Music - First Instrument Exposures

You don't need to sign up for music classes to expose your child to the wonderful world of instruments, rhythms and melodies!

Pretend Play - Snack Stand

Pretend play is essential for young children! Props like this snack stand are easy to make and can fit a variety of play themes.

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening and Speaking

Think beyond the alphabet to develop early language and literacy skills; sharing books are having family conversations are powerful tools!

Recipe - Mama Bear's Chili

Let's get cooking! A warm bowl of chili will make everyone's bellies happy this fall!

DIY Toys - Pizza Playset

We love making our own toys like this pizza playset. It saves a lot of money and we can make exactly what we want and nothing more!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Celebrating National Play Doh Day

Apparently September 16th is National Play Doh Day and even though we don't use Play Doh brand dough, we decided we had to celebrate!

So I will be honest, I actually made Papa Bear celebrate with Little C while I got dinner ready :-) And I was amazed with what transpired! After some rolling and cutting shapes with cookie cutters, Little C announced that she wanted to plant seeds. Assuming she was remembering when we planted corn kernels in play dough I figured she'd want Papa Bear to find her some real seeds. Oh was I wrong! She set about making tiny balls of play dough to be her seeds.

They flattened a larger piece of play dough to make a planting bed and Little C smushed her little seeds into the soil.

The seeds needed sun and water to grow so together Little C and Papa Bear made a sun and watering can.

I think that's a pretty awesome watering can! Well, of course after some sun and water the seeds started sprouting...

Little C started by making small snakes of dough for sprouting plants and Papa Bear helped her transform them into flowers, tomatoes and pea pods! That is one beautiful garden!


We finished off by practicing those cutting skills and snipping apart play dough snakes. I do very highly recommend using play dough to develop basic cutting skills. Any scissor will cut it and so you avoid the frustration of plastic or safety scissors malfunctioning while cutting paper - I'm sure you all remember the paper folding instead of cutting when you were small! When Little C's more comfortable using scissors properly, I'll give her paper and real blunt-tipped children's scissors to use - with supervision of course!

Below is our favorite play dough recipe. To add some scent and color to your dough you can sprinkle in some Kool-Aid, Jell-o or frosting flavor powder. And for more on play dough play, head over here.

Play Dough
Ingredients:
½ cup flour
¼ cup salt
½ cup water
½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cream of tartar
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Cook over low heat, stirring until dough forms and pulls away from sides of the pot. Remove the dough from the heat and allow it to cool before using.
Add food coloring to the pot before cooking or make a large batch, split into smaller balls and color individually. Store in a zip-top bag or airtight container.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chicken Cornbread Casserole

This recipe also originally came from my mom, and like the BBQ Meat Muffins, could still use a little work to become healthier and more natural. This Chicken Cornbread Casserole uses canned cream corn, green chilis and mushrooms. When I can, I try to avoid getting anything in cans because of its high sodium content. But honestly, sometimes the alternative just involves so much more work. So for now, here's the recipe complete with canned ingredients. If I come up with a non-canned alternative I will be sure to share!

One thing I like to do when making baked dishes is to double the recipe and freeze one dish. Keep reading after the basic recipe for a doubled ingredient list and directions on how to freeze. Trust me, it doesn't take much more time and it's wonderful to have a day where all you need to do for a delicious home cooked meal is take something out of the freezer and pop it in the oven!


Chicken Cornbread Casserole
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 3/4 cup frozen corn (or 1 can)
  • 15oz can cream corn
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (feel free to do all whole wheat if you like!)
  • 3 tbsp sugar or 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
  • 4oz chopped green chilis
  • 4oz mushroom pieces, drained
  • 1 cup sour cream and/or plain Greek yogurt
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9x13" baking dish.
  2. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl combine corn, cream corn, eggs and a pinch of salt; mix well. Add cornmeal, flour, sugar and baking powder. Fold in cooled onion mixture. Pour into greased baking dish.
  4. In another large bowl, combine chicken, green chilis, mushrooms and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the corn bread mixture to within 1" of edges.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle shredded cheese over top and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and edges are golden brown.
Doubling for Freezing:
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 1/2 cup frozen corn (or 2 cans)
  • 2 15oz cans cream corn
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar or 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 5 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
  • 2 4oz cans chopped green chilis
  • 2 4oz cans mushroom pieces, drained
  • 2 cups sour cream and/or plain Greek yogurt
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (*1 1/2 cups will be used after freezing when reheating)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease one 9x13" baking dish and line another with foil, making sure the foil hangs over the sides (or grease a foil 9x13" pan).
  2. Follow steps 2-5 above, but divide the corn bread batter and chicken topping evenly between the two baking dishes.
  3. After cooking both for 30 minutes, sprinkle one with cheese and return to oven for 5-10 more minutes. Remove the other and place in the fridge until completely cooled.
  4. When the second dish is completely cooled, place it in the freezer overnight. In the morning, remove the casserole from the baking dish by lifting the foil. Cover the top of the casserole with more foil, label and put back in freezer.
  5. To use, remove casserole from freezer, place in baking dish and let thaw in fridge 24 hours. Then bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes until warmed through. Sprinkle with cheese and bake another 5-10 minutes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BBQ Meat Muffins

My mom gave me this recipe a while ago and I honestly have no idea where she found it. But these BBQ Meat Muffins have become a favorite in our house, even with Little C. I can't quite call this a healthy recipe though because of the pre-made biscuits, BBQ sauce and brown sugar. If I ever figure out how to make it with more "real" ingredients, I will share!

On the plus side, they're not super unhealthy and are fairly easy to make. Since there are no raw ingredients once you cook the meat, it's a great dish for little ones to help you measure, mix and scoop! And even though the recipe uses a lot of meat (not inexpensive, I know!), it makes about 16 large muffins and if I have veggies with it, I almost rarely eat more than one at a meal. My husband on the other hand, depends how hungry he is and what kind of veggies I make :-)

BBQ Meat Muffins
     Yield: About 16 large muffins or 64 mini muffins
Ingredients:
  • 2 tubes refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (16 biscuits total)
  • 2.75-3 lbs ground beef (or other meat)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups refried beans or bean puree
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 3/4 cup BBQ sauce
  • 9 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili powder (add more or less to your liking!)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Large muffin tins, 1 1/2 cup ramekins and/or mini muffin tins
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray muffin tins.
  2. Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain. Combine beef and beans in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together ketchup, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and chili powder in a bowl or large measuring cup. Pour over beef mixture and stir well.
  4. Flatten each biscuit into a 5" circle using your hands or a rolling pin. Press each into the bottom and up the sides of a greased muffin cup. If making mini muffins, cut each biscuit into four pieces and then flatten.
  5. Divide the meat mixture among the biscuit cups, using 1/4-1/3 cup filling for each large one and 1-2 tbsp for each mini one. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
  6. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes for the mini muffins and 20 minutes for large.
  7. Cool 5 minutes before removing and serving.


Tadpole Toss

Today's activity actually comes from a Highlights Magazine. We recently discovered that Highlights now has 3 versions of the magazine, including High Five which is meant for 2-6 year olds. Little C has become very interested in the magazines in the past month or two, especially the hidden picture puzzles and "That's Silly" pictures. High Five also has activities you can do at home and Little C decided she wanted to make the Tadpole Toss game.


If you'd like to make one yourself, first, collect your supplies. You'll need:
  • Paper plates (big or small, however many you want to use; we used 4 because the boy in the magazine made 4)
  • Green & black markers or crayons
  • Dried rice or beans
  • Tablespoon
  • Plastic sandwich bags (1 per tadpole, we made 3)
  • Twist ties and/or rubber bands (2 per tadpole)
  • Green tissue paper (1 sheet per tadpole)
1. Give the paper plates to your child and have them color them green to make lily pads. Don't worry if they end up looking nothing like lily pads. While they're coloring, set up the rest of your supplies.


2. If your plastic bags have zip tops, cut the zip part off the bags. Help your child scoop 2-3 tablespoons of rice into each bag and use your twist ties or rubber bands to close the bags.


3. Fold your large piece of tissue paper in half and have your child place the bag with rice in the middle of the sheet. Gather the tissue paper up around the bag and secure it with another twist tie (ours were too small to reach around the tissue paper so we used rubber bands) or rubber band.






4. Have your child draw faces on your tadpoles using the black crayon or marker.


5. Spread your "lily pads" out on the floor, step back and take turns trying to toss the tadpoles onto the lily pads! The smaller the plate, the harder it is!



Age: 2.5 years

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mama Bear's Chili

Yesterday marked, for us, the official start of football season! I know there was a game Thursday but Sunday football is what it's all about. I never watched or cared about football until I met my husband. He LOVES football. After we got married we spent many Sundays and Monday nights cuddled on the couch watching football, him teaching and me learning. Somehow I became addicted and now I'm as excited as he is for the start of the season. Go Giants! (you'll get them next week...)

Of course, you can't have football without food. And the best fall-winter-football food in our opinion? Chili! So even though it's not quite cool-weathered fall yet, I pulled out the Crock Pot yesterday and got cooking.

Is it ready yet? That's always the worst part about slow cooking - it starts smelling so delicious long before it's ready and it honestly is torturous! Luckily chili is good to eat fairly quickly, although it definitely gets better over time and is the best the next day when it's really thick and flavorful. I'm sharing my recipe with you, but keep in mind that chili is a personal dish and though I give you the basics, it's up to you to make it yours.


Mama Bear's Chili

Ingredients:
  • 4 bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 lbs ground meat or Italian sausage
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 3 cups cooked beans of choice
  • 2 14-15oz cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 3 tbsp pureed chipotles in adobo
  • 8oz can tomato sauce, no salt added
  • 1 cup bbq sauce (plain recommended but I'm working on my own recipe!)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp cider vinegar
  • Seasonings of choice - I usually include chili powder, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika and cumin and don't measure :-)
Special Equipment
6-quart slow cooker (I'm fairly certain this is a newer version of the Crock Pot I have)
Directions:
  1. Cook ground meat in skillet. If using Italian sausage you can either cut off the casing and cook it like the ground meat or brown the whole sausages and then let them finish cooking in the slow cooker.
  2. Add all ingredients through canned tomatoes to your slow cooker. If your chipotle puree is frozen like mine, toss a few cubes into the slow cooker now. Otherwise add it to your sauce ingredients.
  3. Combine the tomato sauce, bbq sauce, brown sugar and cider vinegar in a large bowl or measuring cup. Add your seasonings and stir together. Pour the sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker.
  4. Cover the slow cooker, set it on HIGH and cook at least 3-5 hours. *If you left the Italian sausages whole, remove them after 3 hours, cut into chunks and return to the chili* After that point you can turn it to LOW or KEEP WARM and leave it all day as you steal little bits during the games.
  5. We like to serve it best with a sprinkle of shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream and a pile of Fritos for dipping.

Frozen Chipotle Puree

As you may know, I love anything that will save me time in the kitchen. Prepping large quantities of an ingredient ahead of time and storing it in the freezer is one of those things. And that's exactly what I do to have some handy chipotle puree to add some smoky spice to dishes.

I start with canned chipotles in adobo sauce.You can use as few or as many cans as you want! I happened to have 3 in my pantry so that's how many I used. Dump the contents of the can into a blender or small food processor and pulse to chop up those chipotles. How chunky or smooth you make the puree is a matter of personal preference; I had some chunks left in mine.

The next step is to scoop out your puree and pour into ice cube trays, one tablespoon at a time. As you can see I ended up with 31 tablespoons of puree. I've been using these Fresh Baby trays with lids for freezing so many things since Little C was born and I love them!


And now when I make chili or taquitos or enchiladas or anything else that might need a little zing, all I have to do it pull a couple cubes out of the freezer!

Kale Chips

Everyone's heard of kale nowadays right? I'd never heard of it growing up but I must admit, I have jumped on the kale bandwagon recently. And here's why:

  1. Kale is categorized as a cruciferous vegetable, meaning it's in that "leafy greens" category of vegetables you're supposed to be eating more often than you probably are. And another yummy option in the leafy greens category is always a plus.
  2. 1 cup of chopped kale contains 206% of the daily value of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C and 684% of vitamin K - all antioxidant vitamins. Diets high in vitamin K have been linked to a reduced risk of developing or dying from cancer.
  3. Kale also has lutein and zeaxanthin which are good for eye health.
  4. Kale thrives in cool weather meaning you should be able to find fresh kale year round!
Besides adding kale to my green smoothies, the other way we love to eat it is by making kale chips. But come on, you add oil and salt to anything and make it crispy and I'll probably eat it...

I've been getting kale from my sister in law's garden and cooking them in the microwave all summer to avoid heating the house with the oven. Little C and I snack on the chips as the batches come out of the microwave. But we always make sure to leave some for Daddy :-)


Kale Chips - Cooked 2 Ways

Ingredients:
  • 1 head kale, washed and dried
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
Directions:
Remove ribs from the kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Cooking Method 1:
Spread kale pieces out on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Bake at 275 degrees F until crisp, turning leaves halfway, for about 20 minutes.

Cooking Method 2:
Spread kale pieces onto a large microwaveable plate and drizzle with olive oil. You can overlap kale leaves but don't completely overcrowd the plate.
Microwave on HIGH for about 3 minutes, or until leaves are crisp. Sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat process until all the kale has been cooked.

(Source of nutritional info: WebMD)