Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hot Diggity Dog!


Often in adult rec. softball leagues there are very punny team names, such as Ground Rule Trouble or Hits for Brains. My husband's team decided to go in a different direction this year and go with the conversation invoking name, Is a  Hotdog a Sandwich? Totally random, nothing to do with softball, but it sparked a lot of conversation on and off the field. With the conclusion of the softball season, we decided to host a team banquet at our home and I thought it'd be fun for my friend Julie over at Sugar and Bows to co-host with us. And so began the planning of the tubular shaped meat themed party, the Is a Hotdog a Sandwich Team Banquet.

On the menu was beer cheese dip in the shape of a softball, pigs in a blanket in the shape of bats, pasta salad, tater tots, and hot dogs with a condiment bar. The condiment bar included the obvious ketchup and mustard, as well as onions, relish, pickles, sauerkraut, chili, and melted cheese sauce. And the grand finale was a hot dog shaped cake! We also had some party-goers contribute some delicious buffalo chicken dip and tiny corn muffins with hot dogs in the middle. These were a huge hit, I think my 2 year old consumed at least a dozen.
Beer cheese dip baseball with red pepper "stitching" and pretzels for dipping

Hot dog bats a.k.a. pigs in a blanket


Condiment bar 




Hotdog cake
There was not a whole lot of "from scratch" cooking that went on here, most of the dishes were semi-homemade. The chili was one of the exceptions and this recipe came from our family's favorite cookbook, The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. It was a quick recipe that simmered all day in the slow cooker. The cheese sauce also cooked in the slow cooker, but this was just a good old fashioned block of Velveeta. I will share one recipe with you and that is my mom's famous pasta salad, and by famous, I mean that a lot of friends ask me for the recipe.

Crockpots of chili and cheese sauce
Mom's famous pasta salad

Mom's Famous Pasta Salad

Ingredients
One pound box of spiral pasta
One slice of deli provolone (ask them to cut it abut 1/2 inch thick) cut into cubes
One slice of deli ham (ask them to cut it about 1/2 inch think) cut into cubes
About 3/4 bag of frozen peas, thawed
About 1/2 to 3/4 of a red onion, chopped
About half to one bottle of Italian dressing
A couple tablespoons of dried dill

Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain and run under cold water to cool pasta. In a large bowl combine pasta, provolone, ham, red onion, and peas. Add about half a bottle of Italian dressing and about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Toss to combine well. Taste and add more dressing and/or dill to your liking.

Hot Dog Decor
Oh how I love a good theme party! No party is complete without decorations. We went with a red gingham table cloth and red and white dishes and napkins, which just seemed to go well with the hot dog theme. We found these great printables to label the dishes at Hostess With the Mostess. And we sprinkled inflatable softballs and rubber hot dogs throughout the room.

Fun and Games
For the tiny party goers we put together a game of "Pin The Mustard on The Hotdog". The game was slightly advanced for our 2 year olds, who didn't love the idea of being blindfolded, but they had a good time strategically placing the mustard squirts on the poster anyway.

For the adults we had a fun team cocktail for everyone to enjoy. The type of cocktail that this group enjoys most is a cold beer so our drink, creatively called the "Is a Hotdog a Sandwich Team Cocktail", was simply a beer placed inside a hotdog bag. The instructions for "making" this cocktail are pictured below.

Finally, we thought it only appropriate for there to be awards given at the softball banquet, so we found these rubber hotdogs on dogs.com, ran a lanyard though them, and wrote an individual award on them for each player. It was quite a sight to see a room full of thirty-somethings wearing hotdog necklaces and holding a drink in a hotdog bag!
Hotdog team awards
Our captain's hotdog award was presented in a hotdog bag on a golden platter.
This party was huge hit and I had so much fun collaborating with one of the members of the Sugar & Bows team to put it all together. I look forward to next year's softball season, but until then the question remains, IS a hotdog a sandwich?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Oreo Cookie Cake

We recently went to a friend's house for dinner and I volunteered to bring dessert. I love baking, mainly because I love sweets, but I try not to do it very often because it makes losing the pregnancy weight rather difficult. So when we are headed to a dinner or an event, I love to volunteer to bring dessert because it gives me the opportunity to try new recipes. It can be a little risky making a new recipe for an event, but I like to think that our friends and family like us enough that they would forgive me if dessert was less than perfect. So, I went to my Pinterest dessert page and decided to make this beauty


















Chocolate Covered Oreo Cookie Cake

I mean, with a title like that, how can you really go wrong? This recipe is from Kraft's website and it is easy as pie, well, easier than pie in my opinion. Enjoy! (we sure did!)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crepes by Suzette by Monica Wellington


I've never made crepes. In fact I think I've only eaten them once or twice on a trip to France ten years ago. When J, W, and I were at the library recently I came across a book called, Crepes by Suzette, by Monica Wellington and was inspired.

The activity here was pretty obvious; we read the book and then made crepes! Lucky for me, there was a recipe right in the book. The book itself is great. It's about a girl who has a crepe cart in Paris and we see all of the people who buy her crepes. The illustrations are what is really interesting about this book. Each person she sells crepes to corresponds to a famous painting, such as Van Gogh's The Mailman. There is a brief explanation of each painting at the end of the book.

