Sunday, February 28, 2010

Not Macarons

A busy but rewarding weekend. While Andrew was in Katoomba yesterday, Toby went to a party at Airborne Gymnastics and Jossie worked on her science project at home with Eden. I made my third attempt at macarons and had my first significant failure. Look at these sad babies with no feet.

Thankfully, failed macarons make decent biscuits so when I brought them to the Halbisches this afternoon as raspberry and white chocolate biscuits, no one seemed to miss the feet.

Andrew came home from Men's Convention at around 11.30pm and I used the evening I had without him to watch a DVD (also belonging to Tim) of a film that I love but which bored Andrew and others to tears - Lost in Translation. I think it is brilliant. "Evelyn Waugh was a man", so cool!

This evening, after having been out all day, we bought pizza and went to the Botanic Gardens. The new playground is big hit.

The sun was in the wrong spot to get a good photo of the wonky mirror in the maze. The mirror didn't make us headless, that was the sun. It did make us short and fat, though, here is the real Jossie.

The flying fox is the most fun and one day, when there aren't many people round, I'm going to have a go myself.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pouring Wine with the Mayor

I'm hoping to have a less forgetful weekend than last. Firstly, I forgot to pick up my bike from work, having not been able to ride home during the week thanks to a meeting. Then I forgot to ring Mum on her birthday. Thankfully I hadn't completely forgotten and the present arrived on time! Andrew lent me his bike to ride in on Monday morning so I still got to ride to work, cutting a fine figure with the Ice Age II backpack replacing the one that was at work with my bike. Not that my usual circa 1980s Mambo backpack is any more elegant.....

We watched District 9 on Saturday night and it was quite a harrowing experience. I had made myself a lovely pot of Earl Grey, served in my Queen of Hearts teacup on my Chatsworth tray. I had half a cup before I started feeling ill and wasn't able to drink any more. It was a good film, just not terribly enjoyable, I really don't like it when people throw up. I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog and it, in contrast, was a joyous experience. It's a celebration of tea, cake, books, film, the mind and the joy of life. I was moved to tears and highly recommend it!

Isn't she great? I bought this photo to use in the promotions for our event on Tuesday night, Revisiting Retro Recipes. There is a travelling display in the library at the moment on the history of cookbooks in Australia. We thought of a few different events we could put on to complement it, but decided to go with a talk on the dinner party menus of the 50s, 60s and 70s with a demonstration of a recipe and tasting. My friend Sara is a head teacher in hospitality at TAFE so, with both our organisations loving a partnership, we are doing it together. I'm talking about the 50s and 60s and Sara, the 70s and the demo. We both have dresses like the one above so we are going to dress up - what fun! We're on the lookout for blue eye-shadow and frosted pink lippy. I am hoping to video it so we can put it on YouTube.

I'm thinking of asking the Mayor to come and pour the wine for us on Tuesday night as I did my Responsible Service of Alcohol training yesterday and he was there too! I came in , not late but not early either (I stopped for coffee) and chose a seat up the front. Most of the people there were very young and I was rather sorry I couldn't people watch from my seat. The training was at TAFE so I had lunch with Sara which made the day very pleasant. Now I can pour wine at library events.

During the afternoon break, just before we sat the open book exam (!), I was reading On Love: a Novel by Alain de Botton. I love the way he writes and whenever he quotes Proust, I feel the need to write it down. The chapter was on beauty and apparently, Proust once said that classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination. How wonderful! The narrator went on to say that although his beloved would not grace the pages of Vogue, in love he had animated her face with her soul. Sigh......

Andrew went to Katoomba yesterday afternoon for Men's Convention with Andrej and some other blokes. Alice needed to go to a women's event and so Andrew and Sophie were put to bed at our house. Bethany gave them her room and she got to do her favourite thing - sleep in Jossie's bunk. Jossie made the experience all the more exciting by leaving her a present. The note says 'Keep him Bethany, Love Jossie.

In between telling people to be quiet, get back into bed and go to sleep, I watched Garden State which I borrowed from Tim ages ago. It was really good - did you think it was lost Tim?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Rest Day

I have been having Wednesdays off during February to coincide with Bethany's rest days. From March she will go to school full time but, for the moment, we are enjoying a rest day in the middle of the week. Last Wednesday one of the mums organised for us all to meet in the Botanic Gardens to play. Morning tea in the park? Definitely time to try out my new biscuits cutters. I love the teapot so much!

I did ice them (pretty in pink) but forgot to take a photo. Narelle stopped off for coffee on the way but I had run out of time, thanks to the biscuit icing, and was most pleased when the coffee van drove up. There is a café in the park but it isn't the sort you buy coffee at, if you know what I mean.

Bethany and Hannah enjoyed the swings and Bethany is almost at the point of swinging herself, she just needs a few pushes to start.

The flying fox was a big hit with all the kids. I don't know how Heidi, heavily pregnant as she is, got the job of pushing everyone. I could have taken over but there where photos to take....

