Friday, December 19, 2008

A taste of Walt Disney World right at home

Navigating Walt Disney World is complicated.

Do you hit Toy Story first or Rocking Roller Coaster? Test Track or Soaring? Expedition Everest or the Safari? We recently returned from a family reunion of sorts where 25 people (!) ranging in ages from eight months to 69 years old rendezvoused at Walt Disney World.

Talk about complicated! Thankfully, the one place almost everyone was happy was dinner.

Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge was one of our favourites. Boma is a buffet, but you won’t find any steam tables with languishing, dried-out food here. Everything is cooked fresh in small batches so it’s as if you ordered everything on the menu- the hard part is choosing where to dig in.

With it diverse food offerings and great setting, surrounded by a savanna with roaming giraffes, Boma should not be missed. It is African-themed, but the culinary delights are internationally influenced. Go if you like high quality food in a great atmosphere.

I loved the watermelon rind salad and the Mulligatawny soup. The soup was so wonderful that I asked the chef for the recipe. And guess what? He gave it to me!

If you can’t jet off to Disney, have a little taste of Boma at home.

Boma’s Mulligatawny Soup (slightly adapted)
Makes 8 servings

Mulligatawny is a mixture that originates with the Tamils of southern India (see what I mean about not African, but really international?) It is such a great soup at this time of year. It's spicy and slightly exotic, but based on chicken broth, garlic and onions and somehow these ordinary ingredients seem to sing in it. I think the apples are the secret ingredient that makes this soup extraordinary.

1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup each: chopped celery, carrots and onion
1 tbsp curry powder & minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups diced chicken breast pieces
1/2 cup 35% whipping cream
2 tbsp milk
1 cup each: chopped red and green pepper
2 tbsp each: honey and hot sauce
1 1/2 cups diced apple (cored and peeled- about 2 small)
2 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Melt butter and whisk in flour to make thickening roux.
2. Sauté celery, carrots and onion in oil in large pot over medium heat until tender but not coloured. Add curry, chicken stock and pieces.
3. Whisk in roux, cream and milk and bring to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer to thicken.
3. Add peppers, honey and hot sauce about 10 minutes prior to serving. Add apples and parsley at the last minute. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And the Gargoyles go to...

Can you forgive me for not thinking of a clever way to announce the names of the following lucky readers who have won their very own copy of Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle, just in time for Christmas?

I'm going to go ahead and assume that you can AND that you'll join me in congratulating:

The Reluctant Housewife

Thanks to everyone for reading and for entering. Winners should e-mail their mailing addresses to and I'll ask the folks at Random House to send out your book!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Believing in the extraordinary

A truly extraordinary book makes you believe things your logical mind knows are impossible.

A truly extraordinary book is a rare find. I used plow my way through dozens and dozens of books in search of one so magical that I would happily spend days lost in its thrall. But since Graham's birth and the resultant time crunch, I have discovered few.

And I have missed it.

I have missed the way in which an extraordinary book makes the world seem more exotic and full of possibility. I have missed being awestruck by the evocative power of a masterful wordsmith and the unfettered imagination of a gifted storyteller.

I have missed books like The Gargoyle.

The Gargoyle starts when the caustic protagonist, a morally bankrupt porn star, swerves to avoid a vision of fiery arrows and plunges his car into a ravine where it is consumed in flames. After awakening in a hospital abandoned by friends, financially bankrupt and essentially transformed into a human gargoyle by virtue of extensive and excruciating burns, he bides time and plots his suicide.

Until something extraordinary happens.

A beautiful, heavily-tattooed psychiatric patient and sculptress (of gargoyles, no less!) visits his bedside and claims to have been his lover some 700 years ago. Is she mad? At first the unnamed narrator thinks so . But eventually she draws him into her world and out of his despair with uncanny, historically- accurate accounts of their life together and mesmerizing tales of undying love from around the world and throughout the ages.

The Gargoyle is the debut novel by Andrew Davidson, a previously unknown Canadian who spent seven years crafting it full of illusions to myths and fables and great literature from the Bible to Dante's Inferno. It was the subject of a heavily-publicized bidding war for publishing rights and has received massive amounts of press since its release this past summer.

