Tuesday, June 30

Bonus photo

Since you've all been so quick off the mark on the last photos, here's one more because for some reason it didn't upload with the rest this morning!

Pregatron photos

I realise I have been slack in posting pictures of my beloved and the basketball she appears to be hording. No sign of labor but we're still 14 or so days off the due date so no real dramas. Plus if he's born in June and not July we have to edit a bunch of legal paperwork which would be a right pita.

Josie is doing incredibly well and she never ceases to amaze me. Not only is she still working full days and dealing with the 40 degree heat but she looks fabulous and hardly ever complains. I am in awe.

Some of you have been asking how she manages to float...quite well actually! And since I already paid for making a Moby Dick joke I will not go there again!

The many pools around here have been a godsend. We have 2 at our apartment complex, both gorgeous and really clean and the one that is meters from our house is really private, so we've been trotting down there as often as we have the energy for it. Even at 9pm it's still 35 degrees C outside!

Wednesday, June 24

Tuesday's room (aka our guest room...)

Ok, so he doesn't need his own room really because we'll put his cot in our room, at least for a while, but it was fun to decorate (thanks Target for having this stuff on clearance!)

As you can see, still a few pictures to hang and I still need to sew a panel to the bottom of the curtains, but the rest is basically 'just add baby' and we're good to go.

Wall decals are removable. On the table you can see MacCluer the octopus, Jennifer's amazing yoda hat, our 'pond stackers' (coolest magnetic stacking toys shaped like all things that might crawl from a pond), a brio dachshund and Mrs Bick, a toy bird Jo had when she was a baby!

Looking into the closet. Notice the Tuesday burp cloth (with grey kangaroo) on the door (work baby shower gift, we know some talented people!), also my favorite new book 'hush little dragon' up there with my red dragon toy (amongst others), and another of Jennifer's felted hats!

Finally a sneak peek into the closet! It might look like chaos but it is (mostly) organised by size and yes, it has all been washed!

Sunday, June 21

The hospital bag is packed...

AKA an excuse to show off my sexy sexy baby bag...

So some of you have been asking after news of the "sexy sexy baby bag" that I was looking to buy. Well I did and I couldn't be happier! It is made by a small San Francisco company called Rickshaw Bagworks. They primarily make messenger bags for cyclists and the baby bag is a modification of one of those. The bulk of the bag is 100% recycled from post-consumer plastic bottles. It is incredibly well made, solid and hard-wearing in all the right places.

The main bag is their standard messenger bag, so it has pockets for gadgets, notebooks etc. However instead of the laptop insert it has a couple of 'baby specific' inserts - A super soft change pad, a two pocket square insert that fits nappies in one side and a couple of clothes changes in the other. On the side of the bag you can see the attachable gadget pocket for phones and such. Not shown are the insert for insulating food/drink, the handy stroller straps and the drink holder that clips to the other side of the bag. The strap is super comfy and really easy to adjust.

At the moment it is packed for the hospital (along with our bag and a list of things to grab as we leave, like pillows and phones..)

I think I have all the bases covered... A couple of different outfits of various sizes and warmth levels (got to love the crabby striped one!), socks, mittens, blankets, hats, nappies, wipes and who knows what else! My Girl Guide 'Be Prepared' training may have kicked in a little here...

I'll be sure to keep you posted on when we actually need to use the bag!

Thursday, June 18

The last baby showers

No rain this time! Actually, some rain would be great at this point. It's been pushing 40 nearly every day and not dropping much during the nights. I'm not sure how the beloved is staying so cheerful! Luckily we have 2 gorgeous pools here at our apartment complex.

Belly-off - Josie clearly beats Aunt Lorena's no-pregnant-marathon-running torso

A little bit of a news update. Last week we had an ultrasound (35 weeks) and initially our OB thought Tuesday was breech, but then realised his head was waaay down (engaged, yay!) and that lump that keeps pushing out of Jo's belly like an emerging facehugger is actually his bum! Yay, good boy, no being born foot first like your Poggie. Also looks like cervix is 50% effaced and 2-3cm dilated so we could be on our way any day now. Or we might not! Jo saw the OB again today but I couldn't go because of this $&%@ cold :( Here's hoping I can shake it before labor kicks in!!

But I digress, back to the baby showers...

Our second last baby shower was organised by a few of our work friends on a Saturday afternoon at the lovely Miss April's house. There was a table loaded with fabulous food that everybody had made (we contributed sushi and I was so thankful to be able to do anything!

Look at the sheer awesomeness of that spread!

