Bold Tastes

image (12)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we posted about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 4: Bold Tastes

We started this day talking about what makes flavors stronger.  Little Holly got hung up on the strongest flavor she knows (and her dad loves): hot sauce.  Between her reminding us that hot sauce is strong, Pranav, Jack, James, and Max helped create a short list of ways to intensify flavor, including drying or boiling to remove water.

Our first hands-on activity did exactly the opposite: we used dry tea leaves and added intense flavor to water.  Each child picked their own mason jar, labeled it, and added a tea of choice, before filling it with water and putting it in the sun to brew.  Sun Tea would be ours to enjoy at lunch.

photo (55)We collected up snacks like dried fruit and nuts, and headed out to Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm in Cupertino.  Hollyhill Hummingbird Farm is a small nonprofit farm run by volunteers, and includes chickens, plenty of organic fruits and vegetables, an orchard, hops,  and brewing of soda and beer.  We toured around, amazed at the diversity of crops considering the small space and youth of the farm, as well as enjoying seeing tons of pollinators and lizards.  Yes, we did see several hummingbirds doing their part to pollinate, as well!  We finished the tour by planting a few dozen bean seeds.  I was touched by the dedication and strength of the family that continues to work the land that was initially planted here in the ‘70s, but only recently became a larger operation.

Once home, we enjoyed tacos and tried our sun tea.  The sun tea received huge thumbs-down from all of the little tasters.  I watched a few of them sip, smirk, then announce, “Oh, this is what bitter tastes like,” then repeat, but no one finished a single glass of tea, choosing to pass the bitter stuff along to the plants in the garden.  On the other hand, I quite enjoyed mine, and ended up drinking the remains for the next two days.

image (13)After relaxation time, we donned our aprons once again, making guacamole and lemonade.  We had spoken in the morning about how salt was very salty and lemons were very sour – two fantastic, strong tastes.  I was very impressed with Jack and James’ abilities to squeeze lemons, and everyone excelled at picking lemons from our tree.  Unlike the experience with the Sun Tea, everyone wanted to taste, then retaste the lemonade, and it was deemed an excellent product to sell at our lemonade stand the next day, though we ran out of this first batch during that discussion.  Avocados were squashed, along with more squirt of lemon and a shake of chile powder, and we had an exemplary guacamole to have alongside salsa for our afternoon snack.

Here is our recipe for Lemonade:

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons) – can also use fresh lime or orange juice

4 cups water

2/3 cup sugar

Stir together the liquids and sugar, or shake in a large jar with a lid.  Add ice cubes and serve

 

Here is our recipe for Guacamole:

2 ripe Haas Avocados, halved, with the pit carefully removed, and the fruit scooped out with a spoon

1 small diced tomato and 2 Tablespoons minced onion OR ¼ cup salsa

Juice from half of a squeezed lemon (plus more, to taste)

Dash of chili powder (plus more, to taste)

Dash of salt (plus more, to taste)

Mash the avocado with a potato or avocado masher, then stir in the remaining ingredients.  Taste and add more lemon juice, chili powder, or salt, to taste.

 

photo (4)I have long heard that colder things taste sweeter, and paired with a desire to have my kids work with the scientific method, decided we should test this out, at Summer Camp with Mom.  We got out several sweet things – grapes, blueberries, honey, and lemonade – and put identical things in the freezer, so we could taste them side by side in our experiment.  We wrote in our journals our prediction we were testing: “Frozen honey will taste sweeter than warm honey.”  After 10 minutes of freezing, eager mouths tested our samples, and the results were unanimous.  Indeed, sweet becomes sweeter when cold!  (Had this been a much older group, we would have discussed bias and double-blinds in studies like this.)

We finished the day, riding bikes and scooters, then writing thank you notes to Hollyhill Hummingbird Farms for our tour.  We watched the first half of the award-winning Babe, a farm film about the life of a farm pig, to finish out our day.

- Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

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Munching on Microbes

image (9)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 3: Cooking with Microbes

I was really impressed about how my kids accepted and knew about cooking with microbes.  They knew that many breads grew lofty thanks to yeast, and cheeses got their stink and bite thanks to different bacteria and fungus.  Our start-of-the-day brainstorming about microbes in food went very smoothly.

photo (3)Our first hands-on activity was building some microbes.  We talked about how microbes are made of one cell, and many have hairs (cilia or flagella) to help them feel and move.  The kids had fun making pom-pom microbe magnets, with one or more googly eyes and pipe cleaner or yarn hairs.  I was impressed that each of them wanted to make a lot; I think finding parallels to Despicable Me’s minions (simple and small, often also with one eye) helped build a lot of interest.

We then mixed up some dough.  Every good cook tastes what they cook, so the kids had a taste of yeast and flour, and we recorded our experiences (all five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound) as we ventured into bread baking.  The kids knew how to keep a science observation table, from the day before when we tasted different salts and honey, so this was easy to do.

After a little free play, we came back to the dough to notice that the yeast had proofed – it was bubbling out some stinky CO2, and the batter still tasted bitter.  I took a drop of dough and added it to a slide so we could view it under a microscope.  I was impressed that no one was grossed out by looking at Baker’s Yeast under a microscope – maybe making fuzzy little pop pom microbes had helped with this.  Perhaps using a piece of science equipment – the microscope – added enough wow factor that they remained enamored in the process. 

A bit more flour and free play later, and the dough was put aside, but not without another tasting and journal recording.  It now met the kids’ approval as something more sweet and subtle.

 Here is our recipe for Pretzel/Pizza Dough:

1 package Baker’s Yeast

½ cup warm water

1 cup warm water

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg (can replace with flaxseed meal in water)

4 cups flour (can use up to 1/3 whole wheat flour)

Proof the yeast in ½ cup of warm water.  Once it is dissolved and bubbling (proving it is still active), add the other cup of warm water, sugar, salt, and egg.  Beat in flour 1 cup at a time until the dough is less sticky.  You can allow the dough to rest overnight in the fridge or on the counter for one to several hours, to double in size, or use it sooner for a flatter bread (like pizza).  Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Cut off hunks of dough and shape into pretzels or alphabet letters.  Shake on salt, sesame seeds, or other things as desired (press them in so they set).  Let dough rest for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (425 degrees).  If using a topping that burns easily (like basil), then parbake (bake partially, like for 10 minutes), then baste with a milk or egg wash, and sprinkle on toppings before baking just a few minutes more.  Pretzels will bake in a total of 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees.  If making pizza, parbake the dough that has been shaped into pizzas, for 10 minutes, then top with toppings and complete baking in order to bring the toppings to golden brown.  Avoid too many toppings or water-rich toppings that will make the pizza soggy; cook these ahead and tap with paper towels to keep the water content low, before putting on the pizzas.  For a crispier crust, cook the pizzas directly on the baking rack in the oven.

image (10)I had reached out to Whole Foods a couple of weeks before, hoping we could get a little tour of behind-the-scenes unpacking of shipped foods, cleaning of fish, and so on.  Unfortunately, Whole Foods could not show us their back rooms, for safety and health reasons, but they were more than generous about providing a tour of the store floor where customers could be, followed by a hands-on cooking experience.  We walked around with two tour guides and lots of tasting cups.  We stopped near the lychees to ask about an unlabeled fuzzy fruit, and like ninjas, produce managers emerged then disappeared to do some instantly urgent research, following up on our query about a relative to the lychee that had just been delivered to the store.  We tasted fruit, ground then tasted our own nut butter, picked out and tasted some sweet yogurt pretzels, and tasted vegan muffins. 

image (11)In the culinary center, we arrived to find stations set up, as if we were real chefs with sous chefs doing all of the measuring, cutting, and preheating before our arrival.  What excellent attention!  The kids made pizzas, then fruit skewers, and enjoyed complementary apple juice.  Treated like kings, and full of tasty food, we headed for home and some well deserved bike and scooter riding.

