then becomes the baby!

Mum: (unable to speak, too busy trying not to laugh. It should be noted that the conversation about "da squirm and da egg" continued on for several minutes.)


Child 2: Dad, I don't understand why it's called a cell. Aren't those what you find on the beach? You know, a S-H-E-L-L. How does an egg become a (s)hell? What do (sh) cells have to do with babies?

*grin* Never a dull moment around here.

...I'm just taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to send a special HELLO OUT THERE to Jenny S. from Bairnsdale (the Gippsland region of Victoria). I recently found out she is a regular reader, and I just wanted to say THANKS JENNY! :)

RAS - Long Distance

This RAS (Random Act of Sweetness) was committed long distance. Sadly the recipient won't get to actually eat the product, but I was definetly thinking of him when I baked it (and subsequently ate it.) I am of course referring to Cameron. I have known Cameron for about 13 years now (yes, really Cam! Can you believe?!) but interestingly enough have spent only about a week or so being in the same geographical area as he is in. How we "met" is an interesting story in itself - his girlfriend at the time went to college with me, while he was several states away at a different college. She, being the IT/computer person and me being the clueless one, became friends and she taught me how to use email, the 'net, and everything in between. For purposes of practice, she would use his email address for me...so I'd send a "Hi, you don't know me, I'm just figuring this out!" email to him, and so on. Needless to say their relationship didn't last past that semester, but Cameron and I shared a love of food, wine, books, (eventually) technology, talking, laughing...and so on and so forth. As the years went by, it became harder and harder to maintain a relationship in person - every time it was Spring break, I'd invariably leave Colorado to go home to California a day before he came home to Colorado from Pennsylvania. As a result we learned about one another through faxes (yes, really), emails, and the odd time when we overlapped in the same city for more than 20 minutes. These days both of us are married (to other people), and we don't email as frequently as we should, but I will always consider him a great friend, a great listener, and the only person on whom blue hair actually seemed appealing.

Cameron, this one is for you. Note, when I normally make this, I stuff it full of walnuts and raisins, and throw a confetti on the top of: chopped dried apricots, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, more raisins, dust of cinnamon, more walnut pieces, and whatever detritus yummy bits I can find in the cupboard. In this case as I knew it was going to be fed to a non-nut eater plus a bunch of "what's that yucky stuff on top?" kids, it was done plain and thus not as good as I'd have liked. The recipe, though, works well so I'm sharing it here. Feel free to increase and decrease spices as you like.

Cameron, when next our paths cross, I promise a freshly baked, thickly-iced, swoon-worthy carrot cake, complete with the glace carrot on top. Just for you. And me. And if they're very, very good, we might share some with Wife & Child. :)

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

1 cup (4 oz) self-raising flour
1 cup (4 oz) plain flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/s tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp bicarb of soda (baking soda)
1 cup (8 oz) oil
1 cup (6 oz) soft brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz) golden syrup (in the US, I'd experiment with maple syrup)
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped walnuts or pecans

350g (12oz) cream cheese, softened
120g (4 oz) butter, softened
3 cups (12 oz) icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 160C/315F. Grease a 23cm (9 inch) deep tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. Sift the flours, spices and soda into a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk together the oil, syrup, sugar and eggs. Slowly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth. Stir in the carrots and nuts. Pour into the greased tin and bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin and then on a rack.

Icing: Bung it all in a mixer and turn it on, mix until it's smooth and scrummy looking. Try to avoid sticking your finger in it while the mixer is going.

Slice the cake diagonally across into two even pieces (bonus points: slice into three!). Splodge the icing in the middle, put the top back on, ice all over the top and sides and then go for broke decorating with yummy stuff (bonus points: marzipan carrots for each slice!) Enjoy.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

So You Think You Can Bake

I find it highly amusing that the people doing this in Los Angeles (where I grew up), don't realise that the bestest baker in the entire world left their fine sandy shores for Melbourne a 11 years ago.

Sadly, LA's loss is Melbourne's gain, as I speed ever closer towards finally opening the doors of Three Sweeties (watch this space, I'm hoping for an announcement sometime in August/September.)

