What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: January, 2013

Blender Apple Muffins

I don’t have Thermomix envy. Well, actually, I really do, you may have guessed that by now. But a result of obsessing about that magic German machine has been getting the kids to buy me a blender for one tenth of the price of a Thermomix, and I’m determined to get an enormous amount of use from it. So far, I have been extremely successful. And yesterday I made muffins in it.

They’re still not the greatest apple muffins, but they’re an improvement on the Green Apple Muffins I posted a few months ago. I think they need more fat. And wheat germ. Half of them are gone already, so they can’t be too bad.

Place into your super dooper blender three small or two large green apples, cut into quarters and with the seeds chopped out. Don’t peel them. Add a quarter of a cup of oil, a tablespoon of sour cream, two thirds of a cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla essence, a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of mixed spice. Zap it. You may need to use the poking stick (supplied with blender), or to stop the blender a couple of times to move the fairly stiff mixture around. Add an egg, and this time just use the lowest setting to mix it in. Add in a cup and a half of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Again, just use the lowest setting to incorporate that flour. Get in there with a soup spoon and make sure it’s all mixed in. I’m using baking paper squares again to line the muffin tins. You do need to prod the paper down first before filling them up, they’re a bit more fiddly than muffin cups, but they do look good, and that’s one less thing for me to forget when I go to the shops.

Of course the one I take a photo of (aiding homework) is in the second last muffin cup, I had to use them up. It is hard to get an interesting shot of a muffin, there’s a certain sameness about them. I feel sorry for magazine food stylists. Perhaps next time I’ll put it up a tree or something. This mix makes the fairly annoying number of ten medium sized muffins. Something else to work on, a mix that makes an even dozen.



I have noticed in recent years there’s been a bit of a divergence in beauticians. There’s the traditional ones that stick you in a tiny room to do their thing and play dolphin music at you. There are the scary ones where everything is painted white and the ladies wear lab coats and they’re more than likely to do something to you that really should require a medical degree to administer. Then there are the ones that I go to. Usually in shopping centres, they consist of a large room full of massage chairs and manicure tables, the staff are Asian and I suspect pick a name tag out of a bucket when they check in in the morning. There’s also some rooms out the back where they’re happy to give you a vicious waxing, but their main business is fingers and toes.

I really like a pedicure at these places. I’ve tried a few, and I have a favourite, Channail at Burwood Westfield. The polish stays on for weeks and weeks without chipping, they’re unlikely to have at your feet with a razor without asking, and they chat to each other in Chinese which means that I don’t have to think of something to say to them. They also put your thongs on before applying the polish, a simple idea, yet surprisingly not universal.

I noticed a few things at my most recent visit. Almost no one gets red any more. When I first started getting my toenails painted, which was during my fecund years, everyone had a small variation on blood red. Those getting acrylic nails were almost all from the Mediterranean, and application required a tool that looked like an angle grinder.

These days everyone is getting gel nails. I keep my fingernails short, I can’t imagine wanting to glue on talons. What happens when you scratch your bum? You certainly wouldn’t be playing the piano with them. I use my fingernails as tools, my left thumbnail is particularly useful as a knife guard. No manicure for me. Also it involves getting the beautician a little too close, my feet are a comfortable distance away, there’s very little chance that anyone will breathe on me during a pedicure. Although a morbidly obese woman nearly sat on me after losing her balance stepping into her foot bath. It’s going to take me a couple of months to recover from that. Lucky Channail pedicures last so long.

Rustic Pistachio Friands

Yes, thanks, I did have a lovely long weekend. All I’ll say about it is that I appear to have acquired reverse seasickness, which can only be temporarily assuaged by spinning around like a whirling dervish. Some dive sites also recommend getting very drunk. It may come to that.

The beginning of the school year and the cupboard is, yet again, bare. I’m sure I left plenty of baked goods, but all that remains is some neglected fruit cake and a container lined with biscotti crumbs. The Horror puts in a request for pistachio friands. He had spent many months of solid nagging to get me to develop a recipe for these that he would find acceptable. Most recipes are just for plain friands with a couple of pistachios dumped on top, not even to be thought of. I managed to make some a couple of weeks ago, and he condescended to enjoy them very much. I even offered one to his piano teacher with his weekly cup of tea, but felt a curiously familiar xraying sensation pass over me as I handed over the plate. The Horror has inherited his father’s icy death stare! That boy needs to learn that he doesn’t get exclusive rights to any baked goods, no matter how much of a hand he had in the development of the recipe.

