26 February, 2011

Paper baskets!

I came across zipper8design's woven basket (which was inspired by Nifty Thrifty Things) and had to try my hand at it.  It also fell right into my theme of recycling magazines currently - perfect!

It wasn't easy to do initially.  But once I got the idea of what was actually going on, I couldn't stop.  I ended up making 4 in 1 sitting.

I loved how it contained my sewing thread and needles altogether when I was doing my mending.  No more digging around for the spool that has rolled off the table!
The tot asked that I make one into a basket - which I happily obliged with my 1st trial version.  He carried it around, proclaiming that he was going to the market!
I made some modifications as I went along, using all the tips from Zipper8Design and Nifty Thrifty Things.  Nothing major but it helped me make the baskets with a bit more ease.
  1. I used magazine paper instead of newspaper - the paper weight is heavier so I folded the strips twice only and got it stiff enough.  When I folded it thrice, the paper was a bit too stiff and kept coming apart.  
  2. As the paper strip length was also shorter, I cut down the number of strips to 6x6.  When I tried anything more than that, I got a very shallow container and it was very difficult to keep the shape as the strips wouldn't catch well.
  3. I used 1 cm strips - the thinner the strips, the narrower the base of the basket and the taller the basket.
Hope this inspires you too!  Have fun!

Have a look here for more ideas on how to use up those magazines!

25 February, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

I'm not sure about you but I'm a sucker for beauty free samples.  Not that I actually end up using them most times.  It's just the thought of getting something free that really makes me excited and results in me buying more things (read: probably unnecessary things) just to get enough points to get something free!

Now that's probably not a good method of money management, even if it makes the merchants very happy.  The bottom line is that you have spent more than you had originally set out to.  So I've decided to save me some money!  Here's the plan:
  1. Sort through all my samples: 
  2. Chuck out anything that looks or smells dodgy, is past the expiration date or I definitely wouldn't use (e.g. foundation that isn't my color).
  3. Categorize to product type and arrange according to expiry date (or at least as chronologically as I possibly can.)
  4. Not buy any product unless I've finished what I have in hand.
  5. Be really disciplined and avoid the same trap again.

I've gone through the last month using just samples and I still have this much left.  There's definitely a lot less clutter around the toilet and I have the satisfaction of watching the pile dwindle.  I've also definitely saved at least $50 on products so far.  Once I finish the samples, I'll share with you my plan with the full sized items!

23 February, 2011

Teaching tiny fingers on the cheap

It's important for toddlers to practice their fine motor skills as this helps them learn to use their fingers and improve their dexterity.  One of the recommended activities is to string up pasta with a string to form a necklace. However, I'm not exactly keen that the tot "plays with food" as I'm concerned that he would get confused with real food.

My solution?  Paper beads!  With my stack of magazines growing, I had lots of material.  It's a very, very simple project and you can even involve your child in making them.  After the beads dried, the tot has been having fun threading them onto the stick again.  He also uses them to count and treats it like "money"!

Paper beads
Colorful paper
Pen knife
Satay stick

  1. Using the ruler, cut the paper into long triangular strips.
  2. Apply a small amount of glue to the paper on the "wrong" side of the paper (the side that is to be hidden).
  3. Using a stick, roll the paper tightly around it, starting from the broader end.
  4. Allow glue to dry before removing from the stick.
  1. Heavier paper gives you larger beads, as with longer strips of paper.
  2. You can use "wet glue" or tape glue.  Tape glue may be less messy but trickier for toddlers - I don't let my tot near it as he ended up unwinding the entire reel once!
  3. Varying the width of the strip's base varies the length of the bead.
  4. You can actually spray the beads evenly with lacquer if you intend to wear these beads!
Have a look here for more ideas on how to use up those magazines!

