Thursday, August 22, 2013

Making Pasta!

This week the kids and I made our own pasta for fettuccine alfredo. It was going to be chicken and noodles but I changed my mind at the last second when I realized I had everything to make alfredo sauce.

This is a simple pasta recipe- flour, eggs, salt and a little milk.

Stirring it all up.

The first kneading. It takes about ten minutes of kneading to release the gluten so it feels a little bouncy.

We let it rest & relax for about a half hour (no picture) covered with a damp tea towel.
Then another round of kneading until it's smooth and ready to roll out. 

We rolled ours to about 1/2 inch thick, but normally it would be more like 1/4 inch. With a rolling gadget it's much easier to get the perfect thickness, but I kind of like the rolling process when doing this with the kids. And the thicker dough is actually a bit easier for the kids to eat when it's cooked.

After flouring the top surface of the rolled out dough, it gets folded up until it's one giant jelly roll. The flour makes sure it doesn't stick to itself.

Then we slice! Each slice unrolls into very long pasta strips. Most have to be cut in half before hanging.

We cut the pasta a little wide to use as fettuccini noodles. Here they are hanging on the pasta drying rack. You can cook them right away, freeze them, or dry them for about 2 hours to use later. 

Since they were a bit thicker they cooked perfectly in about 12 minutes. The kids loved the long thick noodles and named the baby sized ones Oskar and Elijah as we were hanging them. :-)

Tomatoes, steamed broccoli, grilled chicken strips and just finished alfredo sauce over handmade fettuccine pasta made a lovely lunch that everyone enjoyed!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our First Pumpkin is In!

Alex discovered our first pumpkin growing in the pumpkin patch this morning! It's actually quite large already, maybe the size of a small watermelon. This is the only big one I see so far, though there are several small ones just starting. How exciting!

Since I have no idea what variety this is or how many days it takes to mature, I'm really in the dark about what to expect in terms of a crop. I have no idea if they will be ready before, at or after Halloween, though I am hoping we'll have several by Halloween at least. I really would love to be able to send one home with each child. I don't plan on using any of these for food since our sprinklers water them but they will make great decorations when they turn orange.

Picture Pancakes

This morning was picture pancake day! It's something we do about once a month. For now it's random and a fun surprise for the kids when they arrive. 

We make oodles of fun pictures and shapes for breakfast and letters for everyone's name. Then the kids have to figure out whose name each letter goes to for a quick literacy lesson.

This is the bumblebee I made today, and I also made hearts, stars, squares, triangles, circles, happy faces, clouds, trees, flowers, sunshines, pac-man ghosts, snakes, worms, a Portuguese Man-of-War, fish, spirals, and more. Other months I've taken requests for spongebobs, princess crowns, people, cars, trains, Phineas & Ferb, Big Bird, spiders, and houses.

I make my own whole wheat batter and make it healthier by sprinkling freshly ground flax seed to the wet side right after I pour the batter onto the skillet. Adding the flax directly to the batter before it gets poured changes the consistency and makes it thicker, too thick to make proper shapes. Plus, when flipped, the pretty side is clean and the underside has the flax, something the kids don't even notice! We topped it today with homemade cranberry sauce that I made using honey and cranberries, plus a few extra dried ones for fun. 

Rainbow Tires

Last week I finally started on painting the tires we had collected. All of these were free from craigslist and I am hoping to find more free ones. I don't have all the colors I envisioned, I am limited by how many tires I have for now. But I would love more and especially am keeping my eyes open for used/junk tractor tires so we can have different sizes and lots more colors. For now we have yellow, bright green, blue, aqua, orange/pink, and purple. 

The kids absolutely LOVE them. They now spend most of their time playing on them and I am so glad I got it finished while we still had a good chunk of summer left.

Still coming in time for Fall, is the new mud kitchen, sound garden (outdoor music station) and in the works are plans for a small dry creek and sand area, but that may wait until Spring.

Taking the Kittens Outside

Yesterday we took the kittens outside for some fresh air and sunshine for the first time since they were born. You can see one of the momma cats in the picture above keeping a close eye on them all.

It was so cute to see them exploring on the grass and having a new sensory experience.

The kids really enjoyed being able to hold them finally and watch them move around more freely.

Momma Ostara was very anxious while the kittens were out, even though she was with them, she made it clear to me she didn't think they were ready to be out there and wanted them back in pronto. In fact, it made her so nervous, that when they all were back inside, safely in their room, she continued to call for them and insisted on being let back outside several times to double, triple, quadruple check the yard and bushes to make sure they were ALL back inside, and none had been left behind. Who knew animal mommas could worry so obsessively- just like human mommas! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kale Salad

Some of the goals of the snack station are to encourage self help skills and healthy food choices. The snack station gives the kids more control over when and how much they eat. Often it's a party tray or smorgasbord of many different things, but today it was something simple like our Kale Salad. 

The salad itself is very basic, but with lots of good things in it- tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and kale. I used a simple oil and vinegar dressing with a little fresh parmesan to give it some flavor. Is this their favorite? Of course not! :-) But they do readily eat it and like to talk about the things in their salad while they share a healthy meal together with friends, and that is a positive and healthy food experience that I am glad they get to have. 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Our Magic Pumpkin Patch

A couple weeks ago I was pulling up massive weeds from our rock beds that we'd ignored for too long. And to my surprise I discovered we had a pumpkin patch growing. The surprise was that we had not planted one, nor had we ever planted one! 

