Fun Food Stuff

Another fun one!  We love to cook and bake around here!

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When you stumble into homeschooling {as opposed to it being something you’ve always planned for your children}, you have to work with what you’ve got.  When we started homeschooling, I had cooking and baking.  No awesome artistic abilities, no creative capabilities, no curriculum-building talent.  So, cooking and baking have been used as an oh crap filler, an addition to a lesson, a kick-off-the-school-year activity, or a just-for-fun-we-really-want-to-eat-this activity.  Following are a few of our favorite fun food projects and recipes.

1.  Bake something and decorate it

Whether it’s a cake you bake from scratch, a dozen cupcakes made from a box mix, or sugar cookies baked from a roll of store bought dough, kids love to decorate them.  You can use store bought frosting, buttercream frosting, or royal icing {this one hardens, but many kids still like to eat it…}.  If you don’t have any pastry bags and tips on hand, just put the frosting into a sandwich baggy and cut of a corner, creating an instantaneous piping bag.  This is a great opportunity to teach things like colors, kitchen safety, and math.

2.  Participate in a fair baking contest

This has become a yearly tradition for Babydoll and me.  We enjoy perusing the county fair exhibition books, looking for the various categories we’d like to enter something in. Generally, the children’s categories are judges on appearance and/or taste, and are divided into appropriate age groups.  Even if your child doesn’t win, they usually still get an participation ribbon.  Many fairs even give free admittance to exhibitors. This is our special time together, and involves learning how to budget your time, create or follow a recipe, write legibly, and speak publicly.

3.  Make homemade donuts

Donuts are surprisingly easy to make {don’t worry, you don’t need a deep fryer}, and they’re wicked delicious.  We make donuts to kick off the school year, attempting to make some shaped like the grade Babydoll is entering.  This is a great photo op to document the beginning of each school year. Our favorite recipe is this one by Paula Deen.

4.  Create your own rock candy

We did this during a science unit on rocks.  It’s super easy and Babydoll loved checking her crystals each day.  Babydoll has always been fascinated with rocks anyway, so seeing how they were formed was a treat.  Eating the candy afterward isn’t half bad either.  Here’s a great lesson plan designed around this experiment.

5.  Make your own pizza

Lots of families do this, but you can easily take this a step further.  Use this as an opportunity to teach your child about diameter, meal planning {let them make the list, find the items in the store, and comparison shop}, dough making, how yeast works, there are so many possibilities.  I give Babydoll her own dough, pan, and toppings and let her go to town.  There’s something about making their own food that makes kids feel special.

6.  Read a cookbook together

Sure, some cookbooks are simply filled with recipes and nothing more.  Some of the best cookbooks are filled with stories and personal anecdotes to go along with the recipe.  This makes the cookbook much more interesting, and worth sitting down to read.  In addition to practicing their reading skills, kids can also decide which recipes they’d like to make and what ingredients need to be purchased to make them. Babydoll’s current favorite is Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids.

7.  Plan special meals

Babydoll loves it when we do theme meals.  Whether it’s for a family celebration or just for fun, creating a meal based on a specific theme lends itself to all sorts of learning.  Kids can come up with a theme, research recipes and decor, choose an appropriate date and time for the meal, help shop for necessary items, and help make decorations and prepare the food. Our personal favorite is spring brunch, complete with awesome folded cloth napkins, printed menu, and Winnie the Pooh spring china.

8.  Make ice cream

This is a fun summertime treat to make.  Whether you have an old fashioned ice cream machine, a frozen yogurt and topping dispenser, or an inexpensive model from a craft store, making ice cream can be so fun!  Help your children research and try different recipes, learning how the ingredients work together to create the frozen treat.

9.  Visit the farmers’ market

Farmers’ markets are wondrous places!  If you’re fortunate enough to live in a place that has a year-round market, you’re set.  You can teach your children about seasonal cooking, using the produce that is in season to create delicious and fresh meals.  If you’ve only got access to a summer farmers’ market, you can still fill your warm months by visiting the market each week and teaching your children about seasonal produce, growing seasons, the process of seed to plate, how to pick ripe produce, and engage in the fun activity of creating a meal from market purchases.  Some markets even have fish, poultry, meat, fresh baked goods, and homemade snack foods.  Search for CSAs, farmers’ markets, farms, and other food establishments in your area on this site.

