Sunday, June 24, 2007

blurring vision and happy tummies

I'm so tired that the screen is shaking in front of my eyes - vertigo, a neurologist friend of my father's called it once, long ago. Which, I suppose means that I'm both tired and a little overwhelmed.

It's been a wonderful, wonderful day, thanks to many people who stepped in and loved my kids while the Man was checking in on the MIL, many hours drive away. I'm glad he went. And I'm grateful to the parents of Wise Sam, who came and swept the Eldest away for a playdate, and then let the Toddles (and me!) join them later on. And to Mary Jr, who brought her entire family and loved one to dinner, helped plan the menu, loved and entertained my children and helped with the cooking. We ate well, we groaned, we admired each other and it was good.

But: the Toddles seems to be allergic to soy.

I first realized that something was off on Friday, when I picked up the enormous, stuffed-to-the-gills diaper bag that I've been hauling around. My back hurts, I grumbled to myself. Maybe I'll pull out one of the pods. (Explanation: I pack my diaper bags according to a pod system: I have a diapering pod - diapers, wipes, etc in a ziploc bag - a food pod, an entertainment pod, etc. I select my pods according to the length and type of trip, and I have two diaper bags, one big and one tiny so that adjustments within the pods rarely need to be made. It's complex but functional, like too many of my arrangements.)
NO! I roared at myself. I must have all of it.

I paused here. Why?
I paused some more, and scratched my head, symbolically. Finally, I need it all, in case something happens.
I thought this over. What did I think was going to happen? Politely, I elaborated for my benefit: The Toddles is going to have an allergic reaction.
Ah. Now I understood. Part of my brain was persuaded that an anaphylactic reaction was in the offing. That means an ambulance ride, 4-6 hours minimum in the ER, and tired cranky and hungry children needing food (thus the food pod) and entertainment (ah. Thus the entertainment pod). Fine. But why do I think that he's going to have a reaction?


By candlelighting (the start of the shabbat), I had put it together. The Toddles has had a wet, runny nose since we got to Australia. He's been increasingly picky about his food, happily eating lamb but refusing tofu and milk. No, refusing tofu and soymilk. And refusing his favorite crackers, and nursing more (to make up calories?) and he's had this persistent rash and it seems worse after his breakfast....which is puffed rice and soy milk. Ah some more. I whapped my head and called myself some names before calling the allergist. He prescribed Benadryl and a course of carefully moderated skepticism: if the symptoms are better, sans Benadryl, the next day, then it's a virus. If not, let's talk...

The Man struggled briefly, then agreed to replace the next morning's soy milk with cow's milk. The Toddles ate his breakfast happily, and his face was free of the nasty little rash. I congratulated myself. By dinner, however, I was second-guessing myself already, and by breakfast the next day, I was offering a nice, steady internal ridicule. So the kiddo got soy milk in his cereal. And hives on his face.

Oh, I'm tired. I'm so tired. There go the crackers that I relied on for a quick snack. There goes the soy milk, which offered an alternative that didn't threaten the Eldest (dairy allergy) while offering excellent nutritional value. Up goes my stress level, but worse - up goes the Eldest's stress levels, as he hates to eat something that others are allergic to, hates to have his own allergens around him and is fearful when his safe zone at home is threatened. There are choices we can make to get this all to work, but tonight I'm too tired to figure them out.

The one thing I can tell you is this: monk's curry works great with frozen orange roughy (from Trader Joe's) instead of tofu. And you can use balsamic vinegar in this instead of the soy sauce. It's not a substitution that I'd normally recommend, but it works here. I have a wee tupperware of leftovers from my giant pot to prove it. Or maybe it proves that Mary Jr's loved ones like food as much as she does. You decide.

Here's some more of what we ate this past weekend, as per Spring's request:

Saffron Grain and Roasted Beet Salad
adapted from Vegetarian Times, June 1999; finder's fees to Mary Jr.
6-8 servings

6 Tb extra virgin olive oil
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Put all into a food processor and blend until frothy. Set aside.

5 small beets, greens attached
1 cup uncooked quinoa or basmati rice
water/broth (for cooking the grain/rice - check the instructions for whatever you purchase)
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2-3 bay leaves
2 Tb olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
1-2 Tb lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

Wash the beets. Cut greens off the beets, leaving a bit of stem sticking out from the top of the beets. Wrap the beets in tinfoil, and bake at 400F for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once they are cool, you can almost slide the peel off. Slice thinly, and toss with 3 Tb of the dressing. The beets will store nicely in the fridge for a day or so, warm before serving.
Note: to peel beets without turning your hands red, put plastic bags over your hands.

While beets are baking, prepare quinoa/rice by rinsing, if necessary. (Most quinoa is bitter unless rinsed.) Heat 1 Tb oil in a pan, gently sauteeing garlic. Add liquid, and cook quinoa/rice in that same pot. Add saffron, bay leaves to the grain as it cooks. Once grain is cooked, add remaining dressing to it.

Finally, saute onion in the last Tb of oil, until the edges are quite brown. Roughly chop beet greens while the onion browns, and toss them in at the last moment. Stir briefly, until greens wilt, then take off the flame. Toss with lemon juice and salt.

Serve in a layered style, with the rice on the bottom, beets in the middle and greens/onion on top. If making the day before, make sure everything is at least room temperature (don't heat up the greens, just make sure they're not cold) and the beets are warm before serving. Reheats nicely (although your rice will turn pink once everything's combined!) and is good with chicken.

