Monday, February 23, 2015

Cooked play dough recipe

My three-year old is a play dough fiend. She loves it and makes amazing creations out of it so I'm trying to be better about keeping a constant stash in our house.

I like cooked play dough best because it has a great texture and lasts really well.

This is the recipe we use.

  • 2c flour
  • 1c salt
  • 2c warm water
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 2T oil
  • Few drops food colouring

1. Mix flour, salt, warm water, cream of tartar and oil together in a pot on a medium heat.

2. Keep cooking and stirring until the play dough solidifies, comes away from the side of the pot and loses its stickiness.

3. Remove from heat and add a few drops of food colouring. (At this point we like to split the play dough out into two different bowls and make different colours that will look nice together after being mixed in the kids' play dough creations, eg. red and yellow, green and blue, pink and purple. You can even add essential oils or glitter, to make scented, sparkly play dough for a special treat.)

4. Mix with a wooden spoon until the play dough is cool enough to knead with your hands. Knead until the colours are fully incorporated. Your play dough is ready.

5. Store in an airtight container when not in use.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fresh Reviews - My Food Bag

Photo credit:

If you follow Craving Fresh on Facebook, you might have seen that our family has been trialling My Food Bag for the past three weeks.

I signed up in a moment of desperation.

I was feeling exhausted by the endless chore of cooking for the family every night, only to then have to cajole them into eating it every night. The range of dinners we were eating was becoming quite limited, as I wanted to make food I knew the kids would eat - but that list was so short.

To get myself out of the rut, I joined My Food Bag and promised myself to cook and serve whatever recipes and food that gave us.

In case you haven't heard of My Food Bag, it's a New Zealand service that provides all the ingredients and recipes you need to make dinners for five weeknights.

The head food chef is dietician, Nadia Lim, so meals are designed to be well-balanced and healthy. (My personal feeling is that the meals rely too heavily on the traditional food pyramid idea of a healthy diet, so feature too many starchy carbohydrates while limiting fat content. However, the free range meats and wide variety of vegetables help compensate for that.)

I've been doing My Family Food Bag, which is designed for young families. Other options are My Classic Food Bag, which is for families with older children, or My Gourmet Food Bag, which is for couples, and only provides four nights' worth of food.

It's been fun and the children have eaten suprisingly more than I expected, although they have turned up their noses at many of the vegetables.

The meat is spectacular. Each week there has been such a range, and over the three weeks we have eaten fish, free range chicken, beef, lamb, pork and turkey, all from gourmet New Zealand companies.

Dinners feature a lot of different vegetables, which is great and has got me and Paul eating many more than we normally would.

The recipes are seasoned with simple, yet delicious combinations of herbs and spices.

My only complaint is that many of them include wheat/gluten, which is something I try to avoid at dinner time as the kids end up having so much of it at other times of the day. Several of the recipes have included bread crumbs, tortillas, Lebanese wraps and pastry.

We always have leftovers, so there has been plenty of food for my lunches the next day.

Sadly, our time with My Food Bag is coming to an end this week, as it is taking too much of our weekly grocery budget. I would love to continue it and think I might do the odd week here and there as I need inspiration during the year.

Have you tried My Food Bag? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thai beef stir-fry recipe

This Thai beef stir-fry recipe is one of my go-to dinner recipes these days. It has a beautiful depth of flavour due to its many ingredients. If you don't have all the ingredients listed below, just substitute in what you do have. As long as you have soy sauce and ginger, it will still taste OK. Stir-fries are pretty versatile that way.

  • 500g fast-frying beef (eg. Rump steak or Wiener Schnitzel)
  • 2T peanut oil
  • 3c vegetables cut into strips or angle cut into small pieces (I like to use a combination of broccoli, carrot, celery, beans and capsicum)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1T fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1T fish sauce
  • 1T sweet chilli sauce
  • Juice of one lime (about 1T)
  • 1t peanut butter
  • 1T oyster sauce
  • 1 bunch of fresh coriander/cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mung beans
1. Slice beef into thin strips.

