mutteringhousewife

What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: October, 2012

Jewellery as Procrastination

When a housewife has clothes sorting, filing, banking, possibly writing an insurance policy for the choir and treating the dog for yeasty ears on her to do list, her thoughts naturally turn to beading. I actually have some commission work to do, but it’s stuff I’ve done before only in different colours and anyway, I have until Monday. I feel like making something new.

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The apple is for size comparison, and because it is a lovely contrasting colour. I’m not totally convinced about the mustard coloured gemstone bead in the centre, but it’s a pretty good fit. The edge isn’t finished because I had the family demanding dinner, so I photographed it to blog about later tonight. Then they went in the pool.

The pattern is from the December 2010 Bead and Button magazine, and I’ve had my eye on it for a while. I’ve not done flat herringbone before, it worked up quite quickly. For those also attempting the pattern, I found that fifty six units wasn’t enough, I had to go for sixty. Also, I didn’t have size eight hex cut beads, but 1.5mm cube beads fit very nicely and still have a contrasting shape. This pattern is a keeper, I’m looking forward to making some in different colours, perhaps next time I have a Treasurer’s report due.

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Green Apple Muffins

I’m guessing that the Moose and the Horror are growing, all they seem to do is eat, sleep and hit each other with various objects, ranging from nerf bullets to a set of keys and, of course, a rubber chicken.  I’m having difficulty keeping the pantry stocked, which means that it’s time to make some muffins.

In my wondrous collection of cookbooks is a comb bound number in faux handwriting font given to me by a friend who was very grateful for my Anzac biscuit recipe (see my collected works for the same recipe).  It’s a whole lot of muffin recipes and they range, to use a phrase you’ll hear regularly from me, from the sublime to the ridiculous. They are all apparently family recipes, so my kids are devoutly thankful not to belong to the family that regularly gets served up Sandy’s Seafood Muffins.  I have adapted Lorna’s Apple Muffins, because you know what I’m like, I can’t leave it alone.

Beat together one quarter of a cup of olive oil, one quarter of a cup of caster sugar, one half a cup of brown sugar and an egg.  Mix in a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of mixed spice.  Mix in a cup of plain flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of bicarb and a generous tablespoon of sour cream.  I found this mix to be a bit dry today, so I added a couple of tablespoons of milk.  Mix in two chopped green apples, skin on.  Today I tried chopping the apples very finely to fool the Horror, who is my main Doesn’t Like Bits In It offender.  I find that this makes eleven muffin cups if you’re going for ones that don’t overflow the paper case, and eight if you like them with a Muffin Top.  You can mix these babies in the time between your hairdresser sticking a clip in your freshly dyed hair and calling you back to the sink.  What do you mean you don’t get a hairdresser coming to your house?  How do you get anything DONE?

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Fruitcake

You know that bit in KungFu Panda where Po’s dad is waiting for Po to have the noodle dream so he can become a real noodle chef? Well I had the fruitcake dream. It was a sign. It was time to go forth and buy glacé cherries.

This isn’t one of this cakes you accept graciously from your auntie, wait six months, then throw it in the compost. Actually, I don’t get that whole giving people fruitcake. Despite the fact that this one is delicious, I do understand that it isn’t for everyone. I do give out fruitcakes, but only to people who ask. Not only ask, because I’ll just assume they’re being polite and really don’t want to hurt my feelings, but actually beg. I was going to send half of this one to my grandma, as she’s a big fan of it, but there isn’t enough left after yesterday’s barbeque. She’ll have to wait for the next one to come along.

I know I go on about the best ingredients a bit, but that’s because it is important and I really want you to understand it and go to your own local markets and buy the best you can find. I also want the major supermarkets to go broke, so I only buy cat food, toilet paper and jumbo boxes of breakfast cereal from them, but that’s a rant for another day. This recipe is just fruit, and cake, so you want terrific fruit.

Place in your largest mixing bowl 250 grams of butter (or two sticks if you’re a non SI American, see Donna Hay, two can play at that game), and cream it with the zest of a lemon and a cup of sugar. If you want a golden crumb, use caster sugar. If you like it a bit darker and richer, go half caster and half brown. I might try using dark brown next time, if I’m feeling crazy. Beat in four eggs, one at a time.

