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Friday, September 30, 2011

{this moment}

image(s) from the week. no words. via soulemama.

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York is one of the most inspiring documentaries I have seen in a while. Chronicling the days and life of NYT street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, the film showcases the vibrancy and happiness one gets from dedicating their life to their  passion. Watching this octogenarian ride his bike through NYC, taking pictures of society elites as well as ordinary people, made me not only want to live a life like his when I am 80, but NOW. He has more energy and mental facility that I can muster up all week. And the collection that he is leaving to fashion and cultural historians is an unbelievable gift.  You can watch this right now on Netflix streaming. It is so good.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

nature table

Our nature table tends to be less about seasons, as our's in Florida are less distinct than in other places, and more about showcasing our collections. Currently, we have been looking for seedpods and are intrigued by the variety. We have a big collection in a paper mache bowl and then an example of each in front. The seeds are both local and from our travels.

We have lots of shells and rocks from the beach, but these items are our very favorite specimens. A horseshoe crab, the egg case of a lighting welk, coral from Costa Rica and sea urchins from Cayo Costa, FL.

What is on your nature table? Do you stick to the season or your interests? Feel free to share your link in the comments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

real fast food:: avocado salad

This is the fastest, tastiest, most nutritious lunch ever! And the majority of my kids like it, so maybe yours will too.

Simply squish out an avocado per person (no fancy slicers here) and add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped up garlic. Seriously, if I call out, "who wants avocado salad?" kids come running. And avocado is full of all the good fat for growing brains - so everyone feels good about this lunch.

Do your kids like avocado? How do you prepare it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

food for thought::hand peeling citrus

When I was in graduate school I had a friend from Indonesia named Sri. She was short and plump and cherubic. She told me amazing stories of how her Chinese great-grandmother was sold off to pay an opium debt. Her family dynamic required that her brother was required to take care of her until she married; her insistence on not getting married but instead coming to America to get her master's degree focusing on African American jazz and literature fascinated me.

Although she never cooked for me, she taught me a few things about food. The first thing was about the rooster emblazoned hot sauce, sriracha - which she would liberally squirt all over her lettuce and call it a salad. I use it still, on rice and grilled vegetables and am always surprised at how a little is so hot.

The second and most important thing I learned from her was how to peel and enjoy citrus. Living in Florida most of my life, I definitely took citrus for granted. We rarely had fresh citrus, maybe some oranges that we would cut into wedges and suck the juice out of while spitting out the seeds. My friends and I would steal oranges from the surrounding groves, but they were juice oranges so nearly impossible to peel. Once in a while, we might get some tangerines which were so easy to peel they felt like magic. And of course, we drank plenty of pasteurized OJ from a carton.

Sri loved citrus and would bring an orange or grapefruit to class nearly every day. Before class began she would slowly peel it and the whole, dingy concrete shell we were sitting in would brighten and smell fresh and crisp. You could see the oils squirting from the peels as she unwrapped the fruit.

She would always offer me a segment as I stared at her, astonished that she would undertake such a messy, sticky operation at a tiny desk before class. To me, her activity seemed akin to chopping up a watermelon and eating it during a lecture on 19th Century factory aesthetics. But the reality is that it was simple and luxurious and wildly sensual and I was hooked.

Now, one of my favorite food rituals is to peel fruit and eat it, really concentrating on the scent, the flavor, the texture and all the nuances that get lost in the hurried up way we seem to eat most of our meals. This meditation nourishes me as much as the fruit.

I always squeeze the peel and watch the oil spray and fragrance the air. My kids love that trick now, too. They are always standing in a line waiting for me to hand feed drippy segments to them.

It is amazing to me that this fruit grows here so easily and abundantly; we get bags and bags for free from neighbors and family all season. Slightly chilled, these grapefruits and oranges inspire and thrill more than elaborate pastries or caviar. It only took a friend from the other side of the world to show me what was in my own backyard.

Monday, September 26, 2011

garbage, landfills and recycling, oh my!

We went on a fascinating field trip to the local landfill with our homeschool group. We toured the hazardous waste area, the old and current landfills and the recycling center. The big mountains with the environmental fabric and tires on them had methane pumps that capture the methane expelled from the garbage and sent it to a little power plant that used it to generate power for around 350 homes. In the future (like in a 100 years), we were told, the trash will be dug up, burnt at a super high temperature,  and the exhaust will be captured and used as an alternative fuel.

It was all pretty interesting, but we were still disturbed at the 2,000 tons of garbage brought in daily. We saw huge garbage trucks dumping recyclable cardboard into the landfill. We were told the majority of the garbage is from packaging. So, even though it is hard to imagine living in modern society without refuse, the huge majority of garbage could easily be reduced based on simple, daily choices. This trip motivated me to step up my actions and not be as complacent as I have become in the last year or two.

And even though we recycle, the clear choice is that it is better to not consume the products at all. The argument that recycling takes, in some cases, as much energy as producing new goods was illustrated. Between the collecting, sorting, cleaning, and then selling and shipping the raw goods around the country (and the world), we did not leave the recycling plant with a warm, fuzzy, feeling.

My kids alerted me to the irony at the end when the tour guide was lecturing us about making good choices as she was drinking a bottled water, and there were other half drunk waters littering the room. We were then given a thick plastic bag with recycling paraphernalia - all headed back to the landfill.

Do you know where the garbage does in your town? Have you visited with your children? What did they think? (My kids were not as disturbed as I was - they wanted to go rummage through the garbage looking for treasures).

