Shape matters and other popsicle discoveries

Shape matters 3
I made this avocado popsicle in a Tovolo mold. It’s pretty good. In fact, it’s one of my favorite flavors. The first taste is a little jolting — it tastes like a melty avocado, but sweet. That doesn’t seem right. It’s not what I expect in a popsicle. But after that it’s just smooth and delicious.

I made a few little avocado pops with this Zoku Mini Pop Mold, but they didn’t taste the same. Each mini pop is one ounce, and ends up being about the size of a cake pop. I realized after trying the same popsicle in two different shapes that traditional popsicle molds are tongue shaped, and they give you the best taste bud contact. Somehow when they are cake pop shaped, avocado popsicles taste a lot more like avocados and a lot less sweet and creamy — at least to me. For plain old strawberry popsicles, though, these were great.

Shape matters 8
We found a Zoku Single Quick Pop Maker on sale at our local Sur la Table, and made apricot-chamomile ice pops (also from Paletas) in it and then in the Tovolo molds, too.

Shape matters 11
The liquid was still a little warm when I poured it in the Zoku quick pop maker, but it froze in fifteen minutes or so, and the texture was perfect. The same recipe frozen overnight in the Tovolo molds came out grainy, with big flat crystals.

I started out freezing my popsicles in uncovered drinking glasses. The Sur La Table employee who sold us the Zoku quick pop maker told us that when freezing popsicles the traditional way — overnight in the freezer — covering them could give them a better consistency. I haven’t noticed a difference since I started using the molds that come with lids. Both the Tovolo molds and Zoku  mini pop molds cover the popsicles, and I still got one set of popsicles coming out grainy; other batches were great. The drinking glass popsicles were great, too. I wonder if freezing time and sugar levels have more to do with how they turn out.

Clearly I have a lot more learning and experimenting to do.

This week’s links

Mommy Guilt is a Misnomer: “‘Mommy guilt’ is something far more serious and harmful than guilt; let’s stop calling it that.”

Six Words You Should Say Today: “‘… College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: ‘I love to watch you play.'”

So That’s What We’ll Do: Teacher Tom on building a swing with five interested preschoolers.

How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You’ve Never Done Before

We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement

Liam’s Handmade Guidebook:

“I… had him POINT (no forced reading, just point) to pictures of things he wanted to do. No input from me,  no gentle nudges about the excitement of the crown jewels or the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.   If he were in charge of this trip,  what would he do?  Then we made copies of those pictures and he cut and pasted them into a blank book. The result was his own personal guidebook; a completely kid-centric itinerary….

Here are some examples of Liam’s top travel picks:

Find Pippi Longstocking, eat ice cream every day, eat Swedish hot dogs from “korv kiosks”, find a new candy, see the Little Mermaid, see a viking ship, collect Swedish and Danish money, ride the coin-operated public bicycles, go on the rides at Tivoli, visit cupcake shops for a traditional 4pm treat, take a boat to an island, run in a beautiful field.”


Popsicles 1
Paletas de fresa (or strawberry ice pops) in the back row and paletas de yogurt con moras (yogurt ice pops with berries) in front.

Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas FrescasPaletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson

When I was a kid and it was really hot out and our legs were sticking to the car seats, sometimes for a special treat we stopped at the nearest drive-in dairy for big sticks or orange creamsicles. Mostly we ate popsicles at home, though. It seemed like we always had popsicles in the freezer in the summer, and for while we experimented with making our own. We poured whatever fruit juice we had in the fridge into molds and later we flopped around the house sucking on them. Sometimes we just used water. The texture never felt like store-bought popsicles — orange juice froze funny with big flat crystals, other juices felt kind of granular, and the icicles (water popsicles) came out hard, like ice. But I like the memory of wondering what they’d be like and experimenting, and then eating them slowly while reading a book, trying to decide if I liked them or not during the long, boring afternoons.

