Archive for July, 2012

“Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” -Barbara Jordan, U.S. Attorney

Last month while on my weekend away to Idaho, glamping at MaryJane’s Farm, I found this lovely white enamel lunch pale and milk crate with bottles in the MaryJane’s store in Moscow. I have been hunting for little milk bottles like this for about six years, ever since I attended srapbooking retreats at Katy’s Inn in La Conner, Washington. At 10pm, after a long day scrapbooking and socializing, Cindy, the owner and chef, would serve us freshly baked, warm chocolate chip cookies along with cute little bottles of milk. I fell in love with the idea of milk and cookies presented in this way and looked forward to it each time we headed up for a scrapbooking weekend.

I am now pleased to have my own set of little milk bottles to fancy up our afternoon milk and cookies. The kids loved the milk bottles, and what I am now calling the cookie canister, when I first presented it to them earlier this week. This is turning out to be a lovely afternoon tradition for the summer and I can see it working well for our after school snack during the school year too 🙂

Here are links to some of our favorite cookies:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

And here are a few other favorites that we’ll be enjoying over then summer (I just don’t have the recipe pages finished yet):

Oatmeal Craisin White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ginger Spice Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cranberry Almond White Chocolate Biscotti

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Ashley is definitely growing. She will be 10 next month! Today I took her and her younger sibs to Metropolitan Music here in Seattle to swap out her violin for a larger size. She started instrumental music in school last year and elected to learn violin. We signed her up for a violin camp this summer with the Seattle Public Schools summer music program.

When we returned from our California Road Trip she was reluctant to go to the violin camp.  It was too soon after being away and she really just wanted to be home and stay in bed late in the mornings.  She told me a few days later that she didn’t like violin anymore and didn’t want to continue learning the instrument at school next year. James and I asked her to go for the week and try it out. We agreed that if she still really didn’t want to continue she could skip this final week. Right up until classes ended on Friday she said she didn’t want to continue. I didn’t discuss it with her but then asked her on Sunday evening if she would like to go to class on Monday. She gave me a wry smile and said that yes she would like to go and then became and all enthusiatic and gushed about how much she loved violin and would like to continue next year in school.

It reminded so much of when she took her first dance class at age 4. She has never been to preschool and had only really played with two other children, besides Caitlin. She spent 40 out of 45 mins of her first class standing off to one side with her forearm covering her eyes and her little ponytails shaking above her ears as she sobbed. It broke my heart and took all my willpower not to go in and take her home (I was peeking through a shutter of a little kitchen that led off the dance room). Her teacher Miss Chloe encouraged me to bring her back and stick it out. I did. She repeated the crying for the next 4 weeks, though she cried less and less over that time. On the final week she actually dance at the recital that James, Caitlin and I attended. I felt some relief when it was all over knowing that we wouldn’t be signing her up again. She just hadn’t seemed to enjoy it. When the recital ended she completely surprised me bu running over to us for a hug and again gushing about how much fun it was and that she wanted to continue with dance!

Ashley runs deep. She likes to observe and get her footing. Sometimes it takes her a while to warm up to something, and it might not be obvious that she is warming. But what I do know is she is brave in the face of trying something she isn’t comfortable doing, she is cooperative about giving something a shot if we think she will like it, she has the strength to admit that she changed her mind about something and acknowledge that we were right to encourage her.

She is a gentle, yet solid role model for her sister and brothers.

Ethan and Sean love dropping off their oldest sister and picking her up for camp. Sean has taken to saying “Ashey biolin” when we get near the high school where the violin camp takes place. We all enjoyed the brief trip to the music store to get the new instrument and even decided to get the shoulder rest to help with comfort. Caitlin was amazed at just how much bigger the the 3/4 violin is compared to the 1/4 violin she started with at the beginning of the school year. She looked excited for Ashley.

When we got home today after picking up the new violin, Ashley didn’t even wait until we got into the house to use it. As she sat on the porch trying it out, everyone gathered to listen. Sean tried to to climb into the case and Ethan generally got in the way of the bow as he tried to get closer. It was short, it was sweet, it was chaotic and it was fun. One of those moments that make all the discussion, encouragement and juggling of parenting worth it!

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Each week I share my weekly menu plan with you as I find menu planning and using my menu board very helpful to me and the rest of the family during the week. Having a plan, even if it changes over the course of the week, helps keep late afternoon chaos low, maintains a well-fed crew and keeps food bills and food waste low.

I find that if I write the list of dinners for the week on the menu board I can glance at it quickly during the day and remember what I need to do for dinner prep. James and the girls like to look at the board to get a feel for what to expect for the week ahead (both to anticipate and steel themselves depending on whether the meal is a favorite or not!)

We are well into our summer menu plan now and it is making summer dinners a relatively stress free and pleasant experience all round. Yay for a little planning saving a lot of work!

Note: Meals are subject to change at the chef’s discretion or whim.

Chicken Rogan Josh, Rice, Sautéed Zuccini (Steamed Broccoli for the Zuccini-phobes)

Shrimp & Shallot Linguini, Green Beans &/or Sugar Snap Peas, Garlic Bread

Salmon à la Foil, Rice, Broccoli & Cauliflower on the side, Julienned Carrots & Onion baked with the salmon

Summer Picnic hosted by James’s office

Japanese Curry, Rice, Orange & Avocado Spinach Salad

Beef Meatball Marinara with Rigatoni Pasta, Artisan Bread (Italian Pugliese Bread), Broccoli (I might add a more exciting vegetable dish for myself. I’m currently enjoying sautĂ©ing zuccini and peppers and might add some onions and mushrooms to the pan too.)

Rotisserie Chicken Picnic with Baguette, Pringles, Fruit Platter, and Fruit & Veggie Summer Smoothie

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Yesterday afternoon I finally got around to making Raspberry Bars. I love these little desserts. I started eating them over at Grumpy D’s when taking time for myself on Sundays and have wanted to learn how to make them for a while now. I found a recipe for them in The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook that Caitlin gave me for Christmas. They turned out amazingly well and I still can’t get over just how easy they were to make.

After I put the boys to bed, the girls and I enjoyed raspberry bars and warm chai and a delightful Glittersweet foot spa together as we snuggled on the sofa and resumed our Friday summer movies by watching Marley & Me. I was a little uncertain about whether this would be a good movie choice. When it first came out I dismissed it as just another Hollywood dog movie, but I was wrong. I can’t say that it is a typical family movie. My girls are 8 and almost 10 and, after researching a little about the movie and chatting with them about the content, I thought it would be okay. They were ready for the sad parts and also for the more mature themes around procreation, miscarriage and death. We discussed various questions about sex that came up as the couple in the movie were trying to have a baby and overall it was a good movie for the three of us to watch together. Just be warned, I think that it is misrepresented when described as “The Perfect Family Comedy”. While there is humor in it, the movie is much more complex and mature and could be distressing to young children.

We also knew as we started the movie that if we felt sad at the end we would have our sleepover to look forward to. Last night the girls got to spend the night with me in my bed. The king size bed accommodates it well and much better as they are getting older and  cling to me less during the night. I was still a little squished but was able to get a good night’s sleep and enjoy the night with my girls.

Oh, and we had another friend join the sleepover. Ashley has discovered the Monster High books and dolls. She bought her first Monster High doll this week: Abbey Bominable. Ashley made her a bed and a magazine so that she could sleep beside us and have something to read while we all read our books before going to sleep. I love that Ashley still plays in this way going on 10 years of age.

Overall, we had a very sweet girls’ night together.


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Bistro Pinguino Re-Opens!

Okay, so it may not have been obvious that it was closed, but here is what our menu board has looked like for the past couple of weeks:

By the way, Ashley created the board just before we left. Thanks Ash 🙂

The reason for the Bistro’s closure? Our family took a camping road trip to California. We had originally planned to drive straight to California to visit both the Redwoods National Park and then across the state to Yosemite National Park. However, last minute, James and I decided that we didn’t want to drive straight through Oregon on the less-than-scenic I-5 freeway. So we added a visit to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon too.

Our final destination was the little town of Markleeville just northeast of Yosemite and south of Lake Tahoe, where James particpated in the notoriously gruelling Death Ride, also known as the The Tour of the Californian Alps. That ride took place last Saturday and then we just drove all the way home on Sunday. We drove through the night and arrived at our house in Seattle just as the sun was rising around 4:45am.

We were, and are, thrilled to be home. We enjoyed the National Parks and the stay in Markleeville and we loved coming home. I have to say that re-opening the Bistro was both a pleasure and a relief after food on the road. We re-opened with an Italian feast, made all the easier because of our summer menu plan and having all of the ingredients already bought and stored in either the freezer or pantry. Grandma and Granddad joined us for dinner and shared in our travel stories. We even had a DVD to watch together after dinner. It was a documentary about the Death Ride, so we could all get a sense of the challenging ride James completed.

Here is the Monday dinner we enjoyed our first night home:

Spaghetti Carbonara, Homemade Garlic Bread, Green Beans, Hot Fudge Pudding Cake & Vanilla Ice-cream, Wine, Water & Milk Stout (thanks to Dave for both introducing me to the Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout and for leaving a half dozen bottles in our fridge for when we returned!)

