Jewish Cuisine in Italy

Ferrara has some wonderful hybrid Italian/Jewish dishes. Hamim was Jewish brisket type meal with meatballs. In the cradle of Ferrara the brisket was replaced with Italian sausages and olives. The Jewish base of beans, Israeli cous cous and tomato were retained with new regional influence:


Hamim, Italian style

2tbsp. olive oil

1lb. Local sausage (hot or sweet)

3 cloves garlic

1 red onion sliced 

1 carrot or parsnip sliced thin

1 tbsp rosemary

1 1/4 cups white beans

1/3 cup Israeli Couscous

2 cups diced tomatoes (if from a can include liquid)

1 cup stock (or chicken bullion)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

In a cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Brown sausages, about three minutes per side; set aside. Add garlic, carrot or parsnip and rosemary to skillet; cook stirring, until onion is softened. Add beans, tomatoes, stock, vinegar and Couscous; bring to a boil then simmer until thick enough to scoop with a cracker.

Slice sausages thin, nestle into the bean/Couscous mixture. Simmer

Eat with crackers, toasts, or crusty bread.

Takes about 30 minutes all in. Feels like rustic luxury on the table – nice bottle of red works well too.

Karel Appel inspired art project – for kids

There is no better painter, in my mind, for introducing children to the wonderful world of “found art” and assemblage then Karel Appel. I want to talk all about my own journey with Karel Appel during a summer abroad, but I have really grown to dislike that moment when I just want to cook a recipe and instead I have to read an entire diatribe about how the blogger’s day has been and all that jazz. So with that said:

The inspiration for this project came from two places:

  1. A friend loaned Hunter and I a wonderful box of children’s art activity cards called “Tate Art in a Box” that he picked up at the Tate Modern. Each card contains a specific work found in the Tate art galleries and instructions on the back for how to proceed on your own.

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On the right you can see the 1949 Karel Appel assemblage called “Questioning Children,” and it served as our visual inspiration throughout the process.

2. A visit to the (slightly less impressive) Art Gallery of Ontario, led my partner and I into a gallery where another kind of dynamic assemblage greeted us. The Art gallery has its annual Photography Prize going on, and included in the group of photographs was an installation piece that reminded me of Hunter by the performance artist Jimmy Robert:

Something about this particular assemblage of photographs and cardboard, and wallhangings reminded me so much of what Hunter does around our house on any given day with pretty much anything he can find. He’s been doing assemblage for many years and we have grown accustomed and participatory with its “artfulness.” For these reasons, it seemed to me that a “found object” art weekend with Karel Appel guiding us would really interest Hunter.

The information:

Karel Appel (1921-2006), Holland. While looking at the painting, “Questioning Children (1949) consider:

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  • What can you see?
  • What materials has Karel Appel used?
  • How many people can you see? Who do you think they are? Can you see anything other than people?
  • Look carefully at the background. Are the figures made from the same material?
  • Where has the artist signed the work?
  • Look at the shapes, how do you think they have been fixed?
  • What colours can you see?

Your Turn:

Make a painted relief of your family and friends. Who do you want to include in your relief? Just you? Some pets? Lay your pieces and arrange them into people shapes before you glue them down. Leave to dry. Next add colour to your canvas in at least 2 or 3 layers, leave time for each colour to dry or your wet paint will blend together. (Use a colour chart to help you mix colours.) Come back to your work and paint the body parts and let dry. Affix your different materials to the canvas and allow the glue to dry. Come back to your work and paint eyes, noses, mouths, fingers, and so on.

You will need:

  • A firm base (piece of word/cardboard box/canvas)
  • PVA glue, wood glue, glue spreader and a paper plate
  • Scraps of wood, corks, tree bark or use different size boxes, for example cereal and toothpaste boxes. (Turn the boxes inside out so that the glossy, printed side is on the inside and the plain card is on the outside, secure the sides with tape. The plain side can then be glued and painted).

We decided that this project would be completely of “found items,” which included finding a beaten up frame that was damaged by water and in pieces. I glued the frame back together, sanded and restained it and then began the rather slow process of repainting that vintage-y fabric “matting” that is part of the frame as it had water stains all over the place.

This is really a whole other tutorial, and not really necessary, but here are the visual steps for fixing a found frame:

After school on Friday Hunter and I began searching city streets and ravines for a bag of materials and once collected, he began priming the board we popped out of the found frame with a can of paint we found in the garage.

While he primed, I finished the frame and set up the paint supplies for the next day.The project from the point of priming and collecting took three days, in 1-3 hour stints per day, which means that when the Art box says “recommended for ages 5-11,” they mean it.

Day 2:

After priming we started the first layer of background colour blocks and cleaned and painted some of the wood pieces we found while it dried.

Day 3:

We started the day with another layer of colours on the canvas and by the afternoon we were beginning to place the pieces on the board — when we realized that many of our found objects (notably four cedar boards) were far too big for the canvas. Hacksaw to the rescue, and conveniently, the cut pieces made more pieces than we would ever need to work with.

After Hunter figured out the design, we used a paper plate and PVA glue for anything not wood, and wood glue and got everything down. While the glue dried we drew in hair, arms, legs, snake heads and tails, tiger heads and anything else we could think of to pass the time. As a last task, I took out all the finishing nails on the back of the frame and carefully placed the canvas back into its bed and drove the nails back into their original holes. (I had to be careful as everything on this canvas made it heavy to be banging around with a hammer.)

