I Make S’Mores

The internet is a wealth of information. I’m sure if you search hard enough you could find the cure for cancer or the solution to third world hunger within its trillions upon trillions of pages of facts, figures and general whinging.

In the six months I have spent trawling the internet in my quest for blogging glory I have learnt one thing, how to make s’mores. ‘Cause I’m the kinda person who picks up on the important stuff.

Just a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know this sticky, sweet concoction existed. But today I do. Thanks to Chrystina Noel, a twenty-something blogger in Pennsylvania who for some bizarre reason finds my stories of parenting and disaster amusing (I’m probably setting her up for a life as a childless spinster too traumatised from my tales of birth and chaos to ever procreate herself).

In one blog post I mentioned Princess Child and I had bought lamingtons. Chrystina googled lamingtons and left a comment that she wasn’t sure about them at all. Later she Instagramed a photo of s’mores she had made – I gave the insightful comment that given she thought lamingtons were weird what the hell was this strange looking mixture – to satisfy me Chrystina posted a blog about mass producing s’mores.

So yesterday I made s’mores. It wasn’t pretty people.

Apparently it’s an old campfire treat, Graham crackers, Hershey chocolate bar and marshmallows. You roast the marshmallows and then squish them all together – I can see how out in the cold of the wilds this would be fun.

The first difficulty was I don’t know what Graham crackers are, Chrystina had a hard time explaining, no they weren’t really salty or sweet. But she isn’t a woman to be beaten and in a meeting with her boss’s boss (an Australian) she quizzed him on what the Australian equivalent of Graham crackers were. I love the image of this girl discarding the meeting agenda to go on a mission for a middle aged mother on the other side of the world she has never met. Her superior’s superior may not have been as entertained as me but never mind. They came up with Anise biscuits (I don’t know what they are either).

I interrogated an American friend at dinner, and he too couldn’t explain Graham crackers. We suggested a variety of aussie bikkies and he replied “no” to every one. So the table decided Chrystina had misheard the Aussie accent and it was really meant to be Nice biscuits. Never mind she graduated with a degree in architectural engineering and now travels the States as a construction consultant helping large corporations when their construction projects go over budget or over schedule. No indeed, a table of soccer mums come to the conclusion she couldn’t deal with the Aussie twang and had misheard the name of the biscuits.

Second problem, the chocolate, I may be able to get Hershey bars somewhere in Port Macquarie but obviously I lacked a bit of commitment to the project because I wouldn’t go any further than the local supermarket which is walking distance to my house. So I improvised again with a block of Aussie chocolate.

Then came the marshmallows. Again, probably shouldn’t have gone for the homebrand on special variety. Rather than the petite little pillows Chrystina used mine were, well more like giant nipples.

I than grilled them (Chrystina said she put them under the “broiler” which I’m assuming was the grill – if these yanks could just talk English it would be so much easier).

I may possibly have taken my eye of the ball slightly and left them in just a second too long. My nipples deflated somewhat, became kinda like well gooey.

So the result.  Nice biscuits aren’t a substitute Graham crackers and Chrystina probably did mean Anise biscuits – they made it a VERY sweet treat. My chocolate was a bit too thick. My marshmallows were super sized and nipple like with a tendency to spread. The verdict from the family – Hippie Child – we are not American you know, I don’t think I like them (she ate three), Princess Child – this is different – she even ate them cold later in the afternoon. Mr Shambles – don’t think this is in the Heart Smart diet but I’ll take another (think he got through four or five). I enjoyed one with my coffee very much.

I know what you are all thinking – it’s a wonder this woman doesn’t have a food blog. Aren’t you?

Thank you Chrystina for introducing us to the delights of s’mores.

Update: Check out this blog post on making homemade Graham Crakers from Lovely Living http://www.lovelyliving.com.au/editorsblog/recipes/homemade-graham-crackers/

Diary of the $120 Food Challenge

Well we’ve got through the week trying to live on the one grocery shop, how did we do? Probably not a raging success.  I was attempting the $120 Food Challenge.

Saturday

Pantry clean out. Inventory of supplies. Plan the menu. Do the shop. Go over budget by $50 by adding in way too much expensive fruit and other breakfast/lunch treats. Not a sterling start.

Go to cook the spaghetti with roasted tomato and garlic. Really need to read these recipes better, it takes an hour to roast the tomatoes. It’s already 6.00pm. Ooops. Luckily my oven is super-sonic fast so bung it on high and get it done in 40 minutes.  Unfortunately I have to go and pick up Hippie Child from a party before I’ve finished cooking. Leave Mr Shambles to boil the spaghetti -he puts in way too much which results in a dish heavy on spaghetti and little light on sauce. However, it is very nice, and I get to eat it for dinner tomorrow and lunch for the next two days as well.

