Monday, September 30, 2013

Artworks: Collage Monsters

We are in full-on Halloween mode over at our house. Costumes have been tried on numerous times. Spooky stories are in rotation. And I am chomping at the bit to decorate the house for the holiday (I have to wait until after my birthday party to throw the spook around). This past weekend, I asked mom for a scary art project and she suggested that we make use of the giant Vogue magazine Nona gave us at the end of summer, which was full of page after page of fall-makeupped models holding their limbs at odd angles. Perfect for making our own collage "monsters."

Daddy rarely gets to participate in an art project with us, but we recruited him to help us cut out body parts for our collages. Once we had a good pile full of decapitated heads, bodiless arms and legs, and extra mouths and eyes, we set about to glue our monsters together. Mommy and I favored multiple-headed monsters. Cam liked the big hair. And daddy kept gluing odd noses onto faces. Pretty scary (and a good way to also use those unsolicited magazines and catalogues that roll in)!

We got so into it that we drew some ghosts and ghouls up on our chalkboard wall and snuck some of our costume accessories out when mom wasn't looking. What's everyone else have on tap for fall art projects?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Keep It Local: South Germantown Adventure Playground

It's rare that we hound mom to take us to a particular playground, but since she finally got around to taking us to Adventure Playground last week, we haven't stopped begging her to go back. It's a bit of a drive, which is why she waited so long to take us. But when she found herself facing a day off of school only a few weeks in, we went for it. I only really have to tell you three things: castle, sea serpent, and pirate ship. You know I was "jumpin' outta my pants" excited. There's also a rock climbing wall, little log cabins, seesaws, vehicles, and more.

It's not a shmancy modern park -- most of the structures are old-school wooden ones, but they are FABULOUS. Full of cubby holes, tunnels, multiple levels, stairs, ladders, ramps, you name it. We could not get enough. We started out putting mom in jail and interrogated her into telling us what she wanted in her castle. She finally admitted to trying to take out "the Duchess," and we rewarded her honesty by declaring her the seat. We spent the rest of our time there running willy nilly through the structures bringing her whatever she wanted and having one heck of a tea party.

The hot sun eventually forced us home, but mom promised we'd return soon. And she kept her promise yesterday. We picked up our game of Duchess right away, but found ourselves in trouble when the castle was set on fire. We made a quick getaway to the pirate ship where Captain (that'd be me) sailed the group to safety. I spent the rest of the voyage listening to Duchess complaining that her party shoes were not seaworthy and turning down Cam's requests to be called a variety of ridiculous names. She held strong on "Ariel, Beautiful, Beauty & the Beast, Sparkle," but finally let me shorten it to "Madame Sparkle."

Even with the awful traffic back into the city, we think it's well worth the trip! FYI -- Adventure Playground is part of a seriously large complex at the South Germantown Recreational Park. If you are using GPS to get there, make sure to use this address:

17920 Germantown Park Drive
Germantown, MD  20841

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Grub It Up: Super Easy Secret Veggie Bolognese

Purple continues to remain my most favorite color and when I spotted some petite eggplant in the grocery store last week, I begged mom to get them. Mom likes all kinds of bizarre foods, but she just can't get into eggplant. That is, unless it's sliced paper thin, fried, and on top of a Pete's Apizza pie. And these little babes were not destined for that greatness. But since I seemed open to trying out a new purple veggie, she bought them.

And then they sat on the counter all week. All week, I tell you. Those poor, sad little eggplants.

Fortunately mom was in need of a quick meal on Sunday and she googled for Paleo-friendly eggplant recipes. Enter Everyday Paleo's Easy Eggplant Bolognese. Her kids supposedly loved it, so mom thought she'd give it a try. YUM.

Even Kane, who refuses to eat most things containing onions, ate the bolognese sauce, including the eggplant (after the onions had been removed, of course). I declared I LOVED eggplant and mom was pleasantly surprised at the un-eggplantyness of the dish. Mom served hers over a quick saute of purple cabbage and green beans, which sounds disgusting, but apparently was quite good. We had ours over pasta and, after being asked whether he wanted his over sauteed vegetables and answering "Is that a real question?", so did dad.

Everyday Paleo's recipe called for bacon fat or coconut oil for cooking and mom went with the coconut oil. It gave the dish a strongly sweet taste, which we liked, but which dad said likened it to a Thai Bolognese. I think next time we'll try using olive oil instead -- I'm not sure where one gets 4 tablespoons of bacon fat, but I'm not sure I want to know either.

