Water

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Why water? Why not? The study of water and all the implications for its use and conservation could last a lifetime, not just a month. Of course water effects our day to day lives, landing it in the important-to-know-about category, but it’s also simply an interesting substance. Quickly changing form, mysterious water combines gentleness with power, life sustaining abilities with destructiveness.

When I wrote this, we were flying through millions of water drops, 38,000 feet above the ground. Our trip to the North Carolina coast has the whole family giddy with anticipation. The kids joined me on a trip to Portland this spring, but this is their first time visiting the east coast.

Isabel is nervous that crabs will bite her toes off, and both kids are worried about shark attacks. I’m happy to report that I have no pressing concerns about the ocean, other than wondering if we’ve packed enough sunscreen. Oh, and minutes before we boarded the plane we heard that a tropical storm/hurricane is headed to exactly the place we’re visiting. Cool! Talk about studying the power of water first hand.

Not to worry, we’ll be watching the storm’s path closely, and if it rates at a high enough category on Thursday, we’ll leave a day early. The storm watch has brought up interesting conversations about rising sea levels, the changing coast line, and how humans could (or should) make long range plans that involve moving further inland.

So you may see some hurricane related project work here, in addition to study of the ocean, rivers, conservation, and just playing with water in our own back yard.

What are your big questions about water? If you were studying water, what would you focus on?

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The Perfect Minecraft Party Tutorial

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We did it! We threw a Minecraft birthday sleep-over party for Sam’s eighth birthday, and it was awesome. From the planning, to the shopping, to the actual party, Sam has repeatedly and emphatically stated that this has been his best birthday ever.

If you want to have an equally rockin’ party, here’s the short list of what worked for us:

1. Less is more. In terms of the guest list, the amount of presents, decorations, planned activities, really everything. Except for gummy bears. Buy a lot of those.

2.  Cleaning house before a sleepover is completely unnecessary. Just don’t.

3.  Ogle over Minecraft party tutorials on pinterest to your heart’s content, but in the end do as little or as much as makes you happy. For us that boiled down to a green tablecloth, red licorice TNT, a Minecraft youtube mix playing on the iPod, and a homemade birthday banner made of green and black paper. Don’t stress over details like perfectly copying the Minecraft font, or plastering everything with proportional Creeper faces. Ultimately, the kids don’t care (at least mine don’t).

4. Remember it’s a party, not an agenda-driven meeting. We had a few ideas for open-ended activities from a Frugal Family Times post we found through pinterest (decorating torches and popping wild balloon pigs). We blew through both of those activities in about two minutes, and the kids spent the rest of the time creating their own fun, including Nerf wars, wrestling, tree climbing, eating prodigious amounts of gummy bears, and oh yeah, playing Minecraft.

That’s it. If you have a Minecraft fanatic in your family, you don’t have to stress over the perfect birthday party. Relax, enjoy the chaos, and brew an extra large pot of coffee for the morning after.

Eat Your Words: The Natural Kitchen and The Locavore Way

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If you’re looking for good resource books about sustainable food production, The Natural Kitchen (2010) by Deborah Eden Tull and The Locavore Way (2009) by Amy Cotler are both worthwhile choices. Though the books include some recipes, each author is more intent on addressing broader questions about systems, sustainability, and mindfulness. Both books are dense with advice and inspiration for moving toward greener food systems. I especially liked Cotler’s chapter on “Open Recipes and Improvisations,” a style of cooking that works well in our home.

The Hour to Devour

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I know that hors d’oeuvres doesn’t really translate to the Hour to Devour, but that’s how I like to say it in my head. And super speedy consumption is pretty much how it shakes down at our house, when it comes to appetizers.

Tonight we played around with creating our own recipe for fried mozzarella bites, because the cookbook recipe I thought existed was nowhere to be found. Now that I’m writing down the recipe we created, I’m finding that there are a lot of on-line recipes that I could’ve used. But experimenting was fun, and I didn’t end up with grease and breadcrumbs all over my laptop, so I’d call that a win-win.

