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Monday, June 29, 2015

DIY Faberge Eggs with Kids

homemade faberge eggs, history of Faberge, russian royalty

For better or worse gone are the days of Russian Royalty.  They may be gone, but their stuff is not.   At a recent auction in Finland a 12-piece sitting room set from Romanov's Winter Palace was sold for half a million dollars.   I guess there might be some weird sort of excitement in sitting on the same seat where Empress Alexandra Feodorovna placed her rump one hundred years ago.  To each their own.  Russian billionaire Potanin paid $95,000 for a single truffle.  Five truffles or a 12-piece sitting room set?  I pick Ikea.    

Faberge Eggs is another treasure that is forever linked to the name of Russian Royalty.  They are also known as Russian Imperial Eggs because they were created for the Russian Imperial family.  The last Faberge Egg on the market fetched a fortune and created quite a stir.  A Midwest businessman bought a golden egg at a rummage sale for $13,000 hoping to sell it for scraps with at least $500 profit.  Failing to get rid of the egg he typed two words he found on the egg “Vacheron Constantin” into Google.  Imagine his surprise when he discovered that it was an Imperial Russian Egg made by Faberge, lost since the Bolshevik revolution and estimated at $33 million!  Are you sad you grandma didn’t leave you a Faberge Egg in her will?  We are sad too. That’s why we decided to make our own Faberge Eggs.  Our eggs won’t sell for $33 million, but who can put a price on all the fun we had making them.  “Do NOT drop that glue on the carpet!!! Do you hear me!!!  Keep glitter OVER the table!!!  Whatever you do, do NOT drop that EGG!  I said do NOT drop, not “Drop!” 

If you want some of that fun, listen up.  We will tell you how to hollow the chicken eggs (so they don’t smell like dead chickens in a week), how to preserve eggs with Mod Podge (so it will last twenty years and five cross-country moves… I don’t know why you need to move so often, but we want you to be ready).  Finally, we will decorate the eggs and hopefully don’t destroy the carpet in the process.  This project was inspired by some of the egg projects I did with my grandma as a kid.  

I - Hallow the Eggs
The first thing you need to do is to get rid of the inside of the egg and to treat it with temperature and Mod Podge to make it last years.  My grandma’s eggs lasted for over 10 years.  They might have lasted longer but we lost them in a move.  Do it on the day when you are interested in making a big omelet or baking a huge pound cake.  I know some people like to blow the eggs and to be honest this method grosses me out.  I just break the yolk with a toothpick and let it flow out of the hole.  My face does not need to get anywhere close to raw egg.

To hollow the eggs
Pin (I got mine from the collar of a new shirt)
plastic bowl to collect raw eggs
baking pan

1. Use a pin to poke a hole in a pointy end of a raw egg, then poke a hole in the other end.   To poke a hole: grip the egg with non-dominant hand as you stick the pin with your dominant hand.  Use the pin to enlarge the holes. 

2.  Stick a toothpick (or something else clean and sharp) in to break up the yolk. Hold the egg over clean bowl and let the content flow out.  Use toothpick to help this process along.   Shake the egg from time to time to get things lose.

3.  Rinse the egg with clean water, shake it gently and repeat rinsing.

4.  Dry the egg and put it in a oven safe pan.  Repeat with all your eggs and then bake them at 300F for 10 minutes.  This kills bacteria and makes the eggs stronger.

II - Preserve the Eggs
The next step is to preserve the eggs so that your grandchildren would be able to play with them because you know, scientists predicted that all plastic toys will evaporate by the year 2018 and there only things left to play with would be your DIY Faberge Eggs and maybe a turtlenecked stone gnome from garden supplies store.  To preserve eggs we will cover them with a solution of Mod Podge inside and out.

To preserve eggs:
Mod Podge
Eye dropper
Small container for mixing
Measuring spoon or cup

1.  Gather your supplies.
2.  Add equal amounts of Mod Podge and water to the container and shake it up.  Use eyedropper to drop it inside the egg.  Use a finger on the second hand to hold the second hole in the egg closed.
3.  Close both holes with your fingers and shake it up and down.
4.  Use eyedropper to drop the same solution on the outside.  Cover it generously and let it dry.

