MAKE “WORLDS BEST GRANOLA”


Homemade granola is tasty to eat any time of day, but in our family it’s a staple for  breakfasts with nonfat plain yogurt and fresh fruit. Not only is granola a nutritious start to the day, with its wholesome blend of heart-healthy oats and chopped nuts, but a handful makes a satisfying after-school treat with a glass of milk, and a few spoonfuls add crunch to a scoop of ice cream for an evening dessert.
Granola is so easy to prepare that you and your kids can make this recipe in a jiffy — just under an hour. While one child measures and stirs together the dry ingredients in a big bowl, another can measure, pour and stir the liquids in another. Combine all of the ingredients in the big bowl, and voila! The just-sweet-enough mixture is ready for you to spread on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Give it a try and see why the fresh taste of this homemade granola rivals any packaged mixture.

“World’s Best Granola”
Yield: About 5 cups
Ingredients:
–3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
–1/2 cup brown sugar
–1 teaspoon cinnamon
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/2 teaspoon salt
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
–1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
–1/4 cup canola oil
–1/2 teaspoon vanilla
–2 egg whites, slightly beaten
–1/2 cup raisins

Here’s the fun:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Step 1: Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nuts in a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Stir together the oil, vanilla and egg whites in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and toss well.
Step 3: Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely; stir in raisins and store in an airtight container.
Note: If you wish, substitute 1/4 cup pure maple syrup and 1/4 cup honey for the brown sugar, and combine with liquid ingredients before tossing with dry ingredients.
Creative tip: Let kids draw a label to tape or glue to the outside of a plastic storage container or glass jar. It might say “The Johnsons’ World’s Best Granola.”

MAKE BROWNIE MIX IN A JAR



It’s a handmade and homemade kind of holiday season this year.
If there are still some people on your gift list you wish to remember with a little something, or you need some grab-and-go hostess gifts on hand for parties and get-togethers, create this “from your kitchen” gift idea in an afternoon this week.
Be sure to get your kids involved in making this creative go-to stash of gift jars filled with the dried ingredients for making super chocolaty, chewy and moist brownies. A throwback kitchen craft, this updated version is fun to assemble with even your preschooler. What 4-year-old doesn’t like to scoop and pour? That’s what building the layers of brownie ingredients in a jar is all about as they work to create an artful gift of yummy ingredients.


Here’s how to make a “Brownie Mix in a Jar”:
1. Assembly-line fashion, set out the ingredients, including clean, wide-mouth quart-size jars and lids, on the kitchen counter or a large table. Place a measuring spoon or measuring cup by each ingredient, along with a card stating the name of the ingredient and the correct quantity to scoop into each jar.
2. Layer the following ingredients, in the following order, for one recipe. Pack firmly before adding the next layer. (Use a narrow drinking glass to tamp down ingredients.)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup baking cocoa powder
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup small, unwrapped candy, such as M&M’s (optional)
3. Secure lid, add a gift tag and a card with these baking instructions:

CHOCOLATE BROWNIES
Makes 6 large brownies
Heat oven to 350 F.
Grease or line the bottom of an 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
Pour contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and add:
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Stir lightly until blended, then pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes.
Cool in pan, cut into squares and serve.

CRAFT-FELTED AUTUMN ACORNS


Felting “acorns” using fluffy natural wool is a relaxing and enjoyable fall activity for all ages. It’s especially suited for young children who like to get their hands in soapy water to shape and change the structure of the soft wool into dense felted wool balls.

The material used for making the soft balls is called wool roving, available at some craft stores, yarn shops or online (resources below). It is wool that has been cleaned, combed and sometimes dyed. You’ll discover that the lovely colors are so inspiring; it’s hard to choose favorites.

Use real caps from fallen acorns you’ve foraged from your yard or on nature walks for these stunning, artful creations. You’ll be gluing the felted acorn balls to the caps. For a variation, drill two tiny holes through the acorn cap and thread a string for a felted acorn necklace, make an ornament to hang on a tree branch, or hang several in a windowsill. So many possibilities!

Here’s the stuff you need for a 1-inch felted acorn:
— a piece of 2-inch-by-6-inch slightly stretched out wool roving
— small bowl of hot water with a drop or two of liquid soap
— hot glue gun or glue suitable for fabrics
— a large acorn cap

Here’s the fun, using a hands-on “wet felting” technique:
1. Roll up the first inch or so of the wool, then twist slightly and continue rolling it into a tight ball. Smooth the loose end over the ball. It will be about the size of a large cotton ball, but will become half the size as fibers eventually mesh.

2. Wet the ball with the soapy water. Toss it back and forth from hand to hand over the bowl while occasionally dipping it in the soapy water. (The soap changes the pH of the wool, and helps the fibers to open. The hotter the water, the faster it felts.) Be gentle, and continue rolling it around in your hand. You might want to elongate the ball shape to match the original acorn size as you move it around.

