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, March 21, 2010

Be Revolutionary

Imagine what our world would be like if nobody ever stood up for what they believed in. If women didn't have the right to vote, if African Americans were not free to mix with Caucasians, if many families did not hide Jews during Hitler's regime, if... there are endless examples of how someone daring to be be a revolutionary improved society as we know it. It's not just society, though.. it's science, too. Think of the scientists who dared to try new things, who went against the status quo in order to prove their theories. Many of those are the people we have to thank for vaccines, antibiotics... I could go on for a while here. What about those people who dare to be revolutionary right in their own backyard? Where are those people?

Over the past couple of years there have been some rather irritating things happening at the kids' school. Incorrect billing practices, disorganised events, major communication breakdowns - you get the idea. For some time now I (and many other parents) have chosen to remain silent, really only voicing our concerns to one another. Last year I made an attempt at bringing one of these issues to the attention of the principal - only to have her fob me off and tell me I didn't fully understand the situation. After it took over 6 months to get a reply to an email, a second attempt at discussion proved equally futile.

At a recent parent's association meeting, I asked the staff member present (not the principal) what the procedure was for parents who needed to voice a concern about administration. Long story short, asking that question was the equivalent to opening up a big bag of angry cats in a small room filled with cat-allergic people. The room erupted with people all similar in their frustration and dissatisfaction with various issues - and in no time at all it became obvious that this was not MY issue, this was OUR issue. Long story short, it was determined that the only action available to us was to write a letter to the governing Council of the school and hope we could get them to listen or at the least sit up and notice.

The letter is written. It's not derogatory. It's not accusatory. It's filled with positive language, with "we want our school to be fabulous,", with "let's work together," with "surely we can all improve" and so on and so forth. It's not at all the guns blazing letter I wrote in my head, but it IS the one I think we should send. Frankly, it's all gentle and nice-nice... but it's all true. We DO have a vested interest in the long term improvement and growth of our little school and we know that telling them off would achieve nothing other than making us look like hysterical complaining parents. Which we are - but it's an attitude which we know won't get us anywhere, hence the tone of the letter.

Why, then, are we finding it so hard to get people to sign it? Not only 'people' but the very people who themselves admit they are unhappy with the situation? One parent won't sign because her husband told her to "stay out of trouble," another is worried that signing will affect her chances for scholarship in future years...and so on. Of course, they are entitled to not sign - it's their right and I can understand their concerns. I don't agree with their concerns, but we all have our own moral compass - and we all need to decide for ourselves when to be revolutionary and when to stand on the sidelines. I know I'm brave, and outspoken, and extroverted...and I know other people are not. Some people just are not the type to stand up - and I appreciate that the world needs leaders as much as it needs followers. However, I'm still having a hard time swallowing this.

One of the parents asked me what I would do if the Council did nothing about the situation - would I still sign if I knew that? Of course I would - because knowing I tried to bring attention to something, and then failed at that attempt - would still be more valuable than sitting and doing nothing. Council ignoring our letter would in itself speak volumes about the school, wouldn't it?

Someone else asked if admin problems are really going to affect my kids' education? Is not getting a correct bill (for more than 3 years now) going to really affect their day-to-day happiness at school? Actually, YES, it will. Fact is, a lot of these admin problems are the reason why the school is not growing - there has been no growth in a few years now. The current Grade 5 class has 5 kids in it. Parents are choosing to take their kids out of this school for reasons related to admin ... and ultimately, that DOES affect my kids and their education. If staff morale is low and great teachers leave .. that too affects my kids education. If they get to Grade 5 and there are only 5 kids (of which they would be 3), well, that's not really doing them any favours either.

So, I'm choosing to be revolutionary. Because someone has to be.

The Way The Apple Crumbles

On the same weekend as the ice cream cake extravaganza, DS decided to make a somewhat healthier dessert option. While he likes sweet stuff, he has an absolute obsession with fruit. All sorts of fruit - he could easily eat several pieces a day (and often does.) So if a dessert or dinner includes some sort of fruit, he's a happy camper (and we all know about the camping, don't we?!). When he helps with menu planning, he almost always picks some sort of fruit based dessert as an optional extra and this weekend was no exception.

