Friday, October 09, 2015

the comfort of thanksgiving

Now that it's officially autumn, relaxed beach visits of the summer are a distant memory as we start to seek the warmth and comfort of the season.  If the beginning of September is a symbolic way to hit the restart button as we dive into new school routines, then October, especially during the Thanksgiving season, is when we start settling into the comfort zone.  It's when we really reflect our home, and our busy world surrounding it.

It's been an interesting time as I've started spend more time offline than online.  The summer was a refreshing start to cleanse any old baggage and start the school year with fresh eyes and settle into a new routine.  The quest to disconnect for most of the summer meant that I could enjoy much more deeply, what is most meaningful in our family.  And I think I like this new focus.

The heart is where the home is, and there is something very comforting about the food made for holidays like Thanksgiving that speaks to my heart.  Certain scents like turkey in the oven that make a house smell like a home, and all the love of family gathered together for this special time.

I generally don't make stuffing as it's on the list of things that my Mom brings for our annual Thanksgiving dinner.  (she makes an excellent rice/sausage/bread stuffing...I need to get that recipe!).
However, on a whim, I decided to make this corn bread stuffing to go with a chicken dish.  It's a hybrid of various dressing recipes, and although I love my Mom's rice stuffing, this is quickly becoming a favourite too (especially since there are many corn bread lovers in this house).

To all my family, friends and Canadian readers...

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!!!

Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread Sausage Stuffing

You can purchase premade cornbread for this recipe.  I made two batches of cornbread from scratch in my cast iron skillet (using this cornbread muffin recipe, here). One batch was used for this recipe and the other one I froze to enjoy at a later date.

  • 1 pan cornbread (8-inch square), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8 slices white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used 3 dinner loaves...white, pumpernickel and whole grain).
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used honey garlic maple sausage 500 g package or one or two 375g package of breakfast sausages)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced medium (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used roasted garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves (1 tsp. dried sage)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 3/4 cups chicken broth (I used turkey broth)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup of dried cranberry (to taste...I used about ¼ cup)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • Spread cornbread and bread on two rimmed baking sheets and bake until dry and golden, about 20 minutes. (you an do this ahead of time...just place toasted bread in a sealed ziplock bag for up to 2 days).
  • Meanwhile, in a 10" cast iron skillet, cook sausage over medium until fat is rendered and meat is browned, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add onion, roasted garlic and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in sage and transfer to a large bowl. (I used a stock pot...didn't have large enough bowls!)
  • Add toasted cornbread & bread, eggs, broth, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to bowl and toss until combined. Let sit 5 minutes, then toss again, this time with the cranberries (if using).
  • Spoon stuffing back into the cast iron skillet. 
  • Bake until top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

happy canada day

the simple five: crowd pleaser

Last year we visited Ottawa during Canada Day, where the nation's capital hosted approximately 10,000+ visitors to celebrate in one location.  With many free events, concerts and museums to see and visit, fighting through an exceptionally large crowd (especially at night during fireworks) can be a daunting task (and at first, slightly overwhelming) especially when you have young children.

As seasoned travellers, we managed to cut through the crowds and enjoy visiting many attractions without melt downs or anxiety (well, at least not too much anxiety!)

The streets of downtown Ottawa on Canada Day.  A sea of red and white!

Here's a few tips to prepare yourself so you can maneuver through the crowds a little easier during the holidays (or any amusement park or popular destination) and make the day with the family more enjoyable.

1)  The early bird gets the worm.
Wake up early.  Yes, it's a holiday and it's your day off, but if at least one parent starts early, the organizing of the day begins, and the family doesn't seem rushed in the morning. Chances are, if everyone wakes up early, you'll beat the breakfast crowd and you'll get to see everything you wanted because you had a head start in the day.

2)  Pack for the day, the night before.
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but often while travelling, our normal routines are thrown out the window.  Plan a rough schedule the night before (look at the maps, figure out where you'll eat and set out your clothes).  Pack all the blankets and towels in the backpack ready by the door.  Morning "rush" will be eliminated, and again you can start your day early and seamlessly.

3)  Do the "back nine" first.
I always joke about this with my husband.  He's an avid golfer, so when I tell him this, he knows exactly what I want to do.  When you enter an amusement park, museum or attraction during a time when it's very busy, go to the back of the park or exhibit first, then work your way backwards towards the entrance.  This usually works for us, and sometimes there are moments when we go "upstream" through the crowds, but it gives the children a chance to really observe each exhibit without the chaos.