3. Rinse the ball in cold clear water. Gently squeeze out water. Let dry overnight.

4. Glue acorn cap to the felted ball.

Note: If you wish to paint the acorn cap, do so before attaching to the felt ball.
Online resources: livingfelt.com and joann.com.

MAKE BAKED APPLE RINGS AND MICROWAVE APPLESAUCE

 


Baked apple rings are a tasty and nutritious snack you can make in your own kitchen on a chilly fall day. We use zesty apples that friends share with us from their backyard trees, or we buy them at farmer’s markets and apple orchards.
The drying process concentrates the sweetness of the apples, making them an ideal snack food to grab between meals or to include with trail mix on a hike or bike ride. Enjoyable for adults and kids to make together, you also can turn any leftover raw end apple pieces into chunky applesauce in just minutes in the microwave.

BAKED APPLE RINGS
Makes about 50 rings depending on apple size
4 firm apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 250 F.

Prepare pans. Place wire cooling racks on two large baking trays. Or line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

An adult should core and cut the apples in 1/8-inch rings using a sharp knife or mandolin. There will be extra irregular-size pieces on the ends. Snack on them as you work, or save for making microwave applesauce (see recipe below).

In a shallow dish, stir together lemon juice and water. Set prepared baking trays on the counter by ingredients. Young kids will enjoy dipping each slice into the lemon mixture and setting them on a rack or parchment paper. Edges may overlap slightly.

Bake rings until dried with a leathery texture, about two hours. (If using parchment-paper-lined pans, an adult should flip the rings over after 1 hour and return to oven for additional hour.)

Remove from oven and enjoy! Cool before storing.

Extra idea: For added flavor, sprinkle a mixture of 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar over the rings before baking.

MICROWAVE CHUNKY APPLESAUCE
Makes 2 servings
2 cups apple chunks from cored apples of one or more varieties, peeled or unpeeled if you like (red peels may give your applesauce a nice rosy color)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a deep microwave-safe bowl.

Cook, uncovered at full power for 5 minutes. Remove and stir well. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Use a potato masher or whisk to mash and stir the apples into the liquid.
Cool and serve or refrigerate.

TASTE TEST APPLES AND MAKE A REFRESHING WALDORF SALAD

Minnesotans think of themselves as not being particularly boastful. But fall is in the air, and one exception is when it comes to the humorous question, “How do you like them apples?”

We love them, and we take pride in the fact that the popular Honeycrisp was developed in our state years ago. Now, the latest addition to this romance with new apple varieties is First Kiss. A child of the Honeycrisp family, and developed by the University of Minnesota, it was promoted as the “first kiss of autumn” at the Minnesota State Fair this summer. Eager to grab a taste, I stood in a long line at the apple booth to buy one. It was worth the wait. I took a bite and thought, “Whoa … this IS an exceptional apple!”
Would friends and family agree? A First Kiss taste test with other favorite varieties would answer that question. So I put together this entertaining apple-tasting game.

First, I purchased six varieties of apples, both to compare with First Kiss and to match apple names with tastes. Cut into bite-size chunks, I set the apples on separate plates numbered 1-7. (I kept track on my hidden “answer key.”) For reference, I listed the names of the seven apples in alphabetical order on a sheet for all to see.

To play, the “testers” wrote numbers 1-7 on an index card. They tasted samples on each plate and wrote what they thought was its correct name next to the corresponding number on the card.
For extra fun, I asked them to star their favorite.

This was a tough assignment! Even though the participants have been chomping on apples for years, comparing apples to apples revealed subtle differences — a challenge indeed! Not surprisingly, First Kiss was a hit.
You might want to do a similar “apple taste test” game using your family favorites and regional varieties to discover the apple of your eye. Then, get inspired and cut up additional apples for this refreshing Waldorf salad, a tasty side to a fall meal. Mix crisp apple chunks with crunchy, healthy ingredients, and toss with a homemade dressing featuring a sweet hint of honey.

WALDORF SALAD
Serves 4-6
2 cups crisp apples in chunks, unpeeled
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup halved red grapes
1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/4 cup raisins

Dressing:
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1. Lightly toss apples, celery, grapes, walnuts and raisins in a bowl.
2. Whisk together dressing ingredients until smooth. Toss with salad ingredients. Serve chilled.

