July 22, 2015

Stretching it out - my 34th birthday festival

There are so many benefits to a belated birthday celebration. I don't know about you, but I always feel very pressured and overwhelmed when I have to see all my loved ones (family, friends, colleagues, etc) in one day. It's intense and there's a lot of expectation on the birthday girl to be 'on' all day long, and be sweet and appreciative.

Honestly, it's hard for me, and it's a horrid feeling being ungrateful and wanting to just be alone or curled up on the couch with my husband while everyone has already decided that you're going to have a great and super-social day... which brings me to the awesomeness of having belated birthday celebrations with family and at workplaces.

My birthday is right smack in the middle of July, which means that I was mighty surprised on the 17th of JUNE when my colleagues at school started singing Happy Birthday one lunch time in the staff room, and brought out cake, lollies and cinnamon scrolls! Turns out my boss (who basically hired me to organise him better, haha!) had incorrectly told the team it was my birthday and put the girls to work making me a spread of sweet treats. There was even a double layer chocolate cake with blue cream, chocolate frosting and popping candy on top!

A very merry un-birthday, indeed!

Fast forward to mid-July, and after this very surprising and early start to the birthday celebrations, I was lucky enough to have the actual day off work with my husband and we spent a very relaxing day together - with a surprise flower delivery YAY - and dinner out at a special restaurant that we love visiting for fancy occasions.

I received the prettiest Columbian roses from BB

A stroll with BB and Stevie down to the park and lake was perfect for a quiet birthday afternoon.

My mother-in-law's floral-giving game is strong!

Cheers to 34 - it's going to be an amazing year!

The day after my birthday I worked at school, and the team outdid themselves again, providing MORE sugar in the form of a donut cake and lollies. Here in the Health and Physical Ed department, we are all for upending the healthy food pyramid!

The Sports Department really does shine when it comes to providing excessive quantities of sugar. We're all about healthy living here, folks!

I was spoilt with birthday messages from my Lorna Jane colleagues all week, then when I finally worked there after 12 days away... the girls threw me a mini-party. I figured that since I was going to be scoring awesome presents (and yes, I knew beforehand that they'd go the easy option and choose something pineapple-ish), I should provide a cake. And not just any cake, but a very MNB cake.

Stripes and sweets with my adorable LJ girls xox

I had an Orgran chocolate cake mix floating around the pantry and after reading the ingredient list, I knew it would be perfect for a team of health-conscious young women who are all about finding balance between green smoothies and salted caramel macarons.

I whipped it up late the night before, and it was as easy as a packet cake mix can be. There were instructions for both regular and vegan (egg-free) versions of the cake. I'm all about protein and taste, so I went for the add-egg option.

Even the mixing bowl was smiling at me for my birthday!

Gluten free, 97% fat free, dairy free, yeast free, egg free and can be made suitable for vegans.

The cake was a hit at work with the bliss-ball-loving crew, and even me (the sweetest tooth of them all) enjoyed a nice big wedge.

The best part of my birthday is that it's not even over yet! I've still got gorgeous friends to catch up with to celebrate, and there will surely be more wine and treats on the cards.

Do you like to stretch a birthday celebration out, or get it over and done with quickly?

July 11, 2015

The big freeze - slow cooked shredded beef taco recipe

If you're anywhere in Australia and have watched the news over the last few days, you'll know that apparently there's a gigantic cold trough moving up from Antarctica, ready to freeze us all.

(Sidenote: the next weather reporter who says Antarctica without the first C will possibly be responsible for me through the remote through the tv screen. Just sayin'.)

Since it's going to be ugg boots on, stay in pyjamas all day kinda weather, I think there's a red hot chance that we'll pull our new slow cooker out. And once that happens, there's an even greater chance that we'll be enjoying Slow Cooked Shredded Beef Tacos.

I first saw this recipe over at Fat Mum Slim, and it was the first slow cooked meal I've ever cooked (Yes, my husband was aware that finely tuned domestic skills weren't on my resume when we married.) I love this meal because it cooks away all day in the slow cooker, makes the house smell amazing and festive, and then comes together in no time, with the simplest of ingredients. And by 'comes together in no time', I really mean that. Because there's nothing worse than deciding on a slow cooked meal for dinner, but it'll take 8-9 hours to cook... when you only decided at 1pm.

I am loving our new slow cooker too, and trying to use it at least once a week. It's an upgrade from our previous smaller appliance, and this new Russell Hobbs one is great! It's a hefty 6L, and is designed so that you can brown meat in the removable cooking pot on the stovetop, then transfer the pot into your slow cooker. (Less washing up will always get my vote!)

SLOW COOKER BEEF TACOS (adapted a teensy bit from Fat Mum Slim)
{Makes 12 Tacos}

For the beef
800g chuck steak (in one piece)
1 cup passata (tomato puree)
1 cup beef or chicken stock (can use water if you’re out of stock)
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of chili powder
1 tsp sea salt

For the Lemon/Lime Sour Cream
½ cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1 tsp salt

To serve
12 soft or hard tacos
Shredded cabbage
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Coriander leaves or any other toppings you like

Place the beef {make sure you keep it whole}, spices, salt, passata and stock in the slow cooker.

This slow cooker pot is the cats pyjamas. Super easy to use on the stove or in the slow cooker, and washes up like a dream!

Cook on high for 4-5 hours or until the meat easily shreds.

Prepare the fillings including the lemon/lime sour cream by combining the sour cream, salt and lemon or lime juice in a small bowl.

Remove the steak from the slow cooker, shred on a chopping board then place in a serving bowl.

Top with about ½ a cup of the remaining cooking liquid to moisten the beef (be careful… this liquid will stain white plastic spoons and all fabrics!)

Warm the tacos according to the packet instructions.

