Monday, May 31, 2010

Mikey & Molly Monkey

For Christmas last year, I made my (then) almost 3 year old boy/girl twins a set of monkey twins named Mikey and Molly...

The FREE pattern for Molly Monkey can be found here. The pattern includes a few accessories, like a beret and shoes, but I ran out of time to make these. I think she looks gorgeous enough without them anyway!

The pattern for Mikey Monkey is available for purchase here. Mikey has two shirt options - a T-shirt or a shirt and tie, which I think is just adorable. His pattern also includes some cool accessories - a baseball cap, tennis shoes and a pirate set. Again, I ran out of time to make these, but given how much my son adores his monkey, I might just surprise him with these one day!

Both patterns were designed by Larissa at mmmcrafts. I just love her work (I have also made her Tooth Fairy Pillow), and have found the patterns easy to follow.

Menu Plan Monday

It looks like it is going to be another busy week, so we'll be reverting to old favourites again this week for Menu Plan Monday.

Monday: Healthy Meatloaf
Tuesday: Baked Greek-Style Omelette
Wednesday: Bean Burritos
Thursday: Lentil Rissoles
Friday: Pasta with Tomatoes and Tuna

Have a great week!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Recipe: Tofu Pastries

I found this recipe in an old Family Circle "Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" and it has become a bit of a family favourite.

Makes: 8 triangles

250g (5 oz) firm tofu
2 spring onions, chopped
3 tsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp cornflour
2 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

Drain tofu, then pat dry and cut into small cubes (mine usually end up being around 1cm cubes - you wouldn't want them any bigger than that). Put the spring onion, coriander, zest, soy and chilli sauces, ginger, cornflour and tofu in a bowl and gently mix. Cover, then refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Preheat oven to hot 220C (450F/Gas 7). Cut each pastry sheet into 4 squares. Distribute the filling amongst the eight squares. Brush the edge of each square with egg and fold into triangles, sealing edges with a fork.

Put the triangles on two lined baking trays, brush with egg and bake for 15 minutes (or until golden).

The recipe also includes a dipping sauce:

1/4 cup (60g/2 oz) sugar
1/2 cup (125ml/4 fl oz) rice vinegar
1 small lebanese cucumber, finely diced
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
1 spring onion, extra, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place the sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the cucumber, chilli and extra spring onion. Cool completely before serving.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: "Wild Knitting"

This is a big call, I know, but I believe I have in my posession the best knitting book ever written...

Published in 1979, "Wild Knitting" really has something for everyone. Here are some of my (many) favourites:

For that special man in your life, the "Pastoral Pullover"...

It's a bit hard to see the level of detail in the photo, the accompanying illustration shows the full detail...

The introduction to the pastoral pullover pattern claims that the jumper "enables you to blend in with the landscape", something that you couldn't do with another wonderful pattern from the book, the aptly named "Forget-me-not Bikini"...

That picture fascinates me - what's with the bloke in the top corner???

"Wild Knitting" also has the animal lover covered, with the "Armadillo Wrap", which promises that you can "be beautiful without being cruel"...

For the homemaker, there is the "Cactus in Pot" and "Secret Garden" patio floor rug (complete with tufts of grass), which allows you to "enjoy summer all the year round"...

As is the case with most knitting books, there is a plethora of stunning fashion choices in "Wild Knitting" to enable us ladies to step out in spectacular style, no matter what the occasion. My favourite would have to be the "Silver Dress"...

Why is she holding a cane in that photo?

If the silver dress is not sexy enough for you, there are also patterns for a lingerie set, including a lacy camisole top, frilly knickers, stockings, and a suspender belt...

The man in that photo is rather creepy, don't you think? I bet he owns the cane that the silver dress lady is holding.

The kids haven't been forgotten in this book, either. The "End Games" section at the end of the book suggests that knitted props and accessories "make interesting objects when displayed on shelves in odd corners to surprise, and when used by children for dressing up and in games". The knitted props and accessories referred to are a mouse and a wedge of cheese, knitted lipstick, and these...

Yes, that is a pattern for a knitted pack of cigarettes and a cigarette lighter! I can't help but giggle at the idea of sending one of my kids to school with these...what would the teachers/other parents think? Whilst there is no photo of the finished cigarettes on the page with the pattern, if you look closely you can find some strategically placed items in many of the photos throughout the book, like this:

You might also have spotted the silver dress lady holding the knitted lipstick as well.

There are many other outrageous patterns in "Wild Knitting", and while the chances of me actually making anything from the book are infinitesimal, it is a joy to flick through the pages and be reminded of how much our world has changed in the last 30 years!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Menu Planning Tips

After extolling the virtues of menu planning in my earlier post today, I thought it would be good to share some of my tips for designing a weekly menu plan.