2. Place wok on high heat and allow to heat very hot, then add peanut oil and beef strips. Stir the beef strips to brown on both sides. Once meat is browned, remove to a bowl.

3. Add sliced vegetables, garlic and ginger to the hot wok and pour in the soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and peanut butter. Stir vegetables to coat in the sauce and to crisp up in the wok.

4. Watch the vegetables and, when they are starting to look cooked through, add the meat back in to the wok and stir it to coat in the sauce.

5. Add the oyster sauce and stir through.

6. Sprinkle in the chopped coriander, mung beans and cashew nuts and stir through. Take off heat after cooking for another minute and serve over cooked Basmati or Jasmine rice.

Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How I'm using my Thermomix

The whiz-bang machine you see me caressing above is a Thermomix - an incredible German-made machine that can be used as a blender, food processor, cake mixer, grain mill and stove top.

Yes my friends, it both chops and cooks my onions for me. Paul really has outdone himself on this year's (early) Christmas present.

So far I've used my Thermomix to make lots of things, like peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter. These took less than a minute each to make and the only ingredients needed were the nuts and a little salt.

I've also mixed up cake, cookie and muffin batters, and made vegetable stock paste, strawberry and pineapple sorbet, lots of smoothies and many dinners...

Thai coconut chicken

I made this Thai coconut chicken recipe that my friend, Angela, from Striking Keys invented. It was so delicious and I cooked it in the Thermomix by making the sauce in the blender jug and steaming the rice and chicken above in the steamer insert and Varoma steaming tray. (The vegetables I stir-fried separately in a wok on the stove.)

Tomato sauce and meatballs
The Thermomix has a plug in recipe book that allows you to do guided cooking. It walks you through step-by-step when to add each ingredient, when to blend, when to cook, etc. The Thermomix even has built in scales, so you can measure your ingredients as you add them.

I used the guided cooking function to make these meatballs in tomato sauce.

In the Thermomix blender jug I processed the mince and other ingredients for the meatballs, then rolled them into balls and laid them out on the Varoma steaming tray above while I cooked tomato sauce in the blender jug. The steam from the tomato sauce cooked the meatballs. Amazeballs!

Roast chicken, potatoes and gravy

I steamed the potatoes and chicken above water that was boiling in the blender jug, then transferred them to the oven for 20 minutes to crisp up. Meanwhile, in the blender jug I made gravy with the water and chicken juices that had dripped into it. Sublime.

The finished potatoes were so soft in the centre, and so crispy on the outside. And the chicken was lovely and moist. Here's a photo of the last potato coming out of the steamer basket, ready to crisp up in the oven.

Creamy paprika chicken
This is a Quirky Cooking recipe where I steamed chicken breast slices in the top level of the Varoma steaming tray, steamed vegetables in the bottom level of it and cooked rice in a steamer inserted into the blender. Water was boiling in the blender jug to cook these three layers above. When these were all steamed, I added cashews, herbs and spices to the water at the bottom and whizzed it up into a sauce.

It was a complete meal cooked in the Thermomix, although my rice didn't cook properly. After trouble-shooting with a friend, I've learned I need to soak my rice overnight first to help it cook on the steamer function. Better for our health anyway, with all the phytic acids and what-not.

Chicken velouté, potato and leek soup and vegetable tagliatelle
Varoma steamer stacked onto the blender jug.
The Chicken velouté was another multi-level, all-in-one meal I made using the guided cooking recipe function.

The potatoes and leek steamed in the steamer basket, while the vegetable tagliatelle and chicken steamed in the two levels of the Varoma above. Then I whizzed the potato and leek up in the cooking water in the blender jug for soup, reserving a little to whisk with creme fraiche and Dijon mustard to make a sauce for drizzling over the chicken and vegetables. It was all so easy, and so delicious.

