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Furano Wrap Up

We’ve had the full Japanese family skiing holiday experience. And it was different from the Australian experience in a number of key areas.

First, the resort. There was no drying area – you just brush the snow from your equipment and clothing as you come in and bung it in your ski locker – one per room. There was no roaring log fire, that was sad. There was really no common area, there were a couple of chairs and a dilapidated lounge near reception where the wifi was, and the kids spent a bit of time there. It wasn’t really clear where the normal families were hanging out.

  
There was a gift shop which was a constant source of amazement to me. I couldn’t get enough of it. Every time I went in there there was stuff that I hadn’t noticed before and couldn’t quite believe. There was a bit of a hint as to what some families were doing for lunch, a small selection of freeze dried just add boiling water to the bowl meals. There were the local Hokkaido specialties of lavender, rockmelon and potatoes in many forms. Lavender soap (which is currently perfuming my bag).But also lavender chocolate. Dried rockmelon, also rockmelon chocolate, rockmelon caramel, little charms on strings in the shape of a rockmelon with an inexplicable bear’s head sticking out of it. Huge gift boxes of potato chips, some of which were chocolate coated.

  
I accidentally bought some beef flavoured caramel.

They made a bit of an attempt to speak English, but everything was so well organised and clear that it really wasn’t necessary. And sometimes the attempts weren’t terribly helpful.

  

  
And, of course, the snow. It was dry and there was a lot of it. So very very much of it.

 
That was just one part of the first lift. The runs were so long you’d be thinking “are we there yet?”. The snow was so powdery that you’d see parents digging their kids out of the snow at the side of the run, only the tops of their helmets visible. I had a fall as I went around a chunk of mountain and found myself unexpectedly upside down, helmet in the snow.
We stopped every day for morning tea and thawing out at a little unmanned hut which would be undoubtedly vandalised out of existence in Australia.

  
It was warm, had toilets and the ubiquitous drink vending machines. Lunch was at the gondola station, we abandoned New Furano on the other side of the mountain as being a bit too adventurous and it was also only accessed by a lift that the Moose dubbed the Rigor Mortis. I’m sure that the shovel by the side of the lifty on the other side was for prising the frozen corpses out of the lift and hoiking them into the woods. It was very scenic though. Because we’re creatures of habit we always had the same thing for lunch, and we discovered how to say it in Japanese. Jun-ya Ra-men. Junior ramen. You poked your money into a machine and chose your meal from the buttons, no chance to ask for no pork or gluten free. Lucky that we love ramen. You’d get a numbered ticket that you give to the nice ladies at the other end of the room and in due course your number would be read out, they’d mark on the ticket if the number was to be read out in English.

  

It did snow on us every single day except for the first and the morning of the last day, but it wasn’t like the kind of snow you get at Charlotte’s Pass, ie a raging blizzard. It was fairy tale snow that gently drifted down to turn you into a snowman on the chairlift and never ever melted down your neck. It reduce the visibility a little and was a little surprising when a flake got sucked up your nose when you were zipping through the forest, but certainly not anything to be concerned about. -10 degrees was certainly a littler colder than we were used to, but we got the hang of under gloves and scarves and stopping regularly to check that we still had all of our toes.

And, of course, the black runs are different. Not that I’d know from personal experience, but apparently in Australia they are very steep and studded with ice and rocks. Here they are very steep and absolutely full of powder, making it very easy to  lose your skis and do an accidental full somersault if you’re sixteen, resulting in a rousing cheer from watching snowboarders, or lose your skis and pop a calf muscle if you’re somewhat older, resulting in a couple of days of rest, ice, and elevation. Yes, that is supposed to include compression, but the resort first aid kit consisted of some gauze, band aids, antiseptic, and a heart defibrillator and nothing in between.

I do wonder what the experience would have been like in Niseko, where they are a bit more accommodating to Australian tastes, but I would thoroughly recommend the Furano experience. The husband doesn’t though, even though he managed to find a compression thing at the airport at Sapporo, but I think he’s just taking it a little too personally. Maybe I could persuade him to stay at New Furano next time, where they have a chairlift with a hood that stays open until 7.30pm. Not that I want to accept that challenge…

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White Christmas Eve

I’m very sorry, Australian ski fields, we had a lot of fun over the last thirty years, but now I realise that you suck and I never want to see you again. Nothing personal.

