Waiting for Agnes

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Abandon teeth all ye who enter here December 23, 2010

Welcome to the Path to Ice Cream Heaven. But be warned – the destination and, let’s face it, all the quality control rest stops along the way, are not for the faint of heart, or the poor of glycaemic control, or the short of patience, or the easily distracted, or the dairy/nut/egg intolerant, or any other whinypants weaklings who can’t cope with the artery-clogging, teeth-loosening, sugar sweats of true indulgence.

 

 

The warm up

Very vanilla custard:

4 egg yolks

4 tablespoons of caster sugar

1 teaspoon of cornflour

350 mls of milk

1 vanilla pod

 

 

The night before (if you’re that organised. If not, it’s not the end of the world), split your vanilla pod, scrape all the seeds into the milk and throw in the pod for good measure. Cover and leave in the fridge to infuse overnight.

In a large bowl, whisk your egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until pale and creamy. Set aside.

 

 

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to just under boiling point.

Whisk the milk into the egg mixture. Transfer the custard mixture back to the saucepan.

Over a low-medium heat, stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Take off the heat immediately and strain through a sieve back into the original bowl.

 

 

Gently cover the surface with clingfilm (to prevent a skin forming) and set aside to cool.

 

Hitting your stride

Toffee cream:

600 mls of cream

2/3 of a cup of caster sugar

Whip the cream into soft peaks and set aside.

 

 

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat cook the sugar, stirring continuously, until it is golden brown. Keep on the heat.

Pour in the cream, stirring continuously. This looks gorgeous – like a thick, creamy latte with caramel swirls. Sadly, it is far too hands-on to photograph.

Continue to heat the mixture, bringing to a gentle boil. Any hard toffee bits will dissolve into the cream.

Pour into a bowl and put in the fridge to cool.

 

 

The hard, slightly annoying bit where you just want to sit down and have a good cup of tea

Paula Deen’s English Toffee

I was introduced to Paula Deen by SF, the beloved’s sister, when we were in America. For those of you who have never encountered this bronzed Southern Queen of The Stick of Butter, you should seek her out. After all, who knows what your heart-attack threshold is until you really really test it?

180 grams of unsalted butter

1 cup of caster sugar

2 tablespoons of cold water

1/2 a cup of chopped pecans

A good pinch of salt

~150 grams of dark eating chocolate, shaved

(you could halve this amount and still have enough for the ice cream, but that wouldn’t leave you with late night snacks)

 

 

Chop your pecans and shave your chocolate. Set aside for later.

 

 

Generously butter a baking tray. Set aside.

Put the butter, sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Put a cold glass of water within reach of the stove.

Heat over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until you’ve got a bubbling boil. Now stir occasionally and continue to boil for 5-7 minutes.

Test the toffee’s readiness by dropping small bits into the glass of water and fishing them out with a spoon. When it’s ready the bits will be slightly crunchy but not brittle.

 

 

Take off the heat and stir in the pecans, salt and vanilla extract.

Pour onto the prepared tray. Sprinkle with the shaved chocolate. Allow to cool and set. This won’t be brittle like some eating toffee, but will be slightly soft and perfect for adding to the ice cream. Obviously, if you want to alter the brittleness, just adjust your cooking time to suit.

 

 

When set, chop up about half of it into little chunks and splinters. Set aside.

 

The home stretch

Set up your trusty ice cream machine*.

Pour in the cooled custard and toffee cream.

Churn until thickened but not scoopably firm.

 

 

Add the splintered toffee and continue to churn until firm.

 

 

Transfer to a 1.5 litre freezer-proof container. Scoop into bowls.

 

 

 

 

 

Voila…The promised land of Ice Cream Heaven. It’s luscious. And moreish. And just really very good.

Eat. Then eat some more.

*If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the custard and cream into a 2-3 litre container and mix well. Freeze, removing occasionally to stir vigorously. When it’s thickened, stir in the toffee splinters.

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Poultry in motion December 22, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 5:22 am
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An excerpt from the diary of Danielle-Spencer the hen:

Sunday

It might be morning, I don’t know. It’s still dark. Water and chunks of ice are falling from the sky. We huddle under the shelter and peer gloomily out. It could be the apocalypse.

Definitely the apocalypse. A hooded person appeared through the ice and chased us through the mud. Now I am in a house of card. The house moves and lurches. My tiny feet scrabble on the floor. Maybe I will sit.

The lurching has stopped.

 

The house of card is unfolding. Tigers? Lions? A tiny person? Oh my.

The tigers are stalking me, trying to look excited, but I can see the fear in their eyes. I am Chicken! One loud bok and they disappear. The tiny person isn’t so easily got rid of. At least there is no falling ice here.

And no mud. Look! I can hop here…and here…and here on these bits of cloth draped all around. And up! Up to the… pretend sky? This is too confusing. I will sit.

I see another chicken. In a field? I can just hop… no. Is it a pretend field?

I am moving. I didn’t mean to move, but I am moving. And I’m in the field. It is not pretend.

That’s a big chicken.

