Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Sunday morning at Renier Chalon playground

Oh my God, time has flown..... Since the last post I went back to work full time, went on our yearly family trip to Argentina and back, and have been so busy and generally feeling like a mad-chicken that I have neglected Brussels with Kids more than intended. So here I am, trying to get back on track.

On Sunday mornings, we typically go for breakfast at our coffee place of choice and then, weather permiting, go for a little walk. A couple of weeks ago, we headed to the nearby Plaine Renier Chalon, so that Bibu and Pingu could stretch their legs. Renier Chalon is one of the biggest playgrounds in Ixelles and certainly one of the best kept.

It consists of a huge sandy playground with climbing structures for grown-up kids and a separate area for toddlers (which was under renovation when we were there), a basketball field and a mini-football field. The toilets are clean and well maintained, with a nappy-changing table. There is only one entrance, which is importante in terms of safety.

But one of the best discoveries we made on our visit was the indoor play area for babies and toddlers (0 to 3 years) next to the basketball field. It is called "La Margelle" and it is open on Mondays from 14:30 to 17:30 and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 09:00 to 12:00. La Margelle was closed when we where there, but it looked well appointed, full of nice soft toys and books. Definitely a great idea, specially when the weather is not great.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Recycled play kitchen for Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (or St Nicolas for the French-speakers) is fast approaching. On Friday, kids in Belgium will be waking up to discover what the Sint (aided by the not-so-politically-correct Zwarte Piet) brought them in reward for being nice the whole year.

This weekend has therefore been engulfed by a shopping bonanza for Sinterklaas gifts, which are typically more important than the ones brought by Santa Klaus (also known as "De Kerstman" or "Pere Noel" in this part of the world).

Bibu, our five-year old, had a very detailed and precise idea of what toy he wanted to ask the Sint, so there was not much we could do to influence his request. For our baby Pingu, who's just about to turn 17 months, I got the idea of getting him a play kitchen, since he loves to play with pots, spoons and pans and is reportedly a big fan of his creche's play kitchen.

I then decided to go the recycled route for the play kitchen, as he's a baby still and has already too many toys and will inherit too many toys from his older brother. Also, I have no clue how long his Jamie Oliver wannabe period is going to last, so the thought of spending tens of euros on a huge play kitchen was not very appealing.

As mentioned before, I really like Les Petites Riens, so last Monday I headed to their Baby Paradise boutique on Rue Americaine in Ixelles to look for a used play kitchen. When I arrived, I was glad to see the shop full of people. There were two play kitchens in the back of the shop, one wooden and one plastic. I went for the plastic one, as it was much lighter to carry around and I reckoned easier to restore, as well. The cooking plates, which had been a sticker originally, had been peeled off and replaced by an array of stickers, so a little restoration work was needed.

I also picked up a couple of trays full of pretend fruit and vegetables and payed the total sum of 9 EUR for everything (yes, for everything you see in the picture)

After arriving home, I first gave the kitchen a thorough wash with detergent and alcohol, and popped the plastic accessories in a mesh bag and washed them in the washing machine (in the "delicates" programme). I then peeled off all the stickers and started thinking how to best restore the cooking plates in a simple yet nice way. In the end, I used two PÅNNA table sets from IKEA, one in black and one in bordeaux. I first took the measures of the cooking plates' base in paper and then cut the black PÅNNA in the correct shape and glued it onto the kitchen, smooth side up.

Then I used the two bordeaux PÅNNA to make the cooking plates. I glued everything onto the kitchen, et voila!

And here, the end result:

I cannot wait to see Pingu's little face when he uncovers his "new" play kitchen that the Sint has brought him!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Easy, peasy, red fruit muffins

Last week was baby Pingu's last week at the "small babies" class at his creche. He has now, at 16 months, formally graduated to the toddler class. In order to say "thank you" to the super nice teachers at the babies class, I decided to bake some muffins. Muffins are my staple bake for taking to school, for Bibu's birthday, for example, as they don't require any cutting and are not huge, so kids and adults alike don't struggle to finish them.

I usually make apple and cinnamon or vanilla-lemon muffins, but wanted to try something different this time. I had a pack of fozen red fruits at home, so decided to use them and make vanilla/ red fruits muffins. This recipe uses butter, so it feels like more of a cupcake than a muffin, but let's not be too fiddly about it.

Ingredients (for about 16 muffins)

  • 200 gr self-raising flour
  • 200 gr sugar
  • 1 pack vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 a teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 70 gr melted butter
  • 100 ml milk
  • 1 pot natural yoghurt
  • 200 gr frozen red fruit

The preparation could not be simpler. As usual, I start by pre-heating the oven at 180 C. Then mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt) in a big bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk and yogurt and finally the butter (which I previously melted in the microwave). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a wooden spoon. Finally, add the frozen (or fresh) red fruits. I suggest you thaw the red fruit in advance and put it in a colander, so that there is no excess water.

