Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars

Atticus loves to climb.

When he first started walking, he’d toddle onto overturned stools, using the upturned legs for support. Once he was steady on his feet, he crawled up said stools and loved the thrill. Anyone on a ladder spotted anywhere would hold his attention for a very long time.

Even now, just past the age of 2,  his fascination with ladders has not dissipated, probably fueled even more by his new found independence – in a moment of weakened resolve in the face of an insistent toddler – he was allowed onto a ladder. Since then, climbing one, two.. or three ladders has become a routine part of his play even more so than visits to the playground.

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When the challenge of the climb wears out, he keeps it interesting by giving himself a purpose for climbing, like pretending to be a worker fixing something.  (To detract a little, those plastic construction helmets are such great toys to have – very affordable, like $2 each from Daiso, and provide hours of fun for our boy. We have three, in red, blue and yellow which he uses to transform himself into a fireman or some type of worker at his whim.)

Despite his requests, we’ve managed to stay firm about disallowing him on our highest 8-step ladder, which to be honest is scary at the top even for us. For now, he accedes without much ado to our denying his request but who knows how long we can keep him away from it.

In any case, I wasn’t keen on his continued playing with ladders and wanted to find a safer alternative for his interest and high energy levels. My search was disappointing as anything locally available was too big or too expensive. I found a second hand slide/swing climbing on Carousel but it was still rather expensive for something we thought Atticus would get bored of quite quickly.

I turned to Amazon and searched for climbing structures that would ship to Singapore and Toy Monster Monkey Bars Tower turned up – on sale for US$133 (U.P US$220)!

I was very excited until I realised shipping and tax was an additional US$135.48. That meant spending S$372 in total. I toyed with the idea of having it (or one of the other brands available that wouldn’t ship to Singapore) sent to a relative in the US and having them ship it over but that cost nearly S$500 to do.

I pretty much gave up on the idea until I spotted one on a random venture into Toys R Us over the weekend. It was of a different brand – Eezy Peezy — but it was set up on display and I immediately knew it would fit in our living room. Even better, it was on sale for S$269. I was to be honest a little hesitant simply because having put the idea out of my head, I hadn’t prepared myself mentally for losing my living room but I consoled myself with the fact that if it didn’t work out, there was a 14-day return policy.

The Review

Despite the brand name and its claim to be “easy to assemble”, it isn’t. The plastic pipes slide into the connectors easy enough but that’s only a small part of the assembly required.

Other than confusion with the pieces that look the same but are not, some strength is required to force adjoining pipes into position at the correct angle. It is also very difficult to remove the pipes from the connectors when a mistake is made. After a few tries, our finger tips were sore from pushing the nodes out so we turned to using a screw driver instead. This worked too well and some of the nodes sprang loose and fell out. Good thing my dad’s quite a handy man and was able to fix this every time it happened. The poor man however did bleed some during the assembly process when his thumb got caught in between a pipe and its connector. I don’t think I could have put it together on my own. I also feel there’s no way we were going to take it apart again to make a return.

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Having said that though, we are quite pleased with the assembled product. It’s sturdy and doesn’t wobble so the young un’s can climb to their hearts’ content without mine stopping, especially since it’s on the play mat. What’s a little bump here and there anyway, right?

The box actually contains a couple of really solid steel earth stakes as well. So if you’ve a garden, they would really be useful for grounding the structure firmly onto the ground. But I’d be a little cautious about bringing this outdoors. According to one reviewer on Amazon, the plastic started to crack under outdoor conditions and became unsafe. But I think that’s to be expected. Keep indoors and away from sunshine to prolong its life span I say.

Am I worried that the kids will get bored of this quickly? Not really. It holds up to 150lbs so they’re not going to outgrow it any time soon. Plus, to increase its utility, I held off assembling the top tower portion for now until Atticus gets really comfortable with his climbing/ hanging skills (and very bored with the dome). So far he’s only climbed upwards and hasn’t even begun to explore how to maneuver sideways around the dome. The structure, however, has not changed his need for ladders and he’s somehow managed to incorporate a ladder into his play with the dome. So much for my plan.