We used the recipe in the book to make our crepes and tried a few different fillings including fresh raspberries, peanut butter, and Nutella. I highly recommend a mix of peanut butter and Nutella. YUM!






To see the entire list of activities based on books, click here


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's a Boy!

Well, after a 3-month self-imposed maternity leave from the blog, I am finally back and able to announce the arrival of our second son! Blog maternity leave is mainly due to lack of sleep and free hands. The ideas have been flowing but the lack of spare time has made hobbies, such as the blog and the cooking and crafts I generally write about, impossible to do. Obviously giving up some of the pastimes I enjoy is worth it to be able to spend every precious moment with my new little one. And of course I know that the sacrifices I make are temporary.

Life with two children and a new house (yes, we moved the same week that baby#2 was born) is joyous, exciting, and most of all exhausting. I feel that I have reached a new level of tired that I have never known before. I seriously do NOT know how parents of multiples do it! I suppose that a higher level of fight or flight kicks in. Certainly I have found that "baby brain" is indeed a real thing. "Baby brain" is of course just a concise way to say, "I'm so incredibly tired that my brain is not functioning at its normal rate and therefore I can not finish normal tasks or form complete thoughts". For example, two weeks after my son was born I was picking up lunch at a restaurant and as I tried to sign the credit card slip and add the tip, I found that I no longer knew the answer to 5+6. A simple question I've known the answer to for at least 27 years, my brain just refused to retrieve the answer that I knew was hidden away somewhere in there. Don't worry, I ultimately left the correct tip, it just took me a little longer that it should have.

At 3 months old, my son is far from sleeping through the night and my 2 year old is up bright and early at 6 every morning (sometimes even earlier), so I do not know how consistent my writing will be for a while, but I am excited to get back to it!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hands-On Toddler Activitiy #11: Ice Water Table

After doing the tongs activity on a hot day, I thought that this would be a fun activity to take outdoors! My son loves playing with his water table, pouring water from one container to the next, and he loves ice! So I thought it'd be fun and refreshing to fill his water table with ice water! I gave him some tongs so he could try to pick up the ice cubes and put them in the bucket. He liked that for a few minutes, then he ditched the tongs and just started using his hands or the bucket itself. Either way, he had lots of fun and stayed cool! And of course, you don't need a store bought water table to do an activity such as this. You can simply take a big bucket or extra large tupperware container and fill it with water. Give your child different sized cups or buckets to pour water. Instant summer fun!








Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lofthouse Style Frosted Cookies

The cake pops I made for the babysitters at the YMCA were pretty successful, but I decided to try them again for a condo BBQ we had recently. They came out a little prettier the second time around. Of course I forgot to take a picture, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I also decided that I wanted to make some "thank you" treats for the nurses at my OB/GYN. I see them once a week now, and having a couple nurses in my own family I know how underappreciated they can feel, so I wanted to do a little something to let them know we were thinking about them. So rather than round 3 of ice cream cone cake pops, I decided to try a new recipe I came across on Pinterest.

Do you know those cookies that you can buy at the grocery store that are little round cake treats with delicious frosting tinted for whatever holiday is around the corner? Well, I love them! I don't know many people who don't. So when I saw a "knockoff" recipe for them, I knew that I had to try it. I found similar recipes on lots of blogs and websites, but the one I ultimately used was from the blog, Authentic Suburban Gourmet. And to this blogger I say, thank you! These cookies, while not exactly the same as the grocery store ones, were, as my son would say, deeeeeeelicious. I think they were even better a day or two after I made them! I will most likely make this recipe again in the future, but it probably will not be often. One reason is that I hate rolling out dough, so I usually try to avoid recipes that involve this step, and reason number two is that they are just way too addicting and unhealthy!

Lofthouse Style Sugar Cookies

Deeeeelicous!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey

It's blueberry season! So I decided to read the classic children's book, Blueberries For Sal, by Robert McCloskey, with my son. I was not sure how he would do with it because the pictures, while beautiful, are done all in monochromatic pen and ink. So the illustrations are not the bright, bold pictures he sees in many of his storybooks. But he loved it! He has been totally engrossed in the story (all 15 or so times we've read it in the past few days) and he especially loves the onomatopoeia. The blueberries make a "kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk" sound as Sal drops them in her tin pail and Mama Bear makes a "gulp" sound when she munches and swallows her blueberries. Both sounds cause my son to chuckle every time we read the story.

Activity #1: Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk

We've done several activities over the past few days based on this story. First, we reenacted the "kuplink-ing" of the blueberries. But rather than using blueberries and a tin pail, we used a plastic pail and some marbles. **Note: Marbles are a definite choking hazard so be sure your child is old enough to understand not to put them in his/her mouth and even if you think they understand, it's a good idea to monitor this activity closely.** If you are concerned about the marbles, then by all means use real blueberries!

We read the story together and when we got to the parts where the character, Sal, put her blueberries in her pail, we practiced doing it ourselves. After the story was complete, he LOVED putting all the "blueberries" in a pail and pouring them into another pail. He didn't want to stop this activity, but I finally got him to move on by telling him about our next activity...making blueberry smoothies!