Grab a muffin tin (I use one from IKEA, they have small muffin and regular muffin trays) and place your muffin papers, or use individual silicone muffin forms and pour a bit of the mix into each form. A great trick is to use an ice-cream scoop to pour the right amount of mix into each form, leaving about 5ml from the rim. Pop the muffins in the oven for 30 minutes, let them cool for 15 minutes and then ready to be enjoyed!

An easy treat for taking to school, the office or a pic-nic. Pingu's teachers were sad to see him go, but I'm sure they will remember him with a sweet smile..... :-)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Enrolling your kid in a Flemish school in Brussels

Finding a school in Brussels is always a challenge (unless you are an expat and can afford to enroll them into one of the international schools). Flemish schools have a somewhat higher reputation in terms of quality than the French-speaking schools, so they tend to fill up faster. Also, there are much less Flemish schools in Brussels, so that adds to the challenge of finding a good one that is not too far away from your house.

Since my husband is Flemish and both kids are being brought up billingual Spanish-Flemish (picking up some French along the way) we have chosen the Flemish-speking education system for both. Baby Pingu goes to a Flemish creche and Bibu goes to a Flemish "basisschool" (kindergarden and primary school). We recently learnt that brothers or sisters of pupils at Flemish-speaking schools born in 2012 had priority to be enrolled at the same school as their big siblings for the school year 2014-2015, provided they became enrolled until Friday 15th November 2013 (end of this week)

There is a website (also evailable in French and English) that explains the whole procedure -also if your kid has no bigger brothers or sisters- on how to enroll him or her to the school year 2014-2015. I have no clue if anything like this exists in the French-speaking education system in Brussels. I could only find this website which provides more info.

One word to the wise, hurry up!


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A visit to the Cinquantenaire Museum (a.k.a. the Mummy museum)

Ah, Autumn holidays! It's only one month since classes started and already we have a week of school holidays! Hurray!

It's a tricky holiday, as it's only 1 week (not even, just 4 days this year), too close to Christmas holidays and weather can only be relied upon being thoroughly unpredictable. Most working parents either pack up their kids to grandparents or inscribe them into a stage and hope for the best, or resign themselves and take some days off.

We were a bit late this year to sign Bibu up for a stage, so it meant I had to provide all the entertainment. Thankfully, baby Pingu's creche is open, so it meant I could organise something really focused on a 5-year old.

I wanted to go to a museum (being out of the cold rainy weather and all that) so we finally decided to pay a visit to the Cinquantenaire Museum (History and Art Museum) at the Place de Cinquantenaire.

We took public transport to get there (walking distance from both Merode and Schuman metro stations) but there is also parking space available closer to the "Autoworld" entrance. The entrance to the Cinquantenaire Museum itself is on the side (the left side of the park if you're coming from Merode station) at the top of some stairs. The entrance fee for adults is 5 EUR and free for kids under 6 years old (4 EUR for kids until 12 years old)

The building in itself is huge and beautiful. It's a big, welcome surprise, as you don't really expect it from outside. The permanent exhibitions are mainly divided in two. Once you are in the entrance hall, on your left are all the non-European collections (American, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Chinese antiquity) and on your right the European part.

We checked our coats in the free cloakroom and we headed immediately to the Egypt part, where the mummies were. Now, I have to say that after having visited the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, which are much bigger museums, the mummies exhibited in the Cinquantenaire Museum are of the highest quality. They might not be the ones of Tutankamon, but they are incredibly preserved and they do provide that spooky feeling that 5-year old boys love (but hopefully won't dream about). Bibu was properly cautious around them, asking lots of questions about who they where, why they were so small, etc.

The rest of the museum, we did in a bit of a hurry. Bibu was hungry, so we headed straight into the museum restaurant. A word to the wise: if you can, avoid it. To start with, it's a proper restaurant, as in they do not serve snack food or let you pic-nic. They serve proper restaurant food, which I have to say it's not bad, but the service is less than charming and the prices are quite steep (kid meal for 10 EUR). Bibu and I arrived at 12 sharp and managed to get a table without much hassle, but people coming just 10 minutes later did not have the same luck and were dispatched by a "no-friends" looking waitress. Also, there is no space really for a stroller and they don't have high chairs. So if you're with really small kids, this is not the place to go for a relaxing lunch.

On the subject of baby-friendly facilities, there is a baby diaper changing station inside the women's loo on the groundfloor. Otherwise, there are lots of stairs, so I guess going around with a stroller is not very advisable.