As crumbles go, this one has the advantage of being easy and delicious. Maybe not the OMG WOW crumble recipe,but certainly the oh-no-company's-coming! dessert to turn to.

Apple and Berry Crumble

6 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
punnet strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 cups frozen mixed berries of your choice
60g cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup self raising flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp cinnamon (I added more)
1 T honey
cream, to serve (essential...although can be replaced by ice cream of course)

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 6 cup capacity oven dish.

1. Place the sliced apples in a pot over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. 2. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until apples are tender but not floppy. Remove from heat. Stir in berries and spoon mixture into the ovenproof dish.
3. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the oats, brown sugar, breadcrumbs, cinnamon and honey. Spoon the crumble over the fruit.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until crumble is golden and smelling so scrummy you can't take another minute of waiting. Serve with cream.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Is it Ice Cream O'Clock yet?

There is no point in trying to be kind, so I'm just going to come out and say it:

Vanilla ice cream is CRAPPY.

It is a rare event where I find a vanilla ice cream I like - because most of them are either flavourless, artificial-tasting, or just plain old' BLAH. A vast majority of commercial vanilla ice cream is just not worth the calories, which is not generally something I would say about ANY ice cream. There are a few premium vanilla ice creams which are mostly okay (Sara Lee, I'm looking at you) but most of them are just pathetic. As the inventor of 'ice cream o'clock' - which is the offical time of day or night when you feel the need to eat some ice cream - I feel I'm fairly well qualified to wax lyrical on the crappiness of vanilla ice cream.

I'm nothing if not fair, though, so when DD2 saw this recipe for an ice cream cake ... which involved copious amounts of vanilla ice cream.. I couldn't possibly refuse her, now could I? Plus I might have been just the tiniest bit influenced by the fact that this recipe also includes chocolate, 2 whole packages of sprinkles, and savioardi biscuits. Even bad vanilla ice cream can surely be improved by all those additions, right?

Absolutely right.

Chocolate Freckle Ice Cream Cake

2 litres vanilla ice cream
200g butter, softened
1 1/2 cups pure icing sugar
4 eggs at room temp
400g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup thickened cream
250g sponge finger biscuits
2 x 175g packets hundreds and thousands (sprinkles)

1. Remove ice cream from the freezer and allow to stand while you do all the other bits.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition - the mixture may look curdled but that's fine.
3. Combine chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for one minute and stir, and continue one minute at a time until melted and smooth. Add to butter mixture and beat until smooth.
4. Sprinkle one packet of hundreds and thousands into the bottom of a springform tin (25cm base). Spoon over half the chocolate mixture, taking care not to disturb the sprinkles.
5. Cut all the biscuits in half, length ways to make two thinner fingers (as though you are torting a cake, not right down the middle but across the width.) Lay these over the chocolate mixture in a single layer, cutting some smaller if need be. Spoon over the ice cream and gently smooth.
6. Press remaining biscuits into the tin and then pour over the remaining chocolate mixture. The sprinkle over the remaining packet of sprinkles. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and foil and freeze overnight.

This cake was, in a word, totally AWESOME and would make a great, quick cake for a kids' birthday or family event. In our case it was the perfect dessert for Oscars watching! A word of warning, you need to use quite a large springform. Ours wasn't quite big enough so we ended up in a delicious mess - all it meant was that the next day I had to flip the cake over and use the bottom as the top. No less delicious and fabulous but the sprinkles were not as bright as I would have liked.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Monopoly Is Awesome

It's entirely possible that the title of this post might have been "Monopoly SUCKS"... but since I ended the game like this:

I feel I can be more kindly towards what is possibly the longest, most boring, frustrating game ever invented. Seriously. Whoever invented Monopoly clearly had a warped sense of what is actually fun and what's not. In our case we were playing "the dot com" edition, which my Mom bought my DH several years ago. So all the properties are well-known websites...and it was very amusing to see that there is no Google, but there is a Lycos and an Ask Jeeves and a whole bunch of other sites which are now RIP. All the money is in millions and the cards are "Email" and "Download" cards. The whole game is actually pretty cute, and the perfect (and yet somehow most boring) way to blow a few afternoons with DS and DH.

