Archive for category kids

Leftovers? Cover them with DIY bowl covers.

We have a problem in our house and it goes something like this:

Child: Can I have some  (juice, kefir, water, milk, moonshine)?

Adult:  Why, of course! pulls out cup, fills it halfway with desired liquid.

Child:  Thanks! proceeds to drink 1/2 – 2/3rd of liquid, leaving the rest and runs off.

Adult:  Sigh…

The truth is, my family doesn’t belong to the clean plate club.  And given the strange feeding habits of the very young, my girls often pick at their plates, decide they’re not hungry, only to return – totally famished – sometime later.  Thus, I was looking for a way to keep food and drink fresh for exactly these occasions, while avoiding plastic wrap – which is not only wasteful, but annoying to use. The collective wisdom of the Internet has a number of tutorials, all variations on this project, and they looked easy enough to try.  My first instinct was to go with oilcloth, since I love all those cheerful Mexican designs, but unfortunately oilcloth isn’t food safe (and its phthalate level makes it unsafe for use around children in general).  However, a good substitute is laminated cotton (which is laminated with polyurethane, not PVC).  Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not exactly sure how “green” laminated cotton is – but it’s reusability make it a step up from plastic wrap.  Plus, there are a lot of beautiful laminated cotton designs to choose from.  My favorites are from Michael Miller, Amy Butler, and Heather Bailey.  I ordered enough to create a tablecloth and then cut off the rest to make various bowl covers.

The first step was to pull out the glasses and bowls we use most to see how many I could make:

This was also a chance to unearth my sewing machine – a 1970’s Singer that I inherited from my dear grandmother.  I’m not a very good seamstress, but I have kept this machine throughout my travels out of a mixture of nostalgia and optimism.

Aside from the cotton laminate, you need a few other supplies:

  1. A good pair of scissors
  2. A pencil
  3. 1/4″ wide elastic
  4. The compass and ruler are handy, but actually not essential (unless you are a perfectionist).

Step 1:  Take your cup or bowl and trace around it.  You will then want to cut the fabric at a circumference roughly 1-2 inches larger than the rim of your dish.  You can either use the compass or eyeball it. I chose the latter.

Step 2:  Set your sewing machine to a zigzag stitch and adjust it so that the stitch is short and fairly wide. You will want to sew your elastic in the area between the circle you drew and the edge of your fabric. Make sure to back-stitch at the beginning to hold the elastic in place.  The trick is to stretch the elastic while sewing in a circle – which, frankly, isn’t that easy.  Mine looks like I started this project by tossing back several mojitos in quick succession (I didn’t), but they are functional despite the somewhat inebriated nature of the stitching.

When you are finished, your circle will be gathered like a little shower cap and should stretch right over the dish you started with.

I will admit to a bit of a learning curve to the first couple, but once I got the hang of the sewing I was able to make a dozen of these in a little over an hour.  Now, each morning when my daughters inevitably fail to finish whatever they are drinking, we put a little hat on their glass and save it for when they get home from school.  Problem solved!

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More Valentine’s Inspiration

As I mentioned in my last post, I think this is the last year of the matchbox valentine for us and I need some new inspiration.  Just this morning, my college friend, the designer Kristine Bolhuis, posted this charming photo of the valentines she made with her 7 year-old son.  She writes:

In our family, Valentines are all about doilies. And that is how it was when I was growing up. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, but had been an elementary school teacher. During holidays she brought out her supplies and decorations from her teaching days. Valentines always involved doilies, and red and pink construction paper.

This year, when I asked my 7 year old boy what kind of Valentines he would like to give out, I was fully expecting him to say “Star Wars!” or “Pokemon!”. But no, his answer was “Doilies Mom! Get doilies!” And so I did.

After some searching I found nice quality doilies at a kitchen/restaurant supply store. We used a 6 inch size (made by Hoffmaster). To the usual red and pink construction paper hearts my son added some red watercolor paint, stickers, and marker drawings. He went to town on these and each one is unique. Even my 4 year old enjoyed making them for her preschool class. Between the two children, we are handing out just over 50 of these handmade Valentines this year.

I think I have found my Valentine’s Day inspiration for 2013!  I love these beautiful doilies they remind me of snowflakes and I – for one – would be happy to receive them.  They are also the perfect answer to the non-candy valentine, as requested by many teachers.  I have to say, I am coming around to this idea.  By 11:30 today, the nurse’s office called to say that my daughter had vomited and asked me to pick her up.  Worried that she had the stomach flu, I rushed to the school.  She seemed fine, no fever.  On the way out the door, she told me they were making necklaces out of fruit loops and she ate them all.  Then puked.  Nice.

