Garden exploration

Two of my uni subjects crossed over quite nicely last semester, Primary Science and Health and Wellbeing. Both involved getting out and about outside to enhance student’s connection with the world around them. For my assignments, I did a number of teaching activities that involved my kiddies and their friends, incorporating literature with outdoor activities for Prep-aged children.

Amazingly, a lot of the things we did have stuck – which is really satisfying for me! Bug collection has become a big one in our family, and probably the highlight has been finding praying mantises. I really feel that it’s helping my two with their fear of creepy crawlies. Making collections is another, and we now have a permanent “nest” by the front door where all our goodies are deposited.

There’s nothing like being outdoors, and the kiddies just seemed to get so absorbed in whatever they do, whether that be sweeping leaves, digging to China, extracting toys from blocks of ice or looking for birds through their toilet roll binoculars.

Recently we made bird feeders from old cartons. I cut out the windows, and my two decorated them with stickers. We hunted around the garden for appropriate sticks, filled them with seed and hung them in the trees. Applying the stickers, cutting the string, and spooning the seed were all fantastic fine motor skill activities. We also discussed recycling and repurposing, as well as what birds like to eat.

img_0446img_0450img_0452img_0453There’s something lovely about having an addition to our garden routine. As well as checking on the worm farm, looking for vegies, inspecting the fairy garden, and watering, we can now also check bird seed levels!

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8 months

So… ahem… this is my first posting in 8 months. That’s embarrassing.

The general life juggle has been tough this year. Looking back, uni was easier to balance with a baby. Toddlers are WAY harder. I look back at baby time with envy. A big thankyou goes out to everyone who has helped me in any way possible. You know who you are, and you are fabulous.

Semester 1 was hard because I had a four-week prac. Throwing myself into full-time work for a month was difficult. Difficult on me, and difficult on the kids. They didn’t show it, because THEY HAD A BALL with Grandma and Grandpa, but Adella still talks about “that time that Mummy had to go to work”. It’s not an easy expectation on anyone to flip life on its head, let alone kids under 4!

Semester 2 was the worst because Arlo gave up napping. His naptime was my magic time, where I had a chance to completely focus. And then it slowly starting slipping from my grasp. I held on for as long as I could, but there’s only so much time you can waste forcing a child to nap. I took a deep breath and let it go. But this reduced my alone time to 45 mins, when the kiddies watched TV. That is not long. Evenings, you say? Yeah, my brain has pretty much shut down by 8pm. That made the 7.30-9pm weekly seminars pretty tough. Thank goodness they were audio only, and not video. I wonder how many other mums were surviving by sipping on a sav blanc?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m really enjoying my degree. I’m learning so much, and I absolutely loved my prac in Prep, and had a great time with my random teachings throughout the rest of the year.

So here I am, late at night, with my Four Pillars, bopping to my fave music, simply reflecting.

I have this overwhelming sense of having not done anything this year, which is completely untrue. I’ve taken the two kids to swimming, Chinese playgroup and kinder x2 every week, not to mention a gazillion playdates with our awesome friends. I’ve cooked meals most nights. I’ve done kids art projects. I’ve read more picture books that I could possibly ever count. It’s just my to-do list kept growing. And that to-do list is the things that are ‘me’. That’s what I’ve let go of in order to see this study year out.

I have no idea how anyone who studies, has kids and works as well can do it. My mind boggles. You are absolutely incredible.

 

I handed in my last assignment a few days ago, and since then, I’ve been on an almost-adrenelin-type-high… overwhelmed by the opportunity to do things. I’ve sorted clothes. Cleaned the shed (and taught the kids what red-back spiders look like). Gardened. Run. Sewed. Today alone I made a dress-up, fixed another, and made two pairs of pj pants.

Thank goodness our oven is broken or I may have made 6 cakes by now.

Though, I did make a steamed pudding.

