Thursday, June 30, 2011

America the Beautiful

Most of the books I'll be reviewing are board books (at least for now), but I decided to include this beautiful paperback since we'll be celebrating Independence Day this weekend.

America the Beautiful illustrated by Neil Waldman

America the Beautiful makes me want to go back to the places I've been to, and explore the parts of this country that I've never seen! The text of this book is the first verse of the poem, written by Katherine Lee Bates, and well known song, composed by Samuel A. Ward, America the Beautiful.
The real star of this book, however, is the gorgeous artwork by Neil Waldman. His impressionist-style paintings depict various landmarks around the country, including the Grand Canyon, the Coastal Redwoods, Oregon Coast, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. My personal favorite is his painting of a herd of buffalo grazing in the yellow fields of the Great Plains. 
Flipping though this book is like walking through the Orsay...except of course all the paintings are of America!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I love hummus and it's so easy to make at home! I found this great recipe that I've been using with a few minor adjustments. The biggest difference is I rinse and cook the chickpeas first. I've found that it makes the finished hummus taste much better. I also cook the garlic in my toaster oven. No point in heating up the whole kitchen for 3 little cloves!


3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 15 oz. can chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini paste
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika

  • Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place garlic cloves on a small piece of foil and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Seal foil to form a pouch, and roast garlic in oven until soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. Pour chickpeas into a microwavable container. Cover and cook on high 2-3 minutes. Let cool slightly and transfer to the bowl of a food processor.
  3. Add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini paste, water, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and process until the texture is light and fluffy but not entirely smooth, about 2 minutes. 

I generally serve hummus with tortilla chips or crackers, but it's also great with sliced vegetables and pita bread.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hello, Bugs!

Hello, Bugs! by Smriti Prasadam

Babies are supposed to be attracted to high contrast images, so it makes sense that there are a lot of black and white books for babies on the market. We received Hello, Animals! as a gift and liked it so much we went out and bought it's sequel, Hello, Bugs!
The illustrations are cute and the text is simple. Each page says "Hello, (bug)!" and includes a couple words/sounds that relate to that particular bug. The black and white illustrations include a pop of shiny color for a little added interest.
The pages on these board books are very thick which makes them great for young babies. They don't bend the way some board books do, and it's easy even for little fingers to flip through them.
My son pulls these books out to read all the time. It's no wonder one of his first words was "hello!"

Shapes Book

Abe loves his books! Touch and feel and other interactive books seem to be among his favorites right now. 

I made this shape book for him using laminated shapes cut from construction paper, and laminated pages printed off on my computer. 

I used velcro to stick the shapes to the pages, so we can either start with the shapes in place (and pull them off as we go)...

...or match the colored shapes to the words and shapes on the pages. 

After laminating the pages, I stuck them in a small three ring binder, which has a convienent pocket inside the front cover to hold all the loose shapes.

A PDF of this book, along with more detailed instructions, can be downloaded or printed here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The one that got away...

Last weekend we headed up north for a quiet weekend at the cabin. The craziest things seem to happen when we go up there alone... Last time a bear crossed the road right in front of us while we were driving home! I spent much of my young life staring out the window, on our long drives to my grandparents house and back, squinting into the woods in search of bears.

Anyways, so Noah, Abe, and I were at the cabin. Noah went down to the dock to fish while Abe and I played on the lower deck. It didn't take Noah long to hook a small fish (about 6 inches long), but the hook was stuck in it's throat, so I offered to hold the pole to keep the fish in the water while Noah ran up to the cabin to get some pliers.
Abe and I were sitting on the dock watching the fish swim in a small circle when a bigger fish swam up and then disappeared under the dock. A few minutes later it returned, took a little nip at the small fish's tail and swam off. I yelled to Noah joking that he'd better "hurry up before this fish gets eaten!" when all of a sudden the big fish came back, opened it's mouth wide, and half swallowed the little fish!
Just then Noah stepped on the dock and the big fish spit out the smaller one and swam away. I pulled the stunned little fish out of the water and we could clearly see bite marks on either side where his scales had been stripped off.
Noah spent the next hour trying to catch the "big one" with no luck, but as I was packing up Abe's stuff and getting ready to go, I noticed his pole was bent and he was reeling something in. I picked up Abe and we went down to the shore to watch. Noah turned to tell us it was just a log, when a huge fish surfaced, rolled, and spit out his lure. The line snapped back and the lure flew about 20 feet to land on the pontoon behind Noah!

