Category Archives: Food

Christmas Shortbread

Shortbread is a treat at any time of the year but at Christmas, with those wonderful festive shapes, it comes into its own.

You don’t need much in your pantry cupboard to whip up the most delicious buttery, crumbly biccies. Forget the rice flour, cornflour, etc. Ickle Chef and I used this shortbread recipe last weekend to make some goodies to take into preschool on her last ever day (sob). It uses just three ingredients: sugar, margarine (I substituted butter) and plain flour. Sooooo easy and child-friendly too.

Ickle is becoming a professional sous-chef these days, although I think she is aiming for the top spot. She definitely does not want my help most of the time; she can do it by herself, thank you very much. And so she can. She is a whizz with the hand beater, the rolling pin and the shape cutters. And she really focuses on those finishing touches. I may not have rice flour and cornflour in my pantry cupboard, but I possess enough multi-coloured sprinkles, silver and pearl beads, mini pink hearts and coloured sugar to stuff a small Christmas stocking.

Merry Christmas!

Spiderweb Pizza

Australia does not have a huge tradition of celebrating Hallowe’en; in fact, some folk are dead against the festival. Many of the criticisms I have heard involve the words “American” and “commercialism”. And then, of course, there’s the timing. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is still months away; out here, we’re currently gorging ourselves on stone fruit and pineapple and preparing for the summer sun.

Things are changing, however, and don’t just take that from me; Hallowe’en is on the rise in Australia. Events range from small community get-togethers to large-scale spectaculars, such as Sydney’s annual Zombie Walk, now in its fifth year. Even our local supermarket was bedecked with cobwebs and spiders this year.

I personally don’t have any objection to children, big and small, dressing up in spooky costumes and stuffing themselves full of sugar one night a year. That said, I do find some costumes downright scary, and make valiant efforts to limit the amount of sweets/lollies that Ickle consumes. And I would never let a young child go trick-or-treating in unchartered territory, or without an adult by their side.

We didn’t go banging on doors this year, anyway. Local friends had invited us to a party at their place, where it was all about fun. An enormous spiderweb greeted us at their gate and, inside, little witches, skeletons and ghosts bounced around with sausage sandwiches and sweets in hand, while the grown-ups enjoyed a chat and a bevvy.

Ickle opted to buck the Hallowe’en theme, dressing up as a pink fairy. And I rustled up a quick treat in the kitchen to take with us: a spiderweb pizza for something different. Not to mention quick and easy! I arranged the string cheese in a web on a pre-bought pizza base, baked it in the oven and then placed a rather poisonous-looking olive spider on top.P1030424It was not one of my best efforts, I’ll admit. I got distracted during the 10-minute baking time and the cheese started to bubble and brown. And the pizza came out tasting a bit dry and bland. Next time, I’ll definitely load it with tomato sauce and whisk it out of the oven as soon as the cheese has started to melt. Loved the spooky spider though!P1030428

Macca’s

Those who know me well may be a tad surprised by this post in praise of…Macca’s*. After all, aren’t the golden arches best known for – gulp – cheap junk food? And, while we’re on the subject, are a Big Mac and fries really food at all?20151016_115154I am a recent convert to the delights of Macca’s. Apart from a few random stops on the motorway, I really haven’t frequented the chain at all. But a few mummy friends assured me that it was a great place for kids. And – you know what – they were right. Our local Macca’s is a mere 20-minute drive away in Swansea. Air con keeps it blissfully cool at this time of year (a real plus in the Aussie climate), and it also incorporates a McCafé, catering to the national obsession with all things caffeine and cake. No need to head to Macca’s for a burger and fries, then, when you can get your coffee and sugar fix there instead.

On Friday, the girls and I unexpectedly had a day to ourselves. The mercury was set to soar, so I hit on the idea of Macca’s followed by a visit to the library next door. Ickle knew exactly where we were heading; the golden arches soar above the roundabout into Swansea, and the soft play area adjoining the outlet is also easily visible. Someone at Macca’s clearly knows how to attract the ickle generation.

First stop, McCafé where Ickle selected a strawberries & cream macaron, while I opted quelle surprise for a flat white, along with a scone to share. OK, so the macarons are not a patch on the Ladurée delicacies I dream of from my Paris days (sigh), the scone wouldn’t get a look in at a Devonshire cream tea (um, squirty cream for one), and the much-publicised barista-made coffee is passable at best.

But – hang on – let’s not be snobby here. This is Macca’s and I’ve spent less than $7, in return for which I get to sit in a beautifully cool space with my girls and watch the world go by. And then, they get to use some excellent play equipment outside, on soft fall (love that surface – way less dirt for Mivvy to munch on). Like I said, the mummies were right: Macca’s is great for kids, and it’s a pretty good spot for their mummies too.Macca's1*Australians love their diminutives, hence McDonald’s becomes Macca’s.

