Posts tagged restaurants

How to avoid the sneering barista

Where will you be this Sunday, will you be tucked up at home, savouring your children and some home-cooked treats, or will you be valiantly going forth and trying to deny that your ‘parent’ status has impacted on your café lifestyle?

Ah the joys of brunching out with children.

It goes something like this; stressful car trip, struggle to find a parking spot. Carry offspring to avoid stroller jam. Outdoor table so that tantrums blend into the traffic noise. Wedge kids into hard edged chairs. Mr Meat & Potatoes headbutts table (first of 7 times) and wails. Look around café and see it is half packed with family scenes just like yours and half packed with childless folk, who are hating us.

An unimpressed waitress finally appears to take order just as Miss Fruitarian screams “I WANT SMOKED SALMON”. Smile apologetically – you have no idea how your child learnt how to be so pretentious. Order raisin toast.

The service is slow, so the kids have played maracas with all the sugar sachets, sucked them, busted a few and put them back in the container before the food finally arrives. Inevitably the wee arrives then too.

Drag sugar covered-sticky child to the grotty bathroom. Child assures you “don’t worry, mummy, it’s just a little bit wet”. Fish out spare undies from bag (which also stocks baby-wipes, nappy bags, spare cars, books, crayons, notepads, water bottles and sultanas). Child then decides they actually need to poo. Settle in; try not to touch surfaces. Wait. Finally done. Dress, wash hands, back to find food is cold. Other child being restrained by partner who is grimacing but assures you they’re having a great time.

Eat cold food as partner goes straight to counter to pay – you don’t have time to wait for hungover waitress to get your bill. Back to car. Strap in. Drive home only to realise you left blankie behind.

Next time, do everyone a favour and just stay home. Make these healthy hashbrowns and avoid all those (other) wretched children.

Oven-baked, healthy hashbrowns.

Save yourself on Sunday mornings with home-made hashbrowns.

Oven-baked hash browns

The combination of onion and parsnip is absolutely delicious in this dish. Microwaving the whole vegies first speeds up the cooking time and gives a nice creamy texture.

1 potato
1 swede
1 sweet potato
1 parsnip
1 onion, peeled, grated
1 tsp parsley or chives, finely diced
Salt & black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a large oven tray with baking paper.

Soften the vegies individually by cooking them whole in the microwave. Try 3 minutes on high for the potato, 2 minutes for the swede, 2 minutes for the sweet potato and 1 minute for the parsnip. Allow to cool slightly. Peel off the skins and grate the soft insides. Transfer to a mixing bowl, mix through the onion, herbs, seasoning and olive oil. Use your hands to combine well.

Form thin patties. Place on the oven tray, drizzle with oil and cook for 25 minutes, turning once during cooking.

MAKES 8

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If McDonalds can brain wash my child, then I can too!

Mr Meat & Potatoes tries McDonalds

Mr Meat & Potatoes isn't sure about the pancake

The power of marketing is interesting, isn’t it? No one markets to kids better than all the fast food chains. They are awe-inspiringly good at it. Last week we went to McDonalds. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this was our first family outing there. I don’t mean to be one of those condemning food-snob parents, but it’s just one of those things that I’ve found quite easy to avoid (my kids are still young). But after a trip to a museum, the nearest, easiest (and most fun) food choice was Maccas. So we went.

Following the rule that it’s best to eat the specialties of the house, I skipped all the healthy options and got good old HappyMeals with burgers and fries. I know they offer apple slices and salads, but I’m suspicious of apple that doesn’t turn brown and non-wilting lettuce. Just give me the junk.

Perhaps I should be quite satisfied that the kids didn’t really like it. The chips were a huge hit (all that salt could make snot quite tasty) but the burgers were ‘weird’ with Mr Meat and Potatoes insisting on calling them ‘pancakes’.

Most interesting though, was the supreme McDonalds talent of seducing my children with cardboard and plastic. The cheap red and yellow boxes were the biggest hit of the day. We had to take them home and they are now lovingly filled with broken bits of car and draft letters to Santa. And the plastic toy, which does nothing except click and count to 9, is amongst the most revered treasures they own.

I guess the lesson is not underestimate the joy of a pretty dinner – if McDonalds can tempt my kids with a cheap packaging, then I can lure them with a range of cute stuff too.

Collection of cute bowls

A bowl for every meal - just some of my collection

Whenever possible, serve food to kids using colourful bowls and plates. Fun cutlery, chopsticks, whatever it takes to make it interesting and worth trying. Half the battle is won once the first bite goes in.

My crockery collection is embarrassingly big, way beyond the usual IKEA kids plates that furnish all family kitchens. But I still don’t mind an online browse. The best range I’ve found locally is www.urbanbaby.com.au. Check out some of their gorgeous (and useful) products…

products from urbanbaby

Surely your kids would eat off these?

Good luck and happy eating…

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Not a pock-marked lady in sight

my happy daughter in a chinese restaurant

So shiney! So sparkly! So top-aussie!

Back in my double-income-no-kids incarnation I lived in a much less salubrious, multicultural part of town. Drunks, 24-hour pubs, lots of dirty surfaces and every outing included some interesting encounter with someone a bit out of the ordinary. It was also a major Shanghai-nese centre, with rows of restaurants with menus only in Mandarin and old men sitting at back tables rolling pork and coriander dumplings…. hmmmm. I salivate at the memory. My first meal in one of these restaurants was a revelation with juicy dumplings and fish in oyster sauce. Then ma-po dofu – a gorgeous combination of minced pork and tofu. Apparently the name translates as ‘pockmarked-face lady’s tofu’. Delicious! The whole meal cost us less than $15.

Since then, of course, a couple of glorious kids have entered our lives and we’ve outgrown the dodgy surrounds and moved to a suburb that’s much shinier. Feeling nostalgic, we packed up the kids and headed off to our local Chinese restaurant. Large clean fishtanks in place of the paper menus sticky-taped to the walls. Fancy mirrored ceilings instead of grime. And the food? Well… it’s about 5 times the price and falls strictly into the Australian/Chinese category. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, actually its good, but very top Aussie – sweet and sour as far as the eye can see. Looking at the patrons I realised the only Asian faces were those of the waistcoat-wearing waiters. All the local Asian residents bother to drive the 3 suburbs to where the pockmarked-face lady still reigns.

Here’s my version, tailored for the kids.  It’s a handy recipe too – all the ingredients can be prepared early in the day, stored in the fridge and thrown together quickly that night.

Ma po dofu dish

This kid-friendly ma po dofu smuggles tofu, carrots, corn and capsicum

Ma po dofu

500g pork mince
1 tbsp dark soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you prefer)
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
(Chinese rice wine) or dry sherry or mirin
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
125g can corn kernels, drained
1/3 red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
200g packet flavoured tofu (honey/soy), diced (or use plain tofu if you prefer)
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp soy sauce

Marinate the mince in the dark soy and 1 tbsp rice wine for 1 hour (if you have time) in the fridge in a ceramic dish.

Heat the canola oil in a wok or large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook mince until browned, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reheat the pan on high heat, cook all the vegies, tofu, ginger and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Ensure heat stays high to avoid vegetables going soggy.

Return the mince to the pan, along with the stock, soy sauce and the rest of the rice wine. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Serve with rice of your choice and coriander.

SERVES 2 ADULTS & 4 KIDS

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