Posts Tagged ‘cooking’


September 17, 2012

Recently The Dad and his team played in a football tournament nearby.  They had 90 min or so between shortened games, so I had said to invite anyone who wanted to come back to our place for a bite to eat or just a place to sit.  I was planning to make a nice slice for them to have with coffee if they felt like it.

The day was terribly windy, as spring days often are here, but fine enough.  Until the game was about due to start.  I looked out the window and it was pouring down!

Pearl and I swept into action.  She grabbed as many towels as she could find and deposited them by the front door for the team to dry themselves off as they came in.  I whirled around the kitchen wondering what on earth I could cook up that would be hot and quick – I had about 45 min before who-knew-how-many soaking wet and cold men would arrive.  I’d already made the sweet slice, but I didn’t think that would comfort them all that much.

I got some sausage rolls out of the freezer, and raided the fridge for soup ingredients.  Luckily I’d just been to the supermarket, so had some fresh chicken and plenty of vegetables, as well as pre-made chicken stock and crusty bread to go with it.

Pearl bustled around doing lots of little jobs, fetching and carrying, and always reappearing to ask “What needs doing now, Mum?”  I think she had been impressed by the ferocity of the downpour and was glad not to be out in it herself!  I set her to helping peel and chop some veges, and she watched me make the soup.

“So…  soup is just boiling water with stuff thrown in it?”

I thought that was a pretty good description of what we were doing!  It tasted pretty good to me, though, and the five cold wet footballers were incredibly grateful for their warm welcome.  I hear the rest of the team, who had demurred at the invitation, sincerely regretted that decision once they heard what they had missed!

For my part, I was very grateful for Pearl’s cheerful and willing help, and made sure she got full credit for it.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.



August 15, 2012

Our daycare provides morning and afternoon tea and a cooked lunch for the children.  They are very good meals, and children with allergies, intolerances, and other requirements are well catered-for.  They also give the children the opportunity to try food they might not get at home, for whatever reason.

For example, I’ve never been keen on tinned beetroot, so it’s not something we have in our pantry.  You can imagine my surprise when one of Babess’ teachers mentioned that Babess is quite a fan of the stuff.  Apparently she will sit and munch slices until it’s all gone.  I had noticed some clothes coming home stained red, but had assumed they were playing with dye or red paint that day.

I asked Babess about it, and she said yes, she loves beetroot!  And when we were next making a shopping list, she asked me to get her some.  So of course I did.

Tonight on the bus home she was telling me how much she likes white sauce.  That’s another thing I’ve never been all that keen on – I don’t mind it, but I don’t make it for myself as a choice either.  Babess tells me she loves it, and she knows how to make it.  It’s not just ordinary white sauce, though.  “You have to put green stuff in it.”

“Parsley?” was the only green stuff I could think of to add to white sauce.

“No,” she corrected me firmly.  “Lettuce.”

That’s going to be a funny-tasting white sauce, I reckon.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

Big words from little people

May 21, 2012

Tonight after their dinner, Fainjin and Babess were filling up on toast.  I suspect they’re both about to grow again…  Fainjin wanted “one with vegemite and one with jam”.  Babess wanted “both with jam”, and because she is immensely proud of her big brother’s efforts, she wanted “jam made from Fainjin”.

Fainjin appreciated the compliment, but was moved to correct her.  “It’s strawberry jam made by Fainjin.  Not from me.  If it was made from me, I’d be… an ingredient!”

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

Making a baker

April 30, 2012

Pearl made her first chocolate cake last week.  She has helped me bake before, but not made one “herself”.  She wanted to take a cake to share with her class.

She did very well, with minimal help from me.  It does help that our standard go-to chocolate cake recipe is exceptionally easy and almost no-fail.  Her classmates really liked it, and her teacher was very impressed.

Keen to capitalise on this, I suggested she make another one this evening for her Dad’s birthday tomorrow.  Fainjin and Babess pulled a chair over to the bench to watch, just as they do when I’m baking.  Once again, she did a great job.

Next I’ll have to teach her how to make buttercream icing.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

Boxing Day

December 26, 2011

After a quieter-than-usual Christmas where it was “just us” – or not even that, as Pearl has stayed with her grandparents – for the afternoon, today was very peaceful.  Fainjin and Babess played happily with their new toys all day long, every so often going to the laundry-basket full of presents and rediscovering another new amusement.

It was a day for opening boxes – of lego, puzzles, toys.  The new scooter and bike are still in their boxes, though.  Despite the brilliant weather, today was spent mostly inside.  I was grateful; the sunburn risk for my little redheads was extreme, and besides, with The Dad out of action the task of assembling the bike would fall to me… it still will, of course, it’ll just be another day.

Fainjin came into the kitchen to “help” me make some ice-cream, and when I noted that we hadn’t heard from Babess playing in the lounge for a few minutes, I sent him to ask if she was ok.

I heard, “Babess, are you ok?  Are you ok?  Babess, are you ok?”

He came back into the kitchen.  “She didn’t answer me!”

“Oh. Is she awake?”

