Michigan Pasty Recipe – Meat Hand Pie

posted in: Notes | 3

While Michigan doesn’t have an official state food, in the UP (upper peninsula), there is a fond love for the pasty.  Pasties are meat hand pies, and depending on who you ask, a pasty may or may not have specific filling ingredients (potatoes, onions, rutabaga, carrots, meat).  A little further on, I’ll share our recipe for Michigan Pasties, but first, a bit of history.

According to a student webpage project done for Michigan Tech University, the history of the pasty is quite detailed.  It was a common meal for workers in Michigan’s upper peninsula copper mines (originally Cornish, but adopted by other European immigrants).

The pasty became popular with these other ethnic groups because it was small, portable, was very filling, and could stay warm for 8-10 hours. Pasty rivalry occurred between the Finns, Swedes, Irish, Poles, Germans, Scots, Italians and French with each group contributing something in the way of seasoning and other ingredients. All groups agree that pasties must contain two things, potatoes and onions.

The pasty was eaten by hand, and could be reheated or eaten cold. We’ve tried both ways in our household; the boys LOVED having cold pasty leftovers for lunch.

The portability of the pasty not only made it easy to carry, but if it should get cold it would be relatively easy to heat up. This was done by putting the pasty on a shovel and holding it over a head-lamp candle. Miners never ate a pasty with a fork, they ate it end to end, and held it upright to keep the juices in. Since entire Cornish families worked in mines and each member of the family wanted different ingredients in the pasty, the Cornish wife would stamp the bottom corner of each pasty with an initial. According to the Cornish Recipes Ancient and Modern, “The true Cornish way to eat a pasty is to hold it in the hand, and begin to bite it from the opposite end to the initial, so that, should any of it be uneaten, it may be consumed later by its rightful owner. And woe betide anyone who take’s another person’s corner!”

bphotoart-pasty-meat-handpie-DSC_6990An internet search for “Michigan Pasty Recipe” will produce many different pasty recipes — according to a UP pasty resource  I found, it appears there is no longer a set of required ingredients:

Pasties consists of a crust filled with diced potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions & ground beef seasoned to perfection. Now some people combine ground pork, ground beef, and ground lean beef. Now a days they even have chicken, veggie, and even a breakfast one.

Another bit of interesting history trivia?  In 1968, then Governor George Romney declared May 28th Michigan Pasty Day.  Oddly I’d never heard this, despite being born and raised in Michigan.  Thanks, History channel!  Apparently the tourism industry …er, the Mackinac Bridge, helped elevate the status of Michigan’s pasty from a homecooked meal to a restaurant-worthy entrée:

 After the 1957 Mackinac Bridge opened the Upper Peninsula for tourism from southern Michigan, the pasty shifted from being a food mainly cooked at home by U.P. locals (known as “Yoopers”) to one sold at restaurants to visitors from southern Michigan and beyond (playfully derided as “Fudgies” for their preferred dessert).

I also didn’t know that there is an annual pasty festival in early July (according to the Pasty Recipe on the Cooking Channel!)

Making Michigan Pasties

And now, it’s time to share our take on a Michigan Pasty.  Well, at least, our most recent variant.  I admit, I’ll make them with whatever is on hand.  This time, we skipped potatoes entirely (gasp) because I didn’t have any!

I chopped up the vegetables first - carrots, onions, and celery.
I chopped up the vegetables first – carrots, onions, and celery.
Then, I combined all the spices.
Then, I combined all the spices.
I added the melted butter to the seasonings.
I added the melted butter to the seasonings.
And then combined all the filling ingredients (vegetables, meat, and seasonings).
And then combined all the filling ingredients (vegetables, meat, and seasonings).

Next, it was time to start on the dough for the pasty.  We used freshly ground einkorn flour, and shortening (rather than our typical butter).  My toddler helped with this phase quite a bit!  Also, if you’ve never heard of a Danish dough whisk (#afflink), you need to try one …or at least check out when we made Irish Soda Bread with the Danish dough whisk.  It really simplifies the dough mixing process; I love how easily the ingredients get blended together — and how little mess there is!

My toddler helped me measure and dump.  To the flour and salt, we cut in the shortening...
My toddler helped me measure and dump. To the flour and salt, we cut in the shortening…
Here's what the dough looked like after cutting in the shortening, and adding water.
Here’s what the dough looked like after cutting in the shortening, and adding water.
Next, we divided the dough into four equal parts.
Next, we divided the dough into four equal parts.
One at a time, we rolled them out onto our baking sheet (~10" rounds)
One at a time, we rolled them out onto our baking sheet (~10″ rounds)
Adding the filling to our dough - just on half the dough, leaving at least 1" around the edge.
Adding the filling to our dough – just on half the dough, leaving at least 1″ around the edge.
I used the silpat to help flip the dough over top so that it didn't tear
I used the silpat to help flip the dough over top so that it didn’t tear
And here are two pasties ready to go in the oven, already crimped!
And here are two pasties ready to go in the oven, already crimped!

And that’s it!  Into the oven for almost an hour, and when they come out, dinner is ready!

A quick snapshot of a finished pasty, right before my toddler cut into it.
A quick snapshot of a finished pasty, right before my toddler cut into it.

