Chocolava cookies

Chocolate brownie and cookie oh my! Put 3 of my favourite things together and what do you get? A triple punch of chocolatey goodness, otherwise known and Chocolava cookies*.

chocolavabakingI came across this recipe recently while browsing the CBC parents website. They look decadent and I immediately assumed would be too delicate and finicky a baking project for the girls. Any food with “lava” in its name has got to be pretty heavy-duty, right? A quick glance at the ingredients list and directions, however, and I realized that they’re actually really easy and quick to make.

For this batch, Lauren preferred not to  roll all of the dough balls in icing sugar. Sugar or not, they all tasted great. Chocolate fans will love these and they’re a great addition to any holiday baked goods gift set.

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
icing sugar

Method:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt
  2. Add the butter and stir until the mixture is well combined and crumbly
  3. Add eggs and vanilla and stir by hand just until the dough comes together. The dough will be dry but keep stirring until it comes together
  4. Place a handful of icing sugar into a shallow dish
  5. Roll dough into small ping pong ball size balls and roll in icing sugar to coat
  6. Place the balls on a greased baking sheet  and bake for 12–14 minutes at 350°F, until just set around the edges but still soft in the middle
  7. Set aside to cool

Enjoy!

chocolavacookies

*Recipe courtesy of CBC parents, Parents Canada and @dinnerwithjulie

Snow in the city

So the city got some snow last week. I’m actually glad about it because I was starting to slip into denial about the changing of the seasons. I’m still holding on to strong memories of our family evening swims at the outdoor community pool and can hardly believe that it was many months ago. Why does it feel like we were padding around in flip-flops just the other day? I think it’s time to move on. Time is whipping by at a dizzying pace, but that’s a discussion for another post.

SnowStBruno-2

Me in front of my house on a typical snowy winter day in Quebec, circa 1981. Note the overhanging drifts on the roof.

I don’t mind the snow. We’re just a week shy of the official start of winter, and we do live in Canada after all. What else can we expect? Having grown up in the suburbs of Montreal I know a thing or two about the white stuff, and when I was little lots of it was the norm for this time of year. It would start to flutter down in early November and melt away by April. Often times the more persistent clumps on the ground would hang around until after Easter. I remember one year when a squall come through on Mother’s Day. It was a rare occurrence, but it did happen.

At school we would climb on the giant mounds of snow left behind by the plows that cleared the yard and play “King of the Castle.” Winter Carnival was an annual week-long festival that included outdoor activities such as snowman building contests, snowshoe obstacle courses and skating on the lake. At home, friends from the neighbourhood and I would build forts and smooth out elaborate sledding tracks in our front yards. Snow caked mittens  and boots propped over air ducts left to dry was a regular scene indoors. All snow all the time – that’s just the way it was.

The girls have had quite a bit of fun in the snow over the past few years, but in short bursts. The trend seems to be for the temperature to rise soon after a good snowfall, resulting in a slushy mess days later. Case in point, today’s high was 4°C and is expected to be the same and a bit warmer and rainy in the next few days. I can’t be sure that there will be enough snow left to play in by next weekend.

On the morning of the storm day last week, C took the girls to school and daycare by sled, and I pulled them back home at the end of the day. We used the sled a few times as transportation last year and on all occasions it just made sense. Claire’s umbrella stroller was certainly not built to plow through deep snow-covered sidewalks, and driving along bumper to bumper traffic to go a few blocks wasn’t going to be any faster. We almost always get smiles and friendly comments from passers-by and I’m not surprised – sleds on city sidewalks aren’t a usual site. The girls love the ride and it’s a good workout for C an I, although I discovered this time that the girls aren’t as light as they used to be. Unfortunately I think this season will be the last.

We’ll always have sledding on the slopes though, and fort and snowman making. We just need to wait for the next storm to send down some more snow.

Snow

What am I?

One day last year out of the blue Lauren asked, “What am I?”

“What do you mean?” I replied, as I wasn’t sure what sort of answer she was expecting. Tall, short, hot, cold, Peter Pan, Cinderella, bunny rabbit, puppy dog. The answer could have been anything depending on the circumstance or whatever game was being played.

“Well, Rachel* is Jewish, Max* is Ethiopian. What am I?”

“Oh… right,” I thought out  loud. I knew this question would come along one day and had yet to come up with a simple answer.

“Well, you were born in Canada like Dad and I, so you’re mostly Canadian. But… (then I took a deep breath) Grandma Mary is from Africa, Grandpa Philip was from England, Grandma Bernadette is from Haiti and Grandpa Fred was from Haiti and France, so you’re from all over the world!”

