The Mother of Adventure

Easter crafts with Leanne Cusack

CTV SegmentToday, my two young daughters and I were thrilled to be invited back to chat with Leanne Cusack on CTV News at Noon in Ottawa.

Our focus today was craft and activity ideas for Easter. The girls and I talked about dyeing eggs with natural ingredients - using beets, red cabbage, turmeric and coffee – and how to make an Easter basket using paper plates. We also suggested a non-cavity-producing gift idea – homemade playdough, which can be funked up with glitter and even fragrances for a fun effect.

I recently posted step-by-step instructions for two Easter-themed crafts – a “stained glass butterfly” and a bunny candy-holder (or placeholder for an Easter table), which we talked about on today’s show as well.

As always, Leanne was a warm and wonderful host, and we all had a great time. You can watch our segment from today right here.

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Stained glass butterfly craft

Stained glass butterfilesButterflies are such a lovely symbol of spring, so I thought it would be fun to make a “stained glass” butterfly-themed craft this week.

This craft is simple to make, but it does require a bit more parental participation since it involves an Exact-o knife and a hot iron. Here’s what you’ll need in the way of supplies:

  • Black cardstock paper
  • A white pencil crayon
  • An Exact-o knife
  • Wax paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Glue

To assemble your butterfly, follow these steps:

Butterfly template1) Create a template of the shape you wish to use, and trace it on to your black cardstock. I’ve included the template for my butterfly here, and you’re more than welcome to use it.

 

 

 

 

Cut out template2) Once you have your outline on the black paper, use your white pencil crayon to draw the “cut-outs” that will be filled with coloured tissue later. Use your Exact-o knife to cut them out.

3) Take a piece of wax paper that’s twice the size of your project, then fold it in half. Open it up and fill one side with torn pieces of tissue paper. When it’s filled and arranged the way you like, fold over the other half of the waxed paper. Place it between two towels and iron until the waxed paper has melted enough to stick together.

4) Glue your black “frame” over the waxed paper/tissue paper and cut away the excess.

5) Tape on a window to add some instant “art” and colour when the sun shines!

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Hop to it!

Bunny placeholderWith Easter around the corner, the girls and I have been crafting up a storm – mostly with simple materials that we already had lying around the house.

The other day, I was about to toss an empty egg carton into the recycling bin when it struck me that it would be great to use for a craft project. I dreamed up this little bunny placeholder – perfect to have sitting at each plate if you’re hosting friends or family for Easter brunch.

This is all you need for materials:

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Bristol board
  • Non-toxic paints
  • Stickers, googly eyes and markers
  • Glue

Easter bunny templateTo make it easy to put it together, I created a little template (at left) that you’re welcome to print off. Then simply trace it onto your Bristol board, cut out and fold to get your bunny shape. Cut apart the ‘pods’ of the egg carton, and paint as desired. While the kids are waiting for the paint to dry, they can decorate the bunny – it’s easier to do this while it’s lying flat on the table. Once the paint it thoroughly dry, you can glue it to your bunny’s tummy (I used a hot glue gun to get a good hold).

Once your bunny is decorated to perfection, fill his egg-carton basket with some little treats. This makes a great gift for you child to give to a special friend for Easter.

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Dye another day…or dye another way!

Finished eggsOK, so I’m just being super-silly with my post titles…you won’t find James Bond here (unless he has a secret fetish for colouring Easter eggs??).

Every year, my girls and I have a little egg-decorating session; typically we use a little store-bought kit that includes food colouring and plastic sleeves that shrink on to the eggs. This year, I thought it would be fun to decorate our eggs with natural dyes – using only vegetables and spices to give them colour.

I did some research and experimenting, and found there were some things that just *didn’t* work – at least not for me – such as using boiled carrots to turn the eggs orange, or boiled spinach for green colour. No dice…at least not for us.

Happily, there were several natural dyes that produced some great results, so I thought I’d share those “recipes” here:

1) Red Cabbage = Blue. Grate an entire head of red cabbage, and combine it in a large pot with 4 cups of water, 1 Tbsp. vinegar and 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid for dyeing.

2) Beets = Pink. Roughly chop 1 to 2 beets, then combine in a pot with 4 cups water, 1 Tbsp. vinegar, and 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the liquid for dyeing.

3) Turmeric = Yellow. Heat 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt in a pot. Add 3 Tbsp. ground turmeric and stir well. Simmer for just a few minutes until the turmeric dissolves.

 

 

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An Easter gift that keeps on giving

Playdough basketLike so many other holidays, Easter has become nearly synonymous with chocolate and candy.

There’s the big, chocolate bunnies, the little candy-coated eggs and the jelly beans. Now don’t get me wrong – I love a sweet treat as much as the next person – but it can be hard to keep the kids from going overboard. I know my own kids are sensitive to too much sugar, not to mention dealing with the dental fall-out of a sugary tidal wave.

