Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gluten free vs. All Purpose - Oatmeal Cookies

Gluten Free Wins Again!

Gluten free is tricky.  So many things have wheat in them, and for someone who loves baking it can be incredibly difficult to get the hang of.  My little guy is on a gluten free trial to see if it helps some of his medical issues, so I can't just give up because I'm trying it as a diet fad.  My lovely sister is so great with gluten free, she has been accommodating a gluten free child for years and has some great recipes on her blog Bushel and A Peck if you are looking for recipes that mix different flours instead of using a mix like I am in this recipe.  I'm cheap.  There's no nice way to put it, I love saving money - it makes me feel like a superhero.  I have tried mixing flours and all the different ingredients to make gluten free recipes but I usually just end up throwing whatever I've made out because it's completely inedible.  So, in the short term it looks as though mixes can be more expensive - BUT if they make food that I don't have to throw out, it's really the most economical decision.  I've used the same recipe for these oatmeal cookies, one with regular all purpose flour and one with a gluten free mix.  In all honesty, there is no taste or texture difference between the two, and I'm happy to say I have another gluten free recipe under my belt.

Amazing results from the gluten free flour mix - identical tasting cookies!

    3/4 cup Butter 
    1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1/3 cup milk
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 

    Cream butter, and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg, milk and vanilla and blend well.

    In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients:

    1 cup flour (all purpose or gluten free mix)
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

    Mix dry into wet, and add any extras after well blended.  I made mine plain, but after baking most of the batch added 1 cup coconut and chocolate chips to a few, because, well... I love coconut and chocolate.  

    Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until the edges just start turning golden brown.  I (again) used an ice cream scoop to get perfectly shaped and similar sized cookies.  

    Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    Primary Occupation? Dad.... and he works outside of the home.

    Fathers often get pigeonholed into two categories. I hear/read complaints about men who spend no time in the home, need to "blow off steam" after work and spend weekend after weekend partying.  I also find that fathers who do not fit this bill, who are out pushing babies in strollers or playing at the park, are seen as "forced" to do this.  There is a vast middle ground, often overlooked.  Not all husbands who choose to stay home with their family in their free time are under the thumb of a controlling wife, or "helping" a Mom who just needs a break.  There are many fathers, who play a critical role in their children's lives - who are as much a parent as the Mom, or primary caregiver (please allow for alternate family scenarios here - two mommies, two daddies, one daddy, grandparents, etc).

    Spurred by the recent article about how men need two nights out a week with their male friends to be healthy and happy, I (admittedly ironically) need to stand up for my husband and husbands just like him.  Perhaps this article is true for single men, but even for single men - I believe the benefits of joining other men in community service, such as building houses with Habitat for Humanity or working at a food bank or homeless shelter would be more fulfilling and lead to a "richer" life as the article puts it.  You can read the article here:

    When our first child was born, my husband didn't freak out, but he also didn't get it.  Yes, he finally understood I was growing a person - someone who needed me to stop smoking, eat properly and take care of myself.  It wasn't just the annoyance of my incredibly sore back, my inability to party like we used to, he was here - a human child who needed love.  My husband took two weeks off of work, 11 days of which were spent in the NICU, and afterwards was back at life.  We were happy, but he still longed for what life was like pre-children. 

    We bought a house, a minivan, welcomed 3 foster children into our home, and went from two single carefree people - to two parents of four with a mortgage and heaps of responsibility - all within two years.  We had parties from time to time, with friends from high school, and they were great.  They were so great.  Costumes, food, games, sometimes belt lashings (long story), and we felt young and "free" again.  

    When our second child was born, my husband decided to take some of his parental leave.  Our foster children were (are) very high needs and it would have been very difficult to manage a newborn and their behaviour.  I believe this is where the shift happened for him.  What he thought would be three months of leisure, family time, visiting friends out of town, a few rounds of golf, etc. turned out to be incredibly hard work.  I had a c-section with my second child, had some complications afterward, and was off my feet for a while.  

    He got it.

    At first, all he got was how hard it is to run a well functioning house.  A house where the floors are swept, dishes are done, meals are made from scratch, and kids are happy (and usually dirty - the dirtiest things in the house!)  The first few weeks, he didn't understand how the house could continually transition from disaster to normal over and over again throughout the course of one day.  How laundry that was clean and put away went to unmanageable in a week.  How three bunches of bananas disappear in fifteen minutes.  While I appreciated him seeing firsthand how difficult staying at home can be, I truly cherish what he learned in his heart.

    Family is where it's at.

    After his 3 months were up, he was heartbroken.  Couldn't believe he had to leave his family and return to something he now felt was so meaningless and empty.  He loved (and still loves) his job.  He feels he's good at it, it challenges him and he loves his co-workers.  It just didn't compare.  The last week or so of his leave, he spent a great amount of time and effort trying to find ways to make money while staying home.  He felt sick to his stomach each time he remembered his time at home was running out.  