Aside from our school valentine making frenzy, I managed to make some little gifts for the girls to wear to school.  Inspired by this post at Felt So Cute, I took some leftover felt and stitched up some hearts.  For my oldest daughter, I made a headband.  And for my hair-ornament-eschewing 5-year old, I made a pin that got lost in the candy-overdose frenzy.  It took about 2 hours to finish them both, but that’s because I was using the wrong needles.  This is a completely doable project.

So that is Valentine’s Day.  The girls are asleep and my husband is making lamb chops.  All is well.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I pull out the little match boxes and origami paper that I don’t seem to ever use for its intended purpose.  For me, Valentine’s Day is all about the crafts.  And the color red. I hesitated to make the same kind of valentines this year, but I had 30 matchboxes leftover from the last go around and a fresh crop of kindergarteners, so why not?  Esmé is reading and writing this year and loved labeling all the boxes.

For my older daughter, we needed to do something a little different.  But what? I scoured the blogosphere, but in the end found these little bags that she was happy to decorate (again, the theme being unused origami paper):

The original plan was to make chocolates to fill the bags.  I did my research, purchased some heart-shaped molds and the ingredients.  How hard could it be? Probably not that hard, but mid-weekend, amidst the cutting, pasting, coloring, birthday parties and music festival, my husband gently told me that making little heart-shaped chocolates was maybe just a little insane.  I totally disagreed, but gradually came around to his point of view on Sunday evening, when we were still slogging through all the boxes and bags.  By that time, it was too late to even make cookies, so I ran to the store and came back with Hershey kisses.

I still want to try my hand at making chocolates, but perhaps a pack of 3rd graders wouldn’t be the most appreciative audience for that sort of endeavor, anyway.

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The Year of the Dragon

Perhaps you are wondering what I ate after 21 days of austerity? Both common sense and the guidebook tell you to ease back in, adding one category of food back every few days to find out what you might be sensitive to that you didn’t notice before.  Having gone through this process before, I have a fairly good idea of the foods that bother me (I’m talking to you, gluten!), so it seemed logical to me that I would wake up on day 22 and make my way down to Chinatown for Dim Sum.

I went with my oldest daughter to meet some of her school friends, one of whom was marching in the parade.  New York City puts on a Lunar New Year parade like no other and this year being the Year of the Dragon, was not to be missed.  In an attempt to avoid the 40,000 other people who had the same idea, we met on the early side at the Hong Kong style Dim Sum restaurant Jing Fong.  The place was gigantic (with 120 tables) and festive – with drummers and dragons winding their way through the tables while diners put money and red envelopes into their mouths. Our outing was organized by the same friends who taught us how to make dumplings for the Year of the Rabbit, and all I can say is that it helps to go with someone who knows what they are doing.  They did all the ordering and soon our table was crowded with sticky rice, steamed buns and dumplings of all kinds.

I just ate what was in front of me and I’m pretty sure it included all of the foods I had spent the last three weeks avoiding, but I subscribe to the when in Rome philosophy of dining out.  My favorite by far was the barrel of house made tofu with sweet ginger.  I have a tofu maker, but haven’t had the motivation to try it, but now I’m inspired by this recipe.

After dim sum, we ventured out to see the parade hoping to meet up with friends who were just across the street,  but it was too crowded to find them.  We just went with the flow of people while the kids sprayed silly string and launched paper rockets full of confetti. Total chaos and one of my favorite events of the year.

Happy New Year of the Dragon. 龙年快乐!

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This week in Dairy: DIY String Cheese

Making mozzarella at home is a fairly straightforward and satisfying process.  Making delicious mozzarella – the kind that practically melts in your mouth and is served best with the tiniest bit of salt and olive oil – is an art form I have yet to master. The first challenge is to get the hang of curd forming: finding the right milk, making sure the temperature is accurate. Nine times out of ten it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t.  The second challenge is knowing when to stop stretching so that your cheese is light and creamy. This, I think, takes years.

I must admit, most of the fresh mozzarella I make ends up with a consistency that is great for pizza, but a little too rubbery for straight up eating.  The truth is, while I would like to spend my time drizzling fancy olive oil on my perfectly stretched ball of fresh mozzarella garnished with the basil leaves I just pulled off that plant over there, the kind of cheese that gets eaten the most in my house these days is the lowly string cheese. And as it happens when it comes to cheese stretching, it is easier to overstretch than to under stretch (particularly when you are doing this activity with small children) –  and overstretching leads, happily, to string cheese.

To get to string cheese, you start out with the same ingredients you would use if you were going to make the finest mozzarella:  Whole milk that has been lightly pasteurized (this is highly important as ultra-pasteurized milk will not form a curd), citric acid, rennet and distilled water.

