Saturday 25 May 2013

When the fabric comes before the project plan - Sweat-pant leggings Tutorial

So I popped in to my local Spotlight store a few weeks ago with the very specific intention of grabbing some elastic and a particular ribbon I needed ... yeah like that's ever gonna happen.  I came out with about $50 worth of stuff ... oops! Come on ... I know I'm not the only one that does that!  Fess up!!

Anyhow, my star-find that day was this gorgeous plush mustard yellow tribal-ish looking fleece.  I'm in love with this fabric.  The brushed back-side of this is the softest, most smooth and snuggly-feeling fleece I've ever seen.  Just think about those super-soft baby plush stuffed toys ... yep, that's what it's like.  I had no idea what to make out of it, but with winter fast approaching, I grabbed a metre in the hope some inspiration would come along.

Anyway as is typical with my project planning, the idea evolved A LOT before it was made.  I started with planning to make a winter dress for Bethany and pinafore for Hannah.  But after a bit more thinking about what they actually need in their wardrobes this winter (LOL ... "need" - I'm kidding myself.  These girls never NEED any clothes), there has been no dress or pinafore, but some little sweat-pants-with-a-twist for Hannah.  They're kinda tighter like leggings, 'cause I like the way leggings look, and I love the warmth of sweat-pants, but they can look a little daggy.  So this is a compromise, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too type effort.  In fact, these little Sweat-gings (OK, so the name is still a work in progress) started a run of winter wardrobe sewing for both girls.  After the first mustard pair, I raided my Mum's stash of winter fleece that she's had since she ran a children's clothing business many eons ago, and made Hannah 3 pairs in all.  

I also managed some for Bethany with this beautiful floral fleece.

Oh, and what did Bethany score from Mummy's fabric-crush?  
A skirt!  I love the way this fleece sits in this skirt, which is just your basic rectangle with elastic in the waist.  I added the extra band on the bottom of the skirt because it adds just a little more weight and makes the skirt sit just that bit nicer.  Oh, and the gorgeous light-weight cardi Bethany is wearing here is from this tutorial.  I've been wanting to try this one for a while, and the bright watermelon colour in the original design prompted me to give it a go for this outfit.  I thought the colour would contrast well together with the mustard in the skirt, and I really love the combo! The white top underneath is from this tutorial, one I've also had on my to-do list for ages.  iCandy handmade is a great in case you didn't already know that!  These were both super-easy and quick with free pattern downloads too!   Bethany may be getting a few more of these tops if I can get my hands on some cute knit-prints.

Anyway, onto the tutorial.  Here's how I made these Sweatpant-leggings for both Hannah and Bethany:

What you need:
- 1/2 yard fleece fabric (one with a bit of stretch is a good option)
- Coordinating thread
- A length of 1/2 inch elastic long enough to fit around your munchkin's waist
- Sewing machine and Overlocker (Serger) - Though the overlocker is definitely not an essential for this one as fleece doesn't fray, so leaving the seams with raw edges would be totally fine.
- Tracing paper (I used a roll of brown paper I bought at a discount store)

Let's get moving:

1. Grab a pair of currently fitting leggings fold them in half and trace around them, leaving an additional 1 1/2 inches at the waist to allow for waist-band.  Leave a 1/2 inch seam allowance on the straight and curved sizes.  Leave 1 1/2 inches extra at the waist to allow for turning a waistband.  No need for any extra allowance at the bottom of the leg, 'cause we'll be adding a cuff.  Cut out your pattern piece.

2. Fold the fabric and place the straight edge on the fold and pin.   The stretch should run across the the pattern.  You might be able to make out my markings on this pattern.

3. Cut 2 pieces.  When opened out they should look something like this.

4. Place your two pieces right sides together and sew along the top curved section on each side, then overlock the seams (if you have an overlocker) as so...

5. Open out the pants and place the seams in line at the front and back so that you have something that looks vaguely pant-shaped.  Pin the inside leg seam as so, and sew / overlock around. (NOTE: Ignore the cuffs on the bottom of this picture ... they were a mistake ... yep I'm still making plenty of those!! ... the cuffs shouldn't be there at this stage!!)

