Top 10 apps for preschoolers

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And then one day my husband and I finally got our iPhones and the destiny of both our iPods was decided for us by our then 2 and 4 year olds. That destiny was that they would take them over. So I started a mission of cleaning out any grown up apps and downloading safe, fun and educational games. You know. Something that wouldn’t turn them into a frustrated mess or a cocky winner. Something in between, that kept them happy and entertained for a short while. The other tricky part of this is that some apps, paid but specially free, have crazy amounts of banners and adds that keep switching screens on them, so I test drive all of them to see what kind of adds they have.
Now, like all things, I believe that electronic time should be limited and monitored. They don’t watch much tv – which is courtesy of our wonderful Netflix for children- and their iPod time is also limited.
Some days, I save their iPod time for when I know I will be taking them out on an errand with me. I have gotten so many compliments from strangers on how well behaved they are while I shop, to which I nod and smile guiltily. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!
Here’s a fun list. Enjoy!

1. Toca Boca Builder :

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If you are not familiar with the Toca Boca games, I really recommend that you get to it. Most of their games are paid, true, but they are so cute for the kids. My little ones, now 4 and 5 have pretty much all Toca Boca games and love them all! This is the newest one, as the name suggests, is all about building things. $1.99 App Store

2. The Lorax Garden :

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My kids are huge fans of The Lorax and my daughter specially loves this game.
You can replant a region of your choosing with potted plants that you grown yourself by giving them water and care hearts. Be aware, care hearts cost money. $0.99 App Store.

3. Interactive Alphabet ABCs :

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I got this game when my son was 2 and it was by far his favorite. The alphabet is interactive, so say there’s an Apple for “A”, your kid can take bites out of it by touching it. The music and artwork are nice, and this one had a “baby mode” lock which was great to keep the letter flowing without getting stuck on just one! $2.99 App Store.

4. Awesome Eats :

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This one is powered by Whole Foods, and it has the intention of showing them some healthy foods. It is a cute sorting game that gets challenging and fun for the wee ones and bigger ones, too. Best of all, free! App Store.

5. Loopy Tunes :

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Oh. I must admit that this is one of my favorites. The artwork and the sounds are amazing, and it’s all around a great music app. $1.99 and totally worth it.

6. Geo Dash :

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Powered by National Geographics.
Now, this is a game in the Mario Brothers meets Sonic style but much slower and easier. I’m not a huge fan of this type of game, but my kids are wild for it. They have converted all of their cousins and now everyone loves it. It’s one of those things that I can’t understand, but… Why bother.
$1.99 App Store.

7. The Math Tree :

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This is a very nice game to help with their early math skills. My daughter who is now 5 likes it a lot. $0.99 App Store.

8. Gesundheit! :

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Okay. This game is one of MY favorites and I am not at all ashamed to say I play it sometimes. Everything about this game is enticing, the artwork is amazing, the soundtrack is wonderful, and I love the little piggy guy. My son got a little freaked out at first when he got eaten, but soon the joy of throwing snot at the monsters face was more powerful and we all enjoy this game together! $1.99 App Store

9. Endless Alphabet :

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You might not be a big fan of that price tag. I get that! But if you are willing to drop some cash, this app is very educational and easy to use, extremely beautiful and the phonetics are amazing. By touching and dragging a letter to form a word, the letter makes its sound, helping the kids associate the visual and sound effects. $4.99 App Store.

10. Barefoot World Atlas :

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Being in a biracial home, my kids love to be exposed to other cultures. I love a good Atlas for myself, although I cannot answer you what is the Capital of New Zealand on the spot to save my life, but the thing about this Atlas is that it’s extremely easy to use, and appealing to kids. The artwork is quite beautiful, displaying major monuments on top of their country, giving you the option to click and see a real picture of it (although this feature is available only on iPads) – this app is optimized for iPhone 5, and our iPods are on the older side by now – still, this is a really great way to show them a little bit of how much world there is out there.
$4.99 App Store.

