Grilled eggplant and lentil salad

I’m going through a bit of a phase.

An eggplant phase.

Yes not the normal sort of phase you might find yourself going through, but its a recent craving that I’ve been more than happy to satisfy.

I suspect it has something do with eggplant’s heartiness. It feels like it adds a bit of bulk to dishes – particularly when you are using it in place of meat, for example.

Take this salad, for instance. So simple to prepare, but quite easily a stand-alone meal (although it would almost certainly work as a tasty side dish too).

I thinly sliced the eggplant, and grilled the slices for 5 minutes or so until soft and golden. Then it was simply a matter of combining the eggplant slices with baby spinach, lentils, capsicum, cucumber and feta – and finishing the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

I’d give you a recipe – but there really is no more to it. Just lots of simple, fresh flavours – that come together to make a tasty meal.  Not to mention colourful!

Snickers Rocky Road

I’m interrupting my ‘healthy snack’ series this week, to bring you an extra special treat. I say “interrupting”, as this treat far from healthy, and its nut and sugar content would probably entice a sternly worded letter from your child’s teacher if you sent a piece along in their lunchbox.

But it is delicious.

And sometimes, particularly when one’s sleep is being interrupted by the overnight feeding demands of a newborn, we need to treat ourselves with a little deliciousness.

This rocky road still has the all chocolate and marshmallow hallmarks of the traditional version , but is jazzed up with snickers bars – creating a rather tasty chocolate / nut / caramel combination. The added bonus being that a batch can be made in a matter of moments.

So friends, I suggest you go and make a batch of this snickers rocky road and treat yourself today. Bearing in mind that because it is not school lunch-box friendly, there will be plenty for the grownups to indulge in at home!

You’re welcome!

Snickers Rocky Road

  • 280g marshmallows
  • 280g chopped snickers bars
  • 1 cup rice bubbles / puffed rice
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 350g milk chocolate, melted
  1. Line a slice tray with baking paper.
  2. Place the marshmallows, snickers bars, rice bubbles and peanuts in a large bowl. Pour over melted chocolate, and stir to combine well.
  3. Spoon into the prepare tray, and place in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) to set.
  4. Slice and serve.

 

Indian Style Salad

My parents-in-law are now home from their grand overseas adventure – so we wasted no time in scheduling a family dinner over the weekend. For there were lots of baby cuddles to catch up on (and two bigger sisters who had missed their grandparents dearly!)

And, as is proving to be the norm for our family dinners, there was no shortage of food.  We decided to pull together an Indian-style dinner – with spicy lamb shoulder (slow coked for 6 hours) and a tomato / potato curry being the stars. The usual sides – raita, kachumber, rice, naan and pappadums also made an appearance – but I couldn’t resist trying a new dish to throw some green into the mix.

Enter: an Indian-style salad. Inspired by this Jamie Oliver recipe.

Crunchy lettuce, radishes, carrots, spring onions and tomatoes, mixed with a good amount of fresh herbs (coriander and mint). Dressed with toasted spices (fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and mustard seeds), mango chutney and lemon juice.

The salad was finished with crumbled pappadums – adding some extra crunch and a little saltiness.

A lovely little addition to our Indian dinner indeed.  Oh and it made for a pretty good lunch the next day too!

Apricot and white chocolate bars

After the success of last week’s school snack baking session, I was eager to add another homemade treat to our list.

As Miss C, in particular, is a big fan of dried apricots, I hoped that an apricot treat would be well received. While she was a little hesitant to try these apricot and white chocolate bars at first, they did not return home when I packed a couple in her lunchbox – so I’m calling it a win (either that or a school buddy had an extra snack that day). Either way, the speed at which they are disappearing from our kitchen counter suggests that they may also be a hit with the older members of our family…

Somewhere between a bar and a cake, these treats are sweetened simply with a little brown sugar and white chocolate.  They may not be the ‘healthiest’, as such, but they are not overly sweet and the ingredient list is modest.

They slice nicely too, making them perfect to pack into little lunchboxes, and could easily be jazzed up with the addition of walnuts or the like (if you don’t have any school nut-bans to be mindful of, that is). 

Oh and in case you were wondering, I most certainly had my little kitchen helper on hand when making these too!

