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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jewish Maternal Guilt, A Lesson

Lesson One: If you're going to be a good Jewish mother, every time you call your child on the phone, you should ask them how they are doing with their weight and exercise regime. Sympathise with how hard it all is, compliment them on a job well done. Then, when you see them, tell them they are looking a bit tired, and a bit sick, and a bit pale and unwell, and offer them "a bisselle chocolade" from your handbag.

If for whatever reason you can't see your child in person (say, for example, they live in Australia) then you can do the chocolate thing by sending your kid a copy of this:

The picture on the front of that magazine has been staring at me for weeks....partially because of the cake, but partially because I have no idea who Paula Deen is, other than an overly made-up and plastic surguried old lady. (Who apparently likes chocolate!) I left the magazine in my bathroom (where, of course, all good reading gets done) and the damn thing has been staring me down every single time I went in there. Finally, a group dinner event gave me the perfect excuse for making this recipe. I cheated a little bit, though - I used my own chocolate cake recipe (because I was baking several kilos worth that day). I did use the official Paula Deen recipe for the mousse and the icing. I also cheated with the topping by buying a box of pre-made Flake garnish rather than grating my own. Lazy, I know. What can I say? All this gym going is tiring me out to much to bother with grating chocolate.

If you've got a favourite chocolate cake recipe, use it. Her recipe strikes me as overly complicated and with way too many ingredients, even though technically it is a "one bowl" recipe. As this is a more difficult cake to put together and takes more time than most, I think it's well worth simplifying the cake part of the procedure.

I also thought the icing recipe was really disgusting. The texture was quite hard, it wasn't very easy to spread, and it was so sweet and sugary it made the local diabetes association hold a protest right outside my kitchen door.

The need to bake three separate cakes, then torte them, is ridiculous in itself. Who has 3 cake pans the exact same size? The idea behind this cake is completely fantastic, though - and the mousse recipe was not only easy but delicious.

So let's recap!

emzeegee's version of Paula Deen's Dreamy Chocolate Mousse Cake

The day before:
Bake your favourite chocolate cake recipe in a 10 inch square or round tin. Make it of generous height, so that the cake mix comes to about 1/4 below the top of the tin (you want a nice high cake for this.) Cool a bit and then chuck it into the freezer.

Make a basic ganache: 1 part heavy cream to 1 part dark chocolate - for this recipe I would do 2 cups of each, which is more than you need, but it keeps well. Bring the cream to the boil. Take off the heat and mix in the chocolate until it all melts (you want to really make sure it's well melted. No lumps!). Pop it into the fridge to cool to spreading consistency.

Make the mousse (recipe below) and chuck it into the fridge.

The day you want to eat it:

Take the cake out of the freezer, and using either an electric knife or a decent bread knife, slice the cake into four even pieces (horizontally.)

Place the bottom piece onto a board/plate. Evenly spread with 1/4 of the mousse. Place a layer of cake on top. Evenly spread with 1/4 of the mousse. Continue until you have no layers left (and please don't be a moron and spread mousse on the very top. Have I taught you nothing?!).

Place in the freezer for an hour to firm. Once frozen, take it out. Slather the ganache all over the top and sides (and try to be neat about it.) Then, using your hands, push the grated chocolate onto the sides and top of the cake. Want to be fancy about it? Only do that on the sides, and leave the top bare, then pipe some ganache rosettes or pile in some chocolate curls (a la Paula.)

Dreamy Chocolate Mousse
Makes about 4½ cups.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups heavy whipping cream

In a small bowl, soften gelatin in 3 tablespoons cold water. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add boiling water, stirring until gelatin dissolves; set aside. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cocoa powder. In a medium bowl, beat cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add sugar mixture, beating until stiff peaks form. Stir in gelatin mixture. Cover and chill for 4 hours.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Show Me You Love Me, Redux

Hi All,

I've entered a competition to be on an online reality show, where a small business coach gives you 12 weeks of business coaching. While the ultimate decision lies with the promoter, voting for me gives me a better chance of being chosen (only 3 companies will be chosen.) Growing Three Sweeties is a huge, ongoing goal for me - so will you consider voting?

Here is where you vote:

Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How They Do It In The Old Country

The view from the House of NN

One of the most amusing things about my friend NN is that she is very proud of the fact that she grew up in country Victoria. She'll show me a new pastry technique, and when I look excited, she just smiles and says, "That's how they do it in the old country." The "old country" refers to her home town of Bairnsdale, in the Gippsland region of Victoria - about a 4 hour drive east of Melbourne. For years now she has been telling me about life in the old country - about the funny small-town personalities, about the world's biggest liquor store (because what else is there to do?!) and about the fun that can be had with a earth mover and a bottle of rum (when your parents aren't looking.)

