Monday, March 16, 2015

The journey from unschooling to school

Playing at Auckland Zoo.
A while back I mentioned that I was captivated by the idea of unschooling and was planning to test how it went with L.

L turned five in September last year, which is the age that most Kiwi kids start school. By that time, we had been playing around with the idea of unschooling for most of a year and knew that there were upsides to doing it for a little bit longer, but that ultimately L would be better off in school.

In New Zealand, children are eligible for 20 hours of free preschool education until they are six-years-old, which is a big part of the reason why we delayed starting L at school when she turned five.

We were able to continue L at her excellent preschool for three days a week, which gave her access to friends, arts and crafts, toys and other teaching resources. It also left us with two week days to go on family adventures and do activities like gymnastics and swimming.

I loved the freedom and flexibility we had with this approach. We could go on family holidays whenever they suited our family, rather than waiting for school holidays. If it was a nice day, we could head to the beach or the zoo. It was a lovely, relaxed time for our family.

However, I came to realise that I am not passionate about teaching, so L was going to miss out on learning if I kept her at home for much longer.

I think to do unschooling well, you need to be able to prioritise it above other things. But for me, housework and cooking always come first.

I find it hard to sit down and read stories,  play games or do puzzles with the kids when the house is a mess. And with kids home all day, the house is always a mess. The three days when L and S were at preschool were my sanity days, as they gave me time to properly clean the house and get a bit of breathing space in my day.

Being a 50/50 introvert/extrovert, I need alone time to recharge my batteries. So having kids around all the time is incredibly draining for me. Once L turns six, those three pre-school days come to an end and I would never get that much-needed down-time.

I also realised that I didn't want to be the only/biggest teaching influence in L's life. I see L one way - through my eyes. And often my insights into her are wrapped up in how I see myself, how I think she reflects on me as a parent, how I was parented, etc, and those aren't always good things. I don't want to unconsciously damage or limit L by my own preconceived notions.

I like the idea of her being mentored and taught by a variety of different teachers throughout her school life. Teachers who are passionate about teaching, who know how to teach, and who will not take things so personally when they go right or wrong.

For all these reasons, we enrolled L to start school at the beginning of this year. We decided it would be beneficial for her to have a full Year 1 (instead of waiting till she was six and starting her in Term 3). This gives her a full year with the same teacher and classmates.

The first couple of weeks were a shock to the system for L, as she realised her play-time would be severely limited at school.

Now, however, she is into the groove of it. She knows what the routines are, what's expected of her, and she has made some lovely friends. Her teacher is fabulous - incredibly on-to-it and passionate about teaching.

Already L is bringing home so much knowledge, and it's nice for me to know that there is a system and logic to the way L is being taught. It's not higglety pigglety bits of learning here and there like she would get at home with me, but learning that builds on itself and makes sense to L.

We had parent/teacher interviews recently and L's teacher told me L is the type of girl who is made for school, and school is made for her. She asks great questions, participates well in group activities, manages herself and her belongings well, and is engaged in her learning.

That was a lovely reassurance to me that we have made the right decision by sending L to school instead of keeping her at home.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cooked play dough recipe



My three-year old is a play dough fiend. She loves it and makes amazing creations out of it so I'm trying to be better about keeping a constant stash in our house.

I like cooked play dough best because it has a great texture and lasts really well.

This is the recipe we use.

Ingredients
  • 2c flour
  • 1c salt
  • 2c warm water
  • 1T cream of tartar
  • 2T oil
  • Few drops food colouring

Method
1. Mix flour, salt, warm water, cream of tartar and oil together in a pot on a medium heat.

2. Keep cooking and stirring until the play dough solidifies, comes away from the side of the pot and loses its stickiness.

3. Remove from heat and add a few drops of food colouring. (At this point we like to split the play dough out into two different bowls and make different colours that will look nice together after being mixed in the kids' play dough creations, eg. red and yellow, green and blue, pink and purple. You can even add essential oils or glitter, to make scented, sparkly play dough for a special treat.)

4. Mix with a wooden spoon until the play dough is cool enough to knead with your hands. Knead until the colours are fully incorporated. Your play dough is ready.

5. Store in an airtight container when not in use.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fresh Reviews - My Food Bag

Photo credit: www.myfoodbag.co.nz

If you follow Craving Fresh on Facebook, you might have seen that our family has been trialling My Food Bag for the past three weeks.

I signed up in a moment of desperation.

I was feeling exhausted by the endless chore of cooking for the family every night, only to then have to cajole them into eating it every night. The range of dinners we were eating was becoming quite limited, as I wanted to make food I knew the kids would eat - but that list was so short.

To get myself out of the rut, I joined My Food Bag and promised myself to cook and serve whatever recipes and food that gave us.

In case you haven't heard of My Food Bag, it's a New Zealand service that provides all the ingredients and recipes you need to make dinners for five weeknights.

The head food chef is dietician, Nadia Lim, so meals are designed to be well-balanced and healthy. (My personal feeling is that the meals rely too heavily on the traditional food pyramid idea of a healthy diet, so feature too many starchy carbohydrates while limiting fat content. However, the free range meats and wide variety of vegetables help compensate for that.)

I've been doing My Family Food Bag, which is designed for young families. Other options are My Classic Food Bag, which is for families with older children, or My Gourmet Food Bag, which is for couples, and only provides four nights' worth of food.

It's been fun and the children have eaten suprisingly more than I expected, although they have turned up their noses at many of the vegetables.

The meat is spectacular. Each week there has been such a range, and over the three weeks we have eaten fish, free range chicken, beef, lamb, pork and turkey, all from gourmet New Zealand companies.

Dinners feature a lot of different vegetables, which is great and has got me and Paul eating many more than we normally would.

The recipes are seasoned with simple, yet delicious combinations of herbs and spices.

My only complaint is that many of them include wheat/gluten, which is something I try to avoid at dinner time as the kids end up having so much of it at other times of the day. Several of the recipes have included bread crumbs, tortillas, Lebanese wraps and pastry.

We always have leftovers, so there has been plenty of food for my lunches the next day.

Sadly, our time with My Food Bag is coming to an end this week, as it is taking too much of our weekly grocery budget. I would love to continue it and think I might do the odd week here and there as I need inspiration during the year.

Have you tried My Food Bag? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thai beef stir-fry recipe


This Thai beef stir-fry recipe is one of my go-to dinner recipes these days. It has a beautiful depth of flavour due to its many ingredients. If you don't have all the ingredients listed below, just substitute in what you do have. As long as you have soy sauce and ginger, it will still taste OK. Stir-fries are pretty versatile that way.

Ingredients
  • 500g fast-frying beef (eg. Rump steak or Wiener Schnitzel)
  • 2T peanut oil
  • 3c vegetables cut into strips or angle cut into small pieces (I like to use a combination of broccoli, carrot, celery, beans and capsicum)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1T fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1T fish sauce
  • 1T sweet chilli sauce
  • Juice of one lime (about 1T)
  • 1t peanut butter
  • 1T oyster sauce
  • 1 bunch of fresh coriander/cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mung beans
Method
1. Slice beef into thin strips.

2. Place wok on high heat and allow to heat very hot, then add peanut oil and beef strips. Stir the beef strips to brown on both sides. Once meat is browned, remove to a bowl.

3. Add sliced vegetables, garlic and ginger to the hot wok and pour in the soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and peanut butter. Stir vegetables to coat in the sauce and to crisp up in the wok.

4. Watch the vegetables and, when they are starting to look cooked through, add the meat back in to the wok and stir it to coat in the sauce.

5. Add the oyster sauce and stir through.

6. Sprinkle in the chopped coriander, mung beans and cashew nuts and stir through. Take off heat after cooking for another minute and serve over cooked Basmati or Jasmine rice.

Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How I'm using my Thermomix


The whiz-bang machine you see me caressing above is a Thermomix - an incredible German-made machine that can be used as a blender, food processor, cake mixer, grain mill and stove top.

Yes my friends, it both chops and cooks my onions for me. Paul really has outdone himself on this year's (early) Christmas present.

So far I've used my Thermomix to make lots of things, like peanut butter, cashew butter and almond butter. These took less than a minute each to make and the only ingredients needed were the nuts and a little salt.

I've also mixed up cake, cookie and muffin batters, and made vegetable stock paste, strawberry and pineapple sorbet, lots of smoothies and many dinners...

Thai coconut chicken

I made this Thai coconut chicken recipe that my friend, Angela, from Striking Keys invented. It was so delicious and I cooked it in the Thermomix by making the sauce in the blender jug and steaming the rice and chicken above in the steamer insert and Varoma steaming tray. (The vegetables I stir-fried separately in a wok on the stove.)

Tomato sauce and meatballs
The Thermomix has a plug in recipe book that allows you to do guided cooking. It walks you through step-by-step when to add each ingredient, when to blend, when to cook, etc. The Thermomix even has built in scales, so you can measure your ingredients as you add them.

I used the guided cooking function to make these meatballs in tomato sauce.

In the Thermomix blender jug I processed the mince and other ingredients for the meatballs, then rolled them into balls and laid them out on the Varoma steaming tray above while I cooked tomato sauce in the blender jug. The steam from the tomato sauce cooked the meatballs. Amazeballs!

Roast chicken, potatoes and gravy

I steamed the potatoes and chicken above water that was boiling in the blender jug, then transferred them to the oven for 20 minutes to crisp up. Meanwhile, in the blender jug I made gravy with the water and chicken juices that had dripped into it. Sublime.

The finished potatoes were so soft in the centre, and so crispy on the outside. And the chicken was lovely and moist. Here's a photo of the last potato coming out of the steamer basket, ready to crisp up in the oven.

Creamy paprika chicken
This is a Quirky Cooking recipe where I steamed chicken breast slices in the top level of the Varoma steaming tray, steamed vegetables in the bottom level of it and cooked rice in a steamer inserted into the blender. Water was boiling in the blender jug to cook these three layers above. When these were all steamed, I added cashews, herbs and spices to the water at the bottom and whizzed it up into a sauce.

It was a complete meal cooked in the Thermomix, although my rice didn't cook properly. After trouble-shooting with a friend, I've learned I need to soak my rice overnight first to help it cook on the steamer function. Better for our health anyway, with all the phytic acids and what-not.

Chicken velouté, potato and leek soup and vegetable tagliatelle
Varoma steamer stacked onto the blender jug.
The Chicken velouté was another multi-level, all-in-one meal I made using the guided cooking recipe function.

The potatoes and leek steamed in the steamer basket, while the vegetable tagliatelle and chicken steamed in the two levels of the Varoma above. Then I whizzed the potato and leek up in the cooking water in the blender jug for soup, reserving a little to whisk with creme fraiche and Dijon mustard to make a sauce for drizzling over the chicken and vegetables. It was all so easy, and so delicious.

I wish I had taken a photo of the final meal for you, because it looked amazing too.

~ ~ ~

I've been loving experimenting with my Thermomix. It's amazing how powerful and clever it is. I highly recommend it, for anyone looking for a useful kitchen appliance. Have you seen one before?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cranberry oatmeal cookies (with chickpeas) ~ a recipe


I make these soft, chewy cookies fairly often for the family because they are a healthier alternative to regular cookies. The chickpeas and almond flour give them a protein base to help counteract any blood spikes from the sugar content.

I cook my own chickpeas using this method, and bag them up in the freezer in two cup portions to use for these cookies or other recipes.

I've tried to keep the plain wheat flour content of this recipe down to just 1/2 cup, but if you want a firmer, crunchier biscuit, you could increase it to as much as one and a half cups.

