Sunday, April 29, 2012

screen-free week

I've not been blogging much lately and since I've been helping to head up our school's campaign for National Screen-Free Week (which is part of what's been keeping me so busy) I thought I'd let you know that I won't be around for another week more.  Because, of course, I'll be going screen free!

For those not familiar, tomorrow, April 30 through Sunday, May 6 is Screen-Free Week.  This respite is hosted by The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, and since I've been writing so much about it elsewhere I don't feel inspired to write much more here.  I'll therefore let the folks over at CCFC speak for themselves:

Screen-Free Week is a national celebration where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning off entertainment screen media and turning on life.  It’s a time to unplug and play, read, create, explore, enjoy nature and spend time with family and friends.

Screen-Free Week isn’t just about snubbing screens for seven days; it’s a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round.

Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, and attention problems.  And it is primarily through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing.  Regardless of whether they are consuming “good” or “bad” programming, it’s clear that screen media dominates the lives of far too many children, displacing all sorts of other activities that are integral to childhood.

Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative opportunity to improve children’s well-being by reducing dependence on entertainment screen media, including television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices.  It’s a chance for children - and their parents - to examine their relationships with entertainment media and rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.

 While our daughter is almost entirely screen-free and Ryan and I only rarely watch a film in our home or out on date night, the challenge for us will be to reflect on the time we spend online and take a good look at how, when and where we utilize our smart phones especially in her presence.  Also, as I have been of late anyhow, I'll be looking at what it means to be a blogger and how it affects the way we live our daily lives.  Primarily this week is about "entertainment media".  Is that what we're doing here?  Should be some interesting contemplation, eh?

Until May 7th friends, we'll see you out in real life! 

May your week be free of screens...  (Ah, the irony...)

Monday, April 23, 2012

annual tulip festival

I'm just getting around to it now, but a few weeks back, we enjoyed (for our fourth year) a pleasant afternoon basking in the glorious colors at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm's Tulip Fest.
For those who have never had the pleasure, this is a month long festival complete with the amazing fields of blossoms seen here as well as flower and bulb sales, gift shop, some third party craft booths, carnival-type food carts and various kids activities (including the beloved "Cow Train").
Naiya enjoyed the tulips as she wandered the rows with Oma but mostly couldn't wait for that cherished ride down around the fields.
If you're a local, you've still got a few weeks left for a visit.  I'd recommend week days when crowds are thinner, parking is cheaper and there is generally just less chaos.  But you've only got until the 6th of May!
There's nothing like tulips to welcome Spring.

big love

We're in that stage of doing just about anything to avoid going to sleep at bedtime.  Tonight after I tucked her in Naiya came out of her room because she "just had to tell me one thing..."
 "Mommy, I haven't told you today...  I love you."
"I love you too sweetheart," I tell her and give her a big hug and kiss (then try to send her back to bed).
She turns once more, "Mommy, I love you more than the world is big.  I love you bigger than me!" 
She gets this odd look on her face then.  "How is that possible?" she asks, "Is love powder?"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

fairie fare

In preparation for the long anticipated arrival of the fairies in our garden on May Day, Naiya and I have been creating some tiny fairie nibbles.  While last year we used an old store of Super Sculpey to make dishes and serving ware, this year we're using Sculpey III, which is a colored version of the same oven-fire compound, to fill those platters with healthy goodness.  It's a fun and quick craft for kids who are able to roll balls and eggs and carrots without much help and, because the clay is already colored, there's no fussing with paint and all the surface protecting and clean-up that entails.

Naiya is at an interesting place in her imagination with this project.  It's seems very important to her to keep reminding me that the foods we make are not real, but she entertains the possibility that the Fairie Queen might magically make them real for herself and her friends before she actually eats them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

man cold

Naiya and I had had this wet, raspy cough for a couple of weeks.  She didn't seem to mind it but I experienced a few days of uncharacteristic extreme exhaustion.  Just when I was starting to feel a bit better though, Ryan picked up the exhaustion piece and a low grade fever, chills and all over pain that lasted for four or five days as well.  Despite his desperate condition, I couldn't help but tease him a little about his Man Cold...

After missing several days of work and with the fever still coming and going, he broke down and went to the doctor.  Turns out that while we ladies just had the standard virus with everlasting cough, he had pneumonia.  My poor little bunny.  I've not seen him so ill in all the time I've known him.  In all seriousness, I wish there was more I could have done for him.  He just slept a lot and I got Naiya out of the house as often as I could so he could get some rest.   With his sense of humor still thriving, he actually got his doctor to write him this prescription:

(I've sloppily blocked personal info to maintain the privacy of the innocent.)
Thankfully, he rested well with this and several other medications and my dear man is on the mend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

braided easter bread recipe

From All Year Round, I got the idea to make a braided bread ring for Easter.  Since I wanted a sweet bread though, I used another recipe and created this beautiful (if I may say so) loaf complete with slots for the Easter Hare to deposit an egg for each member of our family.  (Naiya said four seemed good to her.  Pippin and Scarlett could share one egg she figured.)  That Hare left us some lovely eggs...

