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...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Maintenance Day, Glorious Day

Sunday was forecast to be fine, and after a couple of busy weeks and with three of the four of us having been unwell during the week, we scheduled a day at home. I was going to say "quiet, restful day at home", but perhaps that's not quite how it worked out. "A very productive day" would be a better description. Between B and I (and of course ably assisted by Big Bro the helper), we mowed the lawns, cleaned the verandah for restaining, made significant progress on the back garden watering system and the DIY bathwater irrigation, did three loads of washing, cooked tomorrow night's dinner, vaccuumed and mopped the kitchen and prepared the first Christmas parcel for mailing overseas (which I forgot to take it to the post office on Monday!)

Monday cleared to a sunny, warm afternoon- just right for playing outside. In the evening, Big Bro and I enjoyed the luxury of rainwater tanks by watering the vegies in preparation for today's forecast wind and 28 degrees.

Most of the drip irrigation zones are still at various stages of incompletion, so only one was ready to run. But what a sense of achievement to plug in the hose, turn on the timer and leave it!! I will need another maintenance day to finish the remaining zones and connect up the bath water irrigation; I am looking forward to being able to sit back and relax (or do other chores, ho hum) while the garden gets watered over summer!! I also feel a sense of freedom and security in being able to water when I want, rather than within the two 6-8am timeslots permitted under mains water restrictions. Let's just hope the summer is not too long and dry...

On Sunday I had also spotted our first (and currently only) cauliflower head, which I picked for dinner on Monday. This sudden find left me without my favourite cauliflower recipe, roasted with persillade, so I cooked it my second favourite way, steamed with cheese, which came out deliciously sweet, flavourful and tender. My portion never made it to my plate, being eaten straight from the cooking dish! There are five more plants with no obvious heads (why?), so I am not sure how long I can wait before clearing that bed for summer. I can only hope some more caulis are in the pipeline.

Days like these make me wonder why we ever leave the garden, and how we ever lived without it!

Due to technical issues...

Apologies for the scarcity of photos in recent posts: since upgrading to Snow Leopard I have found that Graphic Converter has become very unstable (especially when asked to do useful things like save), and even uploading pictures through Safari has become touchy.

Not being computer-minded, my hope for a return to harmony lies in reinstalling Graphic Converter or shelling out for PhotoShop Elements.

Any other suggestions from the audience would be very welcome!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hunter Gatherer Skills?

Don't get me started on a rant, but generally I don't take much interest in claims of gender differences in children, at least when based on purely anecdotal experience. For adults, though, it's a different matter! (Sometimes)

Many of my friends and I believe the presence of two X chromosomes increases an individual's ability to notice items directly in their line of site, based on experiences in our own houses. Perhaps it has something to do with the skills needed by our ancestral mothers and aunts for gathering edible berries and grains on the plains of Africa?

I accompanied Big Bro to a birthday party yesterday, and had to laugh with a few of the other mothers at the conclusion of a treasure hunt. Six children- three boys and three girls- were looking for six little chocolate bars "hidden" (by three year old standards) in a small area. The first three were found almost instantly, and the three finders withdrew from the game to eat their treasure. The remaining children ran in circles "looking" for several more minutes before being assisted to varying degrees to find their prizes. Comment was made amongst the mothers that this second group happened to be exclusively male... perhaps they really couldn't see what was right in front of their noses?!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Gardener Cook- a prickly tale of artichokes

Despite my interest in artichokes as ornamentals, I must admit to being a novice when it comes to their cooking. I don’t remember eating fresh artichokes as a child, so my first experience was probably about five years ago after confessing this ignorance to my aunt: she prepared boiled artichokes which we nibbled with mayonnaise. Since then I hadn’t ventured much further, preparing them myself a few times boiled with hollandaise. I enjoy this method, but they’re so fiddly to eat this way they’ve being a “once a year” meal for us!

Then this week, on a whim, B brought home two artichokes while shopping for a barbecue dinner, which got us researching other ways to prepare artichokes. The reason he bought them was that several years ago, when we lived in an apartment building in Denver, we frequently met a seriously gourmet couple on our building’s barbecue terrace. Our simple meals of marinated meats, sausages or kebabs were invariably trumped by their multi-course masterpieces, which once included barbecued artichokes. Unfortunately, all I remember of their recipe was that it was inspired by their visit to a Californian gourmet retreat.

