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Brown Sugar Shortbreads

18 Jan

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In a few days my dear grandmother is turning 91 years old.  At almost 91 my grandmother has more energy than I do and a social schedule that would make an 18 year old jealous.  This wonderful woman is sweet, kind, funny , caring and so generous.  In other words, the perfect grandmother (and great-grandmother!).

In the past I’ve mentioned that during my childhood I spent many days in her cozy little kitchen learning how to bake.  It’s definitely there that my passion for baking was ignited.  And over the years I’ve been slowly teaching my own kids the art of making the perfect biscuit or bobo ball just as my grandmother taught me.

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Today I made up a batch of my grandmother’s Brown Sugar Shortbreads.  These cookies are so buttery and rich and make your house smell like absolute heaven when they’re baking in the oven.  Usually you should make a thumbprint in the balls of dough and fill it up with jam before baking but I thought for the occasion of my grandmother’s 91st I’d make little jam filled hearts in the middle.  And they turned out perfectly.  I think I’ll be making these by the dozen to give out on Valentine’s Day as well.  Believe me, cookies like these will make people feel loved.

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Brown Sugar Shortbreads

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 egg yolk
1 3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt

1. Cream butter and brown sugar.

2. Add egg yolk and mix to combine.

3. Add flour and salt and mix until becomes  dense dough.

4. Roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly then either make an indent with thumb (or a carrot heart like me!).  Fill hole with favorite jam.

5. Bake in 350 (180) oven for 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy!

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As you read above in the recipe, I carved out a heart in a carrot to use as my “stamp” for the middle of the cookie.  My kids thought I was nuts but it actually worked out perfectly in the end (and let me tell you how hard it is to carve a carrot with a half-healed broken wrist!).

We’ll be enjoying these this week-end and sending loving birthday thoughts to my grandmother in Canada.

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Wouldn’t a sweet little decorated box filled with these delicious cookies make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift?

Edible Home-Made Gifts

14 Dec

It’s that time of year to start making little gifts to give your teachers, postman, hairdresser and kid’s bus driver.  The last few days I’ve been busy roasting nuts, melting chocolate and writing out thank you notes.  Here are a few of the home-made gifts on my list this year.  They’re easy, delicious and perfect to show someone your gratitude for all they’ve done the past year.

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We have a few people on our list that aren’t super keen on sweets so I thought I’d make some spiced nuts for them.  I found this recipe in an old Martha Stewart magazine from eons ago and they’re absolutely tasty.  A little sweet, a little spicy and a little salty.  Perfection.

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Here’s how to make them:

Spicy Almonds

1 tsp course salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp white vinegar
2 cups whole blanched almonds, toasted

-First of all toast the almonds in a 350 (180) degree oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.
-In a large bowl combine salt, sugar and spices.
-In a large skillet over medium heat bring butter, molasses and vinegar to a boil.  Add toasted almonds and stir to evenly coat.
-Add nut mixture to spice mixture, toss to coat.
-Transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake but mixture for 4 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.
-Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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Next we made some orangettes which are chocolate covered candied orange peel.  My daughter made them for her papa’s birthday last week and I realised how easy it is to make them.  Perfect to take as a hostess gift or give anyone who loves the orange/chocolate combo.

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There are only four ingredients to make these professional looking sweets.  Here’s how to make them:

Orangettes

100 g Chocolate (good quality, preferably Belgian of course)
2 oranges
300 g sugar
3 ml water

-Cut the oranges in quarters and cut away everything to leave only the peel.
-Slice into skinny slivers (like above).  Wash under cold water.
-Put sugar and water in pot and bring to a boil.  Add orange peels and cook for approximately 60-80 minutes (or until you see they have become candied).
-Let candied peels cool on parchment paper.
-Melt chocolate and dip candied peels in to completely cover.
-Put peels in fridge so that chocolate hardens.  Store peels in container for up to 2 weeks.

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And last but not least I decided to make yet another edible gift that involves chocolate.  I found some lovely little chocolate liners so I decided to try my hand at chocolate/truffle making.

