Adventures with Upcycling: Dining Room Table

Table restoration project

The table after it’s all been cleaned up. The oil, dirt, ink and everything else has been removed. It’s just the drill holes left that really mark it 🙂

So…for the last three years I’ve been eating my meals at an upcycled pink princess table. It’s beautiful, has white wooden legs, and matching white wooden chairs.  It is, as Goldilocks would say, ‘just right’. Of course, things being an issue of perspective, it’s just right if you’re aged 18 months to 4 years. As an adult, it meant sitting on the cold ’70s vinyl flooring which isn’t too bad in summer but was a pain in the arse in winter.

Over time, this requirement to sit on the floor (or perch on a low plastic foot stool) began to understandably pall. This was assisted by the fact that Miss 3 is very tall for her age (currently around 103cm) and prefers to stand / be in movement when eating (depending on what kind of sensory / ASD day she is having). The princess table had suddenly become a bit inadequate for her.

The quest began to try and find a table that would fit into our teeny tiny kitchen on our teeny tiny budget achieved by selling some old gardening stuff out of my parent’s garage. I lament my country’s lack of IKEA as I probably could have found something brilliant there! I scoured websites and secondhand listings for something that couldn’t really be bigger than 75cm square. It looked like I wasn’t going to find anything that would fit the space and our budget.

They say God moves in mysterious ways. Apparently, this includes ancient formica tables who’s retro orange perfectly matches the ’70s lino.  Driving along with Miss 3, I spotted an abandoned table by the side of the road not far from home. It would be exciting to suggest it had been shot up in some kind of Wild West saloon; the reality (based on the dirt and oil) was that it had been based in someone’s garage workshop before being deemed a waste of space.

One’s man’s waste is another man’s treasure (and other such common sayings). By dint of great effort (and demonstrating to Miss 3 the importance of perseverance, grit, and treating the car like a giant jigsaw puzzle), it was eventually carried home. More jigsaw puzzling finally squeezed it into the kitchen.

After the initial wipe down, it’s had multiple cleanings with Jiff, water, fly spray, and antibacterial spray. It looks much improved and the old wooden chair in the bedroom with clothes dumped on it, although a bit rickety, fits it just right. It turns out there’s a matching one, in unknown condition, squirreled away in the back of my parent’s garage; Mum had rung about it only this morning so it’s a happy coincidence to find a table to go with it!

I have to say I’m quite fond already of this dinged up orange table; it’s faced it’s challenges and come through as a survivor – just like us. It also allows me to sit with my laptop and a cup of tea while supervising Miss 3 in our rickety fenced little lawn; I don’t have the words to express what a dramatic improvement this is to sitting in the , doorway with a blanket wrapped around me to avoid shivering in the breeze!

I’m open to suggestions on how to proceed with the table. It’s clearly suffered some water damage underneath and I wonder how best to preserve it. I thought I’d set the dehumidifer running tonight. I wonder whether to get some sort of wood stain or polish to rub over it, or whether I should paint over it?

Thoughts?

Table restoration project

The under side of the table has clearly suffered water damage.

Table restoration project

Hmm, what to do about the underneath?

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Easy Carrot Cake

Best Ever Carrot Cake

Chelsea Sugar’s Best Ever Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a delicious winter cake. It’s a great way to use up those extra carrots (while they’re cheap and plentiful) and get some warmly sweet spiced cake into lunchboxes or afternoon tea. My inspiration for the recipe is this Best Ever Carrot Cake which I’ve amended to add in some different micro-nutrients; also, swapping from nuts to seeds makes it suitable for childcare and schools with no-nut policies.

Carrot cake with seeds and ancient grains

Delicious carrot cake with seeds and ancient grains.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch Allspice
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar or raw coconut sugar
  • 200g grated carrot
  • ½ cup sultanas or raisins
  • 2 tsp ground chia seeds
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp Hubbards Seeds and Ancient Grains Toppers
    • or, a mix (as desired) of coconut thread, linseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, puffed quinoa.
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup rice bran oil or canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Allergies: dairy free, soy free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C bake (160°C fan-forced). Grease a 23cm cake tin (6cm deep) and line with baking paper.
  2. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.
  3. Add carrot, sultanas, ground chia seeds, and coconut + seed mix and stir until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, oil and vanilla.
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
  6. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cooked (when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean). Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes then remove from the cake tin and peel away the paper.
  7. Optional: make cream cheese icing to decorate.

 

Cream Cheese Icing

  • 50g butter, softened
  • 125g cream cheese, chopped
  • 1½ cups Icing Sugar

Cream Cheese Icing
Beat butter and cream cheese together until combined. Stir in Chelsea Icing Sugar, then beat mixture on high speed until light and fluffy.

Mushroom melt burgers

Mushroom melt burgers

Mushroom melt burgers

Grilled mushrooms with melted cheese make a quick and easy vegetarian meal.

Ingredients

  • Portobello mushrooms (or similar big fleshy mushrooms)
  • Piquant easy-melt cheese (like goat cheese or blue cheese)
  • Fresh salad ingredients (like sliced tomato, grated carrot, baby spinach, lettuce, sliced beetroot, watercress, mungbeans, sliced cucumber).
  • Hamburger bun, brioche bun, gluten-free wrap or bun.

Cheese

If goat cheese seems too…well, goaty, consider a goat-buffalo cheese blend. Similarly, if blue cheese seems too strong consider a creamy mild blue cheese. Alternatively, use a strong tasty or colby cheese + grated parmesan and mozzarella!

For dairy free / soy free / vegan cheese consider: Daiya or Angel Food

Burger buns

If allergies aren’t an issue, there a range of burger buns to choose from, or go up-scale and use a brioche bun. For gluten-free (or soy free) then you may want to use a gluten free bun or wrap. You can also skip the bun (and substitute rice or beans) and tell your child (or yourself) that you’re simply having a super fancy ‘deconstructed’ burger.

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

Directions

  1. Prepare your salad ingredients.
  2. Grill the mushrooms and cheese.
  3. Assemble your burger. Add dressings (like sauces and mustard) if desired.

Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

Baked Chicken & Peaches

Baked Chicken and Peaches.jpg

Baked Chicken and Peaches

This is a great dish to make in summer when fresh peaches are cheap; I made it recently on a dark Autumn day with the skies full of rain – tinned peaches work just as well and bring a bright note to the day!

It takes very little time too mix up and put in the oven; combine it with some vegetables and instant mashed potatoes for a quick meal that is also toddler / child friendly!

(FYI I buy plain potato flakes from a bulk buy store rather than buying boxed instant mashed potato from the supermarket.)

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (boned & skinned)
  • 1/3c brown sugar
  • 1 peach / 1/3 of a 400g tin of peaches
  • 2 pinches of ground ginger
  • 1 pinch allspice or ground cloves
  • 1/2T lemon juice

Optional

  • Superfine white rice flour or cornflour (corn starch) to make gravy.
  • Potato flakes + boiling water + rice bran oil + salt + almond milk to make mashed potatoes.
  • Broccoli.

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

Note: The recipe will also work well for larger amounts just double or triple the ingredients based on the number of chicken breasts you are cooking.

Directions

  1. Take a pyrex baking dish and put in the brown sugar.
  2. Put in the chicken breasts (turning them to coat them in sugar).
  3. Lay slices of peaches over the chicken breasts.
  4. Sprinkle the ground ginger, allspice, and lemon juice over the chicken and peaches.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at 180’C for approx. 30 minutes. Baste regularly with the chicken juices. Cover in tinfoil if needed.
  6. Optional: After removing the chicken and peaches, whisk in some superfine white rice flour (or cornflour) to make a sweet gravy.
  7. Optional: Serve with steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Homemade BBQ sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce

My daughter’s sensitivities means that we’re following an RPAH Failsafe exclusion of all additives most likely to cause adverse reactions; combine that with her soy allergy and it rules out commercially made sauces. I recently started making mayonnaise and wanted to branch out into BBQ sauce to go with wedges and grilled meatballs 🙂

Ingredients

  • 1/2 diced shallot (or 1 tsp onion powder)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
    • (210g tin)
  • 3 – 4 Tbspn apple cider vinegar + 1/2 tsp citric acid
    • Alternatively, replace the apple cider vinegar + citric acid with 1/4 cup lemon juice.
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
    • (300g tin)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp garlic granules (or garlic salt)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp allspice

 

Directions

  1. If using a shallot, dice finely and saute in a large pot in neutral oil (i.e. rice bran oil). Note: onion powder will make a smoother sauce than the shallots but can be tricky to find!
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until well mixed.
  3. Heat on a medium heat and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Then turn heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for an additional 15 minutes.

Tip: This bubbles and spits a lot while cooking (and it’s hot!). Keep small children away while cooking and choose a pot with a lid. I ended up holding the lid with one hand and stirring with the other!

Tip: You can adjust the flavour to suit as this starts to thicken. You may like more sugar, or more acid tang, or to add chilli.

Homemade BBQ sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce

Making a drawstring bag

 

Making a drawstring bag

Making a drawstring bag for marbles

Making a drawstring bag is a fun and easy project to do with kids! I still remember the soft nubby green cloth of the drawstring bag of marbles my brother and I shared as kids. I wanted to make something similar for Miss 3 and gaining access to a sewing machine at kindy seemed like a great opportunity.

There is an easy project to follow in this book by Jane Bull, My Sewing Machine. I didn’t think to look so I actually designed my own project for this bag. My daughter’s sensory sensitivities mean she doesn’t like being in the same room as the sewing machine when it’s operating but she likes looking at the sewing book and she liked helping me with the pattern, cutting, and pinning.

Making a drawstring bag (for marbles)

Materials

  • Paper, sellotape, pencil
  • Fabric
  • Cord or ribbon
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Chalk / fabric pencil
  • Scissors (paper, fabric, pinking)
  • Safety pin

Tip: Shop around to find good prices for fabric. Sometimes you’ll find fabric in unexpected places – I bought a giant polyester fleece blanket for NZD$3 / USD$2. It was perfect for making a drawstring bag for marbles (though I wouldn’t use it to make a dress).

Design

I made up a design template using paper, scissors sellotape, and pencil. I could see there were two different ways of approaching the bag and decided to have the fold at the bottom and seams up the sides; this results in the cord being on on two sides (instead of one) which I thought would be easier for Little Miss.

Making a paper template

Making a paper template for the drawstring bag

Once I’d worked out the design, and order of sewing seams, I transferred the template into the fabric. My fabric pencil didn’t work on the fleece but chalk did 🙂

Fabric cut and pinned for the drawstring bag

Fabric cut and pinned

I kept my seams about 1.5cm from the edges, allowed plenty of space for the cord, and made sure the fabric was ‘wrong side’ facing out (not as important with this fleece but good practice).

Sewing the bag

I made sure the threads were all set up and then my sewing order was:

  1. Sew short end (for cord).
  2. Sew other short end (for cord).
  3. Loop silky cord through safety pin. Miss 3 loved helping wriggle the silver fish (safety pin) through the ‘tunnel’. We did that on both sides and then I tied the loose ends.
  4. Sew each of the long sides. I started with a curve at the bottom and then went up to the drawstring (enough to just go over that seam but not go over the cord). Then I turned the fabric around and did a small zig-zag back to reinforce.
  5. The nice thing with this fabric is that I didn’t need to hem or worry about fraying like I werewolf with cotton. I did use the pinking shears to cut the bottom corners off (being careful of the curved corners I’d stitched).

    Drawstring bag sewn (wrong side facing out)

    Inside the bag

  6. Turn bag right side out!

    How to make a drawstring bag!

    Drawstring bag for marbles

Bag of marbles

Next week we can go on a treasure hunt expedition to buy marbles for the bag we made!

Learning to sew

A step by step beginner's guide to sewing

A step by step beginner’s guide to sewing

I recently gained access to a sewing machine. My previous experiences were the 10 lessons we did as a class, decades ago, when I was in Intermediate School. My Nana was a dressmaker and money is tight so I’d love to learn a new skill.

I decided my best approach, since I don’t have a mentor, was to look through the local library. I found a brilliant book by Jane Bull, My Sewing Machine. It’s a step-by-step guide for beginners, ostensibly for 8-12 year olds since it was in the children’s section, with lots of photos and easy projects. It explains the different parts of the sewing machine and how to thread it.

Setting up the sewing machine probably seems really simple if you’re familiar with one but it’s not intuitive for me. There are a lot of steps, compared to hand sewing, and forgetting one of them leads to catastrophe! (Not really, but it can cause a lot of frustration as the needle just tattoos holes in the fabric or the threads turn into a tangled cat’s ball).

The sewing machine is located at our lovely new kindy. I had a pair of fascinated 4 year olds avidly watching my every step (no pressure!). It’s actually a nice learning experience for the kids being able to talk to them about how I don’t know how to use it and that we can work it out together. It’s not just about teaching them how to sew, it’s teaching them the process of learning. I’m talking with them about going to the library, following the instructions in the book, and asking for help when I can’t work out something myself.

Thankfully, one of the student teachers is a sewer; I’ve been able to run to her for help a few times when everything’s turned to custard!

Chinese Pork Koftas (grilled meatballs)

Chinese Pork Koftas

Chinese Pork Koftas

I’m always looking for new ways to tempt Miss 3 to eat her protein.  She took great delight in helping me make these and enjoyed eating them too. I’ve made simmered soft meatballs in passata, grilled meatballs, and these pork koftas are a bit of a twist on something that would commonly use Middle Eastern spices. The great thing about these is that you can easily experiment with different spices and vegetables that you have to hand!

Ingredients

  • 500g pork mince
  • 2 Tbsp quinoa powder / rice flour / plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • generous pinch salt
  • 2 -3 tsp chopped Chinese chives
  • handful green runner beans (finely chopped)
  • 1 – 2 tsp Chinese five spice
  • Optional: vegetables to skewer.
    • I used Swiss Brown Mushrooms that I’d picked up cheaply at a farmer’s market but you could use eggplant cubes, juicy capsicum, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, peeled garlic etc.
  • Optional: sesame seeds to garnish
  • Neutral oil (I use rice bran oil)

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

Directions

  1. Soak the bamboo skewers in water while preparing the mince. (A wide shallow bowl or the kitchen sink will both work). Soaking up the water helps keep the skewers from burning in the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200’C these would also work well on the BBQ.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together.
  4. Form little meatballs. You can either push the skewer through these or wrap them around the skewer.
  5. Alternate meatballs and vegetables.
  6. Baste with oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes (turning halfway through) or until the pork is cooked through.
  8. Serve with a spiced plum dipping sauce and steamed rice.

Tip: Kids will love helping make these. If you don’t want your toddler having their hands in raw meat (I didn’t!), put them in charge of handing you the skewers and sprinkling the sesame seeds.

Chinese Pork Koftas with spiced plum sauce and steamed coconut rice

Chinese Pork Koftas with spiced plum sauce and steamed coconut rice