Thursday, 5 December 2013

Lasagne dal cuore

I loved it when Mum made lasagne. I don't know why I never asked her to make it more often though- perhaps the 'surprise' nights when she did, in a way, made me love it more. Each mouthful I knowingly savoured not sure as to when I'd enjoy it next.

In choosing items for our wedding registry back in 2009, my fiancé and I had a great time collecting 'items' for our gift registry at Peters of Kensington. At PoK Bridal couples are given a barcode scanner to scan anything and everything that takes their interest. My fiancé had previously informed me how much he loved lasagne so it was a no brainer that we added an Emile Henry White Lasagne Dish. A surprise for him was that I went home that night and bought it for him, with a little love note telling him that I couldn't wait to make lasagne for him. As I'd never cooked anything for him until after our honeymoon, it was a very confident note on my part!

Since that little love note, we've enjoyed many, many lasagnes in the four-plus years of our young marriage and the recipe has been tweaked over the years. A big breakthrough was instead of using tinned tomatoes, I substituted with a jar of passata which really changed our recipe and lasagne life forever. It was a smoother and saucier lasagne and definitely better we both agreed. There was an added bonus as it meant the mixture went further and in turn more leftover lasagne!

Which brings me to tonight's post. The last trimester of pregnancy has really zapped my energy and motivation and the dinners have been a far cry from what my husband has been used to! So the last few nights I've made an extra effort to make him something special that he loves for dinner after a long day at the office. Tonight I made lasagne. Lasagne dal cuore, lasagne from the heart. 

Lasagne dal cuore
500g best beef mince you can buy
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
mixed herbs
bay leaf
2-3 flat mushrooms, chopped
2 rashes of bacon, chopped
1 700g jar of passata tomato sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
lasagne sheets

1 Fry onion and garlic until softened
2 Add bacon and mushrooms until cooked and bacon is a little crispy
3 Add mince and fry until no red remains
4 Add mixed herbs, salt&pepper and a bay leaf and fry a little 
5 Add entire bottle of passatta and then rinse out with a 1/3 bottle of water to get all sauce out
6 Simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Much depends on the cooking pot you are using. I recommend using a heavier base pot like the Emile Henry Round Stewpot.
7 Add sugar and stir through

1 Preheat oven to 180 degrees
2 Layer dry lasagne sheet, mince, béchamel sauce and repeat with three layers of lasagne sheets in total. The top layer being the last of the béchamel sauce layers and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and nutmeg.
3 Bake for 45-55 minutes. I can generally smell when the lasagne is ready as the top starts to colour and the cheesy smell wafts through the house… mmmmm
4 Take out and rest for a good 10 minutes before cutting as it needs to 'set'.
5 Serve with your love and a green salad, and hot crusty garlic bread as you like.
6 Enjoy!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Mopping and Washing Up - Practical Life Activities

'Following the child' is one of those phrases that Montessori is famous for. Simply put, it is meeting the interest of the child with an activity at their level. This week, we had two perfect examples.

My daughter has a strong interest in water based activities at the moment, whether it be washing her hands or washing the dishes, amongst other water activities. These activities fulfil the practical need whilst also giving her meaningful work to do. On this occasion her interest was in washing up. We set up the table together with cloths and a towel under her feet (see photos) and she took over the remaining items needed from the kitchen, one by one, using both hands: dish rack, dish brush, container for water to wash in, small bottle of diluted detergent to squirt and a jug of warm water. It is a good exercise involving concentration, balance and care. She then collected a bowl of dirty items from morning tea in a bowl, and began her work.