I put some chopped chocolate in a double boiler and melted it.  I then added some heavy cream and a few drops of mint extract.  I did a bit of guessing at the measurements but at the end I had a thick smooth and pour-able mixture.  I then filled the little chocolate wrappers and sprinkled crushed candy cane on top.  From what the family says they are quite rich but very delicious.

You can also check out my Belgian Chocolate Spread which I made for everyone last year.  It was a huge hit and quick to make with only 3 ingredients.

Do you have any favorite recipes or homemade goods that you give away at Christmas?

Celebration

22 Oct

This past summer my entire family spent six full days doing nothing but folding paper cranes.  We folded 1000 and for every single crane we sent positive and healing thoughts to a very sweet six year old boy.

This past week-end we were invited to celebrate with this same little boy.  The celebration was for the arrival of an amazing electric train set equipped with bridges, waterfalls, houses, mountains, trees and a double railway.  The train was given to him by the Make A Wish Foundation.  It was his wish.  And he was ecstatic.

We all celebrated and enjoyed the afternoon with him and his train.  It was a beautiful time.

We all left with hearts full of love for this sweet little boy.

On the way home we passed a field that had the most lovely late afternoon sun on it.  We stopped and I photographed my three children and as I did this I thought about how grateful I am for every day I have with them.  Every bedtime.  Every conversation. Every meal.  Every birthday.  Every milestone in their lives.   Lately I’ve been squeezing them a little tighter and telling them I love them a little more often.

 

A Kid’s Life: New Zealand

8 Oct

Time for another post in my A Kid’s Life series.  This series is a great way to learn about other countries and cultures by looking at families and their daily routines and traditions.  I love hearing about what people from a different country eat, how they spend their free time, what sort of activities the kids do and about the local school systems.

Today we are visiting with Hana from New Zealand.  Hana is a self proclaimed eternal optimist and dreamer.  She has the blog A Happy Adventure  where she writes about parenting and making her daughters lives as magical as possible.  I absolutely adore her Little World series!  I’ve never met Hana but I just know she’s one of those cheerful, positive,creative and witty people that we could all benefit from spending time with.

I’ve always been interested in New Zealand and I loved reading about Hana and her family’s daily life there.  She talks about Christmas in such a different way than I’m used to (camping and beach!) and now I’m curious about what pikelets and kumara are!

So let’s meet Hana and her family…

What country do you live in?

New Zealand

Are you and your husband the same nationality?

Yep – we are both kiwis – in fact we both grew up in the same part of NZ, meeting at High School.

Do you both work?  Or does someone stay at home?  

My husband, Barry, works outside the home, and I stay at home with our girls.

How many languages are spoken in your house?  What one(s)?

One – English.

How many kids do you have?  What are their ages?

We have three girls – Ava will be five next week, Lola is three and Belle is 21 months.

At what age do kids start school in your country?

Children in New Zealand generally start school on their 5th birthday.  Although, oddly, it isn’t a legal requirement to be at school until they are 6.

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Montagna e Citta

20 Aug

This past week-end was definitely the hottest of the entire summer so far.  It was pushing 40 degrees, humid and the type of weather that makes me want to laze on the couch all day with a fan blowing in my face.   But surprisingly enough the heat didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring our local surroundings.  We are so fortunate to have so many beautiful spots within such a short drive from our home.

This week-end we decided to do one day of nature (less than an hour drive to our north) and one day of city and culture (less than an hour drive to our south).  Besides the heat, being stuck for four hours in traffic due to a cycling race in a small town and the last day of my son’s flu, it was an absolutely lovely week-end.

Bright and early on Saturday morning we headed out to the local mountains for a hike in the woods.  We arrived in Maccagno, a small town near the Swiss border on Lago Maggiore, and started our ascent by car up the narrow winding roads to the start destination for our hike.  After about 20 minutes we arrived, some of us a slight shade of green, and ready for some fresh mountain air.

We hiked out in the open sun for about half an hour before reaching the nice refreshingly cool forest.  We then had about an hour and a half walk up towards Passo Focora where we enjoyed the views of the mountains and lake and ate a very heavy “mountain meal” consisting of local cheeses and polenta with deer stew (to the horror of our kids, “You’re eating bambi?”).

Rusty rest spot in the middle of the woods

We then returned down the mountain to our car that was sitting in the 38 degree sun and rushed (as much as you can down those mountain roads) to the lake for a nice cool swim.

After such a wonderful day in nature we decided to head to Milan on Sunday for some culture and our usual Chinatown visit and meal.  When we arrived in Milan it was an absolute ghost town.  The streets were empty of people and cars.  Apparently everyone flees the city in August due to the construction holidays and the oppressing heat and humidity.

We decided to check out our favorite photography museum (Forma) to see two really beautiful exhibits.  One was from Saul Letier and included many photographs of every day life from New York in the 50’s  and the other was a collection of photos of gypsy families from Romania and Slovakia by Josef Koudelka.  We really enjoyed both exhibits and would recommend anyone living in or near Milan to go check them out.

After the museum we made our way to Chinatown for a quick shop in the Chinese grocery stores and some lunch at our favorite Chinese restautant.  On our return home we, of course, headed to the lake for an early evening dip and cool off.

Overall a pretty perfect week-end.

Flow and Scout

5 Aug

A few weeks ago I discovered a new favorite magazine called Flow.  It’s a Dutch magazine full of beautiful handmade creations, stunning photography, artistic souls and so so much more.  The magazine is in Dutch but you don’t even have to understand it to be able to love it.

Magazine

They’ve put a unique touch on everything from the writing styles to the fonts to the fact they use different sorts of paper throughout the magazine.  They keep you up-to-date on everything new and innovative in the whole lifestyle/creative scene.

While browsing through a recent copy of the magazine I found a small article about Scout which is a content marketing agency located in Portland, Oregon.  Scout offers these absolutely amazing monthly 3-d calendars for free.  You just have to visit their site and sign up for the calendar of the month club to receive it by e-mail.

Here is August’s calendar.  How sweet is this?

I, for obvious reasons, really fell in love with this one.

And this one too.

Check out the Scout blog here and the Flow site here.

“Traveling With Kids” Column on Classic Play! (Kroller Muller Museum, Holland)

19 Jul

Pop on over to Classic Play! for my next Traveling With Kids post.  This time we’re visiting the Kroller Muller Museum in the Hoge Veluwe National  Park in the Netherlands.  It’s a beautiful spot and well worth a visit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and even experiences if you’ve already been there!

Ghirlanda d’Estate

28 Jun


The other day I was contemplating what I was going to do to keep my three children happy and busy for their two month summer vacation this year.  It’s always a time of lazing around, reading books, going to the lake, playing with friends and traveling.  But every now and then there’s a lull in the activity and the “Mom, I’m bored” starts.  I’m a strong believer in letting kids get bored because I find it’s really when they come up with the most creative things to do and make but sometimes you can just hear that they are too tired/hot/fed up to come up with something on their own.

So after reading Jen’s (from Classic Play) post on Stay-at-Home Summer Camp I got inspired to come up with some summer activities for those emergency times when the kids are in need of “entertainment”.  I organised six activities and sewed them into little cloth bags and then sewed those all into a garland.  When it’s time to pick an activity it’s really a surprise for them when they cut it open (we’ll cut them on the bottom so we can then save the bunting for another occasion or a similar activity next summer).   I’ve hung it up and it’s ready for when they are in the swing of summer vacation (still a week and half of school to go!).

All activities are for the kids to do together and each one is at least 1-2 hours worth of fun (I hope).  The activities are:

Photography Challenge: I’ve written a card with 10 random words and the kids have to go around and take photos that transmit the words into an image.  I’ve noted that they shouldn’t think too literally about these words and they should “think out of the box”.  I’m sure that will spark a great conversation with the three of them.  I then asked them to print out their 10 photos and make them into a book.  I’m excited to see the result!

Origami Challenge: In this little bag I included a package of miniature origami papers and a list of items they have to fold.  They are all seasoned origami experts but I think it will be a challenge to use the tiny paper and I’ve included at least 2 new shapes that they will have to learn how to do.  In the end they’ll have to present close to 50 origami pieces.

Water Balloons: In this one I tucked in about 45 balloons and told them they have to fill all of them with water, divide them into three piles and then bomb away at each other.  I know this one is going to be a hit.

