Homemade Elder-Blossom Nectar

Inspiration for our HOMEMADE ELDER-BLOSSOM NECTAR came from one of my favorite children books, “Linnea’s Almanac” by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. L rediscovered the Linnea books a couple weeks ago and has been poring over each page. In the July section of the book is a recipe for Elder-Blossom Nectar. Since I had never made it, but always wanted to, we got to work! The very day we came across the recipe, we spotted an Elder Tree on one of our outings! How lucky were we!?! A few days later, we went on an early morning adventure and harvested the Elder blossoms.

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Ingredients:

  • 25-30 Elder blossom clusters
  • 1-2 lemons
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1 quart water

Before you harvest Elder blossoms, you want to make certain that you have the right type of tree. There are other blossoms that are similar, poisonous Elder and poison Hemlock, but are not the same. True Elder blossoms will be on a tree. The white flowers are in big, flat, round clusters that have a strong, sweet smell. (see pictures below) Poisonous Elder grows in pointed clusters that are yellowish-green and they do not have a strong scent. Poison Hemlock has a very different, fern-like leaf shape, and it grows more like a weed…not a tree.

 

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Once you find your Elder tree, you’ll want to cut off 25-30 flower clusters. Have your kids help you count the flowers, inspect them with a magnifying glass for fun, and put them in a large jar.

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Next, back at home, slice your lemon and add it to a pot with the water and sugar. Heat the mixture to a boil, then carefully pour it into the jar with your Elder blossoms. Cover the jar and let it sit for three days.

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While the nectar is setting, time to find and clean some bottles! You want to make sure your bottles are well washed in preparation for the nectar.

After three days, it’s time to bottle your nectar! Opening the lid, you won’t believe the sweet aroma that’s been bottled up inside! (I have to admit, I cheated. We opened the jar everyday to smell our nectar…it was just so tempting!)

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First remove whatever blossoms and lemon pieces you can with a fork or spoon.

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Next, tie a cheese cloth around the top of your jar. Strain the nectar thru the cheese cloth, pouring it into a large pitcher.

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From here, you pour the nectar into the clean bottles or jars you’ve prepared. Make sure you fill the bottles to the top and secure the lids tightly. If done properly, your nectar will last for six months in the refrigerator. After you open a bottle, you’ll have to devour the contents within a month…no problem there! It’s just so good!

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Uses and Recipes:

We use our nectar similar to other syrups or honey.

  • First we made a cold, summer drink by adding 4 tablespoons of the nectar to a quart of water. Yum!
  • You can make a warm, milky, tea-like drink as well. Stir together 1 teaspoon of nectar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 cup of milk for each person. Warm the mixture in a saucepan and pour it into a teapot. (This tea is perfect for summer night tea parties, while watching the stars, lightning bugs, and bats come out!)
  • You can also drizzle your nectar on pancakes or over hot oatmeal or grits for breakfast. Delish!

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Bjork, Christina and Lena Anderson. “Linnea’s Almanac.” Stockholm: Raben & Sjogren, 1982. Print.

DIY Toy Sail Boat

One evening this summer, while we were getting ready for bath time, L pulled a wine cork out of her pocket. She had been saving it all day to float it around and play with in the bath tub. That got me thinking…I knew with a few toothpicks and some leaves we could turn her wine cork into a little sail boat! Leaves work great for this project, because they’re naturally water-proof and easily replaceable!

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Materials needed:

  • 2 wine corks
  • 4 toothpicks
  • 2 leaves
  • old pencil
  • scissors

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Take one of the wine corks and stick three toothpicks into it, all pointing in the same direction in a line.

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Next, push the second wine cork into the opposite ends of the toothpicks.

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Stick one more toothpick vertically into the middle of one of the corks.

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Find a medium-sized leaf and weave it through the bottom toothpicks. We used a balloon flower leaf. This step isn’t necessary, but it makes a nice lil bed for anything you may want to sail on top…a bug, a rock, a fairy friend.

