Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon on New Year's Eve Plus a Homemade Crouton Recipe

Blue Moon Over Gettysburg
Image by Mythicart on Etsy

Be sure to look up tonight so you don't miss the blue moon. It won't actually be blue in color, a blue moon is when a full moon occurs twice in one month. The next time New Year's Eve will fall on a Blue Moon will be in 2028!

We are off to a potluck dinner in our neighborhood this evening. I am bringing a caesar salad with homemade croutons. Here is how I made them...

Homemade Croutons
3 cups of whole grain bread; can be day old (I used half of a baguette that was two days old)
1/4 butter
1/4 olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed

Cut up your bread into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. I let mine sit out a bit and get even drier. Melt the butter and oil, along with the crushed garlic clove, in a medium skillet (I use cast iron), on medium heat, until it is frothy. Pour over the bread in a bowl and toss. Return to the pan and toast the bread, tossing from time to time, to get all the sides. Let cool and toss into your salad. These should be used right away, but they did keep long enough for me to make them, walk to the pot luck, and wait for dinner to be ready (about 2 hours). I removed the cover from the dish I brought the in during that time so they would not get soggy. The salad fed about 8 adults and some kiddos. You can double the recipe if you want even more crunch. Yum!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Quaint Little Gingerbread House

We are still in full on holiday vacation mode around here. We are slowly ticking off the projects we have been too busy to get around to. It is hard work to get to all the fun projects we set our sites on, but someone has to do it, sigh... We hope that you, too, have had sometime to relax and rejuvenate over the holidays. There is still time to turn off the tv and work on something you have always wanted to.

This is what inspired us to make our own little gingerbread house. It is the Christmas card we received from Grandma Lise & Papa Paul. It IS inspiring...

I truly can not remember if I have ever made a gingerbread house. I am thinking that means I have not. I remember witnessing many wonderful gingerbread villages and displays but not having made one. While I am sure I can bake gingerbread, I decided that for this year, it would be less daunting to go for a kit. I am not a kit kind of girl, but I must say that since I was working with a three year old, it was nice to just open the package and have everything we needed right there, including the icing in a bag that I just snipped the end off of (it somehow went missing for this photo...).

A blank canvas...

My lovely assistant...

Our back wall...

One side...

And the front of our house, complete with happy gingerbread man (wouldn't you be happy to be cover with sprinkles?!).

This was so much fun and the results have inspired us to keep practicing and someday maybe we will build a village. Or at the very least have a little decorating party with our friends. Score one for the kit! And it was nice to finally have something to do with our stale bag of marshmallows...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Favorite Handmade Christmas Gifts

It is always nice when someone remembers you during the holidays. It is extra special when someone makes you something, whether it be food for nourishment, a clothing item to keep you warm, or a toy to feed your imagination. We were lucky to received many handmade items this year...

Handknit Gloves
I have no idea when Aunt Julie took up knitting, or if it is something she used to do and started to do again, but I am sooooooooo impressed! I have written here before that I leave knitting to the experts. These are beautifully made and one of our favorite color palettes. Thanks, Aunt Julie!

Coconut Bites
I have a weakness for coconut cake and these little bites are amazing! I have asked for the recipe, as we ate them all in a couple of days. Thanks, Annie!

Felt Baked Goods and Handmade Apron
I got these for Quin from a friend who makes them. Quin loves both the real kitchen and her play kitchen. I am completely enamored with felt food and plan to start making it. These are so well done and we have already had a birthday party and a dinner party where they took center stage. We will get a lot of use out of these. If you want to know more, please go to Anna Laura's Etsy shop. As you can see from the photo below they came in real baking dishes and were eco-wrapped in reusable tulle. The goodies will go well with my favorite gift that Quin received, a handmade apron. I could tell right when Quin opened it that someone had made it. Then, I found the business card in the pocket. I can't take my eyes off of it, it is so pretty hanging in our kitchen. If you are interested the only contact info I have for the woman is an email address. Leave a comment and I will get it to you... Thank you, Grampa Wally, Aunt Tillie, & Gramma Kiki!

Pendant Made from Poppa's Tie Tack
This is the most thoughtful and surprising gift I received. My mother's father, the only grandfather I ever knew, passed away in August. When we were in Minneapolis for the funeral, I did take some of the items in my grandfather's jewelry box, but have yet to decide what to do with them. My Aunt Jackie took one of his tie tacks and had it made into a pendant for me! It is very thoughtful and came with a touching handwritten note. I will keep this Tiger Eye pendant close to my heart, as she suggested, and the note will live with the pendant, and it will all be handed down to my girls. Thank you so much, Auntie!

