Saturday, September 29, 2012

Blowing Off A Little Steam in Iceland

Geothermal Springs and Volcanoes!!!!!

Because Iceland is located on the spot where two of the earth's plates meet (the mid-atlantic ridge), the country of Iceland is a place where the Earth is constantly letting off steam.  Ever since being settled, the people of Iceland have enjoyed the naturally heated waters caused by cracks in the earths crust that heat it with the hot molten lava under the surface.  In the 18th century they started to come up with ways to harness this energy into heating their homes and greenhouses.  Now much of Iceland's energy is produced by this natural power!  Not only is this clean energy free, it can be a tourist attraction too!!
The English word "geyser" comes from the real attraction in Iceland, named Geysir, which has been spouting hot water high up into the air for over 10,000 years.  Many smaller geysers can be found all over Iceland, as well as naturally heated mineral pools with crystal clear waters heated to perfection by mother earth!  People come to Iceland from all over to soak in the different pools, many are just for fun but  many are said to have medicinal purposes.                                                                                  
Doesn't that look heavenly?!?
But the most impressive form of geothermal energy is the
VOLCANO!!!!  In the last 200 years more than 30 volcanoes have erupted in Iceland.  The most recent one was at Grimsvotn in May 2011, but the one I bet you remember was 2010.  It had a name I'm sure you remember - Eyjafjallajokull.  Say that 3 times fast.  Ha, say that once!!  It's pronounced AY-uh-full-ay-ho-kul and it was known worldwide because it's ash plume made it impossible for planes to fly in Northern Europe for several weeks.  However, in Iceland it was only considered a minor volcano! 

See? No big deal.(yeah right)
So we set out to make our own Eyjafjallajokull.  My original plan was the old vinegar and baking soda experiment but it never really fizzed the way I wanted so I won't bore you with videos of rather failed volcanoes.  After wasting 1/2 a bottle of vinegar, we decided to go a different route - the Mentos Volcano!!!!!
Science Project:  Mentos Volcano (Mt. Mentos?)
For the project you will need:
  •  bottle of diet coke or coke zero (works the best and not sticky)
  • pack of mentos (any flavor)
  • paper bag to make it (kinda) look like a volcano
Sorry, I don't have a picture of the ingredients like I normally do.
1.  Find an area that you don't mind having diet coke spurted all over.  You know, a neighbor's back yard or the park.  Just kidding, we used our own backyard - I thought the gnomes could be the Icelanders fleeing the lava :)
2. Open the diet coke and place on ground.
3. Arrange the paper bag over the bottle with a small hole in the top so the "lava" can flow out.  Crumble up the bag a little so it looks like a mountain.
4.  Drop about 3 mentos all at the same time into the diet coke and STAND BACK as it erupts :)

Cool huh? That was using a 16oz. bottle of diet coke and 3 mentos but more = bigger.  Want to know the science behind it?  According to //, the invisible gas, carbon dioxide, that makes all soda carbonated, is held suspended by the water molecules in the soda.  When the gelatin and gum arabic on the coating of the candy and the physical action of them being dropped into the soda breaks up these molecules the gas is released and WHOOSH!!! comes rushing out of the bottle, pushing the liquid up and out in an awesome eruption!  Science is cool. 

Iceland was cool too...where to next?!?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Icelandic Food

What's on the menu Iceland?

By now you know the highlight of my week is trying the new recipes from the different countries, well, I had a hard time with Iceland.  They had a lot of recipes that sounded pretty good but the ingredients were a little exotic (puffin and crowberries) or not in season (rhubarb) or too expensive (lamb) so I spent a lot of time looking for something my kids would enjoy!  I think I did it :) AND beets  were involved (gasp)!!

These days Iceland can get fresh grocery supplies pretty easily and the cuisine of Iceland is probably pretty similar to that of the rest of Northern Europe, but before the days of commercial jetliners things were different.  The spring and summer meant lots of fresh berries and hearty vegetables that grew in the gardens, sheep and birds to eat and since it's daylight almost 24 hrs a day- lots of time to fish in the sea.  But in winter, when it gets cold and remains dark for most of the day, the people had to rely on cured meats and fish and canned or dried fruits and vegetables.  Icelanders couldn't be wasteful and only eat the choice cuts of an animal- it was eaten from ears to hoof and many recipes I found had me cringing a little - I am not good with internal organs. If you'd like to check out a great blog I found on Icelandic cooking check out - that's where I found a recipe that really intrigued me - Red Beet Salad, or as I have re-named it - Pretty Pink Parfait (with yummy surprise ingredient)!

Red Beet Salad (or Pink Surprise?)

My daughter used to LOVE vegetables but these days I can't get her to eat anything (is this a common 5 yr old problem?).  I grew up having pickled beets pretty often (maybe because both my parents were from Wisconsin) and I really like them, but my husband and kids make the yucky face whenever I serve them.  Well, beets were pretty common in a lot of the Icelandic recipes so I'm doing it - and I don't think they are going to mind a bit (as I write this they haven't tried it yet - I promise to update)
For the recipe you will need:
  • 1 can or jar Pickled Beets
  • 1 large sweet apple
  • a little of the beet juice
  • lemon juice - I used 3 T lemonade mix (I only had 1 old lime)
  • 1/2 pint whipping cream
  • sugar- I used about 2 T
1.  Combine the cream, sugar, lemon, and enough beet juice to make it pink and whip until soft peaks
2. Chop beets and apples into small cubes and add to cream mixture. 

 That's it and know what?  I couldn't even tell there were beets in it and it was GOOD!!  I might even serve it as dessert instead of a side dish like it was suggested :) 


Another Icelandic treat!

Another little treat we tried from Iceland was Skyr.  What, you might ask, is Skyr?  It is the very delicious yogurt of Iceland.  One website (I can't remember which one anymore) was upset that people compared it with yogurt, saying it was different, but it was basically a thick, strained yogurt made from cow's milk.  Since most of the water is removed from the milk to make it, it has more protein than regular yogurt and is usually only very lightly sweetened so it is a very healthy food.  The brand we found (at Mollie Stones, a supermarket similar to Whole Foods) was Siggi's and it had only 4 ingredients - skim milk, agave nectar, vanilla and active cultures.  It was a little expensive when compared to the other yogurts but some of them have 28 grams of sugar and only a few grams of protein.  The vanilla skyr had 14 grams of protein, 9 grams of sugar and 100 calories - a pretty healthy breakfast for a picky kid like my daughter and then I don't feel as bad about serving her sugary whipped cream with her beets.  Whatever, I don't feel bad about it anyway- SHE'LL EAT  BEETS!!!!!

*revised later that evening - she ate ONE bite the little stinker! My son followed her lead without even trying it but my husband, brother and I all thought it was pretty good.  My husband even thought it was jello bits at first.  She did love the yogurt at least :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Learn Icelandic in 5 Easy Steps...NOT!!

So You Want to Learn Icelandic?

Well, I 'd love to be able to teach you, but WOW, what a hard language!! They have a different alphabet with some special letters that my keyboard doesn't have :)  I'd try to spell them out phonetically for you but I thought an even easier idea would be to just link you to this YouTube video .  If you are really interested in learning this language that has remained almost unchanged for over 1,000 years, then this is how to do it!  I will, however, tell you that most Icelanders speak very good English, as well as a few other languages like Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.   

Monday, September 24, 2012

Iceland, Who knew?

Adventures in Iceland

“What?” you say, adventures in Iceland?! How adventurous could Iceland be?  Well, surprisingly it looks like a very fun country that no one ever really knew about – well, I never knew about it.  Located near the Artic circle, where the Atlantic ocean meets the Artic Ocean, Iceland is an island nation of about 320,000 people.
 On the map at 64.13N/21.9W, Iceland is almost halfway between North America and Europe.  The most sparsely populated country in Europe, it has glaciers, steaming natural mineral baths and erupting volcanoes, oh, and beautiful, amazing scenery!!  The capital city of Reykjavik is home to over 60% of the population and is a modern, safe and culturally-rich big city with symphonies, operas, gourmet restaurants and fine shopping.  However, drive 30 minutes away and you can feel like you are the only person in the world.  Ok, so it must be cold right?  I mean that’s why they call it Iceland!  But no, I was surprised to learn that it’s not usually any colder than New York or Minneapolis in winter – average temp is about 31 degrees F, and the summers are usually mild too, with temps in the 70s.  Here are a few other surprising things I learned about Iceland –

·        It was the last European country to be settled permanently, around 874 AD by Vikings from Norway.

