Sunday, January 29, 2012

Giveaway!

Ok today is very exciting because… wait for it… I've got, not one, but two giveaways for you!  But before we get to that...


Aren't these just the most amazing cakes you've ever seen?  They're made by my very good friend Jennifer who runs a little custom order bakery in Lawton OK.  I've known Jennifer since our first year of high school when we used to sit together in class scrawling little pictures to each other and coming up with little stories to go with them.  Amazingly, despite drifting apart at various times over the years as our lives took different paths, and now living on complete opposite sides of the world, I'd still count her as one of my closest friends.  She's an amazing artist and she has an incredible talent for translating this across into edible form!  Anyway gush, gush (could I be anymore of a groupie!?!)  You can check out Sugar+Butter on Facebook or at Jennifer's blog It's Wonderful Here.

The point of this story was that I spotted a particularly attractive measuring jug on her blog (see the pic above), happened to mention in passing how lovely I thought it was and Jennifer (generous soul that she is) sent one out to me.  But Phillip Island appears to be a bit of a Bemuda Triangle when it comes to postal services and the package got lost.  In the end the kitchenware place sent out a second one, only to have the first one turn up a few weeks later with the package opened and resealed with a big 'customs' sticker (because presumably measuring jugs look suspiciously like drugs or bomb making equipment).  So now I have two beautiful measuring jugs, and I'm giving one of them to one of you lucky readers.

Here is Minty modelling the measuring jug.  She likes to be involved!

Today's second giveaway, is a book I bought when Minty was a toddler and I was going through a bit of a Steiner phase.  It's called  'Creative Play for your baby' and it's full of all sorts of toys you can make for babies (ages 3 months to two years).  Since both my children have now outgrown it, I thought I'd move it on to a new home where it might get some love again.

To enter today's giveaway, simply leave a comment telling me which of these you would like to win (jug or book) and I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner.  Entries close on Friday 3rd Feb.




Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On matters of life and death...


Remember our goldfish Timmy Boomda?  Well I just discovered his lifeless body floating in the fish bowl.  I'm not going to pretend I'm sad.  Cleaning out the fish bowl is now one less job on my already too long 'to do' list.  Of course the death of a pet always inevitably leads to a series of difficult questions from the smaller members of the family.  Here is a little look at what occurred when the kids discovered the body…

Minty: mummy, Timmy has laid down properly to go to sleep
Me: Darling, Timmy is dead.  He's not ever going to wake up.
Minty: I don't mind… I'm not going to die.
Me: Well… actually… everyone dies at some point.
Minty: Sometimes daddy dies… and he wakes back up
Me: Daddy isn't actually dead.  He just sleeps very heavily sometimes

and a little later…

Minty: I don't know where Timmy is.  
Me: He's right there, dead, floating at the top of his bowl.  
Minty: but where is he?  

From her tone and emphasis, my best interpretation of this is that she was asking about the thing that made Timmy alive instead of dead, the essence of him, his soul.  My internal response (you know the one your head forms before you open your mouth) was 'shit I don't know. I don't think fish have souls'.  Frankly I'm not geared for philosophical enquiries before I've had a morning coffee.  Instead I chose to pretend I didn't understand what she was asking and merely repeated myself, 'see he's floating there dead in the bowl'.  I wonder how many more probing questions I'm going to answer in a severely inadequate way as a parent.  Probably too many to bear thinking about.

If you're wondering what Turi was doing during all of this, he was basically dancing about with a big grin on his face, tossing pinches of fish food into the bowl.  Clearly it hasn't raised any existential questions for him!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In which there is lots of ice-cream and a last minute gift...

I've been taking a bit of a blog break to try and make the most of the summer weather with the kids.  We've had family and friends visiting and we've been swimming at the beach almost every day (sometimes twice a day).  

This weekend we've had a couple of birthday parties.  The first was a party for a little friend who turned one.  I have to admit to being completely disorganised coming up with a gift.  I ended up whipping up this little bird toy an hour before the party!  The pattern is from Fiona Dalton's book 'Hop Skip Jump'.  I used linen and some pretty Amy Butler fabric I had in my stash.  I popped a bell inside to make it into a rattle and I think the tail feathers will be perfect for a teething one-year-old to gnaw on!



