Cooking with kids: Super easy homemade tuna cakes

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Tuna-cakes

My daughter really loves cooking. She’s been mixing things together since she was itty-bitty, and now that she’s older, it’s time to get her in the kitchen for some real cooking. Well, actually, our craft table has recently been taken over with lots of cooking activities, with some pretty awesome results. I’m always trying to find ways to introduce brain-boosting foods to my tot, making tuna an ingredient high on my list of yummy stuff. But sometimes my daughter isn’t so excited about fish. This recipe for tuna cakes is so easy and the results are delicious. And even if your little one isn’t a big fan, you just might be surprised to see her noshing on these after having a hand at making them.

Ingredients

1 can of tuna, drained

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh spinach

1 clove of garlic, chopped

1 egg

Salt and pepper

Squeeze of lemon juice

Directions

When cooking with kids, prep by getting all the ingredients ready before starting. For younger ones, pre-mesure the ingredients, chop and shred, and have in small containers along with mixing spoons and bowls at the ready. Older kids can help prep and even assist chop and shred with some adult supervision. After washing our hands, and getting all the ingredients ready, I asked my tot about what she saw in front of her.

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It as simple as dumping everything into a bowl and mixing together. For some kids this can take three seconds, or for others, like my daughter, this can turn into a 30 minute cooking segment. We used our favorite brand of tuna for these cakes and whole wheat breadcrumbs. When cooking together we have a rule that there’s no taste-testing when an egg is involved.

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We added a few dashes of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and the garlic. Then it was time to stir, stir, stir. The tuna cake batter will still be a bit moist, but, have no fear, these cakes are wonderfully delicious without being full of fillers.

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Preheat your oven to 400˚ F and lightly coat a sheet pan with vegetable oil. Now your child can scoop spoonfuls of the mixture and press together to create round patties, and then carefully place on the pan. You’ll have enough to make around six tuna cakes.

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Once your oven is nice and hot, toss those cakes in and bake for seven minutes and then gently flip. After baking for an additional three to five minutes those tuna cakes are ready to eat. I served our cakes with a side of special dipping sauce (equal parts plain Greek-style yogurt and ketchup) and a slice of lemon, which my daughter really enjoyed sucking on after each bite (as you can see from the picture below).

homemade tuna cakes

And you can add other ingredients to these tasty cakes, such as finely chopped green onion, swap pepper jack for the cheddar, or add a handful of corn — whatever your child likes.

Enjoy! We sure did!

Summer Sandwiches: Healthy Italian Melty

 - by Sarah Lipoff

healthy grilled cheese

I saw this silly video the other day of a cute dog and his owner doing yoga together —  and he’s speaking in Italian.

Yes. It is adorable.

It totally motivated me to do some yoga, and maybe learn Italian, too. I decided to make a healthy lunch date that hits the spot, doesn’t add on the pounds, and is a bit Italian. Filled with fiber-rich spinach, ripe tomato, roasted red pepper, peppery pesto, and fresh mozzarella, this sandwich tricks you into thinking you are eating something seriously indulgent when you’re actually noshing really good and healthy eats. And it only takes a few minutes to toast up.

Ingredients

Half a whole-wheat pita (65 calories)

1 teaspoon pesto (27 calories)

1/2 cup fresh spinach (3 calories)

2 slices tomato (6 calories)

1/4 a roasted red pepper (4 calories)

1/4 cup fresh mozzarella (140 calories)

Drizzle vegetable oil (10 calories)

(255 calories! I’m not a dietitian, just estimating calorie count based on these numbers)

Directions

Carefully cut around the outside edge of the halved pita and then coat both sides with the pesto. You can leave a bit of the pita connected, which makes flipping easier while toasting, or cut the fuss and remove the top.

Now layer on the ingredients, starting with the spinach, topping with the cheese, and then the tomato and red pepper. Keeping the cheese close to the edges helps melt the sandwich together. Make it even more Italian with the addition of a few fresh basil leaves or a sliced marinated artichoke. Fold the pita together and gently press.

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Drizzle a bit of vegetable oil in the bottom of your pan and then add the stuffed pita. Heat over medium heat for three to four minutes per side and then serve the delicious and healthy Italian melty.

healthy sandwich

You’ll probably need a fork.

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Yum.

Fine art for kids: Overlapping with Hofmann

 - by Sarah Lipoff

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Hans Hofmann loved bright and exciting rectangles and squares and transformed them into vibrant compositions. Many of his paintings include repeated shapes in their own spaces, but sometime they overlapped and blended into each other.

