Dressing room mirrors and the magic of lights

I’m heading off to a couple of conferences this month and needed a new frock to wear.  Unfortunately here in regional Victoria, we have the choice of Target (of course pronounced with a French accent) or online shopping.  I’m not a fan of online shopping yet, because I need to try things on this lumpy frame of mine to get a realistic idea of what suits my body. Target just wasn’t cutting it this time.

So I travelled 4 hours down the highway a couple of weeks ago and attempted to navigate the maze that is Chadstone with children in tow to find the perfect party frock. What was I thinking? Children and Chaddy simply don’t mix.

Probably due to the urgency of having two tired kids along for the ride, I bought the first dress I tried on.  It looked lovely in the change room, albeit a little short for my liking, but it would do the job.  The colour seemed fun and modern, and I was assured the style was the latest in all the great fashion houses. SOLD!

Then I tried it on at home in the harsh sunlight of reality.  Epic fail.

What do they do to dressing room mirrors to make us feel that a garment will flatter and hide the bits we want to hide?  Is it the lights?  Do they pump a magic mushroom vapour through the air vents to induce a feeling of euphoria?  I’m sure there is some secret formula that clouds our brain and encourages us to buy jeans/frocks/tops that are anything but flattering.

So back to the drawing board I go.  I have no idea about fashion and I’ll probably revert to my trusty little black dress with a few accessories.

Thank goodness for the LBD!

Have you ever made a purchase in the gleaming dressing room lights then had buyers remorse at home?

Image Credit #1        Image Credit #2

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Do you want your kids to try new foods? Here’s my secret

I have a sneaky secret.  It’s my underhanded way to get the kids to eat things they don’t ‘like’.  When I say ‘like’ I actually mean things they’ve never tried before and refuse to even taste-test.

Involve them in the preparation and let them get their hands dirty.

Truly, it’s that simple.

I discovered this when I first made Canneloni with spinach and ricotta.  Stinky argued until she was blue in the face that she*hated* spinach.  She’d never tried it but somehow in her little mind it was the devils food.

So I hatched a plan to get her to try it… *insert evil laugh*

One evening when she was about 3 I asked her to help me with dinner.  We both donned a pair of disposable kitchen gloves and were up to our eyebrows in spinach and ricotta goop, stuffing canneloni shells and giggling uncontrollably.  She ate the meal that night and has since declared it to be her favourite!

Mum -1 Stinky – 0

Since then, I’ve adopted this strategy every time I want the kids to try something new, and to date it’s worked.

There are still foods they’ve tried and not liked, but their palate has been significantly expanded thanks to this little trick.

I thought I’d share my recipe with you as it’s failsafe and always a hit:

Canneloni:
I use store-bought shells, but knock yourself out if you’d like to make your own crepes.  I’m not patient enough!

Filling:
1 pkt frozen spinach or 300g fresh leaves roughly chopped
1 egg lightly beaten
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
500g ricotta (I use the low fat)
80g grated parmesan (+ a little extra to top)

Sauce:
1 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 squashed clove of garlic
1 tsp olive oil
4 basil leaves finely chopped
1 cup water

Bechamel Sauce:
60g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
550mls warmed milk
salt/pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees.

Start with the tomato sauce.  Warm the olive oil in a frypan and add the squashed garlic.  I squash a whole clove then take it out at the end for my fussy husband.  You can dice it if you want.  Simply cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant then add the tomatoes.  Once they start simmering, turn down the heat to about halfway, add the water and basil and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Blend to a fine sauce or leave it chunky and rustic.

Next prepare the filling.  If you’re using frozen spinach, place it in the microwave (covered) and cook on high for 2-3 minutes.  Strain all liquid.  If you’re using fresh spinach, chop and wash the leaves then shake off excess water.  Place in a frypan with only the water clinging to the leaves and cook until wilted.  Set aside to cool slightly.  While you’re waiting for the spinach to cool, mix the ricotta, egg, nutmeg and parmesan in a bowl.  Add the spinach and mix well.

Now is when the kids have fun!  Get them to stuff the filling into the canneloni shells.  This recipe makes one full box of supermarket shells and gives them about half an hour of fun and laughs!  It doesn’t matter if some shells crack.  They all cook the same.

