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A Year of Trying to be a Better Mom

Making Butter August 4, 2010

You know how when you cook a special recipe that requires ingredients like heavy whipping cream and you never use all of it? Well, I made such a recipe recently. I’ve been wondering how to use up the rest of the whipping cream before it would expire. I suppose an obvious answer would be to whip it…and make whipped cream…but I had nothing to eat whipped cream on. Though don’t think I’m above eating whipped cream by the spoonful. I mean…no, no, I never do fat-tastic things like that! Never.

Anyway, I was browsing activities to do with preschoolers and came across these instructions for how to make butter. The only required materials were whipping cream and a jar with a lid. I had all of those. Perfect!

Supplies: Whipping cream with a lidded container

Now all I had to do was pour the whipping cream into the container and shake. In about 10 minutes time, the directions said, we would have butter. And, I’m not gonna lie, these are the thoughts that went through my head, “Wow. Only 10 minutes. Why don’t people make their own butter more often?” And I was also imagining it would turn out all lovely and smooth, like a tub of Country Crock or something. Um. No.

This is what we started out with

After 10 minute of shaking, there's some butter

After 20 minutes, still has liquid in it

After 30 minutes. Dang. This is why people don't shake their own butter. It's still liquidy (though you can clearly see the butter)

And here is what Zach looked like, shaking the butter, during all of this time.

Beginning shakes, enthusiastic

After 10 minutes, a little tired out

20 minutes?? Mom...I'm all done shaking...I'll just sit here and sip my milk while you finish up. Kay?

Don’t worry, we alternated shaking turns. And while we were shaking, of course we had to sing shaking appropriate songs. Like “Shake your booty” (except I changed it to “Shake Your Butter”…clever). At the thirty minute mark I decided to call it done. We could see that there was, in fact, butter in the container. No need for a whole tub! So, we did a taste test.

Getting a small sample

Yep, tastes like butter

Then I drained the rest of the liquid and put the butter in the fridge. Maybe we’ll use it on toast tomorrow morning!

It looks like cottage cheese, but it's butter

What did Zach learn? About physical changes. Shaking up the cream churned it into butter. It was a little science experiment. I asked him what he thought the cream would do (he didn’t know, obviously). He did say it went poo poo on the potty. Um…can you tell we’ve been talking about THAT lately?? Then, as we were shaking it up, I asked him to feel the differences in how the cream felt in the container. It was pretty interesting, at about 3 or 4 minutes into shaking, I could tell we had probably produced whipped cream, the container felt much lighter and you couldn’t hear liquid sloshing around. Then after 3 or 4 more minutes, the liquid sound returned.  The fat particles from the cream were separated out from the liquid, the fat was sticking together in the butter. At least, that’s my explanation for it. Pretty neat. Oh–and tasting the butter adds a sensory experiment to the learning. We didn’t do this, but it probably would have been a good idea to taste the cream before making it into butter, to talk about the differences.

What did Mommy learn? All of the above. Plus…use a lot less cream next time! And shaking butter is hard work. THAT’S why people just buy it pre-made. Though, maybe I could whip it in my Kitchen Aid? Maybe I’ll perform a mommy science experiment some other time when I have about to expire cream to waste.

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Whoa…is it dusty in here or what? July 30, 2010

Um, hi.

I know, I know. I said I would write. I said I would write EVERY day. And I intended to do that. And then, well. You see, I got BUSY. And I bet you can hardly imagine that, as a mother of now nearly 7 month old twins and a 2 1/2 year old, I might be busy. But I was.

Sorry for neglecting you, my precious blog. Sorry for abandoning you, my handful of faithful readers! I am back. And that’s the thing about journeys right? You may get off course, but it takes just one step on the old path to get back on it again. So. Here I am.

And never to fear. I may have been too busy to write (and boy do I have the list of excuses, but I’ll spare you), but not too busy to be keeping my children busy!

To fill you in on the past almost 2 months, I’ll just do a sneak peek here. Then, as I have time, I will update these sneak peeks with posts and tutorials. But I will simply move forward as I do that, so as not to create an even FURTHER backlog as I try to catch up.

So, since we last spoke. Here is what we have been  up to.

We….

