Outdoor Music and Play Wall

Finally sharing this.. after my girls outgrew it!  Both our daughters have Autism and sensory issues and I wanted to make something interactive in our back yard for them.
Besides the fencing everything was re-purposed.  If you are in the Portland Oregon area Scrap PDX is a great resource, I found some of the items there.  Also, second hand stores for old xylophones, and Habitat for Humanity ReStore for some of the tubing.
We actually have a chain link fence so we can enjoy the wetlands behind our home.  So we made a section of cedar fencing and attached it to a couple of boards on the other side.
A driftwood chime.  All you need is driftwood and fishing line. If you don’t want them to move, drill a hole for each piece and thread the fishing line through the hole.  I just tied each “chime” to the main piece.

For drums a couple of metal planting buckets from IKEA work well.  Added some old drumsticks too.

A giant spring makes fun noise when you rub the drumsticks back and forth.

The chimes from an old wind chime get new use hung from a hook.

A few beat up old xylophones were found at second hand stores.  I removed the keys and hung with fishing line from an IKEA bar.

The tubing was found at a Habitat for Humanity Restore and makes a fun chute.
The chalkboards are pieces of Plexiglas that I added chalk paint to.

The gutters were from an old project.  I had used them above a craft desk to store ribbon.  They are much more fun to pour water and balls down!

This added a lot of fun to our back yard for many years!

Cashew Chicken (updated)

This is one of my favorite meals.  But years ago my youngest became severely allergic to tree nuts so they had to be banished from the house for her safety.  Then one day I thought duh.. I could make it with peanuts!  No, it’s not quite the same.  But it’s still one of my favorite meals! Even if you don’t use any nuts at all it’s still a great quick dinner.  I used to make it with a premade hoisin sauce but the flavor is so much better with making your own sauce!  You can see my original recipe here from… 8 YEARS AGO?!  I’ve figured a few more tricks out since then.  Like adding more vegetables, cutting the zucchini in larger chunks so it’s a better texture, and now I serve it with short grain brown rice.
As always, if you don’t have a wok a large skillet will work too.  I have even used an electric skillet before that retained heat well. Have everything all cut up and ready to go before you start.  Wok cooking should go fast.  Just remember to have your heat medium high, and if you aren’t hearing any sizzling you have your heat too low or are crowding your pan.
I’m going to go check my fridge and make sure I have enough zucchini on hand to make this tonight!

CASHEW CHICKEN

1 cup cashews (or peanuts)
Drizzle olive or canola oil
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cut in 1/2″ cubes
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 white onion, chopped
2 carrot, chopped
2 celery rib, chopped
3 small zucchini, chopped (cut the center section with seeds out)
4 cloves garlic, minced

For Sauce:
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
With the wok (or large skillet) over medium high heat, toast the cashews until fragrant.  Set aside.
Toss chicken with cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
Add drizzle of oil to wok and then the chicken.  (work in batches if it will crowd your pan)
Remove, then wok the onion, carrots, and celery for a few minutes.
Add zucchini and garlic, cook until vegetables are tender.
Add back chicken and cashews.
Add sauce and cook for just a couple of minutes, until everything is coated.

Cashew Chicken (updated)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cashews (or peanuts)
  • Drizzle olive or canola oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cut in 1/2" cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 carrot, chopped 
  • 2 celery rib, chopped
  • 3 small zucchini, chopped (cut the center section with seeds out)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    For Sauce:
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoons cornstarch

Instructions

  • Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
  • With the wok (or large skillet) over medium high heat, toast the cashews until fragrant.  Set aside.
  • Toss chicken with cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
  • Add drizzle of oil to wok and then the chicken.  (work in batches if it will crowd your pan)
  • Remove, then wok the onion, carrots, and celery for a few minutes.
  • Add zucchini and garlic, cook until vegetables are tender.
  • Add back chicken and cashews.  
  • Add sauce and cook for just a couple of minutes, until everything is coated.
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    Lemon Oreo Dessert

    Once I ran into an acquaintance while grocery shopping for an upcoming holiday.  A package of lemon oreos was in my mix of items and she gasped in shock.  “You buy oreos?! I would think you would make homemade!”
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all about a crazy idea.. or 2.. okay, definitely not more than 3… a week.  But being fanatical about anything is dangerous in my opinion.  Do I love to make every little thing from scratch? Yes! Do I? Okay, most of the time, I do.  Probably a lot more than most busy moms.  But it’s also my passion and a hobby.  But by golly if it’s a special occasion I am going to make a fun dessert my kids love that, yes, has store bought oreos. And that’s okay.  You know what we’re having for Easter dinner? A simple brunch.  Frosted Flakes french toast to be exact!
    And this might make an appearance too.  Because amid all the hand made pies and whatnot on holidays this is the one everyone wants seconds of, little and big kids alike!
    And bonus, it is no bake and can be made using one bowl! Woot woot!