Before our tour, we had planned to make pizza and shishkabobs for lunch.  After some riding, the kids had found some room in their bellies, so we skipped the pizza, and made veggie and fruit shishkabobs.  Some delighted in patterns of color in their skewer threading, others just enjoyed tasting ingredients.  Most could not wait to have their skewers grilled, and ate it all, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, and paneer, raw. 

KabobMakingHomeAfter relaxation time, we finished our dough, first tasting it (and adding to our journals), shaping it to go into the oven, then tasting the final baked product (for our final journal entry).  We rolled the dough into pretzel and breadstick shapes, then topped ¾ of the sticks with the salts we had tasted the day before.  Comparing the flavors across the life of the dough, the dough had gone from bitter to sweet, and in the finished form, the salt added a nice contrast.

I had planned to make mozzarella cheese with the kids after relaxation time, but reading the number of steps, most separated by an amount of time or specific temperature change, I decided to do it myself while the kids rested.  I ended up with a mozzarella with the right taste, but a far firmer texture than desired, as I had squeezed out too much whey.  The kids tasted it, and all of them approved, politely.  They then voraciously ripped into their breadsticks and pretzels, with hummus from the day before.

After a little free play, we finished the day with thank you cards written to Whole Foods for their very generous tour and cooking session.

-          Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

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Bay Breezes

KitesThis summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 8: Bay Breezes

Our final day of Summer Camp with Mom this week had us thinking about and taking advantage of a common weather feature in the Bay Area: Wind!  We watched a YouTube feature describing high and low pressure, heat, and cold, and then summarized what we could in our journals.  We then watched a movie about kite flying, and another about kite boarding, and the kids were hooked.  We designed kites in our journals, then went to work decorating then constructing Tyvek sled kites.  There are some great Frustrationless-Flyer Kits for Sled Kites online, that come with nice fiberglass poles and easy, thoughtful directions.  You can also make your own with nylon, Tyvek (a lightweight, water-repellant material designed to line houses before siding is put on), or even newspaper, but I must admit that the Frustrationless Flyer Kits are pretty easy, and the $4 per kit cost (if you buy in bulk) was well worth some reduced anxiety.  Be sure to buy kite line wound on bridles in addition.  The total of $5 per kite was by far our most expensive craft at Summer Camp with Mom (beeswax candles were a close second, a tie-dying will be a close third), but the results were impressive.

image (19)After a little free play and packing our snacks, we headed to Shoreline Park’s kite field to fly the sled kites.  Sheer success and beauty – the kites easily took to the air and amazed and amused the kids.  They didn’t want to stop flying them, and kept up with only some brief intermissions when kites became tangled together.  What appeared to be two professional, if not devout amateur kits flyers, were also at the field, but what they could do with their double-bridled kites didn’t impress these kids.  These kids were tremendously thrilled to see something of their own creation easily taking flight, climbing, higher and higher. 

The kids enjoyed Shoreline further when we went on a short scavenger hunt, looking for birds, bugs, plants, and more.  All practically fell asleep riding home in the car.  Lunch and relaxation time were very well received this day, going long because the kids were so worn out from flying their wares.

- Debbie (Founder), Max(8), Holly (4), and Andrew

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Salty and Sweet

image (6)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 2: Raw Foods

image (5)We started the day with a brainstorm of foods we eat raw, adding lists of pictures or words to journals.  The kids had more trouble with this than I had expected, so I added questions about what grows locally.  After we went through their lists, we pulled out a Bay Area Map, and labeled it up with items harvested from the area.  I made little post-it notes with names of foods and city names, picking cities I thought the kids knew.  Brussel Sprouts – Santa Cruz.  Strawberries – Watsonville.  Apricots and Cherries – Sunnyvale.  Fennel and Picklegrass – Alviso.  Plums, Peaches, and Cherries – Brentwood.  Cotton and Tomatoes – Bakersfield.  Garlic – Gilroy.  And more!  We concluded our exploration of local foods with a local food taste-test, with each child donning a blindfold, then trying to name a food being tasted.  The big stumpers were zucchini (confused for cucumber) and apple (confused for potato).

