Tammy's blog

Making homemade play food out of felt

Homemade play food from felt
Some of our homemade play food

This project ended up keeping my children busy for days on end this past winter! I normally don't even glance at the sales fliers for hobby stores, but last fall I made a trip for some sales and came home with various things like oven-bake clay and sheets of felt. The felt was 10 cents a sheet and I got a couple of almost every color. I wasn't sure if I had made a good decision or one I would later regret!

Felt fabric for making play food

Since my kids love to sew, I got the idea for them to make homemade play food using the felt fabric I had bought. This worked even better than I could have hoped! (I had never used felt before, so I didn't know how great it could be for crafts.) Felt is fairly stiff so it lays flat and is easier for kids to handle. It also doesn't ravel, so it's easier and quicker for them to sew with it. And I had tons of colors for them to use!

Some of our homemade felt food

I used Google to look up pictures of play food made from felt. We copied a couple of the ideas we saw there, but mostly the kids just came up with their own ideas. Yes, we ended up with some pink popcorn and a "sandwich cookie" with green filling... but more importantly we all had fun and even the littlest ones (almost-2 and almost-4) were participating.

My personal favorite was making felt pizza: brown or tan for the crust, a layer of red for the sauce, and a layer of white for the cheese. Then we cut toppings like green peppers, pepperoni, and black olive slices! Sewing it was a fun challenge for the kids, as they wanted it all to look perfect.

I require the older kids (say, ages 7+) to tie all their own knots and thread their needle. I helped for a while, but most of the time they were all at the kitchen table working mostly on their own.

Play cookies made from felt

I helped Moshe (3) make a cookie. He cut out all the sprinkles and pushed each one onto the needle as we sewed them to the top of his cookie. He had so much fun making this!

Drinking hot cocoa with the play food
Having some real hot cocoa with the pretend food

Having a "snack" with the play food

The children have used the play food with the play kitchen we have, with baskets for "picnics", and with play money (or foreign currency) in a "store".

Felt food "store" for kids

Eliyahu (7) made this store with some of the homemade felt food. (Notice the green "key lime cheesecake"?! It was a challenge at first for them to create a 3-dimensional piece of cheesecake.) There are price tags for each item, and he used his collection of foreign currency to allow his siblings to shop at his store.

Shopping for felt food at the play store

If you have children ages 3+ (or love to do this kind of thing yourself!) I found this to be a great project with lasting entertainment value. :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: How to easily remove homemade corn tortillas from a manual tortilla press

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Manual corn tortilla press
Manual corn tortilla press

Our tortilla press works wonderfully, and here's part of the secret to getting thin corn tortillas that are easy to handle every time.

Tortilla press

Use two thin paper plates (or other thin cardboard) to cut circles the size of your tortilla press. Cover each plate with plastic wrap. Place these on your tortilla press with the dough between. After pressing the tortilla, gently peel the plates apart. If the tortilla is sticking to one of the plates, hold it upside down (tortilla on bottom) and tortilla should peel off easily without breaking.

Tortilla press

We've used these same plastic-wrap-covered plates for hundreds of tortillas. I like that I can press the tortillas really thin and still peel them off, since the plates are flexible.

We love our tortilla press! It is a painted cast iron and is very heavy which makes it easy to use. I just looked and found it on Amazon: Estrella tortilla press. Ours was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law in eastern Washington. They bought it at a Mexican food store and I believe it was $20-something dollars there. My parents have the same one, too. :)

I know there are quite a few different tortilla presses -- and some will cook the tortillas, too. I have only used the one we have, but I wanted something simple like that, without cords or fancy stuff. It's best for corn tortillas, not flour ones, but after having homemade corn tortillas those are our favorite, anyway. :)

Beans and tortillas for lunch
Beans and tortillas for lunch

Our Mother's Day weekend: Cards, coffee, and chocolate

Homemade cinnamon roll
A cinnamon roll Joshua made (his always look perfect!)

