What does the last of the housewives do?

Month: October, 2013

A Trip to Tempe

We were actually going to IKEA. I hadn’t been to the big one at Tempe before. So when my good friend and neighbour requested my services as sidekick I was more than happy to oblige.

I don’t know that they’ve achieved anything over the smaller store at Rhodes. Acres of fairly cheap looking fabric. Much cardboard furniture that’s good for if no one will see it or you’ll only need it until you find somewhere permanent to live. The odd dozing boyfriend on a bed or lounge. Many shelves that will never attach to the plaster of my walls, composed as it is of sand and a century of paint, laid over diamond hard brick. An assortment of jars and containers I know from experience aren’t water, air or moth tight. I was uninspired.

I did pick up some cheap Christmas wrap and a set of biscuit cutters that will feature in a blog in the near future. And it was mildly entertaining. But it was what my friend, let’s call her Daniela, said next that made my day. “You know the Pepe Saya factory is in Tempe. Do you want to see if we can find it?”.

You know how I feel about Pepe Saya butter. It’s revolutionised my pastry making. As it’s expensive (not for what it is mind), I save it for best. You betcha I wanted to see if we could find it, even it wasn’t open to the public. I looked it up on Google maps. It appeared to be right next door to IKEA. A quick glance out of the car park showed that the shortcut would have involved scaling a set of quite fresh looking barbed wire fences. If only we’d bought one of those ten dollar throws that don’t appear to have any other use! But we must not repine. “Let’s go around the long way”, I suggested. “It’s just a block”.

Quite a large block, as it turned out. Down a little street lined by nondescript factories, skip bins and badly parked trucks on one side, tiny weatherboard houses from the past on the other. “Is it really down here?” asked Daniela. “It doesn’t look like anything and we’ve walked a really long way. We should have driven. Why didn’t we drive? Lucky I didn’t go to the gym today, I’d never have made it this far.” Down an even smaller street and right at the end was quite a tiny sign for a whole lot of gourmet dairy businesses. And Pepe Saya’s. Up a steep driveway littered with boxes and more apparently abandoned trucks and white vans and pallets and a forklift.

It was just a small glass door, behind which was a set of stairs. “Maybe it isn’t open to the public” I said. “I’m ringing them,” said the ever resourceful Daniela. As she pulled out her phone, the roller door opened to admit the forklift. A young man with very blue eyes started guiding it in. “Erm”, I said. “Do you sell to the public?” asked Daniela. “Of course, come on in, have a look around, there’s a fridge just behind there”, the young man said.

We wandered in. There was a fridge, as advised, looking like the sort of the thing the school canteen might have put in the cleanup. It had a couple of containers of creme fraiche, a pat or two of the familiar foil wrapped butter and not much else. We got chatting with the young man about dairy products and baking. He clearly knew his stuff, and I found out why when one of the forklift guys called out “hey, Pepe!”. Lucky I hadn’t realised who he was when we started chatting, otherwise I would have confined myself to “erm”.

We bought three containers of creme fraiche, a litre of buttermilk, Daniela got a pat of butter and I bought myself a two kilo wheel of butter. I’ve been feeling some baking coming on for quite some time and two kilos was the wholesale amount. It’s a beautiful thing too, lovingly shaped, wrapped in waxed paper, tied up with string and tightly sealed in cling wrap.

“You have to look after it” Pepe said. That didn’t involve reading it a bedtime story, as it turned out, just wrapping it up tightly every time you use it. “How far are you from home?” he asked. Daniela explained that we weren’t far, but we had undertaken the hazardous and windswept walk all the way from the IKEA car park. So he gave us a styrofoam box and lovingly loaded up his produce, tucking an ice pack in with it. We left him to look after his half tonne of freshly delivered fresh cream.

Having bought the bulk of the stuff, I gallantly offered to be the one to carry it back. I wasn’t met with any resistance.

Oh, do I have big plans for this stuff. Ice cream, fruit cake, shortbread, little tarts. I’ve started on the butter already, carefully wrapping it back up again so I can be worthy of it. It’s so FRESH! I don’t really like the taste of the cultured butter straight off a knife but because it’s so fresh the cultured flavour is only just a hint. That’s it, I’m going to have to go to Tempe every time I go through two kilos of butter. At the wholesale price and with Christmas coming up, that’s going to be quite often.


What to do with Marshmallows with Issues – Iced VoVo Slice

One of the many things we learned while camping is that marshmallows aren’t as robust as they look. We brought along a couple of jumbo sized packets to roast over the campfire, but only got through half a packet before the total fire ban overtook us. We carelessly tossed aside both the opened and unopened packets and discovered as we were packing up that the contents of both packets had coalesced into one giant, ungainly confection.

