What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: December, 2012

Homemade Iceblocks

I actually went Christmas shopping, with kids, on the weekend. Fortunately the residents of inner Sydney are late risers, and we were there before it got to the point where you have to strip yourself naked and cover yourself with chicken grease to squeeze through the crowds. We were successful in our purchases and were heading gratefully to the car when we passed a homewares shop. It contained ice cream moulds, something I’d been meaning to add to my collection of kitchen gadgets ever since I first made sorbet weeks and weeks ago. I avoided the ones shaped like adorable bugs and went for the ones in eight packs, mainly because they use disposable sticks. My memory of homemade iceblocks, apart from them not being very interesting due to consisting of home brand lemonade, is tarnished by the thought of the plastic sticks covered in the teeth marks of multiple mouths.

So far I have made Strawberry and Watermelon and Apple Cinnamon iceblocks. Truth be told, all you really need to do is whiz the fruit up in a blender, stick it the moulds and Bob is your uncle, or in my case, great uncle. But when do I ever pass up a chance to get fancy?

For the Strawberry and Watermelon, I blended up a punnet of strawberries, an equivalent volume of watermelon, the juice of a quarter of a lemon, eighty grams each of icing sugar and condensed milk. It made eight iceblocks. A tip that you may wish to take on board is that it’s a little trying getting them out of the mould. The instructions suggest a gentle squeeze of the plastic is all that’s necessary, but that’s absurdly optimistic. More like thirty seconds dunked in hot water. So what I’ve done is to wait until they’re frozen, unmould them, stick them in a ziplock bag and back in the freezer. Then it’s easy for the kids to get at and the moulds are free for your next batch. Here’s what the Strawberry and Watermelon pops looked like

They were utterly delicious and surprisingly creamy. They also melt quite fast, which makes me wonder what commercial iceblocks must have in them. Fortunately the volume is small, so none of it was wasted dripping down arms. I even went to the trouble of working out a cost per unit, just for kicks. Two dollars for the strawberries, about sixty cents for the watermelon, sixty cents of condensed milk and let’s say forty cents for a quarter of a lemon and the icing sugar. That’s forty five cents each for ingredients.

I will do some water ones based on my syrup recipes, but first I wanted to try a flavour that it only just occurs to me is vastly underrepresented in ice cream flavours. Apple. Why is banana icecream so prevalent, but not apple? I blame the Fabian society, the darlings of conspiracy theorists. Take four green apples, peel and quarter them and chop out the seeds. Place them in a small saucepan with a third of a cup of brown sugar. Cook, covered, over low heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples soften. Tip them into the blender. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon and eighty grams of condensed milk. Blend. I was rather annoyed that this only made seven iceblocks, I shall use larger apples next time. It also occurs to me that if I had some plain biscuits or shortbread I was trying to get rid of, I could break it up and mix it into the blended fruit and the result would be apple pie flavour. I have a feeling the kids won’t like this one, they’re not that fond of cooked apple. Of course this means more for me. I won’t know until after dinner, they take a bit over four hours to freeze. This is what the set looks like

What I need now is more paddle pop sticks. Pity someone wiped my brain while I was at the shops this morning. Bloody Fabians.

Orange and Grapefruit Jelly

My dear ole grandma has many fantastic qualities, she’s eternally optimistic, she’s everyone’s friend, she has been a stalwart of her community wherever she’s lived. But goodness me, she can’t cook. I have vivid memories of, after spending half an hour trying to shred apart a dry grey piece of unidentifiable meat, being served a dessert of tinned apricots, a slice of custard and a slice of jelly. I still don’t know how she managed that, I’ve made jelly from a a packet and not had it turn into skin all the way through. She has never been able to explain it herself and long ago gave up making jelly. I wonder if she’d like what I made today? I’ll have to take her some next time I visit.

