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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

fly the nest


When you've lived in a house long enough to go through life stages like a marriage, birth, graduations and family holiday gatherings, you start to notice physical elements of the house, like a door or a chip in the wall, that hold special memories, a part of your personal history...sentimental objects that you'd wish you could take with you wherever you go.

In our hallway along the doorway trim to our kitchen, we've marked through the years, the growth of our children.  Every so often the kids would want to see how much taller they've become, and they'd stand with the world's most perfect posture, almost on their tippy toes, in hopes that a new pencil mark will be drawn just a notch above the last one.


As Easter approaches, I am reminded yet again, on how life has many little "pencil" marks as indicators of how far we've come, showing the notches of our history.  Every year, during this sweet season of Easter, I empty a dozen eggs (I use this germ free method so we can actually eat them) and rally the kids around the table, with little cups filled with dyes, to colour them.  It's a magical process- the kids watching with intense patience as each egg becomes more vibrant as they sit in those little cups of dye.  Colours and patterns are planned out, stickers are placed and at the end, their creations are displayed as souvenirs of our time together.  But as the years pass I've found this activity, which once would occupy their interest for at least a full morning, would be done quicker and quicker every year, now being completed within a few mere minutes.

However, as we sat around the table with finished projects, I realized that the time that was once filled with childhood activities are now just replaced with time filled with more meaningful discussions instead (and in this case, a deeper understanding of what Easter really means to us).  Although I will continue to prepare the eggs for our yearly ritual, I will cherish these family traditions, not just as another holiday activity, but as another opportunity to spend precious time together, filling these kids with vibrant confidence so when they're ready to fly the nest, they'll become beautiful contributors to this world we live in.





Wishing you a Happy Easter 



filled with rejuvenation and love!





Easter Egg Nest Cupcakes
(makes approximately 1 dozen)
There are a few ways to make these cupcakes.  The easiest way to make them (for those who do minimal baking) is to buy pre-iced cupcakes, a bag of shredded coconut, and candy coated chocolate eggs.  Bake the coconut as directed below.  Remove the icing from the centre of the cupcake, add the coconut to the perimeter of the cupcake and add the chocolate eggs.  If you like to bake from scratch, the directions are below.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut (about 5 ounces)
  • Chocolate Cupcakes (recipe below)
  • Chocolate Frosting/Icing (recipe below)
  • Candy Covered Egg Shaped chocolates

Assembly/Preparations
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Spread coconut on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until light brown, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pan once. Set aside to cool.
  • Lightly frost cupcakes with 1 cup chocolate frosting; set aside. 
  • Form each nest with 2 tablespoons toasted coconut. (I also piped a small amount along the perimeter of the cupcake, so the coconut has something to adhere to
  • Using candy covered chocolate eggs, place in the middle of the nest.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pans
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Line standard muffin cups with paper liner. 
  • In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 
  • Add milk, vegetable oil, and 1 1/2 cups warm water; whisk to combine. 
  • Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.
  • Divide batter among muffin cups (filling each about 2/3 full) and bake until a toothpick inserted in comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 20 to 25 minutes. 
  • Let cool in pans on wire racks, 5 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to racks and let cool completely. 

Chocolate Frosting (for 12 cupcakes)

Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. milk (or 35% whipping cream for creamier texture)

Preparation
  • Combine butter, sugar and cocoa powder and blend with an electric beater, until well combined.
  • Add milk and beat on high until smooth and creamy.

Enjoy!









Wednesday, April 09, 2014

just a spoonful


There are very few foods that I can say, trumps my love for chocolate.  Potatoes, oddly enough, is one of those foods.  I can eat it in almost any form, shape, method of cooking...be it garlic mashed potatoes on a cold winter day, or roasted mini potatoes with parmesan green beans (like these ones, here) with grilled BBQ meat.  Sometimes just a bag of good ole' potato chips will do the trick.


On one of those evenings when all things were seemingly prepared...kids were settled, the aroma of maple honey dijon ham in the oven, and the table already set for dinner, I realized I forgot to make one of my favourite side dishes to go with the ham:  Scalloped Potatoes.  In a panic, I began expediting the cooking process and cooked all the ingredients together before throwing them in the oven to bake.

