What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: November, 2012

Pear shaped wasn’t the problem

I know you’ve been hanging on the edge of your seats wondering how the necklace turned out. What was I going to do with those giant beaded beads? Even I didn’t know.

This is how the thought process went. This teacher wears quite long necklaces. I know, I’ll make a pendant to dangle from the bottom of it and put the two round beads higher up. Because I have the pure and innocent mind of a child I didn’t see where that design was heading. It wasn’t until I’d almost finished the bottom dangle that I realized that there was a fundamental problem.

Or even

I just wasn’t going to be able to make that work. The Moose suggested I put a crescent underneath it and then it would look like a smiley face. My children are always full of helpful suggestions.

So with a wrench I abandoned the two beaded beads and just did a rosary chain to hang the pendant from. Now I have five of these things that I don’t know what to do with. I’m going back to stringing them individually on cord, in pairs they’re a bit… too… testing.


In case you were wondering, the pendant is adapted from another Gwen Fisher design, the netted bangle. That’s taken a load off your minds, hasn’t it. Having finished that ahead of schedule I now have time to go get the float for the Messiah concert on Sunday. You are coming to that, aren’t you? Sydney Town Hall, 3pm, Sunday 18th November? It will be awesome. What I really need is a necklace to wear…

Jewellery instead of chocolates

There I was thinking I had oodles of time to make the teachers’ presents. Christmas was in December last time I checked, giving teachers a token of my appreciation for not defenestrating my offspring at any time during the year could surely wait until the last week of term. “Oh, no”, the Muffet informs me yesterday. “I’d like to give my teacher her present at the dinner on Saturday”. As in the day after tomorrow.

I’m still not sure what the finished product is going to look like, but it is going to incorporate beaded beads designed by Gwen Fisher. I’ve been a fan of her work for years and was very excited to see one of her beaded beads appear in Beadwork magazine in April of this year. I’ve made a few in different colours, the instructions are excellent and the resulting bead is tight and symmetrical. But haven’t yet found a really satisfactory way of wearing them. I’ve taken to just stringing a few on satin cord and tying it on as a necklace, but that isn’t going to work for this job.


The one in the foreground is the finished bead, the one at the back is the guts of the next one. I was going to make pairs in the same colour but ran out of dark silver pearls. It will be character building for me to put something together that isn’t symmetrical. I did toy with the idea of going to the bead shop on Parramatta Road to get some more, but I know I’d walk out of there with a whole lot of gemstones I don’t have room for and really don’t intend using, I just like them because they’re pretty.

Well, how’s that, I appear to have written the first part of a two hander. I do plan to finish the necklace tomorrow, so you’ll have to wait until then to see how it turns out. Gripping, isn’t it?

Cheese and Bacon Rolls

Great excitement in the house of muttering, the Muffet’s school social is on tonight, and there’ll be boys. Not that the Muffet is too fussed, she gets way too much boys at home, that’s why she likes going to a girls’ school. She’s bringing home Lindy Lu so that they can spend the afternoon giggling and doing each other’s hair in preparation. They’ll be hungry. The boys both have sport today, they’ll be hungry too. I think cheese and bacon rolls are in order.

This is yet another idea I got from the Thermomix demonstration, it’s the party that keeps on giving. Why did I never think of it myself, I’ve made my own bread quite a lot. You need a loaf’s worth of bread dough, and you may have your own recipe for that. If you don’t, here’s what I do.

In a metal bowl, place ten grams of fresh yeast, which if you live where I do you can purchase at the local IGA for about sixty cents for fifty grams. Dissolve it in 350 mls of water. If you remember any high school science you’ll know that the density of water is one kilo per litre, so you can just weigh it out. Add five hundred grams of flour and about ten turns of the salt grinder and mix it up. Cover it and leave it for about ten minutes, then come back, pour a teaspoon of olive oil over it and knead it in. Repeat a couple of times. Leave it until it looks about doubled in size. If you want to speed that up because it’s a cold wet day, put it in the oven with the light on. I’m still excited to have an oven with a working light, it’s just had its first birthday.

