I’ll be going to this year’s Goulburn Reader Writer Festival on Saturday 24 March (10am-8pm). The theme is “Feed Your Mind” and there will be a bunch of food-oriented authors. “Murder in the Mail” has two clues that can be consumed (technically you could consume all of them, but I would NOT recommend that) so I’ll fit in nicely, in my own peculiar way.

One of the authors is John Newton, and when I realised he’d written a book on pre-European Australian food I grabbed it at once. The Oldest Foods on Earth: A History of Australian Native Foods With Recipes was enthralling and I finished it quickly. . . but of course I had to stop and copy out a recipe while I was there. That recipe was “Kangaroo Loin, Semi-Smoked in Lemon Myrtle” by Indigenous Chef and star of “Wild Kitchen”, Clayton Donovan. You can see the real recipe here. and can follow the movements of the Jaaning Tree Restaurant (it does pop-ups and stuff) here.

The mechanics of smoking the kangaroo reminded me of the epically delicious Chicken and Cashews with Coconut Satay Sauce and Coconut Rice by thermomix cooking genius Quirky Cooking, here.

One of the cool things themomixes can do is cook rice while also steaming meat and reducing the liquid of a sauce. But it’s possible to still cook this recipe without one, especially if you use a rice cooker that can fit a wire frame inside. I’ll leave the Macgyvering up to you.

I found ALL my ingredients in Woolworths except the cooking wine (our Woolies has a separate shop for booze). The kangaroo was very near the chicken (and it cost the same amount to buy the marinated ones, so why not?), and the Masterfoods herb and spice mixture was just below all the herb and spice bottles (I didn’t find any plain lemon myrtle but I did order some online via ebay once I’d tasted it).

I was extremely excited about trying this out, and the results were spectacular. TJ and Chris were both impressed; Louisette refused to eat anything other than the sauce (3 out of 4 happy at dinner time is well above average). It’s incredibly rich, and the meat is lean and tender with a taste similar to lamb but. . . well. . . richer. It may have actually knocked lamb of its podium for me, which is incredible. There’s no fat to trim and no bones to negotiate. You can certainly taste the French influence. It feels weird to have rice with kangaroo, but it worked. The wine turns the rice a gorgeous purple, and the coconut makes it taste delicious.


4ish kangaroo steaks, marinated in garlic and herbs (ie one pack)

Rice (enough for four people)

100mL red cooking wine

1 can coconut milk

20g bag Masterfoods “Coconut, Lemon Myrtle, and Garlic” Herb and Spice Blend (pictured, after I tore off the top).

1 tsp sugar (optional)

20g crushed macadamias (I crushed them on speed 6 for 1 second in the thermomix; putting them in a clean back and hitting them would also work)

2 tablespoons dark chocolate, broken (choc chips are handy)

1 tablespoon cranberry jelly/sauce

1 tsp stock (I used thermomix vegie stock; I recommend beef stock if you don’t have a thermomix)



  1. Pour the coconut milk and red wine into the thermomix/rice cooker. Place the rice in the thermomix basket and rinse thoroughly with water (or it doesn’t cook right).
  2. Place the kangaroo steaks on the top layer of the wire rack/thermomix steamer (the lower layer stays empty, or can be used for vegetables).
  3. Mix the herb and spice mix with the sugar and 1/2 of the macadamias. Sprinkle half the resulting herb mixture over the rice, and another tablespoonful (or two) over the kangaroo steaks. Keep the rest for now (taste it; it’s salty but delicious).
  4. Put the thermomix basket (with the rice) into the thermomix, with the steamer (containing the kangaroo) on top. Then cook rice as normal (Varoma temperature, Speed 4, twenty minutes).
  5. When the rice is finished, put it in the thermo server (or other closed container) and mix in half the remaining macadamias. Put the steamer (with the kangaroo) on top of the rice (instead of the thermoserver lid) or cover it with an al foil tent.
  6. To make the chocolate sauce, add the chocolate (first, so it has time to melt), jam, and stock to the coconut milk and wine mixture remaining in the thermomix jug. Mix it on speed 1 for up to five minutes (until everything else is ready).
  7. Thinly slice the kangaroo and arrange it on plates with the rice. Add little piles of the herb mixture and macadamias to the side of the plate for diners to use for dipping (I literally couldn’t decide which flavour combination was the greatest). Pour chocolate sauce over and beside the kangaroo.

