An “Under the Sea” 5th Birthday Party

This year it was Miss C’s turn to have a “big” birthday party, and she’s been planning it for months. Many months.  First it was going to be a Pirate Party, then a PJ Masks Party, but a little while ago she settled on an “Under the Sea” theme – and we ran with that.

Actually, it ended up being a lot of fun to put together. But then again, kids parties normally are!

Since Christmas we’ve been collecting lots of blue and ocean-themed decorations, mainly from the cheap party shops and e-bay. And with the help of Pinterest, a sea-filled party table came together in no time at all!

The food

The table was laden will lots of sea-themed party food – which despite appearances – were quite easy to throw together.

We had starfish sandwiches (some filled with jam, some with nutella and some with sprinkles) and mermaid munch (honey joys).  There were also blue jelly cups (jazzed up with mandarin boats and umbrellas), clam cookies (chocolate chip cookies filled with buttercream) and seaweed sticks (grapes threaded onto skewers). Most of these I made on the morning of the party so that they would be nice and fresh. I also made a big batch of sausage rolls in advance, which I was able to freeze then reheat during the party.

Oh and my favourite party treat? These adorable ‘crab-wiches’ – mini croissants filled with ham and cheese – made into ‘crabs’ with the help of googly eyes glued to toothpicks.

The Cake

I found inspiration on Pinterest for this grand blue cake, and was a tad nervous about trying the ‘petal’ icing for the first time. I loved how vibrant the buttercream turned out, and though the weather was warm, I managed to pipe something akin to what I had in mind without the buttercream getting too soft.

I “cheated” and bought Dory and Nemo toys as toppers, and then finished the cake with some starfish I made using candy melts and star moulds.

A little rustic, but I think it tied in with the overall theme.

Party Favours

I found some cheap buckets on e-bay and they turned out to be the perfect party favours.

Filled with lollies and some other little treats, and I’m hoping our guests can put the buckets to good use next time they are at the beach!

Entertainment

When I realised that we would have 25+ kids attending, I knew I would need some help in keeping them all entertained. I planned a big pass-the-parcel game, but also hired a party host (a Pirate!) to help with the other entertainment. There were games, a magic show, balloon making and even some face painting – certainly much more than I would have been capable of. And all the kids seemed engaged – so I’m calling it a win!

And so another year, and another big birthday celebration,  came to pass. And, as always, along with the sugar high, I’m left wondering just where the last few years have gone???

Happy 5th Birthday to our beautiful Miss C!  Always full of imagination, a lover of adventures and quite the sensitive soul.

Third Pregnancy – Reflections at the halfway mark

Our THIRD pregnancy.

It still feels rather surreal to be saying it, and boy do we feel blessed.

If you follow me on Instagram – you would have seen our big announcement recently. For our little family of four is set to become a family of five in July this year. And while I was super organised in keeping a diary during my first pregnancy, and somewhat organised throughout my second, well let’s just say I’ve been less than organised this time around.

My previous diary entries have been so wonderful to look back on, so now seems like the perfect time to take a step back and reflect on this pregnancy too.  There’s always a fine-line between share and overshare, but I always appreciate having a little record to look back on in years to come. So here goes.

I’m currently 22 weeks pregnant, and we have known since I was 4 weeks. The downside of IVF being that you find out early, really early.

Yes, like J, this little bean is also an IVF gift.

We had always seen 3 children in our future, but weren’t too sure how realistic our dream was. We went through a failed IVF attempt early last year, which only made the reality of the situation all too clear. Maternal age was weighing heavily on my mind (I’m a dinosaur, I know…) and I always had a set “end-point” to when we would say goodbye to the prospect of adding a new member to our family. But with the help of our amazing doctor, some crazy growth-hormone drugs and other concoctions to dent our bank account, in September last year we received the amazing news.

We were pregnant.

Weeks 4 to 13

I’d like to say that the first trimester flew, but honestly, it dragged.

