Sunday 31 January 2010

Birthday lunch, noodle slice

Having a birthday on the week of Australia Day is a mixed blessing. It means that there is a public holiday that week but also that many friends are busy on the said holiday, especially if like me you decide on a casual get-together on the holiday only about a week beforehand. (You can see why I never manage to celebrate Burns Night on 25 January in the same week.) Despite such disorganisation, we had a great lunch to celebrate my birthday last Tuesday with friends and family.

I had decided it was a good year to hold a lunch while I was not working. I forgot just how busy it is with a baby. Despite good intentions, I never get as much done as I want. (Oh yes, I remember, that also happened before I had any babies!) I decided to make food the few days beforehand as some things keep well in the fridge.

On Sunday I made cheese and walnut loaf, pea pesto dip, and apricot and cheese balls (with some cranberries thrown in) plus a stew and some jam. On Monday I made pumpkin hummus (a bit like this dip but boiled pumpkin rather than roasted), mud cake, grubs, and noodle slice.

I was relying on many old favourite recipes but had been attracted by the noodle slice in the lastest SuperFood Ideas magazine. It required a bit of chopping vegetables but was easy and yummy. Unfortunately, I had thought it was gluten free until I noticed myself throwing in self raising flour. But there was plenty else for the GF sister and niece. The slice was easy to cut into neat squares and made great finger food.

I also had the lovely tomato and peach relish in the fridge (perfect for the noodle slice and nut roast), lots of vegetables, fruit and rice crackers. By Tuesday the house was still a mess, albeit slightly reduced, but at least it was packed with good food. We spent most of Tuesday morning cleaning. What couldn't be sorted by midday was unceremoniously dumped into the bedroom. Sylvia helped by having a sleep and I was relieved that the council emptied out bins on the public holiday.

By the time everyone arrived I was exhausted. More food and drink arrived with the guests. First to arrive were Kathleen, Michael and kids. They brought fresh eggs from the chooks in their backyard and some home made sourdough spelt bread with olives. This bread was amazing and I was only too sad to see how quickly it disappeared but I did manage to nab a piece. Kathleen set to work slicing up bread and nut roast. I cut up vegetables for the dips and made a quick lentil salad. I also cooked up lots of rice for a rice salad that I never managed to make, but Sylvia enjoyed having some of it with her lunch.

My parents, family and more friends soon arrived. My mum had made zucchini and feta balls (and remembered to put in gluten free flour unlike me) with a yoghurt dipping sauce. My sister, Fran, had brought bread and coleslaw. We ran out of room on the coffee table and started using the kitchen table. You can glimpse my birthday cake on the kitchen table but I will tell you more about that in a separate post.

I had been concerned that it would be unreasonably hot but the forecast 34 C never appeared. Instead we had a beautiful day of 24 C. Drinks were still very welcome. Water was a good option except when someone dropped hummus in it. Cold fizzy drinks always go down well, especially with the kids. Fortunately just as I was running out of ginger beer, Yavanna and Chris arrived with an armload of bottles of fizzy drink. We had beer in the fridge but sort of forgot about it. (Oh yes, most unAustralian but what do you expect of us who shun meat and bbqs on Australia Day.)

Here is my plate of savoury food. You can see the excellent texture on Kathleen's bread. After most people had had their full, we cleared the plates of savoury food onto the benches in the kitchen, for the latecomers to pick at, and we put out dessert. By then I had run out of time, energy and patience as you can see by the delightfully chaotic way I have piled up the fresh fruit. We also had grubs, apricot and cheese balls, little cakes (thanks Wendy), frerrer rocher (thanks Heather) and my mum's pav.

You can see the pavlova above on the right covered with crushed peppermint crisp. For those of you not familiar with peppermint crisp, it is covered with chocolate which is why there are chocolate shards as well as green peppermint. We all agreed it was the perfect patriotic dessert for Australia Day. It went quickly. I am not a huge pav fan but had a little piece for nostalgia's sake, and I do enjoy a little of it. My mum even brought it on one of the dinner plates she has had since we were kids. Ah, memories!

But I digress. Here is my dessert selection with another view of the lovely green birthday cake. I had to blow out the candles before we started eating the sweet food. It was probably one of the few quiet moments in the day. There were quite a few kids who had lots of fun running about our bedrooms and backyard. Ella and Rosie had a house under our desk at one stage until my mum told them (in the way that only a retired schoolteacher can) to go to Sylvia's room.

They had lots of fun with the toys in Sylvia's room, if the distribution of them over the floor was any indication. Cooper got upset by the little gate to the bathroom to stop Sylvia getting in, but was placated by a toy B2 (whom I am sure you would all know is one of the Bananas in Pyjamas!) Sylvia didn't do too much playing with the other kids because she was busy cuddling. Anyone who wanted to hold her wore my mum's beads as Sylvia was very keen on these. Meanwhile my little niece Grace was carrying our cat Zinc around like one of her dolls.

