Posted in book lists, family life

book-based activities: troll cupcakes!

The main branch of the Mesa public library system – our family’s current go-to library – does an excellent job of displaying children’s picture books to catch the attention of kids and parents alike, and additionally of rotating those picture books to highlight different excellent choices every week. I’m sure if I went to the library two days in a row I would notice at least some of the same options on display, but with our current 1-2 week interludes they are always all unique. With three little ones to keep an eye on, it is much easier for me to grab a few of the display books that look promising than it would be to scan the shelves (although I try to do that too, usually when we’ve found an author we enjoy).

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed a book that caught my eye for both its artwork and the clever twist hidden in its title: Troll and the Oliver, by Adam Stower.

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It’s just a little thing, using the article for the person in the story instead of the monster/troll/villain, and it made the boys laugh too.

The story is that of a troll attempting to catch a small boy named Oliver, who continually eludes him while singing songs about it. At the end of the book, after a hilarious turn of events, the two of them discover that trolls love cake, and they end by baking cakes for all of the trolls in the woods. And after the story ends, the author includes a recipe for cupcakes, along with ideas for decorating them to look like trolls! Needless to say, my boys were adamant that troll cupcakes had to happen.

So, with a few alterations to the recipe (which had no leavening agent – is that normal?), and a trip to the grocery store for some cupcake topper decorations, we made it happen!

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I have a tendency to let myself get carried away in the current of the kids’ excitement, so per their request we made twelve different colors of frosting (one for each cupcake) so that each troll could be truly unique. Rondel made sure that everyone got to pick the colors they wanted without choosing a color someone else already had, Limerick discussed the intricacies of color mixing, and Aubade tried to eat the frosting by the spoonful every time I glanced away from her.

Somehow we managed to get frosting on all the cupcakes without completely covering the kitchen in it, and we even were able to decorate the cupcakes instead of simply eating all the decorations plain first! (You should see the kids when we decorate Christmas cookies… the vast majority of the sprinkles seem to end up inside them rather than on the cookies.) Rondel decorated all of his, Limerick and Aubade each did one, and I did the rest. Aubade ate hers before I got a picture, unfortunately… although to be honest it is good she ate it right away because she had managed to lick the whole top of it before I frosted it!

Aren’t they adorable? The fuzzy ones have shredded coconut for their fur – I liked especially the texture from the extra wide flakes. I do think overall that either slightly bigger cupcakes (these were quite small, even on top) or slightly smaller decorative objects would make things easier, as would slightly moister frosting (and more of it per cupcake) to help things stick.

All in all it made for a fun morning, if also a lot of dishes 🙂 Rondel is already asking when we can make them again, and it’s only been three days! And I have to say, tying a book into normal life in such a fun and memorable way can only serve to make reading even more appealing and exciting than it already is.

What are some of your favorite picture books to bring to life, and what do you love to do with them?

Posted in family life, recipes

St. Nicholas Day (and a recipe for cookies!)

Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…

However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!

I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.

Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!

But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).

And now for the recipe itself!


St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies

Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
  2. Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
  3. Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
  4. Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
  6. Preheat oven to 325° F
  7. Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)
  8. Enjoy!
Posted in art, family life

finger painting in the new house

One of the best features of our new house is the large, open island counter. There’s plenty of space for chairs to be pulled up all around it for the boys to stand on, and ample room for projects and supplies to be spread out. We’ve obviously used it a lot for baking (so much nicer than my old tiny kitchen for rolling out pizza crust!), but I’ve also been trying to use it for crafts and other messy or artistic activities.

I decided to try out an unattributed edible finger paint recipe I found on Pinterest which was basically cornstarch, sugar, and water cooked together. The boys were just as excited about making the paint as they were about actually painting – they helped me measure the ingredients, and then helped me decide which colors to mix up in each of our little bowls.

The paint had a gloppy, jelly-like consistency – I would hesitate to call it paint, and I wouldn’t recommend the recipe. It was fun to squeeze and mush around, though!