...and it will be nice to know that in this town, I won't just be one of a crowd doing "the cupcake thing." It's already been done. Emzee, as we know and love her, is more than a one-trick pony or a one cupcake baker. Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Life Less Ordinary

Note: There may be a bit of "yay me" in this post, and there may be a bit of "woe is me" and there may be a bit of "self deprecating me" and a whole lot of other references to "me." No different to my other posts here, but made somewhat more interesting by the fact that a) I plan to spill out my guts and b) I plan to not edit it, but just hit "publish post" instead. This is emzeegee, laid bare.

I recently had a conversation with DH where I admitted (for the millionth time) that I am totally unsure of myself as a chef, and that I think I use the children as an excuse to NOT challenge myself. To whit - a few weeks ago I saw an ad in the paper for a job I'd like to have. It's was at a well known, internationally recognized restaurant. To put that I worked there on my resume would be a BIG thing for me, and potentially would open some doors. The ad was hiring for all levels of staff, so there is no reason (theoretically) why I couldn't apply, and at the very least get to the interview stage. However as I looked at that ad, several thoughts ran through my head. First came self doubt - but I've never worked in a restaurant (of this type) before. I wouldn't know what I'm doing. What if I get hired and I suck and then I get fired? What if I'm not fast enough? What if I hate it? What if I don't get along with the people who work there? Shortly after the self-doubt came the supposed "reasons" as to why this job wouldn't be good anyway: I love pastry, and they aren't really known for pastry. I'd have to work loads more hours than I do now, and that might be bad for my mental/physical health. It's in the city, and I hate shlepping to the city and dealing with the traffic and the parking and the whole thing. I wouldn't ever be home for dinner. DH would have to take on more than he already does. Then came more excuses: I wouldn't get to see the children at night. I'd never be able to go out with friends or be involved with the kids' school or other social organizations which hold meetings at night. How would I fit culinary school in? Would I ever see the (rest of) my family? My relationship with DH would suffer. This job would put a serious dent in my lifestyle.

Interestingly, I had this same conversation with the Executive Chef at my current job. His take on it was that the people who work in these types of places might be lauded for their culinary genius, but that they're also divorced, lonely, burnt out, and on drugs and hating their lives. In his opinion, I have been making the right choice all along, and it's far more important to balance work and life than it is to say "I worked at Spago." (or wherever)

So I had my excuses of kids, hours, money, life...and so on and so forth. An endless list of why this job, a job which I think would teach me a lot and really, really put me on the map, and potentially somehow VALIDATE my chef self... isn't the right job for me. So this has me thinking. Do I feel it's not the right job for me because it really isn't? (See reasons above.) Is is not the right job for me ...just because I am terrified of somehow not succeeding at it? Is my fear of failure somehow keeping me from achieving more in the first place? Truth is, I don't really know the answer to this one. I make no secret about the fact that I am a Type A personality, a classic extrovert competitive overachiever Capricornian success-hound. The sad thing is, I not only want to be successful, I DESPERATELY *NEED* to be. Case in point, if I make/cook/bake/write something (anything at all), I need enormous, ridiculous amounts of positive praise just to feel as though what I've done is good enough. Case in point, this past weekend I made some sandwiches and platters for a meeting DH had to go to. When he got back, I totally HOUNDED him about how it all was. Did they like it? Why didn't they finish it all? What did people say about it? Was it enough for everyone? Were YOU happy with it? ...and when he gave me a (very reasonable) answer of 'it was all fine and everyone was happy' - *I* wasn't happy. I kept at him, nipping at his heels wanting more info about how it all went. For fuck's sake, I was harassing him for feedback about egg salad sandwiches and a fruit platter. Yes, really. This is how much I need to know that I am good enough. Good enough for who? I'm not sure about that either.

