Thursday, 11 July 2013

Free Fun for Kids in Brisbane


A few weekends ago we went down to Brisbane for the first birthday of our very good friend’s son.


It was a lovely little party, and a lovely time with our friends. We always stay up waaaay too late talking and playing games together. This time they introduced us to Settlers of Catan, which I had heard a lot about from a number of my cousins but hadn’t played before. I LOVED it, it was a lot of fun and I get a lot of pride in saying that I WON my very first game… against my very competitive and strategic husband. I don’t think it was a fluke, but I suppose that remains to be seen!


Anyway. On the Sunday, we decided to take the kids into the city to take in some culture. We initially intended to visit the museum… but we got so caught up in other things that it wasn’t until we were back on the inner city bypass that I said to Pete, “WE DIDN’T GO TO THE MUSEUM!!!!!!!” It was kinda funny.

So where did we go?

Our first stop was the State Library. Do you know I had never been in there before? I was quite impressed really. It’s not anywhere near as grand as the beautiful State Library in Melbourne, but it is more liveable. The one in Melbourne is kind of awe-some (as in you just walk around in awe with wide eyes and an open mouth for most the time – though that could have just been me!!). The one in Brisbane is a place where I’d go just to hang out. You might think a big fancy library like that is a strange place to take your kids, but the Brisbane State Library has an absolutely fantastic children’s area, called The Corner. From what I can gather it has different themes throughout the year, and it is full of activities and fun to be had for pretty much all age groups.

When we were there, it was a music theme. There were huge instruments like a rubber-thong/pvc pipe ‘piano’ (where you whack the ends of the pipe cut to different lengths with a rubber thong to make different notes), and a tea-chest bass. There was a huge soft foam mat, with a great range of instrument-themed baby appropriate toys. Reuben had so much fun on there, and must have played with everything they had! There were a whole stack of different art activities, from etching with carved wooden tiles, to collage, box-art, drawing… pretty much you were only limited by your imagination. It was unreal. Mayana of course spent the longest amount of time there, creating musical instruments out of paper cups and paddle pop sticks and crepe paper. It was loads of fun. There was also video being projected onto the wall of a conductor in front of an orchestra. In front of the wall was a music stand, and to the side was a wardrobe full of cummerbunds, shirtsleeves, bow-ties and batons, so the kids could dress up and conduct their own imaginary orchestra. Mayana thought that was all kinds of wonderful, and Reuben enjoyed playing with the batons that had long pieces of coloured silk attached, and waving them around to the music. In another area there was a mini-disco set up, with a lighted flashing floor, a disco ball and dance music playing. There was marching band outfits complete with strap on bass-drums, and of course, lots of books.


We absolutely loved it. We must have stayed for nearly two hours. We were the first ones there, and we left when it started to feel a bit crowded. On a Sunday morning it did get quite busy, and I’d be interested to see what it would be like mid-week.

We will most definitely be taking the kids back there next time we are in the city!

Our next stop was the Art Gallery. Mayana was far more interested in this than I’d given her credit for. We didn’t look at all the exhibits, but enjoyed what we did see.

Then we popped across the way to GOMA (the Gallery of Modern Art). I had heard that there are free children’s activities there too. At the moment it’s an exhibition called the Gordon Hookey Kangaroo Crew. The exhibition is based on an Indigenous story about a group of kangaroos. When you enter the exhibition you watch an animated version of the story, and then all of the activities available are based on the story. I was impressed with the variety and scope of activities. The main one is to decorate a mask. There are four different types of 3D kangaroo masks to choose from, and once you colour them in and tape them together there’s an area set up like the hills in the story for the kangaroos to play in. Mayana and I had a lot of fun being kangaroos and posing for photos! They also have a bunch of Mac computers, which take you through a process of taking a photo of yourself and creating a magazine cover featuring you (wearing your mask of course!). Next to the computers is a wall of live images of all the magazine coves that have just been created. Mayana was so excited to see hers pop up on the wall! They also had an arcade-gaming section, which just a little too old for Mayana, but it was great to see such a good range of ages catered for.


