Monday, 17 December 2012

Adventures in the kitchen

It's Christmas baking week!  Yay!!!  I've already started, having made the peppermint bark today, and I'm going to get stuck into the shortbread a little later on.  But aside from the Christmas goodies, I've been having a little fun with a few other things food-wise.  As I've mentioned before, Pinterest is a dangerous time-waster, but it has some amazing stuff on it all the same.  I've quite enjoyed experimenting with a number of recipes.  Here's a wee list, and my verdicts so far:

Sunflower nutella - I'm not a fan of hazelnuts, so when I stumbled across this recipe (admittedly, not on Pinterest, although it's certainly on there now!!) I was intrigued.  I made it this morning, and was pleasantly surprised.  It is rather delicious!  I haven't tried it out on the kids yet, but give me time ;-)  Of course, I'll have to hide it between bread slices, as it doesn't come out as smooth as the store-bought chocolate spreads.  But I'm hoping if they can't see it they won't notice, and they'll like it.  Maybe then I can do a bit of a 'reveal'...

Oatmeal banana breakfast muffins - not bad, but although they proclaim to be healthy and use no flour, they are still over 200 calories per muffin and since you blend the bajezus out of the oats, you're basically just using oat flour.  They weren't anything special, so I won't bother making them again.

Honey cloud pancakes - I made this on Sunday after a long run (I figured I'd earned a treat!).  It was delish!  However, as I didn't have an oven-proof 6" frying pan, I made it in a pot.  This made it rather difficult to get out without it falling apart.  It didn't look quite so pretty, but it still tasted yum.  I made mine with strawberries and blueberries, just like in the picture :-)  Sadly, I didn't have any nectarines on hand, or I would've thrown some of those in too.

Healthy apple pie dessert - okay, so this isn't really a recipe as such, more like instructions.  Super simple, but still good.  Why didn't I think of this before?!?

Make-your-own instant oatmeal - another one of those 'why didn't I think of that?' moments.  I haven't actually eaten this myself, but X is a fan of the Uncle Toby's Brown Sugar Cinnamon Instant Oats packets.  Rather than buying more, I just made up a couple with some oats, brown sugar and cinnamon I had in the pantry.  He gave them a thumbs up!  When winter rolls around again, I'll be putting some more of these together with different fruits and nuts.  They'll be perfect to grab and make in the mornings after a run.

Overnight french toast - I have made this twice now.  I think I'm going to have to stop making it.  It is just SO. DAMN. GOOD!!!  Very dangerous for the waistline, but man oh man, it tastes divine!  On its own, with ice cream, whatever.  It is delightfully delicious.  Second time around, I omitted the pecans because the kids don't like them.  With or without, this is a 'keep going back for more' kind of food.

Overnight, no-cook, refrigerator oatmeal - basically bircher muesli.  We've tried two flavours so far, the cinnamon apple and the blueberry maple.  Both were yum, but we preferred the blueberry maple to the cinnamon apple.  Next on the list to try is the banana cocoa.  There's a link to another page with six more flavours.  Of course, you can basically make any flavour you want, depending on what you fancy, or what you happen to have in the cupboard.  It's a good use of chia seeds though.

Granola bars - I haven't actually made any of the bars yet, but I made the winter granola this morning (yes, I am aware that it is the middle of summer, but it just sounded so yummy I had to make it), and had a wee taste test.  OMG yum!  I substituted raisins for the craisins (I don't like cranberries, and I didn't have any in the cupboard), and used walnuts instead of pecans, since I'd used up my pecans on the french toast (above).  I chopped up some Cadbury Dream white chocolate in place of the choc chips.  This is definitely a breakfast muesli that I can see myself making again!  The granola bars will be something I will try some time in the new year.

Blueberry breakfast grilled cheese - the link just goes to a random blog site, not to the 'recipe', so the link I've posted is to my Pinterest page with the pin (not sure you'll be able to see it).  Basically just the idea grabbed my attention.  Take two slices of bread, slather with cream cheese, sprinkle on some blueberries, whack them together and grill, then dust with icing sugar.  Yum!

