Amazing August (and Our Fifth Blogoversary!)

FullSizeRender (1)August is so amazing… we’ve got our summer groove on and are in the thick of the season. There is alternately so much happening or, if you are lucky/intentional, nothing much happening at all, and both of these states are perfectly good.

It’s also a time when many of us find the time to travel, in all of its many forms. This month, we’re writing about some of the ways in which we move around.  Some of us are destined for faraway places, some of us stay near to home, but all of us are moving, all the time.

We’re happy to announce our special guests lined up, including friend Kristi Ashcroft on summering with her kids. We also have – wait for it – original 4 Mothers co-writer Marcelle Cerny back for a post! It’s wonderful to have her writing on our screen again.

We’ll also offer some tips on making those travel plans work: everything from games, shoes, sunscreen and bug spray.  And if you’re looking for great reads for kids, stay tuned, and we’ll tell you what our favourites are in our What We’re Reading Kids feature.

Most of all, we hope that reading here is, in some small way, giving your summer days a bit of a boost. Because that’s kind of why we’re here in the first place. This season marks our fifth summer writing daily to you – that would be FIVE YEARS – when, exactly, did that happen?

Beth-Anne, Nathalie and I are as surprised as you are… when we started this project those many moons ago, we didn’t have much of an agenda.  What we did know, and what we still know, is that we wanted to show up and write here, everyday. The fact that you are showing up too and reading here is exciting and humbling in equal measure. We now have over 11,000 subscribers, a number that makes us feel as grateful for your support as it makes us proud of our growth. We are so grateful for the new horizons this blog brings to us, the reliable way it calls to us to get the words in our head down on the page/screen, and especially for the way it helps us to connect to each other, to you, and to our world beyond. Thank you so much for joining us in this shared space!  We are looking forward to all the future has to bring.

Summer in the City, Indoors

Too hot?  Rainy?  We’ve got you covered for some fun things to do with kids–inside!

Art

My approach to art education is to get kids in front of art early and often.  I’m always amazed at how my kids will respond to what’s in front of them, and, on one trip to the AGO, when they were given white play dough and coloured pencils to take inside, I got inspiration for how to approach museum and gallery visits: create the creations.

Now, whenever we go to a gallery, we take along our sketchbooks and the kids pick a picture, park and draw.  (Check with the gallery to see what materials are allowed.  I once had to buy an expensive set of pencils from the gift shop because our markers were not allowed!)  Having them occupied with their own creations means not only are they inspired to make their own art, but I get time to enjoy the art on display myself.

I can’t say enough good things about the AGO.  There is great programming for kids, and the current Emily Carr exhibit, From the Forest to the Sea, is a great one for families and is included with General Admission.  Younger children will appreciate the bold strokes and colours of her landscapes, and you can talk with your older kids about the haunting emptiness of so many of her paintings: the effects of disease and a mammoth logging industry that came with European colonization.

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” Emily Carr

We recently went to check out the Andy Warhol: Revisited exhibit at a pop-up gallery at 77 Bloor Street West, where you can meet Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and John Wayne.  The exhibit will rotate over 120 of Warhol’s pieces from the Revolver Gallery over its run, which ends December 31, 2015.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and kids.  Find out more at Warhol Revisited.

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Museums

Right down the street from Andy Warhol is the ROM, where you could spend all of a rainy day and more.  And it’s not just dinosaurs!  Follow up on seeing Emily Carr’s totem poles by seeing two of the real things, housed in the museum stairwell, a three-storey space designed to house them and allow you to get right up close to the amazing work.

 

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Movies

Next week, we will be reviewing a wordless picture book.  It’s not much of a stretch, really, but what about a wordless movie?!  I took the kids along to see a preview Shaun the Sheep without knowing very much about the series on which the movie was based.  I honestly did not notice that the movie was wordless until about half way through!  The visual gags are so great, and the Claymation so engaging, that I didn’t even notice the absence of dialogue.  We took along a friend who loves the tv show, and he found the movie to be a great extension of the franchise he loves, but, as my experience demonstrates, no previous experience is necessary!  Shaun the Sheep will be released in Canada on August 7.

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Crispy Fish Tacos from EmmaEats

Our guest for today is fellow Savvy Storyteller Liz from EmmaEats . . . and Katie too! Liz is a busy mom of two, so she knows first hand that time is at a premium. Somehow she manages to create delicious recipes that are big on taste but don’t require tons of prep. Liz and I have something in common; we both have kids with nut allergies. Her collection of recipes is nut-free, allowing me to just follow along without worrying about substitutions. Follow Liz on Food Gawker or Taste Spotting for meal inspiration or her blog, EmmaEats, for good food for busy families.

