Sunday, September 27, 2015

Benefits of increasing water consumption and a delicious recipe!

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We have all heard before that you are supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day.  But why?  Is there a real reason behind that magic number?  I don't know about you, but I for one find it actually really hard to make it through that much water a day.
I did a little research to find out why we need so much water a day, and what the actual benefits are.  The CDC states that water helps your body regulate it's temperature, lubricate and cushion joints, protect your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and aid in getting rid of waste.
Infusing water naturally is a great way to enjoy  those 8 glasses painlessly!
I dug a little deeper and found some added benefits. 

  • Water helps your kidneys.  When your kidneys have enough fluid they are able to help cleanse and flush your body of toxins.  Increasing your fluid intake can also help prevent kidney stones.  Sounds pretty beneficial to me!
  • Water can help control your calories.  If you're drinking enough water you probably aren't craving the sugary high-calorie drinks you might normally reach for.  Also, foods high in water content take up more space and help you feel fuller.  Think things like fruits, vegetables, beans, soups, etc.
  • Water can help kick-start your metabolism.  Many people recommend drinking a full glass of water before every meal.  Not only will it help with your metabolism and digestion, but you also won't be as hungry and won't feel the need to eat as much.  Pretty natural way to achieve portion control!
  • Water can help energize your body and muscles.  Particularly if you are getting ready to exercise, making sure that your muscles have adequate fluid will prevent fatigue and increase stamina.
  • Water helps with the appearance of your skin.  Skin is made up of 64% water, so replenishing the water that you loose throughout the day can prevent a dull appearance, wrinkles and even blemishes.  Say what?  How could water be the best skin care routine, its free?!  From what I read I learned that without proper hydration your skin can appear duller, and wrinkles or blemishes become more prominent.  Women's Health states that as we increase our water intake our skin plumps up, filling in cracks, wrinkles and pores.  As a bonus when our skin is hydrated, plump and elastic, it is less likely to crack and let in external particles that can cause future blemishes.  Check out this article if you would like to read more!
So overall I've learned that Water can give my skin a healthier appearance, energize my body, help cut down on wasted caloric intake, positively effect my metabolism and digestion, and improve my kidney function.  To me these look like huge benefits without needing to go out and spend any money.

But, the hardest part is actually drinking the water.  A while ago I created a blog post with a recipe for some really yummy Naturally Flavored Water.  Check it out for a very fruity and delicious water recipe.

I decided to make another simple one the other day.  By making my water interesting I find it easier to drink the recommended amount.  And, I'm not spending money on pre-flavored water.  In addition, since this is natural I don't have to worry about extra additives or unnecessary sugar additions.
Strawberries and fresh Mint from the garden ready to infuse water!
We still have a decent amount of Mint in our garden from this summer, and I had some strawberries left in the fridge, so I decided to make a Strawberry-Mint flavored water.  I gathered my supplies, sliced the strawberries and muddled the mint leaves, and then I filled my water bottle with freshly filtered water.

Add in 20 oz. of water and let sit overnight, lovely and subtle flavor the next day!
I stuck the water in the fridge and let it sit over night.  Then in the morning I filtered out the strawberries and mint, tossed in a few ice cubes and enjoyed!  

I used 4 strawberries and about 2 full sprigs of Mint, and my water bottle holds 20 oz. of water.  This is equal to about 2.5 cups of water.  The flavor was subtle but tasty!  If you want a stronger flavor you could also muddle the strawberries, or increase the amount you use.  

I finished the full 20 oz. at my desk that morning, and barely even realized that I was already 1/3 of the way finished with the recommended water intake for the day!

For me, this is a great alternative.  I enjoy water, but when I have to force myself to drink 8 glasses I'm less inclined to drink.  There are so many different ways to flavor your water, I would encourage you to see what flavors you have an play around.  This week I think I will be trying a watermelon basil flavor, mainly because I have basil from the garden I need to use before it's too late in the season!