Serves 4


Useful stuff:

As with all meat, the kangaroo will be best if you leave it at room temperature for 30-60 minutes before cooking (but I didn’t do that and it was glorious).

Take your time making the sauce. It’s good for the kangaroo to ‘rest’ for up to ten minutes before getting sliced.

The sauce is amazing, and would also go beautifully with a pavlova (keeping in mind that this version will have some juice dripped down from the kangaroo, so you’ll need to use it fairly soon or make a fresh batch solo).

I’ve heard kangaroo is difficult to cook, and there seems to be a consensus that it’s important to leave it rare. But this was a winner on my first go. I’ll be cooking it VERY frequently from now on.

Kangaroo is a brilliantly lean, tasty, sustainable meat. One of the reasons it’s sustainable is that sheep and cows harden the ground they walk on, but kangaroos don’t.

Bloody Kickstarter

The “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” Kickstarter campaign starts this Saturday (very much aligned with THE MONSTER APPRENTICE Book Launch & Pirate Ball, because I’m not one to waste an audience), and there are some EPIC rewards on offer.

One of the rewards will be the chance to have a custom cake made for the launch on August 25. A cake based on this picture (“Bloody Cake” by Shauna O’Meara):


It’s a tribute to Shauna that I want so, so badly to eat that cake, even with the blood dripping all over it (I’d eat around the blood, okay??) and the fact that it’s black and white.


Rice paper rolls

Lately I’ve been weirdly obsessed with rice paper rolls. Luckily for me, the Vietnamese shop “Roll’d” rapidly became the supplier for my latest addiction. It seems like every day I end up at Roll’d and walk away with those delicious parcels of yum. (I also strongly recommend their sweet potato chips, and I’m dying to try their Bao buns.)

A gluten-free friend of mine (Wendy Jensen, in fact) brought rice paper rolls to a party at my house once, many years ago, which is definitely how this entire habit-forming journey began. I attempted to make them shortly after that, but I had to go and make them “more healthy” by leaving out the vermicelli noodles. It was a disaster.

Last Thursday I ran into another friend, Meg, near Roll’d and we talked rice paper rolls. She said the brand of rice paper is essential, recommending the “pinky-purply” packet that isn’t stocked by Coles.

Today I was chatting to Brooke at church and I was contemplating putting a sauce of my own invention inside the rice paper rolls to make them neater. She said that method only works if they’re served right away—otherwise, the rolls disintegrate. Good to know!

So today, out of dinner ideas but with rice paper and vermicelli noodles (also called ‘glass noodles’, apparently*) all newly-bought on the table (thanks to Chris’ grocery shopping). . . I made rice paper rolls. And they were fantastic.**

My thermomix came in very handy, so I’ll write this as a thermomix recipe. I trust anyone who attempts it sans thermomix will find their own technique.

Obviously, this recipe is dedicated to Wendy, Meg, and Brooke.


-Vermicelli noodles (those super thin ones; pandaroo brand is good)

-Rice paper (pandaroo brand)

-1 tin coconut milk

-Half or less of a BBQ roast chicken (or other leftover/cold meat). Roughly 400gms. Chopped into bits/lengths.

-1 carrot

-Roasted cashews (a handful)

-Snow peas or capsicum (both is too much)

-Sesame seeds

-Coriander (I used dried coriander but fresh leaves look and taste great)

-Mint (as above)

-Sauces eg Hoisin, Nuoc mam (the Vietnamese one; recommended), Soy, Sweet soy sauce, or a half-half mixture of mayo and maple syrup (recommended).


