Wednesday, 31 October 2012

And Summer Arrives

I just realised that it is summer tomorrow!  We've had a couple of very summer-like days.  Temperatures into the 30's (86F+) but it will rain and cool down again tomorrow.  I think the most perfect beginning to summer must surely be mine this year.  A full six-day 'weekend'!  Along with my normal day off, I've had to take Friday off to do an exam and then Our School closes for Monday, before Melbourne Cup Day.

The days are looking bright indeed given that I've had confirmation that my first choice of school to undertake placement have agreed to let me go there next year.  I am very excited about the experience.

Autumn's final fling concludes with the strange advancement of Australians taking on the American celebration of halloween.  I put a sign on our front door this afternoon after being taken unawares by trick-or-treat characters.  We don't celebrate halloween.  There are a number of reasons, which I suspect would appear offensive to those for whom this is a part of their way of life.  Nevertheless, it's a personal choice and we are all very wary of the idea.  My sign was as friendly and direct as I could make it.  It reads:

Our family does not celebrate halloween and thanks you for not disturbing us.
Enjoy your evening.

At last count I've escaped the opening of the front door to explain we don't do halloween about five times.  There will probably be more now that the dinner hour is over.  A few years back they were still going long after my then young children were sound asleep. 

So...a lot of study and then the blissful release of a completed exam before enjoying some very much longed-for time to just relax.  A wonderful beginning to summer.  I have a strange hankering for fish and chips at the beach.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Healing Food for the Sick

This week I've been craving things that I need for improved health.  Fresh air, for example, and fresh fruit.  I finally managed to have that longed-for pot of Chicken & Dumplings on Thursday evening.  A good homemade chicken soup is bolstering when your under the weather.

The other thing I've craved is salad-type foods.  The salad below was my lunch yesterday.  I'd bought a bag of avocados from Aldi a week or two ago and they are finally soft enough to eat.  So fancy salad leaves, cucumber, avocado and prawns.  Nothing more difficult than that.

Prawns are one of those things I tend to keep in the freezer.  My local Safeway has a 1kg bag for $16-18.  Now that might seem expensive, but if you're only using a handful at a time they really do go a long way.  I defrost them in the microwave and then toss them into a pan and they're cooked in the blink of an eye.  I did these ones cooked in some melted butter with a pinch here and there of dried thyme, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and lime juice. 

The other thing I have enjoyed while I've been unwell is hot water with a slice of lemon in it.  I just can't handle the idea of tea and the extra mucous caused by the milk.  So hot water it is, and the lemon has been very refreshing.

What I have not craved is sugary foods, beyond vitamin C laden fruits like oranges and blueberries.  In the past my throat has always felt far worse when I've eaten sweet foods so this time I was not even tempted.

All of this along with lots of sleep interspersed with some quality time with Nigella and I'm almost as good as new.  I think when you believe you can safely walk away from the tissue box without being terribly anxious you're just about there.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Plodding Kind of Pace

I'm meant to be studying for an exam at the end of the next week, but I'm all stuffed up and my brain is too foggy.  I've been coming home from school and keeling over.  Today I slept between getting home and taking Mr Busy to church.  Yesterday I just sat and grunted at anyone who looked at me....and napped on and off most of the evening.

Yesterday's exhaustion was also, in part, due to an excursion to the Melbourne Aquarium.  My Year 1 student demonstrated his scientific prowess as he named almost all the different sharks they had there.  He met a few new types as well that weren't in his shark book - very exciting for the shark obsessed!

I have come up with a new food dilemma.  If you aim to only eat what makes you feel good, what happens when cooking what would make you feel good (old fashioned, homemade chicken soup) is well beyond your physical capabilities?  Fish and chips was all I could muster.  It was only us girls who needed dinner and no one was going to make me some soup.  It didn't make me feel good - I knew it wouldn't.  There should be somewhere you can get chicken soup when you're not well enough to make it!

Tomorrow, barring a miraculous recover, I am planning to stay home to study and nap alternately.  I would love to go and enjoy the Year 12's final day but I don't think I could gather the necessary energy to do so.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A New Relationship with Food

Photo credit:
I think many of us have a somewhat unhelpful relationship with food in some way or another.  We have strange food rules and guilt over eating something we think we shouldn't.  Or like me, food that tastes delicious but will end up making you feel less than well.

My last download from Kindle's Top 100 Free list was "Why Quantum Physcicists Don't Get Fat" by Gregory Kuhn.  It's not a very long book and it contains its fair share of Oprah-style psycho-fluff over which I swished rather quickly.  But there were two little gems to be gleaned that I think will change the relationships we have with food.