Pouring in water
Detergent in child size dispenser
Child size dish brush

For my son, following dinner he had a very strong urge to mop their play area. He packed up his blocks and cars and we cleared their play area of their work tables, snack table & chairs and the play mat. Whilst we were doing this he explained to me "Teamwork mummy, we are doing teamwork". Due to timing, I swept and he collected the dust using the dustpan & brush. He collected the floor cloths he needed while waiting for hot water. He has seen my husband mop with cloths underfoot and this is how he prefers to mop also. We then prepared the bucket, he poured in the water and I the cleaning solution and off he went. No direction or interruption on my part. Once he had completed their play area to his satisfaction, he offered to do the kitchen as well. While he went outside to tip out the dirty water, I went on ahead and swept and collected the dust this time. With refreshed water he continued mopping without loosing any concentration or motivation. Once he was happy with the result we went outside to rinse the mop & bucket. How satisfying!

Sweeping up the dust

The tiles are shiny once again!

Getting more water

Filling up the bucket to rinse mop

Final rinse with clean water ...

and pouring all that dirty water out - job done!

Introducing the child to the right practical life activity at the right time is important. In this example, this is a work that he has done before, but in the first instance can be achieved by observing the child's physical capabilities and interest level, as well as having child-sized materials ready and available prior to presenting it to him. This activity like all practical life activities gives the child a strong sense of purpose and contribution, as well as satisfaction and confidence upon completion.

Most importantly there is no pushing the child to choose a 'work' rather, 'following the child' by responding to his internal need and supporting him.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The 'Advent Book Calendar' and The Christmas Story Activity

With Advent about to start in just a few weeks, the Christmas decorations have well and truly started showing in a commercial sense at the shops which has made me start to think about our Advent preparations. 

Last year, I came across an idea and had just enough time to prepare for it before Advent started: an Advent Book Calendar, simply, a book for each day leading up to Christmas. This meant a minimum of twenty four books wrapped, numbered and placed near our Christmas tree ready for my son to open in the morning. This was a great visual and tactile countdown to Christmas with the added bonus of reading and sharing the excitement and anticipation of the birth of Jesus. I had thought only master-almost-three at the time would be interested in this activity but once miss-fifteen-month-old saw all the unwrapping going on she wanted to join in on the fun too! We would open a book in the morning and read it throughout the day together with the previous days' books. Such a wonderful time to share and reconnect with all our favourite books.

I found this activity was an absolute success! I find in general, having too much choice (books and activites) on a daily basis can be overwhelming and makes it a bit harder for the children to keep things tidy, so the selection of books was a mix of old ones from when they were babies right through to the current favourites which they read on a daily/weekly basis. Added in the mix were activity books, a few new books and of course our ever growing collection of Christmas books which only come out at Advent and stay for the following twelve days of Christmas. So thrilling for a little child. It brings a smile to my face just thinking of their pure, innocent joy :)

This year I'll wrap a set for each child with the 'Christmas' books to be a shared opening, starting with the traditional Catholic 'The Christmas Story' from the Little Golden Books range. This particular book is a perfect introduction for a child as it is simply told and beautifully illustrated. Just thinking about this book reminds me of when I first started reading it to our then ten-month-old-son during his first Advent, before he was tucked into bed each night.

Our first Christmas book from our growing collection

We will read 'The Christmas Story' daily throughout Advent at dinner as we did last year, with my son re-enacting alongside using the little Nativity figurines which their Grandmother kindly gave us. No doubt there will be turn taking in the re-enacting this year!

During the day the Nativity set is packed up in a basket together with the book. Last Advent the children knew that they could work with 'their' set as an activity throughout the day as they wished and would often do so, often asking me to read it to them, retelling the story to themselves, 'playing' with the figurines or in a truer sense, meditating on the story of Christmas. Little children are never too young to absorb the true mystery of Christmas!

A scene from last year. You can see the three
wise men in the background on their way to

visit Jesus.

The Advent Book Calendar is wonderful, hands-on activity and something that can be as cheap as a few rolls of Christmas wrapping paper!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

I love Sydney! Pirrama Park, Pymont

This would have to be one of the best parks in Sydney that we have taken the children to so far.

We have previously only driven past this park, not really taking too close a look but noting its water play feature for future reference. Today was the day. The day was forecasted to be hot, and we were in the area for Mass anyway, so it made sense not only to pack casual play clothes but also swimmers and rash vests for water play.

