Vegan Get-Well Muffins

It’s well and truly winter in the Blue Mountains, and our whole family has been struck with the flu the last couple of weeks. First me, then Miss M, then Mark, and finally Mr. A fell ill as well. It sure sucks to be sick, but I count it lucky that by the time my little ones came down with a fever, I was reasonably recovered enough to look after them.

Today I felt even better, so I made these healthy muffins as a treat for my kids. For days, they have been just managing with milk, strawberries, and ice cream. It’s time I try to get them to eat something a little more food-like, I thought. These muffins are full of wholesome goodness, and accidentally vegan to boot. Well, I just couldn’t find any eggs in the fridge, so I went without, and they still came out wonderfully. 

Vegan fruit and veggie muffins

I threw all the ingredients together without following a recipe, but noted the amounts just in case the muffins came out well and I wanted to make them again. And they did! So, lucky for you and me, I have a winning recipe to share.

Ingredients

1/2 cup apple sauce (cooked and pureed apples with a tiny bit of sugar)

1/2 large carrot, grated

1/2 large ripe banana, mashed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour

2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

How to make

1) Melt coconut oil in a small pan with olive oil.

2) Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix grated carrots, apple sauce, mashed banana, maple syrup, and melted oils together. Add the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and gently mix the whole thing together.

3) spoon the mixture into silicon moulds or paper muffin moulds. Top with slices of strawberries and bananas for decoration. 

4) Bake at 200C until baked – about 20 minutes or so.

This recipe makes about 9 small muffins. The cute silicon moulds are from IKEA. These muffins are not very sweet, but just sweet enough to feel like a special treat – or so I hope.

Enjoy!

Vegan fruit and veggie muffins

 

Easter Hats

Two months ago, we sold our house in Sydney and moved to a semi-country area called the Blue Mountains. We love it here. The air is fresh and clean. The traffic is non-existent. Our new house in a bushy area is incredibly peaceful. But the move meant our kids would attend a new school – a public school. Having only experienced Steiner schools before, the new school has been as much a culture shock to me as to the kids.

For one, this school has a lot of events – and I mean a lot. Every week there is something new. Crazy hair day, cake stand sales, snake education (yes there are snakes around here), excursions, and Harmony Day dress-up. It’s hard to keep up, and I admit, I’ve failed to prepare the kids for a few of these events, much to their dismay and embarrassment.

So when the school sent us a note that we needed to “make” special hats for our kids for the Easter Parade (and oh by the way, could you also contribute cakes for the cake stand?), I saw this as an opportunity to redeem myself as a Committed Parent.

I consulted my children about the designs of their Eater hats. My 5-year-old son immediately requested a “pirate bunny” hat. My 7-year-old daughter didn’t have any ideas. So I thought I’d make her something bright and rainbow-y, because she likes rainbows. I got this Japanese hat-making book out (“Oshaberina Boshi” – or “Chatty Hats” by Yumiko Itoyama), and got to work.

Japanese hat-making book - Oshaberina Boshii

For the pirate hat, I modified this brimless hat pattern.

Japanese hat-making book - Oshaberina Boshii

I used black canvas for the hat, and dark blue canvas for the lining. I modified the pattern to make the sides wider, to make it resemble a pirate hat. Then I painted a skull-and-swords pirate symbol on a piece of fabric (yes you can laugh at my feeble attempt)…

pirate bunny Easter hat in progress

…and attached it onto the finished hat with fusible web. Lastly I made a tiny eye-patch for a store-bought bunny doll, and pinned it to the hat. Finished!

pirate bunny Easter hat finished

For my daughter’s rainbow hat, I decided on this tulip hat pattern.

Japanese craft book Oshaberina Boshi tulip hat

I used six different Kona cotton colors in pastel shades.

tulip rainbow hat in progress

Then I pinned some store-bought pastel eggs at the top for the finishing touch.  

Rainbow Easter hat finished

I was very pleased how these hats came out. And the kids seemed happy as well!

