Friday, November 28, 2014

The After School Salad

I need to share with you one of my recent victories in the battle that is Motherhood Getting Your Kids To Eat Enough Fruit And Vegetables
A dear friend of mine is the chef at a high-end local preschool. I was lucky enough to visit there recently and got a good look at what they do. This preschool is amazing, for many reasons ... but most of all for the exceptional quality of the food. No chicken nuggets or yogurt tubes for these little darlings. Instead, they are fed a menu of organic, local and seasonal dishes hand-made by a trained chef. Every dish is made from scratch, including the main dishes, sauces, desserts and snacks. You will not find bottled ketchup or chicken broth from a can anywhere in the place.
The children are fed a 3-course lunch ... they start with a salad, followed by a main and finally a dessert. They all sit around a big table with their teachers and spend about 45 minutes eating. Like civilized humans - not getting up and down from the table - just enjoying their meal, all the while having a nice conversation - it was remarkable! In this day and age of school-aged children being given 15 minutes to inhale their packed lunches, it was an extraordinary thing to see!
The day I visited, the salad was a mix of greens including spinach, with pears and a citrus vinagrette - not what you would typically expect to see such little children enjoying. But they gobbled it up! And some asked for seconds ... of the salad! I asked my chef friend why she thought the kids accepted the salad so well, and she replied that they had just spent 2 hours outside in the cold air and were starving - at that point they would eat anything.

A massive lightbulb went off in my head! My kids (17, 15 & 11 years old) come home from school absolutely famished each day. I can't explain why, because they eat their lunches and don't seem to be nearly as hungry on the weekends ... but alas, they are ready to eat anything they can find at 4 o'clock on weekdays. I've seen my son eat a huge bowl of Greek yogurt while waiting for leftovers to heat in the microwave. I've seen my 11-year old polish off an entire bag of microwave popcorn by herself. I don't know what happens on that bus ride, but after-school is definitely the hungriest time of the day.

And that was the day The After School Salad was born!

At first, my husband was extremely skeptical. I got the "Why do you set yourself up for disappointments like this?" look. Who am I kidding? I was doubtful myself. But I was willing to give it a shot. So, I made a trip to the grocery store and stocked up on a variety of greens, some other vegetable favourites (cucumber, sweet peppers), some cheese (because cheese makes everything better) and some secret weapons (croutons, pecans, etc.). And I tossed together a simple salad of romaine, kale, cucumbers and pecans with a sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese. I made a quick dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, honey, basil and a bit of salt.

And it worked.

On day one.

They ate every last leaf.

And have ever since.
Crikey ... who knew?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Your Vehicle Organized for Winter


For most of us residing in Canada, winter has arrived – just like it does every year. And yet, so many of us are caught off guard – boots that no longer fit, snow pants with holes in the knees, and not a single pair of matching mittens. This seems especially true with our vehicles - where the heck did we put the windshield scraper back in April anyway? Having your vehicle winter-ready can go a long way toward making mornings more sane … and travel more safe. Here are two checklists – one for those who like to do the bare minimum, and another for those who like to go the extra mile:

Basically Organized:
·           Make an appointment to get your winter tires put on – if you’ve left it until now, you may have to wait a couple of weeks, but at least get the appointment made. Change the oil and have your vehicle tuned-up if needed as well.
·           Put a Snow Brush/Ice Scraper in your vehicle.
·           Make space in your garage (if you have one) to store your vehicle. This may mean putting summer things somewhere else, like a basement or shed.

Totally Organized:
·           Put together a safety kit for your vehicle – especially if you commute. A good list of what to put in it can be found at www.getprepared.ca.
·           Get new windshield wiper blades if you need them. Winter in Canada is hard on wiper blades and they may need replacing from last year.
·           Keep a cell phone charger in your vehicle – because you want to actually be able to call for help when you need it.
·           If you live in the mountains, practice putting tire chains on your vehicle before you actually need them. They are a bit tricky and you want to make sure you know what you are doing.

Take the time to get your vehicle ready for winter (even if you’re a bit late to the party), and you will give yourself huge peace-of-mind when your on the road this winter!




Monday, October 20, 2014

Warp Speed Suppers

I swear every single August that I. WILL. NOT. get myself over-scheduled this fall! There will be no more running around like a chicken with my head cut off! 


But then, there's the kids. They're smart kids. And good kids. And they all want to do really cool stuff. And I'd rather they be busy and engaged than sitting around the house like slugs. So I let them sign up for a whole bunch of things - horse riding, Guides, Scouts, Irish dance, swimming, book club, youth group. And just about everything comes with a fundraising piece to it (don't you just hate the fundraising?). And then it's October and I'm running around like a chicken with my  head cut off ...

One trick I've learned to help tame the madness is to have a file of "Warp Speed Suppers". These are meals that can be thrown together in less than a half-hour (and often in 20 minutes), but still leave you with a relatively clean conscience in terms of nutrition. 

Here are some of our faves:








So be sure to add these to your arsenal of weeknight survival strategies. Let me know how they work out for you ... enjoy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Perfect Fall Turkey Chili

It is definitely Fall in these parts ... in fact, most years in our part of Ontario, Thanksgiving coincides with the Fall colours being at their brilliant best! As a result, we've gotten into the habit of going for a Fall drive on Thanksgiving Monday to take in the scenery. And it was like the Fall-Drive-Gods were shining upon us because the price of gas is the lowest it's been in years right now! All around, a rather pleasant day ...


