Monday, February 24, 2014

Tasting the Rainbow...or not

As you are well aware, I have a toddler who is incredibly busy and likes to destroy things.  She is, after all, your typical toddler.

A little while ago, I posted about some easy sensory activities that we have tried with great success in the past.  Knowing, then, that my little one likes to make messes (and I like to justify my Zulily purchases), I decided to expand our play into something fun, full of learning and that could easily be cleaned up (and/or digested....knowing my daughter).

Browsing on Instagram, I saw a picture that a friend had posted of her daughter playing with colored rice.  BINGO!  I knew what our next activity would be.

I searched the web for various recipes/instructions on how to make "rainbow rice" and more or less, the instructions were all the same.  If you're one to enjoy dying Easter eggs, the concept is pretty much the same.

For the record, my Easter eggs have NEVER looked like this....


Going off of the recipes I found, and tweaking them just a bit to fit our needs (such as using vinegar rather than alcohol to dye them--because I have a toddler....and everything goes into her mouth), here's how to make the colored rice:

Rainbow Rice (AKA: Your kid can totally eat this and you won't have to call poison control rice)

Ingredients

2 cups white rice
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1-2 teaspoons food coloring
drop of peppermint oil

Directions

Measure out the rice into a ziplock bag (make sure it's the large freezer ones so you don't have spillage).  In a small dish, combine the food coloring and the vinegar.  I wanted my colors to be super bright, so I used a good amount of food coloring.  It's not an exact science, so play with it until you're happy with the color.

I added peppermint oil as well to help with the vinegar smell.  This is optional.

Pour the vinegar and food coloring and oil mixture into the ziplock bag and seal it.  Knead to mix well.

Now, if my daughter was older, having her mix it could actually be a fun part of the activity.  Unfortunately, my daughter just likes to destroy things, so this was a mommy project for now.

When the mix is well combined with the rice, lay it flat on a cookie sheet to dry.  I used wax paper underneath to help with any mess.

As you can see, I ran out of cookie sheets. 

Repeat for however many colors you want to have.

I let the rice dry for about 3 hours on our counter.  If you need it faster, you can always put it in the oven for a bit, but I don't trust my non-cooking but using the oven skills, so I let the air handle the hard stuff.  Once it's dry, you can store it in an air tight container (we use a rubbermaid tin).

We mixed ours together right away, but this activity could be a great way to introduce colors to kids.  Talking about texture, color, shading, etc is a really great way to incorporate learning into this kind of playtime activity.  Experiment with letting your children mix the colors, or if they're older, let them do the food coloring part of creating the rice.  Seriously, the possibilities are only limited by patience (and trust me, mine wasn't very long for this one...hence why my daughter was napping during the creation of this activity)


So, what did the toddler think?
Rainbow rice is such a fun activity, because you can make it as messy or as big as you want it to be.  We kept it pretty contained in our mini sensory table since it was raining and we didn't' want to be outside, but you could definitely take this outside for more messy fun!

The rice feels really cool against your skin, and it can be a great thing to talk about with your child as they play. 

We buried things in the rice, and then I asked E to find them.  It's fun for them to dig and find things! If your child is younger and just starting to learn about object permanence, this can also be a great activity to do in a mixing bowl or something similar.
Pouring the rice with measuring cups can also be a fun way to play.

My favorite part about this activity for my daughter was how it helped with her pincer grasp.  She's had a pretty good one, but it's a great way for them to really build some dexterity.

The best part?  If she ate it, there's nothing in the rice that would be concerning to me about her ingesting.  The vinegar still lingered a bit, so the taste wasn't too appetizing for her anyway.

This is an awesome activity for a rainy day (or if you don't have a sandbox)!

My toddler gave it two thumbs and foot up!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Butternut Squash and Carrot Cream Soup

I have a confession: I don't bake or cook nearly as much as I did before I became a mommy.  Perhaps it's because I spend so much of my time cleaning up after our small tornado, that the thought of cleaning up a mess of my own making isn't as appealing as I'd like it to be.
Perhaps it's because a nap trumps browsing Pinterest for fancy dinners.
Perhaps it's because I've learned that my daughter and husband are perfectly content eating whatever concoction of chicken I've thrown together for that evening.

But it's safe to say that I also want to keep our recipes varied and healthy.  Lately, my goal has been to eat more vegetables.  So, when I went to our local grocery store, I loaded up on veggies galore, not knowing for sure what to do with all of them, but darn it, I had veggies in my cart, so I looked like a health nut.  Winning.

And just like a New Years Resolution, those veggies sat unused last week....and the rot clock was ticking.

I managed to throw most of them in a chili, but there was this giant butternut squash that looked very forlorn in our fruit and vegetable basket and I decided to tackle the task of figuring out a recipe that would use it before it went bad that we would actually eat.
Crock pots were also a plus.

So, a-googling I went.  Nothing sounded particularly tasty, and then I stumbled upon this recipe for a butternut squash soup.  I tweaked it a bit and here is what I came up with:

Butternut Squash and Carrot Cream Soup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
5-6 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup water
2 cups chicken broth
dried marjoram, to taste
dried parsley, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 packages (approx 10-12 ounces) cream cheese

Directions

1. Chop your onion
I have a confession, I hate chopping onion

A dear friend gave us the "Chop Wizard" as a wedding gift.

Best. Gift. Ever.

2. In a pan, melt the margarine and saute the chopped onion until cooked
Note: Use a bigger pan than I did.....

3. While the onion was cooking, I went to peeling and chopping my butternut squash


mmmm, butternut squash.
But seriously, have you ever peeled one of these suckers? Not as easy as I thought it'd be....

Poor, naked butternut squash....

I made my cubes about 1 inch each

4. Repeat with the carrots
5. Mix everything except the cream cheese in a large crockpot/slow cooker
I promise it's tasty....

Now comes the hard part

6. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours
or....if you're like me, you have a "OH CRAP" moment and realize you started dinner at 1....so on high for 4 hours is okay too

 7. After your waiting period, divide the crock pot concoction up into thirds and blend each third in the blender until smooth.  Once you're done with each, pour back into the crock pot.

Note: It's HOT so be careful!

This is me not making a mess in my kitchen...

You can see the blended mixture in the purple bowl

8.  Stir in the cream cheese.  I used two packages because I like things particularly creamy and artery-clogging
mmmmm, cheese....

9. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes to one hour.  Beat together with a whisk to make sure all lumps are out

oh hi, pink KitchenAid

10.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.  Serve with crackers or toasted cibatta bread.

See? You can eat your veggies and enjoy it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

As a parent to a toddler (first of all, wow that feels strange to see in print), my mind is constantly running with trying to find activities that are easy to put together quickly that will hold E's attention for more than a nanosecond.  Often, I feel like most of my days are spent chasing my small tornado and begging her for the umpteenth time not to play in the dog's water bowl.

Pinterest has some wonderful ideas and if I had more time in my day, I'd gladly spend my time perusing it for brilliant ideas that could put me in the race for mother of the year.

Alas, my one-year-old has other ideas.

So what's a mother to do?

Earlier this week, I was particularly frustrated with E's fascination with our dog's water bowl.  No matter what I did, short of moving it to the counter top, she would find it and splash with delight, regardless if Meshka was using it at the moment or not.

Exhibit A

So what's a parent to do?  I certainly don't want my child playing in a puppy-infested water pool, but I also recognize that she is learning about the environment around her and want to facilitate that as best as I can, even with limited resources.

As I stood there pondering what options I had (the bowl had been moved to the counter at this point), I had an "ah ha" moment.  I looked down at my large mixing bowl (I was making these tasty snacks) and realized that if I couldn't beat her curiosity, I should facilitate it!

I grabbed another large bowl, put a towel down on our tile floor and placed several kitchen items in the bowl.
Note, if you don't have kids yet, allow me to let you in on a little secret: you don't need fancy toys.  Measuring cups, wooden spoons and tupperware containers are just as entertaining as the store-bought stuff.

At this point, little miss curiosity decided to meander in to see what mommy was up to.  I started pouring water into the bowl and she looked at me as if to say, "Seriously, lady? You've been telling me for months not to play in the water bowl and now I can play in the water bowl?"
I think I confused her toddler brain there for a moment.

It took some splashing on my part before she realized that, in fact, she could splash away happily without the "stop that" coming from mom.


I used this play time to talk with her about wet and dry, stirring and pouring.  She was particularly fond of the spoon and spent most of her time playing with that.
After about 15 minutes of this type of play, I grabbed some ice cubes for her to touch, feel (talked about hot, warm and cold) and swish around in the lukewarm water as well.  She wasn't a big fan of the ice cubes until she realized she could toss them onto the floor and our dog would chase them (our dog has a few bolts loose, apparently).

A few days later, I decided that water play was such a success, that we needed to do it again.  Even though we live down south, it's been particularly cold lately, but the great thing about water play is that you can really do it anywhere, just adapt your bowl, or dish to the size of space you have available.
You can always put baby in the bathtub with a bowl so there's less worry about clean up.

We have this awesome mini water/sensory table that I got on Zulily that I was able to pull out from the garage for additional water play.  Same concept as before:

This time, Everly had fun getting wet and she blew bubbles into the water.

The great thing about water play is the versatility in it.  I am a firm believer that children learn through play and that simple things like splashing in the water can do so much for brain and motor development.  If you're looking for a great activity for a stuck in the rut kind of day (let's face it, all moms hit that point sometimes), this is a great and relatively easy to clean way to keep your kids busy for a little bit, while also opening the opportunity for interaction and learning.


And, let's just be honest, these  faces make any mess that is created worth it.