Aperitivo in Milan

aperitivo1Milan is an expensive city, and when you are visiting on travel it’s probably even more difficult to have dinner without spending a fortune. During the day the ubiquitous bakeries allow you to eat on a budget easily but at night it’s easy to have to shell out a small fortune for a dinner, however nice it may be. If you take into account that children’s menus and small portions are hard to find, then the bill will be even higher for families with small children.
A nice solution might be to make the best of the Milanese aperitivo or “happy hour”. The hour is happy not because you get two drinks for the price of one, but because by paying for a drink you get unlimited access to a free buffet. (more…)

The best things in Melbourne are…free!

239077216_ea75395d3bActually, it is the best things in life that are free! A cliché but oh, so true. In a quest to live more simply and to try and instill this truth in my children, I have been trying to entertain them these term holidays with ‘nature inspired’ activities and simple pleasures. Homemade picnics in the garden, collecting pebbles and leaves to paint, walking rather than driving, and so forth.

Now in doing so I am learning 3 things – one, my children know a lot more about recycling than I do, even my 4-year-old (for this I have their school to thank!). Two, my kids are quite happy living more ‘simply’; they have much more of a respect for and interest in nature and their planet than I ever had, which I am ashamed to admit but of which I am so, so proud (and which I am determined to keep fostering as I learn too, with them). And three, that in Melbourne you can treat your children to the most beautiful nature attractions without needing to pay for the pleasure as you do with so many other activities  – they are ‘free’, indeed just as they should be, for everyone to enjoy.

One of the best of these in my opinion is the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden at the Royal Botanical Gardens. (more…)

Patch your jeans

Recently UpdatedMy kids tear their clothes like it is going out of fashion. I’m constantly finding scuffed-up knees on their jeans, torn tops and unexplained holes on the seats of their pants! The fact is: kids are always going to tear their clothes. And while the ripped jeans look has never been my thing, I am just not willing to throw clothes away anymore.  So I have started patching their clothes, just like in the good old days.

I am not any good at making an invisible patch like my grandmother used to make, so I’ve decided not to even try and instead make a statement with my patches. I actually reckon it should be called customising not patching! Here’s what you’ll need: (more…)

Cheap and Cheerful Home Decor

circle_burst-1A while back I stumbled across this website when I was looking for ideas on how to add a bit more pizzazz to the girls’ room.  I am not what you call “gifted” when it comes to home decor but I had to give myself a major pat on the back for what I was able to accomplish for around $75 and a half hour of work.   Wall decals offer a quick, easy and inexpensive way to change a room in minutes and I when I scattered these sunburst circles on the wall it brightened up the space instantly.   What’s even better is that when you need a change down the road you can just peel them off.   I am thinking of investing in their chalkboard stick-ons to write out my weekly schedule and they recently launched a line of items to dress up a laptop.  Scribble on Everything offers “Plastic Surgery for your Walls” and I get a kick out of just reading their website because whoever is in charge over there is really funny  – just read their “How To” section.

-Dina

Croque Monsieur

croque-monsieurI was reading yesterday that even London fashion week has gone back to basics. As the Guardian reported, instead of last year’s sashimi, this year simple Croque Monsieurs — otherwise known as plain old grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, are all the rage.  After all, there is no food more cheap, cheerful and comforting as melted cheese on a buttered grilled piece of bread.

And this is my favourite way of making a Croque Monsieur: (more…)

Parlour and board games — endless family fun!

scrabbleSpeaking about Simple Living — what better family entertainment can you think of than old-fashioned parlour and board games??  I think my kids are probably too little for strategy classics such as Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, or Monopoly— but I can’t wait until they are big enough because I just LOVE to sit around a big table and play games!
I recently challenged my husband to a few games of Scrabble (he lost), and it brought back such great memories of playing Scrabble with my mum on a winter evening.  My grandmother and I have played endless rounds of RummyCub, so cosy…
As a student I played loads of Yahtzee with my housemates (still love the mix of strategy and luck; did you know dice were found in Egyptian tombs?).  And Twister! Such fun!!!

The great benefit of playing parlour games (over f.i. watching television or playing computer games), apart from being fun and cheap, is that you’re interacting.  Children learn to follow rules, wait for their turns, and to correct and challenge each other. It trains their strategic thinking and problem solving abilities, and can improve their skills. They also have to deal with the emotional consequences of their games: handling loss, helping a friend to handle a loss, and being a gracious winner…

Round of Scrabble, anyone??

xxx Esther

Turn an old shirt into a girl’s tunic

frontTo celebrate our ‘Simple Life’ theme week I have put together a tutorial on how to make a girl’s tunic out of an old shirt.

