Sunday, November 28, 2010

giving thanks

primary, originally uploaded to the brenneman photo set.
The first Thanksgiving I ever had was in an old underwear factory.

We were living in my studio which was in one end of this massive space. We had all we needed in this our first home we had a shared kitchen which housed a table that would seat 20. We had some wonderful times in this place - a Star Trek how to host a murder party, our first Halloween together, a 40th birthday for a friend where the place was lit up with 50 candles on candelabras and glitter on the floor. We would latter use the candelabras for our wedding.

I have fond memories of this place and sad ones too where I was trying to feel grown up, struggling to make ends meet but feeling the love of the man I choose to be with. For this I decided to take on some of his traditions and Thanksgiving was one of them.
pioneer seeda crooked chair
We began a ritual of inviting the people closest to us and giving them a recipe to make and bring along. Lots of variety there: We have had some strange spoon bread made by our dear friends who are now residing in the US (we were all a little hesitant to even eat it), beautiful pumpkin pies, wonderful candied yams, and even the occasional coconut cream pie!
One friend always brings a big pot of garlic mash potato, we all look forward to this, in fact if she is late we just wait. We have had some neighbours come and go, this year we missed our end-of-the street neighbours, they are travelling abroad, we invited our recently-moved-out neighbours, who are pining for their old street and all of us.
gelatine and sugar
I always invite family too, but I think I have never managed to ever have them all here. Even one here makes me happy.

Every Thanksgiving I used to always know where my mother in law would be, there would be a phone call a week before where she'd let us know who she would be spending it with. Special occasions like Thanksgiving make me miss those calls, she hasn't been with us for almost two years.
skillet IIIthrice fried I
This year I made cornbread in her cast iron skillet, I laid out her linen cross-stitched table cloth, surely made by her also dearly departed sister. I made Haystacks for Aaron from his Mom's recipes. This is how we choose to remember her by using the things her hands would have touched hundreds of times.

I thought too of my Father-in-law whom passed away this year, I thought of how thankful I was that he meet three of my children when last we were over there. I know how much it means now to Aaron to hold your family dear. I am thankful to be here for my partner to have had four beautiful children together, I am thankful for the memories.
table shot

Saturday, November 27, 2010

quick, scarf it

100%, originally uploaded by various brennemans.
I was so pleased the other day to have had some time to fossick the fabric store. I'd had in mind that I wanted to make a simple scarf that required little skill no measuring, and that I could make in a spare hour.

Beatrix loves to wear light scarves ,so I picked up some stretch jersey which I just cut to about 20 cm and about 1 m long. I then stitched a cute trim with a faint floral pattern to compliment the watermelon colour I'd chosen. There was no need to over lock, a zig zag would do before you added the trim, but I didn't. This was to be as simple as possible.

Once the trim was attached I then folded it over the edge of the fabric along the entire scarf and stitched on the other side. Carefully tucking and sewing a neat edge on all four corners. That's it.
I loved that when finished it didn't look crooked and in fact the non stretch trim and the stretchy jersey actually gave it a kind of accidental ruffle edge. The next morning Miss Bea had a new scarf to wear to school, Eliza is already placing her order.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

what a lot of waffle

I'd been a little preoccupied these last two weeks. I've been doing a lot of clearing out of things, we do this whenever we are a little restless. A friend said "you guys either rearrange the furniture or get a skip."  I'd already re arranged my mantle at the beginning of spring so I guess a skip it would have to be.  I cleared out eight bags of stuff for the opp shop last weekend, just from one room, my spare room/studio.

I've come to be very ruthless. We all know the principle of a spring clean: If you've not used it or worn it in the last year, then you don't need it.

In our house we have a few surfaces as we all do and regardless of how clean it is now in a day or two the stuff will slowly begin to pile. The odd CD out of its case, a peg a sock, notebooks (we have a love of notebooks, everyone one of us). I cannot help but be reminded of the Absolutly Fabulous episode where the minimalist friend had a white room, so white that even the surfaces where invisible. I am not saying I want that, It just always makes us laugh when we try to clear the surfaces.

uri's pie
In all of my clearing up there was still room for cooking. During my clearing out I baked a pumpkin pie. I'd been left all on my own for several hours, Sheryl Crowe came out her case and rocked the house whilst I baked and cleaned.  That was a great pie, so good in fact that I realised that with every serve I'd offer to someone I'd cut myself another sliver, I think I polished off 3/4 of one pie all to myself. Thankfully I'd baked two.

