Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good Bread Recipe

Apologies again for photos.  These were taken with lappie webcam.  Only 8 months until my birthday and possibility of new camera. sigh.

Lately have been extremely underwhelmed by the bread I've been making.  Too crumbly, too yeasty, and just not quite what I want it to be.  So have been searching for a new recipe to try out, and today in the Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques recipe book I found the following recipe for a basic white loaf...

15g Fresh yeast (or 1tbsp active dry yeast)
500ml (or 2 cups) warm water
960g (or 6 cups) white bread flour
10g (2 tsp) salt

This gave me enough dough for two 900g loaves or...
 A loaf and some small rolls for the kids.

The bread is wonderful, dense and chewy, not too yeasty, with a great bready flavour.  The recipe differs a lot from the one I usually use, with half the amount of yeast and no sugar.  I made the bread by hand (but did the kneading in my mixer which has a dough hook - the mixer took exception to this and kept trying to throw itself off the bench top, meaning I spent a lot of twenty minutes today leaping across the kitchen to steady it, sigh).

So will continue to experiment this one, and see, firstly if I can get it to work in the bread machine and secondly if I have any success adapting it to wholemeal flour (which I can't get so am presently adding some bran, which is less than ideal).

To go with the bread I made a batch of blackberry and apple jam.
Children overwhelmed with gratitude (not) and acting like its all laced with ant spray.  Bless them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Baking Makes It All Better... well except for Mother Guilt

Bread rolls, made with fresh yeast about to go into the oven.  Right now my house smells beautiful,  yeasty and bready and cosy.

Have been in the kitchen this morning.  Its been a rather tough day in the children department and though I had grand plans for cleaning the bathrooms and washing beds, instead I've just pottered in the kitchen, mulling things over and keeping my hands busy.

Miss 5 is an anxious child, and since her school had its practice "Stranger alarm" - where the kids practice what to do if there is a 'stranger' on campus - her anxiety has exploded into a full blown phobia centring on the school bell (she tries to hide each time it rings). It also includes a terror of our back garden (after the black snake incident) and bugs/spiders of any kind.  These days she refuses to go outside at all.

I spoke to Miss 5's teacher about the bell thing on Tuesday, after she came home and told me that she'd been so scared by the school bell ringing for a little longer than usual that she'd hidden.  Her teacher was aware of the problem and we chatted about a few strategies to deal with it. Then this morning there was a car alarm going off in the car-park and Miss 5 fell apart, convinced that it meant there was a stranger, coming to get her. 

I marched her up to school, being all no-nonsense about it, but when we got there she was white faced, shaky and crying.  So I stayed to calm her down and talk to her teacher again.  As we were waiting outside the classroom the first bell rang and in a state of overwhelming panic Miss 5 sprinted off across the playground looking for somewhere to hide.  Not even the fact that her mother was standing right there was enough to stop her.

I rang the school counsellor the moment I got home and the upshot is that Miss 5 is, at this very moment, starting on their program for kids with anxiety issues.  She'll get ongoing support, activities to do at home and a chance to talk things through with someone trained to be no-nonsense or sympathetic at the right times - which will be something of a change from her mother who, it appears, is gifted in getting it wrong every single time.

Holy Crap this parenting business is hard work.  I know kids are born the way they're born (hell, look at Miss 4, who invented a new game last night where you hide under the table and then try to poke your opponent in the eye with a pen - mummy didn't handle that well either).  I know that I'm rattled because even though I've loved and protected Katie all her life, she ran away from me in panic and not to me.  I know, as well, that she is in the grip of a phobia, and an unreasonable level of anxiety, and that she's not thinking straight, or even thinking at all. 

