Monday, June 25, 2012

Gifts for the Dying {Love Notes}

{I still don't feel up to writing a regular recipe post ... but I'm going to share with you some of what's in my heart. And how we packaged up love for a last birthday.}

It's been nearly two weeks since we lost Grammy, and as our townhouse fills up with her treasures ... it's sinking in. But sadness still only hits me in little bit-sized doses, surprisingly easy to wash down with a glass of wine. Is it good not to feel miserable? Bad? I think the former. And I'll tell you why.

It's not the antidepressants, either. I know what you're thinking.

I think it's because my mother-in-law died knowing just how much we all loved her, how special she was to us. We left nothing unsaid. My heart is peaceful.

A month before she died, J turned 70. Her cancer was progressing by that time, and she was already becoming more dependent on her family for everyday things. There would be no big party, no box of wine, no special dinner ... but what could we give her to celebrate the day she was born? She was clearly fading, and needed more stuff (in her words) 'like a hole in the head.' 

How do you wrap love?

And then it hit me. We would write her love notes - each scrap of paper containing a special memory, or a thing we loved about her, or how she's changed us. Nelle drew pictures. Robbie and I sat around the kitchen table and scribbled and laughed and cried. We tucked as many of these notes as we could fit into a little tin, and in the week after her birthday J laid in bed and read them one by one by one. 

She later said to me that people didn't often hear these things before they died. 

These are the sentiments of eulogies.
But shouldn't they be of life? Birthdays?
These things shouldn't be left unsaid, but too often they are.

I don't know about you ... but I'm going to be writing more love notes. Watch out.
Amanda xx

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Last Days {Raspberry & Rosemary Cornbread}

I worry that if we go home tomorrow, me and Nelle, this will be the last time we see her. It's like we're in a car speeding past things {beautiful things}, and I want to STOP and have a look, but they're already gone. Woosh. All that's left is a glimmer in my memory, and I wasn't even paying attention properly. Shit.

We've already passed the last carrot cake, the last American diner. The last sleepover in Nelle's room, giggling past bedtime. The last Christmas dinner {whatever time it happens}. The last search for hidden treasures at the op-shop. Gone, gone, gone. It's not supposed to go this fast. Can I reconstruct those memories, out of my peripheral vision?

And my daughter? I hope she's been watching carefully, taking snapshots of Grammy to carry into womanhood with her. To help her become the person she's becoming already. Strong, witty, compassionate.

Sometimes these last days, sadness creeps up into me like a damp cold. And so, I have to bake ... It warms me up, reminds me of happinesses {like butter, and family}.
Be warm.
Amanda xx

Raspberry and Rosemary Cornbread
makes 1 loaf

Rosemary and raspberry is one of my favourite new combinations - conceived in a salad dressing and only just finding its way into my baking repertoire. This is only slightly sweet, making it perfect for morning or afternoon teas, breakfast, or even {with some whipped cream or ice cream} dessert.

The time
10 min prep + 45 min baking + 10 min cooling

The ingredients
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup self-raising flour
2 Tbs raw sugar
1/2 Tbs minced fresh rosemary
1 cup milk
1 organic (~60g) egg
2 Tbs olive oil {or melted butter}
1 cup frozen raspberries {or substitute fresh if you're lucky!}

*Try to use organic when you can!

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F) and line a small loaf pan with baking paper.

2. Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl. There's probably some logical reason why you should do it in a particular order, but as often as not I just throw things in as I remember or retrieve them. This recipe's pretty resilient to that kind of slack behaviour.

3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and pop into the preheated oven for ~45 minutes {but start checking at 30 min ... I don't know about you, but the setting for 160C on my oven is verrrrry close to the 180C}. It's done when golden and firm and when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, let it cool, and slice into thick, butter-worthy pieces.

The cost
Ah, cornmeal is one of our thrifty faves! And rosemary? Once you get a rosemary plant going in your garden, you're going to have more than you know what to do with. Frozen organic raspberries are expensive, but nice - and even made all-organic this loaf will still only cost $4.50 or so.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

10 Tips for Travel with Children

{This is a post - newly revamped - from the archives! But a few friends are doing some travelling with kids soon, so I thought I might update it and repost it ... Enjoy! A xx}

I was going to call this post: When Your Toddler Won't Fit in Your Checked Luggage ... but I would never advocate doing that. 

