Archives for category: parenting

I am taking a short, but compulsory, sojourn from Australia as my tourist visa is about to expire and I cannot be in the country while my more substantial visa is being issued.  I have come to visit much-loved friends in New Zealand and the boys have stayed in Melbourne.  I miss them them terribly but I’m also having a wonderful time.

My friends, once neighbours and frequent partners in culinary crime and eating exploits back in the UK, returned to Wellington about three years ago so this is wonderful opportunity to catch up. They live in a beautiful spot near Pukerua Bay and this evening, just before sunset, they took me diving for paua (abalone). I could barely contain my excitement (in fact I couldn’t sleep last night).

We set off very late in the afternoon already wearing our wet suits and walked a couple of kilometres along the stunning bay as we needed to reach a point beyond the Rãhui which is an area of protection designed to enable paua to live in peace, grow and multiply. In the past paua have been over-harvested so this area of protection was introduced and along with heavy fines for the collection of under-sized specimens and a quota of ten per person.  Given that the minimum legal size is larger than the palm of my hand, this is more than enough for a huge meal!

We finally arrived at our dive site and, hot from the walk, it was a relief to be able to enter the cold water.  The conditions were not ideal being rather choppy with poor visibility and against a first-timer such as myself but my friend had soon collected twelve. I did manage to find a few but, once I had prised them from the rock with my knife, realised they were too small and released them.

As the light started to fade we returned home, exhausted, to shower and shuck and cook our haul.  As I was trying my hand at shucking the still very active (i.e. trying to suck onto my palm) paua I felt doubtful that I was going to be a convert to this particular delicacy as the grey flesh felt extremely rigid and, frankly, unappetising but a few good whacks with a meat tenderiser, thin slicing, and a short time in some very hot oil rendered them absolutely delicious.

A neighbour of my Mother-in-Law has a kumquat (or Chinese orange, apparently) bush positively heaving with ripe fruit.  At least we think it is a kumquat bush, the fruits are the right size, colour etc but are rounder than I remember them to be.

I must put it out of my mind as I have only been here a few days and don’t know the neighbour at all.

In the meantime I have been distracting myself with other citrussy activities.  It seems that nearly every garden in Melbourne has at least one lemon tree and a visit to a friend with a lemon tree proved fruitful (although he probably regretted it after the boys pulled rather too enthusiastically at the branches to pick the lemons).

We decided to make lemon and lime leaf (something else readily available here) jelly.  My eldest was beside himself with excitement and kept telling the youngest that he had to go for a nap so that we could do cooking.  He forgets that his brother now understands what he is saying and, needless to say, did not comply when he thought there might be something interesting to sabotage.

It turned out that a 1:1 ratio of lemon juice to water was not the right ratio to make lemon jelly appealing to most palettes.  My eldest loved it but it was too sharp for everyone else. He was quite pleased about that and merrily finished the entire bowl alone.

Things couldn’t be more different from a year ago when I first started writing this blog.  A walk past my local mulberry bush and the familiar hedgerows and plum trees near my house  a couple of weeks ago was disappointing in some ways, although probably closer to how things should be at this time of year, as they were yet not heavy with ripe fruit as they had been the year before but full of promising green berries waiting for the summer sun.  I too am waiting for the summer sun but will have a longer wait this year as I am now in a different hemisphere and have been plunged into the depths of an Australian Winter (which, it turns out, is marginally cooler than a British Summer). 

There has not been a lot of baking in the Bread for the Boys household over recent months but rather a lot of travelling, jet-lag and frantic packing and now, feeling as if I am waking from a rather confusing dream, I find that I have (s)emigrated. The Boys, all being dual citizens have emigrated proper but I have merely (s)emigrated on account of a not-quite-ready spouse visa. So, I wait, in tourist mode and think about another adventure when I need to leave the country again in three months time. 

There have, of course, been many distressing Goodbyes over recent weeks, mostly to family and friends of the two- and four- legged variety.  And then there was my sourdough starter.  Having become slightly obsessed with watching Border Security: Australia’s Front Line I realised that taking it with me was simply not an option. 

So here I am, ready to start again, with exciting foodie adventures ahead of me!

It has become a Saturday morning ritual in our house to make pikelets.  Or at least try.  I’ve been trying to find the perfect recipe for months.  We have strict criteria (which are largely related to my general laziness and the need for them to be perfect):

– The mixture must be suitable for preparing (quickly) the night before and ready to cook as soon as we wake up on Saturday morning regardless of whether we wake up at seven (likely) or nine (in my dreams).

– The recipe must be suitable for making pikelets and not require me to faff around with crumpet rings.

– The result must be very, very holey and deliciously chewy without any hint of old boot leather.