Mama's review: a little on the fussy side, but extremely good. I'm slightly on the fence about beets, but this was delicious - and it was also yummy two days later.

Crisp! Crisp! Crishp!
note the full mouth on this one - this will silence 6-7 people. Temporarily.
adapted from Vegetarian Times, June 1999. Finder's fee to Mary Jr!
5 and 1/2 cups mixed berries, or apples, pears and berries (I like to mix my apples and pears with a tart berry, but you decide).
1 Tb lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tb rice flour

If using apples/pears, slice somewhat thinly. Combine in a bowl. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F.

3/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup teff flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder (corn-free, if necessary)
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 flaxgel egg substitute (1 Tb flaxmeal + 2 Tb water, mix and let stand on the counter until thickened slightly) or 1 egg, lightly beaten
4 Tb butter/margarine, melted
2Tb water, or more as needed to moisten dry ingredients

Combine dry ingredients, then mix in wet ones. The liquids will only barely moisten the mixture, and consider using a whisk to mix them in well. Pour the fruit into a pie pan or 8x8 square baking tin, and carefully pour the topping over the fruit.

Bake for about 45 minutes, and serve warm.
note: the following intrigues, but they got my idea of 'gross' pretty much completely wrong. Still, the rest is fun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Australia (Part Seven): of beaks and fins

Wednesday, June 7th: where the emu lurks

Home the triumphant sleeper. The Eldest had had his first sleepover , courtesy of the Grandmere, who established her cred as potential sleepdate during her daylong grandmaternal time. A child who'd always refused to spend time in another's bed (saving my own), the Eldest returned delighted and determined to do it again. He did, too, the night after my grandmother's 90th birthday bash, and he professed himself extremely satisfied with the results.

We collected the Pater from the airport, and whisked him and the Grandmere (at a fairly sedate pace, as whisking goes) off to Healesville Sanctuary, a nice zoo alternative about 1.5 hours away. I remembered there being only a token bit of wood, at about shin height between me and the various kangaroos and emus, but clearly things have changed. Now there was a waist height bit of fencing, and tall fenced-in enclosures (with doors for us to enter by). The Pater grumbled about going so far for the sanctuary and I quietly echoed him, but the Eldest, running back and forth between exhibits, silenced us all.

Mouth open around his thumb, the Eldest stared at goannas, koalas, platypuses, a shrieking wedge-tailed eagle defending her turf, a swooping owl, emus horking deep in their long, long throats and an extremely shy lyre bird, whose mate was crankily pacing high on the fence above. She's nesting, the keeper told me. I considered any number of other feminine options for her behaviour and wisely kept my mouth shut.

The Toddles lacked his brother's sense of awe, or possibly just his quiet, and was bubbling over with opinions. Pah-push! Pah-Push! he shrieked at the platypuses, entirely unmoved by the sign that said, 'Please be Quiet. Do Not Startle the Animals.' Startled by the firm little voice coming from about knee-height, we all looked down. The Toddles ignored us, tracing with his arms the diving and swimming of the platypuses. Swoop, across, up, turn. Swoop, across, up, turn. The wild birds of prey merited an equally strong response: No! Go! Now! he instructed us, and helpfully pointed to the (locked) exit. And of course there was, 'kowwas,' offered in hushed tones as we watched a sleepy koala dangle himself, stretch, twist and slowly reach for a particularly yummy leaf.

We drove home as the sun set, oh so romantically over acres of vineyards, some with rosebushes dotting the edges of the grapevines. Home, home, home - except for the Eldest, eyeing the calendar for his next nocturnal adventure.

Thursday, June 8th: liquid entertainment

This would be one of our last free days in Oz, with sabbath prep looming and then the blur of my grandmother's birthday bash, the Unc's big book launch and departure. Accordingly, we headed off to the Aquarium.

First time to the Aquarium, is it? asked the helpful person accepting the (rather large) entry fees. Yes, we told him. And are you Canadian? he asked. Um, no - we're from the US. From Boston. He thought this over. D'you have aquariums in America, then? We stared at him. Boston's Aquarium is a big, lovely beastie of a thing, and the Eldest and the Man have spent any number of happy hours there. Um, yes. We have one not far from us. The young man considered the possible merits of our local aquarium and confidently said, Well, I think you'll like this one. We were certainly willing to try.

The Melbourne Aquarium is quite nice, if a bit small. We circled through it twice, then tripled back for a better look at a few feeding sessions. The Man glared at me when I made my habitual dash for the gift shop (I adore gift shops, and always feel - naively - that they have the potential to hold wonderful, glorious things. They usually don't.), and we emerged into the balmy Melbourne day shortly before lunch. I maintain, however, that the whole thing was worth the effort and the cost purely on the strength of the Aquarium's big tank, with a glass roofed tunnel snaking its way through. Over our heads, giant rays lazily flapped along, while sharks moved with purpose. We lose about 20 or so fish a month, a diver told us, despite doing our best to keep the sharks fed. I could believe it.

The Eldest stared at the various divers, picking up empty shells, waste, feeding the fish. I want to learn to do that, he said, thoughtfully. Luckily for the kidlet, Mary Jr stands ready to teach him to swim this June, but I suspect it'll be a while before his hematologists let him play with sharks and other toothy creatures. Assuming he asks them instead of ME.

