Category Archives: Food

Sustainability in the city. Worth frocking up for…

Today I did something I don’t do often (enough). I applied lipstick, put on some heels and a frock and headed into the city to have lunch with some girlfriends. Those who know me well would agree that heels and I are not a natural mix and that I prefer lip balm to stick. I’ll happily frock up for dinners and other nocturnal events but lunch? Nup. I struggle with breakfasts too. They collide annoyingly with the school run.

So, who and what inspired me to head into town? A simple building, made using 100% recycled/recyclable products, with a wall of strawberry plants, a roof overflowing with herbs and bales of hay stuffed into the walls to provide insulation. Jam jars for glasses, delicious sustainably-sourced food and a view to die for. That’s what.

The brain child of dutch-born Joost Bakker, a florist, builder and environmentalist; Greenhouse is the third of his pop-up restaurants showcasing sustainability in all its glory. My hope is it will become a permanent fixture, acting as a reminder to Sydney-siders of what can be achieved if a passion for our planet is at the heart of everything we do.


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Go play! In the kitchen with kids

I regularly contribute to a great Melbourne radio station, LightFM and this morning I chatted to Luke and Lucy about being in the kitchen with kids and how much fun and educational it can be for everyone. Here’s a little of what we spoke about, including some easy-to-do recipes to inspire your child using the senses as a starting point.

Being in the kitchen can really get the senses of young children buzzing. Think sound, sight, smell, touch, taste. But how do you make it fun for everyone? The greatest tip I can give is to involve your child in as much of the preparation of every meal as possible. Try hard not to underestimate their ability*. I have been guilty of this in the past but now constantly encourage my children to “have a go”. I’m also a firm believer that time in the kitchen with kids needs to be wild, noisy, messy, fun (and just a little rude) and as an adult, you need to give yourself over to an afternoon of mild chaos.

TASTE

This is my all time favourite. I’m sure it’s how my mother got me to eat and love celery. Grate some carrot and finely chop some celery stalks. Take two pieces of bread. Smother with peanut butter; add a layer of raspberry jam, a layer of grated carrot and a layer of chopped celery. Heaven. A rainbow sandwich! Every child I’ve ever presented this too has loved it. But more so if they are involved in the preparation of it. It’s not the healthiest option, but once a month or so, I don’t think it can hurt and it’s a taste and textural wowsa. If your child has a nut allergy, substitute the peanut butter with hummous or tahini.

SIGHT

Fruit skewers Summer is the perfect time to have fun with fruit. Take some strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, canteloupe, rockmelon, pineapple, some edible flowers such as nasturtium or basil, some mint leaves and thread alternately onto a skewer. Then eat! So pretty and colourful – just like a rainbow. You can dip into yogurt or BBQ them for extra zing.

Smoothies There’s nothing like the pure vibrant colours produced by smoothies. Bright pink for strawberries, “Hare Krishna” orange for mangoes, bright green for kiwi fruit, although strangely bananas don’t translate – they just turn an insipid beige. Kids love making smoothies and they are a healthy option. If your child is lactose intolerant, use ice instead of milk and cream. Still delicious.

Cakes Buy a good quality cake mix or if you have time, bake a cake from scratch. I’ve never met a child under 8 who doesn’t ADORE making a cake. Let them loose with the food dye and cake decorating becomes a rainbow/sight extravaganza.

SMELL

The smells of the kitchen can be fantastic and intriguing. Spend an afternoon exploring those smells whilst blindfolded. Include some of the yukkier smells such as the garbage bin or dog bowl. It’s great fun, I promise…

TOUCH

You can’t really go past jelly here. It’s just so wobbly and easy for kids to make. Add some chopped up fruit to the cooling jelly for extra fun. There are low fat versions nowadays that taste pretty good.

Making your own playdough is also great fun and the added bonus of making your own (free of chemicals and preservatives) is that you don’t need to worry too much if your kid decides to taste test! There are many recipes around but I think I have the perfect one. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll email you the recipe.

SOUND

Kids love noise. Remember that cooking can make great theatre. Very little children can bang the saucepans and spoons together or stack and unstack plastic containers. Fill up some containers with different items and encourage them to shake them to hear the different noises. Older kids will love getting involved in the actual process of cooking and thrill to the loud cacophony of noises produced by grinding, whizzing, pounding or beating.

