Zoo Party

We finally celebrated Pickle’s second birthday, just a few weeks late, with some of his little friends (and their families) joining us for afternoon tea and general hilarity. Given his love of animals, a zoo party was a logical – and incredibly simple – choice.

I made invitations featuring Pickle’s favourite noisy lion, RaaRaa, and used pictures of the same (free colouring pages from the internet) to make a simple bunting. Cups and serviettes featuring a menagerie of animals were on the table (paired with plain green plates), with a little zoo animal for each guest to take home. Add a few orange balloons and a zoo made from Duplo and our animal collection – done.

RaaRaa Invitation Zoo Party Zoo Party Zoo Party Party Balloon Zoo Party RaaRaa The Noisy Lion The food was simple too (a change for me, as I tend to go overboard and then get flustered because I have so many things to make), and chosen with toddlers and preschoolers in mind. Sweets, crisps and fruit, cocktail sausages (of course), popcorn and homemade gingerbread panda bears and tigers.

Panda and Tiger BiscuitsI had an absolute cake disaster to begin with (trying a new recipe combined with a failure to measure my cake tin was the issue – lesson learned!), but my go-to chocolate mud cake recipe saved the day, and I’m quite happy with my decorating attempt. Again, simple but recognisable, and the birthday boy loved it.

Zoo cakeZoo PartyHe had a great afternoon, and was exhausted by the end of the day – at one point I’m sure he was close to falling asleep in his cot while his friends, and Tiny’s, leaped about in his room!

Pickle and ShortPickle is two!


Meal Planning

Much like last week, most of this week’s meals come from my new Chelsea Winter cookbook, At My Table. It’s been a long time since I bought a new recipe book (I got rid of a whole lot earlier in the year and vowed not to replace them), and I’ve been giddy with excitement at trying some new recipes. I did browse through others in my collection for inspiration this week, but the pull of Chelsea’s recipes is rather strong.

Meal PlanningSunday: Greek-style meatballs with yoghurt sauce and pita bread – enjoyed by all, but the meatballs were even tastier the following day.

Monday: crispy fish wraps with mango salsa – the mango salsa was divine, and combined with a mild fish like hoki, it was a very tasty meal indeed.

Tuesday: roasted pumpkin, beetroot and feta tart – meant for last week, but pork from the farmers’ market was calling our names instead.

Wednesday: steak and bacon sandwiches – I love a good steak sandwich, and the paprika mayo served with this one sounds goooooood.

Thursday: mushroom soup with crunchy mushroom toppers – it will be interesting to see whether my boys will eat this one!

Friday: chicken quesadillas – a family favourite that I make up as I go along.

Saturday: quick tomato macaroni cheese (from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners) – sundried tomatoes and mozzarella should make for a delicious twist on this family favourite.

As for last week’s dinners, I’d say they were all a rollicking success. The salmon and cabbage red curry was amazing, the mediterranean sausage bake went down well-enough (except for the beans. None of my boys like beans.), and the creamy chicken pie was deeeeelicious.

A Lego Party

4 Balloons on the trampoline Lego Cake 4th birthday Lego cake Lego biscuitsM&MsStep 1: collect balloons, crepe paper and treats in the main Lego colours.

Step 2: bake your go-to chocolate mud cake. Press the bottom of a (brand-new) Lego board onto fondant icing to create those iconic “bumps” and decorate using Lego brick sweets and (clean) tool-wielding Lego people from the birthday boy’s collection.

Step 3: roll refrigerator cookies into rectangles and set overnight; cut into blocks for baking. Ice with coloured royal icing and corresponding candies to make Lego cookie.

Step 4: employ your other half and your mother to blow up 40+ balloons. Argue with OH about the quantity of balloons needed. As he walks out the door at 8pm to buy more, remind him that you want blue, red, green and yellow balloons only. Yelp in horror when he returns 20 minutes later with bags of mixed colours and attempts to add orange to the mix.

Step 5: Go to bed and dream about Lego cakes and balloons.

Step 6: make pizzas, decorated to look like cheesy Lego bricks with little slices of pepperoni arranged demonically perfectly atop the cheese.

Step 7: sit down and relax while your birthday boy has a blast with his little mostly-kindy friends.

The Sisterhood: Ninja Bake 2013

#sisterhoodninjabake2013On Friday morning I set out to bake brownies for The Sisterhood Ninja Bake 2013, using this no-fail brownie recipe. Except…I didn’t have enough eggs. Oh.

I really didn’t want to take the boys to the supermarket for the sake of one egg, so went back to my recipe books. There was a can of condensed milk in the pantry, and I was dying to try making Tim Tam Truffles, but didn’t want to grab a teaspoon and eat waste the rest of the can, so decided on chocolate chip cookies as well.