Michigan Pasty Recipe

Dough Ingredients

  • 4 c. einkorn flour
  • 1 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 t. salt

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 lb. carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 3 Vidalia onions, diced
  • 1 lb ground beef or venison
  • 2 T. butter, melted
  • 1 T. Thyme
  • 1 T. paprika
  • 1 T. rosemary
  • 1 T. coriander
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. pepper 


  • Combine flour and salt in bowl. Add butter, and use a knife to cut into flour.
  • Add water, and stir with Danish dough whisk (#afflink) until well combined.  If necessary, add more flour or water so the dough is workable.  If you use normal wheat flour, you’ll probably need another 1/4 cup of water.
  • Divide dough into four sections (we rolled ours into balls) and set aside.
  • Combine first four filling ingredients in a large bowl.  Separately, combine butter and seasonings; drizzle over top of fillings and stir to coat.
  • One at a time, roll each dough ball into ~10″ rounds.  place filling on half the circle, leaving 1″ border around the edge.  You can mound the filling up high.  Then, fold the dough over top, and crimp the half-circle pasty’s edges together.  We rolled these out on a silicone baking sheet, and then used the silicone to help flip the thin dough over top.  If you plan it out right, there is room to roll out two pasties per baking sheet (with no need to transfer).  That way, you don’t have to worry about the dough tearing and the pasty innards leaking out!
  • After all four pasties are completed, place the baking sheets in the oven at 375 F for 50 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.
  • Enjoy!

The nice thing about this recipe is that it comes together pretty quickly.  The ingredient list may be long, but if you have kids who like to “measure and dump” — no problem.  While older kids can be involved with every step of the process, you can let younger kids help help roll out the dough for their own pasty, place the fillings on the dough, and “check on the pasties” by looking through your oven window as it cooks.  My toddler was so excited to eat dinner the night we had pasties!

I love pie crusts, and the pasty crust is similarly delicious :)
I love pie crusts, and the pasty crust is similarly delicious 🙂

Have you made pasties before?  What fillings are your favorite?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

tour-the-world-by-foodThis post is part of the Tour the World by food series — make sure to check out some of the other blog posts that highlight various state foods!

Here are some more resources on the Michigan Pasty (and other state foods), if you’re interested:

Quick + Easy Oatmeal Cookies (GF Recipe)

posted in: Notes | 22

The other night we whipped up some cookies, and, as usual, I improvised the recipe.  This quick and easy oatmeal cookie recipe is based on Clean Green Simple’s Oatmeal Cookie recipe.  Except I had about 3/4 cup of gluten-free bisquick that I was trying to use up.  Because, honestly, what can you make with that little? Now I know… oatmeal cookies!

Don’t they look tasty?


I pulled out these lovely teal cloth napkins just to photograph the cookies.  They were my grandmother’s (read my blog post about her – Legacy of a Truly Excellent Woman).  And in case you’re wondering why there aren’t more cookies… well, by the time I got around to photographing them, this is all we had left.  Seriously.


Since I made up the recipe on the fly, I wasn’t quite sure if the oatmeal cookies would be fluffy or thin and dense.  They did puff up some, and ended up being nice and moist inside too!bphotoart-oatmeal-cookies-5881

Just a few more pictures of these oatmeal cookies, then I’ll get you the recipe.  I promise it doesn’t take long to make them up.  The hardest part was waiting for them to cool!

I love oatmeal cookies.  And these are good add-ins like raisins (or, if you’re my husband, gumdrops) too.  Or just plain.  Mmmmmm.


Okay, I promised my recipe.  Here’s the quick and easy oatmeal cookie recipe.

Quick + Easy Oatmeal Cookie Recipe


  • 3/4 c. gluten-free Bisquick*
  • 1 3/4 c. rolled oats
  • 1 T flaxmeal
  • 3/4 c. applesauce
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 T vanilla
  • a dash of salt
  • Optional – 3/4 c. raisins or gumdrops


  • Preheat oven to 375 F.
  • Combine all dry ingredients except optional add-ins.
  • Add all wet ingredients, stir to combine.
  • Stir in optional add-ins.
  • Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto lined baking sheet (we use silicone baking sheets – amazing!!).
  • Bake for 13-19 minutes – remove when edges begin to brown; let rest for 5 min or cool enough to handle.
  • Makes 20 cookes (2-2.5″ diameter).

*A note about the use of Bisquick.  You don’t have to use bisquick – just sub it out for 1/4 t. baking soda and 3/4 c. flour of your choice (gluten free if desired).

And what was the verdict?  Well, our enthusiastic eaters approved of these cookies.  I love that this recipe can be not only gluten free, but free of refined sugar too, if you use normal flour rather than the Bisquick (who knew that Bisquick had sugar in it… before this, not me!).

The texture of the oats more than made up for (dare I say, covered over?) the usually distinctive taste of gluten free rice/potato flour blend that was used to make the gluten free Bisquick.

My husband, who is picky about his gumdrop cookies, gave the shrug of approval, as if to say, “not my standard go-to, but not bad.”  My toddler LOVED his cookie, and wanted seconds (we had to decline, since it was just before bed).

These went really well with a nice glass of cold milk. Just saying.

What’s your favorite kind of cookie?  Have you ever improvised a recipe on the fly?  How did it turn out?

Irish Soda Bread (with Gluten-Free Adaptation!)

posted in: Learning | 2

bphotoart-irish-soda-bread-recipe-To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we often bake Irish Soda Bread. This family recipe is one I grew up with, and I’m pleased to tell you my boys love it too.

