Friday, April 30, 2010


Walking for my afternoon coffee today I passed a big dragonfly resting on a low fence. The street is busy and people seem determined to crush small things; I have even seen a poor flattened gecko. I doubled back and the dragonfly came easily onto my finger. It wiped its eyes and was still. To my embarassment the lovely barrista at my favourite cafe saw I was trying to hide something under the takeaway counter. She thought I had done my finger again. Its wings started to hum. As I lifted my hand up to show her - she cooed, it was a lovely little creature - it started to take off. I caught it and sprinted outside and away it sailed. Here it is as its wings flickered while it decided whether a cafe was a good place to fly.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Autumn & spongecake

Yesterday we dropped by a local church's market-day and although tempted by butterfly wreaths we bought only a sponge cake.

Today Princess Pea decorated it for afternoon tea, with intermittent help from Cheekus Weekus. The five of us have eaten the whole thing. It was a real CWA-style light-as-a-feather beauty.

Later Princess cooked on the stove for almost the first time, roo steaks. Yum (but no photos - she got a bit cranky over the for-the-blog cake photos so I'd stopped).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


RIP Fred, some time ago. S/he made several unsuccessful attempts to spin a cocoon, went into metamorphosis as a sort of insect mummy-thing and quietly passed away without ever emerging as a moth.

Fred was the only survivor of our final batch of eggs.

When Princess Pea was very little, we were given five silkworms from the class batch by her lovely, very kind pre-prep teacher. Toddler Running Boy wrapped them in a tissue and raced about the house whizzing the bundle up and down in his little hand. "I am taking them for a rocket ride" he said indignantly when asked. "They like it." They did not. After several more, forbidden, rocket rides, the traumatised caterpillars refused to eat and wasted away gruesomely.

We tried again with some Grade 1 silkworms and did too well. (I asked the relief teacher to have one or two at the end of the year and got the whole damned lot, to Princess' ecstatic joy.) Within a few generations there were multitudes. The CFO and I took to releasing as many as we could "back into the wild", being the Peter Pan and Wendy AIDS Memorial Garden on Commercial Rd Prahran. This was mostly mulberry trees and where we got most of the silkworms' meals. The kids agreed, eventually, to keep only a few eggs. Unfortunately the batch we chose from this generation was dud. Few hatched and fewer survived.

I should have known when to stop but we'd planted a young mulberry tree. After we moved it had been too hard monitoring each footpatch-accessible mulberry tree between work & home and covertly harvesting leaves. We couldn't stomach any repeat of the Great Lettuce Disaster. (We tried feeding them lettuce and it must have been sprayed with insecticide - the silkworms went into convulsions and died, some like hard rubber and pink, some liquefied. We explained to the kids that vets generally did not treat silkworms. Of course some lived but the Princess believes genetic damage must have caused the end of their line.)
The petshop where we get crickets for the frogs had "seasonal" boxes of silkworms for sale. Snakes or large frogs must like them. They were exorbitantly expensive,
but here we go again: these are their offspring, next year's silkworms.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chestnuts mean Autumn

When I was a child my Mum, my sister and I would go to Emerald Lake around Easter to look for chestnuts.

The trees next to the lake were always picked bare so we would head over the little hill at the back, past the stream (where once we found tadpoles) into the groves. We always managed to come home with a few. Your fingers stung from wriggling the glossy brown nuts out of their prickly cases. Often there was nothing there, or a tiddler rejected by prior fossickers, needled fingers for no return. Sometimes you would find a big fat nut...after the possums had. But we always got a few worth eating.

We'd take our booty home and put them on the coals and wait. When they exploded we would pick them out with the tongs and peel off the casing and eat them with salt, the nuts hot and slightly charred.

Now, sometimes up in the hills I've convinced the CFO to pull over so I can buy cooked or raw chestnuts by the roadside, but it's not the same. I have also bought them roasted in the CBD from footpath braziers, but again it is not the same. A proper chestnut is too hot to handle, burst, floury and delicious. I tried roasting some in the oven but this was an utter waste of effort. The children (and the CFO) have been less than captivated.

