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Amelia Wood

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You don’t have to be Australia’s best chef to make baby food at home. In fact, it is quite simple and the advantages are endless. By being homemade, bub will be eating foods free from preservatives and harmful chemicals. It also sets up your children with a love for healthy eating right from the start, making them appreciate fresh, wholesome food.

TOOLS AND APPLIANCES

The tools needed to make baby food are staples already lying around the kitchen. Not many are needed – minimal equipment will still make delicious food.

Blender or food processor

 Options like the Chicco 4-1 baby blender or Cherub Baby steamer blender are good options if looking to purchase. Otherwise, any blender that makes smoothies or purees food will work. If the blender is older, add an extra dash of liquid to make food a smooth consistency. 

Ice cube trays

 If the ice-cubes are calling these home already, check the local op shop to stock up on trays for an inexpensive price.

Steamer basket or insert

 This is needed to steam the food for purees. Steamer inserts can fit more produce but both will get the job done.

 Other tools include:

  • Baking sheet
  • Saucepans
  • Peelers
  • Spatulas
  • Knives
  • Freezer bags
  • Storage containers

COOKING TIPS

Main cooking techniques include steaming, roasting, baking or microwaving until food becomes tender. To preserve the nutrients from fruit and vegetables, opt for steaming not boiling and if ripe, they don’t need to be cooked at all.

Once cooled, transfer to a food processor of choice and blend for one to two minutes. Slowly add water, breastmilk or formula to reach a desired consistency – which ultimately should glide off the spoon.

Enhance taste and your baby’s palette by adding herbs and spices like sea salt, ginger, cinnamon and rosemary.

 STORAGE

Food will need to be kept in airtight containers, freezer bags or ice cube trays. Before transferring to the fridge or freezer, allow food to cool. Ice cube storage allows flavour combinations to be created as the small dosages of food can be mixed and matched.

The storage timeline for baby food is up to four days in the fridge, two months in the freezer for purees with meat and beans and up to three months in the freezer for fruit purees.

Labelling containers with the date and what is inside will allow for no confusion when choosing baby’s next meal.

RECIPES

Recipes from Babyfoode.com

Apple and coconut milk baby puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 6 apples – peeled, cored and chopped
  • ½ cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp cloves

 Method:

  1. Put the apples, coconut milk and cloves in a medium saucepan and cover. Heat over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until apples can be cut in half with a spoon. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer all ingredients into blender and puree until smooth.

Broccoli and olive oil puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups broccoli – chopped into small florets
  • 1 small potato or apple – peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil

 Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to boil over medium heat.
  2. Place broccoli and potato (or apple) into a steamer basket and place over boiling water. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes or until tender. Let cool slightly.
  3. Add the broccoli, potato (or apple) and olive oil into a blender and puree until smooth, adding water from the steamer in ¼ increments if needed.

Mango and Vanilla puree

Age: 4 months +

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag frozen mango
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract or a pinch of fresh vanilla bean seeds

 Method:

  1. Put frozen mango and vanilla extract/bean into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir often until heated all the way through and tender roughly 3-4 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Transfer into a blender. If mango mixture gets an excess of liquid while cooking, strain mangos and reserve liquid into a bowl.
  3. Blend on high for 1 minute or until the puree is smooth.

As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.

By providing health benefits and looking gorgeous, indoor plants are a must in all homes! Through releasing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, these beauties remove dangerous toxins and purify the air around.

Plants are perfect for any work space – proven to boost productivity and concentration by up to 15 per cent. Place plants on your desk to regulate humidity and increase positivity levels – as seeing greenery each day helps us to feel calm and improve our mood.

By serving a useful and aesthetic purpose, there’s no question why you shouldn’t stock up on lush foliage for your home, so let’s understand the basic care tips for these plant babies.

How do I know if my plants need watering?

