No Longer A Black Thumb!

How amazing do these freshly picked greens look???

How amazing do these freshly picked greens look???

If this is your first time reading a post from my blog, hi :-). And just as a quick catch up for you, I have made some pretty awesome life changes during the past twelve months and you can read about those here and here. This is one of those changes…

Totally in love with my "green space".

Totally in love with my “green space”.

The gorgeous area that you see in the above photo used to be a fairly vast expanse of nothingness. Just bits of cracked cement surrounded by dirt which would quickly turn into awesome muddy puddles that even Peppa Pig would be envious of. However,my clever, ultra-talented hubby designed all this for me, as a birthday present and as a reward for both of us quitting smoking, how lucky am I??? But honestly, I really didn’t know how it would go, so it was really an experiment. Luckily, because my partner is so handy and built the raised garden beds out of recycled timber, it wouldn’t be a costly experiment. You see, I have always seen myself as having a “black thumb” as opposed to a “green thumb”, I was just never blessed with being able to see eye to eye with plants, flowers, cacti, I have always managed to kill them all, possibly with kindness, rather than neglect. So you can see why I was dubious. The weather gods were kind enough to lay on some gorgeous weather on the weekend we planned to get all the seedlings in, and we did it all in one weekend at the end of. March this year, and it was such a satisfying feeling. Originally we planted out; dwarf broccoli, miniature cauliflower, English spinach, silverbeet, green mingionette lettuce, Tuscan kale, carrots, cabbage and white onion (that tested the memory a tad!). As we were heading into the second month of Autumn (I am situated in the southern-most state of Australia, Tasmania), these veggies SHOULD have been perfect for that time of year, but for some reason, despite watering just enough and not too much, they just wanted to wither, not completely,but they certainly weren’t healthy. Then, we had a week of cold, frosty weather, and the little seedlings started to take off, and within the next two weeks, the little babies that had started to wither away had doubled in size. There was hope after all!

I became a woman obsessed. Every evening before bed I even used to duck out to the garden to remove any snails or slugs that may have decided my veggies would be a welcome feast. I’m not sure whether I thought that if I watched the veggie plants enough that I may see them grow in front of my eyes, or maybe if I took my eyes off them something would suddenly come along and destroy it, but I began to realise that when I was having a tough time, I could step out into my “green space”, take a deep breath, and all would be well again. So my new-found hobby was also a form of therapy, who would have ever thought?? This garden was like my “baby” (well, not really, but you get the idea), so the day I decided to check on the progress of our carrots, I was devastated. I pulled out what I thought was one carrot, but it ended up being four or five carrots all intertwined with each other, they were like a form of carrot from another planet, and totally in edible. Hoping it was a one-off, but knowing deep down it wasn’t, I pulled up another, and it was the same. Tears sprang to my eyes and I ripped them all out, one alien carrot bunch by one, and threw them in the compost heap. After doing some reading, we found out that our soil was perhaps a little bit too good to plant carrots in, and that we should possibly plant in some sandier soil. Yep, great to know that NOW! However, the carrots have so far (touch wood) been the only real failure. The dwarf broccoli was just unbelievably delicious, tasted unlike anything I had ever tasted from the supermarket and it looked pretty darn awesome, too.

The taste of this broccoli was second to none

The taste of this broccoli was second to none

The plants we grew that were from the “Brassica” family (that is, the leafy greens), could not have grown better, they totally exceeded our expectations. I have managed to get my partner eating his greens (after quite a lengthy time of despising them!), my boys have become obsessed with “Kale Chips” (I promise I’ll do another post on these later if you would like, hands up???) and we are just eating more and more healthy in general. The silverbeet is still going great guns, I’ve only just completely taken out the spinach plants after they fed us for well over three months, same deal goes for the kale and the cabbage and onions are still growing away, doing their own thing while I patiently wait. Of course since March we have done a lot more to the garden. We have added additional garden beds, we have re-done our front yard to accommodate some pea and broadbean plants, we have hanging baskets which are now home to a vast array of strawberry plants, we have a work farm, we have just gone all out really. But as I say, if you’re going to do something you may as well do it well ;-). Although I’m sure there will be a lot more stumbles along the way, everything in the garden seems to be full steam ahead for the Spring season, which has begun in glorious style in this neck of the woods, and I can’t wait to see what Spring will deliver to my garden.

My gorgeous boys, so excited with their pea picking efforts today, bless them

My gorgeous boys, so excited with their pea picking efforts today, bless them

Take Care,

Lara xxx

I’m Happy To Admit That I’m A Quitter!

