Saturday, April 13, 2013

No Knead Bread

After buying a dutch oven, I finally had the cookware I needed to make no knead bread. It was so easy and came out great - golden brown and crispy on the outside, delightfully dense and chewy on the inside like real artisan bread that we had been carving and trying in vain to make. having now made this a few times, I have found that my favorite recipe so far is one I adapted from a couple of different recipes I found online. Here it is:


0.5 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast
1.5 teaspoons salt
4 Cups (20 oz.) bread flour (mix of white and whole wheat)
1.5 cups water

  1. Dissolve sugar in 0.5 cup warm water. Sprinkle with yeast to proof (let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes).
  2. Mix 2 cups flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in yeast mixture.
  3. Add 2 cups flour and 1.5 cups water. Mix until well blended - making a stiff dough (I usually do the final mixing with hands).
  4. Brush or spray dough with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
  5. Refrigerate 3-10 hours.
  6. Take out of fridge and let rise at cool room temperature 18-24 hours.
  7. Using an oiled spatula, lift and fold dough toward center until mostly deflated. Do not stir. Brush or spray with oil. Cover with plastic wrap. 
  8. Let rise in fridge 4-24 hours (or 1.5-2.5 hours at warm room temp) until doubled in size.
  9. Put rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 450 degrees F. Place heat dutch oven in preheated oven for about 5 minutes.
  10. Loosen dough gently and invert it into pot. Spritz with water. Cover immediately. Give the pot a shake to center dough if necessary.
  11. Bake for about 50 minutes. Remove lid.
  12. Reduce heat to 425 F and bake another 15-20 minutes until browned and center is done. (Sometimes the bread is done for me at the end of the first 50 minutes).
  13. Cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a feather stick (and explore and learn and create and read) together.

Warming daytime temperatures and a little sunshine have gotten me in the mood for Spring. And who welcomes in Spring better than birds? So, here are some bird-related activities and crafts for you to do with your budding Ornithologist. Scroll down to find out about Bird Watching; instructions on making a Paper Birdhouse Garland, a Milk Jug Birdhouse, a Wreath with Pom Pom Nesting Birds; and a book recommendation.

Bird Watching

All you really need to go bird watching is your power of observation and a willingness to get outside and look to the skies (and trees/shrubs/grasses). But it is also a good opportunity to teach your little one how to use binoculars and to use a bird book, pamphlet, and/or internet to identify and get information about the birds you see.

Bird watching is such a fun activity to share with your child (or anyone else, or just to do by yourself). It provides the opportunity to get outside and use all your senses, especially hearing and vision. And learning opportunities abound! On just one outing my 3-year-old and I talked about what makes birds different from other animals (feathers, wings, eggs, hollow bones) and compared and contrasted different types of birds  - their size, colors, beak shape and size, feet, songs/calls, social behaviors, etc. The best part of all this education was that it was not forced, scripted by a book or worksheet or guided lesson. It was simply two people making observations and asking and answering questions - experiential education at its best. Any  questions we had that we didn't know the answers to could be answered by looking them up together in a book or on the internet when we got home.

We live close to the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge, which includes a nice wetland area just inland of the Columbia River. Wetlands are great places to find birds. While driving into the refuge, we spotted a really huge flock of white birds flying west (downriver) over the river. I am guessing that it was maybe a flock of snow geese migrating toward the mouth of the river. What great luck to witness a Spring bird migration on our outing!

The refuge is home to many hawks. We probably saw around seven hawks while we were out. Of course we saw the most common hawk in our area, the Red-Tailed Hawk. We also saw another large hawk which, using my trusty old Peterson Field Guide, I have determined was the dark phase of a Swainson's Hawk. It was fun to watch these magnificent birds perch and soar above our heads.