If they didn't help pick out the veggies, we promise your kids won't even know they are in there. Without further adieu ....

Super Easy Secret Veggie Bolognese 
(slightly adapted from Everyday Paleo's Easy Eggplant Bolognese)

- 4 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
- 4 mini eggplants or 2 medium-sized Italian eggplants, peeled and cubed (approximately 3-4 cups)
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 small red onion, diced (to hide the onion better!)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground turkey (EP used pork, but dad has a thing with pork, so we used turkey)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- black pepper to taste

- In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and saute until tender, approximately 5-8 minutes. Remove the eggplant from pan and set aside.

- Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot and saute the bell peppers and onions until tender, about another 5-8 minutes. Remove the peppers and onions from the pot and set aside as well.

- Crumble the meat into the pot and brown. Add the teaspoon of salt and stir.

- Add the balsamic vinegar and garlic and bring to a simmer.

- Add the eggplant, peppers, and onions back to the pan with the meat, pour in the tomato sauce, add the oregano, and some black pepper and bring to a simmer.

- Taste and season with more sea salt if desired.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Artworks: Celebration Bunting

September in our house means serious party prep. Daddy's birthday is at the end of the month, Kane's is the beginning of October and mom usually has another October party she styles as well. One of the things we love best about parties, which mom just adores, is that we LOVE to help make party decorations. We ask about 1,000 times a day what we can do to help and mom not only appreciates the help, but thinks it makes for an even better party.

We were all over mom to help her work on a party bunting/banner for my upcoming knights and dragons party, so she printed out a bunch of blank bunting pieces on heavy cardstock and let us go at them with watercolors. We actually tried out a few with markers as well, but we weren't in to filling up all the white space. And while mom generally lets us do whatever we want with our art projects, she knew our artwork wouldn't show well once she hung the bunting up. So we painted a bunch and mom cut them out once they dried. They looked awesome, but we wanted a little more pizazz. Bring on the sequins, baby. 

All three of us sat down for a little sequining party. Some bunting pieces got just a little and mom made sure some really got a whole lot. She taped them on to a string of baker's twine (alternatively, you could make small slits along the top of the bunting piece and run the twine through) and hung the banner up. Even this morning, where the sun seems to be taking its sweet time, they put some sparkle in the house. Love it. 

Mom has already been thinking up all kinds of ways for us to help make reusable celebration buntings, including: 
- "painting" them with bleeding art tissue paper (sort of like this);
- printmaking, which would be a great way to do this with the littlest of littles; and 
- circle printing, maybe with some glitter paint

How about you? What ways to your kids help out with celebratory decorating? If they want to help, you can download our template for large and mini buntings right here -- just click on the link to access the google docs. Happy whatever!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Miscellaneous Madness: A Day in the Life (September 2013)

We're just getting settled into the new school year and this 12 in 12 was shot one of the very first days. We don't quite have our new schedule all figured out. Mom's trying to make sure that she gets the max amount done while we are away learning and still makes time for us to do all the adventuring we're used to doing. We'll get there.

How's everyone else's year getting started? See what our friends at No Monsters in My Bed and Where the Watermelons Grow have been up to this fall!

8.05 am -- the perks of having a daddy who travels a lot: luxe mini toiletries. Cam hearts the Molton Brown: "you have to smell good, mommy."

9.15 am -- mom gets a little alone time at the gym. despite bringing two giant bags full of stuff, she still always manages to forget something. this time, it was a shirt to wear after. a slightly critical piece of clothing.

11.30 am -- Cam gets out of the clink. she loves school, but is ALWAYS ecstatic when mom picks her up. every single time. it's awesome. 

12.30 pm -- mom's forgotten shirt at the gym meant she didn't get a shower until after pickup and lunch. so Cameron got some unexpected (and much appreciated) iPad time by herself.

1.15 pm -- Kane's 5th birthday knights and dragon party is coming up. he was insistent on having a legit, not cutesy shindig. mom worked on the envelopes to get everything out the door.

3.00 pm -- we scooped Kane from school and headed straight to our bank, which had a major screw up recently resulting in a frozen bank account of which mom and dad were unaware. daddy had already spent several hours on the phone and at a local branch, but problems persisted. so mom brought in the big dogs: us. as Kane said "let me go down there and show 'em who their dealing with." the two of them held a whistling contest for about 45 minutes and that seemed to do the trick.