Glass Tile Pendant Featuring Original Art
My friend and fellow artist, Serena, made both this pendant and the art work on it. It was a pleasant surprise in her very adorable Christmas card. I love art you can wear. If you like this, see her Etsy shop, HeavensEarth.

Eco Friendly Recycled Notebooks
My Secret Santa, a fellow team member on the Alberta Team for Etsy, sent me these wonderful notebooks. It was perfect timing as I need to make some goals for next year and I prefer writing on paper to typing on my computer. They are available from Lisa Smithson here. I am starting to feel like an advertisement, but I think it is pretty cool that I know so many people who sell their great work and I like to pass that info on. As a professional artist I know that word of mouth is a wonderful thing.

Cookies for Santa and His Reindeer
We gave mostly handmade gifts this year, but one of my favorite is the cookie plate and note that Quin put out for Santa. We kind of down play the whole Santa thing, with one visit to see him, and then mostly talking about him on Christmas Eve. Quin is three and a half and she is pretty balanced as far as knowing the holidays are for family and that we do get some gifts from Santa. She was so excited this year! It made my heart swell when she wanted to give something to Santa. And it was adorable on Christmas morning to hear her coming down the stairs behind me asking "Do you think Santa took all the cookies to share with his reindeer and Mrs. Claus?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Recommendation - Christmas Cookies Bite Sized Holiday Lessons

I have decided I might as well post about the holidays until the new year. I guess most people would have done it all during the lead up to the holidays, but I am one of those people who doesn't really think about the holidays until the week before, then I cram all the fun into that week and on into the new year. Maybe that is why I haven't even received the Christmas cards I ordered to send out to people yet... I don't really get hung up on all of that, and I think it bothers some of the more organized people I know. But, I feel the only people I am accountable to are my hubby and kiddos, and well, they actually end up having more holiday fun because we are not stressed. We hang the lights, put up the tree, bake cookies, decorate with things we have made, read holiday books, have a little holiday photo shoot for our cards, go see Santa, hang with friends, do a little shopping, play in the snow, gather items for Santa's Anonymous, invite friends over for meals, go to holiday parties, connect with loved ones via cards, email, & phone, sit by the fire, cuddle... there are so many important things to fill our time.

One of our favorite holiday books, one of the only ones I keep on the book shelf all year round, is Christmas Cookies Bites-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Illustrated by Jane Dyer. It is a charming book that includes small children and their live animal friends making and sharing cookies. Each page teaches the definition of a word, by using an example based on baking the cookies. For example, " Aniticipation means, I've been thinking all day about making the cookies. I'm so excited. I can't wait." or "Responsible means, you asked me to put away the cookie cutters, and you can count on me to do it." My aunt bought Quin this book and we all enjoy it. The last page even has a Christmas sugar cookie recipe. A beautiful book that teaches children the joys of sharing the holidays with others. Check it out at the library or buy your own copy to enjoy and pass along someday.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Handmade Christmas Stockings (?) - Revised & Updated

Craft inspired me to photograph our Christmas stockings. Their staff was writing about their handmade stockings. I have had mine for my entire life, that I can remember, and always thought it was handmade, since my mom used to sew. Upon closer inspection it was made in the Philippines by the House of Hattan in 1976, so I got it when I was 3. Which makes sense, as my younger brothers, who are twins, also have a version of this. So, my stocking is vintage (as I guess I am, too) but not handmade. No matter, a flood of happy memories come back when I see it. And the cross stitched Santa has become Andre's stocking from someone in my family. It IS hand stitched but it comes from China (insert gasp here). 0 for 2 on the stockings I thought were handmade. Our girls have stockings that grandma bought them. It is my goal to make them each one for next year... maybe felt, maybe patchwork, so many options!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nothing Like Hot Chocolate & Homemade Marshmallows

Today was the perfect day to relax, take leisurely baths, play with gifts, and eat leftovers. We just took it easy, came down slowly from the holiday high, and had the same friends over for leftovers that were here yesterday for Christmas dinner. In the late afternoon, Quin & I needed a cocoa break. I am a bit of a cocoa snob, and have been known to make it from scratch with no powdered anything involved. But, I bought a bunch of fair trade organic Cocoa Camino products from friends who were selling them for fund raising, and one of the items was Instant DARK Hot Chocolate Mix! I have been dying to try it and since we had a few homemade marshmallows we made last weekend we needed to eat, we dove right in. The mix was delicious with organic milk, heavenly to say the least. I can't wait to do it again tomorrow. We hope you had a heavenly hot chocolate sort of day...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mele Kalikimaka, or for the non Hawaiian, Merry Christmas!

