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I started this blog a few years ago. Since then I have been maintaining a second blog related to homeschooling. There is so much overlap between the two that I decided to merge the two into one. I will slowly be transferring all of the content from this blog over to the new address. So if you would like to enjoy the past content with access to fresh new content, head on over to Hopeful & Homemade. 

Seven Days of Soup: Stovetop Beef Stew

2stew      Ok, so today’s “soup” is actually a stew. I have a history of sucking at stews. I’m talking a no taste, chew for hours, hurt your jaw kind of terrible. If I tried a shorter cook time for tender beef, I was left with raw veggies. Nothing like biting into a crunchy potato, eh? Yech.  I’m pleased to announce that I finally figured it out and it only took me 8 years of cooking for my family. The beef was delicious and easy to chew and there was lots of flavour!


2-3lb cubed beef
2 tsp montreal steak spice
1/4c flour + 1 tbsp for later
3 tbsp oil (coconut or veggie)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup full bodied red wine
4 cups beef broth
1 tsp basil
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 large potatoes, cubed
3 large carrots, sliced
1 cup peas
salt to taste


1. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. In a plastic bag, combine flour and steak spice. Add beef to bag and shake to coat beef evenly with flour mixture. Add half of the coated beef to the pot, shaking off excess flour. Allow to brown, stirring once or twice to turn beef. (About 5 mins or so) Remove seared beef to a dish and repeat with remaining meat. Remove rest of beef to the bowl and set aside.

2. Once your beef is out, add onions (and a drizzle more oil if needed). Stir occasionally and allow onions to soften. You can season with some salt and pepper at this point. Once onions are browned (about 5 mins), stir in tomato paste and allow the flavour to cook out for about 2 minutes. Look for the tomato paste to darken in colour slightly.

3. Add a tbsp of flour and mix, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pot. Add in your red wine and cook for about 4 minutes, whisking constantly until your mixture thickens.

4. Add meat and any juices back into the pot and give it a stir. Add beef broth and basil. Stir well and turn heat to high, bringing everything to a boil. Reduce heat to low/medium-low and allow everything to simmer uncovered for 1 hour.

5. Add in your chopped celery, carrots and potatoes. Stir and cover with a tight fitting lid. Allow everything to cook until the veggies are tender. (About an hour)

6. Remove lid, add in peas and turn heat down to lowest setting. Add additional salt to taste at this point. Make sure to taste it, as steak spice often contains salt and you don’t want to overdo it. Give it a stir and let it rest with the lid off for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serve with cheese and crusty bread, or over your favourite egg noodles.  Yum!

Seven Days of Soup: Cream of Mushroom


I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but here we are experiencing what seems like an endless ice age. Temperature records here in Southern Ontario are being shattered on a daily basis. Nothing melts away the cold like a hot bowl of soup or stew. This week we will be enjoying a variety of both and I am pleased to share some of our favourite recipes.  Today’s recipe came about when my dad was visiting and I thought to myself “I want mushroom soup”. I had a basic knowledge of how to cream soups go together (they’re all very much the same) and I had mushrooms, so I threw it together.

4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 clove garlic, minced*
1 smallish-medium onion, diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup light cream or milk
2 cups fresh, sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste.

* If you don’t have fresh garlic, a sprinkle of garlic powder will do.

1. Melt butter over medium heat on stovetop. Add diced onion and allow to soften/brown slightly. Add in the mushrooms and allow them to cook down and release their juices (5 minutes or so). Add in minced garlic clove.

2. With a whisk, stir in flour until you have a somewhat crumbly consistency, then begin to whisk in the chicken broth in small amounts at a time, allowing it to thicken quite a bit between each addition. (You’ll be adding milk or cream which will thin things out quite a bit, so go ahead an let it get quite thick.. less soupy and more saucy at this point)

3. Add the milk or cream in the same way. (Gradually and whisking well and allowing to thicken slightly between additions) If you find it’s not as thick as you’d like, try increasing the heat. You can also combine a tbsp or two of flour in a small dish with a bit of milk and pour the mixture into your pot. Whisk well so you don’t get lumps!