Back at home, the Toddles snuggled up for a post-prandial sip. He'd been doing a pretty good imitation of a barnacle on the trip, assuming a barnacle could howl every time its father picked him up or its mother moved outside of the Approved Six Inch Radius. Sigh. Quietly, the Eldest reversed his parental preferences to come and lean against my side. He grinned at his brother. Mouth full of maternal bits, the Toddles grinned back.

Whisper, whisper, whisper said the Eldest. Whisper, whisper, whisper said the Toddles, grinning even more widely. The Eldest looked up at me. We're twins, he said. I raised my best maternal eyebrow at him. Ah. And you are telling each other your boy-secrets, then, are you? The Eldest thought this over. Yes.

That night, a mystery: on the tram tracks we saw three cars rolling by. Restaurant 1 read the first. Restaurant 2, Restaurant 3 - we counted them as they passed us. Wonder what they were?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


We're home. We're tired, filthy and I'm wearing a silly too-small t-shirt that I bought in LA when I could not take it anymore after 18 hours in a white shirt that showed the signs of every meal the boys ate and we're home.

The remaining factor is in the fridge, Mary Jr met us at the door with a smiling face and hugs (the best part of the trip, I thought), the boys are washed and fed and the Man is reading them stories and please please please please they will sleep a little.

We haven't seen a bed in 30 hours - time to clean up, rest and recover. Until the kids wake up, jet lagged, of course!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Australia (Part Six): the purpose of grandparents

Not the last post, but nearly so, I think. It damned better be, anyway - I'm ready to go back to blogging as per desire, as opposed to blogging as per diem.

Okay, a quick whiz through a bit of the past week:
Monday, June 4th - we had two, back to back playdates, with two of my cousins and their cousinly offspring. I really like these women of my generation, they're down to earth and funny. And their kids are pretty classic G-fam kids, sweet and exuberant, smart and silly.

Tuesday, June 5th: Children? What Children?
I’d love to tell you what my kids did today, but I barely know myself.

Today, the Man and I left the children in the arms of a delighted Grandmere, who promised parrots and parks to my wee boys. The wee boys parrotted, parked and slept, and when we turned up (an hour early) to fetch them, barely even noted our presence. Hm.

And, of course, tonight the Eldest is sleeping at his Grandmere’s place, a milestone that he’s previously declined. At the top of his lungs. After deciding that yes, he’d rather like to. Hmm again.

In case you were wondering, the Man went off and had pastry while I did a little shopping and found a soft, fuzzy sweater in Spring’s beloved burnt orange. So strong is the association with Spring that I nearly didn’t buy it, but then I laughed at myself and the mystified saleslady rang me up. Done.

We wandered in and out of art galleries, obviously too poor to buy anything there, but having a glorious time. And, following a cousinly tip, we went to Sozai, a sushi joint on High St in Armadale. It’s a tiny place, and serves a limited range of sushi (nothing like the almost overwhelming range on offer at FuGaKyu back in Boston), but offers a phenomenal salad of daikon radish, shredded into an angel-hair pasta-like form, topped with semi circles of thin, thin lemon and a mound of salmon roe. Drizzled on top is warm olive oil – a simple and potent combination.

As a cook who likes her flavors pungent and complex, this was almost too simple for me. But the pop of the ikura, the quiet crunch of the daikon met the richness of the oil and the sparkle of the lemon and oh my god I sound like a food writer in some magazine. Okay, okay, it was good. I nearly licked the plate.

And two hours later I was starving again. Thank gunnies there was pasta for dinner!
Tomorrow we leave for home. Already, I've begun stripping the place of the bits and pieces that made it ours. The last load of laundry is spinning in the machine, the fridge is cleared of the bit of paper and the calendar that the Eldest and I taped up, and the pantry is emptying out.

Last night, I dreamed of airplanes. Maybe it's time. Besides, I hear that there's 20 tomato plants in our community garden plot (twenty!!!), and I really, really want to see that for myself. Damn me - twenty.

Anyone want some salsa? Or how about some Mystery Salad?

A recipe we found in a magazine (delicious.) and tweaked to fit our pantry, budget thingies. Y'know, them.

Broiled Nameless Fish with Mystery Salad
Note: this dinner is very, very quick to toss together. Took me about fifteen minutes.

4 small tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 avocado, cut up
1 block feta, cubed and spritzed with half of a lemon's juice (optional - we didn't have any) or feta (a moist feta is better than a dry one - look for a feta with white liquid sloshing around in the packaging, this one will have better flavor)
1 cucumber, cubed (optional - we didn't have one)
1 scallion, chopped
2 handfuls baby arugula, or rocket
1-2 Tb fresh mint
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 Tb chopped fresh parsley

squeeze a lemon. Add slightly more olive oil than you have lemon juice. Mash and chop a clove of garlic, add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together, pour over salad right before serving.

buy 4 white-fleshed fish fillets, whatever's cheap. Skinless is fine, flash frozen is fine, fresh is best - just work with your budget. About 20-30 minutes before cooking (if possible, it's okay to skip this but then your fish will be super mild in flavor), squeeze half or a whole lemon over the fish. Grind some fresh pepper on top, too.

