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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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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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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

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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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On family and Mexican

Collection of stuff in Oli's room which perfectly sums up the weekend, football and Mexican.

On any night in our family when the question ‘what would you like for dinner’ is aired, there is a 50% chance that the response will be Mexican. If Oliver is in the room, there is a 95% chance that the response will be Mexican. This Sunday night we decided to do something a bit special with our Mexican because we had had a fairly special weekend of football and family. We lucked out on a combination of recipes that were simple and fantastic.

Our weekend has been a reminder of what is really important for us, my sister spent the weekend with us and it was lovely to feel like a slightly bigger family for the last few days. She is a constant reminder of what is important in life. We also spent Saturday with Trevor and Jan, who are members of our chosen extended family  and as such, can give our children advice on everything from haircuts to careers and it is well received (a little bit too well in Oli’s case from someone who spent a large part of his career with a pony tail- Trevor)

Oli's hairstyle experimentation

My sister, my daughter, my niece and I

We are rich in friendship with our chosen family and this weekend has been a reminder that through bad times and good the more time you spend with the people who you love the better your life. The start of our weekend, Friday night dinner with Nicola’s closest high school friend and her family was still another reminder of keeping connections, at this dinner we shared laughs, greek culture and learned an important lesson that chosing the sparkling mineral water can end up costing you $100 at the end of the night as they continue to fill you up- note to self for future, tap water is free!

Nic and Nat in their highschool days

Here is our Mole recipe, pieces pulled from all over the internet, super simplified, we popped it in the oven and went and saw The Help, came home to a Mexican feast!

Chicken Mole

2kg chicken pieces

3 onions (chopped)

1 cup orange juice

3 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/3 cup sultanas

4 cloves of garlic (crushed)

2 medium red chillis, seeded and chopped.

100gms dark chocolate, chopped (70% cocoa or more)

1 tbsp orange zest

2 tsp cocoa powder

4tsp cumin seeds

4tsp corriander seeds

1.5 tsp dried oregano

peanut oil

Brown chicken pieces in 2 tbsp peanut oil with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.

In another pan, fry onions in 1tbsp oil with spices (cocoa, cumin, corriander, oregano) . Add chillis, sultanas, almonds and orange zest, and fry until onions are soft.

Transfer chicken, onion mixture and chocolate pieces, orange juice and stock into an ovenproof caserole dish with a lid. Stir.

Cook on 170 celsius for two hours (covered)  and watch the magical transformation into a thick, rich, mole.

We served this with a range of supporting characters; 

mexican rice, tomato salsa, guacamole, tortillas, Cholula hot sauce, refried beans

Then for dessert, the world’s best hot chocolate made with this

Fitting end to a jam packed, family weekend.

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Anguilla is paradise.

June/July is their low season so we experienced all the benefits of this warm, tropical island at very reasonable prices with very few other tourists! Apparently the only months to avoid are August and September which are their Hurricane prone season. We had moments of tropical rain (which came and went inside half an hour), but generally clear blue skies, and beautiful sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The water is such a beautiful clear aqua that for the first couple of days you are constantly surprised by how beautiful it is. The water temperature was around 30 (celsius) which really suited two sooks from Melbourne used to swimming on the freezing surf coast (and coming out with teeth chattering even in the middle of summer) There are 34 beautiful beaches and 100 restaurants in Anguilla, and its only business is tourism. It seems it has been a quiet haven for wealthy Americans for quite some time before we discovered it. Consequently, it has attracted some high quality restaurants in addition to the local cafes and beach shacks where you can buy a lobster lunch for $16.

There is plenty of accommodation on the island, and it is very reasonable in low season. Nicola found us a beautiful, small bed and breakfast calledAmbia. Again we had plenty of space, a beautiful pool with a great view, and it was small enough to still feel like you were in the West Indies. There are also a couple of very up-market resorts with manicured lawns, magnificent pools and great service, but once you’re inside you could be anywhere in the world, and for that reason we preferred to be somewhere a little bit smaller.

The West Indian people are warm and welcoming, and very friendly. The West Indian men have a great appreciation of women. And although I’m sure there are one or two faithful and monogamous men on Anguilla, we didn’t meet many, and the girlfriends we spoke to said that relationships are very much on the mens’ terms over there! Typical of the male confidence in Anguilla was the 14 year old who fancied his chances with Nicola, who he thought may have been around 16, in spite of the fact that he was about a foot shorter than her.

Nicki and 'Little Ray'

The food was beautiful. It helps to like seafood! We sampled everything from creole barbeque to up-market lobster dishes and didn’t have a meal we didn’t enjoy. As an unexpected bonus, there seems to be a telephone system in Anguilla which allows all accommodation to provide free landline phone calls to any international destination. It was nice to sit sipping a drink watching the sun set and chatting to our loved ones back home here in winter.

Anguilla is a very long way to go for us in Australia who are pretty spoilt for beautiful food and beaches. However, if you happen to be in the Northern Hemisphere, you couldn’t find a better destination for a beach holiday.

The Happy Travelers!

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