WW: Earth Day ’11 Picnic for the Planet

The rain/hail let up last week just enough for us to celebrate Earth Day with a picnic and campfire on Friday. I teamed up with friends at The Nature Conservancy to promote their Picnic for the Planet. It was a great event!

I was to busy eating pasta salad and grilled chicken and chasing kids to pick up the camera, but here are a few shots Danny and I managed to get between the two of us.

Here’s to the coming spring and many more picnic days ahead.

Cooking and Eating with Kids

Ah, February. With your icy snow, brutal winds and gray mornings, no wonder we turn our backs on you and set up camp in the kitchen.

Cooking and eating with kids has been an unofficial theme over at Simple Bites this month (well, that and sympathy meals). It’s only natural to hit the kitchen when it is nasty outside.

It started with a guest post on healthy snacks for kids. Cindy’s easy recipes for Apple Chips & Sun Butter Bites showed how easy it is to reform snack time. Even I was ready for an update.

In another post, I shared how winter is the best season for encouraging kids in the kitchen and Noah made a Baked Apple-Gingerbread Pancake almost completely on his own.

Simple Bites contributor Lynn then gave us a thorough post on baking with kids, not to mention a fantastic giant oatmeal cookie recipe. She provided a simple breakdown with doable steps and tons of super smart tips. She is not called The Cookie Baker for nothin’.

On a similar note, I guest posted over at Food for My Family on the (much discussed, often heated) topic of picky eaters. I give 5 Tips for Surviving with a Selective Eater and try to avoid pointing fingers at the parents. Seriously, can we stop giving parents guilt trips and just accept that kids are kids?

Last weekend, Danny, the boys and I ate nothing but pancakes as we were taste testing five varieties of homemade pancake syrup. There was no complaining to speak of from the picky eaters.

Look for a few new pancake recipes coming up just in time for Pancake Tuesday.

The First Gingerbread of the Season

Some people hmm and haw over the type of Christmas cookies to make each year, flipping though stacks of magazines and surfing endless recipes sites in search of the perfect holiday cookie that will surpass all baking efforts from subsequent years.

Not I.

It’s gingerbread for me. Every year. The little spiced men and I have exchanged vows and we’re together until death do us part. Or snack time, which ever comes first.

Now that I have children who are old enough to really get into the cookie decorating, it’s all the more reason to bake up an enormous batch of gingerbread cookies.

Last Friday was a ped day for Noah, and in hindsight, Mateo and I had prepared a double batch of gingerbread cookie dough the day before. Ten cups of flour, a pound of butter – we didn’t mess around.

We woke up to fresh snow on the ground, perfect for our holiday project. Spurred to action by the prospect of fresh gingerbread and inspired by the Christmas card setting outside the double patio doors, I extricated three boxes of Christmas decorations from a closet and – Diana Krall’s holiday CD tootling away – flew around flinging ornaments, wreaths and bells about the place in a festive fashion.

Our friends arrived for the cookie decorating fun in a bundle of pink and purple outerwear and we got down to business immediately.

Between my friend Tavia’s cookies and our gingerbread, we had over ten dozen cookies to decorate that would be later donated to a children’s function at church. OK, minus those that would not make it past the little decorators.

Still, eight dozen cookie to decorate is nothing to sneeze at.

Our little bambinos seemed up for the task, so we equipped them with the appropriate tools (colored Royal icing, sprinkles, and Popsicle sticks), then sat back and let them go to town.

Incredibly, they stayed put for over an hour, and turned out some darling little cookies.

The final product! Minus the two dozen or so that were consumed. There were many casualties among the gingerbread army.

I finally had to tell Noah enough. Enough! A few minute later I saw his hand reach out and select another one.

Me: “Noah! Put that back. I said you’ve had enough cookies!”

Noah (cradling the gingerbread lovingly close to his cheek): “Let’s just pretend it’s not a cookie.”

Boy, do I ever wish that worked.

Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies
This recipe is from Nick Malgeiri and you can find the original recipe HERE.

