Fab at five

My baby turned 5 yesterday. It's so hard to believe that it has been 5 years since this little fiery redhead burst his way into the world two weeks early. He just couldn't wait for 2005 to roll in, I suppose. That's just him - always ready for new adventures. His fierce independence and strong will certainly shook up our quiet little home. But that's what I love most about Finn, aside from the most charming grin ever! 

The birthday tradition around our home is the birthday boy, or girl, gets to choose the menu for his or her birthday dinner. How ironic, that with one severely dairy-allergic boy, that this one would be so in love with cheese it has become a little worrisome. We don't often have cheesy-type dishes for dinner around here, but as birthday tradition dictates, Finn chose his favourite lasagne and caesar salad for dinner. So in honour of Finny's 5th, I thought I would share the recipe. I also thought I would leave you with this fun song from the Evaporators called Addicted to Cheese and dedicate to all you other cheese addicts out there. Happy New Year everyone!

Vegetable Lasagne
1 bunch of broccoli blanched and roughly chopped
4 green onions sliced
1 C chopped mushrooms
1/4 C finely chopped basil
2 C ricotta cheese
2 C grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese, saving enough to sprinkle on the top
Salt and pepper to taste
1 jar tomato sauce
12 lasagne noodles (enough to make three layers)
Boil noodles. Mix together broccoli, green onions, mushrooms, basil, cheeses, and salt and pepper. Spoon enough tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish to cover. Place enough noodles on the bottom to cover and scoop half of vegetable mixture onto noodles. Add another layer of noodles and cover with remaining mixture. Add final layer of noodle and top with tomato sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20 mins. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 mins. 


Oh Christmas twig...

We put up our Christmas twig last week. That's right, our Christmas twig. A humble limb that was rescued from our yard, debarked, spray painted silver and dressed up to resemble a festive evergreen. This is the third Christmas this silvery twig has sat in the corner of our living room, taking up little room (which is a bonus for our tiny space) but emitting a more brilliant, concentrated glow. I wasn't so sure about this here twig when Nate first dragged it in from the yard after it fell to the ground during a wicked winter storm. He insisted it become our Christmas tree that year and promised to dress it up right for the holidays. Who am I to argue the creative process - I gave in. He's in charge of decorating it each Christmas and I'm really starting to enjoy its crooked stature and quirky naturalness. A tree only a mother could love. Happy holidays everyone.


Christmas card swap

I swear we are going to be sweeping up silver sparkles well into 2010, but what fun we have had getting our handmade Christmas cards ready for the Kids Craft Weekly Christmas card swap! Nate cut out the trees from some beautiful dark green kimono fabric I have had sitting around forever (unfortunately, my bad-lighting photography doesn't do it justice!) and Finn drew on the tree trunks. After the brief photo shoot, Nate decided they weren't quite done and added silver sparkles to the bottom of each. The sparkles added a really nice touch to the cards (he has such a great crafty eye!), and a nice new shimmer to the kitchen floor! Now the cards are off in the post heading to such exotic locations as Australia, Indonesia, and Ohio, adding sparkle to kitchen floors around the world. And now we wait to receive our cards from said exotic locations. Oh, I can't wait to see what other crafty kids from across the globe have done! Don't you just love getting mail?! Fun mail - not the kind of mail that either requires you to fork over your hard-earned money to keep the lights on, or the junk mail that tells you that two can dine for $9.99. But real mail that someone actually took the time to write and drive all the way to the post office to mail out. This activity has me thinking about forgoing the traditional I'm-going-to-lose-a-few-pounds-and-get-healthy New Year's resolution (I'm not going to lie, it never really worked anyway!) and trade it in for a more attainable resolution of bringing back letter writing. Watch your post boxes in 2010!