GIVING IS REWARDING FOR PEOPLE AND PETS


It was midafternoon and time to grab a quick, brisk walk with granddog Cali around our city lake. Approaching the concession stand by the boat dock, I was about to make an abrupt move to avoid the area knowing Cali would go bananas and pull me by her leash in a tug of war in her pursuit of popcorn that people had dropped on the ground from overfilled bags.
Just as I was making a move to veer from the crowd, a young boy came up to us and said in a kind voice, “Would your dog like a treat?”
“Perfect timing — she would love a treat!” I said.
He introduced himself as Anders, then continued, “They are made with peanut butter, and so far, the dogs around here have loved them!” He explained that his sister, Hanna, and their friends Lucy, Charlotte, Rosie and Holiday baked and brought them to the lakeside park to share.
“Hey, Cali, forget the popcorn and hot dog bun crumbs!” I said as Anders gently offered her the homemade biscuit. “You’re in for something special!”
Curious, I talked to Holiday’s mom, 45-year-old Anne-Marie Fischer, an early-childhood family educator, who was on the sidelines as the kids offered their treats. “Providing school-age kids opportunities to share and help others in a selfie-obsessed world is worth the time and effort as a parent and teacher,” she said.
“They also made homemade dog toys for the Humane Society using recycled T-shirts,” she added. “We gathered the simple supplies, had fun crafting the toys and delivering them together. It was such a meaningful group activity. There were benefits for the kids in the creating and socializing, as well as the giving.”
Are you inspired to make playful toys for your own dog, or for the Humane Society in your community? Get started on a fall weekend day with your kids and friends. It’s easy, fun and rewarding for both people and pets.
MAKE A ROPE TOY
1. Cut nine lengths of 1-inch-by-25-inch-long strips from an old large T-shirt. Tie the ends together at one end, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.
2. Separate lengths into three sections (3 strips per section) and braid the sections tightly together. Tie at the end in a secure knot, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.

MAKE COLORFUL CRAYON LEAF RUBBINGS

Fall outdoor rituals are many during these lush months of color and cooler temps. Maybe your family already has established an annual tradition of taking a mini day vacation, like heading to a favorite orchard for a Saturday of apple picking and cider tasting, touring pumpkin farms, walking through a corn maze or hiking in the woods to get exercise, explore and observe wildlife and brilliant foliage.

You can celebrate the season well and create new traditions right at your closest park or in your neighborhood, too. If the fall air beckons your family to get outside for a bike ride or a weekend walk, go for it. Observe the changing images around you, including the colorful leaves drifting and swirling in the breeze. Like the neighborhood boy I overheard saying to his dad as they collected different specimens on their walking route home from the library: “It’s a leaf-y time of year!”

I agree. I can’t resist collecting, preserving, pressing, decorating and crafting with leaves from day trips away from home and walks in my neighborhood. There are so many possibilities — including one of the simplest of crafts for any age: making crayon leaf rubbings on paper.
Once you collect leaves, grab your supplies, get to rubbing and uncover “X-ray” type designs you’ve never noticed before, both graceful and playful.

LEAF RUBBINGS
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
— fresh leaves collected from the ground
— sturdy paper
— a variety of crayons in different colors
— colored pencils (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay a leaf on a smooth, clean work surface. Place paper over it and hold it down firmly so that it won’t move.
2. Take a crayon and rub it over the paper until the shape of the entire leaf is revealed. Discover the outline and skeleton of the leaf as the veins of the leaf protrude.
3. If you use a colored pencil, hold it at a slight angle, being careful not to press too hard so that it doesn’t go through the paper.
4. Make several different rubbings on one sheet. Vary with contrasting colors, if you wish. You might want to identify leaves by writing the name of their tree by each one.
5. Frame the rubbings, or use for book covers, gift wrap, gift tags and notecards.
Extra idea: Rub leaves from your flower and vegetable garden, too. When the design of a small begonia leaf is revealed, your young child might say in amazement: “It looks like a seashell!” Parsley can look dainty and romantic, but what about arugula and kale?

TURN HOUSEHOLD ITEMS INTO JUGGLING BALLS

Running a household requires the skills of a juggler. First come the kids and their schedules, then toss in cooking, cleaning, car repair and pets. As most parents will attest, just when you think you’ve got it, the unexpected comes along to throw everything off balance! Start and stop … the juggling act never ends.

My kids called themselves jugglers too, but for them it was juggling oranges out of the fruit bowl, potatoes from the pantry or just about anything that crossed their paths. Then, with some creative thinking, we came up with some alternatives, like a set of juggling balls.

Much to their delight, we made these handy, sturdy balls in minutes using basic supplies we had in the kitchen.

Here’s how:
Scoop 1/2 cup of uncooked instant rice into a plastic sandwich bag. For heavier balls, you may substitute the rice with dried beans or clean sand. Pinch the bag tightly around the rice, squeeze out any air, make it into a ball shape and secure the ball shape with a rubber band. Cut off the excess plastic bag near the rubber-band knot.

Cut the tip off the neck end of two sturdy, medium-size balloons in contrasting colors. Stretch one of the balloons over the filled bag, making sure the rubber-band side is completely covered. The balloon should fit very tightly. Snip three or four quarter-inch holes randomly on the second balloon. Stretch it over the ball, covering the opening of the first balloon. The cutouts will reveal the color of the first balloon.