Red-Tailed Hawk, dark phase - Buteo jamaicensis

I believe this is a Swainson's Hawk, dark phase - Buteo swaisoni

Naturally, we saw lots of ducks on the water. But what drew our attention more was the noisy large flock of blackbirds congregated in the nearby leafless trees. Using the binoculars, we identified lots of red-winged blackbirds with a handful of yellow-headed blackbirds hanging out with the crowd. I love the squeaky, raspy calls of the blackbirds, which always remind me of wetlands in the spring and summer.

Paper Birdhouse Garland

This is a simple and fast craft that came out pretty cute. You just need to cut little paper squares, triangles, and circles (good shapes lesson for younger kiddos). This was a good use for some paper scraps I had from a previous project. Your preschooler can use a glue stick to glue the triangle roof and round bird hole onto the square. We then used a hole punch to make two little holes in each, strung them on a length of curling ribbon, and hung them in the living room.

Milk Jug Birdhouse

This is another Pinterest-inspired craft is using plastic milk jugs to make birdhouses.

1. Paint the jugs.
    We painted jugs with cheap acrylic paint. When they were dry, I wanted to seal it so the paint won't peel.
    So, I decided to use some Mod Podge. First, I mixed it with a little water and started brushing it on - and
    the paint came off. Next, I added more glue and mixed it with some of the paint. That was better, but
    upon experimentation, we found that it was best to not add any water and just mix Mod Podge with paint
    and dab it on with a foam brush. I think you could probably do this from the get go instead of doing two

My daughter chose bright colors for painting the birdhouses.

2. Determine what size hole you want based on what kind of bird you want to attract. 
    We decided on a 2-inch hole since we get a lot of finches here and thought that would have the best
    chance of being used. We measured various round objects we had and found that the bottom of a Play-
    Doh cup is exactly 2 inches, so my daughter used that as a guide to trace around and I cut the hole out
    with scissors.

3. Collect various natural materials for decorating the birdhouse - sticks, small rocks, 
    grasses, leaves, bark - and use a hot glue gun to attach them to the jug.
    You may also wish to put some soft grasses or mosses into the bottom of the birdhouse to give any bird
    that may choose to take up residence a head start in making her nest. Don't forget to poke a hole and
    insert a little branch as a perch below the opening. Also pierce little holes near the top and string twine
    through for hanging.

Nesting Pom Pom Birds Wreath

You could make any part of this craft - just the cute little pom pom birds, birds in nests, or use them like we did to decorate a wreath for early Spring. We took the decorations off our Simple Valentine Wreath and used our dogwood branch wreath for this craft.

Pom Pom Birds

We made the birds using two pom poms, little wiggly eyes, felt, and a hot glue gun. I only had pom poms in one size, so trimmed one down with scissors for the head. I did the cutting and glue application while my preschooler chose the colors and pressed all the parts where I put the glue.


We gathered some Spanish moss-type stuff from an old flower basket and some dried daylily leaves that I had raked out of the garden to use as nest-making material. We just shaped them by hand and glued the little birdies in as desired.


Using the hot glue gun and following my daughter's instruction, I attached the nests to our wreath. We added a few little pine cones and barberry twigs as decoration and completed it with a length of wide ribbon.

A Must Read

I'm sure there are lots of great children's books about birds, but we discovered the book The Mountain that loved a Bird by Alice McLerran at our local library and found it to be such a beautiful story with wonderful illustrations by Eric Carle that I just had to recommend it to everyone. All at once, it is a story about a loving friendship, ecology, and the passage of time. The biologist, the philosopher, and the mom in me all loved this book!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Little Geologist

As I was browsing around on Pinterest, I discovered a Kindergarten Science blog called Little Miss Hypothesis. The latest post was about rock collecting and sorting. My preschooler and I listened to the kids read the book "Everybody Needs a Rock" by Byrd Baylor. We decided that we needed to go rock collecting and do some sorting too. Yes! We would be geologists for the morning.