There’s of course also Ainsley who is at the cusp of learning to walk. She’ll definitely be able to use the structure to help herself up and about. Eventually, I think both little critters will be mucking about on it. When all else has been tried and tested, we’ll probably introduce a blanket and create a fort with it.

After that, all bets are off.

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DIY Felt Board

The last few weeks have gone by in a blur.

Atticus has been fighting naps and Ainsley’s schedule has been all over the place since she hit 7 months. The elder has also been increasingly jealous of my time with Ainsley, behaving badly as an expression of his displeasure whenever she’s around (otherwise he is such a sweetheart!). To top it off, the whole family has been hit by varying severities of the flu bug over the long weekend, which incidentally was the weekend before I officially returned to work.

With so much going on and so little time to do anything I needed to occupy Atticus, especially since he’s been cooped up at home. Finally motivated by the fact that I will have less time once I go back to work, I got down to making the felt board activity that’s been on my To-Do list for the longest time.

It’s so easy to put together and the possibilities with felt thereafter are quite endless, circumscribed only by your child’s interests and attention span I reckon. You can cut out any shape or size felt that you want your child to play with or you can save time by buying pre-cut felt pieces (cf. colourful cars in the picture below). Alternatively, if you already have any board pieces or hard stickers that have lost their adhesiveness, simply paste Velcro on the back and instantly revive their use on the felt board. That’s what I did with a pack of raised vehicle stickers that could no longer stick on the wall after Atticus repeatedly shifted them around.

The materials needed for the felt board are:

  • 20″ x 20″ canvas board
  • 1m x 1m felt (or just large enough to form a border around the canvas board
  • Staple gun
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Ruler (optional, depending on how neat you want to be – I gave it up given time constraints)

If you don’t intend to use Velcro and will rely only on static action to hold your felt (or any other material) pieces up, my research online indicates you can buy flannel instead of felt. Whereas felt would be able to cater to both, which was what I went for. Based on my experimenting at the store, wool felt suffers the least damage from the velcro pull. It is also the most expensive option. Acrylic felt on the other hand is the cheapest but fluffs the most. A good in-between would be mottled felt. That is what I settled for finally.

With the materials, all you need to do is:

  1.  cut the felt such that it forms a border around the canvas board wide enough to be pulled to the back;
  2. staple along the edges of each side at the back, always ensuring that the felt is taut;
  3. fold in the corners neatly; and
  4. staple the corners down.

I was quite pleased with the results and the board has held up well under the destructive hands of a near-2 year old. Yes, his rambunctiousness did deign to try the felt board activity for all of 15 minutes during which he was quietly engaged. Success, I suppose? Until he gets a little older, I guess I will just enjoy how those pieces of felt will get moved around the board at his whim and fancy.

  

Salmon Cous Cous with Raisins

Having to come up with different dishes using primarily the same meats or veggies most of the time while still keeping it healthy for the kids can be quite difficult at times. When I get stuck, I tend to get inspiration just from what I personally like to eat.

This dish comes from one of those ‘inspired’ moments. I’ve always loved Thai pineapple rice for the savoury flavours of chicken and pork floss in fried rice tossed with the tangy sweetness of pineapple. If my son’s taste resembles anything like mine I thought he’d really like it too except Thai pineapple rice is not quite something I’d feed him yet.

What I did instead was combine salmon cous cous with one of his (and I’m sure many a kid’s) great loves: raisins! With this recipe, the raisins are boiled first so they become plump and juicy and you get the same savoury sweetness in one dish. Plus it’s an easy way to entice the kiddo to the dinner table. Be warned though, younger toddlers may just pick the raisins out and eat them only hah).

Ingredients (10 toddler servings)

  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs diced yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 cups cous cous
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cup butter milk
  • 1 cup greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 tsp raw sugar
  • 4 tbs white cooking wine
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbs chopped garlic
  • 1/4 red pepper
  • 2 fillets of Salmon, skinned and de-boned
  • 1/4 large carrot, diced
  • 3 florets of broccoli
  • 1 tbs dill
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 packet of cooking cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup virgin olive oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and grease a muffin tray and another 4 ramekins.

Season the salmon with the dill and black pepper. Remember to take the salmon out from the fridge some time before you cook so that it is not cold entering the pan.