We are a family who don't eat a lot of meat. My kids don't really like it that much and I have found that a predominantly vegetarian diet lends itself to greater variety (and is also a lot cheaper, especially when you grow your own vegetables). To ensure we incorporate a range of food in our diet, I use the following guidelines:

  • No more than 2 meals with meat (can be any combination of either fish, chicken or red meat)
  • No more than 1 pasta meal
  • 1-2 rice meals (e.g. risotto, fried rice, side dish, etc.)
  • At least 1 meal with pulses or legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
  • No more than 1 egg-based meal (e.g. frittata, omelette, quiche, etc.)
  • No more than 1 bread-based meal (e.g. burger, pizza, burritos, side dish, etc.)
  • No more than 1 pastry meal (e.g. pies, quiches, etc.)

Of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive - for example, a quiche would qualify as both a pastry and egg-based meal, a beef curry served with rice would count towards both the meat and rice meals. I'm not absolutely strict, it really is just meant as a guide.

I have found that by following these guidelines, I am also able to introduce my kids to a wide range of foods. Even at 3 and 4 years of age, they understand that if they choose to be fussy, they will go hungry! It also keeps it more interesting for me, as without these guidelines, I'd probably resort to the easy option of making most of my meals with pasta and/or minced meat!

Menu Plan Monday

I am a recent convert to menu planning. Last year, I found these gorgeous lists and decided that I had to try menu planning just so I could use them.

As much as I love, love, love that list design, I abandoned it after about three weeks largely because:
  1. It was taking me too long to update it (just had to use my best writing on such a pretty list)
  2. My husband does most of the supermarket shopping, so I needed to send him off with another list that didn't look so girly
  3. There's not much space for additional grocery items required (e.g. nappies, soap, etc.) , so again I needed to create another separate shopping list
  4. Although it's a great list to keep on the fridge door, somehow I misplaced all of my older lists, so I didn't end up with a collection of menu plans as anticipated
So that was the end of my menu planning for a while. Then, in one week earlier this year, I heard three fellow mums independently discussing their difficulties with planning what to have for dinner. One mum said, "I would like to just have someone just tell me what to cook for dinner and I'll cook it". It dawned on me that for most of us mums, it is the process of deciding what to cook our families for dinner that is the bigger chore, not the process of actually cooking the meals. I decided to have a look around the blogs and see what ideas I could find to make menu planning easier.

This is when I stumbled upon orgjunkie's Menu Plan Monday. Every Monday (well, it's actually Tuesday for those of us in Oceania), Laura invites readers to submit their own menu plans for the week. There are hundreds of menu plans submitted each week, some have recipe links and photos so it can be a great source of ideas.

It is now two months since I submitted my first Menu Plan Monday. I can honestly say that it has made my life simpler - here's why:
  • Having a weekly deadline is a great incentive for me to actually sit down and create a menu plan. Instead of telling myself, "I'm too busy/can't be bothered this week", I say "My (albeit imaginary) readers need my meal ideas this week and I must have it done by Monday".
  • Where a recipe comes from an online source, I include a link to the recipe with my menu plan. This makes it easier to find the recipe, and also helps when it comes to preparing shopping lists.
  • The more menu plans I create, the bigger the 'library' of plans I have available to me. This really helps speed up the process. I have noticed how much easier it is already, after only 2 months of planning. If I'm having a particularly difficult week, I can easily just replicate one of my previous plans (I did this just last week). I can also pick and choose individual recipes from past menu plans if I don't feel inclined to try something new.
  • I no longer experience that terrible feeling at around 4pm, when the kids are home from school and everyone is tired and hungry, having to decide what to make for dinner.
  • I am able to ensure that my family has a healthy, balanced diet. When I prepare a menu plan, I make sure that I have our basic nutritional needs covered. We very rarely resort to fast food, as I always have the ingredients at home to make a quick and healthy meal. My menu planning tips can be found here.
  • If something unexpected happens during the week, having a menu plan and ingredients ready to go not only means that there is one less thing to worry about, it also ensures that the family has a healthy meal at a time when it is especially important to do so.
  • Menu planning significantly reduces waste and grocery bills because you only buy what you need.
So after all of that, here is what will be on our dinner table this week:

Monday: Mushroom Soup
Tuesday: Cottage Pie
Wednesday: Pumpkin Risotto
Thursday: Tofu Pastries
Friday: Chickpea Curry
Saturday: Spinach & Sweet Potato Canneloni
Sunday: Barramundi Curry with Beans