    He didn't take any trips out of town to see his old buddies.  He played one round of golf.  He didn't have a single night out at a bar, or a pool hall, or to the movies.  He fulfilled none of the things he thought he would in his 3 months, but didn't have a single regret.  He did take long walks in the middle of the night, with our fussy newborn in a sling, to help settle him.  He did do 90% of the dishes to help ease my burden of cooking for so many people.  He did spend special "boys nights" with his sons - watching movies like Star Wars and bonding over sword fights and popcorn.   He spent almost every moment with his family, and still wanted more.  

    We have had two more children since the birth of our second son, and his parental leave has grown longer with each child.  He took 8 months for the birth of our daughter, and 9 months for the birth of our last son.  Each time he had to return to work it was the same scene.  Tears and gut wrench at the thought of leaving his family.  

    I understand there are more Fathers who can't take leave than can.  Their spouse works as well and only one can take leave, he's a single Dad, he can't afford living on less, etc.  The point of this is not to say that Fathers should take parental leave, or have to spend all their free time outside of work with their family.  The point is, when you love someone - absolutely love them - you want  to spend time with them.  

    Spending time doesn't mean walking in the door and opening your laptop.  It doesn't mean reading the paper in the morning (if you're lucky enough to see your kids in the morning).  It doesn't mean watching sports and using your children as beer fetchers.  You're not clocking hours.  You're building relationship. My husband had a head start, he had (has) a Father who walked in the door from work and laid on the floor.  Literally.  He laid on the floor and his kids would jump on him, play with/around him, and inadvertently massage him until dinner.  My hubby does the same; except the kids know they're helping his back when he gets them to walk up it and jump off his shoulders.  

    I am a strong woman.  I have a tendency to be a leader.  I, very intentionally, insist on my husband taking the reigns in our family.  We make decisions together, he delegates many things to me, but he is the head of the household.  Because he stays at home in his free time, brings children to the grocery store or library, or helps on laundry day has nothing to do with my personality, my "controlling" him or his position in the household.  He does these things because he loves us, with a fierce intensity, that I am thankful for absolutely every day.  What does he have to show for it?  A wife that would lay down her life for him, who can't wait to rip his clothes off when the kids are in bed (watching your hubby do dishes can do that to a Mommy), and who picks up his socks from the TOP of the laundry hamper and puts them in with 99% no complaining.   He has children who love and adore him, who beg for the next "boys night" and are excited when he's home from work.  Most importantly, he has a family he his HAPPY to come home to, and a truly rich life.

    This post has been husband approved

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    Shortbread Saturns

    If you can think of a better name... submit it!

    Remember my burnt butter, fried banana banana bread?  If you do, you know I have a sick and twisted brain when it comes to baking.  While baking this weekend I wanted to make something extra special for a cousin who recently had a beautiful little baby.  Enter Saturn Shortbread.

     Melt in your mouth shortbread with burnt butter icing...... 
    These sweet little cookies are so easy to make but have a BIG taste.


    1 cup of butter, room temperature
    1/2 cup icing sugar
    1/4 cup corn starch
    1 1/2 cups flour

    Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add corn starch and flour and continue to mix well.  It will seem crumbly for a while, but the butter will continue to warm and you will end up with a dough similar to a fondant.  

    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  I used a melon baller to scoop out perfect bite sized cookies.  If you don't have one, make one inch balls and gently press down.  This shortbread is VERY crumbly when baked, so don't make your cookies too big or they won't hold together.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until the bottom edges are just brown, in 375 oven.

    While cookies are cooling, start the icing.

    Brown 1/4 cup butter in sauce pan.  It should look something like this when finished.  

    To brown your butter, simply melt butter on high heat and keep on stove until it smells like caramel and is a rich brown colour.  You may need to swirl the pan while browning to avoid burning and to brown evenly.

    Let butter cool and add

    1 cup icing sugar

    This will make a crumbly mixture, to which you can add heavy cream or milk until desired consistency.  I added 1tbsp to make a thick icing that would hold its shape in between the cookies.  

    *Makes 12-15 sandwiches*

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    I miss my Nanny-O

    Cooking from Nanny's Favorites

    Marjorie O'Neill.  I loved that woman.  She was so sweet to me, even when she had no reason to be.  She taught me how to knit (several times), taught me how to bake but more importantly taught me to be a better person.  To be patient, to listen, to serve others with a happy heart and to show love through baking.  This is one of her recipes I added a trendy ingredient to.  It doesn't make me cry like her Belgium Cookies (renamed Crying Cookies) but I do love opening her cookbook and remembering her in this small way.  

