Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My favourite things...

Oh yes! Another chance to link up with the lovely Pip Lincolne, from Meet me at Mikes. Who could resist? My Favourite things, why do I find these simple questions the hardest to answer? I feel like a deer in headlights, suddenly my mind goes blank and the pressure to come up with a good list sends me into a spin. What if I forget one of my bestest, most favourite things? What if all the things on the list are boring? Ok so you can see my neurosis shining through, so instead of overthinking it (which is my M.O. for everything) I am just going to go with the flow and see what ends up on the list below! Cross your fingers...

1. TV- Oh, my oldest love. Where would I be without you? Remember when there was a time when to see good acting and good stories you had to go to the movies? (Well maybe you don't!) But when I was growing up there was mainly game shows and bad English soap operas with the occasional decent show thrown in. Now there is just so much good TV I don't know where to turn next. But on days where the box presents nothing tantalising, I return to my favourite TV writer, Aaron Sorkin. The West Wing is my all-time-favourite show. EVER. The fast walk and talk, the witty one liners and dialogue that often goes over my head (got to love a show that doesn't aim its writing at the lowest common denominator), it is just the most delicious combination. So at the moment I have been revisiting, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was a very short lived series that didn't make it onto our screens here but since was written by Aaron Sorkin and it stars Bradley Whitford it's a winner in my book!
Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman- What a sight for sore eyes!

2. Green tea- Green tea had sort of taken a backseat to peppermint tea for me but after a horrible cup of peppermint tea (you have to pick up your game there Aldi!) I switched back to a cup of green and OOH was it so lovely! I had forgotten how wonderful that lovely earthy cup of warmth could be!
My favourite mug at the moment!

3. That minute where you actually feel on top of things-  When I say 'things' I mean housework and since kids this rarely happens to me, but this week after having a few days at home and really getting my 'housework game face' on I actually got majority of the washing done, the floors cleaned and the bathrooms looking presentable. Ok so this only lasted a minute, but for that minute I had such a sense of achievement and contentment, I was thinking of moving the kids out to a hotel just so it would last longer!!

4. Catching up with my oldest and dearest friends- I am counting down at the moment to a girls only weekend with my oldest and closest friends, we have actually managed to organise the lives of 5 people who live in 3 different states, have 6 children between us and jobs and husbands to find a couple of days to live it up like it was 1999!! I can't wait!

5. My Home Beautiful subscription- This was my xmas present to myself and I am loving myself for it! I usually have one or two magazine subscriptions on the go. My parents owned Newsagencies for most of my life and so I blame them for my addiction. I have tried to really narrow it down to only one or two a month, but there is nothing more exciting than getting your favourite magazine hot off the press, stealing a quiet moment with a cup of tea and firmly pressing open that front cover. Oh the promise of inspiration and dreaming of houses I will probably never own but can fantasize about from cover to cover!

6. Watching Master Q and Miss M talking to each other- this is only a recent event and since Master Q is only 20 months and has limited vocabulary the conversations are limited but when I do catch them facing one another and engaging in some kind of toddler communication it just warms the cockles of my heart! Such a thrill to watch them growing before your eyes.
My beauties
Since I can't top that last one my list is short and sweet. No overthinking or panicked feelings so I think I can put the therapy on hold for another week!

What are your favourite things? Do you have a magazine obsession too?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Quitting sugar: The warts and all truth about quitting, 12 months on

I really struggled to write this post, so much so that it actually started as "I Quit Sugar- 9 months on", so basically for three months I have been going back and forth adding a few sentences and then deleting them. I just couldn't figure out why I was having such a hard time writing it. This is a topic I am really passionate about, you know what reformed addicts are like, will bore anyone who will listen with their quitting story. So why was I so reluctant to put down in words my experience of being off the white stuff for a whole year?