This weekend there was some waffle making, made in the woddle. I am not a fan of gadjets however this little woddle maker was a great purchase. They are penguin shaped, and so darn cute. They have a scooped out belly for ice cream or berries, these woodles get made about once a fortnight. This time I made some carmalised apple to go with, the apple was just so perfect, the sauce silky and sweet.
food groups
After the woodles there was a request from little Eliza. She'd gone about her day, playing with dolls carting a little pram filled with oddities, including notebooks of course. She stopped at midday and was in a flutter, when she is frustrated she tries really hard to verbalise what is bothering her. On this occasion she couldn't remember what it was called she could only remember it had to do with the waffles. There were some major tears, a lot of repititan on both our parts, "waffles, but you've had waffles?" to which she'd reply "Waffles, I can't say, I can't remember, I don't know the word!"  Ohhh the agony. 
breakfast thread
Finally she took the book and found the picture near the waffles... of Sushi. Now after all this frustration you would move heaven and Earth to make Sushi happen. She had however displayed the warning signs that any leaving of the house could be bad. I pulled out some Nori sheets and said you can make sushi with Dad, trying to throw this one into his court.
anticipation of riceavacodo

So there was some Sushi goings on with dad and big sister Bea, whist I took Phoenix out for some satay and mango lassi at Thom Phat. We sat in the low lying sofa by the massive open out window to the street. This was nice and he discovered he loved Satay. The satay being so yummy the woman gave us a tub to take home, when I'd asked for a doggy bag. This became part of our chicken roti wraps for dinner that night and there were leftovers for two days in his lunch box.
cafe au lait
Aaron and I did manage to steal  some time  on Sunday to enjoy our breakfast of some potato rosti, poached eggs spinach and tomato and some caffe au lait, we like to sip it in bowls, a little bit betty blue. We wondered how three kids could be all busy in their room making a stop motion of some LEGO, but we didn't ask.  It was happening, they were happy, and we sipped our coffee.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

labour intensive

love note
I woke up this morning to a beautifully clean floor. My bed socks slid across the floor, there was a scent of cucumber in the air, the bench was clear, the table clean.

I go to bed before Aaron most of the time, he's a night owl. He can even see in the dark which is funny because he can't see under normal circumstances. He has a place in the shed where he works at night, he likes it out there. He is writing a novel, and has been for almost two years.

I have strayed from my initial telling of my clean floor, I leave a chore list before I go to bed. That may sound bizarre in fact it isn't the way I want it to be, but it's what works that matters.

In my mind I have this picture perfect image of a Mum and Dad doing the dishes together, whilst the kids frollic in their white cotton Pyjamas reading stories and brushing teeth, a little like The sound of music. Actually if it were the sound of Music I'd have a Nanny and I wouldn't be writing this. Well it isn't quite so orderly here at bedtime. There is maybe half put on pjs, some unfinished diary writing, some jumping off the top bunk down onto the huge teddy or a stack of pillows.

In short there can be some shenanigans at this time of night.

There can also be some tender moments where one of the kids is reading to Eliza. The fact is that Aaron can be a little late home and therefore only one of us can make some headway in the clearing up of dinner, that is usually me. I don't actually really mind this time. I mean sometimes they can be a little hard work at this time of night, they're hyperactive, or down right having a melt down about somebody at school or what eliza has touched or made her own for that day. I know I don't really want to be involved in any of these goings-ons. I know that I have my hand in warm water and for about 20 minutes nobody is talking to me, that is heaven in my world.

Sometimes however I am picturing a different scenario, one that involves a glass of wine, a hello Honey how was your day? whilst we wash dishes together and talk. Instead, I do all the dishes and make the lunches for the following day. It is usually about 8.30 by the time I am done. I then leave a chore list with say three or four items, like take out bin, recycling, compost, folding, and maybe mopping of kitchen floor.

