Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making it at Home: Yogurt

I have never really enjoyed yogurt all that much but I have found recently that I can tolerate Greek yogurt and my littlest one likes yogurt quite a bit and with it packing in the protein I like to give it to her. I do find it to be very expensive though and had been thinking about making it at home to save money.

I was browsing the internet and came upon a few recipes for yogurt that did not seem all that complicated but they required a large cooler full of 130 degree water plus a lot of other temperature taking during the process and lets just say I am usually to distracted during my day to do a good job of keeping track of this. 

I was about to go for it anyway when I ran into this website called A Year of Slow Cooking that happened to have a recipe for making yogurt in the crock pot with not really any attention needed except for adding the ingredients, turning off the crock pot after a while and covering it in towels.

Well I changed the recipe a little bit after the first time of using it to add a little more fat (for my little one who is way way low on the growth chart) and to make it thicker by straining the yogurt making it into Greek yogurt.

Here is what I came up with which is mostly credited to A Year of Slow Cooking you should check them out.

What to Gather

8 cups of whole milk (half a gallon)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (optional for higher calorie content, slightly thicker yogurt)

1/2 cup of store bought yogurt (you only need this the first time after that just save 1/2 cup from your batch)

Crock pot

Thick bath towel

Cheese Cloth



Fruit/Honey/Maple syrup/cinnamon for serving

Set your crock pot on low heat. Add the milk and whipping cream. Let it heat, covered, for 2.5 hours. Turn the crock pot off (unplug) and let it sit for 3 hours. (I have found that letting the yogurt sit on the counter for the last 15 minutes of this helps it not cool everything down too much. In a bowl add the 1/2 cup of yogurt and whisk with 2 cups of the heated milk. Whisk back into the milk in the crock pot. Cover it back up. Cover the whole crock pot with heavy towels to help keep the heat in. Let it sit for 8 hours or overnight, the longer you let it sit the stronger it tastes. 

(This next step is optional and just makes it thicker more like Greek yogurt, higher protein ratio.)

At this point line a colander with cheese cloth that has been folded so that there are about 4 layers of the cloth. Place the colander over a large bowl or the sink. Pour the yogurt into the cheese cloth. You will see that it is draining a liquid. The longer you let it drain the thicker the yogurt will be. It is helpful to stir it sometimes so that the liquid can get to the bottom. I usually lose patience after 20 minutes but if you are going to do it longer place it in the fridge while it is draining. 

Refrigerate for 7 to 10 days save 1/2 a cup to make your new batch. 

Once it is drained you can put it into containers and refrigerate and it is ready to eat. When we eat it we like to warm up some frozen berries, add in a little honey or maple syrup and maybe a tad bit of cinnamon. Or check out the smoothie recipe from a while back that is great too!

I really like that we control the amount of fruit and sugar content. I hate going to the store and looking at the yogurt they have and seeing that it has corn syrup or sugar and the sugar content is nearly as much as a soda (are you kidding me?) no wonder I always have thought they were sickeningly sweet. We had only been getting plain yogurt but the Greek Yogurt can cost more than a dollar for only 5 oz.

On the other hand this yogurt only costs about $3 for the whole batch. On A Year of Slow Cooking she figured out that it costs more or less 1/10 the amount to make it at home. That was for YoBaby, I think Greek yogurt is even more expensive so think of the savings!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Itching for Spring-UPDATE

About a week ago I wrote about my kids doing an indoor planting project to help spring come a little faster at our house. You can read the whole thing here. Well I just wanted to pass on a little update on how those little seeds are coming along.

I have to say that I still get so much joy and excitement from seeing seeds/bulbs starting to sprout! Oh the little joys in life right? They are getting taller now and we are going to need to thin them out (as you can tell there are a lot of them, that is what happens when little hands are allowed to plant seeds).

 I have also noticed that many trees around here are starting to get little flower buds, my lilac is starting to get leaves at an amazingly fast pace, and Territorial Seed Company says it is almost time to plant peas! Now I really need to get on deer proofing my raised beds stat! 

