Monday, October 17, 2011

Recipe Review: Apple Pie Bars

Way back in August we celebrated my husband's 29th birthday with the help of my parents, and had almost a week of fun before I broke my wrist. This is one of those projects that I had intended to blog about in August, but just never got to. Since apples are in season now, it's an ideal time to try these apple-filled bars from Disney Family Fun magazine.
Let me first start by saying that although the recipe is geared towards kids cooking, this recipe for apple pie bars took us two adults and a toddler to complete, and was at times very frustrating. That being said, the results were actually fantastic, and when we make it again, we won't worry so much about the issues that arose.

Firstly, the dough for the apple pie bars is very sticky, and did not seem enough for the recipe that is made in a jelly-roll pan. Here is a photo of my mom attempting to cover the filling.
It never did cover the top, but we learned that it didn't matter, as it spread a tiny bit while it baked, and had a very nice and even top crust in the end, despite the thinness and holes. Here we are sprinkling on the sugar and cinnamon before baking:

 The bars right out of the oven (before glazing):

Mina glazing the apple pie bars:
The finished product:
As you can see, the glaze felt nice on the fingers, and was tasty as well :)

We liked them even better the second day.
As a whole, it's a good recipe, but maybe not the most appropriate for kids to make. Especially not for kids that like perfection or are easily frustrated. We loved the flavors, amount of sweetness, and the addition of corn flake crumbs to soak up some of the apple liquid and give it a bit of a toasty flavor. My husband is a huge fan of apple pie, and he absolutely loved these. We all thought they were phenomenal for breakfast the next day as well! So, give them a try, but don't sweat the small stuff. They'll be tasty no matter what.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall Craft: Leaf Crowns

When I saw this craft in one of my old books, Linnea's Almanac, I knew we had to make it with the beautiful leaves from the maple tree in our side yard. With bright colored leaves woven together, the fall leaf crowns seemed like such a simple way to celebrate the uniqueness of the season.

Here's how you can make your own:
1. Start with a small stack of leaves. It helps if they are not dry and crunchy, but still soft and bendable. I also looked for ones with longer stems, as the stems hold the whole crown together.
2. Cut the very tips of the stems off, so that the leaf stems are slender and easier to poke through the other leaves.

Note: At this point you can either fold your leaves in half lengthwise before weaving them together, like I did for the crown in the next 2 photos, resulting in a flatter bottom of the crown. Or leave your leaf open to its full shape (as I did for the crown at the top of the page), resulting in a fuller-shaped crown.

3. Start with two leaves. Using the stem of one leaf, poke it through the other leaf near where the stem meets the leaf to join them.  Take a third leaf, and poke it through both of the other leaves which are already joined. Continue making a chain of leaves, poking the stem of the new leaf though the others near the stem/leaf point, until it is the right length to fit on your child's head when the ends are joined.
4. Join the ends together by using the loose stems toward the end of your leaf chain.

Here is my first finished crown with my copy of Linnea's Almanac, which has beautiful ideas for each month of the year:
Mina wearing the first crown:
I look forward to doing this project with Mina next year, when I hope she will be able to make one all by herself. This would be a perfect craft for a preschooler, or child in elementary school that has the patience to sit and concentrate for a few minutes at a time.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

End of Summer Wrap-Up

We're so glad to be back after two long months! For those who never heard the story, I broke my wrist the night before Mina's third birthday. I was running down the stairs to check on the cream cakes baking in the oven, and slipped at the bottom of the staircase, landing on my wrist and breaking the radius. After two casts, a splint, and some physical therapy, I am finally ready to type again, as well as get back to all the fun stuff Mina and I love to do and write about. Over the next few weeks I'll write about some of the projects we documented at the end of summer, and get you all caught up with our lives.

The picture at the top was taken just yesterday as we picked our last eggplant off of the potted eggplant we planted at the beginning of summer. We only harvested two eggplants over the season, but they were so fun to watch turn purple and round and funny. And it's always nice to pick a vegetable and cook it within minutes, it is very satisfying. Children love picking vegetables. Do you know how hard I had to defend this gorgeous purple eggplant for the last month to allow it the time to grow big enough to eat? It was nearly irresistible to Mina, but somehow it survived, and made a delicious Chinese eggplant and ground pork dish for last night's dinner. Mina will just have to occupy herself with the green onions now, as that is all that is still thriving in the garden by now. I hope to get garlic in the ground soon, for harvesting next summer. This will be a new plant for me, and as it is Mina's favorite, we are very excited!