You can buy your rennet and citric acid online from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. In fact, you can buy a mozzarella starter kit that comes with enough supplies for 30 batches and includes a thermometer.  Their site also has a lot of great instructions on various cheesemaking techniques, but the basic series of events is this:

  1. Disolve 1/4th of your rennet tablet in 1/4 c. of distilled water. Set aside
  2. Disolve 1 1/2 t. citric acid in 1 c. distilled water. Set aside.
  3. Pour one gallon of the best (non-ultra pasteurized) milk you can find into a very clean, non-reactive pot.
  4. Put the pot on the stove and stir vigorously as you add the citric acid.
  5. Keep stirring until the milk reaches 90º.
  6. Take the milk off the heat.  Add the rennet mixture slowly while stirring the milk in an “up and down” fashion for 30 seconds.
  7. Cover the pot and let the milk sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

This is your moment of truth.

After 5 minutes, you take off the lid and hope that your curds have separated from your whey.  You can tell when you press down with a spoon and it feels like custard.  Take a long knife and cut the curd in two directions to make squares.  Put the pot back on the stove and heat the curds to 110º while gently agitating the curds.  This is tricky because you will get a different temperature reading depending on where you stick your thermometer, but you don’t want to heat beyond 110º, plus you are stirring with one hand, so pay attention. I highly recommend using an instant read thermometer – worth the investment if you are also making yogurt.  Once you have reached the desired temperature, turn off the heat and continue stirring for 2-5 more minutes.  Next, separate the curds and whey with a slotted spoon, placing the curds in a bowl.

At this point there are two methods you can use to heat the curds for stretching: the water bath method or the microwave method.  The goal of both is the same: to get the curds to 135º so they will stretch.  I have done both and I have to admit, the microwave is easier.  But either way, you heat the curds a bit at time, take their temperature, and squeeze out the whey (without squeezing too hard) to get the cheese to the point where it melts together for stretching. At this point, you may also want to add a bit of salt to taste.

And then you stretch!  I recommend wearing gloves because the 135º is hot to the touch and can make the cheese difficult to handle.  This is where the art comes in.  Like kneading bread, you get to know the feel of the cheese and when it is ready to be finished (at which point, you place it in the ice bath you prepared earlier).

Or, you keep stretching and your children keep stretching until you pull off smaller pieces to form into logs and place them in the ice bath.  One gallon of milk will yield about a dozen “stringles”, which actually makes this endeavor kind of economical.  Plus, given the choice, what kid wouldn’t want to bring his or her homemade cheese sticks wrapped in wax paper to school?  Okay, don’t answer that.  It is, hands down, more delicious than packaged string cheese, though, and my kids love making it.

So, there you have it: string cheese.  Make it on Sunday, eat it all week!

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DIY Holiday

I will be the first to admit that I’m not crazy about the holidays.  Sure, I enjoy a holiday gathering here and there and the lights all around Columbus Circle are pretty, but the imposed cheer can get to you – especially when it starts in early November.  My favorite thing about this time of year are the small gifts:  my colleague who makes and decorates beautiful gingerbread cookies each year, the lovely homemade candy that I wrote about in my last post, and the random and wonderful things my husband brings home from his work colleagues:  olive oil, clementines and even a fancy bottle of gin.

Between our colleagues, neighbors and teachers, there are a lot of people to remember this season and the challenge is to make something either beautiful or delicious .   Our go-to gifts are biscotti and truffles, but this year I decided to go in a different direction.  I love forcing bulbs in the winter, but since buying 50 amaryllis bulbs would exceed our budget, I decided to go with paperwhites – which are a nice reminder of spring in the middle of winter.  Paperwhite bulbs + mason jars + colorful stones = fun Saturday afternoon with our daughters.   For what child doesn’t love to put rocks in jars?

Because paperwhites don’t require chilling in order to bloom and can grow without soil, they are the perfect choice for a project like this.  Just fill the jar 3/4 full with stones, add the bulb, and secure with the jar-top:

Dress with raffia, greenery and instructions and voilà: Happy Holidays!

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The Great Pumpkin Sail

Happy belated Halloween!  Due to the freak storm last weekend (!), Halloween activities were a bit diminished this year, so I was glad we had already been to the Pumpkin Sail the weekend before when the weather was so beautiful.  Every October, the Central Park Conservancy holds their annual Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Sail on the Harlem Meer at the north end of the Park.  After hearing a fellow parent rave about this, we decided to carve up a pumpkin and go see what it was all about.

Arriving at the park, we turned in our pumpkin and watched as dedicated high-school students wearing waders placed them onto floats and put a candle in each.  As you might imagine, this took awhile, but the timing was perfect because they finished just as the sun was setting.  About that time, a witch paddled up in a kayak, attached the pumpkins to her boat and away they went!

Events like these make me love New York.  Happy Halloween and Feliz dia de los Muertos!  I leave you with this:

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