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Homemade gift for a one-year old: nesting boxes with openings and heart-shaped "coins" to put in the openings.A friend’s daughter turned one today! I’m not in the habit of giving gifts to friends’ kids, but I think marking the day with something homemade is a nice touch. I hope Bee’s little friend will enjoy these nesting boxes with heart-shaped “coins.”

At my local thrift store – I’m a huge fan – I found two boxes that fit neatly one into the other, as well as some wood hearts. The total cost of the materials was not more than $1.50!

I cut a slot into the larger box and a heart-shaped opening in the smaller box, and finished the edges with some painter’s masking tape. Easy!

I think this homemade toy has a lot of potential. In addition to nesting the boxes and putting the heart-shaped “coins” in the openings (the slot opening is a bigger challenge than the heart-shaped opening), the boxes can be stacked, the lids can be removed and replaced, the “coins” can be dumped from one box into the other… And I’m sure Bee’s little friend will find many more things to do with it!

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Carrot Ginger SoupThe food processor is escaping the cupboard and seeing the light of day more often lately. First oatmeal raisin cookies, then carrot ginger soup.

I was starting the soup later than expected, and didn’t know if Bee would be patient enough to allow me to chop the carrots and prepare the other ingredients. Out came the food processor, and we grated all the vegetables, as well as the ginger and onion in a couple of minutes, together!

Another bonus: having the vegetables cut so finely sped up the cooking time and made the soup easier and quicker to blend before serving.

Recipe: Carrot Ginger Food Processor Soup

6 large carrots, peeled
1 small yam or sweet potato, peeled
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 tsp coriander seed
1-2 tbsp oil
Approx. 2 litres water or vegetable broth
Vegetable bouillon cube (if using water)
3/4 cup cooked millet (optional, gives some body and added nutritional value to the soup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro for serving (optional)

Toast coriander seed until fragrant in pot intended to make soup. Remove from heat and grind using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Grate carrots, sweet potato/yam, ginger and onion using food processor.

Heat oil in pot. Add grated vegetable, ginger and onion mixture and ground coriander. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add water or vegetable broth to cover generously. If using water, then add vegetable bouillon cube (I use a bit less than the recommended amount for the quantity of water). Add cooked millet. Stir to combine and bring soup to a simmer.

Simmer soup until vegetables are tender. Blend soup using an immersion blender or blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro to serve.

Stack of oatmeal raisin food processor cookies.Bee – that’s Baby’s new blog handle, since she isn’t really a baby anymore, and busy like a bee – and I made cookies recently. We used a food processor.

Using this kitchen appliance works well for us at this stage (17 months). Bee likes pouring things from one container into another and pushing buttons. She also likes putting together the different parts of the food processor (minus the blade of course). For me, the mess is minimal and I don’t have to pull away while mixing to make sure she doesn’t get her fingers caught in the beaters.

Toddler eating butter while making food processor cookies.

Bee likes butter!

We made cookies based on the Wannabe Cape Breton Oat Cakes recipe. While she played with some of the dough (much tastier than regular playdough!), I rolled out the dough and cut out cookies.

Toddler playing with dough, real dough.

Bee playing with the dough, lots of flavour and texture!

I rolled the dough quite thin, so the result was more like a sweet cracker – quite addictive, I must say. Hard to eat just one! Bee liked them too, so this recipe is a win. I’ll make them again, and maybe swap the raisins for cut up dried pears, dates or apricots, or even some chocolate chips.

Oatmeal raisin food processor cookies, kind of like a sweet cracker.

Oatmeal raisin food processor cookies, kind of like a sweet cracker.

Recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Food Processor Cookies

2 cups flour (I use whole spelt flour)
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, ginger and cardamom
1/2 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pour flour, spices, brown sugar, salt and baking powder into food processor. Pulse to combine. Add old fashioned oats and raisins. Pulse to combine.

Add butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. While running the food processor, slowly add water. Stop processing once the dough starts coming together.

Flour counter. Turn dough out onto floured counter. It will be crumbly. Knead lightly and briefly until it comes together. [Give some dough to your child for play.]

Roll out dough to a 1/4″ thickness. Cut into squares/rectangles/whatever shape you desire. (I tried using a cookie cutter, but it didn’t work well because of the oatmeal in the dough.) Place cookies on prepared baking sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown.

Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)You know those Ferrero Rocher balls, the white ones called Raffaello? I like them. They’re the inspiration for this cookie.

I’m delighted with how these macaroons turned out. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. The flavours marry beautifully, yet there’s still a subtle taste of each individual ingredient.

Recipe: Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)

Makes approx. 36 cookies. This recipe is gluten-free!

1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 1/4 cups finely shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 cup coarsely grated white chocolate
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine egg, egg white and sugar in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until thick, light coloured and frothy. Gently mix in the ground almonds, shredded coconut and shaved white chocolate.

Make 1-inch size balls and place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)Some ideas take a long time to mature.

I started experimenting with the idea of an apple-cranberry upside-down cake two years ago. I was intent on this fall flavour combination and tried several variations.

None turned out the way I wanted. Either the cake wasn’t right or the caramelly cranberry bottom/top didn’t work out.

That cranberry season passed.

Last fall I was busy with a new little person in my life. No time for testing recipes.

Another cranberry season passed. But the idea didn’t go away.

In the meantime, I discovered a flavour combination that quickly became a favourite: dates and cranberries. The other day I was flipping through one of my cookbooks, when the recipe for sticky toffee pudding caught my eye.

And then it hit me: forget about apples and cranberries!

Sticky toffee pudding is made with dates and is served with a gooey toffee sauce. Make it like an upside-down cake with cranberries, the sauce becomes part of the cake and the cranberries add a tart twist to the cake’s deep flavour.

