Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bag and Pencil Roll

This was a gift I made for a 7 year old girl...

The child's bag was made using a Simplicity pattern (5531) that I had purchased a few years ago. The matching pencil roll was adapted from One Red Robin's Notebook & Pencil Holder tutorial. To work out how wide to cut the fabric, I allowed 2cm per pencil and then added a 1cm seam allowance on each end. To figure out the height, I measured a pencil and again added 1cm seam allowances to each end. The pencil tips were a bit too close to the edge for my liking, so next time I make one I think I will and one more extra centimetre to the height.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Recipe: Carrot, Broccoli & Blue Cheese Quiche

My family goes mad for blue cheese. My 3 yo daughter especially gets very excited at the mere mention of blue cheese. I often put blue cheese on pizzas and in quiches. This Broccoli, Carrot & Blue Cheese Quiche is one of our favourite recipes.

Shortcrust Pastry
2 cups plain flour
125g butter
1/2 tsp salt
4-6 tbsp cold water

250g broccoli
6 spring onions
2 carrots, sliced
3 eggs
4 tbsp milk
2 tbsp cream
70g blue cheese (add more if a stronger flavour is desired!)

Place the flour, salt and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually add enough water until the dough starts coming together. Turn out onto a clean surface and shape into a ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Roll pastry out thinly on a lightly floured work surface and line a greased pie dish with the dough. Blind bake pastry for 15 minutes, remove weights and bake for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the carrot and broccoli in salted boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain well. Arrange the vegetables on top of the baked pastry case and then top with crumbled blue cheese. Beat the eggs, milk and cream in a jug, seasoning as required with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and bake for 40-45 mins, or until set.

Menu Plan Monday

We really enjoyed the meals from last week's menu plan. The kids especially loved the salmon sushi rolls, the sweet potato and butter bean cannelloni, and the meat loaf (believe it or not, that's the first time I had ever made meatloaf, and although I forgot to add the egg, it was delicious!). There is something infinitely satisfying in serving a really healthy meal to your kids and seeing them lick the plates clean!

This week, I am opting for a vegetarian menu.

Monday: Carrot, broccoli & blue cheese quiche
Tuesday: Snow pea, asparagus & tofu stir fry (with noodles)
Wednesday: Bean burrito
Thursday: Pumpkin soup with dinner rolls
Friday: Lentil & spinach lasagne
Saturday: Roasted root vegetable salad with feta (from the April 2010 Australian Good Taste magazine - will update with link once it's available online)
Sunday: Fried rice

For more menu planning ideas visit

Friday, March 26, 2010

Handmade Book for 7 Year Old Boy

Last year, a few days after our 'buy nothing new for a year' vow, my (then) 6yo daughter was invited to her school friend Robbie's birthday party. What on Earth could we make for a seven year old boy? Robbie is a lovely boy who holds a particular interest in animals and the environment, however I was really stumped for what we could do for him. Eventually, I came up with the idea for my daughter to write a book for him, and thought it would be nice for her to let him know why he is a special person. I asked her to come up with 7 reasons (because he was turning 7, of course!) why Robbie is her friend. She then wrote the reasons down and drew a darling little picture to illustrate each reason. Here is the final result: "7 Reasons Why Robbie is My Friend"...

The above picture shows the title page (which we made my cutting letters out of a magazine and sticking them on some black card stock, along with my daughter's drawing of herself and the birthday boy), a couple of the inside pages (again, my daughter's work was pasted onto black card stock), and the final wrapped gift.

Here is what's so good about Robbie:

1. He is Smart
2. He Cares About Animals (Even Snails)
3. He's Good at Explaining Things
4. He is Brave
5. He is Funny and Tells Good Jokes
6. He is Friendly and Kind
7. He Cares About the Environment

I had to help my daughter come up with things to write, by asking questions like "is he funny?", and "what else does he do that you like?". Sadly, my "is he handsome?" query was met with an embarrassed "No!"....not a reflection of Robbie's looks at all!