I think in general that the Cinquantenaire Museum is a surprising little gem of a museum. Interesting to kids and adults alike. It still has that somewhat neglected look most museums in Belgium have, some dark rooms, some empty rooms, dingy loos, a thoroughly uninteresting museum shop, etc. but the quality of the pieces in exhibition is great.

For a few months now, they are also offering an organised activity called "Fly with the dragons" for kids 6-2 years old where your kid gets a dragon-shaped backpack (which has to be returned to the information desk when you leave) full of hints of things kids need to find in the museum. You need to pay an extra 3 EUR to do the activity, and be lucky enough so that there are enough backpacks available for your kids when you arrive. We did not try it as they had run out of backpacks, but if anyone has tried it, it would be great to hear some feedback.

So, all in all, the Cinquantenaire Museum is a good idea for a bad weather day, just avoid the restaurant if you are in a hurry/ have a tight budget or want to see some happy faces. :-)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Lice attack: an update

I just wanted to do a little update on the lice situation at home. I am beyond happy to report that, after a bit of suffering, we are back being a lice-free home.

Getting rid of these little disgusting creatures took longer than expected and a few lessons were learnt.

Basically, all that about "this product works in about 10 minutes" is crap. As I mentioned on the original lice post, I decided to treat the kids with natural products, like the Puressentiel lotion. As mentioned on the package, I was leaving the lotion for 10 minutes, then rinsing it through and thinking that was it, then becoming desperate when after a couple of days I would spot Bibu scratching his head again.

The lady at our nearby pharmacy told me to leave it on for at least 1 hour and then wash. She also recommended another lotion, which comes in spray form, by Apivita. This one should be left to work as long as possible and then shake the hair a bit (to see any dead bodies) and then comb through. She suggested spraying the kid's hair in the morning before going to school and then doing the shaking/ combing in the afternoon. It also has a "post-treatment" shampoo which I am currently using all the time with the kids, replacing their normal shampoo, at least during school term.

Also, another learning is that it is more than advisable to repeat the treatment at least once every week for about 3 or 4 weeks. So for us, Sunday evening was "lice-killing time" for a few weeks.

In the end, the lice were eradicated.....until next time. At least I now know what to expect.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Dinner on a run: courgette, ricotta and ham quiche

Oh, Mondays! It's that day in the week when everything seems to need to happen at high speed. Maybe it's because we've grown accustomed to the slightly slower pace of the weekends, but Mondays always shake us up and cries in our ears "faster, faster, no time, no time".

Monday evening, Bibu has his swimming lesson, so it means I have to first pick up baby Pingu from daycare, then drive with Pingu to get Bibu and take him to the swimming pool, where I need to help him get dressed into his swimming trunks/ pester him for doing silly stuff and not hurrying up/ run after baby Pingu who wants nothing else than to touch everything in the changing room (other kids' dirty underwear included). En fin, you get the picture. Relaxing it is NOT.

And, when we get home, it's about 18:30 and there are two small kids demanding food NOW, so no use starting to cook at that time. The solution: it's quiche time!

I am working from home at the moment, so I can afford to make it at some point during the afternoon, before all the mayhem begins. If you work full time, a good idea is to make it the night before (great Sunday-night blues-beating pass-time)

Anyway, it's also a good way of getting kids to eat veggies without realising. The ricotta gives it a light flavour and both kids devour it in no time. Baby Pingu eats his virtually unaided (with his hands. Hey he's only a toddler) and will not leave a single crumb left.

Again, this is a courgette quiche (or tart? Does anyone know the difference?), but you can make a version with other vegetables of your choice.

Ingredients (for one tart, 8 portions)

  • bit of olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped as small as you can
  •  3 medium courgettes, chopped in little cubes
  • 1 ready round puff pastry (pate feuillete)
  • 1 pack of ricotta cheese (about 250gr)
  • 1/2 a cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 180° C. Cook the chopped onion in a little olive oil, in a pan, on low heat, until it becomes transparent. 

Then add the chopped courgettes (or zucchini), cover with the lid and let them "sweat" for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they are cooked but now brown. Check every now and then and give it a stir with a wooden spoon.

Take out from the stove, and set aside to cool for a bit.

Roll out your ready pastry on a round baking tray (leave the baking paper, it will avoid the tart getting stuck to the bottom) and pinch it with a fork a few times. Line the bottom of the quiche with a layer of ham. This also helps to avoid the sogginess which can be quite common in this type of quiches.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, the ricotta and the Parmesan together, season to taste. Add the cooked courgettes to the mix and then pour the whole thing over the ham-lined pastry. Pop in the oven for 30 minutes. Et, voila!

Once it's cooked, I usually just turn the oven off (mine is an electric one) and leave the quiche inside until I come back with my two hungry little caterpillars, ready to attack it.