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.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chaos, Revisited

Recently I was talking to someone about my life... a someone who does not know me personally, does not know the extent of my craziness (mothers in toilets and whatnot), and basically who knows very little about the day-to-day running of my life.

"So," says this someone, "You have triplets. A job. A business." "Yes," says I, "I do." Then that someone looked at me and said, "So without even knowing you, I know your life must be chaos. Meals eaten on the run, mutli-tasking, never feeling like you have enough hours in the day. Chaos, right?"

I mulled over this for a moment... because, really, I DON'T think my life is chaotic. Busy, yes. Sometimes a little over-full, yes. Full of adventures? Definitely yes. But I don't really think of my life as being chaos, unless we're talking CONTROLLED chaos, in which case maybe I qualify for that title. This conversation made me think about OTHER people's lives. Sure, the whole triplet thing means I've got a bit more happening than other people might, but other than that? I just lead a normal life...or at least I think it's normal.

Take, for example, The Baker's Wife. She's got two *little* kids, a business, a noctural husband. The Neighbour's Wife has three little kids, a full time job, a dog and is active at the kids' school, Poppet's Mum has 2 kids and is the sole breadwinner.... and so on and so forth. ALL the women I know are juggling multiple balls up in the air at the same time as mine... but then I never hear anyone describe their lives as chaotic. So is it really "the triplet factor" which ups the ante on my life? Is it just that I spin a good yarn and so my life, to the untrained ear, sounds crazier than most? Or, is it that other people cannot fathom life with triplets and so they make assumptions about my life and what it must be like?

Any other triplet parents - or parents who know my life, or parents who read about my life on this blog- care to weigh in on this? Is my life chaos, or is chaos just the new normal?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Feed a Crowd (Quickly)

The one thing I haven't told you in all of this is that I am quite possibly once of the laziest mothers and cooks you've ever met. I like to take the least amount of time and effort in order to achieve the maximum of success. So - how does this all work so well? - EASY. I employ child labour (to set the dinner table), I outsource (the dishes to DH) and I multi-task (more below.) Without all of that I don't think this would be as easy as it all is.

In terms of the multi-tasking - here are a few pointers:

- Lunches are made at the same time as afternoon snacks. If I waited until after dinner, or the next morning, it would just be a painful, annoying chore. I've also trained the kids to drop their lunch boxes on the kitchen counter IMMEDIATELY as they walk in the door so I don't need to go hunting. I find if I finish all the food prep jobs before dinner, that leaves me free evenings to do other things and I'm not standing in the kitchen all night.

- Dinner is made at the same time as I'm cleaning up from lunches. Similarly if I've peeled carrots for lunch, you can guarantee something peeled (potato, sweet potato, pumpkin) is also on the menu at dinner. The peeler is already dirty, right? If someone asks for rice crackers for their snack, that's what I use in the lunches as well since they are already out of the cupboard. Lazy, lazy, lazy - but it works.

- I prefer to cook dishes which involve loads of chopping rather than loads of cooking, because chopping is a whole lot faster! So - casseroles, one dish dinners, soups, etc are all a hit around here because I can chop like the bloody wind but I can't make a pot boil any faster. I'm a huge fan of 'fix it and forget it' style of dishes because I know it's ME who can make it faster to prepare, and then once it's on the stove or in the oven I can be doing other stuff.

- Clean up as you go. I do outsource dishes to DH, but similarly I don't think it's fair to leave him with a sink load of dirty pots and pans. So as much as I can (and as he will tell you, I sometimes fail) I try to use a pot and wash it. Usually I'll wash stuff while I'm waiting for something to simmer or reduce.

- A watched pot is a waste of time - learn to turn the heat up or down. Unless your kitchen is as big as a football field, you'll be able to get to a burning pot in time. Most things can be thrown into a pot and you can WALK AWAY for a minute, even if it's only to put away the lunch makings and so on. So if I'm sweating onions, I throw them in the pan, shimmy them around a bit, and then go do other smaller quick jobs before coming back in a minute or two to shimmy it some more. Of course use your common sense and don't walk from boiling oil, leave a pot handle sticking out, and so on. If you're worried about burning stuff, turn the heat down a bit until you're more confident.

- Learn to shimmy a pan (my own expression, not a cooking term.) In other words learn the pull-and-flick motion of turning things in a pan without using a spoon or utensil. It takes practice but it's totally doable (after all, chefs on TV manage it.) For beginners I highly recommend using a pan with rounded sides as it helps move the stuff kinda up and over.

- Use slave labour. My kids all know how to chop, peel and wash most vegetables, plus stir stuff in a pot (no shimmying allowed for kids under 10). Yours should too (although you can adjust the job for age appropriateness.)