This year, we’ll have the chance to see our sweet, little niece – who lives in Vancouver – and I was brainstorming what might make a creative gift for her this Easter. Since she’s just four, I thought that some homemade playdough – in pastel, Easter colours – would make a great gift. To make it a bit more fun, I added some glitter and scents – then packed it up in little, plastic eggs for gifting.

It’s quick and easy to make…trust me – I made four colours! Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • liquid food colouring (as desired)
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. alum
  • craft glitter and/or fragrance extracts (optional)

To put it all together, just follow these steps:

1) Place salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add boiling water and stir until salt dissolves.

2) Add food colouring – a few drops at a time. Make the colour of the water darker than you’d like the end product; the flour will considerably reduce the strength of the colour. Add vegetable oil and stir.

3) Add alum and about half the flour to the water mixture, then stir to combine. Add glitter and/or fragrance extracts, if desired. The mixture will be very thick and hard to stir.

4) Add the remaining flour, and knead until you reach a good consistency (add a bit more flour if mixture seems a bit wet or sticky).

5) Find someone to test your finished product – preferably someone with small hands…maybe someone who likes *dinosaurs*??

6) Enjoy!

 

DinosaurPlaydough tester

 

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A tisket, a tasket…a little Easter basket!

What *is* a tisket…or a tasket, for that matter? This age-old rhyme jumped into my head when I was titling this post, and now I’m sitting here ‘Googling’ the definition – or trying to! There actually doesn’t seem to be one – it looks like Ella Fitzgerald was just trying to make up a rhyme with “basket” back in the 30s and it sortof stuck.

But I digress…it’s almost Easter, and the girls and I have been working on some fun craft projects – one of which is this cute Easter basket. This is a great project for kids of all ages as it’s uber-easy to make – or you can choose to prep it ahead of time and just let the little ones go crazy with the decorating. Best of all, there’s a good chance you already have everything you need to make it – the list of supplies is waaay short.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Two paper plates of the same size (you can use full-sized or dessert plates)
  • Scissors
  • A pencil
  • Glue (I used a craft glue gun)
  • Non-toxic paint in fun, Easter colours
  • Stickers, glitter or anything cool to decorate with

Paper plate with toolsReady to roll? Here’s what to do:

1) Take one of your paper plates and flip it over (I bought some coloured ones at the dollar store – so turn it to the white side). Using a ruler and pencil, draw a straight line across the middle of the plate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basket with white half2) Cut along your pencil line so that you have two halves, then position one of the halves  – back side out – over the lower half of the second plate. Glue in place.

 

 

 

 

 

Basket with handle3) Now you’re ready to cut a handle for your basket (note: parents will need to help young kids with this step). Using the end of your scissors or something sharp (I used a corkscrew), carefully puncture a hole in the middle of the top half of your basket. Use this as a starting place for your scissors. Cut out a semi-circle, leaving the rim of the plate intact.

 

 

 

Painting the basket4) The hard part’s all done (I know, so easy, right??) and it’s time for some decorating fun! If you’d like a base colour for your basket, you can paint the white base of the basket now. Once it’s dry, you’re ready for stickers, glitter or whatever your kids dream up. I like putting lots of options out and letting their imaginations go wild.

 

 

 

Finished basketsEach child’s finished project will look totally different from the next – which is the whole fun of it! The baskets are narrow, but the girls and I decided that they are just the right width to slip in some homemade Easter cookies – a gift for a favourite teacher, perhaps??

Hope you and your little ones have fun with this simple, basket-making craft. Happy Easter!

 

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Spring (clean) fever!

Spring cleaningThe cat sat there looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

I can’t say I blame him – it’s not too often that I can be found up on a step stool doing my most dreaded of household tasks – cleaning the blinds. But there’s something about the start of spring – and the turning of the calendar page over to April – that inspires me to tackle some of those nitty-gritty, deep-clean jobs that get put off for months.

Admittedly, the onset of allergy season is a good catalyst to get me cleaning, too. I’m sure it’s mostly out of my control, but I’m still looking around at everything in the hopes of minimizing my recent violent sneeze-fits – and the blinds are on the culprit list.

Typically, I’m a huge proponent of the “green clean” – I don’t think you need to spray and rub a ton of harmful chemicals all over your house to get it clean. I also try to minimize the number of disposable products – like paper towels – that I use while cleaning, opting for re-useable rags instead.

But there are exceptions to every rule; if you’ve ever tried cleaning blinds, you already know what a royal pain in the rump it can be. There’s the bathtub method…but seriously – who wants to take those things down (I had mine professionally installed in the first place) and then wrestle around with them in the tub? I’ve got one word for that: Awwwwk-ward! Nor am I in the financial position to pay a professional service to remove them, clean them and re-install them (insert lottery fantasy here…).

Young woman looking through windowSo I’ve found my own secret weapon when it comes to cleaning blinds – baby wipes! I discovered these little gems were ideal for the job back when I was buying them for their primary purpose. Happily, it’s been a long while since those toilet-training days – and I certainly don’t buy them often anymore. In fact, it felt a bit strange to wander down the diaper aisle at the grocery store today – kindof like I had stepped back in time. But back at home, I was glad I had them as I shined up the faux wood blinds in our master bedroom.