Then dump it on to a floured bench top and knead it some more. You really don’t need to go overboard with the kneading, despite what you may hear. Just make sure it’s smooth and elastic. Roll it out into a big rectangle and start getting creative. I sliced off a couple of rectangles and pulled them out to be longer. Some of them I spread Vegemite on for the Moose who doesn’t like melted cheese. I know, I know. Some I sprinkled with chopped up bacon and grated cheese. some just cheese. If you’re a bit reckless with your shaping and actually start with a long triangle, when you roll it up it’s shaped like a croissant. I also did traditional cheese and cheese and bacon rolls with the stuff on top. Because I ran out of bacon, I also did some square plain rolls.

Pop these back in the oven with the light on for about half an hour, or not if you’ve run out of time. Bake for about half an hour at 180 degrees Celsius. This way you can use nice Australian bacon rather than that alarming pink rubbery stuff you get up at James’ bread shop. That’s going to be a really nice smell to come home to.


Orange and Poppyseed Friands

The cupboard is bare, so what shall I make? I know, raspberry slice. But I’ve already blogged about that, so lucky for you I’m also making orange and poppyseed friands at the special request of the Horror who very kindly didn’t give his piano teacher a nervous breakdown yesterday. It makes a nice change not to have to reconstruct the poor man before sending him on his way.

Friands are based on almond meal and icing sugar. You can get almond meal at the supermarket most of the time, but sometimes you find that only slivered almonds are available, and then only in a one kilo bag. You take them to the checkout and spend some quality time noticing that the pink lady behind you seems to not only have applied her own fake eyelashes, but to have actually made them herself out of what appears to be black cotton and hairspray. These are harsh economic times, my friends.

You can convert your slivered almonds into almond meal quite easily with the cup attachment on your stick mixture. At least, you could if you hadn’t fractured it while trying to convince it that it was just as good as a Thermomix. Failing that, a blender will also do an adequate job, though the resulting meal won’t be as homogeneous as one would like. It’s OK, though, we’re not making macarons.

With your fingers, mix in a bowl the dry ingredients. These are one cup of almond meal, one and two thirds of a cup of sifted icing sugar, three quarters of a cup of plain flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder, the shredded zest of two oranges and a tablespoon of poppyseeds. Mix in five egg whites, then 125 grams of melted butter. You can then spoon the mixture into very well buttered and floured friand tins, or make life easy for yourself and use paper muffin cases. These don’t rise very much, so if using the friand tins you can fill them nearly all the way up so they do that cute little break in the middle as they rise out of the tin.

This is the only flavoured friand recipe I’ve found (Donna Hay again) all other so called flavours just have bits of fruit piled on top. The flavouring has to be dry not to mess up the recipe. I guess you could use dried fruit, but isn’t very friand like. I’m working on a pistachio one, but the Horror thinks I have a way to go. It’s tricky, because every time I buy shelled pistachios they get all eaten. You can also use three eggs instead of five egg whites in this recipe, it’s a little richer. You could use other citrus zest too, but not lime, whenever I use lime zest it goes all brown and chewy.


What I’ve learnt about Sewing

I’ve done it, I’ve finished the damned things. Six soldiers costumes are on their way to the Muffet’s school and it’s only fair that I share with you some of the things that I’ve learned.

A quick recap for those of you who haven’t been following me like a bloodhound. My dear daughter volunteered me to help with sewing for the school play. I fronted up to the main instigator of this outrage, Mrs Gray, and sweetly informed her that I was rather good at sewing in straight lines and did she have any togas for me to hem? She handed me a bag of material, a very complicated set of patterns, fixed me with a steely glare, returned my sweet smile and said “May the force be with you”. For further accounts of my subsequent misadventures, see here.

So the first thing, dear reader, is to identify your motivation. In this case, impress Mrs Gray. But there are many more practical things I have learned about sewing.
Static electricity can be a good substitute for pins.
Don’t wear drapey clothing while sewing unless you’d like to incorporate it into the costume.

Cotton batting is a tasty source of fibre.
An RSL style carpet is excellent for hiding stains and dog hair, but it does mean the only way you’ll find a dropped pin is by stepping on it.
Turn off your sewing machine while you’re away from it otherwise your dog will sit on the pedal and give himself a fright.
If you’re sewing after dinner, you will sew a sleeve on upside down or a badge to your pyjamas. Factor this into your timing.
If you want to use some material scraps from a pile your late elderly cat used to sleep on, no amount of washing and hanging it in the sun will get out the smell. Just chuck it.
Resist the urge to admonish your children with pins in your mouth.

