Monthly Archives: July 2012

Walking to Luna Park…

I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I have found the perfect time out location… not for the kids but for you. Better still, it’s not going to cost you the earth. It’s absolutely free. Now, that’s one for the record books, isn’t it?

I wasn’t actually looking for time out on a conscious level when I found this spot. It’s school holidays. I had just been to the dentist and I was walking to Luna Park with Mum and the kids and  feeling rather exhausted.

Anyway, that was when I found this perfect little spot to relax. It isn’t the park under the Harbour Bridge but that’s a critical part of the plan.

You see, step one is to ever so kindly deposit the kids in the park with your partner (or some other obliging grown-up other than the local stranger danger). This isn’t as bad as it sounds. The park is fully fenced and is nestled right underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge with stunning views across the harbour to the Sydney Opera House. Being just an easy stroll down hill from Milson’s Point Station and on the way to Luna Park, this park is definitely has location. The kids can even go train spotting and listen to the trains rumble over the bridge. I assure you they will all have a ball and won’t even notice you’re gone.

Step two. Tell them you’re just ducking off to the loo.

Well done! At last, you’re a free agent.

So where are we going? Well, I wasn’t lying when I said you were off to the loo but this is no ordinary loo. This loo does everything except serve you a barista style cappuccino.

Nestled under the Harbour Bridge under the shade of what is either a huge weeping fig or a Magnolia Grand flora (my husband and I couldn’t decide), you will find the Fitzroy Street public toilets. These are almost as entertaining as visiting Luna Park itself and my kids just love them. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, they are over in the park with Grandma or they would be pressing all the buttons and I would be strung out instead of relaxed.

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Made of stainless steel, the Exyloo resembles some kind of alien spaceship which has just zoomed in from another planet. You press a button to get in and another button to close and lock the door. Then, speaking in a friendly but robotic tone of voice, the toilet kindly lets you know that “your maximum use time is ten minutes”. At that point, the door opens automatically and I guess you face the risk of being caught up in its self-cleaning cycle if you don’t get out quickly enough.

Anyway, I sit down on the toilet and start enjoying the music: What the world needs now is love sweet love… Yes, it’s definitely music of the elevator variety but I love it. I’ve never been to a toilet which not only talks but also plays music before. It’s so much fun!! I feel like a big kid. This toilet is so amazing that it even dispenses the toilet paper automatically at the touch of a button and flushes automatically when you wash your hands. You press the button to open the doors to leave and then best of all, the toilet even cleans itself.

A toilet that cleans itself… I’ve been hanging out something like that. If only I could find myself a good crowbar, I could possibly take the Exyloo home. Not that I’m about to become a toilet thief but it would accessorise perfectly with my stainless-steel cooking appliances if I’d ever got around to renovating my kitchen!

Anyway, there I was sitting on the throne feeling like the Queen of Milson’s Point when I remembered that I had a book in my bag. For some unexplained reason, I suddenly felt almost compelled to read my book in the toilet. Don’t ask me why. I never read in the toilet at home but perhaps that’s just my point. I can’t even sit on the toilet at home without being interrupted. It’s like there’s some alarm system which goes off as soon as I sit down. Suddenly the kids, who up until this point have been playing quietly, suddenly grab each other by the throat and in what’s yet another case of he said she said, I’m playing Justice of the Peace all from the sanctity of the toilet. Somehow, even the dog manages to open the bathroom door and let himself in. I mean this is the bathroom. It is, after all, meant to be private. Yes, I know there’s such a thing as a lock but we haven’t quite got around to installing one yet and to be honest, I’m so used to chaos in the bathroom that I’m usually oblivious to it.

So ironically, this public toilet was the most private toilet I’ve been to in ages!

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I really needed to recharge my worn out batteries. I was tired and exhausted and when I experienced more than a moment’s peace, I over-compensated. Being able to read in the toilet, was such pure, unadulterated indulgence. It was the sort of serious decadence that could only be compared to eating a hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows and a chunk of Toblerone on top (I had one of those recently at mid-station Perisher and I can assure you it was the very epitome of decadence. It was divine!!)

Even though I wasn’t reading War and Peace, I did feel dreadfully guilty about reading my book in the toilet while Mum was minding the kids in the Antarctic winds outside. But I wasn’t in there long. I didn’t even use up all my ten minutes. I was literally out of there in a flash…just a slightly delayed flash that’s all. I was only reading a couple of motivational quotes and looking at the pictures but when those precious moments have been stolen, snatched away… they feel amazingly good but also amazingly bad. I must confess that even I went on just a little bit of a guilt trip and felt like I’d just been caught stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar. I was indeed a bad, bad girl!