When I made this potato dish, it reminded me of a funny moment during one of my pregnancies when I had cravings for soft chocolate chip cookies.  Extremely soft, just slightly under-baked, spoonable cookies to be exact.  I used to make a quick batch (sometimes resorting to those pre-made cookies in the tubes...yes, insanity!), and I'd actually pull up a chair and sit in front of the glass toaster oven, peering over my baby-filled belly to watch those sweet heavenly morsels slowly bake.  I would barely wait for the timer to go off before the door would be flung open, spooning those soft cookies into my mouth.  The instant gratification, the melted warm chocolate chips and sweetness of it all...during my pregnancy there were rarely any cookies to offer, even after an afternoon of baking!


When I took these potatoes out of the oven, the same feeling overcame me.  I couldn't resist...I did sneak a small spoonful before putting these on the table.  The cheese melted in my mouth and my family barely sat down at the table before I almost started to dig in.  Maybe I was hungry so I thought it tasted better than making it the traditional way.  Or maybe I just love anything and everything that is made of potatoes.

Or, like the little joys in life, maybe I had a small taste of what was to come...and couldn't wait to savour the rest until it was all gone.


Quick and Easy Skillet Baked Scalloped Potatoes
(Makes 4-6 servings)

I love scalloped potatoes, but would normally need to plan ahead of time to make this dish.  Browning the potatoes in the skillet prior to baking it in the oven shortens the time it takes to make this dish.  Works great with ham (especially for this Easter).

Ingredients
  • 6 potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup of whipping cream (cream or milk works too)
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (or any strong cheese you prefer)
  • ½ cup of parmesan cheese
Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a cast iron skillet or oven proof skillet, saute the onion, garlic and potatoes over medium/high heat.
  • Saute until the garlic and onion are soft and the potato edges are brown.
  • Add whipping cream and toss with the potatoes until coated.
  • Add the shredded cheese and toss until cheese is melted into the cream.
  • Top with parmesan cheese.
  • Place in the whole skillet with potatoes into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Serve and enjoy!





Wednesday, April 02, 2014

slice of heaven


Most mornings before anyone is awake, I'd start preparing for the day:  make breakfast, feed the dog, make sure everyone's backpacks are in order.  The usual.

Although we were on vacation a few weeks ago in St. Lucia, the early morning routine only changed slightly and we still started our days quite early. However, I had my own morning-before-the-kids-were-awake ritual.  I would pass by the lobby, greeted with freshly brewed coffee watching the quiet hustle and bustle of food preparation while the smell of breakfast wafted through the air.  I'd grab a quick cup of brew then go for a quiet walk along the mile long beach, securing our spot for the day while enjoying the beautiful sunrise.  


Amazingly, I never needed an alarm clock to wake up so early, even if it was a much earlier time than what I was accustomed to back at home.  Although the sun was just starting to peer over the horizon, I think it was the rhythmic waves of the ocean that kept calling me to visit.  And each morning, I did.  

When I made it down to the beach, there were no more bustling noises but just waves crashing along the shoreline. The only sensation I had felt was the warm breeze on my skin and the slight taste of salt in the air as I sat and watched the sun grow larger over that line where the water meets the sky. 

The tranquillity from being alone on the beach was my own little slice of heaven.  It was the most beautiful way to start the day.  


As I now ease back into the daily rigours of rushed morning routines, it's easy to forget how our body craves to start our days with stillness and observation.  How our body naturally wakes itself when it knows there is something beautiful over the horizon that will feed our soul.  Something to look forward to, whether it's the start of a simple day or a lifetime's worth of dreams.

Even though I now look out of my window and still see remnants of snowmen instead of sandmen, I still hold on to a few morning rituals from St. Lucia.  I'll tune out the traffic noises in my head and somehow still hear the waves crashing along the shoreline. With a cup of coffee and the springtime sunrise, I can now clearly see what's peering over the horizon.  Although my day no longer starts on the beach, for a brief moment in the stillness of the morning, I will be transported again to my little slice heaven.




And it is still the most beautiful way to start the day.



