Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spicing Up a Snowy Afternoon

It's January in Pittsburgh and I've been thinking nonstop about fresh salsa made from homegrown or CSA tomatoes. Summer is months away and tomatoes from the grocery store just won't cut it. I had heard you could make salsa from canned tomatoes. I dug up this a simple recipe on

It calls for canned tomatoes and green chillies. I swapped out the minced garlic for one clove of fresh and used red onion instead of green. I also omitted the red pepper flakes. Button Boy and the husband like their salsa mild with a kick. Since the food processor was involved, I had my son stand off to the side on a chair to observe and munch on cilantro. After maybe 10 pulses, we had a nice, spicy enough, chunky salsa. I gave Button Boy a small bowl with tortilla chips. He immediately dove in to the salsa and used his fingers to dip when he ran out of chips.

On a side note, we have tried 2 recipes so far from Amanda's Cookin and both have worked beautifully. This site is wonderful for anyone with or without kids. She has great instructions for comforting food. Plus all of the ingredients are affordable and easy to find. Three cheers for Amanda!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Feeling a Little Buggy

Button Boy's really into bugs, snakes and lizards right now. We are currently reading him an Usborne book called Snakes before he goes to bed. It's not my idea of the best bedtime story, but he likes it. So I saw this great craft that looks like a caterpillar on and thought he would love this.

I have to admit the craft was a little too advanced for him, but it was fun to work on as a family. I poked the holes into the foam sheets. Button Boy had a really hard time lacing the pipe cleaner through the accordion layers – which we helped him work through. I made a couple of small changes. Instead of gluing on the antenna, we wrapped the cut end of the pipe cleaner in the body around the base of the antenna. I tried a new kind of glue, called Beacon's EZ-Flow Kid's Choice, for the puff ball head and googly eyes. Dear Elmer's glue – I love you, but sometimes you just don't cut it. The Beacons Glue worked beautifully. It's very thick and dried quickly. I also left off the little hearts, since I don't have a heart shaped hole punch.

Button Boy and Daddy loved the craft so much they made several little creatures. We could not help making a couple of Steelers caterpillars in honor of the game tonight.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mommy Muffin Time

There are days when a mom needs time to to bake alone. Every once in while I get that chance. The lights were low and Button Boy was laying on the floor talking to Spider Man. I snuck into the kitchen, turned on some jazz and made blueberry muffins. He only realized what I was doing just as I was putting the batter into the muffin tin. I tried to let him help me finish, but the batter was heavy and the liners were out of shape. “Mommy, can I eat the blueberries? Can I lick the batter? Why is the batter so sticky?” Frustration began to set in for both of us. I asked him if wanted to play with his trains and he left the kitchen.

I love this special bond we have over food, but my nerves can only handle so much cooking time with the Button Boy. I dream of lazy Saturday mornings, making soup or baking cookies while I listen to Car Talk and What Do You Know on NPR. Sometimes I miss those days, but then I remember the joy of watching him crack an egg for the first time or licking the spoon after we made pudding. Baking with him is both enjoyable and exhausting all at the same time.

Check out my favorite go-to recipe for Muffins from Everyday Food, May 2008:

They are also fabulous with mini chocolate chips.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Cheese Ball Fit for a Rabbit

I'm a huge fan of the magazine Everyday Food. I have every issue since it came out, except issue 36. Such a pity! Every once in a while they have a special section called “After School Snacks”. I wish they would dedicate a whole issue to kids. Their simple fresh approach to cooking makes snacks and meals easy to prepare with your child. I have always wanted to try the Cheddar Carrot Balls that ran in the May 2006 issue. See the recipe in the link below:

We made a couple of adjustments. Button Boy had a hard time mixing the cheese mixture with a wooden spoon so I suggested he just mix it with his hands - which worked well. The texture got a little gooey, but we rolled the whole thing into one big ball instead of twelve like the recipe indicated. We let it sit in the frig for a couple of hours. He loved it on Triscuits and of course his fingers. I thought it could have used some extra seasoning like Worcestershire sauce or green onions, but that's coming from an adult's perspective. Button Boy asked if he could bring it for his Birthday snack at school. I'm thinking it would be a nice change from all those sweet treats.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Puppet Puppy Love

I found use #2 for our never ending supply of cardboard tubes. (See use # 1 in the Circus is in Town). I let Button Boy choose the craft today from - another new find on my adventures through Twitter. He decided on this adorably simple dog puppet.