Heat grill/broiler. Brush a bit of olive oil over the fish, lightly score (cut very lightly) in 2-3 spots. Sprinkle with salt, pepper. Broil/grill 2-3 minutes, flip and do the other side. Fish is done when it's just white (not translucent) in the middle.

Toss salad and serve together. Invite your eaters to figure out what the mystery flavor is (it's the mint). My guys had thirds of the salad in their efforts to figure it out...heh.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Australia (Part Five): of carnivores and barbarians

All I'm going to say about last Shabbat (June 2nd) is that we learned that the Toddles likes meat.

We figured this out when he grabbed a hunk of roasted lamb off my plate, shrieking, meat! meat! After some experimentation, we realized that, while the child was willing to extend his affections to poultry, he was quite serious about the high cholesterol, Mary's little sweetmeat thing, and we just fed him until he stopped shrieking.

He looked greasy and happy. My kind of kid.

Sunday, June 3rd:

This morning was a leisurely one, to the Man’s delight. I spent a good chunk of it sleeping, recovering from a night with a stuff-nosed Toddles. Gathering ourselves up, we meandered over to the home of my aged grandmother, where we collected her and my mum. Mum swooped up the Eldest, and they went off for a Tram Adventure, which he described as follows:

The tram was a fun tram ride. Once we’re on the tram, I sit down and Savta takes our tickets. She got them on the tram. The tram went zoom.

We went to Allumen Park (Luna Park), there was almost everything was electric. And we went on the Elephant Zoom – it was an elephant ride, you’d go up, down, up, down, up, down, and the white one [rollercoaster] went up the hill slowly and down very fast. And one ride you get flipped upside down. And another ride but we didn’t go on it – it was a very scary ride, it was a dragon. You swing up and down, up and down, up and down – but very high – and you almost get tipped over and you fall out of your seat. And there was some things that went sideways up and down, it was a merry go round but it was skinny and flat and people went on it and went round and around very fast (zooming noises). And the dragon thing (zooming noises and gestures) and soon it came to a stop and there were people in the dragon zoomer, and once it stopped everybody got out.

The golden statue man was sitting in the corner. At lunch time, he wanted to look like a statue, so he didn’t say anything. He gave me his sword and I holded it up. And while I was holding it up, he gave me a balloon. I gave the sword back, and I kept the balloon. It is light blue!

When we went on the tram, yeah yeah yeah, it was really fun, boom boom boom badoom
(singing and beating time on the balloon) boom badoom. (Dances around the room)

Clearly, a successful adventure.

St Kilda Beach hosts a craft fair on the Esplenade every Sunday, from 10 am onwards. I remember this craft fair from trips past – the trip I made with the Man, when we were engaged. We bought a huge, striped cutting board made of strips of different Australian woods. It’s still as lovely as ever, with a shallow curve worn into it from years of my chopping knives. The trip we made after getting married, when we bought a huge redgum salad bowl, now almost maroon in colour from years of oily dressings and careful cleanings. The camphor wood cutting boards, mine now split along a weak point in the grain, thanks to a couple of years of careless hot water washes. Whoops. And the puppet lady, the odd plastic mod chotchke guy, the Aboriginal stall (now under new and slightly fashionable management), the potters and a Mr. Jackson who makes clocks out of abandoned, battered bits of red gum, which look worn and aged until you open them, and the deep red wood shines out at you.

It’s a treasure trove of crafts, and I’ve happily cherrypicked there, over the years. I far prefer the Esplenade crafts to the slightly chintzy chaos of offering at Victoria Market. It’s more craft and less (okay, none) cheap plastic toy – precisely to my taste. And it was lovely today, the sun shone, the Toddles babbled happily around a sunbutter sandwich, my grandmother helped me choose a gift for Mary Jr (a nice handbag? that pretty necklace? Um.), and the Eldest tried to climb the enormous, ancient palm trees lining the sidewalk. No new treasures, but much quiet pleasure.

We swooped by the book launch event where my uncle was reading and signing books (magid, I have yours!). My uncle, the published author. What a thought. He sat calmly behind a little table, books piled around him, signing and chatting with people who came by. My uncle, the author.

He’s pretty good, too.

Quick kid story: tonight, the Eldest comes to me and says, Mummy, do you want to see my school? I have a school for barbarians.
, I say. Really?
He takes me to the living room, and shows me: this chair is the library corner, where you can read. Over there is the paper airplane area, where you can throw airplanes. The airplanes go here, in this box, when you’re done. There you can rest and take naps, and here [the couch], well, we have to decide what that’s for.
I looked around. It’s a wonderful school, I told him. If I were a barbarian, I think I would enjoy it a lot.
He nodded, satisfied and unsurprised.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Australia (Part Four): Virtue, meet Desire. Desire, meet Virtue

Thursday, May 31st: Meet Virtue, the Kangaroo
By now, I was genuinely worried about the state of my article – it was due the next day, and so dull you could play caveman with it (You reader, me writer. Whump!). Oy. I hauled myself into the start of the day, trying to shove the grey thought-bubble that is my article aside.

shove, shove. Damnit. Shove.

This was to be our last day on the Prom, and after the soaking we’d had the day before, I was hoping to leave on a good note. (shove, shove) The Toddles kickstarted us: a rosella was happily sitting on our deck. I heard screeching, and looked up from my coffee. Didn’t know rosellas could produce such a sound – but no, it was the Toddles, grinning hugely as he chased the rosellas into flight. And then attempted to take flight himself, and fall off the deck.

