Friday, June 28, 2013

I Spy Something Red

Cruz and I spent the last couple of weeks studying the color red.  And although I had plans for crab crafts and fire station visits, we've been going pretty easy around here as of late, already hitting the lazy days of summer I think.  We mostly chose to explore and celebrate red with books, food, and familiar play things around the house.  

I did throw together a discovery box for the week, filled with raisins and licorice, fire trucks, play ketchup and an apple, and two of Cruz's most beloved characters - Elmo and Lightning McQueen.

We spent a rainy afternoon at the library and found some great books about the color red.  At home, we read some of our favorites, and we even got to spend one morning at Mom's library, curled up on the couch reading from the convenient shelf of fire books.  Cruz loves firemen; however, the many books he's read have convinced him their only job is to save kittens from trees!  

Here are a few of our very favorite red books in case you're looking to recreate some color weeks at your house.  


We had some fun in the kitchen this week, baking a fresh strawberry pie after our strawberry hunt, and a graham cracker fire truck snack with lots of sweets.  And one night when Beau had to work late, I let Cruz man the kitchen with a Mini Murph's pizza from Papa Murphy's.  With his chef's hat and apron, I let Cruz have total control over his own little masterpiece, all outside where he could make a mess.  It was our first Mini Murph's, and I was totally impressed with the concept.  After you select pepperoni, cheese, or sausage, the fix up a tiny plate of dough, a cup of sauce, a cup of cheese, and your toppings, and secure it in an individual pizza box.  Just as their big pizzas, you take and bake it right on the plate it comes with, and Cruz had a ball putting it together.  I think they would be perfect for a pizza party or birthday party and I was impressed with the results.  I might just order my own Mini Murph's next time! 

Going to bake his masterpiece...

Eating his hard work...

We went on red wagon rides and played with Cruz's Little People Barn.  We had strawberry shakes, hunted for some ladybugs, and made two trips to Target (Mom looks for ways to celebrate red week, too).  Cruz has his colors down pat, and it's fun to listen to him point out his own examples of the color wheel.  He likes to find colors that match and claims his favorite color is purple.

Taking a break from color weeks for the next couple as we've got some fun red, white, and blue activities in store and some road trip planning to start.  Two weeks from today we will be halfway across the a mini van!  Holy smokes!

Happy weekend, everyone! 


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Like Pie

I'm going through a pie kick right now and it's proving to a bit of a problem as I'm the only one in this house who seems to like to eat it.  So if you're in the neighborhood and appreciate a good pie, chances are, I'll have a slice waiting for you.  And a cup of tea, if you're lucky.  

I'm sharing a unique, but delicious strawberry rhubarb recipe I tried a couple of weeks ago.  The recipe was passed on from my sister-in-law and I've learned to take her food advice seriously over the years.  I likely would have never tried this recipe if it wasn't for her recommendation, but I'm sure glad I did.  It was my first try at a custard pie and it was to die for.  

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust (I used the recipe for my drunk crust, found here), but cut it in half for only one crust
3 cups rhubarb, diced
1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered and sliced
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tbsp. milk
3 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tbsp. butter, diced 
2 tbsp. strawberry jam
1/4 tsp. water

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Place rolled out pie crust on 9-inch pie plate.  Form edges and cut excess dough.  Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Combine rhubarb and strawberries together in a bowl.  Transfer to crust and spread evenly.

3. Whisk together eggs, sugar, milk, flour, and nutmeg in bowl.  Pour over rhubarb and strawberries until custard reaches the edge of the crust.  Spread pieces of diced butter evenly over top of custard.  Gently tap crust and shake baking sheet to remove air bubbles.

4.  Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, turning halfway.  Bake until custard is set.

5.  While cooling, mix strawberry jam and water and heat in microwave for 15 seconds.  Glaze the top of the pie with jam mixture and let cool.  

**6.  Shortly after cooling, refrigerate pie until ready to serve.  Since this is a custard pie, it is best stored in the refrigerator and served cold.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fun at the Fair

This weekend, we spent a lot of time back home for the Butler County Fair.  I'm convinced there is nothing that screams summer in the Midwest more than a good ol' county fair.  And although I no longer schedule my outfits around every day of the fair like I did when I was young, I do feel called to give my boy some of the small town experiences I grew up relishing as a child.  Like the smell of the show barns and that mysterious oil they drench on the gravel walkways when it gets too hot and dusty.  And the food - the band stand and their pork burgers and pie, the dairy promoters and their milkshakes, and the carnies and all of their staples - cotton candy, corn dogs, funnel cakes, and lemonade shakeups.  In a town of less than a thousand people with nothing but a Casey's convenient store and a single restaurant on Main Street, our town came to life during that one week every summer and I loved the people, the food, and that familiar hum from the grandstand every night.  And with nothing but a fence and my neighbor's backyard separating us from this commotion, we loved the front row seat we had to the action.  I remember sitting on the fence with Stacy that Tuesday afternoon, watching the rides come into town and making our agendas for each day.  I remember studying the pictures of the fair queen candidates in the paper in order to accurately guess my pick.  I remember sitting on Grandma and Grandpa's porch listening to the music and staying up late making new friends and new boyfriends from surrounding towns, sealed with a phone number and some hideous stuffed animal won at a balloon dart stand.  And while things have changed a lot since then, it was still nostalgic and a little magical to revisit this old friend this weekend, eat some of her food, and watch Cruz discover some of the joys of my small town childhood.  

