cookie cakes with the girls

“just a fun thing” is my new mantra for kitchen adventures. Just a fun thing to attempt dried grapefruit slices for ornaments (so far, so failed). Just a fun thing to want to make popcorn garlands but realize that involves needles, and end up just eating the popcorn instead.

But Molly Yeh is one of my internet heroes–her posts, her very approach to baking gives me so much JOY to follow. I was delighted when I realized I had the ingredients and circle cutters on hand for her sugar cookie mini cakes. And MAN is that a good sugar cookie recipe she’s got there.

Because I wanted to bring one cake to a neighbor gal turning two-years-old, and another cake to a friend-floral-party, I let the girls cut out all their own circles and decorate them with their own approach. I did not show them photos of what we were going for, woah no. Then I did mine. I typically give them all our supplies and booty and let them take over entirely, but it worked to split up the kitchen by party lines this time (minimalism v. Never Enough Sugar Pearls).

“You’re just doing white frosting mom?” Lux asked with genuine concern for my outcome. But then when I was done, she loved them and complimented me by running for her camera and taking twenty photos of the cake from the exact same angle. I returned the courtesy to her pink extravaganza.

And Joe made us all matchstick flags, hooray.

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a few supplies: round cutter set, Wilton sugar pearls in gold, Wilton pearlized sugar in gold.

 

October snaps

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I have not had one daytime sitter for several weeks, thus no posts lately. (Tempted to delete that, because who cares, but it’s important to keep it real for those of you who never get breaks and wonder how you feel so brain dead!) Half of me thinks find a new sitter immediately! And half of me just doesn’t mind. I mind in context of “other things I want to get done” but I don’t mind when I look back on my day with them.

September finished up summer for us–a few more beach days, last ice cream adventures and outdoor picnics–and now October: “the golden hour of the clock of the year,” as I heard it beautifully described in this poem the other day.

We have begun a few school-like activities. I still hesitate to use “homeschool” as she’s only 4, but sometimes it is just easier to label things, isn’t it?

We have a math-games class, her same ballet class (with *all* 4-year-olds now–apparently a game changer for the attention span of the group), and a wood shop class, which I look forward to finding out if it works at all. She may reject it. It’s a big deal to me that Lux likes the classes and looks forward to them. I’m pretty wimpy about pushing things she doesn’t like and I would drop out if she wasn’t enthusiastic. Fortunately she loves everything so far.

These classes are funny because they are drop off, so you only get the review you get. It’s like ordering take-out and instead of eating it, reading a yelp review of it. Last year, the only review Lux solemnly gave me after her first ballet class was, “We didn’t do any twirling at all.”

Something we do labeled distinctly with homeschool is the Friday program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The kids troop around to see few pieces of art and then make a wonderful craft loosely based on what they discussed. The architecture of that building makes my mood soar, and I get to stare at the paintings for as long as they do, which is lovely.

I took a drive to the cheap area grocery store to stock up on pantry supplies and came upon a tub of non-hydrogenated shortening. It was complete news to me that this product exists! Aside from allowing some of us to dive back into recipes of our grandmother’s that have shortening in them, after reading Amazon reviews, I’ve learned it allows people with dairy allergies to bake well again. Pie crusts which I make with butter, for example, can be very successfully made with shortening.

So anyway I bought it and made several batches of chewy fragrant ginger snaps over the last week. I only had blackstrap molasses in the house (bought in a brave nutritional attempt to fix my constant iron anemia. Found in my pantry unopened, of course.) Using the unsulphered blackstrap instead of “baking” molasses definitely makes it taste more molassas-y, but all batches have been eaten with gusto by Joe and the girls nonetheless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the final step before the oven, kids love to be the ones to roll the balls of dough in the granulated sugar.

Grandma Agnes’ Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 t baking soda

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order given and chill. I mixed with a spoon, and then my hands, with great results. I wrapped mine up in saran wrap and chilled for about 40 minutes. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

 

Lux’s camera

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Two months ago my sister Joanie sent Lux her old digital camera. These funny digital relics. Most of them are great cameras with plenty of megapixels and are fully functioning. They are only obsolete when faced with the connectivity ability of our phones.

When we received the box in the mail, I greeted it with my usual skepticism of oh great, yet another accessory we are going to need to remember before we go out the door. But actually it’s been really fun. She only thinks of occasionally, usually for events, loves taking the photos, and can do it completely on her own.

After she took almost 1000 photos I uploaded them onto my computer. Her brief obsession with flags (after she learned they represented different things) is well documented. Passing home life photos that remind me of film photos from the 80s. She started taking self portraits right away, which is funny because I don’t think she’s ever seen Joe or I take one like that, with the camera pinned up inches from our eyes. I love them.

She seems to feel that something is safely archived if she takes a photo of it, which is relieving for both of us as before it felt like she counted on me to remember–“Mom, remember that bunny with the crazy whiskers we saw in the book a few weeks ago? Which book was that?” “Hmmm…no I don’t remember.” And, for example, she had something concrete to do for herself when she had to wash a detailed face paint off, just an hour after it had been applied (due to bedtime).

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She’ll say:

I took that photo of you because I love you.

I can’t wait to show dad this photo.

I can’t send you this photo. My camera only takes pictures, it doesn’t message them.

Look Joan, here’s what color your tongue is.

Lux uses a Canon Powershot SD880, available used for around $50. 

 

strawberry dream cream

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Strawberries were in season when we were in California, and this coast is now enjoying that fact by way of sumptuous bright red discounted California strawberries in our grocery stores. I let Lux pick a recipe out of the Simply in Season Children’s Cookbook for us to make together. That book’s a good one–a big spiral bound thing with bright photos. Within it, all the recipes are organized by what’s in season. She picked strawberry dream cream, a delicious spring frenzy that ends up tasting like ice cream but does not involve an ice cream maker.

strawberry dream cream, 

  • 3 cups of mashed strawberries
  • 2 cups whipping cream beaten until soft peaks formed
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 pinch of salt

Add everything, including the mashed strawberries, to the whipped cream and beat with an electric beater. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13″ pan. Freeze for three hours. Remove from freezer, scoop back into the bowl and beat again until smooth, but not melted. Distribute into popsicle molds, or bowls and freeze for another three hours.

* I didn’t see a lot of consistency change between the two freezings & mixing, so I think you could experimentally skip the last step. We kept ours uncovered in the freezer, in small ramekins, for up to a week and tasted delicious throughout the time.

kid-friendly crinkle knifesimply in season children’s cookbook

 

the play mat

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Here’s an easy Montessori hack, no purchase necessary: the play mat. I’d read about this idea–a small rug or mat that the child knows is their go-to space for all toys and projects. It supposedly can inspire ownership of space, tidiness, and project completion. But with just the three of us kicking around, it seemed a bit restrictive to demand Lux use a mat constantly, and ultimately an unnecessary extra purchase.

Enter, troubled waters: Even though Lux stopped napping around 2.5 years, I quickly realized that we still needed an hour break in the afternoon. She was often refreshed after the hour, most of which she spent talking to herself and play acting. We pressed on with “quiet time” with some difficulty. Joan naps in the girls’ room which leaves our room for Lux, and I could tell she felt like a misfit in the space there. (I asked for ideas here, and you all gave some great ones!) Despite my enticing books-on-tapes and quiet-time-only library books, she resisted it and we quickly found ourselves arguing over it every day.

Enter, a solution: a crisp blanket like this quilt, freshly laid out in front of a table papered and set with colored pencils. This has been successfully designated as Lux’s “work station.” The official labeling and the act of setting it up every afternoon has helped ease her into quiet time! hoorah. I make a point to clean it up directly afterwards, and at other times in the day she will ask for “her work space.” So I think we’ll try rolling this thing out on demand next. Any of you using this technique?

the water pitcher

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I’ve been experimenting with some Montessori things around the house. When I say Montessori, I mean keeping items that let Lux care for herself without asking for help. I have long practiced the belief that child-appropriate-things will just materialize in my life at the necessary time, and I’ve often leaned away from buying things outright. However, three years into this, I’ve finally realized that some useful things must be sought out and purchased. And if you can manage to get them immediately after you conclude that your child would enjoy them, they turn out to be the most satisfying for both of you.

Some of these Montessori-type things have really been a hit and some have just been so-so, and I’ll try to document them as we try them out. Anything I post here would be familiar to someone in the Montessori world; I don’t mean to pretend that I’ve discovered any of these nice ideas!

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First up: a hit. A 16oz glass pitcher, of satisfying weight, with a tight-fitting plastic top. I ordered one, and one day later, we concluded we needed two. One to sit on the table filled with water, waiting for a thirsty customer. Another filled with milk, sitting on an accessible shelf in the fridge, waiting for a starving toddler in the morning who has cereal and a bowl, but no milk.

The first night the pitcher arrived, I put it on the table with some glasses and Lux spent most of the meal asking us if we would like some more water and then solemnly pouring us half-glasses full. Joe and I were tossing water back just to keep up with our eager waiter. I felt she was 2x as engaged as usual and I had the aha moment-–time at the table for Lux is often an endless succession of requesting things and then waiting for her request to be filled. It was a treat to have her focused on what was happening and reversing the constant “I need” refrain.