I have to be specific in my list, I need to say where the clothes to be folded are, I need to say which floor and then he likes a check box for each. Crazy, I know but it works, he likes it that way.

I have tried to argue that the kids don't see him do the housework and therefore that he is not actually being a good role model even though he is by actually doing his bit. I think it's important that Phoenix sees his Dad taking part in cleaning, I think it's important for the girls to see that women aren't the only ones who clean.

I know when I was growing up I cannot recall a single time I saw my dad do any dishes or cook anything. He did however buy groceries and he would be the one to take us to buy our shoes, I even remember being taken to buy a pretty yellow gingham swing dress with little goldfish along the hem. Odd the way that ought to have been something you'd expect your Mum to do, yet my Dad did most of that stuff. Probably because Mum never drove and still has never learnt.

I think that although I don't entirely like this set-up, I don't think I want to give up the morning surprise of a clean floor and a stack of beautifully folded laundry. I have told you about the way he folds haven't I?

laundry Ilaundry IIlaundry IIIlaundry IVlaundry V

Monday, November 15, 2010

wok like an egyptian


I have weekends where I do not leave the house. Where I just don't really want to, I love to spend my time in the kitchen cooking up the things I've had little time to during the busy week. I like the fact that at times I can be all alone in the house, because they are all dispersed around the neighbourhood. The husband is grabbing a coffee over the road talking philosophy, the middle two at the end of the block on the communal trampoline, or playing with the other kids coming and going between houses.The eldest is scooter-ing away or up in the tree with a friend. When I think they are beginning to wane from breakfast I have to gather them all up. I'd like one of those bells to ring out over the street to call them all in to lunch.

I like to put on a wok full of something at times like this, I throw in a mix of all the things that between them they will eat.

I decided a little while back to try to master good Chinese food. I feel I am pretty good at Indian, quite confident with Thai, even Morrocan. Chinese was however eluding me. I realised it was more than just soy sauce on everything.

Where we live there really isn't good Chinese take away, Chinatown is your best bet. Bea and Aaron have their own little haunts there, so I leave the dumplings to them.

With any cuisine you really need to learn about the ingredients and flavours. Once you practise a little you will be able to whip up wonderful stir fries. Even if you just used the seasonings used in this recipe you could adapt it to marinate some Chicken breast, tofu, Asian greens, or some nice beef fillet. The other secret is to have all your ingredients ready to go, once the wok is hot you will have a meal in 15 minutes, cooking it just until it is a little crunchy. Too long and you lose all the goodness.
here's one I prepared earlier...
Most Chinese take-away compares little to this. Especially the food hall stuff, don't even go there unless they are cooking it in front of you.

I'd suggest to anyone to familiarise themselves with Kylie Kwong. A wonderful Australian  born Chinese chef, whom is judging by the naming of family and friends in her recipes surrounded by good cooks. I envy the tradition of passing down recipes through generations. I have a little of that, well a fair bit, I was never really taught though. I just watched and took it in without knowing,still I envy anyone whom ever spent time with their Grandparents, not only would it have been nice, but the things I could have learnt, having seen where the food I ate originated from. That would have been, something.

An ingredient I had not previously been familiar with was Chinese rice cooking wine, Shaoxing. This wine will cost you about $2.50 in a Chinese grocer, which is nothing. Once you use this you will be thanking me. The fried rice from the Kylie Kwong cookbook is an almighty winner. Everyone needs a great fried rice recipe and this my friends is it. I can tell you that we have eaten this dish twice a week recently and I still can't get enough. I like to add extra partially steamed vegies or raw depending on whether the toothless one will be eating the family meal. Greens are a great addition, add them in a few minutes before it's all ready so as they are still a lovely green.

Add a sprinkle of fresh red chilli and coriander and shallots and WOW, so good.  
rindless chedder
As I watched the kids wolf it down, I felt happy that it was as good as every other time I'd made it. Happy that Phoenix was eating his vegetables, happy that even Aaron (fried-rice-resistant) has a second serve. Happy that there is little for the compost since they eat it all and little to clean up since it's so easy.