Choc Chip CookiesWhile the cookies baked, I experimented with the truffle mixture: one-and-a-half packets of Tim Tams in the food processor with three-quarters of a can of condensed milk, plus three vanilla wines to help with the texture. While the cookies cooled, I rolled the truffles into balls and coated them in finely-grated dark chocolate. A few pieces of biscuit hadn’t been crushed sufficiently, so I really had to do a bit of sampling along the way.

Tim Tam TrufflesWhen the cookies and the truffles were ready, they went into pink-paper-lined pink containers (double feel good factor: baking treats for strangers and using containers where a portion of the sales go towards breast cancer research!), tied with ribbons to secure The Sisterhood poems, little cards, and pinwheels bearing the recipients’ names.

#sisterhoodninjabake2013Next morning, dressed and hooded in black, I set out on my stealth mission. The first drop was less than a five-minute drive from home; into the letterbox with one box of treats. The second drop was a little further away; the curtains were drawn so I got bold and dropped a box on the front doorstep, even stopping to take a cheeky photo. The third drop was across the other side of town; I had this feeling I’d be seen if I attempted to open the gate (it had a squeaky look about it), so the box joined the day’s newspaper in the letterbox.

Ninja BakeJob done; all treats delivered, hopefully discovered in time for a lazy Saturday morning cuppa. Just like last year, I returned home feeling good. Feeling better than good – feeling awesome. Feeling awesome about a successful ninja mission and being part of something so super-cool.

(Later, I was sprung by one of the people I nominated to receive baking; she was so grateful for the delicious goodies left for her, which makes this so worthwhile.)

Truffle Heart
Check out The Sisterhood on Facebook for delicious pictures and stories from ninjas and lovely responses from lovely recipients x

Have you entered my GIVEAWAY for a gorgeous Rudi by Em cushion cover?

Random Thoughts on Thursday

~ since almost losing my engagement ring last year while pregnant with Pickle, I have been wearing it inside my wedding band. I could probably swap them around again, but when I try, it just doesn’t look right anymore. It’s also still loose, and I’m still scared of losing it again.

~ The Sisterhood are having another Ninja Bake! It’s in October, and registrations are now being taken for stealth bakers. Last year’s stealth mission was SO MUCH FUN, and I can’t wait to do it again – why not join me in spreading some deliciously baked love??!

~ for a few weeks, I carried a thank you card around in my nappy bag, intending to drop it off to a friend one afternoon while Pickle slept in the car. It migrated out of my bag, and onto the bench, then onto the mantlepiece because said-friend was coming to visit. Two weeks later…it’s still sitting on the mantlepiece and I’m now wondering if we’ve gone past the point of no return?? It’s for Pickle’s birthday…which was two-and-a-half months ago….

~ when I was little, I once commented (after reading the racing results in the local paper, for some reason) at the breakfast table, “Gee, Quinella and Trifecta win a lot of races, don’t they?” I think I’ll be keeping that one from my racehorse trainer father-in-law!

~ Pickle is finally unswaddled, hurrah!! I tried three or four times unsuccessfully, but a couple of weeks ago, when I tried, he was obviously ready. He’s still a rubbish sleeper, and currently spends the night in bed with us, but we both sleep better when he’s snuggled in beside me. He does, however, hate the sleeping bag, so I’m glad we’re coming into warmer weather.

~ I love spring. My hayfever does not.

~ eating dinner on Tuesday night, Tiny suddenly asked, “Mum, what animal does pineapple come out of?” Tall and I almost choked; out of the mouths of babes, huh?!

~ I’ve been nominated for the Munch Awards Best Kids Food Blog; voting commences 4 October so keep an eye out for the link and vote for me, if you wanna.

Munch Award

Fun with Food: Chocolate Candy Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like them, although I’m sure there’s someone out there who’d turn one down.

IMG_2511The rest of us are often divided; some are fans of the traditional condensed milk version, some like to add dried fruit, some like them dense and crumbly, while others like them crunchy. Me? I’m in the chewy centre camp, which sees me gravitate towards recipes using brown sugar.

These cookies are a bit of fun for kids – to make and to eat. The little pops of colour look great, and the different textures are quite delightful.

Best enjoyed warm, just out of the oven, but if you manage to be restrained, they’ll last about one week in an airtight container.


Chocolate Candy Cookies – makes roughly 18 cookies

120g butter, softened
165g brown sugar
1 T golden syrup
1/2 t vanilla essence
1 egg, lightly beaten
210g plain flour
1/2 t baking powder
60g chocolate melts (I used dark melts)
60g candy-coated chocolates (like M&Ms or Smarties, or proper baking ones – or, replace with 60g of milk or white chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 170degC. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add golden syrup, vanilla and egg, and mix well.

Sift together flour and baking powder; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Add chocolate melts and candies and mix.

