FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS ARE A TASTE OF SUMMER

Tell your kids that they can be the “King and Queen of Tarts” when they make this gem of a summer dessert. The fresh fruit ingredients from your local market or fruit stand are luscious and good by themselves, but when they’re combined with a cookie base, you’ll have a “WOW” can’t-miss finale to a barbecue or outdoor get-together with friends.

These cookie fruit tarts are super simple to assemble and look “tres francais,” but there’s no from-scratch pastry with mini fluted rims that you have to fuss over. Instead, the easy recipe starts with good, large sugar cookies you purchase at your bakery or grocery store.

FRESH FRUIT COOKIE TARTS
Makes 8
–8 large sugar cookies or your favorite plain round cookie
–8-ounce package of cream cheese
–1/3 cup white or vanilla chips (find them in the baking section of your store)
–assorted fresh fruit and berries for toppings, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and sliced peaches and plums, washed and dried
–1/4 cup currant jelly or powdered sugar (optional)

Set cookies on a work surface such as a cutting board.

Place cream cheese in a medium-size mixing bowl.

In a microwave-safe dish, melt chips, spoon into cream cheese and stir until smooth.

Spread the mixture evenly over the cookies. Let kids arrange the fresh fruit and berries in pretty designs on the top.

Meanwhile, if you would like a glaze, an adult should melt the jelly in a saucepan. Cool. Let kids drizzle or lightly brush with a pastry brush over the fruit to glaze the tarts.

Or, dust over each tart with powdered sugar.

Arrange on a serving platter.

Variations:
–Get creative with the presentation and decorate the serving platter or top the tarts with coconut flakes, sprigs of mint leaves, tiny blooms of edible flowers or fresh lavender.

–Make a larger quantity of bite-size tarts using packaged cookies such as gingersnaps.

–Instead of using cookies, make a larger single tart. Press prepared piecrust from the refrigerated section of your market on the base and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Prick sides and bottom. Bake according to package directions. Cool. Spread cream cheese mixture on the base, arrange fruit attractively, and brush on the glaze.

MAKE LAMPSHADE THAT’S OUT OF THIS WORLD

Have your summer outings taken your family to a planetarium or a space exhibit at a science museum, or did you take a trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida? Maybe you enjoyed camping at a state or national park under a starlit sky.

Whatever your adventure, capture the memory with a space-age craft that’s fun, practical and will keep your child’s curiosity about space alive. Decorate a plain, smooth lampshade you already have, or purchase an inexpensive version to create your night-sky theme. With just a few supplies from around the house, you and your kids can make an out-of-this-world shade to brighten a bedroom or family room.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–Plain, standard smooth white lampshade
–Sheets of tissue paper in several colors (we used navy blue and shades of purple)
–Household white glue diluted with a few drops of water to create a milkshakelike consistency
–Paintbrush
–1-inch glow-in-the-dark adhesive-backed stars
–Darning needle
–Sturdy craft wire
–Medium and large buttons, beads, star-shaped charms and baubles with holes

Here’s the fun:

1. Tear tissue paper into 1-inch-by-1-inch pieces. This is a fun job for preschoolers. Older children might prefer cutting straight-sided squares or rectangles with scissors.

2. Set the lampshade on a newspaper-covered work surface. Paint an outside section with the glue-and-water mixture over the top of the tissue paper and smooth each piece out with your fingers. When the shade is covered, finish it off with a coating of glue and water. Let dry.

3. Attach glow-in-the dark stars here and there on the tissue-paper-covered exterior, then use the darning needle to poke about 6-8 holes evenly around the top edge of the shade.

4. Now it’s time to put planets and stars jutting outward in space, circling the shade. Start with a 10-inch length of wire. Poke and twist in place one end through the holes of a large flat button to represent a planet or the sun. Loop the opposite end of the wire through one of the holes in the shade.
Bend the wire outward so that it looks like it is suspended in space around the shade. Continue attaching a single charm, bead or button to additional pieces of cut wire to represent the International Space Station, the moon, stars and even a rocketship. Vary lengths. The sky’s the limit when it comes to expressing your creativity.