Some random pumpkin seed must have made its way to the rock bed, gotten sifted below the rocks to the soil underneath, and germinated. All on its own. It wasn't there last year or the year before. But it is there now and I am so glad it is. I had WANTED a pumpkin patch so much I kept telling people I really needed to get one planted and started or the season would be too far gone. I made plans to use the front flower beds to plant them, in fact. But since I am a huge procrastinator I never actually got around to doing it. And as if by magic, I woke up one day and my wish had come true!

Here a bee can be seen pollinating the flowers. Thank you bees!

Know-It-All Note: The female flowers of pumpkins only bloom for one day. And like many plants, in order for the female flower to produce a pumpkin, it has to be pollinated by a bee who has visited a male flower, and it has to be done in that narrow window of opportunity. After that one day the flower dries up and dies. And sometimes the female flowers bloom and there are no male flowers open yet. So timing is all important and completely random. It really makes you wonder how anything ever grows with such abundance when so much chance is involved. But that is what makes nature so amazing, to me. It's a system that works successfully over and over against all odds. Isn't that fascinating? 

I love the oversize leaves and big vines of the pumpkin patch. It is taking over my entire rock bed on one side of the backyard patio. But I love it! I hope we gets lots of pumpkins for Fall. Though even one would just tickle me to no end. I don't even know what kind they will be. I'll be happy with any size, any variety. And hopefully I'll be able to use the seeds to replant a new patch, on purpose this time, for next year.

There have been some nibblers on the leaves but since it's thriving and I didn't actually plant it, I may just leave it alone and see how it goes. A few of the vines have been broken or smushed by wind or things falling on them, but it hasn't seemed to mind it and has just kept growing bigger each day despite the minor damage here and there.

Yay! Garden Shares!

This week and last week a couple of my families shared their garden bounty! Thank you Laura and Joel (and Laura's dad!!) and Henriikka and Eric for such beautiful and delicious garden treats! 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why Borax Is Not Safe for Kids

As a mom and childcare provider I am always looking for and making recipes for arts and crafts activities. I work hard to find or create things using eco-friendly and child safe ingredients. Something I find over and over in blogs, on pinterest and on crafting sites for kids are recipes that require borax. Things like play doughs and slime or goop. 

The quick and dirty facts are that Borax is a pesticide that poisons insects, fungus and weeds, but it also has plenty of other uses that we encounter in consumer products. It has always been beyond my understanding how anyone could use borax to kill roaches one day, and then let their children play with it the next. 

Being a former army wife, I saw borax routinely used by truck fulls (literally) on base and base housing to kill bugs. Knowing this, I always kept this product out of my home and refused to let it be used around my children, and later in my preschool, childcare and school science programs. 

It's true that once upon a time Borax was considered a safe and eco-friendly alternative to harsher cleaning supplies, and recommended for use in the home by many planet loving groups. But a couple of a years ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published a new report that proved the well intentioned environmental community had been very wrong. While their report was not the first of its kind, the EWG is a big name among eco conscientious folk, and so their report was enough for many to finally sit up and take notice. 

For those who aren't familiar with Borax, it is a powdery white mineral that also goes by a few other names (just to make it confusing!): sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. A close cousin of borax is boric acid, which has many of the same concerns discussed below. If you are an obsessive label reader like me, knowing all of Borax's names helps you avoid this ingredient in its many forms. 

Most people come into contact with Borax through their cleaning products or personal care products. Yes, you read that right. The pesticide boric acid or sodium borate can also be found in personal care products. The cosmetic industry's own safety panel states that these chemicals are unsafe for infant or damaged skin, because they can absorb readily into the body. Despite this guidance, boric acid is found in some diaper creams
Both the European Union and Canada restrict these ingredients in body care products made for children under three years of age and require that products containing these ingredients be labeled as not appropriate for broken or damaged skin. No similar safety standards are in place in the United States.
As mentioned before, children get exposed to Borax when they play with goopy toys like silly putty, and other slimy toys may also contain boric acid. There are so many fun GAK and GOOP recipes online, but most contain Borax as the main ingredient. 
The problem with Borax is it can have short- and long-term health effects. 
Short-term irritant. Borax can be irritating when exposure occurs through skin or eye contact, inhalation or ingestion. Poison reports suggest misuse of borax-based pesticides can result in acute toxicity, with symptoms including vomiting, eye irritation, nausea, skin rash, oral irritation and respiratory effects. Toddlers and young children face special risks from hand-to-mouth transfer of carpet or crack and crevice, dust or spray borax treatments.
The really scary part when talking about Borax and children is this:

Hormone disruption. Borax and its cousin, boric acid, may disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. According to EPA's safety review of these pesticides, chronic exposure to high doses of borax or boric acid causes testicular atrophy in male mice, rats and dogs.
Animal studies reviewed by the EPA indicate that while the female reproductive system is less sensitive to borax, exposure to it can also lead to reduced ovulation and fertility. Borax and boric acid can cross the placenta, affecting fetal skeletal development and birth weight in animal studies of high-dose exposures.
In its 2006 review of the safety of borax pesticides, the EPA declined to perform a risk assessment that included exposures from cleaning supplies, cosmetics and other consumer goods along with professional and consumer pest-control products. As a result, it's difficult to assess the level of risk that may be involved in using borax in your home. 
In light of the reproductive effects reported in both animal and worker studies, I can't imagine why anyone, knowing the risks, would use it around children or expose themselves to it if they intend to have children one day. So if you didn't know before, now you do, and you can tell your family and friends and neighbors and strangers on the street. You're welcome. :-)