Recipe: Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)

The cake recipe is an adaptation of Marion Kane’s Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe, while the caramel is borrowed from my tarte tatin recipe. I used a pie plate with an 8-inch bottom, but you could also use a normal cake pan (not a spring-form; the caramel will leak out).

Caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Date purée:
1 cup roughly chopped dates
1/2 cup water
1 tsp instant espresso powder or 2 tbsp strong coffee

Cake:
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups cranberries (or enough to make a layer in the bottom of your baking dish), picked over, washed and dried
Date purée (see ingredients above)
Whipping cream, for serving

Butter baking dish.

Make caramel. Pour sugar, then water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Let cook until it turns amber.

Amber sugar for making caramel. Remove from heat at this stage.

You want the sugar to be this colour before adding the butter and the cream.

[Yes, that means DON’T TOUCH! Resist every urge to swirl or stir the contents of the saucepan – this will prevent the sugar from sticking to and drying out on the sides – and just let the heat do the work. The process may take up to 30 minutes or more. Watch carefully once the sugar starts changing colour, it darkens fast.]

Once the sugar is amber, remove from heat. Immediately whisk in butter and cream. [Expect a lot of frothing and steaming, as the cooler butter and cream hit the sugar. Just keep whisking.] Whisk until completely incorporated and smooth. Pour into buttered baking dish.

Make date purée (you could start this while the sugar is cooking). Place chopped dates, water and coffee in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook until dates are soft. Blend mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350° F .

Caramel and cranberries in baking dishMake cake. Place cranberries on caramel in bottom of baking dish.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, cream butter until light. Add brown sugar and continue beating until well incorporated. Beat in egg and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture alternately with the date purée, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour batter over caramel and cranberries. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean and cake is springy to touch.

Remove from oven and invert immediately onto serving plate. [Choose a large enough plate, preferably with a small rim, since the caramel will flow around the cake.]

Serve with whipped cream.

Family birthday photo

The best family photo we could get… The candle is blown out, we should be eating cake!

Today we celebrated Baby’s first birthday! As my cousin wrote me this week: a year with a kid goes by quickly, even when some of the days go by very slowly. So here we are. Year One gone already.

Since this day last year, I’ve watched Baby grow: from 8lbs to approx. 25 lbs, from 52 cm to approx. 71 cm. Watch out — she can reach what’s on the table now! She seems so big compared to this time last year, and yet she’s still so small.

She has six teeth and is taking her first steps. She went from dark hair to light hair. I remember wondering back then what she would look like in a year. I couldn’t imagine it, and now I can’t imagine her any other way.

I’ve also watched Baby develop into an alert, bright, curious, determined, energetic, lively, playful and social little person. It’s fun to be with her. Her giggle is infectious. She brings out the crazy in both her parents, especially her papa! And every day she does a bunch of quirky little things that make us both laugh.

Her fun these days is making music; squishing blueberries at breakfast; pulling anything with a string; playing with water; swings; books, especially turning the pages; riding in the bike trailer; and climbing over any obstacle, none of which are too big.

Baby making music

Baby making music with instruments received from maman and papa.

Baby exploring tunnel

Baby getting ready to crawl through her birthday tunnel.

It’s fascinating to watch Baby play and figure things out. The wheels in her brain are turning all the time. Sometimes I just sit and watch with quiet wonder.

We invited family for lunch to share the celebration. On the menu: gazpacho, slow-roasted salmon, a wild rice, corn and Swiss chard toss, goat cheese with fresh herbs, and peach blueberry cake with whipped cream. Even though it was quite an “adult” menu, it included some of her favourite foods: salmon, goat cheese, corn, rice, peaches and blueberries!

Baby eating birthday cake

Baby eating peach blueberry birthday cake. Yum!

Now Baby is asleep, and it’s time for us “new parents” to start our own BIRTHday ritual: bubbles after bedtime. As we get ready to raise our glasses, we’re reliving some of the moments surrounding Baby’s arrival and celebrating the day that changed and enriched our lives forever, being parents, and making it through the year with a bit more wear but no tear. Cheers to that!

Fruit and banana yoghurt popsiclesEarlier this year, my mom gave me popsicle molds. The same ones she used for my brother and me when we were little. Nothing fancy, just the plain Tupperware kind.

Little did I realize then that they would be in regular use. Not surprisingly, especially with the recent heat, popsicles have become Baby’s daily afternoon snack. And I’m having fun coming up with recipes and flavour combinations! I think I’ve created my keeper though.

This recipe is healthy and versatile, using whatever fruit is in season. However, it works best with fruit that pairs well with and can stand up to banana. The banana mainly adds sweetness and creaminess, but also a touch of flavour. Think strawberry, blueberry, mango, raspberry… I find that stone fruit like peaches, apricots and plums don’t work well, even when they are super fragrant, same with melon. My two favourites, so far, have been blueberry and orange (using orange juice).

Baby eating popsicle

Baby eating her first popsicle at almost 10 months.

Recipe: Fruit, Banana and Yoghurt Popsicles

Makes approx 6 quarter-cup-size (60 mL) popsicles.

1 cup fruit (fresh or frozen), cut into smallish pieces, OR 1 cup fruit juice
1 two- to three-inch piece of banana
3/4 cup yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp maple syrup (depending on the sweetness of the fruit and your personal preference)

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Mix until smooth. Fill popsicle molds. Freeze. (Drink any remaining mix like a smoothie!)

Sometimes I add 1-2 tbsp hemp hearts to the mix before blending. They boost the protein of the finished product, and add some texture.