Thursday, September 18, 2014

Super-Moist & Delish Spiced Carrot Muffins (sugar free)

Sorry to overload you with my sugar-free excitement, but I just had to share this delicious recipe for spiced carrot muffins with y'all.
This recipe is a winner on all counts: The muffins are easy to make, they are full of goodness and have no nasties, they are moist and delicious -  even the next day - and were gobbled up and raved about by those fussiest of food critics - my kids.

These muffins are refined sugar free (sweetened with honey) and even have an optional delicious cream cheese topping with no sugar.

I adapted the recipe from one for healthy carrot cake on Sugar and Cinnamon Blog, which was shared with me by a reader. I didn't have a few of the ingredients and I'm trying to make my baking gluten free where possible, so I substituted a few ingredients and these babies are the result.

I promise you will love them. xx

Sugar Free Spiced Carrot Muffins (with cream cheese topping)
adapted from recipe found here

1/2 cup of runny honey
3/4 cup yoghurt
2 eggs
the zest of an orange
1/2 cup gluten free all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of oats
1+1/2 cups of grated carrot
half a teaspoon each of: cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon of mixed spice

  • Beat the eggs until they are pale and fluffy, then mix in the wet ingredients (honey and yoghurt)
  • Stir in orange zest, spices, carrot, flour and oats until just combined
  • Place spoonfuls of mixture into muffin tins lined with cupcake papers or silicon baking cups
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180oC  or until firm and golden.
  • Makes approximately 18 muffins

TOPPING (optional)
250g pottle of cream cheese
juice of half an orange
2 teaspoons of runny honey to sweeten

Whizz together the ingredients then spoon onto muffins once they have completely cooled. (This mixture is a little bit runny due to the addition of the orange juice, so you may prefer to use zest instead for a stiffer, thicker topping.)

Store muffins in an airtight container and pop them into lunchboxes for a healthy delicious treat that your fussy kids will not turn their noses up at. (They are still yummy without the topping and are less messy, so you might want to keep a few muffins plain for this purpose).


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On a Mission to Reduce Sugar (and wall bouncing)

MISSION LOG STAR DATE 0914: Our mission to reduce sugar in the inmates' diet has been under way for twelve days. This is a delicate operation requiring tact, determination and NASA-quality earplugs (in the inevitable event of whining and complaining). Phase One of our enterprise is almost complete ("Mission Reduce-the-Crap"). Phase Two ("Mission Replace-the-Crap-with-Goodness" is being met with some resistance, but we will persevere in our quest for reduced sugar, hopefully leading to reduced chaos. 
-----End of Transmission----

Hello earthlings and fellow sugar-reducers.
I was kind of blown away by the response to my Nigel Latta/Sugar Free story the other week - it would seem that a lot of you saw that show and had the same reaction that I did: A feeling of horror (at the amount of sugar in EVERYTHING) and a new determination to change things up and reduce the sugar.

I had so many messages from friends and readers who are passionate about healthy eating, as well as from those of you who are more like me (just horrified and anxious) and loads of people shared links to awesome sugar-free recipes; it was inspiring.

I did have to be careful not to be overwhelmed by all the information, and all the recommendations. My super-healthy friends (and those who had read the "I Ditched Sugar" website) recommended ditching ALL sugar, not replacing refined sugar with "better sugar" (e.g. honey). According to the website ALL sugar is bad. Get rid of it all.

But I know what I'm like.
I might lose the will to live if I eliminated ALL TREATS OVERNIGHT!
It has to be baby steps. Bit by bit. Layer upon layer. Phase by phase.

[In case you missed it the first time, here's my sugar-content graphic. Eek, right?]

Phase One is Reduce the Crap.
Instantly I stopped buying all the packeted stuff that gave me the heebie jeebies once I knew their sugar content. Goodbye Nutrigrain, Up'n'Go, and Uncle Toby's flavoured instant oats.
We're back to plain oats, Weetbix, rice bubbles and cornflakes for breakfast.
Knowing what my kids are like, I told them, "This is the last of the Nutrigrain/Up'n'go/flavoured oats; make the most of it cos when it's gone it's gone and I won't be buying any more."

See how I did that? My sugar-crazed brood would riot if I just ripped these things away. I gave them warning. Time to absorb the new regime. Time to savour that last bowl of sugar cereal, knowing it was goodbye.

Baby steps.
I know some of you braver souls would have tipped that evil Nutrigrain down the insinkerator as the sobbing natives looked on. You would have been able to stand your ground when the rioting started and pushed through to victory... but me (coward that I am) I choose a slower path with less resistance. We all get there in the end.

