Monthly Archives: July 2014

Infinite Love…MH17.

Our family would like to send our love to all those affected by the horrific shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17. We feel so much love for you and we also want to express our outrage at this heinous crime.

Last Saturday, our children made red love hearts, which we taped onto paddle pop sticks and we sent these to some of the schools affected by the tragedy. This was something that I felt inspired to do. In other words, this wasn’t an idea that came from myself.

The children making the love hearts.

The children making the love hearts.

I suspect these hearts were inspired by the red poppies the children make every ANZAC Day at school to honor our service people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The children draw poppies onto red paper and then cut them out and sticky tape them onto paddlepop sticks. A poppy from each class is then planted in the memorial garden underneath the Australian and Aboriginal flags.

As someone who didn’t lose a loved one in this incident, it is hard to know whether to respond publicly or to remain silent out of respect. But I feel in a sense compelled to step out beyond my comfort zone. We couldn’t send these hearts to everyone we wanted to. The task was beyond us but I guess I thought that by sharing the photos I took of the hearts, that they might help someone somewhere. That it might help someone grieving in Amsterdam, or Melbourne, Perth or Malaysia that families they’ve never met in a different place, are holding them in their hearts and really and truly care. Quite frankly, you’d have to be a lump of stone not to.

Also, as much as we might struggle to find the words to say the right thing, what is the alternative?

Silence?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing- Edmund Burke.

I don’t know if fields of red love hearts can grow beyond the realms of my imagination but we have sown the seeds of love and hope they can provide some comfort to those who mourn.

Love Flowers

Love Flowers.

Before we posted the hearts out, I photographed the hearts in the grass at home and also at the local waterfront and I’ve shared them here. You will notice the hearts cast a shadow…the heartache of those who are grieving their loss.

Love & Shadows

Love & Shadows

For all those who are grieving, particularly the families and friends of the victims but also those who never knew the victims in life but also feel, we send you our love. I have experienced the love of a stranger at particularly hard times in my own life and it really touched my heart. It is genuine and real. We send you that love.

Love and God’s richest blessings,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister and Miss xx oo

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Our Dog Goes to Ibiza

Before you start thinking that my dog’s won the lottery, packed his bags and traded in his humdrum suburban existence for the wild night life of Ibiza, a Spanish Island and tourist Mecca; Ibiza is also a cafe in Avalon Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

For us, taking our Border Collie, Bilbo, to a cafe was almost as exciting as an international adventure because we’ve never taken him to a cafe before. He’s uninitiated.

To be honest, prior to these school holidays, I’d never thought of taking Bilbo to a cafe.

Although I’m very much a dog person and absolutely adore my dog, taking the dog to a cafe seemed rather crazy. After all, I go to a cafe to chat with friends or to do some writing and dogs are a bit like children…a potential liability. There’s a time and place for the kids and the dog and when I’m at a cafe, I just want to chill out without worrying about who’s doing what. I have spent too many years hiding from my kids in cafes while they’re swinging from the light fittings sucking on those little sachets of sugar and transforming from  “Mummies little angels” into humiliating “little devils”. Now that they’ve matured, I don’t need any fresh liabilities. No, I just want to crank up my sagging energy levels with the next best thing to an intravenous caffeine boost and usually chat with my friends until all our ears have fallen off.
However, we’ve been spending the school holidays in Pittwater. While I’ve been into Avalon on various expeditions, I’ve particularly been struck by the incredible number of dogs hanging out in cafes. These cafe dogs have all been very well behaved. They just sit outside by their owner’s feet and don’t cause any trouble at all. They certainly don’t start barking ferociously, knocking down tables and sending cafe staff skywards when they see another dog, although their owners are probably thankful that there aren’t any cats about!

Taking your dog to the cafe in Avalon is almost de rigeur, much the same way Parisians are known for their love affairs with their beloved and very spoilt chiens. These exceptionally pampered pooches even travel inside spectacularly expensive, flashy leather handbags and are often treated even better than children.
As far as Avalon dogs are concerned, I initially saw a preponderance of what could be described as a golden spoodle or perhaps they’re cavoodles. They’re definitely an “oodle” dog of some description. In this instance, the result is a spaniel-sized dog with a curly, light golden coat. They’re gorgeous looking dogs and initially, I desperately wanted one until we saw them en masse and suspected there’s some sort of covert cloning operation down by the waterfront. However, subsequent trips into Avalon have shown a much-broader cross-section of dogs and they haven’t all been designer breeds either. I even spotted a Border Collie in a cafe last week.
Spotting that Border Collie, started turning a few rusty cogs in my brain. I know Bilbo isn’t exactly a salon dog but I started to wonder whether he too could become a cafe dog…!