·        Iceland has one of the longest life expectancies and highest qualities of life in the world.

·        Its people drink more Coca- cola, go to the movies more often and own more books per capita than any other country.

·        The people believe in elves and have even rerouted some roads to avoid disturbing elf communities. How awesome is that?!?

·        Over 70% of the energy used in Iceland comes from either geothermal or hydroelectric power which means the country has almost no pollution.

·        The water is so clean and pure that it is piped directly into the homes with no treatment necessary.

·        Iceland has the oldest democracy in the world – it was first developed over 1000 years ago.

·        Iceland has no Army, Navy, or Air Force (it does have a Coast Guard) and the country has free healthcare and education for all of its people.

·        And this one is fun – the people of Iceland have no last names that they pass down.  A child is given a first name and their “last” name is their father’s first name followed by son or dottir (daughter).  So, in Iceland I would be Jennifer Michaelsdottir but my brother would be Ryan Michaelsson and my father would be Michael Dennisson.  Probably makes things kinda confusing I’d think, but apparently it works for them J

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thatsa Italian!

How to Speak Italian (well, a little)

So,  we’ve  had a great week in Italy.  We ate some good food, learned a little about a great man and painted a masterpiece.  We should probably have learned a little of the language first, right?  Well, I’ll try to do that next week but I was just so excited to get to the food J.   So let’s learn some basic phrases in Italian – you’ll need to clear the space around you and make sure your hands are empty so you can use big gestures!  If I offended any Italians, I’m sorry,  but I think that is a pretty accurate stereotype (with a few exceptions, I’m sure).  Ok, ready?

Hi – ciao        welcome – benvenuto      thank you – grazie     goodbye – arrivederci
Good luck – buona fortuna        (and my favorite)      I Love You – ti amo  
1 – uno        2- due       3- tre       4 – quattro        5- cinque
6 – sei          7 – sette      8 – otto      9- nove       10 – dieci

There, now you are that much closer to speaking Italian!!! 

 Arrivederci!  The family and I are going camping for the weekend- hope you have something fun planned as well  - Jenny

P.S.  I'll leave you a clue about next week - there's a big volcano and the singer Bjork is from there (she's the only person I can think of right now) 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Leaning Tower of Pisa Experiments

The Leaning (oops) Tower of Pisa

I think almost everyone has seen the picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Did you ever know why it was leaning?  No?  Good I’ll tell you.  The tower is actually the campanile (bell tower) of the cathedral for the city of Pisa.  They started construction on the tower in 1173 and it was going just fine until they got to the second floor.  Oops, it seems the foundation was not strong enough to hold all the marble they were using and the ground was too soft on one side.  Bet somebody got fired for that one!  Anyway, they  had some battles to fight so they stopped construction for almost 100 years.  While they were waging war, the ground settled and firmed up so they decided to keep going and try to compensate for the tilt by building the upper floors taller on one side!!  So the tower is not only tilted but curved as well J  Guess the building inspectors in 1272 were pretty lenient.   Another round of battles meant construction was again halted until 1319, when a new architect was brought in.  Finally, in 1372, the bell chamber was added and the tower was complete.  Not bad, it only took a couple of hundred years to build a totally lopsided, tilting tower J

Can You Build It??

We thought it would be fun to try to build our own Leaning Towers.  We wanted to see how tall we could build on a tilted foundation, so we got out the blocks….
They each got a box top with a crayon under one end to simulate the tilted ground.  Then the race was on to see who could build it the highest before it tipped!

Steady as you go, it's harder
than it looks!

Depending on how you judge, the winner was my son for longest lasting structure

OR my daughter for tallest tower!  This tall one fell a few seconds after I took the picture!!

One thing we learned though :
the FOUNDATION makes all the difference!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bonus Recipes from Italy!!

2 Bonus Recipes for You

You are so lucky :)  Because I love you all for looking at my blog and well, just being supportive, I am giving you even more yummy Italian recipes!!  The reason I even have a blog is because of my friend and neighbor - Stephanie O'Dea.  A few years back she decided to embark on an adventure/new year's resolution where she used her slow-cooker EVERYDAY FOR A YEAR.  Really, she did.  Her blog, A Year of Slow Cooking , became super popular and led to cookbook offers and now she is starring in the Ninja Cooking System infomercials :)  Cool, huh?  Anyway, she did all this and more (click on her link to see all her other accomplishments) while raising her 3 kids and being a great mom.  So, I am using her as my model to be a working stay-at-home mom AND stealing one of the recipes from her website to cook for you.  Actually, I changed an ingredient or two and I bet mine is even better :)  Should we have a crock-pot cookoff challenge?!

