Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Candy Cane Scented Sensory Bin

Today we made a quick craft that will last us for the four+ weeks until Christmas.

I know that I've talked a lot about not liking rice bins, mostly because those little grains get everywhere and they are very hard to pick up with a vacuum. Still, every once in a while I'm willing to put up with a rice-related mess in the name of celebrating and learning. So, put up I did.

Here's what we used:

That's 10 lbs. of white rice, two plastic baggies, red and green food coloring, peppermint essential oil, hand sanitizer, and a bin for play. (I later switched out the bin pictured for a longer, shallower bin to allow more children to play at it.) You don't need as much rice as I used- just enough to occupy your little one. Five pounds would be plenty for single-child households, I imagine.

Last week, Growing a Jeweled Rose posted a slightly different way to do the same idea, and you can read her take on this project here. Of course, I saw her post only after I'd finished our project, but I liked her idea of using peppermint extract instead of essential oils. You can use whichever you have!

What we did:
 First, we poured some rice into a plastic baggie, then added about 4-5 squirts of hand sanitizer and half a bottle of red food coloring. The more coloring you use, the darker your rice will be, so you can add it in stages to ensure you achieve your desired hue.
 Then we sealed the bag well and shook, squeezed and tossed the rice to disperse the color evenly.

 Then we repeated the process with the green food coloring. We left some rice uncolored so that we'd be able to add white to our final product.
 We then spread out our rice onto a baking pan and shallow bin respectively, to allow them to dry. They both dried completely while we were outside playing, even though the red bin had a thicker layer of rice than the green. I imagine the drying process was quite short as a matter of fact- you know your rice is dry once you can touch it without coloring your fingertips.
 Last, we mixed the colors together and played!

 ...aaaaand here's the clean up. At least the artsy culprits are also willing to help put things right again. :)
Did I also mention that my entire house smells amazing? Yes, the mess is hard to take, but the joy on the kiddos faces is well worth the 10 times I'm going to sweep and vacuum today. And hey- peppermint is an energizing scent on the aromatherapy scale, so at least I'll have plenty of energy to tackle that cleaning job. :)

I'm linked up to Montessori Monday and Living Life Intentionally's TGIF Linky.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Homemade Pumpkin Yogurt with free printable recipe for kids

We're still working through our supply of pumpkins here at the Simple Little Home, and we are loving every minute of that. We have some serious pumpkin fans around here.

Last week we created a simple recipe for making pumpkin yogurt that kids can help with. In fact, it's a great recipe for kids to do on their own since it requires no baking or hot surfaces, includes a pictorial recipe for beginning and non-readers, and tastes really yummy too. Plus it has several servings of veggies in it! Go ahead and print out the kid-friendly recipe and try it out for yourself.

You will need:
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups yogurt (store-bought or homemade)
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

The process:
Blend all ingredients well and enjoy!

I recommend that you try this yogurt topped with homemade granola, served still warm from the oven. Add about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg to the granola recipe for a real, fall-inspired treat!

How to Make Your Own Pumpkin or Squash Puree

Thanks to those of you who have written to me to ask about making your own pumpkin and squash puree. I use these ingredients as staple items in a lot of recipes, so I thought I would share how I turn the raw veggie into the finished product. (No more Libby's cans of pumpkin for us!)

The process is ridiculously simple, actually.

You will need:
Several pumpkins or squash, any variety
1-2 tbs. butter, optional

The process:
1. Cut the pumpkin or squash in half (be sure to put the stem on one end and the end on the other).
2. Scrape out seeds and other "guts." You can reserve these to use in making roasted pumpkin seeds, or you can compost them. Chickens love pumpkin seeds, FYI, so if you have them leftover you might share with your feathered friends. If you wish, you can add a small pat of butter into the cleaned out bowl of each pumpkin.
3. Put the pumpkin or squash into a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet. If necessary you can cut a small section off the bottom so the pumpkin/squash half lays flat. The length of baking time will depend upon how many pumpkin/squash you're trying to bake, and how large they are. For one sheet of six pumpkin halves you can estimate about a half hour. You want to cook them until the flesh is fork-tender.
4. Remove cooked pumpkin or squash from the oven and allow to cool.
5. Once cool, use a fork to scrape out the flesh from the skins. Discard skin.
6. Use an immersion blender to puree the pumpkin or squash flesh until it is soft and creamy.

