Waiting for Agnes

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Switch September 22, 2010

Filed under: Parenting — titchandboofer @ 10:18 am
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Conversations in our kitchen

*           *          *

Beloved is holding the small person, looking out the back window to the garden, appearing thoughtful.

– Now I’m home with small more often, perhaps you should tell me what needs doing in the garden so I can help.

Really? You want to garden?

– Well, yes. I might need something to do.

– Okay. There’s heaps of stuff to do at the moment. Do you want a list?

– Yes. But you can only write one list, you can’t lose it and rewrite it over and over again. Just stick it on the fridge.

*          *          *

List is written. List is on fridge. I go to work. I come home.

Good day?

Yep, small slept well and we spent a bit of time in the garden.

– Oooh, nice. What did you do?

Just some weeding around the raised bed in the middle of the garden.


Was that on the list?

– No. But it was just weeding.

*          *          *

Later, I take rubbish out to bins. Bins are in garden. In the most non-checking-up-way I can muster, I investigate the site of the weeding.

You know the weeding?

– Mm hmm.

Not actually weeds. Actually bulbs. Gift from grandfather.

– Oh.


Oh what a difference a few hours make September 14, 2010

I hate being woken up by a migraine. Like a tiny person is trapped under my temple, trying to get out with a hammer drill. Pain, nausea, yadda yadda yadda. It’s 4am. No matter how many times this happens, I will always try and convince myself that if I just shut my eyes and press my fingers really hard into my temple I’ll fall asleep and wake up cured. 530am. Not cured. Shuffle blearily down hall, praying that my absence won’t wake small early, take two panadol, shuffle back to bed. Small still sleeping. Beloved getting ready for work. Shut eyes tightly and resume temple-pressing. 7am. Small awake and using me as climbing frame. Seems to be winking at me. Realise one eye is partly swollen closed. Super. Phone the beloved at work to accuse her of breaking the baby. She’s not here, so it must be her fault somehow. Boil kettle. That will help. Tea. Shower. Wash small’s eye with cool, boiled water. He’s thrilled. Contemplate breakfast. Still feeling sick and throbbing-heady. Eat toast anyway. Small begrudgingly eats some porridge, is mainly interested in making me play with his maraca. Loud noises. Day stretches out in front of me. Eggs sit accusingly in egg-crate on bench. Cannot bake today. Still recovering from coconut extravaganza. Had planned on lovely gardening. Would rather lie down with ice-pack clamped to my head. Thankfully one of the LMFs is having a slow work week. Take small to her place for a change of scenery and fun times with his two year old friend, L. Both children too grumpy for any kind of fun. More panadol. More tea. More toast. Small scoffs a quarter of my piece of toast with nutella and perks up instantly. L takes one look at his nutella-smeared face and tells him he’s a disgrace. This declared sternly from behind her own mask of chocolatey goodness. Quite funny really. Sense of humour returning. Must be feeling better. Wander in LMF’g garden, making grand plans for its future. Am inspired to reconsider own gardening.

Take small home via nursery near LMF’s house. Nursery run by two endearingly peculiar women who dispense gardening advice like a stream of consciousness as they meander through the pots and stands of mysterious acrylic knits. Just get down the op-shop and get some terylene curtains to fling over these, that’ll keep off the possums, you don’t want to bother with those bags of topsoil no put those back just dig in lots of poo, blow up old wine cask bags and tie them to the branches, put a clothes line on its side and pull one lot of strings this way and one that way and then throw another curtain over that, don’t let the afternoon sun at your canes, get out at night and look on some hard rubbish collections for old trellis, you don’t want to go spending money on fancy new stuff, those plastic bits in the bottom of fruit boxes very handy for this, make sure your tomato bed is 18 degrees before your seedlings go in….. Go home with many bags of poo and a mandarin tree. Unload car into front garden. Feeling quite excited by prospect of gardening now. Lunch with small. He semi-happily gets through some pumpkin goop, a bit of yoghurt and half a salada with cashew spread. He sleeps. I loll on the couch with supremely trashy crime novel. Have not thought about tiny person with drill for some time now. Am cured. Huzzah! Eat some chocolate to celebrate.

