Sunday, May 8, 2016

What's in my kitchen, May 2016

Finally, it's starting to cool down and really feel like Autumn. The days are still sunny and warm, but evenings and early mornings have that traditional Autumn chill I'm used to. Just in time for Winter to start properly next month! I'm hanging out for porridge in the cold mornings, and all the various toppings I can add to it.

Things have been a bit quiet in my kitchen this past month. I've been stretched thin, with work being extremely busy, and Jimmy and Ellie being particularly attention seeking and needing to be constantly near me, if not touching. I suppose it's a side effect of working harder too as we miss each other when I'm not as available. On top of all that, I picked up a university subject, just for interest's sake, but it's taking up more of my time than I expected, so what with one thing and another, my kitchen and its contents and creations hasn't been photographed as much as usual.

Nonetheless, I do have a few snippets to share.

In my kitchen is...

Mayver's Dark Roasted Crunchy peanut butter. I've already talked about how much I love this brand before but the dark roasted butter is a new addition to the range. The peanuts have been slowly roasted before being crushed and sea salt added. They claim on the label that there are at least 153 peanuts in each jar, which tickles me because I like a bit of quirkiness in my advertising! There is also a smooth version, but if it comes to a choice between smooth or crunchy, I'm crunchy all the way.

I was a bit hesitant about the taste at first, as I didn't see anything special about it, but it's grown on me and now I find it delicious - it's good on home made sourdough, spread over apples and pears, and even dolloped over the top of porridge. I like it so much, I've just bought a second jar (pictured as I didn't want to photographically admit just how clean I'd scraped the last jar...)

In my kitchen is...

A mini pink phalaenopsis orchid. Today is Mother's Day and I woke up to find this orchid on the dining table at breakfast time. It wasn't really a surprise, as I'd seen Ellie and Mr Fork scheming over the flowers while we were grocery shopping, but it's the thought that counts.

I also had breakfast made for me - vegemite and avocado on sourdough toast (I was instructed to make the sourdough in preparation last night) and hot coffee.

I've not had the best luck in the past with orchids, but hopefully this little one is the exception. Ellie told me it's small like her and Jimmy, but it will grow too. She's also asked if she can share and can it live with her in her room.

In my kitchen is...

My latest salad obsession. I started making it because tomatoes are constantly on sale lately so I've always got some, and my garden parsley is out of control so I needed something that would include both of those things. Throw in some lemon juice, fresh garlic and some salt and pepper and this quinoa tabbouleh was created. I find it delicious and filling and it travels very nicely for lunches on work days. It's also good warm or cold, so it's very versatile.

In my kitchen is...

My constant little companion. Jimmy is very different to Ellie - where she is happy to play independently and do her own thing, he just wants to be close to me. He is happiest underfoot and always wants to know what I'm doing and be involved by watching and touching. So, if I'm in the kitchen, he generally is too, poking into all of the cupboards and exploring. He likes to pull everything out, and stack them or make music by banging on everything. If I'm mixing something, he likes to help hold the spoon, and he's always wanting to peer excitedly into the oven or whatever pot is on the stove in the hope that it's something delicious for him to eat.

I don't really mind, unless I'm using the knives or carrying something hot and I forget that he's there and nearly trip. I believe that children learn best by being included and watching, so I don't really want to banish him when he clearly enjoys being there. I have finally taught him that ovens are hot and to stay back when I'm opening it so that's something. Perhaps I have a mini Masterchef in the making!
I am linking this post in with Maureen, the orgasmic chef, host of the monthly In My Kitchen event.

