Sunday, December 3, 2017

Blue mussels in tomato sauce

Image supplied by Downtown Magazine
Photographer: Kyle Manning. Styling: Jane Graystone

Too much soul searching lately and not enough food methinks. Not that we’ve been cooking anything remarkable because, you know, buuusy.

Unlike my recent post about it, I think this time we have been legitimately busy. Work has been hectic, Sam’s been a bit sick, the Christmas gatherings have started and we’ve had a 3rd birthday party for 50 people to plan. How did we even get to 50 people? One of the small challenges and great joys of living in a country town is the friendship network which extends from one connection to another, to another.

So we made a cake, fired up the barbecue, filled the kids with too much sugar and food colouring and then everyone went home in a storm of over-tiredness. Fun times. We didn’t have a party for the twins last year so it was a nice way to say thanks to everyone who’s invited us to celebrate with their kids over the last two years.

Anyway, this post is meant to be about food. So here’s a similar recipe to one I published in Downtown magazine’s 2016 winter issue. In the magazine I used a slow cooker, but here is the stovetop method - or you could even do it on a side burner on the bbq. Much more appropriate for the current season. Another seasonal adjustment is the removal of fennel. You could add a bulb of sliced fennel if you love the flavour, but sometimes it's a little tricky to find in summer - fennel's in season through Autumn and Winter.

Two years ago I did a cooking class st Sydney Seafood School. We covered the basics, which for most of us are far from basic. Filleting a fish, segmenting a crab, preparing octopus and cooking mussels.

Mussels have always been a mystery to me. These tight glossy black shells that miraculously open just at the right time. And what about the ones that don’t open and how sick will they make my guests?

Like most things I write about here, turns out it’s not hard. For Tamworth readers, you can buy fresh mussels from Woolworth. They come live in a sealed packet which is actually how you’d buy them from the fish markets, too. When you buy the mussels they must be closed. Sometimes they might be partically open, this is because of the lights in store and is ok, but if they're quite open even in a dark environment then no, not ok. 

When they're cooked, mussels will be about 1/3 open. The flesh inside should look set and have moved away a little from the shell. Like a cake moving away from the tin, perhaps? Hmm, maybe not. And don't fret over the ones that haven't opened them. Gently encourage them open and if they're not ok your nose will tell you pretty quickly. So here goes...

Blue mussels in tomato sauce

1 kg small blue mussels - remove from the fridge 10-20 minutes before preparing
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
400 g canned tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Scrub mussel shells together under cold running water to remove any barnacles. You'll find most mussels are pretty well de-bearded if you buy in the packet as described above, but if not, remove beards by tugging towards the round end. Never use the liquid that comes out of the packet as it is far too salty.

Discard any shells that are open and don't close then tapped or gently squeezed

Heat the olive oil in a large deep frying pan, or wok, over a medium heat.
Add the onion, garlic, pepper and a little salt (mussels are really salty, so don't go overboard), cover and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until onion is soft.

Add the wine, stir well, increase heat and bring to the boil

Stir in the tomatoes, return to the boil, add mussels, cover and cook over very high heat for a couple of minutes, shaking the pan occasionally until shells start to open.

As each shell opens use tongs to move it to a serving bowl. Any that don't open when cooked can be pryed open with a blunt knife over the sink. See my note above about eating mussels that don't open.

Reduce heat to medium and cook sauce for a few minutes until it reduces and thickens slightly. Stir basil through sauce and pour over the mussels. Serve with crusty, fresh sourdough.

Serves 6 as an entree, or 4 as a main meal with a green salad. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

One foot in front of the other, in front of the other...

I really want this blog to be a positive space but there’s so much crappy stuff going on right now.

Last week we went to another funeral. Another friend’s Dad. Another soul taken far to soon - and so quickly - by cancer. We are all in our mid-to-late 30s, and our parents in their mid-to-late 60s. We didn’t expect so many of us to have lost a parent at this age.

And Mum has had a little (big) blip on the health landscape too. One which requires a large, scary operation and a long recovery. She is a little scared but putting on a brave face and just keen to get it done. I don’t think either of us have fully grasped the recovery implications. It’s just one step at a time.

