Posts tagged celebrations

Mouse in the house

Crumbs for cutlets, not mice.

Crumbs for cutlets, not mice.

I found myself standing on a chair recently, squealing like a girl as a mouse that the cat had brought in scurried about. Luckily for me, my 8-year old daughter was home and could save me.

Fearless with creatures, she was onto it with such courage that even a nip to her finger from the pesky critter didn’t deter her from dispatching it outside. She’s also handy at rescuing penny lizards, cuddling guinea pigs and smothering her walls with posters of cute puppies and kittens.

She is so different to me that she’s sometimes a stranger. I gaze at her and am in awe of this growing and evolving person who is such a force of personality.

Perhaps it’s partly because they don’t look much like me, but I’ve never considered my kids to me ‘mini-me’s’. And there’s no chance that I’ll ever be one of those parents who pushes their own ambitions onto their kids – my ambitions wouldn’t suit them at all. I’ll just be happy if I can get to know them for who they are and get to share in the lives that they create for themselves.

The one thing however, that everyone in the family has in common is crumbed cutlets, which were a childhood favourite of mine and are just as popular with my kids now. It seems fitting to make them in this ANZAC week. It’s an important day and the weight of it is never lost of me. It seems like a good day to gather close those you love and feed them food that tastes like home.

Wishing you a happy week.

Yum, and easier cooked in the oven.

Yum, and easier cooked in the oven.


Oven-baked crumbed cutlets


This recipe coats about 7 cutlets, depending on size.

Oil spray (canola or olive)
2 slices stale bread (grain or wholemeal is good)
1 tbsp LSA mix (optional)
20g parmesan cheese (the block stuff, not the powder)
2 tbsp fresh herbs (I like a parsley/chives mix)
1 egg, lightly whisked
Just under 1/4 cup plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a tray with foil and spray generously with the oil.

In a mini food processor, blitz together the bread, LSA, cheese and herbs until you’ve got nice breadcrumbs. Place in a large bowl.

Pop your egg in a separate bowl and the flour in another. Season the flour generously.

Dust your cutlet in the flour, shake off excess, then dip in the egg until coated. Drain off the excess of that before placing it into the bowl of crumbs. Press over crumbs until totally coated then place onto your tray. Repeat with the rest. Spray them with oil spray then bake for 20 minutes. Remove, turn over carefully with tongs. Spray with more oil if they look dry and bake for another 10-15 minutes until cooked to your liking.

Cooks tip: don’t make this on the day you’ve mopped the kitchen floor – the crumbs do go everywhere, especially if the kids are helping.

Ready and waiting for you, in the VS shop.

Ready and waiting for you, in the VS shop.

PS. Did you see that my shop has had a rejig?

I’ve launched my new “10 quickbakes plus 10 sandwich spreads” e-book, which you can pick up for a mere $6.95. If you’ve never bought any of the e-books, check out my new bundles – there’s a complete pack with the deluxe multi-format meal planner or iPad users may prefer the special pack just for them – download the titles all straight to your device and read them in iBooks. Too easy! Visit the shop.

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Ideas for a fun Easter

Ready and waiting

Ready and waiting

Lordy me, wasn’t it just summer? Looking at the calendar I see that Easter has rolled around again! Bit early this year and not wedged into the middle of school holidays.

The bright side of the unusual timing is that there’s an Easter bonnet parade to enjoy at school this year. Odd celebration isn’t it. Apparently it started when the tradition was to have new springtime clothes to parade about in. The lovely new threads would guarantee you luck and abundance over the coming harvest.

Of course in Australia that tradition is ridiculous (especially since it’s Autumn), so we celebrate instead by sticking cardboard chickens on our kid’s heads and taking a heap of incriminating photos.

Easter baking is more something I can relate to. You can find my hot happy buns recipe here. This year I’ve got a couple of new things I want to try. This Easter bread looks interesting and I’m keen to try this Russian kulich recipe. Although I’m not sure what they mean by citron – I guess it’s lemon rind and then I’m planning on adding in some dried fruit too. There’s no citron in the kulich recipe listed on the ‘Orthodoxy and the World’ website, but there is saffron and vodka, which sounds a bit irresistible. And for ridiculous cuteness, it’s hard to beat these Martha Stewart chicken cupcakes.

Staying with friends a couple of years ago, they introduced us to their family tradition of drawing a picture and leaving it for the Easter bunny. It’s a tribute picture of course, featuring the magical rodent himself. It’s a cute idea and one that leads to a nice record of how your kids change and grow each year.