4. Remove 1-2 cups of the soup, making sure you get some mushrooms in there, and blend it with a blender (we use our Magic Bullet**) and then add it back into the pot. This distributes pureed mushrooms, onions and garlic throughout the rest of the soup but you still get whole mushroom pieces as well for those who like things chunky 🙂 If you don’t like chunks, puree the whole lot in a blender or with a hand-held immersion blender.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste.


** If you use a magic bullet or closed-lid blender, be careful the heat doesn’t build up and cause the container to explode. When we use our magic bullet with hot liquids like soup, I will pure for a few seconds and then loosen the lid to let the steam hiss out. I close and repeat until I’m done blending. If you have a blender, most of them have lids with vents you can open.

Remove Stubborn Dirt and Grime with Two Common Household Items!

I’ll make this short and sweet: Baking Soda + Vinegar takes care of all most of your cleaning needs! I had just acquired a brand new (to me) $2000 hardwood dining table and chairs. My son had been doing a craft and had left a wet piece of red construction paper on the light-wood table top for about 20 minutes. By the time I found it, there was a red triangle stained into the surface of my new table! I was.so.upset. I tried all different kinds of cleaners, but it was stained into the table surface and nothing seemed to work. This is when my genius mom made a paste of baking soda and vinegar and lightly applied it in a gentle circular motion. It took the red stain right out and didn’t hurt the finish on the wood table! I was speechless.

As I was cleaning the kitchen the other day, I scrubbed down the front of my stove and fridge. When I got to the handles of the fridge and the stove I couldn’t seem to get off that dark, dirty residue built up from everyone’s hands over time. That’s when I remembered my mom’s table trick. Needless to say, it worked! Here’s the process:

You will need baking soda and standard white vinegar.
1. Start with a good amount of baking powder. (I used about 1/4-1/2 cup) Gradually add white vinegar. It will fizz a lot, but wait until the fizzing subsides. You may have to exercise extreme self control because it’s so fun to watch the fizz that it’s hard to stop pouring. Use your fingers to mix it together into a crumbly paste.

2. Apply paste to grimy areas in a circular motion. If you are working on a durable surface, feel free to scrub more aggressively. Use your fingers to smush it in and don’t worry if lots of it crumbles out from under your fingers and falls on the floor. You can sweep up after! So long as you feel a good amount of grit under your fingers, you’ll know its doing it’s job. Apply more as you need and be liberal. Here is what my floor looked like after I was done:

3. After you have scrubbed and you are starting to see the dirt come loose, use a clean damp cloth to wipe the surface clean and decide if it’s all come up or if you need to apply more. You may have to do it a few times, but the whole process (even with repeated applications) shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes from start to finish. I did my oven and fridge handles. Here is my oven handle:

Other uses:
– Sinks, tile and bathtubs– anywhere you would remove soap scum. (Use at your own discretion. If it’s a delicate surface, I take no responsibility if you ruin it!)
– Removes sticker residue when you are taking labels off containers or jars (works like a miracle!)
– Removes stains from hardwood and built up grime and dirt on surfaces

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

turkeywildriceOh my goodness. Sage. Where have you been all my life? This soup is absolutely hearty and delicious. It’s a warm hug on a cold day and it’s what’s on my dinner table tonight! Yum yum!


  • 3/4 cup uncooked wild rice blend (I used Lundberg Wild Blend Rice)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 41/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp of each: rosemary, sage, marjoram
  • 6 chicken thighs or 2 large chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


1. Cook rice according to directions on the package

2. Halfway through the cook time for the rice, in a separate large pot, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and saute until slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic during last 30 seconds of sauteing.

