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{Review} Equipping Kids to Cook with Curious Chef Tools

Curious Chef 16-piece cupcake and decorating setMy kids have expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen practically since they could talk. At times, this was exasperating, but I tried to be patient as there is so much value to letting kids cook. In addition to teaching them a lifetime skill and getting them interested in preparing healthy foods, letting kids cook has been proven to help with math (all those fractions and equations involved when altering recipes), and may even reduce their chances of getting involved with drugs. There are many other benefits as well — improved reading skills, bonding time with family, real-life application of science, and more! So why doesn’t everyone do it?

In my very informal observation of friends who don’t encourage their kids to join them in preparing a meal, there are a few consistent objections:

  • Patience: It can take longer when kids are helping and they may not do everything “right”
  • Mess: Cooking can be messy, and more so with kids
  • Safety: Fears about kids getting burned or injuring themselves with a knife2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 044

I had all of the same concerns above when my kids started joining me in the kitchen, but I also have a Montessori-influenced approach to parenting. (My children have a very headstrong approach to being kids — they always want to try everything whether I think they are ready to or not!) In addition to encouraging cooking (Montessori school kids often have to prepare and bring in their own lunches at a very tiny age), the Montessori method encourages providing child-sized tools for any job.

This is why I was intrigued by the Curious Chef line of kitchen tools. Embracing the many benefits of having kids in the kitchen, they produce cheerful, right-sized tools for kids. They asked me to try out their products2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 078 and sent me a cupcake set and a 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and a 3-piece nylon knife set.

It turns out that the cupcake set was the perfect thing to cheer up JavaGirl (age 9) while her brother was away at camp. We had a jam-packed schedule, but in between her vacation bible school camp and horseback riding lesson, we quickly cooked up some cupcakes in the six-spaces tin. They have a recipe on the side of the box that is yields six cups, but inexplicably, I had every type of flour EXCEPT self-rising in my pantry that day! So we grabbed a box of cake mix and used that instead. In the interests of time we used pre-made frosting rather than mixing up our own from the directions provided.

What I was most interested in seeing was how the silicone cups would work (separate inserts that went into the metal pan, rather than a silicone pan). I have used some silicone tools, but I have never used these before. And because I’m perpetually curious, I decided to use our leftover cake batter to cook cupcakes in another pan of mine, in paper wrappers, to see if it would make a difference (JavaGirl loves the idea of an experiment).

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 208

The cupcake on the left was baked in the silicone cup, the one on the right was in a paper wrapper.

The cupcakes cooked beautifully and were very moist. The silicone cups kept the pan clean and the cupcakes came out of them easily. (Note the silicone cups can be washed in the dishwasher but are also easy to handwash.) When compared to the ones in the paper cups, we found that the ones in the Curious Chef cups/pan were more evenly baked and much moister. (Which may be true of any brand of silicone cups — these were just the first ones we had ever used.)

Next: Decorating

JavaGirl has decorated cakes using my Wilton bags and tips before, in fact, earning her American Heritage Girls Cake Decorating badge. But the Curious Chef set comes with a plunger-type of decorating system. The tips screw onto the end without requiring additional rings. There are five shapes of tips including one that would allow you to inject something into the middle of a cupcake. I really wanted to try that one, but JavaGirl wasn’t interested in that that day and time was tight, so, um, I may be using her tools another day! Though I was able to use the plunger (to demonstrate how to use it), it is nicely sized for children’s hands and in my opinion, is definitely easier for kids to use than a decorating bag. And also, easier to clean.  If there were one addition I would recommend to Curious Chef, it would be to include a small tip-cleaning brush and mesh bag (to hold tips while in the dishwasher), fortunately I already had both. The sixteenth piece of the set is a packet of blank recipe cards with stickers.

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 159JavaGirl enjoyed working with the decorating set and would’ve happily fiddled with it for quite a while if we had not been in a hurry.

Incidentally, the set also include a nylon mixing spoon, which again, is a nice size for kids, and a nylon frosting spreader which worked well for JavaGirl.

