What goes down, must come up.

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The town where I live rests between two steep hills. We live on the top of one hill. The kindergarten is on the top of the other.

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So I suppose it’s a matter of perspective – an absolute b#%ch of a walk, or an ideal way to fit a decent workout into my life.

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Today, I chose the latter view. With skies blue enough to inspire the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, I got my inactive arse off the couch and walked the beautiful tree lined streets to J5’s kindergarten. It was wonderful! I was essentially drunk on vitamin D.

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I’m slightly obsessed with trees.
Little R2 has a toy camera and it gives me such joy to see him taking pretend photos of trees like his mum. I can’t help it – I just find their winter branches spectacular.

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Lovely limbs, all connected, stretching up and out in search of sun and sky.

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Remember how Rumplestiltskin asked for straw to be spun into gold?

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I think I found his gold… Stunning!

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I’m proud of myself for tackling those hills today. It felt like the first step towards curing myself of a hearty dose of the winter blues. What goes down, must come up.

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COCOA POPS (WITHOUT THE CRAP)

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My little four year old has recently discovered commercial television in the mornings, and has abandoned the family friendly, quality viewing on ABC 4 KIDS, in favour of cartoons like “The Power rangers” and other typical, action packed boy shows. This in itself, is fine. What I’m really not enjoying though, is his exposure to the brainwashing of relentless advertisements.
Every morning, it’s “can you buy this mum? Can we get that? Can I have those?”
Argh!!! It’s bad enough when the “Toy Sale” catalogues arrive. He takes them to bed at night, pouring over every page and adding junk item after junk item to his wish list.
Now, I’m guilty of perusing the junk mail myself and making mental wish lists, but as an adult, I understand that in life, we can’t have everything we desire. (Thank goodness! Every cupboard in my house is bursting at the hinges as it is!)
But it’s harder for kids to accept that.
Especially when a magical fat man comes once a year and fills their sacks with desired goodies.
As a parent, it’s not always fun saying no, no, no. No we can’t go there, no you can’t have that, no you can’t eat that because its full of crap that will give you rashy cheeks and turn you into a lunatic…
So when he came to me this morning saying “Look mum! Cocoa pops! Just like a chocolate milkshake! Only crunchy! Can you buy them? Pleeeeease!!! I want those for breakfast!”
Today, instead of saying no, I said “yep, we can have cocoa pops, I’ll make you some.”

Cocoa Pops (without the crap)

Organic puffed rice – nothing added (I use the “Abundant earth” brand from the health food aisle in Coles supermarket )

Chocolate Milk

In a blender, combine:

1 litre (4 cups) almond milk (or milk of your choice)

1 tbsp cacao

1 heaped tbsp raw, local honey

Pour desired amount over a bowl of puffed rice and reminisce your childhood.

Or at least feel like a good parent for reaching a happy healthy compromise 🙂

Note: While ridiculously better for your kids than store-bought cocoa pops, I still don’t think it’s an ideal choice for breakfast every day. It is free from refined sugars, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives which is awesome, but its still not very nutrient dense. Adding some protein like a sprinkle of chia seeds would be beneficial and topping with some sliced banana and or blueberries would be great for some extra fibre, vitamins and antioxidants!

The chocolate milk will keep in a jar for a couple of days or you could gently heat it on the stove and have hot chocolates for afternoon tea. Yum!

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Enjoy 🙂

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Let’s get planting!

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The easiest and cheapest way to access delicious organic vegetables is, in my opinion, to grow them yourself. And it’s definitely the most mentally rewarding! We are so fortunate to have the space to grow quite a lot but you’d be amazed at what you can achieve in pots. If you’ve never had a veggie garden and feel daunted by the whole process, (as I did initially) start small. Even one large pot with a cherry tomato plant in the centre and some basil seedlings around its base can reap such rewards for you and your family. And it’ll set you back about $8 or $9. Such good value!!!
We are prone to frosts well into Spring where I live, so when it comes to getting our summer vegetables in the ground, the general rule of thumb is to wait until Melbourne Cup weekend. (1st weekend of November)
Finally today I got my hands in the earth and some dirt under my fingernails!
One bed is finished and filled with tomatoes, capsicums, (red, green and yellow) zucchinis and marigolds. Last year I planted all of these in one small garden bed – in a not very sunny spot but still managed to harvest quite a lot. This year, everything is well spaced and will receive all day full sunshine so I’m looking forward to bumper crops!
I also prepared another large bed for a three sisters garden and will hopefully get my sweet corn, beans and pumpkin in tomorrow or over the weekend.
And of course some cucumbers, herbs, cherry tomatoes, maybe some carrots, oh yes and the cheerful sunflowers! Exciting times ahead 🙂

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I’ve also been keeping a close eye on some cheeky snails in my garden. They’ve been munching at my little kale seedlings that I planted a couple of weeks ago – this did not make me very happy at all. They were the little darlings I grew from seeds in my miniature green houses.

