Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Golden goodness

One good thing about being the cook in the family is that you get to eat what you like :-)

Under the guise of "feeding the hungry kids" after school I sometimes make these golden syrup scones based on a Donna Hay recipe. They're quick and simple to make, there's no rubbing in of butter or anything fiddly like that, no fancy kitchen appliance is necessary (so the clean-up is minimal) and they always turn out light and fluffy.

Plus, any excuse for golden syrup is a good one, I say!

Golden syrup scones

2 cups self raising flour
2 tblsp caster sugar
2 tblsp golden syrup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
extra golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the flour and sugar into a bowl and mix a little with a bread and butter knife. Make a well in the centre and add the golden syrup, milk and cream. Mix lightly and quickly with your knife until just combined.

Place on a lightly floured bench and press out until about 3cm high. Using a scone cutter cut out scones and place on a baking tray that has baking paper on it and allow them to just touch each other.

Bake for about 20 minutes until tops start to brown. Take out of oven and generously coat with extra golden syrup.

Serve plain or with cream and extra (more!) golden syrup.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not quite a teacher

Now that my big girl is getting a little older (5), I've started to teach her how to sew. One day hopefully I'll be able to teach my crazy 2 1/2 year old too, if she likes. I first started thinking about actively teaching her skills when we had the following conversation soon after she started kindergarten:

M: "Mrs T said (blah blah)..."
Jo: "oh really" quizically
M: "Yeah, she knows lots of things... more than you"
After being hastily warned by her father that she was playing with fire, she attempted to remedy the situation:
M: "well, you could know more stuff if you were a teacher... or maybe you could be a teacher's helper"

Great. So not only do I not know "lots of things", but I'm also not up to being a teacher, but possibly a teacher's aid! Hmm... the days of my working career when I knew things that other people wanted to know seemed even further away after that conversation! When my ego recovered and we were having a cuddle, hungry for knowledge as always, she told me that she wanted me to teach her things...

OK then, lets start with sewing.

We are very lucky to have a great kindy class as our first experience with big school. The kids all seem to get along well and the parents are lovely too. My girl has made two best buddies who are both great girls and together we call them the three amigos. One of the girls was having a birthday celebration on the weekend and we'd decided to make her a beenie bear. We'd made the other little amigo one for her birthday recently too.

So here she is embroidering her friend's initial onto a piece of felt to be stitch onto the bear's chest by me. I've got to say that as rewarding as it is teaching her, there are also many moments when I have to let go of ideas of perfection, grit my teeth and just let her go with it! I'm sure other parents will identify with this too!

I didn't get a picture of the finished bear but it was one like this:

In other kiddie craft news, the book below was given to her for her 5th birthday. It's a step by step learn to draw book. I have a strong memory of having a similar book as a kid and drawing kangaroos from it.

Here are the finished cute little snails. I'm gearing up for some craft sessions in the approaching school holidays, so if anyone has any tips or suggestions please let me know... and I'd better get into teacher mode again too :-)

Post script: While I was writing this post the 2 year old ripped up the snail drawing... keep calm and breathe, mother, breathe

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ikea fabric love - no 2.

Carrying on from the last Ikea fabric love post, here's another of my favourite prints, and another chair, this time the grown-up version. I loved covering this chair just as much as the other, and as I'm not as precious about this fabric I'll be happy to recover it in a different print when I get sick of this one. I think the whole chair only cost me about $30 in fabric, so a pretty small investment. It's quite a feature in the lounge room, and I must admit that when I'd finished it I wasn't sure if I liked it or not "is it funky or Nanna?" - not that Nanna's can't be funky!! It was 1am when I finished it afterall, maybe that had something to do with it. But I settled on funky, particularly after a couple of friends whose style I admire said they loved it (just call me a sheep).

Now this odd horse shoe-looking thing above you may know is a breast feeding pillow. I made it when pregnant with no. 3 from a pattern from the fabulous Lotta Jansdotter book Simple sewing for baby. With the first 2 babies I'd used a pillow or nothing and got sore shoulders with those numerous feeds that newborns demand. It was also intended to be used as a baby sitter type thing where it would support the baby and toys could be hooked into the ribbon tags I'd sewed into the outer edges. But alas my boy is not the sit there and ponder type and was off crawling soon after he sat up.

