Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beautiful books

I love that we are all avid readers in our family. My children seem to be at an in between stage with books and it can be hard to find decent books for them to read. They still love picture books and we read (and re-read) LOTS of those. But at 6 & 8 yrs old they are both getting into reading novels. My son loves reading The Famous Five (I'm sure my daughter will love these too as she gets more confident with her reading), Zac Power and anything to do with Star Wars. Girls books are a little harder to find - ones with a bit of substance anyhow. Recently for one of my uni courses (about literacy) I had to read a lot of books - 3 or 4 each week for the semester across a broad range adult - teen - child... So I spent a lot of time looking for books that I'd enjoy. I came across a gorgeous new range of books aimed at Australian "tween-aged" girls. The series is called Our Australian Girl and there are 4 sets of books in the series. Each set features a different Australian Girl - Grace, Letty, Poppy and Rose. There are 4 books about each of the girls and the stories are based on Australian history from the early 1800's - early 1900's.

So far only the first 2 books about each girl has been released. The third books are due out on 3rd July and the 4th books will be available in November I think. I've really enjoyed reading them - so have both of my children. It's great reading about familiar places - Parramatta, where I grew up, Echuca, where we have relatives. They aren't super girly and there is quite a bit of adventure in them so they appeal to young boys too - well they have to my 8yr old :) All of the characters are strong in their own way. I love that each girl's story is written by a different author, so each story has a different 'feel'. While the stories are fictional, they are based on true history so it's a great way for kids to start learning a little bit of Australian history. They are not all sunshine and smiles - you learn about the conditions on the ships when convicts and others came to Australia from England and also about the poor treatment of Aborigines. In saying that, it's told in a very age appropriate way - not dark and heavy, but still factual. There is a lot of uplifting stuff too - like how strong these girls are when facing really tough times. At the end of each book are some facts about what life was like in Australia at that time. There are also some teachers notes on the website for the first series of books. So far I've read the first two books about Grace and Poppy and I have just started the first one about Letty. I'm loving them. I can't wait for the rest to come out to find out where the stories end. Each of the books is about 100 pages long, so an easy read. If you have tween girls - get these books. I'm sure you won't be disappointed :) I could go on and on - I really love these books. Check out the website for information about each of the characters and excerpts from the books, competitions plus lots more. I've been inspired to make something based on these books. But more on that another time...

Soup Sunday

We eat a lot of soup in our house in the cooler months. I love soup and so do my often picky-eater children. It's a nice healthy way to warm up on a cold day - I often heat up some soup for an after school snack. So I'm thinking of maybe starting a semi-regular feature here on my blog  - Soup Sunday. Semi-regular because my schedule changes a lot once uni starts again - I'm on break for a few weeks now :) This might encourage me to keep on trying out new recipes - which I have been doing lately - instead of just sticking with the same old ones.

So to kick off Soup Sunday I am sharing a recipe for Chicken Wonton Soup that I made last night - recipe from July 2011 Issue of Super Food Ideas. It was so quick and easy to make - although my wonton folding technique needs a little ok a LOT of work :) Which is why there is only a before photo of the wontons. Just so there is proof that I actually made them - I was too embarrassed to show them folded though! Don't be put off though - it was a really simple soup to make and is a nice change from regular chicken and vegetable soup.  It would be really easy to experiment with the flavours too. I'm thinking next time maybe pork mince with some hoisin or kejap manis with garlic and ginger might be nice to try. I'll definitely be searching the internet for some wonton folding tutorials! We normally have some kind of bread or damper with our soup, but this time we had mini spring rolls on the side instead which was really nice.

Chicken Wonton Soup
250g chicken mince
24 wonton wrappers
4 spring onions
4cm piece of ginger
1 litre chicken stock
2 cups water
3 bunches baby bok choy
Sesame oil to serve

Finely chop 2 of the spring onions and finely grate half of the ginger and add them to the chicken mince.
Mix together really well.
Add a heaped teaspoon of chicken mixture to the centre of a wonton wrapper, brush the edges of the pastry with a little water and fold to enclose chicken completely. Be sure to remove as much air as possible from inside the wonton and seal the edges well or you'll have the contents of the wontons all through the soup.
Cover wontons and set aside while you prepare the soup.

Pour chicken stock into a large saucepan along with the water.
Finely slice the remaining ginger and add to the stock.
Bring stock to the boil.
While stock is heating, finely slice remaining onions on an angle and slice the bok choy.
When stock has come to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add wontons and cook gently for 5 minutes or until cooked through.
Just before serving add onions and bok choy to the soup.
Serve with a few drops of sesame oil in each bowl. Serves 4

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie Slice

 I can't remember where I found this recipe, but I'm sure it's from a magazine. It's another favourite in our house - there seems to be lots of favourites in the ever-growing "sweet" category of my recipe box :) This is much better the next day (or the day after that!) after it's been in the fridge - in fact I'm not too keen on it on the first day.

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie Slice

Cheesecake mixture:
250g cream cheese (let it come to room temperature)
1/2 cup (115g) caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain flour

Chocolate Brownie mixture:
180g dark chocolate, chopped
160g butter, cubed
3/4 cup (155g) brown sugar
3 eggs, whisked
3/4 cup (115g) plain flour

Preheat oven to 170 o C. Line 16x26cm slice tin with baking paper.
For cheesecake mix:
  • Beat cream cheese and sugar with electric beaters until smooth then beat in eggs one at a time.
  • Add vanilla and flour and stir until combined
For brownie mix:
  • Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler on a gentle heat. (Or gently melt using a microwave). Cool slightly.
  • Add sugar and eggs and mix well.
Spoon cheesecake and brownie mixes alternately into the prepared tin. Swirl mixes with a skewer - don't overdo this step or it will end up all mixed together.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Set aside to cool completely before cutting into about 20 squares (or 10 slices if you are using for dessert).
Best eaten the next day after it's been in the fridge overnight. I don't know if it freezes well as it's never lasted long enough in our house to have to freeze it! It's really delicious served for dessert with some icecream and raspberry coulis. I've been thinking of even adding some raspberries to the mix before baking - next time!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Star baby blanket

My friend, Ally, had her 3rd precious baby boy last week. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I've started making a blanket for my little boy, but I decided to add to the squares I'd already done to make a baby blanket for Ally's new baby.

I used a pattern from Issue 25 of The Art of Crochet .It was pretty easy to make. I'm surprised at how simple crochet is! Most patterns only consist of a handful of the same stitches, just in different combinations. I wish I had retaught myself how to do it when my children were babies - I would have loved to have had blankets like these for them. Actually I do have a few large granny square blankets that my mum made for them when they were babies, which I plan to hold onto forever :)

For the star blanket I used Lincraft Superwash Wool in blue, lime and cream. I used about 2.5 balls of each colour, which was enough to make all 36 squares, join them and add the border around the blanket.

I just love these colours together - so... well so boyish! Time to restock so I can start on my son's blanket. His is going to be a little different. For starters, MUCH bigger as he is almost 8yrs old! The stars are only going to be an accent on his and there will be a few more colours - red, a couple of different shades/tones of blue, stone/beige... I can't wait to get started on it. But it will have to wait just a little longer. First I need to get through a week of prac teaching this week for uni (one day down, four more to go), as well as write a 2500 word essay due next week! Bring on uni holidays :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

African flower

I have been admiring this gorgeous flower pattern for a few months now. But until last night I hadn't attempted it because I thought it would be a bit tricky plus I wanted to finish my other projects first. Well they are super easy - if you can crochet a granny square you can do one of these. I've come across a couple of online tutorials and patterns and so I've kind of combined them so will share the way I've done them. I'll be using English/Australian terms as I haven't been able to find a tutorial for these that doesn't use American terms. You can find a tutorial with American terms here and the original pattern written in Afrikaans is found here .I hope my instructions are easy to follow. If you need further help, just add your question in the comments section.

Pictured below are three finished African Flower Hexagons. I prefer the one at the top where the two rows that make up the petals are the same colour. But to make it easier to see each row,  I'll be showing a step by step of one of the flowers using a different colour for each row. Excuse the quality of the pictures - I used my iPhone to take them all and haven't edited them at all.

I have used a variety of 8ply wool that I have in my stash and a 4.5mm hook
With your first colour, start with 5ch, then join with a slipstitch to form a ring.

First row: ch 3 (which will count as your first treble {tr}), 1 tr, 1 ch into the ring (2 tr, 1 ch) 5 times until you have 6 x 2 tr clusters (as pictured below). Join with a slipstitch through the top of your first ch3.

Row 2: Join 2nd colour in any of the ch1 spaces. Then ch3 (counts as first tr), tr 1, ch 1, tr 2 all into the chain space where you joined. Continue around (tr 2, ch 1, tr 2) in each chain space.
At the end of the round join with a slip stitch to the top of your first ch 3. Fasten off if you are changing colours for the next round, but you can continue with this same colour if you wish.

Round 3: join 3rd colour (if changing colour for this round) into any chain space.

Rnd 3 cont: ch3 (counts as first tr) and tr 6 all into the same chain space. Then tr 7 into each of the 5 remaining chain spaces.

Join with a slip stitch into the top of your first chain 3 and fasten off. You will want to choose another colour for the next round as it helps to define the flower petals.

Round 4: join next colour. Ch 2 (counts as first double crochet (dc) ),dc into each tr stitch from previous round. When you get to the space between the petals, treble right down through to the space in the second (light pink) round. You will end up with a long stitch, but this is what defines the petals. I've tried to show how this is done in pictures below.

So to do this treble stitch, as usual, yarn over hook but instead of inserting hook into the space in the dark pink round, insert it into the space in the light pink round. Then yarn over hook, bring it back through, yarn over hook and bring it through the first 2 loops on hook, yarn over again and bring it through the final 2 loops on the hook. Hope that makes sense! It really is just like doing a normal treble stitch.

Above - bring the hook back through and yarn over, ready to bring it through the first 2 loops on hook.

Above - the completed treble stitch. Continue around with a dc in each tr, and a tr between each petal as shown.

Join with a slip stitch into the top of the first ch 2 and fasten off.

Round 5: Join final colour and ch 3 (counts as first tr), tr into each dc. When you reach the centre stitch of each petal, (tr1, ch 1, tr1) all into the same stitch then continue with 1 tr into each stitch. This helps to form the hexagon shape. The (tr1, ch 1, tr1) into one space is also known as a V-stitch.

Above - first v-stitch.

Above - second v-stitch. In between each of the v-stitches I ended up with about 7 trebles I think. Continue this pattern all the way around.

When you reach the end, join with a slipstitch into the top of your first ch3. You can fasten off here, or add another border round if you wish - in either the same colour or a contrasting one.

I hope my instructions are all clear. Please feel free to ask any questions by commenting on this post and I will do my best to clarify. I love these flowers - I can't wait to get started on another blanket now! There goes my self-imposed rule to only work on one project at a time!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Newborn set

I made this set for a friend Ally's  new little baby boy. It was pretty quick to whip up - it only took an afternoon & a night to do. I used Bendigo Luxury 8ply in Koala . I only needed one ball (200g) and still have about a third of it left over. I love the natural colour for a new little baby boy! I love Bendigo wool - such great value! Next time I'm visiting family in Echuca I'll be making a trip down to the Bendigo warehouse :)

I made up the pattern for the beanie off the top of my head as I went. How gorgeous are the little booties. You can find the pattern for those here .They were super quick and easy to make, I did need to look up youtube to figure out one of the stitches I hadn't done before.
The pattern for this cute little cardigan can be found here .I was a bit apprehensive about making a cardigan, but it really wasn't that hard using this pattern. I did need to use a larger hook than the pattern called for (I used a 6mm). I love that it's made all in one piece - apart from the collar which is done at the end, but joined on as you crochet it. If you've only ever made granny squares, but want to try something a little more challenging, give this pattern a try. You might surprise yourself like I did!

I'm excited to be starting a new project for my almost 8yr old. The star squares from a couple of posts ago are the first part. But there is a lot more to it than just those. I'll share more about that soon! I'm flat out finishing assignments as it is the end of semester at uni. I can't wait to have a bit of breathing space from the end of next week and get back into some serious (fun!) crafting :)