Tangy White Bean Dip

Ever since my toddler learned to say the word “dip” he has been requesting it with every meal, including breakfast! He loves dunking breadsticks in hummus, apple slices in vanilla yogurt, and French fries in ketchup. Not only is the dipping activity good fine motor practice for him, but it gives him a little taste of independence while giving me a little freedom to do other things while he is feeding himself—like eat my own meal! Today I experimented with a tasty new healthy dip, which he enjoyed eating with sesame breadsticks and celery. Make that two of us; I liked it too!

bean dip1 can (19 oz.) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. chopped garlic (or 2 cloves)
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. plain yogurt (I like Astro Balkan style)
1 tbsp. dried dill
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Serve with breadsticks, crackers, and/or veggies. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Unrolled Cabbage Stir Fry (Stew)

cabbage stir fry

If you enjoy the taste of cabbage rolls but, like me, are too busy to assemble them, you’ll love this quick and easy stir fry! It has all the flavour with only one pan to clean up. The consistency is almost like a hearty cabbage stew. Even my toddler loves this!

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large head green cabbage, chopped in thin pieces
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous (or rice or quinoa)
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook couscous according to package directions.

In a large nonstick pan on medium high heat, cook ground beef with onion and garlic until meat is almost fully cooked. Add mushrooms if using and continue to fry until meat is browned. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for one hour.

Serve in bowls with freshly baked bread.

NOTES: Rice or quinoa could be substituted for the couscous if you prefer. I just like to use couscous because it has a fine consistency that blends well with the other ingredients, stretching the dish without being too conspicuous. (I use it instead of rice in my stuffed peppers too and always get compliments!) I added mushrooms on a whim because I love mushrooms and had some that I wanted to use up, but you can leave them out if they’re not your thing.

Upcycling Old Socks: DIY No-Sew Baby Leg Warmers

Ladies, here’s a super quick and easy way to upcycle your old socks – perhaps the ones that have holes in the toes, or simply any pair that you don’t wear anymore. In five minutes or less, you can turn them into adorable baby leg warmers to protect those chubby little knees. No sewing required!

Step 1: Use a pair of sharp scissors to cut straight across the toe end of each sock, like so:

Cut toe end of sock

Step 2: Roll the cut edge of each sock underneath to the desired length. You can adjust the length depending on the size of your baby’s legs and the socks you use. (For my son, with this particular pair of socks, I basically folded the socks in half.) Slip them over your baby’s legs like knee pads.

Voilà! Baby leg warmers! My little guy is crawling like a pro now and wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to get a good picture, but you get the idea…

Baby leg warmers DIY

LeapFrog Lettersaurus Song List… At Last!

lettersaurusMy son got a Lettersaurus from his grandparents for Christmas. It’s another one of those wonderful toys that can be equal parts educational and annoying. I’d have to say it’s mostly the former though. It has 3 modes to teach kids their letters, colours, and well-known children’s songs, and it plays the alphabet song when you push the top of the dinosaur’s head. Overall, we love this toy!

The only thing that drives me crazy is… the letter E! I cannot for the life of me identify the tune that plays when you push that letter E button in music mode. I scoured the Internet for a list of songs for this toy, but to no avail. I was hoping it might be in the instruction manual, but it’s not. Surely I’m not the only parent who would find this helpful…? Perhaps I need to brush up on my childhood musicology!

For the rest of you sleep-deprived souls being haunted by the vaguely familiar but nameless tunes emanating from your child’s purple plastic plaything, here’s help! I was able to name 25 of the 26 melodies as follows – and if anyone knows the name of the song that goes along with that elusive letter E, please do share! (Note: This is for the Canadian Lettersaurus toy, made by LeapFrog, which pronounces Z as “zed.” I don’t know if there are other versions produced elsewhere that may be slightly different!)

UPDATE 08-28-2013: Mystery solved! I’m told that the “E” song is Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Personally, I don’t sing it that way, but apparently there is an alternate tune for this old familiar song. Who knew! Glad that’s settled. I can sleep in peace now.

  • A: The Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • B: I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
  • C: Camptown Races
  • D: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
  • E: Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • F: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
  • G: Alouette
  • H: This Old Man
  • I: Old MacDonald Had a Farm
  • J: The Wheels on the Bus
  • K: Hickory Dickory Dock
  • L: John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
  • M: Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • N: Three Blind Mice
  • O: There’s a Hole in My Bucket
  • P: Over the River & Through the Woods
  • Q: Are You Sleeping / Frère Jacques
  • R: The Teddy Bears’ Picnic
  • S: Did You Ever See a Lassie?
  • T: B-I-N-G-O
  • U: The Muffin Man
  • V: Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush
  • W: Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • X: London Bridge Is Falling Down
  • Y: If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Z: The Farmer in the Dell

Owl Diaper Cake Tutorial: Great Baby Shower Gift!

