Homemade Mixed Nut Granola

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Jan 282013

I LOVE granola – it’s so good with milk or yogurt, or on ice cream. The problem with granola is that it’s so crazy expensive for what it is that I don’t buy it too often, but it’s so simple to make that I decided to whip up a batch this weekend.

I looked up a ton of recipes and found they were all quite different: different amounts of oats, different types and amounts of fats, of sweeteners, of spices and of mix-ins. I figured that meant granola’s pretty forgiving and just came up with my own recipe based on what I had on hand.

I knew that I wanted to make use of the leftover bowl of nuts from the holidays (although my husband and I are from different continents some of our Christmas traditions must have a common ancestor, and one is to have out a bowl of unshelled nuts on a side table at Christmastime). I shelled the almonds and hazelnuts and gave them a quick whirl in the food processor. Then I grabbed some oats and raisins from the pantry and butter and maple syrup from the fridge and got to work.

When it was done we all had a sample and the mister said it was the best granola he’d ever had in his life – and you know what? I agree. Not to brag on my granola, but I think the freshness makes a huge difference. I can’t wait to try another batch with different flavors when this one is done.

Homemade Mixed-Nut Granola

3 cups uncooked oats (not quick-cooking)
1 1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts)
1/2 cup maple syrup (grade A medium amber)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups raisins

Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the oats and nuts in a big bowl. Melt the butter and mix in the maple syrup, cinnamon and salt and then pour it over the oats and nuts. Mix very well so that everything is coated evenly and spread the mixture in a thin layer on the baking sheets.

Bake the granola for 15 minutes, then stir it well and bake for another 15, then stir it again and bake for a final 10 minutes. Rotate the position of the baking sheets each time you take them out of the oven to stir and watch the granola carefully for the last 10 minutes.

Let the granola cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets and then transfer to a bowl and mix in the raisins. Once the granola is fully cool store it in an airtight container. I have no idea how long it might keep for, so eat it up!

I’ve linked up to these great link parties – check ’em out! Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Real Food Whole Health, Food Renegade Fight Back Friday,

Jan 232013

The man of the house had a birthday a few days ago, and I made one of his favorite all-time cakes – this berry cake I first made last summer. At the time I adapted the recipe from one I found on orangette.blogspot.com (who had reprinted it from Bon Appétit, July 1986). I knew blackberries would be hard to come by at this time of year, so I made some changes again and came up with this Raspberry Lime Pound Cake. It’s gotten rave reviews – I like the raspberry / lime combo more than the blackberry / lemon one, although that’s good too. 

One note – I used Raspberry di Amore liqueur because we had it on hand and I felt that it really boosted the raspberry flavor. I wouldn’t go out and buy a big bottle of it though, so feel free to substitute with something else. You might use Chambord or Raspberry schnapps, or leave it out all together. Otherwise you could add vanilla or almond extract, which would alter the taste but would still taste nice – but cut it down to a teaspoon of either of those or it will be too strong.

Raspberry Lime Pound Cake

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cup (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5 large eggs
1 Tbs Raspberry di Amore liqueur
2 tsp lime zest (from 3 medium limes – save the lime juice for the glaze)
2 cups plus 8 Tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 cups raspberries

Lime Syrup
1/3 cup lime juice (from 3 medium limes)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
11/2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
zest and juice from one medium lime
Prepare a 9-cup bundt pan by greasing and flouring the pan. 

Rinse the berries (especially if they’re hand-picked), toss them with two tablespoons of flour and set them aside.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer on medium speed until they are light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating after each egg until combined, then add the liqueur and lime zest and beat for another minute or so on medium speed until they are well mixed.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then add the dry ingredients to the egg/sugar/butter mixture in the large bowl and beat briefly just to combine. Then fold in the floured berries to the mix and pour/scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan.

Put the pan into a cold oven and turn the oven on to 300 degrees F (I used convection) and bake the cake for 70 minutes – test it at that point and if a skewer or toothpick comes out clean the cake is done. 

While the cake is baking mix the lime juice and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. Let the cake cool for five minutes in the pan, and then invert it onto a plate or rack and brush the lime syrup over the cake, letting it absorb into the cake. Then let the cake cool completely before glazing it.