Banana Maple Syrup 
(aka "Slice of Heaven" syrup in St. Lucia)
(Makes 2-4 small servings)
While we were in St. Lucia, there was one particular breakfast that the kids absolutely adored.  The lovely chef behind the counter called it "Slice of Heaven".  It was essentially two thickly sliced raisin bread slices, with whipped cream in between the slices. Dipped in french toast coating (eggs, milk, cinnamon), then cooked on a cast iron skillet.  Topped with maple syrup infused with bananas (and then topped chocolate sauce!).  I made a less indulgent version of that dish, making the same banana maple syrup, but topping it on regular french toast instead.  It's still heavenly.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups of maple syrup
  • 1-2 bananas, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
Preparation
  • Over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the sliced bananas in small sauce pan.
  • When the bananas are very soft, add the cinnamon and maple syrup.
  • Slowly continue heating until the maple syrup is reduced to about half.
Serve over pancakes, waffles or french toast.  Enjoy!







Wednesday, March 26, 2014

spring forward



It is officially the first week of Spring.  As I looked out of our window at the light dusting of snow on the ground early Saturday morning, I briefly wondered if I woke up in the middle of February. I don't think Spring has arrived just yet.

Especially compared to last week when it felt  like summer to us, as the sun, sand and surf greeted us every morning during our winter family holiday in St. Lucia. Visits to natural spring waterfalls, mud baths in volcanos and just hanging out on the beach.  What a blissful time.




As our children become seasoned travellers, it has been interesting to see other countries through their eyes.  This year, we tried an "experiment" to see how long we could go without iPads and gaming devices.  Seeing first hand, what resources different countries have to thrive.  I didn't want them to not miss anything with their noses buried reading about it on the internet. These are the experiences I want them to have when they travel on their own someday.

During an excursion, we discovered that our personal island guide was a savvy businessman who truly understood what visitors to St. Lucia were seeking, creating a really unique local experience to truly discover the land he loved so much.  His personal tour company was starting to expand, as he was in the process of building a bed & breakfast type cottage next to his home, where he hoped that those who enjoyed his excursions would one day return for a more personal experience at his own "resort".  His wife cooked a traditional Caribbean lunch for us while his little boy entertained us with their pets and local animals.  We could see how he was shaping his own family to be a part of his expanding enterprise, creating a springboard for his children's future.



After our excursion, we had a renewed understanding of opportunities we have as North Americans.  At home, we have readily available access to free Wi-Fi to keep connected, or digital devices to pay for things in advance (instead of cash).  I wonder if all of this has made things too easy for us...taking things for granted and stripping us of our thirst for knowledge, our hunger to succeed, our inner drive to move forward.

When we returned to our nicely groomed beach, lounging with the perfect shade under the palm trees at our resort, the kids didn't even think twice about any digital devices...for the rest of the week.  They spent their time connecting with new friends, analyzing the fallen coconuts off the palm trees, and exploring the creatures of the sea.  And while they tried to hatch up an interesting enterprise of their own (bottling up the lava mud for facials back at home...sorry kids, customs!), what they really saw, was the promise of opportunity...and how blessed they really are.

We were able to go almost a whole week without the kids playing on their devices (they made up for lost time on 6 hour flight home though!).  Although the warm weather is now behind us, I think the kids have a renewed spark of interest in discovering the world in front of them, relishing the possibilities of building initiatives in the real world, not a digital one on their devices.

As I listen to them re-tell their discoveries about lava, coconuts and earning enough money so they can return to St. Lucia again soon, I realized...maybe we did spring forward after all.





Roasted Garlic Spring Green Beans with Parmesan 
Makes approximately 6 servings.
I love the added dimension that roasted garlic brings to this dish.  Sometimes I serve this as a side to other roasted garlic dishes (mashed potatoes or rack of lamb), so I make the roasted garlic ahead of time.  If time crunched, instead of roasting the garlic, just saute some fresh minced garlic with the butters approximately 6 servings.