At the National Gallery of Canada.
With free admission on Canada Day,  this is one of the most popular destinations.
(you can see we missed the crowds here too!)

4)  Figure out your meals in advance, especially on holidays.
If we're travelling, I like breakfast packages that are offered with hotels. The hassle of walking around with hungry kids to find a place to eat, makes breakfast packages a no-brainer for me.  Even if one parent goes and grabs muffins from the local bakery or coffee shop to bring back to the hotel room (getting up early helps here) saves time and aggravation. The same logic goes with dinner...there are many apps where you can book restaurants a few weeks in advance.  Especially on statutory holidays, not all restaurants are open, book quickly or there are long wait lines to get a table.  Plan ahead.

5)  Always bring an extra bag.
I know this is a strange concept that most people think is unnecessary, but I can never have enough bags and I like to carry those foldable travel totes that can fold into your purse or backpack. Whether you've made unforeseeable purchases when you've stumbled upon a vendor or market or need a makeshift picnic bench cover if you're stopping to grab a quick bite, foldable travel totes are really handy and take up very little space.  It has saved me countless of trips back to the hotel to "drop stuff off".

Most importantly, go with the flow and enjoy the day. It is almost a guarantee that travel schedules don't always go according to plan, but if you're prepared, it's easier to be flexible and you can make the best of the day.

Happy Canada Day!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


A few weeks ago, I participated as a panelist to provide my thoughts on brand and digital marketing, and their role in the customer journey in today's retail environment. I was amongst a group of smart, professional women who all fit different demographics (age, marital status and life stage) and came from various backgrounds.

Fitting the "Parent" demographic in our group, the retailers at the conference were keenly interested in my point of view as the primary purchaser, hoping to unlock the mystery of what marketing tactics appeal to me, and get a glimpse of how I maneuver through all the messages and products that we are bombarded with, to make the best (purchasing) decisions for our family. 

I think as a society, we are so bombarded with messages everywhere we turn, that it is even difficult for those who are sending these messages, to decipher.

As I listened to each panelist speak about their experiences in their role as a "consumer",  there was one common theme that seemed to resonate with all of us (a notion not relegated to only females).  We are all seeking BALANCE within the constraints of time. Time can be measured within a work week, trying to complete a project.  Or a school year, trying to accomplish specific academic achievements.  Or just trying to balance all the errands of the day before you tuck your kids into bed.

Listening to everyone's familiar sentiment confirmed what I've been seeking and sharing here on this blog, and made me realize that more than ever, we are seeking answers of simplicity.  To simplify our lives.  

Mobile devices are designed to save us time but as a society, we are quickly discovering that these same devices are the very culprit that distracts us from what we need to do to stay on task. We are constantly distracted with whatever interesting headline appears in our Twitter/Instagram/Facebook scroll.  Let me preface by saying this is not a scientific study (so I'm not 100% sure on it's accuracy), but according to someone (who did the math) on Reddit, we scroll on our devices on average 250km over a two year period. (That's about 125 km a year of strenuous thumb workouts!).  Even if we only do half of this amount of scrolling, that's a monumental amount of time and energy searching for/consuming information.

I think the need to find ways to save time resonated with the retailers but I think there is still disconnect...retailers want to know how to make it faster for me to buy something but often work in a bubble when it comes to customer service and not understanding other factors in that are in our lives that influence and help us make more informed decisions. There was so much to discuss beyond the 45 minutes of stage time we had.  It is a discussion that could be moved further to a wider audience as more and more access to more global brands than we've ever had, sifting through can become increasingly difficult.  As someone who spends most of my time researching on finding the best products for my family as well as myself, trying to balance between economics and time as well as many other factors such as environment, health, and goodwill is a full time task.

As many of my readers know, I have on occasion, written posts on products and services that have worked well with our family.  And earlier this year, I introduced mySimple Five series~ a series focusing on how to simplify a few of our our daily tasks, starting with recipes that are easy to make. With the many recent requests to speak further about what works for our busy household (and inspired by many of those who seek my advice), I will launch a spin off to my blog, starting with my Simple Five  series, showcasing my top five picks of various products, apps, services, how-to's and even companies (charity ones too!) that are SIMPLE, BEAUTIFUL and can help balance the need for NOW.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the simple five: chocolate hazelnut fudge

Fudge is one of those sweet pleasures that taste rich and satisfies a sweet tooth with just a small piece.
The sweetness of fudge often evokes that feeling of homemade treats.  I love visiting countryside bakeries that serve homemade treats. One can often find handmade fudge wrapped in saran wrap with a handwritten price sticker, offered on the counter.

