Waiting for Agnes

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Cheating on our chickens July 30, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 7:18 am
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I have a confession to make – today I am baking with bought eggs. Lovely, local free-range eggs, but bought all the same. We are away for a long weekend down on Mornington Peninsula with my partner’s parents, basking in wintery sunshine and taking the small one for windswept walks along the beach.

Our feathered ladies have stayed home under the watchful eye of our dear friend and her small daughters. The bigger small daughter, M (six), is thrilled that Betty is broody or, as we explained it, has decided to become a mother. M is very attached to our chickens. She went with me to the chicken farm, helped pick them out from the flock of tiny chirping fluffballs, lovingly introduced them to their new home and sternly vetted all their names. She has made glowing predictions about Betty’s potential parenting skills. She has also expressed great sadness that Betty’s mother is not there to see her grandbabies – spot the midwife’s daughter anyone? So M and her wonderful mama have taken on the daily task of plucking Betty gently from her nest, making sure she eats, drinks, poops, fluffs her feathers up a bit and returns within twenty minutes. In return, we might bring them back some of these biscuits. That is, if there are any left…

Cheat’s Macaroons*

an Australian Women’s Weekly recipe

3 egg whites

55 grams of caster (superfine) sugar

160 grams of icing (confectioners’) sugar

25 grams of cocoa powder

120 grams of ground almonds

2 teaspoons of extra cocoa powder

60 mls of cream

150 grams of dark chocolate

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Grease two oven trays and line with baking paper.

Beat the egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Slowly add the caster sugar, continuing to beat until it dissolves.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Gently fold in the sifted icing sugar, cocoa and almond meal in two batches.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a plain tube fitting (~2cm opening). Pipe ~4cm rounds onto the trays, leaving ~2cm between each round. I found the easiest way to achieve a perfect circle was to pipe directly down onto the tray – ie hold your piping bag at a 90 degree angle to the tray.

Tap the trays gently on the bench to help the mixture spread a little. Dust with the extra cocoa. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Bake the macaroons for 15-20 minutes (depending on your oven’s personality). Cool on the trays.

To make the ganache filling: Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a small bowl. Bring the cream to the boil, then pour over the chocolate, stirring until the mixture is smooth.

Leave the ganache to thicken to a spreadable texture – this will take about half an hour. Sandwich the cooled macaroons with the ganache.

Since her recent trip to Paris, my partner’s mum drools at the mention of Laduree macaroons. Her verdict on these ones: a little more rustic to look at but every bit as good to taste. Crisp outer shell, soft on the inside, ganache in the middle…heaven.

*Australians, at least those as addicted to MasterChef as I was, are probably all suffering from Macaroon Fatigue. Rest assured, I do not propose that you try and staple, stick, glue or pin these to a polystyrene tower. Why make it harder to get them speedily into your mouth?

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Why I was wrong about the piece of paper July 29, 2010

Filed under: Not just a piece of paper,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 6:09 am
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When it comes to gay marriage rights I have been politically lazy, apathetic. I did try telling myself that I am generally politically lazy, but under further scrutiny this didn’t hold up. I have rallied for and against many things since I was a teenager. I have exerted myself to support the rights of women to birth at home (and will continue to) but I have shied away from fighting for equal marriage rights for myself and my partner and all the other gay couples out there.

This apathy springs both from misfortune and fortune. It was my misfortune, as a child, to grow up surrounded by a collection of horrible, unsuccessful and unappealing marriages in my own and my friends’ families. If that was marriage, I thought, you can count me out – I don’t need a piece of paper to shackle me to someone who’s likely to drink too much, beat me up, ignore me, treat my kids like crap and expect me to view their unstable behaviour as a quirk, or worse as an entitlement. Not to mention the divorces, the custody battles, the stone-in-a-pond concentric ripples that rock the lives of everyone for years afterward.

