MAKE DELICIOUS AND ECONOMICAL SLOW COOKER YOGURT

We’re a yogurt-loving family. We wake up to it topped with crunchy granola and fruit, or it’s whirled with other good stuff in the blender for energy-packed smoothies to go. It’s an easy-to-pack car travel snack, the basic ingredient in homemade popsicles and everyone around the dinner table enjoys rich, lemony-flavored yogurt over summer berries for dessert.

No wonder my ears perked up when a friend said she makes yogurt in her slow cooker. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why add yogurt-making to my already busy schedule when I can just pick it up at the store?” Then, when curiosity took over, I did some research to test it out. Much to my amazement, after a couple of easy steps in two timed intervals in the afternoon, I woke up the following morning to perfect, creamy, organic yogurt. Lots of it! Astounded, I ladled the more-than-we-could-use bounty into mason jars and shared the creamy deliciousness with my neighbors. Now they’re hooked.

Lesson learned: The next time around, I halved my original recipe and got a yield of 7 cups. Give it a try with your kids. It’s cost-effective, nutrient-rich and provides a memorable experience in kitchen science.

MAKE YOGURT IN A SLOW COOKER
Makes 7 cups
8 cups whole milk (I use organic)
Food thermometer for testing milk temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk, unflavored (plain) yogurt with live/active cultures for starter
Thick bath or beach towel
Storage containers with lids
1. Midafternoon, pour milk into your slow cooker and turn setting to low. Cover. Set a timer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. At 2 1/2 hours, use a kitchen thermometer to check that milk has reached 180-185 F.
3. Turn off, unplug, cover, and let the milk temp drop to around 115 F. Skim any milk film off the top of the milk with a spoon.
4. Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and combine with room temperature yogurt in a small bowl. Gently stir.
5. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir with a couple of strokes.
6. Cover and wrap the towel all around the slow cooker to help insulate. Culture 8-12 hours overnight.
7. In the morning, stir yogurt and ladle into storage containers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before eating. Save 1/2 cup to use as a starter for your next batch.
Cook’s note: For variety, make Greek-style yogurt. Spoon two cups of the slow cooker yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Let the liquid (whey) drip through for about 30 minutes. Makes 1 1/4 cups of yummy thick yogurt. Delicious!

RECOGNIZE PEOPLE AND PLACES WITH BOX PUZZLE PLAY

What’s on your summer calendar? Fourth of July celebrations, picnics at the park or a family reunion far from home? For your preschoolers, the friendly faces at these summertime gatherings of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends might seem puzzling at first. Who are all these people?

Here’s a playful way to prepare your child (and maybe even you!) for these special events before you go. Make fun and easy recycled cereal box puzzles featuring photos of the faces they will be seeing and places they’ll be visiting in coming weeks. Instead of asking, “Who’s that?” as Uncle Pete scoops ice cream at the reunion dessert bar, you might hear: “Hey, mommy — he’s the guy in my puzzle!”

Before you begin, scroll through your photo library and look for a group photo of people you’ll be seeing, and photos of homes or landmarks of places on your itinerary. You’ll be enlarging the images and cutting them into rectangular puzzle pieces to adapt to the size of the boxes.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for one puzzle set of two images (one on the front and one on the back of the boxes):
–9 small, empty rectangular single-portion cereal boxes
–2 photocopied photographs of extended family members, and/or a place where you will be traveling (about 8-inches by 12-inches)
–paint, or wide colored tape
–scissors
–household glue or spray craft glue
–Empty grapefruit or orange net bag for storage (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay one photo or piece of art face down on a table. Line the boxes side by side on the backside of the photocopy in three vertical rows. Draw around each box with a pencil, and then cut out the pieces.
2. Cover the printing on the sides of the food boxes with paint or colored packing tape, then glue the paper photo pieces on the front of each box.
3. Turn the boxes over, and add another photo following the same instructions.
4. To play, mix up the boxes and start puzzling them on one side, then the other. Say the names of the people or places as you go. Tell your child how they are related, and share a story or two about individual people.
When done, I like to keep these puzzle pieces in empty net bags. If you weave a string through the tops, you can hang them on a hook for easy storage between play.
Extra idea: For a mini puzzle, use a set of same-size boxes in smaller sizes, such as single-portion raisin boxes. Adjust the dimensions of the enlarged photos to fit accordingly.