It took a bit of effort getting her on that seat but Bethany was very keen. Whee!

Despite their beautiful feet, the macarons I made last week were not quite right. They began to weep pretty quickly and in the end I had to pick them up with a spoon! I couldn't wait to try again so on Saturday morning I did just that. I reduced the sugar by a third, made sure the granulated sugar was beaten in well and put the oven on the temperature recommended by Tartelette (a full 60 substantial Celcius degrees lower than the recipe I used last week). Success on the feet front and the lower temperature meant that they didn't lose the delicate green of the pistachios. They were terribly sticky underneath, though, so I popped them back in the oven for a bit which wasn't the best idea. Now they are a bit on the crunchy side, but still delicious, especially with the pistachio buttercream filling.

Two batches of macarons means two lots of three spare egg yolks. The first lot went into the silky smooth, kahlua scented puddings below. The others went into the lemon polenta sandwich cookies from Not Quite Nigella. Obsessed with baking? Moi? (For those concerned, I haven't put any of the weight back on and it has been almost two months.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


These pistachios are so fabulous.

I just had to make truffles to roll in them.

The white chocolate and coconut ones were for Andrew and I took the rest to work. It was a good day :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Joy of Feet

A little over a year and a half ago, Andrew and I went to Ladurée on the Champs Élysée, having been told, via our guidebook, that the macarons were a necessary purchase in Paris. The book was right, there was a stunning array of flavours and colours and I bought two litle boxes full. One of those boxes continues to give pleasure as it is our communal coffee box at work, holding money and the card that entitles us to one in seven free coffees.

I hadn't heard of macarons before I was in Paris, though I had made many an ordinary macaroon. Since then they seem to be everywhere online (there are no real ones to be seen in Wagga, sadly). There are long blog posts and tutorials on the tips and tricks required to make proper macarons. I must confess that while I love baking and do a fair bit of it, I felt the fear of failure. Still, armed with the book Kristy lent me, and some fabulous Harefield pistachios, I made my first attempt.

Without the help of green food colouring, the pistachio tint is subtle. I don't think I stirred them enough in the macaronnage stage (!) as they do still have tiny peaks.

I checked them before they were due to be finished and discovered they were getting very brown, which rather spoilt the green effect. The recipe I followed said to cook them at 190 C, which I thought seemed a bit hot but I took 20 degrees off for my fan-forced oven and went with it. I had a look at Tartelette's recipe when I noticed the browning and she cooks hers, for the same amount of time, at 140 degrees! Consequently, mine are a bit brown and possibly not as well cooked inside as they ought to be. For my first attempt, however, I am thrilled because they have the required feet! (That's the frill around the bottom).

They aren't perfect, indeed they are weeping a little bit now which I attribute to the shortened cooking time, but they taste pretty good. The mixture was delicious too, though very sweet. I decided to fill them with something less sweet to compensate.

I filled them with crème patissière so am calling them pistachio and custard macarons :)

For those uninterested in macarons, I have shots of Bethany in rollerblades. They were given to her by my friend from work, Jen, and she has been desperate to give them a go.

I wouldn't say she can skate yet, but it was a positive experience and she is looking forward to acquiring awesome skating skills.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Freedom in the rain

I have finished a long week of marking. I finished early enough on Thursday evening to celebrate by watching Midsomer Murder. Yes, I celebrate with the number one show for the over 55s......... Last night I was at a meeting but this morning had a delightful sleep in.

Bethany went to a party, this morning, that was meant to be at the new playground at the Botanic Gardens. As it almost never rains in Wagga, organising a party outside is a pretty safe bet. Unfortunately for Isabella's family it was seriously raining this morning so they had the party at their house. I dropped Bethany off and went to do the groceries. I ran into Karen at the fruit shop and we decided the brave the weather and have a coffee at the farmers' markets. We sat under an umbrella chatting and drinking our coffee and then I decided to buy some pistachios. These particular pistachios appeared on NQN's blog, thanks to Kristy, and I had a hankering for those chocolate truffles so stood, backside in the rain, chatting to the Harefield pistachio couple.

I should have taken lots of photos because pistachios are so pretty on the tree. When I exclaimed over them the man opened one up and gave it to me. It was delicious with a fresh taste and different, almost springy texture. He showed us the difference in appearance between the roasted, dried and fresh pistachios. The gorgeous green I knew about, but look at that pink!

I plan to make pistachio bread and some of those truffles. I also have some egg whites aging so I can have my first ever attempt at macarons. Photos to follow, wish me luck.

This is Bethany with her first reader. She brought it home on Thursday and it was called Dad. She read it over and over, I hope the enthusiasm lasts.