The focus of this activity was on the action of putting the blueberries in the bucket and the sounds that they made; great for a young toddler. If you wanted to adapt this for older children you can focus more on the mathematics of Sal's actions. Your child can practice addition and subtraction by adding blueberries to the pail and then taking away the one's that Sal eats. It'd be more fun to use real blueberries for this because then your child can subtract in the same way that Sal did, by eating the blueberries!


"kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk"
































Activity #2: Smoothies

The next activity we did was making blueberry smoothies. We make a lot of smoothies and usually I just throw together some yogurt and frozen berries, but this time I decided to try a recipe I came across in Health magazine that involved the addition of tofu! I had all of the ingredients measured ahead of time so that my son could do the pouring into the cup and become an active participant in making the smoothie.  I don't love tofu, so I was a little skeptical about this recipe, but it was pretty good and my 2 year old devoured it!




Blueberry-tofu smoothie. Yum!
































Activity #3: "Blueberry Pie"

The third activity was a "blueberry pie" art project. When doing an art project with a child, always have all of your materials prepped ahead of time. This will save your sanity immensely.

You will need:
a paper plate
blue finger paint
brown construction paper cut into strips using shape scissors (prepare these ahead of time)

Have your child make "blueberries" on the plate by using one finger to make small dots of blue paint. When the paint is dry, your child (probably with some assistance from you) can glue the "crust" on top of the blueberries in a lattice pattern.

I'm not actually sure that my son knows what pie is yet, but he still enjoyed making this one!



Blueberry Pie!
Activity #4: Blueberry Muffins

Our final activity was making blueberry muffins. There are a million different blueberry muffin recipes out there. I decided to try a new one, a lemony blueberry muffin. They were not my most favorite, but I personally like muffins to be very sweet, and these just didn't have enough sweetness for me. I'll post the recipe in case these lemon blueberry muffins are up your alley.

Like any activity you do with toddlers, it is a very good idea to have everything prepped ahead of time. If you are cooking with older children you can get them more involved in the measuring.  I had everything measured and ready to go except for the flour. This was a mistake. Take the time to measure the flour too! I turned for a second and toddler hands were covered in flour! Baking with kids is bound to get a little messy, but having everything ready ahead of time will help keep things a bit cleaner.

Lemony Blueberry Muffins



















Activity #5 Blueberry Picking

One more activity idea is to take your child blueberry picking. I am due to have baby #2 any day now so I just don't have it in me to chase my 2 year old around a blueberry farm in the 95 degree weather we've been having lately. But this will certainly be an activity we will be doing next summer! Enjoy your blueberries!

To view the entire list of activities based on books and songs click here!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ice Cream Cone Cake Pops

Recently my friend and fellow blogger, Julie  at Sugar & Bows, needed an extra hand with a baby shower she was putting together. One of the items on the menu was the adorable ice cream cone cake pops. An easy, yet time intensive treat, the cake pops are always a hit. I was more than happy to lend a hand!

Since we are going to be moving soon and having a baby even sooner, I decided to do some baking to make some "thank you" treats for some of the individuals who have helped us along the way. So this week, I made ice cream cone cake pop treats for the babysitters at the YMCA where I drop my son while I get in the occasional workout, in order to say thank you for watching him.

In order to make these adorable treats you will need:

1 box of cake mix (chocolate, yellow, it's up to you)
1 container of frosting (again, any flavor will do)
2-3 bags of melting chocolates
1 box of mini ice cream cones

Instructions:
1. Make 13x9 inch cake according to box directions. Cool completely. Crumble cake into a large bowl.

2. Add the frosting to the crumbled cake and blend with a  hand mixer.

3. Use a small cookie scoop to make small balls of cake and push down gently into the ice cream cones.   Put them on a tray and cool in the freezer for about 15 minutes.


4. Melt the chocolates according to the instructions on the package. Then dip the "ice cream" into the chocolate. You can add sprinkles, mini m&m's, or other fun toppings. Just be sure to do it right away before the chocolate sets.  Before you add toppings you can also drizzle another color melting chocolate on top to look like to hot fudge. I had some peanut butter flavored ones which were delicious on top of the chocolate cake balls! Enjoy!


They don't look perfect, but that's ok because it looks more like melting ice cream with ooey, gooey topping!




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hands-On Toddler Activity #10: Tongs!

I bought a bag of multi-sized, multi-colored puff balls at Lakeshore Learning, and they have been such a great investment for toddler activities because I've been able to reuse them so many times. This simple activity only requires a set of tongs and some puff balls. Actually if you don't have puff balls, any small objects will work (small toys, cotton balls, small rocks, etc). I think softer objects will make the activity a little easier for little hands though. If you have them, it'd be best to use tongs that have the rubber on the ends in order to avoid injuries, but if you are monitoring this activity I'm sure any kind will do. 

I gave my son a bowl so he could pick the puff balls up, put them in the bowl, and then dump them all out. Filling up containers is a favorite activity of his, and I think many other toddlers enjoy it as well. This activity took some time, but once he figured it out he was squeezing puff balls with ease. Because the tongs are quite big for his little hands he had to experiment with different ways to hold them. Occasionally he would even pick the puff balls up with his hands, place it in the tongs, then squeeze the tongs to hold it in there. Some might call this cheating; in this situation I call it creative problem solving. Though I haven't done it yet, I thought it might also be fun to do this activity out doors with a bowl of water and some ice cubes! 


 !