The finished product is both distinctly Karel Appel, but also distinctly Hunter as he conceived of all the designs. Many times when I’m moderating a design for Hunter, I feel like I need to step in too much, which by the end makes him and I wonder, is this his or mine? I try my best to step back and just allow whatever happens to happen. A project with Appel as its inspiration makes stepping back easy, since Appel’s goal was to produce artwork with the spontaneity and freshness that was supposed to represent the eye of the child. There really is no way to mess up this project as the way a child’s eye actually sees and assembles is the project. The final result was really fun way to spend a few hours over a long weekend that Hunter is really proud of and happy with. Once we get the eyelets and wire installed on the back, we’ll hang Hunter’s new picture somewhere in his bedroom.

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July: Architecture Crafts

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Exposure counts. If you saw something once as a child, you probably don’t remember it. Or do you?

I get that children are exposed to a lot of stuff and that they may not remember very much from early childhood. Yet, what might cement something even if just a little in memory? How might I encourage that? Maybe engage with things in different ways? What if something that you are exposed to sits around you in your life for a number of months (or longer, depending when I purge things out), and what about the photographs of it that are sitting around in albums? fallingwater_lego

I think exposure counts for something, and that has motivated my a lot of my projects this summer. Today, I’ve compiled the different ancient architecture ideas/crafts/stories/resources that Hunter and I worked on in the month of July. At the beginning of the month, I decided that I would make my focus for the month: ancient and early architecture – mainly so that I could save contemporary architecture for August. (Secretly, I keep trying to save up money so as to purchase the lego set that is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house.) Well…$250 is a pretty steep price tag for lego, so I just look at it longingly and instead scour the Dollarstore for gems. 11791901_10155981973015372_675081725353466540_o

Wow, and gems we found. Dollarstores across the country right now are carrying an architectural 3D puzzle series. You can buy each puzzle for the paltry price of $3. I think you’ll agree, that is so, so much easier to swallow as a child’s craft price. We picked up 2 the first day and made our first exploration of architecture: Mayan temples. 10986642_10155981973160372_2889743678661776375_o

We started by just putting the temple together. It took around an hour and was not difficult – Hunter was able to put the entire puzzle together himself.

After we got the puzzle together we went to Google Earth and took a look at where the Mayan ruins were located in Mexico and Guatemala. We looked at all the different kinds of Mayan temples and decided that ours was the 11058383_10155982111455372_1340448289426391637_o“Temple Major” in Mexico.

We then looked at closer pictures on the internet of what it looks like today. 11779832_10155981973210372_9069265822352752264_o Before summer began, I picked up around 20 years of National Geographic magazines from 1980-98, and within the stacks we found an article on Mayan ruins from April 1986. What was most interesting was that when you look at images of the temples on the internet they seem set in dense jungle settings. What the National Geographic reveals was that these temple sites were usually surrounded by entire city complexes. (I learn something new everyday.) I think that terrible movie Apocalypto changed the way I thought about temple sites – they belonged in the dense jungle in my mind.

I probably stared at the city site in that National Geographic longer than Hunter, wondering about the kind of work it must have required to keep the jungle at bay.

Turning to something more age appropriate for Hunter we returned to the Great Buildings11055357_10155812993455372_3781775980541101235_o children’s book and looked at the Temple Major story. It was pretty macabre, truth be known. Nothing was really spared and I found myself editing the information for a four year old. 11036030_10155981973055372_7091389603424276105_oStill…Hunter was magically and imaginatively drawn to the blood running down the steps and off the the left of the temple picture, a little box filled with drawn skulls.

He enthusiastically was asking, “AND MOM, WHAT IS THIS!?”

“Uhhhhh…hmmm, looks like a box decorated with skeletons?”

Exposure early really means exposure — maybe a little too early!

Our second project followed my initial plan of introducing the concept of “domes” in our urban walkabouts. These series of projects were MUCH, MUCH more tame in some respects.  They certainly were not as explicitly violent and heinous (just really, really ostentatious).

We began with St. Peter’s Basilica – the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City. Yes, like I said, not as explicitly heinous – at least to my particular child. Wow, it is surprisingly hard to write a good sentence that includes Catholic Church, Vatican, and not heinous together. I think I better just get to the architecture – I’m out of my depth. 11782529_10155981972910372_3495367101608816204_oI can say one thing for certain: putting together paper domes is really no fun at all.11412101_10155812993565372_8875326272766782095_o

The entire craft was a massive learning set that took around 2 weeks to cover all the different aspects. We started with just looking at a bunch of different kinds of domes in the Buildings book. Hagia Sofia has low flat domes, while a building like St. Basil’s in Moscow11708005_10155981973225372_6793818322819757358_o has colourful domes with a little peak.

Looking at a variety of domes meant that anywhere we went, walking or in the car – Hunter could point out the different types of domes, whether they were on a cathedral or not and what they reminded him of, which in turn gave me the opportunity to reinforce how a flat dome looks like those big flat domes on the Hagia Sofia – which basically is just to say the names over and over again. We’ve been doing this kind of identification for three weeks now, whenever in the car, and some of the names actually stick now. St. Peter’s Basilica is the one most referenced, but I was surprised this morning when Hunter pointed out the low dome on the Castle Frank TTC station and said, “low dome – like the Hagia Sofia!” It’s working! As we drove by a major church of Bloor Street the question popped out, “Why do some cathedrals have the same doors that are on St. Peter’s basilica? It’s like the basilica is here in Toronto, even though it is in a different country.” Woah. Holy. Better than I could have ever expected on that one. I love being surprised.

I think that kind of question is borne directly from putting the thing together piece by piece. The difficulty level of the Basilica and Piazza was definitely a step up. Hunter was still able to put together the majority of the puzzle, with my help on all the little domes. 11794161_10155981973145372_3295324619842094810_o It took two different days to finish the puzzle. Hunter probably could have kept going, but the domes were making me crazy – I needed the break.