(4 weeks: We were just about to go into the circus when we got the ‘good news’ phonecall)

Finding out so early is always a curse, particularly when you can’t really share your news, and you have to act ‘normal’. And then the dreaded morning sickness hit. Or in my case, and as was the case with my pregnancy with J, my “morning” sickness hit around lunchtime and continued until bed time.

(6 weeks pregnant: At a friend’s wedding. The nausea had just started, but it was all smiles for the camera!)

The nausea generally peaked right on school pick up time, and left me feeling drained, nauseous and generally unwell.  Salads made me gag, cheese sandwiches were my staple, and the nausea was only manageable if I was consuming carbs.

(10 weeks: I took the girls down to Melbourne for my nephew’s 1st birthday. And while the drive and evenings were a struggle, it was wonderful to share our news with my family  in person).

A saving grace was the distraction of Christmas. Although there were none of the usual celebratory champagne or cocktails for me, it was great to have some time off work and take little adventures with our family (not to mention, naps).

(Smiling for the camera to get our Christmas picture, and if my memory serves me correct, eating a bag of chips and going to bed as soon as we got home). 

Thankfully my mornings were relatively symptom free, however, and I was still able to fit in my daily walk. And I coped with work and household chores by trying to fit in as much as I could  before the nausea came on around lunch (after which I was pretty much useless). And while the symptoms were not wanted, they were reassuring, and we got beautiful results at our growth scans and other tests.

On that note, we were surprised to learn that since my last pregnancies, they have introduced a new genetic test – the side benefit being that you can find out gender really early. Like 10 weeks early. And right on the 10-week mark, we found out we were welcoming another little girl into our family. Miss C was less than impressed at first (she really wanted a brother) but has now warmed to the idea and can’t wait to meet her newest little sister!

I think J is still a little too young to really understand what is going on, although if I ask her where the baby is, she points to my tummy which is pretty adorable.

Weeks 14 to 20

Somehow I managed to bumble through the first 8 weeks then as quickly as the nausea arrived, it subsided. One day it was there, the next it was gone. And I must say I was pretty pleased about that. My usual salads regained their appeal, and I could actually do things during the afternoon without feeling like death warmed up.

Physically, I felt great during this period.  None of the headaches or pelvic pain that I had experienced with J, and I loved being able to keep active with my morning walks.

(16 weeks: Celebrating Australia Day with a hike up to Booroomba Rocks)

I was, and still am, battling with bone-tiring fatigue. I’m heading to bed quite early (although, let’s be honest , I generally do), although there are some days where I can barely keep my eyes open!  I put it down to being a few years older, working and having two other little ones to run around after all day. So yeah – I’ve pretty much accepted that it is the new normal – albeit begrudgingly.

As for the belly – well – it grows (as does everything else!). Faster with each pregnancy it seems, and if I’m honest – I’m not really loving it. I know its all part of the process, but experiencing growth and slimdown with 3 pregnancies in 5 years – and a bulging wardrobe to cater for multiple sizes – well its not as exciting as the first time around that’s for sure!

(9 weeks, 14 weeks, 19 weeks)

So there you have it – a little snippet into the last 20 weeks! Here’s hoping the next half flies, as we are all looking forward to meeting our newest family member and beginning our life as a family of five.

Now if we could only decide on a name….

Spiced pork, pineapple and bean salad bowl

I think I need to start a salad bowl series. For with the warmer weather lingering on, salad bowls continue to make a regular appearance at dinner time.

The basis is generally the same – a protein, some sort of carbohydrate or other filler and, of course, lots of salad.

On this occasion, a spice-rubbed pork was the star of the show. A protein that I turn to quite often not only because it is quick to cook but its also nice and lean.

Beans added some filler, grilled pineapple gave the whole bowl a certain ‘zing’ and the rest of the bowl was filled with lots of salad and other goodies.

Another tasty addition to what’s fast becoming my salad bowl addiction!

Spiced pork, pineapple and bean salad bowl (serves 2)

  • 250g pork fillet
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 6 pineapple slices
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 small can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1tsp lime juice

To serve: coriander, avocado (diced), mesculin and shredded coleslaw (I bought a plain pre-cut bag, and added my own dressing of a little natural yoghurt and dijon mustard).

