Monday, May 25, 2015

Cooking Together is Very Entertaining

Cooking Together and Entertaining

It's an idea we'd thought of before, cooking together. One Christmas I even bought my hubby "Jamie's 30-Minute Meals". It was always something we thought we'd enjoy, but not something we ever got round to.
Until my ever-practical counselor suggested it as a way for us to connect more.
See, in the ever-crazy busy-ness of life we were too often passing each other like ships in the night, our opposite personalities, different ways of relaxing and seldom-intersecting schedules meaning that too often we would only talk deeply when the crap hit the fan. Anyone else know what I'm talking about?
What the engine of our marriage needed was some regular interaction, a shared activity that would bring us together to just hang out on regular basis. Something do-able. Something that wouldn't end up in the too-hard basket. And something we would both enjoy.

Like cooking together.

Spanish Tapas Feast
[Tapas is all about little bites - this is lamb balls, marinated anchovies with tomatoes and olives with dips]

When I ran the idea past my dearly beloved he was all for it. Like I said, it's something we've wanted to try for ages but never got around to it.
My hubby is pretty useful in the kitchen, with a number of go-to recipes he can whip up when needed, but he was keen to expand his repertoire.
Meanwhile, I was bored to tears with churning out the same tried-and-true dinners on rotation. Sure they were easy, but it would be cool to try new stuff and expand the pool of quick and easy meal options I could call on.

Potato "tortilla" with fennel seeds and Rosemary
[What Jamie calls a Potato "tortilla" - it's really like a frittata - pan-fried potato cubes with fennel seeds, rosemary, garlic and egg]

And in the past whenever hubby and I work together on a project we've found it hugely satisfying; it always brings us closer.

So this was a win-win proposition, in theory. Now it just had to be DONE.

The first week I scoured Jamie's 30-Minute Meals book looking for something that would be fun to cook, not tooooo challenging and something the kids would eat (two out of three of our bunch are super-fussy, and very nervous about trying anything new).

Cured meats and cheese platter - Tapas Feast
[Sticky Glazed chorizo with the cured meats and cheese platter]

The best option looked like Jamie's Tapas Feast, mixed and matched with a few substitutes from other meals that looked simple enough. Yummy - and hopefully fun to create.

  • Cured meats & cheese platter drizzled with honey and ground coffee (!!!)
  • DIY anchovy skewers with cherry tomatoes, lemon and thyme
  • Sticky chorizo sausage and ciabatta bread
  • a Potato "tortilla" with fennel seeds and rosemary
  • roasted peppers with Brie
  • Minted Lamb balls
  • Dips and Spanish olives
  • rocket with herbs
  • Sliced oranges in chilled sparkling water and Sangria to drink
I figured we should be brave and invite some guests to join us. Saturday night was the appointed time. The ingredients were bought, the brave guests confirmed.
Meanwhile, I was having trouble pinning down my cooking partner as he rushed from one appointment to another, a fifty K cycle to the gym. My hubby never sits still (unlike his couch-potato wife, moi).

The conversation would go like this:
Me (waving Jamie's book): "Babe have you got a sec to go through these recipes with me so we know what we need to do on Saturday?"
Him (rushing out the door wearing lycra): "yeah, yeah, I'll get to it, I trust you, just whatever...."

Jar Candles on the table
[I wound jute twine around the necks of jars to give a rustic feel]

Saturday dawned, another crazy day of sport and taxiing kids. Come 4pm, we still had not sat down to discuss our menu plans. I began setting the table, rigging up candles in jars, setting the atmosphere.
Where was my cooking buddy? He ended up racing out to get some drinks and the olives I'd forgotten, so I ended up glazing chorizo and roasting fennel seeds alone.

He came back just in to light the candles and save my hanging jar display from falling on our guests' head. I cooked alone.
The meal was superb, the guests AND kids enjoyed it immensely but I cooked it alone.

Our guests at the Spanish Tapas Feast
[Our friends Gail & Mark came with their kids - who loudly enjoyed the the Tapas feast]

But don't worry I wasn't going to let my cooking partner off that easily. We teased him and got smart about me doing it all alone, and he tried to plead his case ("But you did it so well! This is amazing! you're so good at it!"). Not the point buddy! We're doing this TOGETHER. And there's always next week...

I was not put off. We were going to DO this. TOGETHER. And to make sure I got complete buy-in I asked him to tell me what HE wanted to have a go cooking next time.

Toad-in-the-Hole, he said. That classic English pub dinner of sausages baked in batter.
Righto, you're on, pal.

I searched online and found Jamie's Toad-in-the-Hole recipe. We booked in another round of brave guests to experiment on (it's always more fun with others to share the culinary adventure) and through the week I kept reminding my cooking pal that THIS TIME WE'RE DOING IT TOGETHER.

This time, he did not shirk...

Husband helps in the kitchen

He sprinkled cinnamon, pinched pastry and whisked eggs. He zested oranges and wrangled sausages into hot oil. (He DID question Jamie's wisdom about having a whole CENTIMETRE of vegetable to cook the batter in, but I assured him Jamie knew best).

