It’s Starting To Look (And Smell) A Lot Like Christmas!

After a few unexpected delays, we’ve finally had the new tree up in the house – and this year the kids were actually a help in setting up the decorations, even including the toddler, instead of trying to tear stuff off like last year.

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas!
I love the smell of fresh pine in the morning… it smells like Christmas!

And now the whole house smells of pine, especially in the mornings when we head downstairs for breakfast.

Working Hard for the Toys
Separately, we attended a Christmas Party by way of the wifey’s CPA Social Committee over the weekend. We used to help out as it’s run not just for the members, but also for a orphanage the Association supports to let the kids have a little something for Christmas, but kinda stopped when the kids came along. This year though, we’ve brought our kids to attend as well, and I think it managed to make quite an impact on the eldest boy.

Christmas Party 7 Dec 2013Christmas Party 7 Dec 2013
Fun and Games

Usually there are little carnival-style stalls set up for the kids to play games, and the points they get from winning these games lets them exchange for toys, with more accumulated points for bigger or better toys. The eldest had his eye set on a blue-coloured robot (his favourite colour) and it was the first time I’ve seen him with such determination and intensity going around the stalls playing the games and counting his points after every game and asking me “how many more do I need, daddy?”. Sadly though, some other kid managed to redeem the toy before he could, but he I think he handled it pretty well, and in the end settled for a jigsaw puzzle he seemed to like very much.

As a way to set goals and for the kid to understand the value of work and rewards, I think it worked pretty well, and we may adapt it to get the kids to clean up after themselves or learn things by giving them a “rewards book” with them getting points by way of stickers or stamps for chores done in exchange for a toy or new storybook. It should motivate the eldest and the younger would just follow on general principles thus setting a good foundation. 

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Christmas Came Early!

Got a BIG delivery from the postman some time ago that got me as excited as a kid on Christmas morning:

The OGRE Box!
“Clear the CP! Clear the CP! Ogre inbound!”

Weighing in at a hefty 14.1kg, it’s the heaviest and biggest game I’ve owned to date. Ogre was probably the first boardgame I’ve ever bought, with my own (pocket) money when I was a wee lad, and it opened up the world of consims to me, when the only boardgames I’ve encountered till then was the odd Monopoly or chess set. It’s been more than 30 years since then, and I’ve moved on to Role-playing Games and video games, but this first game I still hold dear in my heart – even though the original got lost many years ago (I’m looking at you, Ronald! *shakesfist*), the memories of exciting battles fought to nail-biting finish still linger.

Good thing then, that as a Kickstarter backer, I got not only the new game, it also came with the original micro-sized game:

The OGRE Box!
I don’t think the new game will fit in the pocket any more.

And now, to wait for the rest of the goodie bag, which the delivery service managed to screw up and send the wrong way around the world – at least they managed to find it and it should arrive by tomorrow…

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Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork

Came across this rather simple recipe last week while looking for ideas to make use of the old slow cooker. Back when it was just the missus and me at our old place, the slow cooker was my work horse for many meals, as we tended to work late and did not have the energy nor inspiration to cook dinner by the time we got home – so the simple solution was to throw stuff into the slow cooker before leaving for work and be home for a piping hot dinner when we got back.

And the recipe is relatively simple, though I’ve made a few modifications to it:

1kg Pork Tenderloin
Salt and pepper, to season
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup water

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp soy sauce

Dinner 15 Oct 2013

1. Season pork with salt, pepper and garlic.
2. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup of water, cook on low for 6-8 hours
3. Approximately 1 hour before serving, combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan and heat, stirring until the glaze thickens.
4. Brush the pork with glaze 2-3 times over the next 1 hour.
5. Serve with remaining glaze on the side as a dipping sauce.

As mentioned earlier, there were a couple of modifications to the basic recipe – firstly, a bed of chopped carrots and onions were added to the slow cooker before placing the pork on top. This gave me a lovely vegetable stew to go with the pork after everything was done. Second, instead of brushing the glaze on the pork in the slow cooker, I took the pork out about 15 minutes before serving and dunked it in the glaze for to complete coat before throwing it in the oven for a quick roast. That’s why the surface looks so crispy.

In the end, we ended up with a two-course meal of stewed vegetables and roasted pork, the latter of which tasted like traditional Chinese Vinegared Pork Trotters, but with a texture like really good Char Siu.

