Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Berry & cream cheese topping for pancakes

I love cream cheese. I could eat cream cheese icing by the bowlful. And berries and cream cheese on pancakes is a delicious classic.

I've seen topping recipes with cream cheese and whipped cream but I didn't have any cream - what I did have was ice cream, so I thought, why not?

This topping is easy and yummy. All you need...

Cream cheese
Vanilla ice cream
Icing sugar
Berries - fresh or frozen

While the pancakes were cooking, I put about 5 heaped tablespoons of cream cheese, a scoop of ice cream and a 1/4 to 1/3 cup of icing sugar. (Super accurate measurements I know... Just taste and rejigger how you like.) This made enough for several people/servings.

Top your pancakes with the berries, cream cheese mix & a squeeze of maple syrup if you want. Yum.

This topping is not as light and fluffy as if you used whipped cream, but its creamy and sweet and tastes like cream cheese... That does it for me!

Now for a what not to do:
I'd just started the dishwasher before realising our one and only fry pan was in there. So to cook the pancakes I thought I'd try using the sandwich press.... Not a disaster by any means, but not really a great success. It works in a pinch, but doesn't really get hot enough to work well.

Update: I froze the leftover cream cheese mix and then just scooped it out still frozen on my pancakes the next day. Mmm mmm.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Simple, Lazy Grocery Shopping Tips

I like grocery shopping - I like pretty much any shopping, so the supermarket is no exception.

But I can be kind of lazy about it. And I can just about count on one hand the number of times I've actually left the store without forgetting something. So while I like to wander the aisles, by the end when I've had to wander each aisle twice because of my disorganised shopping list, and then I leave with things I didn't come for and without things I did come for, I think...there's got to be a better way to do this.

I know you're meant to write a list and only buy what you wrote on it, but that doesn't work for me for two reasons.

1. I forget to write things on it. If I only stuck to the list we'd have to go without toilet paper or cheese one week, because I didn't think of it til I was at the supermarket.

2. What I buy is often dependent on what's on special. I might be thinking beef, but if the chicken is on special today, I'll probably stock up on that instead. And my husband often teases me about the time I bought about 15 cans of tinned tomato on special - but now we're out of it and need more and it's not on special, so I'm justified! I should have bought more!


1. Tip Number One: 'Print a permanent' shopping list.

Keep it on your fridge or on the bench, then every time you notice you're out of something, just tick it or circle it on the list.

Why is this better than just jotting down a list on a piece of paper like normal folk, you ask?

I like this system for a few reasons:

1. It's pre-organised - no matter what order you think of the stuff you need, it's already organised into categories for you - or even aisles if you are super organised and shop mostly at the same supermarket. No more getting the honey and then realising 6 items down the list you have to go back for the peanut butter.

2. It's a memory jogger - even if you forgot to tick something on the list, it's still written on there and might help you think of that item once you are actually in the supermarket.

3. It's got all your usual items, so if something is on special, even if you didn't go planning to buy it, you are reminded that it could be a good idea to stock up.

(We don't have the same system in Australia, but if you're in the US or somewhere where you use coupons, you could also put mark next to the items you have a coupon for.)

You can download and print a free copy of mine HERE if you want, but basically it's a printed list of all the things you most often buy, organised into sections, with little check boxes next to them. I suggest making your own personalised version so it's got the things you buy on it and in the order that works for you and your supermarket.

I just did it in a word processor, by creating a text box with columns. I added the check boxes by setting the square as the bullet point. (As well as the items, I also left lines for writing on extra stuff that is not as common, and leave enough space around so that you can write quantities or brands for certain items.)

2. Tip Number two: Put 2 things back.

If you're at all like me, even with an organised list, you probably buy more than you actually need. Especially if you're feeling even slightly peckish.

So just recently I've started putting at least 2 things back before I go through the checkout. That box of biscuits that I don't really need? The packets of chips you bought because the special price made them seem like such a good deal? Put them back and save $5 - and 5 million calories. You might wish for a few minutes that you'd kept it in, but later you'll be thanking yourself.

If you're really bad with this, maybe even start with putting more things back with the aim of training yourself out of it. My aim is, for most shopping expeditions, to eventually look in my trolley and not find anything I can take out.

