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Archive for March, 2011

Happy Birthday Oli

Today we’re celebrating the day 18 years ago when Oliver was born. He started life as a complacent, relaxed, smiley baby and not much has changed! Oliver’s only enduring problem has been the fact that he sometimes can’t quite understand why the rest of the world doesn’t operate the same way he does. This is typified by our overused family anecdotes and his astonishment that some people actually want to have conversations before breakfast. Oliver is loved by his friends, and because he is so tolerant and non-judgmental, not a lot of people in his life don’t become his friends. Every parent/teacher interview we’ve ever had has started with; I love having Oliver in the class. (several have moved on to ‘But….’) No matter what Oli does in his life, he will be happy, because he brings happiness to everything he does.

Happy Birthday Oliver

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Veering away from my normal theme, the focus of this dinner is not really the food. It was a family dinner that combined a Greenberg Shabbat, with Oli’s 18th birthday, Rachel’s 21st and a Willich family get together. We had twenty people for a sit down dinner, kept the food simple by getting people to bring a caserole, red meat, chicken and vegetarian options and in the spirit of a true family dinner, everyone contributed. Before the dinner, the logistics of fitting everyone around the table, ironing the tablecloths, finding oven space, have we got enough food? Got my anxiety fired up. To the extent that I even got (thankyou Nicki!) my daughter to do a last minute dash to a gourmet food store to buy a fourth caserole we didnt need! Sensing my anxiety, she didnt even try and argue me out of it, clearly thought ‘this will be tomorrows lunch!’ But once we had the twenty people here, spanning four generations, I realised how much the enjoyment is ten times the effort.

Three of the four generations, including the oldest (Nana Erica) and the youngest (baby Kobi)

There were dozens of small moments which will make this a night we’ll all remember. My sister sitting happily at the table with her ex husband, and realising that with generous good people these things can be managed in a way where family, and especially children, don’t feel awkward or lose their connections. The four young women cousins sorting through hand-me-downs from their older cousin Georgia, who knew as each piece was picked out, exactly which cousin would love it, and was unfailingly right.

The Four young girl cousins (Nic in jeans newly acquired from Georgia)

Seeing my dad wearing a Kippah for the first time in his life, and hearing my nephew exclaim ‘what is this great bread’ while eating challah. (These are the unique experiences you have when a Catholic marries a Jew, more on that, and my religiously confused children, another time) Seeing Nana Erica, our oldest generation, who arrived alone in Australia at sixteen from a Concentration Camp, surrounded by her big extended family. Even though she is battling cancer at the moment, and the effort of her getting there puts our logistic efforts of organization into sharp contrast, she managed a late night (well after 9pm) and for her also the reward is worth the effort. Discussing sibling jealousy when a newborn arrives with Georgia, while remembering watching her experiencing exactly the same things when she was two.

Georgia and myself, deep in disccussion.

As I listened to Georgia, I realised what an effort it had been for her and Adam and the two little ones to get here also, she had had one of those days I remember all too well, with a newborn and a demanding, tired, jealous older sibling, when probably all she wanted to do at half past six was put the two of them in bed and follow them into bed herself very shortly afterwards. But they  came, with Jarrah whose tired crankiness soon faded as he realised the power he has over a room full of adoring cousins. Another highlight was hearing Mark say a few words about the wonderful man Oli is, on the cusp of his 18th birthday, he truly is a kind, patient, laid back, warm person. It was lovely to see him with  Jarrah, who adores his ‘Oli B’ (a nickname that stuck, although noone except Jarrah knows its origin or is allowed to use it)

My birthday boy with his baby cousin

At the end of the night, after lots of warm hugs and thankyous, I realised again that it is our connections with people that are the most significant thing in life. and that for all the people there, getting together had involved effort, stress or in the case of my sister’s family lots and lots of driving, but the feeling of having everybody together was so worth it. And I thought again, I should remember this and continue to make the effort rather than be lazy when it comes to initiating getting people together.

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This blog is a purpose designed entry for a colleague of mine, Kymberly. Kym is a PA at work who probably doesn’t fully realise how many people have a slightly better day because of her warm, helpful, smiling, efficient attitude . Even those of us who don’t spend a lot of time with her will always come away from an interaction with Kymberley with a smile.

Gorgeous Kymberley on her wedding day!

Kymberley has many strengths, it seems cooking is not one of them. We have talked about a perfect spag bol being a great meal, with friends, and a real people pleaser, you do it all beforehand so you can have a glass of wine with the guests, its true comfort food (and again my criteria of good for hungry boys is clearly fulfilled by this one, it was my first offer of food for Oli’s rugby team- until he convinced me that it was far too good for 16 men who would eat anything not nailed down, so I let Costco do the catering for that one!)