  1. Put the coconut milk in a saucepan, add the same amount of water, and set it to boil. Boil the rice noodles for two minutes (they get soft fast, so it’s easy to push them down into the relatively small amount of milk/water) then drain and set aside to cool completely.
  2. Smash your cashews in the thermomix (4 seconds on 6), mix in a teaspoon of mint, and set aside (in a small bowl is nice).
  3. Finely chop your carrot in the thermomix (some cashew powder in the mix is fine; 6 seconds on 6, possibly in two bursts), mix in half a teaspoon of mint and a teaspoon of coriander, and set aside.
  4. Prep your snow peas by cutting the tops and bottoms off./Cut your cucumber into sticks.
  5. Use tepid water to soak and lay out two tea-towels.
  6. Take out 8 rice paper circles (so you can work quickly).
  7. There are probably better ways of doing Step 8 but this worked for me:
  8. Run a gentle stream of tepid water into the sink, and quickly wet (not soak) each side of your rice circles, laying them out on the tea-towels. Do this twice (they will be much floppier the second time).
  9. Prep all your rolls (you don’t need to hurry, but don’t wander off and leave them on the towels or they’ll dry out):
    1. Optional. Lay out any leaves you’re using (instead of dried herbs, like I used) on the rice paper circles.
    2. Sprinkle sesame seeds in a rough line across the centre of each rice paper circle (leave a few centimetres of empty rice paper at either end).
    3. Add 1-2 bits of snow peas/cucumber; 3-4 bits of meat, 1ish spoons of nut mixture, coupla spoons of carrot mixture, and a handful of rice noodles (you’ll need to physically pull it apart from the noodley mass because they’re so long). Basically, you want your contents to make a fat sausage shape with plenty of room all around.
    4. Fold up both short ends of your roll, then physically roll it up (squashing the rice noodles; they can take it). I found that it worked well to make my first fold of the roll over the top of the mixture (rather than trying to fit all the mixture into each turn of the rolling procedure). Whatever your most dodgy rice paper edge is, place the roll with that side down while you do the rest. It’ll be better ‘glued’ in about thirty seconds.
    5. Serve cold with dipping sauces.

If kept in the fridge, I think these are good to eat for 2-3 days.

But be warned: Although they look perfectly neat and convenient, the inevitable forces of chaos will always cause you to drop rice noodle fragments everywhere and/or helplessly mouth-flail as your rice noodle package loses all structural integrity during the last few bites. Trust me on this.


A lot of the steps can be done well in advance (the whole meal, of course, can also be done in advance and refrigerated), so it’s relatively good for people like me who can’t stand up for long. With the notable exception of Step #9.


*In Malaysia (but not, I think, Indonesia), they’re called bee hoon; in China they’re mie fen; in Thailand they’re sen mee and in Vietnam they’re bahn hoi.

**Roll’d adds a sprinkling of crispy fried onions which is pure genius. I may experiment with crushed chips in future (since I’m intolerant of onions).

Ah, l’Hospital!

For those who don’t follow me on facebook or twitter, I’m in hospital (again). Just as it looked like I was in the clear post-operatively speaking, I developed an infection.

It so happens that the infection is right in a patch of my belly that’s currently completely numb. Which possibly explains why I’ve been in almost no pain this entire time (I noticed it on Christmas Eve, but thought it was just a rash).

Yesterday I had a small operation to help fix the infection and (warning: the rest of this paragraph is medical and icky, but fascinating) the wound was left open and gaping for a while, as I waited to have a special medical vacuum attached to it. I used my kindle camera to have a look and got a huge shock at what I had thought might be a belly button-sized wound. It’s long, and wide, and deep. It’s also extremely clean as far as the human body goes, and I could clearly see different levels of. . . well. . . me. I was somewhat disturbed and quickly replaced the sheet covering it, but then realised it was a fab writing opportunity and took a picture. Several people have since requested to see it, so I’ve emailed them privately. (If you want to see it, email “” with the subject line “Gaping belly wound please”.)

It’s also inspired a significant dramatic scene in one of the stories I’m currently working on. I can’t tell you more than that, except that I ran the entire scene past a nurse and she made lots of the right kind of impressed noises. (Also, I was not on morphine at the time.)

I very much enjoyed my morphine experience once again. Some people throw up and/or feel awful after a general anaesthetic. I feel FANTASTIC. It was rather hard not to over-compliment all the wonderful staff, and I struggled with conversation due to not being able to hold info in my brain for more than about five seconds at a time.

The following morning I had a follow-up visit with the surgeon who asked me if I remembered speaking to him and his team after the surgery.

No, I did not. I definitely remember being on morphine and talking to people, but there is a whole period of time before that fully-conscious part of the evening that I don’t remember at all. He said I was, “Two vodkas over” and “laughing at nurses”. I suspect I may have made some overly affectionate comments towards all the staff (male and female nurses are both awesome) and he chose to spare me the knowledge of exactly what terrible things I said.

Silly man. Of course I want to know exactly what terrible things I said! I’ve never been blackout drunk so THIS IS MY MOMENT TO SHINE.

I saw a different doctor this morning and asked him if he was there at the time. “No,” he said. “Sadly. It seems I missed out.”

Fingers crossed I get some embarrassing and inappropriate quotes of my drugged-up self before I have to go home.

