Friday, May 27, 2011

Strawberry Cake Play Dough Recipe

The good news:  My father has a bumper crop of strawberries in his garden.
The bad news:  I live 1,508 miles away from his plentiful patch.

Although I can purchase strawberries from Mexico or California and create a Strawberry Shortcake that thrills my children and their friends, my husband and I are not impressed.  We both grew up in Caroline County on Maryland's Eastern Shore where the best strawberries in the world grow.  The soil is sandy, there is usually plenty of rain in the Spring, and, in the case of my father's patch, the berries get lots of tender loving care.  

When I was growing up my father didn't have the time or energy for a garden, so we would go pick at a local patch or I would jump out at any one of the plethora of roadside stands and grab a few quarts of berries as my mother parked on the dirt shoulder.  We would make lots of Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Pies and when we tired of that serve juicy sugared down strawberries over vanilla ice cream.  Sometimes we attempted a new recipe that my mom had cut from one of her women's magazines, but we always returned to our favorites.  My father loves strawberries and never seems to get tired of them.  Now he grows enough to satisfy himself and all of his family and friends in a thirty mile radius.  In fact, if you happen to be passing by my old homestead, I bet my mom will be happy to give you a basket or two of these luscious fruits.

Considering that I am half way across the country from my father's plentiful patch of strawberries, it is not surprising that this year my favorite strawberry recipe is not for a dessert at all, but for a new play dough, Strawberry Cake Play Dough.  This unique concoction smells fabulous and is soft and pliable.  It is perfect for a bumper crop of imaginative play.  Add a few berry baskets and a pad and paper and you have got yourself a play fruit stand or throw in a few matchbox cars and an instant strawberry mountain appears.  This recipe comes from one of my early education heroes The Ooey Gooey Lady and is easily made with a strawberry cake mix and a few other basic ingredients.  It keeps well in an air-tight container for weeks.

So this Memorial Day weekend pick some strawberries at a local patch, visit the Strawberry Festival in Ridgely, Maryland, or make a batch of Strawberry Play Dough.  Either way have a great weekend relaxing with people you enjoy.

Strawberry Cake Play Dough
    inspired by the Oooey Gooey Lady

1 package strawberry cake mix (any brand)
2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 1/2 cups salt
6 teaspoons cream of tartar
6 Tablespoons oil
3 cups water
optional:  red food coloring
  1. In a large heavy bottomed pot, whisk together dry cake mix, flour, salt, and cream of tartar.  Add the oil and water.  If a brighter color is desired, add a few drops of red food coloring.  Gently combine with a large wooden spoon.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and a rough ball forms.  
  3. Remove from head, knead, adding a small amount of flour if dough is too sticky.
  4. Store in an air tight container or baggie.
Explore with empty berry baskets, berry hullers, pink dice, matchbox cars, empty pie tins, and more.  For fun, sprinkle balls of strawberry cake dough with red glitter and knead.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ladybug Cupcakes

A few months ago my daughter and her friend set up a successful and oh-so-fabulous cupcake boutique at our community yard sale.  As soon as the last cupcake was savored, friends and neighbors started to inquire about custom cupcake orders.  Being smart and entrepreneurial 14 year olds, they began to dream big!  They plotted new flavor possibilities and designs, created hip business cards, and continued to faithfully watch all of the new episodes of DC Cupcakes.  After a bit of market research they changed their name to "Girlie Girl Cupcakes" and their new small business was born.  Today they baked, decorated, and delivered their first order of one dozen Ladybug Cupcakes.

For the last few weeks, in between Spanish projects, formal dances, and sleepovers, they contemplated their first order which will be served to a sweet class of preschoolers.   Today, fueled only by a few small photos on the screen of their i-phone and a desire to succeed, they baked, mixed, and piped until their product was complete.  They realized that cupcakes can be time consuming and back breaking, but they decided that they always want to deliver the best product to their customers.  Hovering in the next room I got the privilege of hearing them solve problems, make decisions, laugh, and encourage one another as they created.  I also got to bask in their joy as they delivered their completed product to a satisfied customer and raced back to the van with their first official payment and a tip.