    Nanny called this recipe "Chocolate Cookies" which might lead someone to believe they are dark, with cocoa in the recipe.  I renamed it, but the ingredients are the same-ish.

    1/2 cup butter
    1/2 cup shortening
    1 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 eggs
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla

    Cream butter, shortening*, sugars, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. 

    2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt

    I make a well in my wet ingredients and blend the dry ingredients in the well before mixing into the wet.  If you want to do that separately (mix dry, add to wet), that's totally cool but you're doing an extra dish. Mix dough thoroughly.
    1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    1 cup milk chocolate chips
    1 tbsp rock salt

    Mix chocolate chips and salt into dough so it's evenly dispersed, no mouthfuls of salt once baked - blah.

    Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes until just brown on the edges.  I used an ice cream scoop to make even sized jumbo cookies, and 10 minutes did the trick.  

    *Do you ever wonder how bakeries make such yummy treats?  It's because they use things you don't normally use.  Shortening, lard, tapioca starch - stuff we don't normally add to our cookies can really make a difference.  If you don't want to use shortening in the recipe, replace it with butter (or any other fat - margarine, coconut oil) - but you eat shortening all the time and don't know it*

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    It's Selfie Friday?

    Late is better than Never!

    I can't believe I forgot it's Friday.  I guess that probably happens to stay-at-home parents all the time.  Only 3 measly entries so far (well, 2 - mine isn't an entry) but I will be happy to take more, so send them in and have a laugh.  Happy Friday my friends!

    This is particularly frightening, especially because my "good" one also looks a bit off - who's face looks like that?!?

    I love this one... night before and morning after.  Haha.

    Handsome vs. Slightly less handsome - do better man!

    Love it.

    This one is great - it's what you look like when you're childless and what you look like when you have a brood that wakes you up at 6am.

    Love your submissions, but we need uglier.  Have you seen mine?  Have you?!!! 

    This beautiful lady just had a baby a few days ago, so I think both look great!  :)

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Absolutely Bananas Banana Bread

    Bananas for Banana Bread

    Banana Banana Banana Banana Banana Banana Banana Banana Banana....
    Ok, it's officially lost all meaning.  Banana.

    Guess what?  I don't think banana bread is "healthy", it's not.  It's full of flour, sugar and dairy.  It is delicious, it is a million times better than "banana bread" flavoured items that come prepackaged in grocery stores but it's a treat - so don't eat the whole loaf yourself!  Share with your family, and if you don't have family - bring half a fresh loaf to your neighbour. Some for you, some for him.  I've brought banana bread to a neighbour who doesn't seem to like me much... or at all... and this really made things a lot friendlier for a while.  Baking is fun.  Sharing is more fun.  

    I just finished using my last 3 super ripe bananas for "healthy cookies" - see blog entry October - but was really looking forward to banana bread.  I had mostly ripe bananas, but not insanely ripe only good for banana bread bananas.  An idea came to me.  A sick, twisted idea.  Fry the bananas first.  After smelling the delicious fried bananas, I thought... why use plain old melted butter, when burnt butter tastes oh-so-much-better.  Enter Absolutely Bananas Banana Bread:

    4 ripe bananas
    Slice bananas in half, length wise, and brown in pan with 1-2 tbsp butter.  They should look like this when done

    Let bananas cool before mashing them.  Add:

    1 egg
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    1/3 cup melted (browned) butter

    If you've never browned your butter, just turn the heat up on your pan and let it brown a little.  You will smell it browning - almost smells like caramel.  Once the bottom is getting brown and it smells ridiculously good, remove it from the heat and let cool before adding to mixture.  I'd like to suggest doing this to your butter when you make popcorn - there is NO other way to eat butter popcorn.

    Mix wet ingredients together until well blended.  In a separate bowl, combine

    1 1/2 cups flour
    1 1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt (optional) - I only add salt when using unsalted butter

    Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined - don't go crazy with the mixing.

    You may find it is a bit dry because you cooked some of the moisture out of the bananas.  If you find this happens, add small amounts of milk and until it is wet, no more than 1 cup.

    Line a bread pan with parchment paper and pour entire batter into pan.  Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. If you want to do muffins, reduce bake time to 20 minutes. 

    I had a tremendously bad week.  You could not, in all your creativity, imagine the week I had.  I make things better with food, so at the 40 minute mark I added Skor bits and 2 tsp rock salt to the top of my banana bread and continued cooking for last 10 minutes.  Was it amazing?  You betcha.  Would the bread be just as amazing without it?  Yes.  I ate the bottom part separately from the top to taste it "true" and it is delightful on its own.  If you are having a particularly hard week - first *hugs* - second, I would mix Skor bits IN to the mixture next time, perhaps 1/4-1/2 cup.  


