Books, Food, and the Dangers of Combining the Two

I’ve hurt my back (again) so for the last two days I haven’t been able to do much. I wasn’t even sure I was okay to drive, so yesterday my partner Chris worked from home, and today my father-in-law brought the kids home after school.

Today was a whole lot better than yesterday, pain-wise, and I even did a teensy bit of cautious cleaning (on the level of kicking dirty washing from the hallway into the laundry).

As my father-in-law left, I noticed a book Louisette (5) had brought home from school. One of those kids’ cook books. My heart sank.

 

Louisette brought it out of her bag (dangit, she remembered she had it) with smiles and requests to read it, and “make everything in it”. I had a look through (approving of the simplicity of the recipes) and said I’d think about maybe making something in it. She wandered off, and I had a look through.

It had ten recipes (not, as the cover proclaims, FIFTY*)

We had too many kiwifruit, which was worrying me (I have many fruit-related anxieties**), so I thought, “Let’s make that kiwifruit smoothie” (but, ya know, in the thermomix and with some frozen raspberries in it too). Kiwifruit is soft enough that I had the kids cutting it up—Louisette cut off the skin (along with two-thirds of each fruit…. well, we DID have too many…) and then TJ cut the remainder into smaller pieces.

This was a grand success, and I rode the high and proclaimed we’d make popcorn too. Louisette has a thing for popcorn and I’d secretly bought some microwavable stuff, so THAT was easy.

I’d already said we could maybe make the tart things for dinner (my own plan was frozen nuggets and chips…. bad back, remember?) since I knew we had a single sheet of ancient puff pastry in the freezer, and I’d also discovered some Chris-made pumpkin soup from a month or so ago, so I thought maybe that’d already count as one of the recipes too. So I took a photo: two happy kids in aprons with smoothie (in a jug to save for Chris), bowls of popcorn, and a freezer container of pumpkin soup.

They’re looking sideways due to watching TV. Mum is boring.

 

One thing led to another and thoughts happened in my head along the lines of, “Hey, we have to cook dinner anyway!” and “I can re-use trays” and “If I start now, I can…”

So naturally I decided to do all eleven recipes… using healthy versions where available, and using only what was already in the house.

  1. Smoothie (specifically, kiwi and raspberry, sweetened with maple syrup). Kid involvement: chopping kiwifruit together. Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: thermomix.
  2. Popcorn. Kid involvement: Listening to popping (what else is there?) Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: Microwave popcorn.
  3. Vegetable Art. Kid involvement: chopping various things. Taste: Vegetables and cheese. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Delighted. They even ate most of what they made. Mum cheat: Using only a few ingredients (carrot, cucumber, cheese, mini crackers, and 2-minute noodles). I made a hill at sunrise; Louisette made a racing car (it looks like a train to me), and TJ proudly proclaimed that he had made “A Mess!” This also kept them entertained quite well while I prepped various other things (bread dough a la thermomix, roast vegetables for soup, stuff for “Pasta and Sauce”).

 

 

 

4. Pasta and Sauce. Louisette begged me not to cook this at all (not a fan of tomatoes) but it was far too late for moderation now. Kid involvement: I forced Louisette to stir the sauce for ten seconds so I could take a picture. Taste: Very tomato-y but actually rather nice. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Begging for the sweet release of death. Mum cheat: I reverse cheated on this one: I actually added zucchini (pulverised with butter and onion in the thermomix) and fresh tomato. With grated mozzarella on top (we keep grated mozzarella in the freezer).

 

5. Bread. Thermomix bread is pretty easy (and we have dried yeast on hand) so I used the thermomix ‘basic bread’ recipe, made a small loaf out of most of it and let the kids make fun shapes from the rest (which I knew would also cook quickly, being smaller). Top tip: Don’t let kids knead bread. They’re terrible at it, and it always ends up really heavy. But they love it.

6. Soup.

At some stage I remembered we had a pumpkin in the fridge and lost my mind completely. I did a fast-and-dirty roast of pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, onion, zucchini, and potato and then basically shoved it all in the thermomix. The next pic is Louisette modelling for me….. Louisette doesn’t like soup.

Kid involvement: Posing for photo, under protest. Taste: Pumpkin-y. Pretty good, especially considering I forgot to add stock (I added thermomix-and-butter-fried garlic before the rest, and had sprinkled herbs on the roasting vegies along with sprayed oil). Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: NOOOO WHYYYYYY/Yum (TJ finished his). Mum cheat: Thermomix rather than saucepan (and I know from experience that you should always roast the vegies rather than cooking them any other way – and cover the pumpkin with foil so it doesn’t burn).

