Jun 29, 2012

My Former Life and My Current Life: Greek Avgolemono Soup

Back in 1994 I was 24 and working as a cook in a restaurant on Santorini, in Greece. I am not a chef or even a cook, and this was not work I enjoyed on the whole. Restaurant kitchens are hard work - I cannot watch Masterchef as I find it too stressful!

But this man made this job as enjoyable as it could possibly be. I was very lucky to get a job working with Mike Roussos. Mike had lived in Chicago for 20 years and had just relocated his family back to Greece. He was finding it a little difficult to adjust, being on the one hand used to the amenities of the US and on the other finding the Greece of his youth had disappeared.

Mike is a wonderful guy and he taught me everything he did in the kitchen. He was very generous with his time and knowledge and we worked well together, as it was just the two of us in the large kitchen of probably the most popular tourist restaurant on the island at that time.

Me and Mike on a rare break

Mike Roussos in the kitchen

I kept an exercise book of recipes Mike taught me, and as I was trying to learn Greek some are in bits of earnest, erroneous Greek or use Greek words or brand names for ingredients I wasn't sure of. It's not only a great souvenir but a truly useful cookbook - I use these recipes often.

My cookbook with Mike's recipes

My favourite of all is avgolemono - Egg and Lemon Soup.
It is absolutely delicious - imagine chicken soup with a zesty tang and that's what it is.

I don't believe Mike would mind me sharing this recipe.

Mike Roussos' Egg and Lemon Soup

Boil a chicken in water until very well done. Remove meat, discard bones and waste.
To the water add salt, pepper and white arborio rice (about a cup), and simmer to cook the rice; once rice has cooked turn off heat and let the stock cool a bit as you do the next part.
Squeeze juice from some lemons - at least 4.
In a bowl whisk 7 egg whites until frothy, gradually adding half the lemon juice.
Add the yolks, whisk well and add more lemon juice to taste. Test it by dipping in a finger - it should taste quite lemony, so quite a bit of juice is needed.

Here is the tricky bit. While whisking, spoon 4 or 5 ladles of broth (without any rice) and pour slowly into the egg and lemon mixture. Take your time doing this, as this will prevent the soup curdling. It is easier with two people.  When the broth and egg and lemon are mixed, slowly pour the whole of the egg and lemon mix into the pot of broth.

Test again and add lemon to taste. If the soup is too eggy or thick, thin with water. 

Add the meat before serving.

Mike, wherever you are - and I hope you're well - thank you.

Kali orexi  (bon appetit)!
Egg and Lemon Soup

Jun 26, 2012

My Favorite Recipe Books

I once read that the average recipe book is used for two recipes. I think that's right.
When I read that I took a good look through the shelf of recipe books I had collected over the years and gave away all the ones that I did not use, or that I only used for one recipe (I copied the recipe first).

The others I have kept, and it is now a small but honest collection.

Here are the recipe books I use the most:

Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen
If you ignore the kind of annoying perfect-family pictures throughout, the recipes are fantastic. Good wholesome family food with lots of stews, pies, soups, sandwiches and sweets.
You also have to ignore the title of the chapter "Cooking From the Cupboard" which is supposedly about using ingredients already in your pantry, because the Ramsay family clearly have a very different pantry to mine. Theirs is apparently always stocked with things like creme fraiche, pancetta, and fresh flat leaf parsley (rather than, say, tinned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and a packet of spaghetti).

My favourite recipes:
  • tinned sardines with avocado on toast
  • stew
  • fish pie

Healthy Cooking: a Commonsense Guide
A brilliant reference containing loads of information on nutrition plus kilojoule, carb, fat and fibre count tables. It also has general cooking tips and how-to guides at the start of each chapter.
Many recipes are classic favorites modified to be less fattening or more healthy (you can always modify them back!).

My favorite recipes:
  • roasting - introductory section with lots of tips and info
  • wholemeal banana bread
  • fudge brownies

Elliniki Kouzina (Greek Cooking)
This is a book produced in Greece and available at all good tourist shops in the Greek Islands.  I bought it because I was learning Greek as well as to have a reference for Greek dishes. I still use it a lot.

My favorite recipes:
  • stuffed green peppers and tomatoes
  • stuffed zucchini with white sauce

My Greek Recipe Journal
For one eventful summer in my twenties, I worked as a cook in a restaurant in Santorini. I was lucky enough to work with a man named Mike Roussos who was not only a wonderful guy but a really good cook. He had lived for the past 20 years in Chicago and had just returned to Greece with his American family, and was adjusting to life back in his homeland. He taught me loads of dishes, including some clever shortcuts for cooking dishes in bulk and fast.
I kept this journal throughout, in a tatty exercise book spattered with oils and sauces, which I still use all the time.