I realise too that I'm down to a tablespoon of my rice wine, and I may actually have to leave the house to get some more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

a moody room

multi ricemulti rice, originally uploaded to the brenneman photo set.

We have a little sun-room out the back, it changes with the seasons. 

This room is never really cold, as it is east facing and in the morning is particularly warm and nice. When we moved in three years ago I had a day bed in one corner where Eliza, being only two months old, would take her naps in the Spring, when I couldn't settle her in her cradle.

We watch the rain from this room and it's the perfect place to see a rainbow in the afternoon coming up over the shed.

I think the room is made up of salvaged windows and a large wood framed sliding door, which I love. Babies at about a year old love to look out windows and because these windows are floor to ceiling Circe loves it here. She can see the big fig tree and all the birds that come to eat at it, Eliza loves to watch the bats at night squabble over the fruit.

There is a vintage Yardly make up advertisement resting against the window. I bought this and the white glass wrought iron table from this fabulous woman who had wonderful style. I even saw her and her house in an old magazine I had, and I spotted my Yardley poster which used to sit in her wardrobe. I felt very la-di-da after seeing that.
i heart you, ines
This room sometimes houses my washing when it rains, it also has a large table which is great for folding, and keeping the workload of washing out of sight if I am trying to ignore it. 

Over the weekend I cleaned it out, you know the type of stuff that accumulates in a room like this: shoes, skates, outdoor blankets, and two baskets of folding. Those I leave for the ex-US navy boy husband of mine who is lacking only the ruler they used to use to fold, cause he doesn't need it. A few things remain the shells in their memory box from Maloolaba QLD,  a reminder of the holiday we took whilst I was pregnant with our second child. The stained glass window frame from our once neighbour's, that I just like. A basket of animals and some board books for the littler ones. I may house some water-paints and the roll of IKEA paper here to draw as this gets excellent light.

We ate a meal here as we will do on many a night in the Spring and coming Summer it is brighter in here in the evening than in my kitchen and we can see the garden from here. We were very low on rations and as I'd been sick I had little to work with. (I might add here that I love whipping something wonderful out of very little. It makes me feel thrifty.) I made two curries, one potato and the other a pea and chicken, plus a mountain of rice which would never satisfy Beatrix the rice-fiend.
two curriesyou say potatopeas please
It was beautiful, Phoenix and Bea both were loving being in the sunroom eating and enjoyed some time without the two younger ones. Aaron and I taking shots of the spread we had laid out and he taking some beautiful shots of the Nasturtiums sitting in a Shatto Milk bottle, which always makes us think of Missouri and the kids began to pine over the flavours: The chocolate, the caramel, the banana, the strawberry... which was better, ahh the root beer milk, they both agree.
Shatto II

In the coming weeks I am going to finally paint the walls a colour I am yet to choose, not white as I think we will be blinded. Something subtle and cool I think.  I am also so keen to bring some yellow in here I may paint a chair or stool.Will I even have time to paint, how to keep little hands away, I don't know. I will continue to dream up the things we will do in this room in the next few months.

Now how to keep out the sand and those muddy feet.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

saturday: bean there, done that

tested by number 11, originally uploaded by various brennemans.

Day 5:"no screen" status
When we began this experiment last week I had my reservations. I can say now that if I had to list the pros and cons of the week gone by without TV and computer, I could only list pros. I am yet to make any concrete conclusions but I know that the effects of these both spill further than you know.

Everything just seems to be flowing better: There is more activity, more interaction, more play, more of everything kids should do. There is also just more time. I spent the week playing with my two little lovelies we read more we rolled around more and I felt less interested in getting my "jobs" done. I even had more time when the kids got home from school. It may be a hippy concept this no TV idea, it may seem too radical, some of you may even feel sorry for my kids. But they have not complained, not even asked for it. In fact they are benefiting 100%. I said to Aaron today I don't know what to do when this time is up.

My weekend began with ricotta pancakes and strawberries. Phoenix was happy.