Pasta Fagioli - Slow-Cooker style

For the recipe you will need:

  • 1 lb. mild italian sausage.  Ours were in casings but I cut them off and chopped up the sausages
  • 1/2 large onion - chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 celery stalks - chopped
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes in juice or one box of Pomi Italian tomatoes- never tried them before but Italian tomatoes are supposed to be more flavorful
  • 1 can kidney beans - drained and rinsed
  • 1 can white beans - drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups beef broth - I used 3 cups beef and one vegetable cuz that's what I had
  • 1 jar (gasp) pasta sauce or a few cups of homemade sauce. I'm really not a sauce snob - I'm just kidding :)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 T Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt or more if you used sodium free broth like I did
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 c dry pasta - I think I used more and it was a bit thick but still super delicious!
1.  I have a small crockpot (4 qt) so I divided the ingredients and froze half for another meal.  Stephanie suggests 6 qt or larger.
2. Brown the sausage on the stovetop (or if you get that new Ninja cooker from the infomercial you can do it in the same pan)
3. Chop up carrots, onion, celery and put in crock.  Same with the beans, tomatoes,.....actually everything except the pasta goes in the crock!
4.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hrs or high for 4.  About 40 mins before you want to eat it add the pasta - I started mine at 9 am and we ate it at 4 (because it smelled so good and we had an ice-cream social at the school at 6) 

Everyone (except my daughter who doesn't eat red sauce) really enjoyed it - especially with some parmesan cheese on top and some crusty bread on the side!!  Thanks Stephanie for the delicious recipe!

Bonus #2 - Panna Cotta with Berries
This recipe is all over the websites so I'm not crediting any one person with it.  It is very creamy and delicious and was super easy to make! You will need:

  • 1/3 cup fat-free milk (I'd have to imagine 1 or 2% would be fine also)
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin (.25 ounce)
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 granulated sugar or sugar substitute if you're diabetic
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1. Pour milk in small bowl, add gelatin and let sit for a few minutes
2. In saucepan, put cream and sugar and bring to boil - stir to dissolve sugar. 
3. When boiling, pour gelatin/milk mixture into cream and stir completely and constantly for one minute. 
4. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
5. Pour into 6 individual ramekins or one large one (I don't have six ramekins) and let cool uncovered on the counter. 
6. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 4 hours. 
7.  Decorate with fresh berries.  Hand everyone a spoon and ENJOY!!!!!

 My son doing an excellent job decorating it (he only ate HALF the bowl of berries)

   Isn't it beautiful!!! Can you see where I hid the bite I took with a berry?
I was afraid we would eat the whole thing so I asked the neighbors to try it...guess they liked it :)

Mangia! Some Authentic Italian Food

mmmmmm, Italian Food!!

Close your eyes and think of your favorite Italian food.  It wasn't hard to come up with one was it?  That's because Italian foods like spaghetti, pizza, and lasagne seem almost as American as apple pie. But as a true Italian (which I am not) would tell you - jarred pasta sauce is not REAL pasta sauce.  Not like Mama would make :)  So we will get a recipe for an authentic, homemade pasta sauce AND, since my daughter doesn't like red sauce, we will make a Carbonara!  You are so lucky to be reading this!  Quick, tell everybody you know!! 

But first, a little history on Pasta.  I had always heard that pasta was brought to Italy by the explorer Marco Polo on his journeys to China - WRONG!  Apparently that was a myth.  Pasta has been mentioned in writings from Italy since the 1st century AD, and the dried version we know today has been around since the 8th century.  The dried version seems to have been introduced by the Arabs to Sicily during one of its many invasions and quickly became an Italian staple since the climate is perfect for growing the durum wheat used in pasta.  Now the tomato is a different story.  They WERE brought to Italy by explorers.  Not Marco Polo from China but Christopher Columbus (or someone on his crew) from the New World.  But alas, they were still not eaten until much later because they were thought to be poisonous, the plant is a member of the deadly Nightshade variety.  It wasn't until around 1839 that the first mention of pasta with tomatoes was documented.  Wonder who was brave enough to try it first?  Tomatoes soon became very popular and the rest, as they say, is history..........

