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September | 2015 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: September 2015

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On the Menu: Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes I had heard about and never made because it always sounded finicky and involved. Turns out it’s not. It can be on the table in about 45 minutes including prep time and it’s incredibly filling and simple. 


  • risotto
  • roast chicken 
  • salad

Shopping List

You may have any or all of this in your pantry. Many of the ingredients will keep in your pantry and can be used on multiple occasions. 

  • roast chicken (You could buy a raw chicken and roast it yourself, but it will take about an hour. I also find that buying the pre-roasted ones are cheaper than the raw ones.)
  • broth, 3.5 cups or 28 oz (can be chicken or vegetable, store-bought or homemade)
  • arborio rice
  • onion 
  • butter 
  • grated parmesan or a parmesan rind
  • lettuce
  • salad dressing
  • salad toppings 

Equipment List

  • knife & cutting board (prep for risotto)
  • 2 2-quart pots (for risotto)
  • wooden spoon (for risotto)
  • ladle (for broth)
  • large bowl & tongs (for salad)

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For the risotto
  1. 4 cups broth (or two cans or one carton)
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 onion, minced
  4. salt and pepper
  5. 1 cup Arborio rice
  6. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Place the broth into one of the pots and put over low heat.
  2. In the other pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice to the pot and stir to coat.
  3. Add one ladle full of broth and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium-low or low. Allow the broth to be absorbed by the rice then add another ladle full. Continue this process until the rice is tender and most or all the broth is used up, about 20 minutes or up to 30. Stir occasionally and after each addition of broth.
  4. While the risotto is gently simmering is the time to prep anything else you need for the meal. Make the salad or saute the vegetables, zest the lemon and shred or slice the chicken.
  5. Turn the heat off and stir in the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
Adapted from Everyday Food
Adapted from Everyday Food
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/
Recipe Hacks

Here are a few ways to change up the recipe. You can use them if you don’t like the original recipe or if you want to make it a little differently from the last time.

  • The recipe calls for mixing in grated parmesan at the end, but sometimes I don’t have that on hand or don’t have enough. When that happens I throw in a parmesan rind at the start of cooking. It slowly melts into the risotto. It won’t be as cheesy, but it will add flavor. Just remove it before serving. The grocery store usually has them in the deli/cheese counter for sale for really cheap. 
  • My original recipe calls for a 1/2 white wine to be added the beginning of the cooking, before that first ladleful of broth. You can certainly do this. The white wine goes well with the risotto at the dinner table to be sure. I am usually out of white wine or don’t have a good bottle open so I frequently skip this step. In fact I nearly always skip it. Sure, it enhances the flavor of the dish, but not enough that I have ever felt it to be an essential step in the home kitchen. 
  • This is a basic recipe for risotto and to my mind it functions as a side. However if, instead of keeping it plain, you add a few things it becomes the main dish.

As the risotto finishes cooking, stir in some lemon zest (about a 1/2 tsp or more if you like it really lemony), some chopped parsley and, instead of serving the chicken along side the risotto, shred it up and mix it in. This is essentially chicken and rice stew. 

You can always skip the chicken all together and, if you want a one bowl meal, sauté some vegetables and mix them in. We like mushrooms, asparagus or squash of any kind. I don’t recommend cooking them in the risotto simply because they’ll get soggy and mushy. 

If you want to change up the grain you are using and try something else in the pantry, you can do that too. We frequently make this with quinoa. In that case, add all the liquid in at once and allow to cook while stirring. Also rinse the quinoa before cooking, because it can be bitter. You can make it with orzo, which is small rice-shaped pasta, or you can make it with barley. 

  • I usually hate having to use two pots – one for the broth, one for the risotto – so I frequently use bullion cubes to make the broth. I put the cubes in a large measuring cup and fill with water then microwave it to dissolve the bullion. This means the broth is already hot and there isn’t a need to heat it on the stove. 

