Friday, August 29, 2014

Chocolate Lollies with Blueberries

It's no secret that C is a fussy eater. But to what extent? She doesn't even like ice lollies... Ok they aren't really that yummy to be honestly. I wasn't a big fan either when I was a kid. The thing is she sees all her friends having ice bites from the tuck shop at school and she asks me to make water ice lollies. That's right, from pure water, nothing else. And she enjoyed it. My daughter....

So after those water lollies, I started to play around see what else I can add in there. The frozen version of freshly squeezed juice was rejected. It tastes like other store bought flavored lollies. Saving grace? Cocoa power! Thank goodness she likes most things chocolatey, and there's this little for me to fiddle with.

My first version of chocolate lollies was so successful that she usually would eat 2 at a time.
  • 1T cocoa power
  • 1C milk
  • 2T of honey
Put everything in a blender and then transfer the liquid mixture to your mold. Leave it in the deep freezer until frozen solid.

Blueberries was another hit, as long as I liquidize it really well and the berries are chopped into micro bits. I've tried grapes as well, but then I have to pass the liquid through a sieve, or else madam complains that she can taste the grapes and the skin. Oh my.

The cocoa power kind of covers all the other fruity taste. You can throw in any fruit you've got on hand. If you don't have a fussy eater like mine, the sky is the limit. Make your own healthy lollies or ice bites at home. It's so easy and a much better version than store bought.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lane Raglan Tee + Go To Leggings


I made my first very own clothes today! I'm so excited and this is definitely not the end of it. I've been wanting to buy some basic tees for myself... Everytime I passed the shop windows I kept on telling myself that it's so easy to make and I should just do it. I bought a raglan tee pattern 2 months ago, and it's burning a hole on my laptop (PDF pattern).

Frankly, I have no fear for knits. Knit fabric is the first kind of material I laid my hands on. I treated it just as woven fabric, except for the crazy slippery kind. I've always like ribbing. I spent 10 minutes going through all the ribbing selections in the store and decided on this piece of red. I'm indecisive at times....

I'm usually a neutral color kind of gal, but since I'm clothing for myself for the first time, I feel that I need something more memorable than grey. Plus I want to make C a pair of leggings as well, using the same piece of fabric --- more on that. I think it's a nicely loose fit. If I want a huggier look next time, I might go a size smaller but keep the sleeve length. Ape arms from my mom.

I got this Go To Leggings pattern about the same time when it was on a 24-hour 50% off sale. I measured on C's store bought leggings and find the pattern length seems a little short, so I added about 5cm to the size 5T for my currently 4y10m-old girl. My infinity scarf has found a match. These leggings are equally fast to make. So fast that I could probably make them for a living.

I loved the photoshoot and C kept coming back and getting in the shots with me. I have so many of us making the silliest faces together that I can't use here. Since I'm the one that stands behind the camera all the time, C rarely has a shot with me but plenty with daddy. I guess I enjoyed this more than anyone else.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Simpliest Roast Chicken

We eat roast chicken almost once a week.  Yet I always tend to surrender to Woolworths' rotisserie version.  It's C's first love as a baby after all. Although I've tried and failed cooking chicken at home in the years.
  • stuffing it with lemon/garlic/onion/herbs....
  • rubbing it with butter
  • popping one in a slow cooker and the meat turned out so overcooked and dry
  • dumping the whole chicken in a pot of water with a few pieces of ginger and some salt
The taste was just somehow not right and my chicken was never a popular thing at home.
One day I decided to go simple and it's probably the best thing I've ever done in the month.

You know when I look at recipes and I'm always bewildered with the words "season with salt and pepper". It doesn't tell you how much it's needed exactly. It's a personal taste buds issue, I know, but some guidelines would help.  My chicken was often under-seasoned. Anyway, this time I went wild and ground about 1t each of salt and pepper. Rubbed it oh-so-very nicely inside and out. Coat it again with olive oil and didn't add one more thing.

Into the 200C oven and let it cook for a good 1h30m. C's been on and on about this chicken the whole week and I actually cooked it twice in the week due to popular demand.

When I was a kid, I'd de-skin the whole roast chicken, while my parents were busy preparing the meal, and then I just heard them shout "how come our chicken is always skinless?" Roast Chicken's skin is still one of my favorites. If I was still allowed to do so, I'd peel off this chicken skin and eat it like crispy butter. Heaven.

