Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Let's party.......like a 4 year old!

It's right in the middle of Winter, here in Australia, the days are short and the nights are very cold.  It is most certainly a time of the year that I don't look forward to, except that all of my children were born in Winter.  I have Adam in June, Julia in July and Marc in August, so, if anything, this is the best part of the season for me.  Last week, we celebrated our daughter, Julia's, 4th birthday and lots of fun was had by all.  This post is dedicated to our beautiful girl, who is growing up at such a rapid pace and really looked forward to her birthday so very much this year.  I took some lovely photos of her, the family and our friends and I wanted to share these with you and write a memoir about her happy day, her gorgeous smile and her love of a good time.  I often think of Julia as my little 'party girl' :)
Julia's actual birthday fell on a week day, so having a party with our friends was not a good idea on this day, we saved this for later.  But we had our traditional family dinner instead, on the day, so that she could feel special and most importantly, blow out the candle and eat cake!  I started doing these family dinners, on the kids' birthdays, years ago and it kind of stuck.  So now, a year can't go past without having my mum over, and sometimes my husband's family, to enjoy the night together.
No longer a baby anymore, Julia is certainly turning into a bright and bubbly young girl, with constant chatter, big, chubby cheeks and plenty of spunk to keep up with her older brothers.  She has such a colourful personality and always makes me smile.  Being the child I never thought I'd have, also a girl after 2 boys, makes her a special treasure.
Before dinner, her dad spent some time with Julia playing with her new play dough.  She had several, new, bright colours of new play dough, but sure enough, they were all mushed up together to make a lovely, murky grey colour in no time.  But that didn't bother her, she enjoyed squishing it between her fingers and making mystery objects with her dad.
I always like to get a couple of helium balloons on the day and this is another thing my kids have come to expect and look forward to.  They usually fight over them, giving me a major headache and then they bounce them around the house playing games with them.  Here we are sitting down together to enjoy dinner, nothing flash today, beef schnitzels, baked potatoes, green salad, garlic bread and of course, double layered chocolate cake.  Mum enjoyed it and always likes to have dinner with us.
So Julia's actual birthday had passed, but now the following weekend had arrived and it was time to have a party with our friends.  I have had a couple of birthday parties over the years for the kids at home and I was motivated to have one this year for Julia after not having had one at home for a while.  This year, we had a small group of good friends and this worked out well because I could sit all of our little guests at the table for lunch.  When I was a kid, mum always made me set the table and I'm sure that is why, to this day, I still enjoy setting the table and have a lot of fun with it.
I have always liked the idea of having a pinata, so this day we did.  Here is a traditional, colourful bull pinata, hanging precariously outside in the back yard.  I filled it with loads of lollies and it was so bright and cheerful to look at as it swayed in the breeze.  I was sure that this kids would have fun with this later in the day!
Our home is not very big and I often think, just big enough for us.  It is just the right size so that if I have to run around and do a quick tidy up, it doesn't take me long.  Anyway, the more space you have, the more mess you clean up, so I am very happy in my home.  Another thing I love to do is turn the place into a 'party zone' when we have celebrations.  So I managed to pick up many more helium balloons and hang a few more streamers and the place instantly had a party atmosphere.  If you haven't noticed, I love colour and lots of it, so of course, bright and varied colours were the order of the day.
Who doesn't like getting presents?  Especially if you are a four year old!  Julia couldn't wait to see her friends and open up her birthday gifts and she was certainly a very lucky girl on this day.  With plenty of lovely gifts, all wrapped up in birthday paper and ribbon, her smile went from ear to ear.
By now, all of our guests had arrived and it was time to start the party games.  This year, I chose very traditional games that I'm sure have been around for many generations and the first one was 'pass the parcel', always a guaranteed winner for this age group.
