Thursday, May 26, 2011

Busy Cooking: Strawberry Chunk Muffins

The way I judge a food blog is by the muffins and cupcakes they have.  I am always on the hunt for muffins because they are quick, easy, and portable for breakfast.  With five kids, I don't have time to sit and eat.  I have always seen links to the blog, Confections of a Foodie Bride, so I finally looked at it and these muffins jumped out at me.  She called them Strawberry Cream Cheese muffins, but some people are turned off by cream cheese (my brother) so I didn't want to scare them off.  I made them two different ways, one with a small amount of cream cheese (it was all I had) and one according to her exact recipe, both turned out equally delicious!

I have recipes for two other strawberry muffins/cupcakes on the blog, here and here, but I have to say, I think these are my favorite ones.

Strawberry Chunk Muffins:

Oven: 350

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
** 8 oz softened cream cheese ( OR substitute 4 oz cream cheese)
** 1/4 cup softened butter  (AND substitute 1/2 cup softened butter)
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (I made my own, 1/2 tsp white vinegar in 1/2 cup milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup strawberries, cut into 1/4" chunks

** Use the red alternate substitutions for both butter and cream cheese if you want to use less cream cheese.  I actually liked these ones a tad bit better.

1) Cream together butter, cream cheese, and sugar in mixer with paddle attachment.  Scrape down sides.
2) Add in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Mix, scrape down sides, mix until just combined.
3) In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, mix until just combined, will be thick batter.
4) Fold in strawberries.
5) Either grease muffin pans, or put liners in pan.  Fill each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full of batter.  Bake for 15-17 minutes for mini muffins, 20 minutes for large muffins.

I made 24 mini muffins and 9 large with this batter.

Fresh out of the oven, they were like hot buttered biscuits with strawberry jam, so DELICIOUS!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bird Unit Activities

Here are some other bird themed activities we've been doing during this unit.

I made a chart with photos of twelve different backyard birds (I found the pictures on the internet, and made the chart in power point).  I made two copies of the chart, one has the birds' names on it and one just has the pictures only and I laminated them.  I made separate strips with the birds' names on them.  The 3 and 4 year old can use the chart with pictures and names on it to help them properly label the picture only chart.  They match a name on the strip with a name on the chart and place it under the correct bird.  The kindergartener and second grader label the blank chart with the name strips by memory and then use the other chart to check their work when they are done:

I found coloring pages on the internet (by searching in google) of the same twelve birds.  I saved them to my computer and shrunk them down to 1/4 page in power point and made a small "My Bird Coloring Book" for each of my kids.  They could use the bird charts from above or our Bird Field Guides to color the birds the appropriate colors.  I also left a line on the bottom of each coloring page for them to write the bird's name in.

I printed out another chart with names of the birds only.  I am using this for the kids to draw their own pictures of the birds:
I bought small decorative birds, eggs, and nests, and put them on a tray for patterning and free play:
I bought a copy of Backyard Birds magazine and typed up some question and answer sheets for my second grader to fill out.  Here is an example of the one from the Hummingbird article.  It helped him to recognize important facts from the article and he even helped my mom make new nectar for her feeders.
I have a Charley Harper Coloring Book of Birds (I love it so much, I am photocopying the pages for the kids to color so we can keep it around longer), I put pages out for them to choose to color:
We have a DK Backyard Bird sticker book too:
My mom found a bird's egg in the yard a few weeks ago.  My second grader was very interested to find out what type of bird laid the egg.  It prompted me to print him out a chart to fill in about various birds we have spotted around the yard, with one category being a drawing of the bird's egg.  He spent several hours on the computer reading about birds and their eggs.  If we hadn't found the egg, I never would have thought to teach him about identifying birds by the eggs they lay.  They finally identified it as a sparrow's egg.
If you are studying birds with your kids, you might consider:
identifying birds by their song
by their eggs
by their feathers
by their habitats (nests or birdhouses they prefer)
by things they eat

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Backyard Bird Songs

I bought my kids a few books about bird songs, one is The Backyard Bird Song Book, another is Bird Songs from Around the World, and the last is A Guide to Night Sounds.  We are staying at my parent's for a while, and they live in a remote spot, so there are a lot of birds chirping, especially at this time of year.  A couple weeks ago, my son came down and said he kept hearing a noise every morning and wondered what it was.  He repeated the sound to me, "heee hoooo".  I knew it must be a bird, so I got out the Backyard Bird Songs and we ended up identifying the bird.

The Backyard Bird Songs book is easy to use and it's a sound book that you won't get annoyed by your child having because it produces sounds you'd hear anyways.  For each bird, there is a page of information, then a color picture of the bird.  Above the picture, there are two numbers, one for the bird's song and one for a call.  After playing the songs in order, we identified the bird as a black capped chickadee (the Massachusetts state bird).  Later that day, we were outside with the book, and as my son played the song, a real black capped chickadee in the yard would repeat the song back, it was really cool.

For part of my second grader's and kindergartener's work on birds, they have a list of twelve birds who they have to learn to identify by their song.
(Yes, I know my daughter has a great sense of fashion ;) )

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Potato Stamp Birds

Here's another idea I found on The Chocolate Muffin Tree via The Crafty Crow for our bird unit.  A simple colorful painting using potatoes as stamps.  This was easy and fun and something all ages could join in for, including my mom and I.  Painting is a great way to relieve stress.

First, cut several small pieces of corrugated cardboard of varying lengths from 2-5 inches (for the tree branches), stamp with brown:
Next, cut a potato into fourths, we used a small red potato:
Next, put out lots of colors of paint, stamp the bird bodies with the potatoes:
Use a paint brush and press down on it's side for the tail:
Use the end tip of the paint brush to add beaks, feet, and eyes.

Done by a 7 year old:
6 year old (that purple bird in the bottom corner is my favorite!):
4 year old:
3 year old:
My mom:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bird Nest Supply Balls

For the month of May, we are studying birds, butterflies, and rocks (outdoor things).  I've been reading around trying to find ideas for projects having to do with birds.  This post that popped up on my facebook page from The Crafty Crow was too perfect.    Have you ever been on the Crafty Crow?  It is a great place to find projects to keep your kids busy- on the side bar, you can search through categories by theme or type of project.  On the bottom sidebar, you can search through the different blogs who contributed to the site, and this is where you really spend a lot of time, there are some great blogs that contribute here.  This is a great place to start if you are beginning to look for ideas for summer activities for your kids.

For the bird nest supply balls, you will need:

about 9-12 feet of craft wire (22 gage, we used 20)
fabric scraps
cotton ball
soft remnants
(nothing sharp, glass or plastic)

First, cut the wire, and bend the edges in with a pair of pliers so little hands will not get cut or poked.  Take the wire in your hands and smoosh it together like you are making a snowball:
Push open some of the wire at the top of the ball, so it's like a little nest:
Put a pile of "fillers" on the table, we used lint from the dryer, stuffing from a stuffed animal with a hole in it, fleece, fabric scraps, and yarn):
Gently fill the center of the ball with the fillers and squeeze closed:
Loop a small piece of wire through the ball and twist ends together to make a loop for hanging- find a good spot in your yard, hang the ball and wait for birds to come looking for house building supplies:
Pictured below is a rat's nest turned bird's nest.  My cousin conveniently had a HUGE tangle in her hair this week, and I took some of the pieces that didn't make it through the detangling, enough to fill a whole ball:
This project is great for little fingers to practice cutting the remnants, filling the balls, squeezing,  and hanging.  It's a great way to be green with your kids!  We are just waiting to see a bird fly in and take something out, there's been a few robins scoping it out already!  Happy Birding!