Wednesday, November 26, 2014

sounds corny

While I was growing up near Toronto, one of the traditions my family did every year, was to take a day trip to the Toronto Eaton Centre (a historical, six-storey glass-ceiling landmark built before outlets and super-malls ever existed) to see their annual showcase of Christmas trees and window displays.

On an early Saturday morning in December (stores weren't open on Sundays back then), my brother and I would rush through breakfast and our family would take an hour long drive to the Eaton Centre, wearing our snowsuits, hats and mitts (there seemed to be more snow back then), sweating in the car long before our arrival to the world's longest wait to get a parking spot at our destination.

Our parents then clutched our hands as we maneuvered amongst other excited children as we entered the front door of the big department store called Simpsons, where the Christmas trees were displayed. As a child, it seemed like a Winter Storybook/Wonderland was created, and my brother and I would visit Santa, stare in amazement at all the beautifully lit and decorated trees, pick out one special toy we wanted, and purchase as many presents on our lists for family and friends. We'd then go to the World's Biggest Book store next door to get a few Christmas books, then head out to Chinatown for a quick dinner before heading home. It was always a big and exciting day.

It was a Christmas ritual that faded as department stores closed or moved, and retailers put less effort into the magic of Christmas, and more into the commercialization of it.  Other than the craze for the Cabbage Patch Kids, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon and MonChiChi Monkeys (I dare you to Google down memory lane for that one), one of my most fondest memories weren't the toys under the tree, but the day when the Christmas season officially began for us...our trip to the Eaton Centre.

Now the Christmas season seems to begin when the flurry of ads for Black Friday sales dominate, enticing everyone to trample each other hurry in to get the cheapest TV, just in time for the Christmas season.  As much as I love sales, I wonder if we'll have a generation who will only associate the start of this magical season by the sounds of cash registers and hours of lining up at the mall.

Maybe it sounds corny, but as Thanksgiving is celebrated south of the border, I'll be thankful to continue our own holiday traditions, starting the season by making our annual gingerbread houses, setting up the tree on the first weekend of December and avoiding the aggravation of long line ups this Friday.

Tarragon Creamed Corn
(makes approximately 6-8 servings)

This is a great dish to go with turkey for the holidays.  The sweet corn balances the creamy texture, making it a comforting cold weather side dish.

  • 8 ears of corn on the cob
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 small shallot, finely chopped 
  • 4 sprigs tarragon (or 3 tsp. of dried)
  • 1  cup heavy cream (I used table cream)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • Remove kernels from the corn (I find it easiest to cut the corn in half first, then with the flat end down, with a sharp knife, slice downwards to remove the kernels).  Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add corn kernels and 3/4 cup water.  (When there is an abundance of corn in the summer, I cook the corn, remove the kernels and freeze them.  You can omit adding water if you use pre-cooked corn...just use the back of a spoon to press out the "juice" out of the corn)
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook, until corn is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add cream, parmesan, tarragon; simmer, uncovered, until cream has thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

the simple five: giving

After the Santa Claus Parade arrives and leaves town, it is a signal to start holiday preparations. Gift basket displays, festive music, non stop ads, enticing sales...reminding us to join the crowd as the hustle and bustle of gift shopping begins. 

Amongst the distractions, we should also try remind ourselves on how blessed we truly are, and remember to help those in need. Although it may be difficult to squeeze extra time into this busy season, here are five quick, simple and easy ways (that take very little time) to give back.  
  1. Donate to your local hospital. We are long-time supporters of the Sick Kids Hospital & Foundation. Their beautiful website provides many easy (and fantastic) ways to give. Send a card, enter their "lotttery", or just donate online.  Easy.
  2. Donate food to your local food bank. On your next grocery shopping trip, just add a few non-perishable items into your cart, and drop off a bag on your way out of the store. Many major chain grocery stores have donation bins right at the entrance, so it's easy to give.
  3. Help a senior in your neighbourhood. With all this snow, help shovel their driveway. It might be just an extra ten minutes of exercise (a health benefit for you...or get the kids involved!), but it's a small way that makes a big difference for someone else.  
  4. Donate toys to bring a smile to a child's face this Christmas. Many malls have toy drives/drop-offs (usually found at entrances or at customer service desks). Operation Christmas Child is a great way to bring a smile to a child overseas. Just fill a shoebox with necessities, school supplies and toys and drop it off at one of the many drop off locations. It's easy to fill up these boxes with readily available stocking stuffer-sized items, bringing a smile to children in need. You can also fill a shoebox online, if a drop off location isn't close to you.
  5. Buy gifts that "give back". Luckily there are items now available (in time for the holiday season), that are either made and/or sold by a nonprofit organization or a commercial company, which donates a portion of the proceeds to charity.  Right now, TOMS provides free shipping when you purchase items online. With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. (One for One ®).  So now you can skip the crowds, buy gifts online, and give back at the same time. Awesome!
Happy Giving.

