Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Tinkerlab

My child loves to invent, explore, and create and we’ve been doing fun activities together since she was just a wee tot. Now that she’s a little older, she is starting to experiment on her own. I love watching her make connections and try new things — and then taking pride in the results. But we sometimes get a bit stuck, searching for new adventures and activities to explore together.

If you’re not sure where to start or how to get the creative juices flowing (because it can totally be a challenge!), I have the book for you. Rachelle Doorley, the smart and super-talented mama over at Tinkerlab, shares everything you need in her new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. And what I love about Doorley’s book is it’s so easy to read, motivating you to start creating right away.

Along with sharing ideas for exciting activities you can do with your child, Rachelle shares tips for starting the process, creating the right space for your child’s tinkering, and ideas for getting kids involved — even with the clean-up process. Doorley also includes interviews with experts, such as education professors and nursery school directors, sharing personal stories and experiences that add just the right touch of guidance and coaching throughout the book.

tinkerlab2

This book? It’s awesome. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging, smart, exciting, fun, silly, and also simple. Make your own paste and mix with paint for creating textured designs? Yes. Construct structures with gumdrops and toothpicks? Of course. Take apart an old computer? Sure! You don’t have to be an expert to do these activities with your child — just a willing participant in the journey of discovery. You might find yourself learning something new too.

Buy your copy here.

Just so you know, I wasn’t asked by anyone or compensated in any way to write this post. I purchased the book all on my own because I knew it would be beneficial — and read from cover to cover. OH and I knew I would USE the information in the book with my child. (And I have.)

Easy grilled pizza

 - by Sarah Lipoff

grilled pizza

Summer entertaining shouldn’t be about spending hours in the kitchen tossing together elaborate meals when guests come over to play. Nope. Dinner should be effortless, preferably served on paper plates, and cooked on the grill creating hardly any cleanup. When kids are involved, finding a dish that keeps both adults and tots happy can be challenging, but not with this seriously easy dish.

Grilled pizza.

Sure, you can cornmeal your crust and slide your tasty pie directly on the grill, but I erased the worry that yours won’t with my cheap pizza-grilling secret – pizza pie tins from the grocery store, making this my no-fail way to make summer entertaining fun and easy. And you know how much I love pizza (herehere, and here…).

Make things even easier by using a store purchased pizza crust and you are good to go. This is so fun for the kiddies as well as the adults. Each child can create their own pie, and the adults can create gourmet pizzas to kick things up a notch.

So crank the grill and get cooking!

Directions

Heat your grill to medium high heat. You want things to be hot, but not too hot. I’ve got a gas grill, but you can also make your pizza over coals.

Lightly grease one of the aluminum pie pans. I picked up a set of three for about $2 at the grocery store and can usually gets two uses from each before it starts falling apart.

Press the pizza dough into a round on the greased pan into an even crust. You can make your own pizza dough or use store bought, either works just fine. You want the dough nice and thin, otherwise it won’t grill evenly.

Top your pie with whatever you like and then pop directly on the grill – aluminum pan and all!

Cover and let sizzle for 10 to 15-minutes, or until you see the edges just starting to brown and the top to bubble.

Serve with a big salad and you’ve got dinner!

Dying to toss that dough directly onto the grill? Try this suggestion from my friend.

Happy grilling!

Garlic anchovy pasta with kale and cherry tomatoes

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Some nights we feed the tot and then I make second dinner for us. We cozy up after she’s snoozing for a light dinner and maybe a glass of wine (or two) and chat about our days. And who doesn’t love a bowl of noodles? It’s wonderfully comforting and seriously quick and easy.

Garlic anchovy pasta.

Don’t be afraid, the anchovy adds a really rich and salty flavor, and isn’t fishy at all. Browning the garlic in butter creates a beautiful flavor that pairs well with the kale and cherry tomatoes. Or add some browned Italian sausage, slivers of fresh prosciutto, fresh spinach, black olives…. You get the idea. And this pasta dish for two is ready to eat in less than 15-minutes.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

3 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste

1 teaspoon flour

1/4 cup hot pasta water

1/2 cup chopped kale

1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes

8 ounces cooked spaghetti

Dash of pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the spaghetti. Let simmer away while making the quick sauce

Place the butter in a small sauté pan and warm over medium heat. Chop the garlic and add to the butter. Keep an eye on that garlic while you devein the kale and give it a chop.

Once the garlic starts to brown, add the anchovy paste and flour, giving the ingredients a stir. Once the flour has incorporated, add the hot pasta water and the kale. Let the sauce simmer until the kale has cooked through, which takes just a few minutes. Add more pasta water as needed

Drain the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with pepper, and dinner is served.