As my favorite card I received this year says, "At Christmas may you be surrounded by everything and everyone you love".

I miss many of my friends and family today but am so happy to have you all in my life. I am enjoying a wonderful holiday with my two amazing children and my incredible husband. I have so many reasons to be thankful! Merry Christmas et Joyeax Noel!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hallelujah for the Christmas Cookie Exchange

Who came up with this holiday ritual? I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. The Christmas cookie exchange is truly the lazy woman's answer for having tins of goodies of all variety over the holidays. I love the concept. And, after having heard of these wondrous events, I can now say I have taken part. And I am hooked!

Ok, I just had to look it up. While the Christmas Cookie Exchange is not credited to one person, it seems to first have appeared in print in the 1963 Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.
"A Party Idea. A popular once-a-year party is the Chrismas cooky swap party. Friends and neighbors gather, each bringing one dozen of her holiday specialty for each woman at the party. Cookies are set out to sample and admire and coffee is served. Afterward each one takes home a wonderful variety of festive cookies." Thank you,

On a side note, did you know that my father's mother was the first female executive at General Mills, and for awhile, she was some of the features on the face of Betty Crocker (who was a composite of several women)? More on that someday...

Back to cookies... on Saturday night, I was part of a cookie exchange. It was just up the road from my house, and I was able to go with a good friend, while her hubby watched our three 1/2 year old daughters, who were incidentally born on the same day. Michelle & I got to hang out with my babe and two other fine ladies, sipping wine, eating Mexican chili (even veggie style for me!), and chatting. In the end, my 4 kinds of treats, turned into 9! And now, I have beautiful tins of baked goods to give away as gifts and to eat. Yum, yum!

I hope to collect some of the other recipes, which included yummy Russian Tea Cakes, delicious oatmeal peanut butter cranberry cookies, and exquisite pistachio lime iced cookies. I can share what I made...

Peanut Blossoms, which I wrote about and posted the recipe for here. My Aunt Jackie used to make these during the holidays and I think of her every time I make them. She taught me how and I used to unwrap and push in the Hershey's Kisses.

Maple Cinnamon Pecans. I got this recipe from my favorite enewsletter, Craft Daily. They are easy to make and the host of the cookie exchange referred to them as "crack", so be prepared to be addicted.

Homemade Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows. The recipe is here. Once again, Craft Daily, and the same wonderful contributor. The cookie exchange host squealed when she saw these! I could not resist attempting these. I don't really like to just eat marshmallows but I thought they would make great gifts next year, along with cocoa mix. I wanted to give them a shot before planning to make bunches and bunches. It was quite easy albeit sticky. I think I got about 5 dozen out of this recipe. I would use more vanilla bean next time and a stand mixer... They are beautiful, delicious, and Quin has fun helping to put the crushed candy cane on. They need to be refrigerated and can be kept for up to one week.

Iced Sugar Cookies. I have to admit that the batter for these was not made my me. The horror... but I wanted to support a friend who was selling buckets of frozen cookie dough as a fundraiser for her son's school. I bought one, thinking how much fun Quin and I would have making them. And we did. And I have a great respect for people who do such a beautiful job of decorating these. The thought of making different colored frosting... eeck. I just made a simple icing from icing sugar, a few drops of water, and a couple drops of lemon juice. Add sprinkles et voila!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Making Homemade Baby Food IS Just as Easy as Opening a Jar...

...and tastes oh-so-much better. Trust me on this. With my first child, I bought a lot of organic jarred baby foods. I waited until she was 7 months old before I fed her because she was not very interested in food. In the end, she was not much of an eater until she was close to a year old, she preferred to nurse. I was all geared up to make her homemade baby food, but the few times I did she didn't eat much of it, so I stopped. I had cookbooks, a food mill, and storage containers all ready to go. I held on to it all. I am happy I did because our second little one recently started eating pureed food and she LOVES to eat. She is also nursing but she got to a point where she was so interested in food we actually started her at 5 1/2 months, which is a bit early. She insisted. And now, just a month later she wants to eat food if the rest of us are. So, now I get to make baby food, and I have a babe who can't get enough. I have not bought one jar of canned food. I have only bought organic fruits and vegetables, rice, and oatmeal, and have made it all myself. You can, too. It is truly simple!