Putting things back right at the end is somehow easier than not getting them off the shelf in the first place. I think because you don't have time to change your mind, whereas if you walk past the chips and don't grab them you have too much time to think about them and go back and get them later as you walk past that enticing end of aisle display.

So they are my two simple tips for easier, lazier - but organised - grocery shopping?

Got any more tips? Comment below!

Happy shopping!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stained by Sharpie Fabric Markers

I found these for only $15 in Big W the other day and had read about them, so thought I'd give them a shot. They have a 'brush tip' so the end is very fine - I was able to write words quite small and neatly - but if you press a bit harder you can get thicker lines.

It's definitely an ink, not a paint. I was imagining it as being more opaque and thick as if I was using a fabric paint, but it's not like that. It's the same effect as if you put ball point ink on fabric - although it is much smoother and easy to use than a ball point pen of course.

I think it will take a bit of practise to get really good and creating designs and using the markers effectively to get smooth lines etc, but they are easy enough to use that you can get right to something that looks half decent.

You need to pull the fabric slightly taut to make it easier, and not press too hard with the marker - if the fabric bunches up you end up leaving the marker on the fabric too long and it pools a little, meaning you get a little uneven splotch. This didn't happen too often though, and I wasn't trying that hard to keep my fabric flat.

For some reason the purple marker was far more prone to splotching than any of the other colours. I don't know why that is.

I also tried out painting the marker ink on to the surface of a stamp and stamping the fabric, which worked too. That would be an easy way to create words and designs if you weren't confident with hand drawing right away.

I think the colours could be slightly better - for example the yellow is a bit too fluorescent for my liking - it doesn't always suit the other colours you're using when one is fluoro and the others aren't. The pink was also slightly fluorescent too.

But over all I was happy with them, and the brush tip design definitely works. You'd need to make sure you look after them, though, so the tips don't get squashed. I.e. I wouldn't let kids use them. For that I'd get the cheaper Crayola brand.

I've only tried it the baby's T-shirt in the picture so far, and even though that is a stretchy fabric, it worked well, so I can't imagine having much trouble on most surfaces.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Favourite Vanilla Cleaning Spray: Perfume for your kitchen!

safe4u vanilla fridge and kitchen wipe
This is my favourite ever cleaning product. It's basically just alcohol and vanilla in a bottle. It's totally safe, and smells amazing! I love it for wiping down my benches or cleaning the fridge, and though it's designed for the kitchen I sometimes use it in the bathrooms too, just because of the scent.

You can't always find it in every supermarket, and if they have it, it always seems to be on the very bottom shelf. My mum used to use this when I was a kid, back when it was called Vanilla Fridge Wipe. I was unnaturally happy when I found it again as an adult :)

It's made in Australia and as far as I know, only sold here, so I don't know if you can get an equivalent product elsewhere.

Nobody is paying me to say this, I just love this product! (Though I wouldn't object to a lifetime supply of the stuff.... :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Easy, Versatile Pumpkin Salad

I sometimes buy pumpkin but then end up not knowing what to do with it, so it goes bad in the bottom of the fridge while I'm still pondering. There's roast pumpkin and pumpkin soup of course, but the former is a little boring and the latter is too much effort when you want tea on the table in 20 minutes. Plus, sometimes it's either too hot for soup, or if it's winter you've already eaten soup 7 times this week and want something different. (In Australia we don't put pumpkin in everything this time of year like I might if I were in the US, and it's coming up to summer, so I'm probably limited in my pumpkin recipe repertoire!)

So here's a super easy pumpkin salad to try out. You can make it as fancy or simple as you like. At a minimum you need:

- pumpkin
- lettuce/rocket/baby spinach - any of these or some combination
- cucumber
- pine nuts/slivered almonds/chopped peanuts/chopped walnuts or pecans - any one of these works
- olive oil
- lemon juice
- salt and pepper

Extras: If you have them, you can also use
- paprika
- sweet chilli sauce and/or powdered/flaked or fresh chopped chilli if you like the heat
- balsamic vinegar
- honey
- feta
- cherry tomatoes
- pasta, if you want to make it more of a pasta salad

Note: I don't really use measurements for things, sorry! I generally just eyeball it based on how many people I want it to serve and taste it as I go.