Last year, we learned the hard way that EVERYTHING is closed on Thanksgiving ... and we couldn't find a restaurant for dinner. So, I planned ahead this year and put on a crock-pot of turkey chill to greet us when we got home ... and it was delicious! In fact, it was so good that I forgot to take a picture until we were half-finished our dinner! Here's what you need:

olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds of ground turkey
3 - 19 ounce cans of mixed beans
2 - 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
2 cups of chicken broth
1 or 2 tbsp of crushed chill peppers (in the tube)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves, crushed*
1 ounce of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan and then sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add the ground turkey and brown until it is almost cooked through (but not entirely). Add the meat mixture and everything else to the slow cooker and cook on low for the day.


This recipe will give you very little heat, so it's great for kids or anyone else not totally down with spicy food. If you want your chill more on the spicy side, add another tablespoon of crushed chili peppers. 

*I've given up on fishing bay leaves out of things, so I just crush it really fine in my hand (you could also use a mortar and pestle if you'd rather), and add it straight to the pot. 

You can get a printable recipe HERE.

Enjoy!







Monday, October 6, 2014

Tex Mex Gnocchi

After a very long hiatus, I'm back with a new recipe. Throughout the summer and early fall, I had really craved the tried and true, and hadn't actually made much in the way of new dishes. I think that's probably a normal season in any cook's life. It certainly has been in mine. I go from cooking new things several times a week, to revisiting our favourites for a period of time! And then back again ...

This dish is a total pantry meal - which is why it was born. I was due to get groceries the next day, and was trying to make do with what was on hand - which wasn't a whole lot. It turned out to be delicious - a carb-addict's dream, with cheesy goodness and a smidge of a bite! Oh and it's ridiculously fast - maybe 20 minutes from start to finish! And only one pot ... which gets it extra bonus points!


This is what you need:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large package of gnocchi (which is probably the equivalent of 2 small ones)
2 cups of salsa, whatever heat you like
1 can of black beans, rinsed
1 can of chopped green chilies
A handful or two of frozen corn
2 cups of shredded cheese (I used Tex Mex, but you probably could use just about anything)



Heat the olive oil in a pan. Saute the onion and garlic for about 3-4 minutes. Add the gnocchi and stir until it's well blended with the onion and garlic. Add the salsa, beans, chilies and corn. Continue to cook on medium until the gnocchi is cooked ... about 15 minutes, stirring it frequently. Add the cheese and stir until it's melted. And there you have it! Delicious!

Let me know if you give this one a try ... would love to hear what you think!!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Organizing Jewellery

I'm not a massive jewellery person. I have a few nice pieces given to me by the Mister or my parents, but mostly I just own costume jewellery. That said, my jewellery box has been a mess ever since we moved here 3 years ago. I hadn't intended for it to get packed with the rest of our things, but ... well, you know how moves go ... and it got all sort of jumbled together.

Anyhow, I had bits and pieces all over the place. I've also been lucky enough to inherit a fair bit of "family heirlooms" - nothing terribly valuable, but all very sentimental. The problem was that I couldn't remember where/who some of it came from - so I wanted to get the details from my mom and have some sort of record of that. Also, I had some jewellery for my own children that I'm holding on to (Christening bracelets, baby rings, etc.)


I was given this jewellery box when my grandmother passed away in 1981. I have 2 other smaller ones as well. So, the idea was to sort and categorize. So I put everything out on the kitchen table and got sorting.


Some pieces required cleaning - like the ring in the orange box above. It's my grandfather's signet ring ... and it's actually silver. At least now it is! 

After several calls to my Mom, I was able to get a few questions answered about where some things came from. Then I put the pieces in individual baggies - these will also help things from tarnishing too quickly. 


These little bags are also great for keeping necklaces from tangling. I kept aside a few things that need repairing - a broken necklace from the Mister, a watch that needs a new battery, a ring that needs to be resized. 


I even came across my children's first tooth (is that strange?) - and thought I'd better label them since I was the only person in the world who knew which was which.


Even with the stuff I actually wear, if there was a story behind it, I labelled the bag. For example, the pearl earrings above are the ones I wore when I got married. And the gold hoops were a gift from the Mister for our first anniversary. 


And then I sorted - this box is for all of the old family pieces that I don't wear - my childhood charm bracelet, my Mom's baby locket, etc.


This box holds pieces that actually belong to my children. The kids are pretty responsible, but I still wouldn't want to lose any of these things - I'm very sentimental that way! (And if you look closely at the picture above, you'll notice that I even have our dog's first tooth - and I swear to you that I'm not actually crazy). 


And this box is for the pieces I actually wear - minus the stuff that's going to be repaired. 


You'll notice that I even bagged some stuff that has no huge sentimental value  - it really just helps to keep the chains from tangling. 

So nice and tidy now. And I actually discovered a few things I'd forgotten about.


From this ... to this!


Have you tackled any nagging organization projects lately?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This Year's Teacher Gift

This year, I have exactly one "end-of-year" teacher gift to buy. Which is a massive deal because in past years, I've had as many as 14. Yes, 14. Which was exhausting and expensive and stressful. But this year, there's only one!! Which is not exhausting, nor expensive and actually kind of fun!

My older kids are in high school and they informed me that there will be absolutely no gift-giving to teachers under any circumstances, lest they (the kids) be dubbed uncool. The teenagers issue ultimatums like this on a fairly regular basis. And recalling the social minefield of high school, I do my best to control myself. 

That leaves little Miss 5th-Grader - who, being her mother's daughter - wanted something a bit nicer than a gift card or box of chocolates. So we put together a lemonade kit ... 


Everything was picked up at Target ... they have all the fixings for a lemonade stand there (in the seasonal section, if you're interested). Like these cute napkins ...


And these cups and straws (hard to see it, but the straws have little umbrellas on them - super cute) ...


Some lemonade mix ...


Everything fit into an acrylic drink dispenser ...


I tied on an orange ribbon ...


And voila! Super easy teacher gift and it didn't even come to $15.


Do you give end-of-year teacher gifts to your kids teachers? If so, what?