I scoured my cookbooks for simple ways to roast artichokes, without success- any favourite recipes would be appreciated, dear reader! In the end I decided to go with The Silver Spoon’s Roman Artichokes, which in simple form is:

(for 8 artichokes) Remove the stems and trim the leaves back to the edible bit and scoop out the inedible chokes. Into this cavity, place a stuffing made from chopping together the tender centre of the stems, a handful of fresh parsley and two cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at around 200C in a covered dish surrounded by ~1 cup chicken stock.

It was quite tasty, and I will keep it in mind for the next time I am faced with artichokes.

Whilst researching, I also consulted Christopher Lloyd’s Gardener Cook, a useful reference for both the gardening and cooking side of fruit and vegetables. The late Lloyd lived in apparent manorial splendour at Great Dixter in Sussex, UK, where he took an interest in both the ornamental and edible garden, specialized in growing unusual plants, and wrote numerous columns and books.

Gardener Cook is worth a read, if for no other reason than its (to my mind) Traditional English Cookery School approach to recipes (which is not a criticism but a compliment: I think sometimes people forget the many good aspects of English Cuisine). There is a generous preview available on Google Books.

Lloyd is honest in his appraisal of the various harvests, and his opinions are never veiled in the chapter on artichokes. I had to laugh at his candid comments, particularly on the named artichoke-unappreciators.

Abridged excerpt from Gardener Cook by Christopher Lloyd, 1997 (Penguin Books):

The globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus, does not really deserve specific rank, having been developed from the cardoon, C. cardunculus, a much taller plant with violently prickly flower heads that do not at all lend theirselves to handling at table, although their young stems can be blanched for eating like celery. I have never tried this out. But cardoons are handsome plants in a border setting, which is their place in the garden.

I have a passion for globe artichokes and grow a great many plants, but it has to be admitted that this crop is wasteful of space, if space is at a premium. The wonderful grey, dissected foliage and generally handsome appearance right up to the time of being ready to eat sometimes tempts those who haven't much space to spare to include them in their flower border. However once you have cut the heads to eat, the plant never looks the same again and nothing will disguise the fact. From early June on, you are the owner of an eyesore.


It is most important to start with good stock of an accredited named variety that has been vegetatively propagated. Artichokes are easily raised from seed but the resulting seedlings are always inferior to named clones. For one thing they are often uncomfortably prickly, which is quite unnecessary; or the crowns will not be as large and succulent as is desirable. There is a purple tinted artichoke which I particularly abhor. Avoid it.


It is possible to make your new [artichoke] bed too early. If established in March, its first cropping may start at the end of June, overlapping the second-year bed by too wide a margin. (For heaven's sake don't go on holiday in June.)


Attitudes to Artichokes

If you are brought up with artichokes from the first, there is no difficulty about adjusting to the rather peculiar method of eating them. I can, and do, eat them every day, if I am on my own and they are asking to be eaten. I never tire of them. My brother, Oliver, had a surfeit when young and didn't want to see them again until near the end of his life. I never saw my father (who died when I was twelve) eat them, and he expressed mock horror when his children were indulging in the even more bestial ritual of guzzling corn on the cob. He would hold a napkin up in front of his eyes. It must have been my mother who brought artichokes to Dixter, but when she developed a taste for them, I do not know. I entertain a good deal. Nearly all my young friends are adaptable and, if they have not met artichokes before meeting me, it takes them little or no time to get the hang of them. There are various short cuts which allow their consumption to be quite rapid, though never as quick as mine, but then that gives me time to get ready for the main course. However, there are stuffier adults who are nervous of and unfamiliar with artichokes but don't like to admit it. (Advice on how to tackle them is easily forthcoming and seldom has to come from me.) They pretend that they are a lot of fuss about nothing. The worst so far was an American, Paul Aden, who, after pulling his artichoke to pieces, left it all on his plate. 'Are you going to eat it?' I inquired, wondering if he was just resting. 'I have had sufficient,' he replied loftily.


It's great, isn't it? But pity poor Paul Aden, who will forever be "the lofty American"!!

While researching this, I came across Lloyd’s obituary in The Times, which concludes:

Lloyd, as befits the down-to-earth gardener that he was, died from complications of an operation on his knees. He wanted no funeral but a party.

Maybe that’s an obituary all of us lesser gardeners can aspire to?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ever wondered... to grow cranberries?

