Thursday, 27 June 2013

Playing With Puff Pastry, Tuna and Vegetable Pie and Other Winter Joys


Chances are if you are down the Melbourne end of the world you are freezing right along with me!
I just couldn't resist pulling over in the car on Friday morning after the 9am school drop offs to capture this moment from the roadside. The morning sun is just breaking through the thick fog and ice has whitened the fields.
There was a spectacular rolling mist reminiscent of the English Moors - in Melbourne! Wow!

My winter time appetite has certainly kicked in too. I tend to hibernate when this season is upon us. I actually detest winter! I try to deny its existence by not venturing out into it. This is the season when I get savvy and start to dig deep into the pantry out of both hunger and desperation:
1) The appetite is on the rise with the cold. Must eat to survive.
2) Let's see how long we can survive the arctic freeze by staying indoors and doing without unnecessary trips to the stores.
Let's see what we can bake with the odds and ends within the pantry!
Could actually say, let's see what oddities are within that pantry altogether and leave it there!

My pantry. Far too small for this family of eight! Once it was organised...and then the kids got to it! Now it's a matter of opening the door with practised stealth, snatching the desired foodstuff and shutting it fast to avoid the avalanche! Unfortunately, all those little spice jars in the door take a tumble every time I try to save something from the main shelves! Sigh...
I have been fossicking with interest in my freezer too. Things that I had not noticed over the summer months have suddenly jumped out at me. Puff pastry being of particular interest.
My jumbo pack of puff pastry has sat buried in my freezer for maybe a year. I was once right into the stuff and then somehow forgot about its existence altogether. That all changed this week though!

I have begun to experiment with puff pastry all over again. So many things to do with it. Last week I re-invented a rather dull family meal with it:

I am calling this my Tuna and Vegetable Pie.
In a large saucepan I added broccoli, 2 celery sticks sliced, 1 zucchini chopped, 1 leek sliced and one cobb of corn. I sautéed this in 2 tablespoons of Meadow Lea margarine. When my vegies were brightly coloured I tossed them into a baking dish along with I large tin of tuna and a dash of olive oil.
Meanwhile I prepared this cheese sauce in a non-stick saucepan:
I melted 2 tablespoons of Meadow Lea and added 2 tablespoons of plain flour until a paste was formed over heat. I then added a cup of milk and stirred this until it thickened. To this sauce I added a half a cup of tasty cheese and salt to taste. (Doing this part from scratch also saved a trip to the shops - how often do we compromise with jars of store-bought sauces)?
I added the sauce to the tuna and vegetable dish, mixed well and topped with two sheets of puff pastry.
 My creation before and after:
I baked this pie at around 180 degrees for 30 minutes until the pastry was a good golden colour. 

My serve. The kids really enjoyed this take on the regular, cheese topped pasta. They really loved the pastry! 
I am now madly thinking up other pastry treats. I might try an apple pie and explore some other savoury ideas.
What do you make most in winter? Do you have a favourite pastry recipe? Please share a comment below (or recipe idea)!
Oh, and please tell me your pantry is in a worse state than mine!



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Friday, 21 June 2013

An Ectopic Pregnancy

I think life can be steered by a series of defining moments. I believe my choice to have many kids was directed by one of these.

I intended to have only two children. You can read a past post with more about that here.
I got the golden duo first; a girl and a boy. So many people were so happy for us. "Well done! Now you can stop!"
Surprisingly, when I had my planned quota of kids, I felt there were more to be had and strongly.
I remember my former employer calling me when my son was just 3 months old. He offered me my beloved job back. An attractive salary package and an exciting proposition. Really, it was what I had initially planned; have my two babies and return to the career. I remember hanging up the phone with the promise to think it over.