For the glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl, then zest a medium lime into the sugar. Squeeze about half the lime into the sugar and whisk well, then add more lime juice if needed to make a glaze. I’m kind of a disaster with making glazes – I find I always get it a bit too stiff or a bit too thin.

I’ve linked up to these great link parties – check ’em out! Delicious Dishes Recipe Party, Pin Me, Twigg Studios: Sunday Show Off, Project Inspire , C.R.A.F.T Monday Funday, Chef in Training,Sew Much Ado, Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Pamela’s Heavenly Treats, Addicted to Recipes,    

Tips for Surviving Airplane Travel with Kids

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Jan 212013
tips and tricks for airplane travel with kids

Traveling by plane with kids is stressful – there’s no way around it. You’re all trapped in a little metal tube for hours on end with hundreds of strangers and no way to escape. There are a few major differences between traveling by air and traveling by car with kids. By far, the  most important one is that traveling by car, your kids can only drive YOU crazy – as opposed to the entire plane full of passengers. The best way to ensure that your family has a successful flight is to realize that your number one job is to entertain the kids, which means you probably won’t have time to read much of that novel or magazine or trade journal, or catch up on movies. With that in mind you must know that most of these suggestions will involve you to one degree or another.

(Disclosure: Please know that if you make a purchase using a link on this page, I may earn a commission and I am very grateful for your support of this site. Thank you!)

1. Airplane travel is a time to make a few key adjustments to your family rules re: behavior. When we fly, we get more strict about our children adhering to our rules for public behavior (things that affect others) ie. use your indoor voice, no throwing things, no roughhousing, try to keep the nose-picking to a minimum. . . you get the idea. On the other hand, we relax some of our other rules for this special time, so there are no limits on media use, they are allowed to eat more ‘junk food’ or treats, we’re more tolerant of special requests, and we are much more likely to give in to whiny requests than we otherwise would be. No one wins by trying to make a point to a three-year-old 5 hours into a 10-hour flight. Once we were stuck waiting out a lengthy delay in the departure lounge at the beginning of an overseas flight. We bought our little ones a treat of some ice-cream bonbons, and at the end of the box our son started to get into a first class freak-out that he hadn’t gotten his fair share. Normally he would’ve been out of luck, but in that special case we just went and bought another box.

2. Research your destination and layover airports ahead of time – our local airport (SeaTac – SEA in Seattle) has an indoor playground where the kids can safely run around and blow off steam, with large family bathrooms located right beside it. Chicago O’Hare (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), Boston (BOS), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Portland (PDX) all have great playgrounds as well – some more than one. Other airports offer special tours for kids, airport based exhibits from the area’s museums and areas with kid friendly food vendors. It pays to take a few minutes before your trip to see what the airports you’re traveling through have to offer, and make a note of where the attractions are, because they’re sometimes tucked away in a spot you might not pass otherwise.

3. Read books and talk about air travel with your kids ahead of time – my kids really like ‘Going on a Plane‘ and ‘A Day at the Airport‘. These are especially useful to get your kids used to some of the more unusual parts of plane travel, especially the security screening and flight attendant interaction. Talk with them about what the airport and the flight will be like, including how long it will be and what will happen – will you eat dinner, then sleep and wake up and eat breakfast? Maybe just eat lunch and then have a nap? Gently reinforce your expectations in the days or weeks before the trip so that they’re not surprised during the actual flight.

4. Bring spare clothes; more than you normally would for a day trip. Pro-tip – pack each change in its own gallon ziplock bag (you can squish the extra air out to conserve space). If you need the spare on the trip, its likely you’ll be glad to have the empty bag to contain the dirty clothes.  This includes for yourself – we always bring at a minimum an extra shirt for each adult too since there’s a good chance if your child gets grossly dirty you might be too.