The boys experimented with the paint for a little while on paper, but their main goal was to paint themselves:

Rondel painted himself to look like a bear and even gave me a roar for good measure!

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And of course, since it was edible, we let Aubade join in when she woke up from her nap, to her great delight:

An additional benefit of the whole exercise (besides the creative fun and sensory play) was that the boys agreed to have a peaceful bath afterwards and didn’t even complain about having their hair washed!

One thing I have noticed about the boys with these kinds of projects is that Limerick gets very focused on the process, carefully and meticulously repeating the same motions until he can perform then to his satisfaction; he has a definite goal in mind and won’t easily be distracted until he’s accomplished it. Rondel, on the other hand, is far more exploratory with the medium at first (that was his hand in the bowl of yellow paint above, and he in general loves the tactile sensations of these types of activities once he gets past any anxieties) but seems less self-directed than Limerick. If he has a goal, he doesn’t always remember it or stay focused on it long enough to make much headway towards it. And yet he still seems interested and engaged with the activity, so that’s good. I guess it is just two different ways of approaching the world!

Posted in family life

a review of Falcon Hill Park

While the weather was still fairly cool, I tried to take the boys hiking a couple times as a different way of challenging them physically and getting them out in nature. On the first occasion I was rather too ambitious and took all three of them to Papago West on my own. While the hike up was enjoyable for everyone, I ended up carrying both Aubade (obviously) and a screaming Limerick all the way back down to the car… he had fallen and hurt his leg, and was crying because he wanted to hike back but was too hurt and too scared of falling again to actually do so. Poor kid. Rondel surprised me with his independence and bravery, though! It was quite slippery coming back down with all the loose gravel, and although he was afraid and also fell, he summoned up his courage and managed to hike all the way back down on his own (it helped that he was willing to scoot on his bottom over the steepest parts… Limerick refused to try that).

Anyway, for our next hike I took full advantage of the adults in our life and convinced both my parents and my husband to try out Falcon Hill Park with us – because, as challenging as it can be to hike with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I believe it is worthwhile to accustom them to hiking and hopefully help instill in them a love for getting out into the wild outdoors (at the very least, it is worthwhile for me with my children because hiking is one of my favorite activities! So there may be some ulterior motives here… 😉 )

This is really a neat little park – there is a playground with three different playscapes, large grassy fields, and this small mountain tucked away in the back, still in its native desert form. We played at the playground for a while, waiting for my parents:

This time, Limerick decided to be the intrepid hiker while Rondel was intimidated by the steepness of the trailhead, and ended up playing at the playground with my mom the whole time instead. And honestly, while the mountain is low enough that the hike isn’t too taxing for a small child, the trail is not well-marked, is often steep and gravelly, and often involves climbing over boulders and around bushes. It was doable because we had at least one adult for each kid, so that my husband could carry Limerick down while my dad carried everyone’s water. (Never hike without water in the desert!) I wouldn’t attempt it on my own for another few years though!

In short, we had a great time at the park but I’d advise other moms with young kids to be prepared with extra helping hands if attempting the hike, and make sure your kids (and you) are wearing good shoes.

Posted in family life

how we celebrated palm sunday

We started with leftover pancakes and stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. The boys got so excited by the stories that we built Jericho from couch cushions, marched around it seven times, yelled as loud as we could, and watched the walls fall down! We all took turns being inside Jericho and being the Israelites marching outside. (The Jesus Storybook Bible, oddly enough, omits the story of Palm Sunday, as does the Children of God Storybook Bible, so we read other stories this morning instead – most of Holy Week and several from the OT).

I really wanted to take the kids to church but we were all exhausted and slightly sick so that didn’t happen. We did sing together though! From somewhere in the far reaches of my brain I recalled some simple, happy praise songs and in the spirit of the day we sang Ho-ho-ho-hosanna and Praise Ye the Lord several times each.

For the same reasons that church didn’t happen, I knew that naps had to happen, so I told the boys that if they stayed in bed for quiet time until their lullaby CD was finished, we would make Palm Sunday cookies together (the CD is long enough that they usually fall asleep before it’s over). Rondel is extremely bribable these days, especially by sugar… I don’t want to make it part of our regular routine, but I needed them to rest so I could help the sick baby be comfortable and rest as well.

