Fresh Fish Pie (and how to make it quickly)


  • Deboned fish pieces (cut small).
  • Vegetables (cut small; i.e. around pea sized).
  • Cheese sauce.
  • Mashed potato.
  • Grated cheese.

Allergies: soy free, gluten free, egg free, nut free.


This is the kind of versatile dish that you can spend as much time on as you want. I also haven’t included amounts in the general ingredient list because quantities will vary depending on how many people you’re cooking for. This is how to make it so that you can just throw it in the oven at the end of the day.

  1. Prepare your fish on the day you buy it and put it in the freezer. I used fresh mackerel. It has a good texture and flavour when cooked (a bit like tuna). It tastes delicious in this recipe and it’s nice to know that a fish pie doesn’t require spending extra money to buy smoked fish. I used about 250g for this pie.
  2. In the morning (i.e. around breakfast time) lay the defrosted fish out in a casserole dish.
  3. Layer vegetables on top. I used about 1 cup of a frozen veggie mix of cubed peas, corn, carrots, and green beans. They’ll be defrosted by the time this goes in the oven in the afternoon.
  4. Layer cheese sauce next. I used a jar of Heinz (Cheese) Lasagne Sauce both for convenience and because my toddler has yet to like a cheese sauce I’ve made from scratch.
  5. Make mashed potato. I cooked 5 small yellow potatos (skin on) in the microwave and then mashed with milk, butter, salt, and dried onion.
  6. Layer the mashed potato on once it’s cooled. I actually rolled balls of it in my hands, flattened it, and then placed it on (so that I wouldn’t disturb the other layers to trying to flatten and spread it).
  7. Add grated cheese on top.
  8. Put in the fridge until the end of the day. You’ll need to pull it out about an hour before it’s needed.
  9. Preheat the oven to 180’C. Cook for 45mins and golden on top.


Fresh fish – crumbed bites


  • 300g fresh mackerel
  • Flour
  • Egg (beaten)
  • Spices & Panko breadcrumbs
  • Oil



  1. Cut up your fish into small slices.
  2. Coat in flour.
  3. Dip in egg.
  4. Roll in spices & panko breadcrumbs. (I did half a batch in a blend or lemon myrtle, coconut, and crumbed macadamia nuts, and the other half in a mix of salt, chinese five spice, and panko breadcrumbs).
  5. Shallow fry in oil.
  6. Serve with salad.


Great for the whole family, easy to make for little hands, and tastes so much better than frozen fish fingers!

Note: Using fresh fish can be very expensive. Whole fish can be bought cheaply from a fish market or fishmonger and prepared ahead of time then frozen.

Meals on a budget – buy a whole fish


I find it ironic that I live on an island nation and yet fresh fish are a luxury item because they are priced so highly at the big chain supermarkets (often $18-35/kg for fillets). Supermarkets also tend to stick a few popular fish like salmon, trevally, and tarakihi. Fish can be far more affordable by finding a local fish market or fishmonger and buying the fish whole.

Most places will offer at least basic services for free (like gutting, scaling, and top’n’tailing) and some will also fillet for free (although others have a small charge). With a whole fish you can get far more flesh when it is cooked and for a much better price. The central fish in the picture (with the dark speckling) are mackerel that were on sale for $5.99/kg. The whole fish was $9 and once the head, tail, fins, spine etc. were all removed and it had been prepared at home there was still 850g. That makes it an excellent price by comparison with fillets at a fish counter at the local supermarket.

It can also be fun at a fishmonger to look at the huge variety of fish and choose one that you haven’t cooked before. You’ll find that the fishmonger can give you some advice depending on what cooking method you’re aiming for. In general you’re wanting flatter, thinner fish if you’re wanting to braise or fry, whereas you want a thicker fish to bake or fillet.

In the case of the mackerel, I had the fishmonger remove the head, tail, and guts.

At home I just needed a sharp knife and time to remove the fins, spine, large radial bones, and pick out a number of the smaller bones.

I kept a small portion intact to bake, kept a number of long pieces to fry (these potentially had some small bones in them to help keep the shape), and a pile of small fleshy chunks (completely deboned) to make into a pie.

I put each of my three piles (intended for three different types of meal preparation) into freezer bags and annotated them with what was inside and how it needed to be cooked. That way I could pull them out when they were needed instead of stressing about making a special trip out to buy fish and then needing to cook it all in one go.