    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Why you should "date" your children...

    Yes.... date your children.

    Stay at home, work outside the home - it goes for all parents, date your kids.  Here's my short list why:

    For the last 2 years, this little man (5 years old) has insisted on looking like an actual little man.  He wants people to think he's a little person and not a child.  He insists on scarves, tying his hair into a ponytail and of course a moustache.  He usually wears a marker moustache, but I surprised him and splurged on a more realistic looking one.  It made his day.  If someone smiles at him as if he is a child, he slowly blinks and turns away - like a grown man would do to any nuisance.  It's so hard not to laugh but it's important to him and I can't get enough of it so I play along.  

    1. They need YOU.  It can feel as though you're always staying ahead of the tornado, and any of the conversations you have with your little ones are while doing something else.  Face to face time, truly listening and making eye contact is hard to do throughout the day - that's why setting time apart is important.   I only get to do this once in a while, and each child in my house gets 3-4 "dates" a year - so this isn't something that can't be worked into a calendar.  Set the date, pick somewhere quiet outside of the home, turn off your phone, and let your kid absolutely have YOU.  No dishes to do, no siblings in the background fighting for attention, no phone calls, nothing to take your attention away from your "date".    

    2. You're sowing seeds.  My oldest is only 12, so this next chunk of advice is purely from my own childhood and watching other families (succeed and fail).  Parents expect, and need, a relationship with their older children.  Parents who are trusted are more likely to be told about a school bully, sexual experimentation or abuse, drugs, etc - and parents with a healthy parent/child relationship will probably see these things before they're brought up.  This communication doesn't magically happen between two people, and it is especially not initiated by the child (now a tween/teen).  This is a cultivation of relationship -where the Mom who listened to ridiculous stories about superheroes and boogers, and then girls and things feeling "funny down there", is a trusted person to hear the big stuff like friends shoplifting and an inappropriate Uncle.  I know it's hard to look at a 3yr old and think - I'd better get this relationship headed in the right direction.  We are so busy making meals, running errands, wiping bums - but that 3 year old becomes a not-3-year-old so quickly and building the relationship becomes more difficult the longer you wait.  

    3. Activities are not included.  Soccer practice, karate, dance, etc. are not one on one time with a parent.  Most families play this scene on their way to an activity.... hurry up and get out the door before I explode, don't talk I'm concentrating on speeding to whatever we're late for, and phew... go do whatever activity I'm paying a fortune for you to complain about attending.  There are variations as always, but most outings look that way for a lot of families (even really nice families that don't fight during this process but it's the same process nonetheless).  I'm not saying being involved in programs, sports, and leisure activities aren't important or good - I'm just saying it doesn't count.  

    4. You'll love it.  Having more than one child means I can't lavish attention on everyone all the time.  I spend no time watching tv while they are awake, spend very little time on the computer or phone (no games) during the day (you have to watch yourself or it gets addictive), and use the majority of my time cleaning, prepping meals, teaching, playing, cleaning, breaking up fights, wiping bums, setting up crafts, cleaning, and - listening.    Even with all the time I allow for them, the time I carve out just isn't enough.  Some kids are more needy than others and want to talk to me all day long - explaining every thought in their head at great length, and some aren't.  They all need the same one on one time.  The point is, I hate feeling rushed - having to stop someone's story because another someone is crying, asking people to get out from under my feet so I can get dinner on the table,  hopelessly shushing everyone because someone was brave/dumb enough to call me.  I hate the feeling of not enough time as much as I love the feeling I get when I sit down with a child and say.... ok baby, talk my ear off. 

    All my dates have been in coffee houses.  The kids order steamers - hot milk with a flavour shot that they think is awesome.  We scour the games bucket before we leave and fill my purse with their favourite games.  Checkers, cards, my last date asked me to bring the photo album of when he was a baby so we could look at it.  I know I said no activities, but having a game like tic tac toe can ease the child in to real conversation when needed.  It really is nice to spend time with the little person you are raising.  Our children are NOT accessories.  They don't fill a quota in our lives, they aren't meant to look cute and impress our friends with their hilarious antics (total bonus if that's what happens) - they are people who are learning how to behave, love and be in relationships - so enjoy your time with them while they adore you and are so willing to learn.  