However, I had just had the most hell-raising train trip with the kids and I really needed to detox for a few minutes. The train can be such an adult environment where the kids are out on display and have to use their very best behaviour. They’re expected to sit still. Not put their feet up on the seats. No fighting. No bouncing on the seats or turning around and staring at the person behind. No sticking sticky fingers all over the seats and no drawing on the seats either. They are expected to act and behave like mini adult statues. When the kids, heaven forbid, actually behave like kids, can’t you just feel the dagger stares piercing through your equilibrium? It’s not the kids that are being judged for their behaviour. It’s you. You are the bad mother who can not achieve the impossible. You can’t control your kids. I have to admit that I was a bit flummoxed too. I couldn’t understand why my kids just couldn’t look out the window and recite the names of the stations like other normal kids. Why did they have to rip each other apart…especially in public? The kids were so bad that the man sitting opposite us even moved to another part of the carriage.

Sometimes, I feel like handing the kids over to these well-intentioned strangers and letting them have a go. They always seem so convinced they could do a better job!

So you understand that after traveling all the way from Woy Woy to Milsons Point on this never-ending train trip why, even with my mother’s assistance, I was going totally crazy. Reading in the toilet was certainly a much better option than all the alternatives!

Our daughter on the carousel.

Our son on the Ferris wheel.

To finish the story off, we had a wonderful time at Luna Park. My six year old daughter somewhat conquered her fear of heights and went on the Ferris wheel with me. I managed to survive my fear of fear and went down the slide in Coney Island and we all spun out of control on the Spider. It was great fun and the kids almost went to sleep on the train home. That was worth a trip to Luna Park in itself.

Postscript:

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Photo: my husband at the park bench.

Yesterday, I went back to Kirribilli with my husband to photograph the amazing Exyloo for my blog. Much to my surprise, not everyone shares my fascination. It had just completed its self-clean cycle and a woman was complaining about the floor being wet. There was nowhere to hang her handbag. I was also chatting to a mother with young kids who I thought would love my story about reading in there. However, she just stared at me as though I had two heads and I was the biggest weirdo she’d ever seen. I guess people are a little bit circumspect about strangers photographing public toilets these days.

This made me reconsider my perfect location just a little. Without the stress of the kids, I noticed a park bench that was only metres away from the park. With all those perfect views, you don’t really want to lock yourself away in the loo. You want to make the most of it. So might I suggest instead taking turns watching the kids with one of you in the park and while the other one chills out on the bench. Who knows? You might even get through the Saturday paper.

All it takes is a little bit of smart planning.

xx  Rowena

Road Testing the Iced Volvo…I mean Vovo.

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It’s shaped like a Volvo and moves like a Volvo but the Iced Vovo is actually a biscuit. In Portuguese, “vovo” means Grandpa, which seemingly has nothing to do with the actual biscuit. After all my extensive investigations, I still have no idea what a “vovo” is. It just doesn’t have 4 cylinders.

The biscuit itself was first registered by Arnott’s in 1906 and their web site describes it “as a symphony in pink.” I don’t have anything against Iced Vovos, however, I’d hardly call them a symphony. After all, it is a fairly plain, subdued biscuit and its demure shade of pink  conjures up afternoon teas at the nursing home….nice but nothing flash.

For awhile there, the Iced Vovo was looking like a bit of a has been and just couldn’t keep up with the likes of the Tim Tam and Mint Slice. However, just when you thought it was gasping its last breaths, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd brought the Iced Vovo out of the closet (or was that the pantry?) in his 2007 Victory speech:
“Friends, tomorrow, the work begins,” Rudd said.” You can have a strong cup of tea if you want, even an Iced Vovo on the way through. But the celebration stops there.”
Arnott’s subsequently sent a pallet load of Iced Vovo’s over to Parliament House and the Iced Vovo was back.

That’s a little bit of history.

Recently, Mum and my husband, Geoff, were discussing the Iced Vovo convinced that they weren’t quite what they used to be. Somehow, the icing wasn’t quite as spongy and had become quite hard. Mum and Geoff both like coconut ice so I could understand why they fancied the humble Iced Vovo but I couldn’t really comment on its finer subtleties. To me, they’re the biscuit you have when you’re not having a Tim Tam, Mint Slice, Monte Carlo, Kingston and it is possibly ranked just in front of Orange Creams…perhaps a tie with Scotch Finger Biscuits.

In other words, they’re not a favourite.

It’s never crossed my mind to bake Iced Vovo’s before. I don’t think I’d seen a recipe for them either. However, I came across one while sorting through some old recipes and thought I’d give it a whirl. I noticed that you have to melt pink marshmallows to make the pink icing and that seemed kind of fun. I’ve always loved toasting marshmallows on a stick over a hot camp fire. It’s quite magical really.

So let’s get started.

