Thursday, 26 June 2014

Sparking creativity: How I got my blog groove back

As I have mentioned here recently, I have really been struggling to get my blog groove on lately. It started as a blip whilst I was busy with everyday life and then turned into a real blog coma. I felt caught up, overthinking everything, creatively constipated (nice image isn't it?!). I began to consider whether I should continue blogging at all.

Then this happened.

 
I got myself a study nook.

We had been planning one for what seems like an eternity as our study is at the opposite end of the house to our living area and it's logistically impossible to do any work down there with two toddlers at your feet. So the dining table became my office which meant that we were forever moving my laptop, my camera, my notebooks and my cookbooks back and forward around the table. It was driving us bonkers and aggravated the neat freak in me to no end.

We work shopped numerous versions of my study nook in a space at the end of our kitchen bench and originally I wanted a desk that was the same height as our bench top, but finding table legs that I liked proved to be virtually impossible. So after getting to the point where I thought we were just going to give the idea away, I decided just to go with some normal desk height legs. And after another trip to Ikea my new study nook was born!
 
To add some colour I made myself some little circle cork board spots (another idea from Ikea, oh those Swedes!!) and it was whilst I had paint roller in one hand that my groove came back. It was such a simple project, completely kids craft corner but it just took that one little foray to awaken my creative juices and I was off.

Sitting down at MY cute little space ideas began to flow and I was excited again. It is a little part of the house that is mine, decorated how I want it, with MY colours and MY stuff and I love it!! (Credit and thanks does have to go to husband for putting the desk and shelf together and for putting up with my complaints in the months preceding the final product!).

It's hard to find anything that is yours once you become a Mum, the other day Miss M was demanding I show her my veins on my legs to entertain her whilst she was on the toilet! Sheesh!! But this little corner of the house smack bang in the middle of the chaos is my little oasis. Space set aside for me.

 
In discussions with fellow bloggers (especially the lovely ladies from the Blog with Pip Group) there isn't a day that goes by where someone  isn't questioning whether they should continue with their blog, how they are worried that they will never find their mojo again and I have been one of them lately. Of course ebbs and flows are a natural part of life but if there are two tips I can give if you are struggling with getting your groove back it would be just DO SOMETHING, anything! Decorate one of your children's rooms, make a nice card, do some painting, it doesn't have to be huge and it certainly doesn't have to be great but it just has to be SOMETHING. It will reignite your spark, and lead you back to where you are supposed to be.
Isn't this clock just gorgeous? It's from online store Society 6, I recommend it!
 
The second would be find somewhere that is just yours, somewhere in your house where you can be creative. I noticed that Pip herself has tasked some of her students from her latest Inspiration Information course to decorate a tiny part of their house for themselves. Which inadvertently was exactly what I did with my study nook! It's nice to have somewhere that is just yours when you are used to giving all of yourself to others. It's a reminder that you are still 'you' and that finding space to be that person again will work wonders in getting your groove back.

What are you sure fire ways to get re-inspired?

(Apologies for the bad lighting in the photos but if I waited for sunlight in Melbourne I could be here forever!!)

Monday, 23 June 2014

My love affair with Bellini (the thermal cooker that is)

Oh I really ummed and arrhed for months about buying a thermal cooker. I have a KitchenAid mixer, a large food processor, a stab blender with whisk and chopper, not to mention my slow cooker and rice cooker!! Seriously do I need yet another appliance? What could I possibly do in the thermal cooker that couldn't be done in one of these other appliances?
Ok, so it can't compare in the looks department!
 
