Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Three wheels, four wheels

Growing up, my brothers and I were always on our bikes. 

I remember the Christmas when all three of us received bikes. Dad had assembled them and they were in the back yard waiting for us when we woke up in the morning. It was the best present! We didn't wear helmets in those days and I don't ever remember any of us having a serious fall, although I do recall my younger brother getting his big toe stuck in the front wheel because he was riding on the handle bars on the footpath in front of our driveway. 

We would go for short bike rides around the block, up to Grandma's or to the corner shop. For the longer bike rides, we liked to follow the bike track alongside the canal, through neighbouring suburbs. 

Sometimes, our Uncle Adrian, affectionately called 'Adie', came along too with his dog Red. Red was a beautiful Kelpie with a shiny red-brown coat.

We gave our son his first bike one Christmas, when he was almost two. An old style heavy tricycle with a platform at the back, for a standing passenger. This is now our daughter's to enjoy. They both love giving each other rides. 

For his third birthday his grandparents gave him his first two wheeler, with training wheels and he chose his own helmet. 

Now I sit and watch my children riding their bikes on our deck and around the pathway at our favourite park. So much joy. So much imaginative and pretend play. They are delivery men, cumquat sellers, mechanics...the list goes on. Recently my son 'went to England' following a conversation with a tradesman who told us that he has just come back from England. The children are sponges for ideas; they listen to everything. 

It's such a wonderful feeling, riding a bike. Riding a bike with the wind on your face. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Mandarins. The season has arrived!

The perfect snack. 

I ate countless mandarins through out the night when I was pregnant with my son. I had a little pile that would sit on my bedside table. My husband would hear the sound of the peeling, the citrus smell and then munch munch .. and they were gone.

It's little wonder my son loves them!

We prefer the Imperial variety as the softer skin is easier for little fingers to manipulate. 

A great activity in itself. First selecting the fruit, collecting containers, removing the peel and then separating the fruit into segments. 

Providing opportunities for independence, concentration, fine motor skills and sorting all in one!

Enjoy the season! 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Poetry: 'The Cupboard' by Walter de la Mare

Growing up in Sydney suburbia, my maternal Grandma lived around the corner. Literally. Turn the corner and four doors up was her Californian Bungalow home. I loved her home.   The closed in veranda which always seemed to have sand on the patterned tiles. I could never work out where this came from as we didn't live near a beach at all. Her front door was red. A gorgeous letterbox red door with four window panes at the top.

Grandma was bright, cheerful and friendly. She knew everyone. She had snow white hair and mostly wore pastel colours which suited her Irish heritage pale skin tones and blue eyes.  

Whenever my siblings and I visited Grandma, which was mainly on the weekends, we'd go expecting to do a 'job'. This could be anything from sweeping, hanging out some washing, gardening... After doing a 'job' we'd be rewarded with a piece of 'chewy' or some other lolly from her cupboard. I loved visiting 'Gran' and I loved Gran dearly. 

'The Cupboard' by Walter de la Mare which I learnt at speech class, always reminded me of Grandma's cupboard. It had French louvre doors. Medium dark brown. It was as tall as the wall and was quite wide with two doors and spherelike knobs. Due to the positioning in the room, it was quite dark to look into, I think this was its appeal to me and made it all the more interesting and intruging. 

I have just started to teach the children 'The Cupboard'. We did this at the dinner table through the week while they were having dinner. After saying it five or so times, they started to join in with the 'key, key, key' and 'me, me, me'! As with all poems once my three year old has heard them a few times we start to change the words, in this case 'Banbury Cakes' to 'lamingtons' and 'apples'. This is just the thing that sets him off into fits of laughter. Playing with words. 

The Cupboard

I know a little cupboard,
With a teeny tiny key,
And there's a jar of Lollypops,
For me, me, me.

It has a little shelf, my dear,
As dark as dark can be,
And there's a dish of Banbury Cakes,
For me, me, me.

I have a small fat granmamma,
With a very slippery knee,
And she's the Keeper of the Cupboard,
With the key, key, key.

And when I'm very good, my dear
As good as good can be,
There's Banbury Cakes, and Lolly pops, 
For me, me, me!

image: Banbury Cakes guardian.co.uk

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Good Books: World Snack Series, Amy Wilson Sanger

I've learnt an enormous amount about Asian cuisine from my husband who is Singaporean Chinese, prior to our marriage and in an ongoing way in our family life together. I've tried things I never would have tasted otherwise. I love it! My tastebuds certainly do too! 