Today we went to a fantastic family barbecue.  The kids spent the day jumping on the trampoline and hopping in and out of the inflatable paddling pool (repurposed birthing pool!!), while we enjoyed ourselves sipping fruit cocktails on the deck.  As my contribution to the festivities I made six different ice-creams and sorbets and set up a little ice-cream buffet.  The flavours were plum ice-cream (made with home grown blood plums), fleur de lait (a Parisian glace meaning 'flower of milk'), chocolate-coconut sorbet, chocolate-raspberry ice-cream, watermelon sorbetto (with chocolate chips instead of pips) and banana sorbet.  The 'fleur de lait' seemed to be the most popular flavour of the day.  I had so much fun putting it all together, I wish I had the capital to open my own little gelateria on the coast somewhere!  But in the mean time I might just have an ice-cream party for Minty's fourth birthday in a few weeks time!!





Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In which there are visions of Jesus and Candy Spelling...

Ever since Minty received this cook book for Christmas she has been asking me to help her make pea soup.  While I was excited by her healthy choice, I was also feeling a little baffled.  I mean honestly, what self respecting three-year-old wants to make pea soup??  It turns out Minty thought she could see a smiley face in olive oil drizzled on top of the soup in the cookbook photograph!  She was like a fanatical christian who had seen a vision of Jesus in her burnt toast.  So rather than quash her delusion, I used it to my advantage and we made the soup for dinner tonight.  The fact that the kids cooked and willingly finished a bowl of pea soup was more of a miraculous transformative event than any holy apparition in some charred baked goods.  The kids may as well have been speaking in tongues!


And now just a little disclaimer of sorts. There have been a number of comments about how 'huge' the new house looks.  I thought it prudent to mention that I've been shooting the house with a 17-40mm wide angle lens - which is kind of like looking at the house through one of those fat inducing fun house mirrors (you know objects may be closer than they appear and all that jazz).  Just thought I should mention this in case I invite you over at some point in the future and you are expecting to arrive at something akin to Candy Spelling's mansion, with 27 bathrooms and a gift wrapping room and you are disappointed when all you find is a regular sized house.  Ok glad we cleared that up.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

House Update


Progress on the house inevitably ground to halt over the Christmas period but I still have a few little developments to share.  The house has been wrapped and the windows are all glazed, barring the large hand-crafted window in the kids bathroom for which we picked up the glass yesterday.  It's really starting to feel like a liveable space, and I am getting impatient to move in.  Sadly since there is still no toilet or hot water I think it will probably be a few months!

We spent the day hanging out at the house yesterday.  We strung up a hammock in the lounge room and have been having a great time lazing around in it.  Minty's bedroom has been turned into a makeshift kitchen, complete with BBQ, microwave, fridge, kettle, toaster and even a george foreman grill, so we can fairly comfortably whip up a meal!

The large dining room windows and our sliding doors to the as yet non-existent deck are finally in.  All these windows are tinted, as the dining room catches the western sun.  I have to say I was rather nervous about whether I was going to like the tint but now that they're in I love them!  It is really pleasant sitting in the dining room even in the afternoon, and the clerestory windows bring in more than enough light to make up for any lost by the tint.  The cows that live in the next paddock don't seem to be able to see us anymore and amble right up to the dining windows.  It's magical!


Left: Minty's room aka the site kitchen!  Right: the living room.  Note these windows all still have the blue protective film on them so the rooms look a little dark.

Looking from the entry towards the dining room - just to give you a sense of how tiny Turi looks compared to the roof height!

Turi has been feeling a bit trapped by the new doors!

Testing out wood finishes for our bathroom window frame.

More of the hammock… 



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?





It's twelfth night and Christmas is officially over.  I refuse to let the celebrations fizzle out without a sense of occasion, so after taking the decorations down the kids and I celebrated the Epiphany with some cake.

This year to shake things up a little I decided to make a Spanish king cake instead of our usual British twelfth night fruit cake.  The Spanish Epiphany Bread (Rosc√≥n de reyes) is a bit like brioche shaped into a big ring (like a crown).  Traditionally a figurine of the baby Jesus is hidden in the bread to symbolise Jesus fleeing King Herod (who planned to kill all babies that could be the prophesised messiah).  Whoever finds the baby in their cake is blessed.  Sadly the only baby figurine I could get my hands on was plastic.  I suspect melting a small effigy of christ in the oven isn't really the route to 'blessing' anyone, so I used a dried bean instead.  In many cultures finding a dried bean in the twelfth night cake means you are king for the day.