Makes about 24 large cookies, depending on the size cutter used (Aimee’s note: I probably got 8 dozen small cookies, but I roll mine thin so they crisp nicely.)

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup molasses

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.

2. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Scrape down bowl and beater.

3. Lower speed and beat in about half the flour mixture. Beat in all the molasses then scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until it has all been absorbed.

4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape half the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it to about a 1/2-inch thickness.

Wrap the dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 3 days.
5. When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

6. Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and cut it in half. Rewrap one of the halves and return it to the refrigerator.

7. On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured cutter to cut the cookies. As they are cut, place the cut cookies on the prepared pans with about 1 inch between them on all sides. Repeat with remaining dough. Save, press together, and reroll scraps (they don’t need to be chilled before rerolling).

8. Bake the cookies until they become dull and dry looking and feel slightly firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 12 to 15 minutes. If you overbake the cookies, they will be very dry. Slide papers from pans onto racks to cool.

9. Store the cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

For the decorating, I used Martha’s recipe for royal icing, which calls for meringue powder. I recommend using this over egg whites if you are decorating with/for children.

Also, a touch of almond extract in the icing improves the taste quite a bit.

Happy December and happy baking!

WW: Cake Wreck or Cake Love?

Happy Birthday Danny!!

** Noah and Mateo are wearing ‘Luna’ and ‘Chameleon’ tee’s from Barley and Birch’s Spring 2010 collection.

There’s no such thing as bad weather…

…just bad gear.

There are many joys that come with motherhood, however, the scads of laundry is not one of them. The list of enriching life experiences as a mother is indeed lengthy, but not once has laundry duty ever made mine. Nope, not even folding those ultra-soft, teeny-tiny pastel infant sleepers with the cotton pom-pom bunny tails.

I just plain detest laundry.
I’d rather pull weeds all day long than fold laundry.
However, I’ve been blessed with two boys. Boys who love the great outdoors, and everything it offers from mud puddles to slimy toads. This makes me happy, don’t get me wrong, but Oh. The. Laundry.

It piles up faster than kitchen scraps on the compost, and, unlike the compost, it doesn’t decompose when ignored.

Enter Puddlegear.

Boasting to be “Environmentally friendly and kid safe rain gear for tough customers”, Puddlegear is all that and much more. It has helped reduce my laundry pile from Mount Everest to Mount McKinley, and that alone is reason to love it. Less time doing laundry means more time to cook and bake.

Made by Abeko, leading manufacturers of raingear in Europe, Puddlegear is simply the best of it’s kind –and who knew rain gear for your ‘littles’ could be so cute? Or more importantly, so comfortable, practical, and downright essential.

Now we can get outside every day, no matter the weather. The turtles, snails and woodland critters don’t stand a chance.

Let me quickly highlight some of Puddlegear’s attributes:
• PVC and Phthalate free
• tear resistant
• soft & flexible
• wind and water tight
• certified by Oko-tech to be chemical-free
• machine washable
• totally cute!

There are also many small, but thoughtful details such as the reflective tape, reinforced knees and (my favorite) the boot stirrups.

(yes that is a toad in hand and a large turtle on the log)

The day after our Puddlegear arrived, we were downtown running errands and got caught in the rain. (OK, so we weren’t so much running errands as completely spoiling our lunch with treats from all our favorite places.) Somewhere between Café Myriade and Riz en Follie, it started splattering, heavily.

“MOM!” Noah cried, urgently. “We don’t have our Puddlegear!!!”

Somehow, overnight it had become essential for his existence in rain.

I laughed, but when the rain drove us into MMFA for an impromptu visit to our favorite Riopelle, I found myself agreeing with him. Eventually the rain dried up and we moved on to Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream; however I learned an important lesson that day:

Never, ever get caught in the rain without Puddlegear again.

(Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review, however I did receive free Puddlegear. Thank heavens I did, because it’s improved our quality of life. The boys are wearing Albin jackets with Ollie pants).