New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha


Christmas, Customs, Curiosity

Christmas Tree Farm Pine Pagan History

Christmas in Australia is a Travel at Home experience, because almost all of the traditions surrounding the holiday have been transplanted from elsewhere. Roast dinners, images of snow-men and reindeer, songs about a “White Christmas” — all of these are incongruous to our experience of a sweltering, summertime, Christmas Down Under.

So it was in this spirit of doing something outside our normal reality that we decided to visit a Christmas Tree Farm in the lead-up to December 25.

The plantation was located on a bush road about 20 minutes from us, and it was immediately clear that the field of young pine trees did not match the towering, grey gums surrounding it.

Christmas Tree Farm Kids Discover Learn

We observed our surroundings and these differences together and set off to choose a tree under the scorching sun.

The farmer let the kids climb onto his ride-on mower and even hold the chain-saw. They watched, fixated, as he cut down our chosen tree.

Christmas Tree Tradition Farm Kids

It wasn’t especially big and we were relieved to discover that it fit into the back of the car. The tree immediately infused the vehicle with its fresh fragrance, and in the heat we knew it was imperative to get it into water before it “got dead” as the children so eloquently stated.

While driving home I admitted that I didn’t really know why people brought trees into their houses at Christmas time. Some research later revealed that the tradition has many different roots (so to speak!) and that many of them have nothing to do with Christmas.

Christmas Tree Children Learn History Culture Curious Help

Our outing was a fun diversion which got the kids thinking about cultural traditions, particularly since we undertook this activity the day after Chanukkah ended.

Christmas Tree Kids Unschool Science Historic Traditions

It was also a great chance to discuss similarities and differences, and be reminded about what plants need.

(The kids also took the opportunity to kick up a dust storm, and they drenched themselves while attempting to water the tree; full disclosure).

Christmas Tree Learn Science Culture Kids Tradition Religion

Our efforts to erect and decorate a traditional Christmas Tree were not immediately successful.

But as a way to engage curious kids in the world around them, it was a super undertaking.

Christmas Xmas Tree Curious Kids Learn

So Many Cherries Take You So Many Places

Cherries Cherry Recipes Traditional Travel at Home

It is cherry season and we are swamped with little, red flavour-bombs. Nobody here is complaining, although I do have to regularly check the carpet for spit out pips.

Cherry Tree Cherries Rosella Australian Bird

First, we discovered that one of the lovely blossom-trees that we can see from our sitting room window was bursting with cherries. It was the birds that alerted us, because the branches are a bit too high for easy picking.

Cherry Picking Children Learn Home Family Cherries Garden

Over a few days, we observed blackbirds and then rosellas having feathery feasts, and realised that if we waited another minute we would miss out, so we devised a system to gather some for ourselves.

Cherry Picking Season Summer Cherries Children Home Made

I climbed a ladder and bent a branch down to the children below, who happily grasped the tart fruit and collected them in a basket. There was no danger of the birds missing out; we simply couldn’t reach many.

Cherry Picking Slow Living Home Made Recipe Cherries Kids

Our cherries were not quite ripe and very sour so I bought a huge punnet from the green-grocer because we wanted to munch on the sweet stuff.

Cherry Recipes World Tree Picking Season

A few days later, family visiting from interstate chose to go cherry-picking as a day out together. This was a full-blown operation, involving buckets and scales. We laughed about how we would pay for the cherries; at first my little guys assumed the orchard-owners would count the cherries to determine the price.

Cherry Picking Vishnnyovka Children Farm Orchard Cherries 1

So now my kitchen is overflowing with these juicy treasures! I left the ones from our garden out to ripen for a few days and investigated some recipe ideas. Cherries feature in the traditional cuisine of many cultures, notably in Central and Eastern Europe, and there are lovely recipes online including some for the Romanian Cherry Brandy called Vişinată or a similar Russian version called Vishnnyovka. There are also great blog posts showing how to make Polish Cherry Cake or the famous German Black Forest Cake.

Chery Traditional Vishnnyovka Sugar Jar Home Made Recipe

Many of the recipes have ties to the holidays that happen at this time of year, even though our seasons do not coincide: that’s because often they require the addition of cherries that have been allowed to ferment or “pickle” in brandy or vodka for about six months before being used in Christmas or Chanukah recipes.

Home Made Cherry Visinata Vishniak Season Jar

Most of our cherries are disappearing as snacks but in addition to the sour home-grown ones that I am trying to ferment in a jar of sugar, I attempted my own version of a tart with a nutty-crumble topping. I happened to have walnuts in the shell from the farmers market, so I roughly ground those and added some for texture. I relied mostly on the cherries themselves for sweetness. Serve it with cream or maybe some quark, this tart is yummy and satisfying.