I also made an Amy Butler sun hat, which turned out OK but went a bit too floppy in the brim... more interfacing needed.

The fabric
Heavy weight 100% cotton. I think it was from the "Gunilla" collection. That's one thing about the Ikea fabrics, if you see something you like, buy some of it, as they change the range quite often. What I love about this print is the beautiful organic shapes. I don't know if they're based on real plants or not, but the shapes and colours are gorgeous and I never get tired of it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I know you're not meant to discuss politics with your friends but...

I've just got to say how excited I am to see that we have our first female Prime Minister! Like her or not, Julia Gillard has today broken a barrier and made history in Australian politics.

Time will tell what sort of leader she is and whether she successfully leads her party to victory in the next election... I'll be watching on with interest and the same excitement I felt at seeing Barack Obama elected.

I can't believe it's taken this long to happen but thank goodness it has. An historic day! (have I mentioned I'm excited :-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Passionfruit passion

Unlike my mum, unfortunately I'm no gardener. But I have high hopes that one day, when the little people are not so little I will have time to learn. One thing I do have a go at though is growing passionfruit. I have fond childhood memories of lying on my trampoline eating the passionfruit we grew, particularly banana passionfruit which grew like a weed (and is now considered one).

Over the last few years I have been on a mission to grow a successful passionfruit vine. The first attempt didn't take. The second fruited in it's second year, then promptly died. This next attempt is going great. It had plenty of the gorgeous flowers and is fruiting like mad, kindly dropping fruit for the kids to excitedly collect every day or two.

As I puzzled over why the fruit weren't turning that beautiful purply-black colour I had a vague memory that I'd planted a Panama Gold variety (figuring maybe a different variety would work better this time?) which turn a pale golden colour when ripe. But, to my dismay, they are very tart even when yellow.

Which is a good excuse to try this simple icecream recipe that Fi blogged about recently. I'd been keen to try it, particularly as it includes no eggs, so my big girl could also eat it, unlike most homemade icecreams which are based on an egg custard base. I left out the vanilla and put in the pulp of 4 passionfruit, though it could easily have taken more.

I also made some passionfruit melting moments from this recipe (no good photos unfortunately - surely a little biscuit shouldn't be that hard to photograph, hmm) and passionfruit icing for a cake using this recipe.

Do you have a favourite recipe using passionfruit?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A little bit of kindness

I finished making this little baby set recently for my friend Alison who has bought quite a few of these now as presents for newborns, this one for a girl, and blue sets for boys.

Alison has always been so supportive of me and my hobby/little business. Words of kindness and encouragement can turn your day around, don't you think?

I had a conversation with a dad friend today (quick conversation, that is, with 2 year olds around!) about having a positive attitude, viewing the glass as half full etc. He and his wife were actively trying to be calmer and nicer, aiming to do 5 things a day that they thought might please each other.

It made me think about how a little bit of kindness can go so far, whether it's towards a stranger, a friend or our children. Occasionally when I see a potentially difficult late afternoon with my children coming up I stop and promise myself that I will try my best to be patient and not yell, to think about the fact that they are tired and hungry and just not able to cope so well at the moment. I try to be kind.
Sometimes I fail miserably, as I guess most parents do, but I'm going to try a bit more.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekend cooking - dumplings

The weekend's a time when I sometimes get the opportunity to cook something different or fun, a change from the quick and easy routine of weeknights. Come and see what I've been up to this weekend...

Flicking through a cooking magazine while folding the washing yesterday (typical multi-tasking woman), I got inspired by a great photo of a noodle soup with bok choy and rice noodes. With the boys of the house, young and old, having an afternoon nap, I took the girls to the fabulous local asian supermarket to get ingredients for noodle soup and also some steamed dumplings. Last time I made these the girls loved them, and as anyone with small kids knows, if you're onto a winner, stick to it (at least until the time in the near future when they claim they no longer like it!). So, pictured above is part of our booty for the soup and dumplings.

Back at home I blitzed to a paste fresh mushrooms, re-hydrated shitake mushrooms, spring onions, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce and a little mushroom soaking water.

Then my trusty assistant wet the edges of the dough for me and I sealed them.

Resulting in a plateful of lovely dumplings.