But, I do still wonder, as I'm baking away in my kitchen, if I have failed somewhere.  If I could've done it all a bit differently.  Yes. Mother Guilt. I has it badly.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Latest in Garden

Despite new batteries camera is still Not Happy.  Its had a hard hard life.  Was present at the birth of both  children (Hubs still traumatized about that experience, poor love. I mean imagine how he'd be coping if it'd actually been hitherto unseen parts of his OWN anatomy being snipped with a pair of gigantic scissors??  Sorry, was that TMI, I can never tell) and has spent an unseemly amount of time being kicked around with the detritus in the bottom of the car, dropped, sat on, lost, found, and thrown off roof (and all I have to say about THAT is that I was LOOKING INTO THE SUN. THE SUN. Ahem).  Am not surprised its getting a bit wobbly in its old age really.

Still I managed to coax a few pics out of it...

Potato patch with anti-chook defences - note chooks digging up peas at the back there.  Seb's pretending he's not thinking about chasing chooks - yeah right.

Shallotts (golden) I planted this morning.  Have found these do incredibly well with total neglect and almost no watering.  Hoping they'll form a nice edge along my alliums bed.

I'll begin planting sweet corn in this bed in August - therefore it is my Sweet Corn bed. Have put in a quick winter crop of lettuces. Each row is a different type of lettuce - had a lot of packets I bought a couple of years ago, so have used them all up as they were about to go past their use-by date.
The plastic mesh does a great job of keeping the chooks from digging it up.

Below is my leafy greens bed for this year.  Which is really a euphemism for Things I Can't Decide Where To Plant.  Leafy Greens sounds so much more gardeny.  What I have here is a large pile of sheep poo and behind it, under the anti chook wire, some very short rows of parsnips, carrots, swedes and beetroots. 
This is the bed I've planted up twice and had everything decimated by chickens, slugs and the weather.  So I'm keeping it really small, rows of only around 70cms, and if I can get something growing in that corner then I'll start to expand out.


Monday, April 19, 2010

94 Yesterday

Yesterday was off to the rellies for Granddad's 94th Birthday.  Yes. 94 and kicking along quite nicely.  Was vastly enjoyable to see extended family, presently overflowing with ankle-biters and rug-rats. Also scoffed vast amounts of chocolate cake.

Kids back at school today, thank GOD. Break from school routine was lovely, but was extremely ready to send children back to school and turns out they were extremely happy to be going.  One vast improvement is that I have actually had time today to get to the supermarket and buy batteries for my camera - so stay tuned for garden photos in the near future.

So as I mentioned somewhere in my somewhat ranty last post, hubby has a new job.  Much rejoicing and excitement our house.  Mostly because we are going to have some money finally.  The most major change (apart from being able to pay the mortgage) is that I can get my eyebrows shaped AND get a haircut. Yes. It's all about me. I see this.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Doing It All

Its been a tough tough week in the Caitlyn Nicholas household.  Lots of things up in the air, masses of uncertainty, kids ratty due to change in routine from school to holidays, house in upheaval (ie messy) and my routine totally screwed due to the kids being home - this basically means bread isn't being made, lunch is junk food, dinner is late, veges are frozen peas if you're lucky and instead of writing in the evening I'm collapsing in an exhausted heap on the couch and eating icecream.

Breaking out of this kind of situation is always devilishly difficult.  Those bad habits that you've spent weeks changing come roaring back, worse than before. Suddenly its all too much and far far too overwhelming.

I like to think that I'm an expert in being overwhelmed.  I manage it on a stunningly regular basis.  Stunningly.  Just when I scrabble myself a centimeter of breathing space, there I go, filling it up with things.
On a completely unrelated note: The chinese word for things is 东西 (pronounced dongxi), on their own the first character means East and the second West.  Its always been one of my fave Chinese words. East West = Things. Neat huh?
Anyway, back to being overwhelmed.  I've seen in a couple of blogs lately women talking about how full their lives are and how they get all tangled up in the having and the being.  As in Having It All and Being It All.

The first blog post I saw was Eat at Dixibelles -  where Dixibelle is discussing Is it Possible To Do It All.  My hard won answer to that is an emphatic NO. I tried to have it all, and be it all, and do it all.  I then burnt out, in such a state of exhaustion that eighteen months later I am still recovering. There is no such thing as balance when you are trying to do it all, and there is no way TO balance doing it all.