4.30 pm -- Cam does a little ballet rain dance for an impending storm. 

5.15 pm -- SO excited to participate in a live web chat with Cookie Monster in anticipation of Sesame Street's 44th season, which kicked off this past Monday. cookie is one hilarious dude. 

5.30 -- we got to ask Cookie whether he dunks his treats in milk, like we do. Yep! mom couldn't get a good screen shot while we were online, but we were over the moon to talk to the monster.

6.50 pm -- mom went to run Cam's bath during dinner and discovered that the housekeeper had locked both doors to her bathroom from the inside. having had this happen numerous times, mom no longer needs to watch the Youtube video on how to pick locks. she's a champ.

7.45 pm -- Cameron is the last at the dinner table every darn night. mom vividly remembers being the same way when she was little, but it was because she didn't like to eat her meat or vegetables. cam doesn't have that problem, but she is a CHATTERMOUTH. dinnertime with everyone is her social scene and she'll eat after everyone else if finished and moved on.

8.05 pm -- Kane chooses to eat quickly so he can get extra time setting telling elaborate pirate and knight stories in the shower. he'll stay in there long past the time when the water turns freezing and mom forces him to get out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Grub It Up: Stonefruit and Grilled Shrimp Salad

As we stood in front of a fruit stand at the farmer's market last weekend, chowing down nectarine sample slices by the handful, with juice running down our chins, I mentioned to mom that I wanted to bring nectarines to school for my fruit day. After cursing herself for forgetting that said fruit day was the very next day, she hugged me for bringing it up and told me to go ahead and pick out a few pounds. Then she double-checked the calendar when we got home and realized that I had it wrong -- my fruit day was next week. Oh well, good thing we like nectarines.

Mom had already planned to make Melissa Joulwan's Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp (what? we told you "Well Fed" is her new favorite cookbook), so she threw together a salad to serve with it and BAM, hit it out of the park with the flavor combo. Well, mom thinks she hit it out of the park.The sweetness of the salad really balances the spicy shrimp. And the nectarines were perfect, but other stone fruit currently bountiful at the market (like plums) would probably be just as yummy.

I (of course) won't eat shrimp and Cam eats it, even when it is spicy like this one, but she also chose to go with the chicken mom had on the back burner for me (of course, Cami still ate shrimp off of mom's plate, too). As usual, she served ours up a la carte style: chicken (and shrimp), sliced nectaries, sliced avocado, and brown rice ('cause we're still not down with this Paleo nonsense).

Get it while the produce is good. Serves 4.

Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp:
- juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 teaspoons freshly-grated ginger (about a 2-inch piece)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds large shrimp

In a small bowl, squeeze the lime to extract the juice, then add the red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, salt, black pepper, and cilantro. Mix well with a fork, then drizzle in oil, stirring constantly.

With a small, sharp knife, pierce the shrimp at the head end and carefully cut along the back toward the tail, removing the dark vein. Rinse in running water. Pat dry, then place the shrimp in a medium bowl and mix with the marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the grill on high heat with the lid closed, about 10 minutes. Thread the shrimp on skewers, leaving a little room between them so they don't steam. Grill 2-3 minutes per side with the lid closed. OR grill in the same manner on a grill pan indoors -- mom did and it worked just fine.

Stone Fruit Salad:
- 8 ounces mixed greens
- 1 nectarine, chopped
- 2 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
- 3/4 of an avocado, chopped
- 1/2 of a red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix gently. Divide salad into four servings and top with shrimp (about 6 shrimps per serving, with some shrimp as leftovers). Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. EAT.

p.s. not that she's thinking about cheese AT ALL, but if you are so inclined to add goat cheese to the salad, we bet it would be delish.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Keep It Local: Clearwater Nature Center and Cosca Regional Park

As some of you may know, this summer we were on the hunt  for new hikes. We can't remember where we first heard of it, but we knew that Clearwater Nature Center in Cosca Regional Park in PG County was supposed to be pretty great. In general, we find that hiking loops off of nature centers are pretty tame. So mom didn't plan particularly well for a hike -- she was in flip flops and I had a little dress on.