It was pretty simple in the end. I’ve just substituted a cup of ground pistachios for the cup of almond meal in the traditional recipe. I’ve been grinding nuts in an old coffee grinder we possibly got as a wedding present, and it does a pretty reasonable, if rustic, job.

So the recipe, if you want it, is really simple. You just mix together a cup of, in this case, pistachio meal, three quarters of a cup of flour, one and two thirds of a cup of icing sugar and a teaspoon of baking powder. Add 125 grams of melted butter and three eggs and mix well.

Except that I didn’t have any icing sugar, because someone at Coles today had my shopping list and had gone around before me taking everything I wanted off the shelves. I hate them so much. No, I won’t love Coles brand soft icing mixture instead, it’s probably made with the ground up souls of exploited farmers. So I gave my new blender an appraising look, and tipped in some caster sugar. I started it off slow, then cranked it up until there was a whirling snowstorm of sugar in there. Great, I won’t need to buy icing sugar any more. I should probably consider doing the nut meal in there too. What an excellent Christmas present that was.

Where were we? Oh yes, spoon the mixture into friand tins. That’s if you really want to thoroughly grease and flour them. I’ve been experimenting with using baking paper as muffin cases because I’m pretending to be an upmarket cafe, and they’re going to work well in friand tins because of the oval shape. So I take my baking paper and cut strips a third of the width across, if you see what I’m saying, then cut them off square. Yes, I should have taken a picture, but I’m in the middle of making dinner now, so use your imaginations. Poke the squares down into the friand shapes, then load them almost to the top with mixture, it doesn’t rise very much. I’m calling them rustic because of the consistency of the pistachio meal and because I’m using whole eggs. This is what they look like.

They look a lot more like real friands, with that rise in the middle with a little break in it, if you use finer meal and five egg whites instead of the three eggs. With the amount if friands we get through, I’m not bothering. These have a distinct murky green colour, a slightly chewy outside and a slightly heavy but recognisably friandy crumb. They’ve gone straight to the top of the Horror’s request list.

Monte Carlos

I have a delightful mother-in-law. No, really, I do. But she’s one of those self effacing women who doesn’t want to make a fuss, doesn’t express an opinion, says she likes everything and everybody, and feels it’s a little sinful to be sitting down when you could be tidying things up or making cups of tea. So when she incautiously let fall one day that she liked Monte Carlo biscuits, I was right on it.

I got this recipe from the Sydney Morning Herald a few months ago. It’s a filled coconut biscuit, which I generally find too fiddly to bother with, but I have had miraculously bestowed upon me a second hand Kitchen Aid and everything is different now.

Cream together 190 grams of butter with 125 grams of brown sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Beat in an egg. Slowly mix in 75 grams of dessicated coconut, 250 grams of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. I don’t have dessicated coconut, I have coconut flakes which I pulverise in a twenty year old electric coffee grinder. This is a very sticky, wet mixture, and I may try adding an extra 50 grams of flour next time. Place teaspoons of mixture on a baking paper lined tray and leave plenty of room for them to spread. Bake at 180 degrees for about ten minutes, you want them golden brown. Leave them to cool completely.

Cream together 75 grams of butter (Harmonie, not Pepe Saya, as it isn’t going to be cooked), 190 grams of icing sugar, two teaspoons of milk and half a teaspoon of vanilla essence. With the Kitchen Aid you don’t even need to sift the icing sugar, you just let it do its thing until the mix is all pale and creamy. No wrist action required.

Tip your cooled biscuits upside down. They’re fragile, and actually quite nice on their own. Expect to break some. Grab some jam, I’m using IXL plum jam because it’s easy to spread. Pair up your biscuits and spread the butter mix on one half and some jam on the other, then gently press them together. If you eat them on the day you make them, they’ll be crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. A few days later will see them quite soft, but still rather delicious. I actually prefer them aged. I always have some butter mix left over, because I don’t like to overdo the filling. I would suggest eating this with a spoon while supervising the kids in the pool.

