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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I made it!

Phew! It's November 30, which means I successfully blogged every day for 30 days! I intended to cover a whole range of topics, but in the end stuck to the things I know best - my kids, my cakes, my life. I hope the few of you reading this enjoyed coming along with me for the ride. While I'd like to try to keep the posting to once a day, reality dictates that I'll probably manage 3-4 posts a week.

For my last post, I'm going to leave you with a meme. This appears in The Age every Saturday, in the Good Weekend magazine. Every week I read it and I wonder what my answers would be, so now I'm getting the chance to actually answer it!

Your Time Starts Now...

My earliest memory is... not early at all, since I have very few memories of my childhood. I really only have clear memories from about the 4th grade, most notably of watching The Challenger explosion on TV at school.

At school I... never lived up to my potential.


My first relationship was... with a boy who gave me a rose pin which smelled like a real fake rose.


I don't like talking about... money. Or weight. Or both.


My mother and father always told me... I was a genius who could achieve anything I put my hand to.


I wish I had... invented post-it notes.


I wish I hadn't... listened to other people so much, especially when it came to choosing a career.


My most humiliating moment was... falling over onstage during a production of Grease. I was wearing a silver hair salon smock covered in small balloons, so as soon as I fell over it was POP POP POP POP POP. The lights came up on stage and I kept dancing, popped balloons and all.


My happiest moments were... laughing with my family on long road trips, and making endless jokes about matza and the unfortunate side effects of eating too much of it.


At home I cook... ridiculously simple things which take 20 minutes or less.


My last meal would be... bread and ice cream.


I'm very bad at... keeping my mouth shut.


When I was a child I wanted to be... married to Billy Joel.


The book that changed my life is... the first one I learned to read.


It's not fashionable, but I love... anything which is not in fashion. If it's dorky, I love it.


The song I'd like played at my funeral is... Michelle by The Beatles, of course!


Friends say I am... loud and loyal.


My greatest fear is... that my husband will die before I do, and then I will be alone.


If only I could... lose 50 kilos before January 15th.


The hardest thing I've ever done was... tell my Dad I wasn't sure I could give him the grandkids he wanted (okay, demanded.)


The last big belly laugh I had was... when DD2 told me, "Remember! Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" which is a line from a Ramona Quimby book. I remember loving that line when I read that book.


What I don't find amusing is... almost nothing, as I use humour to diffuse most situations.


I'm always being asked... do you need a taste-tester?


Cat or dog... dog, and I want one, but I have no idea WHY I want one.


If I wasn't me I'd like to be... thinner, but no less fabulous.


At the moment I'm reading... Henry and Beezus by Beverley Cleary, on the recommendation of my kids. It's as good now as it was when I was seven and reading it.


My favourite work of art is... the drawing the kids and I recently did, which was a hairy monster who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a cat for a pet, who had a spider for a pet. All on one long leash.


My worst job was... as a temp, filing for a company who had literally an entire building of filing cabinets. Each of them was packed so tight I couldn't get my fingers between the sheets of paper. I spent an entire day avoiding doing it, and fantasising about mis-filing tons of stuff on purpose. I lasted one day and I quit.


I often wonder... if anyone reads this blog, but then I remind myself that I'm not supposed to care that much.


....and I'm tagging the following...

Claire at Matching Pegs
Ramona at Making Things Pretty
AJ at Confessions of a Fat Girl
Rachel at Contented
Frances at Fleeting Moments

Saturday, November 29, 2008

When Work & Family Collide

This morning I had to attend a mandatory hair and make-up lesson in preparation for DD2's ballet recital. The first part of the experience was shopping for a very long list of things I personally have never owned. Liquid eye liner, white eye shadow, fire engine red lipstick, fake eyelashes...and the list goes on. $80 poorer later and we had an entire collection of suitably diva-esque make up, complete with cute purple make-up bag (which I later discovered has a serious flaw - no mirror!) Truth be told, I wasn't all that confident of my ability to carry this off. It's not a lick of mascara and a swipe of lipstick we're talking about...it's full theatre make-up. One wrong move and your kid ends up looking like the members of KISS.

So away she and I went - with not one but two bags filled with stuff. One for her clothes: multiple leotards, different coloured tights, ballet shoes, jazz shoes, tap shoes...e.g. my last mortgage payment. The second bag was for her accoutrements: hair brushes, hair spray, a bazillion pins, hair nets, aforementioned make-up...you get the idea. There I was with DD2 and what felt like a thousand other Mums and ballerinas sitting the hall, learning step-by-step how to put all this crapola on.

I've mentioned before how un-girly I am, and how my Mom thinks that I was born to someone else because she is as high maintenance as they come. As a kid I would spend HOURS sitting on the edge of her bathtub, watching her get ready for parties. Like a lady-in-waiting I was responsible for helping her do up zippers, putting on earrings, and fixing stray bits of hair. At the time it was fun, kinda like playing dress ups but with an adult human rather than a doll of some kind. This was the 80's, so there was some seriously big hair, even bigger dresses, loads of makeup and of course bling. (Although then they didn't use the word bling...)

This morning, it became obvious that I was one of the only mothers there who was managing to get it on my ballerina correctly. Several curse words were said (particularly in regards to those eyelashes), a couple of kids burst into tears..and so did a Mom or two. I sat there, quietly feeling superior and clever, and said a silent prayer of thanks to my Mom. Clearly all those hours spent watching her prepared me for the hell on earth which is applying a perfectly straight line of liquid eyeliner to a squirmy seven year old. People, I was totally rocking that make-up. I might have to change the name of this blog to "Estee Lauder and the hungry three" because I was totally amazing (and clearly modest as well.)

Now while you might think that watching my Mom and learning from her was the key to my success, I will say that I had a second skill up my sleeve. If you close your eyes just so, and use all the powers of your imagination, you can magic that stupid little eyeliner brush into the point on a piping bag filled with icing.

Voila! A perfectly steady hand and a gorgeous looking girl who is grateful that I didn't carry my secret make up applying skill into writing "Happy Birthday Claire" on her eyelid with liquid eyeliner.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Can you make me an economic crisis cake?

One of the interesting side effects of the economic crisis is watching which businesses are struggling and which are still performing. Not surprisingly, when people feel the crunch they tend to chuck all the luxury items - the new car, the new dress, the new shoes. They hang onto all the essentials - the food, the heating/cooling, the kids (ha!).

I've been very lucky that thus far things are still going well. My theory about this is that people, even in an economic mess, need to feel a little bit happy. So if they've already planned a party, they tend to think, "Oh, well, might as well go all out since everything else is in the shit!" If they haven't planned one, but have an occasion coming up, they'll have it anyway as an excuse to have a bit of fun. Interestingly I've noticed that in recent weeks 'price only' queries have slowed down a lot. Loads of customers are calling and placing orders and not asking or quibbling about price - where previously I'd have a lot of tire-kicker customers calling.

Of course, I'm grateful for the business - but on a larger scale I'm grateful that I made the choice to re-train all those years ago. It was scary to do, and required a massive leap of faith - but a HUGE part of choosing my profession was choosing one which would enable me to work anywhere in the world, NO matter what was happening to the economy. People need to eat, and no matter how broke they are, people will always need OTHER people to prepare it for them.