A couple of years ago DH and I actually took the kids on a vacation in that part of the world. I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say that I came home wanting to either slit my wrists or sit in the corner rocking back and forth and mumbling. Yeah. Not fun.

This time, though, I was heading for the Eastern corner of Victoria with NN and The Sicilian, for an "Intro to the Old Country" girls weekend away. 3 chicks, 4 hours in a car, a couple rolls of Mentos, a packet of Cheezles, the open road ... Thelma and Louise had nothin' on us. We were going to stay with NN's parents, and finally get to see in person all the places that had become part of NN folklore over the years.

I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it's not the social centre of the universe - but it's filled with pretty houses, some lovely panoramas, and friendly people (and of course, there is that liquor store.) The largest city in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, the City of Bairnsdale itself has some really fascinating parts to it - notably the friezes in St Mary's Church and all the perfect curbs (concreted by NN's Dad!). We had a good sticky beak around the town as well as in neighbouring Paynesville - famous for being the town where NN completed her pastry apprenticeship. We also went koala hunting on Raymond Island - apparently home to one of the largest wild koala communities in Australia. In reality, it's the home of a lot of cursing and yelling,' F-ing koalas! There are no f-ing koalas on this shit bloody island. We wuz robbed! Goddam furry flittle uckers, where ARE YOU?" (Answer: In a tree, about 200 metres down the road. We thought NN was kidding when she yelled, "OMG! There!" We realised she wasn't kidding when she stopped the car abruptly and shouted at us to get the fark outta the goddamn car already.) Note moronic me didn't have a camera on her, so we took photos on someone's phone...and now none of us have any idea how to download them. Yeah, I know. City folk! Gotta love 'em!

The Sicilian thought she could teach us a thing or two about fishing...

But NN didn't quite get the lesson...

...so this is all NN managed to snare on her hook!

We did all the things that good country folk do - including the mid-afternoon nap, the fishing adventure, and of course the (delicious) meal at one of many local pubs. Yours truly felt like a right moron when I asked, "Hey! What's that cool thing? A sculpture?" .....only to find out it was in fact a water tower. Water, perhaps, is the one thing missing from this region. While Bairnsdale runs alongside the Mitchell River, thanks to the drought there is very little water to be found. Some parts of the surrounding land are quite green, but there are kilometres of rolling hills which are a sad, dying brown. For an area known for flooding, this is a particularly sobering sight.

On our last day there we got to explore Buchan Caves - truly a once in a lifetime experience. We scraped, ducked and weaved our way through a kilometre of caves and were truly humbled by the power of nature. Here, too, the lack of water is apparent as the insides of the caves were quite dry - when normally they are dripping with the water which forms these stalagmites in the first place.

Gippsland is a beautiful place, and The Sicilian and I felt truly loved as we enjoyed the warm hospitality of NN's parents, and felt the honest affection that these people feel for their home town. On a personal note, it was really nice to visit a part of a good friend's history, as it defines so much of who she is. The funny expressions (..."they've come for a glass of water and a look 'round..."), the appreciation of the simpler things in life (like a pie and a Coke), the gentle mocking of my accent and city ways - it's all part of it.

I found myself wistfully thinking, you know, I could get used to this country life. The fresh air, the animals, the slower pace, the people on every street corner who know you by name...there is really something lovely about the old country. Except, maybe, for dinner being served at 5:30. I have no objections to an early dinner - hey, more food is a good thing, to counteract the country air - but early dinner (sorry, TEA. Early tea!) implies that you've been up at some god-awful hour of the morning to do hard physical labour. Considering that these days I find it almost offensive to get out of bed before 8:30, I'm not all that sure that I could live there. Still, with the sun coming over that glorious Gippsland horizon, I might be convinced.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hale & Hearty

Winter abounds in Melbourne, with cold nights, cold toes, and a mighty wind to carry the last of the autumn leaves around. In Casa Verde we've been eating a fair amount of meat, notably lamb chops with the bone in (whose formal name escapes me.) The kids have discovered a great culinary delight - sucking the flavourful, gelatinous marrow out of the bones with a hearty SLURP! The collective daughters, in particular, have become particularly enamoured of this and will often beg and plead for yet more bones. The begging has resulted in me cooking the granddaddy of the marrow bone meats - Osso Bucco. I adore this cut, not only because it's absolutely delicious (and has plenty of marrow to go around) and super cheap to buy but also because it's pretty much a "fix it and forget it" type of dish.

I threw this in the oven late afternoon and then walked away, only to return about 90 minutes later because the heavenly smell was making me drool all over my keyboard. This has to be one of the best family meals we've had in ages...other than the sound of slurping and chewing and "mmm" the dinner table was all quiet as we knelt at the altar of this giant winter culinary cuddle.