Waste not, want not. It looked to me like I was going to make Iced VoVo slice. I was a bit stymied by the children never having heard of an Iced VoVo, what with their organic home baked hemp swaddled upbringing. I explained that it was a biscuit topped with jam, marshmallow and coconut. “Sounds weird”, they said as one.

You know I’m not an easy person to deter. First to find a suitable base. I chose Tish Boyle’s sweet pastry crust, and it goes like this.
Place one and a third cups of flour and 125 grams of cold butter in the Thermomix or inferior simulacrum. She also suggests a third of a cup of white sugar, but this is going to be pretty sweet with the jam and marshmallow, so I only put in two tablespoons. Zap it until the mixture resemble breadcrumbs. Add two teaspoons of cold water and a large egg yolk and zap again. Press into a lined roasting pan and bake for twenty minutes, until just starting to brown.

What to do with the marshmallow? I think I had about 200 grams in the opened packet. I put it in the Thermomix.

I tried just chopping it, but that just made more mess. So I put the temperature up to fifty degrees, the speed up to ten and whipped it for an amount of time that escapes my memory. Five minutes? Possibly ten? I peeked in the top and stopped it when there was a light pink shiny thing going on in there, instead of multicoloured glop.

I spread the cooked slice base with the last of my first experiment with strawberry jam, the one that wasn’t sweet enough and was too acid. It has featured in a few normal jam slices, but this may be its finest hour. I squodged the warm marshmallow on top of that, it was cool enough to spread out with my fingers. There may have been a bit too much marshmallow, if there is such a thing. I then pressed a whole lot of desiccated coconut on top, I felt that it needed a lot for texture and flavour. It did sink in quite well.

You want to wait until it’s well and truly cold, maybe even refrigerated, before you cut it because that marshmallow is STICKY.

The hordes didn’t really like their first piece. Outside their experience. Five to ten minutes later they wanted another bit, just to make sure. And now it’s all gone and they’re clamouring for more. Lucky I’ve got a whole ‘nother packet of marshmallows with issues.

What I’ve learned about Camping. Part Two. Action.

Most people go camping to commune with nature, wander through the bush, live life in the slow lane. Not if you’re camping with my husband, though. He booked us into every activity Glenworth Valley had to offer. And here’s what I learned.

If you’re a middle aged woman going abseiling for the first time in a long time, the key is to stare at the top of your shoes, no lower. If you’re a small boy, you may need moral support.

If you’re a show off fourteen year old boy, you go down every which way.

Here’s how you remove a bush tick. You kill it first with some strong fluid, as it may be Aerogard Tropical Strength. You then grasp it firmly near the skin on your daughter’s neck an remove it with a firm twisting motion. That’s what Gosford Hospital told me, anyway.

I know diamond pythons are as common as belly buttons north of the Tropic of Capricorn. But they can also be found this far south.

There are about two hundred horses at Glenworth Valley, and I think the Muffet may have ridden or patted all of them. I learned that I really quite like riding. But my legs are entirely the wrong shape. It was a full twenty four hours before I could get them to cooperate again.

If you’re a very small boy, no relation to me, and you ride your tiny bike down a steep slope terminating in a ditch, like this,

you will, much to the horror of onlookers, go over the handlebars and break your bike clean in half. It turns out that one of the little boys in the audience wasn’t crying in sympathy, it was his bike. He was to be seen for the next two days forlornly wheeling the front half of his bike around like a pedal free unicycle. The young trick cyclist was essentially unharmed, you’ll be pleased to know.

The last thing I learned won’t be very surprising. It is that, after a hard day riding and abseiling and feeding people and washing up in a bucket, a glass of aged red served in a plastic cup under a sky full of stars, drunk while reclining on a grassy hillside somewhat dotted with horse pats, tastes mighty fine. Mighty fine.

What I’ve Learned about Camping. Part One. Setting Up.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t my fault we’ve never gone camping. It just that in such an active family we’ve never managed to find a weekend that was completely and totally free of sport. When a long weekend loomed that had been reserved for a family event that was subsequently postponed the time seemed right. Ho for Glenworth Valley.

There appear to be two types of campers. One lot are after a cheap holiday, so they bring along all the comforts of home. A giant tent with multiple annexes. A folding pergola. Tables and chairs. Gas barbecues. Many lights. Flock lined inflatable air beds with pockets so they don’t fling you off if you roll over too incautiously in the night. Their own toilet paper.