The pages of the book were secured using a black ribbon, threaded through holes I punched using a 2-hole punch. The only gift wrap we had at home was plain white (that's what you get for sending your husband out to buy gift wrap!), which looked incredibly boring, so I found a plastic snake in the toy box and we stuck it on the front of the gift with clear tape. Robbie has a pet snake so I think the idea worked really well.

I don't know whether the book was appreciated at all, or whether we just came across as cheapskates for not buying him some crappy made in China plastic toy. We had fun making it and I figure that doing something thoughtful and kind for someone is worth all of the effort. I would like to think that this would be one of those gifts that will make it into a child's box of treasures and will still be looked at in years to come.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: “A Monster Wrote Me a Letter” by Nick Bland

When my daughter brought this book home from the school library, I couldn't wait to read it with her. I was immediately captivated by the illustrations - elegant black and white pencil drawings, cleverly accented with splashes of colour throughout.

The story revolves around a boy who unexpectedly receives a letter from a monster. In the letter, the monster invites himself over to the boy’s house to play. Despite his concerns about the consequences of welcoming a monster into his home, the boy does not want to cause offense, and hence writes back to the monster to confirm the dreaded arrangement. The boy’s letter is equally surprising to the monster (whose original letter was actually intended for his cousin, a monster who lives under the boy’s bed). Both monster and child anxiously prepare for the rendezvous, each coming up with ways that they think will help them live up to each other’s expectations; the boy tries to add some gross factor to himself and his home, while the monster is particularly concerned with his grooming…

My fingernails will need a file. I haven't bathed in quite a while. I'll take a bath. I'll learn to smile. I'll comb my hair in ‘people’ style.
- (The accompanying illustration of the monster with impossibly coiffed hair is hilarious!)

Of course when the day of the monster’s visit arrives, both characters realise that their concerns were unfounded and a friendship is born.

Written in beautifully rhythmic rhymes, the story is told in first person, alternating between the boy and monster’s point of view. A Monster Wrote Me a Letter is a charming tale that I would be happy to read again and again!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chemical-Free Shampoo

When I decided to start researching home made cleaning products, I stumbled upon Julie's blog at Towards Sustainability. I wanted to start with something simple, and this post about homemade shampoo gave me all the inspiration I needed. I simply put a heaped teaspoon of bicarb soda into a cup of water and tipped it over my head during my shower (it was at this point that I wished I had used warm water instead of icy cold tap water!). I rubbed it in, rinsed it out, and followed up with a splash of cider vinegar and a final rinse.

At first the process felt very strange...the bicarb mixture is not as viscous as regular shampoo and does not lather, so I wasn't sure whether I managed to wash all or only part of my hair. It certainly didn't feel 'squeaky' clean. When I'd added the vinegar to the mix, I felt like a chip smothered in salt and vinegar flavouring. Odd, but strangely comforting to know that everything is perfectly edible.

When I got out of the shower, I was still a bit concerned as the vinegar smell was still quite strong. Although I am a fan of salt and vinegar chips, smelling like one was not one of my life goals. To my surprise, by the time my hair dried (which fortunately doesn't take long - probably the only benefit of having superfine hair), the vinegar smell was completely gone. Even more surprising was how clean and soft my hair was! I definitely felt that it was a better result than I get with my regular chemical filled shampoo. Even my husband commented on how soft and shiny it was (he also confirmed that there was no lingering vinegar smell)...he couldn't wait to try it himself!

I have now been using the bicarb shampoo and vinegar conditioner for a almost a year. It is still working really well. I love the fact that I have eliminated one source of chemicals so easily, and I think my scalp loves that I am not constantly stripping it of all it's natural oils. My hip pocket is loving it too!

Colouring Book & Pencil Holder for a 4 year old boy

This is a gift I made for a four year old boy. I followed One Red Robin's Notebook & Pencil Holder tutorial. Instead of fastening it with ribbon, which I thought was a bit too girly, I sewed a black button to the front and a piece of black elastic (I actually used a hair band!) to the back (the elastic was sewn into the seams in the same way as the ribbon in the tutorial).