And here is our menu for the rest of this week:

Massaman Curry, Rice, Normandy Veggies (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Yellow & Orange Carrots)

Breaded Fish, Rice, Green Beans, Corn on the Cob

Chicken Garlic Alfredo with Penne Pasta, Tomato and Avocado Salad

Chili Con Carne, Rice, Sauteed Zuccini & Red Peppers

Turkey Meatball Marinara, Artisan Bread (Italian Pugliese Bread), Broccoli

Eggs, Home Fried Potatoes, Fruit and Veggie Summer Smoothie

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I am currently creating a cookbook containing all our family’s favorite breakfasts and baked goods. My goal is to give a copy of the book to each of my children when they eventually leave home and move out into the world. There is nothing like favorite childhood food to comfort you as an adult. As I create a new entry for this cookbook I will post the recipe here to share with you all. I hope you will enjoy it too 🙂

(FYI, I create the pages using my digital scrapbooking software StoryBook Creator 4 by Creative Memories.)


Another recipe page completed. We love Irish Apple Cake. I have this recipe down pat at this point and often make 2,3 or 4 cakes at a time. We usually make our way through 1 or 2 at a time and then I freeze the others (or give them as gifts). It freezes really well.

Previous Recipe Pages:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

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I love smoothies!

I have been making smoothies since I was in my late teens. After a summer Au-pairing in Normandy, France when I was 17 years old, where I discovered the world of food, I bought myself a blender. I loved how placing a banana, some berries, yoghurt and milk into the jug of the blender resulted in a chilled tasty and nutritious drink. Only back then, in Ireland, I called it a milk shake…because it was made with milk.

Now that I’m living in the States I know that the title ‘milk shake’ is reserved for the ice cream drink and that ‘smoothie’ is the term used here for what I make.

I have no hard and fast rules for my smoothies. I add fruit and vegetables depending on what I have in the produce drawers of my fridge or in the produce bowl on the kitchen counter. Sometimes I’ll buy particular fruit (we love a frozen blend of raspberries, blackberries and cherries from Trader Joe’s) and vegetables (kale and carrots) in order to provide a stable base of nutrition and taste to smoothie.

I have found that I prefer the yoghurt, milk and banana version during the winter and on colder days. When the temperature rises I like to take away the milk and yoghurt (and often the banana) and throw in a variety of fruit and veggies, sometimes a little fruit juice (pineapple or apple) and water.

Typical smoothies ingredients that I use:

Banana, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, kiwi, pears, peaches, plums,cherries, spinach, kale, carrots, avocado and carrots

Ingredients I am currently experimenting with:

Broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, honey, papaya

And just for fun I want to try the following ingredients in smoothies this summer and see how they work out:

Baby peas, flax meal, almond butter, peanut butter

As for how this all works with the children, I’ve discovered that a couple of strategies that help encourage the children to drink them:

1. Keep it simple at first! Particularly when the  kids are a little older and more discriminating about ingredients. I find that at age 1 and 3, Ethan and Sean will try just about anything. With Ashley and Caitlin I had to build to the more complex ingredient smoothies. When the girls were little I wasn’t experimenting with the variety of ingredients I use today, so they had to gradually get used to the different types of smoothies I/we prepared.

2. Get them involved. From a very young age, our children have helped put the ingredients in the blender. As they get older they can suggest ingredients to try out. They can taste test (or “test taste” as Caitlin still calls it) and then suggest ways to adjust the taste to their liking.

3. Play the ‘Guess the Ingredient Game. Just as it sounds. We play this most of the time they get a smoothie. Often we will go through a spell when all the ingredients are familiar to them, so they have a good chance of guessing all the ingredients in their smoothie. Sometimes I stump them with a new ingredient (or two or three!). It helps to wait until all of them have finished the smoothie before I reveal the new ingredients. Sometimes just knowing cauliflower is in the smoothie will put them off finishing the drink, even if they have already happily drunk two thirds of it!

4. For the much littler ones, exaggerate the blender sound with your mouth. The noisy blender has intimidated each of my children to some degree when they were very little.  Being silly with the sound and keeping it up as I turned on the blender really helped the them become accustomed noise. After a while they would come running when they heard the blender, chanting “smoothie, smoothie” and eagerly await their drink 🙂

5. Gently cook the vegetables and purée  them before adding them to the smoothie. I do this consistently with carrots and kale, and recently have experimented with broccoli and cauliflower. I boil each vegetable separately and then purée it  in its cooking water. I then freeze it in ice cube trays and once frozen put the cubes into a labeled zip lock bag to store in the freezer. I like to partly defrost the cubes I need before adding them to the smoothie.

6. Discover the art of disguise. Pretty much the taste of any vegetable that I have used so far can be disguised with using raspberries. And the frozen raspberry, blackberry, cherry blend that I mentioned from Trader Joe’s is wonderful for completely disguising any color or taste clues as to the smoothies content. Unless of course it’s St. Patrick’s Day when I  just go with the whole green theme and impress the kids 😉

Do any of you have tips or ideas for making a great summer smoothie? I love hearing from smoothie lovers and getting new ideas to try.

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