5. Attach the shade to your lamp base to light up a desk, night table or dresser.

THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION BOX

I’ve been doing an informal survey with friends, asking them to rate the most popular kids’ collectibles accumulating in their homes. The results?

Rocks rock!

Rocks were No. 1, followed by shells at a close No. 2 position. Leaves, sticks and pine cones trailed, tying for third place. Surprisingly, none of the top picks were toys, CDs or collectible trinkets from a fast-food kids’ meal.

Kids not only instinctively collect nature finds when they are outdoors, but they also love to tuck them away in special places like jacket pockets, egg cartons and empty shoe boxes.

Here’s a practical idea for storing and displaying growing collections all year round. Pick up a hardware storage box with rows of plastic drawers that slide in and out of the front side and are intended for screws, bolts and nails. Find a used box at a garage sale, or buy a new one at a hardware store — a nice gift idea for your collector’s summer birthday.

If you find a used box, spiff it up by covering the outside with colorful adhesive-backed paper. Glue travel stickers or postcards on the outside to decorate it.

To help your child categorize the drawers, use a paint pen to write the name of the contents. For example: Leaf Collection, Rock Collection, Bark Collection, etc.

Introduce your child to new collections, too. At a beach, fill a small plastic canister with sand. Label it with the name of the beach. Collect more as you travel, and store the bottles in the “sand collection” drawer when you return home.

Extra ideas:
–If your collection box has large drawers on the bottom, make mini dioramas with souvenirs. Glue a photo or postcard on the back of the drawer for a background, then glue small items to create a mini scene on the base of the drawer.
–To cover the drawers when not in use, tape a large piece of cardboard the size of the front of the box along the base of the box to resemble a hinged flap that
opens and closes. Poke a hole at the top of the cardboard so that you can loop a ribbon and bead through it and tie to a handle to keep it shut.

PLASTER CASTING ART AT A SANDY BEACH

Heading for the beach by the sea or a lake? Along with towels, sunscreen and flip flops, bring along a carton of plaster of Paris, a paper cup and an empty quart-size can or plastic recycled food container to make a unique piece of natural art that will last — and decorate your yard or deck when you get back home.

You can even make a terrific creation in your own backyard sandbox if you don’t live near the water. If your kids have made plaster handprints in school, they’ll be familiar with the following and easy how-tos.

To make a mold in damp sand, use your hands to scoop out a free-form design at least 2 inches deep. If you are at an ocean beach, just be sure the tide won’t be coming in for at least a couple of hours. You also may make a mold using toys such as a plastic fish or crab. Press the toy into the sand to make the shape, and then remove the toy. Any connecting areas in your design should be at least 2 inches wide to keep the final plaster project from breaking. To add interest, press some natural objects you collect on the beach into the base of the sand mold, such as shells, rocks, twigs and bark or driftwood.

Pour a cup or two of fresh or seawater into the disposable container. Add the powdered plaster according to directions on the box and stir with a stick. The mixture should be smooth and thick like a milkshake. Don’t overstir, however, as this causes the mixture to set up too quickly and weakens the final product. Immediately pour the mixture into your sand mold, spreading it evenly to all areas with a stick, if necessary.

To make a hanger for your art, poke a paper clip halfway into the plaster at the center top as the plaster thickens. If the project is large, you may wish to position two paper clips evenly spaced from each side.
Allow the plaster to harden for about an hour and a half, depending on the size of the mold, and then carefully remove the plaster souvenir from the sand. Dispose of leftover hard plaster in a trash can.

Take a picture of your pleased kids holding their creations before you head home. Wrap your art loosely with newspaper, and let it dry and harden completely. Glue on additional decorations, if you wish.

NOTE: Never pour liquid plaster down a drain.