So, tell me. Now that we're all broke and getting broker, what if anything are you grateful for? It's got to be something you did BEFORE all this happened, which has worked out well for you now.

(Seems apt to be posting this on Thanksgiving, even though it's not an Australian holiday. No, Mom, no Pilgrims landed on Sydney Rock...)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cake for Me


"I get by with a little help from my friends..."

No truer words were spoken. (or sung, in any case.) This was the cake I brought to my girls' weekend away in Daylesford - not made by me, but certainly enjoyed by me (it's mille fuille, for those who are curious.) Perhaps I should have written, "I eat cheese with a little help from my friends..." as we managed to eat a ridiculously sublime amount of Buche d'Affinois.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Craptastic Corner Cafe

This past weekend, 7 lovely ladies and I all went away for a weekend away filled with good food, great wine, conversation, and debauchery involving a Sing Star. On the Saturday night we planned to actually drag ourselves away from the buttery leathery couches and head into town for a swanky meal out. Given the state of the economy (and therefore the state of our wallets), we had to forgo the much-awarded Lake House and try for something a little more local.

Thus began what I like to call the week of a thousand phone calls. Seems like every restaurant in the greater Daylesford/Hepburn Springs area was booked out, not returning my calls, or wanting to charge me $35 for a plate of biodynamic samples. Several of the places I called recommended a restaurant called The Cosy Corner Cafe & Restaurant - many of them mentioned that it's a place favoured by locals and that their food is delicious and good value. After some faffing about with message leaving and phone calling, I managed to secure a booking with them for Saturday night.

Sometimes I think I should learn to listen to my instincts. Any restaurant which boasts "normal sized servings" in all of it's advertising just...you know...hmmm. Is that your point of difference? Anyway we pressed on, as it seemed to be the only joint in town which could accommodate us (and that in itself should have been another clue.)

The restaurant itself is not on a corner, but we forgive it those minor transgressions because everything else falls into the category of a major transgression. We come in and get seated...and you know, it didn't take long for the problems to start. First was the menu, which was chucked at us. To say we were made to feel unwelcome would be an understatement. The specials board, which according to the waitress was "making it's way around here eventually" was nowhere to be seen. Then Jewel ordered a Macchiato (which was on the menu) and the waitress had NO idea what that was....so Jewel had to explain it to her. People, don't put something on a menu (even something as simple as coffee) if you have NO IDEA what it is. The blank look Jewel got in response to her request was laughably priceless.

We then made the mistake of asking for some water...which we couldn't even ask for until she went to "put some orders in." She basically told us (in fewer words) to shut up and wait. Honestly, this is the point at which we should have left, and I'm not entirely sure why I didn't suggest that.

This wasn't shaping up to be the best meal ever...but we're patient, and we're nice, so we kept hoping against hope that it would all suddenly improve. It didn't. We had to repeatedly ask for the specials board, and once we got it, it was both barely legible and not anywhere where we could read it. Poor NN nearly got brained by the damn thing falling on top of her. Funnily enough, the items on the specials board sounded a lot better than what was on the menu itself. More imaginative, more interesting, more...everything. This wasn't helped by several items on the menu being pencilled in as N/A. I'm all for short and sharp menus, but not if you can't service those items.

Jewel's now-infamous coffee arrives...as a shot of espresso with 3/4 cup of water added and barely a soupcon of milk on top. Macchiato, my arse! Jewel had to explain (again!) what it was. When she got it (for the second time), let's just say that my dog (which I don't own) with one hand (which he doesn't have) tied behind his back...could have made a better coffee. But I digress, because after all we came here for the food.

Yes.

Well.

The waitress deigns to take our order from us.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And...about ten seconds before I decided to go completely mental on these people, it arrived. We're now looking at one hour, 15 minutes waiting time. In a restaurant of maybe 40 seats, there is no acceptable excuse for this...particularly since the food wasn't particularly complicated.

Sometimes, food can be worth the wait. This time? I wish I had cut and run.

Jewel and I decided to share one of the specials - described as a Mushroom Wellington with scalloped potatoes and mixed seasonal vegetables. Please, witness this horror:

Hmmm. 1.2 pieces of (soggy, unseasoned) scalloped potato. Some steamed vegetables (no seasoning there, either.) Some horrifically burnt-to-carbon veg which I think was sweet potato, but I'm not really sure of that. Most of the vegtables were clearly refugees from the Sunnyvale Home for the Elderly, or a local hospital. We are talking retirement home vegetables, people. Soft and without flavour of any kind, and certainly not seasonal. The mushroom...thing...well... here's some more detail for you:

"Waitress! Somebody shat in my puff pastry!"

Oh. My. God. I found myself wishing I was in that pitch black restaurant - the one where it's so dark the waiters need night vision goggles. This thing was HIDEOUS. They attempted a duxelles and got...poo. I'm sorry, but there's no nice way to say it. Flavour wise, it wasn't too terrible although Jewel found it way too sweet for her pallette. I ate it mostly out of hunger and depression more than actual enjoyment. I found if I squinted my eyes as I lifted the fork to my mouth I managed to - just - swallow without gagging.

The Neighbour's Wife opted for the other vegetarian selection. I'd like to be able to tell you WHAT she ordered, but neither she nor I could really tell:


"Waitress! There's a ...something...in my ....something."

007 went for a stuffed chicken breast. This one apparently tasted pretty okay, but yet again the presentation was one step above dog's breakfast. She too had to "enjoy" her unseasoned steamed vegetables from Sunnyvale.

"Waitress! There's an old man named Jeb who is missing his steamed broccoli tonight!"

The Sicilian was brave and ordered a grilled fish dish...her catch of the day was certainly fresh, but only on the day it was caught (which we guessed was some months prior.) We're talking frozen fish here, people...and not just ANY frozen fish, but frozen fish which our friends at McCain's could have done better on.

Look! More scalloped potatoes! Must've been on special.

The various other meals around the table just got worse and worse. Cocoa's lamb had no sauce at all (read: dry), the chips that Poppet's Mum got were clearly from an el-cheapo frozen brand, nothing was seasoned, most things were overcooked and then there were the salads. Ohhh, the salads!

Hmmm. You charge me $28 a main, and yet you cannot actually toss the dressing through the vegtables? You have to just kinda swirl it a bit on top? Seriously? Here's a culinary newsflash people: chucking a little bit o' alfalfa on top doesn't make your salad great. It just makes it soggy and even more retirement-home like.

At this point we all realised that, having waited as long as we did, there was no point in returning the meals...so we all kinda ate them, grudgingly. The waitress clearly did not give two hoots about us - instead she almost went out of her way to make us feel as though we were a burden on her. It took ages for the plates to be cleared, and eventually my patience wore out and I went up to the counter to request the bill. It took several more minutes to actually GET the bill, and I can assure you that the only bright spark of the meal was knowing that we would leave them a HUGE tip.

The tip? You're reading it. Congratulations, Cozy Corner, you've earned it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quickie Food Review

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

It came from a land far away.
I ignored it, until...
It called to me from inside the pantry.
So.
I mixed it.
I baked it.
The smell made me swoon.
We ate it.
We ate some more.
It's gone.
Only crumbs left.
It was delish!
Go buy some!!