6.  Overlock (if you have an overlocker) around the waistband.  Fold your waist-band down 1 inch, and sew around, leaving a 1/2 inch opening to allow the elastic to be threaded through.

7.  Measure your munchkin's waist and cute the elastic to this length. Thread the elastic through the waistband using a safety-pin.  Overlap the ends of the elastic about 1/2 inch, and sew down.

8. Now to make the cuffs ... Place the little pants flat on the table, and measure the width of the bottom of each leg.  Mine were 4 inches.  Grab some offcuts of your fabric, and cut 2 rectangles that measure 2 x width by 4 inches.  In this case, the rectangles were 8 inches (i.e. 2x4") by 4 inches.

Fold the cuffs in half right sides together along the long side (to make a square shape) and sew using 1/4 inch seam.

 Turn the cuff right side out, then fold in half long-ways to make a band, right side out.  

Turn the little pants right-side out, and place the cuff over the pant leg, lining up the raw edges of the cuff with the raw edges of the pant leg.  Line up the seam on the cuff with the seam on the pants, then pin in place.  You may need to stretch the cuff slightly to fit the pant leg.  Sew around the raw edges using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.  (You should be sewing through 3 layers of fabric .... 2 layers of cuff, and 1 layer of pant-leg).  Finish off the seam by overlocking.

Then flip down the cuff, and you're done.

If using a stripe or any directional print, it can be fun to rotate the direction for the cuffs like in this striped one.  A little bow or other decoration can add a little interest too ... have fun with it!

Anyone for golf?
I think I'm making a habit of the matching-but-not outfits for my girls.  Don't worry, this is the first and only time they'll be wearing them on the same day.  Oh, and this photo just melts this Mummy's heart!  I just love watching what great little friends they're becoming now that Hannah's well and truly out of her baby-phase.

Sunday 19 May 2013

School Night Dinners Series - Recipe 1 - Very Vegie Udon Noodles

Nothing prepared me for the fact that having Bethany at school 5 days each week has actually made me busier ... crazy busy, actually.  I'm loving the extra one-on-one time with Hannah, and am totally in awe while watching Bethany learn so many new things, but man life is B.U.S.Y.  And the busiest, craziest, hair-pulling-out-iest time of day? ... Yep, those jam-packed 3 hours between school pick-up and kiddy bedtime.  I know I'm not alone when I say that fitting in afternoon tea, a short play, preparing dinner, bath-time, eating dinner, catching up on each other's day, cleaning up after dinner, sight-words, home-readers, washing lunchboxes, tidying up toys, teeth-brushing, bedtime stories and finally tucking those munchkins into bed is all pretty tough to fit into those 3 hours.  Especially when a certain 5 year old is totally exhausted, and it can be like dragging around a bag of rocks to get her to do anything.  And don't even get me started on the mad rush around on the 1 afternoon each week when Bethany does ballet after school.  OH MY GOODNESS!

Anyway, we've been working hard to try to to take the stress out of preparing dinner, and to make sure that even when we have literally no time, we can still make a nutritious meal that will appeal to all 4 of us.  I thought I'd share our top super-quick school night meal ideas.  Some are super quick to make, some take some prepping time, but the prepping can be done before-hand to save time during the crazy-3 hours, and others are great to pre-make and freeze for those night you really need a thaw-heat-and-eat dinner.

I had originally planned to do just 1 post with 5 recipes included in it, but after working on it a bit, I realised that a post with 5 recipes would be GIGANTIC!!  So, I decided to so a little mini-series.  Today I'll share the first of these recipes, and the others will follow over the next few weeks ...

So, Recipe No 1 ...

Very Vegie Udon Noodles: Time to cook (including preparation) about 15-20 minutes.

Ingredients (to serve 2 adults and 2 kiddos):
- 300g lean chicken, turkey or beef (or even substitute for tofu if you're after a vegetarian option)
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 handful of green beans
- 4 ice-cubes of Pre-made vegie puree (I've talked about how to make this here and here)
- 3 x 200g packets (ie 600g) of udon noodles
- 1 Tbsp Hoi Sin Sauce (available in the Asian Food section of the supermarket)
- 1/2 of a salt-reduced chicken stock-cube (use a beef stock if cooking with beef, or a vegie stock if making a vegetarian dish)
- Water

The how to:
1. Chop your chicken/turkey/beef/tofu into bite-size pieces, and dice the carrot, beans and onion.