When I grew up, I didn’t think much about the holidays and changing seasons until I became a mom. Suddenly, they seemed important. Rhythmic, seasonal sense memories seemed like a key part of kid life, and it felt like it was largely up to me to make them happen. For summer, I was going to make popsicles. Last year I ordered a couple of popsicle recipe books and looked at the pictures and fantasized. This year, I got out the blender.

I started with a book that had pictures of healthy kids eating fruit-studded popsicles out in nature. Right away I realized I should have been reading the recipes instead of looking at the pictures when I picked this book out, because it called for ingredients like wheat germ, quinoa, and flax seed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any fond memories of flax seed, let alone fond summer popsicle memories. I tried the most innocuous-looking recipe in the book: yogurt, strawberries, lemon juice and honey. When I gave one of the popsicles to my son, he rejected it and he has refused to try any round, drinking glass-shaped popsicle I’ve offered him ever since. I get where he’s coming from. They tasted like so-so smoothies, and they felt grainy.

Gavin thought getting the texture right might take sugar, so I gave away the first book (along with the bag of wheat germ I bought in an initial wave of optimism) and turned to Paletas by Fany Gerson. Most of her popsicle recipes involve simple syrup, which seemed like a good sign — and it was.

We tried paletas de fresa (or strawberry ice pops) and paletas de yogurt con moras (yogurt ice pops with berries) first. The strawberry ice pops tasted almost like homemade strawberry jam and they felt soft and smooth and right. I have fantasies of eating homemade strawberry popsicles with abandon, but the amount of sugar in these made them feel like eat-with-restraint dessert popsicles. Not exactly what I was looking for, but delicious.

The yogurt pops on the other hand were… less successful. Gerson suggests blackberries but says you can use any berry. I went with blueberries and left them whole. I knew in my head that when you freeze things they don’t taste as sweet, but it sunk in for me in a way I’ll remember as I was biting through those hard, tart little berries. I loved the yogurt base made with lemon simple syrup and honey, though, so I’m going to try them again, but next time I’ll blend whatever berries I’m using with powdered sugar (one of Gerson’s alternate suggestions) before stirring them into the yogurt.

This morning, we picked up strawberries and avocados at the farmers’ market.  I want to cut the sugar the strawberry ice pops in half to see how the texture comes out, retry the yogurt pops with blended strawberries, and then I’m going to make paletas de aguacate (avocado ice pops).

Hungarian Sunset

The drink without a name 1
Gavin invented a drink that uses Zwack (formerly known as Unicum) for bitters.

The drink without a name 4
It’s fruity and tart and mysterious.

To make it, mix together:

  • 1 part Zwack
  • 6 parts Jack Daniels
  • 10 parts citrus juice (two of our favorite combinations are orange and grapefruit or lemon and tangerine)
  • 2 parts simple syrup

Shake with ice.

Pour into a martini glass and add a couple of cherries and some cherry syrup.

The drink without a name 3

Link collection: What I’m reading lately

Teacher Tom: The Technology of Treating Children Like Fully Formed Human Beings: “Well, here I am today, the parent of a 16-year-old, a kid learning to navigate all the regular high school stuff we worry about, and I’ve yet to feel the need to ‘come down’ like a house of bricks. In fact, just as I did when she was 5, I find it much more productive to lay it all out for my daughter as honestly and informatively as possible, revealing my emotions, my dilemma as a parent, my concerns for her safety or her morals or her future or her reputation or whatever. No one makes great decisions all the time, but she’s had a lifetime of practice, and most of the time she comes up with perfectly reasonable solutions…My primary responsibility is to speak informatively, and to leave a space in which thinking can take place.”

The Metallic Snow-Capped Mountains of Venus: “Mountains on Venus are…capped with snow. Except that Venusian snow is mostly made from heavy metals.”

What Trolls Have Taught Me About the Privilege Created By Being Loved:

“This is the both the wonder and problem of being in healthy relationships: You forget just how crazy and toxic people can be. You walk around in this privileged bubble of kindness and genuine good intentions. So you can forget about how many people are abused, how limits don’t matter to rapists and wife-beaters. And you are gobsmacked when you run into people who are unkind for sport and have malicious intentions…

The experience of being loved, if it goes on long enough, makes you start to expect goodness and become less tolerant of even marginally abusive behavior. You think you are doing something right because you “attract positive people” and repel those who are toxic. People are kind to you, respectful and even fall in love with you because there is something about the privilege of being loved that reproduces itself.

