Discovering Spring – Flower Press and Life Cycles Box (ExperisenseNZ review)

I love the ExperisenseNZ Life Cycles box which I purchased for $27. I was inspired by our annual Spring unit on seasonal cycles, growing food and flowers in the garden, and observing garden mini-beasts. We were thrilled to watch the hard work we had done earlier in the year, creating new wildflower beds to support our favourite pollinators, burst into colourful bloom.

We wanted to preserve some of our flowers and were excited at the idea of buying a flower press to create seasonal art and gifts. A classic press seems to cost around $24 so I was thrilled to get the ExperisenseNZ kit which comes with a flower press and a number of additional activities.

What is the life cycle of a sunflower?

We love sunflowers with their stately and colourful beauty. It’s also fun being able to harvest their seeds; either to dry and sow again, or, to feed to the birds in Autumn.

The kit comes with a laminated life cycle wheel for discussing the sunflower’s life cycle stages. It also comes with a generous amount of sunflower seeds and some compostable pots to get you started.

Tip: Seedlings make great Christmas gifts!

What is a butterfly life cycle?

We made marbled paper and then followed the instructions in the kit to make a beautiful butterfly life cycle. Our wall poster shows the stages from egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon (or pupae), to butterfly.

Tip: Spring is a great time of year to consider growing Swan Plants to watch the Monarch Butterfly life cycle in action!

What is a ladybug life cycle?

What I like about the kit including both Butterfly and Lady Bug life cycles is that the two insects look quite different to each other in their stages. They also differ in what they eat! For instance, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar will eat a huge number of milkweed leaves; whereas, a Ladybug larve will voraciously eat aphids, tiny worms, and insect eggs.

We liked the rainbow foil print on this life cycle so much that we decided to laminate it and add it to our resource collection (rather than use it for a paper plate craft).

How to press flowers

We very much enjoyed using our flower press! We used our pressed flowers to make beautiful bookmarks.

Tip: Gather a variety of flowers on a sunny dry morning. Check flowers for dewdrops (moisture will impact the drying process). Avoid flowers that are very bulky i.e. cut the tips from lavender or choose rose petals rather than a whole rose. Remember that wild flowers, like oxalis, can be as beautiful dried as garden grown.

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

ExperisenseNZ

#1 Exploring Maths through Art

#2 Exploring Space through Art

#3 Exploring the Human Body through Art

#4 Exploring Science through Experiments

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

#3 Discover France

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

Apple Nut Muffins

Apple Nut Muffins

Apple Nut Muffins

These sweet treats are high in natural goodness and fruit fibres, do not contain refined sugar, and contain valuable trace minerals from the almond, brazil, and cashew nut butter.

There are a few different ways that you can make this recipe and I have endeavoured to include options without over-cluttering. Keep in mind when subbing ingredients whether it will impact the recipe overall; i.e. coconut oil or butter will solidify in cold temperatures and hold a gluten free version together better than rice bran oil; using almond meal rather than flour will give a substantially different texture. Similarly, you can create a different texture by mashing the banana by hand + grating the apple; (for our family a smooth texture is imperative for sensory reasons).

For three energetic young taste testers, I made these containing gluten but free from soy, dairy, and egg. Feel free to adapt the recipe so that it works for you and your family.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour + 30g fine instant oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 ripe bananas (= 150g frozen sliced banana)
  • 2 apples peeled and quartered (= 350g intact apples)
  • 1/4 cup Almond Brazil Cashew nut butter (or almond butter).
  • 2 tsp Orgran egg replacer + 4 Tbsp water
    • OR: 2 flax eggs
    • OR: 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil (melted)
    • OR: 2 Tbsp rice bran oil
    • OR: 2 Tbsp butter (soft)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Optional: 1 tsp cinnamon

Allergies: This recipe can be made gluten free, soy free, dairy free, egg free, peanut free. Contains tree nuts.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease a muffin tray or cupcake liners.
  2. In a food processor, blend the banana and apple until smooth. (If you prefer a rougher texture, grate the apple instead and mix in at the end).
  3. Add the egg replacer (or eggs), coconut oil, ABC nut butter, and maple syrup. Pulse to combine.
  4. Add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), and apple cider vinegar. Gently pulse to combine.
  5. Spoon your batter into the muffin trays and place in preheated oven.
  6. Cook for about 35 minutes. Check after 25 minutes (you may want to add tinfoil as a cover for the remainder).
  7. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

How do I make my bread light and fluffy?

Musings on baking bread

Musings on baking bread

I’ve written previously about ‘Everything you wanted to know about baking bread‘ and it occurred to me today that it’s a little more process driven than ingredient focused. My journey making bread began because my daughter’s allergies precluded me buying bread (unless I wanted to pay $10 a loaf!). For a long time, I was making all our bread by hand which I found restrictive and time consuming (combined with the level of special needs care she required). I later moved, very happily so, to a Panasonic Bread Maker. That allowed me a little more time to experiment with ingredients and research.