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups, whole green beans, end stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic head, roasted 
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (I used a vegetable peeler and "shaved the parmesan on top...makes for a pretty presentation for dinner guests, but grated also works for every day meals).
Directions:
  • Slice the top of the garlic head.
  • Slightly drizzle olive oil on top of the garlic, and wrap in tin foil.
  • Bake in the oven at 400degrees until roasted (about an hour).
  • Cook green beans until tender but firm, approximately 7 minutes.  Drain.
  • Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. 
  • Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is tender.
  • Toss the green beans into the saucepan until complete coated with melted butter and roasted garlic.
  • Top with parmesan shavings.  (or toss gently with grated cheese).

Enjoy!





Wednesday, March 19, 2014

filled pockets


School is back from one of the most expensive breaks of the school year. At least in my humble opinion, that's how I view March Break.

Families either pay a dear price to travel to warmer climates, or scramble to find extra daycare or find time off of paid work to spend time with their kids visiting over-crowded, over priced "march break" special attractions.  Or attempting to forgo the lineups and chauffeuring playmates who are still in town, to keep the children occupied.


I'm not complaining.  It was a welcome break from the daily rigours of winter driving, making lunches and homework.  But often I ask, why are the most popular activities that fill March Break the ones that end up emptying our wallets.

I recently read a financial article about "millionaires", with a common theme that's been written about in thousands of "financial" articles:  Money doesn't buy you happiness.


As more gadgets and toys flood the market, I wonder if this is really something that my generation (or the next) can really understand.  As a parent, I've often wondered what kind of example I am to my kids as I covet the latest shoes or salivate going to the hottest restaurant.

Are we showing our kids that we have to spend the equivalent of a mortgage to do or acquire something in order to be happy? Do we really need to spend $200 to see the latest Disney on Ice show when we can enjoy the outdoors and just go skating instead?


It's a tough balance.  As adults, we strive for financial success because money alleviates the burden that comes with the lack of it.  But sometimes we can get carried away with our goals, forgetting that it's not the money that is our goal...it is only the means to allow us the freedom to get to it.

Honestly, I'm still struggling seeking the right balance.  I do know that balance might be in the way we view happiness and our definition of success. Working hard, being frugal and investing in our future, is really all about reaping what you sow. And we'll continue to pick our battles when it comes to what we sow.  Although I know we'll still sometimes splurge and empty our pockets to have the latest "shiny object", deep down I know that the happiest moments are usually the priceless ones...when we invest our time and have the freedom of knowing that in the future, our pockets will still be filled.


Homemade Pepperoni Pizza Pockets 
(otherwise known as Panini Panzarotti/Mini Calzone)
(Makes 6 pizza pockets)

After discovering that my local Whole Foods sold pizza dough, tomato sauce and MSG-free pepperoni, I've always thought of making my own pizza instead of buying the ones they bake on-site (which I also love). These pizza pockets are easy to make and are much more economical (and healthier) than the frozen ones at the grocery store.  Great to pack for lunches...for a day trip or school lunch.  These were a hit at our house.

Ingredients:
  • 750g pizza dough
  • 2 cups of mozzarella (or any cheese you wish)
  • 100g of sliced pepperoni (if you don't have a Whole Foods near you, pre-sliced, additive-free salami found in your local deli section works too).
  • ½ cup pizza sauce (or tomato paste, with herbs)
  • Sliced onions, vegetables or whatever you wish to add to this.
Preparation:
  • Heat you panini press, waffle maker or sandwich maker (I used the panini press/grill)
  • Divide the dough into 6 equal balls.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll out each pizza dough until you have 6 discs, each about ¼ inches thick.  
  • Using a pastry brush, brush the tomato sauce generously on top of the dough.
  • Add the cheese, pepperoni and other ingredients you desire.

  • Fold in half.
  • Place on panini grill and cook for about 5 minutes or until the crust is brown and cooked.
Serve and enjoy!






Wednesday, March 12, 2014

being one


One year.  I remember hosting birthday parties with family and close friends to celebrate the one year birthday for each of my children.  For our son, we had a big birthday bash with mazes and hay rides at a local farm.  For our daughter, we had a tea party at a local country inn.

Those birthday gatherings seem like such a long time ago.   I remember how daunting it felt as new parents, planning the first of what now seemingly feels like a million birthday parties for our kids. We experienced the exhilaration (as well as lack of sleep) of the introductory year and marked that special point in time with a celebration.  A time when we realized that just when you thought you couldn't love any more, someone comes along, proving you have much more love than you ever thought you could ever give.