We’re staying at the Old Furano hotel, along with about five other families and a school group. The day started, as it often does on holidays, with a buffet breakfast. The husband is having a bit of difficulty with breakfast, he’s perfectly happy to fall in with local cultural norms at other meals, just not breakfast. Yesterday at the airport he was hunting for toast of any description. “Well, I found some”, he admitted mournfully. “But it had icecream on it”. This hotel caters for Western tastes by supplying toast, also other Western breakfast fare such as yoghurt, cereal, tinned fruit, scrambled eggs, broccoli, chips and honey and lemon jelly cubes. “If they serve chips at breakfast”, observed the Moose, “you don’t want to hurt their feelings by not eating them”.

Skied out to the first chairlift of the sparkling morning to find that we had the place to ourselves. There was a chairlift, followed by another chairlift which were the only two available at the resort, but what a revelation Japanese skiing was. Crisp, dry snow, very wide tracks, no ice, no rocks, massively long trails and ridiculously scenic. Also, no wind on the chairlifts.  This is the only photo you’ll get, this hotel will only supply wifi if you stand in a certain position in the lobby.

 

It was all green runs on this side of the mountain, perfect for getting our ski legs that haven’t been utilised for several years. Pretty soon though, the chairlift to the other side of the mountain, New Furano, beckoned and we discovered even more green and light blue runs, wide, sparsely populated and incredibly forgiving. The kids only stacked if they were trying something crazy, and I didn’t stack at all because the last time I did it resulted in crutches, much physio and surgery.
I know a whole lot of carry on about how awesome Japanese skiing is can get tedious, so I’ll tell you about lunch. We popped in to a place called Ramen Corner. It served ramen soup.  Six minor variations on pork with ramen.  There was a note clearly intended for fussy Westerners, stating that here were the seven most common food allergens and they could all be found in this soup, so if you were allergic then you could eat it and die, or push off somewhere else. Or words to that effect. It was delicious.

After lunch we delivered the younger two back to the hotel while we larger types continued with the skiing on the New Furano side. Due to a minor misinterpretation of the map, come on, it was mainly in Japanese, we got stuck on this side after the main gondola shut down at three o’clock.  Nothing for it but to continue skiing until the bus back to our side came along in another hour, which meant that we got to see the almost full moon rise (at four o’clock) over the distant mountains on Christmas Eve, which could be the most amazing view I’ve ever seen

I haven’t done as much exercise as I would have liked to this past few months, so the thighs were starting to send up protests shortly after lunch. This meant that they were in full revolt by the time we got back to the hotel, and you know that only such a circumstance would leave me to even consider the public bath. We do have a bath in our room. It is triangular in shape, approximately sixty centimetres wide at the back, coming to a point after maybe a metre in length. The Moose said he tried bathing in it and when he sat down all the water leapt out and he had to put his legs out the window.  So I read the instructions in our room on the bath. I knew already that you wear the supplied cotton dressing gown and plastic slippers down there, and you bring your towel.  The instructions were very clear that no swimming costumes would be accepted.  I crossed my fingers and traipsed down there with my creaking knees. There were some Japanese women in the anteroom who had clearly already bathed and were fully clothed and drying their hair at the rather fancily equipped dressing tables with full length mirrors and dryers and various unguents.  They gestured vigorously at me to for heavens sakes take your shoes off and put them over there. I complied immediately and ventured into the bathroom. Hurrah!! I had it to myself. There were little cubicles were you took a seated shower first, rather unnervingly fitted with another full length mirror. Once cleansed I entered the bath, which was hot and soothing, had jets for the back massage and was about five meters long, so I did a couple of laps, then stretched all of the bits of the aging body that had joined in the protest started by my quads. It was so nice in there that I might take my regular showers down there instead of in our bathroom in which you could barely bend over to pick up a cat, never mind swing one.  And there’s the added bonus of no elderly Turkish woman lurking about who could leap out and start washing your hair at any moment.

Ps, posting this the following morning and it’s Snowing On Christmas Morning! Squee!