Now comes the REAL tip:
Some apps in this list, such as Gesundheit, Barefoot Atlas and Endless Alphabet were downloaded for free or for a fraction of the price. The way to do that is to check the App Store on a weekly basis, and go on their “New and Noteworthy” section to see what is new. Most of those apps are just coming out and they go at a trial price or free. Also, check for their “app of the week”, and make sure to always check under the categories is your choice to see if anything there looks interesting and is in your price range. Don’t forget that a free app, if not loved later by you or the little ones, can easily be deleted! No harm there.

I will follow up with a “top 10 free apps” soon! Hope you enjoyed this one!

The best [ever] Blackberry Muffins

I had to share this with anyone who may be reading.
I was looking for recipes to use some fruit I had in my fridge that was starting to go bad. I have never been a huge fan of Blackberries, or Raspberries for that matter, due to their seeds. We use them in smoothies around here but even then my kids will gladly skip them.
So I came across a couple of recipes to use my Raspberries, and that was almost a complete fail. Which made me the more determined not to waste my Blackberries!
Here’s a super easy recipe I found from Cupcake Canyon and I have to say, I have been getting tons of compliments!

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Yields about 18 muffins.

Ingredients:

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (I used plain Greek Yogurt)
1 tsp. milk
1 cup sugar
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups (about 5-6 oz) blackberries, cut in half (if using frozen, lay them on paper towels to absorb excess liquid)

Directions:

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Grease 18 muffin tins or line with paper muffin cups.
I personally use and prefer silicone liners for muffins because the paper ones get really sticky sometimes. Or just a greased pan!

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream (or greek yogurt), milk, sugar, butter and vanilla.

4. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix together with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the berries. Do not overmix, the batter should not be completely smooth.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins. I used an ice-cream scooper for easier and even results.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of 1 or 2 of the muffins comes out clean, 17-20 minutes (or longer).
In my case, my oven runs on the higher side so I baked them for exact 15 minutes.
Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the pan. If not serving hot, let cool on a rack.

Teacher’s end of year gift

So! It is that time of year when you have to run around like crazy because you put off getting your children’s teachers their end of the school year gift.
Now, before I go any further, I’m all for pooling your money together with the other moms and getting a gift card. I did that last year, but as it turns out I was in charge of the money. I didn’t terribly mind it, but if I was going to have to run errands, I wanted it to be for something I came up with on my own. So this year, I flew solo.
I had an inspiration when I saw something on Pinterest that was a little beach kit that included a magazine, sunscreen, a beach towel and sunglasses. Adorable! We live by the beach so I embraced the idea, but had to take it down a notch, money wise. You figure a new magazine is about 4 to 5 bucks, a beach towel around $10, sunscreen about $9 and sunglasses or flip flops you could probably get at dollar store.
I immediately ditched the idea of the magazine. I love magazines, but once you read it that’s it, to the garbage it goes. (I happen to always give mine to friends, that way it gets used one or two more times) so what I wanted to do instead, was a book. And here’s how I put together “A Day at the Beach” kit:
I decided on used books. Why? Because there’s nothing better than a used book! The history and mystery that comes with it.. So I went on Amazon and searched for specific books that I have read and loved in very good condition. To add an extra touch, a couple of these were a set of book 1 and 2, so I will give them to teachers in the same classroom and that way they can swap! Thanks to Amazon Prime they arrived in a couple of days.
Next I decided what I wanted to pair with the books, and settled for these reusable water bottles because they were affordable and came in a set of 5! I needed to get 1 more because I have 6 teachers to give gifts to.
Then I decided on the Alba Sunscreen which I found at Shop Rite for $6.99 each.
Then some ribbons, and that’s it!!
I am going to present them on Thursday so I am also very curious to find out if they will like it! – I know I would! What did you come up with for a teacher’s gift?