Our little pup just turned a year old.  And as much as it has been frustrating to learn how to train a dog, walk a dog in cold weather, or find a collection of chewed up socks and underwear beneath our bed (our dog loves to hoard those things), this marks yet another realization about how time flies and that all of my babies...are growing up.  It felt like just yesterday when we brought our fur baby home (as I wrote about here).  

I was not raised with pets in my childhood home (fish don't really count),  so I thought the attention from our children to our new furry family member would be fleeting.  But their bond with their dog is everlasting and it has been amazing to watch my them give love and compassion to their "baby".  Our daughter finally has the opportunity to have a younger "sibling".  And it's been interesting to watch our son understand the unconditional love of man's best friend.  I love watching them kiss and cuddle with our pup without hesitation, judgement or reservations.  Just pure love.


And now once again, the initial "baby" stage in our home is complete.  There is no more potty training.  No more temper tantrums (if you don't include mine).  Just a little more independence.  And with each of these life stages, I've learned how much my children have accepted their responsibilities to help guide our pup to become a big dog.  As much as these beautiful babies will always be in my heart and as a family we will always be together, I have (slowly) learned to accept their independence as well, as they gain their own confidence to stand tall and be strong on their own...and become one.

Happy 1st Birthday!!!


Peanut Butter and Sweet Potato Dog Treats
Adapted from Allrecipes
(makes approximately two sandwich bags full of little treats)


This was really a really simple and easy recipe to make.  Next time I would make the treats even smaller (more bite sized), as I found we had to break apart the treats prior to feeding it to our pup.  It was a hit!

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of baked sweet potatoes, mashed (I had left over sweet potatoes, which I used for this.  One cup of canned pumpkin works too)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup water

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Beat the eggs.
  • Mix in sweet potato and peanut butter together.  Add to eggs.
  • Add the cinnamon then the flour, slowly into the mixture.
  • Slowly add the water until the mixture becomes a soft dough (think playdoh).
  • Roll out the dough and make into shapes (we used heart shapes and candy cane shapes turned into socks...our pup loves socks!).  Try to make small shapes.
  • Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the treats are firm (it will harden as it cools).
Serve.






Wednesday, March 05, 2014

wrapped with love


There are days when I just want to wrap my arms around my children so tight and never let them go. Sometimes watching them go through growing pains is too much to witness, but I just have to continue with a brave smile on my face, letting them know that not every day will be cloudy, and the sun will soon shine again.

I remember, even when I was a young child, how the nights would amplify my fears.  When I would lie awake staring at the ceiling, analyzing every little detail of the day and contemplating its' earth shattering affects it will have on the next day.   I would ponder things like if I changed my hairstyle, would I have more friends? Or if I received a perfect score on my next spelling test, would that impress the cute boy that doesn't even know I exist?

Deep down in my heart, I think what I was really worrying about during those long reflective nights... was growing up.  In fact, I was terrified of it.  Especially those days when things weren't going my way, like not doing as well on a test or a disagreement with a classmate, it would feel like the world around me was caving in.  I thought, how could I be a successful adult if I wasn't (what I perceived at the time), a successful kid?  How could I conquer the world if I couldn't even conquer geography class?


A few weeks ago, during a particularly snowy weekend, our daughter finished her lunch and all of a sudden, started putting on her snowsuit.  We weren't sure where she was going, but on her own initiative, announced that she was going to shovel the driveway.  Not particularly OUR driveway, but several driveways in our neighbourhood.  She was determined to go out in the snow because she knew there were people who were tired of digging out of it and she was hoping to use her timely services to raise money to donate to those in need.  Despite what was seemingly a physical obstacle (the shovel is twice her size!), this wasn't how she viewed herself, and she managed to shovel 3 driveways.  She was so proud that day and planned her plane ride to hand deliver the funds to those who needed it.  In a rare moment of sibling camaraderie, her brother wanted to support his sister, and quietly went into his own allowance, and matched the donations she raised.