We have wonderful little board book about Chinese food, "Yum Yum Dim Sum", which I picked up for just 50c in our son's first year. What a treat. It has rhyme, rhythm and attractive montage. The book takes the reader through a yum cha dining experience, from the rolling cart through to taking a sip of oolong tea which is cool enough to drink by the end of the book. This has been a lovely way for me to share a bit of Chinese culinary culture with our children.  

It occurred to me that there might be others in the series. A quick little search turned up six more! Needless to say I ordered some. 

Here are the ones we read often:

"Mangia Mangia" is brimming with warm Italian family food and flavour. From pasta fresca to Babbo's favourite primi and ending with gelato, of course! Gorgeous. When I ask the children which pasta they would like for dinner my son says 'pasta fresca'! Buon appetito!

"Hola Jalaopeño!" is, of course, about Mexican cuisine (which we actually don't have much of in our part of the world, unlike the USA). The montage in this one is very bright and colourful, which makes it very interesting. In this whole series, it's fascinating to see how the artist has illustrated the various foods by adapting paper cut-outs. Buritos, cheese, tacos, all make an appearance with a cold drink at the end. Adios! and enjoy!

"Chaat and Sweets". If "Hola Jalapeño!" was bright, this is brighter! Gorgeous montages of Indian samosas, rose water lassis, pani puri and cham chams. Lucky for the readers there's a pronunciation guide and descriptions of the foods on the back cover.

Sushi is the last one in our series. Adorable. My son's favourite food. We have taken up 'Sushi Tuesdays' in fact, where we make nori maki rolls together. A lovely weekly routine which we thoroughly enjoy. 

Sushi, the book, introduces the readers to take out (take away) tekka maki, miso soup, ikura and naturally wasabi! Chopsticks optional. 

I hope these books whets your appetite and curiosity! 

Enjoy with little ones!


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

On the table: cos, bacon and chickpea salad

Salad leaves are precious things. They look so good in the shop but after a few days, if not stored correctly they start to loose their cool, wilt and become unattractive and then.. uninspiring. 

To overcome this, I buy a small amount only with the view to using them quickly within the day or next day. 

At the greengrocer yesterday, there were some inner leaves of the cos lettuce in the mixed salad section. The best part! The inner leaves make up what's called the 'heart' of the lettuce. Its the heart that is the sweet, crisp and delicious to eat. 

Here's how we enjoyed the fresh cos today with our special guest, my darling sister.

cos lettuce, inner heart leaves
2x bacon short cuts finely diced and fried until crispy
1/2 tin chickpeas, rinsed throughly under water 
3x salad tomatoes, skin cut off and cut 
1x stick of celery, peeled and cut finely
2x gherkins finely cut up
sprinkle of tinned corn for sweetness
boiled eggs

to dress: olive oil and white vinegar
to serve: super fresh 'homemade' loaf from our local bakery
on the side: aioli

The boiled eggs are not in image as this is a practical life activity in itself. The children peel their own egg at the table.


Monday, 22 April 2013

The Library and Good Books

As a new mum, the library provides a wonderful space for little ones and their mums to be, not to mention the benefits of having somewhere lovely to go, which is free!

We began visiting our local library when my son was only months old. We were very lucky, because when we started going - it was brand new - all shiny and sparkling and extremely inviting. We'd spend a good hour there sometimes more, picking up books, reading them together, looking at pictures, lifting up flaps if any, talking about the the size, the weight, anything really. We'd happily leave with a stack of board books tucked in the pram to read further in the comfort of our home. 

Over the years our visits to our local library have not changed. In fact we are now, between ourselves, members of three different council libraries. The children have their own library cards. Aside from the fact there are books for their age, their personal library card gives them a clear message that the library is a space where they can be contributing members. Contributing in the sense that we can request books to be bought if not in the catalogue.

What I have found difficult though is that 'good books' are hard to find. By 'good books' I mean ones that enrich our children's imagination, curiosity and vocabulary. We aim to follow Montessori's principle's of presenting only the appropriate realities of life to the under six. This is due to the study that Maria Montessori conducted that a child under six is unable to distinguish what is fact and what is fiction. By providing the child with a solid reality they are more likely to problem solve much more creatively later on and throughout their life. This is already happening in our home. To read more on this topic click here.  