The kids ate them with a little soy sauce and the grown-ups had a soy, hoi-sin and chilli dipping sauce. I'm happy to say that everyone enjoyed them again. I wonder how long my luck will hold out :-)

In other weekend-ish food/cooking news, I hosted a little lunch for a dear friend's 40th birthday on Friday. We had roasted olives and homemade pizza (including one with roast pumpkin (still on that fad) caramelised onion and fetta). Then I'd made a flourless chocolate cake for the first time, which turned out well. It was nice to make a 'grown-up' cake for a change!! One of the girls bought a lovely bottle of Segura Viudas Spanish bubbly, which I must track down and we had a lovely glass of red wine. This helped to ease the chaos of having 6 littlies under the age of 3 in the house at once!

Then on Saturday night at the birthday girl's party I enjoyed halloumi skewers - mmm. Is there anything better than some warm crispy, chewy halloumi? I think not.

Happy birthday beautiful girl xx

Friday, June 18, 2010


...I've put my new 'babies' in to my Etsy and Madeit shops.
After a lightbulb moment a while back I made heat pack teddies (or 'beenies' as they call them) for my girls. Then decided to make some more. There were prototypes:

And many more prototypes...

And after feedback from
a. my chief tester big girl "can I keep them all mama?"
b. friends who'd received them as presents
c. rigorous testing through play (namely being thrown down flights of stairs) on our recent weekend away,
I'd finally perfected my pattern (and reinforced the stress points!)

I hope someone loves them like they're loved in this house...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seed love

L-R: Pumpkin seeds roasted with olive oil & soy sauce, toasted sunflower seeds & pine nuts (actually a seed rather than nut, despite the name) and toasted sesame seeds

At the risk of sounding like a total hippy (not that there's anything wrong with that!), I love seeds. And I've been finding myself using them more and more in cooking for the family lately. I also love all kinds of nuts, but they're not so easy to cook with in our house with my big girl being allergic to them.

This particular cooking obsession really took off recently when my local green grocer had a special on pumpkins. I took home a lovely big butternut with a view to either roasting, steaming and making soup with it, or a bit of all. I made pumpkin soup for dinner (which the girls were not crazy about :-(, and thought I'd roast the many seeds inside as a garnish. Of course I googled it (why can't I seem to do anything without googling it first these days, is it just me?!) and found this, which mentioned boiling the seeds before roasting. This made all the difference to previous attempts which were chewy and not great. They come out crunchy and delicious, and are even more delicious with a little soy sauce splashed over before going into the oven (though watch the salt content as the soy obviously ups it quite a bit). The garnish turned out to be much more popular than the meal, and whenever I've made them since there's almost been a fight between us all for who gets more*!

So for dinner last night I made this salad, inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw in a delicious magazine. I threw in what I had to hand and it came out pretty well. In it was:
• roasted pumpkin cubes
• roasted fresh beetroot (wrap in foil and cook til tender)
• steamed green beans
• some baby cos leaves
• cucumber slices
• and of course the seeds (see pic at top)
It would definitely have benefited from some lovely cubes of fetta, but alas we had none and the thought of dragging all 3 to the shops just for this was not on the cards :-)

I dressed it with a home made red wine vinaigrette. The girls actually ate this, with big girl eating her seeds first then asking for "more beetroot mama!". I served it with crusty bread and lentil shepherds pie - more hippy food.

* post script: I have realised that all pumpkin seeds are not equal! Butternut pumpkin seeds cook quickly as they are smaller and more tender certainly than the seeds from varieties such as Queensland Blues. These needs much longer boiling, otherwise they're just too tough and chewy, rather than crunchy and crispy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A bit of nature and a bit of craft

Last weekend we finally got away for a short break. When our little girl was a baby we went away for a few days and it threw her sleep routine out so far that it resulted in 5 months of severe deprivation (and a few bagels, you might remember here). So naturally we've been cautious with no. 3. Feeling brave at last, we recently organised to meet friends with children of a similar age for a weekend at the coast.

Now, my crafty friend and I did contemplate taking our sewing machines and making it a pseudo craft weekend, but decided to stick to a bit of quiet crafting in the evenings, sharing our craft books and lots of enthusiastic discussion on future projects. Of course the boys got lots of craft teasing in "we've been duped, this is actually a craft weekend, isn't it!" and lots of discussions were had on the love and many uses of iPhones (crafty post to come later).

