Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's in my kitchen, July 2016

I skipped last month's in my kitchen round up. I nearly didn't make this month's either. We have been the house of sick here. With children in daycare, winter does tend to mean that we are all constantly teetering on the edge of illness, but I overbalanced off that edge and fell right into a chest infection. Probably the kids had it too, but they were much peppier than I was. I'm putting it down to the resilience of youth. It really couldn't have come at a worse time either (not that there is ever a good time to be ill). I work in a stream of technology related to payroll and the systems behind them, and the month leading up to the end of financial year is always busy. None the less, I'm on the mend and the work deadlines have eased so the end of financial year celebrations can now begin as well as a few other work milestones that were met simultaneously.

Although there is no central host for this month, here are some highlights from my July kitchen:

In my kitchen is...

Pei Pa Koa. I generally hate using cough syrups, but when it gets to the stage that I'm keeping myself and everyone else awake with my constant hacking, I resort to Pei Pa Koa, which is a herbal syrup that I obtain from my local asian grocer. By all reports it was originally developed by a physician back in the Qing Dynasty. It is taken orally, I usually just use a tablespoon and take it straight, although for my children I mix it into water and have them drink it.

It does contain honey so it is not vegan, but it works and I feel comforted using something that I have used over the years whenever I have been ill. There is something to be said for habits and traditions, which I'm sure contribute as much to a cure as real medicine does as well.

In my kitchen is...

In keeping with my chest infection, I found myself cross, thirsty, hot (perhaps a little fevered) and heaty. Yes, that was deliberate; I do mean hot and heaty as two separate symptoms. Instead of rushing to the doctor at the signs of illness, there are many, I suppose one would call them 'old Chinese wives tales' that can help cure what ails you. Traditional Chinese wisdom uses food as medicine, and the notion of cooling and heatiness relates to a balance of yin and yang within the body. In the Chinese context, barley water is good for cooling internal 'fire'  and calming a sore throat and other heat related issues. Apparently, the English used to serve barley water to the sick and infirm, so perhaps there is something to it all. Regardless, I wanted some, and so I cooked up a batch.

I didn't have the proper Chinese barley on hand, so mine was made with plain old pearl barley and not sweetened at all, although I did doctor the servings depending on my mood. Some were plain. Some were served with Pei Pa Koa mixed in. Some had some lemon and a splash of rum included too (perhaps not very traditional that last one!). I am not a rum drinker, but Mr Fork is and he nearly went into hysterics when he saw which of his precious rums I had chosen to use in my barley toddy (apparently it was a very good one). I have never seen the point of straining all the good barley bits, so I leave mine in when serving.
Pictured in a glorious glass bottle that has it's own little neoprene cover. I was gifted a set of these BBBYO (Beautiful Beaches, BYO) bottles by a dear friend of mine. They are wonderful - I use them for hot and cold drinks and find them one of the nicest reusable bottles I have ever used.

In my kitchen is...

The most amazing rocky road. Made by the Noosa Chocolate Factory in Noosa, Queensland, their rocky road comes in white, milk and dark chocolate varieties. Amazingly, and oddly not well advertised, their dark chocolate version is completely vegan! That's right, ninja vegan rocky road!! So good, it has me walking from one end to the other end of the city regularly to stock up. I've told them that they're missing a prime opportunity to cater to vegan chocoholics by shouting that from the rooftops, but they said that, although the machinery is cleaned in between batches, they do use the same machines for the milk versions as well, so can't 100% guarantee that there aren't trace ingredients.

It's my guilty pleasure. Guilty because, if I eat without restriction, I can quite easily polish off an entire bag in one sitting. Look at it though! I have no idea how they make such delicious marshmallow and jelly without the gelatine, but they've done a spectacular job of it. Many of their dark chocolate items are also vegan, but this one is my favourite.

In my kitchen is...

A gift from my work colleague who, knowing what a chocolate fiend I am, brought me a dark chocolate frog when she was up visiting from Melbourne recently. As she works very closely with me, I suspect that she is also feeling all kinds of relief that it is the end of financial year too. Perhaps a package of celebratory rocky road may need to find it's way to her desk soon.

I love that I have colleagues who love and appreciate me as much as I do them. I have been slowly nibbling away at this dark chocolate (vegan!) frog when I have a hot drink after dinner at night times. Mr Fork and my children all shun dark chocolate, so these treats are pretty much all mine (which means they last for ages and don't just disappear when my back is turned)...

In my kitchen is...

Lovely thick and hearty dahl, made from split peas. I've been making lots of legume meals lately. They're easy to make in bulk, freeze well for the nights I don't feel like cooking, and are so soothing and warm now that winter has settled in and the weather is most decidedly chilly. This particular version included tomato, coriander seeds that I'd dried from the garden, some mustard seeds and a whole bunch of lovely spices which made the house smell gorgeously fragrant. Served over some rice, it was a warming meal and perfect for soothing a sore throat.

There is no official link up for the In My Kitchen this month, so I'm just going to throw it out there to all... what's going on in your kitchen this month?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Conversations with my toddler

You can see previous conversations I've had here and here.

Ellie has a cold so she's a bit congested at the moment. She leans over right into my face and breathes
E: Mama, can you hear my nose singing?
Me: ... Ellie that's called breathing. And you're actually breathing snot all over me...
E: But mama, it's a song!

###

In the morning, over breakfast:
E: Mama, I wish you were dead.
Me: That's a terrible thing to say Ellie. Why do you wish that?
E: Don't be silly mama, I'm only pretending. I love you. But I wish you were dead.
Me: ...
###

After she'd been particularly irritating and picking fights with Jimmy and I:
E: Mama, I'm sorry for being naughty. Even though I'm naughty, you still love me all the time though don't you?
Me: Of course Ellie. I love you even when you're naughty. But I'm proudest when you use your good behaviour.
E: So mama, will you keep me forever? Please?!
###
 
 
Oh toddlers. This stage is just so adorable!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mama, please look after my bear...

Before we even got pregnant, I'd fallen in love with a friend's baby's Flat Out Bear. It's a bear made from sheepskin and they're so soft and chewable and perfect for little fingers to explore. Mr Fork went out and bought me a big white one which I named Mortimer, and a little one, which he explained would be for our future child.

When Ellie arrived, she was given this bear, and when she was old enough, her daddy told her that story - she just loves her baby bear. They always sleep together, and they're very close. So it was a big deal, when I was packing for a recent Melbourne trip, that Ellie slipped her baby bear into my suitcase, and told me that she was sending her bear along with me so I had something to snuggle with. Of course, she also told me that she would have Mortimer while I was away, thank you very much.

I was appropriately touched. I decided that I would text pictures of baby bear on my work trip back to Mr Fork so that Ellie could see what we were up to. It was a hit! Perhaps my colleagues may never let me live it down that I carried and posed a bear around our office, and I certainly gave the workshop participants something to talk about when I walked in to facilitate and carried a bear up to speak with me... here are a few pictures of what we got up to.

Here we are waiting at the airport.
Posing on the hotel bed, so she knew I was looking after her bear and keeping it company.
What? Oh, just hanging out in the reading chair.
The view from the hotel window in the morning.
Why yes... we do have a swing in our office. I think all offices should have one!
This is the view from our Melbourne office. I'm told it's lovely, except when the F1 car race is on, as it's run quite near, and then it's just noisy and traffic is annoying.
Ellie was quite impressed seeing all that her baby bear got up to and I thought it was a lovely way for her to be involved in my travel, which is otherwise a bit lonely and impersonal. And I got a cute little bear to keep me company. Wins all around!

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?

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