People always seem to link the verb “quitting” to failing, to not being able to complete a specific task to its entirety, as if quitting is a bad thing. The day that I “quit” marked a huge turning point in my adult life (possibly the biggest turning point, even bigger than becoming a mother!) and one that I still can’t believe I actually achieved. I believe the day I quit was the beginning of a whole set of changes in my life; the food I chose to put in my body, choosing to exercise every day, having a hell of a lot of spare money to undertake new hobbies, reducing my anxiety levels remarkably… I could go on forever. I am incredibly proud to announce to the whole world that I quit smoking on March 12, 2014 at 7.30am. I had been a smoker for ten years (I am now 31) and when I started I was into the whole “I must be thin to fit in” belief. Then somebody at work decided to tell me that smoking cigarettes speeds up your metabolism, so you can eat whatever you want, have a smoke and you won’t put on weight. *Slap Forehead* moment if ever there was one! How ridiculously stupid can you get??? Yeah, let’s not only clog up our arteries with greasy, oily junk food, but we’ll add some toxic carcinogens and lung cancer to the mix as well, geez…. At the end of every year I would say to myself, “this is the last one, this is the last one,” but of course, it never was. I managed to give up while I was pregnant, that was easy. What wasn’t easy was staying off then once I came home, had a newborn who didn’t sleep, AT ALL, suffered severe post natal depression and anxiety, and then found out said newborn was starving hungry because I had no milk, enter feeling like a massive failure as a new mother and back to leaning n the old friend cigarettes to “help” get me through. What I didn’t realise at the time, but that I realise now, was that my “old friend” was in fact one of my biggest enemies when it came to my mental health.

Honestly, I can’t say it was ONE single thing that led me to eventually kicking the habit, it was a chain of events I think. Since having my two boys, my greatest fear has been something taking me away from them, so while I was smoking, I felt guilty that I was possibly slowly but surely making sure that I would be taken away from them prematurely. Still, I would think of that, and the anxiety of it would make me want a cigarette. Ironic, isn’t it? Secondly, our dear elderly neighbour passed away late last year from chronic emphysema and advanced lung cancer, it wasn’t pretty. She was only in her early 70’s and a wonderful, caring lady, her only downfall was picking up a cigarette when the dangers of them weren’t known. A couple of her final words to my partner and I were, “Please, please, give up. Don’t let this happen to you.” Thirdly, those two things continued to swirl around in my mind, yet, I continued to smoke. But the want to quit and the will to quit just weren’t working hand in hand. I went to a reflexology appointment (that is some amazing stuff right there) one evening and just broke down in tears out of nowhere rambling about my smoking and my fears, I didn’t see it then, but I do now, I was literally PETRIFIED. I made an appointment with my doctor who agreed to work with me on some strategies for quitting and advised me to purchase some nicotine patches, which I never actually used, I had a little plan of my own.

It wasn't a total bed of roses, and yes, there were times I probably should have had this stuck to my forehead...

It wasn’t a total bed of roses, and yes, there were times I probably should have had this stuck to my forehead…

I’m sure just about everyone out there has heard of The Easyway To Quit Smoking, written by Allen Carr and like me, if you’ve heard about it, you’re probably a little bit sceptical, ok ALOT sceptical. But, I was now in the right mindset, I WANTED to quit and my willpower was catching up, I had nothing to lose, AT ALL, as I could borrow the book from my library, win/win! I started to read and instead of rolling my eyes, it all actually made sense, this guy knew his stuff. But was it enough to convince me to quit? I was due to finish the book, and therefore my addiction to the habit, the same day as my doctor told me that he suspected I had gall stones. Okay, so they don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but it was enough to give me a kick up the butt. That very night I finished the book, went to bed knowing that the following morning I would stub out my last cigarette EVER!! If I was quitting, it was to be for good. None of this “one every now and then”, no “social smoking”, it was all going to be over, and I actually felt good about it.

At 7.30am the next morning (I know, I know, the thought of it now makes me want to vomit), I lit up the final “cancer stick”, whilst downloading an app to assist me in the process. I didn’t even finish the whole cigarette, it tasted vile to me and I began to wonder if the book had some sort of brainwashing power. Throughout that day, I didn’t even have to try and resist the urge to head to the local shop to buy another packet of cigarettes, it seemed all way too easy. That night my partner said, “do you want this last smoke?”. To which I simply replied, “no thanks, I’ve quit”. He was shocked, but had known of my wanting to do it since our neighbour passed away, and he joined me in the quitting process.

