Social enterprise - innovation at its finest?

Inside of a hot air balloonI am very grateful to Parramatta City Rotary Club for inviting me to present to their meeting last week. They not only put on a delicious lunch (I'm always motivated by good food), but were very interested in what Dinner on the Table is doing in the social sector and eager to offer their support. We look forward to staying in touch!

During our discussions the question was raised in a couple of different ways: have you received any grants or funding to provide gifted dinners to families living with disability? The answer is no.

From the outset, Dinner on the Table was set up as a social enterprise. Social enterprise is still relatively new in Australia, but it's a sector that's growing. There are just over 20,000 businesses in Australia which operate as social enterprises, and they operate in all business sectors.

In broad terms, a social enterprise exists to solve a social problem or problems. For example, around 10% of all social enterprises in Australia exist to create employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups. These businesses aim to fill a significant gap in government funded services to provide enough employment opportunities for members of our community.

A social enterprise is different to a charity. Charities typically rely on the financial support of government or other benefactors to complete their work. Social enterprises harness the power of the open marketplace, selling goods or services to fund their cause.

Dinner on the Table started with the idea that a good dinner, done for you, could change daily lives. In fact, based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we estimate that purchasing enough food to feed your household twice saves you around 3.5 hours in planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up.

That's enough time to see a movie (and have coffee and dessert afterwards!) It's enough time to take your kids to soccer and watch the whole match. It's enough time to catch up on emails, or work preparation, or have an almighty veg out in front of the TV with a glass of something. And let's not even think of the amount of ironing that could get done...

We think the impact could be even greater for families living with disability, many of whom are even more stretched for time and resources. Which is why we're taking you along for the ride: changing your daily life and changing the lives of some of society's most vulnerable in the process.

In December last year, Malcolm Turnbull announced a National Innovation and Science Agenda. The idea of eating dinner is hardly innovative. Supporting people with disability isn't noteworthy either. Creating a business that aims to support of entire households living with disability is unusual. Not relying on public funding, but asking members of the public to partner with you in this endeavour... well, that's really out there.

We think it's an idea that could really take off.

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Confident in my capability... Challenged when proving it

Image of a sunset across a paddock

I blame it on the time. Actually, I blame it on the time of day. And the lack of sleep. And the fact that I felt a little fraught at the time.

I am not generally inept at public transport. I do not usually have difficulty discerning sign boards and timetables. A very long time ago I lived in East Africa, and managed to negotiate the public transport system there. On one notable occasion I shared my seat with a live chicken, while a panic stricken goat was hoisted past my window and onto the roof of the bus upon which I sat. When it comes to transportation, I have runs on the board.

I was, on those occasions, travelling alone.

Last week, the junior recipe testers and I had the opportunity to travel to the most senior recipe testers' (AKA Mum & Dad's) farm. By train. The train left Central Station at 12.19pm, a perfectly decent time to travel. It was when I went to book the tickets I made the horrifying discovery that there were no seats left on the train.

The juniors were dismayed. There were tears. And gnashing of teeth. The only alternative was a train leaving Central at 7.04 AM. This meant that we had to be at the bus stop near home at 5.30. AM. The juniors were not the least deterred. And so the senior recipe tester dropped the four of us, and our four wheelie suitcases, at the nearest bus stop, at a time at which is it both very dark and very cold.

We travelled to Wynyard on the bus with little incident. During that first leg, I felt it incumbent upon me to educate the juniors about commuters. They are travelling to work, I instructed. They are busy, and in a hurry, and won't be pleased if they trip over a Spiderman wheelie bag. And if you cannot swipe your Opal card very quickly at the turnstile... I will have to do it for you.

The juniors dutifully watched out for commuters, stayed close, didn't get lost, and got remarkably adept at swiping efficiently. Even those who aren't tall enough to be able to see the touch pad.

We then struck a small hitch at Wynyard train station. The trouble with being responsible for small children, is that you not only have to convince yourself you are capable of caring for them, you may, on occasion, be called upon to convince random members of the public too. But when your holiday travels start well before dawn, I think you could perhaps be cut a little slack if you occasionally sound like a complete lunatic.

"I'm looking for platform 2, please," I enquired of a uniformed man.

"There isn't a platform 2," came the reply.

"What about the train to Epping, leaving from Platform 2?"

"The train to Epping leaves from platform 4. Do you want to go to Epping?"

"No."

"Where are you going?"

"I need to get to the city."

Given that we were in fact standing in a city train station, I should not have been surprised when the gentleman raised his eyebrows.

"The next city circle train leaves from platform 5."