When I take my Irish Soda Bread to potlucks or dinner parties, I’m usually asked for the recipe at least once (if not more than that). People love it. I’m not sure if it’s the crispy-crunchy exterior, or the soft dried fruit, but this Irish Soda Bread is definitely something you’ll want make again.

Plus, it’s really easy to make!

Some Irish Soda Bread recipes call for complicated processes or ingredients you probably don’t have on hand (ex: buttermilk? how many of you have that in your fridge? I know I don’t!).

This recipe uses the basics:

  • milk
  • flour
  • sugar
  • dried fruit
  • salt
  • baking soda
  • oil
  • lemon juice (to sour milk)

See what I mean when I say it uses kitchen staples?  I bet you have all this stuff in your kitchen too.

And shhh… don’t tell, but if I don’t have sour milk, lemon juice, or the time to let it sour naturally, I just use straight milk without a second thought.  Oh, and another variation that’s tasty?  Subbing out the milk for milk kefir!


Now, let’s get down to business. Toby likes to help make Irish Soda Bread almost as much as he likes to eat it. So, I’ll be sharing some pictures of what it looks like to bake with a toddler (who loves to measure and dump).  I love cooking in the kitchen (or, as is the case, baking in the kitchen) with little ones.  There are so many teachable moments, and the whole process is really a fun activity for kids who want to be “big helpers.”  Toby helped stir, read numbers on the measuring cups, measure and dump ingredients into the bowl, …you get the idea.  And, of course, what kitchen activity is complete without a taste tester?  Kids love to taste test things they’ve had a hand in making.

So here’s what we did (read the captions for each picture, or scroll to the end for the text recipe).  Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Irish Soda Bread Recipe


  • 4c. Flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. soda
  • 2/3 c. oil
  • 1 c. raisins/craisins
  • 1 c. sour milk


[to make sour milk, leave out all night or place 2 T. lemon juice in measuring cup, fill with milk, let clabber.]

Mix flour, sugar, salt, soda. Add raisins, then oil, then milk. Blend until forms a ball, shape into flat load. Brush with oil or milk. Bake at 350 F for 35-45 min.

Kitchen Tools:

None of these are required, but having the right tools for baking does make life easier.  While making our Irish Soda Bread, we tested out some kitchen utensils that I had received for review. I was pleased with how all three #afflinks: a Danish dough whisk (ingenious kitchen utensil, by the way, if you bake you’ll want to get one!), an oversized pizza cutter (I’m all for cutting flat breads and baked goods with a rotary knife), and silicone baking mats (non-stick, easy clean up, and eco-friendly. My kind of product).


Feel free to use my Amazon affiliate links below… and check out some of the other reviews if you want to get a more well-rounded idea of how these kitchen tools measure up.

  • BakeitFun Silicone Mat – use a silicone mat on your cookie sheet for easy clean-up and as an eco-friendly alternative to parchment paper. I love how versatile these mats are — you can use them for everything from baked goods to roasted vegetables… or even in the freezer!
  • Pizza Cutter – you’re probably familiar with a pizza cutter’s standard purpose, but did you know it works really well for scoring cracker dough, cutting flat breads like this recipe, or even brownies?  I kid you not.  This oversized 3.5″ pizza cutter is sharp and rolls smoothly 🙂
  • Danish Dough Whisk (mixing by hand) or Kitchen-Aid 6-Qt. Stand Mixer – With a more robust dough like in this recipe, you’ll probably want a stand mixer to blend things into submission (we love our Kitchen-Aid).  But if you’ve never tried a Danish dough whisk, you should give one a shot.  I was actually thrilled with how well it blended the ingredients — even though this Irish Soda Bread dough is kind of “tough” to stir by hand, with the dough whisk, it was much easier.  I doubt I’ll bother to get out the stand mixer next time, but intend to reach for the dough whisk — and that should tell you something.

A Bit of History

So, if you’re wondering the history behind Irish Soda Bread, it became popular during the potato famine, apparently.  I was inspired to share one of our favorite kitchen activities (baking Irish Soda Bread) thanks to Vicky at Mess for Less – she shared their version of Irish Soda bread (which is much fluffier!) along with an anecdote about how the cross on the bread was meant to ward off evil.  Things I did not know!

Update: Another Variation

I have successfully tried a few other variations of Irish Soda Bread.  Sometimes my substitutions are logical, like spelt flour for flour.  Other times, it’s more of a recipe re-invention.  And that’s what this one below is.  I was out of flour and oil (woah, crazy!), but had a box of gluten-free bisquick in the pantry…and we always have butter on hand.  Since I’d promised to bring Irish Soda Bread to a potluck, I decided to give things a shot, after googling “Bisquick Irish soda bread” and finding this Bisquick Irish soda bread recipe.  So here’s my adaption.

Gluten-Free Bisquick Irish Soda Bread


  • 2 c. gluten-free Bisquick
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 6 T. butter, melted
  • 2/3 c. sour milk
  • 2/3 c. dried cherries


  • Combine Bisquick and sugar in bowl.
  • Separately, combine butter and milk, then add to Bisquick mixture.
  • Add dried cherries, and mix well.
  • Press into flattened oval shape on silpat covered baking sheet.
  • Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

I tasted the dough before putting it in the oven, and aside from the textural difference from gluten-free flour, it definitely had the characteristic Irish Soda Bread taste.  I’ll update this post (again) once I know how well the finished product goes over.

