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.

  • 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).
  • 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).


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 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.

  • 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.
  • 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!


  • 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


  • 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).

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.

  • 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).
  • 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!