As the days passed and I held the new and warm sleeping body of my baby son close, I knew that an internal shift had changed me. I would not be able to go back to the old me. The career girl had changed clothes and lives.
I turned the offer down accordingly and strangely felt little remorse.
As the months ticked by, the thought of a third child began to stir in me. This was in part due to the intensity of attention I noticed the two kids received. I started to think they might become spoilt. Always receiving gifts, constant attention and expectations ladelled upon them. A third child might mix that up, add some chaos, change the dynamic...
My husband reluctantly agreed to go again. He was a little overcome in the early years, (as we both were) by the suddeness of the children. Such a change!
Here begins the tale of my ectopic pregnancy.
I remember pain. Strange pain. A swelling sensation in my abdomen and bleeding. I had already had my period so I knew I was not pregnant. Two weeks after that period (and a very normal one at that), I noticed a one kilo weight gain. I distinctly remember hanging the washing and smelling the bakery very strongly. We lived at the time, very close to a large supermarket and this is where the waft of donuts greeted me with a bang not normally so intense. I recall looking at myself in the mirror after the donuts experience and thinking 'could I be pregnant?' I was in two minds and very confused.

With all my pregnancies prior and since, I knew days before my period was even due that I was expecting: Rapid heart rate, deeper breathing and that familiar sense of not being 'alone' always came before the due time.
Excitement and fear in equal degrees sent me on a visit to my Doctor that evening. She confirmed on the spot that I was indeed pregnant. She also immediately expressed concern over the symptoms I was experiencing and advised me to visit the closest women's hospital that evening. In fact, she even called ahead to tell them to expect me.
I travelled to the hospital by tram that night, alone. My husband stayed home to look after our two children.
Upon arrival I was given an ultrasound scan which revealed a perfectly formed foetus of around 8 weeks gestation. The Doctor did not seem to be too concerned and thought everything seemed to be okay. She told me to return the next day for a second scan by an ultrasound technician skilled in these matters.
So home I went in the dark. My fears somewhat smoothed over by the black and white images I had seen of a baby I hadn't known I was carrying. The pain and bleeding continued into the night...
The next day began much the same as any other. I dropped my daughter at creche and caught another tram to the hospital with my toddler son, feeling confident I would be sent away with a happy diagnosis.

Instead, the ultrasound technician confirmed my worst nightmare. The pregnancy was ectopic. I was to have immediate surgery as my left fallopian tube had burst and I was bleeding internally.
I remember the shock of the news as the surgeons rushed to organise the next available operating suite.
The one thing that really stuck in my mind clearly at this time was the surgeon who spoke to me just as I was being wheeled into the operating theatre. He told me that it was an uncommon occurrence and that I had a 10% higher risk of a repeat ectopic. He also said there was nothing to stop me from becoming pregnant the next cycle - a suggestion I laughed at! "No way!"
My husband brought my two little babies to see me in hospital that night. Fearing for my fertility, I remember looking at the two of them and thinking 'am I only destined to have two children?' It just didn't seem right and I felt a deep sadness so many women know around these experiences.
Following my surgery I developed a severe infection in my throat (golden staph) which was far worse than any post-operative pain. I felt sad at the loss of my baby and went through the hormonal withdrawal of the pregnancy. I was in shock for about 10 days while I recovered and came to terms with the experience.

On the 10th day I awoke after a dream that I had walked from the rolling waves of the ocean and into the warmth of the full sun. I felt sensational! In my mind, the surgeon's words came back to me with strength - maybe I could conceive on my next cycle!
I returned to the hospital six weeks later for a post-op check up. The Doctor assigned to me that day picked through my responses to her questions with the usual military precision so prevalent in their profession. She scoffed at my strong sense that I was again expecting. I told her I had taken a pregnancy test that day and it was negative but it was very early. I was convinced I was despite her firm opposition. Apparently women who have experienced such a loss can sometimes desire a baby so much that they 'invent' a pregnancy.

Happily, I was pregnant - a 'positive' the day after my hospital follow-up! My tale had ended and life expanded with the conception of my third child, Joaquin. He was conceived just 36 days following my surgery! No complications following my ectopic experience. My gorgeous blond, blue-eyed boy...