A final note on the set — at first I was a little surprised that the pan was only for 6 servings, but when I thought more about it, I like this. When we are cooking just for ourselves, 6 is just right and none of those extra cupcakes hanging out for days. Also, JavaGirl and I discussed other ways we could use the pan/silicone cups. Of course we could make muffins, but in our family, we’ve been enjoying making some of the many “muffin pan recipes” out there including breakfast eggcups (think scrambled eggs with seasonings and cut up veggies). We plan to try those out in this set soon to see how they come out versus just in our regular pan and the small size is convenient.

Overall, the set was a huge hit with JavaGirl, despite the fact she already has access to so many tools. She felt pride in this being HER set. And don’t think this is just for girls, JavaBoy tends to cook even more than JavaGirl, so I think he’ll end up using this a lot as well.

Child-sized Cutting Tools

IMG_2377The nylon knife set, on the other hand, got a mixed reaction from JavaGirl. When she was a preschooler, I started her out with a different kind of safety knife, and she has since progressed to using my Wusthof knives. However, I still worry at times about her injuring herself, so I was very intrigued to see how these would workout. Initially, she rejected them, claiming they required more pressure on her part. I tried one out on a few different things such as tomatoes, celery, and peaches — they could cut them all, but did require a little more pressure on harder materials. (Cut the tomato well, however!) Yet just last night, I caught JavaGirl using one of the nylon knives to slice up a peach. So my thoughts are that if you are holding back on letting your child cook due to fear of injury from knives, this is a great option. If your child already safely uses knives, you may or may not be interested in this set — there is some peace of mind with them using a nylon knife, but it has a different “feel” to it. By the way, in holding the knife myself, I oddly found it to be nicely “balanced,” not something I was expecting in a knife like this.

In terms of overall quality, I felt like the pan, silicone cups, and all the nylon tools were great. The decorating plunger was not flimsy but didn’t feel quite as “heavy duty” to me as the other tools, however, this is the first time I’ve used a plunger frosting tool  so I have can’t compare it to an “adult-sized” plunger tool. The finger holes on it worked well for both JavaGirl and I, which is a huge plus because it means parents are able to comfortably demonstrate how to use it to kids. (Also, JavaGirl is left-handed, I am right-handed, and it worked well for both of us.)

The cupcake and decorating set retails for $24.99 on the Curious Chef site, but I also noticed that it retails for less (and is also currently on sale tor additional savings) on Amazon.com (note this link includes my Amazon Associates code. The nylon knife set retails for $8.99 on the Curious Chef (more on the Amazon site, so price shop for any of the tools in this line.) The Curious Chef has many products, including child-sized oven mitts and aprons, food prep tools such as vegetable peelers, and much more. They are all cute and I think any child would feel proud to own any of them.

Whatever tools you use, try to find some time to get your kids in the kitchen with you. You’ll build some wonderful memories together and sneak in some educational benefits as well!

Disclosure: The Curious Chef provided me with the 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and 3-piece nylon knife set for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s) and were not influenced by receiving the complimentary items. This post contains links that allow you to purchase the items if you are interested in them, including links to Amazon.com, of which I am an Associate. If you purchase these or other items from Amazon.com through the provided link, I may receive a tiny percentage from Amazon, which will help support this site.

American Girl Fashion Show March 14-15 Benefits JLNV #AGFSJLNV

A model looking forward to her chance on the American Girl runway. Photo provided by: The Junior League of Northern Virginia

A model looking forward to her chance on the American Girl runway. Photo provided by: The Junior League of Northern Virginia

Far more than just a show of matching girl and doll fashions, the 2nd Annual American Girl Fashion Show®,  March 14-15, 2015.  may be a great window into your daughter’s world — real and imaginary.