What's in your kitchen this month?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Creative play with Bunchems

Brought to you by Nuffnang and Funtastic

Some days, I just can't seem to do anything to amuse my children for any length of time. On days when I'm home with them, we usually bake something, we clean up, snack, play outdoors, read and do some drawing, but I guarantee you, despite providing plenty of entertainment, I will inevitably get asked if the TV can be turned on or if the iPad can be used.
I am always on the look out for fun things to do with the kids and keep them away from electronics (not that there isn't a time and place for those too!). My children love craft, but it often ends up with Jimmy trying to draw on Ellie's artwork, the pens get used to paint fingers, people or furniture, or playdoh ends up in places that playdoh should not be. Thanks to well-meaning friends (you know who you are), there are stickers on pretty much every surface in my house, including the floor and the dog. Never let it be said that I do not support artistic activities! To my chagrin, often as soon as it's set up and they get started on an activity, one or both of them will go running off and spread mess fun all over the house. I love to foster creativity and fun, but why is it so messy?!

Enter the postman (who did not knock at all!), fortuitously bearing a box of Bunchems. We got a Mega Box, which comes with 370 Bunchems, a heap of accessories to personalise the creations and a book with ideas to start you off (rrp $39.99). As soon as she saw what was in the box, Ellie asked could she play with them with me. Jimmy took the box they came in and sat in it humming Row, Row, Row your boat. I count that as a win; everyone wanted to play!
Bunchems are furry little plastic spheres that have "burrs" all over, meaning that can be squished and connected together to create whatever you can imagine. They're quite nifty and feel nice from a sensory perspective - I liked rolling them around. Best of all, there is no glue required, and in a tribute to my eco consciousness, Bunchems are reusable, so the possibilities are endless.
I wanted to make the octopus, but I was overruled by the kids who just wanted to squish things together and get creative. It was a fabulous mix of construction and craft, and there are so many possibilities. We made a monster:
Which Ellie then insisted we turn into a Mike Wazowski interpretation:
We also attempted a unicorn from the book:
Ellie made a tiger. I don't see it, but she does, and that's good enough for me:
Jimmy might be too young to really 'get' the concept yet, but we were also learning colours, counting and patterns while we played. I quite enjoyed playing myself, and I definitely enjoyed spending some quiet, screen-free time with the kids too. Although the product is marketed at ages 4+, with supervision, we didn't have any issues. I have heard reports that the burrs can stick to hair and clothing, but we didn't experience that at all.
I suspect these will be a favourite in our house, as a few hours after we'd packed everything away (the perfectionist in me insisted on separating the Bunchems back into colour groups, which irritated my children who wanted to be onto the next activity), they wanted to play again. How can I say no to such creative fun?

What would you create with Bunchems?

Monday, April 18, 2016

What are you grateful for?

Brought to you by Nuffnang and Circa Home
When I was growing up, I lived in a house that had a view of the ocean from pretty much the entire top floor. If I opened the windows in my bedroom at night, I could fall asleep to the sound of the ocean waves and the smell of salt in the air. It was a five minute walk from my house to the beach, and you better believe I took full advantage of that fact! From the ground up to the veranda, a honey suckle vine grew prolifically, which smelled amazing, and was a constant source of fun - I ripped many a flower apart to get at that delicious nectar. I do miss that house so.

When Circa Home gifted me a honeyflower and sandalwood candle to try, my mind immediately took me back to that house where I grew up, even though I haven't been anywhere near it for so long. Then I realised that honeyflower and honey suckle are completely different flowers, but it was too late and I was too far along a walk down memory lane to want to turn back! 
I like to take what I call 'mental photographs' of meaningful experiences in my life, taking a few minutes to freeze the scene in my mind. To really experience the taste, the smells, the sights and sounds, the way I feel and what's going on around me. iPhone pictures and videos are great, but what makes a memory for me are the textures of the day - I take a few seconds to grab them and hold them close so I can recall each moment later in high clarity. I can still look back and remember those times in great detail, how I felt, what I was doing and the thing that made that moment great. It only takes hearing a song again, or smelling a familiar scent, and I can be cast back into many a great memory. Just the smell of my babies when they come in to snuggle with me in the mornings evokes many a fond memory too.
The Circa Home honeyflower and sandalwood candle smells amazing, and I'm grateful that it took me to a place where I have such happy memories. There is something infinitely calming about glowing candlelight and being surrounded by a lovely scent. It helps me unwind and relax, another thing for which I am grateful.
You can win a Mother's Day Gratitude Gift pack from Circa Home which includes the lovely honeyflower and sandalwood candle among other great items. I encourage you to enter; I'd love for one of my readers to win this fabulous prize!

