20 July, 2011

Indoor Fun This Summer

Summertime for some means boredom, trying to escape the heat (in my case of 117ºF+ each day), and pulling your hair out trying to entertain the kids!  Some don't have the money to keep a summer long schedule going of travel, camps, and amusement parks.  So, what can you do at home if you're trying to save a buck and still have fun?  Lots!  Get creative and you can keep your kids entertained.

1.  Movie Day/Nights!  We've done lots of these so far and the kids love it!  We pull out the sleeping bags and create a camp out in our living room!  Bring out the popcorn and their favorite movie, and I have three kids in heaven!  For some reason, popcorn seems to be a huge treat in our home.

2.  Cooking!  I mentioned this in a previous post on bringing the classroom home with cooking, but you can do it for pure fun too!  Haha!  Make cookies, let them go wild with frosting and topping decorating.  Bake a cake.  Choose some fun pasta shapes and make pasta and sauce for dinner.  Pretty much anything you want to make can be fun for kids...they like the mess...and being with you!

3.  Art!  Ok, so I admit, I'm a bit of a scrooge when it comes to art projects in my own home.  I grimace at the thought of glitter, glue and paint.  And don't get me started on playdough.  However, I need to get over it because those are the most fun things when it comes to art!  Dive into some art projects with your kids...ongoing like a scrapbook, or a one day project like food stamp art!

4.  Make forts!  Another activity we've been doing more of.  I get a kick out of trying to make really cool forts with my kids.  I remember making the most amazing ones when I was little (well, in my head they were pretty cool), and now I see how excited they get too! So much creativity seems to spill out of them once they decide what their fort really is and what each of their roles are.

5.  Plan a party!  Help your kids create a guest list, invitations, games and snacks, and invite some friends over for a summer party!  It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want! 

6.  Sew!  My mom was super crafty...always sewing up a storm.  We made dolls, costumes, quilts...and it was always so much fun!  She let me pick out my fabrics at the store and away we went.  I remember how fun it was just sitting with her and bringing a project in my head to life.  If you know how to sew, or another skill like carpentering, teach your kids!  Let them create something special!

7.  Pretend School...or so they think!  Grab some school materials like a little white board or chalk board, some $1 learning books at the Dollar Store, some crayons, paper, and whatever else they want to be teachers.  Have them play school with you or their siblings, teaching what they know!  This helps to reinforce what they've learned over the summer, but they think their just having fun (and being the boss of the class!).

8.  Clean out the bedrooms!  Ok, so not exactly high on the "FUN" scale, but it could be!  You could simply tell them they have to do it, or make it for a cause!  Tell them their are donating to other kids who don't have much, if anything.  Make it a fun experience for them, putting them in charge of what they'll keep and what they'll share with someone else.

9.  Travel the World!  With your kids, choose a few places around the World you'd love to visit.  Research a little bit...find out the dress, the food, the arts & crafts of each place.  Then plan some theme nights!  Try making some of the local dishes to eat, or making some clothes, or even doing a favorite craft of the local children. 

10.  Get Active!  In my case, our options are swimming out in the heat, or escaping the heat in the mall.  While I hate to admit it, I have recently let my children start playing the XBOX Connect.  At the end of a session, my kids are sweating!  They have increased their heart rates, used their full bodies to engage with the games, and it's EASY enough for them!  So, I feel ok about it as a form of exercise for inside bound children when used within reason.

There you have it!  This mama's survival guide for coping with living indoors for the summer, whether you have to or not.  What tips do you have to share with others for keeping your kids entertained all summer...indoors!

14 July, 2011

Mmmmm, Umm Ali!

Another recipe found everywhere here...and slightly reminiscent of bread pudding back home!  This one is a wonderfully delicious and sweet desert, combining the most rich flavors and surrounded by warmth.  Surely to become a comfort food for you and your kids. 

It's called...Umm Ali, meaning Ali's Mother.  The story of Umm Ali is as follows:

**Umm 'Ali is said to have been invented during the reign of the Ottoman Turks. One day while hunting in the Nile delta, the sultan developed a ravenous appetite and stopped in a small village. The peasants wished to please the sultan, so the best cook of the village, Umm 'Ali , pulled out a special pan and filled it with the only ingredients she had around: some dried wheat flakes (perhaps stale broken pieces of gullash, a phyllo-like pastry), sultanas, nuts, and coconut. She covered it with sugar and milk and put it into the village's oven. It was so good that the sultan asked for Umm 'Ali 's dessert the next time he visited.**

You'll find Umm Ali made either firm or sloppy style...basically more baked and set, or still swimming in the delightful sweet creamy milk.  Basically, bake it the full 15 minutes or stop when it's the consistency you'd like.