Wooden Stick Architecture Challenge: For this challenge the kids have to use over 100 long wooden skewers and construct some sort of building (or anything) using the grass as their base.  Since the skewers are pointy on one end this makes it quite easy to stick them in the ground and I think they could end up making something quite spectacular.  I mentioned that they can incorporate ribbons, fabric or any other material into their project.  After it’s done I suggested they write a story about who lives there.

Cooking Challenge: In this one I included two very simple recipes that they have to prepare for the family.  I also included a 5euro note so that they can walk to the local grocery store to buy the ingredients needed.  The recipes are Tomoto Garlic Soup and Homemade Croutons.  They are both things the kids love to eat and easy enough for them to do alone.  They are also asked to set a nice fancy table for when they serve their meal.

Neighbourhood Clean-Up:  I had to include this one.  The streets around here are sometimes littered with trash and I always tell the kids how important it is to keep our environment clean (which is why I can often be seen walking around with pockets full of my kid’s trash).  I included three large white garbage bags and 3 pairs of latex gloves and told them to head out and beautify our street.  This one will definitely confuse the neighbours!

So there you have it.  I’ll keep you posted this summer on the different activities and whether they were a hit or miss.  What are your plans to keep your kids happy and busy this summer?

Chocolate Oat Dulce de Leche Bars

15 Jun

These are the richest, sweetest, gooeyest, chocolatey-est bars you’ll ever eat.  When you take your first bites it’s heaven.  After you’ve finished a whole bar you kind of feel like you shouldn’t have eaten a whole bar.  It’s a love/hate relationship to say the least.  I would definitely advise to cut very small bars and eat them slowly.  You should have seen my son after he ate one.  He was doing laps around our house for over an hour.  Then he passed out on the grass.  Like I said…they’re so right but so wrong at the same time.

After making these squares I made the whole family go for a 2 hour walk in the woods to try and get some of the sugar out of our systems.  We saw these gorgeous roses.  The pink against the bright blue sky was just mesmerizing.  I stared at them for a long time.  My kids stared at me staring at the roses and asked me to hurry up because they wanted to go home for some more squares.I gave some to my Italian neighbours and friends and I could tell by their faces that they were maybe a bit too heavy and rich for their liking.  My British, Irish and American friends thought they were great though.  I’m thinking that maybe these would be better to make in the cold winter instead of the warm summer.  In summer it’s all about light, fresh and fruity around here (something like this frozen honeydew recipe from the  joelix blog or this citron meringue pie from the classicplay! blog would fit the hot summer weather much better).  Get recipe for Chocolate Oat Dulce de Leche Bars here on the Daily Crave site.

I found these plastic boxes in Chinatown in Milan (usually used for take-out in sushi restaurants).  They’re actually great for giving little baking gifts to neighbours and friends.  I absolutely love this Tour Eiffel tape that I found in Japan (and it’s not washi!).

Monte Generoso Switzerland

30 May

This past week-end we went on a little hike in the mountains of Switzerland.  We reached the 1704m summit of Monte Generoso by a little cogwheel train that we caught in Capolago on Lake Lugano. 

The views from the top of Monte Generoso are absolutely spetacular.  On a clear day you can see all the local lakes (Lugano, Maggiore, Como and Varese), mountain ranges and even Milan in the distance.

There are beautiful trails for every kind of hiker (15 minute walks to 4 hour hikes) .  Some take you through Swiss cow pastures where you’ll hear the lovely sound of cowbells and see the dairy cows chewing their cud and minding their own business.  A great hike to take kids on is the trail that leads you to some ancient bear caves where you can have a guided tour of the cavern and all its 20 000 year old bones and remains.  My kids absolutely loved it.View down to a little Swiss town from our picnic spot.Dancing amongst the Swiss Dairy cows.  I could only think of chocolate when I saw them.  Delicious Swiss milk chocolate.Looking for fossils along trail.  And there are many to be found!

This is enough to give a mama a heart attack (until she realises there is a little landing below and not a cliff).

For more information check out the Monte Generoso official site for timetables, activities and any other information you might need to organise a trip there with friends or family.

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