Overwatering is a common mistake and can end up doing more harm than good. Each plant has specific watering requirements so research after purchase. Make sure the chosen pot has drainage holes to prevent root rot.

A way to see if the plant needs watering is to probe the soil by moving it around and feeling how dry it is. If this method isn’t effective, Bunnings have moisture meters for around $13 that show the exact dampness of the soil.

Lifting the leaves will also indicate whether it is thirsty. If leaves feel heavy they are full of water, but if they feel light, water it straight away. Another indication leaves give is the colour of their tips. Brown and crispy indicate lack of water, yellow and soggy mean overwatering.

Keep soil moist in warmer months and allow to dry out in colder months.

How do my plants breathe?

Plants have small holes on top of their leaves called ‘stomata’ or little mouths. If these are covered with dust or other chemicals, plants will find it hard to breathe.

To prevent this, ‘spring clean’ leaves every few months by wiping with a damp cloth. An alternative is to place plants in the shower and run the water for a few seconds.

 

How much light do my indoor plants need?

Most indoor greenery loves light-filled spaces, though it does depend on plant requirements. Adjust positions of plants as the sun moves between summer and winter. However, some plants – like fiddle leaf figs, are homebodies and like to be kept in the same position year-round.

If your home doesn’t receive much natural light, placing plants under an artificial light source works wonders. LED lights can be programmed to provide different levels of intensity throughout the day and fluorescent lights work well with plants that require low to medium light.

What are the easiest indoor plants to care for?

Succulents and cacti

If you are a complete beginner to houseplants, opt by starting your collection with a few of these. They require a small amount of water, once every three to four weeks, so don’t kill them with kindness.

Snake plant or Mother in Law tongue (Dracaena trifasciata)

These are perfect for anyone who admits they can’t keep any plant alive – they thrive off neglect. Water every six to eight weeks and avoid getting leaves wet. Snake plants prefer to be situated in indirect light but will thrive almost anywhere.

Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

Also known as Devils Ivy, these plants look amazing when they grow long and are hanging from a tall surface or macramé hanger. They thrive in humid places, so if there is space, consider placing this one in the bathroom.

Pothos like to be watered regularly – once a week in warmer months and push to two weeks in winter. Be aware, the pothos is toxic to cats and dogs so keep away from pets.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Peace lilies will show you when they are thirsty by dropping their leaves – often once a week. If possible, water with filtered room temperature liquid as they are sensitive to chemicals commonly found in tap water.

Now you are ready to load up the Bunnings cart and fill your home with lush, loving plants.

One of the most visually exciting companions you can bring along to any gathering is a cheeseboard. Here’s a rundown on how to melt your friend’s hearts by making an unforgettable, tasteful platter.

Cheeses

To provide guests with an appetising cheeseboard experience, a range of textures is important. Harder cheeses like cheddar and Swiss pair well with softer options like camembert and brie.

Opting for an odd number of cheeses, preferable three, is a favourable number to start with. Ensure cheese is served at room temperature by preparing 30 minutes before the event. Also, covering with a damp cloth prevents drying out, allowing the full flavours to be experienced. Purchase cheese near the use-by date to ensure it is close to full maturity and tasting its best.

Take weather into consideration to save cheese from becoming soggy. Situate the platter in a cool, dry place and choose the consistency of cheese based on the current season.

Trying different flavours is a must to get out of your food comfort zone. Companies such as  Doorstep organics and Ashgrove cheese have affordable options to try like red chilli and chive cashew nut cheese.

Supermarket go-to cheeses:

  • Cheddar – Opt for Mersey Valley ($7.90 for 235g), a melt-in-your-mouth, crumbly cheddar, so delicious it will be the first to go.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano – Around $11 for 200g at most Australian supermarkets. Has a sharp fruity and nutty taste.
  • Camembert – Average supermarket price of $6 for 200g. Entertain your board further by popping it in the oven beforehand and baking for 20 minutes.
  • Goats cheese – $9 for 150g. Pairs perfect with Sauvignon Blanc wine.