Naan Pizza

Pizza is an all-time favourite of mine. Not the stodgy stuff with cheesy-stuffed crusts, loaded with a bizarre mix of toppings, but proper Italian-style pizza cooked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. Short of a meal out in a top pizzeria – a girl can dream, you know – you can make it at home with just a few basic ingredients.P1030337And this is where the naan bread comes in. Why go to the hassle of all that weighing and kneading, when you can use naan bread for a quick and easy (if not authentic) pizza base? After all, as I see it, if Nigella says it’s ok, that gives the rest of us the green light.P1030335As with a lot of our adventures in the kitchen, I stumbled on Naan Pizza quite by accident. It was lunchtime, we had run out of bread yet again, and, the fridge was looking terribly bare too. That is, apart from the packet of naan I was saving to go with a curry I hadn’t got around to making, and some grated cheese. So I Googled “cheesy naan” and up popped the pizza idea. It only takes 5 minutes to cook (once you’ve pre-heated your oven, that is). True fast food.P1030339P1030352We’ve made Naan Pizza a few times now, generally at lunchtime as a fun alternative to sandwiches. And Ickle likes to help decorate it on occasion too. Especially when there is a decent range of toppings to spread, sprinkle and squash.P1030360

Finger Food Baby

P1030132-001Mivvy is a Finger Food Baby. I started her on solids at around 6 months and, for a while, I didn’t think she was into it very much, and perhaps she wasn’t. I tried to tempt her with different cereals, and homemade fruit and vegetable purées. On occasion, she would cautiously dip her head towards the spoon and take a little taste, but, more often than not, I would spend mealtimes trying to chase her as she ducked and dived. Even distractions, or the tried-and-tested train technique I remember from my childhood, “here comes the train, chugga, chugga, choo, choo,” failed to do the trick.

Then one evening she reached out for the roasted root veg everyone else was eating, and wolfed it down. What a revelation! I realised that the problem wasn’t the food, but the spoon…and me. Mivvy wanted to feed herself.*

So, suddenly and rather unexpectedly, I found myself in the scary world of baby led weaning. Out went the beautifully-staggered purée approach I had followed with Ickle, and in came a range of foods baby could pick up, hold and munch on. Just simple stuff to start off with: toast fingers with all sorts of toppings, pieces of soft fruit, a variety of steamed veggies. Then branching out a little bit more with cheese sticks (the stringy ones you can pull apart), rice cakes, Cheerios, and more.

And now, finally, we are on real food, people. Over the last couple of weeks, Mivvy has sampled French Toast, Tuna Pasta Salad, Chicken and Apple Balls, Fruity Ice Pops, and Zucchini Fritters, amongst others. Oh, and some delicious, bready Raspberry Oat Bars that Ickle and I rustled up for a breakfast treat.P1030118Not everything was an instant hit with little miss, and a lot ended up on the floor, but Mivvy’s “mmm” of enjoyment when her food hits the spot makes it all worthwhile. There’s no stopping this baby now.P1030150* Apparently self-feeding in babies can be an early sign of a strongly independent nature. Ha! I wonder where Mivvy got that from?

The Entrance Farmers Market

The Entrance has not been a destination of choice for Family Ickle. I could put this down to the travel time to get there: a 40-minute drive away, it really has to be worth the effort. However, if truth be told, it actually has more to do with my first, and only, visit there a couple of years ago. We went mid-week to catch up with a friend over lunch, and I was not inspired. The streets were empty and the shop fronts shabby; in fact, the whole place had a well-past-its-heyday kind of feel about it. And, to add insult to injury, just as we were leaving, we were waylaid by a rather odd lady in the car park who tried to tickle Ickle’s toes and just would not go away. All-in-all, not a very positive start.P1030201However, I don’t give up so easily. The Entrance also happens to host a twice-monthly Farmers Market, which I have wanted to check out for ages. And last weekend, we finally made it. Just a girls’ excursion: the littlies, Nana L and me. Plus some cash and a large shopping basket, aka the storage underneath The Stroller. Saturday dawned, clear and beautiful, and the sun gradually took the morning chill out of the air. Memorial Park was a sea of tents, with stalls selling everything from locally-grown fruit and vegetables to handmade fudge and intricate Vietnamese origami cards.P1030176P1030179Ickle, of course, was not remotely interested in visiting the market, especially once she caught sight of the playground at the water’s edge. And the ornamental pond with its brightly-coloured sculptures (squint and you could almost be at the Stravinsky Fountain).P1030167 P1030169So, we went on a slight detour from the main purpose of the visit, before persuading her there were lots of yummy things to see ‘over there’. And, although a little overwhelmed by the crowds (and there were a lot of people), she enjoyed her look around the stalls, especially when asked to assist with a few purchases. Meanwhile, Baby Mivvy, firmly ensconced in The Stroller, seemed to take the social scene in her stride.

And the buzz of the market met with my approval, too. This was The Entrance in a different light: vibrant, fresh and fun, set against a stunning backdrop of water glinting in the winter sun.

