Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mrs Smyth... makes Double Baked Melted Centre Brownies.

On my list was 'Bake weekly.' It's no secret that in his house we are massive fans of anything home baked. Mr S bakes once a year - my birthday cake. I make his, he makes mine, it's how we've always rolled. Other than that, the baking's up to me.

I love baking brownies. So simple and so delicious. This recipe has taken me through many variations, my favourite still being additions of dried cranberries, white and dark chocolate. However, Casa Smyth was short on white chocolate and dried cranberries, so it was two kinds of dark chocolate instead. I know, dreadful.

I did a bit of a pictorial of my process for you. This also coincided with my '24 hours with' documentation for Sarah over at Dear Baby G.

We started with this...
I started after Millie self settled in the cot for the first time in weeks. EMPTY HANDS? WHAT NOW? I toddled around the kitchen getting everything out and measured in record time, because honestly? A baby that suddenly self settles again makes me uneasy and overjoyed. In equal measures. And makes me work at lightning speed in case she wakes up before her allotted 40 minutes.

I love learning about baking and I've always wondered why this recipe calls for eggs first. Can anyone enlighten me about this?

This is my best kitchen friend, my Willow Blue Kitchenaid. 
I love baking from a trusted recipe. This brownie recipe lives in my display book that I made when I moved out of home. It's full of family recipes and some that Mr S & I cut out and thought they'd be nice. I have an entire bookshelf of cookbooks and really, I mostly cook from this one. I've been baking these brownies since I was about 13 and Mum tells me that it's from a No Frills Cocoa packet. Way to give me glamorous designs on this Mum. I'd like to think it's at least from a Bourneville Cocoa packet...

64% & 72% chocolate. Choppity chop chop chop.
Ingredients together and I'm humming away, with one eye on the time. The kitchen and our bedroom are at opposite ends of the house, and it's very convenient when you lock yourself in the kitchen to get away from the screaming every now and then don't hear the baby wake up, but I kept an eagle ear out. Radio silence from the bedroom. Brilliant! 

I get the mix into the pans, and I hear the protests of a baby who hates waking up almost as much as she hates going to sleep. I go and retrieve her, we play a peek a boo game through the cot bars and I sing my version of 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do'... 'Waking Up Is Hard To Do'.

My baby is free range.
I give Millie the empty egg carton that the politely poses with but has no idea why I've given it to her. She's happy enough to sit in the Bumbo while I finish up.

Pans in the oven, timer on, we head to the lounge room. Millie knows just how to pass the time. Pushups anyone? (No. No thankyou.)

I did a thousand you know...

Then, we had these.*

Fancy Brownie Recipe
125g margarine (whatever, I don't do margarine. I used unsalted butter.)
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa (I'm pretty sure I always use more than this.)
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts/chocolate/kitchen sink

  1. In a large bowl beat eggs.
  2. Add sugar and butter and beat until smooth.
  3. Add baking powder, salt, sifted cocoa and flour, beating thoroughly until all ingredients are mixed.
  4. Add vanilla and other additions. Mix should be firm, not runny.
  5. Spread mixture into a greased sandwich tray and bake at 1800C for 30-35 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool in the tray. After mix is cool, using a sharp knife cut into slices.
Mr S & I had a cup of tea and brownie as I was writing this. The brownies I baked for 20 minutes are not cooked. Gooey and delicious, yes, but not cooked enough. They're back in the oven and now they're extra fancy brownies... Double Baked Melted Centre Brownies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

10 Things You'd Hate About Me...

This is the best reason you'd hate me... she's the cutest munchkin ever!

Sarah from Dear Baby G tagged me to complete this list... oh my.

Um. Um. Um... Let me try to concentrate whilst Millie tells me that she's not tired think on the fly about this. It's also hard to not take this too seriously.

  1. I'm tall. If you're under 5'8 and came to our kitchen, you'd have trouble getting plates out of the cupboard. Mr S is 6'6 and I am 5'11.
  2. I am a stationery freak. I have an entire cupboard in my office nook full of blank notepads, envelopes, wrapping paper, cards etc. They were organised by size at one point.
  3. I typed up my birth plan, printed out two A5's to an A4, cut and laminated them. Yes, I laminated my birth plan. I figured it could get messy and I wanted them to know exactly what I wanted.
  4. When I believe in something, I'm a pain in the bum if you want to disagree with me about it. I'm not afraid to ask to speak to your manager.
  5. Whilst I was pregnant I was all 'Our bodies are meant to birth naturally, I don't believe in pain relief in labour, and I surely don't want a CSection.', perhaps to the point of righteousness. I was a bit mystified as to why anyone would choose pain relief and surgery as a way to give birth. Now, I know differently. Don't get me wrong, I still believe that our bodies are mostly built to give birth naturally, but I completely understand that there are exceptions to the rule.
  6. I'm stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn. Don't push me to do something. I won't do it, because you've pushed me. (Mr S is the same. Oh, the conversations we have.)
  7. I am a baby bore. Hi! How's your day? Here, let me show forty thousand snaps a picture of Millie!
  8. I'm selfish a lot. If I'm tired and we have guests, I'll go to bed. If Millie's due for a nap, I'll tell you we can't meet you. This is something I have to force myself to work on a lot more since Millie was born, because I'm tired a lot more and that makes me far less receptive to change and more likely to find it all too hard.
  9. Most of me can't wait to stop breastfeeding. Perseverance has pretty much paid off but if I could have brought myself to give it away (see point #6) in the first few weeks I would have. I had mastitis 3 times in 6 weeks and had a lot of struggles feeding Divine Miss M. 
  10. When I get sick, it's a man cold and I want Mr S to drop everything and tend to my every snuffly whim. Thankfully, he pretty much does because he's a gem like that.
Now, I'm going to tag Cherie, Stacey & Michelle here...