I have some nude citrus fruit lying around, as I often do, as a result of finding the peel more useful that the insides. In this case I had made a new batch of candied peel for my next lot of fruitcakes, leaving with a naked pink grapefruit and defrocked oranges. My helpful hairdresser suggested slicing them in half, applying a citrus juicer to them and drinking the results, but I always think that it’s a lot of effort to go to to be consumed in seconds. It was time to try something I’d been meaning to for ages, turning them into jelly.

Half the fun in trying something new is trawling the interwebs for recipes. You get such an insight into other cultures, particularly the ever fascinating Americans. They tend to use pectin for their jellies, and using fresh juice doesn’t seem to happen very often. I don’t know if they don’t have as much access to fresh fruit, but most recipes I saw involved the sweetened and the concentrated. However, it wasn’t nearly as complex as I’d always thought. I was pointed in the right direction by an article in The Guardian. What an article full of inspiration that was. The author claimed to have once made an entire Christmas dinner in jelly form. There’s a thing to make you go hmmm.

Get yourself a packet of gelatin leaves and try to shake off that uneasy feeling you get when something is measured in quantities so far from SI as leaves. Measure how much juice you have. One pink grapefruit and two oranges gave me a cup of juice. Tip it into a bowl with three cut up gelatin leaves. Go hang out the washing and deflea the dogs. Come back and put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. I went with my gut feeling and added two tablespoons of sugar, because things don’t taste as sweet when they’re cold. Leave it to heat up for about five minutes. Stir it occasionally to see how much the gelatin has dissolved. When it has completely dissolved, remove from heat and strain into another bowl, which you will place in the fridge and not poke for at least four hours.

It’s divine. I can’t believe how good it tastes. It’s a very soft jelly, you wouldn’t want to leave it out of the fridge for long. I don’t think I should tell the children about it. That’s started a whole new thing for me. First syrups, then sorbet, now jellies. What else have I been missing out on?

Fruit Bread

Full house today. School holidays (private school) and a sunny day mean a pool full of kids. Nothing I bake is ever going to fill them up, but they can have fruit toast for afternoon tea.

Place in a bowl eight grams of fresh yeast and a cup and a half of warm water. Squish that yeast around with your fingers until it has all dissolved. Add a quarter of a cup of white sugar, three teaspoons of mixed spice, a pinch of salt and three cups of flour. Mix it until it’s a sticky dough. Turn it out onto a floured kitchen bench and work that extra flour in until it’s still a fairly soft dough and knead it until it’s smooth. Bung it back in the bowl with a damp tea towel over it and leave it somewhere warm for an hour or two. My current favourite place is in the oven with the light on.

You can leave it in the bowl as you work in a half a cup of currants and half a cup of sultanas. They’ll keep trying to escape, but force those little rascals back in. Line a loaf pan with baking paper and squash the fruit dough in. Put it back in the oven with the light on and leave it until the loaf has risen to at least the edges of the pan. Or until you’re so hungry you can’t leave it alone any more. Brush the top with a little milk and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar. Turn the oven up to 220 degrees C and bake it for fifteen minutes. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees and bake for a further half an hour, or until it’s nice and brown and crispy on top and sounds a bit hollow when you knock on it to find out who’s home.

Even the Moose likes it. Fortunately the others haven’t found it yet, so I was able to photograph the remains.


Christmas Earrings

I can see that there is a place in this world for battery operated earrings. Also earrings so cheaply made that they are actually designed to only last the couple of weeks until Christmas. But sometimes, you want something a little more classy to indicate that you’re not really Scrooge. Not all the time, anyway.

I’m putting these pictures up in a blatant attempt to sell some of them, or to give you some ideas if you’re an earring maker yourself. You’d think I’d go to the trouble of photographing them properly in this case, but I have a nasty cold and have to spend way too much time in the car ferrying around squabbling children rather than lying in bed while someone brings me mugs of ginger tea and applies cold compresses to my itching eyes to mess around with cameras and cables. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

These angels are a one off, because the Muffet pinched all my angel wings. If you’re friends with her, you’ll already have one. If you want this collector’s edition, it’s ten bucks.