Those of us who have good relationships are like people who are born wealthy and become even wealthier because of their work. Many wealthy people believe that if they can make a couple of extra million dollars a year by working hard, the rest of us should be able to make our first million the same way.”

Watts for Lunch? (Or Why Humans Are Like Light Bulbs): A human runs on the same amount of energy as a 120-watt light bulb.

What Marketers Don’t Understand About Motherhood: “…being mom is about being real.”

Bruce Schneier: You Have No Control Over Security on the Feudal Internet

Deep-Sea Dump: ROVs Expose Trashed Ocean Floor: Pictures of things found on the ocean floor.

Paul Krugman: Sympathy for the Luddites: “If the picture I’ve drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society — a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules — would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income.”

Our favorite toddler apps

Truck Tunes – Hammershark Media: This is hands down my son’s favorite app, and it is free. It is a series of music videos about ten different kinds of construction and logging trucks. The menu is difficult to navigate at first if you can’t read, but we’ve discovered that deep love of trucks can drive toddlers to figure out all kinds of amazing things.  (It is formatted for the iPhone, but it can be downloaded onto iPads, too. Be sure you’re searching for iPhone apps when you go to install it, though, or you may not be able to find it.)

Pettson’s Inventions – Filimundus AB: My son has been returning to this one a lot lately. You arrange gears, pulleys, pipes, candles, windmills, and funny creatures that blow air to make fantasy inventions work. He sits in his car seat arranging the pieces and then watching them work over and over. I like playing with it, too.

Miny Moe Car – Blinq: You can drive a car, turn on the windshield wipers to clean off the occasional spot of bird poop left by a friendly bird, adjust the radio, and turn on your blinkers. Other parts of the app let you patch a tire (with bandaids) and pump air back into it or fill up the gas tank. This was one of our top played apps for a month or two.

Mathmateer™ – Dan Russell-Pinson: My son is way too young for the math part of this app, but he can still choose rocket bodies and engines and boosters, blast them off into space, and watch them fly until they eventually fall back to earth. He LOVES rockets and he loves this app.

Miss Spider’s Tea Party – Callaway Digital Arts Inc.: “I wish I could go to Miss Spider’s tea party,” my son told me one day. Because of this app, we had a series of mom and son tea parties where he drank mint tea from a capuchino cup. This is by far his favorite picture book app.

Endless Alphabet – Callaway Digital Arts Inc.: This app has kept my son’s interest for month. You match capital letters to spell a word, each letter makes its sound while you’re moving it with your finger, and then the app tells you the letter name when you match it correctly. Once the word is spelled, there’s a short, silly animation that explains what the word means. This app teaches capital letter sounds and names, it teaches vocabulary AND it is fun for two year olds for a very long time.

LetterSchool – Boreaal: This is a handwriting app, and I think it is the one that first cemented letter recognition for my son. He’s just now starting to try the handwriting part of the game, but he’s been clicking on letters to see pictures of things that start with those letters (and hearing the letter names and sounds at the same time) for months now. The pictures spring up for only a few seconds, so he had to memorize the letters that went with his favorite pictures in order to see them over and over again.


The iPad and our toddler: What works for us

The iPad 2
iPad prepped for toddler use with a puffy case and a screen protector

I thought I wasn’t going to let my kid play with computers or watch TV until he was much, much older. Like maybe sixth grade. I wanted him to get comfortable in the “real world.” I wanted him to run around and use his limbs and his senses. I wanted him to get bored and to learn to entertain himself. And I wanted to be all the way there for him. I didn’t want to substitute screen time for my attention.

Guess what. We let our two-year-old play with the iPad.

I spent the first year and a half of his life with an old school cell phone because I was afraid a smart phone would be too sticky. I went online during his naps, and my internet time was rushed and short. I had always thought that screen time was wasted time — that if I watched TV, surfed the internet or checked Facebook, I was avoiding being fully present.