Burning those carbs and protein at rugby

I have a great spag-bol recipe, and in spite of the fact that I’m ‘writing my own reviews’ (as Nic would say) it has never dissapointed. (Except for the time I accidentally used the cat’s mince!) The recipe below is for 8 people as Kymberley I know is having 8 dinner guests (cut recipe down proportionally for less)

The two secrets of this recipe, like many others, is the quality of the ingredients and the cooking time.

Ingredients:

1kg good quality minced beef (I use Otway Prime ) and I often buy it direct from the farmer at Aireys Inlet Market

(you can substitute half of the mince for veal or pork if you want a slightly different, richer recipe)

Two brown onions, diced.

Four (average sized) cloves of garlic

1/2 dozen dutch carrots, in discs

1 large red capsicum (diced)

Two celery sticks (very finely sliced)

1 1/2 cup fulls of frozen peas (optional)

Handful of finely chopped mushrooms (optional)

820 gm tin of chopped tomatoes

4tbsp tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1/2 cup port

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 dozen sprigs fresh thyme

couple sprigs fresh rosemary

large handful of fresh basil

Olive Oil

1 piece of good quality parmesan cheese

pasta of your choice, cooked al dente.

Method

Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, fry onions and meat, add garlic, stir vigorously and break meat up with a wooden spoon. Add carrots, celery, capsicum, mushrooms, thyme and rosemary, fry.

Lower heat, add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, port, nutmeg mix thoroughly.

Cover and simmer on lowest heat for three hours. Check every now and then that it hasn’t got too dry and add a little more red wine or water if it has.

5 minutes before serving, add frozen peas. 1 minute before serving stir through fresh basil and a few good twists of fresh black pepper.

Serve with whatever pasta you like, preferably shells or spirals, or something that will hold the meat.

Top with gratings of good quality  parmesan cheese, drink with remaining good red wine.

Cam (Nicki’s friend who is living the eternal winter dream, snowboarding in the Northern Hemisphere) a bowl of this awaits you when you return to Aus!

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Godmother’s Birthday Feast

Before I get into food, my week at work has been peppered with examples of wonderful people who scan their everyday to work out what it is that they’re doing wrong.I wonder what it is that has led us to a point where we set our personal radar to only go ‘bip’ when we’re dissapointed in ourselves and not to recognise the times when we behave in a way which is consistent with the person we want to be.  You’ll probably find that this is a theme that I return to, as it is something that I have constantly encounted in 25 years of psychology.

This dinner was out of character for me, involved quite a bit of effort as it was a special dinner for a wonderful friend, and i was trying to make something that would equate to what she likes to eat when we go out. The fish was barbequed Atlantic Salmon, and for the side dishes I consulted my friend Janne.  (who is my number one consult for all things foody) She handed on her recipe for Freekah tabouleh and her Pea and Fetta Salad.It was a perfect dinner, and a great chance to use the freakish coconut sized lemon Nicki found growing on our tree

Lemons as big as coconuts!

Sue and her God-daughter, Nicki. Sue has been a friend since I met my husband. It is unusual to find a best friend among your husband’s uni friends, but this was an unexpected beginning of a great lifelong friendship. Sue is a special-ed teacher who could probably do a dozen other things, but the children she works with benefit from the fact that this is what she sees as her career. She is passionate, and clever and devoted and contentious and everything you’d want as a teacher of your children. She’s also a pretty great godmother, particularly as she can supply Nic with the gaps in my knowledge of style and product! ((I’m just now looking at Nicki’s perfect hands in the above picture, the use of moisturiser and nailcare is all Sue’s influence)

Recipe

Pea Salad

Vinagrette (makes extra) :

1.5 cloves garlic

pinch salt

teaspoon Dijon mustard

50ml red wine vinegar

50ml lemon juice

40ml extra virgin olive oil.

Crush garlic and mix with salt and mustard to form a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl, add vinegar, lemon juice and oil, mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salad

5-6 basil leaves (finely sliced)

5-6 mint leaves (finely sliced)

2 tbsp chives, snipped

4 eschalots, finely sliced

4 cups of peas (I use frozen, thawed  in some water)

50 g chevre or similar soft white cheese, crumbled.

Combine all ingredients except cheese with about 40ml of vinagrette in a  bowl, add salt and pepper to taste. crumble cheese through the salad, serve.

Freekah tabouleh

Place 250 g of freekeh (seems like a cross between burghul and barley) and 1.3 litres of water in a saucepan and simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until tender, aprox 50 minutes. Add 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/3 cup chopped corriander, 40g raisins and 1/4 preserved lemon finely chopped. Add juice of 1/2 lemon and 80ml olivr oil then season with sea salt.