Now I am fortunate. Not just in being in a happy relationship, but in being surrounded by people who unblinkingly support us. Neither of our families nor any of our friends have derided or excluded us, suggested it’s a phase we’ll grow out of, or laughed at the notion of us having a baby. Our son, at the great age of eleven months, has not yet been judged or excluded from anything on the basis of having two mothers. And other than a few unintentionally ridiculous comments – one of my colleagues continually expressed her dismay that I would never be a wife, as my cooking and knitting skills would just be wasted – our workplaces have been as supportive of us as any other staff members. In short, I haven’t struggled against oppression or discrimination, so I’ve never been fired up enough to go and fight for something that didn’t even seem that appealing for the people that could already have it.

Then our son’s new birth certificate arrived and everything changed. When we decided to have a baby the law prevented us accessing fertility treatment in our home state of Victoria. We conceived our son in Queensland (oh, the irony) and on the day I found out I was pregnant the new ART bill was passed through parliament, changing Victorian law. Change trickles through slowly and the law was not fully enacted by the time our son was born, so the only name on his birth certificate was mine, with a great big blank space underneath. When he was about six months old we were able to apply to change the certificate to include my partner’s details as his second parent. Even filling out the paperwork was quite an emotional experience, imagining all the layers of bureaucracy that had to change and committees that had to convene for something as simple as that form to be created. When the certificate itself arrived I cried. It wasn’t the piece of paper itself, it was the equality it represented for our son – that his certificate would be just like any other kid’s – and for my partner – that her status as a parent is acknowledged just like any other parent.

So, marriage. Many people before me have asked their partner why bother marrying, have said ‘it’s only a piece of paper, we know we’re staying together forever, what do we need that for?’. It’s not about needing a piece of paper in order to believe in your own relationship, it’s about holding a piece of paper that says your government believes you’re equal to any other couple.

* * * * * *

To see and hear Rodney Croome’s excellent speech ‘The Case for Gay Marriage’ follow this link……

 

Nothing Fancy July 28, 2010

Filed under: Just bread — titchandboofer @ 3:50 am
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Once upon a time I lived in a glorious share-house, with beautiful blankets for curtains and only a few weeds growing through the floor. I shared with two girls and when we weren’t occupied with weeding the floor or breaking the bathroom fixtures, we had a great time guzzling red wine and fitting in a bit of study. It was during this time that my almost-compatible interests in DIY and gardening began. The DIY was essential for jobs like repairing the garage door  with old vertical blind pieces (after I broke it with my motorbike) and sticking down kitchen floor tiles with excessive grout (I didn’t break those, I suspect they were running away). The gardening was mainly for fun and survival – if the grass stayed short we could play cricket and we couldn’t lose drunk friends down the bottom of the substantial block. Being poor students, we were in possession of a motley collection of tools, including a very useful hammer and the world’s smallest electric whipper snipper. We did not have a lawn mower. So, the only thing to do was find someone to mow for us. As luck would have it, not long after we made this decision a harassed and muddy  lawnmowing man materialised on a neighbour’s front lawn. I dragged him round to our back yard so he could give us a quote for a regular mowing gig. He glared hard at the large block and the overgrown driveway, muttering to himself. Reluctantly, after a few minutes, he said “I can do it for twenty bucks, but I won’t do nothing fancy”. Deal.

Just like his mowing, this bread is nothing fancy. It is white, medium sized, soft in the middle, crunchy on the outside when just baked and simply tasty. Even small children only accustomed to eating wonder-soft-sliced-in-a-packet bread will eat this. Originally a Domestic Goddess Nigella recipe, I’ve tweaked it slightly.

