Chocolate Marbled Pumpkin Bread

Ready for fall baking?

Looking for a way to dress up traditional pumpkin bread?  This unique variation is an aesthetic addition to the table and simple to achieve.  While the warm fall spices are the primary flavor, the chocolate swirls add a hint of richness, which make it an irresistible dessert at any gathering.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 can (8oz) canned purred pumpkin
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole or low-fat milk
  • 1/3 cup oil or unsweetened applesauce
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
cinnamon sticks
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • small dash cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Method:

  • Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Step 2: Prepare 9×5 baking tin. Grease the bottom, sides and corners, and place parchment paper on the bottom of the tin, extending over the sides.
  • Step 3: Measure out the wet ingredients.

Tip: Replacing unsweetened applesauce for oil reduces fat and roughly 600 calories throughout the loaf. Although applesauce contributes moisture, displacing the fat in oil can lead to a stodgy cake. By using milk (whole or low fat) rather than water as well as enough raising agent (e.g. baking soda), the loaf will become just a bit more rich and aerated, The lactose in the milk also caramelizes as the loaf bakes, creating an interesting, evenly browned crust. (See links at the bottom of this post to read more about the science behind the baking!)

  • Step 4: Incorporate spices. I usually just add the spices to the wet ingredients, but traditionally, spices are added to dry ingredients. Either way seems to work fine.
  • Step 5: Combine the dry ingredients. Be sure to break up flour clumps with a sifter after measuring the flour out.
  • Step 6: Set aside half of the batter in a separate dish.
  • Step 7: In a microwave-safe dish, heat chocolate morsels by thirty second increments until the morsels become soft and slightly viscous. Be careful not to overheat. Stir the morsels and mix with the reserved batter.
I doubled the recipe, and half of the batter went to a traditional pumpkin bread topped with cinnamon sugar and pumpkin seeds.
  • Step 8: Alternately pipe or scoop the two batters into the prepared tin. The batter should fill roughly two thirds of the tin.
  • Step 9: Bake at 350 degrees for forty-five to sixty minutes, or until an inserted tooth-pic comes out clean.

Tip: Allow the bread to cool completely before cutting to avoid excessive crumble and layer separation.

Enjoy

Tip: Feel free to use the batter without chocolate as an awesome base recipe for pumpkin bread. Topping pumpkin bread with cinnamon sugar and pumpkin seeds or a few pecans is a favorite easy alternative.

How to Make the Most of Eighteen Summers

“We only have eighteen summers with them.”  A friend’s social media post recently took me aback.  We have eighteen summers to enjoy with our kids.  Our family has spent many summers in the army’s “moving season”, and we try to make the most of it.  Usually we see family (as we do not always have the opportunity).  Major vacations are great, but I believe that it does not matter so much where we spend time or what we do.   It is how we spend our time together, and that we are together.  Our kids might remember unique destinations and sights, but the interactions between each other surpass any of those. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if all those interactions were purely laughter and love?  Realistically, there are some “memorable experiences” that can feel like we are holding a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with two hands, just watching the edges of content and happy attitudes crumble.  On the last Friday before my oldest son’s first day of 2nd grade, I was reminded of lessons that have helped us enhance quality time.

Quality Time Lessons

Lesson 1: Take opportunity to connect with your kids, even if your plan isn’t fully developed.

My plan was to have an “adventure boy day”, since I only had my three boys as my daughter’s school was already in session.  It was supposed to be something outdoors.  That was my plan.  The rest of this plan evolved, starting seconds after leaving my daughter’s school parking lot.  We stopped at the local grocery store for lunch supplies and a few bottles of water.  A subsequent idle of my engine in the driveway to pick up the “emergency adventure backpack” that had a spare towel, sunscreen and a few one-size-fits-all clothes and a few diapers; and we were off. 

I did not have ALL the clothes one might have wanted after getting wet or muddy, but I knew we would survive.  I had all the water I could carry, even though I knew I would have had to ration it at some point on the journey home.  After all, Bear Grylls claims that we can live for three days without water, right? (Not that I want to reach anything close to that threshold…LOL).

