Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Little Break

Just to let you know I'm not dropping off the edge of the earth.  Rather, Dh is home for a few weeks of summer holiday.  It is a good time to step back and enjoy a break from lots of things that happen in regular life and blogging, for me, is one of those things.

I plan to catch up on a pile of reading.  I plan to stitch with Miss Mischief.  I plan to bead with Miss Sunshine. I plan to sit and enjoy a pot of tea with my husband and just enjoy sitting.  And I plan to watch Mr Busy wizz by on his bike or play with his cars and a new garage.

I'm going to enjoy this one last summer before I begin my degree.  One last summer of ignorant bliss.

To each of you who pop in here regularly, or stumble over my blog by accident, to each of you who leave your  precious comments and thoughts I want to thank you for what you add to my life and the joy you leave here for me. I look forward to catching up with you all next year. 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Wishing Each of You....

...a very joyous and blessed Christmas.

The List Complete: A Pictorial Tick-Off

I completed my list, all bar the cleaning in fine time yesterday. I even had an hour to sit and have a cuppa with a friend before spending the evening with my friend Rel's family and a couple of other friends as well. I can tell you, I was happy to sit!!!!

Let's see what I managed to do!

Two chickens, deboned and stuffed and all ready for the oven.  One has cranberry and lemon thyme, and one has apricot and parsley.

Stuffed Pork Roast
Here is the pork, stuffed and ready for the oven as well. This one is filled with cherry and bacon, with both lemon thyme and parsley within. Yum..can't wait.

'Granny' Pav
A pavlova was the last thing into the oven, as it then sat to cool when its cooking time was done. I'm pretty sure my Granny, from whence the recipe comes, would indeed be proud that her mantle has been passed on successfully. And the rest of the family will continue to indulge with great enthusiasm and deligh.. This will be filled with lemon curd cream and topped with sliced stawberries.

Meat for the Freezer
Meat was prepared in various marinades and placed in the freezer.

A Mountain of Biscuits
I also baked two double batches of biscuits. Dh is home for a few weeks' holiday now, so having extra things to nibble on always helps avoid the demands that come out when hungry people can't just dip their hand into some vessel holding something delicious.

There you have it.  A very productive day spent in the kitchen!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve and the Long To-Do List

Can you believe that we've reach Christmas Eve already?  Again?!  I'd had such plans for a sedate week at home and thought I'd be all serene and calm today.  Rather, I've woken and decided a list must be made if I'm to stay sane!  Actually, I think it's not going to be so bad....but I need that list to keep my head on straight.  You know how it is ~ things fall out of your brain when you try to keep too much in there at once. list:
  • debone & stuff two chickens and pork roast; roast them
  • make double batches of choc chip bikkies and gingerbread
  • make a pavlova
  • prepare meat for the next week to freeze in marinades and such
  • prepare for a BBQ dinner with friends
  • clean the bathroom and sweep floors
  • finish wrapping presents
The first half needs to be done this morning!  Just as well I'm an early riser.

Our Christmas Eve always ends with children in bed, presents and Christmas stockings placed under a glittering tree and a cup of tea whilst watching Carols by Candlelight.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

To Santa or Not To Santa

It seems that this is the greatest modern controversy facing Christian parents.  It is a subject rarely spoken of without some very emotional responses when differing opinions collide within one family.

My husband and I both grew up in homes that included the Santa element of Christmas.  I think it was just what our parent's generation did, without much questioning.  It was simply the way Christmas was and few would have been inclined to veer from it.  A generation later the world had become quite a different place and as parents, we were being confronted with all manner of issues to scrutinise, including this one.  We chose to take Santa out of our Christmas, and I'll explain why in a moment.  Our choice did, however, cause a bit of a stir.  Once my parents returned to Victoria and my brothers began their families we realised that we'd made quite a controversial decision.  They all expressed some version of dismay that we would deprive our children of one of the most important things of Christmas and felt that we were judging their choice.  It was a sticky conversation and one I vowed never to repeat within my family. This year, it was raised in Dh's family.  Quietly.  Not amongst the large throng that is our family.  One member of the family was genuinely interested in why we made our choice.  One member of the family was horrified.  I chose to direct my comments to the one who had inquired and moved on quickly.

Neither my husband nor I made our choice based upon looking back over our childhoods and deciding things needed to be improved or that our parents had been less than diligent.  Certainly, that never entered my thinking as we considered what choice we would make concerning Santa.  Our choice to exclude Santa from our festivities was made for two reasons.

Firstly, we wanted to focus on the real reason for Christmas.  We wanted to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with our children without having to navigate a maze of distractions in the process.  Our world is filled with opposing worldviews and religious sects that skew the Word of God just enough to confuse us.  For me, the wonder of Christmas is not a jolly old man in a red suit coming down my chimney (yes, I do have one!), but rather that God chose to send His son to us as a helpless and very human baby because He wanted us to have a very personal relationship with our Creator.  This post at Couragous Homekeeping includes an excerpt from 'God Came Near' by Max Lucado.  It is this sense of wonder that I most want my children to connect with.

Secondly we considered the issue of parental integrity.  Please don't misunderstand me here.  I'm not saying that my parents, or my in-laws, were not people of integrity.  As I mentioned, the world is a different place now than it was when we were young.  It is because of the changes in our society that this became something for us to consider when deciding on whether or not to have Santa.  It was (and still is) very important to me that our children know that we don't lie to them.  About anything.  Even things like Santa.  I believe that as we conduct ourselves, as parents, with an integrity and authenticity that is not swayed by popular culture our children will have an added measure of certainty in the way they are parented by us.  Of course they won't always like our decisions, but we will always have that firm foundation on which our children can rely.

Finally, I want to make one thing very clear.  I do not believe there is any judgement to be made based upon whether or not a family should include Santa in their festivities.  Whenever we disucss this with our children I am very concerned that they too refrain from making judgements and they receive very strict instructions not to spoil things for other families.  I believe this to be an issue of personal choice and should never be reduced to 'right' or 'wrong'. 

And just so you know, the kids still get a Christmas stocking and all of the fun that we enjoyed as children.  They don't miss out on a thing.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Exciting Parts of Christmas

After experiencing the difficulties that precede Christmas, last week, we've had the joy of experiencing the wonderful things that come with it.  And all before Christmas Day itself!

We've had our Christmas celebration with one side of the family, including a 'family camp'.  Two full days of relaxing together and watching cousins play together happily, no matter whether they're 20 years old or four years old.  The X-Box is an amazing equaliser of ages!

About half the family tripped into Costco yesterday, as if we needed to further entertain ourselves.  We all got into our cars after a couple of hours declaring that to have been a fun outing.  Of course it included a very cost efficient lunch at the end, after a tour around the taste testing tables throughout the store, so of course, the non-shoppers amongst the children were placated throughout the trip.  I found my much-desired Cashew Clusters as well as a few other well-priced items.

And then last night, our family had our family Christmas present.  We went to see Mary Poppins.  What an amazing show.  Mr Busy had been quite dubious about swapping full-on Christmas for a seat at the theatre.  About half way through the first half he decided it was worth it.  When I inquired after their favourite parts, they each declared the whole thing magnificent and unable to pick out one bit.  Personally, the 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' moment was my favourite.  A very intricate choreography accompanied the song and was 'practically perfectly' executed.  Of course, the whole thing was great and scattered with plenty of humour.  Verity Hunt-Ballard did a grand job of playing Mary Poppins and Matt Lee was the perfect Bert.  They did the roles justice and then some.