Just White Bread

500 grams of bread flour

8 grams of dried yeast (1 7g sachet will also work fine)

1 tablespoon of rock salt

~350 mls of very warm water

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter at room temperature

Bread tin optional – you can just make a loafy shape and bake it on a tray

Preheat oven to 200 deg Celsius

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add about 250mls of the water and mix thoroughly. Add more water as needed to bring the dough together until it looks like:

Tip onto your lightly floured bench top, add the butter in little blobs and knead. This will take 5-10 minutes, depending on your individual style. I love this bit, but I also sing the praises of laundering cloth nappies and knitting socks, so if it’s not your thing just use the dough hook on your mixer and judge by appearance rather than feel. When the dough has been kneaded enough it will be smooth, springy and only slightly sticky. Put the dough into a large, buttered bowl (I just wash out and reuse the original bowl), turning once so the upper surface has a sheen of butter. Leave to rise. at this point you have a choice – put the bowl in a warm place for about two hours, until the dough has doubled in size; leave it overnight; or use my mum’s quick-rise trick like I do. This involves putting a hot heat pack in the bottom of a plastic bag, resting your bowl on the heat pack and tying up the bag on top. This will get your dough risen in about one hour.


Next, the fun part: knock back the dough. Yes, actually punch it down. Then put it back onto your lightly floured bench and give it a brief knead. Shape it or put it in your tin. Cover loosely with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise again for an hour or so.

Then bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. Ours is fan-forced and quite quick. To test for readiness, tip it out of the tin and knock on the bottom of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Slather the hot bread in butter, or dip it in soup, or weigh it down with scrambled egg and freshly picked parsley, or sandwich baby spinach, goat’s cheese and beetroot between its slices, or just toast it for breakfast and enjoy with a big hot mug of earl grey tea.

Like so – with home-made plum jam… a recipe for another season.

 

Lunch 1: Potential Pudding 0 July 27, 2010

Filed under: No baking today — titchandboofer @ 4:28 am
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No puddings today. My beloved has eaten the last two eggs for lunch. And the last of the bread. Hmmm, bread. Baking dilemma solved.

 

Drawing a line in the milk

Filed under: Parenting — titchandboofer @ 4:13 am
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Lying awake at some point between midnight and six this morning, breastfeeding my insatiable, teething son, a comment from a recent conversation snapped into my mind.  A friend asked me at what point breastfeeding a child becomes sexual abuse. My initial reaction was a kind of horrified – ‘uh, never!’, especially keenly felt as I was breastfeeding at that moment.

To be fair to her – she’s an intelligent woman and in no way anti-breastfeeding – and to put this in context, we were in the midst of three concurrent discussions, one about this news item, one about when I might stop breastfeeding my eleven month old, and one which is one of my favourite topics to muse upon – the ‘thing’ that people choose as their cut-off point for breastfeeding. By people I mean any person, male or female, young or old, parent or not, with or without any experience of breastfeeding. Ask just about any person and they will tell you almost instantly what their ‘thing’ is. They are sometimes surprised they even have one, it can be that unconscious. A quick straw poll of the people around you can yield any of the following and more: ‘when the baby gets teeth’, ‘when they’re one’, ‘when they’re six months’, ‘when they can talk’, ‘when they can walk’, ‘when they want to [wean]’ and ‘when they know what they’re doing’. This last one is a personal favourite…presumably the baby is thinking ‘this is nice, just hanging out with mum, having a cuddle, lovely and warm here, feeling a bit like a snooze, holy sweet potatoes!! I’m breastfeeding!!’.

I digress. Much has been written about breasts, breastfeeding and sexuality. Elizabeth at Spilt Milk wrote a beautifully balanced post, ‘Sexing the Breast’, about womens’ bodily autonomy and how no woman should be attacked for how she feels about or utilises her breasts. Raising My Boychick and PhD in Parenting blogged compellingly in response to this provocative article that labelled breastfeeding ‘creepy’, both looking at personal and social expectations and experiences around breastfeeding and sexuality. My own feelings about breastfeeding and its where/when/why/how long/who have altered over time as I’ve shifted from my ‘boobs ahoy!’ teens and early twenties, into the midwifing and mothering of my present, but they’ve always been and continue to be positive. One question, however, I’ve been asked in many forms and pops up in my own mind now and then – when does breastfeeding stop being about the baby’s needs and start being about the mother’s?