If it’s just a bit of colouring you want, then I’ve done up an Easter colouring-in page. There’s not a vegie in sight, but hey, there’s only one Sunday in the year when you’ve got permission to eat as much chocolate as you like, so let’s enjoy it.

A bunny, eggs and cute stuff to colour.

A bunny, eggs and cute stuff to colour.

What happens at your place? Are you campers? Is there a particular feast? Or maybe you’re one of the fabulous people who head to church and understand was the whole celebration is really about.

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Getting back on track

Every year at this time I feel entirely gross and slightly cranky at myself for my inability to say ‘no!’ to that last piece of chocolate or that last potato baked in duck fat (mmmmmm, thanks bro, great spuds as per usual).

But as good as the indulgence all was, it’s time now to get back on track. So here are the recipes that I turn to whenever I need to reset my stomach (and my entire sense of well being)…

home made muesli

I started today with home-made muesli.

vegie smugglers fish congee

Fish congee is total comfort food.

tomato salad

The slight acidity of this tomato salad feels as though it’s cutting through the days of fatty eating.

sushi slice

More japanese-inspired comfort.

vegie smugglers fish burritos

Fish burritos are tasty but light.

vegie smugglers chicken pasta soup

My personal favourite soothing dinner (and the dish I’m cooking tonight) chicken noodle soup.

I like all of these dishes since they’re filling and tasty, but far more gentler on my system than the food I’ve eaten over the last couple of weeks. And I promise, if you tackle these recipes, you’ll be back on track and ready to indulge all over again by New Years Eve!

x

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Hostess with the most-ess

Hello 1970, it's great to see you.

Hello 1970, it’s great to see you.

I am the proud new owner of a punch bowl. I’ve never felt the urge to have one before, but something overcame me this year and I couldn’t rest without one.

Since moving to the suburbs, we entertain much more and have greater numbers of people around at once. Primarily the adults are drinking alcoholic stuff, but it is nice to have something else on offer, particularly for the kids, who are all old enough now to be pestering for fizzy drinks.

Like everything else, my policy on soft drink is that ‘everything is ok in moderation’. But at this time of year, with fun parties nearly every night, I’m looking for a bit of an alternative.

So I’m compromising with punch. There’s still sugar and fizz, but it’s slightly diluted and packed full of fruit. Use Christmas cookie cutters to make cute shapes from watermelon and rock melon and you’ve got something pretty appealing. Serve it in small plastic cups and the kids will tend to drink much less than a standard size softdrink can.

This is my current recipe, but I’m sure it will change. My mum favors tea-based recipes, but I like the colour of the cranberry. What about you? Have you got a favourite version? I’m keen to try a few out.

I won't tell if the adults decide to pop a bit of vodka in.

Shhhhhhh. Adults might like to pop a shot of vodka in their glass too.


Cranberry punch

2 parts cranberry juice
1 part ginger beer
1 part lemonade
1 part mineral water
Heaps of berries, rock melon, watermelon & mint (although kids tend to stress about green leaves in their drinks).
______________________

And with that, I’m off for a bit of a blogging break. Thanks so much for supporting my business and blog throughout 2012. It’s been another great year and I wish you and your family all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

xx

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What my children and twitter have in common

I’ve been trying to teach my kids the finer art of conversation.

Talking isn’t a problem for them but actually having a two-way discussion around a topic is. Most of the time, they are like a twitter feed brought to life. Short-sentence comments unrelated to anything else (eg. “my brain is itchy”). Often they don’t make any sense at all (eg. “you blew big underpants”). Private jokes and brains farts that I have neither the understanding nor patience to reply to.

Despite my public urgings for families to eat together (it’s great for kids to see adults eating healthily and provides a positive and happy opportunity for family bonding), during the week the VS household rarely manages it. We make sure we have both breakfast and dinner together on the weekends, but I suspect more regular family dinners would improve the quality of their chatter quite a lot.

Like many families, we have little choice – Mr VS is off working long hours at Temple & Webster, providing Turkish towels and cushions for the needy, so the kids and I are left to our own devices. Half the time I let them eat alone (sometimes even with the TV on), the rest of the time I eat with them and that’s when I drill them on the finer points of using cutlery and how to have a good and rewarding discussion.

It seems to be working, gradually. Last night Mr VS did make it home and as he sat down, Mr M&P piped up with “and how was your day, daddy?” It was cute.

Apparently the other kids in infant’s school are unbothered by the Tourette’s-style conversation from my children. Somehow they have made a bunch of friends and we’ve reached that time of year where they all start loading each other up with Christmas cards and candy canes. Poor teachers.