Include Your Child

I frequently use dinner prep as a time to decompress and enjoy myself and find adding in my daughter makes it stressful and a lot more messy. That being said, I know it’s good for her to help out and she often wants to. So, here are some easy ways to include your child when making this dinner. No guarantee that they won’t be a bit messy, though. 

  • This is a tough one because there’s a lot of open flame and hot liquids, but I will have Cam help me ladle the broth and stir the pot as it cooks. I’ll let you determine if you want your child working at the stove.
  • Kids love to grate things. I know it seems scary, like using a knife, but hand them the zester and let them go to town on the lemon. Just remind them not to get too much of the white part of the rind, as it’s bitter. 
  • Kids can also help shred up the chicken. (I can’t recommend that variation of the recipe enough.) So long as the chicken isn’t piping hot they’ll do a fine job. Doesn’t matter if the pieces are big or small. They’ll break up more when they get mixed in. 
  • You can also include them on making the salad. They’re great at adding toppings, helping toss and tearing up lettuce leaves. 

Last Week on the Light Table: 3

2015-09-15 09.34.36 I’m slowly letting the light table take over a small area in our living room. I now have out several baskets and trays that allow many of our materials to stay out longer than a week or a few days.

Last week we had: 

I added some slotted translucent builders. This is a similar set on Amazon.

2015-09-15 09.34.42We also have straws and play dough out for building. As a side note, those Play-Doh containers are damn hard to open. I wish I knew of a better way to store it so it doesn’t dry out, but Cam could get into it by herself. 

Update: Cut the straws in half. Long straws are floppy and slippery and were really hard to build with. Narrower ones might be better too. 

Quiet Boxes: September 2

I actually only put out one new quiet box this time around. I kept the magnetic builder (which you can see in the last post) both because Cam didn’t spend much time playing with the quiet boxes over the last two weeks and because when she did, she played with this.

We have:

2015-09-17 18.56.08Halloween stickers and paper. We found the stickers in the dollar bins at Target and Cam has been all about making pictures lately so I thought it would be another good opportunity. 

Hundred Languages Read Along: Introduction

Hundre LanguagesIntroduction

I don’t usually read introductions. They tend to summarize what’s going to be discussed in each chapter and if I’m going to read the book, I can discover that for myself. The introduction here literally introduced the reader to Reggio Emilia, the city, and the surrounding area. It also did what introductions do and summarize each of the chapters. I did see how, if you did not plan on reading the book in its entirety, that could be useful. More information was provided than the chapter title so it would be easy to use this as a gauge for which portions would be most relevant and useful to you. They also explained why several of the chapters take the format they do, specifically why they are in interview form.

The chapter does go into a bit of detail about the title of the book, which stems from the famous exhibit that has been traveling the US for decades now. (Sadly I missed it when it was in a city a few hours south from where I live when Cam was tiny.) The authors wanted, after the exhibit opened, to elaborate on it and study it more fully. This was simply not possible in the exhibit format so they decided on a book. 

While all this information was interesting and marginally relevant, the introduction really shone in the last 8 pages or so where it gives an excellent historical overview of the educational and child care system in Italy.(They have high quality, state funded child care available to families from four months up! The US needs something like that.) It starts in the early 19th century, and without getting too dry and involved, covers political and social movements and reforms that shaped the system and allowed the Reggio Emilia approach to emerge and flourish. This was absolutely fascinating, but again not essential to understanding how the approach works or how to apply it (although I think they would argue differently). Certainly it gives a great foundation and at under ten pages it’s well worth reading. 

I do wish I could find an overview like that about American education. I think it would be very informative and would allow educators both a sense of how all the pieces of our educational system fit together and how to go about changing them for the better and adapting something like the Reggio Emilia approach to our schooling. In my own research I have come across the idea that our idea of school comes from an imagined ideal of the 1950s and it would be interesting to see both how that emerged and how it is changing. 

One last thought, I have an older edition (I believe the third edition is out now. It has a green cover.) which makes this one a bit dated. I suspect with the much more recent economic downturn and European economic crisis things have changed more, at least on an administrative level, and I would be extremely curious to know how that has impacted these schools and the services available to families. 