A few tips on early feeding:
~ It is best to start with foods which are least likely to be allergenic. These include banana, brown rice cereal, and avocado. My first child started with avocado and my second with brown rice cereal. It is a good idea to avoid feeding acidic foods like berries, citrus, and tomatoes to new eaters as they can be allergenic.
~ There are theories on not starting your child with sweet items first as they might tend to crave them. My second child actually didn't like banana at first, she preferred cereals and vegetables.
~ Don't expect your child to eat a lot at first. Do not force a baby to eat. If they are interested they will open their mouths and if they close them or turn away when you try to feed them, stop. They should still be getting plenty of nourishment from breast milk or formula.
~ Do not save any leftover food from the serving your child has been eating from. Once the spoon has been used and put back in the food, bacteria is in the food and it should be thrown out. For this reason, when you make food, keep it in a larger container and spoon it into a smaller one.
~ Do not microwave your baby's food. I use a regular bowl, filled with hot water, and I put a small glass ramekin (bowl) into the larger bowl and mix the food to warm it up.
~ Most new parents have many questions about introducing food to babies. I can only cover so much here. Please see the resource links below for more information.

So far, Elle has eaten brown rice cereal, oatmeal, avocado, banana, potato, sweet potato, green beans, applesauce, and mango. My best friend gave me a wonderful Kidco food mill (see resources below). It is a super easy way to puree anything. I just put the chunks of food in it, add a bit of water and turn the crank. It is easy enough for my three year old to turn so she is happy to turn the crank and feels she is a part of feeding time. This food mill is really good for fibrous fruits and veggies, since it keeps the fibers, seeds, skin, and even bone beneath the medical grade stainless steel strainer and cutting blade set, which is not at all sharp to the touch. The body of the mill is made from BPA and PHTHALATE FREE plastic. The newer deluxe version has a skid proof bottom and crank, a snap on lid, and a travel case. Once you crank the food it fills the 4 oz feeding cup so you can feed from it. It is a snap to clean, in fact it is dishwasher safe, although I always hand wash mine. They are well worth their affordable price of about $20 Canadian. If you prefer you can also use a food processor or blender but they are more work to clean and you may need to strain the food before serving, depending upon the type.

Here is how I have prepared everything I have made so far.

Banana & Avocado
My daughter doesn't seem to like banana unless it is very ripe. It is easy cut up avocado and banana and to mash it with a fork. You can also put it through the food mill for the smoothest consistency. Because neither banana or avocado keep very well once mashed, I usually use about a 1/3 of the banana or avocado, and eat the rest myself.

Cooked Brown Rice Cereal
This recipe is from the book Simply Natural Baby Food (see resources below).
Place 1/2 cup of brown rice in 3 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour.

Rice should be very soft so you can cook it for longer if needed. Water may not be completely absorbed which is fine. You can puree this in the blender, which I actually do, because it is a large batch. I keep about three days worth of feedings in the fridge, and freeze the rest in ice cube trays. I usually have about 24 cubes (see photo below). I take them out of the ice cube trays and store them in freezer safe Pyrex bowls with plastic lids. I keep the cereal that I store in the fridge quite thick, and I add boiling water to each serving to warm it up and thin it out when it is time to eat. For the frozen cubes I usually put two in a hot water bath, letting them thaw, and then put them through the food mill. They hold their shape as they thaw and they absorb enough water that they usually come out of the mill the perfect consistency.

We like to put oatmeal powder in our bath water to guard against dry skin. I have an electric coffee grinder that I use just for grinding oatmeal and other grains. I spoon a few teaspoons of the powder into a small glass bowl and I add hot water. As it cools the cereal thickens so I add water once more right before I serve it so it is the desired thickness. It ends up about one part cereal to three parts water. You can also powder the oatmeal in a blender or food processor, a few cups at a time, and store it in a jar with a lid.

Potato, Sweet Potato, & Apple
Peel the potato or apple. Cut it into small pieces. Put in saucepan with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, then simmer on low until they are soft enough to puree, usually about 15 minutes.

I cut it into small chunks and put it through the food mill.

Green Beans
I cut the beans into small pieces then over cook them in boiling water. Once they are very soft I put some of the cooking water and the beans in the mill to make a smooth puree.

Food Mill
Kidco, Inc
~ Mothering Magazine Online
~ New Vegetarian Baby by Sharon K. Yntema
~ Simply Natural Baby Food: Easy Recipes for Delicous Meals Your Infant and Toddler Will Love by Cathe Olson

I would love to hear your recipes for baby food and am always looking for good resources. Please leave me a comment if you have something to share.