I had fun wrapping each layer and I added a small 'prize' in each layer so everyone would get a treat.  Here it is Julia's turn to open a layer and I had to give her a hand because I think I was a bit too 'thorough' with the wrapping.  All the kids enjoyed this first game and it was a chance to listen to some music and wait in eager anticipation for it to 'stop'.
You may have noticed that I love to cook, so preparing some party food for a four year old's birthday was lots of fun.  There was plenty for everyone with lots of sickly sweat treats that all kids love.
Julia was loving her birthday party food as we don't often have sweets at our place.  Today we had honey joys, chocolate crackles, jelly and chocolate frogs, cup cakes and much more.  It was a bit of a sugar fiesta, I'm afraid, but considering, the children weren't too hyped up and were very well behaved all day.
The second game for the day was another standard, classic, 'pin the tail on the donkey'.  Julia had the first turn and managed to pin the tail spot on in the right place, which made we wonder if she was peeking through her blind fold.
All of the children had a turn and  weren't bothered at all with having their eyes covered up.  I pointed them in the right direction and they all had a pretty good aim.
By now, we had almost finished this game and I have to say that this shot was a very honest one, but still on the board.
I thought this was cute, the finished product of our second party game.  You can see that many attempts were pretty good and it was great so see the kids having a go.
Here is a beautiful shot of the party girl and one of my favourite photos.  Julia is so happy and her youthful enthusiasm and bright eyes were a joy to watch.
I'm a bit of a 'party girl' myself, so I've been told and I couldn't resist but brighten myself up with some hot pink feathers and a shiny hat.  I am here with my baby girl who is busy eating her lime green jelly.  I love her and all of my children so very much and having days like this are very special.
Here is a quick shot of some of our guests with Julia and I, enjoying the balloons and streamers.  I enjoy looking after children very much, I couldn't do it for a living and 3 is more than enough, but the beauty and vitality of children is something that I adore and I love to help them have fun.
Getting a load of helium balloons was a wonderful investment for Julia's party as the kids jumped around with them and made up their own balloon games.  We had some young, cheerful music on so the kids had no trouble getting into the party spirit.
Here is another joyful photo of the birthday girl, with a big smile and a balloon in her favourite colour, blue.
Mmm, party food!  What four year old birthday party would be complete without cocktail frankfurts and fries, now I ask you?
We had finished two games and dancing with our balloons and now it was time to sit down and eat.  It was lovely having a full table, filled with such bright and cheerful little people and Julia was having a wonderful time.
After lunch, it was time to get stuck into the pinata.  I like the idea of this, but after watching the kids try to smash it, I was beginning to be a little unsure.  It is not a pleasant concept encouraging children to hit something with a stick and I'm sure it sends a pretty warped message, but they understood that this was a game and couldn't wait to see what was inside.
After all of the much younger children had a couple of turns trying to break the pinata, it was left up to big brother, Adam, to get the job done.  This is the final whack that did the trick!
The pinata is finally broken to pieces and look at what was inside! The kids madly scrambled to pick up as many lollies as they could to fill their lolly boxes to take home.
Julia's fourth birthday party was now winding up and the afternoon had been full of excitement and good times for the children.  The grand finale was ice cream cake and what a cake it was!  Ice cream is always a safe bet and was enjoyed by all.
I like this photo very much of my family as I am lighting Julia's candles and sparklers.  There is something so very special and rewarding about family and nurturing it on special days like today, is what it's all about for me.
We all sang happy birthday to Julia and she blew out yet another set of candles.  We are happy and healthy and have had the honour of sharing her special day with our good friends.  There is plenty of everything, all of our guests had a good time, we have played games, danced, eaten and most importantly, enjoyed each other's company.  I have helped to create some special memories for my family and that I can't do enough of.  Our daughter is now 4 years old and the apple of our eye.  I couldn't really ask for much more in my life as we live a little and love a lot, as always :) xxx