Wrote our own songs & lyrics

Went on quite a few road trips to Michigan and Minnesota

Got to ride on Grandpa's tractor

Got to see our G.G. when she came to visit

Made a fort out of blankets in the living room

Painted picture frames for all our grandpas

...and for Daddy

Painted a t-shirt for our cousin, Ethan, because it was his first birthday

Made the wrapping paper for Ethan's present

Celebrated Father's Day

Learned to use a train whistle

Went to a BBQ at Uncle Chris' and made new friends

Went out for ice cream

Flew remote control toys with Daddy (this is a helicopter)

Painted the letter D

Made a Chinese "Dragon Kite"

Made thumbprint art

Killed time at the Dr.'s office by practicing shape recognition

Made an entire orchestra's worth of paper plate and cardboard instruments, like this Paper Plate Violin

and this Paper Towel Tube Flute

and these Paper Plate Cymbals

and finally, a cardboard box "Color Piano" (I think my kid is going to be a musician one day)

Had to go in the basement and hang out because of tornado sirens

Made thunder noises with a big sheet of paper and talked about weather (so it's not so scary next time there is a big storm)

Did 4th of July themed activities like hand print fireworks with Mommy

and lit up "snakes" with Daddy (insert Mommy "eyeroll" here)

Got our first set of golf clubs at Grandma's house in Minnesota

Went to the splash park (and the beach, and played in our sprinkler, and played in our kiddie pool)

Started solids

Found our feet

Went to Aunt Ciana's graduation party in Michigan

Made an awesome race car out of a big, cardboard box

Played "house" and "restaurant" and "this is where the puppy lives" with a big, cardboard box

Painted whatever we wanted with brushes

Made scribble drawings

Played with Easter Eggs (again)

Pretended to be a puppy (a lot).

Decided that THIS is how you play with a bouncy seat (and there's no stopping us)

Started trying to CRAWL (Mommy says, "AHHHH!")

Played with textures like crinkly newspaper

Made an elevator on our living room wall

Painted with noodles. How silly!

Decided we should do things, "All by ourselves"...like put on our sunglasses.

We went to the park, and on playdates. We pretended to be puppies and frogs. We developed an imaginary tiger as a friend.We colored and painted and cooked and made things…like I said…we were BUSY.

And there you have it. Whew!

(please check back for individual posts on these projects as I get time to update them. I will link the posts to the pictures.)

 

Day 39: Cherry Vanilla Cupcakes May 27, 2010

Filed under: baking,cooking,counting,friends — Erin Brambilla @ 10:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

On my last trip to the grocery store I decided to add a few different fruits to our usual list. Apples, bananas and grapes get kind of old! So, in addition to apples and bananas, I added cherries and pineapple. YUM. Both are a lot of work, all that pitting and coring and tough skin removal, but worth it! The downside though, is that there are A LOT of cherries in that bag. Like, a lot a lot, ya know? And we have no hope of eating all of them before they spoil. Today I came up with a solution–bake with them. Duh!

Zach, Emily, Isaac and I went to the park for a playdate with some friends. As we were leaving today, I was discussing our weekend BBQ plans with one of them. Upon asking, she suggested that I might bring a dessert or a side dish. Her 3-year-old piped up that I should definitely bring a dessert. How could I argue with that? After promising that I would bring some cupcakes, we all went home.

After Zach finished a marathon of a nap and we had dinner, we baked some Cherry Vanilla Cupcakes together. I’ve never made them before, so prior to feeding them to other people, I decided to test the recipe.

I used THIS recipe.

First of all, look at all of these cherries! Cherries for the cake. Cherries for the frosting. And cherries for the garnish. Cherries. There. I just wanted to say cherries one more time.

Lots of cherries

Then we dumped the ingredients.

Dumping the flour, we counted 8 "dumps" (or 2 cups by 1/4 cup scoops)

Then we stirred them.

He always says, "Stir, stir, stir" as he does this

Then we lick the beater.

Pretty much the entire reason he is so excited to bake with me

Don’t worry. We were done with the beater. Toddler spit will not be an ingredient in these cakes.

Then, we bake. Then, we eat.

Yum!

What did Zach learn today? Nothing new really. Though as always we like to count, count, count while we bake.