My family, as ever, was very helpful in keeping the house under control. I had been worried about having too many people in our small house but it worked very well. I saw my mum doing the dishes with my brother Andy drying at one stage and I think others also helped. It was lovely when the last guest left to have hardly any dishes to do or lunchtime mess to clean up.

We had loads of food leftover, which was just as well. I was tired after the preparation, so we were able to live on leftovers for a few days, including on my birthday when the dish I made was a disaster.

After everyone had gone, I gave Sylvia a little piece of chocolate cake and she gobbled it up. (Who wouldn't!) I breathed a sigh of relief that she didn't react to the egg. Then I got bolder and checked on this website that I could feed her ground nuts at her age, and fed her a little nut roast. She ate it up and I breathed another sigh of relief.

As for presents, it seemed to be the a birthday of cookbooks. I am still trawling through my new weighty tomes and loving them. Yav and Chris brought flowers, and as I have mentioned above, others brought food. Good company, good food and good books are just the thing for a happy birthday.

Zucchini and Noodle Slice
Adapted from SuperFood Ideas February 2010
serves 6 (or a crowd)
  • 50g dried vermicelli
  • 3 medium zucchini grated
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • kernels of 1 corn cob
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, finely chopped
  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • ¾ cup grated tasty cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp umami plum vinegar
Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a lamington tin (20 x 30cm).

Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Stand for 10 minutes. Drain and use scissors to snip into shorter lengths. Cool.

Squeeze excess liquid from grated carrot and zucchin (I pressed them into a colander). Combine vegetables, flour, cheese and noodles in a mixing bowl. Use a fork to lightly whisk together eggs, milk, oil, soy sauce and vinegar in a small bowl or large jug. Pour into vegetable mixture and mix together.

Spread batter into prepared lamington tin and smooth with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20-25 minutes (I think I did mine for a bit longer but can't quite remember). It should be golden and springy in the middle. Stand for 20 minutes before serving or cut into squares and keep in the fridge for 2 days. It is a great nibble for parties, picnics and lunchboxes.

On the Stereo:
It: Pulp

WHB: Tomato and Peach Relish

Summer is the glorious season of stone fruit. Last summer I discovered the joy of preserving stone fruit in chutneys with my apricot chutney and plum chutney. This year I have been meaning to repeat the success but haven’t managed it. However I have continued to find other ways of preserving such luscious fruit thanks to the blogosphere.

When Tahn posted about a wonderful tomato and peach relish. When I commented that I wanted to make the recipe, she kindly posted it. As always I wanted to make it straight away and even made sure I had the tomatoes and peaches. But I got busy. Then I decided to serve the mushy pea pastitsi that my sister’s partner’s mother made. (Thanks Fran and John). They are sort of like Maltese pasties. They needed chutney.

Although it was a relish, which I think means it is less cooked, I let mine get mushier than the recipe suggested, and I have no regrets. So it reminded me of a chutney. I just kept it in a tub the fridge for about a week, as the recipe suggested, but I think I could have bottled this and kept it longer. When we finished it tonight with nut roast I wished that I had made twice as much.

We had the pastitsi with a salad of grated carrot, walnuts, spring onion, fresh pineapple, spinach and soy mayonnaise, and a cucumber salad, which was too garlicky – possibly because the garlic we have had lately seemed intense when raw.

I made a few changes to the relish. I didn’t have sultanas. I thought I had cranberries but even that stash was low so I added a few dried apricots and goji berries. I keep my ginger in a jar of vinegar in the fridge and every now and again have some ginger infused vinegar to use. This relish seemed a good use for it even though there wasn’t any vinegar in the original recipe. And it was mushy.

It was one of the most delicious relishes or chutneys I have had for some time. Possibly the best since last summer because I always love any chutneys with stone fruit. But it was also quick and easy. And did I mention it was delicious. Sylvia even ate a little rice with this chutney mixed through it. I t was so good I could have eaten it by the spoonful. Yet another recipe I want to return to every summer if not more often.

I am sending this Tomato and Peach Relish to Rachel of The Crispy Cook for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging (#218) which is hosted by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything and was founded by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. This relish is a wonderful way to enjoy tomatoes and peaches when they are in season.

Tomato and Peach Relish
adapted from 1000 Vegan Recipes via Seitahn

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup or agave nectar
500g ripe tomatoes, diced (I used about 4 or 5)
3 peaches, pitted and diced
¼ cup ginger infused vinegar
1 tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp dried chopped apricots
1 tbsp dried goji berries
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and add onion and cook for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The recipe said the tomatoes and peaches should be tender, not mushy, but I let my tomatoes collapse, possibly because my peaches were not as ripe as they should have been.

