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.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

J'adore le pain français!

Looking for something quick, easy and delicious to have for breakfast?

French Toast is a perfect option and very versatile!

French Toast
3 eggs
dash of milk
4 slices of bread

1. Whisk eggs and milk together.
2. Dip bread in and turn over, place on plate ready for cooking. Repeat with remaining bread and place on stack.
3. Heat small frypan and melt a knob of butter.
4. Add a slice of bread to pan and turn once browned, removing once second side is browned.
5. Add you choice of seasoning or topping!

Savoury - crushed salt flakes and freshly cracked pepper (my favourite!); bacon on the side; dried or fresh thyme added to the egg mixture; ...
Sweet - maple syrup; maple syrup and bacon; fresh berries with maple syrup or honey drizzled on top; dusting of icing sugar; honey; adding sweet spices to the egg mixture and top with caster sugar ... it's totally up to you!

This is perfect for lunch or afternoon tea and a great, easy way to use up the dry bread.

Also, speaking from a mother's perspective - super quick to feed hungry mouths in a hurry and an opportunity for little ones to help too!

Bon appétit!

Monday, 19 August 2013

I love Sydney! The perfect Sunday.

Spring is just around the corner. I can feel it already. The sun is just bursting with warmth, joy and promise. It greeted us in the early morning yesterday as we cruised over the Harbour Bridge, accompanied with the clearest blue sky you could hope for. I love it.

Yesterday was one of those perfect Sundays. Low Mass in the morning, followed by takeaway coffee and French pastries for morning tea in a wonderfully sunny spot in the park with two of my darling sisters and our growing family. Just basking in the sun and catching up on life. My son had a great time running free and my daughter equally loved it because of all the dogs! Usually the dogs are all on leads but yesterday it seemed every one of the twenty or so dogs that passed us were without them, coming up to greet us and have a friendly poke around. Almost losing track of time, we reluctantly left with assurance that we'd come back soon, and parted.

We enjoyed lunch back at home on the deck. The classic BLET. Bacon, crispy cos lettuce, fried egg and sliced Roma tomatoes on incredibly soft rolls from our favourite Vietnamese bakery down the road.  Why keep these delicious options just for breakfast I say! My husband made us freshly juiced orange juice to quench our thirst, mmm ... just perfect. 

BLET with tomato sauce and aoili. Yum! Not just for breakfast!!

Whilst my perfect day continued with my head on a pillow for two hours, my husband and children enjoyed the garden. This time of the year is great. There's lots to do. My son with his 'forever' construction site in the dirt which my daughter has caught onto and my husband gardening, busying himself around the yard. 

My darling husband later bathed and dressed the children ready for dinner. What a sweetheart(!) and I thawed and prepared a portion of homemade meatballs, tomato sauce and spaghetti, with salad. Too easy. A recipe for another post I promise!

What a beautifully glorious day. I hope you also enjoyed your Sunday with family and/or friends, wherever you are reading this in our little world.

Good night x

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Apple and Cinnamon Cake, Stephanie Alexander

This has to be the easiest and most delicious cake I've ever made. Ever.

So delicious it is that I made it yesterday and again today as part of the Assumption feast day celebration.

With a only 60g of butter, I ask myself is it a 'healthier cake'? It doesn't matter really...


As Stephanie says "This is a cake with an identity crisis... it remains
damp and a bit crunchy after baking"  

Apple and Cinnamon Cake
Taken from Stephanie Alexander's 'The Kitchen Garden Companion' cookbook

60g butter, plus extra for greasing
4x Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered and cored (yesterday we used Pink Lady, perfectly fine, slightly sweeter taste)
2 teaspoons white sugar (in tonight's cinnamon sugar, I used coffee sugar for an added crunch!)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 free-range eggs
150g caster sugar
1cup plain flour