What did Mommy learn? Pitting up 30 some cherries is a lot of work.

Verdict on the recipe? It was good. Though I decided not to make the icing. Basically, to me, they were more muffin-like than cake-like. Probably because they are dubbed a “healthy” cupcake recipe. I will more than likely make a more traditional vanilla cupcake batter and just fold in cherries for the real deal. Though, these do make delicious “muffin-cakes”. You know what that means, right?? I’ll be eating one for breakfast tomorrow!

 

Day 31: Neighbors May 19, 2010

Today as we were standing on the deck debating what to have for dinner, our neighbor was out grilling some burgers and dogs on his charcoal grill. Zach spotted him and said, “Hi Art!” and then Pete, being neighborly, said, “Wow. Looks like you got a lot of burgers there!” and Art, being even MORE neighborly said, “You’re welcome to have some!” Then Pete looked at me and whispered, “There. You’re off the hook now.” As if he’d planned it to happen that way the whole time (and I suspect he did).

Zach has been sort of obsessed with the idea of neighbors lately. It’s sort of funny. He’ll stand at the living room windows and shout to the people down below, “Hewwooooo Ney-mohrs!” He’s a very cheerful neighbor. Last summer he would hide behind my leg when Art, our next door neighbor, would come out to say hello. This spring/summer, Zach is always on the hunt to find Art. It could be because Art always gives him food. Bananas usually. Sometimes a peach. Today it was a hot dog.

Hey, uh, you look like you got a lot of burgers there

Zach's new thing is to not take the food from you, but rather, eat it out of your hands and force you to feed it to him

After we came inside, I decided it would be a good time to teach Zach a lesson in saying thank you. Since Art was so generous with his food today, we decided to make him some Thank You Cookies. Specifically chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies because they don’t take much time to make (aside from waiting for them to harden) and I wanted to get them done before bedtime.

Pouring ingredients into the pan

Licking the peanut butter spoon

All dropped and cooling to harden

Once we finished making the cookies, I got Zach ready for bed and had him write a thank you card for Art. We will bring the cookies and card to him tomorrow. But not too early in the morning, because that would be un-neighborly.

Coloring the thank you card

It says, "Thank you for my hot dog, Art. From, Zachary"

What did Zach learn today? To be neighborly. And that showing gratitude is important. Mommy is not so good at the thank you cards, so hopefully Zach will be better than me as he grows up!! As a bonus, earlier in the day at the park, he learned to drink from a fountain for the first time!

Of course you know this resulted in him being drenched completely down the front, but he had fun!

What did Mommy learn today? That my husband is apparently quite resourceful. And I’m actually pretty shy when it comes to neighbor interactions. Dinner with Art was fun tonight, I should try to talk to my neighbors more often! Oh, and when having Zach color over something I’ve written for him, it’s actually a good idea to use a highlighter marker. The highlighter won’t block out the words on the page.

 

Day 12: Popcorn April 30, 2010

Filed under: colors,cooking,Craft,popcorn — Erin Brambilla @ 10:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

Oh, I was excited for today’s activity, well, tonight’s activity actually. I thought, “THIS will be cool.” And I had all these beautiful visions of how exciting this would be. Making popcorn. REAL popcorn (as opposed to microwave, which is clearly fake). But, alas, never underestimate the power of a 2 year old who would rather do pretty much anything else.

Here’s how I WANTED it to go tonight:

Tonight Zach and I made popcorn. I figure it’s the perfect Friday evening activity. Popcorn and a movie, I feel the start of a new tradition coming on!

While I was busy cooking our risotto for dinner, I had Zach do this simple craft. We made a picture of popcorn out of cotton balls. Trust me when I tell you that if you have some glue, paper plates, cotton balls and construction paper at home, you can make ANYTHING.

After devouring a delicious and healthy meal, Zach and I got started on the evening snack.

First, I put some oil in the pan.

Then, knowing Zach’s affinity for “dumping” things, I let him scoop and dump the popcorn kernels into the same pan. I used a pan with a clear lid so he could peek in and watch the magic happen.

I set him a safe distance back from the heat of the stove, but left him close enough to lean over and watch the action. I turned on the stove and started the rhythmic shaking back and forth. Since the shaking was so fun, we sang this little song:

“Popcorn! Popcorn! Pop! Pop! Pop! Shake it! Shake it ’til it’s hot!!”

