Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Halloween Craft

Pom Pom Spiders making a run for it

It's that time of the year, the shops are laden with pumpkins, ghosts and all things Halloween, in particular I have never ever seen so much Halloween stuff as here in America, the shops have aisles and aisles dedicated to Halloween goods, from pumpkins to costumes, to house decorations and trick & treat sweets. It's crazy.

We'd normally just don a costume and go trick or treating, unless Mel & Chris are holding one of their famous Halloween Parties and well that's another story, a day of partying in Halloween costume need I say more.

But here they celebrate Halloween big and I mean big huge in fact, houses are decorated with all things gore, from skeletons to graveyards it's all there and it's fab.

There's halloween parties, parades, get togethers, we've already been invited to 3 Halloween parties, and then Ruby's school is doing a Halloween parade and she is having a class Halloween Party (I am helping to organise) it's going to be a great day.

So we thought we'd enter into the spirit of Halloween and thanks to Pinterest and having a lazy day at home on Saturday we did some easy Halloween craft

First up was making spiders to go on our cobwebs outside the house, to make these all we used were black pom poms, which I made myself following this pom pom tutorial, some eyes and pipe cleaners (chenille stems) easy as that.

Using the 4 pipe cleaners per spider we folded the pipe cleaners in half then twisted them together to make the legs

As I had kept my loose ends when I tied the pom pom together, I used the ends to wrap around the legs and tie the body to the legs, all that was left to do was to glue the eyes on and mouths if required, of course my girls spiders did require mouths.

Tilly added a mouth to her spider
Ruby's Pom Pom Spider

 and there you have them, pom pom spiders ready for Halloween.

Our next craft Halloween craft was so easy, making paper pumpkins, and again all we needed was some orange & black construction paper, paper fasteners and string. I found this tutorial on Pinterest, in fact check out my Halloween board there's lots of spooky ideas

Orange Strips, paper fasteners and faces ready to go

Using the orange construction paper (9"x12") I cut 1" wide strips - 12" long and then using 10 of these strips we inserted a paper fastener into one end of the strips.

Ruby inserting the paper fastener into the strips of paper

Once the fastener was through all 10 pieces of paper we fanned out the strips, and one by one collected them back up and threaded the other paper fastener through.

Strips fanned out
Ruby threading the paper through

Once the paper fastener was through all 10 strips of paper and closed, we fanned out the paper to form a globe shape.

A paper pumpkin ready to be pimped

Last job we glued on the eyes and mouth, cut out however you like from black construction paper and your pumpkin is made.

One Paper Pumpkin

So with the spiders and pumpkins made it was time to put them outside in our Halloween garden.

Have you done any Halloween craft or dressed up your house and garden for Halloween? we've had lots of fun doing ours.

Roll on Wednesday for the classroom party, school parade, trick and treating and our block party yeah

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday Breakfast Pancakes

Through the week we like to have healthy breakfasts, I believe in a good nutritious breakfast to start the day, particularly for the kids, so we don't do the sugary cereals but stick to oat cereals, granola, fruit and yoghurt, porridge and eggies (aka soft boiled eggs)

So on a weekend we do like to treat ourselves with a breakfast out occasionally or I will cook pancakes.

The girls love their pancakes with chocolate chips in, I would never have thought to serve chocolate chips in pancakes, but it is a regular here for the kids when eating out, and my girls love them, hubby likes his with bacon and maple syrup - another American combination that is truly wonderful and a must try, I know it sounds bizarre but it is delicious.

After a good search on the internet the pancake recipe I decided to go with was the recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker, it was the combination of having sour cream and buttermilk in it that caught my eye and I can honestly say I was not disappointed with them, we all love these pancakes.

Breakfast Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour (plain flour)
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bi carb)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. In a second bowl whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, eggs and melted butter.
3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and gently stir until just combined. It is ok if lumps still remain and flour is not fully incorporated.
4. Let batter mixture to sit for 10 minutes before cooking.
5. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat and spread evenly around pan.
6. Add batter mixture a tablespoon at a time, I use 1&1/2 tablespoons for the girls and a 1/4 cup measure for adults.
7. Add chocolate chips/blueberries etc here - I just place them on top and gently push in.
8. Cook until edges are set and bottom is golden brown 3-4 mins - do not have your pan too hot as the bottom will burn and middle not cook.
9. Flip pancake over and cook on other side for a couple of mins until second side is golden brown too.
10. Serve immediately the way you like them and enjoy.

Wet Ingredients in one bowl, dry ingredients in the other
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients

Recipe does state to add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, but for some reason I do it the other way around, I probably misread the recipe, but it works out just fine.

Gently fold in to combine the two together

Once the ingredients are gently folded in together - batter will be lumpy and should look lumpy - this will result in the pancakes being light and fluffy.

Pancake Batter after 10 mins of resting time

Resting time of the batter is important as it gets the baking soda working to help rise these lovely pancakes.