Here is the thing: shirts fray first at the collar and at the cuffs though the rest of the shirt is still in perfect condition. The material shirts are made out of is perfect for a little girl’s tunic, so why not try and recycle the shirt and give it a new lease of life? The best part is that the buttons and button holes are already made, saving you a huge amount of work.

I got together with my friend Purvika, the owner of bebe bunting and a really talented, creative girl and away we went, making a tunic for my 18-month-old, Violette.

I have to say, I am quite pleased with our result! It is very simple, but I think it works well and is an easy pattern to start off with. If you want, you can add on appliqués, trimmings, ribbons, etc. after finishing off the tunic (I added on a little bit of smocking on the front). You can even make it longer and make it into a dress. The sky is the limit.

Here is the tutorial:

(more…)

Eating seasonally and simply

animalvegetablemiracleSadly, I don’t read very many books these days. In fact, I’ve only read two in the past year! But thankfully one of them was a book that has completely changed my life:  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

The book is a memoir about Kingsolver and her family who spent a year living on a farm, eating off the land or buying only locally grown provisions.  Kingsolver walks you through the year, month by month, discussing the ups and downs of farming, which vegetables are in season and why it’s important to eat organically and seasonally in order to avoid pesticides and food miles. She also provides the occasional recipe for simple but tasty meals.

Reading the book made me long for a more simple life, one spent on a farm, enjoying time with my family, appreciating the land and the food it makes. It’s a wonderful book filled with Kingsolver’s famous wit and warmth, and I could not recommend it more highly.

-Courtney

Bring your own bags

zpmIn the Netherlands, it’s quite normal to reuse your shopping bags.  Plastic bags are available at the supermarkets, but you have to pay for them them and they’re not even that cheap!  For as long as I can remember, I have brought my own bags to the supermarkets, and even as a little girl I recall my grandma and mum bringing their big canvas shopping bags on their weekly trips to the supermarket.
Imagine my surprise when I first went to the States as a teenager, and there were people at the end of the conveyor belt packing our groceries in an endless stream of plastic bags!  Not only didn’t we have to bring our own canvas bags, we also were spared the trouble of packing everything!  Such luxury, I thought!
Looking back, now that our world is overflowing with plastic bags, our Dutch system of bring-your-own-bags isn’t too bad.  Although I wouldn’t mind the help at the end of the conveyor belt, especially now that those cashiers or so SUPER fast — I can’t keep up with them, it’s seriously stressful!! (more…)

Home-made Playdough

playdoughI remember my mum used to make playdough for me when I was a kid — I LOVED it! When I was old enough I started making the dough myself, and made Christmas and Easter decorations out of it! I remember that I preferred to make plain playdough, without colouring, and paint and lacquer the pieces when it was thoroughly dry.
For our Simple Living theme week I decided to try to make playdough with my kids and it was an instant success!  I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before — it’s made in less than 5 minutes from cheap ingredients that are always in the cupboard, it’s completely natural and earth-friendly, and what child doesn’t like to have their hands in the dough?

Here’s how to make the dough (my way): (more…)

De-Clutter for a Cause!

WalnutPlatElfaFreeCloset_x-1Last year I did something really quite indulgent but worth every penny.  I hired a “wardrobe consultant/stylist” to come in and help me de-clutter and organize my very messy and chaotic closet.

Her job:   1) toss what is heinous, dated and does not fit   2) make a list of what was missing and  3) not make fun of me for being a hoarder.

When she left, I kid you not, there was basically a lonely hanging t-shirt swinging in the breeze and I was sitting between two ginormous heaps of clothing to give away.

It was emotionally draining, sad and scary….but mostly FREEING!!!  The clutter was gone!

It really did feel great — not just from an organizational standpoint but emotional one as well.  Even better, I was able to donate all of my old work suits, never worn items, things with the tags still on to a girl’s garage sale in my neighborhood and raise money for charity.   Like they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Someone out there was going to be delighted that I parted ways with my light-wash boot cut jeans and boxy, unflattering sweaters. (more…)

Frittata

frittatazucchineFrittata is a delicious and extremely simple dish that you can find in any Italian region. Everybody has their own special recipe for it — which means that you just can’t go wrong. Whomever the cook, a frittata will always contains eggs (obviously), typically one or more vegetables, often some cheese and possibly some ham. It’s different from a French omelette because it is more set and it is delicious even hours after being cooked. And it’s different from a Spanish tortilla because the vegetables need not be fried and it is usually much thinner.
Frittata is a great way to use leftover vegetables; honestly it does not matter how little of them you have left, there will always be enough for a frittata (a bit like when you make a quiche). I find it’s also a good and sneaky way to make your children eat veggies; my son is really picky with green stuff but will eat a (partially green) frittata. (more…)

Inspirational Ideas

pavement paintingYes, simple ideas are often the best and two of the places I go for them are the blogs of illustrator, interior designer and all-round creative Antonia Pesenti and Brooke Reynolds from Inchmark Journal. Antonia once did a post on painting with water on concrete, and often I think of it because it’s simple, easy and completely un-messy. Likewise I really enjoy the books Brooke shares on her blog and her craft and cooking projects too. Well worth a look.

-Natalie

Chestnut chaps

chestnut chapsLast fall Esther wrote a really cute post about collecting acorns and chestnuts and turning them into little ‘chestnut chaps’.  I thought it was such a cute idea and definitely worth repeating for this theme week.  I love the idea of bundling up your family and taking a long walk together to collect nuts and leaves.  And making the little men (and animals) is easy — you just poke some wooden skewers or matchsticks into the chestnuts and form them however you wish.  A really simple project, perfect for this time of year.

-Courtney

Cardboard box crafts

houseWe are getting ready to  move.  Again.  The third time this year.  Phew!  All I can say is that my kids have been great, and nothing entertains them more than playing with cardboard boxes.   On our first move, from Paris to DC, my then 3½-year-old spent hours using rolls of colorful electrical tape to decorate the boxes with her stuff in them.  This time around, both my daughters are having loads of fun playing in the boxes — playing peek-a-boo, house, you name it, they play it.  It keeps them both entertained, and it doesn’t cost a thing!

For this theme week, I thought I’d do a quick look around the web to see if there were other inspiring projects to do with boxes… here is what I found:

About.com: Family Crafts articles on how to make a princess castle, a Lego costume,  a pizza costume, and more!

Talkingchild.com: how to make a puzzle, a doll house, and a dragon out of smaller (shoe box sized) boxes.

Enchantedlearning.com: how to make a barn for toy animals.

Marthastewart.com: directions for making a cardboard box oven.

Indestructables.com: directions for a puppet theater.

Mylittlehouse.com: offers a pre-made house, that you can decorate as you desire (pictured).

xx Rebecca

How to make a bib out of an (old) kitchen towel

slab11Courtney and I have had more than one discussion about ‘which bib is best’.  Amongst the two of us and in the past 4 years we have tested a fair amount of different varieties and in the end we have both agreed on our all-time favourite bib. (We also talk about other things, BTW, but we seem to have a strange interest in bibs).
The advantage of our favourite bib is that it’s so big it covers a lot of your child, including the shoulders.  It is made of terrycloth, which makes it ideal to use as a napkin during dinner or to wipe faces and hands with afterward.  It can be washed at high temperatures, doesn’t require ironing at all and still looks great.  It is super durable — it is well possible that my grandchildren will be using these bibs!  And last but not least, they are easy and cheap to make yourself: you can use any old towel you have around and for the binding you can use any old piece of fabric you have left over from previous sewing projects.  You’re free to make your own colour combinations — the possibilities are endless!  And you can make plenty —  I always have a nice, clean stack of these bibs on hand.

Now, even though I love sewing, I’m not at all an expert in this field, so forgive my clumsy way of explaining everything…  But I made a bib for my son, Pim, from a kitchen towel and photographed the different steps in the process to give you an idea of how to do it… (more…)

Simple Living Theme Week

2009-10-03The credit crunch has been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us. It seems as if nowadays we’re focusing more on what really matters, on the good things in life, our families, our health, our planet. In light of this new world order we at Babyccino have decided to focus our writing for the next week on the simple way of life. So… stay tuned for Babyccino’s Simple Living theme week!

We have come up with some great craft ideas, inexpensive recipes, recycling projects, simple sewing ideas and lots more!! It has been really fun to come up with simple things to do with and for your family.

We hope you enjoy this week and please do share your own “simple” projects with us. We’re sure that you have some great ideas and we would love to hear them!

– The Babyccino Girls