The finished product:
Puree can be frozen for several months, or used right away. It also keeps in the refrigerator for a couple weeks if you can't get to it immediately.

Interview with If Only They'd Told Me

Hi all!

Come check out the interview that I was so fortunate to do with Nat and Jacqui from If Only They'd Told Me last week. I had such a blast talking with these lovely ladies about natural living, and slowing down even when you're raising a busy young family. We talked about what works well for us at the Simple Little Home, and also some things that I continue to work on.

Please check it out and let me know what you think!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

From our family to yours, happy Thanksgiving! May your blessings be many and your day filled with love.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Organizing Recipes

While I love, love, love, love, love Pinterest, and I've been known to love, love, love, love, love a few hard copy magazines, what I don't love is organizing all the amazing ideas each produces. Where can I keep all these amazing ideas so they'll be handy for me to draw inspiration from on some rainy day?

Here is how I have, over some time, come to organize my recipes so they are conveniently available to me when I need them.

The process starts here, where I sort recipes by category. In case anyone is wondering, I use these as my categories: appetizers, drinks, snacks, desserts, lunches/dinners (further broken up into vegetarian, fish, chicken, pork and beef), breads, breakfasts, soups, salads and misc... in no particular order.
As you can see, I keep my phone handy, as well as a cup of tea, my shopping and meal planning lists for immediate inspiration, and tissues because I currently have a cold. :)

I also take this time of sorting to rid myself of old and duplicated recipes. My recipe philosophy is simple: if I've made it twice and we don't LOVE it, then I toss it. There are just too many amazing ways to prepare food in the world to waste my time on things we don't really love.

Next, I put recipes into my recipe binder. Since I tend to cut recipes from magazines and print out from the internet (on full pieces of paper), I use a 3-ring binder to organize. As I have time, I put each into a sheet protector so that when I decide that I'll be using that recipe this week, I can quickly clip it into my home control journal for easy access throughout the week. I even put smaller recipe cards into sheet protectors so they are all a uniform size to organize. As I find recipes on the go, I tuck them into the pocket folders at the beginning of each section until I do my meal planning (once per week) and can put them all into the sheet protectors.

 Here are my recipes for the week, being tucked into the "meal planning" tab in my home control journal.
Want to see a few of my final weekly meal plans? Check out my "Menus" tab here.

What about you? How do you organize your recipes?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quinoa Bites

These quinoa bites are fantastic little snacks, lunches, or side dishes for dinner. They are easy to make in bulk and freeze very well, which make them a great time investment in your cooking. They are also whole food friendly and gluten free. What else can you ask for? Oh yeah, they're a big hit with kiddos, too. We use them a lot as substitutes for tater tots.

You'll need:
2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrot
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp Italian seasoning (or oregano/basil mix)
Salt and pepper to taste, I recommend about 1/2 tsp of each

The process: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease mini muffin tins or line them with paper liners.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
When ingredients are well mixed, gently press enough mixture into each muffin cup to fill it. The cups will shrink slightly while baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the mixture is well set.

Serve bites with a dipping sauce of your choice. We prefer honey mustard sauce, but ketchup and BBQ sauce are also delicious.


To freeze, just cool completely and put into a freezer-friendly container before putting them into the freezer. To reheat, warm in an oven or microwave until reheated.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Jump To" Letters Game

We are always looking for fun and interesting ways to learn our letters, or use those letters to make words relevant to daily life.