Lesson 2: We don’t have to spend a lot of money.  Kids really do enjoy the little and often free things.

I envisioned learning how to hook worms on fishing poles and old-fashioned muddy fun.  Then, I realized that I had no fishing license.  I am also a wimp with bugs and like them better in my garden.  I settled for just exploring that would hopefully involve H2O (my first love 😉 ).  We ended up at a small slice of public land with a mile long trail that follows a dammed river and spring fed creek.

Not more than fifty yards down the path, my middle son pointed out his footprints, and my youngest could not be pried from this phenomenon for several minutes.  I guess nature’s sandboxes are the best.    I remember a similar incident happening when a chunk of ice in the shape of a drainpipe mesmerized my daughter in the middle of Salzburg, Austria.

Sometimes we, as adults, get in the habit of rushing to our destination and checking off our sightseeing bucket list.  However, taking the time to absorb these mini marvels teaches us patience and invites us into our child’s heart and mind, enabling us to truly connect with them.

Lesson 3: When the attitudes get cranky, the cranky get going. Balancing flexibility and determination is key.

The first watering hole we visited, we spotted tadpoles and splashed around.  As we were about to head up the creek (just a tiny bit off the path), I warned my oldest son about poison oak.  That friendly warning (at least from what I remember) threw my son into an uncooperative mood.  Meanwhile, my younger two started complaining about mud in their toes and droplets of water on a t-shirt!  This was not the Mark Twain adventure I had in mind.

As much as I wanted to blame them for being wimpy, I knew there was more in them that I could count on.  When these cranky moods discourage me, it helps to either change the way we do things or the destination (and sometimes change my expectations too).  We were not going to the end of the trail that day, but we were also not going back to the car yet, and we were not going to travel up the creek.  Instead, we played follow the leader up some wooden steps, back to the trail (maybe a wrong turn here or there and call to my husband to tell him where we were that day…LOL), and we made it to a beautiful halfway point: a freshwater spring and waterfall! 

Had we not been flexible and determined to continue, we would have missed out on so much. For example, my son tested his newly acclaimed swimming skills, and I will never forget his proud grin.  We spotted minnows and played simple games they created. The experience reminded me of Neverland. It was a little world into their hearts and mind that I hope I never forget, and it made the struggle getting there worth it!

Thanks for reading!

Note: I realize I have not posted in a while, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a blog about imperfect, crazy mom-life if I never missed a post.  Sorry about that; We are still here collecting adventures, recipes, deep-ish thoughts to share 😊!

Orange-Mint Scented Homemade Playdough

“We Don’t Stop Playing Because We Grow Old; We Grow Old Because We Stop Playing.

George Bernard Shaw

Need a new quiet time activity or sensory bin?  Try this soothing scented homemade playdough.  Inexpensive and easy to make, this homemade recipe does not take more than ten minutes. It requires few more ingredients than flour, water and salt, yet it is as smooth and pliable as commercial doughs.  Orange-mint has been one of our recent scent combo favorites. Additionally, it is easy to achieve this vibrant orange color with yellow and a bit of red food coloring.

Note: I love that the color does not stain or bleed from the playdough on any surface or staining hands!

Although I have tried various sensory doughs in the past, the most common base recipe I use for my playdough comes from Playdough to Plato .  Malia has an amazing recipe for Apple Pie Playdough among others!

Ingredients:

  • 3 Cups Water
  • 3 Tablespoons Oil
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Salt
  • 6 Tablespoons Cream of Tartar
For Scent:
  • Approximately 1/2 Teaspoon Sweet Orange Essential Oil
  • Roughly 7 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil

Note: The peppermint oil can easily overpower the orange, so be conservative with that, but liberally add the orange scent. 

For Color:
  • 20 Drops Yellow Food Coloring
  • 7 Drops Red Food Coloring

Note: Adjust amount of essential oils and food coloring according to personal preference.

