28 October 2014

Taking Stock and The-Season-Which-Shall-Remain-Nameless

This time of the year is the best-of-times-worst-of-times.
It's the season when we scrape down the BBQ and fire it up for the first time. We get our sons to mow the lawns and pick up hedge clippings. The air is scented with burning sausies and cut grass. The trees break into blossom, the neighbours join us for a barbie, we sit round the fire sipping wine ...and our calendars start to fill up.

It's the countdown to the-season-which-shall-remain-nameless (57 days til that nameless D-Day by my reckoning). It's panic stations, everybody. Sound the alarm.

Every year I feel that creeping anxiety start to knot my stomach as the diary begins to fill. This year there are the usual birthdays (mine, Dash's) and anniversaries, but also some extra biggies (my mum's 70th), school events, church events, house guests and a full retinue of rellies coming for Chris the Day I won't mention yet.

No wonder I'm feeling a little sick to my stomach.
No wonder I've gone from having an epic outdoor movie party for my birthday, to having a low key dinner with a few friends to being on the verge of cancelling the whole thing. And forget our 14th wedding anniversary too. Hubby is flying off to the Philippines to build an orphanage next week, so I'll be parenting solo for a couple of weeks in the middle of everything else.

Ahhh yes, it's the season I hate to love. With Light Parties, the trick-or-treat dilemma and a backyard Hunger Games just for starters. Why do I do this to myself? It's not even November yet.

Wondering: How I will do it all without bursting a gasket
Loving: That we splashed out* on a swimming pool from TWH for our backyard    *(pun intended sorry)
Hoping: It won't be too hard to put up. Or take too long to fill. Ha!
Marvelling: At how much garden work you can get done when your boys pitch in
Needing: one of those green bins to put all the clippings in

Smelling: The cut grass. And the sizzling Sausages.
Enjoying: Having a long weekend at home instead of rushing out of town
Noticing: How awesomely quiet Auckland is when everyone else rushes out of town for the long weekend
Making : The most of not having to rush anywhere, while we can

Cooking : Lots of Petite Kitchen recipes (including my own version of her amazing Raisin  Tea Loaf)

Drinking : Lewis Road Creamery chocolate milk WITHOUT QUEUING FOR HOURS (I went to Petite Kitchen's cafe "Mondays" (in Kingsland) and lo and behold there it was in the fridge. Yummy? Yes, for sure. Worth queuing for hours or paying $1000 for? NO!!! Why people, why???!

Enjoying: Waking up on my day off to my Eldest Son bringing me in a cup of tea. Amazed, I was.
Reading: Way too many disappointing books, way too fast. The last good one I read was SPARK by Kiwi author, Rachael Craw. It was Good. My faith is restored in YA. Thanks Stella for the recommendation.
Wanting: More recommendations like that. And some books to borrow. Anyone????

Looking: On in amazement when my hubby manages to get the kids doing the dishes.
Wishing: It happened like that every night. Oh boy I hate dishes. There's a pile on my bench right now...

Waiting: For the reality to kick in as The-Season-Which-shall-Remain-Nameless gets closer. And Closer.
Liking: That so far I am succeeding in not mentioning it by name, in this post.
Knowing: That it's only a matter of time before I'll have to start making proper plans. And mentioning names.
Thinking: "There must be a way to get through this Season with my sanity intact..."
Feeling: Like staying in denial for as long as possible is the only way to go. For now at least.

Feeling: Slightly better now I've got all that off my chest.

Anyone for a slice of Denial Cake with me?

23 October 2014

Delicious Cakes (Sugar-Free and Good for You!)

It's been roughly six weeks since we took the plunge and went (mostly) sugar-free.
Can I just say two things about that:
1. I have NEVER EVER successfully followed through on changing my diet before I did this
2. It has been easier - and more enjoyable - than I ever imagined

In case you're new round here, you should know that I am the self-confessed Lazy Mother who always looks for the shortcuts, and despite all appearances (i.e. my party posts) I have never thought of myself as a baker. Or a cook. Or anything else which required too much time in the kitchen on a regular basis.
True story.