One of my favourite bloggers, Jen, lives on a cranberry farm in Wisconsin (how idyllic!) and is currently running a daily series on the cranberry harvest (now on Day 4). I can't claim to be much of a cranberry connoisseur (are there even Australian cranberry farms? I have never noticed fresh cranberries for sale) and my knowledge about cranberries is limited to Sunraysia tv ads, so I've found Jen's daily updates fascinating.

And her pictures are great!

Blue skies, green grass and red berries- technicolour farming!

Sadly I don't think I have room for a cranberry bed myself...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lazarus of the Garden

In awarding the prize for the plant with the most impressive recovery from a near-death experience, the result is tied between:

Lasiandra (Tibouchina)
This was planted in a poor spot by the garden's previous owners, and suffered there for two years. It seemed that the summer heat wave was too much, and all the leaves dropped off. After a couple of months I decided to remove the stick to make room for a lime tree, but just as I was about to pull the Lasiandra out, I spotted new shoots. By now my garden plans had moved on from Lasiandras, so my shooting stick was removed to a new location, and the shoots promptly died off. After several more months of playing possum, there are now four new shoots. Talk about a survivor!

Soon after we moved here, I planted two rhubarb plants. Soon after I realised that the soil around them was water-repellant, and over two summers the rhubarb repeatedly died off and resprouted. I confess that when stems came up I was not shy about picking them, and as well as this there was the occasional squashing by an errant football (or football boot). When I decided to dig my asparagus trench I found one leafless crown, which I replanted in a better position.

I thought my rhubarb had lived the last of its lives, but look what popped up!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's time...

to put the stair gate up again!

We have told Big Bro that he needs to help us make sure the gate is shut. We are a geeky household, so we explained to him that he would be like a platelet shutting the door (platelets "shut the door" to stop the bleeding out of cuts). Big Bro is geeky enough to like this job title.

Please note the egg carton sitting below the stair gate. That is Big Bro's addition to the new safety measures, because apparently it will stop Little Bro reaching the stair gate (rather than attract him over there??) Time will tell....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Garden Envy

It's been a busy week and weekend, and I feel very behind in the day-to-day maintenance of the garden as well as extra jobs. Especially when reading about the tomato action in Scarecrow's Garden!! And while I'm directing you to other blogs, how about growing your own papayas a la Towards Sustainability??

More toddler cuteness

When passing a digger (steam shovel):
When that man turns on his digger, he needs to remember to turn on the digger noise too.
When passing a truck carrying bales of paper for recycling:
Big Bro: Look at that truck! All that paper came from a paper farm.
Me: Does paper come from farms?
Big Bro: Yes, it comes from paper trees. (Hmm, right answer, wrong logic?...)
Big Bro has also become more specific about drawing people. On more than one occasion I have heard him mutter to himself as he draws "legs, head, eyes, mouth, nipples..."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Make-me-smile in a brown paper bag

I guess most retailers have gimicks to make customers feel good about handing over their cash. When we visited Hobart in August, I enjoyed visiting Socrates in Salamanca Square: it's a sophisticated toy store with a high "wow" factor. Browsing there is fun enough, but I still enjoy looking at the brown paper bag our purchases came in!
The captions read:
kite.....fancy starter
O&Xs air balloon....painting canvas
origami....sun hat....waste bin....underpants
gift wrap....Christmas stocking....hiccup cure....magician's bag

Made from recycled paper. 90% of logged old growth forests end up as wood chips.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bean there done that

I hope it's not just me who has "those" days where everything you look for in the pantry and has run out. Or maybe not everything, but half of everything...

Like last night, we made our second harvest of broad beans (375g in pods/150g without). I was too tired to be creative so just decided to make another helping of Bean Feast. Last week's version had to morph into: broadbeans, half a red onion softened in oil, spaetzle noodles and sweet chilli sauce. In the rush of dinner I forgot the cheese, but it was still good!
Then after dinner I was planning to make Consuming Passions' Mogul Chicken to have today. Yet again, my pantry was running a bit bare in areas- but again, necessity is the mother of invention.

My Modified Mogul Chicken was:
6 chicken thigh fillets (supposed to be 8 pieces on the bone), marinated in garlic, turmeric and korma paste (supposed to be garlic, turmeric and ginger), then browned in a pan (without the suggested 2 large onions).
A tablespoon of garam masala, a tablespoon of curry powder and a cup of stock were added, along with a handful of raisins and a tablespoon of pine nuts (the closest thing to slivered almonds that were in my nut box).
After 45 minutes simmering (which I split over two days, and stored in the fridge in the middle!) I added half a cup of yoghurt instead of cream (which I almost never stock), heated it through and served with rice. Despite the modifications, it still worked!

