Category — Kids and Parenting

Baby’s First Roux 2

September 7, 2017

 

 

This is what happens when you brazenly bake and cook and concoct and discuss food around your children: they become mini foodies. They ask to take cooking classes. They announce plans to become bakers when they grow up. They want to create masterpieces in the kitchen using only water, Cheerios, salt and herbs snipped from the garden.  (I had to taste that one.)

Lately Little e’s been asking to bake things, by which she means stir some ingredients in a bowl and see what happens in the microwave. There’s been a lot of congealing and rubberiness. She’s been delighted.

 

 

So the other day I decided, when asked the same old question–can I bake something today?–to try to slot in a cooking lesson (disguised as fun, of course).

I told her we’d make a white pudding. That sounded AMAZING to her, so off we went…to make a roux.

I know one of the things she likes about cooking–that we all like, I imagine–is the magic, the alchemy of it. We take separate substances and combine them, heat them, change their structure or size, and–abracadabra!–we have a whole new substance. A combination that’s more than the sum of its parts and is, hopefully, tasty.

 

 

I never think about this anymore. I’ve made too many hundreds of dinners, lunches, cakes and puddings to think about what’s actually going on. There’s an end result to get to (before everyone gets hangry). But cooking with kids slows you down, brings you into the moment.

We forget all that we know. All that we take for granted. Butter and flour, heated together into a paste, then slurried with milk? Yeah, that’s a roux, but look what happens! The hot butter cooks the flour, coats it with fat, so that when you add the milk, the flour expands and thickens the liquid evenly, into a smooth sauce. Or in our case, with less milk, a thick pudding. It IS magic. This is wheat and animal fats combining in a way never found in nature. Some ancient human alchemist-cook stumbled upon this strange bit of edible science and we’ve been making it ever since. It’s miraculous, and to my five-year-old, it’s that and more. It’s a symbol of all that she gets to discover, these small and bright secrets of the world.

A tadpole becomes a frog, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, teeth sprout from the smooth, pink gums of a baby. These are some of the things she’s witnessed, and now she’s seen how flour and fat can thicken into something delicious. She knows how to make a roux.

And eat it like pudding.

 

 

What recipes do (or did) your kids like to make?

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting

(Happy Fathers Day to) Our Guy. 7

September 2, 2017

I am not a grown-up. Surely I can’t be a grown-up if I sulk at having to fold the laundry or stack the dishwasher. I can’t be a grown-up if I still don’t quite understand the stock market. I mustn’t be a grown-up if I can’t change a car tyre or properly control my own heating system and regularly go about with odd socks on. Right?? And yet, here I am, grown. And with three whole, smallish, growing humans I am responsible for. Ahem. Co-responsible for.

 

 

Matt and I met when we were even less grown-up than the faux (hahaha no way, really?) grown-up we are now. We met, we married, we made a family. I became a mother and he became a father and we fell neck-deep into impersonating adults. Parenting is an insane thing to share with another person I’ve discovered. It’s terrifying, exposing and incredible. It’s an experience of love so elevating mixed with fear so searing and banality so deathly dull it cannot adequately be described. It certainly cannot be prepared for. Through parenting Matt and I have never been more tested. Parenting has torn us apart and soldered us back together, a scrappy, patched-up mess. Our marriage, our grown up-ness, if you could see it, probably looks like something ungraceful and tattered, made stronger from its tears and scars, robust and delicate, worn and hopeful. At this point, almost ten years in and with three madcap daughters in tow, the love and laughter we share is earned and hard won. Magic and luck has run low and hard graft has had to make up for the shortfall.

 

 

As parents Matt and I are utterly imperfect. I shout too much and lose my cool too quickly. We are often on our phones when we should be paying attention. We say and do the wrong things, all the time. Except, of course, when we manage to the right thing, which does happen too. Before I had kids I thought that loving them would be enough and that loving them would see us through everything. I had complete blind faith in loving as the clear and simple answer to absolutely everything. Now I know that loving isn’t always enough. There are things that loving cannot miraculously, instantly fix. But it is something. It’s a big something.