Then one night as I was sitting on the couch eating some sugar-free chocolate cake it came to me. The reason I was having a hard time writing this is that I felt like a bit of a fraud. Hand on heart, I can honestly say I am still 'sugar-free' but 12 months on things are not all green smoothies and quinoa salads.
The truth is this, I still do not eat sugar. 90% of the food our family eats is home made, from scratch, from unprocessed, sugar and seed oil free foods.  BUT I still don't eat enough vegetables, especially greens, I still eat way too many carbs and we still have fish and chips on a regular basis. I bake sugar-free recipes weekly and will usually have some sort of  home-made sugar-free treats such as biscuits, muffins or cake in the house.  Whilst on the confession couch I also ate some Cadbury mini Crème eggs at Easter (pre-quitting I would have eaten a dozen full size ones!), I have had the occasional Magnum ice cream (for some reason ice cream is one of the only things I have craved- I think maybe because its hard to replicate sugar-free) and I often eat sea salt chips after dinner.
I have also put on about 3 kilos in the last four months and can't remember the last time I exercised. (Yep, I'm putting it all out there!). Honestly it is possible to be sugar-free and put weight on.  If you aren't feeding your body enough nourishing and nurturing clean foods then you are still going to be hungry and you are going to crave more carbs. Although you do not have to cut out carbs to be sugar-free, I really do believe that limiting carbs and eating the right ones does help to keep your sugar-levels in check and stop you from craving the sweet stuff.
What I can say though is in a year I have not bought one thing from the chocolate aisle at the supermarket (the eggs were a nasty gift from my evil sugar-addict parents ;) and technically the Magnum ice cream is from the freezer section!). I read every label on the food I buy and avoid sugar and seed oils as much as possible. I mostly bake with healthier alternatives to processed white flour and attempt to sneak in vegetables or superfoods in most things I bake. I have not baked anything with sugar in over 12 months, including all our extended family's celebration cakes.
Confessions and 'lapses' aside I would NEVER, EVER go back to eating sugar. The initial benefits I gained from quitting sugar are still with me (you can read about that here and here). I really was addicted and it impacted not just my health and my emotions but also my relationships. It's funny sometimes to tell stories of satisfying cravings by going to the shops in your pajamas to buy some peanut M&Ms or eating a whole packet of chocolate freckles in one sitting. But the self-loathing you feel afterwards and the disappointed looks I would get from my non-addict husband were not so funny.

Looking back at my year without sugar I still feel so unbelievably proud of myself for quitting something that really has devastating effects on your health and well being. The lapses and ups and downs is what life is all about. If I thought I had to do it 'perfectly' I would have given up months ago. There is certainly room for improvement, that's for sure, but it can be done and I would still talk the ear off anyone who asks me about it. Actually I don't even get asked if I will do it forever anymore, its just part of who I am now. I don't feel deprived, I feel released from a vice that really did have control over me. I really am sugar-FREE!*
(*Apologies for this cheesy line- I couldn't help it!)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The hunt for healthy food at Costco Australia

Since Costco arrived in Australia the cost-cutter in me has been dying to go and check it out. However the $60 membership fee really was a turn off, could I justify spending $60 just to end up buying 40 toilet paper rolls? Since going sugar-free and attempting to rule out processed foods from our pantry the items that really hike up our grocery bill are the 'health' foods. Every time another sugar-free baking recipe fails I grimace at the waste of money and ingredients it took to make it.
So a few weeks ago I bit the bullet and pushed my oversized trolley through Costco's doors in an attempt to make some savings on my regular 'healthy' pantry items. There are of course the expected tempting items such as new cameras and flat screen TV's to entice you and tables of basic American clothing at good prices, but it was really the food I was curious to check out.