We hit the nature center up first, which is small, but has a really fabulous stream leading up to it and an impressive collection of animals. And a cave to explore! We watched a few owls scarf some mice and looked for fossils in the cave. And then we were both itching (no pun intended, yet) to get outside and hike. So we asked a ranger to point us in the direction of a relatively easy "hike" and she indicated that we should aim for the loop around the lake. Simple enough.

Too simple. Because then mom decided we needed to geocache while we were "hiking." There was a cache close by, but way off trail. We set off for it and kept circling and circling around it. And large animal poop. LARGE. Then mom's phone started to die and with it the GPS geocaching app. Fortunately we found the cache in time, but then we were stuck to find our own way back to the trail. As Kane indicated he was about to go "past panic," mom decided we'd just take what she thought was the shortest route there (based on her expert opinion of sun location and wind direction) and she pulled us through a bunch of bramble.

She was actually right on and we found the trail and headed back home. Mom was pretty pleased with herself. She was less pleased when she found two ticks on each of us about 3 days later -- she didn't think to check and they were sneaky little suckers hiding really well. We were not pleased when daddy extracted them and the nurse at the doctors office was not pleased when mom brought them in in a plastic baggie (although daddy was proud that he got them off mostly in tact). No worries -- everyone is fine and we now know to check thoroughly for ticks even after our little "hikes." And wear proper shoes. And long pants.

The weather this week looks great for getting out and about, so if you have a chance, check out Cosca. In addition to the nature center and hiking trails, there is a playground and a (likely manmade) lake with swan paddle boats available to rent. The boathouse is still open until mid-October (weather permitting).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Keep It Local: American Visionary Art Museum

We haven't been intentionally sleeping on Balto, but I think our recent trip to the Maryland Science Center showed mom that she was comfortable enough driving up and back with the two of us by herself in between rush hours. Because almost as soon after we got back from our science museum trip, we hopped back in the car to hit up the American Visionary Art Museum, about which we've heard so many good things. Just what is visionary art, you ask? You can check out AVAM's quirky website for a great definition, but it essentially is intuitive, self-taught artistry. Sweet. That sounded right up our alley.

And the whole thing was very, very sweet. Spread out through three buildings, visitors are met in the first building with a moving, three-story sculpture of Icarus flying to the sun and falling down to earth. I about jumped out of my skin and knew I was in the right place. We spent some time perusing the permanent and visiting exhibitions inside, but we both really wanted to get outside and see the sculpture.

And we played for a long time in the wildflower garden until I remembered that mom had promised there was a life-sized interactive chess game! We found it in the barn, but the pieces were all pushed in a corner. No worries. Security nicely came in and moved the heavy metal sculptures out onto the chess board for us. It was just like I was in Harry Potter.

Next, we moved on to the third building -- the Visionary Center, which houses a super cool collection of kinetic sculptures. Mom was really interested in these, but we didn't give her much of a chance to look. We wanted to go up and check out the outdoor bird's nest and, once on the top floor, turned the super awesome event space into our own personal dance studio. Mom bumped our requested tunes and we did some ballet dancing, Irish step dancing, and a little breakdancing for good measure. For at least 25 minutes. Seriously.

Mom finally convinced us to go outside so we could check out the artists painting a sidewalk mural in front of the museum. Turns out they were installing a scenic depiction of the Star Spangled Banner. We traded some good mural stories with the artists (our love of hidden street murals has continued to grow since our geocaching tour this summer) and can't wait to go back and see it all finished up.

We were all set to go when Cami asked if we could go back in and look at the gift store, The Sideshow Stop. Now, as a general rule, if an activity itself costs money (the museum does charge an admission fee, but kids 6 and under are free), we don't get to pick out a souvenir. But because mom could see that this was the most fabulous (and completely reasonable) gift shop EVA, she made an exception. It reminded her very much of the toy store she used to visit on her summer vacations (The Beaver Island Toy Museum), just a little updated and hipsterfied. Bins of groovy and outrageous sunglasses. Vampire baby dolls (I really wanted one). Bizarre hats. It was next to impossible to narrow our choices. I ended up with two books: V is for Vampire and a Dracula pop-up book (take a wild guess as to what our entire family is going to be for Halloween). Cam? A pink parasol, obvi.

The museum (and gift store!) are 100%+ worth the drive up to Balto. Loved, loved, loved.

(technically, no photos are allowed INSIDE the museum. we snuck a few choice ones, but the others were all taken in permitted spots).