What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: June, 2013

Malted Oat Biscuits

I don’t want to be mean or anything, but the Thermomix is no good at creaming butter. There, I said it. Fortunately this is not one of those recipes that requires light fluffy butter, this is another lunch box filler because the cupboard is bare Yet Again.

The reason I’m using the Thermomix for this is because I’ve just made some butter, something that is becoming a weekly occurrence. Rather than wash the jug out, I just move on to making the biscuits, and I’ll follow that up with making raisin bread with the buttermilk. Such a housewifely morning I’m having, waiting for the StarTrak man to come and take away the remains of the epic party we had yesterday. I hope he comes before school pickup time.

Place in a bowl, or in the buttery jug of your Thermomix, 125 grams of butter and three quarters of a cup of sugar. Now you may recall me making a mental note to find out what rapadura was. I found out, and it’s tree huggers sugar. You gently squeeze the cane stalks, lay out the juice in hemp trays in the sun of the summer solstice, then crunch up the resulting solids and sell it to hippies who are convinced it’s much more healthy than evil imperialist white sugar. Anyway, I procured some and used it the first time I made these biscuits. Dear reader, it doesn’t cream with butter very well. You can’t always substitute it for sugar. But this biscuit is a fairly textural thing, so it’s OK, and it has a distinctive flavour that goes really well with the malt. The upshot is, I used half a cup of rapadura and a quarter or a cup of raw sugar. Also add an egg. Cream the lot together. The problem with doing it in the Thermomix is that the isn’t enough of it to use the butterfly, and it’s too dense to really mix up well. The blades make little tunnels in the mix, thus

It mixed it well enough to be going on with. Now add a cup and a quarter of plain flour, half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, half a cup of oats (I’m using the Honest to Goodness five grain mix) and half a cup of malted milk powder. That’ll cancel out the rapadura, the organic grains and the homemade butter. Actually, it doesn’t look too bad, it seems to be mainly powdered malt and powdered milk. I am still looking for a source of malt syrup, so one day this recipe will live up to my homemade ideals.

Mix it all up. If you’re using the Thermomix, remember to put it on reverse, otherwise you’ll chop up all your oats. Blob large pinches of it onto a lined baking tray. They’ll flatten out. Bake at 160 degrees for about twenty minutes, or until they start to go golden. It makes a solid, flavoursome, slightly crunchy biscuit. I should mention that the recipe came from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics 2 book, but as soon as i get the malt syrup sorted, she’s getting no further credit.


Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes

If you have a house full of thirteen and fourteen year old boys who’ve had very little sleep and have spent a lot more time outside than they normally would, they’re going to take a fair bit of breakfast to stop them eating the cat. You need buckwheat pancakes. And lots of them.

Those of us with a Thermomix can start with buckwheat. You can get buckwheat grain from Honest to Goodness. If I’d thought about it, I would have ground up the whole half kilo of buckwheat to start off with. You stick it in the jug and set to the highest speed and leave it for about thirty seconds. You’ll have to expect that the boys will be turning up the volume on their laptops so you won’t drown out the amusement of mychonny on YouTube. Decant the buckwheat flour out into a bowl.

To make one serving of pancakes, put in the Thermomix jug one cup of buckwheat flour, one cup of white flour, two tablespoons of raw sugar, one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, two teaspoons of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, one cup of buttermilk, one cup of milk and two eggs. Zap it on speed five for about twenty seconds. Peek in the lid to make sure it’s mixed. Meanwhile you have heated up your frying pan with a knob of homemade butter in it. Once the butter is bubbling you pour a circle of pancake batter into the pan. When bubbles appear on the top of the batter, flip the pancake.

That jug makes seven or eight large pancakes, which isn’t even going to stick their sides. You may want to consider having two frying pans going. It wasn’t until the third jug that the parents were able to sneak one. They’re thick and flavoursome pancake, a little brown from the buckwheat, but didn’t taste wholemeal or worthy or anything.

I put out maple syrup, honey, cinnamon sugar, butter, jam, lime wedges and a bowl of sugar to have with the pancakes. Who would have thought cats like sugar?