Now for the fruit. Tip in 250 grams sultanas, 125 grams currants, 125 grams of mixed peel (have a hunt through the archives for a method to make your own) and 125 grams glacé cherries. I have used very fancy semi dried cherries for this in the past, but I do have a soft spot for green Big Sister cherries like Nanna used to use. The next 250 grams of dried fruit are at your discretion, but my favourite mix is 125 grams chopped crystallized ginger and 125 grams of the very zingy dried cranberries that are purveyed by Honest to Goodness. If you don’t use ginger, add a tablespoon of ground ginger when adding the flour. I’ve also used dried apricots, crystallized pineapple (who just thought of Professor Slughorn?), glazed figs and dates (I find the last two not acidic enough, but each to their own). Mix the fruit in with the butter and egg, this will take some elbow work. Then add a cup and a half of flour and a tablespoon of baking powder and mix that in. Scrape this lot into a cake tin lined with baking paper, mine is 20 by 20 cm. It doesn’t rise very much, so don’t worry that it almost fills the tin. Bake at 150 degrees Celsius for really quite some time. The original Woman’s Weekly recipe that I based this on says three hours, but mine usually take a bit less than that. Keep an eye on it, it will be a rich gold on top and a bit crunchy looking. Stick a skewer in it, if it comes out clean then take it out. I like it to cool out of the tin because the outsides get nice and firm.

I will not have fruitcake for lunch, I will not have fruitcake for lunch, I will not have fruitcake for lunch…

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Maple Syrup Cakes

If you live in Sydney, you’ll know it as the day you cursed the fact that you’d washed and put away your winter jumpers.  Shortly I’m going to have three wet, cold and hungry kids here for whom a plate of crudites is just not going to cut it.  The Horror will be coming home from camp, so will in addition be hysterically tired.  What these kids need is Maple Syrup Cakes.

This is another Donna Hay recipe, and at the risk of this becoming a baking and pet peeves blog, her cookbooks really annoy me.  The recipes are terrific, don’t get me wrong.  I just can’t stand the whole matchy matchy blue thing, or the random words drifting across pages.  She seems like the kind of person who’d have those cursive wooden block letters spelling out delicious in her kitchen.  I have been tempted to buy a set of these blocks so I can spell out testicles across my kitchen windowsill, but it seems like too much effort.

I get the feeling this recipe has been translated from another set of measurements, as there are a few fractions involved.  I have discovered that rounding makes little difference, so here you go.

Cream together 90 grams of butter with two thirds of a cup of brown sugar and two tablespoons of caster sugar.  I’ll have to try without the caster sugar, I can’t believe it would make too much difference.  Also, butter at the temperature my kitchen is at isn’t going to cream, so put it in a metal bowl and sit it in the oven at 50 degrees for a bit.  Add 2 eggs, one at a time.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk, half a cup of maple syrup, one and two thirds of a cup of plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder and mix until blended.  If, like me, you can’t be bothered washing up a muffin tin, put cupcake papers in the twelve holes and divide the mixture between them.  Bake at 180 degrees for about twenty minutes.

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These cakes keep fairly well, as if they’re going to last more than the afternoon.  Time to find my woolly hat.

Dark Victory Chocolate Brownies

Yes, I do need an excuse to bake brownies, and now I have two.  We’re hosting an end of season bbq for the Muffet’s team, and as we’re providing the meat I am naturally compelled to make something to have with coffee.  I’m not that fond of meat.  I’m also being nagged to make brownies by the Muffet’s schoolfriend, Lindy Lu.  Lindy loves my baking and often sends requests home with the Muffet, because her mum never bakes anything.  It makes a nice counterpoint to the Muffet, who complains that she never gets normal food in her lunchbox, like everyone else.

Even before the web it was easy to find multiple brownie recipes, everyone has a favourite.  The one I’ve been making for a while comes from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle, and I haven’t even altered it.  Except to convert those absurd American measurements.  A stick of butter, forsooth!  How far can you get from SI??

I don’t use a double boiler, because guess who washes up?  I use a metal bowl balanced over a saucepan of boiling water and it seems to do the trick.  Place in the metal saucepan 200grams of very nice butter and 100g of dark chocolate.  These, along with the cocoa, are the ingredients that will make people beg you for the recipe, their quality makes a big difference.  I use Harmonie Organic Butter.  I was using Belcolade chocolate drops and they were quite good, but then I bought one of those chunks of Callebaut chocolate you see at Harris Farms.  Why do they sell them like that?  How on earth are you supposed to break them down?  The first one I got I just surreptitiously nibbled at until it was all gone.  The second one was fortunately exactly the right size for these brownies, which was when I realised I couldn’t go back.  Now I get Callebaut in chip form either at the IGA, or from the nice man at my local chocolate shop.

