Saturday, 27 July 2013

Antihistamines, life or death

All medicine cupboards should include a bottle of antihistamines.

Last night my husband and I experienced a night of acting in auto pilot. I'm still processing it now. Sometime yesterday my son came in contact with something that didn't agree with him.

At 955pm he awoke commenting that his leg was itchy. In the light of the bathroom I checked out what was bothering him.

A rash had developed behind both knees, elsewhere a bright red rash behind, under and around his ear spreading to his cheeks which were now flushed hot red with a soft puffiness. His hands had a rash also, spreading up his arm to his elbow. Alerting my husband to inspect and bring his phone he began taking photos of affected areas. I went straight to the medicine cupboard and almost automatically reached for the bottle of antihistamines putting aside the 'itchy bite cream'. My husband administered the dosage while I called the 24 hour nurses at Healthdirect Australia*.

I spoke to a nurse who walked me through all the symptoms, asked questions and after her assessment suggested hives as the cause of the itchiness and explained that she'd keep me on the line while she called 000. I had been on the phone since 10pm with both the nurse and the paramedic monitoring his symptoms. The antihistamines slowly kicked in after 30 mins. The main concern with his condition was breathing. Swelling was increasing around his little face, chin and mouth. His breathing becoming a little difficult. "My mouth feels funny... my tummy hurts... I feel sad mummy" he was saying. It was truly heartbreaking to watch him, yet, surprising myself, my pregnant hormones didn't let my emotions take over. He was so very brave, so calm and so articulate. I believe his Guardian Angel was with him. My husband calm, supportive and in control at all times.

Timing is paramount and within forty minutes of my son's awareness of his itchiness, an ambulance had arrived. The paramedics, my son and husband left for the local hospital. On the way, the paramedics confirmed to my husband that any longer and he would have been critical. We had been extremly fortunate to get the antihistamines into his little body before the swelling in his throat would no longer allow swallowing. 

He arrived at the hospital soon after and was administered steroids. 

All under control and with much relief he was discharged within hours. Thank God.

Ever faithful 'Doggy' was at his side in the ambulance

The only reason I had even heard of antihistamines was because sometime last year my daughter developed a rash, which by the time I got down to the chemist, had disappeared. The caring assistant could see that I was a 'new mother' and recommended I have a bottle of antihistamines on hand in case something like this happened in the future.

If that particular visit to the chemist had not occurred, I cannot begin to imagine his fate last night. Now we begin the next chapter of working with an immunologist.

Please, if you haven't already, speak to your chemist or doctor about purchasing a bottle of antihistamines for your medicine cupboard.

I am so thankful to the chemist, the nurse, the paramedics and the emergency team at the hospital. How blessed we are to live in a country where we have readily available medical assistance. 

*Healthdirect Australia is a 24 hour phone health advice line staffed by Registered Nurses

Friday, 19 July 2013

Activity: sorting and ordering cutlery, fine motor skills

The children both have their own child sized cutlery sets which we bought from here.

We find their own cutlery fosters independence with eating and the practice of using the utensils instead of fingers. Following a meal or snack they are responsible for bringing their plates, cups and cutlery back to the kitchen for washing up. For my son this happens almost every time, for my daughter we are modelling and encouraging.

Each cutlery set came in its own box. The boxes live in a cupboard with our occasional-use cutlery and serving utensils which are also kept in their respective boxes.

Every so often, they pull them out and this then becomes an activity of matching and sorting. The utensils have images engraved on each piece - my son has teddy bears and my daughter has puppies.  For my daughter it is about finding the right space for the right shape, for my son, he will sort them by image as well.

My daughter decided mid-activity to put her apron on. 

Working from left to right. 


Last spoon

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Pikelets! Get them while they're hot! Margaret Fulton

Each day for school I would leave home before seven to get to school before nine. A combination of trains and buses. Those long days continued for twelve years, but I think that, being young, I didn't feel it. Every day to me was an adventure. I think my teachers would agree I was more social than academic. I loved going to school and I treasure those days of innocence surrounded by the beauty of big open spaces, fresh air, peacocks roaming the school grounds, beautiful buildings and gentle soothing interiors. 

On my return home,  I'd often find mum in the kitchen with her apron on preparing dinner. She would always have a bright smile and sparkling eyes and welcome me home with open arms. I loved those moments. It was so good to see mum and be home again. Some afternoons she'd be flipping pikelets which were perfect during the colder months. Simple, hot and comforting after coming inside with freezing cheeks and hands. The kitchen was the place to be. It was warm from the stove or oven and busy during afternoon tea time. Our kitchen was small but we were happy and surprisingly all wanted to be in there at the same time. Mum tells me how I would just tell story after story over afternoon tea, my mum and younger siblings listening in and laughing along. 