Apricot and white chocolate bars (makes 18)

  • 1 cup dried apricots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 120g butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups self raising flour, sifted
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a slice tray.
  2. Place apricots and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Simmer until the water has been absorbed. Add the butter and brown sugar, and cook over a low heat – stirring – until the butter and sugar have melted.
  3. Combine the flour and oats in a mixing bowl. Add the apricot mixture and stir to combine.  Fold through the chocolate bits.
  4. Press into lined pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice.

Peach and balsamic honey pork salad

Winter continues, as does our preference for hearty meals at dinnertime to warm us from the inside out. But I came across photos of this salad we made a while back, presumably when the temperatures were a little kinder, and I couldn’t resist sharing it.

A peach and balsamic honey pork salad.

And while I’m conscious that stone fruit is not readily available at the moment, I figure that by adding it to my recipe page it will serve as a good reminder to make the salad  again when peaches and nectarines come into season.

I must say, I’m quite the fan of using fruit in salads. The sweetness of the peaches worked beautifully on this particular occasion – with the slight tartness of the balsamic dressing. It turned out to be a lovely dinner, and would also make a delicious lunch if you had the time.

Peach and balsamic honey pork salad (serves 2)

  • 2 slices sourdough, torn
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 200g pork fillet
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • mixed lettuce leaves (I used baby spinach and rocket)
  • 100g mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 peach, cut into wedges
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place sourdough on lined baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Set aside.
  2. Combine honey and vinegar, and set aside.
  3. Season pork and spray with a little oil. Pan-fry for 6 minutes or so, turning, until browned. Transfer to an oven-proof dish, and roast for 8 minutes then pour over the honey and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further few minutes. Remove from oven, and rest in foil for 5 minutes. Slice.
  4. Arrange the salad leaves, tomatoes and peach on two serving plates. Add the sliced pork and toasted sourdough, and drizzle with the pan juices.

Healthier Honey Bubble Bars

Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I’m keen to get back into the kitchen. To develop new recipes, and generally get creative!

In particular, I want to create some lunchbox treats. Lately I’ve been relying on pre-packaged snacks all too often for the kids, and their ingredient list is far from desirable.

So with the rain falling heavily outside the other day, I got to work on my first lunchbox treat.

A healthier honey bubble bar.

As soon as I began pulling bowls out of the drawer, Little J arrived curiously at the kitchen bench. Actually, she is quite the shadow when I am in the kitchen, always eager to help out. And this being a no-bake treat, well that was just perfect for little hands!

I measured out the ingredients, and she poured them all into a big bowl and gave them a good stir. “Pat-pat-patting” the slice into the baking tin was also a big hit.

In the mix? Puffed rice, shredded coconut, chia seeds, sunflower kernels, butter and honey. Oh some chocolate chips for a little indulgence too.

Pressed into a lined tray, and allowed to firm up overnight in the fridge.

The following day, it was simply a matter of slicing the mixture into bars.

The bars were sweet, without being over-sweet, although I made the rookie mistake of adding the chocolate chips before the melted butter and honey (ie. the chocolate melted).

The honey also made the bases a little sticky,  so I wrapped each bar in some baking paper for ease of transport.

And just like that, my baking mojo has officially returned! Not to mention being able to share some time in the kitchen with Little J.

Stay tuned for more lunchbox treats in the weeks to come!

Healthier Honey Bubble Bars

  • 4 cups puffed rice
  • 2 tbs chia seeds
  • 3 tbs sunflower seeds
  • 1.5 cups shredded coconut
  • 125g butter
  • 220g honey
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Grease and line a slice tray with baking paper.
  2. Combine the puffed rice, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and coconut in a large bowl.
  3. Heat the butter and honey in the microwave until melted and combined. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir to coat the mixture well. Add the chocolate chips and stir.
  4. Press firmly into the lined tray, and place in the fridge overnight to firm.
  5. Remove from the fridge, and cut into slices. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

 

Spicy Chicken Tacos with Avocado Dressing

I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I tell you that our evening routine is a little “unpredictable” at the moment. Nothing too dramatic, just a bit more on the relaxed side as we settle into life as a family of 5. Miss Maggie tends to want to nurse, pretty much non-stop, from around 5pm – which coincides with the other girls’ dinner and bath time, and the time I’d usually be spending working on dinner for the ‘grownups’ too.