– There should be no bicarb’ in them as I don’t like the flavour.

– They must be easy enough to make whilst carrying an almost-toddler and singing The Wheels on the Bus ad nauseum.

We seem to have finally cracked it.  The final recipe is somewhere between this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

recipe (but contains no bicarb’ or milk) and the one in Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters and uses plain flour rather than a strong bread-making flour which is too high in gluten.

Now I just throw all the ingredients into a large bowl the night before (be warned, using a small bowl can easily result in you being met by a pool of gloopy batter advancing across the worktop on your arrival in the kitchen in the morning) , give it a brief whisk with a balloon whisk (this seems to give much better results than using a wooden spoon) and cover the bowl with a plate overnight.

In the morning I thoroughly heat two lightly oiled, heavy based, frying pans to a moderate temperature before cooking three ladelfuls of batter at a time in each.  They need to be cooked on one side until the top is just set and then flipped over for a minute or two to brown on top.  My recipe makes about twenty so there should be a few left over for the following day (or maybe not).

When we were in Normandy, back in the summer, we had a fabulously chewy, open textured seeded baguette in the generous bread basket every morning at our B&B.  I’ve been wanting to recreate something similar ever since.  For some reason I decided that ale (Fullers’ ESB as that was what we had in the fridge) was a necessary addition to my version although I’m almost certain it wouldn’t have been in the original!  It has got me thinking though: are there any Norman breads made with cider?

I usually put my dough in the fridge to rise slowly overnight but forgot this time and left it on the counter. It wasn’t any the worse for it and, as I had used fridge-cold ale and it had been a cool night, the dough still needed two hours for the final rising so my forgetfulness might have been a blessing.

The recipe is basically a seedy version of my malthouse rolls recipe but ale replaces most of water and I used a little more liquid to help create an open texture and a crusty exterior. I managed to wrestle the remainder of the bottle of Fullers’ from my husband’s arms (“oh, that’s my favourite, are you using that to make bread?”) to keep a little extra ale to use the following day to keep the rising dough moist and to brush on to the baguettes before putting them in the oven.

I’m really pleased with the result.  A bit too pleased it seems as there doesn’t seem to be much left.  It doesn’t have quite as open a texture as the original but it is close and the chewiness is exactly where I wanted it.  More importantly, the boys loved it!

It seems I am working my way through the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame in Nigella Lawson’s Feast.  It wasn’t really my intention and there are some I make over and over again so I’m really not being methodical about it.  If you hold the book and let it fall open it naturally it opens at the recipe for Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake which, incidentally, seems to have quite a lot of Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake mixture smeared across the page.

At the moment it is seven (incredibly rich and delicous cakes) down, and three to go:

Tropical Chocolate Cake – it looks delicious but every time I read that the recipe contains canned pineapple rings, cream cheese, cocoa and malibu I start to feel nauseous.  I’m pretty sure it would be delicious even so.

Chocolate Ginger Bread – I love gingerbread, I love chocolate, it looks amazing.  I keep buying the ingredients to make it and then deferring because the recipe doesn’t say whether the cake should be wrapped for a couple of days before icing so that it is unctuous and sticky.  I think I need to drop my ginger cake holy grail ambitions and just make it.

Chocolate Guinness Cake – I just haven’t found an excuse to make it yet.

I made the Honey Chocolate Cake for the first time for my son’s first birthday last week.  It has little marzipan bees on top so I thought it would appeal to the children and making it would be less stress-inducing than the fire engine cake I made for my eldest son’s third birthday earlier in the year.

The resulting cake is a bit like a Sachertorte in texture and my children and my nephews were very taken with the bees (as were any of the adults with a penchant for marzipan).  I found some royal icing decorations I had made a while back with some left-over icing lurking in a container at the back of the cupboard and used them to make some flowers for some of the bees to sit on.

It has all been rather quiet on the cooking front as the cold weather seems to have brought all the winter viruses with it.  In need of some fresh air as we recovered at the end of October we decided to go for a walk to pick some vitamin-C rich rosehips to make rosehip syrup.  What with the clocks going back, and our lethargy, it was almost dark by the time we made it to the park.  There was just enough time to pick them and let the kids have a quick go on the swings before heading home for tea.  I made the syrup after the children had gone to bed.  The recipe was easy enough to follow but I think next time I might check the sweetness of the extract before adding the sugar as the end result was rather sweet.  It might also help to pick them a few weeks earlier, before the first frosts.

The syrup looks very pretty sitting in an old cider bottle and we’ve been diluting it with water to make drinks.  The best use by far so far, however, is as a mixer for champagne or prosecco.  The alcohol ofsets the sweetness perfectly giving a delicately flavoured and coloured aperitif.

