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Autumn has rolled around yet again, bringing with it school, crisp nights, beautiful colours, and cool days that inspire baking!  One of our recent forays into the world of baking is the making of challah.  We used Peter Reinhart’s recipe.  I am a fan of Peter and challah; the latter since my introduction to it when my friend, Naomi, had me over for Shabbat.

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Turns out that challah is a perfect activity for little hands.  The dough is soft and somewhat sweet.  It is easy to roll and all the little ones got to try their hand at braiding.  The braids “heal” all the mistakes and imperfections as they rise and bake, making for a very proud little bunch of bakers when the loaves finallly emerge from the oven.

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It was bound to happen sometime.  I started in public school, moved to private, wandered through Waldorf, and now I have started training for Montessori ages 3-6.   One of the many things I have learned so far is that the Montessori curriculum is heavily dependent on materials and those materials are very expensive to buy.  This is somewhat ironic to me as the first Montessori schools were with kids in housing projects and Maria Montessori and her untrained assistants made most of their own materials and used things that were easily accessible, like empty wooden spools.  Fortunately, there are lots of online resources for making your own, and much of that information is free.  In the spirit of that, I will try to add anything that I do to help others.  This post is named as a nod to one blog I have already received lots of help from; Making Montessori Ours, and I’ll take the opportunity to add a shout out to another I’ve been gleaning lots of great ideas from:  A Handmade Childhood.

I started with the Color Boxes.  After surveying the many creative options out there, I decided to make mine out of wood (fir) and then paint them with leftover house paint.  I chose house paint because it is safe for little people and basically free in the amounts required for a project like this.  I have been collecting almost empty cans from other people’s painting projects.  Color Box 3 involves 9 colours; 7 shades of each of the colours, so I have painted the first one of each colour undiluted and then added small amounts of white paint and mixed right in the can until the very palest shade is achieved.

We used scraps of wood and taped the ends off after sanding them smooth and then painted one coat of paint on the tops and sides.

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While I was painting, I was concerned that the shades were too similar, but when they were dry, I found that it was pretty obvious when they were out of order and when they were correct.

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I only did one coat because I like the wood grain showing through.  My four and six year old testers approve.  Passing adults arrange them too; they are kind of like visual candy.

Next up, pink tower and brown stair!

A poem for my friend Jess.

Snow soaked clouds flow over a rocky basin like cold honey from an overfilled mason jar,
wave whipped willows luff in a spring swollen lake,
driftwood stump a pirate ship for monkeys,
ponderosas defying one last snowfall dress in spring’s freshest green,
presumptuous pit bulls escort beer laden teens through jetsam laden with cigarette butts,
sifted handfuls of beach yield silky shards of malachite.

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Ah, the elusive and delicious morel.  Mushroom hunting and subsequent consuming is not for the faint of heart due to possible misidentification of finds, but morels are pretty obvious.  There are a few other shrooms that are potentially confusing, but they all have pretty obvious characteristics that disqualify them as true morels.  You should always have a good guide or guide book when mushroom hunting.  My book of choice is Mushrooms Demystified.

My brother and his wife are pretty amazing foragers, and their generously shared bag of dried morels from last year inspired me to go looking myself this year.  We looked, and looked, and looked some more and had no luck.  On our return from one such unsuccessful foray this spring, my eldest son trotted up behind me and showed me a mushroom that he had found.  “I brought it because I thought you would like it,” he said.  A black morel?!  Where had he found it?  “Somewhere back there…”  So we retraced our steps, and then, as often happens on mushroom hunting expeditions, suddenly they were all over.  Hunting mushrooms with the kids was fun.  They were good at it, better than the adults, and it was like a big treasure hunt for them.

We picked and dried our finds and had one big feast with friends and enough to spare for another.  Success!  Morels grow where they want to, but for the record, we found ours in late May of this year, on a south facing slope of the Cascade Mountains near Chelan.  They were mostly at the edge of a hiking trail and under Ponderosa Pines.  Good luck!

Now that I am a couple of months past the birth of my third (and final) baby and a few more months before my fortieth birthday, I have been feeling the urge to start running again.  In a happy turn of events, there are now a plethora of running skort options out there for those of us who would like functional clothes without feeling like we are running in our underwear.  These  Tough Girl Skirts from Skirt Sports caught my eye, as I will be running in the cold for most of the next three seasons.  Sadly, I’m not in a place in life where I can justify forking over eighty some dollars for an item of exercise clothing.  So I went to the consignment store sale in the hopes of finding someone else’s cast off skort.  No luck, but I did find a running shirt made out of the same material for $3.  I had an old pair of running tights that I got for free from a boyfriend who was training the BC Women’s Dragonboat team (always fun to look like a sponsored athlete!), but I saw tights at the same store for $5.

I cut the shirt off straight across at the under arms.

Next I pinned it to the waistband of the existing pants, just underneath where the drawstring lies.  I folded it over once and used a zig zag stitch to sew them together.

I don’t have a fancy machine, and I am not a great seamstress, and I have NO patience with stretchy slippery fabrics, so I made the cut off shirt fit the waistband of the pants mostly by making pleated folds and a little bit by stretching the two layers to match.  If I do it again, I might do some kind of darts in a more organized fashion.  Here’s a sample on the back.

And here it is on from a couple of angles.

Front:

Side:

Back:  (strange angle/ shot; taking a picture of myself in a mirror from the back is somewhat awkward!)

Not perfect, but totally functional, and soon I’ll be going so quickly, no one will have time to notice those funky seams!  It was enough of a success that I feel like going back and trying another one.  Maybe a shortie this time.  If it turns out better or I learn anything else, I’ll add to this post.

Fraisiers

Which, of course, comes from the French word for strawberries.  This month’s dessert is made with fresh strawberries, pastry cream, lemon chiffon cake, and marzipan.  How could one go wrong?!  Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.  While it was delicious, I think I made an already involved dessert unnecessarily difficult by making it in many little petit fours sized cakes instead of one big round one.  Definitely worth doing if you have lots of time and someone to impress, but for my next attempt, I’ll be making one big round cake.  In case anyone wants to try the little ones, here’s what we did and a pdf version of the recipe.

We cut up cardboard boxes (mac and cheese type boxes) and molded it into shape by wrapping and folding it around the star shaped cookie cutter that we later used to cut out pieces of cake and marzipan.  The forms were lined on the inside with plastic wrap to keep the dessert from sticking.

First: one layer of cake.

Insert into molds and soak with lemon syrup.

Then the fruit; pretty ones against the sides and chopped up fruit filling the center.  Next, the remaining space was filled with the pastry cream.

One more layer of syrup soaked cake. (We did some circles as well as stars because I ran out of patience with making star molds!)

Then a layer of marzipan, et voila!  Well, almost.  Then the desserts have to sit in the fridge for a while and become firm enough to stand alone when the forms are removed.

It’s a craft you can eat, and a very sneaky way to get green veggies into your kids if that is a challenge. We just went through the fridge and the freezer and found fruits and veggies that matched the colours of the rainbow. We topped it off with a white fluffy cloud of yogurt.

Zizzed it up, et voila!  Leftovers (if you have any) make great popsicles too!  Things like kale make a great green layer, but it helps to use small tender leaves so the taste isn’t too strong.