Do you have a special scent that takes you back to happy memories?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Home made refried beans

I've had a couple of requests for my refried bean recipe from my April IMK post so without further ado, here it is!

I used to buy tinned refried beans until I clicked just how easy it was to make my own.

Allow extra time if you're using dried beans as you'll need to have them cooked first. Otherwise, tinned kidney beans also work just fine.

Method:
  1. Sauté a clove of chopped garlic in some olive oil. Add in a teaspoon of paprika and half a teaspoon of cumin.
  2. Add in two parts of kidney beans to one part tinned tomato. So, to make it easy, you could use 2 cans of kidney beans and one of tomato. I drained the liquid from the beans because I don't like the extra salt that many of them have, but that's up to you.
  3. As you're stirring, mash the beans up and they'll help to thicken the mix. Cook until everything is warm and at the appropriate thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve!
Notes:
  • You can also add a finely chopped onion when you add the garlic, and even some fresh chilli.
  • Liquid smoke is also a delicious addition... season it to your preference!
I love refried beans. Isn't that just a big bowl of comfort right there?
What's your comfort food?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Have you heard of Tsum Tsums?

First of all, let me start off this post by saying it isn't sponsored. I'm writing this because I had a bad purchase experience, which actually ended up turning into something extremely lovely.

Let me back up. Last weekend I was shopping for a birthday present for one of Ellie's friends at a store I won't name. There was a promotion at the time on toys where if you bought one thing, you could select another toy for 50% off. I thought, she's been well behaved and they look cute, so I bought her a pack of Tsum Tsum Squishy figurines (Tsum Tsum roughly means 'stackable' in Japanese). She chose Cinderella, and there was a mystery one included that you could only see when you opened the pack. Hooray (for my Frozen obsessed threenager), she'd gotten Anna! Except well, Anna has no eyes.
When I took this picture, I'd bought it a few hours previously, so I hardly think that she could have possibly played with it enough to wear off the eyes already. Cue disappointed threenager, throwing appropriate threenager sized tantrum. As we couldn't see Anna when we chose the pack, I admit to being sad and disappointed myself, and figured head office would like to know that there was a possible faulty batch out there. I also planned to take Anna back to the store and swap her over.

I had a quick google, and (although I didn't purchase it from them), wrote to Tsum Tsum Australia to let them know what happened, and to give them the feedback about product quality.

What happened next is a lovely experience.

I got a reply saying that Tsum Tsum Australia aren't associated with Disney, they are just a passionate parent who decided to import official Tsums themselves after having trouble purchasing them online. They don't stock the Squishys on their site but advised me to take it back to the place of purchase for a refund, and went on to say they wished they had an Anna to offer as compensation for me.

I wrote back saying, thank you for the information, I did intend to take my purchase back and thank you for responding. I also said the offer was lovely and appreciated, but unnecessary, especially given I didn't purchase it from them. I said that I would make an order through them later though as Ellie had by now become Tsum Tsum obsessed and they obviously knew their Tsums.

To cut to the chase. I arrived home on Wednesday to find an envelope in my letter box with a tiny Marie (from the Aristocats) Tsum inside, and a note saying that they hoped this made up for a disappointing prior experience. They had tracked down my address from the contact form submission and sent an official fluffy Tsum Tsum out of the goodness of their heart!
Marie is not plastic like the Squishy, but tiny, fluffy and a very cute stuffed toy. Look at her! She even has a fuzzy tail (you can see some of the fluff in the picture below, as well as on her head).
That is customer service, above and beyond, for someone who wasn't even their customer. It made mine, and most certainly Ellie's day too.

