Healthyish pecan caramels make a great school holiday treat

Healthyish pecan caramels make a great school holiday treat

I’m a complete nut freak, plus I’ll never say no to a sweet treat, which is why I couldn’t say no when this healthier pecan caramels recipe came across my desk. Who can ever resist anything pecan?

Today also happens to be Pecan Cookie Day – which is apparently a thing. While I can’t quite pass these pecan caramels off as a cookie, they are very close. They are shaped like a cookie and are definitely just as satisfying as a cookie. So pecan caramels seem like a nice way to celebrate such an auspicious day.

It’s best to eat these pecan caramels as soon as they are thawed as they will very quickly turn too oozy if there’s any kind of heat in the day. Right now, there is plenty of September heat where I live. So, keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy them, then serve and devour.

They make a really nice treat mid-afternoon with a cuppa. They melt in your mouth so beautifully. Which makes any treat an instant hit in my book.

Better yet, get the kids to make a batch of pecan caramels during the school hols for an after-dinner treat.  They are sugar-free, vegan, and gluten free yet still taste the biz.

More yummy school hol bakes:

Healthyish pecan caramels

Healthyish pecan caramels to make

Makes 12 cookies
Takes 15 mins plus freezing time

1 cup raw pecans
100g sugar free dark chocolate
⅓ cup cashew butter (raw or roasted)
⅓ cup Lakanto Golden Malt Syrup, or Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener (see Notes)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp flaky sea salt

Find a baking sheet or tray that will fit in your freezer, then line it with baking paper.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the cashew butter, malt syrup or sweetener, vanilla and flaky salt until thoroughly combined.

Scoop a teaspoon of the caramel onto the lined baking sheet, using another spoon to help remove it – this stuff is sticky!

Press a whole pecan on one side of the caramel blob, then add two halves to the sides. Repeat until you’ve used all the caramel. Place in the freezer for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours.

Once the caramels have chilled, melt the chocolate.

Remove the caramels from the freezer and drizzle chocolate over them, using a piping bag or spoon.

Place the cookies back in the freezer until set, then transfer them to an airtight container and store in the freezer or fridge until ready to serve.

Notes

Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener won the 2021 Product of The Year award as a consumer favourite, but you can substitute the malt syrup or sweetener of your choice.

How Mothers Work: Allison Tait

How Mothers Work: Allison Tait

Mums of babies and younger kids seem to share their day-to-day story all the time, but after that — crickets. In an effort to hear more from mums of older kids, we’re sharing this new series called How Mothers Work. We’ve asked mums we admire to tell us how they make it all work — from raising the kids, to doing the job, to living the dream. We hope you’ll pick up some great advice from mums in the trenches along the way.

Hello Allison Tait

Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) is the internationally published bestselling author of middle-grade adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles , The Ateban Cipher novels, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. Her latest novel, The Wolf’s Howl (A Maven & Reeve Mystery #2) is out now!

Al is a multi-genre writer, teacher and speaker with many years’ experience in magazines, newspapers and online publishing. She is also co-host of two podcasts: So You Want To Be A Writer and Your Kid’s Next Read. Little wonder then that Al is known as the go-to for both her expertise and her kindness. She’s exceptionally generous with both.

If all that weren’t enough already (and honestly, when does this woman sleep!?), Al is also the sister of Mumlyfe’s founder Bron.

(That was our disclosure there, and before you start with the “Oh, two ‘writers’ in the family” schtick, Bron wants you to know she’s okay.)

~ ~ ~

I’m Allison Tait, aka A. L. Tait, and I’m a children’s author, freelance writer, podcaster and speaker based on the south coast of NSW. I’m married to The Builder and have two boys aged 17 and 14, and an Insta-Famous border collie known as Procrastipup.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A typical week

I’m lucky to have the flexibility of working from home and have done so since my eldest was born. A ‘typical day’ sees me get my kids up and out of the house, then I walk the dog, and head back to my desk, usually by 9.30am or so.

I might spend the next six or so hours writing, editing or promoting a book, recording a podcast, interviewing other authors for a podcast, working on social media content for a client, creating blog posts or social media content for my own platforms, giving a talk at a school, or, occasionally, working in the garden while I work up a new book idea in my mind.

