Cookbook Review: Planet Cake Celebrate by Paris Cutler

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Having a long-time obsession with fondant, sprinkles, cupcake liners and ganache, it was with much anticipation that I carefully inked in the Lifestyle Food Channel-arrival of the television version of Planet Cake, taking 3D to a whole new level. Propped up on the couch with my similarly-obsessed 11-year-old daughter, we pressed our hands together in pink glee at the glamorous, be-sugared creations pouring forth from the tele.

Wowzers – Paris Cutler and her multi-national, multi-talented team are a clever bunch . . . carving, daubing, slathering and dusting 3-dimensional creations into edible works of art so beautiful, they should be encased in glass, not divvied-up and shovelled down the gullet.

It was also with much glee that I slid Cutler’s most recent book from its coverings – in heightened anticipation of the glory within. Planet Cake’s latest book is a celebration of celebrations . . . basically, any excuse to whip up a cake, from baby showers to kids’ parties and fund raising drives.

This is a much simpler collection for avid cake-makers – probably too much so. Most of the creations – all cupcake – are bordering basic, and while I realise the content is probably aimed at beginners, I’m not so sure anyone keen for a Planet Cake-making challenge wouldn’t at least have some pre-existing knowledge on how to roll and cut fondant. Honestly, I wanted these creations to challenge, surprise and inspire me to rush out and whip up a cupcake batch, post-haste – but instead, I just went and made a cup of tea. [Read more…]

Online Boutiques: One Mother's Handmade Journey

Hand-crafted and home-made items are as old as the dawn of man, however, not since the infamous macramé craze of the 1970s has the notion of ‘handmade’ been taken to a whole new level of chic. Handmade is definitely the new black – fuelled by a combination of accessible product, high-technology, the internet, and a resultant craving for ‘a return to basic living’.

The Martha Stewart empire could be arguably responsible for making handmade ‘chic’. Sticking sand in a bottle and tying a ribbon around it no longer cuts it. Modern day handmade aficionados are creating professional die cuts and letterpress. They are whipping up eye-boggling artworks, professional-standard screen printing and photographic imagery, and formidable fashion creations that stand their own against the style houses of Europe.

Handmade lovers are creating their own books, whipping up Ladurée-worthy macarons and cutting paper into all manner of fluttery creations that would sit with ease in galleries the world over.

The handmade revival hasn’t just arrived. It is well-established and thriving . . . most especially online. [Read more…]

Book Review: Nomad by Sibella Court

Rating: ★★★★☆

How glorious it is to travel. To wander the planet and delight in the cultural and geographical wonder stretching to all corners of the globe. To delve into, experience, treasure … and perhaps even amass the odd memento, souvenir, precious object that found its way to us, whether by chance or deliberately-plotted hunt. Bringing home this beautiful bounty is almost as much fun as the time spent collecting it.

Stylist, author, designer and shop owner Sibella Court has had her fair share of sojourns abroad, and this new book – appropriately entitled Nomad – is a rich-tapestry celebration of her meanderings – from Japan to Italy, Syria to Mexico and India. It is a fat tome, heady with priceless finds – all gorgeously arranged and styled into a living memory book of her travels.

The book’s textured, magic carpet cover hints at the exotic ephemera held within – and the content – artfully styled and photographed, does not disappoint in its variety and lustful earthiness. [Read more…]

Book Review: 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden

Rating: ★★★★★

This is quite an astonishing book. And no, I’m not star-struck … I’ve always liked Hollywood icon Goldie Hawn, yes, but I’m not a die-hard fan or anything.

Except … I am now.

This gorgeous book, penned in cahoots with author Wendy Holden, is an absorbing read. After almost three solid years of writing and ‘achieving’ with my career, I was instantly drawn to the title of this book – especially being that 10 Mindful Minutes was something I seriously craved. Something I knew I was lacking. Not only for myself, but my children.

Reading through this book was like looking in a mirror. It was like seeing my children in a mirror. It was like the last 10 years of internet invasion, social-networking lambasting and email overrun had suddenly cleared, in a bleeping, techno haze – and left me with a clear view of the most serene garden. And there I was sitting in the middle that garden, hair frizzed, eyes wild – and stressed to buggery.

Based on the MindUp programme, supported by the Hawn Foundation, Goldie was inspired to write 10 Mindful Minutes after witnessing the astonishing, positive changes in children who are exposed to mindfulness techniques. She believes that in less than 10 minutes a day, children and teens can reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration and academic performance, effectively manage emotions and behaviour, develop empathy for others – and be more optimistic and happy.

Fine stuff, indeed. And all are elements any modern parent would scrabble to hone in their children. I know I want to. Beginning with a chapter on Why We Need to Act Now, Goldie talks about our modern generation and how it’s losing its joy. She talks about the emotional challenges kids face today, about substance abuse, about depression, about e-diction (no wonder we are all ‘tired but wired’ – we spend so much of our days living a virtual life).

Chapter two discusses the wonders of the brain – most particularly its three major parts – the reptilian or ‘stone age’ brain, which manages automatic responses like breathing and digestion. The limbic or ‘emotional’ brain which is fuelled by the amygdala and acts like a guard dog at the gates of the brain … this is where we either fight, flight or freeze. The cortical or ‘new’ brain is where we rationalise. It’s our memory, attention, perceptual awareness – and the prefrontal cortex at the very front of our heads is like our wise old owl – basically, it’s our intelligence.

Studies show this current generation of children – digital natives as opposed to us adults who are digital immigrants – are the loneliest and the least socially-aware, ever. According to the book, the more a child spends with technology, the lower their attention span, which has adverse effects across the board, least of all academically.

Most frighteningly, a brain that is addicted to static and noise (via high tech gadgetry) will develop the need for faster and faster and more stimulating input. Goldie asks: ‘Are we raising a generation with an addiction to thrill-seeking brain function? Could this ultimately lead to thrill-seeking behaviour?’ Indeed, according to psychologists, a young brain made restless by high technology will not be easily satisfied by an environment that seems flat and boring. Drugs and alcohol are a quick way to liven things up.

Desensitisation is also a major issue, especially for children immersed in violent or semi-violent virtual worlds … not because children may imitate violent acts, but because they are responding more aggressively to even the most minor issues, and because they are becoming immune or ‘numb’ to violence. Can you imagine an entire generation without the ability to care for others?

10 Mindful Minutes is a detailed yet simply-designed book. There is much to take in, much to enlighten and much to drive the reader to improve the emotional centre of their children.

First, Goldie focuses on making the adult more aware – and helping them tune into their child’s wavelength. Then she guides the reader through sections entitled Mindful Breathing, Mindful Sensing, Mindful Listening, Mindful Seeing, Mindful Smelling, Mindful Tasting and Mindful Movement. Each section comes complete with brilliant activities and exercises that can be shared with kids aged roughly between 7 and 12, though you can easily adapt them for younger or older children.

The exercises are creative, fun, and designed to fit in with your everyday family life. They can be done in the car, after dinner, at bedtime, whenever suits. And they are designed to calm your child, open your child’s mind, and allow them to ‘tame the tiger’ and operate from their reasoning, problem-solving brain. They are also extremely useful models for dealing with stress and behavioural issues.

Other topics in the book include Optimism, Happiness, Gratitude, Fear, Sadness, Anger and Empathy. Firmly centered in scientific reasoning yet warmly spiritual in tone, the book is eye-opening, enlightening, and bursting with true promise. I am already incorporating these techniques with my own children, whilst also learning how to improve the seriously-technology-battered grey matter in my own skull.

Honestly, if you and your kids are showing signs of high tech, fast-paced overload, this book – espousing an ancient return to mindfulness, backed to the gills with fascinating scientific information that will figuratively blow your mind – is probably a must-read. I need it so much, I’ll be reading it twice.

Book Review: The Sound of Music Family Scrapbook by Fred Bronson

Rating: ★★★★★

Created by the original cast of children from one of the most famous musicals of all time, this beautifully-produced book is not only like taking a behind-the-scenes tour of this extraordinary film, it’s like taking a peek into an intensely private, closely-guarded world – the kind of peek that makes you want to peep with movie-goer glee.

You don’t even need to be a major Sound of Music fan (although, who isn’t?) to enjoy this gorgeous book. Featuring a DVD of on-set and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a mass of cherished memorabilia, the book features such treasures as personal letters, notes, diary entries, cast lists, sketches, sheet music and photos … even an edited page from the original movie script and a ticket to the world premiere.

This book is truly a virtual, 3-dimensional tour – and as close as anyone like you and I could get to the magic of an intoxicating, timeless film we’ve spent our childhoods swooning over. [Read more…]

Cookbook Review: Around the World with Little Kitchen by Sabrina Parrini

Rating: ★★★★☆

Since the advent of Junior Masterchef, cookbooks for children have never been hotter – and indeed, they’ve been popping off the hotplate and onto the bookstore serving shelves like those notoriously quick hot cakes, of late.

This latest tome by Sabrina Parrini, cookbook author and Kitchen Wiz presenter, follows on from her first book – Little Kitchen – and takes readers on a culinary journey around the world.

Promising international recipes kids ‘can really make’, Sabrina was inspired by her belief that being a great cook calls for experimentation with new flavours, and different ways of preparing food.

Beginning with notes on safety, equipment, ingredients and handy kitchen hints, kids are first treated to Lunch. Figuratively, of course. Dishes include frijole nachos (Mexico), udon noodle salad (Japan) and mushroom quiche (France), whilst the Dinner chapter covers such delights as Pad Thai (Thailand), Prawn and Tomato Paella (Spain) and Chicken Cacciatore (Italy).

A serving of delicious Sides (Australia’s contribution is herb and cheese damper) is followed by Biscuits and Cakes – covering a diverse range from devil’s food cake (USA), lamingtons (oi oi oi!) to chai tea cupcakes (India).

In Desserts, treats include bread and butter pudding (UK), apple enchiladas (Mexico) and of course – our home-grown, ubiquitous mini pavs.

What I like about this book is the relative sophistication in the recipes, clearly indicating it’s a book for slightly older kids who will actually cook something, rather than two-year-olds whose culinary interest rarely extends beyond cleaning off a batter-smeared wooden spoon. [Read more…]

The Sound of Silence: Speaking Out About Miscarriage

The loss of a child is arguably the most crushing form of loss for any human being … least of all the mother who remains central to the life force of each child she bears. Losing a child through miscarriage – whether it be early in the life of a pregnancy or agonisingly late – is something that affects an astonishingly high percentage of women, yet the silence surrounding the 50,000 miscarriages experienced by Australian women each year is so loud, it’s deafening.

Author and editor Irma Gould knows this silence all too well.

“When I experienced a miscarriage, I was shocked to discover that the subject was taboo. Women I’d known for years began confessing their own miscarriage stories and it became evident that many of them had not healed from these losses, that feelings were still raw even decades later,” Irma told Australian Women Online.

“Part of this is because the subject is not openly discussed and women are isolated in their grief.”

Raw from her own pain and impassioned by these stories of isolation, Irma began searching for books on the topic but found surprisingly little. Determined to do something about it, she conceived the idea of an anthology of stories – something women could turn to during an incredibly tumultuous experience in grief. [Read more…]

Book Review: Discover the Gift by Shajen Joy Aziz and Demian Lichtenstein

Rating: ★★★★☆

What’s your gift? No, I’m not talking about the trinket you recently received for a birthday or festive celebration. I’m talking about your gift to the world. The one you can use to help others, and thereby help yourself. Yes. That one. The reason you are Here.

Brother and sister team Aziz and Lichtenstein came through an unnaturally adverse and tragic upbringing and an intense love/hate sibling relationship before coming together to write Discover the Gift. This adversity certainly fuelled the passion and peace with which they turned their relationship around – and penned this detailed tome on finding your purpose and embracing the intuitive mind.

As Albert Einstein once said:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift. [Read more…]

Book Review: Horoscopes 2012 by Milton Black

Rating: ★★★★☆

There’s something to be said about ‘creating your own life’ – about reality stemming from that which you believe. Such is the hidden and relatively untapped power of the mind. Soothsayers and oracles throughout the ages have used various means of predicting the future or offering auspicious advice… yet it’s perhaps the acceptance and belief of the masses that lends real power to the eventual actual outcome.

You may or may not be a Horoscope believer but the popularity of star readings in our culture undoubtedly points to a healthy dose of astrological subscription. Having studied astrology, I’m perpetually stunned at its ability to open and reveal astonishing cycles of truth, yet I also believe that offering twelve basic predictions that are deigned to fit everyone is oft taken with a grain of salt. And so it should be … but not in a cynical way.

Astrologers will be the first to tell you that the cycles and rhythms of the stars are as complicated as the people they govern. Every moment that ticks by effects changes in the planetary elements and alignments that oversee our lives … and each birth chart, even those only minutes apart (and dependent on where on the planet you are born), are as unique as the prints on each new baby’s fingertips.

Not only that – where you are born, how you live your life, how you are raised, which economic climate you live in, the choices you make – all govern and affect your astrological birth chart and how we perceive and enhance the ‘reality’ we are destined to live. [Read more…]

Cookbook Review: Blood Sugar by Michael Moore

Rating: ★★★★½

Hello. My name is Tania and I’m a sugarholic. So are you (more than likely). In fact, sugar-addiction is so rife, we’re in danger of crystallising. Sure, we’re cottoning onto the fact that even our most savoury foods – those that tingle the tongue with that salty edge – are also packed with sugar, but do we really realise just how very much? In fact, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find any partly processed foods without a sizable dose of both salt AND sugar.

Is it any wonder diabetes is on the increase, obesity is out of control and behavioural conditions are now considered normal?

Chef Michael Moore knows sugar well. At 35, he was diagnosed with diabetes. His doctor said he was a most unusual person to become diabetic – he was fit, active, healthy, never smoked, was not a big drinker. Struggling to accept his diagnosis and sort of hoping the condition would just ‘go away’, Michael self-treated – exercised even more, watched his sugar intake yet eventually became insulin-dependent. He truly thought his healthful ways were enough, so he continued on this path, all the while remaining dangerously unaware of the serious health risks associated with his condition.

It wasn’t until collapsing from a stroke, in front of his family, that Michael knew he had to change his whole way of life. His beatiful new book Blood Sugar – inspiring recipes for anyone facing the challenge of diabetes and maintain good health – is not a diet book. Michael developed these recipes over time to keep his health on track, yes, but also feed his desire for sensational food. And his passion for both really shows.

You do not need to be diabetic to enjoy and thoroughly appreciate this book. From the blood red beets on the cover (bursting with healthful, natural sugars and nutrients that fuel the body to perfection), this is a book that typifies the ideal way every modern consumer should feed their body. [Read more…]