Joshua and the children made sure I had a lovely Mother's Day. We spent most of the day at home together, which is what we usually do on weekends, but that's what I like. :)

Clay rose that Yehoshua made for me
A rose from Yehoshua

Last fall, I got a good deal on Sculpey III oven-bake polymer clay ($0.99 for a 2 oz. package) and bought quite a few colors. Then we searched for You Tube video tutorials for making things with polymer clay. The kids have really had fun making tiny objects and baking them. Yehoshua started making roses and those are his specialty right now. :)

Mille Bornes card game

I pulled out an old game called Mille Bornes that my grandma gave us but we had not yet learned to play. Joshua, Yehoshua (10), Eliyahu (8) and I taught ourselves to play it and we played quite a few hands over the weekend. The boys especially are enjoying it and started playing it together at 6:15 am today (Monday). :)

Chocolate, tea, and coffee

And Joshua of course spoiled me by splurging on some fancy chocolates, tea, and coffee. I can't wait to try these but they're so beautifully packaged that I probably will wait a while so I can enjoy the prettiness. :)

Now, it's back to the weekly routine of school, meals, and keeping up with the dirt. We're supposed to have lovely weather all week (70's and sunny!) so I am guessing a lot of dirt will come in, and a lot of laundry and baths. :) I'm thankful we have a back yard here for the kids to roam and play.

Weekday lunches at home: Beans and tortillas

Eating lunch on a weekday

Last week, a reader named Molly left a comment asking for tips on making/serving lunch as a homeschool mom. I am cheap and boring when it comes to lunches... one of our mainstays is PBJ! We do vary our lunch menu some, but I also don't worry if we have the same lunches over and over. Our dinner leftovers usually disappear on the weekends, so I do make "new" things for lunch.

This week, we've been having beans and tortillas. For the past month or so, I've been trying to keep grocery spending especially low and I've been focusing on using things from the pantry. We LOVE beans and my pantry is well-stocked due to having purchased 25-pound bags of lentils, garbanzo beans, red beans, great northern beans, black beans, and pinto beans. I'm not joking when I say that we love beans! :)

Cooked pinto beans on a fresh corn tortilla
Cooked Pinto Beans on a fresh corn tortilla

If you've never cooked dried beans, and even if you think you don't care for beans -- I really encourage you to try cooking your own! Buy a small bag and follow the directions on the bag. (Before choosing a kind of beans, pick out a recipe that uses beans!)

Before bed, I rinse and soak a couple pounds of dried beans in water with salt. I soak them in the large stock pot that I plan to cook them in. The next morning, I drain the soaking water, add fresh water, cover, and turn them on medium-low. Then, it's hands-off until lunch time in about 4-5 hours. A pot of hot, fresh beans for lunch is one of our favorite, super easy, super affordable lunches.

If I have leftover rice, I would warm that up in the microwave to go with the beans. I always have cheese on hand, as well as sour cream and Tapatio (our favorite hot sauce!). If I have tortilla chips, I sometimes serve those with the beans as well.

Eliyahu making corn tortillas
Eliyahu (8) mixing corn tortillas

As I was brainstorming my pantry-menu this week, I remembered that I had a couple bags of Masa instant corn tortilla flour. On Monday, I put Eliyahu to work reading the "recipe" and measuring the flour and water for homemade corn tortillas. He then pressed the 16 tortillas (which wasn't enough, by the way) and I cooked them to go with our beans.

Eliyahu pressing the corn tortillas
Pressing the tortillas

On Tuesday, Ruth and Eliyahu each mixed up batches of 12 tortillas and pressed them. I heated up leftover beans and rice in the microwave and we had little tacos. The kids begged to do the same thing on Wednesday, and Thursday (today). My bag of flour is still 1/3 full! :)

Cooked pinto beans recipe
Cooked Pinto Beans recipe

With our beans for lunch, we usually have some kind of fruit and vegetable. This week, it's been carrot sticks and frozen strawberries and blueberries. Usually I try to also keep apples, bananas, and cucumbers on hand for snacking or lunches.

Making frothed milk: What is the best milk frother?

Chai tea latte with frothed milk
My favorite chai tea latte with frothed milk

Last December, one of Joshua's co-workers gave me a Bodum milk frother (similar to this). I had heard of "frothed milk", but I had never made my own. Since I order coffee only once a year or less, I have no idea of the wonders out there in "fancy coffee land"!

Well, let me tell you, frothed milk amazed me! It's almost like whipped cream, but with a lot fewer calories. Making my own frothed milk immediately transformed my homemade chai tea lattes into pure bliss!