I originally came across this beauty at my Mother-in-Law's house, the Thermomix or Bimby as they are affectionately called in Italy have been around in Europe for decades, who knows why it took so long to get to Australia! On a trip to Australia my Mother in Law's sister bought over her old Bimby as she had upgraded hers. It really is a monstrosity of a thing, but we were all intrigued how this machine let you weigh ingredients and even boil water (um, hello people have you ever seen scales and a kettle?!). Anyway whilst living at my Mother-in-law's for a while I did use it to make Pesto once but since the instruction book and cook book was in Italian I didn't manage to use it for anything else. At the time the Thermomix hadn't made big in Australia yet so it sat in the corner of my MIL's kitchen, taking up half of the bench where until this day she still only uses it to make breadcrumbs!

Fast forward to today and the Thermomix is the most lusted after kitchen appliance of all home cooks (I think even a KitchenAid has taken a back seat to it!) but since the exorbitant price tag is out of reach of a lot of people, including me, the Bellini has done a pretty good job at filling a corner of the market who would otherwise have not had a chance to experience the wonders of a thermal cooker!

So after yet another discussion with my friends as to whether it is worth buying I caved, went straight to Target (where it was on special) and bought it! 4pm on a Sunday I bought it home wiped out the parts and immediately started an All-in-One meal in it! Oh geez what was I thinking?!
 
The recipe was a super popular one from Quirky Cooking- Creamy Paprika Chicken. It used nearly every attachment belonging to the Bellini! I can say it was a little bit ambitious of me to pull it straight from the box and attempt this recipe as it does take you a while to get your head around how to use it but I did manage to pull it off and it tasted great! (As a side note both the kids had a mild reaction to the cashews in it- who knew? But apart from that it was a winner!).
 
Since then I have used it every day! One machine that has the ability to do so many things really opens up a whole new world of cooking, I am hooked!
 
So far I have made quite a few different recipes (all sugar-free of course) some needed a little finessing but all ended up tasting great. (Note: From my own limited experience and from Bellini owners you do have to adjust cooking times some what when using Thermomix recipes but all of mine so far have turned out great!).

Here are some of the ones I have tried so far, why don't you give them a go!:
 
Quirky Cooking- Coconut Caramel custard (I have made this 3 times, substituting rapadura sugar for some stevia granules)
Bellini cookbook- Cottage Pie (needed extra time to thicken)
A Little Bit of Homemade Heaven- Cacao Coconut Brownie Slice (again I used stevia instead of rapadura sugar)
Quirky Cooking - Creamy Chicken brown rice soup (this is awesome! Highly recommended)
Wholefood Simply- Bounty Bars (I used macadamias instead of cashews)
 
I also used it to make macadamia butter, which it managed to do so much quicker than my high powered food processor and also a crumble topping for an apple crumble.
 
I also managed to make one of my own recipes as well! A Banana Cake with Cream Cheese icing. It worked out great and although I did use a tin that was too small, it was so super easy and tasted delicious! Here is the recipe:
 
My first Bellini cake!
 
 

Bellini (Thermomix) Sugar-free Banana Cake

Ingredients

3 tbsp Stevia (or 150g caster sugar)
125g butter, room temperature
2 x medium ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
110g plain flour
110g wholemeal plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi carb soda
150g milk
 

Method

(Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees celcius. Line a 22cm round cake tin)
 
1. Place stevia, butter, bananas, vanilla and eggs in bowl on Speed 6 for 1 minute
2. Add milk and mix on Speed 6 for 10 seconds
3. Add flours, baking powder, bi-carb soda and mix on Speed 4 for 4 seconds (or until combined)
4. Pour into lined tin and bake in oven for approx. 35 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
5. Remove cake from tin and leave to cool on wire rack.
6. Once cool spread with cream cheese icing
 
(I made a combo of cream cheese, butter, milk powder and lemon juice for the icing, I didn't use any specific amounts but if you start with 90g cream cheese and 45 grams of butter, you can adjust other quantities until desired consistency is reached)
 
 
*CONFESSION- The first time I made this cake I threw everything in at the same time and whizzed it up on Speed 6 for just over a minute, Bellini did seem a bit perturbed at first but it still came out great!

So stay tuned, I look forward to sharing some of my favourite Bellini recipes here soon!