Thursday, July 12, 2012

The "I Look Forward To" List

I'd like to say that pregnancy is a wonderful, beautiful time, but let's just be honest, it's tough! The end result of course is a joyous miracle and there are a few perks along the way such as clearer skin, stronger nails, and the lack of a visit from your monthly friend. But for the most part it's exhausting, uncomfortable, and challenging. That's my experience anyway. As I was attempting to bend down the other day to pick up a sticker that my son had stuck to the floor, I began to compile a mental list of all the things that I take for granted being NP (non-preggo) and started to look forward to experiencing them once again in less than a month. Don't get me wrong, I am beyond fortunate to even be pregnant with my second healthy baby and to have a pregnancy that is free of complications and has allowed me to remain active. I know that there are many women who only wish that they could complain about lower back pain and swollen ankles, but  sometimes you just need a good laugh or a little complain session to get you through the difficult times.

Things I Look Forward To

I look forward to meeting my new little bundle of joy in just a few short weeks!

I look forward to being able to pick things up off the ground without nearly falling over, getting out of breath, or exclaiming "oomf" every time I try to get back up. 

I look forward to being able to sleep in other positions other than on my left side. 

I look forward to being able to get in and out of bed without getting out of breath. 

I look forward to being able to go for a walk that is more than three blocks from my house (in other words, near a bathroom). 

I look forward to having a mojito!

I look forward to once again eating any kind of cheese I want. 

I look forward to being woken in the middle of the night by a hungry newborn, rather than by my bladder. 

I look forward to using cleaning products and pumping gas without fear of dousing my baby in a chemical haze. 

I look forward to walking rather than waddling. 

I look forward to seeing less of my doctor's office. 

I look forward to clothes shopping at more than just the three or four stores that carry maternity clothes. 

I look forward to having a mojito! (Oh wait, did I say that one already?)

Pregnancy is a joyous, tiring, miraculous, uncomfortable, long privilege. There are bound to be some tears along the way, but it is mostly filled with eager anticipation and despite my occasional complaints it is a journey with the happiest of outcomes!





Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pasta With Kale and Walnut Pesto

"Mikey likes it!" We were reminded of the old Life cereal commercial tonight at dinner. Our son ate kale and asked for seconds. Ok, so it was kale pesto, not an identifiable vegetable to a two year old, but we felt triumphant on the war of the vegetables nonetheless. I've been trying a lot of pesto variations lately. We've tried the standard basil and pine nuts, and I've made variations using arugula, kale, walnuts, and even avocado! This has probably been my favorite though and one I'm sure to repeat. This dish was quick, easy, and so delicious!

Pasta With Kale and Walnut Pesto

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons walnuts
1 bunch kale, thick stems discarded and leaves torn (about 12 cups)
1 cup grated pecorino, plus more for serving
1 small clove garlic
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 pound fusili, penne, or some other short pasta

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool. Chop two tablespoons of the walnuts and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until bright green, 30 seconds. Transfer the kale to a colander (reserve the cooking water); squeeze dry when cool enough to handle.

In a food processor, combine the kale, pecorino, garlic, the remaining 1/3 cup of unchopped walnuts, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady steam.

Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1/2  cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to coat. Serve the pasta sprinkled with the pecorino and chopped walnuts. Yum!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Broiled Tilapia Parmesean

I am a meat and potatoes kind of girl from the Midwest. I've never been a particularly big fan of seafood, but I think it is mostly because I didn't really grow up eating much of it, so I never acquired a taste for it. The most fish I ate when I was younger was the occasional frozen fish sticks on Fridays during Lent or tuna fish out of a can. But fish can be so healthy, so I am attempting to incorporate it about once a week into our family dinner menus. So far, my two year old has really enjoyed the fish I've prepared so I  would also like to continue to expose him to more and more healthy options.

Now, I say fish can be healthy because it is generally high in protein and omega fatty acids, but you can bring down the healthiness in the way you prepare it, as I've done in this recipe. It's certainly not the worst thing you could have for dinner, but there are healthier ways to prepare this fish if you are watching your waistline. But, it's delicious! So while you may not want to prepare your fish this way every night, it's a very tasty dish to have occasion. I've also discovered that fish is extremely easy and quick to prepare, which is a definite plus when you are trying to entertain a toddler with out resorting to the tv as I often have to do during dinner prep.

Broiled Tilapia Parmesan
From Allrecipes.com

Broiled Tilapia Parmesan

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegan Enchiladas With Cilantro Avocado Cream Sauce

Cilantro, avocado, and lime....oh my... how delicious. I've been cooking a lot with these flavors lately. My favorite recipe of the moment is vegan enchiladas with cilantro avocado cream sauce. They pair so nicely with a black bean salad (if that's not too many beans in one night for you) or you could stick with a green salad, or some rice. I imagine they would also go well with a Corona, but I'm pregnant now, so unfortunately I can't test out that  food-beer pairing right now. So for a summery dish on a night when you just don't feel like grilling, give this dish a try!
Not sure my photo does it justice. I haven't quite gotten the hang of food photography yet. But trust me, this is yummy!