How to make it:
1. Chop the pumpkin into bite size pieces - You want enough for about a handful of pumpkin pieces per person.
2. In a bowl coat the pumpkin in a little olive oil + salt and pepper. Also add sprinkling of paprika if you're using it, and/or a drizzle of honey or sweet chilli sauce and/or chilli powder/flakes according to taste. (If you don't want to add chilli at this stage, you can add fresh chopped chilli when you assemble the salad at the end. Or you can add chilli at both stages if you want!)
3. Spread the pumpkin on a tray and roast in the oven. About 180 degrees celsius. Only takes about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces.
If you want your pumpkin still warm when you serve your salad, do the next steps now. Otherwise you can wait til the pumpkin is out of the oven and cooling to assemble the rest.
4. Chop cucumber and chop or rip your lettuce/baby spinach etc. into chunky bite size pieces. Put in a salad bowl. (You want a reasonable amount of these fresh salad ingredients - the pumpkin can get too much if you don't have the freshness to cut through it.)
5. Sprinkle over your choice of nuts. You can toast these first if you like, by frying for a couple of minutes in a frypan sprayed with oil. Pine nuts or almonds are especially good toasted.
6. Chop and add a bit of feta and or cherry tomatoes if you're using them. If you're adding fresh chilli you can add it now too.
7. Once the pumpkin is out of the oven and cooled slightly (or completely if you want it cold), add to the salad.
8. Just before serving (so it doesn't go soggy), toss the salad together with a drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of lemon juice. Add a little balsamic vinegar if you're using it, too. (Go easy on all these dressing ingredients - add a little at a time. You can always add more but you can't take it out again.)

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

(If you want to make it a pasta salad, cook your pasta and add it either cold or warm at the end just before serving. You might want to reduce the amount of lettuce/spinach you add.)

If you make this or have your own variation, I'd love to hear how yours turns out and what you put in!

Monday, September 10, 2012

DIY Cork Board Painting

painted cork pin boards

Super easy and super cheap art work & practical pin up boards.

It's really easy to paint your own cork boards for decoration, use as a pin up board or even as placemats and coasters.

All you need are some cork shapes, paint and tape. (Optional - white primer. You could probably just use white paint if you don't have primer.) Only takes a couple of hours including paint drying time. Probably just 20 minutes of actual doing-something time, and you can go away and do something else while the paint dries.

These are heat pads from the 2 dollar shop - cost me $4 in total. From there it was essentially free since I already had the paint and the duct tape. If you have to buy the supplies, it still won't cost you that much to buy a bit of acrylic paint and some masking tape or duct tape. 

1. Tape off cork boards in varying designs.
2. Paint with a coat of primer (or white paint.) You can skip this step if you want, but the colours won't be as vibrant at the end.

3. Once the primer is dry, paint with your choice of acrylic paint.
4. Once the paint is dry, peel off the tape and there you have it.

I stuck mine up on the wall as a decorative pin up board. Although they looked too pretty to stick pins in so I ended up using some mini craft pegs stuck on with blu-tack instead of pins. 

If you wanted to make these permanent you could even glue them on to clip on notes, photos, tickets, whatever on to your boards. (Obviously the positioning is permanent then, though.)

The possibilities are endless with these DIY arty cork boards - you could do this on a full size cork board, on a combination of round and square ones, on coasters or placemats.... use different thicknesses of tape or use stencils to create decorative designs or add initials or words.

The limit is your creativity! :)

Happy cork painting!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Easy DIY Engagement or Wedding Gift: Personalised Photo Frame

Just choose or paint a photo frame - I used a gold 8x10 frame - and jazz up the inside, personalising it for the couple you are giving it too.

In a word processing program I made my page size 8x10 (or you could just create an 8x10 sized text box).

I copied and pasted a Bible verse I liked - in this case Love is patient, love is kind etc - chose a font I liked, and then copied and pasted that repeatedly until it filled the whole page. The final "Love never fails", I cut and pasted into it's own text box and made it larger to stand out at the end.

Then I inserted a blank white shape the right size for a 6x4 photo graph, and laid that over the text.

After I printed that out, I cut out the white shape so there is a hole for the photo.

Then I chose a piece of card in a colour I wanted for the mat, and cut out a hole for the photo, slightly smaller than the hole in the printed paper, so that it creates a border. I stuck the whole printed sheet down on the cardboard, lining up the cut outs, to reinforce the whole thing, and trimmed the cardboard down to the right size.