Happily, there was time for some relaxing, leisurely coffee drinking, scouring of the beach for shells, peering into rockpools, checking out the rainforest and consuming some good food and red wine in great company. All in all a good break away, with hopefully no long lasting sleep damage :-)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ikea fabric love - no 1.

I unashamedly love Ikea fabrics. Recently I read a post where a crafter noted that there seems to be a stigma about using Ikea fabrics. I think she's right but it's also crazy - in my opinion they are fantastic; they are generally made from cotton, the weight of many is heavy enough for projects around the home, it's very affordable and most importantly, there are some beautiful designs. So I thought I'd show you some of my favourites around our house.

The chair above was given to us (with another, both covered in white cotton), by our lovely next door neighbours when I was heavily pregnant with no. 3. As anyone who's spent time with a pregnant woman knows, she's generally a powerhouse of ideas and activity ("nesting"?), though physically it's hard as she's meant to be resting! Needless to say, I HAD to recover the 2 chairs at 39 weeks pregnant, and stayed up until about 1am two nights running to get it done. Hey, I wasn't going to be getting much sleep soon anyway! And here's one of the recovered chairs (show you the other later).

The fabric
Heavy weight cotton Dala Horse pattern. I bought a few meters of this fantastic fabric about 8 years ago just because I loved it (you know that feeling), certain that the right project would one day arise.

When my first baby arrived and I started to decorate her room I pulled it out of the stash and considered:
• curtains (no, fabric would spend most of it's time pushed to the side of the window, unable to be seen),
• cushions (no, not enough of the full illustrations would be seen)
• doona cover (no, fabric too heavy duty).

Then the chairs came along and bingo! I knew this was the project! I had to hold myself back long enough to A. buy upholstery tacks B. buy Scotchguard so that my hard work wouldn't be dirtied in 5 minutes and C. take a breath and think about how I would approach it. It ended up being incredibly easy and very satisfying, and most importantly I LOVE it.

I really strongly feel that it's good for us to live with things that we love looking at. Good for the soul!

* stripey curtain fabric in background also Ikea :-)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bagel therapy

As far as I'm aware Australians are not big on bagels, not that we don't like them, just that we haven't had the exposure to them that others have. Personally I haven't eaten a lot of them but there was a time a couple of years ago that I look back on fondly which involved bagels...

My little girl was about 6 months old and was sleeping terribly - up every hour and a half through the night and very whingy. This had been going on a while and left me feeling exhausted, often upset and quite down. A bright spot in my week was taking the girls (my big girl was 3 at the time) to a lovely dance class in a nearby suburb every Thursday morning. The girls loved the fun relaxed atmosphere and I loved the break in routine, seeing them having fun, the chance to catch up with my very supportive friends, and visiting the nearby cafe afterwards. The cafe is the type I really enjoy, interesting and vibrant. They had great coffee and these fantastic blueberry bagels served with ricotta and jam. It was just the pick-me-up I needed.

So when I started seeing posts on blogs about this simple recipe I thought I must try it. On the weekend I made a batch, half of them savoury with sesame seeds and salt flakes on top and served them with cream cheese and capers. The other half I sprinkled liberally with sugar and put some blueberries on top, trying to replicate the cafe ones*. I also got out a tin of blackberries I'd had in the back of the pantry for a while and put them in a saucepan with some sugar and a little lemon juice and just cooked it down for ages until it was syrupy*, to have with the bagels and cream cheese (in the absence of ricotta, which would have been better).
They worked really well and I'll definitely make them again.

* apologies to any serious bagel or jam cooks out there!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Duds for the little dude

When I was pregnant with number 3 and discovered he was going to be a boy I was a little surprised. I'd heard the stats: people with 2 children of the same sex have 75% chance of having another of the same. And also I couldn't imagine having a boy. I loved having girls and all that entailed. Incidentally, my big girl had been saying "it's a boy mamma" for ages, so when we told her that it was indeed a boy she just shrugged her shoulders in true 4 year old style and said "I knew that". And my other (little) girl would just be glad to have someone smaller than her to play with and boss around!