 

 

pirate bunny and rainbow Easter hats

I didn’t forget to make carrot cupcakes for the cake stand, either. 

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese icing

The Easter Parade was so much fun to watch. It wasn’t quite what I expected though, because other kids had truly crazy and bright-colored hats, which looked like they were made by the kids, not the parents. The black pirate hat especially looked demure and tame among the ocean of colors….

School easter hat parade

But it doesn’t matter! Because for once I felt like a Committed Parent on top of a school event. And my kids were happy to wear the hats I made, sing happy Easter songs with their classmates, and eat yummy cakes for lunch – though maybe not necessarily in that order.

I hope you all had a happy Easter weekend!

Snack Sleeve

I’ve been having so much fun making things for the Facebook auction market. There is something about creating for a specific audience – my lovely Facebook friends and supporters – that is particularly motivating and exciting. I love coming up with products I think they’d appreciate. Like these insulated snack sleeves.

Snack sleeve by Piggledee - green cats OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Several people in the past have suggested that I make either smaller insulated lunch bags, or insulated version of snack bags. So I made something that’s in between the two – it’s a very versatile size!

Piggledee snack sleeve inside view

These snack sleeves are a little bigger than a typical sandwich bag, and has a flat bottom. It’s a perfect size for a tab of yoghurt and a piece of fruit, OR a smallish container of lunch or snack. I recommend using a mini-sized reusable ice pack to keep the content nice and cool.

Piggledee snack sleeve inside view

This round container with a blue lid is from Ikea – the shallow one, not the deep one. I love these, and use them all the time for our kids’ school lunch box. The snack sleeve also fits other types of small containers. Fill it with cheese sticks, yoghurt, slices of cake, chocolate… or any other snacks that are best served cold. The ice pack and the insulation material should keep the content cool for a few hours.

I used a layer of Insul Bright inside for the insulation effect. The lining is PUL, using the non-coated side on the outside. I used PUL just because I was running out of coated nylon, but I do like the soft hand of PUL – with the non-coated side facing, it almost feels like normal cotton fabric, but with water-resistant effect. Even though the non-coated side is supposedly safer with food, as opposed to the coated side, I’d still avoid putting food directly in contact with the lining. It’s safer to use a container or a wrap around food, before storing it in the snack sleeve. 

Here are some of the cute fabrics I used for children.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Piggledee snack sleeves for children

And for grownups, or for older children, isn’t this mushroom fabric lovely? 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Piggledee snack sleeves with mushroom fabric

I hope to see you at the auction! You can visit my auction album here.

 

 

New and improved sandwich bags

Sandwich bags are one of those seemingly simple products that are, in fact, troublesome to make. Well, technically it’s not difficult to make of course. It’s just difficult to come up with the perfect design – at least for me it was. In the past I have made a zippered version like this…

Zippered sandwich bag - pink elephant

and a simple velcro version with velcro tabs at the top of the bag (the one on the right)…

Velcro-top sandwich bag - Cats

and a flap version with a single fabric like this.

Flap sandwich bag - hippos

But none of them was truly satisfactory to me. Why? Well, here are my “pros and cons” comparison notes.

Zippered Version

Pros: Neat-looking design. Food bits don’t get stuck in the velcro. Easy to maintain and wash. Probably lasts longer than velcro ones. A versatile pouch, because it’s great as snack bags (muffins, crackers, etc). Also can be used as a small wet bag, for wipes, makeup, crayons, and so on.

Cons: Fiddly to get a sandwich in and out of the bag because the zipper doesn’t open to the full width of the bag. If the zipper width is wide enough, then it’s too wide inside the bag, and the sandwich swims in it. Zipper can be fiddly to use for toddlers.

Velcro-Top Version

Pros: Nice simple design. Easy for children to use. Sandwich fits in snugly and securely.

Cons: Food can get stuck in the velcro while putting a sandwich in and out. Fluff sticks to velcro in the wash. Stitch lines for sewing the velcro shows through – not a very elegant finish.