The second blog post was Down To Earth - where Rhonda has some great advice for yet another woman so overwhelmed she doesn't know which way to turn.

I nodded my head through these two posts. I knew the situations these women talked of. I'd been there and paid a very high price when I didn't slow down, lower my goals and forget about the To Dos that were not essential.

I am not saying that I've somehow magically risen above my tendency and desire to want to do it all.  However, you may have noticed - I mentioned it in passing the other week - that I quit University a few weeks ago.  Tough, tough decision.  You have no idea how tough.  But, I was overwhelmed and I have learned the hard way that when I have taken on too much I need to cut back immediately before I fall apart.  Uni was stressing me out, keeping me awake and making me snappy with the kids and hubby because I was trying to do too much.

But this time, instead of struggling on, convincing nobody I was coping, being a bitch to the family and handing in half-assed work (okay well I hadn't handed any in yet, but it would've been). I took control. Put my family and myself first and made the hard decision.

So here we see that I have learned from past fuck-uppages. I do wish, deeply wish that other women could learn from my disasters. (To the extent that I have written about it in a book called Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me - more on that another day).  But I know where they are at. I wouldn't have listened two years ago, it fact I'd  have shot them down in flames.  It is so hard when you are overwhelmed to see the light, to figure out what needs to give, to find space to breathe.

Which brings me to this week.

This time I'm overwhelmed due to things totally beyond my control. Even as I have written this post, two more money-related stresses have racked up, I've had a spat with hubby, and hubby has been offered a new job which is brilliant (totally beyond brilliant actually, but I'll do another post about it) but brings a whole new host of stresses. Also spat was resolved due to job news and top secret special surprise celebration dinner that am about to make.

So, where do look for help??

Several blogs in fact...
  • The Parenting Passageway: In between the posts on homeschooling there is wonderful, amazing advice for relationships with children, husbands and family.  The parts on gentle discipline with children are full of good ideas on how to 'change the tune' if conflict with your kids has arrived at an impasse.  This blog reminds me that its my health (mental and physical) and then my children's which come first. 
  • Down To Earth: Rhonda used to try and do it all, she used to be a chronic multi-tasker.  Then she made the decision to stop and live differently. Down to Earth is her story and oodles of great advice that she's learned along the way.  I too was a chronic multi-tasker, but now I just do one thing at a time, and it has made the world of difference to how I approach being a SAHM. 
  • Smitten Kitchen and Not Without Salt : Whose awesome recipes get me back in the kitchen (my zen place to be - well most of the time), and make my husband love me more.
  • Dooce.com : Who makes me laugh until I cry, cheer her every victory, envy her taste in just about everything, and reminds me that being open and honest about yourself is a good good thing.
So there you have it.  These blogs don't change my current situation, right now only outside forces can do that, but they do remind me that my approach to the situation is going to make all the difference in the world to how I cope with it and how the whole family comes out of it.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Kites, Cider and Pesto

I love Costa (SBS 8pm Thursday nights) but holy hell, I'd pay him to shave off that awful awful beard.  He looks like a terrorist, he really does.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with anything, except that I simply had to get it off my chest.

Today Miss 4 is much improved.  The burns on her hand are no longer painful and so far she is enjoying the novelty and attention of being all bandaged up.  Took 90mins at the doctors to get the dressing changed which did not thrill any of us, and we have to go back every day for the next few days sigh.  Bribed the kids into good behavior with the promise of a trip to the $2 shop.  They bought kites and I have spent a lot of today running around in dog poo and 30 degree heat trying to get the wretched things in the air.  I hate kites.

When Miss 5 folornly said, "I think we should give up Mummy."
I agreed with shameful haste.

As usual the Universe was quick to punish me.
A Lorikeet flew into the house through the french doors.  Much hysteria (kids), swearing (me) and barking (dog) ensued.  I quickly caught it in a towel and let it go outside, no harm done.  Or so I thought, until I saw the neat line of bird poo over the two baskets of clean washing on the table.