Roll mixture into balls a little smaller than the size of a golf ball; flatten slightly in your hands before placing on the trays. Leave plenty of room for the cookies to spread – they’ll double in width.

Bake for 10 minutes, then swap the trays around; bake a further 10 minutes, or until the cookies are nicely golden (the top tray is likely to brown quicker, so you may wish to remove them earlier).

IMG_2500Leave to cool on the trays for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Fun with Food
Fun with Food is a way for you to share your foodie (mis)adventures with other people. You don’t have to be a superb cook, or produce Masterchef-quality plates of food; this will be a place to share new and favourite recipes, meal plans, cooking on a budget, lunchbox ideas, new products, kitchen successes and disasters (because we all have those!) and maybe some handy tips for getting fussy kids to eat their dinner!

The linky will open on a Tuesday and stay open for a week, so I hope you’ll share your kitchen adventures, and be inspired by what other people are doing in the heart of their homes.

(By clicking on the link below, you’ll be taken to an external page, where you can enter your link and see who else is linking up. Please take the time to visit them, too!)

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Vanilla Cookies

The Christmas-before-last, a friend sent me a fantastic 3-D Christmas Cookie kit….only, it arrived after Christmas, so I didn’t get a chance to use it. Last year (I keep wanting to say “this year”!), knowing it was my turn to host our weekly Yoga Mums catch-up just before Christmas, I knew I had to give it a try.

I used the suggested recipe on the box for the cookies, slathered them with some green royal icing, stacked ’em up, and voila:

Basic Vanilla Cookies

300g butter, softened
300g caster sugar
2 small eggs, lightly beaten
1t vanilla essence or extract
pinch of salt
600g plain flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and salt, and beat well.

Mix in flour; combine to form a dough. Split the mixture in half and form into balls; wrap each in cling film and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 180degC. Line baking trays with baking paper.

On a lightly floured board, roll dough out to 3-4mm thick.

Cut desired shapes, place on trays and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden and firm.

Cool on trays for 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Decorate as desired.


I iced these babies with a royal icing, of sorts:

Beat together 2 egg whites, 1 t lemon juice, and enough icing sugar (maybe 200g?) to form a stiff mixture. Add food colouring if desired, and loosen with a little water if you have trouble spreading it. I piped the edges of the cookies, then flooded the inners, spreading with a spoon; the piped edges meant that the shape was maintained. Add decoration of your choice – I used silver cachous.

Leave the cookies to set for a minimum of three hours…not like me, who ran out of time and had to stack ’em before they were set. They still tasted good, but the bottom stars didn’t look so pretty.

Ooooooh, and I’m very excited to announce that beginning February, I’ll be hosting a weekly linky called “Fun with Food”! Join in the fun every Tuesday (or any time during the week, really), and share your kitchen (mis)adventures with everyone. I’m hoping to be inspired by what’s happening in the heart of other people’s homes. There’ll be a fancy button and everything…once I get my head around how it all works!

Memories and Macarons

Over the weekend, I got all blitzy and decided to clear out the wooden chest in the corner of our lounge. It’s always been the “I don’t know where it goes so it can go in here” place, but like a woman possessed, I decided that Sunday was the day to go through it all.

I bagged up everything that was my husband’s, and he scanned through it quickly, deciding to keep everything. Whatevs. That’s his prerogative.

But I got ruthless. All my old school books? In the bin. Random bits of paper with meaningless things on them? In the (recycling) bin. Old school projects? In. The. Bin.

Some of my artwork from when I was little was too special to throw out, so I kept those. The pictures I could bear to part with, I photographed first, as a way of preserving it for some unknown future use. I came across a box full of old birthday cards, including ones from both sets of grandparents who have passed away, handmade ones from my brother and sister, and three very special ones from my dear friend, Cookie Bear. These, I kept.

As I was doing my blitz, a part of me wondered if I shouldn’t just hold on to everything, as a way of, you know, preserving my past or something. My mother is a hoarder – not pathologically, but she doesn’t throw anything away unless it is threadbare or utterly kaput – and a child of the Depression. She saves everything for the day when it might come in handy, and I think my constant cleaning and cleansing is a way of going against this.

Sure, there are times when I get ruthless, and then a few months later, wonder what I’ve done with something that I suddenly can’t live without, and then I regret my blitzing tendencies. But most of the time, I think carefully about what I’m getting rid of, I ponder it for a while and then make my decision: keep or cull. And then I act. Pow.

Also on Sunday, I decided it was time to try making macarons. I’d pinned this recipe ages ago, and it was finally time to give it a go.


They took a lot longer to prepare than I expected. I did spend some time online checking out techniques and troubles, trying to work out exactly what my egg whites should look like when they were done. I also had trouble with my piping nozzle and the size of my pre-drawn circles, and in the end, went freehand.

