Thursday, 25 June 2015

Zucchini Slice, perfect hot or cold

This zucchini slice is a staple around here.

I love how 'gentle' the ingredients look here.

It is straight forward to make and can be enjoyed hot out of the oven with a green salad, crusty bread and tasty butter.

Mix mix mix

I use it mainly for the children's lunches. It's a little protein hit with extras that they love. Master 1 loves it and for me that's reason enough to make it. It's great also to pop into small containers for snacks on the go.

Master 5 is a great help with this step - great for fine motor
skills practice and concentration.

Zucchini Slice
1 large zucchini, grated
1 carrot, grated
3 slices of ham off the bone, chopped
chunk of colby cheese, grated
1/4 leek, finely chopped
handful of continental parsley, chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups self raising flour
salt & pepper
10 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
Parmesan cheese

1 Heat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Line baking tray with greaseproof paper. I've used a 35cm x 20cm x 7cm baking dish for this quantity.
2 In a big bowl mix the zucchini, carrot, ham, leek, parsley and cheese.
3 Add the flour 1 cup at a time and mix. Add enough to coat all the ingredients.
4 Mix eggs in a separate bowl with a fork and add to dry ingredients. Mix to coat. Ensure all the mixture is mixed in completely.
5 Season with salt and pepper.
6 Arrange sliced tomatoes on top and finish off with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
7 Bake for 50-65 minutes or until cooked through. I use the fan force setting when time is limited which decreases the overall baking time.

Once cool, lift up what's left in the baking paper and place into a container and into the fridge.

Dusting of parmesan

Optional extras
sliced mushrooms
red capsicum, chopped finely
cold roast vegetables
sliced cherry tomatoes on top
tomatoes in the mixture instead of just on top ...

Et voila!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Grandma's House by Alice Melvin

Alice Melvin has a new book out.

My daughter and I came to love Alice Melvin via one of her earlier books The High StreetAt the beginning of this year I was looking around for some inspiring children's books. I decided to contact Alice personally. I was in luck. Alice advised me that her next book Grandma's House was in the works.

Grandma's House has been eagerly anticipated

Last week I received an email informing me that our pre-ordered copy was on its way. I became very hopeful every time the postman stopped.

A perfect spot for reading

Well, we've had it for a few days now. Miss 3 got comfortable on her bed one afternoon before dinner and opened the brown cardboard envelope. Big smiles! The boys looked on while I read it aloud including the last page detailing the background of the story. Master 5 then hopped up and went back to his Lego, Master 1 stayed close to me and Miss 3 went back to the beginning and began to read it to herself, remembering - to my amazement - most of the words: a great indicator of a book that truly engages the child. After dinner before I put our youngest to bed, I checked on the two older children, they were both tucked up in bed and Master 5 was reading it out aloud for both of them to enjoy. Such a peaceful scene.

At the front gate ...

Grandma's House is a story of a little girl visiting her Grandma one afternoon. It begins with the girl at the garden fence. Attached to the garden gate is a blue helium balloon which the little girl is looking at quizzically. In she goes through the first of many doors. We get to know Grandma, her age and her tastes, through the interiors, ornaments and household items. And we get to know what interests the little girl by her chosen activities, problem solving and adventure. But...where is Grandma?

"She needs to put both feet on the top step" suggests Miss 3

Alice's well-known and well-loved illustration style is detailed and exquisite throughout. She has won awards.

The text has rhythm and is easy to read, but also allows the reader to pause and look closely at the different aspects on each page.

The varying foldout flaps keeps young readers interested and intrigued, which way will they open next?

Grandma's House is a wonderful book in which to play "I Spy", or a counting activity for a particular object - we counted the clocks and then the rugs. I try to encourage the children to find more detail in things, to look for repetition or themes, and this is a great book for that.

It is a perfect gift for an early or a young reader, or an adult who delights in the visual.

If you missed my earlier review of The High Street you can catch up here

To see more of Alice's work you can view her website here

Happy reading!

R&R reading and relaxing :)

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Adventures of Tintin and Snowy

My husband and I began our life together in a little two bedroom apartment in the leafy lower north shore of Sydney. We were minutes on the train from our respective workplaces and we dearly loved the home we created. Before our first anniversary our honeymoon baby arrived. There we stayed for a further eighteen months before we welcomed our second baby at our new three bedroom home.

Back when we were living in our little apartment, my husband would go for evening walks. One particular evening there were a stack of boxes on the council strip ready for the council pick up. Leafing through he came across a perfectly good copy of The Adventures of Tintin 'Destination Moon'. He tucked it under his arm with happy thoughts of passing it on to our son and so put it away in a box for later date.