Pretzel cookies - we don't get peanut butter chips in New Zealand (that I know of) so I just used chocolate chips.  These cookies are weird, but yum.  T loved them!  X hated them.  Guess you can't win 'em all...  Perhaps I'll freeze half the dough next time, since we ended up with quite a lot and with only two people eating them, it took a while to get through them all.  They're certainly something a little bit different.

Pancake bites - there's a bunch of stuff on this blog page, but I liked the idea of individual muffin-sized pancakes so I made some pancake batter and pulled out the muffin tin.  Half I kept plain for the kids, and the other half I added blueberries to.  There was still plenty of pancake batter left so I made some 'normal' pancakes as well.  Meh.  X claimed that they tasted different, and didn't like them.  He did eat the normal pancakes though.  T refused to eat the pancake muffins and had the normal ones too.  They were a bit annoying to get out of the muffin tin, and although it did cut out a bit of standing around and pancake flipping, the convenience-factor wasn't worth it.  Think I'll stick to 'normal' pancakes :-)

Chickpea, tomato and feta salad - pretty good this one, but next time I'll cut back on the feta just a smidge.  Seemed to me there was a little bit too much.

Next on the list to try is this cucumber salad (although on a smaller scale - can't see us getting through six cucumbers!  Or three for that matter...), and tonight I think I'll start this bread, so I can bake it first thing in the morning.  The kids adore fresh home baked bread, so I'm hoping this one is a winner because it sounds dead easy!  I also like the idea of being able to add any flavours - I see some experimentation in the future with this recipe.

For Christmas morning, I have my sights set very firmly on these cinnamon rolls.  They look absolutely divine, and I love me a good cinnamon roll.  So mum, I hope you're keen to give them a try for Christmas morning breakfast!  I plan on getting up nice and early to make the dough.  Hopefully I'll be able to make it quietly without waking the kids up.  In the meantime, if I can't hold back the cinnamon roll cravings, I think I'll make these cookies.  Having said that, I still have plenty of other baking to keep me busy this week, so probably best not to add to the list...

I've pinned a bunch of salads and dinner meals which I hope to try out in the new year as well.  Might have to give you another recipe roundup in the near future :-)

Of course, with all this experimenting going on in the food department, I've felt the need to kick up the running a notch to counter the effects.  I ran a fairly decent 50km total last week, finishing off the week with a rather fantastic 16km that I was pretty damn happy with.  If not for the knee, I could've just kept running.  My body felt like it could go for hours.  My knee did not.  And with the longer distances my Asics give me blisters (one of the many reasons I prefer my far-more-comfortable Nikes).  Of course, this 16km was on almost completely flat ground - the usual Tamaki Drive route I fall back on for long runs.  It's such a nice relaxing route - good view, nice and flat (mostly), with a lovely breeze coming in off the water most days.

I have been trying out a few hillier routes lately though - my current favourite is quite a tough one, but good.  I found it online on RunningPlus (which I think is a relatively new site), called the 'Ponsonby Loop'.  Members can submit and share their favourite running routes, and people like myself can give them a whirl ;-)  The Ponsonby Loop is great - very hilly, and it takes in some lovely scenic areas of Central Auckland.  I was quite surprised to come across a herd of cows the other day while running through one of the parks!  Unfortunately I forgot to snap some photographic evidence.  Perhaps next time.  I've run it three times now, taking slightly different paths through the parks, and will admit that I've only run all the hills once.  As I said, it's a tough one!  But one I'll keep working on.  It's a nice distance, and it gives me a challenge.

This week will involve trying to fit early morning runs in before breakfast, as the days will be full of finishing off the Christmas knits (not long to go now!!), Christmas baking, housework, packing and study.  I'm hoping to get another couple of modules finished, which will leave me with just the second assignment and one more module to do next year, before lots of revision and an exam at the end of February.  I think I may just make it to Christmas without the wheels falling off the cart...