I think the kids will opt for a 'theatre Christmas' in the future if there is an opportunity to see something they'll enjoy.  It was a truly magical evening that was worth every cent.  Mr Busy is wandering about the house gently chanting "Mary Poppins" in a perfect English accent!

Now we're ready to rest.  And prepare for a simple Christmas at home.  Beautiful food, time together.  I found free sheet music for Amy Grant's 'Breath of Heaven'.  So whenever I need a little bit of focus for the true heart and reason for Christmas, I have it right there at my piano.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Excruciating Part of Christmas

If you think this is going to be a whine about family, you're wrong!  Although for some of us this may be the most painful part of Christmas, I have found something far worse than any family disagreement.  And believe me, our families are not immune.

The most excruciating thing for me is shopping.  In December.  I've one stop left to make and I'm dreading it.  I only have to go into one store, but the thought of going anywhere near a shopping centre is not a pleasant thought.

I had to finish up 'main' gifts and buy food yesterday.  We arrived at 9.10am, when it was lovely and quiet.  Normal, even.  By the time we left two hours later the place was a zoo.  And not a pleasant experience like wandering about the beautiful Melbourne Zoo, or Healesville Sanctuary.  I came home exhausted.  The kind of exhaustion I felt the week after the Year 6 graduation, when I'd been at work full time for a few weeks without a day off.  Trouble is, I was only at the shops for two hours. Those two hours rendered me useless for the rest of the day!  By the time I got into the last supermarket I was nearly in tears....and not because Mr Busy was being his usual shopping-difficult self.  He was being completely lovely.

After yesterday's experience I'm appreciating some things and planning on making some changes .  The staff at Our School are a very generous group of people.  On the last two days of school, our pigeon holes need to be cleared constantly, for the gifts and cards that arrive there.  Chocolate is often the gift of choice.  But this year I received two little gifts that really spoke to me on many levels.  One was a card from TEAR that indicated the gift of school supplies had been purchased in my name.  I am still so excited about that gift that I keep going back to it to read the card!  The second was a little Christmas tree decoration, in the shape of a Christmas tree.  This decoration was so much more special, though.  It is made in Kenya under a project that tries to help people find alternative ways to earn income whilst preserving the native wildlife.  My beaded Christmas tree is absolutely exquisite.  As I hold it I wonder about the person (presumably a woman) who made it and I am in awe of the workmanship that went into this little piece.

Neither of these gifts are terribly expensive and yet they speak to my heart more than any other.  These are gifts that have built a community up, rather than tearing people apart as they selfishly push and shove their way around a shopping centre that is designed to relieve us of our money so that others can become richer.

So what am I going to change in my approach to gift purchasing next year?  Two things.
  1. I am going to seek out gifts that build up and provide hope to the communities from which they come.
  2. Like one of my colleagues, I will aim to be done by Grand Final Day.  This lady does all her shopping on Grand Final Day, when the shopping centres are empty.  Oh yes...that's my kind of shopping!

I realise that this is not a perfect world, and not every recipient will be receptive to the idea.  But where I can, that's where I'm aiming.

If you're after some ideas of organisations that sell gifts that make a difference, here's what I've found on my very quick little google search:
Beaded Hope
Baptist World Aid
World Vision
Ethical Gifts
Global Exchange Store

Please note, that I have not investigated each of these organisations and do not necessarily endorse their philosophies.  This list is merely an example of what is available.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Culture and Hospitality Post Script

To each of you who have left comments about your farewelling experiences, thank you.  I have enjoyed hearing of how things are done in the South of the USA, South Africa....other's experiences here in Australia.  Such a mixed and varied collection of responses.

As I was certain would be the case, my nephew's observation and experience was not widespread.  I didn't think it would be.  I was certainly surprised that plenty of Aussies don't walk their guests out.  I was surprised, because I only know one family in our wide circle of friends who don't....but they do things so very differently to us, I thought it was just 'them'!

Since I ate lunch out today I will no doubt be suffering insomnia in the wee small hours of night and you can be sure this will consume some of my wakeful hours.  My encouragement and challenge to us all (including myself) would be this:  Let's determine to be intentional and deliberate about caring for our guests, from the moment the enter our homes, until the moment they drive away. 

Will you join me in my quest to be a blessing 
to the guests who grace us with the blessing of their company?

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday marked the end of the school year at Our School.  What a fabulous year it has been, too.  Fast.  Even the kids think it has gone fast.  And as excited as I was yesterday morning about it being the last day, I know I will be equally excited about the first day next year.  I love that school goes in seasons and that when you're tired and can't wait for the end, the end comes.  And after a short rest we're all ready to get on with a new term. 

Today is our final staff day.  It is a delightful way to finish up.  It's nice to relax and not be mindful of bells and routines and playground complaints.  Of course, there are kids around.  It is inevitable when about a third of your staff are also parents at the school!  My children have begged to spend the morning at with me before going with their Dad.  My boss's kids being the main draw-card.  And teachers have already started to 'bags' children for their extra helping hands.  It is one of the very special things I love about Our School.  'Staff kids' spend many more hours at school than the rest of their peers.  But one of the most precious outcomes is that they grow amazing relationships with their teachers, beyond what happens in a classroom.  It is a time when school is less about 'teachers and students' and more about working together with a common goal and enjoying one another's company.

Tomorrow....we'll take it slow.  Perhaps we'll put the Christmas tree up!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Of Culture and Hospitality

My 11yo nephew made an interesting observation when they were here for dinner the other night.  As they were leaving, we walked them out to their car and said farewell, as we always do when we have guests over.  I try and slip on some shoes as we wander out because our driveway is gravel and my feet are no longer the tough things they were in my youth.  We hover somewhere between the end of the verandah and the driveway, depending on the shoe situation.  Once our guests have driven away we head back inside.

My nephew's comment to his Dad?  "Wow, they came out to say good-bye.  In America they sent us out the door and shut it on us once we were out".

I've been thinking, pondering and grappling with this for a few days now. I am fascinated by such a small but significant difference in the culture of hospitality.  I am swivelling, in my mind, between what the Bible tells us about offering hospitality and what it looks like 'on the ground'.  Believers are encouraged to offer and practise hospitality.  It is one way we can care for each other's needs.  We show our love for one another as a tangible action that blesses others richly.  It is also a way that we serve one another.

I always come away blessed when we have been invited to share a meal in a friend's home.  There is nothing more delicious than a meal, whether it be toasted cheese sandwiches or a three course dinner party, that has been prepared by someone else with us in mind.  The fact that they have given of their time and resources is the blessing.  It looks like food on the table but there is a far deeper blessing at work. 

Those final moments together, however, seem as important to me as the way guests are greeted when they arrive and the meal and the company that is enjoyed throughout the visit.  It's like the dessert at the end of a meal.  That final taste that leaves a sweet and lasting impression of friendship.  As I think back, I have fond memories of being waved off.  That feeling that those last moments are as important as all the moments that have been shared throughout the visit.

We will continue to wave our guests off from the end of the verandah, or the driveway, because it's what we've always done.  And I think, for the most part, it is what Aussies do.  But I will do it with a greater appreciation, now, for what it says to our guests.  It is the final moment for blessing those who visit our home.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Monday Menu Planning: Week Beginning 15 December

Blissfully, this week begins with the very last three days of our school year, before six weeks of summer holiday.  Six short weeks, I suspect.  It's going to fly.  And I am going to revel and enjoy the first week. The calm before the storm, if you will. By then I will be prepared and able to ignore the crazed world of last minute gift shopping and just think about cooking.