Mehtod:

  1. Simply add all dry ingredients to a large pot.
  2. Measure out water, and shake in essential oils into the water.
  3. Drop food coloring into the water.
  4. Pour this water mixture to the dry mixture.
  5. Add the oil.
  6. Turn the stove on medium-low and stir constantly as the dough thickens. This should take no more than a few minutes.
  7. Once the dough begins to cohere to itself and come off the sides of the pan, take the pot off the stove and let it cool.
  8. Enjoy!!

Note: One other method to infuse playdough is to use cooking extract. This results in a more powerful smell, which we also love. However, the essential oil smells less artificial (no alcohol or other additives in extract). If you want peppermint or maple scented playdough, the cooking extract works extremely well!!

Thanks for reading!

Traveling with my Kids in Italy, Part II–Verona

This blog is a continuation of a previous blog and picks up in Verona, where I and my three (and a half) bambinos heap up almost as much trouble (and dirty laundry) as we did homemade pasta.  Previous Blog: Traveling with my kids in Italy, Part I–Urine for it Florence

Goldfish Crumbs and Puddles

Roughly two hours via train from bustling Florence, Verona is a peaceful contrast. It is one of the best Italian cities for families with littles.  Historic Verona is geographically small enough to be pedestrian friendly, even for little feet. One does not have to worry about scooters and mopeds flying by toddlers; overcrowded narrow sidewalks; long lines or stressful reservations.  Verona offers a combination of high-end shopping and historic sites.

Piazza Bra

Since I am more of a target girl (thinking Michael Kors was a female named Michelle), our paths veered more toward the historic landmarks. Two favorites are the Roman Arena (Verona’s Colosseum) and Castelvecchio. Castelvecchio is a former royal residence and fortress with sculptures and paintings (even from Bellini) dating back to the 14th century.

Ponte Scaligero
Castelvecchio Courtyard
Art Gallery in Castelvecchio

The locals also received my children warmly, except when we accidentally left a few goldfish crumbs in a taxi.  My bad for trying to give the driver’s ears a break from a tired one year old.  However, I understood the driver’s annoyance once I realized how nicely his taxi seats glimmered as we stepped out into the warm Verona sunshine.

Verona’s air was cooler than Florence with a slight breeze, but the sun warmed the skin and coaxed a smile on every face, even our taxi driver.  The location of our fourth-floor, renovated bed-and-breakfast could not have been better for the price.  It was an old, dark yellow stucco building with a wide garden gate, leading us to a buzzer and elevator, which fit us all in (including the emergency umbrella stroller I picked up to relieve my 30 weeks pregnant self).  Most of all, we were just down the street from Piazza Bra, and the pizza and focaccia aromas wafted up toward our balcony. 

We followed our noses; and brought culinary treasures back to our hotel. We settled in for a classy ‘floor-nic’ dinner while watching Italian cartoons, weather and cooking shows.  All the bambinos were bathed and asleep ON TIME! The day and night went so smoothly, I could not believe it.   

For the first time ever, I decided to share a bed with my daughter and generously sacrifice (not really, totally selfish) the sofa bed to my oldest son.  My youngest was asleep in the travel bed.  I even fell asleep quickly and comfortably. 

“Mama..” My daughter sweetly whispered in my ear at 3am.   

“Huh?” I replied half asleep.

Very matter of fact, she answered, “I peed.”

Surely she is dreaming; I thought.  Nope! There it was!  She never peed the bed in the last year of potty-training, but the ONE night we share a bed, I get caught in a damp puddle. 

Now, as lovely as this accommodation was, it had a few quirks: 1. There was a master light switch turned permanently on when the keycard was inserted, and no other light would turn on without that blaring master light. 2. The wooden floorboards were extremely creaky.  This combination as well as my clever forethought—placing my sleeping youngest in front of the wardrobe with all the clean clothes meant: 1.  I had to work in the dark. 2.  My daughter had no other clean clothes that were accessible to me.  3. Every move I made to get my daughter to the toilet, retrieve a dry towel etc. was very noisy and risked waking my one-year-old.

Thankfully, I found a clean-ish shirt of mine to give her to change into; placed a dry towel over “the puddle”, and we just squeezed over to the other side of the large bed 😉!