So far, after 172 days smoke-free, we have not lapsed once, nor looked back. My app (which, to anyone in Australia, is available on the app stores of both Apple and Android, is called “My Quit Buddy”) tells me that I have avoided 19,271mg of tar (and that’s without all the other nasty chemicals) and have saved $2271.00au. And those figures are just based on my smoking alone, you could almost double that to include my partner as well. The money that hasn’t been wasted on the 2753 cigarettes I would have smoked on my own has been spent around the house putting in a veggie garden, building a house to keep some chickens, renovating our bathroom and purchasing better quality foods to enhance our newer, healthier lifestyles. I’m not here to preach to anyone the evils or dangers of smoking, as I don’t believe that works anyway. I simply just wanted to share my experience in that if you want to do something, not just quitting smoking, anything at all that you want to achieve, you can do it if you put your mind to it. And if you do want to quit smoking, DO IT! I can’t say that it will be as easy for you as it was for me, but once the initial three weeks are up, you’ll be feeling a hell of a lot better within yourself and your bank account will notice it, too. And please, if anyone wants to share their experiences on quitting, or attempting to quit, or anything else you have set your mind to and achieved, feel free to share, I just love hearing others stories of success :-).

Take Care and remember, never give up on giving up 😉
Lara xxx

Has It Really Been That Long???

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I mean, really, has it??? Okay, admittedly it has been almost a year between my last blog post and this blog post, but it honestly doesn’t seem that long. I guess as the old saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun”!!! And looking back, although there have been some down times (if you are only new to my blog, you can find a little about my battle with depression and anxiety here) but I can tell you, without a word of a lie, that there have definitely been more up times, and that is all that we can really ask for isn’t it? But I swear that for every year you get older, the time goes by just that little bit quicker. Regardless, I am rambling, I came here this evening to blog, and to blog I shall ;-).

Believe it or not, throughout the past year of non-blogging-ness, the blog has still been in the back of my mind, not everyday, maybe once a week or so. Just a little, almost timid voice saying, “have you forgotten about me”? It soon quietens and heads back to its box when I give it “THE LOOK” and then I feel rather guilty for doing so… All jokes aside, I was loving doing my blogging, but at that point in time, it was becoming more of something I HAD to do, rather than something I WANTED to do. I originally started blogging to share my love of food, as a creative outlet (I have always loved to write) and as another kind of therapy for me, and it worked, for a little while. Even though my blog is entitled “Food, Family, Love, Life”, I really only focused on the one aspect of it, the food part. At the time, I chose the title because they were the four things I loved the most in my life (not in any necessary order, of course), and because it sounded good, but I didn’t think anyone would actually find “my life” that exciting to read about. However, I’ve been reading quite a few blogs of late, and find the ones people seem drawn to are the ones about people’s lives. Whether it be; someone struggling through adversity, another battling through an incurable illness, somebody making their life a success after being told they would amount to nothing but being a failure, all these “life” stories are what makes us, us, and we humans as a species are curious by nature. So we delve into these stories and we devour them, we really do. This, combined with the fact that the post mentioned above about my history was one of my most popular, is one of the reasons I have decided to change the way I write my blog.

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Change number two, there have been a lot of changes go on in my life, the big one being the way I eat. Earlier in the year it was confirmed I had gallstones, and two weeks ago to the day, I had my gallbladder out via keyhole surgery. But between March and August, I had to find ways to keep the pain under control myself and I found that the biggest triggers for my gall stone attacks were lactose, gluten and fat. So, I became lactose free, gluten-free and started eating more raw foods and more cleanly, and it worked!!! I had hardly any pain in the couple of months leading up to the surgery and because I noticed the benefits in my body, I’ve decided to keep on with this lifestyle. Oh, and I’ve been reading up on “sugar”, too, and let me say this, I’m not a fan anymore. So, any foodie-type things I do post will be more gluten, lactose and sugar-free. But trust me when I say this, it doesn’t have to be boring!!!! Also, we’ve put in an amazing (if I do say so myself) veggie garden and we also have us some chickens now, so we are going all out to provide for ourselves as naturally as we can. Even if it’s just a little bit, I’m going to be happy knowing that my veggies are chemical free and my eggs are cruelty free, but we’ll have more about those couple of things in future blog posts ;-).

Love and family, could there be any better words in the English language that could make you feel as warm and as fuzzy as these two?? Okay, maybe some people aren’t as lucky as me, and when it comes to family I majorly received the winner’s share. My boys, my partner, my family, his family, I have been very blessed in those departments and they are all huge parts of my life, and they will be a regular feature of this blog, no blog would be complete without them. That is change number three.