I chose to serve this with a very wet polenta - all the better to sop up meaty juices with - but you could just as easily have eaten it as is.

Osso Bucco (recipe has been modified the emzeegee way)

5 pieces osso bucco
1/2 cup flour
salt & pepper

50ml olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
100g tomato paste
500 ml beef stock
200 ml red wine
200g mire poix (mixed large dice of carrot, celery, onion)

Preheat oven to 170C. Make a few vertical cuts into the muscle surrounding the osso bucco pieces, effectively "releasing" the meat from the sinew which surrounds it. Season and then coat in flour. Shake off any excess flour. Heat the olive oil in a wide, deep pan, and brown each piece of meat on both sides. Remove from the pan and place meat into a casserole dish, preferably a large shallow one so each piece fits on the bottom. In the deep frying pan, saute the mirepoix and the garlic. Add the tomato paste and continue to saute until the vegetables start to colour.

Add the red wine and bring to the boil, then reduce the liquid by half. Add the stock and return to the boil. Carefully pour this mixture over the meat, so that the liquid comes 3/4 the way up the meat. Cover tightly (foil works) and place in the oven for 90 minutes, checking the liquid level half way though the time. If the liquid is very low, pour in some additional hot stock.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the oven - the meat should be falling off the bone.

If you're lazy: serve it as is, over the polenta (recipe follows).

If you're not: Remove the meat and vegetables. Place the casserole over a flame on the stove and reduce the liquid to sauce (coating) consistency. Serve the meat with a generous pouring of sauce and vegetables and a fine sprinkling of parsley and lemon rind.

Polenta at it's most basic
(these proportions produce a very wet polenta)

1 cup polenta (instant works well)
6 cups chicken stock

Bring the 6 cups of chicken stock to the boil. With one hand, tip the polenta into the liquid in a steady stream. With the other (and a wooden stirring paddle or whisk), mix the liquid. Continue stirring until the polenta has reached the desired consistency (in this case, not unlike oatmeal). Serve immediately.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cupcake go Bye Bye

It's with a somewhat heavy heart that I report that Melbourne's most successful cupcake company, the Crabapple Cupcake Bakery, is now in receivership. According to the publication foodweek, the business is for sale - but according to ASIC, it's being liquidated. Honestly my first thought about this was how sad it is - the owner started her business from a kitchen table, not unlike myself. While I had heard a few things about their customer service lacking a bit, and this forum talks about their product being inconsistent, it's still sad to think of such an icon going under. For me it's particularly sad because I had always upheld it as an example of how one small idea can grow into something huge. (Clearly, though, it grew with a bunch of bad financial management...)

The only silver lining is that they've now got a bunch of unhappy customers who are looking for other people to fill those orders. There are plenty of cupcake bakers in Melbourne (some good, some bad, some eeehhh), I've already been on the receiving end of the deluge - I've got 800 cupcakes on order for this week alone!

So, bearing in mind that I've got loads of cupcakes to make (plus my usual cake orders this week), blogging might be light on for a few days.

(Although if I've not posted by next week, will someone check the icing bowl? I might have fallen in and nobody has noticed.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Mom's Gotta Do What a Mom's Gotta Do

While I do consider myself a fairly creative person, I also have "issues" with craft stuff - if it's messy, sticky, fiddly, downright annoying or takes more than 10 minutes to see a finished product, I can't cope. I did go through a phase where I did some cross-stitching, but projects bigger than 2" x 2" annoyed the crap out of me. I also went through a pottery phase, a tie-dying phase, a collage/mod podge phase, a mosaic tiling phase, a glass painting phase, a hair clip making phase, a flower pen making phase, a photo album covering phase and several other short-lived craft phases. For a while there my glue gun was my bestest friend and occasionally my worst enemy.

I have a heap of creative, crafty friends. The Baker's Wife, for one, totally amazes me with her ability to make cool stuff on nearly no money. Similarly Jewel can make cool stuff out of scraps of random bits of paper she finds all over the world. Recently (thanks to the loveit/hateit relationship I have with facebook) I re-conncted with an old friend, Claire. Among other things she is famous for being the person who taught me the basic know-how of baby care and early toddlerhood, the person who sewed almost every one of my kids bunny rugs (material used to swaddle babies with), the person whose name I stole for one of my own kids, and an all around talented crafty person. She now writes a blog about her endeavours, Matching Pegs. Her blog totally makes me feel like a craft retard, but at least I can look and go, "oooohhh!!!" and feeling insanely jealous and yet again find myself wishing I knew how to sew.