Not strictly Christmas earrings, but whimsical enough for the season I rather think. These are also one offs (two offs?) as I haven’t any more teapot findings. I can remake them with different coloured tea, but if you want a rainbow of these you’ll have to wait until I do another order from the US. Fifteen dollars on base metal hooks.

Real pearl snowmen, with a Swarovski diamanté collar in silver or gold on sterling or goldfilled hooks. Twenty dollars. Aren’t they cute? Yes I realise that snowmen are inappropriate for an Australian Christmas, but don’t get me started.

I made a whole lot of these a couple of years ago and am a bit over them, so if you’d like them in a different colour you’ll have to bring me coffee as well as handing over twenty five dollars. They’re quite fiddly.


I’m very fond of this pattern. I made the black and gold ones to go with my necklace of last night, they have a tiny garnet centre which doesn’t show up in the photo. Both of these little stars are the same pattern, just with slightly different sized beads. I think these should also be twenty five dollars, just name your colours.

My Christmas earrings of choice. Fifty dollars, they take ages. These are night blue and gold and I’m making them in a whole lot of colours. They’re big, but they’re light and I love them the most. Definitely not just for Christmas time.

There are a couple of other patterns that I do involving dangling leaves in festive colours, but they may have to wait for another day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on dinner, bring in the washing, camouflage an oversized Christmas present, pick up the Moose from surfing and see if I can cough up a lung.

What am I going to wear?

Being the volunteer Treasurer for even a moderate sized not for profit organisation is often an invisible but very time consuming position. I’m a bit of an expert now on the super guarantee contribution for employers and what I don’t know about the Incorporation of Associations Act of 2009 really isn’t worth knowing. I’m also fairly familiar with all the ways an organisation such as ours can accept money and the ramifications and costs thereof, but where is any of that going to get me in my real life as a housewife? Nowhere at all, but you do occasionally get a very sweet perk like the one I’m going to tonight.

Tonight the University of Sydney farewells its beloved Chancellor, Marie Bashir, and I’m invited. Marie Bashir is an absolutely extraordinary, inspirational woman. Constantly cheerful, kind, really interested in the thousands of people she meets, funny, down to earth and possessed of boundless energy and enthusiasm. I’ve met her many times, but sadly each time I just stand there with my jaw hanging restfully down instead of engaging her in sparkling conversation. She’s the patron of our choir and has managed to come to all three of our concerts this year. She popped in the back door of our concert last weekend, startling our president who was waiting out the front for the big car with the flags and the aide de camp. She said “oh, I get sick of those aides hanging around all the time, so I thought I’d just drive myself”. The University is apparently having huge difficulty finding a replacement, but her husband has said he’d like to actually see her from time to time and not just on TV, so she’s agreed to slow it down a little.

I’m going to be leaving in about two hours, so no time to make any new jewellery. I’ve dug out of the wardrobe a black lacy Review dress that I pinched from my youngest sister some years ago and never returned. And I have just the necklace to go with it.

I actually made this for a charity auction at my daughter’s school, but then they annoyed me quite a lot, so I’ve kept it. I’ve made a few of these as commissions in different colours. It’s a pattern I found in a Bead and Button magazine a few years ago, it’s quite tricky to start, especially if you’re using a lot of colours, but once you’ve done a couple of points you can let your mind wander. It takes me weeks to make, but I haven’t made one in a while so I might have a look at what other of my formal outfits this pattern will go with. It’s really light and flexible, but it has a tendency to travel from the central if you turn your head a lot.

I really can’t wear the ankle brace. No amount of fur trim or jingle bells is going to make it any better, so I’ll have to wear flats and not trip over anything. Harder than it might sound, I’m relatively clumsy. I hope I don’t get punished by having to wear it for a few more weeks. Don’t tell my doctor!