Finally, make the bechamel sauce.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan then add the flour.  Whisk continuously for about two minutes while heating up the milk.  Then slowly add the milk a ladle at a time, whisking as you go.  When all the milk has been added, season with salt and pepper and keep whisking for about 5 minutes on medium heat.

Line the base of a deep ceramic dish with a couple of spoonfuls of the bechamel sauce (it’s easier if it’s rectangular when lining up the filled canneloni).  Lay out the canneloni in a single layer,  then top with the bechamel sauce.  Finally drop spoonfuls of the tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with extra parmesan.

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes and watch the kids lap it up! Enjoy.

This recipe is from my all-time favourite cookbook: Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros.  If you don’t have it, do yourself a favour and get it.

Arranging a tween birthday party

Last week my Valentine’s girl turned 8.  It made me feel dreadfully old.  I’m even saying things like ‘dreadfully old’ now!

Her request was for a Bellawood party.  I can hear your eyebrows shoot up in confusion (as did mine).  Apparently that’s what a girl named Bella has instead of a Hollywood party.  Why an eight year old even wants a Hollywood party is beyond me.  What happened to Dora, Barbie and Hi5?  Yes, I’m holding onto something that’s not there!

So, I set about searching Pinterest and Google for foods to serve at a tween party, and any inspiration for party games.  I stuck to the basic colour scheme of pink and black and kept the food pretty basic.  It was an after school party, so not a full meal.

Luckily Mother Nature smiled down on us, and the sun was shining so the kids spent a great deal of the party in the pool.  Win!

We had some watermelon hearts.  These were simply cut out with a playdough shape and the remnants were frozen to make a watermelon and raspberry slushie.  This was made from the frozen watermelon, some frozen raspberries, a dash of berry mineral water all blended together.

This is a really simple idea that the kids all loved.  I wanted the marshmallows in a glass vase but ours was too big.  I just stuffed some pink tissue paper in the base to bulk it up a bit.

This was the easiest option for the birthday cake.  I picked up these cases at the local cake store, made some sponge mix and tinged it pink then just topped them with pink icing.  They are a little fiddly to eat, but not everything Hollywood is supposed to be easy, right?

My favourite thing to make was the high-heeled cookies pictured on the purple platter.  The cutter was $3 at the local cake store, I made a basic butter cookie and used the same icing used on the cakes.  I would recommend using a shortbread cookie instead of the butter cookie mix, they lost shape a little.

Each place setting was a black plate, pink napkin and plastic champagne flute.  Hidden in the bottom of each champagne flute is a drop of pink food colouring.  When you fill the glass with water, it changes from clear to pink.  My kids call this ‘magic water’ and it gets a few stunned reactions every time.

The lolly bags were just black noodle boxes from Spotlight with each child’s initial in pink stuck to the front.

Below is the finished table.  The girls all had a blast, we added some nail polish and glitter hairspray for fun then the girls put on a catwalk in some dress ups.  I caught it all on tape (including Mr3 doing the moonwalk) and that recording will be a fabulous addition to their 21st videos!

It was a really simple party, not a lot of cooking or preparation, yet the birthday girl had a lovely time.  I think I had just as much fun as the little guests.

Conecakes not cupcakes

Every year I struggle to embrace my inner baker and come up with something fun and exciting for Miss8 to take to school on her birthday.  This year, I discovered something new – the conecake!

A few weeks ago I was making some cupcakes only to realise I had no paper cases.  I saw some small ice cream cones in the cupboard and thought I’d try baking with them instead.  Of course I thought I was brilliant and innovative – only to see it on Pinterest later lol!

Kids love them because there are no paper cases to peel off  and they’re a novelty.  I love them because I’m not picking up paper cases everywhere *rolls eyes*.  Also, as suggested by Clairey Hewitt, they’re the ultimate eco-friendly cupcake.

So just make a normal cake batter, pour some mix into the flat-bottomed cones until they are about 2/3 full.  I bake them at 150 degrees celsius for 10 minutes and then allow to cool.  Ice as per usual.  It would look pretty funky to have a swirly buttercream peak on top of each cone (which would replicate the look of a soft serve ice cream) but I’m just not that comfortable giving my kids that much icing.  I used icing sugar, water and a splash of colour then topped with some sprinkles.