But all that is changing. And I have never baked so much.
Never have my kids had such interesting, healthy lunchboxes on a consistent basis (which, might I add, they are still making themselves.) They are short on processed crap and filled with stuff like unflavoured milk, strawberries, pistachios, lemon-dipped carrot sticks, chicken salad sandwiches on grainy bread, and plain yoghurt flavoured with (homemade) berry coulis.

John Campbell's lunchbox nazi would find little to complain about here.

But best of all are the cakes. The Cakes. The CAKES.
Mostly from Petite Kitchen, my new favourite cooking-gal. I even bought the recipe book.

I have made these recipes more than once, sending multiple guests reeling in astonishment when I revealed that these drool-worthy delights are not only gluten-free but sugar-free too.

They are SIMPLE to make, and delicious to eat, as well as being so good for you.

First up, my version of Petite Kitchen's Simple Almond Cake.

Orange Almond Cake With Berries Gluten free and Sugar free

  • 2 cups of ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of runny honey
  • 60g butter (melted)*
  • the zest of one large orange
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
Preheat the oven to 160oC (not fan bake). Beat all ingredients together until smooth then pour batter into a round cake tin lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over the top:
  • half a cup of frozen blueberries (or mixed berries)
Bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake feels firm when lightly pressed.

Serve with homemade berry coulis and plain yoghurt (with just a dash of added honey)
Soooo good.

This next recipe would have been tricky to execute if I hadn't recieved, that very day, a special delivery from one of the companies my hubby does business for. See, I haven't had a food processor since I melted our old one in the dodgey dishwasher. I've been making do with a hand-held electric beater and a bit of elbow grease. But since hubby's points earned me this new kitchen Whizz, I now have a MACHINE to do all the heavy lifting. (for meeeeee, for freeeeeee).

This cake is to die for, and with my new magical Whizzer, so simple too. Truly.

So without further ado, here's my version of Petite Kitchen's Decadent Raspberry Torte.

Decadent Raspberry Chocolate Torte Gluten free and Sugar free

  • 1 cup of frozen raspberries
  • 1/4 cup of runny honey
  • 60g butter*
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup gluten free all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda
Preheat the oven to 150oC (not fan bake). In your (shiny new) food processor, whizz the frozen raspberries until they are as smooth as you can get them.
Melt the honey and butter together in the microwave and once melted, whisk together lightly before adding to the raspberries; add the rest of the ingredients and whizz together in the magical whizzer. Wahoo!

Pour batter into a lined cake tin and bake for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Then enjoy with a friend, with a little coulis on the side and some honey-tinted yoghurt. 
Don't even bother to feel guilty, because it's ALL GOOD FOR YOU.

*To make dairy free substitute butter with 1/4 cup of coconut oil.

Easy Berry Coulis

2 cups of frozen berries
1/8 cup of water
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice (about half a lemon's worth)
2 Tablespoons of honey

Put all the ingredients in a pot, simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft and squishy. Now you can either serve as is, with berry bits (a simple berry sauce) or you can turn it into a "coulis" by mashing it through a sieve and discarding all the seeds and pulp.

Add it to plain yoghurt in place of those awful sugar-loaded pottles your kids have been guzzling that you used to think were healthy til you knew better. They will love it, trust me.

20 October 2014

He Rode all the Way

Riding 180km on a bike, to raise money for an orphanage in Manila was the goal.
Saturday just gone was the appointed day.
My husband Rory was the man.

At 5am on Saturday morning, after two hours sleep, laying awake tossing and turning and worrying about Jim's weather predictions (rain... wind...) my poor hubby dragged his weary bones out of bed and and set off in the dark with a wonderful bunch of cycle nuts who were along for some moral support...

I can't tell you how relieved I was that he didn't have to bike all that way on his own. Especially after bugger-all sleep.

We'd made a plan that I was to meet him at just past the half way point, carrying supplies of food and water to the weary cyclists. (When the kids grumbled about spending most of their Saturday in the car, I said, "Think of the orphans and quit your whining!" and "Think of poor daddy riding all this way ON A BIKE! be glad you're in the car!")