3. Add chicken broth and spices.

4. Increase heat to medium-high and add chicken to pot, bringing mixture to a boil. Cover pot with lid and allow mixture to boil for 12-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

5. Remove chicken to cutting board to cool for 5 minutes and then shred with two forks.

6. Meanwhile reduce heat to low and add cooked rice. Add shredded chicken to soup.

7. In a separate medium saucepan (you can clean out the rice pot), melt remaining 6 tbsp butter over medium heat.

8. Add flour and cook 1 1/2 minutes, whisking constantly. Then, while whisking, slowly pour milk into the butter/flour mixture. Cook the mixture while stirring until it thickens.

9. Add milk mixture to soup mixture in pot and cook about 5 minutes longer, or until the soup is thickened.

10. Stir in heavy cream and lemon zest and serve warm.

Christmas Cookies Series: Easy “Gingerbread” Cookies


My kids like gingerbread. Well, to be more accurate: They like “gingerbread”. I made the mistake of spending hours baking authentic gingerbread cookies last year only to discover that the kids hated them. Molasses, loads of ginger and cloves… I should have known just looking at the recipe.

I’ve doctored a traditional recipe to be both quick and lighter tasting. You’ll still get that beautiful gingerbread aroma without the bitter taste. Bake on!


  • 1 1/2c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2c butter, softened
  • 3/4c brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4tsp maple syrup


1. Combine flour and baking soda in a large bowl, stir in melted butter until it becomes the consistency of bread crumbs.

2. Stir in brown sugar and spices.

3. In a smaller dish, lightly beat egg with the maple syrup and add to the larger bowl, mixing all the ingredients until a lump of dough forms.

4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap or in a freezer bag and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

5. Roll out with rolling pin until 1/2cm think and cut into your favourite shapes.

Bake at 350 for 12-14 mins.

Baked Chicken Cacciatore

  • 1 small onion – quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic (or garlic powder)
  • 14oz diced tomatoes
  • 2/3c chicken broth
  • coconut oil
  • package of chicken thighs
  • butter
  • 1/3c flour
  • pinch oregano
  • parm cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
    Preheat oven to 375. In a blender, puree chopped onion, garlic, tomatoes and chicken broth. Set aside.In a medium shallow dish mix together flour with parm cheese, salt and pepper— all to taste. Dip chicken thighs in flour mixture until completely covered. Heat a good amount of coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sear the chicken. Turn a few times until both sides are browned.

    Once chicken is cooked, remove from pan and add in the tomato sauce mixture and scrape up any brown bits left over from the chicken— mix them in with the sauce. Add oregano Bring to a boil.

    Arrange chicken thighs in a large baking dish, give a small dust of salt and pepper for extra flavour. Once sauce is boiling, pour it over the chicken thighs and place baking dish in the oven uncovered and cook for 45 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about half.

    Cook spaghetti noodles and toss in a light coating of butter. Spoon pasta into dishes and top with chicken and a few scoops of sauce. Sprinkle of parm cheese optional!


13 Boredom Busters for 13 Weeks of Winter

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors.



With the winter comes the cold. And wet. And soggy. When you have littles under the age of 3 you can spend from breakfast until afternoon nap trying to wrestle on snow suits and hunt down the missing mitten which, as it turns out, was never really missing but was tucked into the arm of the boy’s winter jacket which he was already wearing. You pull it out and set it aside. You continue dodging kicks, stuffing what seems like leg after leg into snow pant legs. All the while your child is shrieking like a feral cat. But finally you make it. The satisfying “ziiiipppp” of the last zipper and they are all trapped in their snowsuits whether they like it or not. A sigh of relief. Victory is yours. *sniff sniff* What’s that sm… Someone pooped. Ughh.. Fantastic.

So by now you’ve concluded prepping littles to go outside and “enjoy the snow” is about as easy as herding wild chickens and have promptly abandoned such lofty ideas. You’ve decided to pack it in until spring. Seal the windows, seal the door. Stay. IN.SIDE. I don’t blame you. And I must say, Mama. You are not alone.