Holy crap. Gotta run.

Aaaaaaarrrrrghhhhhh. Big chicken has a big beak.

Ha! Hiding place. I will sit here. Shame about the water falling on me.

The hooded person is back with a funny tent. But my hiding place is secure.

Or not. Back in the house of card. Am so confused. Will putting all this food in the water and pooping on it help? No.

Dark again. House of card has disappeared. I am in a bed of straw. This might not be so dreadful.

Monday

What fresh hell is this? My bed of straw is at the feet of the big chicken. The big chicken is awake. And he is shouting? Beats pecking me I guess.

Ah. Food is coming. Even in the apocalypse there is food. That’s reassuring.

Crap. Big chicken has seen me. Running. Running. Flying! Take that big chicken!

Big chicken is shouting. From my lovely tree I can watch his curious ways. Ah see (I say in my best David Attenboroughesque voice), see how the big chicken makes his journey from the house of straw to the water hole? Pausing only to poop, and shout, and stretch his left wing, and shout, and stretch his right wing, and shout. See how he makes himself so tall to shout? Almost like a dance. And now, having taken his fill from the water hole, he begins his slow, erratic march to the lemon tree. To shout at the lemons? I could do this all day.

But what is this on the horizon? Another hooded person. With no hood. And another person. Are they following the big chicken? Oh now this could be fun.

Big chicken runs and shouts. People run and shout. They flap a big flappy tent at the big chicken. Ha ha big chicken, see how you like running in the long long grass. Oh. The big chicken is in the flappy tent. And gone.

All is quiet. Bit bored now.

Hmm. Getting dark again. Bit of drool on my feathers. Must have had a nap. Might venture down for a snack.

Damn. Forgot about the apocalypse. People are back with big flappy tent. But I am fast.

See, people? I am up. Bye bye people.

Tuesday

I am definitely well suited to this David Attenborough gig. I have found a new field. It is small and full of low, brown sticks. Excellent for sitting.

Sitting. Sitting. Contented sitting. A bit of scratching about. Some whispery commentating of the march of the ants. More sitting.

Not more people. I was just getting into a really good sit.

The people are circling. I will hop over here….no, that’s no good. Over here? No. Hands waving at me. Here? No. Ouch. Didn’t see that stick.

And I am up. But not flying. My wings are folded tight. I am with the people.

And now I am in a funny plastic house. Small people and tigers are watching me. This apocalypse is exhausting.

The plastic house is lurching.

And I am home. Home, glorious home.

 

Coming home to rooster December 18, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 9:49 pm
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After the horrible loss of our feathered family, earlier this week, I was reconciling myself to the still emptiness of our back yard. We had said our good-byes to the hens, packed away their belongings, cleaned out their house and anticipated a summer of romping around in chook-poo free grass. I didn’t want to rush out and replace the ladies too soon. How could any hen replace Agnes? And what if a fox struck again? I had a plan forming to amass a pile of tasty baked goods with which to bribe our nearest and dearest to help in the construction of a high-sided, roofed, super-fox-proof outdoor run, with work commencing in February.

And then we heard from the happy new owner of Lucy, Snow White and Cinderella. Remember these little cuties?….

 

 

A couple of weeks ago they went to live around the corner with our friend and fellow midwife, all looking very much like hens. All was well. At the time I had said ‘If any of them turn into roosters you can send them back’, feeling pretty confident that, at seven weeks past supposed chicken-sexing time, we wouldn’t be seeing them in our yard again. Hmm. Chicken-sexing time? Six to eight weeks of age? Not such a narrow window after all. See our affectionately named ‘ranga chick’ up there, on the bottom right? Well, ranga chick grew into Lucy. Then Lucy grew into:….

 

 

Russell. Russell Crow. And he does. Frequently. For the past three hours he has been angrily searching our yard for his flock, cockadoodledooing at every tree, bird, interruption, poop-break, snack-break and drink-break. At four months old he is still just a baby really, but is already impressively larger and louder than a fully grown Agnes. Since his dramatic return after dusk last night I have been laughing maniacally, the beloved has been groaning and muttering ‘I don’t want a rooster’ on a loop, and one of our cats has been having a long, fur-shedding, possum-tailing, bug-eyed freak out. And it’s true. We didn’t want a rooster. I swore black and blue that I’d harden up and kill any roosters for the table. Who was I kidding? How could I kill Russell?