Bearing this in mind. I shall create an ongoing list of books that we love, that you are most welcome to reference for yourself as a mum, a father, aunty, uncle, grandparent, carer, friend or even neighbour to a young child. I hope you find these helpful.

Here are the first two books in this series. I gifted these to our children two Christmases ago. They are still being read today.

Author Sally Sutton. Illustrator Brian Lovelock

This is an absolute winner when I came across in a bookshop and in fact it really is! A 2009 Picture book category winner in New Zealand.

This was very well received by my then almost two year old son. He absolutely loved the rhythm, rhyme and repetition of the onomatopoeia throughout the book. If he loved it then, he loves it even more now! Now, we talk about what detail is in the picture and question more about the process that is happening and being three its the 'why?' questions.

A wonderful introduction and immersion into the machinery and process in making a road and a fine example of one of those books which you can introduce a child to a age one and over the next few years returning to the book and getting more and more out of it.


Look at you!
Author Kathy Henderson. Illustrator Paul Howard

This is a lovely book for very early readers, by that I mean days or weeks old. It takes the reader through all the exciting developmental stages they enter in the first year or so.

From learning to sit, crawl, pull up and walk right through to daily routines such as eating, bathing, brushing teeth and finishing with sleeping - this book is both delightful and joyful in text and illustrations. 

I first borrowed this from the library and returned it without writing the name down as I intended to get myself a copy. It took months for me to try and remember it!

Next time you are at the library or browsing the bookshop, look out for these treasures and enjoy! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The chicken, the whole chicken...

Not as serious as it sounds.

It's always nice to come home to a warm soup and hot crusty bread on a cold, wet or windy day. There's something so satisfying sipping soup all rugged up with butter melting into hot bread rolls. Even better - when you know you've made the stock and soup yourself. You know what's gone into the stock - yes, chicken, celery, carrot of course, but love. I'm sure you'll agree love makes everything taste better and even look better! 

Good chicken stock needs good chicken bones. I prefer to use chemical free chickens which I can only find as a whole chicken. I used to be daunted by the 'whole chicken'. If I'm not roasting it all at once, what to do? I was a little stuck. Over the last year this is how I've come to make the most of the whole chicken. This ensures there's no waste, some for now and some for later. Freezer options are everyone's best friend when you are tired, sick, stuck for ideas or just want to take it easy. 

Two whole chickens five ways
1. Chicken stock 
cut used: chicken carcass
Made and once cooled can be frozen in many different sized containers according to your preferred use. Our current uses are risotto, soup with pasta and/or vegetables added, liquids to sauces and vegetables.

2. Chicken, vegetable and rice casserole
cut used: 2x legs, 1x breast
A staple freezer find for our children, a variety of fresh greens are added when reheating for colour, bulk and interest.

3. Roast chicken and vegetables
cut used: 2x legs, 4x drumsticks 
Classic. I cook this when it's just for my husband and me.

4. Chicken salad (image to be updated)
cut used: 3x breasts, enjoyed with sisters on this occasion
Poached and once cooled prepared into a sandwich filling or to have with a green salad on the side. Yesterday's combination was made with rocket, royal gala, walnuts, celery, mayonnaise, mustard (seeded adds an additional textured to the salad). 


5. Chicken schnitzel (image to be updated)
cut used: 3x breasts
Cut thinly these can be used as a main course, added to salads or on sandwiches.


The above recipes all provide practical life activities for my children.

The stock and casserole is about gathering, washing and sorting the vegetables and herbs for the pots. 

My son particularly enjoys helping with the schnitzel. The preparation of the chicken before frying using the flour, egg and breadcrumbs follows a set order, which is good for repetition and concentration. And of course the eggy crumby fingers afterwards provide a great sensorial experience washing them at the sink. Any washing up of utensils that happens at the sink as well is good practical life experience.

The chicken salad involves washing of the rocket, celery and apples. Cutting of the walnuts, apples, celery and chicken also provide an opportunity for concentration. Please note: cutting with knives is always a supervised activity.   

The roast chicken and vegetables need oiling up and seasoning, which can also be done by a three year old. Especially a sensory seeking one! 


Note: If you can buy the organic/chemical free chicken, you will be rewarded with a better flavour, more succulent chicken. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Family dinners

My education following school was in hospitality. The course included two years of commercial cookery units - my favourite subject at college. 'Chef' inspired me to cook and to travel. He was Swiss. My goal was to be a hotel manager in a 5 star hotel in Switzerland. I even had a Swiss flag behind my door at home as a reminder. I did end up travelling and working in 5 star hotels at home and in London. Safe to assume I did not become the hotel manager in Switzerland. I left the hospitality industry soon after returning home in my early 20s but the experience nor inspiration has not left me. I love to cook. 