Next time we go up there we're bringing bigger hooks...and a net.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Five Little Ducks

Abe loves to read books (although washing labels on his stuffed animals will do in a pinch). Before we even brought him home from the hospital his 10-year-old bookworm cousin, Chloe, told me, "make sure you read to him every day. Even babies like books." So I've read to him since he was a newborn baby. 
Now at 9 1/2 months old, he'll sit on the floor with a stack of books and look through them much longer than he'll play with any of his toys. I'm glad he developed that love of books early on. Whether he's admiring the pictures, trying out new words, or just bonding with mommy and daddy, I feel like books are already playing an important role in his development. 
We have an extensive collection of books - mostly purchased back when I was teaching. As a child, my favorite authors/illustrators were Syd Hoff, Richard Scarry, and of course, Dr. Seuss. When I was teaching I was introduced to other illustrators that I immediately fell in love with, including Eric Carle, Felicia Bond, and Nadine Bernard Wescott. As a result, the small collection of books that I'd saved from my childhood grew and grew and GREW! 
It's been fun sharing these stories with Abe and seeing which ones he's drawn to. I bought him Five Little Ducks as a Christmas gift, and it's been a favorite ever since.

Five Little Ducks by Dan Yaccarino

It's a classic children's song about five little ducks that go out into the world, and each time their mother calls them back, one duck is missing. This song is considered public domain so there are a million different versions of this book to choose from. I never considered buying one until I found this copy by one of my new favorite illustrators, Dan Yaccarino.
Not only are his illustrations surreal and amazing, but he's changed the song slightly, so instead of just going over the hills and far away, these little ducks go to exciting new places each time they go out. This book is perfectly readable, but if you prefer to sing it, he rewrote the story in such a way that it still works with the original tune. 
Unfortunately, this gorgeous board book is out of print, but used copies are usually cheap and easy to find online. 

Do you have a favorite children's book, author, or illustrator? I'll be reviewing more of our favorites in the weeks to come, but I'm always looking for more great books to check out!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ice Painting

When the days are long and the weather is nice there's really no point in staying inside, but sometimes it takes more than a swing and a sandbox to keep the kids entertained. Painting with colored ice is a fun way to cool off and a great project to do outdoors!

I started by filling an ice cube tray with water and adding 2-3 drops of food coloring to each section. I mixed 2 drops of yellow + 1 drop of red to make orange, and 2 drops of red + 1 drop of blue to make purple. The food coloring sank to the bottom so I had to stir with a toothpick to mix the dye with the water. Next time I'll probably just mix the colors in a separate cup and then pour them into the molds. It should only take 2-3 hours for ice cubes to form (depending on the freezer), but I left mine in the freezer overnight.

They work great on watercolor and other types of heavier paper. The colors are vibrant and similar to Crayola's watercolors but without the hassle of cleaning your brush between colors. Great for babies!

My son enjoyed painting with them, although the brightly colored ice was a little too hard to resist...

...he HAD to taste one!

 And after he tried one (even though they had no flavor - just water and food coloring), he decided taste them all!

The cubes melt quickly (even if you don't suck on them), so it wouldn't be a bad idea to have more in the freezer ready to go!

Glad I changed him into an already stained onesie before starting. The dye washes off hands and skin in the bath, but I'm not sure how well it will come out of cloths!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gone Fishin'

My son loves fish. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at keeping real ones alive, and grandma lives too far away for a daily visit to her aquarium. Luckily, right around the time our last fish died, I was going through a box of my old teaching materials from when I worked as a toddler teacher. Each week I came up with a new theme and planned activities, created art projects, and brought in books that related to that theme. I made these magnetic fish for "Under the Sea" week. 

These are really easy to make, as long as you don't mind cutting out shapes. To start, go to Microsoft's free clip art gallery or search for clip art online, click on "Illustrations," and type in "fish" or whatever you want to search for. (I made these a number of years ago, so some of the clip art I used might not be available.) If you find a picture you like, you can click on "see similar images" to bring up more clip art from the same artist and other images that relate to your original selection. Then just download the images you like, open them in Microsoft Word, and resize them for your project. Mine are about 3-4 inches long. Print them out on regular printer paper and carefully cut out each fish.