Taste, adjusting the seasonings if necessary, then simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for another 5 minutes. Cool in a bowl and serve at room temperature. Mine kept in the fridge for a week.

On the Stereo:
Music for Sound Healing: Stephen Halpern

Saturday 30 January 2010

Novelty Cakes from the Archives II

Many posts ago I shared some of the novelty cakes from my photo archives from the days before I began blogging. Those were digital photos I had on the computer. One ongoing project is to get some of the older film photos onto the computer. In doing some I have unearthed some more old novelty cake photos and thought it would be fun to dig back even deeper into my past to tell you about my history with these cakes (despite the dubious quality of the photos).

My love of novelty cakes began when I was a child. Above is the cover of a 'book' I made when I was at primary school. It was a compilation of pages from magazines, mainly the Australian Women's Weekly. As I have told you before, presentation wasn't my strongest attribute, though my handwriting has got worse since then. A bit of string and sticky tape held the book together. I crossed out any mistakes, as I was taught to do at school. I do like to believe that my spelling has always been quite good, but seeing this cheesy line makes me wonder. I did like a bit of organisation though and gave each page and number to correspond to my index.

What I love about my old magazine clippings is not only the cakes I dreamt of making when sitting in my nan's sewing room reading her magazines as a child. I also delight in a little taste of the times that comes in seeing old advertisements and stories accidentally kept on the back of a page.

My mum always made sponge cakes for our birthday cakes but she did like to decorate the Christmas cake each year. So my first experience of decorating cakes at home was doing the Christmas cake after I learned a few techniques in Home Economics class at school. The only photo I have of one of these fruit cakes iced with royal icing and marzipan is my 21st birthday cake.

I can't remember the exact drama but events conspired against my mum in getting my birthday cake decorated, in a time when everyone seemed to have fruit cake at their 21st birrhday party. She asked me to do it and so I did. Now that I look at the photo I can't remember doing any of it but I do remember the horror that I would have to make my own birthday cake. How things have changed! I quite enjoy making my own birthday cake these days.

Soon after my 21st I moved into a student house with a friend and her friend Yarrow. Yarrow had a mum who would make them novelty cakes for birthdays. So he thought nothing of doing a novelty cake for an occasion. He made me a marketing garden birthday cake one year and another year I helped him make one for a St Patrick's Day dinner.

Again, I look at the cake and wonder how we made it. I suspect we must have used marzipan or royal icing to mould the figure of St Pat standing on the cake waving his staff at the snakes that he is driving into the sea surrounding the cake. The little dots of red are the mouths of the snakes as they cry out in agony at their demise. These things amused us as students, just as drinking green beer and inviting our friend called Paddy seemed part of the fun.

I have long been a lover of all things green and St Pat's day is a great excuse to eat lots of green food. This cake is another St Patrick's Day cake I made. It was a much simpler exercise in decoration. I bought packets of lollies (ie candy or sweets if you don't live in Australia) and picked out all the green ones - smarties, jelly beans, m&ms. I also tossed coconut and slivered almonds in green food dye. However, I didn't really want to eat green cake - I have my limits - so the actual cake was a mud cake. In the middle is a plastic turtle I had at the time.

When I had nieces, I saw the opportunity to try out some novelty cakes. The first one I made was a teddy bear for Maddy's first birthday. I found the idea on the internet. It was a round cake with muffin sized cakes for the ears and a ramekin sized one for the nose. It's not a bad job for a novice.

Next I made a picnic cake for Quin who was having a picnic-themed birthday party. I suspect this is her 7th or 8th birthday but am not quite sure. I had to search to find tea sets and trees. The trees were actually palm trees made of pipe cleaners so I bent them to be more regular trees. I found a little tea set but couldn't find any little dolls so we used caramello koalas. Marshmallow flowers, mint leaf lollies and green coconut grass on chocolate dirt completed the picture.

For Maddy's second birthday I made a clock cake out of the Australian Women's Weekly book of children's party cakes. I think it was just a 20cm cake tin I used and the roman numerals in liquorice were a bit crowded. These days I usually check how these things look before the icing goes on the cake. I did like having the hands of the cake telling the time as 2 o'clock to represent Maddy's age.

The last cake I found in my archives is one I made a few years back for my sister-in-law, Erica's 21st birthday. She wanted a butterfly cake so I came up with this one. I think I copied a picture I found somewhere, possibly on the web. I liked the outline of liquorice and silver cachous with overlapping m&ms filling the butterfly, but the icing is too light coloured for the chocolate icing.

So I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic cake display. Please excuse the quality of these photos, which were taken before I learnt a few tricks (close up button, no flash, natural light etc) through blogging, and from a time when we expected less of our cameras. I am sure you will agree I have come a lot way with my camera and my cakes since then.