Juiced all those cider apples I had.  Juice is now deposited in two demi-johns Dad gave me, campden tablets have been added - these kill wild yeasts, which can ruin your batch of home brew.
Next I'll be adding some wine yeast, some nutrient for the yeast to live on (lactose basically) and some pectin enzyme to get rid of all that sediment.  This stuff is all easily found at our nearby Home Brew shop.

Then all it needs to do is actually start fermenting.


For dinner this evening I did homemade chicken pesto pizza.  Was rather chuffed that a lot of it was home made. The Pizza dough done in the bread maker, the tomato paste (that I made back in January), and the pesto.  Was especially pleased with the pesto as the basil was out of the garden.

Pesto is one of those ridiculously easy ones to make (like hommus).

My fave recipe is adapted from The Silver Spoon...
25 fresh basil leaves
100ml Olive oil
40g pine nuts
50g grated parmesan
Put the basil into a whizzer with olive oil and pine nuts and a pinch of salt
Add parmesan
whiz more
See easy peasy.
Hommus (if you happen to be interested. This is based on Bill Granger's recipe)
400g can chickpeas, drained
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Whiz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a whizzer with 2 tablespoons of water
Stop when smooth
Add more water if gunky
Add S&P if you want

Injured Hand

Miss 4 burned her hand - despite a four inch high guard around the cook-top she somehow managed to put her palm on a hob that'd just been turned off.
Even worse it's her left hand, the one she uses to do everything. So the last few days have been filled with a lot of tv (thank goodness for iView). She is healing quickly and is immensely cheerful though.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Apple Picking

WDF (whole damn family) and I went up to Bilpin today and did a spot of apple picking.
Check out these trees dripping with Granny Smiths.  They taste like real apples, not like the horrid powdery things you get from supermarkets.
We went to Shield's Orchards.  And for $30 we ended up with 12kgs of beautiful Granny Smiths that we picked ourselves for making pies and eating. And 12kgs of mixed apples for making cider.
This is in addition to the other things in my fridge that are in dire need of preservation otherwise the chooks will get them.
Gah!  Mum's chooks have gone mental and that's 34 eggs I need to use. Yes. A lot of omelets.

I made a start preserving the zuchinni and eggplant, and making them into anti-pasto.  Basically I'm preserving them in oil, and you start the process by salting them for 24hours.
They need a heavy weight, so I have found a heavy weight.
Juice already squishing out nicely.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Hot Cross Buns

Made Hot Cross Buns yesterday.

Here they are just about to go into the oven.

I used this recipe from the BBC website with a couple of adjustments that I mention below.

Here they are just out of the oven and rather haphazardly glazed with golden syrup (after small pastry brush melting incident involving the microwave).
They are light and fluffy and melt-in-the-mouth.  Nothing like the stodgy rocks you get from the Supermarket or Bakers Delight.  I had No Idea HCBs could be this good.

Recipe Notes
  •  The recipe says to use 1.5 teaspoons of rapid rise yeast, but not having a clue what that is, I used a sachet (7g) of usual supermarket dried yeast which worked just fine.  
  • I used the bread maker to do the kneading and the first round of rising - on the dough cycle. 
  • After the first rise the dough felt quite dense and heavy, so I put the oven on its lowest setting for a few minutes - warming it enough so that I could still touch the inside of the door, and put the dough to rise in there.  This also worked really well and the second rise took about 40mins and so did the third.  
  • For the third rise (when the buns have been bun shaped) the  recipe says to put the buns into an airtight plastic bag - I skipped this and they worked just fine.
  • I put the flour mixture for the crosses into a sandwich bag and snipped off a corner - instead of using a piping bag.  It works fine as long as you don't squeeze too hard.
  • From start to finish it all took about 3 hours - most of which was rising (of course)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Merry Good Friday and Plenty of Gardening

Ah Christmas carols.   What?  My children have demanded Christmas carols on the cd player all afternoon, and who am I to deprive them.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, la la la...

