Monday, 23 December 2013

The Rocky Road to Christmas

I am writing this post under protest. I am not sure who I am protesting but here I am typing away under sufferance. You see I had finished this post about Rocky Road a week ago but in the rush of attempting to do a million things at once I must have not saved it. So here I am a week later with a little window of time to make the finishing touches to it so I can satisfyingly/apprehensively click the “Publish” button only to discover I can’t find the document- anywhere!
This is the fourth day of our Christmas trip away to visit my family and who knows whether it’s a combination of the change of weather, change of time zone or change of environment but Master Q and Miss M have decided they won’t sleep. They are Not.Having.It.
 
They have been taking it in turns to wake at the ungodly hour of 4.30am and refusing to go back to sleep and so Husband, my Mum and I have been taking it in turns to get up with which ever little misfit has decided that this is an appropriate time to start the day. I shouldn’t be so infuriated because if we were at home there wouldn’t be two extra adults to lend a helping hand and give us a break but I am still annoyed. I let it slide the first few nights but this morning I had had enough. And so when I dragged myself and my computer outside to finish this post only to find I would have to write it all again I felt like bursting into tears. Totally ridiculous reaction I know, but these are the kind of things that push you over the edge when you are tired and worn out, aren't they? You are exhausted, struggling to put one foot in front of the other and attempting to take some time out to do something for yourself and WHAMO! It feels like the universe is punishing you for wanting to do something purely for your own happiness! I’m sure the ‘universe’ is playing its really little violin at the moment and yelling at me to “Swallow some concrete and harden up!”, but still it’s an emotional ‘rocky road’ (pun intended!) being a Mum and I’m not going to apologise for losing it over something so trivial but I will move on…
 
Rocky Road. I have been making this little gem for friends and family for Christmas for the last few years and even though I am on the sugar-free band wagon I couldn’t deprive my loved ones of these little treats, could I? I will confess I did have some little tastes during the process of making these but it was all in the name of quality control!
 
According to the font of all knowledge ‘Wikipedia’, “Rocky Road was invented in Australia in 1853 as a way of on-selling confectionery spoiled by the long journey from Europe. Gold miners in towns outside of Melbourne, such as Ballarat, were wealthy but uncultured. Unscrupulous businessmen took advantage of these men, mixing the spoiled confectionery with low quality chocolate and other 'filler' ingredients, such as locally foraged nuts. The name Rocky Road is derived from the 'Rocky Road' travelers had to take to get to the gold fields”. Now I am not sure as to the veracity of this story but I did enjoy this little tale!
 
My Rocky Road contains four ingredients; chocolate, marshmallows, peanuts and coconut. My version definitely does not contain glace cherries or Turkish delight, these two ingredients are at the top of my ‘most disliked’ ingredients list. Rocky Road is one of the simplest gifts you can make for Christmas but for me there are a number of things which make my rocky road a crowd pleaser. I use a combination of dark and milk chocolate, I use unsalted roasted peanuts and I always use Pascall Marshmallows (this is not a sponsored post, I just love them!). In my twenties I had been known to scour convenience stores and petrol station shops in search of the illusive Pascall all-White Marshmallow packet this is how much I LOVED THEM! When making Rocky Road however I relent and use both the pink and white marshmallows, it makes them look a lot more delightful.

Every year I do vow that I will find a way to wrap them in a much more ‘modern/edgy’ looking way but in the rush of Christmas I always fall back to clear cellophane and curling ribbon – 80’s Style! I think it suits the kitsch-ness of Rocky Road anyway.


To counteract the sugar-filled Rocky Road I decided to attempt some sugar-free truffles as gifts this year. I trialed two truffle recipes from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar; a chocolate orange truffle and a coconut truffle. The ingredient combination of the chocolate orange truffle tasted great but no matter what I did I could not form them into anything resembling a truffle so I abandoned this one. The coconut truffle (you can find the recipe here) was also a little difficult to form into a ball and I felt like Goldilocks either finding the mixture either ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft’ to work with but I eventually rolled them into truffle-like formations and covered them in shredded coconut. They are of course nowhere near as sweet as the Rocky Road and are very ‘coconut-ty’ but I think the pure white, snow-like look of them are a great contrast to the jagged, gnarly look of the Rocky Road.