Velcro-on-Flap Version 1

Pros: Flaps are cute. Food doesn’t get caught in the velcro as much, because the sandwich doesn’t have to touch the velcro strips while packing and unpacking. Sandwich fits in snugly and securely. Velcro is easier for kids to use.

Cons: The one-fabric design only works with non-directional prints – meaning, fabrics that have no upside and downside. The flap section was small, and it took some force to rip the velcro open. The stitch marks around the velcro strips can be really noticeable. And then there is the issue of washing velcro, and a possibly short lifespan of velcro products.

New!! Velcro-on-Flap Version 2

Version 2 of flap-style sandwich bags

So this is my latest sandwich bag. Is this the “perfect” sandwich bag I was seeking? I think it’s very close. Here’s the “pros and cons” assessment:

Pros: I love that I can slide a sandwich in and out of the bag smoothly, without worrying about food getting caught in the zipper or velcro tab. The sandwich sits in the bag snugly and securely – not as snugly as with a sandwich wrap, but close.

I also love the two-fabric design. It allows me to use rather special fabrics for the small flap section, while keeping the cost down somewhat by using plain cotton linen canvas fabric. I can also use directional prints this way, because the print is used only for the flap bit.

The flap section is larger than the first flap version, which adds to the cuteness factor. More importantly, the large flap allows an extra-wide space between the edge of the flap and the velcro strips. You can grab onto this bit of fabric to open the velcro easily – very child friendly.

Version 2 of flap-style sandwich bags - view with the flap open

If I use busy prints for the flap section, the stitch lines for the velcro are not noticeable. Pretty elegant looking overall.

New sandwich bag - closeup of the flap

Cons: The only cons here are the inherent problems associated with velcro – tricky to keep clean and wash, and the lifespan may not be terribly long. Of course, if the velcro stops sticking after a couple of years, it’s easy to replace them – so I hope people will not throw these pretty bags away!

Version 2 of flap-style sandwich bags - Liberty Hello Kitty bags

How adorable are these Liberty Hello Kitty sandwich bags? They are so pretty, in fact, that you can use them for other things like pens and crayons (the waterproof nylon lining comes in handy here). If I attach a shoulder strap, it’ll be such a cute little girl’s bag, too, don’t you think?

These sandwich bags will be available at my upcoming Facebook market day, and will be listed on Etsy later on.

New sandwich bag lineup

 

Holiday!

Happy new year, everyone! I had a wonderful holiday break, going on a two-week camping road trip to Adelaide with my family. Well, we actually only camped for three nights, and stayed at my mother’s house in Adelaide mostly, but still.

It was our first time camping with our little ones, and was slightly apprehensive about it. But we need not have worried. They absolutely loved sleeping in a tent.

 

photo of the kids in a tent
We took three days to drive from Sydney to Adelaide. The scenery in rural Australia was just like this for 99% of the trip.
view from a car window in rural Australia
We packed our days in Adelaide with activities every day.  Cherry picking in Adelaide Hills….
cherry picking in Adelaide Hills
and apricot picking in my mother’s backyard.
apricots from my mother's backyard
We went to the beach a lot…..
seaweed picking in Adelaide
and fed farm animals at the fantastic Farm Barn in Hahndorf.
feeding a lamb at Farm Barn
The Central Market is amazing. If I lived in Adelaide, I’d be here all the time.
Central Market in Adelaide
 I didn’t do any sewing for two weeks (and didn’t even miss it). But I made lots of jam.
homemade apricot and cherry jam
On our way back to Sydney, the temperature soared to over 40 degrees. We chilled in the Murray River…. and gave up camping and sought air-conditioned accommodations instead.
swimming in Murray River
If I had to pick one favorite moment from the trip though, it would be watching the sunset into the ocean on New Year’s Eve. Bye-bye, 2012!
Sunset on New Year's Eve 2012

Zakka sewing class no. 3

 

This month at our zakka sewing group meeting, we made cushion covers with zippers.  Vicky from the accidental crafter blog has graciously agreed to teach the class this time — so I didn’t have to do anything.  Well I cleaned the house a little,  and made a pound cake.  But that’s about it.

third zakka sewing class - everyone working at a small dining table

 

My dining table was just big enough to accommodate all the keen sewers, who by the way are no longer beginners.  I think everyone had a great time.  

