Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolutions, schmesolutions?

Like many people, I don't tend to go in for New Year's Resolutions as such. But as this year has been drawing to a close, in the midst of post-Stockholm and pre-Christmas preparations I keep having a set of "next year I will...." thoughts popping into my mind.

Of course there are the usual "eat less, exercise more" hopes. And also on the personal (or personality?) front, if as a parent I could expend less sweat on the "small stuff" and be a bit more creative with how I parent, I would be pleased.

In the kitchen, I would like to get back to a more organized and more varied menu plan, rather than my all-to-frequent MasterChef farce, "you have one hour to turn this meat, these vegetables and these pantry items into a nutritious dinner". A sub-aim of this is to get back to reading my delicious. subscription more diligently: too often this year I have enquired about a recipe only to hear "it was in last month's delicious." And if we're talking about reading.... apologies to all those friends whose kindly lent books will be celebrating their New Year's Eve in my "to read" pile. I do intend to read them. I do.

Beyond the kitchen, I find it hard to believe that the general clutter surrounding the laundry, the incoming mail (and everywhere else?) can be banished for ever, but it would be nice to see it under tighter control! Would it surprise you to know that we still have various bits of Stockholm and Christmas aftermath still hanging around our place?

And my oft-neglected garden hasn't been forgotten: fewer weeds, more edibles seems like a worthy aim. My enthusiasm has already been helped by my Sister-in-Law's gift of a subscription to Organic Gardener (and helped by Little Bro whose Christmas Day snooze in the car gave me an hour of quiet reading time!!)

Thinking about it, there is a theme coming through: my optimistic goal for 2010 is to feel a bit more structure come back to my life. I won't go as far as to wish for the lost bits of my pre-child life to be superimposed on my current very happy but often chaotic life, but I do hope that with a bit of energy invested I will reap a bit more order.

Am I asking for too much?

Best wishes for 2010 to you!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gingerbread Craft

When I was growing up, my parents had the Time Life Foods of the World series. I don't think we used them much for recipes, but the thing I do remember was gazing in wonder at the cover of the German volume, imagining that one day I would make a gingerbread house like the picture.

In October 2008, just before Little Bro was born, ALDI had a DIY gingerbread house kit where the precut cookies and decorations were provided and just needed to be stuck together with icing. I initially dismissed the kit with the thought "I could make that myself", but then knowing that I would have a month-old baby at Christmas I stepped off my high horse and conceded that the kit would have its advantages. I ended up buying their gingerbread train kit to appeal to certain assistants and I thought the end result wasn't too bad:

This year with no newborn to serve as an excuse I thought I had better live up to my claims and make my own gingerbread train. The shapes were really simple- just rectangles in two sizes plus a cut-down circle, and a rectangle baked over the curve of a small glass jar to serve as the engine boiler. It's not shown here but the smokestack was a small cylinder of gingerbread.

Big Bro helped me to decorate (tip: make the icing on the sticky side or else the decorations don't stick to the sides!) and, toot-toot, we had a train!

For the record, the gingerbread recipe was from The Joy of Cooking and very (appropriately) hard but not as spicy as I would have liked, while the icing was one egg white, about a cup and a half of icing sugar, plus the juice of a lemon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Visiting Stockholm with young children

Stockholm is situated on 14 islands at the junction of Lake Malaren with the Baltic Sea. On our first walk in the streets of Stockholm I was surprised by how many prams I saw. Unlike other European cities I've visited, these were not chic and compact models but, rather appropriately, the Volvos of the preschool set, large Emmaljunga prams and similarly chunky three-wheelers. (Stockholm's traffic is likewise not dominated by ultra-compact cars but rather by Volvos and similar in station wagon size and up.) The reason was quickly apparent- Stockholms islands are hilly and must be tiring for small legs (and for large legs carrying small legs!!). Fortunately, pram/bike ramps are found on most street steps- though gauged for the large prams rather than the compact Maclaren model we brought. If I were fortunate enough to visit Stockholm again in the next few years, a pram would be high on my baggage list!

The Stockholm T-bana metro system is easy to navigate with a pram: there are pram/wheelchair gates, children under 7 travel free and the key word to know is hiss -elevator- which was easy to locate at all the stations we visited (admittedly we remained close to the city centre). Buses also accommodate prams, while ferries are another a practical and fun way to travel around Stockholm.

Stockholm Sightseeing for Preschoolers
As all the Stockholm guides make clear, the attraction-rich island of Djorgarden is a must for any tourist itinerary, and this is no exception for the youngest tourists. A ferry that crosses frequently between Djorgarden and Slussen, at the southern end of Gamla Stan, adds to the excitement of the excursion (Kr40 for adults, free for under 7s).

Highest on any child's itinerary should be Junibacken. This children's playhouse/museum comprises a series of rooms inspired by Swedish children's literature, dominated by the works of Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking etc). I wasn't familiar with a lot of the stories, so my naive description is that there were pirate ships, miniature cities to crawl through, various houses, a homemade aeroplane, light spots to chase, a steamroller and (bizarre as it sounds) a maze within the shell of a cream layer cake, with an emphasis on FUN. For both the adults and children of our family, the highlight was a modestly described "train" which turned out to be a capsule that rolled, glided and turned through scenes from Astrid Lindgren's books. I would highly recommend prospective school-age visitors to Junibacken try some Astrid Lindgren books before their visit to make the most of the experience (I wish I had!).

The Vasa Museum is the final resting place of a 17th century warship that sailed 15
minutes and then sank. She then spent 300 years in Stockholm Harbour before her discovery and retrieval. Although much of the museum is beyond a preschooler's interest, a quick wander through can be managed with something to see for everyone.

Nordic Museum: I can't review this thoroughly as we attended only as part of an evening function. However, the two galleries we saw kept both boys interested for several hours: the children's gallery/play area is set up as a wooden replica of a Swedish homestead from the turn of the last century. There are wooden chickens and wooden eggs to move around, a table and wooden food to be arranged, a pulley bridge, a milkmaids yoke, a wooden horse and cart.... The great thing about it was that, being wooden, everything was available for play. (This seemed to be a common theme throughout our museum visits: if it's intended for children, then there were few or no limits for children to touch, climb and totally experience the item.)

The other gallery that took my boys' fancy was a temporary display devoted to washing machines and the laundry room. But perhaps this wouldn't surprise frequent readers of this blog?

There is plenty for small kids to see at the Skansen "open air museum": a zoo featuring Nordic animals and traditional craft workshops (Big Bro was fascinated by the glass blowing) situated amongst buildings transplanted from different regions of Sweden.

Our boys were never into dummies (pacifiers) but depending on how desperate other parents are to shed the dummy, a trip to Skansen may be just what is needed: Swedish tots are brought to the Dummy Well to leave their dummies "for the baby animals".


Transport museum
A museum of buses, trains and trams: Big Bro would never have forgiven me for missing this one. On the east end of Sodermalm, it's definitely well off the tourist route- though easily accessible by bus or scenic walk along Folkungagatan and Katarinavagan (the walk along Stadsgardsleden is less hilly but somewhat less scenic).

The museum houses a range of Stockholm's former transport vehicles, from a replica of boats paddled between the islands in the middle ages to horse-drawn trams, electric trams, modern buses and trains. Many of the more recent exhibits allow access to the driver's area, some with
video displays allowing crude simulator-style "driving".

Non-Swedish speaking transit aficionados will have to interrogate the surly staff (at least at our visit they weren't feeling very conversant) to get more details on the individual displays, but for those happy to cruise between the vehicles the museum offers a fun few hours' entertainment for pre- schoolers with an interest in trains. Kr10 also buys you a seat on a small gauge train that makes a brief ride through the exhibits (closed for repair when we visited).

Adjacent to the Sparvargelsmuseet and included in the entry price is a toy museum which was of more interest to me than Big Bro. It was an eclectic collection of toys, most from the twentieth century: cabinets of smurfs, star wars figurines, Lego, Mecchano, toy cars, barbies... (And, according the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist's toy tractor.)

Katarinahissen: this rather ugly structure to the east of Slussen T-bana station is in fact a tourist elevator that was first built over 100 years ago. It is Kr10 per ride (children under 7 free), or if you are travelling without a pram (and with energetic children!) it is free to take the stairs. At the top there are views of Gamla Stan and Djorgarten, and a walkway through to deeper Sodermalm (not far from Medborgerplatzen). We never lasted long up there as the boys were rapidly chilled by freezing winds- in other seasons there is evidently a cafe of some sort up there.

Gamla Stan (Old City)

The Changing of the Guard: not as fancy as Buckingham Palace, but every day the Royal Palace's guards change with a bit of choreographed goose-stepping and flag waving. And unlike Buckingham Palace, you can be within metres of the action.

Nobel museum: We visited the Nobel museum twice, and both times ended up in the "Bubble Tank" children's area. There is a small display, a puppet theatre, books (mostly Swedish) and my boys' favourite area, a cabinet with drawers containing activities representing the seven Nobel prize categories: peace, physics, chemistry, medicine/physiology, literature and economics. For example, one of the chemistry drawers had magnetic model atoms to stick together into various molecules (Little Bro's favourite) while an economics drawer housed an activity involving paper money. Older children would find plenty to interest them in the
rest of the museum: one of Galilleo's telescopes, personal items from laureates, and (as one Nobel laureate described it to me) a "drycleaning rack" system zooming photos of the laureates around the museum, "hanging the laureates out to dry".

