Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

31 October. Just another day, right? Well, I guess that depends.

As far as most people here in Sydney are concerned, today is just another Wednesday. The last day of October. For my students, the last Music History Tutorial of the term. And it was a beautiful spring day - sunny, blue skies, highs around 28C (82F).

But, as every American knows, today is also Halloween. Dressing up in costumes to go door-to-door saying "trick-or-treat" and collecting candy. As a kid, I remember dressing up as a monarch butterfly, a tree, a painter and a princess in a light blue dress and a tall pointy hat with a light green and cream semi-sheer flowery veil attached (that was my favorite). I know my mom hates this holiday, but she always made sure that my sister and I had great costumes to wear - and almost all were home-made and/or made up of a hodgepodge of dress-up clothes from our own dress-up box or the second-hand store. Then, in the early twilight of the late afternoon, we'd go door-to-door in our neighborhood collecting candy. Afterwards, my sister and I would dump out our haul on the kitchen counter top and divide our goodies into two piles - the candy we wanted to eat and the candy that dad could have.

That's not to say that Australians don't know what this holiday is - they do. Early in October, small displays of Halloween decorations and racks of costumes began to appear in some of the stores (K-Mart, the $2 shop, the grocery store). There are a few Halloween parties here and there. And some kids here do go trick-or-treating, but on a much smaller scale. Late in the afternoon on Sunday, Vincent joined his cousins in a neighborhood trick-or-treating party on their street (a cul-de-sac). It was a low-key event - about 10 house participated. Vincent dressed up as a knight.

We also carved a pumpkin.

But this holiday is not celebrated in the same scale here as it is in the States. I imagine this is due to one main reason.

Although the roots of Halloween are religious, it has morphed into a commercialized autumn/harvest holiday - pumpkins, candy corn (I didn't see any of that in the shops), bobbing for apples, hay rides, bare trees, short days, brisk nights. Here in Sydney, spring is in full bloom - spring flowers, strawberries, warm days, late sunsets. I was able to find a pumpkin to carve at our grocery store, but the "who-can-grow-the-largest-pumpkin" contest is held at the Sydney Easter Show in March/April (i.e., fall) - not in October (i.e., spring).

There was no Halloween party or dress-up day at the boys' daycare. Most of my Music History students didn't even realize that it was Halloween. And tonight, we had one lone trick-or-treater.

I think that next year, instead of carving a pumpkin, we will carve a watermelon. It would be more seasonally appropriate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cooking with Clare: Vincent-friendly Sugar Cookies

As the mama of a child with a wide variety of food allergies, I am always on the lookout for new recipes that are as close to "normal" as his diet allows. A couple of years ago, I found a pretty decent chocolate chip cookie recipe that has become a standard in our house. But with the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) coming up, I started looking for a Vincent-friendly (read: "dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, sesame-free, nut-free") sugar cookie/cut-out-cookie recipe.

If you aren't familiar with allergen-friendly cooking, I want to let you in on a little secret: although there are some great products on the market that can be used to substitute in a "normal" recipe, it often isn't that simple. The chemistry changes when non-wheat/gluten-free flour is used, and although I use a great egg-replacer, it really doesn't cut it in heavily egg-dependent recipes.

Earlier this week, I came across a simple and straight-forward recipe for Cut-Out Sugar Cookies (Allergy-Friendly). They looked great on paper, but, as they say, the proof would be in the pudding (or, in this case, the cookie). Fortunately, they turned out great - Vincent loves them! And, as an added bonus, Paul, Desmond, and I think they are pretty yummy too. If you are used to a wheat flour-based cookie, the texture is a bit different when you bake with gluten-free flour. However, the texture of this cookie isn't too foreign to those of us used to a "main-stream" cut-out cookie.

A couple of notes: I used Nuttelex instead of shortening. I can't seem to find decent shortening here - no Crisco! And I have used Nuttelex in Vincent's favorite chocolate chip cookies, so I knew it would bake up nicely. Also, I used Orgran Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour and Orgran No-Egg. I didn't make any icing for them this time, but I will when we make them again in the next few weeks. I am planning on trying this icing recipe.

I just did 3 basic shapes - circle, star, and square. I got just over 2 dozen cookies from one batch of cookie dough.

Here they are cooling - I don't have a cooling rack yet.

"Here Dad - you try it. It is yummy!"

Yeah for cookies!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

American Football in Sydney

My nephew Zachary LOVES American football. And by "LOVES," I mean that he knows stats and players and rankings and details from the NFL - not just from this season, but from last season and the season the before that and the season before that... He plays football with his friends at school during the lunch break and plays catch with anybody who is willing to stand there and throw the ball back to him. For his birthday in March, we got him a Minnesota Vikings jersey. He wears it almost every single day.

No big deal, right? What 13-year-old boy doesn't like football?

The thing is - Zachary has lived in Australia his whole life. He learned everything he knows about football from the internet, NFL websites, and watching a few games on TV. His favorite team is the Philadelphia Eagles and his favorite player is LeSean McCoy. He throws an amazing spiral. I asked him where he learned how to do that. His answer? "YouTube." 

But he had never been to a game in person - until Saturday afternoon.

The state of New South Wales in Australia has a Division 1 American Football League (here this sport is called Gridiron). There are nine teams that make up the division, and they play on Saturdays in venues around NSW from September through December (even though that is "football season" in the States, those months are Spring and Summer here). It is a "club" sport. The guys who play it do it for fun. They have practice a couple of days a week. They range in age from their late teens through to their 30s. And I didn't hear a single American accent when I was at the game on Saturday. Everybody I heard sounded like an Aussie.

On Saturday, there were two games scheduled for a venue near where we live. So, Paul and I invited Zachary to come along with us to watch the early game (it started at 4pm). It was between the Central Coast Sharks (from north of Sydney) and the Wollongong Mustangs (from a city south of Sydney). The venue was a field hockey field - artificial turf and quite a bit shorter and narrower than a regulation American football field. We estimated that it was only 80 yard long - including the end zones. And there was only one field goal post - and one arm was broken off. That meant that there were no field goal attempts and no extra point attempts. All extra point attempts following touchdowns were 2-point conversions.

Nevertheless, Zachary was in seventh heaven!

It wasn't a very good game - neither team was very good. It was maybe the level of a high school game. But that didn't matter. The day was beautiful and we had a lot of fun.

Wollongong was the better team - they scored so many times that we stopped counting. In fact, I have no idea what the final score was. The Central Coast scored twice - and by far the best and most exciting play was their final touchdown - a Hail Mary pass caught just short of the end zone and then run in for touchdown.

Here are some pictures from the day - Central Coast is in orange and Wollongong is in maroon.

The half time entertainment was the spraying of hockey field with water...

And what game wouldn't be complete without a hot dog??

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Desmond's First Haircut

Desmond was born with a full head of hair. Beautiful reddish-blonde hair. Unlike Vincent's coarse dishwater blonde hair which sticks straight up if it is not kept short, Desmond's hair is fine, slightly wavy, with a bit of a curl when it gets damp.

We had trimmed the front of his hair a couple of months ago because it was starting to hang in his eyes. But, in recent days, we realized that his hair was getting a bit shaggy and it was probably time for his first official haircut. And since the "buzz cut" look works for Paul and Vincent, we thought we'd try it on Desmond. The longest adapter Paul has for his cutter is a number 4. So we thought we give it a go.

We stripped Desmond down to his diaper, and I sat on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. Vincent brought a constant supply of toys to keep Desmond occupied. And Paul was armed with the electric razor/hair cutter. Desmond sat very still and took it all in.

After the first pass of the razor, Paul and I looked at each other in a bit of shock - this was VERY short. But he had to keep going. In the end, it turned out alright...but it will take some getting used to. Now my sweet little cherubic-faced Desmond looks like a bit of a tough guy!