If you are wondering where I got this adorable handmade bib, it is from Christine, at Barnyard Baby on Etsy. She gave it to me as one of the Etsy Virtual Baby Shower gifts I received back in June, after Emmanuelle was born. It is well made, beautiful, and washes up well. I love it!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

She's Like a Rainbow - Nimbin Australia

I am involved with a book project with Female Photographers of Etsy (fPOE). We are in the process of voting on the cover image for our book "She's Like a Rainbow". I submitted this Polaroid Transfer of a woman in Nimbin Australia.
Image by Tiffany Teske

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegan Ginger Orange Muffins Using Crystallized Ginger


My friend, Cheryl, came over on Sunday. It was an extremely chilly day, something like -25 below and she WALKED to my house. I like to drink warm beverages and eat goodies with my friends, especially if I have not seen them in awhile. What better way to catch up? I had not seen Cheryl since BEFORE my almost 7 month old baby was born, and we live in the same town! I used to teach the recycled craft projects at the kid's program she works with. So, after Cheryl shed her layers, I handed her some mint tea and we proceeded to eat these delicious vegan muffins. Cheryl has been a vegan for 6 months. They are moist, delicious, and sweet without any refined sugar (although I guess that would depend on which brand of marmalade you select). I love that the recipe calls for both marmalade and crystallized ginger. They are extra delicious warmed up and slathered with almond butter. YUM!


I found this recipe on a site called Cat Tea Corner and you can click on this link to get the recipe. I will not type it out here since the copyright info clearly says their recipes may be printed out for personal use but may not be reproduced in any other form. Once you have clicked on the link above you are in the desserts, breads, and beverages section so you can scroll down to Gingery Orange Muffins and click on it. There is a large list of over 400 vegan recipes here. I can't wait to check out more of their recipes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Recommendation - Art's Supplies by Chris Tougas

I love children's books. I used to read them even before I had a child. I strive to write one someday, hopefully sooner than later. I live in Canada. There are far fewer children's book publishers here than in the US. We do have a wonderful organization called The Canadian Children's Book Centre where Canadian's can find out about Canadian writers and illustrators. I like to look for Canadian children's books when we go to the library. They make it easy by putting a Canadian sticker on the spine. I am also drawn to kids books about art and art making. I recently came across Art's Supplies by Chris Tongas. Like most books for children about art, it is colorful and well illustrated. The story is about Art and the party he threw with his supplies. It is full of puns and knock knock jokes, both of which children love. My favorite joke in the book is:
"What's the one thing an artist can't draw? ... A good wage!"
Haha. Much truth is said in jest...

This book is published by Orca Book Publishers. It is $19.95. Check it out for your favorite little artist this holiday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kickin' It Old School With My New Retro ORANGE Pentax Camera Case!

My dear friend, Kim, and I, like to check out the local thrift stores and rummage sales when we can. And should one of us be out hunting for treasures without the other, we pick up items for each other. Kim recently found an awesome camera bag for me for $4 bucks. Now, that would be a steal for any functional camera bag but this one is ORANGE, which just happens to be my favorite favorite color (although I don't like to discriminate, I like all the colors in one form or another). When she brought it over I was so excited! It is so nice to have a friend who knows something that screams "me" when she sees it. And extra nice that she picks it up for me.

Now, as a professional photographer, I have tons of camera bags, because I have tons of cameras. Only two are digital, my Nikon SLR and my Leica point-and-shoot, and the rest are analog; various 35mm SLRs for film, plenty of Polaroid cameras, a bunch of point-and-shoots for film, a 4x5, an argus, a yashica mat twin-lens reflex, and of course, my Holga with Polaroid back. These all live in various camera bags, some of which were made for them, some of which were not. Case in point, my Holga with Polaroid back, which produces Holgaroids. A Holga is a plastic camera that is so simple and unpredictable that the artistic possibilities are endless. And adding a Polaroid back to a Holga not only increases the fun, it makes the camera a complete tank. Case in point, see the photo above. (Yes, that is green masking tape, all the better to keep the Polaroid back from falling off when I am taking a photo...). If you are interested in checking out some of my Holgaroids, here are some shots on my Flickr.

Soooo, up until now, my Holga was living in a much-too-short-but-wide-enough-to-house-it Polaroid Spectra case. Which meant my Spectra was either naked or living in some other case which didn't suit it. NOW, thanks to this orange case, my Spectra gets her home back, and my Holga AND all of her accessories, which were living in the super small Holga case, can live in luxury in the retro goodness of the Pentax case.

A place for everything and everything in it's place. Ain't life grand? Thanks, Kimmers! Now, I need to get busy making some new camera straps...