My favorite recipes (thank you Mike!):
  • Avgolemono (chicken egg and lemon soup)
  • tomato keftedes (tomato, cheese and zucchini pancakes)
  • Madeira cake
  • spaghetti carbonara 
  • spetsofai (spicy sausage casserole)
  • moussaka

My Recipe Book
My own collection of hand-written recipes which I started in my early teens and finished in my early twenties when I first moved out of home and started cooking for real.
It has all the best of my mum's cooking, many of which are the same recipes still passed between women which turn up under different women's names in the "reader recipe" sections in women's magazines (and which probably ultimately came from some early Women's Weekly feature or the old PWMU cookbook).
It has recipes which are solidly of the 1970s like chop suey and "curry" (lamb, sultanas and curry powder). It has recipes from the years we lived in the US when I was a kid, like Club 21 Chicken Hash, Kathryn Hepburn's Brownies, Hamburger Helper, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie. And it has recipes I got from flatmates and friends in my uni days, which evoke great memories of cooking back when cooking was new and fun.

My favorite recipes:
  • honey orange chicken
  • curry chicken 
  • Club 21 Chicken Hash
  • tuna casserole (with potato chips)
  • chocolate fruit slice
  • Devil's Chocolate Cake
  • Flat Five Mince and Chickpea Curry
  • Kate's apple crumble
  • Jacob's sweet and sour pork
  • Anatoly's chicken

Busy Woman's Quick and Easy Recipes: Make 'em Happy, Fix it Fast!
I bought this recently at the supermarket. It has approximately one million and sixty chicken recipes, most of which use some dodgy but convenient base like French Onion Soup Mix, apricot jam or mayonnaise. All the recipes are indeed very quick and very easy. Some of them sound too weird to try (Cola Chicken), but I have had a few successes.

My favorite recipes:
  • honey baked chicken
  • chicken quesadillas
  • deluxe dinner nachos

Australian Women's Weekly Fresh Food for Babies and Toddlers
Brilliant during the transition to solids and toddler finger food. Still my go-to for simple plain foods friendly to fussy taste buds

My favorite recipes:
  • custard
  • mini beef rissoles
  • broccoli and cheese frittata
  • honey and soy drumsticks
  • basic birthday cake recipe

What are your favorite recipe books?

Jun 22, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Tales From Everywhere

Tales From Everywhere
Stories selected and rewritten by Mae Bradley 
illustrated by Janet & Anne Grahame-Johnson
World Distributors (Manchester) Limited, 1975

In Maoriland there was once a chief called Kahukura.

I'm cheating a little - my kids are not reading this book. It's one from my own childhood which I deeply loved. As a child my dad was often away on business and he loved to travel; being the 70's there were slide nights and dolls for me and my sister dressed in traditional garb from each country he visited. I was hooked, fascinated with other countries and cultures from almost as far back as I can remember. 

The stories in this book are traditional stories from around the world, each one enhanced by the beautiful and haunting illustrations:
  • The Fairy Fishermen - New Zealand
  • The Swans of Islay - Scotland
  • The Way Things Happen - Mexico
  • The Story of Semerwater - England
  • The Two Brothers and the Little Mother - Australia
  • How the Tribes Began - Nigeria
  • The Dog's Will - Iran
  • The Chatterbox - Russia
  • A Friend for Man - (?Africa)
  • The Story of the White Snake Lady - China
  • The Magic Harp - Norway(?)
  • Hudden and Dudden and Donald McGrath - Ireland

What book from your childhood is special to you?

If you would like to play Fiction Fridays, click on the badge below to see how:


Or check out the Pinterest board set up by Child-Led Chaoshttp://pinterest.com/childledchaos/fiction-fridays/

Jun 17, 2012

Hot or Not?

My 6-year-old drew these pictures recently. Should I be worried?

My initial reaction I admit, was to be a bit alarmed. I mean she's six. WTF??
I mulled over it for a day and then I asked her about them. She's always drawing and I'm always into her drawings so it was pretty natural for me to say "Oh, hey, new drawings! What's happening in these ones?"