Not before the trip anyway.

This post is a little different from most of mine ... but if you're a parent who likes the idea of travelling with your kids before they're teenagers, and you don't want to sacrifice your sanity or quality of life ... well you might just be interested.

Now before I go any further, I have a confession to make. We spend all our spare money on travelling. So lest you think I'm some kind of jet-setting millionaire ... nope. I'm just a parent, like you, who happens to make travel a priority. In part, it's because my family lives in the US (and I live in Australia). But mostly, I just love finding the little treasures hidden all around the world. 

Robbie and Nelle do, too, lucky for me ...

As a result, Nelle's been overseas lots in her first 3 4.5 years ... the first when she was just 3 1/2 months old. Since then, I think we've done it all. Breastfeeding in an economy-class seat next to complete strangers. Getting seated separately from Robbie (lucky bast*rd). Car seat dilemmas, delays, Nelle rolling out of hotel bed, colds, flus, and so on.

But goodness, that's making it sound awful. Really, travelling with Nelle was much easier than I expected! And now she enhances travelling for us - she's become very outgoing, and starts up conversations with people. As a result, we meet people wherever we go. We're no longer this insular little travelling island - Nelle branches us out.

Here are just a few of the things I've learned by flying with Nelle ...

Always see if you can get one of the bassinet (cot) seats, or at least a seat with extra leg room. Even if you end up with bub on your lap the whole time, you won't get as many cramps in your legs. Plus you may end up near another child, and the two can entertain each other. (Some may not see this as an advantage.) Beg. Plead.

Consider taking the car seat on the plane. If you have a toddler you might actually find they behave themselves better if they're in their very own car seat. We discovered this by accident ... one airline (ahem BA) wouldn't let us check our car seat for free so we took it on board. It was great! Nelle slept better, didn't wiggle out of the ridiculous kid seatbelt, and was generally happier.

Plus, I've hired car seats in various places and ended up with some very costly, very sketchy seats. We'll be taking Nelle's with us overseas from now on.

NOTE: Be sure your car seat meets airline standards. Check ahead!

Have something for bub to suck on during take-off and landing. This can be a dummy (pacifier) or a bottle or even food. Their ears aren't very good at readjusting to the pressure as the plane gains and loses altitude ... so sucking on something helps out. If you've often heard babies screaming during take-off or landing, this is probably why. Unless they're hungry. Or need a nappy change.

If you're travelling in a pair, order one vegetarian meal. It comes out earlier, so you can share around the baby-holding duties and eating duties. Trust me when I say it's not easy to hold a baby and eat your dinner at the same time.

Give up any expectations of watching a movie and/or drinking free wine. It may happen, but it may also happen that you're entertaining bub the whole flight. After 2 years of flights where Nelle only wanted to sit on my lap, she's now in her own seat - and - I've actually watched an in-flight movie again! Woo hoo!

Lots of food. I cannot stress this enough. Food that's entertaining, nutritious, not sugar-laden, filling, favourite, time consuming to eat. Food in crackly packets. Crackers. Those great squeezy fruit or veggie purees. Those lunchbox-sized tetra-packs of milk. Be creative, but try to avoid food that'll have your little person bouncing off the (very cramped) walls. Best to check with your airline about their security restrictions, but I've found that most airlines let you take on fluids for babies and small children - my experience has just been that they'll swipe or test or make you taste one or two.

Muffins, breads, cookies and crackers are great kid-pleasers - here are some recipes for you to try out:
Easy Peasy Sweet Potato Muffins
Sweetheart Baking Powder Biscuits
Kids Can Make ... Zucchini Cake
Spelt Carrot Cake Muffins
The Best Cornbread
Whatever You've Got Muffins

Olive Oil Crackers
Cheesy Polenta Crackers
Ode to Puffed Corn
Cheesy Party Crackers 
Activated Almonds 
Sea Salt and Rosemary Toasted Almonds
Kale Chips

NOTE: Always try out foods ahead of time - you definitely want food that your child likes, and doesn't react poorly to.

Even if your child seems perfectly healthy when you get on that plane, they might start dripping just after take-off. And heating up. And crying, lots of crying. I always take a children's pain reliever and children's antihistimine with me on the plane, just in case. Again, in a small, labelled jar that the flight security people check out.

Plus, then you won't have to trawl foreign pharmacies for whatever your child normally uses. (How do you say antihistamine in Polish?)

As with the food, check your child's response to the medicine before the trip, and also make sure it's not considered illegal wherever you're going. (Hey, mistakes can happen!)

AND ... I know this stuff isn't 'medicine', but you might consider making up a batch of hand sanitiser before you go, too! 

Take new books and toys - my faves are a little magnetic/erasable drawing board and stickers. Avoid toys with repetitive, tinny music at all costs. Toys will occupy at least a little time, though probably less than you anticipate ... but if you're lucky enough to get a flight with in-seat entertainment - you're in the money! We relax all our TV restrictions on the plane - I figure 4 straight hours of Dora the Explorer won't be too bad for Nelle in the long run. And let me tell you, you can get a couple of those little bottles of wine into you in 4 hours.

Now I've got you excited, because you might have in-seat entertainment, right? Here's a very important tip: Never ever rely on the airline to get it right. You may be sitting away from your partner, the person in front of you might recline for the whole 14 hr flight, or the in-flight entertainment might consist of a classic movie shown on a screen half a plane away from you. You may not get your vegetarian meal or your wine. There may be enough turbulence that you can't use the bassinette anyway. Have contingency plans for these situations. But, most importantly, see #10.

This is I think the most important mantra a parent can have, for any situation. At home, the shops, on a plane, at the hotel, anywhere. I find it's the times when I've made specific plans, or have my heart set on some me-based activity that things go (as they say here in Australia) pear-shaped. Dreadfully, disappointingly wrong.

There are always options to recover your sanity and even your happiness! All your entertainment options  have been a bust? Pull out your camera and go through photos together. Tell stories out of the magazine. Try peek-a-boo. Take photos of your child - see if you can do a series called Tantrums Across the World.

yep. she'll love me for this one later ...

I'm not trying to be negative here, you'll probably have a great flight with your little one! I do though think it's important to be realistic - things can go wrong. But you know what? You're clever, and creative, and a great mum or dad, so you'll be able to adapt. You'll do this! I mean, you've already done way harder things! So, the bottom line is:

Be prepared
Be adaptable

Um, you say, where did that last one come from? My philosophy is that I make it through any situation if I can find the humour in it. I'm not necessarily suggesting you break into riots of laughter going through US customs ... but if things go poorly somewhere along the track, it'll make a great story, right? Just think of it like your favourite Seinfeld episode ...

So have a great trip! And maybe we'll see you in economy sometime :)

PS. Do you have a great tip? If so, please share it in the comments section! That way we can all use it!

Amanda xx

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Leek and Pumpkin Risotto with Candied Macadamias

I don't know if it was desperation or what, but I finally figured out how to crack into those organic macadamias I bought at the farmers' market - oh - 4 months ago. Let me just say it involved 2 paving stones and was immensely gratifying. 

Macadamias {a Queensland native} are just about the hardest nuts to crack, and there's not a chance your everyday standard nut cracker's going to work. But paving stones? Bricks? Yep. Simply place the maccas on top of a flat paver and crush with another paver. Watch your fingers, and occasional flying nuts. Great fun!

Once I got into the nuts, and had eaten a few too many raw ones, I candied them to put on a simple leek and pumpkin risotto. 


And yes, PUMPKIN RISOTTO. Making me the worst kind of hypocrite - but hey, have you ever seen a pumpkin risotto with candied macadamias? Me, neither. And I tell you what - it's amazing. Really, really yum.

And my way? Very, very easy. I must prefice this by saying that I'm a lazy risotto maker. I get the Zen of standing at the stove stirring {or as Jamie Oliver says - massaging} stock into rice ... but in everyday stovetop life I like to minimise commitment. So this is not a traditional risotto, but is probably one you're more likely to make if you have a 4 year old racing around the dining room living room kitchen laundry deck.

I encourage you to accept your limitations {as I have} and make risotto the Lazy way.
Plus then we're kind of in a club together. Welcome!
Amanda xx

Candied Macadamias

The time
5 min prep + 15 min baking

The ingredients
1 1/2 cups de-shelled raw macadamias
2 Tbs maple syrup
2 Tbs raw sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, spread them across the baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for ~15 minutes, stirring occassionally so they don't all stick together or burn. Cool and EAT. Or sprinkle on risotto (recipe below).

NOTE: Try not to eat too many at this stage or you might not be able to stomach them on the risotto ...

The cost
I got a huge bag of macadamias at the market for $10, but maybe you're lucky and have a tree! {If so, can we be friends?} Made with organic ingredients, this cost me $2-$3. And I didn't use all of them on the risotto.

Lazy Leek and Pumpkin Risotto
serves 3-4

The time
10 min prep + 15 min cooking

The ingredients
2 baby leeks*, the white parts only** washed and sliced
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cups arborio rice
3 cups boiling water {or stock}
1 cup chopped, peeled, roasted butternut squash {aka pumpkin; about 1/4 of one}
4 Tbs butter
1 tsp sea salt, plus extra to taste

+ 1/2 - 1 cup candied macadamias, to taste

*or one regular adult leek
**save the green parts in the fridge for your next batch of veggie stock!

Try to use organic when you can.

The process
1. If you haven't already roasted the chopped pumpkin, do so now. Just toss in a dash of olive oil and roast at 200C (400F) till soft and even slightly charred.

2. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, saute the leeks in the 2 Tbs olive oil until they're soft. Add the uncooked rice and saute a further 2 minutes or so, till the rice starts to become translucent looking. Add the boiling water, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer ~12 minutes, until the water's absorbed and the rice is soft.

3. Remove from heat and add the pumpkin, butter and salt and stir though. I kind of squished my pumpkin a bit - it tends to get eaten better by my child when she can't pick it out. Serve in bowls or on a plate, sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper and candied macadamias and alongside a salad or lightly-steamed green veggie.

The cost
Organic arborio can be pricey, so if you find it on special then stock up. Otherwise, you can substitute regular white rice if you want. I estimate this cost me ~$2 a serve, done organically {and not including the macadamias}.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Creamy Chai Oatmeal with Zucchini and Sweet Potato

I woke up this morning starving. Rolled over in bed, pulled on my wooly sweater and realised I'd given away the loaf of bread I made yesterday.  

Damn me and my perpetual kindness.
Ha ha.

Backup plan? Oatmeal.
I turned on this.

 And then this. 

With rolled oats and milk, leftover chai tea, shredded raw zucchini and sweet potato and lotsa maple syrup, I created oatmeal.

5 minutes later - its short life was over.

And now? I'm going to finish this recipe and curl up in my sleeping bag on the couch and read this - a seriously fantastic adventure novel that's incredibly readable. And free.

Happy Saturday!
Amanda xx

Creamy Chai Oatmeal with Zucchini 
and Sweet Potato
serves 1-2

The veggies in here cook down into the oatmeal, leaving only hints of green and orange within your bowl. Zucchini and sweet potato are excellent companions of chai flavourings (think - cake, or scones) and are more than just added nutrition here - I think they actually enhance the flavour. Give it a go.

The time
5 minutes

The ingredients
2/3 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup milk (or substitute your favourite cookable non-dairy milk)
2/3 cup leftover (or freshly brewed) chai tea
1/4 cup finely shredded raw zucchini
2 Tbs finely shredded raw sweet potato
2 pinches ground cinnamon
1 pinch sea salt

maple syrup and milk, to serve

*Try to use organic if you can!

The process
Put the oats, milk, tea, zucchini everything into a pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and (stirring pretty regularly) cook till the oats are soft and the liquid is mostly absorbed. Serve with cold milk and a hearty drizzle of maple syrup. Share if you like. (I didn't.)

The cost
I always save my extra brewed chai (and other) teas in jars in the fridge for occasions like this. Tea's a great flavour enhancer in baking, and who wants to waste the good stuff? 

This organic oatmeal costs ~$1 a serve. With a free book? You've made money.