But I digress.

Without further delay, I present to you 13 tried and true Boredom Busters for the 13 loonnngggg cold weeks of winter. These suggestions are geared at littles from 10 months to 3 years of age. Some of them seem painfully simple, but sometimes the most obvious ideas are the ones we don’t think of.

High-Five, Mama! You can do it!

1. Amateur Photography Hour
Most of us use our phones to take pictures now… Which means most of us have an obsolete digital camera sitting around somewhere, right? I gave mine to my 3 year old. This was the result:


2. Pudding Painting
Grab a paintbrush and a chocolate pudding cup. Plop your nearly nude littles in the bathtub and let ‘em go to town! They will paint the tub, the walls and each other. I’m sure a little will be eaten as well. Clean up is simple: Just turn on the water!

3. Baking
Pouring, stirring, mashing… It’s a toddler’s dream! Try baking something like this! The smell of lemon will freshen up the stale air of your winter prison… i mean, home.

4. Look Out the Window
Name things you see and explain what’s happening. Point out imaginary things. (eg. “Look at the dinosaur across the street! It’s going to eat that car! Look out!”)

5. Sorting
Grab a muffin tin and an assortment of objects to sort into the different holes. (ie different types of dry pasta, toy cars, blocks etc) Babies will love just shuffling objects from space to space while older kids can be encouraged to sort by shape or colour.

6. Build a Slide
We have a hardwood dining table with a removable leaf. We also have a hard wood coffee table in our living room. Voila! A slide! Place a piece of no-slip rubber or carpet padding between table and leaf at the top, and leaf and floor at the bottom (if you don’t have carpet). Place pillows on either side of the “slide” and don’t forget to supervise!

7. Take a Bath
Fill up the tub and give them various kitchen utensils including strainers, whisks, bowls etc. to play with.

8. Cardboard Box Fun
Find a large appliance box at your local home store. (washer/dryer boxes are fun, or a fridge box if you have enough space) Most store associates will be happy to hook you up, though if they don’t have any on hand ask them when their deliveries tend to come in and when a good time would be to come back. Cut windows and doors or cut the top right off. Build a sailing ship, a club house, a spacecraft… let your imagination take control. Offer paints or crayons to decorate and then let them play inside for the rest of the day (and likely days to come!)

9. Circle Time
Choose a theme and find toys/props, stories and rhymes/songs to sing that are all centred around the theme. Eg. Bugs – Sing itsy bitsy spider, read a story about a bug and do show and tell with some toy bugs or find bugs around your house (admit it— you probably have bugs in your house. We do.)

10. Props
This activity was inspired by an old show called “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, a comedy improv show hosted by Drew Carey way back before he lost all that weight and became Bob Barker. Pick an obscure object from around the house, preferably something durable and big enough that they can’t eat it by mistake. Take turns acting out as many different uses for the object as possible.

11. “Ginger Bread” Houses for Cheaters
Cut pieces of cardboard and cover them in tinfoil for bases. Using graham crackers instead of gingerbread and royal icing, pre-assemble one small gingerbread house per child. Buy some candy or if you’re health-conscious, use nuts and seeds. Divide royal icing between some small ziplock freezer bags and work the icing into the corner of each bag. Twist it and then fasten with a twist tie or clip. Come craft time, cut a tiny hole in the corner of each baggie. Arrange different items in a muffin tray in the middle of the table and let kids squeeze out icing and stick on treats to decorate their houses. For younger ones you may try squeezing the icing out for them and encouraging them to place the treat.

12. Make Shakers
Gather different types of dried beans, seeds, pasta or rice. Place different things into small plastic storage containers and snap the lids securely. Try shaking them to hear the different sounds. Smaller things like rice will make a higher sound than bigger things like pasta. Sing a few songs and dance around or try saying this rhyme:
“Shake it up high,
Shake it down low.
Shake it really fast,
Shake.. it.. real..ly.. slow.
Shake it to the East,
Shake it to the West.
Shake it to the one who you love the best!”