Since I needed an excuse to get up every few minutes (or fall asleep at the table), I decided to also do some lovely Autumn slow cooking. So our game was enhanced by the delicious smell - and then heavenly taste - of Beef with Orange, Prines, Cumin and Green Beans... with a side of Saffron Pilaf.

Seriously, seriously good... and a seriously good diversion from my strategy which involved having no money but boat loads of property.

Did I mention that I won? No, I totally MOPPED THE FLOOR with my boys. Bwahahahaha, it's great to be Queen.

Beef with Orange, Prunes, Cumin and Green Beans
Originally from Good Taste magazine, June 2008

Serves 6
1/4 cup plain flour
1.25kg casserole beef (blade steak) cut into 5 cm pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large brown onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 cups fresh orange juice
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 cup pitted prunes
400g green beans, trimmed

NB: 1.25kg = 2.4 pounds, and 400g = 1 pound

1. Place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Add the beef and toss to coat. Shake off excess.
2. Heat 2T of oil in a large casserole over medium high heat. Add half the beef and cook, turning, until browned (about 5 min). Transfer to a plate then repeat with remaining beef. Set beef aside.
3. Heat the remaining oil in the pot. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the tomato paste, turmeric and cumin and cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Return the beef to the pot and add the orange juice, stock and prunes. Bring to a simmer.
4. Reduce heat to very low. Cook, partially covered, for 1 hour. Add the beans and cover the pot, and cook for a further hour or until the meat is very tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Saffron Pilaf
Serves 6

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T butter
2 brown onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
large pinch of saffron threads
2 1/2 cups beef stock or water

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the rice, saffron and stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and cook over medium heat until liquid is absorbed. Set aside and stand, covered, for a further 5 minutes. Use a fork to separate the grains.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Apparently, I SHALL pee in the woods

So Mr I-Need-A-Halo has been sticking to his plan and behaving like a perfect angel.


When I told my sister that I was going camping, she only stopped laughing long enough to say, "You've got to write a book about it!" When I said that she was perhaps more of a princess than I, she just laughed harder and said, "Well, *I* can't write a book about it because there is no way in hell I would go camping in the first place." Awesome... so I can clearly count on her support, right? The good news is that next week's Mums and Cubs great adventure has been postponed to late April. Next week it's just the kids on their own, and they get to sleep in tents. Apparently in order to make the Mums more ... comfortable... THAT camp will involve dormitories rather than tents.

This does not make me feel better. Dorms involve things like bunk beds. I do not 'do' bunk beds.

However, I am heartened by the fact that DS seems to have finally gotten his act together (at least as much as I can expect him to) and my original plan worked. A little too well, but it still worked.

Therefore, come late April, I will be the MOST AWESOME mother ever to sleep in a dormitory...because, you know, they're so comfy and all.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I Shall Not Pee In The Woods

As I've blogged about before, DS has had a whole bunch of issues at school over the last few months. Many hours and hundreds of dollars later, it turns out that he's smarter than all of us. After all, he's had a gaggle of adults running around him trying to make him happy - while he just sits back and does whatever the hell he wants anyway. So you tell me which one of us is the clever one, right?

Needless to say things seem to be on the improve (and thank god for that, I was about this close --><-- to a nervous breakdown). However, DS doesn't seem to be getting that he is in fact as much a part of the solution as the rest of us are. Basically, if he doesn't come up with the behavioural goods, there is no point in all of us trying to help him. For several weeks now I've been trying to figure out how to get him on board with all of this and failing miserably.

Most child psychs tell you that in order to wield power over kids, use an item of value. An item of value to the kid, that is - so take away their Nintendo, don't let them have play dates, reduce their TV time, etc. Basically figure out what's precious to your kid and then take it away. The theory is that the kid will eventually fall in line because they want their item of value back. This theory fails miserably in my house. We don't own expensive or noisy toys, we already limit their TV time, we don't have a lot of play dates, and all their extra-curricular activities are physical and therefore necessary and not optional (IMHO anyway).

And then there was the camping.

About a week ago, DH sent me an email from the Cub Scouts which said that they are having a Mums and Cubs camping weekend at the end of this month.

And we all know how much I love camping.

