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Fox Valley Cooks: Amber Albus, Blessed Beginnings preschool

Amber Albus helps her student AvKarg get rolling some gingerbread man
cookies Blessed Beginnings Preschool Bethany Fox Valley United
Methodist Church Aurora.

Amber Albus helps her student Ava Karg get rolling on some gingerbread man cookies at the Blessed Beginnings Preschool at Bethany of Fox Valley United Methodist Church in Aurora.

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3 cups flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ginger

1-3/4 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

6 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup molasses

2 teaspoons vanilla

Optional: 1 teaspoon lemon zest

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and egg on medium speed until blended. Add molasses, vanilla and optional lemon zest and mix. Gradually stir in dry ingredients until smooth.

Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for at least two hours or up to eight hours. Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days but should be refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.

Grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll out each portion of dough to about quarter inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookie shapes. Bake at 375 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet until firm and then move to wire racks. Decorate as desired.

Salt Dough

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup water

Mix ingredients and then knead to make a firm dough. Roll out and cut into shapes. Poke a hole in the top for hanging. Bake at 200 degrees for three hours. Cool and then paint as desired. Seal the ornament with clear sealer to preserve it.

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Updated: January 15, 2013 6:16AM

As a director and teacher for the Blessed Beginnings preschool in Aurora, 37-year-old Amber Albus frequently experiences what she terms “teachable moments — those times when you have a child’s interest, and so you go with it and they learn something new.” Whether it is remembering what comes after 15 when counting or writing their names for the first time, Albus shares in their joy.

Some of her favorite activities with children are those involving food.

“I love doing food projects with them because there is science and delicious food all rolled into one,” she says. “I think parents shy away from cooking with children because it is messy.”

Albus often cooks in her Big Rock home with her own three children.

“They all have aprons and chef hats,” she says. “They get excited about putting them on because it is like dress-up time and cooking time all together.”

Albus frequently connects a cooking activity with a story at the preschool. The children have enjoyed making green eggs and ham, stone soup and Paul Bunyan pancakes after hearing the stories connected to those foods. One of the student’s favorite food stories is “The Gingerbread Man.”

The children make gingerbread men and pop them into the oven. Albus then reads them the story about the runaway cookie while their cookies are baking. When the students go to take out the cookies, they find an empty cookie sheet. The cookie caper then begins as students go searching for the runaway sweets.

Another fun project with the children is making friendship fruit salad. Albus asks each student to bring in one piece of fruit. Then the class cleans and cuts up the fruit, mixes them up in a bowl and shares the fruit salad.

Albus encourages parents to invite preschoolers into the kitchen but offers a few suggestions.

“It is going to get messy, so be ready for that,” she says. “Allow the kids to touch the dough and get a little messy. Allow lots of time, because it takes longer to do things in the kitchen with kids. Keep things simple even if it means buying the dough all made to use for making the cookies. Make it fun and realize that the cookies might not be perfect, but they will still taste good.”

Albus invites children as young as two into the kitchen for activities.

Some kitchen activities are not edible but are still lots of fun. Albus has her students make a salt dough that can be easily molded into shapes. Some children push their hands into the dough leaving a handprint that can be made into an ornament perfect for giving to grandparents during the holiday.

Here are a two of her tried and true, kid-friendly recipes.

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