Then I used letter stamps and red ink to stamp the couple's name over the text.

If you have a good photo of the couple, you could put it in for them, but since I didn't I just left a gap for them to choose their own photo to go in. Pop in it the frame, wrap it nicely and off you go.

The possibilities are endless with this simple engagement or wedding gift - buy, paint or decorate any sort of frame you like; choose whatever verse, poem or words you like to fill the back ground; stamp names, dates, or anything you want over the top... be creative!

A variation of this is to create an 'I love you because' message board. Follow pretty much the same process - you can still leave a space for a photo - and just have the text "I love you because" printed or stamped prominently. Then give the frame with a liquid chalk pen or dry erase marker so that the couple can write messages straight onto the glass.

Happy creating!

Download the Love is... frame mat free printable as an editable Word file. The page size is A4 for easy printing, and the text is in an 8x10 text box. Just trim to the right size after printing.

For it to show up properly, you'll also need to install the free font from here - Pea Stylist

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chest of drawers makeover - from fugly to funky

Our first baby is on the way, and so gradually our nursery is coming together. I'm more than happy to buy second hand or repurpose furniture that we've already got, but I still don't want to compromise on the prettiness!

We have a set of wardrobes, chest of drawers and bedside tables that have lasted since my husband had them as a child - they were all still in great condition for just being your basic laminated furniture. But they were Ugly. Pale barely blue laminate paired with slightly beige drawer fronts plus chipping gold coloured plastic strips and knobs. Eeek. Not what I wanted. But I was pretty sure I could give the chest of drawers an easy, funky makeover with relatively little trouble and far far less cost than buying a new set. And I'm ecstatic with the result.

drawers before and after

No the chest of drawers did not double in size as part of the makeover. I just forgot to take a before picture of them, but the bedside tables are exactly the same so you can still see the transformation.
It's really super easy - anyone can do it.

You need:
-Fabric for drawers in chosen print (or coordinating prints.)
-Mod podge or similar glue
-Paint brushes
-Fabric scissors
-Drawer pulls (unless you can reuse the old ones)

-A weekend or a couple of week nights. (The actual work doesn't take more than a few hours, but you need to let the layers of primer and paint dry thoroughly.)

How I did it:
1. First I removed the old drawer pulls and the plastic strip glued to the front. Most of these peeled off easily with no residue, probably because the glue was 20 yrs old.
2. I marked which drawer went where - you'd think they'd be identical but sometimes they don't fit quite right if you put then back differently - then removed them and set them aside.
3. I cleaned the laminate of the chest of drawers but didn't sand it or anything. Make sure it's completely dry before you start painting. I applied two coats of a general purpose primer, leaving a few hours between coats. Then I left it to dry completely for about 24 hours.
I also painted the new wooden drawer pulls with primer too. (the old plastic ones were too shiny and slippery I didn't think repainting them would work too well.)
4. After the primer had time to dry, I painted on two coats of acrylic paint (on the drawer handles too.) I used the left over wall paint we had from when our house was painted, rather than buy new stuff since I just wanted plain white anyway. (or more specifically, a shade of white called Chalkdust). Same as primer, at least 2 hours between coats, and then I let the paint dry for a day or so before I moved the chest of drawers to make sure the paint was super dry and hard and not going to mark up easily.

painting laminate furniture

At some point while the paint is drying you can cover the drawers.

covering drawers in fabric

1. Lay the drawer face down on your chosen fabric and cut around. I left at least a few cm / 1inch over hang to stick down. Will depend on how thick your drawers are.

Iron the fabric.

I cut out all three pieces at the start then glued one drawer at a time.

2. Paint the drawer face with an even layer of mod podge. Doesn't need to be super thick. (make sure the glue hasn't filled up the screw holes for the drawer pulls.)

Lay your fabric down onto the drawer face. You'll have a bit of time to reposition it, so make sure the print is straight and even, then press down and smooth out. You could use a dry clean cloth, or even a credit card or piece of cardboard if your fabric is particularly wrinkly or bubbly, but I found my hands worked fined. Make sure they're clean.

3 & 4. Now use a smaller paint brush to paint the glue on the edges of the drawers and smooth the fabric down on to it. Do one edge at a time. I used my thumb to push down from the top and down over the side to get a nice sharp edge.
covering drawers in fabric
Corners: I tried a few different methods for sticking down the corners. Folding left too much bulk, so the best method for cutting I found was this. Once two adjoining edges are stuck down, pinch the excess fabric and then cut straight down with sharp fabric scissors. The drawer stops you trimming off too much.