Pirrama Park is found at the end of Harris Street in Pyrmont. On one side of the road is a huge sandstone wall and on the other, the park. Given the history, the industrial feel of Jacksons Landing has been maintained. The use of recycled timber in particular to create structures adds a very earthy and distressed feel. The colours are soothing, enticing and automatically relaxing. There are lots of native plants around to subtly demarcate play spaces. The park itself is very attractive from an adult perspective and I can only imagine very fascinating for the curious child. It has been a multiple award winning park, notably the 2010 Kidsafe National Playspace Design Awards and it's not hard to tell why. 

What a park! We headed straight for the water. This was a series of water fountains spurting from the ground to create a tunnel of water. The children were a little sheepish at the start and enjoyed observing others until ready to test it out. They played together for a little while before our son headed over to the sandpit. Our daughter, the water-baby, continued running through the water, filling her hat and paper cup with water with such pure delight!

Water features

A glockenspiel - just find a stick! 

Fantastic netting for climbing, which also had a slide and a few
seating options

A sensory or musical option

Even the bathrooms had a certain aesthetic to it which was

The features we loved and used today were the water fountains, sandpit, climbing ropes, swings, glockenspiel, slides and fortress type structure for toddlers. My husband and son enjoyed a gentle stroll around the peninsular before we set off home. In addition to this, there is lots of space for wheeled adventures, be it tricycle, bike or scooter. The BBQ area was in use at full capacity with a large group of Japanese students all having a great time.

The only downside would be that there were not enough shaded areas for sitting.

As we were leaving, my husband and I got talking to a mother who had brought her two little girls along. It turns out she worked for the company which designed the park. A feature she mentioned was that instead of using fencing to enclose the playground, the park relies on a series of barriers so that children are naturally impeded from leaving an area, without intrusive fencing, thereby making the space "open" yet "contained". Such a great park! Something for everyone. 

And just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we see a cafe through the sprinklers - coffee and ice-cream are on hand! Oh, we are coming back for sure!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The gardenia, an exquisite and romantic way to start the day

As a child, I remember Dad teaching me about cross-air ventilation. I'm guessing this must have been in summertime and my room was hot. We didn't have fixed or portable fans so learning about cross-air ventilation saved me during those hot summer nights. I've realised now that I reflect, I have an almost obsessive morning habit of opening every window and door we have in the house to let in the fresh cool morning air of the day. It doesn't bother me at all that I may have to close them all again within an hour. I find this habit particularly interesting now as I came back from further testing with the allergist as having a very strong mould allergy. Natural cross-air ventilation is a key in preventing mould. No doubt its the subconscious in play! Thanks Dad.

We have a potted gardenia at the step to our front porch which mum kindly gave me when we moved in. It has easily grown to almost double it size. "Water" she said, "make sure it's watered". Thank you Mum. I absolutely love it and here's why.

In the last few weeks, the days have been very hot and all the buds are opening up and displaying their wonderfully delicate, creamy white blossoms greeting me with the most gorgeous scent when I open the front door each morning. In comes the fresh morning breeze and on the same crisp wave arrives the exquisite gardenia scent. Oh, I don't think I will ever tire of opening my front door this summer or any summer! Our gardenia is full of buds patiently waiting for their turn to shine. 

Below is a recent opener which I just had to stop and capture to share. If only scent could be shared over the internet too. Stop and smell one on your next walk or perhaps your date could wear one as a corsage, or your husband on a 'dinner-date-night at home' if you have little ones? Very old fashioned I know, but how very romantic! ;)

Gardenia is also described as a flower of love and romance 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The afternoon sun and a bucket of water, a practical life activity unfolds

The beautiful afternoon weather presented us with an practical life activity enjoyed on the deck. Dirty sand-shoes, detergent, and a bucket and sponge each was all that was needed. Both children worked industriously and independently from each other and myself for a good thirty minutes. The result is still drying. The only involvement I had was to squeeze out the excess water before putting them up to dry in the fading sun. 