Verona’s Colosseum, Home of a Summer Opera Festival

The next morning, my husband, and voice of reason, arrived.  He was like a knight with a shining duffle bag of clean laundry.  Since the kids and I were experts of the city after one evening of exploration, we showed him around and finally made it to the inside of the Roman Arena. Then, we headed for Venice, my favorite city of all time, where more escapades ensued.

Apparently the fossils were the most interesting aspect of the Roman Arena…
Ponte Pietra, Hubby, myself and fourth baby on the way

Note: All of Italy, Verona included, contains so much more than I have been able to cover. Feel free to check out these resources.

Thanks for reading!

Homemade Strawberry Lemonade

Nothing hails the arrival of summer memories and comfort like homemade lemonade, and this simple, refreshing recipe adds an extra pop of sweet strawberries as a natural way to enhance the flavor.

What does lemonade bring to your mind? The Smell of fresh-cut grass; Dixie cups and dimes? Wrap-around porches? The sound of pool water splashing?  It brings me back to my great-grandmother’s backyard lemon tree in orange county, where my sister dared me to eat a whole lemon.  

shallow focus photography of yellow lime with green leaves
Photo by Ryan Baker on Pexels.com

Every June, my little skittles and I make lemonade to welcome the summer season, and this is our favorite lemonade recipe that we have created! In addition to being a great family bonding activity, this recipe is easy for kids and does not require many ingredients.

I feel just a tad bad about asking my one year old to lick the lemon a few times for this picture…

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 9 lemons)
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 5 cups cold water
  • 5 large, fresh, sliced strawberries
  • 2 cups ice
white bowl of whole strawberries
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
shallow focus photography of sliced lemon
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Method:

  • Step 1: Prepare the Lemon Juice. Halve and squeeze about nine lemons (two cups).  Remove (with strainer) seeds and pulp, if desired.
  • Step 2: Prepare the Syrup. Heat one cup of water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. After the sugar has dissolve completely, bring the mixture to a simmer for five minutes. It will thicken slightly into a viscous syrup.  Then, remove it from the heat.
  • Step 3: Combine. Mix the lemon juice with the syrup. Transfer the liquid into a pitcher, and slowly add the cold water, tasting it with each additional cup.

Hint: Taste the lemonade as you add water to make sure the lemonade suites your flavor preferences.

  • Step 4: Add additional flavors.  Slice fresh strawberries and add those to the lemonade.  Let them set in the lemonade in the fridge for three hours.  This should transform the lemonade into a beautiful shade of peachy pink!

Hint: If you let the strawberries set overnight, the lemonade will continue to infuse color and flavor!

  • Step 5: Finish. Finally, pour over ice (or add two cups of ice to the pitcher). Enjoy and make summer memories!

Thanks for reading!

Traveling with my Kids in Italy, Part I–Urine for it, Florence!

I am not sure whether I am more proud or humbled after traveling solo with my littles.  On one hand, we always come back alive with epic memories and better bonds between each other.  On the other hand, I inevitably find myself a bit wiped out and swimming upstream in some awkward situation—most of which involve bodily functions that even a triple-ply solution can’t fix, much less European Reynold’s wrap-like toilet paper!

It was sunny, bustling Florence, Italy, teeming with scooters, museums and gelato shops—what fun!  I was 30 weeks pregnant and traveling with my other three bambinos (ages 5, 3 and 18 months). We were flying in from Nuremburg on Ryanair for a mere 15 Euro per person (not including price for seat belt and oxygen).  My parents-in-law were also visiting Florence for a bike tour in the region.  The plan was to spend a few days with them before traveling solo via train to Verona; meet up with my husband and continue to Venice for a fun-filled four-day weekend. 

Florence and the surrounding region (e.g., Pisa, Sienna, Lucca, San Gimignano) is packed with opportunities for all ages (NOT JUST THOSE WITHOUT KIDS).  Although I decided not to take my kids to sights like the Accademia (where the Statue of David is displayed), we loved hopping into places like the Medici Chapels and Santa Croce Church, where we were able to view (for free and no lines) Michelangelo’s intricate carvings of the royal Medici family’s tombs and their crown jewels as well as crypts of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.  The hands-on Da Vinci and Galileo museums were favorites, as well as the carousel near Palazzo Vecchio, gelato, and amazing chalk pastel artwork on the streets. We definitely did not exhaust the opportunities, and I would love to revisit!