5. Think about strategies to alleviate ear pain on takeoff and landing. The most important thing is to keep your child swallowing periodically to equalize the pressure in their ears. Juice boxes, milk boxes, gum, or lollypops can all help. We haven’t had any problems going through airport security taking two small juice boxes per kid per flight inside the US; I just bag them in a ziplock bag and send them through the x-ray scanner along with the toiletries. Consider packing enough for the return flight in your checked luggage (especially if you are traveling to an unfamiliar area that might not have the brands/flavors your child usually has – we drink/eat whatever is available at our destination during our trip, but again, the flight is not really the time to have a standoff about how the local beverages taste). If you don’t want to deal with beverages you can offer a lollypop at takeoff and landing – that can be effective especially if its a kind of special treat for your child.

6. Bring lots of snacks and make sure there are more than just sugary treats. These days its rare to get free food on a flight, and snacks serve a couple of purposes: 1) they stave off the hungry crankies, 2) they’re a good distraction, and 3) they can serve as a bribe if necessary. When we travel we bring snacks that our kids don’t usually get at home – our kids especially love to get their hands on handisnacks (with the crackers and “cheese” and a little stick for spreading) which they never get any other time. Other good snack options are granola bars, cheese sticks, crackers or chips and fruit.

7. Introduce your family to the Travel Fairy. The Travel Fairy stops by on every trip our family takes, to make sure the kids aren’t bored and are well behaved. She gives them little gifts and treats, and most importantly, everything she gives is wrapped up in paper. We wrap up everything the kids will have on the flight, even things they already have (like books for their Tag reader pens, or crayons), even sometimes their snacks. We try to dole out Travel Fairy gifts infrequently, and make sure that we’ve saved some for the return flight.

8. Drawing utensils for writing or coloring. This could be an aqua- or magna-doodle for a toddler, or crayons or markers for an older child. Square or triangular crayons are useful for littler kids so that they don’t roll off the tray so easily, and markers whose lids snap on the end easily are good for older kids, for the same reason.

9. Electronic learning activity toys make for good distractions. We are a Leapfrog family, but V-Tech also makes nice toys with learning activities. Its a good idea to bring along a set of headphones (I like these noise-limiting headphones for small kids) to avoid disturbing those around you, although I’ve found that using toys or electronics with the volume low works since the ambient plane/engine noise is so loud.

10. Bring along a few new thin paperback books to read to your children. Most kids love story-time, and new books will hold their attention longer than ones they’ve read a lot. Of course, if there are a few books that your child could read over and over every day, by all means bring those!

11. Felt boards for storytelling and imaginative play. These are lightweight and can be either purchased or easily made. I put cardboard backing on the boards I made, but you could go without and have an even lighter and smaller activity.

12. Pipe cleaners or Wiki Sticks make for crafty, quiet entertainment. For very young children you’ll need to be the one crafting them into shapes that can then be used for imaginative play – older kids can work more independently but might still need some help to see how sticks can be joined together. Our kids have made (or played with) horses, dogs and other animals, flower bouquets, crowns, jewelery and shapes.

13. There are tons of blog posts around that give ideas for toddler busy boxes/bags – peruse them to choose ideas that might entertain your little ones while still being quiet, light and easy to pack. I especially liked this one, this one, and this one.

14. Sticker books with reusable stickers are lightweight and easy to pack – you could get one that relates to your destination or one more travel-centric (what you can see at the airport).

15. Sticking with the same sticker theme (see what I did there?) – dollar stores and the $1 area of Target often have sticker packs with either seasonal themes or others like construction vehicles or farm animals that your kids can use to make their own scenes. I like to prompt my younger child by drawing a simple scene on a piece of paper than he can then add stickers to, like drawing a town layout with a few roads where he can add car and truck stickers.

16. iPad, iPod, iPhone or the like can be a lifesaver – load it up with games and videos. We use two iPod Touches which belong to my husband and me but for the duration of travel are claimed by our kids. For our last trip we also brought these rechargeable external batteries, which helped for a long flight. I made sure that each iPod had different games and videos so that the kids could trade and have more things to do and watch.

17. Printable activities of your child’s favorite TV shows/characters. Nickelodeon, PBS, Sprout and Disney all have websites where you can download and print activity pages. I usually put them into a report folder to keep them contained and organized. I like to do this instead of bringing one coloring book per kid because they can have more of a variety that way.

