Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In which we make play dough and I feel like a bad mother

For the most part I really enjoy reading parenting blogs. I get lots of great ideas and generally come away feeling inspired. Very occasionally I have the complete opposite reaction. I come away feeling extremely inadequate and like my parenting is somewhat substandard. This happened today when I read Amanda Soule's post about her family's mealtime rituals and how much she enjoys gathering for dinner. For comparative purposes let me paint you the scene of a typical dinner at our house:

My husband works a lot of nights and is rarely home for dinner. Conversation is generally one sided seeing as I am the only person at the table capable of maintaining a sustained dialogue. Minty occasionally livens up the verbal exchange by loudly interjecting with an inappropriate word such as 'DOLPHIN', in the manner of a tourette's sufferer. I perch on the edge of our dinner table/work desk/ sewing table while juggling Turi who is screaming his lungs out. Let's just say we are about as far as it comes from using cloth place-mats appliqued with doilies.

The icing on the cake was Amanda's description of how her boys, 'love creating the 'scene' now themselves (complete with a daily rock-paper-scissors for who lights the candles).' I think the last time I lit a candle at dinner time was valentine's day 2007.

Lest we become too maudlin let's move onto brighter things. Today we made some play dough (I used the recipe on the side of the cream of tartar packet). Minty had lots of fun creating textures on the dough with rocks, seed pods, forks and skewers. I spent the time making play dough roses. Turi chewed his feet.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

in which we bake 'healthy' cookies

I really wasn't planning on baking today. I had lots of other projects and housework in mind but when I asked Minty what she wanted to do, she decided she wanted to bake cookies. I'd really like to foster a love of food and cooking in my kids so I wasn't about to say no. Not that I really need much encouragement to bake!

This is my go-to recipe for quick and wholesome cookies at the moment. I won't try and pretend they are completely healthy but they at least have some dried fruit and oats in them!! I found the recipe a while ago somewhere on a parenting forum so I can't give you a source (sorry!).

Sultana oat cookies

1 cup self-raising flour

1 cup Carman's Toasted Muesli (it's expensive....but reallllly worth it. The smallest box has lasted us about 5 batches of these worth it)

1 cup Sunbeam Sultanas

3/4 cup Uncle Tobys Rolled Oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

125g butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 190C or 170C fan. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Combine butter, egg and

honey and add to dry ingredients. Mix well.

Drop 2 tbsp of mixture onto prepared trays. Press lightly with the back of a fork.

Bake for 10-12 mins, until golden. Cool on trays before storing in an airtight container.

These freeze really well too. You can either flash freeze them (freeze them on trays before baking and then put them in a zip lock bag when they are hard. You'll obviously need to increase your baking time when you use them) or freeze them after they're baked (just pop one in the microwave for about 20 seconds to thaw it out).

Monday, March 29, 2010

infiltrating the man cave

Minty loves nothing more than to spend time in the shed watching her dad work on the car. He has rigged up a baby swing so she can have a good view of what is going on.

At bedtime tonight Minty had a little cry because she wanted to spend some more time 'building a car'.

My dear husband wandered past while I was uploading these photos and was upset that I had photographed the 'most boring part of the engine' and his 'most boring tools'. I wasn't really aware that some parts of the engine were 'exciting', I was just shooting for contextual purposes. Sorry to anyone else who is also disappointed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I don't want to finger paint: Part Two

Today we tried out another finger painting alternative (for new readers you can check out part one of this series here). For this activity I coloured some water with food dye and then froze it in ice cube trays with half a paddle pop stick poking out of each. The paddle pop stick then acts like a little handle so that you can paint with the melting ice. I really should have used more food dye because the colours were pretty washed out. I used about 3 drops per ice cube but I think I needed to at least double that to get good results. Minty got bored with this relatively quickly because the ice was taking too long to melt, so if you want to try this I'd really recommend doing it on a hot day, or take the cubes out of the freezer a little while before you start.

In other news I finally ended up getting a leash for Minty. I know the issue of children on leashes can be a little polarising but frankly it became the only option for keeping her safe. For the first time in months we were able to calmly walk to the park without strapping her into the pram. She can actually burn off some energy and has the chance to explore the environment while we're walking. I really don't like having to strap her into a pram all the time because it really limits her experience and feels like such a wasted opportunity for exercise and fun. So far she has been fooled by my over enthusiasm about how exciting her new harness is. This afternoon she even brought it over to me and asked me to 'put harness on' so we could go out again! In case you were wondering, I do take the leash off when we reach our destination so she can run free, climb the trees and generally run amuck.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You say cookie, I say biscuit, let's call the whole thing off...