The first one depicts her school friend V. and her "boyfriend" N., who is breaking up with her. The "boyfriend" is telling V. he is breaking up with her, and she is upset and hugging herself. 
"But V doesn't have a boyfriend," I said.
"Yes she does," said my daughter, "N is her boyfriend, he likes her and they're friends."
"Ah," I said. "So... what's this breaking up thing, did that really happen?"
"No," said my daughter, "it's just a story, mum."
"Ah," I said. "And what's the other drawing?"
"Well," said my daughter, smiling her embarassed smile, "that boy is a cool rock star and he's looking at this beautiful girl, and he likes her. Because she's all, you know, sexy and stuff."


Once I got over the surprise, I decided I was not too concerned, at least about the boyfriend/breaking up thing. Dating, romance, break-ups, marriage and kissing are in EVERY single show ever, as well as every song, every ad on TV, and every movie. Even the kids' stuff. It's incredible once you notice it - it's in everything. So the kids are seeing it all the time. 

The "hot" thing is a little dismaying, but one again, it's everywhere. I know my daughter doesn't see herself as "pretty" (even though others do). She sees her sister as "pretty" and herself as "cool". 
It doesn't matter how often (or not often - you can't overdo these things, it's a tightrope walk I tell you) I try to tell or show the girls they are many things, not just "pretty" or "cool", or that you can be both, or that you don't have to be either, or that people are sometimes one and sometimes the other and sometimes something else - she's not buying it. 

As it happens my little girl was having some social, confidence and anxiety issues that were becoming a real problem *, so I saw the student welfare officer at school and after talking through everything else I showed her the drawings. "I'm not really too concerned, and I don't want to read too much into these," I said apologetically, "but I wouldn't mind your thoughts. Do you think these are a worry?"

She thought not. She had a little chuckle over them and said this was my daughter's way of processing all the stuff she is seeing and hearing, and that yes, it was perfectly normal for Grade 1 kids to talk about boyfriends and girlfriends and boys and girls "liking" each other. 

In fact one reason I hadn't been too worried was I remember this happening when I was in Grade 1. Although I don't think it was quite so relentless back then... but I may be wrong. We don't truly remember our childhoods as they really were after all, do we?

There is a lot of concern these days about the "sexualisation" of children. It's an easy thing to buy into, but I'm not totally convinced. Children are, in fact, "sexual" in as much as they are human animals, and at this age they are discovering more and more about themselves, their bodies and how boys and girls relate to each other. And in matters of sex and relationships children/kids of all ages have always been ahead of where their parents want them to be.

What do you think? Are kids growing up too fast?
Are you concerned about the sexualisation of children?
Or are some people worrying about perfectly normal stuff?

* (She is fine now).

Jun 12, 2012


I've been tagged by Kath from Blurb From the Burbs with some fantastical questions.
This meme comes from River at Drifting Through Life, who created 11 questions and tagged 11 bloggers, with the intent that they answer the questions then set 11 new ones and tag 11 people, and so it goes on.

Here are Kath's 11, with my answers:

1. When and why did you start blogging?
I started blogging in January 2010 and my first awful posts that month show that I truly did not know what I was doing. I was just feeling my way, but I knew I wanted to write and explore and shout my opinions on things, and I knew this would be a way to do it. I had started reading a few blogs and was really intrigued with all the possibilities on blogging platforms for doing whatever it is you want to do.

2. What is your middle name and why did your parents select it?
I don't have a middle name. My mum and her sister both decided not to give their kids middle names because they're not necessary, so neither I, my sister nor three of our cousins have middle names. I do indeed find you don't need a middle name, except that every time you are asked you have to say "I don't have a middle name" which takes longer.

3. Toilet paper folder or scruncher? Provide your reasons
Folder. Reasons... not sure how graphic you want this, but folding provides more cover and thickness to mop up everything, no?

4. What do you do at home when everyone else is out?
Treadmill (sometimes). Internet (often). Laundry and tidying (always).

5. You've been given five hundred bucks (two hundred and fifty quid, say) to spend on nothing useful and just your self. What do you do with the cash?
I'd buy a gorgeous bag from Fossil or some jewellery.

6. It's finally come true. One of your 'five celebrities you're allowed to sleep with' has walked into your kitchen and is up for it. Who is it?

Why, it's Josh Brolin in my kitchen, telling me to leave the washing as he will do it for me later. 