But who the heck is Hans Hofmann? Along with being a celebrated American artist, he was a big player in the world of Abstract Expressionism. And he was also a teacher to many students, furthering the exploration and development of art in the mid 1900′s. His loose brush strokes contrasted with sharp edges and forms creating somewhat simple and even childish paintings that are so interesting.

Perfect for kids as inspiration for making art!

Take a closer look at examples of Hans Hofmann’s art and notice how he wasn’t always an abstract painter. He began his career creating realistic paintings and eventually evolved into his shape paintings, which made him quite famous. Invite your child to name the colors she sees in Hofmann’s paintings as well as the shapes. This is an excellent opportunity to hone color and shape recognition!

Some of Hofmann’s paintings showcase shapes shining on their own while others show shapes overlapping, or placed on top of each other, cutting the forms or blending them together. This created texture and movement within his paintings.

Offer your child a collection of colors of tissue paper and a scissors. If your child is a bit young to yield scissors, you can help by doing this step. But, if you’ve got a scissors-happy kiddo, she can cut lots and lots of squares and rectangles from various colors of tissue. Cutting is great exercise for all those itty-bitty hand muscles in your child’s hands, which benefits handwriting skills and hand-eye coordination.

Next create a glue and water wash by inviting your child to squeeze about 1 tablespoon of glue into a small container and then adding about the same amount of water.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now your child can begin layering on the tissue paper squares and rectangles, securing them to the paper with the water-downed glue. While creating, the tissue paper will blend together, creating a textured look, just like in Hofmann’s paintings!

Encourage your child to continue working and overlapping the tissue until her whole paper is covered.

Once the artwork is dry, pop it on the fridge for the whole family to enjoy!

 

Crock pot lasagna

 - by Sarah Lipoff

While hanging out on Pinterest the other day, I got a bit of inspiration. Everyone seems to be using their crock pots to make these amazing things – even lasagna.

Yeah, lasagna.

So I had to try it. I love lasagna and make it often. I like to mix up the ingredients to keep it fun, like using cubed and roasted chicken with a cream sauce or ground turkey with thin strips of butternut squash. I figured for my crock pot lasagna experiment I’d keep things pretty basic – you know, the good stuff. Italian sausage, a big jar of sauce, and lots and lots of cheese.

This is really easy, and you can’t mess it up.

Really.

All you need is a box of no-need-to-boil lasagna noodles, a large jar of your favorite pasta sauce, about 1/2 lbs of italian sausage browned, and 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Go ahead and gather whatever else you like in your lasagna. I always toss in some fresh spinach – and I happened to have some of my fresh homemade ricotta in the fridge.

Now get your crock pot cranking on high heat and coat the bottom with a good layer of sauce. I added about 1/4 cup of water to the crock pot, too. This way the bottom of your lasagna won’t get burnt. Cover that sauce with a few of your lasagna noodles. You can break them up to fit in the crock pot.

Sprinkle on a bit of the sausage, and any other ingredients you like, such as chopped mushrooms, olives, spinach, along with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella. Pour on a bit more sauce and then repeat. Yup, that’s right. Repeat and then repeat, and repeat again. Leave about 1/2 cup of that shredded mozzarella for later.

It’s that simple.

I kept layering until my sauce and sausage were gone and then called it quits. I gave the top a final coating of sauce, along with 1/2 cup of water, and then put the lid on the crock pot and left it to do its thing for about 4 hours.

About a half hour before eating, I dotted the top of the lasagna with 1/2 cup of my fresh ricotta and that leftover 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella. I put the lid on tight and within minutes, my crock pot lasagna was ready to serve.

And it was good.

 

 

 

Francis Drake Eyewear

 - by Sarah Lipoff

francisdrakeeyewear

I have been squinting through super-scratched sunglasses for way too long so was on the hunt for some new shades that would stand the test of time. I happened upon Francis Drake Eyewear and was offered the opportunity to test out their one-stop website to order sunglasses and prescription glasses. The selection is filled with stylish and trending frames — and the price is so right. For $95 you get your prescription fit in any frame and delivered to your door in just about a week. But are they really such a good deal?

The Italian-made sunglasses have a unique five-barrel hinge design that creates a really comfortable feel. Based in the Bay Area, all prescription glasses are hand cut in house and finished with sturdy stainless steel spring hinges, ensuring a great fit. I really liked the weight of the both frames and everything came packaged with cases, cleaning cloths, and a nice little thank you note. And they don’t look or feel cheap in any way — the quality is really high-end.

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If you’re looking for distinctive frames at a great price, Francis Drake Eyewear is the right online store for you. They even have smart tips for fitting the perfect frames with your face shape and a virtual try on feature, which is so helpful.

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I love my new sunglasses and frames!

