Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Family that Educates Together....And other school stories

My SIL has joined the staff at Our School.  It was a very exciting day when we discovered she'd been offered the job and we've been waiting for what seems like forever for the new school year to begin so she could actually be with us.  Mr Busy is the lucky soul who gets to have her for a class teacher - the boy is school heaven.  I get to have lunch with her every day.

I think I'm pretty lucky too - I get to work in a classroom with my niece (said SIL's daughter).  And because 6yo's are hilarious I have spent the last 3 days laughing or shaking my head at her antics.  Yesterday the kids were drawing pictures of their families.  My gorgeous niece didn't put Mum in her picture.

Me:  G, where's your Mum?
G:  She's at work.
Me:  But if I look at your picture it looks like you don't have a Mum.  You need to put her in there.

Miss G hopped to and drew in Mum.  And then she started drawing orange spikes on her Dad's head.  Now my brother shaves his head so what little would be left up there is whisked off anyhow.

Me:  G, your Dad doesn't have hair, why are you drawing him with some?
G:  Yes he does, it's all spiky.
Me: when he doesn't shave his face?
G:  YES!

She then went on to draw orange spikes on her Dad's arms and legs.  Now I know my brother does not shave arms and legs but there was  no convincing Miss G.  And I'm a smart lady, so I chose not to argue with the 6yo and left that one alone.  But I had a great time telling her Mum at lunch time.

Meanwhile one of  my Yr2 boys in that class with says he's allergic to me, the classroom and his hat. Sigh.  I still have the iPad - it has to count for something.

Another little man has joined the class and sits near Mr Allergy.  He is delightful and quiet and funny and I think he likes me too.  I am looking forward to getting to know him.  I think we'll be fine friends.

A third little boy was flopped out on the floor just before lunch with a teddy from home.  I whispered in his ear that if he went to play in the library at lunch time he might find time and space to have a lie-down in there.  He wasn't sharing that info with the energiser bunnies at his table!  I'll have to ask if he did - but he seemed excited about the prospect of it being a possibility.

One of my Prep boys tells me he doesn't want to be at school.  And he doesn't.  He really wants to be home with Mum.  So it warmed my soul to see him smiling and playing with another little boy who is just gorgeous and gentle whilst being all boy.   At the end of the day I assured him I was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.  It is heartbreaking to see him struggle with separation.  But it is also very cute to see him watching the bee on our daily timetable get to the bottom when he knows he'll see Mum.

Finally, I have begun oh so well, making one of my Prep boys cry.  Yell actually.  I warned the teacher as I headed over to him to stop him from swinging a basket around dangerously inside the classroom that I was about to incite that response.  I had to follow through on a consequence - he felt the need to object loudly. We talked, he cried some more.  I found reasons for him to end the day with a sticker.  He cried some more.  His parents arrived during the offended yelling he performed.  And they applauded the stern approach.  He's pretty cute, even when he's offended!

Did you know little people are tiring?  They grow and develop so much over a year that I had forgotten again.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Of Road Trips and New School Years

We had a 'first' in our family last week.  Dh and Mr Busy set off on a week-long road trip up to the Sunshine Coast (about an hour north of Brisbane).  Mostly it was work-related.  But if you're up that way and you have family with boy cousins the same age as your own son then the trip becomes family-related too.  Because I had time to think about it this time I sent the boys off with a pack of food.  Snacks, both healthy and not-so-healthy and breakfast cereal with disposable bowls and spoons.  We decided, after our last road trip to the Sunshine Coast, that breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald's was a terribly unattractive proposition.  Sorry Macca''re a "once in a blue moon" preference around here.  So the boys left and returned 5 days later.  Just in time to miss the floods that would have stranded them had they been delayed by just 3 days.

