Super, Organic, Awesome-Pants Festive Icing!
December 22, 2011 at 6:00 am
I know what you are thinking. That is some headline.
But I had to choose something that showed my excitement at discovering the BEST recipe ever for colorful and festive natural decorating icing.
Until now, I have been at a loss when it comes to cool icing for holiday cookies. The only products out there have trans fat or artificial colors … it’s an organic nightmare.
But recently, I tried the simplest recipe ever — just three ingredients. Ready?
And guess what?! We have bright green trees, pink snowmen, and all sorts of other fun cookies. The icing tastes great and “dries,” so the cookies can be stored and shared.
I start with two cups of sugar and add a few tablespoons of cream. I keep adding cream until it gets thin enough that all the sugar is incorporated, and it is easily spreadable. I then separate small amounts into small bowls and add coloring according to package directions to make lots of beautiful colors!
December 21, 2011 at 6:00 am
I know how those elves feel.
The past week has been a flurry of sewing to get ready for the holidays.
First, there was the new tablecloth for the kids’ table and the napkins. This was important. Many a cup of cider, tea and cocoa has been served here during the past week. It is imperative to be festive.
Next, were the potholders. So far, we have 16. We had a lot of fun with this — taking all the fabric pieces and putting them together so they coordinate but are sort of funky. We bought a roll of fat quarters because I do not always trust myself to not go a little nutty when it comes to combining patterns. This was the perfect approach. Each fat quarter gave us 4 pieces, and with 8 fat quarters, that gave us roughly 26-hundred-bajillion options. That is an estimate.
I needed to work on the kids PJ pants, which I made using this kind of method. Very fun. A favorite tradition around here.
Finally, I moved onto blankets for some of the little people in our lives, including one very, very special little bambino who promises to make an appearance soon. Hooray!
These blankets are very simple — I have tried quilting, but as you can see above, my math skills limit me somewhat to more basic patterns. Instead, I like to choose a yard each of two coordinated fabrics and sew them together. It is pretty much stress-free, and I haven’t heard a baby complain yet.
I wonder if the elves find themselves indulging in too much chocolate and silly late-night movies as they finish up their work before Christmas. I mean, not that I know anyone who does that …
Mix it Up: Snowy Day Play Dough
December 16, 2011 at 6:00 am
During the really cold weeks of winter when we can’t get out much, I like to make sure to have some sensory things to add to our play here. I think it really helps all of us balance out that too-much energy equation.
One of my kids’ favorite activities is play dough, and I am always looking for new ways to make it more interesting.
So this week we made a batch of Snowy Day Play Dough.
We started with the basic ingredients for the old school homemade play dough, plus almond and vanilla extracts. (peppermint could be fun for winter too!)
Then we added the secret ingredient:
I made the basic recipe on the stove and added the extracts and glitter at the very end, right before kneading.
And there you have it — Snowy Day PlayDough. You can’t see much glitter? I think a little got in there. Much of it also got on the counter, the floor, the table …
Snowy Day Play Dough Recipe
1 cup flour (spelt flour works well if you are looking to make it wheat-free)
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons of oil
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
2 tsp of pure extract like almond, vanilla, peppermint or a mix
Add flour, salt, oil, cream of tartar and water to an old cooking pot. Cook over medium-high heat stirring frequently until the dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the pot. Remove dough. Make a little thumprint dip in the playdough and add extracts. Knead on waxed paper or parchment to prevent sticking. Add glitter and continue to knead until dough forms a nice smooth ball.
Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.
Happy Snowy Day!
How do you keep your little ones busy when the weather gets really cold?
Handmade for the holidays
December 14, 2011 at 6:00 am
Around here, we give a lot of handmade gifts.
This helps us to stay within our budget, but it also feels really good to give something homemade to people that we care about.
This year, we are making potholders and vanilla extract.
But here are a few other ideas for handmade holiday gifts that show a little love:
What are you making this year?
Easy Peasy Rice Box Fun
December 9, 2011 at 6:00 am
Oh, the rice box! How many busy days has it saved me? How many times have I pulled it out when the kids needed a calming activity and I needed a few minutes to accomplish a task?
I first heard about creating rice boxes a few years ago from a fellow homeschooling mom. She had several sensory boxes for her little ones — a rice box, a bean box, and even a cotton ball box.
Her children loved them, and I figured mine would too.
Little ones, especially, benefit so much from sensory activities. The ages of 18 months to 3 are the times I have used sensory boxes most, but my children still love them. Actually, I do too. It is really soothing to sit down and run your hands through rice, water, sand, or other materials.