Vegan Enchiladas with Cilantro Avocado Cream Sauce
From Ohsheglows.com

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa

During our vegan journey I tried several different burger recipes, several of which were good, but none of which blew me away. I decided to give a vegetarian version a try to see if I'd have more success, and with the addition of cheese, really how could it not be an improvement. I found this recipe in an old Cooking Light magazine from 2010 and decided to pair it with a green salad with summer fruit. Not that you really need a recipe to make a salad, but I like to search for new inspiration sometimes so I found this salad recipe in the book, Raising The Salad Bar. Both dishes were delicious. You may have noticed that I have shared a lot of recipes involving avocado, mango, and cilantro. We've been loving these flavors lately at our house so I've been repeating them in a lot of different ways. I planted an herb garden a few weeks ago and loaded up on the cilantro so hopefully I'll have a constant supply all summer long.

Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa
from Cooking Light Magazine

Baby Green Salad with Blueberries, Melon, and Strawberries
from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers








Friday, May 25, 2012

Activities Based on Books and Songs

If You Give a Pig a Pancake
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
If You Give a Kid a Pancake, he'll ask you to make them for 
breakfast everyday!
I think one day before I had children I declared that I wasnot going to make my kids big elaborate breakfasts, they can eat cereal every morning! Oh silly, naive, pre-children Kristin. It's not that they beg me for pancakes every morning, but more that I want to make them a special treat some days. Mind you, I don't make pancakes everyday. I make them about once a week, and make extras so that they can be reheated for breakfast for the next day or two. And sometimes when I'm feeling extra motivated I'll make a double or triple batch so I can freeze them. I just separate them between wax paper and put them in a freezer, zip-top bag. The other days, when the kids are not eating pancakes, they eat french toast, egg sandwiches, oatmeal, or yes, even cereal!

But on those days that we are eating pancakes, I do try to healthy them up a bit. I have tried numerous recipes from buttermilk and oatmeal pancakes to whole wheat pancakes, but this latest one we made was a different and quite delicious spin. Not to mention the fact that it tied in nicely to our little author study, as we just read Laura Numeroff'sIf You Give a Pig a Pancake

Peanut Butter and Banana Pancakes
(adapted from Todd English's PB&B recipe)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 T butter, melted
1/4 cup peanut butter, microwaved until thin
2 small bananas, mashed

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together (3 year olds are great at helping with this step). Add buttermilk, eggs, melted butter, and peanut butter and gently mix together. Fold in mashed banana. Cook on greased griddle or pan for about 2-3 min. per side. Top, of course, with maple syrup!



After reading the story, we talked about other things that begin with the letter "P". I asked Jack to stamp a "P" as many times as he wanted on a piece of paper. Then for every "P" he stamped, we thought of a word to write that begins with the letter "P".


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie 
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
If you give a kid some cookies, he's going to want to eat them! Well, these cookies were not edible, but they did make for a fun activity after we reread, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff. 

I cut cookies out of stiff felt, then on some I wrote numbers and on others I drew the corresponding number of chocolate chips. Jack, wearing his apron, chef's hat, and oven mitt of course, had to count the chocolate chips and use a spatula to pick the cookie up off the cookie sheet and put it on a plate. Then on the same plate he had to place the cookie with the corresponding number. 






Chef Jack loved this activity. We then did it a second time, using letters instead. He had to find the upper case cookie that matched the lower case cookie and place it on a plate. We did not use the entire alphabet, just the letters in his first and last name. 



In the last activity, he had to find food pictures that began with the letter "c". I printed pictures, half of which began with "c" and the other half did not. He had to say the name of the food aloud and if it began with a "c" he placed it in the letter "c". If it did not, he just left it on the table. All of the food items I chose began with a hard "c" sound. He's not quite ready for the confusion of soft "c" like in "celery", or a digraph like in "cheese". 



I think the next activity we do will be the most obvious one....baking cookies!

If You Give a Cat a Cookie 
by Laura Joffe Numeroff

My sister-in-law recently shared this activity with me that she did with her 4 year olds and it inspired me to do some more activities based on books (my favorite types of activities!). Laura Joffe Numeroff writes a series of books that each follow the same pattern. You give a certain animal a treat and then they want a whole lot more from you!

We've read the story, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie many, many times in our house. Often when we read it we add our own little dialogue between the mouse and the boy and always get a good laugh. So when my sister told me about this activity we decided to check all of the books out of the library to do a mini-author study. When reading the books we started by making some predictions. Because Jack is already familiar with the story patterns, it was a little easier to make some guesses about what might happen in the story. This first activity was based on the book, If You Give a Cat a Cupcake. We made shaving cream paint in order to paint our own cupcakes.
We mixed together equal parts shaving cream and glue, then added some drops of food coloring to make the desired color "frosting". I drew a cupcake shape and Jack painted the frosting.
This shaving cream paint is great because it creates a puffy, 3-D effect! After painting the cupcake we talked about what other things we might find that are fluffy or puffy, or just any other sweet treats we might like to paint.

Jack painted an ice cream cone and then a snow cone. 

 My painting was a snowman eating an ice cream cone and another one eating a s'more.
This activity was a lot of fun. Thanks for the inspiration SIL. More Laura Numeroff activities coming soon!



Butterfly Themed Book Bag

Our local library has "book bags" that we can borrow that contain several books on a single topic. I noticed there was a butterfly themed book bag that included The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which is a favorite in our house, so we checked it out and my creative juices started flowing thinking of butterfly activities we could do.

