Recipe: Watermelon Mint, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Spice Popsicles

It’s still super hot where I live, and I was responsible for desserts for a baby shower this weekend, so I decided to make popsicles.  The food being served is Mexican, so I chose watermelon and chocolate as flavors that would complement the food. Plus the watermelon is dairy-free and sugar-free so it’s nice to offer a super healthy option as dessert as well. The recipes below made about 20-watermelon pops and 10-each of the chocolate (so 40-total.) By the way, this is a great way to use up “mealy” watermelon or any fruit where the texture is less than ideal for eating straight.

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For the watermelon popsicles
1-very small watermelon
15-mint leaves

While you transfer the watermelon into a blender, remove any black seeds you see. Blend slowly so you can make sure all the black seeds have been removed, Then add the juice of the lime and the mint leaves and puree until smooth. Fill to 3/4 small drink cups (I use 3-ounce cups). Put in your freezer. Check at 30-minutes and then 45-minutes if they are firm enough to stick wooden popsicle sticks in. Freeze overnight. The next day take a casserole dish and fill with a 1/2-inch of water and put the frozen popsicles in the dish to loosen popsicles. from the cups. Put in cellophane back and twist tie for easy transporation to an event.

For the chococlate popsicles
16-ounces of heavy cream
16-ounces of filtered water
2-bars of Tazo chocolate (one was chocolate cinnamon and the other chocolate chipotle

This recipe is very inexact because apparently I didn’t buy enough chocolate.  Here is what I did (roughly). I put HALF the cream/water mix into a pan with the chocolate cinnamon chocolate.  It was obvious that this wasn’t enough chocolate so I had some chocolate mint hot cocoa mix from Trader Joe’s and I threw in enough of that until you could taste the chocolate.  I put it into a mason jar to cool down and through in some chopped mint leaves left over from the recipe above since the Trader Joe’s mix was giving it a minty taste anyway. Once the cream was cool I followed directions above for making popsicles. The chocolate mint dosn’t really fit the Mexican theme, but I felt like I couldn’t make JUST the spicy version below chocolate since everyone loves chocolate.

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For the rest of the cream and water I though in the VERY SPICY chocolate chipotle. Once it was melted I added straight baking chocolate and a bit of raw sugar until it tasted the way I wanted.  Then I added more cinnamon for a more Mexican feel. When it tasted right I cooled it same as chocolate mint recipe above.

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Low Water Use Backyard 

My family recently rehabbed an approximately 300-square-foot grassy area into a low-water-use play area for our young child. Although we had been planning on doing this project for awhile, the incentive of getting a rebate back from our utility made it even more compelling. There are a lot of considerations when planning a landscape design, especially one involving a play structure: how do you want the space to function, what’s the appropriate fill for safety, how much maintenance do I want to do, what are the safest materials, budget, etc. I hope to touch on all of these points in describing how and why I designed the project the way I did.

Our first goal with this space was to provide our daughter with an outdoor area for her to play. Because the space is small, we chose this geodesic dome play structure from Lifetime (available on Amazon here) because we felt that it allowed for more “unstructured” and imaginative play. We put a swing and some monkey bars hanging from the inside (it’s 5-feet tall) and also have a parachute that can go over the top and make it more of a igloo or house inside. The sand pit provides a safe surface should someone fall, but is also a fun place to build sand castles or bury treasure. The structure really packs a lot of punch for the space it takes up! We then planned the rest of the small space AROUND the play structure. We put mulch down because it was cost effective and good for safety. It also allows us to change our mind later as we may add some low-growing ground cover after the heat of summer passes such as dymondia.

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This job ended up taking us about two full-days with 2-adults. We had to remove about 4-cubic-yards of soil and grass. We then created a circular structure with some bender board that helped  us decide where to place the structure (this is KEY since the assembled play structure is VERY heavy.) If you notice to the left of the firepit there is a gravel-ly looking area, this is a drain for water, and the entire space gently slopes towards that point.  Without drainage all of our sand and mulch would float away and/or get moldy during the rare but torrential rain that we experience here in Los Angeles. There is also a drain under the sand pit which is  about 18-inches deep in the very center.  Here is a short document about the required depth of ground covers for safe play areas. Also, if you use sand for a play area, be sure it is “silica-free” sand because of the danger to children’s lungs of inhaling the fine silica.  Read more about that here.

Grass and synthetic grass are not considered safe ground covers for play structures because they become dense and compacted over time (don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger here…) We wanted to move away from grass anyway because of the water use, we also avoided synthetic turf for reasons I mentioned in an earlier post about low water use landscaping and about lead in synthetic turf.

Once the shredded wood bark and sand were in place, we then planted with some low-water-use plants including fortnight lily, blue fescue and yarrow. I love how the plants soften the angular lines of the firepit, they also help keep kids away from the corners which was my original reason for planting them. With the plants in place the final design has a pond-like feel with the “pool” of sand in the middle and the reedy-looking fortnight lily sprouting up in random corners. There is still plenty of space in front of the firepit to place chairs and hang out, and the flexibility of the mulch will allow us to plant more at a later date or put in a vegetable garden again if we ever decide we have the time for that. This design is practically no maintenance, and our daughter and her friends have been thoroughly enjoying the multi-functional nature of the space.

Be a spark in the world!

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Money Saving Tip: Stock up at Fundraisers

Children’s activities can really add up when you live in a town where the going rate for a 1-hour piano lesson is $60 and a season of soccer can be as much as $220. However, I’ve found a great way to save money by buying up a year’s worth of activities in one night at school fundraisers.

Local area businesses are always donating their goods and services to their neighborhood schools as a way to get the word out, and I’ve saved as much as 75% off by purchasing my child’s activities this way. While it isn’t inexpensive to buy multiple items at once, when you spread it out over what you WOULD have spent over the course of a year the dollars really add up. The key is to only buy things that you WOULD HAVE BOUGHT ANYWAY. I don’t spent money on activities that my child “might” like, just on one’s that I know we were going to do anyway.

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