The Absolute Favourite

Even before I was a parent I was fascinated by the idea of the special toy.  The Chosen One. The one subjected to the kind of love and attention that other toys can only dream about. I enjoy the look of them. These well travelled, precious companions whose bodies have been wrung limp by the passionate grips of toddlers.

Teddy - loved by Rachel for 37 years.
Teddy – loved by Rachel for 37 years.

Neither myself or my siblings had any such attachment as children. In my case I put it down to sheer laziness. I didn’t have the dedication that it takes to commit to that kind of relationship. None of my toys had the fur loved off them unless you count the Barbie dolls I cut the hair off. I was faithless and careless with all of them equally. I remember being aware though, that such exclusive friendships existed. Inspired books such as ‘Dogger’ and ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, I made a few feeble and short lived attempts at playing favourites. But as much as I might have wanted it, I could never make it stick.

Ted - loved by Josh for 28 years.
Ted – loved by Josh for 28 years.

How are these honorary members of the family chosen? And how long does it last? I’ve been introduced to favourites who have survived long enough to accompany their owners into adulthood. Others eventually get lost or tossed away, living on only in family folklore.

Hello Kitty has four back up friends. Loved by Boo for almost 2 years.
Hello Kitty has four back up friends. Loved by Boo for almost 2 years.

Any parent can tell you that the favourite toy becomes both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because that toy now has, let’s face it, magical powers. The power to soothe and induce calm and with any luck, sleep. At a time when you need every baby settling tool you can get your inexperienced little hands on, it can be a valuable addition to your armoury. That said, it can also screw you. Lost property boxes are full of favourite friends who have been left behind. Or you can forget to pack them for daycare and then you’ve screwed the daycare staff too. My sister has tried to get around this problem by purchasing five (essential) Hello Kittys. Another friend, whose child likes pieces of material, cut the silk into a number of smaller pieces, so that he never need be without.

Patchy and Pinky. The absolute favourites of Campbell (aged five).
Patchy and Pinky. The absolute favourites of Campbell (aged five).

At my baby shower I was given one of those popular French rubber giraffes called ‘Sophie’. I loved it and quickly decided that this would be his favourite. It was my plan that G and Sophie would be inseparable. This was both super wanky and naive. Sophie is a posh squeaky chew toy probably best suited to a small dog. She’s about as cuddly as a tube of toothpaste. However, I kept popping Sophie next to G in the pram, feeling sure that they would soon be besties by default. One day she was unceremoniously dumped out of the pram and never made it home. Point taken.

One little scrap of Miao Diddy - prized possession of Alex for 3.5 years.
One little scrap of Miao Diddy – prized possession of Alex for 3.5 years.

A few weeks later G had his first really bad cold. He emerged from this period of extra napping and snuggles, with a firm preference for a toy called Duckie. We don’t know how it happened. And even now that G can talk he can’t explain it. It’s just Duckie. He loves him. I didn’t get it at first but I do now. Now the floppy little duck with one lost eye replaced (by Glenn) with a black press stud, has charmed me. The nearest you can come to understanding the attachment is watching this child rub his sleepy face into grotty old Duckie and inhale the (dubious) scent as though it’s freshly baked bread. That and the way he will march right up to anyone game enough to touch his beloved pal, pluck him deftly from their hands and whisk him away to a safe place faster than you can say “Hey, that’s not sharing…”.

For five years I have waited for the relationship with Duckie to wane and it hasn’t. Duckie has outlasted the train phase and the Octonauts phase and is currently laughing in the face of Lego. Puh-lease, says Duckie, your kid can’t sleep with Lego.

Duckie no longer accompanies us on day trips though. And we stopped sending him to daycare a long time time ago after he was accidentally packed away in one of their toy boxes. By the time they rang to let us know he’d been found I was already putting the panicked finishing touches on a bunch of “Have you seen this Duck?” posters.

Basically he’s just so ridiculously special that I don’t know that we would feel if we lost him now.

And when I say “we”, I mean me.

Duckie.
Duckie.
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Szechuan Tomato Prawns

My relationship with Chinese cuisine has been one I’ve taken for granted. Our Australian-born Chinese mum was a passionate and naturally superb cook. We grew up with whatever style of food Mum decided was her latest obsession and Chinese food was just one of many cuisines that had just always been a part of my life. Until I left home, it wasn’t ‘Chinese’ food to me. It was just food.

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When I moved interstate away from my family (and Mum’s cooking), I had to not only learn to cook better, but try and understand what it was I was cooking. Family favourite dishes had become my substitute for time with my family. I’d grown up surrounded by Mum, my Aunties and Grandmum who were all excellent cooks. Sure I’d helped prepare meals and certainly helped eat them, but I hadn’t paid enough attention to how they were created and often my first attempts at making them failed miserably.

