Saturday, June 26, 2010

Quick Kitchen Garden Update

I believe the word is "flourishing."

These raised beds have been the best. idea. EVER. Thank you, Pioneer Woman, for the step-by-step tutorial. I've even got my friends building them in their front yards. Woohoo!

So we harvested our first zucchini! Very exciting.

First zucchini!

Our two zucchini plants are the happiest ones I've ever had.

Happy, happy zucchini plants

And more baby ones on their way!

More zucchini to come

Even more exciting, the first tiny little green tomatoes have appeared.

Baby tomato!

The tomatoes are entirely surrounded by marigolds as a natural pest control, and so far so good.

Marigolds to protect the tomatoes

The tomato plants are very healthy (knock on wood). And remember: no pesticides, no fertilizer beyond organic compost. These are all natural, baby.

Cutest tomato cages EVER

Are those the cutest tomato cages you ever saw? I'm in love with them.

Meanwhile, I am keeping my family and friends well-supplied with Swiss chard these days. Warning: if we have plans to meet for coffee, I will show up with Swiss chard, spinach, and arugula. It is simply a given.

Full-grown Swiss chard

The leeks crack me up. I planted them approximately one million years ago, and they are just now beginning to thicken beyond a blade of grass. Will they ever turn into nice fat leeks? The world may never know. Meanwhile, they amuse me.

Baby leek

Now, do you know what this gorgeous little thing is? A baby pumpkin. Awwww!

Baby pumpkin

And finally, the green beans have made it to the top of the fort. It is now officially a little green play house. Swoon. Ignore the weeds, they give the place charm, don't you think?

Green bean fairy fort

Want to come play?

Friday, June 25, 2010

This Moment: Solstice

No words, just a moment from the past week that I want to stop and savor. A Friday tradition instigated and inspired by Amanda over at SouleMama.

Picking clover flowers

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Number Word Matching Game

One of the concepts I'm working on with my five-year-old right now is number sense. We are doing a lot with manipulatives, including an abacus, to build an intuitive sense for numbers. Meanwhile, she is also in the beginning stages of reading and finding that number words can be some pretty tricky fellows. (I mean seriously, "two"? "eight"? "one"? Who came up with these spellings??)

Number word game

So I came up with the following game to help reinforce the association between the actual quantity represented by a numeral, and the appropriate number word.

The game board has dots representing the quantities one through ten, in order across the board. Then I gave her a set of cards, mixed up, that each had a number word printed on it. She just had to put the word cards on top of the corresponding quantity. And that's it!

Three, ten, close enough

Okay, might seem boring, but she got a real kick out of it, and it's a quick little exercise to keep building her familiarity with number words. And a little more engaging than flash cards. I think if we play this little game every day for a week or two, she'll have those number words down cold.

Of course the first thing she did was to annotate the game board with the appropriate numerals. (Backwards.) Hey, it's all learnin'...

Numerals are helpful

The game board and cards are available as PDF's for your downloading pleasure. I recommend printing them on card stock. Just cut out the cards, and voilà! You can match up your numbers and words with the best of 'em.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Making Friends with Carnivores

Praying mantis, free

My two younger children are born naturalists. They greet each bug, each flower, each bird, and each weed with a spirit of fascination and wonder. They eagerly observe and study the world around them.

But they are also children. Which means it is not enough to observe the praying mantis we found in the bushes by the hose -- they want to make him their pet. We often have these temporary additions to the menagerie, but I try to make sure that after a few days, their new friend gets released back into the wild. In the meantime, my hard-and-fast rule is you may not keep anything unless you are able to feed it the right food. So once we have a new friend in the bug habitat, off we troop to the kitchen computer to find out what it is and what it eats.

"Okay, guys, it says here that praying mantises are carnivorous. That means they eat other bugs. The really big ones even eat frogs, lizards, birds, and small rodents. This one's small, so he'll eat smaller insects."

There's a pause as this sinks in. "So... we'll have to catch bugs to feed it?"

I'm thinking this will be a dead-end. Bugs are friends, thus they cannot also be lunch for a praying mantis. I'm even thinking she may have some harsh words for her praying mantis "friend," for his heartlessness in eating such adorable creatures as ladybugs.

But no. Off she troops to the garden to find prey. She knows exactly what she can feed her new friend without remorse, the perfect snack for her fastidious friend.