We had our final try at kangaroo spotting early that morning, this time virtuously early as we drove through the remnants of the night. The Eldest wailed as we woke him, dressed him, and stuffed him into the car. Thus is virtue rewarded, I snarled at the Man. Sunset broke over our car, and it was barely dawn by the time we arrived at the Prom’s landing strip. Alas, so did a light drizzle, so that when we arrived at the strip, only one game kangaroo was waiting for us.

He was a friendly fellow, though, willing to stand still and watch us go by, even hop next to us (at a distance). He escorted us back to our car, and watched us go, head slightly cocked in amusement at the odd humans.

What the coffee couldn’t do, the Toddles began, the kangaroo had finished. And then, as if by consipracy, the weather chimed in to finish off my grumps. By the time we’d packed up and driven the 30 minutes to the entrance of the park, though, the sun was peeking through the clouds. So, we shrugged, stuffed our rain gear in the knapsack and the Toddles in Zina’s Ergo carrier, and off we went for a 4+ km hike to and from Miller’s Landing. At the beach are the southernmost mangroves, which I politely pointed out to the boys. They were, of course, far more interested in the various jellyfish, white and gelatinous, which had washed up on shore. Ugh. The Eldest required photos for his classmates, which I duly took. Ugh some more.

And then off for Melbourne and home, with one, quick, notable pee break in Meeniyan, a small town outside of the Prom that describes itself as Meeniyan: the Turning Point! Which is true – you turn there to go to Wilsons Promontory, I suppose, but it seems an odd claim to fame. Better yet is the café-bookstore they have, snuggled right up against a promising art gallery. To get into the café, you walk through bookcases of books for sale, there’s a snuggly set of rooms with armchairs and cosy tables, and to the Man’s delight, they make an excellent soy latte. How unexpected.

We drove home, in and out of rainshowers, past farms with ochre colored fields, plowed and ready for crops (some had lines of green, growing plants), past vinyards, and finally back to Melbourne proper. Jiggity jig.

Friday, June 1st, 2007: Stories and Desires
The Eldest and I look at each other, then we look at his pajama sleeve.

Kid, d’you know where these stains come from?
[a serious look, then a hushed, dramatic voice] It’s blood.
Erm, yes. And what is it from?
[another pause, this one more thoughtful than dramatic] Once ago, in ancient Egypt…
[dissolves into giggles]

Today was a housekeeping day. With the sabbath looming, we went to Victoria Market, a sprawling, enormous open-air market that offers everything from cheap chotchkes, souveniers, your next winter coat to produce and livestock. Despite the Eldest’s hopes, we were only there for produce. Half-way through the produce section, the Toddles was wailing in the Ergo and the Eldest seized his moment.

Mum, I’d really, really love a toy. [solemn face belied by dancing, excited feet]
Hmm? No, we’re not buying toys here.
, said the Toddles – and his sibling beat a strategic retreat.

Parenthetically: I have a lot of sympathy for the Toddles' wail. He's sat in the carrier while we walked, touched and pointed at things - his experience of our hiking days has been a bit remote, and required a certain willingness to be passive. His wail in Victoria Market, while it was the subject of any number of pitying glances (to us, not him), was rather overdue. In my opinion - I didn't hang around to poll our audience.

A few moments later, wrist-deep in passionfruit, I saw the Eldest square his shoulders and try again.
Mum, I’d really, really love a toy. I’m so excited to have a toy, please mayIhavejustone?
, I relented. Just one.
Oh, yes! [dancing] I know just what I want. I saw it on the way here, its like this [gestures above head] and the balls go round and around and it –

The Eldest, deep in his joy, looked up at the two carefully expressionless faces of his parents. His response was swift –
But I know just what I want. It’s not big and it doesn’t have electricity.

The expressionless faces looked relieved. Their offspring led them to a stall with Aussie rules football paraphernalia, and chose a shiny red football. The faces leaned down and kissed their wise, wise son.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Australia (Part Three): squeaks and raindrops

It occurs to me, belatedly, that wee Ben had his birthday while we were in the air, en route to (as Zina says) Roo Land. I wonder if it was the invisible, unfelt day that happened when we crossed the date line? Either way, I hope it was a simple, loving day - and happy happy to the no longer boy-containing mum and her Ian-man.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, there is only ONE sleeping child in my apartment ('scuse me, flat) tonight. The Eldest is having his very first sleepover with my mum, and in the morning will go with her to fetch my dad from the airport.

It's odd not having him here. I'm almost...sad. I've spent so many nights curled around him, knowing he was just down the hall (and curled around the Man), I've gotten up so many times to check that he was still breathing as he slept..his absence is striking in the patterns of my little world. But nice. I'm glad that he's ready to do this, though I half-heartedly hope for a phone call at, oh, 3 a.m. Or not.

Tuesday, May 29th:

Grumpy? Who's grumpy? Certainly not me...we were up in time for the dawn today, and I have a blurry photo with a pink background to prove it. We bounded out of the house (insofar as we ever bound, okay, I ever bound at 7 in the morning - I think I staggered slightly, and I'm sure there was coffee) to go and see kangaroos. The kangaroos tend to cluster on the Wilsons Prom landing strip, you see, a grassy flat bit which is chokkers with 'roos until it get light (don't know any slang for 'light' - sorry). Of course, by the time we got there, the sky was no longer quite so pink, and the kangaroos no longer quite so there.