As for us girls - we enjoyed a very quiet and sedate week.  Of course, I was back at work and I still have a few weeks of the summer semester for Uni, but it was very grown up around here.  We watched movies unsuitable for 12yo boys, like "The Help" and "Pay it Forward" and we had salads every night for dinner.  We did not go through 9 litres of milk, nor 4 loaves of bread.  In fact, we barely touched either, only drinking milk consumed in cups of tea here and there.  Don't worry, the girls get plenty of dairy in other forms!  We realised how much our boys eat!  And I barely parented or disciplined at all.  There was simply no need.  One or two semi-stern words were all the girls required.  And on the final day I had the day off work, so we headed into the Museum and DFO in the city for some clothes shopping. 

As of today the kids are all back at school.  The Prep teacher and I were exhausted - not so much that we slept in the middle of it all like one poor little fellow.  Miss Sunshine is looking forward to her first VCE retreat, Mr Busy is loving having a favourite aunty for his class teacher and Miss Mischief is glowing under the raft of staff comments along the lines of "I teach..... and I'm looking forward to teaching Year 10" during assembly.

I'm looking forward to ... the next long weekend.  Little people are tiring!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The 'Nigellissima' Journey Begins

I received 'Nigellissima' for Christmas a few weeks back and my journey into the book has begun.  I poured over it for a couple of weeks and then the TV series began.  Now I not only have the book but a living example of what I might expect from the recipes.

I began with the Italian Chicken with Peppers and Olives...only not so much the olives.  I like them alright, but I don't have any in the cupboard right now and I can happily do without.  I've done this now twice with peppers, red onions (instead of leeks, because it's what I had) and garlic cloves (unpeeled).  Oh. My. Goodness.  If you like peppers you will fall in love with this as well.  Look how colourful those peppers are in the bottom of the dish!  And when they're roasted under the chook they go really sweet with some just soft and some caramelised.  YUM!  They also make great leftovers for my lunch.  Best of all no one else in our really loves peppers like I do so they're all mine.  Yes indeed, I'm in love.

Photo Credit:

The other night I also made the One-Step, No-Churn  Coffee Ice Cream.  Well....I made chocolate and without the liqueur - again not something I generally keep.  The girls and I had that for dessert last night.  I am telling you there is not a simpler nor more beautiful ice cream to be made at home.  It is smooth, creamy and delicious.  Not bad for 3 ingredients and 5 minutes of your time.  I kid you not, it almost takes longer to get the ingredients out than it does to whip them up.  Mine looked exactly like the picture, sans brioche bun.  Next time I'll double it so I use up the whole tin of condensed milk.  Everyone will be happier to see there's some leftover for another time!

Next up?  Squid Spaghetti on Friday night.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

When Temptation looks like a Hot Jam Doughnut

Photo Credit:
Miss Mischief acquiesced when I asked if anyone wanted to come to a nearby cultural centre this morning.  I was on the hunt for some information for an assignment.  She came, in the hope that "maybe" she would get some kind of special treat. We stopped at one of the bakeries in Our Town on the way home and got a loaf of sweet, iced bread for the kids to have after lunch.

What nearly stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away was a platter of hot jam doughnuts sitting on top of the counter in the bakery.  This is one of my few true weaknesses.  Something to do with a rare childhood treat from the doughnut van up the street on a Saturday morning.  Do you know what I did?  I remembered that this year I want to be healthier and that I need to fit a couple of pairs of trousers by May.  And I walked away. 

Now that I know they're there I'll set myself a target to reach before I go and indulge in one.  And then I'll go and put myself back on the healthy wagon.

After lunch I enjoyed a mango instead.  All is not lost!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Of Mangoes and Meals

The kids and I did our holiday trek into Costco yesterday.  I came home with a boot filled with all kinds of things, not the least of which was a box of calipso mangoes.  They cost $1.28 each - much cheaper than the $3-$4 in my local Safeway.  Nothing says summer or sunshine like a mango!

Miss Sunshine and are happily enjoying our way through them, one each per day.  One of our favourite dinner salads on a hot day has mango in it so we're all set for tomorrow's forecast 39C (102F).