We altered the directions a smidge. Instead of painting the tube, we wrapped a piece of brown construction paper around it and fastened it with Scotch tape. I assisted him by drawing the ears and background of the face and he pretty much finished everything else. We both made our own puppets and I know I'm his mother, but I think his looks much better than mine. It has so much character with its perky ears and giant smile. Now we have to figure out some other animal friends to keep these two puppies company.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Drink Fit for a Superhero

Food Fit for Kids is one the first groups I began to follow on Twitter. Button Boy and I perused their site for the perfect recipe to try. He immediately honed in on the Superhero Shake because it was green. He is an extremely adventurous eater. Last night he woofed down two servings of brussel sprouts, a small baked sweet potato and shiitake mushrooms. So the fact that there was spinach in this smoothie actually excited him. My husband took one look at the photo and said “Yuck!” I told him he had to take at least one sip or Button Boy would be heart broken. Guilt works real well sometimes.

I wanted to work with what we had in the frig so I swapped out the plain yogurt for vanilla and omitted the honey. I love this site because they have little symbols in the recipes to let you know when it's a good time to let your young ones participate. Button Boy peeled the bananas and dumped them in with the spinach. The smoothie came out the color of celery, which I have to admit looks kind of gross. Button Boy took one long sip and proclaimed “This is awesome.” I could definitely see some kids being squeamish about the color. My husband took a sip and said he could taste the spinach. All I could taste was the bananas and yogurt. Here's to veggies in our smoothies.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Honor of the Dragon

I discovered from a few sources that today is Appreciate a Dragon Day. I love odd ball holidays because it makes every day seem special. Last October we had a birthday party for our house. It turned 70 . We made cupcakes and sang it Happy Birthday. 4-year olds really dig any reason for a cupcake. To celebrate this special day, Button Boy found a dragon craft on-line to immortalize one of his favorite creatures.

The directions were very vague and the page was cluttered with ads and links which only further confused things. We pretty much made the dragon by looking at the photographs. I thought this would be a straight forward project, but we managed to make some mistakes. We used an 18 cup egg carton instead of 12 – which does not work for the mouth. We improvised by only using the bottom of the egg carton. I admit this craft was too complex for Button Boy, but I figure I can stand in when ever he needs a little help. After all our craft time is always part of our family time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Growing a Tree by Hand

What is with all the generic craft sites for kids? I have found about five or so that I find to be really useful and the rest are just blah. My friend Bianca suggested I try out which I discovered is owned by Disney Online. They have enough creative, original content ranging from crafts, recipes, and activities to keep your kids busy all day. I decided to try one of the winter crafts, a Snowy Handprint Tree, since there is about 7 inches of snow in our backyard. Check out the directions in the link below:

As usual I chose not to follow the directions and ended up with a mess. Do not use Elmer's Glue instead of the glue stick. We ended up with a giant gooey sugar glob instead of a tree. I guess that's why I refer to the blog as a test kitchen. Let us make the mistakes for you first. The sugar leaves a nice dusting of snow if you use the glue stick. Button Boy and his friend said the best part of this craft was having permission to paint their hands brown. What little boy does not want to get messy?

I just signed up for Twitter @craftykitchn. So far I'm finding some excellent new sources for crafts and cooking. I'll keep you posted on my journey through Twitter Land. In the mean time, let me know what sites, books or magazines you like and Button Boy and I will try them out in a future posts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lemon Drops for Button Boy

Button Boy's favorite thing to make with me in the kitchen is sugar cookies. My usual go-to recipe, from the original Martha Stewart cookbook from 1995, is a time-consuming affair that usually takes us a couple of days to complete. I typically only make them for holidays or birthdays. I have been tinkering around with the same recipe, making a few adjustments, to create a simple drop cookie frosted with lemon icing. My friend Dawn inspired me to make the recipe simpler by removing several steps. Here is what I have so far:

Lemon Drops

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp.  baking powder
1 tsp.  salt
½ cup 2% milk
1 tsp.  pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix the following with a whisk: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat eggs into butter mixture, one at a time until fully incorporated. Add vanilla to the milk and take turns adding the wet and dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Mix until all the flour is fully incorporated.

Scoop the dough out and roll into 1 inch balls on a cookie sheet. Squish them down just a little and bake for 9 minutes. Let cool on a rack or wax paper. Frost with lemon icing.

Lemon Icing

1 stick of unsalted butter
3 ½ cups of powdered sugar
¼ cup 2% milk
Zest from 1 lemon

Beat all 4 ingredients until smooth.