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I’ve sprayed those since with something called Neem. It’s organic, from a tree and apparently 100% safe to use for pest control in organic gardening without harming people, animals, birds or bees. Sounds good hey? I’ll let you know if it works or if anyone else knows more about it, feel free to comment!
I’m all for animal well being and even happy to share a little silver beet, but these pesky buggers are just getting too greedy. When I find them now, I throw them over the hedge onto the nature strip. But mark my words, if any of them dare eat my almost ripe strawberries before I get a chance… I will think nothing of throwing them onto the road and into oncoming traffic!

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HEALTHY CHOCOLATE LEGO MEN

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Since my little man’s second birthday party last weekend, we’ve all developed a real taste for sweets. This is not such a good thing.
Fortunately, these days I know how to make delicious chocolate with healthier ingredients in no time at all. It beats reaching for the family block of Cadbury anyway and tastes so much better!
The honey in these is from my local farmers market and it is so divine. It creates a sticky toffee like centre to the chocolates. Just heaven! The kids go nuts for these (if I save them any!)
You can get all sorts of silicon moulds which are ideal for popping the chocolates out easily. I got these 2 trays of Lego men (8 shapes per tray) on eBay for about $14 (AUS) with free shipping.

YOU WILL NEED

2 heaped tablespoons organic, cold pressed coconut oil

1 tbs raw local honey

1 heaped tablespoon cacao

* The reason I “heap” the spoonfuls is because I’d rather have a little too much than not quite enough… And you can always lick the spoon! That said, don’t go too overboard with the honey or they’ll be very sticky and won’t set properly.

HERE’S HOW

Melt all ingredients in a saucepan on a medium heat until combined.
Fill silicon trays with chocolate mix and freeze for about 1/2 an hour.
Makes 16 yummy chocolates.
Perfect for a Quick and easy late night treat… I dare you to stop at one!

NOTES and tips I’ve learned along the way:

*These chocolates need to be kept in the fridge or freezer.

*Use your smallest pot/saucepan for this as it seems to help the ingredients combine more thoroughly.

*Make sure the honey is thoroughly melted through the mix otherwise it will sink to the bottom of the moulds and they won’t set properly.

*Make sure you lay your moulds flat in the freezer. If the chocolate mixture is not distributed evenly, bits and pieces break easily – usually the poor little fellows heads fall off!

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Enjoy the goodness 🙂

A HEALTHIER CHILDREN’S PARTY: free of additives, tantrums and meltdowns.

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Today we celebrated little R’s second birthday. It wasn’t a huge affair, just a small gathering of family and close friends. Eleven adults, six children under 6 and one young teenager.
We had such a great day, relaxing and catching up but one of the best things about the whole day for me was when a couple of the adults commented in amazement at how well behaved the kids were and how happily they played together all day. Especially compared to the usual screaming and craziness of children’s parties that we’ve all experienced before.
I said, “do you know why? Because none of the food they’ve eaten contains numbers and artificial crap. No cocktail franks to create itchy red cheeks, no artificial food dyes in the iced cakes to cause tantrums and melt downs, fairy bread with naturally coloured sprinkles instead of a piece of bread covered in hyperactivity inducing poisonous chemicals etc…
This is not to say that we all sat around and munched on carrot sticks and apples, there was definitely still sugar involved – though mostly unrefined. But there was also plenty of yummy, nutritious whole food treats and goodies to appeal to young and old and everyone seemed happily satisfied with full bellies and smiling faces!

So here’s what we ate…

Appetisors:
Plain vita wheat rice crackers, olives, dips – homemade and store bought, (preservative free) as well as nuts, “macro” brand organic chips, fairy bread with real butter and Hopper’s Natural 100s & 1000s.

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Mains:
We decided the best way to feed everyone something remotely healthy would be with a barbecue. I made skewers with diced beef and vegetables marinated in cumin, lemon and olive oil, plus meatball skewers made from minced beef with vegetable pieces, marinated in honey and tamari sauce. Most of these I cooked in the oven as there were a lot of them plus they seem to cook more evenly this way.

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This left room on the barbecue for lamb chops and preservative free sausages.
Lunch was served with scalloped potatoes made by my mum with cream, milk, and cheese and a green salad with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, snow peas, green beans, and avocado, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, pink salt and black pepper.

