Friday, February 28, 2014

What's on my... bedside table

Some of my readers have asked for a bit of a behind the scenes look into my life. So I thought I could do a bunch of things showing who I am by showing snippets of what's around me. Because it was the closest thing to me at the time, I give you what's on my bedside table!

Bedside table

  • Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton hardcover. I've been trying to get through this book since last Christmas, which is most unlike me. I'm a voracious reader, it's just that this one has stymied me for some reason. It's too big to carry around to read on public transport. It's too unwieldy to hold up and read while Ellie snuggles on me. It was awkward to hold and read while breastfeeding and requires lots of concentration to follow the story, so I couldn't read it in short bursts. So it sits on my bedside table, mocking me and awaiting an opportunity when I'm not reading something else.
  • Kindle. This is my go-to reading device. It's so portable and doesn't strain my eyes like reading on the iPad for long periods does. Also it's a lot less painful when I fall asleep and drop it on my head! I sign up for daily emails where I'm told of Kindle book price drops and sales, and this ensures that I have a constant fresh source of cheap new books. 
  • Notebook/pen. I call this my glad/sad book. In it, I allow myself to write three things that I am grateful for, and three things that I am unhappy about for that day. I like to illustrate it with funny doodles and other things that catch my fancy. It helps me realise I have lots of be happy about, and once I've written the things that make me cranky, I can also see how little some of them mean. I find it cathartic.
  • Drink bottle with water. For those times I'm thirsty (mostly at night) and too lazy to go to the kitchen.
  • Stereo dock. Not the best sounding but perfect for charging the iPhone overnight and giving me a clock too.
  • Various vitamins. They're out in full view so that I remember to take them.
  • Small green torch. At nighttime my eyesight is terrible and if I don't have it, then guaranteed I'm going to stub my toes painfully on the bed if I'm walking around.
  • Paw paw ointment. This stuff is so multipurpose it's not funny.
I know that it's quite cluttered but I swear that I need everything on it. Mr Fork's bedside table is more functional. He has a phone charger, a box of tissues and some loose change. Sure it might look neater, but when he's thirsty or has chapped lips in the middle of the night, guess who has the last laugh?!

What's on your bedside table?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eight ways to reduce food wastage

Thursdays are bin day around our area. Every week, I'm actually amazed at how little rubbish is in our bin. I suppose it makes sense, what with the composting, meal planning and cloth nappy usage. However, talking to other people, I understand that this isn't the norm and sometimes there is a struggle to fit everything in for collection.

Apparently, a huge source of garbage is food wastage - a third of food produced globally is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes. That's a lot of food. I'm sure it's not on purpose, but we all have those unidentifiable bags of goo in the fridge sometimes. Well, that costs both money and space in the dump, and no one likes to throw money away, which is essentially what's happening. So, here are 8 fairly simple things I do to reduce food wastage:

1. Meal plan. I've talked about it before. Not only does it save money, but it means you know what you're making and the ingredients required before you go shopping, so you only buy what you need for the week.

2. Portion control. Did you know that the recommended serving size of protein (meat, tofu etc) is a piece the size of a deck of cards? Suddenly you can stretch ingredients even further! And if you buy in bulk, no big deal because...

3. Freeze what you don't need. This applies to heaps of things. Got a great deal somewhere? Fabulous! Portion things out and freeze what you won't use right away. You can still take advantage of specials if they don't fit the meal plan, just store them so they last longer and don't turn unidentifiable in the back of the fridge.

4. Sniff test. Lots of items have a 'best before' date on them, but they're still perfectly edible after then, maybe just not aesthetically pleasing. That's ok. You can cut those bits off (and compost them too). So don't just blindly throw out food, give it a bit of a sniff test to see if it's still good. Obviously don't eat it if it smells gross.

5. Get creative with leftovers. Mr Fork and I regularly schedule a hunt and gather night into our meal planning, to use up all the little bits randomly left in the fridge. First in gets to eat them. But you can still "tszuj" up leftovers. Got some mash left? Make shepherds pie? Leftover roast or steak? Chop and add some gravy and pastry and make pot pies. Leftover rice? Make fried rice.

6. Learn to love the less attractive. So your carrots have wilted and you forgot about the broccoli you bought last week. They're still good, just hide them. Make soup. Put them into a casserole. Mix them with mash and make fritters! You are only limited by your imagination. My personal tip? Cheese sauce makes everything taste good and Mr Fork and Ellie lap up anything it covers!

7. Do you garden? Plant things in waves so that they don't ripen in one big glut and you can spread out the supply. If that doesn't work for you, barter. I have a friend who swaps my tomatoes and eggplants for her beans and corn. We both get variety and no wastage because we have an oversupply. I've also got the added benefit of swapping seeds with her to expand my urban gardening empire.

