Monday 23 April 2012

Cooking with Kids (Easy-Peasy, Best-Ever Brownies)


1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup flour 
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt 

Hardly the healthiest snack to make with your kids, but definitely one of the easiest and tastiest- Jem can now measure, mix and eat these brownies all on his own. 

1) Preheat oven to 350 F /180 C.
2) Melt butter.
3) Add ingredients in listed order, mixing gently but thoroughly. 
4) Pour batter into a lined 20x20cm tin and bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 25 minutes (check after 20 and keep baking until the edges are firm, but the middle is still very soft: the less cooked, the squidgier the brownies will be). 
5) Cool in tin, slice and share...

For a simple variation, replace the cocoa with the zest and juice of 2 lemons and add another 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour to soak up the extra liquid. Bake for approximately 40 minutes in a round tin for a wonderfully damp, lemony cake. Dust with icing sugar then serve with fresh raspberries, or rhubarb compote, and lightly whipped cream.


Monday 16 April 2012

Stand by Me (aka Coping with Chronic Childhood Constipation: the final step)

One month after Jem and I began our quest for the perfect poo:

1. Identify the culprit...check.
2. Ensure stool is soft and pain-free...check.
3. Stand back and do nothing...uh, complete, utter, resounding failure.

So, I'm not a stand-back-and-do-nothing sort of parent. Our small library on attachment-parenting, self-weaning and co-sleeping should have tipped me off sooner, I suppose.

I'm not saying that the experts are wrong (or any of the mums and dads who have successfully followed their advice). Indeed, I can fully believe that standing back and doing nothing would get a quicker result. But, if I've learned anything about my life-philosophy over the past four years, it's that process is often more important than product. 

Jem and I will get there, in our own time, in our own way; one day he'll be ready to go solo. And, in the meantime (now that step1 and step2 have successfully cut our bathroom-time to a handful of minutes, every other day) poo no longer feels like a big issue. For either of us.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Five Plants to Grow with Kids

From our experience last summer, here are five of the most kid-friendly plants to share with your child (all can be grown in a vegetable patch or in containers):

1) Peas: Easy for little fingers to grasp, fun to soak and sprout then simple to plop in the earth, cover, water and wait. A week later, tiny little shoots appear; a few more weeks, fairy flowers are followed by pods which, if your child is anything like mine, will be plucked and munched immediately. And, if you manage to save a few, you even have seeds to store and plant for next year.

2) Chives: Another simple choice for preschoolers. Chives grow easily from seed, can withstand any amount of tugging and nibbling (a full-blown haircut is even beneficial-great scissor practice) and they will, apparently, grow forever (without taking over your yard). They also look really pretty, if left to flower-and the flowers are edible too.

3) Tomatoes: According to Jem, sun-warmed cherry tomatoes straight from the vine taste even better than candy (though of course, I have no idea how he knows what candy tastes like). You can grow them from seed or, as we did last year, take the short-cut and buy a few seedlings from your local grocery (for less than you'd pay for a punnet of produce). Just make sure that your plant variety won't outgrow its container or allotted spot in the yard, and that you have adequate staking available (home-made bamboo teepees are a cheap, fun solution). Then water every other day and pray for sun. Apparently, green fly can be lured away by growing Calendula or Marigolds in the same pot or spot. Or, if desperate, give the infested plant a good blast with the hose (one of Jem's very favourite jobs). And, in the fall, you can take cuttings for next year's crop.

4) Calendula: Not only bright, beautiful and useful (see tomatoes and green fly, above), Calendula tastes good too- no accidental poisoning worries here. It doesn't seem to mind how it's sown, it grows quickly, in full-sun or partial shade, and needs very little water (although it will withstand an occasional over-zealous flood); the perfect preschooler's flower. And, like our peas, although we bought seeds last year, this season we're sowing from seed collected from our final bloom of fall flowers.

5) Strawberries: Like our tomatoes, we planted young strawberry plants last year (purchased from our local garden centre for a handful of coins) and we weren't disappointed with the harvest. This year, we have a ready-made strawberry patch, thanks to the new generation of runners (with a fascinating discussion about reproduction thrown in for free).

Hope you have as much fun as we did :)

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Gardening with Kids (aka what the books don't say)

Last week of March, a few rays of sun and Jem and I head for the garden (I have to do something while I'm standing back and doing nothing).

Now, believe me, I'm no expert- prior to last year, all I'd ever attempted to grow was basil in a pot from Thrifty's. But suddenly, with a three-year old in tow and too many hours to fill, spending time in the garden, digging and watering and (hopefully) picking things to eat, seemed a useful summer-accessory to my sanity.
So, armed with half a library of "Gardening with Kids" books, a pair of undersized/overpriced ladybug gardening gloves and a set of miniature plastic tools, Jem and I began our latest quest.

This is what the books neglected to say:

1) Gardening with kids books are written by gardeners without kids. 

2) A better title would be: "How to get any gardening done with a kid around."

3) Gardening with children is like doing anything else with small people: peaks of great joy interspersed with extreme frustration (not necessarily for both parties at the same time).

4) Adult tools are inherently more attractive to small hands.

5) It is amazing what an adult can achieve with a half-pint watering can.

But, in spite of these challenges, we had enormous fun. Jem got dirty, he got wet, he dug and planted and picked, and breathed in hours of fresh air. He uprooted flowers, battered bushes with sticks and laid flat on his back in the grass to watch the clouds glide past. And, in between his adventures, I planted a few seeds. By August, we even harvested a whole week's worth of veggies from our own backyard.

This is what we learned:

1) Neither you, nor your kid, should wear anything that either of you minds getting completely ruined.

2) Don't actually expect your child to do any of the work.

3) Make sure your kid has a "safe" patch of garden to dig (without digging up), to water (without drowning), and to eat (without digitalis).

4) Focus on edible plants (vegetables, herbs and flowers).

5) Aim low, breathe deep, and practise non-attachment to the whole process.

And, with a little preparation, a little luck and a lot of patience, the gardening magic will happen.

Next time: Five Plants to Grow with Kids