I wanted to find out.

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Bilbo in his element as a scraggly sea dog. Mind you, he doesn’t like going swimming.

Hanging out in cafes is quite a lifestyle shift for our Bilbo who is “a bit of a rugged character”. He’s a gorgeous looking dog but he’s a bit rough around the edges, especially after running through the mudflats of Pittwater this afternoon. Bilbo has never seen the inside of a dog salon either. That is unless you count his one encounter with the mobile dog groomer who gave him a rather image-shattering No. 1 two summers ago. The poor dog emerged looking like a totally different dog and even changed colour. Instead of his beautiful, tailor-made black and white tuxedo, he was short-haired and smoky grey. I think he wanted to cry or even bite himself not knowing who he was.
But this clip wasn’t the sort of full puppy pamper treatment some of these canine high flyers enjoy. There was no sweet smelling powder for Bilbo and he was probably thankful too. He’d be just the sort of mutt who’d have to roll in some very dead animal to get rid of a pretty smell.
There were other concerns as well about how Bilbo would go at a cafe.
While he looks perfectly harmless, Bilbo doesn’t always cope well when people visit our house and isn’t exactly what I call friendly. A friend has been giving the kids lifts to school all year and every time she turns up, the dog barks like fury and he just can’t seem to handle her taking the kids away. It also takes him quite awhile to warm up to even regular visitors to our home, except for my mum, of course. She has been feeding him ham scraps even since he was a pup and he always looks forward to sniffing “Grandma’s Hambag”.
Consequently, although Bilbo is largely very placid and happy to go to sleep, he does have “issues” and despite being well-trained, a trouble-free visit to the cafe could not be guaranteed. Taking Bilbo cafe involved the unpredictable unknown.
While I had thought about taking Bilbo to the cafe by myself, I recruited Geoff in case and by the time we’d been for our walk, the kids were on their way home so the whole family accompanied the dog to the cafe.
By the time we arrived in Avalon, it was getting dark and all of the other cafe dogs had gone home. There was just the odd dog walking passed on the other side of the road. That’s all. We didn’t get to find out how Bilbo would behave around other dogs in the cafe setting.

Let sleeping dogs lie...

Let sleeping dogs lie…

Bilbo’s first trip to the cafe was a bit of an anti-climax. He just sat quietly by our feet enjoying a bit of a pat.
Geoff and I loved our Hot Vienna Chocolates with marshmallows. They were served very elegantly in a tall glass with a handle. The kids had banana milkshakes.

Bilbo was also taken care of. While there weren’t any dog-a-chinos on the menu, Cafe Ibiza takes particular care of its dog clientele and provides a bowl of water on the footpath. Avalon seems to be very community-minded and thoughtful like this in general.

However, although you can lead a dog to water, you can’t make him drink. Bilbo was too busy sniffing other dog smells on the adjacent tree. Parenting of both children and dogs doesn’t always go to plan!
Being a Border Collie, Bilbo is particularly smart and understands words we’ve never taught him so I can’t help wondering whether he could read “Ibiza” on the water bowl and fancied that he was in Spain. Of course, he didn’t care where he was as long as he was with us.

Although, given all the dog scents around Avalon, Bilbo knew he was in doggy heaven. He’s never been on such a sniff-fest in all his life. Nose to the ground, it was a struggle to get him moving and to remind him that life wasn’t just about the journey. That you are actually meant to reach your destination.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog's head near Geoff.

Our family at Cafe Ibiza, Avalon. You can just see the top of the dog’s head near Geoff.

While on the subject of destinations, our cafe visit had an unexpected twist. While we all went to the cafe as a family together to be a part of Bilbo’s first cafe visit, we also had a great time connecting ourselves and I guess doing what has become dubbed: “quality time”. The kids were being cheeky trying to drink our hot chocolates, resulting in a bit of a tickle, some hugs and, as usual, Mummy turning into the paparazzi.

 

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

Miss with my hot chocolate. It was too late in the day for the kids to have one.

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I should point out that while we were sitting outside with the dog, Cafe Ibiza had a very enticing open fire going inside and a wonderful ambiance. I was also quite touched that when I went in for a Hot Chocolate yesterday, that the owner recognised me after more than ten years and was particularly helpful when we popped by today offering colouring in books and pencils to keep the kids occupied. We will have to come back for dinner some time soon.

Have you ever taken your pet to a cafe and how did it go?

I look forward to hearing from you!
xx Rowena

Waterloo

A bit of history…I have an old black and white photo of my Great Grandmother posing in front of the Waterloo lookout taken back in 1938. Today, I met up with my grandmother’s cousin who had a copy of this photo with writing on the back placing it at Waterloo, which was very exciting. I think I also have a photo somewhere of her posing in front of the lion but I couldn’t be sure Before today, I’d had no idea where the photo was taken and while it wasn’t an earth shattering discovery, it adds another paragraph or so to her story xx Ro

A Taste of Brazil

Last night, my husband and I went out on a date. The kids were having a sleep over at their grandparents’ place and my husband and I actually managed to go out with each other. That’s right. We actually went out on a date together! Hurray!

Instead of meeting up at the ubiquitous Town Hall Steps, which is the place to meet anyone in Sydney’s CBD, we met up in the back streets of Mona Vale which in located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, about an hour’s drive north of the CBD. This is where my husband changes buses on his way home from work and I found a park around and around the corner. As it turned out, getting a parking spot wasn’t much of a problem . Even though it’s school holidays, Mona Vale wasn’t a thriving metropolis. Although to be fair, it is winter and this is a beach area. You’d have to be some kind of lunatic, a surfer or a kid to go swimming at the moment. It’s totally freezing and I’m actually starting to wonder whether we’ll be able to go ice skating on the Hawkesbury River soon. Despite those lying weather reports of daytime highs around 18 degrees celsius, it is definitely sub-zero here and icicles are dangling from the rafters.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since we’ve been out for dinner in Mona Vale and weren’t sure what to expect. We found a Lebanese place down a side street which looked interesting as well as the usual Thai and Indian places. The Thai place is very good (or at least it used to be) but I wasn’t in the mood for Thai. We were on a special night out and Thai felt a bit ordinary. We have Thai so often at home, that it’s now on par with baked beans on toast. I wanted something exotic which would not only tickle my taste buds but was also festive, lively and surrounded by people. I have spent the last week looking out at the sea and as much as I love the view, I needed to see some faces.

There were probably good places to eat out in Mona Vale but the overall atmosphere didn’t appeal and so we headed for Newport, which is the next beach down when you’re heading north towards Palm Beach. As we drove down the hill and hit the main drag, I remembered the Brazilian barbeque place we’d been wanting to try and that was it. We were going Brazilian.

Braza is what is what is known as a churrascaria, which means they barbeque meat in the traditional Brazilian way developed by the “Gauchos” or cowboys on the pampas in Southern Brazil around Rio Grande do Sol. The meat is generally marinated overnight in sea salt, garlic and lime and then it is roasted on a spit over a coal fire. Meat was traditionally sliced off and the Gauchos ate their fill. In keeping with this, the restaurant is “all you can eat” and provedores move from table to table offering beef, lamb, chicken, prawns, sausage and for the more adventurous, even chicken hearts.

Of course, we knew none of this when we walked in off the street. That’s one of the benefits of Google…being able to do your research and actually sound like you know what you’re talking about despite being ignorant. We had no idea what to expect and were totally impressed with what turned out of be a cultural and culinary adventure. We were two humble Australians without a passport or plane ticket, touching down in Rio experiencing World Cup soccer fever and the tastes,flavours, sounds and traditions of Brazil.

Initially, like when you try anything new, the whole Brazilian experience was a little overwhelming. The waitress was Brazilian with a strong accent and the menu was quite foreign, talking about this thing called “churrasco”. I read that it was “all you can eat”. I understood all about that from my high school “chew-and-spew” Chinese experiences where friends competed over who could down the most sweet and sour pork without exploding. Aside from that and a few of the side serves, the rest of the menu was foreign, different and very authentic. We were no longer in Newport. We were now tourists in Rio struggling with a foreign language, menu interspersed with English but fortunately a very helpful waitress appeared and came to our rescue. I don’t know whether she sensed our uneasiness but straight away she asked us whether we have been there before. Phew!!! She walked us through the menu. We order and almost immediately our sides appear and a Brazilian dude in a t-shirt, which I later learn is called a provedore, turns up with some huge king prawns on a plate. I’m sold. They are delicately cooked with a subtle flavour which I love but can’t place. I have so much to learn before I can become a Masterchef, or even write well about food and cooking. It’s not as easy as it looks and takes real talent.

We are three-quarters through dinner and starting to consider statements like “elegant sufficiency”, “riding the porcelain bus” while conjuring up images of medieval feasts and of course, that immortal scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, where Mr Creosote regurgitates gallons of minestrone with unforgettable force repainting the room. All these thoughts( or should I say warnings), are going up and down between my head and my stomach when drumming heralds the arrival of the much anticipated Brazilian dancers. When it comes to describing dancing, I really am attempting to write in a very foreign tongue. I love dancing but unlike singing, it’s not something I can do in the privacy of the shower without causing myself grievous bodily harm. So from what I can glean from Google, these dancers were doing the Samba and are referred to as Sambistas. Goodness knows what you call their luxurious, towering headpieces made of intensely colourful feathers and their itsy-bitsy teeny weeny bikinis which jingle jangle as they move rapidly yet smoothly like well-oiled machines. However, the drumming and the dancing certainly created the kind of electric, festive atmosphere I was looking for on our special night out and the place was packed.

By the end of the dancing, I was really reaching the end of my culinary road. Or, to be really honest, I had passed that point and was saving that very, very last rather borrowed space for something extra special and superlatively scrumptious.

That’s when the provedore offered us some of the barbequed pineapple, telling us that it was “good for digestion”. It didn’t take much encouragement to twist my very malleable, rubber arm. This pineapple, which had seemingly drenched in sugar and cinnamon before barbequing, was absolutely scrumdidillyumptious. Yum! Yum! Yum!

I think it is a measure of a truly excellent restaurant when you can be so completely transported beyond your current reality and into another world, even for just a few hours and be some place else. That’s what we experienced at Braza.

As the saying goes, we’ll be back.

Given all the excitement of the World Cup currently being held in Brazil, why don’t you get into the spirit and try a Brazilian Restaurant near you.

Xx Rowena

Featured image Source: Classic picanha cut of beef, sliced at a churrascaria, photo by Nikchick/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Peter Peter Pumpkin Soup Eater

Pumpkin Soup is so 80s, especially when you serve it in its original format with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of chives and a twist or two of freshly ground pepper. While it might be considered a little bit simple, Pumpkin Soup still tastes just as good.

For me, Pumpkin Soup has a special place in my heart. My son not only eats pumpkin soup, he loves it! Like a love struck teenager, he can’t get enough of it. That’s great because pumpkin soup is very healthy. For me, however, it is a particular blessing because both of my kids are very poor eaters and usually have to be bribed, cajoled, tied to their seats and even then, they still don’t eat. The fact that their mother and their dog have both put on significant weight is testimony to pig-headed stubborn resistance. After all, somebody human or canine has to actually eat all the “fruits” of all our cooking projects. They even get picky about eating biscuits, cakes…even chocolate. My kids eating habits are just plain weird.

That said, I’m pretty sure that the kids have been eating more since the “learn to cook” project began. Well, they have been eating something. That in itself has been an improvement.

Finger licking good

Finger licking good

As I mentioned, our son’s favourite meal has always been Pumpkin Soup and yet I’ve never made it for him myself although we’ve bought it home-made by the local fruit shop. Actually, it was my mother who bought that. You know what grandparents are like when children don’t eat. She almost kidnapped the cook. She would have had this person chained up to my kitchen stove for the term of their natural life cooking pumpkin soup for her number 1 grandson if I hadn’t stepped in and insisted that our family couldn’t survive on pumpkin soup alone.

Anyway, Mister and I made our old-time family favourite Pumpkin Soup yesterday. Pumpkin Soup from scratch that had nothing to do with a tin. Nothing to do with a tin at all and I was so proud of us. Not only that. The two of us were working well together, which isn’t always the case. I feel like I’ve been running after this boy most of his life although now that he’s older, he’s become a lot easier to catch. That’s because he’s sitting perfectly still attached to some kind of electronic life form and he’s going nowhere.

While it’s great that my son loves pumpkin soup, it’s also helpful to know something about the pumpkin’s nutritional value and I found these pumpkin facts at: http://www.allaboutpumpkins.com/facts.html

Pumpkins are low in calories but high in fibre, low in sodium and their seeds are high in protein, iron, and the B vitamins.They are very high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant which converts into Vitamin A, which is important to maintain a healthy body. Researchers also believe that eating a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers as well as delaying aging.

1 cup of cooked pumpkin flesh contains:

Calories: 49
Protein: 2 grams
Carbohydrate: 12 grams
Dietary Fibre: 3 grams
Calcium: 37 mg
Iron: 1.4 mg
Magnesium: 22 mg
Potassium: 564 mgZinc: 1 mg
Selenium: .50 mg
Vitamin C: 12 mg
Niacin: 1 mg
Folate: 21 mcg
Vitamin A: 2650 IU
Vitamin E: 3 mg

 

Our Pumpkin Soup Recipe is based on Margaret Fulton’s Cookbook first published in 1968 but my copy was reprinted in 1991. Actually, I think this might actually be my mother’s cookbook as she is the one who introduced me to this recipe. She used to make it. Memories…

Even a quick Google search will show you that the humble pumpkin soup has moved on since the 80s and 90s and has actually become rather exotic. There are a number of recipes for Roasted Pumpkin Soup and I might even try one of these. I’ve also had it served up sprinkled with coriander rather than chives. Jamie Oliver has at least 4 variations on this classic. There’s even one recipe where you serve it up with pumpkin seeds. That version seemed a bit interesting. After all, I thought the whole point was to keep the seeds out of the soup. Soon they’ll be adding flies and perhaps even the proverbial mouse to the soup. That would certainly be “a new interpretation of an old classic” but they’d probably want a special mouse for that dish….one which had only even eaten parmesan cheese perhaps…?!

Anyway, while so many chefs are intent on reinventing this great classic, I still love the original.

My kids are aged 10 and 8 and still need close assistance making the soup. My son aged 10 was able to cut but not peel the pumpkin and this was so much slower than doing it myself. I had to show him how to get the knife through the pumpkin and where to put his hands and apply pressure. It wasn’t an easy task. Our knives are probably not the sharpest but obviously there are concerns about having young children working with knives. You need to work out how to split this task between you and your kids.

The hotplate is another safety concern with this dish. Our son successfully fried the pumpkin without getting burned but I was supervising him and reminding him to watch burning his hands on the side of the pan when he turned the pumpkin over. He is able to fry a pancake and is used to using the stove under supervision but he has had couple of minor burns.

Mister diced the pumpkin himself under supervision.

Mister diced the pumpkin himself under supervision.

Classic Pumpkin Soup (Adapted from Margaret Fulton)

*This recipe requires a team effort between parent and child.

Equipment

Food Processor (or equivalent)

Large, deep frying pan

Measuring cups

Chopping board

Large knife (for chopping the pumpkin)

Smaller chopping knife (for the onion)

Large plastic stirring spoon

Soup Ladle

Ingredients

90g (3 oz) butter

4.5 cups pumpkin, peeling and cubed

½ cup diced onion

2 cups water

3 tablespoons plain flour

1 cup milk

1 egg yolk

Sour Cream

Chives

Directions

When it came to teaching Mister how to make pumpkin soup, I told him there were 5 main stages to making pumpkin soup: chopping, frying, pureeing, heating, serving.

1- Chopping the veggies

I have always used butternut pumpkin for this soup. I find this easier to cut up than other varieties but feel free to choose your own favourite. It costs a bit more yet buying your pumpkin pre-peeled takes much of the pain out of making pumpkin soup, especially if you have mobility troubles with your hands.

You will need to determine whether you should cut up the pumpkin or whether your child is able to do it safely. Mister and I did it together. I sliced off the peel and then he diced the pumpkin himself.

Slice the pumpkin into small pieces around 2cm x 2cm.

Dice onion.

2) Frying

Melt half the butter (45g) in a large, deep heavy frying pan on medium heat.

Add pumpkin and onion.

Cook for 10 minutes. They will brown during this time and need to be turned with a spatula.

Add water and simmer until the pumpkin is very tender. We were in a hurry so I didn’t turn the hotplate down and that worked well. As the pumpkin softened, I also cut it up a bit with the spatula to speed the cooking time up a little. Lunch was running rather late by the time we’d returned from our trip to the shops to buy the ingredients.

3) Pureeing

Transfer the pumpkin mix to your food processor.

Add a little of the milk.

Process until smooth.

4)Thickening

Melt remaining butter (45g) in the frying pan and then stir in the flour. You need to move fairly quickly, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t form a solid lump which will then make your soup lumpy, in which case, you return the soup to the food processor like us.

Quickly add the milk to the flour and butter and then the pureed pumpkin. It might be best to take the mix off the stove while you are doing this to prevent things moving to quickly and getting lumps in the soup.

Simmer for 20 minutes on a lower heat setting.

Just before serving, mix the egg yolk with a little of the pumpkin soup mix and then stir it into the pumpkin soup.

5) Serving

Using a soup ladle, dish up the soup. With four people, each person received two ladles of soup.

You could add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle fresh chives over to each serving or these additions could be placed on the table and diners could serve themselves.

I served buttered slices of Turkish bread which were hot straight out of the oven with our soup. Yum!

We hope you enjoy your Pumpkin Soup as much as we loved ours.

Xx Rowena

Pumpkin Soup with sour cream and chives.

Pumpkin Soup with sour cream and chives.