I’ve also kept a list of things I have done with the kids that I meant to post. They will come. But I might have to sew a little bit more first. 😉

 

Tigereye Tomato Tart

Now this was a lovely gardening surprise! These little beauties grew from some great little seedlings that I bought from Bunnings. It’s a trailing tomato plant, and I unfortunately planted my tomato plants too close together, so I have to pretty much climb into the plants to pick them! When I plant these again next Spring, I think they’d do really well along the edge of my garden beds.

They are so super-dooper pretty. And delicious. And juicy.

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After picking them I put them in this little pie dish, just because it was the right size, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about tarts.

I wanted to keep the tomatoes as ‘the hero of the dish’ as they’d say on Masterchef. So, I whipped up a Stephanie Alexander pastry (see below), briefly baked it, threw on the tomatoes, some fresh basil, dollops of ricotta and S&P.

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When it popped out of the oven, I gave it a quick drizzle with fancy olive oil.

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So good. So I made it again. Then next night!


Taken from Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion, pg 965

Polenta crust:

  • 3/4 cup fine polenta
  • 115g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 75g butter
  • 1/2 cup cream

Mix the polenta, flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor. Add butter and process until the butter pieces are pea-sized. Add cream until dough comes together. Refridgerate until needed (at least 30 mins).

This made enough for two tarts. The recipe is designed for a ‘closed’ pie, so it didn’t need blind-baking. However, because of my tart-style, I pricked the base with a fork and blind-baked it for about 10 mins, then added the filling and baked it for another 15-20 minutes or so.

Also, because of the juiciness of my tomatoes, I cut them and left them to drain on some muslin cloth for a while before constructing the tart.


I have plenty more tomatoes. If you have any recommended recipes, let me know!

 

 

My fave … of 2014

It’s nice to look back and reflect…

My fave recipe book: Save with Jamie (and fave recipe inside is chicken stew with dumplings).

My fave dessert: Donna Hay’s Chocolate Meringue Cake (DH Issue 74 APR/MAY 2014).

My fave savoury dish: Donna Hay’s Asian Meatballs (DH Issue 74 APR/MAY 2014) – yes, this edition is amazing. Followed closely by her Lamb and Sumac Sausage Rolls (DH Issue 77 OCT/NOV 2014).

My fave read: The girl with the all the gifts – Mike Carey.

My fave TV shows: Wentworth, House of Cards.

My fave movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My fave tea: Tlicious, black tea with cinnamon.

My fave blog: Monkeys and Mooncakes.

My fave garden success: Black Tuscan Kale.

My fave DIY project: re-painting a second-hand plant stand.

My fave baby product: Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo (so I could shower in peace).

My fave toddler product: Tupperware’s ‘Sandwich Keeper Plus’ Lunchbox.

My fave shop: Invite Me on Anderson St, Yarraville.

My fave cafe: Butcher 128 (Robert St, Yarraville).

My fave entertaining-for-the-kiddies cafe: Jellybread (Barkly St, Footscray).

My fave take-away: Hard choice between Grill’d and Fish & Chips on Geelong Rd near Yarraville.

My fave place for a drink: Lady Moustache (Seddon).

My fave clothes shop: Pash, in Pt. Fairy

My fave useful purchase: 2nd hand chest freezer (I love being able to make big batches of things and have spares in the freezer, especially for the kiddies). Thankyou IWBSS!

My fave pretty, but unnecessary, purchase: 6 vintage teacups with saucers. Thankyou IWBSS!

My fave parenting moment: Having two children finally sleep through the night. Ahhh….

What are your faves for the year?

Losing the afternoon nap

This has probably been my hardest parenting hurdle. For a few short months, I had blissful afternoons. With both munchkins snoozing for about two hours at the same time, I could do the chores in peace, bake, waste time on social media and drink as many HOT cups of tea as I liked. It was even possibly to occasionally have a nap myself!

But no more…

I started to realise that when the two-year-old munchkin had a long arvo kip, she was up at all hours of the night singing and talking. Suddenly my great 12-hour sleeper was one no more.

