Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sick Day

On Friday both girls had sore throats, stuffy noses and coughs. I decided to keep them home, presumably so that they could rest and regain their health... or barring that, to keep them from spreading the germs to the entire school!

Since throats were scratchy, I wanted to make something soft for a late breakfast. Gwen is a pancake fanatic, so it was an obvious choice. But how can a Mom make it extra special?

I'd seen somewhere that you could use metal cookie cutters to create shaped pancakes and decided to give it a go. I whipped up a batch of our favorite buttermilk pancake mix from my tried and true copy of The Joy of Cooking. Vinegar and milk stepped in for buttermilk, because, really, who keeps that around?

I pulled out my griddle, handed down from Grandma, got the butter melted and dug out the heart cookie cutters. I love cookie cutters, so I actually had many to choose from, but I figured snowmen or stars were less appropriate. Once the butter was sizzling, I placed the cutters on the griddle, poured in batter to fill them about 1/3 of the way and waited for bubbles to show on top and for the pancakes to rise. I flipped the pancakes, cutters and all, and waited for the other side to brown. Then I removed them to a heated plate and started again.

A couple of things I learned:

  1. Use metal cookies cutters that do not have handles on them. It blocks the shape when you try to add batter.
  2. Avoid shapes with intricate patterns or fluted edges. It's harder to remove the pancake later.
  3. Spray your cutters with non-stick spray first. You'll be able to slide the pancakes out more easily. Have a butter knife handy too, to trim "leaks" or remove the pancakes from the cutter. 
  4. A thick batter, like the buttermilk one I made, works better than a runny batter, like that for crepes. A thin batter will tend to slide right under the cutter. Having the griddle nice and hot helps too, because the pancakes set the shape faster.
  5. I let the pancakes cool for a bit before removing them from the cutters. While they cooled, I did a batch of normal round pancakes, which I froze for later. I just alternated back and forth until my double batch of batter was all used. You could also alternate rounds of different cutters.
When they were done I plated the pretty pancakes up on the plate with some maple syrup, a few rainbow sprinkles and a side of peaches. Yum! Even a sick day can be special!

Friday, November 4, 2011

November Programs!

We have many exciting programs scheduled for November. Please join us!

Newton Winter Farmers' Market
Saturdays starting November 5, 10 am to 2 pm, Newton High School, 44 Ryerson Avenue, Newton, NJ! Free crafts and activities for children!

Recycled Geodesic Dome 
Monday, November 7, 3 to 5 pm
Patented by engineer and writer R. Buckminster Fuller, the geodesic dome is super efficient, fast to build and amazingly strong. When constructed, the geodesic dome uses the least possible material to create the largest possible structure, and because of the way weight is distributed, it can demonstrate amazing strength.  Use nothing more than recycled newspaper we’ll build a geodesic dome large enough to sit under! Geometry has never been this all-out cool. Hosted by Sandra Roberts. $5/person plus your own stack of newspaper (the more the better!). Ages 5-13.

Change the World
Wednesday, November 9, 1 to 4 pm
What do you want to change about the world? Civics is the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Everyone -- adult and child alike -- can and should be capable of making their voices heard by representatives at every level of government. In this civics class, the emphasis isn't on memorizing how our government works but, instead, on learning and practicing the skills needed to fully participate in our democracy.  By the end of this workshop, every student will come away with a sense that they have the power to change the world around them. Hosted by Elizabeth McCarthy. Best for ages 7-12. $25/person.

Rube Goldberg Machines
Wednesday, November 16, 1:30 to 3:30 pm
American cartoonist, Rube Goldberg, is best known for his detailed drawings of crazy contraptions that were able to complicate simple tasks. The idea has grown into a fun physics and engineering activity, with worldwide appeal and an annual college-level contest in its honor. We’ll use common household materials to create our own machines, learning about forces and simple machines as we go! Hosted by Sandra Roberts. $15/person. Bring some items to include in the machine! Ages 5-13.