Phooey. Or possibly bloody 'ell.

But what the hell, we were up, I was caffeinated and, being me, there was food packed. So we headed off to Squeaky Beach, a beach whose white sand (extremely white sand, by the way) actually squeaked under our shoes. Except the wet bits, which sort of squelched. Quietly. It was a dream of a beach, with big rocks that made a sort of maze, waves washing in, wind whipping spray off the top of the waves, and tide pools and tide-rivers that looked weeks old, their routes and currents carved into the sand.

The Eldest seized the moment and led us through the maze of rocks. The Toddles, less inclined to play follow-the-leader, decided to chase the birds that hovered. The shrieking Toddles would chase a bird, which, offended, would fly off. But the birds always came back, hovering hopefully in case we'd drop a bit of our snack. One particularly bold character strutted around near us, snapping at the others when they got too close. His proprietary air attracted the Toddles attention, the kid ran at the bird, the bird freaked and flew off, squawking, another snatched the moment and on and on.

We walked the length of the beach, the Eldest and the Man collecting cuttlefish - just as my great-uncle used to do, on this same beach. Their hands were full, their pockets grew heavy, and finally, reluctantly, the Eldest had to trade one delectable bit of dead fish for another, more immediately desirable one. It was tough, let me tell you.

We hiked back to our cabin in Tidal River, a total of 3 km - a distance that gave me hopes for the morrow...if the kid could handle 3 km of steep up and down (we'd skirted some cliff edges, gone around a bluff), he could definitely handle a gentler and longer distance. Hikes danced in our future, and I had a date with a map.

Wednesday, May 30th:
6 a.m.
The alarm went off, and I popped up in bed. Kangaroo time? Um, no. Rain was coming down in buckets. In sheets. In great galumphing bathtubs-full. Bugger.

Unfortunately, by this time the Toddles was awake, so I was stuck for it. I grumbled my way into the main room of the cabin, where I was met by my equally sleepy and bewildered family. I stuck a finger in the air.


They looked up, listened to the drumming of the rain on the roof, and nodded solemnly. Rain. Clearly, there was only one thing to do: I made soup.

By 11 a.m., not only were we all thoroughly awake, the soup was finished and the boys were driving me nuts. I checked the map, and said, Right. Gear up boys, we're going out. And we did. To be fair, the rain at this point was a light one, instead of the Noachite torrents we'd been having all morning - but truly, they were driving me completely bonkers. So out we went.

The only people who didn't give us pitying, half-unbelieving looks was the school group, huddled in their pup tents. So much for a drought. I was impressed by their respect for authority - after a soaking night, I would've been half-way back to Melbourne. Or at least Meeniyan.

We hiked, more or less happily, for about 30 minutes, crossing the Tidal River footbridge (Is the water level higher? it looks higher! Well, let's see (this from the Man), it would take 9 million drops of water, assuming a drop of water per 4 square inches, falling at a rate of...what? what? you asked, no? NO.), hiking up one of the mountain paths towards Lilly Pilly Gully. The water carved it's own trail, heading down the mountain.

Once we'd crested the mountain, I could see the grey-blue clouds clustered at the top. Almost immediately (trying to prove a point, are we?) big, fat raindrops started to fall. Behind me, the Man cleared his throat.

Um, we could head back whenever you are ready.
Good to know, hon. Good to know.

By the time we made it back to the footbridge, the rain was coming down steadily again. We piled back into our cabin, only moderately soaked, and definitely soup-oriented.

The rain pounded steadily on the roof for the rest of the afternoon. The boys read books, played games, and built a cubbyhouse out of a pair of bunkbeds, pillows and some artfully draped blankets. They were absolutely lovely (except when they weren't), to the point that when the rain stopped, shortly before sunset, I was ready to kick everybody out again.

We went to Whisky Bay, where we watched the world's shortest sunset. The sun dropped below the clouds, we discovered that wet sand and wet rock isn't fun to sit on, the sun sank towards the sea...and slipped behind a nearby island. Start to finish: 20 minutes. Frankly, the highlight of the whole thing was the pair of rabbits and the bilby-like creature that ran away when we headed back to our car. Or, and the little black kangaroo (wallaby?) that we nearly ran over on the way out.

Rainy Day Soup
serves 4 cold, wet hikers

3 carrots, cut into thin half moon shapes.
3 onions, roughly chopped
1 can cannelini or other white bean
2 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
salt, pepper to taste
1-2 Tb mild curry powder
3 Tb olive oil (less if you have a nonstick pot)
3? cups water

In a kitchen lacking things like measuring cups/spoons, heat oil in a pot. Toss in the onions and garlic, and sautee until the edges of the onion start to brown a bit. Add carrots and curry powder, stirring until the aroma of the curry powder rises up to hit the back of your nose. (If you have a cold, assume this will take maybe 3 minutes). Add beans and enough water to cover the veggies by about an inch. If you have a bay leaf, now is a good time to toss it in. Same goes for other luxuries in your woodland cabin, like the end of a bottle of wine (white is better for this recipe), a leftover sausage or bit of chicken. Cover loosely, turn the heat down, and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Check the pot: does it smell good? Add salt and pepper until you are happy. If the smell of the soup is a bit dilute, let it simmer a little longer. Serve with a bit of crusty bread if you have any, salad on the side. Try not to slurp.