Within a few minutes of entering the store, as if they knew I was coming, I spotted a stack of massive jars of coconut oil and kilo containers of chia seeds side by side. The kilo jar of Chia Co. chia seeds were $19.99, the major supermarkets sell a half kilo packet of this brand for $20.95, so it was a 50% saving right off the bat! The coconut oil is organic and cold pressed and was $13.99 for the 900 gram jar. My usual tiny 300g jar of coconut oil costs $6.44 so it's a great saving, $15.55 per kilo compared to $21.45 a kilo!
As I continued to wander the massive aisles there were a few more bargains to be had. A 4.25 kg box of Quaker oats (yes that's a lot of oats!) were a few dollars less a kilo than the usual shelf price. Although I will say that the oat connisieur in our house; husband, tells me they don't taste as good as Uncle Toby's and do seem to take much longer to cook. The kids haven't complained and I use them mainly in cooking so it hasn't bothered me. There was also a nearly 50% saving buying a huge 2 kg bucket of Jalna yoghurt as well (yes I am not scrimping on the servings at the moment!).
Other regular items that can be found in our pantry such as Val Verde bread sticks, Real Foods Corn thins and Heinz baked beans were also cheaper but the savings weren't as significant. I also found some UHT cartons of coconut milk that worked out to be $1.33 per 400ml carton which isn't overly cheap but UHT coconut milk is impossible to find elsewhere.  I have to say though it was Mary's Gone Crackers, crackers that I was in search of and didn't find them on my first trip but on my second trip, ta-da! They are one of the healthiest packaged crackers you can buy and are usually $9 for a small box at our speciality supermarket so I was happy to find a huge half kilo box for $11.29. Their only ingredients being organic wholegrain blend of grains and seeds, water, sea salt and tamari and are gluten free!
As far as other staples go the prices were going to have to be pretty good to compare to my regular supermarket; Aldi. Things such as tinned tomatoes, nuts, cheese, milk and quite a lot of other staples were not cheaper than Aldi and of course at Aldi you don't have to buy a dozen of them to make the savings! (Watch this space for my upcoming post of my favourite healthy buys at Aldi!)
Some of my bulk buys in our storeroom (aka the garage!)
So how would I rate Costco in terms of savings for healthier foods? If you aren't buying soft drinks by the pallet load or buckets full of chocolate peanuts then I would say the savings are moderate. Items such as the coconut oil, chia seeds, Mary's Gone Crackers were great buys and I am sure I would make the $60 membership fee back in a year of savings but as with the whole concept of Costco you make the savings by having to buy these items in bulk. If you aren't going to eat a kilo of chia seeds by the use-by-date then it's probably not worth the savings. As with all shopping you need to know your prices and compare the unit prices. So all in all I would say if you regularly use items such as coconut oil, coconut flour, gluten-free flour, chia seeds etc then you will save money buying these items at Costco, however if you only have a small family and only use these types of items on occasion then you'd be pressed to make your membership fee back on healthy type food alone. That being said I did of course walk out of there with 40 rolls of toilet paper as well!!
Are you a Costco member? Do you think you the savings are worth the membership fee?

(Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, all opinions expressed on the brands and companies mentioned here are my own)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Backyard Makeover: How to make a portable vegetable patch using a wooden pallet!

First up I'll give you some background info, our backyard is VERY small. It's approximately 7.5 metres by 4 metres. It is also raised up from our small patio area (i.e. there is a small retaining wall) by about 25cm. Also thanks to our builders who did a dodgy job attempting to landscape our yard it is also slightly sloped and over time has sunk even more. They also used building timber leftovers to edge the garden beds, which have now rotted away. So although when we first moved in it did look good it is now turned into a bit of schmozzle and in desperate need of an update.
And this is the best side!
Even though the weather is not great and only going to get worse as we head into the wet and miserable Melbourne winter our kids, like most kids, are always champing at the bit to go and play outside, only there is really nothing for them to do out there! We bought a tiny toddler slide but it didn't take long for even 19 month old Master Q to outgrow it, our little sandpit filled with water and can barely fit our two toddlers in it and there is only so much fun to be had picking up rocks!
Oh what fun!
So we are on a mission to make our limited backyard more  functional and 'kid friendly', giving them something to enjoy out there, even if it is rugged up in raincoats and beanies!
Our first and hardest task has been trying to get back to a blank canvas, it's very hard to clear things out and start again when you have nowhere to put anything! So far we have pulled out our overgrown small garden beds that border the backyard and topped them up with more stones thanks to our lovely and generous neighbour who over ordered for her backyard! We have also taken down our garden shed and husband has started to level out the area where the shed used to be to accommodate a small but much anticipated fort and slide with sandpit. Speaking of kid's playgrounds, one of my lovely friends and her husband (who is a builder) just built one of the most awesome cubbies and forts you'll ever see! If you want to check out the backyard every kid dreams of go to his building company Facebook page here.