Pesto pasta Pick some basil (at its best during summer), a large handful of pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, some extra virgin olive oil, a handful of grated parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon and a good dash of salt and pepper. Don’t bother chopping any of it. Simply pop it all into a food processor or blender and whizz until it forms a paste. Adjust your quantities until you’ve achieved a consistency and taste to suit. Boil some pasta, spoon into bowls, add a few dollops of your pesto on top and voila! A quick, easy and healthy summer meal. The kids can do every part of making the pesto. They can pick the basil and pull the leaves from the stems (I tend to use the stems too), peel the garlic, pour the oil, chop and squeeze the lemon, grate the cheese and add the salt and pepper. Most enjoyable for them, however, will be controlling the blender!

There’s nothing like the sound of popcorn pinging around the inside of a microwave. Buy a bag of popcorn kernels, some brown paper bags and you’re ready to go. Popcorn, lightly salted is an excellent, healthy addition to any school box.

Mashed potatoes Such a simple thing to do and most kids love mashed spuds. Wash, peel and chop up some potatoes. Add to a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain, add butter and a little milk. Set too with the masher. Have them listen to the squishing pounding noises. Even better if you have a bamix. Again the kids can do every part of this. They can peel and chop the potatoes, pour the cold water into the saucepan and add the potatoes. Probably best you drain the potatoes from the boiling water. Then the kids can add the butter and milk and mash. Even more exciting for children if you have a bamix to hand. Top with some chopped chives, mint or parsley.

* When kids are in the kitchen only their parents and carers truly know their child’s ability or developmental stage. So be guided by this. For example, if little Johnny isn’t yet proficient with a knife, give him a gentler, safer task or a blunt knife…. Giving them their own set of cooking implement, including an apron is a good idea.

Enjoy….

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Summer joy – king prawn, nectarine and feta salad

With thanks to the Good Weekend supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald and one of their contributing chefs Neil Perry for publishing this on 29 January 2011.

The flavours in this salad combine in a delightfully fresh, summery kind of way. It’s healthy, low fat, and perfect for children. In fact I’d suggest getting the kids involved in the preparation as well as the eating of this salad.

King prawn, nectarine and feta salad

12 large cooked king prawns, peeled and cut in half lengthways
1 baby cos lettuce, washed and dried
2 heads of treviso or red witlof, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe nectarines, cut into circular slices
100g good-quality feta
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, lightly crushed**

Dressing:

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp hazelnut oil (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small jar, shake the dressing ingredients together. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. In a salad bowl, place the treviso (or witlof), baby cos and red onion and dress with half the dressing. Divide the leaf mix among 4 bowls, laying it out to look attractive. Scatter the prawns and nectarine slices over the leaves, then crumble the feta on top. Sprinkly with the roasted hazelnuts and season with a little sea salt and a good grind of fresh pepper. Drizzle the remaining dresssing over the salads. Serve immediately.

** I couldn’t find hazelnuts so substituted with a mix of pine nuts and walnuts, lightly toasted and gently crushed. I also just made one big salad and let people serve themselves rather than apportioning onto individual plates.

Delicious!

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Colour play fun… but in the kitchen?

Colour is everywhere! Grey days, rainbows, autumn leaves, impossibly blue skies, brilliant pink flowers, murky brown mud or an expanse of green lawn. My children and I have had great adventures exploring the concept of colour during our time outside. To be honest though, I’d never really thought about introducing lessons on colour into our kitchen.

Which is why it was utterly delightful last night when my 7 year old made the realisation that her favourite colour (purple) was taking precedence in the evening meal. There was a shimmering deep purple eggplant. An incredibly beautiful home-grown cabbage. Spring asparagus, with a blush of purple at the tips. Squealing with delight, my daughter then raced about pulling together every hue of purple she could find in the house. It was quite the collection: A large purple platter, a beautiful Iris from the garden along with some sprigs of the pretty plant “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” (Brunfelsia grandiflora). A couple of books, pens and colouring pencils, a skipping rope, hairbrush, a watch, and on it went. She even reminded me of the picture of her friend on page 122 of my book, Small Fry Outdoors!

We happily chatted together whilst preparing dinner about primary, secondary and tertiary colours and whether Indigo was blue or a deep shade of purple. It was great fun and needless to say, she ate every last scrap of the family meal.

Oh, and the meal? Eggplant and haloumi stacks, grass-fed scotch fillet steak sitting atop blanched purple cabbage with spring asparagus on the side. A squeeze of lime, freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of sea salt completed a beautiful, healthy meal.