While in the bathroom one evening Hunter came running down with a National Geographic from 1991 that had a long pull out page on the inside of the Basilica. Perfect, it gave us even more to work with, and lots and lots of pictures. Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.48.52 AMThe pictures gave us aerial views and scenes from the massive interior. It was stunning and the articles were really fascinating.

For myself, reading about the precepts of the Vatican in 1991 (policies for stricter rather than more lenient engagement) is interesting to reflect upon, and the up close and personal interviews with Pope John Paul II were really interesting. Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.49.53 AM 11782268_10155981966475372_2943733503315426484_o

We moved on from the puzzle the next week into an art project that allowed us to create many different types of domes in watercolours.

As the last activity, the watercolour paint project was just fun. Later in the week we were meeting up for a playmate at a wading pool. After painting our watercolour domes gold, Hunter decided to gift his picture to the little boy we were visiting. 11794063_10155981966520372_1930553976718421729_oSo, 3 weeks later, I can say with utter confidence – this series of crafts/learning sites was entirely successful and three weeks of fun!

Method for the watercolour:

1. Use a pencil to draw several large rectangles. Add domes and turret, make them different sizes and shapes. Then erase everything so that only a light outline is left to follow.

11754478_10155981966530372_389359177369604870_o2. Use watercolour paints to fill in the buildings, but leave a small gap between the buildings and roof areas so that your colours don’t run. Let each building dry before staring an adjoining building.

3. When the paint is dry, fill in the domes with either a gold tip pen, or gold acrylic paint.

4. Once everything is dry, use a sharpie to mark in some windows and patterns on the buildings.

5. Add the sky as a last addition.

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As a postscript from the 1991 National Geographic – just take a look at this image: Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.50.12 AM A senior citizen nun whose life aspiration was to become a missionary for the Church in China was brought to the Vatican when she was in her twenties. She was given the task at that time of restoring Raphael’s tapestries in the Vatican collection. She has over 600 colours of thread, and as a senior still working everyday – she is putting the art of Raphael back together single-handedly one thread at a time. She’s not even named in the article – just referred to as an “elderly nun”. Mind blown. I wonder if she’s still working away? Probably.

July Recipe Favs: 3 Flatbread Combinations

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Summer time usually means pizza time for our family. I’m not 100% certain as to why, but it happens every summer. There is just something about putting a fresh made pizza in the oven or on the bbq that drags us back as soon as the temperature heats up. Through the winter we delve into soups, stews and hearty one-pot meals and roasted foods to heat the house and fill it with the rich scents of winter. The summer demands a different diet.

Salads and pizza constitute the main focus of our food choices, which means both need to get really creatively inventive over week after week of hot summer nights. Creatively inventive, you say? Why yes – have I mentioned that neither my son or my husband eat cheese with any regularity, and usually treat it like some kind of poison if found on their pizza. I know…I don’t get them either, but we have adapted over the years to thinking of our “pizza” as the mozzarella stringy and gooey heaven, into considering our pizzas more as flat breads. Many times we even eschew tomato sauce as a base for other stranger options. Here are three of our favourites from this month:

Spiced Beef Flat Bread

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How do you make a pizza with just meat and not think that you’re eating a heart attack? Extra lean ground beef is our option. Frequently after eating a pizza stuffed with processed pepperoni, sausage, or cured meats we felt a little sick from the sheer quantity of meat. We switched to an extra lean ground beef and ground pork blend, which we fry up into a spicy concoction with pine nuts. Each of our pizzas for this month have a base 8 inch whole wheat thin crust pizza dough round.

  1. Whole Wheat dough rolled out to about 8 inches in diameter
  2. Brush the dough with olive oil
  3. Spread a base. We used a hummus-tahini blend which is in essence 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 tbsp tahini, juice of half a lemon and one crushed garlic clove all blended smooth in the food processor (add water or the “water” from canned chickpeas to thin if necessary) and spread thin.
  4. Apply the desired amount of meat
  5. Heat the bbq to 500 with the pizza stone or pan on the grill. Remove the pan, pop on your crafted pizza and toss back on the grill and close the lid for 8-10 minutes

Spiced Meat

For our meat inspiration we turn to Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem every time. His recipe for Kofta b’siniyah keeps us returning for more.

  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 400 g ground pork
  • 400 g extra lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 7 tbsp coarsely chopped pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp all spice (or garam masala)
  • 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt

Combine all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squeezing the spices and nuts throughout the meats. Now, the finish is your choice. You can form your meat into oblong kofta “balls” or you can just fry the meat. We opted for frying the meat until completely cooked then topping our pizza.

This pizza tastes more “nutty” than “meaty”, and using a middle eastern-inspired blend of spices for the meat goes with a base of hummus or tahini like a dream. At first you’ll think: how can I eat a pizza that has no cheese – when you get into this pizza you’ll never miss it. Top with lemon and fresh pepper.

Potato Thyme Flatbread

Earlier in the summer I bought Russell Norman’s Polpo, and within its delicious pages I found a potato pizza recipe that we have kept refining with each pizza made until it is exactly how I personally like it.

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  1. Roll out an 8 inch whole wheat flatbread crust.
  2. The base of this flatbread is just straight olive oil with a little kosher salt
  3. Send baby potatoes and 1/4 of a red onion through the slicer on the food processor for a mostly uniform potato size and then dump everything in the processor bowl into a pot of boiling water. Blanch the potato and onion for 4 minutes. At first I didn’t blanch the onion with the potato, but I prefer the more soft and cooked onion flavour.
  4. After draining and allowing to cool for around 10 minutes, spread out the potato and onion on the flatbread crust then sprinkle with salt and a generous helping of fresh ground black pepper.
  5. Heat the oven with the pan in at 500, once ready, slide your pizza onto the pan and into the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  6. Upon removing from the oven top the pizza with thyme leaves and some grated smoked cheddar.

