Wednesday, December 31, 2014

climbing mountains

Usually at this time of the year, I try to clean up old files and sort through our photographs.  It's actually quite fun to go down memory lane to see what we've experienced, accomplished and enjoyed in the past 365 days.  I've seen so much growth in both of our children, and in ourselves, "the adults".

I remember taking the above picture last winter.  We spent a few days up north over the New Year holiday, and this was a particularly beautiful winter day with lots of sunshine, crisp cool air and fresh snow. We filled our days with skiing, tobogganing, trekking on snow trails and laughter.  So much laughter.

In the evenings, we headed back to the cottage cabin for some hot chocolate and warm comfort food. The kids were still full of energy and it seemed that our full days of activities didn't tire them at all (unlike their old mum!).  I remember asking them if they were tired from climbing "the mountain" (some of the hills felt as tall as a mountain).  They shook their heads and said "the higher the hill, the better the ride!"

As we approach 2015, this photo reminds me of that New Year's Day.  The moment when I realized our kids understood that hard work pays off.  Although I don't usually make resolutions, I begin this new year reminding ourselves that in order to enjoy the ride, you must climb the mountain first.

Wishing everyone all the best for 2015.

Happy New Year !!!

Make Ahead Banana Almond Bread Pudding 
with Chocolate Hazelnut Drizzle.
Recipe adapted & combined from
Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding and Baked French Toast

This bread pudding is a cross between baked french toast and traditional bread pudding.  It's worth the effort to make ahead of's a wonderfully sweet morning treat and works well for a laid back New Year's Day morning, since can be easily placed in the oven while none of the creatures in the house are stirring.

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream (or ½ cup of milk of you don't have cream)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 6 cups cubed French bread (or about 15- one inch slices)
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • Almond slices (to top with)
  • Brown sugar (to top)
  • Chocolate Hazelnut spread (like Nutella) drizzle on top.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla and spices until smooth. Stir in bread, bananas (you can also stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips to make this extra sweet).
  • Pour into 9x13 greased glass baking dish and cover with tin foil.
  • Let the bread soak in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  • When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  
  • Top with almonds and sprinkle brown sugar on top.
  • Bake for 25 minutes covered with foil.
  • Bake another 25 minutes without foil, or until the knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  • If desired, slightly warm the chocolate hazelenut spread in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Drizzle.
Serve with syrup.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

merry christmas

From our family to yours, we wish you a very

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

happy face

Each year, the kids perform in their school's Christmas concert, and it's a busy week of rehearsals, costume preparations and a flurry of activity on the last week before the Christmas break.

This year, it felt like time rushed past us a little too quickly, as it seems like we were just adjusting to the new school year.  Now that the children are more and more involved with extracurricular activities, it becomes more challenging to dedicate what little precious time we have left, to prepare for the holidays. In the past, it is during this time of preparation...the baking, the decorating, when we participate as a family and talk about our year ahead, our year behind, or just about what we want to do during the holiday season.

Even though there is constant travel between regular school and work activities along with holiday events, I've found that we now have even more family conversations.  It is during our commute when I hear the funniest jokes, odd curiosities or reflective tales, spoken freely without intention or judgement, but rather just a casual chat to occupy the time while Mom is focused on driving the car.

Although we will continue to enjoy our some of our Christmas traditions...making gingerbread houses, baking cookies, ice skating at the local rink, I won't worry that we aren't "doing enough activities" with the kids this Christmas. Even on those days when we're not doing anything "special", we will choose to be present and in the moment during those precious times we have together...laughing, singing or just chit-chatting.  And watching their happy faces is special enough for me.

Cinnamon Infused Vanilla Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting 
(& gingerbread cookie topping)

These are cinnamon bun inspired cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  I made these for a party, and topped each cupcake with a gingerbread cookie for decoration {recipe, found here}, although these are pretty sweet without it.


For the cupcakes:

  • 1 and 2/3 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (60g) yogurt
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) milk
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Time saving alternate:
You can use pre-made white cake mix.  If you follow the instructions, replace the water with milk. )

For the cinnamon frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • ¼  cup heavy cream (milk works too)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
Time saving alternate:
You can use pre-made frosting.  Just mix in some of the cinnamon/sugar mixture into vanilla frosting, and add 3-4 tbsp of cream cheese to the whole frosting can.  Mix well.  (it tastes similar to cream cheese frosting for cinnamon buns).

Cinnamon Sugar topping/layer:

  • Mix ¼ cup of sugar with 1 tsp. of cinnamon.  (double the quantity if needed).

  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees. 
  • Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 
  • In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. 
  • Whisk in 1 cup of sugar.
  • Stir in egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. 
  • Slowly mix in dry ingredients until no lumps remain. 
  • Spoon about 2 tbsp. of batter into each cupcake liner.  
  • Sprinkle 1 tsp. cinnamon sugar mixture on top.
  • Top another tbsp. of cupcake batter on top of the cinnamon sugar mixture or until the liners are about 3/4 full.
  • Top each cupcake with 1 tsp. of cinnamon sugar.
  • Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before frosting.
Cinnamon Frosting:

  • Beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. 
  • Add icing sugar, cream (or milk), and vanilla extract.  Continue to mix.
  • Increase to high speed and beat for 3 more minutes or until really creamy.
  • Add more confectioners' sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if the frosting is too thick.   
  • Add 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
  • Frost each cupcake.
If you wish, top with gingerbread cookies for decoration, or just serve as is.  Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 5 days.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

shining star

We've been very fortunate to enjoy many holiday celebrations so far...gatherings with friends, stage productions, holiday festivities...taking it all in and enjoying each moment.

Last week, we had the privilege of watching a charming musical production of Cinderella, making it a family-only night of good food and entertainment.  During the intermission, one of the stage managers approached our daughter and asked if she wanted to go on stage to meet Cinderella in front of the live audience. Although my husband and I were enthusiastic and thought it would have been a fun opportunity for her, we didn't want to pressure her into any decisions and allowed her to go with whatever her heart felt.  Although she was flattered by the invitation, she kindly smiled, thanked the young gentleman and declined the offer.

Later that evening, she sensed our curiosity with her decision and as we were driving home, she stated that she really enjoyed kicking back and just watching the show with her family and didn't want to disrupt that time with us just for a few minutes of "performing and be the centre of attention".

Although the lure of the bright lights and audience applause was tempting for her to go on stage, her decision made me proud and amazed at how mature she has become.  She doesn't get easily dazzled or persuaded by what's flashy, but stood her ground with knowing what she felt was important to her at that moment and didn't need false admiration to fulfill her. 

As her parents, we know that the world will be our children's stage, with many more opportunities in the future for both our daughter and son to show how amazing they are. And when that time comes, we know in our hearts, that their star will shine long and bright, beyond any brief spotlight on stage.

Traditional Gingerbread Cookies
(makes approximately 4 dozen)

This recipe makes a crisp cookie, making it ideal to decorate gingerbread people with icing.  Light, simple and easy.

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½  tsp. ground ginger
  • Preheat the oven to 350degrees F.  Line cookie trays with parchment paper.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and water, and mix until fluffy.
  • Stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger.  
  • Add to the first mixture and beat until the dough is mixed.
  • Shape the dough into 2 equal sized rolls, flour your hands and the work surface, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of about ⅓ to ¼  inch (the thicker the better for icing).  Cut out shapes (or put through a cookie press, as I used for the star shaped cookies above) and place about 1 inch apart on the cooking sheet.
  • Make the remaining shapes until all the dough is used.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.
  • Transfer to racks to cool
If you desire, you can decorate with icing.  Recipe found here: Christmas Past