Then when the kernels started jumping, I held the pan at an angle he could see. You should have seen his face light up!! Talk about something more exciting that watching cupcakes bake in the oven (which is something we all know he likes to do!!).

After the corn was popped, I poured some into a little cup and let him enjoy his evening snack!

Magical. Right? Here’s what REALLY happened:

While I got the risotto started for dinner tonight, I showed Zach how to do a simple craft. First, I drew a picture of a popcorn kernel on a piece of white paper.

Don't be jealous of my mad drawing skillz

Then I cut it out and set it on a paper plate (more for a place mat than anything else). I squeezed some glue out on another plate and laid out some cotton balls.

Supplies

The idea was SO simple. Take a cotton ball, dip it into the glue, and place it on the picture of the popcorn kernel. The idea was to make it look fluffy, like a real popcorn kernel. I did a few to show Zach how it’s done, then I let him go to town. Except, well. He didn’t.

Pushing the artwork back to me

I joked with him. I asked him. I BEGGED him to “Please buddy. Will you do this project with me? We’re making popcorn. Just dip the ball into the glue. That’s all.” Nope. Not gonna happen. I did finally convince him to stay in his chair and do the craft with me by basically allowing him to grab my hand and direct it where to go. So, I’d grab a cotton ball. He’d grab my wrist and push it toward the glue, we’d dip the cotton ball. Then I’d say, “OK. Where does it go?” and he’d grab my wrist and push it towards the popcorn kernel picture. I guess that works.

After we’d glued all of our cotton balls on, I glued the picture to a piece of construction paper. What a masterpiece!

I know. It's just lovely

Then, after we ate our risotto, I called him over to the stove to help me make our evening snack. REAL popcorn!

Lovely golden kernels

I poured some oil into a saucepan, just enough to cover the bottom. Then I let him dump the kernels in (as well all know, Zach likes to “dump” things).

Dumping in the kernels (the stove is off at this point)

And this is where it all went downhill. I moved him aside and let him sit on the counter. If only popcorn kernels popped instantly!! That might have saved me. I thought it might go well. I leaned the pot at an angle for him to see it, I showed him it was a clear lid. I told him that the magical kernels would transform into something else. He glanced in my direction, somewhat indifferently. Then. The CHOCOLATE on the counter caught his eye. Darn you chocolate!!! Hershey Kisses in a tin, still leftover from when we made cupcakes last week (and really, leftover from long before that).

“Choc-it Mommy. Want Choc-it.”

The popcorn was a goner. I let him have one piece.

“OK buddy. Let’s watch for the popcorn.”

We watch. Nothing. Crud.

“Hey. I know what we can do! Let’s sing a popcorn song while we wait. It goes like this:

Popcorn! Popcorn! Pop! Pop!….”

He interrupts me, “Want down. Down.”

“But Zach! The popcorn. It’s going to start popping soon! Don’t you want to watch it?”

“Want down. Down. Down. DOWN!!!!”

I gave in, no use having him yell anymore. I set him on the ground and he happily ran away to find trucks. Maybe if I’d have let him scoop the popcorn with a dump truck, this may have gone better.

And wouldn’t you know it, the INSTANT he was out of sight, the corn started popping. Figures.

Of course, he had no problems EATING the popcorn.

Yum

I will say though. He did make me incredibly proud today. As I was getting ready to cook dinner, I pulled a pack of stop light peppers out (you know the green, red and yellow peppers packaged together). I needed them for the dish. He said, pointing to the peppers, ‘Mommy. What is it?” I said, “Bell Peppers”. And he repeated, “Oh, peppers.” I asked him to show me the red pepper. And he did! And just in case it was a fluke, I asked him which was the green pepper, and he got that too! Then, going for the hat trick (that’s a hockey term, for those who don’t know…GO WINGS), I asked him which was the yellow pepper and he got that one right too! I know that probably seems like not such a big deal, but for MONTHS absolutely everything, when you ask him what color it is, has been yellow. This proves that he has been learning. I love that!!

What did Zach learn today? What bell peppers are. And he showed me he knows at least 3 colors.

What did Mommy learn? Sometimes you just gotta press on and do this stuff yourself. Maybe we’ll get a book from the library about popcorn and talk it up for a few days first, instead of a few hours. And maybe if we make it in the middle of a day instead of at night, he might pay more attention.

Side note? Popcorn kernels would be excellent in both a sensory tub and a paper plate tambourine!

 

Day 10: Apple Pancakes April 28, 2010

Filed under: cooking,language development,letters — Erin Brambilla @ 4:58 pm
Tags: ,

Moving along with our Letter A theme this week, we made some applesauce pancakes this morning for breakfast. Cooking with Zach is one of my favorite activities to do with him. He seems to enjoy it as well. Watch out Emeril, Bobby and Tyler…Zach is coming through!

To begin, I started out with a recipe I found online: Mom’s Applesauce Pancakes. The only issue was that I didn’t have any pancake mix, as it calls for in the recipe. So, I also followed this one, up until the addition of wet ingredients: Good Old Fashioned Pancakes. So, taking the dry ingredients from the second recipe, I then followed the 1st one for the rest. I think using a homemade pancake mix is better anyway. Bisquick and other types of mixes have partially hydrogenated oils in them. Did you know that? Partially hydrogenated oils = trans fat = bad. And since it’s pretty much just as easy to take a few cups of flour and add a few teaspoons of baking powder as it is to scoop out some Bisquick, there’s really no love lost by making it yourself (and now I’ll step off of my ‘make things from scratch’ soap box). I had intended to use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, but I didn’t have enough. Add that to the grocery list, please!

So, together with my assistant, we mixed up the ingredients.

Dumping in the flour

Stir, stir, stir

The process was pretty fun today. Zach is starting to become much more involved in it. Rather than just doing what I tell him, he’s beginning to recognize ingredients and what to do with them. For instance, he can crack an egg. That’s right, this crazy mom lets her 2-year-old crack eggs. With my hand VERY close by, he taps it gently on the counter, I take it from him to separate the shell and pour into the bowl. He’s also started asking questions with ingredients he may not recognize, like baking powder. I got out the container, and he said, “What is it?” and I said, “Baking powder”, and he said, “Oh,” as if that’s all the explanation he needed. Then I had to kindly ask him to stop sticking his finger in the bowl of baking powder and flour, it was SO not ready to taste yet! However, after the addition of other yummy stuff, a finger full might not be so bad. All good cooks taste first, right?

Let's see, does it need anything? Nope. It's just right.

While we were adding the Applesauce, today’s star ingredient, I was talking about A is for Apple, Apple Pancakes!! I chanted it over and over again. And he said, “Letter A. Animal Crackers!” As if I couldn’t be proud enough of that recollection alone, he added a NEW “A” word. He said, “Letter A. Awesome!”

Um…YES! Letter A IS for Awesome! Holy Moly. The kid is a genius!! I’m thinking he connected that one from the incredible Fridge Phonics song we sang on Monday (“An A Says ‘Ah!'”). Ah… Awesome. Very similar sounding! It’s truly amazing to see their little brains working right in front of your very eyes!!

So, we sang and talked and he played awhile while I cooked our breakfast. They turned out pretty yummy!

Yummy! Pay no attention to that burnt one on the bottom!

As we were eating, I asked Zach if the pancakes were yummy. And he decided that he’s now much too smart and sophisticated for a juvenile word like “yummy” because he told me that they were, “delicious!”.

Mmmm. Delicious!

I had another craft on the to-do list for today, but Zach was in a much more sing-songy mood. He got out his Alphabet Pal toy, switched it to music mode and sat and sang with me all morning. In an effort to let HIM lead the way when possible, I ditched the craft and sang away. Maybe we’ll be more crafty tomorrow!

What did Zach learn today? For starters, how to make pancakes. He also worked on more phonics of the letter A. And recollected some learning from earlier this week. Let’s not forget the addition of “delicious” to the vocab.

What did Mommy learn today? That the mind of a 2-year-old is amazing!

What are you all learning right NOW? I’m ditching the numbers in each day’s title. It’s looking too busy up there. If you MUST know how many minutes have passed for this number of days: take the day number, multiply by 1440. There you have it. Today takes us through 14400 minutes of this year.