Monday, July 31, 2006

Christmas in July

It’s a Southern Hemisphere thing. A feeling that Roast Turkey, stuffing, bread sauce and roast potatoes should be feasted upon when the weather is appropriately cold and blustery. We get short-changed with having Christmas in the summer – our Christmas holidays and our summer holidays are one and the same and then a whole long year to wait for the next one. So we’ve invented yet another reason for a family feast, for over-indulgence and sumptious flavours. One Sunday in July we get together and produce a traditional Christmas lunch, complete with all the trimmings (minus the crackers and presents - this is about the food)

This year we were celebrating my husband’s birthday at the same time, inviting friends as well as family – 12 adults and 11 children. Requiring not only our large oven but my two sisters in law’s ovens to be going full blast all morning: three chickens, with sausage stuffing and herb stuffing, two small hams cooked in apple juice, two huge trays of roast potatoes (which went too quickly, we could have done with more), baked butternut, chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon and roasted, extra stuffing, peas, brussels sprouts, bread sauce and gravy. Add to that the making of puddings and birthday cake the previous day, the finishing off of the children’s presents for Dad, involving last minute sewing and wrapping and the compiling of a grown up treasure hunt and you will arrive at the compelling reason for me not having posted anything for a while.

It was delicious .Well worth the manic morning in the kitchen, leaving my husband to clear up the house...on his birthday shame! The weather was suitably cool and overcast, the winter coughs and colds creeping up on our family, so just the right Christmas atmosphere. The mutterings of ‘next time we’ll be more organised in advance’ dusted off again for re-use.

Some of our friends brought music, violins to add to our piano, and our post-prandial lethargy was soothed by a sweet seranade, which added an element of culture to our gluttony, so we’ve resolved to add that to out list of get-togethers – musical soirees or apres-midis rather, to learn more songs and ballads, bring more music into our everyday lives for our children (my piano practising has been seriously challenged by the blogging – need to find a balance). The treasure hunt was fine too with the adults strolling round the circuit, children doing the running to find the next clue, only I hadn’t prepared a story to set the theme, as I do with the kids’ birthday party next time I have to get cleverer, maybe more cryptic clues too – better start planning now!

We heard today that our good friends in England had their baby on my husband’s birthday, as we were feasting. So welcome Charlie! An auspicious day to choose to enter this funny old world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Snail party

A call from the garden, as I am switching on the oven for supper:

“Mum, come and see my snails.”

I go outside to see a small, succulent bush, lovingly festooned with snails, one carefully placed in the centre of each rosette.

“Will you look after them for me while I go and get some more? Don’t let the baby fall out!”

I watch, bemused, as my youngest disappears off behind the garage to bring more snails into the garden, to join the festivities....they waggle their feelers at me in a friendly fashion, little suspecting the dark designs in my long will they be treasured pets and will I get away with inviting the ducks to come and feast... or will that cause heartbreak?

Families of Mum, Dad, baby, Granny and Grandpa snails are arranged and rearranged on the plant, the babies hitching lifts on the bigger ones’ shells. I highly recommend a bunch of snails as entertainment for a group of small children. The play lasted for over an hour.

In the end, the joy she was getting out of the snail-decorated ‘Christmas tree’ far outweighed my measly concern for one plant, which will regenerate itself next year anyway.

So we photographed them instead.
And the snails waved!

P.S. As dusk fell, from the kitchen window I could see the children’s climbing frame, now liberally adorned with groups of snails, slowly slithering heavenwards, the party over for the night. I hope they’ll know what to do when they reach the top.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Up the spud!

I was reading Problem Child Bride’s hilarious post the other day on potatoes and the problem she has convincing her American husband that they are appropriate fare for every day of the week. (She being from the Hebrides, where potatoes are a vital part of the staple diet). When I was growing up in England they were also an essential accompaniment to every meal. Of the other carbohydrates, pasta was encountered in Macaroni Cheese on occasion, rice came in the form of a milk pudding quite regularly and very occasionally as an exotic accompaniment to a curry. For the rest Meat, two veg and potatoes was the norm . So to express my solidarity with her, I would like to propose a way of serving potatoes every day of the week without repeating the same way of presentation.

Sunday – Roast Potatoes of course with Roast Beef, Lamb or Chicken

Monday – Baked Potatoes in their Jackets alongside the cold roast meat leftovers.