Owl diaper cakeThis owl diaper cake makes an adorable gift to give to a new mom. It’s full of diapers and other useful baby items. You can adapt it for a boy, girl, or gender-neutral baby shower by varying the colours of the items you choose. Best of all, it’s quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive to make, with the biggest cost of course being the diapers. Here’s how I made my cute little owl for a sweet little girl!

You Will Need:

  • 1 small package size 1 or 2 diapers*
  • 2 baby spoons for the pupils
  • 1 baby washcloth for the beak
  • 1 pair of baby socks for the ears
  • 1 receiving blanket
  • 1 bib large enough to cover the body
  • Elastics, ribbon and bias tape

*Note about diapers:  I used size 1’s for the eyes and size 2’s for the body. Sorry, I don’t remember exactly how many! I think a small package of about 50 or so would do. If you want, you could also buy a larger box and give the extras as part of the gift. Any new mom would appreciate that for sure!

How to Assemble:

1. Make the body by packing the diapers in a circular shape. I used a plastic microwave cover to help hold them in place, but pretty much any flat circular container will work. Pack as tightly as possible and then roll up a diaper to fill in the centre (this part is not pictured). Secure with a large elastic.

Owl diaper cake Owl diaper cake

2. Make two smaller circles for the eyes, securing with elastics. Stick spoons in the centre for pupils. Wrap a large elastic around the eyes to hold them together.

Owl diaper cake

3. Wrap a wide ribbon around the body to cover the elastic, tying the ends on top. Pull the ends through the elastic that is holding the eyes together and tie in place.

Owl diaper cake

4. Cover the body with the bib. (Mine had teething rings attached to it.) Fold a washcloth in a triangular shape and tuck into the space between the eyes for the beak.

Owl diaper cake

5. Fold the receiving blanket to the width of the diapers. Use it to cover the top of the owl’s head. The ends should drape down for the wings.

Owl diaper cake

6. Tie a string of bias tape around the body and eyes to hold them in place, with the bow on top, then tie another bow around the neck.

7. Tuck socks under the bias tape on the owl’s head for ears.

Owl diaper cake

And voilà, the finished product!

Owl diaper cake

Two Tech Bios

I’ve been reading the biographies of two men who are pure geniuses. In the past, my non-fiction reading was usually limited to cookbooks and how-to guides, but lately I find myself drawn more and more to true stories about real people’s lives. As a matter of fact, both of these books were recommended to me by my husband, who read them first (and who is also a genius in my opinion). So I guess I have him to thank for my newfound love of biographies.

Ghost in the Wires

by Kevin Mitnick

I just finished listening to this fascinating audiobook. As the subtitle says, it’s the tale of Mitnick’s “adventures as the world’s most wanted hacker.” (Whenever I hear the word hacker, that brilliant Weird Al song, “It’s All About the Pentiums,” starts playing in my head: “What’cha wanna do? Wanna be hackers? Code crackers? Slackers, wasting time with all the chatroom yackers, nine to five chillin’ at Hewlett-Packard!” But I digress.)

Without question, Mitnick possesses uncanny problem-solving and social engineering skills. His story is almost unbelievable, describing one expertly executed exploit after another. What amazes me most is that, after being chased by the FBI and spending time in prison for his crimes, he now has a successful career in security consulting, i.e., companies now pay him to hack into their systems to reveal their weaknesses. Who would have thought! It sounds like the perfect job for him.

Now I can’t wait to read The Art of Deception, his first book in which he basically tells people how to avoid falling for scams like the ones he pulled off.

 Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson

I’m still working my way through this tome. Actually, I’m reading the Kindle edition (on my iPhone, of course), so it’s not as physically heavy as the 656-page hardcover edition. One might find the sheer length intimidating, but let me assure you that the text itself is very readable and engaging, almost like reading a novel, except the characters and events are all real.

Our home and daily life is literally pervaded by Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, computers, and an Apple TV), so make no mistake, we hold Steve Jobs in high regard around here. With all due respect to Jobs’ memory, my husband and I both marvelled at some of the crazy things he did in his lifetime. Although it certainly didn’t make him an easy person to live or work with, it was probably because of, not in spite of, that craziness, or should I say intense perfectionism, that he was able to accomplish all he did.

Next, I’m thinking perhaps I should read his Apple cofounder’s biography, iWoz. (Steve Wozniak, by the way, wrote the forward for Kevin Mitnick’s book.)