The bread was beautifully light, fluffy and subtly sweet.  Honestly it is a small christmas miracle that this cake worked out at all!  My mind was wandering while I was baking and I totally went off the reservation and didn't follow the recipe.  I've included the original recipe (sourced here) at the bottom of this post along with notes of my modifications and crazy missteps in italics.



Spanish Epiphany Bread (recipe originally found here)

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F) 

Ingredients

450 g (3 c.) white flour 
75 g (1/3 c.) butter 
75 g (1/3 c.) sugar 
25 g (1 oz.) fresh yeast dissolved in 140 ml (1/2 c.) warm water 
2 tsp. lemon zest 
2 tsp. orange zest 
2 eggs + 1 egg white, well beaten 
1 tbsp. brandy 
1 tbsp. orange flower water 
A pinch of salt 
1 silver coin, china figurine, dry bean, or whole almond (your choice)

Decoration

Large pieces of candied fruit 
Flaked almonds 
A silver coin or dry bean 

Preparation 
1. Place the flour and salt into a large bowl.  
2. Make a well in the centre and pour in the dissolved yeast. Since I couldn't get my hands on fresh yeast I used 7g of dried instant yeast and to help it along I also added a teaspoon of honey to the water 
3. Gradually mix in the flour.  
4. When the mixture is thick, sprinkle all over with flour and let rest for 15 minutes in a warm place. Ok so at this point my mixture was like chunky floury bread crumbs so there seemed little point sprinkling it with more flour.  I kind of freaked out and added about 5 tablespoons more water, kneaded it some more and then let it rest. 
5. Meanwhile, cream together the butter and sugar.  
6. Mix the zests, brandy, orange flower water and the two eggs into the dough. I didn't have orange flower water so I just left that out.  At this point I failed to read the recipe properly and also added the extra egg white which you were supposed to use for glaze. 
7. Knead until it becomes smooth. My dough was way too wet at this point so I added about 2 tablespoons of flour (just making up for the extra water I added!!) 
8. Gradually mix in the butter, kneading constantly, until the dough becomes even smoother and more elastic.  At this point the dough was still too wet - I added about another tablespoon of flour then kneaded for about ten minutes.  The dough was still much wetter than a bread dough but I left it to rise since in my experience when making brioche it is better to err on the wet side lest you end up with a tough rock. 
9. Cover with greased paper and let rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes, until the dough has doubled in volume.  
10. Place the dough on a floured surface.  
11. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes. 
12. Add in the silver coin, figurine, bean, or almond.  
13. With your hands, roll the dough into a long sausage-shape, approximately 65 cm (2 feet) long and 13 cm (5") thick.  Don't panic if your dough isn't quite this big - it will puff up again when it rises the second time!

14. Place on a baking sheet, forming the dough into a circle. 
15. Join the two ends by pinching the dough together.  The recipe doesn't mention it but you need to put some kind of ramekin (or other round oven safe object) in the centre or the dough will just end up filling the hole when it rises.  I wrapped some oven paper around the ramekin so it wouldn't stick.
16. Cover with greased paper and let rest another 90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in volume.
17. Brush the crown with the beaten egg white. 
18. Decorate with the almonds and slices of candied fruit, pressing them down so that they stick to the dough. I was too lazy to make large slices of candied fruit so I just studded the crown with some multicoloured glace cherries!
19. Place into a 180° C (350° F) oven. 
20. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bread is cooked and golden brown. 
21. Place on a rack and let cool.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In which there is pasta and a pool party...


Yesterday Minty made tagliatelle with her Grandi.  I have to confess, I don't really have the patience for making pasta from scratch with small children as helpers, especially not in 37 degree heat!!  Minty found the recipe in her new cookbook and was desperately enthusiastic to try it, so I was glad someone was up for the challenge so I didn't have to say no!  This isn't the first time they've made pasta together and it really is lovely to watch them calmly feeding the pasta through the machine together.  I'm really grateful she'll have these memories to take with her into her adult cooking life.  Even little Turi had a go!


It really was a scorchingly hot day, as witnessed by this posse of five little kookaburras who came to have a pool party in the bird bath!