Pets can be useful to stop your material from flying away.
That clunking sound means the top thread has come off the hook thingy that goes up and down.
Sewing a ribbon or some scalloped felt over your seams is an excellent way of disguising the fact that you haven’t measured anything.

It’s a bit hard to tell from this shot, but this tunic was doomed. It did teach me three valuable lessons. Don’t let the dog sit on your sewing shortly after he’s been eating grass. You need to sew the wrong side to the wrong side OR the right side to the right side, not one of each. And if you’ve given yourself a break from sewing by ironing the school shirts, you need to turn the iron back down if you’re going to press the seams on your polyester tunic. It didn’t actually set the smoke detector off, but it did attract the attention of the children who, as always, were very forthright in their advice.

A hot glue gun is a useful alternative to hand sewing.
Your sharp scissors are under your daughter’s desk.

It’s easy to make wire closures for your armour if you have a set of jewellery making tools and five years experience making clasps for necklaces.
Finally, with a great deal of patience and coffee and moaning to friends and an enormous amount of muttering, you can teach yourself to sew and deliver six soldiers costumes a whole two weeks before the performance.

Now I don’t know if I want to get in and sew something for myself or sell my machine on eBay. I should probably give it a few weeks before I do anything rash.

Jewellery with a theme

The Moose’s school colours are black and white, and I have noticed that his teachers often dress in these colours. He has had two women help him enormously this year, so I’m going to be making black and white jewellery for them in appreciation of having to put up with the little so and so.

I have been spurred on by the fact that I’m going to a fundraising dinner tomorrow for which the theme is black and white. Jewellery always needs a test drive, so today I made a black and white pendant to wear once, then gift to the Moose’s mentor. If it survives the test drive.


It’s made with Swarovski crystal, Czech glass, Japanese delica size 15s and a gemstone called howlite. I normally net across these pendants like I have on the other pendant in this shot, but I don’t think I will for this one, it’s dramatic enough as it is. I wonder if I’ll have time to pump out some black and white earrings between basketball and tennis games tomorrow plus a Messiah rehearsal? I could if I kept them simple, but we all know how that will end.

More sorbet

When your sister leaves a bag of elderly bananas hooked onto your front door handle, your first impulse is to make some banana bread. But I’ve had an idea fermenting in my head since my friend Kath suggested adding condensed milk to my strawberry sorbet recipe, and now was the time to try it out.

First, a passing mention of the strawberry sorbet. I have discovered, in my attempts to replicate the effects of a Thermomix with items I have lying around, that my blender can’t really crush ice. Nor can it cope with frozen strawberries. However, if you let the strawberries thaw out, then blend them with the white of an egg and fifty grams each of icing sugar and condensed milk, you get an even better sorbet than the one I had a go at a few weeks ago.

Here’s what I did yesterday. Place in a blender the remains of two bananas, the juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of cinnamon and about a third of a can of condensed milk (I realise this isn’t SI units, but I was on a roll and forgot to weigh it). Blend. Freeze.

It’s amazingly creamy and has a very intense banana flavour, too much for the boys who will only eat banana in cake form. I don’t think you’d actually call it a sorbet, but it isn’t an ice cream either.
It will be up to the Muffet and I to finish this batch. I think it would be even better done in those plastic ice block forms you can get. The Muffet also suggests dipping them in chocolate, which is a very fine idea.

I did also have enough for banana bread, but that’s a whole other blog.

Smashed Potatoes

Potatoes, butter and salt. Sometimes cheese. There are so many ways to combine this sublime collection of ingredients that there are whole cook books dedicated to the pursuit – not any of which are in my collection. I have some vague feeling that I read about this method in a newspaper article by Jill Dupleix, back in the days when newspapers were made of paper instead of pixels. Remember that?

This would probably work for most varieties of potato, but I prefer cocktail potatoes because of the smaller insides to jacket ratio. I work on about three potatoes per child. Boil them until you can stab them through quite easily and their little skins are starting to split like startled frankfurters. Drain them, then put them back in the pot with some slices of butter and toss them around until they are coated. Dump them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, or not if you have someone else doing the washing up. Get out your potato masher and gently smash them.

Don’t go overboard, you want them to retain their identities for serving purposes. Actually, they taste just fine even if you smash them to smithereens but that makes them harder to serve. Sprinkle them with Himalayan salt that has been infused with hand pressed alkaline kale powder. Bake at 180 degrees for about half an hour, or until it’s all crispy.