Walking with Ghosts – Pompeii

Vesuvius blew its top on the 24th August 79AD, burying the nearby town of Pompeii in nearly three metres of ash and pumice stone over the course of three days. Six feet of ash arrived on the first day, landing in the streets, getting pushed into the houses, burning hot. Some people ran for it after the first explosion, but some hid in their houses, covering their faces to avoid suffocation.

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Pliny the Younger was an eyewitness, and wrote to his friend Tacitus that the plume erupting from Vesuvius looking like an umbrella pine. And here’s a picture of such a tree.

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We had such a great experience with Monika Iris that we booked her friend Nicola to take us on a tour of Pompeii. He doesn’t appear to have a website, get in touch with me if you’d like a really well informed guide to the ruins who is good with kids. Because Pompeii is big and not terribly well signposted. You can stumble around with a guidebook, but it was so much better to have all of the details pointed out to us. Like the oldest of the stone, from the time of the Etruscans. And when the streets were put down they slope a little to one side and ran down the hill to carry away the city’s waste in the rain (before the Romans arrived and put in a sewage system). Having the waste in the streets meant that you’d get your sandals rather soiled if you crossed the street, so they put in pedestrian crossings.

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There were grooves in the cobbled streets to accommodate the carts. The Romans were big fans of standardisation, cart wheels were about one hundred and thirty centimetres apart, as are these grooves.

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And that, boys and girls, is the width eventually used for the first railway gauges, but possibly for the more mundane reason that most cart wheels were this far apart all over the world to accommodate a draught horse. Nicola also pointed out what looked like random stones to the side of streets which were actually used to mount your horse in case you weren’t one of those athletic types that ran out of your domus and leapt upon the beast’s back.

The husband and the Horror loved the theatres, the forum and the amphitheatres, the big open public spaces. The bathhouse was particularly impressive, having a stone roof it was well preserved when the ash came, filling up the space and supporting the roof rather than burning it away in the case of the wooden roofs. The Muffet loved the stray dogs.

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What particularly touched me, and the Moose as it turns out, was a rich man’s villa. There was the huge entrance hall, with the mosaic floor and the frescoed walls. There were the marble legs of a table further back in the hall.

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The table legs had the name of the original owner on them. He was one of the chaps that had a turn at stabbing Julius Caesar, he was subsequently exiled and all of his possessions put up for sale in Rome. It is assumed that this wealthy Pompeii merchant bought the table in that sale. His house was beautiful, with private quarters that included a garden, which has been recreated from the marks in the ground preserved by the ash, and his own set of hot and cold baths. There was a view from the back of his property across his own vineyard.

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It’s a bit misty, but if you look hard you can see that he had a view of his own personal Mount Doom. As it turned out, he wasn’t burned and suffocated by the ash. He was killed when the weight of the ash broke his roof upon him. Here he still lies.

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The history is right there, it’s all around you in a way that a museum can never convey. There were a whole lot of takeaway shops, with the kind of marble counter I’d rather like in my kitchen. I bet you didn’t have to be careful with this tabletop.

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Most counters had holes in them in which were mounted terracotta vessels full of food and drink. We could even see a marble cash register, underneath this set of holes was a vessel containing small change.

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Not all of the site has been excavated, Italy’s architects and conservators are flat out keeping up with what they’ve uncovered already. Most of the valuable stuff has been taken to the archaelogical museum in Napoli, and fair enough, there’s very little security at the site, you could even touch the frescoes if you were very crass. Here’s an edge of the excavation, the hillside is the actual ash from the eruption.

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There was an earthquake in the region seventeen years before the eruption and you could see meticulous repairs to the cracks this produced in the walls.

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Some people can’t take a hint.

So thanks, Nicola, for guiding us at this amazing site and for explaining to the Moose what laurel was used for.

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Personally, I’d put it in the chicken soup. But that will have to wait until I get home.

Berlin – Still Under Construction

I haven’t got the hang of Berlin. All of the other cities we’ve been to you just hightail it to the Altstadt, visit the main church, the new town hall and the old town hall, various museums and the Christmas markets and you’re done.

Berlin doesn’t appear to have a centre. Sure, there’s the Brandenburg Gate, but that’s blocked off for New Year’s Eve, or Silvester as it’s charmingly known in these parts. There’s a giant park adjacent to that (the Tiergarten) with many bits walled off ditto, including the gravesite of 2000 Russian soldiers. I did spot a monument to three great composers in there, Hayden, Mozart and Beethoven.