Australia (Part Two): a daddy dances and the wombat comes to visit

Sunday, May 27: Gardens and Neuroses

This morning, while the Man grumbled, we whooshed out the door to the Botanic Gardens. It was amazingly simple to get there, simple to park, easy to find our way into the heart of the Gardens, where the pond sat, ornamental and shallow, with the famous black swans cruising by. The drought has been difficult for the Gardens, which have worked hard to figure out ways of low-volume watering. The Gardens have flourished – the pond has not.

Even so, the boys ran and jumped and tried to pull plants straight out of the soil from sheer excitement (the Toddles), and insisted on reading label after latinate label (the Eldest). The Eldest especially liked the trees planted by King George and Queen Mary, a bit of historical data that brought home to me exactly how old some of the trees are.

My grandmother, uncle and his friend met us by the tea house on the edge of the lake, a spot that nourishes both intestines and spirit. For the Toddles, however, the appeal was simple: unable to eat the cakes, scones and other glutinous treats in the café (and, by extension, making the rest of us avoid them), he focussed on the more accessible treat: the water’s edge. He picked himself up, hopped off his chair and ran for the edge of the water, shrieking happily. I scooped him up, returned him to his chair and briefly managed to interest him in paper and crayons.

The boys drew happily for a while, until a sparkle from the water caught their eye. They ran around on the grass a bit, until the Toddles remembered his first love. Over and over, the child tried to divebomb the water, shrieking in joy as he ran, shrieking in rage when a parental arm rescued him. Let’s move to another spot, I suggested. Oh, you Americans are so neurotic, I was told. The water’s only a couple of inches deep – what’s the harm?

Gritting my teeth, I plopped the Toddles in his stroller (pusher), handed the handles to the Man, who quietly pushed the child while I pushed the Aged G’ma. Neurotic? Yes, but now neurotic and dry.

Monday, May 28th: The Scurry, the Flurry, the Dance...and the Wombat
Today has been a day of frantic scurryings and panicked moments. We’re off to Wilsons Promontory, but first we must have a barely comic drama.

The credit card has been stubborn. Clearly, the security people do not read this blog, and are certain that strange and possibly illicit purchases are being made with our American card. The Man, not having anticipated this turn of events (I am mildly scornful of this), has been approving each purchase manually on the card website, purchase by purchase. But when faced with a morning of pre-departure grocery shopping, the card balked.

The Man, already rather fragile over the cost of kosher meat here, freaked. It was a three ring circus freakout, complete with an infuriated little dance that the Toddles imitated (luckily, the Man had already left for a cooling walk when the Toddles came in and said, Daddy dance! and showed me). It would be three days before I would venture to tell the Man about the Toddles’ dance. And when I did, we were both holding our sides with laughter.

Late, late, late and having forgotten my jeans, we arrived at the Prom. I’d called the credit card people on the way there and sorted things out. We’d gotten lost and un-lost. Google Maps had wholly failed to mention things like what the hell was A440, vs M444. Or possibly vice versa. And then we arrived.

We had rented one of the Parks Victoria cabins, which I can happily endorse as an inexpensive (but book early!), civilized option. The two bedrooms were ready for a family much larger than ours, and we echoed around in them a bit, but the living/dining/kitchen was wonderful: compact and with a whole wall that was glass, sliding doors. You could actually open up the room to the deck, and feel the sea air washing over you as you ate.

Of course, if you did that, the wombat and possum haunting your cabin might try to invite themselves inside…fair warning, eh?
Here's what's cooking over here this week - all the recipes are new to me, lifted from Aussie (and possibly one English) magazines. I promise to write up anything that works! I'm also eyeing this from Gluten-Free Goddess. Looks like she's gone vegetarian again, which is good news from me. Not that we're vegetarian, but the Eldest is reconsidering his position on poultry and recalling his former life as a vegan. Alas. Hopefully this incarnation eats fish...

Monday lunch:
spiced black and white beans
tomato, cuke, avocado salad

Tuesday (lunch)
tomato, kalamata olive and tofu pasta (see below)

Tuesday (dinner)
chicken soup with leftover chicken, ginger, lemongrass and dumplings (aka leftover burgers)
gingery glazed carrots and cranberries

Wednesday (dinner)
chargrilled white fish with greek salad
herb-y potatoes

get fed by family!!

Friday (lunch)
sushi rice balls, stuffed with??? lox? avocado? cucumber? random things from fridge?

Friday (dinner)
ya got me. Can't think that far ahead. Considering french onion soup with garlic croutons, to use up the onions and lousy GF bread that we bought. With chicken leek sausages from the local (ruinously expensive, make their own sausage) butcher.
Tuesday's lunch will be adapted from a recipe by The Splendid Table. Here's the full recipe, I plan to tweak and play with it, but this is it in the original. Note, please, that I foolishly believe that one can substitute feta with an equal amount of firm tofu, dressed with a splash of lemon juice and dash of salt. And, of course, I'd replace the pasta with rice pasta, again the same amount recommended in the recipe.