Baked Rice Pudding

I was driving the rather reluctant Moose to his surfing lesson this morning through the wind and rain when I suddenly remembered that the loose objects rolling around in the back of the car were two cartons of milk. In my day young men learned to surf by stalking older surfers and watching grainy surf videos. You can buy anything these days. However. Milk.

Contrary to the opinion of my brother, milk doesn’t go off when left out of the fridge for more than ninety seconds. I remember travelling through Eastern Europe when there was still a Czechoslovakia and being amazed that the dairy goods in the supermarket (and it really wasn’t that super) were stacked in an irregular pyramid on the concrete floor. The milk in the back of my car had been given to me last night after a complicated series of events that I won’t bore you with, except that there was a lot of singing involved and not nearly enough wine, as we were all driving home. It was a cool night last night and the milk had been bought that day, so I was confident that it was still OK.

Not confident enough to let the kids put it on their cereal, I’d never hear the end of it if they contaminated their precious palates with off milk. Did you know that in France they let it go off, even in encourage it by leaving it on the heater, then call it fromage blanc and eat it with a long spoon and a honey biscuit? Travel certainly broadens the mind. What I needed today was a recipe that involved a lot of milk and that resulted in a product that would be soothing to a set of tonsils that had had a very rough weekend.

I was going to go with creamed rice, of which I am very fond, but didn’t have an hour to stand around stirring the stuff, what with transporting the Moose and having an appointment with some coppery highlights delivered by my very talented hairdresser who today had to wade through dogs AND children. The labour saving and slighter lighter version of creamed rice is the baked rice pudding, and this recipe comes from the 1970 Women’s Weekly cookbook.

Rub a stick of butter around a small casserole dish. Dump in half a cup of short or medium grain rice, a teaspoon of vanilla essence, three cups of milk and a quarter of a cup of either brown or white sugar. The version with brown sugar, which I went with, looks less appealing because it’s a bit brown, but I prefer the flavour. Stick it in the oven at 140 degrees for bit over an hour or until the skin on top is a caramel colour. Eat hot or cold or in between. It’s solid enough to slice, and not very sweet so it would be good with a fruit compote if you’re being fancy, or tinned apricots if you’re being retro. I’m eating it on its own, it’s very soothing to a throat that’s got to produce a whole lot of Christmas Carols tonight and a Gaudeamus Igitur tomorrow night.


Bounty balls

I feel like there’s a pirate joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let it go.  I’ve learned my lesson and am doing a test run of Bounty Balls before unleashing them on the general public.  I may also need to come up with a better name.

I really love it when people give me raw ingredients.  A friend of mine recently accidentally bought two and half kilos of shaved coconut rather than the five hundred grams she’d intended.  It could happen to anyone.  She was correct in assuming I’d be delighted to take some off her hands.  Earlier this week I was trying to convert some of it into desiccated coconut in my coffee grinder, now that the hand held blender has gone into the cleanup after it refused to be a substitute for a Thermomix. The result was useable on top of a raspberry slice, but it was more of a coconut meal than little shreds.  It also smelled gorgeous and I was keen to use it something else.  Combined with my recent chocolate mint experience, the obvious choice was to have a crack at the Bounty Bar.

How people found new recipes without an entire library of cookbooks or access to Google is beyond me.  Tons of trial and error, I’ll bet.  I was surprised not to find lots of Bounty recipes, I guess people are pretty happy with the commercially available version.  The one I decided on was on, but came with a warning that it hadn’t been tested and there weren’t any reviews.  It was also half in metric and half in ozzes.  It looked like it might possibly work though, so this morning I gave it a go.

Mix together 100 grams of desiccated coconut with 200 grams of condensed milk.  If you’re processing the coconut in a twenty year old coffee grinder, be aware it will only take 20 grams at a time.  It will smell very good, though.  It’s also not the best idea to wipe out the crumbs with your finger without turning it off at the wall, but I like to live dangerously.  Start mixing in 200 grams of icing sugar.  That will be quite wet, so you work more and more in until you have a fairly stiff dough.  It actually behaves like a flour dough, I think it probably took about 300 grams for this batch.  You can knead it and everything.  Interesting.