Goodbye supermarket chicken. Your service is no longer required.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Balsamic Pork Chops with Yorkshire Pudding

My very first attempt to cook chops was during my pregnancy. I guess most of the pregnant ladies are prescribed to iron and folic acid pills? I didn't (and still don't) eat a lot of red meat and obviously my iron level's not great. Yes I know you can get iron from various vegetable sources, but to me iron from that piece of steak sounds more solid than anything else.

frankly speaking, I was iron hungry. So on top of the pills, steaks and chops are introduced to my dinner table. Back in the days when I couldn't cook, I'd simply rub them with salt and pepper, cook them to 100% done, and chew the rubber tasting meat. And on desperate days, I cooked them straight from frozen state...
Phew luckily those days were over and now I cook chops every now and then, with a much less savage approach.

This one is so easy to cook, with a Balsamic vinegar and olive oil marinate. Yet it's so flavorful. I'd never thought to cook pork chops like that myself. The recipe is from here. I did double up the marinate amount, so I end up having more juice/sauce for the chops.

I also whipped up some Yorkshire Puddings to go with the chops. It's like you pour pancake mixture into small muffin tins and they come out of the oven all puffed up. Magical. I even got an approval from my very fussy eater.

Unfortunately the "pancake pudding" was the only thing she approved. But my plan B always seems to work! I have these dumplings in the freezer, all year round. They are very easy to cook from frozen.  Just pop them in the cold water and cook as usual. Fool proof.
Win-win-win for supper!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pintuck Dress

This dress is the very first one that caught my eye in this book. Somehow I withdrew when I read the instruction pages.... pintucks, elastic inside the pockets/sleeves/neck binding...Such a simple looking dress with so many details?! Was I confident enough to pull it off? No. So I cut out the pattern and left it hanging....

A few projects later, I decided to give it a try. After all, it's the dress that I kept sewing in my vivid dreams at night.

Pintucks? Easy-peasy.  I found a tutorial on Youtube that just proves how unnecessary my fear was. They are so quick sew.

Details, details. This dress is all about the details.

I found a big range of linen at Studio 47. I chose this navy blue for C because I think dark color quite suits her complexion, although her No.1 shout-out color is forever pink.
During the shoot, C's going back and forth to the table to color in, so I got the paper and stuck it on the wall. She's got such great concentration span for drawing that I completely admire. She stood there and finish the whole picture. If you are wondering, the coloring-in page is from
I don't know about you, but I'm in for a world of pintucks and I'm loving it.

Marinated Beef Strips with Broccoli

I originally saw the recipe on a friend's Pinterest board. For some reason I can't locate it anymore. Good news is that I've printed out the recipe and made over 100 times already. I follow everything --- you know how I like to follow --- except for the soy sauce amount.

The originally recipe called for a 1/2 cup soy sauce OR 1/4 cup of soy sauce and 1/4 water. I totally ignored the first option, since that's an insanely amount of soy sauce. My very first batch was done with the 1/4 cup soy sauce + 1/4 cup water option. It's quite yummy, but the kind that's accompanied by a lot of rice and probably big amount of water after meal. Even as a 3-year soy sauce OD survivor, I couldn't approve it 100 percent.

I then halved the soy sauce amount to 1/8 cup with 7/8 cup of water. It turned out perfect every single time. I made this quick meal again as my lunch this week. See how I'm taking my lunches seriously these days.

Here is the edited recipe that I've been using:

For the marinate:
1.5 lbs beef strips
1/2 baking soda
1t sugar
1T cornstarch
1T low-sodium soy sauce
1T water
2T vegetable oil

Mix everything in a bowl and stir until smooth. Pour it over your beef strips and coat nicely. Cover and leave it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. (I don't always have 1 hour to marinate. What I have is the little time I'm working on the broccoli, and it seems fine.)

Other ingredients:
1/8 C soy sauce + 7/8 C water
2T brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2T flour
1T sherry
3T vegetable oil
2 heads broccoli
  • Mix the soy sauce + water, brown sugar, garlic, flower, sherry and oil until smooth. Set aside.
  • Heat 2T vegetable oil in a large wok over high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli and saute 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining oil and marinated beef and stir often, until the meat the meat is cooked through. Bring the broccoli back and pour the sauce over and coat well.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sweet Potato and Tomato Curry Soup

Last week a friend asked me if I had a sweet tooth. The answer was and will always be "No!"
I never liked sweets as a kid, but far preferred savory treats like Tuc biscuits or biltong.
Lately I'm stuffing my face with so much cakes from all the kids parties I've been to. I'm on the go all day and lunch doesn't usually get to climb onto my priority list, so when I see those cakes in the early afternoons, I dive in.

This picture has nothing to do with cupcakes. Thank goodness. Instead, it's a picture of my lunch the other day. Back in the days in Shanghai, three meals were abundant and important. I can't believe how I've neglected my lunch.