Bow Ties with Feta, Olives, and Golden Raisins
Excerpted from From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine. Text copyright 1995 and 2007 by John Ash and Sid Goldstein. Used by permission of Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Serves 4 to 6
The interplay of salty olives and feta with sweet golden raisins makes for an intriguing palate teaser. This combination evokes memories of a long-ago summer spent in Greece.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced small red onion
1 cup slivered red or yellow bell pepper
2 teaspoons thinly sliced garlic
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, including juice
2/3 cup pitted, slivered Kalamata olives
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons rinsed capers
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon seeded and minced serrano chile or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces bow tie-shaped dried pasta, such as farfalle
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, and garlic until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, raisins, wine, capers, basil, and chile. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and parsley. Top with the sauce and feta and serve immediately.

In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and parsley. Top with the sauce and feta and serve immediately.

Note: made this tonight. Didn't have raisins, didn't have wine - left them out. Used the tofu/lemon juice sub for the feta. Forgot the parsley. The whole thing took 15 minutes to make, start to finish, and the guys loved it. They even took a rare pause between mouthfuls to say so, and I was touched. Good lads, those ones.

Next up...Wilsons Promontory and hiking. In the rain! Because, dammit, we're here.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Australia: arrival and grumps

I'm in! Blogger set up a series of dastardly roadblocks, refusing to acknowledge my signing in. Happily, I was able to sign in via the comment feature (on dw's blog, no less), so virtue is rewarded. Take that, o evil bug in the Bloggerly system. A pox on your programming.

Here are some notes, no photos - yet - thanks to a niggardly internet connection. I promise, oh I promise to add photos once I can... Until then, here we go!

Part One: gasp and arrival

I’ve wanted to take so many photos thus far: of me, standing bewildered and slightly resentful, in a room piled high with stuff, waiting to be sorted into packable and SOL, or left behind. Of the boys playing so nicely in their seats on the airplane, of the Toddles insisting on sleeping on me, only, of me freaking out because I couldn’t sleep with the child on top of me, ready to slide off at any moment. Of the moment of touchdown and the end of the long, long plane ride, of the moment when the wrap earned its keep, as I chased Toddles through serpentine lines of tired travelers at Passport Control, of me wrapping and holding a tired, wired Toddles on my back (nine out of nine, luv! said a random woman when I had the Toddles secured) while I worked our way through customs and quarantine (a sort of Australian dept. of agriculture meets paranoia, fueled by a dungheap of honest-to-deity of choice’s worth of ecological error), of the meal that we were hosted for, by the indefatigable Aunt, the meal that we hosted somehow for that same wedge of family, on plastic plates and tinfoil pans for a politely appreciative family, of the Eldest playing with his cousins, of the Toddles with spaghetti streaming down his chin as he firmly stabbed another wedge of cucumber. ‘Bumber!’ he said, and I felt something inside of me relax.

We’re here. The rented apartment is spacious and happily short on furniture. I’d take boy-room over end tables any day. The cousins are delighted to have the Eldest around, and are quite tolerant of the less flamboyant Toddles. And my aged grandmother bursts into easy tears over, well, our presence – which would not have happened if not for her gift of the airfare, frankly.

Oh, my, but we are here. And I am bound by solemn promise by the Eldest to take real, truly ruly photos of kangaroos, odd pinecones and koalas, to mail back to his American classmates – but first, a moment to breathe. We’re here. Damn me, but we did it.

Part Two: phooey

Today has been a day of irritating mundanity. We arranged for a cell phone, which as of yet does not work (there’s no phone in our rented apartment). I sat around hunting wireless networks (the promised internet access has not materialized, partly because I lack a phone with which to call for help). We went grocery shopping. The Man grumped about finances, dampening the joys of discovering fejoas and passionfruit. I did laundry, washed dishes, cooked for the sabbath. It was lovely to see how easy it is to find a range of gluten-free, vegan foods here in Melbourne – there was a shop right on Balaclava St, with shelf after shelf of options. I even walked away with two loaves of bread to try, as a change from Enjoy Life’s leaden pseudo-bagels. (Good cookies, that brand – lousy bread.)

Really, the highlight of the day has been finding kosher Vegemite in the grocery store, and watching the Toddles tear around the apartment, shrieking ‘mite! ‘mite! I love that my little American kidlets eat Vegemite. It suits something deep inside me to see them eating the food of my childhood (and adulthood, to be honest), a thought I should hold on to the next time I roar about idjits upset over PB&J sandwiches being banned from schools. Hm.

On the fridge hangs a little calendar that I made last night. At the bottom, I’ve scribbled a list of things I’d love to do. It’s promising something, it’s taunting, it’s catching the corner of my eye as I lift pots and chop vegetables.

next up: the Prom and calendric happiness
Aussie chicken burgers

1/2 kilo ground chicken (not the low fat kind!)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 Tb each freshly chopped dill, parsley, basil (whatever you have)
2-3 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped off the stems
salt, pepper
1-2 Tb curry powder

Moosh the whole thing in a bowl, until reasonably well mixed - I used a potato masher, since it's what I had. I've since made the recipe again, and I used my hands.

Turn on the grill (broiler to you Yanks), and spray a roasting pan. With the oven rack close to the grill, broil the burgers until done, perhaps 10 minutes. Check after 5 minutes to gauge speed of cooking and closeness to the heating unit.

Serving suggestions: green salad with avocado, tomato and green olives. Green beans, steamed. Rice. Simple, fresh, clean flavors all, to balance out the richness of the burgers.