But we all need to eat, and I am trying to avoid takeout where I can, so I’m pleased to report meal planning is still in full force. Actually, if anything, meal planning is probably a tad stricter than ever at the moment as ducking to the supermarket with three kids in tow is not all that appealing. I’m doing the bulk of our grocery shopping online, and loving being able to sit down and order groceries from the comfort of the couch after the bigger kids have gone to bed. Not to mention having a weeks worth of fresh ingredients literally delivered to my kitchen at a time that suits us!

The meals themselves, however, have generally been quick and easy to prepare. Leftovers are then tucked away for a quick lunch the following day, or frozen for future dinners when cooking one-handed is inevitable.

One of our favourite meals, lately, has been tacos. The kids prefer the crunchy shelled tacos, generally filled with some sort of savoury mince and vegetables. While I tend to go with soft tortillas, filled with whatever we have on hand.

On this occasion, I found inspiration in a Healthy Food Guide magazine – in the form of spicy chicken tacos. The added bonus being that they came together in no time at all.

Chicken – spiced and grilled in the sandwich press – piled high onto wholemeal tortillas and topped with pre-cut coleslaw. Actually the only real effort, if you could even call it ‘effort’, was blending up the avocado/ yoghurt dressing to serve alongside.

Definitely a winner all round!

Spicy chicken tacos with avocado dressing (serves 4)

  • 500g chicken tenderloins
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3 tbs lime juice
  • Bag of pre-cut coleslaw
  • 1 avocado, mashed
  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt
  • Warmed wholemeal tortillas, to serve
  1. Combine the spices, oil and 2 tbs of the lime juice. Add the chicken and toss to coat well.
  2. Pre-heat chargrill pan or frypan over a medium heat. Grill chicken until cooked through. Place on a plate, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the avocado, yoghurt and remaining lime juice in a small bowl, and stir until smooth. Season.
  4. Fill the warmed tortillas with the chicken, coleslaw and avocado dressing.

 

And then there were 5….

It is with great pleasure, that I introduce you to our newest family member – little Margaret Edith. Maggie, for short.

Born by elective C-section mid last week, weighing  a respectable 3.59kg, and completing our family just perfectly.

Maggie and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in hospital after her birth, living in a rather wonderful ‘newborn’ bubble. We were cared for very well by the doctors and midwives at John James Hospital, and were sure to make the most of our one-on-one time before we headed home.

And as I’m not all that great at sitting still, I must say that the enforced ‘downtime’ was good, and most likely just what I needed. Good for succumbing to naps (when I’d normally be looking around for a household chore to complete instead), good for saying yes to cups of tea and freshly made muffins when they were offered by the morning tea lady, and good for taking long, hot showers when Maggie was in a slumber of her own. And newborns sure do love to sleep….well during the day, at least.

So, although I was desperate to get home after Maggie was born, the time in hospital was undoubtedly perfect for the healing process. Both physically,  and also emotionally, as various pregnancy hormones began to leave my body and new ones took their place.

The hospital time was also wonderful for the bonding process. Maggie and I  spent many moments just snuggling and talking (well I talked, she ‘responded’ with those adorable little newborn gurgles and squeaks). Not to mention soaking up that heavenly newborn smell.

And, once again, I am in awe at just how amazing the human body is.  I can’t quite believe that we made this perfect little human, and that she was inside me only a week ago. Now here she is, earthside – with a whole wonderful world of opportunity and adventure laid in front of her.

Yes, I did say those pregnancy hormones were in full swing…

I recently mentioned that my pregnancy felt like it went for a long time. And while I still stand by that, having Maggie here with us makes it feel as though the pregnancy also went by in no time at all. It’s that age old adage of ‘we feel like you have always been here’ – which I know sounds rather corny, but looking down at her peaceful sleeping face, feels really true.

This being my 3rd C-section, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from a recovery perspective. Not unlike my earlier procedures, getting up and moving as soon as I could (which on this occasion was the morning after the afternoon procedure) worked wonders in helping with my pain levels. In fact, by the time I left hospital I was not taking any pain medication at all.

This time had a few differences, however, that I had not anticipated. I reacted to the anaesthetic during the procedure, and spent most of the first half trying not to vomit or faint (or both) when the nausea kicked in and my heart rate dropped making me dizzy and wanting to go to sleep. The anaesthetist managed to stabilise things just as Maggie was delivered, though, so I was able to get a cuddle not long after.