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Of course Haydn and Mozart were Austrian, but borders were more fluid back when the monument was originally built, and maybe they had an Australia New Zealand thing going on. It started a theme for Berlin. This monument had the krapfen blown out of it during the war and is a reconstruction.

The Reichstag was burnt to a hollow shell during the 1930s, then had the krapfen blown out of it during the war, but has been completely reconstructed and we toured the dome at the top. Very much worth a look, even just for the pictures of the history of the building.

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It’s a bit difficult to walk around Berlin, not just because of not having a centre and Silvester, but they’re also building some new train stations in the middle of town (are you listening, Barry O’Farrell?), plus despite it being such a long time after the war they’re still painstakingly rebuilding some of the buildings destroyed then. Some cities would say, oh bugger it, let’s just start again. To a certain extent this has been done, and Berlin is rightly proud of its modern architecture. But they’re very aware of being a city that’s over seven hundred years old and they’d quite like to look like that.

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It’s got a slightly more dangerous feeling to it than other cities we’ve visited. The first morning my dear husband stopped to read his map right next a group of skinheads. I had to restrain myself from asking “which one of you bitches wants to dance?”. There’s a lot more English on signs. There are more baristas in coffee shops, as opposed to push button coffee machines (erk). The public transport is excellent, not just for the connections, cleanliness (Gladys Berejiklian) and ease of use, but the decorations in the stations. Here you go Kev. Working and everything.

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It has the second biggest department store in the world, the KaDeWe, where we (except for the bored husband) indulged in some excellent German pens. We also had a snack at the food hall, which was David Jones on all kinds of drugs.

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We also stopped at a Christmas market that wasn’t selling the usual decorations and glüwein, it was all handmade stuff. Look at these leather pouches that we got, allegedly made by the stallkeepers mum.

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It also has about a gajillion museums containing all kinds of stuff “acquired” during colonial times, one of which we peeked into today for a dose of gobsmackingness. We also surprised the kids with the museum of computer games.

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They had my entire computing history. The TRS 80, the text only adventure game Zork, the Apple II (signed by Steve Wozniak!), the first Mac. Remember Bard’s Tale Kev? I beat the Moose at Asteroids on an Atari. Ahh, the memories. We’ll go to another proper museum tomorrow.

We attempted to do a bit of the Wall, but that thing is over sixty kilometres long. It is commemorated by a cobblestone track which disappears a lot under construction zones, but we followed it along the river a bit and saw some very sad memorials to the people shot trying to cross it. We’ll go to Checkpoint Charlie tomorrow for the full experience.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Chilli Garlic Prawns – Kind of in the Thermomix

The joy of having a good friend and neighbour take you shopping because you’re on crutches is that you see products you’ve never considered before. I knew that the prawns you see at the fishmongers are all defrosted because the little so and sos are frozen as soon as they’re caught. I’m not sure if they’re also peeled at that point, but I’ll try not to think about it too hard. So it makes sense to buy a kilo bag of frozen prawns and have them on hand whenever you feel like making chilli prawns.

I don’t know about you, but I often burn the garlic. Not any more! With a Thermomix you put your flavours in the jug, so

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In this case four cloves of garlic, three chillies from the garden, a couple of bunches of tired coriander and a slice of butter. I’m still experimenting with chop first, cook later or contrariwise. I tried cook first, chop later and I don’t think it’s quite right. I cooked it for two minutes at 100 degrees on speed three, then chopped it and got a lovely decoration of the jug walls.

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The kit comes with a very well designed spatula, so I scraped down the walls and chopped a couple more times, and it all seemed OK. I added six of Frank’s locally grown tomatoes and cooked at 100 degrees on speed two for ten minutes, then added a pinch of salt and chopped to make a very fragrant sauce.

What you can then do is tip the sauce out, half fill the jug with water and cook the rice in the steam basket while cooking the prawns and bok choy on the Varona above the rice, then assemble at the end. I’m not going to do this. I have my prawns defrosting in the wok and have tipped the sauce over them.

