Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spring...Father's Day...Sunshine

Tomorrow Spring will arrive in all it's sunny warmth just in time to celebrate Father's Day with us.  This morning for the first time in many, many months I left the house without a cardigan or jumper of some kind.  It's amazing what a little bit of sunshine will do for your mood and energy levels after a long, exhausting week.

Our Father's Day will be rather full.  A friend rightly insisted we should have a BBQ for lunch - the first of the season - with my parents.  Then we'll have dinner with some close friends.  And the day will be warm and sunny.  Perfect.  The girls and I have done the requisite gift shopping so we're all keen for the day to be upon us and for Dad's to be celebrated and appreciated.  The one we have in our home is pretty darn good.

Before that?  An evening with 'Star Wars', and my brother and his gorgeous wife.  The snack food is at the front door waiting and my assignment is .... being avoided with this post.  Sigh.  It's easier to write assignments when it's raining and gloomy outside.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Book Review: The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog

It was 'Book Week' last week.  In the week or two leading up our library teacher read the shortlisted early childhood picture books to the lower Primary students so I got a bird's-eye insight into the books on the list this year.

Sue deGennaro's "The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog" is a heartwarming, charming  book about friendship and the up's and down's of children's relationships.  The characters are engaging - a boy (we think!) who likes to dress up as animals, and his friend Camille who loves numbers so much she uses them to speak in code.  These two unlikely mates find a way to embrace their differences and enjoy one another's company.  Until the day when Froggy yells at Camille.  It is then he realises that "frogs are not solitary creatures", and neither is he.  All is not well in his world when Camille is not his constant companion.

The author beautifully demonstrates the realities of children's friendships.  Cross words and hurt feelings are inevitable.  Yet deGennaro reminds young readers that it's not just the recipient of the cross words that lose out in these moments, and relationships can indeed be mended.

What can I say?  I loved this story immediately.  So much so I had to order it for myself.  My own copy now sits happily on my own shelf ready for days when I think numbers are cool or I need to be reminded that one of my animal-loving students needs to be appreciated for all his quirks.  Frogs are pretty cute!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Everything old is new again: Meatloaf

It's Mr Busy's fault doing.  He requested meatloaf a couple of weeks ago and now we're all a bit hooked.  It's on the menu plan at least twice a month.  Old fashioned?  Yes!  Delicious?  You bet!

A way, way back in 2010 I posted this recipe for Savoury Glazed Meatloaf.  It came from a friend's Mum - one of those old-fashioned country women whose kitchen turns out all manner of really good honest food.  It's the recipe I still use now and I always add the grated carrot, which I saute with the onion.

Miss Mischief was having a go at making the recipe the other day and I couldn't be bothered with the finickity baking instructions, so I had her put it in a silicon form loaf pan and leave it to bake right side up.  You know what?  It was about the best meatloaf I've ever had.  The silicon form must have made quite the difference.  Or maybe it was just that I didn't make it?  We still baked it for half the time before adding the sauce stuff on top and now the silicon form is our cooking method of choice.

Friday, 23 August 2013

How to Eat Gluten Free...without the Stress!

Being confronted with the need to change your diet in a radical way is challenging at best.  Daunting is perhaps a better way to describe it.  Overwhelming comes to mind as well.  Our entire ‘Standard Australian Diet’ is centred wheat.  It is in everything.  Until you have the need to investigate the ingredients in everything you buy you could be forgiven for being quite unaware of wheat’s pervasive presence in your diet.

When Miss Sunshine was about 10 or 11 years old I was advised to put her on a wheat- and dairy-free diet after her eczema and snot became intolerable.  This advice was given right before a long weekend and we were away for four days.  I did not know what to feed my daughter!  She couldn’t eat much of anything she normally consumed before dinner timeI was a terribly stressful adjustment.  Both my niece and a colleague have recently been faced with the same overwhelming dilemma and my brother and his wife, particularly, are struggling to figure out what a wheat-free life might look like.  I have mentioned many times, here, that I eat a mostly wheat-free diet.  I can tolerate small amounts because I do not have coeliac disease.  My symptoms include a foggy brain, heartburn and/or reflux and insomnia.  I experience these same symptoms, only magnified, when I consume too much sugar.

So what does one eat, when wheat is off the menu?  Grab a cuppa and settle in.  This is gonna be a long one, but I hope I can alleviate of the stress of such a diet change for someone out there.

Bread:  there are a number of different brands of gluten free bread available now.  My favourite remains ‘Country Life’.  They recently changed their recipe and the bread is now more moist and soft.  Not at all the unpleasant, dry version available previously.  I had a brand from IGA the other day.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.  It was given to me – I threw the whole loaf out.  Likewise, gluten free wraps are less than exciting.  I wouldn’t bother with them at all.  You will find gluten free breads with all the other packaged loaves.  Sometimes they’re tough to get a hold of if the store doesn’t carry much stock.  Ask them what days the gluten free bread is delivered so you know when you're likely to get it. 

Pasta and Noodles:  There are a number of gluten-free options for pasta available now.  My favourite ones contain rice flour.  Corn pasta is just weird and I don’t enjoy it.  Look for brands like Orgran and BuonTempo.  Also have a look in the Asian section of your supermarket.  You will find vermicelli and rice stick noodles as well as bean thread noodles there.