Here are the steps that they used to make adorable Ladybug Cupcakes:  

Bake one batch of vanilla cupcakes.  Make one batch of butter cream frosting.  
Tint 2/3's of the frosting light pink and 1/3 a darker shade of pink.
Using a sharp knife draw a line in the cupcake to outline the ladybug head.

Using the Wilton #233 tip pipe the ladybug body with light pink frosting.

Continue piping with light pink until the ladybug body area is complete.

Using a sharp knife lightly slice through the light pink icing to create ladybug wings.
Using the Wilton #233 tip pipe dark pink frosting dots onto the ladybug body.
Using the Wilton #233 tip fill in the ladybug head with dark pink frosting. 
Melt white chocolate chips.  Place in a zip-lock baggie.
Snip off the tip of one corner of the baggie.
Pipe on the ladybug eyes and mouth with melted white chocolate.

Serve and enjoy your ladybug cupcakes!

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

GAK Recipe

Today my son participated in his 3rd Grade Economics Fair.  As part of his Social Studies Economics Unit, he had to developed a product to sell to his classmates.  Coming from a family that cooks, his first thought was to bake a batch of Poke Ball cookies.  This would surely have produced some successful merchandise, but no edible items were allowed.  Continuing with the recipe concept, he contemplated other items that we cook up in our home such as oobleck and play dough.  After a few test batches, he decided to create homemade silly putty which is sometimes called gak, slime, goo or flubber.

My son made his silly putty using Elmer's glue and Borax and guidelines that we adapted from the website Steve Spangler Science.  The process of watching  a liquid turn into a solid never ceases to be amazing for children and adults.  At first it seemed like he just had a bowl of murky water, but with the addition of dissolved Borax, the molecules began to form polymers and slime emerged.  This recipe is also perfect for experimentation.  With each batch my little Scientist introduced a new variable.  He used both white and gel glue, added more and less water, and created a variety of colors.  As a teacher and a mom, I was thrilled to see my child doing homework that was challenging, educational, and enjoyable.

One of the guidelines for creating the products was that the cost for purchasing materials was not to exceed $15.  We already had a box of Borax, so we just needed to buy glue and containers.  We found the perfect little bowls in Walmart and even used a coupon to further reduce our cost.  My son then labeled the Ziploc bowls with his product name "Max Gax" and created a sign.  

At the Economics Fair the excitement was palpable as each child set up their own station and prepared to both buy and sell.  The students gathered the currency of the day which was play money called "Star Bucks" that they had earned over the past few months.  The array of goods being offered was incredibly impressive and the entire event was well-organized and meaningful.  In addition to product development the children also gained first hand experience concerning marketing, budgeting, and sales.

My son's homemade silly putty was a huge success!  His "Max Gax" sold out quickly.  He was a friendly salesman who was able to make change and answer questions about his product.  He also got to buy lots of other unique items such as origami stars, book marks, trading cards, fun soap, and backpack tags.  Some of his creative friends offered services such as face painting and hair coloring.  Overall the project was a huge success and I am so grateful for all of the Social Study teachers that organized this event.  The learning that occurred was unmeasurable and we are already planning a summer play date where we can create more goo using this recipe.