And I'm now typing this with my right hand as I have a sleeping bag suited not sleeping M under my left arm...

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to Have Your Second Child First

Does this really not just about say everything...?

As part of my own 'Get A Life' project, I wanted to re-read How To Have Your Second Child First by Kerry Colburn & Rob Sorensen. I bought this when I was pregnant after reading about it online. I laughed the whole way through it and Mr S and I picked up some great tips.

We wanted kids for a long time and therefore we had a long to talk about the kind of parents we wanted to be. We both grew up in country NSW where in summer we were allowed to roam (relatively) free and be home by sunset. So we talked out every possible scenario and I thought we had it down. But I rudely realised that plans are great, but executing such level headed decisions when you wake up every morning feeling like you've drunk three bottle of cheap tequila is difficult.

How To Have Your Second Child First takes a lighthearted view on parenthood, whilst providing handy hints. See  'No. 80 - Learn How To Bring The Party To You... Second timer tip: those baby bottle brushes work beautifully for washing wine & martini glasses.'

I've bent the spine back and forth and earmarked pages I think are useful. But what I've found the most useful is going back and re reading parts as Millie grows and changes. I think this technique applies to most parenting books. It's nice to read and memorise but you'll always find something relevant if you go back time and time again.

One hint that I wholeheartedly believe in is #53 - You Don't Have to Constantly Interact With Your Baby. This chapter mentions new Mums feeling guilty for 'checking her Blackberry with one hand whilst cradling their dozing baby with the other'. I confess that every moment of every day in the very beginning my iPhone was glued to my hand. I felt decidedly non earth-mother, breastfeeding a not-so-tiny newborn and checking Twitter/Facebook/newspapers/blogs on my iPhone. Then I remembered a conversation Mr S and I had with Lauren before Millie was born, with my proclaimations that one NEEDED an iPad. Mr S gently suggested that I might gaze adoringly into my newborn's eyes rather than a screen. Lauren chortled 'Yeah... that gets boring. Quickly. You need something else to do.'

Colburn & Sorensen go on to discuss how your baby doesn't actually need you to interact with them ALL the time. It's healthy for them to discover things on their own. I remember being completely oblivious to the relationship that Millie had with Lucy the cat until one day she rolled over and made cooing sounds and grinned at her. Or how Millie's worked out how to lever a giant plastic jar out of her toybox this week.

Another favourite is #71 - A Sense of Humour Can Really, Really Help. I'll tell you a story... When Millie was around six weeks old and I was having a bad day. I'd sobbed all through the morning holding a grumpy baby who didn't have enough sleep either and the day was bleak. She needed a nappy change mid feed and had just begun to produce enough poo for every infant in Huonville nappies that required careful attention. All clean, nappy about to go on, and I leant in for closer inspection double check. I didn't even hear a noise but suddenly there was poo on my trousers, the floor, my open shirt, my chest and... in my bra. I actually said aloud 'I don't know what to do next.' Clean nappy for Millie and a stern warning that she was going in her bouncy chair because MUMMY WAS HAVING A SHOWER AND THAT WAS THAT. Then, I started laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. And Millie sat in her bouncy chair in the bathroom and I kid you not, giggled at me the whole time.

Mr S and I laughed so much in those first few weeks, and even more now, but it was especially important in the beginning, because sometimes it was so crap if I didn't laugh I would never have stopped crying.

There's also endless amounts of such practical information such as keeping a box in the car with spare nappies, towels, non perishable snacks for you, a book for you, a toy for bub etc etc, should you be caught with an understocked nappy bag... I'm looking at you Mr S.

Finally, it's such a beautiful book. I love books that have a nice clean design with easy to read text and this has both. You can order it from your favourite indie bookshop or find it over at Chronicle Books.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

R U Ok?