 We donned clothes that could get dirty, for we might have to sit on the ground to search for just the right rocks. We decided to walk down to the river, where we knew there were lots of great rocks. We found a couple of empty Play-Doh containers for our collection. And off we went.

Since it was cool and sprinkling outside, we choose to bring our rocks inside and use my daughter's little portable chalkboard for our classification exercises. After dumping our two containers out onto the table, Sweet Pea wanted to wash them all off.

Washing the rocks

She had lots of fun sorting the rocks first by color (light, dark, and medium) and then by size (big, small, medium) before she was ready to sort them one last time by her own criteria which we determined was "random".
Proud Little Geologist

Classifying Rocks by Size
Random sorting is serious business!

Later in the day, it was time for each of us to choose one rock that would be our own special rock. I had already selected mine in my mind - it was the first rock I picked up, which was golden in color, felt just right in my hand, and was heart-shaped. I thought it would either take Sweet Pea a long time to choose one or that she would just choose the first one she picked up. She surprised me by her quick selection. When I asked why she chose that particular rock, she said with a grin, "because it is shaped like a heart." Warm fuzzy moment for mama!

my special rock
Sweet Pea's special rock

I'm going to surprise her for Valentine's Day with a special little box where she can keep her rock. Everyone knows that geologists are big softies at heart!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Crafts with Preschooler

My 3-year-old daughter really enjoys doing crafts. I enjoy crafts also, and I enjoy doing them with her. However, I have to admit that it can be difficult sometimes to come up with projects that she can do that turn out nice enough to display someplace besides on the fridge. I'm a little behind the curve, but have finally discovered the value of Pinterest for discovering good craft projects and activities suitable for my preschooler and me. Here are a few Valentine's Day crafts that we have recently done together.  


Simple Valentine Wreath

I really enjoy having a Christmas wreath on my front door and have always admired wreaths on other people's door for other seasons. I figured they either have a lot of money (wreaths can be very expensive) or are very crafty and have a lot of money (even the supplies for making wreaths can be cost a pretty penny). After tossing my Christmas wreath into the trash can, I decided I would make a wreath.

I had three criteria:

  1. I didn't want to spend a bunch of money; 
  2. I wanted to have my 3-year-old help make it; and 
  3. I would like it to be versatile enough to be able to use it for different seasons. 

Here's what I did:

  • Saved some branches from pruning my dogwood shrub and formed them into a wreath shape.
  • Found some silver ribbon and thin red ribbon that I had at home and let my daughter help me wrap the ribbon around the wreath.
  • Found some red and pink felt that I had at home and cut out heart shapes. I used a hot glue gun to glue the center hanging heart to the ribbon. As I was considering how to attach the rest of the hearts to the wreath, my daughter suggested that we just tuck them under the ribbon. Genius! She could do that part and when Valentine's Day is over, we can just pull them out and create a new design for Spring.
I have seen many more elaborate and beautiful wreaths, but this one met my criteria and suits us just fine.

Simple Valentine Wreath detail

Paper Heart Garland 1:

I found this simple Paper Heart Garland craft on Pinterest. Just cut strips of construction paper or card stock, fold in half, use a hold punch, then string ribbon through the holes and hang!

Paper Heart Garland 2:

One of the first crafts we did for Valentine's Day was to cut out some paper hearts which my preschooler then decorated - some with stickers, others with glued-on sparkles, and still others with colored pencil. What to do with these hearts next?

I used the same idea from making the Paper Heart Garland 1 to have my daughter help punch holes, string, and hang these hearts as well.

Paper Heart Crown

This is what my daughter decided to do with the leftover paper hearts that we didn't use for the garland.

"Tie-Dye" Window Hearts

I saw this Tie Dye Coffee Filter Valentine Heart Craft on Pinterest. As I don't use white coffee filters, I used paper towels instead and they worked great.

Sweet Pea used washable markers to make her design. Then she dripped water using a water dropper.

We let it dry, then I cut a heart out of construction paper and she glued on the tie-dyed paper towel. We taped it to the window when the sun came out. Pretty!