Tuesday – New potatoes boiled with a sprig of mint with chicken

Wednesday – Mashed potatoes and sausages – Bangers and Mash

Thursday – Shepherds Pie with the leftover mashed potatoes topping minced beef

Friday – Fish and Chips

Saturday – We haven’t had good old boiled potatoes yet with a sprinkling of parsley to soak up the gravy of a nice stew.

For the next week, you still have several more possibilities up your sleeve - potatoes cubed and roasted with rosemary and garlic or cut longways in wedges and baked with olive oil and garlic, or potato salad with herbs, spring onions and mayonnaise and there are probably a thousand more possible ways of enhancing this vegetable treasure!

The potato originally came to Britain from the Americas anyway, so maybe it is time for it to be restored to its rightful place of honour in the national heritage!

P.S. Does America have Spud-U-Like? A UK franchise that serves baked potatoes and nothing else, with a choice of about a hundred different fillings?

Friday, July 21, 2006


I'm famous! No nothing to do with the BlogHer do that all the big bloggers are going to, I am but a small speck in that world. This is strictly local fame. I have a loaf of bread that bears my name. Our local Camphill Village bakery, where I go to buy my rye flour, have started baking a new loaf of bread called Kit Bread!

This was after the baker, Henk, asked what I was doing with all the rye flour I kept buying from them (I go through about 5kilos/11lbs of flour a month, just keeping our family in rye bread) . When I said I was baking bread, he riposted that I should be buying theirs.
"But my kids don't like your rye bread. The 100% rye is too sour doughey and the light rye has yukky caraway in it..."

So I gave him a run down on my recipe for Rye Bread.

The upshot of this was that when I stopped by to pick up a new supply of rye flour yesterday, tentatively taking a sample few slices of my bread (after all this is a professional I'm taking my home-made loaf to), I found them baking their second batch of Kit Bread for the village. He was really happy to have found a rye bread recipe that kids and villagers alike will eat. I was well chuffed with my place in posterity and with the supply of flour he gave me in lieu of royalties!

We compared notes, as he'd experimented from his memory of my vague list of ingredients. His had no oil and slightly less honey than mine. I got a loaf to take home and try out on the kids. It was much looser textured than mine, which made it quite crumbly while new and warm from the oven. It firmed up a bit by the next day though. The family all liked it....better than mine, I'm sorry to say.

So now I'm on my mettle. I have to experiment a bit more myself with my recipe, to get it a bit more light and fluffy, without losing the substance and chew that I like. First try today I cut down on the oil I use by half, as Henk said that oil slows down the yeast action, as does honey. The loaves did rise a lot more in the oven, cracking at the side a fair bit and it did give a looser textured crumb, so maybe we're onto something here. Meanwhile I'm learning a bit more of the science of baking from him, rather than my normal hit or miss approach of never two loaves alike. (I exaggerate, but sometimes I get a really nice well-risen loaf and have no idea what I did different - there are so many variables with bread - yeast, room temperature etc). Now I'm a woman with a mission - a quest for the perfect loaf of rye bread.

By the way that pic at the top of my blog is a nice warm and fuzzy shot of my rye bread.

Could you send some of your excess of summer over here please, all you Northern Hemispherites sweltering in the heat...we have cold rain here and snow on the mountains, so it is chilly! Better for baking though. I'll swap a handful of mountain snow for a dollop of sunshine if anyone is on?!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Spirit of Birthdays

My daughter's school birthday celebration was lovely. I was invited to come along with her cake, that we'd baked yesterday, at 10 o'clock. I arrived to find her proudly arrayed in birthday crown and cloak, waiting with her attending 'angels' (her younger sister and a friend) to be conducted to the birthday table. I was seated at the head of the table and the other children also sat down, then she was brought by the little angels to stand by her teacher.

All the little things I'd been able to remember had been beautifully woven into a story of her life. The story started with a big angel and a little angel in heaven, with various tasks to do, and then when the time was right for her to join her new family on earth, she was brought over to sit on my lap. Her teacher then recounted the details of her life, how her big brother was having a bath upstairs as she was born and how as she learned to crawl, she used to crab crawl over to try and join his play. As each birthday was reached, in the story, a candle on the cake was lit.