Friday Five: Houses

Here’s a list of five picture books on a theme. I’m going to start doing this series regularly so readers can have a few suggestions for books that might pique the interest of their children or might tie in with something that is already interesting their children. This week I chose a house theme, primarily building them. Feel free to share other titles in the comments. 

A House in the WoodsA House in the Woods written and illustrated by Inga Moore

From Goodreads: One little pig has made a little den for herself in the woods, and another little pig has a small hut next door. One morning they return from a walk to find that their big friend Bear has moved into the den and an even larger Moose into the hut. CRASH! With both homes collapsed, they’re all in a pickle—but what if they find a way to build a house in the woods that all four of them can share?

We love this book. It’s such a sweet friendship story and what kid doesn’t wish they could live with their best friends at some point. 

How a house is builtHow a House is Built written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons

From Goodreads: Describes how the surveyor, heavy machinery operators, carpenter crew, plumbers, and other workers build a house.

For the nonfiction fan. I bought this book for Cam when she was fairly young. You can edit the text as you read to tailor it to younger audiences. Classic Gail Gibbons, it follows exactly how a house is built from foundation to moving in. Also great for those kids that love how-tos and are interested in building. 

Building Our HouseBuilding Our House written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean

From Goodreads: In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country. Mom and Dad are going to make the new house themselves, from the ground up. From empty lot to finished home, every stage of their year-and-a-half-long building project is here. And at every step their lucky kids are watching and getting their hands dirty, in page after page brimming with machines, vehicles, and all kinds of house-making activities!

This was a fantastic birthday present for Cam from some good friends. We have done some major remodeling on our house ourselves (and I do mean ourselves) so the story really resonates with our family. But more than that it looks at house building from the perspective of a child and examines how you make a house a home. The book is actually based on Bean’s experience as a child, but instead of the year and half of the story it took five years. 

Stanley the builderStanley the Builder written and illustrated by William Bee

From Goodreads: What a job for Stanley – he’s building a house for his friend, Myrtle. He will need his digger and his bulldozer and his cement mixer! He will also need his friend, Charlie to help. But will they manage to build the whole house?

Oh, Stanley. We love that little hamster. The book is really for young audiences (2-5ish), but the pictures are so wonderful. They’re really basic, but there’s something so modern about them that they don’t feel childish. In this book Stanley and his friend Charlie build a whole house. Lots of great illustrations of construction equipment. 

 Peter's old housePeter’s Old House written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow

From Goodreads: Peter lives in a shabby old house in the village. He builds boats for the children, shows visitors around in ten different languages, and is the village doctor and handyman. One day an official tells him his house must be mended or pulled down.

It’s hard to go wrong with Elsa Beskow. A lovely story about a man who helps his community and is helped by them in return. 

Last Week on the Light Table: 2

The light table has remained really popular. Cam uses it at least once a day, which has really surprised me. She especially liked the stencils so I have left them out. I also added a couple new activities and put Blokus away. 

Last week we had:

2015-09-10 07.20.12Stained Glass Coloring Sheets and loose parts: Dover makes these coloring sheets that are meant to go in your window once they are colored. I bought a small kaleidoscope patterned booklet and an Arabic patterns which has a lot of geometric patterns. I paired them with tiles, jewels, and translucent beads. 

2015-09-10 07.19.16Transparency sheets and overhead markers: A few years ago the school my husband and I work for switched to digital overhead projectors and other technologies. They ditched all the overhead projectors and a lot of transparency sheets and markers. At the end of the year we rescued a bunch from going into the dumpster. I put out markers and cut down the sheets into smaller squares/rectangles. I also drew patterns on two sheets and set them on the light table with some glass jewels. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Decolonize Your BookshelfThose ShoesThose Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

From Goodreads: All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy’s grandma tells him they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” and what Jeremy needs are new boots for winter. When Jeremy’s shoes fall apart at school, and the guidance counselor gives him a hand-me-down pair, the boy is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

I think almost all kids have experienced what Jeremy does in this book. There is something new and shiny and it seems everyone has it, but them. And their parents, for whatever reason, won’t buy it. 