...the show barns.  Cruz loved him some big cows and continues to amaze me with his no-fear approach to animals.  I've never seen a child so comfortable around them, like he's an animal whisperer or something.  I think he would have made a great farm kid.

...the rides.  I had my 10-year class reunion on Friday, giving Cruz a special night with my mom and dad.  When we met up with them well past Cruz's bedtime, we found them chasing Cruz from ride to ride, or I guess I should say, from the cars to the elephants.  He made friends with the carnies, went potty in a port-o-potty, and conned his mom into riding a ride with him.  

...kid's day was Saturday, and the whole family braved the heat to watch the littles at the fair.  Cruz and Charly rode the cars six times, Jordan got nauseous on the pirate ship, and Beau had the kids screaming and spinning on the dragon ride.  I watched Cruz and Charly on the rides and had visions of similar images of me and Jordan when we were little, ponytails, red faces, and big, beaming smiles.


(PETA advocates may want to stop reading at this point...)

...and last but not least, the scrambles.  I hadn't been to the scrambles since I was a kid, and was convinced this was the signature event of the fair.  For those of you unfamiliar with this event, every Saturday night of the fair was reserved for an event in which children of all ages take their turns chasing and catching animals in an arena in front of the grandstand.  From bunnies and chickens for the little ones, to greased piggies and calves for the big kids, there's something for everyone.  And seeing four year old children walking through the midway holding two chickens by their feet is not an uncommon sight after the scrambles.  

Although I was always too leery to take part as a child, I was convinced Cruz would be all over the action.  But instead of walking away with a chicken, Cruz caught a bunny instead.  An adorable, white bunny with black spots that Cruz caught within the first five seconds of the event.  Yes, my ambitious little animal lover never thought twice about going and scooping up one of those sweet little bunnies in the midst of the 200 1-3 year olds congregating in the arena.  He never flinched once, and scored one of the cutest bunnies in the place.  And in typical toddler fashion, he picked it up, loved it for 2.5 seconds, then handed it to me after it scratched his hand.  In tears, we made our way back to the grandstand, bunny in hand and mulch in shoes, to show off our prize to the fam.  Except at this point, Cruz was over the bunny and upset that his blue sno-cone had melted.  So, after some pictures as evidence, and a quick contemplation of whether we wanted a new pet or not, I found one of the many empty-handed farm kids who would provide a far better life for said bunny.  We left, grabbed some tacos and a blue sno-cone for Cruz, went to cool off at Great Grandma and Grandpas, and listened to Cruz tell one animated story about his great bunny catch. 

So although I'm a tad bit sad that we didn't have a bunny to play with yesterday, I have some hilarious memories of my boy at the fair.  Maybe next year we'll try for a chicken...

Other pictures from our week...pool, puddles, and pizza on the deck.

Have a good week!    

Friday, June 21, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever

"It was old Dr. Parr who said or sighed in his last illness, "Oh, if I can only live till strawberries come!" The old scholar imagined that, if he could weather it till then, the berries would carry him through. No doubt he had turned from the drugs and the nostrums, or from the hateful food, to the memory of the pungent, penetrating, and unspeakably fresh quality of the strawberry with the deepest longing. The very thought of these crimson lobes, embodying as it were the first glow and ardor of the young summer, and with their power to unsheathe the taste and spur the nagging appetite, made life seem possible and desirable to him."

John Burrough 

In a world that seems to spin like mad, there are few things in life that help to slow it down.  One of them is picking fruit.  And just as summer begins to ripen in early to mid-June, so do the strawberries. 

And while we could stop by Hy-Vee for a nice lot of them right now, sometimes the adventure is more important than the end product.  So Monday night, the three of us set out on a picking adventure to Heartland Farms just outside of town.  We were there just an hour before closing, and were one of a few families left for the day.  We had strawberry shakes and shortcakes on the brain, and I had memories of our last excursion to the fields, in tow with one little strawberry lover too small to pick himself, but just right to sit on the outskirts and taste test our loot.

This year was a different story.  As the sun beat down on us, Cruz found himself in his element.  He knew exactly what to do, which ones to pick, and how to put them just so in our strawberry box.  And although he didn't always understand that he couldn't walk, or sit, directly in the strawberry plant, he did seem to grasp our end goal and liked to help with the process.  

Beau grew up picking strawberries in his own backyard, and seemed to step into his past as he immediately got to work to pick as many red berries as he could.  I had a different plan in mind, and decided to frolic, play, and pick a few strawberries here and there when we spotted just the right one.  We ended up with plenty of berries, and ended our night on our deck with homemade shakes.

And just like the old Dr. Parr in my story above, I'm convinced the strawberry fields put a trance on my boy.  Usually busy, wild, and rambunctious, Cruz was a calm soul all night, picking berries, talking to the piggies in the petting zoo, and choosing to lay with his mama on a patchwork quilt and look at the clouds instead of chase the soccer ball around with Dad.

It's not very often he'll lay with me like unless it's close to nap time.  There I was, soaking up the perfect night on my favorite quilt when my little came to join me.  We watched the clouds, sang some songs, and continued to pop berry after berry into our mouths as we spotted the banana moon in the sky.


These are the vignettes I hope to lock into my memory.  The feeling of the green Iowa grass pricking my toes.  The angry birds band-aid against Cruz's soft tan skin.  The calm, weightless air that danced around us and the maple tree that swayed above us.  And those berries.  

For more information on Heartland Farms, like their Facebook page here, and visit their website here.

P.S. The nice lady that ushered us to our row said they have the best strawberry crop they've had in years.  One benefit of the cold and rainy start to summer! 



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