III - Decorating Fun

This is a super fun part, if you like glitter and glue.  If you need an inspiration I have a Faberge Eggs board on pinterest.  I might have mixed some Faberge Cakes in.  I couldn't resist the temptation.

Follow Kid Minds's board Faberge Eggs on Pinterest.

Things you need
a bit of play dough (to serve as a base)
paints (tempera and acrylic)
paint brushes
nail polishes
toilet paper roll (can be used as an egg base)
tape (if egg doesn't stay put on a chopstick)
stickers (we used a clock sticker as some Faberge eggs have clocks)
and whatever else you can think of for decorating your eggs

What I like to do first is to apply a bright base color.  It's easier to do if you put a chopstick through one end of an egg to make it look like a lollypop.  If the hole on the top of the egg is too large and the egg is sliding down, make chopstick fatter by wrapping a few layers of tape around it.  Now stick the base of your lollypop in a piece of play dough.  Voila you have two free hands and an easy access to all the sides of an egg.  Even a child can paint it now.

If you like your egg to have a shimmery glow all over, apply glitter right after you paint the egg.  Glitter will stick to the wet paint.  I prefer to do this step outside, if the weather cooperates.  You might also do it at home over a newspaper or large plate.

Stick your eggs outside to dry.

3. Instead of copying one particular egg what we did was study pictures of Faberge eggs, then close all pages and just let our imagination guide us.  There are many different things you can do to your eggs.  For example, you can glue a ribbon to the egg

and then glue rhinestones to the ribbon to imitate diamonds.

You can make designs with gemstones and glitter (silver glitter was sprinkled over mounds of glue).

You can make a dragon egg.  Here the egg was painted pink, then we used a brush to apply wavy glue lines and sprinkled the egg with colorful glitter.  Once the glue and glitter were dry, we glued a pink bead to the top (it's right on top, if you are 6, it's a bit to the side, if you are 36) and glued the dragon to the bead.  It's every dragon-lovers favorite egg.

 My daughter is into sticky beads

So her favorite egg is covered with jewels.

My favorite egg is probably this one

I love the simplicity and the symmetry.  It's made with white tempera paint and flower sticky beads.  Don't forget the white glitter.  Generally, when in doubt apply more glitter.

Some Faberge Eggs have clocks built into them.  We made a Faberge Egg with a clock too.  Kids named it Tropical Clock.  I wonder why...

If you want to learn more about Carl Faberge, try this website.  And if you want to learn more about Faberge Eggs, try here.  And if you are interested in some fun Faberge math, check this post (it's in the second section of the unit study).

If all fails, you can go on amazon and buy this beautiful Faberge Jewelry box for $26.  Or get inspired by reading Faberge's Eggs by Tony Faber.

Happy Faberge to you!

Some other posts that might interest you
Russian Tsars Unit Study
What Russian Tsar ate for Breakfast
Russia for Kids

Friday, June 26, 2015

Homemade Peanut Butter

During my third pregnancy my breakfast was either a toast with peanut butter or a toast with honey and ... peanut butter.  When you eat that much peanut butter you become very particular about it.  At first I tried every brand and variety at Whole Foods, then I raided amazon online store.  Finally, I started (and I swear I did have better things to do) going on the internet typing in things like "the best peanut butter in the world," "peanut butter to die for," and "peanut butter or die."  One of the entries that came up was about how to make homemade peanut butter.  What?  Why didn't I think of this before?!  I tried it.  It was super easy.  Once you try it, you will also be wondering what took you so long.  One warning though.  Once you go the homemade butter way there is no turning back.   The store bought variety will never be up to your standards anymore.  This homemade peanut butter has one ingredient.  Yep, you guessed it.  The ingredient is ....

Your peanut butter is only as good as the peanuts you use for it.  The only kind I like is the one you see on the picture.  An additional thing I like to do is to toast peanuts before use.  I know, I know it says roasted, but toasting it gives it an incredibly deep flavor and even slightly changes its consistency.  I have done it without toasting and it tastes great.  But I figured if I go all out making my own peanut butter, I might as well add this little thing for better results.


Baking sheet (if you are going to toast peanuts)
Food processor (blender doesn't work as well)
Mason jars (I like lots of small ones, so I can make different flavors)

1.  If you are toasting peanuts, heat the oven to 325F.  Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes.  I say "about" because all ovens are different and peanuts do burn pretty easily.  So don't go too far and keep an eye on them. You want a slightly golden color.  The peanuts will look wet and glossy with oil.