By putting some simple masking tape letters onto my living room rug, I was able to meet the developmental needs of each of my three children today.
 I put the letters necessary for each child to spell their full name onto the rug with masking tape.
 Then, I adapted the lesson to each learners skill level. For Ben (age 6), I asked him to jump on the letters which spell his full name, then I asked him to jump on the letters which comprise the names of his two sisters, asking him to sound out the spellings.
At the same time, I called out letters and asked Ava (age 3) to find and jump on those. She was practicing identification.
Last, I asked Ellie (age 21 months) to jump three times to find her brother or sister. She has been working on one to one counting correspondence, and counting her jumps was good practice.
 Next, I asked each child to practice the same exercise, but instead of jumping, I asked them to use beanbags to identify letter.

What do you do to appeal to get all neuro pathways going during learning sessions with your kids?

Monday, November 12, 2012

My 5-Minute Kale Recipe That Never Fails

I love kale in a ridiculous, head over heels sort of way. Yeah, it's super good for you, but it has other (perhaps more important??) qualities- like taste. Kale leaves are sturdier and heartier than spinach, with a satisfying crunch to the stems. They have a slight hint of sweet taste as well, which pairs well with a savory cooking, or can be served in a slightly sweeter dish.

By far the best thing about kale however, is how simple it is to prepare. It literally takes 5 minutes to prepare one of the healthiest foods you can put into your body! It tastes great and goes well with everything from fried eggs (oh yes, I often eat kale and eggs for breakfast), to pasta with marinara sauce, to meat and potatoes.

For me, this is the ultimate eater's win, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that my family eats kale at least three times per week when it's in season. Another great thing about kale? It loves cold weather- so it's readily available in the Spring AND Fall, AND can be grown all year round in cold boxes and green houses. So it's in season a lot!

Ready to try it out?

Melt a little butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Don't measure the butter- just stick it in there. Olive and coconut oil also work really well for this, but I prefer salted butter because frankly, I like salt.
 The kale that I am using today is the Red Russian variety, which happens to be my favorite. Some kale is much greener than this, with broader leaves. No matter the variety, these steps still apply.
 Chop off the stems. They're edible but they're also really tough, which is a condition not greatly improved by pan-frying it. I give these to the chickens or compost them.
 Cut the leaves into strips, with just a little of the stem left. Uniformity not required.
 Pile as much as you can fit into your pan. Kale will wilt as it cooks (a lot like spinach, but it will retain it's shape a little better than it's green cousin), so a heaping pile of kale in the pan won't be that much on the plate.
 I like to add a few dashes of salt.
 I use a spoon to push the kale down into the pan a bit, toward the heat.

 Then I carefully (so as not to spill my precious green) turn the kale so the stuff on top can get to the bottom to cook. As each leaf cooks it turns bright green, as shown below.
 After it's all turned over I just let it cook for a couple minutes. When it's done, it will look like this:
 Kale can burn if you leave it in the pan too long, but it's really hard to do. In fact, I often pull the pan off the heat once it's finished cooking, leaving the kale in it to crisp up a little while I'm finishing the rest of dinner. Kale left in the pan with butter and salt gets crispy enough that it satisfies my most intense potato chip cravings. ("Kale chips" can also be baked in a low temp oven.)

One note: taste-test a leaf before you take it out of the pan. If it's removed too early, kale will retain a bitter flavor. If it tastes bitter to you, leave it for another minute or two and taste again.

Recap on kale: Really healthy, readily available, great tasting, easy to prepare, good with most everything.

Also, kids will like. 

'Nuff said.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin Hopscotch (and number practice)!

Here's how we've been practicing our numbers lately: by doing a hopscotch!

We drew some pumpkins with chalk on the driveway...

 ...and tested them to be sure they were sufficiently "jumpable"...
 ..tweaked our design where necessary...
 ...then added a few numbers to the mix.

 The challenge was to see who could jump on all the pumpkins- in numerical order- without missing one. This required some great teamwork, which made this mama's heart glad.

 When we had mastered our numbers up through 5, Mama got some help from the littler artists in the family and we added numbered pumpkins through 10!

Such a carefree, lovely way to spend a sunshiny, fall day.

What learning are you doing outside lately?

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