Monday, September 6, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls the Lazy--and Natural--Way

We had a mega sleepover at our house last night. And since I knew I wouldn't be doing a lot of sleeping (who does at these events?), I wanted a yummy breakfast (read: I wanted to be "the cool mom") for the kidz that would also be easy for me. I found Immaculate Baking Company's Cinnamon Rolls at my Super Target. And they. were. awesome.

First off, these rolls are huge. They're absolutely loaded with cinnamon, and the icing is a great consistency. I bought 2 packs of 5 for 6 Kidz and they were gone within minutes. I ate what was left of my Kidz' second one and it was amazing. Tender, flaky bread with just the right amount of sweetness.

And the bonus? In making my purchase I was supporting a local company whose founder has a pretty great story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mmmmm.....Natural Indulgence

First off, let me be clear: this post is NOT intended to share a "healthy" food/product/habit. It's about indulgence, and what day more deserves indulgence than a birthday? Of course, this being NatureKidz, I will share my pictures and attempts at making an all-natural (albeit full of fat, sugar, and other bad stuff) birthday cake that I made for my youngest Nature Kid, who recently turned eight.

One of the toughest parts about raising Nature Kidz is that typical mainstream food that is marketed to kids is almost without exception full of chemicals. Petrochemicals to be clear. Artificial flavors like Vanillin (which has absolutely no chemical relation to vanilla), and colors (anything beginning with "FD&C") and other additives are petroleum based chemicals, and the truth is that they can make some people sick. Plus, who wants to eat petroleum? Not me!

So, I have spent the past couple of years experimenting with various natural colors. I reviewed the India Tree colors here. This time I ordered Chefmaster natural colors from Baker's Nook online (can't find them anywhere locally that I am aware). The pictures show the results.

The first rule for those who want to try this is that you just can't expect the brilliant colors you find in the "flavor blasted" fish crackers or in ice pops and that sort of thing. But my Nature Kid, an animal lover, designed the cake herself. I merely put in the hard labor.

What we ended up with is a yellow cake in 2 tiers with buttercream frosting (real butter, sugar, and cream--no shortening here!) and gumpaste figures for decoration. The "dog food" in the bowl is actually Whole Foods' 365 brand Cocoa cereal. The gumpaste figures and the floral border/trim are all colored with the natural food colors. The result? Absolutely sinfully delicious. And Nature Kid was completely thrilled. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

WANTED! (Warning: Images Might Shock)

WANTED: Harris D. Rabbit
Aliases: Harry Rabbit, Hoppy Rabbit, Bun E. Rabbit
Charges: Pillaging the Nature Kidz garden; breaking and entering; nibbling on immature fruits--watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries.

This larcenous hare is wanted in connection with a serious of heinous crimes in Nature Kidz Land. Lovingly tended strawberries have vanished just before peak of ripeness, and a watermelon was progressively devoured over a period of days. This fellow does not respect chicken wire fences; he takes what he wants and leaves. We have to wonder if he is the same with his girlfriends, and if there's a gang off junior Harrises hopping around, fatherless, looking for juicy blueberries.

Should the culprit be caught, kindly deliver him to the Nature Kidz, whose parents will do like British Imperialists and ship them to penal colonies in Australia, or maybe just Georgia.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homemade Lemonade!

Making Memories: Nature Kidz’ First Lemonade Stand

It has been frightfully hot recently in Nature Kidz Land. Over 100, with heat indexes above 110 some days. We have often promised the Kidz that they could have a lemonade stand . . . someday. Well, last night when I spied a bag of organic lemons at Earth Fare, I decided that day would be today.

Not being one to do things halfway, I decided the lemonade we sold would have to be all natural—none of that powdered junk for us. I had some Trader Joe’s frozen lemonade as a backup, but making homemade lemonade seemed like a fun project for the Kidz.

OK, it was mostly my project, but each Kid plus a sleepver guest Kid tried her hand at squeezing the lemons. And the result was quite good!! It was probably too hot outside for people to even do yard work, but we did have some neighbors and other folks come by to purchase the wares. And the Kidz were rewarded with a trip to the pool and a few extra bucks in their pockets.

Here’s my recipe:

2 cups organic lemon juice (probably 8-10 lemons, juiced and strained)

2 cups water and 2 cups organic cane sugar to make sugar syrup

8-10 cups water to taste.

To make sugar syrup: Bring 2 cups of water to low boil; add sugar and stir until dissolved and mixture is clear. Set aside or refrigerate.

Mix lemon juice, sugar syrup, and water in a pitcher, stirring well to combine. Add water or lemon juice to suit your taste. Serve over ice. Options: make lemon-limeade by using 2/3 lemon juice to 1/3 lime juice.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Adventures in Composting

The Lazy Composter: A Cautionary Tale

Last summer I began composting with the best of intentions. Nature Dad built me a nice raised bed for some veggies (here in NC the soil is orange clay and rocky), and I wanted to compost.

Gardening went okay. If you saw my post last summer about my peas, you saw that we had a bumper crop of snap peas that we all loved—not a one of which ever got cooked, as we ate them right off the vine. Nature Dad also spied a large pallet with some framing around the sides behind our local Ace Hardware; we thought would make a good compost bin. So he asked if we could have it, and they okayed it! And so it began…..