Finally, change number four is that this blog is going to be what my starting intention of it was going to be, as a therapy for me and to maybe connect with some like-minded people (if there are actually any of you out there???). Writing this post alone has made me feel quite relaxed, quite happy and quite accomplished. And if those things are the main things I gain with each post, then I will be eternally grateful.

Take Care,
Lara xxx

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A Not Very “Chilli Con Carne” – Two Ways

Okay, so I guess the title may seem a little confusing at first, but it’s just a little play on words. What it really should say is “A Recipe With Traditional Chilli Con Carne Flavours Except The Chilli Isn’t Too Intense”. However, it didn’t quite have the best ring to it. Long way round for a shortcut, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Chilli Con Carne, always have. It’s one of those comforting meals that is also so adaptable. I’ve used it on jacket potatoes, with potato mash, with cous cous, rice, a topping for nachos, it is really quite diverse, and quite cheap to make, come to think of it. I have also liked it fairly well on the chilli side, but now I’m cooking for a three year old and a 19 month old, I’ve had to tone my garlic and chilli tendencies down a bit. Or, I just add extra to my serving when it’s all dished up. But this is another dish that I can rely is going to be eaten in one foul swoop, they love it as much as I do, and hubby is a bit partial to it, too ;-). It’s right up there with roast chicken and the “Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca”, which you can the recipe for that one right here.
I find myself lucky enough to be the owner of the Jamie Oliver Home Cooker (yes, as you can tell I likelove Mr. Oliver, but we’ll leave that for another day ;-)), so I now cook my Chilli Con Carne in that. However, it’s not a machine that every second person owns, so I’ll also include the how to’s on how to cook it in a slow cooker. The ingredients list is exactly the same, no difference whatsoever there, but after that, just head to your chosen method of cooking, and you’ll be on your way to eating this “Not Very Chilli Con Carne”.
Take Care xxx

NOT VERY CHILLI CON CARNE
Ingredients:
500g beef mince
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed, or 1 tsp minced garlic
440g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
420g can diced tomatoes
350g (half a jar) of passata
Pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
chilli powder (optional)
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Method – Jamie Oliver Home Cooker
*Make sure the stirring arm is attached and preheat the cooker for 3 minutes on 175 degrees Celsius with the lid on.
*Add oil, cook for 3 minutes.
*Add onion and garlic and fry for 5 minutes or until soft.
*Add the mince, breaking it up as you go, and cook with the lid on for 15 minutes, or until all the mince is browned.
*Add the beans, tomatoes, passata, chilli flakes, paprika and cumin, then a little bit of salt and pepper to taste, and pop the lid back on.
*You can now restart your cooker at 130 degrees Celsius and let it run until the timer reaches it’s limit (99 minutes).
The Jamie Oliver Home Cooker

Method – Slow Cooker
*Place a large frypan over a medium/high heat with a splash of olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add in the mince, breaking it up as you go, until it is browned.
*Transfer the mince mixture into your slow cooker and add all the remaining ingredients.
*Stir well and cook on low for 6-8 hours, simple!
Slow Cooker

There you have it, two different methods for the “Not Very Chilli Con Carne”, but both equally simple, cost effective, versatile and tasty. Try it over rice and top with some sour cream and grated cheese, or fill some jacket potatoes, tacos, burritos or nachos. You can add more chilli flakes/powder if you do like yours with a little more heat :-).

*Note – The photos I found via Pinterest, I tend to write my posts as I think of them, therefore, upon writing this, I didn’t have a snap of the chilli con Carne. And as I now have a Home Cooker, I no longer had to have a Slow Cooker, and I am not endorsing any particular product in anyway.

Clean Plates Guaranteed, Or….