The cookies have a soft center and the icing has a subtle essence of lemon. It is not tart at all. Button Boy and Daddy approve. If you try the cookies, please let me know what you think of them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Every Princess Needs a Crown

Button Boy had a spur of the moment play date with his friend Bubbles today. I needed to find a craft quickly and I really hate firing up the computer when I don't have a lot of time. Bubbles' mother said she loves to color, but I was feeling the need to do something slightly girly since I live in a house full of trains and Matchbox cars. I found a See-Through Crown made out of packing tape in Creative Crafts for Kids. I hate to use another project from the same book so quickly, but I am in love with this book. I already have at least five projects ear marked to try. I really want to make the homemade lip balm for myself.

First off - I was bad and did not read the instructions carefully. I can hear a teacher crying right now. Anyway, I tore off about a foot of packing tape and laid it in front of the kids, sticky side up. They added thin strips of paper, ric rac, ribbon and stickers with dashes of loose sparkles and sparkly glue. Go easy on the sparkles. They can prevent the tape from sticking to itself. When they were finished, I placed another foot long strip, sticky side down, directly on top of the other piece to seal everything in. We made another tape strip just like this and connected it with the first tape strip to fit around each child's head. 

The actual directions wanted us to line up the strips of paper on a board or table and sprinkle glitter on top. Then you press the strip of tape on top, sticky side down until everything adheres. Then flip it over and put another piece of tape on top. I think our method was a little cleaner, even though I tried on Button Boy's crown and ended up with tons of sparkles in my hair. Anyway the kids loved the process and the finished crown. That's all that important, right?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Granola and a Movie

We just picked up Despicable Me on DVD from the library and I was contemplating making popcorn, but then I thought granola would be a better choice for a cold dreary day. I have a recipe that I use all the time that I clipped out of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette from August 7, 2008. I keep a food journal with clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers that I would like to try. This recipe could not be simpler or more forgiving. Button Boy was able to do almost every step by himself.

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 ½ cups sliced almonds
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup of vegetable oil
¼ cup of honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a bowl mix the oats, almonds, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. In a saucepan warm the oil and honey. Whisk in the vanilla.
Carefully pour the liquid over the oat mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon. Spread granola in a 15 -by-10-inch baking pan.

Bake 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Transfer granola-filled pan to a rack to cool completely. Stir in cranberries. Seal granola in an airtight container or self sealing plastic bag. Keeps for 1 week at room temperature or in the freezer for 3 months.

Makes 7 cups.

I adjusted the original recipe a little. I added extra cinnamon and today I forgot to add the vanilla. I have used crushed and sliced almonds in the past, but my favorite is sliced. You get a sweat crunchy coating with the sliced variety. The granola makes a great topping for yogurt, ice cream or added crunch in hot oatmeal. I have never tried pouring milk over it, but I bet it would make a satisfying breakfast. Honestly we just eat it right out of our hands and I have never been able to let it cool completely. It tastes heavenly – warm. Plus the granola makes our whole house smell just like those candied nuts that vendors sell at festivals. Move over popcorn and pass the granola.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Crocodiles on Parade

Button Boy loves to put on puppet shows behind our living room chairs with handmade puppets. We have tried making a couple different versions with lost socks and paper bags. We even made the whole cast of Yo Gabba Gabba with popsicle sticks. We were looking for a puppet that was a little out of the ordinary and found the Folding Crocodile in Creative Crafts for Kids published by Hamlyn. The crocodile reminds me of the large dragons used during Chinese New Year parades. I loved the vibrantly colored photographs of the finished projects in this book. They made me want to try everything. The instructions are a tad confusing if you happen to live in the US like myself. The book was printed in the UK and they use different words for materials than we do, such as hook and loop spot fasteners are what I would call Velcro and joggle eyes are googly eyes.

So basically you draw the outline of a elongated crocodile, with zigzags along the top, on a long sheet of craft paper. Three horizontal stripes run along the body of the animal up to the head with big bulging eyes, flared nostril and zigzag mouth. Button Boy colored in the body with blue, green and brown crayons. I let him cut out the bottom of the crocodile and helped cut out the zigzags at the top – even though it would have been good practice for him. We then folded the crocodile accordion style. I showed Button Boy how to do the first couple of folds and he finished it up. He glued the popsicle sticks to the back and added Scotch tape so he could play with the puppet immediately. The whole project took us about an hour, while he played with it for another half hour. The puppet is not incredibly sturdy. He already has a tear near the head – which leads me to believe that he really enjoyed this craft. He is already making plans to try the Funny Frog Card from the same book.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hearts All A Flutter

So being the early planner that I am, I am already thinking about Valentine's Day cards for Button Boy's preschool class. I asked him what he would like and he said the cards had to have have antlers (he meant antennas). He is still a little hung up on Christmas. We found a cute little butterfly made of two connecting hearts with a pencil body and pipe cleaner antennas from Family Fun Magazine's website. It looked doable for a 4-year old with some adult supervision. By the way, this site had 38 other Valentine card ideas for all different ages.

Button Boy struggled to cut the butterfly wings due to the tight dips of the hearts and the thicker card stock. We tried construction paper, but it was not strong enough to hold the pencil. I encouraged him to do the best he could and I would clean up the edges later. He made it through three sets of wings. Daddy decided to join us in the project by helping us cut the other 27 sets of wings. Button Boy added pops of color with sticker dots, starting a discussion about contrasting colors when he stuck yellow dots on a blue wing. I cut the slits for the pencil and Button Boy inserted it with no problems. He suggested we tape the back of the wings and antennas so they would not spin around the pencil – which was an excellent idea. He is always gunning to pull out the Scotch tape. He got a 3 pack from Santa so he would stop running off with Mommy's. It didn't work, but now I can run off with his.

This was a nice nice easy craft that came off looking really nice with a minimal amount of supplies. Plus Button Boy got his antennas.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Chalking Good Time

Ever wonder what you're going to do with all that leftover black and brown construction paper? Chalk is the answer. It creates a neon effect on dark paper especially when combined with white paint. Button Boy was especially excited about the Chalk Dip in MaryAnn Kohl's book Preschool Art because he could paint and chalk at the same time. He was shocked that I would allow him to dip his chalk into his paint. Let's hope this does not start any bad habits.

The steps were simple. Dip a couple different colors of chalk in white tempura paint and let your child doodle to their heart's content on dark paper. We tried black and brown, but black seemed to work the best. We used Melissa and Doug chalk which has much more intense color than Crayola. We noticed that if you used the chalk like a stamp, you end up with a dot of color in each white circle. If you run the side of the chalk along the page you end up with a smudgy effect. Button Boy's completed page reminds me of fireworks in the night sky. I thought this craft would be really messy, but he remained relatively clean even without a smock.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dining on Volcanoes

I am always searching for recipes that Button Boy can make by himself. If he puts it together, it will end up in his mouth. Banana Volcanoes from Parents Connect peaked my interest. It calls for just five ingredients and the stove is not involved. See the link below for the recipe:

I let Button Boy cut up the bananas with a plastic kids knife. We skipped the lemon juice step. I  knew we would eat them immediately and I am not a fan of the acidic flavor it leaves. He tried to spread the peanut butter lava on the tops, which were a little too slick for his little hands. It might help to dry them off with a paper towel. I do that when we make Frogs on a Log with apple slices. Button Boy finished off the volcanoes with a shake of sprinkles and added a leftover Christmas marshmallow for the smoke effect. This has to be the simplest snack ever and he ate an entire banana which usually never happens. He's a vegetable guy. Plus he a got a nice boost of protein from the peanut butter. Obviously this would not be a great snack for kids with peanut allergies, but I'm sure you could find a nice alternative spread like preserves.

The volcano idea sparked a finger foods feast for lunch that day all inspired by Button Boy. Check out the photo of his spread below. We had a nice discussion over lunch about what foods pair well with each other. He wanted to spread peanut butter on pineapple which tasted awful by the way, but it was worth a try. Happy dining with your kids!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Circus is in Town

I have been collecting cardboard tubes for the last month to complete this project. Honestly we really only needed about five. I think I was being overly adventurous. I pulled this craft from the December 2010 issue of Family Fun Magazine which is part of Disney. This magazine rocks the kids craft world. They do not put most of their content on the web so getting the subscription is absolutely worth it. I would like to post the directions, but this project was not on their site and I don't want to get in trouble for copyright infringement.

Button Boy had some cutting issues on this particular craft. It was pretty hard to cut through the cardboard tubes. I helped him draw and cut out the legs and heads of the circus animals. He went crazy with the paint. The Crayola Washable paint covered the cardboard tube much more thoroughly than the Melissa and Doug paint. We did not have gray, so we mixed a nice lavender, which I think brought a little life into the elephant. None of the paint was able to cover the plastic cup platform very well. We made the most of our red cup and added blue splotches. Foil star stickers would have been a nice touch. The narrow neck on the giraffe folded over, but we taped an extra piece of cardboard for support after the paint dried overnight.

The next day we added the finishing touches with googly eyes, because every project with a face begs for them. The directions called for sequin eyes, but I am not big on buying extra materials for a project unless I think we will use them again. Brown paint spots were splashed on the giraffe along with a giant mouth for the lion. We also replaced the lion's paper plate head with a circle cut out of yellow construction paper. It was a nice chance for Button Boy to practice his scissor skills.

After the animals were complete Button Boy had a ruckus time acting out a big top circus on his craft table while I cleaned up. I would give this project 4 messy hands out of 5. It was a little complex but it was a nice craft to work on together. I even made my own little elephant.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Playing in my Cereal

Kneading pizza dough made me think of play dough. I have always seen recipes for the homemade kind in craft books. A huge bag of bulk old fashioned rolled oats inspired me to try the Oatmeal Dough in Mudworks by MaryAnn F. Kohl. I found the book at my local Carnegie Library. The library is my #1 source for creative ideas. Don't get me wrong, the internet rocks, but there is just something about perusing the pages of a book. There's no clicking or searching unknown websites that might give you a virus.

So the dough has just 3 ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 2 cups oatmeal and 1 cup of water. You mix everything together and boom – you have a messy, sticky clump of fun. I let Button Boy identify, measure, dump and mix the ingredients all by himself. We talked about what he could do with the dough and played together for about 15 minutes. We ended building a snowman together, since there is no sign of snow around here. The snowman dried to almost a rock hard solid after a couple of days, but we had a hard time getting candy and ribbon to stick to it even with Elmer's Glue. Later I turned on some Jazz music and went to the next room to let him explore the dough by himself. He was in their for 45 minutes. He ended taking out his Play Dough tools, a rolling pin and some of my cookie cutters. He also asked me if he could lick the dough, which he said tasted okay. He also sprinkled the dough with some sugar sprinkles. He said the next time we make the dough we need to color it. I'm thinking all you would have to do is add a couple of drops of food coloring to the water.

We really enjoyed this dough because - #1 Button Boy could accomplish all of the steps on his own, #2 there is no cooking on the stove top and #3 all the ingredients are pantry staples. This is my idea of a nice easy project on a cold January day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pizza with Martha Stewart

Here we go with our first project. Button Boy loves pizza so we got him the Kid's Pizza Kit by Martha Stewart at Macy's. It's really hard finding a cooking toy targeted towards little girls and boys. Everything comes in pink and has a photo of a little girl happily baking with her mom. This kit features a nice set of mini cooking tools in primary colors. I especially loved the French rolling pin, though we had an easier time pressing the dough down with our fingers than actually rolling it. The small print at the bottom of the box clearly states this toy is for ages 8 and up, but I figured we could handle this project together.

So we started making the the recipe for the basic pizza dough. My son is at the point where he can scoop and level the ingredients himself with a little assistance from Mommy. I thought the instructions were vague. It's a kit for kids and beginners, but they do not explain how to knead dough or have any pictures illustrating it. Luckily I have made pizza dough before. This dough was very sticky, but forgiving. We ended up using lots of olive oil and probably worked it a little more than we should have. Button Boy thoroughly enjoyed the kneading process. I told him this is the perfect time to be aggressive. He loved beating and punching it.

We put his dough on the pizza pan provided. It came out soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. I put a second pizza on a cookie sheet and it came out crisp and stuck to the pan a little. My husband and son overwhelmingly loved the softer crust. It reminded me a little of the thick crust pizza at Pizza Hut. We decorated the pizza with sauce, cheese, pepperoni and black olives from the mini blue, yellow and red prep bowls. Button Boy has always happily helped me with this task. More pepperoni ends up in his mouth than on the pizza. The plastic pizza cutter actually sliced right through the pizza, which shocked me. Sometimes my metal pizza cutter can't cut it.

Overall we loved the end result, but the instructions could be a lot more clear. The pizza was yummy and we and loved the high quality tools in kids' sizes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Adventures of Button Boy

It's a new year and I need something new to occupy my time this cold January ahead of me in Pittsburgh. Follow my journey with my 4 year old son, Button Boy, as we explore the far reaches of all things messy. Our goal is to test activities and recipes from popular kids books, magazines, TV, websites and craft kits. We'll show you photos of what the end result really looks like when made by a 4 year old - instead of a stylist. Nick Jr. are you listening to this? It is so easy to pipe frosting onto a sugar cookie and make it look just like Dora the Explorer.

Well - off we go to create a mess. We can always clean it up later and throw Button Boy in the tub. That's great fun in it's self.