Cooking Project: Tomato Sauce and Pasta Carbonara

As I mentioned before, my daughter won't eat red sauce (even though for the first 3 years of her life she LOVED it - but that's another story we won't go into here), so I found a great website called Real- Italian - Recipes. com where you can go and find some very delicious sounding sauces.  I especially thought the Italian Tomato Sauce with Tiny Meatballs  sounded delicious.  Please give it a look if you are in the mood for sauce like Mama (again, not my Mama- we aren't Italian) used to make.

We ARE going to make the Pasta Carbonara recipe I found on the site though- because it has Pancetta, which is like bacon, and my family loves BACON!

 For the recipe you will need:
  • A few tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 lb. thick cut Pancetta - cut in chunks  OR thick cut bacon
  • 4 eggs
  • Grated Pecorino or Parmesan (we're using Parmesan)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni) we cooked the whole bag and it was perfect amount for 4 people.
1. Heat oil to medium heat in large frying pan and add Pancetta - don't let it burn - should be pink with golden edges- or it tastes bitter.  Once done, turn off heat and let cool.
2. Start you pasta to cook in lots of rapidly boiling salted water. The directions are on the label for cooking times.
3. Mix eggs in bowl and add cheese and a pinch of salt.
4. When pasta is cooked add to pan with pancetta.  Add raw egg and mix it all together on low heat for 3 to 5 minutes- just until egg is cooked and coating pasta. 
5. Give it a dash of pepper and some more cheese and ENJOY!!!!!!

A real kid-pleaser!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Leonardo da Vinci - A Man of Many Talents

The First Renaissance Man

The art and architecture of Italy is world famous.  Who has never seen the Mona Lisa, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa? There have been many artists, during many periods of art, that have come from Italy, but one man stands alone - Leonardo da Vinci.

 Born in 1452, in Vinci, Italy (hence his name - Leonardo of "Vinci"), he was a just a boy of 15 when he was apprenticed to a painter in Florence.  His talents quickly became apparent and he soon created his own style of painting using very subtle hues and shadows.  But painting was just one of his talents, he was also a mathematician, scientist, anatomist, sculptor, musician, writer, engineer, and inventor!! Some of his inventions were flying machines, bicycles, and weapons that no one believed could actually ever exist.  Many of his inventions were never built and, in fact, he was so easily distracted by his many different interests that he had trouble completing many of his projects.  His curiousity and intellect led him to discover many talents and become the example of what is known as a "renaissance man" - someone who is good at many different things. 

We took a look at one of his most famous paintings - the Mona Lisa.
Started in 1502, the painting was commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo, who wanted a portrait of his wife Lisa to celebrate the birth of their third child.  The word "Mona" was used in those times as a short form of Madonna, or my lady.  Leonardo da Vinci never actually gave the painting to the Giocondos and kept fiddling with it for the rest of his life.  Ours was done in about 30 minutes but, as you can tell, we left out a bit of the wonderful detail and up to 30 layers of paint that make the original so special. 

Art Project: Mona Lisa (kinda)

For the project you will need:

  • paints (I highly recommend washable)
  • canvas or white cardboard or paper
  • variety of brushes
  • artist pallette or plate to mix colors
  • picture of the Mona Lisa (I got a sample set of different paintings a few years ago - one of those free gifts and then you join the club to get more.  I never joined but if you are interested go to
We studied the picture for awhile and decided the important parts were the lady, especially the eyes and hands, and the background.  My daughter drew it first in pencil and then painted it- mixing her own colors and coming up with her own ideas.  I think she did a great job and SHE thinks she can sell her painting for a lot of money - gosh I sure hope so!!
A Masterpiece!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Week 9: Let's take a tour of Italy!!

Buongiorno from Italy!

Ahhh Italy, I can see myself now, frolicking in the waves of the Mediterranean or roaming around the ancient ruins of Rome...yeah, I wish.  My reality is loads of laundry waiting to be done and kids wanting my attention 24/7 - and I LOVE it but wouldn't it be wonderful to have a nice little Italian vacation?!  I think Italy is probably the easiest country to find on the map - it looks like a leg with the foot kicking a rock!  Fun.  Nicknamed "Bel Paese" or beautiful country, Italy is always on the top of the list for tourists.  You can visit buildings built in ancient times and museums that hold countless priceless works of art.  You can see the destruction that Mt. Vesuvius caused to the city of Pompeii or see why a strong foundation is the most important part of a building (the Leaning Tower of Pisa). 