 

Fine art for kids: Messy with Cy Twombly

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Cy Twombly

Now that the weather is so lovely, the tot and I are having a great time finding fun outdoor art activities to enjoy. It’s also reminded of some of the wonderfully talented modern artists that explored shape, line, and color and how they simply played against each other. Some of our past friends, like Rothko and Frankenthaler, also created fine art showcasing the beauty of simplicity. However, one painting kept coming to mind while hanging outdoors the other day with the tot.

Cy Twombly was mostly known for his child-like scribbles, almost resembling looping lines of chalk on a faded chalkboard. During the mid 1900’s art boom, when artists were exploring minimalism and abstract expressionism, Twombly went his own way and was basically ignored. One of his most recent paintings, Untitled, 2007, has a vibrancy to it along with a contained messiness. It also is full of repeated red flower shapes, dripping color onto a vibrant yellow background.

Red is my tot’s favorite color.

After taking a closer look at the painting, we gathered a few materials to create our own messy Twombly inspired creation. To make that bright yellow background, I taped a sheet of drawing paper to a plastic place mat and dropped a big spoonful of yellow finger paint in the middle, encouraging my daughter to squish and squiggle the paint all over the paper. Older kids can create loops and lines for a more interesting background.

Cy Twombly

While the paper is drying, we created our flower stamp with the help of some cardboard, a plastic cap, and a hot glue gun. If your child is scissor-friendly, she can draw the outline of the flower with a pencil and then cut on her own. Mine’s a bit young, so I helped with this step.

Hot glue the cap, open side down, to the cardboard flower and you’re ready to go. Fold a sheet of paper towel in half and then add a good squirt of red paint. This is the stamp pad for the cardboard flower.

Invite your child to press the flower stamp into the red paint and then on the yellow paper, lifting to reveal a red flower. Continue stamping flowers until your child is happy with the arrangement.

Cy Twombly

Now for the mess! Fill an empty spray bottle with a bit of water, grab the artwork, and head outdoors. Place the creation on a flat surface that’s okay for mess, like the driveway. Invite your child to stand over the artwork and spritz with water. Lift the artwork and watch as the red paint drips and drips, just like in Twombly’s painting.

Once your child is happy with the drippy mess, lay the paper flat until dry.

We had so much fun creating our Twombly inspired messy artwork that we made a few more using different color combinations!

 

Foam sticker letter and number prints

 - by Sarah Lipoff

foam letter print

We’re really working on thinking about numbers and letters at our house. And it’s been exciting to see our tot starting to pick up on it. The other day we had a great time reading a book and checking out the letters that form the words and all that kind of stuff. I love this age and how the brain starts making sense of things. Along with all that development, honing fine-motor skills ensures she’ll be able to write those letters once she figures them out.

So I got out a container of foam letters and numbers and dug out a piece of tagboard. Then I dumped the foam stickers out on our work table and invited my daughter to peel the backs from the stickers, guess the letter or number, and then position on the board. Along with building those small muscles in her hands, and encouraging her creativity, this fun art activity also builds letter recognition skills. Sure, she didn’t get half of the letters or numbers correct on the first guess, but did the second or third time around.

letter prints

Once our tagboard was covered with foam stickers, we spent a few minutes going over the numbers and letters one more time and then selected a color of paint for the next step (which of course was red). Offer your child her favorite color and a foam brush and then coat each and every number and letter with paint.

painting foam letters

Place a sheet of white paper over the painted letters and press, making sure that all areas of the tagboard have been covered. Then lift the paper to reveal the print of the letters and numbers.

letterprints

My daughter was in awe of the results, checking first the tagboard and then the paper to see the resemblance.

letter printmaking

It was pretty darn cute.

Healthy baked chicken tenders

 - by Sarah Lipoff

There’s nothing like a go-to chicken dinner recipe and this is totally my favorite.  Along with being delicious, this chicken recipe takes hardly any time to make — and is also healthy.

Cut the fuss and muss, along with an oil-spattered kitchen, by baking these chicken tenders in a hot oven. Easily tossed together in less than 30-minutes of cooking time, these tenders are perfect for a family friendly weeknight dinner. I serve with a crisp, green salad for the adults, along with some tasty yogurt Alfredo noodles for the tot (and, yeah, for us adults too). And just a quick tip — using a really good plain yogurt (Mountain High)  ensures you get seriously tender crispy chicken along with great tangy flavor. Go with a Greek-style or thick plain yogurt for best results.

Ingredients

1 lb chicken tenders

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon mustard

Dash salt and pepper

1/2 cup corn starch

1 cup Panko crumbs (or plain bread crumbs)

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or vegetable or coconut…)

What you do

Toss the chicken tenders in a plastic bag along with the yogurt and mustard. Give things a dash of salt and pepper and toss in the fridge for at least 20-minutes or up to an hour. If you like things spicy, add a few drops of your favorite hot sauce.