It is certainly a very strong driver for the child to want to do what the adult does, be it household work, shopping, cleaning the car.. they see and they want to copy especially when the desire and belief in oneself of 'me do it!' is so strong. With this activity they needed no encouragement either, the bucket of water was probably enough though! 

Practical Life Activities are activities where the child is being exposed to basic every day activities that are both purposeful and meaningful that they can do using 'real' materials, in turn building confidence and a greater sense of contributing to the family unit. This particular example of a practical life activity would come under 'care of person'. It's an activity that they 'can do' when provided with the opportunity, needs little direction and for the children today kept them concentrating on their work for a solid amount of time. Concentration in particular and providing opportunities to deepen this is of utmost importance. Interruptions, verbal or otherwise are kept to a minimum.

We are consciously encouraging and fostering independence from a early age where appropriate, it's not always possible when time is not on our side, but the ideal is in the forefront of our minds!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Living Yeast Free - A New Beginning

For the last six weeks our family have all been living yeast & mould free to some extent to support my son's totally yeast & mould free diet. My son was the first to get tested early September following his hives episode a few months ago now (you can catch up on it here) and since then, my husband, daughter and I have come back as being allergic to yeast also (myself being the main one - argh!!). The good thing is that now that we are all on the same diet, things seem a whole lot easier and brighter funnily enough.

Why was this a BIG deal for me? I love good food and I love cooking enormously. I've been reading the Sydney Morning Herald's 'Good Food' lift-out since the late 1990s and I feel food defines me in some weird way. The day I found out I felt my world had collapsed. I started a post that day but cried instead. All the things we wouldn't be able to 'enjoy' anymore, I thought (then). Here was my account of the first three days:

Day 1 - Test results indicate mould and yeast intolerance
Day 2 - The processing begins. Going to the supermarket and fruit&vegetable shop. Held back tears looking at the ingredients in various cereals, malted barley was in all cereals. The familiar Weetbix are out. I couldn't stop the tears when I pushed the noticeably smaller, emptier shopping trolley to the car. I cried in the car. 
Day 3 - I cried again today preparing dinner. The same dinner as last night, because I couldn't think what else to make. 

I stopped after day three as I had lost my motivation for most things while I was distracted processing it all. In hindsight it took me a good month to get my head around it and now six weeks later I feel a whole lot more confident with what we can and can't have. It helped A LOT to talk to friends who are also on diets for their different allergies and intolerances. Knowing that life can and does go on with exclusions and working around them is a big relief. Ultimately knowing that the diet is there to improve our health is the main driver of course. Today for example I passed on the 'weak latte and pear danish' treat and instead opted for a perfectly ripe banana and sweet, crunchy, juicy pink lady apple. Delicious! The best thing about it was not having that lagging, heavy, foggy feeling for hours afterwards. Winner!

This afternoon I cleared the pantry and fridge of any offending items ready to give away.  The freezer will be reviewed tomorrow and all three will get a spring clean on Saturday. I'm rather looking forward to it, a fresh start is just around the corner. I'm at the very beginning of a somewhat exciting learning curve and mindset adjustment. 

Have you had any experience with yeast free and/or mould free diets? Any links you'd recommend? I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Flower arranging by vase, a how to

Flower arranging always makes me smile. 

I have an ever-growing collection of vessels. From old passatta, condiment and spice jars, jugs, big tall vases to crystal vases from our engagement and wedding. My favourites though, would have to be the gorgeous old style crystal vessels and pottery style ones which I've picked up from various St Vincent de Paul shops over the last few years. They are so very handy for a small friendly arrangement from the garden to put on a bookshelf, the children's table, next to some icons, the entrance, to my favourite spot on the kitchen windowsill and even in the bathroom. A little display of flowers is a simple pleasure. A reminder of beauty and wonder in nature.