And there’s the likes of us who are after the nature experience. I didn’t want to commit to camping too much in case we didn’t like it, so we made do with what we had. We hired a four man tent from reception and brought along a two man tent my husband has grimly retained since childhood in the unwavering knowledge that he would eventually have a family that he would definitely take camping one day. I’m not even sure it’s real tent.

Yes, the banana yellow contraption. It wouldn’t sustain the onslaught of a swarm of monarch butterflies, so it was lucky there was no weather to speak of.

As it turned out, there was a third type camping at Glenworth Valley this weekend. “What’s Confest?” we asked our abseiling guide, Dean, after we’d passed the fourth sign for it. “Well, I don’t know what the C and the O stand for, but the N is for Nudist”, he explained. They were put in the most remote field available, but they still had to ignore utes full of gawkers on their way to abseiling, or kayakers, or the odd string of horse riders. It turns out the Confest is slightly more nuanced than that, but it was definitely a clothing optional event.

To the things I’ve learned. I’ve learned that a child can sleep quite comfortably on ground covered only by a doona, but an adult attempting the same feat becomes rather aware of their hips. A Thermarest or equivalent is the basic minimum requirement for a half decent night’ sleep. I wonder if a yoga mat would work?

I can light a fire.

My dear husband took one look at that and said “that’s never going to light”. What would he know. Nothing. In under five minutes that was a blazing inferno. But apparently I wouldn’t have earned the Scouts badge because I used three matches instead of one. Pfft.

One can make proper coffee camping.

It was more a proof of concept than anything else. We got that pot as a wedding present or something and it has rather languished at the back of the cupboard. I was certainly not going to be drinking instant even if we were going bush. It did work, the handle didn’t melt, but to took ages and was very very very strong. I thought getting a latte from the Glenworth Valley cafe was cheating.

An ablutions block is a marvelous thing to have available while camping. The one in our field was constructed of green powder coated corrugated iron, you pushed one button for a one minute warm shower and that’s really all you need. It was light and well constructed and had three hooks for your stuff and a soap dish and you couldn’t ask for a nicer fit out.

And finally a hammock is an excellent addition to any holiday. A few people brought their own, but we set up within easy reach of an existing one.

I’ll get on to the activities in my next post. Suffice to say they were many and varied.

Strawberry Meringues

I was put off attempting meringues after being kitchen hand to a friend as she made macarons. Man those things are fiddly. Age this, dry that, grind this up, measure the temperature of the other. Make a ganache. Write an anxious email to Adriano Zumbo about your feet. Where I was making my error was in assuming meringues are similar. They aren’t. Do you want the Women’s Weekly fail safe meringue recipe? Of course you do.

It really is just dump all the ingredients in the KitchenAid and let the whisk do its thing. No messing about with the thoroughly clean bowl or the order of ingredients. I’ve made them a few times now to much acclaim. Today, to the annoyance of my family, I decided to mess with them.

I blame ooh aah cooking. She put up a link to instructions for making strawberry dust. You’ll appreciate that the problem with adding flavours to many recipes is the fact that the flavours have to be relatively dry, otherwise they muck up the consistency. But if you can dry out strawberry! Or any other berry, or mango or pineapple or any of those flavoursome but damp fruits! Look out friand recipe. Here’s what you do.

You blend up half a kilo of strawberries. Or however much you have on hand. You spread the pulp over a couple of baking paper lined trays, thus.

You put them in the oven for many hours. The oven temperature should be below 100 degrees, just high enough for water vapour to be condensing on the glass of the oven door. Fifty degrees wasn’t high enough on my oven, I had to go to about seventy. What you end up with is this.

It’s quite dry and feels disturbingly like skin. I didn’t want to dry it out further in case it burned.

You let that cool and ignore your husband’s passing comment that it may be time to request some more hours at work. Blend it up in the blending device you happen to have to hand. It doesn’t quite go to dust.

Now make your fail safe meringue. Place in the KitchenAid bowl the whites of two eggs, one and a half cups of caster sugar, four tablespoons of boiling water, a teaspoon of cornflour, a teaspoon of white vinegar and half a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Whisk for quite some minutes, you can leave it whisking until it gets really solid.

At this point I added in a quarter of a cup of the strawberry not quite powder and whisked that in. Pop heaped teaspoons of the stuff on baking paper lined trays, or you could go all fancy and pipe them, they hold their shape well. Bake at 180 degrees for ten minutes, then drop the oven to about 120 degrees and let it go for another fifty minutes.

See, it has zingy little flecks of strawberry through it. I think they’re delicious. The Horror wants me to go back to plain ones , but he’ll help me out by eating these ones. I still have some strawberry particles left, but I have to go to work now. Additional strawberry awesomeness will have to wait.