Praying mantis vs. cabbage worm

Cabbage worms. I tell you, kids who garden are nothing if not practical.

Eventually, though, it was hard to catch enough bugs for our voracious little buddy. We decided that the praying mantis himself was surely a much better insect-hunter than we could ever hope to be. So we set him free. In the garden, where he can be a force for good, snacking on aphids and cabbage worms.

But surely not ladybugs.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, hosted by Jamie at SteadyMom.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Perfect Summer Bread: Grilled Flatbread

Grilled flatbread

I love baking my own bread the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day way, as I've rhapsodized about before. But when we're in the midst of a string of 90+ degree days, it's hard to get my head around having the oven on for nearly an hour. Thankfully, that problem is solved with what has got to be the easiest way yet to bake ABin5 dough: right on the grill.

Full tutorial and instructions are found on the Artisan Bread in Five website (which is an absolute wealth of information, if you've never checked it out), but here's my own take:

1. Dust a pizza peel with flour.

Flour-dusted pizza peel

2. Grab a ball of dough roughly the size of a peach, shape it into a ball to form a gluten cloak, then flatten with your fingers into a disk.

Ball of dough to roll

3. Roll out directly onto the pizza peel.

Rolled dough

4. Slide directly onto your preheated gas grill, on medium-high heat (high gave me too much char), and close the lid.

Right on the grill

5. Cook about two minutes, then flip over with a spatula. Close the lid again.

Flipped over

6. Cook another two minutes or so, and ta-da!

Finished flatbread

Scrumptious, fast, and outdoors. What could be better?

A note on the dough used for these particular flatbreads: I've been playing around with the various dough recipes in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Sometimes I find myself out of a particular kind of flour and having to make substitutions. Quite by accident (seriously, I let myself run out of two different kinds of flour, what baker does that?), I happened upon the following combination, which resulted in a deliciously chewy yet earthy flavor. I will do this one again, even when I've resupplied my flour jars!

1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
3 cups lukewarm water
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup rye flour

The bread flour seems to balance out the whole grains in the white whole wheat and the rye. I've also found this dough to be a little easier to work with (a bit less sticky than standard ABin5 dough), and to hold its shape well. A successful experiment!

Now get grillin'....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day Movie

A little film to share, wishing all of you fathers and father-figures out there a very happy Father's Day.

This was the two younger kids' first foray into stop animation, and I have to say, I think they did an amazing job. Isn't technology an amazing thing?

Friday, June 18, 2010

This Moment: Tasting the Harvest

No words, just a moment from this past week that I want to pause and savor. Inspired and hosted by Amanda over at SouleMama.

Garden peas

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Battle for the Broccoli

Back in mid-March, I planted broccoli seeds. I had high hopes. But I'd never grown a brassica before, so I also knew it was kind of a crap shoot.

Broccoli seeds

The seedlings were so sweet.

Broccoli seedlings

Then, we had a heat spell in early April, and I accidentally left the seedlings outside. Oops. We had some heat damage, and I was thiiiiiis close to giving up on my poor pathetic broccoli.

They went into the ground looking sad and pathetic.


But suddenly... they found the will to live! They began to grow! Oh, happy day!

Perking up broccoli

And then... came the cabbage worms. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what they are. Oh man, these things are voracious. When I first found them, there were fat pale green caterpillars on the underside of all the leaves, plus lots of tiny ones and eggs. I carefully scraped each leaf of each plant.

Cabbage worms on broccoli leaves

And now that I know the danger, I'm out there every day, scraping off eggs and tiny worms.

Tiny cabbage worms

And still they come and feast. Buggers.

Leave some broccoli for me, dang cabbage worms!

Munched broccoli leaves

Cabbage worm damage on broccoli

And while I am highly annoyed at these little pests, they have given me an opportunity. An opportunity to appreciate my food all the more.

It's hard work bringing food from seed to table. We are dealing with the natural world here, where every living thing is a food source for something else.

But can you imagine? If these plants survive long enough to actually produce edible broccoli? If I am able to put broccoli from these very plants on my table? Oh my... What a day that will be.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for me, I'll be out here fighting the good fight.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This Moment: Checkmate

No words, just a moment from the past week that I want to stop and remember. Check out SouleMama to see all of this Friday's moments.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Crazy Cleanup House Tour Game

I am notoriously distractible. When I was a kid, I was totally one of those kids who goes to clean their room and ends up re-reading their history notes from last year with papers strewn across the floor.