Perhaps unluckily for my kids, I still had half a batch of gingerbread dough in the freezer. So I made the biscuits (little tiny ones) and then they spent an hour decorating them. We handed them out yesterday and they were a big hit. Of course, they’re no good if your friends have allergies, but luckily we’ve only got one BFF affected and we’ve bought her a little notepad instead.

It was raining, so I had a Martha Stewart moment.

It was raining, so I had a Martha Stewart moment.

They were concentrating so hard they even stayed quiet for a bit.

They were concentrating so hard they even stayed quiet for a bit.

gingerbread biscuits

Just add a sprinkle of icing sugar and they’re good gifts for adults too.

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No, really, my daughter is MUCH better than yours…

I'll take the parenting win.

I’ll take the parenting win (I’ve had enough fails along the way).

Excessive bragging in parents is ugly, isn’t it? Managing parental pride so that you don’t become socially obnoxious can be tricky. I try to be self-effacing about my kids, which happens to be fairly easy since they’re pretty regular kids, with pretty regular talents. Both of them can swim without drowning (just) and both of them look acceptably cute when dressed well (which isn’t often). They find school pretty easy but I’ve never had the urge to get them tested by MENSA. They’ve neither too many nor too few friends and they seem to be generally taking life in their strides.

Despite their normal-ness, there have still been many awards in their lives. These days they’re unavoidable. Miss F received a medal at the end of netball season despite the team’s 12-match losing streak. Both have come home with myriad assembly awards for nondescript achievements such as ‘very good comprehension’ and ‘excellent class participation’. And Miss F did get a ballet trophy for turning up to 10 classes in a row.

So both my kids have been feted and awarded, and I have pondered in the past about whether all these awards are actually rendering achievement a little meaningless.

Our new school, however, still takes the end of year awards much more seriously and there’s none of this everyone-gets-a-prize mentality. There are four awards per class and this morning Miss F was the proud recipient of one. Not just any, but the ‘academic achievement’ award. Which I’m proud to brag about. She didn’t know beforehand and the surprise and delight and PRIDE on her face were so beautiful that I got all teary in quite an embarrassing way. It turns out, that some awards ARE a bit special, after all.

At school pickup Mr M&P had a sob because there was no award for him. We had a chat about how awesome it is to be proud of those we love, about the importance of being pleased for others. Miss F helped talk him down off his emotional cliff by pointing out that she’s made it to Year 2 without an award and he’s got a lot of opportunities in his future. I think the award caused them both to learn a bit about the complexities of winning, losing and life in general.

And now Mr M&P is really keen to apply himself and see what he can achieve next year. He’s fairly tenacious, so he might just be able to do it. Besides, he won’t have to push hard to reach his sister’s dizzying heights. Apparently after the presentation ceremony, Miss F trotted up to her teacher to ask what ‘academic’ meant. Which puts it all back into perspective nicely.

End of bragging for me. But what about you, what have your kids achieved this year? I won’t think you’re showing off.
______________________

Possibly Miss F’s favourite meals have made her the mental powerhouse that she is today. Perhaps your kids might like them too…

Tuna pasta bake recipe hiding corn, zucchini, carrot and capsicum

Tuna pasta bake

vegie smugglers frittata recipe

Mini Frittatas

Nachos. Her latest favourite.

Nachos. Her latest favourite.

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Naughty and 40

Have you ever had that experience of waking up, looking in the mirror and being a bit shocked by what you see? I had that moment over the weekend when I looked and welcomed another significant wrinkle. Not content with adding to my collection of laugh lines, this one actually crosses over the laugh lines forming a nice mesh, reminiscent of fishnets but far less alluring.

Apparently the phrase ‘aging overnight’ is based on fact, not fiction. It’s true, people don’t age gradually, but in ‘clunks’ and after the age of 35 we’re in aging freefall.

Having a second non-sleeping baby at 34½ apparently gave me a double whammy of aging. My ‘overnight’ seemed to stretch for one blurry four-year period and then when my focus cleared enough to look in the mirror, I was 38 and not the youthful flower I had been seven years earlier when I breathlessly announced my first pregnancy. (Incidentally, women feel at their most beautiful at age 32).

Searching the web on all things aging, I was thrilled to discover ‘Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome’ which is the sudden aging of soap characters. Like when Bridget Forrester suddenly got old enough to be in a love triangle with her mother and Deacon. And I’m wondering if all those university hours spent watching ‘The Bold & The Beautiful’ was detrimental to my health and somehow it twiddled with my gene structure to leave me stuck with that syndrome. You see, in my mind, I’m still 25. Which is weird, because my daughter turns 9 next birthday and she’s nearly as tall as me.