I just finished Wide Sargasso Sea which is about the first Mrs Rochester (go and read Jane Eyre immediately if you don't know who I'm talking about, or watch the Toby Stephens version on DVD). It was really interesting to witness her background and understand how she and Mr Rochester came to be where they were when we met them in Jane Eyre. Now I am reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I am listening to Chain Lightning by Don McLean - how I love that song.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Sorry, I've been marking assignments, covering mountains of books (badly), attending information sessions at school and all the usual things as well. So, in between assignments I'll quickly catch up.

On Friday night Sonja came over for dinner. We had za-atar chicken and fattoush (no surprises there) followed by Booja Booja chocolate cake. It was a little bit crumbly but not at all dry, thanks to the almond meal.

I have been wearing the lovely red felt brooch that Sarah sent me last year as I absolutely love it. So, when she was having a sale I jumped at the chance to get a couple more.

Aren't they pretty? You can buy her things here in Aussie dollars and here in US dollars.

For all of February Bethany, and her kindergarten friends, have Wednesdays off. So, I haven't got the full effect of having all three children at school yet. I did get a taste today, though, as Narelle offered to take Bethany so I could get some marking done. She told me this story when I picked the kids up from school. Hannah said that she didn't want to die. Bethany said that it would be OK because Jesus would make her alive again. Then she suggested that they ask Jesus to use some of his magic to make them into fairies. Riiiiight.......

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Unseasonal fun and cinnadoodles

My most used Chef's Toolbox purchase has been the gingerbread house mold. I don't know when gingerbread houses became a Christmassy tradition in Australia, they certainly weren't when I was a child, but they are a must for our Christmas build up. I offered to make one for Kristy and Jack but there was no time before they went away so we flew in the face of recent tradition and made one on Wednesday.

Bethany and Jack, though not the same age, play together very well and put their lolly expertise to good use. They were particularly strong on quality control, making sure the smarties and freckles were of the best quality throughout the process.

I wielded the piping bag while Kristy manned the camera. It is a messy job, at least it is when I do it.

Ta da! I especially like the hat on the gingerbread lady and the wig on the pine (not Christmas) tree.

Of course, we had to have something for morning tea before we undertook the strenuous job of assembly and decoration. So, we had cinnadoodles. They are, apparently, snickerdoodles with cinnamon chips. I didn't know what a snickerdoodle was, it sounds like a cross between a Snickers bar and a poodle (people are crossing poodles with everything these days) but it is just a biscuit.

There is no cinnamon in the biscuit mixture itself, which caused a moment of concern until I opened the packet of cinnamon chips - whoa they're powerfully cinnamon.

I reduced the amount of sugar (they were still very, very sweet) but otherwise followed this recipe exactly. They are awfully nice. Crunchy and chewy and very cinnamony, a little bit like a macaroon - not a macaron, I'll be tackling those soon.....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Tim and I were late night Skyping last week about bacon. This may not happen to you, but for those of us who love food, it is very easy to get fixated on something you've seen. Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella made some bacon jam and Tim has been itching to make it. Given that he doesn't live in the most cosmopolitan of areas, he was fairly certain he wouldn't find proper smoked bacon so was searching for some Liquid Smoke instead. We did a little online searching and found it here. There was a minimum order so he had to buy a few more things and that is when I remembered a recipe that I was a little fixated on - cinnadoodles. I love cinnamon so jumped at the chance to get some cinnamon chips.

The package arrived and held my cinnamon chips and Celtic shirts for the bhoys (that's a football thing). Andrew and Tobes need wear nothing but Celtic gear when they aren't at work or school :)

Kristy did a great post the other day about her biscuit making adventures with Jack and I mentioned that I don't have many good cutters. That was the right thing to do because when I next saw her she had bought me some! Isn't the teapot the best cutter you ever saw?

I feel some biscuit adventures of my own coming up.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Outdoors Life

This is Bethany coming up to meet us after her first day at school. Jossie and Toby didn't start until the following day, so they aren't in their uniforms.

I had tried to prepare Bethany for the fact that she wouldn't learn to read all in one day but her brilliant teacher made a book for them called I can Read and taught them all to read it using the pictures. The very first thing Bethany said was "I can read!"

It is a great relief that she loved her first day, and has loved the following two days, we're very proud of her.

It is still hot and nasty in Wagga but we had an outdoorsy weekend anyway. On Saturday evening we went to Junee to play tennis with friends from church. OK, I didn't actually play myself, but only because I don't have any shorts that aren't so big they fall off. I really like tennis I'm just not any good at it.

Jossie was at a sleep over but Toby played really well and Gregory was very good, trying to teach Bethany at the practice wall.

We put the kids to bed just before 11pm! Thankfully, Bethany then slept until after 9am. It was really hot on Sunday so we went to cool off in the Armstrongs' pool. I need some swimmers - I sat in the shade with a cool drink.

Toby is working on his soccer skills. Here he is heading the ball while jumping in the pool.

Despite the heat, I rode my bike home from work this evening. The wind was so strong it was like riding under water but I made it home - such dedication to fitness ;)