(Parents of small children would also benefit from a tip the lovely Nobel Museum staff passed on: their building houses one of the only nice nicest public toilets in Gamla Stan!)

Boat tours: Stockholm's islands mean that boats are a great way to see the lie of the land. Options in December were fairly limited, so we took the one hour "Royal Canal" tour, which took us around Djorgarden and showed the adults many of Stockholm's highlights- and the children saw boats large and small. In warmer weather many longer tours operate inwards into Lake Malaren or further out into the archipelago.

Our pick of Stockholm eateries for small children

Stockholm's food scene was a pleasant surprise to me. Where possible, avoid the touristy Gamla Stan's overpriced and bland eateries dominated by Italian restarants and Irish pubs and head a little north or south to eat with the locals in the hip suburbs of Södermalm or Östermalm.

Unsurprisingly, Ikea high chairs are widely available, and we found menus to be generally accessible for the boys. And, as everywhere in Stockholm, when in doubt, ask a local: chances are they speak English.

Cafe Crema (Nybrogatan 16, Östermalm opposite Astoria theatre) We found ourselves hungry in Östermalm, and happened across this cafe. It was certainly no tourist haunt, and a glance through the window suggested we would fit in there: there were already a few prams parked in the entranceway and the prices were reasonable. We had fish with vegetables in a dill sauce and an amazing chicken and bacon burger with a tangy mustard aioli which went by the humble "club sandwich" moniker. Meals come with self-service salad: lettuce or the most awesome coleslaw-type salad I have tasted, shredded vegies with a tasty seasoned oil dressing including caraway seeds (I *need* the recipe!!).

SöderManna Medborgarplatsen, Södermalm Self-catering or budget-minded travellers should visit Stockholm's answer to New York's delis, Saluhalls. We dropped into the Södermalms Saluhall on the west side of Medborgarplatsen and drooled over the range of ready-to-heat dishes (take away or eat there), finally settling on a vegetarian lunch alongside office workers at SöderManna. 75 Kroner ($A12) bought a huge and tasty slab of spinach lasagna with a side salad plus unlimited bread and dips.

Creperie Fyra Knop Svartensgatan 4, Södermalm Hidden in a sidestreet in Södermalm, this gem has not escaped the eye of guidebook authors, but maintained the "local" feel despite several tables of non-Swedes when we visited. The extensive menu starts with simple fillings (combinations of cheese, egg and ham) and progresses to more complex offerings (prawn, salads, meat) and sweet fillings. The crepes are made of a buckwheat-type flour and are a great meal for a cold day.

Cadierbaren, Grand Hotel S. Blasieholmshamnen 8 The Grand Hotel, with prices as grand as its name, certainly isn't a place for the budget-minded traveller to frequent. However, for a memorable coffee stop only minutes from Gamla Stan, the Cadierbaren lounge is not bad for a family friendly location: we weren't the only parents enjoying a brief good coffee and cinnamon bun while our children were mesmerised by the view of buses, limosines and ferries out the window.

Family friendly accommodation: I can't provide a thorough review or comparison, but we were very happy with Guldgränd Apartments (Guldgränd, Sodermalm, opposite the Hilton Hotel) which were quiet, comfortable and self-contained, and within walking distance of Slussen Station and Gamla Stan.

Too cute to eat?

My culinarily gifted friend A made us these cute Christmas cupcakes. They would have been too cute to eat if they hadn't been quite so delicious...........

Monday, December 21, 2009

This Growing Life goes Swedish

Please excuse the break in transmission, dear reader. You see, in October something really quite extraordinary happened to us: we received an invitation to attend Nobel Week in Stockholm, culminating in the Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet. In an attempt to maintain my blog's anonymity, I won't elaborate on the circumstances further, except to assure you that the Nobel Prize for Blogging (or otherwise) did not go to yours truly.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime (or less frequent) events, and crazy as it seemed, B and I (ably assisted by my mum) packed up the two boys and hit the skies bound for the Nordic Winter.

The whole trip went really well- really as well as I could have hoped! The boys generally travelled well, a highlight for me being that Big Bro managed to pull his little wheelie bag himself for the whole 30-or-so hours of travel and transit from our house to our accommodation in Stockholm. The 10 days we were in Stockholm were apparently warm for that time of year, meaning temperatures between freezing and 5°C, with only some snow on the last morning- much easier weather in which to deal with small kids than the -13 to -8°C and 15cm snow we were told arrived a few days later. We also coped with jetlag (and are still coping with it, yawn) and all-in-all, I am so, so pleased we took the plunge and went! We will probably wait until the boys are a lot older (late primary school?) before we revisit Europe for a pure holiday, but in the meantime we can see Asia or perhaps even North America as potential holiday destination (finances-willing, which will take a while!!) Hooray!!

I have a few posts-in-the-making about our travels, which I will try to finish as and when the Christmas rush allows.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apple and rhubarb crumble is off the menu.