Math MAGIC Land
Mondays, November 14 and 21, 3:30 to 5 pm
Based on the popular Disney Movie, Donald in Mathmagic Land, we’ll explore the ways that math is tied to music, architecture, nature, our bodies and much, much more! Students will apply math concepts through experience and hands-on projects. Depending on individual strengths, participants may choose to explore concepts through calculation as well. Hosted by Sandra Roberts. Best for ages 7 to 13. $30/person.

All programs are subject to change. Check the website at www.klcnj.com for changes. Most programs need at least five students to run. Programs may be cancelled or combined with lack of interest. We suggest registration. Full refunds will be provided if a class is cancelled. Programs in November will be held at EcoZOica Lounge, 23 Main Street, Blairstown, NJ. For more information call 908-283-0020.

Why I love dioramas

When I was in elementary school, we seemed to get assigned a lot of dioramas. It seemed like the diorama and the book report were the de facto methods for summarizing a reading assignment. I can't have been the only one who experienced this phenomena. Heck, it's a running gag on the sitcom Community.

"I can't believe our assignment is to make a diorama of us making a diorama."
So maybe for the Gen X parents of today, the humble diorama may seem cliched. I get that. But here's the thing: I LOVED making them. There were no better words a teacher could utter than, "You can make a diorama." It was like heaven.

I distinctly remember working on an interactive diorama with a moving shark in honor of the amazing book, "Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark." There was also a story about a leprechaun and tying red scarves around trees to hide a pot of gold. I barely remember the story, but I do remember carefully placing trees in my little shoebox and tying tiny strips of red cloth around every one of them.

As I got a bit older, my love of miniature grew to encompass dollhouses. Ah dollhouses! It's like a diorama with lots of shoeboxes strung together! And you can play in it! My Dad and I spent one Christmas break building a dollhouse together in the basement. I've loved it ever since. It's taken years to decorate and furnish it, not that I'll ever be done! My dollhouse has a home now in my basement. Though I've let them look, I haven't yet been brave enough to let my daughters touch my precious dollhouse. I'm working on it. I think it may be easier to build another.

And who can forget the wonderful dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. As a kid, we took a school field trip there, and walking into the first hall just blew me away. I'd never considered making a life-sized diorama. With REAL stuff! Through those exhibits I visited the plains of Africa and the Arctic tundra. It was amazing. It sparked the young scientist in me and solidified my future as a biologist. And thanks to Stephen Quinn, I can read about how they were made and enjoy these amazing Windows on Nature any time I like.

Alaska Brown Bear Diorama
The bears were my favorite. I have a deep love for bears.

Coming forward to the present day, I still love dioramas. I was planning a new one just yesterday. It'll be a small theater and will feature actors that can be moved with a magnetized wand under the stage. I'm hoping to have it finished as a gift for Gwen by Christmas. 

Anyway, let's get your creative juices going too! Below are some great links to get your started.

This whimsical Winter Lake project isn't technically a diorama, but I think it incorporates many of the ideas. I love that it's also interactive and a great sensory play idea for young children. "Crafting a Nature Inspired Up-cycled Diorama" is more classic in form, but uses natural and found objects that the child strings together to create a story. Love it! Perhaps you want to go totally "old school." That's ok too. There are many resources available. One of my favorites is Enchanted Learning. Looking for a more grown up approach to dioramas. We can do that too. The Diorama Man has the most incredible website, filled with tons of ideas and instructions on making detailed dioramas!

Before I leave you, I wanted to share one last tidbit. The video below features the Bedford Gallery, which hosted an exhibition called The Art of Diorama. There are so many approaches to the form, and so many interesting stories about the artists and their process. It's certainly worth taking a few minutes to enjoy.

Have a great day everyone. If you spend some time making diorama this weekend, please don't be shy! Come on back and share some pictures of your work!