Here are the lovely cushions everyone made.

cushions everyone made at the August zakka sewing meeting

Vicky has also made yummy muffins. She is super talented at everything.  

Blueberry muffins Vicky made

Vicky’s tutorial for the cushion cover is posted on her blog here – so you can make one, too!  Thanks so much, Vicky, for doing all the work, while suffering from a bad cold. I’ll make it up to you next time….  

And next month, we are making a drawstring tote bag.    

 

 

Mealtime accessories

I’ve been shopping around for a perfect fabric for making child-sized placemat and napkins.  Then this week I found it, right in my own sewing room among a pile of fabrics I hadn’t used before — 55% linen, 45% cotton dotty fabric with the most gorgeous texture and colors, from Japan of course.  Its simplicity is just right for mealtime (where the principal player should be the food, not accessories), and the large dots and pretty colors add a touch of cuteness for child appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is admittedly a rather pricey fabric.  A luxury fabric I would say.  You’ll just have to touch it to see what I mean.  Is it a little bit of an overkill to use such fabric for children, who may not be so discerning at the age of 2 or even 4?  Well… of course not!  Not because the little ones deserve the best, etc.  But because beautiful children’s items are not just for them, but for the parents as well.

Like when I was using drops of lavender essential oils in Miss M’s bath when she was a baby, hoping that the scent will relax and sooth her nerves.  I had no idea it did or not, but it certainly soothed my nerves and calmed me down at the end of a long day.

In my household, mealtime can be quite stressful.  Particularly dinnertime after daycare or preschool, involving super-tired and cranky children, feels like walking through a mine field.  Make one wrong move and boom! goes off the tantrum button.  “I don’t LIKE tomatoes, mommy!” “I want MILK, not water!” And so on.

Having a pretty table setting doesn’t solve all my mealtime problems, but it helps.  I love looking at pretty fabrics at the most stressful of times.  It soothes me.  And my children seem to love having their child-sized placemats and matching napkins.  I think a little touch like that makes them feel a little special.  Like I said before, kids do appreciate a little presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the napkins, I used soft and lightweight organic cotton / hemp fabric.  I used organic cotton / hemp canvas for the placemat backing.  Again, top-quality fabrics… but oh well, happiness is all in the details, don’t you think?


8 ideas on living (relatively) cheaply on organic food

So I’ve been getting weekly boxes of organic fruit and veggies, cooking healthy meals pretty much every day, and even making my own yoghurt and baking bread on a regular basis. Naturally I’ve been giving myself a big pat on the shoulder! How long will this eco/hippy/domestic goddess-dom last? Hard to tell… Actually, now that the dreaded school holiday is upon us again, I can see myself completely dropping the ball at some point over the next three weeks.

Whenever I enthuse about organic food, however, the number one response I get from people — even like-minded people — is that organic produce is too expensive. Well, that’s fair enough. It is more expensive. But in my recent bout of reading, I came across two compelling arguments about it that I wanted to share:

One – organic produce may be expensive up front, but conventional produce has a lot higher “hidden” cost you pay with your tax dollars. For instance, the cost of treating people falling illl from pesticide use, including a lot of farmers who become sick from being in contact with all that poison. (From  Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe)  Two – when you pay higher price for organic produce, you are using your voting power, with your money, to support sustainable, ethical farming over conventional. Much like donating money to your favourite charity, each time you buy local and organic, you are supporting that local farmer who might otherwise be taken over by a huge agricultural corporation who values profit over food safety. (From No Impact Man by Colin Beavan)

I think these are quite convincing arguments for shelling out money for local, organic produce. Don’t you?

But if you are still not persuaded, here are some of my suggestions for eating organic on the cheap side (in no particular order). What I mean is, eating organic food does not have to be expensive at all.