Actually the truth is that I’m pondering all these things because I’m turning 40 this week. And no matter how I try to deny it, people keep doing things like giving me birthday cards with ’40 and naughty’ on the front and cheery messages like “you’re another year more wonderful”. The sentiment is sweet, but I can’t help but think of people saying, “gee you must be lucky” when a bird craps on your jacket. They’re trying to make you feel better, but really, it’s all a little bit bullshit.

So sticking with sweet, it seems right to do a chocolate slice recipe this week. And when you bite in, think of me, huddled in the old lady corner, lamenting the loss of my youth.

Happy birthday to me, I live in a tree…

Chocolate slice

1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup oat bran
40g butter, melted and cooled
140g tub apple purée
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs, lightly whisked

Icing
1 1/4 cups icing sugar mixture
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2-3 tbsp water
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a lamington/slice tin with baking paper (leave some to hang over the two long sides).

Sift the flour and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugar, coconut and oat bran. Mix lightly.

In a separate bowl or jug combine the butter, purée, eggs and vanilla.

Pour the wet into the dry and fold until totally combined. Spoon the mixture into your tin and patiently spread with a spatula until even. Bake for 25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tray.

Sift the icing sugar mixture and cocoa into a bowl. Add in the water and mix well then pour over the slice and leave it to harden in the tin.

Use the sides of the paper to lift out and slice into 20 pieces.

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Yes, it’s that time of year again (and a FREE e-book for you)

Plum pudding muffins! So easy, so yum. Just one of the recipes for you.

It’s usually around this time of year that I start to innocently pester my kids about what they’re going to hit up Santa for. I like to get them to start locking things in, which gives me enough time to sort my life out and get whatever they’re wanting at a good price with the minimum of panic.

It also gives me time to gradually knock any crazy suggestions on the head and introduce the idea of something more suitable. Like last year when Miss F started off wanting ‘a life-sized rocking horse’. I spent November working on that one, reminding her that Santa would probably think her room too small. But by December 1st, she was even more adamant that That. Was. What. She. Wanted.

Still I worked away, with reasons ranging from ‘I don’t think the elves make those’ (yes they do, she assured me), to ‘don’t you want something more grown up?’ (no, was the answer there). When we visited Santa mid-month, she sat on his knee and loudly and proudly asked for ‘a life-sized rocking horse’. Santa, bless him, raised his eyebrow, glanced at me in a mild panic and said “well, I can’t promise anything”. Which was a better response than the badly-briefed David Jones Santa who, the year before, when asked for a scooter (which I already had in the garage), asked “and what colour would you like?”
“Pink,” said Miss F.
“Done,” said Santa.
Bastard. The scooter in storage was plain silver. Luckily I was able to exchange it, but it was an element of pre-Christmas hassle that I didn’t need.

I know, I hear many of you exclaiming that I was crazy to care, but I do care. I remember asking Santa for a toy cash register and being ASTONISHED when it arrived under the tree. I like the magic of the big man. I like to advance his myth.

So what happened last year? Well, the rocking horse didn’t fit in the sleigh, but he did leave a lovely, detailed letter with a voucher for a horse riding lesson.

And what’s on the list for her this year? Well after watching Brave earlier this year, the ongoing yearning is for an adult’s archery set. Complete with arrows with real points. Joy.

To ease the pain of Christmas, I’ve done up a special Vegie Smugglers Christmas PDF, with some recipes, colouring in, gift tags and some cute gift ideas. You’ll receive a link to download your free copy once you become a subscriber of this blog (see, top right). If you’re already a subscriber, send me a message to vegiesmugglers@gmail.com. Just pop ‘book please’ in the subject and I’ll forward you a link too. (But please, make sure you’re already a subscriber before you email me.)

I used to always use Facebook to keep you peeps close. But my FB posts only reach a tiny portion of you now and I’d like to avoid sponsored posts, so this is my incentive to get you to cut out the middle man and deal with me direct. Subscribing just means that you’ll receive my recipes and posts straight to your inbox, ready to read whenever suits you.

All my PDF books are fantastic on the ipad!



PS: 10am Sunday… The lovely Em has just pointed out that there’s a missing ingredient on the turkey meatball recipe… ummmm… the turkey mince! I’ve fixed it now, but anyone who downloaded earlier today, remember to put 500g turkey mince into your mix. They’ll be pretty measley without it.