Our menu looks different from the picture above:
Monday:  Oven fried chicken, vegies
Tuesday:  Lasagna, salad
Wednesday:  Quiche, vegies or salad
Thursday:  Chicken noodle stir fry
Friday:  Ricotta fritters, vegies
Saturday:  Chicken wings (BBQ or stir fry vegies & rice)
Sunday:  Dh's Christmas Family Gathering

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Christmas Menu on a Budget


My Mum asked me weeks ago what our menu would be for Christmas Day. Unfortunately for Mum I've become very "one thing at a time", and Christmas hadn't yet made it to the top of my list of things to focus on.  Two weeks before Christmas and I'm nearly organised.  My mind has finally turned to the menu.  Of course, for me, this goes hand-in-hand with the delicate task of budget balancing.  After all summer holidays come with their own set of expenses!

I have two delicious meals to organise and prepare.  We're having our own little family lunch at home this year and then my extended family will join us for dinner.  At least half of us will have enjoyed a substantial lunch, so dinner needs to be light but still special and still filling enough for those for whom dinner will be the main meal.

~ Lunch ~
Baked Glazed Ham
Stuffed Chicken Roll
Roasted Potatoes
Honey Carrots
Broccoli & Cauliflower Au Gratin

~ Dinner ~
Stuffed Chicken Roll
Glazed Ham
Garden Salad
Potato Salad

My secret weapon in maintaining our budget will be shopping at Aldi.  All of the meats can be purchased there at very reasonable prices.  I need two hams for this Christmas season (one for each extended family) and Aldi had smaller shoulder hams at very reasonable prices.  I balked at the size and price of the leg hams!  We're not great turkey eaters here, hence the lack of one to grace our table.  This is also a budget helper!  I will be deboning whole chickens and stuffing those myself.  Whilst the deboning process is a little tedious, I love the freedom of choosing my own stuffing ingredients.  The effort is worth it, in my opinion.  I can also do this in advance and freeze the stuffed, chicken roll before cooking.

Our lunch will be sized to suit our family and therefore not overly expensive, except for the addition of the ham.  I will be organising family members to contribute to our dinner meal, thereby spreading the workload and expense amongst us all. 

There is more than a workload-and-money motive behind sharing out the provision of food for such a feast.  There is something special about each family bringing something that is created out of love for those joining together at the table.  I love that each of us makes our salads a little differently and each is able to contribute their 'version' and share the joy they have in their creation.  Each of us makes our dishes the way we like them and it is a blessing to be able to bring that joy to the rest of us.

Have you organised your Christmas menu yet?
If you blog about it, sharing your link!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Modern Modesty

Last week I saw a blogging furor happen on another dear blogger's site.  The kerfuffle was a result of a post about SAHM's dressing nicely.  The guest poster used a adjective that was not well received by many of those who read this lady's blog.  And it all got me to thinking.

Modest dressing is quite the topic on many blogs.  Particularly by those who are conservative and believe that modest Christian women should wear dresses rather than pants of any kind.  This approach has always fascinated me.  What would you tell a Scotsman whose traditional dress is a kilt? And what about the men of Fiji who wear a straight skirt type of garment?  Then there are the men of PNG, whose idea of modesty and wearing men's attire is grass over their behind and a length of fabric hung over a wide belt thing in the front.  No doubt the traditional costumes of the women there would have the conservatives amongst us in a dead faint.  Having lived in a cross cultural situation, I find statements about what is appropriate and what is not to be quite odd.  It appears to me that each culture has their idea of what should and should not be worn and what constitutes modesty.  I think it would be wrong for any of us to impose our views on other cultures when it comes to dress code.

Of course, our culture has it's own sense of what is modest and appropriate and what is not.  I am quite tired of seeing the top bit of lace of young woman's bras.  And I'm tired of seeing the tops of their undies.  I'm really sick and tired of seeing most of a young male's backside.  Really...underwear is exactly that.  Items that are worn UNDER clothing.  Recently when we were visiting some friends I sent both my daughters back to change before we left.  Our friends have a mid-teenaged son and strappy straps and shorty shorts were, I felt, inappropriate.  Dh recently told the father of this boy of the conversation we'd had at home before visiting them and he thanked Dh for our sensitivity and the care we had shown for his son.

There are many items of clothing that I find difficult to understand as being appropriate. I'm not sure if I'm just getting old, but since most of my friends (both older and younger than I) agree I think I'm not too far off track.  Jeans that are painted on, too much cleavage, leggings with no skirt over the top...I promise you there are a number of things my daughters will not be leaving our house wearing! 

I think modesty is more than just a collection of rules and opinions.  Modesty is about respect.  Respect for ourselves and respect for those around us.  We show no respect for ourselves if we are showing personal attire or parts of our bodies that are not meant for public viewing. Our peers will have little respect for us either.  Indeed people who dress like this often earn pity rather than a positive reputation.  They could be the nicest person in the world, yet the way they dress will colour how others view them.

Likewise we should respect others in the way we dress. It is not fair on those around us when we insist on wearing whatever we feel like, knowing that what we wear will impact on those we are with.  While, in simplistic terms, we may have the right to do so, it shows no regard whatsoever for those around us.  Our responsibility to those around us must surely be more important than our rights as individuals.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 6 December

What a week it has been!  Between a Graduation, an Excursion, a Breakfast and a Supper (after dinner/evening) it's been a busy few days.  I'm really looking forward to a 'regular' week ahead.  You know, one where I work only the days I'm meant to work.  Ahhh, bliss!  I may even find some time to do the last of my Christmas shopping without having to take the whole family with me.  Surely gifts for four adults can't be too hard to figure out.

Over the weekend we had some friends over for dinner.  Unexpectedly.  Wonton Soup is not really what I would consider guest-worthy from the point of view that it is a VERY light meal.  One we tend to have on days when we've been home and done very little or when we've had a big lunch.  Consequently some of my meals this week are ones that didn't happen...but they will!!!!

Monday:  Roast chicken, salad
Tuesday:  Chicken wonton soup, prawn crackers
Wednesday: Redcurrant lamb chops, vegies/salad (crockpot)
Thursday:  Oven Fried Chicken, vegies/salad (a la Miss Mischief)
Friday:  Lasagna, salad (freeze half of the lasagna)
Saturday:  Scotch fillet for adults, something else for kids
Sunday:  BBQ, salad

* * * * * * * * * *
I've had a few little 'moments' lately, usually when I'm really tired, where I've felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of what next year is going to look like for me.  My academic semesters will be 13 weeks long ~ just over a normal school term.  My girls will be doing a little more cooking in each of those 13 week stretches, I think.  They're always keen, so some simple 'go-to' recipes will be my mission in the coming months.  I'm sure the novelty will wear off quicker than they expect.  I think we'll all look forward to the end of those 13-week semesters!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Wheat Free Life

Frances commented on Monday's post about my comments regarding my avoidance of wheat.  I found myself wanting to say so many things in response, that I thought a post might be better.  After all, I know how often I go in search of information about gluten free living that perhaps my experiences might help someone else.