I wish to thank a very dear reader for emailing me this informative link Flower arranging by vase and I felt compelled to share it with you. I hope you enjoy!

Pottery vases, the far right one belonged to my dear Grandma xx

You can view a range of vases from a previous post here

Monday, 2 September 2013

Spring in bloom!

It was a glorious Spring day. The children drew with some new giant chalk sticks out the front on the pavers after lunch and later on we all enjoyed some flower collecting and arranging. Technical issues didn't allow for more 'around the home' shots of finished vases, although I did manage to get one in!


Azaleas on the dining table
My son takes the flower scissors and tray for collecting his selection

Carefully cutting a daisy

Flowers being arranged

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Flowers and the Joy of Giving

I've always loved flowers. I loved them in a different way when my husband began sending bunches to me at work. I'd receive a call from the mail room on level 6 and off I'd go to collect them. I loved receiving mail room calls! On my birthday in the first year of us knowing each other - before we started officially going out, he sent me an arrangement so big I had to take a cab home and the flowers took up the whole back seat!! Many people heard about the arrangement throughout the day at work and came to admire the flowers. They were stunning. I'd never seen an arrangement like it! It was such a wonderful feeling. I felt the love. Needless to say we started going out soon after that!

Whilst I was expecting my son, I attended a 'Floral Art' course through a Community College, just for fun. The course included payment for flowers, so each week I'd bring home a bunch or an arrangement in a box that I'd created to enjoy or give away. absolutely loved it. I'm by no means an expert now but I thoroughly enjoy the creative side of arranging flowers and filling our home with beauty from outside as well as sharing the joy in giving.

Early last week I experienced an intense stomach pain and coupled with an excessive physical exertion leading up to and after my daughters birthday party led to a overnight hospital stay under the doctors orders. My mother-in-law arrived late that night and heroically looked after the children whilst my husband took me to the hospital and waited patiently with me for the test results for potential appendicitis. Today in appreciation, I arranged a bouquet to give to her. My husband made a thank-you card with the children and they had a wonderful time drawing their own thank you message inside. Simple and inexpensive (compared to a florist prepared bunch) the flowers and hand-made card were very well received. A bonus, we even have leftovers for our own home!

Geraldton wax, ranunculis and yellow bells

Tomorrow, the children will do their flower arranging activity as mentioned in the previous post!

Flowers sourced from Harris Farm Markets

Floral Art courses are done at a variety of Community Colleges, the above link is just an example of one advertised at the moment.

The end of Winter has arrived

The vases are out and ready for Spring!

In Australia, the first Sunday in September we celebrate Father's Day. A beautiful way to welcome Spring! The children have both prepared hand-crafted gifts to give him. Breakfast in bed is the only way to start the day for a Dad! Later in the day, a flower arranging activity to source and fill the vases and bring Spring inside and around the home. Looking forward to sharing our flowers with you tomorrow. Happy Father's Day to you! x 

Vases lining the windowsill of our kitchen waiting to welcome

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Good Books: 'Koala Lou' by Mem Fox, illustrations by Pamela Lofts

My son has library day each Friday at pre-school. His comment after reading 'Koala Lou' a few nights running was "I want to borrow this book for a long time". We've had this book for almost a month now, tomorrow he'll exchange it for another book. We read it one last time tonight. It will be missed as my daughter has also grown very fond of it and now calls every koala she sees Koala Lou!

"Koala Lou, I do LOVE you!"

It is a beautiful story told in an Australian bush setting. The kind of story which is both appealing to little ones and adults alike and also gives a strong message to siblings. No matter how many siblings you have, your mother will always love you, even if you don't hear it all the time. This is timely given we are expecting our third baby in January. The children both chime in with smiles on their faces when the mother says "Koala Lou, I do LOVE you!" Although not true to reality, i.e. the animals having a Bush Olympics and waving their holiday hats, the message is more important. We did talk about what animals can and can't do in the beginning, so there is a clear understanding that koalas are most certainly not out there climbing trees in races!