 

 

Matt loves our girls and me; he loves us like crazy. Sometimes, when he’s staring at one of our daughters, I can see the love in his face, in his eyes; love so fierce and explosive he could spontaneously combust. Into rainbows. He is perpetually cuddly and steadfastly protective of us. He is probably more optimistic than I am, more likely to think that things are fine even when they are a bit not-fine. He works doggedly and in earnest, with unfailing integrity. He believes in us all madly; is completely convinced we are the best people on the planet. Even when he comes home grumpy or distracted he can still make us laugh, can still act like a huge, charming (somewhat irritating) toddler and have us in stitches. He looks at us like we are the most beautiful beings he has ever seen. He is, undoubtedly, a good Dad.

 

Matt wasn’t very keen on being interviewed but I persevered and eventually he paused the Netflix. That’s right, take note, he paused the Netflix for you guys. So you’d better read his answers and comment and make him feel good, or you might never hear from him again…

 

Hi Matt. So, who are you (other than what you do for a job)?

 

I’m a man who loves his family, who wants to enjoy life to the fullest and see amazing places and watch my children grow with my wife beside me.

 

What are some of your favourite things?

 

The ocean, the snow, my children, my family, markets, farms, meat, barbecue, soup… I have this idea lately of cooking heaps of onions and making a French onion soup.

 

What are some of your least favourite things?

 

Selfishness, egos, judgmental people, balloons, wind, Auckland winters – being hot one minute and cold the next.

 

What’s the best thing about your kids?

 

They are thoughtful with each other. They respect each other. They are kind people.

 

What do you wish for?

 

To see my children’s children, with my wife by my side. To travel places with my wife by my side. For my wife to take up skiing and love it.*

 

How did you meet Hannah?

 

She worked with me in my first job in NZ. She came into my office and I remember thinking “Wow.”

 

Tell us something funny about your love story…

 

Something funny about it? I’m not sure it’s really funny but we did snog at a Christmas party. I shared with her that I’d had lightening bolts about her. That seemed to do the trick. We got married two years later.

 

Describe your marriage in three words

 

Love, laughter and gratitude.

 

Anything else you’d like to say

 

I believe you get one life and you should live it how you want to, don’t listen to anyone else. Be nice to people. Be polite. Love a lot.

 

 

Thank you, Matt. You are a good Dad and bloody decent grown up. We love you a lot. Happy Fathers Day to all the great Dads out there, being imperfect, being great.

 

Hannah x x x

 

* Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No.

In: From Hannah, How She (or he) Does It, Interviews, Kids and Parenting

The scales, the number and me. 13

August 2, 2017

Today I threw out my scales. Actually, I put them in the garage; more on that later. At any rate they are hereby banished.

 

 

As a kid there were always scales in our bathroom. Slid away somewhere but easy to get to. I don’t remember when I first became interested in the scales or when they become more than some strange device that gave a number – no more meaningful than a Magic 8 ball or one of those folded paper fortune tellers. Some time around the beginning of high school, I think. Then, all of a sudden the scales seemed to hold a lot more weight (pun intended). Firmly entrenched in a system of measures to evidence worthiness – A’s and B’s, percentages assigned to various projects – school, I’m talking about here – I discovered that the scales gave a single, golden measure. One number to indicate real success! Success that all other successes – popularity, self-control, an elegant, easy, fortune-favoured life – were founded on. The Ultimate. One perfect number.

 

Or, as it turned out, a perpetually imperfect number.

 

After high school I moved around a lot. Australia, England, China, Canada. Always, when I was back home, I stepped on the scales and checked my number. My personal number fell within a pretty broad range. If I clocked in at the bottom of that range then I was momentarily elated, at the top and I was mortified, my self-esteem shoved through a paper shredder. And somehow, even when my number was low, my inner dial always swung quickly back to shame. I didn’t trust myself to get or stay light. When I was, temporarily, light, I was never light enough.

 

Eventually, after all my travelling, I headed back to New Zealand, a fully fledged “grown up”. In my packing boxes I brought home with me many health and wellness (let’s be honest, even though they weren’t, diet) books, charts and diaries in which I had tracked my weight and my very own set of scales, the ones now banished. I bought my scales at Ikea. Because there is no Ikea in New Zealand products from Ikea are endowed with an odd kind of mystique. They are thought of as sleek, uber-functional and exotic. Superior. Exactly the kind of kudos I gave the scales themselves. When I moved into my first home, now married and with two daughters of my own, I slid the scales under my own bathroom cabinet. Then I watched as my daughters slid them back out again and stood on them and asked “What does the number mean, Mummy?”