Braided Cardamom Easter Bread Ring

1 1/3 cups milk warmed to 110°
2/3 cups sugar
3 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 eggs lightly beaten
6 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. sea salt
5 Tblsp. unsalted butter (at room temp.) cut into 1/2 " cubes
1 Tblsp. heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 Tblsp. turbinado sugar
egg sized stones (1 for each member of your family)
parchment paper

-Butter a ceramic bowl and set aside.  Combine milk, sugar, cardamom and yeast in a mixer with a paddle fixture.  (If all you've got is a hand mixer with the standard blades, just use those and augment your mixing with hand kneading.  Don't fret over lack of equipment.  Fingers are the finest tools of all.)  Stir and let sit 10 minutes.  Add eggs and mix.  Add flour and salt and mix until dough is formed.  Replace paddle with a hook attachment and knead dough on medium speed for two minutes.  Slowly add butter and knead for about four minutes more.
-Transfer dough to the greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm location until doubled in size (about an hour and a half).  Punch down the dough, cover and allow to rise another 30 minutes or so.
-Heat oven to 375°.  Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and divide into three equal pieces.  Roll each portion between your palms or on the board to create three ropes each about two feet long.  Braid the three ropes together and bend into a ring joining the beginning of each strand to the ends.  Place the loaf on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.

-Wrap each stone in parchment paper and nestle the stones into the bread braid at even intervals.  Cover the ring and allow it to rise in a warm location for another 45 minutes or so.
-Whisk together the cream and egg yolk and brush it over the braided ring.  Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar and bake until golden brown (about 20 - 25 minutes).  Cool and remove the parchment wrapped stones.

Leave the loaf on the breakfast table the day before Easter and the Hare ought to come and fill it with specially decorated eggs in the night...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

easter sunday

As is always the way, this year, the Easter Hare left a trail of jelly beans from our bedroom door (where all three of us have been sleeping while comforting each other in our ongoing illnesses) down the hall and into various other rooms of our home.  Naiya covertly slipped out of the covers and began the morning's hunt while mommy and daddy more slowly emerged into the light of a beautiful (albeit somewhat wet) Easter day.
After discovering an Easter basket on her bed, our dear one ventured out to discover hidden eggs of both the felted and hard boiled variety tucked here and there including the hollows of our Braided Easter Bread.

At bedtime for the past few nights, we've been telling a seasonal story from All Year Round.  In it, a child plants an Easter garden that threatens not to bloom in time for the holiday.  Under the guidance of his garden friend, the Brown Hare, the child paints a picture of the sun that ultimately lures a raincloud to encourage the daffodils to open.  Early Easter morning, after the rain has washed the picture on the round page away, leaving it as white as the moon, the Easter Hare collects the paper and leaves a special gift in its place.  The Hare also whispers to the flowers that the sun has risen and the golden blooms unfurl their last petals.  The boy awakes and, with joy, sees the daffodils blooming and runs down to find the special painted egg with a sun on one side and moon on the other in place of his missing picture.

I forget sometimes about the magic of stories.  I think, because of that simple narrative, Naiya was especially excited about Easter this year.  She insisted on planting her own Easter garden and each night we told that tale, her eyes would glow and she'd talk about to the prospect of a miraculous morning and the gifts that the tricksy Bunny might leave for her.

In addition to several especially magical eggs (with the sun on one side and moon on the other), she also discovered a precious gift from the Fairie Queen (who, gone from our yard for the colder months, still visits and leaves her a little something on the day of the full moon and occasionally on holidays as well).

(check out that incredible morning hair!)

After our light breakfast we headed over to Oma and Opa's house for a more traditional hunt with the cousins.

We'll have to do a little bit of candy negotiating in the days to come...

We hope your Easter festivities were joyful too and that the return of the sun brings warmth and lightness into your lives and hearts.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

hot cross buns

For the past three years I have wanted to make Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday.  This year I finally got around to it during the Great Week of Illness in our house...  The Great Week of Illness wherein our computer was starting to shut down and my camera was out of commission.  Perhaps more on that later.  (Suffice it to say, even a Mac has limits and 15,000 photographs and over 20 hours of stored video is about where those limits start to make themselves known.)
Anyhow, behold the slightly out of focus shot I snapped on my cell phone of those tasty buns.  We had them at tea time with butter and the last of last year's strawberry jam.  In a stroke of genius, I made the crosses from a tube of marzipan paste I've had sitting in my cupboard for some time.  Delicious.

Hot Cross Buns
 (We're a family of three so this recipe for six buns is perfect.  For double the buns, simply double the recipe.)

6 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 Tblsp. sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup currants
marzipan paste

-Butter a ceramic bowl and set aside. Place milk in a saucepan and warm over medium heat until it reaches 110°.  Using a dough hook in an electric mixer, combine milk, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, zests and eggs.  Add flour and mix until dough forms a soft, sticky ball.  Continue kneading for about four minutes more.  Add currants and knead to evenly distribute.
-Turn the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead it briefly and shape it into a ball.  Place it in prepared bowl and turn it to coat with the butter.  Cover and let the dough rise in a warm location until doubled in size (about two hours).
-Turn dough onto a floured work surface.  Knead briefly and roll into a log.  Divide the log in half then cut each half into three equal pieces (making six buns). Shape each piece into a ball.  Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper leaving a few inches between buns.  Cover and let the buns rise in a warm location until doubled in size (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
-Preheat the oven to 375°.  Roll the marzipan paste flat between two sheets of wax or parchment paper then cut into 1/4" strips.  Using the strips, lay crosses onto each bun.  Bake until golden brown (18 to 25 minutes).  Cool on a wire rack.
-Serve warm on Good Friday. 
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