The blokes on their bikes turned up about ten minutes after we made it to the meeting point, and I have to say I was a bit worried. Poor Rory looked like he was on his last gasp. I didn't know how he'd manage to make it the rest of the way.

A five minute sit-doon and some kai made all the difference. He looked a little perkier by the time I snapped the team's "half way" photo... (did I mention how grateful I was that Rory wasn't doing this on his own?)

Then it was back on their bikes and I drove ahead to Thames, snapping a few action shots while I was at it...

The rain was starting - just a light spit, but nothing to worry about. There was no sign of the downpour and gales that Jim had predicted. After ten minutes the drizzle let up... and that was it. No more rain fell while the guys were rising. Amazing. (meanwhile the rain never STOPPED in Auckland).

One more meetup in Thames, where a local Pastor met the lads with coffee and muffins and they topped up their water bottles. I was reassured to see Rory looking so much better, with only 55km to go (or so we thought).

Goodbye! we waved. Good luck! Ride carefully! Next time we saw them it would be all over. They were biking to Coromandel township, then catching the ferry back to Auckland. 180km up-hill-and-down-dale on a bike.

Only it wasn't 180km. It was 193km as you can see...

But in spite of no sleep, bad weather predictions and a massive puncture at the bottom of the final hill, my legendary hubby limped over the finish line, with that awesome bunch of mad cyclists out for a fun day's ride, all in a very worthy cause.

[They did it! At the other end waiting for the ferry home]
So far we have raised nearly $4000! I've been really humbled by the number of blog readers who have sponsored my hubby - THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH.

[Rory txting me to tell me he'd done it; photo snapped by our neighbour Andy, a total cycle nut]
In Rory's words, when he'd completed the ride: "Feeling pretty emotional after my biggest cycle ever, just under 200km - but hugely rewarding - touched by everyone's 'buy in'/generosity - pretty much $4k donated - awesome."

If you still want to donate, it's not too late - we've still got $1000 to go to reach our target before Rory leaves with the team to build the orphanage on November 3rd.

Donate to Rory's Orphanage Cycle Fundraiser

(Plus Rory is matching all donations dollar-for-dollar - so at the moment with $4000 raised, the orphanage will be getting $8000; if we reach our goal, the orphanage will get $10,000)
16 October 2014

A Star Wars Party *Just Because*

I must be mad, I know, let's just admit it right now. These "parties for no reason" are getting out of hand, with TWO these last school holidays.

I was kind of hoping Scrag would forget my mumbled agreement to have a Star Wars "party" for him and a few Jedi pals, but on the last Wednesday of the hols, he came up to me as I sat at the computer pinning things and asked so sweetly: "Mum, shouldn't we be getting ready for the Star Wars party already? Shall I get my notebook so we can start making plans?"

In my defence, I am rather powerless against the heartfelt pleas of my young Jedi when he asks so nicely (and hugs me so much). The Force is strong with this one. What could I do but start searching for Star Wars ideas?

The first thing I found were these cool Styrofoam R2D2 cups. So I pinned them. Downloaded the free printable and printed off two sheets. Scrag and I made the cups together, improvising the lids (since we couldn't find any cups with lids in the shops)...

  1. Trim and stick the R2D2 body onto the styrofoam cup using a glue stick. Trace circles on the back of silver card to form a lid. Carefully cut out the circles.
  2. Cut a small cross with a craft knife in the middle of the circle to poke the straw through. Cut out the round lid printable. 
  3. Use a hole punch to punch a hole in the centre circle of the lid printable (or carefully cut a small circle). Staple the lid printable to the silver circle, letting the staples line up with the edges of the blue printed shapes.
  4. Poke a straw through and Voila! An R2D2 cup perfect for your impromptu Star Wars Party!

 I've made these Light Saber Napkin Holders before (and had been collecting toilet rolls for weeks). They are easy to make, by covering cardboard toilet rolls with silver duct tape and adding black electrical tape details. (Or you can paint the toilet rolls black and add the duct tape as detail).