MAKE DELICIOUS AND ECONOMICAL SLOW COOKER YOGURT

We’re a yogurt-loving family. We wake up to it topped with crunchy granola and fruit, or it’s whirled with other good stuff in the blender for energy-packed smoothies to go. It’s an easy-to-pack car travel snack, the basic ingredient in homemade popsicles and everyone around the dinner table enjoys rich, lemony-flavored yogurt over summer berries for dessert.

No wonder my ears perked up when a friend said she makes yogurt in her slow cooker. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why add yogurt-making to my already busy schedule when I can just pick it up at the store?” Then, when curiosity took over, I did some research to test it out. Much to my amazement, after a couple of easy steps in two timed intervals in the afternoon, I woke up the following morning to perfect, creamy, organic yogurt. Lots of it! Astounded, I ladled the more-than-we-could-use bounty into mason jars and shared the creamy deliciousness with my neighbors. Now they’re hooked.

Lesson learned: The next time around, I halved my original recipe and got a yield of 7 cups. Give it a try with your kids. It’s cost-effective, nutrient-rich and provides a memorable experience in kitchen science.

MAKE YOGURT IN A SLOW COOKER
Makes 7 cups
8 cups whole milk (I use organic)
Food thermometer for testing milk temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk, unflavored (plain) yogurt with live/active cultures for starter
Thick bath or beach towel
Storage containers with lids
1. Midafternoon, pour milk into your slow cooker and turn setting to low. Cover. Set a timer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. At 2 1/2 hours, use a kitchen thermometer to check that milk has reached 180-185 F.
3. Turn off, unplug, cover, and let the milk temp drop to around 115 F. Skim any milk film off the top of the milk with a spoon.
4. Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and combine with room temperature yogurt in a small bowl. Gently stir.
5. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and stir with a couple of strokes.
6. Cover and wrap the towel all around the slow cooker to help insulate. Culture 8-12 hours overnight.
7. In the morning, stir yogurt and ladle into storage containers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before eating. Save 1/2 cup to use as a starter for your next batch.
Cook’s note: For variety, make Greek-style yogurt. Spoon two cups of the slow cooker yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Let the liquid (whey) drip through for about 30 minutes. Makes 1 1/4 cups of yummy thick yogurt. Delicious!

RECOGNIZE PEOPLE AND PLACES WITH BOX PUZZLE PLAY

What’s on your summer calendar? Fourth of July celebrations, picnics at the park or a family reunion far from home? For your preschoolers, the friendly faces at these summertime gatherings of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends might seem puzzling at first. Who are all these people?

Here’s a playful way to prepare your child (and maybe even you!) for these special events before you go. Make fun and easy recycled cereal box puzzles featuring photos of the faces they will be seeing and places they’ll be visiting in coming weeks. Instead of asking, “Who’s that?” as Uncle Pete scoops ice cream at the reunion dessert bar, you might hear: “Hey, mommy — he’s the guy in my puzzle!”

Before you begin, scroll through your photo library and look for a group photo of people you’ll be seeing, and photos of homes or landmarks of places on your itinerary. You’ll be enlarging the images and cutting them into rectangular puzzle pieces to adapt to the size of the boxes.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for one puzzle set of two images (one on the front and one on the back of the boxes):
–9 small, empty rectangular single-portion cereal boxes
–2 photocopied photographs of extended family members, and/or a place where you will be traveling (about 8-inches by 12-inches)
–paint, or wide colored tape
–scissors
–household glue or spray craft glue
–Empty grapefruit or orange net bag for storage (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay one photo or piece of art face down on a table. Line the boxes side by side on the backside of the photocopy in three vertical rows. Draw around each box with a pencil, and then cut out the pieces.
2. Cover the printing on the sides of the food boxes with paint or colored packing tape, then glue the paper photo pieces on the front of each box.
3. Turn the boxes over, and add another photo following the same instructions.
4. To play, mix up the boxes and start puzzling them on one side, then the other. Say the names of the people or places as you go. Tell your child how they are related, and share a story or two about individual people.
When done, I like to keep these puzzle pieces in empty net bags. If you weave a string through the tops, you can hang them on a hook for easy storage between play.
Extra idea: For a mini puzzle, use a set of same-size boxes in smaller sizes, such as single-portion raisin boxes. Adjust the dimensions of the enlarged photos to fit accordingly.