The first of these nuggets was to only eat what makes you feel good.  Now I know that sugar does not make me feel good.  Nor does wheat.  And as I stood in my kitchen the other morning considering what I might have for breakfast I wondered "what would make me feel good?".  Whilst my favourite breakfast is raspberry jam on toast, at some point that would make me feel quite uncomfortable.  So I chose thinly sliced tomato on rye toast that had been lashed with real butter and sprinkled with ground salt and pepper.  It made me feel really good.  It's a question I ask each morning now.  This morning it was poached eggs on the afore described butter-lashed rye toast.

The second nugget was to reconsider the stories you tell yourself about food (and exercise).  The author suggests that you begin thinking carefully about rewording your stories so that they are positive....a bit of a "fake it til you make it" kind of approach.  He tells the story of his journey to loving fruit.  He didn't begin that way, but he began by eating one piece of fruit a day and telling himself that while he didn't enjoy it now he would eat it because he knew it was a healthy practice to engage in.  He went on to tell himself that perhaps tomorrow he would enjoy it better.  Eventually - about three months later - he was able to genuinely enjoy eating fruit.  I think that beats "I hate fruit, I'm only doing it because I know I should".  The positive story brings with it hope and a willingness to change.
It's a rather interesting take on how to think about food.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Gracious Simplicity

Photo credit:
I spent much of the day on Thursday with a very special lady and her gorgeously perfect little boy. At one point I suggested that days at home with a happy little person was perhaps a calmer, more sane way to spend a day than my current busyness.  And it was.  It did me a great deal of good, not the least of which was because of a few hours with a precious friend.  

For lunch we enjoyed a quickly thrown-together Thai Chicken Noodle Soup.  It was absolutely delicious and something I think my family will enjoy - I will definitely be serving it to them!  The quick throw-together was by no means because of a lack of desire to put in some effort.  It was simply a beautiful meal that was quick and effortless, and which was permeated with the love with which a good friend cooks.

Unfortunately 3pm arrived all too soon and I had to leave to pick up my own children - a definite change of pace after a six month old!  I came home with the Nigella Feasts DVD.  Which means two things:
  1. A few hours of viewing enjoyment - and I have the book so I will transfer some of that enjoyment to meal-time inspiration.
  2. I'll need to see my friend again soon to return her DVD.  Not that I need an excuseBut certainly it'll not be so many weeks next time!  
 Now....for some exam preparation.  I gave myself a few days of down time and now it's time to be a little bit serious to finish off the semester.
Thank you, A.  I had the most wonderful, serene day in the midst of all that happens here.  It was a pure joy and blessing to spend some time with you. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Dinner Hour Pastimes

 Dinner last night: Nigella's Lemon Linguine, and Salad

The antidote to a long, tiring day must surely be relaxing around food.  I always think it's far more relaxing to watch someone else bustle about in the kitchen, so this afternoon two of the kids, and I, sat down to a few episodes of Nigella Express.  In between a chicken was directed into the oven and there will be vegies later.  Dinner is on its way.

A cup of tea and some more time with my feet up and I feel a little less stretched.

I've just started reading a book (a freebie from Amazon for my Kindle app) titled The Hour that Matters Most, all about the family dinner hour.  My children were astonished when I suggested that we are, in fact, a very unusual family and that there is a trend towards rarely sitting together over a meal.  It has been a practice in our home since Miss Sunshine was barely a year old.  It made practical sense a way back then and its a habit that has been retained, no matter what.  In the early years of my husband's move from sales to management I used to fret about him missing dinner time.  In the end I decided that there were more of us present than absent and that we would carry on with our daily routine regardless.  Young children in a home tends to demand it.  It gave Dh the freedom to do what he needed to and me the ability to release us all from my anxiousness and frustration.  The children and I almost always sit together at the table.  In fact we almost never sit anywhere else.  Dh is here as much as he can be.  And I try to insist that everyone remain until the last one is finished.

Sitting at the table makes sense to me.  My children are (still!) messy eaters.  I can't tell you the mess around Mr Busy's place, let alone the floor beneath.  I would much rather have only one space that requires diligent sweeping, than trying to keep up with it spread throughout the house.  And during ant season I don't want those little pests running about the entire house.  Again, limiting the damage to one area is much more manageable.  If dealing with ants could be described "manageable"!

We talk and laugh.  We tease.  Sometimes we are silent.  Sometimes we are listening to the news on TV.  And I'm OK with that.  What is important to me is that our children see that cooking a healthy meal and valuing the people at our table is important.  Perhaps this is one of the secrets to having raised, thus far, children who enjoy spending time with us and one another?