We have been mad keen Star Wars enthusiasts since forever. We've had a Star Wars Birthday Party (for Dash), a Star Wars Theme dinner and a May The Fourth (be with you) Star Wars night for a bunch of eight and nine year olds.
In our dressup box lurks a Darth Vader talking helmet and a Princess Leia wig, so pulling off a Star Wars party with two days notice was really a doddle, especially with the most enthusiastic six-year old Jedi helper EVER.

We made enough light saber handles from toilet rolls to make balloon light sabers as well. Such a pity that the $2 shop balloon pump broke after we just blew up these two balloons. I guess you get what you pay for aye? (You can bet we protected these two beauties from all comers until it was time to do battle).

I was a bit bummed but my young padawan told me, "Mum don't be worried because look at all the OTHER amazing things you've made! Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate is the path to the dark side..." Someone's been listening to Yoda.

I found a roll of leftover black building paper in the garage, which I stapled to the back wall under the carport, and Scrag and I drew a chalk galaxy...

This is such a simple idea, cost NOTHING and was so effective. Building paper, staples, chalk. Easy!

Of course our trusty lemonade stand was put to use again, and this time our drink dispenser was filled with delicious sugar-free Yoda Soda...

Sugar Free Yoda Soda Recipe (Apple & Green Tea punch)

1 litre of boiling water
4 green tea bags
2-3 tablespoons of liquid honey
Juice and zest of one lemon
One green apple, grated

Leave to steep and chill overnight. In the morning, strain the liquid into your drink dispenser or punch bowl and add:
  • one litre of clear apple juice
  • two litres of sparkling soda water
  • 2-3 drops of green food colouring
Our young Jedi trainees guzzled this down like they didn't know it was good for them. Yummy!

Last week of the school holidays, not many of his buddies were in town, so just three young Jedi were due to turn up to play. Really, this was a themed afternoon tea, with light saber battles thrown in. But Scrag loved it and appreciated all the little touches (he kept hugging me and saying, "Thankyou mummy, I love you" "Mummy you're the best mum ever!" It made it all worth it).

I set up a beam for them to have light saber battled on, a plank of wood supported by two sawhorses. Underneath was a homemade fall-mat. A tarp, spread with flat cushions/squabs, with our large woven mat spread on top. Nobody seemed to mind falling.

Of course if this were a "real party" I would have planned all kinds of fun star wars games and activities. But this was a glorified group playdate on a theme with a special afternoon tea, so I left them to come up with their own fun.

The Darth Vader helmet was a hit. Darth even came for afternoon tea...

For a bit of easy (healthy) food theming, I put cheese, salami, celery and carrot sticks on toothpicks and wrapped their bottoms with a strip of tin foil. I labelled the tomato sauce "lava", put popcorn in silver boxes and called it "asteroids" and for the piece de resistance, Scrag and I made some Star Wars cookies. I found some cookie cutters online and used our favourite basic cookie recipe...

The cookie cutters come in a pack of four, C3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca and Darth Vader. I found mine on TradeMe, but you can find them all over the internet and they are cheap as chips ($6.95 for the set).
We divided the dough into quarters and added colour for each shape.

  1. C3PO: Just cut out the dough, as is. No colouring required.
  2. Yoda: Add a splash of green food colouring to Yoda's quarter of the dough.
  3. Chewbacca: Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to Chewie's dough to make him nice and brown.
  4. Darth Vader: Add cocoa powder PLUS black food colouring to make Darth dark, as he should be.

While not as much fun FOR ME as the fairy party (cos all the mums dropped their boys and fled the scene) Scrag loved it and I was super-glad I pulled it off for him. Plus it means that now he's not asking for a Star Wars Party for his next birthday any more (we've already DONE that one), now he wants a couple of friends to go to Rainbows End....

Oh dear. Are we coming to the end of our birthday party years? NOOOooooo!!! See why I have to squeeze in these parties for no reason while I can?

Other Star Wars Fun...