See I know my kids. They're a quirky bunch, emotional, volatile, stubborn. Sometimes parenting them requires all the delicate skill of a bomb defuser, and all the protective protocols of working on a nuclear reactor.
As I've mentioned briefly (so briefly you might have missed it) we have various spectrum issues complicating life round here, which leads me to believe that reducing the sugar can only help the level of emotional volatility. Energy and emotions often run high and reactions to small upsets can be truly nuclear.

I am so very curious to see whether having less sugar in the kids' diet will, in fact, lead to a calmer, less emotionally-volatile home. And oh boy, am I so very hopeful that it will.

So far, since we are doing things so slowly and the sugar is gradually reducing as the packaged crap runs out (never to be replaced) it's hard to know whether it's making a difference or not. Time will tell.

[Super healthy Oat & banana cookies with dark choc chips were rejected by my offspring]

Meantime, I am hard at work on...

Phase Two: Replace the Crap with Good Stuff.
This is where I have hit a few roadblocks, as I've tested recipes which held so much promise but were roundly rejected by most of the inhabitants.

I made the oat and banana cookies with high hopes (I'd added peanut butter and dark choc chips for flavour). They all made puking sounds and refused to touch them, apart from Dash, who put one in his lunch box (out of sympathy for my efforts, I think?). I might try tweaking that recipe, add some date honey for sweetness, try again. They are just too healthy (and EASY) to give up so easily.

I made my famous sugar free blueberry-honey muffins one morning before school. Yes you heard me. I got up early and BAKED. It was some kind of miracle, but it proved to be all for nowt. Two out of three muffins came back home, with complaints that "they were cold by the time it was morning tea". Well, DUH!
Dash though, he said, "Bake them for me mum! I love them!"
Bless. (He's been so receptive to this whole sugar-free thing which is amazing, given that he's always been such a fussy eater).

I made a loaf of Leonie's bread. Not in the breadmaker, by hand. It was easy to make, and it smelled amazing. I broke off a bit of the crust and it tasted divine. I had high hopes and thought "I could do this every day!"
But I took it out of the oven too soon. It was still doughy and gluggy in the middle. The kids tried it and made faces. "Your bread tastes funny mum," they said. I haven't tried making it again.

And then there were the cocoa & peanut butter cookies which looked so good, smelt so good baking... and then burnt on the bottom. The recipe DID say "keep a close eye on them cos they burn easily." Yep, they do. So When they'd cooled I scraped the burnt bottoms off and handed them round... "Yuck mum, they taste like peanut butter!" "They're not sweet enough, they need some sugar!" ("That's the whole point! I'm trying to reduce sugar!") "Well I like them, mum..."


["Date honey": a packet of dates + a cinnamon stick in a pot, cover with water and simmer
until liquid reduces then blend & keep in the fridge]

I will persevere, keep trying recipes, keep looking for healthier low sugar treats I can serve my family.
In the meantime we have made great strides on the lunchbox front in spite of my mixed results with the baking. I keep a box each of carrot sticks and celery sticks in water in the fridge, it can be easily accessed and grabbed as a snack. The level of fruit-eating has increased. They've started putting better ingredients in their sandwiches (ham, grated cheese, spinach).

As the crap options run out they're being forced to add healthier snack options, like crackers, popcorn, nuts. Smoothies are now made with plain yogurt and frozen fruit; plain cartons of unflavoured milk are replacing the sugary Up'n'Go and - get this - they have actually dished themselves up SPINACH SALAD at dinner time. And eaten (some of) it. Uh-May-ZING.

This morning as I checked their lunch boxes I felt a little glow of satisfaction. They are a world away from what was in them two weeks ago. We will get there. We are making lasting changes, bit by bit.
And if this Lazy Mother can do it so can you, my friend. So can you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Big Girls (and boys) Just Wanna Have Fun too

Our school's Quiz Nite is legendary round these parts and I've always wanted to go. Ever since I heard stories (and saw photos) of my friend Meg's team outfits, I've wanted to be on their team.
They go ALL OUT on the costuming and props. Last year they won Best Dressed. My kinda team.

So when Meg said one of their regulars was unavailable I saw our chance and took it. We were in!
This year the theme was "Battle of the Bands" and our team decided to go as 80's Rock/Pop Stars.
I knew we had to make this good if we have any chance of being invited back, so I started googling for inspiration and up popped a picture of Cyndi Lauper.
I can do that! I thought, and dived into our dress-up box.

My initial attempt was posted on Instagram - and apparently I reminded a few people of "Jem - truly outrageous". Haha, not quite what I was going for.

Our wardrobe seriously needed augmenting after Mr G refused to go as "that perv" George Michael (a costume I could have put together for him with my eyes closed). Hubby decided to go as his childhood pop idol, Adam Ant - much more complicated but I reckoned we could nail that one with a bit of help from Save Mart.

