If you've ever been worried about letting your kids see you upset, lest you traumatize them by exposing them to the woes of adulthood, let me assure you - they'll be fine.

Eloise: Mommy, are you sad?

Me: A little bit honey, but I'm okay.

Eloise: Is it because the bell on your bike doesn't make a pretty sound? 

Now I have TWO things to cry about. Stupid ancient bicycle bell. Not even a three year old finds you charming. And as for the first thing I was crying about, let's just say I stubbed my toe. It hurts like hell.
Ok, so by "risotto" I actually mean overcooked soggy rice. Because that's how it came about. But it's kind of the same thing, and still tastes delicious.


1 cup brown rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 T butter
1/2 tsp salt

1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/4 cup water
1/2 cups almonds
1 onion, chopped
1 T canola oil
1 tsp sesame oil
(I would have liked to have added red pepper and carrots, but Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare this day.)

For the sauce, mix together:
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
2 T soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 T rice wine vinegar

Bring the first four ingredients to a boil and then simmer with the lid on for 30-40 min until the rice is tender. There should still be some water remaining in the pot.

Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium heat, add your broccoli and water to the pan. Cover with a lid (I use a baking sheet, cause we damn classy) and steam for 5 minutes until the water is evaporated. Remove broccoli and set aside.

Add your oils to the pan, along with the onions and almonds. Stir fry until the onions are translucent. Add your broccoli back to the pan and add the sauce. Stir to coat. Turn heat off, and go check on your rice.

Take you lid off your rice, turn the heat up a bit and stir until no water remains. 

Plate your rice, top with your broccoli mix and pour over some sauce. Yummy. A very comforting and healthy meal with minimal effort. 

I think it must be some kind of cosmic joke that I've ended up in a place saturated with playgrounds. It's no secret that I've disliked taking the kids to the park. It's not that I've wanted to deprive them, it's more that I didn't want to deprive myself. Parks are boring for the adult (this adult), unless you're willing to get sand in your toes while your kids yell at you to push them higher and higher on a swing.  
But, these parks are different. Nary a swing in sight, they're amusement parks. And they serve booze. It's a perfect mix for all involved and happens to be something that I wholeheartedly stand behind.  
Happy little chicks. And a happy husband, who loves to climb trees. How could he resist this rope monstrosity? He couldn't. 
This park was in Genk, in Belgium. It was a very worthwhile stop between home and holiday. The restaurant even served bitterballen, so that made for a very happy family of four.

On the flip side, we chose to stop in Arnhem in the Netherlands on our way back home. The Hoge Veluwe National Park was so vast and breathtaking. They are famous for their free white bikes that you can hop on and off of as you attempt to tour the 5000 hectares of unique land. 
Also inside the park you find the Müller Museum, home to an incredible collection of works by Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. The gallery space is my dream home. Nestled into the woods, its enormous glass windows made me slightly week in the knees. It was the highlight of the park for me.
And then, like all things, our vacation was over. All my fretting was for naught. Our days were a happy mix of children's activities, relaxing family time, and a little indulgence for the adults. All smiles and sunsets. Except for the getting lost every day part. That really sucked.




In Flanders fields, the poppies grow. Or, on the edge of the road outside of Brugge. Either way they're beautiful.
Our "city day" brought us to the medieval Brugge. It's beautiful, but crammed to the top with tourists (yes, us included) and more lace and chocolate shops than you can shake a stick at. It's picture postcard perfect. And that, my friends, is illiteration.
Brugge means bridges in either Dutch or Flemish, and the city is known as the Venice of the North. Which reminds me that Hamburg is known as the Venice of Germany. Maybe we should just leave Venice alone, no?
Remember how everyone stopped calling themselves tourists and insisted they were travellers instead? Well, we went waaaaay back and did some bone fide sight-seeing. We were shameless. Camera bag strapped across the chest, anyone?
We skipped the lace & chocolate and headed straight towards the home goods. There were a few gems. At the risk of sounded extra obnoxious, did you know there was a ZARA home store?!? Eloise fell in love with a beaded tassel and tried her best at convincing us of the necessity of owning it.
"I need purple hair" didn't quite cut it. 