RECYCLE A PLASTIC BOTTLE INTO A SHARK-THEMED PLANTER FOR SUCCULENTS


A few years ago, a friend inspired me to pot a succulent container garden. I discovered that trendy jade, aeonium and echeveria are the most forgiving, low-maintenance sun-loving plants I could ever grow on our deck in the summer and indoors during Minnesota’s winter chill. And they are easy to propagate. Break off an offshoot from a larger plant, stick it in the soil, and a new plant will root and grow.

No matter the season, why not encourage your young child to grow his own succulents and plant them in a container he is familiar with: a plastic soda or water bottle? It’s a fun craft project to upcycle a liter size into a planter, and decorate it to enhance bedroom or family room decor. If he’s fascinated with sea life, how about a shark?

Here’s the stuff you’ll need to make a fish-themed planter:
–1 empty liter size soda or water bottle with lid, label removed
–markers
–craft foam sheets in 3-4 colors
–non-toxic craft glue
–craft paint and brush (optional)
–fast-draining soil, like cactus potting mix
–pebbles
–3 small succulent plants

Here’s the fun:
Set the bottle on its side. Let your child measure and draw a 2-inch-by-6-inch rectangle lengthwise where the label was removed. An adult should cut out the rectangle. (Tip: use a pushpin to poke a few holes in the plastic on a line for ease in getting the cutting started.) The opening will be the top of the planter.
Use the craft foam to decorate the outside of the bottle to look like a shark. The spout with lid already looks like a fish mouth. Refer to a picture or photo of a shark in a book or online to sketch and cut out shapes resembling a shark’s mouth, eyes, gills, fins and tail. Glue cutouts to the bottle. Add details with craft paint, if you wish. Let dry.
Scoop a half-inch layer of pebbles into the bottle and about 1 1/2 inches of damp potting soil. Plant succulents, sprinkle more pebbles around them and display in a sunny spot.

Let your child care for the plants by giving them a drink of water when the soil is thoroughly dried out.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Skipping through winding trails, spotting leaping frogs along creek beds and counting deer as they pass by the front porch are a few of the adventures in store for 6-year-old Georgia and her older sister, Eliza, when they visit their grandparents’ home nestled deep in the Wisconsin woods. What a delight for city kids from St. Louis! Like a page out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic, “Little House in the Big Woods” (set in Wisconsin), many of the girls’ experiences mirror the lifestyle and pioneer spirit of the late 1800s.

For Georgia, walking on a dead-end road to the rhubarb patch in May to harvest giant leafy stalks and, together with grandmother Nancy, prepare rhubarb sauce to ladle over breakfast pancakes, and bake rhubarb custard pie for evening dessert is a delight.“Georgia is the baker and loves to cook,” says Nancy, a recently retired school administrator. “She washes and dices the stalks, cracks eggs and measures carefully. It’s fun!” she adds. “Cooking together is a way to share a common interest.”

Like the first robin, the greening grass and the budding trees, add “first rhubarb pie” to your family’s “signs of summer” list. Whether you harvest rhubarb from your garden, or find stalks in your grocery produce section, give Nancy’s winning rhubarb custard pie recipe a try with your kids while rhubarb is fresh and in season.

FRESH RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE
Makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
Pastry for 9-inch single-crust pie
1 1/3 cups sugar (add more according to taste)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
3 eggs
4 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
2 tablespoons firm butter
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Fit pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
2. Let your child measure and stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg and dash of salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Beat eggs until smooth.
4. Stir dry mixture into beaten eggs. Add diced rhubarb. Stir.
5. Fill the crust evenly with the rhubarb mixture. Dot with firm butter. (Cover edge with 2-to-3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if you wish. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.)
Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool, and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Note: If you are new to fresh rhubarb, be aware that the large leaves are poisonous.

