pasta with sausage & broccolini

This recipe’s a great way to sneak in some green powerhouses in the form of broccolini (rapini) and spinach. My kids are ok with spinach and broccoli. Surprisingly even the roasted red peppers only occasionally get picked out. Must be the chunks of sausage that keeps them going. It’s so tasty that you don’t need to add any other spices or sauces to the pasta.

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Ingredients:

1 box/bag rotini pasta (traps all the green goodness in)
5-6 fresh mild Italian sausages (squeezed out of casings)
1 head broccolini/rapini
Small bunch baby spinach
1 jar roasted red peppers, sliced
Monterey Jack cheese or any white cheese you have on hand
Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Bring a large salted pot of water to boil. Add rotini, cook until al dente. Dip a cup into your pasta water before draining and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook crumbled sausage in pan. Add broccolini and spinach and cook 5 minutes.

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Toss your pasta with about half a cup of reserved pasta water, add shredded cheese and stir to melt. Sometimes I use Monterey Jack, sometimes I use 4-5 triangles Laughing Cow cheese as I always have those on hand. Mix in sausage and greens mixture, add roasted red peppers and juice from the jar. Stir well. If your pasta is a bit dry you can add more pasta water. Top with Parmesan cheese before serving. I make enough of this to feed my family dinner and lunch the next day. They seriously can’t get enough of it.

Serves 6 hungry folks (with leftovers for next day)

give life with a blood donation

I recently received an email from my son’s dojo (karate school) that a Dai’Sempai who has occasionally led my son’s karate class had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. The man, I’m guessing in his early 40s, is solid, stealthy and strong. He has his black belt. Although I don’t know him closely, I was floored. I know cancer doesn’t differentiate between people’s stance and activity level and colour of belt, but this was pretty surprising to all. The dojo has hosted blood drives before (I just discovered this was in part to Dai’Sempai’s urging even before the news struck) and this weekend they’re hosting another in honour of him. I was moved enough to dust off my blood donor card (it’s been a couple years) and make an appointment.

I brought it up tonight to my son while he was brushing his teeth and he looked at me rather horrified that I would deliberately have a needle stuck into my arm to remove blood. I explained to him how his instructor and many others are in dire need of blood, especially ours as it’s a rarer type, and that one day I hoped he’d do the same. The dojo has even suggested that parents donating blood bring their children dressed in uniform, but I think at his age, a freshly-turned 6, that he’s still a bit young for the sight.

Regardless of his squeamishness, it was a good opportunity to talk about several things that I think he ought to be more aware of – that sometimes the people we know get sick, that we can help those in need, and that one day we might be on the receiving end and someone else could be responsible for saving our life. It was an important discussion and I think I got through.

movie review: Despicable Me 2

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When the first Despicable Me came out in 2010 it felt fresh and put new life into the family-friendly animated film genre that had started to get stale. After endless amounts of films cheering for the good guy, we were all of a sudden rooting for the bad guy and actually wanted him to succeed in stealing the moon to be the most evil villain in the world. It was fun and exciting. Despicable Me 2 is unfortunately not as original as the first, but it is equally entertaining.

Gru (Steve Carell), who is out of the villain game raising his three adopted girls and working on a line of jams and jellies, is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help find a criminal mastermind with plans to create evil creatures and take over the world. He’s partnered with an agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and must go undercover in a mall to stop them before it’s too late.

While the plot is not that groundbreaking, the script is loaded with gags and one-liners that Carell and Wiig pull off perfectly. The film never feels dull and is a continuous laughfest. This is largely thanks to the addition of Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo, the owner of a Mexican restaurant in the mall. I’ve never considered Bratt a funny guy, but he really puts it on here and makes me want to hear him do more characters like this. Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong work well too, but both are highly underused.

I honestly dread 3D films these days, but the use of it in Despicable Me 2 is great. There are a few gags such as bubbles floating around, which the kids in the audience went nuts for, but for the most part it is used to help the glorious animation look even more stunning. And just like the first, the animation and colour palette is truly wonderful.

Of course, the only opinion that matters is that of my six-year-old son, who screened the film with me. He was so excited to see it he couldn’t sleep the night before. When the credits rolled he immediately wanted to know when we could see it again because to him, it was the most amazing thing ever. And how can anyone argue with that?

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rated G
Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Top image: A scene from Despicable Me 2. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Source: Criticize This! 

teddy mars cars

I’ve made these adorable little Mars bar cars a few times now and they’re always a hit with young and old alike (old like them more for the look – taste-wise it’s a bit of a mishmash smorgasbord of candy and an assault on the sweet buds). But sometimes you’ve got to forget about sugar and reward the kids for their hard work at school all year (I just made this for my son’s kindergarten graduation) or as a special treat at their birthday party. And trust me, one goes a long way.