You can ski in the mountains or swim in the sea - it's up to you in Italy.  Rome, the capital, was founded in 753 BC! Here in America, where the "old" buildings are about 300 years old, I cannot even comprehend how exciting it must be to LIVE with that much history all around you.  To find Rome on our latitude/longitude maps the coordinates are 41.54º N/ 12.29ºE.  Rome is one of  20 different regions in Italy, others I'm sure you've heard of - Veneto, Sicily, Tuscany, and Umbria to name a few.  Each region has its own attractions and food specialities so to really visit Italy you need to explore.  And exploring is another thing Italy is famous for.  Christopher Columbus, who, of course, "discovered" America  is from Italy and Marco Polo, who brought the treasures of China back to Europe.  Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli - just a few of the wonderful artists that Italy has produced.  This will be a busy week.  Let's get going!!! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A few last tidbits about Brazil

A little Brazilian Portuguese...

Since Brazil was a Portuguese territory for many years, the national language of Brazil is Portuguese.  They, however, have a slightly different way of pronouncing a few words so their dialect is called Brazilian Portuguese.  Here are a few phrases you can learn...

good morning - bom dia      good evening - boa noite

thank you - obrigado (if thanking male) obrigada (if female)

beautiful and marvelous - lindo maravilhoso

hi, how are you? - oi, como vai? (que the Santana - if you have no idea what I'm talking about than you are missing out on some great music )

A few other tidbits you could do ...

  • Soccer is the most popular sport in Brazil, they have the largest soccer stadium in the world and have won the World Cup 5 times!  So go to the park and kick the ball around , or if you really want to learn the game, this book -Everything Soccer Book  has everything  you need to know (it says so right in the name)!
  • Have you seen the movie Rio ? The opening sequence is my favorite- all the birds of the rainforest doing a synchronized song and dance!  Love it and it has a nice message about saving the animals of the rainforest without being preachy.
  • There are many great books at the store and library about the rainforest.  This is a good one about saving the trees- The Great Kapok Tree.
  • While we're talking about saving trees - have you seen The Lorax?  It has nothing to do with Brazil but is a good example of what would happen if we cut down all the trees.  I'll admit it, I cry at the end everytime I watch it (many times already)
  • (Another good segway) The Brazilian rainforest has over 3000 different fruits and many of them are super healthy.  This Brazilian Superfood is one that we tried this week-Zola Acai Berry juice .  I usually get a lot of guff when I try to bring home "superfoods" since sometimes they taste kinda, well, healthy - but this was gone in 2 days and was really tasty AND loaded with anti-oxidants and omegas. 
  • Finally, if you'd like to learn more about Brazilian Portuguese, this book promises to teach you -Everything Brazilian Portuguese Book!

I hope you all enjoyed Brazil and get a chance to try some of the fun and games we did this week!  I really would enjoy reading some of your comments- I opened up the comments section so that ANYONE can post a comment and not just subscribers or people with a google profile.  See you next week................

Friday, September 14, 2012

Brazilian Rainforest: Who, What and Where?

The Brazilian Rainforest

No area in the entire world is more important to our future than rainforests.  The Amazon rainforest, in Brazil and some surrounding countries, is the most diverse rainforest in the world.  Sometimes called the "lungs of the planet", the plants of the rainforest create almost 20% of the world's oxygen through photosynthesis.  Over 100 prescription drugs already come from plants and over 3000 plants are known to be active in fighting cancer cells - and that is with less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants having been tested.  There is soooooo much more to be discovered. Unfortunately, the rainforests are being cut down and burned to make farmland, cattle grazing land, or to sell the wood for timber. 
500 years ago there were over 10 million Indians living in the rainforests, but now there are less than 200,000 and as we lose them we lose the knowledge they have of the medicines they use.  The destruction of the rainforest is hurting everyone but as the countries figure out that harvesting the nuts, fruits and plants is more profitable and renewable than cattle lands and wood, the destruction is slowing down.  Conservation has tripled since 2002 and deforestation has slowed down by more than 50%.  Great news for all of us, but especially the many, many species of animals that make the rainforest their home.