I’d love to hear how you have ‘played’ with the concept of colour in your home or during your time outdoors. x

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Plants kids can play with #3 A Seuss plant

This week’s plant was chosen by my 7 year old daughter. In her words, “Mummy, you should write about Marigolds. They always look sunny, sometimes funny and I like eating them too.” As that sounded Seuss-like to me, how could I argue? So here’s our tribute to the humble French Marigold (Tagetes patula) and some tips and ideas on how kids can have fun with this sweet plant.

With only a little bit of love and lots of sun, French Marigolds will reward you with a splash of colour from mid-spring through to late autumn and sometimes beyond. In Sydney, we’ve had success growing them during our mild (generally frost-free) winters. Virtually foolproof they can be grown from both seed and seedling.

Given the rapidity with which they grow and the fact that they are also so quick to flower, they are a very rewarding choice for the often impatient young gardener. They can be grown in containers, pots, old toys and the garden itself (mass plant for a stunning effect). We’ve even grown them in a pair of old shoes.

So where’s the play to be had with this plant?

Go hunting in the toy cupboard and find a toy that has seen better days. Old tonka trucks are ideal. Encourage your child to fill the truck with potting mix, plant the seedlings, water gently and voila, instant Marigold patch.

If your child already tends a vegetable plot, suggest that they plant some Marigold seedlings throughout the area. Known as a companion plant, they’ll send insects such as White Fly packing from your fruit and veggies.

Marigolds come in a range of sizes and colours (warm-hot on the colour wheel) so grab some colouring in pencils, pick a few blooms and let your kids explore the concept of mixing primary colours to create some (secondary and tertiary) masterpieces.

Pick individual petals for use as hair or a skirt in a “nature drawing”.

Pick the blooms and make a flower salad (combine with other flowers such as Nasturtium, Basil, Rocket, Viola, Rose, edible Sages and Lavenders). The taste of Marigolds is a bit peppery, with the petals themselves having the mildest flavour.

Encourage your child to pick the petals to sprinkle over their meal to add a bit of zing! They look fantastic sprinkled over rice and pasta dishes or dips such as hummous. (The leaves can also be added to salads or steamed for use as a green vegetable).

Play “the smelling game“. Along with some Marigolds, pick a couple of other plants with noticeable scents (eg. rosemary, roses, chocolate mint, basil -basically anything “smelly” you can find) and place them all in a box with a lid – a shoebox is ideal. Blindfold your child and have them pick out the plants one by one and try to identify the plant by smell (and/or feel). Marigolds have a pungent, earthy scent. My daughter describes it as smelling “like a carrot that’s just been pulled“.

Well that’s it for this week. I hope you find a little bit of #playoutdoors fun in each and every day.

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Honesty (gulp) the best policy?


I have been tagged by the delightful and ever surprising Ms Almeras of Grass Stain Guru fame for the Honest Scrap Award. Thank you Bethe for nominating me and for being prepared to learn more about just how eclectic and vaguely inconsistent I really am… 🙂

So it works like this. I have to share 10 really honest things about myself that you wouldn’t normally glean from reading my blog, following me on Twitter or interacting with me in any other social media format. And I have to tag 7 other bloggers to participate. I do wish I could tag more people….

Like Bethe, I believe this is a fun way of deepening relationships with the people I admire and respect, rather than yet another inane social media questionnaire or dorky cyber game.

So here are my ten in no particular order.

1. I have learnt (via a hairy abseiling experience) that when I am afraid, my language becomes very blue.

2. I am in awe of Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek – Next Generation. Come to think of it, most older, craggy, bald men make me quiver.

3. My love of green jalapeno peppers, porridge with brown sugar and strawberries, fresh roasted beetroot, sambal oelek, lombok, haloumi, ocean trout, green papaya, Herbert Adam’s jam donuts, Osso Buco, mashed potato, salt & vinegar chips, Vietnamese mint, Thai basil, quality rump steak, Bufalo mozzarella, Tasmanian scallops and Daim bars knows no bounds. Thankfully, I don’t yet eat them at one sitting.

4. Whenever I go fishing, I always catch one. Always.

5. I would pack up my family in a flash for the chance to live, work and #playoutdoors in Scotland. Especially if it meant frontage on the River Tay.

6. I believe in faeries and dragons. Really, I absolutely do. This is why I’d like to live in Scotland. I am certain they have an abundance of both.

7. I adore everything about being outside but I loathe camping. I hope that my #playoutdoors friends will continue to talk to me after this admission.