The Baker's Wife mailed me this article about the "power and peril" about praising your kid. She sent it because she thought it might be of interest to me, as a parent of school-aged kids. I spent the entire time reading it thinking, holy shit, this article is about me. For as long as I can remember I've been told how great I am. How clever, how smart, how mature, how well-spoken, how well I do a bunch of things, and how "everything I touch I succeed at." At the end of the day I don't really care how hard I tried (although I try to convince myself that this matters). I care only that I WON, I SUCCEEDED, and that other people know of my brilliance. Reading this article I was reminded not only of the praise I got as a child, but the fact that my grades through most of junior high, high school, and college netted me a solid B/C average. I freely admit that I made almost no effort through those years, and as a result I suffered the consequences. I didn't win awards in high school, didn't get into my "dream" college, didn't study a degree in college which I gave two shits about, didn't get a great job, didn't really have any focus whatsoever (and yet was "good at everything"). I knew I was smart. I didn't really have to try. That not trying, though ... the not trying is what left me in my late twenties with a feeling of mediocrity. An unchallenging job, a constant seeking for something to "DO" with my life. I don't blame my parents, or my childhood experiences - I've had a great life, with exceptionally loving (if demanding) parents. They did what parents (myself included) know how to do. Sadly, I think it did me a disservice.

Throughout my various jobs I've often been praised for being dogged in my determination to get things done, see them through to the end, meet my goals. This was true of my weight loss efforts, too. However as soon as the reward was given - the goal achieved, the praise no longer given, the task finished, the paper handed in... I lose all interest. In the case of my weight loss, I was getting months and months of praise for my dramatic changed. I hit a fairly lengthy plateau and thus was getting no praise....and I basically abandoned ship, and gained it all back again. In the article I mention above Po talks about research into "praise junkies" - people who are literally hard-wired to need praise, and who have very little persistence because they "quit when the rewards disappear." While I have persistence, as soon as I either approach or just get over the finish line (whatever that line might be), I'm looking for my next challenge. Similarly if a task is no longer rewarding (as in the weight loss), I lose interest. If it's not hard to do and I'm not good at it, it's not worth it.

This is me, in a nutshell. I constantly need positive reinforcement, just to feel like what I do is adequate. This means I stay in a job where I know I perform well...and I don't apply for the jobs where I can't be 100% sure that I'll perform not only as well, but better. I dwell on negative feedback for an unhealthy amount of time - regardless of whether or not the feedback was justified. I'm somewhat terrified of culinary school ending this year, because then I will be without the one forum in which I am always, always miles ahead of my classmates. Bloody hell, it's not unusual for my TEACHERS to call me outside of school for pastry advice or good recipes which they know they can trust, because they believe in my skills. I have built around myself a cocoon of expectation. The people around me expect me to succeed -- and I almost revel in that expectation, because I know I can meet it. Over the course of my schooling several teachers have openly admitted to grading me harder or demanding more of me because they know I am capable in the first place. Rather than see this as a compliment, I have tended to see this as an injustice. Why should the benchmark be set higher for me?

So I come back to the original question. Am I hiding out in an easy job because there are valid reasons for me to do so (money, kids, flexible hours and so on)? Or am I hiding out in an easy job because I am afraid I will fail somewhere else? Maybe the truth exists somewhere between both of those - that I've made the choices I've made because they both put me in the comfort zone of success, AND they meet my criteria of living a life of balance and quality. What happens, though, when I really need to challenge myself (for health reasons, for work reasons, for whatever reasons), regardless of the praise I might get? WHAT WILL I DO THEN? Will I fail?

The ripples of self-doubt travel far and wide, and now I find myself doubting, wondering and worrying.

This is the single hardest blog post I've ever written.

Monday, June 4, 2007

RAS - CWA Scones

This one isn't really a "random" act of sweetness, as I knew well in advance that my friend the Globe Trotter would be coming over for Sunday afternoon tea. With winter upon us, and indulgence being justified by cold days and freezing toes, I decided to embark upon some scone making. Scones are not really that hard, although there does seem to be a bit of mystery about them. There are as many myths, rules and recipes for scones as there are for chocolate cakes - strange for an item which usually has less than 5 ingredients and only 1 or 2 steps. Some months ago, epicure had an article about scones. With that as my inspiration I decided to make the CWA scones for GT's arrival. After all, several thousand women in Australia's bushland can't be wrong...and as you can see from these photos, their recipe is pretty damn good.