I have a nasty nasty feeling that they think the Easter Bunny is very very closely related to Santa, and an even nastier feeling that they are going to be deeply disappointed on Sunday when they are given one egg each by their parents (owing to their chocolate intake in last week being around the same as my bodyweight).

Today, as promised, have been hard at work whipping the garden into shape.  Below is where the chicken's abode used to be. Now it's a spud patch with peas growing where the posts are (it is netted but you can hardly see it).  Next year I'm planning to make this spot my berry patch and put in a heap of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries (or equivalent - loganberries or marionberries are low chill I think, and would probably grow best around here).

Planted my rescue Tea Camellias and Lilly Pillys.  The Camellias are the poor spindly things at the front and the Lilly Pillys are the bushy ones at the back.  The large pile of wood back there is, in fact, a large pile of wood, and there is our worm farm as well. Aww, worms.
The plants were all quite pot bound, but I've saved worse, so fingers crossed.
Should they choose life then they'll form a nice screen in front of the ancient fence.  I've also planted them far enough away, so that when the fence gets replaced - and its going to have to be soon - they are out of harms way.

Finally, finally I can unveil the New Coop.  The ladies have been slightly bamboozled by the whole moving house thing, but are now adapting nicely.
We netted in the funny old gazebo that has served no real purpose whatsoever since we moved in.  The whole thing is vermin and dog proof, cool and airy.  I've got a gold and a banana passionfruit growing up the sides so hopefully by next summer they'll be providing lots of lovely shade.


How to Win Dogs and Influence Eagles

Okay, something slightly different this morning - never fear am planting half-dead Tea Camellia's later and shall have lots of photos - promise.

Peta Clark is an amazing lady (though she'd hate that I said that, but she IS).  She trains animals, and not just any animal; birds, seals, elephants... you name it. (Sadly she doesn't do husbands).  She trained Sebby and was part of his very early life when, around this time last year, I was struggling with small children and a puppy and I realised I couldn't give Sebs the support he needed.

Peta has written a wonderful article on animal training on Dog Lover's Digest. I love what she says about building trust and reading body language and just the sheer consideration for our fellow creatures. Oh that we could all live that way. At the end of the article she says...
None of us should be surprised by the confidence an animal gains from not being forced into a situation that makes them feel threatened. As always, when we think of situations where we have felt nervous, for whatever reason, we know how grateful we were when some kind soul understood and respected our need. Whether that need was ‘silly’ as in getting the heck away from an innocent creepy crawly or more sensible in a serious situation, people who show us empathy and care are always people we feel we can trust. It’s the same it seems, whether you are a man or a mouse.
Read it all at http://www.dogloversdigest.com/


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Delightful Day

Today has been one of those day. Clear. Cool. Autumn in the air. Kids tired but in a good mood. Friends up from Adelaide dropped in unexpectedly WITH chocolate biscuits. Hubby now off for four days.


I love, love that I have friends who feel comfortable just giving me a call and saying they'll be over in an hour, or less.  Okay so the house is always messy, but yanno, the house IS always messy.

Today was the first day of the school holidays for the screamies.  I've been looking forward to the break from school - its been quite an adjustment, keeping up with the new routine, and getting library bags (with books), sports bags (with uniform), homework, hats, correct (clean) uniform on correct child, hair done (with ribbons),  underpants on, not to mention all school lunches and the driving.

I was a bit flummoxed about the amount of homework that'd been sent home with Miss 5 for the holidays.  However, at around 6.13 this morning she was already happily sitting at her desk practicing her reading and doing a spot of colouring in.  I didn't realise the extent to which she enjoys learning.  I've got heaps of reading, writing and maths activity books - went a bit mad in Borders the other day, ahem - and both kids have been devouring them.

We're spending Easter in the garden.  Clearing up mostly, things need a good tidy (yes my life is a mess, I know this).  Planting up my alliums bed and once more planting beetroot, carrot, asian greens and lettuce, for the third month, and hoping they don't get fried by an unexpected hot day or devoured by chickens.