Tintin and Snowy off an adventure, the
very one that was to take Master 5 and
Miss 3 off on their own wonderful
Three years on our son, an early reader, discovered the very copy Destination Moon and really took to it. Now six months later, he's read nineteen of the twenty four Tintins which Hergé wrote. Miss 3 who picks up on all of Master 5's interests is also 'reading' and enjoying Tintin, Snowy, and their adventures.

What this has meant for them has been an enormous injection of "material" into their creative play, second only to their Lego City characters. They are having adventures all over the home. They take on the roles of Tintin and Snowy, each taking turns. Last night, for a bit of variety, they role played Thomson and Thompson, the two 'funniest' characters in the book. They set up an office and were busy with their drawings, and receiving phone calls from Tintin himself. It's all very animated and can become increasing energetic and noisy! They drag anything that's not bolted down - from pillows, cushions, blankets, quilts, baskets, the blue and heshion shopping bags full of collected items... to bring into their play. I've learnt to just let it happen around me. They clean up at the end of the day so having them completely occupied for hours on end is a small payoff for having all their props out at the same time.

Their vocabulary is expanding quite rapidly, including additions such as Captain Haddock's "blue blistering barnacles" and Professor Calculus's "I'd say..."  The rest of the family are bystanders to all this movement and expression throughout the day. It's really quite amazing to see just how the right books at the right time can inspire creativity and bring out the best in their imagination.

As Sir Ken Robinson posted on social media Facebook recently "Education is not preparation. The first 18 years of life are not a rehearsal. Children are living their lives now." One only has to take a glimpse at the activity that happens in the privacy and quiet of the home or at the park to see all this in reality.

How do you see your children role play their favourite characters?

And who has been to the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium? I'd love to hear your thoughts! We can't exactly go for a weekend trip but it would be fun to think about!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Gourmet Traveller's Tiramisù, a classic Italian dessert for anytime of year

Each year our little family celebrate Christmas Eve at my in-law's home and Christmas Day with my family.

The first Christmas I celebrated with my husband's family as a daughter-in-law, I made a tiramisu for dessert. They loved it. Not too alcoholic or sweet; it was very well received. Since then it's become our traditional contribution to the table.

For the last three years one of my darling sisters has shared the preparation of this delicious pick-me-up. The zabaglione requires a lot of whisking by hand, so it's nice to share the task. It is also a very lovely way to enjoy some time together doing Christmasy things, drinking wine, laughing, catching up, and of course listening to some carols.

It seems a little out of season to be talking about Christmas now, but my sister is off to an Italian themed party and our tiramisù sprung to her mind as the perfect dessert to take. Darling sister, ecco la, and here are some Italian tunes and images to get you in theme. We listened to them tonight while the children made sweet potato gnocchi for dinner with Dad. Enjoy and have a lovely time at the party! Love xx

This recipe I found in Gourmet Traveller years ago and have not looked at another.


500g mascarpone
4 egg whites
185ml Masala
250ml (1 cup) strong espresso, cooled (I've only ever used instant e.g. Maconna)

To serve
Dutch process cocoa powder, or the best you can find
Dark chocolate, shaved

Savoidari biscuits (I've only ever used the store bought ones, one year I'll make them!)
4 eggs, separated
150gm (2/3 cup) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
110gm (1/2 cup plain flour)
For dusting: white sugar

4 egg yolks
100gm caster sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) Marsala

1 For savoidari biscuits, preheat oven to 180degrees celcius. Using an electric mixer, whisk egg yolks, 55gm sugar and vanilla extract until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites and a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, then gradually add remaining sugar and beat until stiff and shiny. Add to yolk mixture and gently fold through, sift over flour and fold through until just combined. Using a piping bag fitted with a 2cm-plain nozzle, pipe 7cm-long fingers spaced 2cm apart onto lightly greased and lined oven trays, scatter with white sugar and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Transfer paper with biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Makes about 40. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

2 For zabaglione, whisk egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water until pale, add Marsala and whisk for about 10 minutes or until tripled in volume and mixture holds a trail. Cool.

3 Place mascarpone in bowl and beat until smooth, add zabaglione and fold to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then gently fold through zabaglione mixture.

4 Combine espresso and remaining Marsala in a bowl. Dip biscuits in espresso liquid, place two in each base of 6 serving glasses, top each with a 1/4 cup of zabaglione mixture and repeat twice more with biscuits and zabaglione mixture. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Serve dusted with cocoa and chocolate shavings.