Strawberry Greek Yogurt Smoothie

After all this crafting, you will want a special snack to share with your little Valentine.
To make this smoothie:

  • Put 10 large frozen strawberries and about 1 tablespoon of honey in a food processor (I love my Cuisinart!) and puree that to a slush.
  • Add greek yogurt (maybe about 2 cups), a tablespoon of flax meal, and a little milk (1/4 cup or more to your thickness preference).
  • Puree till smooth and thick.
  • Since it is so healthy and we wanted to make it extra special, we put a little dollop of whipped cream on top. Yum! 

I hope you enjoy doing these crafts with your favorite crafting pal. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

30-Day At-Home "Jump-Start Your Exercise" Challenge

Need to get started with some kind of exercise routine?

Been wanting to exercise but don't know where to begin?

This 30-Day At-Home Exercise Challenge is for YOU!

All you need is 15-20 minutes per day and a desire to get up and move. This is a beginner level challenge, with workouts that include a mix of cardio and strength training. If you want more of a challenge, add some weights or do more sets. At the end of 30 days, you'll feel better and look better. More importantly, you'll want to do more to continue your journey to better health. What are you waiting for? Let's get started!

Click on the link to see how to do the exercise. You can modify as needed, and many of the links suggest modifications. I have Day 4 as the one day off for the week, but you can choose whatever day you want to be your day off. Feel free to mix up the exercises or the days, but don't cheat! Challenge yourself - you'll be glad you did. Have fun!

WEEK ONE - Let's Get Started

Day 1: 25 jumping jacks, 5 push-ups, 10 crunches, 10 standing static lunges (each leg; with or without hand weights), 10 squats (4 rounds)

Day 2: 5 frog jumps, 15-30-second plank, 15-30-second side plank (both sides), 10 walking lunges  (4 rounds)

Day 3: 20-30 seconds mountain climberspush-ups, 8 sit-ups, 20 bridge lifts (4 rounds)

Day 4: Rest Day!

Day 5: 25 jumping jacks, 8 push-ups, 12 crunches, 10 rear lunges each leg, 10 squats (4 rounds)

Day 6: 5 burpees15-30-second plank, 30-second side plank (both sides), 10 side lunges each leg (4 rounds)

Day 7 - WEEKLY CHALLENGE: 10 frog jumps, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups  (How many rounds can you do in 10 minutes?)

WEEK TWO - Upping the Ante (a little)

Day 8: 35 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 15 standing static lunges (each leg; with or without hand weights), 15 squats (4 rounds)

Day 9: 8 frog jumps, 30-second plank, 30-second side plank (both sides), 20 walking lunges  (4 rounds)

Day 10: 30 seconds mountain climbers, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 20 bridge lifts (4 rounds)

Day 11: Rest Day!

Day 12: 35 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 15 rear lunges each leg, 15 squats (4 rounds)

Day 13: 8 burpees30-second plank, 30-second side plank (both sides), 15 side lunges each leg (4 rounds)

Day 14 - WEEKLY CHALLENGE: 10 frog jumps, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups  (How many rounds can you do in 10 minutes? Compare with last week's results.)

WEEK THREE - Keeping It Going

Day 15: 50 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 15 standing static lunges (each leg; with or without hand weights), 15 squats (5 rounds)

Day 16: 10 frog jumps, 30-second plank, 30-second side plank (both sides), 20 walking lunges  (5 rounds)

Day 17: 30 seconds mountain climbers, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 20 bridge lifts (5 rounds)

Day 18: Rest Day!

Day 19: 50 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 15 rear lunges each leg, 15 squats (5 rounds)

Day 20: 10 burpees, 45-second plank, 45-second side plank (both sides), 15 side lunges each leg (5 rounds)

Day 21 - WEEKLY CHALLENGE: 10 frog jumps, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups  (How many rounds can you do in 10 minutes? Compare with last week's results.)