Now, on a totally superficial level, when thinking about having a little guy in my life I thought that clothing him was going to be boring, if not a total non-event. And what do you sew or craft for boys? Isn't it all functional Bonds gear and spiderman outfits? Not so much call for fairy wings, tutus and dolls. But thankfully the inspiration is coming to me. First a friend made bub a cool little sun hat and t-shirt with ute motif, which he has worn to death. I love them because they're so individual. We were also given a groovy little t-shirt from jackson & kerr.

Then I was excited to recently make him the little cap pictured above from a fabulous pattern by Leila and Ben. It has such cute details. I used a plain corduroy for the outside and some Prints Charming grey and yellow patterned cotton for the lining, which I love (isn't it funny that even though we don't see the lining on the garment much, it somehow lifts the whole design to know you have some lovely fabric inside). Prints Charming design such beautiful fabrics, and it's worth a visit to their Sydney shop if you are in town - very inspiring!

And on the 'to do' list for him is:
• sew a repurposed t-shirt form The 90 minute shirt tutorial (couldn't get the link to work, sorry), with a stencil inspired by Lotta Jansdotter's book Lotta Prints: How to print anything from from Potatoes to Linoleum
• sew some everyday trousers with padded knees in contrasting fabric, maybe this pattern
• make him a dinosaur softie for his upcoming birthday
• make some more pairs of my tried and tested baby slippers before he starts walking - quick!

Now, I'm not kidding myself that I'll get all (or any!) of the sewing projects done, but hey, it's nice to dream :-)

What are your favourite clothes for little guys?

Latest cooking obsession - Biscotti

We love our coffee in this house. Some mornings it's essential to my ability to function and we definitely have a less cranky mummy if I've had my morning coffee (and a less cranky mummy is better for everyone, right?).

As an accompaniment to the beloved coffee I've been trying lots of biscotti recipes lately and I think I've come up with the ultimate one (to my taste - hope it's to yours too if you give it a try). It's not too sweet (so won't overpower the coffee), has a hint of citrus, lots of crunchy almonds and is very thinly sliced so that even if you don't dip a piece into your coffee (though you really should) you won't break your teeth! They are also lovely with some good vanilla icecream.


3 egg whites
pinch of salt
150g caster sugar (or ordinary if you don't have caster)
180g plain flour
140g whole almonds
1 tsp orange zest, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180c. Line a loaf tin with non-stick baking paper (I love that stuff!).

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Then gradually add the sugar and beat for another 30 seconds. Fold in the flour, nuts and orange zest. I do this with the mixer, on low speed.

Spoon into the loaf tin and flatten the top with a spatula a bit (I like to leave it a bit rough to get interesting biscuit shapes). This makes your 'log' which you later cut slices from - see pic. Bake for about 30 minutes. It will be starting to brown on the top and look set.

Once cool, refrigerate for a couple of hours at least (or until you're ready for the final bake). This will ensure it cuts well and doesn't crumble.

Preheat oven to 140c. Using a serrated knife cut the log into very thin slices. I use a small Victorinox knife - I think it's a 'steak knife'.

Put the slices onto baking sheets lined with non-stick paper (they do stick to the sheet if you don't use it!) and bake for about 5 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 5 minutes. They should be dry all the way through and crunchy, but not really brown. Allow them to cool on trays then transfer to an airtight container. They'll keep for about a week.

Makes about 60 pieces

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bunny x 3

I love the process of designing something new. Often I don't think to use an existing pattern when I'm sewing, thinking that I can work it out myself (hmm), but this really does take so much time and I don't necessarily achieve what I set out to do without many hours spent, of which there are few when you've got small children. It can also be quite stressful! (I'll post another time about the dolls I made for the girls)

For easter this year I wanted to make the kids a bunny toy each and was starting to think of designs when I came across this lovely pattern by the fabulous Hop Skip Jump. In the interests of speed, consistency and sanity I quickly decided that this was the way to go and bought the pattern. In letting go of the crazy desire to do everything myself I learnt a lot and had fun too. There was certainly creativity involved in choosing the fabrics according to what I thought each child might like, and I embroidered each child's name onto the tummies to personalise them further. And on Easter morning the kids were delighted, so mission accomplished!

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