Monday, 30 April 2012

Pizza, burgers and cardboard boxes

Home from preschool on Friday and I realise there's half a batch of pizza dough in the fridge from the night before. Woohoo! (I get really excited when I put ingredients together in my head and come up with a meal. Don't you?)

I rush in and quickly sizzle some garlic in coconut oil (I've become a real convert to coconut oil - more on that another time) before emptying in the contents of a large can of tomatoes and a bit of dried oregano and rosemary. Some salt and pepper and I leave it to bubble away and thicken. Meanwhile, a bowl of frozen sweetcorn is out thawing, I spread the dough out on a tray with my fingers and I drain the tuna, grate the cheese and chop some beautiful organic spinach leaves.

The sauce looks ready so I dollop it on the dough, and hide the spinach amongst it (Luca will never see it once I pile everything up high anyway). On go the sweetcorn, tuna and cheese, and into the oven till the dough is golden and crusty.

Scroll down below to see what I did with the leftover tomato sauce 

And boy was it delicious. Think it must have been the rosemary and the garlic in the sauce that gave it a real savoury edge. 

It was a resounding success with Luca (and for once he didn't pull anything green out), but 'fraid Kian did what Kian has been doing for weeks now: throws the plate and everything on it across the floor. In one fell swoop. 

Every. Bloody. Meal.

I've seen a temper in me this week that I don't see very often. That's all I shall say on the issue.

On Saturday (to try and temper my temper and inject a bit of cheer into our week), we took boxes to grassy hills and did this:

Linking in with the Playlist at 1000 Homes of Happiness 

And made it a burger night. 

While the sesame maps were rising, I roasted whole beetroot and potato wedges. Made the patties with chopped
onion, and the same dried herbs from the night before!

Luca had fun making his towering burger with cheese, tomato, beetroot and sauce. Kian... well, he actually ate half a patty. And the floor got the rest.

Last night, I stuffed cannelloni with a mixture of crème fraîche, parmesan, spinach and nutmeg, poured the leftover tomato sauce over the top and baked for 20 mins or so.

The boys didn't touch it, even when I mixed it up and turned it all gooey.

Maybe there was too spinach this time. But this is happening so much at the moment that sometimes I feel like giving up and just giving them toast at every meal.

But I don't. I can't. Some mums wonder why I go to so much effort in the first place, but that's just what I do. 

I cook from scratch because it's like second nature to me. There are lots of reasons.

Lately, I've felt deflated. Luca will pick, and Kian loves seeing the whole lot fall to the floor.

I'm waiting for the next phase. The one where they can't pile it in fast enough, and then ask for more.

It's happened in the past, so I know it's possible.

Until then, if you need me, I'll be on my hands and knees clearing up the last mess.

Friday, 27 April 2012

this moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Linking up with SouleMama.

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Leave them alone

Why can't we leave our kids alone? To be kids. To play and enjoy their early years.

I admit I used to be one of those parents who got sucked into all the 'we'll have your child reading and writing long before they go to school'.

Reading programs, different phonics approaches, Japanese or some other, structured language and literacy time all sounded like the right thing to do. Don't we all want our children to be prepared, to be reading and writing before anyone else, to be ahead? To be CLEVER?????

Should our eyes light up (like mine did) when we discover how much they could cram in just a few hours? Because doing a zillion things somehow justifies the fees, doesn't it?... Heaven forbid they should just play.

Except something hasn't been sitting well with me. On the one hand, how can I argue with education systems that are adopted everywhere? I don't really know about the research behind literacy and numeracy programs, or how children learn better through phonics-based reading programs. I'm not an early childhood teacher. I wish I was one sometimes, but I'm not.

On the other hand, what I am is a parent. A parent of a four-year-old who is teaching me what is best for him.

It occurred to me very recently that a lot of these programs that centres and preschools shout about are feeding a fear in us. The fear that our child won't be prepared for school. The fear that they might not do very well.

If, for one second, we stop comparing... If we imagine it's just our own children. It's just them running through the park, along the beach, playing. Just them. No one else. Doesn't it just come down to one thing  then? For them to be happy?

Ignore the cliché but it was a like breath of fresh air for me. Discovering that if we let them play, they'll learn all this stuff anyway, in their own time, when they're ready, not because someone said it's Letterland hour.

