Baking oven-tures

I’ve had a lot of crappy ovens in my life.

In our first rental, the oven looked straight out of the 50s. And probably hadn’t been cleaned since then. It cooked a main meal ok, but baking was a challenge. Gas, but no fan.

Our first apartment in Beijing had no oven. But we had 5 kuai noodles at the doorstep… who needs to cook? Plus, in a department store, we learnt how to make a cake in a wok. Sorted.

Our second apartment also had no oven, but I was beginning to itch. We bought a little convection oven, which we kept on the indoor balcony as I was a bit alarmed at how hot the outer surface got, and thought it might melt bits of our rental kitchen. Supposedly you can roast a whole chook in these. Supposedly.

Surprisingly, our third apartment came with an oven! Again, possibly from the 50s, so maybe 80s China? Gas, no fan, also no temperature gauge. Basically, the longer you left it on, the hotter it got. This was probably the biggest baking challenge by far. It was also imperative that you decided which cutlery you needed before the meal because once you got that baby going, there was no chance in hell you could open the quickly expanding drawers up against the oven. It also had a non-functioning side-warming compartment. Useful for storing objects that didn’t melt.

I wish I had a photo… will keep looking…

Back to Australia, and I was a bit disappointed to find that our kitchen was electric, rather than gas. It took me a long time to get used to it, yet still I burnt things on the outside, and had to be so careful and attentive.

And then it died.

And got replaced.

And I realised that baking is a million times easier with an oven that works. My first meal of ‘The Petite Kitchen’s’ lavender chook was the most delicious ever… and I’ve been cooking it for ages. My eyes widened as I realised the baking opportunities, and threw myself into a baking frenzy. Especially after finishing uni and not having an oven for 10 days or so!

So, I wish to share two exciting recipes with you.

The first is a Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake from the Coles magazine. Woah. Hold onto your pants with this one. I’m looking forward to playing with this recipe and trying out some different flavour combos.

The second is a low-FODMAP, vegan-friendly banana pudding. The original recipe has been tweaked from Donna Hay Issue 81, p132.

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  • 250g coconut oil, melted 
  • 2-3 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp chia, 6 tbsp water, briefly mixed and soaked (as an egg replacement)
  • 1.5 cups of GF SR flour (I used the Aldi one)
  • Dark chocolate pieces, to taste

Mix the first 5 ingredients, stir through the chocolate, and bake in individual ramekins at 180 for about 15-20 mins.

Note: These are quite oily, but they don’t feel heavy, as it is coconut oil, rather than butter. But you may wish to put less oil.

Whilst the puddings are baking, make the caramel. This isn’t a true caramel, because of being vegan, but it is still delicious! I found that it was actually quite hard to dissolve the sugar in the coconut oil. I’m not entirely sure why… I’m sure science would tell me. Also, the sauce separates quickly quickly as there is less fat, so give it a good whisk before serving.

  • 150g coconut oil
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup of coconut milk

Melt the oil in a saucepan, add the sugar and dissolve as much as possible. Add the coconut milk carefully and continue to cook until it thickens slightly.

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Mmm.

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Peppa Pig Party

Was there ever going to be any other theme?

I decided that a Peppa Pig-shaped cake was going to be too much effort, and after being sent this buzzfeed (thanks Nic!), I decided it wasnt’ worth the risk! But, on pinterest, I saw a Women’s Weekly cake that had been adjusted, so I thought I’d do my own version of that. A purple jelly muddle puddle, green coconut grass, a little Peppa and some Happy Birthday bunting. I did my usual sugar-free banana cake, since the icing had so much in it!

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We had chocolate crackle muddy puddles with wriggly worms, fairy bread, spring rolls, lots of fruit, cheese, crackers and a stellar bbq. Plus warming mulled wine for the mummas and daddas to try and counteract the chilly weather.

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I made a (somewhat operatic) Peppa Pig ball throw.
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With, of course, some bubbles for blowing.IMG_4732

And a big muddy puddle for jumping!

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Joy!!

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A lovely local lady has made a fabulous facebook group for the selling and recycling of party products. Such a fab idea! My ball throw has already moved on to delight another three-year-old!

Last year we did a Transportation Birthday Party.

Transportation birthday party!

For Adella’s second birthday we thought we’d aim for her lastest obsession… transport! Her favourite place to sit is at the cafe next to the train station and give us a running commentary of the trains going past. “Blue train! Purple train! Blue train! Blue train!”.

Despite her being older, I still didn’t see any reason to go nuts on sugar and things that she doesn’t usually eat. So we made banana pikelets, vegemite and cheese scrolls, sausage rolls and fruit platters. And we just drank water. Nobody complained!