After school/work, I am often driving my youngest to various sporting practices and fixtures. My 17-year-old drives himself these days, but I used to have his various musical endeavours in the mix as well.

A typical weekend doesn’t look that different a lot of the time. More sport and gardening, less podcasting and speaking, but being a writer is a seven-day-a-week job.

We joke it’s like having unfinished homework every day of your life… but it’s not really a joke.

My working life

I’ve been a professional writer since long before the boys came along. I have remained a professional writer and expanded that into new fields and new spheres. When the boys were young, I wrote in the middle of the night so that I could have time, quiet and space. As they’ve got older, the writing has moved more into focus as my day job.

I cannot imagine my life without either of these things and I am endlessly grateful for both.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What’s most important to me

I value time spent with my boys. I’m at the pointy end of parenting these days, when they’d rather be doing ANYTHING else than spending time with their mum.

The 120 hours of driving practice, for instance, is a burden, but it’s also a blessing and a gift. I did a lot of those hours and I savour every moment of that time my eldest and I spent together. (Well, maybe not the first 20 or so hours, but once I was sure we weren’t going to actually hit anything, it was.)

The half-hour drive to and from footy practice twice a week gives me the only solid, focussed time I get with my 14-year-old. Sometimes we chat, sometimes we sit in comfortable silence. Either way is fine with me.

Weekends for Allison Tait are invariably spent at the rugby field

I also, conversely, savour time spent alone. I’m a solitary person by nature and I enjoy nothing more than walking with my dog, digging deep into the crevices of my subconscious to winkle out story and character ideas. I do some of my best writing far, far away from my computer.

Little kids versus big kids

I think the main difference is making room. When they’re little, they need you close, to help, to advise, to show them how to do things.

When they’re bigger, they need room to work out how they do things. You’re still there, on call to help and advise, but you have to trust that they remember everything you’ve shown them.

It’s hard.

This took me by surprise

Just how capable they can be. Not always. Not every time. But I can see it there.

The other thing that’s really taken me by surprise is the grief I’ve been feeling as my eldest approaches the end of school. He’s ready to move on, move out, and that separation process has been really obvious over the last year or so. 

You know your job is to raise them to not need you anymore, but doing your job well has never been so painful.

Some things I’ve gotten right along the way

At my house, parenting is a two-person job, and one thing that The Builder and I have got right, I think, is consistency. The boys don’t always like it, but they know where they are with us. Our expectations are always clear.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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We’re also not afraid to say no. The response is not always pretty, but I’m happy to say that I have weathered some awe-inspiring teen tantrums and come through the other side. And I’m still happy I said no.

Lastly, I am as good at selective hearing as a 14-year-old boy – which is saying something. This has been particularly useful with my actual 14-year-old boy. If I hear the phrase ‘all my friends’ ever again in my life, it will be too soon.

My biggest challenge

I think that trying to raise older kids has been made even more difficult over the past couple of years with the pandemic. The general uncertainty over everyday life seeps into every aspect of their daily lives and it’s so very hard for them to make plans for the future.

I don’t have any tips beyond trying to just be ‘the rock’ they need. Even as they’re pulling away from you, be steadfast.

I watched a documentary recently about Britain’s rock lighthouses – lighthouses built on tiny, craggy, piles of rocks in the middle of some of the wildest oceans in the world.

I reckon that’s what parents are, and have been through the ages.

 
 
 
 
 
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My biggest joy

My biggest joys are all about tiny moments. I’ve never been one for grand, sweeping gestures.

I remember once when my eldest and I were on one of our many ‘night driving hours’ tours of the dark countryside and he told me about a poem he’d read that he liked. He got me to Google it.

It was called ‘Home is So Sad’ by Philip Larkin. It begins:

“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back.” 

It’s a short, bitter-sweet reflection. I kept a copy.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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And then, because this is not a Disney film, he also told me about another Larkin poem called ‘This Be The Verse’, which begins:

‘They f*&k you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.”

I did not keep a copy of this one.

My youngest is more physically affectionate. When he was little, he just wanted to be touching some part of me all the time – my hand, my hair, my lap. I confess it drove me crazy. Now I savour every random hug, questionable teen hygiene and all.

Tiny moments.

My hopes and dreams for my children

One of my mum’s favourite, oft-repeated phrases, legendary in the family is this: “I just want you to be happy.”