Szechuan Tomato Prawns, or Tomato Prawns as we know it by, was one of the first dishes I tried to re-create. My Aunty gave me the basic recipe over the phone while I was standing in the Chinese grocery store trying to decipher random cans. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or relieved to hear that the magic ingredient was actually plain old tomato sauce, but regardless of its simplicity, this dish has wowed many of my friends into thinking I am a much better cook than I am. I’ll also add here for the purists freaking out that real Chinese cooking would never have tomato sauce – as with many home cooks, Mum’s cooking was always a version of something else and she would add random things as she felt like it. Her Chinese food was no exception.

w_tomato prawns ingredients

300g whole king prawns
4 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tsp cornflour
1 red chilli finely diced
½ Tsp honey
A slice of fresh ginger
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 spring onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste

A few notes before you get started…

  • The dish is cooked quickly on a high heat, so make sure you have everything prepared ready to go. Its also best made just before you’re ready to serve it.
  • This recipe is for king prawns, but if your husband comes home with tiger prawns like the day I made this to take pictures of, just roll with it.
  • Mum always kept the prawns whole saying the head and shell gave the dish extra flavour. I still prefer the dish this way, but if you’re like my siblings and don’t like getting their hands dirty to eat them you can substitute with peeled prawns.
  • If your fresh chilli isn’t a hot one, add a small pinch of dried chill while you’re frying up. For children, I find the fresh chilli adds flavour without the heat.
  • I’ve used walking onions instead of spring onions. No biggie, it’s just what we had growing in the garden.

Slice your spring onions across the round for the white part, then length ways up the green in about 5cm lengths.

In a small bowl, whisk together the water, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, cornflour, honey, chilli and ginger.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan over a high heat. Test the heat with a bit of spring onion. If it bubbles quickly, its ready to go. Add the spring onions, chilli and garlic and fry off gently for a minute.

Add the prawns to the pan and toss a little, coating with the oil until they are starting to turn pink. Add the sauce to the wok and heat gently until the sauce thickens and the prawns are prink all over and cooked through. Very large prawns take a little longer to cook and if your sauce starts to dry up, add a little more water but not too much.

Serve immediately with a good helping of freshly cooked rice and Chinese broccoli.

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Sausage rolls for superstars

Glenn and I now have one proper honest-to-God birthday party under our parental belt. The kind where you invite the whole kindergarten class because you can (and so you do). The kind where you get overly ambitious about how much goddamn fun they will have thrust upon them and enlist your visiting in-laws to  help you cut out large cardboard glider planes, for each little guest. A back breaking and seemingly endless task that possibly made them wish their son had married someone a little less  bossy enthusiastic.

Almost everyone in G’s class RSVP’d a big fat yes, which thrilled us. Except that when I did the maths we realised that with at least 16 kiddies, multiplied by parents and younger siblings, plus our family and friends– we were looking at somewhere about sixty people or more. Whoa. We had hired a local playgroup hall for the event. But food was still going to be an issue. If only the gazillion cardboard glider planes had been edible we would have been set.

When this happens to you, don’t panic. Just make an absolute shitload of these pork and apple sausage rolls. This is a modified version of Glenn’s recipe. I have to mention this otherwise someone will call copycat.

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You will need:

1 packet of puff pastry (4 sheets)

4 Granny Smith or Pink Lady apples (peeled and chopped)

400g pork mince

400g of sausage meat (you can either buy a tube or use the filling from good sausages)

1 bunch fresh sage

1 bunch thyme

2 grated carrots

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

3/4 cup bread crumbs

4 tablespoons sesame seeds (for garnish)

To cook:

Chop the herbs and put everything in a large bowl. Wash your hands and get in there and mix it up. I won’t lie, this is not at all enjoyable. It’s cold and sticky but over quickly and you don’t have to haul out the heavy mixer.

Tip: pre fill the sink with warm soapy water so that you don't have to muck around with taps with your manky hands afterwards.
Tip: pre fill the sink with warm soapy water so that you don’t have to muck around with taps with your manky hands afterwards.

Right, you’re ready to roll. Cut one square of defrosted puff pastry in half. Spoon a good strip of mixture length ways across the pastry. Fold pastry over. Roll and seal gently. Roll again so that the sealed edge is underneath. At this point you can cling wrap and freeze if you like. Otherwise cut into 6 – 8 even pieces.

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Place on a baking tray on a sheet/baking paper, daub with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 35-40 minutes or until golden.

Pop them out on the party table with some relish and say goodbye!

Makes about 60 sausage rolls. Triple the recipe for outrageously large birthday parties.