Additional extra - butterscotch chips

Once the batter is in the pan add your extras if using, the girls love these butterscotch chips in theirs or just milk chocolate chips and occasionally blueberries.

Cook until golden brown on both sides

Once cooked serve immediately with your favorite sides - we like bacon and maple syrup and the girls like fruit, it's always nice to have a little something healthy with these delicious pancakes.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Bake Day & Sew Sunday

Sundays are becoming my baking day and it's because, as I have said before, I like to make Ruby a homemade treat for her packed lunch at school. And recently I've got into a routine of doing it first thing after breakfast on a Sundy.

As I had some ripe bananas, I thought banana bread would be perfect and I love this recipe I use it's so moist and delicious. The recipe is by Martha Stewart and I found it on Pinterest

The Best Banana Bread

1/2 cup (1 stick/113g) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1&1/2 cups of flour (plain)
1 teaspoon of baking soda (bi-carb)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of mashed very ripe bananas (the riper the better)
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of walnuts/chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F and butter a standard loaf pan.
2. In an electric beater fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, Add eggs one at a time fully incorporating before adding the next, and beat to incorporate.
3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. 
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined.
5. Add bananas, sour cream and vanilla, mix to combine. Stir in nuts of chocolate chips if using and pour into your prepared tin.
6.  Bake in oven for 1 hour 10 mins or until a cake tester/skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
7. Let rest in the pan for 10 mins then turn out onto a rack to cool
8. Make a cup of tea, cut a slice and enjoy.

cream together butter and sugar
Combine flour, baking soda & salt in a separate bowl

And for the first time I didn't have my little baking helpers with me why? because they were too busy constructing a Lego Friends town - they were busy with all their sets of Lego Friends rebuilding them all at once to create a town. Well I couldn't interrupt that now could I.

Add flour mixture bit by bit
Then add bananas, sour cream and vanilla

I think it is the addition of the sour cream that make this banana bread so delicious and moist.

Once combined pour into a loaf pan and bake

So with the banana bread in the oven and the girls still busy building all their Lego Friend kits with Mr C. This is them engrossed in their building.

Tilly following the Lego instructions of the Mac
Ruby immersed in the Lego instruction booklet
I snuck off to my sewing room. I knew I wanted to make Tilly a corduroy dress, after all, I had whipped up 2 corduroy skirts for Ruby this week for school, and I had a lot of corduroy already pre-cut, but silly me had pre-cut the corduroy, (yonks ago to whip up some skirts) the wrong way with the grain going across rather than down silly silly me, so doing a dress gave me a great excuse to use up this corduroy.

I had hardly got sewing before the buzzer was going on my oven, so with the Banana Bread out and resting and the kettle on, it was time for morning tea

One freshly baked Banana Bread
Ruby enjoying the fruits of my labour

After morning tea it was back to the dress, the pattern was great and easy to follow, it's a Simplicity one, a sew simple pattern no 1836, and I inserted my first ever zip, I was surprised at how easy it was and how nice it looks.

The Dress and a peek a boo Tilly

Tilly was so pleased with it and it fit her perfectly.

I also got chance to finish off some bids and burp cloths for a lady at my hubby's work who is due anytime now.

Add caption

And my next sewing job is Ruby's Halloween costume - she wants to be a bat and I'd better get on with that quick quick quick.

Oh and by the way here is the finished Lego Friends town complete with a vet's, beauty salon, cafe just to name a few.

Lego Friends Town all ready for playing

If you have girls aged 4 and onwards Lego Friends is a must, our girls can play for hours and I mean hours with it and that, I think is great.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Life in America......

One of the many lake beaches in Evanston

......so far so good. We're really enjoying Chicago and love living in our leafy suburb outside of Chicago. It reminds me a little of home - lots of playgrounds/parks for the kids, good Pre-schools, schools, grocery shops etc and lots of activities going on, and a bonus is we have the beach too 1 mile away - well it's a lake side beach, but then Lake Michigan is 58,000 square km in size so it does look like the ocean, but a bonus is it is freshwater not salt water.

Our favourite park - nicknamed the Butterfly Park
The girls enjoying a tandem swing

I've been very surprised by the weather too, I imaged the summers here would be like an English summer - hit and miss, but so far it's been perfect and reminds me of a Sydney summer but with less rain, not a lot of mozzies or cockroaches it's been great. 4 months of gorgeous summer weather one can't complain, and now Autumn is upon us, it is beautiful seeing all the lovely Autumn colours through the trees, Halloween is just around the corner and Thanksgiving too.

And what are the Americans like? Well my first impression is they are so friendly, I thought Aussies were friendly but these guys are so so friendly it's wonderful, they are friendly, kind and helpful, everyone has been wonderful to us. They are very patriotic too, lots of large American flags on display, and they like to do everything big, big cars, big houses, big schools, big freeways, big malls, big coffees, big servings etc,

At full mast as it was Sept 11th

Clothes/shoes/goods/food are all so cheap here - food I can shop for 4 people for about $120-$150 a week here, in Oz I was spending at least $250, and I make most meals from scratch too, I make my own pasta, bread etc as we rarely buy convenience food, organic food is so cheap here, it makes it easier to choose better food too. But if I do get a craving for Tim Tams we have a local World Market shop I can buy them from.