And in amongst all of this, perhaps because of this, the parenting journey is such a grind. I’m back at work, which is a huge adjustment and a commitment I’m not used to. The terrible twos are morphing into even worse threes on the tantrum stakes, as is the norm. The sickness wagon has been hanging around for about three weeks now (c’mon, winter is long behind us). And the sleep Gods, who are generally pretty good to us, are dealing out a rough string of average nights. Everything’s just a little harder to deal with when you’re sleep deprived.

When people ask how I cope I ask how can you not? Just one foot in front of the other. And I spend a lot of time reminding myself how lucky we are to have a lovely home, good jobs, healthy kids etc. But these last few weeks I’ve taken a break from gratitude. Everything’s just a bit shit and I’d trade the material stuff and the jobs in an instant. And I’m tempted to trade the kids when they’re being brats and throwing a wobbly! But then they do something gorgeous, of course.

So I’ve had my little self indulgence, and now it’s time to play the gratitude game again, hug my kids and my husband tight and put one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Where is your busy?

Oh, we're all soooo busy, aren't we? It's not a new conversation, nor is that fact that most of us choose the level of commitment we have. That discussion has been done to death and will continue as we get busier and busier.

But what I want to ask is, do you know where your time goes? Do you ever chat to someone you haven't seen for a while and say "gee, I don't know what we've been doing, we've just been bus-eee"? 

(We'll get to that in a minute, but can we pause to laugh at the ridiculousness of stock image captions? This one is called "Casual Business Woman Typing On Laptop Whilst In Bed", but the real hoot comes if you check out this one: "Dedicated adorable mother starting an active day". It's useful lesson in how working mothers CAN have it all...)

Just sitting down and trying to catalogue the last seven days is tricky. We had an extra child last weekend as her parents had gone away for two nights, so that led to a hectic weekend. There was a lot of tending to baby Audrey while the twins and their sleepover friend followed Dad, Nan and Pa around the garden. A new sandpit was built but I can't claim any credit for that. I did make a cake and prune some lavender but I'm not sure what else sucked up Saturday.

Sunday we went to brunch at the fabulous Goonoo Goonoo Station. Tamworth is so lucky to have such a great venue in town and we went with Mum and two international visitors who were staying with her. Don't ask me what happened after brunch. We arrived home and the sandpit was finished so I think the kids passed a lot of time in there. Maybe it was actually Sunday that I did the pruning. So what the hell did I do on Saturday?

Is it a challenge of the memory or do we genuinely have large gaps in our day, voids that are caused by pottering and social media.

Today I played with the kids for a bit until their Nanny arrived. Then I came down to do a bit of work at my little bookkeeping-slash-real-estate-mogul job, helped mum with a few jobs around town, returned to do a bit more work, ate my lunch, picked up my car (which I'd left at mum's), [fill large gap here], inspected a leaking toilet, called a plumber, stuffed around looking at emails and sat down to write.

The main inspiration of this post is that it's been a while. And instead of the usual "sorry guys, I've just been bus-eee", I decided to put a bit more thought into it. On a macro level I can totally account for the busy-ness (kick-started a side hustle, returned to my comms job 2 days a week, went to my sister-in-laws wedding in Sydney) but isn't it hard to narrow that down to the day-to-day?

Do you have to bill your time at work? I am so good at it. But imagine if you had to bill your time at home. What would be your go-to for those voids? "Unproductive"? "Filing"? "Team meetings"?

I'm probably all of the above. Because social media is totally "filing", right?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Rosy Cheeks Muesli

This post was meant to be about breakfast. But Oh My Goodness have I been sidetracked!

I love my breakfast, and that love has grown even more since having kids. You can read about it here, here and here. There’s something special about getting up before everyone else so I can savour my bowl of muesli (in summer) or porridge (in winter) in the peaceful early light. That morning space before the kids rise has become so important to me that it’s seen my alarm creep further and further forward over the last 3 years.

With priorities like this you can understand how much I enjoyed meeting Katie Godden, creator of Tamworth’s Rosy Cheeks muesli, at a recent Savvy Birds event (if you live in or near Tamworth and haven’t been to a SB event you’re missing out!)

I told her about my blog and my pre-Tamworth life as a brand ambassador for delicious goods and she generously sent me home with two bags of her “delicious nutritious”, paleo-inspired, health promoting muesli, one of them being Primal Cheeky Choc.

What? Yup, that’s right. Chocolate granola. I didn’t think it would be my thing. But I was so wrong.