The time will come for structured learning. Oh yes, it will come, and this, their beautiful childhood, will be gone.

I grew up in a culture that looks at childhood as something you have to try and get through before the meaty part really begins. That it's all preparation for the years to follow.

Children aren't trainees. We shouldn't be preparing them. It's a glorious stage in its own right.

Everyone talks about wanting their children to have the best education, but education is more than academics.

Of course, literacy and numeracy are crucial, but I believe in a more natural rounded approach. Reading books from an early age and having an enjoyable story time every day where you talk about the author and illustrator and discuss the story will bring about literacy, for example.

In any case, education is so much more than subjects taught at school.

Mine was an extreme education. It was good in so many ways, but damaging in lots of others. What I remember from school was that there wasn't any opportunity to play and explore.

Whilst I'm not talking about proper school just yet, I feel it's important to set the tone now. Play, music, teaching them about food, where it comes from in the garden teaches them more than we think, it's fun and what's more it's relevant. Japanese isn't.

Nor is French, even though I speak it  and would love for my children to speak more than one language. There's only so much time in the day, and I do enough beating myself up on what I don't do. It's just not that meaningful right now.

I'm not trying to shape someone who's going to be successful in their career; I'm trying to shape a human being who will be happy.

I'm already very nervy about school, and what they expect of little ones... Homeschooling would be fantastic in lots of ways, except it's not going to happen chez nous – I haven't been blessed with endless patience and boundless energy. Sadly.

Luckily, we found an early learning centre after I'd given up all hope. Now, I just hope we find the right school.


I'll sign off with a picture I took last week at a farm nearby. Just because.

* I know lots of people won't agree with the above. But I'm speaking from the heart as a parent of a sensitive soul. There's every chance I haven't got my point across well (I always take far too long to get to the point!), so I can already hear arguments for stretching a child at an early age and exposing them to everything under the sun. I'm not against stretching or stimulating a child - of course I'm not - so long as they're free to play, learn and explore exactly what interests them. It's wonderful we live in an age now that recognises the importance of open-ended, play-based learning. We like the sound of it, and it sounds so idyllic, but in practice many of us are still worry about them just playing. 

** God, I'm so glad to get this finally out of my head. I've been thinking about this for months. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Fun with Sydney in the park

It was just Luca and I on Thursday. We took Sydney for a walk in the on-and-off rain, and Luca raced me between trees. He beat me every time.

When I was too worn out to run, he mucked about with Sydney. They really are very good friends. A lot of the time, she can be hard work. Trying to find the time to walk her... And keeping her and the boys happy in such a small back garden is very challenging.

But when I see her and Luca play together... I mean, really play, when he's not whinging at her taking his toy, or when she isn't giving up the ball quick enough for him to throw... I forget all that, and I forget how mean he could be to her as a toddler.

It's blissful to watch. They get into a rhythm, and it's just the two of them.

Linking up with Kellie from 1000 Homes of Happiness - sharing and celebrating our little people at play with nature...

Friday, 13 April 2012

Psst... I'm in a new magazine

Breeze magazine is a new Central Coast lifestyle magazine. I was delighted when they asked me to write a piece for their latest food issue. 

Check it out here. Plus my favourite piece on a couple that rear grass-fed Boer goats. Here on the Central Coast! I can't wait to get my hands on some of their meat.

Pasture-fed goats at Green Mile Stud

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Mini quiches and a roasted red pasta sauce

My food posts are few and far between. I know that. It's because my kitchen and I are not on very good terms at the moment. There's the fish tank, the new compost bucket, water cask, all the dirty dishes (yes, they certainly are a permanent feature around here) and everything else that gets dumped on the kitchen bench (if we don't know where something goes, or we just can't be bothered to put it away, guess where it ends up?).

So funnily enough, I don't feel inspired to cook there. I'm looking at it now and I can just about fit an A4 piece of paper in the space available. It drives me wild.

One day, I'll have a kitchen big enough so that when I'm rolling pastry out, half of it isn't dangling off the bench top. One day...

Anyway, I realised last night that I hadn't made any bread (see above for reason why), and the boys need a packed lunch today, so I decided to make some mini leek and cheese quiches in my A4-size workspace.