To be clear, I do not require a fully gluten free diet.  For me, it's just the wheat that is the problem.  As I mentioned on Monday, it causes insomnia, indigestion and a really fuzzy brain.  Each symptom on its own is reason enough to propel a person to seek a remedy.  To have the three within 6-12 hours of eating wheat is no fun.  Ask anyone I work with these response when pressed to accept something I need to steer clear of is "No thanks.  I would really rather sleep well tonight".

The biggest impact of avoiding wheat comes at dinner time.  Breakfast and lunch are rather individual affairs in our household.  Each gets his or her own breakfast and school lunches are standard sandwiches.  I buy an organic rye bread that has only 4% wheat which is actually the gluten and that works well.  So I still eat my favourite breakfast of toast and jam, and can have a sandwich if I want.  I also often I have leftovers, or rice thins with flavoured tuna for lunch.  That part of the day is rather easy.

Dinner can be a different story.  I have come to the point where I cook our dinners to be gluten free and the rest of the family just have to eat along with me!  I use gluten free flour in anything that requires flour, whether it be homemade gravy (my family won't eat any other kind), crustless name it, I replace the flour with what suits me.  If we have pasta I have two pots going ~ one for everyone else and a little one for me.  Then I ladle the sauce in appropriate quantities into each pot and serve from there.  I do the same thing if I'm making pancakes ~ the first batch for everyone else and the second batch is gluten free.  Same recipe, different flour.  For the most part, the rest of the family don't notice the difference anyway.  Gluten free flour is a pretty good product these days.

I bake quite separately.  Gluten free flour is $7/kg.  Regular flour is 95c/kg.  Obviously it is not practical or cost efficient to bake gluten free goods if you don't need to!  So most of the baking that everyone else eats is done with regular flour.  If I decide I'd like to nibble on something sweet I'll bake one batch of whatever takes my fancy.  I usually freeze the batch of whatever-it-is so that no one else is tempted!

The only things I've not mastered are scones and pastry.  I've tried everything I can think of.  Scones I can do without.  But the pasty I eventually also gave up on.  Not even half regular & gluten free flour makes the dough easy to work with.  It's too fragile and frustrating to make it do what it should.  I'm told there is a product available in Coles, but I've not been there to find out yet.  Coles is out of my way so I'd have to be determined if I wanted to find out.

The other time that my dietary needs can be an issue is often at family gatherings.  Particularly when the hostess is providing all the food.  I try and find out what the food situation will be and then just bring things to suit myself...a sausage sizzle requires bread.  Dips need crackers.  Birthday cake requires an alternative sweet thing to enjoy.

It's really not so bad.  It's just a matter of getting your head around how you do what you want to do, and finding good alternatives to regular items.  There are some really good products in Australia and our restaurants are pretty good about catering to this particular need.

In Mourning for my Vegie Garden

I made a firm decision just recently.  I decided that I cannot put time and effort into a vegie garden.  Not this year, and not next year either.  Indeed, possibly not until I have finished my degree.  Between work and Uni, I think my cup will be running over without adding to the things that need to be tended to at home.  I'd rather spend my time at home with my family, than worrying over the garden.  We still have our lemon tree, and the rhubarb plant dies off and regenerates every year without us being involved.  That will have to do.

You know what I'm going to miss the most?  Homegrown tomatoes.  I love the joy of eating something freshly picked from the garden and knowing I grew it myself.  But homegrown tomatoes bring with them an added measure of joy.  They are sweet and flavourful, never refrigerated and eaten in abundance in salads.  Mr Busy loves a little boxful of cherry tomatoes in his lunch box.  And it's not problem ~ there are plenty during the height of the season.  My favourite thing though, is sliced tomatoes with basil and bocconcini.  Mmmmm, now there's a summer treat!

So I'm feeling a little mournful over the thought of missing out on that summer pleasure.  If you're growing summer vegies this year, have a tomato and think of me!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 28 November

We sent off our 10yo visitor last night in a blaze of dining glory, with her family. Roast lamb (supplied by them and cooked by me) with all the yummy things that should go along with it. As well as the two desserts that had been requested. Apparently you just can't go home unless you've had golden syrup dumplings!  Personally I was up for the apricot crumble.  I received some quizzical looks when I pulled out a tiny single-sized serve for myself...gluten free.  After Friday night I was not prepared to forgo sleep for the sake of dessert.

I told Miss10yo that she needed to go home so I could have a holiday from fanciness in the kitchen.  Her mother laughed and declared that parents need respite care sometimes!  Really, I'd have her and her older sister anytime.  They're fabulous kids to have around.  And they understand our humour.  Always helpful!

I'm looking forward to reducing my kitchen load to 'regular'.

Monday:  Ricotta fritters, vegies
Tuesday:  Redcurrent lamb chops, vegies
Wednesday:  Lamb rissoles, vegies
Thursday:  Tomato & bacon pasta
Friday:  Quiche, vegies
Saturday:  Chicken wonton soup
Sunday:  Baked jacket potato with assorted toppings

I am slowly but surely become more protective of myself when it comes to what I eat in relation to wheat.  I've known for a few years that wheat is not my friend.  Perhaps it's age and wisdom.  Perhaps I have gotten to the point where the consequences are not worth it.  But a stolen mini muffin here or a cracker there rarely go by unnoticed.  It's either insomnia or indigestion or the fuzzy brain that won't function.  Usually it's the brain fuzz that stops me first.  I need a clear head when I'm at work.  Actually, I need a clear head to deal with my own kids on a day to day basis.  Having two teens and a full-on boy mean you have to have your wits about you!  But the insomnia is not fun either.  I've now developed a very short list of items that are worth paying the price for.  Hot jam doughnuts (the kind you used to buy from a doughnut van), tiramisu and yum cha are the three top picks.  Even homemade pasta doesn't make it to the list anymore.  I'm getting really good at finding ways to alter favourite recipes to suit me.  I still haven't found a good alternative to scones or pastry.  It's the pastry I miss most of the two.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Slow Cosy Weekend

It's been a slow, wet, quiet weekend here.  Even with some extra people around the house.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say I'm a bit bored between meals! 

We had French Toast this morning, Miss10yo visitor was oh so very excited when she learned of the treat ahead.  Easy to please!  Dh came home with a roasted chook on Thursday, so we had toasted chicken & cheese sandwiches for lunch.  An ordeal when your sandwich toaster does two at a time!  Nevertheless, there were lots of happy people quite willing to take turns at having theirs on their plate.

The 14yo's were as bored as I so they made butterfly cakes, a little like the ones in the picture above.  Plain cream and a dot of jam and topped with an uncut lid were more our style.  The 10yo's have been Playstationing....and the 13yo has had the joy of Daddy's iPhone.  You know.  Because you have to have special privileges when everyone else has something to do.

And it has rained.  My it's been heavy.  In a little bit I'll put some dough on for homemade pizzas for dinner.  And we'll stay indoors, all nice and cosy, and just watch the weather roll by.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to those Over the Sea

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate the day!

I've been giving a little bit of thought to the idea of Thanksgiving Day.  Aussies don't celebrate Thanksgiving.  Not to say that we're an unappreciative bunch who are not grateful for the blessings we enjoy.  It's just that Thanksgiving in a quintessentially American tradition.  We have different traditions and things that we celebrate. The idea of setting aside a day to really consider all that we have to give thanks for, is incredibly appealing.  Even for one, like me, who has a bit of an objection to taking on the traditions of another country or culture.  