“No!”  Which would explain the lack of answer, perhaps.

The Dad, having overheard from another room, went to look and reported that she had settled on a cushion, having dragged out a blanket, and dozed off on the lounge-room floor.

That’s the kind of day it was.

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

How to Make Strawberry Jam

November 25, 2011

The plum jam I made earlier this year was a huge hit, so since strawberries are plentiful, relatively cheap and good-tasting at this time of year, I thought I’d have a go at strawberry jam.  Fainjin was home with me today for some one-on-one time, and he had great fun helping.

To make strawberry jam, you need:



lemon juice

jars and lids

a 4-year-old helper wearing an apron

several pots

a smoke alarm

First, sterilise the jars.  While they’re bubbling in the pot, wash and hull the strawberries, chopping them roughly into a large bowl.

About half the strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped

Pass the strawberries to your helper, and give him a masher.  Sound effects are optional, but Fainjin found chanting “Moosh moosh moosh” to be helpful.

Moosh moosh

Keep mooshing until the berries are moderately-well crushed (your helper might need a hand, depending on how squishy the strawberries are to start with).


Note the lovely Moomin apron, appropriated from his little sister’s dress-up box.

Next, measure the crushed berries.  We had 8 cups!  That meant we needed half a cup of lemon juice.  Fainjin was over the moon to have a reason to pick the lemons (he often brings me some just for fun).

Lemons from our tree!

Now, because we had eight cups of berries, we needed eight cups of sugar.  Stop at this point and discuss with the four-year-old: we need eight cups of sugar, and there are two measures in each cup.  So how many measures of sugar do we need?  (Lots of prompting and counting on fingers, and reminders that eighteen is not the number after fifteen might be required). Measure out the sugar, with your helper counting the measures out loud.

Put everything into a large saucepan

Stir over a low heat, until the sugar is dissolved.  Then turn the heat up and bring to a rolling boil.  Allow your helper to stir very carefully.

My little stirrer!

Notice that the jam bubbles up quite high, quite quickly.  Start to worry that it might boil over.  Move the helper out of the way.


I think you know what happens next.  Teach the four-year-old a few new words, and breathe in the delicious aroma of burnt sugar.  Quickly turn off the gas!  (Ooops, not quickly enough).  If you’re unlucky, or slow, the smoke alarm will let your neighbours know you’re cooking.

Decant a portion of the jam into another large pot, and bring to the boil.  Clean the sides and bottom of the first pot, clean the stovetop, and bring the first pot back to the boil.  Don’t be disappointed if your helper decides that making a Lego airplane to take us all to Australia is more important than helping make jam right now.

back on track

Boil for 10 minutes (or more for the larger pot), until jam sets on a cold plate.  Then pour into jars, seal, and so on.

Strawberry jam, and a Lego plane to take us to Australia

When the pot has cooled, scrape a teaspoon along one side and give your helper a taste of the fruit of his labours.  Your reward is his huge grin and judgement: “It’s deeeeelicious!”

Oh, and several jars of jam, and a caramel-scented kitchen, and a huge pile of sticky dishes.

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Baker boy

August 28, 2011

Fainjin has always been very interested in cooking, which is a bit weird since he’s so uninterested in eating anything except pasta and cheese or breakfast cereal.

I was doing quite a bit of baking today, as I had buttermilk to use up.  I’d bought it to make this cake for a friend’s birthday:

Raspberry & Lemon Bundt Cake

and it was a stunning success.  So I made another batch of cake batter today, and baked it into a raspberry-lemon loaf and twelve muffins – 6 without raspberries so Pearl can take them in her school lunches (she’s not keen on raspberries).  I also made buttermilk scones, which the kids enthusiastically demolished for morning tea, and buttermilk pancakes for lunch – those were beautifully fluffy American-style pancakes, I’d be keen to make them again for a nice brunch.

Fainjin was at my side almost the whole time, counting the cups of flour, supervising the other ingredients (I’m training him to fetch things from the pantry, and discovering that it’s quite handy to have the baking stuff down low!), and helping with the stirring.  The girls came and went, keen at the start and when the scones were warm but losing interest soon after.  That was quite good, in fact, because there’s just not enough room to bake when all three of them insist on looking over your shoulder.  They drag chairs over to the bench to stand on, and literally close me in.

Come to think of it, Fainjin had picked the lemons for the cake, too.  He’s a very useful kitchen helper!

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Hope springs eternal

April 22, 2011

Pearl is staying with Nana and Poppa for a couple of days, as she often does in the school holidays.  Today she helped Nana make Easter eggs, a tradition I remember from my childhood.  We would fill a baking tray with flour, and carefully – using a real egg – make egg-shaped moulds for the marshmallow.  Then came the interminable wait for the eggs to set before we could lift them out, brush them off, and dip them in chocolate, carefully sandwiching two half-eggs together with more chocolate.  Sometimes we would paint circles of yellow food-colouring into the centre of each marshmallow half  to be the “yolk”.