 

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Lemony Pasta

w_lemony pasta birds eyeMy twenties were spent working and socialising. Probably in the opposite order.  Until I met Dave, my dinner menu usually consisted of beer, chicken and sweet corn soup, dumplings, pub meals, wood-fired pizza or a drunkenly-made pasta dish I call ‘Lemony Pasta’.

I would make my way home after a lovely evening of playing pool and perhaps a beer or two, fumble about my tiny 50’s kitchen which consisted of a bench with sink and a fridge shorter than me, and voila Lemony pasta would appear. I would always make extra thinking I’d take it to work the next day. But somehow all that was ever left in the morning were the sticky dishes I’d forgotten to rinse before falling into bed. Don’t worry…it was just a phase we’ve all been through right?

Lemony Pasta came into my life from watching a Nigella DVD during a stint of house sitting and so the recipe has been adapted from the original through the countless times being made from memory. The best part of my version of this dish is the creamy ultra- lemony flavour. I purposely don’t add extra salt or pepper to the sauce to keep it soft and let the butter round out the tartness of the lemon juice.

w_lemony pasta ing

Ingredients

500g spaghettini
Salt
3 egg yolks
½ – ¼ cup cream
Juice of 1 small lemon
A large knob of butter
Grand Padano
Roughly chopped flat leaf parsley

Get your pasta water boiling in a large pot and add a big spoonful of salt.

In a bowl, gently whisk your egg yolks then add the cream and lemon juice. Gently whisk until combined.

w_lemony pasta egg

Now add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and put back into the pot. Stir through the nob of butter until the pasta is thinly coated, then stir through the creamy egg sauce.

Serve garnished with finely grated Grand Padano and flat leaf parsley. Devour. And don’t forget to rinse your dishes.

w_lemony pasta bowl

How to: Get fake dressed.

You know what I’m talking about. You need bread/milk/wine badly. No time or desire to dress properly. That takes effort. And anyway you want to shower nicely later when you can, so what’s the point getting dressed now? It’s early, but not quite early enough to risk pyjamas for the mission. Or maybe it’s actually late and you’re already undressed for the day and no way are you putting your bra back on. No. Fucking. Way. So what do you do?

You get fake dressed.

This is a lot easier in winter. A good coat can make pretend dressing a breeze. However, summer time yields the footwear advantage: thongs and other slip-ons. You get extra points for these because you don’t have to bend to put them on. It’s all about minimal effort for maximum effect. And the effect we are after is: “nothing to see here”.

Essential to the fake-dressing kit.
Essential to the fake-dressing kit.

This morning I got faked dressed to drop Glenn off at work, with the idea that afterwards G and I could do some super quick Lego shopping. The Lego shopping would enable me to have a lovely proper shower later as G would then stop driving me crazy asking me about the desired Lego item and be blissfully preoccupied for a time while he put it together.

So this was the fake outfit: hair left as is but could possibly pass as purposely tousled ‘bed hair’ if you didn’t look too closely and see that it was completely flat on one side from being laid on and ever so slightly dandruffy. Hooded and (crucially) zipped coat covered no bra no undies ensemble of very old and holey (not holy. Holey) singlet and leggings that I slept in. No socks. Resisted the delicious lure of Uggs and slipped feet into elastic sided ankle boots. This feels very weird with no socks. That’s ok. If you do this, you’re passable. You can now leave the house and get the chocolate, I mean milk, without being actually dressed. Carry a large bag. It looks more convincing. Walk fast.

Admittedly, fake dressing is made easier for me by the fact that in winter I tend to sleep in tank tops and bad track pants. Like many people, I change into this outfit as soon as I get home. If it’s warmish I can just add a hoodie and thongs to be fake dressed. And then maybe someone might be fooled into thinking my messy/greasy hair is due to a sweaty workout. And that I’m fresh out of a hard core Bikram yoga class and not just fresh out of Kit Kats and making the dash for more.

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I told my friend Rosebud that I was writing about this and she said that fake dressing for her is leaving the house in the track pants she slept in with the addition of “blush and mascara and a lovely scarf”. Blush? Her theory is that people will think that if she’s gone to the trouble of putting blusher on then surely she has applied the same sort of effort to the rest of her person. Admirable logic. I imagine people scanning her, Terminator-style, up and down when she’s in line at the checkout. Their gaze comes to rest on the blusher. Conclusion: this person is fully dressed. Move along.

We agreed that you can’t get fake dressed in patterned pyjamas.  That’s not fake dressing. That’s just going out in your pyjamas. Unless you actually rolled the pyjamas up above your knees and concealed them under a thick dress or coat. But that’s a bit too much effort which is completely against the rules of fake dressing. It’s not done. It’s also actually just a tad crazy. Which we’re clearly not.