  1. Preheat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with paper.
  2. Combine oil and spices in a shallow bowl, then add pork – turning to coat. Allow to marinate for an hour or so if you have time.
  3. Place the pork fillet on teh tray and bake for 20 minutes or so or until cooked through. . Remove from oven. Transfer to a heatproof plate and cover with foil. Set aside for 5 minutes to rest.
  4. Meanwhile, sprinkle the pineapple slices with the brown sugar and grill until golden.
  5. To make the bean salad: combine the beans, tomato, onion, garlic and lime juice and coriander. Season to taste.
  6. Divide greens, coleslaw, bean salad, pineapple and avocado among serving bowls. Top with sliced pork and coriander.

Broccoli Salad with Tahini Dressing

It’s all too easy to turn to the ol’ green salad or Greek salad when guests are due. Well for me anyway.

With this in mind, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting salads. Something that is fresh, healthy and full with flavour – and well this one definitely hit the mark.

For rather than just relying on the  usual salad base of mesculin, this salad was also filled with another favourite green of mine – broccoli!

Jazzed up with some snowpeas and flaked almonds for crunch and lightly coated in a little sesame oil. Then finished with a creamy tahini dressing on the side.

On this occasion we served the salad alongside some chicken burgers, but it would easily work as a tasty meal  on its own. Definitely a keeper!

Broccoli Salad with Tahini Dressing 

  • Mesculin leaves
  • 1 head broccoli, broken into small florets (and slice the stem thinly)
  • Handful of snowpeas, sliced
  • Handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and mint)
  • 1/3 cup flaked almonds
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 2 tbs natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbs white vine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  1. TO make the dressing, combine the tahini, yoghurt, vinegar and garlic. Add a few tablespoons of water, or until the desired consistency is reached. Set aside.
  2. Steam the broccoli for a few minutes or until slightly softened. Place in a bowl with the lettuce, snowpeas, herbs, and sesame oil and toss to combine.
  3. Arrange the salad on a plate, and sprinkle with the almonds. Serve with the tahini dressing.

A Very Peppa 2nd Birthday Party

And just like that our snuggly little Jo-Jo went from this…

Then to this…

And now to this!

Yes Little J turned TWO on the weekend and we are left wondering just where the time went (a sentiment that we find ourselves repeating over and over again these days…)

While last year we had a big backyard party to celebrate J’s first birthday, this year was, intentionally, a lot more low key. We are going to alternate ‘big’ parties each year for the girls, and this year it was J’s turn to have a modest party with family only.

But that didn’t mean we couldn’t make it a special day. No sir. It was still filled with pressies, balloons, family, food and all things Peppa Pig.  Not to mention morning games, a scooter race and, of course, lots of birthday cuddles!

And come dinner time, there was no shortage of food. We laid out lots of party favourites – including homemade sausage rolls, homemade chicken nuggets and mini pizzas – plus a spinach & ricotta fritatta and grilled eggplant salad for the grown-ups.

As for the birthday cake – well that was an easy decision. For my Peppa-pig-obsessed girl would want nothing else.

(Vanilla cake, decorated with chocolate biscuits and green icing piped to look like grass. Not forgetting the chocolate ganache ‘muddy puddle’ and a few figurines and flowers to top it all off!!)

The party girl seemed to be a big fan – even if she wasn’t quite sure how to blow out her candles. She did, however, love being sung to – and has requested we sing “Happy Birthday” to her on a daily basis since!

“Two” really has proven, again, to be such a fun age.  Little J is full of personality, and more words are coming every day. She is beyond independent, which both endears me and drives me wild (usually depending on how much of a rush we are in). And even when her tantrums are loud and insistent, it is generally not too long  before she breaks out in a big dimply smile that is simply contagious.

Current loves: yoghurt, milk, her evening routine, Peppa Pig, dogs, gymnastics, bananas and her big sister (and / or anything her big sister is doing, eating, playing with…)

Current dislikes: being told no, veggies as a general rule (!!!), not being able to do things herself.