As you can tell, I’m in high spirits and feeling remarkably well (seriously, I’m not even taking panadol today because I just don’t need any pain relief). I’m going to stay attached to the medical vacuum for quite a while, and I’m still waiting on a swab result to get me a more targeted antibiotic—but I have my own room with a gorgeous view of Telstra Tower, The National Arboretum, and the helipad, and I actually had to force myself to not dance when a song I liked came on the Tv this morning.

Wacky stuff.


You can see why this floor is called ‘The Penthouse’.

Also, I have a silver dressing on/in my stomach wound, which is extremely cool given that my steampunk universe has magical silver that can assist with supernatural levels of healing. (Based, of course, on silver’s real-world antibacterial qualities, which is why it’s in me right now.)

My actual surgery was at John James Private Hospital, but my official surgeon is away on holiday so this entire infection is being dealt with in Canberra Hospital, which is public. So I’ve been able to compare notes with… er… myself.

What the private hospital did better:

  1. It’s made up of almost all private rooms, and you can pay a (relatively) small amount ($70/night when it costs over $1000/night already) to make sure you’re alone.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but sharing a room with a random stranger (who is guaranteed to not be at their best) is always going to suck. The best-case scenario is that the 2 (or more) of you get on like a house on fire, and relieve one another’s boredom. But even that would freak me out thanks to the magic of social anxiety.

When I was at the private hospital I also had a private ensuite, which of course significantly reduces the grossness factor. (I also struggle with anxiety when showering anywhere other than my own ensuite at home, but sharing with sick/bleeding/incontinent people—or sharing while sick/bleeding/incontinent is even less fun.)

My roomie here at Canberra Hospital was an older man who was clearly very ill and in a lot of pain. He spent a lot of time moaning aloud, and would swear (and then apologise—he’s clearly also a very nice man doing his best at a miserable time) at almost every procedure (including really basic stuff like blood tests and cannula flushes) or movement. He was also in the bed by the window, which meant I didn’t get to see the view (not anyone’s fault of course, but natural light is a very helpful thing). He isn’t fully aware of where he is, or who staff or family members are, and talked to himself a bit. All this was stressful for me but part of the joy of hospital life. Then one day he was talking to himself about wanting to be violent and trying not to be, and I decided that he was a (tiny tiny tiny) potential danger to himself and others.

I told the staff that I thought he should have his own room, and why. They said that wasn’t an option, which shocked me utterly.

This man has been in hospital for weeks and hasn’t done anything the least bit violent. He’s also got a catheter and is basically unable to leave his bed. So you can see why staff immediately assumed I was over-reacting.

I went to the lounge and tried to sort out whether I was being rational or not. The thing is, as a fiction writer everything in life goes through a story filter in my head. This man said he felt like he was being tortured. He wasn’t sure what country he was in. He didn’t recognise his own family, or the nurses. And he was understandably angry.

I’m mentally ill too, and keenly aware that “mental illness” is blamed for a bunch of crimes (while the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators).


Watch any movie with foreshadowing, and you can see the big disaster coming from miles away. You never get a story where a crazy old man talks about violence and then successfully controls himself. You get a story which ends with Hospitalised Mother Of Two Killed By Delusional Room-Mate After Requesting A Different Room.

Long story short, I applied the same strategy I apply to every important hospital issue: I waited until the next shift came on, and told them exactly the same thing.

They knew the man would hate to be moved, so they moved me instead. And voila! I have a private room (the only one on this floor), despite assuring everyone over and over that I’m absolutely fine and don’t deserve special treatment.

It’s sooooooo gooooooood. TJ in particular was born loud, and it was very hard to host him while trying not to bother the patient on the other side of the curtain. The gentleman above also had lots of visitors and I constantly found myself inadvertently (or vertantly, who am I kidding?) eavesdropping on everything they said.

It’s good to be alone.

2. Food. Obviously. Everything I ate at John James was nice. Not all of it was 100% to my taste, but it was all decent. Some of it was seriously good.

Yesterday for breakfast I was intolerant to literally everything on the plate except a slice of cold toast and some low-fat margarine. So that was my breakfast. No milk, no protein, nothing that was enjoyable to eat.

The vegetables here are microwaved frozen vegies; the meat is usually a little nasty; the porridge would be better used as Kindy glue and the backup sandwiches (kept in a fridge for people like me that have been fasting and needed something to eat between normal mealtimes) recalled that famous New Yorker story “Cat Person”, in the following manner:

“It was a terrible sandwich, shockingly bad; Felicity had trouble believing that a grown human could possibly be so bad at making sandwiches.”