Joaquin aged 8

 I was required to have a very early ultrasound scan with every subsequent pregnancy to detect whether my babies had implanted in my uterus. I did this just the once with Joaquin. All my subsequent babies following the ectopic had the strong familiar pregnancy symptoms in the days before a due period - excellent indicators that all was in good order. (HCG hormone levels in ectopic circumstances fail to rise in the correct levels which explains why my ectopic pregnancy went undetected by me).

All four children following my surgery were conceived first try. The loss of one fallopian tube was no further disadvantage to us. How fortunate we have been. I have met several women who, following my same experience, finished motherhood for fear of a repeat experience. Or even had repeat ectopic conceptions.
I believe my experience shifted my desire from two kids to the idea of a larger family. It was through this time where I learned to feel so blessed. The loss of one baby gave me four more as compensation.
Do other Mums feel a situation such as this changed their family plans? Have you experienced an ectopic pregnancy? Please feel free to share a comment below. 

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Winter Warmers - Choc Chunk Muffins

Another chocolaty treat from my home to yours!
These make great lunch box treats. My kids are naturally fans of these.
I love making them as they are very quick to whip up. Whenever the urge for cocoa arises, I bake a batch.
I usually make these on a Saturday or Sunday morning while the breakfast mess is about and the kids are in their pyjamas. I can then throw all the dishes in the dishwasher and clean up while they bake. They take about 2 minutes to make and you don't even need to use a beater! I've got to make good use of my time if I am to get ahead with this many kids!
They are particularly good straight from the oven. Lots of chocolate ooze.

Heat oven to 180 degrees C
To a bowl add:
2 cups of self-raising flour
3/4 of a cup of sugar
2-3 heaped tablespoons of cocoa (to taste)
1 egg
100 grams of melted butter or margarine (margarine gives a less salty taste I prefer)
1 cup of milk
1 packet of Nestle Choc Chips either Milk or White or a mix of both.
Mix all ingredients and add choc chips last.
Add the mixture to muffin cases and bake for 15-20 minutes.
The art to these muffins is to get them just right - crunchy shells with still-moist interiors.

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Monday, 17 June 2013

A Typical Day - Morning...Part One

How does my week begin with six kids?
I was planning to showcase a day in my life. This began with an attempt to photograph my routine on a typical weekday.
I didn't get very far however! The demands just kept rolling in and my camera couldn't keep up!
I decided it would be a work in progress!
Here's the first of many pictures on the topic, all taken on my iPhone 4s:

It's 6am. I have just entered the bathroom and thought to do a post on the subject of my typical day!
Here's me, before and after. This will be the only time I get to spend with myself until I return to the bathroom in the evening - enjoy it Momma!

6.20am. Time to make up 5 lunchboxes. The kids all have different requests (don't you just love it)!
If there's a mistake to be made in my day, now's the time. I try to colour code their lunchboxes so that I don't have to think too hard. I still mess up though. Thinking is such a hard task at this time of the day. (Thinking any time with a brood this size is difficult).
Before and after shots at the kitchen bench. I usually feel a little more relaxed when this essential part of the day is finished and safely tucked into school bags!

7am: Wake eldest daughter for high school and breastfeed my youngest.
Indiana helps out now by making the two youngest boys their breakfasts.
My pudding bubba!
7.25am: The first of my morning car trips arrives. Celeste is strapped into her car capsule and ready to do the rounds. She looks like a little dolly here and I always just want to stop the world and play with her about now!
Indiana is driven to the bus stop for high school.
While I do the bus stop drop, my boys do breakfast. Four boys in various moods usually push me to the limit every morning. Someone always puts on another's school uniform, spills milk, annoys someone else and so the list goes on... I clean like a maniac, tidy rooms, put on a load of washing and sweep floors. This is the exercise part - who needs a gym membership in a 2 storey house with six kids?!
Eventually 8.30am rolls around and it's car mayhem! Usually the fighting and messing around continues into the driveway before my buttons are pushed too many times.
Then they're nice and quiet for the drive to school!
I mentally plan my day while I drive in the blissful silence, punctuated by my verbal reminders; "Have you got your bags? Homework? Money?"

