Good Mum, Bad Mum

It rained all day today, as it did yesterday, and as it’s supposed to do tomorrow. The weather is fine by me–plenty of water for the garden, and I have lots of writing to do–but for the kids, three days of rain in the middle of the summer is hard to manage.

What can a mum do under these circumstances, but bake, and enlist the kids’ help? So we made soft pretzels and zucchini cupcakes (see previous blog post). It doesn’t take all day, now the kids are teens, but it gave them something to do for a little while, and treats to eat afterwards.

I felt like such a good mum…

Then I thought about the fact I let my kids eat soft pretzels, pickles and brie for lunch, with a big frosted cupcake afterwards (not to mention licking the bowl and beaters).

Such a bad mum!

All those times we’ve fed our children healthy, balanced meals…you know what they’re going to remember? Yep. Pretzels and pickles for lunch.

I know this, because the meals I most vividly remember my mother making when I was a kid were the naughty ones–hot apple pie with milk (for dinner–the whole meal!) and raspberry shortcake (again, the entirety of the meal). Those meals were legendary, precisely because they weren’t healthy and balanced. They were naughty and we knew it.

Such a bad mum!

Such a good mum!

Master Chef Sedgemere

An every-day artful display of dinner ingredients.

My husband had just finished making pesto for our dinner pasta. He turned and surveyed the vegetables I’d chopped: yellow and green zucchini, three colours of green beans, baby carrots, fresh peas…

He laughed. “We live in a cooking show sometimes.”

“Yeah, like, every day around five o-clock,” I answered.

I exaggerated, of course, but only slightly. With a garden that produces beautiful vegetables year-round, how can we not end up with beautiful spreads of food in the kitchen every day?

So, hurray for the garden! All we need now is the camera crew…

Kitchen Fumble

I had collected the day’s eggs and was putting them away when one leapt from my hand in a doomed bid for freedom.

My daughter watched it happen. We looked at one another and giggled.

We’re accustomed to kitchen disasters at our house. We spend so much time cooking, preserving, and processing vegetables, we’re bound to make messes.

There have been truely memorable ones…

There was the day I baked a quiche for dinner. When it was done, I pulled out the oven rack the quiche was on, and the quiche slid off the rack and flew out of the oven and onto the floor, pie and broken glass everywhere, and dinner ruined.

There was the time a bag full of several kilos of popcorn tipped over, sending thousands of little corn kernels bouncing and rolling across the kitchen floor.

Probably the most spectacular was a brewing mishap. My husband started a batch of beer, tucked the brewing bucket into a corner of the dining room and, and then went away for a week to a conference.

Two days later, I noticed the lid of the bucket was bulging. I knew it shouldn’t be doing that. I stepped over to the bucket and leaned down to see what was wrong.

With a boom, the bucket exploded into my face. Pressurised beer sprayed across the entire room, the ceiling, and me.

I stood gaping and dripping for a moment before bursting out laughing. What else could I do? It took ages to clean up the mess. By the end, I was grumbling more than laughing. Turns out the airlock had gotten clogged. I rigged up a makeshift airlock that could handle the very active fermentation. My husband came home eventually. The beer was none the worse for the excitement.

So the egg taking a dive onto the floor was nothing, really. It could have been a whole lot worse.

Double Cherry Pie

I picked eight cups of cherries from our tiny sour cherry tree the other day. I was thrilled I’d gotten enough for two pies from a tree not much taller than me! I decided to make them all up into pie filling—I’d make one pie right away, and freeze half for later.

But when it came to filling the pie dough, I poured all eight cups in! Yikes! There was no way to take it back out, and I knew it was going to boil over and be a disaster in the oven.

I shrugged—nothing to do but see what happened—and slipped the pie into the oven (with a tray beneath it to catch drips.

An hour later, I pulled the most glorious pie out of the oven…

It had dripped a little, but no more than every other cherry pie I’d ever made.

And it looked plump and delicious. Each slice was thick and wonderfully overloaded with fruit. Truely decadent!

I’m not sure I’d recommend making a pie with eight cups of cherries—it really could end up a disaster in the oven—but it certainly was a delicious mistake.

The Things We Do for Love

I’m not fond of pickled onions.

To be fair, I haven’t tried pickled onions since I was a kid, so who knows what I think of them today.

But I would never have planted, watered, and weeded pickling onions; I would never have spent a day prepping, brining and canning them for myself. 

No, all that work was for my son. 

He’s never had pickled onions, but I think he will adore them. He eats the garlic cloves from the bottom of the dill pickle jars, and loves onions in every form. 

 

 

So the pickled onions are for him. I’ll be curious to try them myself—maybe I’ll like them, too. Seeing how pretty they are in the jars, I wouldn’t mind an excuse to make them again next year. 

A Cook’s Evolution

It’s a piece of cake…

I made quiche for dinner tonight. Not unusual on a Wednesday.

Not these days, anyway.

There was a time when quiche was a weekend meal. I made the crust, and my husband made the filling. It was a big deal. It certainly wasn’t a task for one person after a full day at work.

There are a lot of meals like that. Meals that used to be daunting, but now are regulars at any time of week.

Part of that is due to my 5-second commute. If I quit work at 5:00, I’m home at 5:00 (provided I’m not distracted by the weeds between my office and the house). I have more time to cook than when I had an hour-long drive to work.

But most of it is the evolution of my cooking skills. Things like pie crusts, homemade noodles and homemade tortillas used to be difficult and apt to cause me frustration by being too wet or too dry. I’ve made them so many times now, I don’t even pull out a recipe anymore. And I’ve refined the recipes so that they’re always the right consistency.

I have an intuitive feel for what needs to be done to cook a meal, so that I work efficiently, taking the opportunity of a minute here or there while something cooks to prepare another dish.

I know when to think ahead, too—putting beans on to soak at breakfast time so making refried beans at dinner is quick and easy, making a pie crust the evening before so that a quiche is as simple as cooking vegetables and tossing them in the pie, making a double batch of labour-intensive dishes so that there are leftovers for the freezer for instant gourmet meals, preserving garden produce in exactly the right quantities and forms so it’s easy and quick to use in our favourite dishes.

The evolution has been slow, and it’s only now and again that I notice it. When I do, I’m always surprised. “When did this become so easy?” By the time I notice, I’ve almost forgotten how difficult it used to be. There are a lot of past hours of stress and frustration behind every beautiful quiche, or stack of tortillas, or homemade ravioli that I casually whip up today.

It’s a good reminder, for those times I see someone else effortlessly doing something I find difficult or impossible. It may be effortless today, but you can bet a whole lot of effort and evolution has gone into making it that way.

Orange Cranberry Scones

In a nod to Thanksgiving, I made orange cranberry scones for Sunday breakfast. Another wonderful use of barley flour. I’ve grown quite fond of barley flour in cakes and pastries–it lends a softness to the texture that is delightful. It also seems to delay baked goods going stale. The remaining scone, pictured here, was just as tender and moist on Monday morning as it had been fresh out of the oven on Sunday.

2 cups barley flour
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
125 g (1/2 cup) cold butter
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup orange juice
grated rind of 1 orange

Combine the flours sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Whisk together the egg, buttermilk, orange juice and orange rind in a separate bowl. Add to the flour mixture, stirring until evenly moistened.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead two or three times. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle about 2 cm (3/4-inch) thick, and cut each circle into eight wedges.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 190°C (375°F) for 20-25 minutes.