Category Archives: Keeping House

Busy Fingers #1

Note – I wrote this one a month ago and am only just getting around to posting it now.  Hence all the references to “Advent” and “December”.  I tried to fix it, but it was getting too complicated.  I hope you can cope with this blast from the past…

crochet angel

My fingers have been very busy this Advent season. Here’s why:

 

1. Something about Christmas fills me with the urge to create things with my hands.

2. I prefer to spend my time with a bag of yarn and a box set of Little Dorrit than doing battle with a shopping centre car park.

3. I get to tell myself I’m being all anti-consumerist and sticking it to the man.

4.  I’ve been invited to two weddings this December, and as a result have NO MONEY for expensive presents.  All my money fell down the wishing well…

Here’s what I made for Harry’s and Christopher Robin’s teachers:

group of crocheted angels

These angels are TOTALLY MY OWN PATTERN.  I’m so excited!  OK, so maybe I got lacy wings idea from a book I got from the library and I did steal Lucy Ravenscar’s method of joining the head to the body without fastening off, but the rest of it is ALL ME.  If you look closely, you can see that some of the angels have different body-types – it took me a while to refine the pattern…

Back of angel

I might just put a tutorial up for these sometime next year…

Decorated gingerbread

We also gave them gingerbread in jars, using The Green Dragonfly’s excellent recipe.  All of the kids helped to make these.  Annie ate all her dough, and Christopher Robin got rather creative in his choice of biscuit shapes, but I bit back the strong urge to fix the wonky ones and let them roll and cut to their hearts content.  We decorated with white fudge writing icing, but I wouldn’t recommend it (it doesn’t set properly).

gingerbread in jars

All of the teachers were very happy with their Christmas presents, and I was glad of the opportunity to thank them for taking care of my boys this year.

Stay tuned for more – I’m afraid you don’t have a choice!

On Writing

Pretty notepad with pen, tea and chocolate

Disclaimer: I suspect this is going to be an insufferably self-indulgent and introspective post.

Suffer.

I love writing. I get such a rush from words tumbling out and jostling for position on the screen or in my ratty notebook.  There is a delicious agony in searching for the right word or the perfect one-liner. I am filled with glee when I finish a piece and it’s done, it’s definitely done and I can totally publish it.  And knowing that I have readers as lovely as you is pure bliss.  I think I know now what I want to be when I grow up.

And here’s the funny part: I think that my job as a stay-at-home-mum fits perfectly with this plan.

I feel a little nervous saying this – in any other profession, it’s perfectly OK to say you love working and that your job is full of fun perks, but the role of full-time Domestic Engineer is fraught with emotional landmines.

You see, we’re all a little bruised by the idea put about that we’re spoiled rich ladies who spend our days wearing pearls and watching infomercials.  Or that we’re a little bit stupid and child-care (being such an unworthy pursuit) is all our poor intellects are capable of. Or that we’re so insufferably dull, we need to surround ourselves with children as a distraction.

This makes us rather defensive.

As a result, we flood social media with earnest posts about how SAHMs should be earning a CEO’s salary for all the work they do (often accompanied by a Vishnu-like diagram depicting all the roles they play); stories of husbands who try to do the work of their stay-as-home wife and fall apart after Day 1 (“I had no idea!”); and heartwarming video clips that involve evocative piano music, baby’s first steps and advertisements for a South East Asian phone company.

I feel like a traitor to the cause admitting I really like what I do – and not just for the worthy reasons like “being there for my kids” and “hearing Baby’s first words” – the lifestyle really suits me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a proper career as a writer and I see this time at home not as a delay or a roadblock, but as a gift.  Time to practice and develop my skills before I try it on for real.

In fact, I’ve been thinking about it so much, I’m going to write a whole separate blog post about it.

Stay tuned.

PM Essay

I’d like to start with a small apology to all the gentlemen who might be reading this (yes: both of you!)  This post will touch on the topic of – ahem! – hormones…

Most times of the month, I’m a fairly patient, laid-back, easygoing sort of person.  But, twelve times a year, I transform into a short-tempered, moody, destructive maelstrom.  Like a werewolf, but the sort that gets weepy watching superannuation commercials.

I’m a bit that way at the moment.  I’m feeling rather down on myself at the state of my house.  Two weeks of school holidays have taken their toll and the house is dysfunctional with mess.  It’s all dishes and clutter and Lego and loom bands and crumbs and random artefacts that look important yet seem to belong nowhere.

And clothes.  I think Strega Nona must have broken into my laundry and stirred my washing basket with her magic spoon.  Now I have so many dirty clothes, they’re spilling out the door.  It won’t be long before they take over the village…

Strega Nona with her pasta pot

I’ve been going a little nuts about it all.  Mr Knightley’s delightful-but-Type-A friend came over today and while I knew I couldn’t get the house to the level that Type A would consider ‘tidy’, I wanted at least to lift it out of the state of embarrassing neglect that made us look like the victims of a sock-and-duplo explosion.  As a result, I spent the morning venting and vacuuming and shouting and sweeping.  I bit everybody’s head off several times and, internally, I was biting my own head off (“What is WRONG with me?  WHY can’t I keep a tidy house?  How is it POSSIBLE that this many items can fit in the space under one couch?”) . I barked at Matilda for leaving her hardly-worn clothes on the school-room floor (she’d changed her mind on what to wear today, it would seem), roared at Christopher Robin for leaving his shoes all over the house, snapped at Harry for singing an inane song ad infinitum , wailed at Annie as she painted the table with cornflakes-and-milk, and ranted at the house in general about how hard it is to be me.

Mr Knightley, who had quietly wiped down the kitchen stove and benchtops, convinced me to stop for a minute and then swiftly administered coffee and chocolate.  It worked for a short time, but, really, I was beyond help.  It wasn’t long before I was again storming about the place, sometimes muttering darkly, sometimes screeching like a car alarm.  At lunch time, I snapped peevishly at Matilda, “that’s my seat!  Can’t you see my soup’s there already?”, but then I realised she was putting a note in my place.  Here it is:

Note from Matilda

If you can’t make out her handwriting, this is what it says:

“1 FREE NIGHT AT THE SPA

To Mum,

When you said “I was going to have a nice relaxing bath tonight but it’s too messy”  (I did say that last night, in another PMS-fuelled rant) I thought I’d give you this to say thanks for letting me have nice relaxing baths when I’m tired and worn out.  So I’ll clean the bathroom and you can borrow one of my Pippi soaps.

Love from

Tilly”

I felt rather small.  I had been awful to everyone all morning and my nine-year-old daughter still had the grace to treat me with generosity and understanding.  I gave her a fierce hug and cried copiously and surreptitiously into my soup.  But I’m fine, really I am.

Just don’t show me any superannuation commercials any time soon…

 

Gluten-Free Sticky Tape Pudding

Time for another recipe post!  This is my best-ever recipe and so much fun to make.  I get lots of requests for this recipe, and not just because it’s gluten-free.  There is plenty to keep little hands occupied as well, so a good recipe for engaging children who would otherwise be painting the carpet with Jalna Natural Greek Yoghurt.  Here’s what you need:

Ingredients

1 cup dates (chopped)
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 cup boiling water
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup gluten-free plain flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons (40g) butter

Butterscotch Sauce

2/3 cup thin cream
50g butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla

You will also need:

A mixing bowl
A whisk
Some sort of medium sized (over 2 cup capacity) and heatproof jug or bowl (for dates and boiling water)
A measuring cup
Scales (for the butter, but if you don’t have any, you can estimate by the way you cut it, or measure with a tablespoon)
A 20cm round cake tin, lined with baking paper (the shallow sort you would use two of to make a sandwich cake) – this is the same tin you would use to make the Half-Eaten-Apple Teacake

A saucepan and wooden spoon for the sauce

kitchen helpers

Oh I love this photo so much.  Look at my boys in their aprons!  I need to pull this photo out every time I feel like I’m failing as a mother.   Step one is to chop up the dates.  This is a good ones for the kids to do (with butter knives) whilst you sneak about measuring the other ingredients and doing the messy stuff.  Preheat the oven to 160 C (325 F).  Oh, and put the kettle on, if you haven’t already done so (cup of boiling water, remember?)

dates,hot water and bicarb

Once you’ve chopped about a cup’s worth of dates, put them in your heatproof bowl or jug and add  a cup of boiling water and a teaspoon of bicarb.  Gather the children around to watch it fizz!

dates and butter

Then add the butter, whilst the water is still hot, so it melts into the hot water.  Put this mixture aside to cool.

DSCF4937

Now crack your egg into the big mixing bowl and use the whisk to beat it.

brown sugar

Then add the packed brown sugar (it’s like a sandcastle!  This is Christopher Robin’s favourite part)

mix it

Stir it in with the vanilla (or you can put the vanilla in with the date mix, it doesn’t really matter – I didn’t have any vanilla on the day I made this one anyway!)

flour

Now add all the other ingredients (flour and date mix).  I tend to alternate between the two – mix in a little flour, then some date mix.  Repeat.

in tin

Tip it into the cake tin.  Don’t worry if it seems a little runny:  that’s how it’s supposed to be!

Bake it in the oven for around 50 minutes.

baked pudding

At this point, you could just serve it as a date cake, but nothing beats sticky tape pudding, so pull out your saucepan and put the butter, cream, brown sugar and vanilla into it.  Warm it up over a medium heat until it boils, then turn it down to low and let it simmer for five minutes or so.  Keep stirring it the whole time.

saucepan

Here, we really need a money shot of a slice of the pudding with the sauce on top and a scoop of icecream melting slightly against it.  Or, perhaps a series of such gratuitous pictures.  But the problem is, whenever it gets to this point in proceedings, I get so excited I end up eating it before I remember to take a picture.  This has happened on multiple occasions.

Instead, here are some pictures that Google has to offer:

pudding porn 1

pudding porn 2

pudding porn 3

I hope I don’t get into trouble for sharing these pudding porn photos.  Please don’t sue me – I’ll take them down if you want me to!

This serves 8 to 12, depending on how small you cut it.  Enjoy!

Half-Eaten-Apple Teacake

I’ve decided if I’m going to be a serious Mummy blogger, I’d better start posting some recipes.  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?  Here’s one of my favourites.  My great aunty used to bake apple teacake with me when I was small so it comes with warm and comforting memories.  I always wanted to be the sort of mum (does she even exist?) who has some sort of teacake ‘on hand’ when friends drop by.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  A girl can dream.

Hmm.  A girl can read a little too much Anne of Green Gables than is healthy for her too.

This particular recipe is gluten free.  Of course, you can use regular flour if you like, but I’m just saying it works really well as a gluten free cake – not all cakes do.

OK, enough waffling, on to the recipe!

half-eaten apples

My son is incapable of eating an entire apple.  Why finish this one when I can just trot off and start another?   It drives me to distraction.

There are lots of things you can do with these discarded apples, I suppose.  Some people stew them, some juice them, Mr Knightley cuts them up into coin shapes and rebrands them as “apple money” which the kids think is the best thing ever.

But when I was feeling a craving for apple tea cake, I realised all at once that I could make something wonderful from these little green cast-offs. So here we go.

I should probably point out here that these pictures were taken during my first attempt at the cake and I’ve learnt some extra things since then.  The most important point being that you really only need enough half-eaten apple to make up one full-sized one.  I have far too many in this picture!

bad bits cut off

So: chop off the bad bits (that big apple would have been enough…)

sliced apples

And slice them up.  Slice them as thin as you can – I’ve done it a bit too chunky in this picture.  Why include this picture if it shows far too many apples all sliced the wrong way?  Because I took it, by gum!  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to photograph what you’re doing whilst baking a cake with two little boy helpers?  No?  Well sit down and stop complaining!

Ahem!  Sorry, I got a little carried away there, dear reader.  No more berating, I promise.  Here’s our ingredients list:

65g butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour
1/3 cup milk
thinly sliced half-eaten apples – 1 apple’s worth

Cinnamon topping

10g butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons caster sugar

You will also need:

A mixing bowl
An electric mixer (handy, but not essential)
A wooden spoon
A 20cm round cake tin, lined with baking paper (the shallow sort you would use two of to make a sandwich cake)

The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it from things you already have in your cupboard.  I have no time for recipes with exotic ingredients!

Now, before you start, preheat the oven to 180 degrees (or 160 fan forced)  (that’s 350 / 320 Farenheit, for my American friends)

cake batter

So beat up the softened butter until it gets a little paler, then add the sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix with an electric mixer (or stir up heaps with a wooden spoon).

cake mix

Turn off the electric mixer and hand out the beaters to lick.  That should get you five minutes worth of peace.  Now stir in half the flour and half the milk, then the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk.  Make sure nobody dips their beater back in once they’ve licked it clean.

fake cake

Now pour the batter into the cake pan.  I forgot to take a picture of this stage, so I stole one from the Internet instead.  Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.

Arrange the apple slices on the top and bake for 25-30 minutes.

bakedcake

Mary looking at cake

Mary looks impressed.

While it’s still warm, rub the 10g (a little knob) of butter onto the cake so it melts.  Or, if you’re like me and forget, melt it in the microwave and brush it on later.  Then sprinkle with the sugar mixed with cinnamon.

finished cake

This tastes best if it’s still warm, but still pretty good when it’s cooled.  I made this for my mummy friends on Friday and thus fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions as a stay-at-home mum.  Bliss.

The first time I made this, of course, I had far too much apple left over.

Anyone for apple money?