Josh Brolin - via here

7. Name one famous person (so that all our readers know who it is) that you think 'has their shit together'. Explain why.
I don't know why, I might be wrong, but I think Jennifer Garner has her shit together. She appears to dress herself and her children in normal clothes, goes out without make-up, takes awhile to lose baby weight, and takes her kids to parks and playgrounds.

8. What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

The desire to greet the day gifted by the universe, to experience the daily miracles of life, and to make the most of every precious moment I have on this earth.
Nah, really it's the thought of all the stuff I have to do today, plus the opportunity to relish my favourite part of the day, my "quiet time" with treadmill and then news and coffee, before everyone else gets up.

9. Who would you like to smack in the face, publicly disprove all of their stupid opinions and freeze their bank accounts?
Well the obvious of course - Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine. And about half the time, Catherine Deveny. But the other half the time I would shake her hand, apologise and give her back her bank accounts, so there'd be a lot of back and forth.

10. Low slung jeans on boys - how do we eradicate this disease?
It's obvious. We get their fathers and everyone over 30 to wear their pants the same way, and they will soon stop.

11. Tell us about an invention for the home that we desperately need.
Surfaces that repel dust and grime so they never get dirty.
That internet fridge that is supposed to take inventory and order replacements when stocks run low, but it should also calculate need based on frequency of usage and my facial expression when I gaze at the contents - so that it doesn't go ahead and order more Thousand Island salad dressing when I finally one day use the bottle I have.

Now for my 11 bloggers:

Meggsie at AMFYOYO
Melissa at From Boardroom to Babies
Single Married Mum
Joe H at Cranky Old Man
Torkona at Tork's Blog
Dr Bron at The Modern Family
Nikki at Stressy Mummy
Anne-Marie at Child-Led Chaos
Michelle at 4 Kids, A Dog and a Blog
Nat at Drivelology

And here are my 11 questions:

1. If you could choose any job/career without having to put in the time and money for training, and assuming your life would magically work around it, what would you pick?

2. What pet(s) do you have, and how did you choose it/them?

3. What's your "comfort reading" book - the book you re-read to feel better?

4. What's the oldest thing in your possession?

5. How did you choose the name for your blog? Do you still like it, or do you think about changing it?

6. "An untidy desk means an unorganized mind." Discuss.

7. If you had three days all to yourself, what would you do?

8. Are you Apple or Android?

9. When travelling, do you prefer to plan and book, or keep things open?

10. Is there anything you dislike about blogging? (being tagged for memes perhaps...)

11. Clare in Modern Family says "You can't have two fun parents, because that's a carnival". Are you the Fun Parent or the Responsible Parent? Or if you're not a parent, of your own parents who was who? Do you/Did they do a Good Cop Bad Cop routine, or are you/were they in synch?

And if I haven't tagged you but you would like to join in, please do feel free!

Jun 4, 2012

Kids and Fat

If you live in Australia, you will have seen, read or heard of the attacks on Chrissie Swan for having an overweight toddler. Chrissie Swan seems a lovely decent person and many have sprung to her deference - e.g. Susie O'BrienMamamia, Five Frogs on a Blog and Woogsworld to name those I have read. All made excellent points.

I will add another.

People are born with varying propensities to getting fat. We're not all born the same clean perfect slate as so much parenting commentary seems to suggest these days. Everyone is different. So every kid is different. Some get fat easily, some don't.

Like Chrissie Swan, I have struggled with weight all my life. Swan says in the latest Sunday Life magazine that she was put on her first diet at 11. Well I was put on my first one at five, so I win!
My next one was at age ten, and I have been dieting, exercising, or intending to diet and exercise, ever since.

I got slim in my late teens and held it till I was thirty. Then, wham! office jobs. I was a goner.

When I was slim in my twenties life was pretty glorious, except for the fact I was hungry constantly, my muscles were sore from exercising all the time, and I was resentful of every boyfriend who wolfed down whatever he wanted and asked me why I wasn't eating.

My husband is a thin person, and when we first met I couldn't believe I'd snagged him. Then I got nervous. Then I was happy. Apart from the fact I loved him, I reasoned being married to a thin person would keep me on my toes. I would be too ashamed to get fat married to someone like that.
(Sadly, with time I managed to overcome this obstacle).

Also in the back of my mind was the thought that when we had kids, his thin DNA would offset my fat DNA and my kids would be a lovely mix of just-right, avoiding the misery and self-doubt that had plagued my childhood as variously sturdy, chubby, or overweight.