But afternoon naps?? What about MY time???

This was why it was the hardest parenting decision. I consulted all my friends who have older kiddies and gathered ideas. As one of the wise mums at playgroup pointed out, it’s psychologically difficult for the stay-at-home parent – in practice, it’s just another step. Another step up that parenting ladder.

So this is what we did:

  • I explained to big munchkin that sometimes Mummy is busy and has to do some things by herself. At that time, it can be her ‘quiet time’.
  • We changed her cot into a bed, so that she can get in and out as she pleases. Just in case she wants an arvo nap.
  • We bought a CD player and I burnt a whole lot of kids CDs. I taught her how to use it herself.
  • We put pretty lights up in her room for a bit of fun and ambiance.
  • We made an ikea hack learning tower so she can help me with dinner prep.
  • All her crafty things (play-doh, stickers, pencils, paper, etc) are accessible, so she can help herself.

1653982_10153482233410021_6623177047601381177_nAnd does it work?

As with everything, sometimes yes and sometimes no. I probably get at least 30-45 mins (but sometimes longer if I’m lucky) each arvo when she plays quietly in her room. Every now and again (once a week or fortnight) she might have a snooze – not always in bed (see photo below)! When nothing is working, the garden usually does. And I still get wifi in the backyard.

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I also try to be very hands-on in the morning, so she seems more accepting of my personal time in the afternoons. I think I’m also better at getting my chores done super-efficiently: multiple loads of washing don’t get hung out until they’re all washed, dishes get done and the dishwasher gets (un)packed whilst the two of them are eating lunch and tidying up happens whilst we play!

What happens when the next one stops napping??? EEK! That’s something for future Sof to worry about.

If you have any other good ‘quiet time’ activities that have worked for you… please comment below.

Baby on the Great Wall (BJ Bucket List #2)

We had a great recommendation from a friend to stay at Great Wall Fresh. We were picked up by Mr. Chen’s lovely son in a very comfy car from line 13 subway and we cruised past the touristy Badaling, and soon found ourselves in a lovely Chinese village called Chenjiapu.

The accommodation was great, and all of the food was fresh from the garden, cooked by Mrs. Chen. Adella enjoyed Chinese mantou for the first time.

We unfortunately stayed on a very foggy day, but we were so glad to have clean fog rather than smog. So, it ended up being quite a mysterious hike along the wall. Because of the fog and having the little one with us, we did their “easy” hike, but it was still a solid three hours, and we kept up quite a pace! The Wall was highly variable, with weather-eroded turrets, and some pieces of complete wall, whilst other bits had completely disappeared.

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We’ve been to a number of parts of the wall in our six years (Sancha, Jiankou, Simatai, Jinshanling, Badaling{bleh}), and I would highly recommend Great Wall Fresh to anyone looking for a Chinese homestay-style Great Wall getaway. If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below.

My little garden

I’m often dreaming of a garden from my concrete-enclosed apartment, especially after having such a big backyard in Adelaide! I miss spontaneous pancake breakfasts on the BBQ outside. I miss hammocks. I miss the avocados that dropped over the fence from next door. I miss my yellow deck chairs.

So, I’m trying my best to keep a little bit of green in my apartment. It’s a little sad that the compound we live in only has a carpark. I’d swap it any day for a nice big piece of lawn. That said, last weekend we found ourselves in Chaoyang Park having a lovely picnic in the sunshine. So, it’s not all that bad.

From L-R: Okra, thai basil, lemongrass, oregano, orchid, rosemary, basil, random plant, mint. Plus, hanging cactus.

Back: random lettuce, eggplant, chilli; Front: tomato plants from Tara 

This is the jungle of wet washing and trees that is my bedroom balcony!

Autumn is on it’s way. There’s a chance that I might lose a lot of this in the two weeks where we have no heating in November. Fingers crossed they make it through!

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