In Florence, I frugally booked a sparse but unique room at a Franciscan convent that was walkable from Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s most famous bridge).  We LOVED their continental breakfast, which is pretty much our priority, and the grounds were peaceful yet family friendly.  However, after one night, we were moved to a different room. The new bathroom was not in our room but outside our creaky door, across a little study area and through a tiny door that was formerly a utility closet.  Please note: I had a newly potty-trained three year old and an eighteen month old, who would not fall back asleep without abundant tears.  So, any midnight potty need would risk a room full of all-night tears.

No matter how many times I encouraged my kids to potty BEFORE BED, someone needed to potty at 3am!!!  Thank the Lord, we were able to stealthily slip past my toddler unnoticed.  However, one particular night, I took my daughter to the restroom, but she needed to go a second time.  I couldn’t bear the thought of waking my toddler, so ….oh the shame….I asked my dainty three-year-old to potty in the hotel sink!  In the morning, I found some cleaner.  Then, we brushed our teeth in that sink, and made a clean get-away for Verona.

Thanks for reading!

Stay Tuned for

Parts II, III and IV: Traveling with my Kids in Verona, Venice and Rome

Raspberry Cream Cheese Babka

Servings: 12 Difficulty: Moderate Prep time: 2 hours
Bake time: 45 minutes Oven Temp: 375 and 335

Who does not love Middle Eastern breads? This delectable, one-tin wonder puts a playful twist of fresh spring fruit into a traditionally chocolate flavored sweet bread.  A babka is an enriched brioche that is rolled with filling, split, twisted and baked in a tin.  It is fantastic with coffee or tea for breakfast or dessert.

Although I reviewed and tested several babka recipes, the inspiration and guidance for my dough recipe came primarily from Paul Hollywood’s Chocolate Babka recipe found at this link: Paul Hollywood’s Chocolate Babka.

Ingredients:
  • 1 ¾ cups (275 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 package instant yeast (not dry-active yeast)
  • 1 ½ tablespoon (25 grams) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and diced
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup raspberry fruit spread (fruit spread has more fruit and less sugar)
Instructions:
  • Tip flour into a stand mixer.  Add sugar, salt and yeast—each to their own side of the bowl.
  • In a separate dish, beat two eggs and add milk to the egg mixture.
  • Make a well in the middle of the flour and add in the egg mixture.
  • Attach the dough hook and beat for about two minutes on medium-low. The dough will be fairly stiff but form a cohesive ball. 
  • After two minutes, increase the speed of the mixer and add the softened butter, one cube at a time.  If the dough separates from itself, pause the mixer to incorporate all the butter and dough together by hand for a few seconds before proceeding to mix again.
  • Once all the butter is incorporated, beat the dough for an extra 5 minutes on medium or medium-high.  This should help the dough become an elastic ball as the gluten activates.  (Gluten is hampered by fats in egg, milk and butter, which makes these enriched doughs require more work and patience).  Ultimately, when the dough is stretched, it should be translucent rather than tear apart–otherwise known as the window pane test.
  • When the dough is elastic, smooth and cohesive, roll it out onto a floured surface with dimensions roughly 13×16 inches.  More importantly, make sure your dough is not rolled out so thin that it could easily tear.
  • In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium-high for a few minutes until it is completely smooth.
  • Slowly add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese.
  • Generously lather the sweetened cream cheese on the babka dough.
  • Add the raspberry fruit spread without blending it too much into the cream cheese.  Not over-blending the cream cheese and fruit spread will preserve more intense color and distinct flavor within the babka.
  • Roll the dough into a log. Roll it fairly tight without squishing out the filling and trim the ends.
  • Use a knife, pizza cutter or pastry scraper to cut the log in half lengthwise, leaving the two halves connected at the top (like a pair of pants).
  • Twist the log halves (pant legs…lol) over one another. Try not to stretch the dough out too long as you twist them.
  • Prepare the tin. Grease a 9×5 baking tin, and place parchment paper on the bottom, extended over the sides.
  • Place the babka in the tin and cover with a clean plastic bag.  Let the babka prove for one-and-a-half hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 335 degrees and bake for 30 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover it with foil, but the lower temperature of 335 degrees should prevent this.

