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.

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