And then we made the promised cookies!

I’m not sure if the boys had used cookie cutters before, but they got the hang of it fairly quickly and only had a few mishaps even with the crumbly shortbread dough! Rondel helped me roll it out once also, and did a pretty good job considering how young he is and how infrequently he’s used a rolling pin. And whenever something didn’t work perfectly I just said, we can fix it! or, we can roll it out another time and try again! So we were able to get all the cookies made with minimal stress on anyone’s part, although I did have to strictly enforce access to the unrolled dough to prevent them from eating it all as fast as humanly possible.

During dinner I found our Bible Animal Stories book and read the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of a donkey (we have a lot of kids’ Bibles floating around our house…). It captured the excitement of the event really well, how everyone would have been so caught up in the enthusiasm and carried away in the emotion. It always amazes me how just a few days later those same people would be caught up in the storm of accusation against him.

I hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

oobleck!

After discovering Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, by sheer random luck at the library last week, and enjoying it on the basis of its story alone for several days, I told Rondel that oobleck was actually something we could make at home. I wasn’t sure if he would want to, but he spent the whole next day (while I was at work) telling my husband how he was going to get to make oobleck with Mommy, so at that point it was going to have to happen!

And happen it did:

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Oobleck is, in its simplest form, a mixture of cornstarch and water. We added some food coloring to try to make it green like it is in the Dr. Seuss book, but we obviously should have added more! The proportions of the two ingredients have to be just right (approximately a 1:2 water:cornstarch ratio), but when they are, the mixture stops behaving like a liquid or a solid and becomes a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, the way it responds is based on the force you apply. Let your hand sink down slowly into the bowl and it feels like water; try to pull your hand back out quickly and the substance instantly hardens around you. (For a good overview of the science, check out this article from Cornell).

I spent a lot of time just playing around with it on my own before I could convince the boys to touch it, but after they got over the initial weirdness of it they didn’t want to stop. Rondel in particular enjoyed the odd sensation of it and kept immersing his hands in and pulling them out again over and over and over. In fact, because our air is so dry, I had to keep adding water to the oobleck so he could keep playing with it as long as his interest held – which ended up being about an hour and a half, and would have been longer if we hadn’t desperately needed to put Limerick down for a nap.

Oobleck is definitely a messy activity. Because of the way it sticks to your skin, it’s not going to stay nicely contained in a mixing bowl! However, since it’s just cornstarch, it does hose off of everything fairly easily (much to my neighbors’ relief… the newly returned snowbirds aren’t used to the kids playing in the common area and were worried about the mess). It will also dry out your skin, so it might be good to have lotion on hand for after the clean-up. This was my first time playing with it as well, although I’ve read about it before, and I highly recommend it (and the book!) for both you and your kids!

Posted in family life

water balloons in october…

So after our beautiful 2-3 weeks of cool relatively autumnal weather, summer decided to visit again and we’ve had highs in the 90s for a week or so straight. Sigh.

The boys have enjoyed pulling out the water play again for one last hurrah, though, and we took advantage of the chance to use up the last of our water balloons before the dry winter could render them useless.

You can tell from the long sleeves that it had been cooler in the early morning, at least 🙂

Both boys’ main objective seemed to be popping the water balloons as quickly as possible, so they mostly just threw them into the rocks as the most reliable way to get the pop to happen – they didn’t always throw hard enough to get them to pop on the concrete. Limerick also enjoyed stomping on them as an effective way of making them pop, and Rondel humored me enough to play catch a few times and throw the balloons at me instead of the rocks.

Limerick also kept calling them bubbles, for some reason (maybe because bubbles also pop?), which Rondel found absolutely hilarious 🙂

It may not be much of a fall here in the desert, but we’re finding fun things to do with what we have, and enjoying our colored leaves and pumpkin vicariously through our picture books. Maybe next year we’ll make it up north to see the changing colors in person!