I was also given an amazon gift card last year and was supposed to get this little green house thing: 

Has any one used this? If I end up getting it I will let you know how it is. I think this would make starting plants inside much more feasible.

What are you doing to prepare for spring?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Music Friday: Bond, No Not James Bond

While listening to my classical station during our lunch time this week I noticed that I suddenly felt an urge to get up and dance. While I enjoy classical music I do have to say that I am usually calmed by it, many times so much so that I have a difficult time staying awake so feeling the urge to dance made me take notice.

I also noticed that this classical music was far from what we usually think of as classical music. The music was very upbeat, had a dance beat, and electric sound. I am not a stranger to electric violin, viola, cello, or bass however, I had not been expecting to hear electric on this particular station.

I ran over and wrote the song and band name down because I thought, hey perfect for Friday music! Without further delay the band is Bond and the song was Allegretto on the album Shine. You can buy it by clicking on the link below:  

This music is so much fun, perfect for listening to classical when you are not in the mood for calm. Still great for kids and probably will be even better for teens because they will find it really fun too I would bet. It is great to see classical getting a modern makeover even though I do still enjoy the classic version of classical. I think that by giving it this kind of twist younger people are more likely to engage in it and be really interested. 

Take a listen below to clips from the whole album.

I guess that they are fairly well known but I had never heard of them before. Have you heard of them? What is your favorite classical song or musician? 

Happy listening.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Itching for Spring

I have been noticing that some of my trees are just starting to get the very first signs of leaves. This makes me want spring even more than I already was. I can't wait to try my garden again this year (last year was a failure, I just did not have time so the deer got everything I did plant).

Since it is not really time to plant things outside yet I decided to have the kids plant some little fast growing things inside that don't get too huge. I highly recommend doing this with kids. It is so fun for them to see the plants come up and change. They also learn the responsibility of helping the plant to live by keeping it watered. I love to teach them about how the seeds need water, warmth, and sun to grow. They enjoy learning about the roots, stem, and leaves as the plant comes up (can we say science).

All you really need for this project is a container, some dirt, seeds, and water.

We only had seeds left from last year when we decided to do this so we were not sure if they would come up. We decided to use basil because it is supposed to  be easy to grow and arugula because it has been easy in the past. Later as it gets closer to the time that we can plant outside we will probably do many other things.

We cut the top off of a milk carton, filled it with dirt, and each of the kids put in a few seeds. As might be predicted my little girl started mixing the dirt around so we are not sure which seeds are where anymore. Next we added water and covered the whole things in plastic wrap to act as a little green house.

Done. Now we just need to remember to water and wait for the plants to grow!

A few notes about indoor planting. I have found that beans and peas, squash, and melon do not make good indoor plants or seedlings unless you have somewhere to plant them almost immediately outside or have a really big pot and lots of room for them to spread out. They grow really quickly and need to be transplanted fast. I have also heard that squash and melon do not like being transplanted.

Herbs that you use in the kitchen can make really good indoor gardens all year round and are great for kiddos you just need to make sure to get them enough light, water, and feed them (an adult job please).

This kind of project is great because it provides a sensory experience, helps to use motor skills, responsibility (taking care of the plant), science education, and connects you back to your food.

What kind gardening do you do at this time of year?

I found a great online garden planning tool two years ago that is for a vegetable garden. You get to plan where to plant things and what to plant. It tells you how many to plant in a square foot along with many other instructions. You can buy the seeds on the site too. It is free to design your garden. I think the thing I like most about it is the ability to start planning ahead.

Happy planting!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Music Friday: Hap Palmer

When we go to the library they always have shakers and bells and do songs where there are a lot of pauses in the music. During that time you are supposed to stop moving and shaking your instruments and then start again when the music starts. 

I don't know why but I love this. My kids enjoy it too so I decided to try and find the song they have at the library. It didn't work out too well. That's okay though because I found some other songs that are just as great! The cd is Rhythms on Parade by Hap Palmer.
I buy my songs on iTunes since I have an iPod Touch that I can play them on so I actually only purchased one of the songs off of this album at first but then decided to go back and purchase more of them. These songs are perfect dancing songs. They are a little bit country and a little swing. There is a fun one on the cd that talks about different sounds in our world. You could easily point these sounds out later and make observations about other sounds you hear around you. 

These songs help with learning about opposites (talk with your kids about starting and stopping and how these are opposites), rhythm, music, and if you are dancing with them and playing instruments like bells it can help with large motor development. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Muffin

Growing up my Mom and I would always make a special treat on Valentine's Day, French Breakfast Puffs. These muffins are rolled in butter and cinnamon sugar. The original recipe is amazingly delicious but I wanted to try and revamp it into something that I could feel a little better about feeding my little ones who need lots of protein, fiber, and nutrients. 

I went about recreating this recipe to include these things and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the results. Next time I will have to try a few other things that I did not get around to in my spur of the moment experimenting today. 

For now I will give you the recipe and other ideas I have for adding nutrition. I think for fun I am going to start out by giving you the original recipe which is from a cookbook that my Grandma put together years and years ago.

French Breakfast Puffs Original Recipe:      

1/3 c shortening (we always use butter)         
1/2 c sugar                                                      
1 egg                                                               
1 1/2 c flour                                                    
1 1/2 tsp baking powder                                 
1/2 tsp salt                                                       
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c milk

After Baking: 
6 tbsp melted butter
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

(see mixing/baking directions below)

In my experimenting I wanted to use what I had on hand since I decided spur of the moment to do this. I decided to add replace some of the flour for flax seed and coconut flour which both have additional fiber, protein, and healthy fats essential for brain health.
French Breakfast Puffs New Recipe:

1/3 c butter 
1/2 c sugar (this could possibly done with agave, honey,  maple syrup, applesauce)
1 egg
a little less than 1/2 c ground flax seed
a little less than 1/2 c coconut flour
a little more than 1/2 c whole wheat flour (you want a total of 
1 1/2 c when you combine the flax, coconut, and whole wheat)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 c milk

After Baking:
6 tbsp melted butter
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon


        Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups. Mix the first three ingredients (melted butter works best for mixing). Sift the next five ingredients. Alternate adding the milk and dry ingredients to the egg/sugar/butter mix. Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes. Melt the butter in a bowl that one muffin would easily roll in (from the after baking ingredients). Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl large enough to roll a muffin in. After taking the muffins out of the oven roll take them out of the pan and immediately roll in the butter and then the sugar mixture. Eat them up! 

One hint: Try and always use fresh baking powder it is amazing what a difference this makes in getting them to fluff up!

Things to try: 

-Add in pureed sweet squash, sweet potato, or apple sauce to sweeten instead of sugar. 

-Add in almond flour for part of the flour. 

-Use coconut flour to replace all of the flour, reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup and add in an additional 4 eggs.

-You could dye these red for Valentine's Day but I don't really like using food coloring if I don't have to...maybe beet juice:)

I have to say that I was surprised at how amazing my new version turned out. They were delicious and my kids sure did not know that there was anything different about the ones we made and the original version.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Music Saves The Day! Or at Least the Afternoon

Today when we were having a bad moment I turned on the music and I started dancing. Yep that's right, me. I started singing, clapping my hands, and spinning my little girl. She was smiling in no time, my son was quickly joining in and wanted me to dance with him and soon they were lining up to take turns dancing with me while we all sang with the music. The point of this is that I realized that music has some magical powers to it and because it is so important to our life I wanted to share that with you. 

Music in my family has always been important. My Father was the lead singer and guitarist in the band Wooden Music from before I was born until I was in college and my Mom played flute in the same group for many years. I got the chance to sing with my Dad in the band from time to time and played clarinet through high school, even getting the chance to go compete with the high school band in Hawaii in an international contest (which we won, yay). 

These musical roots have made music such an important part of my life and I really hope to give my children a piece of that. I wish that I were as musically talented as my parents and could be playing music around my children all the time but instead I get to try and instill the love of music to them through listening, singing,  and my favorite part, dancing to it. 

Music is such a wonderful thing to have around children. It can help with learning vocabulary, emotions, motor skills (dancing or playing music), learning about similarities and differences, pitch and rhythm, and many reports have suggested that there is an academic boost in many different areas to children who are actively involved in music.  

There are so many great things about music. Here are some ideas for adding music to your day. But first some fun photos of my son dancing :)

Okay adding music to your day...

-Wake up to music. In our family we play background music in the morning. Usually this is something that is quietly playing in the background while I make breakfast and is somewhat calm. 

-Have a daily music time with musical instruments like tambourines, shakers, and recorders. Don't forget dancing! 

-Sing songs frequently. Some we like are:
        *Teeth-brushing song
        *We're on our Way to Grandpa's Farm, a song done by Raffi
        (when we are going somewhere, we change the words to match
        what we are doing)
         *clean up song
         *good night song
         *1 Little 2 Little (with many variations)
         *and we love to make up extremely goofy rhyming songs. 

The  point being we add songs in whenever we can to our day. 

-We add quite music at lunch time/rest time. Usually quietly playing in the background something calming. 

-Adding songs that are useful and help with learning task specific behaviors is a nice way to give your child a behavior que. Examples: This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands, this is the way we wash our hands, after we use the restroom. Another one is: Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up clean up everybody do your share. 

-When someone is having a bad moment you can use calm music or fun/funny music to try and help them calm down or change direction emotionally. 

Music is so important to us that I would like to share it with you every Friday, or at least that is my plan. I am going to share with you a song or artist that our family enjoys listening and dancing to. I will probably share "adult" music as well as children's from time to time. So I hope that you will check back to see what new tunes our family likes AND please tell me your favorites too! I plan to file them all on a page titled Music To Dance To.

If I could share Wooden Music with you that is what I would do but since I can't (no mp3s of them) I will share my daughter's favorite song right now which is We Are the Dinosaurs by Laurie Berkner. 

This is a fun song that we first heard at library story time. We like to march along to the tune and "eat" using the sign language sign for eat. Then we "sleep" in our nest using the sign for sleep. Of course don't forget the roar at the end. I have to warn you this one gets stuck in my head. 
I would love to hear about how you use music in your day and what some of your favorite children's musicians are. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Toddlers Want to Play Games Too!

Over the past few months we have been playing a whole lot of games. Mostly between my five year old and one or both of the parents. Recently my two year old has really tried to get involved in the games. She is actually okay at sitting with us and waiting for her turn. Usually I have her work with me so that if she gets bored because the game is taking a while my son can still finish the game with me.

She loves rolling the dice, spinning the spinner, or flipping over a card to see what move she is going to make. She is not so good at moving the piece to the correct spot. All as it should be. However, this also frustrates my son to no end and it makes it difficult to play a game when all of the pieces get swept off the board several times during the course of a game.

I had been thinking for a while that it really is a shame that games don't usually cover the age of 2 because both of my kids really wanted to play them starting at about 2. Also games have so many benefits to them and are fun for adults too.

I finally found one that I really, really like that is for ages 2 and up! I am so excited! My daughter also was so excited to get this gift from us for the holidays. We have been playing it ever since and let me tell you it is perfect. Haba has come out with a series of games called My First Games which all look great. I bought My First Orchard for my daughter.


This is such a great game. It uses many of the same skills that a normal board game would, like a dice and moving pieces, but it makes them easy for a toddler to understand. This game has four "trees" that each get a set of four fruits, each fruit having its own color (red, yellow, green, blue). There are five pathway tiles,  a bird (who is trying to get to the orchard to eat the fruit), and a basket that the players are trying to fill together.

You fill the basket by rolling the dice and playing according to the roll. If you get a color or a basket you put a fruit into the basket. If you get a bird you have to move the bird forward on the path closer to the orchard. Together the players fill the basket up and if they get all the fruit off the tree before the bird gets to the orchard everyone wins.