13. The Sweeping Game
Kids love to sweep. Use coloured painters tape to tape off a square on the kitchen floor (1ft x 1ft works) and then scatter some large pasta. Have your child sweep all the pasta into the square.

So maybe there’s not enough here to occupy your littles for all 13 weeks. But there’s certainly enough to get you started! Hope these ideas help keep you in the zone. Please share your own ideas in the comments section. I would love to post an extensive list divided by ages and stages sometime in the future and could use your ideas. Happy Winter!!


Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:   Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Sugar-Free Blueberry Pancakes and Syrup

Sugar-Free Blueberry Pancakes

  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 1 ½  tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp xylitol (or sugar)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup almond milk (or regular milk)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • Blueberries, as many as you prefer!
In a bowl, mix together all ingredients. Let batter sit for a few minutes before starting to ladle out onto your hot pan (we grease ours with coconut oil). While the batter is sitting you can start to warm your maple syrup (or blueberry sauce).  Makes 5–6 large pancakes, 10-12 small-medium pancakes.
Sugar-Free Blueberry Syrup
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 tbsp water
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tbsp xylitol (or sugar)
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, water, lemon juice and xylitol. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Once sauce has reached a boil, mix together cornstarch and cold water and add to the saucepan. Mash the berries and simmer gently until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon (about 3-4 mins). Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract and cinnamon. To thin the sauce, add water.  [This recipe makes 2 servings of sauce]

Kids and Breakfast Smoothies

On a busy morning or when I know the littles aren’t interested in sitting still to eat, I put together a smoothie and pour it into a sippy cup. Through trial and error I’ve learned a few things about smoothies and toddlers that I’m happy to share with you.

Key elements of a good breakfast smoothie: BALANCE. This includes a good source of high fat, fruit/fibre, and a protein source— we use whey protein which is safe for toddlers in small doses.

A few sources of high fat that can be used in a smoothie:

  • Nut butters (we used unsweetened nut butters and add sweetness to the smoothie with a banana or honey)
  • Avocado
  • Whole Milk as a base

Fruits/fibres that we use:

  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Mango
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberries (frozen, not fresh preferred because in our experience the skins of fresh blueberries stay chunky and don’t blend well for fitting through the sippy cup spout. If you have a fantastic blender, go for it.)
  • Ground flax

Bases for smoothies:

  • Almond milk
  • Coconut Milk (our fave!)
  • Whole Milk
  • Orange Juice


  • Wheat Grass or barley grass (for extra greens— check to make sure your greens are safe for toddlers if serving to a little person and be mindful of how much they can safely have)
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Contrary to popular belief, raw eggs can safely be used in a smoothie as a protein source AS LONG AS they are legitimately organic and free-range. Typical “battery” chickens (the ones crammed in cages who lay most of the eggs found at the grocery store) lay their eggs in unsanitary conditions and those eggs have been tested and proven to contain many bad bacterias which require cooking to kill. Personally, thinking about the texture of drinking raw egg gives me the jibbleys so I don’t put them in our smoothies. That’s also why I don’t drink eggnog. Yech.

Our favourite combo is coconut milk or whole milk with a banana, a good scoop of peanut butter and 1/2 a scoop of vanilla whey protein powder. I also sneak in flax and a scoop of powdered grass of some kind, usually wheat grass. (My kids are fine with it because I’ve always done it so they doesn’t know anything different. If your kid isn’t used to greens, add a minuscule amount and increase each time you make it.) Blend in a blender or with a handheld immersion blender. We use our Magic Bullet.  I usually make enough for me to enjoy too.

When I serve smoothies as a meal, I like to serve some toast or something solid as well. I find the little ones need something with more substance to fill their tummies.

So, that’s what we do. What do you do? Leave your favourite smoothie recipe in the comment section!