Note: I received one or more of the products mentioned in this post for free in exchange for an honest evaluation and review.  The opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Creative-Activities-for-Kids-Monthly-Blog-Hop-300x300Creative Activities for Kids Monthly Blog Hop

Below you will find fabulous creative activities for kids– this month’s theme? Creative St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Kids.

Heart Cracker Crisps

posted in: Notes | 1

Heart Cracker Crisps ...the easiest cracker recipe ever!l have to admit, when I made these crackers I was a bit sad I couldn’t try them (we’re doing the Whole30 this month).  But, my toddler loved the crackers, so they have to be good!

This recipe is so simple you will want to stock up on crackers.  It can be adapted for gluten free too.

So, what did we do?

Well, last month we hosted a number of parties, and we ended up with way too many burger buns.  I went ahead and made croutons with a dozen buns, but still had two dozen left.  What to do…

In my search for recipes to use up bread, I found several suggestions to make crackers.  And so I took that concept and winged it.

First we quartered the buns with a bread knife.  Then, we used a rolling pin to squish and flatten the quartered buns (psst.. lots of fun for toddlers!).  The flattened pieces were then put onto a few baking sheets and drizzled with olive oil.  After a generous sprinkling of salt, I placed the baking sheets in the oven to crisp up.

At this point, you could just eat them as is… but since we’d been reading about Valentine’s Day I decided to indulge my son’s enthusiam and make the crisps into hearts.

Doing so was pretty easy, since we used burger buns – once quartered they are lmost heart shaped.  With a paring knife, I trimmed off the corners of the bun’s outer edge, and then between those two corners I cut out a triangle.

Voila! A heart!

Toby was thrilled.  And he wanted to eat them right then and there.  Based on his enjoyment, I’d surmise that the cracker crisps are deliciously crunchy…

So here’s the recipe.  And make sure to check out the photos further down to see what we did (click any image to open in gallery view mode).

Heart Cracker Crisps Recipe


  • burger buns, bread, etc
  • olive oil
  • sea salt


  • Preheat oven to 200 F
  • Quarter the buns, then press flat or flatten with rolling pin.
  • Place pieces on baking sheets, then drizzle with olive oil (you could spread butter over top instead). Sprinkle with sea salt (or try cinnamon sugar!).
  • Bake until crisp and golden, about 10-20 minutes,checking frequently.
  • Let cool.
  • To make heart shape crackers, cut off corners of rounded edge of cracker, then cut out a triangle between those two corners.

Note: You could adapt this to include cinnamon sugar on top for a sweet treat!  To make gluten free crisps, just use gluten free buns.

So yeah! Three ingredient cracker crisps!  Perfect for any time of the year, or maybe a less sweet alternative to all the Valentine’s Day candy… your choice.

Have you made anything like these before?  Or maybe you have a great recipe for using up leftover bread… share in the comments below!


More Creative Valentine’s Day Activities for Kids:

Creative Valentine's Day Activities for Kids

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat Tonic + Cough Syrup Recipes

posted in: Parenting | 5

bphotoart-sick-bug-banishing-homemade-recipes-I sit here in the house, on New Year’s Eve, thinking that this is kind of ironic. One of goals I had been contemplating for 2015? Take better care of myself. And this morning I woke up without a voice. So, instead of rambling on about my New Year’s resolutions, I figured it would be better to cut to the chase and share some home remedies that seem to be helping my sore throat and sad vocal chords.

The first thing I did, when I felt this sore throat coming on, was to whip up a batch of homemade cough syrup. I found a recipe a while back, maybe from WellnessMama.com, but this is my own improvised take. If you research natural remedies online, you’ll find that honey performs just as well as over the counter cough syrup. And the spices and garlic have natural properties that can help your body get better sooner. It may not taste nice, but it definitely coats my throat, and loosens up any congestion.

Homemade Honey Cough Syrup


  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/8 c. olive oil
  • 1/8 c. warm water
  • 1 T. cayenne pepper
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1 T. ground ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed


Mix the first three ingredients together in a mason jar. Then add the spices and combine well. Finally, stir in the garlic clove. You can use this right away, or wait until the garlic infuses into the concoction. Take by the spoonful, as needed.

Note: this cough syrup is not for kiddos younger than 1 year, due to the honey. Also, for my toddler, I typically make a variant that excludes the cayenne and ginger.


Sick Bug Banishing Throat Tonic

Now, this next concoction was adapted from a recipe on Home Remedies for Laryngitis. It’s a warm beverage you can keep going in a crockpot all day long… with the added bonus of being able to get an aromatic steam breathing session as needed for those poor sinuses. I wasn’t sure what to call this… but it sounded better than “onion, garlic and ginger infused water drink.”


  • 2 vidalia onions
  • 1/2 – 1 head garlic
  • 1″ chunk of ginger root
  • 1-2 quarts water
  • apple cider vinegar


Put water into slow cooker (I love my Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker #afflink) and turn on high. Quarter the onions, peel and lightly crunch the garlic cloves, and grate or slice the ginger root. Add all to the crockpot, cover, and bring to a simmer or boil. While you wait for things to cook, feel free to remove the lid and breathe in the steam (I have even covered the lid with a hand towel to help capture the steam and direct it towards my face (see below).  A note of caution, if you to this — the steam can be hot… so don’t scald yourself!!!