Place your bowl over the saucepan of boiling water and wait for the contents to melt.  This took about as long as making a coffee, taking a phone call from my husband to ask why his Blackberry wasn’t syncing properly (I blame Google) and reheating the coffee in the microwave.  Probably time he moved to an iPhone.  Stir it with a wooden spoon then take it off the heat.  Stir in half a cup of Dutch cocoa (mine comes in a dark brown container from Norton St Grocers and I can’t be bothered digging it out of the cupboard to get the brand), one and a quarter cups of caster sugar, and three eggs – one at a time.  I also try to get nice eggs, but I can’t say that I can taste a difference.  Then stir in one third of a cup of sour cream, once again, can’t taste the difference between Barambah Organic and Dairy Farmers, and two teaspoons of vanilla essence.  Vanilla is the salt of the sweets world, you won’t necessarily pick it as a flavour but it makes everything taste nicer.  Speaking of salt, I’ve recently started grinding a turn or two of sea salt into my brownie, but you really don’t want to overdo it.  Last, stir in half a cup of plain flour.  The recipe also suggests stirring in a cup of pecans, which sounds like a wonderful idea except, as you would have gathered by now, my family Don’t Like Bits In It.

Scrape mixture into a baking paper lined square or rectangular cake tin.  Mine is square and 20cm a side.  Bake at 160C for about 45 minutes.  It will be all cracked on the top.  I don’t bother dusting it with icing sugar, but you can if you’re a presentation kind of person.

I might have to take some to my choir committee meeting tonight, seeing as how making it delayed me sending out my treasurer’s report by at least an hour.

A Day Out

A good housewife takes care of her health, because who else is going to make dinner? For me, this involves getting myself along to the Sydney Melanoma Unit every six months to get my skin looked at. The Melanoma Unit is situated next to a large teaching hospital, which adjoins the city’s oldest university, which is down the road from a busy and popular shopping strip. You may think that these facilities may warrant some extra parking around the place, but this is Sydney, so you would be wrong. You may also think that I should hop on a bus to get to my appointment, but once again, no. In the time it would take me to get from my house to the Melanoma Unit by bus I could jump in my car, drive to Glebe, purchase two rubber chickens, drive to a suburb adjoining that which the hospital is in, walk to Campos Coffee (the original, not the many franchises which have sprung up around the place), purchase a large skim flat white, walk to the Unit and still have fifteen minutes spare.

I spent that fifteen minutes enjoying my coffee while sympathizing with the lady at reception who was dealing with an elderly patient who wasn’t happy with her bill or completely convinced that she should come in for her next appointment. At one point she was waving a fistful of shopper dockets. The receptionist was incredibly patient, going through every item, drawing her a map of where her next appointment would be, even holding her hand and telling her not to worry. One of the many many jobs I would be very poor at.

I think the coffee at Campos has changed. It’s still full of the quiet authority that makes my kidneys wriggle, but was a little smoother than usual, failing to take any skin off the back of my throat. I think I prefer it to the original.

The appointment itself was mercifully brief. I strip down to my Victoria’s Secret underwear, the doctor gets out a bright light and a magnifying glass and examines every mole on my body, then squeezes various bits of my lymphatic system. I never know what to say on these occasions, not being skilled at small talk at the best of times, and I’m further stymied by her thick French accent, so I smile and say yes a bit and try not to think of Inspector Clouseau. A rubber chicken may have broken the ice, I should have brought it in.

I’m all clear again and have no further lumps or bumps than I should have. I give them a vial of blood and farewell them until next Easter. I resist the urge to spend some quality time in King Street because I have to get home and make more breadsticks, they were a huge success.

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Bread Sticks

I think I just wanted an excuse to turn on the oven today. I am having a hard time reacclimatizing. Maybe in twenty years time I’ll be one of those bleached blonde leather bags sitting on the Esplanade in Cairns sipping shandies. That conflicts a little with my plan to be a velvet clad cat lady, but I’m sure I can work something out.

I’m having a hard time getting something filling in my kids’ lunch boxes. They’ve all gone off sandwiches recently, the Horror was never into them at all. The Moose has access to a microwave at school, so he sometimes takes pasta. I’m sure they’d all like to eat just cakes and biscuits, but we’re not having that. Moderation in all things. I thought I’d give breadsticks a go.