I was chatting with a friend on Monday about the hypocrisy I live within, between my food values and what we actually eat.  Don't get me wrong, we eat pretty well around here most of the time.  We talked about the temptation of take away options when you're time poor and how we feel afterwards.  I don't know about you, but I desperately need to organise myself a list of quick meals that use pantry or freezer ingredients so that I can have the things on hand at less than a moment's notice.  I really don't enjoy take away.  I feel awful after I've eaten it, not only physically, but then there's the whole guilt thing about how bad it is for you.  Not to mention the spank you get on the scales the next morning!  At the moment I think my tomato and bacon pasta or creamy pasta is at the top of the list.  Either of those take no more than 20 minutes in the kitchen.  After that?  I'm not so sure I'm up with quick options!

Who's with me?  What are your favourite fast, no effort meals made at home?

Friday, 11 January 2013

Of Garlic and Garden Bounty

I decided not to do any vegetable gardening while I'm doing my teaching degree.  It's a decision about which I vacillate often.  I love having a vegie garden.  I love eating beautiful homegrown vegetables that are at their peak of flavour.  However I simply do not have time to care for a garden.  Although I know what I'm missing out on I know this is the right decision for this season of life.

Imagine my delight, then, while dropping Miss Mischief at a friend's home, when I was asked if I would like some garlic.  Absolutely!  The Dad was cleaning a couple of crates of garlic bulbs and wondered if I could use some.  Oh my - of course we can!  I go through tons of garlic so having some freshly-pulled, locally-grown garlic is a real treat.  When I brought them home they still had the red dirt clinging to the roots, which I've dispensed with in the interest of cleanliness.

I wonder what magnificent things I could make with these!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Exciting Discovery for Recipe Organisation - MS OneNote!

Do you have a whole ton of recipes floating about your house here and there?  I sure do.  Twenty-two years of marriage in which you are the chef will do that to a person.  If you're anything like me keeping all those recipes in such a way that they're easily accessible is quite a challenge.  I have clipped magazine recipes in display folders.  I have a desktop file-tray draw dedicated to things I print from online sources.  I have a little A5 binder where I keep recipes I've typed over the years.  And of course there's all the beautiful recipes books I've collected.  Surprisingly I know exactly where to put my hands on whatever it is I need, yet that does not reduce the number of folders and piles and collections I seem to have.  I haven't even mentioned the pile of magazines gathering dust in a basket!

The other day I wondered if there was some kind of template I could use to start recording all our favourite recipes on the computer.  Did you know that there is a whole program that has a recipe template already in it all set up and ready to go?  Neither did I.  The answer is Microsoft OneNote.  I happen to already have this on my computer.  It came with the Academic suite of Microsoft programs I bought 18 months ago - you may well have it and not know about it either.

The template is super easy to use.  You just click on the tab, click on the spot to add a new page and off you go.  You can add tabs, you can rearrange the recipes in alphabetical order (a special treat for obsessive people like me) and there are already a handful of recipes in there!

So, here is something I want to do throughout the year:  add my family recipes to my OneNote Recipe Book.  What I especially wanted to be able to do was to add a short narrative about the recipe and what makes it special to us, or where it came my Granny's pavlova recipe or Dh's favourite dip and the way it has evolved to what I make today.  Those stories tell something about us as a family and it is a heritage I want to be able to pass on to my children.

How do you store your recipe collection?

Images from:

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Deep Breath...Let's Talk Exercise

My dear blogging friend, Frances, mentioned she was about to head off to the gym.  I applauded her for her bravery.  I tried a gym for about three months a couple of years ago.  I hated it.  Perhaps it was the environment.  The only gym in Our Town at the time was at the local pool and it was a dingy little room off to the side of the building with limited equipment. The few people there ignore everyone else in the room - no camaraderie shall be entered into.