The other news on the foraging front is that my medlars have begun to blet, in fact some of them are ready to eat.  With a little hesitation (they really do look brown and rotten) I tasted one of them a few days ago.  The texture was similar to chestnut puree and there was a faint whiff of rotting apple about it.  The flavour was similar.  A cross between chestnut puree and baked apple.  I can see why people rave about them as there is a delicateness and uniqueness about the flavour and texture that could be considered appealing, and I can imagine it could be delicious mixed with some cream (which seems to have been the most popular way of eating them in their uncooked state).  I can also see why people find them disgusting, there is no escaping the fact that the process of rotting and fermentation has set in.

As I only have a few I am still undecided about their fate but I know I must act fast as some of them will be genuinely rotten and inedible if I leave it too long.  I can imagine eating them in a medlar mont blanc.  I wonder what the boys will think of it!

I’ve said before that cupcakes aren’t really my style, and I’m dubious about anything with more icing than cake, but I was really excited about spending the afternoon with my friend at a cupcake decorating workshop.  It was great fun and we came away with a clutch of very pretty, rather girly cakes.

I thought I would be happy to stay away from the glitter after we were told that so-called edible glitters are not edible but merely non-toxic but, once I had put glitter on just one to try it out, I got a bit carried away and ended up with glitter all over my cakes (and my clothes and face apparently).  Maybe I’m starting to understand the cupcake craze just a little bit.

We left in agreement that we are definitely rustic cooks but that once we’ve mastered the ‘cupcake swirl’ and ‘rose swirl’ and invested in a few sparkly bits even we could manage to make these cakes look pretty.  My toddler was pretty excited about the results and wanted to lick the icing off and eat the roses but leave the cake.  He obviously doesn’t share my feelings about appropriate icing/cake ratios.

“Are you making carrot soup?” my husband asked as he was unpacking the shopping I had ordered for delivery.

“Noooo”.  I turned around to see him holding up two one and a half kilo bags of carrots.  I’m not sure how that happened but I suppose that is what you get for doing the shopping in your sleep.

There was a pumpkin too, which I did mean to order, having recently bought pumpkin-shaped baking tins.  I think they were probably meant for cakes but I had in mind bread with the appearance and taste of pumpkin (and had been getting dubiously excited about the prospect).

So, we had Pumpkin and Carrot Soup with Pumpkin Party Rolls flavoured with sage and red onion.

Ideas on what to do with the remaining two and three quarter kilos of carrots are most welcome.

The toddler must have been extra hungry on Sunday as he asked (repeatedly) if we could have a barbecue. At half past nine in the morning.  Just as I thought I might not be able to come up with any more ways of saying “not right now, darling, at dinner time” he began suggesting we have a pub lunch.  Cue withering looks all round as it was only ten to ten.  This continued at intervals throughout the day before we finally lit the barbecue (of the charcoal variety) at half past three.

There was much excitement.  The boys had been in the paddling pool for much of the afternoon so they sat gazing at the fire and smoke in just their ‘loin cloths’.  I half expected to see a woolly mammoth ambling past.  “Ug”.

This barbecue was a nod to the season – barbecued guinea fowl with a warm beetroot salad and rosemary potato wedges.  We also had some peas that were acting as understudy to the green beans that I mislaid on the way home from the shops on Saturday.

I have been exalting the virtues of the gas barbecue of late but there are times when only the real thing will do and we have our (cute) blue Weber Smokey Joe for such times.  We only use it a few times a year but it is fantastic for cooking chicken and fish, under cover, to smoky perfection.  This particular model is Weber in miniature so any birds that go on it either have to be spatchcocked or on the small side.

Guinea Fowl are ideal for cooking in this way since they carry a little more fat than chickens (but not nearly as much as duck).  Ours weighed in at 1.2Kg so we managed to squeeze it under the barbecue cover and it was cooked in around an hour over indirect heat.  It served all four of us generously (aside from a few scuffles over the ultra-crispy skin) with a little left over and a lovely smoky carcass for stock.

The beetroot salad matched the earthiness of the guinea fowl splendidly but the added lemon zest helped cut through the fattiness of the meat.

We had grapes from our garden to follow.  We have a lot of grapes on our single vine this year and I had intended to make some grape jelly or some such concoction but it looks much more likely that we are just going to eat a few every time we walk past or just stand in the garden scoffing them unashamedly (the toddler has found himself a little archway under the vine which he now calls “my house”).  Over the weekend we pruned the vine and have done the same with our tomatoes to help encourage complete ripening, thanks to some great advice from our dear friends in New Zealand (who I am excited to mention recently bought themselves a vineyard and now have their own wine label) and, on the tomato front, my lovely brother.

It might have been our last barbecue of the season so I’m really glad we made it a good one!