April 25, 2017
The sun has set on another Anzac Day, the day New Zealanders and Australians commemorate those who served in wars. It is a public holiday and always rather special – even aside from the important acknowledgment of our forces and our country’s current peace – it is the beginning of autumn, often a bright, bluebird kind of a day, close to Easter and the last public holiday for some time. The meaning and beauty of the day lends itself to family catch-ups, walks, feeling grateful and baking. But five years ago someone made this day significantly more special for us.
B2 was born before dawn, in time to see the sun rise, in a manner that is just like her: on time and textbook perfect. B2 is a stickler for rules. She’s also the only one of my births that went to some kind of plan and didn’t require assistance, as B2 hardly ever requires assistance. I still remember my sleepless, post-birth elation, staring at this perfect being – smooth, flawless skin and rosebud lips, bundled up like a glowworm. B2 was the baby of the family for some time but we should have known she wasn’t destined to stay that way with her resolute independence, huge roar and ceaseless curiosity. She was born in the year of the dragon and has lived up to that creature too – both fierce and shiny, full of fire and magic; something you can’t help but stare at. I cannot wait to see the life she leads. For now she’s off to school and not half-excited about it. She’s been begging for homework for months, literally climbing the walls (well, the columns in the hallways, shimmies up them with her feet like a monkey) when we drop big sister off to her classroom and is busting to join the ranks of the big girls in the playground at lunchtime. I really hope she thrives there. I hope they are prepared for handling her particular brand of firework.
In honour of our joyful, full-of-life, always singing / giggling / roaring Anzac baby and because they happen to be the best version of an Anzac biscuit I have ever eaten, I am sharing this recipe for Anzac squares. These biscuits are caramel and oat, crunch and chew, in exactly the right balance. The trick, in my opinion, is the addition of walnuts, which don’t often feature in an Anzac biscuit but, quite frankly SHOULD. I’m sure you’ll agree after you taste them. They give the biscuit an edge. A complex, resin-y, tannin-y, all-round-pleasing kind of an edge. Drizzling your squares with chocolate is entirely optional and I won’t judge you for doing so. Share these with your babies and the ones that are no longer babies, those that are lurching off on their own new adventures.
1 cup flour
1 cup coconut
2 cups rolled oats
120g walnuts, chopped
pinch of salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla paste / essence
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / 350 fahrenheit and line a shallow baking tin (approx 30cm x 45cm)
Combine flour, coconut, rolled oats, salt and walnuts in a large bowl. Add the sugars and mix well.
Put the butter, golden syrup, sifted baking soda in a saucepan and melt gently together over a medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to froth. Pour into dry ingredients and add vanilla paste / essence.
Stir until well combined and then press mixture evenly into your shallow baking tin.
Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the tin. Bake for a further 5 – 10 minutes until it is golden brown.
Cut into squares while it is still hot. Cool till warm before transferring to a container and storing airtight. Will last up to a month, if they are not all devoured within 24 hours. Can be drizzled with melted chocolate, if you are that way inclined.
Makes 40+ squares
April 12, 2017
We are currently waging a fibre battle. I’m calling it that because somehow not calling it a vegetable or nuts-and-seeds battle is simpler, like breaking the issue down makes it easier to….uh…swallow. The issue is that Little e has decided to join the ranks of other five-year-olds who eschew all things fibrous, which of course includes vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds (basically the best part of food! I keep yelling in my head). It’s not that we were surprised–we’d read the books and had warnings from the internet and real live parents. It happens. But happening with our until-now omnivorous, mostly vegetarian, raw-fish-loving girl? (The sushi is still a safe bet, thank god). Fibre help me.
We’ve been having talks about the microbiome and how it can starve if it doesn’t get the fibre it needs. I’ve bought plush bacteria to help her visualise and we’ve looked at videos of magnified microbes online. It’s all very interesting to her…until there’s broccoli or bell pepper on her plate.
So I took a deep breath last week and tried a recipe I haven’t made in a while, but that, I recalled, did a good job of making a large dose of fibre taste delicious.
Remember bran muffins? Or maybe you eat them regularly? I will admit, they are the muffin I always avoid at the coffee shop. Mostly that’s because I’m more attracted to blueberry or raspberry or banana chocolate, but it’s also because bran muffins can be bad interpretations of sweetened and baked cardboard, am I right? It just seems much more likely to have a bad bran muffin experience than most other muffin experiences.
April 4, 2017
Some time ago I discovered and posted the very best, ultimate chocolate frosting recipe. It’s a recipe I go back to over and over again. Divinely smooth and fudgey, not too sweet, perfectly chocolate-y. But it was time to change it up and devise an ivory version. I had made a chocolate cake for St Patricks Day (and the visit of my husband’s brother, also named Patrick) and decided it needed a froth-on-the-top-of-a-Guinness look. Plus, I have a family full of white chocolate lovers, who were dying to sink their little fingers into some overly abundant frosting.