Joaquin and Ruben show off a normal morning's antics.
Part 2...coming as I can capture it!
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Friday, 14 June 2013

How to Choose and Pack a Nappy Bag...

I am often amazed at the Moms I see at shopping centres and supermarkets lugging massive baby bags about. Many look like they are headed for the international departure terminal rather than a straightforward shopping trip. I am not sure what these Moms are carting about but it sure looks uncomfortable, not to mention fascinating!

There's no need to take Junior's everything, everywhere. Unless of course you have more than one Junior. Even then, you can narrow down the list to the basics and save your back in the process.

So where to begin? The best place to start is with the bag itself. And I really love shopping for bags!

Choosing a nappy bag.

This is the fun part! So many styles. Some fun, some practical, some stylish and many fit the complete package. There's a huge price difference too. You will know your budget but you are bound to blow it here! Remember the bag you choose will effectively replace your handbag for the next 3 or so years. Don't skimp on quality. Chances are after the heavy workout it will receive, it will die a quick death if it wasn't too top-notch to begin with. You want a bag you will love for a very long time.

I have had many nappy bags over the years. In fact, you will most likely find, (just like the handbags many of us tend to covet and collect), you will buy and road-test several to begin with. A favourite will eventually rise above the others and you can foster out the others to the auction websites. Expect this as normal. It happens to many of us!

What to Look for:

Quality: Choose a well known brand. These are well known because many others before you have tried, tested and loved them. Trust the power here first and foremost.

Size: Take your build and health into consideration when choosing. If you are petite, your bag needs to be too. Do you have a bad back or ailment? Will it be aggravated by a heavy bag? Look for comfort suited to you and not because it is the most popular or current style.

Colour / pattern: Do you have a favourite colour? Look for a bag that will complement your wardrobe. Choose fabrics and patterns which will slip right along with your favourite clothing. Consider materials too. If the bag has plastic handles, these will die quickly. Look for strong nylons, canvas, leather or woven / seatbelt style straps which are strong and reinforced. Maybe you want a colour to reflect the sex of your baby? Personally, I avoid styles with popular children's icons emblazoned on them. If you happen to be out without your baby and just your bag, they can be a little embarrassing!

Style: Think about your current favourite handbag. Is it a favourite because it is a backpack? It is a messenger? It is a clutch? Your nappy bag is effectively your new handbag and whatever you are currently loving will be equally loved in the nappy bag style and pretty much for the same reasons.

Practicality: Once you have chosen the style you love as outlined above, find the best offered in that option. If it is a backpack you love most, does it have a short handle for easy carrying? A longer strap which can hang over a pram? Easy opening pockets which are also secure? (Life with your bag will mostly be one-handed when baby is born so keep ease of access in mind). Does it have essential inclusions such as a bottle holder, change mat and wipes container? A key clip is a very useful addition to a bag too.

Price: Plan to have a price you are happy to part with and be prepared to double it! We're women after all! If you spend too little and your choice falls apart in 6 months, you will spend many more dollars searching for a replacement several times. In the long run this could work out to be more than you had planned to part with in the first place.

Hunting down your ideal bag is a lot of fun. You can save yourself a lot of time searching online. Bags for Moms are available everywhere from budget department stores like Target and K Mart right through to Myer and beyond. Auction sites are brilliant for grabbing pre-loved bags. Many Moms are gifted several baby bags and part with their excesses here. Often they are brand new and never used but much cheaper than the stores. If you have a brand in mind, you can visit their website directly and browse their range and source it from there. Finally, visit a craft website such as Made It or Etsy and choose a beautiful style from the many talented craftspeople there. Happy shopping!

You've already found your ideal bag? What to pack? Save your back and keep it simple! 
For the record, my ideal bag is the Sashay Satchel by Petunia Pickle Bottom. I have several different Petunia bags. I love them. They are beautiful to look at, exceptionally well made and tick all my boxes for practicality. (I am in no way affiliated with this brand, I simply adore their products). You can see the full range here. You can purchase their bags online in Australia here.
Miss Celeste's got style! She loves my Petunia Pickle Bottom Sashay Satchel in Marigold Medallions. The bright colours make her think it's a toy!
Lots of pockets including outside ones to keep your things separate from baby's.