I hope you're all sorted for the holidays!  If I don't make it back on here before then, have a wonderful couple of weeks, and enjoy the summer weather (or winter, if you're over that way ;-P)  Right, I'm off to bake some shortbread :D

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Peanut butter, you're alright

Isn't it funny how tastes change over the years?  I remember as a very small child eating peanut butter sandwiches, and then one day coming to the realisation that I didn't actually like it.  From then on I refused to eat it.  Over the years I have tried it on occasion, and discovered that I still didn't like it.  Always thought that was a little odd, since I like peanuts and pretty much all other nuts (except hazelnuts, ew).  I bought some ABC (Almond, Brazil, Cashew) spread from the supermarket a little while ago as I was starting to feel like I was missing out on something.  Turns out the ABC spread is pretty yummy.  It's also rather expensive, and unjustifiable on our new budget.  So I bought some plain ol' peanut butter (Deane had polished off the previous jar.  And left it in the cupboard.  Typical.) and was quite surprised to find that I like it now!  Particularly with banana (btw, super awesome snack idea - slice up a banana and sandwich the slices together with a smidge of peanut butter.  Simple yet tasty.)

Unfortunately, my new-found love of PB has just gone a little too far - I had a whole wheat tortilla for lunch with sliced banana and peanut butter, and now I feel rather ill.  Perhaps the natural oiliness of the peanuts doesn't agree with my IBS in large doses.  'Large' being about what you'd have on a couple of slices of toast.  Stupid IBS...

So I'm stuck here at the moment, feeling nauseated, unable to work on my study as I'm waiting for a response from the lecturer on something and can't move forward until it's cleared up, exercise is out of the question (who wants to do jumping jacks when their stomach is churning??  Ugh!), and I really don't want to be vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom right at the moment either... what to do?  Blog and knit of course ;-)

The Christmas knitting is coming along nicely - I have a few more things to do, which should be easy enough to get done in the two weeks left before Christmas.  One thing I'm working on is so close to finished it's not funny, but I ran out of yarn.  Thankfully, Ravelry being the amazing connectivity tool that it is, I was able to find somebody in Dunedin that had a small amount of the same yarn, which should be enough to finish my project with.  Fingers crossed it arrives in the next day or two, so I can whip that project off the needles and focus on the last two.  I so very much want to share with you all that I have been knitting!  It will just have to wait.  ::sigh::

Which reminds me, I had a list of all the things I wanted to knit before the end of the year.  That's kinda fallen by the wayside a bit, hasn't it?  Let's recap:

THE LIST (In no particular order, just to be clear)
  • fingerless mitts for X in black
  • fingerless mitts for T in green
  • fingerless mitts for mum, because I forgot she wanted some for Mother's Day, or maybe these
  • scarf for _________________ (shh, it's a secret!)
  • shawl for mum (the original size is too small) - just an extension, not the whole thing again
  • sweater for me
  • socks for X (no pattern required)
  • socks for T (no pattern required)
  • socks for school librarian (again, no pattern required)
  • socks for Deane (haven't decided yet what pattern, so many to choose from!!)
  • fingerless gloves for Deane (maybe. I'm still a little annoyed about the $2 shop ones)
  • armwarmers for me
  • sweater for me
  • kindle covers x 3 for mum, MIL and bff
And the extras:
  • another scarf, but in handspun for... unknown at this time
  • stole for unknown person, haven't decided yet - started and stalled some time ago
  • shawl for unknown person, maybe me
  • another shawl, in some more handspun
  • this stole, in my handspun laceweight
  • these socks, and these, and these, and a whole bunch of other socks
Priorities shift I guess.  Aside from the stuff crossed off on the above lists, I have also knit a cardigan, TARDIS phone cover, a pair of mitts for my nephew, five pairs of socks, two hats, a scarf, a shawl, a baby butt cover, a baby vest, half a hat, one knee high sock, and the secret Christmas knits I've finished so far.  Oh, and a kindle cover, which ended up being for Deane's kindle.  The other three I've decided not to knit.  Sorry ladies ;-)  Phew, that's a lot!  I'm looking forward to making a little photo collage of all the projects at the end of the year, and I know you're just dying to see it too!!! ;-)