Small wakes up. Beloved gets home. Afternoon sun streams into front garden. We all sit in sun drinking coffee. Well, not small. He just scoots around with no pants on, eating leaves. Man-next-door waves happily to us over newly exposed and surprisingly low fence and drags around his garden bin for me to use. Agnes clacks down the drive, ecstatic at this rare opportunity to shuck of the responsibilities of managing the workforce and forage alone in the front garden. LMF arrives with six year old M, my excellent gardening assistant. Beloved, small and LMF lie in the sun. M and I do digging and ‘crunching’ (M’s favourite activity, stabbing the ground with a pitchfork to loosen up our heavy clay soil), and find homes for a beurre bosc pear, a nashi, the mandarin and some rhubarb crowns. We carefully spread straw around the newly planted trees. Agnes carefully scratches it all away, glaring hard at us (did I say you could put that there? who authorised this?). The light begins to fade. LMF and M go home. Beloved and small go in to potter in the house. I do a last bit of pottering outside. In a spurt of enthusiasm I decide to give these chard chips a try:

So, I may have been a little enthusiastic with the salt, but otherwise a success. Even small thought they made an excellent pre-dinner snack. Dark now. Chooks in bed. Beloved cooking dinner. Bath for small and I. Happily tired and grubby from digging and crunching and planting. Restorative pasta dinner. Tangy lemon tart, courtesy of The Granny. And now it’s time for a mug of tea. Good night all. Good night tiny person with drill. I’m glad you took the afternoon off. Feel free to take the rest of the week.


Hurry up and grow August 31, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 11:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

Late last summer I planted asparagus seeds. This was a seriously long-term investment in our culinary future. Although the tiny seedlings popped up – perfect asparagus in miniature – within weeks, there won’t be any harvesting for another eighteen months. Until then they grow, achingly slowly, in our raised vegetable bed, taunting me with their tiny perfection. On the upside, once an asparagus bed gets going you can leave it in place for years and years (seven or perhaps twenty, depending which source you might believe). Once something is planted in the garden, no matter what stage of its development, I am reluctant to buy it elsewhere. Partly this is thriftiness (or stinginess, if that’s your angle), partly it’s about attempting to honour the principles of eating seasonally, and partly it’s about the satisfaction of making do with what one has to hand. Sometimes though, as with eggs, I cave in to desire.

Cheat’s Risotto

2 tablespoons of olive oil

50 grams of unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

330 grams of arborio rice (or other risotto rice, as you wish)

250 mls of white wine (I keep a 2 litre cask of dry white in the pantry for just such a thing)

1 litre of vegetable stock (I use 2 massel ultra stock cubes) hot

3 bunches of asparagus

1 cup of grated parmesan

zest & juice of a lemon (homegrown, slightly redemptive)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan/deep sided, wide frypan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until softened.

Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat the grains.

Add the wine and stir for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each to absorb before adding the next. Now there are two schools of thought on this process – stirring vs non-stirring with occasional swirling. If you stir, particularly if it’s vigorous, your end result will be a thicker texture. If you swirl occasionally the end result is a looser risotto. Entirely up to you.

Carry on until the rice is cooked but not too soft. This will take 20-30 minutes. It’s best if you don’t wander off during this time. Inattention can lead to a much gluggier result.

In the meantime, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Peel the stalks, leaving the tips intact. Chop into ~5cm segments.

Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes, until just tender. The tips will be bright green. Drain, then refresh in cold water. I have read a theory that putting the peelings into the water you’ll blanch the asparagus in gives an extra-asparagusy flavour. I tried this and just found it fiddly without an appreciable difference in flavour.

When the risotto is almost done, add the asparagus, parmesan, lemon zest and juice. Gently combine then season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes, then serve.

It’s hard to turn down a good risotto. Some are dreadful. I once worked in a pub where the name risotto was given to cooked rice fried up with chunks of whatever and peas (always with the peas) then sprinkled with parmesan. Fine to eat if you’re a house-sharing uni student, at the end of a feet-blistering shift, if you need a heavy dose of carbs and salt, and you can disguise its hideousness with the wine bottle rejects of the night. Not fine if you’re bothering to cook yourself a dinner you plan to enjoy.

This is worth the moderate amount of effort and attention. For extra carby-deliciousness, serve it up with chunks of fresh crusty bread slathered with real butter. Oh and a bit of white wine won’t go astray.