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Next, find a slightly larger leaf and thread it onto the vertical toothpick, making a sail. We found the hosta leaves to work best for this, though any thick and sturdy leaf will do!

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To make the sail boat safer for little hands, twist an eraser off the top of an old pencil. Cut it in half with scissors and push it onto the top of the sail.

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Now, time to play! L had hours of fun blowing her boats around our rain barrel!

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The boats may not seem like much, but ours withstood some submarine plunges under the water and lasted through two nights of bath time play! Tomorrow, we’ll replace the leaves and keep sailing!

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Enjoy!!!

Lemonade Play Dough

We love scented play dough at Our Beautifully Messy House and summertime is the perfect time to make LEMONADE PLAY DOUGH!

I came up with this recipe a couple weeks ago, while mixing up some play dough to take with us on vacation to the beach. And the kids LOVED it!!! It’s always nice having play dough handy for any down-time whether you’re at the beach with family or you’re having friends over for a play date.

I’ve tried making citrus-scented play dough in the past with lemon extracts and oils, but that summery lemonade scent never comes through. Adding a packet or two of lemonade mix did the trick…it was super-quick and easy and smells delicious! I suggest using a sugar-free lemonade mix (Crystal Light brand works great!) so your play dough doesn’t get super sticky with the added sugar.

When I made our lemonade play dough I wanted to make both yellow and pink dough, so I split the dough and added the food coloring before kneading it. The colors came out just fine! This play dough takes only a few minutes to make, but stored in a gallon-sized bag or an air-tight container, it’ll keep for nearly a year! This recipe makes plenty for 2 or 3 kids to play with!

My tip to keep your kids entertained playing with play dough for longer: Start off with plain play dough. Let them play 15 or 20 minutes, then throw some glitter into the mix. Once their attention starts to drift, add some colorful beads or buttons. Add some measuring cups and kitchen utensils, some lil plastic dinosaurs or army men. Just don’t give them everything at once, instead add to the play dough in intervals…works every time!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups + 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.5 cups boiling water
  • food coloring
  • 1-2 packets lemonade mix

First, put the water on to boil. Add a few drops of food coloring to the water (yellow or pink). As the water is heating up, mix 2 cups of flour, salt, cream of tartar and one packet of lemonade mix in a large mixing bowl. Then add and mix the vegetable oil into the flour mixture. Once the water is boiling, add it to the bowl and mix with a spatula. The dough will be a sticky mess while warm. Mix it as best you can, then let it cool off. After a few minutes cooling off, sprinkle your working surface with some of the remaining flour. Dump the play dough onto the flour, adding more flour to the top, and knead the dough. Continue working with the dough, adding a bit of flour as needed, til the dough is not sticky anymore and you’ve reached the desired consistency. If you like, sprinkle in another packet of lemonade mix to dough! Yum yum, Summer!!! Enjoy!

DIY Toy Catapult

What kid (or adult) doesn’t love launching things through the air? This DIY TOY CATAPULT takes only minutes to put together and your kids will play with it for hours…days even! I love how kids naturally experiment while playing with this toy. Even as young as three, L was moving the can (the fulcrum) around, placing the balls in various slots, and went on to launch her toy parachute, as well as her shoes! So much fun!!!

 

 

Materials needed:

  • yard stick
  • can of food
  • egg carton
  • scissors
  • hot glue gun
  • permanent markers (optional)

 Things to launch:

  • ping pong balls
  • pom poms
  • -cotton balls
  • DIY Pocket Parachute
  • plastic figurines (fairies, dinosaurs, army men)
  • marshmallows or cereal (to catch in one’s mouth)

First, cut your egg carton in half.

Using a hot glue gun, glue the egg carton onto one end of your yard stick. (Don’t worry…when your kids are done playing with their catapult, the egg carton and glue should peel right off the yard stick! I take ours apart every time we’re finished playing with it!)

 

Next, number your egg carton slots and your ping pong balls. This step is optional, but it makes it easy to keep track of what ball goes the farthest and which slots you’re putting things into…especially if you’re launching multiple balls at once!