I wish I had taken a photo of the final meal for you, because it looked amazing too.

~ ~ ~

I've been loving experimenting with my Thermomix. It's amazing how powerful and clever it is. I highly recommend it, for anyone looking for a useful kitchen appliance. Have you seen one before?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cranberry oatmeal cookies (with chickpeas) ~ a recipe

I make these soft, chewy cookies fairly often for the family because they are a healthier alternative to regular cookies. The chickpeas and almond flour give them a protein base to help counteract any blood spikes from the sugar content.

I cook my own chickpeas using this method, and bag them up in the freezer in two cup portions to use for these cookies or other recipes.

I've tried to keep the plain wheat flour content of this recipe down to just 1/2 cup, but if you want a firmer, crunchier biscuit, you could increase it to as much as one and a half cups.

Sometimes I make these cookies with raisins, other times chocolate chips, and for today's recipe I've used a mixture of dried cranberries and raisins.

  • 1c coconut sugar or other unrefined sugar
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2t vanilla essence
  • 2c cooked chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1c rolled oats
  • 1/2c almond flour
  • 1/2c plain all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4c dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate drops
  • 1/2c walnuts, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 180°/ 350°F and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a food processor, blend together the sugar and butter on medium until smooth. 
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and blend them in.
  4. Add the chickpeas, rolled oats, almond flour, plain flour and salt and mix them until just combined.
  5. Add the cranberries and walnuts (if using) and mix on a low speed until they are dispersed and a thick dough forms.
  6. Spoon dollops of dough onto your prepared baking sheet and press gently with a fork to flatten.
  7. Bake at 180°/ 350°F for 13 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and just set.
  8. Store in an airtight container for up to three days, or freeze.

~ Peruse more Craving Fresh recipes here. ~

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Best ever skincare products

Christmas is just around the corner so head over to World Organic and write your shopping list. I'm planning to treat my loved ones to a number of these beautiful products.

If you remember, I told you earlier in the year that after years of trialling different skincare products, looking for ones that would do amazing things for my skin without loading me up with toxic chemicals, I discovered THE range in World Organic.

World Organic was developed right here in New Zealand by naturapath and medical herbalist, Megan Douglas.

Lovely things to know about World Organic
  • Organic actually means organic. Every product under the World Organic umbrella is BioGro certified, which gives me huge peace of mind.
  • World Organic is unique in its use of supercritical extraction technology; the cleanest, purest way to extract a plant’s value and deliver it to your skin, with maximum effect.
  • Products are great value for money. Megan has kept the price as low as possible, without sacrificing on quality or ethics to do so. She has saved money by choosing not to pay for retail space. This means you won't find World Organic products in stores, but you will find them sold directly via Consultants at parties or via their webstores. I love these products so much that I've become a Consultant. You can order any products through me or my webstore, Simply register as a customer in the top-right-hand corner (circled in red in the example screenshot below). Then you can shop online to your heart's content.
  • World Organic sources many of its herbs and plants from a community of organic farmers in India, who are regenerating land that was depleted by industrial farming. World Organic pays these farmers above market rate for their herbs, to give them a real livelihood and help them heal the land.
  • World Organic products are packed full of goodies. They do not contain fillers or junk of any sort, just the most therapeutic combination of natural ingredients that replenish, rejuvenate and heal the skin. 
  • These products work. I have seen significant improvement in how my skin looks and feels. It's less dry, and it looks younger, brighter, firmer and fuller. 
  • Products smell amazing because the ingredients used are natural and amazing - things like calendula, rose attar, honeysuckle, sweet orange, fractionated coconut, aloe vera, lotus, vanilla, amaranth, pomegranate, juniper berry, ylang ylang, shea, amla... you get the idea.
  • World Organic rewards customer loyalty with a 20% discount after the first $150 is spent. This makes these products even better value for money.