To transport them to school, I just used a small spice jar as a template then cut circles out of a cereal box and taped it to a deep baking tray.  Perfect!

The Organised Housewife

Old-fashioned letter writing

There’s something so special about walking out to the letter box and seeing a hand written letter or card.  I love to sit and feel the crinkly paper between my fingers, breath in the scent of ink and see the carefully constructed script which reveals a tale unfolding before my very eyes.

It’s rare to write letters nowadays.  I encourage Miss8 to write cards and letters to her aunts in Melbourne as a form of practicing her handwriting and so that she too can become excited about the mailman arriving.  In this age of technology when it’s so much faster to write an email or send an sms, it seems we’re losing the art of letter writing.  It’s much simpler to type up a quick letter and use spell check to ensure there are no embarrassing mistakes.  It’s much better for the mind and soul to write the letter and be mindful of words, grammar and context.

This weekend I encourage you to sit down and write a letter to someone.  Not an email, not an sms or a typed letter – pick up a piece of lovely paper, a pen and sit in the sunshine and write a letter.  Go to the post box, mail it with a stamp and wait for the gleeful phone call when your recipient opens it.

I’m linking up with Edenland today, and showing my handwriting.  It’s not fabulous, but I simply adore writing with my fountain pen.  I have an old-fashioned ink jar to fill it, and often end up with black stains on my fingers and hands as a result of using it.  I don’t care because there’s something so cathartic about writing with a fountain pen.

Let me know who you’re writing to today, and share your own lovely penmanship over with Eden.  You’d make her day.

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade

Wordless Wednesday ‘January Photo A Day’ Challenge

To say that I’m an Instagram junkie would be an understatement.  I love the fact that I can take a ‘meh’ photo and transform it into a great photo with the built-in effects and borders.  When Fat Mum Slim announced they would be running a challenge for the month of January on Instagram I jumped on board.

It’s made me much more aware of my surrounds, and some days I can’t stick with just one image.  Here are the prompts, and my photos so far:

 

 

I’m linking up with My Little Drummer Boys for the very first time!  Head on over to find some fabulous blogs.

 
My Little Drummer Boys

 

 

 

 

Reading…what is that again? #52booksin2012

I used to love to read.  I’d devour books as if my life depended on it. Evenings would turn into early morning, and I’d still be found huddled up somewhere with another glorious book transporting me to places filled with green fields, crazy parties and dreams accomplished.  My own reality was much more boring.

Somehow in the past two years I’ve stopped reading.  Not entirely, but it’s a rare occasion that I lay in bed with a good book.  I’m either working or cleaning or parenting or cooking.  Blergh!  The truth is that I simply haven’t made the time for books.  I feel bad about that, as if an old friend has been discarded.

The consequence of my reading-hiatus is that I have a stack of 12 fresh books sitting on my bedside table.  The smell of a new book is something I simply love, yet I’ve neglected my lovely ‘friends’.

So inspired by the gorgeous Averil, I’ve decided to read 52 books in 2012.  There will be weeks when I simply can’t get through an entire book, and others where I will (hopefully) make up the lost ground.  Reading is great for my mind.  It makes me more focused and piques my imagination in a way that the ‘idiot box’ simply can’t.

I’m beginning with a book by my favourite author: Maeve Binchy.  I love, love, love her books.  Always have.  This one has been sitting (neglected) on my bedside table and it’s time to crack it open.

Who would like to join me?  I’m going to use the twitter tag #52booksin2012 and post weekly about new books.  Who is up to the challenge?

I”m going to try to get some books to giveaway over the 52 weeks and my little Miss 7 is also joining in.  So gather your books and let’s begin!

Simple Bailey’s Fudge

A few years ago I stumbled upon a brilliant fudge recipe over at Follow The Gleam and I have been using it ever since (and passing it off as my own!).  The recipe calls for Maple Syrup which I have substituted with Bailey’s Irish Cream *drool*.

Every year, the carers at the kid’s centre ask when it’s coming and yesterday we packaged it up and sent it off with my little Elf helper.