I adored this kitchen store, the name of which is failing me. Something & Something, for sure. I bought the red & white twine for brown paper packages needing to be tied up with string. And Aaron was the lucky recipient of some fancy Belgian pancake mix.
Our feet aching and faces a little dewy, we stopped for a drink and a snack before crossing our final bridge back to the car. Our nice, air conditioned car that would endure us getting horribly lost through back-country roads. I have never heard so much early 90s soft rock, not even in the early 90s. The Belgians sure have a thing for Billy Joel. 




The beach. Oh the longing, I had no idea. The temperature was 30+ degrees and no sign of rain for days to come. Salty water, plenty of shell hunting, a few sand castles rounded out the best days of our holiday. 
Practically a private beach, little nooks were carved out in the dunes for you to have your own little spot to relax, or hide your pasty white thighs from the general public. Your choice. 
We spent one day on the Belgian coast, the next on the Dutch side. In Belgium, the girls and I played in tide pools and collected mussels. In Holland, the girls and I played in tide pools and collected soft shell crabs. So yeah, there wasn't much of a difference. Except that they did become mermaids in Holland. 
Happy little mermaids, I might add.
If you've ever wanted to drop everything and buy a ramshackle home in the country, Flanders is your place. Open skies, meadows of wildflowers, pet goats. It can all be yours.
We were looking for an inexpensive vacation, to a place within driving distance, and this farm near the Dutch border ticked off all our little boxes. We were able to tour around and return to our little bit of peace and quiet at the end of the day. The girls were all too happy to give goats (Max & Max) their evening treat, even if it meant dodging angry geese to do so.
Part of our welcome package was a box of cat food. Eloise & Claudia waited patiently for the ten barn cats to make their arrival. 
It was worlds away from the city we left and as far as I can tell, we're all rested and restored. The experience made me wax nostalgia about my Grandparent's farm, and I'm glad that the girls got to experience some of what made my childhood so memorable. If it weren't for the rooster waking us up at 5:30 in the morning, I'd say it was a pretty damn near perfect holiday.
We're heading on holiday this weekend, to the Belgian countryside. We're so goddamn authentic, we even booked ourselves into a private cottage on a working farm. The promise of fresh air, sunshine and breakfast with free range eggs had me swooning. I was going to make flower wreath headdresses for the girls and we would lay and look at cloud formations. In my mind it looked a little something like this.
We're not off to a good start. The girls, despite all their charms, are becoming fire breathing dragons before my eyes. The whining, my ears are bleeding. It is a chorus out of tune and there is no sign of intermission. But I digress. We're going to have a good time!!! With your help!

What are your go-to tricks for taking trips with kids? What do you pack? Is it Raffi on the radio for 3 hours straight? Is it just a simple matter of giving up the image in your head and letting whatever is going to happen, happen?

Any advice is appreciated. At the moment my visual is one of a padded barrel heading over Niagara Falls. I'd really prefer the original, pastoral one though. Sigh.
I have a dear obsession with orchard fruits. I can't wait to be be back in Ontario, travelling down Highway 8 from Hamilton to Niagara. My home girl Babcia beside me, talking about how much the road has changed from when she moved there 60 years ago. It will officially be summer when I bite into a fragrant peach, my hands sticky from the juice. Until then, cherries will fit the bill. Fresh from the market, they're as delicious and sweet as can be. 
This recipe from Lidia Bastianich sounds like a dream, and I plan on making it before the short cherry season is up. I think I'll skip the hand made pastry and go for the ready made stuff though. For the pastry recipe and to see a picture of the finished dessert, go to the link at the bottom of the page.

Ricotta and Cherry Strudel

The filling
Breadcrumb mixture

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unflavored dry breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons sugar

Ricotta filling
2 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably large-curd)
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, pitted, drained, juices reserved, or two (12-ounce) packages frozen dark sweet pitted cherries (about 3 cups), thawed, drained, juices reserved
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons maraschino liqueur or Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Powdered sugar

The filling
The strudel dough is sprinkled with a breadcrumb mixture and topped with drained ricotta cheese and drained cherries. The remaining cherries and juices are turned into a cherry sauce.

Breadcrumb Mixture
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs; stir constantly until light golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 6 tablespoons sugar; cool.

Ricotta filling
1. Line large strainer with double layer of cheesecloth; set over deep bowl. Place ricotta cheese in strainer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (liquid will drain from cheese; discard liquid). Transfer cheese to clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

2. Using electric mixer, beat 1 3/4 cups sugar and 3 tablespoons butter in medium bowl. Add eggs, 1 at a time; beat until smooth and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Add drained ricotta, lemon peel, orange peel, and vanilla; beat just until blended. Refrigerate filling while preparing cherries and rolling out dough.

1. Stir drained cherries and 11/2 cups reserved juices, 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, and liqueur in medium bowl; set aside at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

2. Drain cherry mixture, reserving liquid. Place 2 cups cherries on layers of paper towels; reserve remaining 1 cup cherries for sauce.

3. Transfer reserved cherry liquid to small saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in reserved 1 cup cherries. Cool sauce completely.

The dough
Strudel Shortcut
No time for making dough? Follow recipe as directed but replace the strudel dough with purchased thawed frozen phyllo sheets. You will need 32 thawed frozen phyllo sheets (14x9-inch size) from one 16-ounce package and 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted. Place large kitchen towel on work surface. Slightly overlap four 14x9-inch phyllo sheets, forming 22x17-inch rectangle atop towel. Brush with butter. Repeat 7 more times with remaining phyllo and butter, forming 8 layers total. Assemble as directed with prepared breadcrumb mixture, ricotta filling, and cherries. Roll up strudel; brush with butter. Bake at 375°F until phyllo is golden, about 1 hour.

Putting it together
Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush 18x12-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. 

Brush dough with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over dough, leaving 1 1/2-inch border on all sides. Starting at long side closest to you, about 2 inches from edge of dough, spoon ricotta mixture lengthwise in 3-inch-wide log, leaving 3-inch plain border on short sides. Press 2 cups drained cherries lightly into top of ricotta mixture, spacing evenly.

Roll up
Starting at long side closest to you, fold up dough over filling. Gradually roll up strudel, enclosing filling completely. Fold short ends of dough under; pinch to seal.

using towel as aid, transfer strudel to prepared baking sheet, seam side down and bending into crescent or horseshoe to fit sheet. Brush 2 tablespoons melted butter over strudel. Cut several 1-inch-long 1/8-inch-deep slits along top.

Place strudel in oven; reduce temperature to 375°F. Bake until firm and light golden, about 1 hour. (strudel may crack and juices may spill onto sheet). Run thin knife under strudel to loosen. Cool on sheet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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God bless Kindergarten and sunshine. We're being deprived of both at the moment, and we're scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to do at home. Luckily, Claudia uttered the magic word - forts - and an afternoon was made.
This is actually an ice cave, with ice crystals hidden in nooks and crannies. Because we're super duper parents and inspire the girls with National Geographic articles. Speaking of scraping the bottom of the barrel, can you tell I'm doing the same with this blog? I need to get outside.
Fucking puppets. Some, I can handle. Sesame Street is pretty good. The Muppets are iffy. But marionettes in dingy clothes and dangly arms, eyes protruding for effect, is not good for me at all. My teeth grit, my jaw hurts, I am an incapable coping machine.

But, I love my children. Even on summer holiday I still love my children. And my husband loves free, zero down, family entertainment. 
So, we take the kids to the puppet show. 30 other parents bring their respective 2 and a half kids to the puppet show. The Story of Captain Red Bill was supposed to be outside, where I could safely divert my eyes elsewhere. But oh, of course, it's supposed to rain and the play has been moved inside. So 100 people jam into a tiny attic, where the seating is gym mats thrown on the floor or the wall to lean against. I'm in the apex of it all. 

The play starts. It's in German. (I get it, we're in Germany.) The actor walks out and starts doing some slapstick. The girls are laughing like I've never heard before. And then the puppets. Suddenly the temperature has reached 100 degrees and my legs lose circulation from being in buddha pose for too long. I want to escape but I physically cannot. Just as the blood starts flowing back to my legs, Eloise has had ENOUGH. She stands up, lets out a whine and we book it for the door.
The looks on their faces are further proof that puppets are not good for the soul.

If I could have given her a hundred euros to spend on gummy bears, I would have. Instead, we played at the park. The SUNNY park, I might add, as it never did rain. The play was all said and done about five minutes after we left, so we asked Claudia if she would also like to go to the park. And she did want to, so we did. And the day was good after all.
Fishing for pond weeds.
Sweet Serenity.
Moral of the story is, the next time Aaron is searching for some free entertainment for the kids we're going to stream some Three Stooges and let the kids have a laugh. They can even share some of our popcorn.