For anyone who is about to flick to the bottom to find the correct answer to that question – don’t bother, I don’t have the answer and the question itself is far too simplistic. Breastfeeding is never just about one person’s needs, baby or mother. Mothers breastfeed for many reasons: they want to; they can; their partner told them to; their midwife told them to; they believe in it ideologically; they can’t afford formula; they think they should; the list goes on. Babies breastfeed for nourishment; comfort; pain relief; distraction; and so on. So maybe it’s like a scale – when do the mother’s needs start to outweigh the baby’s? Who gets precedence anyway? Why is it okay for a woman to not breastfeed because she wants to go back to work, but it’s not okay to keep breastfeeding a six year old even though she believes it’s still important or that her individual child benefits? Who gets to make the rules? Joan Salter, in The Incarnating Child, implies that it’s basically self-serving for women to persist with breastfeeding beyond the age of nine months. On the other hand, an excellent post (which has sadly been removed) at peaceful parenting was a window into the world of breastfeeding culture in Mongolia, where it is desirable to feed until five or six years of age, in order to grow strong children.

To return to the original question – although I acknowledge that there are people out there with less than honourable intentions – my idealistic self wants to believe that a woman continuing to breastfeed forcefully, for sexual pleasure, rather than to feed or comfort her child is unlikely, and to suggest that breastfeeding would ‘accidentally’ slip into the realm of sexual abuse does women a dreadful disservice.

 

Sticky Notes July 26, 2010

Filed under: Moreish puddings — titchandboofer @ 3:19 am
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I never adored Fantales as a kid, but I have strong memories of them nonetheless. Most summer holidays through high school, my horse-riding friend (HRF) and I would go on holiday with our shared extra-grandparents (EGs) and our horses, to the EG’s daughter’s place in Gippsland. Each time we would stock up on snacks for the car trip as if our lives depended on it. In my memory the car trip was very long, hours and hours and hours, necessitating all manner of snacks, horsey magazines and games. We had Minties, Kool Mints, M&Ms, Sherbet Bombs and my HRF always had Fantales. For those not in the know, Fantales are really a lengthy game in a tiny, chocolatey-caramelly cube – you eat the lolly; there are celebrity trivia questions and answers on the wrapper; and when you’ve grilled each other over the trivia you can compete to see who can rip their wrapper painstakingly into the longest ribbon. It’s hazy now, but presumably when we were done eating our body weight in sugar and discussing Danny DeVito’s career, we filled in the time jimmying molten sugar out of our braces. Incidentally, this time did nothing to improve my ability to retain celebrity information – I still cannot readily distinguish between Ed Harris, Bruce Willis and the short guy in the terrible movie about water.

So, Fantales. Though I will never love them as much as my HRF did, they are still excellent and this dessert is both a grown-up version and a legitimate part of a meal. It has also blog-hopped around a bit – I found it at A Cozy Kitchen, where it had come from Trish Deseine via The Wednesday Chef. This recipe came into my life after a meal out at The Commoner, where Alex had a droolworthy dessert of brown ale pudding with salted caramel sauce. Googling did not reveal a recipe for brown ale pudding (please, if you have one – tell me about it) but it did lead me to…

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse

1/2 a cup of granulated sugar

3/4 of a cup of thickened cream, warmed to room temperature

2 1/2 tablespoons of room temperature unsalted butter

1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt

210 grams of dark chocolate

3 eggs, separated

Put the sugar into a medium saucepan with two tablespoons of water.

Heat this over medium-high heat, swirling but not stirring, until brown – this is the step where you can really set the flavour to your own preference. The first time I made this I held back tentatively, not really letting the sugar caramelise. the result was sweet and salty mousse, morish but with no edge. The last time, I heeded the words of Nicole Kaplan and let the caramel go and go. The final mousse was very different – the bitterness of caramel on the edge, side by side with sweet, smoky dark chocolate and the tang of salt.