PPN Baby pasta and adult stew

Finally Sylvia is willing to try more food, though some of it still falls from her mouth to the ground in dislike (and others land her in the emergency dept of the Royal Children's Hospital - nothing a bit of play and sleep couldn't fix - but that is another story). I tried buckwheat pasta a while back and she wasn’t keen. But last weekend she tasted her first wheat pasta and loved it. Her food inspired me in making a stew for our own dinner.

I still expect Sylvia to spit out any new food. I had decided to serve the pasta with pumpkin, which she likes, rather than tomato sauce, which she has never tried. I am trying to introduce her to dairy so decided some ricotta would help her get used to creamy food but I also added a sweetener (literally) in the guise of apple puree. To my surprise she lapped it up, though on the first night I had a good laugh when she would only eat it from E if he fed her by hand rather than using a spoon.

When putting away her baby pasta, I found some macaroni noodles at the back of the pantry. I had a bunch of unused celery that I had bought on special in a whimsical moment. I sometimes want to buy celery but don’t know how to use it as I generally use it frequently but not in large proportions. It is rarely the star of any dishes I make. I decided to use it up in a minestrone-style stew. The results were as pleasing as Sylvia eating her dinner. The celery didn’t overwhelm the stew but it added to the flavour.

I wasn’t going to blog this recipe as it is one of my lazy sorts of meals that I just throw in what is about. Hence my lack of photos. However, I often feel stuck for ideas about using up celery and this was such a good way to use it up that I thought I should have it here to remind me next time I see it on special.

Above is a gratuituous photo of Sylvia at play in the garden. She seems to like food off the floor best of all and I suspect if I told her to just eat the dirt out of the pots she would! I am sending the stew to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast who is hosting this week’s Presto Pasta Night (No. 149).

Sylvia’s first pasta
serves 3 meals to an 11 month old

  • 1 handful of soup pasta or baby pasta (about ¼ - ½ cup)
  • 100g pumpkin, diced small
  • 2 dessertspoons of ricotta
  • 1-2 dessertspoons of apple puree
  • 3 basil leaves, finely chopped

Cook pumpkin and pasta in boiling water for 10-15 minutes until soft. Drain but reserve water in case you need to thin sauce. Stir in ricotta, apple puree and basil. Add a little water to get a sauce consistency.

Vegetable, lentil and pasta stew
serves 6

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch of celery, chopped
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, chopped
  • 700ml jar of passata or chopped tomatoes (keep jar to measure water)
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp stock powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp bush herb mixture or dried mixed herbs
  • 300g pumpkin, diced
  • ½ cup red lentils
  • 2 medium zucchini chopped
  • 250g macaroni noodles
  • 2 dessertspoons of ricotta
  • handful basil chopped

Heat olive oil in a stockpot. Add onion, celery, carrot and potatoes and cook over a medium low heat for 15-20 minutes until they start to soften. Add the passata, garlic, stock powder, cayenne and herbs. Once you have emptied passata into the pot, fill the jar with water and add to pot. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the carrot and celery is soft. Add the pumpkin, red lentils, zucchini, and macaroni. Again, fill your passata jar with water and add to pot. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until pasta and lentils are cooked and pumpkin is soft. Stir in ricotta. Sprinkle with basil to serve.

On the stereo:
Wonderland soundtrack: Michael Nyman

Thursday 28 January 2010

In search of . . .

Blog stats! They are endlessly fascinating to us bloggers. When I have met up with bloggers they have come up in conversation. Numbers are fun and interest some but it is not what catches our attention as much as the odd search terms.

Search terms are great. They give us an inkling of strangers’ desires, interests, gaps and quirks. At times I feel pleased to be able to answer a question or give just the right recipe. My blog must be a godsend to some and a puzzle to others. But there are days when I wonder what they were thinking and how the search engine found me.

The ways of search engines are a mystery to me. They sometimes seem to be so clueless. I sometimes wonder what a person thinks when they are searching for an album that has got a passing reference in my one line ‘on the stereo’ at the end of the post, and they find themselves directed to a food blog. Or those who are looking for the effects of pomegranate on childbirth might be frustrated to find a post I wrote about it which looked at the effects in history rather than any medical information.

You may have noticed a little counter far down on the right hand side menu. It is the ,which I installed at the end of March 2008. I have also just installed Google analytics when I was thinking about this post and will be interested to see how it differs.

Some popular posts seem to be nut roasts, novelty cakes, and my uncooked chocolate cake. Interest in posts can be seasonal. The nut roast traffic is particularly heavy at Christmas time and just recently with Burns Night on Monday there were more searches than usual for vegetarian haggis. Blog events and bloggers referring to my recipes and, in particular posts that have been cited by uber bloggers, all generate traffic.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the terms that amuse and bemuse me. Of course people searching for information about giraffes and eating often find me. But really, who would want to eat a giraffe!