  • World Organic has developed two separate ranges: The Organic Skin Co. for everyday skincare needs, including body wash, sunblock, moisturisers, cleansers and make up; and River Veda, a more luxurious, pampering range. These ranges are expanding all the time, but both contain gorgeous products I love, and I'm sure you will too.

There is so much more I could say about World Organic, but I will leave it there for now.

If you would like to know more, email me at cravingfresh (at) yahoo (dot) com. (Close the gaps and replace '(at)' with '@' and '(dot)' with '.'. I've just written it this way to avoid the spam bots who love to haunt me so.)

Or you might like to join my Craving Fresh World Organic page to stay tuned with product offerings:

And of course you can register directly as a customer at

Have you heard of World Organic before? Tried it? I'd love to hear your experiences. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Choosing a natural birth

This is an old post that I'm re-posting. It's interesting to see the decisions I made with L, that have carried through for S and J.

Wow! Every day I look at my daughter, L, and feel amazed. Amazed that she's really here, seemingly out of nowhere, and all mine. Seeing her all fresh and new to this world inspires me to do the best I can by her.

What follows is a little bit of my pregnancy/birth story, as well as my where-to-from-here plans for raising a healthy, happy baby girl.

My sister, Mel, gave me the book Well Adjusted Babies at my baby shower and it was great to read in the weeks leading up to the birth. It opened my eyes to alternative ways to prepare for birth and care for L's health and happiness. I've jotted down some of the decisions I've made below.

Enjoying baby
Towards the end of my pregnancy I had a bath each day where I would rub my tummy and sing songs to baby, just enjoying the time with her and anticipating her arrival. I've tried to continue on, enjoying L each day, giving her as much love, encouragement and stability as I can. She is a wonderful little girl, pure delight for Paul and I.

Raspberry leaf tea
In the last few weeks of pregnancy I drank two to three cups of red raspberry leaf tea each day to help prepare my uterus for labour.

A week before L was due I visited a craniologist/bowen therapist to get my spine and pelvis aligned for birth. I didn't want anything making it harder for L to come out.

Before the birth I consulted with a homeopath and purchased remedies to take during labour. The two I used the most were Gelsemium to strengthen contractions, and Arnica to help prevent bruising and tearing. I continued to take Arnica for three days after the birth to help with swelling and bruising. 

Pain relief
I chose not to use medical pain relief during labour as there can be negative side effects for the baby. (My labour was relatively straightforward and only lasted eleven hours, but I imagine if their had been complications or it had dragged out a lot longer I would have changed my mind on that.) Instead, I used heat to help with the pain. I spent most of the labour in the bath, where Paul held a hot shower head to my lower back during contractions. When I was out of the bath I pressed a hot wheat pack to my back. (L was posterior for most of the labour, so my back took a beating.)

I would've liked to have avoided giving L antibiotics for as long as possible. Unfortunately I'm a Strep B carrier (about 30% of women are) and it's life threatening to babies so I chose to be fed antibiotics during labour to help prevent L contracting it. 

I looked at alternative ways of preventing passing it on to her and found tea tree oil can help, so added a few drops of that to my daily bath leading up to the birth. After birth, swabs were taken from L and it looked like she had contracted Strep B so we were transferred to Waikato Hospital where she was put on antibiotics. Not ideal, but better than her getting a life-threatening illness. 
In some cases, antibiotics are a good option. I just want to avoid using them for minor ailments if I can. (I know I tend to freak out at the first sign of pain or discomfort in L, so I'm not sure how this will go in reality when she does get sick.)

Vitamin K
Newborns have naturally low vitamin K levels and some babies are at risk of haemorrhagic disease, which is why the Ministry of Health recommends babies be given a shot of vitamin K at birth. 

Paul researched this one and decided there was no way L was going to get injected with vitamin K as their is a link between it and childhood cancer, among other reasons.

Instead, I took a pregnancy supplement that included vitamin K and we specified in our birth plan that we didn't want it injected, but would consider whether she receive it orally if the birth was traumatic. 

