The Great Bird Count

The Great Bird Count 2Last week was The Great Bird Count from February 14-17.  The bird count was started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.  It is an online data collection of, you guessed it, bird sightings.  You simply register and keep track of the birds you observe during the four-day period.  You are able to see in real time the different variety of birds from all over.  This is a great activity for school or home.  We loved the opportunity to enjoy nature and have Lily learn and experience at the same time.

The Great Bird Count

We celebrated the week with a few different bird activities.  We made sure to read one of Lily’s favorite books, Riki’s Birdhouse by one of her favorite authors, Monica Wellington.

DSC_7635In reality, Lily loves all of her books. Monica Wellington mixes a whimsical and child-friendly perspective with informational text. Engaging and educational,  gotta love that.  She also incorporates extension activities at the end of every book.  In Riki’s Birdhouse there are plans for building and installing a birdhouse, a recipe for bird food cupcakes, and other resources for further exploration.  Lily had us read this book every night last week.  She is definitely obsessed!

The Great Bird CountWe also built a birdhouse of our own, without following any particular plan.  Lily and I found some scraps of plywood.  We measured and cut the pieces we needed.  Then we used brads to join the pieces.  I also have a 1 3/4″ hole saw drill bit that we used to make the entryway for our feathered friends.  Lastly, we drilled a 3/4″  hole just below and slid a dowel in for a perch.  My next step is to learn how to build a house for people.  Can it be as easy as the birdhouse?  Lily loved painting the birdhouse.  She chose red for the base and black for the roof.  In all honesty, I think she did a much better job than I would have ever done.  We can’t wait to see if we get a family living there in the springtime.

The Great Bird CountLily also drew and painted some of the birds we observed in our backyard, starting her first science journal.  She definitely has an artist’s hand.  It also helps that Kelly, her mother, is an exceptional art teacher and artist.  Kelly taught her to draw a bird using a few basic shapes. Lily used marker to outline her bird and then added watercolors to finish.  It was amazing to me the care she put forth into her creation, not to mention the actual finished piece.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that my daughter is just four years old.

The Great Bird Count

We really enjoyed The Great Bird Count and all the activities that it inspired.  You probably wouldn’t believe that simply looking out your window at some backyard aviators could be the source of so much fun.  We are all looking forward to next year’s count! :)

The Great Bird Count

Bird Seed Ornaments

DSC_3934What better way to deal with the harsh temperatures of winter than to make some tasty treats for our flying friends outside. 

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My family found a great recipe online to make bird seed ornaments.  Since we recently celebrated Valentine’s Day, we just had to use heart-shaped molds.  Here are the ingredients we used:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups birdseed

We combined the water and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium-high heat, bringing it to a boil and stirring until the syrup dissolved.  Once it boiled, we dropped the heat to a simmer and added the gelatin.  Again, we continued to stir until the gelatin dissolved.  At this point you will want to move quickly to avoid the liquid from setting to soon.  

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We poured the liquid into a mixing bowl and added the flour, stirring until fully incorporated.  Then we added the bird seed and made sure to mix it well.  You will want to make sure all the seed gets covered by the gelatin or you’ll have some sad looking ornaments.  

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We then crammed and pushed the mixture into cookie cutters.  Once we filled the molds, we put holes toward the top of the hearts in order to string them when they dried.  We used a straw to create these holes.  

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Make sure you take time to ponder the mysteries of life.

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After they dried, we tied some decorative ribbon around them to hang them in the backyard.  DSC_3867This also gave Lily some greatly needed practice with tying.

When everything was all said and done, we would definitely recommend this project to anyone.  It’s a great activity to do with the children and to attract some beautiful and bright wildlife to your yard during the dark days of winter.  

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Just don’t let your child eat the birdseed, no matter how delicious it looks!

If you would like more information on the process, this is the website where we found the recipe.

 

 

APPLE PIE

43It has been a while since Lily and I have documented one of our cooking adventures until now. Both Kelly and Lily have taken several trips this autumn to the orchard and have collected a sizable amount of apples.  What better way to celebrate the fall season than with a sweet and tart apple pie.  I wish I could say that Lily and I used a recipe that was handed down for generations and generations within our family, but alas that would be a lie.  With modern technology and the Internet, we visited one of my favorite sites to use for cooking inspiration: allrecipes.com.  Now, we’re not sure who Grandma Ople is, but we do appreciate the sharing of her recipe.  We also got our pie crust recipe off allrecipes too.

5This is the recipe:

Best Ever Pie Crust

allrecipes.com

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  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup of water

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour and salt together.
  2. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  While I did this, I placed an ice cube into my water to make sure it was nice and cold.
  3. Stir the water into the flour until it begins to come together.  It is important that you do not overwork the dough.  This isn’t bread we’re making.  It doesn’t need to be kneaded.  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  Just work it until it forms a ball.
  4. Split the dough in two equal portions, wrap, and refrigerate for a few hours.  To be honest, we didn’t wait for it to be chilled and it turned out fine.  You will just want to work quickly.

1After we made the dough, we decided to go old school and purchase an old-fashioned peeler/corer from Target.  So glad we did!!  It was so much easier than using a handheld 3peeler/corer.  We came straight home and started peeling and coring.  Once Lily got started, we no longer had an unpeeled apple in the house.

 

We loosely followed this recipe from Grandma Ople:

Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie

allrecipes.com

  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 8 – 9 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (enough apples to heap higher than the rim of the pie plate)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. Stir in the flour until fully incorporated.
  3. Stir in both sugars and water.
  4. Increase heat slightly and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes.  Make sure to periodically stir to avoid burning on the bottom of the saucepan.
  5. Press out one portion of your pie crust in the bottom of your pie plate.
  6. Fill the plate with your apples, mounding slightly.
  7. Assemble a lattice topping for the crust.  You will need the lattice so the sauce will be able to filter down into the pie.
  8. Pour your sauce slowly over your pie, making sure it doesn’t drip over the side.  Don’t you dare waste a drop of that delicious sauce.
  9. Place strips of aluminum foil around the rim of the pie plate, covering the edge of the pie crust.  This will ensure that the edge of your crust will not burn.
  10. Place in a preheated 425 degree F oven for fifteen minutes.
  11. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for thirty-five to forty-five minutes longer.
  12. During the last fifteen to twenty minutes of baking, remove the aluminum foil from your pie.
  13. Remove the pie, cool, add vanilla ice cream, and enjoy.

7My family and I enjoyed this recipe immensely, but I would definitely make some modifications:

  1. I couldn’t make an apple pie and not put cinnamon into the mix.  Sorry Grandma Ople!
  2. The next time we make this pie, we will definitely split the sauce into one large and one small portion.  We’ll mix the larger portion with the apples and place them into the plate.  Then we’ll take the smaller amount and pour on top of the lattice crust.

Once again, thank you to Grandma Ople for your recipe.

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And a special THANK YOU to the lovely photographer, my Kelly!!  I paid her in apple pie and kisses!

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

This Valentine’s holiday, Lily and I decided to make something sweet and fancy at the new 2same time.  We took on the task of making chocolate-covered strawberries.  Most people would probably claim they could easily purchase them already prepared, which we do not deny.  But we believe there are three main reasons why everyone should put both the time and effort into creating these treats themselves:

  1. When you purchase the chocolate-covered strawberries, already made, you can never be entirely sure of the product’s quality.
  2. It’s definitely cheaper to make them yourself.
  3. And lastly, the sheer joy of sharing this experience with your child.  Not to mention this should keep your child pleasantly occupied and out of trouble for thirty minutes.

Hopefully with these reasons and maybe some of your own, you will decide to attempt this impressive dessert.  Lily and I made them for the kids at her daycare in addition to my students at school. And from the comments we received, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t love them.

 

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

2-3      Quarts Fresh Strawberries

16       Ounces Milk Chocolate Tollhouse Morsels

8         Ounces White Chocolate Tollhouse Morsels

3         Tablespoons Vegetable Shortening

1         #1 or #2 Cake Decorating Piping Tip

 

When we first purchased the strawberries, we made sure to rinse them right away so they would have enough time to dry before dipping them in the chocolate.  We even laid them on and covered them with paper towels.  The last thing you want to do is get any moisture into your melted chocolate, the mixture will bind up and you will need to start over.

So to start, Lily and I put a small saucepan over medium-low heat with only about of inch water in it.  You can start the water on a higher setting, but there is such a thing as getting the chocolate too hot.  If you do start higher, make sure to lower the heat to the point where the water is just simmering and not boiling (no bubbles).

Once we achieved the simmer, we set the heat to the lowest possible setting and placed a glass bowl over the saucepan.  Two things here, you need to make sure the bowl isn’t too small where the bottom of the bowl is touching or too close to the water in the saucepan.  Secondly, the bowl shouldn’t be too big where there isn’t enough contact with the heat to melt the chocolate efficiently.  And yes, you are correct.  This is also known as a double boiler.  We just don’t see the point in buying and storing a pot that you may only use four to five times a year.

When our double boiler was ready, we put the milk chocolate morsels and two of the three tablespoons of shortening in the bowl.  We stirred the mixture periodically until all the chocolate was melted and it was of a smooth consistency.  At this point, we left the bowl on the pan, but took the pan off the stove.  We began by holding the strawberries by their green tops and dipping them into the chocolate.  (If you want again to achieve that Martha Stewart look and avoid a flat bottom, you can put toothpicks in the tops of your strawberries, dip them in the chocolate and then stick the other end of the toothpick into a piece of Styrofoam so the strawberries won’t have to lay on a cookie sheet before the chocolate hardens.)   Since we didn’t want to get too fancy, we placed the dipped strawberries on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and placed them in the refrigerator for the chocolate to harden.

Meanwhile, we prepared the double boiler for the white chocolate.  Once ready, we put all new3the white chocolate and the last tablespoon of shortening in the bowl.  Repeating the same process for the milk chocolate, we melted the white chocolate.  Instead of dipping, we cut a small corner out of a sandwich bag, slid the piping tip into the hole of the bag (making sure that it didn’t slide through the hole, even upon slight pressure), and filled the bag with some of the melted white chocolate.  We then drizzled the white chocolate across each strawberry.  And yes, if you like to be fancier, you can actually use a pastry bag instead of our cheap fix.

Once each strawberry was drizzled with white chocolate, we put them back into the refrigerator.  You could, even at this point, put some of them in your mouth, your choice! But definitely enjoy and share these treats when ready!new4

Mushroom Risotto

Chef Lily is bringing her expertise to your kitchen.  She allowed me to watch while she once again demonstrated her creativity in the culinary arts.  Step-by-step, she explained to me the tricks and techniques of making a simple, but successful, mushroom risotto.

The following are some suggested ingredients for the mushroom risotto.  Although, Chef Lily wanted to stress the fact that each person should make this recipe their own, allowing for individual tastes and preferences.

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Mushroom Risotto

Olive Oil

2-8 oz. Packages of Sliced Cremini Mushrooms

1-2 Shallots, finely diced

1 cup Arborio Rice

5 oz. Dry White Wine

32 oz. Chicken Broth

3-4 Tbsp. Butter

Grated Parmesan

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Chef Lily always begins by gradually warming her broth on low heat in a saucepan.  While warming, she preheats her sauté pan on medium-high heat.  After putting 3-4 Tbsp. of olive oil in the pan, she begins to sauté the mushrooms, allowing them sit in the pan and brown with out much movement.  She assures me that everyone should avoid the temptation to continuously stir the mushrooms.  Once the mushrooms have browned, Chef Lily seasons them with salt and cracked black pepper to taste and sets them aside.

Using the same pan (Chef Lily would never waste that beautiful caramelized mushroom flavor in the pan!), reducing the heat to medium-low and adding 1 more Tbsp. of olive oil, she cooks the diced shallots.  When the shallots have softened, she adds her rice to the pan and initially stirs to mix the rice and shallots.  When the rice becomes opaque (after only a few minutes), she pours in the wine.  At this point, the broth is added to the rice, only two ladlefuls at a time.  Chef Lily told me that this 1is where the love comes into this dish.  Once you add the first amount of broth, you must stir the risotto, maybe not continuously, but quite often, before you add the next ladles.  She tells me the only secret to this part of the recipe is making sure there is enough liquid in the pan so all of the risotto can cook evenly.  The process of adding the broth should take between fifteen to twenty minutes for the risotto to cook fully.  Once the risotto is cooked, depending on preference (al dente, etc.), Chef Lily adds her mushrooms back into the pan.  Lastly, she dots her risotto with the butter, sprinkles it with Parmesan and serves it immediately.  She tells me that she doesn’t want to make any master chefs out there feel bad, but this is the best risotto she has ever had!

So there you have it folks, a complex and feared dish simplified so even a child could prepare it!

And if needed, Chef Lily will entertain any questions you may have about her dish!

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