Sick Bug Banishing Homemade Throat + Cough Syrup Recipes

After about 20 minutes, ladle the liquid into your mug. It should have a slight yellow tint by this point and not just be water anymore. Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your mug, and a couple ice cubes if needed. Sip often; refill your mug, adding more apple cider vinegar each time.

The crock pot can be left on all day; you can add more water as necessary.

More Thoughts

Yes, I have more suggestions for you.  Take a look at the ideas below, and also make sure to check out my post: Moms Can’t Get Sick (…yeah, right).

  • Bone Broth — fabulous for anytime, but great for when you’re sick.  It has lots of minerals and will help keep you hydrated
  • Essential Oils – I like to diffuse essential oils with my aromatherapy diffuser — there are a lot of different ones that help with immune strength in general, or you can diffuse an essential oil like eucalyptus, which helps open airways.
  • Sleep — get lots of sleep. Stock up on naps.  Your body needs rest when it’s tired and run down.

It seems like I’m not the only one to let New Year’s Resolutions go by the wayside.  I polled some other bloggers, asking for thoughts on resolutions, if they planned to do anything, or how resolutions have worked out for them in the past.  And here are three responses.

  • In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a wonderful idea. It’s a new year so why not a new you? But life doesn’t work out that way. There’s a reason these resolutions are so easily abandoned. So I don’t make a resolution based on a holiday but rather when I really am ready to make a change. – Jennifer, The Jenny Evolution
  • The only New Year’s resolution I have ever kept is a 30+ year old Jan 1st resolution to never drink Bailey’s Irish Cream again. – Erin, The Usual Mayhem
  • My resolution is not to do any! If I need to change things I try and do it in the here and now! – Maggy, Red Ted Art

So, there you have it.  Some realistic thoughts on the whole New Year’s resolution concept, and hopefully some helpful recipes for the next time you have a sore throat (or lose your voice completely, like I did!).

Do you have any suggestions for helping a sore throat?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Cocoa Salt Dough Ornaments

posted in: Parenting | 1

bphotoart-cocoa-ornaments-Toby was excited to make salt dough ornaments again this year (last year we made gluten-free ornaments during a playdate).  After our Polar Express hot cocoa activity, Toby was ready to write off cocoa powder as being “yuck” …so I decided we would scrap the entry level stuff and just save our Godiva hot cocoa powder #afflink for any future ingestion.

So, what to do with several cups’ worth of cocoa powder no one in our house enjoys?  I suppose I could’ve given it away, but we decided to try our hand at making cocoa powder ornaments.  This is an adaptation of a salt dough recipe I’ve used before.

Cocoa Salt Dough Recipe:


  • 1 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. salt
  • 1 c. water


  • Combine all dry ingredients, mix well.  Add water; blend until well combined.
  • Roll out onto flat surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Transfer to baking sheet.
  • Poke holes for hanging with the end of a chopstick.
  • Bake at 275 F for 30-60 minutes per side, or until dried.
  • Minimize cracking by leaving the ornaments in oven to cool.

So, there you have it.  These ornaments have held up pretty well so far.  I’d say they’re a bit brittle, but maybe that’s just because Toby dropped several on the wood floor and they broke.  Can’t expect them to be unbreakable, right?

You can either thread ribbon through the holes or just use the metal hangers… your choice!  We hung them on the tree with our popcorn garland!

Click on any image to enter gallery view mode.

Making Hot Cocoa – The Polar Express

posted in: Notes | 8

Making Hot Cocoa: A Book-Based Activity (The Polar Express)As I got out our box of Christmas books, seeing The Polar Express #afflink reminded me of the fun times I had as a child making hot cocoa.  And then, I realized that Toby has never made hot cocoa.  Sure, we’ve made warm milk on the stove, and stirred in cinnamon, but that’s not quite the same.  So, for this Christmas Read and Play activity, I decided that our book-based activity would be making hot cocoa.  And reading The Polar Express while drinking it, of course!

So, I gathered our supplies… we filled up the electric tea kettle #afflink (I love this thing!) with water and turned it on.  As the water heated, we got out tea cups, spoons, and hot cocoa powder.  Then finally, I got our our milk (if you store things in mason jars, these pour spout lids #afflink are awesome).

As he always does in the kitchen, Toby had fun scooping, dumping, and stirring the hot cocoa.  I even let him assist with pouring the piping hot water from the kettle into the tea cups (very closely supervised, of course).  Once the hot water and the cocoa were in the cup, Toby stirred vigorously and gleefully.  Once all the powder had been incorporated, I then had him help me pour in some milk to cool it down.  As a side note, next time we do this I may heat the milk on the stove… hot cocoa always tastes richer when made with milk as a base.

Still warm, but now not too hot, Toby’s hot cocoa was ready for tasting.  He had a few sips, and decided it would taste better with raisins in it.  Go figure.  My son loves to experiment in the kitchen, just like his Daddy.

Once the raisins were added, we curled up by the fire with our hot cocoa and our stack of Christmas books.  What fun!