What flavors would you enjoy?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Math Exploration - Final Pinecone Roundup

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Today I am going to complete my Pinecone activity Roundups with Math activities!  Please check out my post on Pinecone Art Activities as well as Pinecone Science Activities.  I've had a lot of fun gathering ideas for different curriculum elements using natural materials that our youngest learners inquire about.  Fall has definitely hit New England and it was great to be able to bring nature inside and get those little minds inspired and little fingers engaged!

The first place I visited was Nurture Store: Creative Kids Learning for their Math Station.  I love that their math station leaves room for it to be an independent activity, group activity, or teacher directed activity, so many choices!  An investigation sheet leaves room for various questions, that you could come up with ahead of time, or come up with together as a group.  Then there is room for an estimation, as well as the actual answer.  Teaching young children how to estimate, and then test their answer is a valuable tool!  Cathy then goes on to use various tools to help identify answers.  Some of these tools included a ruler, tape measure and kitchen scale.  So many great conversations and ways to incorporate new math vocabulary!  What a rich math station.
Pinecone Math Station from the Nurture Store
Next I stopped over to Living Montessori Now, where they had some great ideas for math time outside!  By bringing chalk outside they had a whole huge canvas to use!  The possibilities are limitless.  Here Deb used the pinecones as math counters and children were able to match the correct number of pinecones to the written numeral.  She also recommends bringing two colors of chalk, that way younger children can trace numbers that you write.  Excellent way to think outside the box!
Outdoor Math Station with Living Montessori Now
And finally I stopped over at Toddler Approved where they created a Simple Counting Game of Pinecone Toss.  This not only included our math skills, but also hand eye coordination, bonus!  Kristina set out three bowls, big - 1 point, medium - 2 points, and small - 3 points.  Children took turns rolling a die, based on the number they rolled they tossed that many pinecones and tried to get the most points.  So for example, if they rolled a 3 and tossed all 3 pinecones into the furthest bowl they would have a total of 3 points.  If they tossed 3 pinecones, missed 2, and got the 3rd into the smallest bowl they would also get a total of 3 points.  Children can practice writing their numbers, or even tally marks, as they keep track of their scores.  What a simple and basic game, but I can see it being a lot of fun!
Pinecone Toss over at Toddler Approved
I hope that you all enjoyed my three Roundups on various pinecone activities.  Who knew that there were so many ways to use nature in the classroom?  In one day you could incorporate a Math, Science and Art activity into the classroom all with nature.  Let me know if you try any of these, and what your children think!

As a reminder, if you gather your own pinecones and want to get rid of bugs, sap, or other grit before using them with children, this is a great article to walk you through how to properly clean and preserve them.

Happy pinecone hunting!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Art Eploration - Pinecone Round Up

