Sunday, March 23, 2014

Signs of spring, with apologies to my friends in the east

It was such a glorious evening that Jeff and I took a stroll around the neighbourhoods.
I hereby declare March 23rd, 2014, to be the absolute best third day of spring in our town EVER.
So let it be written.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The hilarity continues

Look who turned up for the boys' sleepover in unintentionally coordinating outfits.

These boys love their Ducks.
And we love them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rice pudding nostalgia

My mum was a plain cook, but everything she made was delicious. It was when Dad got involved in the cooking that things turned for the worse. I will never forget the aroma of simmering piccalilli (a disgusting concoction of vegetable and spice relish inspired by Indian cuisine) that pervaded the house for days when Dad turned experimental. He and Mum loved it, along with the pickled onions that are of the Devil. And his baked beans that were subsequently preserved did not suit my discerning taste buds either. To his credit, he took to canning with a vengeance when we moved to New Zealand, and I have many fond memories of helping to peel boxes and boxes of apples, peaches, and pears that were then preserved using the overflow method. Somehow, we didn't die from eating them, in spite of what the FDA would have us believe.

Mum's soups were hearty and tasty, as were her cakes and trifles. She wasn't one to learn new tricks, however, so I was the family bread baker while still in my teens. And as the Kiwi repertoire of ethnic foods expanded, it was left up to me to introduce such delights as pizza, which I made from a magazine recipe. Dad was not impressed, so I guess we were even!

Mum's rice puddings were consistently delectable. To the best of my knowledge, she never followed a recipe, but her method was tried and true. Slow cooking and short-grain rice (she called it "pearled rice") were the secret. This kind of rice absorbs lots of liquid but still maintains a hearty texture. And she probably, as do I, used the same dish each time she made it, so measuring was unnecessary.

After I got married, I followed Mum's instructions and, using a lovely Temuka pottery casserole dish that my sister donated to my "glory box", recreated the pudding. It is this pudding that I put in the oven when I went into labour with Bethany, thinking it would be a nourishing snack for us all, only we didn't remember it until after the delivery. By that time it was rather solid and brown. Sad.

Jeff has never been too keen on it, but the children all seem to have the same fond memories that I have of my childhood bowls of rice pudding. Bethany has found her own version of the dish, while Jon, Annie, and Sam (who very lovingly learned how to make it for Charlie) are all following Mum's method. Jon told me that he made it on Sunday, only he fell asleep while he was supposed to be stirring it and three hours later it was burnt. Consider yourselves warned.

And here it is, very loosely, if you want to try it.
The proportions might seem off, but trust me if you want it to turn out. Jon disbelieved me the first time he made it and he added twice as much rice. It was not pretty.
  • In an oven-proof dish that is at least 3 quarts, put about half-a-gallon of whole milk. What the heck, substitute some half-and-half if you want. The last two times I made it, I poured in a bottle of this lovely stuff (which I got at Safeway for about 25 cents each) and it was perfect.
  • Add one cup of short-grain white rice. Don't be blasphemous and use brown rice. Or, if you do, don't tell me about it, 'kay? 
  • Add a scoop of sugar, less than 1/2 a cup, and sprinkle cinnamon on top. I used to use nutmeg, which is traditional, but I prefer cinnamon now. Must be the American in me!
  • If I am in a hurry, I warm it all up in the microwave first. Otherwise, I put it in the oven and turn it to 350 degrees. Stir every fifteen minutes or so, so that the rice doesn't stick and any skin gets submerged. 
  • When the milk starts to foam up and get bubbly, turn the oven down to 300 degrees. Continue to stir every 15 to 30 minutes. As the rice absorbs the milk, it should start to look creamy. This is where you use your eyes and taste-buds. If it gets dry-looking and the rice isn't tender yet, add a little more milk. Add sugar to taste. After two or three hours, it should be perfect. I am often doctoring it up until the moment I put it into my new favourite Middle Kingdom porcelain bowl.  

My bowl of rice pudding and I enjoyed a perfectly harmonious hour this evening, watching a missed episode of Lark Rise to Candleford on Hulu Plus.

Tell me, what dishes make you nostalgic?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A conflagration of cousins

Yes, I know it's not really a conflagration, but you should see these boys when they get together.
You would say "conflagration" too!

Daniel came to spend the night on Friday.
We introduced him to the pleasures of Merlin, which you can watch on Netflix.
He also requested that Thomy and Jeff come over to play the next morning.

I told the boys how lucky they are to have cousins who live so close by. I told them that I really only had one cousin that I knew when I was a girl, and we didn't get to see her very often, even though we loved her to pieces. And then, when we moved to New Zealand, we didn't see her again for years and years.

Things were pretty quiet when it was just the three of them. Legos reigned supreme for an hour or so, then it was on to Battleships and the labyrinth box. I told the boys that, when I was young, my friends had some Legos, only there weren't any special pieces, just blocks and things like windows and doors. 
"What, no weapons?"
"Nope, no weapons or figures or boats or trees or dragons."
Another proof of my extreme antiquity.

Then Josh arrived with his mom.
"Don't smile," I said.

Because, you know, that's the best way to get a good smile out of 'em.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I do not enjoy home improvement projects, especially when it involves a Sawzall and scraping old materials off the floor.
This is just to remind myself.

Here it is, midway through the project, which took a ridiculous length of time, almost a month from start to finish. The snow was partly to blame, and the norovirus, and other time factors. But we gradually made some sense of it.
Here, the new floor.

The shower is installed.
The studs and back wall had to be built out, as the shower was a tad smaller than the old one, and mortar added underneath it.

I was inordinately happy when I finally got to hang the new shower rod and curtain and finish the painting.

It's not fancy, but it is crisp and clean and new, and I like it.
And we no longer have a shower door.

Our friends really came through for us on this one. I put out a couple of pleas on facebook and within a short time, Sandor delivered his Sawzall and drywall cutter to our door. When we needed a belt sander a few days later, friend John brought his over. And, of course, we hired our friend Randy to do the tricky installation of the stall and also the floor. He is worth his weight in gold.

I thought to myself, halfway through the project, that it's just as well we have two bathrooms, else what would we have done for the month without one? I suppose you would have to time everything to the hour, so as not to be without a toilet or a shower for more than a day, but I'm glad we didn't have to do that.

I am often grateful for indoor plumbing, aren't you?