    *I've actually had to have a few dates in the house, turning it into a coffee shop.  If it's an older child's turn and my husband's work schedule is too hectic I let that child stay up late after the others are tucked in, and we replicate the coffee house at home*

    5. Teaching moments.  The moment to teach someone how to behave is not when they are in trouble for behaving poorly - it's from watching you do it properly in everyday life.  Practice love and respect in the home every day, correcting small hiccups as they come along.  The dates top it off, teaching your little ones that you share time (not money and gifts) to show love.  It also builds up their self esteem and their expectations of relationships.  If you want your daughters to respect themselves and have a high standard when making friends or looking for a partner - be that example.  Date your daughter.  Show her that what she has to say is important and worth being listened to.  That she is smart, funny, capable, and worthy of friendship.  Date your sons.  Let them be goofy, and sensitive without the social pressures to be cool and tough.  Show them that real men are strong enough to support those around them with kindness, empathy and selflessness.  

    The moustache man loves when I dress up for the date.  Normally I wouldn't wear my Downton Abbey hat out for coffee, but it makes him feel really important when I get dressed up and make an effort for our date.  

    In conclusion: Most parents love their kids.  Most parents want their children to grow up to be people they can be proud of - smart, compassionate, functioning adults.  Whether or not you date your children, find the time to cultivate the good qualities you want to see in them.  Despite unprecedented access to information, entertainment and freedom - our young people still need us, desperately.  Make human connection the bulk of their lives, and let the other stuff be that - other stuff, not the focus. 

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Hey, these are ACTUALLY good!

    "Hey these are ACTUALLY good" Cookies

    I love baking.  The only thing is, once something has been baked it inevitably gets eaten.  When I'm making pretzels, cookies and buns this can be a bad thing.  I want to be healthy and more importantly I want my kids to be healthy.  We limit our treats to Fridays, but throughout the rest of the week I get the urge to get creative in the kitchen and turn the oven on.  

    You'll need a food processor or amazing blender to whip these up.

    Preheat oven to 350.

    3-4 ripe bananas
    1 small can black beans
    1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa

    Add first three ingredients to food processor, and blend thoroughly.  It will be quite runny, goopy looking.  

    If you want to add a bit of sweetness, this is the time to do it.  If I have unsweetened applesauce I add about 1cup at this time (I didn't have any this batch and they were fine).  You could also add 1/4 cup of Agave nectar or even maple syrup if you need to slowly adjust your tastebuds (or your kids tastebuds) to a different kind of sweet cookie.

    1-2 cups of uncooked quick oats

    Starting with 1/2 cup at a time, add oats to mixture and pulse.  You will decide when there are enough oats to hold a "cookie" shape on your baking sheet.  I used 2 cups for a thick dense cookie.  

    1 cup chocolate chips, carob chips or raisins.

    When I first started making these I always had to add a few chocolate chips to entice the kids to eat it.  Last night when I made them, my 5 year old came running in to the kitchen to remind me NOT to put chocolate chips in half the batch!  

    Scoop out 2inch balls of dough with a large spoon and just plop (ewww, better word anyone?) them onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes and enjoy at room temperature.

    *If I have leftovers (I almost never do) I store them in the fridge.  If you choose to store them otherwise, simply place a clean dishtowel over them instead of plastic wrap as they are quite moist and you do not want them to mold* 


    Friday, October 18, 2013

    So excited for SELFIE FRIDAY!!!!

    Same caption as last week... different pics!

    Selfies are rampant.  The word has even been added to the dictionary.  I personally love seeing selflies, they are the most flattering representation someone can share of themselves and everyone knows it.  Still, they are posted and shared with no shame and I don't think I've ever seen anyone call someone out on a selfie, saying "Oh wow, you don't look anything like that!" or "How far above your head did you stretch your arm to get rid of your double chins?"  I love what selfies say about our vanity and about others kindness - which is why I will be posting Friday Selifes!  I've been sending terrible selfies to my husband for a while as a joke and thought I'd share the fun.  If you want to join in, send me your before and after selfie (taken within moments of each other) to share some laughter and to just be real for a minute!  

    Mine is SO bad, my hubby said he never wanted to see the picture again.  Ever.

    Love this one.  The second one is how I feel today!

    Another entry from this beautiful lady. 

    Actual LOL on this one!

    Getting some boys involved in the fun!

    This is frightening.  Truly.

    Love the calm, serene first one and the "I just drank a shot of vinegar" second one!

    Hilarious "mundane" selfies

    Driving selfie - truck drivers get to see the "good" angle all the time!

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    Love It or Chuck It!

    Love It or Say Goodbye

    Yes, I used two titles.  How many times can I say "chuck" and still be taken semi-seriously?  

    I think I may have picked up this philosophy from a hoarding show 6 or so years ago when I still had cable television.  We collect and keep things that are special to us, but leave them in boxes or storage and never appreciate them, and when that's the case - what's the point?  I often clean through my house, go through corners of "stuff" I have been meaning to use and literally say out loud "use it or lose it!"  Yes, it's lame - but it's effective and it is kind of fun.  