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Last week I completed a Science Exploration - Pinecone Round Up post.  Since fall is finally here, it was a great round up of simple activities to do with young children when you find pinecones out in the natural environment.  But there are so many more ways that we can bring nature inside of the classroom!  This week I decided to stick with the pinecone theme and do a roundup of Art Activities for you.  I hope you give some of them a try!
The first stop I made was over to Freebie Finding Mom where they made Homemade Pinecone Bird Feeders.  What a fantastic idea!  We would have to tweak their recipe a little bit, because we do not use nut products in our school due to allergies.  But I know that we can find an alternative.  Not only will children enjoy participating in this project, but by placing the bird feeders out side of a classroom window, we can incorporate a whole new set of learning opportunities, spark curiosity and observation.  This is a fabulous way to bring nature into the classroom and create something new.
Homemade Pinecone Bird Feeders from  Freebie Finding Mom
My next stop was over at Craftionary where they had their own collection of 30 Kids Fall Crafts.  There were a lot of good ones, but my favorite was this little pinecone guy.  Can't you just imagine the amount of fun young students would have creating these?  I can see them enjoying the process, but then expanding their learning to imaginary play afterwards.  You can provide any number of materials and see how they choose to create their own characters.  Each child would have something unique and different.  So much fun!
Pinecone Monsters over at Craftionary
Over at Kiboomu they shared a great Pinecone painting activity as well as an Autumn Song.  I definitely see us incorporating both into our classrooms.  Songs are a really great addition to any lesson at the Early Education level.  I love how they used the pinecones as paintbrushes.  This adds a whole new texture for young artists.  Depending on what pinecones we have collected they can inquire and investigate about whether they will all make the same strokes, will different sizes matter, if you roll them on the paper will it look different than if you brush them?  I can think of so many ways to expand on this learning experience!
Pinecone painting and Autumn song over at Kiboomu Kids Songs
Teach Preschool took another spin on Pinecone Painting, where the children got to actually paint their own pinecones.  This was a great use of fine motor control.  I like how she also incorporated different materials for them to use.  By adding mod podge to the paint it dries with a shine, and allowing the children the independence to use glitter (very brave!) is great.  It sounds like the children kept coming back to complete more pinecones, so I'm sure the activity was a hit!  What a great way to make painting new and exciting!
Pinecone Painting over at Teach Preschool
Finally, I stopped over at How to Build It, because let's be honest, art projects aren't just for children! I can't believe how a little bit of spray paint dress these pinecones up!  This would be an awesome pop of color for a center piece!  I would love to try this for my house!!
Spray Painted Pinecones at How to Build It
Also, if you are planning on doing any of these, or other, pinecone crafts you should properly clean them first.  This helps to get rid of bugs, sap, and other grit.  I found a great article over at Tip Nut on how to prepare and preserve pinecones.  Have fun!!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ravioli Pasta from Scratch

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This year was my 29th birthday, rather than gifts I asked my husband for two things.  1 - to train for a half marathon with me, and 2 - for us to cook a new recipe together once a month.  The half marathon training ended pretty quickly when I couldn't recover from pretty terrible shin splits.  We managed to complete a 5K, and continue to motivate each other at the gym, but I don't think I will be doing any long distance running any time soon.

With request 2 are currently a month behind, but have been having fun with our recipe a month.  Cooking something new and out of our comfort zone has been great, and spending the meaningful time together has been even better.  I love gifts that are experiences rather than materialistic "stuff".

This month we decided to make ravioli from start to finish.  I referenced recipes from Taste of Home and The Food Network (Tyler Florence).  We didn't follow either recipe exactly, but for the most part came up with an easy dough recipe.  For the filling we more or less winged it, it was a little bit on the salty side, but that's my preference!  Below I outlined our process in photos!

We started by creating the dough in the stand mixer.  Very easy ingredients, flour, salt,  eggs and a little olive oil.  This step can absolutely be done without the use of an electric mixer, but we chose the easy route.
Next, we kneaded the dough on a  well floured board for 10 minutes or so, until all of the ingredients are incorporated well.
We formed the dough into a ball, brushed with Olive Oil and wrapped in plastic wrap.  We left this out on the counter at room temperature for about a half hour.  My research informed me that this step is to allow the gluten to relax
Here is our pasta dough "relaxing" 
Fortunately my mom has a great pasta machine, so we were able to roll the dough out easily, without a pasta machine I'm sure you can roll with a rolling pin, but it most certainly would take longer.  This was a team effort, we cut the dough into 1/4, kept the dough we weren't using covered, floured the remainder and rolled through the machine.  We started at the highest setting and kept rolling until it was about 1/8" thick.
Here is what our pasta dough looked like all rolled out.  We made sure to keep it on a well floured surface so that nothing would stick.
We created our filling with a combination of ricotta, mozzarella, egg and spices.  Lots of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and basil.  On half the dough we put dollops of filling about and inch apart.  We then folded over the other half, and pressed out as many air bubbles as we could.
After pressing down on the dough we cut out each square, and again tried to seal them shut by pushing out the air pockets.
We then used a fork around the edges to seal the raviolis
We placed them on a baking sheet that was dusted with corn meal, so that they could dry out a bit as we rolled out the rest.