I was reminded of pikelets by a fellow mum, when breastfeeding my son a few years ago -we were chatting about healthy afternoon tea options. I've made them twice this week and no matter how old you are, nothing beats a simple, hot pikelet! So simple you can enjoy them on their own or with strawberry jam and whipped cream as Margaret suggests. My daughter's reaction to pikelets is 'more peese mummy!'.

On our wedding registry we listed Margaret Fulton's Kitchen. My brother encouraged me. Every Australian home needs one of Margaret's books! She is a national treasure. I read that she buys her birthday cakes from Adriano Zumbo. His original shop is in her home suburb in Balmain, Sydney. I find this detail endearing. 

Margaret's recipe is the recipe my mum used and there's no need to change it. 

1 cup self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbspn sugar (I use caster)
1 egg
1 cup milk (with a tspn white vinegar) or buttermilk
30g butter, melted
a little extra butter for cooking

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Beat the egg, add the milk and butter and mix well. Pour the egg mixture into the well and, using a wooden spoon, gradually draw in the flour until you have a smooth batter.

Heat a little butter in a girdle or a large heavy based frying pan. Test the mixture by dropping a tablespoon into the pan. If it doesn't drop easily the mixture may need more milk. Drop the batter by the tablespoon into the pan and cook pikelets over a medium heat until the bottoms are golden and the tops covered with bubbles. this should take just 1.5-2 minutes. Turn carefully and cook the other side. Remove and keep warm in a folded tea towel while you cook the rest of the batter, adding more butter to the pan if necessary. Serve warm with butter and honey or a good berry jam and a spoonful of whipped cream. 

"Wait for the bubbles", I hear my mum say when I make them :) 

Golden and hot!
The perfect topping

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Grandma's kitchen, ratatouille, lasagne and béchamel sauce

Grandma's kitchen was small, tidy and attractive. The walls were painted in a very light colour and above the sink was a big window with charming lace curtains in the bottom half. Streams of light would coming flooding into the kitchen in the afternoon. I think this made the little kitchen seem much bigger than it actually was. 

The 'u' shaped kitchen would have been newish when Grandma first purchased the house. The bench tops were a lime green, the cupboard doors were a warm honey panelled wood which when pushed, would click open. Inside, the shelves were lined with newspaper. 
Above the bench tops on the left side of the kitchen were cupboards and on top of these were rows and rows of glass jars sitting, waiting for Grandma to have one of her marmalade making days. 

Of the two appliances Grandma had, (a mix master and a toaster), the toaster was the most unusual to me due to its age and operating style. It had 'doors' either side which would have to be opened to put bread in and opening again to turn the toast. A hands-on affair with constant monitoring. A novelty for me at the time.

Ratatouille is the cooking smell that most reminds me of Grandma. The smells were just delicious. Warm, hearty, rich and thick. I often thought I could just eat the smells and be completely satisfied.

Warm, hearty, rich and thick.

Grandma would make the ratatouille then turn it into a lasagne with béchamel sauce, topped with beaten egg whites. I distinctly remember the cheese she used for her béchamel sauce, 'mainland colby'. Without too much thought, this is the cheese I have bought many times specifically for béchamel sauce. It brings back such wonderful memories and the comforting thought that Grandma also enjoyed this cheese. 

I officially learnt how to make ratatouille at college. I've been making it for years now without referring to the recipe, but this week I decided to return to my college cook book. The cuts were much smaller and without skin which made for a much faster cooking time. A much finer and balanced version and that welcome smell of Grandma's cooking was wafting around the kitchen again. 


Ratatouille is very versatile, here are a few options
- sausages, sauteed spinach and garlic with mashed potatoes
- provincial style with pasta with chicken schnitzel
- steak and roast potatoes or any grilled meat really

'Practical Cookery' 8th ed. by Ceserani, Kinton and Foskett 

500g baby marrow (zucchini)
500g aubergines (eggplant)
500g tomatoes, (I used 2x tinned of organic crushed tomatoes)
150ml oil
125g onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
250g red/green peppers (capsicum)
salt, pepper
2-3tsp chopped parsley,(my preference is flat leaf)

1. Trim off both ends of the marrow and aubergines. 
2. Remove the skin using a peeler.
3. Cut into 3mm slices (I did cubes)
4. Concasse the tomatoes (peel, remove seeds, roughly chop)
5. Place the oil in a thick-bottomed pan and add the onions.
6. Cover with a lid and allow to cook gently 5-7 minutes without colouring. 
7. Add the garlic, the marrow and aubergine slices and the peppers.
8. Season lightly with salt and mill pepper.
9. Allow to cook gently for 4-5 minutes, toss occasionally and keep covered.
10. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes or until tender. 
11. Mix in the parsley, correct the seasoning and serve.

