December 29, 2023

Making Art and Preparing for the New Year

It's freezing here in Pennsylvania, so we're keeping busy indoors. For me, it's been taking down the decorations and organizing, which is a bit early for me (usually I wait until New Year's Day) but I'm just eager to clear out the clutter and dust and move on to the new year. But for SoJo, he spent some time tapping into his creative side.
Naturally as a former art teacher, I had to get him some finger paints, brushes and crayons for Christmas. So we broke them out today and S loved it.You can't tell from his expression (he looks so serious!) but he really enjoyed playing with the paints.I encourage any of you with toddlers to get some fingerpaints for them. Don't expect anything "artistic", but rather let them experiment with the materials. At this age, kids are exploring textures and colors rather than making marks on a page to represent something. Though it is messy, it's definitely a great thing to expose kids to at an early age. I ended up laying down newsprint and taping it to the table so S couldn't get paint on anything but the paper (and himself).
I also made a batch of homemade play dough. Mr. Geek says the photos look like ground beef. I assure you, we don't let our son play with raw meat.
It really makes a big quantity, at least a pint--more than a typical jar of PlayDoh.

You don't need any fancy tools for playing either, as you can see, our little butcher sawing up the meat, er, dough.
This is another great activity that allows your child to explore textures and develop fine motor skills.The recipe is very easy, and uses items that are mostly in your pantry.

Natural Play Dough
~1 cup flour
~1/2 cup salt
~1/2 cup water
~!/2 cup beet juice (or spinach or carrot, depending on the desired color). If you prefer uncolored, just use water instead. You could even add a packet of Kool Aid to the water.
~2 tablespoons oil
~2 tablespoons cream of tartar

Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water and beet juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Store in a sealed container. I'm not sure how long this will last, but I'm keeping mine in the fridge to prolong its use.

I'm off to do some more cleaning and organizing in preparation for a new beginning in 2010. Have a very Happy New Year, if I neglect posting until after!

December 23, 2023

Merrily, Merrily

I'll be taking some time away from the laptop this week, but wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year!And the latest chapter of my book recycling craft projects is above. I'm thinking luminaries for outside tomorrow night, since we have a ton of votive candles left over from the recent wedding. We'll see....

Until we meet again, have yourself a very merry Christmas!

Babci's Pierogies

This is the first year I made my grandmother's pierogies for Christmas Eve dinner.
I have fond memories of going to Babci's (Polish for grandma) house every year on Christmas Eve and having a traditional meal of fish, pierogies, pickled cabbage and her yummy assortment of cookies. I remember we had to wait until the dinner dishes were washed before we could open presents, but isn't that the fun of Christmas--the anticipation?

I dug out her recipe, which she wrote down for me before she died. I really should frame it, or at least make photocopies for my cousins to have.
I'm always amazed at how beautiful her handwriting was, and how much pride she took in it. I guess that was typical of women of her generation, as Chris' great aunt is the same way. A lost art...

But I digress. I made pierogies once or twice with her, and she was always very particular about getting the dough thin enough. Mine of course were quite thick, but her dough was so thin that it was nearly translucent. While my brothers and I preferred the potato/cheddar-filled pierogies, she often made versions with prunes, farmer's cheese, and cabbage inside.

So now that I've fogged up the kitchen windows with steam from the boiling pot of water, I'll sit down and share the recipe with you. The first part is her recipe, while the second are my steps and photos for making it.

Pierogi with Sour Cream Dough
~~6 cups flour
~~3 eggs
~~3/4 cup water
~~1 pint sour cream
~~1/2 tsp. salt~~

Potato Filling

~~4lbs. cooked potatoes mashed with butter
~~1/2 lb. American or sharp cheddar cheese
For Serving
~~2 onions sauteed in butter

~~rolling pin
~~large bowl
~~juice glass or round cookie cutter
~~pot of boiling water
~~slotted spoon

Get your helper, and clear a work surface.
Make your mashed potatoes, using peeled potatoes, butter and either the cheddar or American cheese.
I like to run my mash through a hand mixer to get a smooth consistency.
Set aside your potatoes, and make your dough. Before you make it, get out a big pot, fill it with water and a tablespoon of oil, and start boiling the water for cooking the pierogies.
Mix eggs, sour cream, water and salt thoroughly.
Add in the flour, 1 cup at a time.
I had to knead mine on the counter to incorporate all of the flour.
Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Roll out thinly, flouring the surface lightly to prevent sticking.
Using your juice glass or circular cookie cutter, cut circles out of the dough.
Alternatively, you could cut squares if you don't want circles. Then fill them with a teaspoon of the mashed potatoes
Fold over the dough and press it together along the edges, making sure there are no holes for the filling to leak out.
Once you have them made, take them over to the pot of boiling water and drop in about 10 of them. They're ready when they float to the surface
Pull them out with a slotted spoon, and lay them on a plate or in a baking dish to cool.
When you've made them all, saute 2 onions in butter (I used 1 stick, but you could use more or less) and toss the pierogies in it.
If you want, you could also serve them with sour cream. Not necessarily health food, but tis the season.
I miss my grandma, and I'm glad to carry on her Christmas tradition. Biting into these delicious carb-laden pierogies is certainly bittersweet.

Christmas at Longwood Gardens

Mr. Geek and I went on a special, unexpected outing last night, to the famed Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia with my brother and newest sister-in-law. Gigi (my mom) watched Sojo and let us have a rare and much-savored night out. It was wonderful!
Longwood Gardens is an old-fashioned, exquisite garden that is open year-round, that was founded by Pierre S. du Pont (of the Du Pont chemical company). At Christmastime, they decorate the grounds with lights and basically go all-out for the season. I'ts a bit gluttonous, to tell you the truth, but completely delightful.
It was a perfect night to stroll the grounds, as it was not too cold and there was still lots of snow on the ground leftover from the weekend storm that dumped over 2 feet of snow on Philly.
They have gorgeous fountains coordinated to The Nutcracker, along with ice skating performances. I took an obscene amount of photos, so please allow me to indulge them here. I was so impressed with the unique Christmas trees they created, nearly all out of natural materials.
One of the treehouses in the sky. So lovely!
Longwood Gardens is also home to the most amazing conservatory/greenhouse I've ever seen.
We walked through room after room of flowers and decorations, and the smell of paperwhites and lilies was intoxicating.
Check out the blue and white butterfly tree, which was set in a field of paperwhites.
There was a room filled with roses, and perfect ones at that. I love the simple Moravian stars that hung from the ceiling. And I don't even have to tell you about the fragrance in the air...
I liked this cool Cactus tree too. So many of the plants were shaped into Christmas trees.
My favorite room was probably the one with the children's trees. Local school children decorated trees as a class and they were too cute.
Here's Max from Where the Wild Things Are.
Naturally, I loved the art-themed tree below.
The wreaths and supplemental wall decorations were equally gorgeous. This one was made of dried leaves of some kind, though the fruit was understandably plastic (of course I poked at it)
These though were real berries
And this one was made of Bay Laurel leaves.We ended the evening seeing Thomas the Train winding around some evergreens,
and coming across Vice President Joe Biden, who is from Delaware. He was in the greenhouse with Secret Service and most likely some family members. I'm surprised he didn't arrange for a private tour. I preferred to respect his privacy and not take a photo, though I smiled at him when he was leaving and he responded with a warm "hello".

So if you happen to be in the Philly area over Christmas, you MUST visit Longwood Gardens. The Christmas displays are up until January 10th, and it's not too pricey to get in ($16). It's truly magical!

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