    Lemon Oreo Dessert
    1 package lemon oreos, chopped
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    5.9 oz package vanilla pudding
    3 cups cold milk
    8 oz cream cheese
    16 oz cool whip, thawed

    Combine oreos and butter in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
    Press half to two-thirds into a 9 by 13 inch pan. (just guess)
    Mix the pudding and milk together (same bowl is fine) for a few minutes until smooth.  Add cream cheese and mix in until well combined and smooth.
    Fold in cool whip and pour on top of crust.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon oreo mixture and chill.

    Lemon Oreo Dessert

    Ingredients

    • 1 package lemon oreos, chopped
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 5.9 oz package vanilla pudding
    • 3 cups cold milk
    • 8 oz cream cheese
    • 16 oz cool whip, thawed

    Instructions

  • Combine oreos and butter in a medium bowl and mix until combined.
  • Press half to two-thirds into a 9 by 13 inch pan. (just guess)
  • Mix the pudding and milk together (same bowl is fine) for a few minutes until smooth.  Add cream cheese and mix in until well combined and smooth.
  • Fold in cool whip and pour on top of crust.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon oreo mixture and chill.
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    New Easter Tradition

    Last year we tried something different for Easter.  And it’s become our new Easter tradition.  The week of Easter we studied Christ’s life and teachings and on the Thursday before Easter we had our own “Last Supper” of sorts.  I didn’t worry too much about how authentic we were being, but tried to have some things that were eaten in that time, or at least similar.  It was such a wonderful experience and made our Easter so much more meaningful.

    We set the table with a picture of the last supper to help remind us.  I would urge you not to get so caught up in the details that you can’t enjoy it.
    I’m not a food historian and I’m sure what we had wasn’t entirely accurate.  But it was close enough anyways.

    So enjoy your egg hunts and baskets of chocolate, but don’t forget to make time to celebrate the real meaning of the holiday too.
    I think there’s time to do both.

    Some menu ideas:

    Flatbread, we made Naan bread
    Raisins
    Grapes
    Garlic- we used pickled garlic
    Olives
    Goat cheese
    Honey
    Fish
    Eggs
    Chicken Shawarma
    Grape Juice
    Lentils or Barley
    Pomegranate
    Nuts
    Apricots

     

    Caesar Salad

    This is my guilty pleasure.  I love a really good salad and it’s pretty hard to beat a well made Caesar salad.  Especially with homemade croutons and extra lemon.  I have fiddled with my dressing recipe for years and years and this is the only way I make it now.  I use Worcestershire instead of anchovies (it is made from anchovies after all).  This is a pretty assertive dressing, very garlicky and lemony.  But that is exactly how I like it! If you like it more mellow use half the amount of garlic and lemon juice and see how you like that first.  You can always add more.
    For a main dish I like to serve roasted chicken with it or even add some leftover shredded chicken to the salad… that’s code for “I buy a roasted chicken at Costco and throw it in there”.  Even food bloggers have to sleep you know.

    CAESAR SALAD
    (with BEST CAESAR SALAD DRESSING EVER!)

    Romaine lettuce, torn
    Croutons or garlic croutons
    shaved parmesan
    lemon wedges

    For Dressing:
    4 garlic cloves
    1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer the light made with olive oil)
    1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (Coleman’s)
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
    1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    1/4 cup olive oil
    Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

    Place all dressing ingredients in a blender except the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Process until smooth.
    With blender running add the olive oil in a small stream.
    Season with salt and pepper.
    Toss lettuce with dressing and top with croutons and shaved parmesan.
    Squeeze extra lemon on top if desired.

    Caesar Salad with BEST EVER Caesar Dressing!

