The longer days has brought with it more outdoor play. There are puddles to play in, the sun is out, there is a foot of snow covering the grass after what might be the last Nor’Easter of the winter, allowing us still to do some sledding. You never know what the spring will bring in the North East of the United States. We’ve had a record breaking snow storm in April before, it could happen again. Yesterday was the first day of spring and we can feel spring everywhere.
Little J: The puddles in the driveway remind me of summer.
I heard a bird singing like it’s spring.
We open windows in the house and in the car on these warm days and can here the snow melting and trickling from everywhere, like it’s raining, but the sky is blue, the sun strong.
I lovingly pin, plan and prepare my family’s every meal and snack every day.
We have a rotation of easy, healthy, familiar favorites like black beans and rice and pesto.
Sometimes, I want to branch out and try something different, adventurous,
a meal Big K and I might like better than fruit salad, string cheese or sunflower butter and jam sandwiches.
I’m discouraged lately, to be hearing an increase in complaints and whining over every plate.
Raise your hand if you sometimes feel bummed about your culinary efforts going under-appreciated.
It’s a common problem for the cook of a growing family.
One day, I made a beautiful home made salsa with no hot spices and no chunks, per Little J’s tastes. I shopped for the ingredients, peeled and chopped with Little K, put everything in the food processor. I made a lovely display of salsa on a plate with everyone’s favorite tortilla chips for an after school snack. Little J took one taste and proclaimed it “Disgusting!” Oh, my heart was broken.
Looking for a way to make the situation better, I googled, “how to reduce the complaints at meal time.” I found this post by Sellabit Mum. We decided to create our own list of meal rules that would minimize the negative comments, help me around the kitchen, and hand over some accountability when it comes to food and family, without meal time becoming a battle every day. We shared these rules and agreed on them; the rules aren’t meant to be militant. I’d love to keep meal time playful and enjoyable.
1. Mama is not a restaurant cook. One meal is made for the family. If you choose not to eat your meal, there will not be another meal prepared for you. If you’re hungry, eat more of your meal next time. Mommy wouldn’t be a good parent if she allowed you to have more dessert than healthy food, so you must eat a good meal to have a dessert.
2. Sometimes, you’re not going to like it, but you must try everything.
3. Negative comments are not welcome, keep comments positive or you will be asked to leave the table.
4. You say thank you when you are served and when the meal is over.
5. You should ask to be excused to leave the table.
6. Clear your place when you’re done.
7. Be polite at the table: Use utensils when appropriate
Use a napkin to wipe messy fingers and mouth
Eat over your plate so food doesn’t end up in your lap or on the floor
Don’t spit food out if you don’t like it.
8. Food and drinks stay in the kitchen so we don’t have spills and plates and old food all over the house.
Ice play is a perfect exploration/activity for a snow day, after the family has shoveled the driveway, gone sledding, built a snowman, made lots of snow angels, drank up their hot cocoa.
I put ice cube trays on the back porch on a cold night, ice cube trays full of water and generous squirts of food coloring.
In the morning, I popped out the ice, put it in the bowl, filled the ice cube trays again, repeated the freezing on back porch sessions, until I felt I had enough for a good building session.
On a snow day, I set up the ice, baking trays and gloves.
The kids aren’t sure what to do with the ice at first, so I start to build towers.
The ice is starting to melt and is too slippery to successfully stack.
The kids fill a round baking sheet by circling the out to the inside.
Then they’re done.
I see a post from Nurture Store that mentions the use of salt to fuse the ice blocks together!
How could I have forgotten!
So, the next time, there will be ice AND salt.
It’s time to take down the holiday decorations.
Little J is so broken hearted, especially about taking down the tree.
We decide to put the tree on the back porch after undressing it of its ornaments.
But then, it is all plain looking, so we decide to make suet to hang like ornaments.
We have the best suet recipe. Click on the link to go back to a post where I spell out the recipe.
We pack cookie cutters with the suet and put them outside to firm up in the cold. It’s been below 20 degrees F outside the past couple of days.
We pop the suet out of the cookie cutters and tie them with twine, hanging them on the tree.
We also hang the tree with painted sticks and stones made previously from another project.
Big K says he’s seen happy birds all over the tree.
The birds come out to feed right after the sun rises.
