Thursday, April 29, 2010

Boys are from Mars, Girls are from Venus?

A few days ago at playgroup, the other mums and I were struck by the apparent gender differences emerging in our 3 year old offspring. It's not quite a valid psychological study, but it did seem to hold with what I'd expect in, say, 10 year old children.

Scene: two boys, Big Bro and Boy2 have been playing together putting "petrol" chalk in their tricycles. Three girls are busy playing amongst themselves. Girl1 approaches the mums.
Girl1: Girl2 says she doesn't want to be my best friend.
Mum: Um, maybe you could tell her that it hurts your feelings to be told that?
Girl 1 runs off to convey this message. Big Bro and Boy2 simulate trike crashes. Girl1 returns.
Girl1: she still doesn't want to be my best friend
Girl3: Don't worry, I'll tell her your feelings are hurt.
Girl3 races off and with exaggerated arm gestures, conveys the message to Girl 2.
Big Bro and Boy2 start running between one side of the yard and the other.
Girl 1 (to Girl 2): well, I don't want you to be my best friend. Girl3, you can be my best friend.
Mums suppress giggles, missing the next development, but suddenly all three girls embrace, and continue playing. Big Bro and Boy2 return to put more petrol in their cars.

I was stunned to see the social volatility in the girls' clique- it reminded me of years of "who-is-whose-friend?" angst in primary school, and surprised me how early it starts.

This post was rewound at the Fibro.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Changing times

The warm weather had what I hope was its last hurrah this week, with temperatures in the high 20s. With a week of rain and cooler weather forecast, I decided my winter planting had to start. I replaced the bush beans with mini cabbages and mini cauliflowers, and put in a new row of heirloom carrots for good measure. Not a lot of work, but I was struck by Big Bro starting to actually be useful, and by Little Bro not being destructively determined to take part- he was happy to find other things to occupy himself. A bit of water and worm juice, and now my fingers are crossed that the plants will pick up on my happy mood!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beach holiday

Work took me to Queensland's Sunshine Coast for a few days so I squeezed B and the boys in my bag and we added on a few more days of R&R in Noosa. We had a wonderful time- highlights included the beach and pool, Eumundi Markets, the Ginger Factory (a boat ride, a train ride, icecream and gingerbread man souvenirs: who can complain?), riding the Noosa Ferry and ascending Mt Tinbeerwah to look over the Noosa River and hinterland ("climbing" is a bit of an exaggeration for the degree of difficulty for the adults, but as I said before, it was Big Bro's first unassisted mountain ascent).

Food-wise, Noosa certainly isn't home to obvious bargains, especially with the near-universal 15% holiday surcharge over Easter, but our favourite meal was at Trios at the Noosa Marina (floor to ceiling glass and no balcony combined with a late lunch meant Little Bro could cruise in the vicinity of our table without risk of a watery plunge... and a good view of the boats). An honourable mention goes to Rasa in Noosaville for the best children's menu item, a delicious chicken noodle stirfry.

Eight days away didn't feel like long (and wasn't) but in that time the garden had a few developmental leaps- infantile capsicums, tomatoes at the end of their season, yet more parsley, and a few too many weeds. The holiday is certainly over!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You know you've read enough Dr. Seuss when... paraphrase The Cat in the Hat without thinking at the playground:

Big Bro: look at me! Look at me now!
Mama: look at you, look at you, look at you now! It's fun to have fun but you have to know how! (blush, glance around to check no other parents noticed. Fortunately they were too busy pondering their kids' answer to "what would you do if your mother asked you?"....)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easy risotto

Every time I make risotto- today included- I am struck by how easy it is, and how much my kids love it. Maybe because there are heaps of seriously gourmet versions out there (champagne and zucchini flower risotto drizzled with truffle oil, anyone?), many people think that risotto is hard to make, but it isn't! The only commitment is that you have to be present for the cooking- 15 minutes or so. But for a dinner that my boys love, and that can be frozen for easy leftovers later, the time-investment-to-return equation is pretty good.
This is what I threw together tonight:

Quick and easy risotto with pumpkin and zucchini
For my simple risottos, the base is the same but different vegetables or meat can be added. If it's a vegetable like pumpkin that is likely to squish up with too much stirring, pre-cook it and add it at the end (unless you're making it for a baby, in which case squished is good. Did I mention risotto is great baby food?)

Earlier: I roasted 1 cup pumpkin cut in 1cm dice by spreading it on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzling with olive oil (I used garlic-infused oil) and cooking at 160C for about an hour (until soft through)

2tbs butter
1 rasher bacon, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 zucchini
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup stock, optionally warmed* (I used my homemade no-added-salt chicken stock as the salt in the bacon and cheese is enough)
~1 cup milk (or a bit more), optionally warmed* (I use milk to increase the calcium in the risotto)
~1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or other) cheese

*the proper way to make risotto is with warm/hot liquids, but it works ok for me with cool liquids). I warm the liquids in the microwave to save washing up; purists would have it steaming in a saucepan on an adjacent hob.