Are you a Thermomix/Bellini addict?
 
 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Yep, being an adult is overrated

For someone who likes to agonise over the minutiae going through my head at any given moment, and who is also known to ramble on to any friend or family member who will listen to these said thoughts I have been bewildered as to why I have been avoiding my pseudo-therapist’s couch; aka my blog. My blog is a way for me to attempt to make more sense of the craziness and to clear my mind, hoping at the same time, in some small way it may have you ‘nodding’ in acknowledgment that you too have had these same thoughts.  But lately I haven’t been able to face my blog at all. I am literally so deep in what seems to be too many ‘big life decisions’ at the moment that I can’t see the forest for the trees. I have started about four or five blog posts over the last month or so and just can’t seem to work up the interest to finish them and at the same time although annoyed at myself for not following through with them I have also given myself a bit of a leave pass. Acknowledging that sometimes it’s all just too much, and sometimes, something’s got to give.
 
(Quote source: Jimmy Buffet)
As I have written about before one of the reasons I starting this blog was to attempt to workshop a ‘Plan B’ for my future career direction. And the deadline for making a decision as to whether I return to my job is looming, and the more I think about it, the quicker it seems to be approaching.

After putting making an actual decision on the backburner for a while, recently I quietly sat down, thought about the issues involved and realised that although not something I was really thrilled to do, the adult, parent and responsible person in me decided that I should return to work. I wouldn’t be returning full time and to many I am sure the time and energy I have expended to make this decision might seem silly and frivolous. But for me it is bigger than this. It’s an acceptance of things which to be honest I am not sure I want to face. Returning to the job that I have had for my whole adult life, one that has turned from a dream job to a ‘suck the life out of you’ kind of job feels, well…unfair. It’s had me kicking the dirt toddler-style, my arms crossed in front of me yelling, “But I don’t want to!” Right now I can hear my husband saying, “Geez, talk about being over dramatic”. And yes I am being dramatic but after nearly 3 years of maternity leave with only a very brief stint at work in between kids, the willingness I had to accept that although no longer my dream career but a job I should be happy to have has diminished significantly.
 
Saying having kids changes you, is a phrase banded about all over the place and for good reason, it’s true. They make you see life and yourself in a new way; sometimes bringing out the worst in you and other times shining a light on a part of your personality that you never knew existed. Whichever it is, at the end of the day whether your report card for your efforts was a ‘D’ or an ‘A’ you vow that tomorrow you will do it better, that you really want to put all you can into being the best parent you can for these little people because they are worth every little bit of your effort and energy.  Therefore I am finding it hard to take these lofty ideals that I attempt to uphold as a Mum and transfer them to my ‘paid’ job, because the reasons for returning there don’t come close, not even in the slightest. Returning to a job just for the ‘pay check’ seems just so soul destroying.