{Disclaimer}: There were no endorsements with any of the charities or companies mentioned (or hyperlinked), for this post.  I just wanted to share the simple ways our family gives back, and a few of the beautiful  charitable organizations we support. All opinions are my own.

Friday, November 14, 2014

the simple five: chocolate avocado pudding

We love avocado in our house, and I often purchase bags of them for various dishes (my tomato avocado salsa is a house favourite).

Although my intentions are overly hopeful that we will consume all of the avocados in a week, on occasion, I have a few left that are on the cusp of being overripe.  

This simple recipe turns avocado into a sweet and relatively healthy dessert (you won't taste the avocado), and it is quite adaptable.  You can add more cocoa powder for a more intense chocolate taste, or you can add bananas, peanut butter or even apple sauce instead of brown sugar to add interest.  Or just increase the amount of sugar to make it more sweet.  This is a great way to have a chocolate dessert with the added health benefits of avocado.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding 
(makes approximately 4 servings)

  • 2 avocados, peeled and pitted.
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (I also liked using almond extract).
  • 1 tbsp. of brown sugar (alternates: one whole banana , ½ cup of peanut butter, ¼ cup apple sauce.) 
  • ½  cup honey or maple syrup
  • ½ cup Organic cocoa powder (I like using the Camino brand).
  • Place all the ingredients into a food processor (I just use a hand immersion blender, with it's blender attachment) and blend until creamy and smooth.  
  • Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Friday, November 07, 2014

the simple five: candy bowl fudge

This uses up quite a bit of candy, which is ideal for any Halloween left overs (if you have any!).  This is not for the faint of heart or for those watching their calorie intake. It is very sweet. Although this will not lower your sugar intake, you can slow down the rapid consumption (by freezing this for later), and find less mini-wrappers tucked in secret places in your furniture...

Candy Bowl Fudge
(makes about 8-12 servings).
{fudge pictured on the left has Mr. Big bars for the bottom layer,
fudge pictured on the right has Crispy Crunch bars for the bottom layer.}


Bottom layer
  • Approximately 32 mini chocolates (those with a cookie or peanut centre work well...Crispy Crunch, Mr. Big, KitKat).

  • 2 cups plain chocolate (about 26 mini bars...I used Caramilk & Aero bar)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  •  ½ cup chopped walnuts (or substitute with chopped bars with nuts...I used 6 mini snickers bars, chopped).  You can also use chopped Smarties or any candy coated chocolates.
  • Line a 8x8 pan with parchment paper, leaving about a 1" overhang from the edges of the pan.
  • Take bars and line the bottom of the pan. (You can make them all uniform or vary the kind you use.  Half of my pan was was lined with Crispy Crunch, the other half, Mr. Big. (KitKat would work lovely too...unfortunately those were all eaten by the time I made this!).
  • Chop plain chocolate (Caramilk/Aero) and place in microwave safe bowl with condensed milk.
  • Microwave on hight stirring twice until chocolate is soft, 2 minutes.  Remove and stir well.
  • Stir in vanilla and chopped walnuts (bars with nuts).
  • While hot, pour over the lined pan of chocolate.  
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
  • Using the parchment paper, lift the whole fudge out of the pan and cut into 1" squares.
  • Fudge stored at room temperature in an airtight container will last up to 10 days. Fudge stored in the refrigerator can last 2 to 3 weeks. (or 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container).
Go to the dentist.