I think we managed it, don't you?

I found Cyndi's tutu for $6.99, a silver leopard print top for $5 and the red wig for $4.99. Corset, belt and beads all from my dress-up box. Adam's wig was originally all braids (which I cut off leaving just a few strategically placed ones); his jacket was plain black but I added the gold ribbon (double sided tape) and the cape was $2.99 - all from Save Mart. Add a bit of white face-paint and voila, Adam Ant.

 We had a great laugh, and true to their rep, our team went all out...

Left to Right: Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, Adam Ant, Joan Jett, Willie Nelson, Siouxie Sioux and Madonna.

The very creative Joan Jett went all out with our table props, which included a gold lame tablecloth, flamingo and pineapple (Miami) paper staws, a (fake) box of Miami Wine Cooler and a diamond studded mirror with some icing sugar... (you know what that was meant to be right?)

We were finalists in the best team costume. (A Mariachi band won the prize, though some totally unbiased byanders said we were "robbed").
Boy George won best Male costume.
Cyndi Lauper got an honourable mention (finalist) which kinda made my day.

As for the actual Quiz? Weeeeellll.... we DID get a prize - for coming second to last. Ha!

But winning doesn't matter (as I tell my kids) the main thing is that the big girls and boys
all had LOTS OF FUN!

(and looked amazing too)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating Dad Awesomeness

Yesterday was Fathers' Day here in En Zed, and a deliciously perfect, glorious Spring day it was too.
So perfect and warm and sunny, in fact, that it wasn't enough to simply eat our father's day lunch outside under the (as-yet-bare) grapevine... we had to drag the table out onto the lawn and eat under the fluttering bunting I strung up between the leafless, blossomless trees. It may still look like winter, but if FELT like spring.

The perfect day to celebrate the Fathers in my world. My dad. My children's dad.

I've been blessed with good men.

My father is one of the good ones.
He knew how to play, he taught me things, he told stories, gave abundant kisses and cuddles and always, always believed in me.
When I was, in all honesty, an ugly duckling, he saw me as a swan and told me so.
Plus he knew how to have fun, how to be silly and how to PLAY.
He showed me what a dad is meant to be like - a good, loving, faithful man.
My dad is AWESOME.

My husband is another keeper. I knew he'd make a good dad when I watched him playing with kids in our church foyer, loooong before we were ever an item. He had time for kids, he knew how to engage with them - probably because he is a big kid at heart.
My kids are reaping the benefit of having a good man in their life: another good, loving, faithful man - who also knows how to PLAY, be silly and have fun.

I've been watching my husband lately as Father's Day approached. It's so easy to take for granted the good men in my life, sad to say, so I've been trying to make more of an effort to let my kids' dad know how awesome he is.

On Saturday I listened as he followed through on discipline, making our errant son rake leaves. It would have been easy to throw up his hands for the sake of peace - I probably would have - but my son's father stood firm and made sure the job was done.
Then he rounded up all the children to vacuum their rooms, make their beds, tidy their rooms. The youngest (the chief loo-splatter culprit) was shown how to mop the sticky toilet floor. There was whingeing and moaning and complaining a-plenty but by the end of the day our house was shining and we'd all pitched in. Daddy made it happen. Daddy is amazing.

On Fathers' Day you can bet he got breakfast in bed along with prezzies, kid-enscribed cards and a giant cup of tea made by his eldest boy.
For lunch I slow-cooked a roast, which we had out on the lawn, in the spring sunshine with my parents.

It was the best time.

Later in the day when the roast had been eaten, the wine (and homemade lemonade) had been drunk and the dishes had been cleared away a headache began to pound in my brain. Could have been the wine (I had two glasses; I'm really a one-glass girl); it could have been the unaccustomed sunshine or any number of factors.

Whatever caused it I found myself laying in a fetal position on my bed, groaning in the dark. It was still Fathers' Day. The day when Daddy is meant to be king, feted and waited upon all day long.
But did he complain? No.

He shushed the noisy kids, sent someone in bearing water and panadol. He cooked them dinner, helped them fill lunchboxes, coaxed homework out of them, got them into bed, then sat at the computer doing the banking. All on Father's Day. All without a word of a grumble.

He's amazing. He's a legend. And today as the headache still pounds in my skull, I am determined to post this little tribute to him, to tell the world that my kids' dad is AWESOME. (and so is my husband)

Thanks Rory - you're fantastic.

Thanks also to my Dad, Peter Grace, who has weathered many of life's storms but has a sweet, generous, loving and forgiving spirit. Dad you are a wonderful father, and a wonderful human being.

Happy (Belated) Father's Day to two Awesome Dads. Love you both.