The bag included:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman
Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert
The video, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories.
A stuffed animal caterpillar/butterfly that contained a tummy full of the foods that the caterpillar eats in the story,The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


First we read, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and used the stuffed animal to act out the story. Jack LOVED this little butterfly toy! As I read the story aloud he was able to stuff the apple, the orange, the cake, and all the other foods into the caterpillar's tummy.

After reading this story, we watched the video which included, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and I See A Song. Eric Carle's illustrations come to life in the video adaptation of these stories. They are just beautiful! If you are not familiar with his work, Eric Carle uses collage to create his amazing picture books. Here are some other Eric Carle activities we've done in the past. 






Next, we read the book, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, which explains the life cycle of a butterfly, and we discussed the meanings of the terms used in the book, such as metamorphosis, molting, and chrysalis. Then we readWaiting for Wings. Author/illustrator Lois Ehlert also uses collage to create her beautiful children's books. This story illustrates the change of caterpillar into butterfly, and then it gives examples of different types of butterflies and where you might find them.

After reading our stories and watching the movie, we started on some projects. Our first was a simple paper plate butterfly. I had Jack color a plate with crayons, then I cut the plate to form the butterfly's wings. Then Jack glued on the body and the antennae that I had cut from black construction paper.






The second butterfly project started with making a caterpillar. We glued small puff balls onto a popsicle stick. Then, while that was drying we decorated the wings. We used heart shaped doilies and colored them with dot paint sticks. Finally, we glued the wings onto the back of the popsicle stick. Voila!  A beautiful butterfly!









We've been having fun with our hungry caterpillar theme all week. I created a picture shopping list and we went to the grocer store to buy the items the caterpillar ate in the story. Jack had to search through the produce department to find one apple, two pears, three plums, four (a pint) of strawberries, and five oranges. Then I let him choose one item from the foods the caterpillar ate on Saturday. Jack chose the ice cream boy...he is definitely my son! He loved having the responsibility of holding the list, finding the items in the store, putting them on the checkout belt, and paying for the groceries. 



When we got home we made a hungry caterpillar fruit salad with all of the items. I let him practice cutting the strawberries with the butter knife. Then we also used some grapes to make a little caterpillar. We used a grape tomato for the head and a dollop of yogurt and some raisins to make the caterpillar's face. 







Next, we decided to try to make some artwork like Eric Carle's. We drew a shape, the letter J and the letter S on paper. Then painted on watered down glue and attached some tissue paper. Once it dried we cut it out and glued it onto construction paper. I also make a little caterpillar in the same way to show Jack how Eric Carle might have done it when he was writing his books.  







Finally, I asked Jack to tell a story about what the butterfly in the story does next after his big change from a caterpillar. We did it orally, but an older child could create a picture or small book that tells their story.

Our butterfly activity week  is over! We loved the book bag inspiration and we are looking forward to the next bit theme! 



The Gingerbread Man


When I was teaching I started to notice that a lot of children today are not familiar with classic stories, fairy tales, or nursery rhymes. These stories are classics for a reason! Kids love them and often they teach a valuable lesson. A favorite in our house lately has been The Gingerbread Man. This story has been retold in many different ways, but most versions tell of the Gingerbread Man who escapes from the oven and then runs away from the farm workers and various animals. He repeats the line, "Run run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man." Ultimately the little man runs into a wolf who tricks him into slowing his run and letting down his guard. The result is the end of the Gingerbread Man and a tasty treat for the wolf.

When reading this story, I try to have my son chant along with the repetitive phrase, "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man." We also try to remember all of the people and animals that the Gingerbread Man ran away from as we read. Try some of the following activities we did after reading the story.

Make a paper gingerbread man
For this activity I drew a Gingerbread Man shape on white paper and had my son color it. You could also just cut it out of brown construction paper to save time if you wish. After cutting him out, I gave my son dots to glue on for eyes and buttons. Then I put a couple dabs of glue on the gingerbreads hands and feet and we sprinkled on a little cinnamon to give the man a fresh out of the oven aroma. Jack said he wanted to put the gingerbread man in the oven. I wasn't crazy about the idea of sticking paper in the oven, so that led to the next activity.




Make a cardboard box oven
There always seems to be large cardboard boxes in our house from diapers or something else I ordered on Amazon. So the latest Pampers box became our oven. I cut all of the flaps off one side of the box. Then I taped the two larger flaps together and then taped it to the bottom of the oven. Next I used some of the cardboard from the leftover flaps to make a handle for the oven. I covered the entire thing in brown paper and added some oven knob details. Now that we have an oven we can retell the story as we act it out. We put the gingerbread man on a cookie sheet and put him in the oven then we pretended he escaped. We tried to remember all of the characters from the story that he ran away from and we chanted the famous line, "Run run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man."




Make cookies
Every story gets better when there is baking involved! We looked up a recipe to make our own gingerbread men and made these delicious cookies. Click here for the recipe we used.
I am not normally in love with gingerbread cookies but these were delicious! They were also much easier to roll and cut out than sugar cookies normally are so that was a positive for me.

Of course, we had to make a Lightning McQueen and Mater cookie too!

Run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man!

Online activity
Here's a quick online activity you can try too. Click here.

For the complete list of activities based on books and songs, click here. 