Well, I’m not offering any money back guarantees, BUT what I can tell you is that this is one of only a few meals I cook repeatedly on my house as it guarantees me clean plates EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!!  Hubby and I love it, and the kids pretty much inhale their meal and them come back for more, it is truly loved in this house.  Jamie Oliver’s “Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca” from the “2 million sold cookery phenomenon” Jamie’s 30 minute meals This easy as meal is always my go-to meal if I’ve gotten busy in the afternoon and lost track of time, or if the kids are having meltdowns, as they always manage to do when it’s time to prepare the evening meal. I’m actually thinking all recipes should come with an alternate version of recipes which say “Cooking Time If You Have Grumpy Children Hanging off You Leg”, anyone with me?? Sorry, back to the task at hand… Or for those evening where I just simply can’t be bothered. The ingredients are cheap (you can get a 500g packet of generic, dried spaghetti at the major supermarkets for less than $1.00AU, which means this meal is easy on the budget. Most of the ingredients I’m sure you can find stashed away in your pantry, well, my version I’m positive you would have, Jamie does put olives and capers in the the recipe, the first time I made it, I didn’t have them in the the pantry, so I just left them out. And as the meal was such a winner, I didn’t see any point in changing anything about it. Also, don’t be afraid when you see the word “Anchovies” in the ingredient list. Personally, they are a food I despise eating on their own, but when you add them to a dish, they completely melt down and add an awesome flavour that you won’t get out of any bottle of seasoning or source, but you’re just going to have to trust me on this one ;-). .
As I said, the recipe is from Jamie’s 30 minute meals and the original recipe has garlic bread, salad and a desert alongside it, so doing all that takes the thirty minutes (again, not taking into account tired, cranky, fighting children). The actual “Spaghetti Alla Putanesca” on its own, as a whole meal, literally takes as long to cook as to get the spaghetti al dente.
What’s not to love about this? It’s quick, tasty, super cheap, and depending on the size of your family, you may even have leftovers, you really do need to go ahead and trust me on this one and try it!

You Will Need:
500g dried spaghetti
1 x 425g can of tuna in oil
2 cloves of garlic, or 2 tsps minced garlic
1 x 30g tin anchovies in oil
1 fresh red chilli, seeds removed if you have little ones eating it
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley
Ground cinnamon
1 x 700g jar of passata or 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 lemon

How To Bring It All Together:
*Bring water to the boil in a large saucepan, adding a little salt, and cook the spaghetti according to packet directions.

*Place a large frying pan on a medium heat, and once hot, pour the tuna oil into the frying pan, keeping the tuna in the can. Crush in two cloves of garlic, and add the anchovies and their oil. Then finely chop the chilli and parsley stalks and add them to the pan.

*Check the spaghetti and give it a stir.

*Roughly chop the parsley leaves and put them aside.

*Add the tuna to the frying pan, making sure to break it up as you go, stir in a large pinch of cinnamon and the passata or tinned tomatoes.

*Once your spaghetti is cooked, drain it and keep some of the cooking water. Carefully tip the spaghetti into the pan of sauce. Add the reserved cooking wart to loosen up if you need to and then serve up and ENJOY!!!

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

FINALLY….I’m Back!!!!

LOGO129832649854842265What a hectic time it’s been in between blog posts!!! August was the month for the Red Cross Big Cake Bake (you can find more about this in my previous blog post), and I was much, much busier than I ever anticipated I would be, but I loved every second of it, well, most of it ;-). Getting to combine doing something I love with doing something for the greater good was so heartwarming, so enlightening and so good for me mentally as well. I think the way most people who participated in the event around Australia went about their event was to cook up a few goodies, have a morning or afternoon tea at their home, and their friends would make a donation to come. That was NEVER going to work for me, so I put my own spin on it. I would put up photos of 6 or 7 items in an album, pop it on gym personal Facebook page and my blog page as well, and let it go from there. After the first week, I had one order, a little disheartening, but I was so determined to make this HUGE. So I gave it a few more plugs, and in came the orders, faster than I could put them down on paper. The excitement phase came, then the dread phase came, “What if I have too many? What if people hate my food?”. And the biggest one was to do with the item I had gone out on a limb and decided to bake, as I knew it would make a lot of money for the Red Cross, macarons. Hard enough to do on any given day, let alone when you are working to a deadline, and having people paying for them, “What if the macarons totally and utterly FAIL??!!”. However, I was now registered with the Red Cross as a participant, people had faith in me to cook this food, I was going to do it, and I was going to do it awesomely!!