M was home to join me. He asked me if this was some promotion meal I make for the blog. It's not a bad idea, is it? I will try one new recipe at least once a week and satisfy my mid-day stomach at the same time.

The recipe is here.  I did find it a little bland and added a pinch of salt and sugar in the end. It's quick to cook and goes well with rice. Good news is there should be even enough leftover for dinner.

I've still got a few kids parties coming in the next 2 months and I certianly won't have an affair with those cupcakes anymore once I've got some proper food in the tummy.

Easy Rectangle-Gather Strap Dress

Last week I mentioned we went to a far-away fabric shop and only bought 2 meters of fabric.  This is the other one meter C chose. It's satin I think. Polyester? Anyway, it's the type of fabric that traps your perspiration and thus shouldn't be worn tightly on your skin. I knew exactly which dress to make out of it already in the shop. Pattern from Sew Chic Kids. I know I know, I've been sticking to the same book. I'm still waiting for the other sewing books that I've ordered online (shipping to the Africa continent always seems a forever wait).

This fabric is fray-crazy. It starts to fray with me barely touching it. But besides that, the dress itself is super easy to make. And I think the ties at the neck is just a genius way to make shoulder straps. So simple.

We had a 27C warm day yesterday in the middle of winter and C was lucky enough to wear the dress with nothing underneath. She was certainly full of frolics the whole day....

I often include C in the fabric shopping. Sometimes it can be disastrous with me trying to drag her away from the sparkly and sequins fabric section,  but more often than not, she is very pleased to choose fabric and have her say in the clothes that she is going to be wearing.

Until the next project....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Coloring Pages + Party Planning

Chiara's birthday is over two months away, and she's already in the planning spirit. It all started with a few coloring pages. I got bored with her coloring book and thought I should jazz things up a little.  I landed at We printed out a lot of Disney themed pages together. And then the Frozen passion is re-ignited.

Last year's owl cake

C: I wish I could have a Frozen themed party.
Me: Can we take you to places or shops to do or choose whatever you like this year? (Honestly, I'm not a party fan. The thought of preparation is putting me off already)
C: Are you still going to make the chocolate owl cake you did last year?
Me: Sure. We will have the same cake. (Is she buying it?)
C: But does that mean I'll have no guests?
Me: Yes, but you can get whatever you want, instead of, you know, the presents that you might not like. (Oh please say yes)
C: NO. I want guests......

Last year's party food.
OK. So the party's on. I might try again in a month's time.
While we were coloring in the new Frozen sheets,
C: Do you know? We can put these in the party give-away packs.
Me: That's a very good idea.
C: Oh but just put a piece of white paper in J's pack.
Me: Why?
C: Because she just scribbles......

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Flamingo Flare Sleeve Dress

These day the most frequent question I ask would be "Any fabric store to recommend?" Turns out that not everybody goes fabric shopping.  A very helpful lady at SA Interlining gave me a few tips, one of them lead me to a shop called First Factory in Goodwood. Now I may not know the area well enough, at least I know it's a bit out of town and better grab M and go with. And C was very excited to come with too.

Turned out, that First Factory was 100 times smaller than I had pictured in my head. Nevertheless, we found something we liked. I spotted this flamingo print viscose and C spotted something else. We came home with just over 2 meters of fabric.....
The dress pattern is from Sew Chic Kids, again, which took me one morning to sew. It's my record speed so far and I think I'm really getting the hang of it. Besides that, I'm making bias tape like eating cereal nowadays.
C found the dress on the table, still to be hemmed, and begged to help and finish the dress. She wore it the whole afternoon and still put it on after shower. My guess is it's going to be a popular item in her closet. Bring your kids along to buy fabric is always a winner.
She came up with all of these photoshoot ideas and we went from inside to outside and back again. I ended up with hundreds of pictures to choose from. That's probably the most difficult part.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Coconut Curry Mussel Soup

A week ago when I laid eyes on this coconut curry mussels, I started having vivid dreams at night eating that soup. Worse, I just couldn't shake that image off my head for days. So my mussel hunt was on. Two supermarkets later at my almost giving-up point, the shop staff guided me to the frozen section. Frozen mussels, with shells, are definitely better than nothing.

My very first mussel encounter goes way back to my middle school years in a buffet restaurant in Shanghai. I cleared plates after plates of them. When I got home I had to describe what I had exactly to my mom, as you know, the shellfish variety is quite big there, and there was no internet to google a picture.  Eventually my mom figured out what I had and for the following week, I was on a mussel diet. She'd just steam them and I'd finish a big bowl with a little of vinegar + soy sauce.

I love and am good at following recipes, probably better than following sewing patterns. The only change I made was to use coriander instead of spring onions. It's for garnish purpose anyway.