When your sugar is just how you want it, take it off the heat and add your butter and salt, stirring to deglaze the pan. Pour in the cream, whisking to combine.

Add your chocolate and leave it for a few minutes to melt into the caramel.

Once the chocolate has melted, whisk it through the caramel and add a little of this mixture to your egg yolks, just to raise their temperature.

Then, add the yolks to the pan and whisk thoroughly.

Whisk the egg whites until firm peaks form, then fold gently into the caramel-chocolate mixture.

Pour into ramekins – I used six, but you could use eight to lessen the chances of sinking into a diabetic coma with each serve.

Sprinkle with a little extra sea salt.

Refrigerate for a few hours until set then serve with or without a bit of whipped cream.

Egg-wise, for my last version of this I used three of Lola’s – small and creamy coloured, each one about two-thirds the weight of one of Agnes’s. This was not by design, but they were all that were on hand at the time. Happily I didn’t notice any difference in the end result, despite the smaller volume of egg white.

Enjoy!

 

Gingerly July 25, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives,Wintery soups — titchandboofer @ 10:44 am
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I love ginger. I love it candied, sweet and fibrous, wrapped in a firm shell of dark chocolate. I love it in a damp, dark gingerbread hotcake, with apple and sabayon. I love it hot and tangy in a dinner of braised lamb with black bean. I’ll drink it in tea, bake it into sticky, fragrant muffins and sprinkle it on chai. Swept away by my all-consuming passion, I decided I could make a heavenly dessert of ginger and dark chocolate mousse. To keep a long and disappointing story brief, I could not. Amalgamating incompatible recipes and being cavalier with custard led to an overly light, fluffy and not-set-enough mousse which, even for a ginger lover, was like being slapped in the face with a whole hand of it. The chocolate had somehow disappeared and….. oh I could go on and on.

The most disappointing part really has to do with the eggs. I’d squandered five large brown eggs, the equivalent of five days work for Agnes. To make matters worse, Betty, our black silkie, has decided to go broody and has given up laying in order to snatch the others’ eggs and hunker down on them possessively. Mrs P, our peculiar Polish hen, has gone off the lay, or is hiding her brilliantly white eggs somewhere very clever. Lola, our white silkie, is laying sporadically but I suspect she is distracted by Betty’s behaviour. Hopefully she won’t go broody too. We’ve already had to find an emergency half-dozen fertilized eggs for Betty. It seemed far too cruel to let her sit there for weeks, waiting for chicks to appear beneath her. I do worry for the chicks though. Despite all reassurances from my poultry sources, I suspect a hen that took several weeks to work out how to get in or out of her house may not make the best parent.

Anyhow, until supplies are up, baking is off. But we still have to eat and I have ginger on my mind and, conveniently, on the kitchen bench. So, rather than heavenly mousse, what follows is heavenly soup. This soup is my favourite. It’s easy and quick, warming and cheap. The heat from the ginger is offset by the sweetness of the carrots and honey. At this time of year in our house, it is made about once a week, served up with a handful of parsley and a hunk of crunchy, buttery toast.

Carrot & Ginger Soup


1kg of carrots, peeled & chopped roughly

1 red onion, chopped none too finely

1 chunk of ginger, to taste, generally about a 5cm piece – chopped a little more finely than the onion

1 litre of vegetable stock (I use Massel ultra stock cubes)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 spoonful of honey, as generous as you like

Parsley

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and ginger, stirring for 4-5 minutes, until softened and fragrant.

Add the carrots and stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat to low-medium and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Puree – I do this in a bench-top blender, but only because I don’t have a stick blender (competing with small flan tins for top spot on my kitchen wish-list).

Bring to a simmer again, stir through the honey, then serve with or without parsley.