Friday, December 14, 2012

Quick and easy: Felt Christmas tree toy for children (no sew)

I can't work out if this is a novel idea of mine or one I came across in the blog/ Pinterest/ Facebook world.  But since I don't have any particular image of this craft idea in my head other than of my daughter's playing with them I'm going to claim this one as my own!

My favourite random craft/ party supply/ notions store is Pete's Emporium out in Porirua.  It is like a small version of Spotlight, but with an edge (and 100 different kinds of wigs).  You can buy crafting felt from there in squares or off giant rolls.  Last time I was there I picked up about ten sheets of felt, mainly green and red with the idea that I would do something Christmassy with them.

I've mainly used the felt to make more felt flower hair ties for my daughters - it is a great way of identifying hairties - particularly during the preschool years when they seem to just fall out by themselves.  After two hours of assembling felt hair ties in front of British Midsomer Murders the other night I was keen to do something that didn't involve putting a needle through my finger!  It occurred to me that I could make a felt Christmas tree for the children to decorate using felt scraps.

It is very easy.  And the children (ages 2.5 and 6) both really enjoy playing with them.  It takes all of the children's best self-control not to touch the Christmas tree so this is a nice alternative for them.

Felt Christmas tree

One square of green felt
Selection small felt off cuts in colours other than green.

Fold the square of green felt in half.  Cut out a tree shape (I didn't need a template and I doubt you do).  Give to the children with the scraps and let them decorate their own tree.

I'm considering sewing the tree to a square of felt in a contrasting colour just to keep the edges looking nice.  My two trees are stored in a plastic bag, you can make something nicer if you want!

Revenge baking

Last week I sent this picture to my husband.

This year his workplace has decided not to include partners in their Christmas function.  It is the first year that they did this and there seems to be no good reason.  I can understand if it was about money and they needed to charge, or if it was during work hours and they were doing team building exercises but it is some kind of half-day extravaganza at the weekend.

I noticed last year that there were a couple of at-home parents there and really felt as though it was an end of year celebration for us too.  At home parents don't often get Christmas parties. I've spent the last few weeks arranging gifts/ cards/ thank you tokens to all the people in our family's life and am very aware that the at-home parent rarely gets acknowledgement for this work.

Luckily I have an awesome group of Mums involved in our own playgroup dating back nearly three years.  We will have an awesome night out next Tuesday.  I feel very grateful for this group of parents and children.

The revenge baking?  Well, I like baking and usually send my husband off with some Christmas baking for his workplace at this time of the year.  But I've decided this year that if partners are not invited to Christmas parties then partners will not bake for the workplace.  This year they didn't get home-made Oaty Blue Cheese crackers, home-made mince pies (I made the mince and pastry) or some of the most delicious purchased salted caramel macarons ever.  But I really enjoyed taking them to share with the other Mums at playgroup last week :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Elderflower reprieve

Did I mention that my lovely neighbours decided not to cut down the elderflower tree? The reason, as officially discussed at the body corporate meeting I missed was that they knew I loved it! I'm very grateful.  Unfortunately, after years of growing up against three other trees it is very lopsided and a bit unstable.  We are going to aggressively trim the tree (after I've picked the berries for jam) and hopefully next year it will grow straight and full.

Last night I saw what looked like someone trying to jump over the back fence into our property.  It turned out that he and his partner were on a stealth mission to nab some elderflower!!!  I thought it was hilarious and invited the rather embarrassed couple to use the front gate next time!  I also suggested another local tree that is easier to access and bloomed later than mine.  I have a few last bunches of flowers left and green berries are now visible.  My neighbours and I have a working bee next weekend, and I hope to harvest the berries before the tree is trimmed.  Finger's crossed!

First strawberry of the season, nestled amongst the rhubarb

I've worked really hard on the garden this year, I even sketched out a plan (this level of gardening planning is almost unheard of in our household).  I was very, very restrained when ordering seeds from King's seeds and resolved to grow lots of a few things rather than a small amount of a lot.  My theory is that this should result in harvests that can actually contribute to meals, rather than counting out two snow peas each for dinner!  I'm mainly hoping to have a lot of fresh food for Christmas dinner - we will definitely have a lot of Jersey Bennie potatoes, various kinds of lettuce, a large handful of snow peas and a lot of strawberries.  We may have some baby carrots and raspberries.

I've become one of those rather obsessed garden types and while I haven't gone so far as to check the pH of the soil, I've become pretty obsessed with composting and soil composition.  After years of trying to encourage native birds to the garden I've started resenting their presence.  There are two blackbirds who feel quite strongly that my garden is their private dust bath.  They have destroyed three tomato plants that I grew FROM SEED.  We are now enemies.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lahmucan: Turkish pizza

The first batch: tomato paste underneath and plain lamb mince on top

Roasted red pepper sauce - delicious and sweet

The second version - delicious and sweet.
I had an almost genuine holiday.

Holidays have been kind of lame since having children.  They are not holidays as I remember them, often they are an exercise in trying to entertain tired children in an unfamiliar locale with less resources than usual.   A 'holiday' in Rotorua earlier in the year while my husband attended a conference ended with tearfully trying to find an open chemist on a Sunday morning for nits shampoo on four hours of broken sleep.  Turns out the baby was coming down with campylobacter  while my oldest had her first case of nits since starting school.  My husband left the conference early, I napped wearing earplugs for two hours then, with greatly restored humour, we went luging. 

So I wasn't thrilled with the idea of going up to Auckland recently for a few days while my husband participated in a marathon.

It was actually quite a decent break.

I felt no more or less rested than usual, but I did a lot less cooking and no driving whatsoever.  This left me feeling more relaxed at least and I came back with a more enthusiastic approach to family dinners.

Our last meal in Auckland was at a Turkish restaurant.  It was a bit chaotic as the baby was grumpy and I was in pain due to an ill-timed ear infection (blocked ears and flying, bleurgh).  The meal, Lahmucan, was delicious and one I felt that I could easily replicate at home. We have pizza once a week and although it is an easy meal I find myself a little bored with it.  Lahmucan, Turkish-style pizza,  is based on lamb mince and a red pepper sauce.  The version I ate was dairy free, but I have seen other versions online with feta.

The mince mixture made enough for two batches of pizza.  Because I was experimenting we had two versions over two different nights.  I like both versions for different reasons.  The first version was pizza dough spread with tomato paste and the lamb mixture very thickly covering the dough.  The second version I added all of the red pepper sauce to the remaining lamb mixture, with a tablespoon of added tomato paste.  I spread this a little more thinly across the dough.  Your choice!  My internet research indicates the second version is more authentic, the first version is closer to the one I tasted at the restaurant in Auckland.


Roasted red pepper sauce

Two red capsicums
Three cloves of garlic
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Cut the capsicums in half and place, cut side up, in a roasting dish.  Add the garlic and then drizzle with a little olive oil.  Add a little sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Roast at 200C for about 40mins.  Remove from the oven and, when cool, blend the capsicum in a food processor or blender until smooth.

This sauce is sweet and delicious.  I'm thinking of roasting and puréeing capsicums most weeks through summer to add to meals.

Lamb mince

400g lamb mince
2 TBSP pine nuts
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic

Sweat the onion and garlic in a little oil until clear and soft.  Add the lamb mince and cook until well browned and broken into small grains.  Sprinkle with the spices and pine nuts and cook for five more minutes.  Set aside.

Other ingredients:

A very generous handful of fresh Italian parsley
One lemon
Half a cup of tomato paste.
One batch of pizza dough  (One batch makes three large pizzas)

Version one: Lamb mince only

Preheat the oven to 220C for at least half an hour.  Put an oven tray or pizza stone in the oven to heat.  Roll half of the dough out as thinly as you can on a sheet of baking paper and spread with tomato paste. Thickly cover with the lamb mince then transfer the pizza to the oven and bake until the dough is crispy.  When the pizza is out of the oven squeeze a generous amount of juice from half a lemon over the top, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Version two: Roasted red pepper and lamb mince

Preheat the oven to 220C for at least half an hour.  Put an oven tray or pizza stone in the oven to heat.  Roll half of the dough out as thinly as you can.  Mix all of the red pepper sauce with the lamb mince mixture and a tablespoon of tomato paste.  Thickly cover the dough with the lamb and pepper mixture and then bake until the dough is crispy.  When the pizza is out of the oven squeeze a generous amount of juice from half a lemon over the top, sprinkle with parsley and serve.