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Dessert:

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Chocolate bliss balls rolled in coconut which made for a good replacement of the traditional rum ball/chocolate truffle.
My little R basically scoffed the whole plate of Honey Joys made with butter, local honey, raw organic sugar and “Freedom” brand corn flakes – low salt and free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.
I also made “really healthy chocolate crackles” and you can find this recipe here. I have made these before and they are really yummy but they didn’t hold together very well. This time I increased the coconut oil to 200g and the sugar to 3/4 cup and they were MUCH better. Delicious and not at all crumbly.
What child doesn’t like fresh blueberries and strawberries? Berries are coming into season here and therefore cheap and delicious.

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And of course, the smurfalicious birthday cake…

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I slightly modified an old family favourite recipe for a chocolate cake here using spelt flour (with baking powder) rapadura sugar, butter, eggs, milk, cacao and vanilla bean paste.
The icing was made with icing sugar, butter and Hoppers natural food colours. It was my first time using these plant based food dyes and I was so impressed with the vibrancy of the colours. The other decorations were the Hoppers 100s & 1000s and chocolate “Smarties.” The Smarties are obviously not ideal but they are free of artificial colours and flavours so not all bad. (I bought the smurf figurines from Big W in a packet of 8 for $28. Both my boys are smurf obsessed at the moment so I knew these would be treasured for more than a day on a cake top!

SIMPLICITY CHOCOLATE CAKE

This is the recipe for just a standard size round cake tin and I tripled these ingredients to make the large rectangle cake pictured:

1 cup organic spelt flour (or self raising flour)
1 tsp baking powder (omit if using SRF)
1 cup raw organic sugar or rapadura sugar (either is delicious)
2 tablespoons cacao
1 tsp of vanilla bean paste or extract
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs*

Combine all ingredients and beat with an electric mixer for 3 minutes.
Pour into a greased and lined baking pan
Bake for 35-40 minutes** on 180dc (350 F) Test with a skewer to see if it’s ready. When the skewer comes out clean it’s done.

*see here for egg substitution using chia seeds

**if you are tripling the ingredients for a large cake it will take an hour in the oven.

Note: I used raw sugar for this cake but only used 2 cups of sugar instead of 3. With the icing on the top it’s sweet enough without tripling it.
However, if using rapadura sugar, triple it, as it is not as sweet.

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Lolly Bags

Every guest, children and adults alike, received a lolly bag because, well, why not? J, my 4 yr old helped me personalise the lolly bags with stickers. They contained an “Artisse” organic, natural lolly pop, (bought from my local health food shop) a few “Natural Confectionary Company” lollies, a couple of smarties, a white marshmellow, a balloon, some bubbles and a whistle.

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Obviously some of the foods here will not suit everybody. Every family and every child has different needs, tolerances and allergies. For us however, making some of these healthier choices and simple swaps helped us to achieve such a pleasant day for everyone. The children still had a party sugar fix but not a chemical fix and what a difference it made! They all had an absolute ball and our day ended peacefully with a relaxing bath and ten minutes of quiet time snuggled on the couch before both kids passed out from a big day of pure fun 🙂

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“Tum Yum Soup” – Gut Healing Chicken Soup

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Despite my best efforts to boost our immunity, with two little ones at childcare, kinder, playgroup etc… Lately, we’ve had a rough run of catching nasty coughs, colds and tummy bugs. The weather here isn’t doing us any favours either. The transition so far from winter to spring has bought with it many wild and blustery winds, heavy rains and even hail. This of course, has resulted in many days trapped indoors. That’s not fun for anyone really…
Regardless, I’m determined to get us to a place of good health, so I’m upping the veggies, the probiotics and I’m bringing in the big guns… Chicken Soup!
Chicken soup with its nourishing vitamins, minerals, fats and acids has long been hailed a miraculous natural remedy for boosting immune health and curing all sorts of common ills. As well as that, it’s easy to digest and so flavoursome and comforting.
This soup is cooked using ‘lovely legs’ or chicken thighs on the bone. It is simmered slowly in the oven for up to 3 hours, using a cast iron pot. You can use a large casserole dish for this or if you prefer to use a stove top, bring it to a boil, and simmer the soup covered on a low to medium heat for up to two hours. You’ll know it’s ready as the chicken will start falling succulently from the bones. If you’re organised, you could also cook this in a slow cooker (crockpot) on low for 6 hours.

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YOU WILL NEED

12 chicken thighs on the bone (skinless)

2 leeks, sliced

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 parsnip, diced

Half a butternut pumpkin, roughly chopped

2 zucchinis, roughly chopped (the pumpkin and zucchini will cook faster than the other veg so I chop them a bit larger)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or minced

1 inch knob of ginger, finely chopped or grated

4 cups good quality chicken stock preferably homemade

2 tsp Dried herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, sage etc…

2 tsp tamari (or soy) sauce*

2 tsp raw local honey*

Fresh herbs to serve

A Crack or 2 of good quality salt and black pepper. (If using the tamari or soy, go easy on the salt!)

* These ingredients are optional but I like the subtle sweet and salty layer they give the soup. They are also flavours my children are fond of so i know this will encourage them to slurp up all those yummy veggies in the soup.

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HERE’S HOW

* Preheat the oven to 200dc (390 DF)

* Place all ingredients in a large cast iron pot making sure all ingredients are covered by the stock. (If not, top up with cold water)

* Cook at 200dc (390) for 1 hour and stir.

* Reduce oven temp to 160 dc (320df) and cook for a further 2 hours until chicken falls easily from the bone.

* Serve either with whole chicken pieces or shred meat from bones in advance with a fork.

* Scatter with fresh herbs (I used chives)

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Enjoy the goodness 🙂

Beautiful Bone Broth

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Dear lovely Vegan friends, look away now.

I’ve been making my own nourishing, flavour packed stock for about a year now and as well as being so good for us, it adds such a depth of flavour to so many meals. Well, actually, I’ve recently learned that what I’ve been making is in fact broth not stock. The difference apparently being that meat stock is the product of slow cooking pieces of meat (such as a whole chicken) in water flavoured with some veggies, herbs, salt and pepper, while bone broth is as it sounds, a flavoursome broth made from roasted bones, slow cooked in water, also flavoured by veggies, herbs, salt and pepper.
Both are delicious and full of healthful gut healing and immune boosting properties. As the meat or bones are cooked, their nutrients are slowly released into the water – vitamins (particularly the B vitamins) amino acids, nourishing fats and minerals. Meats cooked in water are a good choice for people with digestive issues as they are easier to digest than roasted, grilled etc…
This is hardly a new concept or surprising info. What’s the first thing people crave when they are sick? A comforting bowl of soup. One of the oldest, most popular home remedies for healing all ailments and ills, is a hearty chicken soup.
For more information about the healing benefits of Broth/stock I highly recommend checking out “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS) by Dr Natasha Campbell-Mcbride.
Now, lets get down to business and make some broth!
I should add, for the record, that making broth/stock is so easy (especially if you have a slow cooker) and costs basically nothing. You’ll wonder why you ever bothered with cubes and cartons.

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YOU WILL NEED

* 2 carrots, halved

* an onion, quartered

* 1-2 celery sticks, halved

* any other vegetable scraps you have or those that are looking tired in your crisper.

Note: Throughout the week as I cook, I collect things like celery tops, broccoli and cauliflower stalks, kale and silver beet stalks and stems and store either in the fridge or freezer to add to the stock.

* 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

* 1 teaspoon good quality salt (pink Himalayan or Murray river if in Australia)

* 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

* 2-3 bay leaves

* 1 tbsp mixed dried herbs

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* And most importantly, BONES!

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It is important that your bones come from healthy free range animals – apart from the obvious ethical issues – you’re not going to get a lot of nutrition from a malnourished factory famed animal.
Until recently, most of my stock was made from chicken (bones) as it was the easiest free range animal to source locally. Drumsticks in particular are always a hit with my kids. They’re cheap, easy to cook and the meat falls easily away from the bone. When I’m making stock, I usually request that the meat is cut away from the bone rather than chewed and sucked dry! Mind you, after being re-roasted at a high temp in the oven and then slow cooked for 24 hours, I’m pretty sure that any bacteria from our eating would be well and truly killed.
Recently, good old social media put me back in touch with an old school friend who shares similar concerns and ideas around food and nutrition. She put me onto a local farm who deliver to my door, delicious bulk orders of beef and lamb from ethically farmed, grass fed animals. Check out http://www.braelandsbeef.com I also received a huge box of bones with my order for free. Some went to the dogs of friends and families, some into the freezer for a later date and some straight into the oven to roast for what would be the richest, darkest, best broth I’ve ever made!

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HERE’S HOW

* Roast bones (in a couple of knobs of butter, coconut oil etc…) at 200 dc (390 F) for about 30 mins or until nicely browned

* place all other ingredients in the slow cooker (crockpot)

* add your roasted bones

* fill with water, making sure all ingredients are well covered

* for chicken bones – cook for 12-24 hours
* for larger beef or lamb bones – cook for 24-72 hours.

Note: The finished broth pictured (from beef bones) was cooked for 40 hours.
You may need to top the water up once or twice during cooking.

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* When the broth has finished cooking, remove all ingredients from pot with a slotted spoon and discard.

* Ladle the liquid through a strainer (sieve) into a jug and pour into clean glass jars.

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* fill the jars leaving about an inch from the top. (This is important as the liquid may expand while freezing and if too full, cause your jar to break.)

* store in the freezer for a least 3 months but probably a lot longer. Mine is always used by then!

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Enjoy the goodness 🙂