It should be noted that I am a total sifting rebel in so far as I almost never do it. Of course, it can and does improve the texture of the final product, but the reality is I can't be farked doing it, so I don't. In this case I made the effort (having not seen GT in a while, I figure I had to impress her). So I sifted it once, even though the packet clearly said it had already been sifted three times. That's some serious siftage.

This is what they looked like unbaked. I thought this was going to be a disaster as the dough seemed quite wet, I had a bugger of a time cutting them, and in general they just didn't look all that appetizing. I was secretly glad that there were other things I could serve for afternoon tea if these went terribly, terribly wrong.

They didn't They were seriously, seriously good. We topped them with some French raspberry jam (no added sugar, basically just squashed fruit) and oceanloads of pure cream (whipped with some sugar and pure vanilla to taste.) Fresh from the oven they had a nice crust on the top and bottom, and the inside was warm and pillowy. Sheer bliss! (and GT was most impressed, having made the scones with lemonade version the day previous and not had quite as much success.)

CWA Show Scones

3 cups SR flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cream
1-1 1/2 cups of milk


Sift dry ingredients. Cut in cream and milk with a knife.
Work quickly into a dough on a floured bench.
Flatten into about a 1.5cm-high rectangle on a lightly floured or greased scone tray.
Cut into squares with knife or pizza cutter and place on top shelf of very hot oven (220-230C) for about 10-12 minutes.*

*Times and temperatures may vary according to your oven.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Untold Benefit of Parenting

I am very fortunate to work for a company that provides lunch for its employees every day. Come noon, all of us sit down to a gorgeous, chef-made, calorie-laden, bloody yummy lunch. Some choose to go outside, alternating between a lungful of smoke and a mouthful of risotto. Others choose to eat inside the kitchen, inhale lunch within 2 bites, and then disappear to god-knows-where. Then there are the nerds, of which I am a proud member. We choose to sit at the (indoor, very swish) communal table and benches, eating among work friends, sharing a laugh, and not enjoying the benefits of second-hand smoke. In recent months we've begun a bit of a lunchtime tradition - the trivia challenge. Both The Age and The Herald Sun have trivia quizzes in them every day, so we use these as the basis. As time has gone on, and the competition has become more fierce, the experience has gotten more entertaining and frustrating in equal measures. I've realised how little useless, random knowledge I posses, and how much I care about that lack of knowledge. The previous days' winner becomes the "Quiz Master" for the day, and as such has the power to invoke (or revoke) as many rules as they like. So on some days, you have to wait for the entire question to be read. On others, jump in at will but suffer the embarrassment of lost points if your answer is wrong. Either way it's an entertaining way to spend a quarter-hour or so. My own place in this bloodbath of trivia and pointless information ass-kicking is as a shouter. I tend to either say nothing, or just guess repeatedly in a really loud voice. Some days, I am without a run on the board - other days, I come in a respectable 3rd or 4th. Either way my competitive self wants to win, right?

Last week, I had my chance. The questions are worth different points based on difficulty - 1 for an easy one, 2 for a medium hard, and 3 for a hard question. I wasn't faring particularly well that day (thanks to the if-it's-wrong-you-lose-points rule) - and then came the following 3 point question:

"What is the name of the purple Teletubby?"

A hush fell over the room as everyone looked at one another with a mixture of vague amusement and total clueless-ness. At this point, the Quiz Master looked at me and said, "emzee? Surely you gotta know this!" (Okay, he used my real name, but otherwise this is an accurate account.)

I did. It's Tinky-Winky. I had my moment of glory, my basking in the sunshine of my clever-ness, my this-is-why-I-had-kids moment, my overall brilliance, and in that few glorious seconds, there was nobody in the world but me. The spotlight of smarty-pants shone right on top of my MENSA head, as I basked in complete self-promotion. Yes, it's true, I rock.

Sadly, it was to be a fleeting fame. I then proceeded to scream my way through the next few and ended up with a score of -2 for the day.

Ahhh, well. Win some, lose some, commit trivial suicide in some.