(Translation: Quite possibly the single best baked-from-a-box anything I've ever eaten. No photos because it all got gobbled up too quick! Plus we tried it with the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter (which isn't actually butter at all). We found it's nicer on it's own, hot from the oven.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pink cakes abound!

This cake was made for another repeat customer. I made them several hundred cupcakes for their christening, and now it's first birthday time. She originally wanted this cake:

Which is made by Lindy Smith, one of my favourite cake artists. Unfortunately the customer had neither the budget nor the number of guests to justify it, and she didn't like the idea of using false tiers. In the end we went with something 'inspired' by the above design. I know the colour of the photo is not great (hey thanks, kids, for dropping the digital camera) but you get the idea. The colours in real life were pretty close to Lindy's although my pink wasn't quite as magenta as hers is. I still think it came out beautifully, and I can see how you could adopt this theme in other ways - with only stars rather than flowers, with only variations on pink rather than the added green and orange, and so on.

Lately I've had a number of clients asking for things which really are a lot of fun to make. This cake, while labour intensive in terms of rolling out and cutting all those flowers, was actually simple to make. I've not seen the inside of this book - so I don't know what her instructions were - but I imagine it's something that the reasonably patient and experienced home baker could manage. I'd love to see what other cakes she has in this book, because if they are anything like this one I'm sure they are spectaular.

In the meantime, hope you are all enjoying all these cake pics - I enjoy sharing them!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blog Award


The lovely Claire over at Matching Pegs gave me a blog award a while ago, and it's time I acknowledged it! It was a real treat as it is my first! It's the Proximidade award...and unfortunately my foreign language skills only stretch far enough to understand that getting this is a good thing. The basic idea is that you give it to blogs that "extend the hand of friendship around the world" - and I'm meant to choose eight, and then those people are meant to choose eight more. Kinda like those annoying email chain letters, only nicer because you're not pissing everyone off by forwarding it "just in case, because, you know, I don't really believe in these things, but you never know..."

I have no idea if these 8 blogs read this one...but they extend friendship to me by being full of interesting, fun things to read (and in the case of Wrecks, make me laugh so hard I nearly wet myself), so I'm awarding them.

In no particular order:


Consider yourselves awarded!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cake Engineers

Do you think if I made a cake like this one, my Dad would think I had a real job? Hmmm. I could call myself a Cake Engineer...



...and for those who are as gob smacked as I was, here's the making of:



...but what I really want to know is, who ate it when they finished filming?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tea & Toast Books

There are only so many chick-lit books you can read before you figure out that:

a) the girl always gets the right guy in the end,
b) there will always be a best friend who is happily married with kids and full of useless advice,
c) the girl will always have either the world's worst OR the world's coolest job, and
d) they always seem to be eating endless amounts of take-out curries (especially for books set in the UK.)

While I have been known to devour chick-lit books by the thousands, they also tend to have a high 'pitch rate' for me...eg I read a couple of pages, get bored, and pitch the book back into the library bag. They are perfect for lazy days by the pool, sunny days on the beach, and on air planes where you want to be anywhere but cramped into a small seat with no leg room. Chick-lit, to me, isn't meant to be read on wintery, cold days. On days when all you want is a mug of tea and some toast slathered with (salted, French) butter. Days when you know you have washing, blogging, working, cleaning to do...but you just can't be bothered. On those days, I have two authors whose books I read over and over again.


The first is the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. A series of (so far) 10 slim novels, the books follow the life of Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" woman of Botswana. She opens the very first (and only) detective agency in town, and these books are all about her professional and personal adventures. While I adore crime fiction (and that's another genre we'll talk about later), I don't really read these for the crime part of it. I read them entirely for the fantastic cultural depiction of life in Africa, and for the extreme affection I hold for the main character. I can realte to her in a lot of ways - from driving a car which is far too small for her, to being married to a kind a quiet man, to being an endless talker - I like to think that Mma Ramotswe is me, African style! I've read and re-read this series too many times to count, and yet every time I find I discover something new. A funny one liner, a description of a person or place which is particularly engaging; something which makes me smile.

I've tried reading some of his other books - notably the Sunday Philosopher's Club series - but I don't find them nearly as enaging. With the detective agency books, it's the whole package which makes it. The place on it's own is fascinating, but the combination of location, story line, and totally beliveable characters make these books into something special.

If you've not read them, I highly recommend them... even if you're not having a tea and toast sort of day.


My second author for tea and toast days is Maeve Binchy. Similar to the McCall Smith books, the atraction here lies in the setting. All of her books are set in and around Ireland, a place which I have wanted to visit for a very long time (and which I'm getting to, in November 2010). I find so much about the Irish culture fascintating, that reading these books really is pure joy for me. I suppose some might dismiss these as mere fluff, because they can be terribly predictable, and nothing earth shattering happens in them - kinda like the chick lit, I suppose! Those reasons are precisely why I adore them - they are the literary equivalent of cuddling into a warm quilt.

I recently finished Heart & Soul, which was a little disappointing but still very much a Binchy book. Among my favourites are Tara Road, Quentin's, Silver Wedding, Evening Class and Scarlet Feather. Most of the ones just mentioned share characters, so I get an special treat when someone I've read of suddenly pops up again. I sometimes wonder how she keeps it all straight in her head! While these books are most certainly pitched at the female market, it's the lovely descriptions of Irish life which keeps them from being in the same pile as the Cathy Kelly novels of the world. In terms of characters, she also keeps from being too hackneyed because all of them are different ages - from the young twins to the young adults to the oldies, everyone is represented. I suppose I feel as though Maeve treats her characters with respect. They are all people you could imagine meeting in Dublin one day.

...and if all those are not reasons enough to love her, Maeve describes her childhood self as "...fat and hopeless at games," and unashamedly dedicates every book to her husband. What I'm really saying is that Maeve is Precious Ramotswe, Ireland style.

So while Australia is busy heating up and getting ready for summer, all my Northern Hemisphere readers out there should be getting ready for plenty of tea and toast Sundays. Here's hoping you enjoy those days with a good book in hand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You just never know


Things I never thought I would find myself doing for my children:

1. Spending $80 on make-up, including fake eyelashes and fire-engine red lipstick, for my seven year old daughter. (In my defence, it's for her ballet concert. Still, it kinda makes me want to puke.)

2. Playing Mums-versus-Kids Aussie Rules football and enjoying it so much I briefly found myself wondering it there is such thing as a special league for fat women who cannot run very far.

3. Sewing a dress, from a pattern...and having it come out looking like an actual dress, which both my girls have enjoyed wearing. Not only that, I found myself liking it enough to try it again (yes, photos and a full post-mortem to be posted soon.)

4. Explaining what a blog is, and then having to wrestle the camera away from them as they say, "But Mum! You can post this picture on your blog!"

