Sweet Interlude

Sweet Interlude

It’s felt like a long week.  Somehow, always a little behind.  More dishes and laundry.  Rushing to make breakfast and pack lunches.  All our cool after school activities like Gymjitsu and piano and karate mean prepping snacks and being ready to schlep to the next venue.  Hey, all of it my own choice, but this week, with the strangely muggy weather, surprise rainstorms and wildly aggressive tiger mosquitoes (a new species of daytime bloodsuckers who prefer urban environments – go figure), wore me down.

But it’s Friday!  When we leave the dojo this afternoon, the threatening clouds have lightened up and a cool breeze greets us.  Rather than commuting home immediately, we decide to visit the outdoor food vendors at Worth Square (directly west & across the street from Madison Square Park).  We run into a friend and as we walk together from vendor to vendor, I start feeling downright festive.  Happy folks lounging, snacking and enjoying a respite from, well, everything.  We don’t know what we should try.  What’s at Fatty Snacks?  Did that menu over there actually say kimchi hot dogs?  Something sweet?  Salty?  Fried?

Finally, Simon & Ethan decide on chocolate and banana crepes.  We watch the man pour a dipper of batter on the crepe maker and expertly swirl the wooden T-thingy to spread the crepe out just perfectly.  We speculate if we can mimic this in a frying pan at home (the boys vote “probably not”) and we all start rubbing our hands in anticipation as he crumbles a generous helping of dark chocolate over the crepe and then slices bananas on top of that.

The crepe is amazing.  The chocolate oozes out everywhere and we unabashedly lick our fingers and flash chocolate grins at each other.  The bananas are perfectly ripe and balance the slight bitterness of dark chocolate.

My boys & I are giddier by the second.  They pose for pictures.  We tell stupid jokes.  Of course, they point out that this is snack is definitely “not Paleo” (google Paleo Diet if you want to know more on what that means).  Yup, definitely not Paleo guys, but give your mom a break….

As they pop the last bits of crepe into their mouths, I feel three raindrops splatter on my head.  We wipe the chocolate from ourselves and join the crowds going down to the subway platform to go home.

Val’s Number Scroll:  Helping kids visualize math

Val’s Number Scroll: Helping kids visualize math

Check out this canvas number scroll I created to help my boys learn numbers and ordering and to visualize basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

I made the prototype about 4 years ago when the then 4 1/2  year old Simon was driving me crazy asking for help with his dot-to-dots.  I simply didn’t have the patience to sit with him while he laboriously tried to figure what number comes after 48.  And then what number comes after 49.  And then what number comes after that….

Sure, we’d been counting aloud from 1 to 100 while running all those daily errands that entailed traipsing endlessly around the neighborhood.  But I quickly realized that his ability to cite numbers aloud did not translate to recognizing and using the numbers themselves.  I guess that makes perfect sense.  Sigh.  Something had to be done.

And so my version of the number line was born.

My boys still use their number scrolls today to work through arithmetic problems.  I have found this math tool to be helpful enough that others may want to buy one from me (or make their own).

Here are the details for my number scroll:
  • Handmade using 100% cotton canvas, permanent ink & wooden dowels.
  • The actual scroll measures approximately 6 inches tall by 12 feet long
  • Each scroll is numbered from -40 to @140
  • 3/4 inch between numbered tick marks so the number line can be used with snap cubes, Duplos (the larger sized Legos) or any other unit with a 3/4 inch side/base.
  • Care:  Spot clean only.  Do not put through washer/dryer since this will change the spacing between numbers.
  • Patent Pending
  • $35 per scroll (+ tax/shipping).  Coming to Etsy just as soon as I find the time to set it up there!

Now, I like playing with all the math manipulatives I see in the boys’ classrooms , so I bought Snap Cubes, Geoblocks and Power Polygons to play with at home.  We use our snap cubes when working with our number scroll.  

However, if you would rather not buy more stuff,  the big Legos (Duplo) laid on their sides works just fine with the number scroll.

In the future, I’ll be talking more about the specifics of how we practice math at home – both with and without using the number scroll. 

But for now, let me tell you the three basic ways we’ve used our number scroll thus far.

The first is when exploring, counting and sequencing numbers.  Working through those dot-to-dots fits right in here.

Secondly, we’ve used the number scroll to aid in adding and subtracting whole numbers.  Ethan, who just started first grade, enjoys having the tools to  help him add and subtract larger numbers.  He also gets a big kick out of knowing that an answer could end up being negative!

Lastly, we’ve put the number scroll to use when counting by k’s (k = 1, 2, …, 12), multiplying and dividing with whole numbers.  In this picture, Simon (now in third grade) is working in 9’s.  He’s laid out the snap cubes from 0 to 135 by 9’s and is working out multiplication and division with 9’s (no remainders). 

There are all sorts of math learning tools available on the market.  What I like about  my number scroll is that it provides a way for kids to independently and intuitively work out basic arithmetic…. and of course, I made it…

Lots more to say about kids & math, so if you’re interested,  keep on eye out for posts for The Math Lab!

Applesauce Wednesday

Applesauce Wednesday

My boys & I have a fall tradition we call “Applesauce Wednesday.”  This entails a trip to green market (usually on a Wednesday) to buy freshly harvested apples.  It means setting up our workspace with a cutting board & knife for each of us and the pot in the middle of the table.  It involves sampling our bounty of apples and comparing the tastes and textures of Crispins, Macouns, McIntosh, Idareds, Pink Ladies, Fujis and Honey Crisps.  And in the midst of peeling, chopping and snacking, I always have to retell the story of how 2-year-old Ethan’s idea of helping used to be to eat every slice of apple I passed his way.  At the end of each Applesauce Wednesday, we have a warm pot of sweetly tart apple deliciousness that we can sprinkle with just the right amount of cinnamon.