What are your meal time habits and practices?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

More Nigella Inspired Planning

My week with Nigella's inspiration about my kitchen was very successful.  We adored the crisp chicken cutlets.  Dh was particularly fond of the redcurrant lamb chops.  I preferred the lower-sugar teriyaki chicken....although that will still need to be saved for rare occasions I think.  Tonight we'll have a roast lamb which will receive some Nigella Express treatment.  And next week we'll spend some more time with the Queen of Quick and Satisfying.

To top it off I've been re-watching some of my Nigella DVD's.  Sometimes a girl just needs to relax and find a reason renew her relationship with the kitchen!  Particularly one that now has a dishwasher that appears to work properly.  I feel spoilt after 4 years with a dud.

Study is nearly over for a while.  My final assignment is awaiting approval from my study partner and then I need to prepare for an exam.

In the mean lists and thinking about sugar-free snack food....

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Special Diets: Sugar Free?

Have you ever had to try and give up something you really enjoy?  You know what?  It's not so easy.  And not so fun.

My journey with sugar began many years ago when I discovered I can't have aspartame.  It makes me very unwell almost immediately and that lasts for about 3 hours.  For about 3 years I couldn't touch it, nor any kind of soft drink because of the severe response I had to it.  Now I can gamble with small amounts, but generally I avoid it like the plague.  The suffering simply isn't worth it...and it's pretty scary stuff.  Over this course of this year I've also discovered that regular sugar is no friend of mine.  If you've been reading here a while you'll know that I have discovered that sugar is evil...and I've talked a little about why.

But it's really hard to avoid it.  And it's even harder to choose not to have it.  Even when you know it won't be a good thing.  This is really something that I need to address and I think the key may lie in finding alternative foods that I really enjoy.  I found some sugar-free chocolate.  It's OK, but it doesn't thrill me. 

This is something that I really need to get a handle on.  If you have any stories to share leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Watch Out...She's Gonna Blow

 classroom 'investigations' - making car tracks with blocks

Something families do really well is knock off all the raw and rough edges and refine us.  A little bit here and a little bit there.  Over time our families make us reconsider how we respond to circumstances and help us to understand that we may not know what is going on in someone else's life to make them respond the way they do.  They tell us the truth (sometimes the painful truth!) about how our actions impact on other people. 

The other day the kids and I (my kids, not my students) were discussing something (I can't remember what) and I began to get a little hot under the collar passionate in the way I reacted to the topic.  It wasn't a discipline issue or a parent-child disagreement - just a discussion where we were all expressing our opinions and sharing our thoughts.  My kids know all too well that there are some topics that press my buttons.  This was, apparently, one of them!  Miss Sunshine, in all her 16yo wisdom, commented just as I was getting a bit worked up, "watch out, here comes the cyclone".

How's that to stop you in your tracks.  And I did.  And they laughed.

For those of you who don't know it, there was a famous cyclone in 1974 that hit Darwin on Christmas Day, named Tracy.  Yep - same spelling and all.  I was 3 at the time.

After our staff devotions on Monday, in which we heard about Child Theology, I think it's rather apt to acknowledge that my kids have plenty to teach me.  Perhaps as much as I have to teach them.  I think it's a wise parent who is humble enough to accept that our children have a certain way of cutting straight through the superfluous junk to get to the heart of a matter to refine us.

In what ways do your kids teach you?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Week with Nigella

seafood and avocado sushi

I'm back to work tomorrow, sans children.  I am always terribly grateful for the fact that we have a couple of days to get brains back into work mode before adding children to the equation.  With the return to work comes the return to frenetic activity and less time to cook elaborate meals.  But I still want tasty and interesting.  Where does one go for inspiration within those parameters?  Nigella, of course.  She is indeed the queen of practical, time efficient and satisfying.  Sprinkled between a clutch of Nigella's recipes are family favourites like pasta bolognaise and a lamb roast.  But on all the other nights of the week I'll be spending some time with Nigella.