Thursday, 19 June 2014

One for all the 'foodies', from Mama LA's kitchen

By the wonders of technology, I can download photos that I take on my Tablet straight to my blog.  It is really easy and convenient and I only recently made this discovery and felt very pleased with myself.  So I was looking over photos that I have taken so far, as I've only had the Tablet since February, for a common theme and a good topic for a post in this blog........and you know what was the most obvious choice?  A post about food!  I noticed that I have taken so many shots of food and meals that I have cooked, even though when I was new to all of this, I could never understand what the fascination was with taking photos of what you were eating.  

Now that I have settled into all of this 'posting business', I accept a few things- 1. I love to cook; 2. I enjoy fresh food; 3. I am the mother of three young children, therefore whether I like it or not, I have to think about food; 4. My friends and family enjoy my cooking and 5. We all love to eat!  So sit back and join me on a little look at what goes on at my place, a little look at how we live, how I cook and how we eat.  Here's one for all the 'foodies', from Mama LA's kitchen :)
As you know, it's Winter now in Australia, much to my dismay.  I am coping much better this year with it, than I have done over the past couple of years, but I really don't like the cold, wet, grey, short days......not my style at all.  But lately, my hubby and I have developed a new Friday night ritual, suitable to this time of year in Melbourne, as we sit by an open fire, keeping very warm, have a couple of drinks and chat.  Now we also taken this routine one step further, I cook in the coals of the fire.  I have found that the easiest things to cook are potatoes and corn.  I wrap them individually in foil, with a bit of butter and sit them in the coals.  It is amazing just how quickly they cook and the finished product is delicious......if you're into that sort of thing.  Above you can see last week's results, baked potatoes with tasty cheese, sour cream and bacon with corn on the cob on the side.  Very fattening and what I call 'naughty'.......but really enjoyable on a cold, Winter's night.
Last week, one of our good friends joined us and brought along some dip and crusty bread to enjoy while we were waiting for the veggies to cook.  This always hits the spot, especially after a couple of drinks.
Here you can see how it is done. The veggies are wrapped in foil and sizzle in the hot coals.  It all smells great when it is cooking  and you are also able to stay warm while your dinner is baking away.  Having these open fires right now really helps me cope with this season as I am still able to enjoy the great outdoors that I love, eat, drink and be merry on the weekends.
In my other blog, 'Laura's Little Italy' (www.littleitaly397.blogspot.com.au), my last post was all about how I cooked a traditional Italian dish, stuffed eggplants.  Here you can see the finished product and they tasted good.  I went to the local market and picked up a whole box of eggplant at a really good price, so I had to get busy and cook them all.  One of the obvious choices was to stuff them and in my post about this, I go step by step through the whole process.  Check it out if you are interested in cooking them yourself.  This meal is another good one for Winter, it is hot, satisfying and nutritious.
The cold and flu season is well and truly upon us and a couple of weeks ago, I copped my first dose for the season.  I battled on, trying to keep going, get my work done and I managed OK.  One of the remedies that I used was the good, old fashioned, lemon, garlic, ginger and honey trick.  I can't remember where I learnt about this, I've just always done it.  I crush some garlic, grate the ginger, put it in a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon and some honey, mix it up and drink it.  Now I agree this sounds pretty gross and I have to say that yes, it sort of is.  But I tell you, it is guaranteed to give you an instant lift and help you cope with your cold symptoms.......also gives your body some natural ammunition against the virus you are carrying.
For as long as I can remember, my husband and I have always had a cooked breakfast on Sunday morning.  This is yet another one of our rituals as we thrive on routine.  This particular day, I decided to splurge and make myself my all time favourite breakfast.  Above you can see the standard bacon and eggs on toast for my hubby, except I went to the trouble of grilling the bacon and poaching the eggs.  We also had a nice, crusty bread that morning, pane di casa.  And for me, I had poached eggs on spinach, with smoked salmon and avocado, topped with hollondaise sauce......mmm, very delicious and always reserved for a special treat only.  To go with all of that, I made a cappucino for the man and I had my standard, strong latte.  So we started off our Sunday well that morning and this meal saw us through until dinner time.
The photo above I find quite humorous because it looks rather ugly, yet tastes very good and is an Aussie classic.  I often cook Italian style food and made a joke this particular night that I had actually cooked an 'Aussie meal'.  We call it 'Bangas and Mash' here in Oz, or otherwise known as sausages and mashed potatoes.   I just had to add what I call my 'woggy peas' which are peas cooked with fried onion.  When I eat sausages, I much prefer Continental ones that I get from my local Italian butcher, but these ones are the next best thing.  I had to smile because this is one of those meals that is quick and easy, yet satisfying with little fuss.  It really doesn't look the best but it does taste good and my family always enjoy it.
Recently, I pulled all of my vegetables out of my veggie patch, ready to replenish the soil and put in a new crop.  As a result, I was left was loads and loads of silver beet and spinach.  So I used some of this to make another one of my favourites, spinach and ricotta triangles.  I don't cook these all the time either but enjoy them when I do.  The spinach and silver beet is cooked with garlic and then mixed with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and an egg.  Then it is put on pastry sheets and baked in the oven.  Another nice and naughty snack that is fun to make and warms you up with a full tummy.