Passionfruit flowers in my garden
8. Store things properly. Invest a bit of time learning how to store food to get maximum shelf life from it. For example, onions and potatoes like to be stored in a cool dark place with plenty of air circulating. Just not right next to each other as that seems to speed up the rot. You can freeze some things as is, others need to be blanched. Lettuce and herbs hate plastic bags but will last longer in paper. Always reach for the cans and bottles with the longest shelf life (these are often toward the back of the shelf). When you put those away, put them at the back of the pantry so you use the oldest stock first.

How do you reduce food wastage? Any tips for storing food?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Love is all around

Sometimes I get so caught up in the little tiny details of life that I forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When those little details are all I can see, when life gets so full of things to do and places to be and lists of things that need to get crossed off, and that's what I focus on, I sometimes neglect to appreciate all the good things around me. This is a bad habit that I have because I truly believe a happy mama means a happy baby and a happy family too.

So without further ado, here's me focussing on what has been giving me warm and fuzzy feelings over the past few days....
  • I love Fridays and Mondays, as they're the days that I get to spend with my little lady, and not have to rush her around to get ready so we can do the daycare drop off. 
  • Look at this bumper crop of tiny tomatoes I harvested from my raised garden bed! They're sweet and delicious and worth braving the hoards of grasshoppers which seem to have developed a taste for them too! Anyone have any tips for discouraging grasshoppers? I'm deadly afraid of them and run screaming in the other direction when I encounter them, so squishing is out of the question for me.
  • On the topic of gardens, everything is doing so well lately! I have eggplants ripening and I keep eyeing them off, ready to pick them before grasshoppers get to them. The tomatoes are prolific! I have pumpkin and passionfruit flowering like mad, but no fruit yet (maybe it's time to get out a paintbrush and manually pollinate...). Sweet potato is spreading nicely, and even the citrus plants seem to be happy. I'll have to do a proper garden update soon I think.
  • On Valentines day, Ellie had a play date, so we whipped up a batch of mini wacky cakes for her to share. These ones are an apple and cinnamon variety, with a spoonful of cocoa thrown in to make them a little bit more special. They were a hit! Not to mention that while Ellie and her friend were playing, I got to enjoy some conversation with another adult over tea and bread. Oh my, how grown up and sophisticated does that sound?!
  • Blurred photo aside, look at that look of achievement and sheer joy. There was a stage when Ellie was scared to go on the playground equipment but that is past us now. She loves the slide and I love to hear her squeal with glee on the way down. I also feel like I'm getting some exercise in myself when we walk to the park to play. Win, win!
  • Not even a year later and those delicious MaltEaster bunnies are back in store. They have them at the checkout counter at my local shops and I'm a sucker for them... so, so good! Ellie is now old enough to be interested, so I've also turned into one of those mothers who hide in the pantry and try to sneakily scoff the chocolate. HA! It's like toddlers and husbands have supersonic hearing for the crackling of chocolate wrappers.
What has been making you happy lately?

PS: Feel like being social? Come join in on the Facebook page!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Growing up so fast

Love comes in so many forms. Instead of a sappy V-day post, I prefer to talk about our little girl and some of the ways she lights up our lives.

Where oh where did my baby girl go, and when did this grown up toddler take her place? Ellie is changing every day now. She sprouts teeth like nobody's business, and Mr Fork and I are starting to have to watch what we say around her these days as she tries to mimic us. She is making fabulous cognitive leaps... the other day we walked past some farmyard sculptures, and she pointed at the chicken and said "cluck, cluck". I was like a proud mama hen myself at that moment!

She has such sophisticated food tastes, and I'm grateful that she loves to eat everything at the moment. Her favourite over the chinese new year period was sea cucumber. I hope she enjoyed it, because at horrible amounts per kg, it isn't something we buy for home (nor something that Mr Fork or I eat at all actually).

Fetch me more sea cucumber!
She currently has a shoe obsession (that's my girl!). Witness those gorgeous sparkly blue ones above! Despite a toy box which is literally overflowing with things to play with, she is happiest with simple things. Like shoes. And trying them on. It's hilarious watching her try on Mr Fork's or my shoes and then attempt to strut around in them. Play time is often Ellie creating a collection of shoes and arranging them around her to her satisfaction.

Shoe sculpture in progress
Speaking of food, she loves to be independent and feed herself. If anyone else is eating, Ellie gets to tax their food (naturally!). She will simply not tolerate not holding the eating utensil, so meal times where the food is small (rice or cous cous for example) require two spoons - one for Ellie to hold and one for mama to feed her with.