I think it’s incredibly impressive that Jeremy decides to spend his own money that he’s saved up on the pair of shoes he finds at the thrift shop. This is another layer of values added to the story. If you really want something you can rely on yourself to provide it instead of going to your family with an open hand. 

My only complaint about the book is that it shows an African American family having money trouble and it often seems like when there is representation of African Americans in children’s literature they are poor. It’s compounded by the fact that the author is white. Obviously this is not always the case. There are wealthy and middle class African American families, just like there are poor white families. However, I like that the book is not about being a poor African American, it’s just about wanting to fit in and have those shoes, but not being able to. 

I think the message of the book- that you can’t always have the latest and greatest- is a powerful one for kids no matter their socio-economic status. My own daughter is growing up middle class and she can’t have every toy, book and piece of clothing her heart desires. And that’s okay! But I think seeing that reflected in a book is very resonant. I also think for my own daughter seeing that other people struggle more with money than we do is also incredibly important. It’s good for her to look beyond outward appearances. 

On the Menu: Spaghetti


  • Spaghetti with sauce
  • Garlic bread
  • Salad

Shopping List

You may have any or all of this in your pantry. Many of the ingredients will keep in your pantry and can be used on multiple occasions. 

  • spaghetti (1 lb box)
  • ground beef (1/2-1 lb., depending on how many people and how much meat you like)
  • tomato sauce (15 oz. can, or homemade if you have it on hand)
  • Italian seasoning (this is one of those spice mixes that you can buy and keep in the pantry)
  • salt
  • bread (we like sourdough, but French bread is also good)
  • butter
  • garlic salt
  • lettuce (or bag salad)
  • salad dressing
  • salad fixings (whatever you like on your salad)

Equipment List

  • 2 quart pot (for sauce)
  • large pot (for pasta)
  • cookie sheet
  • large bowl (for salad)
  • tongs 
  • wooden spoon
  • butter knife

Easy Spaghetti
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For sauce
  1. 1/2 lb. ground beef (use up to 1 lb. depending on how meaty you like your sauce)
  2. 1/2 tsp. salt (you may need to adjust this based on how salty the tomato sauce is)
  3. 1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  4. 15 oz. tomato sauce (if using canned), 2 cups if using homemade
  5. More salt to taste
For garlic bread
  1. sliced bread
  2. butter
  3. garlic salt
  1. Heat your pot of water for the pasta. Make according to package instructions. This can be done while the sauce cooks. I use the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta as the time I cook and simmer the sauce.
For the sauce
  1. Over medium-high heat, heat the 2-quart pot and add the ground beef. Sprinkle with the salt. Brown the beef until there is little to no pink left. This shouldn't take more than about 5 minutes, but will depend on how much beef you are using.
  2. Lower the heat to medium-low once browned and sprinkle with the Italian seasoning and give it a stir to distribute.
  3. Add the tomato sauce to the pot and stir. I usually swish a bit of water in the can to get all the last dregs of sauce out. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to the lowest setting.
  4. Let simmer until the pasta is done, or about 15 minutes.
  5. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
For the garlic bread
  1. While the sauce simmers, lay out the bread slices on the cookie sheet.
  2. Butter the slices.
  3. Sprinkle with the garlic salt.
  4. Place your oven's top rack close to your broiler.
  5. Place in your oven with the broiler on high. Toast for 2-3 minutes until brown and toasty, but not burnt.
  6. Remove from oven.
  7. If you are like me and forget to move the rack, it may take longer to toast the bread (closer to 8 minutes) if the rack is in the middle of the oven.
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/
Recipe Hacks  

Here are a few ways to change up the recipe. You can use them if you don’t like the original recipe or if you want to make it a little differently from the last time. 