Perfect fuel for a morning of laser wars.

The Inner West Market Experience

I feel very left wing going to the markets. Nuts to you, big corporations, I’m cutting out the middle man! I don’t get to go very often, Orange Grove Markets are on Saturday mornings which generally coincides exactly with four or five sporting fixtures. Not this weekend, though, so once I’ve settled the tiler and his apprentice in, I’m away.

I am a bit fascinated by the stalls. I used to have a semi regular market stall myself, selling handmade jewellery, which usually did very poorly, but I had a wonderful time watching my fellow stall holders. At Orange Grove they are mostly food stalls. Lots of fruit and veg, all of which seem to be doing well. Some are organic and I’ve found the quality of their produce to be variable. There’s one stall I particularly like, run by a bunch of youngsters that look like they may share a commune, because their fruit and veg looks a lot like it hasn’t come from a factory and they have stuff you don’t see anywhere else. I got some pink baby carrots, some purple pears and some really tiny Fuji apples from them.

There are a few stalls selling dips and condiments that don’t seem to do very well. How many dips do you need in a week? Also, if I want a dip or a condiment I can make it myself, I may have mentioned that I have a Thermomix. The bread and baked good stalls do well. There are two smoked seafood operations, obviously a growing market. I never see anyone buying the tapioca desserts. The egg and bacon roll stall is ridiculously successful, with a line that snakes around the market.

The non food stalls have mixed success. I feel sorry for the silver and gemstones jewellery lady, there’s never anyone even stopping to look. She doesn’t have prices displayed, which puts me off. There’s also a lady with racks of what looks like hand made kids’ tunics, no ones stopping there either. The stall that looks like someone’s been through the dumpster at the back of a failing hardware shop attracts a steady stream of elderly men in hats, looking for the perfect pair of shop soiled secateurs. The hemp stall seems to do well. I’ve bought the hemp soap a few times, it’s very lovely but soft, it doesn’t last very long. I’m going to buy some when I have a new bathroom, whenever that may be. There was a vintage clothes stall there that I haven’t seen before. I bought a brocade jacket there because it was my colour, but a bit large around the waist. I could move the buttons, or take it in, it isn’t lined.

Muffet said “no offence, but that’s an old lady jacket”. Well then, no offence taken.

I’m actually there for the Honest to Goodness stall. I get the five grain mix for my porridge, on the advice of a friend, sultanas and currants for all the fruit loaf I’m making at the moment, and they don’t have ginger at the stall, only at their unappealing showroom. That’s a shame, I’ve got an ultra ginger loaf that I really want to make.

And this is the thing about the markets. It’s hard to do a regular shop there, you just don’t know what’s not going to be there. This is far outweighed by seeing what’s in season (silver beet and radishes at the moment), having access to extremely fresh produce, supporting small businesses and sticking it to the man. Can’t wait to go back.

Bathroom Progress

It’s not like it’s a complicated bathroom. It’s a straight rip out, reinstall stuff in exactly the same spot only new. Yes, we did discover that the floor waste wasn’t at the lowest point in the room and just emptied under the house anyway, and we did need to cut the giant architrave around the window to accommodate the shower screen. But why does it feel like this may be the first bathroom this team has ever done?

I get that there’s a lot of tradesmen involved. I’ve met Terry, Stu, Andrew, John, Sam and Alfio. I didn’t quite catch the names of the demolition team, but I think they were both called Scott. And Crystal, the site supervisor, has popped off for a week’s holiday, the slacker, so that doesn’t help. But I’m up to my fourth schedule version in this three week job. They’re not even bothering writing them down any more. At least today’s revision involved an acceleration.

I was expecting the carpenter, he was the one finally tasked to remove the window architrave after the demolition Scotts and the renderer passed on it. He actually arrived in the expected window between seven and seven thirty this morning. “Where’s the plumber?” he asked. What an excellent question. He was supposed to be here too, putting in the bath so the carpenter could build a frame around it. Fortunately he appeared while I was dropping off kids. “Where’s the bath waste?” he asked. It was a day for excellent questions. A text to Tony the bathroom supply chap brought it by express delivery half an hour too late. They managed to insert it anyway.