I don't think I ever mentioned our apple tree. The reason being, B and I decided it was a "Crap Apple" tree (no typo). Most of the fruit has been sour, and only good for chutney or cricket. It was also structurally a disaster- I don't quite know how, but after about half a metre, the trunk bent to around two o'clock, hanging over the fence. On the positive side, it made the tree an interesting feature, both visually and for visiting kids with a need to climb. When we moved in we were concerned by a large (30cm diameter) branch that was clearly dead and had it removed. We also discussed removing the whole tree with the ne
ighbours as it overhung their driveway. However, the neighbours were strongly in favour of retaining the tree, probably because it was large enough to screen out our upstairs windows from their back lawn and deck. So we kept the tree and I found an apple chutney recipe (Nigella's) to use up the windfall fruit.

A few nights ago, our plans for a 2010 chutney vintage were dashed by a ring on the doorbell. It was our neighbours announcing that the tree had fallen on the fence.
A couple of palings had been snapped, but the crossbars appeared to be bearing the weight of the trunk, so we debulked as much of the tree as we could reach to reduce the weight, and in the morning I rang around town trying to find a tree chopping service which could come immediately. And a couple of hours later, up rocked the "team", which consisted of a huge truck with a chipper-trailer attachment and six men who ran the tree demolition like clockwork.
Two chainsaws, a heap of chipping and a leaf blower to clear the sawdust from the paths and in no time our tree was driven off to start its new life as mulch! Needless to say, both boys were fascinated by the whole process! (And yes, I can recommend Taylors- we've used them before and this time they accommodated my rapid service request.)

Unfortunately, our long-suffering rhubarb had been relocated to the shade of the apple tree, and suffered collateral damage at the hands size 13 feet of one of the chainsaw operators! Fingers crossed it has yet another life up its sleeve.

The question is now, what should replace the apple tree? It's to the north of our deck, so deciduous seems like a good plan: the usual shade-in-summer-sun-in-winter logic. Fast growing would please the neighbours so they can resume whatever they did in the privacy of their screened yard (no, they're not that type of neighbour). And given that the view from our side of the fence will only be the lower three metres, I am thinking "interesting trunk" would be best. Although part of me thinks we should replace a semi-edible plant with another edible, the reality is that we would like the bulk of the tree to be way up high and out of reach, so any fruit would just end up feeding possums and bats.

We are leaning towards a small stand (a copse?) of silver birches, as judging by how common silver birches are in our area we figure they must be well-suited to the local conditions. We won't be planting until the autumn, so in the meantime other suggestions are welcome! In the meantime, what I had been using as a shady bed is copping a heap of sun. Mulch, mulch, mulch is my interim plan!

Apologies for the backdated post: this all happened just before we headed off to Sweden, so I never quite pulled the photos and text together!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Insect Update

A while back I mentioned problems I was having with aphids and earwigs. Thankfully, there is positive news to report on both fronts.

I hope I am not speaking to soon when I say that the aphids appear to be a distant memory. Various factors may have been at work: October and November provided very wet and very hot weeks; the garlic planted alongside has sprouted, and I have seen (but am not quick enough to photograph) plenty of hoverflies hovering (as they do), which Scarecrow's Blog suggests is a quick aphid-removal system. Good riddance. And ne'er a ladybird was spotted.

Since the arrival of the mushroom compost, the earwigs seem to either be busy eating said compost, or (I would cruelly like to hope) were gassed by the copious amount of methane it exuded. The passionfruits are finally managing to produce a few weeny shoots which may make it beyond the tasting menu stage, and although the lower leaves of the climbing beans have been chomped to skeletons, so far it seems they are growing faster than the earwigs can climb. This is all a relief, as my attempts at earwig reduction have been dismal. Beer traps caught one or two, crumpled paper traps were the same and oil traps scored nil. The prize for worst attempt was a "pest strip" which caught no earwigs, but did catch a small lizard, of a sort I'd never seen in the garden, which left me feeling very low about my ecological credentials. (Enough said.) My best option seemed to be the gruesome hunt'n'squish by torchlight (gloved to avoid the pincers). Scarecrow also suggests that small lengths of poly tubing will attract the blighters, so I will start leaving them around sites of infestation in the hopes of keeping a lid on their numbers.

Also on the positive front, a couple of weeks ago, I spotted this clinging to one of the boys' toys: a half-centimetre long baby (?) praying mantis! I hope it's here with its friends and family.

Loquats anyone?

It's loquat season in our neighbourhood at the moment. This is the view of the side of our house:
Essentially all the loquats you can see in the picture (and more) are technically ours, though the tree is our neighbours'. Similarly, I could be helping myself to the numerous loquats hanging over footpaths around the 'hood (hanging over public space makes them public property). And then there are all the people who share their loquats freely: today our Sicilian neighbour (more on him later) mentioned that another neighbour had opened her front yard for loquat takers; the owners of the tree in the picture said that in their first loquat season a lady turned up out of the blue, bucket in hand, claiming that she had "always" been allowed to help herself to the fruit of this tree!

This abundance of loquats is all very nice, but what do you do with loquats??

Of course you can eat them fresh: I've been doing this, and though they're ok, I'm keen enough to do anything more than have a nibble now and then. I am also a bit wary of eating too many, given that my first encounter with loquats was in My Family and Other Animals, where Gerald Durrell linked excess loquats to... erm... excess lavatory visits. After that comes chutneys, pickles, jams, fruit wines... which I should get into rather than waste a good crop. Maybe next year? This year I think most of ours will keep the ringtailed possums full enough that they avoid the vegie patch!

The other noteworthy feature of "our" loquat tree is its genealogy. It's derived from a seed taken from a tree a few blocks away, which in turn was grown from a seed brought from Sicily by our Sicilian neighbour. I wonder how many other loquats around the neighbourhood have the same or similar heritage?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flashback- The Tiger Who Came to Tea

A year or two ago, anyone who invited me to a third birthday party could expect a copy of Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Apparently (though I don't specifically remember), when I was three I was obsessed with this book. Twenty-something years later, my obsession resurfaced when I spotted The Tiger while shopping for a third birthday present and decided to buy it with the rationale that I had enjoyed it. As I bought it, the shop assistant commented "my three year old LOVES this book", and then I was told that the birthday girl loved it. So I was convinced that three year olds love The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It's not a very common book, either, so I could be fairly confident I wouldn't give anyone their sixth copy! I admit that I have branched out in three year old presents more recently (sandwich cutters are my current favourite), but when it came time to think of a present for Big Bro, The Tiger was on the list. And it's no surprise: he loves it!

Rather than a synopsis, I'll leave you with this YouTube clip. I'm no child psychologist, but I think it appeals to Big Bro because there is a slightly quirky story set in a normal house, and there is ultimately a problem with a simple solution. Three year old humour and logic. These days, my favourite bit is the 70s fashion!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mission Accomplished!

Yes, I've been a bit quiet in the blogging department recently. I've had a few other pressing projects, some of the kitchen kind.

As I mentioned, I had an order for two birthday cakes for a certain pair of brothers' party. I pondered a theme that would fit both of them, and the outcome was:


Of course Maisy does lots of exciting things, including flying a plane...
which is right up Big Bro's alley.

For the record, Little Bro's cake was the plain variant of the Bill Granger's egg-free melt-and-mix cake (a bit bland was my conclusion, but the kids seemed to like it), while I stuck with my "traditional" cake for Big Bro, Nigella's chocolate fudge cake (it's always a winner).

I had one of those nice parental moments when I asked Big Bro later what his favourite part of the day had been. (I was fully expecting it would be "the presents".) After a pause , he answered "the cakes". Ahhh. But to bring me down to earth, he then went on "I liked Little Bro's cake best."
Speaking of traditions (and Nigella), for my three birthday party attempts to date I have made Cheese Biscuits cut out in the birthday boy's (or boys') initial(s) plus their year number (and I realised I have never taken a photo!). The older kids at the parties seem to like them- and this year I was pleased that Big Bro also recognised the significant of the letters and numbers. It's always nice to see your efforts appreciated!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Flashback- Sesame Street of yesteryear

I'm a little after the event* but, as was widely publicised this week, Sesame Street has been running for 40 years. I should say from the outset that Big Bro is not that into Sesame Street per se: the current format is a bit over his head with the long story lines (from the three or so episodes we've seen!) and I don't mind that he doesn't have much familiarity with most of the characters with regards to avoiding marketing!

In contrast, by the age of 5 I was a complete addict. In fact, in one of my Sesame Street Annuals (yes, that was my level of addiction!) is a page where I could describe my daily routine, and the afternoon went something like "3pm: come home from school, 330pm: watch Sesame Street". In fact my first memory, from around when I had just turned 3, is of watching Sammy the Snake. I am a little ashamed to admit that I spent several years believing (and boasting) that I had achieved something special in life by witnessing both the outing of Mr Snuffleupagus and the (events surrounding the) death of Mr Hooper!

The bulk of Big Bro's Sesame Street exposure has been through my old books. I was quite pleased that when he got a Sesame Street bandaid at a medical appointment, he told me proudly "it's like in my books"! We especially enjoy The Together Book, which of course appeals to Big Bro's helper tendencies.

I am also looking forward to reading the wordier Big Bird in China book, which I loved as a child (in fact, I was thrilled to see one of the limestone formations- maybe "the elephant that drank the river dry"- in my mother's photos from her trip to China a few years back!)

Perhaps I am being a little bit precious, but I have been limiting our exposure to Oscar the Grouch books as they are peppered with a few too many antisocialities like "Go away" and "I hate..." Monkey See, Monkey Do.

While we're not really into the current Sesame Street format Big Bro's other exposure has been through the wonders of YouTube. Big Bro's favourite is also one of my favourites, the Boogie-Woogie Sheep"

In browsing through the YouTube archives, I have concluded that just about every minute of the 40 years must be on YouTube, judging from how many clips there are! But here are a few more of my faves, which I promise have been culled from a long shortlist:

The Pinball Numbers (B reminded me of this one) : I absolutely loved these, and would feel disappointed at the end. I had forgotten (or never appreciated?) that each number had a different theme; my current favourite is this one for the number 12, with a "US sightseeing" theme.

The Alligator King: again, I probably enjoy the humour of this more now than before

Remembering the shopping: (which snuck in over the Lost Boy)

And finally, the rolling ball (it is with satisfaction that realise that the ending I remembered is the "rare" one!)

I wish I could go on endlessly: this has definitely been my favourite post to research!! But instead, if these clips gelled with you, check out Chaos Theory's Sesame Street tribute: judging by how many Sesame Street memories Sherry and I share, we must be around the same age.

Go on, you know you want to- cruise YouTube and let me know what your favourite Sesame Street moment is!

*And yes, I have also backdated this post: one or other of my offsprings' insomnia interrupted me partway through and with the hectic week I forgot that I hadn't posted it! The wonders of blogger!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cute snippet

B and I were discussing when would be a good time for me to cut his hair.

Big Bro: Mama, you'll need to take Dada's ears off before you cut his hair.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Birthday Season

November is birthday month for us. Both boys were born in November, and thanks to chance and mothers' group (formed from mothers with babies born around the same time) we also have a few friends and relatives with November birthdays. This year we will have a combined birthday party for the boys, which compresses the preparation workload in all areas but one, the need for two cakes!

For Big Bro's first and second birthdays, I chose cakes that reflected his interests.

We started with the Very Hungry Caterpillar...

And his favourite foods...

The next year, it was about trains. Of course.

(Credit for this picture goes to our friend SH)

I had been unwell in the weeks leading up to the party, and so we had missed all the other two year old parties. I had thought my train cake was moderately original (apart from knowing that there is one featured in the Women's Weekly Cookbook) until hearing the discussion at our party between the other mothers of two year old boys about their own train creations!!

As for this year's creations... all will be revealed soon!

In the meantime, should you be looking for more cake inspiration, check out ilipilli's masterpieces here and here!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Milestone Dinner

On the menu:

Radish and lettuce salad

Broadbean salad: cooked broadbeans, avocado, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice

Cauliflower persillade: 1 head cauliflower, broken up and drizzled with olive oil, cooked at ~200C in the barbecue for 15 minutes, then topped with ~1/2 cup breadcrumbs, a large handful of parsley and crushed garlic and cooked a further 10 minutes. (Adapted from my favourite cauliflower recipe)

Why was this a milestone? It was all home grown except for olive oil, avocado, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs and the lemon juice (which was from our neighbours' tree).

Life is sweet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cup Week in the garden 2009

Tuesday was the first Tuesday in November, which means that in Melbourne we (well, most of us) get a public holiday for "the (horse) race that stops the nation". I usually ending up switching the telly on at 3pm to see the race, just in case something particularly exciting happens, but otherwise Melbourne Cup Day is a marker on my garden calendar rather than anything else.

The thought of the perfectly timed Flemington roses always (well, in the last 3 years) has me thinking how mine are going: the standards are in full bloom this year, and are on the list for deadheading.

As for the vegie patch, Cup Day is one of those mystical days on the local gardening calendar, the day to plant the summer vegies! (In Hobart it was Show Day, which was a reliable (but not failsafe) marker of the end of the frost season; I don't quite know whether Cup Day planting has any such logic behind it).

But who am I to question the logic?

But first things first, the beds needed to be topped up with a bit more compost. So last weekend I received a small delivery...

It's a generous cubic metre of mushroom compost. With so much, of course I needed a helper...
Unfortunately both boys thought I had ordered a sand pit...

Hmm... I am glad I ordered compost rather than manure, given Little Bro's desire to taste test everything these days...

But we got there, and it was time to plant out some corn and micro-zucchinis!
As hot weather was forecast on Monday, the final job was to set up a shade- nothing more than an old sheet tied up at the corners. Does a great job!

So here's to Cup Day winnings, of the garden type!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

From the mouths of babes

You've heard lots of snippets of wisdom from Big Bro, but this is my first report on Little Bro's speech- a milestone of sorts!

There isn't a lot to report, given that so far he says only three "words". B and I disagree on the definition of words- B is fairly strict, saying that it needs to be the correct usage ("Moo", "'Nana" and Big Bro's first word, a gutteral click to sound like B's phone don't count). I am more open minded on this matter, and accept anything that is repeatedly and somewhat exclusively used in the context of the object/event and has an identifiable connection to the object/event.

With that being said, I would say that Little Bro's first three words were:
1. An abbreviation of Big Bro's name (I'm very pleased about this one!)
2. "Toot-toot"- train (Little Bro is the ultimate diplomat to be naming items at the centre of Big Bro's world first!)
3. "Car-Car"- car
The last one is rather broadly applied to anything vehicular that isn't a toot-toot: real car-cars, solitary carriages or engines of toot-toots, and yesterday, Little Bro pointed to a plane flying over us and very proudly said "car-car".

Just to show that I'm not excessively liberal in my definition of words, I don't yet accept "mamamamamama" as a real word: it is Little Bro's way of saying "excuse me world, I'm really needing some attention", especially used in the middle of the night. I would like to believe that this is not the definition of Mama!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Partial pot luck

A few months ago I posted on my experiments and accidents with 10 year old tomato, eggplant and basil seeds. I had planted four types of seeds and then managed to overturn the pot, mixing or losing who-knows-how-many seeds.

A week or so ago, this was the outcome. Three germinations, though I can't definitely identify what they are yet. Definitely not basil, but the front two may be Outdoor Girl tomatoes or eggplants, whilst the back sprout has shinier cotyledons.

Unfortunately one of the front pair succumbed to warm weather (and my negligence) over the weekend, so I have two more hopes. Not a great outcome, but an outcome.

We shall see...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kids in the kitchen- mango pudding

A few weeks ago I found this fish mould in our local op shop. For $3 I couldn't resist!

If you've been to yum cha (dim sum) and made it to the desert trolley, then you have probably seen mango pudding.

We recently ended up with an overripe mango, and with false economy in mind, I bought several more mangos to make my own mango pudding. There are a lot of variants on line; my version was based around the Australian Institute of Sport's version.

Mango-Coconut Pudding

6 tsp gelatine powder
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 cups pureed mango (fresh or canned- we used six small mangos and supplemented with canned)
1 cup coconut milk (the original recipe uses evaporated milk)
8 ice cubes (I'll call this optional as I didn't bother with them; my mango puree was refrigerated)

Heat 1 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat. Add gelatine and sugar and stir until gelatine dissolves and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine mango puree, milk and optional ice cubes. Pour gelatine mixture into mango mixture and stir until thoroughly combined (and ice cubes melt if using). Pour mixture into mould and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until set.

I haven't included any pictures of Big Bro, but he was involved in the not-hot-tipping and stirring stages. We took it to a neighbour's birthday party, where the favoured mode of eating was dip-style, with pieces of fruit. It was enough of a success that I was able to demonstrate the reach of our home wireless to access the recipe for passing on!

I was overly anxious about sticking in the mould, so overdid the hot water immersion to unmould, hence the halo! I used the tip of a grape to replace the lost eye.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oldies but goodies

Have any other Generation Xers noticed the recent relaunching of books we enjoyed as children? Spot has celebrated his 25th birthday (in silver), Meg and Mog their 35th, and suddenly at Borders a few months ago I spotted the personification of a bad hair day that is Grug. I am not entirely sure whether the emergence of my old friends from 25 years of literary solitude is a marketing strategy aimed at soft sentimentalists like me who are now buying for our own children, or whether it was my absence from the children's section that kept them out of my line of sight. Either way, it is always good to find a familiar face in the cast of thousands that are vying to be The Next Big Thing (Preschool Version).

My mother had kindly archived my favourite picture books while I was between being a child and being with child, and is now mutually benefitting herself and us by passing them on to Big Bro- the benefit to her being reclaiming bookshelf space, one Golden Book at a time. I have been enjoying rediscovering my old friends with Big Bro: he has adopted some as his own favourites, whilst others will have to be saved for the appreciation of Little Bro, or perhaps archived again for the next generation to enjoy- or enjoy their eBay winnings from selling off their grandmother's antique books!

It seemed fitting to talk first about two books that reinforce the idea that being old is not an automatic consignment to the scrap heap. Both books appeal to Big Bro because the stories revolve around some of his favourite vehicles, fire engines and diggers, but both have illustrations and text that I enjoy passing through again and again.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel- Virginia Lee Burton

I read this book as a preschooler but presumably didn't own it, as it wasn't amongst my archived books. When I mentioned buying Mike Mulligan for Big Bro recently, my cousin commented that she had never read it but knew about the story from Ramona the Pest, which has made me wonder whether my memory is from reading the original, or via my well-read copy of Ramona. Either way, it's an exciting read: Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, have passed their heyday and are now looking for a way to prevent MaryAnne being relegated to the scrap heap in a world dominated by later models of excavators. This quest takes them to Popperville, where Mike strikes a deal that they will dig the cellar for the new town hall in a day or forfeit his pay. The finale is a close call, but ends happily when a mutually beneficial outcome is brokered by a small boy.

The story, with its twist at the end, is entertaining in itself, but the two aspects that make me enjoy reading Mike Mulligan so much are the gently repetitive language (it is so easy to read), and the illustrations. With credit to Roger Hargreaves, if you have never seen a steam shovel cry, go to Popperville.

The Bravest of All- Kate Emery Pogue (Little Golden Books)

Jonathan is an old timer firefighting hero who, together with Engine Number One, are thought to be past their peak. Yet one night when all the young fire fighters and their newfangled equipment are occupied elsewhere, Jonathan and Engine Number One are the only ones who can save a family's house. For Big Bro, the book's appeal lies in the firefighting drama, and the presence of engines and hoses; I can't quite put a finger on what exactly it is that makes me enjoy reading it. The language has the best qualities of a story session, the story has the feel of a legend, and the vivid illustrations add to the drama.

Two footnotes for fans of these books, from a quick bit of Google Research:

Bravest of All appears to be out of print ($75 for a used copy through Amazon??) , and if you choose to believe a lawyer (joke! Don't sue me!!) then Mark Bennett points out that second hand copies of this and other pre-1985 publications may become less available owing to new US consumer protection laws: in this case we are to be protected from lead in untested pre-1985 books, which must be destroyed or tested. The concern is of course that for many second hand dealers, the cost of testing would be more than the profit margin on the book.

And an extra fact for Mike Mulligan aficionados:
I have found the answer to a question that I ponder each time I read: why is one Dickie Birkenbush footnoted on page 39? The answer of course can be found via Wikipedia

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flashback- Mr Men

For a while now, Big Bro has been dipping into Roger Hargreave's Mr Men books. Having been a moderate fan myself, I'm happy to encourage this; some are copies I owned as a child (with the occasional scribble or missing cover), whilst others I bought recently when lured by 3-for-$10 type bargains. They're great little books to take out and about (I consider the mini-size books to be the genuine type and don't go in for the larger editions). Big Bro goes through phases of obsession with a particular character- Mr Happy and Mr Small are particular favourites- and there are times that I pick particular characters to illustrate a point I've made recently (like answering the question "Mama, what's fussy?") The felt pen illustrations
are just great; to be honest, some of the stories aren't terribly exciting, but the bright simple pictures make the stories an enjoyable read. That being said, a few of the stories could stand without the illustrations: I always enjoy reading the pages about Mr Funny's glass of toast, while the resolution of Mr Small's dilemmas is clever.

Aside from the books, most Mr Men merchandise I see seems to be dominated by The Mr Men Show a
nimations, which neither Big Bro nor I are really "into". Its stories are bit beyond Big Bro in complexity and require a familiarity with the whole suite of characters to understand an episode; I also have an aversion to them because of their redrawing of certain characters, in particular, Mr Strong.

As usual, however, the internet is a great place to find everything for free, and we have come across some good Mr Men resources.

Big Bro's favourite is the Mr Men papercraft. I print them out on coloured paper to match the character, and make multiple copies to satiate the "I wanna do please may I do pasting?" requests.

YouTube has animations from a 1983 Mr Men series. Unfortunately there are also a lot of parodies of Mr Men that I would prefer Big Bro avoided, so I need to keep a close eye on his clicking of "related videos". "MeestaHappy" is a favourite.

The Unofficial Mr Men website has a number of Flash games and animated stories. I only came across this recently (and some parts are still under construction, but what I've seen looks quite fun.

For adults like me who enjoyed Mr Men, there is an interesting interview with Adam Hargreaves, son of Roger Hargreaves (and author of the more recent books) on YouTube:

There's something about Mr Happy wandering in the background that I find hilarious!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Digger's comes good...

Back in August I ordered my summer seeds from Digger's. When they eventually arrived (beyond the advertised delivery window), I was a bit disappointed to find that of the thirty-something Tricolour Zucchini seeds, six were cracked or chipped enough for me to think they may not be viable.

6 out of 30+ doesn't sound too bad, until you consider that the package is a mix of three varieties, so potentially I had lost 6 out of 10 of one variety. So on September 9th I emailed Diggers to inform them of the problem.

And waited. (And muttered unhappily about Diggers to myself.)

Finally, on 14th October, I had my first correspondence on the matter, which was reasonable enough for me to forgive the delay: I was to be sent a replacement packet of seeds, and could I let them know what packaging my original shipment had used (box).

A couple of days ago, I received the replacement. All but two seeds passed visual inspection this time, and those two had pretty minor damage.

My conclusions: as for all my recent dealings, Diggers don't work fast, but they did do the right thing.

Will I shop with them in future?
Hmmmm, stay tuned...
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