Put the raisins in a sauce pan and add just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil then lower the heat. Simmer the raisins for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top up with a little bit of water midway if you find that most of the water has evaporated. You want to keep the raisins mostly submerged. Remove from heat and let cool. This step helps to moisten and plump up the raisins – makes them extra yummy.

Add 2 cups of water to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Throw in the broccoli florets and diced carrots and boil for about 5 minutes or to desired softness. Remove the vegetables and set aside. In a large bowl, add to the cous cous 1 1/2 cups of the still hot water used to boil the vegetables and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the cous cous when done.

Heat up the frying pan with the butter and saute the garlic for a couple of minutes then add in the onions and red pepper. Stir fry for a few minutes then place the salmon in the middle to cook. When the salmon has turned colour halfway through, flip the salmon over to cook the other side. At this point, pour the white cooking wine and lemon juice over the salmon. Next, add the butter milk, cooking cream, and basil, and bring to a boil. The salmon is done when it can be easily flaked. (It’s okay to leave the salmon slightly under cooked as it will still be cooking in the oven and you don’t want to dry it out by overcooking it.) When done, remove the salmon and let cool on a plate. When cool, flake the salmon to small pieces.

To the same frying pan with the red pepper, add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Lower the heat and add the greek yoghurt, honey and sugar. Mix well together and remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, add the raisins, brocolli and carrots to the cous cous and mix well. You could add the raisin water as well for some added sweetness. Then add the flakes of salmon and stir to combine. Lastly pour the cream sauce into the bowl and mix altogether well.

Portion the salmon cous cous equally in the muffin tray and ramekins.

For the topping, add the Parmesan and oil to the panko bread crumbs and mix very well. Sprinkle on top of each portion and slightly compress the cous cous to compact it.

Place in the oven on the top rack for about 10 minutes or until the topping has browned. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 20 minutes before serving.

To store, when the cous cous has thoroughly cooled, wrap the muffin tray/ ramekins in cling film and place in the freezer. Once frozen, pop each portion out and store in a labeled freezer bag. Steam in a pan of water for about 20 mins to re-heat when required.

 

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Creamy White Fish Sauce with Pasta

This has been a week of change. Ainsley turned 6 months and literally began turning over, which is great except she can’t flip herself back yet. That for me means not just feeding her in the middle of the night but scurrying back to her room every 10 minutes or so to flip her back when she gets stuck.

This was also the week that Atticus started pre-school. Hence, my already sleep deprived self has to wake up earlier every morning now to get everyone ready. I thought moms get some relief when kids go to school but so far I’m really not feeling it.

And of course, this had to be the week that Atticus’ frozen meals ran low. Murphy’s law, right? So in the pockets of time I have between getting Atticus to and from school and taking care of Ainsley while she’s awake, I have to cook several batches of new meals to stock up instead of catching a breather.

Wearied me wasn’t really preparing to cook for him today and we haven’t done our weekly grocery run yet. Regardless, I felt the need to get ahead of the kiddo’s depleting store of food. So I pulled together this light cream sauce with fish and pasta just working with what I already had around the kitchen.

This healthy dish whips up pretty quick I must say and just before Ainsley woke from her nap! Maybe my luck is turning:)

Ingredients ( 7 toddler servings)

  • 2-3 fillets of white fish (I used codfish)
  • dill
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 white onion, diced
  • 1/4 carrot, diced
  • 1/4 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/4 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 packet cooking cream
  • 1/2 tsp Italian herbs
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 packet (250g) angel hair pasta
  • 2 tbs plain flour
  • 25g Parmesan, shredded

Method

Break up the angel hair pasta into short bits, around an inch or so long to make it easier for the young un to eat. Boil the pasta per the instructions on the packet.

Season the fish with dill, pepper and garlic powder to taste. (I’m usually quite generous with seasoning for flavour just because we’re already excluding salt). Next, heat a little olive oil in a deep frying pan and throw in the minced garlic followed by the onions for about a minute. Add a dash of white wine vinegar and saute until the onions have caramelised. Throw in the carrots as they take a while to soften. Stir fry for a couple of minutes over medium heat and then add in the yellow pepper and zucchini. Pour in the milk and bring to a boil. Add in the frozen corn and return to a boil.