- Read, read, read. I own a lot of cook books but I don't use very many of them - because I've discovered the very quickest of recipe finding is the 'net. Bloggers like sweetnicks and $5 dinners often post fast, inexpensive, family friendly meals. Get yourself a Google Reader account, find some really great parenting blogs which feature food (or food blogs which feature parents), and learn how to subscribe to those blogs. I've gotten some fantastic recipes from other bloggers who themselves are needing to feed a crowd. The joy of using Reader is that you can just scroll past the stuff which does not interest you.

- Lastly, admit defeat and order take-out once in a while. I won't tell.

That's it! I hope you guys have enjoyed this little mini-series of posts - it's been quite fun writing them all. I'd love to hear if any of you have adopted any of these hints, or have some of your own to share.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feed a Crowd (Whenever)

One of the keys to my food-with-kids success is that I keep a really well stocked pantry. Formulas for lunch and dinner won't do anyone any good unless you actually HAVE the things you need with which to make said meals. So without further ado, here is a (mostly complete, I probably forgot some) list of the things you'll always find in my house. The quantities I've listed are minimums, so if I notice I have less than that, I'll buy what I need to bring it back up to minimum level. This is actually a chef trick - restaurants, cafes, etc have "par levels" of items they keep in stock. It's how you know what to prep/cook that day.

I'm excluding fresh fruit and vegetables since those are things I buy when I plan the week's meals, so I don't keep stock as such. I'm also really trying to get this to be a 'bare minimum' list - so some things which you might consider crucial (soy sauce, salad dressing, etc) are missing because I don't think they are essential to creating a family meal on the run.

The beauty of this list is that I know I can create "something out of nothing" if I've got most or all of them on hand. I can just look inside my pantry and know that there are any of maybe half a dozen "go to" recipes which can be made from what you see below. I've also excluded (most) dairy as I think that's a more personal preference item - we usually have slices of cheese, shredded cheese, yohurt and cream cheese at bare minimum (in addition to what is below.)

Protein:

- 1 kilo (2 lbs) minced beef in 500g (1 lb) bags
- enough chicken pieces (breasts or thighs) for one dinner
- sausages, a dozen of whatever flavour
- something which can be grilled (lamb chops, steaks, etc.)
- canned tuna x 3-4
- lentils, usually red as they cook faster

Flavour hits:

- salt
- pepper
- cinnamon
- a selection of basic dry herbs: basil, thyme, oregano
- a decent spice mix (I like Moroccan)
- Worcestershire sauce
- tomato sauce
- bbq sauce
- chicken stock (either cubes, prepared, frozen, UHT, whatever)

Fridge:

- butter
- milk
- eggs
- jar of minced garlic
- jar of minced ginger
- mayonnaise, not Australian style (it's crap)

Dry store:

- flour, both self-raising and plain
- sugar (white and brown)
- rice (I prefer doongara or basmati as they are both low GI)
- polenta
- oatmeal (instant is fine)
- baking powder
- baking soda
- cans of corn
- canned chopped tomatoes
- tomato paste
- cous cous
- pasta of various sizes/styles
- pancake mix (bought or make your own)
- breakfast cereal
- a wide array of dry crackers
- cocoa powder
- tortillas
- raisins
- olive oil and vegetable oil
- vinegar (of your choice)
- non-stick spray
- spreads (peanut butter, jam, vegemite, honey)
- bread crumbs

Frozen:

- bag of peas (does double duty as an ice pack)
- bag of potato chips/gems/wedges
- bag of mixed vegetables
- loaf of bread and/or bagels or other bread item

There you have it - if you're keeping a well stocked pantry, you're following some sort of plan (whatver that plan may be), you'll find that feeding a family isn't nearly as hard as some people seem to think. Of course, there are the nights when I just cannot be bothered, the nights when I'm desperate for a few hot chips, and the nights where adults and children alike are eating Cheerios and toast. Those nights, well, sometimes you need those for a bit of variety!

Stay tuned for the last in this series of posts - where I tell you the real secret to my success.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Feed a Crowd (Dinner)

Once people get over the fact that my kids do not have Cordon Bleu lunches, they often ask if we eat the most amazing, chef-inspired dinners. In a word: NO. I just don't have the time to be whipping up cauliflower foams and rhubarb brulee and a chiffonade of salad greens (don't you love the chef terms? That's to make me seem all superior.) Our meals need to be healthy, easy, and above all QUICK. Quick to make, quick to eat, and for DH's sake, quick to clean up. Part of our earlier aforementioned deal (which is not a deal so much as a rod for my back - slash - genius on my part since I never have to do dishes) is that he does all the clean up.

The evening meal is one which we all eat together, at the same time, sitting at the table. With proper plates and everything. It's how I grew up, how DH grew up, and we both feel it's an integral part of our life and family. We spend our dinners sharing our day, telling ridiculous jokes, talking about stuff and occasionally reverting to our child selves and holding burping contests (damn, I just ruined our whole Waltons image.)