I mentioned this to my kids this morning.  I made the observation that if we were in the US we would have finished eating lunch and would've been enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, stuffed full of good and yummy things.  It is good to remind ourselves that all of life is not about the bleak things we may be facing, or the busyness that this time of year brings.  It is good to really focus on the blessings that we enjoy and the fact that we live in a country where we have access to all kinds of things that make life good.  Healthy food, good water and hygiene, medical resources, education, homes....the list goes on and on.

Tonight we have two extra kids staying over.  The younger one requested roast pork for dinner.  So once we get home from a little choir thingy for the two older girls in the house I'll be getting the table set nicely.  I'll get things going for a pumpkin pie...because I love pumpkin pie and what better excuse?!  We don't have a day off work and school and I don't think we should (because we're Aussies), but we should remember to thank God for the way He cares for us.

On a side note, I think I just figured out what to say for my staff devotions on Thursday morning.  Another thing to give thanks for!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Midweek Hump...Or Maybe Slump

The picture above depicts a little of how I'm feeling...blown along by strong winds that can't be held back and can't be fought.  Along with numerous extra end-of-school-year things that need to be dealt with it has been so warm the last few days.  Not uncomfortably so, for the most part.  But enough to make sleeping a little troublesome.  Enough for mozzies to dive-bomb you all night long.  Enough to make you think going to bed at 9.00pm feels late, because of the sleep you lost the night before!

And with the realisation that the end of the year is upon us also comes the awareness that Christmas is coming and presents must be bought.  Quickly.  So that I don't have to shop for more than food in the week between the end of school and Christmas.  The children have placed 'wish lists' on the fridge.  I have to laugh.  They are quite lofty and unreasonable.  But they're good for a laugh.

Mr Busy:  "a mobile phone, so that if I'm alone and something's wrong I can ring you"
Miss Mischief: "lots 'a money"
Miss Sunshine: "a new iPod nano (pink)"

Of course, Miss Mischief also has a note about the promised, but un-findable pretty glasses case.  Her comment ends with  "....still waiting"

I giggled over bits of all of them, but Mr Busy's about the mobile phone made me laugh the longest.  Because what 10yo boy is ever away from adult supervision long enough to need a mobile phone?  Except maybe in Disneyland when he decides that he doesn't want to stick with the rest of the family and gets himself left behind?  Visible to us...but he didn't know that.  And neither did we for a good 5-10 minutes.

How is your Christmas preparation and shopping going?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 22 November

As the week begins I'm thinking of the busy days ahead and the heat that has been forecast, weather wise.  Good thing Wednesday will be warm.  I won't have to come up with a creative solution to keeping warm for Our School's Yr12 Graduation dinner.

Our meals this week:
Monday:  Chicken parmigiana, salad
Tuesday:  Chinese corn soup, prawn crackers
Wednesday:  Chicken Noodle Stirfry ~ a la Miss Sunshine
Thursday:  Nachos
Friday:  Roast pork, vegies, dessert
Saturday:  Homemade pizza, dessert (again!)
Sunday:  Roast lamb, vegies OR something unexciting!

We have two young ladies coming to stay for the weekend while their parents take some time out.  Roast pork was the request.  Dessert apparently a must.  How could I possibly disappoint such cute gorgeousness?  The younger one is so excited about staying.  And excited about the potentially delicious things she will be fed. I suspect a fair amount of class time this week to be spent reminding her to work, rather than dream of yummy food!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

End of the Week Catch Up

It must have been quite a week if I haven't posted since Wednesday!  The next two weeks follows pretty much what this past week has held.  I have been working on a couple of extra projects at work.  Preparing Year 6's for their graduation night and organising transition/social story books for students coming in next year has taken much of my time during the day.  At home, the regular hum drum of end-of-the-week happenings have had us running all over the place.

In the midst of it all, the fridge has decided it doesn't need the defrosting element any more.  Of course, we know it does because when that little part goes on the blink the fridge doesn't work very well.  The man came to have a look on Friday and said he'll be back on Monday (or Tuesday!!!!!) to replace the part. We've been instructed to turn the fridge off tonight, so that the ice build up in some hidden place defrosts before he arrives.  I hope he comes on Monday. More than that, I hope he fixes the thing and that it lasts another four years, at least.  That's not asking too much is it?

I came across a new blog yesterday, thanks to Joy from The Stay at Home Missionary.  The three women who post at Courageous Homekeeping provide some really thought provoking posts from a deeply faith-filled perspective.  Kristi has bravely tackled the subject of Attachment Parenting and whether or not it is a sin to work outside the home.  In both cases I kind of held my breath.  The Attachment Parenting post began and I thought "where's the 'but'...".  It didn't come.  Kristi's perspective on the subject is almost identical to mine, only she does a far more eloquent job of stating her views than I would have at the stage, when I was at home with Preschoolers.  I was relieved!  Even moreso, I was relieved when she came to the conclusion that it is NOT a sin for mothers to work outside the home.  I was beginning to like Kristi and was scared my appreciation for her wisdom was about to prove misplaced.  But no, she wisely indicates that on this subject a mother must seek God and know her motivation.  It appears that Courageous Homekeeping is a fairly new site, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes from them in the future.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

In Honour of Debates

I received this week's Simple Savings 'Tip of the Week' in my email box on Sunday.  I must say, this one had me raising my eyebrows.  And wanting to wage a debate of proportions such as our Yr 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9's have never seen (they're all doing debating at the moment).

What has me on the defense?  This week's tip was about the financial benefits of being a SAHM, and how much working mothers waste on pre-prepared food items.  I'm not in complete opposition to the writer's opinion.  Yes, there are expenses to do with working.  Petrol, clothing, child care (for some), a slightly higher inclination towards take away (again, for some).  My objections was specifically to do with comments made about the type of foods consumed and the higher grocery budget required in those households where Mum works.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with this woman.  The friend for whom this lady cleans has obviously made choices.  But not ALL working mothers (or working women, generally) make those same choices.  Just because you may work does not mean you cannot cook a meal from basic, fresh ingredients each evening.  It does not mean you resort to boxed/prepared snacks.  Last year I worked four very full days each week, and was often out and about on my day off.  I managed to shop wisely and cook the way I normally do ~ using fresh, raw ingredients.  When I was a SAHM I would have evenings when I just didn't feel like cooking.  I don't believe that happens with any more frequency now than it did then.  I still rely, occasionally, on having a bag of frozen vegies as a back up, and a packet of rice crackers in the pantry for school lunch snacks.  Just as I did before I began working.

Every one of us makes choices based upon that which is important to us.  I strongly believe in providing healthy, nutritious meals for my family.  How busy I am may change the meal I cook on busier days, but I am still cooking as I always have.  Other families don't place the same importance on nutrition that I do and their food choices bear that out.  But it is these values and beliefs about what is important in regard to food that governs what a family eats.  Not whether or not a woman works.  We may blame work.  But I don't believe that is the entirely accurate perspective.

I'll hop of my soap-box now....

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Recipe Review: Nigella's African Drumsticks

I wish I had a picture for you, but alas in the flurry of serving lunch as quickly as I possibly could a photo was not going to happen!

I used Nigella's recipe from page 46 of 'Nigella Kitchen'.  A simple marinade of wocestershire sauce, tomato sauce, mustard, ground ginger, jam and onion on chicken drumsticks made for a very delicious foundation for our Sunday lunch.  Along with jacket potatoes, fresh corn salad and a garden salad there were lots of happy people sitting at our table!

As much as I would love to post Nigella's recipe, I have a feeling I'm not allowed to.  Copyright laws and all that.  So.  Borrow the book from the library, get it from your favourite online bookstore, take a peek at a friend's copy.  However you do it, it's worth taking a wander through the pages of this hefty volume!  This recipe is a keeper at our place.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 15 November

What a whirlwind of a weekend, mostly spent in the kitchen.  Dessert to go out with us on Friday evening. Cake and bikkies for afternoon tea on Saturday.  A Sunday lunch for guests.  It almost seems lazy to have a roast chicken in the oven after all of that!  Regardless, amongst all that food was some great fun with friends and family.  And now plans are afoot, according to a 10yo friend who is coming to stay in a couple of weeks.  She sidled up to me this morning with "What are we having to eat while I'm at your house?".  I think the question is better asked by me...."What would you like to eat?"!  So far a roast pork has been requested.  I'm sure she'll come up with more as time goes by.  And so it seems my cooking slump has ended, more by force than by natural inclination I suspect.

This week at our table you might find the following:

Monday:  Roast chicken, vegies...perhaps even a dessert!
Tuesday:  Quiche, vegies or salad
Wednesday:  Meatloaf, vegies (we'll again to make this one happen!)
Thursday:  My SIL's tomato & bacon pasta
Friday:  Ricotta fritters, salad, potatoes
Saturday:  Teriyaki chicken, rice
Sunday:  Soup, sausage rolls

One thing our recently-returned nephews and niece adore is to be treated to party pies and sausage rolls.  Something not found easily in the US, but certainly a favourite party food on this side of the world.  I much prefer homemade sausage rolls.  I might have to trek my way to a Coles store to see if I can find the gluten free pastry (frozen) that I have heard tales about.

One of my greatest discoveries this weekend?  Costco in Australia has Cashew Clusters available.  When we popped in on Dh's brother yesterday he handed me the pack and encouraged me to take a decent handful of these little delights.  Oh what a treat!  I am thinking a Costco membership might be worth it, now that I know they're available.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

To Be or Not To Be (slack, that is)

I'm officially calling it.  I'm in a mid-term slump when it comes to churning out meals.  There.  I said it.  Out loud.  I just can't be bothered.  Perhaps I need to conserve some energy tonight before creating a magnificent dessert to take out with us tomorrow, and before having some friends over for Sunday lunch.  I think I'm on to something.

I could never understand it when I would hear other mothers talk about the slackness of their meals (ie not to the standard they normally deem appropriate) when their husbands were out and they just had the kids to feed.  I never understood it, because the kids and I constitute the majority portion of our family.  Dh is but one (a very important one, mind you) of the number who grace our family table each night.  It never made sense to me that four out of five people weren't enough impetus to get a person cooking.  I still hold to that opinion.  If you're going to cook and only one of your tribe is missing, you might as well do what you normally do and cook a proper meal.

Tonight, however, I'm cheating as if to prove myself a complete hypocrite.  I'm not going to cook at all!  I could blame the fact that Dh will be out.  The reality is that I am using that as merely an excuse.  A more astute mother would have seen this mid-term slump coming and planned to have something in the freezer to be whipped out and reheated.

On the upside, I've just spent a few lessons being entertained and amazed by the Prep kids and what they've managed to accomplish this year.  They're all so very sweet, in their own unique little ways.

Hungry Jacks, here we come.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Ugh. We Have a Problem!

My problem comes in the form of menu issues.  It's 5.30pm.  I don't feel like eating meatloaf and I don't feel like making it either.  *deep sigh*  I think this is one of those days when I would happily accept an impromptu invitation to go somewhere else for dinner.

Upon deeper investigation I have discovered some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I have a half kilo pack of mince in the freezer.  I thought I only had a full kilo ~ too much for a single meal.  The bad news?  No onions or garlic left to be had.  Perhaps rissoles will do.  And vegies.

Even the best planning cannot outwit the 'blah' feeling that comes over a girl some days.

Moan.  Groan.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How Do You Do It?

This evening I was asked by a friend "how do you do it?".  My daughters attend a bible study group once a fortnight, and for the past two months, or so, my staff meetings have clashed.  We'd resorted to meeting at a carpark and swapping children into different cars there.  Tonight I had the freedom of enjoying a cuppa with my friend, where she wondered how on earth I manage to cope with staff meetings that finish late in the day.

I believe you could ask this question of two hundred different working mothers and discover two hundred different answers.  What works for me will be quite different to what works for other women, and their families.  And yet each story is surely of equal value, in that in the sharing of those stories perhaps other women will gain insight, ideas and realise there are all kinds of different ways to tackle this role, should they find themselves in the place of "Working Mother".  May I just start, however, with the comment that I was fully committed to being a SAHM, until my children had all started school, and even a couple of years beyond that.  I, in fact, had no desire to work outside of home for a very long time.  God did a lot of work on me to get me to the point that I would consider working.  So let me share with you what makes it work for me.
  1. I work in the same place that my children spend their day.  I am blessed to be in a position where I do not need to split my priorities between my most precious little people and my work.  My children come to school early with me, and leave late with me.  And my fellow colleagues are very accommodating in allowing them some after-school privileges in the library.  So long as that privilege is never abused, they will be able to continue to enjoy the trust they have, thus far, gained.
  2. My husband has been very supportive of what I do, as he has been when I have suggested that I would like to study on top of everything else.  He willingly has the children at the office, on occasion, after school and usually a day or so during each term's work break.  His willingness to be flexible has a huge positive impact on my ability to do what I do.  I know sometimes the arrangements that are required can be inconvenient, but he makes it happen anyway.
  3. There is much planning that goes into our meals, as regular readers would have seen.  I carefully consider my work schedule and days off as I plan our week's meals.  I plan meals that are quick for our busy days and more time consuming meals for days when I know I'll be home by 4pm and have nowhere to be for the rest of the evening.  Sometimes I mess that up a bit, but the kids are old enough to eat a little late and not be too perturbed or think they've been unreasonably starved.
  4. I have learned to say 'no'.  A valuable skill for a busy servant-hearted person!  I hold the opinion that anyone can ask me to do something, but that doesn't obligate me to say yes.  The year Mr Busy was in Preschool taught me that I simply cannot do everything that comes my way, and I began to value a yearly review of what I do.  Learning how to seek God as I make these decisions has been invaluable, and a process I always employ when I consider significant commitments.
  5. My standards for housekeeping are perhaps lower and somewhat unacceptable to more diligent homemakers.  I, however, recognise that I simply cannot keep up a really high standard and stay sane.  I sweep the floors when they bug me.  I clean bathrooms when I notice they need it.  The kids help with emptying the dishwasher and doing other dishes....some days the dishes don't get done.  And I'm OK with that.  Clutter bugs me, so things never get completely out of control.  You may find the kitchen benches a little overrun and there may be a pile or two in the lounge room ready to head out to the caravan.  That's as bad as it gets.  I rarely have much input into how the kids keep their rooms beyond a quarterly clean out.  If they can stand their own mess, I can shut their doors.
  6. I confess to being a bit Nazi-like when it comes to having the kids clean up behind themselves.  I will call them back and have them finish a task or put something they have used away, rather than doing it myself.  The path of least resistance is not necessarily the best.  I strongly object to being the only one doing all the work when everyone else gets to relax and watch telly!
  7. As strange as this may seem, I ensure that I have things built into my days that I know I will enjoy.  While each thing would appear to be something else that must be done, this is not how I view these activities.  Reading a book when I hope into bed.  Stitching evenings once a fortnight.  Book Club once every six weeks and the occasional women's function at church as well as the more unexpected things like a quick cuppa with a friend.  All of these things build an added measure of joy into each week and provide something to look forward to.
  8. How I cope with my work week also has a lot to do with how I feel about my workplace and the people I work with.  My workplace is a living, breathing example of a Christian community where we each practise what it is to be committed to the larger body of Christ.  I work with amazing men and women for whom I have deep respect and great affection.  I find myself blessed whenever I am in a position to be a measure of support and encouragement to my colleagues, although receiving anything for myself is rarely my motivation. 
I'm sure there are many more bits and pieces that I have forgotten to mention.  Perhaps a part two will evolve as I think about this in the wee hours of the morning during regular bouts of insomnia.