I whisked out some butter puff pastry sheets from the freezer and while they thawed, I softened a couple of leeks in some butter. No real recipe here. Sound familiar?

Three or four eggs in a bowl, beaten with a small tub of crème fraîche, a dash of milk, a sprinkling of nutmeg and salt and pepper. Plus a handful of grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and parmesan). I probably didn't need the extra milk, but Mum always adds milk, so I do.

I pretended to leave the leeks to cool, then I mixed them into the eggy cheesy cream. Squares of the butter puff went into a muffin tray, followed by spoonfuls of the filling. I didn't half fill them, or put the tray in the oven and fill them to the top. Instead, because I think I know best, I wobbled over to the oven, and the mixture leaked out and caught some of the pastry.

Still, they look good. And I've just had one for morning tea.

I popped some cherry tomato quarters on top and baked them for around 15 mins at 180-200C. (Honestly, though, I just cooked them until they looked ready.)

Something else I did a while ago was a roasted red pepper (capsicum) and tomato sauce for pasta. I get so bored with Kian spitting things out and working out what he'll eat. He can't just survive on bananas and sultanas, so I often to resort to a good old purée.

I roasted whole garlic cloves (in their skin), red onion and red pepper (capsicum) with olive oil and a bit of seasoning for about 20 minutes in a hottish oven. (Don't you love how vague I am?!)**. I added the tomatoes towards the end, just so they soften and before they start to char.

Then I blitzed the whole lot with a stick blender (take the squishy garlic out of their skins first). A nice dollop of crème fraîche makes it deliciously creamy, and I know the flavours would be too intense without it for my little ones...

One more idea for your posse... I made some falafels for dinner one evening and served it with some tahini sauce, which I've never made for the boys before. Tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds is very good for you (yes, I know that's very erudite of me, but... well, I've never really been interested in how much calcium or magnesium something has.)

Anyway, it tastes good and it's rich in nutrients.

I made the tahini sauce by mixing a little tahini into some yoghurt along with a good squeeze of lemon. Add a little to start with and keep tasting. 

The boys loved it, especially for dipping their sweet potato wedges.

** I'm not being deliberately vague. This is largely how I cook. There are lots of badly written recipes out there; recipes that set out to give you all the information but end up letting you down somehow. I'm not setting out to give you precise measurements and timings. I'm just cooking for my family, and I'm telling you about it. It's meant to inspire. Because I like to be inspired too. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

I'm back! And giveaway winners!

I didn't intend on being away for so long, but I had to be with Mum and the boys while she was here.

It's just us now, and it feels normal again. But it didn't on Thursday. I was trying to look composed as we drove to preschool on Thursday, but as Luca sadly waved goodbye from the car, he said 'I love having Grandma here', and then the bit that really finished me off: 'why can't Grandma live here?'.

But it was a lovely long month together. Here's what we got up to (linking in with Sunny + Scout).

Remember this? Well, I don't have to save up now.
Mum unveiled the teepee that she made for Luca's
4th birthday. Isn't it gorgeous? Mum's thinking about
turning it into a business...

A shallow swim in the lagoon

Despite any attempt I made to warn Mum of the harsh
Australian sun, she frequently 'forgot' her hat

A plate of our very own sashimi. Every bit as delicious as it looks.
Luca gave it a go and spat it on the floor. Oh well.

Feeding the ducks on a cycle track
Or not

Shortly after he recovered from chicken
pox-cum German measles-cum roseola

Out on a picnic with Grandma

Riding their bikes along the beach

Mum and I did lots of eating. Too much.

And sightseeing

They do bicker despite what these pictures
might suggest. And they whinge, and they
fight over things. But sometimes they look
like this. 
Kian giving out his hundredth kiss of the

At the markets on a wet day

And finally to announce who won the books in my giveaway. Bron from Maxabella Loves, you've won Sensual Home, and Greer from Typically Red, I managed to take a name out of a hat for the food book and out you popped, so I guess it's definitely going now! Thank you to those who entered, and well done to the two of you! Drop me a line with your addresses.

(I've been pondering why there were fewer entries than I had expected, but then realised that the blasted word veri has been switched on the whole time on my blog! And I'd been complaining about having to type in those stupid words on other people's blogs! Anyway, mine's off now. For good.)

I'll be back soon with a very exciting gardening post. Well, OK, exciting for me.