GAK Recipe (a.k.a. Goo, Slime, Silly Putty, Flubber)

8 ounce bottle of Elmer's White School Glue
8 ounces of warm water
1 teaspoon of Borax
1/2 cup of warm water
food coloring
plastic bowls, spoons, and air tight containers
  1. Empty all of the glue into a bowl.
  2. Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water.  Screw the top back onto the glue bottle and shake vigorously.
  3. Pour the glue-water from the glue bottle into the bowl with the glue and mix well.  
  4. Add food coloring to glue mixture and stir.
  5. In a small bowl or measuring cup add 1 teaspoon Borax and 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir until Borax is dissolved.
  6. Slowly add the Borax water into the glue water while gently stirring. When solid clumps start to form mix with hands until all water has been incorporated and a mass of slime has formed.
  7. Store in an air-tight container.
Notes:  This recipe is perfect for experimentation.  Try the following variations and make up some of your own:  use different types of glue such as gel or tacky glue, vary the amount of water, add glitter, or use cold water.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vegetable Curry with Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Recipe

Oprah has inspired me to "lean into" a vegan diet.
Only 12 Oprah shows left!  What am I going to do without my Oprah?  I started watching Oprah Winfrey in the late 70's when she co-hosted "People Are Talking" with Richard Sher.  I was a child then and can hardly believe that I have been influenced by her all of my life.  Because of Oprah, among other things, I wear only amazing bras, I have conquered my inner shlumpadinka, and I practice what her friend Dr. Oz preaches.  I have never made it to Chicago to see Ms. Oprah live, but she has taught me volumes nonetheless.

Some of my favorite Oprah episodes revolve around food.  I loved it when Gayle went to one of my Maryland favorites to tell the world about Ledo's pizza.  I was cracking up years ago at the reactions of Oprah and some of her viewers who were on a very low carb diet.  This was a relatively new concept at the time, and I remember one of the guests said that she told her husband to stuff a big hunk of bread in her mouth if she passed out from carb withdraw.  Every afternoon or evening (thanks to DVR) I fold my mountain of laundry while I laugh, cry, and learn with Oprah.

Recently I enjoyed Oprah's episode on becoming vegan.  Most of the Harpo staff went vegan for a week and then shared about their experiences.  As all good Oprah shows do, this program both entertained and challenged me, but in the end, I agree with Oprah, and have decided to "lean into" veganism.  Oprah likes her eggs and fish and so do I.

One concept from Oprah's vegan challenge episode that I can fully embrace is that of Meatless Monday.  I am more conscious of my animal product consumption throughout the week and then attempt to avoid it altogether on Monday.  This has forced me to locate great new vegan recipes that both my family and I enjoy.  One of the recipes that I have added to my Meatless Monday repertoire is for Vegetable Curry with Cauliflower and Sweet Potato.

Vegetable Curry is one of my favorite Meatless Monday dinners.
This recipe comes from another one of my close and influential friends, Martha Stewart.  The directions for Simple Vegetable Curry were featured in the October issue of Martha's magazine "Everyday Food".  It is recommended as a simple dinner and it only takes about 30 minutes to prepare.  My husband and I love that is is flavorful and filling.  The chick peas add protein while the cauliflower and sweet potato increase the fiber and texture of the dish.  After enjoying a portion for dinner, we package up the leftovers for a tasty lunch.

I love leftover Vegetable Curry for a tasty vegan lunch.
I am grateful to Oprah for sharing an incredible amount of concepts with me over the years.  One of which is Meatless Monday.  The idea of "leaning into" a vegan diet is what inspired me to try this delicious recipe for Vegetable Curry.   I am looking forward to all that she has to offer in her last twelve shows.

Vegetable Curry with Cauliflower and Sweet Potato
     from Everyday Food, October 2010, page 14

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 cup long-grain white rice
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 Tablespoon red curry paste
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (from a 13.5 ounce can)
1 sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
fresh cilantro,  for garnish

  1. For rice:  In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high.  Add mustard seeds and half the onion and cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, 3 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to combine.  Add 1 1/2 cups water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce to a simmer; cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving.  
  2. For curry:  Meanwhile, in a large heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high.  Add remaining onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3 minutes.  Add curry paste and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in coconut milk and 1 cup water and bring to a boil.  Add sweet potato and cauliflower and season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Before serving:  Stir chickpeas into curry and increase heat to hight.  Simmer rapidly until liquid reduces slightly, 2 minutes.  Serve curry over rice with cilantro.  
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