We're gearing up for lots of cold weather ahead, and starting to prepare the house for long days of indoor play. We've started a nature table (which I'll write about soon), hung some felt boards on the wall, and need to start a toy sorting project to make the ones she actually plays with easier to access. We've also been stocking up on pink fall/winter clothes, as "cool pink" (as opposed to hot pink) is the only color Magic Mina will wear most days.

What are you doing to transition from late Summer to Fall to Winter? I'd also love to hear any ideas of things you'd like to read about from kid-friendly recipes to reading lists, crafts, etc.!

We're so glad to be back, and as always, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Read Aloud: Pippi Longstocking

This summer I'm reading to Mina the lovely novel, Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. And although I started with an old paperback copy with the original translation, I've switched over to this lovely illustrated copy from the library with a new translation and illustrations by the creator of the Charlie and Lola books and cartoon. You can take a peek at the book here on Amazon.

Mina has taken to the novel so much more after seeing these punchy illustrations and fun typesetting. This is the first chapter book I have read to her, so the pictures sprinkled throughout the book help create the sense of fun that I wanted for this first experience with a novel. I want her to love books, both classic and modern. I want her to love children's literature and not give it up too early (as I did). I also want her to explore her Swedish heritage. I have high hopes that Pippi Longstocking will be a good starting place for these goals.

Pippi is zany, independent, and strong. Her adventures are wild and original. Living without any grown-ups to care for her, it is truly Pippi's world. She molds the world around her into what she wants, not letting the outside world change her or her mind. What a lovely character for Mina, and other children, to meet.

There are also many opportunities in the book for tie-in activities, from baking to exploring outdoors. Here are a few ideas I've gotten from the book so far:
  • Bake heart-shaped gingersnaps. Pippi rolls hers out on the kitchen floor!
  • Go "thing-searching" in your neighborhood for little lost items. Pippi finds an empty thread spool and a tin can. Mina found a feather and a rock that looked like a bird egg.
  • Pack a "Pippi Picnic." She makes meatball and ham sandwiches, stacked pancakes with sugar, sausages, and pineapple puddings in Chapter 6.
  • Have a Coffee Party like Pippi in Chapter 9: Pippi has Coffee with the Ladies. Serve a "big cream cake" with a piece of red candy perched on top of the fluffy cream icing. Cupcakes would be perfect as Pippi ends up with her face covered in icing!
  • Braid your little girl's hair like Pippi, or make a red yarn wig like this one:
  • Draw a picture of Pippi's horse on a large piece of cardboard, color, and cut out. Place it on your porch just like Pippi!
I hope this inspires those of you who haven't read Pippi Longstocking to pick up a copy at the library for this summer and try out some of the activities with your little ones. Reading to your children is so important, and classic books like this one have so much to offer!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Shortcake is a classic summer dessert, but not one I get around to making terribly often. In an effort to get Mina to eat more fruit (and whipped cream?), I decided to bake up some homemade shortcakes this week for a weeknight treat. I love the traditional biscuit-style shortcake. They are buttery and only slightly sweet with a crispy, golden bottom. They should be eaten the day they are baked, as they lose a lot of integrity by the second day, but that shouldn't be a problem with all of the delicious fruit this time of year, not to mention opportunities for entertaining.