And for good reason.

It is impossible to characterize The Gargoyle. It could accurately be described as a mystery, a horror, a medical primer, a historical tome and a Gothic love story. Though at times overwrought, it is nonetheless one of the richest and most satisfying books I have ever discovered: truly extraordinary.


The Gargoyle is published by Random House Canada and would make a treasured Christmas gift for any book-lovers on your list. I also have three free copies to give away to Canadian readers only (sorry to my American friends). Leave a comment below to win. I'll close comments next Wednesday and publish the winners' names shortly after.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The easiest Thanksgiving dinner you'll ever make!

Call it getting by with a little help from my friends: nobody needs to know their names are Uncle Ben and Betty Crocker.

Tackle these recipes the traditional way and it’s an all day affair or sneak in a few simple fakes and presto: you have extra time to play with your children, go for a walk, visit a friend or just relax. Print out the shopping list and get ready to save time and eat well.

Wondering why a girl in Toronto would be fussing with Thanksgiving in November? We're celebrating American Thanksgiving this year because our son is going to school in Lake Placid and is home for the holiday. So we are thankful and eating turkey together with family and friends this week just like millions of other across the border. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

Game Plan: Since most people have only one oven, big holiday meals can prove problematic. The key to success is balance stove top cooking with oven required items.

Oven Roasted Turkey Breast with Maple Thyme Glaze
If a big turkey is overwhelming, cook the breast only. It cooks in about an hour and there's no tricky carving. The simple glaze elevates it to something special. Time saved = 4 hours

2 1.5 to 2 lb split bone-in turkey breasts (the whole breast but cut into two parts)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
1 tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Combine butter and maple syrup in a microwavable bowl and micro for 90 seconds or until butter has melted and syrup has boiled and thickened. Add thyme.
3. Place turkey on a roasting pan. Brush turkey with oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook in preheated oven.
4. Baste turkey with maple mixture after 50 minutes. Continue to cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until an internal thermometer reads 165F. The timing can vary due to the amount of time the oven door is opened and close so a thermometer is highly recommended. Remove turkey from oven then baste once more. Tent turkey with foil to rest for at least 10 minutes. Use roasting pan to make gravy.

Stove-top Cider Gravy
Traditional gravy takes at least 20 minutes, ours 3. Time saved = 17 minutes

3 cups apple cider
2 packages poultry gravy mix

1. Add cider to roasting pan to loosen any baked on bits.
2. Whisk in mix and move roasting pan to stove element set to medium high. Bring to a boil then reduce temperature to low. Add additional cider if gravy is too thick.

Sausage, Apple & Cranberry Stuffing (stove-top & oven baked)
This stuffing may come from a box, but it sure doesn’t taste like it. Sausages, tart apples and cranberries make it an instant favourite. Spend your time prepping the embellishments, not mountains of dried bread. Traditional stuffing takes up to 45 minutes to prepare, ours: 10 minutes. Time saved = 35 minutes

3/4 lb sausages (Italian or garlic and herb)
2 Granny smith apples, cored and diced but not peeled
1/4 cup butter
2 cups water
1 cup dried cranberries
2 boxes stuffing mix (120 g Uncle Ben’s Stuffing Mix)

1. Squeeze sausage from casing and cook in a large pot over medium heat. Break up sausage into small pieces while it cooks. Add apples during last few minutes of cooking.
2. Add butter and seasoning packages, if separated, and water to pot. Increase temperature to high and stir to combine. Add cranberries and dried stuffing mix. Combine then transfer to large greased baking pan or casserole container. Can be prepared in advance up to this point and refrigerated until ready to bake. Cover and bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes.

Garlic Mashed Potato Bake (stove-top & oven baked with stuffing)
Two convenience products in one dish elevate each other to new heights. The hash browns add a chunky texture to otherwise boring mashed potatoes. Although pre-cooking the hash browns adds a step, the creamier finished product is worth it. Green or yellow onions can be used in place of leeks.