Click here to see the other menu plan links this week on

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tooth Fairy Pillow

I just love this cute felt Tooth Fairy Pillow from Larissa at mmmcrafts. It was really quick, easy and fun to make. Instructions are given for additional embellishments (like a skirt, crown and fairy wings), but I decided to keep mine plain and simple, partly because I ran out of time and partly because I wanted to keep it gender neutral so my son will also be able to use it when his time comes.
We've had fun using the pillow. When my daughter loses a tooth, we carefully place it in the mouth of the pillow, which is then hung on the door knob on the outside of her bedroom door. Next morning, we wake up to find the tooth has been replaced with a coin! I'm sure the Tooth Fairy appreciates not having to sneak into the sleeping child's room and fumble around for a tooth, especially on a Friday night when she has probably shared a bottle of wine with Mr Tooth Fairy ;-)

If you would like to make your own Tooth Fairy Pillow, the instructions and free pattern can be found here. I have noticed that since I made my pillow, Larissa has posted a small amendment to her pattern, suggesting some top stiching around the mouth will stop the mouth stretching so much with repeated use (you can see in the picture above that mine has stretched a bit).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Recipe: Lentil & Olive Spaghetti

I discovered this recipe in the October 2009 issue of Good Taste magazine and it has become a bit of a family favourite. My kids are as wild about olives as they are blue cheese, so there is always much excitement when this dish is placed in front of them. It is a terrific alternative to bolognese or a plain tomato pasta sauce. I also like it as I usually have the ingredients in the pantry (and fresh mint growing in the garden), so it's especially quick and easy.

For some reason, I never seem to be able to find this recipe on the website, so I thought I would post the recipe here.

Lentil & Olive Spaghetti

Serves 4

2 tbs olive oil
2 large brown onions, halved, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tbs tomato paste
1 x 800g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g can brown lentils, rinsed, drained
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g pitted kalamata olives
1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped
375g dried spaghetti pasta (or similar - as you can see from the picture, I also use linguine)
grated parmesan cheese to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until golden. Add tomato paste, tomato, lentils and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Stir in the olives and mint.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water following pack directions. Drain. Combine the pasta and sauce in the pan. Divide among serving bowls and top with some grated parmesan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chemical-Free Dishwasher Powder

This morning I made up yet another batch of natural dishwasher powder, which I adapted from the recipe found here. The original recipe includes Borax and essential oil, which I have found to be unnecessary. So my simplified recipe is as follows:

1 cup bi-carb soda
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup citric acid

I simply mix the ingredients up in an old (labelled) jar and add around one tablespoon to the dishwasher dispenser before each wash. I also use vinegar as a rinse aid.

I can thoroughly recommend this recipe as a natural alternative to the ridiculously expensive and highly toxic commercial liquids and powders. I've been using it exclusively for around one year and haven't looked back. It dissolves really well, so you don't get the build-up in the dispenser like you do with some of the commercial products, making it much safer if you have little children around. Oh, and I guess I should also mention that it does actually clean the dishes well too!

As Julie notes in her original recipe, the powder does tend to get a little clumpy over time. I find I do the same thing she describes - just give the jar a vigorous shake each time I go to use it to break it up a bit. For this reason, I don't think you would want to make up too big a batch at a time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chore Sticks

As you can no doubt imagine, with four children aged between 3 and 7, our house is almost always incredibly messy. I needed a way to motivate my team of potential little helpers. Having had limited success with threats and/or bribery, I was excited to stumble upon the idea of chore sticks in a playgoup magazine. The basic idea of chore sticks is to write a set of jobs that you want the kids to do on separate popsicle sticks (I started out using strips of cardboard, but they weren't durable or identical - I'm sure my eldest had figured out which stick was which and could therefore choose her job of preference, not that she would admit to it!). The kids then pick a stick at random and are then responsible for completing the chore written on the stick.

As my kids are close in age (in fact, only 19 months separates the three youngest ones), I decided it would be easiest to select jobs that they are all capable of doing. I thought of creating a separate set of slightly more difficult jobs for my eldest, but decided against this in the interest of simplicity and enhancing the kids' sense of solidarity. At first I had just four chore sticks, which worked well for a while before the kids started getting bored with them. I then realised I need to increase the number of chores to keep it interesting. I added some silly ones as well, to keep it fun. To help the kids that can't read, I drew a little picture at the top of the stick to help them identify the chore.

