Drizzle + Paint Gingerbread Cookies

Mmmm, gingerbread cookies. After making our salt dough ornaments (and having one of our friends try to eat one…yikes!), we thought it was high time to make real, edible cookies. My mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe is truly the best one I’ve tried, but when I discovered that the Gingerbread Cake and Baking Mix from Trader Joe’s could be adapted to make cookies, and all I had to do was add an egg + butter, I was sold.

We rolled out the dough, selected our favorite cutters, and cut our shapes. If you’ve never made gingerbread cookies, give yourself an hour to chill your dough before you plan to work with it. Even with refrigeration, the dough is pretty sticky and required a fair amount of flour to keep it flexible and off the counter.

I filled a piping bag with royal icing (dry hard icing). My MIL uses more of a buttercream frosting, which is delicious, but I thought we’d have some fun “painting” with the royal icing. Most of the royal icing recipes you’ll find ask you to make it with raw egg whites, but I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I’m feeding these sugar bullets to kids! Instead, I used meringue powder. I happened to have some in the pantry, but you can find this at specialty groceries and Michaels craft store (so I’ve heard). And low and behold, it can be found on Amazon.

Recipe for Royal Icing

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

I fit the disposable piping bag with a small, round #4 tip, gave my daughter a few suggestions on how to hold and squeeze the bag, and let her go to town. We started with white icing, and then I mixed the remaining icing with all natural yellow food coloring on my daughter’s request.

Once the icing firmed up, we moved the cookies to a nice, clean plate where we could admire our handiwork.

And eat some cookies.

Mmmm, I hate to say this, but these gingerbread bites rivaled those from the original recipe.

I picked up three more boxes today. Yum yum.

Next up: Ginger Bread Houses!

What are you baking for the holidays (with or without the kids)?

Feel free to add a picture with your comment!

 

 

Make Easy Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 1

Raise your hand if you’ve made or plan to make salt dough ornaments this season! Yep, I see a lot of you out there. It seems we’re not the only ones, but in case you haven’t committed to this yet, I have one piece of advice for you: While the recipe is simple, give yourself some time!

This is a 2-part post. In the first part I’ll share a salt dough recipe with baking instructions and in part two, I’ll share my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

I used this recipe on ParentDish by Anna Ranson, who blogs at The Imagination Tree.

Salt Dough Ornament Recipe

This salt dough recipe is the easier ever with just three ingredients that you probably already have. Double or triple the recipe for more ornaments.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • up to 1 cup of water.

I mixed the dry ingredients and then added a full cup of water. Gulp. Did you catch that bit about adding up to 1 cup of water? The dough was sooo sticky, so I kept adding equal amounts of salt and flour until the dough held together without sticking to my hands. Okay, back on track…

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

My 3 year old and I both rolled out some dough and got busy cutting shapes with our favorite cookie cutters. I also gave her a small bowl of flour (you can barely see it at the top of this photo) for her to flour her workspace at will. She loved that, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before. Her ornaments are less than perfect, but she proudly made them herself. Awwwww.

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

We followed Anna’s suggestion of using a straw to add a hole in each shape that we could later hang a ribbon through. Of course N saw no good reason to stop at one hole per ornament. And why should she?

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

The next step is to bake them at 100 C for 2-3 hours. OMG — just caught that it was Celsius, and here I was cursing my oven for not going below 170 Fahrenheit. Haha! Now I know why it took, literally, all day to bake these. Okay, so I could have just put my oven at 212 degrees and it wouldn’t have taken forever.

Bake your Salt Dough Ornaments

Bake at 212 F or 100 C for 2-3 hours, or until hard.

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

After they were dry, N sorted all the ornaments into hearts, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread men…and then, of course, her little sister stepped in to mix them all up.

Salt Dough Ornaments | TinkerLab.com

Ready for painting. To see how we painted them, click over here for Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2.