 

The set-up of your catapult is easy…just place the can on it’s side in the grass (keeps it from rolling) and place the yardstick on top. Fill the slots with your projectiles!

 

 

Now, time to play!!!

Launching balls…

 

 

 

 Parachutes…

 

 

 

 

 And L’s shoes…

 

 

What will you all send flying through the air???

If your kids like the catapult, they’ll definitely love making POCKET PARACHUTES…another “make something from nothing” craft! Enjoy!

 

DIY Citrus Stamps

How cute are these DIY CITRUS STAMPS we made this week? They really were simple to make and the outcome is adorable…perfect for Summer! L and I stamped t-shirts, tea towels, and a pillow case for her bed. Just think of the possibilities… You could use this stamping technique to brighten-up party invitations, gift bags, skirts, shorts, a tablecloth, shower curtain…the possibilities are endless (and sweet)!

 

 

 

Materials needed:

  • an orange, lemon, & lime
  • tea towels, t-shirts, etc.
  • knife
  • acrylic or fabric paints
  • flat, plastic lids or plates
  • paper towels
  • parchment paper

If you need to, iron your tea towels or t-shirts first! Protect your work area with parchment paper. (Usually I use cardboard or old newspapers for projects, but with this one I didn’t want the texture of the cardboard to effect the stamping and I didn’t want newspaper to discolor my cloth. Parchment paper was perfect!)

Next, cut your orange, lemon and lime in half with a sharp knife. If you like to, cut a little “handle” in each fruit half…makes stamping easier, especially for kids!

 

Turn the fruit over onto a paper towel, to soak up some of the juice from the fruits.

Next, squirt your paints onto plastic lids or plates.

Dip the sliced fruit into the paint. Blot it onto a paper towel, if there appears to be too much paint.

 

And press the fruit gently onto your cloth. Too easy, right!?

 

We experimented and made some of our tea towels patterned, while others we stamped randomly. The random was definitely our favorite…a little more carefree, like all things “summer” should be!

If you have some prints that are more solid looking (a bit too much paint), don’t fret…just overlap another fruit in another color on top! It will look like you planned it that way all along!

 

Instead of stamping an entire tablecloth, you can just stamp tea towels and overlap them as we did here. Looks great on their own or with a solid tablecloth underneath!

Too cute, huh!?! Enjoy!!!

 

Splatter Paint Fun!!!

While SPLATTER PAINT FUN! can be done anytime of the year, we thought it would be an exceptional craft to do on the 4th of July! This can get messy, so be sure to cover your work area with old newspapers or, better yet, take it outside! I helped L with the cut-outs, but let her do most of the splattering on her own. It’s so much fun splattering paint, I bet you’ll want to join in the fun too!

Materials needed: 

  • toothbrush and/or kitchen scrub brush
  • paint
  • construction paper
  • old cereal box
  • scissors
  • old newspapers, towels, etc.

First, cover your work area with old newspapers. After all, the paint will splatter!

Next, cut some fun shapes out of your old cereal box. We did some wavy stripes, stars, and a city skyline for the 4th of July.

Lay the shapes atop your construction paper. You can do all the shapes at once or, as we did, layer them.

Next, dip your toothbrush bristles into paint. Facing the toothbrush downwards (bristles facing the paper) have your kids run their fingers along the bottom of the brush splattering the paint. When splattering around shapes, the more the better!

 

 

After splattering is complete, remove cardboard shapes carefully.

If layering paint and patterns, you can now lay more shapes down and splatter with a different color of paint.

 

 

Experiment! Have fun! Make messes!

 

 

 

 

 

With the kitchen brush, we didn’t “splatter” necessarily. (But you could!) Instead, L dipped the brush into paint and then pushed the bristles down on her paper to make her own, unique fireworks display! So cute and easy!

 

 

For more fun painting ideas check out our page “10 New Ways to Paint“! Enjoy!!!