I think I've finally decided that since my knees don't like netball anymore (a shame, because the rest of me loves it), walking is my preferred exercise of choice.  I can go at whatever time I prefer and it costs me nothing but time.  When we first moved to Our Town I also noticed that you're not allowed to walk past another walker without greeting them.  Well....this happens between 5am and 7am.  I don't know about the rest of the day.  A simple "morning" and a quick smile is all that is required.  I thought it odd when we first moved here.  Now I'm the first to offer the requisite greeting.  I like that we're a friendly bunch...unlike the gym bunch.

All that being said there are a couple of drawbacks.  Firstly, motivation.  I'm an early morning walker and prefer to return home before the sun is high enough to get in my eyes.  If I don't wake up in time to be home by 7am I don't go, and often I just don't feel like it.  Since I'm not paying for the privilege I don't feel the same need to get  my money's worth as I do at a gym.  The second drawback is the weather.  If it's raining but I have managed to wake up in good time I sit there looking miserably out the window - all those good intentions dashed!

This year I have determined that I need to walk more.  I'm aiming for three to four days a week.  I think I could nearly do that.

What is your favourite form of exercise?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Parenting Files: School Holiday Routines

Photo credit:

This is probably the first time in many years where we have stayed home for the entire summer break.  It feels a little strange, and yet it is the best place for us to be right now and we are all enjoying very slow days of relaxing alternated with activities that we plan and enjoy together. 

One of the things that has haunted me over the years, as a mother, is the beginning of school holidays and the cranky behaviour of children trying to figure out what 'normal' is supposed to look like when no one is occupying and structuring six hours of your day for you. In the past it has taken as much as two weeks to accomplish some semblance of peace in the house!  When you only have two weeks that's not much of a holiday, is it?

At the beginning of these holidays I informed Mr Busy, particularly, that I was not responsible for entertaining him and that he should find some things he enjoys doing.  Besides playing on screens all day.  Thus, our household has settled into a routine of sorts.

First thing in the morning the kids get up and turn on the TV.  I know, I know.  But it's the holidays and TV will be out the door again in very short order.  It is definitely a treat to be able to do this!  If I wake early I go for a walk.  If not I don't.  Perhaps I should be more disciplined but I'm too tired to be too strict about it.  After 6.30am the sun is right in the wrong spot and not long after that it is often too warm.

By the time the TV gets turned off breakfast and dressing has occurred and the kids go off and entertain themselves for a while.  Mr Busy is always first to ask for screen time.  About an hour is the preferred limit for the day.  Yesterday I questioned him about whether first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon would work better.  He went away and thought and came back to inform me he would prefer to do that after lunch.  

There has been some homework (thank you VCE :(), lots of reading, some playing with Lego and cars, mucking about, playing with a nerf gun and I really don't know what else they do!  But generally it seems they have all managed to occupy themselves appropriately and without a lot of parental refereeing required!

Every now and then we need to go and do something to get out of the house.  It's inevitable!

Mr Busy, particularly, is going through some kind of early adolescent stage in which I think some positive time with Mum and/or Dad might be the antedote to his overbearing behaviour and moodiness.  I only really realised this after talking with a dear friend who has older children.  I think it might be time to get into the kitchen with him.  He's been pestering me, after all! 

After dinner there is sometimes a movie.  And after that it's off to bed, at which time Dh and I settle down to a few episodes of "The West Wing".  We are loving the box set I bought for Dh's birthday.  Perfect for a summer of nothing much else to watch! 

And thus is our routine.  Slow and easy.  Designed to refresh and renew the tired ones of the family.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Family Traditions the Ukrainian Way

Photo Credit:
Last night we were invited to experience a family tradition with my sister-in-law's family - a Ukrainian Christmas.  Last night was their Christmas Eve, so we travelled out to her parents' home on the other side of the city and were embraced by their family to experience something completely new for us.  The tradition Christmas Eve meal consists of 12 dishes - we managed to barely squeeze in the six that were served to us.  
After a traditional blessing spoken in Ukrainian and then English, which included the Lord's Prayer and their Hail Mary, the meal began.
We had kutya to begin with.  This is a pudding made from wheat berries, poppyseeds and walnuts.  My SIL's mother remembered that one of our children can't eat nuts so these were served separately.