These Crispy Fish Tacos, adapted from LCBO’s Fried Fish Sandwiches, are perfect for an alfresco summer family dinner.

Crispy Fish Tacos
(serves 4)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4-5 tilapia fillets, cut in half into two strips (~1 lb)
  • salt and black pepper
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • tortillas (optional, to serve)
  • Zesty Avocado Dip (optional, to serve – recipe follows)
  • chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (to serve)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt (optional, to serve)
  • Chipotle sauce (optional, to serve)
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, oregano, paprika, cumin, coriander, white pepper and cayenne. Salt and pepper the tilapia and rub the seasoning mix over all sides of each strip. Drizzle with lime juice and let marinate for 15-30 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.
Setup a workstation with egg in one platter and panko breadcrumbs in another.
Dredge each tilapia piece through the egg first and then through the breadcrumbs. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet.
When all of the pieces are breaded, bake in the preheated oven for ~20-30 minutes, flipping once halfway through baking. The fish should be flaky and opaque with a crispy and golden exterior.
Serve in warmed tortillas, topped with Zesty Avocado Dip, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with a dollop of sour cream or drizzled with chipotle sauce.
**********
Zesty Avocado Dip
(serves 4)
  • 2 avocados
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Halve the avocados and roughly mash the flesh with the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips or over Crispy Fish Tacos.

Rhubarb BBQ Sauce by Dinner With Julie

Our guest for today is Julie Van Rosendaal food writer, stylist and columnist frequently featured in Parents Canada, Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One, a contributor to the online cooking series Good Bite and co-host of It’s Just Food on Viva Network.

Julie is a real foodie and her passion for good food goes beyond simply enjoying it. She shares it. Her blog, Dinner With Julie, is a compilation of recipes that run the gamut from appetizers to dessert, all indexed for easy search and execution. But here’s the thing. Even though she’s an accomplished gastronome, she’s a real mom. She knows that even with our best intentions to meal plan, we end up staring into the fridge trying to make sense of a disjointed collection of potential ingredients . . .some approaching their expiration date. She knows this, because she’s one of us.

For one less worry, bookmark her blog to figure out what’s for dinner or follow her on Instagram for meal inspiration.

Thank you Julie for sharing your recipe for Rhubarb BBQ Sauce. A summer condiment that is the perfect pairing for grilled meats and may even be sourced from your garden. Just remember, only the stalk of a rhubarb plant can be eaten, the leaves are poisonous.
Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

2-3 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup pure maple or golden syrup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

In a small saucepan, bring the rhubarb and water to a simmer and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

In the same saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, until soft; add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer; cook for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender or cool and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Use as you would any barbecue sauce – on grilled meats, in baked beans or drizzled on burgers.

Makes about 2 cups.

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Hot Wheels & Summer Learning

The summer slide: it’s not just about losing ground.  Get your kids racing their Hot Wheels cars down an inclined plane, and you could help them keep their math and language skills in gear all summer.  And who doesn’t love a toy that gives extra mileage?  (I’m all out of slide and car puns now.  Promise.)

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Hot Wheels has great resources available to parents and teachers to help kids from JK-Grade One maintain their learning through summer play.  From making predictions to taking measurements, there are endless ways to incorporate math and language skills into car play.  Hot Wheels sent us some of their sets, and we took them to school for the kids in my son’s Grade 1 class to build and share in the last days of the school year.  The kids read the instructions, assembled the kits (with a bit of adult help) and then played with the fruits of their labour.  (Your kids can get in on this too!  Hot Wheels has a programme to get their toys into schools.  You can apply here.)

More and more, education in preschool and the early grades is play-based, active, and tactile.  By teaching math and measurement through play, we can engage tactile and kinetic learners who thrive on movement and touch.  By asking a few simple questions during organic car play, we can keep learning alive and active all summer long.  One of the most magical things about putting this kind of thing into practice is seeing how quickly it becomes part of the kids’ own method of play.

If your house is anything like mine, the Hot Wheels cars appear to reproduce like gremlins over night.  Put those toys to work!

  • Ask, “How many cars long is your bed?”  (Estimating, then counting and measuring)
  • Line up some cars in a simple colour pattern and ask, “What colour comes next?” (Patterning, colour recognition)
  • Line up the cars at the end of play time and ask “How many cars in the parking lot?” (Counting, patterning, estimating)
  • Take the play outside!  Use sidewalk chalk to create city streets and landmarks (school, library, hospital).  Give driving instructions to the Hot Wheels driver: “Take the first left.  Drive two blocks.  Turn right.  Where are you?”  (Orientation, instructions, reading and writing)

There are lots of ideas on the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals web site, as well as activity sheets to download.  Both incorporate learning so organically, the kids won’t even know you’re sneaking some learning in with their summer fun.