My delivery/pickup of orders was scheduled to be on Thursday, 29th August, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to complete everything in just 2 days prior, this is the reason I chose the items that I did, to enable them to be safely frozen for the week before, with the final touches such as icings and fillings being completed trust before delivery. This, as it turns out, ended up being a strike of genius, because for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the event, I was not well, laid up on the couch, barely ale to move. Thank heavens for that forward planning, or I daresay would’ve been panicking a little. Tuesday came, and I wasn’t totally better, but I was raring to go! I had a ton of macarons to bake and fill (fingers and toes crossed all the while), I had brownies to ice, cupcakes to fill and top with meringue, and so on and so forth. The macarons were the best I had ever baked, nothing could stop me, the meringue for the lemon meringue cupcakes had beaten perfectly, piped on the cakes and in the oven….Wait, where were they?? Why is my kitchen shrouded in smoke??? I could enter some colourful words in here, but I want people to actually read my blog, so I won’t ;-). Yep, the meringues were black! But, luckily, salvageable. Well, not the meringue topping, but the rest. So, I just needed to pipe more meringue, easy! Plus, watch them a little more closely. But no, my concentration must have been waning, because I did it again! After a brief walk around outside, a few deep breaths and some talking to myself, I regained my composure, binned all said cupcakes, and started again from scratch, with a double batch, just in case ;-). And it worked, if I could have high gives myself, I would have. I never thought I would see the day that cupcakes would prove more difficult than macarons!!!!

Delivery day was still pushed forward to the Friday, as my perfectionist side wouldn’t let anything leave my house until it was, well, perfect. And from all reports, everyone loved what they purchased. How can it get any better than food binging people together for a common cause?? And everyone benefits!! I received the benefit of getting to do what I love and getting to perfect it that little bit more. The customers to to eat some pretty good food, and the Red Cross gets a couple of extra hundred dollars. Yep, you read right, little old me managed to bake and sell enough food to raise $400 for the Red Cross, I am still so excited by it! I feel good knowing that elderly people in our community may get wider access to a meals on wheels service, or, if a natural disaster hits, the money may be used to purchase medical supplies, you cannot beat that feeling!

Take Care,

Lara xxx
Happy Customer

Rediscovering My Missing Mojo

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As some of you may have noticed, there haven’t been many posts from me of late, and I apologise.  But I honestly have a really good excuse, well, kind of…  For a little over a week there, I just couldn’t cook, well, it’s not that I suddenly had a debilitating disease that left me unable to do anything, it was the fact that I DID NOT want to be in the kitchen, even preparing the normal, everyday family dinner was a loathesome struggle.  For heaven’s sake, I even messed up mashed potato!!!

I have no idea where or exactly when I lost my mojo for cooking, all I knew was that I wanted it back, and pronto!  I had no motivation behind the food, no imagination, no new ideas.  Actually, that’s a lie; I had so many new recipes I wanted to try out, my list of those just keeps getting longer and longer, my cupboards and pantry were bursting at the seams with these awesome ingredients and my baking dishes were literally falling out of the cupboards at my feet!  I went out to ou local newsagent with the aim of picking up some new foodie magazines, walked out with nothing :-(.  I picked up some of the beautiful cooking books I already have hear at home, flipped through them for about thirty seconds and put them back.  There was no other way to describe it, I was it rut, a food rut!  But herein is where the problem lie for me.  You see, when I am in a rut in my life, I always turn to cooking, not so much to eat it, but just creating with food refocuses my mind, and I feel completely at ease once I am in the kitchen.  Everything in my life just seems to fall back into place.  But what does one do when you are in a rut about the one thing that ALWAYS gets you out of a rut?  Yeah, that’s what I was struggling with.  I took too good old Facebook to ask if this happens to others and what they do about it.  The best piece of advice came from my uncle who said something along the lines of “it is completely normal, and it happens to each and everyone of us at some stage in our lives.  It may come as an opening got tell you it’s time to try something new in your life, or it may just mean you need a simple break, to just chill out, relax and put your thoughts back down on paper, and then take it from there.”  So this, I did, whilst also going out and buying a Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course hardcover.  And I sat, I marked pages, I read, I started to focus, I could actually imagine cooking some of these dishes…DING DING DING!!!  The brain started firing again and I couldn’t keep up with my mind as it was trying to tell me he things I needed to do.  Honestly, it was like a bolt of lightening had hit me when I picked up that book.  Added to that the fact that our new oven and Air Fryer arrived the very same day, and I had rediscovered my mojo, and I honestly think it’s back bigger and better than ever!