Cherry Crumble Pie Recipe Fresh Tart Whole Foods

Here is what I did:


Cherry Nut-Crumble Tart


500g cherries (about 2.5 cups), measured and then pitted

1 or 2 sheets of short crust pastry from the freezer


For the crumble topping:

1/2 cup freshly crushed walnuts

3/4 cup of almond and quinoa meal

1 cup of wholemeal flour

1/2 cup of brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature

1TB Golden syup or honey


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Stir the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and honey, then combine until you have a crumbly mixture (I used my hands). Grease a tart pan and line it with the pastry. I needed the second sheet of pastry because one was not big enough. Spread the pitted cherries around the bottom of the pastry, then press the nutty crumble mixture in around and over the cherries, leaving some peeking through to look delicious. We used the rest of the second sheet of pastry to cut some heart decorations for the top of the tart. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve with something creamy.

Cherry Pie Crumble Tart Seasonal Baking Recipe Wholemeal

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

children driving steering wheels wooden toy

Both of my young fellows are back-seat drivers and recently I had an idea to make them their own steering wheels, both for safety reasons and for fun.

Since they upgraded to their “bigger kid” car seats I have had to regularly tell them to sit back, because they enjoy gripping the back of the seats in front of them as they pretend to control the vehicle. I hear the kids chattering away behind me about how they are participating in a race, rushing in an emergency vehicle or leaning to take a turn on a motorbike. Rather than continuously reprimanding my children for not sitting properly, I decided to encourage the imaginative play by making it possible for them to “drive” while safely strapped in.

kid craft make steering wheel

This was the thriftiest possible project. I found the wooden plates for twenty cents each at the local second-hand shop and I simply used a large nail to hammer a hole through the centre.

children home made steering wheels paint craft make car steering wheel easy craft kids

Once the holes were done, I set about painting some “steering wheels” based on pictures I found on the internet. It took me quite a while to complete them, from start to finish, because I simply added a layer of paint and detail whenever I had a chance and hid them away to dry; I wanted the finished products to be a surprise for the kids.

easy fun craft car drive children kids

When I was happy with my final paint work, I strung the wheels to the back of the car seats using elastic.

back seat drivers steering wheel car kids

I made large knots on the front and then pulled the ends through the hole to the back. Couldn’t be simpler.

kids driving steering wheels wooden hand made

The kids are utterly rapt with their new steering wheels. Funnily enough, there is now very little chatter from the back seat when we drive, and when I glance at them in the rear-view mirror I see very serious faces. They concentrate! They really drive along with me, turning their wheels at corners and watching for obstacles on the straight stretches.

It took me some time and effort to make these steering wheels, but these simple home-made playthings really fit into the category of cheap thrills.

twins back seat drivers kids make car wheels



How a Hoarder Lets Go of Beloved Objects

I’m all nostalgic and sentimental because I’m in the process of selling my babies’ cots; they are babies no more. Isn’t it funny how some objects seem to absorb and contain memories, and that we all react differently to the idea of objects and their stories?

Baby Room Stokke Cot Unisex Twins Calm Vintage

I’ve joked before that I’m a borderline hoarder. (The joke is that people around me think I’m well past the border!). I do struggle to let go of objects that seem special, and it perplexes my husband that it’s often someone elses history embedded in an object I choose to hoard.

Others that I know are not at all sentimental about objects, exactly, but they have gathered papers, notes and clippings throughout their lives, amounting to boxes and suitcases full. I’m not alone in wanting to hold onto baby items; I know mothers who still have every piece of clothing and baby toy, without any expectation of procreating again. They simply can’t let go.

Baby Twins Infant Nursery Vintage Decor Hand Made Style Home

These images are a reminder of a time when I hadn’t met my children; I was in the throes of nesting and nervous anticipation. I was attempting to create a calm haven for us all.

Baby Infant Decor Nursery Hand Made Home Vintage Twins Heico Lamp

In addition to the beloved cots you can see numerous vintage toys and decorations; bunting made by a lovely, clever friend; a fluttering mobile made from old doileys; Chinese papercut birds.

Baby Bedroom Vintage Trunk Style

I made provision for note-taking, plus lovely music, lots of story-books: plenty of gentle stimulation for babies.

Baby Bedroom Decor Vintage Doll Books Style

Of course now when I look at that couch I recall anxious time-keeping, attempts to nourish two babies at once (hilarious!), an enormous breast-feeding cushion and the seemingly relentless hum of an electric pump.

Baby Twins Bedroom Nursery Unisex Pastels Vintage Heico Bunny

Thus, objects can hold memories with mixed feelings. The early days of motherhood for me were often stressful and tense as I practically juggled two infants. (Perhaps “juggled” is not the right word, but it felt like that!) I also remember staring for hours at their pink faces, fascinated with their early movements and expressions.

Baby Twins Nursery Decor Infant Monitor Vintage Souvenir Sophie Giraffe

Of the objects in these photos, many have moved on and the only one I now cling to is the “Open” sign, below. It had been the sign my Dad used on the door of his business and he gave it to me simply because it featured two kittens. It was with great surprise that we met our fellows and realised they colour-matched the cats on the sign.