Looks just as tasty from the other side too, right? It was :D

In all it was a very civilised shower. We chatted, ate, and drank. There were three games, one from each of the organisers. The first was to guess the number of Hersheys kisses in the apothecary jar, which I failed miserably at by using my 42 is the answer to everything logic.

It was more like 170

The second game was designed by one of our stats geniuses, where you selected a date and time block for Tuesday's birth, and also a birthweight to be used as a tiebreaker! Not only that, but she gave some statistical background on the general population to use as a guide.

Thankfully Mona's outside-the-box guess of June 14th wasn't a winner!

The last game was brilliant and I, for one, really appreciated it (and you'll see why). It was a form of baby shower bingo, where everyone (except Jo and I) had bingo cards with things like 'onesie' or 'hooded towel' written in the squares, and a sheet of stickers. So while Jo and I were the center of attention opening presents, everyone else also had something to do, keeping an eye on their card and filling it in if we received anything listed on their sheet. We did get a little creative when there weren't enough winners, allowing chocolate to count as baby food and rubber ducky wrapping to count as a bath toy, but it was a lot of fun!

I had to add in this pic of us wearing the amazing felted hats that our friend Jennifer made! The green one is Yoda and the other has the cutest bunny ears.

Course, after all that hard work of opening presents (we have such incredibly generous friends!) there had to be cake. And not just any cake, but kick ass petits fours from the cake shop.

They were so delicious and juicy, almost like they'd been soaked in condensed milk!

Last Friday we had our final shower at work. This was a whole new experience for me, but it was also a lot of fun. There were so many people there I nearly got stage fright and ran away! No games to distract from the public intensity of opening the huge pile of gifts (Tuesday, you are one lucky boy kiddo) but there was a huge and delicious red velvet cake that had my name on it (ok, Jo's too...)

mmm...under that cream cheese icing is dark and delicious red velvet cake

I was so impressed by how amazing and generous and unprejudiced the work crowd were. There isn't room on the blog to show you all our wonderful gifts, including children's books written by our friend Jack's dad in the 60s, handmade spit cloths that say Tuesday with gorgeous grey kangaroos embroidered on them, cowboy-boot socks etc etc...and not only that, some of these gifts were so impressively wrapped that we hardly dared to unwrap them!

Just look at that wrapping - All those little monkeys hanging onto the ribbon!

Now that the hospital bag is mostly packed and our house is visitor free, my big task now is to finally get the nursery sorted. Not that it's really a nursery since we'll be putting his cot in our room to start with, but it is good to have a place for all his 'stuff' and somewhere to decorate and keep as a sanctuary from the day to day. Or maybe I'm just nesting...

Friday, June 12

It isn't officially Summer till June 21st

...but it bloody well feels like it is! Lots of after work swims over the next few weeks methinks.

Thursday, June 11

Bonus photos

Since I'm still working on getting the baby shower photos organised I thought I'd quickly post a couple of other pics that don't fit into any particular category. Remember you can click on the pics to make them bigger.

Josie with her built-in stable table

This spring has been just gorgeous! Warm days (35C), warm nights (25C) and lots of evening thunderstorms!

Lightning from our deck

The angle of the new apartment also means we've been able to enjoy more of those glorious sunsets! Our old place faced away from them (another tick for the treehouse).

Texas sunset from our balcony

More substantial news coming soon. In the brief headlines, however, we finally finished birth classes, with the final 'You and your baby' session last night which was overly focused on washing the little tike. My demonstration of dressing demo baby (dubbed Cedric) in his tiny, hospital issue straight jacket did not win me parent of the year, but at least it got a giggle out of poor Jo who was exhausted after a long day at work. Our last babyshower is on Friday, at work (!) so after that we can get on with the final washing, sorting and working out what we're missing. Not much it seems! And I really must finish packing the hospital bag...

Wednesday, June 10

Pho bo and daikon pickles

Jac style pho bo with condiments - recipe to follow

I haven't spent a whole lot of time cooking lately and it is driving me mad. I'm just busting for a big, complex project. I spent 5 hours making sushi Saturday morning for the baby shower (blog on that to follow) but that was like riding a bike, even though I hadn't done it for so long, so wasn't enough of a challenge (it all got eaten with gusto though!)

