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?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Homegrown mandarins

We are loving mandarin season here at the moment. In years past we've jumped for joy when imperials appear on our supermarket shelves and expressed disappointment when the honey murcotts take over. But this year is different.

This year we're all about the home grown! Not from our own garden, but from the gardens of our neighbour and our aunt, who have generously gone overseas during peak citrus season and encouraged us to enjoy the spoils of their labour.

Last year mandarins were still a little tart for our twins, who are now two-and-a-half, but this year any sharpness is overlooked for the excitement of peeling the things. "My do it" is the common phrase from the pair. This is fortunate, because anyone familiar with homegrown citrus knows that sharpness can vary. A lot.

I'm not sure how much is getting eaten. Sometimes it's more about the challenge of the peel and the joy of spitting the seeds out, a skill they've only just learnt. I'm just happy there's some enthusiasm for something healthy. Particularly from Tommy, who would otherwise survive on nothing but weetbix, eggs and custard.

I've always thought mandarins a little tricky to cook with. So much more fragile than other citrus fruit. How do you grate the rind or juice the interior without rendering the whole thing to mush?

I can't provide the answer to this (can you?) but I can provide links to three mandarin recipes that have caught my eye from my own cook book collection and online. Our newly purchased house backs onto bushland and there is a "wild" mandarin tree down the gully. Next year I might give it some love (ie water and fertiliser) and see what we get. I'm optimistically thinking we might need these recipes to get through a glut... 

Goats cheese platter with mandarin preserve from delicious magazine... if you're anti-goats cheese stop turning up your nose and simply substitute a good smelly washed rind. I love how minimal prep is required for this preserve. 

Mandarin salad with cherry tomatoes and nuts, because someone out there might be a little healthier than me. 

Dark gingerbread cake with mandarin compote from Gourmet Traveller because I can't resist cake and again with the easy-prep. Mandarin is surely the lazy gals' citrus?

NONE of these recipes have been tested by me. I have three kids under three, and two of them are devouring most of the bounty. If YOU cook one of the recipes, I'd love to hear what you think. Keeper or not?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to cook truffle

A good friend called me the other day and said she had some truffle. I jumped to conclusions and thought I was about to get a dinner invitation. Yippee. 

But no, this mum of three including a young baby, was discharging truffle responsibility to me, another mum of three including a young baby. I can't say I blame her, I'm not leaping to host dinner parties either.

She'd been gifted the truffle, enjoyed some of it herself and thought that I was the most worthy recipient of the remainder. I should have felt honoured. And I did. But I also felt a bit of a fake. I wasn't even sure I liked truffle.

I'm in a lucky minority who has tried the black fungus before, but each time left me a little bewildered. 

The first, shaved onto raw egg yolk at Melbourne's Movida, was never going to end well given a) I'm not an egg fan and b) I became accidentally inebriated during the dinner. Rich, rich, rich food and a woozy head. 

The second was three years ago at said friend's house.She did a wonderful job, finely grating the truffle over risotto, but I was pregnant at the time, so the over-rich, woozy connotations gained more traction. Finally, I'm not even sure the third time counts. Truffle mayonnaise served with butterflied chicken? Rich food during a hot Tamworth summer.

Hence my challenge. I dared not waste this precious piece of black gold, regardless of prior experience. So I set out online to find a recipe. Risottos and pastas were common, but as a mum of three I have limited capacity to prepare a meal that must be eaten immediately.

Instead I found Roast Chicken with Warm Truffle and Cauliflower Salad, from French chef Guillaume Brahimi. Guillaume recommends slipping shaved truffle under the chicken skin. I didn't have enough so I reserved it for the warm salad. And can I say it was amazing? Or is that a bit egocentric given I cooked it myself? Best truffle experience by far!

Coincidentally Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food included an article on truffles the following week. My take-homes from the article were:
  • Don't heat the truffle above 80 degrees.
  • Store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container in the fridge and change the paper towel daily. 
  • Allow 3-8g of truffle per person per course.
Finally, don't over think it. You don't' need anything elaborate to carry the flavour. Simple dishes are best, such as pasta, risotto, roast chicken and scrambled eggs. We hold the truffle up to some lofty aspirations in the form of French Brasseries and silver service, but try to think more of the marvel's humble, earthy origins when looking for inspiration.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Holidaying with kids... or not

I feel like everyone I love to follow online has been on holidays.

Instagram is packed full of trips to warm sunny beaches, my favourite fashion bloggers write about their respective trips to Bali and Croatia, and the final kick comes when I see my Aunt's photos from Turkey. I didn't think they were going until July. Then I realised it is July.

This is Lisa in Turkey.

And this is me feeding Audrey, our six month old. 

This is Lisa seeing the sun rise.

And this is me seeing the sun rise.

I'm actually not that jealous of the exotic locations (ok, maybe a little bit jealous of the warm locations), I'd simply settle for a staycation, but I'm pretty sure my husband would love a week away. Which begs the question:

Where do you take three children under three when the weather is cold? 

Truth be told, sometimes a holiday with kids just feels like parenting in another place, with a stressful pack up at start and finish and none of the conveniences of home. Remove the toddler-sleep-inducing excitement of a beach and I'm just not sure it's really for me.

Having twins has meant travel has always been a little more challenging. Two sets of stuff and two little babies to manage. Car trips were production enough, we barely considered plane trips.

However, at least two couples I know well have both recently taken their baby overseas and found the experience reasonably refreshing. Yes there were plane trips, lots of packing and some logistical challenges, but once they arrived they found they were forced to slow down.  

These seasoned international travellers realised it's quite relaxing to have a nap in the middle of the day and the sights were still there the next day.

Children teach us to slow down sometimes and if we can embrace it, wherever we are, we can truly enjoy living in the moment. Personally, I think I'll be trying to live in the moment at home for now.