 Recipe for Umm Ali

17 oz. phyllo/puff pastry frozen (However, baked croissants broken up is actually widely seen!)
3 C. milk (not low-fat)
1 C. sugar
1 C. whipping cream
2 TBS. unsalted butter 
1/2 C. chopped pistachios
1/2 C. sliced almonds
1/2 - 3/4 C. coconut flakes (to taste)
1/4 - 1/2 C. sultana raisins (golden)
2 tsp. orange flower water (if you can find it) OR 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 450º F.
2.  Unroll puff pastry sheets and place on greased baking sheets.  Bake until dry and crisp, but not brown...approximately 45 seconds each. When finished with puff pastry, turn oven down to 350ºF. 
**skip steps 1 & 2 if using already baked croissants**
3.  Break puff pastry into 1-2in. pieces.  Add the nuts and coconut and mix well.  Reserving 2T. of raisins, mix the rest of the almonds in as well.  Place in a 9x12 baking dish.
4.  Combine milk, sugar and butter in a saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and butter melts.  Remove from heat and mix in cream and orange flower water or vanilla.  Pour mixture over phyllo mixture.
5.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and reserved raisins.
6.  Bake until pudding puffs and sets, about 15-20min., or to desired consistency...set or sloppy!

So, there you go.  Another treasure from the Arab world.  I hope you enjoy!

10 July, 2011

Summer in the Kitchen With Kids

Summer is the PERFECT time to get in the kitchen WITH your kids!  I know the thought of that horrifies some type A's out there, and others are wondering quite frankly, why?  Well, cooking with your children is not only a chance to spend quality time with them, but it's also a great way to keep them brushed up on Math, Science and Reading skills over the summer!  For the itty bitties out there cooking with mom or dad, they will learn valuable skills too!  Itty bitties will benefit from learning skills like how to pour, stir, and clean up, as well as overhearing and seeing all the other aspects of cooking.

First, choose one of Laura Numeroff's books such as If You Give a Moose a Muffin or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to read together, and then make some muffins or cookies!  I think it's pretty evident as to how cooking with your kids can incorporate subjects learned in school, but just in case you're not quite sure how...here's some ideas!

Math can be very abstract to some children.  Cooking can actually help these abstract concepts become concrete. With cooking, you can make it as complicated or as simple as you want.  You can teach addition, fractions, measurement all the way up to volume, chemistry and data analysis!  We'll just stick with some of the easier ideas here.

*  Let them use the measuring cups and spoons.  Ask them for the basics...1 "whole" cup or 1/2 a cup of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, etc. Show them how 1/2 and a 1/2 makes a whole.  Get more technical and ask them to use the 1/4 cup to make a 1/2 or a whole!
*  Make the recipe bigger than it is.  You can teach the concept of doubling here by adding fractions for the older kids or just measuring it out twice for the little ones.  Introduce multiplication if you'd like!
*  Don't be afraid to use math vocabulary while cooking, so that they are hearing the word while doing...halves, whole, add, combine, etc.
*  Teach time...you need to know how long to bake the cookies in the oven or let the vegetables sautee!
*  When you're done baking something like cookies, have them count out how many were made, then "divide" them into groups to give to people!

Science just means fun for most kids!  Cooking can get as messy as you want for the purpose of teaching it!  In the kitchen is one of the best places to teach science to kids as so many things can happen.

*  Teach about the 5 senses.  Encourage them to look at the ingredients, smell them, touch them, taste them...and for hearing, ask them about the sounds of a kitchen (whisks, blenders, water, eggs cracking, etc).
*  Go ahead, make a mess and start mixing!  Have the kids combine different ingredients to see what happens to them!  Mix cornstarch and water, always a fun one!  How about flour and water?  What happens?  Why?
*  Let them watch the changes of state from solids to liquids, liquids to solids, and liquids to gasses while you're cooking various things.  Melt some chocolate, boil some water, freeze some ice cubes and then leave them out again.
*  Make ice cream in a baggie!  This is great for letting kids see the stage of liquid to solid as well as feeling something get colder (thanks to the salt).

Reading always becomes more fun when it's brought to life.  A cookbook is something where what you're reading always comes to "life"!  First, start with a book where something is being eaten or made, and take that idea into the kitchen and make your own!

*  Read the recipe to your child or have them read it to you (If they are too young to read, have them bring you the ingredients you read...following directions is an important literacy skill)
*  Once you have all the ingredients, double check!  Make sure you have everything needed by re-reading...another important skill
*  Now read the steps for combining the ingredients.  Check comprehension...do they know what the steps are?  
*  Explain abbreviations...what are they, what is the abbreviated word, why do we use them?
*  Define words in the recipe like whisking, folding, spreading, and whipping.

See, taking your kids into the kitchen can be a GREAT learning experience this summer...and a great bonding experience!  You can stretch it even more by creating a shopping list before you go to the store, examine quantities of ingredients in packaging, paying for groceries, or writing a note to someone who will receive the delicious baked goods when you're done!

Happy Summer!