RECYCLE A PLASTIC BOTTLE INTO A SHARK-THEMED PLANTER FOR SUCCULENTS


A few years ago, a friend inspired me to pot a succulent container garden. I discovered that trendy jade, aeonium and echeveria are the most forgiving, low-maintenance sun-loving plants I could ever grow on our deck in the summer and indoors during Minnesota’s winter chill. And they are easy to propagate. Break off an offshoot from a larger plant, stick it in the soil, and a new plant will root and grow.

No matter the season, why not encourage your young child to grow his own succulents and plant them in a container he is familiar with: a plastic soda or water bottle? It’s a fun craft project to upcycle a liter size into a planter, and decorate it to enhance bedroom or family room decor. If he’s fascinated with sea life, how about a shark?

Here’s the stuff you’ll need to make a fish-themed planter:
–1 empty liter size soda or water bottle with lid, label removed
–markers
–craft foam sheets in 3-4 colors
–non-toxic craft glue
–craft paint and brush (optional)
–fast-draining soil, like cactus potting mix
–pebbles
–3 small succulent plants

Here’s the fun:
Set the bottle on its side. Let your child measure and draw a 2-inch-by-6-inch rectangle lengthwise where the label was removed. An adult should cut out the rectangle. (Tip: use a pushpin to poke a few holes in the plastic on a line for ease in getting the cutting started.) The opening will be the top of the planter.
Use the craft foam to decorate the outside of the bottle to look like a shark. The spout with lid already looks like a fish mouth. Refer to a picture or photo of a shark in a book or online to sketch and cut out shapes resembling a shark’s mouth, eyes, gills, fins and tail. Glue cutouts to the bottle. Add details with craft paint, if you wish. Let dry.
Scoop a half-inch layer of pebbles into the bottle and about 1 1/2 inches of damp potting soil. Plant succulents, sprinkle more pebbles around them and display in a sunny spot.

Let your child care for the plants by giving them a drink of water when the soil is thoroughly dried out.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Skipping through winding trails, spotting leaping frogs along creek beds and counting deer as they pass by the front porch are a few of the adventures in store for 6-year-old Georgia and her older sister, Eliza, when they visit their grandparents’ home nestled deep in the Wisconsin woods. What a delight for city kids from St. Louis! Like a page out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic, “Little House in the Big Woods” (set in Wisconsin), many of the girls’ experiences mirror the lifestyle and pioneer spirit of the late 1800s.

For Georgia, walking on a dead-end road to the rhubarb patch in May to harvest giant leafy stalks and, together with grandmother Nancy, prepare rhubarb sauce to ladle over breakfast pancakes, and bake rhubarb custard pie for evening dessert is a delight.“Georgia is the baker and loves to cook,” says Nancy, a recently retired school administrator. “She washes and dices the stalks, cracks eggs and measures carefully. It’s fun!” she adds. “Cooking together is a way to share a common interest.”

Like the first robin, the greening grass and the budding trees, add “first rhubarb pie” to your family’s “signs of summer” list. Whether you harvest rhubarb from your garden, or find stalks in your grocery produce section, give Nancy’s winning rhubarb custard pie recipe a try with your kids while rhubarb is fresh and in season.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/3 cups sugar (add more according to taste)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 eggs
4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons firm butter
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
2. Let your child measure and stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg and dash of salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Beat eggs until smooth.
4. Stir dry mixture into beaten eggs. Add diced rhubarb. Stir.
5. Fill the crust evenly with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with firm butter. (Cover edge with 2-to-3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if you wish. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.)
Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Note: If you are new to fresh rhubarb, be aware that the large leaves are poisonous.