Let the babka cool for a bit before slicing into it 😉 Enjoy! 

Thanks for reading!!

The first attempt had
“raw dough” in the middle, and we liked it anyway…sorry Mr. Hollywood!

Coming Soon: Bonus Babka Flavors…

A Full Cup

Hope for Dealing with the Comparison Trap

The internet is chock full of the call to end comparisons among moms.  Comparisons lead us to either envy or pride, and not only rob us of gratitude and joy but also provides egotistical motivation for loving behavior toward our children.  What are common standpoints we take to help us deal with comparisons? “One size does NOT fit all”;  “No one is perfect”;  find a positive mantra; more self-care.  All of these are helpful, but what I believe makes the biggest difference is having a full cup.  I do not mean a full cup of coffee (Although that helps too!).  I mean a cup that is filled with the love of Christ.

The term “love of Christ” may sound ‘churchy’, but what I mean is a love unlike any other.  God is the source of unconditional love, which means there is nothing we can ever do to make Him love us—He already loved us first, even while we were in the midst of actions, words and thoughts of which we are not proud.  So, this kind of love is special, because He chooses to love not because of what we do or dot do, but because He made us. 

Even when the rest of us humans seem good at choosing to love, we cannot find a match for how much God loves us.  How much are we worth to any king on earth?  Do they even know our names?  How can the King and Creator of the entire world know the number of hairs on our heads; hear each and every prayer; and mark us with such value that is worth the cost of His own death on the cross, like a criminal, though He is the King of kings?  This is the highest value we could ever be given—to be so loved and valued by our Maker.

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered…” -Luke 12:7

“We love because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:19

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" 
-Romans 5:7-8

When we find ourselves caught in the comparison trap (something I still fall into), we can remember to stand in confidence that our value is marked by Christ and not by how well we feel like we are doing or how many meltdowns we can avoid.

We can see other moms as equally valued and dearly loved in God’s heart.  We can let the love that fills our cup overflow and pour out words of genuine encouragement. We can value others without devaluing ourselves.  We can even learn from each other and be at peace with our differences.  We can admit our imperfections, knowing that humility helps us realize our need for God, and that God does not forget about us—he hears our prayers.

This transformed perspective does not eradicate comparisons and the feelings associated with them, but we can filter them.  It is about believing and applying this filter.  When I find myself caught feeling inadequate, we can remember these truths about God, ourselves and other moms.  When we chose this cup over the other cups, we can be reassured that this cup does not run out.  It does not need to be refilled.  It is stronger and richer than any other cup.

Thank you for reading.

“..to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…that you may be filled”

-Ephesians 3:18-19

How to Experience Animals without Adopting a Pet

I’ve always respected moms who care for not just their kids, but a pet or two as well.  I have a hard enough time herding my littles (which is a lot like herding cats), so we have not ventured into adopting any official pets.  However, wherever we have lived, we have sought out critters to care for, interact with and study. Here are a few of our favorite ways to discover living creatures:

1. Catch and Release: Fish, Frog or Toad, Crabs

For my middle son’s 2nd birthday, I took him and his siblings on a walk to the local pond in Lupburg, Germany.  The kids wondered why we had a net, but I did not want them to be too confident in my abilities to bring a special party guest that evening.  Originally, I thought I could lure in a koi fish with some stale bread, but my not quite 5’3’’ self and 2 ½’ arms were suddenly inadequate length—unless I got into the water.

I nearly broke through our village’s peaceful and orderly social norms and waded into the little koi pond to borrow a fish, but my husband thankfully joined us at the pond that day.  He was able to toss his lanky self three times farther than me over the water and catch something on the first try. 