Eating out is cheap too and very child friendly, there are always colouring in sheets and crayons on hand and one Italian we visit even gave the girls pizza dough to play with, then they baked it - how cool. We really do enjoy going out for breakfast on the weekend, it's cheap and the girls love it, they love getting pancakes.

They still measure in Imperial here rather than metric - yards, pounds & ounces so now I'm having to get use to converting back from metric to imperial lucky I do have a handy converter on my iphone, which I am always using at my local fabric shop.

What's America like? or should I say the Midwest, so far I find it strangely similar to Australia, big houses, lots of greenery, lots of close by playgrounds for kids, great shopping centers, they are very outdoorsy people and make the most of the gorgeous summer weather, and living by the water is a bonus too. It's such a diverse country, our little road trip showed us some of the diversity but we still have so many more places to explore.

Another great advantage we have discovered, are free museum days - In Chicago we have some brilliant museums - The Science & Industry Museum (think Powerhouse Museum but bigger and better) The Field Museum,  The Aquarium, Planetarium, Peggy Notebaert to name a few and they do free museum days throughout the year - we've already taken advantage of the Science, Aquarium, Field and Planetarium - and all have been fantastic days out.

Penguin fun at the Aquarium

One of the best museums for kids is the Chicago Children's museum it's a fantastic day out for the kids, with so much to do, from free art sessions to water play to building and much much more. It's situated in Navy Pier, another great area for families, we easily can spend the whole day there, my girls love it.

Our favourite museum - lots of fun here

But one of the best free things to do is the Lincoln Park Zoo - a zoo free all year round and it's a great zoo too - the girls love spending time there.

Riding The Animal Carousel at Lincoln Park Zoo

The one thing which constantly surprises me is how much I am enjoying living in America, a country I never thought I'd ever live in, but so grateful for this opportunity, maybe it's the MidWest in general, maybe because it reminds me of home, maybe it's just a good fit but we are loving it and that helps.

We are all enjoying our time here. Ruby loves school and has made some lovely friends, Tilly is enjoying pre-school and all her little friends.  Mr C is enjoying his work, he's been jetsetting around the country, I'm enjoying being a stay at home mum, making friends, crafting, baking and exploring our new city and life.

We have Halloween to look forward to this month and next month Thanksgiving - both are big, huge events here - Ruby's school is even doing a Halloween parade and I can't wait for it, we've already got the costumes picked, bat wings for Ruby which I will make and a Unicorn outfit for Tilly. We've already seen some ace gardens all decorated for Halloween, which I will share soon.

It's not a bad life really.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Apples Galore

After our visit to Apple Holler last weekend, we did come home with just a few apples, a fair few apples, and I wondered what I could do with these, as it is the weekend which means baking a homemade treat for Ruby's packed lunch, I decided Apple & Cinnamon muffins were in order.

So at 8am on Sunday morning,  and still in our pyjamas  I made the muffins, of course I had my little baking helpers with me.

A quick scour of the internet and I found this recipe which I thought sounded delicious - the recipe is from a blog called The Comfort Of Cooking

Apple & Cinnamon Muffins

2 cups of all-purpose(plain) flour
1 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
11/4 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda(bi-carb)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup of butter melted
11/2 cups of peeled, cored and chopped apples

1/4 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of chilled butter

1. Preheat oven to 400c
2. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sour cream and melted butter. Stir into dry ingredients and combine until just moistened, but don't overmix. Fold in apples.
3. Line your muffin tin with paper muffin/cake cases and fill cups to the top.
4. For the topping combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon together and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
5. Sprinkle this topping over each muffin and bake in the oven for 20-23 mins, or until a cake terster comes out clean.
6. Cool for 5 mins, if you can wait that long, before transferring to a wire rack.
7. Make a cup of tea and enjoy your muffin.

Ingredients ready to go
Dry ingredients

Ruby had the job of mixing all the dry ingredients together and Tilly's job was to beat together the eggs, sour cream and butter.

Ruby mixing the dry ingredients together
Tilly beating together the eggs, sour cream and butter

I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and folded them gently, then added the apples and gently folded them in too.

Mixture ready to spoon into the cases

Next came the job of putting the mixture into the cases, and both girls did this job for me, after all it meant at the end they would get to lick the spoons

Ruby carefully sprinkled the top of the muffins with the topping and into the oven they went to bake.

and 23 mins later........

......lovely delicious apple & cinnamon muffins and they were so lovely we decided to have a few of them for breakfast, well we were still in our pyjamas.

These are not going to last long on our house, not doubt I will be baking again and I have just the recipe in mind.

I still have a fair few apples left over and just this week my lovely Mother in Law sent me some lovely apple recipes, I already have her apple chutney on the simmer and today I'm going to tackle
the German Apple Cake recipe which sounds delicious.