What a week

Winter window

This week has been overwhelming. It is the first week of my maternity leave and I was looking forward to, no desperate for, a break. Instead my little girl got sick. Then she got sicker. Today is the first day neither of us has had some sort of medical appointment. Normally I love gloomy grey weather but it makes running errands with a sick toddler impossible. I was surprised how emotionally draining it can be having an unwell child. I wanted nothing more than to make her feel better but there was so little I could do. The pleading in her eyes when she tried to crawl into my lap but couldn’t fit due to my pregnant belly almost broke my heart.

The good news is she’s now on the mend. I’m slowly getting the house back in order but truth be told, at the moment there are more important things than a polished floor. I just want to nourish our bodies and be gentle to our spirits while everyone recuperates, physically and emotionally.

Grange

I should have known this week was going to be testing after a lovely dinner with my father and sister on Saturday night. My father is a wine collector and some of his collection was due to be enjoyed. Of course being pregnant I couldn’t indulge in the fine wines on offer (last time Dad opened some Grange I was pregnant with my toddler! The start of a week of Murphy’s Law!) so I had more than my fair share of pizza to make up for it. I like my Dad’s philosophy on wine- he buys it young and inexpensive and cellars it until it’s in it’s prime. The ultimate delayed gratification. Years ago, when the Government economic stimulus program saw my husband receive a stimulus payment we spent it on Australian wine. We figured it was keeping the money in the country and now we have some beautiful wine which has greatly increased in value. One of these days I might even get a chance to drink some!

Jasmine

Despite the wet weather my jasmine has decided it is well and truly spring. I love the way the vine climbs up outside my daughter’s window. When the weather is fine and the window open the sweet smell permeates the whole upper storey of the house. It seemed a shame to leave such beautiful blooms out in foul weather so I snipped a long tendril this morning and put it in our bedroom. The scent really does lift my spirits.

Bassinette

Last night the bassinette for our impending baby was delivered. As soon as it was unwrapped Willa put her doll inside, covered it with a scarf to act as a blanket, then pulled up her little chair and started reading her ‘baby’ a story. Cuteness overload. And very reassuring to see her role play a baby sibling in a loving way.

sesame seed bread

Terracotta bread tin

This week I received my new terracotta bread form. I seasoned the pan using vegetable oil earlier in the week and baked my second loaf in it today. I still use my breadmaker to do the hard work (kneading, rising etc) but the terracotta gives the bread such a lovely texture! The shape of the loaf is much nicer too (though as you can see in the picture above I was lax when forming the loaf and it’s rather lopsided- oops!).

Tea and knitting

Most of today I have spent on the lounge, drinking peppermint tea, and knitting. Turns out I actually buggered up the pattern so I’ll have to undo everything I did but it felt nice to get in the flow of knitting again, and so appropriate given the weather.  I also enjoyed the fruits of my labour, that is freshly baked bread slathered in butter. Delicious! Please excuse the crumbs on my belly!

Fresh bread

All in all I’m glad the week is over and a new one is on the way. I hope your week has treated you better and if not, you were able to focus on the simple pleasures like freshly baked bread and spring blooms.

Beneficial beans

Beans and pulses can be super cheap and a great way to increase fibre and protein in your diet. Due to the high protein content they are very filling, even for those members of the family who may baulk at the idea of a meat-free meal. They are also high in iron, although it is nonheme iron so it requires vitamin C to be absorbed properly. This is easy enough to do by including a fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C such as lemon or capscicum (bell peppers) in the dish. I’m currently anaemic due to my late stage of pregnancy and I’ve been increasing the amount of beans and pulses in our meals as there is only so much meat I can eat (and afford to eat!).

Soaked beans

I prefer to buy my beans dried. They are usually cheaper this way and it means I can store and prepare them the way I like. As I rarely drive they’re also easier to carry home- much lighter than a bunch of cans! If you are planning on using dried beans I cannot stress how important it is to soak them overnight! Soaking prevents that unpleasant gas and bloating effect that one can experience from eating beans (it’s one of the big reasons I like to prepare them myself as I find canned beans can produce discomfort). It also reduces the cooking time. If beans aren’t something you regularly include in your diet it’s also worth building up the amount you consume slowly, to allow your gut to adjust to the increase in fibre.

Bean packet

Rinsed beans

Beans in pressure cooker

I used to just prepare the amount of beans I needed for a recipe however I finally figured out it’s more effective to prepare a whole batch at once. I soak the whole packet over night, rinse the next morning, then pop in the pressure cooker with fresh water. It’s actually a very quick process. It only takes a minute to pour the dried beans into a bowl and cover with water before you go to bed, rinsing takes seconds, and the pressure cooker makes cooking super quick. Once they’re cooked I set aside the beans I need for my recipe that day, the rest I freeze in recipe sized portions (usually about a cup). This saves time and energy (gas used by the stove and electricity used by the freezer as a full freezer operates more efficiently) which equals dollars in my pocket!

I love having beans on hand in the freezer to toss into all sorts of meals to bulk things up. What’s your favourite meal using beans or pulses?

 

TV-free Tuesdays

My sister and her husband have started something they call TV-free Tuesdays. Like so many of us they found themselves starting to slip into the habit of switching on the idiot box after dinner each night. Now I’m going to admit something so few people do: I love TV. Love it. It’s true. I love big fantasy dramas like Game of Thrones, reality shows like 24 hours in Emergency and One Born Every Minute, Aussie comedic dramas like Offspring, documentaries, the list goes on. The problem with loving TV and switching the TV on each night out of habit is you usually end up watching more than just the show you had planned. The hours pass and before you know it you’ve wasted the whole evening sitting in a stupor on the lounge, often in close proximity to your partner without actually engaging them in meaningful conversation. Now that ain’t good.

So what’s the alternative? Leave the TV off and do something instead. Read a book, do some knitting, bonus points if you do something together such as a jigsaw puzzle or card game. The main thing is to break that mind numbing habit and reconnect with yourself and or your partner and family. Get away from the constant screens at which we seem to endlessly stare (computers, TVs, phones, tablets etc) and engage in something fun and active.

Games and puzzles

Matisse jigsaw puzzle

I often keep my eyes open for jigsaw puzzles at op shops. I’ve picked up some great ones including the Matisse pictured. I love puzzles that are artworks. The hardest I’ve completed so far is Blue Poles- it took ages! I also picked up this wonderful Book of Games which is full of every type of card, dice, gambling, and table game. It’s great for inspiration and also as a rule book to which players can refer- especially important when you’re playing with family!

Book of Games

Dix Mille

One of our favourite games is Farkle. It’s a dice game also known as Dix Mille, 10,000, 6 Dice and so on. All you need to play are six dice and pen and paper to keep score. The aim of the game is to be the first to reach 10,000 and points are scored by adding up the dice as you take turns. It’s a great game as no particular skill is needed and it can be played anywhere (we often take our dice to the park and lie in the sun playing for hours) and with any number of players. You can even play in teams if you want. It’s also a good way to get kids to practise their math (addition and multiplication) and probability calculations.

Do you find yourselves slipping into bad screen habits (please tell me we’re not the only ones!)? Have you tried TV-free nights or a family games night? If so, what are your favourite things to do? I love the idea of this becoming a little family ritual.

Scrumptious scrolls

I truly do not intend to focus on food on this blog but meals and the kitchen play such a big part in any family home it’s hard not to! Lately I found myself craving cinnamon scrolls. I’m not a big believer in sugar and refined carbs but sometimes one just has to give in to the cravings! All things in moderation, I say!

This scroll recipe is great because by its very nature you are making a large batch of scrolls. What you don’t eat straight away you can freeze and reheat later. It’s also wonderful because you can tailor it to what’s in the pantry or what you’d like to use the scrolls for. I wanted sweet scrolls for breakfast or morning tea so that’s what I made but if you were looking for something savoury for the kids’ lunch boxes or a picnic you could swap out the sweet ingredients for savoury such as cheese, ham, herbs etc.

I saved myself some time and mess by making the leaven dough in the bread maker (man I love that thing) and the rest of the steps were perfect for my toddler assistant to get involved. We took turns rolling out the dough and sprinkling ingredients etc. She just loves helping.

Ingredients:

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) warm (not hot!) milk
  • 3 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 4 cups (600g) plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked

Flavouring

  • 80g butter, melted/softened (approx, I didn’t measure)
  • half a cup brown sugar (approx, I didn’t measure)
  • ground cinnamon
  • handful of sultanas
  • handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped

Method:

  1. Combine milk, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt in the breadmaker; make a well in the centre. Pour milk mixture and egg into the well; turn it on and let the machine do its thing. (If you don’t have a breadmaker simply mix in a bowl and cover until dough has risen).

  3. When the machine has finished the leaven dough cycle and your dough has doubled in size preheat your oven to 180°C.  Line a tray with baking paper.

  4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

    Dough

  5.  Use a rolling pin to roll to a 30 x 40cm rectangle. Brush/spread with butter, leaving some butter for later. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over dough, again reserving some for later. Fold a short side of dough over two-thirds of filling. Fold remaining 1/3 over the top to enclose filling. Roll dough out to a 30 x 40cm rectangle; repeat filling and folding process. You can do this s couple of times but I only did it once.

    rolling out

    cinnamon and sugar

    folded and rolling

  6. Roll dough to a 30 x 40cm rectangle. Repeat butter, cinnamon, and sugar steps. Sprinkle with sultanas and walnuts.

    more cinnamon

    walnuts

    ingredients done

  7. Roll up dough from a long side to enclose filling. Cut log crossways into portions. Arrange, cut-side up, on tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 15 minutes to rise.

    rolling up log

    log

    cut pre-rise

    after 15min rise

  8. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside for 30 minutes then turn onto a wire rack. (Your house will smell so good!)

    baked close-up

  9. If you like you can drizzle with a simple icing but they really don’t need it. Only ice those you are going to serve immediately if you choose to do so.

I couldn’t help but eat a couple as soon as they came out of the oven. In fact we could have eaten a lot more if I hadn’t forced myself to freeze half as soon as they cooled down. Each morning this week my husband popped a couple into the oven whilst I was in the shower and it was so good to come downstairs to a hot cinnamon scroll and cup of tea for breakfast! They do have a tendency to dry out when you’re reheating them so feel free to brush with a little milk before sticking them in the oven to ensure they remain nice and soft. I love a recipe that I can make in advance and still feel like I’m having a homemade treat!

Alternative flavourings:

  • cheese and vegemite
  • ham and cheese
  • pizza- tomato paste, herbs, garlic, cheese, ham etc
  • herb and garlic
  • apple and cinnamon
  • salami, sun-dried tomato, spanish onion
  • chocolate and hazelnut
  • apricot and pistachio

Do you make homemade scrolls? Have any other flavour combinations to offer?

*Please note: I have edited this post and adjusted the cooking temperature and time after further experimentation* 

Powerful passwords

sky

I came across this interesting blog post about how a man used his computer password to change his mindset and overcome the depression caused by his divorce. The idea is quite simple- make your password an affirmation. If your computer requires you to re-enter your password whenever it goes to sleep this little trick could have you reiterating this affirmation multiple times a day. That can add up to powerful stuff. My workplace requires passwords to be reset every couple of months for security reasons and of course we can’t use passwords we’ve used before, so instead of getting frustrated by the demands of the machine I’m now going to use my password to help me focus and achieve my goals, one at a time.

Freezer Prep

As you know I’m pregnant with number two and this hasn’t been an easy pregnancy. I don’t have a day without significant pain and as a result I feel exhausted, grumpy, and guilty. One of the first things to slip when I’m feeling this way is good home-cooked meals. The time and energy it takes to plan, prep, and cook something frugal and healthy just seems too much. The temptation to send my husband out for take-away, order home delivery, or just eat cheese on toast has won out more than I like to admit. Then of course I feel horribly remorseful.

Paddy's MarketsSomething had to change so I started this very simple trick. I would visit the local markets and purchase about a kilo each of onions, carrots, and celery- the basic starter ingredients for so many soups, stews, and casseroles. Then I would come home, prepare these ingredients, and freeze in recipe sized portions. This is really time efficient (I use the food processor as it’s a large enough amount to make the washing up worthwhile) and frugal (no wasted veggies rotting in the crisper). I freeze the packs flat to take up less space and make them easy to organise in the freezer. Once frozen you can even store them upright in the freezer if that makes them easier to access for you.

diced carrots

Celery

Filling the bags

Onion skins

On those evenings when I feel like I can’t face cooking I can pull one of these little ziplock bags out of the freezer and the tedious prep work is done for me. It’s so easy to dump the frozen diced ingredients into a saucepan with a little oil and by adding some stock you have a simple soup which can be bulked up with pasta, noodles, lentils, and whatever meat and veggies you have lying around. If I really can’t raise my expanding bottom from the lounge I can even instruct my patient husband on the dumping, sautéing etc. process knowing that half the work is already done for him. I’ve also used these starter packs in the slowcooker/crockpot- makes getting the meal started in the morning before heading off to work even easier!

Ready to freeze

Into the freezer they go!

It turns out I’m not the only person who has discovered the benefits of preparing and freezing the beginnings of a meal. I like my little starter packs because they are so versatile (who knows what this pregnant belly will crave from one day to the next!) but another way to go is preparing and freezing all the ingredients for a meal. This works well when you want to do all your dinner preparation on say Sunday and simply dump the lot in the slow cooker each morning (you can defrost in the fridge the night before to make it easier to remove from the ziplock bag if necessary). If you don’t mind a bit of repetition in your weekly meals you can buy ingredients in bulk and make multiples of the same meal. If you and your family tend to have curry/bolognese/daal every Tuesday night this is perfect. You can make a month of Tuesday night dinners in one afternoon. If you have close friends and family who enjoy similar food to you there’s even the possibility of exchanging meals. You could each prepare multiple lots of a meal and swap amongst yourselves so you end up with one of each- dinner for the week sorted with variety intact! Simply write the recipe name and instructions (e.g. 7 hours on low, add cream before serving etc) on the ziplock bag and you’re good to go. Would be great if you all had something like exam week coming up.

If you’re stuck for idea Pinterest is a good place to start. Try http://www.pinterest.com/faithbringsjoy/recipes-meal-planning-freezer-food-prep/ and http://www.pinterest.com/ahavey1/freezer-prep-meals/ or simply search for ‘freezer meals’ etc. I actually haven’t found many recipes online that work for me as most require processed ingredients such as sauces that we don’t use in our house (what is this obsession with adding packets of french onion soup to everything?!), but I’m slowly adapting our own well-loved recipes to make them suitable to freeze in advance and slow cook. Do you make use of your freezer to help with meal preparation? Have you ever frozen recipe ingredients in advance before putting in the slow cooker? Care to share a recipe?

Lost skills

When you decide to live a more simple life there are certain things you have to learn how to do. These techniques and skills will depend on where you live and what your priorities are. For example, if you’re in the country and value organic food you might need to learn how to milk your own dairy cow, if you’re in the suburbs and want to avoid purchasing cheap mass produced clothes you may need to get your darning skills up to date. A problem arises when you realise so many of these old skills have been lost. If, like me, you’re of a generation X/Y vintage you might have had parents who both worked out of the home and as a result didn’t have time for knitting or making passata from scratch. Throw in ‘convenience’ foods and products which were cheaper to replace than repair and you can see how easily those skills fell to the wayside.

Something that was lost in the pursuit of convenience was the satisfaction and independence these skills offered. There is a special joy that comes from seeing your darling daughter twirl around in her favourite skirt that you were able to whip up on the sewing machine. The meditative clicking of knitting needles and warmth of an unfurling scarf in your lap can be comforting and cathartic. Want a long dress with pockets? If you can sew you don’t have to wait for a designer to produce an overpriced, poor quality version of what you seek.  Car need its oil changed? What a great feeling to save yourself the service fee and change it yourself.

You are empowered when you can do things for yourself and you get to make things exactly as you’d like them.

So if this upskilling is so empowering why aren’t more people doing it? I believe these skills have an image problem, they are often seen as ‘old and daggy’, because we don’t see our contemporaries practising them. Secondly, we have been told continuously that we don’t have time by advertisers wanting to sell us a quick fix. We are told our status is measured by what we can buy, not by what we can make and do ourselves.

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

Screen grab from the Work-Shop website

This is why I’m so happy to see places like Work-Shop offer affordable classes where people can go to learn new skills that would be otherwise unattainable. Their classes cover everything from tattoo illustration to beginner harmonica. I was especially excited to see Work-Shop and City of Sydney come together to put on Nanna Knows Best, a series of classes on forgotten Nanna skills! The next class on 15 July is Chinese Knitting with Nanna MeiFen and it’s only $20. A bonus of this series is the opportunity to learn from another generation. I certainly wish my Nanna wasn’t so far away…

So what can you do if you don’t have classes like Nanna Knows Best available near you? I typically turn to YouTube and blogs for instruction. There is no equal to having someone sit by your side and talk you through a practical skill but YouTube especially can be great for picking up new knitting stitches for example. I pause and replay as often as I need, laptop balancing on my knee, needles and wool held directly in front of the screen for comparison. Do you have any video tutorials or classes you would recommend for those looking to upskill?

If you start to ask around you might be surprised at the skills that exist in our local communities, and just how willing people (especially the older generations) are to share and teach them. These skills don’t have to be lost. We can save them, one at a time, and have fun while doing so.