When she was one came our move to South Africa, to our farm and her pushing through the long restios to visit her aunts' houses. Her second birthday brought her younger sister on the scene. There was a smile on her face as each little description of visits to the beach and holidays at the river brought a memory to the fore. By the time her sixth birthday was reached the first candle was flickering out and she had to hurry to blow them all out. Then came the wish, a secret told only to her fairy and her angel, as she cut the cake.

It all felt so special - a true celebration of her life and her choice to join our family - I had a twinge of teariness myself too. Afterwards each child presented her with a card they'd made, with a special wish for her. Some wished for golden rainbows, some for sunny days, another for her to be strong. At the end of the morning she got to bring home the birthday basket with her cards, a little present from her teacher, the flowers from the table and her crown, all now adorning her nature table by her bed. The cake was demolished but we managed to save some for her big brother to have later and for Dad.

It was almost more special than her real birthday, which inevitably ends up being a lot about presents and parties. This had all the spirit of the birthday in it, the essence distilled.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More memory required

Narnia rules. I'm happy to report that no nightmares have resulted from the children watching it. They are now on their third run through the movie, still fast forwarding through the scary bits - honour bound that if anyone requests a fast forward, they do - my son in charge of the remote, even if the others don't find that bit too frightening. It has sparked a resurgence in the popularity of hide and seek. New, clever hiding places have been discovered, especially the wardrobe, and youngest has finally discovered the art of hiding without making a noise or telling people where she is. She's not quite so good at finding the older ones, when they're well hidden and I get dragged in to help, so have to act blind, while leading her in the right direction.

School starts again tomorrow. It'll be a big shock to the system waking up at 6.30 again, while it's still dark outside. We've been sleeping later and later through the holidays, so it will be a challenge to be out of the house at twenty to eight, fed and dressed, snackboxes filled and nothing forgotten. My six-year old gets to celebrate her birthday again at school on Wednesday, so is excited about that. Her real birthday is already a dim and distant memory, all of two weeks ago, so to have a re-run with cake and crown and birthday story is a major bonus.

I have been asked to provide material about her for the birthday story - incidents from each year of her life. I was horrified to discover that I hardly have any specific memories that distinguish one year from the next, apart from moving from England to South Africa, when she was one. Our time here has been a gentle blur of farm life. Our holidays always at the same place, our festivals repeating every year, the same beach with Table Mountain in the background featuring in all the photos, children getting bigger each year.

I haven't kept a baby book, I can't remember first words or milestones, am I a terrible mother, not being a guardian of the memory of my child's every step forward in life? All the photos are digital, stored on CD and just recently I realised that I have a massive job ahead to make up baby albums for the two younger ones. They were looking through my son's the other day (as the oldest he did get a baby album!) and wanting to see themselves as babies.....So to play catch up, recreate my memories from what is preserved on disk, will be my task in the evenings of the months ahead!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Winter’s Tale

A winter’s day today, one of those days with sullen clouds blanketing the sky, scarcely giving the sun a fighting chance, washing hanging questioningly on the line, as damp at the end of the day as in the morning.

We started the day off with a family viewing of Narnia. Opening a can of worms indeed.

We’d been given the DVD months ago. The adults watched it, loved it (it is absolutely brilliant, sticks closely to the book, keeps the moral message and mystery and brings out much more of the childrens’ motivation, through the background of the war) but we rated it too strong for the kids for another couple of years.

My son loved the book, when it was read to him a couple of years ago and dealt with a lot of the concepts it brings up, but he has a fear of wolves that surfaces at bed-time and gives him nightmares. Those scenes in the movie when the children are pursued by the wolf police are so vivid and fast-paced, that in self-preservation we put the movie away. The two girls, though they are less frightened by scary bits in movies generally, (and I’m talking Bambi here not Terminator 2), we thought too young for it still. The other day though, we were out shopping and saw a beguiling scene of snow on a TV in a shop window. We all stopped. Snow has the attraction and quality of a myth here. It was the scene when Lucy first goes into Narnia and meets Mr Tumnus. They were enchanted.

Back home they begged to watch the movie. At the weekend we said. When it can be watched in the morning, with us present, to hold hands and fast forward the scary bits. So we did. Fast forward through the opening bombing of London. Fast forward past the Witch. Skip over the wolves and the chase, lightly over the Stone Table and Aslan’s sacrifice, nip past the battle scene and on to the finale of the coronation. Even with all the fast forwarding it was still a powerful movie.