18. Travel journals with fun activities about your trip. I make travel journals for my kids before long trips using cheap blank notebooks and embellishing them with route maps, travel games and printed out puzzles and mazes. Then the kids use them throughout the trip as their notepad / coloring paper and afterwards to add in stickers and postcards and other little paper souvenirs from the trip.

19. Quiet card games to play – a regular deck of cards works for older kids, and younger kids would love to play with a Go Fish or Old Maid deck, or a small set of memory match cards. You can even make your own version of Memory if you like – either printing a set off the internet or drawing your own pictures. You can also make variations on Memory than can be great learning tools, like sight word matching or matching numbers with a picture of that many objects,

20. Word games and finger plays. It helps to have an arsenal of word games and other little activities ready that don’t need anything but yourselves to play. Some of our favorites are “I Spy” (“I spy with my little eye something brown” and then people take turns guessing what it is), the “Story Game” (where each member of the family adds onto a story sentence by sentence and the last player has to add their ending and then recite the whole story) and the “Alphabet Game” (where each member of the family thinks of a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet).

I hope this list helps on your next trip – do you have any tips to share?

Jan 142013

I started making travel journals for the kids when we went to Montana last summer, and then in the fall I made journals again for our trip to Germany. The little guy is still a bit young to fully appreciate it, but I do think that the maps help to explain where we are on the trip and help stave off a bit of the ‘are we there yet’ syndrome.

I got this journal for free in the swag bag of a kid’s music festival we go to every year

I used colored dot stickers to make a pattern matching game on one page and stuck in a page of extra dots as well.
I drew a map of our trip from the US to Germany and divided it up into hour-long segments. The older one colored her segments in.
I did the same thing for the ride home.

I also made a map for each way of the road trip we took during the vacation.

Along with the activities I made up, I also pasted in some activities printed out from various kids’ websites.

Color Matching Game for Kids

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Jan 112013

I saw an idea for a color matching game on Pinterest (searching through many many unattributed pins on that site led me to find this post which seems original although not the one I saw). I made a set for each child and brought them along on our trip overseas to have as a surprise activity.

 It was very easy to make – I got some paint samples from my friendly local hardware store and a handful of wooden clothespins from Dollar Tree. I cut each paint sample in half and used one half as the base of the match and cut circles from the other half. I happen to have a 3/4″ circle punch which made this easy; without the punch I would have just cut rectangles the same width as the clothespins. Then I glued the circles to the end of the clothespins and they were ready to go.

I made this set for my 3-year-old. For my 5-year-old I used paint chips that had more colors so she would have to work harder to match the gradients. Both kids enjoyed this activity and it was light enough to take on the airplane, and they’ve played with them occasionally afterwards.

Felt Boards for Kids

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Jan 112013

Over the next few days I’m going to post some of the projects I did during my ‘hiatus’ from the site.

Way back in August I started on a project to make felt boards for the kids, mainly for our trip to Germany to use on the airplane and during a long car trip. I started by painting white felt with watercolors and then mounting it onto cardboard after it dried. I made two scenes – day and night.

A daytime landscape

A nighttime landscape

Next I put together some stories and songs to use on the boards. I put together the images on my computer, then printed them out and used iron-on transfers to add them to white felt, and then cut them out.

Here are the felt cutouts for Five Speckled Frogs – I used clip-art for these.

Here is the set for Five Little Pumpkins (Sittin’ on a Gate). I drew these freehand and then scanned them in and colored them on the computer.

Here’s Mr. Bones for the song “Dem Bones”.

Here’s the set for the story of Stone Soup.

We also had a felt board set from “The Hungry Caterpillar” that we brought along. The kids liked them alright – they still play with them some and it did use up some airplane time.

Jan 092013

My little girl lost her first tooth last night, and I sewed up a little pouch that she could put her tooth in and stick under her pillow. I didn’t want the teeny tiny tooth to get lost under the pillow, and risk the tooth fairy waking her up during the tooth/loot exchange.

The tooth fairy left her $2 – its probably lower than some of her peers have gotten but she was excited about it so I’m glad the fairy didn’t second-guess herself and leave more than that.

