Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tuesday Catch Up

In resistance to my childrens' constant suggestion that fish 'n chips would be a great dinner, tonight was a rather uninspired dig through the recipe books for an alternative to chicken & corn soup.  No creamed corn sent me on that adventure.  Nigella, of course, came to the rescue and we ended up with an Asian flavoured chowder to go with our mini chicken dim sims.  It always pays to keep an ecclectic clutch of ingredients that otherwise seem to be unrelated.  Potato, prawns and frozen corn kernels.....who knew they could be so good together.  What's more it was fast.  You have to be happy with dinner that is prepared, cooked and served within 20 minutes.
My first couple of days with students has been surprisingly pleasant.  I've spent most of my time with my most challenging student and will begin popping out to other classes in the next few days.  His first day last year was characterised by extreme opposition, attempting to throw a desk at me, a pinch here and there and the charming "I wish you were dead" thrown my way.  This year?  Calm, obedient, staying in the classroom.  We actually went to the whole-school assembly this year and he sat with his class and wiggled no less than anyone else.  This afternoon Mr Busy asked if I'd been wrestling with the two boys that tend to require it.  Nope - I won all the battles.  And this particular child wrote 35 words today.  Yesterday he wrote 7.  I'd say it was a good day.
After recently (end of last year) making the bold decision to move from our church of 19 years to somewhere different I have been acutely aware of the friendships I value most.  Last night I spent an evening with one of my precious and dear friends.  She surprised me with the small gift of a new bracelet in just the style that I adore....whispery tinkles, pretty, pink....perfect.  I wore it to work today.  The Year 2/3 girls declared it beautiful (and it is...I love it!) and the boy I work with said I must be very rich to have so many pretty bracelets.  I told him none of them are terribly expensive but they are pretty!  My new bracelet if all the more special because of the dear friend who spontaneously thought of me when she saw it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


It feels a bit like we've been given a reprieve on many fronts this week.  The kids have managed to escape coming to school with me a couple of times thanks to family and friends who have taken pity on them.  Their generosity is such a gift.  The weather is cooler today and heading into some days in the 20's instead of the 30's (celcius).  Very nice.  A public holiday tomorrow is small reprieve from starting back to work this week.  We'll be celebrating Australia Day with some friends in a quiet kind of way.

There are lots of things for which I am grateful.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 23 January

I know why I was reluctant about going back to work.  It's not that I don't love what I do.  It's not that I don't love the people I do it with.  I really missed having a little afternoon nap on the couch today!  If only there was some way to combine the two.

We've hit that school-start weather as well.  It always seems to be awfully hot when school is in the midst of returning to action.  Whilst January has been generally cooler than normal, February seems determined to outshine its predecessor.  Fortunately Our School has been busily installing cooling in more of the classrooms so life will be much more comfortable for some.

Of course, hot weather means cold food.  Here's what's on:

Monday:  Chicken wings; salad
Tuesday:  Pork chops; salad
Wednesday:  Chinese corn soup; chicken wontons
Thursday:  Meatloaf; vegies
Friday:  Beef noodle stir fry
Saturday:  Prawn & mango curry; rice
Sunday:  ...my brain hurts now - I'll think about it later.  Perhaps a special treat before the kids head back to school properly.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What's in a Name?

My youngest brother and his wife have had an ongoing disagreement for many, many years.  It's really quite funny to watch this conversation in action.  It's one of those silly things that is all about the terminology we use to describe things and how the cultural aspect of different countries impact on the terminology use.  Especially in a country like Australia where there are so many cultures that stive to coexist harmoniously.

Yes - they disagree about pancakes.  And crepes.  And flapjacks.  A pikelet is the only variation they do agree on!  So here we go - the definitions according to my research of wikipedia and the web.

Pancake:  According to Wikipedia, a pancake is a thin, flat, round cake.  It is made from a batter and cooked on a griddle or frypan.  It seems that in the US pancakes are thicker and fluffier than how I would expect a traditional Aussie pancake to be.  Having lived overseas, I was introduced to the US version early in life and that's what I prefer.  My Mum's acquired 'American Pancake' recipe is the only one I use.

photo:  wikipedia

Crepes:  These are a very thin pancake, commonly associated with France.  Scandinavia have something very similar - of course they have their own word for them.

photo: taste.com.au
Flapjacks:  Here's where things get sticky.  A flapjack is basically just another word for pancake, used in America.  They also use the term hot cakes and griddle cakes.  It all means the same thing: what we know as pancake.  I know someone is going to be disappointed here - I can't remember whether it's my brother or his wife! In my wanderings I also discovered that in the UK flapjacks are something else altogether!  Over there flapjacks are more like what I would call a muesli bar.

photo: flapjackrecipes.co.uk
There you have it.  Lots of different names for something that is very similar but just different enough to cause dissention in a home!

A pancake story:  When I was young and living overseas we had a Sunday tradition of having homemade (there was no other option where I lived) pizza on the beach for lunch with many of the other missionary families in our town.  We almost always had pancakes for dinner before heading off for church.  The English service was in the evening, so we had plenty of time to get ourselves organised for lunch and an afternoon of swimming.  And guess what?  It was in a very short space of time that I took on much of the responsibility for these meals.  I guess that's how Mum managed a day off cooking when eating out was non-existant!

Hmmmmm...after all that pancake talk I'm thinking perhaps we need some pancakes for breakfast.  Miss Sunshine will be thrilled!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Pineapple Triffle...TiraMisu...Something

 Pineapple Triffle...Tira Misu

OK, so I got bored yesterday.  Yes, I did.  I can't imagine what came over me, but I found myself in the kitchen making a dessert.  My family thought Heaven had arrived on earth.  I only do dessert when visitors are at our table, and last night there was just us.  And a blowfly.  Blowies don't count as guests, so you can imagine how excited everyone was.

I made one of our favourite pineapple desserts and kind of twisted it to use up a pack of sponge finger biscuits I'd had in the pantry.  Voila - a pineapple tira misu kind of triffle thingy.  Whatever you want to call it, it was very, VERY yummy.

Pineapple Dessert

1 packet vanilla pudding
600ml cream + a little milk
1 can crushed pinapple, drained (reserve the juice)
1 pack sponge finger biscuits.
  1. Begin by whipping the cream until it forms peaks - but make sure they're soft and floppy.
  2. Sprinkle the pudding mix on top and whip lightly until thoroughly mixed.  You might need a little milk to thin the mixture a bit. Do this a little bit at a time.
  3. Add the drained crushed pineapple and mix until thoroughly combined.
  4. In a rectangular dish, lay sponge finger biscuits that have been dipped in the reserved juice. 
  5. Over the biscuits, spread about half of the pineapple mixture.
  6. Lay another layer of dipped biscuits over the pineapple and then top with another layer of the pineapple mixture.
  7. Cover with cling film and leave overnight.
This is good enough for company and very quick.  The pineapple cream is something we would normally do whilst camping - hence the packet of vanilla pudding.  The only time I ever have them in the house is during summer whilst camping.  I didn't use any during our last camping trip.  I'm going to have to tizz up the chocolate ones now too.  Aren't I?

Summer days and cold desserts.  A perfect pair.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 16 January

My KitchenAid Mixer - beautiful and full of grunt
I got a magnificent surprise in the mail today.  Not in an envelope which had been addressed by hand.  Not in a package delivered early in the morning by the parcel post man.  Although I find both of those exciting.  Today it was a letter from the Deputy Head of School at Uni.  It was a very encouraging letter acknowledging academic achievement whilst maintaining family, work and other pursuits.  When you study online sometimes it feels like you are studying in a bit of a void - but apparently not.  I suspect I will keep that letter close at hand to encourage me on those days when I sit here and think "I do NOT know how I am going to get this assignment written".  Trust me, it happens!

We've a trip to Costco planned for later in the week, so this week's menu is all about making room in the freezer and using up some more of what is stashed in there.  You'll remember that I posted about my diving into the depths of it for meals a couple of weeks ago.  After a week away, I'm back to my diving.  I think almost my entire menu plan this week is free of the need to buy meat.

Monday:  Slow roasted beef; vegies
Tuesday: Marinated chicken wings; salad
Wednesday:  BBQ steak; salad
Thursday:  Pasta bolognaise (using leftover frozen meat sauce)
Friday:  Osso Bucco; pasta
Saturday:  Orange crumbed chicken; vegies
Sunday:  Pumpkin & sweet potato soup; bread & butter

I'm having one final attempt at producing a moist succulent beef roast.  It is the one thing that has continued to allude me.  That and light, fluffy scones.  I've slow-roasted it and managed to keep the temperature right.  The vegies are in the oven now, so we'll see how it all turns out soon.  The steak planned for Wednesday will be the topside roast cut into steaks.  I somehow don't think topside is conducive to a nice roast, when you're as challenged by this as I am.

Joolz commented on yesterday's post to tell me about a great blog with lots of slice recipes.  Guess what I'm going to be doing this week?  Yep - simple baking.  I haven't looked around the rest of the blog yet.  Perhaps tomorrow.

What are you having for dinner this week?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Questions Answered

What is a slice?

A slice is a sweet treat that could be described as sitting somewhere between a cake and a biscuit (cookie).  The mixture is cooked in a shallow rectangular tin and then sliced into squares when cooked.  Wikipedia was particularly unhelpful, however if you google 'slice recipe', you'll find some examples of what I'm trying to explain.

Let us know how the gnocchi roast potato went.

It was delicious!  Definitely good camping food.  Probably not something I would be in a hurry to repeat at home due to expense and my aversion to pre-made foods.  I used about one and half packets of gnocchi from Aldi and refrigerated the rest.  I cooked them up for a late afternoon snack for the kids a couple of days later.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Asking, Receiving and Selfishness

My Bible reading the other morning was in James.  James is always a dangerous place to go, in that you delve into a spot and you might stay there....or around there for quite some time.  James is time consuming.  Challenging.  Lots ot chew on.  I remember as a late teen joining a house church group who were studying James.  It took us a whole year to read that little book of five chapters.  Do not scoff - takes a long time to read and digest all that is contained in those five chapters!  My reading was from a portion of James 4.  I skipped back to the beginning and read the first few verses....how to be challenged in one easy lesson.

At the beginning of the chapter James is discussing the topic of of asking for things and receiving them....and why you don't.  Essentially he says that we don't have because we don't ask God (v2).  Really?  I stopped there - I'm pretty sure I do my fair share of asking.  And I wondered what James meant when he says 'have'.  I wondered what it was that he meant.  Are we talking trivial or are we talking global importance.  Anyway....I moved on.  Sort of.  The rest of that verse goes on to say "When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on pleasures".  I gather we're talking about tangible 'things', not necessarily about the cliched world peace.

But I got to thinking.  I don't have because I don't ask....or because when I do I ask with the wrong motives.  Wrong motives, here, being selfish pleasure.  Hmmmmmm.  In a very materialistic, Western society that focuses on the gathering of 'stuff', how do we do that?  I'm not sure I have the answer just yet but it's a challenge to be mindful of when we get an attack of what my mother called the "I-want-a's".  We need to consider the motives with which we desire whatever it is we're desiring.

The only story I have about getting it right is buying this house.  It was on the market and I had to drive past it four times a day just in taking the kids to and from school each day.  We inspected it and made an offer, which was rejected.  That was tough.  It was a lovely home with everything on our wish-list, include a flat driveway with space for the caravan!  That's quite an ask for a 'hills' area where very little is flat.  I remember driving past after the offer was rejected and praying "God, I understand if you don't want us to live in that house - I'd rather be wherever it is You have planned for us.  But gee I wish that was the house You had planned".  The next day our offer was accepted and we've lived here very happily ever since.

God delights in showering His children with good things.  If we ask God with the right motives and a desire to be in His will with our requests then we should expected to be blessed abundantly.  Don't be fooled into thinking that God's idea of blessing looks the same as ours.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Monday Menu Plan: Week Beginning 8 January

A friend asked me the other day if I had been doing in crafting or reading over the holidays.  Sadly my response was "not much crafting".  I've been doing too much Nigella viewing to do much crafting.  Perhaps this week will be the week?  But I have just finished "Lion of Bablyon" by Davis Bunn.  Fantastic read....and now I need to pick something else from my burgeoning 'TBR' pile.  You know...when I'm not reading about teaching Primary science constructively, of course.

I have a menu plan.  For the first time since Christmas.  Dh will be pleased as there is plenty of BBQ'd meat and salad ahead.  Nothing pleases him more....other than cake.  Or biscuits.  Or slices.  Or anything made with vast amounts of sugar.

Monday: Prawn & mango curry, rice
Tuesday:  Pork chops (marinated), salad, potato
Wednesday:  Hamburgers, potato
Thursday:  Chicken wings (marinated), salad, potato
Friday:  Tomato & bacon pasta
Saturday:  Take away
Sunday:  Roast chicken, vegies

I'm not one to buy prepackaged, pre-made food because it's a rare thing that the store-bought item will be better or tastier than homemade.  Crackers for cheese are probably one of the few exceptions.  But this week I bought gnocchi.  I bought it because I don't intend to eat it the way I normally would - as a pasta meal.  I'm going to try out Nigella's idea of using them as quick mini roast potatoes.  I've always been fascinated by the idea - this week I'm living dangerously.  And then I'll probably go back to never buying pre-made gnocci again.  Because I know it'll probably never be as good as the homemade version.

Anyway, see for yourself.  This is what we'll be trying out this week.

I'll let you know what I think.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Serving Solution

My new salad dressing jugs
I don't buy salad dressings.  Are you surprised?  Probably not!  Actually, I need to qualify that statement - I don't buy oil/vinegar based dressings.  I do buy Ranch dressing and mayonnaise.

It's a decision I made a few years ago, once armed with some delicious and simple salad dressing recipes from the likes of Maggie Beer and Nigella Lawson.  My reasoning was not so much about any particular puritan belief about salad dressings, but rather a pragmatic response to the waste of them.  Our salad-eating season is relatively short-lived and confined to warm summer days.  This is probably because I have a tendency to prefer cooked vegies.  And probably why my family exclaim excitedly when the first salads of the season appear.  We don't avoid salads because we don't like them - we do.  
What I began to notice is that because of our short salad season, the dressings don't get used up.  What a waste!  So I began to make a quick dressing as we needed it, and that has been much more satisfying in all kinds of ways.

This has all presented somewhat of a dilemma.  I've also noticed that many families can't agree on what salad dressings they prefer and tend to put a variety of bottles on the table for each person to make an individual choice.  In the last week as we've entertained a couple of other families for meals, and knowing this is the practice in both families, I chose not to dress my garden salads.  But this meant putting the little jar, with the redcurrant jelly label still on it, on the table, as that is what I'd made my salad dressing in.  It just didn't look right and I knew I had to remedy the situation now, at the beginning of our salad-eating season.

I found the answer yesterday.  I was walking past House and these little jugs were in a big bucket, marked down for quick sale.  Upon exlaiming how cute they were and how perfect for salad dressing all three kids chorused "then BUY it!".  And so I did, for a grand total of $4.  I now have two little salad dressing jugs.  Never mind that they were labelled milk jugs - obviously the label was wrong!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Baking Plans

Fruit mince tarts - photo from a couple of years back.

I'm finally preparing to shop again.  For groceries.  I still can't bear to think about shopping for other things.  In thinking about menus and shopping lists I've also planned for some baking.  A cool change came through last night so we're back to rainy weather with cooler days that seem to beckon one to the kitchen and where turning on the oven is not an abhorent idea.

We've a week of camping planned with some friends, which is coming up faster than I realise.  We don't share the cooking of meals, having realised some 16 years ago that it doesn't work when families have different routines and tastes.  But the sharing of baked goodies is always enthusiastically embraced.  So....thanks to some inspiration from some precious young people who love to eat what I cook this is the list I'm picking from.  

Chocolate Chip Slice
Coffee cake (iced)
Orange cake (iced)

I'd love to do it all, but I realise my stamina for baking is somewhat limited.  Perhaps some more Nigella: Forever Summer viewing might inspire me to potter serenely?  Certainly home-baking is the antidote to store-bought snacks that are filled with who-knows-what.  Perhaps a couple of sessions will get much of it done.

What are you baking this week?

Monday, 2 January 2012

From the Depths

The contents of one of my freezer drawers

In a post-Christmas I-just-can't-do-anymore-shopping stupor we've been eating mostly out of the depths of our freezer.  Much to Miss Mischief's chagrin this means very little chicken is to be found and I'll not be shopping 'til about Thursday or Friday, so the poultry famine is set to be lengthy.  Rather, we've still got some beef from back when we bought a freezer full from friends who had a lovely organic beast butchered.  Our recent trip to Costco means hot dogs for lunches, should we remember them at the proper time!  And then there is the requisite minced beef and pork, sausage mince, the remainder of a packet of prawns and a medley of all kinds of frozen vegetables.  There is actually some chicken wing packages in there somewhere too.

This overflowing little storage facility has meant that there has been no menu planning whatsoever going on.  But then there has neither been the frenzy of activity that requires it.  Very hot days and Dh being home while the office is closed has meant lots and lots of resting and DVD watching is almost all that has happened around here, sprinkled with the odd visitor for lunch.

Tonight, given the current outdoor temperature of 39.1C (102F) we'll be having one of my favourite summer-friendly Nigella recipes - Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad.  Lamb that is cooked and sliced, then steeped in a bath of delicious flavours and served over salad.  Of course, we have mountains of beef, so I'll simple substitute the meat and it will all turn out fine!  Rather than cooking potatoes we'll have bread and butter with it.  I think there's still watermelon for dessert.

Photo Credit: Nigella.com

This is how we survive the heat on scorching summer days:  food that barely needs cooking and the wonder of evaporative cooling.  Thank you, God - what a blessing!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year


Welcome to 2012!  Our beginning to the year was spent with friends - the perfect beginning.

I was reading a blog somewhere the other day (you know you click you way to who-knows-where and can't find your way back?) that said "How to make God laugh:  tell Him your plans".  I'm not much of a resolution maker.  Perhaps my 'resolutions' are more like hopes and dreams.

This year my hopes are simple:  that this year will be less challenging than the last; that our family will continue to laugh together and enjoy life; that we'll successfully cope with another busy year ahead.  Most of all I covet God's blessing, peace and joy in our lives in whatever it is He requires of us.

Of course there are other things I naively dream of and hope they will come to be with little or no effort or forethought...time to stitch unendingly, time to read with abandon, to be able to walk uphill with a spring in my step and abundant breath in my lungs.  A girl needs to dream, doesn't she?

What are your hopes and dreams for the new, unblemished, promising year ahead?