I topped the pizza with a little lemon and ate it with a side of fresh sliced jalapeño. Without hesitation, I can recommend this pizza as my favourite of the summer thus far. I was the only one that had smoked cheddar on my pieces and I found it to be an excellent flavour match for the potatoes and onions.

Lentil, Zucchini & Tomato Flatbread with Dill

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Last night we tried the most daring flatbread combination for us, and it turned out so pretty in its presentation. I love grilled zucchini and tomato. While looking through a promotional magazine for lentils, I came across a lentil base sauce. Hmmm…what might a lentil base taste like? This flatbread combines the peppery taste you get with red lentils and fresh veggies. I have to be honest. Something about the taste combination of lentils and zucchini was not the biggest hit with Hunter, but us adults we were pretty charmed. The recipe calls for feta, which I will try on my pieces next time, but for the time being – I sprinkled what I had — shaved parmesan.

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  1. Roll out the whole wheat pizza crust and dust with olive oil
  2. At 400 degrees roast the zucchini for 10 minutes with a little olive oil. (Like blanching the potatoes, you need to give the zucchini a  little cooked jumpstart for this meal.)
  3. Layer the base of lentil, dill

Lentil Dill Spread

  • Cook 1/3 a cup of red lentils in 2/3 cup of boiling water for 20 minutes and let cool
  • In a mixing bowl combine: 1 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tbsp fresh chopped dill, 1 tbsp lemon zest and 4 sliced green onions.
  • When the lentils are cool, fold into with the mayonnaise mixture and spread as the base.
  1. Layer on the zucchini and sliced cherry tomatoes in beautiful circles and top with fresh ground pepper
  2. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees and heat the pan, when the oven has reached the temperature, pull out the pan and put your pizza on and slide into the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Top with feta (or parmesan, in my case) and fresh dill.

There you have it – 3 bizarre and tasty pizza/flatbread choices to explore.

July Long Weekend Camping Activities and Craft

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At the beginning of a trip if my partner and I can look one another dead in the eye and say earnestly with as straight a face as possible to one another:

I want us to be completely open to new experiences and say yes to everything even if it’s shocking and painful – can we agree to that?

Then we are ready to go camping.

We always find the time to take at least a couple of camping excursions through the summer to spend time with family.

Usually we do a large family road trip around the end of August where everyone in the family gets a piece of paper whereupon they write the destination of their choice that is within a 10 hour drive. We place all choices in a hat and pull one out at random. We have done this sporadically with my parents and brother (and his family) since … I don’t even know … 2006? The first year we pulled New York City (my brother’s choice) and the (then) 7 of us drove through upstate New York and did the State Fair and then stayed on the outskirts of New York City and took the train in while other family members could remain outside the city and camp if they so chose, we ended with a trip to Atlantic City and some Jersey Shore beach time. In the following years we have done a few years in Stowe, Vermont, we’ve ventured to Boston (my dad’s choice that time), we have road tripped from South Florida up through Savannah, Atlanta, Nashville and home, in 2012 my choice to go to New York City again came up and this time we did wineries in upstate New York before landing in a campsite right off the docks at the Hudson and ferried over to the WTC subways to do all the museums and Central Park cycling trips you can feasibly handle. In the last years we’ve completed Virginia Beach and up the Coast through Chincoteague to the Cape and, the only children’s selection, a camping trip just across the border in Port Huron, Michigan.

With a new baby among us this summer we’re staying closer to home and have made our camping trips associated with our new sailboat around the southern bend of Lake Huron.

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To rev Hunter up into the excitement of camping nearby (or near for us), we did an art craft of “camping supplies,” which is really a list of things that he really wanted to do while camping.

I started the entire craft by just painting a black gouache background, letting it dry, then doing the blue gouache bubble at the top to make the title: “Let’s go Camping”. I got the idea for the black background from an effect that I liked in the “starry night” art activity, and what is the most fun about camping anyway? Staying up late, right? Which led me to decide: a night scene. 11693849_10155863433450372_1104133109720664225_n

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11709823_10155882971275372_2232358842861958797_n11692574_10155817193870596_3213617377278632910_nWe carefully drew each of Hunter’s desires associated with camping with oil pastels. The end result was really quaint. Making them all happen proved more challenging – we made a good dent in the list – the hike has to wait for another vacation, but sailing, campfires, glowsticks,
running around with flashlights, picnics, smores, time at the pool and spending time with family in a trailer all occurred along with a number of late, late nights! We even threw in other activities like party decoration making, board games, and mini golf in the mix.

The extra long weekend was a blast for all the children and adults as we also celebrated my parent’s wedding anniversary with a steak and lobster dinner prepared by my brother and I and our spouses. We served as the galley making food and distributing it to the couple of honour (and a bunch of kids) on the boat – fully decked out in the decorations I made with the children and with their help decorated the boat.

11665650_10155817190410596_1658958549640989088_nThe sailing weather was perfect as we caught good winds through the day and motored out into calm evenings. Even the baby got in on the action in different ways (under a nice warm poncho or in her carrier). Hunter learned to steer the boat and by the end of the trip was learning the ropes of the sails and how to make them move the boat. We ended our evenings at the marina with campfire, marshmallow and song. You can’t ask for anything more from two parents trying their best, I think. 11406883_10155875771925372_5837056960722059025_n

We came home tired, which signalled to us – success – as we’ve always craved the discomfort a really good camping trip demands. One night all the cousins slept in one bed, we let them stay up, eat chocolate and marshmallow by the pound, run like crazy, climb, dive, scuttle under and around anything they chose. They were the most free we could let them be without putting their lives in danger. We topped everything with ice cream, burgers, hotdogs and anything else not usually allowed at home.