10. Cook something from another country

When Babydoll attended a Montessori school in WA, one of her end-of-year assignments was to partner with someone and create a presentation on a certain country.  Babydoll and her partner were assigned Nigeria, and they had to research all sorts of things, one of them being food.  They didn’t have to prepare a dish from that country, but were encouraged to do so.  We had so much fun learning about the local ingredients, what people in that country traditionally ate, and what foods were viewed as snacks, special foods, market food, etc. We ended up making a dish called chin chin that is so delicious!  It was a great experience.

Food is a part of every culture, and is a common way for people to connect.  While cooking doesn’t have to occupy every homeschool day, it truly is worthwhile to work it in at regular intervals. Children will greatly benefit from the experiences, and it will likely draw the family together and create lasting memories and family traditions.

What about you?  Do you have any fun food activities you do with your kids?

Photo Credits – Fair, Brunch, Ice Cream, Farmers’ Market

Campaign Photography with Sears Grilling: Path to Purchase Photography #GrillingisHappiness #SoFabU

Sears

A couple of weeks ago I told you all about the awesome new class I was participating in:  Campaign Photography with Sears Grilling.

I was excited to learn some great techniques for editing photographs in Pixlr.  I used my skills to make a picture of rising yeast dough look much more appetizing.

This week our lesson was in path-to-purchase photography.

Path to Purchase

So, what is path to purchase?

This means the steps a consumer takes to purchasing a certain item.  How do you prepare for the trip?  What do you look at when you get to the store?  How do you make your decisions?

Our assignment was simple:  head to Sears and document the path to purchase of a grill.

I loved the explanation we got with this assignment; my previous Social Fabric shops have left something to be desired…

Now, I finally feel like I know exactly what the entire picture is, what they’re looking for, and I have some great tips for taking great photographs.

My Grill Path to Purchase

Prepare for Shopping

We were given tips on things to look for, pictures to consider taking, and more.

First up, how you prepare for shopping.

If I’m making an expensive purchase {and a grill is an expensive purchase}, I like to research things beforehand.

With all the technology out there, the catchy names for things, etc., I want to understand what I’m looking at before I get to the store.

So, my path to purchase starts with my laptop, at home.

I checked out the Sears site first, to see what grills were available in my area.

I started to lean toward the Char-Broil TRU Infrared grills, but really didn’t know anything about them, so I also viewed a few videos.

After viewing these, I felt I had a good handle on what I’d be looking at once I got to the store.

Heading to the Store

We live in the middle of nowhere, so the closest Sears stores are the Hometown Sears stores.

We have a larger Sears around, but I’ve found that while the selection may be larger, the smaller stores tend to have the not-frequently-bought items that I end up buying.

They also have great customer service, generally speaking.  Small town charm I tell you.

What did I notice about the exterior of the store?

They’re tiny, by comparison, but they’re not as overwhelming.

This day, they had a nice selection of riding mowers lined up in a neat little row.

That’s something that would definitely be great to have, but not today.  There was also patio furniture out there, but we already have a nice set.

I noticed that despite there being quite a bit of merchandise out there, it didn’t feel cluttered.  The walk area was nice and large, and the items were neatly placed, so it actually made me want to look at the items that I might not have normally taken a look at.

I can’t stand cluttered entries.

Store Arrangement and Brand Placement

How merchandise is arranged in a store can make or break a sale.  If things are cluttered, hard to find, or otherwise unappealing, it’s not likely many people will continue to buy from that store.

This Sears, although small, knew that it was grilling season and had everything right inside the door.

There were about seven or eight grills to choose from; not a bad selection for a small Sears!

Branding, Options, and Signage

Consumers like to have options.  They like to be able to choose products based on a combination of price, look, options, etc.

Here are a few pictures I took of the grills, the signage, and how it was all displayed.  A few photos include a before and after to show how they were edited {using the fancy skills I learned last week!}.