(1) Give up meat. We used to buy organic chicken, which is ridiculously expensive. After we gave up meat and became semi-vegetarian (we eat occasional seafood), our grocery bill got much more bearable. And you know what, fresh organic vegetables taste so much better than conventional ones, I bet you won’t miss meat all that much. A simple meal of vegetable stew like ratatouille tastes divine, full-flavoured, and it makes you swoon in happiness rather than poke around the dish in search of “point of interest” (as Mark would say, referring to meat or cheese).

I nearly shed tears when I saw my son eating organic broccoli for the first time, and asking for more – It was just plain, steamed broccoli with no sauce or salt. This is the boy who used to meticulously remove anything green from his dinner plate. Really, organic broccoli tastes that good.

(2) Use all vegetable scraps – With cheap conventional food, it is easy to forget about what you have in your fridge, buy more than you need, and let some food spoil. When you buy more expensive organic food, you’ll naturally cherish every bit of it like gold, so you’ll waste less food. No need to peel those carrots, too, because it’s pesticide-free. You can use the green parts of leek for making delicious vegetable stock. If you use up everything, you’ll naturally have to buy less to begin with.

(3) Bake your own bread – Organic bread is expensive. I used to spend $8 for a small loaf of organic bread that came in a plastic bag, and sometimes it wasn’t even fresh. Ouch. So now I make an effort to bake bread every 2-3 days. It’s quite easy once you get in the habit of it. It is nice to have a stand mixer or food processor (which can also knead bread for you), but you can knead by hand. Or there are “no-knead” bread recipes if you look around, which involves the dough sitting around for a long time, developing flavour. I posted a simple wholemeal bread recipe before, but investing in a good bread book or two (and maybe even a Kitchenaid mixer!) is a good idea. Now, with organic bread flour bought in bulk, a large loaf of organic bread costs me less than $2.

(4) Buy in bulk – By bulk, I don’t mean Costco-like gigantic portions. Even in smaller amounts, “bulk” is cheaper. I buy organic bread flour in a 12kg bag, which reduces the cost to about $2.5/kg — whereas if you buy a 1kg plain organic flour in supermarkets, it costs like $4/kg.

(5) Make your own yoghurt (and fresh cheese, etc) – I know, it sounds suspiciously like a hippy thing to do, but home-made yoghurt is wonderful. Just buy a small container of commercial yoghurt with live culture. Heat up a litre of organic milk till it nearly boils, then let it cool down to about 45 degrees (so it’s not too hot to stick your finger in). Mix in a tablespoon of yoghurt in it and stir (but don’t worry about little chunks of yoghurt undissolved), pour it in a clean jar with a tight lid, and keep it warm for about 6-10 hours. I wrap my yoghurt jar in a blanket and keep in in a warm spot in our house. And it costs… a mere $2.5 per a litre of organic yoghurt, as opposed to $6.50 or more that I used to buy in plastic containers!

(6) Avoid takeaways – Needless to say, eating out or takeaway is expensive. If you reduce these expenses, you’ll naturally have more budget to spend on organic produce. Again, home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple recipes are really the best if you have fresh organic produce.

(7) Use inexpensive ingredients – Not all organic produce is expensive. Potatoes, pumpkins and carrots are relatively affordable. Dried beans are very affordable, even though sadly for me, organic rice is too expensive to buy. You can buy organic pasta in major Australian supermarkets, and they are quite affordable. Using these ingredients, you can make delicious and filling soups, dips, etc, that do not hurt your wallet.

(8) Grow your own vegetables – I can’t say my backyard farming is anything to be proud of… yet… but it does save a lot of money just having a few spring onions, lettuce, and herbs growing out there. Instead of buying a head of lettuce, using half and throwing the rest away when it gets too old in the fridge, you can pluck a few leaves at a time from your kitchen garden as you need it. Same with herbs. They may not be certified organic, but when you use organic potting mix and fertilizers, you know it’s safe. You can buy organic seedlings or seeds as well.

Well, I was going to try to make it to number 10 but I ran out of ideas. I’ll add more later if I think of anything else. I think I will also write a separate post on cooking vegetarian meals for your kids. Meanwhile, happy organic eating!

 

Organic food delivery

Ever since we moved to a suburb far away from my favourite organic market, we’ve been slack about eating organic food. I still try to find organic produce in supermarkets, but here in Sydney, they are limited to basics like carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and if I’m lucky, apples.  So for everything else we’ve been buying conventional, including strawberries – which I knew had a lot of pesticides on them, but my kids love them so much, and organic ones are so expensive and almost impossible to find.

Then I started reading this book called Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, by Anna Lappe. Lappe makes a case for local, organic, sustainable food – in a non-dogmatic, doable way. She reminded me how conventional fruit and vegetables are laden with chemicals, especially for fragile items like strawberries, and that children are especially vulnerable to them (higher residue of chemicals found in children’s bodies compared to adults’, etc). Ugh. I’ve been bad. No more conventional strawberries for us!

Eating fresh local food is also best, Lappe argues, because by the time produce arrives from farms thousands of miles away, they are practially wilting, and their nutritional value has greatly diminished. I actually didn’t know about this diminished nutritional value thing. Well, now I know it’s no good eating old, dying food I find at the back of my fridge.

So yesterday, we received our first boxes of fresh organic food delivered to our doorstep (from Doorstep Organics).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The veggie box. They look fresh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the fruit box – sadly no strawberries, but still such a great variety. Look, a pineapple! I hope it didn’t come from Hawaii or anything. I need to check… I’ve eaten mandarins, kiwis and pears so far, and they were amazing. Organic food does taste better, no question.

It was a happy day to have so much freshness coming to our doorstep. Now I have to try hard not to let these precious fruit and vegetables go old and wilty in the back of the fridge….

Mini vegetable fritters

It took me a while to realize that my children, like us adults, enjoyed a bit of presentation with food. When making things to entice my picky eaters, it wasn’t quite enough to make a delicious dish – it helps to present it nicely, too. Like these yummy, nutritious, baby-sized veggie fritters.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I make these veggie fritters all the time. They are easy and you can pack all the veggies in one bite. They are perfect for daycare / preschool lunch.  You can put it together from pantry and fridge staples, so it’s great when you don’t have anything interesting in the fridge. The fritter has always been a hit with my kids, but of late, I noticed that they are getting a little bored…

Time to spruce up the presentation – same old fritters, but this time in baby size! Accompanied by steamed carrot flowers! Sour cream quenelle, and a bit of dill for the finishing touch! Sometimes I enjoy reliving my student days at Le Cordon Bleu. Miss M’s eyes suddenly sparkle with joy – “Is this for me?” She carefully carries the plate to the dining table and digs in.

Please don’t get me wrong, my kids don’t eat like this every day. I am no domestic goddess by any account. In fact, it’s particularly on days when I feel like my whole little castle is crumbling down – the house is in a terrible mess, my two uncontrollable devils are busy doing more damage to the house, and the laundry is piling up high…. that I start doing something a little time-consuming like this.

Don’t ask me why. Well, maybe it’s because when I feel overwhelmed and out of control, I like to do one little thing that I can control and do well – while totally giving up on other stuff. So I feel satisfied about at least that one thing.

Anyway, here’s a recipe for the fritters.

Veggie Fritters

1 medium sweet potato
1 medium carrot
1 zucchini
1/2 small onion
2 or 3 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, swiss, any yellow melty kind)

Grate the sweet potato, carrot, and zucchini. Finely chop onion. Or if you are lazy like me, shred everything in a food processor. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Heat oil in a frying pan – medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the fritter mix in the pan, shape into nice little rounds, and cook 4-5 minutes on each side.

You can use any veggies — corn, potato, mushroom, capsicum, etc. I like to use some sort of potato because it gives a nice structure. Sometimes I use curry powder or herbs like oregano and parsley for a different flavour.

Then go crazy with the presentation! Your kids will love it and thank you…. and it might well be the highlight of your day when everything else is going down the toilet.