Thursday, August 27, 2009


Up early. Today, instead of Natalie taking Elder Son to his cello lesson at the high school, it fell to me. Natalie had overcomitted herself (first week back after her holidays; only to be expected) and I offered to take up her usual Thursday morning run to buy her the extra time she needed.

So: kids fed and dressed, lunches made and packed by 0810. First load of laundry in the washer. Last night's load goes to the dryer. (We're in the middle of an epic rain cycle. Haven't had a single clear day since we got back from Alice near two weeks ago.)

Younger Son dropped at his school at 0825, reminded that he would be collected at lunch so we could study Spanish in the afternoon. He splashed off through the driving rain. Elder Son, the Mau-Mau and I drove off to the high school.

The Mau-Mau's capacity for sitting still petered out twenty minutes into Elder Son's cello lesson. A pity: I was enjoying listening as he wrestled with 'Mission Impossible' and the theme from the TV series 'Angel', by the band Darling Violetta. But you can't keep a 4-year-old quiet and still too long, so we spent the last ten minutes poking around the high school music room. I'm delighted to report that my daughter can identify trumpets, flutes, whistles, guitars, and violins without prompting. She didn't recognize tubas, saxophones, French horns or euphoniums, however.

0900 -- lesson ends. We splash back out to the car, and head to the supermarket. Guests tonight, so I've got to do a little shopping: cream, chocolate, lots of eggs, flour, salad vegetables. Oh, and toilet paper. Not that it helps the cooking. Just that we're running low.

Back home. The rain is coming down like the wrath of a thwarted, passive-aggressive God, so Elder Son gets to leave his cello in the car until later. We hook him up to an online math programme, and while he works problems, I sit with the Mau-Mau and do some reading. Every now and again Elder Son needs a nudge or some guidance. Today we master columnar subtraction, including 'borrowing'. It's very gratifying.

Meanwhile, I have preparations to make. The menu: pumpkin ravioli with a blue cheese sauce and a green salad, followed by orange-chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell, on brandy-splashed sponge-cake, with enough whipped cream to iron out any minor mishaps. First comes the chocolate shells -- melt quality dark chocolate in a double boiler, and apply it with a pastry brush to lightly oiled chocolate moulds. Pop each sheet of moulds into the freezer while the next one is done, so that the chocolate sets fast and I can paint on a second layer to ensure the shell is solid and relatively strong.

(Morning tea for two kids. New load of laundry into the washer. Retrieve previously cooked home-grown pumpkin pulp from freezer and defrost.)

Chocolate mousse isn't difficult, but it's fiddly. Slow-melt some nice Fair Trade dark choc (already infused with orange... an accident, but a happy one that saves my slim stock of high-quality orange oil) with a little cream in the double boiler. (Washed with the last lot of dishes, during morning tea.) Meanwhile, separate three eggs. Whisk the whites with a little castor sugar and vanilla until they're fluffy. Add a dash of brandy and a half-cup of heavy cream to the yolks. Once the chocolate/cream has melted fully, whisk it into the brandy/yolk/cream, and whip the lot until it starts to fluff up and stiffen a little. Now fold it through the egg-white. Next, spoon the mixture into the chocolate shells in their moulds, and refrigerate.

Great! Now... quickly sort and fold four bags of laundry. Redirect Elder Son from mathematics to writing up his Alice Springs holiday - an exercise in typing and narrative English. Answer a couple of emails, take a cup of tea. Whups! Time to collect the Younger Son.

Trundle out through the rain to the car. Drive down to Scottsdale, stop at the primary school and send the Elder Son out through the rain to collect Younger Son. Wait in the car with the Mau-Mau. Sing through two numbers from Paul Simon's "Gracelands" album with the Mau-Mau. Get bored, and send an annoying text message to a friend just for the hell of it...

...aha! The boys materialize through the rain.

Quick stop at the shop for a couple of ingredients I forgot earlier, and back home again. The rain has dropped to a malign, icy drizzle. Elder Son can now carry his cello in!

Quickly copy the latest Spanish lesson, sit down with the boys. Revise the last Spanish lesson, then read through the new one. The routine is simple: each new lesson, I read first in Spanish, then in English. Then the boys go through, alternating paragraphs: one reads, the other translates, and they swap. We get a new lesson every Thursday, but we start with the lesson from the previous Thursday. Sunday or Monday evening, we do the new lesson again, and revise the old. And of course, come Thursday, the new lesson IS the old lesson, so it gets revised again, and we get something new. All very nice, and the boys are beginning to internalize some of the vocabulary to the point where they have to pause to remember whether they said "pero" or "but". (It's still a very limited vocabulary, sure. But we're getting there.)

Finish the lesson. Lunch for all three kids. And then the Afternoon of Cleaning And Chores commences. The rat cage is cleaned. More laundry is done, sorted, folded and put away. Dining room is tidied and vacuumed. Lounge is tidied and vacuumed. Bedrooms are tidied. Pets are fed. Firewood is brought in, fire is started... good thing because it's raining again, and it's fucking freezing.

Meanwhile: I fry minced onion and garlic, add the pumpkin pulp, some salt and pepper and a little vegetable stock, and reduce. I make basic pasta: flour, oil, water, salt and plenty of eggs. Roll the pasta through a machine until it's the size and thickness I want. Put the sheet onto the new ravioli-device Natalie brought home for our upcoming sort-0f-anniversary. (We married on April 30th... but who cares? We got together on Sept 2nd 1992.) Load the ravioli with pumpkin, put another sheet of pasta over the top, apply rolling pin, repeat.

The blue cheese sauce is a doddle, but I'm not happy -- it's too mild, because I've deliberately chosen a blue Castello. That's fine for the kids, but won't really work for adult palates. Never mind: Natalie is late, so the kids get bathed, and then they get the first round of pasta, salad, and mousses. The boys vacuum up the pasta and the salad, and exclaim over the dessert. (Their sponge cake is NOT brandy-sprinkled, by the way!) Elder Son eats most of his, but Younger Son - as always - has a few bites, and puts it away. He truly loves sweets and desserts, but he has an inbuilt metabolic warning system, and simply cannot or will not eat more than a few bites. He's quite satisfied by a small portion of anything sweet or dessertish. (I'm quite envious.)

Natalie finally gets home around 1830. She's got a couple of lovely medical students in tow -- Olivia and Natasha. The girls start playing Wii games with my kids, and a bottle of precious Dalrymple chardonnay is breached. I make up some more ravioli, and create a second cheese sauce using the rest of the blue Castello, and a nice dose of fresh-grated Romano for a bit of a sharper flavour.

Dinner is a grand success. The chocolate moulds work a treat (thanks, Doctor Nick!) and the orange-chocolate mousses sit proudly encased in their dark chocolate shells atop a fluffy dollop of whipped cream, itself sitting upon a layer of brandy-sprinkled sponge-cake. Olivia and Natasha manage to eat not only the rich, delicious, perfectly al dente pumpkin ravioli and cheese sauce, but the entirety of their desserts as well. Good thing they're both into Tae Bo...

More wine. Lots of conversation, another bottle of chardonnay, and more ridiculous Wii games (Rayman Raving Rabbids: lots of silly fun.) Finally, the kids go to bed, Olivia and Natasha vanish into the dark and the rain, and Natalie heads off for a shower.

I make three sets of lunches. Best to get it done now: I have to be at the primary school for a meeting about Elder Son's new "Education Plan" at 0900 tomorrow...