    Ingredients

    • Romaine lettuce, torn
    • Croutons or garlic croutons
    • shaved parmesan
    • lemon wedges
      For Dressing:
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer the light made with olive oil)
    • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (Coleman's)
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice
    • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire 
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

    Instructions

  • Place all dressing ingredients in a blender except the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Process until smooth.
  • With blender running add the olive oil in a small stream.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Toss lettuce with dressing and top with croutons and shaved Parmesan.
  • Squeeze extra lemon on top if desired.
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    Subgum Chow Mein

    This recipe is from years ago and somehow never got posted.  I know because it has almonds and now that our youngest is allergic to tree nuts I make it with peanuts.  Not quite the same, but still really good! It’s one of my favorite Chinese dishes.  This is just like you would have at an American-Chinese restaurant.  We like it with fried rice and you can make it with or without the chicken.  The baking soda is not completely necessary, it is a little trick to make the chicken a little more tender.
    Happy Chinese New Year!

    SUBGUM CHOWMEIN

    1 pound chicken breast, diced
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp kosher salt
    1 Tablespoon oil
    1 white onion, chopped
    2 carrots, diced
    2 ribs celery, chopped
    1 can sliced water chestnuts
    1 1/2 cups chicken broth
    2 Tablespoon cornstarch
    1/2 cup almonds, sliced or slivered
    1/2 cup frozen peas

    Toss chicken with baking soda and salt.  Heat oil in wok over medium high heat and add chicken.   Stir fry until cooked through.
    Remove and add onion, carrots, celery, and water chestnuts to wok and cook until tender crisp.  Add chicken back to wok.
    Mix cornstarch and chicken broth together then add to wok.  Cook until thickened then add almonds and peas.
    Serve over chow mein noodles.

    Subgum Chow Mein

    Ingredients

    • 1 pound chicken breast, diced
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
    • 1 Tablespoon oil
    • 1 white onion, chopped
    • 2 carrots, diced
    • 2 ribs celery, chopped
    • 1 can sliced water chestnuts
    • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
    • 2 Tablespoon cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup almonds, sliced or slivered
    • 1/2 cup frozen peas

    Instructions

  • Toss chicken with baking soda and salt.  Heat oil in wok over medium high heat and add chicken.   Stir fry until cooked through.
  • Remove and add onion, carrots, celery, and water chestnuts to wok and cook until tender crisp.  Add chicken back to wok.
  • Mix cornstarch and chicken broth together then add to wok.  Cook until thickened then add almonds and peas.
  • Serve over chow mein noodles.
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    Red Licorice Ice Cream

    In my hometown there was a little ice cream truck downtown in the summers that my sister worked at.  Occasionally I’d tag along with my Dad when he would pick her up.  He ALWAYS had to check if they had the black licorice ice cream in.  I’m not sure if I loved it too or just liked it because he liked it.  I’ve been toying around with different ways to make homemade when my youngest asked if we could make red licorice ice cream.  Why not?!
    After a few batches of tedious straining I had a moment of clarity when I saw our vita mix on the counter.  Why not? So I made a simple Philadelphia style ice cream base with reduced sugar since the licorice itself has sugar.  I wish my Dad were here to try it, I think it would be his new favorite.
    Make a batch up for your favorites this Valentines day!

    LICORICE ICE CREAM
    5 oz licorice (13 sticks)
    1 1/2 cups milk (I use fat free)
    2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
    1/2 cup sugar

    Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
    Chill or immediately churn in ice cream maker.
    (I used my Cuisinart 1 1/2 quart ice cream maker and churned 25 minutes)
    Freeze in airtight container for at least an hour before serving.

    Red Licorice Ice Cream

    Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

    Ingredients

    • 5 oz licorice (13 sticks)
    • 1 1/2 cups milk (I use fat free)
    • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup sugar

    Instructions

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  • Chill or immediately churn in ice cream maker.
  • (I used my Cuisinart 1 1/2 quart ice cream maker and churned 25 minutes)
  • Freeze in airtight container for at least an hour before serving.
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    Fortune Cookies

    We homeschool.  Which means when we finished studying China in geography and we made a Chinese dinner my 10 year old was quick to point out that fortune cookies are not really from China.  She’s right too.  But of course we still made them anyways.
    These are really quite easy to make, you just have to fold them quickly while they are still warm.  I suggest starting with one or two at a time until you feel comfortable.  Sometimes folding them on a tea towel can be helpful, as you can use the towel to help you fold while not having to touch the hot cookies.  My hands have been desensitized to heat it seems from working in bakeries when I was younger.
    I use butter instead of oil, but you could use oil.  You can change up the extract as well to add a fun twist.
    These make a fun Valentine’s cookie and you can buy take out boxes at restaurant supply stores for packaging even.  Let your kids write their own fortunes or Valentine messages or you can find lots of printable lunchbox notes and jokes online.
    EDIT: Last night we made these with my 4-H group and I’ve added a couple tricks that seemed to make it better!