PAINT AND CRAFT A BIRD FEEDER FROM RECYCLED MILK JUG

Swish! Swish! Swish! The chubby brush goes in all directions on a big sheet of easel paper. “Jameson loves to paint,” says  my niece, 34-year-old mom and athletic trainer Natalie Whitfield. I want to encourage his love for art, so it was time to find something to paint on that isn’t just paper (or potentially our house),” she says with an “I know where this joy of painting could lead” kind of expression.
“How about making and painting a bird feeder?” she thought — and do it the recycling way with plastic milk jug. She and her 3-year-old made a plan for their first big craft project, and went to a store to choose paint and shiny stickers. Supplies for the “roof” became a second outing — a nature-walk adventure to collect twigs. Just the right ones.
The project was a success. “He had a great time painting and decorating, so we decided to make two more for Mother’s Day gifts for his grandmothers,” she said.
Are you looking for simple outdoor projects to enjoy with your kids this summer? A feeder for fine feathered friends is a good starter craft, and together with your child’s creative flourishes, it makes a unique Father’s Day gift, too. (Or, assemble all the supplies to make the feeder, put them in a box and wrap it up with a bow for a gift Dad or Grandfather can enjoy making together with your child.)
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–1 clean, gallon recycled plastic juice or milk jug with label removed and cap on
— standard coffee mug for a pattern
–scissors
–thick wire or heavy twine for hanging
–nontoxic acrylic paint and paintbrush
–waterproof adhesive decorations (optional)
–3-inch sticks
–glue or outdoor Mod Podge
–birdseed
Here’s the fun:
1. Place the mug upside down in the middle of one side of the jug about 1 1/2 inches from the base. Trace the semicircle shape. An adult should cut out the shape with scissors. Repeat on opposite, or all sides.
2. For hanging, an adult should poke two holes opposite each other on the top near the cap. Loop wire or twine through holes.
3. Paint and let dry.
4. Decorate with stickers and glue on sticks for a “roof.” Let dry.
5. If you wish, add perches by poking holes under the “windows” and inserting sticks.
6. Scoop birdseed inside. Hang from a tree or bird feeder stand. As birds come, identify them, take pictures and talk about your sightings.
                                                                

LEMON COOKIE CUPS FOR A TASTY DESSERT

 

              

Dessert is extra-special for kids when it comes in an edible container.

Here’s a cute little lemony crisp cookie cup, ideal for filling with pudding, fresh fruit or ice cream. Top the filling with candles if there is a birthday party in the house.

You also might want to make a batch for a brunch dessert to mimic mini baskets. They’ll be perfect … and memorable with a scoop of icy sorbet nestled in toasted shredded coconut “grass.”

Kids can be involved from the start with this thin cookie recipe that is easy to combine, using just flour, powdered sugar, eggs and lemons. No need for a mixer. So, grab a big spoon, whisk, grater and mixing bowls to get started.

LEMON COOKIE CUPS

Makes 20 cookie cups

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 or 3 whole washed lemons for shaping cookie cups

Position rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

  1. Let your child measure and sift flour and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  2. Use a whisk to lightly beat egg whites in one small bowl. In another bowl, lightly beat yolks.
  3. Add egg whites, yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla to the flour and sugar mixture. Mix well until smooth with a large spoon. Let set 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, let your child draw five 5-inch circles on the back of the parchment paper with a pencil, using a saucer as a guide. Turn paper over, with circles showing through. Repeat for second cookie sheet.
  5. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter in the middle of each of the circles. An adult should carefully spread the batter to fill the shape. It will be very thin. (I use an angled icing spatula.)
  6. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until edges brown. Remove cookies quickly, and with the assistance of your child, form cupped shapes with the bottom sides of the cookies up, using the lemons as molds. Hold them for a few seconds until the shape is set, then place on a cooling rack. (Use a clean towel between your hands and the hot cookie to form the fluted shape, if you wish.)
  7. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serve as individual desserts filled with fruit, pudding, flavored yogurt, ice cream or sorbet.

 

EASY PICKLED JALAPEÑO PEPPERS



Imagine taking a hungry bite into a warm grilled-cheese sandwich. Yum — good comfort food, right? Now imagine eating that same sandwich, but this time there are crispy pickled jalapeño pepper rounds tucked inside. Now that’s a crunchy bite, and a tasty transformation.

Peter Piper, who picked a peck of pickled peppers from Mother Goose fame, knew what he was picking. My family likes to add these kicky pepper rounds to just about anything, whether they top nachos, fish or beef tacos, enchiladas and tortillas, or they’re tucked in a bun with a brat when we gather with friends for a picnic at the baseball park.

With Cinco de Mayo celebrations coming up soon around the country on the 5th of May, instead of spooning a jar of commercially processed, store-bought jalapeño sliced peppers into or on top of your dishes, make these fresh and yummy pickled jalapeño peppers in minutes in your kitchen with your preteen. Discover the big difference in texture and flavor. Toss the easy-to-prep and peppy-to-eat crunch on your favorite South of the Border recipe and say, “Ole!”

EASY PICKLED JALAPEñO PEPPERS
Makes about 2 pints
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
4 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste (adding more sugar turns down the heat)
2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
1 tablespoon salt
7 fresh jalapeño peppers (from the produce area of your market), thinly sliced
2 fresh red or yellow mini sweet peppers, thinly sliced
2 pint-size glass jars
Stir together the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a boil.
Add sliced jalapeño and sweet peppers, stir, turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
Remove peppers with a slotted spoon to jars, then fill to the top with remaining liquid. Cool.
Keep refrigerated and serve with favorite dishes for up to one month.
Cook’s note: The oils in fresh jalapeño peppers can irritate skin and be painful if you touch your eyes. You may wish to wear deli or rubber gloves when slicing the peppers. Wash your hands well with soap and water afterward.

MAKE A PICTURE-PERFECT STORYBOOK FOR A PRESCHOOLER

 

               

Many parents of toddlers and preschoolers wonder, “How can I teach my child to read?” I like to shift the question a bit to: “How can I help prepare my young child to read?” While decoding, recognizing and translating symbols is an essential part to reading, developing comprehension skills is key to understanding what words really mean. Good readers don’t just name and pronounce words, they grasp the meaning and nuances behind them.

Talking, singing, rhyming and sharing stories with babies and toddlers throughout the day builds a background for reading comprehension. As the child grows, daily reading from picture books provides pleasurable learning moments, too.

And when the book is all about the child and chock full of photos with printed descriptions of their everyday activities, the marks on paper come to life.

When family friend Frida Mork turned 3, her Uncle John expanded her library with “THE FRIDA BOOK.” A real page-turner, the personalized homemade publication was created with photos of Frida doing everyday things. Accompanying the photos are questions with clues in the photos designed to:

–stimulate memories: “What are you making in the kitchen with Mommy? Cupcakes!”

–build vocabulary: “Who’s that grilling tasty bratwurst?”

–develop learning skills: “Count to three” with One, Two, Three photos of Frida.

Now as Frida approaches her 4th birthday, the book is still happily clutched in her hands and “read” over and over again. (Thanks to sheets of clear contact paper covering pages, peanut butter and other sticky stuff are easily removed with a damp cloth.)

Here’s how to make a personalized “My First Book.”

You’ll need:

–eight 9-by-12-inch sheets of heavy colored construction paper

–photos of the child with people, places and pets

–stickers

–scissors

–glue

–markers

–clear adhesive-backed paper, cut in eight 9-by-12-inch pieces

–paper punch

–2 loose-leaf book rings or ribbon

Here’s the fun:

Fold each of the eight sheets of construction paper in half widthwise. Stack them one on top of the other with their folds lined up on the right side. The front of the top folded sheet will be the book’s cover. The back of the bottom sheet will be the back of the book.

Glue a photo of the child on the cover, and add a title. Attach additional photos and write text with markers on the remaining 14 pages. Add stickers, if you wish.

Protect the pages by folding a sheet of adhesive-backed paper around the folded right edge of each sheet of construction paper.

Bind the book by punching two equidistant holes along the left side of the pages and attach with the metal rings. (Add additional pages of new experiences as the child grows.)

“A TASTE OF HOME” GRADUATION GIFT

  

               

Pre-addressed, stamped postcards sent by college students from around the country find their way back to Nancy Cripe’s kitchen in Minnesota throughout the school year. Even an old and tattered postcard recently arrived from a UCLA graduate student with the three-word message, “Is this expired?”

“Cookie cards never expire,” replied the high-school biology and human anatomy and physiology teacher at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.

Nancy’s “cookie cards” have become her unique high-school graduation gift-giving tradition.

At the end of each academic year, she receives numerous invitations to her science students’ graduation open-house parties. A few years ago, she decided to change up how she honored their achievement, by giving something personal that is a little taste from home when they feel far away — in the form of home-baked chocolate chip cookies.Like a monetary gift card with dollar amounts for purchases at stores and restaurants, her cookie postcard can be redeemed for one dozen home-baked cookies. “Not surprisingly, that’s usually during their final exam week,” she says.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving. “Hearing back from students when they send me the postcard is a personal way to stay in touch, and baking for them gives me a chance to think about them individually, and what they are experiencing and working toward.”

This personalized gift idea can work for a graduating grandchild, friend, niece or nephew, too. You even might wish to give several cookie-card postcards to be redeemed quarterly or monthly.

Here’s how she does it:

She designs the postcards with images and words of blessing and inspiration printed on one side. On the left half of the reverse side, she prints this message in the high school’s colors:

“Congratulations on your Graduation! When you’re away at college and need some extra inspiration to help you study (especially science!), just send me this postcard and homemade cookies will soon be on their way to you!”

Below the message are four lines where the student writes his or her college address, along with a space for jotting a note to her. On the right half, she prints her home address and adds a postage stamp.

The postcard is tucked inside a graduation card.

When she receives the postcard, she bakes the cookies (she has a large quantity of cookie dough shaped into balls and frozen to bake a dozen on a moment’s notice) and packs them carefully in a plastic bag wrapped with bubble wrap to fit the smallest U.S. mail flat rate box. She includes a handwritten greeting, and sends it off.

PLANT A MOBILE MINI-GARDEN IN A WAGON

My 4-year-old friend Grace Hunt waters herbs, lettuce and kale growing in a movable wagon garden.

Beautiful things can emerge when you dig right in. A natural, glorious garden that just happens to be edible is a great place to start.

So find an old wagon at a garage sale, or use one that your kids have outgrown, let the soil run through your fingers, and plant a garden on wheels together.
This is an easy project for the beginning gardeners in your family, and the results are so rewarding. Children can plant, water, weed and tend their own plants without becoming overwhelmed by a big garden plot. And since the garden on wheels is portable, they can move it around the yard or deck for maximum sun exposure throughout the day.
Here’s the stuff you need:
–an old wagon, wheelbarrow or wagonlike toy on wheels
–drill and 1/4-inch drill bit
–wire mesh screen, such as window screen (optional)
–potting soil mix
–potted edible plants, such as herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, thyme, etc.), lettuce and kale
–kid-size gardening tools
–watering can
–Tinker Toys and waterproof pens for plant markers (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. An adult should drill several drainage holes in the bottom of the wagon or wheelbarrow about 6 inches apart. You may wish to lay mesh screen over the bottom to keep soil from falling through the holes. Fill with potting soil mix. Leave at least 3/4 inch to the wagon edge.
2. Plant potted plants, keeping in mind their eventual size: Put taller plants in the middle, small plants along the sides. You also could plant a few lettuce seeds placed in the soil in the shape of the letter of your child’s first name. Or, choose a colorful edible flower or two.
3. Water with a watering can or slow-running hose. It’s a good idea to give it six hours of direct sun each day. Add plant food throughout the growing season, and you’ll have the loveliest garden on wheels ever.
4. If your child wishes to make small identification markers for planted seeds and plants, simply attach a Tinker Toy wheel to a stick, and draw a picture with a marker on the wheels. Poke into the dirt by the seedlings or plants.
Most importantly, enjoy your bountiful wagon harvest as summer and the wagon roll along!