Mid morning we received a text from a friend whom is recovering from a lung transplant and is on immuno-suppressant drugs. We had been unable to make two other get-togethers because at least one of the six of us of us is always a tad sick. We have joked about her needing a radiation suit to come see us.

In fact she knows better than anyone the misfortune, the almost comical way, we catch the craziest illnesses: The whopping cough when I last gave birth, the quarantine my baby and I were placed under. The scarlet fever we all came down with. The viral meningitis Aaron got a week after I broke my wrist. The kidney infection he got the first day I was home from hospital with Eliza. It just isn't normal.

The reason she knows our troubles is that many times we have fallen apart in her presence: On one occasion Aaron needing an ambulance while she was here, on another Eliza required a trip to the ER for Pneumonia.

We are the brunt of many jokes for the drama that occurs in our life. There is never a shortage of goings-on.

I go back to my point, when she'd messaged we were fairly well for us: two persistent coughs but both victims were going on with as normal. One, being Eliza, was off playing with our neighbour's little boy for the majority of the day, the other was doing fine. So we told our friend it was safe to visit. (She said she would come fully prepared with alcohol pump pack regardless.) But before she could even get to our place Phoenix gets a fever and is up in bed with his hippo and feeling poorly.
sick bed
We set him up with his water bottle in the cute woolly monster-face cover Aaron had stitched for him a while back. I bought him drinks and let him rest. The remedy my kids love when they are sick is pastina, a simple soup made with stock and tiny pasta. Alphabet on this occasion. A splash of olive oil and then some parmesan on top. They love it and it makes them feel all warm and it goes down easy.

So the friend, she arrives and I say I am the only real well one here, Can I hug you? I mean she has had a transplant for goodness sakes. You want to say, thank goodness you are able to be standing here.

She had missed our family and our food, the way you get fed whether you are hungry or not and loved whether you deserve it or not. We retreated to the back garden to admire my artichoke plants (which are looking rather splendid!). We spent rest of the afternoon out there: Finishing off tomato planting, moving some planted too closely, pulling weeds. The kids played in the sandpit, and enjoyed the outdoors.

On one of my back-and-forth trips to check on Eliza I returned with a shirt-front filled with freshly picked broad beans from over the road's garden. I remembered last spring's broad bean dip which I have made several times now, usually also with baby peas. The dip was served with warm pitta bread, made as garlicky and as tangy as you like with a sharp parmasen, lemon juice, a good amount of olive oil to get it all nicely blended. Some mint leaves thrown in and bang it's a fantastic dip.
cardunculusgift rapt

True to form, though, within 45 minutes of her arriving I had begun to feel my tonsils there in the back of my throat. My neck and ears began to feel sore too, and by the time the lunch dishes were cleared my throat is feeling like it is squished shut. Unbelievable. Aaron had to put me to bed, bring me a panadol, and make me a cup of tea. My day was done.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

screen free


In bed Tuesday morning, trying to get some kind of sleep-in as it was Melbourne Cup day. Instead Aaron waltzes in with the flat screen under one arm. What are you doing I ask, fearing what he'd say.

"No TV for them for all of November."

I thought that was bad enough and then he says "And no computer, either." Normally we'd have talked about these kind of parental matters before hand, but this time I thought, well you know what, why not.

We'd been saying forever how difficult it is to monitor the kids usage of all and any media. We tried the 30 minutes computer time slots, that works and doesn't. Sometimes great, sometimes they would have a melt down when it came time to turn it off. Other times I'd let it go, knowing the time limit had passed, because hey they were quiet or they were getting along so well. Nearly all the time my two eldest are playing, Phoenix my 7 year old has his little arm around his big sister, it's cute in fact, it's really sweet.

So how did they react? Well phoenix, who can really catastrophise things, was actually trying to find good hiding spots for the TV. After seeing that I thought, "Wow, he's ok with this, if he is then I can be too."

Day 1.
Our neighbour's little boy came to play, there was some Lego, some ice cream at his place, then there was more Lego. I fear the time when Phoenix will get too old for his Lego, he just can play for hours, happy and humming away in his own world, occasionally wanting to video a little stop motion.