As the first tray baked, I saw straight away that they weren’t working. There were cracks and peaks, and no feet. NO FEET, people, no feet. In the macaron world, this is the disaster to end all disasters.

Definitely NOT macarons

The second tray was as bad as the first, but as they came out of oven and cooled enough to be sampled, I was pleasantly surprised at how good they tasted. It was evident that I was making heavy meringues instead of macarons.

The third tray were the best yet, almost good enough to be called macarons. What was different? I mixed the last of the batter a bit more, and used a different baking function on the oven (one that wicks more moisture out). Everything I read pointed towards the mixture being under-mixed, so next time (yes, I will try again), I will be sure to give an extra few stirs, just to be sure.

Could possibly pass for macarons

I had issues with brownies for a while, but I’ve mastered them now, and I am determined not to let macarons beat me either.

Double Choc Nut Cookies

Last night, the urge to bake suddenly gripped me. It was 8pm, both boys were fast asleep, and I wanted to make something that wouldn’t have a huge baking and cooling time.

Flipping through my book of tried-and-true recipes (known as ‘The Book’; only select recipes are copied or pasted – in the old-fashioned sense of the word! – into it. When I try something new from a magazine or online, I always ask Tall, “Do you think this recipe is good enough to go into ‘The Book’?”), I found a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and decided to fancy them up a bit. These are like the “traditional” chocolate chip cookies you probably grew up with (chunky, with a tendency towards dryness if even slightly overcooked), but I’ve jazzed them up with the addition of chopped white chocolate and almonds.

Before you begin, please note that this recipe requires a large bowl, and very strong willpower to stop yourself from eating all the uncooked mixture!

Double Choc Nut Cookies – makes 30-40 cookies

250g butter, softened
1/4c brown sugar
1/4c white sugar
4T condensed milk
1t vanilla essence
3c plain flour
2t baking powder
150g dark chocolate, chopped (or use little chips)
50g white chocolate, chopped (or chips)
70g almonds, chopped (macadamias would be nice too)

Preheat oven to 170degC; line two baking trays with baking paper.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add condensed milk and vanilla; beat well.

Sift in flour and baking powder; add chocolates and nuts, and mix well (you might want to get your hands in there to bind everything together; the mixture will look quite crumbly, but it will all come together when you roll it into balls).

Roll large teaspoonfuls into balls and place on prepared trays, allowing a little room for spreading. Flatten each ball with a fork.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a pale golden brown.

If you prefer a chewier chocolate chip cookies, you might want to try this recipe instead.

Chocolate Peppermint Creams

Over the weekend I finally tried a new recipe which has always appealed, but was put into the “that looks like far too much hard work” basket. I felt like baking, and I had all the ingredients (well…almost all the ingredients, as is most often the case with me!), and when I actually read the recipe, it didn’t seem very hard at all.

And, truth be told, the idea of making my own Mint Slices sent me into a bit of a shiver.

Chocolate Peppermint Creams – makes about 30 biscuits

65g unsalted butter
1/4c caster sugar
1/2c plain flour
1/3c self-raising flour
2T cocoa powder
2T milk

Peppermint Cream
1 egg white
1 3/4c – 2c icing sugar, sifted
3-4 drops of peppermint essence

150g dark chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 180degC. Line two oven trays with baking paper.

Using electric beaters, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add sifter flours and cocoa, alternately with the milk; mix with a knife until the mixture forms a soft dough (I used my hands to bring it all together). Turn out onto a floured surface; knead for 1 minute or until smooth.

Halve the dough. Roll one half between two sheets of baking paper, to 3mm thickness. Cut dough using a 4cm round cutter.

Place biscuits onto prepared trays, allowing a little room for spreading. Bake for 10 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Repeat with the remaining dough; the scraps can be re-rolled and cut until you have an even number of biscuits.

To make the peppermint cream: Place egg white in a small bowl. With electric beaters and a low speed, beat in 2T of icing sugar at a time, until you have a soft dough. Turn out onto an icing sugared surface; knead in enough icing sugar so that the dough is not sticky. Knead in peppermint essence to taste.

Roll teaspoons of peppermint cream into balls; flatten slightly. Sandwich between two chocolate biscuits, pressing together so the peppermint cream spreads to the edges.

Dip the biscuits halfway into the melted chocolate; allow to set on a lined tray.

(Biscuits will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container)

** I rolled out some of my dough a little too thin in the beginning, and ran out of icing sugar before the peppermint cream reached a truly “dough-like” texture, but it still hardened nicely, and the thinner biscuits taste just as good as the thicker ones. I also didn’t have enough dark chocolate for dipping, so used milk chocolate instead, and it worked fine.

Recipe: Family Circle “Crazy for Chocolate”