"Doesn't the train to Epping leave in about 2 minutes?"

"I thought you weren't going to Epping. Where do you want to go?"

"Central. But I thought the Epping train would be quicker."

There was a pause, while he considered me and my three progeny and their significant suitcases for a journey of only two stops. "Where are you actually going?"

"Bungendore."

At this point I believe the gentleman was making mental notes. He noted what the junior recipe testers were wearing. He memorised what I was wearing... all things he would need later to explain to some authority, either law enforcement or child protection, about the missing passenger who, together with her three charges, had not the first clue about where she was going. 

I'm not sure of the final destination of the train we eventually got on. Fortunately for me, it stopped at Central.

I could use your vote... AusMumpreneur Awards

Vote for me button AusMumpreneur Awards

I am honoured to be nominated for an AusMumpreneur Business Award in the Making a Difference (Business) category.  This is a people's choice award... which means I could really use your vote.

Our long term vision at Dinner on the Table is to challenge the way we support people with disabilities and those close to them, most often their families. We believe that meeting the needs of all members of a household has a positive impact on family wellbeing. This may be no more prevalent than in families living with disability.

Did you know that crisis driven family breakdown in families living with disability is often related to the unmet needs of those in the household who don't have a disability? And yet, disability services continue to provide support to individuals with disabilities and rarely to those who live with them. We all have to eat. So why not cook people a really good dinner?

We want to make a difference in the lives of families living with disability as well as those who don't. We want to make your life easier, and we want you to eat well. Winning this award will help us tell this story to a bigger and broader audience.

I'd love your support, with your vote, here. Every voter also goes into the running to win a family sailing adventure, courtesy of Melbourne Sailing Adventures.

Finite energy points - the daily life juggle and the energy overdraft

Light globe on its side with a little smoke coming off it

Most days, I work on the proviso that we start every day with a certain number of energy points. These are there for the picking, spent as the situation requires. Some tasks, of course, require a greater number of energy points than others. Occasionally I find I can achieve two tasks using a single energy point, and in those rare moments, I feel supremely smug.

Over the years I have learned three things:

  1. Getting an overdraft is difficult.
  2. Sometimes I am over-expended by 8.32am.
  3. My application for an overdraft, logged by 8.43am, is usually denied by 9.03am.

Here's how the tally went today:

Get up early to ice new cupcakes to be taken to preschool for the junior recipe tester's birthday. These were to replace the lot of cupcakes that never made it to preschool last week (when it was actually his birthday) due to the contraction of a communicable disease.
-10 points

Realise I have forgotten to purchase lollies to put on said cupcakes and have to explain my ineptitude to the junior.
-1 point

Manage the junior's disappointment.
-5 points

Find a suitable alternative lolly in the pantry.  Am so relieved, and the junior so pleased with the outcome, I receive an energy boost.
+2 points

Get the washing up done before we have to run out the door.
-5 points

Feel extremely good about having a clean kitchen.
+6 points

Walk through a puddle of water on the kitchen floor, which I hadn't previously noticed, spilled from the afore mentioned washing up.
-1 point

I am wearing only socks
-2 points

Search for a pair of dry socks in my drawer. There are none.
-3 points

Head to the laundry to rummage through unfolded washing for socks.
-5 points

After several minutes searching, I can find only 1 sock.
-4 points

Pack cupcakes into a suitable container for transportation to preschool.
-1 point

Negotiate with an over-enthusiastic junior about the pitfalls of carrying such precious cargo to the car, and perhaps he should allow me to do it.
-5 points

Lose that battle and admit defeat.
-1 point

Unpack the cupcakes to wipe as much squashed icing off the inside of the container as I can after the junior drops the cargo in spectacular fashion.
-3 points

All the while gritting my teeth and trying not to (a) shout or (b) preach about how early I got up that morning to sort the cupcakes out.
-8 points

Make it to preschool drop off
-10 points

Preschool teachers don't need explanation as to why there is icing squashed everywhere. (They've seen it before)
+1 point

Realise how much I need a cup of coffee
-1 point

Realise I have driven past the coffee shop and need to turn around
-3 points

Select an appropriate driveway in which to pull in to (to turn around) and wait for a break in the traffic
-1 point

When the break does appear, realise that I've overshot the driveway and can't pull in to it at all. This causes some alarm.
-4 points

Create a traffic headache on the street because now I am blocking both sides of the road and doing a 7 point turn. Alarm turns to panic combined with embarrasment
-9 points

Attempt to wave an apology to my fellow motorists. Consider winding down the window to shout an explanation about cupcakes. Receive an error message:
Zero balance

If you're in overdraft just after breakfast, and are struggling to raise the points to get through the day, much less cook dinner, may I suggest this week's menu?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Painting of a wonky muffin

We had a special day today in the kitchen, as we were joined by two clients of Northwest Disability Services who came to volunteer their time in the kitchen. They helped us package your dinners, wash up a myriad of pots and pans (you should see the mountain of washing-up we create each day) and they also found time to make you some choc chip muffins.