5. Tolerating their constant threatening to give me a box of used band aids for my birthday. Of all things kid-esque which gross me out (including kids throwing up as I'm a sympathy spewer, dirty toenails, smooth peanut butter and the gagging smell of sweat in DD's gymnastics club) - dirty bandaids are the single most disgusting thing in the entire world. Literally, they give me a gag reflex. My hatred of bandaids (all of them, even clean ones, really gross me out...have you ever smelled them? That plasticky cheap band-aid smell? Ugghhh) has only recently become apparent to my kids, and they LOVE to torture me with this. Ever since DS's banged knee required endless amounts of bandaids which he loved to pick off and leave around the place (including one which The Neighbour's Wife found IN HER MAILBOX!) I am surrounded by the damn things. Please, please make it stop!

...so, tell me. What things do you do for your kids which you never thought you would have to? (and let's try to stay light hearted, shall we?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ones That Count


Sometimes you get a customer who really gets to you...and you just can't get them out of your head. A few weeks ago a lady called me asking about cupcakes for a first birthday, as it was shortly going to be her granddaughter's party and they wanted a very specific look for the event. The mother, sister, and grandmother all came in to see me, with baby in tow and a whole lot of reference photos for me to look at. The Mum wanted four different designs, and was really specific about flavours, colours, shapes, etc. She had the cupcakes planned to the very last detail.

Strangely, during the consult the Mum (of the birthday girl) seemed very miserable. Didn't really engage with me, hardly spoke to me ... she just didn't seem like a lot of the (sometimes frazzled) young mothers I see in my kitchen. Most of them are happy and excited to be talking about birthday cake. To be honest, I thought she wasn't at all happy with what I offered her. When they left, I assumed she would go somewhere else - so I was quite surprised to get an email a few days later, asking about paying a deposit.

When I spoke to the grandmother again, the story was revealed. Turns out this young Mum (she is only 21 years old) has brain cancer, and the prognosis isn't looking good. It is a real possibility for this family that she will never see another one of her daughter's birthdays. For that reason, the family was pulling out all the stops for this first birthday party, getting every detail exactly right and making it a real celebration of both of their lives. She was miserable that day because not only was she in the middle of a round of treatment, but she was probably also thinking about the birthday parties she may never get to be a part of.

When the cupcakes were picked up, the Aunt said, "These are perfect! Exactly what was in the picture. She's going to LOVE these! Thank you so much!" She was so effusive, and so grateful...and my heart just ached and ached for this family. I know I can't do anything for them...other than make them exactly the cupcakes they wanted for their special celebration.

You know what? It's not much, but I know it's going to make this Mum happy. For her, at the moment, I'm guessing it's all about the small happiness she can glean from every day spent with her daughter. This pastry biz might not change the world, but if it makes this sick Mum's day a bit brighter, it will all be worth it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pretty In Pink


This cake was made for a repeat customer - I made their christening cake about 6 weeks ago, and now they are celebrating their little girl's first birthday. On this one I could do whatever I wanted as long as the fairy figurine was on top - the Mum wanted the figurine as a real focal point and a keepsake for her little girl.

I'm posting it just because I really like how it came out. I used elements of other cakes which I like making - the bubble border from the chicken/bubbles cake, the butterfly from the garden cake, and the sugar flowers from all those cupcakes I bake. I also think the yellow works as a good highlight colour with all that pink. Plus I am addicted to cake bling, so of course I had to have a few silver cachous on there, too. While there is a lot of "stuff" on this cake, I just think it came out really sweet and nice. Perfect for a first birthday which is fun and yet elegant at the same time, and it really reflects the family's focus on their pinky-girly little girl.

When the Mum came to pick it up, she said, "Whoah. You must have spent ages on this!" ... and while I did, you know, it was an absolute pleasure. I get a real kick out of spending time on cakes for people who are not only courteous and nice, but also willing to let me do my own thing.

Just posting this because looking at the picture makes me smile...here's hoping it does the same for you.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Retro Baking


Surely by now the NordicWare Company would have contacted me and said, "Hey, emzee, thanks for single-handedly bringing back the glory days of Bundt Cake baking. Here's another Bundt shape for you to try!" Sadly, the good people at NordicWare haven't done that, so my poor readers are left with a picture which looks frighteningly similar to those I've posted before.

This time it was DH who got to pick a cake flavour for the week. He's not one for chocolate things (he likes his dark, and prefers to have it unbaked!) - but he loves citrus things of all kinds. I can almost always pick what dessert he'll have - if it involves lime, orange, or lemon, it's an almost guaranteed order. One of his most favourite treats is those horrible orange peels coated in dark chocolate.

Anyway, he picked the Bundt of the Week as Orange Mint Pound Cake. I wasn't terribly keen on the idea, but then I'm not huge fans of either of those flavours. Still, he's a great hubby and he hardly ever asks for something, so I have to throw the man a bone once in a while, right?

In this case he was totally right - this cake is delicious! Really moist, lovely soft velvety crumb, and the sugaring of the pan gives it a really delicate crust which works well against the soft inside. The mint flavour is quite subtle at first, but the after taste is distinctly fresh mint, and we both noticed the flavour got more intense after a couple of days. It bakes very slowly for a long time, which contributes to it's texture and makes your kitchen smell heavenly.

Another fabulous, ridiculously easy cake which works for grown ups and kids alike.


Orange Mint Pound Cake
1 1/4 cups sugar (in Australia, caster sugar. In the US, fine sugar but not confectioner's)
1 cup butter, softened
1 T chopped mint (you could probably double this)
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 Tbs grated orange peel
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Heat oven to 160/300. Grease your Bundt pan, and put in about 1/2 cup of sugar (extra). Over a sink, turn the pan around until the sugar coats the pan. Add more sugar if necessary, but be sure not to leave a big scoop of it. Once the surfaces are covered, tip out the excess.

Mix sugar, softened butter and mint until very light and fluffy. Add milk and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients and mix to smooth, about 2 minutes. Spoon into a pan.

Bake for 60-85 minutes (mine took 60) until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip onto a wire rack and allow to cool (or not. Eat it warm as we did.)

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blogging By Mail


I love the Internet primarily because it makes the world a smaller place, and it opens up so many opportunities, particularly among the food-loving community. It's through the Internet that I've met fabulous people (Hello, DH and hello, Tatonka Family) and had the chance to experience things I would not otherwise have experienced. Recently I took part in a Blogging By Mail exchange, with a foodie twist. Organised by Stephanie over at The Happy Sorceress, the plan was to send 10 food or food-related items to someone. This was not an even exchange, so the person you sent your goodies to was not the person you received it from. I was lucky enough to get a box of treats from Tammy over at Boston Food & Whine.

She sent me a whole lot of Autumn inspired foods and treats from her local area - I adore getting mail of any kind, but getting a themed (to location and season) box was a real treat. Among other things I got the world's biggest container of Marshmallow Fluff, some Pumpkin Butter, a Boston Red Sox Pez dispenser, some candy corn, real Vermont maple syrup, a cookbook...and loads of other delicious, fun things to try. When I got the box it had heaps of quarantine stickers on it - which isn't really unusual to see. As Australia is an island and once bugs get here, we can't get rid of them - quarantine rules are particularly stringent. My niece once sent me some project she made at school and the whole thing was seized because it was in a cardboard egg carton, which is not allowed! Who knew egg cartons were the harbingers of bacterial gloom?