“E” is for Experiment

My bloggy friend Deborah over at Teach Preschool just reached her 20,000th Facebook fan. Can you imagine? TWENTY-THOUSAND! She’s awesome in so many ways, and is especially extraordinary in that she runs a preschool and also finds/makes/squirrels away time to tweet/facebook/blog and generally keep the whole online preschool community together in one special place. Not to mention she’s one of the kindest bloggers out there.To celebrate this big social networking milestone, Deborah invited her early childhood education friends to contribute a letter, in the form of a blog post, to the “ABC’s of Teaching Preschool.” Given the nature of my blog, “E” for Experiment is what I have for you today. Oh, how I love a good creative experiment!

So can you imagine my surprise when I spotted this very truck TONIGHT on our evening stroll? The kids were in the wagon, happily playing with handfulls of leaves, and I did the biggest double-take. Circled back down the street and snapped this shot.

Serendipity, right?

Experimentation is at the heart of learning. When children are curious about something new they may ask about it, test it, try to figure it out, look at it from a different perspective, fail, or try something different. Last night I watched my almost one-year old work at putting a lid on a bottle for close to ten minutes. She flipped it over, moved her hand to get the right grip on the lid, missed the mouth of the botter, made contact, succeeded, put it down to clap (!), and then did it all over again.

About eight times.

Experimentation.

Here are three of our all-time favorite kitchen experiments–a little sample of what makes us happy at Casa TinkerLab. There are MANY more — just type “experiment” into the search bar and see what comes up! If you have a favorite experiment, I’d love to know what it is — by no means have we exhausted the possibilities.

Corncob Popcorn Experiment

Perfect for fall. Collect some dried corncobs and pop them in the microwave.

The Butter Experiment

Grown-ups may have to do most of the work, but the results are pretty spectacular.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This project is so much fun that you’ll want to buy a gallon of vinegar in preparation for the requests for “more.”

If you’re not already a Teach Preschool Facebook fan, click right here and join the 20,000+ party.

Permanent Markers on Cellophane

We received these amazing permanent markers (Project Popperz), courtesy of Elmer’s, and I’ve been dreaming up ways to use them. This is actually almost as simple as it gets, and N got a huge kick out of “drawing on the table.”

Materials

  • Permanent Markers
  • Cellophane (I used Cling Wrap)

I covered her art table with cellophane, being sure to overlap the edges by a few inches so the marker wouldn’t poke through the cracks and onto the table. I could have done a neater job laying the Cling Wrap flat on the table to avoid all those bumps that acted like little roadblocks toward the markers. But, it still worked.

Then we opened the markers and started drawing!
We used every color and scribbled away until we decided to switch seats.
N added more marks and then we were ready to hang it.
I simply peeled it off the table and placed it right on the window. No tape necessary! I bet you could also put the cellophane right on the window/s before drawing to give your child the opportunity to draw on the windows. That would be fun! But be sure those window are well-covered first!

I love projects that are easy, use household materials, and change the way we think about art-making. A+ in my book!

Painting on Ice Cream

If you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance that you’re in the middle of a terrible heat wave. While I can’t make it cooler (sorry about that), I’d like to offer up this cool lesson in color mixing…and it all happens right on top of a chilly scoop of ice cream, sure to help you forget the heat for at least 5 minutes.

Tools

  • Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Food Coloring. Because I like to keep it natural, my new favorite food coloring is India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors. They’re pricier than supermarket food coloring, but they last a long time, the colors are wonderful, and you’ll feel good about feeding your family with natural coloring.
  • Bowls
  • Ice Cream Scooper (optional)
  • Assorted sprinkles and syrup (optional)

Drop food coloring directly onto the ice cream.
Blend it around in whatever way you like.
After you marvel at the rainbow colors on your ice cream, pour on the jimmies, rainbow sprinkles. colored sugar or syrup. Yummy and cool.

Enjoy!

Shopping for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

This magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it; but man will never on his heap of mud keep still.  — Joseph Conrad

Did you know that yesterday was International Mud Day? One of my fondest childhood memories is pretending to feed my friend Alexandra’s cat the ooey gooey mud pies we made in her garden, and my hope is to instill my own child with a similar joy for mucking around and being comfortable in nature…and mud, even!

I wrote about our new Mud Pie Kitchen two weeks ago, and since it’s still a popular place to hang out I thought we could move into phase two of our kitchen remodel and talk about mud pie kitchen accessories.

