Decorating pumpkins with a toddler (plus home made glue recipe)

18 10 2013

I love Halloween, of all the American holidays it is my favourite… I feel like I should say Thanksgiving, or 4th of July, but Halloween is just awesome. And I like it a lot.

I’ve always wanted to decorate the house, but being busy with work and on a student budget made me put it low in th priority list. But this year, Ignacio will be almost two and a half years and I want him to learn to appreciate the seasons and enjoy the holidays, so I am making an effort for getting into the spirit before the 30th.

Last week we made some plaster decorations, you can see the how to in my art blog. Be warned, anything I post that I do with my toddler looks like something that you do with a toddler, do not expect something beautifully airbrushed with a soft light background. It will not be Pinterest worthy. This week I decided it was time to decorate the pumpkin Ignacio and Greg bought, yesterday was rainy and I wanted to try the glue I had made a couple of days before, so I cut some leaf shapes in construction paper and we sat down to enjoy a laid back activity.

IMG_4042

For the home made glue you will need:

Wheat flour 1 cup

Water 1 1/2 cup

Vinegar 1 teaspoon

In a saucepan mix the flour with a bit of water until it’s smooth, then add the rest of the water. Boil and when it starts thickening remove from the fire and add the vinegar as preservative. You can keep this in the fridge. It is great for toddlers because there is nothing that could harm them if they decide to start eating it, it is good for the environment because it implies no toxic processing nor packaging, and it is good for your pocket because you get a load of glue for pennies.

IMG_4056

You will also need colored paper, we chose yellow, orange, red, purple and a bit of green to cut fall leaves, you could use anything you want. Some ideas: bats and cats in black paper, a moon and ghosts in white, cut shapes from magazines. Besides that you will need some brushes to spread the glue. I like to put the glue on the paper, but I found that for Ignacio it worked better if we applied it on the pumpkin and pressed the leaves to it.

IMG_4114

The glue might show through at the beginning, but as it dries your work will look tidier. That is it! Have fun with your kids with this simple activity!





Gardening. End of the Summer thoughts.

6 08 2013

IMG_1633

Our very first harvest! Promising!

I started my garden in May, a couple of killer frosts came by and hurt some plants. So I started over with those plants. As a first time gardener, I am learning that gardening is dynamic, that you can continue working on it through the summer for a fall crop, and I really like that.

harv2

One of our midsummer harvests. That night dinner was awesome.

So, what have I learned from this season? Some plants are extremely sensitive to low temps, it does not need to freeze for them to be lost. Okra and cucumbers are in this group, next year I’ll wait until the temperatures stabilize, even if that means waiting “too long”. Likewise, high temperatures can be damaging for plants, even those that like it hot. We had a two week period of very high temperatures that did not even let go through the night (86 F at 9 PM!?) and this stopped production, blossoms fell, new flowers did not show up. Now that the summer is cooling off my plants are starting to make some more flowers. It might be profitable to find a mixture of varieties that can tolerate different temperatures in the future, to get fruit all through the season.

zuc

Diseased zucchini, powdery mildew… boo!

I am disappointed at my zucchini. I’ve heard so much that you get so tired of eating zucchini, that they produce so much! That I was really excited about eating zucchini all summer long. Sadly, I only got two very small fruits. Looking around the other plots, they also got either very little or nothing. Asking other gardeners in Pittsburgh, they agree, this year they didn’t get anything much. I guess it was either the very high temperatures or the too abundant rains we got in mid summer. On top of that, my plant got a case of powdery mildew, so I removed it to free up some space.

pep

Bacterial wilt. My cucumbers never filled in.

My cucumbers also didn’t fare well. The first plant got killed by a late frost, the second had a slow start because of low temperatures, but then it started to grow nicely, set blooms and produce fruit. But then it started to wilt, and no matter how much I’d water it, it would wilt again after not too long. I looked around and again I saw that other plants in other plots were suffering a similar fate. It happens that they got bacterial wilt, likely transmitted by cucumber beetles. So I removed that plant too.

beetles

Cucumber beetles. Pretty, but harmful.

The tomatoes were an interesting bunch. I got an Early Girl, a Patio and a grape variety. Though the Patio and Early Girl started to bloom and produce fruit at about the same time, the Early Girl was ripe and ready sooner, the fruits are good, sweet tasting, they mature quite uniformly and are juicy! The plant is a little sick to judge for those yellowish leaves, though. But it is a plant I would consider planting again. The Patio variety was disappointing. The plant looks robust and beautiful, but it produced very little and small fruit, and the fruit bruises easily, I’ve even had a couple of tomatoes that rotted before being ripe! I understand its charm is that it can be planted in a container, but I will probably not plant it again. The grape tomatoes are still blooming and going strong. I love to have a bunch in the kitchen to snack here and there while I cook… my little guilty pleasure 🙂 Next year I would like to experiment with a second crop to have some fall tomatoes too, I don’t think I have enough time this year to do so.