Pinch bits off to roll into little balls, put them on a tray lined with baking paper and whack them in the freezer for ten minutes.  Meanwhile melt 300 grams of good quality dark chocolate over a double boiler.  I used metal tongs to dip the coconut balls, more lenticular than spherical, really,  into the chocolate, then placed them on a tray lined with baking paper.  Not as fiddly as it sounds.


I have them in the fridge now, but the Horror snaffled one on the way.  He snarfed it down, choked quite a lot, had two glasses of water, then asked for another.  He’s not getting one, but be warned, you can’t just breathe them in, they should be savoured.  I hope they set nicely.  Might be safest to keep them in the fridge.  Hidden behind the pickles, so the Horror can’t find them.


Award Season

You psych yourself up for a lot of things when you become a parent, sleepless nights, attitude issues, everything being sticky all the time. But nothing can prepare you for award nights. Especially not private school ones.

The week starts off with that of the Muffet’s school, who has a Year 3 to Year 12 ceremony at the Opera House. At first I thought they were doing it to show off, but when we got there I realised that the sheer number of people involved meant the venues you could hold this kind of thing at were pretty limited.

Because we live in Sydney it takes us an hour to travel the eight kilometres to the Opera House by bus. Once there we pick seats up the back so we can have a refreshing doze before the speeches kick off. The Muffet deserts me to sit and giggle and whisper with Lindy Lu, a few rows back. Proceedings are opened by a very impressive pipes and drums performance, I love bagpipes and am devoutly glad they are not played by any of my children. The head of the foundation that administers the school hauls himself to his feet and spends twenty minutes telling the outgoing Year Twelve that it’d be rather good to be nice to people. He is followed by the headmaster, who does a very similar thing, only addressed to all the girls. He introduces the special guest speaker as “a Christian woman”, all the way from Chicago, who is studying the lives of women at the time of Christ. He doesn’t want us to labour under the impression that he’d invite an infidel to address our precious daughters, especially not an Australian one. She holds us spellbound with a learned dissertation on how difficult it is to tell whether Roman women sat on chairs or lay on the lounge when eating with their husbands. She seamlessly segues into a thirty second rap on how lucky those present are not to be shot in the head for going to school like that poor girl in Pakistan. The only bright moments in the whole shebang are the musical interludes by students that are quite terrific and the outgoing school captain’s speech which is essentially that you should try to be cheery and if you’ve worked really hard you should reward yourself with a Tim Tam. All the Muffet got out of this was that school captains eat Tim Tams. Would it kill the adults to throw in a few jokes?

The Horror’s awards morning is a lot more snappy. The headmaster speculates on who is going to win the book being run by the staff on how long his speech will be. The head of school, who has a voice like a sergeant major and a haircut to match astonishes the boys with a story about when he was little they only had a black and white TV that only his father was allowed to operate. He also massages his face quite a lot during the music which haas a pretty shaky start, but finishes strongly. It’s always risky to get a lot of little boys to sing a round.

We’ve just come home from the Moose’s evening. None of my kids have won prizes this year, so once again I can sit up the back and let my attention wander. This was at the Town Hall, and they may want to consider using the Opera House too, so they don’t need to crowbar parents into corners and alcoves in that crenellated building. Nice and squeezy. The adults once again make worthy speeches, but at least they’re not all smooth platitudes, and they get in a few laffs. I did appreciate the head of the school council, finding himself without the appropriate award to hand over to a community worthy, handing over his mobile phone instead, then rounding off with “well that’s it, I’m off”. The prize for dux of Year 7 was awarded in memory of a child in the nineteen forties who had been dux of Year 7 and dropped dead of heart failure shortly after. And we think we put our kids under too much pressure. I do wonder how the Year 11 prize for Altruism is decided, and how it differs from the Year 11 prize for Citizenship. I think about investing a prize for Year 7 boy who only Pulls his Finger Out Late in the Year, but it would be too late for the Moose. The music was really outstanding, they want to get these kids out on the street with a hat. Bring our fees down.