Traditional English Toad in the Hole
[Traditional English Toad in the Hole]

Our Toad-in-the-Hole turned out perfectly. Two roasting trays filled with the best Westmere Butchery beef-and-Guinness sausages and melt-in-your mouth Yorkshire pudding batter, delicately flavoured with rosemary. Mmmmmhmmmmm.

Brave guests sample classic English pub fare
[Our brave friends Carla and Bonnar seemed to enjoy their classic English pub fare, as created by us]

We served this English classic to our guests and our kids, with onion gravy, mashed potatoes and peas (your choice of mushy or non-mushy). Classic English pub fare, proudly created by me and my hubby working TOGETHER to feed two hungry families on a wet and wild Saturday night.

Toad in the Hole with onion Gravy, mashed potatoes & peas

For dessert we made Jamie's "Quick Portuguese Tarts" (cinnamon infused pastry shells, filled with zesty custard and topped with homemade caramel). So delish!

Portuguese Tarts - custard in cinnamon pastry with caramel

It was better than any restaurant. The kids came, ate and then went off to play, while we got to hang out with our (very appreciative) friends, feeling proud that we did it. Together. There was no teasing Mr G for leaving it all up to me this time!

I really think we are going to keep doing this on a Saturday night. It means one less night eating takeaways. It means we plan ahead and invite friends to join us, which results in us being more social; our kids get to hang with their friends and so do we. And best of all - we are having fun and connecting while working on creating something together.

Next week we're cooking Italian, and attempting a Tiramisu, among other things. Another family of brave food-testers will be joining us. Can't wait.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kindness is Soul Veggies

It was a typical mad morning, we were rushing round doing the usual getting ready prep, while hubby took a moment to read some verses from Proverbs aloud (as he often does).

The verse which caught my attention was one I've never noticed before:

"Your own soul is nourished when you are kind;
it is destroyed when you are cruel..." 
(Proverbs 11:17-18 Living Translation)

When we are kind we think we are doing someone else a favour - but at the same time we are feeding our own soul.
Conversely when we have been are selfish/thoughtless/unkind to someone we may think we have done it to them,  but at the same time we have hurt our deepest selves. Our own soul is damaged by our meanness.

I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote that one up on the kitchen blackboard for all of us to see and ponder.

The kids weren't too sure...
"What does nourished mean, mum?"
"You know, like "fed". Your soul gets fed when you do kind things for other people..."
"I don't get it."
"Well, I mean, when you are kind it doesn't just do someone else good, it does YOU good too..."
"Yeah, nah, don't get it..."

"Mum, what is that, 'your soul is nooshed when you're a kid'? What is nooshed?"
"Nourished, not nooshed. It means "fed". Like made stronger when you're KIND (not a kid). You soul gets stronger and healthier. Like when you eat veggies, they are good for your body...??? Kindness is like veggies for your soul???"
"Ohhhh, um, yeah... nah... huh...?"


Gee I thought it was obvious, and such a good nuggets of parenting wisdom.
Ahhh well. We'll keep trying to reinforce the importance of kindness.
Cos it's good for everybody's soul.
Thursday, May 14, 2015

FREE Social Media Icons for Your Blog (you're welcome)

Free Social Media Buttons for your Blog

A few years ago I put together a collection of social media icons in various different styles and turned them into Code for people to grab and use.
Considering how common these little puppies are they can be surprisingly difficult to find in an easy-to-use form.

I remember spending hours - days - weeks - hunting for a simple way to add social media buttons to my blog and although I found plenty of actual icons, nowhere could I find a simple way to install them (I'm not on Wordpress, I don't have access to Plug-ins).

Eventually I stumbled across some code, figured out how to make it work, and created that original post with the grabable code for collections of social media icons. My pain, your gain.

Today I'm adding a bunch of new styles to the collection, to help all you lovely code-phobic bloggers out there beautify your blog without busting a brain cell.

These buttons have been *mostly* created by me in Photoshop (with the exception of the Sleek Collection - the style is originally by DesignBolts but I made two different versions of them and turned them into code for easy installation).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Great Expectations (a Motherhood post)

Pretty Mothers Day Lunch

I almost titled this post, "Why I hate Mothers Day" but decided that might be a bit harsh.
I don't REALLY hate Mother's Day, but sometimes it can be a bit... disappointing.
See, it's all about expectations.

If yesterday had been just a normal day, it would have been better than average. But when you know every person you meet is going to ask, "Did you get spoilt? Did you get breakfast in bed?" (and you got a call from the kitchen: "Your cup of tea is on the bench!") you kind of want to huddle in your bed and not face anyone.

It's not that your family didn't try, either. Like I said, if this was just an ordinary day, it would be better than average.
Not often your daughter makes your bed for you and announces, "There's a surprise in your room, mum!"
Not often your son does the dishes without being asked.
A card, some gifts.
These are lovely things.

So why did I find myself sitting in my bed with tears running down my face? Am I a sook? Am I a spoilt baby? Did I expect violins and breakfast on a tray with a rose in a vase? The gifts to be wrapped instead of still in the store-bags?
Or was it that I was hoping that my kids would take me seriously when I said, "All I want on Mother's Day is for you kids to be nice to each other. No fighting. No talking back. Be helpful. Listen to what daddy and me ask you. That's all..."?