Fairy Doors and Gnome Doors (#2)

After making a fairy door out of sticks and hiding it in our neighbor’s garden last Summer, L and I thought we’d spread the fairy love a little farther this year…we’ve been making FAIRY DOORS and GNOME DOORS and hiding them all around town! It’s so much fun surprising the young and the old — just imagine the look on anyone’s face when they’re out in the garden and suddenly discover a teeny, tiny door that wasn’t there before. Ha! These fairy doors are so simple to make and all you need is rocks, paint and clear sealant (which is optional). To draw a little more attention to the fairy doors, we like to leave a tiny button or painted rock trail as well.

 

Materials needed:

  • medium-sized rocks
  • acrylic paints
  • clear sealant spray (optional)

After cleaning any dirt off your rock, start by painting on a door.

Next, add some windows, if you have room.

If adding any glitter paint, apply that next. We like to paint a little glitter over our windows.

Next, outline the door and windows carefully with black paint. Add a doorknob as well.

 

 

Now for my favorite part, paint connecting black lines on the rock, resembling a stone wall.

If you’d like to add a flower pot or lil window box, add one now.

Finally, finish with some green vines, leaves, and flower details.

 

Once all your paint is dry, you can spray the rocks with a coat of clear sealant to make the fairy doors even more weather resistant. Permanent paint usually doesn’t wash away, but I always like to add a coat of sealant just in case.

Now for the real fun…time to hide your fairy doors and gnome doors. (Gnome doors go on trees, generally speaking.)

 

 

I like making some of our fairy doors to resemble our neighbor’s front porches and gardens…

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!!!

 

See also this DIY for fairy furniture!

 

Fizzy Ice Chalk Fun

After we made “Homemade Sidewalk Chalk” the other day, I couldn’t wait to make some FIZZY ICE CHALK as well! I looked around online and found all kinds of recipes and methods for ice-chalk and fizzy or erupting ice-chalk. L and I experimented and tried all the tricks…we added some of our own variations, and I’m happy to share those that worked best! I suggest making FIZZY ICE CHALK in the morning on a hot summer day, let it set-up for a few hours, and bring it outside to play with in the afternoon. We have a few batches sitting in our freezer right now, just waiting for a lull in the action so we can bring it outside to play with again. This time we made lots so there’d be plenty for the neighborhood kids to play with as well! We can’t wait!

 

Materials needed:

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • food coloring (or tempera paint)
  • 1 cup water
  • measuring cup
  • silicone molds (or ice tray)
  • spoon
  • toothpicks
  • vinegar
  • spray bottle, squirt bottle, or infant medicine dropper

Using a measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup cornstarch with 1/2 cup baking soda. Mix together with a fork or spoon.

Add 1 cup water and mix gently, but thoroughly.

Next, carefully pour your mixture into the silicone molds or into your ice tray. If you don’t have either available, you could use paper cups as well!

Add a few drops of food coloring or a squirt of tempera paint to each mold. (We tried both…the food coloring mixed better, but both worked fine!)

 

Using toothpicks, carefully mix each color.

 

Put the molds into the freezer for a few hours, til they set-up completely.

Before bringing the ice chalk out to play with, prepare your vinegar. You can put it into spray bottles, into squirt bottles (empty dish soap bottles work great), or pour the vinegar into small cups paired with a medicine dropper. All are great for little hands and developing motor skills…L’s favorite is the medicine dropper method!

After the ice chalk is thoroughly frozen, bring it outside to play! One page online suggested painting the sidewalk first with water…we tried it, but didn’t see much benefit in having the pavement wet. We had more fun coloring with the chalk on dry pavement! Experiment with it though…see what works for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the kids are finished coloring (if they can wait that long!), it’s time to bring out the vinegar. Spray or squirt the vinegar onto the ice-chalk and the ice-chalk pictures to watch it sizzle, fizz and erupt! This is definitely everyone’s favorite part!

 

 

Take a moment to talk to your kids about chemical reactions and the result of a base (the baking soda) and an acid (the vinegar) coming together. L always likes to taste how salty the baking soda is compared to the sour smell of the vinegar. Summer science fun…I just love it! Enjoy!!!