Make several balls with a variety of cutout shapes and colors, and let the performance begin! For extra-sturdy balls, add a third balloon. Store your set of juggling balls in an empty and clean Pringle’s-style chip can. Cover with decorative adhesive-backed paper.

Tip: If you are a beginning juggler, practice the moves using three lightweight chiffon scarves. When you toss them in the air one by one, they come back down slowly to help you get the hang of it!

MAKE GIANT ABC’S FOR EARLY LEARNING FUN


Fun times are ahead for preschoolers and kindergartners when you create a collection of hands-on alphabet letters that reinforce sounds and the words they are learning to pronounce, read and spell. Craft the 26 letters, save and use them over and over to practice language learning skills.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–26 sheets of poster board or cardboard, 9 inches by 12 inches
–pencil and markers
–scissors
–assorted small glue-on objects, stickers, magazine cut-outs of items whose names start with the sound of specific letters (see suggestions below)
–glue

Here’s the fun:
1. Draw large block letters for each alphabet letter on poster board/cardboard. Cut out. (Instead of making all at once, consider designing a letter per week. Or start with a few, such as those that spell your child’s name.)
2. Choose a letter together and come up with things that begin with the sound of that letter. For example, the sound “p” in pasta for the letter “P.” Look on your shelf for dry pasta and glue a few pieces on the big “P.”
Here are more simple items with crafty ideas to get you started:
A. Cut a small apple in half, dip dried cut side into paint, and stamp on the A. Or, glue plastic ants crawling over.
B. Buttons, beads and balls on a blue letter B.
C. Candy and candy wrappers on C.
D. Use a cotton swab to glue paper punch dots on D.
E. Crushed eggshells all over the E.
F. Floral fabric scraps and silk flowers on F.
G. Green glitter glued on a green letter G.
H. Print your child’s hand with poster paint on H.
I. Cut a cone and rounds of ice cream from paper to glue on I.
J. Glue a jam label or some jacks to J.
K. Apply lipstick to your lips and smother K with kisses.
L. Glue pressed leaves to L.
M. Draw a picture of your mailbox and glue mail on M.
N. Glue real nickels on N.
O. Glue raw oatmeal and cereal “O’s” to an orange O.
P. Glue popped popcorn to a purple P.
Q. Cover Q with craft feathers. Add a paper beak, eye and feet to resemble a quail.
R. Glue silk or pressed roses on a red R.
S. Glue used postage stamps on S.
T. Cover T with twisted and tangled masking and Scotch tape on T.
U. Draw a ukulele on U.
V. Make a Valentine on a violet V.
W. Glue wood chips to a white W.
X. Glue on pictures of xylophones on X.
Y: Shape and glue pieces of yellow yarn in “Y” shapes on Y.
Z. With zippers closed, glue the fabric portion of recycled zippers to Z. When dry, they can be opened and closed.

SCOOP UP FUN


Make a wonderfully versatile toy for the entire family to enjoy.  These scoops for tossing and catching lightweight balls are perfect for play in the backyard, at a park or especially when you’re at the beach. So when the family wants to play a game of catch, you’ve got that one covered. And when you need a sand shovel, you’ve got that one, too.
Start by fishing around under your sink or in the recycling bin for two plastic laundry detergent bottles.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–Two 2-quart or larger plastic laundry detergent bottles with side handles
–Scissors
–Marker
–Stickers
–Child’s sock (optional)

Here’s the fun:
Wash the 2 bottles and remove any paper labels. With a pair of sharp scissors, an adult should cut off the entire base of each bottle and toss the pieces back in the recycling bin. It’s easier to cut off than it might look. Dig the tip of the scissors into a point along the line of the base and then just start cutting.
On the handle side of the container, draw a big “U” shape with a marker so that the bottom of the “U” meets the handle. The shape should be wider than the size of a plastic Wiffle-style ball and extend to the cut-off base. Again, an adult should cut this shape out. Soften the edges by trimming off and rounding the sharp corners.
Let the kids decorate the two scoops with stickers.

Now you have your ball catchers and great sand shovels. But uh-oh. In the middle of a great game of scooper catch, the ball disappears into an unexpected wave. Is the game over? No!
Remove the lid and cup a sock around the spout of one of the scoops. Pour some sand into the scoop so that it works as a funnel, filling the bottom of the sock. When your “ball” is the size you would like for tossing, remove from the scoop and tie a secure tight knot in the sock. Replace the lid on the scoop.
Stand up, put the sock in one scoop, give the other scoop to a friend, and toss the ball!
If you miss, keep at it. It does take practice, after all.

Tip: If your kids are a little older and are skilled ball players, you might want to consider making the opening of the scoop a bit smaller for more of a challenge. Or, simply start with a smaller detergent bottle.