Sunday, September 17, 2017

Food and flowers for grief and joy

What a fortnight it's been. I have met new babies, sent my own baby to daycare for the first time, celebrated an engagement and farewelled a friend's father, taken before his time.

Over the last three years I have seen life's book ends first hand with the birth of my twins in 2014, the untimely passing of my own father in 2016 and the arrival of our third baby at the beginning of this year.

When Dad died close friends and kind acquaintances alike came forward with baked goods, casseroles and flowers. I couldn't help but think back to when the twins were born and I realised that  life begins and ends with food and flowers. And kindness.

It's easy to extend kindness and joy when life begins. Cute baby presents and cheerful flowers. But when life ends there can be an awkwardness surrounding what to do and say.

Most of my friends are in their mid to late thirties and too many of us have already lost a parent. Some of them have lost siblings and others have seen children, nieces and nephews battle serious illness.

When anyone you know experiences these heartbreaking life events, don't be awkward. Just remember: kindness.

Send flowers if you like. Or a plant if you know it won't burden the recipient. I'm a big fan of plants and take comfort in caring for those I received last year after dad's passing, but not everyone's life's circumstances suit plants. I was immensely touched by those who went to the expense to send flowers or the effort to cook, but a simple phone call is just as powerful. Don't know what to say? Well say that.  "I don't know what to say but I am thinking of you", or "there is nothing I can say to fix this but please know I'm here." It need not be a long conversation and chances are your friend may not pick up the phone. But they will know that you care. And trust me, it means a lot.

Have you experienced loss? What did you find comforting and/or useful?
Do you have a go-to gesture that you call upon when friend's experience heartache?

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Sydney birthday party

This weekend passed we took our three children – two and a half year old twins and a seven month old – to Sydney. A whopping 810 km round trip for a two night stay. I think the time it took me to pack was greater than the time we had on the ground. It’s a far cry from child-free days when we used to jump in the car Friday night after work and whip down for a party or two before making a leisurely (and often hungover) trip back up the highway.

But you know what? It was worth every whingy car trip moment.

We went down for a party, but not the type mentioned above. It was a party to help our nephew Oliver celebrate his first birthday. He won’t remember that we were there, but the fact is, we were there. We had a nice time catching up with Sam’s sister and her husband and their friends, as much as is possible in between keeping tabs on children, and we got to demonstrate to our family that we value them and want to share in their joy as much as they share in ours. 
 The car trips weren’t quite as painful as I would have expected, the twins did well sleeping in big beds (our first trip since we took the sides off their cot four weeks ago) and we had a wonderful morning before the Saturday afternoon party. Sam and I got to enjoy great coffee and Georgina and Thomas got to experience a fun new park, not to mention all the planes flying overhead. PLANE!
Just as Oliver won’t remember our presence, the twins probably won’t remember the trip in years to come (and Audrey certainly won’t) but I hope that if we can make these trips now, when life is seriously hectic, then it will only be easier to continue as our family grows, and we can show these malleable little creatures of ours how important it is to value those who value us.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Traybake meal ideas

I love a one pot, set & forget meal. Less washing up and less time spent prepping. I sound like Suzie Homemaker but it's true!

Now that the weather is warming up, hearty stews on the slow cooker are a little less appealing (although, only a little...) so I've been seriously hitting up traybakes in the oven. And you know what? I think they're even easier than the slow cooker. Much less chopping and no need to brown any meat.

Roast chicken pieces and baked sausages are high on rotation at our house right now. Below is an adaptation of a sausage and fennel recipe that my mother in-law snipped from Good Weekend magazine way back in 2008 (pictured above). Bonus points if you can find pork and fennel chipolatas.

I'm also loving Baked ratatouille with snags, another Fairfax recipe from way back in 2008. It's a Jill Dupleix dish that I clipped from Epicure  and then subsequently lost. Now whenever I want it I google "oven lovin' sausage". I really should write it down in case it's one day unavailable.

And then there's chicken. Any variation of chicken and chorizo is a winner in my book. Bonus points if you can get hold of chicken pieces with bone in and skin on (actually not always that easy here in Tamworth). I'm loving these recipes:
  • Spanish chicken traybake with chorizo and peppers (pictured) from BBC Good Food. I allow an extra serve of chicken per person so we all have enough to eat without carbs.
  • Chorizo chicken from BabyMac. You might like  to whip up a salad or steam some greens to complete this meal but no need to cook spuds, they're already included.
  • Mediterranean oven-baked chicken drumsticks from Annabel Karmel. Ok, there's no chorizo in this one but it's super easy and the kids love it, as you'd expect from AK. I often cook thigh cutlets for the adults as well as drumsticks.

And in case you can't be bothered to follow the links above, here's the sausage and fennel recipe.