A couple of weeks ago DD2 came home with a library book called "Making Maracas," and like the title implies it's a how-to of basic maraca making. It outlines a (simple?!) 3 week procedure for making these things, and it involves balloons, papier mache, coffee beans, scissors, various pieces of dowelling and a few servings of Prozac. Why in gods name you wouldn't just buy a freakin' maraca for $2 is beyond me, but then there are crazy people in the world who, you know, knit socks and stuff when K-Mart sells perfectly good ones which do not involve 3 weeks and therapy. Thus far I've managed to fob off DD2 on this project ... because, and there is no nice way of saying this: there is no bloody way in the world I am making even a single maraca. She has a better chance of getting me to become a saleswoman for stinky stuff than getting me to make a maraca.

So I was feeling a bit guilty about my lack of crafty parent-ness in general when DD1 asked me to play play-doh with her. I quite like play doh, actually - in addition to being kinda fun, it's basically a clean "project" and is a good occupational therapy game to play with my sensory kid. I was all for it until she told me that all her play doh had dried out...and then in a flash I realised that crafty redemption could me MINE, ALL MINE! I vaguely remembered reading that you can actually MAKE that stuff. A quick Google search, finding the cream of tartare (left over from a bath bomb making phase) and 10 minutes later we had four colours of play-doh. Simple to make, easy to use and frankly a lot easier than a stupid bloody maraca - and DD1 and I were in play doh heaven.

Of course, I couldn't resist the urge to get a bit of professional practice in (yes, that would be a tiny play doh rose you are looking at):

...and DD1 reminded me of why I do these things in the first place...


2 cups of plain flour
4 tablespoons of 'cream of tartar'
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 cup of salt
2 cups of boiling water
food colouring

Just pop it all in a mixing bowl and mix until it comes together - you may need to get your hands in there a bit, and I added a scrap of flour to make it a bit drier.

Once it came together, I separated it into 4 lumps and coloured each with some food colouring (use gloves, it can get a bit messy!) You can also add glitter (for sparkle) and clean sand (for texture).


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On parental guilt and waxing one's arsehole

So here's the thing. I am really, really bad at returning emails. My inbox has emails from somewhere in the middle of last year that I've not replied to. Some of them are ones which I look at and think, "Damn, I really should reply to that" and then I go surf YouTube or Facebook or something else of vital importance which keeps me from replying. Others are there simply to make me feel guilty and remind me of what a crappy friend/sister/daughter/workmate I am . Most of them will eventually get replied to (whenever the fuck I feel like it, okay?) and some of them will just be deleted because they have gone past their guilt-by date.

The fact that I write this blog is starting to cramp my lack of emailing style, because my Mom seems to think that if I have time to write things here, I should have time to email her.


In theory, she's right. In practice...ummm...if I reply to one email, then people generally (who are not as crap as I am at replying) write back, and then they want me to write back AGAIN, and then I have to let it stew in my inbox, and then it's just this vicious circle of me having to keep sending emails. Did I not just say that I totally SUCK at replying to emails? It's kinda like the whole texting cycle on a mobile phone. FER CRIPES SAKE, people, PICK UP THE DAMN PHONE. It's more expensive, more annoying, and more painful to me wee little thumbs to be sending six text messages about banal, irritating details of your/my life, okay? Just call me, tell me your issues, and hang up. Ten seconds and it's OVER. Same with emails. Got a lot to say? CALL ME. Skype me. Whatever. Just don't make me feel guilty as hell for not replying to another email which starts with, "What? You're so busy blogging you don't have time to email me anymore?!" (Although in my Mom's case, this would be in ALL CAPS BECAUSE SHE HAS NOT WORKED OUT THAT CAPS = YELLING IN EMAIL SPEAK.)

So what's my excuse for not replying to my Mom's phone messages? Yeah, no. I've got no excuse for that one. She wins, I should be calling and returning calls more often. SORRY MOM.

My excuse this week? I spent a glorious 3 days in the company of NN and The Sicilian, driving our way across Victoria to visit NN's most delightful parents and exploring her home town. (A real post about that, and photos to come).

When I got back, DH wanted to know if I had spent the entire three days talking about "girly stuff." Between you and me, he's just a (lovable but) perverted dirty old man, so he really was asking for hot sexy details about my friends. Sadly for him, I had to admit that while we did spend 3 solid days laughing and talking and giggling and in general acting like 16 year old girls on a road trip (complete with copious amounts of junk food and screams of, "OMG! Are you SEEEE-rious?!") , the discussion about the importance of waxing one's butt crack did not come until we were about 30 minutes outside of Melbourne, on the way home.

Who knew that there were women in the world who worry about what the inside of their butt crack looks like?