Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Busy Cooking: Homemade Pink Lemonade

Have you ever seen a pink lemon?  - Neither have I.  Do you ever wonder how they made that delicious and extremely popular version of lemonade?  Pink lemonade is so subtly different in taste than regular lemonade, but there's just something about it that makes me want it more than the yellow version.  My kids are always begging me to make homemade lemonade.  I have fond memories of using my Nana's citrus press to make homemade orange juice and lemonade, then dreaming up my own combinations.  I wanted my kids to be able to have the same experience.  I was determined to set out and find out what makes the pink lemonade different from it's yellow counterpart, but it's so subtle you can't taste another red fruit flavor added in to make the taste noticeable.  After some internet research, and a few test runs, I have found the secret to pink lemonade- want to know?

It's GRENADINE!!!!!  (and you thought yellow and red made orange- no!, it's pink!)

I adapted this recipe from soulfoodsoutherncooking.

Pink Lemonade:

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 5-6 lemons)
4 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp grenadine

1) Put 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar in saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved.  This is called a simple syrup.  Set aside to cool (now you will not have to worry about the sugar floating to the bottom).

2) Juice the lemons
3) Pour the 1 cup lemon juice into pitcher, add remaining 3 1/4 cup water, add simple syrup, and grenadine.  Stir.

4) Pour into an ice filled glass and enjoy ( you can adjust sugar amounts depending on how tart or sweet you like your lemonade).

Ah yum:  What a way to beat the heat, bring a bowl full of ice, cold homemade pink lemonade, lots of cups, and straws outside and enjoy your drink.
Let your kids pour their own, who cares if they spill on themselves, that's what the hose is for!
This was a great way to spend a hot afternoon last week!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Busy Playing and Learning: Fun at the Beach

Today's way to beat the heat was a trip to the beach.  If you aren't lucky enough to live in a coastal state, you could always visit a pond, lake, or river nearby.  With temperatures upwards of 90', the ocean breeze and water was a perfect way to spend the day.

Most of the times at the beach, we dig holes and build sand castles.  Today, we skipped the sand castle building and instead drew pictures and practiced writing.

You can use your finger:
Or be creative with a sea gull feather (it was the first time my nephew was ever excited to write- I foreshadow tons of feather pens making their way into my sister's house):
You can use your hand as an "eraser":
We skipped the name books today and went straight for the sand:
I drew the ABC's and had the kids fill the letters in with rocks (we didn't get to the end before the tide rolled in):
Nathaniel was very excited to have lots of space to draw his room filled with 1,000,000 video games and lots of prizes and he was even more excited to explain it to me- in fact, he told me it was the most fun he's had at the beach all year.
You can play dress up at the beach too ;)
And of course, there was lots of swimming and wave hopping:

Something else I thought of (on the way home of course) was to use rocks to create life sized dot to dots for your child to trace - how fun would that be?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Busy Playing: Make Your Own Waterpark

Too hot to go to the playground?  Think again!  Check this out- we filled all our empty containers and watering cans with cold water and took them on the road:
It's so hot that my sister and I are the only cars in the lot- let the fun begin!:
Watering cans make great waterfalls and waterslides:
Splash in on the swings:
Spray me on the zipline (be sure not to get zipliner's hands wet):
Squirt guns and old waterbottles to get you wet to help beat the heat on this funfilled playground afternoon!

Best part?:  FREE and a LOT of fun, the kids were totally excited!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Busy Playing: Homemade Sundae Slide

Last week, I said to my husband "it's too hot out, there's nothing we can do".  Whoa- I can't believe I even said that, I was totally hot and bothered- just because we don't have a pool, doesn't mean the world has to end.  I am determined to think of something fun and cool to do with the kids outside everyday this week, so check back for ideas.

Did you ever watch Double Dare on Nickelodeon?  The obstacle course at the end of the show was so awesome and I always wished I had a chance to do it.  My kids have never seen the show, but I've always wanted to make a sundae slide for them (and me too).  I wish I had a waffle maker big enough to make the giant waffle with a big pat of butter on it, covered with syrup for them to sift through for the flag too (ah dreams).