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The Canning Kitchen

unnamedI love it when bloggers experience success especially when it’s a blogger I’ve been following for some time. Seeing them on TV or their books in print, make me excited for them . . .mostly because I know that it probably took years of building a relationship with readers and juggling many plates while trying to deliver the best content. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for fellow Canadian bloggers, in particular Savvy Storytellers.

When I saw that Amy Bronee from Family Feedbag, a go-to for quick and easy family friendly recipes, had published a book, I wanted to share it with you.

The Canning Kitchen: 101 Simple Small Batch Recipes is a must-have companion to the bountiful summer harvest season. I have wanted to try my hand at dill pickles and this book covers the classics but it also inspires with new recipes like for Salted Caramel Pear Butter.

Canning isn’t just for grandma anymore!  Give it a try and enjoy the taste of summer all year long.

To order your copy of The Canning Kitchen click here.

The Home Away From Home Eatery: Everyone Needs One

mimi

I like cooking, sometimes. Often, even. But some sweltering summer nights, the last thing I want to do is charge up the stove. On these nights, I might get enterprising and put together a dinner sans heat: maybe serve up a salad or wraps with a side of popcorn (air-popped of course).

But some nights, what I really like to do is get away for a quick meal away from home, that feels like it might have been made at home, just not my home.  You know the type of place, where you can sit back with a book or your phone and tuck in to a tasty, reliable meal that reminds you of the homey kitchen you’d rather not be in.

Everyone needs a place or two like this.  It’s a modern day essential, up there with sunscreen and the little black dress.

I confess I flit around a little with where I like to go, but here’s my current favourite: a steaming bowl or noodles at Mimi Restaurant, a Vietnamese eatery in east Chinatown. There are tons of variations off a few types of noodle bowls and soups, all hearty and delicious. Vegetarians can actually eat here; there aren’t many veggie options but at least there are some (hard to find in a Vietnamese restaurant), and they’re really good.

Also, there’s a woman there who is ever so friendly. She always asks after my sons (who love the noodles there) and has a smile for me.  She’ll talk if I want to talk, or serve quietly if my nose is in a book. I go to Mimi’s and know exactly what I’ll get and how I’ll get it.  It’s kind of perfect as far as summer essentials go.

