Seasonal School Snacks

I mentioned in my last post that since it’s in season, I wanted to do more cooking with maple syrup over the next little while. Well, after reading a book about kids learning to cook, Thing 1 has been bugging me to make fruit leather with her. Since fruit leather is just pureed fruit that has been dried, I figured why not? Also, it’s a great way to use up an overabundance of fresh fruit (not really a problem here in the spring) or the fruit that you’d forgotten about in the freezer (more of an issue of mine right now).

My parents actually used to make fruit leather and dried fruit for my brother and I when we were kids. This was the era of the Fruit Roll-Up, but my brother’s sensitivity to corn (and hence corn syrup) made most versions of this store-bought snack inadvisable. Actually, the dehydrator that I’m using now is exactly the same one we used when I was a kid; my parents let me have it when they realized they hadn’t used it since my brother and I moved out.

The instructions for the dehydrator recommend that if you’re going to use a sweetener when making fruit leather, you should “use corn syrup, honey or fruit juice instead of granulated sugar which tends to crystallize”. We’ve discovered that maple syrup actually makes a great, all-natural sweetener for fruit leather that does not crystallize — and it adds a lovely flavour as well.

As an aside, if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can make fruit leather in the oven by drying it out at 200°F (93°C) for eight hours or so… But a dehydrator is a much smaller machine and uses a lot less electricity, so if you’re going to make fruit leather often, I’d recommend buying a purpose-built machine.

This is also the week leading up to Easter, which in our family means at the very minimum it’s time to dye some eggs! The kids like to take hard-boiled eggs to school in their lunches, so I made up a dozen for the week.

I used food colouring to dye the eggs vibrant, food-safe colours. There are all kinds of kits out there for dyeing and decorating Easter eggs, but a lot of them aren’t intended for consumption afterwards, so I like to stick with food colouring. The kids may decorate more eggs over the long weekend, though, and those will probably be with paint and glitter. They might be old enough to blow out the eggs to create permanent ornaments this year. Well, I know that Thing 1 is, but Thing 2 is not always as gentle as her big sister… And empty eggshells are mighty easy to smash.

The nice thing about blowing out eggs for decorating is that you can save the yolks and whites and make lovely scrambled eggs, or breakfast burritos, or tamagoyaki (either by itself or in sushi), or egg drop soup. This way, no part of the egg would be wasted. I have to admit, wasting food is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but all efforts should be made not to, you know?

Tie Dyed Pillow Cases

Tie dyeing with the kids is really something that I prefer to do in the summer when I can throw the kids outside in their bathing suits (which are synthetic and don’t absorb dye) to minimize the mess indoors. This time of year, with temperatures hovering around freezing and snow still covering the ground, that’s not exactly an option. Instead, the girls worked in their bathing suits and socks (warm feet are important) in the kitchen, over the metal sink, and we hoped for the best.

In the spirit of keeping things as cheap as possible, we used fabric we already had — four old, plain cotton pillow cases. We also bought the dye at the dollar store. So far, this are the cheapest kits I’ve found locally, with even Walmart’s selection starting at about $11.00 for a two-colour Tulip-brand kit that only makes three items. For six colours, you’re looking at upwards of $25.00. At Dollarama, they sell their own Crafts brand three-colour kits for $4.00 apiece, and we bought two in different colours. But would these kits work as well as the more expensive ones we’d tried?

When it comes to the supplies included in the kit, I found that they were more or less the same as other brands. They contained everything we needed except the water and the plastic to wrap the fabric as it sat, which is standard. Slightly higher quality gloves would have been appreciated, since they did leak and now the kids have splotches on their hands in places, but that seems to be standard too (just like the ones that come with hair dye). The instructions were clear and concise, and even had a brief photo tutorial for how to make different kinds of designs. We used the spiral (left) and bullseye (center and right) techniques on the kids’ pillowcases. (If you need more information about how to tie dye there are a million sites out there, but the Tulip site has some great tutorials that will work with any brand of dye.)

The kit did contain soda ash, which is necessary to pre-treat the fabric to retain vibrant colours. However, the directions did say that the dyes could be used without pre-treatment, but they would come out more pastel. I let the kids choose between waiting a bit longer to dye so they could have bright colours, or to do it right away and have lighter colours, and not surprisingly they chose to go with the route that required the least amount of patience. Despite the dire warnings of the packaging and articles online, after the first rinse the colours remained vibrant (above).

After a run through the washer and dryer, the colours did fade a bit, and I expect that they will continue to do so throughout their lifetime, but I remain happy with the final product. The kids are thrilled (according to Thing 1, the pillow cases are “Awesome!”), and since the project was for them, I say it was a success. (Bottom left and top right were done in the spiral techniques, top left and bottom right were done using bullseye — more techniques here.)

I will say one thing, though: each package of three colours claims that it contains enough dye for up to eight T-shirts. I guess that could technically be true, if you were to use very small shirts, and if you didn’t want a lot of colour saturation or variation in your design. Two packs, for us, did four very saturated single-bed-sized pillow cases (which I would say are about the same size as a small adult T-shirt), with enough left over to do maybe one more. That’s five items out of two packs of dye, when it claims we could make sixteen items. So keep that in mind when you decide how many items to prep. Even so, that’s five items in six colours for $8.00, compared to Walmart’s three items in two colours for $11.00, so Dollarama remains the cheapest place in town to buy supplies for tie dye crafts.