Renovating a children’s bookcase


Using Resene testpots of:

  • White: Half Alabaster White
  • Pink: Suzy Q
  • Purple: Gypsy Queen
  • Green-blue: Hope

The journey

How to store toys is one of those conundrums that parents frequently face. The solutions also tend to change as they grow and change.To start with she had something that looked a bit like this:


The problem was that ours was cheap, not particularly well made, and the fabric boxes didn’t balance particularly well. It was fine when she was young because it was so light and small that I wasn’t too worried if she should accidentally tip it over. By the time she was over two it was annoying her sufficiently that she’d just dump the storage boxes on the floor and leave them there but ignore the storage shelves (it was also so light that she could move it or tip it over just ’cause). Note: It is now proving far more functional as a shoe rack.

I wanted something a bit more sturdy and multi-functional that would serve her for several years (or longer). I had thoughts of getting a bookshelf. The constraints were that it needed to fit her existing toy boxes, needed to fit under her window (i.e. in the available space),  it needed to be cheap, and I needed to be able to transport it in the boot of the hatchback. Those requirements required both aesthetic flexibility and patience. After a couple of months I found a cubbyhole-style bookshelf in a secondhand store for $10. It was too tall but this simply required a change of perspective (i.e. flipping it onto it’s long side).

I also wanted something in her room that was a bit more colourful and personalised for a change (we rent so decorations are limited). We headed into Resene’s to discuss options for painting the bookself. Now, unfortunately, it’s MDF particleboard covered in a laminate veneer which means that the professional advice is basically not to paint it (because it will peel off) or spend a whole lot of money on base paint, coloured paint, smoother, and sealant. The white base paint (500ml) alone was going to be $30.

It’s easy looking at beautiful pictures on PinInterest to assume that everyone is enormously successful on their first attempt; this is not one of those stories (or it sort of is but with a caveat).

I decided to persevere (really, peeling paint!?, a sales tactic surely!) and spent a grand total of $9 on testpots. This was achievable only because I take advantage of free testpot offers whenever I can, had 2-4-1 vouchers to use, and had a half testpot of purple paint at home. It also would have benefited from a third testpot of white paint but c’est la vie.

The project

I put a plastic playmat outside on the grass and took advantage of a sunny afternoon ( a Dora the Explorer DVD also ended up being a necessary tool after the first hour). I did a white base coat, using Half Alabaster White, over the entire bookcase (apart from the back) and flipped it once I thought the first long edge was dry. I then did a single coat of coloured paint in each of the cubbyholes. I used Suzy Q (pink), Hope (blue-green), and Gypsy Queen (purple); I note that Suzy Q and Hope are from the same colour palette and there was a lovely light purple that would have matched better but I already had leftover Gypsy Queen from another project.

Once it was dry I added more coloured paint to achieve a good colour consistency but kept a small amount of each colour back in reserve in case touch ups were needed in the future. I also eyed up the white edgings trying to decide if I wanted to get those all perfectly white. I decided that I quite liked the organic look of the colours bleeding towards each other and did it deliberately while painting (and added to it afterwards).

After it had a nice long dry in the sun I lifted the bookcase only to have big strips of white paint peel away and partially stick to the plastic mat. Turns out that plastic laminate is problematic after all. I had to peel more paint off that side in order to tidy it up;  on the bright side it also peeled off the mat easily and was easy to ball up and bin. I carried the bookcase inside onto lino and carefully repainted the ‘bottom’ side.

Once it was thoroughly dry it went into her room on carpet where it seems to be sufficiently cushioned to be surviving happily. It looks really lovely and she adores it so for the price it was worth it. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more money on the paint though – it’s a bit of a gamble as to how long the paint will last as it will scratch off the laminate pretty easily. Thankfully she doesn’t know this so there’s no reason for her to actively try! I do love the colours though 🙂

Exciting eggs for toddlers 

Hard boiled eggs are a great source of protein for busy toddlers. It’s easy to make them appear more exciting and attractive by using egg moulds. You can obtain them cheaply and with free shipping from AliExpress, otherwise try having a look in a local Japanese store.