I don’t think you realise how important that statement is until you have older kids. With younger kids, you’re so busy trying to keep them alive and expose them to a million different possibilities and passions that you forget there’s a funny, quirky individual inside there.

You really start to see that individual once they hit about 14, I think. They’re less concerned with pleasing you (oh boy, are they less concerned) and more focused on following their own thoughts and interests.

I do what I can to support their passions.

My eldest is a musician who’s been performing professionally since he was 13, and my role there was just to get him where he needed to go, be a friendly face in the audience when he needed one and trust that he could do it.

I mean, really trust.

Joe Visser has been performing since before high school

When your kid is getting up in front of a large audience, on his own, singing songs he’s written himself, he looks very small on the stage – the only person who can perform up there is him and he will only do it if he wants to do it.

It always blew my mind (and continues to do so) that he wasn’t terrified. I was terrified for him, but I tried to never, ever let that show.

My youngest has always been all about the sports. Which is why I, the least sporty person in the world, has found myself on the sidelines of endless ball sports since he was six.

Training two, three, four nights a week? No problem.

I’ve written a large portion of several of my books while he did soccer/rugby/basketball drills.

I think one of the best things we can do for our kids when it comes to their dreams and passions is to simply not get in the way.

I just want them to be happy.

Tropical banana Nutella pancakes for Saturday breakfast

Tropical banana Nutella pancakes for Saturday breakfast

You know what makes me happy? Nutella pancakes. And you know what makes me extra happy? Banana pancakes smothered in a thick layer of Nutella and sprinkled with passionfruit and toasted coconut.

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect way to kick off a weekend? Saturday morning, outside in the sunshine, reading a good book, shoving in your Nutella pancakes breakfast. Especially if the spread is laden on so thick that you leave teeth marks in the Nutella. Oh, happy days! It’s like taking a mini tropical break in your backyard. Sort of. If you close your eyes…

Also very good and tropically: Pineapple and strawberry breakfast loaf

Okay, so this is an easy recipe that puts a tropical spin on your standard Nutella pancakes recipe. There’s the banana, of course. Then you’re adding passionfruit and the toasted coconut.

Toast your coconut

You can buy toasted coconut ready to go from most supermarkets, but it’s too easy to toast your own.

Just put a cup of shredded coconut (or desiccated, if that’s all you’ve got) into a medium-heat pan and keep it moving with a wooden spoon until it starts to turn golden. The smell is a-mazing.

Enjoy this delicious breakfast option – or morning tea, or afternoon tea, or it even makes a great dessert. Or dinner. Yes, let’s have it for dinner.

Tropical banana Nutella pancakes with passionfruit and toasted coconut

Banana Nutella pancakes with passionfruit and coconut

Makes: 6
Takes: 30mins

1 cup plain flour (wholemeal works fine!)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup full-cream milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 over-ripe Australian bananas, mashed
1 cup toasted coconut flakes
olive oil spray

To serve
15g (1 tbsp) Nutella per pancake
2 passionfruit

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, egg, vegetable oil and over-ripe bananas together. Stir the flour mixture into the gooey banana mixture.

Set the oven to 160°C and toast the coconut for 5 minutes or until golden. Set aside. Or, use your store-bought toasted coconut flakes.

Over medium-high heat, heat an oiled frying pan. Take ¼ cup of batter and pour into the pan. Cook until each side is golden brown, approx 1–2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. Repeat with remaining batter.

To serve your tropical pancakes, spread each one with Nutella®, top with the toasted coconut flakes and passionfruit, and get ready for some morning smiles!

Homemade protein balls are a quick and nutritious snack

Homemade protein balls are a quick and nutritious snack

If you’re after a quick and healthy afternoon snack for your kids, these homemade protein balls are perfect. It can be hard getting older kids to ‘snack right’, but if you make it tasty they’ll go for it. A nutritious boost in the afternoon will get them through until dinner. Without them reaching for sugary convenience foods.

Of course, we know that the best way to stop kids reaching for junk food is to not buy it in the first place. Don’t stock soft drinks, chips, lollies or crappy energy drinks. That way, if they want to eat or drink them, they need to spend their own money to buy them. That might be enough to put some kids off.