I have seen my mother-in-law eat these, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know if she prefers them to ones out of a packet. Perhaps I’m over thinking it. They’re just biscuits.

The Corn Chip Experiment

I’m starting to sound like the Big Bang Theory. I like a theme. I found myself in possession of a packet of Mission Corn Tortillas with no takers, so today I thought I’d see into what I could transform them.

It all started because the Horror from Outer Space won’t eat sandwiches. Sometimes he’ll condescend to eat a roll if it’s fresh from the bakery, but only with nothing on it. He’s been going to basketball camp this week with only two whole cucumbers and a pistachio friand to sustain him, so I’ve been trying to find a way to get some additional unsweetened carbohydrate into him. I thought I’d try tortillas. He liked them in San Diego.

I should have known, I really should. If it’s a form of bread and has a use by date six months in the future it’s going to taste weird. I didn’t blame him for rejecting it. But I couldn’t throw them out, so I thought I’d turn them into corn chips.

There’s a thing I do with Lebanese bread that I thought I’d adapt for the occasion, I believe I mentioned yesterday that I don’t deep fry. If you take a round of Lebanese bread, brush it with melted butter, sprinkle it liberally with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chop it into chip shapes and bake it for five minutes you have a snack that is impossible to stop eating. These corn tortillas have a different texture to the flat breads, so I sprayed them with olive oil (you know, you can get it in an environmentally detrimental spray can) and tried three different toppings. Parmesan cheese, Cajun spice mix and plain salt.

The cheese ones didn’t crisp up. The other two did, but the plain salt ones get the kid vote. They quite liked the Cajun ones too, but they were a bit too bitey for them. The Horror is considering taking them to basketball camp tomorrow, but it isn’t a long term solution. The hunt continues.


The Brussels Sprouts Converter

I get that not everyone loves Brussels sprouts. I adore them in every way, but the way I’m cooking them tonight will definitely add to their tiny fan base. I have Porteños restaurant to thank for this version of Brussels sprouts, and I hope they don’t mind my alterations.

I also get that it isn’t sprout season, they’re best in spring, you can even chop up the baby ones and put them in a salad. As spring progresses they get larger and less appealing, and that’s when this recipe really comes in to its own. But I saw a packet of them in Harris Farm with the suck in a customer descriptors of Baby, Sweet and Crisp, and I fell for it. I very much doubt you’d want these woody specimens in your salad, but nothing can stand up to what I’m about to do to them.

At Porteños they start off by deep frying them. Well, we can’t have that, I don’t think I’ve ever deep fried anything. What are you supposed to do with the leftover oil? I oven roast them. Chop off the bases of your sprouts then cut them in half. If they’re large, cut them in quarters. Distribute them into a small roasting pan and drizzle olive oil over them with a slightly lighter hand than you’ve seen Jamie Oliver use in every episode of his TV show. Sprinkle them with salt, then shake the pan to share the oil around. I’m going through a slow roasting thing at the moment, these will take about an hour and a half at 150 degrees. You don’t want them burnt to a crisp, but nicely browned and on the verge of mushy.

They’re actually rather sensational just like this, with a rich nutty flavour. If you want to go completely overboard, you coat them with the special Porteños sauce, which can be found on the Gourmet Traveller website, and goes like this. Place in a small jar one hundred millilitres of olive oil, fifty millilitres of vincotto and a tablespoon of hot English mustard and shake like mad. Vincotto translates as cooked wine, I’ve seen it at most delis in the inner west. I’m not sure what you’d substitute if you couldn’t get it, possibly a mixture of honey and balsamic vinegar.

Porteños serve theirs with lentils and mint. I love lentils, but they do unladylike things to my digestive system, and all my mint burnt to death last Friday, the Hottest Day Ever. Suit yourself. This recipe also works an absolute treat with cauliflower.

The Great Aussie Barbeque

One of our favourite bits of our house is the large shady verandah out the back. It overlooks the pool, the miniature soccer field, is handy to the kitchen and outside bathroom, enjoys a gentle afternoon breeze. It is the perfect place for a barbeque. Sadly, our barbeque burned to the ground shortly before Christmas.

Well, not literally to the ground. It had been quietly falling to pieces for some time. Dear husband didn’t want it replaced until an identical one could be located. He’s averse to domestic upheaval.