By the end they all had a little bit of the crazy eye about Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 9.33.47 AMthem as they declared, “I am soooo happy.” Well then, mission accomplished.

A little pain, but we’re agreed nothing too shocking this time around. Onward into August camping!

The Fitness Quest

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I’ve been meaning to update on where my diet/fitness life has gone these days. I have been completely absorbed in getting activities and projects together for my young son. While I spend pretty much my whole day setting up play spaces or projects that doesn’t mean that I have given up exercise. I weighed in this week and have found that I have reached my goal weight – which is 20 pounds down from my post-pregnancy weight. I don’t really have more weight to lose, which leaves me reflecting on the whole thing and considering what exactly to write about the process.

It might be easiest to just break this down into thoughts:

Let go of the food scale when you need to

When I had reached the half way point of my weight loss I entered the most difficult period. It seemed as though the first 10 pounds came off without a whole lot of assistance from me, but the next 10 were not going to budge. I worked out a full 30 days with hardly any movement in the numbers – even the measurement numbers. It was demoralizing – but also made me consider calorie counting.

Was it a good move?

Yes and no (like most things). I did calorie counting on steroids as I also photographed every single thing I ate and posted it here in this blog. I thought that food accountability WITH calorie counting was going to blast away the last of the weight. Both worked: kind of. The good thing about calorie counting is that it is a really quick way to start to consider the size of your food intake. I was eating portions that were WAY too large. When I started weighing and measuring everything that went into my body I was…well…first off, I was starving. I was craving and starving. Then starving and craving. I wanted bread! I wanted pizza. I wanted a lot of cheese. I started looking online to see what I could eat that would ameliorate the cravings for specific items in order to put something in my mouth and quiet the beast. You could say that it “worked” but not really, more truthfully it just made me resigned to stuff my gorge with celery and peanut butter and brainwash my head into thinking that my craving for cheese should now be satisfied. That’s really my first tip:

Accept Resignation

Once I resigned myself to smaller sizes and certain foods I didn’t really need the scale after the first couple weeks. I knew when and what was too much or too often. I knew that if something tasted REALLY, VERY good – then I better just have a couple bites and set it aside in favour of eating 9 servings of vegetables, then return for a final bite. This is the kind of self-discipline I operate under. I love cake. Okay – eat a couple bites…and share the rest with someone. Pizza Hut pizza – yum. Alright, I’ll order the 6 slice small and split it between three people. I’m definitely not getting more than a slice or if I’m lucky a slice and a half. I made those hard decisions over and over because I operated under the sign of resignation. If I want to lose weight, I’m resigned to crappy healthy food options for my largest portions. Which means that anything that came into the house that was snacky (chips and popcorn), sweet (muffins and chocolate covered almonds), or rich (bottles and bottles of red wine) I got downright irate about.

Get Really Angry About Food you Want to Eat and Can’t 

If there is a muffin sitting on the counter, I’m going to get really irrationally angry about it and yell about throwing perfectly good food in the garbage as I nail the garbage with an irate fastball. Muffin-crumbs-everywhere on that one. Still it felt good.

Find the Food You Like; Eat it over and over

Two words: Grain bowls. In a pinch I’ll scarf down a grain bowl no problem, no guilt, no issue. I had my mother in my ear saying something like: if you eat it over and over you’ll get tired of it. Forget that. I’ve been eating cereal in the morning for something like 35 years…it’s still fine. If cereal is still good, a grain bowl can see me through lunch time. Plus…I operate on resignation over here, even if I am tired of it – i’m resigned to just eating it.

Exercise

Catching-Fire-30-Day-Challenge

It was nothing ground-breaking. I did “Catching Fire” 30 day challenge – a workout routine that is 12 minutes long and easily found on YouTube. I found 12 minutes as the exercise program to begin with to work really well for me. It worked so well that I did it for 90 days and then switched to a 20 minute workout: Jillian Michael’s “The Shred”. I’m not as good at committing to the Shred, but I just keep chipping away at it. Which brings me to:

Just Chipping Away

I accept that I’m not going to be rock solid on commitment to either eating healthy 24/7 or working out 3-5 times a week. No worries, I’ll just keep chipping away. 5 days off – alright, nbd, back at it day 6. I just commit to chipping away days at a time and staying the course until I have completed something.

I may have reached my goal weight but just chipping away means that (just maybe!) I might have a lifestyle attitude developing. I’ll just keep going and finish the 30 days of the Shred and then chip away at something else, or maybe the shred again.

There’s my experience and thoughts for those who have been wondering!

A Boy, A Pool, A Science Lesson

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It was a nice easy day on Friday.

We started the day with the Surya Namaskar. Hunter liked going through it, but found it “hard”. Still, we were able to go through it three times and by the third time he was getting into it. Afterwards, we went into our first attempt at phonics/reading circle. We read some stirring eight-page novellas called Zac the Rat and Peg the Hen. Upon completing both, I guess the exercise was interesting enough that Hunter wanted to go through them again. He did so well, that the reward was a game on the Sesame Street website. Hunter chose a Cookie Monster science video called “Sink or Float”.11536500_10155857354645372_1359346127245930921_o-2

Basically, Cookie Monster and a friend introduce the child viewer to some basic precepts of science. In order to do science, you first need a question: Will it sink or float? They have a list of 6 things and the viewer must first make some observations about the item, then make a “hypothesis” 11696299_10155857354905372_6802927220094847040_oor a guess about whether each item will sink or float. You make a choice on the screen, then Cookie and friend drop the item in an oversized aquarium. Everyone examines the results.