The actual making of dinner is a pain in the ass, so to avoid meltdown tantrums (on my part), we once again we impart a "trip trick" and we use a formula:

Protein item + carb item x 1 + vegetable item x 1 (minimum) = Dinner and happy families

DH (and kids) are sworn carnivores, so the protein item is really what defines the rest of the meal. Sometimes it's ridiculously easy, like a steak or lamb chops or a roast or something which is the cooking method ofapply heat and ignore. Other times it requires more effort, like meatloaf or a stir fry, or roasted chicken, or something with more than just salt and pepper. Other times it's a one pot meal, or something I've marinated the night before. Either way it's the protein part of it which then defines the rest of the side dishes.

The sides - aforementioned carbs and veg - are again, ridiculously simple and easy. The carbs might be rice (cooked in stock for some flavour), couscous, polenta, quinoa, mashed potatoes, pasta and so on and so forth. The veggies might be cooked - roasted potato, frozen mint peas, boiled ears of corn, cooked mushrooms but they just might also be raw - salad, fresh sliced tomato or deconstructed salad (sliced, cut raw veg.)

Central to this whole easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy dinner making is the planning. We have a sheet on the fridge which has each day of the week listed, for a total of 3 weeks. So the paper is divided into 3 columns, with 7 rows. Sundays are always "catch as catch can" nights - so leftovers, maybe a take away, maybe dinner out, maybe the kids favourite of breakfast-as-dinner meal. Saturday nights are a Casa Verde tradition of Pizza & Beer night (more on this in another post...yes, we make our own pizza.) Friday nights are special so they are usually written in if we're staying here or going to family.

The rest of the nights of the week - so 12 nights for every 3 week period - are written in on our chart. If I know I've got meat in the fridge/freezer, I'll write all those in first and then fill in the side dishes. If I don't have ANY protein around, I'll pencil in a vegetarian night or two, and then head off the to butcher and see what's on special, what's in season, what looks nice. In the planning stage (which takes all of, ooohh...10 minutes) I'll also pull out a couple of the "I always wanted to try this" recipes which I have lying around. I try to put in one new recipe a week - keeps us from getting bored and if the recipe works, we add it into our 'regular favourites' to be dragged out again at a later date.

So once I've used whatever protein I've got, pencilled in whatever new recipes I want to try, and added side dishes to those - I'll ask DH or the kids to nominate stuff. More often then not they have suggestions, or requests (tacos is always in demand....). Several times the kids have looked through magazines (I can highly recommend Super Food Ideas for quick, cheap meal ideas) and picked stuff out which they think they will like.

Once I go to order our fruit and veg (we do this online), I know pretty much what I need for each weeek. Again, if something is on special or in season, I'll order it and add it to the list as a side dish. The meal plan list isn't set in stone - sometimes things get moved around, or crossed off, or ignored altogether. However having a plan - of whatever kind - means I'm not standing in my kitchen at 530 every night trying to answer the most annoying cry of, "What's for dinner?"

The benefits of planning are multiple - the kids are involved, we have very little food which we throw out (because it got forgotten at the back of the fridge), we take advantage of seasonal/economical products, and we get to try new things. We almost never have the same thing - other than Saturday nights- it can take 6 or more weeks for a meal to pop up again. Above all, I can forgo my nightly Prozac because I am not stressing out about feeding 3 hungry kids and 1 hungry DH in a manner of minutes. . Sure, there are times when I'd like to be making a slow roasted something-or-other, or really making more multi-layered dishes, or just exercising my chef chops a bit harder. I save those for weekends ... when I've got some free time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I'm quite happy to hand make bread, slow roast lamb shanks, and so on and so forth. Mid-week, once I've picked the trio up from school I cease being a chef and I put my Mum hat on - a hat which I'm far happier to wear, and one which does not totally bugger up my hair.

Without further ado, here are some meals which are from the last few weeks:

Lamb chops / Israeli Salad / Cous Cous

Devilled sausages / Mashed potato / Sliced Tomatoes

Chicken streusel / Basmati Rice / Salad

Roast leg of lamb / Roast pumpkin / Mint peas

Crumbed fish / Oven baked chips / Salad

Chicken meatballs / Risoni pasta / Garlic bread

Homemade sausage rolls / Roasted sweet potato / Honey and orange carrots

Grilled marinated chicken / Quinoa / Grilled asparagus and zucchini

Asian meat loaf / Mashed potatoes / Green beans

French Onion Soup / Bread for dipping / Purple cabbage salad

Burritos: Beef, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheese, Spanish rice

So there you have it - all simple, relatively healthy, mostly cost effective family meals. We're not eating in a 5 star restaurant - but we're enjoying our time together as a family, eating things which are good for us and delicious too, and all is right with the world.