My six year old lay on the sofa for part of the morning, absorbing it, then accompanied me to pick some of our proteas for a flower arrangement after lunch. A barrage of questions surfaced. Complex emotional and moral stuff. What is war? Why did Edmund want to go to the witch if she is bad? Why was he mean to Lucy, pretending he didn’t get to Narnia? Why didn’t Aslan turn the witch to stone? Why did he let her kill him? Why did the Witch want to be Queen for ever? Why? Why? A lot of this I was unable to provide satisfying answers to. It is too far outside her experience. One answer did hit home. Well when you’re feeling upset, sometimes you want to make someone else feel upset too. Eventually the questions petered out for a while. By the evening, I heard her playing with her younger sister:
“I’m Aslan and you’re the Queen and I’m turning the stone animals back alive again.”
“ I’m not the Queen.”
“You’re the good Queen, Susan.”

Phew. A long day of moral issues. My son asked a lot of the heavy questions much earlier, when he was three or four. Birth, Death, War, were all asked about, given simple as possible answers, digested. But my daughter, though she has absorbed some of it by osmosis, through him knowing, a lot of those issues have just passed her by. This movie has brought up so much for her. I don’t know if it was the right time for her or whether it should have waited a while longer. Be that as it may, they are watching again tonight, just a little of it. And I’m sure they will repeat it again and again till they have got to the bottom of it and answered the questions and banished the demons it brings to the fore.

Both my daughters said their favourite part was when the children are grown up, at the very end, riding through the forest. Part of their never ending quest to be grown up themselves, a glimpse into their own future?

So snowy Narnia, damp South Africa, picking proteas, the SA rugby team losing dismally to Australia, scones for tea and lots of questions, that has been my day today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Scrambled Quiche

A Recipe for a Power Cut

1.Take an appetite for quiche and find the recipe.
2.Locate ingredients.
3.Add an extra one not included in the recipe - a thunderstorm.
4.Make pastry anyway, the storm has passed over...
5.A few power surges later, heave a sigh of relief, the power is on again, the succulent creation can be baked.
6.After thirty minutes, realise that though the oven light is on, the quiche still looks decidedly runny.
7. Check temperature - only 100C/200F, apparently there is something called half power, which is why the lights were flickering too. Bother!
8.Swear under your breath and curse it for a bad idea to be trying to bake in a thunderstorm... but it was going to taste so good...
9.Abandon any idea of crispy flaky pastry. Now it is about having something, anything on the table in two minutes, before the children realise that supper is very late.
10. Throw liquid contents of quiche into a frying pan (thank goodness for a gas hob) and pretend you are cooking an omelette.
11.Mourn lost pastry, which is now a soggy apology soaked in egg mix. Decide to see if pastry can be cooked in a pan too!
12.Call children to table for a meal of scrambled quiche and fried pastry, with some bread and avocado on the side.

They ate it all up! The power eventually abandoned its efforts to stay on, so we had a cosy evening by the fire, reading by an oil lamp, then early to bed and no blogging...snogging not blogging! Sorry that thought just amused me, so I had to put it in, even though it lowers the tone.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Open Hearts, Open Minds

I’m glad I didn’t have time to rant about the creationist museum article, last week. Now the thoughts have had time to mull around in my head, I think I have come up with a more considered response rather than a rant, which may be less entertaining a read but, hey, I have a Libra moon, so I have to see both sides of every question.

The thing that irritated me enough to want to rant, isn’t that a seemingly large number of people believe verbatim - for a scientific fact - the Bible’s explanation of how the world began (as far I’m concerned they can believe a hundred impossible things before breakfast every day of the week). It isn’t that they want to propagate their interpretation of the Bible to every child in school alongside the scientific evolution theories. It isn’t even that they are dogmatic enough to insist that everyone else has got it wrong.

What got to me was this creation of an exclusive, creationist world, with everybody else classed as a weird outsider. The creation of a theme park, re-writing science and, most of all, the need to present those beliefs as science. The dogma. Subscribe to any belief system you like, but you don’t need to justify those beliefs in a multi-million dollar theme park museum, creating a bubble of alternative reality, just because reality doesn’t happen to co-operate in realigning itself to your beliefs.