Georgina Edmondson

Grandma Mary’s mother: Georgina Lily DeCastro Paiva

I didn’t even bother mentioning that Grandma Mary’s mother was from Angola and her family was originally from Portugal. And Grandma Mary’s paternal grandfather who was from England sailed to Bermuda and married a Bermudian and then both settled in Sierra Leone. And that Grandpa Philip had a wee bit o’ Irish in him too.

What I got in return was a blank stare, followed by “Oh.” She then went off to do something else somewhere else.

I’m not sure she processed anything at all of what I said. She’s still working on sorting out that we live in Toronto, which is a city in Ontario, which is a province in Canada. Never mind having any concept of where in the world Haiti or England is.

I will never come up with a simple answer, but what I can do with Lauren is tell her stories from what my parents told me about our ancestry, and spend time looking at photographs and maps and reading about all the different countries that our family tree has branched out to. Hopefully she will someday realize that what she is, is pretty lucky to have such a rich and diverse family history.

Originally posted in Urban Living, May, 2013.
*Names changed for privacy.

Peek-a-boo, time for an image update

Dear readers,

I think it’s time for an update to the header image of this blog, don’t you? Cherry blossom trees are wonderful and all, but with winter on the way I feel we’ve had our fill. We’ll see them again next spring. Until then I’ve updated with an image that includes some of the things that keep the girls busy from day-to-day, including art projects, toys, books and of course baking. Can you spot the hair elastics? They’re truly everywhere.

The photo was taken at the local park earlier this year and shows the girls peeping through the holes of a crawl through tunnel on a climbing structure. Of the many photos taken over the past few years, this is one of my favourites. Although the girls are awesome and special in their own ways, the photo reveals some shared traits: all smiles with a hint of mischief.

Christmas cookies

cookiedoughChristmas is quickly approaching so this weekend the girls and I decided to make a practice batch of Christmas cookies. Last year we put cookies in mugs and gave them as gifts to the teachers at Lauren’s school and daycare, and have decided to do the same this year. It’s still a wee bit early for gift giving,  hence the practice. Plus we’ll take any excuse to make cookies!

ClairecookieThis recipe was included on a package of letter pressed cookie cutters that C bought for the girls a year or so ago and reminds me of the Christmas sugar cookies I ate when I was little. The letter shapes are fun, but of course the  dough can be used with any shaped cookie cutters. For our practice cookies we used cutters in the shapes of snowflakes, Christmas trees and stockings.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Method

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add egg and vanilla. Mix well
  • In separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together
  • Add dry ingredients a little at a time to butter mixture
  • Mix until flour is completely incorporated
  • Split dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes
  • Remove from refrigerator then lightly dust the dough with flour
  • Cut with cookie cutters then bake on greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 350 °F

Tip

Enjoy as they are or decorate with icing once cooled.

Sugar cookie icing

Method

  • Mix all ingredients
  • Separate into small batches and add food colouring as desired

christmascookies

Baking cookies to give as gifts during the holidays is a great and easy activity to get the kids involved in. Have a look at these baking tips that will help make it a fun experience for all.

Urban Gurl plays piano

I am pleased to report that the piano lessons that Lauren started a few weeks ago are coming along very well.

It was touchy at first, what with the broken black key incident, but Lauren was able to refocus quickly and put it behind her. That and C did a really good job of “fixing” the key with clear tape. Not a sophisticated fix, I know, but you’d never guess the key was cracked unless you took a hard close look. The key sounds good too.

I’m really excited about Lauren learning piano because she’s the first on my immediate side of the family to take formal lessons. My dad dabbled with a piano that used to be in the house that I grew up in, but the story goes that the keys were so badly damaged beyond repair by the kids of the previous owners, that my dad eventually chopped it up and made furniture with the larger pieces of wood. No joke. Tape wasn’t going to help that time. My mother still has the coffee table in her living room now, 30 years later. It makes for a great story about breathing new life into an otherwise dead object, but alas, no piano lessons were to be had for my sisters and I.

Lauren has been enjoying the lessons and it has been fun to watch her practice. She puts the kind of energy and passion into playing that reminds me of the famous Don Music from Sesame Street. Fortunately she doesn’t  get so worked up over song lyrics gone wrong. They do, however, have the same mop top floppy hair.

Video: Courtesy of Sesame Street: Mary Had A little Lamb

C and I have been encouraging daily practice as much as possible. One reason being that practice makes perfect. The other reason is that we want what she learns in her sessions with her teacher to stay fresh in her mind. C and I never learned to play an instrument of any kind, so we really have no idea how to help if she stumbles.