I teamed the pencil holder with a handmade colouring book, using Chez Beeper Babe's fantastic tutorial. I found some colouring pages featuring some of the birthday boy's favourite characters on this site. I personalised the colouring book by printing his name on the front cover.

I have since made countless versions of the colouring book and pencil holder for my kids and their friends...and they just loved them! When I have some more free time, I would like to have a go at making the colouring pages more personalised by either drawing some pictures myself, having the kids draw some pictures, or even altering our family photographs in photoshop.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

One of my 2010 resolutions is to become more organised. As a mum of four little ones, I'm often told, "I don't know how you do it". To be honest, I don't know how I do it either sometimes, but something I have learned is that being organised makes a big difference! Whilst my basic organisation skills are not bad, I know there is a lot of room for improvement. My entire house needs a complete overhaul, which is going to take a lot of time, so I have decided to focus on one area at a time.

The first area I have decided to focus on is my kitchen. My kitchen always looked dirty, even when there were no dirty dishes on the bench. Last week I realised that the reason it always looked dirty was because I had permanent "stuff" on the benchtop (e.g. fruit bowl, coffee jar, plastic drink bottles and containers that I'd been too lazy to put away, etc) and windowsill (e.g. paint brushes, empty vases, etc). So last week I removed all of the clutter, and am exercising a more disciplined attitude towards keeping it clean. This is just the first step, and even though it is a small one, it has already made a big difference to my state of mind. I don't feel embarrassed when I walk into the kitchen anymore!

The next step in my kitchen overhaul is menu planning. There are 3 main reasons why I want to plan a weekly menu:

1. Our family does not eat a lot of meat, so I am always mindful of cooking meals using variety of ingredients in order to meet our nutritional needs.
2. I want to reduce wastage and eliminate the need to go to the supermarket every day or two by purchasing only what we need for the week.
3. I find having to decide on what to cook for dinner every day quite stressful and end up cooking the same things every week (I guess you could say I'm in a mealtime rut!)

For these reasons, I have decided to join Laura at's Menu Plan Mondays.

So here is my first menu plan:
Monday: Salmon sushi rolls
Tuesday: Spinach and sweet potato cannelloni
Wednesday: Healthy meatloaf
Thursday: Vegetable frittata
Friday: Chicken Tikka Masala (will just use a ready-made sauce for this and serve with some Jasmine rice)
Saturday: To be decided - my husband's turn to cook!
Sunday: Corn, bacon & zucchini soup

So now I have officially committed to menu planning! Next step in my kitchen overhaul - tidying up the cupboards and drawers...arghhh!

I would love to hear any tips from any of those of you out there who have done something similar.

An Introduction

I have been reading other blogs for a few months now, admiring the cleverness and creativity of the contributors. I did not intend to start writing my own blog. I didn't think I had the imagination or expertise to write anything that would be of interest to anyone. So why the change of heart? Well, I guess it started last year when my husband and I realised we had been sucked into society's consumerism many new products, new brands, and advertisements that try to tell us that our lives would somehow be better if we buy, buy, buy! We were fed up with the quality of products (nothing seems to be built to last these days), exorbitant prices and untested/unlabeled ingredients (e.g. nanoparticles and GM foods). We therefore decided upon our own personal protest against consumerism and the disposable nature of today's society...we took up the challenge to buy nothing brand new for a year. We have now finished the challenge and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. Firstly, as I could not simply purchase gifts for friends and family, I had to come up with handmade gift ideas. This positively unleashed my creative side and I feel energised as a result! I have always loved craft, but have been unable to find time to devote to it. In the last year, my crafty projects needed to take a much higher priority, as a non-handmade alternative was no longer an option.

The challenge also prompted me to look at other ways to simply my life, to go back to basics. We started our own vegetable garden and learned how to make our own cleaning products - it is so much nicer to use cleaning products when you know exactly what is in it (and what is NOT in it...chemicals).

This blog is therefore an opportunity for me to share what I have learned and hopefully inspire some others to try and simplify their own lives as well.

You are always welcome to visit me on Simplicity Street…have a cuppa and together we can discover and celebrate the simple pleasures in life :)