Giraffe search terms:
  • How to eat a giraffe
  • how to cook a giraffe
  • roast giraffe
  • what does giraffe taste like
  • giraffe punched by child
  • do giraffes suck on bones for milk?
  • i looked up at a giraffe as it stared back at me
  • does a giraffe give birth or lay eggs?
  • how does the giraffe impact humankind
Then there are those who are amazingly verbose in their searching and/or accidentally copy and paste the wrong thing.

Long searches:

  • what if i don't have enough sour cream for the green pumpkin soup what shall i do
  • i am looking for a recipe for festive ring for vegetarians made from chestnuts cranberries goats cheese was in bbc good food vegetarian magazine many years ago
  • 'what cake do you want for your birthday billy?' asks mum. 'well, i really like sweet chocolate cake!' says billy. 'ok, i'll make you a sweet chocolate cake,' says mum. five minutes later bill
  • each student should bring a packet of savoury or sweet biscuits, or home baked slice, to share with other students at morning and afternoon tea for the duration of camp.
  • if john has four cups crystals and 9 cups of water if his sis add one more cup of crystal .how many more cup of water is john add

Many people type in questions. Some of these I am able to answer easly.

Questions my blog can answer:

  • What to serve with a nutroast? (the ideas are endless but roast vegetables or salad are favourite side dishes for me)
  • Are scones and biscuits different? (yes and no, depending on where you are)
  • What to do with leftover cake crumbs? (make cookies)
  • What can i do with left over chestnut puree? (make soup)
  • Do you have to soak beans to make chulent (no)
  • Is bread pudding soggy? (yes)
  • Why boil bagels? (to make them chewy)

Some questions either puzzle me or amuse me. Often I would like to know the answer, in most cases because it would entertain me. Others are of the ‘how long is a piece of string’ variety and if you find the answer, I would love to hear it.

Questions I wish I could answer:

  • what does it mean when my cat brings an apple home?
  • what is the best cake idea for my mum 68th birthday?
  • what is the portion size of dessert at lygon street in Melbourne?
  • can you feed a hedgehog graham crackers?
  • which people are likely to have a meal of 'haggis'tonight?
  • why didnt anyone clean out the ncr fridge before tonight?
  • what does it mean when a guy says you are so lovely
  • why did the shredded carrots in my carrot cake turn green?
  • what are black bits in banana cake? (this question intrigued me so much I checked and found they are tiny seeds)

Then there are the search terms that really make me scratch my head and wonder, what on earth were they thinking when they typed that in or what sort of strange person wants to search for this. Most importantly, why did this search lead them to my blog???

Strange and/or disturbing search terms:

  • breast milk condensed milk and tea
  • middle aged virgin seduced
  • old bimbos with great legs
  • brunswick street fitzroy melbournesex shops
  • made my hedgehog really mad
  • water monster finland
  • nazi's tying a pregnant woman's legs together
  • virgin mary on pudding lid
  • i am still mean to you

And finally there are the search terms that I see that start my mind whirring with possibilities. I have already made the first couple of dishes because I was fascinated by what I have seen in the search terms.

Search terms that inspire me:

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Muffins at the tennis

Last Tuesday I went to the tennis with my dad, two of my brothers (Andy and Paul) and Andy’s wife Erica and some of her family. It is the first time I have been to the Australian Open so I found it interesting to see an event that I have only watched on the television before. I had felt a bit unsure of whether I should take food of not but in the end I was glad I did as I was not impressed with the food on offer.

The night before I had made some banana, peanut butter and oat muffins that I saw Mangocheeks make on Allotment 2 Kitchen recently. I liked the sound of the recipe because I had all the ingredients in the house. Sylvia has been eating banana and cereal every morning but I don’t eat a lot of banana so often I put little banana offcuts into the freezer. I have never frozen banana before. They looked like bits of Dr Who alien but seemed ok in these muffins. However I was most displeased that they left marks on the bench from the dark liquid that oozed out of them as they defrosted.

These muffins were excellent fresh and most enjoyable for the next day or two. (But be warned that I left a couple for a week and when I tried them again they were inedible.) Mangocheeks sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on hers but I misread the recipe and put cinnamon in the muffins instead. I liked her comparison of the taste to sticky toffee pudding. They are very dense and oaty rather than soft or sticky but the combination of banana and maple syrup does make for a toffee flavour.

If I was more organized I might have made some burgers or nut roast. I also wondered if I should waste too much energy because I was concerned about if I could take food in, remembering being made to give up my water bottle at an outdoor gig a couple of years back, but the tennis centre staff were more interested to check if I had a glass bottle. In the end I chopped up some carrots and cucumber, and bought some cherry tomatoes and cheese flavoured biscuits. For sweets I took the muffins and grapes. I had meant to take nuts as well but forgot. Luckily there were some nuts in my muffins so it felt like a healthy selection of food.

We had night tickets to the centre court, which is known as the Rod Laver Arena. The matches that evening were Lleyton Hewitt vs Ricardo Hocevar and Julia Coin vs Alicia Molik. Hewitt won so easily that it was a bit disappointing. Babies and public transport meant that we had to leave midway through the women’s match in which the local girl (Molik - pictured above) lost. In some ways it wasn’t the most thrilling tennis but in others it was a great treat to see some of the world’s best at play. I love being able to watch the full view of an event without being directed by the television cameras.

The rules of the centre court were that we could only leave or enter every time the players changed ends. Most of the time we stayed in our reserved seats. I didn’t take any photos of my food as I was in a rush to leave home and then it was too awkward juggling my food in my seat to have a camera in the mix. But it was good. At one stage I went for a walk to look at if there was any food of note. Kudos to Flavours of Victoria for selling fruit and gluten free biscuits but I was after savoury food. Vegetarians could have sushi, margherita pizza, a pita wrap or chips. I couldn’t be bothered with the queues and went for the hot chips. It just made me glad I had some decent food in my bag.

More enjoyable was a chance to get a sense of the rest of the tennis centre. There are so many smaller courts that I found them overwhelming but I enjoyed wandering around them. I found a pleasantly relaxing atmosphere among the crowd at the courts and in garden square. I also loved the busts of former tennis players, many of which I recognised from being a tennis lover in my childhood. (Do you recognised Evonne Goolagong closest to the camera?) When we left they looked a little spooky with the floodlights lighting up their faces from below. I was glad to get home where Sylvia was refusing to sleep till I arrived.

Banana, Peanut Butter and Oat Muffins
Adapted from Catherine Atkinson’s Muffins Galore via Mangocheeks
Makes 38 mini muffins

1 cup plain flour
½ cup soy flour (or plain flour)
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 very ripe bananas peeled and mashed

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line mini muffin pan with paper cups. Mix the flour(s), oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl or jug, use a fork to lightly whisk together the peanut butter, milk, maple syrup, egg and mashed bananas until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and gently mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. They will last about 3 days in an airtight container.

On the Stereo:

The very best of Crowded House

Sunday 24 January 2010

A week of firsts

Life here is full of change. This past week has seemed particularly so. Within a few days I learnt of one friend becoming pregnant and the partner of a friend suddenly dying. Sylvia has a new tooth that came through yesterday. She has had a week of many firsts. It is quite a list.

I saw a quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson on my friend Jo’s blog. It summed up the relentless progress of life which we try to capture with diaries and blogs and photos.

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

Cartier-Bresson might have been referring to babies or food when he wrote this. In particular, Sylvia has been making a lot of progress with eating. I am glad she is now eating bread. It opens up many possibilities. At Hellenic Republic a couple of weeks ago she had her first taste of restaurant food – some pita bread. But her favourite food is still fruit. Her little face lights up whenever I pick up a nectarine.

It is busy days here. I return to work in a week so I expect my blogging to be less frequent but I hope to still post regularly. I am already struggling to read all the blogs in my blogreader so apologies if my commenting is also less frequent. (It is also an appropriate time to apologise that my formatting is not great lately as I am having some hiccups with posting.) I have a few nice recipes to post but it all seems slow going. Here is her list of firsts from the last week. Having firsts isn’t limited to babies so I have given E and me a list each at the end of this.

Sylvia’s firsts:

  • First swim in a pool – if you can call standing in a corner poking gum leaves in the air vents swimming. I have booked her into swimming lessons this year, which should be fun.
  • First missing button on her top – don’t know where or when it disappeared – just hope we might find it before she does.
  • First piece of cake – she asked for it and surprisingly ate a few small chunks. Her dad was pleased it was a little neofolk – a vegan plum and walnut cake with a little buckwheat (recipe to come soon).
  • First time eating peas whole – she is fascinated by the little green orbs – no doubt she loves green like her mum – she loves to pick them up, study them and put them in her mouth but about half fall out.
  • First tomato – hard to know if she has swallowed – so many fall out but I think a few have landed in her roly poly tummy.
  • First piece of pineapple – a new love – she gobbles up pieces of fresh pineapple – we have never eaten so much of it before in our house.
  • First discovery of how to open the bin - so much fascinating stuff in there for a baby!
  • First taste of sourdough bread – not a success – she spat it out. She is still not keen on sour tastes but we will keep trying.
  • First time standing up without immediately falling on the nearest wall or piece of furniture for support.
  • First taste of lime juice – see below
  • First instance of eating from my plate – I have usually stopped the little hands that are eager to dig into my dinner but when she was really upset I did it to keep her calm (oh dear she is already emotionally eating) and because it was a rice and vegetable dish with a squeeze of lime juice so nothing that she couldn’t eat. Much of what she took ended up on the floor. But she felt like a grown up.
  • First tofu scramble – I was so happy that she was eating the sort of food we eat. I served it with less seasoning than ours and some of the above rice and vegetables. She wouldn’t eat it from a spoon but picked bits and ate it when I used my fingers. Much of this landed on the floor too but she seemed to like tofu with a bit of tamari. Ours was delicious and great on toast the next morning.
  • First taste of tamari – didn’t make a fuss but I suspect a bit of pineapple made it more palatable in the tofu scramble.
  • First taste of cow’s milk in her cereal – a complete disaster. She has now given up eating cereal. Some subterfuge might be required. Maybe she just wants to be a vegan. She is not keen on cheese either.
  • First play with her new squirters in the bath - who doesn't want an alien squirter in their bath!
  • First attempt to climb out of the bath – I put a halt to that as it is not the place for such shenanigans.
  • First butter on toast - went down quite well. Of course you can guess which sides ends up on the floor when it gets thrown over the side of the high chair.
  • First promite on toast - it was only the tiniest scrape but was not quite as welcome as the butter.
  • First time in her new playpen - to save our sanity - especially when she is chasing Zinc.
  • First pikelets – she was starving as I cooked the baby pancakes and her little teeth kept biting at my jeans. Once the pikelets were cooked she ate a few mouthfuls greedily. Then suddenly she wouldn’t eat a bit of them. Why it is desirable one moment and not in the next is a mystery but probably has some relation to how desperately hungry she is.

My firsts:

  • First macaron – having read about them often on blogs, I finally brought a macaron at Browns. Now I understand the excitement. I might even try baking them some time if I feel really brave.
  • First visit to the local outdoor swimming pool – I went with Sylvia and some of her little friends. Reminded me of my childhood swimming in an unheated pool. Reminded me of why I usually go to the indoor pool.
  • First experience of taking back an unopened packet of brown rice infested with weevils to get my money back from the supermarket - now I have some suspicions of why I occasionally discover weevils in my pantry - most displeased!
  • First attempt at making eggless pikelets/pancakes – not bad – see below.
  • First glimpse of digital tv at home – our first viewing was Torchwood. Love the program but have missed many episodes since it filmed on analogue.
  • First trip to the Australian Open to watch tennis – more about this in another post.

E’s firsts:

  • First week in a secondment at work
  • First opportunity to play with the new set top box for digital tv – he loves having yet another remote control – so does Sylvia!
  • First time preparing Sylvia’s breakfast – he has fed her breakfast before but not prepared. However when I am back at work he will have a day at home with her and will need to take more responsibility.
  • First time peeling a banana – I can’t verify this but he had to have some guidance when he prepared Sylvia’s breakfast this morning. He looked at the banana in bemusement. I asked when was the last time he had one. He guessed that it might have been 1973. So I guess his mother might have peeled it for him. He has learnt an important life skill.

So many shiny new experiences in our house. So much change. I can guarantee there will be more. I want to try tweaking the pikelet recipe and want to try making pizza for Sylvia (Aodhan liked it so she might too).

Meanwhile here is what I did with the pikelets. I have called them eggless because I used cow’s milk but I am sure they would be easily veganised with non-dairy milk. They are still a bit of work in progress. I added some baking powder because I like my pancakes fluffy rather than flat. These were a bit gooey inside but I still enjoyed them with promite on the plain ones and cream cheese and jam on the banana ricotta variation. Well someone had to eat them!

Eggless Pikelets
Adapted from Somthing about Penguins

1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1¼ cup milk
¼ cup apple puree

Banana and Ricotta variation
1 banana, mashed
2 dessertspoons of ricotta

Mix flour, baking powder, milk and apple puree (and banana and ricotta if you choose to add these). Drop dessertspoonfuls on a buttered or oiled frypan over medium high heat. Cook til bubbling and then turn over and cook for another minute or two or until golden brown spots appear on the underside. Eat warm or cold on the day you make them.

On the Stereo:
On the Rocks: Part 1:
Various Artists

Saturday 23 January 2010

Cheese and Almond Loaf

Last weekend was full of food and family. I had many ideas floating around in my head of all the wonderful food I would make and despite this – or maybe due to too many wild ideas – I didn’t produce much food to be proud of. Fortunately others made some delicious food and my one success, a low carb gf cheese and almond bread, was soooo good it made up for my failures.

On Saturday we were off to a barbecue at Fran and John’s. Fran had suggested I make salad. No worries. I had been thinking about making rice salad and putting aside some of the rice for Sylvia. I cruised around the supermarket buying lots of nice veggies to put in the salad but didn’t pay much attention to the dressing. Surely I would have some ideas on my blog.