Trying to work from home

I attempted to work from home one day recently - the boys had a PD Day and we were stuck at the last minute with no one to watch them for the day. I don't like to bring my work home with me, but there were things that needed to be done, deadlines to meet, projects to be completed. While I envisioned a very productive day without the office buzz of distractions, I couldn't have been more wrong. For some reason, a laptop set up at the kitchen table was a novelty for Finny that needed to be explored. And while he wasn't glued to my side asking 'what does that button do?', the two boys were at each other like rival sports teams that I was doing a poor job of refereeing. It was going to be one of those days. Out..get outside...and don't come back until you fill a bucket full of nature. It bought me some time and worked at refocusing their energies. Back they came with everything they would need to get crafty (and after getting most of my work done, I was ready to get crafty too!). This was a simple fall wreath cut out of cardboard that they each hot-glued their nature finds onto. 

Enjoy the last bits of fall!


102 years...

I had a really hard time writing this post. G's Gramma Z passed away this weekend. She was in her 103rd year. Yes, that's right, she was 102 years old. Incredible! SHE was incredible! Never have I met a person with so much strength and determination; with so much faith and hope. But how do you properly honour a life that has spanned more than a century? She was born before the inventions of ball point pens and zippers, before microwave ovens, computers, and cell phones. It's astounding to think of all of the things that have happened in the last 100 years.  In her lifetime, she lived through two world wars, crossed the Atlantic Ocean with her husband and four young boys to make a new home in Canada, and suffered the tragic losses of her husband and son in quick succession. Yet she lived life to the fullest and lived for every moment she could. I can't get enough of these old photos and wanted to share just a couple from her life - the top is one of her and her husband and the second photograph of her, at right, with friends. Both photos taken in the Netherlands. Below is a photo taken in Canada four years ago during the 60th anniversary celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands - still standing tall and strong and ready to take in all that life had to offer.

She was always ready for competition (she did not like to lose in card games!) and accepted any challenge that came her way.  It was well into her late 90s, before her hands could no longer manage the crochet hook they held for so many years, that she made 100 afghans in one year to warm those in need. She was an amazing crafter and a true inspiration.  As family gathered over the weekend to honour her passing, I looked around my home and admired the hand-crocheted doilies and the handmade socks and the knit stuffed mice she loved to make and lovingly gave to each grandchild - pieces of her that I will pass on to my children, her great-grandchildren. She is here and will never be forgotten.


Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about you!

I've been so crazy busy getting ready for next weekend's Frederick Art Walk in Kitchener, I haven't popped in lately to say hello! So I thought I would just quickly stop by to leave you a recipe - one of my favourites! Fruit crisps are one of the easiest desserts to adapt to anyone's dietary needs. It has been a staple in our house and has seen many different variations adapted from my Aunt Sylvia's apple crisp recipe. Here is the original recipe - we use dairy-free margarine and spelt or rice flour and it tastes just as yummy! Even yummier with a scoop of maple-flavoured soy ice cream on the side!

Aunt Sylvia's Apple Crisp
4-6 apples sprinkled with a spoonful or two of white sugar and 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Place in square 8x8 baking dish and combine:
1/4 C butter
3/4 C brown sugar
3/4 C flour
1/2 C oatmeal
Sprinkle on top of apples and bake at 350F for about 30 mins.


I feel like a stuffed turkey...

...but with friends and family, and food and drink, there is so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. I will be especially thankful if I can still fit into my pants by week's end! 

Our weekend was filled with the colours, and tastes, and smells of autumn. We were extremely thankful the weather cooperated enough (They were calling for snow earlier in the week! Eeks!) for us to visit Apple Park to pick out some pumpkins to carve with cousins at our family Thanksgiving feast. I can't get enough of those colours!! 

I don't think these poor pumpkins know what's coming...

Cousin Chloe insisted on using a spoon to clean out her pumpkin guts because "I'm a girl, and girls don't use their hands," she proclaimed. But she relented (the spoon was taking too long!) and got down and dirty with those boys!

Three little pumpkins standing in a row...Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Gettin' crafty!

Just over a year ago, after finding myself suddenly unemployed and looking for inexpensive ways to gift the loves of my life, I made a commitment to do so by making everything myself. Inspired by some pretty amazing craft bloggers out there in the ether,  I vowed to make use of every pogey-supported minute (while I wasn't looking for a job, of course!) and get crafty! I dusted off my rarely-used sewing machine and got busy whipping up bags with openings partially sewn together (I think Auntie Nessa is still carrying hers around that way!) and dresses with crooked hems - no, they weren't perfect, but I did it! I made them all myself and it felt so good to give away something that I actually made with my very own hands!! Over the year my sewing skills had no where to go but up - my seams are getting straighter and my seam ripper is...well, I'm not sure exactly where it is because it's been awhile since I've needed it! So I wanted to share my latest creation - the picnic blanket shown above. It was made as a wedding gift for dear friends who recently got married (Congratulations Dominique and Dave!). It was inspired by this post here but I made the squares 12"x12" and did 5 rows of 5 squares. And as I sit here on this frightful day, I'm already planning on whipping up one for myself for warm summer picnics on the beach! 


Leave the haircuts to the professionals

We've let our guard down a little around our house lately. It's been ages since we've had to worry about accidents with scissors, so we started to get careless about where we left them. Surely my kids were past the stage of playing hairdresser, right? Wrong! Earlier this week our little ginger-haired moppet got a hold of a misplaced pair of scissors and thought it would be great fun to cut a chunk out of the front of his hair. He actually came to me with said chunk of hair and asked if I would add it to the small baggy of hair we have from his first haircut. Yes, my heart melted at such cuteness, but this needed to be fixed immediately! So instead of taking him to a hairdresser to fix it properly and professionally, I thought I could fix it myself!! One wiggly four-year-old + one inexperienced mama = one ginger-haired mess! Now he is fighting going to the hairdresser and picture day at school is next week!! Yikes! Would love to hear your bad haircut stories!


It's been a slow weekend around here! I'm afraid the first colds of the season have befallen us - well Finn and I anyway! I wonder, how is it that a four-year-old can bounce back so quickly!!?? I've been dragging myself around all weekend sniffling and aching and just all-around miserable! So it was pretty timely that my good friend Nelda posted on her blog Staying Healthy in the Autumn Season. There are some yummy recipes that I can't wait to try to strengthen my system - for I know this is only the beginning for snotty-nosed kindergartners swapping their germs! Brace yourselves!!

By Sunday, I was ready to drag myself off the couch to soak up the last hours of summer, and the few remaining weekends of flea marketing!

The above vendor is one of the boys' favourites! Too many fun things to look through - so hard to choose just one!

But it was the wide variety of books that caught Nate's attention - and what better than a book about drawing dinosaurs? We did leave with a few good reads that we will tuck away for a rainy day when we want to remember warm summer days of treasure hunting up on the Square!


What's for dinner?

Dinner time is a pretty important time of day in our house. Mornings are so hectic as we run around trying to get ourselves ready and out the door on time while trying to maintain our sanity! But it is at supper time that we can reconnect and share our day's experiences over a nutritious meal. It is our family time and enjoying it over wholesome food, well, what could be better? 

I'm sure for most of us out there, cooking at the end of a long work day is a dreaded task. It is easier to grab for the pre-packaged convenience food, and there are many nights when I wish I could go this route. But, as I've mentioned before, with the food allergies in our house, this just isn't possible. So I have a rotation of quick and easy meals that I thought I would regularly share through this space - hopefully to inspire homecooking on a weeknight! The following recipe came together as a mix of the fresh peppers and onions we had in the garden, the homemade salsa that I just can't seem to get enough of, and the bags of tortillas we found stuck to the bottom of our freezer. This dish was made pretty quickly and was perfect served with a garden salad. In no time at all, you will have a nutritious and delicious dinner that I hope your family will love! 

So here's the recipe for this yet-unnamed-dish:

1 chicken breast
1 can of black beans
1 onion
1 green or red pepper
2-3 cloves of garlic
cilantro to taste
18-20 tortillas (corn or flour)
1-2 cups of salsa
Cheddar Cheese (optional)
Plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut chicken into strips and fry in a little olive oil until no longer pink. Add sliced onions and peppers, and minced garlic. Fry until soft and add rinsed black beans. Line baking dish with a thin layer of salsa and one layer of tortillas. Top with half of the chicken and veggie mixture, and enough salsa to cover. Add another layer of tortillas and top with remaining chicken and veggie mixture and salsa. Add one more layer of tortillas and top with salsa to cover and cheese if allowed. Bake about 15 mins. If baking without cheese, cheese can be added individually afterwards for those in your family who are able to eat dairy. Top with yogurt, if allowed.


Before & After

This, believe it or not, was once a curtain. Pretty funky, non? I can only imagine its brightness led to a few sleepless nights for the child who had this hanging in his or her bedroom, thereby leading his or her parents to dump it at their local Salvation Army. As a regular visitor to my local Salvation Army, I was overjoyed when I found this vibrant swath of canvasy-type material, and I knew that one day it would serve a greater purpose in our lives. Well, this unfortunate curtain has been reborn...
...into this lunchbag that Finny has been toting to SK for the past week. What I love about it, besides the lack of the nasty (and I'm quite sure, toxic) smell of new vinyl, is that it is completely washable. One of my least favourite chores was opening my kids' lunchboxes at the end of a school day to get a whiff of vinyl and spilled apple juice that has soaked through to the foam insulator - that smell lasts the entire school year! So I wanted to make an easy-to-wash, good-for-the-environment, healthy-for-kids alternative. The dimensions I used can be found here, and to this pattern I added a mesh water bottle holder to the side, and easy-to-carry handles to the top. Don't worry, there is plenty of curtain left - hmm, lunchbags for all??


School is back in session!!

Flashback to back-to-school 2008 - Nate and Finny both look so bright-eyed and eager to learn!! And so much younger! Really, where has the time gone?

Flash forward to back-to-school 2009! Notice anything missing? It seems that adolescent body snatchers snuck in over night, took my 8-year-old and left us with teenage attitude that refused to be photographed before heading off to Grade 3. You pick your battles, right?  But Finny was eager to pose for a photo before he headed off to join his friends in the kindergarten sandbox! Thankfully our day ended better than it began as it seems the attitude was left behind on the school playground! Happy back-to-school everyone!


Zoet alors! Can you believe how quickly summer has passed us by? It seems that we haven't had nearly enough beach time this summer for that to be so! But the kids are breaking in their new backpacks and trying on their back-to-school outfits in preparation for the first day of school on Tuesday. (Already??!!)

While it has been far too many years since I can even remember getting a new backpack for a new school year, September always brings out in me a desire to start something new - whether it's signing up for a new art class, joining a new group, or starting this blog! I have been wanting to start this blog for some time now, but I wasn't sure how to start or what the focus would be. I had originally intended to focus on our family's struggles with food allergies, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these food allergies (although a challenge in the beginning) have turned out to be anything but a struggle. They have been an inspiration! Having to do all of our own baking and cooking has shaped our family from one that easily relied on the conveniences of our modern lives to one that has come to rely on the gifts of our own hands. Using these gifts in the kitchen has spilled over into the rest of our lives and it is here that I will chronicle our journey as a handmade home.

I must first explain the name I have given this blog, Zoet (zoot) alors!: I'm sure most of us remember learning our first French expletive - zut alors! Well, sometimes life needs an expletive or two, and with a family name of Zoethout, well, the play on words seemed perfect!

I'm going to leave you with a recipe that will be a perfect treat to add to a back-to-school lunch! This recipe saved our lives so many years ago when our son Nate was diagnosed with severe dairy and egg allergies. In fact, the entire book, The Parent's Guide to Food Allergies, where this recipe came from, saved our lives! But it was this recipe that helped us to realize that yes, we can make safe, yummy alternatives for our son. Warning - these cookies do not last long!!

World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 C margarine
1/2 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 C flour (spelt and rice flours work equally well in this recipe if you are trying to keep wheat out of your diet)
Mix together in a small bowl before adding to dough:
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp water
1/2 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together margarine and sugar. Add vanilla, baking soda and flour. Mix in baking powder mixture. Add chocolate chips. Drop onto cookie sheets and bake about 10-12 mins. or until golden.