To finish levelling off the ground we had to move my little veggie garden. I have to say its been incredibly neglected over the last year or two but I couldn't give it up for good, so to make more space I (yes I !) came up with the idea to put the veggie garden bed onto a wooden pallet husband had recently acquired for free and put it on wheels. This would mean I could move it into the sun (it was previously in a really shady part of the yard which didn't help my veggies) and move it when the kids wanted to play.
It did take a little longer than I had anticipated, but husband doesn't do things by halves so I know it will stand the test of time. So after another painful family outing to Bunnings (seriously is there any other kind?!) and 3 hours in the cold and wet weather it was finished!

The garden bed I have had for a while but the concept could also be used to move around a collection of pots as well.

He filled in some of the spaces in the pallet with some wood we had, added four lockable castors to the bottom, stapled some weed mat to the surface of the pallet and then used some brackets to stop the garden bed from moving on the pallet. Of course it will be really heavy once the soil it put back in so make sure you get heavy duty castors. Husband also made some holes on either end and added some rope to make it easier to move around.


Out of the way

I spent the last few hours of Mother's day planting out my little veggie patch, I think the planting process is nearly as exciting as eating your first homegrown veggies! Don't you think?
This is the first in what I am sure will be numerous posts on our little backyard makeover- stay tuned!
A note on using wooden pallets: There is a lot of conflicting advice out there in relation to using pallets to grow vegetables. Some articles I read said you shouldn't use pallets full stop. Others said you shouldn't use treated pine for veggie garden beds but my favourite gardener Don Burke says they are fine (preferably ACQ pine). My take from the numerous articles I read is that as long as the pallet has been heat treated (see below pic for an example of the stamp donating heat treated -HT) and not chemically treated and there haven't been any chemical spills on the pallet your vegetables shouldn't be contaminated.  Also in this case the pallet doesn't have direct contact with the soil so I think we should be fine.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

10 Great Reads for Children under 3

I don't know about you but sometimes we get to the children's section of the library and it's just a sea of books. I randomly scan through the shelves and pick out any title or cover that catches my eye. Take them home along with any other ones the kids have thrown into the bag and upon reading them are so disappointed! The story is either boring or badly written to the point where I end up skipping pages and making the story up.

So I have put together a quick list of some recommendations for your next story time with your toddler. Pre-requisites to make my list? Something that I enjoy reading as much as the kids do, nothing too long and a good message or lesson. (I am also a sucker for a book that rhymes!). Enjoy!

1. We're going on a bear hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.
What's not to love, both of our kids adore this book!

2. Where the wild things are, by Maurice Sendak.
A classic, may be a bit over our little one's heads but we all love the 'wild things'!
3. Climb, by Caroline Tuohey.
A cute book for when they start moving around. This was one of the first books Miss M requested over and over and over...

4. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox
This one may be more for me than for the kids, the story is so heartwarming, bit of a tear jerker for a children's book. A Mem Fox classic.

5. The Very Cranky Bear, by Nick Bland.
I think I love this one more than the kids! Gotta love a cute book that rhymes!

6. Big Mouth - Wild Water Pop-ups
This may not be literary genius (as you can guess from no author sited!) but all kids love a pop-up book and I do hilarious voices (if I do say so myself!) for each animal which the kids think is funny. It is educational as well, (and rhymes!) so I think deserves to be on the list. (Ironically you can usually find them at your local 'pop up' book bargain store!)

7. My Adventure Island (for the boys) and Princesses love to share (for the girls) by Timothy Knapman
I read a review of these books after reading them and I couldn't believe the depth to which some parents have analysed (or over-analysed) the issues with the messages in these books! Seriously, they rhyme, they DO have a message and the pictures are cute. The End.
8. Ten little fingers and ten little toes, by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
Every toddler loves this book at some stage, beautiful illustrations and a simple, sweet story. A must for every children's library.

9. Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell.
This was one of the first books given to Master Q, he loves this book, just have to keep him from ripping the flaps off!

10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
I had to include this one as it is the only one from the list that I remember from my childhood, it was something about the delicious looking illustrations and the holes in the pages that made it so memorable, and probably why it has been so popular for so long!

Are any of these your family favourites also? What do your children love reading a million times over?