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Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate balls)

As I said in my previous post, I have been craving some of my Brazilian traditions lately.
This one we usually serve at birthday parties and decorate the table with them, and they are most often eaten by the time we cut the cake.
But. As you grown into your teens and children’s parties are not really your thing, you start making these bad boys when you crave chocolate and by then you don’t even roll them anymore, you eat it with a spoon straight out of the pan.

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Recipe:
Ingredients
1 can of condensed milk
1 tablespoon of butter
4 tablespoons of cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli and it is quite good)
Chocolate sprinkle, for the traditional take. But you can use crushed almonds, pistachios.. Anything you might like with chocolate!
Mini cupcake lining paper

Put the butter in the pan and wait until it is completely mush and melty. Put the can of condensed milk in, along with the cocoa powder and stir.
Have it in low to medium heat. Stir it constantly until you feel that the mix is starting do “detach” from the pan.
It will get a bit thicker, and as you move the spoon around the mixture will start to move with the spoon.
Move it promptly into a lightly sprayed bowl or plate (if you don’t have Pam, you can use butter) and wait until it has cooled off.
So on to rolling the balls, you will need to get butter on your hands as the mixture is very sticky. I would suggest you have butter ready and reapply every couple of balls you roll.
Make the balls in whatever size you want, then roll the in the chocolate sprinkle (or nuts) and place them in the small cupcake pops paper and voilá!

This recipe makes between 25 and 30 depending on the size you make them.

Enjoy!!

Brazilian Cheesy Bread (Pão de Queijo)

Being Brazilian, I miss Brazilian food a whole lot. You may not be familiar with Brazilian cuisine, many dont even know Brazil even has a cuisine, but I can assure you we do and it is quite delicious and hearty.
I try and cook some type of Brazilian style meal every day and incorporate that with our everyday meals. Recently, I have been missing the sweet treats and the baked goods part of it. And I realized nothing (other than a hard to find ingredient perhaps) was stoping me from making them myself, so I got to work! My first attempt was the Classic Brigadeiros (chocolate balls) that we traditionally serve at birthday parties. I will post that recipe next.
Then I moved on to one of my all time favorite items: Pão De Queijo. Yum!! This is basically a cheesy bread, but not your cheesy bread from the Olive Garden. It’s nothing like anything I have come across here in the US. So I went on Pinterest and got my search on. I came across many a recipe but the one I found the easiest to make (by easiest I mean just throw everything in a blender!!) was this one from Our Best Bites and the result was just excellent. Very authentic and reminded me of home.
And what was better, my kids absolutely love it, and that made me think, “one day when they eat it elsewhere, it will also remind them of home”.
And home is now a quite lovely little house in the south of Jersey. <3

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Quick Brazilian Cheese Rolls {Pao de Queijo} – Gluten Free!
Recipe by Our Best Bites

1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup tapioca flour (sometimes labeled tapioca starch) no substitutions
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 C grated cheddar cheese* (preferably medium or sharp)
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
*you can play around with the cheese. I’ve used Monterey Jack, low-moisture mozarella, swiss, and even gruyere in place of the cheddar. All great!

Optional: extra cheese to sprinkle on top and any herbs/flavorings you’d like to add. Try rosemary and or garlic powder, my favorites!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place egg, milk, oil, tapioca flour, and salt in blender and blend until smooth. Add cheeses and pulse 2 times. Immediately pour batter into a mini muffin tin (if your muffin tin isn’t non-stick, spray lightly with non-stick spray first), filling each well about 3/4 full, or just slightly less. If desired (and I recommend), sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese on top and/or a tiny sprinkle of kosher salt.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes before removing rolls from pan. Serve warm. {Que Gostoso!} These actually don’t re-heat well so I recommend making and eating fresh.

Yield: anywhere from 16-24 rolls, depending on how full you fill your muffin pan. I fill mine pretty full (a good 3/4 full) and I generally get about 16-18.