Last night I decided to try my hand at making Pho (I had a craving) and it turned out much better than I was expecting. I modified this Food Network recipe, and since I didn't think it would work so well I didn't take progress shots. Basically what I did was take a large box of really good liquid beef stock (I didn't have time to make my own this round - next time Gadget...), add a couple of slices of fresh ginger, 2 star anise and a cinnamon stick, and boil it for a while. I added a little palm sugar, some salt and a dash of soy but that was to taste depending on the stock. I also added a dash of chili since I like it to have the tiniest edge of heat. I pulled the cinnamon out when it was starting to smell really rich, but didn't take the rest out until I served it. I had to dilute it slightly as it reduced otherwise it was going to become less pho and more beef noodle soup.

While the pot was bubbling I thinly sliced half an onion into half moons, chopped up some bok choy and cut a couple of pieces (bit less than a pound) of sirloin steak into the thinnest slices I could manage. I also cooked some rice stick noodles and had them rinsed and ready to go (doesn't matter if they cool off, the soup is pretty hot when it hits them)

I also prepared the toppings. These are things you add to the pho after it has been served, including coriander leaves, basil leaves, lime wedges, bean sprouts and chilies.

The last stage was easy, but fast and furious. Have the soup bubbling super hot, throw in the onion, beef and bok choy, stir it around once and basically dish it straight up. Ladle the soup etc into a large bowl with a nest of noodle in the bottom. Eat immediately, after adding your own toppings from the condiments plate. Some people also have a dish of hoisin or hot sauce to dip their meat in, or they add it straight to the soup, but I like it just with the lime, herbs and sprouts.

Other things I've made recently that came out pretty darn well include stewed rhubarb, with vanilla beans, orange, ginger and some of the candied cumquats I'd made earlier; sour chili pickled turnips tsukemono style and also tsukemono style pickled daikon. The daikon is probably my favorite (although Josie loves the turnips but she's a sucker for vinegar).

Daikon pickles

Basic rundown of the daikon recipe is as follows. Peel the daikon (mine was about 50cm long so I only used half!), cut it in half lengthways then into half moons. Place it in a bowl with a couple of decent pinches of salt, and mix well until it is all lightly salted. The salting kills bad stuff, draws out some water and seasons the radish ready for pickling.

While the daikon is being salted, bring some soy sauce, palm sugar, mirin, and rice wine to the boil and add a star anise and some Sichuan peppercorns. I can't tell you the exact quantities because I was doing it by feel but about equal parts soy and rice wine, a dash of mirin and maybe a tablespoon of palm sugar. The volume of pickling liquid you need obviously depends on the size of your jar and the volume of daikon. Boil until well infused with the star anise.

After about 20 minutes of salting, rinse the daikon well (several times) and press between paper towel to dry. Fill a clean glass jar with the radish half moons and then pour over the slightly cooled pickling liquid, including the whole spices. Store in the fridge for a day, giving it a good shake up once or twice, and they're ready to snack on the next day! Crunchy, sweet, salty and spiced pickles...mmm

Thursday, June 4

Evella and Jacwabbit Blogoff #2 - Curry

Thai green curry Jac style. Recipe to follow!

It's that time again, another blogoff with my friend Gabe from the food blog Evella. This time we went with the broader, more open to personal interpretation topic of CURRY! I toyed with a few Indian recipes, especially after new work colleges from Mysore gave me crash course the other weekend, but in the end I decided to go with my one true curry love, Thai green curry. I love Thai food. I love the sweet, salty, hot, sour combination (especially the hot), I love the fresh, citrusy flavors and I especially love that it gives me an excuse to eat more bamboo. Yes I am part panda.

Since this was a blogoff and not just an after work craving stopper, I went the whole hog in terms of the recipe. I spent hours trolling the tubes for green curry paste recipes until I'd constructed something that I could work with. The only missing ingredient was galangal, since the stuff I bought (sadly frozen) was plain nasty! I had no trouble getting any of the other ingredients, some of them were even home grown!

(Now I'm just showing off our gorgeous kaffir lime tree that we've been growing on the deck - beastly claws but delicious leaves! And vital to a recipe like this)

First the paste. Here's roughly what I used:
The curry paste:
Dry spices-
* 1 tsp cumin seeds
* 1 tbsp coriander seeds
* 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

Wet spices-
* 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
* 2 French shallots, peeled
* ~6 coriander (cilantro) root and stem
* 6 small Thai green chilies and 2 larger Serrano chilies, seeds included for heat
* 3 garlic cloves, peeled
* 1 butt end of a lemongrass stalk, inner layers only
* 4 kaffir (makrud) lime leaves, central vein removed
* zest of 1 lime
* dash of tamari soy (instead of fish sauce)
*1 tsp walnut oil

I toasted the dry spices in a pan over medium heat with no oil until they were fragrant, then ground them in a spice grinder.