Eliyahu playing with the frother

Eliyahu "washing" the frother

I wasn't the only one who loved our new toy. The kids enjoyed the frothed milk and also spent hours in the kitchen sink, "cleaning" the frother for me. In fact, all the "cleaning" by the children led to the demise of my frother... when the glass carafe broke. :(

I couldn't be too upset. I mean, anything that I know is breakable and yet I allow children (or anyone else) to touch has the distinct possibility of ending up broken. And even more so, since we live in a kitchen with tile floor and granite counter tops. Luxury comes with a price tag, it seems. ;)

Purple travel mug
I found this coffee mug at GoodWill and used it daily
for over a year... until it, too, met our kitchen floor...

I miss having frothed milk, though! I know there are quite a number of different milk frothers out there. Do any of you make your own frothed milk? What kind of frother do you use and recommend?

Spring Side Dish: Italian Pasta Salad

Italian Pasta Salad recipe
Italian Pasta Salad recipe

In preparation for lunch guests this past weekend, I pulled out the recipe for an old favorite: Italian Pasta Salad. This is my favorite pasta salad recipe because it has so many veggies and a great parmesan-Italian flavor. Our children all love garbanzo beans, black olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and they consider pasta to be a special treat -- so when they saw what we were making they could hardly wait for lunch time to arrive! :)

Eliyahu helps make the pasta salad

Eliyahu (age 8) was my helper for slicing and dicing the vegetables. I used tri-color spiral pasta from a Costco multi-pack. The first time I purchased pasta at Costco, I was surprised by the quality difference. Their pasta holds together well and has a good texture.

Italian Pasta Salad recipe
Italian Pasta Salad recipe

Notice my lovely new Corelle plates? The tile floor in this kitchen hasn't been as kind to my dinnerware as I'd hoped. My thoughtful brother Reuben and sister-in-law Mariel went thrift store shopping for me and found quite a few Corelle bowls and plates, including some neat designs. This plate (above) is one of my favorites. :)

Channah helps wash the dishes

Channah (2) helped me wash the dishes that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher. When we finished I took off my gloves, and next thing I knew, she had put them on. What a sweet girl. I think all little ones LOVE getting to wash dishes and play in the sink. :)

Laundry Folding Party

Laundry folding party!
A recent laundry folding party at the kitchen table

It's been quite a while since I blogged about laundry, so I wanted to share our current system (if I can even call it a system). I'm not a laundry genius -- I have plenty of other things I'd rather spend time doing! -- but we do manage to stay on top of the laundry.

I usually sort and wash laundry 1 day per week. Joshua suggested this system to me a few years ago. His words were something like, "I don't understand how laundry could be that big of a job. Just sort it, wash it, and put it away -- once a week. That sounds like a 2-hour job, max, not counting the time when the machines are doing all the work of washing and drying it for you."

I laughed! And used many words to explain why laundry was such a big job. And then I decided to try his idea.

At first it was hard for me to let the laundry pile get that big. A week's worth of dirty laundry for a family of 7 is quite a lot! But you know what? Wash day rolled around like clockwork and it all eventually got washed, and I found I was spending less time on the laundry than before and much less brain time thinking about the laundry.

Laundry waiting to be folded

We end up with 4-5 loads of clothes/socks/towels per week, plus extras like bedding. I am admittedly lazy about washing all the sheets and wait a month or more between washings for the kids' sheets. Channah is still in diapers, so I wash a couple loads of diapers per week as well.

I do still try to hang things to dry, but here in western Washington the weather doesn't always cooperate -- sometimes for months on end! If it gets warm enough in the summer, I hang some things outside on an indoor/outdoor drying rack similar to this drying rack which I purchased at Costco for $20 (normally $30) last year. In the colder winter months, I have been able to dry about 50-75% of our laundry indoors on that same rack. (When drying indoors instead of in the dryer, I wash a load every 2 days or whenever the last load is dry, but still sort and fold only once per week.)

Laundry folding party!

After washing and drying comes the hard part: getting it all folded and put away! Folding Day is usually the day after Wash Day, so that every last load is dry and ready to be folded.