So, if you ever want to expand your Tsum Tsum collection, and you want something that is authentic, from a business who is passionate about quality and service, may I suggest you look to Tsum Tsum Australia, for all your cute, stackable needs!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What's in my kitchen, April 2016

Well that's the first quarter of the year done. I heard on the radio recently that this has been the hottest Autumn for some time... a good 5C degrees higher than the average anyway. I'm quite enjoying it - I can still wear sandals and skirts to work, and I can get away without a jacket at the moment. It also reflects in the foods I'm eating, plenty of light meals and things I can pick at. There's time for hearty filling foods soon enough.

I hope everyone had a good Easter, however you celebrate it. This year for the first time in a decade or so, we stayed home instead of taking our annual Easter long weekend away at the beach as my parents were overseas attending a wedding. We spent our days sleeping, eating, and playing so that we could do more eating. It was lovely to have the time off - cocooned away from work and stress and instead surrounded by food, friends and family - that's what holidays are about for me!

In my kitchen is...
 
A bottle of liquid smoke. I saw it at a jerky stand (I know, I know) at my local farmers markets. The stallholder offered me a sniff and I had to have it.
Vegan and made locally, I love the added smokiness this adds into my cooking. I use it in so many dishes - chilli, stews, soups, even as a seasoning in my marinades. It's particularly delightful with tofu or eggplants as they seem to soak up the flavour. A little goes a long way, and this little bottle will last for ages.
In my kitchen is...

My attempts at Celia's stuffed focaccia. I made a sundried tomato, artichoke and asparagus version for me.
 
Mr Fork had a ham and cheese version, with extra cheese sprinkled on the top at his request. So easy, so yummy, thank you Celia for adding to my baking repertoire. I have already made this several times since, and it's been a hit each time.
 
In my kitchen is...

Refried beans. Oh how I love Mexican food, and beans in particular. They're my comfort food. They are so simple to whip up and make a yummy addition to our regular make-your-own-burrito night. There's some of the liquid smoke in these beans too.
 Any leftovers from our Mexican night, I used to make a lasagne. I made a bolognaise sauce (tomato and lentil base) and then I chucked all the leftover burrito fillings in too - the beans, some corn, baby spinach, broccoli, salsa, I think there was even a handful of rice etc. Here's an in progress shot to show just how ad hoc my fillings were!
 
Then I layered that into a baking dish with lasagne sheets. I used my traditional layer of hummus on the top and it turned out delicious. Both my kids gobbled it up!

In my kitchen is...

Frozen vegan pizzas, again from a local business. Although I told Ellie we were having that for dinner one night, and she shot me such a look of disappointment when she realised there was nothing Elsa or Anna about the dinner.

There was an error in the package printing so they were having a sale on pizzas that were perfectly fine just not packaged correctly. I snapped up a couple to keep in the freezer for nights I just don't feel like cooking. Win!

In my kitchen is...

A winter melon. At least I think I translated that right. Usually we just call it gua which is a bit of a ubiquitous Cantonese word for melon. Regardless, its a bit of a nom de plume as it's not even grown in winter, but in summer. It doesn't really have a taste, but like choko, it absorbs the flavours of what it's cooked with. Although it can be used in stir fry, I'm most used to seeing it included in soup or stew dishes which is how this one will end up.
This specimen was given to me by the mother of one of my friends, who in turn was gifted several of them herself. I took the smallest one, but it's totally not small at all - see the 20c piece for size reference! Soup for days!
 
In my kitchen is...

A single rose, grown by my aunt and displayed proudly in a coke glass proudly selected by Ellie because it matched the flower. Somehow, flowers grown at home smell much nicer than anything a florist can provide, and this one perfumed my kitchen for days, not to mention bringing a smile to my face every time I saw it!

I am linking this post in with Maureen, the orgasmic chef, host of the monthly In My Kitchen event.

What's in your kitchen this month?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What's in my kitchen, March 2016

Annnnnnd it's March. A new season, and already I can start to feel the weather cooling down a tiny bit. Not enough to be comfortable yet, but we are getting there. Somebody told me that the average February temperature this year was 3 degrees above normal, and I'd believe it. It's been hot, humid and not very pleasant at all. I'm hoping the cooler weather brings easier sleeping weather, and that the change is season heralds some properly Autumn temperatures so I can switch to some warm and hearty dishes! With the heat and general busy-ness of life lately, I haven't had as much time in the kitchen as I'd like but I'm aiming to change that.