What better way to fill up a hot day by making your own sundae slide.  We don't have a slide at my parent's house, but I know the playground down the street is empty on hot days, so I planned the slide activity for a hot day.  My mom was worried the chocolate syrup would stain the playground slide, so we brought our slip and slide (got it on clearance at target for $2.00), and set it up on the side of the hill at the playground.  
Then we added chocolate syrup:
Some whipped cream (the cans don't produce as much cream as you would think):
And sprinkles to complete the sundae:
We forgot to bring a flag, so we put the whipped cream can at the top.  The kids had to start from the bottom and try to climb up and grab it (we told them no standing because it was very slippery and we didn't want any banged heads), if they slipped back, they lost their turn:
We let them have two turns each, no one made it very far, but they sure had fun trying to climb and tasting their hands:
We switched to sliding from the top down, it got more messy and fun:
Look at the smiles, love it!:
We poured water down (brought it in watering cans) to clean the slide and the kids- check out the chocolate puddle:
Did someone order sprinkles on their sundae?
I don't think any one of these kids will be complaining of a boring summer, do you?


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Busy Learning: Knowing the Bees and Wasps in your Backyard

Two days ago, I quickly stepped on the porch to put something outside- I stepped on a bee and it stung the bottom of my foot.  I was thanking my lucky stars it wasn't one of the kids because it was so painful I actually cried.  Yesterday, one of my nephews got ATTACKED by yellowjackets while in my parent's backyard.  My sister heard him wimper, turned to see the swarm around him and just ran in, grabbed him, and kept running.  He must have been stung at least 20 times- he took an ambulance ride to the ER, where it was determined he was fine, but what a scare!!!

It occurred to me that with all the travelling we have done in the past few years, one of the first things I would do was look up bugs/plants that might be poisonous and make sure I knew how to identify them- but here, since I'm in my home country, I don't pay as much attention.  I decided my kids needed to be aware of the pests that inhabit the yard and how to deal with them in case of a problem.  First up, bees and wasps.

I downloaded some pictures online of a few of the most common bees and wasps we see around here, honeybee, bumble bee, hornet, yellow jacket, and paper wasp. Then, I got pictures of honeycomb, hives, and nests.  I printed them out with their name written above the picture, laminated them, and tied them together with a string:
Today, I sat my kids and their cousins down in the front yard to talk about these things they might see in the yard.  I told them if they see any of the things on the cards, they should get an adult and point to the picture on the card they saw, so we could properly identify the bug and take care of it the right way.
We walked around the yard to look at some of the most common places a bee or wasp could be spotted:
Here's one eating nectar from a flower:
We used binoculars to look at nests that were up high on the house:
We spotted some down low on the foundation, here is a mudwasp nest:
Yellow jackets like to build their nests inside of things, like the cab of this toy truck.  They are very territorial if you disturb them at home- this is why my nephew got attacked, he tried to touch the truck.
Here is the honeycomb we found inside the truck.  You can see some of the attackers lying around the ground after being sprayed by my dad:
Most of the kids were outside yesterday when my nephew got attacked.  I think they are all scared of bees now.  I explained that they can be helpful to us by making honey and killing mosquitoes.  I just told them to be aware that they are afraid of us and are just trying to protect themselves and their homes.  I warned the kids it is best to stay away from them and let an adult know when they see one, just in case.

My oldest son used the internet to look up some advice for what to do if you are attacked by a swarm of bees or wasps.  The best advice he said is to run away as fast as you can and seek shelter. He said you can try to go near flowers to distract them too.  NEVER try to swat them away, that will just make them more angry.

For our thrill challenge for the day, all the kids tried a spoonful of honey:
Do your kids know to keep away from bees and wasps and how to identify a hive or nest?  If you are bored and looking for a way to have fun in the yard, try to identify some bees and the nests they make in your yard.

If you are looking for more information about bees and wasps, here are a few sites you might like:
Mass Audubon Society- information about bees and wasps common to the state of Massachusetts

Adkins Bee Removal- identification charts for common bees and wasps

Brown County Beekeepers Association- good pictures of common backyard bees and wasps, and nests

Insect Identification- information about common insects you might see in your yard

Honey Bee Research- good advice on what to do if being attacked by bees

Wikihow- how to treat a sting

Getting rid of things- how to get rid of bees nests (with links for hornet, yellow jackets, and other wasps)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Busy Cooking: Strawberry Milk Whoopie Pies

I found a new blog I love, it's sprinklebakes!  She makes yummy sprinkly cakes and treats.  The day I found her blog, she had these strawberry milk whoopie pies as her most recent post.  How could I resist?? I love whoopie pies almost as much as cupcakes and the sprinkles add such fun color (not to mention, I have about a lifetime supply of strawberry quik in my house).