Then came borscht.  I'm not a fan of beetroot, having grown up only with the tinned stuff, but this soup was absolutely delicious.  Fresh beetroot is a whole different ball game!
The borscht was served with mushroom-filled dumplings they nickname "little ears".

Next we had fish.  Unlike tradition we were served rockling that had been pan fried and then baked in a beautiful tomato sauce.  This was Mr Busy's all-time favourite part of the meal!

Cabbage rolls came out next.  These were stuffed with a rice filling.  Delicious!

Finally we were served the famed and oft-praised vareniki.  These are pictured above - potato-filled dumplings served with mushroom gravy, and if you're game, butter and onions.  We skipped the onions, but the vareniki was everything my SIL has raved about over the past 17 years!

The whole evening was about this meal.  It began around 7pm and ended around 10.30pm, with a fruit platter for dessert.  Given that it is summer here we sat at carefully-set tables outside - the weather was perfect! 

Mr Busy was apprehensive about all the new foods he was going to be presented with, but he coped fine, eating almost everything in full.  There were one of two things that either got left or were passed on to Dad.  I feel very privileged to have been embraced and included in this long-held tradition that has shaped my SIL.  I asked her a few weeks back why their Christmas is so much later than ours.  Her fast quip was that "Europeans are very hospitable - you can't start eating til everyone arrives.  The wise men took a while to get there so we wait".  The truth is that it is based on the older Gregorian calendar, but she had to go home and ask her Mum to be sure!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Sharing the Meal Burden

Mini Black Forest & White Chocolate Cheesecakes

It's a really hot in Melbourne - 38C today and 41C tomorrow (98F & 105F respectively).   Actually, apparently the whole country is in the grip of an enormous heat wave. We're fortunate to have cooling.  And the friends we are having dinner with tonight have just installed cooling in their nearly-finished house so I know we'll be in the new house instead of the "old shack".  Yes! 

I was asked to bring dessert so I decided to revisit my affection for cheesecake.  My brother does a mean baked one.  Me?  I'm a non-baked cheesecake girl.  I figured something cold would go down well.  I did my favourite black forest cheesecake recipe and added 125g of melted white chocolate to the mixture.  Instead of making one large one I set these in my silicon muffin pans.  As you can see a hot butter knife did the unmolding trick perfectly.  As it turned out I ended up with 18 of these little babies - enough for guests coming over on Saturday night.  Brilliant!

Mr Busy expressed his concern that the portions would be "too small".  That may be true, but I think we've probably digested more than our fair share of rich foods over Christmas.  A small portion of this is just enough to cool the palette and give our meal it's sweet full-stop.  And I have 1/2 a kilo of camembert cheese still to be loved by some tummies, so we'll take that and some crackers as well.

What's your favourite summer and winter take-along dessert recipe?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Sushi Lunch

 My niece's first sushi roll - a job very well done!

We had Dh's brother and family over for lunch the other day.  The message I got from Dh was that 'the girls' wanted to learn to make sushi.  My SIL apologised for being bossy - I was thrilled that I didn't have to think about what to make!  My 10yo niece loves making stuff.  It seems to matter not whether it's art and craft or in the kitchen.  When life in a family is busy though, busyness in the kitchen is the most helpful.  My niece left with rice paper rolls and sushi skills well-practiced and ready for implementing at home whenever the mood may strike (and the ingredients are available).

The rice paper rolls were filled with a smear of hoisin sauce, rice noodles, chicken, cucumber and carrot.

The sushi rolls (technically california rolls, I think) had a variety of fillings:
  • crab stick, cucumber, carrot
  • smoked salmon, avocado
  • cucumber, carrot, avocado
  • chicken, carrot, cucumber
With that Miss Mischief made prawn crackers and we had our favourite Asian salad to go with it.  And surprisingly the three boys did not devour everything on the table.  They must be tired of digesting food as well!