The question I get most often, though, is about the mess. Because a sensory activity will really only work if you don’t dread the clean-up right?
What has worked in our home is to fill a long sweater box with rice, beans, etc. and lots of little tools like spoons, pitchers, different shaped bowls, cups, etc., little cars or boats and funnels — ALWAYS FUNNELS!
We then put the box on top of an old sheet spread out over the floor. (We have hard wood floors.)
We have ground rules: the rice or other material should stay in the box, everyone should be sitting or kneeling (no walking around with handfuls of rice, for instance). It needs to be said, once in a while, that throwing the rice is not allowed. Usually one reminder of that is enough, and older kids usually remember from last time!
We keep a little hand-broom and dustpan near-by for spills (and that kind of becomes part of the play), and when we are done, we bring out the big broom (if doing this on carpet, a vacuum would do the trick, of course!).
We also fold up the sheet as best we can and put “clean” rice back into the box to use again. If we have any “dirty rice” from the floor (we have pets and pet hair), we head for the garbage can. It’s important not to just scatter rice in your yard — for the same reason that people started throwing birdseed and blowing bubbles after weddings.
Really, there isn’t a lot of mess as long as rice doesn’t get thrown, and as long as the activity is sort of a “the rice box is open!” and then “the rice box is closing” kind of activity. I learned that from a Waldorf teacher — the open and closed thing — and it just helps to set some limits, which keeps the mess down.
The biggest thing, really, is to know that there will be a bit of mess, but that it is a nice, calming sensory mess, so in the end, it is probably worth it. My kids will play with this for at least an hour once a week, and if we add different materials (try snow in the winter!), the rice box gets used even more!
December 8, 2011 at 6:00 am
I had the opportunity recently to completely invade a new friend’s kitchen.
We were working together to cook for a party, and the conversation came so easily.
She is a long-time vegetarian and advocate of natural living. Her kitchen reflects a love of good, nutritious food and the environment too.
One of my favorite things I noticed in her kitchen was her simple compost pot.
She explained that she had seen expensive stainless steel compost pots in magazines and online, and quickly realized they they were, essentially just a pot. So she has allocated one kitchen stockpot to be her compost pot. She keeps it by her sink and adds fruits and vegetable scraps (of which there are many in her busy, healthy kitchen).
She uses a clear lid, which controls any mild odors, and she can see when it is getting full anyway, so she takes it outside to add to the heap.
Simple and totally doable! And something I have since added to my own kitchen.
It’s time to scrub!
December 6, 2011 at 6:00 am
As the temperature drops, my skin has been really suffering.
I was recently invited to one of those parties — you know the kind of parties — and tried out their moisturizing skin scrub. I’m sure it works just fine. But the ingredient list left me a little uncomfortable.
That’s when I remembered my favorite scrub recipe — shared with me by my friend Laura.
This scrub is amazing! It smooths dry elbows and knees, and leaves skin baby soft. It also smells great!
Give it a try — your skin will thank you!
Psst! This scrub also makes a GREAT homemade Christmas gift!
Lemony Sugar Scrub
(fills 3 1.5-ounce containers; I halved the original recipe)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
3 vitamin e capsules (cut open and squeeze out oil)
3/4 tbsp aloe gel
3/4 tbsp cocoa butter
4 drops lemon essential oil ( you can substitute lavender or rose)
In a small pan, mix coconut oil and cocoa butter and melt over medium heat until liquefied. Pour into a glass bowl and add sugar, vitamin e, aloe gel and essential oil. Mix well to combine. Store in airtight containers.
Scrub, scrub, scrub!
Holiday Making: Vanilla Extract
December 2, 2011 at 6:00 am
Every year, I look for ideas for small things to make for friends and family.
We give a lot of homemade gifts, and I really enjoy having something small and handmade to give to people who have made our year better — friends from the library, co-workers, neighbors.
A few years ago, I heard about making vanilla extract. But I could never seem to start it early enough. Homemade vanilla extract takes about 2 months to steep, which means that ideally, to be a Christmas gift, it should be started around Halloween.
And I am just not thinking about Christmas at Halloween.
But this year, a friend gave me a great idea — make the extract now, transfer it to small glass bottles and label it: “Do not use until Feb. 1, 2012.”
Easy-peasy, right? This year is finally the year!
In researching this process, I have learned that homemade vanilla extract basically has two ingredients: vanilla beans and alcohol. The alcohol is most commonly vodka, though I have found recipes that use rum. Apparently, the cheap stuff works fine. I used some more expensive vodka because it has been sitting in my freezer for two years looking for a home. I also bought some super cheap stuff, so I could make a lot of vanilla.
