Sunday, July 31, 2011

I hate piñatas!

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In nearly 7 years of birthdays, I've not yet succumbed to having a piñata at either of my kid's birthdays and I'm not likely to yet. I don't begrudge anyone having them at their parties but, to me, they seem to be the biggest wastes of time. My daughter will watch the whole piñata bashing proceedings but not get involved.

If you have 20 something kids at a party, they stand in line for ages, patiently waiting their turn to bash this thing. It never, ever breaks with the stick, it falls down at least every second time it's hit, therefore wasting more time having to rehang it. If it does break open (which very rarely happens - the Dad normally rips it open with his bare hands), there are 4 or 5 kids that come away with so much stash, they can't even carry it and there are the rest of the kids who either miss out completely or get 1 or 2 treats.

We never had piñatas when I was a child and I don't think my children will be missing out on anything if I don't provide them at their birthday parties.

Out and about - Capalaba All Abilities Playground


My daughter was invited to a 7 year old birthday party today at our local Regional Park. It's undergone a recent renovation as far as the playground equipment goes and it was absolutely packed today on what was a beautiful, sunny, winter's morning.


Our Council and government departments have spent a fortune on new playground equipment and I think they've done a good job, this time. In previous park upgrades within our area, some of their equipment choices haven't been well received due to layout, wrong choice for age and not very user friendly. This park caters for everyone, including physically challenged and deaf children.


There's a board with basic 'signing' language so you can communicate with children who are deaf. There is also a 'Liberty' swing for children in wheelchairs.


Besides having heaps of established large trees for shade, the planting of indigenous plants fits in really well with the landscape.


There's a lake with resident duck families for feeding and heaps of concrete paths for walking, bike riding, scootering or skateboarding. There's also an off leash dog park.


The toilets are a bit of a hike from the main playground area or sheltered picnic tables so the kids would need to be escorted. Also, there's only a few free barbecues and they're aren't located centrally either. The car park hasn't been line marked well and on a crowded day like today, people were parking on grass and anywhere they could. It's another one of those parks where the playground equipment is spread out all over the park and you'd really need to keep your eyes on young children.


My daughter playing the timber xylophone in the musical forest.


This park is only about 5 minutes from home and we'll take drinks and maybe a few snacks but I think it's too much effort carrying all the birthday party supplies from homes, having to decorate with balloons etc but I'm like that. I'd rather do it in the comfort of your own home. I take my hat off to anyone who does organise parties at the park.


All Abilities Playground
Capalaba Regional Park
Pittwin Road North
(Behind Bunnings Hardware)
Capalaba

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Night - Enchanted

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Tonight's offering was an older movie from 2007 screened on 'free to air' TV. It was a coincidence it was on because I'd only seen Amy Adams the night before in "The Fighter" and was telling my husband what other movies she'd been in, including "Enchanted" which was quite a different role for her. She was also "Julie" in "Julie and Julia" starring Meryl Streep.

The movie started out animinated and it's your typical princess fairytale with a little bit taken out of every fairytale movie. The evil queen/stepmother character is played by Susan Sarandon and she pushes Giselle, the Amy Adams character, down a well and into 'real life' in the middle of Manhattan. From there, Patrick Dempsey, a single Dad with a 6-ish year old daughter, find Giselle and take her in and the love story begins.


It's a really delightful movie. My 4 year old son was a little restless towards the end. I think he still likes his movies animated but my nearly 7 year old daughter is enjoying non animated films a little more.

There is a little bit of a 'scary' part near the end with the evil Queen turning herself into a not so bad looking dragon but my son didn't say it was scary. He thought the chipmunk character was cool.


Tip: Equal sized cookies and cupcakes


There's probably a lot of people who already know this but just in case you don't, if you use an ice cream scoop to make your cookies or cupcakes, you'll end up with equal sizes and it makes the job a lot easier.


Even my 4 year old son can do it, with only minimal mess of course.

[photo source]
Take these colour coded Bonzer Lite Grip Ice Cream Scoops starting from 30mm right up to 82mm. Imagine the size of the utensil drawer you'd need?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Greek Moussaka with Eggplant & Potatoes


Mince (ground meat) is a cheap cut of meat and can get quite boring being made up into the same usual dishes. It doesn't have to be. Greek Moussaka is an interesting, flavoursome dish that incorporates the typical flavours of Greece with cinnamon, garlic and oregano which is layered with both eggplant (aubergines) and potatoes and topped with a rich bechamel sauce. I used a recipe of Rick Stein's and added potatoes.

Greek Moussaka with Eggplant & Potatoes
Based on Rick Stein's Recipe

150-175ml/5-6fl oz olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
900g/2lb lean minced lamb
50ml/2 fl oz white wine or 1 tbs wine vinegar
1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 x 5cm/2in piece cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
a handful of fresh oregano leaves, preferably wild Greek oregano, chopped or 1 tbs dried oregano
3 large aubergines (eggplant)
2 potatoes, sliced and par boiled for 10 mins
salt and pepper

Topping:
75g/3 oz butter
75g/3oz plain flour
600ml/1 pint milk
50g/2oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 medium eggs, beaten

  1. For the lamb sauce, heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry until just beginning to brown. Add the minced lamb and fry over a high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes, cinnamon and oregano and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes while you make everything else.
  2. Slice the stalks off the aubergines and cut them lengthways into 5mm/1/4 inch slices. Heat a frying pan until it is jumping hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and a layer of aubergine slices and fry quickly until tender and lightly coloured on each side.  Repeat with the rest of oil and aubergines.
  3. For the topping, melt the butter in a non-stick pan, add the flour and cook over a medium heat for 1 minute to cook out the flour. Gradually beat in the milk, bring to the boil, stirring, and leave to simmer very gently for 10 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. Stir in the cheese and some salt and pepper to taste. Cool slightly and then beat in the eggs.
  4. Preheat the oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6. Remove the cinnamon stick from the lamb sauce, season to taste with some salt and pepper and layer it alternatively with aubergines and potatoes. Pour over the topping and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbling.



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

WOW Write on Wednesdays - Sit under a tree

A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree. 

Write On Wednesdays Exercise 7 - Sit under a tree and write: Find yourself a quiet spot. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Take a look at Kristy's Tree Photo. Write the first words that come into your head. Keep writing whatever comes into your head. Stop when the buzzer rings. Do this exercise over and over if you wish. If like me, you struggle with visual prompts, perhaps try sitting under a tree to write. I have heard that changing your usual writing place can spark new inspiration. Try it and see. Do both if you please!
 
 
 
 
"If I have to go and fetch this rotten ball again, I swear.....", thought Carla. She was becoming so irate, so quickly lately. Everything seemed to just set her off. She was visiting her sister and decided to have a bit of a play with her niece and nephew in the backyard. The backyard game of cricket was proving to be laborious. She wasn't getting a turn at bat but having to fetch the ball in the thick, overgrown garden bed at the very end of the backyard. There she was again. She looked around at the beautiful, lush, green, tropical plants. The tall tree, providing shade for all these plants, the thick layer of mulch providing all that moisture for the plants. It wasn't such a bad place after all. If only she could sit there a while and take five minutes. Her life seemed to be out of control lately and she needed to slow down. "Hurry up Aunty Carla! It's your turn to bat!"  screamed the kids.  "Oooh goody, a turn at bat", thought Carla. Maybe I'd prefer to fetch the ball after all so I can return to this magical place under the tree.
 
 
 
Today's prompt was suggested by Kristy at House of Prowse. It's nice to know that nature has that affect on people, to automatically relax you and keep you calm. I really should try it more often myself. I've continued with the character "Carla" from the previous week. I'll see if I can keep it going. (I'm kind of basing the character on me, as a single woman. That should make for some interesting writing and reading!)
 
Thanks Gill (and Kristy) for another great prompt. Head on over to inkpaperpen to check out this week's offerings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Listography - Lessons I learnt from my parents

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I think if I was on a balcony in Spain with my sister, sipping on red wine, the last thing I'd be thinking about is what parental advice I received but the lovely Kate from Kate Takes 5 has decided that'll be a good topic for Listography this week, and rightly so. It's been a while since I took any advice from my parents but I'll have a go.

[photo source]
1.  Don't wear too much make up (from Dad)

Dad was forever saying this to me and my two sisters and at the time we hated it. Being of European background, on both Mum and Dad's side, we were pretty blessed with good skin. I was never one for wearing a lot of make up and I'd have to say, at 47 years of age it's been a good bit of advice. Even now, if I go out with my husband he says I look better without it.  I'll have a go at passing that one onto my daughter but she's a bit of a diva so I'm not sure it'll work so well with her.

[photo source]
2.  Always make sure you have a job (from Dad)

Good study habits were instilled in us by Dad from a young age and he always encouraged us to make sure we had a job. He didn't really say that we should go to University or become doctors or lawyers but to be employed, long term, in a job that we liked. I think that bit of advice paved the way for my independence and my ability to save and live quite well on my own.


3.  Treat others as you would have them treat you (from Mum)

Mum and Dad were pretty religious, forcing us to go to Sunday School every Sunday and be involved in the church. It was pretty fun when we were young but when we became teenagers we could think of better things we'd like to be doing. The one thing that stuck with us though was Mum reinforcing the Christian message to treat people like you would like to be treated. It's hardly just a Christian message though. It's just common sense and one that I tell my kids every day.


[photo source]
4. Use fresh seasonal produce, buy in bulk and make do (from Mum)

My Mum comes from a long line of country cooks and bakers. We were raised on fresh seasonal produce, home grown eggs and chickens, freshly caught fish, whole slaughtered pigs and smoked pork products, geese, ducks, you name it. I could go on forever. It was all about making do with what was available but making it as delicious as possible. That's how I cook now but I don't have access to pigs wandering around in the backyard or chickens for that matter. We live on a medium sized suburban block but it's always been a dream of mine to move to the country. Who knows? One day...


5.  Don't get married, just be friends (from Mum)

Oh well, didn't take any notice of that one. I don't think Mum's married life was all that bad but as a Mum of a daughter I can understand where she might've been coming from. You kind of think your daughter is so precious, that you'd never want her hurt by any man and to live happily ever after. That's not reality unfortunately. I can only hope that whatever decisions she does make in the future will be just as good as the one I made.

Thanks Kate for another reflective moment. I really enjoy my weekly Listography walk down memory lane. Head on over to Kate Takes 5 to check out everyone elses responses.

Crunchy Almond Topped Strawberry & Apple Crumble


We were down to about 6 strawberries in the punnet that were starting to soften and 1 green apple in the fridge. I wasn't sure if I'd use the strawberries in muffins or a cake but it was going to be a cool night so what better way than to use them up in a crumble. I didn't peel the apple because I just loved the look of the red strawberries with the green of the Granny Smith apple but once cooked the apple skin fades, but it doesn't alter the taste. I made the crunchy topping more like granola and it was really scrummy. Another good one for a cold night. (Note, what we call a 'crumble' here in Australia is called a 'crisp' in the USA.)

Crunchy Almond topped Strawberry & Apple Crumble

strawberries, cut in half
apples, diced in chunks
2 tbs lemon juice

Granola topping:
1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup almonds, chopped finely
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tbs butter, melted

  1. Combine fruit with lemon juice and put in an ovenproof dish.
  2. Combine ingredients for topping and place on top of fruit.
  3. Bake in a 180 deg C oven until fruit has softened and topping is golden (approx 15 mins).
  4. Serve with ice cream or cream.
Note: absolutely any fruit could be used here and any nut in the topping.

Choosing a school for your children

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It was only up until about an hour ago that I finally realised the big deal I had made out of deciding on a suitable school for my children wasn't necessary at all.  I think that when I fell pregnant I began thinking about a school for my daughter. What was the criteria I should use when choosing? Private or public? Large or small? Local or a distance away? All girls or co-educational? What about how the school performed in Naplan testing? It was an absolute minefield.


There are no less than 60 schools in or near my home. Private, public, primary, secondary, religious, non religious, you name it. How on earth was I going to choose? I think I spoke to every parent with a child the same age as mine, every parent who ever had a child go through a school in my area and every parent who ever had a child that went to school. I was spinning round and round in circles. What would be the grounds for my choice? Good reputation, small class sizes, religious, locality, good teaching staff, good sports program. Who knows?


[photo source]
We finally decided on a very local, small Catholic, co-educational school for my daughter. She did fantastically well in her first year of Prep. It wasn't until she started Grade 1 this year that she had her first experience with bullying. It broke our hearts. We've been back and forth with the school for about 6 separate incidents of bullying with the same little girl and we don't seem to be getting anywhere. It wasn't until we had our interview yesterday with one of the school heads for our son, who starts next year, that we started to doubt our original decision choosing this school and thought about starting the whole decision process again.