If you're anything like me you find recipes from the US a little frustrating. It's like reading a foreign language... 'cornstarch', a 'stick' of butter, 'half and half', 'graham crackers'.... need I go on?? But if you want good pie it's worth the effort to do a little translating. This is a mile high chocolate pie, heaped with heavenly, billowing clouds of whipped cream. These photos really don't do the pie justice. It is so delicious I might just have to marry this pie and have little chocolate pie babies.

To save you the heart ache of muddling through all the Americanisms in this recipe (originally found here), I've taken the liberty of translating it into 'Australian'. I've converted everything into grams and substituted some of the ingredients with products you can actually find at your local supermarket.

Graham Cracker Crust:

140g biscuits (I used Arnotts Marie biscuits)
2 Tbl. sugar
71g salted butter, melted and warm

Chocolate Cream Filling:

113g salted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes and chilled
1 3/4 cups milk

1 3/4 cups cream

150g sugar
38g cornstarch
9 egg yolks
310g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp. instant espresso or coffee (optional)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped Cream to Top:

2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbl. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional: bittersweet chocolate, to garnish

To Bake Graham Cracker Crust:

Place oven rack in middle position, and preheat oven to 160°.

Roughly break biscuits, then pulverize to a fine powder in a food processor, about 30 seconds. Add sugar, and pulse briefly to combine. Add melted butter through feed tube in a slow, steady stream, pulsing as you go to combine, until mixture resembles the sand where ocean meets beach.

(Alternatively, to make crust by hand, place crackers in a heavy-duty Ziploc and steamroller them with a rolling pin, until they are powder. Pour crumbs into a medium bowl, stir in sugar to combine, and drizzle melted butter over all, stirring and mooshing until mixture resembles wet sand.)

Transfer the crumbs to a 9" pie plate. Spread lightly to distribute, then gently, firmly, press crumbs into bottom and up sides of pie plate, using the bottom of a measuring cup or small ramekin. It will remain very loose; aim for general coverage. The crust will firm up considerably as it bakes. Bake 15-18 minutes, until your kitchen is filled with good smells, and the crust is lightly browned. Cool completely while making the filling.

To Assemble Filling:

Heat the milk and cream in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, until it's steaming and just barely reached a simmer. Remove pan from heat. In a large bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup sugar and the corn flour. Add egg yolks, and whisk until smooth. Slowly, steadily, drizzle hot cream-milk into the egg yolk-sugar mixture, whisking constantly, until smooth. You are tempering the egg yolks here, to prevent them from scrambling. Return tempered yolk/milk-cream mixture to the large saucepan, and heat over medium heat, stirring often, until bubbles rise to the surface and mixture is very thick, like pudding, 3-4 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and to the hot pudding mixture, slowly, in batches, add the 113g cold butter and 310g chopped chocolate, whisking until smooth. Whisk in instant espresso, if using, until smooth. Stir in the 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Set a fine-meshed sieve over a deep bowl, and strain chocolate mixture. Pour pudding into strainer in batches, and press with a spatula to encourage. This is fussy but fast, a few minutes at most, and is key to achieving that sublime creamy texture. You'll see when your done all the inevitable cornstarch lumps and eggy bits left behind in the strainer, which is such a much better place for them than the pie.

Cover filling with plastic wrap, pressing down right to the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.

To Assemble Pie:

When filling is firm, remove plastic wrap and stir until smooth. Spoon chilled filling into reserved, cooled crust, forming a dome in the center with a rubber spatula for a more polished look, or piling it high in the middle for a more casual affair.

In a large bowl, whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until soft but strong-ish peaks form. Dollop cream on top of filling, as much as you dare, and with a peeler, shave a little additional chocolate over all, if you fancy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

crepes vs. pancakes... let's get technical

I think yesterday's celebration pancakes were somewhat premature. We had the night from hell last night with Turi waking up almost hourly. Then because I was so fried I overslept until 8am only to wake and find a very distressed Minty had wet her bed. Lately she has decided she really doesn't like going to the toilet in her nappy so if she can't make it to the potty in time she will take off her pants and and wee… nice. So this morning was spent washing out her stuffed toys and blankets. When I returned from hanging everything on the line I discovered Minty sitting behind the curtain eating a shell (yes that was not a typo, I said a shell). Later Minty dashed out the door and started running bare foot down the street only to be caught by a passer by on their morning walk. This pretty much set the tone for the day.