Why my kids love it:

The bright colors, large pieces, and just the fact that they get to play a game with all of us with out pieces being thrown all over. Although I will admit that part is not fool proof.

Why I love it:

My two year old can play a game from start to finish with us and really start to get what playing by the rules is all about. There are nice bright colors that make teaching about colors simple and a dice that allows you to work on matching of colors. The large pieces are so cute, little fruit shaped like red and green apples, yellow pears, and blue plums, cute.

This game did a great job of playing to the developmental tasks of a two year old such as learning about colors, same and different, working together, and the motor skills of moving a piece which is made easier by having the larger pieces and fewer spots to move the bird to.  This game does not take all that long to play which is great for this age group. Even my five year old enjoys playing it with us although he would prefer another game. I would definitely recommend this game to a friend and hopefully will have a chance to check out some of the other My First Games sometime soon.

Have you tried any games made specifically for 2 and up? Do you think it is worth the investment or would you rather wait until they get older? 

By the way if you are interested in getting this game I added in a link so that you can find it easily. Also I recently added in a bookshelf of some of the books that I have enjoyed with my kids or for myself. I hope you have time to look around and see some of the changes I have made to the site as I have gotten to know more about blogging!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hand and Foot Print Valentine's

As Valentine's Day is coming soon I thought that I would share with you a Valentine that I enjoy having my kids do. I first did this project with my son when he was only 3 months old just using his feet. I have not gotten around to doing it since, which is a shame because it would have been nice to have a Valentine from each year showing the change in his foot size. Oh well, I guess we will just get to see a huge jump in size! This is a very easy project but is a bit messy and you have to be able to leave time for paint to dry before moving on to the next step. 

This year I decided to try doing hand prints also, partly because I think that by next year my son's feet will be too big to fit on a card (we might be stretching it a bit this year too). 

Supplies you need are: paper of any color that you like, paint in any color that you like, scissors, and glue. 

We used white paper with red paint for making the prints and purple paper for the background paper, or actual card. Choose what you like, you could even make things more layered using doilies or mulitple colors of paint. We went really simple this year. 


1. Lay out lots of newspaper and get the paint and paper ready for dipping hands and feet. 

2. We started with our hands, dipping one in the paint and then holding the fingers together put in on the paper at an angle fingers out toward the corner of the paper on the same side as the hand you are using. 

3. Next dip the opposite hand and place it on the paper with the heel of the palm overlapping the heel of the palm from the first print, making sure to angle it so that the fingers point slightly away from the first hand print so that put together the two hand prints look something like a heart. (A photo is work a thousand words, check it out below).
4. Repeat on as many peices of paper as you would like and do the same process with the feet. The only difference being that you may want to do one foot on many pieces of paper before moving on to the next foot so that you can wash the first foot off instead of having both feet all messy. 

5. Let them dry completely and then cut around the paint to better define the heart shape. 

6. Glue them to your card (our card was purple construction paper folded in half). Decorate with cut out hearts or stickers. The first year that I did this I added a photo of my son to the middle of the heart which was really cute, I have not gotten that far this year because my printer is giving me problems :( 

You can add as many embellishments as you like. Older kids can do the cutting out by themselves and my daughter was able to participate in cutting them out with assistance from me. In fact learning how to cut things out is a really good thing to start working on with two year olds.

I hope that you and your kids have fun with this. I am guessing that there are some really crafty people that could make this cards look like a million bucks but I think that the simple version works also. Let me know if you try this and how it works out for you.

If you are looking for some fun Valentine's day themed books you may want to check the Cam Jansen series out (by David A. Adler). 

These bug pop up books are a lot of fun to read too. 

Todd Parr has some great books about feelings and feeling good about who you are and The I LOVE YOU Book is a great one to share with your kids around this time of year (and everyday).

What are your favorite Valentine's Day books to share with your kids? I love adding new books to my children's library so let me know if you have a few that you just love.