It seems to me a very childish approach to religion – taking the Bible stories at face value as fact. Jesus used parables to explain ideas. You don’t have to believe the story of the Good Samaritan really happened, to appreciate the message he was putting across. The creationist attitude seems to come from a six year old view of life: I’m right, you’re wrong, I’ll prove it by making a bigger one than yours. Or is it just human nature to have to indulge in one-upmanship, even when it comes to your beliefs? Children past a certain age know when you take them to Disneyland that it is all make believe, but I think these creationists have suspended those faculties of discernment when it comes to their theme park.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for the stories of the Garden of Eden. In my opinion, humble or otherwise, a lot of the Bible stories are stories: giving digestible form to complex, abstract, spiritual issues, helping a simpler people absorb truths in a way they could connect with.

These days, there are still a lot of people who need to believe the Bible lock, stock and barrel, swallowing a lot of anti-women sentiments along with all the enlightening spiritual truths it contains. It was written down by men, after all and a lot of chauvinist opinions crept in with the good stuff. So those people who subscribe to every single word, uncoloured by discerning intellect, believe that women are unclean when they have their periods, must be subservient to men...I won’t continue with that particular rant!

What I am arguing for, I guess, is for people to keep their minds open and use their head as well as heart and soul to give form to their spiritual life.

I was telling a friend about my son’s school, a Waldorf school and she was reading his school books, where he’d written about “God making the stars”. She asked me what religious stance the school took. I explained my interpretation of the Waldorf philosophy, which comes from a solid, but broad-based, non-denominational Christian background. At the primary level, the children are taught a lot through stories: fairy stories, folk stories, Bible stories. They are thus able to absorb the spiritual truth and essence of the subject at an unconscious level, using their imagination, before having to deal with the realm of bare scientific facts. They will be hungry and ready for these at an older age.

For now, the simplicity of - God made the stars and all that is in the world - assuages their need for meaning and beauty in the world. Later they can delve into balls of flaming gas with inquiring minds.

My children believe in fairies and the tooth fairy and Father Christmas, as well as the angels and God. I’m not going to explain to them now that those are all personifications of abstract spiritual concepts and no less real for that. One day they’ll realise that for themselves, I hope, without the older one telling the younger ones before they’re ready.

I hope I’ll know what to say to them when they ask me. They must be allowed to believe in things and find what they are comfortable with believing. Even be allowed, as teenagers or young adults, not to believe in anything.

They must find their own path, as must we all. I just hope they will keep open minds and open hearts as they do so.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lavender Heart Cookies

I was going through my recipe books yesterday, looking for something new to try in the biscuit baking line and saw this recipe, which has always intrigued me, for Lavender Heart Cookies. I'd never tried it before, as the idea of using lavender in baking seems a little bizarre...interesting but probably getting results of 'yuk Mum, what are these bits?'!

Anyway in the spirit of culinary adventure I thought I'd have a go. The ingredients were minimal - butter, sugar, flour and flowers! Lavender florets. So off to pick the lavender. Not much was required, just two tablespoons of fresh florets - the little purple flower bits off the main stalk, so I had a nice therapeutic moment selecting the best stalks from my lavender hedge, which is still producing new flowers despite it being the middle of winter. Then mixing it all together into a crumbly dough, which is more crumb than dough, but eventually does all work together. After its rest in the fridge I tentatively rolled out the dough, still crumbling madly, but persuaded to stay together by an insistent rolling pin. I churlishly refused youngest offers of help cutting out the hearts...mean of me, I know, but this was my journey of exploration not hers this time!

They came out of the oven, fragrant and golden. The moment of reckoning drew near. Children, scenting new baking, gathered around. The girls uncritically tucked in, my son, the conservative connoisseur, turned away, but changed his mind at the appreciative noises around him. A cautious nibble and he was convinced - I'm not trying to poison them...!

So a success. The adults, later that evening, also liked them. ''Elizabethan'' suggested my sister-in-law, and "packaged in a pretty box they'd make a great gift".

So here's the recipe in case you'd like a culinary adventure too!