Despite those difficult parenting moments when we watch our children navigate their world around them, it's easy for us too, to forget those proud moments, just like on that snowy day.  We need to remember and remind our children of those shining moments. To help them understand that to change the world around us, we have to change the world within us.  That day is a reminder for me too, that we have to change how we view and love ourselves first, before we are able to wrap our arms around others.


Bacon Wrapped Italian Meatloaf
Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen

This was a quick and easy recipe that used whatever I had in the kitchen.  The bread soaked in milk made a big difference in making this meatloaf moist and tasty.  I was able to use some left over tomato sauce that I used for a previous meal for this recipe, but BBQ sauce or ketchup is just as delicious.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup 3% milk
  • 5 slices whole wheat grain bread 
  • 1 pound of organic ground beef 
  • ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • Pinch of salt and pepper 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 7 slices bacon (I used all natural bacon)
  • 2 tbsp. thick tomato sauce (BBQ sauce or ¼ cup of ketchup with 1 tbsp. of brown sugar works too).
Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • In a large bowl, break the bread into small pieces.
  • Pour milk over the bread slices. 
  • Allow it to soak in for several minutes then "mush" the bread with a fork until it's soft like dough.
  • Add the ground beef, parmesan, salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning.
  • Pour in beaten eggs.
  • Mix the ingredients until well combined. 
  • Line a loaf pan with 6 slices bacon, width wise so there is enough to "hang" along the edge.
  • Place the meat into the loaf pan.
  • Brush the top of the meat with BBQ sauce.
  • Fold the bacon slices onto the top of the meat mixture.
  • Top with one more slice of bacon, running lengthwise to fill where the middle where the 6 slices don't meet.
  • Brush with tomato sauce.
  • Bake for 1 ½ hours, basting the meatloaf approximately half way through with more sauce, if desired.
Serve and enjoy!







Wednesday, February 26, 2014

go with the flow



This year, there have been a litany of occasions that have tested my patience, most particularly when it comes to getting everyone out the door first thing in the morning to get to school on time.  We have experienced a record-breaking year of tardiness...we're now at the point where I can jokingly suggest to the school principal that we should have our late slips permanently laminated for the year.   I have no tears left for the mornings.

Often during our drive to school, we've encountered construction or busy traffic.  Early in the school year, I would switch lanes, dart around any obstruction just to rush to our destination.  In the backseat, I could only imagine what my kids witnessed...a seemingly crazy car race, whizzing by other vehicles.  Unfortunately I might have some idea of what kind of example I've set for the kids about patience...and about driving.


As the year progressed, for my sanity I had to learn to accept that there will be days when we will be late, and days when we will be on time.  There were times when we've left the house early only to encounter a traffic accident that put our concerted efforts down the drain.  There have also been days during questionable snowy driving conditions, where I would put safety first, focus on the task at hand, and go calmly knowing that we're not the only ones who are behind schedule due to the weather.  And ironically, it's those times when we've actually arrived earlier than everyone else!

Although I believe in respecting other people's time and arriving promptly, I also learned that I can only control how prepared we are to get to our destination, and I have absolutely no control about our path to it.


Now when I drive to school, the kids don't even flinch when I patiently wait behind a slow moving vehicle ahead of me.  They don't ask to "go faster" because I'm calm, cool and collected, and they now get the chance to observe what's outside the window, enjoying a safe and stress-free ride.  Sometimes there's a reason, not only which path we take, but how it is taken.  We should still prepare and do the best we can, and when we're satisfied with our efforts, just relax and go with the flow of traffic.  Maybe if we learn to stop rushing, we just might get to where we want to go...faster.


Grilled Mozzarella & Spinach Baguette
(Makes 6-8 servings)

This takes a little longer to make than your average grilled cheese sandwich, but it's well worth doing it.  Sometimes when I'm entertaining, I make 2 batches of this spinach mixture.  One to use with tortillas as a traditional dip, and the second batch I use for lunch the next day, as a grilled mozzarella spinach sandwich.