My grandma was the source of most of the kitchen magic of my childhood, and I want to share as many of her recipes with Mina as I can. I want to keep her particular brand of Iowa farm cooking alive. So I am sharing her recipe with you as well. Please make it for someone you love :)

Grandma Schantz's Shortcakes
Serves 6

2 Cups Flour
2 TBS Sugar
1 TBS Baking Powder
1 tsp. Salt
1/3 Cup Shortening or Butter
1 Cup of Milk

Stir the first four ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter or shortening with a pastry blender. Stir in the milk. Drop the dough in 6 mounds on an baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the tops are lightly golden brown. Top with whipped cream, milk, fruit, or whatever toppings you prefer!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada Day

We have lived in Canada for nearly two years now, and the time has gone by so fast. We have learned to cook Canadian specialties like tourtiere and poutine, and eaten countless others (Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, pea soup, ice wine and more). I've even learned to understand and enjoy watching hockey and curling. I've been very excited about Canada Day finally being here and having the chance to celebrate all things Canadian. Of course, summer plans rarely turn out how we've planned them with a (nearly) three-year-old in the house. 

Last year we spent the whole of Canada Day in the emergency room. Mina had a dislocated elbow, the day was less than fun, and it was definitely not the festive day I had hoped. This year we thought we'd cook some special foods, attend a family fun festival of sorts, and watch the fireworks. I had high hopes of eating a beaver tail, a Canadian fried pastry often topped with sweet toppings like maple butter or chocolate-hazelnut spread . Mina, on the other hand, woke up on the grouchy/whiny/difficult side of the bed this morning, and has made all plans futile. But as Brian said, "It's definitely not our worst Canada Day ever." Yes, that was last year. Hopefully it will live on as the worst ever.

We filled up Mina's pool, put up her beach cabana in the backyard, and took long naps. We might not get our special foods made (especially since our trip to the grocery store did not happen as planned last night) and we might not go to any Canada Day events, but we can still listen to Rush and eat some Kraft Dinner. We're all healthy and the weather is gorgeous. Not the worst day Canada Day after all :)

Please share your plans for American Independence Day! We'll be celebrating that too, from just north of the border.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Key Lime Caterpillars

We made some outlandish cookies this week, and they were seriously delicious! When Mina requested a caterpillar cookie cutter as a gift, I thought I would never be able to find one for her. I had never seen one, or eaten a caterpillar cookie for that matter. Apparently they do exist, and are a popular choice at the cookie cutter shop we visited in Wisconsin (Downtown Dough in Cedarburg)!

I wanted a roll-out cookie that would be different than our usual sugar cookie, and also would be appropriate in a caterpillar shape, so lime fit the bill. We made a key lime cookie with key lime glaze, so these cookies have a lovely lime zing. The dough is very delicate and buttery and makes a beautiful cutout. They can, of course, be made in any shape. They also need not be green, but it is a visual cue of their lime flavor.  So here's some photos of us making them and the recipe for Key Lime Caterpillars. Enjoy!
Key Lime Caterpillars 
1 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup bottled Key Lime Juice
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 1/4 Cup Flour

Beat the butter and sugar together.  Beat in the key lime juice and vanilla.  Beat in half of the flour.  Add the other half of the flour and mix in with a wooden spoon.  Refrigerate dough for at least 20 minutes.  Roll out and cut with cookie cutters.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden around the edges.  Cool and glaze with Key Lime Glaze.

Key Lime Glaze
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
2 Tbsp. bottled Key Lime Juice
2 tsp. Vanilla
green food coloring (optional, could also use yellow and green for key lime)
milk (as needed)

Mix the sugar in a bowl with lime juice and vanilla and green coloring.  Add milk to thin if needed.  Drizzle and spread over Key Lime Cookies.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Fun - Free Activities We've found!

While our family is vacationing in Iowa, we're attempting to find a variety of free activities to do with Mina.  So while we'll be back to crafting and cooking when we return to Canada, I'd like to share some of the fun free vacation things we've done.  And although we do love to save money, the reason for doing free activities this summer is a little different than usual: we never know when Mina will be scared of something or throw a tantrum, and we don't want to waste money on activities that we'll have to haul her out of!

So, we've taken her on a nature walk and animal watching excursion at a local marsh (Nahant Marsh).  It was a free and a wonderful thing to do on a nice day.  The highlights for Mina were standing on a floating dock and persuading a Blue Skipper Butterfly to land on her hand.

The next set of free attractions we visited were Iowa Hall, the natural history museum at the University of Iowa, and the Old Capital Museum, the first state capital of Iowa.  At Christmas, Mina adored Iowa Hall, especially the recreation of an Ice Age Sloth, Rusty.  This time, Rusty was the only thing she would look at at all.  Thank goodness it was free.  But it is a lovely museum, and I am sure your child won't be scared of a natural history museum.  Right?

But after the Iowa Hall fiasco, Mina decided she wanted to visit the Old Capital Museum (also on campus and also free).  So we indulged her, and to our shock, she loved it!  I don't know if it was that we were the only people in the museum, or the lovely historic furniture, but it was a hit.  It really salvaged our museum experience for the day, and we were able to continue to lunch on a high note.

Last weekend, we also took Mina to see Ballet Quad Cities: Ballet Under the Stars at Lincoln Park in Rock Island.  Free ballet was too good to pass up for a little girl who loves to dance.  She was entranced from the minute the dancers came onto the stage, and could only compare it to seeing ballet on Sesame Street.  If you're in the Quad Cities Area, check it out next spring, as it is an amazing opportunity to take a child to.  The rest of the summer they will do Shakespeare and classical Greek plays on the stage (also free!), so check that out with or without your children. 

There is just so much to do in the summer for no cost, and this is just a sampling of the things we've done.  We already have plans for some free outdoor concerts this weekend, too.  Thankfully the weather is warming up, it's feeling like summer, and there are still plenty of things to keep Mina busy! What free things have you found to do with your family this summer?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Apricot-Coconut Treats

Although we're visiting Mina's grandparents in Iowa, Mina has definitely found ways to make magic (and a mess) wherever we are.  Today we decided to let her get her hands a bit messy and make a delicious family treat, my Grandfather's favorite Apricot-Coconut Balls.  They are sweet and delicious, and require no cooking, which makes them perfect for hot summer days!  Even better, they only require 3 ingredients, which makes them a great project for little ones. 

1. Start with 3 ingredients: 1 1/2 Cups of dried apricots, 2 Cups of shredded coconut, and 2/3 Cup of sweetened condensed milk
2. Grind the apricots in a food processor until it is nicely ground and looks like this:
3. Combine the coconut, ground apricots and sweetened condensed milk in a large mixing bowl.
4. Mix well, using a spoon (or hands)
5. Roll the mixture into balls.
6. Refrigerate until firm and serve cold. 


Monday, June 6, 2011

A Spring Ritual

Hunting for morel mushrooms is a spring ritual in our family.  After the cold snowy winter, rambling about in the woods is the perfect antidote for cabin fever, and finding tasty morsels is really just an added incentive.  Growing up in Iowa, Mother's Day was always the magic day on the calendar that we looked forward to for our mushroom excursions, but of course the season depends on rain, temperature, and other factors (that I don't even remotely understand).

This year in southern Ontario, May 19th was the magic day, the only day of the year we found any morels. And I had a fool-proof plan for finding the precise day this year: I checked the spot where we found them last year every day in May until I spotted one. It helps that this was a few feet from our backdoor, so I am very spoiled here.  I am aware that not everyone has the luxury of having morels in their backyard, so you're on your own trying to decipher the weather and watching the lilacs for blooms (an indicator my dad swears by). 

This year we found 21 morels, and some were the tiniest mushrooms I have ever see.  I thought this was a pretty good amount for city folks without access to farms and creek beds to search.  Mina even found a few herself and picked them and added them to the basket. She was so proud. And I am so proud to be able to share this spring ritual with her. I had a phenomenal childhood, and hope to give her the same.

If you're lucky enough to find your own morels, you can try them Mina's favorite way:
cut in strips, lightly dusted in flour, pan-fried in butter and a touch of oil and finally, sprinkled with sea salt. I'm pretty sure this is the standard Midwestern way of cooking fresh morels, but it is delightful, simple, and so very seasonal. Mina loves all mushrooms, but she loves these the best of all.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pizza Magic

Pizza is magic, and not just for kids. Dough is so fun to knead, stretch, and smother with delicious things. We don't make homemade pizza often at our house, but when we do, it just feels special. Ms. Mina loves toppings: meat, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and full-fat mozzarella. Usually she fills up on toppings while making her pizza and barely touches the gooey goodness that comes out of the oven. The rest of us are okay with this, as her pizza makes a nice appetizer while we wait for ours to finish baking.