It also helps to keep plenty of healthy homemade snack options on hand. Recipes that older kids can hopefully make themselves, too!

More healthy snack ideas:

Power them through

These homemade protein balls were created by leading dietitian Susie Burrell and they’re super easy to make.

“The ‘good’ or essential fats are important at all stages of life,” explains Susie. “But when energy demands are especially high as they are during adolescence, utilising nutrient and energy rich foods such as nuts and 100% natural nut spreads like Mayver’s, avocado, tuna and salmon is a great way to ensure that growing teens are getting key nutrients including protein, magnesium, zinc and Omega-3’s as well as extra energy for growth, activity and study.”

Aside from filling them up with oatmeal protein balls, Susie has more tips for feeding kids right during adolescence:

  • Focus on regular protein rich meals and snacks every 2-3 hours. Good options include tuna and brown rice, Mayver’s Peanut Butter sandwiches, healthy bliss balls like my Oatmeal Protein Balls or banana bread, nuts and fruit or Greek yoghurt and granola.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand for them to grab quickly.
  • Know the healthier foods they can pick up on the run such as burrito bowls and sushi.
  • Include 3-4 serves of calcium rich dairy, iron rich foods and good fats from nut spreads, avocado and oily fish every day.
  • Avoid sugary drinks including energy drinks and soft drink in favour of water.

Homemade protein balls

Easy and nutritious homemade protein balls recipe

Takes 30 mins
Makes 12 balls

1 cup rolled oats
cup Mayver’s Probiotic Super Peanut Butter
¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup sugar free maple syrup
cup choc chips or peanut butter chips

Whisk together peanut butter and maple syrup. Add oats and almond meal, and mix until well combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Roll mixture into 12 balls. Store in the fridge.

These balls would freeze well in an airtight container for up to one month. So make a double or triple batch so you always have them ready to go.

How Mothers Work: Jade Miles

How Mothers Work: Jade Miles

Mums of babies and younger kids seem to share their day-to-day story all the time, but after that… crickets. In an effort to hear more from mums of older kids, we’re sharing this new series called How Mothers Work. We’ve asked mums we admire to tell us how they make it all work — from raising the kids, to doing the job, to living the dream. We hope you’ll pick up some great advice from mums in the trenches along the way.

Hello Jade Miles

Jade Miles and her husband Charlie Showers run Black Barn Farm, a biodiverse orchard, nursery and workshop space in north east Victoria. Yes, the very same Black Barn Farm where Mumlyfe publisher Bron spent two weeks earlier this year randomly wwoofing on Jade’s farm (she’s supposed to have written all about her marvellous experience, but so far NOTHING!).

Jade also co-hosts a popular podcast, founded a community co-op, is the mother of three (Clementine, known as Minnie, 10, and identical twins Harrison (Harry) and Bertram (Bertie), 14) AND her beautiful book Futuresteading is out today.

So, Jade is basically the smartest, kindest, most hard-working woman we’ll probably ever meet. Here’s what makes her tick along in life as a mother, a worker and all-round ace human.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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~ ~ ~

We’re a family of five: two adults and three urchins living at Black Barn Farm, a 20-acre orchard (complete with feathered and furry menagerie) in north east Victoria. We grow over 100 varieties of heritage fruit – mainly apples, pears and berries. In theory, it’s paradoxical. In practice, it’s a deeply rewarding, deliciously challenging and rather muddy pursuit.

If you popped in for a spontaneous cuppa, you’d probably find me weeding the veggie patch. Charlie might be in the orchard or waist-deep in a research paper detailing the most effective methods of organic pest control. And the kids would be roaming on their bikes, recipe-testing in the kitchen or, in a flurry of responsibility and initiative, feeding the chooks.

For the better part of a lifetime, we’ve pursued a considerate, regenerative, hands-in-the-dirt existence (which explains the mud stains). We haven’t always gotten it right, but we have amassed a personal inventory of experiments, failures and revelations. Hard-won lessons of identity, community and what makes a good life. Between us, we’re stubborn, idealistic, practical, whimsical, determined, exhausted and peckish – day and species dependent.

Jade Miles and daughter Minnie

A typical week

No days are ever the same because of the vastly different seasonal activities.