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Weekend Slow Lamb

This blog’s contributions all simple and pleasurable. The food, slow roasted lamb is a weekend dinner because although you do very little, you need to do one bit after lunch and leave it to cook for four to five hours. Couldn’t be easier. The other simple easy thing about the weekend was reading a good book (Freedom by Jonathon Franzen) and spending time with my children, my husband and the garden. I have had a good run of books lately, some recent highlights are Cutting for Stone, The Help and Jasper Jones. I often get one pearl among many stones, but I have managed a run of different but really good reads recently.

My other simple pleasure has been discovering how nice it is to do a blog with Nic, finding a project that we can do together that doesnt involve too much sweat or spending money has taken a while. This blog continues to be really enjoyable. It gives us a chance to talk together about food and life and blogging, so I am learning a lot, and its nice to have a meeting point with her during the week. . Note the extra family member in this blog, our dog Puck, for years I resisted the idea of another pet, as I thought it would be more work, more stress in my life. However, as the children got older I realized it was just too mean to not let children have a dog, and I was hoping that they were old enough to do a lot of the work. (false assumption) As a reluctant dog owner, I have become a cliche and fallen completely in love with him, he is a Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retriever, and he is affectionate and highly attached to his people. He has a feel for when i use a leg of lamb recipe- spends more than his usual amount of time gazing at us, hoping for that leg bone!

 

Happy is the dog who can smell lamb

Recipe

One leg of lamb

If you can be bothered, sear the leg of lamb on the cooktop as a first step.

Then place it in a covered oven proof caserole or similar dish, which will hold the entire leg of lamb and a litre and a half of fluid. Pour 1 bottle of red wine over lamb, scatter in one head of garlic (broken into bulbs), handful of fresh rosemary, handful of fresh thyme, cup of port.

Cover and cook on 170 degrees celsius for 4-5 hours. Turn over halfway through, check occasionally to ensure that there is still at least 2cm of liquid in the dish, if liquid dries up, add water to bring it back to this level. Serve with baked vegetables and/or greens lamb will pull off the bone and carving will be more like pulling apart with a fork. Use the liquid to thicken and make into a gravy, its a fantastic and really easy dinner.

 

Verdict

All members of the family loved this dish!

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We had an interesting family dinner on Friday night. My 82 year old father, his girlfriend (of around 12 mths), her son, his wife, my sister, my husband and I. It was a memorable night for a few reasons. We discovered a great local cafe, Sage Leaf which was just around the corner, but we’d previously never discovered it because it wasn’t on one of our walking paths. Dinner was lovely, it is still a constant source of amazement that my father at the age of 82 has found love on RSVP (with the assistance of my daughter’s computer skills- despite her yick factor) It does require some adjustment , although it is a sense of joy, to have conversations with your father who is behaving like a teenager in love. It does remind me that our connections with other people are the most important part of what life is about. Dad has gone from a grumpy, grieving, self focussed person, to a generous, content man who is prepared to take on new experiences with Margaret (sometimes)

Observing internet dating for the over 70s has been a bit of an eye opener for us all! When Nicki was helping set up her Grandpa’s profile the first problem came with his age- my dad felt that admitting to being 81 would send out a message that was inconsistent with how he saw himself. He conducted a random poll at the shopping centre to find out how old people thought he was, or looked. Because the majority of people kindly said they thought he was in his mid 70’s he thought this was the age he would offer up on his RSVP status. When Nicki suggested starting a new relationship with deception might not be the way to go- he suggested she just type in what he told her. This came to a predictable sticky end when Margaret found his drivers license and quite justifiably felt she would have preferred to know exactly how old he was. They’ve managed to over come this (and many more) glitches. (in fact, elderly dating must be a hot topic right now, it was featured on my beloved Packed to the Rafters tonight)

My dad's RSVP picture- note Oliver, currently 6ft 2" rugby player, here very much not so- bit of a giveaway time wise!

This week in our family, has also been a week of being the bigger person. Nic has struggled  on projects with people who sign up, but then don’t pull their weight. She’s had to find the focus on getting the job done- rather than being cross about what other people are not doing. The only time she lets the cracks in her charming persona show, are when she gets home and relaxes with the family!

Deep in negotiation

I have also had to navigate a path which involves committing yourself to the way you want to behave, rather than responding to what someone else is doing. It is my bread and butter to talk to other people about the importance of doing this, but it always is difficult when youre called upon to do it yourself.

How has your week been? Would love to hear your thoughts on the food, the family, geriatric dating or trying to walk the walk.

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