There are so many living things in the rainforest.  It is said that 1 out of 10 known species live in the Amazon Rainforest!  There are 2.5 million species of insect - not TOTAL insects- SPECIES of insects!! YIKES!! At least 40,000 different plants, 2,200 fish species, 1,300 bird species, 427 different mammals, and 378 types of reptiles.  And that is just the already discovered ones!  Some of the animals you've heard of, like the Squirrel monkey, the toucan, anaconda and jaguar.  But do you know what a Capybara is? Or an Ocelot? How about a caiman or tomato frog?  We found a great website, that shows all the pictures and has lots of great facts.  And we decided to make a Tropical Rainforest parrot for our next project.

Art Project: "Recycled" Rainbow Macaw

For the project you will need:

  • Feathers
  • An empty juice bottle
  • Styrofoam Ball
  • Cardboard tube and flat cardboard for wings and tail
  • Pins
  • Tape
  • Glue or spray adhesive
  • Googly eyes or eye stickers
1.  Take cap of juice bottle and push styrofoam ball so that it sits on bottle neck (like any good head should)
2.  Cut tube into a beak shape.  Make top a little longer and then bend it over like a parrot beak.  I put a little snip on either side and glued it so it looked like this. Leave a little tab on bottom and top so you can pin it to the styrofoam.

3. Pin beak to styrofoam and tape some wings on either side of body and a little flap on back to attach tail feathers.

4.  Wasn't sure if glue would stick to the plastic so we used spray adhesive and sprayed all over bird.  Also, glue + feathers + kids = BIG MESS so the spray glue was a little neater.
5.  Sort your feathers by color so you don't have to dig for the color you want. This was a great project for the 3 year old!

6.  Go to it and decorate your beautiful Rainbow Macaw!!!

Polly want a cracker?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Brazilian Food You Should Try

Brazilian Food - YUM!

We've had a busy few weeks, my daughter started Kindergarten and we had a few other things going on, so when I looked at the recipes for Brazilian food and saw that many of them needed lots of prep and long cooking times I was kinda bummed.  I wanted to make the national dish, Feijoada, which is a black bean stew with different meats and sausages in it.  I wanted to make some of their different filled rolls, a dessert, etc. etc. but I just didn't have the time.  Luckily for me, we live in such a great area that I was able to find a Brazilian restaurant that had all that wonderful food already prepared!  Yeah for America and Viva Brazil!!  So off we went, my mother and I, to Cafe di Casa in South San Francisco.  A tiny little hole in the wall that was PACKED with people - always a good sign.  Feijoada was the special of the day, so we ordered that and some coxinha, which were pear shaped fried pastries filled with shredded chicken in a mild sauce and cream cheese.  We also ordered an empada, a little hand pie with similar chicken but no cheese.  The people in the restaurant we all so friendly (which was good since we were shoulder to shoulder) and told me all the other things on the menu I should try another time, but we had enough for now, so we went home and had our feast.
Starting from the top , we have Feijoada over white rice, below that some collard greens, the pear shaped pastry is the coxinha and the round pastry is the empada.  The food was milder than I had expected - personally I like a little more spice.  The pastries were my favorite and I was really surprised by the collard greens.  I've never had them before and they were a little bitter but really good.  The feijoada was nothing special- black beans with meat.  I kinda expected more from the national dish, but I'm glad I tried it. The kids, however, took one look and declared that they didn't "like" Brazilian food!  Maybe their tastebuds are tired of all the travels :)
Little did they know I had some yummy surprises in store.  Ones that wouldn't take all day to prepare....

 Cooking Project:  Pao de Queijo- Brazilian Cheese Bread

For this delicious chewy roll you will need :
  • 1/2 cup olive oil or butter
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups tapioca flour (this is gluten free if you are sensitive)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese
  • 2 beaten eggs
1. Preheat oven to 375º
2. Add first 4 ingredients to saucepan and heat to boiling. Remove from heat.
3. Add tapioca and garlic, mix well and set aside 10 mins.
4. Stir cheese and eggs into tapioca mixture and mix well.  Hands were required - it got pretty messy :)
5. With your goopy hands, scoop up about 1/4 cup of dough and place on ungreased baking sheet.
6. Bake 15-20 mins or until golden brown.