Then I got an iPhone.

After a year and a half, I was connected again.  It felt good. It didn’t feel like it was changing my parenting. It just felt like I was getting more — and better — brain food here and there. And getting in touch with people more easily. And not needing to print out Google maps before I left the house.

I used to read my kindle or actual paper books when I was nursing. Now I read my iPhone. Pretty soon, my son started grabbing for it. I locked it and let him hold it. Why not let him explore? What could he do?

Within a week or two of poking at it, he pushed the little slider all the way across the screen with his finger, and it clicked unlocked.

I laughed in surprise and grabbed it back.

It turned into a game. He unlocked it and shrieked with laughter while I tried to get the phone back. After a few days, I just let him have it. Why not let him mess around with my phone? It felt… okay. It didn’t feel wrong. Then he started poking around in my email and randomly calling people in my contacts, and I realized I could make us both happier by installing a few games for him. Soon after that, we got a big puffy plastic case and some screen protectors for our iPad and let him play with it in earnest.

He wanted to play with it a lot. I didn’t want to use it as a substitute for my attention, so I sat with him while he played. He loved it. He got really upset if I wanted him to stop and do something else, and I was bored. The amount of time we were spending playing with it bugged me. I knew that if I didn’t add any new apps, eventually he would get tired of it and move on to other things, but I didn’t want to wait for weeks or maybe even months. Left to his own devices, we wouldn’t be going outside or reading books or doing anything other than swiping at screens for a long time. That didn’t feel right.

Around the same time, he started fighting getting into his carseat and stroller. He hated them so much that we stayed home more often than not. That’s when it all clicked. I stopped giving him the iPad on demand and offered it to him whenever he had to be strapped down instead. He was playing with it by himself and I hadn’t wanted to substitute screen time for my attention, but this was different — it felt like substituting one kind of freedom for another and during a time when he wouldn’t have very much of my attention anyway. It worked. Having clear times when he would get to use the iPad (when strapped in) and clear times when the iPad would be put away (when we got where we were going) made it easier for him to stop, and it turned riding in the carseat or stroller into something he liked instead of something painful for both of us.

We went to museums, aquariums, parks, the library, playgroups and playdates. We played in the sun and the dirt and the water. In between, when we were driving or strolling to the places where we could do these things, he played with the iPad on his own and started doing things that amazed me.

One of the apps I thought would be way too hard for him had an activity where you moved four batteries into a toy with the positive and negative sides alternating directions (like how you stick batteries into things in the real world). The next thing I knew, he had it all figured out and was clicking them into place by himself in the back seat. There’s another one — Truck Tunes — that showed music videos about construction vehicles. The menu didn’t have pictures of the trucks — just numbers and text, and the menu was split between two screens. So to choose the backhoe video, you had to touch “Next Screen” and then “7 – Backhoe”, for example. After a lot trial and error, he could navigate it.

He started recognizing numbers. Then, he could kind of count to fifteen. He matched letters. Then he knew most of the letter names. He knew letter sounds. He was two — less than two and a half. From what my friends were telling me, their kids who played with iPads or iPhones could do the same things or even more.

On a touch screen, it was safe to explore and mess up. He wouldn’t get hurt or break something or make a fantastically huge mess. He chose what to try or not to try. He chose when to quit and when to try again. There were fewer interruptions, corrections, instructions, admonishments or directions. It was just freedom — the kind of freedom he almost never got in the real world. It’s not like I punished him or constantly bossed him around, but he didn’t get to walk in the street or squish dog poop between his fingers or pour rice on the floor. There were a lot of things he wanted to try that I pulled him back from. On the iPad, it was different. I could load it with apps that I thought were safe for him, and then let him loose. With this kind of freedom, he learned like crazy.

Watching my son play with the iPad — especially seeing what he could do on his own — took my respect for him to new levels. I still want him to be comfortable in the real world, but I’m starting to feel like reality is more complicated than I initially thought. These days I’m thinking that screens are part of the real world, too.