Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Family-Friendly Fall Activities

By Brandi M. Seals

The Fall can be an excellent time to spend some quality time with your family. The Summer temperatures have cooled and the leaves have begun to change. This set up means more fun can be had outdoors.

This Fall plan ahead and have a few good weekend ideas in mind the next time the kids whine that there is nothing to do. Instead of plopping them down in front of the T.V. consider heading out for a day of family fun.

One of the best things about the Fall is the corn. While Fall is past the growing season for corn that humans consume, many place still have corn in their fields. Where there is corn, there are often corn mazes.

Generally prior to planting their crops, farmers that offer corn mazes will plan out a design. It may be winding and twisted or even look like a pumpkin to anyone flying overhead. There are several different mazes. Hopefully, you can find one near you.

Pick a cool day and gather up the family and head out to the corn maze. It may take you 15 minutes to find your way through or it may take several hours. Either way, the corn maze will entertain you and your kids.

Check with the people running the corn maze. They generally offer additional activities, such as hay rides, bonfires, or pumpkin carving contests.

If there are no additional activities, do not worry. You can still do many of them at your own home. Pick up some pumpkins at a roadside stand or grab some next time you are at the grocery store. You and the kids can have fun carving them in your own home.

Be sure to get a safe pumpkin carving kit. They come with dull serrated knives that can carve through the thick skin of a pumpkin and yet not hurt your child. If you still don’t feel comfortable letting the little ones carve their own pumpkins, at least let them pick there own design.

Using a pencil or marker, have your kid draw on a design that you can carve out. But don't steal all the fun. The kids can still clean out the yucky interiors of the pumpkins. Be sure to do this step with a newspaper under the pumpkins. It makes clean up a breeze. Simply roll up the paper and throw it and the mess out. But don't throw those seeds away. They can be baked up into a yummy treat.

There are several different ways to prepare pumpkin seeds but I like to bake them. Start by cleaning the seeds off. Make sure they are free of all pulp and then soak them in a mixture of salt and water. It doesn't have to be perfect, but a ½ a tablespoon per cup of water used generally works well. Allow the seeds to soak at least 8 hours.

When you are ready for the next step, remove the pumpkin seeds from the salt water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pumpkin seeds out on a baking sheet so that they are not stacked on top one another and pat dry. Toast the seeds for 20 minutes or until they begin to darken. If you can see them jumping up off the pan, they are done.

If pumpkins are not your thing, think about visiting an apple orchard. Apple orchards are great in the fall. The apples are ready. Cider is available and there tons of apple-related activities for visitors to be occupied with.

Pick some apples with your family then turn them into candied apples or caramel apples in your own home. There are kits available at most grocery stores to make these tasty treats. If you cannot find one or want to do it yourself, follow the recipe below.

1 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup of butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
14 oz of sweetened, condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
10 apples

Melt butter in a sauce pan and slowly add in the brown sugar, corn syrup, and a dash of salt if you like. Cooking over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil (being sure to stir occasionally). Stir in the condensed milk. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches 245 degrees. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Dip your apples into the mixture and then roll them in the chopped peanuts. Allow the apples to rest on wax paper until they set up completely.

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