Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Treehouses and old school play

You know that I am an advocate for slow childhood.

And despite helping my children keep up with the modern world so as not to impair them by not giving them the tools to navigate it, I am also ever so aware of the fleeting moment of time that is childhood.

We are a technology rich household, we all know how to use computers, are literate with iPad technology and use mobile phones.  I am strong believer in these things as amazing tools and resources for both our children and for us. I am happy for my kids to utilise all of these things but we have very strict time limits.

But I also aware that some of the aspects of childhood that we all enjoyed and that helped shape us into resilient adults may be on the decline.

Playing outside without toys and just nature as our guide.

Playing with mud & dirt & getting dirty are not really big on parents list of games we encourage our kids to play.

Letting the kids use hammers, drills & saws is not really something we encourage either as we worry about what might happen.

Don't get me wrong- I worry too. A lot.

But I have learned to tame my anxiety in favour of offering these things to my lads as feel it is imperative for them to know I trust them.  I want them to know I trust their judgment and that I want them to know that I am happy for them to take risks- albeit calculated.

It is about letting them just be.

To help them find quiet.

To be able to find quiet is so very important. Most adults never ever re-learn the skill that we all had as children to do just that.

And I do not mean quiet in terms of decibel volume here- I am talking about finding an inner peace.  Finding a a place inside that feels comfortable, feels good.

Taking away the white noise of the things we let overtake our days and letting our kids go at their own pace.

Over the last two weekends we have been working on an extension of our ol' skool treehouse (ol' skool in that it is just a platform with NO sides very high up in a tree). We built it a couple of years ago- I wrote about that here.

Over the last two weekends we built a lower level for the little kids- they wanted it to be like a Pirate ship.

There was sawing, there was hammering, there was hanging around in the shed finding tools & the right size nails.  The 3yo too. In fact he was the busiest.

The sun has been good to us the last 2 weekends in a row and so last Sunday evening the Pirate ship was finished.

The kids named her the 'Polly Wodger' - after our Basset hound Polly and a kind of ode to the big kids love of Monty Python.

I sewed a Pirate flag that was designed by the kids too- instead of a Skull and crossbones it was to be Polly's head and Dog bones.

Kids are so very ace.

It is so very ace to spend as much time as we can with them in this way.

I just love hanging out with my kids so much.

If you have ever had Congee it was probably at Yum Cha.
It is one of the things at Yum CHa that  I 'must' have or it just doesn't feel like I have finished- along with the Chooks feet.  Not everyone's thing I know but must haves for our family.
I had really only ever had two varieties- chicken congee or the century egg version.
Then when we moved to Melbourne my mum found this fantastic authentic little Chinese restaurant that was easily missed as a dodgy little Chinese that only served the ubiquitous Lemon Chicken & not much else.
It turned out they do a killer Fish Head Congee and any time my mum is in Melbourne she will drive out of her way to get herself some of that Congee action! 
And the Restaurateur remembers her no matter how long between visits. A special little place.
Congee is one of my favourite comfort foods. So healthy and restorative. 
Some people are not so keen on it's texture- it is best described as a Rice Porridge, but I absolutely love it.
I often make Congee from the leftovers of Hainanese chicken- you have everything you need; stock, chicken & rice!  
It requires long cooking to dissolve the grains of rice but you can speed it up considerably in a Pressure cooker.
To make it super tasty it requires a good quality stock as it's base- then you can add whatever little things you like to zhooz it up. To do this form scratch I just use Chicken drumsticks to give it full flavour and depth. It is the bones that give good stock it's flavour.
I love to add heaps of ground white pepper & Spring onion as I serve.
Or as a textural difference sprinkle a generous amount of Fried Shallots and some Fresh chilli & coriander.
Or a lovely garnish that I heard about from one of my gorgeous readers on Instagram that I am soooo going to try!-  topping it with Ikan Bilis ( a Malaysian side dish of crispy fried anchovies and salty peanuts with the skin on). YUMMMMMMMMMMM.
Best of all just serve a variety of garnishes at the tabel and people can add their won as they like.

  • 1.5 litres of good chicken stock (use fish stock if making Fish head version)
  • 200g Jasmine rice 
  • 4 chicken drumsticks (or 3 fish heads)
  • 1 inch knob of ginger, sliced 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ground white pepper
  • Fried shallots (for garnish)
  • fresh coriander (for garnish)
  • fresh chilli, sliced finely

Place the chicken (or Fish heads), the rice, the ginger & the stock into a pan and bring to the boil.
Cook for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours stirring occasionally to to make sure the rice does not catch.
If using a pressure cooker, once you have reached pressure,  you only need to cook for about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and remove drumsticks and shred meat off the bone. Discard the bones and replace the chicken meat back into the stock.
Check for salt and add if necessary.
(If using fish heads leave)
Serve and individually garnish.

This track has been making me happy this week.......

Monday, 10 September 2012

Eating out where children are celebrated & not just tolerated

A couple of months back two of my five boys had birthdays.

Their birthdays are a week apart.

One was turning 6.

The other 14.

My parents were travelling from interstate to celebrate both of these occasions with us.

I wanted to to do something special.

We don't do a whole lot of eating in restaurants with our big family.

There is the expense but there is also the trying to get 5...FIVE boys sitting still in environments which are not very kid friendly.

The wrangling of them tends to overtake the pleasure of the dining.

Yum Cha has been our 'go to'eating out experience.

The instantaneous arrival of the food & the already loud chatter of other large groups masking the noise of a busy family, as well as the fact that it is relatively cheap.

But this time we wanted to do something a bit more special.  And I felt as if our kids were just about ready to try out a 'real' restaurant experience.

We booked St. Katherines after hearing many great reviews about their attitude to children.

What I wasn't expecting was not just tolerance but celebration of the younger variety of humans.

What an absolute delight.

We had the most fabulous experience.

The boys felt like kings.

Taken into the inner workings of the kitchen.  They chatted with the chefs, watched as the orders were delivered to the pass & service was called. Saw the behind scenes of what brings the magic to the table.

They were invited to make their own desserts with the pastry chef.  Can you imagine how my kids reacted to this?  I mean really?! Yes, really!

The most amazing experience for my kids.  They savoured it all.

It was perfect.

We all came away feeling so so happy.  The kind of memory making that a good restaurant meal should be.  But so much more than is usually offered to children.

Not a nugget to be seen- and you know how ecstatic this makes me don't you?!

I have said it before but I will say it again- Children are capable of so much more than they are given credit for.

Congrats St. Kats on being a place that allows them to do just that.

NB: I was not paid in any way to write this post but am so happy to recommend a family friendly restaurant that does not DUMB down the food for the kids but instead treats them with the dignity they deserve.
Well done to the crew at St.Kats! 
We will definitely be back. 

In that pic above is a photo of the most amazing salad I have had the pleasure to eat in recent times. 
Shane Delia's famous Smoked Almond & Corn salad
Apparently it is his most asked after recipe. I get why...I really really do.
I was told by my good friend to look out for it. That is was something very very special.
Boy was she right.
I could have eaten only that and left feeling like a Queen. 
AH-MAZING!...or perhaps that should be aMAIZEing. *groan*
Here is my cheats method to do this at home.
An easier way of replicating this fine dish at home- although I highly recommend you go and eat the real deal at St. Katherines.
It goes with most things- or simply on it's own.
Absolutely delicious.
We had it last night to accompany a roast chook. 
It was part of my 'emptying out the fridge/freezer/pantry' challenge that I wrote about last post. 

  • 2 cans of Corn kernels, drained well
  • 3/4 cup almonds (skin on)
  • a handful of chopped chives (i used mint yesterday as I had some in the garden but didn't have chives)
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup puffed Corn ( I found this at the Health food store)
  • 1/2 red onion, shaved finely
  • S & P

In a heavy pan heat the olive oil to medium temperature and add the almonds. 
Toast them in the oil till they are dark-don't be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat. You are better off taking it slow or you will burn the almonds. 
Remove and drain on paper towel and let cool.
Set the oil aside to cool for the dressing.

Add the corn kernels to a large salad bowl.  Add the onion and the chives (or mint).

Add the red wine vinegar to the cool oil and toss through the salad.

Pop the almonds in a mortar & pestle & crunch. I like to leave them all different sizes, some bug, some small.

Then add them and the puffed corn to the corn salad, toss through, add S & P and SERVE.

Here's the new video from Melbourne's very fabulous Tiger & Me, turn it up and cook a salad why don't ya?!!!

Friday, 7 September 2012

My food challenge

This week I am trying to use up everything in my fridge & freezer without going to the shops.

A spring clean if you like.

In Australia we have very large kitchen fridges.

And lots of us have more than one fridge, maybe a drinks fridge and a large freezer as well.  I certainly do- and mine are FULL!

I remember when we lived in London our fridge was only the size of a bar fridge and I could not get my head around how people managed.

Who wants to go the the supermarket every single day?

Not this little black duck!

If you lived in a little French village and could easily buy your vegies & other goodies easily each day I can understand it but in a big city?

I am not a fan of the supermarket at all, but despite my best efforts there are still reasons I need to shop there, although I try not to go very often.

I try to buy all of our meat direct from the farmer- I buy from here, and here , here and here.  And then some of the other stuff I buy from our lovely local Organic grocer. These guys are all ace & some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. And fancy that I have actually MET the people who made that food possible.  That won't be happening when you shop at the supermarket. We become dissociated from the meaning of the food to the food being just about the dollar price.  We become blinkered to the journey of paddock to plate.

We have lost many skills as society has evolved.  One of them is 'making do'.  Making do with what you have in the pantry.  Being able to make something out of very little. Being able to use lesser cuts of meat & offal and make deliciousness.

We shop with a list and buy accordingly.  I don't have a problem with that.  But I lament the loss of being savvy.   Being inventive.  Being more skilled generally.

By buying like this it makes the food I eat have more meaning.  I know about the farmer's families, I know that they too have bills to pay (like the MASSIVE fuel costs they incur for the insane amount of weekly driving they do to get their products to the consumer) ,  children to feed, clothe and educate- it means the food cycle comes a little closer back to the real, to the the stuff we maybe don't let ourselves think about when we pick up a packet of meat at the supermarket.

I am a HUGE supporter of Farmer's markets- I have talked about it before here. And I am a big believer in real food- I have talked about that here.

 Here is a list of all the accredited Farmers Markets around Australia. Try and find one that is near you and visit. Talk to the producers. Find out more about your food!

I like to support the people that make their life producing quality food for me to eat & that do so ethically & sustainably.  That is something that is very very important to me.

Reducing waste is important to me too.

So in an effort to be more thoughtful about the bounty I am so lucky to have in my fridge & freezer & pantry I have set myself a challenge.

My kids know about it too.

I normally buy & then decide what I am going to cook. But this time I am being more strict. No adding a bit from the shops here or there. No top ups.

We are emptying the contents over the next little while and 'making do'.  Not going to the supermarket to get that missing ingredient that would complete the dish we had in mind but instead changing, substituting and re-inventing what we have already.

It is a challenge to live by the idea that we CAN make deliciousness out of what we have.  And to have the conversation with my children about food, it's origins, it's meaning, it's journey to us.   We just need to be less rigid in our thinking.

This emptying of the fridge & freezer also involves going a bit 'ol' skool' with the idea of having to wait for things.  Instant gratification is a modern convenience.  And while I am as guilty as anyone of indulging in it, I definitely believe there are benefits to learning to wait.  Patience can bring great rewards.

I am also trying to reduce the amount of meat we eat- or at least the importance we place on it as being the centrepiece of our plate.  Australians generally eat too much meat.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE meat & I m not becoming vegetarian anytime soon, but I am aware that our family are guilty of eating too much of it.  This is neither sustainable or good for our health.  So while we empty the fridge I am also elevating the vegies to a higher level.  All of my family LOVE eating vegies so this is not a particularly hard part of the challenge but a fun one nonetheless.

I started this challenge for myself on Monday and will keep going till we are at rock bottom lows!

I wrote a little about this on my Facebook page last night and told of what we have eaten so far. I feel a little like I am re-telling the classic picture book Very hungry Caterpillar here but :

Monday night we ate : Homemade Tagliatelle with home made pesto & broadbeans

Tuesday night we ate: WarialdaBelted GallowayBeef Rumpsteak with a pepper sauce and panfried broccoli & Zucchini in garlic and black pepper

Wednesday night we ate : Bundarra Berkshires Pork shoulder rubbed with my Salt & Pepper spice mix and roasted and served with a Fennel Risotto

Thursday night we ate : Caramelised Onion & Sage tart that I used some of my latest delivery of Bruny Island Cheese Co. cheese in & I served it with cumin Spiced carrots.

It will be interesting to see what happens.......but I already feel as though things have changed for the better.  That as the fridge clears my happiness at how well we are doing rises.  I feel happy that the conversation about the meaning of food is alive and well with my kids. That alone is enough reason to do it.

I am sharing the recipe for last nights tart with you.
Last week we go our most recent delivery of Bruny Island Cheese through Nick's Cheese Club- if you are not a member already do it NOW!
I wanted to use some of the cheese in last nights dinner.
I hadn't defrosted any meat from the freezer so it was to be a vego meal.
I had a big bag of red onions and thought caramelised onions would be perfect with Nick's Mark cheese- a semi-hard cheese that is rolled with the remainingPinot grape seeds & husks after pressing (these leftovers are called the marc) & so leaving a lovely pinot flavour in the cheese. OMG Yum!!!!
So here is what I made.... it was soooo easy!!!
I made two, anticipating using the leftovers for lunches today. There was not a crumb left.  My 14yo ate one all to himself & we divided the other between the others- it was a hit!
I used the exact same method I used to make the recipe here for the caramelised onions but just added sage and not rosemary.
The result was a simple and elegant dish that would satisfy anyone.  I served it with Cumin spiced Carrots. So much yum.
for the Caramelised Onion

1kg red onions
• 8 leaves Sage, chopped finely 
• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• a little water if necessary

for the rest of the tart

  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 egg (to eggwash the pastry) 
  • cheese to grate

preheat oven to 180C.

Cut the onion in half and slice finely. Heat a non-stick pan to a medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Add the onions and sage immediately and stir frequently. Add the salt. As the onions become soft and translucent, add the sugar. It will caramelise quite quickly. Don’t let the onions brown, so you may want to turn the heat down to low to prevent this. Add a little water (1/4 cup at a time) if you need too. I do this to help cook the onions without letting them brown. This process takes about 20–25 minutes.
Let the water evaporate off and add the red wine vinegar. Stir well. Now add the balsamic vinegar, stir through for about a minute and take off the heat. 

Place your puff onto a lined baking tray and score a line gently (not all the way through the pastry) 3cm from the edge all the way around.

Grate a good amount of cheese directly onto the pastry.  Then place the onion mix over the top of this. And eggwash the edge that is left with bare pastry.

Now place in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. 

Remove and grate a little more cheese over the top.

Serve immediately.

Today sees a new Calexico album for the first time in four years. YIPPEE!!!!
I am a long time fan. Here is the first track from their album. Enjoy.