Foraging with Toddlers: Dandelion Flower Lemonade

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I started foraging when I was around 5. One day, after relentless hours were spent in search of food my sister and I finally struck the motherload; a batch of what we concluded to be wild onions. Big and bulbous we uncovered close to 15 “onions” and proceeded to hack them up with our shovels. We were backyard pioneers in search of nourishment after all.

“Gwaddddammitt girlsssss”. My mother appeared from the top balcony in near hysterics. Apparently we had not found wild onions but dahlia bulbs. Dahilas she had just planted that day and according to her, were very expensive. They now lay finely minced in a pile on the grass. Opppps.

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Despite mistaking dahlia bulbs for onions, I’ve never lost the thrill of foraging and it’s such a fun way to wile away a warm spring afternoon. Children, as I can personally attest to, love plucking things from the ground so it comes quite naturally to them.

Dandelions are probably one of the easiest plants to identify and forage safely with toddlers and they’re quite abundant. The flowers, leaves and root can all be used but its the flowers that caught Fig’s attention.

Our backyard is overflowing with the flowers so we don’t have to venture very far in search of them. I never forage in places where the plants could possibly be sprayed with chemicals, especially when I’m giving foraged food to my kids.

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Dandelion Flower Ice Tea:

Ingredients: 

  • Dandelion Flowers ( Thoroughly rinsed to avoid making lemonade with bugs)
  • Lemons
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Water

Directions 

  • There are no specific quantities listed above because nature is not like a grocery store and you may not be able to find exactly a cup of flowers. Generally, I would add two cups of water for every cup of dandelion flowers you have.
  • Lemons and sugar will be to taste. We had about three cups of dandelion flowers and used 5 lemons and 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • Combine flowers and water together. Place the jar in a warm sunny spot and let sit for a few hours.
  • Add the lemons and sugar. You can strain out the flowers at this point or leave them in. Chill for a few hours or serve at room temperature depending on your preference.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe:

  • Foraging for dandelion flowers
  • Rinsing leaves
  • Squeezing lemons
  • Mixing and stirring

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Tea for Toddlers: Chrysanthemum Tea

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Every afternoon Fig and I brew ourselves a cup of tea to share. We do this mostly because we both love tea but also to anchor the day and spend a few quiet moments together.  Fig is also pretty obsessed with playing “coffee shop”. In fact,  he’s recently taken to hijacking the play structures at our local playground, turning them into “Cafe Fig” and screaming to everybody and anybody that their macchiato is ready for pick up. Since he’s far too young for macchiatos we’ve been brewing all different kinds of herbal teas. Not only is it something we both look forward to but it’s such an easy way to involve toddlers in a simple and nourishing way in the kitchen. I always make sure the water is not too hot but just hot enough so he has an opportunity to work on his patience.

Today we decided that some dried Chrysanthemum  Flowers were the perfect fix for a day spent in the garden hauling……… hay ( What’s new. We’re currently spending our lives hauling hay. More regarding our horrible hay situation can be found here ). Chrysanthemum Flowers are not only beautiful but nourishing ( high in vitamin C, good for liver detoxification and digestion) and when you’re knee deep in hay and squirrel poo ( found that out the hard way) for hours on-end , these lovely little flowers bring us back to center.

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Cooking with Toddlers: Lavender and Wildflower Honey Lollipops

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This post could also be titled How I Nearly Burnt Down Our House…Twice….In The Span of 15 Minutes. One may think, how could you possibly burn down your house making lollipops? I shall explain.

In all honesty making lollipops is pretty easy but it takes a bit of vigilance. The honey must reach 300 degrees F in order to properly harden. In theory, all you need to do is watch the temperature. Once the honey hits 300 degrees you simply take it off the heat, stir in the spices and pour it into a mold. Easy peasy right?

When the temp reached 260 degrees F things took a turn for the worst . My 6 week old started crying due to ” extreme starvation” ( his words not mine). Right about that time, Fig entered the scene, pantless, strumming on his guitar and singing/squealing/screaming so loud I feared the windows may shatter. To add a bit more to the chaos, the dog decided that now was as good a time as any to start furiously barking at, let’s see, nothing. Because that’s how Mafalda the Dachshund rolls.

