Last week I made pumpkin muffins. (I know it’s a little early, but I grew up in Florida where there are no seasons, so it’s all fair game year round. Besides, the grocery stores are selling pumpkins, so it’s fall now 🙂 )
I love muffins, but I don’t love when you buy them at a store and they become a dessert. I want my muffins to be healthy enough to replace a complete breakfast on a busy morning. Sweetened mostly with maple syrup or fruits, using whole wheat or another whole grain instead of all-purpose flour.
I had my kids help me. I really do believe that kids can help in the kitchen. Even my 18 month-old girl loves to be near when we cook. It’s never easy to involve small children, but for me it’s easier to bake with my kids than cook with them. Maybe because baking is usually something extra. If it fails, we don’t have to scrounge for dinner.
These muffins looked great in the original recipe. When we made them, they were a little dense but I’m sure that’s just because we didn’t follow the recipe exactly. At some point, we probably added extra flour or not enough oil or we stirred too long or something. But they were fun to make and they tasted pretty good. The best part came at the very end, when we sprinkled oats and cinnamon on top of the raw muffin batter.
When my little girl (18 months) saw this, she grabbed a chair from the table, scooted it to our island, and climbed up so she could participate. Then she did this:
I love when my kids entertain themselves. She actually didn’t make a giant mess or anything, either. I figured, even if she did, they’re just oats. Pretty easy clean up. Once I put the muffins in the oven, I moved my daughter to the table because she was having so much fun. As I was cleaning up from baking, this happened:
It’s okay though. “Amazing Grace” was playing on YouTube, so we were all reminded to just take it easy (okay, I was a little frantic, but we figured it out quickly).
What a beautiful song, right? Perfect for those frantic moments of motherhood when we have lots to do but our babies are yanking on our shirttails, drawing us near. My kids just got out their little “set” as they call it (a mini dustpan and brush) and swept up. Then, the kids went to bed and the next morning we ate pumpkin muffins. Win. Win. Win.
**I admit that this is a little different from the usual Fun With Food posts, but stay with me. I promise this fits.
This morning’s Fun With Food brings us to a game that is dear to my heart. One that I have racked hours playing, in various scenarios, with all kind of friends and family. Yet my first love for this game is centered around my grandmother’s giant oval table, in her ancient dining room with a tall grandfather clock that ticked and chimed, next to french doors that never closed, sheer white curtains hanging over their glass and creating the opportunity for a barrier that was never taken.
My grandmother loved words. She loved literature, gardening, and history. Actually, she loved anything that could be learned, anything that could grow. She loved the act itself. She used to tell a story about how when she was a child her school did away with algebra and she and her classmates went to the teacher begging to be taught the ins and outs of the elusive x and y.
Yet her real love could only be found in literature and art history. Not a day went by without Shakespeare’s words. She knew them all. She believed learning could happen anywhere, and would say that the best way to learn American history was from Normal Rockwell and Ogden Nash. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother taught literature to a group of homeschooled teenagers. Together, they read Shakespeare and Homer. They acted out Macbeth (and others, I’m sure) because my grandmother always said the only way to really understand Shakespeare is to act it out, to get into the text and realize how the words created life. This is a Scrabble principle too. In Scrabble, we have to get into the confusion and find meaning.
I’m finding this is true in motherhood as well. In motherhood, we are given a tray of tiles that at first make no sense. Maybe we have tears, diapers, heartbeats, coos and gurgles, little arms that shake randomly, and a belly that is never full. These tiles continue to be moved around. The tray is confusing, full of non-words, difficult to sound out. We don’t know what to do with them. But we try anyway. We move our tiles around and we make their noises, we shuffle, we try to find meaning. Then, one day, we do. We place those life-giving tiles on the board and we draw new tiles. We start over. But not really. All new words must connect through existing ones.
In one of my college writing portfolios, I placed this in the front page: Dedicated to my grandmother, who unknowingly taught me to love words, whether mumbled by a weary man on a street corner, written in Shakespeare’s finest, or lost in a game of Scrabble.
Scrabble: scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold onto something.
Scrabble: the game where words are made.
In any game of Scrabble, both definitions are used. While we move 7 letters around on our narrow trays, we find newness in a void. Once an array of nothingness, we grope (we search blindly or uncertainly with the hands) until we find something useful, something that makes sense, something that makes our heart go “yay!” My grandmother added one rule to the game: if you learned a new word, you got 50 extra points. In the above dedication, I said that my grandmother unknowingly taught me to love words, but I know she was intentional. It’s just that her educational ways were not made from rules. She was simply sharing the things she loved. She was simply living and inviting others to live alongside her.
When I found these Scrabble Math Worksheets, I knew my kids would love them. My oldest had already found our game of Scrabble and was intrigued by the letter and numbers and set of squares that filled the board. We started our Scrabble life with those Math Worksheets, then we moved onto Word Building. My oldest was not content. He knew there was more to the game. So we tried a round of real Scrabble and we found that it was amazing.
At my grandmother’s table, food was a part of Scrabble. My grandmother was always hours behind the rest of the world, so by the end of a game she was usually still finishing dinner. We were probably all snacking on our desserts.
This morning on our Scrabble table, we snacked on this:
There you have it, all the best thing in life: Fun! Food! Scrabble!
Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity
First, you must know that Twizzlers do not show up on our table very often.
I have never been the kind of person who buys candy or desserts of any kind. Except when I’m pregnant… then I’ve been known to purchase 5 cartons of ice cream at once to fulfill a lingering craving. (It seems that taking advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale saves some money by preventing me from going to the ice cream shop twice a week.)
I’ve also been known, when pregnant, to eat half the Now and Later’s before arriving to the Halloween party.
But I am not pregnant right right now, so sweets are not in abundant supply around here. But my kids love candy, and every once in a while I give in to their cute little faces.
You know, candy was just made for kids. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, and it’s colored to look festive and bright and wonderful, even though it’s really kind of evil.
Anyhow, Patriotic Twizzlers were $0.60 a couple weeks ago at Food Lion so I snagged them, thinking that we could do a little literacy activity with them.
I had recently purchased two of these sheet protectors from Dollar Tree:
I thought they would go perfectly with the Twizzlers. I thought my kids could peel the Twizzlers apart, cut them up and use them to make letters. Originally I thought I would print off 26 letter sheets. I thought I’d make my kids say each letter, then what sound it makes. Maybe a word that begins with that letter, too.
When it came time, though, I hadn’t printed off letter sheets and we all just needed a fun activity, so I just left the original papers in for inspiration and let them make the letters they wanted. Because right now the goal is just to make learning fun!
It definitely worked. My kids loved this activity! I sat with them to ensure that they actually made letters and didn’t just stuff their faces with sugar. I let them get creative, too! I’m a big fan of creativity. I love when my kids figure things out on their own. I did have to peel the Twizzlers apart because they were too sticky for my kids to do on their own. Maybe that’s because they’re from 4th of July, or maybe that’s how all Twizzlers are. I don’t know. I don’t usually try to peel Twizzlers.
Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for:
Oh yeah! We made letters too:
A few days later, we made lemonade and we colored watermelons onto paper plates and gave them away as “Happy Summertime” gifts, one for the girl who manages the office at our apartment complex and one to the most wonderful maintenance man anyone could ask for (these people receive gifts from us a lot because we love them and it’s super easy to just walk over and brighten their day. Maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker that you could start showering with gifts?) This was a hurried activity so I don’t have pictures of the finished summertime gift bags. But here are the watermelon cards the boys made for their dad. You probably know what lemonade looks like, so just use your mind to add it into this picture.
These are not quite as elaborate as the ones we made for the people who manage our home, but maybe you get the idea. I circled the inside and told my kids to color it pink. My 3 year old decided the inside of his watermelons were going to be multi-colored. Originally I thought we would cut these in half, but then we decided to just fold them like cards. We pasted pieces of green tissue paper around the edge for some texture and to add interest, and we added seeds and a little note.
When we were packing the gift bags, my oldest son suggested we include some Patriotic Twizzlers and I was fully on board. Guys, he wanted to give away his candy!
Now go, and spread forth your own generous, creative, genius children!
Fun With Food: Almond Butter Banana Milkshake Smoothies
We love these smoothies because they taste like milkshakes but they’re super healthy and filling and thick and creamy and you don’t have to follow the directions exactly! Sounds perfect, right? It is!!
Almond Butter & Banana Milkshake Smoothies:
2 Cups of Milk*
2 Frozen Bananas**
1 Heaping Spoon Full of Almond Butter
Flax Meal (optional)
Blend everything together in a powerful blender! We have a really old Vitamix that works perfectly for this type of smoothie. A regular old blender would probably work too, but I haven’t tried it.
*Any kind of milk will work! Today I actually didn’t use milk at all, but just poured in some almond meal and water.
**The bananas really should be frozen, so think ahead. I usually buy more bananas than we need every week and freeze the excess. Any time I find marked down, really brown, bananas, I buy them and freeze them too!
This smoothie is such a great easy snack and is so adaptable! If you want it thicker, add flax meal and let it sit for a few minutes before drinking it. The flax meal expands and gives it a really thick composition. You can add more bananas, protein powder, honey, pineapple, or almost anything that you want.
Here’s a photo of my kids drinking it up, with some kind of nifty filter applied to make the photo look more interesting. Pretty cute, right? Look at those eyes on my baby girl! And her swoopy bangs. Oh, how I love her and her superhero brothers who have super-protection powers. (Powered for battle by these very smoothies!)
One day recently when my kids were hungry (which is almost every minute of every day around here), my husband grabbed the snapea crisps,the raisins and the walnuts.
For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a genius at everything… well, everything that isn’t creative. I’m the creative one in the family. The one who makes things pretty. But he is best at solving every problem we come across. Like the one that says, “Mom. I’m hungry.”
So on this day, my husband grabbed these three bags and put a handful of each item on one plate. Then our two boys sat next together sharing the one plate of food. That doesn’t happen very often. Sharing, I mean. But this day was amazing.
I used my husband’s idea a few days later. First I did this:
Then I formed everything into a portrait of my husband and called it The Daddy Snack Mix:
He doesn’t really have green hair. He actually doesn’t have much hair at all, but when he lets it grow it can get pretty big. But I do think the walnuts make a pretty nice replica of his beard which is long and fuzzy, like beards are supposed to be.