The recipe is taken from a very learned tome called the Cook’s Book, and has detailed instructions on many complicated recipes you wouldn’t make in a pink fit. It has an excellent bread chapter, so I went from there. This is half the recipe they give, I wanted to make sure they’d get eaten before I went overboard.

Dissolve 5 grams of fresh yeast in 180 grams of water. I have one of those scales that you sit your bowl on and zero after putting in each ingredient, it’s revolutionized my cooking. My hairdresser made me buy it, that man has far to much influence on my behaviour. I get fresh yeast from my local IGA in little cubes, you might have to ask around at the deli’s in your area. Or you could use dried yeast, I’m pretty sure it converts to half a teaspoon.

Add 250 grams of flour. Mix it into a fairly wet dough with your hands, then leave it for about ten minutes. When you come back, sprinkle some salt over it, add a glug of olive oil and knead it a bit. Because I’m not making a soft, fluffy loaf of bread, I added another handful of flour to make a stiffer dough. Knead it until it’s smooth. The instructions then said to roll it out to one cm thickness, but I found it soft enough to spread it out with my hands onto a floured bread board. They also add that this is where you get finicky with a ruler and a sharp knife to get nice even sticks.

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I’m actually going for lunchbox size and I favour the rustica look, which translates as frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn how they look, so that’s what my cutouts looked like. You can now roll each stick to get the traditional shape, or just lift each rectangle onto a biscuit tray that has been lined with baking paper and sprinkled with cornmeal. You then leave them to rise for the time it takes to rescue the washing from a sudden rain shower and pay a conductor and a rehearsal pianist for a month of work. Bear in mind that I also had to calculate superannuation. Spray them with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt. If you do it the other way around you just blow the salt onto the splashback. Put them in a 180 degree oven for about thirty minutes, but keep an eye on them. I like them fairly brown for extra crunch, you may like to leave them in for less time for a more bready result.

I do like the result, they’re like very miniature loaves of bread. I think if I’d made them a bit thinner they’d be crunchy all the way through, but this lot has a chewy centre. They’d be really good for dips, they don’t shatter.

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I put the apple in there so you could see the size, not to be artsy fartsy. But will they pass the ultimate kid test? And can I be bothered making them regularly if they do? It’s unlikely, I have a very short attention span.

Paradise Palms Golf Resort

Yes, I am back home and having great difficulty with it not being thirty degrees and not driving a Mercedes any more. I thought I’d wrap up my holiday adventures with a review of the resort we stayed at for the last week, as it was a bit … unusual.

After discussing it with husband and sister and sister’s husband, we decided that the Paradise Palms Golf Resort had been built by someone who wanted to build a beautiful and luxurious resort that would be perfect for families. He then went broke and the place was taken over by people who had previously only run caravan parks. That conjecture pretty much sums up our experience, although it doesn’t explain the restaurant, which I’ll get to.

The rooms and fittings were just beautiful. They were self contained, so had excellent kitchenette with granite topped island bench, a decent sized dinner table, and their own washing machine and dryer. Attached to the excellent kitchen was a snarky little note saying that we’d better wash up and put away the crockery before we left, or there’d be a nasty surprise on the bill. To aid us in washing up there was a single sachet of dish washing liquid. The surly girl at reception informed us that if we wanted more, it was fifty cents per sachet. See what I mean? There was a lot of stuff like that. A full ashtray on our balcony. A thick layer of dust on the wooden venetians. Yes we do have four channels of Fox, but you can only have two. Take your own rubbish down to the car park, if you make us do it at the end of your stay we’ll charge you.

The resort wasn’t walking distance to any shops, and yet didn’t have its own shop or offer a shuttle to nearby towns. It had two pools, but you had to hire beach towels. The mini golf and kids playground were terrific, kept our kids entertained all week. They had a very large jumping pillow that I had to try, despite my ankle and knee joints shouting “what the hell do you think you’re doing?”. It was surprisingly tiring, even the kids thought so, and not at all like a trampoline.