1. Preheat oven to 180degrees
2. Melt butter in a large non-stick frying pan,
3. Slice apples in a food processor fitted with a slicing attachment or slice them very thinly with a sharp knife. Tip apple into pan of melted butter and cook over medium-high heat, stirring and shaking, for 3 minutes. Tip apple into a large bowl and leave to cool. 
4. Mix sugar and cinnamon and set aside until needed.
5. Thoroughly grease a 20cm springform cake tin with extra butter, tip in breadcrumbs, then turn and shake the tin until its base and side are well coated.
6. Beat eggs and caster sugar in an electric mixer until pale and thick. Sift flour over egg mixture and fold in lightly but thoroughly using a large metal spoon. Tip in apple and quickly fold in. It doesn't matter if the apple is not thoroughly mixed - speed is more essential so as not to deflate the batter. 
7. Tip batter into the prepared tin. Smooth the top and scatter over cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake tests clean when tested wiht a find skewer. Leave to cool in tin a little before serving warm (with cream), or cool completely in tin and then serve.

I made this a few years ago and took it to a mothers group meeting. At first I was a bit insulted that one of the younger boys asked me if I 'burnt the cake' because the cinnamon made it look a little dark in patches, and now I'm laughing. I'm also a little lighter with the 'dusting' of cinnamon sugar! 

This cake is also perfect for breakfast and morning or afternoon teas. Its very light and be warned, one slice may not be enough!


Lamb cutlets, French beans, roasted Roma tomatoes and pan-fried new potatoes to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary!

Today was a big feast day for us!

We celebrated by attending Mass in the city, colouring-in images of the Assumption and talking about the feast day throughout the day. We also enjoyed some art on our dinner table and a special dinner.

Colouring in Feast Day images

Art at our dinner table, a point of focus and discussion
My son prepared the beans.
Big ones for himself, mum and dad and little ones for his sister.
The far right container are the tops and tails. 

Crumbed lamb cutlets - perfectly pink and always a winner!

Crumbed lamb cutlets, French beans, roasted Roma tomatoes and pan-fried new potatoes. 

Peel, rinse, cover with salted water and gently boil for 15mins. 
Drain and put aside to cool.
Slice and pan fry in oil until golden.

Roasted Roma tomatoes
Wash, pat dry, cut in half or thirds depending on size.
Toss in small amount of oil, crushed garlic.
Place in lined baking tray and season with s&p and thyme.
Roast for 30mins on 200degrees.

French beans
Top and tail, rinse.
Bring salted water to boil.
Add beans and boil for 7 minutes.
Rinse under cold water.

Lamb cutlets
Take out of fridge 1hour prior to cooking to bring to room temperature.
Set up 3x shallow bowls - plain flour, beaten egg - a small amount of milk can be added and fine breadcrumbs. 
Dust in plain flour, then cover with the egg and finish off by covering with the breadcrumbs.
Shallow fry in oil on a low-medium heat until cooked. Pink is our preferred for lamb cutlets!

As far as sequence goes, I prepared potatoes first, then tomatoes and put them into the oven, my son prepared the beans and I prepared the cutlets. Once all the mise en place* was ready, water went on to boil for beans, potatoes had a head start in a large fry pan on gas heat and then the cutlets in separate smaller pan on induction heat.

Today, the children chose to eat at their 'little table' which was quite cosy for the three of us. They started with the 'chips' and beans first as they are pretty hungry by dinnertime! Then when the the cutlets and tomatoes were ready, I joined them and we discussed the special day and the art. A lovely way to enjoy the day!

Happy Feast of the Assumption from our home to yours! 

*mise en place - (wikipedia) a French phrase which means 'putting in place', as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organising and arranging ingredients ... that a cook will require for the menu items the he or she expects to prepare during his/her shift. The practice is also effective in home kitchens.
Images from here and here.
Online Art was found here and here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Strawberry milkshakes. The simple pleasures in life.

"At its best: For the sweetest Queensland strawberries, choose big fat ones showing the least white." SMH Good Food

"Three punnets of big, fat, delicious and juicy looking, shiny red, next-to-no-white strawberries for $3?" 

This is what welcomed me in the supermarket today. Why yes, thank you, I'll have some of those!

And here's how we enjoyed a punnet today after lunch. So refreshing and so good for you! 

Washing, preparation and cutting

The colour of these strawberries is just so vibrant!!

In they go!
All the strawberries have to be covered...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

An afternoon date, 'Journey to the Planets' Gustav Holst

Planets are a feature in our life at the moment and they've been circling for a while now.

When my son was an infant and toddler, we'd listen to Gustav Holst's 'The Planets' in the car as we drove about our daily activities. From memory I think we got on to reading about the planets by observing the moon first, we borrowed a Simon Seymour book from our library last year and it ignited a keen interest in the solar system. Next Ye Ye* gave him a set of glow-in-the-dark planet pyjamas  He couldn't have been happier! In the last few months, my son has taken up colouring-in (like never before) and now he colours in the solar system. The next level for us would be to make a paper mache solar system to hang in their play area.

A few weeks ago, a friend alerted us to a children's symphony performance - 'Journey to the Planets' with Willoughby Symphony Orchestra. An opportunity not to be missed!

Siblings sense when a new baby is coming.  Our son picked up on the pregnancy quite quickly. His need to have one on one time with both me and my husband is really strong at the moment. The above performance gave me a wonderful opportunity to have some special mum and son time together in a totally new situation. His first ever concert and our first concert together. I had a few tears as I played a YouTube version of 'Jupiter' for us whilst booking the tickets. I think there was more anticipation on my part than his! Upon booking, the box office informed me of the pre-show activities in the foyer for the children.

As we arrived out of the lift that afternoon, a man dressed up in a white NASA outfit was handing out details for a 'scavenger hunt' (more suitable for the older children), further along there were opportunities to look through a telescope to see outside and a much smaller handheld one for close up study of star constellations, around the corner was a hands on table where the children were crafting away at their very own rocket ships and our last stop was at the colouring table with multiple pages to choose from. My son got straight down to business and we stayed there until the bells rang.

Once inside and awaiting there was air of excitement. Looking down from the dress circle were hundreds of children, ranging from little tots through to early teenagers and adults all eagerly awaiting commencement. I couldn't help tearing up again as my son stood up against the balustrade looking down at all the instruments. 

A few quirks to the performance was the conductor who arrived without a black coat, instead a white NASA backpack and an astronaut who guided the children through five out of the seven movements and who received many cheers from the enthusiastic children!

Following this we stopped by a gelato shop for a milkshake treat and another element to our afternoon was a train trip home.

Such a wonderful, wonderful time we had, just the two of us and the afternoon.

*Ye Ye - paternal grandfather in mandarin

A YouTube of 'Jupiter' can be found here played by Tokyo City Philarmonic Orchestra. Have a tissue handy - it is thrilling.

Those familiar with the British 'I vow to thee my country', here is a YouTube with lyrics to enjoy also. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Winter getaway to Barrington Tops, in photos

Barrington Tops, why haven't I visited you before?

We took off to Barrington Tops last week and wow - what gorgeous scenery there was along the way! Rolling hills, curves, bends and cows, cows and more cows, which the children thoroughly enjoyed calling out every time they spotted them. Reminds me of the poem 'My Country' by Dorothea Mackellar. 

To get out of the city even for just three nights was just wonderful. 

The photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Off the freeway now and into the country!

Almost there 

Over the bridge

The blackened tree stump. How very Australian :)

Barrinton Tops National Park

Looks like Old Man Banksia ... nature, love it

Almost at the lookout

A breathtaking view already!
View looking west at Thunderbolts Lookout

View looking east at Thunderbolts Lookout

The last day was the only day with a mantle of clouds on the hills

Sun or no sun, just perfect

Captivating earthy colours on the open road

I love Sydney! North Sydney.

This afternoon, I made a quick detour on the way back from the city.

This is the view from the end of Blues Point Road in North Sydney. It is an absolutely spectacular view of Sydney Harbour. A perfect spot to sit and enjoy a coffee and watch the boats, ferries, 'Rivercats' (faster ferries) and sailboats glide, chug or zoom past, each at their own pace, each a different way to enjoy the gorgeous harbour and surrounds.

Also at this perfect spot is a great playground for children. The climbers among them would particularly like this as my son did. I'll be back again soon with a little picnic basket. 

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