Sunday

Baked Fish with Ginger and Soy big hit with Mr Shambles, “as good as a restaurant, you’ve got to cook this when my brother comes for a visit”. Actually did look really good, I’m not big on fish and usually have something else when I cook it for the family but reckon I could have had this one.

Unfortunately, leave house to get Sunday Papers and Princess Child and I fall for a box of six lamingtons ($2.99).

Monday

I make the fruit salad for breakfast. Children impressed. I spend too much time chopping fruit and I’m almost late for work. Ham and salad wraps fresh and nice.  Chorizo, fennel and potato tortilla for dinner was relatively quick and easy and family enjoyed it. Hippie Child off sick from school, eats half an avacado – she’s messing with my menu plan.

Tuesday

Can’t remember what happened for breakfast. Ham and salad wraps still looking good for lunch. Get home tired from work and discover meatloaf takes an hour to cook, decide to do chicken parmigana, however Hippie Child still off sick from school has eaten all the ham and drunk all the orange juice. Head to supermarket (ham $3.98, juice $4.99). Get home now can’t be bothered crumbing chicken so end up doing the chicken, feta, tomato bake, which is very nice.

Wednesday

Get distracted blogging before work.  Children get themselves yoghurt for breakfast. Running late throw a bit of ham on a couple of slices of bread (we’ve run out butter) children look at sad looking sandwiches in horror.

We’ve got parent/teacher interviews at highschool this evening have to call in Nana Shambles to do soccer training pick up/drop off. We run late for the meetings. When we get home Nana Shambles has done dinner (thank you thank you). She turned the chicken into a tomato hotpot dish – she bought a can to tomatoes (probably a couple of bucks).

Thursday

Vegemite on dry toast for breakfast. Still got no butter, rest of ham falls off bench and dog eats it, children convinced dog is going to die, he, however looks relatively happy at his achievement. Discover the fridge has turned off – new fridge probably just out of warranty – Princess Child and I try to move it to see if it’s still plugged into the wall – nearly give ourselves hernias but fridge doesn’t budge. Give up. The kids get money for canteen lunch ($10) and I go to work.

Busy trying to finish a report at work, get home late to discover I’ve forgotten to pick up Mr Shambles from work (he’s car is off the road now). Back in car find him wandering the streets in an attempt to walk home.

Get home still trying to sort out what is wrong with fridge. Princess Child needs to “take a plate” for morning tea at school tomorrow, she also demands butter for her toast tomorrow. Head to the supermarket, cave  in and buy butter chicken and rice meals for all of us for dinner ($5.99 each that’s – gulp – $24). Buy a packet of biscuits for the morning tea ($5). Forget to buy butter. Princess Child can’t believe she’s been born into such a disorganised family, firmly convinced she’s adopted.

We heat and serve the butter chicken, Mr Shambles turns the fridge off/on and it magically starts to work – if only we could have MOVED THE DARN THING this morning. I cook the meatloaf with the now defrosted lamb mince for dinner tomorrow – was going to do the lamb curry in the slow cooker as well but discover I’m now out of onions. Give up.

Friday

Another disastrous morning. At the parent/interviews Mr Shambles had asked textiles teacher for help with Hippie Child’s new sewing machine – we can’t get it to work. Teacher suggests she brings it in to class. Hippie Child completely embarrassed by the idea of lugging sewing machine to school, Mr Shambles insists. Of course he then goes to work and I’m left trying to find a box for her to take it in. Takes about four boxes/plastic containers before we find one that it will fit. I carefully explain to Hippie Child that it’s a parent’s role in life to give their children something to talk about in therapy when they are 30 – she just needs to note this down it should fill a couple of sessions.

No time to sort out lunch. Money for canteen again ($10)

Mr Shambles knocks off early on Fridays (and it’s my day off) so we end up having lunch out ($30).

We are out of tomatoes and onions so it’s another trip to the supermarket ($5). But I get the sweet tomato and onion chutney made to go with the already-made meatloaf. Mr Shambles loves the chutney, Princess Child thinks it’s too spicey but I may have been a bit heavy handed with the chilli powder. Meatloaf is very nice.

I make the lamb curry in the slow cooker for dinner tomorrow (it’s without the fresh herbs – bought them last Saturday so they’ve long since fermented).

The result

We did spend less on food this week. But it’s obvious I need to be MUCH MORE ORGANISED. Sandra at the $120 Food Challenge does recommend doing the shop fortnightly and I’m sure that would be better given that with $240 you can buy bags of onions, potatoes etc so you are less likely to run out like I did.

I also need to devote some serious time on the weekends to baking – it’s hard to fill the kids lunchboxes when you don’t allow the usual museli bars, cheese snacks etc.

Time seems to be the big killer for me in this challenge I really need to try and find some really quick and easy recipes or some that can be prepared in advance. I also need to try to keep away from the shops completely. I’m a marketers dream, constantly falling for the impulse purchases. I’m in denial about how much I spend that way.