Once they were all made we placed our raviolis into a pot of boiling water.  We placed a few at a time so that they wouldn't crowd the pot and get stuck together.  Once they float to the top they are finished, although I felt like ours floated to the top pretty quickly!
We drained the water, and they were ready to go!
This definitely was not a fast process, it took a lot of time and patience, but it definitely paid off!  They came out delicious and we were really proud of ourselves for being able to make pasta from scratch, start to finish!

We are still thinking about what other recipes we can try and complete this year.  Do you have any specialties?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Science Exploration - Pinecone Round Up

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Fall is definitely upon us, whether we are ready or not.  As we were out walking the dog today I came across the biggest perfect pinecone.  Immediately I knew I had to save it and bring it to school for the Preschool classroom's science area.  I can already see the kids with magnifying glasses in hand ready to explore.  But first, I need to find out how to remove the sap, my hands were covered!
This prompted me to search around a little for some activities we would be able to do with the preschoolers surrounding pinecones.  I know that as we delve farther into fall they will be all over the place, we can take them for walks and gather pinecones galore.  But what will we do with them?  Here is a round up of some of the activities I found that I know we will be trying.
First I hopped over to Preschool Powol Packets and checked out their article on Pinecone Experiments and Exploration.  They gathered pinecones, and other materials on a walk, and then thought of questions such as:  Will they float?  Can you close a pinecone that is open?  Will the size change?  They put them into a bowl of water to see if they could answer their questions.  What a simple way to introduce cause and effect for children!
Pinecone Exploration and Experiments over at Preschool Powol Packets
Next I visited Science Sparks and checked out their pinecone weather station.  After a little research they found that when it is dry pinecones open up, and when it's going to rain they close down.  So they placed four pinecones on a visible window sill outside as a weather station.  I think that this is an awesome visual and hands on activity for children.  I know our friends would eat this up, they would be checking out the window every day!  Can't wait to give this one a try as well.

Pinecone Weather Station from Science Sparks
Up next was Lemon Lime Adventures and their article on Why do Pinecones open up?  Their experiment used three different scenarios.  Adding a pinecone to Cold Water, Warm Water, and just air.  Once again this is an awesome visual for children to really see what is happening.  They can make predictions about what they think will happen, and then check back later to see if they were right.  Usually making hypothesis and predictions like this will lead to more questions and experimentation.  What a great way to get the learning wheels turning!
Why do Pinecones Open? By Lemon Lime Adventures
And finally I visited Teach Preschool, one of my favorite blogs to check out their Pine Needles in a Bottle.  I think that this will make an excellent addition to our sensory bottle collection.  How easy is this?  They literally added pine needs, glitter, and water to an empty water bottle.  That's it!  But the effect is unreal!  I love how she incorporated different sizes and shapes of water bottles to see how it changed the perspectives.  The curves of the water bottle naturally magnify the pine needles.  So simple, all free materials, this is definitely happening!
Pine Needle Sensory Bottles from Teach Preschool
I think I found a pretty good round up of science activities.  The best part is that they all include little to no prep time or materials.  These will be excellent follow up activities to a nature walk outside, where we can observe the changes in our environment and gather supplies.
What other science activities do you like to incorporate with your young curious minds?

Monday, September 7, 2015

My current book of choice

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Currently on my reading list...thoughts to follow.
What's on yours? 