5. Flip the drawer face down on a clean, protected surface (away from where your were previously gluing so no stray drops that got on that surface get on the fabric on the drawer front.)

Paint glue along the back of the drawer fronts, and stick the fabric down. You want the fabric to wrap right around like this so that you don't get any peeling or lifting that would be visible on the front. If the edges do lift at any point in the future it's all hidden. Trim a bit more at the corners if there's too much.

6. Finally I lightly mod podged the edges of the fabric so that any fraying or lifting is minimized.

Leave to dry. (I wanted the texture of the fabric to stay as it was so I didn't mod podge or put sealer over the top of it or anything. Have yet to see how the fabric will hold up in terms of marks or stains, though. I don't think it would be that hard to recover later if they get too dirty.)

One everything is totally dried, put the drawer pulls back on. I put the screw in from the back to slightly push out the fabric and then used the tip of the scissor blades to snip a little hole for the screw to emerge through. Then screw the handles on.

Voila! Pretty simple for great results! Now someday I've just got to do the same with the rest of the bedroom suite...
before and after furniture makeover

If you do any furniture makeovers, or have any more tips or tricks I'd love to see them/ hear about them!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My favourite cleaning cloth - 'white magic'

I don't remember where I got this from, whether I bought it or someone gave it to me, or know off the top of my head where you could get it from - I even forgot I had it until I sorted out a random box of bits that had hidden itself in the back of a cupboard.

But I love this cloth! I highly recommend it if you do find it.

It's a blue microfiber cloth that's ribbed on one side and flat on the other. The label informs me it's called White Magic.

Remembering the wonder that's google I found the company website

That should be able to lead you to where to find their stuff should you so wish.

I just cleaned my mirrors with it, and it ispretty magical. The mirrors had all those streaky marks on them from last time they were cleaned, plus a few stray splotches off toothpaste etc. (How does toothpaste go so far, by the way?)

All I did was polish the mirrors with this cloth - dry. No sprays or even water, and they came up sparkly! I couldn't get a picture to show you - my camera wouldn't focus on the mirror, just the bathroom in the reflection - but it really worked a treat.

I also cleaned the shower screen and polished the metal frame around the screen. The soap scum came off with just the dry cloth and a bit of scrubbing, but you can use water too. I find microfiber cloths work best only just damp, not saturated.

And don't use chemicals with them - it damages them and they actually become less effective. If you want to clean with something else, like disinfectant etc, wipe the surface down using a different cloth after you've used the microfiber one.

This cloth can be chucked in the washing machine to clean it, just don't use fabric softener - same principle as your bath towels; softener makes them less absorbent.

In my quest for chemical free cleaning, a cloth like this is my best friend!

I'm sure you can find other brands of microfiber cloths that work, but this one is good quality. It's quite thick and sturdy feeling, and it definitely works better than some el cheapo ones I've tried.

If I bought this myself, it probably wasn't that expensive because I rarely buy expensive cleaning products. But if someone gave it to me, thats a different story.... Will you excuse me if I blame pregnancy brain on my poor memory at the moment?

Off to clean my glossy kitchen bench tops with my magic cloth!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Glass paints on jars

I recently bought a set of those glass 'stained glass window' type paints where you paint a design on to plastic and when it's dry you peel it off and stick on to a glass or window.

I discovered there was a reason this set only cost me $6 at the discount store. Most of the squeezy bottles didn't work - it too me a couple of paint explosions when the lids burst off to stop trying to force them into submission. I lost most of my black liner paint this way.

You can use a paint brush rather than the applicator lids on the bottles but it's not as easy and those designs turned out to be less than impressive. So I ended up just using the 4 colours out of the 10 in the set that worked properly and tried some abstract designs.

I stuck a few on a window but decided they looked too tacky like that. I don't have any kids around yet to blame them on either. So I was going to give up on my glass painting foray until I remembered all the glass jars I've been collecting for future projects.

Turns out what looked tacky on the window looks pretty cool on the jars.

Just shows you that nothing's ever a loss - if something doesn't turn out the way you expected, just change your expectations and use it for something different! That's the great thing about art & craft.
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