Looking back, it must have been a very messy experience – flour everywhere, sticky marshmallow, paintbrushes with food colouring (!), melted chocolate… and four children (often more).  But I don’t remember that, of course.  I just remember it being great fun.  So I’m very glad, and grateful to my Mum, that Pearl has had a chance to have a go too.  And not even in my kitchen!

Fainjin and Babess miss her while she’s away, so I went to tell them what she had been up to.

“Guess what Pearl has been doing today?” I asked.  They looked at me expectantly.  Babess thought she might have been doing a jigsaw puzzle.  Fainjin thought she might have watched tv.

“Making Easter eggs!”

Babess gasped and her eyes went wide.  “For me?!”

A Plum Job

February 15, 2011

At the weekend, my best friend and I went to a farmers’ market, and she bought 10kg of peaches for stewing and freezing.  The orchardist was pleased enough to empty his box of second-grade peaches (later customers would be compelled to buy the more expensive ones), and offered us a bag of plums as well.  He tossed me a bag and said “Take as many as you want”.

The plums were very ripe, and had been affected by recent heavy rain so were starting to split.  Without any real thought of what to do with them, I happily filled up the bag.  I like plums.  Especially free ones!

When we got home, we split the plums between us (and I got a couple of peaches as well, yummy!).  I thought about making plum sauce, then decided jam would be simpler – fewer ingredients.  I’ve never made jam before.  I picked up some jam sugar and some jars from the supermarket, and called my Mum for hints.  Thanks, Mum!

On Monday morning, I took my plums down to the butcher.  Yes, that is a little odd, but I don’t have kitchen scales and I knew the butcher would weigh the fruit for me.  I should probably take them a jar of the jam, I suppose.  I had 1.25kg of plums, just perfect to use a whole bag of the jam sugar.

So, I counted the plums.  That’s important.  Then I put them into a large pot with a little water, on low heat.

Plums for jam. Lids and rings ready for heating on the back burner.

Slowly, they started to get mushy…

Mushy plums.

As they got very mushy indeed, I was able to start fishing out the stones.

39 plum stones

This is why counting the fruit first was so important!

Aren't they a very bright red?!

Then I tipped in the 1kg bag of jam sugar – it has pectin mixed in, to help with setting – and turned up the heat.

bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

Luckily, I had remembered to change out of my favourite white t-shirt before we got to this stage.

If it doesn't splatter up the walls, you're probably not doing it right

Somehow, it doesn’t look as gory in the photos.  At the time, I thought my kitchen looked like the set of a horror movie.

Eventually, it was time to test.  I followed instructions, and looked for a skin to form.

Crinkly jam skin. It is very bright red, isn't it!

Woohoo!  I got my warm sterilised jars out of the oven, and started pouring the jam into them.  That was messy.  I was glad there were no kids in the house to “help” with that part.  Then I carefully sealed the jars, and turned them upside down for 20 minutes.

there was a little bit left over so I put it into a clean glass to be used right away

Then I looked at my kitchen.

Icky sticky messy!

Definitely time for a clean-up.  Thank goodness for my new easy-clean kitchen with stain-resistant benchtop!  Then I turned the jars back over, and listened gleefully to them go “Pop… pop… pop…” as they all sealed.  I was very proud of my efforts.

fruits of my labours

And it tastes great!  I had been worried about the setting, and whether I boiled it long enough, but in fact the jam is not the least bit runny.  Rather on the hard side.  That’s ok, it’s fine, and I’ll be less anxious next time.

Now, who wants to come for afternoon tea – scones with plum jam, anyone?

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

Domestic arts

January 25, 2011

We had a very creative day today.  One of Pearl’s friends came over for a playdate, and they had a great time together.  They pottered around outside while I did tedious things like hang out the washing in the glorious sunshine, and then we went to the supermarket and raided the pick-and-mix bins.

It was a raid with a purpose – not just to load up on sugar, but to keep the girls busy for a good hour or so as well.  When we got home with all the goodies, I set the girls to work mixing up a batch of chocolate cupcakes.  They had great fun measuring and sifting and stirring and licking the spoons, then while the cakes were baking and cooling we had our lunch.

Icing and decorating was a major after-lunch undertaking, and the girls decided to mark each cake with the initial of an intended recipient.  The aim seemed to be to crowd as many lollies and decorations on each cake as possible:

Yummy... and look at my new stone benchtop, too!

Of course, we didn’t use up all the lollies decorating the cakes, so we had to clean up a few afterwards…

Then Pearl suggested that they do some sewing.  Her friend has a wiggly tooth, so they made “tooth fairy purses”, little bags to hold teeth under one’s pillow awaiting collection by the Tooth Fairy.  They’re very sweet little things, blanket-stitched all around and held shut by ribbon threaded through a bead.  We had some flower motifs in Pearl’s craft box, so each bag got one of those sewn on the back as well.  (I was going to put a photo here, but I can’t find Pearl’s bag… perhaps it’s under her pillow!)

The friend’s mum was very impressed when she came to collect her, they really had been industrious.  Of course, she was presented with a cupcake on arrival too, and they took a box home with cakes intended for various cousins and friends.

All in all, quite a successful playdate.

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

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