Ingredients:
  • 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed.
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • mayonnaise
  • mozzarella cheese
  • parmesan cheese
Directions:
  • Mix the thawed chopped spinach with the mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.  
  • Add the onion and garlic.
  • Fold in the mozzarella and parmesan until mixed. 
  • Place inbetween two slices of a baguette.
  • Grill until cheese is melted.
Side note:  If you're serving this as a spinach dip, once all the ingredients are mixed together, place in a oven safe dish and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly.  

Enjoy!








Wednesday, February 19, 2014

carpe diem


After an extra long weekend (with a PA day last Friday and the Family Day holiday on Monday), as our son noted, this past weekend was equally as long as our upcoming work week.   Finally, a break!

As a rule, we usually complete all of our homework right after school before we get to play.  Especially before a weekend, so we avoid the homework-scramble-the-night-before we return to school.  But this time, we deviated from our usual routine, and although the kids did most of their work, they left a few things to do for later on, and started enjoying their long break right away!



With March Break just a few weeks away, we decided to do a few low key activities and just enjoy spending time with friends, cousins and each other.  I guess we've been so accustomed to being organized and always on the go, that it felt a little out of my comfort zone to not plan anything at all and just go on a whim.  We went to restaurants we've been meaning to visit.  We took advantage of quiet skating parks.  Watched a few movies.  And to be honest, as much as we needed the rest and slow pace, a part of me was feeling a little anxious.  Nothing planned, no bookings, no rush.  This actually felt odd to me.  For once, there were no activities planned with military precision. Laundry and homework left incomplete.

Maybe I felt odd because subconsciously, I thought there were a lot of "should haves".  As in, "we should have" finished all our work before we played.  Or, maybe "we should have" taken advantage of this extra time off to go on a fabulous weekend getaway or full day ski trip.  



During our quiet ride home from a dinner night out, our son unexpectedly said "You know, we are very blessed to have parents like you.  To be able to have opportunities like trying new restaurants and having new experiences, even if the experience is just eating a meal together.  Not a lot of kids are as lucky as we are."  I think my eyes started to water right there and then.

When I think of that moment, I realize that maybe we did seize the weekend after all.  The kids learned an important lesson about work before play, as they experienced the eleventh hour panic about incomplete homework on Monday night (trust me, they won't do THAT again).  And I learned that it's okay to get out of my comfort zone of planning and organizing...and to seize the day instead of carefully planning every little detail, because sometimes you just might find even more magic in those unexpected moments.  


Looking at the impromptu twelve layer chocolate cake with ice cream, and how it made those beautiful faces smile...I guess I'll just have to practice leaving my comfort zone once in a while and say 'carpe diem'...and maybe just seek comfort in my food instead.


Herb Mashed Potatoes
Serves 8-12 people


There is nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes, especially on the cold winter nights that we've been experiencing lately.  Adding roasted garlic and oregano added more depth to the taste, and elevated this dish from your average mashed potato into something a little more fancy, served at a restaurant.

Ingredients
  • 5 pounds of potatoes, peeled and quartered. 
  • ½ cup of butter
  • ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of cream cheese (optional...adding the cream cheese allows the potatoes to be made ahead of time and stay creamy when reheated).
  • 1 whole garlic, roasted
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 ½ tsp. of oregano
Preparation
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, approximately 40 minutes.  Drain.
  • In the meantime, place the garlic in a square of tin foil, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven at 400degrees for approximately 30-40 minutes.
  • Add butter, parmesan, garlic, salt and oregano.
  • Mash.
  • Add cream cheese (if using), and top with a little more oregano.
Serve and enjoy.





Wednesday, February 12, 2014

a little bit of passion


As far as I can remember, I would always carry around a little pocket camera...an inexpensive point and shoot one that I'd take with me almost everywhere. Before the ability to take millions of photos with a digital camera,  as a child I would sort through developed photos, proudly looking at my photographic achievements.  The photos that captured what I was passionate about (I've always been  a little obsessed with sunsets) were always the most beautiful.


Those old photos may have been slightly blurry or had too much reflection, but it didn't matter to me because the photos represented a story, not a technical achievement. Even to this day, I've been reluctant to purchase a DSLR camera, not just because of the cost, but mostly because I believe too much technical "stuff" interferes with the moment.  I've often seen others spend too much time "setting up the right light" instead of just watching the story of the world unfold in front of us, and capturing just the right time.  I guess that is the difference between a run-of-the-mill "portrait" photographer, and a photographic artist like Annie Leibovitz, who doesn't just rely on her equipment, but her passionate eye and empathy of the human story behind the face, capturing the spirit in front of her. 