A very happy birthday to our beautiful, bright, bubbly Little J indeed.

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Healthy Ranch Dressing

There have been a lot of salads for dinner in the MCP kitchen of late, but the warmer weather brings with it my general craving for salads. Something cool and crunchy, with an added protein, and a nice homemade dressing – yes nice healthy end to the day when I don’t feel like turning the oven on.

This recipe for a Buffalo Chicken Salad that I came across here caught my attention. A spicy chicken, served on a bed of lettuce, carrots, celery and crunchy gala apples.But instead of going with a store-bought ranch dressing, I decided to make my own – with a couple healthy tweaks.

Greek yoghurt in place of mayonnaise, spiced up with garlic powder, mustard powder and a bunch of fresh herbs. And after playing around with the ingredients for a while, I soon had a blend that I will be sure to make again.

Tangy from the yoghurt, and packed with flavour owing to the fresh herbs, this is one versatile dressing! I think you could quite easily use it as a dip too – just add a little less water…

Healthy Ranch Dressing

  • 1 cup natural yogurt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • a handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, chopped dill and basil)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs water*
  1. Combine all ingredients with 1 tbs water. Add more water if you would like a thinner dressing (or keep it thicker if you are using it as a dip).
  2. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Australia Day 2017

You might recall that last year we indulged in a full tasting menu for Australia Day. Yes, 8 courses that took us on a culinary tour around the Country – celebrating fresh, local and seasonal produce.

And while this year was much more ‘low key’, we still filled the day with family and food, and a favourite pastime – a morning hike!

Needless to say after the morning’s outdoor adventures, we were quite hungry when the afternoon rolled around. Our family joined us for an early dinner – and with the temperature exceeding 30 degrees outside, a BBQ seemed to be the most logical, if not sanest, choice.

On the menu?

Some homemade sausages by our local butcher. Served with a few “Aussie-themed” sides.

Starting with a mango macadamia salad – comprising of salad leaves, fresh mango, avocado and macadamias. Dressed simply with a mixture of lime juice, seeded mustard, oil and sliced red chilli.

I also turned on the oven for 20 minutes or so, in order to make another iconic Australian side…damper! Flavoured with camembert and cracked pepper (and these turned out very moreish indeed).

For dessert we kept things pretty simple. Instead of a large pavlova, I went with mini versions instead. Topped with cream, lemon curd and a fresh raspberry.


And to keep us hydrated, we served a fresh fruit cocktail.

Akin to a punch – I guess you’d say – made with vodka, coconut rum, cooled tea, pineapple juice and ginger ale – finished with some frozen honeydew balls, mint and raspberry.

And so another Australia Day came to pass  – and we retired to bed with full bellies and fond memories of the day.

What about you? What did you get up to this Australia Day?

Cauliflower and Sausage Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of those dishes that I love, but just don’t order all that often. Instead, I tend to opt for white rice when we are out at an Asian restaurant (or, even better, brown rice if it is available).

Recently, though, we rediscovered the magic that is a good fried rice, particularly when we worked out just how much the kids love it. However I remain mindful of the fact that it can be a little calorific and not something we should order all the time.

That was, until I came across a cauliflower version I could make at home.

Yes – instead of white rice – the base is cauliflower – processed until it resembles grains and stir-fried with a number of yummy additions. On this occasion it was eggs, sausages (we used a flavoured pork variety), coriander and variety of vegetables – corn, shallots, capsicum and onions.  Brought together with a little oil, ginger, garlic and soy sauce.

And after a quick flash fry in the wok – we had ourselves quite the tasty fried rice. Served with a small bowl of chilli sauce for the adults, yet keeping the main dish chilli-free for the kids.

The kids even went back for seconds, so I’m definitely keeping this dish in rotation. It makes for a great meal by itself, and would definitely work as side dish too!