2. Put peanuts in a food processor and run for a minute.  Open the lid and check if you need to scrape down the sides.  Close it and process an additional minute or two or three.  Basically, the longer you go, the smoother the consistency.  So, it all depends on your taste.  Note how on pic 3 there still some itsy bitsy chunks in there (that's a "no" for my kids). Pic 4 depicts an awesome creamy smoothness.  Note: if you love a chunky peanut butter, then save half a cup of peanuts in the beginning and add it just before the end.  

Note: You might or might not have noticed how the quantity of peanuts is decreasing with each consecutive photo.  No magic involved.  Just lots of tasting.... You got to get it right, you know.

3.  Transfer peanut butter into your storage container.  Cover.  Refrigerate.  Done.  Unless..... unless... you like to play with flavors.  You can add maple syrup, another nut butter (hazelnut is my favorite), cocoa powder, cinnamon, raisins.... but we like to go for something more decadent....

Yep, chocolate....  Just break it into pieces and drop it in the food processor along with some peanut butter.

And you end up with a Chocolate Peanut Butter... (Piece of advice: Hide it before it's all gone)

Mmmm..... I didn't have lunch yet, so don't show me this pic.  Wait you are not showing it to me.  I am doing it to myself.  Lunch break!

We like to eat peanut butter with celery, apple slices, toast, but our favorite is Mary's Gone crackers caraway crackers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Anansi's Party Time - Literature Unit

I create our literature units to bring excitement and fun to learning math, to enrich our reading experience, and to have something fun to do with our books.  I discovered that children's books offer great opportunities to learn about history, math, science, geography, human relations, and of course, language arts.  I find that literature units are fun for me and for kids and even while they are learning a lot, it doesn't feel like "school."  Each unit may contain some of the following: math problems, comprehension questions, art projects, vocabulary building exercises, trivia about things mentioned in the book, connect the dots, mystery pictures, story related activities, field trips suggestions and more. 

Anansi's Party Time is a fun book about Friendships.  It's also about grudges and about getting even.  My kids adore Anansi books.  If you are not hooked on them yet, give them a try.  Anansi is smart, but mischievous and he always gets into funny troubles.  I like all Anansi stories because even though Anansi is consistently trying to get away with murder, sometimes he doesn't and there are a lot of interesting life lessons in those stories.

In Anansi's Party Time Anansi tries to get even with his friend Turtle.  It seems that he is winning when he cheats Turtle out of Chocolate Turtles and sends him on a wild goose chase in a promise of a party that never takes place.  But not to be outdone Turtle comes up with his own little plan of getting even ... In case you didn't read the story, I want you to be surprised, so I'm not telling you what happened.  At the core this book teaches readers a very important lesson that it is not smart to waste energy trying to get back at people.  Let it go.  

My kids are 7 and 4 and they enjoyed doing all of the following activities, but it might not be the same for your children.  I would love to hear your feedback!  All of the activity pages are available to you as Printables at the end of this post.  



Social Studies: Geography and Culture
1.  Anansi stories originated in Ghana.  Find it on a map. You can ask: So what do you think about Ghana?  Is it far from America?  What is close to it?  How could you get to Ghana from where you live?  Could you walk there?
2.  What do you know about Africa?  Do you want to look up some African crafts (perhaps do some together?)  Here are some idea on Global Post.
3.  The Anansi stories are older than you, older than your parents, older than your grandparents, and older than your house.  The reason Anansi's stories survived this long is due to great oral tradition of African culture.  They enjoy the art of story telling.  Let's find someone who is not familiar with this story and recount an Anansi story without using the book.  The more you practice story telling, the better you get at it.  (For parents: history for kids)
3.  Make a map or copy one from the book.  Draw a line to show the shortest route from Turtle's pond to Anansi's house.  Does it look the same as the one Anansi drew for Turtle?  Which route do you like better?  The shortest?  Or the longest? 