Typically our weekdays and weekends are pretty similar with 5am starts to fit in morning walks in the bush, a little life admin and a full pot of tea before kids wake up bringing chaos.

Animals and the hoop house gets checked, watered and fed at first light and if between April and October, a load of wood gets barrowed to the back door to keep the wood box and Rayburn ticking day and night.

Dinner is usually put on to slow cook before we head out into the paddock or patch. The bulk of the day is spent outside: pruning, mulching, grafting, fencing, fixing, propagating, planting or harvesting.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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[The kids] have all attended the local Montessori School since they were one and the boys now attend the local high school which has a ‘cycle four Montessori stream until the end of year nine. They arrive home from school on the bus at 4pm, so we often walk into the village to collect them in our work boots and also collect the mail from the primary school, now run as our post office by volunteers.

In summer our work days keep going until last light, but in winter we tend to wrap up outside when the kids return. We have wwoofers living with us six months of every year so our days are full. Mealtimes are noisy and busy and conversation is long and large. During winter the wwoofers are gone and our days are much quieter. We intentionally hibernate and have quiet, family, home-based days and nights.

My working life

The farm is work and the list is endless. We are working towards getting ready to open to the public six months each year as a pick-your-own. It’s a constant part of our daily conversation that the kids are entrenched in.

I also sit on a couple of boards which I tend the work for at night and I work three days each week for Sustainable Table. This fits in while the kids are at school. I also write for various publications and also my book, which has been squashed into all the gaps around everything else. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What’s most important to me

Lunch! We ALWAYS stop for lunch. It’s is a broad and ranging variety of just-plucked veggies, jars of pickles/olives/chutney, homemade bread or crackers, fresh nuts from a friend’s nearby grove, boiled eggs, sauerkraut and possibly cookies or cake if someone has baked.

Always stop for lunch

Little kids versus big kids

We have twins so their early years felt relentless. We were also travelling a lot at that time, so we had no rhythm or home-based systems. As they have grown up and we’ve committed more strongly to a homesteading life we have found a beautiful rhythm.

The kids have become much better communicators and respond well to the varied opinions and lifestyles presented by all the wwoofers we have on the farm. They have become more responsive, engaged in our daily patterns and inclined to challenge ideology. Rather than simply filling their days with activities that feel like a never ending distraction. 

The kids help out at Black Barn Farm

We haven’t really changed our approach to parenting. We’ve always given them a really long rope to explore, make mistakes, make a mess, form opinions and discover their own preferred approach. We didn’t have screens when the kids were little, but when the boys turned 14 they bought themselves a phone and the battle is now real.

This took me by surprise

[My kids] prolonged innocence. They still feel very hooked into family and haven’t pulled away from us yet. By their age I was fiercely independent, but my boys are not eagerly seeking mates over family yet.

Jade Miles and sons Bertie and Harry

My biggest challenge

My biggest challenge is knowing when to become a dominant parent who “knows best” and when to let them make their own decisions. It’s a skill I’m still developing. Lots of open communication and ongoing talking.

Read more How Mothers Work stories here.

My biggest joy

 Seeing my children becoming independent, articulate adults who know their own mind with their own opinions and knowledge bank.

There are some things I think I get right along the way:

1. We are incredibly close and open as a family. The kids (and their friends) can discuss or ask anything frankly. This seems to be holding us in good stead as we navigate the changing dynamics and needs of individuals. We can comfortably debate some really big topics in a (mostly) respectable way.

 
 
 
 
 
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2. We are building a ‘family’ business and the kids know they have a role to play in this. So despite their reluctance to get stuck into the endless jobs list, they are actually pretty good at picking up the tools when we really ask them to.

3. [We are] offering them a life that is open, diverse, filled with opportunity to really explore what makes them happy and interests them.

The Showers family

My hopes and dreams for my children

[I want them to] simply find their own super power and to be really happy in what they choose their path to be (which we expect will change direction a number of times). We don’t yet know what any of them will do. They are not sure themselves and that’s more than okay with us. I’d love for the boys to find a way to be independent of each other, which to date hasn’t been an option.

You can find Jade Miles on Instagram here. And buy Futuresteading from Booktopia here (25% off for a limited time).

Futuresteading by Jade Miles

Images from Futuresteading by Jade Miles; photography by Karen Webb, illustrations by Megan Grant. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.

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