After playing the video/game with 10 different items, we went into story time. Fortunately we had a book that addressed the same topic with activities at the end of the story. Reading this story along with the Sesame Street video produced a lot of good conversation about how science works and what a good hypothesis is, and how to make observations that lead to better guesses. Like, “is it rubber?” well we know rubber floats because there’s a rubber duck that floats in the bath.

At the end of the book, I unveiled probably the most exciting addition to the summer. A gift to Hunter’s summer experience from his grandparents: an enormous pool that had been slowly filling with water since breakfast.10485419_10155857355135372_4866346942312079695_o 11059346_10155857355110372_5206137196926289132_o

Hunter was ecstatic. I did not really need any other activities planned for the rest of the day as the pool became the main attraction for hours and hours. It. was. amazing.

Still, we gathered our things from the house that we wanted to drop in the pool to make some hypotheses about and lined them up on the table.

10256690_10155857354885372_6056676796377686264_oOne by one, we tossed them in the pool and observed the results. I have to admit – I was surprised by the sunglasses, I thought they might float – I don’t know why exactly, when I think about it I’ve never seen sunglasses floating in the ocean.

There was also a wildcard – the pinecone. The pinecone floated. However, we observed through the day that as the pinecone soaked up water it closed up completely into a tight triangular cone that sunk to the bottom.  As a last activity we opened the Does it Float story book again and tried the experiment at the back of the book.

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The book suggested finding a jar with a lid. One at a time, add a rock into the jar and see how many rocks it takes until you sink the jar. The jar had to be over 3/4 full of rocks before we were able to sink it.

All in all, Hunter spent all afternoon until quiet play time outside around or in the pool. He and his sister (who watched him intently all day) were so tired by the end of the day, that I put on some music for “dance” time and both of them just sat in a chair together and listened to the music covered in a blanket.

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I’m grateful for an uncomplicated day to ease me in – hoping for more days like them!

Schedule and Patience: Leaning in to Learning

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Cue the music from Jaws.

He’s home, the boy, — tomorrow.

A couple days ago I made a visual schedule that he’s ecstatically excited about. Every day, since it went up, he asks if today is the day we get to do the schedule. Not yet, little one…don’t worry – it’s coming.

painting schedule cards I made the schedule out of some old “story” cards that we weren’t using in tandem with consulting the schedule that the kindergarten teacher gave us in the fall last year. Well, actually – first I had to dig it out of a mountain of paper I haven’t looked at for almost a year, then I tried to set up my day with similar topics and “language”. For instance, all intensive learning happens in something called “Learning Circle,” on the back of the getting the schedule right
teacher’s schedule she describes circle time as engaged learning about whatever topics the class is focused on that day. This works for me – because I have a phonics/reading goal for Hunter and I think first thing in the morning is the best time to tackle that. I have decided to approach Kitchen Schedulethe reading learning through various mediums including programs, computer games, alphabet identification with different letters I’ve made, games like alphabet hopscotch that we can play outside, and just good old fashioned sitting with a book
and sounding it all out.
As far as the schedule cards go, I sprayed them with chalkboard paint, rubbed them down with chalk and then did some pretty sketchy drawings of what our
Kitchen Schedule 2schedule will look like and stuck them to the kitchen hallway wall with sticky tack.

I chose mini chalk boards so that when I needed to switch the schedule up because something wasn’t working – i can just erase the specific board and put something else in there. It’s not terribly “pretty” but it has worked in the past so I’m just going with Kitchen Schedule 3what I know works.

Wake up around here is early (6am) so the schedule has a lot in it and lays out like this: my partner is around for early morning breakfast, and he will continue to do that routine with Hunter. He leaves the house around 830-9am and we go into our “Sun Salutation” exercise routine, which only takes around
10 minutes. After this I can start Kitchen Schedule 4Hunter with a phonics game, or app that teaches something phonics related as I get Parker fed and down for her first nap. Once she’s down, ideally, we can end off the learning circle time with time together spent reading an actual book or playing one of the games
I’ve mentioned above.
We have a plethora of books in our house (which I’ll get to later in another post), but for variety’s sake I’m also scheduling in a walk down the block to the library if we need something new or just need to walk the baby to sleep. We can always do story time in the library if Parker needs the stroller motion to help her sleep.
Returning, we’ll do art. Always a fav, and then make lunch. We may or may not look at the different cookbooks for children that we have bouncing around the house in order to make something “special” – depending on time. 11539077_10155844573105372_366051976184271308_oAfternoons can be a mixture of either playing outside (my parents bought Hunter an enormous pool that I’ve already set up), we can go for nature/scavenging walks or urban/observing walks, or potentially get everything together for an outing to the zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, or Royal Ontario Museum.

After all that excitement, there’s only quiet play or listening to music and dancing around left while I make dinner. We have been doing quiet play/music/dance after school for many weeks, so that one is pretty standard.

I have a few leftover ideas that are kicking around as well and I’d like to address one in this post so that I know where to begin when I start activities with the topic in mind.

I’m learning, with the help of another knowledgable mother, about the precepts of permaculture. Permaculture is defined on one website as:

a creative design process based on whole-systems thinking that uses ethics and design principles. It guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics. By adopting the ethics and applying permaculture principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers. This journey builds skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that will help us prepare for an uncertain future with less available energy.

