Wednesday, 29 January 2014

gardening with kids?

Gardening with small children, it's impossible right? I used to think so too.

But it can be done, I promise. You don't have to be superwoman either. I'm just an ordinary, busy mum with 3 little ones at home. I'm not an expert gardener by any means, but I do have kitchen/veggie garden. That's my garden in the above picture. Want to know how I do it?

Well firstly, I try and keep it fun! I call my kids my big helpers when they come out with me. The baby sits in the pram while the others walk. Our garden is right near our house, so it's not a big deal to go there.

Also if you're a bit of a control freak, you're going to have to learn to let go. Yes it's hard. But I know you can do it.

Other things I do, in no particular order:

-  Use raised beds at their level. It's easy for them to see and reach everything.

 - Give them diggers/shovels. Allow designated "digging areas" where they are allowed to dig and areas that are "out of bounds".

- Give them the watering can. When I hose, I fill the watering can up (only 1/3 way up so they can lift it) and they can water to their heart's content!

- Let them help plant the bigger seeds, like corn, peas and beans. I dig a little trench for the seeds and show them how to plant the first few. They get a handful each to plant. They're never planted perfectly! If they're really terrible, I sometimes even them out a bit. Mostly I just thin later on.

- Plant exciting things for them to eat. We have strawberries all over the garden. They have to travel to the corners to go and find them! Also plenty of tasty, sensory herbs for them to pick along the way.

- Plant radishes and pak choy! Kids love fast results and these sprout in 4 days. They're exciting to grow and you'll be eating them in a few weeks. Kids always ask to plant carrots but they're oh-so-slow to grow. It seems like forever in kid years. Plant some radishes alongside the carrots and you'll have happy little gardeners.

- Have a shaded area and somewhere to sit near the garden for when they've had enough.

- Have another activity nearby, for when they want a break. We have the trampoline set up near the garden, so they can go for a jump, and then come back again. Sometimes we take their bikes/trikes.

- Let the children carry the harvest basket.

- Don't go out in the heat of the day. Mornings are best.

- Plant different coloured, exciting things. Kids are really visual. If something looks exciting, they're much more interested in growing it/eating it.

- Give them an important job to do! I always ask the kids to go and get me a particular herb. They learn quickly what's what and eat handfuls along the way.

- Put signs up in the beds identifying plants and teach them to read them as you go along.

- Give them a growing pot of their own. Kids love ownership. Let them choose what they'll plant in their pot and let them take care of it. Come harvest time they're usually ridiculously proud of themselves and want to eat every little bit!

 - Mini wheelbarrows are lots of fun. I fill it with weeds and get the kids to wheel it around to the compost heap and empty it. Sometimes they get to wheel veggies back to the house.

- Read fun books about gardening. There are plenty of good ones. We've read Jack And The Beanstalk hundreds of times! The kids love to fantasize about how big their plant might grow.

- Eat along the way. Don't wait to get inside. Stomachs are a huge motivator. The kids love nothing more than to eat a freshly picked pea, bean, carrot or radish. Outside taps make washing things as you go easy.

- Let the children give excess produce away. They're allowed to carry the bag of excess bounty to family and friends.

- Let them give guided tours to family and friends when they come to visit.

- Start with a small garden. It's tempting to plant everything when you first plant a garden. Resist the urge. Trust me!

- Learn to accept some losses. Toddlers love to pull things out. Distractions in the garden work wonders though. Keep 'em busy all the time!

- Accept gardening takes longer with children! Gardens happen in their own good time anyway.

 Most importantly, try and keep it fun for yourself. If kids see you are having fun and enjoying something, they are much more likely to enjoy it as well!

Teaching kids to grow their own food is one of the most satisfying things ever. Getting them involved is actually easier than you might think.

So do you garden with little kids? Do you have any tips you could add to the list or things you do to make things easier? I'd love to know!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

instant baby food

Just like that, my baby is eating solids. Where does the time go now, really?

This year is a crazy busy one for me, with lots of taxi-ing children around, so I've decided to try and be better organised to stay on top of things! And the latest thing to add to my "to do" list is baby food. I've always made my baby food, as I like them to have healthy fruits and veggies with no added extras, but spur-of-the-moment baby food making is not likely to happen in the next couple of months. Solution? Pre-make it and freeze! Easy, healthy and frugal, especially when I can find some of those veggies in my garden.

It really is so super simple. All I do is boil fruits and vegetables until tender. Put into the food processor with a little of the boiling liquid and puree until it's smooth. As my baby gets older,  I'll puree it less to keep some lumps. Then just freeze it in ice cube trays.

When I need a meal for bub, pull out as many cubes as they need. You can also mix and match cubes to create flavours your baby likes.  How about sweet potato/zucchini/carrot- yes please! Or pear/apple/peach? So many cool flavours you can make.

I carry the frozen cubes about in little microwavable containers so I can heat them up where ever I go (those things are everywhere now- even in the mother's rooms at the shopping centres). So I've got no excuses, my baby will be well fed!

Monday, 27 January 2014

a trip to the farm

Each week, we take a trip to the farm. Not just any old farm. My family's farm where I grew up.

It's the highlight of the kid's week. Just ask them!

They get to run about, visit with the animals, check the fruit on the trees, help their grandparents collect the eggs and do the farm chores. All the things I grew up doing as a kid before I moved away to the city. Sometimes they'll ride a horse or milk a cow. Or perhaps they'll chase the turkeys or feed a poddy lamb. You never quite know what the day will bring. It's always exciting though!

I had a pretty awesome childhood. My siblings and I were never bored. There's literally always something to do when you've got that much room to run about and that many animals and trees. We might have complained about the chores now and then (what kid doesn't?) But give up our horses? No way. We wouldn't have traded for anything.

When I was an adult living in the city all those years, I realised what a lucky kid I'd been. Also a little shocked at how different my upbringing had been. My family didn't have much money, but we had a rich childhood, filled with simple pleasures. Hundreds of trees to climb, horses to ride, cows to chase, fresh food from the garden to eat. We felt rich indeed.

It was those childhood memories that fuelled my determination to leave the city and the life we were leading there.

These days, I'm so grateful our move is giving my own children some of those same opportunities I had growing up. When I see them feeding the chooks or the lambs it fills me with joy. These hills, this farmland, they shaped who I am. They're in my bones. And I know they'll now be in my children's as well.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

what to do with roast lamb leftovers

Happy belated Australia Day to all my fellow Aussies! Tell me, did you have roast lamb like we did yesterday? Yummy. But if you're anything like us, there's a bone sitting in the fridge with meat still on it. Right? Don't you dare throw that bone out OK? It's got meals left in it yet!

I pulled our bone this morning to make a delicious curry that will feed us for lunch today and dinner tomorrow night. This curry makes the most of leftovers in the fridge. Things you might have overlooked or chucked out when you brought the new groceries in. No more. This curry, made from a few leftovers and some fresh greens we almost always have growing in the garden made enough to feed 8 people. That's 2 meals from 1 old bone. Right on!

Having a vegetable garden has really made me much more aware of the time, effort and cost that goes into growing food and it's made me more determined to waste less. Believe me, when you've put 6 months into growing a cabbage, you want to make the very most of it when it comes to eating time! I'm trying to have the same principles when it comes to my fridge. To waste less and therefore save more. Yes, save more.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one whose eyes started to water a little bit when they opened their last electricity bill. What is going on with those bills? Seriously.

So this is the year of more frugal living for us. As the cook in the family, I know there are many places we can tighten our belt a little bit. I have a theory that as long as we have a garden, we'll never go hungry. It's a matter of making sure that food in the garden is always coming into the house and being eaten. I'm trying to make our clunky old fridge a thing of beauty this year, full of healthy eats and a minimum of waste. Well that's the plan. Let's see if I can achieve it!

Leftover Curry


1 leftover lamb leg
1 onion
1 clove fresh garlic
5 cups chopped vegetables. I like to use a combination of some sad looking veggies potatoes/carrots/sweet potatoes etc at the bottom of the crisper with some fresh greens picked from the garden.
olive oil
2 tablespoons mild curry powder (or any curry powder/paste of your choosing)
3 cups lamb or beef stock
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon plain flour
handful of fresh herbs (I used coriander for this dish)

Here's how I do it:

Cut all the leftover meat off the roasted lamb leg. There's usually a lot more meat than you'd think left on a leg after you have a roast! Put the bones aside, keep them and boil them up to make excellent stock for another day! Cube the meat and vegetables. Dice the onion and garlic and fry off in a little olive oil. Add the curry powder and cook till fragrant. Add flour and sugar cook for 1 min then add, lamb, stock and veggies (all except the fresh greens and herbs). Cook till veggies are tender and sauce is thickened. This takes about 30-40 mins. A few minutes before serving, add your sliced fresh greens. Cook for 5 mins and add herbs right before serving. Serve up with some rice.
Cost: Minimal
Taste: Yummo!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

thai noodle garden salad

Is there anything better than "shopping" your garden when it comes to dinnertime? As awesome as growing stuff is, and it's pretty darned great, there's nothing better than picking something you grew yourself and eating it up! It's the number one perk of being a gardener, because veggies never taste so good as when they are picked and eaten straight away.

This salad came about because of what I found in my harvest basket this week. Some Asian greens, radishes, yellow capsicum/peppers, Thai basil and coriander. Hmm, what to make? Definitely another salad to add to our salads list!

Add to that a few things from the pantry and the fridge and you've got yourself a delicious summertime feast.

Thai Noodle Garden Salad

Salad ingredients:

Whatever Asian greens you can find in the garden- or something like
1/2 Wombok or 2 bunches pak choy
5 radishes
2 big carrots grated
Bunch Thai basil
Bunch coriander
1 capsicum
A couple of blocks of rice vermicelli
Squeeze of lime juice
Soy sauce
Sweet chilli sauce

Chicken ingredients:

Chicken breasts (we use free range) 1 small breast per person
Cashews (unsalted, roasted)
Peanuts (unsalted, roasted)
Garlic clove (homegrown if you're lucky!)
Dark soy sauce
Sweet chilli sauce (homemade if you're lucky!)
Ketchup manis

Here's what I do:

For the Salad

Boil some water and pour over the rice noodles. Allow to sit for a few minutes until the noodles are softened. Drain and allow to cool. The salad is made in the food processor so it's super quick!
Push carrots through the grater on food processor. Change the blade to the slicing blade and push through the rest of the salad ingredients. Pour out and mix through with the cooled rice noodles.
To dress the salad I mix a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, sweet chilli and lime juice and pour over the top, mixing through.

For the chicken

Blitz a large clove garlic in the food processor. Add a handful of cashews and a handful of peanuts. Process until the nuts are ground super fine. Add a couple of tablespoons of each sauce: sweet chilli, dark soy, ketchup manis. Coat the chicken in the nut mix and marinate for at least 15 mins. Cook in a hot wok or on a hot grill. Serve while still warm. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

are you a tosser or a repairer?

It's times like these I am grateful I can sew! I am up to my neck in school uniforms at the moment. Uniforms that need repairs. I am just entering the world of "school mum", and honestly it's a steep learning curve. There is so much to do and organise I'm wondering how I'm going to keep up with it all.

And my first big shock of all horrors: uniforms aren't cheap. Yes, yes, I can hear all of you already baptized school mums laughing at me now! I almost choked when I heard the price for a new pair of uniform-issue plain navy shorts.  

You cannot be serious? Surely they are not just made of polyester for that price? Gold lining perhaps? My little boy destroys clothes like no-one's business. How many of those stiff, polyester uniforms is he going to churn through in a year? I really shouldn't ask, because believe me, I don't really want to know the answer.

That's when I start to feel incredible grateful I can sew. When others toss things out thinking they are no good, I look at them and say, can I fix that? Hmm, some new elastic, a seam ripper and some new topstitching and they'll be looking super smart again!

Frugal or stingy? Unfortunately just plain necessary in my house. These school shorts are the most expensive in his whole wardrobe, but he wouldn't know the difference between them and cheapies! Everything is equally loved with dirt, ripped up on his bike or has chew marks (for the love of Pete why do boys chew things?) I cannot keep up with him and the clothes he goes through.

So if anyone needs me for the next few days I'll be the one buried in a sea of navy thread and worn out elastic.

Oh and if anyone has any tips on how to stop him chewing his Lego, despite missing his four front teeth, I'd be ever so grateful.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

you're growing that in what?!

A while back we rescued a sad, old gutter that had seen better days. Throw that gutter out? No way!
I'd been looking around the web, and seen some great ideas for growing strawberries in gutters, that I was dying to try out.

So we attached the old gutter to the side of the garden, filled it up with soil and you know what? I think that was our most successful strawberry bed last year. The slugs never seemed to find the strawberries up there. I love that the guttering cost us nothing to put into our garden except a little elbow grease and time. And it got me thinking about all the recycled things you can grow in. I've seen people growing in old water tanks, and tyres, all kinds of things really. It never fails to make me smile.

Then last year Rhonda over at Down to Earth linked to this story about a couple growing in all kinds of crazy recycled materials and well really that story just made my day.

I'm sure some of you are growing in some fantastic recycled materials. I'd so love to know what you've got going on in your gardens. What kinds of recycled things are you growing in? Even better, will you take a picture and show it to me? Make sure you leave a link in the comments so we can all go and admire your genius!

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Monday, 20 January 2014

a wander around my garden

Hey! Do you want to have a look around my garden today? Summer might not be our most exciting growing time, but there are still some cool things to look at!

Woah better watch out, there are bees working here.

Oh look, it's not so bad afterall, there are still some yummy things to eat! Better grab those tomatoes before my nemesis bowerbird lays his bright blue eyes on them.

Goodness, almost missed you there Mr Frog. Don't mind us, we're just having a sticky beak.

Oh dear, seems I missed picking that artichoke before he flowered. I was really looking forward to tasting him too. Good thing he's pretty, I guess.

Thanks for coming to visit! Would you like a goody bag when you go?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

a very big birthday cake

We had a birthday to go to on the weekend and that, of course, meant cake! And a big celebration, meant a big cake. Yum.

I was asked very nicely if I would bake the cake, and was given just a few key instructions.

1. Make it big.
2. Make it chocolate.
3. Did I mention make it very big? It has to feed a lot of people.

Righto. I can do that. One big cake coming up!

I think the kids thought Christmas had come again, when I pulled out the mixmaster. They hovered around those beaters like seagulls, just waiting to claim one loaded up with cake batter. Mine, mine, MINE!

This cake is essentially just two massive cakes, cut into 4 separate slices with cream, chocolate cream and strawberries layered in between. Perfect for when you need to feed loads of people! It's also pretty easy on the wallet because it doesn't use any fancy ingredients. Just make sure you've got lots of people to feed it to OK, because I'm not kidding when I say this cake is big.

A Very Big Chocolate Cake (to feed a crowd)


600 grams unsalted butter
3 cups water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
9 eggs
6 cups self raising flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
5.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups cocoa powder

Here's how I do it:

This makes a huge amount of batter, so you might need to separate it down into smaller amounts to fit into your mixer. If you mix in separate batches, just pour it all in a big pot at the end and mix well with a wooden spoon, before pouring into 2 cake tins.

Grease and line 2 round cake tins, 28cms wide. Heat oven (you need a moderate oven for this- mine cooks this perfectly at 180 degrees Celcius or 350F, but your oven might be different).

Sift all the dry ingredients together. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat in the mixer until it starts to change to a paler colour. Pour equal amounts into your 2 tins. Bake for roughly 1.5  hours or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre.

Allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes before turning out on a rack.

When cool, cut into four even layers. If they're not perfectly even, don't panic, no-one will notice!

Layer with cream and strawberries. I layered like this: First layer, vanilla cream, second layer, half the chocolate cream, strawberries on top of chocolate cream,  second half of chocolate cream on top of strawberries, third layer, vanilla cream, fourth layer, vanilla cream, topped with strawberries.

Vanilla cream

Whip 600 mls cream with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1 tablespoons sugar until it hold firm peaks.

Chocolate cream

Carefully whip 600 mls cream with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/4 cup sifted cocoa and 1/3 cup sugar. The cocoa makes this whip up really fast, so be careful not to over beat it, you don't want chocolate butter!

Friday, 17 January 2014

a kitchen garden in just 6 weeks

Garden 7 weeks after planting!
You know, I never would have believed how fast a vegetable garden could grow until we made ours. I might have even laughed at you if you told me I could have a real, proper garden in that amount of time! But those raised beds, well they are just genius. I'm well and truly a convert!

Don't believe me? Well check this out. I took pictures every week for the garden's first 2 months to keep track of its progress. We were amazed at how fast everything grew.

Week 0- Still adding organic compost.

Week 1- All planted. Mostly with seeds except for a few lettuce, eggplant and marigold seedlings.

Week 2- Look at those seeds sprouting!

Week 3- Yes! Almost all the seeds sprouted!

Week 4- Everything is starting grow fast now.

Week 5- Starting to harvest lettuce now.

Week 6- Harvesting lettuce, radishes and pak choy.

When we built the garden, I was thinking long term. I desperately wanted a garden, but honestly, was worried I'd be too busy to keep up with one. My 3 little kids keep my hands pretty full. If I was going to keep my sanity, it was time to get real about the type of garden I could maintain. Raised beds were definitely the way to go. They meant no ploughing soil and they're really low maintenance. By mulching down between them, the weeds are easily kept out. They're also brilliant for drainage, which is one of our biggest issues, especially when we get flood rains.

Our garden was made with some of the cheapest raised beds available on the market. We had a hard budget for the beds and have added more to the garden over time as we could afford to. We wanted our beds to last a long time and be safe around the children (with no sharp/rusty edges or nasty chemicals leaching into the soil).

But, boy those beds can grow food! You can pack so much much more into a raised bed that they're constantly paying for themselves. They really make gardening so easy that even my kids can do it and how cool is that? Kids gardening, well that's just plain awesome.

So tell me do you grow in raised beds? Or do you garden the traditional way?

Want to see how we transformed the garden? Click HERE.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

the season of plenty

Summertime gets a bit crazyville in our garden. As lucky as we are to be able to grow year round in our subtropical climate, the humid heat makes summer the trickiest season. There are piles of food to keep up with, but also the bugs. Oh those critters seem to multiply right before your eyes and can literally wipe out crops overnight. I've decided to not get too upset about it all anymore and just treat summertime as potluck season. I plant it, leave it alone and if it does well, great! And if not? Well the bugs get a Christmas feast. All in the festive spirit!

Turns out this summer has been a good one with corn, cuccumbers, zucchini, eggplants and winter beans all doing well. Oh and for those looking for holiday entertainment for the kids? Plant some winter beans. Seriously, those things are golden. We had an hour of fun just shelling them, as the kids tried to guess what coloured beans would come out of each shell. Just so you know, apparently those speckled borlotti beans are worth the most in kids-bean currency. Who needs television, eh?

Also, can someone please tell me, what in the world am I going to do with all these eggplants? We've had an absolute bumper crop again this year and I've been giving away bagfuls of them.

Confession time: As much as I love preserving and making the most of what we grow, I've never really worked out what to do with my surplus of eggplants (besides sharing the love, of course!). They are coming out of our ears. Please give me your ideas! I'd love to hear them.
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