One sandwich was cheese: plastic cheese with a thick layer of cloying margarine. The other was “Mayo chicken”. The mayo was bad, the chicken was bad, and the bread was going stale, but it was the combination of finely-minced chicken and still-very-noticeable chunks of cartilage and bone that truly surprised me. I’ve never encountered chicken bones in a sandwich, let alone one that had apparently gone to the trouble of mincing up the meat. Was it made of chicken scrapings from a sausage factory floor?

I cannot confirm or deny that statement.

This was my lunch today:


Take a moment to guess what it is. Milky tea, and some kind of meat with an ice-cream scoop of gently flecked mashed potato?

The mug is mushroom soup. It tasted very mushroomy, with just the slightest hint of actual real mushroom—perhaps as much as 2% of a physical mushroom, finely grated and scattered into the mushroom-flavoured broth. It was actually pretty nice, and it was a good thing it was low on actual vegetables since I’m pretty darn intolerant of the shrooms at the best of times.

The other is a veal roast with gravy and “cheesy potato”. The lunch and dinner menu always feature microwaved frozen vegetables, and various forms of (alleged) potato.

Potato is actually the one vegetable I can eat safely, and despite the carbs it’s got a lot going for it. It’s all powdered potato, but the “cheesy” version was definitely superior to the ones that are pure powder or microwaved slices of boiled spud.

I feel a little sad as I wonder how many baby cows were slaughtered in order to be burned and smothered by (alleged) gravy throughout hospitals all over Canberra today. I had some of the non-burned bits and they were okay, although the weirdly viscous movement of the gravy was a little disturbing (I’ve made powdered gravy and it doesn’t do that, so what could create such an effect? Did it get mixed up with the “rolled oats” glue from breakfast?)

Oh! The other food difference is that it was quite easy to convince people here that I’m better off with the non-diabetic menu (which tends to have more protein and less stuff I’m intolerant to). At John James I’d take advantage of any confusion and squirrel away real butter whenever someone accidentally gave me the good (ie non-diabetic) menu.

I also had a slice of nice white bread and real butter at lunch, which isn’t super healthy but certainly is delicious.

3. Respect/Meds

But here’s something interesting: I’ve been treated much more respectfully here than at John James. On one occasion at John James two nurses came in to personally administer my medication while I was on the loo (rather than coming back in a few minutes). Given how overworked nurses are, I’m mildly sympathetic—but after having two kids I feel like far too may people have treated my body like public property and I’m pissed. If I can dress and shower myself, I want to do so without company thankyouverymuch.

A nurse at John James disapproved of my method of bringing in my (very confusing) array of medications, and she confiscated them all and ordered replacements from the pharmacy. The replacements looked different and I was unable to keep track of important meds like diabetes stuff, migraine stuff, and anti-depressant pills. As has happened every single time I’ve been in hospital, nurses tried valiantly to keep perfect written records and give me all my meds at the right times—and they failed utterly. Although the paperwork system is a great plan, it doesn’t work in practice and that is dangerous. (Obviously, letting me take my own pills while high on morphine isn’t going to be safe either.)

Here at Canberra Hospital, nurses have over and over again LISTENED to me and let me take my own pills at the appropriate times. This is bizarre and wonderful. (And didn’t happen here at Canberra Hospital when I was pregnant and came in with premature labour… but of course, pregnant women be crazy so people are always extra patronising during such times.)

I have a theory that patients at a private hospital are fussier and more demanding, so private nurses are more likely to have grown hard and dismissive of patient concerns. Because, although the vast majority of staff at John James were great, my overall experience with staff here at Canberra Hospital has been better, kinder—and MUCH more respectful.


Having said that, I’d kill for a private room.

I mean, not really KILL…

Or would I?

There’s often a wonderful eerie quality to hospitals, as I meet yet another shift of new people tasked with keeping me alive, as my medical vacuum says “eep” to indicate it’s just been unplugged, as I smile politely while someone takes four attempts to hit one of my veins with a syringe, or as I push my drip stand down the empty hall at 2am, shuffling in and out of pools of fluorescent light.

Once again, my biggest worry is recovery. Small children, school holidays, and major surgery do not mix well.

Kids get bored.

Mums run out of ideas.

Mums do what they have to do to get through the day without excessive screaming from/towards the children.

Mums go back into hospital, and the cycle starts again.