You can't fake dress in pyjamas. The deer would give you away immediately.
You can’t fake dress in pyjamas. The deer would give you away immediately.

 

 

How to: Make a canvas storage bag

w_bag_toys

Mess glorious mess. I’d like to pretend our home is as neat and tidy as our Instagram photos, but we all know that’s a big fat lie. We do however have the amount of stuff shown in this picture and then some. And then some more. This canvas storage bag helps keep it in check and looks pretty good while it’s at it.

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To make this approximately 32.5 cm square x 50cm high storage bag, you will need:

Primed artist canvas
Fabric for appliqué
Scissors
Pinking shears
Pins
Pencil
Sewing machine
Matching thread
Tape measure or ruler
A 15cm bowl or other round object to use as a template

w_bag_flat lay

Measure out and cut a long rectangle 130cm long by 50cm high and a 32.5 by 32.5cm square.

Trace a circle using the bowl or other template on your appliqué fabric and carefully cut out.

Measure along the rectangle about 49cm and 20cm high and make a small pencil mark. This should be roughly the centre of what will be the front of the bag. Pin your circle to the canvas, adjusting the alignment if you need to and sew.

Pin the bottom edge of the rectangle along the edges of square until it meets itself. Pin the ends of the rectangle together.

Stitch down along the ends of the rectangle down to the square to form the side seam, then stitch along the bottom seam.

Trim the side seam with the pinking shears before turning the bag right side out. Roll over the top edge to form a double fold at your preferred height. Fill with stuff.

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Pot Sticker Wontons

I am definitely these two things:  impatient and a little bit clumsy.  I’m also constantly starving for pot sticker dumplings.  If you’re anything like me you probably love dumplings, but wince at the thought of creating those beautifully pleated edges. Solution: Pot sticker wontons. Approximately one billion times easier to wrap and just as delicious. Add some cold beer and some dipping sauces and you’re on the way to true dinner happiness.unnamed (15)

These also freeze beautifully and I can tell you there is nothing like being on the tired bus ride home after work and remembering that you’ve got them tucked away in there, ready for a quick defrost and a frizzle in a hot pan.  Nothing.  It will make you smile to yourself for the rest of the bus ride. Call ahead and get someone to put beer in the fridge. And warm your slippers.

You will need:

1 large non stick pan with a fitted glass lid

1 packet of wonton wrappers (these are the thin yellowish square ones and they’re available in Asian grocers and some good corner stores. Normally frozen)

400g of pork mince

150g peeled green prawn meat

1 small bunch garlic chives

1 good slug of soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 small can water chestnuts

1 bunch spring onions (for garnish only)

1 egg

Peanut oil (for frying)

Warm water in a cup

Your dipping sauce of choice (brown/black vinegar/oyster sauce/soy/chili)

I use the above as a base and then add whatever other variables I have at the time. Dried Chinese mushrooms are nice. As are grated carrot and other veggies. I sometimes add grated ginger also.

Gran's kitchen timer.
Gran’s kitchen timer.

To make:

Put all ingredients ( bar the peanut oil and spring onions) in a food processor to combine. Don’t overwhizz. You still want to see some chunks of water chestnut.

We all have better things to do than make them perfectly neat (this is my story and I'm sticking to it).
We all have better things to do than make them perfectly neat (this is my story and I’m sticking to it).

Scoop a teaspoonful of the mixture into your waiting (defrosted) wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in the warm water and dab each corner of the wrapper lightly. Draw opposite corners together and overlap like a little parcel. Place on a large tray or board covered with grease proof paper. The mixture should get you between 35 -45 wontons depending on how generous you are with the filling.

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Heat a drizzle of peanut oil in large non-stick pan over a medium heat. If it’s too hot the bottom of the wonton will burn before the rest of it cooks properly, so watch your first batch carefully and adjust the heat accordingly. Place about ten of your little parcels folded side down in the hot oil. Then right away add a 1/4 cup of water and put a lid on the pan to seal in the steam. Wait five minutes. After five minutes the bottoms should be golden crisp and the tops should be cooked and wrinkled.

This is what the bottom should look like - crispy and golden.
This is what the bottom should look like – crispy and golden.

Serve immediately with the chopped spring onions and dipping sauces.

Hello my wrinkly friends
Hello my wrinkly friends

A note on dipping sauces – Dave suggests infusing the brown/black vinegar (like Chinkiang) with some of the spring onion, chilli and ginger for a bit beforehand.

Happy face stuffing! x

ps-  I sent this post to my editor (aka Pip) to have a bit of a read and she kindly pointed out that wonton was spelled incorrectly. Startling news, seeing as I have always until now thought that the correct spelling was… wanton! Wonton just looks weird to me now…