Pizza:  I recently tried a polenta crust.  It was delicious and I will happily make that again if we’re doing homemade pizza.  Lots of pizza shops offer gluten free options now.  They’ll be more expensive but they’re pretty darn good.  Gluten free pizza bases from the supermarket are not so wonderful.  I wouldn’t bother with them.

­Cakes and Biscuits: If you’re baking for yourself it is quite simple to replace regular flours with gluten free flour and so far I can’t tell much of a difference.  Maybe I'm just used to it though?  They only things I’ve not succeeded with are pastry and scones, but scones elude me at the best of times so that’s not so surprising!  You might find baked products dry out a little quicker than you’re used to, but if you freeze things as soon as they’ve cooled you will have that just-baked moistness throughout the whole batch.  If you want to buy these already made there are both cake mixes and bought biscuits available in the health food aisle in the supermarket.

Snacks:  This was particularly challenging with Miss Sunshine.  It’s not such an issue for me anymore because I am not snacking between meals.  If you’re into what I call ‘snackety packety’ food items for lunch boxes my first piece of advice would be bake at home.  If that’s not your thing for whatever reason then have a look down your health food aisle.  You will find all manner of gluten-free chips and similar snack foods.  I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Vegie Chips.  Nuts are good.  There are lots of brands rice crackers available now in the biscuit aisle.  My favourite are the Sakata multigrain ones.  Vita-weat also do a brown rice cracker.  I know, I know, it says ‘weat’ but they’re really good rice crackers!!!  Also have a look at cruskits for their corn or rye versions and corn thins or rice thins.  They’re pretty yummy.  Of course there are potato chips, corn chips and you might find things like twisties or cheezels have little or no wheat.  Spend some time reading the ingredients lists.  You'll be surprised what you discover.  And then there’s good old-fashioned fruit.  Always there, never with wheat!

The final challenge is how to do a wheat-free diet when it might only be one person in the family.  It is tempting to just have everyone eating the same foods but you will find gluten-free foods can be terribly expensive.  A small loaf of bread is $6.50 and flour is $3.50 for half a kilo.  It’s not cheap!!!  What has worked for me is a little of cooking separately and a little of everyone eats the same.  At dinner time if I’m making a dessert or something where flour is required I just use the gluten free.  There are some things you just can’t do separately.  Everything else is pretty much separate.  For example, if I’m doing something like pasta I put a bit pot on for regular pasta and a little pot of gluten free pasta just for me.  It’s one extra pot….that’s really not a big deal.

These days I am eating a lot more protein instead of carbohydrate so being gluten free is much easier.  Rather than my favourite toast for breaky I’m having two eggs made into a sweet frittata.  I have leftovers for lunch and dinner usually consists of meat and vegetables.  Rather than eating sugary foods I go for honey, maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Hopefully facing a life of no wheat isn't quite so daunting now.  Try and think of it as an adventure to see what you can find.  Pick up different brands and compare ingredients.  I found some tins of tomato soup had wheat and some had tapioca flour.  There will always be things you will miss because there hasn't been a gluten free alternative created yet (think hot jam doughnuts!).  But there are lots of things available now.  Aussies are magnificent at ensuring special diets are catered for.

Monday, 19 August 2013

More Candles and Fires

 My early-morning breakfast table

We have had no power again - this time for a whole weekend.  It's the price we pay for clean mountain air I suppose.  I am torn between the quiet serenity of candles and cosy fireplaces and the weariness of limited heat and light on cold winter's nights.  On the one hand we've enjoyed time just being together in one space.  On the other hand assignments had to be set aside and refrigerated food had to be disposed of.  After an 11 hour shopping tour my endurance for more waste was particularly limited.  Fortunately we were able to keep most of the frozen food after carefully picking through for things that really needed to be tossed.

I decided I am really not much of a shopper.  Again.  It's not just shopping centres that exhaust me.  I seem to really struggle with unnecessary consumerism in the vast amount I observed on Saturday's shopping tour.  My teensy little pile of purchases were all things one or other of us have been talking about for a while - a bathmat, a can opener, a little lasagna dish suitable for one or two serves.  And a little tea set for my niece's Christmas present the only apparent 'frivolity'.  My little mound will be pressed into productive service within the week.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Rain, Hail, Shine and Power Outages

We've had it all today.  Many hail storms interspersed with regular rain and the odd break for some weak winter sunshine.  Just before school finished for the day the power went out.  And when we got home it was out here too.  Our Town has an electricity grid line which means sometimes when it's out here it's on at school and vice versa.  Today it was unanimous. 

After getting some homework in before it got too dark we lit some candles and Mr Busy lugged in some firewood with Miss Sunshine's oh-so-feminine assistance (she carried the kindling twigs!).  Between us Mr Busy and I got a lovely fire going and lit lots of candles.  We ate our dinner in front of the fireplace with the warmth and light it provided.  Just as the power came back on.

So here I sit in my front-room study with a cosy fire just dwindling in time to head off to bed.  It's been a warm and cheery night despite the dreary beginning.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Snap! 'Corruptions'

I had my niece in a language rotation group yesterday.  When I told her I needed to read the instructions first because I was pretty sure we were meant to play Snap! instead of Memory she responded "Oooohhhh, I didn't know this game had corruptions".  Needless to say I laughed.  And laughed.  "Honey, they're INstructions" I said, when she looked at me wondering what was so funny.  She didn't get it.

You heard it here first, people.  Innocent games corrupt the unwary player!