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, 
What Do You See? by Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle is such an amazing book with so many possibilities for activities for all ages. Eric Carle's work is easy to spot! His illustrations are done using hand painted paper that is collaged to form beautiful, bright images. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a very simple story with repetitive language that asks a variety of animals, "What do you see?" Babies will be attracted to bright illustrations, toddlers will love the repetitive phrases and the opportunity to practice animal sounds, and older children will also love learning about Carle's unique form of creating his picture book artwork. Here are some activities based on this beloved classic, and many of the activities can be transferred to other Eric Carle books as well, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, The Grouchy Ladybug, and The Very Busy Spider.

Activity #1: Brown Bear Game
My two year old is getting a little big for walks in the stroller, but Mama needs her exercise and we both need the fresh air so I try to make the walks as entertaining as possible, which means we do a lot of talking about what we observe as we walk. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to play a little game based on the book that we've read 5 million or so times. I start by saying, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a _____looking at me." I fill in the blank with something that I see as we are walking, such as a green mailbox, yellow leaves, or a red fire hydrant. Then, after a little modeling from me, he repeats what I said and adds his own observation. Such as, "Green Mailbox, Green Mailbox, what do you see? I see a Blue Car looking at me." And so on. You can entertain a toddler for at least 30 minutes with this game. It's enough time to get in a little bit of a workout!

Activity #2: Animal Sounds
As you read the story, model for your child the different sounds that the animals make. Have your child repeat the sounds. Eventually, after many times reading the story, your child will be able to "read" the book along with you by making all the animal sounds.

Activity #3: Animal/Color Recognition
Read the story together with your child. Pause when you get to the line, "I see a (let your child fill in the blank) looking at me". Have your child look at the pictures to identify the "green frog" or the "blue horse".

Activity #4: Collage
Make your own collage artwork in the fashion of Eric Carle. Cut or tear tissue paper and glue the pieces together to create an image. For a young child you might draw a simple outline, such as a sun or a flower and have him/her  fill in the outline by gluing in the tissue paper. An older child can create his/her own images. You might also try to have your child paint his/her own paper and cut it, rather than using tissue paper.

Activity #5: Visit The Eric Carle Museum
If you are fortunate to live nearby, take a visit to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.  There is a little something there for everyone including a gallery of artwork from Carle and other illustrators as well as a workshop where children can create their own artwork.

To see the entire list of activities based on books click here.


Crepes by Suzette by Monica 
Wellington

I've never made crepes. In fact I think I've only eaten them once
or twice on a trip to France ten years ago. When J, W, and I were
at the library recently I came across a book called, Crepes by Suzette,
by Monica Wellington and was inspired.

The activity here was pretty obvious; we read the book and then made
crepes! Lucky for me, there was a recipe right in the book. The book
 itself is great. It's about a girl who has a crepe cart in Paris and we see
all of the people who buy her crepes. The illustrations are what is really
interesting about this book. Each person she sells crepes to corresponds 
to a famous painting, such as Van Gogh's The Mailman. There is a brief 
explanation of each painting at the end of the book.

So, on to the crepes! Here is the recipe we used:
Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk.
2. Beat in the milk.
3. Add the flour and mix until very smooth.
4. Add melted butter, sugar, and salt and blend well. It should be the
consistency of heavy cream. Add more milk if you need to.
5. Cover batter and chill 1 hour or over night.
6. Heat the pan and brush lightly with melted butter.
7. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of batter. Swirl in the pan so the batter
spreads out thin. Heat over medium-high heat until the batter sets up and
the edges brown, about 2 minutes.
8. Flip it and then fill with your favorite filling. Cook another minute. Then
fold crepe in half and then in half again creating a triangle. Enjoy!

We tried a few different fillings including fresh raspberries, peanut butter,
and Nutella. I highly recommend a mix of peanut butter and Nutella. YUM!









Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey

It's blueberry season! So I decided to read the classic children's book, Blueberries For Sal, by Robert McCloskey, with my son. I was not sure how he would do with it because the pictures, while beautiful, are done all in monochromatic pen and ink. So the illustrations are not the bright, bold pictures he sees in many of his storybooks. But he loved it! He has been totally engrossed in the story (all 15 or so times we've read it in the past few days) and he especially loves the onomatopoeia. The blueberries make a "kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk" sound as Sal drops them in her tin pail and Mama Bear makes a "gulp" sound when she munches and swallows her blueberries. Both sounds cause my son to chuckle every time we read the story. 

Activity #1: Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk

We've done several activities over the past few days based on this story. First, we reenacted the "kuplink-ing" of the blueberries. But rather than using blueberries and a tin pail, we used a plastic pail and some marbles. **Note: Marbles are a definite choking hazard so be sure your child is old enough to understand not to put them in his/her mouth and even if you think they understand, it's a good idea to monitor this activity closely.** If you are concerned about the marbles, then by all means use real blueberries! 

We read the story together and when we got to the parts where the character, Sal, put her blueberries in her pail, we practiced doing it ourselves. After the story was complete, he LOVED putting all the "blueberries" in a pail and pouring them into another pail. He didn't want to stop this activity, but I finally got him to move on by telling him about our next activity...making blueberry smoothies! 