Once I finished cutting out my fish I had them laminted at Kinko's, but if you have the right equipment, you can do it yourself. Kinko's offers two options when it comes to laminating: roll or pouch lamination. Roll lamination works well for most projects but it bends easily, so when I make something I want to last I opt for pouch lamintation. It's a bit more expensive, but thicker, and much more durable. 

Once my fish were laminated, I had to cut them out....again. (See why you have to like cutting?) I left about an 1/8 inch of lamintation around the edges and then stuck a strip of magnetic tape on the back.

I don't exactly remember what I used these for when I was teaching, but I pulled them out and stuck them on my dishwasher for my son to play with when I'm busy in the kitchen. Sometimes I tell him their names, sometimes we sort them by color, sometimes we count them and sing, but a lot of the time he just pulls them off the dishwasher, inspects them for a few minutes and then reaches for another. Can't do that with a live fish!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Homemade Baby Food

I decided long before Abe was born that he would be getting homemade baby food once he started on solids. When I planted my garden I made sure to include carrots, corn, green beans, and other vegetables I thought a baby might enjoy. It turned out to be much easier than I expected and the finished purees taste like fresh fruits and vegetables! Definitely better than the overcooked, over-processed mush I remember...and did I mention, cheaper?

So here are my basic tips and instructions for making baby food from scratch:

1. Clean, peel, and chop your fruits or vegetables. It's fine to leave the skins on for added vitamins and fiber, but I peeled anything in the Dirty Dozen unless it was organic or came from my own garden.

2. There are a few different cooking methods to choose from. For the most part I simmered fruits, steamed vegetables, and roasted sweet potatoes and squash.

To simmer: Place chopped fruit into a small pot or saucepan and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. (You can simmer juicy fruits like pears and plums without water.) Cover and cook over low heat until soft (less than 5 minutes for most fruits). Reserve juice to thin puree if needed.

To steam: Place vegetables in a steamer set over boiling water. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Reserve cooking water to thin puree if needed.

To roast: Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread the chopped vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Roast until the vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. 

3. Transfer the cooked fruits or vegetables to a small pot and, using a stick blender, puree until smooth. (You can also use a regular blender or food processor for this step.) 

4. If needed, push the puree through a sieve with a rubber spatula, then add reserved juice or water to thin the puree to the desired consistency. 

5. Spoon puree into ice cube trays (I used these ones from Oxo) and freeze immediately.

6. Once frozen, transfer cubes to freezer-safe storage bags, label, and return to the freezer.

7. Thaw individual portions in the refrigerator overnight, or heat in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. Let cool completely before serving.

A few additional tips:

Avocados & Bananas - it's probably easier to just mash up a fresh avocado or banana but, if you have some that are overripe or leftover, they do freeze well. Thaw in the refrigerator and stir before serving. They will be a bit discolored but are still fine to eat.

Berries - Skip the prep work by using frozen berries! 

Meats - Cook meat however you would normally make it, then grind with blender or food processor adding water to make a thick paste. My son wasn't crazy about meat on it's own, but when I mixed it with vegetables he loved it.

Prunes - I used Sunsweet's new D'Noir Prunes which are preservative free. Absolutely amazing. (Yes, even I ate this puree!) Completely cover with water before simmering. The cooked prunes are super thick when blended, so you'll probably end up adding most of the water back into this puree.

I had fun picking out different fruits and vegetables for Abe to try, and he really seemed to like them all. Once he had tried them each on their own I started mixing them with other purees and new ingredients. A few that went over really well: sweet potato + plums, apples + squash, corn + potatoes + turkey, carrots + peas + corn, apples + cinnamon, broccoli + cheese, avocado + yogurt, and potatoes + cheese + beef. I also mixed rice or multi grain cereal with the vegetable purees, and usually served him oatmeal mixed with fruit or berries for breakfast. 

Most babies get to a point where they don't want to be spoon fed anymore, and it's pretty hard to eat purees with your fingers. Try mixing leftover pureed vegetables with pasta, putting a spoonful on soft crackers, or serving as a dip with finger foods. Fruits and berries are a great addition to oatmeal, yogurt, or mixed with sparking water for a healthy soda!