Now I am about to plant my fall harvest. I am excited about it and I hope it works out well. We got some lettuce (which did really bad through the summer indoors and outdoors), spinach, arugula, radish and peas. So much learning to do! This is seriously a lot of fun!





Hiking with your kids

21 07 2013

Do you live in Pittsburgh and want to know about a great place to go for a hike with small children? Reservoir Drive Walk might be just right for you!
Read about it in my guest blog post at the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog, my favourite blog to learn about things to do with my little ones!

Image

Greg and Ignacio having the best time in the woods.





Updates on gardening

25 06 2013

After having lost one cucumber and one okra plant, temperatures finally settled and Summer started… sort of. We still have a lot of fluctuations, some cold days, some really hot days, but no more freezing. We just had a couple of very rainy weeks and the result was tomatoes on steroids! The plants are so big that I had to cut one down because it got larger than the cage and I was afraid the branches were too heavy for them to have enough support.

IMG_0807

Huge tomatoes, caged zucchini, and lots of goodness to come!

I also decided to cage the zucchini plant. I know it is not a very orthodox move (do you cage zucchini?) but I needed to get it out of my peppers, cucumbers and eggplants. It is now growing upwards inside the cage, I just have to give it gentle nudges to keep the leaves inside every few days. An interesting side effect of being inexperienced about anything is that sometimes you come up with solutions that are not the norm, will they work? only time will tell. For example, I realized that the second cucumber plant I planted was not a bush like my first choice, but a vine… surprise! So I got a bamboo rod and I am getting it to climb up along it. My husband told me you normally have them in a trellis, but maybe this will work, what do you think?

IMG_0808

A friend of mine passed me some chives, which are happily rooting in Ignacio’s plot, and I started some lettuce inside. That proved to be more challenging than what I thought. My first batch got burnt by the sun one particularly hot day, so my next batch I move around for it to get good morning sun but not to get too hot afternoon sun… Ignacio is delighted watering them. The second challenge is that the cats find them yummy. Yesterday I started a second batch outside, because I want to see how they do outside compared with inside and because everybody is of the idea that having a succession of seeds started every two weeks is best.

IMG_0646

I put the chives in water until the rains passed and I could go out in the garden and plant them. They performed really well.

IMG_0801

Lettuces in a pot, the leaves are super pretty too!

The tomatoes are full of fruits, all of them green. The peppers are too fruiting… today Ignacio sneaked away and took my first pepper way before its time. I was rather sad… I really was looking forward to eating that yellow pepper :/ we ate it anyway, but it was not fleshed out, not good tasting… meh. Next one will be.

IMG_0818


That little pepper? It is no more.

I am so excited about all the plants doing so well I even got another okra to give it a try again now that the frost is not a danger anymore. My husband gave me a bunch of gardening books for my birthday and I am really looking forward the next growing season so I can actually plan a garden to get started early and have a good harvest season early on.

What do you like to plant best? Ideas?





We are eating our back yard!!

29 05 2013

IMG_0105

The cutest helping hands ever!

Our apartment complex did something wonderful and prepared raised beds for the tenants, we requested one and they even made a little plot for our two year old! He is so excited about it! I think this is such a wonderful experience for all of us, not only we get to eat fresh veggies but he also will learn a lot about nature, gardening and responsibly taking care of plants.

IMG_0510

You cannot get any more local than this!

I have never gardened before, so this is a learning experience for me too. So far I’ve had herbs and other plants in pots, our tomatoes attempts indoors failed each time, so this is certainly a lot of learning.

Initially I planted corn, okra, three different tomatoes, different color bell peppers, two eggplants, zucchini, cucumber, rosemary, parsley, thyme and basil seeds; only to be hit by a surprise late frost and lose our okra and

cucumber the first week. I planted another cucumber plant and some cilantro and thought it would be best to start reading about the plants I chose, because obviously just watering them was not going to work.

IMG_0516

Our first tomato! I am so excited about this that it is silly!

So next week I mulched the beds. This is a process that took three sessions… incredible how everything can take so long when you are hauling a baby and a two year old! But the mulching got done, and to keep it green I used grass that was just cut and from the grounds in our apartment complex. Not only it would protect the dirt from overheating and losing moisture too fast, but it should also bring back nutrients to the dirt and attract animals that might be beneficial for our plants (Hello, little spider!).

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers :)

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers 🙂

Last weekend though, I found my eggplant was attracting flea beetles, so I went to the interweb again to try to find a solution for that problem that

would be viable with my green living ideal. So on Monday I went over to the nearest Starbucks to get some coffee grounds that I promptly placed around our two eggplants. I hope it works!

Our plants are growing strong and healthy, except the cucumber that keeps getting hit by low temperatures at night, which come out of nowhere. My basil seedlings are starting to grow and soon I’ll be thinning them and choosing a few vigorous plants to keep… the rest might become salad 🙂

Are you gardening already? How do you deal with pests, do you have any suggestion for flea beetles?

IMG_0523

Flea beetles… boo!





Greening up my Christmas Gifts

13 12 2012

One thing that I proposed myself this Season was to buy local. I really believe in supporting our community and getting local gifts is a way to reduce our carbon footprint, because of less transport.

Thought I started before Thanksgiving, it was quite an adventure. I could order a few things I liked from local vendors through Etsy, but for the most part it was a frustrated enterprise. I live in Pittsburgh and I found that a lot of the stores I was interested in were not open when I could go. I wanted to get some old books (reuse, recycle, and I love old books!!) but the store wouldn’t open till 11 AM, which is my child’s lunch time, so I came back empty handed. I wanted to buy toys in the local toy store, but being in the middle of the posh shopping area (though their prices are more than fair) I found no parking space blocks around, though I circled it over and over and over again. That made me decide to at least support USA companies, and I kept that resolution, but I ended up ordering baby’s toys through Amazon, which is a life saver if you think that sometimes the only time you have available is 5 AM…. or any time before 11 AM, for the case.

I did buy a few cheap made in who-knows-where things. I know, I know, but when I need to ship gifts for a bunch of people I appreciate back home in Argentina, I cannot spend more than a few bucks, and I needed to take advantage of my dad being here and going back home just in time for the holidays, so I sent them through him. But I restricted that to the smaller part of my shopping.

Being an artist, I designed and ordered my own cards through gotprint.com, the price per card (including shipping!) was spectacular and they do guide you well through the sizing of your image. You have to order in bulk, though, but you can always use the left overs next year. And you really do not need to be an artist, you can use a photo you like. But what really sold me was that I could use recycled paper with them. What a great way of greening my Christmas cards!

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

And for the rest of my list, those people who have been great through the year and you would like to thank in a way, even if it is with a small gift, I am making them popcorn. I got some cute bags, some Christmas sprinkles, and I will be putting my own time into making them pretty Christmas popcorn.

Lessons learned from this season: Next year I will plan better, probably start earlier, and find out the operation hours of the stores before I get myself there. Nobody said being green was easier, eh?

And you, did you find a way of greening your gifts? Were you successful at buying local?





Celebrating a new citizen.

1 10 2012

One of our friends from Germany got her American citizenship last week, and to honor her we wanted to have her over to dinner. Obtaining your US citizenship is harder than what most people think (“You are a citizen now, right? You married and American!” “You’ve been living here for such a long time, you must be a citizen!”), and it is the only way you can vote, which is what she wanted most. Because it is such a lengthy, time consuming and expensive process, I wanted to make a special dinner for her, and I decided on roast and potatoes, black bread and All American cupcakes (I just made that up).

For the roast I simply marinated the meat with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme. For the potatoes I marinated them with olive oil, salt, thyme and curry. Then cooked everything in the oven.

For the bread I followed this recipe by 101 cookbooks, which is really good and very recommendable. It is time consuming and quite involved, but it is totally worth it. I was not quite sure about the carrots, but the truth is that you do not feel the flavor (with the bread being so flavorful!) and they keep the moisture of the bread for days. The cocoa and the coffee make it very interesting, and I find that the flavors are more intense as the days go by, not that it lasts very long, it is so good that we just attack it!

Black bread.

Now, the cupcakes.

I started by staining the paper cups to get them more festive, I did not have time to go to the store to get special ones, so I only had white paper cups. I had seen this cute idea in Little Wren’s blog so I decided to try it. It is quite a simple method, just dilute some food coloring in water and then let dry. I went for blue and red rims.

Coloring cupcake cups

While the cups were drying I prepared my cupcakes. I found an easy recipe and modified it to our less sugary taste. I halved the sugar and the butter, compensating with apple sauce here it goes:

2 3/4 c all purpose white flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 c butter, softened

1 c sugar

1/2 c applesauce

4 eggs

1 c milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Red food coloring

Blue food coloring

Cream cheese

Red and blue sprinkles

Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs and applesauce, milk, vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients. Once you have the batter unified, separate in three portions (I chose to have less red, but that is up to you) and add the food coloring.

Preheat the oven. Line your cupcake tray with the paper cups you prepared earlier and add one layer of blue batter, one layer of white batter and one layer of red batter, up to 3/4 of the cup.  Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Once they are cold, cover the surface with cream cheese and sprinkle with your decoration. Keep in air tight container until it is time to serve.

All American cupcakes.

The applesauce adds sweetness and moisture making the lessening of sugar and butter viable. They were moist and fluffy, and the yield was about 16 cupcakes. They look really pretty, but in retrospect I should probably have held on the vanilla extract to keep the white whiter. I didn’t use any of my usual whole grains because I wanted them to be white, and that made them a little blander than what I am used to, but everybody loved them and the look was a win. I also think I would use a larger red layer and only red rimmed cups, since the blue color from the batter shows really well through the cup paper.

Have you ever made colored cupcakes? How did they come up? Do you have any nice recipe to share?