21 February, 2011

Using up those magazines

Looking at the stack of old magazines that I had ploughed through, part of me said "Just chuck them in the recycling bin!".  Another part said "What could you do with these?"  So this is the list that I made:
  1. Using it to wrap breakable things for packing - it sure beats the carbon that is left behind from the newspapers we usually use.  Much cleaner in my opinion!
  2. Shredding it and using it as stuffing in wrapping presents - cheaper than using new colored paper.
  3. Make disposable boxes - very useful for messy craft times and dinners with loads of cast offs e.g. crab eating sessions
  4. Make paper chains - fast and easy decoration for parties and the like
  5. Origami - endless possibilities!
  6. Make paper beads - the kids love it for stringing or playing.  Their imagination is the limit!
  7. Make paper dolls - I love cheap toys that allow children to use their imagination.  Can you tell?
  8. Make collages - I remember doing this when I was in Primary school!
  9. Paper basket weaving - great as containers!
  10. Paper boxes - it can look nicer than you think!
Hopefully, I'll be able to put up some photos of the above projects (if I get to do them!) over time with instructions.  Watch this space!

19 February, 2011

Chocolate muffins with orange cream cheese

The internet has been a great place from which I draw my inspiration from, be it craft, food, child rearing or decorations.  But it has also meant that I've ended up buying things in the hope that one day, I'll find the time to create whatever it was that I was inspired to make.  As we all know, that may be almost never.  It's fine with craft materials but with food, there are expiry dates.
In order to assuage my conscience, I did a sweep of the pantry for any more food that needed to be consumed (This is becoming quite a habit, yes?  Remember the black sesame soup?)  Anyhow, I found a packet of cooking chocolate, baking cocoa powder, half consumed cream cheese and an orange.  Perfect to execute an idea that I've been having in my head for quite a while - Chocolate muffins with orange cream cheese.

I'm quite sure this is not a new idea - I'm not that imaginative in the food department yet.  And by yet, I mean that I expect to become more adventurous.  And by more adventurous, I mean buy more exotic ingredients... (Down that slippery slope yet again.) 

As a child, I'd always hated orange flavored chocolates.  Don't get me wrong - I LOVED chocolate and I LOVED oranges but put them together, it was just wierd.  I suppose part of the reason was the rather synthetic taste that those cheap boxes of chocolates tend to impart with this combination.  But now that I've grown up and I've actually tried some really nice combinations with fresh fruit and good quality chocolate, I'm quite partial towards it.
Do you have any combinations of food that you hated as a child but embraced it as an adult?

Chocolate muffins with orange cream cheese
Makes 18 muffins
Group A
2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup baking cocoa powder
0.5 cup caster sugar
Group B
2 tsp vanilla essence
80g milk chocolate chips / chocolate bar broken up into bits
2 large eggs
150g melted butter
1 3/4 cups of milk
Group C
125g cream cheese at room temperature
2 tbs caster sugar
3 tbs fresh orange juice
1.5 tbs orange zest
0.5 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in Group A and whisk to mix.
  3. Combine all the ingredients in Group B and whisk to mix.
  4. Pour Group B ingredients into Group A ingredients and stir until just combined.
  5. Combine all the ingredients in Group C and put in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  6. Fill greased muffin tins until 1/2 full with the chocolate mixture.
  7. Place a dollop of cream cheese mixture on top of the chocolate mixture.
  8. Further top up the muffin tinx with the chocolate mixture to cover the cream cheese mixture.
  9. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes.
  10. Best eaten warm from the oven!
  1. I tend to use less sugar in my recipes as I dont' like it too sweet - you can vary the amount of sugar to your liking,
  2. You may need less milk (or more) to get a consistency thicker than honey to allow for ease in filling the muffin tins.

17 February, 2011

Who? 芝麻糊 - Black Sesame Soup

While going through my pantry, I found a packet of black sesame seeds.  To be honest, I can't really remember why I bought it in the first place.  Perhaps I'll stick a post-it next time with my idea onto the food packets so that I'll remember! LOL!