    FORTUNE COOKIES
    2 egg whites
    1 tsp vanilla
    1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    1 T water
    1/2 cup flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 tsp cornstarch
    1/4 tsp kosher salt

    Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
    Rest in the fridge for at least one hour.
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Lightly spray with nonstick coating.
    If your batter is thick add water 1 tsp at a time until it is fairly thin.
    On your first tray, I suggest starting with just one or two to get the hang of it.  Drop a tablespoon of batter for each cookie.
    Spread batter using the back of a spoon into as even of a circle as you can, approx 3 to 3 1/2 inches across.  You want the batter thin enough that you can see the mat through the batter.

    Bake for 6-8 minutes until lightly golden around the edges.
    Immediately remove and place right side down. (place on a tea towel so you don’t burn your hands if you need.)
    A thin spatula works best for this, I have found my fish spatula works perfect!

    Place a fortune in the middle.

    Working quickly, fold in half so the curved edges meet.

    Then fold over the rim of a cup or bowl.


    Place cookies in muffin cups to cool (this takes just a minute) so they hold their shape.

    Fortune Cookies

    Yield: Approx 2 dozen

    Ingredients

    • 2 egg whites
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 1 T water
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tsp cornstarch
    • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

    Instructions

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
  • Rest in the fridge for at least one hour.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Lightly spray with nonstick coating.
  • If your batter is thick add water 1 tsp at a time until it is fairly thin.
  • On your first tray, I suggest starting with just one or two to get the hang of it.  Drop a tablespoon of batter for each cookie.
  • Spread batter using the back of a spoon into as even of a circle as you can, approx 3 to 3 1/2 inches across.  You want the batter thin enough that you can see the mat through the batter.
  • Bake for 6-8 minutes until lightly golden around the edges.
  • Immediately remove and place right side down. (place on a tea towel so you don't burn your hands if you need.)
  • A thin spatula works best for this, I have found my fish spatula works perfect!
  • Place a fortune in the middle.
  • Working quickly, fold in half so the curved edges meet.
  • Then fold over the rim of a cup or bowl.
  • Place cookies in muffin cups to cool (this takes just a minute) so they hold their shape.
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    Teddy Bear Tea Party

    If you have littles, a teddy bear tea party is something you need to do.  Some years ago my daughter wanted one for her birthday.
    I wondered if her friends were getting a little old for one but what ensued was pure magic.  We sent each girl an invitation with a miniature invitation to her #1 teddy.  They were so excited and it was just the sweetest day.

    Each girl was given a simple handmade bear.

    The menu was simple and just what a teddy would want to have with his favorite girl.

    Gummy berries, teddy grahams, and some bit of honey (This really was some years ago! My daughter is now allergic to tree nuts so these would be a no-go now!)

    Muddy bear parfaits.  Just some chocolate pudding, whipped cream, and teddy graham crumble.  Topped with a very muddy (chocolate dipped) gummy bear.

    You can’t have a tea party without fairy bread.. or fairy bears rather!

    And of course some honey cake.

    The cake was my favorite.  I made the decorations with marshmallow fondant.

    This bear particularly enjoyed the treats!

     

    Christmas Tree Dolly

    Our Christmas tree stays up for… you know, longer than socially acceptable… I was pretty impressed we made it until after Halloween this year!
    We used to put our tree up in the front window but my kids love having it in our family room where we enjoy it more.  So the only spot is in front of our bookcases.. which we use.  So that means for 2 months it is practically impossible to get into them.
    I was cleaning out the garage and came across an old table top and had an idea strike.
    I added 4 small roller ball bearings (since they would be lower to the ground than regular casters). I found mine at Harbor Freight tools, these are the ones I used. 

    Since the table top was all ready finished that was it! Now, we don’t have toddlers anymore and my girls are careful with things.  If you have rambunctious kids this may not be a good idea! I could see some kids riding it around the house!

    And yes, we have a fake tree.  Since I’m allergic to pretty much every tree and grass it’s the best we can do.  But our kids don’t seem to care and love throwing 5000 homemade ornaments on it so you hardly see it anyways!

    With a tree skirt you don’t even see it!

    And now when I want to get to the bookcases I can easily move it out of the way! Problem solved!

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