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The hungry husband isn’t due home from the Jedi’s soccer training until about ten minutes after seven thirty. So at about seven twenty five I will half fill the still saucy jug with water and cook the rice in the steamer basket for fourteen minutes. Meanwhile I will be stir frying the prawns in the sauce with chopped bok choy just for a couple of minutes and the sauce will reduce down a bit and flavour the prawns. Sometimes I stir the rice in so it absorbs the sauce, but it looks better served on top of the rice, so that’s what I’ll do tonight.

I might add another chilli. Of course, that will require it to be served with a cheeky Chardonnay, but it can’t be helped.

Thermomix – the Preliminary Review

There’s a lot of Thermocurious people out there. Wanting to know how I’m using my Thermomix. Is it any good? What does it actually do? And what they’re really asking is, if I bought one, would I use it?

It’s a tough question, and there are no right answers. I will let you know what my experience over a bit over a week of using the thing.

Firstly there’s a bit of a learning curve. You have to be prepared to have a go at things and be surprised at the results. You have to look at some of the pedestrian recipes in the accompanying cookbook and try out bits of them. Fairly soon you’ll get to know how long to cook things for, what speed to chop things on and what things you’d really rather do in the frying pan. Everybody will use it differently, but here’s what I’ve been up to with it.

It is a much better blender than the one that is currently brushing the sand off its towel and returning to me under warranty from Kitchenware Direct. That blender will be relegated to the job of milk shakes and slushies and I’m sure it will last a lot longer than two months this time. The Thermomix jug has a flat bottom and a wide and vicious looking blade that sweeps the bottom of the jug. It will pulverise a single clove of garlic (don’t do it on the highest speed or it will just fling it out the hole in the lid if you’ve neglected to put the little cover on). It will also deal with being filled up to the lid even with hard (chopped) vegetables or frozen fruit. It will create a very fine nut meal. You can make flour with it out of whatever grain you like. It does a great job of chopping Parmesan cheese into sprinklable particles. I have continued making frozen fruit iceblocks for the kids as I was in my holidaying blender and the kids report a much finer texture, not that they were complaining in the first place. In its blender capacity I have made almond meal, icing sugar, hazelnut meal, rice flour, salmon patties, tomato salsa, bread crumbs. It doesn’t automatically reduce everything to dust, there are a range of speeds. I’ve also kneaded a spelt bread dough with it, it has an interval setting. You can just set it for two minutes and every couple of seconds the dough will get a beating. I’m going to have to play with making bread in it quite a bit more, I feel. I’m also planning to make mayonnaise in it for a coleslaw, two things I’ve never made before.

The heating bit takes a bit more getting used to. I’ve got the sautéing onion and garlic in it down pretty well, you only have to cut the onion in half which is a bonus. It’s ideal for something like refried beans which I’ve just made for dinner tonight. You chop and cook the onion for two minutes. Add garlic and spices for another minute. Add the beans and a third of a cup of juice you drained off the tomato salsa you prepared earlier and cook for another fifteen minutes. Turn up the blender speed and it’s done. All in the one jug, just by pressing a few buttons. I’ve tried cooking rice in it, and that’s a keeper, as is steaming fish, but I’ll be doing mashed potatoes and pasta the conventional way.

One of the big things for a lot of people, including me, is how easy is it to clean? Very easy indeed. Most of the time I just wash it quickly in the sink with a squirt of detergent, hot water and the scrubbing brush that came with it. Or the squirt of detergent, the hot water, and set it on the machine (with lid on) and give a few bursts of the blender. It’s stainless steel, so doesn’t retain smells. It disassembles very easily indeed and goes in the dishwasher too, just make sure the electrical bit at the bottom is dry before putting it back on the machine.

There seems to be a big market for the Thermomix in the allergy and food intolerance communities because it does make it very easy to make things from scratch. If you are someone who makes things from scratch a lot, and I am, you will use it every day, which I think would make it worth while. You do need to make sure you use it for everything you possibly can for the first couple of weeks to get over your learning curve, I’m only just starting to think “that’d be easy to make in the Thermomix” rather than “am I going to be able to do that in the Thermomix, or am I just going to make a big mess?”.