  1. Boil your eggs as normal. Make sure they are small to normal size (i.e sz 6) as a jumbo egg won’t fit in the mould.
  2. Peel your eggs while still warm. I like to pour out the boiling water and let the eggs sit in cold water for a couple of minutes to cool down. Peeling them under a trickle of cold tap water can help the shell come off easily.
  3. Place your egg in the mould and close the lid.
  4. The egg then needs to cool. You can use an ice bath, put it in the fridge, or (in a hurry) put it in the ice tray of the freezer for 20 mins.
  5. Serve to toddler. If you want you can use shreds of dry seaweed to artfully decorate but mine is just as excited without. The great thing about these moulds is that the pattern is imprinted on both sides so you can also cut these in half and effectively have two cars (or fishes etc.) which can make them easier for little ones to eat. My toddler likes to eat the yolk first and then eat the egg white.

How can I interact with my child positively? Tips for Active & Constructive Responding.

So I’m doing a great pedagogical course at the moment about building character strength in children. It’s aimed at teachers but it’s also fantastic for parents because our focus at home should very much be about helping our children develop and build their character strengths so that they grow up to be decent, pleasant, awesome human beings (and this is something we can do even if we’re not great on helping them with some content knowledge like irregular verbs or quantum physics or how to build a birdhouse). Today I’m going to focus on one specific skill that we can practice as parents or teachers and this has to do with how we interact with them.

Psychologist Shelly Gable proposed a theoretical framework about active and constructive responding (ACR) that has to do with the most effective way to respond, achieve a positive outcome, and to develop and maintain strong personal relationships. It involves both verbal language and body language.


Active constructive responding means providing specific statements of praise; it’s genuine, meaningful and engaged. It’s also about providing eye contact and really being present in the moment.

For instance: “Billy, I can see that you’re really working hard on that difficult piano piece; that shows real grit. Good job.”

Passive constructive responding uses positive feedback but it’s generalized and may not actually feel encouraging to the listener especially if the speaker seems distracted. It might come across as a rote phrase tossed out while distracted; i.e. while looking at a smartphone, or turning to someone else, or in the midst of another activity.

For instance: “Mmm, yes, great Billy.” (as Billy practices the piano and actively seeks approval but the speaker is busy doing something else).

Active destructive responding has specific and negative feedback and is often accompanied by frowning or glares. It may use ‘you’ within the statement, can come across as a personal attack, and can be embarrassing or shaming for the person listening. The speaker may not intend to be hurtful, they may speak out of frustration or without thinking, but it can cause lingering harm for the listener – especially because it can feel like their actions and feelings are invalidated.

For instance: “Billy, that sounds awful. I can’t believe you’re been getting lessons for three months and all you can do is make that dreadful racket!”

Passive destructive responding contains no positive or affirming response. It might ignore the topic under discussion entirely, include a lack of eye contact, or mean leaving the room.

For instance: Billy is actively seeking feedback and attention while practicing the piano (either by verbally asking for feedback or seeking it out through making eye contact repeatedly and turning to their parent/teacher) but their parent/teacher avoids making eye contact and leaves the room rather than listen to a piece that is being played enthusiastically and diligently but is technically (and acoustically) awful.

To see a video of these four forms of responding (guest starring Billy the T Rex) click here.

Active constructive responding takes practice. It’s useful not only with children but with partners, families, and colleagues. GoStrengths has more examples/scenarios of how these different types of responding might look; i.e. a partner coming home from work to announce that they have received a new job.



How to buy affordable Duplo (big blocks)

My 2 two year old loves playing with Duplo and is fortunate that her grandparents stored a bucket of it all these years (decades really) in the hope that she would one day exist. Adding to that Duplo / Big Blocks has been my challenge. I realized that what she really needed was some kind of base plate to fix the blocks onto and I also wanted some additional pieces that would support imaginative play (and keep me amused as well as she cried ‘Mummy! Come!’ and I find myself pulled along to be her playmate.
Duplo, I discovered, is expensive. It also seems to get sold in big themed sets and even at Christmas it doesn’t really go down in price; also in the big sets often the majority of pieces are just blocks which you might not actually need.  I turned instead to AliExpress. It’s possible to order big themed sets from them but you can also buy individual pieces – like deciding that you want x6 flowers and x3 tree-tops. It’s great way to spruce up your existing blocks and you can often get free international shipping.

It pays to check carefully – there’s a vast size difference between Lego and Duplo so make sure that you’re searching for Duplo / Big Blocks and message the seller if you’re in doubt. It can also work out cheaper to get mini sets, depending on what you’re looking for, like getting a large pig (with moving head) + feed trough + two flowers + two blocks for USD$3.60 (and free shipping).  Individual sellers will often have items on sale and there are big sales through the year so you can always put stuff on a Watchlist if you want to wait for prices to come down even further.