More than 20 bloggers have teamed up to participate in a Christmas read and play blog hop, with holiday-themed activities and crafts based on our favorite Christmas picture books. (#afflinks below)

12+ Recipe Ideas For Thanksgiving Leftovers

posted in: Notes | 2

12+ Recipe Ideas For Thanksgiving LeftoversNow that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we’re always left with the inevitable question of what to do with all those leftovers.  Assuming your have leftovers, that is.  Our family always errs on the side of having too much food.  This year, we had Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house.  And it included a fantastic spread: two turkeys (1 in the oven, 1 smoked), corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy (with and without giblets), rolls, raw vegetables (leftover from earlier in the day), and more.  Despite having just shy of 20 people to share in the feasting, we did indeed have leftovers.

So, what to do with the leftovers?  I’ll share with you my plans, and then make sure to keep reading for more ideas on repurposing those leftovers.

My plan of action for our leftovers for this year?  First of all, don’t throw away those bones!  I always like to keep the bones for making broth or stock.  These actually went in my freezer, as I already had enough broth in my refrigerator.  We also were sent home with leftover turkey — I think we’ll be making stew, maybe some turkey quesadillas  or nachos with turkey.  Here’s my stew recipe.

Thanksgiving Leftover Soup Recipe:

  • 2 c. turkey meat, shredded or cubed
  • 2 c. cooked vegetables (corn, green beans)
  • 1 c. uncooked rice
  • 2 qt. broth (approx.)
  • salt, pepper, to taste

Combine all in a crockpot, adding enough broth to cover all ingredients.  Cook on low for 6 hr or on high for 3 hr, until rice is cooked through.

More ways to use up Thanksgiving leftovers:

And here are some more great ideas for all those Thanksgiving leftovers — you definitely don’t want them to go to waste!

Noodle Entree

We mix about 2 cups of leftover turkey with cream of mushroom soup and soy sauce for a nice main dish to eat over egg noodles. It takes about 10 minutes to put together.

– Ticia, Adventures in Mommydom

Open-Faced Sandwich

We eat open-faced sandwiches for the week. Such a wonderfully indulgent way to enjoy and you can mix ALL of the thanksgiving ingredients together.

– Jenny, The Jenny Evolution


I always have a ton of leftover turkey …I came up with this yummy (and super easy) way to make them into little “pockets” that everyone enjoyed! [turkey pocket recipe]

– Justine, Temecula Qponer


I’m originally from Minnesota and we always make ham and wild rice soup the next day with the leftover ham.

– Amanda, The Educators’ Spin on It

Shepherd’s Pie

I make a few turkey casseroles, maybe a turkey shepherds pie and sandwiches.

– Amy, Umbrella Tree Cafe

Freeze for Later

Leftovers are one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving! If we have an abundance (I’ve been known to overcook), then I will freeze the turkey in quart freezer bags to use in recipes after we’ve gotten over being “over” turkey. If we just have a “normal” amount, they will be lunch or dinner for the next few nights, just as they are.

– Vicki, Simply Vicki


I love this white turkey chili. It is simple (can be adjusted to be made in a crockpot) and is quite delicious.

– Jenni, The Good Long Road


Once we’ve eaten all the turkey I put the bones in the crockpot and cook all day with water and spices to make turkey stock! I freeze it and we can have homemade turkey soup all winter long.

– Laura, Sunny Day Family

Alphabet Soup

Rich turkey stock turned into turkey alphabet soup!

– Jennifer, A glimpse of our life


We like to find ways to use the leftovers for breakfast, lunch and dinner… add leftover ham to a breakfast omelet, make turkey cranberry sandwiches for lunch… for dinner [make] Leftover Turkey Casserole.

– Courtney, The Chirping Moms

We make cheesy bruschetta turkey casserole & crispy ranch potatoes.

– Krystal, My Life of Travels and Adventures

Pot Pie

We use leftovers to make soup and turkey pot pie!

– Beth, 123 Homeschool 4 Me

What about you? do you have any favorite ways to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers?

Peanut Butter & Jelly Dip

posted in: Notes | 0

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe - BPhotoArt.comThe other day, Toby was really interested in having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for snack.  Yes, for snack.  A quick look in our breadbox nixed that plan — we had no bread.  So, I offered peanut butter and apple slices instead.  Well, as you know, toddlers can be quite persistent, so we ended up compromising with peanut butter and jelly on apple slices.

To make it easier to eat, I put the peanut butter in a little bowl, followed by some homemade apple butter.  Toby proceeded to stir the two until well combined.  He then happily dipped his apple slices into the peanut butter jelly dip, thoroughly pleased with our concoction.

Here’s the recipe we ended up with.  Feel free to swap out the peanut butter for another nut butter, or even sunflower seed butter, if you have allergy concerns.


  • 2 T. peanut butter
  • 2 T. homemade apple butter (or jelly)


  • Combine peanut butter and apple butter in bowl; mix until well combined.
  • Enjoy with apple slices, crackers, or whatever your toddler wants to experiment with so far as pairings go.

Initially, I wasn’t really sure that that peanut butter and jelly dip would be a hit, but it was well received.  Here’s a picture of my happy food tester with an apple wedge and his peanut butter jelly dip:

Peanut Butter + Jelly Dip Recipe - BPhotoArt.com

Has your child invented any recipes?  I’d love to hear what wild and crazy concoctions are appealing to other kids.  I know mine has been putting mustard on everything from rice to veggies lately.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins

posted in: Parenting | 1

I have fond memories of carving pumpkins when younger.  At a kitchen table covered with comic pages, we would concoct elaborate designs for our jack o’ lanterns as we scraped out the pumpkin guts and seeds.  Our mom would whisk the seeds away to the oven, roasting them while we carved our pumpkins.  At some point, we’d be asked to pause for a snapshot or two, and once we finished carving pumpkins, the creative masterpieces would be carried carefully out to the front stoop.  I’m sure many of us have similar fond memories of carving pumpkins.  And I want our boys to have the same fond memories of carving pumpkins when they are grown.