This recipe is minimally edited from the first recipe but includes some cheats I’ve learned from making Ultimate Chocolate Frosting several times. Er, okay, maybe dozens of times? All in the name of research of course…
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Ultimate White Chocolate Frosting
85 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
120 grams of good quality white chocolate (make sure it contains cocoa butter! I use Whittakers)
1 tsp vanilla extract
140 grams icing sugar
140 grams creme fraiche (approximately 1/2 a tub)
Melt butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, in ten second bursts, checking and stirring each time.
Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl and add the vanilla extract. Whisk to incorporate and then add the icing sugar a quarter at a time, whisking to incorporate (the mixture will look grainy, but don’t worry, it’ll all come together!)
Add the crème fraîche and continue whisking until the frosting is shiny and smooth.
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There you have it. A very easy white chocolate frosting to please your devoted masses. If you really want to get fancy you could top it with berries – fresh or freeze-dried, or citrus slices – candied or dehydrated or even sugared, toasted nuts if you are using it to top a carrot or banana cake. I employed a small helper to pick the flowering rosemary from our front garden and sprinkled the tiny, purple blossoms all over. You could take a similar approach with lavender or other edible blooms.
March 29, 2017
Friends, March just tipped over into spring and the snowdrops are out. The coldest, snowiest winter we’ve seen in a lot of years (because we are spoiled with warm, rainy winters most of the time) has become an archived story filled with even more of those superlative adjectives. Now it’s time to move on.
As in, move house.
The quaint old character home we’ve lived in since before the kids were born is soon to belong to someone else. We are soon to leave this city for a bigger one. Find new friends, playgrounds, bookstores and food spots. Opening the proverbial new chapter.
It’s funny how nostalgia creeps into your thoughts even before you’ve left a place. I’m already walking through rooms picturing them bare and sunlit, like when we moved in. I think about how much younger we were. How much older we are.
I’ve started compiling photos from the seven summers we’ve lived in this house, the first few years concentrating on food and garden, unsurprisingly. Memories of sleeping in and making self-indulgent breakfasts. Long afternoons in the garden digging potatoes, the dog waiting at the edge of the patch for a stray tuber to roll his way. Cutting flowers for the kitchen table.
The second group of photos: the kid-filled ones. The painted wooden stork on the porch that proclaimed both babies’ arrivals. The birthing pool in the living room where The Tiger was born. A multitude of food-splattered faces at the dinner table. Christmases, Easters, Halloweens. All in this house.
We knew we wouldn’t stay here forever. We knew it would be less than a decade. It feels good–really good–to move on. But. This house is ours, and it will be ours forever, even when it’s someone else’s. Just like the house I grew up in, now renovated and repainted and a hundred kilometers away, is still and always will be mine.
This morning Little e’s newest pet, a woodbug, died. She’d had him for fourteen hours. We talked about the lifespans of wood bugs and the abruptness of death and how many other woodbugs exist in our garden and she accepted it all with a five-year-old’s gravity and openness. We talked about memory and gratitude, though not in those terms. Then we went out and found another woodbug.
And soon we go out to find another house, and though there is nothing dead about our current one, it does feel like that sort of loss. A choice to stop and turn. A choice to abort one life-course and start another. All the things we could do in this house will never come to be. We have chosen it that way.
But we will pack those things up and move them somewhere new. We will find new woodbugs in a new garden. Find a new house that could never not be ours, for however long we will be in it, and beyond.
March 21, 2017
I have returned from my whirlwind trip to Macau and Hong Kong. My head is still spinning. Being on the other side of the world, without my little tribe, submerged in a different culture, climate and language, had me feeling discombobulated. And then again, five days later, on re-entry to my family’s orbit – dynamic, fun, unpredictable chaos – I have been scrambling to re-adjust. Could life be busier?! It seems hard to imagine. But, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby nudging her sweet, silky head under my chin, the middle child almost bowling me over on arrival, the eldest eagerly glancing behind me to spy the presents I bought her, their Daddy looking a little worse for wear and genuinely relieved to see me… it sure does make a person feel required / loved. I really missed them.
It was an honour to be invited back to China for The Script Road Festival by festival director, Helder Beja, and his team, all of whom worked very hard to take care of their guests, speakers, musicians, press and public. The very idea of co-ordinating a literary festival blows my tiny mind and they managed it superbly. I am sure, behind the scenes, there was much hidden calamity and downing of stiff drinks. As for me – aside from doing my best to speak about writing and books, in particular, ‘Marjory and the Mouse‘, of course I spent my time consuming every interesting looking thing in sight. I knew you would want me to. I felt it my duty to report back from the front lines.