However, I don’t like to be beaten, so I’m gonna give this another shot. Starting Tuesday I’m doing a $240 shop for the fortnight. Will let you know how that one goes.

$120 Food Challenge

An expedition into my pantry this weekend turned into a Hitchcock thriller. Attack of the Moths. We seem to be harbouring a colony of flying creatures. I know that is bad. I know it makes a statement about my housekeeping skills – but hey I’ve never put my hand up for Homemaker of the Year.

So we proceeded to remove every item and do a clean out. This proved a good thing. Over at the $120 Food Challenge Sandra Reynolds has produced a blog that shows people how to feed a family of four on just $120 a week. I’m a little sceptical but given the state of our bank account it can’t hurt to try.

The first step in the process is to do an inventory of all the food you are currently hoarding. The exercise highlighted that we probably don’t need eight boxes of opened but only half used boxes of cereal. While one particular item, out-of-date in 2009, seems to have moved house with us three times – even my clutter-bug tendencies are willing to let that one go.

After the tossing finished I sat down to do a menu plan for the next seven days. Here’s what I came up with:

Saturday

Spaghetti with roasted tomato & garlic

Sunday

Vegemite on toast.

Leftovers.

Baked fish with ginger and soy

Monday

Fruit salad & yoghurt.

Ham & salad wraps.

Chorizo, fennel and potato tortilla

Tuesday

Avacado and cheese on toast.

Ham & salad wraps.

Lamb & bacon meatloaf with Sweet tomato & onion chutney

Wednesday

Museli and yoghurt.

Meatloaf & chutney sandwiches.

Chicken parmigiana

Thursday

Scrambled eggs on toast.

Chicken schnitzel sandwich.

Slow cooked mild beef curry.

Friday

Vegemite on toast.

Tuna salad.

Chicken, tomato, feta bake.

Then I hit the shops, armed with my list. Which is where my plan fell down a little. I spent $175.57. Sandra’s estimate for the seven dinners was $84.90 which I think was pretty spot-on. However, I went a little overboard in supplementing for the breakfast/lunches/fruit side of things. My family eats a lot of fruit so spent too much there,  I also bought a few things I had run out of, and I had to get a few spices for the dinner dishes which added a bit to the total.

If we take off some of the “pantry” items I brought – anchovies, baking paper, dog food, frozen peas, frozen beans, capers, dishwashing detergent, tuna, plus some of the extravagant fruit, strawberries, blueberries, then the orange juice, yoghurt, and a mystery item I can’t remember what it was but it cost $5.90 so I’m deleting it too we get the bill down to $136.42.

This still leaves in one orange juice, bread, wraps, milk, heaps of fruit, bananas, pears, oranges, apples, plums and lots of spices cardamon pods, nutmeg, oregano, garam masala, cloves, cinnamon stick (which I won’t have to buy again if I use the same recipes next week).

So essentially, I went closer than I thought possible. I’m banning myself from visiting the supermarket during the week so we will see how we go in just eating what I’ve bought. I’ll let you know the result.

Eating Out With Kids or My Failure as a Food Blogger

Eating out with small children is not an enjoyable experience. There was a long period when fine dining became a distant memory for us. MacDonalds became our restaurant of choice because THEY HAD A PLAYGROUND.  Anyone who has tried to keep toddlers or preschoolers confined to a seat for any longer than three minutes knows the importance of that playground. A meal out meant simply lurching from one disaster to the next – spilt juice, one needs to go to the toilet, one escapes and nearly bowls over a waitress carrying hot food, another screams incessantly because they don’t want to be in a high chair, suddenly nobody likes chicken nuggets – by the time we got home we were exhausted and determined to never leave the house again.

Fast forward a number of years and you would think we could start to enjoy meals in real restaurants again. After all nobody needs a high chair and everyone is toilet trained.

Last night at 6.30pm we made the spontaneous decision to go out for dinner, basically neither of the adults could agree on who should cook so we decided to pay someone else to do it for us. Now normally we would get pizza and eat on the beach or fish and chips and sit on the town green overlooking the river. However, in my infinite wisdom I decided we would do a PROPER RESTAURANT.

First problem, nobody wanted to get to dressed. Shorts and thongs were out and everybody hated my choice of outfits so there was some intense debating and negotiating before we even managed to get into the car. However, like a woman possessed I persisted with the ludicrous idea that we could enjoy an evening out as a family – I even made a BOOKING for a table.

On arrival we discover the local Greek restaurant has essentially become an Italian joint so our tastebuds have to do an about turn and reacclimatise to a more Roman inspired menu than we were expecting but we do.