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk

Making SIDEWALK CHALK is so fun and easy, I doubt we’ll ever buy it from a store again! I’ve seen multiple DIYs on making chalk, but they all seem to use toilet paper rolls lined with wax paper or foil…some big complicated mess. I decided to use our silicone molds (the ones we only use for crafts) and the chalk popped out easily, plus it took on some fun and funky shapes! HOMEMADE SIDEWALK CHALK can be made in less than 10 minutes, but it takes 2-3 days to set completely…so give yourself plenty of time!

 

Materials needed:

  • Plaster of Paris
  • tempera paints
  • water
  • silicone molds
  • paper or plastic cups
  • plastic spoons or craft sticks

First, protect your working area with some newspaper.

The recipe for sidewalk chalk is pretty simple: 50% plaster of paris, 50% liquid (water + paint).

You can measure it out precisely: 1 cup plaster, 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup paint; or you can do what we did and just “eye ball” it.

Fill up your disposable cups about halfway with plaster.

Add a good squirt of paint.

Then add water. And mix.

 

Once you have all your chalk mixed up, carefully pour it into the silicone molds.

If you want to mix colors, making a funky tie-dye effect, fill your mold about halfway with one color. Then carefully pour other colors on top.

Set your sidewalk chalk aside for a full day to dry. I suggest placing it near an air vent in your house to speed up the process.

 

 

After a day has passed and the chalk looks dry, gently flip the molds over and release the chalk onto some wax paper. (If the chalk is still moist, you can try drying the chalk with a hair dryer too.)

Once the chalk has been removed from the molds, put it aside for another day or two for the chalk to set-up and dry completely. (As you can see, our yellow mixture may have been a little too moist on our first try…it was still sticky when we took it out of the molds. We let the yellow dry for a day longer than the rest, and it colored just fine!)

Now, time to play!!! Aren’t the colors beautiful? Brighter than any sidewalk chalk I’ve ever seen!

 

 

 

Enjoy!!!

 

Patricia Polacco’s THUNDER CAKE RECIPE

“Grandma looked at the horizon, drew a deep breath and said, ‘This is Thunder Cake baking weather, all right. Looks like a storm coming to me.'”

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If you haven’t read the book “Thunder Cake” by Patricia Polacco, get yourself to the library or a local book store and get your hands on a copy pronto…you and your kids will love it! The story centers around the author and her grandmother (her Babushka) and the summer storms she feared as a little girl, at her grandmother’s farm in Michigan. I’ve loved reading this book ever since I was a little girl and now L adores it as well.

With the summer heat and thunderstorms we’ve been having lately, I decided it was definitely time to try our hand at baking some real Thunder Cake for ourselves! It’s fun to make memories with your little ones and read this book as your Thunder Cake is baking in the oven…the perfect activity for a lazy, stormy, summer afternoon. It really seems like magic to smell the chocolaty cake baking in your own home as the little girl and her Babushka are putting theirs into the oven as well!

The recipe calls for 1 cup of shortening; we used what we had — 2 sticks of butter  — and the result was still wonderful! With the secret ingredient of pureed tomatoes, the flavor of this chocolate cake is very unique, but very moist and delectable as well. I suggest serving your Thunder Cake with extra strawberries…they pair so well with the hint of tomato and make the desert complete!

As instructed in the book:

Cream together, one at a time…

  • 1 cup shortening (or 2 sticks of softened butter)
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated (Blend yolks in. Beat whites until they are stiff, then fold in after the tomatoes.)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup fresh, pureed tomatoes

Sift together…

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (We used all-purpose, Gluten Free flour.)
  • 1/2 cup dry cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix dry mixture into creamy mixture.
Bake in two greased and floured 8 1/2-inch round pans at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
Frost with chocolate butter frosting. Top with strawberries.

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We used this chocolate buttercream frosting recipe because I had all the ingredients on hand and it was quick and easy. Feel free to use your favorite chocolate buttercream recipe in its place!

Enjoy!!!

Polacco, Patricia. “Thunder Cake.” New York: Scholastic Inc., 1990. Print.