My daughter drew the shortest route. She is a cut-to-the-chase kind of girl

My son thought Anansi's idea was a hoot.  The red swirl is the route he
would follow to get from A to B
Social Studies: Relationships and Emotions
  1. Do you think Anansi is a good friend to Turtle? 
  2. Do you think Turtle is a good friend to Anansi?
  3. What are some of the qualities you want to see in your friends?
  4. Would you be grateful to your friend, if he/she came over with Chocolate Turtles as a treat?  Next time your friend gets a cold, do you think it's a good idea to make her/him some Chocolate Turtles and drop them off? 
  5. Make some invitations and invite your friends over for Anansi's Party Time. You can blow up some balloons, eat some treats and play some party games (but hey, be nice to each other, you don't want to end up like Anansi)
  6. How do you think Turtle feels after Anansi takes his Chocolate Turtles and says that the party is over? 
  7. If he could make a sound to express his feelings, what would it be? 
  8. How do you think Anansi feels after he tricked Turtle? 
  9. What is a good sound to express Anansi's feelings when he tells Turtle that the party is over and he should go home?
  10. Why do you think a storyteller chose a spider to be a canning character?  What animal would you choose?  Why?
  11. What advice would you give Anansi about relationships?

  • Get some music instruments out.  Make sounds to express how Turtle feels in different points throughout the book.  When Turtle just got an invitation to a party.  When Anansi tells him that he can't come in without a costume.  While he is baking Chocolate Turtles.  At the end of the book.  Now do the same for Anansi's part.  Who gets more happy notes?  Who is the happiest at the end of the book?   
  • My kids said we couldn't finish a book about a spider without singing the most famous spider song of all times.  We replaced "the Itsy-Bitsy spider" with "the sneaky, tricky Anansi" and sung a song several times acting out the lyrics with our bodies.  Can you think about other Spider songs? 
Game #1
Did you enjoy Turtle's Mystery Game?  Now it's your turn!  Think of an animal you really like, come up with clues so that other players can guess your animal.

Game #2
This is a variation on Turtle's Mystery Game that we call Mystery Number.  Think about a number and give some clues to let other players guess what that number is.  Here are two examples: 
  • I'm thinking of eating some Chocolate Turtles, but I am not sure how many I should eat.  I am thinking of a number between 1 and 3. (That's for younger kids)
  • I am thinking of a number between 2 and 6.  (As they are trying to guess guide them with "Less"  or "More")
Sequencing, Let's write an invitation and Word Matching
Available as part of Printables at the end of this post.

Arts and Crafts - Make a Spiderweb

1. We used a hole punch to make holes all around the edge of a paper plate.  Great muscle strengthener!

2. And we weaved a yarn back and forth across the plate's front.  I love weaving activities for kids. Again it's perfect for strengthening the muscles and it encourages the use of pincer grasp, which is used in writing and drawing.  Plus, it's fun!

3. We taped the ends of the yarn in the back and found a couple of spiders in our Halloween box.  The final product below.  Boy is playing a game in which Lego pieces are bugs and spider is trying to catch them in the spider web.

We ended the day by watching a YouTube video of a spider making a web (in slow motion and sped up) and drawing some spiders and webs.

Favorite Spider Books
The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk
Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Graham
Spider, Spider by Kate Banks
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Are You a Spider by Judy Allen
Spiders by Gail Gibbons
Aaaarhhhgh! Spider! by Lydia Monks
How Spider Saved Halloween by Robert Kraus
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock by Eric Kimmel

Food Connection
Make Chocolate Turtles 
bake Chocolate Turtles Cake

I would love to hear your feedback!  If you give this Literature Unit a try, say something!!

You might also be interested in
The Princess and the Pizza

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chocolate Caramel Turtles

Ever since we read Anansi's Party Time we've been searching for a perfect Chocolate Turtles recipe. We liked Chocolate Turtle Cake that we posted here, but it wasn't until we tried the classical Chocolate Turtles recipe on what's cooking America that we said "this is it!  Look no more!"  The ingenuity of this recipe is in it's simplicity.  You take five pecan halves and arrange them in a shape of a turtle (head and four legs), then your pour melted caramel on top to fuse the parts together and cover it all with melted chocolate.  Voila!  No cooking, no baking!  And the kids think this is the best dessert they ever made!

