Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Solar Cooker Oven -- Science Fair Project

BigSis's school had a Science Fair last week. Participation was optional and non-competitive.

The optional part makes a lot of kids wiggle out the fair though and there was only about 30% participation from 5th graders. Ours is a good enough school district but I see the emphasis in elementary classroom is more on Mathematics and Language Arts while Science is kind of a "also ran" subject. More hands-on student experiments in class could have triggered more student interest I feel, but then it is all very easy for me to say while the teachers have to struggle with the curriculum.

At first Big Sis too was not sure if she wanted to participate. Her last year experience was not exactly great where she did the project with another girl whose Mother took upon herself to do most of the work as she thought the project should look perfect. The kids were mostly in the periphery, doing little as the mother strived for perfection.

But I am a Mother who believes that more elementary school girls should be involved in Science even though at this point they might not find it terribly interesting. It is good to get feet wet even if the swimming comes much later. So I asked her if two of her friends in the neighborhood would like to participate too. Eventually all three girls were very enthusiastic about the science fair.

Some topics were discussed from the internet and then they narrowed it down to making a rudimentary solar oven. I think it appealed to them that they could make s'mores and that the project started off with ordering pizza as they needed a pizza box to make the oven was a good start. Honestly most of their idea for the oven came from this site. But then they extended it by trying to compare two solar ovens, one big and one small. Their hypothesis was that the smaller oven would cook the s'mores faster. Eventually the comparison could not be done perfectly as there were only couple of sunny days in the week running up to the Science Fair but on the first warm, sunny day they were indeed successful in cooking s'mores in the larger oven.

I hope the experience was a good one for them as they followed the scientific process, collected data and learned to write up the experiment themselves and also make their poster board. They also learned that there will be failures in an experiment as none of the s'mores got cooked on a day that was sunny but also chilly.The school gave every participant a medal and a certificate and that boosted the morale of all participants. It was also fun to see all other cool projects on display that day.

If you are enjoying sunny, warm days, this is a nice project that young kids can do and cook their own snacks.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rocket Pinwheel -- Newton's Third Law

This simple experiment was something we did earlier this year. I thought of keeping a note as we might do it again with LS a couple of years later.

BS's class has been reading about Newton's Laws of Motion in science. To understand the third law of motion, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction", we found this simple and fun experiment from where else but the world wide web. Details on the experiment can be found here at NASA.

What you Need

1 Bendy Straw
1 Pencil with eraser at the back
1 Balloon
1 Pin/PushPin

What You do

Stretch the balloon a bit and then fit the nozzle of the balloon over the non-bendy end of the straw. Secure the balloon edge to the straw with tape.

Now find the balancing point of the straw with the balloon attached. You can do this by trying to balance it on your finger.

Once you have found the balance point(which will be the pivot), put the pin through the straw and lodge it on the eraser side of the pencil

Now blow through the open end of  the straw to inflate the balloon. Once the balloon is inflated move your mouth back and let go of the straw.

See, what happens.

Newton's Third Law of Motion says, every action is, accompanied by an opposite and equal reaction. In this case, the balloon produces an action by squeezing out the air inside causing the air to rush out the straw. So the air traveling out is the action. The air, traveling around the bend in the straw, imparts a reaction force at a right angle to the straw. The result is that the balloon and straw spins around the pin.

This YouTube video will give you a clearer idea of what is being done.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Doll for Heritage Day

Little Sis made this doll in school for Heritage day. The teachers helped for the most part while I did my part in dressing it up. The base was cut out on chart paper and was done by her at school. I am not sure if they used a template or not but even otherwise it would be something you could do easily. The drawings and colorings too were done by her at school.

The dress was done with fabric of which the class had a huge variety to choose from. Rest was just decking up with jewels etc. It is a fun project that kids can do at home too with left over fabric and stick on jewels.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Earth Layer Model project

There has been no post in this blog for a while. I have been meaning to but then we have been both lazy and busy. But today, I thought I would post about Big Sis's school project. It might help other kids in the future. She too had got part of  the idea from the internet. Also she wanted me to post about her project on this blog. So there.

In her 5th grade class they have been learning about layers of the earth. Well, I guess they already knew it from first grade but the current class build on it and delves deeper. For their science project, their teacher asked them to make a 3-D earth layer model and also write a fiction on topic involving "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

This was how her finished model looked like. It is made of play-doh and rests on a board, she broke in karate. The model is housed in a cookie box which was painted by her. The story, she does not want me to share. Making home made play-doh would have been the best idea but of course I chickened out and so we had to buy tubs of play-doh. If you can make play-doh at home, that would be great.

Based on Srijita's comments, I am updating this post with little more details on the steps:

1. Make play-doh balls of different color for the different layers. Keeping in mind the layer thickness, the ball sizes would vary. So, say starting with "inner core", you make a round red play-doh ball to represent inner core.

2. Next you take a larger orange play-doh ball for the outer core and roll it out to a large disc. BigSis used a "chaki-beloon"-- a wooden board where we roll rotis.