Put a saucepan over medium heat and fry the bacon in the butter for a few minutes, until starting to brown. Add the garlic and zucchini and sautee until soft. Then add the rice and stir. Add about a third of a cup of stock and stir until absorbed (so no wet bits are evident). Repeat twice more, which means the cup of stock has all soaked in. Now do the same with the rmilk, adding thirds of a cup and stirring until absorbed. One one cup of milk is incorporated, taste to determine whether the rice is cooked through. If not, continue stirring in one third cupfuls of milk until cooked through. Now stir in the cheese and the pumpkin, taste for seasoning and serve to the waiting hoards!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Green Bean Casserole from Scratch

After a slow buildup, our runner beans and french beans have finally started producing meal-size harvests. Bean picking has become a shared responsibility- Little Bro has decided that he needs to be involved in the harvest, and is getting pretty good at spotting beans amongst the leaves. After a few days away, we picked 250g of medium-sized beans which was enough for a half-size recipe I've had my eye on for a while: Alton Brown's Best Ever Green Bean Casserole.

Green Bean Casserole was something I discovered at a Thanksgiving Dinner while in the US. It wasn't anything fancy- just beans in a creamy sauce with a crunchy topping, but there was something yum about it. I didn't think to get the recipe at the time, and later internet research uncovered about a zillion recipes that involved canned soup. Bleargghh.

A few weeks ago, I had the brilliance of mind to put "green bean casserole from scratch" into Google, and the number one hit was Alton. Ahh, Alton- we spent many happy hours together in Colorado via the Food Network. So I was pretty pleased to finally have enough beans this week to give it a go. And yes, canned soup is not necessary for a very yummy green bean casserole.

Good Eats' Best Ever Green Bean Casserole (slightly modified from original as indicated)

For the topping:

  • 6 shallots, thinly sliced (AB uses 2 onions)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Olive oil (AB uses nonstick cooking spray)

For beans and sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 500g fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1cm lengths (my boys seem to prefer small bits of beans)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (AB uses butter)
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk (AB uses half-and-half, which is a creamy milk/very thin cream)


Preheat the oven to 245 degrees C.

Combine the shallots, flour, panko, and salt in a large baking dish and toss to combine.Drizzle with oil and place the dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss 2 to 3 times during cooking. (There were lots of comments about problems with burning, so I checked every 5 minutes) Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 200 degrees C.

While the shallots are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring 4 litres of water to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the milk. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. It was an unappetising grey, which fortunately is well diluted by the addition of the beans!)

Remove from the heat and stir into 1/4 of the shallots and add the green beans. Top with the remaining shallots. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Greetings, Chinese-literate readers

Judging by the number of comments in Chinese that I receive, I'd love to imagine that This Growing Life is a big hit with Chinese blog readers... rather than spam generators *sigh*...

Translations welcome! (If it isn't indecent!!) And valid comments in English more welcome ;-)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Keeping Pace

Big Bro climbed his first mountain today- Mt Tinbeerwah, near Noosa. Admittedly most of the work was done by a petrol engine- he certainly didn't meet the Colorado definition of having climbed a fourteener, which was ascending over 3000 feet (some sticklers would backtrack from official trailheads to descend enough to the be able to ascend the requisite 3000 feet). But he managed a roughly 500m trail which continuously ascended, without a single complaint. This was much better than I remember being for walks at a similar age, and much better than we often get on city streets!

As well as enjoying the outcome, I really enjoyed the walk with Big Bro. I strolled at his pace, with plenty of time to notice the surrounds- a dainty leaf eater's shelter, dragonflies, butterflies, different cricket calls. For someone who usually seems to prefer the mechanical world to the natural one, Big Bro had a lot to discuss about the surrounds. At the end, B and I said "we really need to do this sort of thing more often"... Along with everything else for which we've said that!! But watch this space!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Four legs good, two legs better?

Little Bro is gradually (yes, this is Little Bro, I mean gradually) making the conversion from tetrapod to bipod. One of the highlights of being considered a walker for him has been that he now gets to wear shoes. He's been pleased enough with having his own footwear that "shuesSS" quickly entered his vocabulary. And shuesSS is not just a passive noun: it's either and excited descriptor or else a demand. "What, everyone else is putting on their shoes?? I need my shuesSS!!" "Look what I happened to come across in my travels: shuesSS! I better put on my shueSS!!"

I should put a plug in for my favourite shuesSS shoes: Baby Paws, a lovely soft Tasmanian leather, as bought by Princess Mary of Denmark (I can't find a link to corroborate what my mother told me, that Mary bought Baby Paws while visiting Hobart in the early stages of her second pregnancy.) The Baby Paws replaced our other pair of cute baby shoes, My First Tevas , one of which Little Bro decided to drop on our shopping trip to get the Baby Paws... (to my disappointment!). But Little Bro sees baby shoes for what they are- shoes for babies- and instead loves a hand-me-down pair of sandals. As far as shuesSS go, these are the real deal. Hours of fun could be had by sealing and unsealing the four Velcro straps, and taking the shoes on and off... but it would be more fun for all involved if Little Bro could do it himself!

We had a near-crisis a few days ago when we left these sandals at the pool. But hooray for lost property services: never was there a bigger smile for recovered property than when Little Bro was reunited with his beloved shuesSS. And from a sentimental perspective, I was pretty glad to see them too, Velcro straps and all.


Big Bro: look at this dandelion- I couldn't blow away all the dandy-bits!
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