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The easiest cupcake recipe ever

It’s true that I own an embarrassing amount of cookbooks. It’s a compulsion that lures me into every second hand bookstore I pass. There are cookbooks for baking with yeast, Danish sandwich making and Pritikin diets. Most are curiosities, mostly unused. But amid the novelties are essentials and the Sally Wise cookbooks are ones I refer to over and over again. Possibly because her food is a perfect fit for me and how I cook. Family food. Flavour over fancy. No smears, no complicated reductions, just page after page of family winners. Her gluten free book should be a first port of call for those of you needing help in that area. Her slow cooker book is fantastic and her preserves books are the only ones you will need (should that be your thing).

So I was keen to get her new book, ‘Sweet’. It’s perfect for those of us heading towards a spring season of cake stalls and fete days.

Our school fundraiser was last weekend and I’d pledged 24 cupcakes. Thinking I’d be making my life easier, I went to buy a packet mix. Looking on the back I saw I’d need to add my own eggs, oil and milk. Soooo…. ummmmm…. what exactly is in the packet then? Just flour, sugar-like substances and a stack of preservatives, thickeners and colourings. I popped it back, pretty sure I could do better.

So straight to Sally and she came to my rescue. This cake mix is SO incredibly easy and the cakes were really good.

sally-wise-chocolate-cupcakes

A tiny teddy never goes astray.

Sally Wise’s Chocolate Cupcakes (from Sweet!) My comments are in italics.

Makes 10 (although I made a triple batch and ended up with about 3 dozen).

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
90 g butter, melted

Heat oven to 160C. Line a muffin tray with paper cases.

Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for two minutes until thick & creamy. (YES, TRULY, THIS IS ALL YOU DO!!!!)

Fill cases to 2/3 full and bake for 12-15 minutes or so until the middle of the cake is springy (IN MY CRAP OVEN, THE COOKING TIME WAS ACTUALLY JUST OVER 20 MINS)

Cool completely, then ice.

Icing
180g icing sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp softened butter
boiling water.

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, mix in the butter and enough boiling water to make a smooth consistency.

I dipped my iced cakes in sprinkles and topped with a tiny teddy. I noticed during my time of the cupcake stall that lollies and really colourful toppings were MUCH more popular than the more measly, spartan looking ones.

vs-promo-1

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Yule be right – the shortest day is almost done

About 15 years ago I got really interested in Wicca. I was living in London and watching the seasons swing by. It was pretty fascinating to visit some pagan sites and become a bit in tune with nature. It made SENSE to me in a way that Christianity never has.

Of course this crazy new concept called the internet was in its infancy, so I did heaps of my research in BOOKS, with helpful chapters like “How to find a coven” and “Why were witches persecuted?”. Needless to say I never did find a coven and coming back to Australia, with the opposing seasons, it all got a bit confusing and topsy turvy.

Northern Hemisphere paganism definitely fits more nicely into the calendar year. In June, when sunk in the depths of winter depression, I always think how nice an upcoming Christmas (or ‘yule’ if you’re a witch) celebration would be. I could really use something cheery, with presents and family and food. There’s not really any need for it here in December – such an overload of good times!

For me, reaching the winter solstice is an annual milestone. I like to quietly note it. I’m thinking of including the kids in a little candle lighting ceremony this year. The tradition is to spend a minute or so in the dark, contemplating the darkest day of the year. Then light just one candle, to symbolise life being reborn (sorry, does that sound too witchy?).

At the moment week 8 tiredness has combined with winter illness to transform my children into feral creatures, so it’ll be nice to force them into stillness. Although I strongly suspect my meaningful moment will be interspersed with Mr M&P doing a fart noise, then Miss F setting half the kitchen on fire. They’re just a bit crazy like that right now.

But if we make it through, I’ll finish off with a simple dinner of celebration. You might want to too. Turkey, pork and traditional ‘Christmas’ foods are good. And finish with a dessert that pays tribute to the simple seasonality of life, like these baked apples.

Symbolic, easy and most importantly, delicious.

Baked apples

For each small/medium apple, you will need…

1 tbsp currants
6 hazelnuts (or 2 tsp hazelnut meal)
2 walnuts
1/4 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp Amaretto liqueur or brandy would also be nice (you may want to leave this out of the kid’s ones)
1 tsp treacle

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Core the apple. Slice around the circumference to avoid it bursting during cooking. Place it in a baking tray (I use a loaf tin lined with baking paper).

Mix all of the other ingredients together and fill up the empty centres. Drizzle some water (about a 1/4 cup should do) in the tray to help them cook.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until soft. Serve with icecream.

MAKES 1.

PS My husband is constantly telling me that if I want my biz & blog to be more successful, then I need to self promote more. He says I need photos of myself everywhere. But I HATE having my photo taken. So I’m compromising with my Winter-solstice, self-portrait.

Self portrait (before I light the candle).

Happy solstice to all!
x

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