Mix together the corn starch and panko crumbs in another big zip-top baggie. Sprinkle in the Italian seasoning and you are ready to shake. Corn starch has less calories than white flower and crisps up wonderfully. You could also use whole-wheat  or almond flour instead.

Preheat your oven to 425˚F and drizzle the oil around a sheet pan. Take the happily marinated chicken from the fridge, toss a few at a time in the corn starch/flour and panko mixture, and then place on the sheet pan. Keep going until all are coated and ready to go.

Once coated, place on the sheet pan. Try not to cluster, which causes the tenders to steam and kind of turn out like mush. For extra crispiness, place the oil-coated sheet pan in the oven for a couple of minutes before adding the tenders. They’ll hit the pan with a sizzle, which is awesome.

Pop the chicken tenders in the oven and toast for 7 to 10-minutes and then flip. If your pan seems a bit dry, drizzle a bit more oil to help your chicken crisp. Cook for another 7 to 10-minutes, or until the other side is nicely browned.

This recipe makes enough to serve a happy family of four. 

*And I just made them again (1/20/14) and these tenders are still so good. A couple tips — use a non-stick baking pan, go ahead and crank the oven to 450˚F for a really crispy crust, and trust your oven! Don’t fuss and muss. Let them bake for seven to 10-minutes before flipping to ensure the crust doesn’t fall off and the coating is super crispy.

*Oh, and I wasn’t compensated by Mountain High in any way. I just absolutely love their product.

 

 

 

Salted chocolate peanut toffee

 - by Sarah Lipoff

toffee
Years and years ago I decided I would make something tasty as holiday gifts for the teachers I worked with. I knew everyone loved chocolate and wanted to experiment with something different. When I came across a recipe for chocolate peanut toffee in Gourmet, I was smitten. The combination of salty nuts, crunchy toffee, and melted chocolate sounded divine. And the recipe boasted making a big batch, meaning I’d have enough for treating my fellow teachers and still have some leftover to send with the husband for holiday giving at his work.

And the ingredients needed for making this delicious toffee cost around $5 — especially if you hit up the dollar store.

Over time I’ve adjusted the recipe and found the perfect combination that makes one of the best crunchy chocolaty and nutty toffee around. I look forward to making it every year (and know people look forward to receiving it too). This is a recipe that will make your friends and family thankful for this toffee treat. I definitely splurge for organic ingredients, which does add a few dollars to the final deliciousness, but it’s totally worth it.

(Adapted from Gourmet)

Ingredients

3 cups butter (salted or not – but I actually like using salted for this yummy treat)

2 cups sugar

4 cups low salt (or no salt) peanuts plus 1 cup chopped

¼ teaspoon vanilla

Dash cinnamon

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate chips

Sea salt

Directions

Place the butter and sugar in a large stockpot over medium heat and wait for the butter to melt.  You want the butter and sugar to turn a rich honey brown and register around 300 ˚F on the candy thermometer (which you need!) before the next step, which can take around 15 minutes of babysitting. Candy making takes patience — and just the right temperature. Even though I’ve been busting this toffee out for the last five years, last year I attempted one batch without a thermometer, and it was a sad disaster.

While you’re waiting for the butter and sugar to boil, line a 11 by 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Once it starts simmering, whisk the mixture to incorporate the butter and sugar.

Chop one cup of nuts for topping your toffee and measure the chocolate chips so everything is ready when the toffee is. I’ve found using a low-salt peanut creates a seriously sweet and savory toffee, instead of one that’s bombarded with over-salted nuts. I pick mine up at Trader Joe’s.

Once your toffee hits 300 F, turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer and add the three cups of nuts. Give the mixture a stir and then add the vanilla and dash of cinnamon.

Spread the peanut toffee in the parchment covered sheet pan creating a nice and even layer of goodness. Now sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate melts.

Use a knife to spread the chocolate over the toffee and then sprinkle with the chopped nuts and a light dusting of sea salt.

Pop in the fridge for an hour and then use a large serrated knife to cut the brick of toffee into pieces. Place in decorative bags and you’re ready for holiday gift giving.

 

Happy holidays!

Celebrate Thanksgivikkah with a gingerbread menorah

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop Gingerbread Menorah

Well, if you haven’t heard, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have melded together into Thanksgivikkah. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a gingerbread menorah. I discovered this wonderful melding of deliciousness through Sweet Thrills Bakeshop, a collaboration of two Bay Area moms who believe the kitchen is the heart of the home and that sweet treats make everyone smile.