1 package frozen hash brown potatoes (680 gr)
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 cup chopped leeks
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 package dried mashed potato mix (113 gr Idahoan Butter and Herb is good)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup goat cheese
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
pinch ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

1. In a pot of boiling water, cook frozen hash browns 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In same pot, cook leeks and garlic in 1 tbsp butter over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add water and milk then bring to a boil. Stir in potato mix and drained hash browns. Turn off heat.
3. Mix in remaining butter, sour cream and goat cheese. If mixture looks to stiff, add more milk. Stir in nutmeg, salt and pepper.
4. Transfer to a greased glass lasagna pan (9 x 13). Bake for 60 minutes in a preheated 350 F oven or until golden brown around edges and on top. Broil for the last five minutes to brown up if needed. Leave broiler on if making brussel sprouts.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
Pretend that you have a sous chef who has pre-trimmed and blanched your brussel sprouts when you start this recipe. At that point you are simply warming vegetables and garnishing with crisp bacon. Time saved = 20 minutes

1 kg frozen brussel sprouts, defrosted and drained
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp olive oil
8 slices pre-cooked bacon, chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
salt and pepper

1. In an baking pan large enough to hold sprouts in one layer, broil sprouts in chicken stock 5” from heat source until warmed through and stock has almost evaporated, about 6 minutes.
2. Add olive oil and toss. Sprinkle bacon over top and continue to broil until bacon is crisp and brussel sprouts are browned on the edges, about 8 minutes. Shake pan after 4 minutes to prevent one side from burning.
3. Carefully add vinegar (it will bubble when it hits the hot pan). Swirl around to coat sprouts and bacon. Season with salt (check first because bacon adds saltiness) and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

Stove-top Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Puree
I love butternut squash but cutting and peeling sometimes turns into a wresting match with sharp objects: case in point. A simple fake uses diced squash and canned sweet potato. The roasted red chile paste adds a smoky note to this sweet dish. Look for the small jar in the Asian food section of your grocery store. Time saved= 25 minutes

1 kg frozen, diced butternut squash
1 can sweet potato (597 ml), drained
1/4 cup butter + 1tbsp for finishing
1 tsp each: vanilla and salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp each: cinnamon and cumin
1/4 tsp roasted red chilli paste pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar, to taste

1. Cook frozen squash in steamer insert over boiling water for 5 minutes or until defrosted. Drain well and transfer to a large pot. Add sweet potatoes and mash. Over low heat, add remaining ingredients except sugar and stir well.
2. Sprinkle brown sugar and small pieces of reserved butter over top so it can melt in. Cover pot and keep warm until ready to serve. Taste and add further seasoning if needed.

Pear Upside Down Cake
For best results use two 9” diameter round cake pan. Plan to bake this cake while you are eating dinner so that you can serve it immediately. Scratch cake easily takes 25 minutes to pull together, ours only 7 minutes from start to finish. Time saved = 18 minutes

1/3 cup butter + extra for buttering pan
11/4 cups brown sugar
2 cans Bartlett pear halves or slices (398 ml/14 oz)
1 box lemon cake mix*
3 tbsp cornmeal
* ingredients plus 3 eggs, 1 to 1 1/4 cups water and 1/3 cups oil

1. Melt butter in microwave. Add brown sugar and microwave 90 seconds or until bubbly and brown sugar has dissolved.
2. Pour half of the syrup in each buttered cake pan. Tilt pan to distribute evenly. Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely cover pan bottom. Arrange fruit cut side down in a pretty pattern. Slice extra thick pieces so entire pan has fruit on it.
3. When preparing cake mix add 3 tbsp of cornmeal prior to adding wet ingredients indicated on the box.
3. Pour half of the cake mix (2 1/4 cups in each pan) over fruit.
4. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes clean when inserted into the center of the cake and the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
5. Immediately after removing the cake from the oven, run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Use a larger (10” minimum) plate held on top of the cake pan. Flip the pan over and gently remove the cake pan. Serve immediately.