Make a batch or two of the Rocky Road and take them along to your Christmas day celebrations, they are an easy last-minute treat and sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

Nicole’s Rocky Road

Ingredients

(Yields approx 24-36 pieces)
1 x 250 grams good quality milk chocolate
 
1 x 250 grams good quality dark chocolate
 
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
½ cup dessicated coconut
1 x 250 gram packet Pascall marshmallows

Method
1.Line a plastic slice container or slice tin with greaseproof paper making sure the paper extends over the sides
2.Cut the marshmallows into quarters using kitchen scissors or a knife and place into a bowl along with the coconut and peanuts
3.Break chocolate into glass bowl
4.Place the glass bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, ensuring the water doesn’t touch the bowl (you can also melt the chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals but be careful as it easily seizes in the microwave) and stir until chocolate is melted
5.Once melted quickly combine the chocolate with the other ingredients
6.Pour mixture into the tin/container spreading to edges (if you like it thicker just spread it to half of the tin)
7.Place in fridge to set for approx 2 hours
8.Once set lift paper out of tin and cut into pieces

What is your signature Christmas treat?
 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

It's not you, it's me


I’m scared. Alright I’ve said it. It’s out there. I am in the midst of one of those ‘life changing’ moments and I am worried I am about to make the wrong decision. You know the ones, they disturb your sleep and follow you around all day like a dark cloud looming ominously overhead. Your head spins like a tornado as you lament over the possibilities.
Ok, enough with the weather metaphors, what are you on about?  
Well let me explain…
 
For 14 years I have defined myself by my job. The one where you get paid, not my recent unpaid position as Mum, housework doer (I hate the terms housewife and homemaker) and general dogsbody. Without being specific (bear with me but for a number of reasons I can’t actually state my job title) my job was at one stage my dream career. I went to uni specifically to do this and it has been a huge part of my life for the last 14 years (minus 2 years of maternity leave and one of unpaid leave – so really 11 years!). Unfortunately though like I am sure many others before me have experienced my dream job has not turned out as I had hoped. So now on my second period of extended maternity leave I find myself at a crossroads. Grateful that I have a choice, but nonetheless a difficult one.
Come to think about it my career is a lot like a bad relationship.
When you think about breaking up with him you list all the things wrong with the relationship. How he has changed you, made you more cynical, more negative, more untrusting, how he has basically sucked the life out of you and you are worried you will never love again. You are angry and hurt and betrayed. You let yourself be open to him as a young 21 year old and you wonder what kind of person you would be now if it wasn’t for his influence over you. But time passes. You reflect on it again and you realise he probably wasn’t to blame.
You knew what he was like when you met and although things were good at the start you knew a few years in it just wasn’t working. You took time off, took a break from the relationship hoping to find some answers. You came back refreshed but without the resolve and enthusiasm you hoped you would have and instead of making a difficult decision you decided to go back to the familiar. You pushed through the next five years, you hoped things would change and there were good times, but overall your heart wasn’t in it. After all these years together you feel like this bond is a part of who you are, how people define you and in a strange way you like this. You like the way the outside world sees you when you are together and sometimes through other people’s eyes you get a glimpse of how you wish it would be. But it’s fleeting and not the true state of your relationship.
So it’s time. Time to cut the cord. You have different priorities now and you have to let go of the ‘you’ that was. In a lot of ways it was only a façade anyway. That doesn’t mean this isn’t going to be tough. There will be times when your world gets quiet that you will mourn this loss, that thing that defined you is no longer there now. There will be moments when this realisation brings tears and a sense of regret. You will be without a net now, no comfort zone to fall back into. But with time you will find out who the new ‘you’ is, she will be able to believe that there is more good in people than bad. That dreams are possible and that you really do have a life to be grateful for. When the wounds have healed and the ‘you’ that was lurking deep down comes to the surface someone will ask you “What do you do?” and you will stand tall, chest puffed out and say “I am a Stay at Home Mum, sometime blogger, creative wannabe and believer that anything is possible”.
So this is end.* We’ve had some great times over the years, but it’s just not working.
And if anyone asks you why? All you need to tell them is, “It wasn’t you, it was me”.
 
*It is possible that I will change my mind about this decision…this is how I feel today, who knows what tomorrow’s machinations will bring!
Have you struggled with making a decision about your career after kids? Would love to hear your stories.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Almond Meal Cupcakes with Soy Milk Powder Icing (Sugar Free)


If you live within a 50km radius of my kitchen you would have heard me yelling, “I hate this damn oven!” on Saturday afternoon (that is the G rated version!) while I attempted to bake these cupcakes. My oven seems to get hotter and more uneven each time I bake. So I was certainly a tad annoyed (to say the least!) when half of my batch of Almond Meal Cupcakes were a little over cooked. To be honest they were really just a vehicle for another trial of Sugar Free Icing/Frosting and were edible so I suppose I shouldn’t be too angry.
 