The process is simple: Split 6 vanilla beans lengthwise, put them in a mason jar, and add 2 cups of vodka. Shake, and leave it alone. Putting it in a dark place is probably a good idea. Closer to Christmas, transfer it to small bottles.
A nice bonus of making your own vanilla is that many commercial brands contain corn syrup, so this is one way to avoid the stuff. Plus, the rumor is that you can continue making vanilla from the same beans several times by adding new liquor to a little bit of vanilla extract left in the bottom of your bottle. (I’ll give it a shot in a few months and let you know.)
My vanilla has only been steeping for a few days (it darkens a little each day), and already, it smells wonderful. I can’t wait to package it up and share it with the bakers in my life, and so many people who have made this year a little sweeter.
MYO: Creative Writing Journals
December 1, 2011 at 6:00 am
Sometimes, an idea comes along just when you need it.
That’s how I felt when I saw a creative writing journal made by a woman in my writing group who is also a Montessori teacher.
She made journals with her class, but get this — she made one for herself too. Because she is a writer. And she models that for her students by sharing her own work. Brilliant!
I was so inspired that I picked up three blank notebooks that night.
That week, we each made our own Creative Writing Notebooks.
I borrowed the idea of including a Table of Contents page inside the cover. I also loved that she had inspiring words written on the cover of her notebook – words like publish and author.
When the kids and I made our notebooks, we brainstormed a list of “writer” words: creative, original, my ideas, thoughts, feelings, observations, expression, writer, write it down, revise and imagine.
We found some greater “writer quotes” like this one from one of our favorite children’s authors, Jane Yolen: “Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing … the rest will follow” and from Will Shetterly: “It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.”
Finally, we talked about some writing prompts, like describing a drawing, or writing about something that makes you laugh, or something that is special to you.
The kids and I spend some time each week writing. I get a chance to work on my assignments for my writer’s group, and they get a chance to practice putting their creativity on paper. Even my youngest, at 4, draws pictures and asks us to write words to go with.
I LOVE these journals, and the chance it gives us all to “write it down.” And I love sharing my love of writing with my kids.
November 29, 2011 at 6:00 am
So I have a few people in my life who occasionally tease me about my organic ways.
They are just joking, of course, and I don’t really take it seriously.
But recently, someone made a joke about me making my own butter.
I hadn’t ever tried it, but you know how these things work — it wasn’t long until I found an opportunity. (Coincidentally we made it in a pre-school co-op class I am co-teaching. It. Was. AWESOME.)
So now, it’s sort of a new obsession around here. Not only is homemade butter very easy (you don’t have to buy a churn, I don’t care what the Internet says), the kids love making it, and we are finding all kinds of different versions and uses for the stuff.
This past weekend we made garlic-herb butter for homemade garlic bread.
We also love to make cinnamon-butter to go with homemade bread. I know. I am getting a little Little House on the Prairie with all this. But I promise, try it once, and if you don’t find yourself making batches and batches of butter, you are a stronger pioneer than I am.
This is more of a process than a recipe. Homemade butter only contains only two ingredients: heavy cream and a bit of salt. We favor Organic Valley’s heavy cream if you can find it. The salt really makes a difference, but we literally add just a pinch.
We make butter by putting about a half-cup of cream into a small jar. We add just a few grains of sea salt.
Then the fun begins. We shake, rattle and roll that little jar until the magic happens. Shaking is great, but when little arms get tired, it sure is fun to roll it back and forth across the floor.
In just a few minutes, the cream starts to thicken, and eventually achieves a whipped consistency. This is perfect for bread and a great way to covert margarine-lovers who think that the spreadability of that stuff negates the uckiness of the ingredients.
If you shake a little more, the butter will thicken and the solids will seperate from the whey or butter-milk. (Buttermilk is great stuff and has lots of uses!)
We keep our butter in the fridge for a few days. We usually make pretty small batches, and make it often.
To make cinnamon-butter, add a just a shake of ground cinnamon to the cream before shaking.
To make garlic-herb butter, mix in minced garlic and finely chopped herbs when the butter reaches the whipped stage and stir carefully.
To make honey butter, add about a tablespoon of honey to the cream and shake like crazy.
To make citrus-butter, add minced orange or lemon zest to the cream before shaking.
Go ahead and give butter-making a try. And if anyone teases you about your efforts, offer them a bite. They will pretty quickly declare a take-back.