3. Then put the small red  "inner core" ball at the center of the rolled out  oramge dough and wrap this "outer core" around  the red  "inner core" ball. Smooth the surface. Do you realize this is almost like making a kochuri or stuffed puri.

4. You next roll out a larger yellow dough disc to represent the mantle. Put the two-layered ball from step 3 at the center of this and wrap the yellow mantle around it. Continue similarly with the next layers. You get the idea right ?

5. The outer most layer is made with blue play-doh. The continents in green and polar caps in white were made separately and stuck on the blue at the very end. The circular globe was then cut carefully to reveal the inner layers.

6. The notes were wrapped around toothpicks.

7. The earth model was finally placed on a wooden board(the ones from karate) and push-pins were used to as a base to place the ball on the board

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nutella Covered Crackers and Grandma and the Great Gourd

grandma and the great gourd

Grandma and the Great Gourd retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters. I had mentioned this book a couple of months back on this blog and we got our own copy from Amazon a few weeks back.

This picture book is a retelling of a Bengali folktale I have grown up with. My Dida, my maternal grandmother often told this as a bedtime tale and the image of grandma traveling in a big gourd was as exciting as intriguing.

The story summarized goes like this -- "Grandma who lived with her two dogs in a small hut at the border of the forest was invited by her daughter to visit her on the other side of the jungle.  On her way across the jungle, Grandma met a series of hungry animals: a fox, a bear and a tiger who wanted to eat her.  Being very shrewd she avoided the imminent danger by explaining to each, that she is very thin now, but will be plumper and juicier when she returns from seeing her daughter.  Grandma had a good time at her daughter’s home, eating lots of food and visiting.  But eventually, she had to return home to her dogs and her garden.  But how was she to get back?  That’s where the giant gourds in her daughter’s garden came in, and you will just have to read the book to find out how clever Grandma successfully manages to avoid the hungry animals and reach home safely."

I was very happy to read this book to my four year old as it brought back many memories.  The author tells the story in a very traditional way too which I felt was wonderful.The inclusion of noises in the story ,like the khash-khash of lizards slithering over dry leaves, the thup-thup-thup of elephants lumbering on forest paths, and the dhip-dhip of her heartbeat is the part both me and the girls liked best. I mean instead of using words like "lub-a-dub-dub" for heartbeat she used the more Bengali Indian synonym "dhip-dhip". I found my 4 year old enjoying these noises as much and the concept of grandma in the gourd really intrigued her.

The artist Susy Walter's  illustrations are bright and colorful and makes the story more vibrant.

I am not a book reviewer but I highly recommend this book for 4-7 year old kids who would love the illustrations and the simple story retold in this book.

Now the book ends with mention of a simple Khichuri, rice and lentils cooked together with vegetables, a staple in Indian homes. Ideally that should have been the recipe accompanying this post but to add more fun to book reading BS, my 9 year old made these nutella covered crackers instead.
This post continues from Bong Mom's Cookbook.

 Adapted from Tasty Kitchen's Chocolate covered Graham Crackers

In a microwave safe bowl add
1/2 cup Nutella
3 tbsp butter

Meanwhile line a cookie tray with parchment and place the crackers side by side. We used about 12 club crackers. Use less number for bigger sized crackers.

Microwave the nutella+butter for about 30 secs. When the Nutella+butter mix melts, carefully take it out and stir together. It will be hot so an adult should do this step

Drizzle the mix on the crackers so that the crackers are now covered in a ooey gooyey nutella coating.Don't worry about being perfect. It is not a work of art to be displayed in MOMA.

Pop in oven at 350F for 4-5 mins until they bubble. This step is optional and you can skip this and go straight to refrigerate in next step

When you see the bubbles, take out the tray, sprinkle or decorate as you like and chill in refrigerator or pop in freezer. The nutella will set to form hard coating on the crackers. Break them apart once chilled.

Finish them. Or if you are a saint store them in the refrigerator or at room temperature. I store them and they work perfect as a weekday snack.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sweet Potato Broccoli Parmesan Tikkis

These Sweet Potato Broccoli tikkis are inspired by Mandira's Sweet Potato Cutlets and Ikea's sweet potato medallions. More about the inspiration here.

I have packed them for school lunch along with bread. You can make a sandwich with them as the patty but BS did not like that idea, instead she wanted them separate. You can also wrap them in a roti and that is how she had them for dinner.

Cook in boiling water
2 sweet potatoes
2 small sized potatoes
half a head of broccoli chopped in large florets
Note: They have different cooking time so you have to do them separately or use microwave.

 In a bowl mash the potatoes and sweet  potatoes together. Sprinkle salt.

In a frying pan, heat 2 tsp olive oil. 

1 fat clove of garlic minced
half of an onion chopped fine

To the frying pan, add the cooked florets and saute for couple more minutes. While you are doing this, break up the florets with your spoon so that the broccoli florets are all crumbled into micro parts.