Today at the Prahran Market several stalls had big, fat, tight shiny nuts and I couldn't resist. While Princess Pea finished her school project on Debussy far too late tonight I roasted some. They were fabulous and she and I and the CFO ate the whole bowl. Chestnuts mean autumn! And I told her the story behind Smetana's Trio in G, as autumn also means reflection.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More frogging

The frogs are now about full-grown. Some of them are incredibly fat, like odd-coloured ping-pong balls. We've identified them as Southern Brown Tree Frogs (Littoria Ewingii), very common and not needing a licence to be kept in Victoria.

About once a week we trawl through the frogbox, sifting leaf-litter and looking under their bits of bark. We catch them and give them a swim. It's not clear whether they enjoy this but at least it livens up their day.
We remove any dead crickets or mouldy stuff, refill the swimming tray with clean water and reassemble the habitat.

If it's sunny we watch them swim and kick and climb and we chase any that get out of the swimming box (usually a lot. At the same time. In as many directions as possible.). Then they go back in their frogbox with fresh crickets to hunt.
However the census has been dropping. It hit a high of 31, then dropped to 20, and this week we had only 15. Evidently they haven't read the Act and are releasing themselves into the wild. These days we keep their box on the front porch.

Sadly this was too late for one.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter

We did pretty well this Easter.

We found lots of Easter eggs (even though some had been eaten by possums
and some were cunningly hidden in plain view).

We made it to church on time where Princess Pea socialised, Running Boy generally behaved himself extremely well other than a bit of sliding up and down the irresistibly slippery pew and Cheekus Weekus tried his crawling-under-the-pews trick again, only to be confronted by a small fierce Mum (me) who wouldn't let him escape; then he cracked the sads because there was no water. I got a special blessing for my finger at Communion.

Now we are all full of chocolate, happy and lazy.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine reads in the Fitzroy Gardens with Monsieur Truffe

Today was glorious. We played with our ginormous collection of Thomas the Tank Engine things, accumulated over very many birthdays and Christmases. We built a track that went right round the house and made a train that used all of our engines and trucks. There were a satisfying number of very loud train wrecks.

Later, four of us went off to buy the CFO's birthday presents. I used to adore the Monsieur Truffe stall at Prahran Market and was delighted to find he has simply relocated to a little cafe in Collingwood: The croissants are delicious, all butter and crispness, and the chocolates extraordinary. Running Boy and Cheekus Weekus tasted every variety of truffle, several times, before we settled on raspberry, lime and passionfruit . I also bought some chocolate-coated ginger for my Mum and only dribbled a little bit listening to the very Frrrench Thibault.

Then we drove past the Fitzroy Gardens and there was no reason to say "no" when they begged to get out. We played forty-forty and chasey and climbed a venerable fig tree and looked at ducks and little buggly things in the pond. We talked about how wonderful it would be to have the gardens, or at least that tree, in our backyard and we planned treehouses.

Last we swung by Readings in Carlton to howls of protest, quashed (sort of) when I pointed out we still had to get some of Daddy's presents. Cheekus refused to leave the car for some time. Then Readings worked its magic and it was much more than an hour later that we left. I sort of accidently managed to buy rather more than I meant to - Princess Pea got Kiki's Delivery Service, Running Boy got The Ranger's Apprentice, Cheekus got some Grug books and I got Sheila Chandra's Weaving My Ancestors' Voices

We came home to a fire and baked schnapper, and at least I managed to get Good Friday into tonight's grace.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

She was right

Stephanie Alexander in her excellent first edition of The Cook's Companion warns against mandoline slicers. She says they are far too dangerous for the home kitchen and recommends buying a "simple and ingenious" alternative. I have never been able to locate one of these, as Stephanie does not give its name and describes it simply as a "Japanese shredder and slicer".
I covet(ed) the ability to do paper-thin potato slices for pizza and crisps, make neat juliennes of carrot and daikon. About a week ago I bought myself a small inexpensive mandoline.

Last night I decided to make pithiviers for dessert. It was awkward slicing the apples with the hand-held finger guard until about halfway through, so I decided to take the first few slices off each piece by holding it directly in my hand. You all know where this is going, don't you?

I've lost the top 3mm off my right-hand middle finger but didn't hit or chop the bone, so emergency just patched me up and sent me home. Right now I can't drive or type properly, or swim until it heals "in its own time" as the emergency doctor told me, and I will forever have a flat-topped finger.

And of course, a few minutes beforehand I had been lecturing the kids about never touching the damn thing, because it was so sharp! (At least the pithiviers, which I cooked when I got home from emergency, were fabulous.)