 

7. Tarts/Flans: I made savoury cheese flans plus two jam tarts (both just pastry with stuff inside).

Kid involvement: Louisette broke eggs into the bowl (twice, since the first time she did she added water “because I wanted to make it more healthy”), and both kids helped use the circular pastry cutter, then added scrap bits of pastry to the top of the tarts. Taste: Exquisite. Seriously. I think using the same containers brought in some delicious features from other dishes that did something wonderful to what should have been an omelette with pretensions. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: All the nope, which luckily meant Chris and I got to eat more. Mum cheat: Frozen (and badly freezer-burned) puff pastry instead of shortcrust. I also added ham and avocado because they’re yummy and healthy.

[darn it, I’ve run out of free wordpress image space.]

[picture of muffin tin with tarts/flans because kids were no longer interested in this weird obsession.]

So for dinner we had tarts/flans, fresh bread, fresh home-made pumpkin soup, and pasta with home-made sauce.

Meanwhile, fairy cakes and upside-down puddings were cooking (precisely the same batter, even in the book) were cooking.

8. Upside-down pudding.

Basic cake mixture, in a muffin tin with tinned pineapple, sultanas, and desiccated coconut placed into the pan first. Served upside down (so the fruit is on the top). Kid involvement: Placing pineapple slices inside. Taste: Soap. I have no idea why. Possibly I didn’t clean the tin real well after the tarts. Possibly my body was trying to tell me something. Healthiness: Could be worse. Kid response: Meh. Mum cheat: Cooking fairy cakes at the same time. Genius. Also I’d long since run out of proper flour so I used cornflour. Taste was no longer a factor. The end was nigh.

[Picture of TJ eating his upside-down pudding. I think he actually ate it all, presumably because he was thrown into confusion at this stage of the evening—generally our kids respond to cupcakes with enthusiasm, then eat the top and abandon the rest.]

9. Fairy Cakes.

Same as above, but with paper patty pans instead of fruit. Then flavoured & coloured icing, with all the toppings I could find (desiccated coconut, white choc chips, sprinkles). Kid involvement: Decoration! Much cheering! Also, choosing colour and flavour of the icing (with heavy hints along the lines of “We have lemon flavouring and peppermint flavouring”). Taste: Mmm… artificial flavouring. Healthiness: Nope. Kid response: Delighted with the decorating process, yet strangely unenthusiastic about their ninth course. So this is their dessert-stomach threshold. Good to know. Mum cheat: Dad supervised the brightly-coloured horror of decoration while I did other things (far too hyper myself to panic over the small fingers and food colouring, which would normally be a huge deal).

[Picture of strangely re-invogorated children smeared with chocolate and icing.]

10. Moon rocks (basically lumpy choc chip cookies, but mine turned utterly flat). Kid involvement: Pouring in choc chips. Taste: Cardboard. Healthiness: Fail. Kid response: Glazed. Mum cheat: I had reached a zen-like level of existence where any ingredient vaguely the same colour was a fine substitute, and measuring anything was too hard.

[picture of pancake-like “rocks” melded together.]

11. Chocolate cake.

Yep, for reals. Big finish. Luckily this was a biscuit base with a pure chocolate top. Hello again, thermomix!

Kid involvement: Licking the bowl (Louisette)/showing no interest whatsoever (poor over-fed TJ). Taste: Chocolate. What’s not to like? Okay fine; I haven’t actually eaten any yet. I’m just about to, honest. Healthiness: Hah, lol. Kid response: Too tired to care. Literally zero interest. Mum cheat: THERMOMIX SMASH. Also, Chris does the dishes.

[picture of cake]

I published this post, then went back and tried the chocolate cake. It was excellent. Butter, biscuits, chocolate, then chocolate on top. Rather rich, but easy and fabulous. I shall try to hide it from the kids tomorrow.

 

Chris came home from work to find me wild-eyed and bustling, with the children poring over vegetable art and things bubbling, roasting, and mixing all over the kitchen. After a little while, he came to me and said, “Hmm… might you be having a manic episode?”

Why yes, I am!

 

*While writing this post I tried to come up with fifty “interpretations” of the ten recipes. Some were fairly legit (four different types of smoothie, sure), some were moderately legit (you can make jam tarts by putting jam in the pastry, or cheesy tarts by using this egg-and-cheese mixture), and some were literally a list of “foods that can be eaten from a pot”. I managed to nearly reach thirty recipes by including a list of “other types of tarts that also use pastry” but fifty? Not a chance.