These muffins don't look like our ordinary muffins. And that's because they aren't ordinary. From the outside they look a little wonky. Some of them have a little of the mixture on the outside of the paper case. Some of them are a little bigger than you're used to. Some of them are a little smaller.

But you know what? These muffins have been made with care by people who have gifted us their time. They have been made by people who have a disability and who want to work productively and meaningfully. They are packed full of ingredients you want to eat. And they taste delicious. Gifted, meaningful, full of good quality ingredients, delicious to eat. Beautiful? We think so.

This week we'd love to gift a small pack of these muffins to anyone who orders more than $80, while stocks last. We think you're going to love them. Order your dinners now!

The art of giving up

Cupcakes with birthday candles, one in each

There is an art in parenting, I think, in recognising the time at which you would do better to stop. There's a time when it would be prudent to realise that continuing to do for your children is pointless, and just leave well enough alone.

I am a lousy judge of such a time.

Today was our youngest junior recipe tester's birthday. He has finally reached that all important age that will allow, nay compel, him to go to an institution of formal education next year. He has reached the ripe old age of five.

Unfortunately, the day dawned with him feeling a little average and so we decided he'd be better to stay away from his current place of education (preschool) and be at home. By the afternoon he had picked up significantly and I was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of having him at home after all. The myriad cupcakes I had cooked to take to preschool to share with his friends sat forlornly in a container on the bench. "No matter," I thought, "they can go tomorrow."

Birthdays signify choice of dinner. His wishes were accommodated and preparations were made. Given that he'd had an average start to the day, I reasoned we could make up for it with a celebratory dinner. By the time we sat down to said dinner, he was again looking a little peaky. We jollied him along, determined that we would have a fitting celebration.

Perhaps one bite into his dinner, he started to look miserable. We cut it up for him, valiantly highlighting the most delicious features that he had, after all, selected. It didn't take long before he began to cry. His feet were itchy. With not the first clue on how to remedy itchy feet, the senior recipe tester and I focused on what we could do: conduct a celebratory birthday dinner.

I offered to assist him by feeding him, and he agreed. The itch, and therefore the tears, intensified which resulted in gagging. Some dinner landed back on the plate. Other bits went other places.

I consider myself fairly determined. We ploughed on with increasingly shrill chatter about how exciting it was to be five. There were new adventures to have, delicious dinners, such as the one in front of you, to eat, a new bike to ride, and perhaps just another few mouthfuls would help you make it to six.

Eventually, he howled that he wanted to go to bed.

There is an art to knowing the moment at which to give up. I am a lousy judge of that moment. Tomorrow, we will take cupcakes to the doctor.

Tortilla recipe

Tortillas

Bread is a big deal in my house. Warm, fresh, homemade bread is a bigger deal. I don't think we want to limit ourselves to eating these only with the Chicken Fajitas on this week's menu. I would eat these with Slow-Roast Pork too. I would also use them to mop up the juices of any casserole I can think to name, or for breakfast with honey.

Well, I'll be honest. I just like to eat them. And because I know you will too, here's the way to have some on hand.

This is fresh bread in that familiar, flat, tortilla shape. A caveat here: they are hand rolled and so do not have that machine rounded shape that you're used to. They are round(ish), but each has it's own... um, personality. Know that as well as lacking perfect roundness they lack preservatives, additives and numbers.

Once you've rolled these, you can either freeze them so as to have them on hand when you're hankering for fresh bread, or you can cook them immediately. Heat a dry fry pan and cook them the same way you would pancakes. A minute or two each side and they're done.

300g plain flour
1tsp salt
3g baking powder
60g olive oil
2/3 cup warm water

Mix flour, salt and baking powder together. Add olive oil and mix in mix master until combined. Slowly add water and continue mixing using dough hook until dough comes together. Or, you can mix by hand instead, it will just take a bit longer to come together.

Cover with cling wrap and allow to rest for 15-30 mins. Once the dough has rested, roll out thinly (we use 50g of dough for every tortilla) and then either freeze, with a sheet of baking paper between each tortilla to prevent them sticking together, or cook them immediately. Heat a dry pan and cook as you would a pancake, a minute or two each side should do. Yum!