Eighteen years later and here we are with two beautiful, beautiful girls. One of whom is tall and thin and eats a tonne, and the other who is rounder and sturdier, eats a lot less and has a propensity to gain weight.

We didn't get mixed versions of ourselves. We got one of each!

M. is a wiry bundle of energy like her Dad. She can't sit still. She is often hot, runs around wearing nothing and is always hungry. She self-regulates well with food. She eats most things. She loves cakes and sweets but no more than she loves fruit, meat and cheese. Her one weakness is chocolate, which she used to be able to eat heaps of but lately is going off.

A., like me, is naturally sedentary and likes her carbs. She would sit and watch TV for hours if we let her (though with regular bouts of energetic dancing as she watches). She loves anything sweet and craves sweet tastes, getting grumpy or upset (sometimes with a tinge of shame, which breaks my heart) when we refuse her. She is fussier with "proper" foods and drives me crazy not eating dinner.  I find myself bribing her with dessert to eat her meat and veggies, which I know is not the "right" thing to do.

I'm very conscious of not inducing food paranoia and try to be natural and relaxed around food and exercise with my kids. We have fruit every day, I cook meals from scratch, they drink plenty of water and we have both healthy and unhealthy snacks. I try to inculcate the behaviours and attitudes around food that M. exhibits naturally. I model good food behaviour around them.

But A's propensity is innate and whatever I do, she will battle this problem.  It pains me to anticipate the difficulties she will probably have in this area, and the inevitable comparisons she will make with her sister (in fact she has already started to do that). When she was five I had my first of no doubt many pep talks with her when she asked me "why is everyone else skinny and I'm not?"
She was (and is) not overweight, and not the only "rounded" little girl in her circle, but kids pick up on what's the "right" way to be very early.

I know when she gets older she will probably blame me for her battles, and in the sense that this was inherited from me she will be right.

Of course there are worse things - I know that. And I will make sure she knows that too.

The thing is, we all have our cross to bear. If you're not fat, then you're something else.
If your kids eat well and it's easy to parent them in relation to food, then you are struggling with something else that Chrissie Swan is managing effortlessly.

What's your cross to bear? 
Have your kids inherited it or do they have their own?
How supportive/understanding do you find people to be?

Jun 2, 2012

Sometimes You Don't Look Away

There are so many atrocities in the world, and not all are far away. Horrendous things happen in your country, your town, in your suburb. Every week, sometimes every day, we hear awful things in the news and read terrible things in the paper that take our breath away, plant horrible images in our heads that will never leave, and leave us thinking, THIS is the worst...how can this happen...what worse thing can possibly happen next?

Sometimes, you make the decision not to listen and not to look. Because sometimes it's just too much to bear. And we have to keep going in our own lives, for our own children, and our own mental health. So sometimes we choose not to look. And we feel bad at not looking, but we still don't look. And that's normal, it's human.

The massacre of people in their homes in Houla last week made me look.  The first I saw was some stuff on Twitter on 27 May, with references to this article in The Guardian. Newspapers featured the bodies of the executed and mutilated children on their front page - something news editors do not do lightly.

Days later this article in The Times added more - and it is so unbelievably, graphically horrible what was done to these kids it is a struggle to read, and must have been an awful thing to report on. This article is now available outside The Times pay-wall, and is titled Syria: the Tipping Point.

We can't even imagine what this whole thing was like for the victims and survivors, or their families, neighbors and friends.

I am confident the world will not look away on this. It is easy to blame governments and diplomats for doing too little, or doing nothing.

But I think this, surely, is not going to be one of those times.

We still don't know who did this, exactly. But whoever did it, whether government forces or not, clearly intended to incite terror and civil war.

But the regime in Syria must be held responsible, and I believe it will.

So, I feel a little silly doing this, but I will add my voice:

Today, Friday June 1st, is the day bloggers around the world are calling for action on Syria.

Sign these petitions calling for action from world leaders to stop the killings:

Save the Children



The following was posted by Kate Takes 5 today:

"Yesterday morning we started off with one tweet and four people who had made the decision not to look away. By 1pm we had reached 50,000 people and made 91,000 impressions. By 3.30pm it was 77,000 and 117,000, and Syrians journalists and bloggers were getting involved. If one person tweeting a link to an article can snowball to this then just think what 77,000 can do."

Thank you for reading.

Please tweet or share this post - or the links within - in whatever way you can to spread the message. 

If you are a blogger who would like to participate please write a post and use the hashtags #tippingpoint #Syria #Stopthekilling to promote it. 


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