How do YOU do it and cope with your busy schedule?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday's Menu Plan: Week Beginning 8 November

Today has been a perfectly beautiful spring day.  Warmth, sunshine and an unexpected visit with a friend late in the day have been quite a treasure.  I don't really feel like I've 'worked'.  Not when you spend the afternoon languishing in the sunshine on the pretense of supervising children who are fully engaged in their activity!  Having leftover lasagna in the fridge, ready to go for dinner when unexpected things happen, is definitely the best thing ever.  No cooking dinner beyond warming it up.  Can you tell I'm feeling a little smug right now?!  I always do when I manage to organise myself so well.  I wish I managed it more often!

In the meantime, planning the week's meals is as organised as I'm inclined to get, for now.

Monday:  Leftover lasagna
Tuesday: Bacon wrapped chicken, vegies
Wednesday:  Meatloaf, vegies
Thursday:  Ants Climbing Trees
Friday:  African drumsticks, salad (or vegies)
Saturday:  Tacos
Sunday:  Minestrone, homemade dinner rolls

We may end up with guests for lunch on Sunday as well as Friday night dinner.  I think I may need to dig into Nigella Feast for some inspiration.

Speaking of inspiration, I have some for the wheat-free eaters amongst us.  I've re-discovered the humble rice paper sheet recently and have been enjoying them filled with lettuce, carrot, bean shoots, finely sliced chicken (from leftover drumsticks) and hoisin sauce for flavour.  When you have no bread in the house that is suitable, this makes a great alternative for lunch and is really no more difficult than making salad sandwiches, although slightly more time consuming.  I say slightly, only because each rice paper sheet must be soaked in warm water for about 30 seconds.  I've also discovered that Woolworths have corn tortillas (Select brand) that are gluten free.  I've bought some but haven't tried them yet.  They seem far more flexible than the specifically made gluten free alternative.  I reckon I could try Nigella's Quesadillas with a reasonable expectation of success!  In fact, I could even do this at school, on the George Foreman style grill thingy.  Ahh, now there's some inspiration.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Mini Adventures

This arrived on my bench on Thursday afternoon.  I can't tell you how excited I  Unfortunately for me, it arrived at a time when my brother was visiting and not long enough before I had to pick up my kids.  I would have put it straight into action, but for the time.  Between picking up kids and having two little nieces arrive for a 'sleepover' I made a double batch of chocolate chip bikkies.  Oh wow!!!  That machine didn't even blink at the heavy dough.  It just whirred away doing what it was designed to do, with perfect ease.

Our next adventure:  Shopping with a 5yo and 7yo.  "Can you buy this?" was the cry of the evening.  Even after I pointed out that they would never get to consume whatever they were asking for!  Apparently I am a very funny person.  I didn't know it until Thursday night.  There were a number of giggles and snickers around me as I dealt with two little grocery shop muppet-style monsters (ie, the cute variety).  Strangely, I was completely unphased by their antics.  My own children have been known to drive me mental!  And Mr Busy stepped up into 'responsible older cousin' mode and was a great help with hand-holding while crossing roads and walking through a busy mall.  A pleasure to behold!

Our next adventure will be a trip to the airport this morning to welcome home Dh's brother and his family after seven years of living overseas.  The kids are very excited about having their cousins back and at a closer range for plays and sleepovers.  I'm looking forward to seeing how a short-distance relationship unfolds for them, as these are the cousins they are closest to in age and enjoyment of activities.

Of course, more baking must be on my horizon for today.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Review: 'A Promise of Hope' by Amy Clipson

Rel has posted my review for 'A Promise of Hope' here.  This is book two in the Kauffman Amish Bakery Series, so it was lovely to revisit old friends and pick up a different thread of their story.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Of Panzanella

Picture from

A little Nigella wisdom in relation to this Italian bread salad.  The last sentence is true of bread, no matter what use you intend to put it to.

"...and very useful it was too for finding a happy end to the brief life of that strangely unsalted, blink-and-it's-stale bread.  But then, as anyone who has ever made their own bread (even once) knows, the fact that store-bought bread doesn't stale quickly is just plain spooky."

Nigella Lawson:  Nigella Kitchen:  Recipes from the Heart of the Home p148

Monday, 1 November 2010

Monday's Menu Plan: Week Beginning 1 November

My kids are counting down the days until Christmas.  Already. Now that it's the beginning of November I'm almost ready to concede that one must begin to prepare for the festivities. I think I might just wait until the long weekend is over though.  I don't want to spoil four days off, in the middle of a busy term!

The week ahead in my kitchen is looking a little like:

Monday:  Chicken wings and vegies
Tuesday:  Gnocchi with a tomato based sauce
Wednesday:  Singapore Noodles
Thursday:  Slow cooked lamb chops (Nigella Express P117)
Friday:  Ricotta fritters, vegies
Saturday:  Lasagna, salad (make double for the freezer)
Sunday:  Chicken noodle soup

Back to my book...or my stitching, with a little sunshine on my back.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Long Lazy Weekends

In Melbourne, we are headed into a bit of a strange long weekend.  On Tuesday, the Melbourne Cup race is held, and the city takes the day off.  But what to do with Monday?  It's not officially a holiday, unless you have very wise and sensitive bosses.  In Our School, there is an acknowledgment that very few children are at school that Monday and we should just close.  Ahh the blessings of being independent of the State!

So....four long, glorious days of relaxing.  What should we do?



Spend time with friends...nibbling on yummy things!

And whatever else may take your fancy!  I'm hoping like crazy that my new Nigella cookbooks arrive tomorrow morning so that I can spend an entire long weekend with them!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Chris Fabry & Glenn Williams talk Parenting, Drugs & Alcohol

Chris Fabry
Glenn Williams
I have just listened to a superb interview between author and radio host Chris Fabry and Glenn Williams, both of whom I have a deep respect for.

I have read Chris's adult fiction books for the purpose of reviewing them and recommended 'June Bug' as one of our book club selections for this year.  His writing is authentic and engaging and brimming with topics that are worthy of discussion.  I just heard his new book 'Almost Heaven' is nearly on bookshelves and I can't wait to read it.  Chris's personal story is incredible and the circumstances surrounding his family's health problems added weight and credibility to 'June Bug'.

Glenn has authored a couple of parenting books and has extensive experience in working with young people in all manner of circumstances from youth pastor to youth worker to psychologist.  He has recently stepped down as COO at Focus on the Family and is starting a consultancy firm that supports not-for-profit organisations.  He has been heard on Melbourne's Light FM over the past few years offering parenting advice, tips and encouragement. I recently reviewed Glenn's newest book "Talking Smack:  Who's talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol if you're not?".  I have recommended this book to all of the Year 8 parents in Our School as 'required reading'. 

