Watercolors on the Go

I can’t tell you where(see yesterday’s post on sleep deprivation and brain function), but the minute I saw these Sakura Koi travel watercolor sets and brushes I knew we needed at least one. I got one for my purse(for art emergencies), and one just for my oldest daughter on her birthday. Today at the park, my middle daughter and my son took turns using my set on a little block of watercolor paper I brought with me 

   
I was pretty impressed with the loveliness of the colors, ease of use, and the art the children made, and honored when my daughter presented me with her mini masterwork 

 I will be framing it, and probably getting a set, or at least one of the neat water-filled brushes, for each child.

Energy Efficiency

Juuuust when I thought I was getting the hang of this 4-child thing and was even squeaking in a little creative time, the baby decided to have a massive sleep regression. She won’t nap in her crib during the day, or sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time at night- aye yi yi! Of course this is what I’ve signed up for being a parent of 4, and I know from experience that nothing lasts forever, even though sleep deprivation feels like it is here to stay. I miss the quiet-house down time to create more than I miss the sleep at this point(but talk to me in a week).

With that gripe out of the way, I’ll share that if I’ve learned nothing else from parenting, I’ve learned to be flexible and work with the time and energy I’m given. So, baby won’t nap in bed? We take a nice long walk in the spring sunshine-I get some exercise, and she gets a little rest. I even bring my knitting in case there’s time to stop and sit for a bit 

 

We stop by the local market for some produce and come home for a diaper change, milk, and a wiggle on the baby gym before picking up the big kids. And I keep crossing my fingers for her to find her sleep groove again so I have time for all of the creative ideas whirling around in my head!

Birthday Party Food

I get tired of takeout pizza. Don’t get me wrong, it is easy, delicious, and a crowd pleaser. You can bet I never turn down a piece at a party. But when we throw a party I usually opt for something different. My eight-year-old was very happy to be involved in meal planning for her own party. She chose cheese fondue, macaroni & cheese, and mini ham sandwiches for savouries 

   For dessert she requested cheesecake bites, and our family standard birthday cake, vanilla with vanilla Magnolia buttercream frosting. The cheesecake bites were so much easier and prettier than the full sized cheesecake I made for her real birthday! I used this recipe, but substituted a sleeve of crushed graham crackers mixed with 6T butter instead of the Nilla wafers for the crust. 

    
 My daughter put the cherries on top once the mini cheesecakes had chilled in the fridge.    

 True to form, the official birthday cake’s ugliness defied the laws of baking physics  

  To quote a friend of mine, “no cake in the history of the world ever folded over on itself in the pan like that.” Probably true. Thankfully a giant coat of icing and some candles disguised most of the cake’s deficiencies.
   
  

Hard Working Bunny

The Easter bunny works hard at our house! Marking Easter eggs with everyone’s initials, filling them with treats, hiding them all over the garden. Not to mention putting together exciting Easter baskets for 4 children.  

    
 This year the, ahem, Easter bunny stayed up way past her bedtime to sew a stuffed patchwork bunny for the baby, because she can’t hunt for eggs and her Easter basket was so sad and bare without the candy and chokey toys the big kids got . 

   
The good news is, she really liked it, and the happy smiles of little children make the Easter bunny’s late nights worth it(as long as someone leaves the bunny some coffee in the kitchen) 

    
 

Nanobug Party!

Though my oldest daughter’s birthday was a few weeks ago, I didn’t manage to pull together a school friend birthday party until this weekend. Thankfully my daughter is happy with having just her 3 closest friends as guests, and those friends were all free! She requested a hexbug party, so I gathered a 5-pack of bugs and materials for DIY bug  mazes.  

 It was an excuse to go to my favorite art store Artist and Craftsman, and buy one of my favorite open-ended craft supplies- a Casey’s Wood Products bag of odds and ends.  

 These things are THE BEST for just chucking in the middle of the table with some glue, string, wire, pipe cleaners, etc. and seeing what the kids come up with. I also got a six-pack of wood frames to act as the base for the mazes, and poster tack for sticking the wood pieces down 

 As all the bugs were different colors, I made a blind grab box to avoid fighting over who got what.  

  

 They all ended up trading but at least it was fair!

Everyone had fun sticking different pieces in the frames and seeing how the bugs interacted with their environments 

  

  
 I had fun buildings a little maze too! 

I also made mini cheesecake bites that were so much easier than a big cheesecake and totally delicious. More on that tomorrow…

Natural Dye on the Fly

Sometimes I do lots of research and gather all the appropriate materials before starting a project. Sometimes I just wing it. This is the latter in action. While the little fellows were dyeing eggs with Paas, I boiled up a pot of red cabbage, and another of dried hibiscus flowers. The cabbage was pretty much a bust for dye, though fun for doing acid/alkaline color-changing magic(more on that in a moment). But the hibiscus was totally unexpected!

 It was a gorgeous bright pink in the pot.  
 

An egg soaked briefly(on the right) turned grey-green, and the one soaked over night turned marbled black!! 
   I decided to try it on a piece of silk pre-mordanted with vinegar. I accordion folded the scarf lengthwise, then width wise, then bound the corners with rubber bands and submerged it in a jar of hibiscus overnight.
 
  
The result was much more what I expected with the eggs! A lovely muted pinky-purple. It is dry, but I’m not sure if it will be color-fast, or oxidize over time, but that’s part of the fun!

