Tea Cups and Kisses

There are times when distance certainly makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. For the women in our family, we are separated by many kilometres up and down the eastern coast. Daughter Number One in regional South East Queensland and Daughter Number Two in Sydney. As for my own mum, she is in Brisbane and still living in the house in which I grew up.

We are all busy living our lives. However, I know that we often miss being able to just come together and chat over a cup of tea or go for a shop or simply take a quiet walk in the garden.

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The month of May is traditionally the month when we commemorate our mothers or significant women in our lives. The month of May for me has become a reflective month. On Mothers’ Day it will not be possible for me to spend the day with any of them. I am grateful, however, that I will spend it with other mothers.

The month of May is also the month of my own grandmother’s birth. We had a very close relationship and she was a great source of home grown advice. Her cooking and baking accomplishments are still vivid in my mind. I recall her poppy seed cakes, the traditional palacinke and the plum gnocchi – north east Italian specialties – a legacy of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. The kitchen utensils she brought with her from Fiume hang in my kitchen as a constant reminder of our connectedness.

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One of her favourite pots was the aluminium jug she lined with brown paper to fill with squid and chips! Cleaning squid in the kitchen sink became a much talked about event usually eliciting shrieks of horror as we watched her poke out the eyes of the squid with her sewing scissors! The old, yellow sink would turn a deep purple from the accidentally punctured ink sac. After much rinsing, the tentacles and the translucent tubes would be coated in white flour and shallow fried – only a few at a time! I can still hear her cautionary words! I was delighted when Daughter Number One completed the same nifty feat in my kitchen sink last Christmas! This time, adding salt and pepper instead and, thankfully, no squid ink in sight!

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My own mother, now in her eighties, would always be counted on to assist when one of us were ill or in need of a last minute baby sitter. She and daughter number one were particularly close those many years ago.

The month of May is also my little granddaughter’s birthday. There is much to miss. In our technological world where we can Skye and talk and use fantastic APPs on our I-Pads we cannot touch, we cannot bake together, we cannot share a cup of tea or feel the gentle kiss of a child.

The month of May is also dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whether or not you believe it adds depth to a month which is set aside to commemorate the mother.

Therefore, for the month of May, may I wish for

Many memories of good times together
United by those invisible bonds only mothers and their children have
May my daughters love as profoundly as they have been loved

Whether you can be together or not – Happy Mothers Day !

Thanks for all your gifts, love and kisses – from a distance. How do you commemorate your mother?

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Sign of the Times

I have always been a little concerned that we in Australia don’t really make a big deal of Easter. Aside from buying copious amounts of cheap chocolate we don’t afford the time leading up to Easter Sunday and indeed the Sunday itself the ritualistic treatment that we give Christmas. In European traditions and Christian traditions, Easter is in fact the most important time in the liturgical calendar. It is a time to review and renew; a time to tend to community obligations and a time to prepare that special gathering meal or give up meat products as a sign of respect for the Cross.

When my grandparents were alive they insisted that their Central European traditions were kept. Having arrived in Australia in 1949 at a time when “ethnic” was a word much maligned, they only had their memories and food traditions to keep them united. So, just before Good Friday, Nonno would pack his fishing basket and rods or crab pots and spend the night out fishing. He would often wake us in the middle of the night and cook the still live crabs. We would feast on them and make a huge mess in the little kitchen. That evening we would eat fried fish. On Easter Sunday they insisted on another special meal. More on this at a later post. The symbol of the Cross was always centre-most even in the food they prepared.

This week, one of my Year 10 classes made simple wooden crosses. They were very creative each adding their own special touch using wire or wool and painting each to reflect their own ideas.

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Later, they were asked to give this cross to someone they knew who needed some support or a kind word. Some kept them for themselves or took them home to their families. It led me to think of what we do as a community to support one another. Do we simply buy a a chocolate egg or bunny and give it over? Inspired by my neighbours – Alex and Naomi’s – endless generosity toward us – and wanting to prepare food to share which had a symbolic meaning, I set out this morning to make Hot Cross Buns.

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I’ve never made them but was willing to give them a go. (Sorry daughters for never giving them a go when you were little!) The Recipe I found was in my trusty Margaret Fulton cook book, circa 1978.

20130329-145742.jpg Mixing the flours, I used one cup spelt flour to three cups plain white flour, crumbling 50g butter into it and the adding warm milk and water with some dried yeast. Colin provided some of the kneading power – a good way to de-stress from a busy Term.

20130329-150025.jpg Then letting the dough to rise followed by the exciting shaping into balls and letting rise again.

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The recipe then require this dough to be rolled out into a half inch rectangle, cut into sixteen and then shaped into balls.

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It was at this point when it suddenly occurred to me that I would need to pipe a cross on each as the recipe required. A cross. “
Make a slight indentation in the shape of a cross on the top of each bun with a sharp knife”
instructed the recipe. A sharp knife.

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Is this what it felt like, the nails, the sword?

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All those mass produced buns that we consume without ever thinking of their symbolic meaning. Good Friday is the right day to reflect on what we do, the abundance we consume – a sign of the times, as they say.

Fifteen minutes in a hot oven and they were done. Glazed with some sugar syrup, they looked the part and tasted even better!

The process of preparing these had no short cuts. There are never any short cuts when it comes to tradition or to life itself. It is the giving to others which resonates at this time. While we were baking this morning both my neighbours popped in to say hello. Naomi with a very special fish pie – I need to get that recipe and Alex with an invitation to share baklava this afternoon. It is in the simple sharing of food that we honour each other; it is in the recognition of each other and the individual and often hidden “crosses” which we all have to bear which makes us truly alive.

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How is your Easter long week end going to be and what are your traditions at this time?