My little man
Of course I know that providing for your family is an admirable reason to return to work but when you are not the main bread winner, your part, although a contribution, seems to lose any bigger meaning.  
Husband, likes to ‘tell me how it is’, no sugar coating it, when talking through this decision and most of the time although what he is saying is true, I just don’t want to hear it. I literally just want to put my hands over my ears and start yelling “LA, LA, LA, LA” at the top of my lungs. (See I told you very todder-like of me). Although supportive of whatever decision I make his main concern has been my lack of direction in finding another career I may want to pursue.
Then few weeks ago following a discussion with my wonderful mother’s group friends we started discussing a particular field of interest we were all keen on. It had been a career I had considered for a while but had put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. I went home and immediately researched what uni courses I would have to do and I started to get excited. It was the first time, (well probably apart from dreaming about being a paid blogger!), that I started to get excited at the prospect of starting a new career and all at once I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The next few weeks I poured over course outlines, emailed unis and attempted to calculate just how many years it would take me to finish another degree. Normally I would have just dismissed it, but I really felt like it was something I could actually put my heart into and that although it would take a lot of work and some sacrifices I could make it work.
Working next to mummy
The high I felt for the next few days was wonderful, I timidly told friends of my possible plans and everyone was super encouraging. Then one night a few weeks later I googled some employment opportunities in that particular field. The pay was average to say the least. I did not think they were highly paid, and to be honest pay has never been a driving force for me but when I started thinking about the fact that I could earn the same amount at my current job working just two days a week the reality rollercoaster took another steep downward run. I started thinking about the actuality of embarking upon a whole new career with two toddlers. How was I going to attend uni classes when I don’t have babysitters on hand? How was I going to study for the next five years and raise the kids which is already a full time job? And to top it off not only would I not be getting paid while I studied, we would have to fork out a ridiculous amount of money for a new degree. I would be starting at the bottom once I graduated, would have to do shift work and get paid a mediocre wage. It all started to look just too hard.
I know what some of you might say, “If you really want it, you will find a way”, and look I am not dismissing it entirely but as much as I don’t want to accept it I may have to put forging a new career on hold for a while. Maybe I will return to my old job and it won’t be as bad as I had imagined?(one can only hope!). At the moment, I still feel like I am on a bit of a downer about the whole situation. Although our family can survive on one income for now, expenses with kids just increases, ours aren’t even at school yet and I would have to get a job eventually. I know that some Mums don’t have the luxury of having a choice whether they return to work or not, and I feel for them. I also know some Mums love their job and feel it makes them a better parent, and to them I say “More power to you!”, but for this Mum having to make a decision on this subject is just too hard. Being an adult is tough, no strike that, being an adult sometimes just sucks big time.



 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

5 ways to sneak veggies into your toddler's diet

I feel like a week doesn't go by where I am not agonising over the lack of vegetables in my children's diets. If you could live on carbs, meat and dairy alone then Miss M and Master Q would be set. How to get your kids to eat vegetables is a regular topic of discussion amongst Mums and although it's hit and miss I have actually come up with some winners, maybe there a some on my list that might work for your kids!
 
1. Pesto- God knows why but for some reason the green of pesto does not equate to veggies with kids. We call our pesto pasta nights, "Froggy Pasta night" and the kids will eat bowls of it. My favourite is Kale and walnut pesto (you can find the recipe here). I've also managed to get them to eat it spread on some flatbreads topped with cheese and grilled.
 
Kale Pesto Pasta
 
2. Cauliflower puree- This beauty has been a recent addition to our meals and has become a favourite of mine as it is just so versatile. I use it in most recipes that call for a white sauce, works great with lasagna, tuna bake or my old faithful pasta bake.
 
My favourite pasta bake
3. Smoothies- Every day I start off with a smoothie. My usual includes frozen strawberries, milk, flaxseed and berry powder, a big handful of baby spinach leaves and some chocolate protein powder. Miss M loves it, Master Q is a strange one and doesn't like 'cold' food (??) but I hope I can wean him onto it. You can't taste the spinach and at least I know I have gotten one serve of greens into Miss M's day!
 
4. Frittata- I've mentioned this before but if you cut up some greens (spinach or par-cooked kale) and put it into a frittata my kids will eat it, I do make sure that when I serve it you can only see cheese and egg on the top and I have managed to slip this past them a few times, definitely worth a try!
 
5. Cake- Yep of course the easiest and most sure fire way to get kids to eat some veggies, put it in something sweet! My favourite and the one I use in baking the most is zucchini. Zucchini in chocolate cake or brownies is great. I have also used sweet potato in biscuits and a few other gems which have momentarily slipped my mind. There are some great cake or muffin recipes out there that you can use veggies in, here is my Zucchini Chocolate Cake and Zucchini Chocolate Cupcakes to get you started!
 
Zucchini Chocolate Cake (sugar free)
Zucchini Chocolate Cupcake (sugar free)

 

 Have you got some tricks to get your kids to eat veggies? Feel free to share!