The restaurant was another study in what on earth. They appeared to have a top chef and someone with many clues writing the menu and drinks list. Then hired any old random walking by as waiters. My sister and I ordered some afternoon cocktails from the inventive looking list, then watched as a middle aged man with shaky hands clearly had his first attempt at making a cocktail ever, reading off a set of instructions, then mucked it up half way through and had to start again. Soon after we watched a waitress wander past holding some half empty jugs of juice, navigate around a tall chair piled with cushions, lose her balance a little and tip a copious amount of juice into the cushions, look thoughtfully at the chair for a bit, then move on with her life. My morning muesli didn’t come with a spoon. And yet the food was uniformly delightful.

So I would commend it as a great place to stay with kids if you have your own car, beach towels, washing powder and dish washing liquid. You may even be able to make up the bill with a stint at the cocktail bar.

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The Wedding

One thing that weddings really emphasize is that for better or for worse, families are forever. You may only see your cousins occasionally, you may only interact with your aunt on Facebook, but you’ve known them their whole lives and they’ve known you. And then, after buying a house together and having three kids, one decides to marry his girlfriend and you all get together and get a bit sentimental about being in such a great family.

This wedding was a bit unusual in that although it was in Cairns, nobody attending was actually from Cairns. The happy and very attractive couple are from Darwin, other family members and friends came from Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, and one very dedicated friend from Tasmania. Which made the rather excellent turnout a testament to how fond we are of Nathan and Fiona.

Of course it was a beautiful wedding. The setting was terrific, the ceremony conducted by the most enthusiastic celebrant I’ve ever seen. I half expected him to start auctioning off the bridesmaids afterwards “two hundred I have, two hundred, two hundred, can I get two fifty”… Photos ensued, and most fortunately there was a conveniently located mini golf course close enough you could throw a can of Fourex at it to entertain the kiddies until dinner. I amused myself counting the number of people mistakenly congratulating the groom’s identical twin. I lined up and congratulated him myself.

There were many good things about the reception. All the kiddies had a bag of colored pencils and a coloring book to keep them busy, and there were a lot of them, all really well behaved. The best man commented that the reception had a bit of a daycare feel to it. The take home gifts were personalized M&Ms, which also kept the kids going, and coldie holders with the wedding details on it. This pleased both myself and my husband. He likes to bring home these things as souvenirs, and had his eye on one that featured crocodile coitus that was a lot more adventurous than that which we witnessed yesterday, so he won’t need to buy it after all. We particularly loved the photo booth, every wedding should have one.

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The food was great, the music was decent and often performed by a young lady who also sang before the wedding, she must have been exhausted at the end of the night. Unlike the Horror from Outer Space, who decided he’d be having his usual bedtime, thanks. As we were staying in the same building this was an easy request to fulfil, then his brother and sister were able to dance the night away with their cousins and second cousins and great aunts in law and various other partial relations we were unable to determine on the night.

Thanks Fiona and Nathan for inviting us to your wedding, it was a beautiful thing.

Cairns Tropical Zoo

I’m pretty sure this is a photo of crocodiles having sex.

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I took some better shots with my proper camera, and one can never be sure, but it is the springtime.

Cairns Tropical Zoo is a cute little zoo a couple of minutes up the road from the resort we’re staying at. It has the usual assortment of marsupials, and some random fluffy goodness, reading from right to left cotton topped tamarins, a red panda, more tamarins, and some lemurs (King Julian!). Then there is a pretty good reptile house, and they were feeding them when the Horror and I went through, but he was so fixated on reading the signs and doing them in order that he wouldn’t let me watch a keeper being leapt all over by a big green frog.

Also crocodiles. I have a theory that the reason every wildlife park in this part of the world has crocodiles is that to get some you just dig a pond and leave the gates open one night. You lose a few ducks this way, but you get an exhibit that every overseas tourist wants to see. Actually, most of them seem to have a couple that have been rehomed after stalking fishermen or eating the dog of a local councillor. The exhibits at this zoo were pretty big on the whole and were kept in breeding pairs, which results in the kind of exhibit we were treated to today. The Horror was more interested in what looked like a very long thin fairly obviously plastic snake on a fence in between two exhibits. This being Far North Queensland, of course it was real. Then we had the crocodile feeding, which I think has that old fashioned are we going to see someone seriously maimed today kind of feel. I love it. I got some good shots too, I’ll have to put together a Leaping Crocodiles series when I get home, after I’ve finished all the washing, restocked the cupboard and ironed the summer uniforms.

We did miss the bird and python shows, but they let you come back for free the next day, so that’s how we’ll be filling in time tomorrow morning before tizzying up for The Wedding.