The best thing to do is to go to a party, better still to go to more than one, by different demonstrators. There isn’t hard sell at the parties, they realise it’s an expensive piece of kit and you’re unlikely to impulse buy one. From the amount of interest I’ve had, I’m thinking of having two parties next term. You get lunch and everything. Enough blathering from me for the moment. I will keep blogging about stuff I’ve made in the Thermomix a couple of times a week, then gradually the novelty will wear off as it gets fully incorporated into my cooking. I do love a gadget, so how could you go wrong with a thoughtfully built multipurpose one like this?

A spot of Knitting

The Muffet has a school requirement that at the end of Lent she hand in to her school two knitted squares. These are known as Dorcas squares for some biblical reason and apparently will be sewn into a larger blanket that will be sent to a hot country with no need for extra heating and possibly set fire to. I have taken a short and non representative survey of girls in year seven, and apparently all squares submitted have been actually knitted by an older female relative, rather than the year seven girl. Of course I knitted the Muffet’s contribution, on condition that she actually attempt one herself. She did, but her ability to drop tens of stitches at a time made her effort a little bit too well ventilated for practical purposes. I should start her on her squares for next year now.

To encourage her to knit I went to one of the few remaining haberdashery shops in Sydney, in Turramurra actually, to buy some beautiful wool for her. I normally buy my wool at craft shows, at which this shop exhibits, but there wasn’t a lot of choice at the last show I went to. So now I have a stash or rather lovely wool, a merino/silk mix and an alpaca, and I wanted to knit something with it. I have enough scarves, it was time to try something a bit more adventurous.

The advantages of knitting a headband are numerous. It’s just a strip of knitting, so is fairly quick. You can try something a bit fancy without having to commit to a full garment. And one always needs headbands to keep one’s curly hair off one’s glasses.

I’m still too scared to try cable knitting, but I liked the look of Trinity Stitch. I knocked one up with purple wool and look, you can see where Jane rang me up to ask advice on pony camps.

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There, up near the top of the needle. Yes, that is a nut at the top of the needle, the dog chewed off the end when he was going through that stage last year.

It was too narrow and looked like a trial piece. Now that I have the hang of it I’m doing a wider one. The way to do it is this. You cast on twenty four stitches. Do a row of purl. Then you knit then purl then knit all into the one stitch, wrapping the wool to the correct side each time. When you’ve got three stitches on the right from the one on the left, you pull off the left one. Then you gather the next three on the left onto your right needle and purl stitch. Repeat to the end of the row. Do another row of purl. The next row you start with the triple purl, then the knit purl knit into one stitch. The problem I had was numerous interruptions, meaning I could never remember if I was up to a row starting with knit or with purl. I’ve solved it by putting the knitting down either in the middle of a fancy row or at the end of one. Then I could see which one I had just done. When you get to the end of the fancy row you say out loud the last stitch in the row, then do your purl row, then start with the stitch you’ve said out loud, ignoring the derisive comments of your family members.

Anyway, there’s good instructions on the web, and you just sew the ends together when the headband is long enough to sit tightly around your fat head. Maybe when I be done a few I’ll be brave enough to try a pattern that has one of those codexes that look like the Rosetta Stone. Those grannies that can knit anything must have started somewhere.

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Lime Shortbread

The Moose must have been bitten by a Boy Scout because last week, on his way to tennis, he helped an elderly man load some boxes into his car. His reward was some tiny limes from the tree in the man’s front yard and he was very excited to show me the fruits of his virtue. And you know that I always love unconventionally acquired food.

It had to be something with lime zest. Fresh limes straight from the tree, no wax and looked like no juice also. I thought about cola, but the Moose isn’t that keen on it. I am though, so was tempted to go ahead anyway, but while doing some bedtime reading of Tish Boyle’s The Good Cookie, a constant source of inspiration, I came across a recipe for lime shortbread. Winner.

I would strongly recommend hauling out the wallet and getting some Pepe Saya butter for this one. I’ve done a fair bit of testing now and if you’re rationing yourself then you should save this butter for pastry and shortbread. For those perusing from a different country, Pepe Saya is a cultured butter made from the milk of contented cows and is a very fine thing indeed.