I was just stepping out of the house for a delightful lunch with friends when my mobile rang. It was Sam the tiler. “I’ll be there in half an hour” he said, not on Saturday as advertised. I put the keys in the tiny safe attached to the front door and advised him of the code. I arrived home to the distinctive smell of polymers cross linking. It’s been a while, so I can’t pick the exact chemicals, but I’m feeling like its an acrylate of some sort. I’ll have to check with the husband, he’s the one with the PhD in polymer chemistry. Anyway, he’s put a fan in front of the bathroom to help dry it and to push the pong out the denuded bathroom window. “Where’s the tiles?” he asked. I knew that one, out on the back verandah. “Ah yes, but where is the capping?” Cursing a little, I texted Tony again. “Where’s the capping tiles?” I texted. “And also, peeping into Chapter 2, is the vanity ready?”. Trying to preempt further snappy texts next week. It’ll be arriving tomorrow lunchtime. I wonder if it would have without any nifty phone work?

As I farewelled Sam, he paused to criticise the key safe. “Three digits no good”, he opined. “Any teenager, half an hour to get into it. Four digit much better.” I removed the keys from it immediately. That’ll show those teenagers.

I thought it prudent to close the dogs out of this bit of the house. I can just see them both up to their furry little ankles stuck in the waterproofing. I have enough going on without having to call in a dog extractor.

A Musical Interlude

There’s a lot of music going on in this house. And most of it isn’t the sit down the young man and don’t get up until I’ve heard an hour of Hanon type stuff, which is why I think it’s working.

Oh, I started off trying to do it that way. I am a believer in starting kids off on the piano so that they can get a feel for reading music, using both hands, having more than one thing happening at once. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to learn the piano, it’s a bit of a slog for a couple of years and that at an age when they’d rather be doing almost anything else, including cleaning their rooms. If you can stick that out, and I highly recommend using quite a lot of bribery, you’re away.

You then need to get them involved in group music, and that could be at school. At the first school my kids went to, there was just the choir. And there was only a choir because me, another mum and a passing piano teacher decided that there would be, none of the actual teachers thought they’d like to be involved. It was quite painful for me, as I don’t actually like children that much en masse, every rehearsal I was worried I’d end up tied up in a cupboard somewhere while the kids set fire to the hall. It did get quite a lot of kids performing music, though, so the aim was achieved.

It’s much at easier at the fancy private schools I ended up sending my kids to. You have to make an effort not to be involved in music at these places. Because I’d put in the slog and my kids could read music, they had no trouble picking up the clarinet, the flute and the bassoon in descending order. The Moose didn’t join the choir initially because he found the public school one almost as traumatic as I did, but by the time he’d reached high school he’d got over that. The other two joined immediately, plus every other ensemble on offer. The Moose didn’t really enjoy the clarinet either, even though it got him into the jazz band. He campaigned long and hard to be allowed to learn the drums. “When you’re in high school”, was my technique for putting him off. What do you know, eventually he did go to high school, despite my confident prediction that one of teachers would slaughter him by halfway through sixth grade, and I had to come good. Now he’s playing percussion in the jazz band and the intermediate wind orchestra and loving it quite a lot.

What I’ve discovered is that once you’ve given them that initial push and then encouraged them to look at what’s available, you then let them choose. Muffet has quit her choir because the singing at her high school seems to be run by a series of unimaginative old bats and it’s no fun, and I’m behind her all the way. What is fun at her school is the really excellent pipes and drums band that she’s had a couple of pops at. Initially she had a go at the drumsticks that have fluffy pompoms on them that you twirl and get tangled up behind your right ear if you’re the Muffet. That didn’t work out, so she took a breather for six months. Then she decided to learn the snare drum and, despite the agony of listening to her practise, I’m all for it. It could have been a lot worse, she could have chosen the bagpipes.