Lay out all the ingredients, let everyone assemble their own and tuck in!

For our first slow cooker night, I set the table with some new PartyLite Discovery votives, colourful Mexican servingware and tablerunners, and coral roses (of course). It was an easy and fun way to make a regular weeknight meal special!

What's your go-to slow cooker meal? I really want to expand my repertoire and try some different (yet easy) recipes!

July 10, 2015

Sunshine Coast family fun - a day at The Ginger Factory

Last Friday, Peta, Ned and I enjoyed a great day out at The Ginger Factory. Located in Yandina (literally 10 mins up the road from my home), we'd heard that they had stepped up their game and that it really was a local attraction with a difference.

As a lifelong Sunshine Coaster, I'd visited The Ginger Factory over 25 years ago and remembered the factory vaguely, but was looking forward to seeing how it had grown into a popular local tourist attraction.

We arrived shortly before lunch time and Ned was inconveniently asleep, so Peta and I sat down to enjoy a nice meal in Gingers Cafe, along with a pretty decent ginger beer. They're licensed too, so we're definitely planning on enjoying a glass or three there one sunny afternoon soon!

I chose the Signature Burger, with homemade beef pattie, bacon, lettuce, cheese, tomato and caramelised ginger onions.

My classic Ginger Beer was super refreshing, and Peta's Ginger Beer and Pear would be perfect with a dash of vodka in Summer - just sayin'.

Along with a HUGE outdoor covered area to sit and supervise the children in the fenced playground, Gingers Cafe also had some comfy and more relaxed seating areas.

By the time we finished our lunch, the Nedlet was awake and desperate to play on the play equipment. He had a little run around to burn off the post-sleepiness, then we strolled a short distance to the 100-year old restored cane train named Moreton. I thought the little Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-loving kid would've been keen as a bean for this, but no. It was grumpypants on for the first half of the loop journey around the Ginger Factory grounds, and only once the train driver threw out bread scraps for the chickens and ducks to flock around did he begin to smile again!

Let me off!

He can be a reluctant man when the camera comes out; no idea why though, when his cheeks are that cute!

Ducks! Chickens! Flashing train lights!

Now, the visit wasn't all for Ned, as Peta and I wanted to experience some of the more grown-up tours that The Ginger Factory offers. Our gracious host Kathy was very understanding of our slightly shortened attention span (due to chasing a small person around), and gave us shortened tours of both Super Bee and The Ginger Story. These two educational tours include tasting of honey and ginger respectively, and also give the full story behind such important ingredients that pretty much all of us use regularly in the kitchen.

Visitors are encouraged to feel the temperature of the wall hives - it's incredible to feel the warmth that the busy workers create where they're bustling around, then slide your hand up the glass to feel the much cooler area where the bees store the honey.

This is such a great space for the beekeepers to give their presentations, airy and light and full of the hum of bees working hard!

As a sidenote: I am crazy passionate about the importance of bees to humans. This little insect that works so tirelessly and quietly around us certainly is one of the main reasons for the possibility of human development on earth. Without them, the development of life on earth as we know it now, would have been much different and the conditions for human development may not have existed. These conditions are the appearance of the flower bearing plants and pollinators such as bees, being the crown jewel of the pollinators. The appearance of pollinators such as bees, and flower-bearing plants, and humans are all an interconnected series of events over an enormous amount of time. You know what? I think I'll write a nice little blog post soon on my thoughts on these great little creatures.

Peta and Ned checking out the factory floor - the workers were great, looking up and waving to Ned to make him smile!

These 69 enormous tanks are full of ginger and syrup, all being processed into different products.

The Ginger Story tour took us to a viewing room high over the factory floor, with displays of vintage ginger product that the region has produced over the years.

Now this was a walk down memory lane... these Merrybud products are the exact brand and packaging of ginger and marmalade my grandfather used to love.

Peta and I then hit the Overboard ride with little Ned.

Hot parenting tip: there's a party room inside the Overboard ship that can be hired for kid's birthdays... clean-up included!

Think Disneyland's It's a Small World boat ride on a search for the cheeky Gingerbread Man who has run away from some dastardly cooks!The ride features brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls from all over the world, and some pretty funny moments that kids will love to hunt down. Ned loved this ride so much, and Peta and I had some great laughs too... so much so that when we floated up the end, we asked our host to let us go around again!

Is it just me, or are boat rides always the best?

He was the happiest fellow in all the Gingerbread lands.

I've said it before and I'll say it again... those cheeks.

Because the lighting in this ride is set up to showcase the dioramas you're floating past, it  doesn't make for great photos of your kidlets, but I couldn't NOT share this one of Ned. He enjoyed pointing out so much stuff to us, and his little excited face is my favourite.

The obligatory ride photo... well, at least Ned looks cute. 

After such a big day, Ned was ready for an icecream and a little run around at the playground, so we all enjoyed icecream cones from the Bliss Icrecreamery. I chose a delicious ginger and macadamia, but there were other ginger combination flavours as well as the standards.

What's a day out with Peta and I without an outfit photo or two? I went for a casual and comfy look, knowing that I'd be pretty active playing with Ned, so mixed high street and department store finds for a Canadian tuxedo, wearing French Connection jeans and hat, Target Belle Curve denim shirt and Country Road sandals (similar here).

After experiencing a day at The Ginger Factory, I think it'd be a wonderful day out for locals and visitors alike. I'd love to bring our out-of-state relatives here, there's something for everyone from the littlies needing a safe toddler playground, a more challenging version for the tweens, plenty of rides to keep them occupied and great cafe with garden walks for the parents and grandies to enjoy.

Thank you very much to Kathy, Bonnie and The Ginger Factory team for giving the three of us the opportunity to enjoy such a great day together, and plenty of sweet and funny photos to look back on!