There’s something rewarding about knocking off a once-in-a-while chore like this; even if it’s not visibly obvious, it contributes to a fresh, clean feeling in the house. What’s on your hit list for spring cleaning – and do you have any “secret weapons” in your arsenal?

 

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My big fat Greek salad

Veggies & cheeseIt may be because I went out for drinks with three beautiful Greek women the other night (our hilarious conversation warrants a blog post all its own!), or perhaps it’s because I’m trying to block out the fact that this has been the most relentless Ottawa winter I’ve ever experienced (insert image of me humming and drawing the blinds, refusing to see this morning’s latest snowfall of 10 more cm…la la la).

Quinoa saladWhatever it is, I found myself craving my own Mediterranean Quinoa Salad yesterday. This is my own twist on an amalgamation of quinoa salad recipes I’ve used over the years and, to be honest, I think it changes just a little bit every time I make it (I often start with a cookbook or online at allrecipes.com and then tweak the recipe till I’m happy).

But I always get tons of positive feedback on this easy-to-make salad; my six-year-old daughter loves is and it’s always a huge hit as a side dish at summer barbeques (there I go…daydreaming about summer again) or simply as an “anytime” fresh, healthy lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 200 g package of quinoa
  • 1-1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 c. diced red onion
  • 1/4 c. sliced black olives
  • 1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 c. chopped cucumber
  • 1 c. cherry or grape tomatoes (you can quarter or half them, depending on their size)
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped

Dressing:

  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Finished saladMethod:

1) Prepare quinoa according to package directions (I’m not brand-specific – the one pictured is just what I had in the cupboard), substituting chicken broth for water – this offers up a much more flavourful result.

2) Put cooked quinoa in a mixing bowl, then refrigerate while you’re preparing the other ingredients.

3) Once quinoa has cooled, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Prepare the dressing in a small bowl, then toss with the salad.

4) For best results, chill the whole works for at least an hour before serving.

 

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Rambutan and other fun food discoveries

Our nine-year-old gets set to dig into her steamed meat bun and sushi.

Our nine-year-old gets set to dig into her steamed meat bun and sushi.

Long before our two kids were even a twinkle, my husband and I loved making our own Asian food.

We had *so* much time back then (but of course, we didn’t realize it!), and we used to trek into Ottawa’s Chinatown and scour the food shops for authentic ingredients to cook with.

These days, we’ve left our little, overpriced downtown apartment and have a comfortable spot in the suburbs – but it’s a bit of a drive from Chinatown. Happily, a massive T&T Supermarket opened up a stone’s throw from our neighbourhood – perfect for meeting our Asian cravings!

The other day, I was on a mission to find some lemongrass for one of our fave Thai soups. While regular grocery stores (sometimes) have it, I find that you often have to pay through the nose for a tiny jar of canned stuff – and it just doesn’t taste the same. T&T always has it fresh – and it’s under $2 – awesome.

With the family in tow on a Sunday afternoon, we all took some time to wander the store. Our kids just love doing this, and we always pick out some cool, new foods to try that aren’t in our regular repertoire. On this particular trip, we picked up:

  • Steamed meat buns: If you shop at T&T and haven’t tried these – DO IT. Warm, soft and yummy – the perfect lunch food!
  • Sushi: T&T has to have the freshest – and cheapest – in the city, and our whole family loves it.
  • Rambutan: A funny-looking fruit covered in fleshy spikes.
  • Kidney mangos: Cute little baby mangos – the kids loved them!
  • Lemongrass: The catalyst for the trip in the first place.
Our little bowl of "dead sea urchins."

Our little bowl of “dead sea urchins.”

The sushi platter and the four steamed meat buns made for the perfect (light) lunch for us.

Afterwards, the kids and I had some fun trying out the rambutan. Nine-year-old Elissa declared that they looked a lot like “dead sea urchins” in their cellophane-covered nest, but she was willing to try them nevertheless. It turns out they are a very mild-tasting fruit – kindof like the love-child of a grape and a lychee. They have a hard, bitter pit in the middle that you want to avoid (Elissa discovered that for us after tasting it!).

Kids are so creative – after I cut the rambutan in half, the girls grabbed the spiky skins and started using them as miniature cups – filling them with water and sipping out of them.

It’s fun experimenting with new foods, and with stuff like this it’s pretty inexpensive (a plus in case they don’t like it!). What kinds of unusual foods have been a hit with your kids? I’d love to hear about your own food adventures!

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Movie review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Today’s Parent)

Mr. PeabodyIt’s not every Tuesday that I get to take my six-year-old daughter to a movie. With it being March break this week, however, I decided to spend a bit of one-on-one time with her and take her to Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which she’s been counting the days to see. To make it extra special, we even went to an evening show – meaning she got to stay up late (this is super-cool in her eyes).

I really had no expectations going in to this one – and no background on the history of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, either. I was very pleasantly surprised by the movie – and I detailed my impressions in a little movie review for Today’s Parent.

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