6 Tips for Helping Kids Carve Pumpkins - Betsy's Photography - BPhotoArt.comOf course, there’s the whole question of helping kids carve pumpkins — how much should you let them do on their own?  Last year, our pumpkins were object-specific.  Toby wasn’t really at the point of designing yet, so he gave input on the things to be carved.  We ended up carving a tractor, a block letter for our favorite sports team, and called it good at that.

This year, Toby was ready to do the whole carving pumpkin thing himself. …well, aside from touching the pumpkin guts.  For whatever reason he hated the slimy feel.  i wasn’t ready to let him do everything on his own, but set him loose on the pumpkins to create designs — with no restrictions.  he got to help me cut some of the holes, but most of his time actually carving pumpkins was spent waiting for me to finish cutting so he could poke out the pumpkin pieces.

It was great to see his creativity come alive as he told me about his designs.  We had 5 pumpkins this year — two gifted to us by our neighbors, another two from grandma.  Here’s what he designed, from left to right:

  • a bear with ears and a toothy grin (the teeth were added midway through carving).
  • an alien monster, with many eyes and mouths all over.
  • an angry face (he let me draw this one).
  • a silly face with a really big mouth, and an almost forgotten nose.  This one also had a baby on the side, go figure.
  • a happy face – 2 eyes, a noes, and a mouth.

Toby was thrilled with our activity, the fact he got to design everything himself was a big selling point.  When Daddy came in from cleaning the garage, Toby proudly showed off the pumpkins we’d made.  And, of course, we enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds too (recipe later on).

Now let’s get to those 6 tips for helping kids carve pumpkins I’ve promised you!  These are geared towards helping your child feel “in charge” while keeping things safe.  Because that’s part of helping kids carve pumpkins — making sure they’ do so safely.

1. Don’t micromanage your child

It’s amazing how many times I catch myself about to direct my son’s activity in a certain way.  It’s a force of habit, but one I try to curb.  I’d much rather Toby create something from his own ability and thought process, rather than draw within the lines of my constraints.  It’s like process art vs. paint by number. Process art lets creativity shine.  So set back and don’t micromanage when carving pumpkins with your child.  Who cares if the smile is crooked, or missing a tooth?

2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.

While I’m all for letting kids do things themselves, there is an age appropriateness factor.  My son has been practicing knife skills for quite some time, but I decided it wasn’t time yet for him to saw the openings in the pumpkin.  Maybe next year.  So to keep him involved, I let him place his hand on top of mine as I sawed; he also “held” the pumpkin steady for me while I sawed (hands far away from the blade).  You know your child — go with your gut and keep thing safe.

3. Invite your child to draw a design on the pumpkin.

And then step back and watch.  Ask open-ended questions if you want, but try understand your child’s creation from their point of view, rather than making assumptions or guesses.  I gave Toby a permanent marker and let him have at it.  He drew swirly spiraling circles for eyes, lines for ears, and chicken-scratch noses.  It’s ok if there are too many lines (I’ll address that in the next tip).

4. Have your child direct you which lines to cut.

Toby pointed out the lines I should cut — I followed one of the many lines for the eyes to make a shape that approximated his abstract swirls.  The mouth I followed, to an extent — suggesting we shorten it so the pumpkin didn’t fall apart on us.

5. Don’t be afraid to improvise.  Follow your child’s lead.

We added teeth midway through our bear pumpkin carving — Toby was thrilled with the design change.  It may not have been on his drawn design, but that’s ok.  I let him call the shots as we carved the pumpkins.

6. Have no expectations.

Having no expectations really freed me to enjoy the whole experience.  And I have to say, I love the results.  The pumpkins that Toby and I carved are whimsical, creative, and definitely not run of the mill.  The most standard one is the baby pumpkin that I carved… how uncreative of me, right?  But that’s the thing.  As adults, we have preconceptions of how things are supposed to look.  Kids are often free from those constraints — it lets their creativity flourish.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Now, as promised, here’s my recipe for delicious roasted pumpkin seeds.  Or, one of my recipes… I have a few variations!  There’s no measuring, you do everything by feel and to your preference.

  • pumpkin seeds
  • olive oil
  • sea salt

First, separate the seeds from the guts.  I tend to leave some of the slime on the seeds, but you can rinse it off if you want.  I add enough olive oil to coat the seeds, then sprinkle generously with sea salt.  Then it’s into the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30-40 min, stirring after the first 15 min and then every 5 thereafter.  They’re done once the pumpkin seeds no longer are wet, and the pan has no remaining oil or liquid on the bottom.  Usually by this point, mine are nicely golden brown, or even a little darker.  Enjoy once they’ve cooled enough to handle!

I’ve also added seasonings with much success — one of our favorites is Italian seasoning sprinkled over top.