We had lots of fun, and I think what Mayana liked most about both places was that she got to take something away with her. She’s still talking about it!

We had such a fun time in the arts precinct of Southbank, and I was more than impressed by the initiatives that are available free of charge for families. I can’t wait to take the kids back! If you’re ever in the city, and you haven’t been before, I can’t recommend it more highly!

Have you got any tips for great free places to entertain the kids?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A sugar-free carrot cake.

My husband loves carrot cake. Loves it. If it is on offer at a cafe, you can be sure that it’s what he’ll order with his coffee. It’s always his request for his birthday. And he wasn’t about to give up carrot cake just because we quit sugar!

I have made sugar free carrot cake for a few occasions lately, the most recent being the one that Peter requested for his 30th birthday. I’m pleased to say, I really think I’ve nailed my recipe. I’ve adapted and combined a few of our favourite pre-quitting-sugar carrot cake recipes, and substituted a fructose free sweetener, and come up with something really delicious, which has people from both sides of the sugar-fence raving! And that’s always a good sign. Oh and yes, I am aware that carrots contain fructose. We’ll live.

So. I thought I’d share the recipe! Here goes:

And just so you know, I use my mix-master with the whisk attachment for this recipe, but you could easily use your electric beaters, or your own muscle power if you’re so inclined!

Sugar Free Carrot Cake

Preheat your oven to 180C, and grease two cake pans that are the same size. I use coconut oil to grease my pans, with great success.


Beat together 4 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste), and 1 1/4 cups of oil. I have used olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, rice bran oil, or a mix of any of the above depending on what’s in the cupboard, and once when I was really desperate vegetable oil (which I only ever use for playdough) and any of these work completely fine.


Add to your mix 2 cups of self raising flour, 1 1/2 cups of dextrose (a fructose free sweetener, found in the brewing aisle at the supermarket), 2tsp of bicarb soda and 3 tsp of cinnamon (I actually use spekulaas spice, which is a Dutch spice mix). Beat until well combined, with no lumps of flour.


Finally, add 1 cup of chopped walnuts, and THREE cups of grated carrot. 3, not 1. I made an oops on that picture. Sorry!! I usually just stir these through with a spoon until they’re evenly mixed in.

Next you pour your batter evenly between your two pans, then pop them in the oven! For some strange reason, this cake takes a different amount of time to bake every time I make it. Last time I made it half an hour was the perfect amount of time, but sometimes it needs more. If your cake is starting to go golden on top but is not cooked in the middle, pop some foil over the top to keep it from burning.

I find it best to leave this cake to cool in the tin. It tends to crumble or break apart if you try to take it out while it’s still at all warm.

In the meantime, you can whip up your icing! I also make this in the mixmaster with the paddle beater.


Simply beat together 2 blocks (or 500g) of cream cheese, 1 cup of dextrose, the juice of two limes, and 100g of softened butter, until beautiful and smooth and creamy. This is a seriously delicious icing mixture, and if you have a daughter who is lactose sensitive, it’s probably best to not let her loose with the leftovers, unless you want to be woken in the wee hours of the morning with a baby in pain. Just saying.

Choose your flattest cake to be the bottom layer. You can use a serrated knife, or one of those fancy wire cake slicers (like the one I bought from Ikea) to make the top perfectly flat. Or you can just use icing to fill in the gaps. Either way, spread a nice and generous amount of your icing over the top of your cake.


The plop cake number two on top! It doesn’t matter if this one is not flat.


And then coat the whole thing in icing! You can sprinkle it in lightly toasted shredded coconut for something schmancy, or if it’s the centrepiece of dessert for a 30th birthday Pirate Party, you can decorate it accordingly.


Enjoy! Make sure you get a piece… this cake has a nasty habit of disappearing before I get a chance to get to dessert!

Who ever said you can’t eat awesome food without sugar!


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