It certainly doesn't have to be restricted to Christmas!
We made individual tiramisu for my daughter's second birthday
party. They look so pretty in the little paper cups.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gnocchi di patate, Gennaro style

This afternoon predicted storms, and the storms came. Wild wind, rain, hail, and more rain. Lucky for us we had returned home just in time. With a new potato ricer in the bag  my husband and the children prepared the gnocchi for our dinner tonight. Even our youngest stepped up to join in on the activity.

This is the second time we have made this recipe from Gennaro. However this time we used a potato ricer. Last time we used a sieve to 'rice' the potatoes, it did the job but it took a loong time to prepare and was pretty hard work.

A ricer makes all the difference!

And with Dad's strength, potatoes be riced!

We used the recipe from Jamie Oliver's Food Tube

Gennaro's Gnocchi di patate 
1kg potatoes
2 egg yolks
150g '00' flour
salt flakes

Bolognese sauce
grated parmesan cheese

1 In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to boil and continue to boil for 15-20 minutes, depending on size.
2 Using a potato ricer, peel cooled potatoes and put inside ricer and push though into a large bowl.
3 Separate yolks and add to potatoes, mix through with clean hands.
4 Add flour and mix through. Avoid over working the mixture. Bring mixture together to form a ball.
5 Sprinkle workspace with flour. Cut a small section off and roll gently to form long rolls, slice to size roughly 1cm in width.
7 Bring water to boil and gently add gnocchi. Gnocchi will rise to surface when cooked - as quickly as 30 seconds - strain and serve.

Double 00 flour

Rolling out the gnocchi dough

Working the dough

Master 5 personalising the dough

Rolled gnocchi

Even the littlest enjoyed working with the texture!

Tonight we enjoyed our gnocchi with freshly made Bolognese 
Gnocchi a la Bolognese!

mmm... delizioso!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Celebrating St Valentine's Day!

Today is the Feast of St Valentine which the world over celebrates with chocolates, love hearts, flowers, dates, dinners and the like.

Basket of love

But there is more to it than this. 

This year I was inspired to do more to involve the children in this special day celebrating the love between my husband and I. Through learning about St Valentine and the activities that followed, the children were able to express their love in a creative way and in turn shared their love with loved ones. Children have so much love to give!

St Valentine (public image)

So who was St Valentine?

We learnt that St Valentine lived around 200AD. He was a holy priest in Rome who assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. Valentine was caught marrying Christian couples and helping them escape persecution. For his "crimes", he was arrested and sent to the Prefect of Rome. He was asked to renounce his faith, which he refused to do, which led to his martyrdom on 14 February 269AD, which is now his feast day.

Interestingly, St Valentine is the Patron Saint not only of engaged couples, happy marriages and love, but also of bee-keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, plague, travellers, and young people.

Here's a pictorial of the children's activities

Colouring in

Making greeting notes

Soon to be hand delivered notes 
Brother Francis' colouring in picture (a free download)

Miss 3's included a double border 

Love note from Master 5

Today we are off to a birthday party as a family, and later return to make a cake and a special family dinner together to celebrate this honourable St Valentine!

Wishing you a very Happy St Valentine's Day!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Quick, easy, and filling - French Toast Salad!

Years ago when Jamie Oliver first hit our tv screens and kitchen bookshelves, I was very much inspired by his approach of using basic, and fresh, seasonal ingredients. This is great for when the pantry is emptying and the shopping list is extending.

Here's a dish I pulled together as a savoury pre-dinner snack for my husband, Master 5 and me one late afternoon. It's nothing extraordinary but it certainly hit the spot that day, so I thought I'd share it with you. It's a light dish that could be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, a light dinner or even a late night snack.

Pre-schoolers could certainly help out with the preparation of any of the below activities, they will love it! I've included a list of how your young helper/s could help prepare this dish. 

Try it!

day old turkish bread
baby Roma tomatoes, cut in half 
avocado, sliced
4-5 eggs, enough to coat bread 
rocket leaves, washed
salt & pepper

Practical life for a pre-schooler 'young helper' ideas
day old turkish bread - adult slices the bread into strips and young helper could slice bread into squares (with guidance)
baby Roma tomatoes, cut in half - young helper could wash, strain, pat dry with paper towel, and slice tomatoes (with guidance)
avocado, sliced - adult cuts in half, slices the avocados still in their skin and young helper could scoop out the flesh with a spoon
4-5 eggs - young helper can crack eggs, add one by one into small bowl, then add one by one to larger bowl, and mix
rocket leaves, washed - young helper can wash, strain, and pat dry
salt & pepper - young helper can season with guidance from adult

Whisk eggs, add diced up bread to eggs and coat.
In a hot frypan, add sunflower oil (or oil of your choosing) and fry eggy bread until cooked to your liking, set aside in a salad bowl.
Using the same frypan (wipe with a paper towel as needed) gently fry the roma tomatoes and add to the fried bread.
Add avocado and rocket, mix, season and serve!