Shopping List
2 x 1 1/2lb bone in turkey breasts (called split breasts)
maple syrup
fresh thyme
apple cider
2 package poultry gravy mix
1 lb Italian sausages
3 granny smith apples
2 boxes stuffing mix (120 gram is usual size)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 package frozen hash brown potatoes (680 gr)
2 leeks
minced garlic
1 package mashed potato mix (4 serving size)
sour cream
goat cheese
Asiago cheese
1 kg frozen diced butternut squash
1 can sweet potato (597 ml), often incorrectly referred to as yams
brown sugar
toasted walnuts
1 kg frozen Brussels sprouts
chicken stock
1 package precooked bacon
cider vinegar
2 cans Bartlett pear halves
1 box lemon cake mix

Friday, November 21, 2008

Four ingredient squash soup

I have been on a soup kick lately, probably due to the cold weather, being able to see my breath when I run in the morning and gasp, snow! Soup on the brain led me to plan a soup party for our skiing friends a few weeks back.

Six soups simmered on the stove for guests to help themselves. Some just wanted to try one or two; a few wanted a “flight of soups” and tried all six! It was such a relaxed and fun party with everyone jammed into our kitchen sipping soup. One of the soups simmering was squash soup. Bright orange and studded with bacon, it was a big hit.

I picked up a very green turban squash at the local farmers market a week or so beforehand. It was really interesting looking- the most pronounced turban shape I had ever seen. Turban (or buttercup squash) is extremely flavourful and sweet-much more pronounced than butternut squash. Look for it in the fall when squash varieties are abundant. Turban is one of my favourites for cooking and roasting the squash before adding to the soup intensifies the flavour even more.

The most difficult part of this soup was trying to cut the hard shelled squash in half so I could scoop out the seeds and roast it. Although I managed without cutting off my left hand, be very careful when attacking the turban squash.

1 large squash, cut in half and seeded (about 3 lbs)
4 slices of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock

1 Preheat oven to 375 F.
2 Lightly oil sheet pan. Place squash cut side down and bake for 45 minutes or until squash is tender.
3 While the squash is baking, cook bacon until crisp in a large pot. Crumble and set aside.
4 In same pot over medium heat, sauté onion in bacon fat until translucent.
5 When squash is cool enough to handle, scrape flesh from skin and mash then add to pot.
6 Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring to combine.
7 Reduce heat to simmer. Use an immersion blender to puree until desired smoothness.
8 Add crumbled bacon. You also can thin out with more stock or milk if needed but I find it is usually just perfect.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Putting a postive spin on the holidays

I don't think there will ever be another Doctor Seuss.

He is the unchallenged master of rhythm - all types of rhythm - and when another author attempts to write in a similar fashion, it's natural, if admittedly unfair, to draw comparisons. It's not easy to make words trickle off the tongue in a manner that will enthrall young readers and unfortunately that was abundantly clear when I settled in to read three books the Parent Bloggers Network recently provided for me.

All Hallows Eve, Winter's Eve and Christmas Eve, from Positive Spin Press, are illustrated and written by husband and wife team Lisa Sterlazza Johnson and Tucker Johnson. They are holiday-themed books which introduce children to the myths and stories behind Halloween, Christmas and a number of other holidays around the world by way of a charming little fairy named Eve.

It's an absolutely wonderful concept, the illustations are beautiful and there are certainly times when the rhythms, written in the anapaest style a la The Night Before Christmas - are lovely. But there are also times, quite a few times, when the rhyming is so forced it difficult to read the stories in the lyrical style in which they are intended to be read.

The books are recommended for children aged four and up or children from 2.5 years of age who are used to being read to. Graham has just turned three and he is a voracious reader but as valiantly as I tried I couldn't seem to hold his interest with the stories.

Perhaps he will enjoy them more when he is a little older, but I do think the awkward phrasing and some of the convoluted stories - particularly in the Winter's Eve book - were definitely a factor in his disinterest.

I have never made a conscious effort to seek out books that tackle explanations of holidays and traditions for children and I have heard from people with older children that appropriate stories of this nature are few and fair between. If that's the case, these tales from Positive Spin Press may well be excellent alternatives to what's currently available.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Insider's Report marks 25 years of revolutionary food

Two very important events in my life occurred in 1983: I got my driver’s license and the first President's Choice Insider’s Report was published. Both were revolutionary.