The other difference was that I opted for a spinal morphine (instead of a PCA drip) to control post-operative pain. And while it did the job from a pain management perspective beautifully, my body was itchy for almost 24 hours.  And I don’t mean  itchy, but unbearably ‘oh my god I am going to go insane and scratch my entire body off’ itchy for the better part of a day. IV ‘anti-itch’ medication barely took the edge off, and it was only the passage of time that eventually saw this annoying symptom subside. Me + spinal morphine = never, ever again.

But on the plus side, a change in hospital policy meant that unlike after my earlier C-sections, both my husband and Maggie could come to recovery with me. I could also have skin on skin contact with her, and give her her first feed, before we headed back to the ward. THIS was the best change in hospital policy that one could ask for! I also got to see my placenta this time around (I’m sure that is not for everyone…) and talk about fascinating!

And as for her bigger sisters?? Well they have been wonderful!

I thought it might take some time for Josie, in particular,  to get used to having another little person in the house, but she seems to have adapted in no time at all. She asks to see Maggie as soon as she wakes up in the morning, and has been full of cuddles and heat strokes for her little sister.

Charlotte has also taken everything in her stride – and loves to cuddle Maggie whenever she gets the chance. She is definitely my little helper at the moment!

And just like that – so begins our new life as a family of FIVE. Feeling ever so blessed as we do!

Third Pregnancy: Third Trimester Reflections

In some ways I feel like this pregnancy has been a long one. The relentless nausea and fatigue of the first trimester probably has a lot to do with it.

But in other ways, I am a little surprised that we just hit the 38 + week mark. Yes, I’ve officially made it to full term and, once again, I am pretty damn amazed at the wonder that is the human body.  Sure, I may not *fall* pregnant easily, but this ol’ body of mine has now grown and carried three beautiful babies to full term, all within the space of 5 years, which feels rather wonderful in itself.

So how has the third trimester treated me this third time around?

(25 weeks, 30 weeks, 36 weeks)

I’m feeling large, despite most people saying that I look ‘small’ , and I’m pretty sure I’m in the waddle-phase. But I am grateful that I have been able to keep up with my daily walks, something I wasn’t all that consistent with in my previous pregnancies,  and I am hopeful that the regular exercise will assist with the recovery phase.

I’m not sure whether it is due to the regular walking, or perhaps the baby is just sitting differently, but I am pleased to report that I have suffered none of the pelvic pain (SPD) that plagued me throughout my pregnancy with Little J. Over the last few weeks I’ve had some pretty intense shooting pains down the back of my upper leg / hip / area, but I think that might have something to do with the baby pressing on a particular nerve? Sure, they are painful and will stop me in my tracks for a moment (and elicit a curse word or two), but they are nowhere near as frustrating as the daily SPD pain.

(36 weeks – round 1, 2, and 3. Not much difference really – except for the bags under my eyes!!)

Perhaps the biggest shock of the third trimester was being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes – something I never considered would be an issue.  I’ve eaten healthier this pregnancy than in my others, and managed to walk around 5km each day, even with the nausea of the first trimester.  But, despite this,  it seems my body likes to dump a little glucose into my system overnight while I am sleeping, so I continue to have high fasting levels when I wake up – and no amount of diet watching or exercise was working to correct it. As a result? I’ve now been introduced to the world of endocrinology, the national diabetes scheme and blood-glucose monitors. I’m having insulin before bed at night, which is not too bad, and my doctors tell me everything should correct itself once the baby is born. Fingers crossed!

Symptoms aside, I am most definitely at the stage where I just want our newest family member to be here. I finished up at work a week or so ago, which has been nice. I was tempted to stay a little longer, but my family encouraged me to finish up and have a couple weeks “off” before the baby arrives. And I am pretty grateful for that encouragement (if not for the fact I no longer have to try and squeeze into the last few corporate work dresses that fit…)

I’m not all that great at sitting still, though, so being at home has meant that the nesting urge has been in full swing. I finally pulled all our baby things out of storage, washed a bunch of clothes, reorganised my linen cupboard and pantry, tackled the office filing pile, and can’t help but find more things to add to my ‘to do’ list.