Even though the cupcake recipe contains almond meal it isn’t gluten free (but could be easily made this way by using gluten free flour) and just to be tricky again the icing isn’t dairy free either even though I used soy milk powder to make it. But it is as usual sugar-free!

 
The almond meal cupcake recipe is adapted from a Taste.com.au recipe. The icing as I mentioned is another attempt at creating a great sugar-free frosting that could easily replace sugar-filled traditional buttercream icing (which for me is the holy grail of sugar free baking!).
 
This version gets close, the texture is great and it doesn’t use any white sugar substitutes which is what I am aiming for, but with the main ingredient being soy milk powder it does have a nutty taste. Husband thinks I should call it Peanut icing but soy users will know that the nutty taste that comes with soy products is distinctly soy and not peanut tasting. They still tasted great and were extremely filling! So without further ado, here is the recipe.

 
Almond Meal Cupcakes
Ingredients

125g butter, softened
½ cup stevia powder (I used Natvia)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup almond meal
1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup milk
 
Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius (160 fan forced)
Line a 12 hole cupcake tin (this recipe can yield up to 15 cupcakes)

1.Cream softened butter in electric mixer, add stevia powder and cream until light and fluffy
2. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined
3. Add vanilla extract and combine
4. In a separate bowl combine almond meal, plain flour and baking powder and whisk to combine
5. Add meal/flour mixture and milk alternatively to mixer until just combined
6. Spoon batter into cupcake tin and smooth top
7. Bake for 15 mins or until skewer comes out clean
8. Turn onto wire rack to cool
9. Once cool ice with soy milk icing
 
 
 
Soy Milk Powder Icing
Ingredients

2 tbsp softened butter
1/3 cup rice malt syrup
½ cup soy milk powder (can be found at health food shops)
2 tbsp cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
 
Method

1.Add butter and rice malt syrup to bowl and beat together with metal spoon until smooth
2. Add cream and vanilla extract and combine
3. Add soy milk powder and mix together until smooth (add extra cream or soy milk powder until desired consistency is reached)
4. Ice onto awaiting cooled cupcakes!
 
 
Watch this space for the next sugar-free icing/frosting recipe!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Taking stock...


My ‘Blog Sensei’ Pip Lincolne, has written her latest Taking Stock list and thought with the year drawing to a close it was a good time to do the same.
 
Making : Lists for xmas shopping
Cooking : Ragu and Spaghetti for dinner
Drinking : Water (boring)
Reading: 'Bossypants' by Tina Fey- She is so funny, hilarious read
Wanting: More time
Looking: Forward to warmer days
Playing: around with my blog theme
Deciding: What to get everyone for Christmas
Wishing: There were better health food shops nearby
Enjoying: My
Blog with Pip course
Waiting: for Anchorman 2 to come out!
Liking: giving the creative side of my brain a workout

Wondering: When Master Q will start walking!
Loving: my library membership! (I still can't believe you can borrow these books for free!)
Pondering: What’s in store for 2014
Considering: Whether to return to work after my leave (arrghhh!!)
Watching: Veep, second season, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the bomb

Hoping: husband’s work gets published – he deserves it
Marvelling: at my kids beginning to play together
Needing: Panadol
Smelling: Floor cleaner
Wearing: Summer PJ's for once!
Following: Blogs by fellow 'Blog with Pip' students (they are awesome!)
Noticing: I need to make the bed
Knowing: what they say about motherhood is true: “The days are long but the years are short”
Thinking: where has 2013 gone?!
Feeling: Grateful that I can put off work for another 7 months
Admiring: my son’s long eyelashes (why is it that boys get the long ones?!)
Buying: A photography course (my Xmas present!)
Getting: Annoyed that my floor only stayed clean for 10 minutes!
Bookmarking: Recipes for icing/frosting with no sugar (virtually impossible to get right!)
Opening: A Pinterest account!
Giggling: At the comedic faces Miss M pulls
Feeling: Tired but happy

 

What are you thinking of in the lead up to the festive season?
 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Choc Tahini Balls (Sugar-Free)

Finally another recipe! One thing that is difficult to adjust to on this sugar-free gig is satisfying the after-dinner sugar craving. I can honestly say that the craving for something sweet after dinner is in no way like it was before giving up sugar, but there are still times when I stand in front of the pantry wishing there was a 'little something' that could satisfy me.
 
Pre-quitting sugar it would have been chocolate licorice bullets (the homebrand ones were the best!), or peanut M&M's or when I was being 'good', Lindt Dark Orange chocolate. But now that they are on the no-go list I am always looking for healthier alternatives to these sugar-laden night-time snacks and here is a little one I whipped up.