Sometimes I make these cookies with raisins, other times chocolate chips, and for today's recipe I've used a mixture of dried cranberries and raisins.

Ingredients
  • 1c coconut sugar or other unrefined sugar
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2t vanilla essence
  • 2c cooked chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1c rolled oats
  • 1/2c almond flour
  • 1/2c plain all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4c dried cranberries, raisins or chocolate drops
  • 1/2c walnuts, optional

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 180°/ 350°F and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a food processor, blend together the sugar and butter on medium until smooth. 
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and blend them in.
  4. Add the chickpeas, rolled oats, almond flour, plain flour and salt and mix them until just combined.
  5. Add the cranberries and walnuts (if using) and mix on a low speed until they are dispersed and a thick dough forms.
  6. Spoon dollops of dough onto your prepared baking sheet and press gently with a fork to flatten.
  7. Bake at 180°/ 350°F for 13 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and just set.
  8. Store in an airtight container for up to three days, or freeze.

~ Peruse more Craving Fresh recipes here. ~

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Best ever skincare products

Christmas is just around the corner so head over to World Organic and write your shopping list. I'm planning to treat my loved ones to a number of these beautiful products.

If you remember, I told you earlier in the year that after years of trialling different skincare products, looking for ones that would do amazing things for my skin without loading me up with toxic chemicals, I discovered THE range in World Organic.

World Organic was developed right here in New Zealand by naturapath and medical herbalist, Megan Douglas.

Lovely things to know about World Organic
  • Organic actually means organic. Every product under the World Organic umbrella is BioGro certified, which gives me huge peace of mind.
  • World Organic is unique in its use of supercritical extraction technology; the cleanest, purest way to extract a plant’s value and deliver it to your skin, with maximum effect.
  • Products are great value for money. Megan has kept the price as low as possible, without sacrificing on quality or ethics to do so. She has saved money by choosing not to pay for retail space. This means you won't find World Organic products in stores, but you will find them sold directly via Consultants at parties or via their webstores. I love these products so much that I've become a Consultant. You can order any products through me or my webstore, www.worldorganic.co.nz/cravingfresh. Simply register as a customer in the top-right-hand corner (circled in red in the example screenshot below). Then you can shop online to your heart's content.
  • World Organic sources many of its herbs and plants from a community of organic farmers in India, who are regenerating land that was depleted by industrial farming. World Organic pays these farmers above market rate for their herbs, to give them a real livelihood and help them heal the land.
  • World Organic products are packed full of goodies. They do not contain fillers or junk of any sort, just the most therapeutic combination of natural ingredients that replenish, rejuvenate and heal the skin. 
  • These products work. I have seen significant improvement in how my skin looks and feels. It's less dry, and it looks younger, brighter, firmer and fuller. 
  • Products smell amazing because the ingredients used are natural and amazing - things like calendula, rose attar, honeysuckle, sweet orange, fractionated coconut, aloe vera, lotus, vanilla, amaranth, pomegranate, juniper berry, ylang ylang, shea, amla... you get the idea.
  • World Organic rewards customer loyalty with a 20% discount after the first $150 is spent. This makes these products even better value for money.

  • World Organic has developed two separate ranges: The Organic Skin Co. for everyday skincare needs, including body wash, sunblock, moisturisers, cleansers and make up; and River Veda, a more luxurious, pampering range. These ranges are expanding all the time, but both contain gorgeous products I love, and I'm sure you will too.


There is so much more I could say about World Organic, but I will leave it there for now.

If you would like to know more, email me at cravingfresh (at) yahoo (dot) com. (Close the gaps and replace '(at)' with '@' and '(dot)' with '.'. I've just written it this way to avoid the spam bots who love to haunt me so.)

Or you might like to join my Craving Fresh World Organic page to stay tuned with product offerings: https://www.facebook.com/cravingfreshworldorganic

And of course you can register directly as a customer at www.worldorganic.co.nz/cravingfresh.

Have you heard of World Organic before? Tried it? I'd love to hear your experiences.