*I was not paid or asked to write this review in any way. I wrote this post because I’m so happy with my new frames and was nicely compensated with free sunglasses and prescription glasses.

 

Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Tinkerlab

My child loves to invent, explore, and create and we’ve been doing fun activities together since she was just a wee tot. Now that she’s a little older, she is starting to experiment on her own. I love watching her make connections and try new things — and then taking pride in the results. But we sometimes get a bit stuck, searching for new adventures and activities to explore together.

If you’re not sure where to start or how to get the creative juices flowing (because it can totally be a challenge!), I have the book for you. Rachelle Doorley, the smart and super-talented mama over at Tinkerlab, shares everything you need in her new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. And what I love about Doorley’s book is it’s so easy to read, motivating you to start creating right away.

Along with sharing ideas for exciting activities you can do with your child, Rachelle shares tips for starting the process, creating the right space for your child’s tinkering, and ideas for getting kids involved — even with the clean-up process. Doorley also includes interviews with experts, such as education professors and nursery school directors, sharing personal stories and experiences that add just the right touch of guidance and coaching throughout the book.

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This book? It’s awesome. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging, smart, exciting, fun, silly, and also simple. Make your own paste and mix with paint for creating textured designs? Yes. Construct structures with gumdrops and toothpicks? Of course. Take apart an old computer? Sure! You don’t have to be an expert to do these activities with your child — just a willing participant in the journey of discovery. You might find yourself learning something new too.

Buy your copy here.

Just so you know, I wasn’t asked by anyone or compensated in any way to write this post. I purchased the book all on my own because I knew it would be beneficial — and read from cover to cover. OH and I knew I would USE the information in the book with my child. (And I have.)

Painting with pipe cleaners

 - by Sarah Lipoff

pipecleaner prints

Instead of offering your tot the same paintbrush, hand her a pipe cleaner for a neat twist. Along with using it to create basic line paintings, your child can experiment with bending and forming unique shapes to press into paint and then stamp on her paper. While being creative, she’s also honing her fine-motor skills. And this easy art activity is totally appropriate for kids of all ages — and adults too.

All you need are a few pipe cleaners, some paint, paper, paper plates, and lots of patience and creativity.

Select a few colors of paint to use with your child and squirt on paper plates. I chose to use the primary colors for this project so we could do a bit of color theory exploration while creating. Now offer your child a pipe cleaner and invite her to bend and shape it, making sure to leave a short length of straight pipe cleaner for grasping while stamping.

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Now invite your child to press the formed pipe cleaner in the paint and press on white paper, creating neat organic shapes. Your child can even use the pipe cleaner to create funky lines. Older kids can create patters or designs, while the younger set can simply stamp away.

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I couldn’t resist getting in on the pipe cleaner action and had to experiment making my own unique shapes to stamp into the pant and on my own paper, which enticed my daughter to give my twisted pipe cleaners a try too.

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Along with creating fun shapes with the pipe cleaners, we noticed how the paint colors changed when mixed together, making this a great project for introducing and exploring color theory. We found red, yellow, ogarange (or orange), purple, blue, geen (or green), and brown in my daughter’s artwork.

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And older kids can really put their fine motor skills to the test by bending and forming really fun shapes to press in paint and then stamp. Here’s my finished creation…

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Easy grilled pizza

 - by Sarah Lipoff

grilled pizza

Summer entertaining shouldn’t be about spending hours in the kitchen tossing together elaborate meals when guests come over to play. Nope. Dinner should be effortless, preferably served on paper plates, and cooked on the grill creating hardly any cleanup. When kids are involved, finding a dish that keeps both adults and tots happy can be challenging, but not with this seriously easy dish.

Grilled pizza.

Sure, you can cornmeal your crust and slide your tasty pie directly on the grill, but I erased the worry that yours won’t with my cheap pizza-grilling secret – pizza pie tins from the grocery store, making this my no-fail way to make summer entertaining fun and easy. And you know how much I love pizza (herehere, and here…).

Make things even easier by using a store purchased pizza crust and you are good to go. This is so fun for the kiddies as well as the adults. Each child can create their own pie, and the adults can create gourmet pizzas to kick things up a notch.

So crank the grill and get cooking!

Directions

Heat your grill to medium high heat. You want things to be hot, but not too hot. I’ve got a gas grill, but you can also make your pizza over coals.

Lightly grease one of the aluminum pie pans. I picked up a set of three for about $2 at the grocery store and can usually gets two uses from each before it starts falling apart.

Press the pizza dough into a round on the greased pan into an even crust. You can make your own pizza dough or use store bought, either works just fine. You want the dough nice and thin, otherwise it won’t grill evenly.