They are quick to make, no food-processor required and are made of healthy, protein filled ingredients that are easily sourced from the local supermarket. Miss M has given 'Mum's sticky balls' (better than her saying Dad's sticky balls I suppose!)  the tick of approval and after eating the trial batch all myself I can also attest that they are ahem jam packed with fibre!



Choc Tahini Balls

Ingredients

(Yields 28 balls)

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons rice malt syrup
2 tablespoons organic cocoa powder
1 tablespoon LSA mix/Almond Meal/Hazelnut meal

Method

1.Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, adjusting rice malt syrup quantity to your sweetness level
2.Roll into teaspoon sized balls
3.Refridgerate and eat when craving hits!!


What is your favourite after-dinner treat?






Monday, 18 November 2013

Excuse me...Sun? Is that you?



Oh sun, how I’ve missed thee! When the sun decides to appear (which at the moment in Melbourne feels like hardly ever, arrghh!) one of the things I look forward to the most is hanging washing outside. Is that sad? For 'southerners' with kids, you will agree that most days feel like a never-ending cycle of transferring loads of washing from the washing machine to the dryer or maybe the inside clothes horse, folding and then back into the drawers again. You don’t even bother hanging it outside for at least five months of the year because it would never dry. Lately you wouldn’t dare hang it outside even if it did seem like ‘good drying weather’ since it would most probably end up raining before it was dry anyway!

There is something about washing hanging outside; it feels cleaner, happier even (is it possible for clothes to be happy?!). Standing at the clothes line this morning with the sun's warmth on my back I was reminded how much I miss sunny Queensland. Since I spent most of my life there the adjustment to the erratic and unpredictable Melbourne weather has been a challenge. I liked the fact that back home (which is what I call Queensland) once the warm weather starts up around September, you can pack your winter clothes away (which mainly only consists of jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt anyway) and introduce your white legs to the beginnings of summer.  And that is it, until next winter.
 

In Melbourne there is usually one warm day at the end of September: The Teaser, when the sun makes an appearance and I think YIPPEE! It’s on! I begin thinking of picnics in the park, trips to the beach and flowy dresses. But then BAM! The next day is back to 14 degrees, I have the heater cranked up and the winter woolies back on. I can’t handle it! I think this year every Melbournite will agree it has gone on way too long. It’s the middle of November and I am still in winter PJ’s!

But what can you do, as my husband likes to remind me “if you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, just wait five minutes”. It’s true. So for now I will soak it up, I will don my t-shirt, sit outside with my cup of coffee and flip around the house in my thongs. Better do it while I can, it will be back to 17 degrees soon…

What is your favourite summer moment?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Just one more champagne cocktail...please!

So I have been in a bit of a blog rut lately, hence the tumbleweeds blowing past by blog pages (Ha! Ha!) . You would think that after my four day kid-free mini break I would be floating and taking on life with gusto, right? Well I was hoping this would be how felt when I returned home but instead I have been hit with the post-holiday slump. Obviously I have experienced this before, who hasn’t? But I didn’t think I would feel this way after returning to a job and colleagues (Miss M and Master Q J) that I actually love. My first day back at ‘work’ I was calm, cool and in control. I flittered around the house like a 1950’s TV Mum. The next day I decided to tackle toilet training Miss M. Well in the first 45 minutes we had two accidents and she refused to sit on the potty for more than 2 seconds. We then had tantrums, crying, yelling and well by this stage my blood pressure had started to rise and the calm and collected me quickly faded away. In my ‘paid’ job I have dealt with stressful situations and I thought I would have been well prepared to tackle the stresses that come with Motherhood, boy was I wrong. How is it that just trying to get a screaming 2 year old strapped into her car seat, while she kicks and thrashes about can set your blood pressure sky high? After an incident like this (which lately is happening a lot more frequently, damn those terrible twos!!) I can feel my blood pressure set off and stay on this course for the rest of the day, the littlest tantrum threatening to take me over the edge.
 

My holiday was everything I had been dreaming of in the weeks and days leading up to it. My bestie and I lingered over meals, relishing not having to feed someone else or clean up afterwards (!), we leisurely got out of bed in the morning (after going to the toilet alone!), spent a whole day shopping with my only worry being to make it to happy hour on time! (Man I wish I was there now!) It was what Mothers dream of! I was trying to ensure I soaked up every little minute of this freedom but to be honest after the novelty of my first day ‘off’ I had already settled into pre-kids Nicole and living this care-free, Nicole-centric life felt like the norm! I think this is what added to my crash back to reality upon my return. It was wonderful to see the kids of course (I don't know why I felt it necessary to write that line actually, but I suppose I felt like a bad Mum for loving my break away from them) but it hardly felt like I had left!