 All are available in selected Woolworths and Coles.

Biscuits and Bread

Choose biscuits that complement the flavours on offer. Hard fruit crackers balance the flavours of soft cheese – think brie, camembert and goat. Lighter biscuits like wafers and sea-salt crispbread are the ultimate partners for harder cheeses like cheddar.

We feast with our eyes, so using a variety of colours and textures will level up any platter. Crisps and Jatz are a staple, but breadsticks and pretzels bring diversity to the board.

For a mature platter, choose a good-quality bread such as sourdough or a French baguette. Bread allows the flavours of the cheese to remain the same, as some crackers can manipulate texture and taste.

Supermarket go-to crackers:

  • Oil and Sea Salt Crisps – Opt for ‘Nana’ brand ($6 for 150g). Sturdy for both dips and cheese, offering a mild saltiness and loud crunch.
  • Fruit Crackers – ‘Ob Finest’ are a popular option. Ranging from fig and pecan to dates and pistachio, they enhance flavours and deliver a crisp, fruity texture.
  • Flatbread – Set your board apart from the rest and make garlic and rosemary flatbread by baking tortilla wraps until crunchy.

Condiments

Condiments elevate the flavour of cheeses by contrasting sweet and salty elements – bringing out surprising tastes. Texture and consistency are important, so choose dips that won’t slide off biscuits and honey that can easily pour.

To make the board ‘Insta worthy’, select dips with varying colours such as green, red and purple and spread evenly. To further the aesthetic, take dips out of their original packaging and scoop into neutral ramekins.

Pairing options to try next can be mustard with cheddar, honey with Havarti and horseradish jam with gouda.

Supermarket go-to condiments:

  • Red Rock Deli – $4.50 for 150g. An array of flavoursome dips including chilli, beetroot, basil pesto and roasted capsicum.
  • Honeycomb – Beechworth Honey for cheese is available at Australian supermarkets. $17.50 for 300g.
  • Chutney – The spices and dried fruit add a punch of flavour to any board. Pairs best with aged cheddar. The brand ‘Rosella’ stocks interesting flavours.

Picture perfect pairings

Fruit is a must to cleanse the palate and compliment the richness of cheeses. Fresh seasonal fruit like strawberries, grapes and pears look perfect and are a healthy touch. Fruit introduces aromatic notes in cheese that differ from notes in bread and crackers. Dry fruit should also be included – apricots and dates provide textural attention.

When choosing cold cooked meats, aim to have an equal number of meats and cheese. If serving three varieties of cheese, pick three different types of meat.

A few crowd favourites are:

  • Prosciutto – $8 for 100g. The perfect balance of sweet and salty. Goes perfect with pears and mozzarella cheese.
  • Sopressa Salami – $33 a kilo. An array of different flavours are available such as Pepper Crusted Chilli.
  • Chorizo – $24 a kilo. A bold flavoured smoky meat that pairs well with gouda and capsicums.

 Arranging

The fun part is here! Choose a bigger board than necessary, as once constructing starts, space fills up quickly.

Start by arranging cheeses on the board in a clockwise direction from mildest to strongest, showing guests a starting point for their palate. To maintain a strong cheese etiquette, couple cheeses with their own knives, ensuring flavours aren’t mixing.

Dip ramekins and condiments should be next. Placing larger items first allows for visualisation to where the rest of the condiments will go. Spread colours evenly and on opposite sides.

Snake biscuits through the middle of the board or circle them around dips. Meats can be added in distinct ways – fold into interesting shapes to take up less space or stack on top of each other.

Fill in all remaining space with bread, nuts and fresh and dry fruit, covering the bottom of the board. Don’t overthink, the best-looking platters come from having fun and choosing tastes guests will love.

Now sit back and enjoy watching your perfect cheeseboard get destroyed, but in the yummiest way possible.