I’ve been slow to embrace the American Girl doll craze — I was in high school when the dolls originally came out and I just didn’t “get” what they were about until JavaGirl and her friends started showing an interest in these collectible dolls. At first the books caught my daughter’s attention more than the dolls themselves, but now she is the proud owner of Saige, Girl of the Year 2013 and her collection has grown. After many (and I mean MANY) conversations with my daughter about her beloved doll, it’s boiled down to this: little girls love these characters and dolls because they help them see that no matter the time or the location, for the most part, girls are girls. They can be rough and tumble, and courageous, and adventurous, and experience moments of accomplishment as well as, quite frankly — fear. (JavaGirl came into my room with lots of questions when a book character’s friend contracted Scarlet Fever). But in the end, not matter what era, what clothes, what skin/hair/eye color — the characters and girls have much in common. And it is this realization that makes the girls so crazy about talking about their dolls, personalizing them, and talking about them with each other.

The American Girl Fashion show, themed, “Styles of Today and Yesterday,”  uses every day girls from the community who signed up to be the models to showcase both the traditional and modern versions of outfits for the characters of the American Girl franchise. Attending a real-life fashion show with your daughter — one that is relevant to her — is an opportunity to enjoy some refreshments, and learn more about which characters most speak to her and why. Is she like civic-minded Addy and Julie? Adventurous Caroline? Resourceful Josefina? While these conversations can be had at home over your own refreshments, there is something to be said for making an occasion of things. Something different, special, and that allows you to get a little peek into the heart of your daughter.

Community Fundraiser

Proceeds from the event benefit the mission of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), of which I am a member. Your catalogue order will also benefit the JLNV. American Girl Programs, Inc., will donate 5% of the total of all orders placed from the specially coded catalogues distributed at the event. Orders must be placed between 02/27/15 and 03/29/15. During that time, please call 1-800-920-0867 to place your order using the special key code 182153.

Purchase Tickets Today

Please see the JLNV web site for ticket prices and availability, and to purchase exclusive American Girl merchandise. Attendees may also pre-purchase merchandise for pick up on-site, including apparel exclusive to American Girl Fashion Shows®, as well as secure a spot for their doll at the American Girl Fashion Show® Doll Hair Salon. Ticket prices will go up on March 6, 2015.

This fun-filled event for girls and their families, friends and favorite dolls celebrates the experience of being a girl throughout history through a colorful presentation of historical and contemporary fashions. Attendees at each show will enjoy elegant refreshments, enter to win door prizes and learn how clothing has changed over the years to reflect history, culture and girls’ individual styles.

Show times:

Saturday, March 14, 2015: 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm
Sunday, March 15, 2015 – 11 am, 2 pm

Location:

Sheraton Pentagon City
900 South Orme St., Arlington, VA

Benefits:

Sales of both tickets and merchandise will help support the JLNV’s community programs, aimed to prepare children in Northern Virginia for success by addressing childhood obesity through increased physical activity and nutritional education

Note: I am a member of the JLNV and have purchased my family’s tickets to the event and additional merchandise.

{Giveaway} Win Two General Admission Tickets to the JLNV’s The Enchanted Forest #JLNV #TEF

The Enchanted Forest Postcard at the Westin inTysons CornerUpdate: Congratulations to Julie, who is the recipient of the two general admission tickets to the JLNV’s The Enchanted Forest! Thank you for participating and responding in a timely manner!

I may join others in seeing Christmas displays going up in stores before Halloween, but one place I’ll never complain about seeing twinkling lights on trees of hearing the ho-ho-ho of Santa is at the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s (JLNV’s) annual The Enchanted Forest.

This event is a gala, fundraiser, and child’s delight all wrapped up in one delightful weekend. Go for the family fun, but know that you are helping your local community in doing so. There really is something for everyone, so whether you have kids or not — I urge you to check it out. Shopping opportunities abound, whether via vendors, the silent auction at the gala, or the “forest” of trees which are decorated top to bottom with items along a theme and are up for bid all weekend long. There are live performers throughout the day in the forest, hands-on activities for the kids, and then there are also “premium event” activities such as gingerbread house decorating (premium event tickets include the price of a general admission ticket). Premium Event tickets do tend to sell out, so you may want to pre-purchase.

This is an event better experienced than described, everyone I know who has been once turns it into an annual tradition.