Where’s your go-to for a home away from home meal?

~~~

ps. The folks at Mimi’s don’t know I’m writing about them. Think they’d blush if they knew?

Summertime Margarita

This post by Beth-Anne was originally published last summer, but as everyone knows a good margarita is timeless.  Enjoy!

This summer we’ve been all about margaritas! They are so yummy and can easily be made without alcohol. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not comfortable in the kitchen and I have a tendency to “wing” it (insert disastrous result), and I do the same when it comes to mixology too. I like to go by taste, so every measure that I am about to give you is an approximation. Let your sense be your guide!

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Start off with some limes, both regular run-of-the-mill juicy limes and those flavour-bursting key limes. Juice 2 limes per glass. This is where the math comes in. If you’re going to make a pitcher of 8 drinks, you’ll need sixteen limes. It’s a lot of squeezing but it will be worth it.

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Pour the lime juice into the pitcher and add some club soda (1:1 ratio). Now add a healthy dose of tequila. I prefer white (or clear) and I figure about 1.5 – 2 shots per glass. Again with the math.  Squeeze in some agave nectar. This is where it gets personal. Sweetness is subjective, so be sure to taste and add accordingly.

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Pour in a touch of orange juice. That’s a very technical measurement. Don’t screw that part up.

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I’ve sampled several versions of this recipe over the summer and each time I tweak it slightly. I know nothing for sure, other than this drink tastes best served in a tall glass over lots of ice and a thinly sliced key lime.

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Tips to Help Your Picky Eaters

It’s food month here at 4Mothers, and we have been reveling in our taste adventures.  What do you do, though, if you love a wide variety of foods but your kids have distinctly more limited tastes?  What do you do if your child eats such a limited range of foods, that the whole family ends up restricted by the picky eater’s choices?

I recently read Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, a guide by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin, two professionals in helping children with eating disorders.  I have to tell you that my first reaction was to count my blessings that my own picky eater is far and away more easy to feed than the children profiled in this book.  This is a book for parents and caregivers of extreme picky eaters, children who do not eat “enough quantity or variety to support healthy emotional, physical or social development, or [who have] eating patterns that are a significant source of conflict or worry.”  Often, these are children with food issues that have sent them to a medical or psychological professional.  These children may only eat five or ten foods, or they are extremely averse to certain food textures, or they have sensory motor issues that make feeding physically difficult.  If you are one of those parents, I found the advice in this book so grounded in compassion and common sense, and I highly recommend picking it up.

This is not necessarily a book for parents of run-of-the-mill picky eaters.  Nevertheless, I found a lot of advice that can help all families gather around the table with less stress and more joy.  I found it full of great, practical advice, and I learned about some of my own unproductive approaches to food and feeding.

1. Eliminate stress from the dinner table

The number one priority is to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere around food and eating.  Who doesn’t want that?

If you have a picky eater, the first step is to learn not to engage in conflict or power struggles and not to draw attention to the issue of food.  The idea is to enjoy the time you share around the table and for both parent and child to stop obsessing about food and nutrition.

How many of you do this?  You pick up your kids from school or camp, and one of the first questions you ask is an anxious or accusatory, “Did you eat all of your lunch?” I do it every single day!  The advice from these authors?  Stop that right away and take the battle over what did and did not get eaten right out of the equation.

Enjoy each others’ company; do not measure each others’ food intake.

It’s the same at the dinner table.  Eliminate the stress and conflict over food by relaxing the reins and letting the kids take more control.  Stop all pressure tactics, bribes and negotiations.  Stop all praise or blame.  The big picture is that kids have to learn to eat to satisfy the intrinsic cues of hunger, not to satisfy (or annoy!) an anxious parent.

2.  Create structure.

No more all-day grazing.  Kids need to learn to listen to hunger cues.  Make eating a structured and mindful part of each day, and make each meal and snack nutritionally balanced so that all eating opportunities are healthy eating opportunities.  Let kids’ hunger and appetite build between meals, and don’t dull the appetite with constant grazing.

3. Create a clear division of responsibility.

The authors of this book are refreshingly clear on what a parent should control:

Your job: decide when, where, and what foods are offered (as long as you include something your child can eat)

Your child’s job: decide whether and how much to eat.

Period.

No more one-bite rule!  Really??  Really.  Your job ends with putting the food on the table.  What the children choose to eat is their responsibility.

4. Do not put food on anyone’s plate but your own.

Do not serve dinner on to the diners’ plates.  Put all of the food you serve in the middle of the table.  All food is equal: broccoli and pasta, salad and bread.  It all goes on the table, and there is no division of adult and kid food.  No more us and them.  If the only thing your child will eat today is crackers, put them in a bowl on the table with the rest of the food.

Then let the kids serve themselves.

The authors even suggest putting dessert on the table with dinner!  If you stop using dessert as a bribe, you stop a food battle in its tracks.

In the short term, the kids may still only eat the plain pasta and a bowl of ice cream.  Let them.  Let them learn enjoyment and pleasure at the table.  Let them learn to trust that they will find things they like.  In the long term, when conflict and power struggles are gone, they will begin to expand their eating repertoire.

5.   You are not a short order cook.

Stop catering to the limited palate of the picky eater.  Make your menu, provide at least one safe food and serve it up without apology: “When you sit down to foods you actually want to eat, not only do you expose your child to a wider variety of foods, but you can also authentically model enjoying different foods.”

6.  Model healthy eating.

Eat what you love and relish it.  Avoid labelling food “good” or “bad.”

 

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I have put some of these very concrete steps into place in our home, and I’m loving the results.

  • I put platters and bowls of food in the centre of the table, and, sure enough, the kids were more willing to serve themselves a taster of something new.
  • After I told them about some of the tortuous strategies used to teach children table manners, like knives in the backs of chairs to enforce good posture (learned watching a documentary about the making of Downton Abbey!) we laughed about table manners from days of old, and the boys planned a night of eating fancy: dress up and pretend to be aristocrats.  This is to be followed by a night on which we eat like cavemen, with fingers and no manners at all.
  • My “picky eater” planned a cheese tasting for dinner when he had a friend over, and he went to the cheese store and spoke to the owner and tried five new cheeses.  He helped slice the fruit and veggies, lay out the cheese board and the cracker tray.  He ate like a horse, and his friend very gamely tried all of the cheeses, even the blue.  It was a huge success.
  • I’ve stopped calling my picky eater a picky eater.  Take the label away and the behaviour will follow!

 

Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating is published by New Harbinger Publications.  We were sent a copy for review.