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Tips: I found that this batch will make you 12 rolls. They are best when eaten right out of the oven.
You can eat it with jelly or cream cheese or both! As the recipe suggested, sprinkling herbs also taste great, or just plain!
Check out Our Best Bites for more photos.
Cheers!

Fairy Garden

When my good friend said she was throwing a Fairy party for her daughter who’s turning 6, I knew exactly what I wanted to give her: a Fairy Garden.
I got the idea from Pinterest where there are pictures of very elaborate fairy gardens with tiny houses and clothes hanging from a clothesline, basically a garden within a garden!
I knew I wanted to give one to my daughter this Spring. I specially liked this one from Playful Learning
And decided that would be a good start and we could add to it slowly.
Here’s the one we got for our lil friend, soon to be 6 year old:

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We got her a cute little annual Alyssum, a pot of perennial Moss, some river rocks, and some trinkets: a aluminum box with double windows that can be used as a house, a few small little bells, a little button jar, a few small clothes pins with flowers and birds on them, a small butterfly shaped “pool” and tiny little terracota flower pots.
She can add to it as time goes by, get a proper house if she so choses, and so on. I asked her mom beforehand if that was okay with her and if she had a small area in her yard for the garden to be planted.
Or she could do as some of the ones I had seen, like this one where you can keep it in a big flower pot.
All you need is to get creative and let the girls have fun with it!
I’m excited to put one together for my five year old next!

Coco’mon

Who knew!!
I went to shop rite the other day and found this gem. It really made me smile for some reason!

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And I think that the reason was that it is so fitting that he pursued something like this! Then after a quick research, I found that he has a couple of products in his Ziggy Marley Organics line! Hemp seed being the most interesting one to me. He’s a Marley after all!
Genius!!!

Flower Cosmetics

When I heard that Drew Berrymore was about to launch her own cosmetic line, I couldn’t help but get annoyed. Everyone uses their celebrity these days to promote some kind of perfume or clothing line that they had little or nothing to do with the concept and creation of it. But as I was cruising through the isles of Walmart in search of a couple of makeup items, I came across her line. And I have to say that even though I am not a makeup fanatic, her line’s attention to detail, color pallet and simplicity really stands out. I grabbed a couple of items, one of them being this nail polish called “Eye Of The Tigger Lilly” which has a very vintage 70′s vibe. I liked it a lot! (I apologize for the fact that I took the picture before cleaning the smudges;) but there you have it. This color seems to be sold out online, since the line is new I wonder if they will restock.

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

So it was time to step up again and make another themed lunch. This time, it was Dr. Seuss! It is his birthday week and my preschooler and pre-k babies are talking about him and his wonderful work at school. So we went all out: we read all of his books that we currently own, this morning we had our red and stripes on, and then there was this lunch. Very simple, but they got a kick out of it!

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What we have here is some left over chicken finger as the “roast beast”,
A cream cheese and strawberry jelly sandwich in the shape of a [flower?],
Some gold fish,
A strawberry and marshmallow “hat” with a shuffula tree holding it together,
Some red and white M&Ms and as a bonus a few sticks of pockys and some extra green M&Ms.
And some notes. Cuz you gotta send a note.

Valentine’s Lunch

So today a couple of great things happened. First, it was Valentine’s day and as much as I don’t personally celebrate it, I certainly make it very special for my children. We started with our Valentine’s goody bags and home made cards. And then I was off to make them a Valentine’s inspired school lunch. I have been all over Pinterest getting ideas and here’s something easy I came up with.
Oh, the second good thing that happened today was that we have received our PlanetBox bentos today. We can hardly wait to use them!

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For my daughter I sent some salad with half a hard boiled egg, and a cream cheese and jelly sushi sandwich (which did not come out as neat as it should have because I didn’t flattened the bread enough. My mistake!) some strawberries and as treats, a couple conversation hearts, Hershey’s kisses and some strawberry pockys.
Apple juice to wash it down, and a home made photo style Valentines with a picture of the 2 of us.
Yup. It was a great day.