Between the three of them, they’re playing ten instruments if you count piano twice and percussion three times. I went to a middle school concert last Thursday, a RockFest last night and am attending a junior school concert tonight, which is why I’m eating a bowl of vegetable soup at half past four in the afternoon prior to picking up the Muffet from pipes and drums practise, inserting some sushi into her and taking her to the boys school so she can be a supportive sister and make many superior comments about the lax techniques of the flute and sax players.

I also had a rehearsal on Monday night and have a committee meeting for my own choir on Thursday night, because I love being involved in music myself. It does take a fair bit of parental commitment, and can be expensive if you’re going the private lesson route, but most choirs are cheap and a lot of school bands don’t require you to be having ongoing lessons. It’s probably good for some parts of their brain if you’re doing a cost benefit analysis, but the best bit is it keeps them off the streets, they hang out with kids older and younger than them, and they love it. If only I could persuade them to sing madrigals with me…

Extra Chocolatey Brownies. With Extra Chocolate

I was going to tell you an amusing story about my early morning encounter with a range of neighbourhood pets, but it was thirty six hours ago now and the immediacy is gone. It also reflects poorly on my housekeeping and anyway the swelling has started to subside. So instead I’ll be telling you about a new brownie recipe I tried on the weekend. It was very chocolatey.

There are so very many brownie recipes, not all of them very good, so once you have a tried and tested one that is fairly well received it’s hard to deviate from it. But I trust Tish Boyle, and I’d been waiting for a party or something to try her Double Chocolate Brownies out on because it looked so rich. This weekend there was such an event, there were two little nieces with birthdays this week, so a family gathering was called.

This is a walkover for the Thermomix, but if you don’t have one you could always mess about with double boilers and bowls and such. Melt together 150 grams of terrific chocolate (I’m using 70% Callebaut drops) with 180 grams of sweet butter. I’m not game yet to use my homemade butter on such a butter rich recipe, we’ll work our way up. I’ve used it in an oatmeal biscuit and it was completely acceptable. In the Thermomix you put the temperature on about 60 degrees and set it going for about four minutes on speed two. Or however long it takes to melt.

You then need to crack out your KitchenAid and slot in the whisk. If you’re doing the lot the Thermomix, scoop out the chocolate butter mix into a bowl, wash the jug and dry it. Stick in the butterfly. Beat together three eggs, a cup of caster sugar, a third of a cup of brown sugar and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Beat it oh so very much, you won’t be doing this with a fork. After some minutes it will be thick and light coloured and will form a ribbon dripping from the whisk when you lift the KitchenAid head. Pour in the chocolate mixture. For me it sank straight to the bottom, meaning that mixing it gently with the paddle had little to no effect. Use a wooden spoon. Add a cup of white flour and fold that gently in. Stir in 180 grams of chocolate bits, you could use the same brand as you melted earlier or something lighter. Scrape the lot into a lined nine inch square cake pan.

In theory you could bake it at 160 degrees Celsius for almost an hour, or until the skewer test says that it’s done. In practise you could put up with the Horror from Outer Space hopping up and down beside you saying “shouldn’t we go now shouldn’t we go now shouldn’t we go now we’re going to be late shouldn’t we…” for as long as you can stand, in my case about half an hour – my stamina has built up over the years, take it out of the oven half cooked and finish baking it at your sister’s place.

The what I recommend you don’t do is haul it out of the pan and immediately attempt to cut it up so that people can start eating it. It isn’t interested. It will sag and crumble. That didn’t stop about a third of it being eaten before it cooled down. Cool it completely, and maybe even wait a day. Then it will look like this.

It’s got a crunchy crust and a very rich and dense inside, but not wet or too fudgy. The high cocoa chocolate was perfect for this, it’s just gorgeous. You really could leave out the extra chocolate chips and bung in walnuts or nothing at all and it would still be a commanding presence in the brownie lexicon. However it’s no good for the schoolgirl figure at all. Perhaps if I ice my ankle some more I could go to the gym in the morning.