Lavender Heart Cookies
115g/4oz butter
90ml/6 tablespoons caster sugar
175g/6oz plain flour
2 tablespoons fresh lavender florets

Cream together the butter and 60ml/4 tablespoons sugar till light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and lavender and work it in, kneading with your hands till it comes together into a soft ball of dough. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Stamp out the cookies with a heart shaped cutter (alternatively a fluted-edged round cutter). Makes about 18 with a 5cm/2inch cutter. Put carefully onto a lightly greased baking tray and sprinkle the remaining sugar onto the top of each shape. Bake at 200C/400F for about 10 minutes till golden. Leave the cookies on the tray for 5 minutes, before putting on to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sand,Water and Shepherd's Pie

We’re back to the basics today. After the birthday with all its consumer society detritus – plastic toys with lots of small pieces, play make-up that has left youngest with red eyebrows that no amount of cream or water will shift, a beeping electronic game, the first we have so far been plagued with, that has been taken up by my son - I’m really happy that the children still spent a good two hours this morning playing with their friends outside in the sand with water and no toys beyond a couple of spades. They all got thoroughly soaked and muddy despite the fact that it is winter with a chilly wind blowing and I now have a mound of filthy clay-stained clothes to deal with ( luckily I got them changed into their oldest clothes before they’d got too far into the enterprise) but at least they were outside getting fresh air and playing harmoniously together.

The morning started off a little stickily, two friends coming to spend the day with us, but my newly six-year-old still feeling in princess mode – too grand to play and protective of all her new presents as well. I had to read a couple of stories to break the ice, then they disappeared off outside and I was only alerted to the need for old clothes by youngest coming in plastered in clay. The princess dress along with the princess hauteur had been shed and they were all getting along happily again. An enormous system of canals, islands, castles and moats had been dug, the hose filling the canal network and liberally splashing everyone. Eventually they had had enough and climbed out of muddy clothes outside the front door and all dived into a warm shower together. After that came the girl-bonding ceremony of borrowing and lending dry clothes.

The rest of the day has been spent making nests for the tortoises, though my knowledgeable son informed the girls that tortoises don’t lay eggs in nests, and collecting snails, followed by an attempted return to the water kingdom, as I was writing this. My pleasure in their natural, creative play didn’t extend to a further load of clothes to wash and more showers with more depredations on the stock of clean clothes, so I hope I’ve deflected them onto another game ...but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Nursery food basics have also made a come back recently. I hadn’t bothered making shepherd’s pie for ages, as the children just used to eat the potato from the top and leave the mince. Mince in general has been rejected too. If I use the same minced beef to make meatballs or burgers they devour it, but they hate picking out all the little bits of vegetables that I hopefully put into it. Anyway my son actually requested shepherd’s pie the other day, so yesterday I made it and they gobbled it up, vegetables and all, several servings each, so I’ve gained one more dish for the regular list.

Recipe for Shepherd’s Pie
500g/1lb good quality minced beef or lamb
1 onion
2 carrots
1 stick of celery
1 clove garlic
2 large fresh tomatoes or half a tin of tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
a dash of wine
a few drops Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
water or stock
knob of butter

Finely chop the onion and saute over a low heat in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the carrot, celery and garlic also finely chopped. Saute all together for five minutes. Turn up the heat and add the meat,breaking up the lumps and cooking until it has just lost the raw redness. Don’t overdo it at this point. Add the splosh of wine, (white or red, whatever you have open. If you don’t have any it’s not essential) and stir till it has evaporated the alcohol. Add the tomatoes skinned and chopped. Now put in the rest of the seasonings and pour in enough water or stock to only just cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, put on a lid and leave to cook at a simmer for 1-2 hours.

The quantity of potatoes depends on how many you have to feed, you can have a thin layer of potato topping or if you need to stretch the meat to feed lots of people a really thick layer of potato, which is what the children prefer anyway. Peel the potatoes and boil them till soft. Then drain and mash them with a knob of butter, milk and salt and pepper until they are soft, but not too runny, mashed potatoes. In a roasting dish or any ovenproof but not too shallow dish, put the cooked meat in a thick layer, then top with the mashed potatoes. Smooth them out with a fork, so there are lines and swirls and peaks of potato that will brown nicely and put the dish into a preheated oven 200C/400F for twenty minutes or until the top has browned to golden. If the meat and potatoes are just cooked and still hot you can just brown the top under the grill. This can all be assembled and kept in the fridge until needed too, then it would need at least thirty minutes to cook through again.