Here’s the recipe:

125g butter
1.5 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp Bailey’s Irish Cream
395g tin of condensed milk
180g white chocolate (I use the Nestle buttons)

Line a slice tin with baking paper.  Melt the butter in a large heavy based pot then add the sugar, Bailey’s and condensed milk.  Cook (stirring continuously) until it boils then turn down the heat to about half strength.  Keep stirring for 10 minutes.  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate and stir quickly until melted.  Pour into the slice tin and refrigerate overnight.

I slice them into small squares and wrap each one like a present in baking paper.  Then I put these into cellophane bags and tie with a festive ribbon.

The total cost is only about $12 (the cellophane bags are 10c from a local cooking store) and this made 15 parcels with 4 squares each.  As you can see from the ingredients it’s INCREDIBLY rich, so this is enough.

BEWARE:  once you start you can’t stop as your friends and family will love it!

The great ‘chicken egg’ hunt

When I first started blogging many moons ago, I was a “City Chick Living in the Sticks” over at Essential Baby.  We had just made our tree change and I was like a fish out of water in this new tiny tourist town.  I wrote about the chasm between living in suburban Melbourne and a town with not only no traffic lights, but not even a zebra crossing.  I babbled about meeting new people and trying to fit in.

Today as I was playing the great chicken egg hunt game, I realised I may have moved on.  Perhaps I’m no longer a city chick!

*What is this woman smoking, you ask?*

Rewind a few weeks, we finally added two chooks to our menagerie.  I’ve always loved the idea of having a couple of chooks so the kids could prise the freshly laid eggs from the soft straw and we would cook them in our country bliss.

Mr Handyman put together the chook coop (that many have said looks more like a guinea pig cage) and I found a place to buy two free-range layers.  It was so kitsch, I even met the ‘seller’ on the side of the road along with others in town getting their foul additions.

The kids named them Bob (The Builder) and Fluffy.  CUTE!

We waited and waited for them to start laying some golden goodness but nothing happened.  I patiently chased them up our street every afternoon and back to their coop to be safely locked up for the night.  My husband dubbed me “the chook whisperer”.

On Monday morning, I went to open their coop so they could roam the garden (and hopefully not go back to the neighbour’s house!).  In the minute it took me to go back inside and get the scraps for them, either Bob or Fluffy had laid an egg outside the coop!  I proudly took it inside and the kids were ecstatic!

Tuesday morning there was no egg (sad face).  Then, when I was doing my impersonation of the pied piper with the chooks following me back to their coop that night, I stumbled upon an egg in the middle of the lawn!  Once again cheers all around from the kids.

…so it began.  The great chicken egg hunt.

Similar to an Easter egg hunt, we now have to think like Bob and Fluffy and scour the yard each day to try to find their googy eggs!

I swear, if my neighbours have a video camera handy they will definitely win Australia’s Funniest Home Videos with the footage of us searching for eggs and then rounding up the chooks each day!  The people down the street were even standing out on the road watching our foul capers the other night!

It seems I’m no longer a City Chick Living in the Sticks!  I’m now a Country Gal!

 

 

I’m linking up with FlogYoBlogFriday for the FIRST time!  Woot!  Check out some other awesome bloggers here

FYBF

“Pimp my room”

I’ve always loved those shows where they take something mundane (and even seemingly unsalvageable) and turn it into a masterpiece.  Well, I have to admit that sometimes I cringe at the makeovers but generally it’s all about rescuing a car/room/house/person from the abyss.

I’ve spoken before about my lack of styling finesse and my intentions on having the professionals style my own room, but thanks to Pinterest, I’ve had a go at the kids rooms all on my own.  Well, with the help of Mr Handyman of course!

When we started, they were two very ugly rooms with beige painted bricks on three of the walls.  We had them plastered and painted, then Mr Handyman built the window seat and shelving into Stinky’s room.

So here are the finished rooms:

Unfortunately the adorable Manifesto for Kids from Smile Collective fell off the wall.  We attempted to use a Command Damage Free Hanging Hook – well the wall isn’t damaged but the picture that fell onto Lucky during the night certainly is!

The two decals I bought from Wall Effect and they are BY FAR the best value for money I’ve found – and I’ve been ogling the “BOY n: noise with dirt on it” for a while.

The desk was a second-hand one from a local garage sale, and the racing car bed was free!

So overall, we’re rapt with the outcome, but more importantly so are the kids.

Now onto my room…although I think I’ll be calling in Bowerbird for that one!

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