I checked the temperature of the honey right before rescuing the baby from near starvation. It was at 270 degrees Fahrenheit. In my sleep and caffeine deprived mind, I’m thinking I have a good 2 or 3 minutes before that baby reaches 300 degrees. Nope. Honey can, I learned the very hard way, go from 270 to 300 degrees in mere seconds.

A few minutes later, a nursing baby still in my arms, I start to smell something sinister and then the thick smoke came wafting into the living room. Upon reaching the kitchen I discovered a pot full to the brim with what appeared to be thick black tar straight from the depths of hell . “MOTHER F…Mother of Fudge” . Fig was staring right up at me as I nearly dropped the F bomb  and proceeded to repeat for the next four days ” Fudge …I need fudge”. Yeah Fig, I need fudge too. And wine, lots of wine.

To make a very, very, very long story short I nearly burnt down the house for the second time when I attempted to clean the “tar pot”. Turning on the wrong burner on the highest setting only to discover, 10 minutes later, that an empty and dry cast iron pot was near combustion. Strike two.

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I almost gave into these demon lollipops but decided I could not let evil win. I promptly decided that lavender was a must given my shot nerves.  Regaining composure, I let Fig crush up the lavender while I started a new batch of honey ( now we’re nearly in debt due to the amount of honey lost in the lollipop making process..demon pops I tell you!).

The final product; delicious. Fig is obsessed with them so I’ll call it a win despite the fight it took to make them.  I realize that you may never want to make lollipops given this story but trust me, they are delicious and totally worth it if you’ve had enough coffee and slept well the night before. You must watch the pot though! They say a watched pot never boils. Total B.S. It will boil, ruin your pot, and nearly burn down your abode!

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Wildflower and Lavender Lollipops:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of honey
  •  1 teaspoon of crushed lavender
  • Candy thermometer
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Lollipop mold ( not totally necessary, you can make your lollipops free form)

Directions:

  • Bring cup of honey to a boil on medium heat.
  • Once it reaches 300 degrees F, take it off the heat and stir in the lavender.
  • Place sticks in mold and pour honey into the mold.
  • Leave for an hour or so until the honey hardens and sets.

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Herbal Tea for Toddlers

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Fig spends most of his time playing outdoors. After observing his play the other day I realized if he’s not running up and down hills barefoot he’s usually sprawled out on the ground somewhere. And while it doesn’t really get cold here in southern california ( I mean it was 85 degrees today…in november!) the afternoon and evening air can be quite chilly and the ground gets cold.

So when we tromp home after our afternoon adventure we’re usually a bit chilled and ready for something warm which , for us, takes the form of a nice herbal tea. I’ve had limited success in getting little Fig to actually drink herbal teas until we started making our own blends. Something about crushing up the herbs, steeping them in that awesome metal ball and adding the honey transforms the cup into something Fig can drink.

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I also find myself making tea with Fig when he needs to do something with his hands and we’re short on time or don’t have any other activity available. Sometimes little Fig needs a “reset” button and brewing ( and enjoying) a pot of tea together is just the thing that does it.

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Some of our favorite and most commonly used teas and tea blends for Fig are:

1) Fresh sage and rosemary tea. This is perfect for cold and flu season since both sage and rosemary are antimicrobial. The taste is just delicious with a spoonful of local wildflower honey.

2) Elderberry Tea. We use dried elderberry for this one and make a delicious syrup. We then add a few tablespoons of the syrup to whatever tea we’re brewing. Fig like’s his elderberry syrup in just a bit of hot water and with extra honey.  The process is a bit more involved to decoct the berries into a syrup. We make it in huge batches before the start of cold and flu season or anytime one of us feels a cold creeping on. Check out this video on how to make the syrup.

3)Fennel Seed Tea: Fig loves to crush up the seeds. I usually add a bit more honey to this tea since the fennel flavor is a bit strong for Fig’s palate. A perfect tea for belly aches.

4) Mint Tea: We crush up fresh mint leaves or use some of our dried mint leaves and use it for minor belly aches.

5) Chamomile Tea: I have dried chamomile leaves in bulk and brew a little cup for Fig when life’s not going his way.

5) Catnip Tea: We use this before bedtime when Fig can’t unwind. Catnip is also really easy to grow and the pot we have outside is literally overflowing with goodness.

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