It is Winter and I always make stacks of soup at this time of year.  I often feel like I want to eat lots of vegetables so I get whatever I have in the house and throw it all into a pot and make soup.  This is one of my veggie soup creations, using bits and pieces of everything.  Really satisfying, healthy and warms you right up on a cold night.  I often make a big pot of soup and I put it into small containers and freeze it so I always have soup on hand.
Lately, I have been having loads of fun spending a Saturday or Sunday cooking.  I usually do end up spending the whole day in the kitchen, stopping and starting throughout the day, but always thoroughly enjoying myself.  This photo above was of my efforts one particular Sunday when I cooked beef and vegetable pies, silver beet and spinach frittata and chocolate cup cakes.  The pies were good for dinner that night, the frittata was perfect for lunch the next day and the cup cakes came in handy for the boys' school lunch boxes.
Here are some of my home grown greens.  We have a variety of lettuce, spinach, silver beet, spring onions and capsicum.  It is only this year that I have expanded on my love of the garden and started to grow my own vegetables and I have to say, it is one of the best things I have done in a long time.  It is so very pleasurable and relaxing to look after the veggie garden and watch it grow.......and better still, you get to eat it!
Do you ever find that sometimes you get a massive craving for a particular food and just have to eat it?  I often get this with mushrooms so when I do, I have them like this.  I always enjoy sauteed mushrooms, plain and simple, just like this, on toast.  Hits the spot for me and I love the taste of mushrooms by themselves, great for brunch.
This is another one of my all day cooking efforts on the weekend.  With the cold weather upon us now in Melbourne, it is the perfect time for home made pies.  Another hearty and satisfying meal in the colder months is meatballs and risoni.  I really have a lot of fun cooking and my family and friends are always grateful for this because they get to eat it :)
My mum gave me her coffee machine and I have been having a lot of fun with it.  It is really good to be able to make coffee for myself and hot chocolate for the kids, just the way we like it, at home.  I affectionately call my place 'Cafe LA' because you can always get a good coffee here.
When I make this dish, I think of my Nanna who I miss and love very much.  As a child, she used to make me this all the time and I always loved it.  It is zucchini, cooked with garlic, eggs and Parmesan cheese and tastes delicious.  I took a photo of it this particular day because I was thinking of her, as I often do when I am cooking and really wished that she was still here.
Southern Italian cooking is very tomato based and when we cook pasta, pretty much any type of pasta, we make a pot of sauce......and a big pot of sauce.  This particular day, I was making lasagna so it was crucial that I had plenty of sauce to complete the layers.
This would have to be one of my husband's favourite comfort foods.......a home made hamburger with the lot, Mama LA style.  It has lettuce, cooked onion, tomato, bacon, tasty cheese and a beef rissole, topped off by a toasted hamburger bun.  One of these little beauties will sort you out in no time and give you a full tummy......and tastes good too.
Here is another shot of my meatballs and risoni that I mentioned earlier.  This is a really simple dish to make, with lots of flavour and satisfying too.  It is a good way to use risoni too and puts a little twist on your standard meatballs.
Here we have some hot cross buns and bread that I made at Easter time.  I have a bread machine so it is kind of cheating a little bit, but it also takes some practise to get it all right too, even in the machine, as it is tricky at first to get the right amounts when you are adding the ingredients.  I make bread rolls too with dough that is prepared in the machine, pizza dough and also fresh pasta.  It is a really handy kitchen gadget.
We always enjoy a spit roast on the weekends.  Here we have a roasted piece of pork and it was yummy.  We are in the habit of sitting in the garden and chatting over a couple of drinks and now we add another element to this by watching our dinner cook too. The smells from the roast are amazing and help to set the mood for a bit of back yard fun.
Here I had another one of my cravings......so I made some pea soup and had some home grown veggies on the side with some bread that I made.  I gave myself a good vitamin hit that day.
Here is our spit rotisserie again with another one of our favourites, charcoal chicken.  A Saturday just wouldn't be a Saturday at our place without a spit roasted chicken or two for dinner.  We certainly have the hang of it now and can usually manage a delicious meal, using a variety of meats cooked this way.
And finally, here is a good shot of my veggie garden last summer.  Here you can see corn, capsicum plants, silver beet and spinach.  Nothing beats going out to your own garden and picking something to add to your meal.  It was great in summer having plenty of greens on hand for a quick salad anytime.

So as you can see, I love to cook and cook I do!  I thoroughly enjoy cooking for my family and friends and you're always guaranteed to leave my place happy :)  That's not to say that I can be bothered cooking every day, but as we rarely get take away food, I usually manage to throw something together most days.  Now that I also grow some of my own vegetables, I get right into cooking them and enjoy the freshness and flavours that you get from growing your own. 

I must also say that I am very thankful for being able to cook for my family and friends the way that I do and am grateful that we never go hungry.  Many are not as fortunate and I will always remember this. I have had fun writing this post, I hope you have enjoyed reading it and having a little look at what goes on in Mama LA's kitchen :) xxx