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 12.00.11 PMThis is a massive undertaking for me, which I am committed to both as an educator for my son, but also as an educator for my students at the University level. It is important to balance critical inquiry with actual practice, as it Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 12.00.35 PMis what gets our hands dirty, so to speak, and makes applied ethics in
environmental topics so personally powerful. It may take me all summer to get things moving on this topic – but little by little – I hope to post some of what I’ll learn that has been helpful and useful and how
I’ve adapted or applied it.
I’m starting simple with nature looms, or nature weaving activities. Hunter’s school has a website that posts interesting crafts for children, and this one was up on the blog for a summer activity compliments of the blog Whimsical Whimsies. This simple activity can find a supplement in another recommendation of nature “weaving” from a source permaculture website.

Permaculture, I’ve just recently learned is guided by 12 principles that were conceived by David Holmgren. As I looked them over and thought about how to teach about them, I realized that many of them are ideas I either already had in mind for the inquiry style of pedagogy that I admire, or gave me some more tools that I find useful as thought-provoking methods of teaching. The principles are laid out, generally as follows.

Holmgren’s 12 Principles.

Observe and Interact (Take a few moments to allow children to settle down, get into the natural rhythm of their surroundings, and begin to focus their awareness. What do they see?)

Catch and store energy (Example: a leaf can symbolize how energy is stored through photosynthesis. How do humans catch and store energy?)

Obtain a yield (Find something edible to snack on during the hike. Why is it necessary to reward ourselves?)

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback (Share suggestions with the child. Why is it important to consider the opinion of others?)

Use and value renewable resources (Have them choose something natural, then explain the ecological significance of it. How can this relate to the larger picture?)

Produce no waste (Include a piece of litter to represent trash. Why should we recycle?)

Design from patterns to details (Have them discover something with interesting patterns. Can they think of patterns in their own lives?)

Integrate rather than segregate (Ask them to think of a connection between the items they have chosen to include in their weaving. Why are the relationship between elements vital?)

Use small and slow solutions (Example: an acorn nut could represent how time transforms it into a mighty oak tree. How is a child like a seed?)

Use and value diversity (Challenge kids to find something different [perhaps a certain color, species, texture, etc. they haven’t used yet]. How does diversity make life more beautiful?)

Use edges and value the marginal (Collect something from a marginal area, e.g. where two or more areas meet. How are children and youth marginalized?)

Creatively use and respond to change (Have child pick an item, then replace it with something you have chosen. How can they positively respond to this change in plans?)

I am currently completing a Permaculture Design Course offered through Open Permaculture. As I complete the course, I’m certain that I will be able to move into more activities through the summer. The Permaculture Principles website is a great resource if you’re at all interested in the principles of permaculture and have a lot of free downloads. I leave you with a screen shot of this handy “12 principles” poster. (Link below image).Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 12.05.17 PM

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Art Activity: The Phases of the Moon Watercolour Project

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This is the week – Hunter will be home for the summer starting Friday morning and I’m feeling the adrenaline starting to pump through me! I’ve figured out a good amount of activities, outings, and general play suggestions – so I should be okay (at least for the first few weeks). I have two things left to accomplish before Thursday night: make some sort of visual schedule and finish the yoga cards.

We also had an opportunity this week to do a sort of “dry-run” experience to test whether Hunter can sit still and do a series of different activities. Normally, I’d save everything that I have for when we need it most, but circumstances turned on Friday when Hunter had an accident where he injured his head, acquired a massive gash in his forehead and needed to rest because of a concussion. How does one keep a spirited personality sitting, or in bed? The next day, in spite of a what he described as a “soft headache” he was up and running around (not to mention climbing!) almost immediately. I put on a tv program on for him, but he was growing bored of it within 15 minutes. The children’s show was Peep and Quack and its theme was: The Phases of the Moon. Peep, Chirp and Quack were exploring just how many different moons might be in the night sky as evening-to-evening they were each seeing a different shape.

In the back of my mind, I thought we might be able to try one of the easier painting techniques and talk about this topic. In the end, I learned things about the moon I never knew before.

We started with a watercolour technique that I chose last week, and have seen as the “base,” or under layer, of many projects. All you need is one piece of watercolour paper and a plastic bag or plastic wrap.

watercolours and saran wrap

The technique requires that the watercolour paper is wet when you begin. This was pure magic for Hunter and I. As he put that first blotch of paint down on the wet paper is spread out like a microscopic looking bacteria burst. It spread into the water so much further than either of us thought it would. For the first 10 or so blotches of paint we just slowly watched this strange spreading organism taking shape on the paper. The Phases of the Moon watercolour

After we got over it, we painted the rest of the entire sheet, laid down a piece of plastic bag and applied weight to as many places on the paper as possible so as to get that mottled aspect.

You must then resist touching either the stones, the paper or the bag for a number of hours. The paint needs to fully dry before you peel the bag away. The way to best test this is to just push on a wrinkled area of the bag and see if it is still watery beneath.

Once the paint was dry we peeled off the bag and realized that because we had soaked the watercolour paper – the back of the page that was laying against the craft mat was still quite wet, even though the painted side was completely dry. Phases of the Moon Watercolour - stage 1

We hung the painting to dry outside so that we could sit around admiring its effect.

Day 1 this is all we accomplished with the project. I wanted to keep the art projects as a day activity and painting and drying took us from late morning to late afternoon. We left the next layer to begin early Sunday morning.

I was concerned that Hunter might lose interest in a 2 day span of a project. Not at all – I woke Sunday morning to a small head looming above me asking when we could do more with the painting?

Bonus points for this activity – you can perform it while completely groggy at 7am on a Sunday before your first mouthfuls of coffee.

Masking off the moon phases

Masking off the moon phases


Drying

Drying

I used painters tape and a lid from a jar to make circles and tape them into waxing, full, and waning moon shapes and cut them out with an exacto knife. Hunter placed the phases in rows.