Making the biscuit part was pretty straight forward. I powered up the Sunbeam and everything went according to plan.

Then the fun began… melting marshmallows…Mmm! Yum! I had to melt the marshmallows in a saucepan with a bit of butter. My daughter and I loved watching the marshmallows melt away into a hot and sticky puddle and she loved doing the stirring. We added the icing sugar and it all came together well. Now things started to get a bit more tricky. I had to spread a stripe of icing on either side of the biscuit, leaving room for a stripe of raspberry jam in the middle. As much as I thought the kids would enjoy doing this bit, I was too much of a control freak to let them have a go. I had to do it myself…at least this time round. I had to get them right!

This was where the trouble began. You see, I’m more of a broad brushstroke type…an expressionist. I’m not really into fiddley detail. When it comes to things like colouring in, I couldn’t really be bothered staying within the lines. Boundaries are meant to be broken, challenged, extended, aren’t they?!!

It turns out with all these straight lines, that the Iced Vovo is actually quite a fussy little biscuit to make, requiring great attention to detail. That’s not my scene. To compound things further, as everybody knows, melted marshmallow is sticky, very sticky and quite elastic. It doesn’t just sit on the biscuit and stay put. It has a mind of its own. It’s extraordinary stuff really. As much as I like melting marshmallows over a camp fire, it’s quite a different experience having melted marshmallow icing stuck all over your fingers. It actually feels quite yucky in a way and I had to keep washing my hands. Perhaps I am a little bit fussy after all.

I also struggled to apply the marshmallow icing in perfectly straight lines and perhaps a ruler might have been useful but the coconut hid a few sins… so far so good.

Next, it was time to apply a GT stripe of warm raspberry jam along the centre of the biscuit. My jam had a few lumps of fruit, giving the biscuit a slightly blobby or even exuberant appearance depending on whether you want the Lady Gaga version bursting at the seams or something more demure. They do look quite indulgent from a distance with all that jam oozing out.

In the end, the results weren’t too bad. Actually, they were pretty fabulous but they were a lot more exuberant and irregular than the packaged variety. Anyway, what could I expect? A handmade biscuit isn’t going to look anything like something made by a machine. It’s going to have imperfections and irregularities which are, of course, part of their charm. That is a big reason for home baking… you don’t just want to replicate what you can already buy in the shops. Moreover, home made always tastes so much better as well!

The Iced Vovos were an instant hit with the kids. Jonathon’s biscuit had a huge gloop of marshmallow icing dripping down the side. He said: “Mummy, it’s like bubblegum.” That’s all he had to say. He was halfway through his biscuit by this stage and all he could manage was a thumbs up. Amelia loved them so much that she actually ate three for afternoon tea. She eats like a sparrow so that was a very positive endorsement. She won’t even eat my most scrumptiously scrumptious choc chip cookies so that was a glowing endorsement. I loved them and were a vast improvement on the commercial variety. I enjoyed mine with a cup of camomile tea in my butterfly teacup. Geoff loved them too but did point out that you couldn’t package these up.

The last word, however, has to go to the marshmallow icing. When this stuff sets, it has some very interesting properties. The mixing spoon was literally glued to the plate and as you’ll see in the photos, you could hold the plate upside down and it didn’t fall off. I wouldn’t say it was superglue but it did a pretty good job. It tasted great too. Perhaps, there’s an untapped market there… marshmallow glue!

Now, it’s your turn.

Enjoy!

xx Rowena

 

The Recipe:   Iced Vovos

Ingredients:

For the Biscuit:

  • 60 g butter
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup plain flour
  • 2/3 cup self-raising flour

For the icing:

  • 1 (100 g) package pink marshmallows
  • 40 g butter
  • 1/4 cup sifted icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Line oven trays with baking paper.

To Make the Biscuit:

  1. Beat the softened butter and the sugar until light and creamy.
  2. Add the egg and beat until combined.
  3. Fold in the sifted flours.
  4. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute or until smooth.
  5. Roll dough out between two sheets of baking paper to 4mm thickness.
  6. Use a knife or fluted pastry wheel to cut dough into 5 x 6 cm rectangles and place on prepared trays- allow room for spreading.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.
  8. Cool on trays and then transfer to a wire rack.

Cool on the trays.

Icing:

  1. Combine the marshmallows and butter in a small pan and stir over low heat until melted and smooth.
  2. Stir in icing sugar.
  3. Put coconut on a sheet of greaseproof paper and working quickly, spread about a quarter teaspoon of icing along each side of biscuits, leaving a bare strip the length of the biscuit in the middle.
  4. Dip the iced biscuit in the coconut and shake off the excess.
  5. Put jam in small pan and heat gently until thinned and warm.
  6. Spread the warmed jam down the centre of the biscuit.

ENJOY!