Heaven!

Nearly two weeks back into it and the shock is slowly wearing off and I am settling back into the rollercoaster ride that is being a Mum of a 2 year old and 1 year old. Now that I have taken some time to reflect on my time away I have come up with some new goals (none life changing or greater good making but nonetheless…)
1. Must attempt to have shower every morning, even if it requires military planning
2. I will stop wearing MY PREGNANCY LEGGINGS!
3. I will attempt to put on make-up when I leave the house
4. I will make time to spend on my creative pursuits, even if it means upping my coffee intake! (Coincidentally I have just started a wonderful blogging course with Pip Lincolne, Blog with Pip, which is spurring me on with this goal)
5. I will remember that looking after myself in both body and soul makes me a better Mum and wife and human being. Note to self: ‘There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first sometimes, your family with thank-you for it’.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Coconut Christening Cupcakes

Phew, we survived the christening! We had been trying to get around to baptising our kids for a while now but just couldn't get our act together. We finally decided to do it around Master Q's first birthday so that my parents would be in town. I have to say after getting through the birthday I wasn't really all that enthused to back it up with a christening but thankfully it wasn't as bad as I imagined. The week before the christening my husband took Miss M to church to witness one and get a feel for it. It did not go well. The Priest came over to her and attempted to pat her on the head which caused her to start crying. Then as one of the babies was having the water poured on it's head husband told Miss M that that was going to happen to her next week, well that was it, she lost it. It got that bad that husband had to take her out of the church!

Up until this point I think my husband had thought that my descriptions of Miss M's public meltdowns were over exaggerated or just the way she acts with me. So although it made the prospect of her getting through her own christening a little more worrisome I was secretly happy that he had witnessed this behaviour himself! Don't all Mother's just wish this happened a little more often?

Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth!

October has been a big month for cakes so I was stuck for ideas when it came to a cake for the christening. I had seen a wedding cake made of cupcakes recently that inspired my idea for a Cupcake Christening Cake. I made a basic vanilla cupcake for the sugar filled ones and I adapted an Australian Women's Weekly Coconut Ice Cake to Sugar-Free Coconut cupcakes and they were delicious! They came out nice and light and perfect first time! (If only this happened more often to me!). I made buttercream icing for the vanilla cupcakes and buttercream dextrose icing for the coconut ones. I wanted to colour them a soft shade of blue and pink but got a little too liberal with the blue colouring and so they became green cupcakes instead! I made the pink ones darker to attempt to match the shade of the green ones. I then made matching pink and green crosses and background circles from royal icing for the cupcake toppers. Yes, it may have been a little bit kitsch but I thought they looked cute!  


 
 
Coconut Cupcakes (Sugar-Free)
 
Ingredients
 
65g butter, softened
1/2 cup dextrose
1 egg
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup self-raising flour
3 tablespoons coconut milk
 
Method
 
Preheat oven 160 degrees Celsius (150 degrees fan forced)
Line 12 hole cupcake tins with paper cases (makes 16 cupcakes)
 
1. Beat butter in electric mixer until light and fluffy
2. Add dextrose in batches and cream until fluffy
3. Add egg and beat together until combined
4. Stir in coconut, sifted flour, sour cream and coconut milk in batches starting and ending with flour
5. Divide mixture into cupcake tins
6. Bake cakes 18 minutes or until skewer comes clean
7. Stand cakes in tin 5 minutes before turning onto rack to cool
8. Ice with buttercream icing made with dextrose once cool
 
 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Where did the time go? My bubba is 1 year old! (Rusty the Robot birthday cake)

I seriously can’t believe it but my little Master Q is 1 year old! Is it just me or does time following your second child seem to just fly by even faster than the first? It feels like yesterday that I was wondering how I was ever going to get through another year of breastfeeding and here I am weaning him! It sounds so cliché but time really does seem to be sucked into some kind of vortex after the arrival of children. Some days eight hours at work would really drag on and although there are certainly days with the kids that can go on forever (!) there never seems to be enough time for anything now. Which is ironic since it’s precisely at this moment that you need more of it. More time to sleep, more time to get the housework done, more time to play with the kids and more time to just to sit back and absorb every moment of these little creatures’ lives.
The year following the birth of our first, Miss M did go quickly…eventually. To be honest I felt every minute of the first three months of her life, the adjustment was just so taxing that I really felt every hour of those difficult few months. Then before I knew it I was pregnant again and counting down till the birth of Master Q. I do often feel sad that I didn’t pay more attention during Miss M’s first year so this time around I really tried to take in more of the little things. Watching Master Q marvel at the wheels on a toy truck, seeing him smile as he felt the wind blow through his hair for the first time and the way he looks at his sister with such love in his eyes. How can he know that feeling already? All times you which you could just hold onto and never let go.
Of course when you have days like I had preceding Master Q’s birthday you really have to work hard to remind yourself of these wonderful moments…
Four days before Master Q’s birthday he woke up grissly and with a temperature. It continued for the next three days, we were up all night trying to get his temperature down and get him back to sleep. At the same time I had started weaning him and was also trying to plan a birthday party and a christening! On his birthday I took a very puppy faced bubba who would not leave my arms to the Doctor, he had tonsillitis. Then he woke on the day of his party with a rash all over him, roseola virus. No wonder the poor little man was not happy! He still managed to make everyone laugh whilst we sung ‘Happy Birthday’ but it was not the 1st birthday I had hoped for him. Thankfully he won’t remember!
 
So onto the cake. For Miss M’s first birthday it was easy, she loved ‘Giggle and Hoot’ so Hoot the Owl it was. For Master Q it was a little more difficult. When he first started crawling we commented that he looked like a wind-up toy, he would start revving and then just take off like a shot. So this is what inspired the Robot birthday cake. I dubbed him ‘Rusty the Robot’ as I did have a little trouble with some chocolate cake crumb showing this time around. I used my Sugar-Free Chocolate Yoghurt Cake recipe again and also the Cream Cheese icing using dextrose. He was a simple 20cm square cake for his body and I fashioned the head, hands and feet from a 20cm round cake. I used Oreo biscuits for the arms, legs and ears and royal icing for the face and body decoration. Pretty simple but think ‘Rusty’ turned out well in the end!
So birthday celebration over, now onto planning next week’s christening!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

I have a coffee addiction...with a difference



I am a coffee addict. I’m addicted to everything about it. I love the smell, the personal rituals, the sound of a real café espresso machine and the passionate way each person defends their coffee preference. I love the names; macchiato, ristretto, latte and of course the ‘event’ of having coffee itself. I love everything about it…except the taste. I can’t stand it.
My husband is Italian and having a ‘caffé’ is a big deal in his family, but unfortunately no matter how much sugar they put in it or how weak they make it, I still don’t like the taste. To me it mostly tastes like burnt cigarettes. (Not that I know what that would taste like but that’s what is conjured up when I attempt to suffer through a cup).
As a consequence I have always felt like an outsider at family get-togethers and social events in general I suppose. How can you bond with your colleagues at coffee time when you’re ordering a cup of tea? I have never heard anyone announce early in the morning that they were “Hanging for a cup of Darjeeling”! I wanted desperately to announce to the Barrista that I am in fact a “Double shot latte, no sugar”, not an “English Breakfast tea with milk”. My 32 year old Tradie brother likes to defend his beverage of choice by proclaiming that “Real Men drink Milo”. I on the other hand am not so confident in my request.
My preoccupation with coffee became even more pronounced during my first pregnancy. Maybe it was because I wasn’t supposed to drink it, but whatever the reason I was fixated on having a reusable coffee cup of my own and being able to stand in line at our local café with my head held high. My obsession did in fact culminate in hours spent pouring over the design of my own ‘Keep Cup’ but sadly it was only used as a receptacle for hot chocolate.
Just when I thought my obsession couldn’t get any more ludicrous, during my second pregnancy, I found myself watching a whole half an hour infomercial on the shopping network about an automatic capsule coffee machine. I had to have one!
Despite taking every opportunity to hint at the fact I would love my own coffee machine my husband would simply rebut, “You don’t even like coffee, that’s crazy!”
I reluctantly had to agree with him.
Then on the morning of my birthday earlier this year, I excitedly unwrapped one of the many boxes presented to me by my wonderful husband. I would never have expected it but there was my very own, shiny, silver capsule coffee machine. I was ecstatic! I cleared space on the bench and read the manual from front to back marvelling at this impressive machine. My husband reasoned the purchase by stating that it was from the kids, as he would never buy me such a ridiculous present. (Personally I think he was secretly excited about it too, he is a coffee drinker after all and he did ‘happen’ to include a packet of capsules for himself with my present!)
 
So now I was set for the biggest task of all, drinking it. I started out with the weakest kind you could get and as much milk as my cup could handle. My husband warned me that if I was going to do it without sugar that my conditioning process might be prolonged. Consequently I added a teaspoon of sweetener to the first few cups but to be honest it could not drown out the bitterness. So I decided to do it hard core style and tackle the bitter temptress head on.
Each morning now, I get my new dedicated coffee cup and go through the process of frothing my milk and preparing my machine. I love it. The aroma is wonderful, the ritual is calming and satisfying at the same time. The coffee is… well, drinkable.  I have tried three different coffee types and finally found one I can swallow. It has taken time and to be honest I rarely finish a cup. I have however finally managed to go to a café and stand proudly amongst fellow coffee addicts and announce “I will have a latte thanks”. So mundane to everyone else but a proud achievement on my part. It’s a lesson to everyone out there, set yourself a goal, work towards it and you too can acquire a new completely unnecessary habit.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Chocolate Avocado icing (Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free)



Lately I had started getting very frustrated with my baking experiments. I have been attempting to convert some of my favourite recipes into sugar-free, healthy versions and have had a long run of flops. Thankfully Miss M will eat anything with the word 'cake' in it so she polishes off all the baked goods I was ready to throw against the wall!

After having a craving for chocolate cake I decided to experiment with a Chocolate Cake using zucchini in an attempt to sneak some more veggies into Miss M's diet. 

FINALLY- SUCCESS!

The cake is light and the walnuts give it great texture, you wouldn't even know there was zucchini in it! I used dextrose in this recipe and olive oil instead of butter. I would probably increase the dextrose next time as it isn't overly sweet. If you are sugar-free then you will probably like it but if you are still on the 'sweet stuff' then you will probably need to increase the dextrose.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 145 grams dextrose (or 200 grams castor sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 180ml olive oil/grapeseed oil
  • 170 grams grated zucchini
  • 45 grams chopped walnuts
Method

Preheat oven to 165 degrees celcius (fan forced)
Line a 20cm square baking tin with two layers of baking paper (this is important when cooking with dextrose)
(*Note: This recipe also works as cupcakes - I have made 14 standard size cupcakes and 10 baby cupcakes using this recipe, just make sure you reduce baking time to 15 mins for standard size cupcakes)

1. Sift plain flour, spelt flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder into bowl, combine
2. Whisk eggs and oil together
3. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix gently until combined
4. Add grated zucchini and chopped walnuts and combine
5. Pour into lined cake tin
6. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 mins
 

Chocolate Avocado icing

A chocolate avocado recipe had been on my list for a while now and man I wish I had tried it earlier!! IT IS AWESOME! The avocado makes it so smooth, the texture is wonderful, could easily eat this straight from the bowl or on a slice of toast! YUM!

Ingredients
  • 1 small avocado
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch sea salt
Method

1. Scoop out avocado and place in small food processor (I just use the processor attachment to my stick blender)
2. Add all other ingredients and blend until smooth
3. Spread onto cooled cake

Enjoy!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Top 5 Favourite... Kitchen Utensils

Whilst making tuna casserole for the kids recently  (or what I knew as 'Chicken casserole' growing up as I DID NOT EAT TUNA! :))  I had a moment where I thought 'where would I be without my little whisk?' Yes sounds like a funny thing to get sentimental about but it is really one of the most handy kitchen utensils I own. I actually saw Nigella using one once and sought one out, I wasn't disappointed, so simple but so useful.

So this has inspired me to start a 'Top 5 Favourites list' and here is the first edition:

Top 5 Favourite Kitchen Utensils

 
 
  1. Digital scales- I had been wanting some for quite a while and finally got some a couple of years ago, so accurate and can weigh volume as well, can't bake without them.
  2. Lemon/lime squeezer- Well to be honest I did feel like a bit of a 'squeezer' getting one of these! I had seen Ian 'Huey' Hewitson use it on a daily basis on his show and thought how lazy can you get?! Even after I got one it sat in the drawer for ages before I used it but when I did, wow! It is so much easier to squeeze over your cooking and it gets every last drop of juice out.
  3. Jamie Oliver garlic press- I actually researched this for quite a while, I had a decent one and it disappeared, husband bought a cheap one to replace it and every time I used it I felt like throwing it out the window. So after seeing that you could leave the skin on and slice garlic with this one it made it's way to my Xmas wish list for last year! It does a great job.
  4. Furi knife sharpener- So easy to use and sharpens knives in seconds- love it!
  5. Finally my beloved mini whisk- great for making white sauces and whisking in a jug where a large whisk won't fit. Would be lost without it!
(Reading this list I now realise I have been brain washed by celebrity chefs!! Their marketing strategies are working on me!)
 
What are you favourite kitchen utensils/gadgets?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Sultana Oat Slice

 
 
 
Miss M loves sultanas. I try to ration them otherwise she would eat 'tarns' all day long. When my brother and I were little my Mum would give us a bowl of sultanas and send us out onto the back step to eat them (apparently Mum liked mess even less than I do!). Anyway, as a result of these 'bowls' of sultanas, I now loathe them!
 
Recently I bought a kilo packet of homebrand sultanas as our sultana budget was blowing out and low and behold Miss M has a discerning palette when it comes to sultanas! "Yuck", was her response when she was given a bowl of the slightly flattened version of 'tarns'. I tried a few more times but she was not having it. So back to the 'brand' sultanas we go.
 
So since I was now stuck with a kilo of sultanas I decided to use them in a recipe hoping she would eat them if they were 'disguised'. And it worked, here is my simple Sultana Oat Slice, great for kids and although it does have sultanas in it there is no extra sugar. My friends told me it tastes good too so here is the recipe!
 
 

Ingredients
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup sultanas
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/4 cup stevia granules (I use Natvia) (you could use 1/2 cup raw sugar)
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons rice malt syrup (you could use honey)

Method
 
Pre-heat oven 180 degrees Celsius (160 fan forced)
Line 18 x 28 cm slice tin
 
1. Combine oats, sultanas, coconut, stevia, flour and chia seeds in a large bowl
2. Melt butter and rice malt syrup (RMS) in saucepan
3. Pour melted butter and RMS into bowl and mix
4. Pour mixture into tin and flatten down into tin using back of spoon or hand.
5. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden
6. Cool in tin before cutting into squares



Saturday, 10 August 2013

Banana Coconut Muffins (Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free)


These muffins are super quick and easy and are sugar and dairy free! Obviously bananas do contain fructose however over 12 muffins the amount is low. Great for an afternoon snack or the kids lunchboxes.
 
 
Ingredients
 
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 cups wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 cup granulated Stevia (I used Natvia)
1 cup coconut milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 small or 1 large banana, mashed
 
Method
 
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees fan-forced)
Grease or line 12 hole muffin tin
 
1. Mix coconut, flour and Natvia in bowl
2. Whisk coconut milk, egg and vanilla extract in jug. Add to flour mixture and combine
3. Add mashed banana and combine (try not to overbeat)
4. Spoon mixture into muffin tin
5. Bake in oven for 20-25 mins
6. Stand in tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto cooling rack

Thursday, 8 August 2013

You know you're a Mum when...

 
Lately I seemed to be having a number of those moments where you catch yourself doing something and think...What the hell has happened to me?
 
Below are a few of those moments. Maybe you can relate?
 
You know you're a Mum when...
  • You make yourself lunch and cut your sandwich into four squares
  • You drive for 20 minutes in the car by yourself before you realise you don't have to listen to the Wiggles CD
  • You feel strange and uncomfortable being at the shops and not pushing something around
  • The highlight of your day is watching 'Peppa Pig' and 'Shaun the Sheep' but dread hearing the start of the 'Ha Ha Hairies'
  • You have trained yourself to be able to go to the toilet with an audience
  • You catch yourself saying "I'm going to count to three..." without knowing what you will do when you get to three
  • You regularly answer the door at midday in you PJ's (sorry Woolworths delivery guy)
  • Getting dressed to leave the house entails either putting on your 'best' tracksuit (i.e. without spit up or snot stains) or wearing your most expensive outfit (you never know when you might get a chance to wear it again!)
  • You struggle to put a sentence together in English (see what I mean?)
  • Having 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep is considered an awesome night's sleep
  • You catch yourself reading your grocery list out loud at the supermarket even when you are alone
  • You actually start enjoying singing along to nursery rhymes
  • You take bribes with you to the park in anticipation of a tantrum when trying to get the kids off the swings
  • Your feel like an overachiever when you manage to clean out the junk drawer
  • It feels like EVERYONE has seen your boobs, but you are past caring
  • You have a new appreciation for your Mum
  • You have a fever, a cough like a smoker, your eyes are hanging out but you still manage to sing a song whilst changing nappies and make four different lunches for your fussy toddler
  • When you are sick and someone asks how you are, you say "Good", assuming they are asking about the kids (as your well-being doesn't count anymore)
  • When you are out in public and you see another Mum with a screaming child, you give them a sympathetic smile (unlike pre-kids where you would roll your eyes and wonder why they would bring these undisciplined children out in public)
  • On the rare occasion where the stars align and you manage to get the kids to have a nap at the same time you feel like all your Christmas' have come at once
  • When the above does happen you spend half your time trying to decide whether you should clean the floors, hang out washing, cook dinner or just lie down. You then kick yourself when the kids wake and you haven't done any of these things.
Speaking of which, I hear yelling from the bedrooms.