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!
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?
Our best-loved toys: Ideas for holiday gift-giving
December 13, 2011 at 6:00 am
A couple of years ago, a friend brought her children over for a visit.
As she peeked into our living room, she asked me, “where are your toys?”
And to be honest, if you looked in there today, you might ask the same thing. We don’t have a designated playroom full of small bins. Our toys tend to blend in with the wood panelling a bit.
That’s because we tend to favor toys made of natural materials — wood, cotton, wool, etc.
And, we rotate toys. Usually just a few things are out on our shelves. Everything else we store, and we change out the big toys (like the stable, or the fairy house, or the car garage) every week or two.
But my kids dearly love their toys. They play with them for hours, and often find creative ways to mix and match items, like using a basket of blocks and a basket of small animals to create a zoo.
There are a few toys that we own that are very well loved. Every time we bring them out, there is excitement and new discovery. These are our “top” toys, and many of them I have purchased again for family members or friends with smaller children:
- Musical instruments. Family members were a little surprised when these made the holiday wish list several years in a row. But my kids love music. They put on CDs and play the instruments and dance. They bang away frustrations on drums, the shake away extra energy with a maraca. We have had a basket of musical instruments available to kids since they were babies, and they are always a hit!
- Puzzles. We often pull out wooden puzzles (and now larger puzzles with more pieces) on long afternoons. I still envision my kids as babies sitting at the table with an afternoon snack putting puzzles together with their free hand. Puzzles help with dexterity and problem solving, sure — but they are also a nice, calm, indoor activity when the weather gets cold.
- Blocks. Simple right? But I can’t tell you the number of hours we have spent here playing with blocks. Blocks can build so many things. We have made zoos and towers, cities and villages … blocks are useful for finger puppet play scenery and can be combined with other toys for endless fun.
- Play silks. We always have a basket of play silks handy to be used in play. From dress-up to creating “lakes” in a block village, playsilks can become just about anything — baby blankets, placemats, wings, hats … they are such a versatile toy!
- Dress-up clothes. My children love dressing up. They don capes to go to the grocery store, and dog ears to visit restaurants. We have a huge bin filled with hats, vests, glasses, ties, scarves … mostly old and thrifted. The kids loved getting dressed up and I am all for driving a princess and an adventurer to the library.
- Art stuff. Seriously, this isn’t a toy, but we spend HOURS creating with paper, yarn markers, crayons, beeswax, clay, beads … the list goes on and on.
- A play kitchen. Our play kitchen is always cooking! We have lots of pretend wooden and felt food, and the kids spend many hours cooking up recipes. Sometimes the kitchen is a restaurant. Sometimes it is a zoo kitchen making food for the animals, but it is always, always in use.
- A vet kit. This is one of only a handful of plastic toys in our house that gets regular use. But as a family of animal lovers, we are often caring for fluffy friends.
What do your kids play with most?
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!
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.
Another way to sneak in some sea
November 16, 2011 at 6:00 am
A while back I posted about adding kombu, a sea vegetable (please do not call it a weed — it does not like that) to beans during cooking.
Kombu helps to make the beans more digestible, which is a very nice thing. But sea vegetables are packed with trace amounts of many minerals. They contain iron and vitamin C, folate, Vitamin K and even tryptophan. They are also a great source of iodine.
It seems like there is more and more good news about sea vegetables all the time.
So I have found another way to sneak them into my diet without snacking on those seaweed snacks, which I just can’t quite get behind yet. (It is the texture, more than the taste.)
Instead, I have started adding it to my bulk grains that I cook each week– usually a big pot of brown rice and some quinoa.
I can promise you that I notice NO taste difference, but I do know I am getting extra nutrients in each bite.
This week I added it to my favorite fall quinoa salad. I have also recently started adding pumpkin seeds to the salad as well. They add a nice boost of magnesium and zinc. And they are tasty and crunchy and delicious.
I would love to incorporate more sea veggies into my diet.
What is your favorite way to sample from the sea?
Halloween is Hallo-Over
November 8, 2011 at 6:00 am
I’m kind of over the Halloween candy. What about you?
I really do try to be a good sport about these things, but the problem with having so much candy in the house is that we eat it, because it is here. When it eventually runs out, or more often we forget about it, it stops being a problem.
But toward the end of last week, I started feeling a little over the candy. Instead of dumping treats in the trash, we started leaning toward other sweet things.
When the kids asked for a treat (or I felt like one myself) I tried offering up something slightly healthier but still sweet, like granola, muffins or homemade cookies.
How about a few of these:
Instead of a few of these:
I also made up a big batch of rice pudding using agave, which doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike the way candy does.
Our favorite recipe uses arborio rice, which makes the pudding extra smooth and creamy.
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups water
1 tsp light olive oil
a pinch of sea salt
3 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
6 to 8 tbsp agave
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of water plus olive oil and salt to a boil. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently. In a separate large pot over medium heat, warm milk, vanilla, agave and spices. When rice is cooked, add to warm milk mixture and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until pudding thickens. Chill and serve.
How are you handling the week after Halloween at your house?