Now I have to work out what to do with the lot of them for the next two months. There’s only so much watching TV and eating ice cream that one can do.


Chicken Noodle Soup

If there has been roast chicken for dinner earlier in the week then my family know with a cosmic sense of inevitability that there will be chicken noodle soup being dished up to them before long. Sadly, they are the only children in the history of the universe not to like it. My husband and I love it, so yar boo sucks to them.

First you strip the chicken. If you haven’t witnessed that scene of Bill Bailey stripping a chicken in the BBC series Black Books, then close down this blog immediately and google Manny Stripping the Chicken. Wait five minutes for the convulsions to stop, then return to making soup. Make chicken stock from the bits left over as advised in this blog, oh, about a month ago. You can pause for a couple of days after this step, or carry straight on. Reserve about two cups of stock and freeze the rest in little baggies, if there is any left.

Place in a large saucepan sliced mushrooms, diced carrot, chopped cauliflower and the sliced off kernels of a cob of corn that you bought from Frank this morning that is so fresh it still has a caterpillar wandering around in it. Also a slice of butter and a squashed clove of garlic. I don’t put in onion or celery because I feel that there’s enough of that going on in the stock, but you can really put in any hard vegetables you like in here. I don’t see any point putting stuff like zucchini in, it’s mainly water and its delicate flavour disappears in a soup like this. Cook it up until the mushrooms start looking rather tasty. Add the stock and a whole lot of pasta. I put in dried fettuccine because it’s easy to pull out for my fussy kids, but I’d prefer to use a pasta of a similar size to the bits of vegetable in the soup. I’m really bad at estimating quantities of pasta, so your guess will be better than mine. Sometimes I put in a chunk of chorizo or salami for a bit of smokiness and pull it out before serving.

I cook it uncovered until the pasta is cooked because I like all the stock to be absorbed. If you prefer it more soupy then stick a lid on it. I then remove the chicken flavoured pasta for my overindulged children. I put in the bits of chicken and also some chopped up parsley and stir it in. Actually, I appear to have purchased coriander today, shopping while thinking of other things. I’m sure that will be just lovely. I did have parsley growing next to my accidental rosemary in the front yard, but it doesn’t have appeared to have survived the hot weekend, and there wasn’t enough to harvest anyway. Perhaps I should water my herbs.

Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan and a cheeky Chardonnay. Is there any other kind?



One the many things I don’t get about girls is the horse thing. The Muffet has loved them from birth. When she was five her cat got run over and before the body was even cold she said “well, I don’t have a pet now, how about a pony?”. We compromised with a dog, and Harry is now often my favourite member of the family. She still manages to get close to horses whenever she can, like today.

There’s what looks like a multimillion dollar slab of land across the road from Centennial Park which houses quite a lot of horse stables. You can’t really see it from the road, but once you’re inside it’s all chaff bags and sawdust and arenas and a whole lot of rough looking women wearing jodhpurs. Also, a whole lot of what look to me to be fairly depressed looking horses, I can’t imagine that living in a box for most of your life punctuated by being kicked by overexcited little girls could be much of a life. Still, presumably better than being made into glue.

It is one of these establishments that the Muffet frequents. They’re having a gymkhana in a couple of weeks, so she must brush up on her jumps. A gymkhana consists of a group of determined young ladies sitting on horses and making them do a whole lot of things they would rather not. Whomever is the bossiest wins. The Muffet was practicing being bossy today on a horse called Harley, and today he was the winner and she fell on her bottom. Hooray for Harley, I say, but she got back on the horse and was much lauded by her instructors for it.

It is better than watching TV, and it does get one out in the fresh air, and it can be good exercise, especially if you’re falling off a lot. Just don’t expect an intelligent response from me if you start going on about rein notches and bending and chain jumps. I’m just the chauffeur. And I don’t get horseys.