Finely diced onions, zucchini and eggplant

All seeds and white are removed from inside the capsicum

Beaten egg whites top lasagne 

Béchamel sauce, with cheese
'Practical Cookery' 8th ed. by Ceserani, Kinton and Foskett

100g butter, margarine or oil (I've only ever used butter or margarine if butter unavailable)
100g flour
1L milk
1 studded onion

1. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomoed pan.(saucepan) 
2. Add the flour and mix in.
3. Cook for a few minutes over a gentle heat without colouring. 
4. Remove from the heat to cool the roux.
5. Gradually add the warmed milk and stir till smooth. (using a whisk)

* Below are additional steps as per the recipe which I skip. Maybe one day I'll try the complete recipe! 
6. Add the onion studded with a clove. 
7. Allow to simmer for 30minutes.
8. Remove the onion, pass the sauce through a conical strainer.
9. Cover with a film of butter to prevent a skin forming.

For the cheese béchamel sauce
Add 50g grated cheese, 1 egg yolk. Mix well in boiling sauce, remove from heat, Strain if necessary but do not allow to reboil.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Bircher Muesli Four Seasons Hotel style, as I remember it

I've had many jobs. Out of all of the places I've worked my favourite days were the ones working at the Four Seasons Hotels.

First the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney, then known as 'The Regent Hotel, Sydney' and after a little travel, the Four Seasons Hotel Canary Wharf in London. There's something about Isadore Sharpe's Golden Rule that captured the essence of hospitality for me: "The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time, geography, religion and culture. It's the Golden Rule - the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same."

In my humble (potentially very biased view) nothing surpasses the style, decor, elegance, ambiance and service of a Four Seasons Hotel. Recently my husband and I were gifted with a voucher to go to one of the top restaurants in Sydney. We held onto the voucher for five whole months to save for our wedding anniversary. With two little ones we had never had the courage to leave them with a babysitter overnight, until then. 

It was worth waiting for. The evening out was like a dream. Frangelico on ice at the Opera Bar followed by a memorable meal at Aria. Returning back to the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney we had a pitstop at Grain bar downstairs for a cocktail each before retiring. A surprise personal note with congratulations on our anniversary (!) from the General Manager and a complementary bottle of sparkling wine on ice was waiting in our room on our return, very nice.

The next morning was the buffet breakfast. I must admit now, I had been very much looking forward to this. There is nothing like it. It's a feast for the eyes before you even pick up a plate. Not just what is on offer but more importantly they way it is presented. From the fresh seasonal fruit selection, individually potted yogurts French style, fresh juices, cereals and bircher muesli to cold meats, such as procuitto, salami, to smoked salmon, cheeses, capers, olives, hot selection of sausages, new potatoes, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs any style you like, pancakes, waffles, fresh petit pastries to enjoy with fresh fruit compots and preserves ... and endless espresso coffee or tea. All the while, listening to the buzz of the morning activity in the lobby and the classic and the familiar pieces of the pianist on the grand piano, the same pianist who I loved listening to as I worked all those years ago. On the huge communal table we were seated at, down the centre was the most gorgeous arrangement of fresh floral art to enjoy. So much to enjoy and take in. What a treasured experience it was.

Poached egg, to enjoy with oven roasted tomato, potato, and

Sliced cured meat and cheese selection

Fresh fruit selection, potted yoghurt, grapefruit juice,
and bircher muesli
Croissant, danish and berry compost

It was all those years ago, working in the then Kables restaurant that I was first introduced to Bircher Muesli. Below is the original recipe, as I remember it given to me by one of the chefs. Creamy, filling, healthy and delicious. You could certainly have this as a mid afternoon snack or even a dessert.

Bircher Muesli

1 1/2 cups traditional oats
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups vanilla yoghurt or whatever you have in your fridge at the time
2 apples, skin on, grated. I prefer pink lady for their crispness and sweetness
1 tbspn honey
cinnamon or mixed spice
1/4 cup pouring cream, or to the consistency you prefer
Berries! Strawberries and/or blueberries.  
In addition to the above and for a bit of crunch, flaked almonds are a perfect addition.

1 The night before, mix the oats and yoghurt, cover with cling wrap and put into fridge.
2 Mix grated apple, honey, cinnamon, sliced strawberries, whole blueberries and almonds in a bowl. 
3 Mix the oat mixture and apple mixture together adjusting as necessary with cream. The oat mixture can be a little hard to mix straight after being in the fridge. 
4 Serve with topped berries and sliced banana if you like. 


There are many variations to Bircher Muesli, whether it be using tropical fruits, or soaking the oats in apple juice instead of yoghurt... it all comes down to personal taste and diet. 

Tell me, do remember your first encounter with Bircher Muesli?
Where was it, and who made it for you?

Fresh strawberries, grated apple, honey, cinnamon, and blueberries

Bircher muesli topped with fresh blueberries!

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