Top your pie with whatever you like and then pop directly on the grill – aluminum pan and all!

Cover and let sizzle for 10 to 15-minutes, or until you see the edges just starting to brown and the top to bubble.

Serve with a big salad and you’ve got dinner!

Dying to toss that dough directly onto the grill? Try this suggestion from my friend.

Happy grilling!

Garlic anchovy pasta with kale and cherry tomatoes

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Some nights we feed the tot and then I make second dinner for us. We cozy up after she’s snoozing for a light dinner and maybe a glass of wine (or two) and chat about our days. And who doesn’t love a bowl of noodles? It’s wonderfully comforting and seriously quick and easy.

Garlic anchovy pasta.

Don’t be afraid, the anchovy adds a really rich and salty flavor, and isn’t fishy at all. Browning the garlic in butter creates a beautiful flavor that pairs well with the kale and cherry tomatoes. Or add some browned Italian sausage, slivers of fresh prosciutto, fresh spinach, black olives…. You get the idea. And this pasta dish for two is ready to eat in less than 15-minutes.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

3 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste

1 teaspoon flour

1/4 cup hot pasta water

1/2 cup chopped kale

1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes

8 ounces cooked spaghetti

Dash of pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the spaghetti. Let simmer away while making the quick sauce

Place the butter in a small sauté pan and warm over medium heat. Chop the garlic and add to the butter. Keep an eye on that garlic while you devein the kale and give it a chop.

Once the garlic starts to brown, add the anchovy paste and flour, giving the ingredients a stir. Once the flour has incorporated, add the hot pasta water and the kale. Let the sauce simmer until the kale has cooked through, which takes just a few minutes. Add more pasta water as needed

Drain the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, sprinkle with pepper, and dinner is served.

 

Tips for talking with your child about art

 - by Sarah Lipoff

talking with kids about art

Creating art with your child should be a fun experience even if you’re not arty yourself. Keeping in mind that your child is making marks simply for the pure pleasure of it, and not worrying about the result, is an important part of sharing the experience with your tot. And understanding that things are going to get seriously messy is essential too. Along with remembering not to admonish kids for getting smeared while exploring art (which can result in concerns about getting dirty later in life), knowing how to talk with your kids about art is a great way to encourage creativity and the exploration of talents.

And you don’t need to know anything about art to pull off a creative conversation. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Keep it simple: Yeah, that’s right. Keep is seriously simple. Start by looking through art books with your child. You can find ones geared for kids or pick up big and colorful art books from the library to explore. You might be surprised at what your child is interested in. No need to start discussions about color theory or historical details, simply sit with your child and look at the art and let the conversation flow.

Ask basic questions: Initiate some discussion when your child finds an image she’s interested in, which also boosts basic skills. Does she see any shapes in the artwork? What colors did the artist use? What is the artwork depicting? What do you see? How does the artwork make you feel? This way your child relates to the artwork and feels comfortable looking at it from her perspective without being lead by an adult to think or see in a certain way.

Introduce beginning concepts: Now is not the time to discuss whether the painting falls into the category of Op art or Minimalism. Focus on introducing simple concepts, like if the painting is a portrait (of a person) or a landscape (of an outdoor scene). Is it a still-life or an abstract (non-representational). Introduce words to your child and encourage her to repeat them while looking at the artwork. Kids retain so much, which means she might remember later and totally surprise you.

Don’t be afraid: Here’s the thing — a lot of Renaissance art depicts naked ladies. They’re lounging, hanging out in totally absurd locations, and flocked by others. Your child may flip right past that page, or like mine, decided it’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen. Don’t be afraid. Ask your child about what she sees in the picture and you might be surprised at her thoughts. Mine told me it was the most beautiful picture of a princess and then decided she wanted to paint a picture of her. Don’t feel the need to explain everything. Really.

art with kids

Be silly: No one enjoys a stuffy lecture (really, they don’t). Art is awesome, so have fun while you’re exploring it with your child. Try to see things from your tot’s perspective, which might change how you see things too. Point out areas that are interesting in artworks, take your child on a field trip to look at art in real life, keep it loose and make learning about art a fun experience.

Talk about it: Use unique words, like gigantic, colorful, swirling, dark, crazy, or amazing when talking about artwork instead of opting for “pretty” or “neat”. Along with looking at art together, you’re encouraging her vocabulary, which is pretty cool too.

Just do it: Really. Instead of sitting here reading this, you should be sitting with your tot and a fun art book. Art is everywhere, even in nature. Go on a hunt for patterns, walk through town pointing out everything that’s blue, or take your child to an art opening.

We’re going to finish my tot’s beautiful princess painting with some glitter glue.