Awesome stuff – be making it again this weekend.

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Hello from Paradise!

We returned from our family holiday last week, and while we did go on holidays before, it was the kid’s first time on a plane anywhere.

Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013

We managed to find a cute little villa to stay in, and it came a private pool, which the kids enjoyed very much.

Cool villa!

Food was also easy, with cheap and delicious food readily available – all the way up to fine dining at KuDeTa, which we visited. A surprise was that KuDeTa was very kid-friendly despite it’s fine dining and chill-out lounge venue, and the food was quite affordable.

Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013
Chilling at KuDeTa

Temple Raiding
But of course, what visit to Bali would be complete without a visit to it’s famous temples? We did the usual: Taman Ayun, Alas Kedaton and Tanah Lot:

Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013
I feel like Indiana Jones!

Still, it’s wasn’t easy to handle kids as we had to deal with naps, temper tantrums and kids too tired to walk – the walk back up the cliff stairway after spending the morning at Padang Padang while carrying the kids and the assorted beach toys more or less floored us!

Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013Family Holiday @ Bali, 20-24 Sep 2013
Imagine carrying a 15kg kid up this stairs… oh my back…

It’s been great fun, and we look forward to another holiday next year, and hopefully we can hit somewhere further away.

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Pool Noodle Lightsabers

The youngest has been getting more assertive by the day, and this has inevitably led to fights with his elder brother. While mostly harmless and always very noisy, we’ve been noting a worrying habit of the brothers laying their hands on the nearest toys to hit one another in their fights. It’s not so bad when it’s soft toys, but there are quite a few die-cast metal cars and large plastic toys in their toy collection, so we’ve had to keep a sharp eye out when an argument breaks out.

Obviously this won’t do, so what’s a swordsman dad to do? Why, get them foam swords to do boffer combat to their heart’s content, of course!

So it’s off to the nearest Toys’r’Us to look for the foam pirate cutlasses I’ve seen on sale, when I came across the section stocking pool noodles and inspiration struck – why settle for just foam swords, when we can geek out and have Lightsabers instead?

“Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did.”
“What is it?”
“Your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

―Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker

Pool Noodle LightsabersPool Noodle Lightsabers
A crafty Star Wars afternoon.

So, a little measuring, a little cutting, a little duct tape and a some designs drawn with a permanent marker later, we had a pair of lightsabers for the kids to settle their arguments over who gets what toy and which one goes first.

And who knows, when they’re a little bigger, I’ll start them on the broadsword section of the “Athletic Sports and Recreations for Boys” by John George Wood (1861), and from there on, Longsword and HEMA like dad…

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Breaking Ba… err, I mean Baking Bread

Found a new recipe for no-knead bread last week which uses olive oil and a skillet instead of the french oven and was immediately tempted to try:

The steps and ingredients were basically the same as the recipe used previously, but with the added step of coating the dough during the proofing step with olive oil, and baking it in an open skillet instead.

New no-knead bread recipeNew no-knead bread recipeNew no-knead bread recipe
Mixing, proofing and the finished product. The kid approves!

The product came out perfectly, and we were surprised to find it less crusty with a light sent of olive oil compared to the original recipe. I think we’ll be using this method from now on to bake our bread!

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Cheesecakes and Dinosaurs

We came across a no-bake cheesecake recipe recently, and it looked really simple to do, so the missus decided to try it over the weekend:

Nutella Cheesecake
Looks simple enough…

And the verdict from the kids? It’s good! Really, what’s there not to like? A generous helping of Nutella, cream cheese and a base of Oreos and Scottish butter fingers, topped with cold whipped cream?

Nutella Cheesecake!
Can’t go wrong with Nutella!

Cardboard Dinosaur Puzzle
Separately, there was a rather interesting article in my newsfeed this morning, and I thought it would make an interesting project for the kids, especially the eldest as he’s now on the dinosaur craze. So I grabbed some handy foam board and started printing and cutting:

Craft DinosaurCraft DinosaurCraft Dinosaur
A boy and his pteranodon.

The kid was excited, and wanted it hung up in his room. But the younger brother objected – the skeleton did look a little scary when lit by the nightlight, so down it went to the playroom. There’s still some foam board left, so maybe we’ll try to make to T-Rex this weekend!

+Cardboard Dinosaur Puzzle Instructions

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This is my skillet. There are many like it. But this one is Mine.

