Posts in Craft time
Springtime Eggs
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I eat the same thing for breakfast every day: cream of buckwheat, grass fed butter, a ferment, and usually a fried egg or bacon. First of all, this is delicious and has changed my life for the better. Second of all, and more relevant, I started to notice that when I combined eggs and ruby sauerkraut, the egg whites would turn blue. I noticed, and wondered, but didn’t know what could cause this. Then, as a part of a chemistry block at Sunbridge (Waldorf teacher school), we came into the classroom one day to find dozens of plates filled with a thin layer of cabbage juice. We played with adding drops of lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar, and later even lye and hydrochloric acid, each adding a new color to the rainbow swirl that had become of our purple juice. The next day we shared our observations and “discovered” that alkaline things turned it to blue or green or acrid yellow, acidic things to pink, red, or orange. We had created PH scales! I thought about my eggs anew after that experience, noticing how the acidic fermentation environment turned the purple cabbage pink, and that it turning to blue on my eggs must mean that the egg whites were slightly alkaline.

I thought about this as I considered my annual attempt at egg dying: always somewhat disappointing with the brown eggs I buy and the natural dyes I insist on. I also thought about the beautifully vibrant beet pickled eggs I’ve seen, and wondered if that process could be recreated with other vegetables, maybe minus all the sugar the picking recipes seem to call for. After all, the whites of eggs are always white, no matter the shell, and from my breakfast experiments I knew they take dye readily. A little kitchen playing later and I figured out how to use purple cabbage to make blue and pink and purple eggs, and turmeric for gold (because you’d have to add something very alkaline to cabbage to turn it that color and I don’t think any of us want to play around with lye near our food). Read on if you’d like to try yourself!

Some thoughts on egg dying as an educational activity

First of all, peeling eggs is great fine motor practice for kindergarten-ish aged children. Try with younger ones too if they’re especially dexterous and/or you’re okay with a less than perfect final product. Same goes of chopping, pouring, and grating!

Second of all, though we’re playing with chemistry here, that is where it should remain: as play. You’re planting seeds of experience that can grow with the children, transforming into theories when your child’s mind is ready and eager to understand things that way. A young child will marvel at the colors shifting, wonder at this miracle in the kitchen, and have a full, beautiful experience unhindered by unnecessary explanations. If you have an older child (10+) at home, let them experiment and wonder too—they’ll likely find a conclusion, though not necessarily the one I did, and not necessarily right away. That’s fine. Let this live in them.

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Coloring your eggs

Hard boil eggs:

Boil a pot of water. add eggs, simmer for 8 minutes. Dunk eggs in an ice bath immediately after taking them out of the water to prevent overcooking and make them easier to peel. (Also, older eggs are easier to peel, use the ones from the back of the fridge if possible.) Once cooled, peel your eggs.

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Cabbage dye:

(makes enough to dye 3-4 eggs)

Chop up about 1.5 cups of purple cabbage. As perfection and evenness are far from the goal here, this is a great opportunity to enlist a little chopping helper! Add to about 3 cups of water, simmer for about 10 minutes. When done, strain out the cabbage chunks and pour into a jar.

For pink/purple eggs, add some apple cider vinegar. The more you add, the pinker they’ll be! I added about two capfuls for these nicely purple ones.

For blue, the eggs themselves will do all the PH shifting for you!

Add your peeled eggs to your jar, then put it in the fridge for about a day, longer for a stronger color. That’s it!

Turmeric Dye:

(makes enough to dye 3-4 eggs)

Finely grate about 2” of turmeric root. Add to about 3 cups of water, simmer for about 10 minutes or until the water looks nice and thickly golden. You could try using powdered turmeric too, just play with the amount until the color is strong in the water. No need to strain, just pour into a jar. Add your peeled eggs to your jar, then put it in the fridge for about a day.

A few notes:

Peeled eggs keep in the fridge for a few days to a week, though it the recommendation is to keep them in a jar of water, changing the water daily. I ate my eggs too quickly to find out, but assume leaving them to soak in fresh water would cause some dye to leech out so, beware.

My “hard boiling” suggestions are really for eggs just short of hard boiled, with a slightly soft yolk how I like them. If you’re worried about feeding slightly raw egg yolk to children (which you can do your own research on), simmer them for 9-10 minutes.

If your eggs are smooshed up against the side of the jar or poking out of the liquid a bit, you might get some lighter spots. You can decide if that counts as a mistake or a design feature!

A MILLION thank yous to George McWilliam, my teacher at Sunbridge and a deeply amazing person, for bringing the cabbage chemistry experiment and not answering my question about why my breakfast was turning blue right away, leaving me to stew and ponder and figure it out myself.

Simple Bird Valentines
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Full disclosure: I did not come up with this idea. There are many tutorials floating around the internet, and I read through lots of them in my planning. But none of them quite worked out how I wanted, so I thought I’d share what I did that worked well.