    After my second child was born - I put his first outfit in a drawer with the first's first outfit.  I took them out of the drawer, snuggled them like a total creep, stuck my face in and inhaled deeply.  I don't necessarily LOVE the outfit, but I love the memories they bring back.  I knew I needed to love them better than to keep them in a drawer.  I went to Michael's Art Supply during their Boxing Day sale when all their frames are 50% off (frames and photos are my true, deep weakness) and saw these shadow boxes. I thought - Huzzah! I can put little baby outfits in here and look at them every time I go to their room.  That's the beginning and the end of the story - each child has their own box, with their little hospital bracelet next to the outfit.  

    I'd like to note that my babies are hilariously big.  My smallest newborn was 10lb 2oz, and his outfit is the only one that actually fits in the shadowbox.  If your babies were anywhere under his 10lb you won't have a problem framing it in this size of shadowbox!

    So happy to share this pic of a copy cat!  This takes the outfit one step further and has a picture of the child IN the outfit.  I really love that idea, and may copycat it myself if I can find the pics!  

    Here is the same idea with the shoe the child wore in the photo and the actual shoe resting on top.  I have my kids first "Robbies" framed in little shadow boxes - maybe I'll share that on a later post.  

    It's so great to share ideas on how to love our "things" better.  Thanks for the photo contribution, and keep them coming!

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    Rosie's Raspberry Bars

    Rosie's Raspberry Bars

    The summer of 2010 we stopped at every bakery between here and NewFoundland on a family vacation.  I also had to stop and buy pants that would accommodate the bakery visits, but that's a different story.  Along the way we tasted some delicious squares.  I wanted to replicate one of the bars we came across but couldn't find a recipe online.  I came up with this recipe based on that delicious square, with some small improvements like a shortbread base.  This is my most requested dessert and is always a crowd pleaser.  Enjoy!

    Shortbread Base 
    1 cup butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 cups flour

    1. Prepare a 9X13 pan by lining it with parchment paper.
    2. Cream softened butter and sugar together.  
    3. Add flour and mix thoroughly.  
    4. Press into prepared pan, prick with a fork every few inches and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  
    5. Once shortbread is golden brown, let it cool for 10-20 minutes so your jam doesn't tear up the shortbread and make a mess of your squares!

    Using your favorite raspberry jam, carefully spread the jam about 1cm thick over the shortbread (you can make it thinner or thicker but if it's too thick it will be a complete mess to cut).

    I've also tried this recipe with triple berry jam and blueberry jam.  Raspberry seems to have the most flavour, but the other jams make delicious squares as well.  

    Carefully pour the sweetened condensed milk over the jam and gently spread it around to cover the jam entirely being sure not to lift the jam up.  

    Sprinkle roughly 2 cups of  unsweetened coconut over the sweetened condensed milk, covering the whole tray of squares.

    Throw the whole thing back in the 350 oven for 20 minutes or until the sides are bubbling up.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares.  If you have the willpower to resist, leave it overnight to cool so the sweetened condensed milk doesn't squish out of the sides too much when you're cutting the squares. 

    * These squares can be messy, so I cut muffin papers in half and place each square in their own little wrapper.  This keeps the tray clean and your squares neat and tidy. *

    If you want to try to make your own sweetened condensed milk:

    Dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup boiling water
    Add 1 1/4 cup of powdered skim milk and mix vigorously until all the bumps are gone (you can do this in a small food processor, but I do it by hand - less messy) 

    This replaces 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    The best things in life...

    The best things in life...
    Aren't free

    I know the saying, everyone does: The best things in life are free.  I don't live in a world where money is my currency, and neither do you (they just trick you into thinking that).  Time is my currency.  It's yours too.  

    My kids don't want money from me (well, yes they do) they want my time.  My eye contact time, not "uh-huh honey, that's nice" while glaring at a screen of some kind.  My husband only ever wants time from me - just to sit for a minute and chat, to put down the dishes for a few seconds and get in a good hug.  We don't exchange gifts (ever) but we give each other our undivided attention and time as a gift.  My friends and family want time.  Time to sit and eat a meal, time to play a game of Scrabble or Just Dance.  Time time time - you get the point.  

    The best things in life are fought for - blood sweat and tears.  Family, true friendship and love cost us all dearly and without them life is nothing.  

    Take Thanksgiving and this beautiful Fall season to invest time in the people you love.  Try not to spend any money (yes, I bought apples at this orchard) and really give your time.  Don't bring your cell phone - please just don't - or turn it off for Pete's sake.  Take a walk in the city or on a beautiful trail.  Make a thermos full of hot apple cider and surprise your kids with a story time on a blanket somewhere.  Visit your parents and don't ask them for anything - maybe bring some baked goods and get them to make you a pot of tea.  While remembering what you are grateful 
    for this Thanksgiving, show the people you are thankful for that you love them - 
    with your TIME! 