OK, I'm still like that.

But instead of fighting my nature, I've learned to embrace it. I noticed that when I was trying to put things away, I'd end up going into a room to return a book and discovering something that needed to be done there, and following this chain reaction all around the house.

So I made a game out of it. Because putting things back where they belong is: a) excruciatingly boring, b) essential to my sanity, c) something I do every day, and d) an important skill for kids to learn.

The object of the game: To visit every room in the house.

To play: Start in any room, and find an item that does not belong there. Take the item to the room in which it belongs and put it completely away. (It doesn't count to move your dirty socks from the hallway floor to your bedroom floor... they have to make it to the hamper!) Then look around the room you ended up in, and find something that doesn't belong there. See how many rooms you can hit on your tour OR how long it takes you to find a room that doesn't have any misplaced items. I've heard that this sort of thing is theoretically possible, but I've yet to encounter it.

Get everyone involved! Turn on music! Run from room to room if you must (but careful on the stairs)!

Note: this is not an efficient way to put things away. This is, like, the opposite of efficient. This has you running needlessly all over the house, potentially back and forth between the same two rooms carrying only one item at a time. But the funny thing is? It works. If you play this game for ten minutes every day with your kids, over time you will notice far less vagabond items. Also, you will have to establish a home for every item beforehand, as it is impossible to put something away when you don't know where it goes. That's okay. If you come across a truly homeless item, either at least put it in a room that makes sense, or decide then and there where its permanent home ought to be. It is remarkably freeing!

Doesn't it sound like a blast? Let's play a round right now, shall we? Oh, and feel free to get distracted along the way... that's part of the fun!

We start in the front hallway, where I see a nature journal left out from this morning's nature walk. Tsk tsk! You don't belong here!

Item 1

Off to the bookshelf in the family room, where all such items live:

Item 1's home

Alright, so what's going on in the family room, while we're here...

Item 2

Empty sippy cup on the floor! Off to the kitchen with you...

Item 2's home

That's better. Alright, so what's in the kitchen that doesn't belong?

Item 3

The cookbook I used for last night's soup! To the closet shelf with you...

Item 3's home

Right there with the other cookbooks, next to the double boiler. Excellent. Now, what's lurking in this hallway?

Item 4

Reusable grocery bags! Better put you back in the car...

Item 4's home

That's better! Now I'm all set for impromptu shopping adventures. Now, we find ourselves in the garage, which is such a haven for misplaced items, I can't even begin... I just can't even look at it or think about it right now. I am walking right out of here empty-handed, and I'm just going to keep walking until I see...

A stuffed rat on the living room floor?? Uh-uh, I don't think so...

Item 5

Silly rat. You belong in the stuffed animal basket under the family room coffee table. Obviously.

Item 5's home

That's better. Oh man, something's out of place here... Ah, it's the bane of my existence!

Item 6

Couch pillows on the floor? How many times a day do I put them back? Let's not think about that right now...

Item 6's home

Ahhh, I can feel my blood pressure lowering already.

You will ignore the gaping hole in my couch. This couch has been through a lot, man.

Item 7

What happened here? It looks like a little froggy bath toy lost a game of chess and threw some pieces around. That's no good.

First, we reassemble the board:

Item 7A home

Now to return our froggy friend to his rightful home...

Item 7B home

Reunited, and it feels so good... While we're here in the kids' bathroom... uh oh!

Who made this mess?

Who made this big mess? Nevermind, let's just tidy it up...


Phew, I feel better now! What's this on the bathroom counter?

Item 8

Nope, not where those belong. Into the five-year-old's room, to the basket of hair thingies on her dresser!

Item 8's home

This room is surprisingly tidy, but I do notice the crape myrtles out her window are blooming. Ooooh, pretty!

Ooh, crape myrtle's blooming!

And the game quickly devolves as I wander into my own bathroom, find this morning's coffee cup still on the counter (oops!)...

Item 9

...take it down to the kitchen, and get permanently distracted by the presence of a beetle on some wheatgrass growing on the kitchen counter. Woah!

Distracted by beetle

And game over. Because of course the beetle belongs outside. And once outside, I am pulled by a gravitational force quite beyond my control into the garden. Ah well. I didn't hit every single room, but there's always next time.

Believe me. There is always next time.