Anyhow, I was talking to my grandmother the weekend before and she mentioned that 芝麻糊 was very easy to make and considering the ingredients, dirt cheap.  As with A LOT of recipes from the older folks, there aren't any precise measurements, just proportions.  

So I used one of those Chinese soup bowls as my measuring container.  I figured it would be just nice.  Afterall, it was a nice size.  Right.  The brain didn't think properly and I didn't add up ALL the bowls.  Ah well.  We had a whole pot full of 芝麻糊 which could feed a party of 10 or more. LOL!

Black sesame is supposed to be good for black hair (As with a lot of Chinese food believes, you treat like with like) and neutral for the body.  Scientifically, it has a tonne of vitamins and minerals along with some fibre.  Sounds like something that everyone can enjoy!

Black sesame paste 芝麻糊
1 cup of black sesame seeds
1 cup of jasmine rice
1 cup of yellow rock sugar
9 cups of water

  1. Soak the jasmine rice in some water after washing for 1 hour.
  2. Toast the black sesame seeds in the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.
  3. Grind the sesame seeds to a fine powder in the food processor.
  4. Strain the rice and grind that to a fine meal as well.
  5. Add the sesame meal and rice meal to 9 cups of water.
  6. Bring the pot to a simmer, stirring every now and then, ensuring that the rice doesn't stay at the bottom of the pot and burn.
  7. Add the rock sugar and stir until it melts.
  8. Using a food processing wand, blend the soup into a smooth creamy consistency.
  9. Can be eaten cold or warm.
  1. The above gives you about 10 bowls of soup.  Cut down as necessary.
  2. You can use plain rice flour instead of jasmine rice - this saves you 1 step.
  3. This soup is best eaten fresh as the rice starch tends to congeal and may separate after some time.  If that happens, I'd heat up the soup and add a bowl of boiling water and blend again.

15 February, 2011

The Great Magazine Purge

I figured that starting out with something somewhat fun and easy would jumpstart Mission SOS more easily. So I went round the house and collected all the magazines lying around and placed it in a pile next to my comfy chair. Then I collected my tools and put it in a little box so that I had everything when I needed it: a pen, post-its to flag pages, scissors (I can't seem to find my penknife under all the mess right now and refuse to buy more things!) and some paper clips.

The game plan was to flip through the magazines and tag the articles that I want to keep. Then I'll cut them out and then file them. It's been going well – I've found it a relaxing way to wind down and pictures of pretty homes and things never fails to cheer me up.

As you can see, I've given up with using the scissors and am tearing the pages out instead! Right now, I'll just put everything into a pocket file and leave it first while I think up of a filing system. It's nice to see the pile shrinking even if it is a tad slowly...

Next on the list is to figure out what filing system I should use for the articles and how to make use of the remaining magazine papers!

13 February, 2011

Mission SOS - Sort, Organise and Simplify

I've pinpointed the source of my unrest and irritation – the clutter and lack of organisation in my house right now. It's just amazing how one can let all the mess just build up and up and up! The piles of mess have reached epic proportions and I just can't bring myself to do anything about it until now. Divide and conquer seems to be a fair thing to do and hopefully, I'll take back control of my house from the clutter! Wish me luck! 

P.S.  Would love it if anyone could point me towards any of their fave organisational blogs for some ideas!  Thanks!

12 February, 2011

Freezer Pleasers

Do you ever get sick and tired of eating the food at work?  I know I do.  After a while, the food starts getting boring and I shudder to think of the true nutritional value or the lack there of.  But I regret to say that I already have enough difficulty waking up in time for work, much less to cook BEFORE going to work!
There are days where I bring the dinner left overs from the day before and there are days where I just force myself to eat what the food court offers.  So I figured, why not have something that can be easily prepared before I go to work if there are no left overs!  Congratulating myself on that brilliant idea, I went on a search for freezer friendly food.