She’d pointed out the train cake in THE Women’s Weekly children’s cake book. So I based it around this one, but I improvised a bit. First, I made a sugarless banana cake. I figured if we were going to have insanely sweet icing, the kiddies weren’t going to need any extra buzz! I made the cake the night before and got up stupidly early to put it together… I figured toddlers wouldn’t be so much help in the construction! I also filled the carriages with much healthier options, such as puffed corn and sultanas. The wheels were baby corn snacks and the train track was made from cut up fruit-rollup-tape-stuff. I originally did want to use licorice, but I just couldn’t find the string one anywhere!

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(See all those cake offcuts in the background – they made fantastic banana bread icecream and bread & butter pudding!)

At Kmart, I found little plaster cars and trucks, and we painted these after lunch. This was a GREAT activity to get them all to focus and calm down for a while. It was just like being at the Plaster Fun House again. I made sure I had a ziplock bag with the kid’s (and adult’s!) name on them, so when they’d dried off enough, we could just slip them inside.

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I planned an activity using the big long roll of IKEA paper. I drew a big road and some trees and buildings. We were going to make toilet roll cars with split pin wheels to drive along the road. But, guess what? The kids just went nuts and ran around the yard and in and out of the cubby house.

Our “lolly bags” were brown paper bags with car and truck stickers and stamps, and some sultanas and more of the fruit tape.

I was so happy to receive so many nice comments from parents later on, who said how nice is was to have a home birthday, and a lack of crazy party foods!!

Last year, we did A Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party!

A world in 20 words.

If you could sum up your world in 20 words what would they be? My almost-18-month-old has 20, and they seem to do her fine.

She started with “shoes” at 15 months. Which scared me, a lot. I’m in no way a shoe-person and I had images of a little princess in high heels. But I think it developed from a Chinese habit. When we lived in China, the first thing we’d all do when we came in from outside was take off our shoes. And we still do. It feels really weird to have shoes on inside the house. So, once she worked out that she could make words with her mouth, as soon as we got in the door, she’d point to her feet and say “SHOES!”, though it kinda sounded like “ʤu:ʒ”.

At 16 months, we soon heard “nana” for banana. A non-surprise there, since it’s her favourite food. This was sooned followed by “toes”. This one is totally my fault, as she sleeps in a sleeping bag and I got into the habit of saying “Where are your toes?” when she woke up. Now, as soon as one of us goes in to get her out of the cot, all she does is shout “TOES!”. Whoops. My husband quipped that he guessed I wouldn’t be doing the same game with our second one, but I think Adella will have this in hand on my behalf.

Next came “flower“, which is a tricky one to say and sounds more like an aspirated “wawa”, but developed from the habit of picking a flower everytime she went for a walk with Grandma. We continued this, and now we need to pick a flower each time we leave the house, or visit the backyard. Luckily we have a couple of huge bushes of daisies.

Sheep” and “lion” are her favourite toys. Sheep is a massively excited screech that goes “SHEEEEEEEEEE!” and for lion, she wiggles her tongue from side to side in an open mouth to get a “lblblblb” sound.

And, in no particular order, she has quickly learnt to say chair, car, Dada, dog, cup, bib, clock, bye-bye, hat, pants, top, hat, help and off. Combine this with a little baby sign language, and what more could you need?

And where is the most important one, you ask? Mama?? Mummy??? As much as it saddens me to say, she just can’t make that ‘mm’ sound properly yet. Not combined with vowels anyway. It pulls at my heart when she points out Dada in a photo of the two of us, but not me. But she’ll get there. When necessity strikes!

I guess we just have to stop swearing now, before she picks that up too.

What was your/ your child’s first word?

A “Very Hungry Caterpillar” birthday party

I couldn’t resist doing something special for her first birthday… special, but simple! We planned to have a park picnic, so I wanted something that we could easily transport outside, however, we were thwarted by the pollution and had a living room party instead.

We had to be a little bit flexible with some of the foods. We couldn’t find strawberries, so we used Happy Baby strawberry snacks instead. I didn’t want to be serving ice-cream on such a hot day, so we did wafer biscuits. The head of the caterpillar was a chocolate cake, and the body was banana cupcakes – baby friendly ones, but the icing wasn’t baby friendly!! So I left a few aside for the little ones. All in all, quite a success, and pretty darn easy too!

The printables were found here.

There was quite a bit of sentiment in the cooking too. The chocolate cake is my great-grandma’s recipe, and the cupcake recipe is my Mum’s favourite that she always baked for our birthdays as kids. Below is my adapted, baby- and allergy- friendly version.

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Banana cupcakes

  • 60g butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup SR flour
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • olive oil (2 eggs worth)
  • 3-4 tbsp soy milk
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix together. Put into patty pans. Bake for about 12 minutes. Makes about 16.