I don’t really have a solution. Chris may be healthy, but he has his limits too—and he’s back at work this Tuesday. I have received overwhelming amounts of support from friends both close and barely seen, and that frightens me as well. I’m painfully aware that my normal “good” level of health isn’t enough to do the stuff people have done for me (such as babysitting my kids for a whole day, or donating money). It’s never easy to believe I have value, as a woman/fat person/depressed person/writer/disabled/low-income person. Hopefully spelling it out here will help me to remember it’s society that is broken and wrong, not me. My personal worth can’t be linked to societal norms or I’m screwed.

The good news is that I may still be able to enrol Louisette in holiday care during January. Because boy howdy do we need it.

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.


Party Post-Mortem

Yesterday was TJ’s 2nd birthday party. It was also the family party/get-together for Chris… and my brother. And my nephew.

My brother didn’t actually come, which he probably enjoyed very much.

It all started with the knowledge that my parents were visiting Canberra that weekend. With four family birthdays around the same time, I had a think about the unique challenges of doing something all four (turning 2, 11, 36, and 37) would enjoy, and came up with the legitimately brilliant idea of going to Skyzone trampolining.



The trampoling bit:

My poor nephew is six years older than the rest of his cousins, so he generally has a pretty boring time at any family events. THIS, however, he enjoyed. Epic win.



TJ is pretty easily pleased, but he really, really liked this. Epic win.



Chris injured his back during the night, and tends to get mildly depressed by his own birthdays. That + an attempt at jumping = epic fail. But he had fun anyway. TJ was hilarious.

After taking about fifty photos, I realised that our camera was changing its settings every time it was turned off. That was less than ideal, but at least I know now (and I’d taken some video since jumping pics are tricky at best already).

One of the cousins, looking artsy:



I was really pleased to have all the grandparents there so they knew how TJ handled it (it’s VERY likely that the trampolining will be an annual family tradition). TJ was nice enough to pay special attention to my in-laws who really only showed up for him and Louisette. Epic win.

IMG_9981 IMG_9988

Cost: high ($16/jumper) but ameliorated by saying, “No family presents”. (The grandparents still gave gifts, naturally – I chose most of them, and chose VERY well. Gifts for 2-year olds are so much fun!)

Planning: I asked staff about their busiest times, and chose 3-4pm as a result. It was noisy and crowded, but because almost all our kids were aged 0-5, we were able to go in the “littlies” area, AND have it almost entirely to ourselves. (And we had enough adults that the 11-year old was able to do his own thing and still be connected to the family.) Epic win.

When I found out not all the family would be coming, I decided to combine the “family” and “friends” birthdays, and (after checking it was okay with my mum and sister) I chose two kids to invite as TJ’s best friends. TJ loves them, and so do I (two REALLY nice, cheerful, and chilled-out little boys who are sufficiently flexible/confident to have fun at a noisy trampoline place), and I really really like every member of their family too. Both kids came, with was really cool. And they both had fun*. And I had zero anxiety about inviting a bunch of adults I’d never met before. Epic win.

For my kids, I generally have two special days for their birthday – a party, which is all about community, and a birthday day, which is all about the actual kid. (This mattered much more when they were turning 1. Most 1-year olds cry through their entire party – but “what the friends/family/I want” and “what the kid wants” are still often distinct.)

Surprises: Chris’ back injury wasn’t actually anyone’s fault. He didn’t have a great birthday (it was his birthday day, which was a bit sad – who wants to run a kid’s party on their own birthday?) but he’s taking Monday off for TJ’s birthday (the plan is to give TJ some attention and then ship him off to daycare) which will actually be a great day for him.

The kids and Chris were all quite grumpy all morning. (Louisette and I are always miserable before and after big events, which is unfortunate but at least I know it’s coming these days.)

A random girl decided TJ was in her way and she knocked him over and then was busily pushing him into the path of a pair of bigger kids that had come into our area by mistake. Chris spotted them and ran to intercept, getting there before TJ fully realised what had happened (or was jumped on). One of the four-year old girls with us saw the whole thing, and told Louisette that TJ had been bullied. Louisette immediately came and told me, and I assured her it was dealt with, and that she’d done exactly the right thing – which she had. Given how much I myself wanted to punch the bully, I was really impressed with the behaviour of “my” girls.

This entire weekend half of New South Wales is flooding, so my assumption of bad winter weather was extremely wise! Epic win. (Except the parking suuuuuuucked. I warned everyone that sessions started on the hour so they should be early, but my lot was the only group that arrived vaguely on time. I felt bad that they’d wasted so much money, but it’s not like it was my fault.)

*Some strangers had one of those mall ride-in cars parked nearby. One of TJ’s friends spend half an hour trying his best to flee the trampoline, meaning that his mum and I were unable to sit down but were constantly crash-tackling and wrestling him (which was fun too, but not exactly what we were aiming for). Eventually/wisely, she asked the random strangers if her son could sit in their car. Fortunately they said yes, and the kid was thrilled. After ten minutes in the car, he was able to enjoy the trampolines. #Random #alwaysonekid

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: Next time, I definitely need to bring water for the kids to drink!

Cake: I made an ice cream cake (thermomix for the win!) despite the season. It’s easy to make (essential when Louisette REALLY wants to help) and can be prepped quite a quite a while in advance. It’s also much yummier than regular cake (and actually neater to eat – spills are simpler to clean than crumbs, and travel less far from the table). Epic win.

I also made cupcakes with Louisette and TJ on the day. Like any sane person, they enjoyed the raw dough more than the finished product. (Louisette is obsessed with cupcakes, but only ever eats the top.) #worthit


I put a candle on every cupcake, so each kid got to blow out (and thus spit on) their own cake. It was really easy for me, and really fun for them (and reducing birthday jealousy by a lot). Didn’t sing “Happy Birthday”. I hate that song. Epic win.



We didn’t eat at Skyzone, which was definitely wise. Everyone came back to my house for cake etc (the promise of cake made the kids happy to leave Skyzone). Most of the guests had their own set of keys, so the two cars that arrived before us didn’t have to wait in the rain. Three potential catastrophes averted.

I was mildly concerned Louisette would ask for party games, but she was so busy she didn’t think of it. (Her favourite is pass the parcel, which is a nightmare to produce and another nightmare to adjudicate). Two catastrophes averted.

The main reason it felt so busy was…………..

……The climbing frame.

Our calendar has photos taken roughly a year ago (each month) so this month has a pic of TJ’s party last year (including the climbing frame). TJ saw the photo on the calendar and indicated he wanted to play on the climbing frame again. Since it was so extraordinary for him to have the ability to articulate any wants in advance, I was determined to comply (plus it’s a really great way to suddenly jazz up a homebound, housebound party).

I forgot to pick it up from the in-laws in advance of the party, and it was clear that every adult thought I was insane for insisting on it. It’s a fairly complicated thing with instructions that are only barely in English (and in quite an illogical order too), and about half the pieces are missing their labels. It’s also moderately difficult to take apart – even with the right tool, it hurts your fingers (and we didn’t have the right tool – we know someone who’s lent it to us twice before, but since I didn’t invite them to the party I chose not to request it this year).

On a good day it takes twenty minutes to put together. With seven kids around, it suuuuuuucked. I sent the four pre-school girls to another room, and was really impressed with their obedience. The process still sucked, and no one could really help much. But TJ really enjoyed the building process – and when it was done, he had an absolute blast climbing it (and so did the remaining kids).

For the kids, that was definitely way more exciting than the cake (or party games, for that matter).



Surprises: I knew Louisette was fascinated by building and construction. This was the first time I saw that TJ has the same inclination. Next time, I’ll build the frame before the party and involve TJ and Louisette and Chris.

But TJ LOVED it. Epic win. #worththepain



Surprises: The last two kids had a bath with mine, because they left well after bedtime and having a bath at our place meant they could go straight to bed. Their mum and I sat around a corner from the bathroom, after telling the pre-school girls to yell for us if anyone fell under the water. We listened carefully to them (patterns of speech and laughter and splashing) but at one point the girls yelled for us, and we came running. TJ had fallen under the water, and they had done exactly what we’d told them to do. (TJ had sat up again by himself – he actually does that a lot and has always gotten himself back up – excellent training for a real drowning crisis.)



I’ll remember this party as the moment when Louisette stepped up as a big sister. (Not that I’d actually use her as a babysitter, but my trust in her good sense and awareness has increased dramatically.)


(Not a great photo, but I kept it for Louisette’s facial expression mingled pride and watchfulness.)

Recovery: I’m quite sore today – back, feet, legs, arms, wrists (I’ve taken nurofen for the arthritis and will have a hot shower and then bandage my wrists soon). There are two bits of good news on that front. First, my pain is symmetrical, which is “normal” pain (as if I’d been moving house rather than just running a party, but no injuries). Second…no migraine! The meds I’m on are making me extremely drowsy (and unco), and I’m sleeping up to 14 hours per day BUT they do seem to be stopping the migraines. I get mild headaches some evenings, and the occasional flash of pre-migraine “aura” (visual weirdness which is a strong warning of impending migraine)….and that’s all. I’d expect three days of strong pain after a kids’ party. But maybe that time is over. Maybe I can actually do stuff – like driving, going outside, and exercising – without being wiped out for days afterwards.

The tips of my fingers all hurt from putting together (and partially taking apart) the climbing frame.

Psychologically, I’m in the black pit between anti-depressants (an unfortunate necessity for the new migraine meds) and it’s been very very bad for the last month or two. Stuff like thinking I need to give my children up for adoption. I feel a bit traumatised by the party, but the therapy I need is relatively simple: 1. This blog. 2. Sorting through the photos to prove to myself it was a good party, and special for the kids. 3. Some thoughts about adjusting expectations in future (some of the adults happily breezed through the party while I and one other person – a single mum who deserves to sit down and chat with grown-ups more than anyone else at the party – did 95% of the serving, cleaning, and supervising). If I know my friends think of the party as a social occasion for adults (a notion that  believe is sometimes possible with all pre-schoolers and older, but never possible with toddlers), then that changes how I set things up.

And I intend to have a thorough whinge-fest with Chris once the kids are asleep. (It should be noted that he attempted to help with the climbing frame but was gasping and moaning in pain so I told him to stop.)

Conclusion: Chris needs a day off – without kids – for his birthday. Otherwise, Skyzone is the biz, and is going to stay awesome for many years to come. When the kids are a fair bit older, we’ll probably invest in a full-scale party (Skyzone provides cake and food and a party room) one day, but will probably do something unclassy to ameliorate the expense (like making people pay their own way, as with this year).

I’ve been to a party at the other trampoline company (in a giant semi-converted warehouse in Mitchell that was less nice as a facility), and Louisette is still talking about it a year later.

All I really should have done better is:

(a) Take water to Skyzone. (And keep in mind that everyone will be late no matter what I say.)

(b) Build the climbing frame with my kids and husband, in advance.

(c) Have something lazy-but-fun for before and after big events when the bad mood strikes – maybe a new Pixar movie for all of us to watch together.

In fact I left the climbing frame half-assembled (not fully assembled because TJ’s climbing strategy lacks self-preservation and I knew Chris and I would both be dopey this morning and therefore unable to supervise safely), and have decided to rebuild it with my kids momentarily, and leave it up for TJ’s birthday day tomorrow.

The Chocolate Race

I like taking salted gourmet nuts and putting them in a bowl with other lollies so the salt spreads throughout, accenting all the flavours.

So sure, I tried the new Cadbury Vegemite chocolate. This is how it goes:

  1. Cautious bite.
  2. Hey, it’s just like a strongly salted caramel. It’s really not baaa—-
  3. Aaarrgghh!!!!! Vegemite!!!! WHYYYYYYYYY!!!!????!?!?!??!?!
  4. Eat something else to get rid of the taste.
  5. Think, “I do like salted caramel. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. I should give it another chance.”
  6. Return to Step 1.


Today I’ll be comparing the classic “Picnic” bar and block versus the new limited addition “Pretzel and Peanut” block. All are Cadbury products.


The Picnic bar has wafer, peanuts, and caramel. It’s tricky to eat (peanuts and chocolate fragments tend to explode everywhere with each bite) but it’s delicious. “Picnic” is an appropriate name, because it’s genuinely filling (thanks, peanuts). It’s famously knobbly in appearance, and to the best of my recollection gets advertised in a “This is yummy” fashion rather than a sexy fashion, which is both excellent and a wise choice for the product.

The block version is completely regular in shape. There’s no caramel and the wafers have transmogrified into crisps (a fair trade, except in the bar they feel like a necessary stabilising element that also adds texture, whereas in the block version they mostly feel like filler). It’s a lot easier to eat, but has much less charm and taste. Don’t take my caramel, people.


The Peanut Pretzel block is a new favourite of mine. It has just a hint of salt (because pretzels) and that makes it incredibly compelling. It doesn’t have any caramel either (but I never missed it until now), and feels like it has more chocolate per piece than the picnic version.

Nice work, Cadbury. Send me review copies of your latest work anytime. I’ll be here.