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Selfie Friday!

    Let's talk about it....

    Selfies are rampant.  The word has even been added to the dictionary.  I personally love seeing selflies, they are the most flattering representation someone can share of themselves and everyone knows it.  Still, they are posted and shared with no shame and I don't think I've ever seen anyone call someone out on a selfie, saying "Oh wow, you don't look anything like that!" or "How far above your head did you stretch your arm to get rid of your double chins?"  I love what selfies say about our vanity and about others kindness - which is why I will be posting Friday Selifes!  I've been sending terrible selfies to my husband for a while as a joke and thought I'd share the fun.  If you want to join in, send me your before and after selfie (taken within moments of each other) to share some laughter and to just be real for a minute!  

    My first reader submission!  Entitled "morning coffee"  HAHA!

    Another great submission!

    It's still Friday, time for one last submission!

    Thank you for humiliating yourselves with me - it's always good to laugh at ourselves from time to time.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Build Something! You can do it!

    Toddler Daybed

    I have a very special son who adds sparkle to our family.  He is sweet, determined, funny, a little mean, and always always always a blessing.  I usually keep babies in my bed until they are anywhere from 9 months to 11 months old, but this little guy is different.  He has many medical issues that complicate my typical sleeping arrangements, so he will be beside my bed until I feel it is safe for him to sleep in his own room.  He was in an Arms Reach co-sleeper, and couldn't fit if he stretched out - the top of his head touched one end and his knees would touch the other leaving no room for anything below the knees!  I spent months looking for a beautiful antique daybed - something to keep him beside me but not have him in the bed (he's wiggly).  While listening to the BBC I heard an interview with a woman who began building furniture out of necessity and ended up building an entire house!  Talk about inspiring!  Her name is Ana White and as soon as I got home I Googled her and found a daybed plan I really loved.  In all honesty, I didn't think there was a chance I could build this bed on my own.  I thought I would start it, show my good intention and have my Dad finish it for me when he saw how miserably I was failing.  Well that didn't happen and I happily completed the bed on my own.  My Dad DID do the cuts for me, he has a large table saw and has seen me trip on thin air and smash into my tv (totally broke it).  Since this project, however, I have done all my own cuts - this project gave me the confidence to make that step and I'm so happy I can do it on my own now.  

    The bed is called the Lydia Bed, and here's the link to build it from Ana White's website:

    The bed plan is for a twin, so I measured the crib mattress I had and adjusted the plan accordingly.  I also wanted the back of the bed to be high (instead of open so it looks more like a daybed) so I adjusted that as well.  I assembled the pieces and painted it before bringing it inside.  I kind of goofed on the length of the legs.  I went by the measurements on the site, but I needed them a bit taller so it would meet my bed right at the mattress.  I had to add a few inches, and you can see I chose some pre made deck finials and painted them to match.  I plan on taking them off when this doesn't need to be next to my bed anymore.  Here it is on my back deck:

    After a few months of using the daybed, my little guy decided to shock everyone by crawling and then walking shortly thereafter.  An active baby needs a bed rail!  With my new confidence, I took some measurements and headed out to the lumber store.  I used 1/2" pine and 1/4" wooden dowels to create a bed rail that can be easily placed in or out of the bed when needed.  If you make something like this and want detailed instructions on how to do it, just email me and I'll walk you through it or post it to the blog.  The finished product looks like this:

    The last tip is to keep paint from projects like this handy so if you have to repair dings, or paint an addition to it (like the bed rail) you don't have to remember the colour and get another can.  If there is room near the project, keep the paint in a safe place near the item.  The paint for this is in the far corner under the bed, and each of my bedrooms has the paint hiding in the closet.  It's nicer than digging through cans hoping to find the right one.

    You can build the things you'd like to see in your house!  Don't wait for a partner, hubby or Dad to do it for you.  Take your time, be safe and enjoy exploring your creative side by getting friendly with a drill or saw or even just a hammer.  If you do create something, send it to me - I'll post it!

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    ButterNut Squash Soup (Vegan)

    ButterNut Squash Soup

    That's not a typo - this is butternut squash and nut soup.  So delicious and almost impossible to mess up.   Local squash is plentiful and readily available so get creative and add some squash to your life!

    I had my soup on it's own, and a tiny bowl really did the trick.  My hubby mixed his with an organic sprouted rice & quinoa mix from TruRoots.  This is so thick, it would be amazing on pasta as well.  

    ButterNut Squash Soup

    1 medium butternut squash
    Coconut Oil
    Vegetable stock (roughly 4 cups)
    1 onion (you could use 4-5 shallots)
    Garlic (I used 3 big cloves)
    Almond (or any nut) butter
    Seasonings to taste

    The chickens loved the seeds I scooped out of the squash!  