This morning when I was checking out Glenn's blog, I noticed he'd tweeted about doing an interview with Chris about his book, "Talking Smack".  Of course, when you discover two men like this having a conversation, you need to check in and have a listen.  And so I did.  Glenn's interview with Chris can be found here.  You need to click on Hour 2 (on the right hand sidebar) and their conversation begins at around 11 minutes in, until the end.  So make sure you have some time!  If you have teens, I would encourage you to listen to this interview together.  If you have younger children, Glenn has some great insight and encouragement about talking to them about drugs and alcohol.

Thanks to Chris and Glenn for sharing your discussion with the wider world!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Review: 'Sarah's Christmas Miracle' by Mary Ellis

Rel is slowly catching up with my reviews...I'm going to have to speed up my reading to get ahead again!  My review for a Christmas novella, "Sarah's Christmas Miracle" by Mary Ellis has been posted here at Relz Reviewz.  If you're wanting to get you mind into Christmas mode, this is a nice quick read to get you started.

Tuesday's Menu Plan: Week Beginning Yesterday!

Yesterday happened in a bit of a blur, I think.  Well it must have, because I didn't get to think much, about sitting at a computer.  Indeed, by lunch time I felt like I'd worked a whole day and then some.  Such is the way of things when you work with children on the Autism Spectrum.  Last week it was one student's difficulties and this week it's another's.  At least they weren't challenging at the same time!

This week's menu is looking thus:

Monday:  Creamy bacon & mushroom pasta
Tuesday:  Meat Pies for the 'men', soup for me.  The girls will be elsewhere.
Wednesday:  Chicken wonton soup
Thursday:  Chicken coq au vin (from the freezer), rice.  Me...out at a work function
Friday:  Sloppy Joe's, salad if we're lucky
Saturday:  Honey soy chicken, rice, stir fried vegies
Sunday:  Roast chicken, vegies

I feel like this week is going to be completely flat out with a couple of evenings out and the anticipation that surrounds the arrival of a new toy for me.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Recipe: Red Roast Salad

Yet another weekend of fellowshipping has swept us along.  One planned event, one not.  Both equally enjoyable.
On Saturday evening we had to take a salad to share at a BBQ that was some part birthday celebration and some part end-of-building-the-deck celebration, with friends.  I was uninspired when I did the grocery shopping and reluctant to purchase the myriad of salad items I might've needed to create something, once the day arrived.  I ended up buying just a few things and created a salad that thrilled me even though the kids were unexcited.  What evolved became a Red Roast Salad.

Red Roasted Salad

1 red capsicum
lots of tomatoes
kalamata olives
capricosa mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves
olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.  I used a combination of roma tomatoes and mini roma tomatoes.  Slice the large tomatoes lengthwise into quarters and the mini ones in half (lengthwise).  Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and dried thyme.  Bake for about an hour.
  2. Slice the 'cheeks' off the red capsicum and lay it skin-side up under a griller at full heat.  Allow the capsicum skin to blacken.  Remove to a plate and cover with glad wrap.  After about 10 minutes, or when you can handle the flesh, remove the charred skins.
  3. Slice the capsicum into strips.
  4. Slice the capricosa mozzarella cheese (a paler version of mozzarella).
  5. Slice the olives in half lengthwise.
  6. Layer the tomatoes, capsicum, cheese and olives with basil leaves that are torn by hand.  Once all the ingredients are all in the bowl, splash a little extra virgin olive oil over the top.
I realise the quantities are a bit vague.  I had an oven tray filled with tomatoes and the one capsicum was enough to go with them.  I used enough olives to scatter throughout without overdoing it.

The salad was completely delicious, filled with lots of my favourite things and indulging my preference for cooked vegetables.  Even a salad can be everything you love, no matter the season. 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Cooking on the Run

Fresh Corn Salad ~ photo from

You know how some days you can be completely undone by the frenzied busyness, and other days it's somewhat exhilarating?   Yesterday, for me, was the exhilarating version.  Possibly because it began with a few quiet hours at home.

We had our Junior Primary concert last night, which was absolutely delightful.  They are so gorgeous ~ I just know I'm going to cry buckets when that group graduate Year 12!!!!  In between the end of school and 6.15pm, when Miss Mischief had to be there, we had a doctor's appointment to attend (1/2 hour trip each way) and dinner to prepare and eat with friends whom I picked up on my way back.  I had thought fish and chips might be the go....but even that takes time when you have seconds to spare instead of minutes!

In the end I decided upon making dinner.  Around lunch time I realised that I could make salads ahead and set the oven to cook while I was gone.  It was such a beautiful warm day yesterday that fish and chips seemed like a travesty!  Fresh, delicious salads were definitely required.  Especially when I found fresh ears of corn for 20c each in Woolworths!!!!  20c, can you imagine?!

So here's what we ate:

Rosemary and Lemon Chicken Pieces:  I laid chicken drumsticks in a glass roasting dish and splashed a bit of extra virgin olive oil over it.  Then I snipped in some fresh rosemary leaves and some grated lemon rind.  I set the oven to cook those for an hour.

Potato Salad:  Unpeeled potato chunks were cooked until just tender.  The dressing was whole-egg mayonnaise, dijon mustard and fresh chives snipped in.  I thinned it a little with some milk.  Combine the lot in a pretty bowl and refrigerate for later.

Salad Platter:  Chopped up tomatoes, carrot sticks and cheese sticks, with stuffed green olives for the Mum's.  This I prepared in the five minutes of cooking time (the chicken) that remained when we arrived home.

Fresh Corn Salad:  This salad was introduced to us by my SIL when we were in the US.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  What a salad!  Simple, oh so easy and a balm to the hearts of my corn-loving family.  The recipe is from the Barefoot Countessa and you will find it here.  I prefer it with a small change.  We found the red onions a little overpowering, so this time I made it with spring onions instead.  Perfect.  I suspect that in a pinch you could even used tinned corn.  However, I highly recommend the fresh version ~ it's really not that much more effort than opening a can.  This too was done at lunch time and set in the fridge for later.

The kids have decided I need to use the automatic function on the oven more often.  I decided that as soon as you remove yourself a little from the effort of cooking, that the meal tastes so much better.  Usually the meal someone else cooks tastes so much better, but last night's meal was pretty darn good.  Even if I do say so myself.  And I suspect a little smugness at being so organised added to the flavour.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Conversatiions with Mr Busy

Mr Busy has always been an entirely entertaining little character to live with.  When he's not around, he leaves a void and quiet somberness is all that remains.  Don't get me wrong ~ I long for that quiet on many days.  But I also miss the laughter he leaves in his wake.

At Home:
Mr Busy:  What's for dinner?
Me:  Corn soup.
Mr Busy:  Nigella's corn soup with the corn chip things on top?
Me:  Yep.
Mr Busy:  YES!!!! (hands raised like he'd won Bathurst)

At School:
Mr Busy:  Mum, I don't understand.  Can you help me?
Me:  Sure, what's the problem?
Mr Busy and I then go back and forth between his lack of understanding and me helping him figure out what to do.
Repeat about 20 times in 20 minutes!
Me:  Go and stalk someone else, I'm trying to help other kids too, you know!
Mr Busy:  gives me a hug and a kiss and hops off to visit his teacher.

It seems I've educated him very well at school we've a long way to go!