Actually, only do that second last bit if you’re a complete prat.


Why are Australians embarrassed to sing? If they like it as a kid they’re mercilessly teased until they can escape to a performing arts school or the Conservatorium. If they must sing because they’ve formed a rock band at school, then the boys will croak or scream and the girls will do that intensely irritating breathy little girl thing that’s so regrettably prevalent at the moment. Yes I am easily irritated, thank you for asking.

Singing is ridiculously good for you and I don’t want to hear this nonsense of I can’t sing. Everyone can sing. Some better than others, for sure, but all you need is to want to and the ability to hear yourself, and sometimes you may need a singing teacher or singing friend to help you with that. It doesn’t matter what you sing, sing along to the radio (especially the ABC fanfare, that’s very stirring), join a choir, and at this time of the year you should sing Christmas carols. That appears to be the only mildly acceptable form of Australian public singing, so take advantage of it.

I started singing fairly recently. I just wanted to get out of the house one evening a week, to even up the score with my husband’s soccer training. I did classical piano for many years so can read music, but hadn’t sung with a choir at all. I was very lucky in my choice of choirmaster, because he hustled me into the Sydney University Graduate Choir which sings exactly the kind of complicated music I love. He also convinced me that I could sing. At first, I didn’t believe him, but after a few months it became true. I’m going to plug this choir right now because on November the 18th we’re singing Handel’s Messiah at the Sydney Town Hall, for more details click here. It’s a wonderful experience and even my kids like it (we do it every two years), so come along for your yearly classical music dose.

I’m having some mates over tonight for a spot of singing and we’re going to have a go at singing Christmas Carols in parts. They’re going to be getting Once in Royal David’s City, which they’d better like because I asked for suggestions and didn’t get any. Have a go at getting your friends together for some carol singing, and if they’re too shy, come over to my place. It’s good for your core strength, your lung capacity, your soul, and it’s even better in a group. I love it.


Chicken Stock

I can’t believe that people are charging fourteen bucks a litre for chicken stock.  I can’t believe people are paying it!  Do you know how much it costs you to make your own?  So close to zero I can’t even be bothered working it out.  It’ll take maybe ten minutes of your time, and most of that is bagging it.   You must make chicken stock!

There’s a zillion recipes for chicken stock on the internet, possibly even a zillion and a half, so you can pick one that looks good to you.  Many are a lot fancier than the one I’m making today, but this is your basic add it to couscous or a stirfry stock, although it’s also an excellent soup base.

You need a chicken carcass.  You’ll find that you have one if you can’t be bothered cooking and go and get chicken and chips.  Or if you’ve roasted a chicken.  Save all the bones and skin and bits that people won’t eat in a bowl in the fridge.  You’ll also need some flavoursome vegetables, the classic three are celery, carrot and onion.  You don’t need to peel them or chop them neatly, and they can be in pretty much any state.  The celery I’m using today is the leaves and inner bit of a bunch I bought for the kids to dip into peanut butter.  Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.  You can use any limp carrots you find at the bottom of the crisper.  You don’t have to peel the onion, just chop it roughly.  Put approximately one each of those three veg in a large saucepan (or just the tops of one bunch of celery) and if you’re feeling fancy sautee them in a bit of butter until they have brown bits on them.  I really wasn’t in the mood today, so I didn’t.  Chuck in the chicken carcass and skin and fill the saucepan about three quarters full of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer covered for quite a long time, an hour minimum if you lack planning ability and rather feel like chicken noodle soup for dinner, three or four hours if you’re hanging about the house sewing soldier’s tunics and paying musicians.

You can add other flavours to the stock, today I’ve shaken in some peppercorns and a clove of garlic.  I’ve also put in those incredibly desiccated bay leaves that even the nicer spice brands put out, I’m never terribly convinced they’ll add much flavour.  About fifteen minutes before you have to go pick up the kids, strain the stock into a large bowl.  Leave the bits in the strainer to hang over the bowl to drip while you’re out.  When you get home, stick the bowl in the fridge.

The next day you can skim off the fat and bag the stock.  I seem to use about half a cup at a time, so I’ll measure half cups into little ziplock freezer bags.  Put those in the freezer.  If you are that kind of person you can write the date and contents on the bag.  Some days I am that person, some days not.  Now how easy was that?