Chicken Satay: Oven Method

Just because it’s too cold to grill outside (plus our propane tank is empty and we won’t refill it until next spring) doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy dishes like this one, with flavours that remind us of warmer climates. The chicken is marinaded in a lime and curry mixture, then broiled and served with a creamy Thai peanut sauce, which gets its kick from sriracha.

Traditionally, the chicken pieces are threaded onto skewers for grilling. I decided to do without them this time for convenience’s sake.

Oven Broiled Chicken Satay with Creamy Thai Peanut Sauce

3 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
Crushed peanuts (optional)

Peanut sauce:
2/3 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sriracha hot pepper sauce

Mix lime juice, curry powder, honey, coriander, cumin, salt, and garlic in a resealable plastic bag or shallow dish with a lid. Add chicken and stir to coat with lime juice mixture. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Whisk together peanut sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Warm on low heat while you broil the chicken.

Set oven control to broil. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Spread chicken pieces in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, and brush generously with the marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. Broil about 3 inches from heat for 10-20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink in centre. Serve chicken with peanut sauce, additional sriracha, and crushed peanuts if desired. Goes well with noodles or rice.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Canadians are giving thanks this weekend. In honour of the occasion, I ceremoniously picked the first ripe pumpkin from my garden and cooked it like I always do. Time to dig out Mom’s old pumpkin pie recipe and roast some pumpkin seeds!

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie

Pastry for 9″ pie
1 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
(preferably fresh, but canned will do)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 heaping tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
Additional nutmeg for garnish
Whipped cream (optional)

Combine all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Pour into pie crust and sprinkle with additional nutmeg. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (about what you get from 1 small pie pumpkin)
1 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 drop hot pepper sauce (more if you like it spicier)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Remove large chunks of pumpkin flesh from the seeds. Leaving small traces of pumpkin is ok; it adds flavour to the seeds. In a small bowl, combine pumpkin seeds and melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Spread seeds evenly over the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 mins. until crispy. Watch them carefully so the seeds don’t burn. You’ll know they are done when the sugary mixture on the foil turns brown. If it turns black, you’ve baked them too long.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet (if you can resist eating them all when they’re warm and crunchy from the oven). Savour the sweet and salty flavours—the perfect balance. Then say to yourself, “See, this is why you were wise to choose a real pumpkin for your pie this year, instead of that canned nonsense.”

In the unlikely event of leftovers, store roasted completely cooled pumpkin seeds in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Animal Stories For Adults

Come, Thou TortoiseCome, Thou Tortoise
by Jessica Grant

Have you ever wondered what goes through your pet’s mind? I know I have. What initially drew me to this book was the fact that it features a tortoise as one of the narrators. Yes, you read that right: A tortoise—as in, the hard-shelled land-dwelling reptile–narrates several chapters of this book.

The other chapters are narrated by Audrey Flowers, or as her Uncle Thoby calls her, Oddly. The nickname suits her well, because odd is exactly what she is. But in a very lovable way.

The story is told with a unique combination of quiet sadness and comic relief—but mostly comic relief. I laughed at Audrey’s adorable quirks, cried for her losses, and was completely blindsided by her final discovery. Perhaps other readers saw it coming, but for me it was totally unexpected. Lest I spoil it for anyone, I will leave my comments at that. If you get to the end of the book you’ll understand.

Three Bags Full
by Leonie Swann

A co-worker recommended this book, and I was immediately intrigued by the notion of a sheep detective story. I’m currently on the fourth chapter. Whenever I tell people that I’m reading a book about a flock of sheep who are trying to solve the mystery of their shepherd’s murder, I usually have to clarify that it is actually not a children’s book. Not that I don’t enjoy a good children’s book every now and then. In fact, it’s probably my love for children’s books, combined with my love for animals, that makes me appreciate whimsical, imaginative stories like this one. I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Blueberry Banana Bread

I’ve heard of adding chocolate chips or nuts to banana bread… but blueberries? I had two mushy bananas sitting on my counter and decided I had to do something with them. Since I happened to have a bag of blueberries in my freezer, I threw them in on a whim.

The verdict: I’d definitely make this again. The blueberries add sweetness and moisture to the bread, which smells heavenly while it’s baking. Blueberries, bananas, vanilla, and nutmeg all have pleasing aromas on their own; put them together, and you have a delightful combination.

If your home is air-conditioned and you are able to turn on the oven during the summer, this bread would be a great way to use freshly picked blueberries. Otherwise, you can use frozen blueberries any time of year.

Blueberry Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 or 3)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add banana and vanilla; mix well.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add to banana mixture, stirring just to moisten. Fold in blueberries.

Transfer to a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let stand 10 mins. before removing from pan to cool.