Other Tips

We also learned to try to take photos with clutter-free backgrounds, in softer lighting, at different angles.

The zoom feature is your friend, and incorporating brands and signage helps readers see what you were presented with, what you chose, and why you chose it.

You can see more pictures from my visit in the slideshow below!

Which Grill Won?

Yes, the fun part:  Sears is providing us each with a gift card to purchase a grill!!!!

I don’t have a picture of it…

It was one I researched online and the Sears site said there was only one in like a 50 mile radius, and it was at my little Sears.

They didn’t have it put together, though, so it was in the back in a box.

It’s a Char-Broil infrared grill with dual fuel intake and an auto-clean feature.  Love it!

I’d like to once again thank Sears for this opportunity!  I’ve learned so much already and am enjoying putting pictures on my blog so much more!  Thank you!!

True Confessions:  I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Sears #CBias #GrillingIsHappiness. All photos and opinions are my own.

Food & Photography Are Fun! #GrillingisHappiness #SoFabU

Bread

Photos can make or break a blog.

Sometimes I think mine is broken…

I’ve never been good at photography.  I don’t have a good eye for it, and I have no clue how to properly edit photos.

And, until I became a blogger, I didn’t really care.

My primary focus was on documenting special moments, not documenting them well.

Food Photography

If taking pictures of people and trees is difficult, taking pictures of food is darn near impossible for me.

You have a double whammy there:  styling the food well and photographing it well…

I think part of getting better at the whole process is just practicing.

I think another part is getting help from somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about and can convey it in an easy-to-understand manner.

Photography classes can get quite pricey, which is why I was so excited to get into the Social Fabric University:  Campaign Photography with Sears Grilling course!

The Course

I don’t know much about it at this point, but I do know that I’ve already learned a couple of things in the first week that have been extremely helpful.

I think my favorite part so far has been learning how to adjust levels {black, whites, and midtones} to make a picture “pop”!

I’ve also learned about “dodging” {lightening} and “burning” {darkening}.  Those are a bit more difficult for me, but I’m slowly picking up on using it effectively.

Image sharpening has thrown me for a loop, but you know, I’m gonna stick with it!

I didn’t have anything terribly exciting to eat today, so I took a picture of my yeast dough.  Check out the changes I made!

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a stellar photo and I’m sure a pro could edit it much better, but I’m happy with the results.  This is just after a week in the course!

What I’m Hoping to Learn

I hope to learn a bit more about the technical aspects of editing my photos, as well as how to take a better looking photo to begin with.

I hope that after this course the photographs on the blog will be much more appealing.  Not just for me, or for you, but for the brands I work with as well.

A nice picture of something I’m reviewing or featuring will help you, my readers, see it in all its glory and it will do the company justice in showcasing their product well.

Special Thanks to Sears Grilling

Sears Grilling is sponsoring this course, and without them, it wouldn’t be possible.  I am so grateful to have this opportunity and am glad they’ve made it possible!

True Confessions:  I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Sears #CBias #GrillingIsHappiness. All photos and opinions are my own.

An Unbelievably Good Meal

cafe-dupont-1

I absolutely love a good meal.  It can right any wrong, it can make a celebratory experience all the more celebratory, it has healing powers I tell you!

Because of my absolute love of food, I’ve been disappointed in the selection here in AL.

When we were in Washington, we had lots of wonderful places to eat: Daniel’s Broiler, Elliott’s, The Westside Burrito Connection, Fritz European Fry House, Anthony’s, Red Rock Subs, and so many more.

Or, we could drive up to the ferry and eat at Chandler’s in Victoria, BC.

We were never, ever, ever at a loss for good food.

Birmingham, AL, Food

Then, we moved to the Birminham, AL, area.  And, through some trial and error, we’ve found a tiny handful {read: could count on one hand} of places that are decent.

We enjoy The Cheesecake Factory and it’s consistently good food {how is it that no matter where you eat it in the country, it’s always the same?!}, Sho’Nuff BBQ, and Village Tavern.

There are a couple other places that we enjoyed in our more immediate area but they’ve all gone out of business.