OK, recipe. Place in a bowl two cups of flour, three quarters of a cup of icing sugar, a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of ground ginger and a tablespoon of fresh lime zest and mix them all up. Scatter over the top one hundred and seventy grams of cold butter chopped into chunks (I actually did the conversion this time). Cut it into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are quite small. The KitchenAid did a perfectly adequate job of this. Stop the KitchenAid and pour in two tablespoons of lime juice and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. I had to get the lime juice from conventionally acquired limes, those tiny ones were solid with green seeds inside. Mix very slowly until the dough just starts coming together. Squish it about a bit with your hands to make it smooth, then divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a log shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Stick it in the fridge until it’s good and solid again. You may want to go and process some concert subscriptions and work out how to convert a sheet into a toga for when your youngest son goes to the Literature Festival as Zeus. No, I didn’t think Zeus was a literary figure either, but he got it past the librarian.

Take the plastic wrap off and slice the logs into biscuits about four millilitres thick. They don’t spread very much, so you can place them quite close together on your lined baking sheet. Bake them at 160 degrees fan forced (180 degrees not) until they’re just starting to go golden around the edges, it will take about fifteen minutes and keep an eye on them. Don’t let them brown.

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Those aren’t the limes, they’re just for illustrative purposes. I warned the kids that the green flecks in the biscuits weren’t mould, they were lime zest. That could be an issue with their visual appeal, but goodness they taste good. Not as soft as shortbread often is, almost crunchy and a very definitely limey. You can’t really taste the ginger, but I think it adds a bit of complexity to the flavour. Like I said, winner.

Very Strawberry Cupcakes

I thought that in Year Seven you didn’t have to bring in birthday baked goods for your daughter when she turned twelve. That is strictly true. What they didn’t tell me that the girls would form a pact and pair up so that each mum got to prepare birthday treats for someone else’s daughter altogether.

“I asked Janie whether she liked vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, and she likes strawberry. So can you make a strawberry cake with cream like you do for our birthdays? Tomorrow?” Hold on a minute. For a start I’m sure the teachers won’t want to mess about with a cake. I’ll do it as cupcakes. And you can’t have cream and fresh strawberries, they need to be put on when you serve it, that will be way too fiddly. How many will you need? “Um, there’s fourteen girls in my home room, so, ummm….” I start to wonder if she’s fallen into a coma. “Thirty four!” she finally says brightly, then skips off to bring havoc to someone else’s life,

I make strawberry cake by mixing strawberries into a basic butter cake. First, you need some strawberries. Two punnets. Being a little short on time I got these from the local IGA and they really weren’t that good. Expensive, simultaneous underripe and about to go mouldy. Chop off the green bits and hurl them into a small saucepan. Cook them over medium heat, stirring with whatever implement comes to hand. You have to play it by ear a bit. This lot let out a lot of water and were very sour. I added a quarter of a cup of sugar and let them reduce down a bit, til I was in danger of starting to make jam. You want about a cup of pulp. Set that aside to cool.

Make the butter cake mix. Cream together 120 grams of butter (that’s four ounces for those of you who don’t speak SI, and yes I know it should be kilograms, but close enough) with half a cup of caster sugar. Gently beat in two eggs. Mix in two cups of plain flour and four teaspoons of baking powder. Fold in three quarters of a cup of strawberry pulp. The mix will be a disturbing flesh colour. Set out forty mini patty pan cups on a baking tray. Use a teaspoon to distribute the mix among them. Bake at 180 degrees for only about fifteen minutes, these cakes are little.

So far, so successful. If I was serving these as butterfly cakes, I’d slice a wedge out of the top, slide some strawberry jam into the cavity, slap some King Island cream on top, put the wedge back on and slather a bit of strawberry icing on and there you go. I did the jam bit.

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I made some icing, by mixing the leftover strawberry pulp with thirty grams of sweet butter and three cups of icing sugar. You can just mix it up with a spatula, you don’t need heavy machinery.

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I do happen to have a piece of machinery for applying the icing, a giant syringe. I just can’t get the hang of piping bags, I always feel the need for an extra hand and I end up dropping the bag on the cake. Surely a syringe would be easier.

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Icing cakes is a lot harder than it looks. I tried two different nozzles. The first was pretty, but put out too much icing, and is going to need much practise.

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The second put out the right amount of icing, but the result looked like brains.

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Apparently they were delicious and instantly devoured. But I have much work to do on my presentation.