The handbag that converts to a backpack! Just pull the straps from their own pocket and clip them on when you need to rush.

Bright, roomy interior. No losing things in this bag. Heaps of useful pockets and secure places.

In mine:
1) The bag with attached key clip. (Make it a feature to look for).
2) Matching change mat and
(3) included wipes case.
4) Petunia Pickle Bottom breastfeeding cover-up. Small, soft and very portable in its own case.
5) A hand towel. Absolutely essential and can double as so many things. My baby has severe reflux so this is a must have!
6) Nappies. I carry 3 always. The perfect number for out and about.
7) A waterproof carry sack. Useful for carrying old dirty clothing, utensils, wet things etc. This one is washable and has a zipper and handle. I am so grateful for it with Missy Puke!
8) A bib supply. Again I carry in 3's.
9) One complete outfit. Always carry a long sleeved onesie. They are perfect for whatever the weather.
10) Booties, Bandaids, breast pads and baby toy!

My stuff. Besides my wallet and phone:
1) A hair comb for whoever needs cleaning up!
2) Diary and pen.
3) Hand cream. I don't go anywhere without it! I am prone to dry skin and babies make it worse with all that hand washing.
4) My Lanolips coloured lip balm. Absolutely the best on the market and superior to lipstick in so many ways.
All packed in and ready to go. Surprisingly roomy and lightweight.
Plenty of room remaining for bottles, feeding equipment etc.

My secret to a lightweight nappy bag...this extra nappy bag tucked away in my car!
Petunia Pickle Bottom in Tea On The Thames.
This one's loaded with spare nappies, bibs and hand towels!

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Two Little Minutes Frozen In Time...

Ever noticed one of your child's strewn-about toys and seen the art or humour in it?
This week I was struck by the above image.
As I grumbled about the house, forever cleaning it, I discovered this little treasure in the bathroom sink.
This tiny Sesame Street bath toy has been through all the kids.
Here he was bumping about the plughole, not a bubble or child in sight!
Discarded after a momentary play time in favour of something different.
He sure did brighten up my moment though.

Taite (aged 5). This bedroom had already been messed and cleaned twice when I discovered this scene on Saturday morning. He had decided a particular toy was under his bed and went fossicking.
A sweet image laden with childhood freedom.
No adult could ever get under that bed!

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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Winter Time Caramel Slice

OOOH Yeah!
Winter is here and short days, cold weather and comfort foods are upon us!
Satiate weakened emotions and widened appetites with this sugar fix perfectly geared to the season;
Caramel Slice.
The ideal treat for weekends. Serve it with frothy hot chocolates for a guaranteed sugar rush.
When I bake this, my kids tell me they love me.
So honoured! They associate sugar with love.
I love sugar too!
This is my own recipe. I have experimented to make it as low fat as possible without compromising on the sugary bang one expects from such a food. This slice is really easy to make which ensures you will keep coming back for more!
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of desiccated coconut
100gm of margarine, melted
1 tin (395gm) Nestle 99% fat free condensed milk
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
1 cup of Nestle milk chocolate melts 
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
Line a slice tin with baking paper.
In a bowl mix the flour, sugar, coconut and margarine.
Press into the lined tin. Make sure your lining comes up higher than the edges for easy removal later.
Bake this base for 10 mins until lightly golden.
To a saucepan add:

Heat this gently with frequent stirring until a thick custard is formed.

Spread this custard over your baked base and return to the oven for a further 8-10 mins.
It should be golden but not too brown. Keep an eye on this as sugar heats quickly.
Don't be concerned if it bubbles and boils in the oven. When it cools it will be surprisingly flat.

When cooled, melt your chocolate melts and spread on top of the first two layers.
When completely cooled, refrigerate a few hours or overnight and slice to desired portions.

Have you got a favourite winter family treat? Please share a comment below!