My driver’s license gave me my personal freedom, but the Insider’s Report rocked the world of the staid (or quite frankly boring) grocery industry with much greater impact. Marketing genius Dave Nichol turned “no name” private label products into innovative, must-try grocery items. He and his team travelled the world to find new tastes and sold them to Canadians by telling stories about their travels and explaining why they were must-try products.

I can only assume in the early days there were a few dissenters from corporate accounting, making snide remarks about Nichol and his band of foodies as they racked up Air Miles at their expense. Maybe they didn’t believe that good stories sell product. Nobody doubts now the power of the much-copied Insider’s Report.

The 25th Anniversary Insider’s Report was launched November 11th in Toronto. Martin Jamieson, Executive Vice President, Loblaws Brands, introduced the Report and 145 products were showcased.

We sampled the delectable wild Pacific salmon wellingtons made with Alaskan Pacific salmon certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The salmon was tasty but the proportion of salmon to flaky pastry was a little off in my opinion.

The Insider's Report has introduced 18 lasagnas over the years but now they think they have perfected the dish with the PC Our Best Ever Meat Lasagna. Chock-a-block with a combination of beef and spicy sausage, a béchamel and then a garlic rapini layer I thought it sounded pretty standard, except for the unusual rapini. But the thing that brought it up to amazing, was the super thin sheets of pasta.

I don't have an aversion to carbs, but in some of the past President's Choice (and other) lasagnas, the sheets of pasta were so thick you needed a steak knife to cut them. With this one, that was not the case. And when product developer Sita Kacker waxed poetically about her lasagna, I was convinced it must contain an entire day’s worth of calories, but not so. At 440 calories, it is not outrageous and worth it.

If you are a fan of the PC Dulce de Leche in the jar, you're in luck: just for the holidays you can get it on top of a cheesecake. PC took their creamy New York-style cheesecake topped it off with tantalizing Dulce de Leche caramel crème sauce. I love the Dulce de Leche on other things but cheesecake just isn’t my bag. It was good and everyone was raving so if you like cheesecake, stock up before it is gone.

We also tasted the Veneto Pumpkin Triangoli that was served with brown butter and sage on a stick for easy eating. The sweet pumpkin filling is combined with crushed ameretti cookies which really cranks up the sweetness but when combined with a savoury sauce they are a knock out. Buy and try, your guests will love them.

And finally, if you take one thing from this years Insider’s Report and run with it, hands down, it has to be the Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels with Sea Salt.

They have Dave Nichol’s stamp all over them. Here's the Insider story: “We happened into a sweet shop or confetteria last December (ok, so I am so there already with them…) and we were surprised to find salted chocolates were the “in” gift.”

And now they will be your “in” gift one year later thanks to the Insider’s Report - that is, if you can stop yourself from eating these dangerously delicious caramels yourself. I am warning you, they are that good and at $5.99, a small indulgence that you can only get at stores that carry President’s Choice products.

Chalk up one more revolutionary year for the Insider's Report. As for me? I still have my driver's license, but 25 years later I've got wrinkles to boot!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eebee's Adventures Winner

Elmo says Ellyn!

Shoot me an e-mail with your address Ellyn and I'll get the folks at eebee to send out your books. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Amazing baby

Forget about how cute your kid is.

The next time your little one struggles to master a milestone, look past the adorableness of their efforts and really consider the finer details of the science behind how the mind and body are developing.

Amazing, isn't it?

I have written before about how I am spellbound by the technical perfection I see evidenced in my son's growth. I find the complex systems that come together with such precision to allow him to master speech and movement and a million other things both incredibly moving and endlessly enthralling.

And I think that's why I have been similarly enthralled by Amazing Baby by Desmond Morris, a new book that explains the scientific side of a baby's development and illustrates its explanations with more than 250 photos of such heartbreaking beauty, I was left fully convinced of the miraculous nature of life.

Dr. Desmond Morris is an internationally acclaimed zoologist who published The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal in 1967. In Amazing Baby he explains how biology, physics, genes and other factors come together to produce a baby and then goes on to chronicle each stage of its development from in the womb to the first two years of life.

Amazing Baby is an extraordinary book, so rich and full and satisfying you could lose yourself in it for hours. I was desperately torn on whether to keep my copy or give it away to a friend who is about to have her first child.