This, of course, involved an educational trip to the Goodwill for some new tools and appliances and N was eager to go.

Thrifting for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

My two little kids and I scooted quickly past the fragile knick knacks and dishes (phew!), and made our way to the metal and wood aisle. N picked out everything you see in the basket while I acted as her guide, making suggestions and occasionally vetoing her choices (she really wanted that pizza wheel up there, which was smartly taped off).

The biggest score was a pink and blue plastic toy called the Fluff Factory, which you can see buried in her basket. It was reminiscent of a meat grinder, and I couldn’t wait to find out what its original purpose was. It turns out that it’s used to fill teddy bears with fluff. How awesome is that? N had no idea of its purpose, but she saw potential in it and I love that even more!

 

Setting up the Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

When we got home there was the requisite costume change into the tutu bathing suit (for her, not me) before unveiling the new pots and pans. And while these new goods were for our MUD pie kitchen, it was all water play without a speck of mud in sight. N loved her new coffee pot (just $3!), kid-sized REAL frying pan, and of course, the Fluff Factory. To accomodate our expanding collection of dishes and such, we added some more counter space, which helped tremendously.

She spent the rest of the afternoon pouring water and dropping flower petals into the little factory and turning the crank to push the water through. Problem solving at its finest. Oh, and maybe next time we’ll actually play with mud!

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Ideas

  • Crates
  • Old Tables
  • End tables (they can act as stoves and fridges)
  • Wooden spoons
  • Small pots and Pans
  • Shiny Dishes
  • Jell-o molds
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Buckets
  • Large Tub (to act as a sink)
  • Nearby hose

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Tips

  • Shop for materials at a second hand store. You never know what you will find, which can help you (and children) see the potential in surprising objects.
  • Involve children in the design of the kitchen. Purchasing her own kitchen supplies raised N’s eagerness to use them. She talked about playing with her new pots all the way home and couldn’t get into her bathing suit fast enough.
  • Include interactive Tools that can work like appliances

See our Mud Pie Kitchen Series

How to Set Up a Mud Pie Kitchen

Mud Pie Kitchen Ideas

 

How to Set Up a Mud Pie Kitchen

This may not look like much, but we’ve been testing our mud pie kitchen and getting a fresh perspective on what works. It used to reside in another part of our yard, and I thought that moving it might make it more accesible. And it did!! I fashioned the stove/sink from two wooden crates I found at a craft store last summer. Next, mud pie tools were gathered from our sand box: buckets, bowls, and a jello mold picked up at a second hand store for a dollar. We got the measuring cups at our last trip to IKEA, and carried pots and pans outside from the indoor play kitchen.

I filled the big green tub with water and we called it the “sink,” and N got busy making soup. She owned the kitchen right from the start and there was no end to what she wanted to create.

The sink got muddy pretty quickly, so she requested another pail full of clean water. Some kids love the mud, mine tolerates it.

The kitchen was set up next to some flowery bushes, which made for a convenient food pantry.

She carefully pressed flowers into the mud like sprinkles on a cake. The contrast was gorgeous. We started this pretty late in the day, and she would have played out there all night if she could have. She actually told me that she wanted to skip dinner because she wasn’t hungry. So I guess the whole test kitchen thing went well!

When she was all done, we poured the dirt back into the ground and the kitchen is ready for our next cooking adventure.

What I learned about making a Mud Pie Kitchen

  • The Mud Pie Kitchen is an incredible way to encourage imaginative play, which can lead to creative thinking, curiosity, and experimentation
  • The kitchen does not have to be elaborate to work
  • It should be child-height
  • It’s nice to have multiple levels or surfaces to work on
  • Set it up directly in or next to dirt/mud/sand
  • Have a water source nearby
  • Fill a large container with water
  • Useful tools: spoons, bowls, spades, colander, pitcher
  • Use real kitchen tools to reinforce that play is work (to children, it is!)
  • Include something fancy like a jello mold
  • If there aren’t natural materials nearby (like flower petals), forage for them ahead of time

See our Mud Pie Kitchen Series

Mud Pie Kitchen Ideas

Shopping for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories