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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