 

And in case you want to try magical cabbage concoction: for dye, I think my concentration of cabbage to water was off, plus I think actually boiling the eggs with the cabbage makes for the best color. But we had fun with the cabbage water! Did you know that red cabbage changes color depending on whether it is exposed to acid or alkaline solutions? So cabbage water+vinegar+baking soda= fun. 

Blue/purple cabbage water 

Add a spoonful of vinegar 

Pink cabbage water! Add a spoonful of baking soda for some fizz and another color change back to purple. 

I love science.
  

Getting Eggy With It

Dyeing Easter eggs is one of my favorite spring traditions. This year is the first that I felt the children were big enough to try blowing out some of the eggs before dyeing. Following various internet tutorials, we used my older daughter’s Fiskar’s hand drill to make the holes. 

 We broke a few, but overall the drill worked much better than any method I’ve tried before. We poked a toothpick in the hole to scramble the yolk and then got blowing. I was surprised to see that all three big kids had the lung power to do it!  

 I saved all the egg innards and made a peculiar pancake/Dutch baby for breakfast.  

Peculiar Pancake

  1. 4 eggs
  2. 1/2 cup flour
  3. 1/2 cup milk
  4. 4 T butter 
  5. Powdered sugar and/or lemon juice for serving

Heat oven to 400. Melt butter in a cast iron pan. Beat the other ingredients until well-blended and foamy (except sugar/lemon juice). Pour into buttery pan. Place in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, until huge, puffy and golden. Shake powdered sugar over and eat!

  

   

 
 It went fast!

As you can see from my daughter’s tray, we dyed some eggs before breakfast. I have a hankering to try natural dye methods sometime soon, but for this morning we went with the old faithful, Paas dye kits made with vinegar and water. I buy three basic kits, plus a set of color cups and use three dye tablets in each cup to make for vibrant colors 

    
 My kids don’t love eating eggs, but the oldest and youngest were inspired by the pretty colors to eat a hard boiled egg each. 

   

I call that a win! Fair warning this may not be the last egg-related post this week…

Smoky Beef Taco Salad

I recently adapted one of my favorite old Everyday Food recipes so I could make it in the slow cooker. Basically, put everything in the Smoky Beef Taco recipe in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours and you’re done! Check the beef for tenderness and shred-ability at 5 hours and you’ll know how much longer you have to go. I like tacos as much as the next person, but I also love taco salad on crisp shredded romaine with lots of chopped fresh vegetables and a flavorful sour-cream based dressing. After a taco dinner night, for lunch, I heat up some leftover beef and make myself a big plate of delicious. 

 Creamy Taco Salad Dressing

  1. 1/4 cup sour cream
  2. Juice of one lemon
  3. 1/2 tsp garlic salt(or one clove crushed garlic plus 1/2 tsp salt)
  4. 1 tsp dried cumin
  5. 1 tsp agave or honey 
  6. 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  7. 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Stir ingredients together until smooth. Taste to check flavor balance, adding additional lemon juice or agave if too sour or too sweet. Thin with lemon juice or cider vinegar if you like a more pourable dressing. I find the beef spices things up nicely, but if you like it really hot, add 1/4-1/2 tsp dried chipotle chile powder. Makes enough for two generously dressed main-course salads. 

 

Leprechaun Day

 We celebrate as often as possible. And while our heritage is mostly mutt, a good chunk of mine is Irish, so St Patrick’s Day is a personal favorite. The kids build traps to catch those tricky leprechauns, and get so close! 

   This year the children caught a shoe in one trap and a belt in the other.

   

 But they are good natured little fellows, who leave golden coins for the kids in the garden despite our attempts to trap them.     

I also attempt Irish brown bread or soda bread every year, and usually it is gross and no one wants to eat it(including me). This year’s recipe was a total winner, though!  I was going to bring a loaf to my son’s preschool, but my older daughters objected because they want it for breakfast tomorrow. I didn’t have wheat bran so I substituted rolled oats which worked just fine.

 Hope the leprechauns are good to you today!

  

Cocoa Nostalgique

   
 

I grew up in New York City, and my parents were very good to me. I have happy memories of very indulgent times I spent as a carefree young adult, and some of my favorite involved being at Payard, back when they had a beautiful cafe and bar. In the looooong summer(it stretched from June to January of the following year!) between graduating and getting a job, I went there almost daily to do “research” but mostly for a Croque Monsieur and pot of their insanely delicious hot chocolate. The waiters were all very distinguished and snooty. I knew I had become a regular when they maintained their snooty demeanor but just brought me “the usual” without being asked, sometimes with the addition of a complimentary macaron. I was waxing nostalgic to my dear friend Natalie about their cocoa being my version of Proust’s madeleine, and how I had heard they sold the mix now. Wouldn’t you know, not a week later a box of the mix arrived in the mail, with a lovely note from Natalie, who had surprised me with this special treat, just because. Of course I didn’t wait, but followed the directions on the box, using my beloved Breville induction milk heater and frother. I used to scoff at single use appliances, and when my husband bought this I may have sneered a little but I was SO wrong. I love this thing. I use it at least once a day and it is genius for hot chocolate. 
   

    
  Look at that! Gorgeous. And having a cup while the baby naps and the big kids are at school *almost* feels like being a carefree 20-something again.