In this article on Inc.com, author Lee Colon discusses how to spark employee passion.  I thought this was apropos in timing, as we head into Valentines (and Family Day shortly thereafter). I gave my own personal twist to his 3 "needs of employees", to demonstrate how to incorporate these needs into our personal lives.  My own little "sparks" to ignite passion in our own family.

1.  Celebration or "Purpose".  Although the article describes offering an overall purpose for employees, it is often to difficult for young children to visualize and make the connection with the task at hand to an overarching goal (i.e. "eat your veggies, and you'll be really big and strong").  And as adults, far too often we get bogged down with our daily mundane tasks, making it difficult to see the forest for the trees. (Long commutes.  Laundry.  Endless laundry.)  So I try to arrange little weekend "rewards"...it could be small like trying a new dish or a big family outing to dinner and a movie.  Something to look forward to, short term purposes along the path of a long one, to celebrate our determination to muddle through the mundane because at the end (of the week), it will be worth it.

Just like employees who need purpose (short or long term), I consider these little celebrations our own little versions of "purpose" (or motivation).  And trust me, nothing makes the kids eat their veggies faster than the motivation of baking cookies or treats on the weekend.

2.  Rituals or "Intimacy".  My husband often has team building exercises at his company, sometimes off-site, and often filled with fun and interesting moments of discovery.  It gives everyone a chance to know each other beyond their professional capabilities.  It's a ritual that his team I think finds comfort because they are valued and listened to as human beings, not employee numbers.  In our home, we also have little rituals (from homework rituals to mealtime rituals).  Things like always saying our blessings before dinner and bedtime.  Or having "Fish Friday" (no-meat dinners on Friday).

There is so much unknown in the world, so rituals big or small gives us the sense of comfort because we know what to expect.  The known.  And when you belong somewhere, you have the courage to fly and discover your passions, knowing there will always be a place to come home to.

3.  Count your blessings or "Appreciation".  I often think there is a misnomer in the business world that managers don't try make their employees feel appreciated.  I actually think there is a huge concerted effort by modern leaders today, more than ever, to involve their employees in many aspects of a business so they are involved, in control and feel their work and opinions are appreciated.  But the fundamental difference I see between many professionals and how I feel as a parent, is true gratitude.  We all work hard.  And yes, we'd like to hear "great job" once in awhile.  But there are many people who work just as hard (if not harder) who don't have the accoutrements that we enjoy today.

When my kids are tired of going to school, or don't like the lunch that was packed, I remind them that there are other children who have to bike an hour to school, or don't have food.  When they see others who don't have as much, they count their blessings and are grateful for what they have, and become more passionate about being better champions of this world.


With these "sparks", hopefully this Valentines you'll ignite a little passion...at work or at home.


Happy Valentines Day!!!




Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes/Cake Pops
(Makes about 2 ½ dozen)


Our daughter received a Cake Pop maker for Christmas. In lieu of using the provided popsticks, we found it made great donut holes instead (aka "Timbits" for my Canadian readers).  However, if you don't own a cake pop maker, the batter of this recipe can be placed in mini-muffin pans (makes about 24) and baked for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.   It's not round, but the taste is the same.

Ingredients:
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½  teaspoons baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
Cinnamon-Sugar Topping
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

    Directions:
    • Beat together sugar and shortening in mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. 
    • Stir together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
    • Alternately blend in flour mixture and milk into shortening mixture, beginning and
    • ending with the flour mixture.
    • Fill each cooking reservoir (if using cakepop maker) or mini muffin cup with about 1 tablespoon of batter.
    • Bake 4 to 5 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into puffs comes out clean. (20 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees if using the mini-muffin tin)
    • For cinnamon-sugar topping, combine cinnamon and sugar in small bowl.
    • Immediately roll hot puffs in melted butter, then in cinnamon-sugar mixture.
    • Makes about 2 ½ dozen
    Enjoy these little bits of heaven!