Wednesday, April 30, 2014


In an increasingly digital world where it often feels like we're actually not connecting, adding to the challenges like financial restraints, demanding work schedules and conflicting educational objectives can often make it difficult to find the time and energy to continue developing our personal relationships.

Time to connect is very important to me.  Although around this time of year, sometimes that slight feeling of panic washes over me as I wonder if I've planned, booked or scheduled enough travel activities for the summer, amazingly enough, owning a dog has helped us by circumstance, to slow down and disconnect from crazy schedules instead of each other.  More than I had ever imagined, having a dog as part of our family has given us so many beautiful moments together.

Here are 5 ways our dog has given us opportunities to slow down and connect (although owning a dog is not required to do any of these):

1)  Observing the little creatures around us.  So often our dog would run to the door and bark at a squirrel or a bird that is in our backyard.  Although we all get a good laugh to see our dog become overprotective of our family against any critter outside, often it has made us actually stop and look outside and see what is really just at our doorstep...right under our noses.

2)  Going for a walk.  Although we may not be very diligent (especially in snow or rain weather) with our daily walks, we try to highlight it's importance to our daily routine.  We strive to incorporate  physical activity in our daily lives, even if it's just for 10 minutes, to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This brief time gives us a little break, a reprieve from our daily schedule to just collect our thoughts at the end of the day.

3)  Running free.  When we visit our local leash-free dog park, it's amazing the things we discover in our neighbourhood on our way there. Running free without care at the park is just enough to invigorate us and when we breathe that fresh air, the oxygen clears our minds, de-stresses us so we can be open to listen and converse with each other, without anxiety or pent up emotions (and gets our creative juices flowing).

4) Learning new tricks.  I often say the best way to learn is to teach.  It forces you to see from another person's perspective (or in this case, a little animal) what facts are important to know, how to communicate those facts, and patience with teaching and explanation.  Having a dog has given us compassion, not just for our pup who is behaving more and more like a well-mannered dog, but for us as humans, learning to behave and treat each other with kindness and respect.  We all have our own story.

5)  Unconditional love.  No matter what kind of day we've had, our pup is there by our side.  No matter how long we've been out doing our own activities without our dog, whenever we get home, our pup is there patiently waiting without judgement or anger...just waiting to give all the kisses and attention in the world, because we're family.  We can all learn from this pup.

As we plan for the summer season that will arrive in just a few short months, this time, I'm less inclined to worry too much about scheduling activities. We'll still have plenty of summer memories visiting friends and family, cottage activities and BBQ's...and now we'll also have memories of spending lazy days with our pup, just observing the little things around us...and enjoying our quiet moments together.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


No season represents transition better than early spring.  Remnants of winter still hover on the ground as newly melted snow reveals hibernated brown grass from last autumn.  A hint of warm weather, even if it's for a brief mid-day moment, teasing us to shed those warm winter layers in hopes of rising temperatures to come.

Around this time every year, I look at our front garden which desperately yearns for floral pastels to brighten the landscape, and realize that it's still just a little too early to do any planting.  I start to store the winter clothes, most but not all, and carefully choose what spring time clothes can be worn only to resort to wearing a hybrid season wardrobe of winter coats over spring shirts.

I anxiously await the summer, counting down the weeks (only eight!) until it's sunscreen season and we are able to spend more and more time outdoors, without rigid schedules.  But until then, much like the landscape of our front gardens, we'll have to just to wait patiently for brighter days ahead.

Maybe this is nature's way of reminding us to be patient.  Just as Easter is symbolic of resurrection and renewal, early Spring is the season to see what's been hibernating under the snow for all these months, to evaluate where we left off last autumn, and where we need to plant the seeds to grow.  It's symbolic of how we should re-examine what we need to change or improve and discover the opportunity for growth in our personal lives.  If we're patient and plant our seeds carefully, we'll be rewarded with beautiful blooms of spring.

Ham and Cheese Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

This is a great recipe to use up any left over ham and potatoes from Easter dinner.  It has all the tastes of a Spring holiday meal, but also has the comfort and warmth of a hearty soup enjoyed in the chilly air of winter.  This soup has a thick consistency and can make a light meal if served with salad.  After holiday celebrations, I love using leftovers to make either a soup (if I have ham leftovers) or a pie (if I have turkey left overs...I use this recipe: link).

  • 2 cups of cooked ham, finely diced (I used left over spiral can use bacon)
  • 1 green onion, very finely chopped (or 1 small onion)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil or butter.
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (organic)
  • 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes (I used these herb mashed potatoes, here:  link)
  • 1½ cups of half and half (whatever you have on hand...I had milk)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, for serving (I used whatever aged cheese I had on hand...smoked applewood worked really well here!)
  • Croutons for topping ( onions and chives work too)
  • Heat olive oil or butter over medium-high heat and add the chopped onion and cooked ham. 
  • Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add flour and whisk in cook for 1 minute while stirring. 
  • Add broth and mashed potatoes and bring to a boil, while continuously whisking.
  • Add shredded cheddar, and mix vigorously until cheese has melted and blended into the soup.
  • Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the milk and simmer (for approximately 5 minutes more).
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Top with croutons.


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.

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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)

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

  • 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.


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 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 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).

  • 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
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a cast iron skillet or oven proof skillet, saute the onion, garlic in the butter over medium/hight heat.
  • Add the potatoes and cook 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 the 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.

  • 2 cups of maple syrup
  • 1-2 bananas, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 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!