Boasting coconut flakes nuts, pepitas, raw cacao and more, I am seriously addicted. I don’t eat it for breakfast, instead I sprinkle it on yoghurt as an alternative to the sugar laden snacks that I’m STILL eating, despite being off the “breastfeeding diet” for nearly three months. I’m also partial to eating it like trail mix, returning to the pantry again and again for a nibble. To be fair, I think that’s how Katie intended for it to be eaten, as opposed to a standalone breakfast product. Her serving suggestions include:
  •           Straight from the pack
  •           Blended in a smoothie or milkshake
  •           On top of your favourite smoothie bowl
  •           Combined with other puffed cereal products at breakfast time
The other product she shared with me, Primal Granola, is a more traditional breakfast but no less delicious. Muesli and porridge is a weekend treat for me and I love a fruit-free, granola style muesli topped with yoghurt and berries.

Packed full of cashews and almonds, Rosy Cheeks’ Primal Granola has a great crunch and texture and delicious hints of coconut oil and maple syrup.

I’ve been blessed with relatively good health so far, so I’m all about flavour, but Rosy Cheeks was inspired by Katie’s own health journey, after battling poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes and asthma. You can read about this journey on the Rosy Cheeks website, but in a nutshell Katie cut out gluten, dairy, processed food and refined sugars. She also cut back on carbs. Essentially Katie adopted a paleo diet, raved about the health benefits and created her delicious Rosy Cheeks range to ensure she could eat delicious, wholesome food, even on busy days.

If you’re after health benefits, read more on Katie’s website and buy Rosie Cheeks. If you’re after flavour, take my word for it and buy Rosie Cheeks – visit the website for stockists or to buy direct.

Now excuse me, I need to get to bed early so I can enjoy my breakfast tomorrow.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Strawberry and rhubarb crumble

Strawberries have been super cheap these last few weeks. Anyone know a reason for this? I thought this meant they were currently in season, but a quick google tells me that between Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland there’s pretty much “strawbs” in season somewhere in the eastern states all year round.

From here we could launch into a conversation about buying in season, buying local and ensuring a fair price for the farmer – all of which are important issues, but it’s late on a Friday night and I’m single parenting three under three this weekend so let’s just talk dessert, ok?

For some, cheap strawberries means jam. I don’t have time for jam. Maybe one day, but in the meantime, cheap strawberries mean strawberry and rhubarb crumble.
If I’ve been to your hens party and was asked to provide a recipe, chances are you already have this one. It’s my go-to for bridal shower shares. Everyone loves a crumble (right?) and I like to think the strawberry and rhubarb filling makes this one just a little sexier. What’s more, it’s super easy to make and a lot of the prep can be done in advance. Sound like perfect dinner party material?

I can’t remember when I first started making this dish. It started out as “strawberry, rose geranium and rhubarb crumble” from The Good Weekend’s “Any fool can cook...” section. I think it was written by Matthew Evans but I can’t be sure. I still have the original clipping but my version is now considerably different. The original had very firm views on the crumble:

“This one doesn’t resemble a muesli topping, relying on coconut or rolled oats. It’s simpler, more classical and far better in my view.”

But somewhere along the lines I put the rolled oats back in. Does that make me a radical? I just like a bit more substance in my crumble. If you’re in the traditionalist camp, or any other crumble camp for that matter substitute in your own mix. The crumble here freezes well so you can whip up a dessert in a hurry and works just as well with a traditional apple filling (try 8 sliced red apples, 2 Tbsp sugar and juice of ½ a lemon instead of the fruit mix below).

Strawberry and rhubarb crumble

170 g plain flour
65 g self raising flour
170 g raw sugar
pinch salt
170 g softened butter
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 bunch rhubarb, chopped into 2-3 cm pieces
1 punnet strawberries, hulled and halved
2 Tbsp honey, warmed
1/2 tsp vanilla
A splash of rosewater

Combine flours, sugar, salt and 120 g of butter in the food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add oats and pulse briefly to combine.

In a medium casserole dish, toss the rhubarb and strawberries with honey, vanilla and a splash of rosewater then press the mixture down.

Just before baking, sprinkle the crumble mixture over the fruit. Chop the remaining 50 g butter into small cubes and scatter across the crumble.

Bake in a 200 degree C oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is browned.

Serves 4

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?

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.