I made the pouch out of felt. It was quite simple, just a rectangle folded over and stitched with crochet thread, with a button my daughter picked to keep it closed. I also personalized it with her name embroidered on the flap. Its kind of rustic, since she pulled her tooth out at about 5:45pm and I had to leave the house to go to a meeting at 6:45pm, and cook dinner at the same time.

I’ve linked up to this great link party – check it out! Fireflies and Jellybeans,      

Jan 072013

In the same spirit of frugal dinners and using up things in the pantry before grocery shopping, dinner last night was pasta with smoked kielbasa, green peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. It was super yummy and easy – I just sauteed some smoked kielbasa (from our great local butcher D&D Meats) then added diced green peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Meanwhile I boiled some assorted dried pastas, then added the cooked pasta to the sauce along with a bit of the pasta water. I mixed it all up, plated it, topped with some fresh grated Parmesan and that was that.

Two thumbs up from hubby and kids, so I’ll have to file this easy recipe away for future use!

Savory Spinach and Feta Strata

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Jan 052013

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to get our grocery budget under control. We spend much more than we should on groceries, so I’m using a four part plan to try and keep the cost down this year: 1) use a cash envelope with our monthly grocery budget to avoid overspending (this is for the initial months – I don’t think its sustainable for the long haul); 2) make more things from scratch; 3) try to avoid so much food waste; and 4) eat less meat – use it more as a garnish than as a main component of the meal.

Since part of the plan involves eliminating food waste, and part of it involves cooking from scratch, this savory strata fits right in. My neighbors are part of a gleaning cooperative and almost every weekend they drop by extra food for us from the surplus that didn’t get divided up among the members. This past weekend the bounty included a loaf of rustic rosemary bread from Trader Joe’s, and since its gone a bit stale I brainstormed what to do with it and came up with a strata (which also uses up some of the extra eggs I ended up with due to a scheduling mix-up with our dairy delivery service). Just the usual disclaimer that this recipe was only tested once, tonight, so although it was delicious I can’t guarantee your results!

Savory Spinach and Feta Strata
1 loaf of rustic bread, cut into 1″ cubes
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup cooked ham, diced
12 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with water squeezed out
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3 cups milk
10 eggs
2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Sauté the onion and ham in olive oil in a pan over medium heat until the onion softens and just begins to brown. Add the spinach to the pan and cook for a few minutes more. Meanwhile, combine the milk, eggs, salt and pepper in a bowl and beat with a fork to combine.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13″ pan and add the bread cubes. Next add the onion/ham/spinach mixture on top of the bread evenly, followed by the crumbled feta cheese. Pour the milk/egg mixture over everything in the pan and the refrigerate the strata for at least two hours.

When you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to 350 degrees and cook the strata for 45 minutes.

This made a huge amount, a party-sized amount of food. The next time I get a loaf of bread to use for a strata I’ll divide it into two pans and save one for later, since we’ve even got a ton of leftovers. And just as a note, the kids wouldn’t touch it, and they’re pretty good about trying new things.

Happy New Year!

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Jan 022013

As I like to do on most New Year’s Days, I’ve made black eyed peas and collard greens for dinner. Folklore says that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck in the coming year, and eating collard greens brings money – hopefully that’s true on both counts!

I put the beans in water to soak last night so they were ready to go this afternoon. I’m sure there are a million recipes for beans and greens on New Year’s, but I just made it up as I went along this year. Beans are pretty easy to make, especially with a pre-soaking overnight.

I took some smoked ham hocks and browned them/rendered some of the fat in a dutch oven, then I took them out and sauted some diced red onion in the rendered fat.

After the onion softened and started to brown I added the (drained, rinsed) beans and the hocks back into the pot and covered the whole mess with water. I simmered the beans for a few hours, skimming the scum from the top of the pot occasionally, then added the collards (cut into chunks) and let those cook down for a bit.

At the same time I pulled the hocks out and cut the meat off the bones, returning the meat to the pot. Finally I finished the whole dish off with a cup of rice and let it cook for a half hour more, seasoning it with salt, pepper and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce.

Yum! It was great and the kiddos ate it, so success!