Ingredients (to make 10 turtles)
50 pecan halves
20 caramels
2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Cover a cookie tray with parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray.
2. In a microwave safe bowl combine caramels and whipping cream.  And microwave it on high for 1 minute.  It will look lumpy when you get it out, but give it a good stir and that should bring it to the desired consistency.  If you still see lumps microwave for 15-30 seconds more.

3.  Arrange five pecan halves in a shape of a turtle - head and four legs - on parchment paper.  And pour melted caramel in the middle to fuse all the part together.

4. In a microwave safe bowl melt chocolate and with a spoon pour it over the turtles.  Depending on how fast you are working, you might need to re-heat chocolate a couple of times to bring it back to the liquid consistency you need for pouring.  Refrigerate for a few minutes.

Our turtles are far from perfect.  After all, a 4-year old and a 7-year old put it together.  I'm sure yours will look much better.  Or not, if your kids are helping you too.  But no matter how they look, it's still chocolate, caramel and nuts and things don't get better than that!

You might also be interested in
Literature Unit

Chocolate Turtles Cake

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Frozen Berry Treat - Замороженное Чудо

When I was a child I spent all of my summers with my grandparents in their country house (called dacha).  My grandparents were great gardeners.  They had everything from classic fruit trees to richly-flavored basil plants with every kind of berry and vegetable in between.  If you have a garden, you might be familiar with a short and crazy time each summer when all the berries start getting ripe at the same time.  Rising sea of berries.  We would give a bucket full of fresh berries to each of our city neighbors and the postman would get one too.  And still there would be berries in bowls, buckets, and pots on every surface of a rickety veranda.  My grandma would look at me sternly (that was her habit) and say, "We should start making plans about what we gonna do with all these berries."  And I would think, "Do with berries?  She is crazy!  Eat them fresh, of course!"  Remember that was the time before the year-round-berry supply.  The only time anyone got to eat berries was when they were ripe in their region.  So, I would start stuffing myself with sweet, juicy berries.  The first day it would be all I would eat.  The second day I would eat less of berries and more of other things.  By day third I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about.  Each bite seemed to be less satisfying than the one before.  By day four I would rather eat anything else but berries.  That's when my grandma would have to get inventive about making me eat the berries that kept coming.   That's how this berry treat came into existence.

Of course we didn't have a food processor at the time!  No way!  What we used in its place was an old and worn butter churn.  I tried to find some pics online, but couldn't find anything similar.  Just imagine an old-fashioned wooden model with a scratched and buttered handle.  I am not sure why it was so scratched and buttered.  Maybe the previous generation of kids did it hoping to do away with the whole thing, so they would never have to churn another pound of butter again.  That's just my theory.   (And yay for food processor!)

Another modern addition to this recipe is yogurt.  Yogurt didn't make it to Soviet Union until some time in the 90s.  But the Russian dairy product used in this recipe (village sour-cream, деревенская сметана) had a bit of a different texture and creamed up differently.  When I first made this recipe with American ingredients, it just didn't seem to be the right consistency, so I ended up adding yogurt and I'm glad I did.  It definitely improved things and boosted the probiotics factor too.

There are only four ingredients involved whipped cream, yogurt, berries and honey (сливки, ягоды, мед и йогурт).  I own popsicle molds, but I always end up using little paper cups instead.  With my grandma we reused ice-cream wrappers inserted in cups.  Today I'm using Panera Bread water cups.

Oh-oh!! Someone is trying to steal the berries!  I better be quick and take a photo before they all disappear!

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup or 7oz container of Greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup of berries cut in small pieces (you don't have to be precise here.  The only reason I measured the berries today was because I was going to make a post.  Otherwise, I just chop until it feels right and then I stop).

1.  Cut up berries and gather all your ingredients.

2. Add heavy whipping cream and honey to a blender or food processor and whip it until it thickens.

3.  Add yogurt and give it a quick whirl just until blended.

4.  Add berries and either mix in with a spoon or give a short, little whirl in a blender to get them incorporated into the yogurt mix.  I try not to puree the berries.

5.  Divide between four cups and insert sticks.

The cups should have been full but there was a lot of tasting involved.

6.  Freeze overnight.  When you are ready to eat them just hold the cups under the warm running water or put them in a bowl with water for a few minutes.  Don't pull on the stick while the treat is still frozen or it will just pop out and there will be tears.

We would choose this treat over ice-cream any day!