I’ve arrived with a camera because I’m a blogger now and everything we do is a photo opportunity and a possible blog post. In the back of my mind I have the faint notion I could do a food blogger type review of the restaurant – you know stylised shots of the food, waxing lyrically about the superb presentation, slight concerns about the overuse of conflicting herbs (OK I can’t cook and know nothing about food but I’ve watched Masterchef – it can’t be that hard).

We start off fine the restaurant is right on the river so we get to watch the sunset.

Princess Child has come prepared, she has her I-pod and the latest book she is reading (just in case the company proves too dull for interaction). The book is Once and Then by Morris Gleitzman. Princess Child wants to know who Hitler was, and why was he a bad guy? So much for a fun night out.

We order drinks and the girls elect to have apple juice. Now, many years ago Hippie Child was banned from apple juice because it sent her hypo (I have no medical or scientific evidence to back this up I just know when she drank apple juice she began talking really fast and jumping off furniture). When she orders apple juice I figure it will be alright she would have outgrown that by now.

The first course arrives and I even manage to photograph it.

But after that things go a bit pear-shaped. The apple juice kicks in and Hippie Child becomes highly witty and amusing but talks non-stop and giggles at everything. We begin to wonder if there was alcohol in the juice. Meanwhile Princess child gets dizzy, develops a headache decides she tired and wants to go home.  The service is great at the restaurant but there is a delay before our mains arrive. The girls end up outside running along the river to keep themselves amused, of course the meals arrive minutes after we’ve let them go.

Everyone is starving. I forget to photograph the meals. In the end the only shot I get is the empty shells from Mr Shambles mussels in tomato sauce. They were apparently very nice.

Then someone needs to go to the toilet – oh it was me alright – I should have done those pelvic floor exercises they recommended after childbirth.

One of the downsides of having children old enough to be taken to restaurants is they eat like adults. Which means we pay double what we used to for a night out. By the time we get to the dessert menu Mr Shambles and I are doing mental calculations in our head and both decline. The girls enjoy their lemon tart and panacotta and we manage to steal bites when they aren’t looking.

Again, I forget to photograph the food. I decide there are plenty of great food bloggers out there, you don’t need another one.

We eventually make it to the car with our wallet substantially lighter. The girls fight in the back seat all the way home. So ends another night of family bonding activities.

What’s for Dinner?

It’s the plaintive cry that echoes across homes world-wide. Three little words that are enough to drive mothers everywhere to drink. What’s for dinner?

Before having children I wasn’t even the cook in the family, Mr Shambles always got home before me so he did dinner, and he can actually COOK which is nice.

However, it seems upon giving birth I became the fully-fledged chef of the household.  It’s taken a bit of getting used to (for everyone concerned) but somehow I’ve fudged my through to creating a reportoire of dishes that are almost edible.

It’s not that I hate cooking, I quite enjoy the big events, cooking with a purpose, birthdays, Easter, Christmas. I enjoy reading cook books and experimenting with new dishes.

It’s the daily drudge that wears away at my soul. It’s the never ending THINKING. Trying to plan ahead, now what we all feel like eating in four days time? The shopping. The manic race to use all the darn ingredients before they go off – spontaneous dinner at a friend’s house? NO, I’VE GOT TO USE THE BROCCOLI I BOUGHT FIVE DAYS AGO.

Then when you’ve got to the end of the shopping week and you face the dreaded moment of opening the pantry, then the fridge, and desperately try to work out what gourmet delicacy can be created from a can of baked beans and a limp carrot.

Then of course there’s that infuriating response when you answer the question of what’s for dinner? Let’s just say chicken stir-fry – then comes  “don’t feel like that”. Bless you there are days, early in the week, when you even try to accommodate – offering up alternatives because after all there’s plenty of fresh ingredients for a variety of meals. But as the days pass by you get a little less generous, until you get to the point where you simply dish it up to them (no correspondence will be entered to).

There’s also that magic moment, when you try something new (having searched high and low for the exact ingredients required by the three page long recipe) when after a mouthful they declare “umm, do you think we could heat up some frozen lasagne?”

My instant response to the frozen lasagne query is no, although previous disasters have alerted me to the fact I do need to question WHY they don’t like it.

It goes back to the ice-cream incident of ’04. I dished up the girls some ice-cream with chocolate topping. A few spoonfuls and they said “Mum this doesn’t taste too good”. I went into a rant about how you have been begging for ice-cream, now you don’t want it, it’s perfectly good ice-cream – only to have my eyes wander to the kitchen bench where I realised the bottle sitting out was the BBQ sauce, in a container deceptively similar to the chocolate topping.

Well I’m at day one of the 366 evening meals that will need to be prepared this year (it’s a leap year so we get a bonus one), I’m not off to a salubrious start, Chicken & Mushroom Ravioli with Tomato Sauce (all packaged cooked in five minutes stove and microwave). I’m on holidays.