Traditionally shepherd’s pie was made with minced lamb and cottage pie with minced beef but my family has always called both shepherd’s pie. It also used to be a dish to use up leftover cooked meat from a roast rather than starting fresh with raw mince, but we like it like this - comfort food for winter.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Picasso Perspective

Happy Fourth of July to all my blog friends. I hope you're all having a lovely time celebrating with family and friends.

I was going to have a little rant about an article in our Sunday papers, that I just got around to reading today, on a multi-million dollar creationist museum being built in Kentucky to 'recreate' the Garden of Eden and rewrite evolution....but I'll save that for another day and share an earth shattering observation that my children and I made today instead.

Picasso got it right. From an altered perspective that is. If you and your child put your noses and foreheads together, you can see each other exactly as Picasso would have portrayed you - either one long eye or three and if you slightly tilt your head to one side you get the one-eye-up-one-eye-down look that he so loved. Try it yourself!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Birthday report

The birthday went well, enjoyed by all, even the birthday girl. No tears, she says now she's six she's too big to cry..we'll see.

Barbie was overjoyed to find her man at last, after looking for so long. She's been on her own for a year. I'm sorry to report that they went to bed together on their first date (fully clothed, shoes and all) but they did get married the same day and they smiled and smiled cos they love each other so much. Luckily one birthday present was a fine shepherdess dress with train and gauzy over-dress, so she had a fine wedding dress for the occasion. The My Scene boy doll was promptly rechristened Ben, so Barbie and Ben are now honeymooning in a woven basket, another birthday present.

The treasure hunt came together at the last minute. I was making up the clues and spraying them silver (fairy magic leaves a touch of silver behind, as you know) only half an hour before the guests were due, having slightly overfaced myself by deciding to do a roast chicken for lunch, as well as the party preparations and thus creating a veritable mountain of washing-up for my adult helpers, who had unavoidable other stuff to do that morning and so came back to find the house looking as if a whirligig had passed through, kids waiting for some action and me frantically rolling out cheese biscuits (designed to be an amusement for the kids that morning but rejected in favour of my son groaning about being bored) in between turning the roast potatoes, making gravy and tearing my hair out trying to think of clues and route for the treasure hunt. That was a ridiculously long sentence but maybe conveys the feeling of the moment...!

Anyway she had a good time. The attacks of non-birthdayitis that the other two suffered from in the morning eased as the party began and they turned back into human form and enjoyed themselves too. So all done until youngest's birthday in three months, which she is already planning...except that now my husband wants a treasure hunt for his birthday too. I'd better start working on it now...a grown-up one will need more than a spritz of silver spray to bestow instant fairy magic....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Birthday Madness

Where have I been these last few days? Immersed in a sea of birthday preparation, for my one-more-sleep-till-I'm-six year old. Escaping for an afternoon to shop for presents - a quest to find a soul-mate for her Barbie, who wants to get married. Ken seems to have disappeared from the Cape Town scene, so I hope Barbie will be happy with River, a hip guitar playing dude, who seems to hang out with a gang of trendy chicks from some movie or other.

Some of the other things on her wish list - a lego fire-engine just like the one her older brother got for his birthday and a skate-board, didn't make it past the selection panel, but I managed to find a jewellery box for her. I did have the idea of getting a nice tasteful one with a musical twirling ballerina, after all kitsch is made for six-year olds, but the ones in the shop were so appallingly plastic, cheap and garish that I couldn't bring myself to do it and went and found a wooden one, painted pink and covered with roses and butterflies, which is pretty enough but should also last a little while without breaking. A flower fairy book and a naff plastic, sparkly, fluffy crown make up the rest of the haul.

Then there is the treasure hunt... providing adequate treasure for twenty children without breaking the budget. I eventually had to settle for chocolate coins again, but they always go down well and do look like real treasure, with little paper rose buds for the girls and plastic racing cars for the I have to write the treasure hunt with a princess theme - story to set the scene and clues. My daughter gave me the opening lines that she thought appropriate, it seems fairies are to feature as well as princesses.

Baking featured heavily today - knocking up the birthday cake - chocolate of course, before going out to their cousin's birthday party and then returning to bake another cake to give to the grown-ups, cos the birthday one ain't going to be big enough for all...and some rock buns too.

I've wrapped the presents, bagged the treasure. The children can help me ice the cake tomorrow morning and they can make some cheese biscuits themselves too. So all I've got to do now is the clues.....