At various times in my life I’ve felt anxious. I’ve felt depressed. I’ve been unable to get out of bed. I’ve cried by myself and I’ve cried in the arms of those who love me. I’ve wondered fleetingly if it’s all worth it. (yes, it is. the answer is always yes.) Then, I open my eyes, I blow my nose, I push the doona covers back and I stand up. Sometimes on shaky legs, but I stand up and I find a kernel of sunshine in my day. This is now easier, as I don’t need to look very far to find a kernel 8kg fat roll of sunshine.
It seems fitting that as I sat down to write this I realised that next Thursday is R U OK? day.
Since becoming a mother everything, EVERYTHING, touches me tenfold. We can no longer watch the news as we eat dinner as stories of starving children send us both dissolving into tears. I couldn’t watch a show on September 11 last night because all I could think about was what the people stuck in those towers were thinking… their families? What were they thinking?
Today I held someone close and whispered in her ear that she’s ALWAYS worth it. Always.
On my drive home to pick up my daughter from Play School today I couldn’t help but reinforce into my own head that along with all the responsibilities I’d realised already, there was another one. I will always be fundamentally ‘OK’ for Millie.
Following Millie’s birth I had times where I wasn’t okay and I wondered if I ever would be again. And the guilt following that. And the guilt of wondering why I was looking at the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen and not feeling much at all. Then one day she smiled at me, and I began to heal.
What has helped me exponentially in these times is being able to communicate with others who sometimes ask ‘Are you okay?’, and sometimes they don’t need to.
When I think about RU OK? day now, as a parent, I think it’s more important than ever. It breaks my heart into a million pieces to think that for every person that takes their life there is a parent wondering why. Because in every parent’s eyes their child is always a tiny newborn in their arms whom you need to guide and protect, and ask RU OK?
Whilst today’s hyper-connected society can be isolating it can also be wonderfully supportive. I have a brilliant Facebook mother’s group who hold my hand from time to time, and I hold theirs. I have an astonishingly wonderfully supportive bunch of Twitter friends (Twitterati) who are always there, and have been there in person as well. And when you live in the sticks and are a bit crowd shy like I do and am, this is super important and I am so grateful.
Friends, my point is to take some time on any given day and chat to someone who perhaps you couldn’t find the time to previously. You could make their day and help them find the light out of a dark place. And remember, you are always worth it. Always.
If you need to talk to someone call Lifeline 24hrs/day on 13 11 14. You can also talk to someone at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36. And don’t forget to have a look at RU OK?. OK?
(this photo is taken at Taupo. When I’m feeling sad face, I go to my ‘happy place’, which is my NZ honeymoon last year. I miss the North Island so much.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mrs Smyth Gets a Life #1

My whole life I’ve had various hobbies that filled in quiet moments. Occasionally these hobbies would grow larger and larger until they required more supplies (a short lived quilting obsession) or allowed me to make a living from them (writing songs). It’s safe to say that most of them wax and wane and certain moods or seasons would bring them out to play again.
Then, I fell pregnant. I lost most creative urges, so I played out my list of booked gigs, fiddled about with some letterpressing and handicrafts and simply wanted to think about Being a Mother. How fulfilling it would be, growing and raising a human, with sunlight filled jaunts in the vegie garden and going everywhere with a baby. The baby wouldn’t cry because I’d know precisely what to do, because I would be It’s Mother. I’d wear my hair loose and flowing with no need for shoes…
That last bit’s a joke. I really like shoes. But can you see where I’m going with this…?
After my mad nesting flurries where I baked five dinner meals in an afternoon, made doona covers and matching chairs and canvas hangings for the walls and crocheted my firstborn a toy cat and washed and folded tiny pink clothes I was ready for a baby. I was ready to Be a Mother.
Then after an interesting labour, our daughter Millie was here. By week 12 I was beginning to have a handle on this whole motherhood gig. Then, I realised that I was…bored. Enjoying my time with Millie, but slightly resentful of those around me with hobbies and things to do. I wouldn’t call assembling cloth nappies a Rockin Good Time, but what did I call a Rockin Good Time? I had no idea.
So I started making lists. I love a good list, but I’m often too ashamed to follow through with writing them. Fun times huh? I made a vow to myself to indulge in writing a good list about whatever tickled my fancy. It makes me happy. So I do it.
So far, riveting topics covered have been various ‘favourites’, towns to visit and so on and so forth. See, I can’t even tell you interwebs.
But one list I will tell you about is one I’ve affectionately dubbed Mrs Smyth Gets a Life. It’s a frequently updated list of things I’d like to do, some small and some big. The first few were a bit like housecleaning… and one was ‘Finish the Plastic Bag Holder You Started in 2009’ (see picture). And I did. One Sunday I sat on the deck listening to the radio and crocheted until it was done. Glorious.
The next was ‘Sew a Headscarf’. I found a pattern and spent a day plonking the baby on the floor next to me while I tried to remember how to use my rotary cutter (thank you quilting obsession). I was chuffed with my efforts! It’s a big chunky so I’ll make another using a thinner material…but this was the only material I had. It matches my doona cover, chair and canvas wall hangings. (chortle)
Coming up this week is ‘ReRead ‘How To Have Your Second Child First’. Everyone needs this book I think… I’ll write more about it as I go.
So there you have it folks… Mrs Smyth Gets A Life… stay tuned.


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