2.  Take the noodles out of their packets and place them into a heat-proof bowl, and cover with boiling water, then set aside.

3.  In a wok, large frypan or even a saucepan if that's all you've got handy, fry off the onion and chicken/turkey/beef/tofu over high heat until it starts to brown well.  You can use a teaspoon of oil if you like, or if you're watching the calories I find even just a tablespoon of water works well.

4.  Throw in the chopped vegies, the vegie puree cubes, the half stock-cube and a generous tablespoon of hoi-sin sauce, and give it all a good mix.

5.  Add a cup of water, turn the heat down to medium, and allow to simmer uncovered for about 5-10 minutes, or until the vegies (especially the carrot) have softened.  You might need to top the water up a little as you go along to stop it from drying out and burning, so keep an eye on it, but you do want to have boiled off some of the liquid by the time the vegies are cooked, so don't flood it or you'll end up with runny noodles.

6.  Drain off the noodles, then stir them through the mixture in the wok.

And that's it!!  Super-easy, super quick, super tasty and jam-packed with vegies!  Feel free to substitute the vegies for any others you have on hand.  Peas work well, as do zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli.

Hope you enjoy this one as much as we do, and stay tuned for another 4 recipes to come.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Bethany's Pyjama Party Round-Up

This is the last of my posts about Bethany's Pyjama birthday party...I promise!  (See the previous posts with tutorials about the girl's PJ's here and here).  

Anyway, when Bethany first announced her idea of a Pyjama-themed birthday, my first stop was google and Pinterest to try and get some inspiration.  I was trying to find ideas and inspiration for party food, party games and the birthday cake.  I was surprised to find there were not many pyjama party ideas (age-appropriate ones at least ... hmmm, cough!) around.    So Daddy and I put our thinking-caps on, and here's a run-down of the ideas we had.  Hope this might be helpful for anyone else planning a little girl's pyjama-themed party.
1.  The cake!
Whenever I start planning a birthday party, I can't help immediately starting a mental plan for the cake!  I love baking, and since I did some lessons a few years back with a friend who has an AMAZING talent with fondant icing, I have really enjoyed thinking about new fondant designs to use.  This cake was so much fun to make, and the best part was that with the blanket-icing, I didn't have to struggle with getting my icing covering all smooth around the edges, which is probably the thing I struggle with most when icing a cake with fondant.
Oh, and did you notice the icing-Bethany's PJ details?  Look familiar? ... yep I'm a little nuts for detail like that!!

2. The Food
This is Daddy's favourite part of organising any party.  He's a bit (OK, a lot) of a foodie, and he just loves to try new things.  As we decided to have a morning-time party (10am), and because of the PJ theme, we called it a PJ brunch, and made breakfasty-style food ... 
Cheese and Bacon Mini-Muffins using this recipe.

Mini-pancake Stacks (with jam and cream) - I just used the pikelet recipe from this book

"Orange Juice" - aka a shot-glass of orange-flavoured jelly

Mini Banana Muffins - Also from this book

Ham and Cheese mini-"Baguettes"

"Hot" Chocolate - For this I bought ready-made chocolate milk, and diluted it 50:50 with fresh milk (boy that ready-made stuff is strong), then just added a couple of mini-marshmallows.  It was served cold ... couldn't risk having any scalded munchkins ... but they didn't seem to mind.
The kids totally loved this one!!

We also had a couple of non-PJ-themed foods ... just 'cause we thought they'd be fun!
Fairy Bread - of course!!  (Thanks to Aunty J)

Mini-chocolate crackles

Lolly Sushi - A friend gave me this idea, and we used this recipe ... It's really cute and tastes great, but next time I would use only white marshmallows (as the "rice" turned out VERY pink), and I might choose only green-coloured fruit roll-ups, rather than a mixed pack, just so it looks a little more authentic-sushi!

3.  The games
This is the part of the party that I/we struggle most with generally.  We love planning the food, the styling, the cake, the party-bags, but what to play?  Here's the pyjama-themes games we did ... though I bet you could come up with a million other ideas:

Pin the Tail on the Donkey Slippers on the Princess ... The winners got a prize from the lucky-dip bag of goodies ... which were generally pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, little pads of paper, glow-sticks ... small trinkets like that.
A huge pat on the back for Daddy who drew the princess, and all the animal slippers for her to wear ... he's very artistic, and Mummy was SUPER impressed!