PAINT AND CRAFT A BIRD FEEDER FROM RECYCLED MILK JUG

Swish! Swish! Swish! The chubby brush goes in all directions on a big sheet of easel paper. “Jameson loves to paint,” says  my niece, 34-year-old mom and athletic trainer Natalie Whitfield. I want to encourage his love for art, so it was time to find something to paint on that isn’t just paper (or potentially our house),” she says with an “I know where this joy of painting could lead” kind of expression.
“How about making and painting a bird feeder?” she thought — and do it the recycling way with plastic milk jug. She and her 3-year-old made a plan for their first big craft project, and went to a store to choose paint and shiny stickers. Supplies for the “roof” became a second outing — a nature-walk adventure to collect twigs. Just the right ones.
The project was a success. “He had a great time painting and decorating, so we decided to make two more for Mother’s Day gifts for his grandmothers,” she said.
Are you looking for simple outdoor projects to enjoy with your kids this summer? A feeder for fine feathered friends is a good starter craft, and together with your child’s creative flourishes, it makes a unique Father’s Day gift, too. (Or, assemble all the supplies to make the feeder, put them in a box and wrap it up with a bow for a gift Dad or Grandfather can enjoy making together with your child.)
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–1 clean, gallon recycled plastic juice or milk jug with label removed and cap on
— standard coffee mug for a pattern
–scissors
–thick wire or heavy twine for hanging
–nontoxic acrylic paint and paintbrush
–waterproof adhesive decorations (optional)
–3-inch sticks
–glue or outdoor Mod Podge
–birdseed
Here’s the fun:
1. Place the mug upside down in the middle of one side of the jug about 1 1/2 inches from the base. Trace the semicircle shape. An adult should cut out the shape with scissors. Repeat on opposite, or all sides.
2. For hanging, an adult should poke two holes opposite each other on the top near the cap. Loop wire or twine through holes.
3. Paint and let dry.
4. Decorate with stickers and glue on sticks for a “roof.” Let dry.
5. If you wish, add perches by poking holes under the “windows” and inserting sticks.
6. Scoop birdseed inside. Hang from a tree or bird feeder stand. As birds come, identify them, take pictures and talk about your sightings.
                                                                

LEMON COOKIE CUPS FOR A TASTY DESSERT

 

              

Dessert is extra-special for kids when it comes in an edible container.

Here’s a cute little lemony crisp cookie cup, ideal for filling with pudding, fresh fruit or ice cream. Top the filling with candles if there is a birthday party in the house.

You also might want to make a batch for a brunch dessert to mimic mini baskets. They’ll be perfect … and memorable with a scoop of icy sorbet nestled in toasted shredded coconut “grass.”

Kids can be involved from the start with this thin cookie recipe that is easy to combine, using just flour, powdered sugar, eggs and lemons. No need for a mixer. So, grab a big spoon, whisk, grater and mixing bowls to get started.

LEMON COOKIE CUPS

Makes 20 cookie cups

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 or 3 whole washed lemons for shaping cookie cups

Position rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

  1. Let your child measure and sift flour and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  2. Use a whisk to lightly beat egg whites in one small bowl. In another bowl, lightly beat yolks.
  3. Add egg whites, yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla to the flour and sugar mixture. Mix well until smooth with a large spoon. Let set 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, let your child draw five 5-inch circles on the back of the parchment paper with a pencil, using a saucer as a guide. Turn paper over, with circles showing through. Repeat for second cookie sheet.
  5. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter in the middle of each of the circles. An adult should carefully spread the batter to fill the shape. It will be very thin. (I use an angled icing spatula.)
  6. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until edges brown. Remove cookies quickly, and with the assistance of your child, form cupped shapes with the bottom sides of the cookies up, using the lemons as molds. Hold them for a few seconds until the shape is set, then place on a cooling rack. (Use a clean towel between your hands and the hot cookie to form the fluted shape, if you wish.)
  7. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serve as individual desserts filled with fruit, pudding, flavored yogurt, ice cream or sorbet.