Family dinners are an important meal for us. It's the end of the day conversation in which we discuss the what we did that day, the new things we've learnt, what is coming up, special days and their meanings, celebrations... for my husband and me it's about sharing our news, the children's activities, ideas for around the home, planning... it is also the time of the day where we can relax and enjoy our meal and a glass of wine. 

The days are getting colder. Family dinners call for simple, filling, nourishing and wholesome foods that warm and fill and most importantly involving little helpers as much as possible.

In my next post I'll talk chicken. Yes, really.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Along the way

As a single girl travelling in Europe, and then later with my husband, I found that allowing myself to put away the map occasionally and allowing myself to get lost made way for the discovery of new and unexpected experiences of the ordinary: flowers growing in public gardens and window boxes, produce markets, quaint cafes, galleries, bookshops, second hand shops...that would have otherwise been passed by.

It was the side streets that I enjoyed exploring the most.

Today, we found ourselves in between appointments with some time to spare. It had been raining. I was curious about the neighbouring suburb - so on we drove. What did we find? Three new parks and at the turn around point, a wharf.

A new playground brings a lot of excitement to little ones. I can't help but join in on this buzz and keep up to date with the local parks. Last year we even received a personal letter from our council inviting us to the opening of the newly redeveloped playground with the mayor. We had been keenly watching the diggers and landscapers craft this playground over the previous months.

The parks today sparked conversation about organising a day to return for a play and a picnic.

The wharf provided an opportunity to get out of the car and discuss the different boats we could see, ask about the life saving ring on the wharf and marvel at the ripples on the water's surface caused by the gentle wind. 

Even after all this we still had time to spare before our next appointment.

Easter and fine motor skills

For our afternoon teas throughout Easter we've enjoyed little easter eggs. 

The simple easter egg has provided a lot of activity, independence and satisfaction.

First, carefully choosing which colours from the selection, then unwrapping them slowly and placing the foil in the bowl, all the while developing fine motor skills and concentration. Finally, the chocolate is revealed ready for eating! 

My little 19mo would stretch her arms out with a great sense of achievement... and on her face an expression bursting with happiness! "I did this all by myself!" 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Poetry for the very young. 'The Swing' by Robert Louis Stevenson

Young children love to learn. 

As a young child I went to speech class with my older brother where we would recite poetry and prose for a dear old lady. She was very quaint. I particularly enjoyed going to her home. She lived in 'The Shire' on a corner with her rambling garden and pathway with lots of lovely things to look at - notably the chickens and her mulberry tree. A fish pond with water lilies also, where you had to brush them aside to see the fish. A prize winning garden at one time.

On the outside of her little home was a particular shade of duck egg blue. The inside had the smell of warm porridge just made and interiors decorated in the 1950's style. A wire frame short stool had a fluffy bright pink cushion on top which caught my eye every time. Instead we sat on a wooden church pew and waited our turn to 'stand up tall' and recite our chosen poem and prose that we had been practising through the week. After corrections were made and areas for improvement outlined we would go outside to 'learn' our piece. Following this, we would move to the next room to select a new poem for the week. 

The room next door was her cosy kitchen with an old fuel stove and a checked blue plastic tablecloth covering the wooden table. The poems were kept in an old brown suitcase sitting on the table. The poems had all been typed out using an old style typewriter on thin paper. I could tell how popular poems were by how many pin marks there were in the paper. After careful consideration I'd choose and then take my poem for approval and pinning into my exercise book to take home for copying by hand. 

The lesson would end with breathing exercises. I throughly enjoyed this time of my childhood. 

My three year old son adores poetry. Short, long, silly and serious. He loves the rhythm and rhyme. One of his first words was his version of "butterfly". 

A poem learnt from my childhood, I now recite to him at the park. "The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevenson. 

To my delight on a recent visit to the library I found a board bookversion of this poem. A beautifully illustrated book to take you up and over the wall! Enjoy with your very young or as a gorgeous gift to a newborn! 

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing, 
Up in the air so blue? 
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do! 

Up in the air and over the wall, 
Till I can see so wide, 
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside--

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown--
Up in the air I go flying again, 
Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson 

* a board book is a type of book printed on thick paperboard for little hands to manipulate easily 
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