In the end L did have bruising and swelling on her head because she had to turn from a posterior to an anterior position in the birth canal, so we opted to give her vitamin K orally. This required three dosages over a six-week period.

I was all set to breastfeed because I had read so much about the benefits of it for babies. Unfortunately my body had different ideas. I was able to produce some milk, but by far not enough to feed L. 

A lactation consultant gave me several ideas to try boost my supply - expressing between feeds, eating rolled oats, taking domperidone, taking Lactation AOK (a natural booster), eating LSA (ground linseed, sunflower and almond) - but to no avail. After eight days of doing everything we could, I agreed to give L formula. We used a lactaid so I could still breastfeed her while the formula was fed through a small tube into her mouth.
We tried to continue this method at home but L hated the tube and kept spitting it out. In the end we switched to a bottle and that was so much better. I still breastfed a little bit to try and get my helpful antibodies into her system, but after three months L refused the breast so then it was all bottle. I did express from time to time, but it seemed so pointless - mere drops for 15-20 minutes solid work.

I admit, this has been really hard for me. I've had to deal with feelings of failure as a woman and mother. Paul comforts me by pointing to L and saying "Look! She's healthy, she's happy." 

And there are positives. L has been sleeping through the night since she was two months' old, and Paul and others have been able to feed her too - giving me an occasional break. I think it has also given me more compassion for others - we can have the best intentions for our children, but sometimes things just get in the way.

Goat's milk formula
We use a goat's milk formula for L instead of cow's milk because it is gentler on her stomach, less allergenic and doesn't aggravate mucus membranes like cow's milk can. (Downside is it's three times the price, so L costs almost as much to feed as Paul and I do.)

We always use filtered water when making up the formula, to try and keep out as many nasties as we can.

This is a controversial topic, but I think it's an important one. Whether to vaccinate your child or not is a huge decision - yet Ministry of Health campaigns and doctors' advice would make parents think it's a given, stating the following reasons:
  • An unvaccinated child may be at greater risk of contracting childhood illnesses.
  • These illnesses and diseases are a serious health threat for a child if contracted. They may even be fatal.
  • Not vaccinating is socially irresponsible, as unvaccinated children place other children at risk.
  • A child may not be able to attend daycare/school unless he/she is vaccinated.
Why am I against it? Well Adjusted Babies summed it up well:
  • Vaccine immunity may not last.
  • Vaccinations may threaten a child's health rather than help it.
  • The health threat for a child exposed to the stabilising and preserving substances contained in vaccines is unknown.
  • The long-term health consequences of vaccines are unknown.
  • Vaccine dosage is the same for all children, irrespective of age and weight.
  • A vaccinated child's natural immunity may suffer.
  • Children today receive almost three times the number of vaccines of children raised in the previous two to three decades.
  • Vaccines may not protect your child against illness. In fact, their is a chance of contracting the very disease the vaccine is supposed to be protecting against. The antibody response may persist, mutate, or over-react, appearing later with a sinister health threat or consequence.
  • Should the artificial immunity diminish and the individual be re-exposed to the antigens as a teenager or adult, the health consequences are unknown. It is suggested that the severity of experiencing these diseases increases with age and can often be fatal.
I'll also add in:
  • Vaccines are not properly tested, yet they are sold as 'safe' for all.
I'm strongly against vaccination, while Paul can see the merit of some vaccinations. Our compromise is that we won't give L any vaccinations until she's at least two-years-old. After that we'll look at each vaccination on a case by case basis. 

I've also given my GP a copy of Just a little prick, by Hilary Butler so he can get an idea of some of the reasons behind our decision.

My plan instead is to feed L the best diet I can, minimise her exposure to toxins (not germs), and let her build up her immune system naturally. I will also look for alternative ways to treat her when she gets sick, trying to avoid antibiotics as much as possible. Wish me luck!