When I opened Tammy's box there was this huge letter with a brochure telling me that an item had been seized. The item was listed as "20g of dried leaves" - so there I was thinking that Tammy was both liberal and brave to be sending me some pot in the mail! I assumed she had seen this blog (because we all got the recipients blog addresses) and maybe she thought I'd make some hash brownies?! Might as well put my baking skills to good use, right?


Quarantine gave me the option of either a) writing and telling them to destroy the item or b) paying to have it shipped back to Tammy. I thought I'd better check with Tammy before I shipped my precious drugs back to her. Turns out the 20g of dried leaves...was exactly that, DRIED LEAVES! She assumed (correctly) that there isn't much here in the way of fall foilage changing colours, so she had collected some leaves from her garden and sent them.

Damn. No pot for me, I guess.

Sadly, you can't smoke a letter from the Quarantine office, no matter how small you chop it up.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Retro Baking


I read a heck of a lot of baking blogs. Over time, I've come to realise that the ones I enjoy reading the most are those which showcase things which real people, with no pastry skills to speak of, can enjoy. As a result I tend to post those kinds of recipes here, the ones which I think are easy, quick and delicious. No need for special tins, no need for a kitchen blowtorch. Simple, easy things which your Mom and your Mom's Mom probably baked at some point.

Lucky for me there seem to be people out there who enjoy this kind of thing, as I've gotten some really nice comments thanking me for the family friendly stuff I post here. Let's face it - while I can make things like Gatueax St Honore...why should I? My audience, while appreciative, would rather eat the kid stuff (as an after-school snack.) The time I have, combined with the rest of my chaotic life - well, it lends itself to the no mess, no fuss - mix it, bake it, eat it method of pastry cheffing. As a result of this, I sometimes wonder if I am somehow "dumbing down" my own pastry skills...allowing them to gather dust in the corners of my mind while my hands mix yet another no-effort Bundt cake.

The conclusion I've reached is that baking for me is a way of loving other people, and loving myself. The myself bit is the therapy I get from measuring, pouring, mixing - and the other people bit is the joy on my family and friend's faces as I cut them another slice of something.

To that end I think I find myself wishing that there was some sort of book like this - filled with the baking recipes which generations of women have made for their families and their friends. The things which didn't require fancy ingredients, expensive utensils, and 4 hours to make. If I wrote a book like that (and I might have to, someday) I think I'd call it Retro Baking. Baking as it was...and as it should be.

Cakes like this are perfect for my fantasy book, and it has a beautifully soft texture which goes perfect with a glass of milk. Exactly the kind of thing June Cleaver would have under a cake dome on her kitchen bench, perfect for after-school snacking.

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
1 3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extact (I used it but couldn't discern it in the final product, so I'd call this optional)
3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk
1 cup mini choc chips
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Heate oven to 325/170. Grease a Bundt pan and set aside.

In a mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and extracts until very light and fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Plop into the prepared pan - it's a thick batter.

Bake for 55-65 minuts or until a toothpick comes out clear. Cool 10 minutes and flip out - eat warm, it's delish.

(Note: The original recipe suggest you can top this with a glaze. IMHO, not necessary. Also I used normal size choc chips, so I didn't get as even a distribution as I would like.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ridiculous

You know you are obsessively compulsive about winning and over achieving when...

You get the results of your Pap smear in the mail, you read them, and then do a big air punch while saying, "YES! I passed! Whoo hoo!"

Sad, but true.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Give Present For You


Seasonal cooking is one of the things which chefs love, for a myriad of reasons. Things which are in season tend to taste at their best (always a good thing), be in plentiful supply, and of course are much cheaper than they are at other times of the year. One of the other advantages to cooking seasonally is that you are often supporting local Australian economy - better to eat mangoes from Queensland in November than to eat them in May from somewhere in South America.

We've recently been turned onto a new produce store, where one of the fabulous benefits is that load you up with tons of free stuff when you leave. DH came home from said shop with a whole bunch of fruits which we don't normally get. When I laughed at the entire bag of mangoes he came home with, he shrugged and said, "Well, the lady just shoved them at me and said 'I give present for you' so I took 'em and said thanks."

Problem with free stuff is that you get what you pay for - so most of these mangoes were past their eat-by date. Just that little bit too squishy to be nice, but not so squishy that I could not salvage them. So let's consider the facts: a) a big bag o' mangoes, b) summertime, c) ice cream o'clock love and d) I just bought a new stick blender which was begging for a work out.

Voila! Mango Ice Cream, of course. I've never made ice cream other than at culinary school, so I let my fingers do the Googling and I came up with 3 different options. One, a creamy recipe which used only cream. Two, a creamy recipe which used condensed milk (which I love and adore and would eat with a spoon if it was socially acceptable). Finally, a mango sorbet.

In truth, ALL of them were delicious, but they all could have done with more stirring about. The main issue was that we don't own an ice cream maker, so there was rather a lot of having to go and manually whisk every hour or so, for AN ENTIRE DAY. Not your usual "can't be fucked messing with this!" emzee effort. I'd also forgotten how much I hate the whole creamy/fruity thing - I prefer my creamy flavours to be non-fruit based. You know those ice creams which are icy on the outside and vanilla ice cream on the inside? They make me want to HURL. When we go eat gelati, I decide in advance if I'm going fruity or creamy - because the idea of putting a fruit-based gelati on the same cone as a creamy-based gelati is totally horrible.

All that being said, the official verdict was as follows:
#1 (cream only) was the most mango-ish of the whole lot, and had a much richer colour
#2 (cream and condensed milk) had the best texture and best overall flavour
#3 (sorbet) was seriously, firghteningly, utterly fabulous

People, it's time. Go forth and get thee some mangoes. (Preferably for free.) (Or come to my house, there are 2 left.)

In this picture, from top right, clockwise it's sorbet, ice cream #1, ice cream #2

Mango Ice Cream Version One
2 ripe mangoes
1 orange
1 lime
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream, whipped

Peel and slice the mangoes, then whizz up in a blender until pureed. Add in the orange juice, lime juice and sugar. Puree a bit more, then tip into a large bowl. Fold in the whipped cream, pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for 45 minutes. Remove from freezer and whisk until smooth. Return to the freezer and whisk again after 20 minutes, then leave in the freezer overnight or until solid.


Mango Ice Cream Version Two
500 ml cream
14 oz can of condensed milk
2-3 mangoes, pureed
Pistachio nuts, chopped (optional)

Beat the cream and condensed milk well. Add the mangoes and nuts (if using) and whisk again. Put in a bowl with a tight lid and freeze. Whick every hour, about 5-6 times and then leave to set 6-8 hours or overnight.


Mango Sorbet
4 mangoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup sugar syrup
3 limes, juiced

To make sugar syrup: bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to the boil until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Place everything in a food processor and wizz until purreed. Pleace in an ice cream maker or a bowl with a lid and whisk every hour until your patience wears thin, then allow to freeze overnight.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hallo-what?

Halloween in Australia is a decidedly hit-or-miss sort of affair. It's not really advertised much, but various party shops will sell Halloween themed stuff, and sometimes bakeries will have Halloween specials. As for the trick-or-treating, well - it happens in some neighbourhoods and not in others, although how you work out if yours is a trick or treating neighbourhood is beyond me.