In my kitchen is...

A bowl of freshly picked chillies. My little chilli bush is groaning under the weight of quickly ripening fruit. I'm picking a handful of them every couple of days. Some we eat, some I give away and others are washed and then frozen as they are, ready to be pulled out and added to a meal. I find that frozen chillies chop beautifully, and don't lose too much flavour for being frozen. When my frozen stash gets too much, I might whip up a batch of home made tabasco sauce, but this requires forward planning as the cooking fumes are quite deadly and I need to make sure the kids are kept distant and distracted while I make it!
In my kitchen is...

A delicate rice bowl, painted with flowers and dragons. Traditionally, my rice bowl collection has been quite boring, either plain white utilitarian design, or the standard blue and white porcelain style. Something about this bowl called to me though, and I had to have it. I don't have any matching parts of the sets, but I like dragons and I like rice, so it fits beautifully into my crockery collection.

Incidentally, since I like trivia, and just assume others do too: the dragons portrayed on my bowl are Chinese dragons, as opposed to Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese. Dragons can be distinguished mainly by the number of toes that they have. Chinese common dragons have 4 toes and the Chinese imperial dragons have 5. Korean dragons have 4 toes but also have horns like a deer. Japanese dragons have 3 toes and Vietnamese dragons, like Chinese dragons may also have 4 or 5 toes, but unlike Chinese dragons, have wings and can breathe fire.
In my kitchen is...

Several rolls of soba noodles. When I am lazy and just can't be bothered to cook something fancy, noodles make an excellent and quick meal, while also allowing my to forage in the fridge and add bits and pieces which need using up. One of my favourite ways to prepare them at the moment is to add noodles into boiling water. I then turn the heat off and into the pot I also add some miso paste, whatever leafy green vegetables I have to hand (usually sweet potato leaves from the garden), some corn, mushrooms and shallots. I leave the lid on and allow the whole thing to sit (with occasional stirring) for 5-10 minutes until the noodles are soft and then distribute into bowls. Mr Fork will often add shredded cooked chicken to the his and the children's bowls, but more often than not we eat as is. Soupy, delicious, noodley goodness!

In my kitchen is...

Mini blueberry muffins, made from a variant of my wacky cake recipe. I used coconut sugar and added some blueberries and cinnamon. From the time I pulled out the ingredients to make them and then pulled them from the oven was 30 minutes. Healthy, vegan, home baked, and perfect for my mini humans to snack on. This particular batch was baked first thing in the morning and gone by the time Mr Fork got home from work. I think they were a hit, just quietly!

In my kitchen is...

A pot of rosemary. While I don't want to jinx myself, I have not been able to keep rosemary healthy and thriving for awhile. I'm not sure why, I've tried it in all different positions and soil types but it just doesn't make it. I'm hoping this is the rosemary plant that proves me wrong! This specimen was brought home for me by Mr Fork - one of the boys he works with recently got married and these were bonbonnieres at the wedding. The lovely man brought in a plant for everyone in the office. I love the idea of giving the guests something living and useful to take away and plant as a reminder of the special day. What a fabulous idea!
In my kitchen is...

A nude food banana mover. I'm all for waste free lunch boxes. I love using little containers and reusable wraps to store food. However, I've talked before (ironically, in a banana based recipe) about how truly anti-banana I am. This container was given to me in a collection of other lunchbox type containers and I honestly just don't think I will ever use it. I love the concept and I applaud the cleverness and effort that someone put into designing a flexible container to store a giant yellow herb in.
If you are located in Australia (just thinking of postage here) and think you could use this nifty little thing, please let me know in the comments and I will be in touch to get details so that I can post it to you and it doesn't languish unloved in my cupboard!
I am linking this post in with Maureen, the orgasmic chef, host of the monthly In My Kitchen event.

What's in your kitchen this month?

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