Want to know more? Ask in the comments below.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Feed A Crowd (Lunch)

When people hear I have triplets, and then hear I am a chef, they always say, "Wow! Your kids must have the BEST lunch boxes!" This of course makes me laugh, as the one job in the world I really, really, really hate (next to cleaning my house) is making school lunches. It's boring, it's annoying, and it happens most nights of the week. DH and I struck a deal (and by deal I mean he just made himself seem incompetent at lunch making, thus making it faster and easier for me to do it myself) whereby the first person home each night is responsible for dinner and lunches (and baths, and readers, and homework, and, and, and!)

No great surprise, the lunch job is mine 99.99% of the time, and if I do say so myself, my kids have KICK ASS lunches. Lunches which do not have junk food OF ANY KIND in them, with the possible exception of the dry crackers which may veer kinda close to not-so-healthy. Their lunches rock not because I am a chef, but because I apply what Jenn would call an "Amazing Trip Trick" - and that is, a parenthack which makes life with triplets bearable. So my ATT for lunches is simple: I apply a formula.

The formula looks something like this:

1 main + 2 herbavore items + dry crackers + bonus item = happy mother and fabulous lunch.

So the "main" part consists of the bulk of the meal, and includes stuff like:
- sandwich
- leftovers from the night before (slice of quiche, pasta, whatever)
- sushi hand rolls

And for variation in the main part:
- change of bread (pita, bagel, fruit loaf, bread roll, mountain bread...)
- change of filling (all the usual plus various dip options like smoked trout mousse, hummus blah blah and sometimes wierd stuff like a plain omlette)
- change/add veggies in sandwich: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado

The herbavore items are as follows:
- 2 pieces of fruit
- 2 pieces of vegetable
- 1 fruit, 1 veg

And for variation in the herbavore part:
- mini Roma tomatoes
- kiwis with a kiwi spoon
- applesauce in those little box thingies
- anything in a stick - carrot, cucumber, etc etc
- whole, normal sized Romas which can be eaten as an apple might be

The dry crackers part is self explanatory, but even here I change it up:
- Corn thins
- Rice crackers
- Shapes
- Water crackers
- Rye Vitas
- Those wierd cardboard flat yellow sponge cracker things, no idea what they are called
- pretzels
...and pretty much whatever interesting dry cracker/crunchy item is on sale

The "bonus" item is something other than any of the above. If I haven't got a bonus item in the fridge or pantry, I'll just add in another sandwich. Here are some examples of bonus items:

- yoghurt, either tub or tube
- slice of bread/simple banana cake/basic muffin or something else I've baked
- Extra slice of fruit bread, buttered or jammed or honeyed
- a third herbavore option if we've just gotten a fruit/veg delivery and everything looks fabulous

I realise this sounds like a ridiculous amount of effort to go to for what is basically a sack lunch... but my kids come home almost every day having eaten everything I've given them, I know they are getting a balanced, nutritious meal to keep their minds happy during the day (because goddammit, I want value for my private school dollars) and it means that during the hysteria hours (4-6pm) I don't have to think very hard.

Further to the success of this ATT is to make lunches in bulk. So I line up the boxes and dole out the items as though I am doling out cards: fruit, fruit, fruit, veg, veg, veg and so on and so forth. Super organised Mums (of which I am not one) would probably pre-package all the dry stuff when they get it. So buy a big box of some sort of cracker and pre-portion it into lunchbag size. Take a big box and throw all the pre-portioned bits in ... so that during the week you really only need to grab the bags which are already done and stuff them in the box. You could probably do the same with fruit which needs prep, but since I'm lazy most of the fruit we buy needs NO prep - mandarins, grapes, bananas, apples and so on.

My last word of lunch making advice is to keep it simple. So don't go giving your kids apples which are peeled and quartered and carrots cut into flowers. Leave most things whole, au natural... and like animals, when they get hungry enough they'll eat just about anything.*

* Before all you parents of picky eaters flame me, YES, I am blessed with kids who will eat just about anything, and who actually love and adore fruit and veg. I attribute this to my good training more than anything else, but that's a blog post for another day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Worst Marketing Ever

A couple of nights ago I sent DH to the supermarket. Before all you men's libbers out there get annoyed at me, the reality of it is that DH *loves* going to the supermarket and I've trained him to be pretty good at it. Plus he's a night owl, so he quite enjoys wandering in empty supermarkets with nobody for company but the shelf stackers - while I stay at home in my warm bed with my cup of tea and books. You tell me who is getting the better deal here!

Here at Casa Verde we meal plan three weeks in advance - mostly because it makes my life easier, but also because we can plan our shopping a lot better. It has actually dramatically reduced our food bills, dramatically reduced my need for my 6pm Prozac, and improved the quality of our dinners enormously. I realised, though, that I had forgotten to defrost any meat for the next night's meal - so I asked DH to pick up some sort of meat which was on special and I'd use that as the protein for the meal.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the fridge later and saw these:


Yes, that says "KANGA BANGAS." Now I know that English/Australian slang for sausages is "bangers" as in the ubiquitous "bangers and mash"... but seriously? Kanga Bangas? Am I the only person out there who looks at this and immediately imagines porn sites with people having sex with kangaroos? Someone needs to fire that marketing guy. Quite possibly the WORST product name ever. [Sidenote: It says on the packet, "For best results, soak in vegetable oil for 10 minutes before cooking." Excuse me while I *hurl* into the packet directly.]