I just started thinking about it this afternoon when it dawned on me. There are always going to be things in life that you're not happy with. Your nieghbours, work colleagues, (family for goodness sake), school friends and teachers. It's how you react to situations that crop up, that will help you get through some of life's little stumbles. What's to say that little girl who bullied my daughter leaves next year? Or, if we changed schools, there'd be more bullies, terrible teachers, a careless attitude by the school staff. Who knows? Any other doubts we have with the school in relation to our daughter's educational needs will be picked up by myself and my husband and providing a loving, supportive home environment where there's no such thing as a stupid question and all curiosities will be encouraged and hopefully answered.

I've decided to stick with this school, continuing to develop my daughter's resilience and help her to become more assertive. Besides everything else that's gone on, we've been happy with this school.

Now, what high school?

Monday, July 25, 2011

No Bake Orange Slice


I'm guest blogging over at my friend Megan's blog, "Declutter Daily" today. While she's sunning herself somewhere along the east coast of the US, I'm freezing my butt off here in Australia. Thanks Megan for the opportunity to be a guest blogger.

I blogged about decluttering the contents of your fridge and pantry and shared a recipe for "No Bake Orange Slice" so go and check it out. Here's the recipe anyway.


No Bake Orange Slice
80g (3 oz) butter
1 small can sweetened condensed milk
250g old biscuits (if not enough, add crushed Weet Bix or Rice Krispies)
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon (20ml) fresh orange juice
grated rind of 1 orange
white chocolate, melted to drizzle on top (or make an orange frosting to top with additional coconut)

  1. Place butter and condensed milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat when butter has melted and mixture is smooth. y
  3. Finely crush biscuits using a food processor or put into a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin.
  4. Stir crushed biscuits and coconut together in a large bowl until well combined. 
  5. Stir orange juice and rind into condensed milk mixture.
  6. Add to biscuit crumb mix and stir until well combined.
  7. Press mixture into a prepared slice pan (approx 16x26cm or 6"x10").
  8. Drizzle with melted white chocolate or spread orange frosting over slice and sprinkle with extra coconut.
  9. Refrigerate slice until cold and firm then remove from the pan and cut into pieces.
  10. Store slice in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Easy Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce


Sunday nights are usually easy dinner nights and tonight was no exception. A Ceasar Salad sandwich followed by Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce. I can't even remember if I've ever made a Sticky Date Pudding. Plenty of cakes and muffins with dates but not ever a pudding. The Sticky Date made a huge comeback there a couple years ago, appearing on menus everywhere but it wasn't something that I usually went for. This recipe is from my Country Women's Association (CWA) Cookbook "Country Classics" and it's as easy as to throw together at the last minute.

Easy Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce

1 cup chopped dates
1.1/4 cups water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
60g butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup self raising flour

Sauce:
1 cup soft brown sugar
125g butter
150ml cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C and grease an ovenproof pan or dish.
  2. Cook dates in water, until combined.
  3. Beat in remaining ingredients and mix well.
  4. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 25 mins or until cooked.
  5. For sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes.
  6. Pour over pudding to serve. Serve with cream or ice cream.

Out and about - Local Skate Park


Not last week, the Thursday before, I took my son to the local skate park. This was the start of the rampant virus that took a hold of our family. He loves going to this skate park to ride his bike but after half an hour wanted to go home as he wasn't feeling well. I knew there was something wrong then and there because he just doesn't stop, all day, until his head hits the pillow at night.


This skate park has lots of cool things for older boys on skateboards, scooters and bikes but even the little ones can have a pretty good ride around the paths and up and down ramps. It's quieter mid week during the day as this is a time when most of the older boys are at school or work (or should be).






It was quite a warm winter's day and I had to take shelter in the shade as I feared getting sunburnt, it was so warm.






This bike is getting a little small for him now so looks like we might have to get him a new one for his birthday in November. We've never bought a bike for the kids in the last nearly 7 years. We always seem to be handed them from friends and neighbours, for nothing.


Check out your local skate park, mid week, for some cheap fun for the kids and their bikes, scooters and skateboards.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Night Movie Night - Alpha & Omega


Saturday night movie night tonight and after my absence last Saturday night being bed ridden from this lousy flu, I thoroughly enjoyed our little Saturday night ritual tonight. I'm still not 100% and I'm still finding it hard to get motivated about anything, even blogging. I even tried writing an "I'm grateful..." post and couldn't think of anything to be grateful for other than being alive, which is something I guess.

This movie is relatively new out, I think (2010) and chosen by my 4 year old boy. (I think he saw a preview of it somewhere recently.) The animation was okay, the story easy to understand, funny in parts, no deep dark villains, and an easy message to understand for my 6 and 4 year olds.

Maybe I might be more motivated next week, if I ever get over this virus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Around the World Community Day at my daughter's school

Well, it's been a long week and a half with illness hitting the whole family including my 6 year old daughter who hasn't been to school all week, which is unfortunate as her school fete is on this Sunday and they are calling it a "Community Day". A lot of the proceeds will go to various charities in the area and some local businesses will have stalls.


Her class will be involved in a dance to the song "It's a Small World After All". The poor thing hasn't practised the dance all week at school, not being there and I do hope she's well enough to go. Gosh! What have I done about a costume? Nothing! The students have been encouraged to wear a costume or colours of their heritage. Her heritage is predominantly Australian, Italian, German and Latvian and other than some flags I picked up to sew on a t-shirt or skirt, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. You know what I'll be up to Saturday night?

More blog love from across the blogosphere


As mentioned last week, I've met so many lovely people since blogging, hooking up with people from across the other side of the world and here in Australia where quite possibly we would never, ever have met. Here are some more of my favourite 'gal pals' that I keep in touch with on a regular basis and they never cease to amaze me with the wonderful stories and things to do.

Lee from Mummy Issues: Part 2 lives in Victoria, Australia with her partner and two gorgeous kids, 'the Tornado' and 'the Breeze'. Lee also suffers from Coeliac disease and has some fantastic gluten free recipes she shares. I think Lee's and my life are similar in a lot of ways and we understand each other. I'm so glad I've got to know her. At least she's in the same country as me and maybe we might actually get to meet in person.

Stephanie from Henry Happened and I met just recently and I'm so glad we did. Stephanie's got a lovely blog all about the yummy things I like to look at and read about. She a Mom of two in the US and has a flair for fashion, crafting and all things nice. I love reading submissions from her guest bloggers and to read about what she gets up to with her lovely family. She's genuinely interested in what I'm up to and I'm always happy to let her know. She's becoming a great friend.

Tonia from The Gunny Sack is another US blog I've fallen in love with. Her blog is also full of all the things I love and great ideas of things to do and make with family members. She's always cooking up a storm or coming up with great crafting ideas. It's so nice that Tonia stops by my blog from time to time. It's like catching up with an old friend.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lamb & Chorizo Chilli


When you go searching in the freezer for something for dinner, when your meat supply is low and pickings are slim, you can sometimes be disheartened and lacking motivation to put together something nice for dinner. That's what happened to me the other night. Two lonely lamb chops jumped up out at me and I was just lacking any inspiration for dinner that night. I'd only recently had it done Greek style, and then Moroccan but little would I have thought to do it Mexian-style in a chilli.


I googled some ideas and came across a recipe on one of my favourite web sites, Epicurious.com for a Spicy Lamb and Chorizo Chilli. Yay! I had chorizo too and tortillas in the freezer. Dinner was organised. This recipe is perfect for the slow cooker and freezing. I've got just enough leftovers for more tortillas or even as a filling for individual pies.

Lamb and Chorizo Chilli
(based on recipe from Epicurious.com)

2 lamb shoulder chops (or any other cut of lamb suitable for slow cooking)
1 chorizo, sliced
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 cup stock
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tbs dried oregano
1 tbs dried cumin
1 can red kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes
salt & pepper

To serve:
tortillas (I popped each tortilla into a lightly greased pan for a minute each side to crisp up.)
coriander (cilantro)
sour cream

  1. Pan fry lamb chops until browned and place in slow cooker (or alternatively in an oven proof dish if cooking in the oven).
  2. Pan fry sliced chorizo until crispy and place in slow cooker.
  3. Deglaze the pan with red wine vinegar and stock and pour over meat in slow cooker.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and cook on low for 4 hours.
  5. Serve in a bowl with warmed tortillas for dipping or spoon into warmed tortillas, top with coriander and sour cream to serve.
Serves 2.