One of Toby's drawings on a pumpkin
One of Toby’s drawings on a pumpkin
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Removing the cut out pumpkin pieces
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
Excited to show off his first pumpkin!
The pumpkin carver and his creations
The pumpkin carver and his creations
Pumpkins with the lights out
Pumpkins with the lights out
And a close-up of the glowing faces
And a close-up of the glowing faces

Frank Asch Inspired Popcorn Bars (GF, Refined Sugar Free)

posted in: Parenting | 2

Frank Asch Inspired Popcorn Bars - GF, refined sugar free - bphotoart.com

While this problem doesn’t usually occur when we make popcorn, every so often, we do have leftovers after popcorn night.  And when we do, I’m reminded of the Frank Asch Bear Book: Popcorn #afflink.  In the story, Sam, little bear invites his friends over for a Halloween party and everyone brings popcorn kernels.  They dump all the kernels in a big pot… and needless to say, they make a lot of popcorn.  So much, in fact that the house gets filled up.

Popping corn? Great idea.  That much?  Nope.

The story culminates with Sam and his friends eating all the popcorn to “clean up” the house.  As you can imagine, they we’re really keen to eat more popcorn anytime soon.

So back to the topic of our leftover popcorn.  The other day, when at the grocery store, I had a hankering for rice cakes.  Sadly, they were all out.  As we got home and were putting away groceries, I got to thinking — What if I could make popcorn cakes?  Well, a recipe search online yielded nothing but desserts in that category, so I switched to looking for popcorn snack bars.  Most of the recipes used refined sugar, which I can’t have.  So I asked my toddler, Toby, if he we should make popcorn bars… and he said “yes!”

I like to pair activities with books, so of course we decided to make popcorn bars and read Frank Asch’s book while waiting to eat them.


Popcorn Bar Recipes

After an extensive hunt for a recipe that used honey or something other than refined sugar to make popcorn snack bars… and here is what I came up with! I used several recipes as inspiration (see below), but ultimately ended up improvising — something I seem to do in the kitchen a  lot lately.

So, what ended up going into our popcorn bars?  Obviously popcorn, but then I ended up using a combination of honey and peanut butter as a binder to hold the bars together.  For those with peanut allergies, another nut butter, or even a seed butter, could be used interchangeably.

We ended up with two variations, one that is more like a Rice Krispie treat in concept, and another that is more like a snack bar.  The nutty sweetness came through much more strongly in the treat version;the snack bar version held together better but the popcorn’s presence was muted.

Before starting on our recipes, we first made popcorn using our Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper #afflink.  Toby loves this thing.

Then, it was time to get cooking…

Peanut Butter Popcorn Treat


  • 8 c. popcorn (plain)
  • 3/4 c. nuts
  • 3/4 c. dried fruit
  • 3/4 – 1 c. honey
  • 1 1/4 c. nut butter

Combine the popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit in a large mixing bowl (we used one with a lid so it could be shaken later).

Heat honey and nut butter (in microwave or on stove) until runny; stir until well combined. Pour over top of popcorn mix, put lid on bowl, and shake well for a minute or until well coated.

Using a spatula, spoon out into a greased baking dish — size will depend on desired thickness of the bars (we used a 9×13 pan and a 11×9 pan). Cover top with parchment paper and press mixture down well.
Put into oven at 350 for 10-20 minutes.
Let cool, then cut into bars and serve or store.

Peanut Butter Popcorn Snack Bar

  • 8 c. popcorn (plain), crushed
  • 3/4 c. nuts (we used pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
  • 3/4 c. dried fruit (we used raisins)
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1 1/2 c. nut butter (we used peanut)
  • 1/4 c. flax seed
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 c. kefir
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 T. coconut flour
  • 1 t. salt

Combine the popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, flax/date paste in a large mixing bowl.  Heat honey, nut butter, and butter (in microwave or on stove) until runny; stir until well combined.  Pour over top of popcorn mix, combine thoroughly.

Using a spatula, spoon out into a parchment-lined baking dish — size will depend on desired thickness of the bars (we used a 9×13 pan and a 11×9 pan). Cover top with parchment paper and press mixture down well –  we used a meat pounder to tamp it down… very fun for my toddler.  If your little one helps, put a small cutting board down so you don’t end up with deep pits in the bars.  Put into oven at 350 for 13 minutes.  Remove, press/tamp down again.

Let cool; break into pieces.  Beat egg well, add kefir.  Coat popcorn pieces with egg mixture, add coconut flour and combine well; spread into baking dish.  Bake 20 min at 350 F.  Cool, cut into bars and serve or store.

Taste Testing + A Verdict?

Well, our first batch looked delicious while cooling.  So delicious, in fact, that my toddler called both of his grandmas to invite them over for popcorn.  However, these bars were a little fragile; they crumbled easily. Our second version held together better, but it was more of a general snack bar rather than a pocorn bar.  If I were to try things a third way, using ground flax seed as binder, like in this popcorn granola squares recipe… might have been a good choice.

But, like Sam in Frank Asch’s Popcorn book, I’m sick of popcorn …bars.  We did a lot of taste testing and I’m calling it quits for the day.  Regardless of how our kitchen experiments turned out, someone had fun in the kitchen.

Halloween Read and Play Blog Hop

This post is part of an AWESOME Halloween Read and Play Blog Hop.  Make sure to check out the other book based activities from fantastic bloggers!

Halloween Books with extension activity ideas (link to book on Amazon in parentheses, #afflinks).  Links below will open in a new window for your convenience.

Some other Halloween books: