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Over Easter down at Aireys we spent a few days just the four of us as a family. This is unusual for us, as with two adult children now, they are often doing their own thing. Or, when we are all together, we are lucky enough to have one or both of their partners joining us. However, this weekend we could reminisce about all the family holidays we have had at Aireys, and all the cliff walks with unwilling or willing children in tow, and all the cozy fireside nights.Our conversations ranged from whether Whitecross deserved a game in the Hawthorn team this week, to the mysteries of good relationships. More scope for a good chat in the latter than the former.

Without wanting to stereotype my gender, over the years I have noticed that women can set up little tests for their partners to gauge how much they really care. A common theme in these tests is ‘if you really cared about me, you would understand what makes me happy, and deliver it’ I had a colleague many years ago, who was planning his upcoming honeymoon. He had discussed it with his wife who said ‘surprise me’. His idea of the most romantic honeymoon possible, was the two of them, alone, sailing the Whitsundays in a yacht for a week. It was a disaster. According to his new wife, he had failed the first test of love. If he really cared, he would have understood that she was a five star hotel girl and a week without her hair dryer, using primitive toilets was not her idea of romance.

Some of you may be thinking he wasn’t very observant, however, in fairness, he was working with the only instruction he had been given and put all his mental energy into the surprise. Rather than surprise me, she could have said, surprise me with a five star hotel. There is a mistaken belief among some girls, regardless of their age, that if I tell you what I want, you haven’t passed the love test, because I had to tell you. The love test, is that you guess it perfectly without being given any specific information. I, unfortunately don’t think young, more assertive women, have outgrown this expectation of their male partners.

Being able to ask for what you want, rather than simmering with resentment when someone can’t work it out by themselves, is a habit that I hope my children, male and female will develop in their relationships. I also hope they develop the tools to dispute this expectation if they are being subjected to the guessing game that is the ‘Love Test’

Being aware of the premise behind the Love Test is half the battle. If you can explain to your partner that it is very difficult for someone who has different preferences to put themselves inside someone else’s head, and this does not mean that they love you any less (or yourself, if you’re the one doing the testing) . Instead ‘tell me what works for you, and I’ll remember that when I make decisions,’ should be enough of a demonstration of love.

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Highlights :the four of us together as a family for a few days, cooking , walking, talking, painting Easter eggs, chocolate for breakfast, fruit toast, catching up with friends and the beach.

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Lowlights: heading to the beach at 1130 Good Friday morning and the longest traffic filled trip we've ever had. Note for future, if we're leaving Friday morning, make it eight o clock.

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Our favorite Easter meal is slow cooked lamb, and lots of veg.All we did with the lamb was rub it with salt and lemon rind, put it in a large, le cruset oven pot, with a cup of beef stock in the bottom, and the lid on,cooked on 170 degrees for five hours. We served it with roasted potatoes, sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin with sea salt and rosemary, Pea and feta mash, roasted beet root and baby asparagus. But forgot to take any pictures!

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We spent Sunday afternoon hand painting Easter eggs, to begin a collection for the house at Aireys.

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Sunday night dinner: Pork

We have had a couple of family celebrations over the last two weeks, so our Saturday nights have been anniversary or birthday dinners and our Sunday nights have been the family eating in, regrouping for the week ahead. This also means high level negotiation about food preferences and what can realistically be prepared without completely undoing the weekends relaxation. Below is a photo of the kids and their partners at Olis Saturday night birthday celebration, on their way to various events.

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Last Sunday we had full agreement and everyone helping for pork chops with spice rub, homemade chunky apple sauce and baked Daphne potatoes, caramelised onions and stir fried brussells sprouts. It was all surprisingly easy.

Pork chops
Make a simple spice mix, 1tbsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp mustard powder, 2 tsp brown sugar, 1/2tsp cayenne pepper, 1tsp oregano.
Coat chops in olive oil then massage spice mix in to chops. I then grilled them on a skillet on the cooktop, but they could just as easily be barbecued.

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Potatoes
Thinly slice potatoes, lay arrange in layers in a round oven proof dish, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a tiny pinch of nutmeg after each layer. I ignored the recipes asking for cream, and instead added enough low fat milk to come to the top of the potatoes but not completely cover them. Then sprinkled the top with cheese and baked in a moderate oven until the milk was absorbed and the potatoes brown and crisp on top.

Brussells sprouts were easy as well, as they are not a favorite menu item, I tried to make them look different. I steamed them for a couple of minutes in the microwave, then drained them, stir fried them in some butter, nutmeg, salt and black pepper for a few minutes.

Apple sauce was simply 3 Grannie Smith apples, peeled and cut into eighths. Stewed with 1tbsp sugar and 1tsp of cinnamon. We didn’t stew them for too long so they were served a bit chunky.

While everything was cooking I caramelised some onions by slow cooking onion rings in a bit of olive oil and adding a tsp of sugar and a splash of balsamic right at the very end.

(I don’t think I’ll try my luck with the brussell sprouts and serve them too often, I have a feeling it was novelty value only which got them over the line)

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All in all very little effort for a meal which everyone liked. I also think in our family the novelty value of any meal that we haven’t had before increases the appreciation. Like most mothers, once I find a meal that the whole family likes and is not too difficult to cook I tend to put it on the list of family regulars. We inevitably arrive at a night when I serve up this ‘family favorite’ looking forward to the grateful faces around the table and am very disappointed to hear murmurs of ‘not this again’ my defensive comment ‘but you love this’ is met with the rejoinder ‘no, we used to love it, before you cooked it so much, now we’re sick of it’ . I meditate on the future days when they are parents and experiencing these moments themselves.

A final note, I’m attempting to get back to blogging, but will never be a very regular contributor. If you would like to subscribe, then you will get an email when I put up something new.

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Post Christmas we all go down a half dozen notches and head to Aireys Inlet for our Summer break. Even here, although the pace is very slow, and what you don’t do today you can always do tomorrow, there are a few traditions.

Summer Pudding is one of our traditions, the secret to a good Summer Pudding is the bread. We buy a Pannetone, the type with sultanas only, no peel or jams. It is fragrant and sweet and flavours the whole pudding. The rest is pretty simple. Boil up 1 kg of mixed berries, I use a mixture of fresh and frozen, half a cup of sugar, a dessert spoon of pure vanilla extract or a vanilla bean. Slice the Pannetone into 1cm bread slices

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Line the sides of the bowl with Pannetone slices, layer the berries over the bread, then place a slice of bread over the berries, more berries, another slice of bread, until you finish with a layer of bread on top

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Place a plate on top of the layered bread and berries, weigh down with a heavy can ie baked beans on top of the plate, refrigerate for 24 hours. To serve, invert the bowl, dislodge the pudding, slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Ours was a welcome break during a particularly intense game of Scrabble.

In addition to food when we are at Aireys it is the only time of year that we have enough down time to do something purely relaxing, art and craft. This year we are creating a montage of water colors and mosaics. My sister, the artist in our family is down for a couple of days to contribute the nicest pieces and give us a guiding hand. Each of us is contributing our own squares to add to the canvas. Even though none of us, except my sister, have any art training, we have come up with some ripper designs which we all love.

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I am also finishing my final sea glass mosaic for Nicki’s bedroom with the letters of her name. Now that we each have a sea glass and shell mosaic in our bedroom (and as Nic would say I have run out of words to mosaic) this artistic endeavor is over and it’s on to a watercolor project

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Tonight we are sitting on the deck eating barbecued snapper, surrounded by candles in a very balmy night. The mosquito coils are lit and the hot wind has finally turned cooler and southerly. It is the epitome of a perfect Aireys summer night.

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The whole snapper was cooked in foil on the barbeque with four chopped spring opinions, two dessert spoons of ginger, sprinkle of sesame oil, quarter cup of soy sauce. Served with a green salad, the perfect hot summer night meal.

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Our Christmas Day continued the tradition of sharing our special celebrations with our smallish biological family and our wide circle of chosen family. The weather was kind to us during the day, sunny and about 25c, so we could do the full turkey lunch and the ham that Oli and I had glazed the night before.

Ham recipe

Before glazing we cut the skin and fat off our ham, and score the flesh into diamonds. We use a glaze of mustard, brown sugar and maple syrup with about 10 cloves pushed in randomly into scored ham. We bake the ham for about two hours on 170c, inside an oven bag for the first hour, generously brushing the glaze up over the ham every half hour.

Christmas Day still begins with the children waking earlier than on any other non work day, keen to open their presents, although thankfully the 4am days have been replaced by a more respectable 8am.

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After prezzies we have a family berry breakfast of all the red summer berries, including our Christmas day luxury of pre pipped premium cherries (pipping is an Oli job) it is the only breakfast all year in our house that you are allowed to eat with ice cream.

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Then my family arrived, dad, my sister Dianne and her two kids, and miraculously we got one photo in which everyone is satisfied that they look ok (including my dad who vetoed any shots which he thinks disclose his bald spot/s)

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We were joined at the end of lunch by my brother who made the long trip down from Cairns. It was a great opportunity for dad to have us all together.

We did break with tradition and give Nicola the task of finding a new recipe for the stuffed turkey. She came up with plum glazed five spice turkey (recipe on epicurious)

We finished today with our friends the Guthries with whom we share our traditional Christmas night dinner, a tradition which has been going on since they lived in Sydney 7 years ago. In spite of the fact that none of us thought we could eat another mouthful we ate, we drank and we danced the night away. The children even danced with us for a short period of time, until the embarrassment grew too much, but even the pained looks on their faces could not spoil it for us!

Boxing day we headed down to the beach, with the leftovers and my new toy the iPad in tow. The only cooking we’ll be doing in the next few days is assembling a Summer Pudding, post to come.

Happy days,

Yve

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Bing Crosby and Family Rituals

There is nothing like a special family ritual, especially one that involves Christmas. Being a fussy family our Christmas tree erection comes with rules as well as rituals. It must be a live tree; for the smell, (we’ve fallen into buying the tree from the same charity each year). It can only be erected when the whole family are present. It should be bought the first weekend in December. This week we had a minor adjustment as Oli wasn’t back from Schoolies the first weekend in December, so we had to do it Monday afternoon

Oli secures the tree to the car (benefits of having a 6ft 2inch son)

We also seem to have fallen into roles over the years. I have become the enthusiast and keeper of the Christmas rituals, Nicola has moved to all things purely decorative. Oliver does a bit of whatever is needed (and heavy lifting) and Mark is king of the practical and becomes the true family elf, wielding the vacuum cleaner and cherry pipper.

One of our favourite rituals which I can recommend to anyone with young children has been  the selection and purchase of one new Christmas ornament for each child every year. As we unpack the box Nicola and Oliver re-discover the ornaments that they have chosen (or made)  over the past 15 or so years to be part of the Christmas tree. Another tradition is that the first ornament on the tree is the Christmas Angel, which Oli and Nicki put up together. (their technique has changed a bit over the years)