I searched high and low, east and west, physical and Internet, but they just don’t make barbeques with wooden surrounds any more. They’re all shiny modern looking beasts, they don’t do Federation style in barbeques. Then one day, after a delightful lunch with friends, the back of the barbeque shot out a tongue of flame. More followed and judging it unwise to sacrifice our eyebrows to extinguishing attempts, we wheeled it into the middle of the verandah and let it do its thing. Fortunately it was the week before the cleanup, so after shedding a silent tear, out it went onto the council strip.

My resident hunter decided to go see for himself that no Federation style barbeques existed, and after a far less exhaustive search than mine, he dragged home a couple of boxes from Bunnings and positioned them artfully exactly where Old Faithful had stood for so many years, as if hopeful that the contents of the box would get the hint. I ignored it for a couple of days, but couldn’t resist its silent allure, so I got out my screwdrivers and a Stanley knife, gathered my helpers and set to work.

I won’t bore you with the details, except to mention that local mosquitoes find the scent of mosquito coils rather bracing. Also that I did plan to do the ten assembly steps in order, but I got to step 5 to discover that I’d done step 2 wrong, so I skipped to step 9 which looked easy to cheer myself up before heading back to step 2, then it was plain sailing from step 6 on. Except that I’m pretty sure that I have the front and back legs reversed and I definitely have four screws left over. And that I can understand the motive behind the black on black decor, but it does make assembly challenging if you’re attempting step 3 after dinner and a couple of ciders.

I like assembling things, especially when the instructions are in English. I think the key to putting together a flat pack is to assume that you’re going to put half of it together upside down and inside out and be prepared to sigh a little and unscrew everything and do it again once or twice more. Once you have factored into your plans you’re a lot less flappable. You should also not under any circumstances accept any help, you will inevitably not appreciate the thoughtful advice you’ll be given. I’m now ready for step 10, which is to call a plumber and have the Beast connected to the mains gas, we don’t do gas bottles. I’m going to go check the mailbox for magnets advertising plumbers, and then I’m going to go put a heat pack on my back. Perhaps I should have asked for help in step 4.


Lime slushies

There are many fine things about a hot day. You can get all your washing done, including doonas and school bags. You’ll be getting your money’s worth from the pool. And you can get some use out of your brand new blender.

Making homemade lime slushies takes a little preparation. First, you need to organise for your kids to get you a really excellent blender for Christmas. “Oh thanks kids, that’s EXACTLY what I wanted!”. Well, they benefit too, it’s not that bad. Then you need to make a lime syrup. Normally you can make a syrup for soft drink minutes before serving it, it doesn’t matter if it’s still hot because you can top it up with ice and soda and no one will notice. But to make a slushie you need the syrup to be cold, and if possible the glasses too.

So get hold of a whole lot of limes while they’re on special. Normally I’d juice citrus for a syrup, but these ones were tiny (that’s why they were cheap), so I went for a different approach. I roughly peeled the limes with a small knife and put them whole into the blender. There were about twelve of the little guys. I also put in an orange and a lemon, similarly treated, both to bulk it up and also because lime by itself is a pretty strong taste.

Meanwhile you have dissolved two cups of caster sugar in a cup of water over some heat in a saucepan. Balance a large wire sieve over the saucepan. Blend up the citrus in your super powerful blender. Don’t worry about deseeding or getting all the white bits off, you have a life to live, just blend it! Then tip the resulting mush into the sieve over the saucepan. You’ll need to squash it through with a spoon or your fingers. Having had a lot of experience with feline effluvium, I can tell you that what’s left in the sieve looks a lot like cat sick. Make sure you’ve squeezed as much liquid as you can be bothered getting out of it before tipping it into the compost. With any luck you’ve added about another cup of liquid to the syrup. Decant it into a jug and stick it in the fridge.

To make the slushie, tip about two cups of crushed ice into the blender and press the ice crush button. It’ll work with ice cubes too, but will need some poking with the plastic poking stick. My blender gives a result that looks a lot like snow. Fill up two glasses with this, drizzle syrup on top, then a bit more snow on top. Serve with a teaspoon to any damp little boys you have sitting in front of your TV playing Lego Lord of the Rings on the Wii while having a break from swimming. Assure the little friend that it doesn’t need to be bright green to be lime flavoured. Take orders for the next round of syrup flavours, I’ll be making cola next. Then raspberry, but with frozen raspberries, fresh ones are way too expensive for syrup. Interestingly, the kids love my cola syrup in ice block form, but not as a soda. We haven’t tried it in slushie form yet.