They are sooooo good warm but still pretty good room temperature!
They were perfect for an after school snack with our next project -

Brazilian Lemonade (Limeade?)

This recipe was on a few different websites and they all referred to it as lemonade but it doesn't have lemons?!  Oh well, when in Brazil....  for the recipe you will need:
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 cups water
  • ice
1. Cut up limes and put them into blender, peel and all
2. Blend them up pretty well. Add rest of ingredients except ice and blend well.
3. Pour through strainer into glass full of ice.....aaah, summer :)
Try this recipe for your next lemonade stand!! Limeade stand?! - Brand - 120x90

Monday, September 10, 2012

Take a Little Trip to Brazil !!

Ola from Brazil!

Well, here we are in South America, in a country with the greatest biodiversity of any country in the world.  In a country that is home to 60% of the Amazon rainforest, as well as, grasslands, swamplands, prairies, redwood forests and famous beaches - Brazil.   On the map, the capital Brasilia is located at 15º.48S/ 47º.54W.  If you look at South America, Brazil is by far the largest country and, also, the longest at 2800 miles from top to bottom.  Brazil is home to most of the Amazon river, where 20% of all the world's fresh water flows through it's tributaries and estuaries.  The country is the world's largest producer of coffee, sugar, and alcohol and also has a few other titles to be proud of:
  • Most species of Monkeys in the world
  • Has won the Soccer World Cup more than any other country- 5 times! Also has the world's largest Soccer Stadium!
  • 100% Energy dependent and one of the leading producers of hydroelectric power (makes sense with that big river)
Brazil is an interesting country so let's get a little history.  The first people were the Indian natives who still live in the country in more than 651 Indian reservations.  The Yanomami have the largest numbers with around 18,000 members.  The first European settlers came in April, 1500, when Portuguese sailor Pedro Alvares, landed on the shores.  They named the country for the Brazilwood trees that were found along the shoreline.  These first immigrants produced sugar and found some gemstones and gold, but soon a major discovery of gold and diamonds brought many more immigrants.  Soon, coffee plantations were adding to the wealth and bringing even more immigrants.  The Queen of Portugal and her son fled to Brazil to escape Napolean in 1808 and, even after the Queen's death and the end of Napolean's reign, the Prince (now King) stayed on until 1821.  He chose to leave his son Pedro behind to rule Brazil.  Well, his son must've really like Brazil, because a year after his dad left, he decided to declare Brazil an independent country and appoint himself the Emperor! Lucky for him his father peacefully agreed and Brazil was now independent from Portugal.  It was a monarchy until 1889, when it peacefully (again) became a Republic.  After a few periods of military rule, Brazil became a democracy in 1982 and has been one since. 

Project 1:  The Brazilian Flag

The flag of Brazil is pretty cool.  On the surface it looks like a normal flag, but it is an astronomy lesson, a history lesson and a geometry lesson, if you really want to stretch it :)  The flag is a green background with a yellow diamond on it.  Inside the yellow diamond is a dark blue circle with stars and a banner - nothing special right?  What I wouldn't ever have known without doing this blog, is that the stars on the blue circle are the constellations that were seen over Rio de Janiero on November 11th, 1889.  That was the night that Emperor Dom Pedro II was deposed and the Republic of Brazil was declared.  How cool is that?  If you want to know the names of all the constellations you can find the info on, along with other cool facts! The banner across the "sky" reads "Ordem E Progresso" which is Portuguese for Order and Progress.  And progress we will - onto the project!

For the project you will need:
  • Green, yellow, blue and white construction paper
  • stars - here is where a star hole punch would be handy.  I don't have one so we used 27 silver stickers
  • glue and scissors
1. Cut a yellow diamond (see? geometry.) and glue it to the center of the green rectangle.  Also cut a blue circle about 6" in diameter.
2. Glue blue circle to center of yellow diamond
3. Cut a small white banner that can go across circle about 3/4 of the way up. This should say - Ordem E Progresso
4. Now the astronomy part - place 27 stars (symbols of the 27 states of Brazil) in the exact constellations that were seen on November 15th, 1889.  Got it?  OR, you can just randomly stick them all over the bottom of the circle with one above the banner - kinda how the real flag looks to the untrained eye :)
There you go, now you are all set for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil!  And you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge of Brazil :)