Baby Twins Decor Nursery Bedroom Vintage Pastels Change Table

Objects don’t really hold memories (and I’ve mentioned this before) but I certainly think those that do evoke history have more value, don’t you? So I seek out antique or hand-made, when I need to buy something… and I mourn just a little as I pass on the cots that remind me of when my boys were babies.

I may be sentimental and have a penchant for “vintage”, but I’m very grateful to live in the age of photography so I can revive my memories with a glance.

Baby Twin Nursery Vintage Pastels Heico Bunny Lamp

Stuck at Home for Purim

We are quite hopeless at keeping up with holiday dates; my husband sent me a text this morning saying he thinks Purim started yesterday or today? Either way I was thrilled, because our car has gone off to the mechanic for a service and so the children and I must entertain ourselves at home. Purim is a joyous occasion that is all about having fun, and it immediately gave me some ideas for how we can occupy ourselves without leaving the house. 

My knowledge of Purim (as with many things Jewish) comes from American popular culture, most notably the Christopher Guest film: “For Your Consideration“. I knew it involved dress-ups and noisemakers.

This holiday was made for my children.

We began by digging through our well-appointed dress-up basket, testing bunny ears, capes and vintage jackets. But the ideas started flowing and I realised it was time to let the kids create a costume from scratch, so we set about making masks.

We hunted around for something the size of the kids’ faces and used a pot to trace circles onto cardboard. Then we used a cylindrical building block for eyes. After tracing and cutting the mask forms, we painted them in the murky, watery colours that the children gleefully mixed together. Later, I’ll punch holes in the sides and attach elastic to the masks so they can be worn.

While the paint was drying we turned our attention to noisemakers. It’s a favourite pastime around here: hitting, smacking, banging any object with another to see what noise it makes. This morning an upturned bucket was a Chinese drum, yesterday some metal stair rails made a satisfying clang when kicked by small feet.

The traditional Purim noise-maker is a gragger or grogger, which consists of a central barrel with notches, around which a sort of cartridge is spun. The cartridge contains a narrow metal or wood plank that catches and clicks on each notch as it goes around. Or as my children laughed when we discussed this, it goes “gragger gragger gragger!”.

Sadly, our graggers are broken, which is why we were analysing the inner workings together. The basic concept of the flat piece catching on a turning wheel and making a sound reminded me of an old childhood way to “pimp your ride.”

Did you ever peg a playing card to your bike and pretend you were riding a motorbike? It didn’t work very well with our tricycles, even with two pegs, but it was fun to try.

We’re starting small with our children and Jewish customs but since Purim is such a light-hearted holiday, featuring lots of fun and theatrical traditions, I can see this becoming a memorable date on our yearly calendar.

Lessons in Letting Go

I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of perpetuating my own unhappiness by reliving horrible experiences in my mind and dwelling upon situations that have upset me. Recently I gained some new “tools” to help me stop these bad habits and take positive steps forward.

My family and I have had a rough time in the 6 months since I last wrote here on Many Cha Cha. We left Tasmania (and have moved a number of times since) due to the malicious acts of one or two vile individuals who operate without conscience. There’s always more than one side to a story, of course, but there is no version of this one that justifies the upheaval and suffering that my children have gone through as a result of those people’s actions.

The experience left me with burning bitterness and seething resentment, which of course does nothing to alleviate a difficult situation. I realised that in order to move on, I needed to let go. But I was so caught in a cycle of stewing and overthinking that I didn’t know how.

I decided to investigate ways of “letting go” used by different cultures around the world, and I found that there are numerous traditional, symbolic ways to release negativity.

Across the globe, there are common themes when it comes to rituals of release. Some traditions involve breaking, smashing or burning significant objects, such as the Italian New Year custom of literally tossing out and burning the old in order to make room for new. Historically, Italians and Greeks would break glasses and plates around the entrance to their homes in order to discourage negative energy from entering.

Many “letting go” rituals require an object to actually be sent out into the environment, either on wind or water. In China, sky lanterns made from rice paper have been used for thousands of years as a way to cast away fears, while kite strings are cut so they may carry sorrow away into the sky. Both of these methods are also used to send hopes and dreams up to the heavens.

A charming and probably very healing Native American tradition apparently involves digging a hole in the ground near a tree (or perhaps using a knot-hole in the tree itself) in which to whisper all your stories of anger and grief, then filling in the hole and thanking the tree for listening.

My children and I used these traditional ideas as starting points for activities. We made simple kites from twigs, paper and yarn and then ran with the wind, attempting to fly the kites by a flat lake. We blew up balloons and let them go, giggling ourselves silly as they blurted around and deflated. Together we foraged for broad leaves and gum nuts to make little boats. We sent them floating out onto a glassy billabong beneath soaring eucalypts.

Perhaps it was the symbology or the “ritual” aspect of the activities that helped me let go of much of my venomous anger. Maybe it was the running or the children laughing or the calm reflections in the water or the rustle of overhead gum leaves. It doesn’t matter.