It’s a new and interesting feeling to watch from the sidelines. Up until now life experience has kept us steps ahead, like teaching her to ride a bike, or swim. Even as she advances in the French Immersion program at school C and I are both very well equipped to guide her along. For piano, the best we can do is offer our  encouragement, which I do think counts for a lot.

pianolessonsThe other day Lauren wanted to show me how to play a short tune and tried to place my fingers over the right keys. Turns out my fingers are kind of clumsy and the tune didn’t sound so great. Not wanting me to feel discouraged, she said, “That’s OK Mom, you’re just a beginner.” At least I know for sure that I didn’t miss out on a life calling as a brilliant composer.

The lessons for this semester will end soon and Lauren has decided that she’d like to try gymnastics during the winter season. We’ll encourage the practicing at home and will check in by spring to see if she’d like to continue with the lessons. There will be no pressure from C and I as we’re glad for her to try new things, but it will be interesting to see if she eventually does continue down this new musical path.

Do you want to build a snowman?

A few moths ago the girls and I were sitting in the dining room eating dinner, when C who had been working and joined us late, walked into the kitchen to serve himself a plate. A few steps in he paused for a second then exclaimed, “What the hell is that?!” I nearly choked on my food from laughter because I knew exactly what “that” was.

The day before Lauren had been to a Frozen themed birthday party. Perhaps you’ve heard of Frozen? You know, that hugely popular Disney move about a  Princess cursed with the power of making things turn to ice when she touches them. She eventually becomes Queen of the land and commits herself to exile after accidentally turning her kingdom into a snow globe.

Children everywhere have been mesmerized obsessed with this movie. It has been the theme for many, many birthday parties and during this past Halloween popular costumes included the Queen Elsa, her sister Princess  Anna, and Olaf their childhood snowman friend.

The feelings that some parents have towards this movie because of the influence it has on their kids are mixed. Check out these stories from Fun and Fatigue: The Motherhood Marathon and 18 Years to Life: A Love Sentence.

I’m happy to say that my kids haven’t been bitten quite so hard by the frost bug.  That’s not to say that they don’t occasionally burst into a spontaneous round of the famous theme song – Let it Go. It’s just not so frequent. We don’t have the movie at home so there’s no begging to watch it every hour, and the only royal figure that Lauren was interested in dressing as for Halloween this year was the Queen of Hearts. Go figure.

So back to my husband and his kitchen discovery. What he saw was a mummified looking white blob and orange lump, double, triple, quadruple wrapped in clear tape with toothpicks sticking out of one end. It was indeed a strange sight and enough to prompt  anyone with an untrained eye to say, “What the hell?”

snow3

Those more familiar with white blobs and orange lumps (namely those parents who have been forced to watch the movie a hundred times), however, would have known right away that it was in fact a snowman. A marshmallow Olaf snowman to be precise.

The loot bag from the birthday party came with a variety of Frozen paraphernalia such as stickers, a tissue box decorated with images of scenes from the movie, and a little kit for making an Olaf sculpture. The kit included 3 marshmallows, some black licorice, chocolate chips and a jelly bean. There was nothing included to get the marshmallows to stick together, but Lauren being the resourceful girl that she is found some toothpicks to get the job done. The toothpicks didn’t work to her satisfaction so she got out the tape and went to town. She stuck the toothpicks on one end for decoration, I think? And Voila! A snowman! Sort of…

A few months have gone by, and now that winter has made its unofficial start by dumping a bunch of snow on the city, I’ve been in the mood to get crafty for the holiday season and thought that making ornaments would be a good activity for the girls. Not wanting to go the marshmallow route, (there are only so many blobs I need hanging around the house) I came across a craft for ornaments that use wooden stir sticks. The nice thing about them is that there is no temptation to eat the material, and no chance of them melting before the season is over. Of course they can be saved for many more holidays to come, as long as your kids don’t break them.

Happy crafting!

Material

  • Wood stir sticks
  • Buttons or beads (for the snowman buttons)
  • String or ribbon (to hang the decoration when finished)
  • Pieces of felt or fabric in whatever colours you like
  • Orange felt or fabric
  • Marker
  • White paint
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Directions

  • Paint the stir sticks and set aside to dry
  • Once dry, use the glue to stick buttons or beads to the body
  • Use the marker to draw a face
  • Cut a hat and scarf shape from the felt or fabric
  • Cut a carrot shape from the orange felt or fabric for the nose
  • Glue the hat, scarf and nose onto the stick
  • Glue the ribbon or string to the back of the stick
  • Wait for the glue to dry before hanging

Popsicle_snowmanmaterial

Popsicle_snowman