February is a hungry time of year for our foraging friends. The scattered seeds of Autumn are long gone, the first tender shoots of Spring still weeks away. It’s a good time to feed the birds, to share some of our stored bounty with them as we watch the light return and feel the ground start to wake up. This is also the time of year when, proverbially, the birds start looking for their mates—an observation that forms some of the basis of our modern celebration of Valentine’s day.

At the beginning of the year, a lot of the kids in our playgroup were working through separation anxiety. When they would cry at their caregiver’s departure, I would often take them outside—the fresh air was amazingly soothing and they would quickly be distracted by all the plants and birds and feel safe and secure in themselves and the space. Eventually I transitioned to just looking outside the big window at the birds. Even now, though most separation anxiety has dissipated, they love to go and watch the birds first thing in the morning. For a city backyard, we have so many kinds! Morning doves and bluejays, cardinals and sparrows, and even the occasional hawk all grace our yard.

As I thought about how we’d celebrate Valentine’s day with the same simple, nature-centered approach we take with all festivals, I immediately thought of doing something for the birds—some gesture of gratitude for these beautiful creatures that have brought the children such peace and joy throughout the year. Of course, these don’t have to be Valentines, they can just be regular bird feeders. But I thought that tie-in was cute and a nice way to channel the holiday excitement.

About the ingredients

Millet is a great protein rich grain that lots of birds love and that’s easy to buy in bulk (an important consideration as we try to minimize our waste. Bulk millet I can buy in my reusable cloth bag, bird seed I’d have to buy in a plastic one). If you have a small-grain birdseed that would likely work too, but something like sunflower seeds wouldn’t. Unflavored gelatin is fine for the birds—just don’t get actual Jell-o. It has lots of essential amino acids and is actually a very similar product to the collagen peptides I put in my coffee. When you hang the finished Valentine, make sure there’s another branch right beneath it so the birds have something to stand on while they eat. Also: these might become squirrel Valentines, which is fine IMHO, but something to be aware of.

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You’ll need:

Unflavored Gelatin

Millet

Heart-shaped cookie cutters

Parchment paper

Some sort of tray (a cutting board or baking sheet works well)

A bowl, a spoon, and a measuring cup

String

Some patience and tolerance for having millet all over your floor (might I direct you here)

A few notes before you start:

Set everything up before hand. I always skip this step at home, but I can’t overemphasize how helpful it is when working with children. I like to keep my project supplies for something like this in a basket, all ready, covered with a cloth. This helps build some anticipation for the project and will help “hold” the activity more than if you’re constantly getting up and running around to get another ingredient.

Find a low table over a hard floor so they can use their full range of motion as they help.

Most of this, except the boiling water and the careful removing from cookie cutters, can be done by toddlers. The pouring, stirring, scooping, and stringing are all great activities to help them develop their dexterity, practice hand-eye-coordination, and do a whole lot of other developmental movement. Let them take a long time with things and spill a little, it’s all okay. And hot water gets gelatin out easily.

This will make about 4 bird feeders.

Prepare the gelatin:

(I did these first two steps right in a glass measuring cup with a handle, which made for less cleanup and easy pouring.)

Dissolve 1 packet gelatin in 1/4 cup water. Yes, you need to actually measure, I learned this the hard way. Kiddos can stir as the powder dissolves.

Add 1/4 cup boiling water and stir. Obviously be careful not to burn anyone.

Mix in the millet:

Put some millet in a larger bowl. This part I didn’t measure—maybe 2 cups to start? Have more on hand so you can mix until the ratio looks right.

Slowly pour the gelatin mixture into the millet, stirring as you go. Add more millet until the mixture looks more like wet millet than like millet soup. There should be a little bit of liquid at the bottom of your bowl if you scoop a spoon across it, but not much. Stir!

Shape the hearts:

Put some cookie cutters on parchment paper on your tray. The parchment paper is really key here, don’t skip it.

Fill the cookie cutters with the millet mixture, all the way to the top.

Now, this is essential, put another layer of parchment paper on top and smoosh the millet down into the cookie cutters. Really smoosh it. Kids are great at this, remind them to use their palms rather than their fingertips. If the level of millet sinks down a bit below the top of the cookie cutters as you do this step, you can add more and repeat.

Once they’re nice and smooshed, take a stick or a screwdriver or a pencil or something and poke a hole down through the middle. If you do this too close to the side the whole thing will break when hung. With the hearts, I did it in the middle of one of the lobes at the top, which worked well.

Finish:

Put them in the fridge for a few hours, preferably longer. Don’t use the freezer to speed it up.

When you take them out, remove the cookie cutters carefully. You also might have to re-poke the hole a bit.

String some string through the hole and hang them on a branch for the birds to enjoy!