Some parents were talking about this whole thing on Friday.One Mum said that previously, she had no idea what Halloween was, so when some random kid showed up asking for candy her response was, "Candy? Why would I give you candy? Bugger off!" Ha! I love it. Endless episodes of Scooby Doo means my kids know what Halloween is, but also understand that it's just not the done thing in Australia.

All three of my kids are huge fans of dress-up, regardless of the day of the month - we have endless fairies, palace guards, "two headed messy hair monsters," aliens, explorers, pirates, ghosts...and so on. Most of their costumes are home-made from bits and pieces they find around the house - bandannas, bits of cardboard, my chef aprons, whatever. DD1 is particularly clever in this regard, and has a fabulous imagination.

When I left for work this afternoon, I was very content in the knowledge that my house was being guarded by this creature:


I'm not sure what is more scary about this - the penguin-patterned footsie pajamas, the stainless steel bowl which is clearly intercepting messages from outer space, or the edward scissorhands green onion nails. Either way it's making me glad I own a handbag which says "If you think I'm nuts, you should meet my children!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Official Start of Summer


About 2 blocks from where we live is a massive public pool - it's got 3 different pools, loads of diving boards, a beach volleyball court and so on. Because it's all outdoors, it's only open from Nov 1 - March 31. Since it's close to home we drive by every day, sometimes several times a day. If the kids are in the car, it usually means there is a lot of complaining about the pool being closed. Like a lot of Australian children, they are total water babies - comfortable in and obsessed with water from a very young age. Anyone who watches the Summer Olympics would know that the Aussies always give the Americans a run for their money - and this year, the kids were all wanting to know which team I would be cheering for. Me being me, I just said I'd cheer for whoever looked best in those razor swim outfits they squeeze into.

But I digress (as usual.) So for months now the kids have been wanting to know WHEN the pool is going to finally open. I promised that we could go on the very first day, provided the weather cooperated. Melbourne being what it is, Nov 1 dawned wet, and miserable, and overcast. No pool going for us. Nov 2nd dawned sunny and bright and perfect for swimming, so away we went.

FOUR HOURS of pool time later and the hungry three were, well, hungry! A good time was had by all, especially me who can now sit by the pool with the newspaper and let the trio swim themselves exhausted. Not surprisingly, getting them out of bed this morning was a bit of an effort (for DH. Not me. I don't do early rising.)

Ahh...summer in Melbourne. Yesterday, swims and sunscreen. Today? Pissing down rain. Regardless of the weather, I'm in for several months of happy, healthy, hungry kids - which is exactly as it should be.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Culinary Genius


You know how they say that a baby 'imprints' onto the first thing it sees when it opens it's eyes? I think the same is true of food. We imprint certain tastes and textures onto our culinary psyche and when we taste it again, we get transported back to the time or place where we ate that thing. Recently I discovered that this culinary memory can start to take root from a very young age.

Way back when the kids were about 3 years old, my son had this minor obsession about spreads. Specifically, different sorts of spreads on toast. The deal was that he wanted toast with ALL of the following - butter, jam, peanut butter and Vegemite - on one piece of toast. At the time there was a whole procedure about it, how the jam had to be second from the bottom - so that effectively it could "hide" under the next two layers, and not a spot of jam could be seen from the top. Henceforth a family 'recipe' of "toast with jam hiding" was born.

For reasons I can't recall, DS stopped demanding his jam hiding toast ... most likely because I threw a tantrum at being a short order cook about breakfast meals, but possibly just because he grew out of that culinary phase. As is common for their age, my trio are obsessed by childhood stories - mine, their own, their grandparents...anyone, really, who can spin a good yarn about what it was like "when you were a baby." As it happens I've got some seriously good stories, because as a child I was notorious for getting seriously, hideously, horribly lost. ALL the time.

Anyway. So one of the recent stories I've told them is about how much they used to eat as toddlers. A ridiculous amount, especially at breakfast time - something like 10 Vita-Brits between them. There was a point in time when we would easily motor through 18 litres of milk a week. Thus the story of the jam hiding toast came out of the family food lore cupboard. Initially DS thought this sounded hideous and didn't want to try it again...but then curiosity won over disgust and he asked me to make him some.

Admittedly, I didn't bother with covering every last skerrick of jam like I used to, but I DID slather on all four toppings. He took a bite, a bit hesitantly, and then as he chewed broke into a giant grin and said, "HEY! I remember this flavour! I remember eating this!" and proceeded to happily devour the entire thing and tell me how totally fabulous it was and what a COOKING GENIUS he must have been as a three year old.

Yes. Well. There's me off to buy some jam, then.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kodak Moments

Firstly, parental bragging rights: DD1 just passed her second gymnastics exam, moving her up to the next level of frighteningly flexible moves and scary things like the vault. DS also moved up a level in cricket, which for him means the excitement of getting his own cup to protect his family jewels (you should have SEEN the excitement this generated...) and DD passed her ballet exam "with merit" a mere two points below "with distinction." Considering how freakin' coordinated all these kids are, it's a wonder they are related to me. But then, given my sewing and cooking pursuits, it's a wonder I am related to MY Mom - who has neither time nor desire to sew or cook.

It's been a while since I've posted some pictures of my kiddos (just for fun as opposed to just for ritual humiliation), so here are some for your viewing pleasure:

DD2 proving that it's never to early to start slave labour...


DS giving his mother a heart attack. Get DOWN from there!


Okay, if your sister gets up there, then this is no longer scary.
This is now a photo op!

Sisters, friends, frenemies. Pick your moment. Actually this photo reminds me of why so many people claim that they cannot tell them apart.

DD1 at the Royal Melbourne Show. This kid is all about adventure, and all about legs. Seriously, her legs start at her ankles and continue on until infinity. Please, god, may she stay this thin and leggy forever, even if it means I will have to become an expert at letting down hems.


And finally, the trio...all dressed and make-uped for their school concert a month or so ago. Proof positive they are capable of standing still and smiling all at the same time. Pity it took several thousand shots, a lot of yelling, and eventually some begging (all on my part.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Floppin' About

The biggest debate raging in Casa Verde at the moment is all about DH's penis.

I'll allow you to digest that sentence for a moment.



Yeah, okay, so DH and I are debating his penis. Namely, that he totally doesn't mind wandering around the house all stark nekkid in front of the kids. Now before you go thinking he is a pervert, let me give you the background story.

In DH's family, they're pretty open about these things. They have no issue with privacy, wandering around naked, and in general being pretty 'free' when it comes to bodies and bodily functions. Fer cripes's sake, these people have bathrooms with louvered doors. So you can HEAR and SMELL and almost, kinda, if you look at it from the correct angle, SEE what is happening in there. These bathroom doors totally drive me insane, and yet they see nothing wrong with it. Okay, fine, be that way. Me? I'm picking the toilet as far away from other humans as I can, and then I am doing my Kegel exercises mid-flow to make sure my pee is not too loud. But that's just me.

My family, on the other hand, is totally NOT open about anything like that. Okay, we make more than our fair share of fart and poop jokes, but we certainly don't wander around naked, we don't talk about sex, and our bathroom doors were manufactured by the same people who make the doors for bank vaults. My sex talk consisted of "Ask your sister!" and my sister's sex talk was "Whatever you don't know, ask your friends." What we do, we do behind steel-reinforced closed doors, and for heaven's sake we don't then discuss it!

Then the kids came along, and DH was all for a free, hang-it-all-out household. I resisted this for a long time, until it became easier to just let them come into the bathroom and ask me the i-will-die-now-if-you-don't-answer-me-Mummy question than it was to listen to the progressively louder screaming and crying and pounding on the door. Ours, too, became a liberal free love hippy household. In truth, I don't really like it that way but I've been too lazy and too tired to bother with bringing back some decorum. Also, I don't really have a great REASON for bringing back decorum, since now my kids have seen it all anyway.

However. They are now 7, and hurling head first into pre-teen-dome, and I think it's time that DH (and I) covered up a bit. So last weekend when he went to turn on the TV for them, while he was in the complete nuddy nuddy nude...I said, "You know, maybe it's time you put on some unides if you're going to do that." He gave me a wide-eyed look and said, "Good God Woman! WHY?" (Okay, okay, he just said, "Why?" The rest added for creative licence purposes.)

I could think of no better answer than to say, "Well, you know...there comes a certain time in one's life when your Dad's penis becomes, you know, embarrassing....and I think you should put it away before the girls have to muster up the courage to tell me to tell you that your penis flapping about is kinda embarrassing."

DH is aghast at this, and thinks I'm completey crazy. He sees nothing wrong with the whole thing, and to be fair, other than ungodly hour TV duty, he mostly keeps it covered. Still, I just think it's kinda...well...yucky.

So, dear readers (now that I have some! Whee!) tell me. Penis in or penis out?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Messy Yet Healthy

I am constantly frustrated at the sheer amounts of crap my kids own, and their complete inability to put stuff away. It's not unusual for me to find hair clips in planters, and ballet tights in shopping bags, and totally "essential" plastic pieces of crap "hiding" in my shoes. The house we live in, while pretty roomy, is totally lacking in storage. The main bedrooms all have these itty-bitty closets - with sloping shelves on top so you can't fit more than one sweater up there. My kids have no place to actually put their endless amounts of stuff, which means they leave their stuff absolutely everywhere but where it should be.

This inability to store stuff has led to two interesting skill sets. Firstly, my ability to throw out endless amounts that nobody notices (not even you, DH). Secondly, it has made my kids very creative at good excuses for not putting stuff away. I once shouted at DD2 to put her stuff away, and she shouted back, "WHERE? There is nowhere TO put my stuff away!" This of course took the wind out of my sails and I just stood there laughing like a moron. End result, nothing got put away and she won that round.

Recently I asked DS to put his beloved elephant away - an elephant which is on it's last...trunk, so to speak. The poor guy has so many holes, and so little stuffing, that he's basically just a pale grey rag who has had all his fur loved off. DS, being all boy, still treats his elephant like it's a football and flings it about with gay abandon - a habit which pisses me off enormously. Does he not GET that it's the last vestige of his babyhood, and therefore should really be saved in a glass box with a "do not touch or else" sign on it? Does he not get that the minute he stops loving that thing, I will sit and CRY about my baby boy not being a baby anymore?

Clearly not, if his idea of putting him away is this:


...and of course, when I asked WHY the elephant was in the fruit basket, instead of in, I don't know, YOUR ROOM, I got this as an answer:

"Because elephants need to have a healthy diet, too, and fruit is his favourite food. This way he won't go hungry!"

...and this conversation was closely followed by DD2 "rescuing" elephant from the fruit basket and saying, "Oh my god! Doesn't DS KNOW that an elephant can be CRUSHED TO DEATH by an orange? DS, you need to respect your belongings! How dare you?!"

Amen to that, little one. Amen to that!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Muffin Incident

Muffins waiting to be baked

Yesterday's Melbourne Cup was a good excuse as any to try out some recipes I've had hanging about...and while I did get that chance, these turned out to be the most expensive muffins I've ever baked.

We'd planned to watch the horse race over at The Neighbour's house and the official brief was to "bring whatever." I'd recently bought some polenta (mmmm...polenta! Love that stuff) and it had a recipe on the back for some savoury muffins. Seemed like the perfect sporting snack for a sunny afternoon. They were delicious, but by the time we eventually left for The Neighbours, only six were left. These things were YUM. Not recommended by the heart association, but totally divine and delish and easy for kids to help make.

Stupid me sent DS out to the car to take a picture of the muffins we had, before they all got eaten. Said muffins were in the car because we were preparing to take them over...and I figured it was my last chance to take a picture before they got hoovered up by small children. This is the picture he took:


....and then something happened (nobody knows what exactly, because they are all busy covering their own asses and those of their siblings) but my (expensive, shiny, mostly new) digital camera took a nose dive onto the concrete. I think it can be saved as it's mostly in working order other than a shutter which will not close due to being dinged out of shape and falling off. (Can you hear the false optimism in that sentence?!)

To say I was pissed off would be an understatement - but not pissed off at THEM, mind - pissed off at myself for leaving 3 kids and a digital camera on a concerete driveway with no supervision. Really, I only started to feel better once I saw the other pictures that got taken...


Damn kids. Right as you want to scream and rage against them, they do something hilariously funny like take a picture of one another's nostrils. Little buggers.

Polenta, Cheese & Bacon* Muffins
1/2 cup polenta
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
100 g butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 rindless bacon rashers, chopped* (* We used all beef kosher pepperoni)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup tasty cheese (I just used 1 1/2 cups tasty and no cheddar as we had none.)

Preheat oven to 180C
Grease (a lot!) a 12 hole mffin tin.
Mix polenta and milk into a bowl and leave to sit for 25 minutes.
Put flour into a large bowl. Add melted butter, eggs, polenta mix to get a heavy batter.
Stir in bacon/jewish alternative, onion and cheese. Mix well.
Drop 2T worth of mixture into each muffin hole, bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Best served warm.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ice Cream O'Clock

Since the weather has turned warmer, DH and I have found plenty of opportunities to celebrate Ice Cream O'Clock. Ice Cream O'Clock, for those who don't know, is the hour of the day when the kids are in bed (and hence can't beg to share), the dishes are all done, the emails are answered, and it's just you and him and peace and quiet (and maybe some Top Chef or Project Runway on the telly.)

Funnily enough I posted on facebook that it seems like I've been enjoying Ice Cream O'Clock a bit too much lately...and a friend of mine posted back that somehow "Fruit and Vegetable O'Clock" just doesn't seem to have the same ring to it. I'm afraid I have to agree with her on that one!

Our usual O'clock poison is cookies and cream, choc chip, or if DH is very lucky, some Homer Hudson Choc Rock. This particular day saw us sadly devoid of anything, as (in DH's words) I "flagrantly offered" the kids to have some of our secret stash. A quick trip to the local 7-11 fixed that, and we had two new things to try - Maxibon Honeycomb and the new Maxibon Bits.

The original Maxibon is one of my favourites - inside it's a chocolate chip-ish ice cream in a rectangular shape. One half of it is dipped in Chocolate with crunchy bits, and the other half is sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies. The Honeycomb version just replaces the normal ice cream with Honeycomb, and the bits are supposedly pieces of honeycomb. I didn't think it was possible, but the good people of Peter's managed to actually produce a nearly flavourless ice cream. It wasn't inedible, but neither was it remarkable. I didn't really taste much honeycomb-ish flavour in there. Basically I ate my part of it and felt kinda ripped off. It's one of the few times where I truly felt like I'd wasted calories on ice cream.

The second one we tried is being hugely promoted at the moment, with the tag line, "Same same. Only different." I can use this same tag line to describe it, too - same, same crap ... only different to how it appears on the box. These things are NOTHING like a Maxibon. They're just a little blot of vanilla icecream covered in a thin chocolate shell. On the box they look all big and luscious but in real life they are actually kinda flat - a bit like a Hershey's Kiss that somebody sat on. While they taste okay, they're also really disappointing! This product would have been WAY better if it had some of the original biscuit pieces in it - or just, something to lift it from being so boring.

If nothing else it's taught me that if I am going to continue to enjoy Ice Cream O'Clock, I'd best be enjoying something good for those calories! Anyone else want to recommend something delish for us to try?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Finished!


I finished my first quilt, and I couldn't be more proud - YAY ME! This really was a very simple project to do for a beginner, as it's essentially just sewing a whole lot of straight lines. I had a few technical issues with it - namely that I got quite a lot of puckering, and that as it grew it started to get a bit unwieldy! The kids got to help with this as well, so I like to think that I'm passing some knowledge onto the next generation.

I actually bought enough flannel to make two of these - the other flannel is a soft purple and a soft blue. Having learned a lot of lessons in doing this (namely that if you cut the squares wonky, the finished product will be wonky) I'm keen to give this another shot. Ultimately I'm not all that happy that the squares did not line up well, but as DH says it gives it "a homemade air" about it, and the damn thing is just so cute that I forgive myself.

For those who care about these sorts of thigs, I used a bamboo batting inside - more expensive than wool, etc but also environmentally friendly and a lighter weight. Washing it to get the 'rag' effect on the egdes was a major undertaking...I think we'll bge pulling pink fluff out of things for quite a while! In the picture above you can see the ragged side - in the picture below the non-ragged side. It also seemed to shrink quite a bit in the wash ... but it's still the perfect size for two little girls to have a cuddle, so that's okay by me!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If you give a fly a cupcake

One of the unfortunate side effects of a beautiful Australian summer is the flies. The damn things are just everywhere, and you can't get away from them. The running joke is that flapping one's hand across their face to shoo the flies is the Australian greeting for hello. It's not uncommon so see runners and walkers with a twig of gum tree in their hands, swishing it about their head and face as they exercise. It doesn't actually bother the flies, but it makes the walker feel like they are doing something about the problem.

When I first came here I went on a bus tour to the middle of the country - Uluru, Katherine, and so on. The one rule of the bus trip was that as the person ahead of you got on, you had to brush the flies off their back - a most effective technique to keep the damn things out of the bus. Most travellers complain about them, but most locals just get used to them. While I personally find the little flies annoying, Australia is also home to the MOTHER of all flies - the blow flies.

Blow flies, for those who don't know, are these MASSSIVE bloody flies which are not only ugly but also make an annoying buzzing noise. They drive people crazy - and when I say they are big I mean big - like a giant yellow-jacket size. They're also kinda gross, you know?

Last week I had to deliver some cupcakes to a wedding venue on the other side of town. As I was setting them up, this big blow fly decided to keep me company. I wasn't surprised, given the heat of the day and the sweet smell of the cupcakes. I finished my set up and mentioned to the venue manager that she might want to swat him. Much to my dismay, she went running for a massive aerosol can of fly spray. She chased the bugger around the room, spraying a 'whoosh' of chemical at him at various intervals. He was tenacious, though, and wouldn't die...until, of course, he decided he was hungry and wanted to nibble on a cupcake. (Well, can you blame him? All that buzzing around!)

She approached the tiers of cupcakes, fly spray in hand...and I cirnged, knowing where this was going to lead. She shooed him off a cupcake, using her hand as a fan. She waited until he was a couple of inches above the display and then she sprayed the shit out of that guy....not really noticing the fine but concentrated mist of fly spray which was now landing ALL OVER my cupcakes.

Oh great! Just fabulous! Anyone interested in chocolate cupcakes with butter cream icing and a fine sprinkling of Mortein? Uuuggghhhh...

So this is what happens if you give a fly a cupcake. It's the cupcake which gets it in the end.

The fly? He just kept on buzzing.

I left before she decided to smoke the place out.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NaBloPoMo

Hello Everyone and welcome to the first post for NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month! I signed up to take part in this event, which means I need to blog every day for the thirty days of November. Since my September and October blogging was pretty dismal, this is my chance to redeem myself. I also means I can amuse my Mom for an entire month, which is sure to get me some brownie points. I'm hoping this month to broaden my blogging horizons, with a couple of book reviews, food reviews and as usual rants about my fabulous-but-crazy clientele and fabulous-but-crazy children.

First up a review of a book I read this month (pic 'borrowed' from Amazon):


The Age of Shiva - Manil Suri

Lately I've been trying to get away from the endless tomes of chick lit that I seem to be drawn to. Picking this book off of the library shelf was an attempt at broadening my reading horizons - and while I'm not sorry for doing it, it wasn't perhaps one of my better choices.

The book follows the life of Meera, an Indian woman who lives through the war with Pakistan and the various poltical upheavals of the time. The story follows her from young adulthood, through to her marriage with the alcoholic Dev, to the birth of her son and her son's eventual young adulthood. Books about India and India's history often capture my attention because they tend to have such beautiful narrative - in a culture as rich as India's it's hard not to find what to describe. While there are some parts of this novel which are truly beautiful to read, it suffers from an excrutiatingly slow pace and a main character who you want to reach into the book and smack.

Ostensibly Meera is a strong, independant woman - from the beginning she 'engineers' her marriage to Dev, is clearly quite intelligent, and has dreams and aspirations. It doesn't take long, though, before everything goes awry - Dev isn't the man she had hoped, her brother in law has designs on her, and her life seems to be plagued by poor decisions and a complete lack of strength of character. She just...submits, and somehow keeps hoping that things will improve. She is a victim of the males in her life - from her father to her husband to her son, and while she recognises that, it never seems to affect her in any profound way. The story only really held my interest because I kept hoping in vain that something might actually happen - but I got to the end realising that there was actually very little in the way of storyline. The whole novel felt a bit flat - the charachters never really jump off the page, the descriptions of places and events are fairly bland, and in the end you just sort of feel a bit let down. From the female perspective, I found myself thinking that Meera was more annoying than she was endearing.

Reading various on-line reviews about this author's first book (The Death of Vishnu) makes me wonder if he didn't suffer a bit from second book blues. Given the exemplary reviews of his first book, I'm going to see if I can't find it and review that one as well. Here's hoping!

End result is - Age of Shiva: Entirely forgettable.