 

 

What does the number mean? When I was pregnant with my first child, in Vancouver, my midwives weighed me at each visit. It made me skittery and nauseous to be measured in front of others, to watch them record my failing score. When they asked me about my mental health I confessed the ways I’d tried to control my number over the years. They asked if I preferred not to be weighed. I was flummoxed. Not weighing me, was that an option? How would they know if I was doing well? If I was “winning”? If I was doing good by my baby? They shrugged and replied that there were many, many other indicators for Mum and baby’s good health, all of them much better than a number on a scale. Really? There are better numbers?

 

What does the number mean? I’ll tell you what I’ve learnt. I have two photos on my kitchen wall – I weigh a lot more in one but in both I have exactly the same expression. When I look at those photos I know that having a low number on the scales has not led to a long-term, sustainable improvement in my happiness. I’m no more “successful” in one photo, at one weight, than I am in the other. I got a bit more social kudos at a lower weight, perhaps, but there weren’t any ticker tape parades. When I weighed less I felt no less lonely when I was feeling lonely. I felt no less sad when I was feeling sad. When I was convinced of my unworthiness my number did not pass me a glass of champagne and fill the empty hole in my soul; I just felt unworthy. The magical number made no real, sustainable difference whatsoever. It didn’t “fix” me, it didn’t make my life better or transform me into a better person. It didn’t change me and it certainly didn’t change the world. The number wasn’t magic at all.

 

 

But over my adult life, I have given the number a monumental amount of importance. I allowed the number to be the most important goal. I did a lot of very unhealthy, damaging things to affect the number and allowed myself to become consumed by my consumption. My life, my mind, was shaped by my shape. I had the worst thoughts about myself and spent days, months, probably years if I added it all up, flagellating myself about the number. In that time I could have learned a language! Written a novel! Learned a language and written a novel! And no matter what I did or thought the number did not stay the same, it was never small enough and it changed nothing, nada. It never made me supremely happy, whole or complete.

 

Faced with the choice of continuing an obsession with a number on a scale, and all the associated shame and frustration that has brought me, or discontinuing the obsession – I am finally choosing to ditch the scales. I’m going to be honest here, this is somewhat terrifying. Think of an object that represents something really important, something you really value – your wedding rings, your baby’s first booties, your University degree, a note from a grandparent, and now, imagine chucking that object out. Does your stomach sink? Do you feel a bit sick? That’s how I feel. Horribly, irrationally, terrified. And, at the same time, I know it’s the right thing to do. I know that number-checking and number-chasing and number-idolizing is pointless and fruitless. It’s a brutal, unhappy waste of my time. I have over twenty years of personal evidence.

 

Ditching the scales is just the beginning of a new chapter for me. I don’t know what life is going to be like when I am no longer checking my number; when my number just is what it is and I don’t even know what it is. When I am learning to give up trying to change my number. The few days before I banished my scales, knowing that I was going to, I suddenly started checking my number several times a day. Like a weird, grieving person, very afraid to let go. But let go, I did.

 

As for why my scales are in garage and not in the bin? Partly, I’m scared. Partly, I could come up with only one good reason for keeping them, one worthy circumstance for checking the number and that is: suitcases. The only number I want to monitor with my scales is the weight in my cases, the excess in my luggage. When I’m spending my precious time adventuring the planet. With precious daughters who know only dust beneath the bathroom cabinet.

 

At least that’s the plan. Wish me luck.

 

Hugs,

Hannah

x

In: Food, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting

Proust and my Five-Year-Old 3

July 26, 2017

 

I’ll preface this by saying these are NOT the real Proust Questionnaire questions (designed to reveal a person’s true nature), but modified and shortened versions of some of the originals. I doubted my five-year-old could sit through answering 36 of them…though now I wonder if she actually would have. She really enjoyed it. She even asked, when we’d finished, for me to read everything over to her. She laughed at her own responses.  Now I want to do this with every five-year-old I meet. You should too!

Enjoy.

 

The Proust Questionnaire As Answered By My Five-Year-Old

 

1. What makes you really really happy?

Um, going in space.

2. What are you most afraid of?

Nothing.

3. Do you ever lie about anything?

…No?

4. Which person or thing do you love the most?

I’m going to choose a person and a thing. I love you the most and my favourite food is strawberries and mango. And can I do a favourite animal? My favourite animal is a cuttlefish and an octopus.

5. When is your happiest moment in the day?

I think I like the nighttime. Because it has stars and I like to count some of them and look out for some nocturnal animals. I like to look for the big dipper and wake up late like a raccoon or a flying squirrel or an owl.