Add the fish and reduce the heat. Let the fish simmer for about 8 minutes or until the flesh has turned opaque and can be flaked easily. Remember to stir frequently to prevent the milk from boiling over. Once cooked, remove the fish and set aside to cool on a plate.

Continue to simmer the milk. Stir in the cream, italian herb, nutmeg and lemon juice. Sift the flour into the sauce and stir over medium heat until sauce thickens slightly. Add in the Parmesan and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Flake the fish into small pieces. Return the fish to the cream sauce and mix well. Serve warm over a portion of the pasta. (Alternatively, if pasta doesn’t sit well with your bub, change it up with rice or cous cous.)

The remainder of the pasta and the sauce can be portioned accordingly and frozen together in containers. Pop them out into labeled freezer bags and freeze for next time. To reheat, simply steam for about 20 minutes in a deep pan filled with water.

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Chicken Broccoli Quinoa

We’re not the sort to keep up with health food trends or even eat healthily for that matter. It’s different when it comes to the children though and I’m always keen to see what else I can add to the list of healthy foods I can give them.

Quinoa has been on my radar for a very long time. It has more protein than rice or barley, is a good source of calcium, vitamins B and E, and dietary fibre and yet is the least allergenic of all grains (wheat free!). So when I finally came across a brand of quinoa that I thought wasn’t ridiculously expensive, I sprang for it.  

Today I got to cook the quinoa with chicken, broccoli and butternut squash puree. I don’t think I’ve ever really paid much attention to quinoa (if it so happens to be in whatever I ordered at a restaurant). This being my first time cooking with it, I was quite surprised by how much flavour it takes in and even more by the texture it has. It’s fluffy yet creamy but with a slight crunch that ‘pops’ in the mouth.

Does make you wonder what the high end quinoa must taste like, doesn’t it? In any case, toddlers must not care because Atticus gobbled it up for dinner. *Phew* I would’ve hated it if he was in one of his moods and let the food just roll right down his tongue out of his mouth for some reason beyond adult comprehension. Thankfully this recipe is a keeper:)

Ingredients (about 9 toddler servings)

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups of hot water/ vegetable stock
  • 1/4 carrot diced
  • 1/4 onion diced
  • 3 broccoli florets, chopped
  • 1/3 zucchini diced
  • 1 slice of back bacon
  • 2 pieces boneless skinless chicken thigh (or 2 fillets of chicken breast) diced to desired size
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh butternut squash, steamed and pureed (optional)
  • 1 tbs maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 25g butter
  • 2tbs plain flour
  • 1 cup milk + left over vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup cheddar cheese

Method

Pre-heat oven to 190ºC. Grease your muffin tray or ramekins.

Boil the broccoli florets and carrots to the desired softness in a saucepan with about 1 cup of water. Drain the vegetables but do keep the ‘vegetable stock’ for cooking the quinoa. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly to remove the bitterness. Put the quinoa in a pot and add the vegetable stock. Bring to boil over medium heat then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the quinoa for 10 to 15 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff and let stand for 15 minutes.

In another saucepan, add some olive oil and fry the back bacon. Remove and set aside to cool. When cooled, chop the bacon into small bits. Next, add to the same saucepan, the onions, zucchini and chicken pieces and saute until tender. Scoop out the ingredients into a bowl and set aside. Using the same saucepan, add 25g butter to melt over very low heat. Add the flour and stir to form a roux. Gradually add in the milk while continuously stirring to form a creamy mixture. Stir over medium heat until thickened then add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the butternut squash.

In a big bowl, mix the quinoa with all the dry ingredients first. Next, add the butternut cream sauce and combine well. Portion the quinoa mix into the muffin tray and/or ramekins. To make the topping, mix the baby oats with the parmesan cheese and olive oil well. Then layer over each portion, pressing down to compact the quinoa mix. Place in the oven  for about 10 minutes then under the broiler for about 2 minutes to brown the topping. Remove from oven and let stand for about 15 minutes. Once cooled, place the portions into containers to freeze.

Once frozen, pop them out of the containers and store in a labeled freezer bag.

To reheat, fill a deep pan with an inch of water. Place one portion on a plate and place it in the pan, covered, over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. And there you have it, a fragrant, moist plate of sumptuous quinoa full of hidden goodness 🙂

 

 

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