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NEEDED:

25 teddy grahams, sawed in half just above waist
25 mini Mars bars, refrigerated
100 Smarties
Chocolate frosting, refrigerated

DIRECTIONS:

Refrigerate the mini Mars bars for at least an hour (or stick in freezer for 15-20 mins). Having them cold makes it easier to cut a slit into the middle of the top of the candy bar without too much cracking down the sides. Use a sharp, serrated knife for this and pull out just a bit of the caramel and chocolate to make enough room for the upper body of the teddy graham cookie. Note: not all teddy grahams are created equal. It’s worth seeking out the smaller kind (maybe check at your local bulk store) as the smaller the bear, the nicer they will fit their plump bodies into the car. It’s easiest to do this this as a bit of an assembly line – i.e. first cut out the Mars bars and cut the teddy grahams in half. Once all your cars have a driver, put a dab of chocolate frosting on four sides and then stick on your Smarties wheels. Keep them level to the bottom of the candy bar so the wheels don’t slide off. You shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the wheels to stick – just give it an hour to set and you’re good to go.

I like to display this on black cardstock so it looks like a road and normally dress it up with a couple of the kids’ play traffic signs.

Note: I’ve made these leaving the bears intact and also cutting the the bears in half – it’s a tiny bit more work but it’s definitely easier inserting half a bear rather than the whole thing into a tiny Mars bar. Just FYI. Hope your kiddos enjoy as much as mine do!

Makes 25 cars

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top 10 activities for my funner summer

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This handy guide spread via the Pinterest circuit a couple years ago. I refer to it often for inspiration and in hopes I don’t lose track of the magic of childhood. We’re on day 2 of summer holidays and I’m on a mission to fill it with as much adventure and activity that my kids will be begging me for a break. Haha – just joking. Their curiosities and need to always “do something” is insatiable – but I’m aiming for at least one fun new activity a week. Hence this post: I’ve gathered 10 pins I’ve been saving in my ‘kidcraft’ Pinterest board that we’ll be taking on this summer.

FIZZY EXPLOSION BAGS

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Explode sandwich bags with the mighty force of vinegar and baking soda!  This is just the kind of thing my two boys are into (frankly anyone would get a kick out of this, I’d say). This will keep them occupied for hopefully at least a couple of hours, and learning why this reaction occurs is an added bonus.

Source: All Things Beautiful

CAN-DO STILTS

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This is the sort of thing I would have totally dug as a kid, and I know it might be a recipe for disaster, but I think my 6-year-od is ready to take this on. I’M ready to take this on! Probably a good activity during the 2-year-old’s naptime.

Source: Spoonful

DIY BOUNCY BALLS

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OK, how cool is this?! Who doesn’t want to do this now!? The best part: materials can be found in a grocery or natural food store. Simple Simon. Making my shopping list now.

Source: About.com Chemistry

SQUISHY FISHY AQUARIUMS

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I had to throw this in for my younger son – I know my oldest will love it as well. Completely cute! Note to self: invest in the good Ziplocs or this will turn ugly fast.

Source: Teach Preschool

SINK A MARSHMALLOW AND OTHER FUN CANDY-ABUSE EXPERIMENTS

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Judging by the amount of repins I’ve gotten from this, this should be a pretty popular activity amongst my brood. Squishing mini marshmallows to remove the air – and hence the sinking – is just way too cool an activity to pass up. Also pretty cool: drop M&Ms into water, watch the colour fade away and the letters magically float (they’re printed with edible ink that doesn’t dissolve).

Source: About.com Chemistry

FOSSILIZED PLAYDOUGH

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My kids love to go on nature walks and collect just about everything on God’s green acre. We have jars filled with pinecone collections, rock collections, seashell collections, pine needle collections from our long-ago-defunct Christmas tree, sand collections, and more. I think they’d get a kick out of fossilizing some of their precious materials into their much-loved playdough collection.

Source: Soaring Through Second

BACKYARD PLAY AREA

afambackyardroadway

This little project has been on my must-do list for the last two years. This is the summer I enlist the help of my husband and we just get it done! It’s wondrous and awe-inducing and the kids would literally poop their pants in excitement if they saw this in their yard (in a good way). Loews has some amazing ideas on their website about how to transform a part of your backyard into a truly magical place for kids. Tons of useful tips and ideas too – I hope to incorporate most of them.

Source: Loews

DIY TEEPEE, FORT, HIDEOUT, TENT, PLAYHOUSE, ETC.

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Every kid need their own place to hang out and dream in. The hardest part is narrowing down which tent/teepee/fort/hideaway to create as there are a ton making their way round the internets. They can be as elaborate or as simple as you can think of. My kids are mostly happy with a new cardboard box but would be thrilled with something of this magnitude that mom and dad engineer into something a bit more solid (personally very tired of hearing ‘can you help me?’ The cushions won’t stay up’).

Source: Babble

TERRARIUMS R US

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Terrariums are perfect for kids on many levels. They get to pick cutesy lil plants and toys and squish it into an equally cute little glass dome. Working with teensy, tiny, little things lead to patience and concentration, right? They can tend for it quite easily (a few spritzes here and there, something they love to do), and with any luck, it will thrive and bring lots of enjoyment.

Source: National Geographic Kids

BACKYARD DRIVE-IN

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How fun would it be to gather the neighbourhood kids together for a backyard drive-in theatre! This is definitely on my must-do list this summer. I’ve seen posts where people set up boxes and kids get to decorate their “cars” before the show starts. Pretty stinking cute but it would be equally cool watching from our DIY teepee. ;)

Source: Bunch Family