So today instead of celebratory cooking, I am baking a mile high chocolate pie to sooth my nerves. I'm spreading the recipe across two days so I'll post tomorrow with some photos and the recipe.

I've had a few requests for the buckwheat pancake recipe we made yesterday. To be honest I'm not a huge recipe follower when it comes to early morning cooking. I tend to just go by eye. Basically I just put in the flour with two eggs and then add milk until I get the consistency of thin cream. For the flour ratios use roughly 2 parts buckwheat flour to one part plain flour. Whizz it up in the KitchenAid and then let it rest for a while to relax the gluten in the plain flour (buckwheat doesn't have any gluten) before cooking. And yes for my pedantic readers, these are technically crepes not pancakes since they don't contain any raising agent and were cooked on a crepe pan.

If I am feeling particularly energetic and can be bothered following a recipe, or I'm trying to be super-mum this is my go to recipe for hearty healthy pancakes. It comes from a book called 'The Pleasure of Cooking Collection: Crepes and Pancakes'.


1/2 cup water

1/2 cup instant powdered milk

1 tablespoon honey

2 cups buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 tablespoons lemon juice)

2 eggs beaten

2 1/2 cups one-minute oats

1 cup wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the water, powdered milk, honey, buttermilk and eggs together.
Stir into the oats, flour, bicarb soda and salt.
Let stand for 1 hour
For each hotcake drop 1/4 cup batter onto a hot, lightly greased surface and cook until bubbles appear on the top. Turn over and cook other side.

These are really tasty and have a slight honey flavour so you can even eat them without toppings.

Join me tomorrow for a slice of pie.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In which I use dramatic lighting to distract you from my ugly kitchen...

"Hang on a minute... is that buckwheat?!"

Turi finally had a decent nights sleep last night (11pm to 7am) so we had some celebratory pancakes for breakfast this morning. We had pretty much run out of plain flour so I used 2/3 buckwheat flour instead. It actually tasted pretty good. I have an extra healthy pancake recipe I use when I'm feeling holy (I'll share the recipe some other time) but this was a nice nod to health without being overwhelming.

Yes, you spotted it, that is the world's oldest stove.

I also made a last minute batch of pikelets with jam for the playgroup shared morning tea (which had completely slipped my mind until I bumped into one of the other mums at the shops).

In other kitchen news, I made my own mince meat from scratch yesterday. I recently got the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and thought I'd give it a whirl. I'd heard people say that once you try home made mince meat you'll never go back. True confession: it actually wasn't that great. It took a fair bit of time cutting the meat into chunks and feeding it into the grinder. I was expecting the taste to be vastly superior but frankly it wasn't. Maybe I should try a different cut of meat? Does anyone have any tips?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Super Party: the wrap up

The wait is over! I can finally reveal the super costumes. I just know you've all been on the edges of your seats ;)

Turi's costume:

Turi's cape clips onto the shoulders of his onesie with press studs. I should tell you I planned this to avoid the cape becoming a strangling hazard but the truth is I grossly underestimated the size of turi's head and forgot the babies don't really have a neck. When I went to try the cape on Turi after he woke up from his sleep I realised I had made a cape that would fit his teddy bear. This is why you should measure your child before you start sewing. Sometimes I get lazy and skip this step. Invariably I regret it.

I made Turi's super-bloomers by using a pair of his pants as a template. I added a little width into the side seems because the fabric isn't stretch. Then I put some elastic into the legs and tada - bloomers. I hope that made sense.

I bought a plain onesie at the supermarket for about $2 (in a three pack). I then used a freezer paper stencil and black fabric paint to write 'ZAP!'. If you want instructions on how to do this, just google 'freezer paper stencil' and you'll find a tutorial. Freezer paper is a bit hard to come by here in Australia. A friend of mine sent me some from the US.

Minty's costume:

Minty's top was also $2 at the market and again used freezer paper to stencil 'KAPOW!' onto it. I was going to make her some bloomers but ran out of time/motivation so she just wore her PJ bottoms over a pair of stockings. Minty chose the colours for her cape (I didn't intentionally gender stereotype!!!)

The Cake:

Clearly an uber amount of food colouring was used to make these lurid colours but they sure do look cute!! Note you need to use food colouring paste, not the liquid drops you get at the supermarket if you want to get colours this bright.

The birthday boy's costume: I made this cape for him for Christmas a couple of years ago. Nice to see it's still getting a work out!

Party Games: The kiddies made superhero masks and played pin the star on the superhero.