At this point we didn’t really know very much about why the moon has so many different aspects or shapes through the month – so we watched a little children’s video on YouTube about the phases of the moon and we both learned that the phases are called: waxing crescent, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, waning crescent, and new moon.

I was pretty intrigued, what is this gibbous designation; I’ve never even heard of it before? Apparently it is an Old English/Latin cognate that means “hunch” or “hump”-backed.

Huh…learning something new over here.

Once the moon shapes were masked off, we did the final layer of watercolour in midnight blue (a mixture of Ultramarine blue and black) and hung it to dry again.

In about one hour everything was dry and ready for star-speckled “spattering”.

Spattering stars

Spattering stars

We got Hunter suited up in a smock and gave him a toothbrush, a stick and some white gouache or poster paint and send him down the driveway with his painting.

The technique is simply to dip the toothbrush bristles in the paint and then rub the toothbrush (turned away from you – yes, we got paint in our eyes on the first go) with the stick over the painting.

The effect is white speckles and streaks that approximate stars and comet tails.

This was probably Hunter’s most loved activity in the whole craft. He went wild with the toothbrush.

We hung the painting again to dry, which was very fast.

Ready for Stage 5

Ready for Stage 5

The final stages were a lot of fun, and Hunter was thrilled that he got to use a knife.

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Peeling the masked off moons

Peeling the masked off moons

Basically you just pull the tape off carefully to reveal your moon phases. The final result was really wonderful and we all loved it!

Finished product

Notes:

Using watercolours as both the under layer and the top layer caused some problems as the black/blue watercolour ran under some of the edges of the tape and we were not able to remove some of the top layer to “lighten” up the night sky in places like a nebula kind of effect. The bottom and top paint basically just combined into another colour. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I can see how doing the bottom layer in acrylics with a plastic bag would set the entire base and then using a watercolour surface colour would allow more freedom to sponge off some of the top layer of colour.

The stars looked fantastic. It was so exciting peeling off each moon to reveal what colour might be in it that we took it pretty slow.

The entire craft takes 2 mornings and 2 afternoons.

You will need:

  • watercolour paper
  • watercolours
  • a plastic bag or plastic wrap
  • a paint tray
  • paint brushes
  • painters tape
  • lid of a jar or other circular object you can trace
  • white poster paint
  • an old toothbrush
  • a stick or the end of a paintbrush
  • an exacto knife and craft mat (or cutting board)

Double Dose: Dutch Oven Chicken Dinners inspired by the Mediterranean

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We’re big fans of Mediterranean-inspired food over here, which means I’m sharing with you two ways to do chicken thighs in a “one-pot” meal today. One is Greek Chicken and Potatoes and the second is Middle Eastern Chicken and Rice. From the moment I acquired my Lodge skillet-and-dutch-oven-in-one I have found so many dishes where searing is required to be so awesomely compact. I sear and then just turn the skillet with juices and all over and the “skillet” becomes the lid to the Dutch Oven. Brilliant, Lodge. I love it.

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The magic of chicken thighs (skin on or skin off, bone in or bone out) is its preternatural ability to turn potatoes or rice into an explosion of flavour.  Whatever you want to soak up those delicious meaty flavours should be at the bottom of your pot. One pot meals are amazing because after prepping the food, it really only takes 1/2 hour to 45 minutes to cook all together.

Greek Chicken with Lemon Potatoes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 white onion
  • 1/2 pound of baby potatoes (yukon and red mix) sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 lemons juiced and the rinds thrown in the pot
  • 6-8 chicken thighs
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

We prep our chicken first by searing them in the lid-skillet for 5-10 minutes in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. We set aside and chop onions, potatoes, juice lemons, and throw everything in the pot with olive oil.

Stir in the half the oregano and lay the chicken breasts on top. Spread the reserved half of oregano on the thighs, cover and pop in the oven for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes (depending on the desired crispiness of the potatoes.)

We serve our thighs with raw onion, sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber and greek yogurt  that has both lemon juice and oregano stirred in with salt. The little people in our home eat everything in a wrap. Us larger people usually opt for a salad and a small (think 1/4 cup) side of potatoes.

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Middle Eastern Chicken and Rice Skillet

This recipe comes compliments of Ottolenghi and is ravish-the-entire-pot delicious, especially if you like the flavour of cinnamon-cardamom-currants (or raisins in our case) type dishes.

  • 2 1/2 tbsp currants (or barberries or raisins or even dried cranberries)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 chicken thighs
  • 10 cardamom pods in the mortar
  • 10 cloves in the mortar
  • 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half
  • 1 2/3 cups rice
  • 2 1/4 boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1/3 cup greek yogurt
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

In the  Dutch oven heat half the olive oil and cooke the onions over medium head (10-15 minutes) until they are caramelized. The trick with caramelized onions is to resist moving them even though you think they are burning. If you are really concerned about them just add a little (teaspoon) of water and a little sugar to bump up the process. As they are caramelizing season your thighs with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, then mix in the cardamom, reserved olive oil, cloves and cinnamon; using your hands to get the spices mixed into the chicken skin really well. Then pop them in a medium high heat skillet and sear 3-5 minutes a side. Remove from heat.

Transfer onion out of the pot into a bowl. Dump the dry rice into the bottom of the Dutch oven with the caramelized onion, salt and pepper. Add the dried fruit and stir well. Return the chicken to the pan, pushing it into the rice.

Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, core the pan, and cook over low heat on the stovetop for 30 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and leave undisturbed for 10 more minutes, lid on. Add fresh herbs before serving. Serve with a side of greek yogurt.

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Enjoy!