Here are some of the chores that we have on our sticks:
  • Vacuum floor
  • Feed Bunny
  • Check Spot's water and food - sadly, this chore is no longer required :(
  • Clean table and sweep the floor
  • Make beds & put pyjamas away (morning only job)
  • Put toys and books away
And some of the silly ones:
  • Give Mummy a cuddle (this is my favourite, of course)
  • Tickle the person closest to you
  • Put nappies in the bin
  • Roar like a tiger
Every day after breakfast, and again after dinner, I select eight chore sticks according to what jobs really need doing at the time (four real jobs, and four silly ones). The kids then select a stick and complete that chore before selecting their second stick and doing that chore. We usually put some music on while we are tidying up, which makes it a bit more fun.

The chore sticks have had a big thumbs up from me, as well as from my team of little helpers. Just the mere mention of chore sticks gets them excited and sometimes they even ask to do them! My only challenge is to keep thinking of new jobs, as the kids do get bored with the same chores pretty quickly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pomegranate Molasses

My husband surprised me last week when he returned from the supermarket with these babies...

I don't think I've ever held a pomegranate, let alone cooked with one, so I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with them. And so, in typical style, I promptly forgot about them until I saw them in the almost empty fruit bowl this morning. They looked like they needed to be used straight away. I had heard Pomegranate Molasses mentioned on TV cooking shows, so I thought I'd do a bit of research to see whether that was something I could do. I found quite a range of recipes, some using either lemon or lime juice. I had neither lemons nor limes in my rather pathetic looking fruit bowl, but I did have one orange (which I had been saving to serve with my pawpaw, but more of that later), so I ended up using this recipe (which was accompanied by a handy video showing how to juice the pomegranates). I had to adapt the recipe slightly, as my two pomegranates only yielded one cup of juice. Here is what I ended up using:

juice of two pomegranates (approx. 1 cup)
juice of one large orange (approx. 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar

I brought the juice to a boil and let it simmer for around half an hour, until it was beautifully thick. I then poured it into a sterilised jar (taking great care to lick the saucepan afterwards!).

Not a great photo, but you can see the thick, rich red syrup on the spoon. Here's a better look at the oozy goodness inside the jar...

This stuff is truly delicious! I look forward to experimenting with ways to use it. I'm sure it would be lovely mixed with some sparkling mineral water or soda water, and I'll no doubt be trying it with yogurt and ice cream. Of course, I didn't have any of these things in my fridge today, but I did have some pawpaw. I don't really like pawpaw on it's own, I prefer to serve it mixed with freshly squeezed orange juice. As I no longer had an orange in my sad fruit bowl, I figured that the pawpaw and pomegranate molasses might just make a delectable combination. I was right!

I would be happy to make this syrup as a gift for a foodie friend or relative.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

We had a few unplanned events last week which meant that I didn't need to make dinner on two ocassions. Therefore, I am going to carry over the Lentil & Olive Spaghetti to this week's Menu Plan Monday.

Monday: Zucchini & Potato Soup
Tuesday: Beef Casserole
Wednesday: Lentil & Olive Spaghetti
Thursday: Bean Burritos
Friday: Pumpkin Fritatta

As we will be having visitors this weekend, I am only planning the weekday menu at this stage.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Gift: Chai Syrup

We're off to visit my mother-in-law this weekend, so I thought I would make this Chai Syrup for her as a Mother's Day gift. I don't like my beverages too sweet, so I usually omit the sugar.

I think I might just have to give it to her early, so we can share some during our visit! Yum :)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chemical-Free Moisturiser

For more than a year now, I have been making my own moisturiser. My inspiration again came from Julie's blog, Towards Sustainability. I really love Aloe Vera, so her homemade moisturiser recipe seemed to be just what I was looking for!

I found an old, empty pot of Sorbolene Cream, washed it out and make the moisturiser directly in this container. I find that a mix of 4 tablespoons of Aloe Vera gel and 1 tablespoon of vegetable glycerine makes the perfect amount for the size of my pot. It keeps really well (although my bathroom is pretty cold and dark all year round) and a little bit goes a long way! It took a little getting used to at first, as the texture feels quite sticky. I was quickly hooked, though, and I would have to say that of all the homemade cleaners/toiletries I've tried, this is my hands down favourite. I love that it has no fragrance, and it feels so cool and moist when I put it on my combination skin. In summer, it is so soothing to use after spending a little too long in the sun. At this point, I can't see myself ever wanting to use anything else, especially on my face.

Menu Plan Monday

We are still busy, busy, busy here so my Menu Plan Monday is a little late this week. I have a few recent favourites on the menu this week, so will have to leave trying something new until next week ;)

Cauliflower Soup
Tuesday: Tofu, Asparagus & Snow Pea Stir-Fry
Wednesday: Lentil & Olive Spaghetti
Thursday: Moroccan Carrot, Sweet Potato & Chick Pea Soup
Friday: Baked Greek Omelette
Saturday: my husband's turn to cook :)
Sunday: Ham & Pineapple Pizza