In the end, I decided I'll have to share it - I can't think of a better way to introduce to my friend the way in which science and nature are about to work in perfect harmony to produce pure magic in her life.

* This review of Amazing Baby was done for the Parent Bloggers Network*

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eebee's Adventure Series

When Graham was a baby I spent hours and hours reading to him, watching intently to see if he showed any interest at all in the pictures and stories that I took great pains to animate.

He didn't really. I know he enjoyed our time together but I think any enthusiasm he showed was a reaction to the sound of my voice or our closeness and the attention being paid him, as opposed to any of the wide array of books that we worked our way through.

When he reached the age of one or so it became difficult to continue reading together. There was no way Graham was sitting still unless I could hold his attention, and words on a page were not cutting it. Anxious to keep on reading I tried out a ton of big, clunky, interactive books designed for young toddlers, but none of them held his interest.

It's too bad I wasn't asked to review books from eebee's adventures series back then.

A few months ago the folks at eebee's asked me to take a look at their series of interactive cloth books which are designed to help babies and young toddlers explore words, sounds, textures and imaginative play, as well as exercise their fine motor skills.

That might sound like a tall order for a series of books but eebee's adventure series are actually books and toys all rolled into one.

For example, eebee's Laundry Time, which recently won a National Parenting Publications Award, has activities for the young reader on every page, including taking towels out of the laundry bag and putting them into the washer, spinning the peek-a-boo washing-machine wheel, hanging eebee’s pajamas on the line and putting them away in the drawers.

All of the books in the series are similarly cool and much more interesting and carefully designed than any of the books I tried to interest Graham in when he was at that in-between age... too young to appreciate a story or characters, too old to be content sitting still and listening to my voice. I really think any parent with an older baby or young toddler will enjoy reading and playing with them together.

You can learn more about eebee's adventure series of books and other eebee products at You can also win a series of books just by leaving a comment below - I'll have Graham pick the winner's name out of a hat next weekend.

Good luck!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kicking it old school with Moo and Beans

The thing I have against a lot of television shows and videos aimed at young children is that they're just too good.

And by good I mean slick. A part of me feels nervous about carefully crafted dialogue, seamless pacing and flashy production values. I'm not sure if it's because I fear Graham's developing brain doesn't stand a chance against the onslaught or if I'm simply nostalgic for the bumpy charm and hokeyness of some of the productions I remember loving in the 1970s.

Whatever the reason, when I agreed to review the DVD My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me I fell hard for a couple of guys named Moo and Beans and immediately hoped their homespun antics would strike a chord with Graham.

My Baby A to Z is designed to teach children their shapes and the hosts are Moo and Beans - Monkey and Tiger puppets respectively. Along with their friends they bop around in front of scenes of simple animation and real video, strings in full sight, dancing with awkward abandon to funky base lines, in search of a variety of shapes.

I was happy to see that Graham loved them as much as I did. After just a few minutes he was shouting shapes at the television and jumping on the couch trying to imitate the child actors who also appear on screen and encourage children to make themselves into the shapes.

After the DVD was over I took a minute and asked Graham to try and find some of the new shapes he'd learned in objects around the room and he did so enthusiastically.

I feel strangely gratified that a program which (obviously deliberately and cleverly) employs a less slick and more retro approach is still able to stimulate my son: parents these days are lead to believe this generation of children have attention spans so short they need state-of-the-art bells and whistles to help them learn.

My Baby A to Z proves that they don't. It proves that solid concepts, goofy engaging characters and a phat, funky bass line does the job very nicely, thank-you-very-much.

*I reviewed My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me for the Parent Bloggers Network which has 20 free copies to give away to lucky readers. Click here for more details on that. You can also order it from the My Baby A to Z web site and put in the special Don Mills Diva discount code - F65RQW5J - for a 20% discount off the $19.99 selling price. The DVD is also available here on Amazon.*

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Creamy, dairy-free salmon chowder

There seems to be a direct correlation between food that appeals to me and the weather. As soon as the wind feels crisper, I immediately want to simmer things on the stove until the kitchen steams up. I love sitting together at the table over a bowl of lovely chowder or a bowl full of cassoulet.