Melting Snowman Biccies

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As you may remember, Ickle and I had intended to make Melting Snowman biccies* for our playgroup end-of-year party. Well, we finally got around to it for our Christmas street party by the lake. And it was, without a doubt, our most successful kitchen session to-date. “Why was that?” I hear you ask.

For a start, we kept things simple. First, we bought our biscuit base. Second, Ickle was able to participate in every stage of the decorating process (mixing and drizzling icing, sticking marshmallows and M&Ms onto it, and squeezing the tube of writing icing). Last, and most important, perhaps, was the presence of treats on the kitchen counter within Ickle’s reach. The possibility of sampling a pink marshmallow or mini M&M before the biccies were ready to eat kept her interest up from start to finish.

We followed this recipe, although used writing icing for the arms in place of pretzels. I’d go for the pretzels next time. Much more twiggy.P1020782

Melting Snowman biccies are definitely not for those that like their end product to be pretty and pristine. The M&Ms sank into our icing and leached food colouring into the white sugar; and the icing itself ran off the biccie onto the plate. But – think about it – a melting snowman is a bit of a sorry sight, and I bet a real one wouldn’t taste half as good as our festive biccies.

*A very appropriate choice for Christmas in Australia. Now, how long would a snowman last out here in December?

Watermelon Christmas Trees

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It was Ickle’s Christmas party at playgroup yesterday, and all the kiddies had been asked to bring a plate to share.

My original plan was to make Melting Snowman biccies with my little helper, but things didn’t go according to plan, so we opted for Watermelon Christmas trees instead. What a great find! They are so easy, especially when time is of the essence. I followed these basic instructions, not that a step-by-step guide is really necessary.

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Watermelon Christmas trees are the ideal healthy treat for a hot summer’s day – just perfect for the festive season in Oz. The kiddies devoured the lot!

Tea Party Time

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Bundy and I took Ickle and Baby Lil to our local library for a little trip out. After Ickle had posted our almost-overdue books in the box at the entrance, she scooted along to the children’s corner to see what was on offer. And we ended up with a small selection of books, including the very pink, very sparkly and ever-so-slightly trashy Tea Time with Sophia Grace and Rosie. We did try to dissuade Ickle from this choice, but to no avail. This book was coming home in our library bag, like it or not.

And to our surprise, we’ve had good mileage out of it. The book recounts the story of two young divas* who decide to organise a tea party, with a little help from their fairy friends. Ickle has requested it for pre-nap and bedtime reads on numerous occasions. Perhaps it is the pink (on every page) she finds so attractive…or the glitter…or possibly the cupcakes. Hmmm, most likely the cupcakes. So I suggested that, just like Sophia Grace and Rosie, we organise our own tea party, complete with pink-iced treats.P1020481

First step: invitation design, which went very well. Ickle is now creating shapes with her colouring pens, and not just random scribbles. And stickers are always a fun addition to any artwork. We steered clear of the glitter this time. Phew!P1020475

Next, the yummy part: making and decorating the cupcakes. Although Mummy and Nana J did this bit while Ickle was sleeping, so she would have a surprise waiting for her when she woke up. Great icing by the way, Nana! And pretty yummy cupcakes too. P1020483

*Sophia Grace and Rosie are regulars on The Ellen Show, where they chatter away and perform a variety of songs. They have also made their own movie. Not bad for two children under ten.

Secret Café

Ickle and I headed to one of our favourite haunts on Friday for a girlie treat.P1020390

The Secret Café in Charmhaven is a recent discovery, thanks to one of our playgroup mums. Set on 5 acres away from the road, it is a great spot for active toddlers to have a run around, while parents sip on their lattes from the sidelines. There is even a small selection of sun-baked scooters and trucks and a brightly-coloured playhouse for the littlies to enjoy.P1020363P1020380

In my case, chatting away over a cuppa never seems to last for long. Ickle is high energy and loves to explore. On our last visit, she decided it would be fun to make her way at great speed to the car park at the café entrance. Several times. Leaving her mummy more than a little frazzled around the edges.P1020383

This time, we had a more relaxed experience, thank goodness. We lunched on a beautiful burger and fries, washed down in Ickle’s case with a small strawberry milkshake. And I treated myself to a delicious-looking cake. Didn’t manage to finish it, alas. The burgers really are filling, and I had gone for the basic version, too! BTW, the menu is pretty yummy overall, with great breakfast and lunch options to suit most tastes.P1020369

We had the run of the garden and al fresco area for our entire stay. The covered courtyard proved more popular, gradually filling up with lunch-hour customers. And the café has a few tables inside for those who like to be close to the kitchen (and the air-con).

The latest, much-heralded, addition to the site is The Secret Bunker, which markets itself as a high-end restaurant serving beautiful meals made from fresh local produce. It’s an interesting idea, and the menu looks good too, although it’s possibly more of a special occasion venue given the prices…Let’s hope it works out though. There aren’t many decent places to dine out around here. Perhaps an old bunker could be the answer.P1020386P1020387