As much as I enjoy recipes that can cope with a pounding into a new flavour, I think a supermarket trip is in order!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Edible ornamental

I'm never boldly creative enough to use vegetables as ornamentals, but I wish I could be. Today this artichoke was popping out of a country-style front garden, between the roses.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Aha.... Earwigs!

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
Sun Tzu

Last night I finally found some critters that may be responsible for eating the leaf buds off the passionfruit and gnawing some of my seedlings...

Earwigs! I managed to get a photo of this one on a strawberry leaf, but there was also one hiding out on the passionfruit.

While I was hunting, there was also a slug destroying an emerging bean seedling... May have to deal with that too- crushed eggshells?

Reading up on earwigs at sites like Sustainable Gardening I have established that they are known to nibble on new foliage and destroy seedling roots and stems. Apparently the key to keeping their numbers low is to "remove decaying organic matter" from your garden. All very well to say, but what do I do about mulch and a worm farm?

Instead I'll try to trap them- which should also give me a clue as to whether there really are a lot (which there are- I often find them under stones or in buckets). There seem to be three main attractants for them- a dark, damp hideyhole such as crumpled newspaper or rolled up cardboard, beer (or soy sauce?) traps and oil traps. I have decided compare all three for efficacy...

Beer and newspaper traps around the passionfruit

Oil and beer (partly empty bottle on right side) traps near the lettuce and strawberries. The oil trap is placed where a suddenly-wilting lettuce appears to have had its stem ringbarked.

Having set the traps, I now have to work out how to explain my killing spree to Big Bro. The beer and oil traps have the advantage that I am not directly overtly killing the blighters, but the ones in the paper trap will need to be disposed of. Warm soapy water seems to be the recommendation, but I am hoping that popping them in a plastic bag in the garbage bin might avoid any difficult questions.

I'm hoping that earwigs are really the culprit- it has been so frustrating watching things being munched without knowing whodunnit!!

Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sausage Soufflé

Today I'm going all out and combining Friday Flashback with Kids in the Kitchen...
You see, it all started over 10 years ago when I visited my great aunt and uncle who live in an old, old house in rural England (photo taken by my mum last year. I'll have to think up some more flashback topics related to my visits there, as while I was flicking through photos and writing this I am having to suppress so many memories and stories that are surging up!)

At the time of this particular visit, my great aunt was in her 80s, but she still used her giant Aga stove to cook the meals, one of which was Sausage Soufflé. It was simple- sausages suspended in fluffy egg, and I don't remember much of the specifics other than eating it on a cold February evening with a dab of hot English mustard. I returned home, and a while later thought it would be a good recipe to replicate, but couldn't find a recipe. A few years later my mother was visiting again, so I asked her to inquire about the the recipe, but my great aunt said that there was no particular recipe- it was just one of those things she used to make, but hadn't made recently. It was something I always thought I should try to nut out a recipe for, but never got around to... until recently!

Like many toddlers, Big Bro loves eating sausages. When preparing them for him I've often remembered my elusive Sausage Soufflé. I searched again for a recipe, this time online, and again came up blank (all the sausage soufflé recipes there use American "sausage", which I would call "sausage meat", not links). In fact, most soufflé recipes don't have any large chunks of filling in them- finely diced vegetables or purees are the norm. In the end I decided that I would try to suspend sausages in a simple cheese soufflé; if it didn't work then I would at least have a flat sausage omlette.

The final decision I made was to involve Big Bro in the preparation. "Soufflé" and "Kids" aren't often put in the same sentence, but I thought "why not?" Apart from realising that toddlers aren't great at folding when we made chocolate mousse, the rest of the non-stovetop steps seemed fairly friendly. And perhaps I was encouraged by all the recipes I consulted which made a particular point of stating that the technical challenges of soufflé-ing are overexaggerated.

And they were right: if a toddler can make a soufflé with a bit of help, it can't be that hard!

So, with those words of encouragement, here's my...

Sausage Soufflé Recipe
(adapted from cheese soufflé recipes in The Cook's Companion (Stephanie Alexander), I'm Just Here for More Food/Good Eats (Alton Brown) and the Nursing Mothers' Association of Australia Cook Book)

Grated Parmesan cheese (~1/4 to 1/2 cup)
30g butter
2 tbs plain flour
1 cup warm milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp dry mustard
4 egg yolks
~1 cup diced vegetables, cooked if necessary (in this case, carrots, corn kernels and parsley)
4 flavourful chipolata-size sausages (or two thin regular), cooked and cut into ~5cm lengths
4 spring onions (green and white bits), chopped and fried with the sausages
7 egg whites (the recipes tend to go for one more white than yolk, but I happened to have 3 whites frozen together so decided to go for extra-fluff; I'm sure 5 whites would suffice!)