Yeah, so I finally went and bought a stainless steel skillet/frying pan. On hindsight, I have no idea why it took so long for me to get one ~ I’ve always made do with the cheaply available non-stick pans, but after the last one died and the Teflon started cracking reading about dangers of eating the stuff, it was time to get something safer and easier to care for.

Dinner 13 Aug 2013
Mmmmmm… Chicken

On the plus side, using one of these also gives the added benefit of being able to make amazing sauces with the fond after searing meat, which was the new pan’s trial by fire this week.

Dinner 14 Aug 2013
Kitchen Alchemy!

So, yeah. Looking forward to more amazing food to cook, and inches to add to my waist.

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Been A While

Woooh. Been busy, and in a blink of the eye, two months have passed right by, most of it spent working and looking after the kids who’ve been sick one after another.

Still, everyone made recoveries (even the parents!) and we got to spend some time out at the club for lunch last weekend and play time at the kiddy corner.

Play timePlay timePlay time
Training to use 3D Maneuver Gear

Dead Tree Porn
The postman came by and delivered a couple of books that I’ve been eyeing for a while:

A Man, A Can, A Plan, and Two Dudes One Pan

The former is an unapologetic single man’s guide to quick and dirty cooking using nothing but canned and pre-made food which (should) turns out pretty good food, and the latter is an entire treatise on simplistic cooking for maximum flavour with minimum tools. Both are equally good reads, but for laugh out loud cooking instructions, A Man, A Can, A Plan has got it hands down. Here’s one of the recipes I’m going to try (though I’ll probably substitute with fresh ingredients, because believe or not, it may actually be easier to get fresh hereabouts!)

Ham-and-‘Shroom Scramble

5oz can chunk lean ham, drained
6oz can sliced mushrooms, drained
2 eggs + 4 egg whites, beaten
1/2 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
15oz can sliced new potatoes, drained
1/4 cup fat-free milk
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat broiler. Coat a medium nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Dump in the ham, mushrooms and potatoes. Cook over medium heat. In a bowl, mix eggs, milk and pepper. Pour into the skillet and cook, stirring once or twice, until the eggs begin to set. Cook undisturbed for 3 minutes, until the eggs are set in the middle but jiggly on top, like Pamela Anderson. Top with cheese and run under broiler for 2 minutes, until puffy and golden. Like Pamela Anderson

Like I said; SINGLE MAN’S GUIDE to cooking. But hey, food is food – especially if it tastes good!

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Games for a Rainy Day

It rained pretty much the whole of last Sunday, and added to the fact that the kids were running a fever, we were pretty much stuck at home.  To prevent the kids from tearing up the house (funny how they get more active with a fever!), we dug up some old games to keep them entertained.

Playtime on a rainy day
Not quite taking turns.

It didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined, as the the baby had difficulty understanding the concept of “taking turns”. Still, it was a good exercise in fine motor control, and a good exposure for the older kid to fun other than his toys or just letting the TV do the baby-sitting.

Rosemary Roast Chicken with Baby Potatoes and Asparagus
Dinner was a new recipe, a simple roasted chicken one-pot with potatoes and asparagus, quickly done in about 45 minutes.

750g new potatoes, halved
2 large bunches asparagus
1 whole garlic bulb, cloves separated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, halved
Small handfull rosemary sprigs
8 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to season

Lunch 9 Jun 2013Lunch 9 Jun 2013Lunch 9 Jun 2013
More kitchen alchemy!

1. Heat oven to 200°C. Put potatoes, asparagus, garlic, oil and seasoning in a large roasting pan. Squeeze lemon juice over everything then cut lemon into chunks and add to pan. Toss everything together, cover with foil and roast 15min.

2. Remove foil and mix through with rosemary. Season chicken and arrange evenly in dish.

3. Roast another 25-30min till potatoes are tender and chicken crisp & cooked through. Serve!

It didn’t turn out quite as nice as I thought, probably because I used a pot to roast instead of a pan – the chicken didn’t get quite crispy, probably because the small pot caused the steam from the veggies to slow roasting. Will try using a pan the next time and see if it works.

Other than that, it turned out pretty nice, with the lemons adding a nice contrast to the potatoes and asparagus. Simple to make, quick to cook and being a one-pot dish, easy to wash up afterwards!

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