So cheeky
She also loves to be helpful and involved with whatever is going on. We've started to get her to help with small things, like picking up her toys and tidying up after playtime. Sometimes this is successful, sometimes not so much. Ellie is obsessed with the dishwasher, and loves to see what is inside at any opportunity. She also helps unpack it and put things away - hurrah! - although she can only carry one item at a time. We haven't had too many breakages... yet. She loves to use the dustpan and, I'll be honest, moves the dirt around on the floor more than sweeping it up. She adores going shopping and especially the trolley. While she will occasionally allow herself to sit in one, what she really likes is helping to push it along. As Mr Fork likes to be mysterious, I have outfitted him in this fabulous Pharrell type hat.
Shopping!
It seems like only yesterday that she was a tiny newborn and now she's chock full of personality and verve. I keep thinking at each stage of her growth is my favourite, but I'm proved wrong every time!

Do your small ones do delightful things? What have they done lately to make you go "awwww"?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting centred

Sometimes, you just need to dip your toes into the ocean and reconnect with what is important. 


It’s been a bit of a stressful few days. Nothing specific I can pinpoint to blame really, but lots of little things just adding up. Ellie is going through a rough patch lately. She’s not sick but something isn't quite right. She is sprouting a lot of teeth at the moment and threw the biggest tantrum I have ever seen. I don't think it was entirely a tantrum however, she just woke up distraught from a nap and couldn't calm herself. It was awful, lots of screaming and the usual aids of teething gel, panadol, cuddles, offering milk or iceblocks did not help. She eventually just wore herself out, after almost 15 minutes of constant screaming and I kept having to say to myself that "she's not giving me a hard time, she's having a hard time". It’s been my mantra of late. It was really hard for both of us. I was walking around with her, holding her and reassuring her and she just couldn't regulate herself, poor thing. I had to leave day care with instructions at drop off all last week that if she did it again and couldn't calm down for them then to please call me and I would leave work. No phone calls but they did say she was very cranky and upset.

The dreaded surname issue has come up again. I like my name, I'm very happy to keep it, but this doesn't sit well with other people sometimes. Discussions probably got more heated than they needed to be, but if Mr Fork and I have no issues, I don't see that it is anyone else's business. Just because it might make things easier, doesn't mean that it's right (for me).

I've been getting some terrible headaches lately. Probably a bit stress related, but also due to bad posture too (I'm working on that!). After an emergency dash to the chemist, I walked out with a giant pack of generic panadol (for a mere $1.95, score!), and the thought that there has to be a better headache remedy. Can anyone recommend something more natural? I put out the Facebook call as well so feel free to comment there.

Anyway, back to connecting with what is important. To me, it’s my family. Making sure they are looked after and happy. Then, sadly in terms of priority, looking after me and making sure I’m looked after and happy. Those at the things that are important. Not what anyone else thinks, or even how I think they think! Sometimes it takes getting away and dipping your toes in the ocean to help ground you and figure out what matters.

How do you centre yourself when things are getting hectic all around?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Recipe: Mango Chutney

I had a glut of mangoes given to me from the trees of various friends. They were all green so I wrapped them in newspaper to ripen them... and then forgot about them! What's a girl to do when all those delicious mangoes are too ripe to cook with but too good to let go to waste? Why, make mango chutney of course! I know, most people say chutney should be done with green mangoes, but ripe ones just make it sweeter, and it's absolutely delicious!

Without further ado, here is how I did it. You can easily add more mango to the mix - I have successfully made this with six before, and it turned out beautifully.
Ingredients
  • 4 mangoes
  • 1 onion (brown)
  • 2 red chillies (long ones)
  • 250 g dried fruit (I use sultana, raisins, pear, dates, prunes...whatever I had in the pantry, minus citrus)
  • 2 1/2 cup vinegar (I did half rice wine, half white but any will do)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 3/4 cup raw sugar (or whatever sugar you have)
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons of the following: (all powdered) cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, paprika, ginger, mustard seed (that one is not powdered)
  • 5 cardamom pods (not powdered either)
  • 3 cloves garlic
Method
Dice mango and soak for at least three hours (you can soak overnight for more intense flavours) with chilli, onion, dried fruit, vinegar, salt and fresh ginger.
Soaking stage
Add sugar and heat to dissolve.
Add remaining ingredients (spices and garlic). Bring to boil and then simmer till reduced to desired thickness.
Cooking away
Heat jars in the oven to sterilise then cool to touch and fill. Chutneys, jam and the like are a great way to use all those old jars that accumulate in my cupboards! I eat the ones with the not-so-great seals first obviously but others that seal properly can be stored for months.
A small sample of what was made - there was heaps

Do you do any preserving? If so, what's your specialty?

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