 

Can’t you have a sandwich instead? Please? December 17, 2010

Filed under: Breastfeeding,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 8:14 am
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As I’ve mentioned once or twice, I like breastfeeding. Personally, generally, physiologically, politically, ideologically. Whatever-ally, I’m all for babies getting human milk right from the source. To state the obvious, it’s free, convenient, healthy, soothing, comforting…. just better. And most of the time I love actually doing it, rather than just delighting in its betterness. In the first few weeks, despite the attachment pain, I wallowed in the satisfaction of the fact that I could do it. Not only that, but after a pregnancy of fretting that genetics were against me, I gloried in being the first breastfeeding woman in my family for at least three generations. A month or so in, the attachment pain disappeared, and the small one and I settled in to the comfort zone, curled up together, his tiny fist pressed into my breast, eyes blissfully closed. And he fed and he fed and he fed. Every three hours or so, round the clock, in every conceivable location, without pause. Somewhere in those early months I anticipated mourning the age when he would only want the ‘bookend’ feeds of morning and bedtime. I anticipated that this would be around 12-18 months (yes yes, laugh all you like, god knows I do). And so the months slipped by. Six months, small is still going strong, flirting with the odd morsel of food but reeling in horror at the offer of expressed breast milk in any vessel (bye bye Masters study, I’m staying home to breastfeed with a mixture of relief and regret). Eight months, still going strong, powered by breastmilk and three-four cornflakes per day. Ten months. Twelve months, still going strong, stretching out to all of four-five hours between feeds, handily allowing me to go back to work doing a weekly half shift of four hours. Twelve and a half months, reluctant mamas crack under pressure and force the food issue. Thirteen months, meals! Expressed breast milk in a cup or bottle! Naively, I assume that as small eats more he will breastfeed less. Not heaps less of course and I certainly don’t want to wean him, but a little less? One feed less? Ha! With his big brown eyes, his most solemn expression and one hand possessively clutching the neck of my t-shirt, the small one has no need for words to express the obvious… Oh mama, why would I want to do that? So, at sixteen months he’s still feeding like each feed could be his last, vigorously, desperately, every two to three to four hours, round the clock.

Mostly it is still deeply satisfying. It’s certainly not at all painful or difficult any more – small could feed upside down and tap-dancing if he felt like it. I can smugly report that he’s never been more sick than having the most minor of colds. It is a hugely convenient way to keep a now keenly mobile child still and quiet when I need to. And so on and so forth and blah blah blah. In itself, breastfeeding has not changed. It is still free, convenient, healthy, soothing, comforting… You get the picture. And mostly I continue to delight in it. Mostly I have adapted to sleeping in three hour intervals and expressing when I work and continuing to feed any time any place. Mostly I love dealing with the looks of horror when strangers seeing me feed ask me how old small is. And I certainly love the occasional looks of joy in the same scenario. That’s a buzz.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I’m over it. Really over it. Sometimes I think if my nipples get idly twiddled and distractedly bitten once more I will run out of the house screaming. Sometimes I think if I have to wake just one more time overnight to feed I will sneak away and hide in our spare room and leave the beloved to fend off small as he sleepily gropes his way across the bed. This week is one of those times. Early in the week we had a 24 hour interstate trip. Small fed through most of the outbound plane trip, through the night in a tiny hotel room, through part of every meal, through each of the five appointments we attended and through most of the plane trip back. (See above re breastfeeding being a convenient method of quiet immobilisation.) Not unreasonably I suppose, he now seems to feel that he cannot be within a five metre radius of me without being attached to my breast. It’s driving me bananas. Rationally, I know I have caused this. Rationally, I know I can’t spend 24 hours saying ‘Drink Up!’ and just as suddenly switch off the tap. But I don’t care. I just want to be able to go five minutes without a wailing limpet scaling my leg and pulling my top off. And you may say ‘Just Say No!’ or some such, but it’s not that simple. The small one, reveling in his emergent toddlerhood is very determined. Can’t imagine where he gets that from. Bloody genetics.

I know I want a lot. I want to demand-feed but I don’t want there to be too much demanding. I want an abundant supply without too much demand. I want to night-wean but I still want to co-sleep. I want to follow small and respond to his needs but I want him to be less needy. I want to complain about this without alienating everyone who’s ever struggled to breastfeed. Right now, at seven pm, I want to pack up my boobs for the night and not get them out until seven am tomorrow. I want to sleep the long, heavy sleep of my pre-baby years. I want a spare lactating woman, or two. I’m happy to return the favour*. Just not today.

 

*For an excellent discussion of  co-feeding, or ‘Informal Breastmilk Sharing’ look over here at PhD in Parenting

 

Gone December 15, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 9:32 am
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There will be no more chicken jokes.

For there are no more chickens.

I have a horribly sick feeling in my stomach, having to write this.

Our feathered ladies are gone.

Killed and scattered by some roaming beast.

I have spent the day torturing myself with thoughts of how scared they must have been.

A very kind friend has gathered their remains and put them all in a box to be buried.

I don’t know if I can look in the box.

Yes they were chickens, livestock, birds.

But they were our pets and we doted on them.

We loved Agnes and her feisty, bossy attitude.

We loved Lola’s boastful crowing over each and every egg she popped out.

We loved Betty’s doddering, confused mothering of her chicks.

We loved Mrs Poulawitska’s uncoordinated dashing about and her secretive egg laying.

We cannot wait for Agnes any longer.

Good bye feathered ladies.

 

What do you call a weird chicken? December 13, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 7:16 pm
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EGGCENTRIC

 

Who was the fiercest chicken in history? December 12, 2010

Filed under: Days of our chickens' lives — titchandboofer @ 4:30 am
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ATTILA THE HEN!