Friday, September 23, 2011

toffee shocks and the enchanted wood

One of our most beloved authors is Enid Blyton. She wrote many series of books from the 1930's on. The Fairaway Tree series is a favortie that we have read and reread numerous times.  With lovable and weird characters, adventures in different lands, sibling loyalty and a bit of magic...these books make for the perfect bedtime story. 

Recently, we were lucky enough to be invited to a Faraway Tree Tea Party. We brought "toffee shocks," one of the many notable foods mentioned in the tales. Toffee shocks get bigger in your mouth as you eat them and then disappear. We thought the closest thing would be the gooey, chewy caramels my husband makes every Christmas. I wrapped them up like little packages and the kids ate them up. 

Here is the recipe we use from We love the salt and have also added pistachios (yum) and herbs de Provence (wow!)

what you need
1 cup heavy cream
5 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/4 light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
fleur de sel or other toppings

what you do
Line a small baking sheet or 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper and lightly oil it. 

Bring the cream and butter to a boil in a small saucepan and set aside. 

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then boil without stirring (you can gently swirl the pan) until the mixture is light golden caramel colored.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (this will bubble up) and simmer, stirring, until the caramel reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer (10-15 min.)

Pour onto the parchment and sprinkle with the fleur de sel (or any other toppings you choose).

Let it cool for two hours and then cut into pieces and wrap in candy wrappers (or parchment or wax paper). 

Eat within a few day (which is not hard). 

Do you make homemade candy? What are some of your favorites?

{this moment}

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

burlap embroidery

I keep meaning to share this idea. 

When kids are young and want to embroider with you, but have a tough time because their motor skills are not quite ready for a small needle yet, try burlap embroidery. My son loved it when he was younger and older kids can have fun creating designs too. 

We used burlap stretched in an embroidery hoop and a large blunt end needle with yarn tied on to the eye. So, no constant re threading. It is a great project to have tucked away when you need to keep little hands busy for a while.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

good bye

Our last day was spent packing and hanging out one last time on the great lawn. We really grew to love this park in just a week. My kids each expressed, in their own way, a bittersweet truth of travel. That the yearning to stay longer and the feeling of homesickness often battle within yourself until you do not know what you want anymore.

After a wild ride to the airport and a long flight home, we are all happy to be back. And already planning our next escape.

science experiment::wake up the yeast

This is such a great science experiment. It can be done with things you have around the house, all ages enjoy it and can participate and it lends itself to further explorations. Basically, we wanted to find out which foods "wake up" the single celled yeast organism. My kids already knew that sugar and starches were the food of choice - so we tested various sugars, including lemon juice since it is a fruit. Here are the specifics:

What you need
plastic freezer bags
lukewarm water
measuring spoons and cups
variables to test

What to do
-Discuss what you want to test and make a list. Then narrow it down if you need to. In the past we have had some great discussions about what might happen with a slice of apple, apple juice and apple sauce.

-Gather the items and measure into bags. We used 70ml of water to 1t of yeast and 1T of the variable. Your amounts can be different, just make sure they are consitant in each bag.

-Make sure to make a plain water bag to use as the control.

-Use words like control, variable, hypothesis, test, conclusion...

-Record ideas on a simple table and write a conclusion.

I love that even prewriters can easily participate in the lab manual portion of this project. My 5 year old drew bubbles in amounts that represented the amount of activity in each bag. So, lemon juice only has four little bubbles and maple syrup had as many as he could fit on the table.

Really beautiful watching the bubble form and then pop to make larger bubbles. Like a lava lamp.

We discussed how this might affect our bread making, thought about the wild yeast in the air, and made a list of variables to try in the future.

This is the maple syrup after a few hours. I had to set it in the sink where it exploded.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

art and candy

A great last full day. We slept in and then wandered across the the park to the Guggenheim.  We really like Frank Lloyd Wright, so the visit was mostly to see the architecture, but we were surprised to see a great show by Lee Ufan and an amazing installation of 100,000 dollar bills by Hans-Peter Feldmann.

We then headed downtown with a stop at ABC Carpet and Home and a fabulous lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. I had a very simple salad with aged goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, arugula and tomato. Somehow, the quality of ingredients combined with the best bread I have had in years elevated the whole thing to a holy experience.

Next, came a pilgrimage for the kids. We had talked and read and watched You Tube videos about both Dylan's Candy Bar and  Economy Candy. I am so pleased that they chose to go to Economy Candy, which has been in business since 1937 and has loads more character than the other option. It was a long subway ride and walk down to the lower East side but it was worth it. As soon as you walked in a scent of sugar strong enough to rot your teeth washed over you. Elliot claimed in a low dreamy voice, "this is heaven...." as they made their selections. We bought gummy jets, pop rocks that turn into gum, lavender candy, licorice, chocolate bars, Lego shaped candy and Bronx roasted pistachios.

It took us nearly an hour to get back up to 86th St because it was rush hour, there was a water main break and tons of random stopping in the tunnels. Oliver said he thought it was a good thing that we had so much to eat, so if we were stuck for a long time, we would survive. I agreed. And we did survie, just.

Tomorrow we exit the city at 3, so besides packing, we might hang out in the park and go to lunch, or think about MOMA. It will be sad to leave, but we will be happy to return home to our friends, families, pets, and big, quiet space.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

sweet, sweet sunday in nyc

A beautiful Sunday playing in the Ramble in Central Park, shopping for amazing farm goods at the Columbus Street market (maple sugar cotton candy!), hours looking at the dreamy dioramas in the Natural History Museum and a late night run with my subway savvy daughter to Trader Joes.  A very good day indeed.


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