Oven:  375

Whoopie Pies:
2 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 TBSP crisco
1 cup strawberry quick powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
1 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar (*when I made mine, I was out of white vinegar, I used cider vinegar and the smell and taste were not noticeable at all)

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2-3 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

1) Preheat the oven

2) In bowl of mixer, combine crisco, strawberry milk powder, and brown sugar- mix with paddle attachment until crumbly.  Meanwhile, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl, set aside for later.

3) Add egg and egg white to the sugar mixture, beat well.  Add heavy cream, mix until smooth.

4) In another small bowl, mix together milk, baking soda, and vinegar- will foam slightly.

5) Put baking soda mix on top of sugar mixture, then put flour mixture on top of this.  Slowly stir, scrape down sides of bowl, stir again until combined.

6) Use a small cookie scoop, drop dough evenly spaced on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.

7) Cook for 7-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

8) Let cool on cookie rack, while cooling, make frosting.

9) To make frosting filling, beat butter in mixer with paddle attachment, add in confectioner's sugar and vanilla, beat until combined.  Add in milk, if necessary, add in more milk 1/2 tsp at a time for desired consistency/taste.

10) Put icing in a pastry bag with your favorite tip (or a ziploc with the corner cut off.  Squeeze icing around the outside edges of the whoopie pie and spiral it into the center.  Place another pie round onto the top and press lightly to make the "sandwich".  Roll edges in sprinkles if you like.

11) For sprinkle garnish, use some leftover filling, add milk to make it the consistency of glue, brush it on and dip in sprinkles.
Which one do you want?
The sprinkles just make it look so pretty!

The kids did all the sprinkle work and had a lot of fun doing it too (oh and even more fun eating them!).

What a fun way to make treats even more special for the kids!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Busy Playing: Family Games- Spot It

Before I had the baby, I wanted to have a few new toys around to keep the kids occupied when I was in the hospital.  This game, Spot It by blue Orange, was sitting right at the edge of the checkout counter. This game is one of my FAVORITE new games we have gotten this year!  This is a game that is fun for EVERYONE!!!  My kids can play it together, my husband and I can play it with the kids, or I would even consider pulling it out for my husband and I and possibly our friends to play- it's that fun and easy!

I wanted a game that we could all play (ages 3-me) together.  I also wanted something that would occupy the kids while I made dinner or  was distracted with the new baby.  This game is perfect for just that and then some!

The game is quite simple, each card in the deck has one object on it that matches one thing on every other card in the deck.  There are several suggested ways to play the game.  We play one way- you place all the cards in a pile face down in the center of the players.  Each player is dealt a card in front of them, face up.  When the top card in the deck is flipped, everyone rushes to find a match on their card with the card in the center.  The first one to shout out the name of the matching objects wins the card in the center. The player with the most number of cards at the end is the winner (great counting practice when you tally up your cards).

Seems simple enough, right?   Wrong!- each card has different arrays of the objects, some focus on objects of particular colors, and others seem to have great differences in object sizes.  Sometimes your eyes play tricks on you and no matter how much you compare, you will swear there is no match- usually someone else in the game can help you Spot it!  Here's an example of two cards- can you Spot the match?
I love this game because it doesn't invoke a lot of fighting, doesn't involve a lot of skill- so my 3 year old can play too (with assistance at times), and the kids can play it alone at the table while I am busy doing other things.

Here are my sons playing while I was painting one day:

My younger son is excited because he "spotted" the match before his big brother:
Both kids are stumped as the struggle to find the match:
If your little one has a birthday coming up or you're looking for a great game to add to your collection, this is the one for you!  It's small enough, you can even put it in your purse and bring it to restaurants to keep the kids busy.  Sometimes my son plays this on his own and just tries to find all the matches.

Hope you spot this game at the store next time you're looking for some fun!