Healthy Baked Fish

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As we shop for deals we will often times buy food that we can freeze, because the prices are good.  That doesn't mean that we necessarily have a recipe in mind.  A couple of weeks ago one of those items was a nice white fish.  I don't cook fish very often, so I knew I would need to think of a way to cook it, but the price was too good to walk away from.
I decided to defrost the fish and add it onto our weekly meal plan.  I knew that our days have been pretty busy and I wouldn't have time for anything gourmet, so I settled on a pretty basic baked fish recipe.
Similar to how I cook most meals, I looked at a few recipes, settled on what temperature the oven should be, approximately how long the fish should cook for, and promptly threw the rest out the window.  I played around with some ingredients I thought would taste good, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  Fortunately it turned out great!  Some how that tends to happen, but then I'm always disappointed with myself for not being able to recreate the same recipe next time.  So at least  this time I wrote it down!
Here is what I came up with:
  • Pre-heat oven to 425º
  • Lightly grease a glass baking dish big enough to fit fish
  • Rinse fish filet with cool water and pat dry with paper towel
  • Lay the fish in the greased baking dish
  • In a small sauce pan, melt 1/4 stick of butter, 1/4 cup of olive oil, a few cloves of minced garlic, the juice of one lemon, and dried basil, parsley, thyme and oregano.
  • Pour the melted butter mixture over the fish filets
Melted butter mixture gets poured directly onto the waiting fish

  • Sprinkle the top of the fish with Italian bread crumbs (I think panko bread crumbs would have been even better, but this is what I had on hand) 

Sprinkle the top of the fish with bread crumbs

  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes apart. 

The end result was an unbelievably light and delicious fish.  Easy clean up since it was baked, and we both agreed the flavor was perfect.  I added in some garlic mashed potatoes with a side of corn for a well balanced and healthy meal.  Yum!

How do you like to cook your fish?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Easy Grab and Go Breakfast - Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

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This week we did a great job sticking to our weekly meal plan!  Again, I shopped our pantry and freezer before coming up with our "menu" for the week, and then I ended up only spending $50 on groceries for the rest of the week.  That is less than half of what I would normally spend just going to the store without a plan in place, so that was a huge bonus!  I thought I would share some of the recipes that were a big hit this week.
The first one is for Banana Chocolate Chip muffins.  This is a great grab and go breakfast or perfect for a sweet snack when you're waiting in-between meals.  It is easy to make, and is a perfect way to use over ripe bananas instead of throwing them out and wasting food.  I like to add flax seed to mine for extra fiber and a heartier breakfast, but that is totally optional (as are the chocolate chips!)
I also used the stand mixer, but I have made this recipe a number of times and usually just use elbow grease and a spoon, so again, totally optional!  I'm not usually a huge baker, because you have to follow recipes pretty exactly.  When I cook I like to throw things together and cross my fingers they will turn out ok, but there is nothing wrong with switching it up!  This also had the added benefit of making busy mornings quick.  Rather than skipping breakfast all together there was an easy option to eat on the go.
Here is the recipe I like to follow:
1.  Pre-heat oven to 350º
2.  Spray muffin tin, or line with cupcake liners
3.  In a large bowl combine 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt
4.  In a separate bowl, or the stand mixer, cream together 1 stick of butter and 3/4 cup of brown sugar
Creaming butter and brown sugar is so much easier with a mixer!  But not necessary to still make delicious muffins
 5.  With mixer on low, add in 2 beaten eggs and 3-4 ripe bananas, to the butter and sugar mixture.  If you are not using a stand mixer, then beat the eggs and banana together first, and then hand mix into creamed butter and sugar mixture.
6. Slowly combine the flour mixture with the banana mixture until well mixed.  You can either use the stand mixer on low, a hand mixer on low, or just use a wooden spoon and bowl.
7.  Optional - Now is when I add in a handful of flax seed and mix completely.
8.  Take the mixture and fill muffin tins with a generous amount, generally I can make 18-20 muffins.
9.  Optional - I top each muffin with chocolate chips
10.  Bake in the muffin tins for 20 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clean.
11.  Enjoy!
The finished product, muffins waiting to be enjoyed 
Banana Chocolate Chip Ingredient List:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 2 eggs - beaten
  • 3-4 ripe bananas - mashed
  • Optional - flax seed and chocolate chips
Let me know if you give them a try, yum!

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