In September I started my annual empty-out-the-freezer project and hauled out the skeleton of a giant Pacific salmon I had filleted it after it had a starring role in a photo shoot I was working on. The beast was 11 pounds so you can imagine the size of its carcass occupying my freezer.

I threw in some shrimp shells, carrot, celery and onions in a pot with the chopped fish bones and covered with water. As a testament to my lacking fish filleting skills, there was quite a bit of salmon still around the bones. About 10 minutes into the simmer, I pulled the salmon meat from the bones and set it aside. I thought I would make some sort of soup, maybe salmon chowder.

Last weekend we had my in-laws over for dinner. In addition to being celiac, my mother-in-law is also lactose intolerant. My plan for using the stock in creamy fish chowder now seemed a little cruel until I remembered a recipe I created for September’s Canadian Family magazine.

In a moment of culinary genius (I think!) I added instant potato flakes to a corn chowder to thicken it up quickly. Voila! It seems it is possible make creamy chowder and still keep my mother-in-law's tummy happy.

Check it out!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 head fennel, trimmed and diced, reserve fonds for garnish
2 celery stalks, chopped
6 cups fish stock
1 cup potato flakes
1 cup salmon pulled from bones, optional
salt and pepper
a splash of Pernod, optional

1. Sauté vegetables in large pot until softened.
2. Add fish stock and stir in potato flakes. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Add reserved salmon.
3. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add Pernod if using.
4. Serve sprinkled with chopped fennel fonds.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Very chocolatey dairy, wheat and egg-free cupcakes

I really hate including the word “free” in recipe titles.

It just sounds so negative - like glass-half-empty thinking. What would be a more positive recipe title be? Full of Delicious Chocolatey Flavour Cupcakes? Or maybe Chocolate Bursts of Flavour Cupcakes?

At any rate, Saturday was my dear friend’s son's second birthday. For something different, the little guy blew out candles that sat in a giant cupcake cake, consisting of cupcakes set on a 5-tier cake stand! It was spectacular!

Well, for almost everyone.

One little girl stared longingly at the cupcakes knowing that she couldn't eat even one. Not only was she gluten intolerant, she couldn’t tolerate diary.

So this recipe is for her. And you can enjoy it too.

I did ice the cupcakes with butter cream which, as its name suggests, has butter in it, but you can substitute margarine combined with a bit of vegetable shortening to add body to the icing.

This recipe makes two dozen mini cupcakes or 12 regular sized beauties.

1/2 cup each: vegetable oil, honey, applesauce and water
3/4 cup garfava bean flour
1/4 cup each: potato starch and arrowroot
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp each: baking soda and xantham gum
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
2. In a bowl stir oil, honey, applesauce, vanilla and water together.
3. In another bowl combine remaining ingredients together.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined.
5. Spoon batter into greased or lined pans. If you want to make small mini cupcakes, you will need to prepare a third pan.
6. Bake 12 minutes for mini cupcakes and 20 minutes for regular sized or until a tester comes clean.
7. Cool on a rack and ice if desired.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eat Well Save More

I think most moms find fall a rather expensive time of year.

There are back to school expenses and fall wardrobe upgrades and, at least in my case, increased food costs as I begin my annual cold weather bulk-up.

Luckily this year I got a little help in that department from the generous folks at Loblaws who sent me over a food basket featuring some of the grocery items they slashed prices on as part of the recent Eat Well Save More promotion at their family of stores.

You may have noticed the Eat Well Save More logo throughout September on items such as Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail, Tostitos, Diana's BBQ Sauce, Kraft Salad Dressings and Jello. Graham and I certainly enjoyed the basket - only minutes after it arrived he was scarfing down chips and chugging cranberry cocktail like it was practically free.

Oh wait, it was free.

And luckily for me, the prices remained reduced for several weeks as Graham has developed a serious addiction to cranberry cocktail.

Either that or he's just joining mommy in her annual cold weather bulk up.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Helping you fight big oil

Don't you hate it when you're enjoying a yummy banana muffin and you notice an oil slick on the napkin it's sitting on?