I gave serious contemplation to buying a sourdough starter (sourdough is much easier to digest than commercial bread) but my daughter doesn’t like the tangy taste. I researched ways to make the bread I was feeding my daughter more nutritious. I also made myself more aware of the chemistry involved and how different ingredients impact hydration ratios and rising.

Supermarket bread is essentially refined white flour (so basic starch) with a token amount of other ingredients potentially added; Julian Lee wrote an excellent article in 2018 revealing commercial bread-making processes in New Zealand. At home, you can start with high grade (or strong) white flour but add extra nutrition into the mix.

Whole Wheat

If you can afford to buy stone-ground whole wheat flour then you can make some pretty fine bread. If you’re shopping at the supermarket then it’s sufficient to be aware that the wheat kernel is made up of bran (fiber), the germ (protein and nutrition), and the endosperm (a starchy tissue). You can probably guess which part white flour is made from!

At the supermarket you can buy strong white flour and also buy bags of wheat bran and wheat germ. Not only do these have different nutritional profiles but these also have different impacts on the properties of your bread. Wheat bran has a drying quality and may require additional hydration. Wheat germ will naturally make your bread moister and fluffier.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to make a loaf entirely of white flour. When baking, I usually have 70-80% of my ‘flour’ made up of white flour and then use a range of dry ingredients to make up the weight. This equates to 350-400g of white flour and 50-100g of other flours and seeds.

Wholemeal Spelt Flour

Wholemeal spelt flour has a high nutritional profile and is easier to digest. It also has less gluten so will produce a denser loaf and may require guar gum to help it bind.

Wholegrain Kamut Flour

Like spelt, kamut flour is lower in gluten and easier to digest. It’s a brand name for khorasan wheat and is an older variety of wheat. There have been small studies performed which suggest that kamut flour has health benefits (over standard flour) and may help to reduce certain inflammation markers. It’s important to remember that one of it’s other benefits is that it is an organic wholegrain flour (as opposed to highly refined bleached white flour).

Ground Linseed – Sunflower – Almond (LSA)

Whole seeds can make a loaf dense and the texture doesn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not necessary to pour heaps of whole seeds into your bread dough. You can add plenty of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids just by adding 2 Tablespoons of ground seeds to your bread dough.

Popular powerhouses of nutrition include linseed (flaxseed), sunflower seeds, almonds, and chia seeds. Quinoa is another but I found even small amounts of quinoa flour to have a noticeable taste in the bread.

You might like to rotate different seeds in order to vary your nutritional profile. The cheapest and easiest option is to alternate between ground LSA and ground chia seeds.

Gluten Free Grains

One of my favourite ways of making multi-grain bread is to use Red Mill Gluten Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal. If you’re picturing a cereal box with some puzzlement, it’s actually a mix of freshly milled whole grain brown rice, corn, buckwheat and sorghum. It’s a handy way of adding a broader nutritional profile to the loaf and is so finely milled that it doesn’t overwhelm the loaf. It’s weight-dense so you only need a small amount; it still produces a fluffy loaf and is incorporated into the texture without being obtrusive.

 

 

 

Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

In my case, I have a child with multiple allergies (from grass pollen, to dust mites, to food), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autism (with associated digestive / gut issues), so anything I can include in her diet that helps with inflammation is great!

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

 

Making Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

How to make Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

Have a Ka Pai Kiwi Christmas!

I posted last year about how easy it is to make your own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I love that personalizing them means that you have full creative license to create different themes each year. Last year, we did a Christmas theme for the visual aesthetic and I hand decorated wooden beads (my daughter still has them!). This year I thought I would celebrate New Zealand’s summer with an ocean theme as well as changing the gifts inside to match Miss 3’s interests (she has autism and adores things in miniature).

Ingredients 

  • Cracker snaps
  • Cardboard tubes (inner tubes from paper towels are perfect,  just cut in half).
  • Your choice of cracker filling.
  • Blue crepe paper
  • Shells
  • Twine
  • Sellotape
  • Scissors
  • Super glue (or glue gun)

Note: Davids Emporium  sells cracker snaps for 30 cents each just ask at the sales counter.

For the inside, I did little plastic bags containing: Christmas joke, stickers, and a miniature Christmas cookie / Christmas pudding etc. These will inevitably get gifted to Miss 3 for her dollhouse 🙂  They are adorable and were a wonderful find in the button / crafts section, again at  Davids Emporium.

Directions

  1. Take a cracker snap and place it inside in your tube (it should stick out each end with a comfortable amount to pull on). Lightly sellotape it at each end to hold in place.
  2. Assemble your cracker filling and slide it into the tube. I put mine in a tiny sealed plastic bag.
  3. Roll the tube in crepe paper and tie at each end with twine;  make sure that you have enough paper at each end to cover the cracker snap that is sticking out & to comfortably pull it.  Super glue (or glue gun) on the sea shells.

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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?

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.