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Saturday, 8 June 2013

This Moment...

I captured this moment. Quiet time together. My boys playing sweetly.
The younger two listen to the directions of the older. Attentive.
I slipped my camera through the door to photograph this. They were unaware.
It is a moment frozen in time which I want to cherish.
...Quiet smiles to myself and a full heart.

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Monday, 3 June 2013

Errors, Failures and Mishaps

My chronic fatigue carried over from the week before brought with it no favours this week. There have been mishaps, errors and failures.

Major appliance meltdowns.
1) My newish washing machine was recalled. A letter arrived alerting me to a fire hazard previously and blissfully unknown. Wording was 'use caution but still use it.'  ?
In other words, I can still use it, but only if I am home to watch it and burn to the ground with it.
2) My hideously expensive designer vacuum no longer sucks like magic. It just plain sucks! After 10 years of superb performance, I can no longer tolerate the endless to and fro on the same piece of carpet gunk. Unmoving. Still there. Or if I am lucky, just pushed along the floor out of sight a little.
3) My oven. This broke down some two plus months ago. Quickly I organised a tradesman to assess the damage and repair it for me. A week I was told would be the turnaround time. Well? Where are you 9 weeks later? What Mom of six survives without this essential?! I caution you to not buy Italian appliances when you live in Australia for Italy is a very, very long way away!

1) We live a substantial distance from the bus stop where my daughter catches her transport to school.
Tuesday morning I fly out the door in semi-darkness with hungry infant in tow and said daughter to drop her off expecting the usual outcome; she will be driven to school on the bus.
40 mins later she calls to say the bus never came. 
Problem here is her high school is a mere 50 minute return trip by car. As she is in an accelerated learning program, she cannot afford to miss classes. Full of fury and frustration, (daughter sobbing quietly in the back seat, five year old bouncing and still hungry infant), off we went for a school trip that drained my car of a quarter of a tank of petrol and me of my sanity.
Naturally, an email from school when I return home informs me that a replacement bus was sent rendering my journey pointless.
2) Kinder had a planned cancellation day for teacher training. Upon collecting my daughter on bus failure day, I notice diligent moms ushering their offspring into kinder. Turns out the day was changed. How is it I was the only mom to not receive the news? 
3) Five year old throws hissy fit as he is not attending kinder with his buddies and Mom is too worn out to go home, organise his things and drive him back there.

I bumped my head really hard while cleaning upstairs. This was because I was just so tired from the week from Hell. My breastfeeding induced amnesia / exhaustion has returned full swing after this messy, less than perfect week. Hopefully by the time I have published this post, my weekend has brought some mercy with it!
P.S Update! Oven repairman came! $650 later I can use it again. 

I did manage to find some joy in my week, even if it was in the form of comfort foods. I must say I really enjoyed my sponge cake featured in an earlier post this week. So much so in fact that I baked a second one on Thursday due to popular demand. Ate most of it myself too!

And now, my week in pictures:

I found these massive toadstools by the roadside. These were the size of dinner plates!
They became my 'happy place' as I rode through the week's up and downs.
Thank you big mushrooms!

Pop Tarts. My new nursing food craving sensation.
I quit chocolate 6 weeks ago as I was holding onto my post-baby weight despite nursing.
I am pleased to report a 1kg loss this week.
Thank you Pop Tarts!
(Interested to hear if any other readers had these cravings while nursing)?
Please leave a comment below!
Buy Pop Tarts and other sugary American treats in Australia here

My washing. This was just one day pictured! Eight people generate so much of it.
I just had to take the above picture with that sensational 'depth of field!'
Tip: If you live in a home with stairs like we do, put your folded washing on each step; a step for each person. Then, when it's time to actually go upstairs for a real reason, grab a bundle and put it away. Or better still, get each person to take their own. (Not the littlies though - they just drop theirs)!

Ahh, a trip to the hair salon! Had to take this reflection pic as Celeste just looked so cute on my lap!

Some well-deserved retail therapy. I bought these chandeliers for a song here
What did your week look like?

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