And for that, we have to have a folding party! I make sure the kitchen table is really clean (and dry) and everyone has to help. We listen to Adventures in Odyssey or audio books from the library while we fold. Everyone folds their own laundry, with older ones helping with the younger ones, and younger ones also folding washcloths.

Playing with the clean bibs
Eliyahu put all the clean bibs on Channah before putting them away...

Being silly with the laundry
Another day, Eliyahu (8) tried on a bib and pretended to be a baby...

Yehoshua being silly
...while Yehoshua (9) made a "stink bomb" with his (clean!!) socks
and underwear and posed for a picture!

Of course, I have to be the "manager" who keeps everyone focused and make sure the job actually gets finished. Socks and underwear are the worst -- although I finally got smart and decided to try buying socks with designs or colors so it's easier for us to tell whose socks are whose. :)

This week's reward after the laundry folding party?

Playing outside

Playing outside in the beautiful, 80 degree (!!!) afternoon! Our weather this week has been perfect: sunny, clear, and highs in the upper 70's. The boys were thrilled that they could use squirt guns and play with the hose in the back yard. Unfortunately these kids all soaked their clothes before I dug out their swim suits, so when the day was done, I did an impromptu load of laundry with all the wet stuff.

New Recipe: My favorite turkey breakfast sausage

Homemade spicy turkey breakfast sausage
Spicy Turkey Breakfast Sausage recipe

This turkey sausage recipe is one of my favorite newer discoveries. It's pretty spicy but it's the best kind of spicy -- the kind where you just can't stop eating it! I love the sweet maple syrup flavor, the fennel, cloves, nutmeg, thyme, pepper... really all of it is just the perfect combination for a homemade sausage patty.

If you have a big family, making patties and frying them can be time-consuming. It's much faster to just fry the sausage in a skillet. I usually end up making a triple or qudaruple batch of this sausage, making a few patties, and frying the rest into crumbles. I buy my ground turkey at Costco, of course. Making it into sausage is cheaper than purchasing pre-made sausage, and I absolutely love the strong, fresh flavor of this recipe!

This sausage can easily be mixed up and refrigerated for a few hours or a couple of days until you're ready to cook it. You can also pre-form patties, freeze them, and cook them straight from the freezer when you need them. (See the recipe for more complete instructions.)

Veggie omelet with meat

I find this sausage recipe to be great for a variety of meals. Here are some of the things I've tried:

Omelets -- Perfect with chopped onions and peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, and this turkey sausage!

Sausage gravy and biscuits -- Turn this sausage into a gravy, make homemade biscuits and serve the hot sausage gravy and biscuits for a breakfast your family will love! Directions for making sausage gravy are included in the recipe.

Pizza -- Use the cooked sausage crumbles as the meat topping on homemade pizza. (Here is my easy homemade pizza recipe.)

Spaghetti and meat sauce -- Cook spaghetti, make your favorite spaghetti sauce, and add  cooked sausage crumbles. This sausage gives spaghetti a wonderfully different flavor!

What else should I try with my spicy sausage? :)

New Recipe: Meatball Rice Medley (a quick, one-dish dinner)

If anyone out there still reads my blog... Hi! It's been a while, hasn't it? We had to totally transfer/update this website and we're still working on the finishing touches, but I'm excited to be blogging again. Expect some posts from me, including some of the new recipes we've created in the past couple of years that have become favorites. :)

Life has its ups and downs, but one thing that stays the same is that the family expects dinner on the table every evening. With 5 kids and homeschooling, inevitably my dinners have become simpler and easier -- hopefully without sacrificing too much in the health and budget departments. ;)

This recipe for Meatball Rice Medley is one I created last-minute (i.e. 4pm, dinner due to be ready at 5pm!) and it was a total success. Joshua loves meatballs; particularly the ones from Costco that are flavorful and quick. I used those meatballs, cooked some fresh vegetables, and cooked some rice with my favorite homemade seasoning mix: Jamie's Spice Mix.

Tossed together, this medley has meat, vegetables, and grain -- a filling combination for hungry mouths, with a fabulous spicy flavor! Leftovers re-warm in the microwave for a quick lunch the following day.