What I’ve learned this week

Well, it has been one of those character building weeks, and I’ve learned a thing or two too.
I know how much my family eats. We had to bring all of our own food, and we’ve come home with just a litre of milk and half a loaf of bread.
A swim in the early morning is a very fine thing. My husband said he’s never seen me in the water so much. We actually have a pool, I tend to avoid it because it’s usually full of kids. The last time I got in to our pool I was immediately hit in the head by a wet tennis ball. But I know it’s vacant first thing in the morning, I should really get out there these very fine mornings and start off with a swim.
Speaking of husband, he’s a pretty good navigator. I know he’s good at maps, because he always tells me so. But I was quite impressed at how he could look at what looked to me like a featureless bit of angophora laden hill and say “around that corner we’ll be coming in to Fishermans Bay”, and be quite correct each time.

My entire family farts upon waking. I’m not sure if it’s just before they wake or just after, but with the rising of the sun each morning came a cacophony of farts. Thank heavens for separate bedrooms at home. Of course, I’m sure I don’t.
The kids like to drink tea. I’m sure I’ve never seen them do it at home, but they were drinking bucket loads of it at sea. Maybe it’s because the tea bags were in full view. At home my husband generally only drinks at from a pot, and it’s quite a palaver to get it ready. Perhaps I should put a container of tea bags on the bench at home. Should kids be drinking tea?
Fishing is boring and/or gross. The bait smells horrible. If you actually catch a fish, then it’s stabbed through some vital part of its anatomy so even if you let it go, it’s scarred for life. But most of the time you’re standing in the blazing sun holding a stick looking like a pillock. Not me, though, I was up on the top deck under the canopy reading about double entry accounting. I know how to enjoy myself.
A thirty second shower can leave you feeling quite clean.
Eating in the open air in the evening breeze is delightful and that’s something else we should do more often. At home we have the added advantage that no cutlery is going to end up in the sea.

There were some things I already knew. My children are not soul mates, and I didn’t really expect that three days confined to close quarters would pass without enough friction to cause much shouting. I know that they won’t remember that bit, but I am quite glad they’re all off to different sporting camps next week, they need a break from each other.

I am looking forward to a long bath and a night of unbroken rest in my queen sized bed in which I am very unlikely to find myself suddenly jammed up against a plywood wall in the middle of the night. I will miss the sound of the wavelets against the boat and the sea breeze through the windows. Goodbye Roger the Ripples houseboat. We have some great memories of you.


A life on the Ocean Wave

We had lunch at Berowra Waters Inn.

When I say at, I mean moored outside. They’re closed on Wednesdays. And as if we’d go in there with the Horror, even if we were having a pink fit.

I started the morning with a swim to a tiny beach near where we were moored for the night, in Refuge Bay. As I stepped on to the sand, narrowly avoiding a tiny stingray, I thought about the first white settlers to Australia. They would have stepped on to a little beach like this, looking up a steep scrubby slope covered in completely unfamiliar plants, no grass, no animals, no fruit or flowers. All the pink stemmed trees twisted into fantastic shapes, the scream of cicadas in the air and the mad cackle of kookaburras. They would have felt so very far from home.

Anyway, swimming is terrific from a houseboat. You can just dangle your feet, dip in, find different spots to jump from the boat, or swim to shore to explore. “Look out, Mummy’s making a bid for freedom!” my husband shouted.

Of course I wasn’t, I knew they could run me down.

I’ve rather liked the challenge of bringing all our own food. We had sausages on the barbeque the first night. Chicken nuggets that I’d made last week and frozen, these looked like a bag full of damp sawdust when defrosted, but barbecued up nicely. I even managed mashed potatoes to go with, it isn’t too hard to mash them with a fork. I’m finding that my ankles are being gnawed on, so I’d better start preparing deconstructed sushi for tonight’s dinner pretty smartly. All this open air makes one EXTREMELY hungry.

So overall, this has been rather fun. I’d even consider doing it again, although possibly with a slightly bigger boat and someone else’s children.