One lucky CaffeineandaPrayer.com reader will win a two-pack of general admission tickets, so be sure to enter!  Scroll down to see entry form. Full disclosure here — I am a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia. But if you’re a regular reader here, you already knew that…

The Junior League of Northern Virginia’s 14th Annual The Enchanted Forest

November 22-23
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 1 pm
Westin Tyson’s Corner (7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043)
Tickets and schedule informationhttp://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

The Enchanted Forest

trees 1-lightenedFirst and foremost, there is the forest itself. This event is a fundraiser to support the mission of the League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), an organization of  women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  The center of the event is a ballroom filled with pre-lit artificial Christmas trees that have been creatively decorated by theme with items and are up for bid via silent auction.  For example, there are trees filled with items for pets, or a tree that is all Barbie items, or everything needed to make martinis. Trees range from about 3 feet to 7 feet tall.  You can ooh-and-aah at row after row of creativity and generosity in the ballroom while little ones are entertained by performers such as the Great Zucchini, Groovy Nate, Mr. Knick Knack and more. (See the TEF page for the schedule of performances.) Get your photo taken with Santa (see schedule) — and no, you don’t have to be a kid to do so! General admission tickets ($14) grant you access to the forest and the “More Family Fun” activities listed below.

photo-kharris2More Family Fun

In addition to the forest itself, there are more activities at The Enchanted Forest event. The JLNV has brought part of their community work in-house for the public to see firsthand. The Kids in the Holiday Kitchen room allows the children an opportunity to learn about healthy food and exercise habits and prepare some food themselves. Family members of all ages can have fun with hands-on science experiments and learn more about the JLNV’s partnership with the Children’s Science Center in our exploration room.

What’s a holiday event without a model train? Marvel at the National Capital Trackers Model Train Display — popular not just with the kids, but with those who are still children at heart!

Get a jump on our holiday shopping at the Marketplace filled with a variety of vendors. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “What Can I Bring?” – the JLNV’s coveted cookbook. (Hint: It makes a great gift for teachers.)

Premium Ticket Events

Extend your experience with these premium ticket events. See the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest page for schedule and to purchase tickets.

Breakfast or Brunch with Santa: $35

Enjoy a meal and some very special time with Santa. Please check web site for details — this often sells out quickly!

Gingerbread Workshop: $35 per house

This is always one of my favorites! Attend a Gingerbread Workshop where you will decorate your own edible gingerbread house with royal icing and an assortment of candy.  Your completed house, covered in candy trim with a cookie roof, will be yours to take home that day.  Event includes a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket.

Frosted Glitz Gala: $95 – Saturday, November 22, 7 pm – 11:30 pm

What better way to spend a cold night than inside, dressed in your glitziest attire, nestled amongst beautifully adorned trees and enjoying an open bar, hors d’ouevres, live and silent auctions, music by DJ Loud Tone, dancing and Vegas-style gaming? All proceeds benefit the JLNV.

Giveaway Details:

The Junior League of Northern Virginia has generously provided me with two general admission tickets (a value of $14 each) to give to one lucky reader. These tickets are good for either day of the event and will be available at Will Call. My family has also been provided with two tickets.

 

To enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • The giveaway runs between now and 10 am Eastern, Friday, November 21, 2014.

 

 

 

 

  • Winner will be notified via email Friday and you must respond by Friday 3 pm ET or I will have to move on to the next winner as this is a quick turnaround and tickets are only good Saturday or Sunday.  At that time I will need your name and phone number so I may add you to the Will Call list.

 

 

  • NOTE: You may this shortened link to share the giveaway with friends: http://bit.ly/1F4H05a if you would like to help spread the word about this giveaway and fun, charitable event!

 

 

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either November 22 10 am – 5 pm OR November 23 10 am – 1 pm.  A general admission ticket includes access to The Enchanted Forest of Trees, Marketplace, Holiday Entertainment on Center Stage, Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, National Capital Trackers Model Trains Display, Pictures with Santa, and the Children’s Science Center exhibits.
  • Tickets will be made available through Will Call.
  • Ticket recipients should bring valid picture ID.
  • Premium events and gala tickets are available for separate purchase, those include the cost of a general admission ticket.
  • Event information and additional ticket purchase: http://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

Whether you win the tickets or not, I highly recommend going, it’s a fun, fun time and a great cause!