Family
Left to right: Joshua, Moshe, Eliyahu, my parents, Ruth, Yehoshua, Channah, and me

Meatball Rice Medley was one of the meals I served when my parents came to visit us this past November. We had a total of 13 people here for meals, and a big stainless steel bowl of Meatball Rice Medley was just the thing to fill everyone up without me having to spend much time in the kitchen. My mom asked for the recipe, so before she left I copied it down onto a recipe card for her. :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Helping Mornings Happen (with a hot breakfast)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

We began another "homeschool year" last week. No more easy days of just a little Math and Reading for fun: it's back to all the usual subjects and being disciplined enough to work a little more and play a little less. Especially for me! I have no idea how the house is going to stay cleaned or organized, but school gets first priority right now, as it must. :)

As I was contemplating my plans and ideas for the academic year ahead, breakfast was on my mind. I've been making hot breakfasts all summer, and I didn't want to give that up.

For one thing, it's a lot cheaper to make oatmeal or even the occasional meal of eggs and toast than to have cold cereal or (even homemade) granola bars. I also feel it's healthier, and I want the kids to have a good start to their day. If I'm going to expect them to sit still and read or write or study, I need to feed them food that will help them be at their best!

Plus, I'm crazy about my own breakfast of either oatmeal with add-ins or my salmon-and-eggs. If I wouldn't want to tackle a morning on cold cereal, then I can't feel right about asking my kids to.

My kitchen before bed on school nights
My kitchen on school nights, ready for the following morning

To help streamline my life, I came up with a breakfast menu plan to repeat for the foreseeable future:

Monday - Friday: Oatmeal with add-ins for the kids; salmon and eggs and coffee/tea for myself

Saturday: Wheat berry pancakes, scrambled eggs, and turkey bacon

Sunday: Omelets and toast

I have bananas on hand most of the time, and kids can have them before breakfast ot for a mid-morning snack. Lunches and dinners include fruits and vegetables as well.

In order to start the day out well, I have to ALWAYS clean up the kitchen before bed. Some time around having 3-4 kids, I stopped cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and spent a year or two cleaning up the kitchen every morning. It wasn't the end of the world, but it sure didn't make me feel like I was on top of things and I found myself trying to avoid the kitchen instead of gladly heading there upon waking!

Here's how I prep my kitchen for the following day in order to get a good start:

Ready to make salmon and eggs

I get out the pan(s) needed for breakfast. I use a small skillet for my salmon and eggs, and a pan for the oatmeal. I put the water in for the oatmeal, and set out the salt, spoons, hot pads, etc.

AeroPress ready to go

I don't have anything fancy for coffee (e.g. timed or near-instant) but I do love a couple cups of coffee and some tea in the morning. I use an AeroPress to make some really great coffee, and I get it ready with the coffee grounds in the filter and water in the tea kettle on the stove. I put a tea bag in my tea cup, too.

The stuff for oatmeal

In the morning, I turn on the stove burners first thing. While the water is heating up and my skillet is preheating, I put away some clean dishes from the counter. I usually close the dishwasher and have one of the kids help unload it later in the day.

Clean dishes on the counter

This was today's dishes. Some days there are fewer pans to wash, thankfully. :)

Books ready for school

While I'm making breakfast, which takes about 15 minutes, I supervise the kids at the table doing a writing assignment or another subject if they prefer. On the days that I have them write in their journals, they have to do that until breakfast is ready.

I have everyone's books already out on the table. Since we don't do every subject every day, and everyone's books are on one bookshelf, it can get confusing. So, I look at my list/plan and pull out what's needed.

Ready to eat!

Here's our kindergartener Ruth (5), who wanted her picture taken with her bowl of oatmeal. She had helped me that morning by sprinkling some flaked coconut and chocolate chips on top of everyone's bowls of oatmeal. :)

Everyone clears their own dishes when they're finished eating, washes their spot at the table, and gets back to their school work. I do the day's dishes in the afternoon/evening.

So really, the only difference between how we're doing breakfast now and how we did it all summer is that I'm getting things ready the night before, and we're starting earlier in the morning (~6am instead of ~8am). Oh, and I'd be glad to start later but the kids all get up early! So, we start early. :)

I hope this has given you a few ideas for your mornings, or maybe just some inspiration to take a look at what you currently do and find small ways to make it more efficient! :)

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