Since I don't have my heavy mortal and pestle in the US, I used my mini food processor to make the paste.

First I roughly chopped all the wet spices. I decided to keep the chili seeds in since I wanted the paste to be fairly hot.

Then I processed everything, wet, dry and liquid, in the food processor until I had a relatively smooth paste without too many chunks. The lemongrass had to have a few layers stripped and the woody base removed to make sure it blended well (plus those dry bits don't taste as good!)

In retrospect I'd probably drop the serranos and the shallots, as they added too much liquid to the paste. I'd use more Thai hot chilies and probably a little more of the dry spice mix (I added a little less than my recipe because it looked like it was going to be overpowering)

The next step was preparing the vegies. Green curry is good with so many thing but I decided to be led by whatever was fresh at the Asian grocer. Here's what I ended up with-

The vegetables:
* Both fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms (both bring different flavours), cut into thick slices
* 4-6 baby eggplants, quartered (I couldn't get the small Thai bitter ones to add as well)
* Fresh water chestnuts, peeled
* 2-3 whole bamboo shoots, sliced
* Baby corn spears, halved lengthways
* Green vegies such as baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, wom bok...

First off the water chestnuts need to be peeled. Chop the tops off then just use a regular peeler. Discard any that look yellow or squishy. The fresh ones are so different to the canned ones, sweet and crunchy and just irresistible. Since they were in season I couldn't pass them up, and they are actually the main reason I decided to go with the green curry.

The eggplants were small and sweet. I simply quartered them lengthways and cooked them by simmering them in the curry. I would have loved to have been able to add the small, bitter Thai eggplants as a counter flavour in the dish but they weren't available.

The bamboo we buy isn't freshly picked, but it is much better than the canned stuff. If you find this kind, check to see what they're pickled in as it will seriously affect the flavour.

Ok, now for actually constructing this beast! With any coconut based curry, the quality of the milk or cream is one of the most important factors in the taste. In Australia we use the Ayam brand coconut cream and it is fabulous - sweet and nutty with the perfect separation of heavy from milk. Here it is more tricky because of the gums and preservatives added to the product, but the best I've found so far is an organic variety made by Thai kitchen. It is too emulsified for my liking but the flavor is good.

The last step before actually cooking anything is preparing the final flavour boosters - things that go into the curry as it is cooking or at the end.

Final flavor boosters:
These all go in at different times but they included-
* The upper part of the lemongrass stalk, peeled and bruised
* 1-2 serrano chilies, halved and deseeded
* 4 kaffir (makrud) lime leaves, whole
* 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, grated
* Juice of 1 lime
* Soy sauce to taste
* 1 handful sweet basil leaves
* 1 handful coriander leaves, to serve
* Limes, quartered, to serve

Cooking the curry:
The first step was to stir fry the curry paste in a couple of tablespoons of the coconut cream (so don't shake the tin and try to scoop out the thickest parts). I had the wok on medium high heat and fried about 4 tablespoons of paste until it began to caramelise (but not burn!) and the oil began to separate out.

I then added the hard vegies (everything but the greens) and stir fried them in the past for a few minutes until they were well coated. From there I added the rest of the coconut milk/creme and to give it some more juice (since I like my green curries kind of soupy) I used ~1 cup chicken stock (not in the version I cooked for my vegetarian friend though) and ~1/2 cup liquor from rehydrating the shiitakes. I also added the additional lemongrass, lime leaves, seeded chilies and palm sugar and allowed everything to simmer until the eggplants were tender.

At this point I began tasting the gravy and adjusting it to give the right sweet/salty/sour/heat balance by adding more palm sugar, soy, lime juice or raw paste as required for each component. When the balance was right I added the green vegies (making sure the curry was on a high simmer so all the heat didn't drop out of it) and quickly tossed them through with some shredded basil until they were just cooked but still crunchy. Then it was time to serve with jasmine rice on the side or over thick udon noodles. I also served coriander leaves and lime wedges on the side to be added according to personal preference (I love the fresh coriander hit in with the heat of the gravy)

Tada! In this case I also added some enoki at the end, just because I could. I actually made this curry twice, with a few tweaks each time, but both were pretty good. I have to be careful not to overfill my wok because I'm trying to fit too many fave vegies in. Overfilled wok means poor heat control and potentially soggy greens.

Make sure you check out Gabe's curry on Evella as well since this time we came up with something quite different from each other! This was a really fun blogoff and I love the idea of running with a theme that has lots of room for interpretation.