Add the contents of the pan to the mashed potatoes.
Sprinkle some Garam Masala.
Sprinkle salt to taste
Add about 1/4-1/2 cup of grated Parmesan(1/2 C makes it more cheesy)

With your fingers or the masher, mix all of it together to a uniform mix.

Take a small ball from this mix and then flatten between your palms to make a tikki. Make them to your desired size but not more than 1/2" thick. Place them on a tray lined with parchment paper and pop in the refrigerator for 30 mins.You can keep them there for  a day also.

When you are ready to cook, grease a flat pan/griddle with butter and heat it on the stove. Greasing is enough and you do not need too much oil. Place the tikkis on the pan and cook till brown. Flip and brown the other surface too.

Serve hot with some chutney. Also you can use them as a patty for sandwiches to be packed for school

Alternative Bake Option: I have tried baking the tikkis, brushing their surface with little oil and baking them at 350F for 30 mins, after which I have browned them on the tawa/griddle. The stove top is a better choice though.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chirer Pulao aka Poha(flattened rice)

While BS reads mostly the series and books popular here, I do try to get books from India like  Tulika books, Amar Chitra Kathas and such when my Mother is visiting. Folk tales are sometimes retold by me or the dad and I must admit, that does not happen too often. Often I don't remember the folktales in their entirety and I forget the nuances, which takes away the fun.

Chitra Banerjee Divakurani's new book for kids tells the story of a Bengali folk lore I have grown up with. I vaguely remember the rhyme that went with the old lady who was on an adventure, traveling in the gourd
"Lau gor gor, Lau gor gor"
"Buri jabe koto dur ?" 

More about the book is here:

GRANDMA AND THE GREAT GOURD by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters (Roaring Brook Press/ A Neal Porter Book, 978-1-59643-378-6, $17.99, March 5, 2013, ages 5 to 8)

·         Once upon a time, in a little village in India, there lived an old woman. Everyone in the village called her Grandma. One day, Grandma received a letter from her daughter, who lived on the other side of the jungle. "Please come and visit me," said the letter. "I haven't seen you in so long. I miss you." And so, Grandma begins a perilous journey to the far side of the jungle.  Can she use her keen wit to escape the jungle animals and make it safely home?
·         Chitra Divakaruni's sharp, rhythmic retelling of this Bengali folktale is complimented perfectly by Susy Pilgrim Waters's brightly colored, captivating illustrations.
·         Chitra Divakaruni's first book in the Brotherhood of the Conch series, The Conch Bearer, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and a Booklist Editors' Choice. She currently lives in Texas.
·         Susy Pilgrim Waters is an illustrator, designer, and painter. Susy lives in Boston with her husband, Keith, their dog, Tillie, two cats, and two bunnies. They have two grown children.

The book will be in the stores by March and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. I am going to get a copy for my girls for sure.

Now to the Chirer Pulao which I made on Monday and served as School Lunch for Tuesday. It is a simple lunch and also pretty tasty. You can add your own stuff to this depending on what your child prefers. I skipped the peanuts because this was for school and the coriander garnish is not something BS prefers. I also did not add any green chillies which I have mentioned in the recipe.

Chire or Poha is flattened rice and you can buy it from the Indian stores. Remember to buy only thick poha for this dish. 

Chirer Pulao or Poha


Cook 1/4 cup of steel cut oats in boiling water for 6-8 minutes. The oat should be cooked but have a bite. Once cooked drain on a sieve and rinse out the starch with cold water

Chop 2 small potatoes along the length or small cubes. Chop 1 carrot in small cubes. Defrost 1/4th cup of  green peas

Chop half of an medium sized onion. Peel and chop 1" knob of ginger in julienne

Fry a handful of raw peanuts till brown and crunchy. I skipped this for school.

Keep 1 cup of thick poha ready. We are going to soak it soon.

Start making the Chirer Pulao

Heat Olive Oil in a fry pan.

Saute the potatoes with a sprinkle of turmeric till they are golden brown. Remove and keep aside.

Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp of Mustard seeds and 1 dry red  chilli

When the spices pop, add the onion and saute till soft and pink. Throw in the 2 green chilli chopped in rounds and ginger if using.

Next add the carrots and green peas. Saute and then cover to let the vegetables cook.

When the carrot is almost done, add the potatoes and finish cooking them.

While the veggies are cooking do this:
Take a sieve
Put 1 cup of poha/chire on the sieve
Now hold the sieve under running water and soak the chire until they are soft.
You can also soak the poha in water directly but I often end up with soggy poha that way. The sieve and running water helps me control the exact softness I want in my chire

Once the veggies are cooked, add the soaked poha/chire to the frying pan. Add salt to taste and toss the poha so that the vegetables and the poha are nicely mixed. Add the cooked oats and mix well. Add a tsp of sugar and cook the whole thing for a few minutes. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

At the very end add juice of about half a lime and mix. Garnish with fried peanuts and chopped coriander.