Another tradition is the Bing Crosby CD which used to be on a perpetual loop, until Nicola imposed a limit of one play only. We now have Bing Crosby interspersed with Sufjan Stevens, Paul Kelly, Otis Redding and Joni Mitchell, all loosely linked into the Christmas theme.
One highlight of the pre- Christmas season is a dinner at Araliya. It is our favourite local restaurant and a first choice for birthdays or special nights. The food is a wonderful combination of fragrant Sri Lankan dishes. They have a tradition which I am not aware of for any other restaurant in Melbourne, each Christmas they host a small function for some of their loyal and long term customers and treat us to a special Christmas dinner. It is a reflection of their generosity which is evident in every aspect of the way they run Araliya. Those of us who are lucky enough to get an invitation look forward to it every year.
This is the beginning of a wonderful, drawn out few weeks of anticipation. There’s no special food tonight, as after the Christmas tree decorations we had leftover Paella and a cheese platter. However, we savoured our special family time, even though, just for a change, it didnt revolve around lots of cooking for me! But now we are getting in gear for Nanny’s Christmas cake, twice baked ham, special Christmas Morning Berry Breakfast and lots of other yummy food and family traditions.
Recipes for these to come as they get made.
Yve

The past couple of months have seen some major milestones for us as a family. Nicola turned 21 and we celebrated that with a great party, which sold us completely on the idea of having a party at an external venue rather than home. It was a wonderful night and completely stress-free.

The night was testament to a long series of good decisions that Nicola has made in her life, choice of venue was the most recent of these good decisions. Her choice of friends, which is a much more significant decision, was very evident that night. Nicola’s friends are a wonderful group of men and women. She is well loved by both her family and her friends and clearly loves them.

The speeches were terrific, Tristan, Frankie, and Oliver found the perfect balance of humor and positive memory. More importantly all the speeches passed the ‘older relative appropriate’ test. For Mark and I it was a very emotional night. Nicola and Frankie first came in contact with each other when Janet and I met at the Health Centre as new mothers of our first babies. 21 years later we have two beautiful young women who have become best friends. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

Nicola is someone who Mark and I feel privileged to have in our lives. She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside and her social conscience will drive her to do something truly wonderful with her life.

On a similar theme, Oliver has finished school. For good. He is about to embark on the next stage of his life and we have closed the chapter of having children at school. Although part of us is excited to be moving into life with our children as adults, part of us will always be a bit nostalgic for the Carey years and the Glenferrie Primary School years. Oliver is waiting to find out what his year 12 results will be and whether he will be accepted into the course that he has chosen. Whatever the outcome of these decisions Oliver will dive into his future with determination, persistence, optimism and his infectious laid back spirit. Case in point: the award he is clutching is the Carey Girls Softball Trophy which he tried to pass off as the ‘Carey Top Bloke Award’.

On a much more self indulgent note, myself and six close women friends had a wonderful girls weekend away at Aireys a few weeks ago. It reminded me that I don’t laugh nearly enough but we made up for it that weekend. There was lots of cooking, walking, laughing and Jan who has cooked 9 dinners over the course of 12 years cooked her very celebrated 10th! Below is the recipe for Moroccan Chicken Parcels, which was our dinner on night one. Sensational taste, all prepared the night before, which means you can sit around and have a drink and not spend too much time in the kitchen on the night you’re actually eating it.

Moroccan Chicken Parcels 

Recipe (makes 4 serves, increase in proportion to more chicken)
4 pieces of chicken. (I prefer marylands or chicken chops with a bone as
they are more moist)

Baking paper

Kitchen string

Juice and zest of 1 lime
1&1/2 tbsp pernod
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 clove chopped garlic
6 stalks coriander
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
3 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cummin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
80 ml olive oil
Salt
Fresh coriander to garnish

Place ingredients in food processor in sections beginning with the nuts
garlic and ginger.
Briefly mix/pulse a couple of times.Add coriander and repeat.
Then add other ingredients and mix again.It should be lumpy not a paste at
the end.
Place chicken in zip lock bag with the marinade. Keep in fridge for about 24
hours.
When you are ready to cook them, Place each piece of chicken in the centre
of a baking paper square. Bring up sides to seal as a parcel amd tie the top
with kitchen string.
Bake in a moderate oven for 45 mins.Garnish with fresh coriander serve with
cous cous or a freakah salad and greens.

Now that Nicola has encouraged me out of my laziness back into blogging I’m gearing up for Summer food, Christmas food, family times, art projects and New Years Resolutions. 

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