We were surprised by what we found in our net—a frog!  Honestly, it took us about three days of research and debate to figure out that it was a frog, and not a toad, but all of that was a great learning experience for everyone.  We returned the frog on the third day, and he was alive and happy.

2. Order or Scavenge: Bugs

Ordering a butterfly kit online is a great option for young children not ready for pet responsibilities, and all ages can be fascinated by wiggly caterpillars consuming ready-made mush.  Since these are unobtrusive animals and their life-cycle is only a few weeks, you will not need to make any major lifestyle rearrangements like you would for larger pets.

We have done this for three years now, and a healthy twenty-eight out of thirty butterflies have flown into the world. We reuse the same butterfly home each year, and we release the butterflies a few days after hatching.  We just keep a flower and an apple slice as well as a few drops of water in the home. 

Plenty of other bugs work for unofficial, temporary pets as well.  Snails have been a favorite. We had a snail as a LEGO airplane pilot for a few weeks. After a few days of it gone missing, we suddenly found it latched onto one of my husband’s books–eating the back cover. Look out for those guys! Empty, ventilated peanut butter jars are one of the best little homes for these critters; and make sure that lid is on tight!

3. Babysit Animals: Other People’s Pets

If you are looking to give your children an extra responsibility that is temporary, rewarding and does not require you to rearrange your home or lifestyle in major ways, your kids could consider offering pet-babysitting services.  Most of the time, other people are welcomed to the idea, especially if they are trying to get away for the weekend.  Most of the time, babysitting does not happen at YOUR home.  Your children can also get a good sense of what different breeds and animals are like and what kind of responsibilities are required by each. 

Our favorite pet babysitting job was offered by my daughter’s preschool this year—baby chicks.  All we needed was a box, a warm bathroom, a dish for water, a sandwich bag of chicken feed and a little straw.  It was a great time for my youngest to practice one finger touches (which happened most of the time—everyone survived unharmed!)

These are just a few ways we have tried to incorporate living creatures into our children’s lives. There are so many other ways. Feel free to comment below and share your ideas! Thanks for reading!

Cinnamon Blueberry Coffee Cake

Prep Time: 25 min Bake Time: 45-50 min Oven Temp: 350 F

This simple, scrumptious coffee cake has always been one of my favorite recipes from my mum, and it is in her honor for Mother’s Day that I post this. She calls it Blueberry Buckle and first got the recipe from a friend’s Swedish grandmother. I have only modified it slightly over time. This cake works great for breakfast or dessert with coffee. It’s golden-brown, sweet, crispy topping will easily please a small crowd, and plenty of fresh blueberries and milk provide natural moisture without any additional oil.

Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk + a dash extra, divided
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups fresh blueberries


Ingredients for Topping:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 7 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • Sprinkling of cinnamon sugar

First, pre-heat oven to 350 F and grease a 8×11 inch glass baking dish. Cream the butter and sugar until well blended and whisk in the egg. Add half a cup of milk and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients. Add the extra cup milk and fold in the blueberries.

Notes:

You can use any type of milk, but the milk with higher fat content will provide more moisture and fine texture. Although skim milk has lower saturated fats, so it is up to you. I settle with low-fat milk.

I also add extra milk (about 1/4 cup) after the dry ingredients so that the batter is not so thick when you add the blueberries. If the batter is too thick, the blueberries will burst when folded. However, the batter should be thick enough so that you need to spread it across the pan. If the batter is too thin, the berries will sink to the bottom (especially if your berries are extra large).

Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

You can also use frozen, thawed blueberries, but be sure the blueberries are completely thawed and drained. Otherwise, they will bleed and tint the cake. Frozen berries pack more flavor once thawed, but the excess water (if they are not completely thawed and drained) can alter the recipe increase bake time. I use at least three cups of fresh medium sized blueberries.

Finally, cut the butter into the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Do not over work the topping or try to pack it onto the cake batter. Loosely sprinkle and completely cover the cake. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The cake should be golden-brown and yield a clean toothpick if stuck into the middle.

Enjoy

The Real Kitchen…

Lots of little fingers in the dough; double prep time and extra clean up…Thank you “Little Helpers”.