Sack Pillow-case Race - Sorry, no pic of this one, but I just bought 6 el-cheapo pillowcases (pink of course) from out local Reject Shop, and the kids lined up (6 at a time), and raced to a line we taped on the ground.  The winner scored a prize from the lucky-dip bag.  Oh, and I haven't wasted those pillowcases.  They're now in my fabric stash (after a quick wash).  Will be great as bodice-linings or other sewing fun like that!

We hired our Church Hall for the party (since Bethany invited almost 30 kids).  This was a great option as it has an outdoor area to play in which the kids were able to do at the beginning of the party while everyone arrived, then when it poured with rain a little later, and the party formalities were all done, they were totally happy to just run around in the hall, yelling and playing with balloons.  It was VERY noisy, but they all seemed happy with that ... whatever works really!

4.  The party-bags
Out of everything for the party, this was the thing I had most fun with ... I came up with the idea of using these disposable coffee cups with lids (available at most discount stores).  In them I put a sachet of hot-chocolate-mix, a few mini marshmallows, a couple of milk-bottle lollies, and a fun-size chocolate bar.  I loved that this was a novelty (and the kids and Mums told me they loved them too), and that after the hot chocolate was done, and the few lollies eaten, there were no little junky bits and pieces.  Now, don't anyone get offended if you always put little cheap toys in your party bag ... I usually do too, and the kids love them ... they're fun!  But it was nice for a change to not have to think about what I could get away with throwing out, and what I needed to find a home for...know what I mean?  
The other thing I loved was that by choosing a plain colour (black in this case), and using a little piece of ribbon and some little homemade tags, they could be used to say thank you to the guests and look just a little special too.  There was absolutely no fuss with these, they were very quick and easy.
So that's the run down of Bethany's party.  I really hope everyone who was there had a great time.  Bethany sure did.  I was really impressed by how all the kids embraced the theme and wore their jammies.  It was also fantastic to get to know the school families a little more, and have them get to know us too.  

Also, can't post about this without saying a MASSIVE thanks to Daddy's family (Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother and Aunties) who were fabulous on the day with helping to put together all the food.  Mummy was a little stressed about hosting so many kids, especially seeing as this was our first go at a party where the parents could leave their kids, and come back later if they wanted to.  Our family were such a blessing on this day to take away all the kitchen stress so Mummy and Daddy could concentrate on the kids.  Thank you, thank you!

Friday 3 May 2013

Hidden Goodness Homemade Pizza Recipe ... and my first ever Product Review!

Well this post is an exciting first for me ... it's my first Product Review.  The lovely Taryn of Wordstorm has sent me the Masha to take for a spin.  The Masha is an electric masher.  At first glance it resembles a stick blender, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that instead of a blade to cut and puree the food, it has a "rotor-cone" which spins and pushes the food out to the sides where it is forced through small holes, thereby mashing instead of pureeing.  Taryn has asked me to give the Masha a go, and to create a recipe using it.  By doing this, I'm in the running to have my recipe and blog featured in the Masha Recipe book.  
I took the Masha away on holidays with me over the past couple of weeks, and had a think about what I could create, and I decided I'd tackle our current toddler food issues...

Hannah is really NOT keen on her vegies at the moment.  So being the Mummy of a non-vegie-eating toddler means I need to be very creative with getting those healthy foods into her.  I do want to say though that I always encourage her to eat vegies in their normal form.  This is a fact of life afterall, and she needs to learn to like vegies whether she wants to or not, but as this is going to be a long-term battle with stubborn little Hannah, Daddy and I have become very good at hiding, disguising and generally tricking Hannah into eating them without realising it.  Now, one of our favourite weekend dinners for a long time has been homemade pizza, and I have now created a pizza sauce recipe (using the Masha) to incorporate an insane amount of vegies.  And the best part is that both Bethany and Hannah dig in and almost inhale this pizza without even realising how healthy it actually is.  Well, to be truthful, Bethany (who's always been a great vegie eater) is in on the secret, and she takes great delight in helping to cut up the vegies, and spread the pizza sauce, then giggling while Hannah slurps up every last mouthful!

I've also managed to fluke a super-easy pizza-base ... what do they say about necessity and invention?  I went away on holidays without my usual recipe for a pizza base, so I just kinda made it up as I went along and it actually worked pretty well.  I thought I'd share that as well, though I'm sure there's a tonne of good recipes online!

Here's how to make the Hidden Goodness Homemade Pizza:

Pizza Sauce Ingredients: (Note: Makes enough for about a gazillion pizzas, so you can make it in smaller quantities if you like, or see below for left-overs ideas.)
- 1/2 a butternut pumpkin
- 1 sweet potato
- 2 zucchinis
- 2 carrots
- 1 head of broccoli
- 1/2 an onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp sugar/brown sugar or honey

Pizza Base Ingredients: (Makes enough for 1 large pizza, which is plenty for the 4 of us for dinner, with a couple of left-over pieces in the fridge)
- 3 cups plain flour
- 14g dry yeast (2 sachets)
- 200ml warm water (plus a little extra in case you need it)
- 1 tsp sugar

Method (the sauce):
1. Cut up the pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchinis, carrots and broccoli into even-sized pieces (so they cook evenly)
2. Place these vegies into a steamer pot, and steam over boiling water for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until the vegies are very soft ... almost overcooked! (You could always microwave your vegies if that's what you prefer to do ... me, well I've always liked steaming!)

3. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and garlic and set aside for later.

4. Once the vegies are steamed, pour out the water from the pot, then transfer the vegies to the now dry pot.

Here's the exciting bit ....
5. Crack out your shiny, new Masha, and gently mash the vegies.  You don't need to go overboard, as the Masha is stronger than it seems, and the vegies will literally be mashed and ready to spread within about 30 seconds!

Yep, I had a helper!!

6. Add the onion and garlic and mix well.

7. Add the tomato paste and sugar/honey and mix well.
8. Spread over your pizza base (see below for recipe), top with desired pizza toppings, cook in oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and nice and golden, then serve.  Yummo!

- You can pretty much substitute any vegies in this recipe, but I find it helpful to have a pasty base vegie like pumpkin or sweet potato.  It stops the mixture from being too watery, and also gives a good sweet flavour-base.
- With left-over pizza sauce, I suggest freezing in an ice-cube tray to use as sandwich spread, for more pizzas, or even as a stir-through sauce for noodles or pasta. My girls LOVE any of these variations.

Method (the pizza base)
1. In a small bowl place dry yeast, sugar and 200ml warm (not hot) water. Stir well to dissolve yeast and sugar and set aside
2. Sift flour into a large mixing bowl
3. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the water/yeast mixture.  Mix well with hands until it comes together into a rough dough.  You may need a little more water if it's too dry.  Add sparingly until dough comes together.
4.  Knead dough well on a floured surface for at least 3-4 minutes
5.  Place dough back into bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave sitting in a warm position for approximately 30-60 minutes, or until dough has risen to about double it's original size.
6.  Roll or press dough into desired pizza shape on an oven-safe tray.  We just used a cookie sheet and pressed out into a large rectangle-ish shape.

Then you're ready to top and cook.  The base will take approximately 10-15 minutes to be cooked in a moderate oven (around 180 C).

So what did I think of the Masha?  Overall, I found it to be great.  It is much more powerful than I thought it was going to be, and it definitely mashes rather than blends the food, which is a good thing when you want to maintain some texture and avoid the dreaded glue-like glugg.  I also like that the Masha "rotor-cone" is plastic, as it seems like it is safer, especially in a kitchen where lots of little fingers are always keen to help.
If I had to give a negative, I would say that it's a shame the base part (around the rotor-cone) is made of white-coloured plastic, as after just one masha-use with pumpkin and other orange-coloured vegies, and with an immediate rinse off after mashing, this part is now stained and no longer it's pristine white colour. Oh well, no biggy I guess!  This doesn't affect the performance of the Masha in any way.

Anyway, hope you (and your vegie-refusing toddlers) love this pizza sauce as much as we do.  Again, a huge thanks to Taryn and Wordstorm for the opportunity to feature this product and create a recipe!