Applesauce means much more to us than peeling the top off one of those snack sized containers & spooning up some truly bland & mass produced applesauce.

While dropping off my frozen compost to green market yesterday, I notice all the piles of apples appearing next to the peaches and plums, so I fill a bag with Crispin and McIntosh apples & decide to surprise Si & E with our first Applesauce Wednesday of the season.

I add a pot of mums to my purchases & go home to set up so we can get right to making applesauce after school.

The boys dive into their task of chopping.  Ethan, almost 6, still has to fight the urge to eat all his apples but overall, is quite diligent about throwing his share into the pot.  I talk about my dad’s 15 fruit trees & about how I’d pick & eat fruit right off the trees when I was a kid.  They tell me about their day at school.  Apparently, some little boy gives Ethan all his pretzels everyday (should I tell the mother she’s wasting her money?).  And Simon tells me that boy at school body slammed Si’s friend on the stairs and called them all sorts of bad names (be assured I talked to the teacher about that!).

Time to take it to the stove.  The boys go off to play legos & I think that half hour with them was well spent.  We all had fun, they enjoyed a healthy snack that will tide them over to dinner and I debriefed them for all sorts of details about school they would probably forget to tell me about if I just asked “what did you do at school today?”

Now, let’s cook that applesauce!

6-8 apples (I prefer slightly tart cooking apples) peeled, cored & chopped
1/3 – 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
cinnamon (to taste)

Put everything in the pot together.  You will think there is not enough water, but there is.  Don’t add any more or your applesauce will be too soupy (well, unless you like it soupy).

Turn stove on to medium-high.  Stir regularly.  Once apples start to simmer, turn heat down to medium-low.  Test apples with a fork.  Once they are soft enough for you, turn stove off & let the apples cool.  Use a potato masher to smash the cooked apples.  I use the “OXO good grips wire potato masher” and since I like chunky apple sauce, I use that masher lightly.  Serve warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon & if you’re feeling decadent, then by all means add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

 Bon appetit!

Potato Heads

Potato Heads

My son & I were sorting out his desk when I came across a sheet of Mr. Potato Head sticker parts.  I decided these were exactly what I needed to create a greeting card so I left my five year old to his organizing and wandered off to play with my colored pencils, card stock & new found stickers.

In the end, this particular set of stickers inspired the 3 different potato head cards you see here.

I’d love to get my hands on more “parts” so I can continue this series.  I suppose I could just draw & color the entire card, but there is something extra fun about building a picture around a sticker.

The next time you are tempted by some child’s arts and crafts supplies, I recommend you ask if you can have some to play with.  I love the joy of being in the now when I’m madly coloring in some picture.  Also, my kids think it’s super cool that their mom loves to draw too and our work inspires each other to make new things.

Now, I’d love to stay and chat some more, but I want to take a closer look at an unused sheet of beach themed stickers on my boy’s desk….

Snacking on Shishito Peppers

Snacking on Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers are delicious.  They are light and crunchy and “mostly” sweet.  That means every once in a while, you’re surprised by a somewhat spicy shishito that looks exactly the same as its mild counterparts.

I first found these peppers in our local Korean grocery store.  My husband & I eat them raw and dipped in the Korean hot pepper paste, “kochujang.”  This is the perfect complement to a big platter of grilled kalbi (short ribs), kim chee and a bowl of steaming rice.

During our recent trip to San Francisco, we had brunch at Skool restaurant in Potrero Hill.  What turns up on the appetizer menu?  The scrumptious shishito pepper – this time fried to perfection, lightly salted and topped with bonito flakes.  I practically gobbled up the entire plate myself and enjoyed every last one of them.

Fast forward two weeks.  We’re back in NYC and I’m hauling my weekly load of frozen compost to Union Square green market.  I take some time to peruse the vegetable stands.  I notice a woman doing a cooking demonstration … and what is in her skillet?  Shishito peppers!! 

Turns out I’ve met the kitchenista (www.thekitchenista.com) and she assures me that it takes only a little oil to prepare these peppers.  I can see she’s not doing anything fancy and I decide I can make this dish too.  By the way, I really like “the kitchenista” & hope to find her at green market again.

I buy a bag of shishito peppers, take them home, rinse them off and put them in a pan with a dollop of olive oil.  I turn the stove to medium / medium-high.  (Note – once the oil heats up, these guys really splatter, so have your lid ready!)

 A few minutes on one side.  Splatter.  I use my tongs & flip the peppers around.  More splatter.  The skins are tender so the peppers brown & even “blister” quickly.  A minute or two more & I plate my peppers, sprinkle a little sea salt on them and add bonito flakes on top (just like the restaurant!).  In under 5 minutes, I’m once again chowing down on the incredibly tasty shishito peppers.  I love them… in fact, I may even like them more than lightly salted kettle chips… but I digress…

I asked the guys at green market how much longer the shishitos will be in season; they tell me I have until first frost.  So if you want to try this out for yourself, go check out your local green market or perhaps asian market – I haven’t seen these at Whole Foods yet.  But go soon before these yummy treats go out of season!