    Peel and cube butternut squash, and brown in 2tbsp coconut oil.  You will need the pan to be quite hot. Once there is a beautiful caramel colour on a few sides of each cube add 1-2 cups vegetable stock, lower the heat to low/medium and put a lid on pan to steam squash.  While squash is cooking sweat your onions in a tsp coconut oil.  When the squash is cooked (soft) remove it from the heat, and place cooked onions on it.  Use the onion pan to caramelize your garlic adding a tsp more coconut oil if needed.  Just squish each clove a little before putting in hot pan to brown each side.  Put a lid on and turn heat off after brown to soften the garlic up a bit.  Once the garlic is done put it on the squash and onions and leave pan to cool completely.  

    Once everything is cool, put everything in a blender with enough vegetable stock to get it moving.  I put the blender on and did the dishes to let it really blend like crazy.  If you blend the squash hot, you will blow the lid off your blender and have squash on your ceiling.  Just wait until it's cooled.  

    When I was transferring the mixture to a soup pot I thought to myself... oh crap, I just made baby food. Have no fear, you will have delicious soup - not baby food.  That being said, if you hate cooking - just start with a dozen jars of baby food and mix in some onions and garlic.  

    Turn the pot of squash mixture to low and when it's warmed up add 1/2 cup of nut butter.  I used almond, but I'm sure any nut butter would do.  This is when you can decide how thick you'd like the soup to be.  I like soup that the spoon can stand up in, so I only added a cup of veggie stock.  When it's at your desired consistency - have a taste.  You might like it as is.   

    I added, a pinch of salt and pepper.  Tasted it.  Added 2tbsp nutritional yeast.  Tasted it.  Added a teaspoon of cumin.  Tasted it.  Added 2 tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Tasted it.  Perfecto!  You could add all sorts of fresh herbs and spices depending on what you have on hand and what you plan to serve it with.  If you're going to use it to top pasta, consider pan browning fresh rosemary and mixing it in.  

    I knew I wanted soup and my hubby wanted squash so I spent a few minutes putting this together and now we both have a lovely, healthy soup in the fridge for the next few lunches and dinners.  I didn't have a recipe, I just went with what I had on hand and ended up with something delightful!  Get creative with cooking, trust your tastebuds and make something fresh and tasty for dinner tonight.  

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Drabulous to Fabulous!

    Yes, that's the title.  I can't say Fab, nothing could contradict my personality more than saying fab.  Saying drabulous is totally acceptable.  

    Let's start with the finished product!

    My brother in law posted a free shelf, and I'm a sucker for free stuff so I said I'd take two.  I got these suckers home and had no idea where they'd go.  My hubby and I decided on where they'd go (had to decide so I knew what colour or stain to go with) and then I got to work!

    I needed larger areas for big picture frames so I knocked out two of the shelves.  Don't worry I saved the wood to make stools for the kids table!  

    I spent a little under two hours sanding, wood filling and sanding again.  I bought a mouse sander a few projects ago to help with little sanding jobs.  I'm all for elbow grease, but my hands cramp so badly it makes me not want to sand anything!  Solution - electric sander!  Feel free to judge me, but my hands are happy and I'm happy.  I have too many little people to leave sharp edges so I sanded every shelf edge and the corner edges as well.  There were quite a few dings and ink stamp marks (from the lumberyard) that needed sanding off as well.  Once the initial sanding was done I filled in all the nail holes with wood filler and sanded it again once it was dry. 

    Yes, I needed a ladder - this shelf is over 8ft tall!

    Once it was ready for stain I got a nice grey stain (Pepper Mill by Cabot) and got to work.  You can't stain in direct sunlight so I waited until the sun was off the deck and applied (and worked in) one coat.  This took about two hours.  I like to do the fussy work first, leaving the easier large portions for last so my head doesn't explode.  

    The back is a different wood (mahogany sheeting) so the stain showed up a little differently.  I decided to put in an accent on one of the larger areas and bought a roll of wallpaper from Habitat for Humanity.  I cut the wall paper larger than I needed so I could trim it right in the shelf with a box cutter knife. This kept the edges really neat and clean and gave me slack on my terrible cutting skills.  Full disclosure, I can't cut a straight line to save my life.  

    That's it!  Free shelf, two days with two hours work each day - and voila! 

    Don't turn down free stuff because it's ugly or needs work.  Putting a little work into something makes it unique and you can be proud of yourself for turning someone else's trash into your treasure!   

    Just say Yes

    Utilizing a budget means making small choices that add up to big numbers.  No impulse buys (even when it’s only a dollar or two) , and n...