Thursday, February 28, 2013

DIY St. Patrick's Day Veggies

So last year I totally decided to celebrate St. Patrick's day at the last minute, and that was fine and we had a fun evening. This year since I am currently not pregnant or in the process of moving, I thought I might even try to come up with some fun ideas in advance.

I saw this idea for cutting peppers horizontally to look like clovers and thought it looked really cute. I like three leaf clovers that Patrick may have used as an illustration to explain the three-in-one concept, so I chose peppers with three bumps to cut horizontally.

I also decided to add carrots, broccoli, and ranch dip so my veggie platter so it would have all the colors of the Irish flag and have some variety. Orange peppers, pea-pods, and cucumbers would all be nice additions also.

This veggie tray was a huge hit. I made it early in the day thinking I would then have veggies ready for lunch and dinner (and I cut up twice the broccoli and peppers shown), but almost all of it was consumed at breakfast. I guess I haven't made ranch in a while and need to make full veggie trays more often. :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

President's Day Preschool Craft and Snack: Edible Lincoln Log Cabin

For President's Day we made another fun craft and snack in one. These edible Lincoln Log cabins were a big hit with the boys.

We used homemade pretzels that I made from adapting this recipe. But you could easily use store bought pretzels rods as well to cut out all the prep work and make this really simple. My 4 1/2-year-old was able to build his whole log cabin himself with me just giving directions. My 3-year-old was able to place the pretzels but needed me to spread the peanut butter for him.

Edible Lincoln Log Cabin Preschool Snack
  • Pretzel rods homemade or store bought
  • Peanut butter (or you could substitute sun butter or even cheese spread)
  • Plate and butter knife
Place two pretzels on the plate and spread peanut butter on all four ends. Then place two more pretzels perpendicular to the first ones on top. Continue building levels until desired height for the log cabin is reached. Then spread peanut butter across the entire pretzel rods and add a whole line of pretzels for a roof.

Because we made substantial homemade whole wheat pretzels and quite large log cabins, we actually ended up sharing these with some carrot sticks for a fun lunch.

Linking up with what i am eating at Townsend House.

President's Day Preschool Activity: Pretend You're a President Mask

Happy President's Day! We had quite a bit of fun celebrating President's Day this year and I hope that you will too. One of the highlights were these easy pretend you are a president peek-hole masks. They are a fast and easy presidential craft perfect for preschoolers. We made Lincoln and Washington masks, but of course you could choose any other president(s) you wanted After they are done making their masks they can pretend to be presidents as long as they like.

Pretend You're a President Mask Preschool Craft

  • Cardboard or poster board
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, markers, or something else to decorate with
I simply drew the outlines I wanted for Lincoln and Washington on cardboard as well as the peek hole for the child's face and cut them out. Then I showed my kids pictures of these presidents again and let them color the masks. Then they had fun pretending to be the presidents.

At first Lincoln was the coolest, because he has a top hat (like Sir Topham Hatt from Thomas the Tank Engine). But then we told them about how Washington was a soldier and how he had a sword, and then Washington was the coolest and both boys wanted to be Washington with a sword.

Eventually, everyone ending up sharing nicely even with the baby. :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DIY Edible Chocolate Play Dough Gift (Special Preschool Age Activity and Treat in One!)

This year I decided at the last minute on February 2 that we would actually celebrate Groundhog's Day with some activities this year. Yeah, I'm kind of random like that. So (among other things that maybe I'll talk about another time) I mixed up some chocolate edible play dough on a whim, and we made chocolate groundhogs. They were tasty.

The boys loved the play dough so much and they have been asking for it ever since. So I decided one of their Valentine's presents would be edible chocolate play dough and M&M's to decorate their creations with. This activity is great because it is so easily customizable for any holiday. You could also challenge a young child to make certain shapes or an older child to make letters and spell words out of the play dough to make it more educational.

Whether you need a last minute Valentine for your kids, an activity and treat in one for any other holiday, or just something to do on a rainy day, I think this will be a hit.

Homemade Edible Chocolate Play Dough Recipe

  • 1 cup peanut butter (you could probably substitute sun butter for those with allergies, but I haven't tried)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup powdered milk or oat flour (I used homemade oat flour and it worked great)
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder (of course you can just leave it out for a non-chocolate version)
In a mixing bowl stir and knead all ingredients until well combined to form a soft dough. If it turns out too dry, you can add more peanut butter or milk (if you are going to use it very soon) one tablespoon at a time.

Store in an airtight container. And since I made it ahead of time,  just to be safe I am keeping it in the refrigerator until I give it to them in two days.

I am packaging it up with some M&M's which are a huge treat at our house. I think any colored candy or even dried fruits and nuts could work well though.

DIY Oat Flour

This is so simple that this may be my shortest post ever. This isn't even really a recipe, but it uses basically the same process as making powdered sugar at home.

Homemade Oat Flour

  • Rolled oats or oatmeal

Place rolled oats or oatmeal in the blender and blend until finely ground. This homemade oat flour has worked well for me in pancakes, muffins, cake and bread. I haven't tried it yet in a recipe that uses 100% oat flour, but I don't generally make recipes that call for that. I love adding this whole grain flour into recipes for some variety now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

DIY Chinese Potstickers

Traditionally, Chinese Dumplings (jiao zi) are eaten at Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) time because the shape resembled ancient money and they are thought to bring prosperity to the household. We just think they are tasty. Jiao zi prepared any way (boiled, steamed, fried, and deep fried) are probably one of our most favorite Chinese foods. My boys helped me make these this time and they were super excited to help cook one of their favorite foods.

I have talked about how to make the actual dumplings before and then how to boil them. More recently I learned how to pan fry these same dumplings the traditional way to make what is called here either jiān jiǎo, 煎餃 (meaning oily but dry fried) or guō tiē, 鍋貼 (literally pot-stick) and is known in North America by the name potstickers. This is probably our most favorite way to eat them because the bottom is fried crispy, but there is only a small amount of oil and the top is steamed soft and chewy.

Homemade Potstickers

  • Premade dumplings homemade or purchased
  • Oil
  • Water
  • A wok (chǎo guō, 炒锅  which literally means fry pan- so why do we call them woks?) with lid
  1. Put a small amount of oil (you can use any amount from 2 Tbsp up to just covering the bottom of the pan that you want, but keep in mind these are called potstickers for a reason).
  2. Place on stove and begin to heat.
  3. Add dumplings in a single layer and begin to heat.
  4. Now very carefully, the oil may spit and splutter and you don't want oil burns,  add water (3/4 cup is enough if your filling meat is precooked use up to 2 cups if the meat is raw) to the pan. and put the lid on.
  5. Cook until the water evaporates and then the jiao zi should be done. Eat with vinegar, soy sauce, and/or hot chili sauce for dipping.

Make dumplings
Dumplings prepared by my 4 1/2-year-old, pretty good!
Add oil

Place dumplings in single layer

Very carefully add water
Place lid

And they're done!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Chinese New Year Preschool Craft: Firecracker Decorations

Chinese New Year (which is actually called Spring Festival in China) festivities are underway here. Today is "New Year's Eve" and the actual Lunisolar New Year Day is tomorrow. This will start the official two weeks of the festival, but really people have been celebrating for at least a week and there are generally festivities for a month or more surrounding the holiday.

During this time there are lots of firecrackers and fireworks going off all over, even in cities where they are less prevalent in general. Today we've heard a lot more than usual and tomorrow night will probably be the biggest firework day of the year (if I remember right from last year).

Updated February 10th:
We learned later that we were kind of confused on the dates. The actual New Year's day this year was February 10, but the festival starts New Year's Eve, so people refer to this as the start of the holiday. So anyway, the biggest firework day is the New Year's Eve night into the New Year's Day. Last night/this morning there was definitely a huge amount of fireworks at midnight. I think we figured out our confusion on this subject now on to other cultural mysteries.)

In addition to lighting off fireworks, firecracker decorations like this one are all over as well. A few days ago we made this simple hanging firework decoration. We don't in any way believe we need real or decorative fireworks to scare away bad luck or vampires, but I thought this would be a good way to explain to our boys that some people here do believe that. That is why they buy and use those things, and why we don't. (Besides the strong focus of visiting with family, the big emphasis of this holiday is good luck for the New Year, and pretty much everything surrounding this holiday has to do with either inviting good luck or keeping bad luck away, so we can't really do anything related to Spring festival without addressing it.)

We also got a lot of tracing practice writing the Chinese characters for firecracker (biānpào, 鞭炮) on each firecracker. If you didn't want to write the characters you could just decorate the red paper with black and/or gold designs as well.

Street-side cart of firecracker and other decorations

Spring Festival Firework Decorations

  • Red scrapbook or construction paper (I cut up a red gift bag with a swirly design that had torn a little, but any sturdy red paper would work)
  • Pencils, pens, markers, or even glitter glue pens
  • Scissors
  • Stapler and staples (or tape could work)
  • String to hang
  1. Cut small rectangles of red paper (mine were about 3x5 inches).
  2. If you want you can write the Chinese character for firecracker (biānpào, 鞭炮) one each piece of paper and have your child trace over it. Or you could have an older child try to write it on their own. Or you can skip the character and just make designs in black or gold.
  3. Curl each piece of paper around to make a small tube and secure with a staple or piece of tape.
  4. Cut some lengths of string and attach on to each tube.
  5. Tie the tubes together at varying heights and hang. 
 If you want you can practice saying, biānpào. The pow sound with the strong falling tone almost sounds like a firecracker, which helps me remember it. :)


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