On the fitness and exercise front, things have been going rather well.  I managed a fairly decent 14km on Sunday.  The knee was a bit sore at the end but like every other run, once I stop running it's fine, and there are no lasting effects.  I guess all those exercises I'm doing every day (see previous post) are helping with that too.  I'm being careful and increasing the mileage slowly, but trying to get out more often as well as increasing distance per run.  Going to try a 15km this weekend I think.  I managed another 'fastest 10km' again the other day, don't know how that keeps happening.  I don't aim for a fast run (and in fact half the time I think I'm running rather slow!) but I'm not going to complain :-) 

I've come to the conclusion that my much-loved Nikes are going to have to go as soon as I can afford another pair of running shoes.  They've done an estimated 600km now, and they both make an annoying squeaking noise when I run, which can be a little embarrassing if you're running past people and there's no background traffic noise.  They're still really comfy, and they house the little footpod for my sportband, but I really do need to give them up, before I end up with another injury.  Odd, they're only shoes, but I've become quite attached to them...

Eek!  Just had a surprise visit from the landlord!  Luckily there wasn't any kid-mess visible from the front door!  Although the front yard wasn't looking its best.  Coincidentally, I was just thinking this morning "ooh, the landlord will probably pop around some time in the next couple of weeks to do the whole 'Merry Christmas' thing like he did last year.  I must be sure to keep the house tidy and do the gardens".  Pfft.  He's going to visit again in the next couple of days to inspect some work that a builder will be doing on the front gate - note to self: do the bloody gardens before he comes back!!

On a slightly happier note, my tummy is far less oogly-feeling now, and there's still 45 minutes before the kids get home - enough time to dust and run the vacuum around.  Best get to it before I get sucked into wasting time on Pinterest again...

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Edit to add: Just checked my official result for my last paper.  A-!!!  Yeehaa!!!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I'm sensing a little déjà vu

I'm sitting here in semi-darkness in the middle of the day, with rain absolutely pelting down outside.  Thunder and lightning, reports of a tornado somewhere in West Auckland... isn't it supposed to be summer?

This is much along the lines of what happened last summer here as well.  Last summer was utter shite, if you don't mind me saying.  I really hope this year's doesn't pan out the same, or I'll be really pissed.  The climate in Auckland is definitely not to my liking.  I think I've said this before.  Of course, I happen to like rain, particularly (IN WINTER!!) when I'm cosied up inside with a book or some knitting (or in the case of today, a particularly difficult assignment).  But c'mon, a girl needs a bit of sunshine to go with the god-awful humidity, am I right?!?

I went out for a short 5km run yesterday morning at 6am thinking I'd beat the heat.  No such luck.  Normally a 5km barely breaks a sweat these days, but when you throw 17°+ temperatures and eleventy-billion percent humidity into the equation, you get a horrible sticky, sweaty mess.  The kind of sweaty you get after a 10-12km run.  Not good at that time of the morning :-/

Anyway, enough whining about things we cannot change, and onto more awesome stuff.  I am officially past the half-way point in my Christmas knitting, yay!!!  Still no pics, so as not to ruin the surprises, but lemme tell ya, I'm happy to be on the home stretch!  With only 18 sleeps to go (OMG!!!), the more I can get knit now, the less I'll be stressing in the last couple of days before the 25th.  I'm absolutely itching to get back into the kitchen to make more yummy goodies too, but I have to be good and wait until closer to the day.  We don't want to be giving out weeks-old cookies now, do we?  No, definitely not. 

The boys' birthdays are done and dusted for another year (eight and ten.  Gosh, when did they get so big?) and they're enjoying the daily ritual of opening the advent calendar to see which chocolate they got, comparing similarities and differences between the two calendars.  We've been a bit slack in dragging out the tree and decorations this year, but there's no hurry.  Perhaps a job for this weekend?  I have sorted out my dinner meals for the next two weeks, which takes us up to the 23rd, by which time we'll likely be heading to Napier for the annual Christmas holiday.  I'm looking forward to the big two-weekly grocery shop this weekend.  Yes, I'm one of those weirdos who actually enjoys going to the supermarket, the butcher, the green grocer... as long as I'm by myself of course.  Throw a husband and kids in the mix, and it's my worst nightmare.  Well, one of them anyway.  I have many.