A very happy fifth birthday to my nephew and thanks to my sister Rachel for organising such a fun party!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

a peek inside my sling...

I took these while I was wearing Turi, pointing the camera with an outstretched arm, so the results are variable to say the least. Hope you enjoy the little look into Turi's world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I still look 5 months pregnant and other depressing facts...

OK Turi is now 4 months old and I'm thinking it probably isn't a good thing I'm still wearing maternity pants... hmn. I suspect that the vast quantities of home-made bread, pasta, cakes and cookies I'm consuming are probably sustaining the phantom baby in utero but if I am truly honest I have no intention of changing my diet any time soon. Frankly the carbs are getting me through the sleepless nights and daily screaming duets. The only answer it would seem to ditching the maternity wear is to buy new clothes.

Requirements of my new matronly wardrobe:
  • an ability to whip my boobs out at a moments notice to feed the ravenous beast (sorry angel) that is my second child
  • no LOW hipster pants as I would prefer not to reveal my plumber's crack while playing fuzzy felts on the floor (and no that is not a euphemism).
  • all items must be machine washable... in all likelihood any 'hand wash only' garments will be worn once and then lie dormant in my hand washing hamper never to see the light of day again.
  • items must not require ironing - the iron and I rendezvous for sewing projects but that is where our relationship ends.
  • Fabrics should be able to withstand baby vomit and sticky fingers without looking immediately filthy (I suspect this request might be about as realistic as suggesting I plan to replace my car with a rainbow coloured unicorn)
  • Clothes must be cheap as I do still plan on EVENTUALLY losing weight so these items are just to tide me over in the mean time
And so dear readers, I ask your help. Where do I start to look for this 'mumdrobe'? Are there any particular styles of garment I should seek out or stores I should visit?

P.S. I don't want to look dowdy.
P.P.S. sorry no cute photos today - my camera is on a business trip

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

in which Turi rolls over and we make hippie's pizza

Turi rolled over. It probably would have happened earlier but he hasn't had much 'tummy time'. For the childless among you tummy time purportedly strengthens the baby's muscles but from my observation it basically just freaks the baby out so much that they roll over out of shear terror. It's a little like watching a turtle on its back.

Here are some out takes of 'tummy time' last week...

We made pizza tonight from this recipe. I really love this dough. It's got a bit more substance to it without being uber scary in-your-face wholemeal. Whenever I make pizza Minty gets a glint in her eye and tries desperately to scrounge some raw dough. As I was making this her little hand kept reaching over the top of the bench as she dragged various pieces of furniture over to try and get close enough (it really reminded me of dumbo's trunk reaching for his mother). When dinner was actually served she thought the pizza was poo. Typical.

Sorry no photos of the pizza. I took a few but they were U.G.L.Y. I need to work on my dough photography.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I don't want to finger paint: Part One

We're all agreed. Finger painting rocks. Certain people in the family would say it's better than chocolate, better than a trip to the beach, even better than watching Mary Poppins. Others in the family would say it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Whatever, it's all good. But let's face it there are some days when finger painting isn't an option. We don't have time, we've just had a bath or (as was the case today) we've used up all the finger paint. So today we embark on the first part of our journey... art activities for terrible twos that do not involve finger paint.

Today's activity was collage. I know this isn't exactly an amazingly original project but if you're anything like me, sometimes you get stuck in a rut and can't remember these seemingly obvious ideas. For this project you will need clear contact, a bunch of scrap paper (preferably a mix of textures, colours etc.), and some sparkles (sequins, stars and the like). Basically just cut a piece of contact paper and let your terrible two go wild sticking everything onto it. Then when you're finished sandwich it all together with a second piece of contact. Hey presto, art activity with no messy clean up.

The artist at work.

Stay tuned for more obvious art projects in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

same, same

Groundhog day today. I feel like we did more of the same - rode bikes in garden, nagged to do finger painting, waited for Santa, didn't sleep, cried while playing on the grass, ate vegemite sandwiches for lunch, blah, blah, blah. I think Minty is even wearing the exact same outfit from a previous post. I swear I didn't recycle an old photo!

We did spend some time investigating the bottlebrush...

...and doing some bird watching.

Minty has informed me that the 'fairies' that live in our garden live in the bottlebrush tree. Apparently we just need to wait quietly for the fairy door to open (thanks Shirley Barber for this crazy notion).

The only new thing today was that I started pilates. Hello muscles I didn't know existed. Hello pain. If you see me hobbling around like a 90 year old woman tomorrow you will know why.