  • You don’t have to use spaghetti. I frequently cook up whatever pasta I have on hand. Fusilli and farfelle are good with this sauce. If you are super ambitious you can make your own pasta -it’s simple, but takes some time. I use about half the box of pasta for this recipe which means one box makes two dinners!
  • If you want to add in some vegetables or are vegetarian shred up some carrots (say one carrot per person if there is meat and two or three per person if there isn’t any meat) and add them in after you’ve put in the tomato sauce. Just be forewarned that they will cook down and release some liquid and will thin the sauce, so you may need to cook the sauce longer to boil it off. This is a Depression Era trick my family used. 
  • I use 3/4 lb. of ground beef with one 15 oz. can of tomato sauce (we like the Muir Glen, not because it’s organic, but because it seems to have the best flavor) and that will serve me, my husband, and my daughter (and sometimes my father in law). If you like meatier sauce or have more people, add more beef. I would say use 1 lb. and 2 1/2 cups of tomato sauce if you have 2-3 adults and 2-3 kids. 
  • You can add parmesan, either shredded or grated, to the garlic bread. 
  • Instead of salad, feel free to steam some broccoli and sprinkle the sauce and broccoli with parmesan. 
  • I don’t buy salad dressing. I just drizzle the lettuce with some olive oil and soy sauce, the way you would with oil and vinegar, then toss. Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. 

 Include Your Child

I frequently use dinner prep as a time to decompress and enjoy myself and find adding in my daughter makes it stressful and a lot more messy. That being said, I know it’s good for her to help out and she often wants to. So, here are some easy ways to include your child when making this dinner. No guarantee that they won’t be a bit messy, though. 

  • The garlic bread is one of the best places in this meal to include your child. They can butter the bread and sprinkle on the garlic salt. 
  • Kids are also good at making salads. There are lettuce knives that are plastic and not sharp that they could use to cut up the lettuce leaves. They can also simply tear the leaves once you have sliced off the bottom of the lettuce head. Or they can empty the bag of leaves into the bowl. 
  • If you’re looking for a story to go along with this check out Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. It’s all about how her magic pasta pot goes awry. 

Last Week on the Light Table: 1

So at the beginning of September I set up our light table, a hulking wooden box with a glass top, on the floor of our living room. It used to be in our classroom, but Cam wasn’t particularly interested in it so I put it away. I don’t know if the change in scenery or her being a little older has made a difference, but Cam is all about it this week. I cleared out her play food shelf (putting it with her play kitchen) and set out a few transparent and translucent loose parts jars for her to use with the other pieces I put out throughout the week. 

2015-09-01 15.40.22Last week we had:

Blokus: It’s this nifty game that requires spatial thinking skills and strategy, but the pieces are colored and translucent. Cam has always loved putting the pieces out on the board in different patterns and arrays so I t2015-09-01 15.41.08hought I would give them a try on the light table. My only disappointment is that the board itself is opaque and it has a grid on it that the pieces fit nicely into. 

Stencils: Cam had these Tupperware stencils out in one of her quiet boxes and she was all about them. Plus it’s great fine motor practice. I thought since they are also translucent I would put them out with some thin paper. 

Quiet Boxes: September 1

For the next two weeks I have two new quiet boxes set up. Cam is officially transitioning out of her nap. Thankfully she is willing to have quiet time every day and I get a couple hours to do things mostly Cam-free. More often than not she wants to continue doing what she was doing after lunch, but as the two hour mark nears she gets fatigued and needs some guidance. The quiet boxes are a quick go-to that she knows about and I can remind her of. 

We have:

2015-09-01 15.42.34Mega Magnet Fun: Cam has been into tangrams for ages and this was an extension of it. I like that it adds in the extra dimension building the shapes up even though they are still flat pieces. They appear to sell a slightly different version (no color pieces) on Amazon which you can see here

2015-09-01 15.43.13Popsicle Stick Puzzles: I had these foam popsicle sticks and found some puzzles. I’ve had them out for a long time, but I just don’t think Cam was seeing them. The activity is pretty tricky- she has to look at the picture and copy it with her own sticks- but she’ll 

I don’t think this is the place I downloaded them from, but you can get a set of cards here. You’ll have to provide your email address to get the download link. I’m sorry I can’t find where I got them from.