Apparently the locals aren’t fond of fresh ground burgers, exceptional fresh-cut fries, and delicious corn muffins…

What the locals are fond of is crap.  I’m just not going to beat around the bush here.

Nine times out of 10, if we get a recommendation from a local, the food is absolutely disgusting.

Really Bad Food

My first experience with this was our trip to Niki’s West.  That was some of the worst food I have ever eaten, I’m not even kidding.

The terrible meal was finished off by a terrible dessert:  lemon icebox pie that was lukewarm and tasted like rancid milk.

Yet, the place was packed and people raved about it.

Then, for our anniversary last year, we ate at Ocean.  This was, hands down, my worst dining experience ever.

Ever.

The staff was pretentious and rude, the food was lousy, and the atmosphere was stuffy and filled with the drunken laughter of what appeared to be washed-up financial advisers…

Sushi should never be lukewarm.  Scallops should not taste like cod liver oil.  I should not have to flag my waiter down for a drink after sitting at a table for at least ten minutes while he spends copious amounts of time at the tables around me.

I should not be treated as an unintelligent country bumpkin who just set foot in the “big city” and doesn’t know the difference between a filet and a ribeye.

I left there absolutely disgusted.

The Meal That Made It All Better

Well, my friends, I am happy to say that last night, Vince and I had a meal that was worth two or three years of waiting.

I remember wanting to eat at Cafe Dupont when we first moved here, but for some reason that didn’t happen.

I just kind of forgot about it after that.

I kept hearing glowing reviews of other restaurants, but there menus were too far out there.

To clarify, we eat some “weird” stuff: snails, for instance.  So if I can eat snails and be OK, then you know a menu has to be really weird for me to not want to eat there.

I hadn’t really heard too much about Cafe Dupont, but something about the way it looked {it’s in an 1870s storefront in the North End neighborhood in downtown Birmingham}, the fact that it supports the slow food movement, and the daily changing menu made me want to go.

I was hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed.

So, instead of heading to the usual dining suspects here, we decided to give the Cafe a try.

Photo Credit

Oh. My.  I have never wanted to hop up and dance a jig in a restaurant like I did last night.

I need a thesaurus to fully convey to you the unbelievable quality, flavor, atmosphere, and service this place had.

Cafe Dupont could seat maybe 50, so it’s nice and quaint.  Love.

We were 30 minutes early for our reservation.  They gave us a table right away.  Love.

The waiter was pleasant and attentive, but didn’t hover.  Love.

The waiter knew about their food: how it was prepared, where they got their ingredients, and could easily recommend dishes.  Double love.

The food was insanely good.

Their bread comes from Mix, another Chef Dupont owned property downtown, just a few blocks away.  It was heavenly.

The butter, oh the butter…  It was made on the premises and was a delicious compound butter made with shallots, lemon zest, parsley, garlic, and probably another thing or two.  Drool.

The seared Ahi tuna with the flavors of orange, soy sauce, and black sesame seeds was phenomenal.

The fried oysters and okra was delicious.

My grilled smoked steak was yummy.  My tomato and mushroom tart was scrumptious, and I hate tomatoes and mushrooms…

Vince’s beef short ribs.  Oh freaking man, those short ribs…  I could have eaten myself silly on those short ribs.  Probably some of the best meat I’ve ever eaten.

And then, my friends, it ended with the best dessert I’ve ever eaten.  I am not even kidding.

Strawberry cobbler.

I think I uttered “Oh my GOD!” after every bite.  It almost brings a tear to my eye thinking about how I don’t know when I’ll have that cobbler again.  It was so unbelievably good.

I cant’ even describe it to you, it was just so, so, so good.

I am now a Chef Dupont convert.  I can’t wait to go back to the Cafe, and to check out Mix {the bakery}.

If he wrote a cookbook, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.  If he did cooking classes, I’d so go.

His food is unlike anything I’ve ever eaten and I’m so grateful I had a chance to share that with Vince.

We had a great time, just the two of us, at our little table.

We talked, it was like old times.  I love Babydoll, but it had been a while since just the two of us had a chance to connect.

Perfect night.