WEEK FOUR - Home Stretch

Day 22: 50 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 20 standing static lunges (each leg; with or without hand weights), 20 squats (5 rounds)

Day 23: 10 frog jumps, 45-second plank, 45-second side plank (both sides), 20 walking lunges  (5 rounds)

Day 24: 45 seconds mountain climbers, 10 push-ups, 15 sit-ups, 25 bridge lifts (5 rounds)

Day 25: Rest Day!

Day 26: 50 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 15 crunches, 20 rear lunges each leg, 20 squats (5 rounds)

Day 27: 10 burpees, 60-second plank, 60-second side plank (both sides), 20 side lunges each leg (5 rounds)

Day 28 - WEEKLY CHALLENGE: 10 frog jumps, 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups  (How many rounds can you do in 10 minutes? Compare with last week's results.)

LAST TWO DAYS - You can do it!

Day 29: 50 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups, 20 crunches, 20 lunges of your choice (each leg; with or without hand weights) (5 rounds)

Day 30: 10 burpees, 60-second plank, 60-second side plank (both sides), 25 squats (5 rounds)


So, what's next? 
If you are up for a bigger challenge, check out my 30-Day At-Home Cardio & CrossFit Challenge.

Disclaimer: I am not a physical fitness expert; just a woman who is trying to stay in shape and encourage others to do the same. Know yourself and your limits and don't do something if it doesn't feel right.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bay Cioppino

Tonight, I made Bay Cioppino from my favorite soup cookbook - Cuisine at Home: Splendid Soups & Spectaular Sides in my 8-quart dutch oven. Both the recipe and the cookware exceeded my expectations.

Being somewhat landlocked, fresh seafood is hard to come by. I found some small clams and wild caught prawns at Yoke's and used frozen Wild Alaskan Pacific Cod from Costco. Using roasted cherry tomatoes from last summer's garden and fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley) from my Aerogarden helped make this recipe a success.

The basic recipe follows:

  1. Sweat the following veggies in 2 Tbs. olive oil: 1 C onion, 1/2 C each of carrot, celery, red bell pepper, fennel bulb, 1 Tbs. garlic.
  2. Stir in: 2 Tbs. tomato paste, chopped fresh thyme, oregoano, basil, basil, and 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, salt, bay leaf. Deglaze with 1 C white wine. Simmer down 5 minutes or so.
  3. Add: 1 qt. tomatoes, 2 C chicken broth, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 1 tsp. sugar. Simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 lb. clams or mussels, 3/4 lb. cubed cod. Simmer 5 minutes. Add 1/2 lb. shrimp. Simmer 5 more minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Bay Cioppino

Homemade No Knead Bread, Salad, and White Wine rounds out the meal.

Homemade Chocolate Mousse make a rich and delicious end to the meal.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Closer

I like taking pictures and I want to become a better photographer. I finally have a decent camera (Nikon D3100 with a couple of basic lenses - 18-55mm, and 55-200mm zoom). I discovered a free online course called the Photocritic Photography School, which sends a lesson via email about every 3 weeks that teaches about a particular aspect of photography and gives an assignment. You can then upload a photo to Flickr and a real person provides feedback based on that lesson. For free! Really. So cool.

So, one of the assignments was called "Getting Closer" in which you were supposed to move in closer and closer to your live subject (person, cat, chimp, whatever) until you both were perhaps a little uncomfortable, even scared. The idea was to get a better portrait and tell a better story. The author asserts that, if you want to take better pictures, you almost always have to get closer to your subject. Of course, it helps if you get it perfectly in focus, especially the eyes. This is one of the hardest parts for me, especially when working with a subject who likes to move a lot, and one who wears glasses.

Here is my latest photo portrait using this approach. It is not perfect, but is much better than my first attempt, and I feel that I am "getting closer" to understanding a little bit more about photography.