If you are of the same generation as I am, you'd recall Garfield scarfing down pans of lasagne and it was a dish that always intrigued me as a child.  Mum never cooked "Western" food of this kind and when we ate out, fish and chips invariably was THE western food we'd order.  I also remembered reading of how bechamel sauces turned lumpy, how lagsane sheets would disintegrate and such - hardly encouraging to someone who felt an aversion to chucking food even if it turned out to be a disaster.
But curiosity got the better of me and I'm glad to say, I can make lasagne!  There are a few tricks which I learnt along the way (at the end of the recipe) which makes making lasagne and freezing it a breeze.  The hubs loves it, the bubs loves it even more and it freezes so well!  I've also done some tweaks - my bechamel sauce is made from wholemeal flour.  A great way to hide fibre in food if your kiddy is veggie and fruit adverse!

Meat sauce
1 tbs olive oil
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 medium sized onion finely chopped
700g minced pork (or beef)
2 cans (800g) of canned tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and stir in the garlic until fragrant.  Add the onions and sautee until soft.
  2. Add the minced meat and continue to stir, breaking up the meat.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes, bay leaf and oregano when the meat is almost cooked.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remember that you'll be adding cheese later and so you will need to cut back accordingly on the salt.  (I omit salt here)
Bechamel sauce
80g wholemeal flour
120g butter
1 litre of warm milk
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp of salt
  1. On low heat, melt the butter.
  2. Using a whisk, slowly incorporate the flour until the mixture forms a ball.
  3. Take it off the stove.
  4. Using a ladle, add the milk one ladle at a time and continue whisking gently.  This ensures that lumps don't form.  I highly recommend patience.
  5. Put back on the stove and bring to a gentle boil, stirring ever so often.
  6. The sauce will thicken and reach a consistency that should coat the back of your spoon.
Instant lasagne sheets 1 - 2 boxes
Grated mozarella cheese
Grated cheddar cheese

  1. Use aluminium foil to line your baking tray. (9x12 inches or so)
  2. Preheat over to 180 degrees celsius.
  3. Place a layer of instant lasagne sheets at the bottom.
  4. Layer the lasagne sheets with a thin layer of meat sauce and then bechamel sauce.  Finally layer a mixture of mozarella and cheddar cheese on top.  The cheese serves to bind everything together.  Add according to your taste.
  5. Layer another layer of lasagne sheets followed by meat sauce, bechamel sauce and cheese.
  6. The final layer should be lasagne sheets followed by a thin layer of bechamel sauce and cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 180 degrees celsius.
  1. Instant lasagne sheets don't have to be pre-prepared and can be used as is.  This saves you having to fiddle around with fragile sheets.
  2. To fit your pan better, you may have to break up the lasagne sheets and piece them together like a puzzle but keeping the sheets as a whole piece makes it easier to cut and transfer.
  3. Don't worry if your meat sauce is a bit wet - the lasagne sheets soak up all that fluid well and need it.  Otherwise, you'll have very hard pieces of pasta!
  4. When I run out of bechamel sauce by the last layer, I layer with more cheese and pour some milk over the top to cover and moisten the pasta.
  5. To freeze, leave the lasagne to cool first - this improves the handling qualities of the pasta and it retains it shape without falling into a cheesy heap.

09 February, 2011

Welcome to Our Bower

I'm part of a breed of women called Full Time Working Mothers. It is neither easier nor more difficult than being a stay at home mom. It's got it's own set of joys and problems.  Perhaps I may evolve at a later date but right now, that's what I am.

It is often said that one needs to have a balanced life to be happy.  But who has the time to do anything fun when there's a tonne of household chores to be done once you are home from work?  Unless you make homemaking a hobby.  Even if it is part time.  

Come on in and have a peek - into my humble home where I find ways to make cooking and cleaning fun and fast, indulge in a bit of creativity and above all, be a mom and wife!