The After Christmas Tree is a book I found amongst the Christmas books at the library. It about a family that feels the after holiday blues and finds happiness by having a winter party. At the party they go ice skating, drink hot cocoa and decorate an old christmas tree with bird food ornaments.
There are some cookies that are fast and have a “low messiness” factor, that just aren’t worth the calories. There are other fussy, high-maintenence cookies, that cause you to use just about every bowl and measuring cup, spoon in the kitchen…and they are magic in your mouth.
These molasses cookies are easy and magical. It is a matter of taste too, of course. Big K’s favorite would be something that involves lots of chocolatey, chocolate, chocolate and peanut butter.
The cookie of which I drool, is the Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies from the Martha Stewart website. I’ve never particularly had much luck with Madame Martha’s recipes…there always seems to be something missing, but this one is DYNAMITE!
(I say this with my best Cookie Monster / Animal from the Muppets” impression.)
I hang out at a friend’s house with the kids, so the hubbyies could watch football.
An innocent, wonderful container of molasses cookies, all thick and chewy and molassess-y, sit on the kitchen counter.
Did you know molasses is sugar cane, reduced down to a syrup.
No wonder the ingredient is my kryptonite.
I rave so much about these cookies, my friend packs me half the container to go home, to be savored one delicious bite at a time. The family that made them, quickly got me the recipe. (Probably for fear I might bite their hand as they hand me the paper.)
Friend A and I have the morning to ourselves. He is curious about the molten, thick molasses that moves slowly in the transparent jar as we tip it back and forth. I let him dip his finger in, to answer all his questions about its consistency. He licks his finger and says, “Mmmm, tastes like chocolate and honey.”
We pick up the younger friends from school before lunch and Friend E, Friend A and Little K help me with the dishes by licking the spoons.
It’s a great recipe for kidlet helpers. They love to roll the dough into balls and then in the sugar.
We are making them today for an annual MOMS Club holiday cookie swap.
Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.
Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 tablespoon. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat.
Arrange balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges of cookies are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes (cookies can be baked two sheets at a time, but they will not crackle uniformly). Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer to racks to cool completely.
Parents.com has some great advice on how to organize a cookie exchange. If you click on the link, the article also includes more delicious cookie recipes.
Here’s how the MOMS Club does it:
* An invitation is sent out via Evite about 2 weeks in advance. The whole club is invited, 60 families, but due to schedules, not everyone can make the chosen date and time. Usually 10 to 20 familes attend.
* Guests let host know, in their Evite RSVP, what kind of cookies they’re baking, so there aren’t any duplicates.
* Families are asked to bring 3 dozen cookies. Guests bring the cookies on a pretty platter, with labels for cookies, especially if there are allergens in the cookies, and especially if there is a family with a food allergy. Some groups like to exchange recipes too.
* Everyone brings an empty container for toting their selections home. (My son has a nut allergy, but Big K loves peanut buttery cookies. I bring a separate baggy for the nutty cookies.)
* We make the event a pot luck brunch. Families contribute fruit, eggy casseroles, baked sweet breads, along with their cookies.
* After snacking and schmoozing, guests circle the cookie platters and collect their share, trade recipes etc.
* The MOMS Club arranges one extra platter of cookies. We donate to the group of choice, decided among the families in attendance at the event. Last year, the platter was donated to the town Selectman, the year before, the DPW and the year previous, the police and fire department.
Black beans are a staple in our home.
I am Cuban, I am made of the stuff, had it almost every night for dinner when I was a kid.
It’s oober healthy for the kids, and they mostly love it.
They go through phases when they say they don’t like it.
Here’s my recipe y’all:
1 can of black beans with liquid, my favorite is from Trader Joe’s. It’s low sodium.
My grandmother’s favorite is Goya, “Lista para comer.”
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 pepper, chopped
(I cut up a whole bunch of onions and peppers and store the extra in the freezer)
clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 can of water
Small sauce pan on the stove at medium heat.
Add oil until heated.
Add onion, pepper and garlic
Saute until golden
Add cumin, tumeric, salt and saffron
Add can of black beans and 1/4 can of water.
Mix and heat until boiling.
Turn down the heat.
Simmer for 45 minutes with the cover on the pot.
Serve on top of rice.