So upon having my mojo restored, here is a selection of what I managed the day after it came back to me:

Salted Caramel Macarons

Salted Caramel Macarons


Apricot & Coconut Balls

Apricot & Coconut Balls


Magic Bean Muffins

Magic Bean Muffins


Orange Cake

Orange Cake


These are minus some spring rolls, peanut butter cookies, vegetable soup, amazing marinated chicken wings and drumsticks and Pork Belly that was just to die for (my hubby hates pork cracking, but devoured the pork belly, it was THAT good)!!!! And this was all in a manner of about one and a half days. Ahhhhhhhh, I no longer feel lost, but I feel like this is me, my kitchen is my sanctuary and exactly where I belong, it is totally what I need. All I needed was a little break to stop, reasses, and have a look at where I’m at in my life and as to what fits in where, and if that can help someone, then that makes my “lost” week and a half so worth it.
Out of curiosity, what do you consider to be YOUR “mojo” and have you ever “lost” it? Please, let me know 🙂

Take Care, Lots Of Love,
Lara xxx

Baking For Charity

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For a little while now, I’ve been feeling the need to “give something back” or “pay it forward”, but haven’t quite found the right organisation to help, that fits around running around after my little ones, and that suits hubby’s busy work schedule. But, something good came out of sitting down watching rubbish television on Sunday night (it was that awesomely bad, I don’t even know what was on!). An advertisement came on and firstly, I saw the king of Australian desserts, Adriano Zumbo, thus, I was hooked on whatever was about to come out of his mouth. What he presented hit me like a bolt of lightning. The Red Cross Organisation in Australia are holding a “Great Cake Bake” during August as a form of nationwide fundraising campaign (to see where the money will be going to here’s a bit of a look: http://bigcakebake.org.au/who-you-are-helping/). I adore The Red Cross, and I’m sure most countries can relate. I will always donate money if they knock at the door, yet, I’m not comfortable knocking on stranger’s doors, so I’ve never been able to help out in that way. I can’t donate blood, so that’s out, too :-/. But cooking to raise money for such an organisation that assists so many on a MASSIVE scale? THAT I CAN DO! Seeing as cooking has gotten me through so much in my life in the past 12 months, it’s time to take what I’ve learnttaught myself, and use it in the hope of helping somebody else, even if it is only $100, it all helps. Not only that, the thing that tipped me over the ledge of registering to participate in this event was the main date that it is recommended it be held “August 26th”. Sure, to everyone else, that is just a date. For me, it would have been my best-friend’s 31st Birthday but tragically, she passed after a motor vehicle accident in 2000. So that was like her giving me the green-light that I should and am meant to do this :-).

From what I’ve read, most people are hosting “Morning/Afternoon Tea” type events, where people attend, make a donation and eat. However, given the size of my house, that quite often seems to small for the four of us, that didn’t seem like a road I wanted to travel down. So, I researched the “tips” page, thought a bit, lost some sleep, thought some more in the shower the next morning, actually sat down and had an adult converstaion with hubby about it, then thought for another 7 hours, and registered last night at about midnight. I decided that I would create an order-type system for people to order between now and a week before the day. I will then deliver the orders, or they can be picked up. You may ask “Why would helping a charity out take so much thought?”. Well, given my recent bi-polar diagnosis, I had to make sure it wasn’t my mind just being a little hyper on me with all these ideas running though it, I had to sit down and work out items I would be able to cook simply and easily with little ones around and those that could be frozen ahead of time without compromising the quality, I had to work out costs as I will be purchasing the ingredients and packaging myself, as well as delivering myself. So yes, that’s why it took a fair bit of forward thinking ;-). Take a look at some of the goodies which will be available for purchase!

Swirl Biscuits

Swirl Biscuits

Zucchini BrowniesBanana Cake with Maple Icing
Lemon Meringue CupcakesChocolate MacaronsRaspberry & White Choc Muffins

Then there are those who don’t live close to me, and there is a place they can simply dig deep and donate for a worthy cause without getting anything in return: http://bigcakebake2013.gofundraise.com.au/page/larasbigcakebake. I mean, I live in Tasmania, which is an island state separate to the mainland of Australia, so I don’t think the quality of the goods would be quite up to scratch once they reached their destination ;-). This link can also be used if you know of any businesses who may be looking to sponsor an event, as you can donate straight from this page and also be issued with a tax receipt, so it’s really a win/win situation for everyone :-).

So as you can tell, I am MAJORLY excited about this, and had to share :-). If you’d like to find out more, please click on any of the above links and thankyou so much for taking time out of your busy days to read my post xxx

Wish Me Luck!!!
Lots of Love,
Lara xxx

Let Them Eat “Rainbow” Cake

Honestly, I can’t believe it has been week since my last post, and I can also honestly say, that I don’t know where that week has gone.  I must have blinked and missed it, well, not quite, but I’m sure the weeks are flying by faster and faster.  I haven’t cooked up batches of anything during the past week, which is HUGE for me.  Sure I’ve cooked the normal everyday meals, and tried new things in doing so….BUT there was one baking challenge I did set myself.  Last Monday, I opened my mailbox to my latest subscription of Recipes Plus Magazine.  Yes, I actually have a magazine subscription, something I never thought I’d do and I still forget about it until it arrives.  The only reason I have it, is because on Mothers Day this year, we kind of cheated and bought a meal from KFC for Dinner, and with it came a voucher for a magazine subscription, BONUS!!  Anyway, back to the story…  On the front was this beautifully bright, amazingly tall, icing laden cake!  I had, by chance, been looking for a “different” cake idea for hubby’s upcoming birthday, and although this cake wasn’t very “manly”, it would take the cake with the kids, so to speak ;-).  Just by looking at the cover page, I honestly didn’t think I could do it, so I flipped to page 20-something and saw that the recipe and method only took up half an A4 page, and upon reading it, saw that it “seemed” easy peasy.  It sounded that easy I could have done it then and there, but I restrained myself, and waited until Wednesday, the actual day of hubby’s birthday and the day that my youngest little cherub would be at daycare.  Common sense prevailed, and I was glad it did, because it’s not that the cake itself was difficult, it was the mess I made in my kitchen; ingredients, bowls, baking paper, trays, spread from one end of the kitchen to the other :-/.

However, it was totally worth it, and I exceeded all the expectations I had set for myself.  Sure my hands were amass of blue, red, yellow and green colouring, but I had recreated this multi-colour, 6 layer, 12cm cake, without one layer sinking or being uneven, and it didn’t look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa (that was my main fear!).  I also made it dairy and soy free, too, so my little man didn’t have to miss out on all the fun.  The cake was a hit, there was more than enough for us, family, and friends as well.  So check out the recipe below, have a look at the photos I did manage to capture along the way, and have a go!  You will have a blast!

RAINBOW CAKE
From Recipes+ Magazine

Ingredients:
250g butter, margarine, or dairy free substitute, plus 250g extra
3/4 cup caster sugar, plus 3/4 cup extra
1 tsp vanilla extract, plus 1 tsp extra
3 eggs, at room temp, plus 3 extra
2 1/3 cups self raising flour, plus 2 1/3 cups extra
2/3 cup milk, plus 2/3 cup extra (I used Rice Milk)
Purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red food colouring (just a money-saver tip; buy a boxed set of rainbow (blue, red, yellow, green) colouring. To make orange blend red and yellow. To make purple, blend red and blue ;-))
1 quantity of butter icing (see below)

Method:
*Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/160 degrees fan forced. Grease and line 3 x 20cm round cake pans. If you don’t have cake pans, you can use 20cm round disposable foil trays.
*Using an electric mixer, beat the first lot of butter, sugar and essence in a medium bowl until light and creamy. Add the 3 eggs, one by one, beating lightly after each addition, making sure each is well combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the sifted first lot of flour and milk until combined. Divide the mixture evenly between three bowls. Tint one portion purple, one portion blue, and one portion green. Pour each portion into separate prepared pans.
*Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted through the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Wash and dry cake pans thoroughly. Grease and line the pan bases once again and repeat the process with the “extra” ingredients; tinting the portions yellow, orange and red.

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*Make butter icing as recipe directs. Using a serrated knife, level top of cakes (I didn’t do this bit as I have done this before and ended up with no cake….plus, they all looked pretty well even). Place purple cake layer on a serving place; spread with 1/3 cup of the icing. Top with blue cake layer. Repeat layering with green, yellow, orange and red cakes (again, I just placed them on in any order…whoops!). Spread top and sides of cake with remaining icing and chill for 30 minutes (for easy slicing).
*With the icing of the top and sides, I did start to try and make the icing look all flat, and even, and pretty. That didn’t last long when Master 3 wanted to help…but on thinking about it, this is a Rainbow Cake, and to me, white represents the clouds, and clouds aren’t all even and flat. So the icing was just lathered on, literally, and I think it actually made the cake look better ;-).

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BUTTER ICING
Ingredients:
375g butter, margarine or dairy free substitute, at room temp
4 cups (640g) icing sugar
1/3 cup milk (I used Rice Milk), approximately, at room temp

Method:
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl until white. Gradually beat in half the sifted icing sugar, then gradually add the milk. Add the remaining icing sugar, beat until spreadable.

And….TA DAAAAAA!!!!
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I think, to date, this is one of my best creations, well, except for my children, but that’s a given ;-).
If you have a birthday coming up in your family or your workplace, you HAVE to try it. Not only does it look pretty spesh, but it tastes absolutely DELISH!!!!

Until next time guys,
Lots of Love,
Lara xxxx