The focus of this activity was on the action of putting the blueberries in the bucket and the sounds that they made; great for a young toddler. If you wanted to adapt this for older children you can focus more on the mathematics of Sal's actions. Your child can practice addition and subtraction by adding blueberries to the pail and then taking away the one's that Sal eats. It'd be more fun to use real blueberries for this because then your child can subtract in the same way that Sal did, by eating the blueberries!


"kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk"

































Activity #2: Smoothies

The next activity we did was making blueberry smoothies. We make a lot of smoothies and usually I just throw together some yogurt and frozen berries, but this time I decided to try a recipe I came across in Health magazine that involved the addition of tofu! I had all of the ingredients measured ahead of time so that my son could do the pouring into the cup and become an active participant in making the smoothie.  I don't love tofu, so I was a little skeptical about this recipe, but it was pretty good and my 2 year old devoured it!

Blueberry-Tofu Smoothie

Ingredients: 
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup (4 ounces) silken tofu*
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup crushed ice
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Enjoy!

*Be sure to first remove the extra moisture from the tofu by laying it on a clean towel and putting another clean towel on top.


Blueberry-tofu smoothie. Yum!
































Activity #3: "Blueberry Pie"

The third activity was a "blueberry pie" art project. When doing an art project with a child, always have all of your materials prepped ahead of time. This will save your sanity immensely

You will need: 
a paper plate
blue finger paint
brown construction paper cut into strips using shape scissors (prepare these ahead of time)

Have your child make "blueberries" on the plate by using one finger to make small dots of blue paint. When the paint is dry, your child (probably with some assistance from you) can glue the "crust" on top of the blueberries in a lattice pattern. 

I'm not actually sure that my son knows what pie is yet, but he still enjoyed making this one!



Blueberry Pie!
Activity #4: Blueberry Muffins

Our final activity was making blueberry muffins. There are a million different blueberry muffin recipes out there. I decided to try a new one, a lemony blueberry muffin. They were not my most favorite, but I personally like muffins to be very sweet, and these just didn't have enough sweetness for me. I'll post the recipe in case these lemon blueberry muffins are up your alley.  

Like any activity you do with toddlers, it is a very good idea to have everything prepped ahead of time. If you are cooking with older children you can get them more involved in the measuring.  I had everything measured and ready to go except for the flour. This was a mistake. Take the time to measure the flour too! I turned for a second and toddler hands were covered in flour! Baking with kids is bound to get a little messy, but having everything ready ahead of time will help keep things a bit cleaner. 

Lemony Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 lightly beaten eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sweet butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place 12 paper baking cups in a muffin pan. 

In a medium bowl, stir the sugar, lemon zest, flour, and baking powder with a spoon. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients until combined. Stir in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the cups. 

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan and cool for at least 5 minutes. 



















Activity #5 Blueberry Picking

One more activity idea is to take your child blueberry picking. I am due to have baby #2 any day now so I just don't have it in me to chase my 2 year old around a blueberry farm in the 95 degree weather we've been having lately. But this will certainly be an activity we will be doing next summer! Enjoy your blueberries!

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

We are very fortunate to have a large children's book collection. I keep the bulk of the books in my son's closet and take out 10 or so books at a time to keep in a basket in his room to peak his interest in particular books. Recently I searched for a new title and decided to read, Where the Wild Things Are to my son. He loved the story and asked me to read the story again and again. Strangely, I found out the next day that the author, Maurice Sendak, had just passed away. It seemed fitting to do a small project based on this story, so I decided to make masks based on a couple characters in the book. 

During nap time I prepped the materials by cutting face holes in the paper bags and cutting small strips of paper for the eyes, nose, whiskers, hair, and teeth. I figured this project would be a good introduction to glue for my 2 year old. I had my son color one bag white, for when the character Max wears his wolf suit. The I had him color a yellow piece of paper in all different colors, that I later cut out in a crown shape for Max. For the Wild Thing mask I drew on the bag where the different pieces should go so he would have a guide for where to put the eyes, nose, teeth, etc. As this was his first introduction to glue and this was a fairly advanced project, things got a little messy and there was a lot of me replacing the glued on items, but it was a fun project that we completed together. He was not such a fan of actually wearing the mask, so the actual dressing up part was very short lived, but I can definitely see us doing this project again in the future as this is a story that I know he will enjoy for years to come! Thank you Maurice Sendak for creating such a beautiful picture book!









Chicka Chicka ABC, by Bill Martin Jr. 
and John Archambault

Oh how I love a good cross-curriculuar activity, especially one where art is involved! While my son is still too young to really grasp the concept of the alphabet and the sound-symbol connection, he's really been enjoying "singing" the song lately. I put singing in quotes because he sings, "a, b, c, d, a, b, c, a, b, c, d, a, b, c, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z, a, b, c, d, a, b, c, a, b, c, a, b, me...YAY!" So he hasn't quite mastered the song, but I don't expect him to at this age anyway.

Since he's been interested in the song, I thought we'd do an ABC's activity based on the book, Chicka Chicka ABC. One afternoon we did some finger painting. The next day, I cut the papers we painted into the shape of a tree and taped it to the refrigerator. Then we read the book together, using magnetic alphabet letters to act out the story. He loved it. He especially loved saying, "Chicka Boom" when the letters came tumbling off the tree. This is definitely an activity we will be able to repeat over and over, as his understanding of alphabetic principle increases.