The illustrations by Pamela Lofts of the Australian animals are detailed and attractive. The children enjoying spotting the platypus, kookaburra, emu, galah and other animals throughout the book and with so much to comment on, reading Koala Lou took longer and longer each time!

I now have this book on a 'wishlist' to buy later on. It's one I would like to have handy and re-read in December to the children in anticipation. A lovely read for the younger readers expecting a sibling or those who have recently welcomed a sibling into their family.

Pumpkin Soup by Margaret Fulton and Good Books: 'My Grandma's Kitchen' by Louise Fulton Keats

I'm sneaking in one more winter soup before Spring arrives in a few days.

Butternut pumpkin is our favourite pumpkin. Its nuttiness and sweet taste is perfect for roasting, salads, and of course soup.

I came across this particular recipe in Louise Fulton Keats' cookbook 'My Grandma's Kitchen'. Louise, a food and nutrition writer, and Le Cordon Bleu graduate, wrote the story together with her well known grandma, Margaret Fulton. It is inspired by Louise's memories of cooking with her grandma in her Grandma's kitchen. There is a story alongside the recipes which gives the reader an insight into Louise's cooking with her grandma. It's written with lots of rhythm and rhyme, great for children, which makes it enjoyable to read and easy to remember. On returning the book to the library I think my daughter and I could remember almost the words. The pictures are attractive, colourful, and playful. The endearing pictures of Lulu and her brother Harry have us turning the pages to find out what they cooking next! It is a very lovely read.

I've made this recipe a number of times now and have decided that this is the pumpkin soup recipe for us. It's delicious, filling and tasty - perfect for the colder days.

"This is beautiful!" says my husband. He likes the bacon bits,
which are not completely blended.

Best Pumpkin Soup
30g butter
1 brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 rashes free-range bacon, rind removed and diced (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1kg pumpkin, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup cream
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons snipped chives, to garnish (or you can use parsley or coriander leaves)

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and bacon for 3-4 minutes, or until the onion is soft.
2. Add the spices and fry gently for 1 minutes.
3. Add the pumpkin and stock. 
4. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
5. Cool slightly and puree in several batches in a food processor or blender (or you can use a hand-held stick blender in the saucepan). 
6. Return to the saucepan, stir through the cream and gently reheat.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with herbs.
Serves 4-6

Serve with hot buttered toast.

'My Grandma's Kitchen' is a gorgeous storybook to gift to a pre-schooler or young child who is eager to get into the kitchen. The recipes in this book are designed for children so they are familiar and easy to follow.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Rhonda's Art and Good Books: Have you seen my egg?

The most beautiful thing I love about our home is the nature. We are very lucky to live in a suburb which has an abundance and variety of trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers. There are National Parks nearby and a plethora of birds which come to visit our back and front yards each day.

When we first moved here just over two years ago now, we noticed every single kookaburra that laughed. We noticed that they loved to gather in our 'old gum tree' in the backyard and laugh and laugh. We'd be captivated, admiring their beauty from the window or deck. Nature has so much to offer.

Kookaburra on our deck

At the shopping centre one day I came across Rhonda's Art, a pop-up stall. I couldn't take my eyes off her work. Rhonda's Art captured the detail, colour and beauty of the Australian wildlife in such a gentle and soothing way. I instantly thought a series of these would be great to have framed and hung for the children to admire. I am still yet to do this. A recent visit to her site, however, led me to a book that she has illustrated: "Have you seen my egg?"

Yesterday we celebrated my daughter's second birthday and she was given this very special book. It is gorgeous. A loving story of an emu looking for his missing egg. (Yes, the father looks after the eggs!) The children are taken along with the concerned emu on his search to other Australian animals and in turn, learn of their eggs and their hatchlings. The last four pages contain details of each of the animals featured in the story. It was the perfect gift for her and a great addition to our growing library. It sits now in their room, ready for storytelling again tomorrow.
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