Baby Led Weaning Banana bread recipe

So, after the first time I go out super late to watch my husband’s band play, the baby is awake early and completely misses her morning nap. So, what to do now that I’m up? Bake.

I went searching online for something sugar-free to bake so that I could also pack some in the freezer for future baby feedings. I found the original recipe here, but I tweaked it a little to suit my tastes (I always add more spices than the recipe says) and contents of my kitchen.

Oh, and the little one loved it!

Sugar-free banana bread

Mix together:

  • 4 mashed bananas
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • two eggs worth of a bit of extra oil and water (since I didn’t have any eggs)

Then add,

  • 2 cups of flour (I used 1/2 plain 1/2 wholemeal)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

I can’t give you the exact temperature, because my crazy oven doesn’t have a temperature guage. It just has ‘hot’ and ‘crazy hot’. But it was around 180 for about 30 minutes.

I’m starting to wonder why I ever bake with sugar now… it should just be bananas all the way. Just like my pikelets.

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(Can anyone tell me what the difference is between banana bread and banana cake? I’ve been wondering for a while…)

Baby Led Weaning Journey – 6ish to 9ish months

I was introduced to the concept of ‘Baby Led Weaning’ by a friend here in Beijing whilst I was pregnant. She recommended that I read: Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett

As I read the book, the concept started to make more and more sense. In my mind, I could see how this process could lead to more independent, less fussy eaters in the long run. A parents dream, right? Also, I can all-too-easily remember how picky my younger sister was, and I’m pretty damn sure I was an annoying, very simple, plain eater as well. I was immediately attracted to how this method requires less food preparation. The basic idea is that your baby ends up eating what you eat. This means no prep of mushy foods.

So, at six months we gave it a try. We sat Adella down in her bumbo chair with some sticks of steamed vegies. Watching her slowly bring the snacks to her mouth and realising that they weren’t just an inanimate object for chewing on, and were instead to be swallowed, was fascinating. We put a wide range of foods in front of her and let her pick and choose and munch as she likes.

These are the foods that she has tried so far:

  • 1st month: steamed carrot and broccoli, bananas, apple, bread, hummous, crackers
  • 2nd month: pikelets (made with banana instead of sugar), strawberries, mandarin, salmon, breadsticks
  • 3rd month: pumpkin, yoghurt, mango, pineapple, lasagne, pasta, lentil cakes, chicken

My favourite has been strawberries. From the first one, she just loved the sweetness. And within about a week, she had totally worked out how many bites she had to take out of one before she could safely put the rest of it in her mouth.

It seems like a lot of people get scared because of choking hazards, but instinct always seems to kick in. Her gag reflex brings anything too big back to the front of her mouth. In almost three months, I think I’ve only pulled two things out of her mouth. Even so, it took a little while for me to totally relax, but I made sure I never panicked. I feel that our emotions affect our children so easily.

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It’s not all perfect of course, there are some challenges. One of the main ideas is that you encourage your children to sit down and eat with you, so that you are eating as a family. On our current schedule, this is kind of tricky. We do our best to sit down with her though, and at least have a snack. We also don’t have a table to eat around. This is making us sound like quite a dodgy family, but we always eat around the coffee table. We used to have a dining room table, but since Adella arrived, we had to reshuffle our furniture and the dining table got dismantled. However, our plan is to have one again when we move soon. Ah, apartment living. So, for now, the Bumbo chair has been doing a great job, but the little one’s thighs are getting a little podgy and it’s getting harder to get her out of it! We have ordered a high chair, and it’s on its way. It’s also a challenge to find crackers and things that have no nasty ingredients in them. I have become very aware of ingredient lists on packages now.

And, eating out in China can be quite funny. In general, people are quite fascinated by the process. Sometimes they panic, thinking that the crazy foreigners don’t know how to feed their baby. Also, there’s a definite lack of high chairs in local restaurants. We have a portable one, but it can only cope with tables of a certain depth, and for some reason, tables here always seem to be really deep. Often the hygiene standards of tabletops can also be a worry. Using plates or bowls is no good, as eventually it will go flying. I made some cute eating mats out of oilcloth which we try to use, but stopping them from getting pulled or thrown is the challenge. I’m on the lookout for the appropriate size peg to attach them onto tables with.

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My pikelet recipe:

  • 1 cup flour (I usually do half/half with white and wholewheat)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (because I don’t have SR flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 mashed banana (to replace 1 tbsp sugar)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • unsalted butter for frying

Also, here is a great Lentil cakes recipe. I made mine with dill and parsley.

I also have some references on my pinterest board.

I have some great videos of her eating too. I haven’t worked out how I want to share these yet, but I will link it here when I do.