In Our Garden

I love watching our garden spring into life at this time of year. The new, brilliantly-green leaves on the trees, the bursts of colour as flowers bloom…everything about this time of year magically whispers, then yells, of growth and change and promise.

This is our second spring here, and we are still watching, learning, planning and bluffing our way along. We’re not gardeners, but we’re learning to be, and we’re excited to see things grow and change and adapt.

It’s a bit like parenting, really.

Vege patch Pea plants Radishes Strawberry plants in pot Mesclun and spinach Vege patch Thyme IMG_6189 Rhododendron Urban gardenThose plastic bottles covering my mesclun seedlings? My dad’s clever idea. They have two purposes: they act as mini glasshouses, and they protect the tender little plants from hungry hedgehogs and other garden pests. His thumbs are greener than a leprechaun’s top hat.

The weeds? They’re all my own.

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!

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.

Lunchbox Ideas: Carrot & Zucchini Muffins

Yesterday saw Tiny starting back at kindy. We’ve had a lovely summer holiday, but I think we were all ready to return to some form of normality and routine. Tiny was excited to go back (mostly to play with the cars, he told me…but he looked pretty happy to see his teachers and friends as well), although he was meltdown-tired at the end of the day. This term, we’re mixing things up a bit, with two short afternoon sessions (with most of the wee friends he made last year), and two longer morning sessions (with just one or two of his friends). I haven’t said too much about the changes, mainly because I don’t want to preempt any anxiety or nervousness he might be feeling, but did make a big deal about buying him a new lunchbox.

Well, I actually bought him a fishing tackle box to use as a lunchbox. Separated into six different-sized compartments, it’s perfect for filling with a variety of preschooler-sized snacks.

A couple of weeks ago, I set about having a bulk baking sessions while Pickle had a sleep. The idea was to pop the majority of the goodies in the freezer, to be defrosted as and when they were needed for the lunchbox. These carrot and zucchini muffins are so easy, incredibly moist and tasty, and freeze really well.

Carrot & Zucchini Muffins Carrot & Zucchini Muffins Carrot & Zucchini MuffinsCarrot & Zucchini MuffinsCarrot & Zucchini Muffins – makes 12 mini- + 9 medium-sized muffins

3/4c flour
1/2t salt
1/2t baking soda
2t cinnamon
1t allspice
3/4c brown sugar
3/4c mixed sunflower seeds and pumpkin kernels
1/2c oil
2 eggs
2 medium carrots
1/2 medium zucchini

Preheat oven to 190degC. Grease or line muffin pans.

Sieve the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and allspice into a large bowl.

Add the sugar and seeds; mix well with your hands until well combined.

Beat the oil and eggs in a small bowl; add the carrot and zucchini and mix well. Add to the dry ingredients and fold together until just mixed.

Spoon into muffin pans; bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked.

Edible Christmas Gifts

Every once in a while, I’m reminded that my love of cooking and baking is an advantage when it comes to times like Christmas. I’m confident in my ability to make delicious treats that can be shared and given away, but sometimes, it feels easier to buy sauces or jams or jellies instead of taking the time to make them myself.

This year, I’ve been inspired to create edible gifts for family and friends. They’ve been fun to make, and hopefully will be just as fun to receive and eat.

(All of these edible gifts have gone into sterilised jars. To sterilise, either pop the jars and lids through the dishwasher and remove when dry, OR wash in hot, soapy water and dry in a 140degC oven. Whichever option you choose, ensure you don’t let anything touch the inside of the jars or lids.)

Vanilla Sugar
Fill your jar with caster sugar. Split a vanilla bean lengthways to expose the seeds, then slice each half into two or three pieces. Add half a vanilla bean to each jar, pushing down into the sugar.
Use: wherever sugar is required! Makes a nice addition to hot chocolate or coffee, and can be used in baking, frostings, etc etc…
Store: for one year, and as the sugar is used, you can top the jar up with more caster sugar.

Vanilla Sugar
Chilli and Capsicum Jelly

Finely chop one red chilli and one or two red capsicums in a food processor. In a pan over a low heat, dissolve 1kg jam sugar in 600ml cider vinegar – resist the urge to stir the sugar! Once the sugar is dissolved (and it can take some time), add the chilli and capsicum and bring to the boil; let it cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool for 40 minutes. The jelly will change consistency as it thickens and set. After 40 minutes, ladle into jars.
Use: in sandwiches, on a cheese board, with crackers, cold meats…
Store: in a dark place for one year, unopened, and for one month in the fridge, once opened.

Chilli Capsicum Jelly
Sugar Cubes
Instructions here; my first attempt were much too wet and didn’t hold together, but the second attempt were perfect. I took the instruction to mix to a paste quite literally, and in reality, not much water was needed at all.
Use: as a pretty addition to high tea or a lazy Sunday breakfast
Store: in an air-tight container

Reindeer Noses
Add Maltesers (or any other round chocolate-covered balls) to a jar and mix in a few Jaffas (or other red-shelled round candies).
Use: as bribery for your children
Store: hahahahahahahaha. Ha. Good one.

Reindeer NosesFrom Pinterest; links back here

There are countless other foodie treats that make great gifts, like fudge, cookies, jam, fruit sauces….I could go on, but I don’t want to be responsible for the drool that might short-circuit someone’s computer or smartphone. They make great gifts for people who are notoriously hard to buy for, or when you want to give a little something without embarrassing the other person.

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