Did I hope that each and every one of them would strive to give me a day without conflict, without growling. A day of Peace and Serenity? (Which, let's be honest, is every Mother's dream).

Yeah, that's it. All of the above, probably.
Which is why as I sat on my bed trying on my new slippers (oops too small) and heard the shouting and whingeing echoing through the hallway, the hissed command of "Shush! Stop being selfish - it's Mother's Day!" didn't really help.

My kids are pretty crazy

I was seriously bummed. And I wanted to stay in bed, hide from the world. Let them go to church without me and leave me to sip my tea in peace...

But no. Hubby wasn't having a bar of that.
"Come on, get up out of that pit," he ordered, ripping back the covers and snapping me out of my funk. "You want to send your kids to church without you on Mothers day, when everyone else is has their Mother there and it's all for Mothers? Stop sulking and get dressed, we'll start over fresh."

So that's what we did.
I got out of my pit, got dressed and as I did I thought about Expectations. And the fact that it was those sneaky hopes of soft-focused peace-filled perfection that were really setting me up for a fall.

Because the reality is that a day without conflict or whingeing of any kind round these parts is a mighty big ask. In fact, it's nigh on impossible.

But if I went into Mother's Day with NO EXPECTATIONS I would actually have a day that was better than most.
The second half of the day, sans-sulking and self-pity, was a vast improvement.

I faced reality head-on and abandoned all expectations. (Those sneaky voices that creep up and tap me on the shoulder and say, "You deserve better. look what you do for THEM. Look how much effort you go to for THEM. You should be treated as a veritable QUEEN today!" I ignore those buggers, they cause nothing but trouble).

DIY Mothers Day lunch

Yes I may have loved to go out to a nice restaurant and survey my offspring gathered about me like trophies, as we dined joyfully on a meal I had no hand in preparing. But let's be honest.
I have two - probably three - kids with ADHD. They don't like to sit still for long. I'm better off at home.

When hubby asked what I wanted to do for lunch, I took reality by the teets and replied, "I'd love you to get some treats from the French deli; we can eat outside and I'll set it up pretty."

I cut some roses from the vine and hung bunting, spread my favourite cloth and put out the nice bowls, while hubby went and got salami, brie, chicken and crusty loaves.
Then me and my hubby chilled together under the dying grapevine while the kids came, ate then went, leaving us in peace. I didn't care if they were on the computer/Wii/PS3 - I had peace and prettiness even if it was a DIY job. It was a good choice, better than a flash restaurant. More doable for us, and probably far more enjoyable.
SCORE: Mother's Day Serenity: 1, Unrealistic expectations: zip.

Raspberry chocolate Torte gluten free dairy free sugar free

Later I baked my mum a cake. It's her Mother's Day too after all. It's not just about me,
"I'd like us ALL to go over to Nan and Grandad's with the cake," I told my tribe.
It would likely have been easier to just go myself, but I wanted my family to come so I played the Mothers Day card like the ace I'd kept up my sleeve.
We took the Nespresso machine and hubby made us all coffees, while we ate cake and played that hand-slapping game (my mum was the champion). Later SHE posted on Facebook that she'd had the BEST Mother's Day ever - which is awesome.

I had avoided social media for most of the day, not wanting to see all the golden glowing photos of rose tinted mothers day greetings in case I was tempted to compare my day with other more glamorous Mother's Days - but it seemed that I was not the only one whose expectations had to be reigned in.
Mother's Day seems to have served up mixed results.

However, over all, I felt like my Mother's Day was a WIN.
It might not have begun as the hoped-for day of glory, peace and honour which I felt I deserved, but that's only when I compare my day to idealised soft-focused TV commercials.

Most of us don't have paid actors reading from a script, playing a part in our Mother's Day scenario - we have real live kids.

Kids who want to do the right thing but who are still, essentially selfish. Kids who while well-intentioned, would still rather go on Movie Star Planet than vacuum the house. Kids who are kind enough to bring in the cup of tea going cold on the bench (when they realise you're upset because your Mother's Day is not like the commercial), who make your bed when you're not looking - but who get distracted after that watching Adventure Time and forget to strew roses in your path as you walk.

My three kids

Kids who may give you the best hugs and kisses EVERY DAY and who tell you CONSTANTLY that they love you and you're the best mum ever, but who On The Day complain about having to get dressed up half decent and whinge about having to help "just because it's mother's day".

My kids are a mixed bag, a work in progress. It will probably take until they have kids of their own until they fully appreciate all that I've done for them. I know that's how it happened for me - I didn't "get it" until I became a mother myself. I didn't appreciate my mum properly until I was one myself.

In the meantime, until they grow up and realise my true awesomeness, I'll take my mixed bag, sort out the lovely moments from the less-than-ideal and throw away disappointment with my expectations.

Then and only then will I be able to enjoy Mother's Day, as simply a better-than-average day.
And if I'm smart I just might remember that the best thing about it is that I GET TO BE A MUM to these crazy-but-wonderful humans. Which is worth celebrating, even if I have to do the decorating myself.