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.

Advertisements

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.

Forest Bathing


Angel Trumpet

Have you ever noticed how calming it can be to sit under the trees in a park or walk through the bush or forest? The Japanese have a name for immersing yourself in nature for relaxation- they call it ‘forest bathing’- and it’s recognised for its health and stress management benefits.

Forest bathing can be as simple as taking time-out in your own backyard, all you need is to surround yourself with greenery and, if possible, some running water. The benefits are due to ‘nature’s anti-depressants’ aka negative ions. A negative ion is an atom (or molecule) with an extra electron, giving it a negative charge. Basically negative ions are produced naturally via water molecule movement (evaporation, waterfalls, surf, rain etc) which is why they are so often found around water and in nature, and they affect the serotonin levels in the brain. Think about how great a fresh sea breeze makes you feel- that’s negative ions at work!

Pond

I always try to take at least 10 minutes each day to just sit outside. I usually take a cup of herbal into the backyard and soak up some vitamin D with my negative ions mid morning. I have a small pond with a tap style fountain and the sound of that bubbling water just adds to my little escape. If I’m working outside the home I have my lunch just outside the building on the grass under a big old Morten Bay fig tree. Or if I’m lucky and get an extended lunch break I pop down to the Botanic Gardens and soak up the beautiful exotic atmosphere there. The beautiful Angel Trumpet tree at the top of this post is on my way to work and if I get my timing right I can squeeze in five minutes on the bench underneath to bathe in its glorious scent. It’s amazing how that little intermission from everyday work/life for  reconnection with nature makes a huge difference to my wellbeing. That breath of fresh air is quite literally doing you good.

Do you make time for time-out outside? Do you have particular nature spots for relaxation or invigoration? Please share below!

Ps. I’ve recently joined Bloglovin. Click here to Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Obliging Op Shop

One of the most expensive aspects of parenthood is clothing constantly growing children. Purchasing (or making) good quality clothing ensures it will last for more than one season and child but the costs can still be extravagant. At the beginning of each season I visit a couple of op shops (opportunity shops, also known as thrift shops overseas) to put together a wardrobe for my daughter. The op shops usually oblige with sturdy items that have been outgrown before they were worn out. I have an aversion to the sickly pink that tends to smother the girls section but beautiful and quirky items always turn up. Many still have the original tags attached- unwanted gifts or thoughtless purchases that were never needed. Plain basics such as leggings and singlets are often harder to come by, perhaps because they are worn out completely, and these I source from the usual channels.

Today I popped into a local St Vincent De Paul shop for a quick browse of their kids’ section. Although I only do two big shops a year I find a quick browse when I pass by an op shop often turns up great pieces one would otherwise miss. Today was just such a day.

Opshop

The haul:
Woollen cardigan with country scene (including sheep- my daughter loves sheep!) $8
Denim overall/pinafore dress $5
Floral corduroy dress $3
White kaftan-style top with blue embroidery (never been worn, new with tags) $4
Pink bangle with strawberries $3

I also picked up a lovely peach bangle for myself for $4. It matches a pair of earrings I already own perfectly.

A pretty good bag of bargains if I do say so myself! I’m hoping the new bangle will mean my darling daughter will stop “borrowing” mine and the new additions to her wardrobe will certainly extend its wear. Apart from the cardigan the other pieces are rather trans-seasonal. They can be warmed up with long sleeved tops and leggings/stockings in winter and in warmer weather worn on their own, or with short sleeved tops, and bare legs/shorts.

The other wonderful aspect of op shopping is the environmental benefit. It is so much better to reuse what is already out there before purchasing something new. It saves resources and energy and challenges our preoccupation with having the newest and best.

Do you frequent your local op shops? What are the best bargains you have discovered?