Into the compost pile went so much stuff—egg shells, veggie peels, past-its-peak produce, and other acceptable types of organic matter, including some grass clippings. I turned it periodically. After Halloween, I even threw our jack o’ lanterns in there and some snake gourds that we’d bought at Vollmer’s Farm in Bunn, NC—they looked like our last name’s initials and made the perfect spooky accessory on our Halloween-decoroted front porch!

Well, the cold weather came. Then spring sprung. I’d kind of forgotten about my compost pile. Let this be a lesson to all you mainstream suburban folks out there experimenting with organic living: never, ever, neglect your compost! It must be turned periodically. Purchasing a $200 composter is one way to take the work out of this, but I’m wary of just how “green” I can be by using a plastic manufactured barrel (though I am sorely tempted to buy a rain barrel and save on watering costs).

As you can see, before I knew it, My “compost” pile had become a fertile ground for growing things—I had tomato plants springing up, pumpkin vines, and what looked like miles of another vine—one with huge leaves and delicate white flowers that opened in the evenings. I decided to leave it so I could figure out what it was. Then one day I received my answer in the form of several rapidly growing snake gourds! These plants are threatening to take over my garden, but I am keeping them, if only to experiment with training them into letter shapes—my guess is that is exactly what whomever grew the ones we found at Vollmer’s did. So far I’m not having much luck, but it’s great fun. Through my research, I also found out that there’s a Gourd festival in the fall at the NC State Fairgrounds, and I’m planning to go—turns out there’s all sorts of fun you can have with these things!

And maybe next year I’ll have a pumpkin patch and pass out free pumpkins to the neighbors. As long as the HOA doesn’t catch me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bento Mania!

Bento Mania Strikes the NK Home

Lunch #1:
"Snowy Ants on a Log" (see below); kiwi and grapes; cloverleaf shaped cheese; popcorn

Lunch #2:
Salad with Carrot, Bell Pepper and Celery with Ranch dip; Unsweetened Applesauce; popcorn; Turkey Rolls with Cheese Stars (and crackers with the popcorn).
Lunch #3
Ham sandwich on whole wheat; kiwi and grapes; salad with ranch dip; popcorn

I got tired of little zip-close baggies. As clever as the snack size ones are, especially for parents of school-aged kids, I was always running out of the right size, and throwing out 6-8 of these per day is pretty shocking when you start to think about the financial and environmental impact.

As one school year ended and another began (a week later--we're in year-round schools here), I pondered my options for making lunchtime greener and, honestly, less boring for my Kidz. Mine are fairly picky, and the littlest one has no problem just not eating. She's not a child who'll eat when she gets hungry enough. She won't. She'll have a meltdown, but she won't eat. I was easily as sick of the lunches coming back to me barely touched as I was of wasting zip-close bags.

I'd heard about Bento Boxes from a few different folks. I did some googling (why does that still sound vaguely dirty to me?) and found Laptop Lunches, a website with everything you'd ever want to know about Bento luches done American style, including recipe ideas and a store. After much hemming and hawing, I finally ordered 3 for the Kidz. The ones I got were the new "2.0" style boxes that came with four inserts (two with lids) and a teeny tiny adorable little container with lid just perfect for dips and sauces. The sets also come with really good quality stainless steel flatware--no more plastic spoons for me (or those mornings when I nearly have a meltdown of my own because I ran out of spoons and forgot to buy more)!

They arrived and I love them. They're a good substantial size but still fit into my Kidz' standard lunch boxes, so I can slip in an ice pack if I want. You can also purchase insulated sleeves, but I'm cheap.

My youngest Kid was so excited about hers she took off to her room to play with it. It took some negotiation but I finally got her to agree to actually use it for her lunches. Once she accepted that it wasn't, in fact, a new home for her Calico Critters, she pulled a stool up to the counter and packed her lunch herself. My picky picky girl even came up with a new food for her Bento: "snow ants on a log" (see lunch #1, above)--celery, peanut butter, and yogurt-covered raisins. Yum.

The Laptop Lunch kits also come with a handy paperback guide to packing healthful and appealing lunches for your Kidz. I was pleased with how colorful and easy these lunch boxes are to use. Hopefully the fun won't wear off too soon and the Kidz will continue to enjoy healthy, whole-food inspired meals!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Fruits of Our Labors

This summer was my first shot at organic vegetable gardening. Surprisingly, the best performer so far has been the peas. I say surprisingly because I planted them (well, Nature Grandma planted the peas) late in the season (May 1). This is one of those veggies that 1/2 of my family likes and 1/2 hates when frozen, but fresh--we all love them!

I have loved trying our hand at gardening. Nature Kidz get to see what their food looks like before it's wrapped in plastic at the grocery stores, and they get to play with their food. Opening the pea pods is fun and the "packaging" is edible too!

Next year plans are to expand our raised-bed planter to add at least 2-3 more planter boxes. Even as I am still enjoying our current harvest, I look forward to next year's planting season with lots of lessons learned this year!