We don’t have a name for our recipe yet, but I want to integrate Sam’s name, because he originally requested that we learn to make these, and because he was a big fan of the final product.

Ingredients:

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  • 4 mozzarella cheese sticks, cut into 1-inch sections
  • A few tablespoons of flour
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • A few tablespoons of panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon of your choice of spice/seasoning (we used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A few tablespoons of oil for frying the bites (we used Smart Balance Omega Blend – canola/soy/olive)

Instructions:

  1. Mix the breadcrumbs and spices/seasoning in a small bowl
  2. Prepare two more small bowls, one with the flour, and one with the whisked egg
  3. Begin to heat the oil in a large iron skillet, over medium heat
  4. Dredge the mozzarella bites in the flour
  5. Dip the floury mozzarella bites in the whisked egg
  6. Dredge the floury, eggy mozzarella bites in the breadcrumb mixture
  7. When the oil is hot (but not so hot that it’s smoking or spitting at you), place the mozzarella bites in the skillet, leaving plenty of space between each bite
  8. Fry the bites until they’re golden brown, then flip them and brown the other side

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When the bites are toasty on all sides, grab them from the pan with a slotted spoon, and the transfer them to a plate covered with a cloth or paper towel, to absorb the extra oil. Our mozzarella bites didn’t make it much further than that, before they were devoured, in way less than an hour!

We’ll definitely make these as an appetizer again, because it was easy and it didn’t take too many ingredients.  Panko was the most exotic ingredient, and in the future we may try to make panko style breadcrumbs at home. Some type of dip or sauce will be in order next time too., but we have to remember to make it way before we make the bites.

What are your favorite hors d’oeuvres? Or appetizers, if you find that easier to spell and pronounce, as I do.

 

 

Tuesday Top Ten, Twice!

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Tuesdays are for sharing great resources, web-based or otherwise, that support our exploration.

Today we’ve got two lists to share – the first is our ‘dinner and dishes’ playlist. We’ve been taking our party-on during dinner mandate very seriously, as you can see. Music has been a key factor. Here are ten of our favorite songs of the moment, in no particular order:

  1. Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Rae
  2. He’eia – Hapa
  3. Friday I’m In Love – The Cure
  4. Lost In My Mind – The Head and the Heart
  5. 10/10 – Paolo Nutini
  6. Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon
  7. C’mon Let’s Go – Pure Heart
  8. Fall of ’82 – The Shins
  9. Dyslexic Heart – Paul Westerberg
  10. All You Need Is Love – Lynden David Hall

And here’s a list of ten interesting family-meal-related blogs or web-sites we’ve been checking out (again, in no particular order):

  1. eatdinner.org
  2. Time at the Table
  3. Jamie Oliver
  4. Nigella Lawson
  5. Flavia’s Flavors
  6. Mad Hungry
  7. Mother Earth Living Food & Recipes 
  8. The Family Dinner Project
  9. Lick My Spoon
  10. Smitten Kitchen

What would you add to either list?

Setting Intentions: Party On!

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Sundays will be about setting an intention or focus for the week to come. Last year we focused on more of the practical matters of the family meal. We still want to think about meal planning and healthy ingredients, but our most important mission is to celebrate the time we have together.  For our family, for the coming week and beyond, our focus will be bringing joy and celebration to our everyday family meals.

We’re rolling back into a normal routine, of all of us spending long days at work and school. Our time together, each morning and evening, rushes by and is often diminished by stress, frustration, complaints, and exhaustion. We’ve just had two weeks of beautifully slow mornings and evenings, and I’m hopeful that we can carry our vacation ways back to real life.

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Celebrating Kings Day last night was a foundation for our intention. Our pseudo-party was low key, not too fancy, and didn’t require hours of sweating in the kitchen. The celebratory atmosphere was stoked by four kids running around the house with flashlights, a few felt crowns, and one delicious, crumby cake.

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We started our own tradition by using a coffee cake recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Sam and I also chose some non-traditional “trinkets” to bake into the cake. They included:

  • A nickel – you will have 5 years of good luck!
  • A mini-pretzel – you will have a flexible year
  • Chocolate chips – you will have a sweet year, OR you’ll eat a lot of candy in the coming year
  • A dried cranberry – you will eat a lot of fruit in the coming year
  • A goldfish cracker – you will eat a lot of fish in the coming year

I’m glad that Sam’s friend Max found the nickel – his expression was pure joy, and he beamed as we all hooted and hollered and celebrated his good luck. We then went on to hoot and holler every time someone found a chocolate chip, and there were a lot of chocolate chips mixed in, to guarantee a sweet year for everyone present. The goldfish cracker still hasn’t been found, so we have a few more anticipatory dessert sessions to look forward to.

But the question remains: How can we come back to joy and celebration, when we’re tired and burnt out? 

To try to answer that question, we had a party brainstorm. Here are our top nine party moves, that we’ll try to bring to our meals. The caveat is that we’ll only use the ideas if they lower our stress levels. If any idea results in even a hint of extra household stress, the idea will be abandoned mid-use, and may or may not be entertained again.

  1. Great parties have great music – girl, put your records on!
  2. Mood lighting: flashlights, candlelight, Christmas lights, or all of the above
  3. Appetizers, which could pan out to be the entire meal
  4. Fancy drinks in fancy glasses
  5. The Nice Dishes, or…
  6. Minimal dishes: napkins make great plates, and who needs forks if you’ve got toothpicks and skewers?
  7. Electronic devices stowed away
  8. Be a party person, or better yet, be the witty, charming, funny person that you are when you’re at your best. Smile and look other people in the eye, because you want to connect. Ask your fellow party-goers questions, because you genuinely want to know the answers. Relax and enjoy the moment, because that’s what you do at parties, right?
  9. End the party with dancing, always.

What party tips would you suggest, to bring more celebration to everyday meals? 

 

 

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

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We held a small party for Kings Day this evening. Well, very small in terms of number of attendees, but very grand in the areas of ruckus making, shouts of glee, mischievousness, and all around joy and love. I should have some photos from our celebration ready to share tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking (again) about giving, and the many definitions of treasure. When we were making the crowns, Sam was digging through a bowl of treasures that I keep on my desk. It’s full of old buttons, beads, hairpins, and mismatched jewelry. Every piece is beautiful to me, but there are some that shine a little brighter. My favorite thing is a simple mother of pearl button. It’s special because it belonged to my Grandma Reese, but there’s also a quality to it that just shines, that makes it more interesting than any of the other buttons. Sam could care less about that button, but he’s in love with a small Chinese coin that came from an old earring of mine. We see the story of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ repeated each day, at many levels.

We each have treasure to share with those around us, and our treasure is more beautiful than gold (and hopefully smells even better than frankincense or myrrh, you know, metaphorically speaking). Sometimes we forget the value of what we have to give – the value of our love, our attention, our energy, our time. And that our personal versions of intangible treasures are important.

Our Saturdays will be focused on giving this year, both tangible and intangible. I realized during December, our month focused on giving, that I wanted to be more intentional about giving consistently throughout the year, regardless of holidays or birthdays.

I also want to do more volunteer work, as a family. I was telling Sam about the idea of 26 Acts of Kindness, because I had paid for the coffee of someone in line behind us at the Starbucks drive through. His first reaction was so typical, “You shouldn’t give away our money!” We talked it through, and I explained that I wanted to do something nice because the lady in the car behind us looked so stressed out, and that we would still have plenty of money. Clearly it’s a conversation that needs to continue. I understand that young kids are naturally egocentric, but I want to be sure that we raise kids who are able to show empathy and who are able to share their own gifts with the world.

Since our current focus is on family meals, we’re going to look for some giving and volunteer opportunities that involve food and connecting with others.

Have you done any giving or volunteer work like this? How were you able to integrate your own unique talents? If you have kids, how were you able to include them?

Kings Day Crowns – One Simple Seam

IMG_7957We decided to make some Kings Day crowns today. There are tons of great felt crown patterns out there, but I decided to go rogue and create our own ultra-simple crown. Our crowns are made using two rectangles of felt (the standard size you can buy at a craft store), and one ribbon. We added some additional embellishments that we already had at home. This tutorial is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing to write it up, but here goes!

Start with a rectangle of felt – the size doesn’t even matter that much – it should be roughly the size of a sheet of notebook paper, but use what you’ve got!

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then…

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Fold your original rectangle in half, creating a long fold. Cut down the line that fold created, to make two skinnier rectangles.

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Take one of the skinnier rectangle and fold it in half, lengthwise, a “hotdog” fold. The fold should be facing you.

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Now, fold the other skinny rectangle to make a “hamburger” fold. Not so skinny anymore!

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Cut the top two corners off of your hamburger, as shown above. The exact dimensions aren’t important, but notice that you maintain part of the folded edge, because…

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…you’ll unfold your hamburger to make twin peaks, or upside down vampire teeth.

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Sandwich your upside down vampire teeth inside the long skinny rectangle. See how this is coming together?

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Now take your other sheet of felt, and cut it in half, lengthwise, to make two rectangles, just like you did with the first sheet. Take one of the rectangles and make a hamburger fold.

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Cut a triangle out of the top of your hamburger. Now it kind of looks like a fish trying to eat a triangle.

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Unfold the hamburger/triangle eating fish, and position it on top of the upside down vampire teeth.

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Fold the long skinny rectangle back up over the layers, and then position a ribbon about an eighth of an inch below the top of the skinny rectangle. Then sew the ribbon on, using a straight stitch. I used a sewing machine, but it could also be stitched by hand. It might be helpful to pin the ribbon to the crown before sewing, but it’s not necessary.

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You’ve got yourself a crown! Sam had fun choosing buttons to decorate this one, but he’s still not convinced that he wants to wear one. His main form of celebrating will be helping to eat the new cake that we made today.

Kings Day Party Planning

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We’re planning a Three Kings Day Party and you’re invited! Today’s our day to feature a recipe here, so we made a Kings Day cake. There are versions from many countries, including Mexico, France, Germany, and Spain. We decided to go with a Spanish version, simply because it called for adding dried fruit and almonds as a decoration, and we didn’t have those ingredients on hand yet.

We made a few changes to the original recipe, which we found here, in order to incorporate wheat flour. And that’s when things went terribly wrong. I have a lot to learn about the perfect balance between flours. The “cake” is a lumpy, misshapen, dense ring of way-too-much-fiber for anyone’s diet.

But like our friend Pete the Cat, we’re not wasting time crying over our disastrous results. I’m thinking that we can hang the first cake out for the birds and squirrels, as long as it’s securely tied, because I really don’t want to kill any small animals in the name of this holiday. We’ll start over, which is our constant life lesson. The experience also reminded me that sometimes traditions are meant to be flipped, particularly culinary traditions. So that’s what we’ll do! Instead of a traditional epiphany recipe, that’s actually bread disguised as cake, I’m going to make something a little more…cake-y. Maybe even coffee cake, cut into a ring, because you can’t go wrong with coffee cake (unless you make it with wheat flour, or bake it too long, or forget a key ingredient or…you get the idea).

Tomorrow we’ll be back to share some easy party ideas, that are guaranteed to be less disastrous! If you’re planning a Kings Day Party (traditionally held on January 6, but we’re holding ours on the evening of January 5), you’re welcome to use our Three Kings Day Party Invitation.