Preheat oven to 200C and ensure your soufflé will have enough room in there to expand upwards: remove the upper shelf if you have one, rather than have to tear your masterpiece from its rungs.

Thoroughly butter a 1L souffle dish: Alton Brown recommends holding a stick of butter "like a lipstick". Add the Parmesan cheese and seal the dish tightly with plastic wrap. Now shake! (These are obviously toddler jobs.) The Parmesan will stick to the butter, coating the dish. Place in the refrigerator.

As far as I know, all soufflés are a combination of a frothy matrix- here it's whipped egg white- fluffing out a heavier base- custard or a white sauce, the latter in this case. So to make the white sauce, melt the 30g butter in a saucepan and add the flour and mustard powder, stirring for two minutes (as timed by Big Bro). Add the milk gradually and simmer with stirring for five minutes, making the sauce thicken. (Alton doesn't bother with the simmering) Stir in the cheese and the egg yolks one by one, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in the vegetables.

Next it's onto the whites: whip them to firm peaks. This is definitely a toddler job, and distracted him from his exclusion from the subsequent step!

Now the critical step that determines whether you'll be making a soufflé or a frittata: the folding. Using a metal spoon, gently stir about a quarter of the whites into the white sauce-vegie mix to "loosen" it (fluff it up). Then dump in the rest of the whites (or continue gradually) and fold into the white sauce to make a big fluffy mess. Don't overmix!

Spoon about two thirds into your soufflé dish and then carefully arrange the sausages on this, and cover with the remaining mixture. Run your thumb around the rim of the dish to make a little "ditch" that should help the soufflé to rise up rather than out (tall rather than exploded) and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan.

Now, without delay, pop it carefully into the oven (onto a tray that will catch any spills is a good idea), shut the door and leave it for 25 -30 minutes. Apparently the instructions to tiptoe around the house lest you deflate the soufflé are excessive, but I did take the boys outside to play at this point!

When your timer dings, remove your gloriously expanded masterpiece (ooh, ahh) and insert a knife to check that the middle isn't liquid. If it is, you can return it to the oven for 5 more minutes. Once the knife comes out clean, admire your handiwork, then serve as immediately as you can.

Pie in the Sky's Henry Crabbe sternly told his wife, "a soufflé waits for no-one", but in our case it waited long enough for a second slightly deflated helping and for B to come home and eat the leftovers.

And the verdict? I can't remember my great aunt's version closely enough, but this was a good enough replica for me- sausages suspended in fluffy egg. All involved enjoyed the construction and the deconstruction, which makes me keen to make more soufflés. And the boys will be welcome to help!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parallel and convergent paths

As well as crawling, in the past week or so Little Bro has worked out how to sit himself up and has started trying to pull himself up to a standing position. Both these achievements have meant that his cot's "side down" position, about a 30cm high barrier, is no longer safe, so after 10 months we've started to put the cot side up. It's a small change, but for me it's just one more reminder that he isn't the weeny baby we brought home from hospital!

Meanwhile, as fate would have it, this was the week that Big Bro decided he could climb out of his cot when the side is in the "up" position. So after two years of keeping the cot side up, Big Bro's cot side is now being kept down as a prelude to being removed. The funniest part is that when Big Bro made tested his new freedom after his nap today, rather than run out to me, my mum and the toys, he ran to B who was napping in bed, hopped in and slept for two more hours!
Also, thanks to Little Bro's mobility, the boys' brotherly relationship has developed to a point that are starting to be able to play together. Of course some of Little Bro's attempts aren't helpful- "Mama, he's breeeaaaking my train tracks" is now a common cry, but with less fragile playthings like a canvas tent or board books, the boys are now finding activities they both enjoy- with a lot of supervision and a few mishaps of course! I'm very pleased and excited with this development- perhaps even more so as I was (am?) an only child.

Today my excitement increased when for five minutes I watched them playing from the kitchen while finishing dinner and (gasp!) listening to the radio! Is this the first sign that one day I might have a little more time to myself? That's a nicer thought that the possibility that one day my boys won't need me so much... ;-)
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