My life being what it is (entirely crazy), I took a closer look at these... bangas... and thought, "Geez, they even kinda LOOK like kangaroos willies!" Note, I've never seen a kangaroo's penis up close... so these are what I imagine a kangaroo penis looks like:


As it happens, DH did not disagree with me on this...although he may or may not have seen one up close. He is a true blue Aussie after all, and who KNOWS what those kids see in their childhood. He and I sat down and tried to come up with a worse name for this product. Yes, worse than Kanga Bangas.

I'm both pleased and ashamed to report that my product name forced DH to laugh so hard he snorted.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen... I'm talking about a tray of honest-to-god, 100% Australian, get them while they're hot...SKIPPY SCROTES.

After that, there was not a chance in hell I was either eating those or feeding them to my kids. So I did what any self respecting person did and I fed those things to the dog.. who promptly spat them out. I guess he doesn't like kangaroo penises, either.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Fell For It

Recently DS has been really into reading non-fiction books and sharing endless facts about things I could care less about. How many rings around Saturn, which country has the most stars on it's flag, the height of the pyramids, the distance a roll of toilet paper can be unrolled to and so on and so forth. Because I am a fairly lazy parent, I only ever really listen with half an ear when he shouts, "MUM?!?! MUM!?!? Did you KNOW that the Mars Rover can move at a speed of [insert complex number]? Isn't that COOL??"

Or "Mum? MUM!! Which planet has a storm which has been raging for thousands of years?" "Ummm... dunno... Uranus? Ha ha, I just said Uranus!" "MUM! That isn't funny. It's Jupiter." (me, feeling lame), "Oh. Okay. Umm... cool."

Anyway his annoying factoids have been going on for weeks and weeks now. I'm trying to be tolerant - because I am proud of his interest in this stuff - but you know, the endless, "MUM? MUM?!?! MMMMUUUMMMM?!?!" kinda gets on my nerves, particularly when I am a) on the toilet, b) on the phone or c) trying to send email or d) doing essential things like reading trashy chick-lit novels.

At dinner the other night, DS turns to me and says (in the same "did you know?" voice he's adopted for his fact-sharing) "MUM? Do you know why igloos are always round?" So, voice heavy with exhaustion and weariness over his now-not-cute habit, I say, "No, Jules. I DON'T know why igloos are always round." (Mental note: Nor do I give a shit.)

...and that kid looks at me, smiles this enormous grin and says, "Igloos are round... so that penguins can't hide in the corners!"

Damn kid. He got me!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Need A Stalker Boyfriend

What is it about female chefs and their stalker boyfriends? I've met dozens of female chefs, and nearly all of them have had some form of creepy stalker boyfriend. Head Chef #2 came and went at my job because she could not decide (on a daily basis) if she was going to bother showing up or not. In any case the powers that be decided for her not to invite her to return, but not before she told me all about her psycho ex-boyfriend. You know the one... who "borrowed" large sums of money from her, took advantage of her naive self, treated her like crap, smoked way too much Mary Jane and eventually forced her into some sort of break down. Eventually she got out from under his thumb, found a place to live on her own, and was busily trying to earn enough money to get out of (his) debt.

...and then he called her mobile in the middle of our shift, but she ignored it.

Today I met Head Chef #3, who is only working there temporarily until they can find victim Head Chef #4. So HC3 and I start talking, and she starts telling me, all excitedly, about how she's recently moved to a new house to get a fresh start. "Fresh start?" says I. "Did you hit a bit of a rough patch?"

"Oh yeah," says, she, "I have a psycho ex-boyfriend...." You know the one... who "borrowed" large sums of money from her, took advantage of her naive self, treated her like crap, smoked way too much Mary Jane and eventually forced her into some sort of break down. Eventually she got out from under his thumb, found a place to live on her own, and is busily trying to earn enough money to get out of (his) debt.

...and then he called her mobile in the middle of our shift, but she ignored it.

This was starting to sound all too familiar. I shit you not, these stories are totally true, and those phones really did ring. The only difference is that HC2's deadbeat boyfriend was Italian, and HC3's deadbeat boyfriend was from Brazil.

....and then MY mobile phone rang in the middle of our shift. I answered it, secretly hoping that I had a psycho deadbeat ex-boyfriend on the line, about whom I could brag as well. Sadly, it was someone wanting to know if I can make a bright red 3D sombrero cake.

Hmmm. Not much to brag about there, unless of course the cake is for someone's deadbeat ex-boyfriend to actually WEAR. Now THAT would be blog worthy!

Monday, June 8, 2009

About A Job

The new job is going pretty well, thanks for asking! I am loving being back in a kitchen and knowing that I am making great food. I'm working with fresh ingredients, interesting flavours and I have a huge amount of pride in knowing that I alone am responsible for the food on the days I'm there. Our first major task of the day is to set-up, re-stock and bake fresh all the display items - of which there are approximately 35 or so items. Once that's done, I tend to stand back (on the customer side of the counter) and do a quick visual scan of what is out there. I might then 'jujse' a platter, move around a few things, or just smile and nod because I'm pleased with what I've done.

The callouses have come back to my index finger (where the top of the shank of the knife sits), the splits have returned to my skin (a hazard of all that hand washing) and at the end of the day my feet ache and I smell like a roasted pumpkin (perfectly seasoned, natch!). Still, I love the feeling of satisfaction I get from my job. I love feeding people, knowing that my food makes people happy, and I love the immediate satisfaction I get when I leave at the end of the day and there are empty platters and positive remarks from the customers.

In The Age this past weekend, the Sunday Life magazine had a feature all about female chefs and about how difficult it can be for women to "make it" in a man's world. The article focussed almost entirely on female chefs who work in fine dining arena - an arena I had no interest in and one which I know is not at all family friendly. As I read the article, my eyes grew wider and wider at how judgemental, demeaning, and downright offensive the article was. Jacques Reymond (a famous, fabulous fine dining chef here in Melbourne) talks about how he trains female chefs to a high standard and then they leave his kitchen "...because of relationships....[and] then they go to work in a cafe, they make a sandwich." Further in the article the CEO of Restaurant & Catering Australia says, "You can't work in a kitchen and have family responsibilities. It just doesn't work."

Are these people kidding me? Firstly, Mr Reymond, great food is about GREAT FOOD. It's not about if you're making a foam, or a jelee, or a sphere of something, or a sandwich. It's about making a quality item, from quality ingredients, which your customer will enjoy enough to come back for a second time. I'm not sure when sandwiches and cafes - which are the lifeblood of the Melbourne food industry - became an object of derision. It's unfortunate that you think you have somehow wasted your time by training these female chefs - because the skills you've given them will reach far beyond the heat of your kitchen and the plates of your restaurant. They've learned discipline, time management, team work, respect for others, appreciation of quality food, and in most cases have learned to teach others all these same skills.

...and yes, many of them will go on to make a sandwich. Tell me, Mr Reymond, when's the last time you ate a sandwich at a local cafe? I'm guessing it was pretty recently. I hope for your sake it was made by a properly trained, female chef.

Mr Hart (above mentioned CEO), what makes you qualified to know about being a female with family responsibilities who is working in a kitchen? I trained as a chef only AFTER my children were born. Many is a night when I would be woken by a small child, only to fall asleep and have the alarm wake me 10 minutes later for my 4am bakery shift. Was it hard? Of course it was. Did I manage to - and continue to manage - work in cafes, bakeries, restaurants while being a good mother? I think it's fair to say the proof is in the pudding. I would even argue that food jobs are among the BEST to have while being a parent - because with good time management skills I've still managed to not only be there for my kids, I've also managed to pass on a lot of the skills cheffing has taught me. They know proper food handling, they know when things are fresh, they understand the value of a home cooked meal and they will often try new flavours without my having to ask.

Best of all, Mr Reymond and Mr Hart - my kids say (to all who will listen), "My Mummy's a chef!" and they say it with pride. As for me, why don't you come over sometime? I'll make you a sandwich.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Eight

Dear children,

I realise that someday you will read this blog and you will wonder why I didn't write your eighth birthday post anywhere near your actual birthday. I could lie and say it's because I needed more time to thoughtfully think about my words. The truth is, I haven't written your birthday post because I've just been busy - being a mother to you, a daughter to your grandparents, and a wife to your Dad. That being said, I couldn't miss a year ... so I hope you'll forgive me for this somewhat belated birthday post.

I think it's apt that this year we talk about who you are relative to the birthday cakes I made you. Seems like a bit of a literary stretch, but the three of you have been such huge supporters of my cake business! From the tasting, to the giving of opinions, to the not complaining when you get dragged to yet another cake decorating supply store, to tolerating "just one more" delivery on the way to football/ballet/gymnastics - the three of you are as much a part of Three Sweeties as I am. There are many children who would think it's cool that their mother makes cakes all day...but there are few who would go up to perfect strangers and say, "Did you know my Mum makes the BEST CAKES EVER? I think you should order one!" and then follow that person around until you're sure they've got a business card in their hand. So forgive me combining my two passions of cake and kids, but this is one calorific experience which is going to be worth it. Plus, technically speaking, blog words are calorie-free.

My dear, sweet, fabulous Lexa-She (Alexis);

You asked for a cake with "Lots of bright colours! And flowers! And butterflies! Like springtime, Mum!" and the above is what you got. I think we managed to fulfil the brief pretty well, don't you? This cake is so much a representation of who you are, Lexi Girl. It's bright, it's tall, it's fun, it's... just... a joy to look at and experience. It makes my heart smile when I see it, and you have the same effect on me.

There are times when you are maddening ... and like the effort making all those little balls on that cake, times when I am tired, frustrated, and frankly at the end of my rope with you. Of course, those are the times when you'll melt my heart with a smile, offer a hug, or just do something which makes me smile. Recently your Safta commented to me that it seems you are never unhappy - that you're just the smiliest, most cheerful child. She's right - I've never met anyone who is simply as full of sunshine as you are. You are truly a ray of sunshine and I'm grateful for you every day.


This year you've had to learn the hard way that sometimes, there will be people who are smarter than you, faster than you, better than you at whatever it is you're trying to achieve. Most kids would let this get to them...instead you've decided that nothing will stop you and you've now proved everyone wrong. You suddenly find it's YOU who is better, who is faster, who is more capable - and when you do come up against a challenge, you just smile and say, "Well, Mum, there are LOTS of things which I am good at! It's okay that there are some things which need me to work hard." Knowing both sides of this coin makes you not only tolerant of those who need help, but one who also chooses to help others. Your teacher is always telling me about how you take time out of your day to help those who need it, and you always do it without being asked.

Really, Alexis, there are some days where I wish I could just bottle all that sunshine of yours. The only reason I wouldn't is because then I'd be depriving the rest of the world of it, and that somehow seems unfair.


For my super smart, super sensitive boy, Julian:

"I just want a simple cake, Ima. I want a coffee flavoured cake with chocolate icing and a picture of me, Teddy, and my Wuhwee on it. That's it."

In some ways, Jules, your request was the easiest...and in other ways, the hardest. In the end you got a big surprise because I included a whole bunch of your other interests - your beloved Cairo Jim books, your sports (cricket, basketball and football respectively), your new-found love of puzzles, your ambition to be a chef and so on and so forth. This cake is so much about you because it's all about complexity and simplicity all rolled into one. Sure, it's basically just some pictures of a boy and his dog and his lovey, surrounded by stuff he loves. It is about so much more than that though - it's about a boy far smarter than his years when it comes to learning, and yet so much still just an 8 year old who needs to be hugged and cuddled like all other 8 year olds.


This year has been a really hard one for you. You've gone well beyond your peers on an academic level, but on an emotional level you're very much a little boy. You have a big brain, but an ENORMOUS heart - and it's the heart which I am proud of. You've been trying to learn that just being smart isn't a good enough reason to misbehave... and it's been a very hard lesson for you. The only other person I know with as much brain power as you've got, AND with as much capacity to love ... is your Dad. A man who I love and adore, so it's no great secret how I feel about you, my son! You could do worse than to grow up and be just like your Dad.


You are the person I rely on for so many things - you're helpful, and funny as anything, and your knife skills are pretty good, too (believe me, you'll thank me later). You make me laugh and you make me cry - and that's okay, because we both know how much fun a challenge can be. Life with you is never, ever boring. My beloved "boychick" - you still don't think it's embarassing to hug your Mum in public, and I don't think you ever will. Thank goodness for that - because a life without a smooshy Julian hug-and-tickle combo just isn't worth living.


My funny, huggable, lovable Kiki (Claire):


When you were a baby, a cousin gave us a whole bag of hand-me-downs. Included in that bag was a bunny rug - a yard of pink flannel covered in little white bunnies and pink dots. For reasons I can't explain, you got attatched to that bunny rug in a HUGE way. These days your most precious "hoppy bunny" is folded neatly and stashed under your pillow every night - and woe betide the person who dares touch it, move it, or go within 10 feet of it. Poor Hoppy is a threadbare, mostly grey scrap which is fraying at the edges and has been hemmed and patched many times but you love and adore ever single thread of her.

Your cake had to include Hoppy on it somehow, and "a big giant cupcake on top"... so that's exactly what I delivered. Poor Hoppy is so grey, though, that I couldn't use all of her. I ended up scanning Hoppy and using her bunnies on the cake, and then piping in all the pink dots. When you saw it you shouted, "MUMMY! It's PERFECT!" As usual, Miss Kiki, you set out to get something, and you got it.

You are by far my most mature child. You speak like the teenager you can't wait to be, you act like the teenager you will be someday, and boy oh boy, are you one hell of a diva!

At the moment you are totally consumed by your dancing (ballet, tap and jazz) and your endless desire for "just one more hug, pppllleeeaaassseeee?!?!?" When you were younger we used to literally beg for a hug or a kiss, and these days we can't get you to stopping hugging us long enough to do things like, oh... say... breathe!

Every day you amaze me with the things you say and do, and I need to remind myself that you are only 8 even though it feels as though you are 18! You're fabulously competetive (as evidenced by our on-giong Ro-Sham-Bo championships) (of which I am winning) (and I know you'll disagree when you read this) but you also know when to concede defeat, and you do it with grace. You're clever, you're funny, you're lovable and just terribly, terribly nice. Kiki, you're (to borrow a crude but apt expression) the total package and I adore every single part (especially your cute tush) (yes, I know I'm embarassing you in public but that's what CHAMPION Ro-Sham-Bo parents do, you know.) I just can't wait to see how far you will go and how much you will achieve... just remember that even Divas need their Mums once in a while, okay?


Every day I catch glimpses of how you three are growing up way, way, WWAAAYYY too fast for my taste. I haven't got any more babies following you, so as each milestone passes I think of it with bittersweetness. I'll never again hold my baby who cannot yet crawl, help my toddler tie their shoes, put a new uniform on my preppie, listen to my first grader read a book by themselves, or watch as my second grader learns to navigate a pair of roller skates. What I will have, though, is an amazing, life-changing opportunity to live a life which has you in it - at every stage and at every age, I'll always know that you make my life that much better than I ever could have imagined. Thanks for letting your Dad and I be part of the magic.

Your ever loving (and totally embarassing),

Mum

SOS

SOS = Save Our Safta

It is amazing what lengths people will go to in pursuit of a goal. In my case I had no specific plan for achieving this goal, and then fate/god/someone with a sense of humour stepped in and tried to help me achieve the goal. I am, of course, talking about making my Mom stay with us in Australia. We had a really fabulous time together, so by the end of her trip none of us were all that keen on her going home. I came home from work on Sunday, tired and cranky and hungry. The kids and Mom had plans to head to the big ferris wheel in the city, and frankly I wasn't all that interested. DH had to work, so I asked for "just five minutes peace and quiet" before getting up and moseying into town.

In those five minutes my Mom decided to pop into the toilet, get her shoes on, and get ready to go. Within a minute I hear, "Michelley? Can you come and...? The door is stuck!" Yes. Apparently my Mom went to pee and the toilet door jammed shut. Being a lazy ass (and wanting my five minutes) I sent DS up. "Mum... really...the door is stuck!" Since I didn't get any less lazy, I send DH up to assess. "Michelle...ummm... the door is seriously jammed."

*sigh* No five minutes for me, then. I haul my lazy butt upstairs to find my son and husband desperately banging and pushing the door which will not budge. I did what any self respecting person would do and I started to laugh...and laugh...and laugh...and laugh. Hysterical, great big gulping laughs. I laughed so hard I could hardly breathe - literally I was gasping for air. So what's a girl to do? Well, I did the only thing I could: I called my sister in LA to tell her about it. At first she thought I was crying because literally I couldn't even get the words out. "Mom! *gasp* Is stuck! *gasp**hysterical laugher*!! In! The! Toi - in the toi - in the *gasp* *choke* toilet!!"

SHE'S WHAT?!

Stuck in the toilet. My poor Mom was literally trapped in there. Thus began the litany of flat food she could live off of if she was in there much longer - wheat thins, very flat omelettes, slices of American cheese and so on and so forth. We tried to get the handle off but could not as the screws were on her side of the door, and there was no way to get a screwdriver through to her. The hinges were on her side, too.

Eventually my DH and DS climbed a ladder, put my DS on the roof and told him to scramble to the bathroom window. He gave my Mom a screwdriver through the window and she dutifully unscrewed the handle. It fell off, leaving a little hole...and a door which would not budge a milimeter.

Up on the rof went DH and DS, and DS gave my Mom a hacksaw. She then proceeded to try and hacksaw her way through the steel bolt. After many minutes of her hacking (and yes, I was still laughing) we realised that option was going to take forever and so we did the only thing we could - we called the fire department.

Here you can see how much of the bolt she managed to hacksaw through. Go Mom!

Less than 10 minutes later we had a giant fire truck in our street and 3 burly (and hot, of course) fireman clambering up the stairs to rescue my Mom. I think they thought they would find a hysterical woman...which they did! Hysterically laughing, that is! So their first effort was to try and unbolt the latch - which by the way is NOT a lock, just a normal door latch which had failed and gotten stuck in the closed position.

With no luck on that option they decided brute force was the way to go. Of course, this being Australia, they then spent 5 minutes apologising about the state of the door, "Sorry 'bout the door, mate!"


video

I have no idea why this video is sideways... turn your head and enjoy watching my Mom get busted out of her toilet prison. The kids were most interested to know if, once the door got opened, they would find my Mom as a skeleton sitting on the toilet. Happily enough she was definitely of sound body (although not so much of sound mind from all that laughing). While the firemen did their paperwork they kindly let the kids enjoy the whole experience:



So unfortunately our plans to keep my Mom in Australia didn't work...but a good time was certainly had by all! Thanks Melbourne Fire Brigade!