 

 

6. What thing would you like to be really good at?

Um, doing weather person stuff. Because it’s cool and I haven’t done that before. I haven’t practiced, but I just thought it would be nice to grow up as a weather girl.

7. If you died and came back as a person or a thing, what would you like to be?

I would like to be a donkey and a horse because I like them.

8. Where would you most like to live?

In different places. Like Victoria and Nanaimo and China. And what is that place…? ITALY!

9. What is your most precious possession?

My jewelry because I like shiny stuff and it’s shiny. Shiny is one of the most important things I need.

10. What do you think is the most important thing in a friend?

Um, nice and kind. A friend should not hit or punch. They should not do anything like that. A friend needs to be nice to you and care about you when you get hurt and help you get up and help you get a Bandaid. Friends definitely don’t kick their friends. They don’t scream at their parents or friends. They don’t whine. They don’t say, “Awwww, IIII waaant a driiiink!”

11. What are your favourite books?

Library books and home books. Animal books, dictionaries…What are dictionaries? [I explain] Yeah, I like dictionaries. Joke books, math books. Bird books. Dinosaur books. I like to study dinosaur bones with books.

12. Who is your biggest hero?

I don’t have one because I haven’t met one yet.

13. What is your favourite name?

Um, Harley and Emma. They’re pretty.

14. What is something you really really don’t like?

Hitting and punching and whining.

15. How would you like to die?

I would like to be digging dinosaurs when I die. When I die I want to go under a rock. Buried.

16. What are some words that show who you are?

I’m a person, not a monkey. I sort of have a teeny tail. It’s pretty short. And I know who I am. I’m [Little e].

 

In: From Ria, Kids and Parenting

Anatomy of a Birthday Cake VI 2

July 6, 2017

 

I just realised the last time I posted in this birthday cake series was a year ago. Oops. Guess I missed a kid’s birthday in between. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t recall what cake we made Little e–because she had a cake, you can be sure of that. It was good, I’m sure. Probably so complex I couldn’t find a spare second to take out the camera and get decent process photos.

This year, The Tiger was too busy playing cars and having Paw Patrol adventures on the living room floor to tell me what cake he wanted (or, actually, in reply to the question, he said, “Train. Boat. Dine-saur. Have a snack?”). So I made an executive decision. Actually several.

1. It would be a lion. I have no idea why.

 

 

Since we just moved and haven’t fully unpacked the kitchen (our old place was bigger), I simply could not locate the large sheet pan I use for birthday cakes and spend a crazed ten minutes wondering how on earth I was going to manage. Enter one life-saving revelation: cupcakes. Suddenly I was (quietly) brilliant. A round layer cake in the middle and a circle of cupcakes around it to make it larger–and serve as the mane! And the ears! I fricking was brilliant! And Google showed me several other brilliant people who had had the same brainwave. I felt kinship with these anonymous folk.

2. It would have ermine icing.

I knew I wanted to cut back on as much sugar as possible but still make a sponge cake and a generous amount of icing. I started experimenting with a kind of icing I’d had years before, when visiting my sister in Ohio when she was at university. It’s called ermine icing or boiled milk frosting (to which I say the former name definitely gets my vote, since ermine are possibly the cutest kind of weasel there ever could be). It’s an unusual concotion and method for someone used to buttercreams, but oh my goodness, does it make a nice light icing–and with much less sugar, since the sugar is not the ingredient providing structure; the milk and flour are. Yes, milk and flour. Are you still with me?

I added a freeze-dried mango powder I’d been saving for ages, which Hannah had sent me upon my astonished comment that such a marvel existed. For the mane I added almost a whole melted bar of Lindt milk chocolate (chocolate-mango icing: yes please, right?) to the remainder after covering the lion’s face.

3. It would feature a mango curd filling. Just because.

 

 

And even though it was, as usual, a mad dash to the end and I was still finishing the piping as our guests arrived, it did, as usual, work out. And it was tasty. Thank goodness (as usual).

Cake: Nigella Lawson’s buttermilk birthday cake (also see this cake I made last year)

Icing: Ermine Icing from The New York Times but flavoured with freeze-dried mango powder (sent lovingly by Hannah!)

Filling: Mango curd from Smitten Kitchen.

Whiskers, etc: natural liquorice, half-square of milk chocolate (nose) and dried cherries (eyes)

 

XO

Ria

 

 

In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting, Seasonal