How easy is that!

Hits the hunger spot!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Apricot, Coconut, Pistachio and Cranberry Balls

Mum made Apricot & Coconut Balls for my husband one Christmas as she knew he liked the delicious orangey-red dried fruits. They were a hit!

Tapping into this delicious treat, I've tweaked the recipe a little and added a few extras. I made them for the Christmas tables (ours and my mother in laws Christmas Eve dinner) and just recently at a little birthday party for our two sons, whose birthdays are at either end of January.

Party style with novelty animal napkin.
Served with shredded coconut and pistachio.

Apricot, Coconut, Pisatachio and Cranberry Balls

225g dried apricots (we prefer the dried out flat looking ones over the plump, fleshy ones)
225g desiccated coconut
shredded coconut for rolling balls into
75g raw pistachios kernals
150g dried cranberries
395g tin of condensed milk
1 packet of plain biscuits (e.g. Arnotts milk arrowroot, milk coffee, teddy bear biscuits)

A welcome help from little hands, with love ;)

1 Using a food processor 
- Pulse the apricots and cranberries. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
- Pulse the pistachios until they are a little crumbly or to your liking. Add to the large mixing bowl.
- Pulse the biscuits until the resemble a fine crumb, add coconut and pulse until combined.
- Add apricots and cranberries, and pistachios.
Pour in the condensed milk and and pulse until combined.

You can see the size of the pistachios here as a guide

2 Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl. Wet hands with running water to moisten and mix as needed to combine all ingredients. Take a small amount and roll in your hands to form little balls, roll these in the coconut to coat. 
3 Place balls into a container in a single layer. Use a baking sheet to separate if needed.
Place container into fridge.
4 Best prepared a day ahead, served cold, and with a hot tea or coffee.

There was discussion amongst a few on other potential varieties you could do. I'm thinking I'll try a date, almond and cocoa next. What do you think? I'd love to hear your ideas?

And as Audrey Hepburn famously said "For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry". 


Friday, 2 January 2015

Happy New Year! Australian Natives 1, 2, 3!

Happy New Year!

I hope that wherever you enjoyed the festivities last night you were surrounded by loved ones and lots of joy and laughter... we were all fast asleep at midnight in readiness for Master 1's daily early risings at 5am. Yawn!

This morning, my husband, Master 1 and myself attended a sung high Mass whilst Master 4 and Miss 3 were visiting their paternal grandparents. We returned later to join them and enjoy a light New Year's Day roast lamb and salad before heading off.

Back at home in the early afternoon, Master 4 had some quiet Lego time, Miss 3 had the craft box out and Master 1 toddled around endlessly, occasionally practising his new climbing techniques onto the tables to his delight. My husband and I took the chance to put our feet up whilst the little ones were occupied.

When the weather had cooled down in the late afternoon, and the coffee and had been drunk, we headed out front to do some gardening.

We are consciously choosing Australian natives for our front yard in order to attract the native birds, bees and other insects and animals and in keeping with a particular theme for our home. 

We had a lovely visit to the Sydney Wildflower Nursery in Heathcote yesterday exploring the variety of unusual plants and herbs and admiring their foliage and colours. The children had a great sensorial time playing with the gravel whilst we decided what we'd buy. I must say though, it was a very difficult decision to leave with just two plants!

Water, water, water

Eucalyptus ficifolia. An ornamental eucalyptus. 
I can't wait to see the buds opening up!

Master 4 reading out the plants requirements

Adenanthos, SilverSilk. An interesting plant. The foliage is
beautifully soft, almost feathery .

Dad and Master 4 preparing the hole for the Adenanthos.

Teamwork, learning, nature, Montessori, hands on!

Transplanting one of my favourite ground covers, a Scaevola Amemula
(Fan Flower, Fandancer, Fanfare).
Miss 3 happily pulling Master 1 around in the wagon. How lucky is

My toddler and me xx

Master 4 especially had a great time planting with Dad, helping out with the wheelbarrow, the watering and learning about our new plants and their needs. They tend to bond quite frequently and easily looking after the garden. Miss 3 and Master 1 spent a lot of time working through the different settings on the hose and getting wet. A wonderfully satisfying day enjoyed by all.

Are you a Australian Native fan? Do you have any tips or suggestions? I'd love to hear from you!

And to all, from our home to you, the very best wishes for 2015!
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