When I make fudge, I like to switch the ingredients, using a variety of flavours (like maple or butterscotch).  However, this chocolate hazelnut recipe is a favourite in our house.


Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge
(makes approximately 12-16 servings).

  • 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate (you can use baker's chocolate or chocolate chips).
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter (optional, if you prefer a buttery fudge).
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (150ml)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (organic, homemade or Nutella)
  • Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment paper leaving about an inch hangover on each side.
  • Chop chocolate (or use chips) in a microwave safe bowl with the butter (if using) and the condensed milk.
  • Microwave on high, stirring every minute, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove and stir in vanilla and chocolate hazelnut spread
  • Spread in the lined baking pan.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. 
  • Using the parchment paper overhang, lift the fudge out of the pan, and cut into squares.

Friday, April 10, 2015

the simple five : chocolate toffee crunch

Every year, I seem to miscalculate how much chocolate I should purchase for Easter.  My eyes are larger than my stomach (and wallet), and with other chocolates collected from the Easter Bunny, family and friends, our house can rival Willy Wonka.  I'm not complaining though.  It just gives me a reason to consume use up whatever is in the house.

Here's a quick way to use up some of that overabundance of chocolate.  This recipe is a variation of the "crunch" bars found on the back of those "Baker's chocolate" packages, using ingredients I already have in my cupboards...including all the sweetness left behind by the Easter Bunny.


Chocolate Toffee Crunch
(makes approximately 12 small servings)

  • 35  whole wheat saltine crackers
  • ½ cup  butter
  • ½  cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup of chocolate, chopped in small pieces.  (I used 3/4 cup milk chocolate left over from Easter and ¼ cup white can use chocolate chips).
  • 1 cup of a variety of the "crunchy topping".  (You can use crushed candy, nuts or even dried fruit. I used ¼  cup finely chopped toffee bits like Hershey's Skor Chipits, found in the baking section and 3/4  cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped).
  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Place the crackers in single layer on a parchment covered baking sheet.
  • Heat butter and sugar in saucepan on medium-high heat until butter is melted and mixture is well blended, stirring occasionally. 
  • Bring to boil; cook 2 min. (Do not stir.) 
  • Spread onto crackers.
  • Bake for approximately 7 min. or until topping is golden brown. 
  • Immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips; let stand 5 min. or until melted.  
  • Using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate chips evenly over the crackers.  
  • Top with the white chocolate chips, and swirl onto into the chocolate to make a marble design.
  • While the chocolate is still soft, top with the crunchy stuff...toffee pieces and or peanuts.
  • Cool, then break into pieces.

Friday, March 27, 2015

the simple five: anchovy infused orecchiette with broccoli

Orecchiette is a uniquely disc shaped pasta that originates from Southern Italy.  Once cooked, this pasta creates little "bowls", making it ideal for light sauces, as most of the flavour is retained within the hollows of the pasta.

This recipe is an easy adaptation a traditional Italian dish, but as usual, uses only five ingredients (and easy to find ingredients).  Tuna would work well with this dish, but I chose anchovies to add flavourful depth, as the saltiness of the anchovies are balanced out with the broccoli. Anchovies are an acquired taste, but if you like food that with has a salty "bite" in flavour, this is your dish.


Anchovy Infused Orecchiette with Broccoli 
(makes approximately 4-8 servings)

  • 450g box of orecchiette pasta
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets in oil, chopped (reserve 1 tbsp oil)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ tbsp (about ½ of a lemon, juiced)
  • 1 small broccoli, cut into florets
  • Cook the orecchiette according to the package. 
  • Mince/chop the anchovy.  Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil and 1 tbsp of the oil from the anchovies in saute pan/pot. 
  • Add the garlic until the garlic is slightly golden. 
  • Add the anchovies and lemon juice, and cook for 1-2 mins more until the anchovies "dissolve" and become part of the sauce.
  • Toss with the pasta.
  • Add the broccoli and toss with the pasta until the broccoli is bright green.
  • Season with salt, pepper or parmesan (if desired), and serve.

Friday, March 20, 2015

the simple five: grilled gouda and smoked salmon baguette

While we approach the finish line of March Break and school lunches are on the back of my mind (very back), here's a really lovely grilled cheese sandwich geared for adults (although my kids love this too) that slowly gets us back to making sandwiches.

Enjoy the remainder of March Break.

Grilled Gouda and Smoked Salmon Baguette
(Makes 2 sandwiches)

  • 4 slices of french baguette bread
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks and allowed to soften
  • 150g package of smoked salmon
  • 4 oz Gouda, thinly sliced
  • Extra butter for the pan; if needed

  • Heat a large pan or griddle over medium-heat. 
  • Place bread on a clean surface
  • Layer 1/2 of the cheese on one side, and 1/2 of the salmon on the other side
  • Repeat for all the slices of bread.
  • Spread each side of bread with one tablespoon of butter.
  • Place sandwich in the prepared grill and heat on each side for about 3 minutes each, or until the bread has crisped and the cheese has melted.

Friday, March 13, 2015

the simple five: garlic roasted eggplant dip

I usually make this eggplant dip at the spur of the moment (when eggplant is on sale or when it looks so appetizing in the store), and I end up trying to recollect the recipe as I put the eggplant in my grocery cart.  Tahini is the ingredient that I forget the most often.

This recipe is a slight modification on the traditional "Baba Ghanoush", a middle eastern
dish, but I replaced tahini with general pantry staples.  Makes a great vegetarian dip for pita breads, crackers or crudites.  Perfect for healthy snacks over the March Break.

Happy March Break!

Garlic Roasted Eggplant Dip 
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups

  • 1 eggplant, large
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seed oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. 
  • Take the whole garlic and wrap it in tin foil.
  • Roast both the eggplant and garlic for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. 
  • Remove from oven.
  • With a knife, slice the eggplant down the middle and scoop the contents in a bowl.
  • Place eggplant, lemon juice, sesame oil, and garlic (amount of cloves to taste) in an electric blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Transfer eggplant mixture to a medium size mixing bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil. Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

the good from the bad

I recently read an article about a 90 year old widow in China who had sadly lost all of her children and spouses and has lived on her own without any surviving family for the past 30 years. (read the article, here) While planning for her final days, she had a simple request when she was planning her funeral...for people to come to it.  This request was published in her local paper, and a heartwarming response ensued from readers, giving her a glimmer of happiness as they decided to spend some time with her now while she was alive, instead of waiting for her death.  .

It is a lesson I've tried to teach the kids as we go through life on dealing with the ups and downs of it. With trials and tribulations, the obstacles and disappointments that greet us only can make us stronger and help us strive for and appreciate, when the good times come.  Our son recently said that he noticed how light seems to glows brighter when it's dark, like it's showing you the path out of darkness, toward the light. Understanding this metaphor, a light seemed to really shine as he realized that sometimes he might not win a game (or a swim meet) but the lessons he learns when he doesn't win only makes winning later on, much sweeter.

It's a fine art to balance the emotions between the two and to remind ourselves that there are lessons in our mistakes.  Sometimes falling can only make you stronger, and that's where the "good" comes from the "bad".  

Bacon, Spinach and Mushroom Pasta
(makes approximately 4 servings)

This pasta has elements that are both good and "bad" for you...I tried to reduce the amount of the "bad"  (bacon) by using organic, reduced fat bacon.  The spinach provides a good balance of nutrition, and makes this dish "good".

  • 1 cup low sodium, organic bacon, sliced (about 8 slices)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, chopped and removing stems
  • 1 ½  cups 2% milk (or cream if you wish for a creamier sauce)
  • ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • Pepper to taste (I don't add salt to this dish as most of it derives from the bacon and parmesan cheese, so I don't usually add to the sodium content).
  • 450g pasta (penne or linguine works nice here).
  • In a cast iron skillet, sautè the onion & bacon together until the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked.  Drain the oil/fat. (no butter is necessary in this dish as the oil from the bacon, even when drained, is enough to coat the cast iron skillet to do the job!).
  • In the meantime, cook the pasta according to directions.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the garlic is browned.
  • Add the spinach, and sautè until the spinach is wilted.
  • Add the milk then top with parmesan and simmer, stirring until the sauce is thickened. 
  • Toss with cooked pasta.