**This is actually true. Weird textures and slight variations in flavour cause me much pain. Don’t get me started on under-ripe/over-ripe fruit.

 

2011 Top Ten Awesomenesses

Hot air balloon

World Map of Food

Horseriding

Zombie Walk 

Steam Train

6. Beach (for our second honeymoon/pre-emptive babymoon) and sandcastle

Skyfire

Young Symphonists

Get pregnant

Getting rescued by firemen was cool too.

2011 was somewhat dominated by pregnancy and pregnancy-related illness, but there were a few other really cool things going on: I wrote and edited a steampunk novel; CJ’s brother got engaged (CJ and Louisette and I will all be visiting Hong Kong and Beijing next year for the wedding – and blogging about it, naturally); and my sister and her family told me they’ll be living in Canberra (for at least a year) from June 2012. We had dramas with disappearing cats, a ceiling collapse, and nearly going to court over a paperwork issue – but it all worked out in the end.

Christmas on the interwebs

Christmas and New Year’s Day are two of the slowest and dullest days on the internet each year, so I’ve prepared three special blog entries just for you.

Christmas Eve: Something special from the watery depths (tentacles most definitely included).

Christmas Day: Top ten awesomenesses of 2011 (it turns out my year wasn’t nearly as dull as I remember).

New Year’s Day: Sarcastic Christmas letter.

You’re welcome, internet! You deserve love after giving us this:

Top Ten FREE Awesomenesses

It’s finally here! The ultimate awesomenesses for my poverty-striken peeps. I’ve marked with an asterisk those I think are worth clicking on (either for stylish writing or for pictures). And without further ado. . .

10. Feed ducks

9. Blob/No Plans

8. Join the Library and Read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy*

7. Lord of the Rings Movie Marathon*

6. Sculpture Garden or The National Carillon or whatever’s free in your area*

5. Kidnap your date (or a friend)

4. Light a Fire

3. Steal Flowers*

2. Bubbles!*

1. Frolic in a Fountain*

This is it. . . the youtube clip that’ll soon reach 13,000 views. I can only conclude that the internet was expecting something else.

I have a special treat for next Monday. You’ll never guess what it is, but here’s some random clues all the same:

1. It involves a visitor from China (who is not Chinese).

2. Americans should find it especially entertaining/horrifying/insulting, depending on their personality (but it’s not at all mean in any way).

3. It is, allegedly, educational.

4. It is very, very funny.

Top Ten Awesome Pics

Here they are, the pictures that in my opinion are the most peculiar/troublesome/unique/spectacular from the year of Daily Awesomeness. A few also appear in the other top ten lists. I’ve marked with an asterisk those that are attached to well-written or interesting blog articles, and pointed out for your benefit when the awesomeness in question has several excellent pictures for your enjoyment.

10. Skyfire 2011

9. Tattoo a baby

8. Macabre expression of love*

7. Sarcastic Christmas Letter (this photo is from the Great Wall)*

6. Wedding photos (plenty more beautiful/funny pictures)

5. Play with a cat

4. World map of food (all of which are listed in the article)

3. Hot air balloon ride (more beautiful pictures in the article, naturally)

2. Bubbles! (lots of beautiful pictures if you click through)

1. Octopus in an unexpected place (so many awesome pictures it was hard to pick this one – if you like it, click through for the rest)

Special thanks to my mum for the use of her bird bath.

Next week: The top ten FREE awesomenesses, including a surprising number of my personal favourites (and featuring the youtube video I made that now has over 12,000 hits).

Top Ten Awesomenesses

I’ve now sorted ALL 365 awesomenesses into three top tens – the top ten that cost money, the top ten that are free, and the top ten pictures from the year.

Here’s the first list, leading up to my personal favourite.

10. Home Made Lemonade – with SCIENCE!

Cost: Perhaps $10 for lemons, sugar, and the secret ingredient.

Deliciousness: Yes.

Feeling: A mix of home-cooking pride, childhood nostalgia, and mad science.

Danger: Er. . . not getting scurvy?

9. Home-Delivered Meal

Cost: $20-$50

Deliciousness: Yes.

Feeling: All the luxury of a restaurant – but you can do it in your pajamas. Win.

Danger: Minimal.

8. A Whole Meal of One Colour

Cost: Perhaps a dollar or two more than the meal would already cost.

Deliciousness: Medium.

Feeling: You get the benefit of messing with the head of whoever you live with, plus the surreal joy of a meal that Just Looks Wrong.

Danger: Minimal. Increased slightly if you don’t tell your housemates what you’re doing in advance.

7. Cake and Chopsticks (the more participants the merrier)

Cost: Maybe $20.

Deliciousness: Sure.

Feeling: Chaos – as you gleefully play with your food AND make a huge mess. Also, chopstick battles.

Danger: Splinters.

6. Go Mad in a Lolly Shop

Cost: $20-$50

Deliciousness: Absolutely.

Feeling: The best parts of being an adult combined. You can buy AS MUCH AS YOU WANT and then you can eat AS MUCH AS YOU WANT. And then you can feel AS SICK AS YOU WANT and YOUR MOTHER WILL NEVER KNOW.

Danger: Nausea, diabetes, heart disease. Mother showing up unexpectedly and looking askanse at you.

5. Go to the Beach and Eat Fish and Chips There.

Cost: $20 + travel (and possibly accommodation)

Deliciousness: Mmm. . . salty laaaarrrrrdddd. . .

Feeling: All the sunshine and freedom and beauty of the best holiday you’ve ever been on – because here in the antipodes, “holiday” is a synonym for “go to the beach”.

Danger: Sharks, jellyfish, coral. Lard.

4. Diet Coke and Mentos Rocket.

Cost: $10

Deliciousness: No! No, you moron, stop trying to drink that!

Feeling: ROCKET! Aieeeee!

Danger: Bruising, blindness, death. Disappointment (the rocket thing was a fluke – the wild spraying, however, is entirely reliable).

3. Adopt a Pet 

Cost: $50-$300 (goldfish versus the colourful ones) – lots more for fluffy animals.

Deliciousnes: How could you say such a thing? What kind of a monster are you?

Feeling: This is the other good side to being an adult – the feeling that you have somehow evolved to be able to take care of others as well as yourself. Also, pets are entertaining and good-looking. I hear some are also affectionate.

Danger: Death (the pet, not you – but it’s devastating).

2. Become an Aeronaut.

Cost: About $250 per person.

Deliciousness: Do not eat the balloon.

Feeling: Exactly like flying should feel. Also, gorgeous views. Sheer serenity. I definitely recommend ballooning in your own town rather than elsewhere.

Danger: Crashing into the sea or elsewhere – but that possibility is extremely low.

1. Horseriding.

Cost: $50 per person.

Deliciousness: Not permitted unless you are caught up in medieval battle, then have to make an epic journey of some kind. And you’re all out of serfs.

Feeling: Like very uncomfortable flying, but also a wonderful sense of attempting communication with a highly intelligent creature – and of course learning the skills of two hundred years ago.

Danger: Falling.

And here’s a repeat of the top awesomenesses music video – because I can. (Some of these are represented here, and some elsewhere.)

S#12: Healing Stones

My mission today was to go to “one of those hippy shops” and buy “something weird.” I bought a pack of “Mystic East” Frangipani incense sticks that apparently “improves the concentration of the mind for meditation and prayer”.

I decided, by way of experiment, to see if burning fangipani incense helped me remember more details from the history book I’m currently reading. Unfortunately, although I can’t say it didn’t improve my concentration, it did give me a headache so quickly that I didn’t have time to crack open the book. Result: Inconclusive, but definitely non-helpful.

I moved the burning sticks on their improvised stand into the laundry – home of cat food, CJ’s bike, and cat litter – to see if it could dissipate the peculiar smell that has lingered in that room since the octopus incident.

I can’t tell for certain if the smell is gone or not, but when I went inside to test the air (and check I hadn’t just burned down our rental home), I got a surprise: Ana was hanging out happily on the floor. Neither cat has EVER just lolled about in the laundry before – it’s their toilet, after all.

So it seems I’m mildly allergic to incense, but my cat really likes it.

Weird.

There are very few items left on the steffmetal.com list of awesomeness. Here’s what I’ve promised to do before the end of next month:

#79: Karaoke (and yep, I’m gonna sing – even if it kills me and every other person in the room – and video it)

#86: Starry Night (at an observatory)

#94: Pay off debt (it’s gonna be a tight squeeze, but I hope we can pay back my parents in the next four weeks).

#89: Dinner and a movie (all by myself – that’s the condition)

#32: Break from technology (four days down, three to go)

#8: Ich bin ein stern (glow in the dark stars)

#28: To the theatre (we plan to see the one-man Lord of the Rings! Awesome!)

and the most expensive exciting. . .

#76: Up in the air (hot air balloon ride!)

On THIS sunday, I’ll be writing about the epic international feast.