Baked sausages fennel and tomatoes

1 small fennel bulb
2 red onions, peeled and sliced into rounds
4 roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Half a bunch of thyme
5 sprigs of rosemary
3 tbsp olive oil
12 pork chipolatas
150 ml white wine

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut the fennel vertically into wedges, keeping a little bit of the base on each to hold it together. Arrange in a roasting pan with the onion and tomato. Scatter with thyme, rosemary and fennel seeds and drizzle over the olive oil Season well then tuck in the sausages, add the wine and bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until sausages are browned, tossing the veges and turning the sausages after 20 minutes. 

Serves 4.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ways to move. Or not.

Well would you looky here. This is me. Dressed! In something other than what I can scrape off the floor. For the last 2 weeks we have been moving out of our house and then back into it. What? I know. Read on.

We stayed at Mum's for two weeks during the whole pallaver. Two toddlers, a sleepless baby, three cots, two adults (Mum was away), three cases of croup, two cases of gastro (one of them mine) and a house move (multiple, really). Man, it was hell. And somewhere along the way I packed clothes for all the kids and none for me. Except a large suitcase full of scarves. Huh?

I'm pretty sure moving from a four bedroom home to a five bedroom home with a pool is right up there on the list of first world problems, but indulge me a little.

In October we put our first home on the market, which of course involved a lot of boxing and decluttering. I LOVED the minimalist existence we created for ourselves to be honest - so easy to keep clean and tidy and organized - and it paid off with a quick sale.

In December, now eight months pregnant, we moved most of our belongings into storage and bunkered down with Sam's parents for what was to become to craziest phase of our lives to date.

In January, baby Audrey came along and three under two-and-a-half got real. SO grateful for the in-laws' extra hands (and for Mum just down the road). I lost count of the number of times Sam and I looked at each other in terror as we realised we were in well over our heads.

July saw the in-laws' downsizer reno nearly complete and planning for operation move began.

We temporarily moved to Mum's on a Tuesday. The in-laws moved out permanently on the Friday after which the carpets were sprayed for carpet beetle. Have you heard of it? A nasty little critter that eats carpets and woollen jumpers. I know, right! These guys were the reason we moved to Mum's. Carpets were cleaned the following Tuesday, our furniture and stored possessions came in on Wednesday and we had our first night together here on Saturday. Cue flowers and bubbles from my mother-in-law (and a bell to summon the children).
So what is that? A three day move? Or 11 days? Or maybe eight months.

When considering "ways to move" this is probably NOT one to recommend. But is there any way to move easily? Like so much in life, everyone's circumstance is unique and demands it's own strategy. With it's own set of challenges and hiccups.

The move also came with its joys. Not only was it immense helpful living with my in-laws, watching the children interact with their Grandparents on a day-to-day basis was a real gem. As a society we've lost that "family all in" way of living that was so common generations ago, and this was a rare opportunity to experience it (not to mention far more efficient than running two households.) And somewhere among the sleepless nights, chaotic breakfasts and general carnage everywhere, I'm pretty sure the Grandparents loved nearly every minute, too.
Now it's just the five of us, on our own, unpacked enough to live day-to-day. There's still a lot of work before I can say the move is "complete" but we're thrilled to be finally starting this next phase of our lives. It's been a long time coming.

The view out the back aint bad, either.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Recipe road test: Beetroot & Sweet Potato Soup | Downtown Magazine

In last month's post about mandarins I mentioned our generous neighbour, who went overseas and left us in charge of her citrus trees. Well, she also left us in charge of a vege patch consisting of a two metre long wall of snow peas and two square metres of beetroot. That's a LOT of beetroot.

I love beetroot but I find cooking it is rarely fuss-free... all the dirt and the stain-risking juice. Can I bang on any more about how I need fuss-free meals at the moment? Even simply roasting the crimson bulbs in a square of oiled foil involves a messy peeling process.

And yet, I feel the universe was telling me to quit whinging and start cooking. The neighbours had been gone for just a few days when I opened the latest Downtown Magazine and saw this recipe.

I had an endless supply of beetroot and it was soup weather. Universe speaking!

There is a bit of messy prep involved, particularly if you are lucky to be using beetroot fresh from the garden. I had to rinse the tap roots free of soil before peeling the skin (which I'd given a light scrub, too). My top tip for handling beetroot, raw or cooked, is disposable food prep gloves. Get a box next time you're at the supermarket. If you're like me they'll sit in your cling wrap drawer largely untouched but you'll be thrilled they're there when you need them.

Downtown's Editor in Chief, the talented and determined Anna Davis, has generously allowed me to reproduce the recipe below but honestly, I'd be tempted to throw it all in the pot together and hope for the best. Ok, that's not entirely true. DO brown the onion in the oil first, but maybe skip the step where you rub the root vegetables with oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Instead, add them to the pot after the onions are browned. Toss over medium heat until fragrant, add your liquid of choice (I used chicken stock), cook for 30 minutes, blend and voila!

The beetroot, coconut oil and cumin flavours are faaaaan-tastic. Who would've thought a soup could be so fresh and light yet hearty and warming at the same time.

The recipe is a bit "choose your own adventure" when it comes to garnish. I can recommend a serious dollop of full fat greek yoghurt, torn mint leaves and a bit of crunch. 

Crunch? Try dry frying pepita and sesame seeds until toasty. Let me know how you go with that as I didn't quite get there. Best intentions and all...

Beetroot & Sweet Potato Soup
Downtown Magazine, Winter 2017

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
3 beetroots, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 onion, finely chopped
500 ml bone broth, chicken or veggie stock
200 ml water
salt and pepper

Rub the chunks of sweet potato and beetroot in 1 tablespoon coconut oil, the cumin and a grind of salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat for 1 minutes, add the onion and saute with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes. Throw in the sweet potato and beetroot and saute for 3 minutes, stirring constantly so nothing burns, then add the broth or stock, and the water.

Bring the temperature to a simmer for 30 minutes, puree with a hand blend, and serve with your favourite garnish.

 Serves 4

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Go shorty, it's your birthday...

Do you love a birthday? Or hate it? I'm definitely a lover, although it doesn't always come easily. Some years I'm all for baking myself a cake and having the girls around to share the calories, other years I get a bit insecure. Isn't it self obsessed to encourage everyone to come celebrate a festival of you? Never mind that birthdays are the one day when you can and should do exactly that.

This year there was no need for all the angsty over-thought, the day just evolved organically. We kicked off with presents in bed with the kids. Is there anything cuter than the pride on their faces as they carry in their gift?

Then it was time to escape the cherubs for a lovely two hour coffee date with girlfriends and more presents and flowers (well and truly spoilt this year). Now, does anyone else sometimes find it quite relaxing to be around other people's kids when yours aren't there? It's not quite as nice as everyone being kid free but it's a relief knowing that you don't have to worry whether that crying child is your own (or the fault of your own). And it's also nice to have the time to get to know your friend's kids just that little bit better. And to be an extra pair of spare hands to help out, particularly when it's usually my crazy bunch hogging any helping hands.

A quick spot of retail therapy (window shopping only), a token appearance at the office and then it was home to relieve the babysitter.

The gift-giving angels I'd left at home had turned into clingy tantrum-throwing maniacs so I have chosen to block the next three hours from my birthday memory. Sheesh, some days you pay more than just babysitter cash to get time away. I often wonder if it's worth it (of course it is).

Deserve it or not, it was then time for a special treat for the twins: a baby-free burger date with mummy, daddy and their aunt and uncle. We finally checked out Tamworth's not-so-new burger joint, Williamsburg. It's been open since November last year, or thereabouts, but we've been somewhat busy, what with three under two-and-a-half and all that. I think the twins enjoyed their special dinner out. Tommy ate his fill of (delicious) chips, Georgina picked away at her half a burger and table jenga was a winner. Generous kids sizes meant we took a whole burger home with us.
The adults had just as much fun, with a great selection of beef, chicken and lamb burgers available. We left with that almost but not quite over-full feeling. You know the one? Just what you hope for from a great sized burger.

A hop skip and jump home to put the kidlets to bed (more tantrums, grr) and soothe the sleeping baby, then it was back out to enjoy a couple of drinks with friends at Tamworth's new beer bar, The Welders Dog. It's one been open a few weeks so we don't feel quite as far behind the eight ball. I loved the joint and hope to bring you full and proper reporting soon!

And that's a wrap. Could I have packed any more in? The whole day was a wonderful balance of family and friends and I feel truly blessed to have such a wonderful tribe here in Tamworth.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Winter gardening

Lordy me these sub zero mornings are chilly, aren't they. I'm trying to get out a few early mornings a week to walk our poor neglected puppy and shake the creases from my couch-bound, breastfeeding body, but it takes serious willpower.

Daytime is another story. Have you ever seen winter days so glorious. Bright sunshine and temps in the high teens (or higher). There's a distinct icy breeze that comes and goes but from a sheltered location I can almost feel the end of winter. (I know, I know, we still have to get through August and August is HORRIBLE.) Before we lose the sun to nasty August I have been exploring our new garden and giving 6-month-old Audrey a bit of vitamin D.
There's so much history in this garden, which was established by my in-laws, like these snowbells (below) which came from my mother-in-law's grandmother. And there's much promise of the future for Sam and I. But with three under three it definitely feels like it'll be a while before we can really get dirt under our fingernails.
In the meantime we can observe and get to know the seasons. Where does the sun fall at this time of the day in July? What spots are too hot in January? Which plants are struggling in our climate and which plants are we loving? These old variety hellebores (below), with their downward facing flowers and green tinged petals, are definitely in the latter.
What's flowering in your garden at the moment?
Are you shaking out winter creases, too?