As usual on the weekend Aaron makes some attempt to get me to have some time to myself. I usually dawdle a little in my last-minute attempts to tidy up before I leave, but this time I stepped lively: I had been badly wanting to photograph a pâtisserie down the road. They have just stripped back their brick walls to reveal these beautiful old adverts, it is impressive. (And I can't resist a red door.) On a day with normal traffic, you could never get a decent picture.

pâtisseriebison again
I took Beatrix with me, we ended up in the city, post-pâtisserie. Being a public holiday we could stop and check out the beautiful shop fronts in all the wonderful laneways in this beautiful city. Some places were open serving coffee, pastries panini, or all-day breakfasts. With the rain that had washed out the Melbourne cup, these laneways were dark and romantic, their tiny eclectic interiors bustling with chatter.

They weren't thinking of nor caring who won the race, they were languishing in the contrast of this place today compared to all other days.


Bea and I must have sat and watched hundreds of cup goers back from their one day in November to dress up, or to squeeze into the outfit they chose. We laughed how they must have watched the forecast and thought "I can't wear a jacket with this!", and laughed again at the women in heels too high, they'd topple over if the wind blew hard. The muddy feet in the gorgeous heels, the spray tanned legs now speckled with grass and dirt.

We laughed and ate our lord of the fries chips with Belgium curry sauce. I hope she learnt something sitting there with me, at least to wear sensible shoes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I know we don't do it a lot here in Australia, Halloween that is, but I love it. I love the excitement the kids have when going trick or treating, I love making stuff, mostly I just love the excuse for an event. We don't go all out on store-bought things, mostly just cobbled-together fun.

Circe's costume was last-minute, but do you really need a reason for dressing up someone so small and cute? I stitched it up in between baking, as always with lots of little helpers. I took one of Eliza's old black tops with a hood and cut out a pattern for a raven of Martha Stewart's. This was easy to do and I just think felt is brilliant for anything. I also took a size 1 pair of Eliza's leggings and took them in a bit to fit miss petite. She looked adorable. At first the beak bothered her, but as the afternoon wore on and having missed a nap she didn't care at all that it was hanging in front of her tired eyes.
sewing triptych Isewing triptych IIsewing triptych III
This year I improvised on all the costumes. Eliza had wanted to be a peanut, then later this week was adamant she would dress as a ghost. I loved listening to her all week talk about how she'd be able to still have her eyes to see. A pair of yellow tights Beatrix was wearing inspired her outfit. A simple mask with some glued on yellow feathers, her blue eyes just looked beautiful. Seeing her in the tree was a "I've got to grab the camera" moment, I had two of those moments yesterday. The other was seeing Eliza in Circe's costume on the sofa with a cushion in the background that just matched her so well.
stolen costumes are sweeterfish gotta swim, birds gotta fly

Phoenix took a while to come to the party, there are no explanations as to why they sometimes throw a spanner in the works.

We had cooked up some real treats. We made our traditional eyeball-orange-jelly. The kids always love it, served out of a huge wobbling bowl. Some yummy cupcakes with orange sprinkles, and some green ones too. My neighbour whipping up some gingerbread over at her place kept all the little ones busy.

Our small cul-de-sac came to life:A lively neighbour's head sporting a green mass of...something to potentially frighten unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, unidentifiable children everywhere, people on their porches. A new guy had just having moved in the day before and was beginning renovations on his new-but-worn home, he must have loved the welcome. The spirit and nature of our street, it either scares you off or draws you in, he looked like the draw-you-in kind. My brother in law donned a fabulous large black trolley bin bag, a Mafia style hat, a Zorro type moustache drawn on, and sported a slight hunch. The overall effect hugely comical. My nephews got and truely into the spirit, and a family friend brought along a crawly hand and snatchy bowl. These props have seen about five of my parties, I love that they still work.

the birds
As it got dark everyone migrated from the street to around our kitchen table. I made a huge batch of home-made macaroni and cheese to hopefully cancel out the sugar binge occurring in the other room, some sort of circle-of-candy face dive with no hands required.

Much later clean up ensued, mainly of sticky jelly off my kitchen floor and the milliard of lolly wrappers. The house seemed so quiet.