The freezer is also stocked with lots of ready-made meals that I have been preparing over the last few weeks or so. Casseroles, stews, pulled pork, lasagne, pasta sauce – you name it, its probably in there. I figure these will come in handy while I am in hospital, and also for the first week or so when  I get home. So much for cleaning out the freezer recently.

Although there is, if I’m honest, no great rush to get everything done for unlike after my other pregnancies, I’ve decided to take a little extra time off work this time around. I’ll still be helping with bookkeeping for my husband’s business, but I’m not due back into the office until the New Year. My longest time off work since I was 17!

Another big focus recently has been spending as much time with the girls before their little sister arrives (not only because we are acutely aware that getting out and about with 3 kids of varying ages will take some getting used to!).  We’ve taken lots of walks, headed up to Corin Forest for some snow play, and generally just been making the most of these last few weeks as a family of 4.

It’s been lovely to have some one-on-one time with each of the girls too. Little J and I had a great morning at the playground while her big sister was at school, then it was off to the toy shop – stopping for milk and cookies along the way. I’m not 100% convinced that she really understands what is going on – although her daycare teachers mentioned she told them that the baby is coming soon – so maybe she understands more than I give her credit for…

Miss C and I also took advantage of the school holidays and had a girl’s day out at the movies, followed by lunch. She seems to be very aware that home life is about to change, but as long as the baby doesn’t play with her ‘beanie-boos’ I’m pretty sure she will cope just fine. In fact, I have no doubt she will be a huge help in the coming weeks.

Overall, this third pregnancy has been…well…different. Not only because of all the physical reasons I’ve already spoken about, but also because of the  emotional ones too. Life with active  5 and 2 year olds meant that I had very little time to really think about being pregnant at all. There were still the hours to be billed at work, books to be audited,  the never-ending loads of washing to be done and meals to be prepared… yes pre-pregnancy life went on as usual – just with the addition of a basketball belly to contend with when packing up the kids toys at the end of the day! Don’t get me wrong, I am so very grateful to have carried three beautiful babies to full term , I just don’t feel that I have had any pregnancy ‘glow’ this third time round.

And at 38+ weeks, I can safely say that we are more than ready to meet our newest little one!! Now if we could only decide on a name….

Miso Pumpkin Soup

It’s minus 4 outside as I type this post, with an expected top of 10 (which we will reach after midday, if we are lucky).  There is a heavy layer of frost on the grass, and ice on the cars in the street, although the sky is clear and there is no fog to be seen.

If I’m to be honest, the chilly winter is not all that surprising, really. We had a pretty awesome summer… and it always seems that the hotter the summer =  the colder the winter. In Canberra, at least.

So while I am 100% a summer girl, after 18 years in Canberra (???) I am slowly becoming acclimatised to the joys of the Canberra winter.  I’ve got a decent collection of beanies and gloves, along with some great warm jackets, and have even mastered the art of layering. Our hydronic in-slab heating goes a long way in helping me forget just how cold it is outside too.

But then there is the food. Winter inevitably means that my slow cooker comes out at least a few times a week, bringing with it hearty stews and casseroles. Homemade soups also make a frequent appearance – the aim being to warm oneself up from the inside out.

On this particular occasion I went with a pumpkin soup. But not just any pumpkin soup. This one was jazzed up with miso paste and ginger (inspired by a recipe I found in a recent Taste magazine edition). It also had a lovely creamy texture owing to the addition of coconut milk, and a little zing from fresh lime juice. 

We served the soup with some loaded toasties. From recollection – there was avocado and tomato on one, and a swiss cheese, mustard and ham combination on the other.

But the soup.

Oh the soup.

Delicious, easy, and definitely a winter warmer!! With the added bonus that we now have a few serves in the freezer too.

Miso Pumpkin Soup (serves 4 – 6)

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2tbs minced ginger
  • 1tbs  minced garlic
  • 1 butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 120g white miso paste
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper
  • coriander leaves to serve
  1. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic  and ginger and cook for a minute – stirring.
  2. Add the pumpkin, tomatoes and miso paste – stirring to coat well.
  3. Add the coconut milk / stock, and simmer – covered – for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Blend until smooth.
  4. Add the lime juice and zest, and season to taste.
  5. Serve in bowls, and top with coriander.