Had me some Butternut Squash and Apple Soup at the local coffee shop one late afternoon and it was soooo good.
I had to make it at home.
So I find this recipe from Whole Living. Soup is a smart liquid-meal option that’s also less taxing on your digestive system. Fibrous squash makes this velvety, slightly sweet option satiating. Plus, research shows antioxidant-dense turmeric may boost the liver’s ability to remove chemicals.
I only alter it a little. I add my homemade chicken broth instead of using water and I don’t use cardamom, because I don’t have any in stock.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, grated (2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
Dash ground cloves
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tart apple, peeled, quartered, and chopped
4 cups chopped butternut squash
Coarse salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, apple, squash, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil; cover partially and reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Working in batches, puree until smooth in a blender. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.
My kids didn’t buy into the deliciousness of this soup, but the grownups do.
I can’t help myself…
My kids won’t touch soup, but I love this book about a little boy that will only eat soup.
Alvie Eats Soup by Ross Collins.
A group of about 20 folks, MOMS and all our little ducklings, organize a tour at our local Heifer International Learning Center.
This working farm is experiential, hands-on, interactive and fun. Overlook Farm is also a demonstration farm complete with gardens and animals including yaks and traditional farm animals such as pigs, goats and more.
Heifer International Learning Centers introduce participants to the idea that one person can make a difference in ending hunger and poverty.
We start the tour with a short video, featuring 5 children from around the world, who have personally gained positive life change due to the donation of livestock. We learn that a small donation of livestock can sustain a family by supplying food and helping them earn a living. The 7 m’s of livestock: milk, manure, meat, muscle, money, materials and motivation.
We walk around the farm visiting little huts from around the world. We see how someone might live in another country.
We card some wool and spin it into a bracelet.
We visit animals, collect eggs, crack them open and compare the colors of the yolk to a store bought egg. We take turns milking a goat, feed pigs the milk, check out the yaks.
This is an exceptional experience for MOMS and kids alike.
There are only 5 learning centers like this across the USA.
I hope there’s one near you! If not, any farm will do. Farms are Fun!
Heifer Village: Little Rock, Arkansas
Heifer Learning Center at Heifer Ranch: Perryville, Arkansas
Heifer Learning Center: Rutland, Massachusetts
Shepard’s Spring: Winslow, Maryland
Howell Nature Center Howell, Michigan
1. Carve your pumpkin outdoors or cover work area with newspaper for easy clean up.
2. If kids don’t like to feel the insides with their bare hands, use a garden, rubber, or winter glove to remove pulp.
3. Dry the pumpkin with a cloth before drawing a face with Sharpie.
4. Talk to your kids about the parts of the face and let them draw and carve it themselves to the best of their ability. (Parent supervision and help is a given.)
5. Don’t dump seeds in the compost or you’ll have a surprise pumpkin patch in the spring when you use your soil for the garden. (I say this from personal experience.)
6. Roast the seeds in your oven or dry them in the sun for next year’s harvest. We’re doing both.
Three Great Pumkiny, Halloweeny Books
Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell, tells the story of a little boy, who’s leftover decomposing pumpkin, plants seeds for the next jack o lantern.
Halloween by Harry Behn, Halloween poetry paired with beautiful illustrations of children out on Halloween night.
Pumpkin Moon by Tim Preston, tells the magical story of pumpkins on Halloween night after the trick or treating is over.
We’ve drawn on plates before. I bought a special porcelain pen for the occasion. Later, I learn about Sharpies on plates, works just as well as the porcelain pen and we have more colors at our disposal with Sharpies.
After drawing, bake plate at 350 for about 30 minutes.
I have 3 small, plain, white plates I find at the “treasure house.” The treasure house is a shed at our recycle center, where people can drop off various stuffs that they aren’t using anymore, like outgrown toys, kitchen gadgets, books, etc.
The boys find the plates set up on their little kitchen table, next to a full box of Sharpies.
Little J draws a portrait of his mama, me, and Kiki draws a self portrait. Little K is just starting to show some interest in representational drawing, especially if he can use his favorite color, red. On the 3rd plate, Little J draws a rainbow. I love it when boys draw rainbows. He also loves drawing pictures of skateboarders, pools, mountains, giant mud puddles…he’s a well rounded boy.