These smart ladies are packaging chocolate gingerbread menorah kits that are perfect for families to build and decorate together. The unique idea sparked from spinning the dreidel with a traditional gingerbread house in the background. The result? A sweet twist on celebrating Hanukkah — and a great way to create special memories with your kids.

I was so excited to get my hands on a box and make one with my tot. Yes, probably even more than she was. Included in the kit was everything needed to assemble the menorah, including a wonderfully detailed set of directions, helpful tips, and educational information about Hannukkah, making this kit fitting for any family.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop

My daughter jumped right in and loved assembling the menorah. In fact, she was pretty much able to follow the drawn directions on her own (while I snuck a few candies that were included in the kit). What’s great about the kit is that along with being creative, your child is learning about construction and design.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop gingerbread

As it states in the directions, it’s important to let the the frosting set between steps, but we found ways to entertain ourselves while waiting. We enjoyed reading the included information about Hanukkah, counted the candy candles, and, of course, had to sample the frosting.

My daughter really took her time working on her special menorah and we have it proudly displayed on our mantel. She loves telling us how she made it all by herself.

sweet thrills bakeshop menorah

Which she really did.

Sweet Thrills Bakeshop has two different sized unassembled menorahs as well as a mini pre-assembled menorah available this season. Order now to ensure your kit arrives on time. We’re looking forward to enjoying our menorah during our Thanksgivikkah celebration!

And, did I mention? They’re delicious.

*Just so you know, I am actually friends with one of the co-owners of Sweet Thrills Bakeshop and volunteered to do this review simply because I think this chocolate gingerbread menorah kit is seriously awesome. And delicious. And a fantastic idea.

When life happens

 - by Sarah Lipoff

deanlipoff

I started this blog as a spot for sharing recipes, random thoughts, awesome kid-freindly art activities, and general musings about motherhood. I love how it’s grown and turned into something more than I ever imagined, but things have been a bit busy lately and keeping up So says Sarah… has definitely been pushed to the back burner. I’m lucky if I get a moment to stop by and brush off the cobwebs — much less hang out on Twitter or Facebook.

Eh.

Honestly? I’m not feeling that bad about it.

I’m really happy where I’m at in life and don’t feel like I have to constantly update everyone about it. I don’t need to tweet that I’m making homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch or all the other random stuff that happens during the day. I don’t feel like posting every cute picture of my tot doing something new on Facebook.

I’m trying to be more present.

But.

I am busy.

A company that I totally love has offered me permanent work (YAY) so you can find me over there. I get to share my love of animals and all things DIY while having the flexibility to spend quality time with my family. Life happens and you just have to go with it.

Take a break.

Do something new.

It feels really good.

Homemade Yogurt

 - by Sarah Lipoff

easyhomemadeyogurt

I love yogurt. My daughter loves yogurt. I put yogurt in just about everything (see here, here, and here), so when we were at the bottom of the container the other day, and I was not feeling motivated to head to the store, I figured it was time to try making my own. I’ve seen the simple crock pot yogurt idea all over Pinterest, but also didn’t feel motivated to dig out the beastly thing from under the cabinet.

Making your own yogurt is so easy. In fact after you do it the first time you’re going to wonder why you haven’t been making it years. And you only need two ingredients.

Ingredients

4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup yogurt

Directions

Here’s the deal. Making yogurt is basically heating up and cooling down milk and cultures to create the tangy goodness. You want things to be just right, otherwise you’ll have unhappy bacteria — which isn’t tasty for anyone. Start by heating the milk slowly in a large pot until it’s 180˚ F. We’re not talking a rolling boil, so give the milk a whisk every few minutes while it’s heating. Once your thermometer registers temp, turn off the heat.

homemadeyogurt

No let the milk cool down to 110˚ F and then stir in the yogurt. Any kind of plain yogurt works wonderfully, and you can continue using your homemade yogurt for making many, many fresh batches.

making yogurt

Once the yogurt is incorporated carefully pour into a large container with a sealable lid. A big glass jar works wonderfully, just make sure to get it nice and sanitary before pouring the yogurt mix by filling with boiling water and then carefully pouring it out (it’s hot!). Cover the yogurt with a dish towel and let hang out in a warm spot for eight to nine hours.

homemade yogurt

Seriously, waiting is the hardest part.

I found a warm corner in my kitchen and had a difficult time being patient. I couldn’t believe the yogurt would come together just sitting there in a warm jar, but it did. And, wow. Was it good. I gave it a taste before popping in the fridge for several hours to really set up.

The next morning the tot and I just about gobbled the entire container of homemade yogurt. Thick, creamy, and just a bit tangy, mix in a spoonful of jam, drizzle over some honey, or eat plain.

plainhomemadeyogurt

Yum.