We don't use a pizza stone or anything fancy. I made my sauce tonight out of a can of tomatoes and some spices from the cupboard. But it doesn't matter. Pizza is usually delicious, especially if homemade.  Could it be better? Probably. But my family doesn't seem to think along those lines on pizza night. I guess we're swept up in the magic of the rising yeast dough.

My favorite recipe for dough is from Cooking Light, and I've never actually made it with the toppings they intend. I love the mix of cornmeal, whole wheat, and all-purpose flour in the recipe, and it's one I make again and again. You can find it here, and try it out for yourself: Let me know if you try the mushroom and Fontina topping, as I'd love to know how it is! The basics are always so satisfying, so we tend to play it pretty safe with pizza toppings around here.

Mina helped mix the dough today, which she loved. The combination of getting messy and cooking is a powerful one. I wasn't ready for her to stick her hands in, but there they were.

 Here we are topping Mina's own pizza. As you can see, she is stuffing cheese in her mouth by the handful.

And the finished product (the adult pizzas anyway, as hers disappeared too quickly to photograph).

As you can see, we are real people with a messy kitchen. We cook together, share hot pizza, and worry about the dishes later. It's magic.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mina Makes...the Royal Wedding Day Fun!

Way back in April, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was the only news fit to be broadcast, apparently.  As I am generally a sucker for weddings, and Mina, like most little girls, is a sucker for princesses, I decided to make a theme day of it at home.  There would be costumes, a tea party, and princess books.  It was a success, and I'd love to share a bit about our indulgent day here, on our very own, fancy schmancy, new blog. 

We started the day with costumes.  Mina has princess gear lying around, but it was much harder for me to rustle something up.  I settled on a sleeveless lilac dress from Land's End, it was laughably unglamorous, but the best I could do.  I threw on a floppy orange beach hat and one of Mina's necklaces and called it an ensemble!  She of course had a tiara, which I ended up wearing most of the day myself.  So we were dressed to go.  She helped her dad make coffee at her "Royal Coffee Shoppe" before I made my grand entrance downstairs (ha!).

The rest of the day was spent watching highlights of the wedding on TV, reading our princess books we had checked out from the library, and making and decorating cookies for our tea party.  And yes, I wore my "princess" clothes the entire day.  The highlight of the day turned out to be the cookie project, as I had forgotten how delightful my recipe for sugar cookies is, and Mina had a blast decorating them.  They are flaky like a pie crust, not too sweet, and perfect for adorning with sprinkles.  So here's the recipe, originally from the mother of my Aunt Peggy.   

Dorothy's Sugar Cookies
In a large bowl, mix:
3 Cups Flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 Cup of cold butter
Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, or 2 butter knives until the butter is in pieces smaller than peas, and an even crumbly texture is achieved. 

In another bowl beat together:
1 Cup Sugar 
2 Eggs
Vanilla to taste

Add the Egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until well blended.  The dough will be very crumby and won't hold together in the bowl - this is what we want!  Pour out the dough crumbs onto a large piece of cling wrap and pull in the sides until the dough crumbs are brought together in a disc shape.  Use the cling wrap to bring the dough together in a tight cohesive shape (no longer crumbly).  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out the cookies on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.  This is the part where your own discretion comes in.  I baked my cookies at 335 F for 14 minutes, using a dark non-stick cookie sheet (bake at 350 F if using a lighter colored baking sheet).  The baking time will depend completely on the size of cookies you've cut out, your oven, and how cold your dough is - so use your own cookie judgment and keep an eye on them.  We frosted with store-bought frosting and sprinkles.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we did! 

I hope you'll find an excuse to have a Princess Day at your house soon, even without a royal wedding to celebrate!  Our favorite princess book is called "The Princess and the Pizza."  It is fun, related to food, and has a very feminist-friendly ending where the princess decides she doesn't need to marry the prince and opens her own business (great, huh?).  So check it out from the library and read it to your magic foodie princess, I know she'll love it!  
And thanks for reading my first ever post,

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