8. I am VERY afraid of moths, especially furry ones but, (see point 1), I am yet to swear at one.

9. I hate make up, shoes, bras and having my hair ‘done’. And yet I can be incredibly girly.

10. I write in ink and always will. And I’m currently having a love-in with 2B pencils.

So there you have it. Now I must away to make some porridge and consider swearing at a moth. All in a day’s work really…

You’ve been tagged: I pass the baton onto 7 fabulous people.

1. The delightful @iconic88
2. The beautifully creative @littlehumbugs
3. The smart and ever-informed @Amalari
4. The humorous @KidQuestTV
5. The prolific @frombecca
6. The passionate @tandrusiak
7. The enigmatic @kcarruthers

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What I’m giving the kids this Christmas? Nothing…

A rerun of a post I wrote in December last year. Still as accurate this year…..

In Australia, for many, December means celebrating Christmas, hot days, gifts, reconnection and relaxation, family, more hot days and approximately 9 weeks of school holidays. We’re a month into summer and the heat can be oppressive. If you’re lucky and have access to a pool, beach or outback dam, the summer break invariably means much time spent cooling off in the water, perfecting the ultimate ‘bomb’ or dive, hunting for sea creatures in the sparkling depths of rockpools and seaweed forests, or catching yabbies in a muddy dam using nothing other than a bit of string and some pongy meat.

However, unless you shut out all forms of media during December, it can be frustrating to have the festive period defined by mainly European and North American media viewpoints of what the season is. Reindeer, snow (and the associated activities the white stuff brings), hot baked dinners, holly and mistletoe, mulled wine and egg nog all abound, to name just a few. Here in Sydney, these Christmas “markers” repeated in our mainstream media just seem plain silly (and lazy on behalf of the Australian media). Every now and then I’ll see a token picture of Father Christmas on a surfboard but that’s about it.

So I thought I’d share what the summer break means to me and my family. Firstly, school has finished for the year and will not return until some time in February. There’s no homework for up to 9 weeks (a personal favourite of mine); endless stretches of warm days, sea breezes and late nights spent attempting to avoid manic and hungry mosquitoes, whilst watching reruns of ridiculous, yet highly entertaining B-grade movies.

It’s spending most of the day in our bathers eating a vast range of summer fruits such as peaches, nectarines, mangoes, lychees, rambutans, strawberries and raspberries and then washing the sticky juice off your arms and legs whilst running under the sprinkler in the nud. (regardless of age). The rules are relaxed on who sleeps where and at what time one goes to bed. I often wake in the gentle, quiet hours of early morning to find my children sleeping on the couch or verandah with our puppies – it’s a delightful amorphous mass of arms, paws, the occasional snort, whiskers, twitches and general loveliness.

It’s getting up early before the day becomes too warm to walk the puppies but forgetting to change out of your PJ bottoms. And then the flooding sense of relief as you meet other people on the harbour track who’ve done exactly the same thing. It’s the daily opportunity to head to the beach, and later that evening curl up in bed with the salt still scratching your skin; waking the next morning with salt-encrusted bed-head. (This is another favourite of mine as I’m CERTAIN it has to be good for you).

There’s a BBQ to be had every other day, entertaining friends who casually drop in clutching a fine bottle of chilled wine whilst shaking the sand from their toes. There’s fresh seafood to eat, books to read, summer quizzes to ponder in a newspaper that offers little else at this time of the year.

It’s watching with delight as my children take the “shortcut” and scale the backyard fence to go play with their mates. Summer break means that beach cricket will be played, Lilos will be burst, Aloe vera will be applied to “Coppertone” bums and bathroom scales will be pushed under the vanity until January 1st.

And whilst my family doesn’t observe any particular religion, this time of year will inevitably find us lying under a Moreton Bay Fig in Sydney’s iconic Botanic Gardens listening to Christmas Carols whilst flying foxes screech overhead.

What I like best of all though? Sydney’s summer break affords me the perfect opportunity to remind my children of how to do “nothing” and actually enjoy it. Without the distraction of school or work, the likelihood of over-structured time or prescriptive play is reduced tenfold. With no formal learning, no rushing here or there, we find ample opportunity to unplug, reconnect with each other and spend way too much time outside in the sun enjoying all that playing outdoors has to offer. I am convinced that this is the best Christmas gift I can give my children.

To all, a happy festive break. Whatever it means to you and however you celebrate, I hope it brings much joy wherever on our beautiful planet you might be.

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