Before I headed out to the shops I finally got around to using my agar agar for the first time. I had my eye on AOF’s Kanten – a jelly with fruit in it. She used flakes and I used powder so I just followed the instructions on the packet. Never again! I was looking forward to some lovely cool jelly when I got home but was most disappointed. The result was like rubber. E said it looked like something for sealing windows. AOF had suggested using a lot less flakes than she had initially been advised so maybe I will try again with less powder to see if I can make a jelly a bit more like the one my mum makes.

With the jelly idea gone kaput, I set about making rice salad. Firstly I got out my brown rice, only to find it was infested with weevils. So I had to use basmati. Not my first choice but it would do. There was heaps of it. Herein lay my problem. I am so used to making smaller salads that I didn’t put enough dressing on it. The salad was nice and laden with vegetables but just a little lacking in taste. I also put in cucumber because it is Sylvia’s favourite vegetable but I forgot that John doesn’t like it.

Fortunately Fran had some wonderful cheese pastisti that John’s mum had made. Delicious! Sylvia had her first taste of non-pureed rice at the party. She never refused a bit of it although quite a bit fell onto the couch (sorry Fran and John!) For dessert there was lots of yummy chocolate cake.

Meanwhile E was cutting a mean figure in John’s pool room. Yes their house is big enough for a pool room! When we left E said to me that he thought it was just an Aussie myth perpetrated by The Castle. This is a great film about little Aussie battlers with colourful language. After seeing this film E and I used to bandy about the terms ‘suffer in your jocks’ and ‘you little ripper’ with much amusement. But we never got into using the Trading Post. According to the film it was the source of all sorts of bargain purchases. These treasures went ‘straight to the pool room’! The film is now a historical document illustrating when the Trading Post was a thick bundle of newsprint rather than a website.

The next day was a lunch for my mum’s birthday. Mum had decided to make tacos, which suit a variety of diets. She and my sisters are into low carb diets at the moment so I had wanted to take something appropriate (ie no cake). Feeling tired from yesterday and realizing I didn’t have cottage cheese for the Cheesy Almond Muffins I had planned, it all seemed too much. Then I realized I had the ingredients for a Rose Elliot low carb cheese and almond bread. It was a recipe I had copied out in a bookstore a couple of years ago.

‘Could you feed Sylvia for a moment for me while I quickly get this bread in the oven,’ I said to E. He took over at the highchair while I threw everything into a bowl. I wasn’t as quick as I imagined. It took a little time to grate cheese and chop basil but was still fairly easy. I decorated it with cherry tomatoes from the garden and some basil leaves. Once the loaf came out of the oven, we wrapped it in a tea towel, put it in the car and headed off to my folk’s place. The warm bread smelt wonderful.

We got to Geelong and were greeted with lots of chaos – and food. My mum had whipped up some amazing empanadas. The vegetarian ones had potatoes, onion, tomato, currants and spices (I think). E loved the meat ones and was raving about them all the way home. They were great finger food to have on the table before the tacos.

My mum always loves to try new food so we had a taste of the cheese and almond bread soon after we arrived. It was very good – dense and cheesy. It is no for those watching their cholesterol intact but my sister Chris, who hasn’t been eating much bread, found this a wonderful low carb loaf. Susie, who is celiac, liked it but said she would love it with some butter on it. Even baby Dash ate a piece. It would be great as a picnic or lunchbox snack (except at schools that are nut-free). I think you might say this bread would go straight to the pool room.

After the tacos we had some desserts made by mum. She is like me and loves a chance to bake for a crowd, even on her birthday. She made a chocolate sponge for a birthday cake, a pavlova with crushed peppermint crisp because my nieces love it, and caramel tart, which is Chris’ favourite. It looks like it might be little Dash’s favourite too by the satisfaction on his face when he tasted it for the first time.

Unfortunately neither Chris nor Dash will have one of mum’s caramel tarts for some time as it was their last family dinner before they headed home to Ireland on Wednesday. But Susie is hoping there will be many more gf versions of the tart because it was so good that you couldn’t tell the difference with the regular version.

My mum spends so much time in the kitchen that I am sure she will get a lot of use out of her new Sunbeam mix master (Australia’s answer to the KitchenAid). It was a present to her from all the family. Quite a selfish present really, as we are all looking forward to all the wonderful food she will make with it. I am sure that Chris, Fergal and Dash will be back soon for more of mum’s cooking. Meanwhile I have given them the recipe for the cheese and almond bread to keep them going.

Cheese and Almond Bread
From Rose Eliot’s Vegetarian Low Carb Cookbook

- 300g ground almonds (I used 250g almond meal and 30g toasted pinenuts)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 55g butter , softened (I used 50g)
- 150g cheese, grated (I used 50g cheddar, 60g parmesan and 25g chopped basil)
- 3 eggs

Mix together and bake in greased and lined (or silicone) loaf tin for 50 minutes at 180 C.

On the Stereo:

As day follows night:
Sarah Blasko