After a little free play, we donned our aprons from the day before, and whipped up some hummus.  Each kid was assigned an ingredient to add.  Hummus is really just a bean puree with some olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and tahini (sesame seed paste).  We also added some garlic, cumin, paprika, pepper, and a splash of water.  We used a can of drained garbanzo beans (if you peel them, the paste is smoother, but we didn’t bother).  A few whirs of the food processor later (a favorite step shared by all), and some careful tasting and salting by these young chefs, and we were diving in with carrot, celery, cucumber, and pepper sticks, corn, and some crackers.

Here is our Hummus Recipe:

15 ounces drained garbanzo beans (ideally peeled)

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (or more, to taste)

¼ cup tahini (or more, to taste)

1 clove minced garlic or 1 roasted, skinned bell pepper

2 Tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more, to taste)

½ teaspoon cumin

2-3 Tablespoons water

Dash each of paprika and ground pepper

 

Bellies full, we headed out to Alviso for a hike.  I had wanted to take the kids to a place where they could harvest their own salt and taste picklegrass.  Alviso can get really dry sometimes, so you can walk out on the edge of an old salt pond and peel up a nice layer of salt.  Today, however, the ponds were rather wet, so we settled to sit on a log alongside one, and taste just a little salt with our fingers.  The kids also sampled pickgrass and smelled fennel fronds, which both grow wild here.

We had lunch and relaxation time at home, so the group could reset.  My original plan of a salad bar was unanimously vetoed by the kids, and they voted for PB &J.

TongueNTasteAfter our Alviso salt venture, the plan had been to take our salt and compare it in shape, color, odor, and taste to a variety of other salts.  Finishing salts are very fashionable right now, and it’s easy to find a range of them at high end or natural cooking stores, like Sprouts or Whole Foods.  My sister had sent me five as a gift, so we broke them out to do some observational science.  We made a table of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  We skipped sound of course, but all salts offered lots of observations for each category.  The kids added a dose of humor and genuine perspective to the experience.  They didn’t like the charcoal-flavored Hawaiian Salt, yet couldn’t stop tasting it.

To balance the saltiness, we did a honey taste test at the same time.  We tried three types of honey: blackberry, clover, and orange.  Honey is named for the predominant flowers being pollinated by the bees that produce it.  The kids could taste the differences, and experiencing a new taste sensation got us thinking about the different parts of the tongue associated with different tastes: sweet at the tip of the tongue, salty, then sour, then bitter along the sides moving front to back.  The older kids tried tasting honey at the tip,image (7) then at the sides, and indeed, there seemed to be a difference.  We drew a tongue and the kids added a drawing of it to their journals.  Out came more hummus and they tried tasting it in different places, too.

I was surprised how little the kids could tell me about where honey comes from.  As a very popular raw food, locally produced, I thought they could tell me a lot.  But there were clear holes in their knowledge.  We turned to YouTube for some videos of bees and bee keepers, making honey, harvesting wax, and using steam or smoke.  There were bee keepers handling the bee hives without gloves on, and the video instructed us that when the queen bees were calm, so was the rest of the hive.

We took a break to experience the harried-bee and calm-bee interaction ourselves (happily without stingers).  Out came balloons, a favorite in our house.  Sharpies in hand, the kids colored eyes and stripes on their balloons.  We had yellow bees, purple bees, and even black bees.  We bounced them around when they were calm… then stressed!  Then calm… then stressed!  Lots of giggles as we transitioned to free play.Candle

Our last activity of this busy day was to roll beeswax candles, applying the “must be tight” rule we had practiced, making sushi the day before.  After one more free play, we settled down to watch “Bee Movie,” revisiting some of the bee ecology and human dependence we had explored that day, and filling in some of the knowledge gaps kids had about the bee and honey connection.

- Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

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Welcome to Sarah – Santa Cruz Hikes!

Welcome to Sarah, Sawyer, and June, our newest hike leaders, happily allowing us to resume providing hikes to the Santa Cruz area.  This week on June 25th, Sarah offers a hike at the beautiful forest of Nisene Marks in Aptos.  Thanks to Sarah for getting hikes going again at the coast!  Come out for some cooler weather towards the beach, to enjoy the different flora, fauna, and attractions out there.

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