About as much as I love Helicopter Mom, Other People's Kids, and the birthday cakes DH gets me. Actually I love camping even LESS than that, to the power of a gazillion.

I HATE dirt, uncomfortable beds, spiders, toilets which need gravity to flush, poor quality toilet paper, building a fire with anything other than a functioning 6 burner stove, eating stuff overcooked over wood, singing songs, mosquitoes, kids running around in packs, bus rides, duffle bags, sleeping bags, housing which requires construction and sticks and stuff, flies, creeks, mud, hiking shoes which give you blisters, and absolutely everything else which has anything at all to do with camping.

But I'm a Mum. And in the Mum guidebook, Commandment Number One is YOU SHALL SUFFER.

Like a bolt out of the blue I suddenly realised that there are in fact two things that DS values. Firstly, one on one time with his dear old Mum. As a triplet, one on one parent time is decidedly limited. Secondly, he absolutely adores travelling and camping and going away doing cool stuff, and he KNOWS how much I hate that stuff with an extreme passion.

And so the "Mum and DS Camp" chart was born. Between when we started and the dreaded camp, there are 14 school days. DS has to behave LIKE A FREAKIN' ANGEL for all of those 14 days, and the reward is that I will suffer 2 nights away in the woods. With other people's kids. Which will likely have more than one Helicopter Mom (but probably no birthday cake.) Now because I am a reasonable sort of person, I also gave him two 'get out of jail free' cards... because in his world, perfect behaviour for 14 days is close to impossible. He is, after all, human. Or at least I think so.

We're now onto Day 5 of the Race to Torture Mum, and so far he's been as good as gold. Literally skips out of school, grins broadly and says, "Another GREAT day, Mum!"

Fucking kid. NOW he decides to behave?

I hate it when a plan comes together.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

No, I want THAT one

This past weekend I had the extreme pleasure of trying to flog (Australian slag for 'sell') a shit load of cupcakes. In case you're wondering about the actual numerical nature of "shit load," it's somewhere in the region of 1,100. On Sunday I took part in a kids' festival (which is where the bulk of the cupcakes were going to be sold) and it was fascinating to watch the behaviour of the parents. Over the course of the day, one thing became very clear - it's ADULTS who are poorly behaved, not kids.

Witness the parent who came up to the table (laden with loads and loads of kid-friendly, brightly coloured and totally drool-icious cupcakes) and spent AGES looking and commenting and asking and trying not to touch... and the kid whose eyes are bugged out of their head, mouth salivating, desperately wanting a cupcake. This same parent totally ignores their kid, and then turns and says, "Oh but you've already had your one treat of the day! Sorry!" and walks away.

Seriously. Surely that's a case for child abuse.

Or witness the parents (many of them) who offer their kid a cupcake, the kid points to the one they want, and the PARENT then spends the next 3-4 minutes pointing out all the other ones available. "Oh, Joey, what about THIS one? It has a dinosaur!" "Do you want a dinosaur? No? Okay what about a racing car? A smiley face? A pink flower? A smarties one? A coconut one? Come ON, honey, you need to decide!" Never mind that this entire time, the kid is patiently standing there, pointing to the one they want. It was quite amazing to see just how many times this same scenario played out. The damn kid already TOLD you which one they want - why are you making it so freakin' complicated?!

Or...witness the parents who think their son cannot possibly eat a pink cupcake, or their daughter can't eat the one with the sugar skull on it. Seriously? Who knew that gender rules apply to cupcakes?!

Or... the parents who haggle over the price of a handmade, gorgeous, amazing cupcake... but then happily pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee. Which is, as we all know, WATER.

Or... the parents who buy themselves a half dozen cupcakes but tell the kid, "None of these are for you!" and is deadly serious about that.

Admittedly most of the people we met were lovely, friendly, normal parents... but then it would be boring if I blogged about them, wouldn't it?

Instead I'll leave you with the tale of the parent who was angry that we did not discount the cupcakes at the end of the event - "Aren't they all stale by now anyway?" and proceeded to rant about the event itself, her sick kid, the fact that they were running late, and a whole bunch of other stuff which we neither cared to know about or needed to know.

We're all worried about the kids, when really it's the adults who need a time out.