Crisp Chicken Cutlets need to be steeped in buttermilk and worcestershire sauce to create a lucious, silky crumbed chicken fillet.  I already have them getting cosy with one another in the fridge ready for tomorrow night's meal.  (Nigella Kitchen, p. 28) click here to go to the recipe

Teriyaki Chicken is a meal we enjoy from a recipe I garnered along the way from "The Chicken Plan" a few years back.  It's delicious but full of sugar.  Nigella's recipe contains a smaller quantity and has mirin in it, so I thought we should give it a go.  (Nigella Kitchen, p. 40) click here to go to the recipe

Recurrant Lamb Chops have been taste tested before now and found to be delicious.  I have some redcurrant jelly tucked away in my pantry so I'm all set to go without the panic of wondering where to get my hands on it.  I don't think any Woolworths store stocks it now so it's a half hour drive to find this ordinarily easily acquired ingredient.  (Nigella Kitchen, p. 67)

African Drumsticks have become a recipe we enjoy immensely, so I could not go past the page when I came across it without writing this one down as well.  (Nigella Kitchen, p. 46)

Where do you go for weeknight meal inspiration?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Celebration Feasts

Miss Mischief turned 15 this week.  Fifteen...I simply cannot imagine how that happened.  As with all birthday's in our home the right to choose the menu becomes yours for the day if you're the birthday person.  You know how I said that I was looking forward to having time to cook time-consuming meals?  I think Miss Mischief sensed that!  Here's her day-long menu:

~ Breakfast ~
Cinnamon Bagel

~ Lunch ~
Hot Chips

~ Dinner ~
Chicken Wonton Soup
Dim Sum
Black Forest Cheesecake

Pretty spectacular isn't she.  It has been such a beautiful couple of days that we decided a picnic in the backyard would be the perfect way to enjoy our lunch.

Then of course, as if that weren't enough, she had a couple of friends sleepover for a movie marathon last night and had a specific idea of what we should eat for that too.  Of course, all of this was sandwiched between generous helpings of movie food.  Like coconut M&M's and chips.

~ Sleepover Menu ~
Bacon Wrapped Chicken
Fresh Corn Salad
Potato Salad
Asian Salad
Dinner Rolls
Chocolate Ripple Cake

I forgot to make the chocolate ripple cake the night before.  It really needs an overnight in the fridge so I spent an hour thinking about how to speed that process up.  At 6.30am I got up and began making it - I dipped the biscuits into milk before sandwiching them together with the cream.  It worked perfectly.

After all that feasting my brother and his family came for lunch today.  My 6yo niece had wanted to know why she wasn't invited to Miss Mischief's birthday party because they are best friends.  We laughed - who said Miss Mischief was having a party on her birthday?  And who said a 6yo could cope with it?  So we had a cousin birthday lunch.  With all the leftovers.  YES!  And after a rather significant and very entertaining meltdown on my SIL's part over cheesecake two weeks ago, she was finally presented with a slice.  Better late than never.

And now I'm returning to my almost sugar-free life....

What's your favourite menu for family celebrations?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

By the Way Honey....impromptu dinner guests

Do any of you know what it is to be an introvert married to an extrovert?  An extrovert whose mother could cater for any number of people at the drop of a hat?  Let me tell you, it's been a nearly 22-year training program for me to be able to accomplish what my amazing mother-in-law made to seem effortless!

My husband is one of those incredibly generous people who loves to be spontaneous and spend time with friends.  It's been a challenge, over the years, for me to figure out how to cater for the likelihood of his spontaneity without getting myself in a bother.  I think I'm getting better.  Now I only panic for the first five minutes!  So after yesterday's mid-afternoon I've-invited-friends-for-a-barbeque phone call I determined that it wouldn't actually be a barbeque.  It would be dinner based on what I already had planned...and fancied up a bit.  A quick stop at Safeway after a dash down to pick up a new (our first) Myki card for Miss Mischief netted all that I needed to have a plentiful meal on the table.

The kids cleaned the bathroom, toilet and swept the floors - they're getting good at that basic list of chores required before visitors arrive.  I worked on dinner, which was always going to be the vegetarian rolls with vegetables.  I used Maggie Beer's sour cream pastry recipe and brushed egg wash over them before baking.  Oh my they were good!

Nigella's Ginger & Mustard Chicken Drumsticks
Jacket Potatoes with Sour Cream
Cauliflower & Broccoli Au Gratin
Honey Carrots
Buttered Dinner Rolls

I used Nigella's recipe for cocktail sausages on the chicken drumsticks.  I've always found the marinades she uses on sausages to be quite chicken worthy, and this was no exception.  I had some ginger, lemon and lime marmalade from our trip to Queensland, so I used that.  It was delicious!  The dinner rolls were marked down to $1, hence their last-minute inclusion.  Our friends brought dessert, and everyone walked away contented. 

Best part?  There are some leftovers for lunch today....very surprising considering the appetites seated around our table last night.

How do you cope with last minute dinner guests?  Do you have a favourite stand-by menu to get you through the panic?