Cauliflower and Sausage Fried Rice (serves 4) – Adapted from Taste magazine

  • 1 large cauliflower, broken into florets and processed until it resembles rice
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 4 sausages (we used pork), cooked and then sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 corn cobs, kernels removed
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 1tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 3 green shallots, sliced
  • Handful chopped coriander
  • Chilli sauce to serve
  1. Heat oil in a wok. Pour in the whisked egg, and swirl until it covers the base. Cook for a few minutes, then remove once cooked through and slice.
  2. Heat a little more oil in the wok and add the vegetables, garlic, ginger and soy. Stir-fry for 4 or so minutes, until the vegetables are starting to soften.
  3. Add the cooked sausages and cauliflower, and cook for a few minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the sausage slices are heated through.
  4. Add the sliced egg, soy sauce and coriander, and stir. Cook until everything is well combined and heated through.
  5. Spoon into bowls, and serve with chilli sauce (if using).

Wholemeal pasta with broccoli, chilli and kale pesto

Growing up – my exposure to pasta was primarily in the form of spaghetti bolognaise. It was the age of convenience, and with two parents working long hours, the sauce generally came from a jar. Or a can.

But over the years, my exposure to pasta has grown. I recall with fondness the sundried tomato and mushroom fusili that I would order with regularity from a favourite little Italian restaurant. And the spicy arrabiata penne that we would often make at home. Washed down with a glass or two of red wine, of course.

And while pasta doesn’t tend to feature on our weekly menu that often any more (not because we don’t enjoy it, but generally because it can be quite heavy if we are eating later at night) I do get a particular craving for it from time to time. And a recipe for a wholemeal pasta with broccoli, chilli and kale pesto in a recent taste magazine edition, well it sounded just lovely.

The pesto was made with steamed broccoli, kale, chilli, garlic, lemon rind and juice – along with a little olive oil. The end result was a little chunkier than your usual pesto – but I loved how many nutrients were packed within.

As for the pasta dish itself, I still used wholemeal spirals but made a few changes to the original recipe (which you can find here). I opted to roast my own tomatoes, drizzled in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, rather than using a store-bought variety.  I also skipped the goats cheese, and sprinkled some feta over the top instead (it’s what I had on hand).

The result?

A bowl of pasta that was packed with flavour. I loved the sweetness of the tomatoes, against the spiciness of the pesto – and not to mention the kick of the lemon juice. A simple pasta, yes, but one that had me raiding the pan for seconds when I devoured the first bowl.

Delish!

Spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad

If I was to name one ingredient that I’m a little hesitant to cook, at least with any regularity, it would have to be fish. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating fish, because I certainly do, I think it just takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s the choosing the right type, then storing it the right way, then working out the best cooking method – yes I find it a tad overwhelming.

Silly really.

For dishes like this spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad are are actually pretty simple to throw together. Particularly when I send the husband to the fishmonger (ie. tasking him with choosing a good variety) and then get him to cook it on the BBQ!  My main role was mixing together the spices to coat the fish, then throwing together the rest of the meal – the salsa salad.

For the fish – we used ling fillets. Sprayed lightly with oil, then coated with a spice mixture of garlic salt, paprika, cayenne and a little lime rind. Onto the BBQ for around 4 minutes each side, until cooked through.

As for the salad, well that came together in the kitchen. Starting with corn kernels – removed from the cob and pan-fried until charred slightly- combined with tomatoes, lettuce, sliced sugar snap peas and cooked quinoa. Finished with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of coriander.

Yes, friends, this is one fish dish that I must make again!

Spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad (serves 2)

  • 2 fish fillets (we used ling – but you could use any firm white fish)
  • olive oil spray
  • Juice and rind of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • corn kernels from 2 cobs, charred slightly
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 125g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g sugar snap peas, sliced
  • lettuce leaves
  • coriander leaves to serve
  1. Lightly spray the fish fillets  with olive oil.
  2. Combine the lime rind and spices in a small bowl. Coat the fish on both sides with the spice mixture.
  3. Preheat a BBQ hot plate – then cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes each side, or until cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the corn, quinoa, tomatoes, sugar snap peas and lettuce in a bowl. Divide the salad between 2 serving plates.
  5. Top the salad with the cooked fish. Drizzle over lime juice and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

What about you? Are you a fan of cooking fish at home?