 

{Giveaway} Four tickets to BrickFair VA 2014 LEGO Fan Festival

BrickFair Virginia

The JavaKids check out a perpetual motion machine at BrickFair Virginia 2012.

UPDATE: Congratulations Cindy B.!

This area is obsessed with LEGOs. Just look at the camp brochures and after school activity flyers for the camps and classes for all things LEGO — or try to walk across my kids’ bedroom floors — and it will take a nanosecond to see that these plastic bricks of all sizes are an important part of our culture. But they aren’t just for kids. Perhaps you are married to an AFOL (adult fan of LEGO) or are one yourself. The obsession can go from (almost) cradle to grave. This is why there are fan festivals — to share the joy and fuel the obsession in the best way Americans know how — ostentatious exhibits, sales of more related gear and good old-fashioned fun! Which is why I’m thrilled to be able to be able to share for the third year consecutive year an opportunity for my readers to win a four-pack of tickets to the BrickFair 2014 Virginia LEGO Fan Festival. The event is August 2 – 3, 2014 at the Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, VA. BrickFair is primarily an exhibit/expo scenario (look and shop) but there are some interactive displays and a few sections where you can play and even win prizes. Although the tickets advise you to allow 90 minutes to view the displays, we have always stayed far longer and this is an extremely popular event, so there are often long lines to get in and a significant wait for games and anything interactive. In other words, plan to stay a while and bring a great deal of patience (and some spending money for the snack bar because you will invariably need it). But my family will tell you it is well worth it! Online tickets sold out already, but you can buy tickets at the door for $12 each (3 and under are free — no strollers allowed). OR participate in my flash giveaway.  The festival is THIS weekend and I have physical tickets to give to you.

BrickFair VA 2014

August 2 -3, 2014
11 am – 4 pm
Dulles Expo Center
4320 Chantilly Center
Chantilly, VA 20153
Admission: 3 and under – FREE.
Everyone else $12 at door — online tickets are sold out.
No strollers please

 

Caffeineandaprayer.com’s BrickFair VA 2014 Ticket Giveaway Rules:

  • The quick must-knows and must-dos:

    • This is a flash giveaway — it is shorter than my usual giveaways, please pay attention to the time frames.
    • These tickets are good for one day only, at BrickFairVA 2014 August 2 or 3 from 11 am to 4 pm. In fairness to others, please enter only if you actually plan on using the tickets. They have a total value of $48.
    • To enter: Use Please use the Rafflecopter entry form below to comment — make sure you use the term “BrickFair” in your comment. Get creative, but keep it clean!
    • In all your entries, you must include a valid email address so I may contact you if you are the winner. I must be able to reach you via that email address within 4 hours of the end of the giveawayI am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Tickets will be physically delivered to you, so if you are the winner, you will need to be willing to provide me a mailing address (no P.O. Boxes due to this being a flash giveaway) within 2 hours of my notification email that you are the winner so we can make arrangements for delivery of the physical tickets.  Time will be calculated based on when my email was sent. If I am not able to reach you, by necessity, I will have to pick a new winner. I am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Giveaway ends at 9 am, Eastern time,  Friday, August 1, 2014.
    • Standard rules and giveaway legalese is spelled out in a link in the Rafflecopter form.
    • Winners will be selected at random from all qualified entrants using Rafflecopter.
    • Once a winner is selected and has responded via email and arrangements for ticket delivery have been successfully made, winner will be announced on this site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Tired of stepping on lots of little LEGO pieces at home? You might enjoy my previous blog post about LEGO organization.

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Disclosures: BrickFair provided four tickets for the giveaway and a set of complimentary tickets for my family. All photos are provided by the BrickFair convention. LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group. BrickFair is not associated with the LEGO Group.

Snow Fun Recipes: Snow Cream and Snow Candy

With as much as 10 inches of snow possibly hitting our area, I’ve bought supplies for our snow fun traditional treats: snow cream and snow candy! (Hey, if you are going to have a polar vortex, might as well have a good treat!) Here’s a link to my original post from way back in 2009! Maybe this year I’ll manage to remember to take photos!