I'm very glad to have finished a rather tricky assignment that I've been working on for the last TWO WEEKS (OMG, and this is supposed to be a Level 5 paper?!?!?) - I submitted it not half an hour ago, and have proclaimed the rest of today as knitting time (and exercises - more on this later).  Deane has been informed that I am not cooking dinner this evening, and he's okay with that.  I've been sticking to my meal plans and cooked everything I said I would in the last two weeks, but because Deane has been coming home from work late most nights, he's been either eating his for breakfast the next morning (because he's weird like that) or I've had it for lunch.  He's going to be late again tonight, so I'm having leftovers for dinner, the kids are having noodle omelettes (something my bff's mother made me once when I was a teenager, and I have loved ever since) and Deane can have whatever he's having wherever he's going to be.  Sweet as.

I'll continue the rest of my study on this paper... perhaps next week.  We'll leave tomorrow open for a long run, a leisurely shower, and some more Christmas knitting.  Maybe I'll do the grocery/butchery shopping tomorrow, and just go to the green grocer on the weekend...  Ah, planning flexibility :-)

Now, I must share the latest time-suck I have fallen prey to.  Many of you will already be aware of/joined up to Pinterest.  As usual, I was a little slow to the party.  To be honest, I knew it was a time-suck and thought it best I avoid it.  But after having listened to many friends' proclamations about how awesome it is, I decided to have a wee nosey, and oh boy, is it awesome?!  I totally get it!  But yes, time just seems to fall into the great black hole that is Pinterest and an hour goes by before you know it.  One must be vigilant, and remember the way back out.  Having said that, I have barely scratched the surface of all that is Pinterest, but am enjoying trying out lots of new recipes and ideas I've found so far.  One such idea has been to write a bunch of different exercises onto ice block sticks and pop them in a cup on the bench.  Whenever you happen to be standing around (say, when you're making a cup of tea, cooking dinner, whatever) you grab a stick, do the exercise on it, and before you know it, you're buff!  Haha, just kidding ;-)  But wouldn't that be nice?  Here are my exercises:

There's a total of 36 different exercises in them there cups, working every area - arms, calves, thighs, butt, and of course abs.  Maybe a little bit OTT, but whatever.   I managed to do all of them on Monday and yesterday, and most of them on Tuesday (but I figured I could get away with missing a few, since I ran 10km.  With hills).  I've only done eight so far today, but there's still plenty of today left, so I should be able to squeeze in quite a few more, if not do them all.  Gotta leave some knitting time though ;-)  The kids are strangely interested in these exercise sticks - if they're around whenever I grab one, they ask which one it is.  If it's an exercise they haven't seen or heard of before, they want to know what it is, how it's done, if it's really hard etc etc.  Kinda funny really.  Maybe I should encourage them to join in...?  Nah, they'd never fall for that...  (Tried getting X to run the kids marathon this year (2km) and nearly got him interested.  I think he was seriously considering it.  By the next day though, he'd changed his mind and decided against it.  Oh well, maybe next year.  I'll start working on him earlier, maybe take him out for a run around Victoria Park...)

There are many other awesome things on Pinterest - I've already mentioned all the recipes (there. are. so. many!!!), there's also umpteen-million outfit ideas, motivational quotes, funny quotes, videos, pictures, links to blogs, gorgeous landscape pictures from all around the world (very inspiring, I want to travel EVERYWHERE), cute pictures of animals, babies, anything and everything (great for when you need a little cheer-up), and so many fabulous gift ideas, which of course is perfect for this time of year.  If you're a little stuck, there are excellent hand-made gift ideas, many of which are really budget-friendly.  I may have added a couple extra ideas to my Christmas gifts list this year because I just couldn't resist (but not too many, because I already had that pretty much covered), and I've pinned a few more for Christmas next year, or birthdays, or whatever occasion happens to fit the gift or vice versa.  Did I mention how much of a time-suck Pinterest is?  I did?  Oh...

Well, the boys will be home from school in half an hour, and I have a date with a hot cup of tea and some Christmas knitting.  Be good, enjoy the rest of your week, and look after yourself :-)  See you next time!