Towards the end of the cooking, M came out of the study and got bowls and bread ready for us. He's got a good nose and the timing's always good. Half way through it, he had to drop out due to a numb and itchy he's got a mild allergy to shellfish....His loss is my gain. I polished off all the mussels and saved a little soup in the fridge. I simply reached my limit with bread and felt too luxurious to just drink the soup by itself.

When I looked for the leftover soup the next day, I couldn't find it but the tupperwear in the sink. M must've risked his allergy again. It's that good!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Star Parka

It's been a busy week, especially with pre-school concert coming up next month. The "costume making department" is busy with volunteering moms. I was assigned to make ten 6-layer gather-extreme skirts. Turned out the cutting and squashing everything under the foot of my beginner sewing machine were both time-consuming and challenging....I've given up and taking them to a little factory first thing Monday....

I managed to finish this top by the end of week. The pattern is from Sew Chic Kids. I lengthed the 3/4 sleeves to full length. This fabric is warmish and I just can't picture her wearing it with shorter sleeves. Since it's the first time I've attempted to alter a pattern, I looked for a tutorial and landed at The Sewing Rabbit. The tutorial, however, is not a raglan style sleeve. I wanted to be clever and used the same theory on this sleeve pattern. The result --- the tutorial should work on any kind of sleeves! So happy it worked.
I also added a kangaroo pocket. My kid is forever on the hunt for clothes with pockets. She's so excited that now she can put both hands in the same pocket and feel each other...
Oh I lined the hoodie as well. I studied her other hoodies and all of them have linings. So!
I bought this fabric a year ago or so, when my big sewing ambition started budding but never got materialized until recently. It's got a nice brushed feel.
The corduroy skirt is from a local shop called Big Blue.  C was instantly sold when she saw the butterflies. Never mind the slippers....

Monday, August 4, 2014

Culture Shock

I believe many of us who have relocated have some experience of culture shock.
Eight years ago when I moved to Cape Town, I certainly had a few months of gloominess.
  • The shops are closed after 7pm, half day on Saturdays and definitely not open on Sundays
  • Shoes are never your favorite transporting method. You don't get in a car, you get nowhere.
  • People are more laid-back here, or in other words, lack of some driven working spirit.
I thought I could go on, but I've totally fallen in love with this city.

There is only work work work where I am from, the opposite of here. In Shanghai, every second shop in the street is a little restaurant; the 3-level public transportation can take you wherever you want to go; you can dine on the 88th floor of some sky-scrapper if you have the bucks to spend... Somehow I can't think of anything good living in a big and congested city right now.

M had a small clothing business when I got here and I used to sit in one of the small retail shops, thinking so big of myself that I didn't train to be a sales person in a little shop. In time, I talked to the customers and started to enjoy it more and more. Today I consider myself part of the city and it my second home-town.

I happened to meet someone during the weekend who is just like me 8 years ago. I hope she will start to see more and more of the good side of this place and make it her second home.

p.s. I still get mad when the technician only comes a week after we report a fault in the telephone/internet line, and this happens pretty often.....

Friday, August 1, 2014

Smock Top

The week has come to an end and I've finally whipped up something for C. The pattern is from Sew Chic Kids. I've sewn from a few Japanese patterns now and I'm so loving them that I wish I could own all the books. The pattern pieces are very easy to put together, yet it has a very good style.

At the moment, I have two yearnings ---- sewing and Japanese.
I studied Japanese for a year in high school, although now it's nothing more than a distant memory. These pattern books (which are English) are reviving my admiration for the culture of that country. Their humble manners and politeness make me cry, or feel ashamed sometimes...
I didn't get a chance to fabric shop this week, so I dug through my growing stash and found this soft linen, which I have used before to make an apron. Perfect for this top.

I still have to work on the neck binding and the front gather's also not done to the perfection. Good news is I have other patterns traced and cut already and I can't wait to start working on them.

As usual, C's very excited to have another new top. Her words before bed were "I can't wait for tomorrow to come so I can wear it all day long". Thank you for always giving me your acknowledgement. You don't know how much it means to me.

C doesn't own one single pair of pants (leggings don't count) and she refuses to wear any. She doesn't think pants are girlish enough. I think it can be from me though, since you know, I don't have any long pants either. I have one dysfunctional pair of jeans stuck at the deep end of the closet, ready to be dumped anytime. I wear stockings and leggings most days and if it gets too chilly, I put on stockings and tights or leggings together. Big influence on my little girl..... Luckily, leggings go with everything, almost.

We are testing the bounceability of the top and my ability to capture a good jump on the trampoline with this new camera....

Happy Friday!