Yuck! These muffins are moist but not full of fat. Better yet, they are completely dairy free. Turn these into to gluten-free muffins by replacing flour with equal parts of Bette Hagman’s 4-Bean Mix and adding 1 tsp xanthan gum.

These delicious muffins turned out square 'cause I used my amazing Calphalon dessert bar pan that makes single serving desserts like cheese cakes or petit fours. I'll make sure to put up another recipe showcasing this versatile pan, so you can wow your friends at your next “girl’s night in”.

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp each: baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 1/2 cups flour

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 12 muffin tin lightly with oil.
2. Combine eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce and bananas together in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl stir dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and mix until combined.
4. Divide batter between muffin cups.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Bette Hagman’s 4-Bean Mix (Makes 9 cups)
2 cups Garfava bean flour
1 cup sorghum flour
3 cups cornstarch
3 cups tapioca flour

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A cub bear tries to prettify herself: fails

It's a fact that the older I get, the more maintenance I require to look my best.

But it's also a fact that the age at which I need to spend more time on my appearance - uh, NOW! - just happens to coincide with an incredibly busy time in my life.

So it's no wonder I'm always looking for a quick beauty fix and was instantly intrigued when the folks at Whitening Listerine Quick Dissolveing Strips contacted me and asked to review their product.

What could be easier than tooth-whitening strips you just put on and leave? No timing the removal, no messy clean-up afterwards. I could just pop them on before I went to bed and wake up with gorgeous, whiter teeth.

Easy as pie, right?

Yeah, not so much.

I did use the whitening strips as directed for two weeks and at the end of that time period my teeth did appear to be slightly whiter and brighter than when I started.

But the problem was getting the darn things on my teeth in first place. The very thing that makes these whitening strips so appealing - they dissolve! - makes them very difficult to deal with. If your fingers are even just a little moist they will get sticky and be rendered useless before you can get them positioned properly.

I ruined several strips just trying to get them out of the packaging and several more trying to get them on - imagine placing tiny pieces on saran wrap on your teeth and you start to get the idea.

This was the resulting debris from my very first attempt to use the strips:

It's not a pretty sight.

The folks at Whitening Listerine Quick Dissolving Strips very generously provided me with lots of samples, so the wasted ones didn't constitute a financial loss for me, but if had paid for them I would have been pissed.

In a nutshell: I think dissolving whitening strips are fantastic idea, but the execution and the packaging needs some work.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my father often compares my skill and grace to that of a cub bear: if you are a careful and meticulous sort, wrangling these strips may not present a problem at all.

In either case, more information and fantastic money-saving coupons for Whitening Listerine Quick Dissolving Strips are available on this web site.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Never fear, gluten-free pizza is here

Don’t be scared.

Yeast does not bite. Toss aside all those silly notions that baking with yeast is difficult. It is not. Remember to check your yeast expiry date (it is on the back of the package or jar) and store yeast in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. It is that simple. Now reward yourself with a slice of hot slice of zza.

Brown rice flour and potato starch don’t have as much protein as wheat flour so that’s why we up the protein with the addition of dried milk, egg whites, gelatine and egg replacer. If you have been craving a pizza with a great crust-just go for it and let me know how it turns out. This recipe makes crust for 3-10” pizza’s.

1/2 cup egg whites from a carton or 4 whites from whole eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 1/4 cup potato starch (not flour)
1/3 cup dry buttermilk powder-dairy-free but not nut-free folks can sub ground almonds or diary and nut-free girls can use same amount of flax meal
1 tbsp each: xanthan gum & egg replacer
1 tsp each: salt & gelatine
2 tbsp sugar
1 package (2 1/2 tsp) Quick rise yeast

1. Combine the egg whites, oil, vinegar and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or bowl if you are mixing by hand.
2. Mix together remaining ingredients in another bowl.
3. Gradually combine the dry ingredients into the wet on low speed.
4. Increase speed to high. If you need additional water (if it is a dry day or you live in a desert climate) add one or two splashes and mix in. Mix for 2 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, start in a bowl with a big wooden spoon. The dough should look like a really thick pancake batter
5. Divide dough into 3 equal portions. On a silicone mat* (or parchment sprayed with a little oil) lined sheet pans, use plastic wrap laid over the dough and pat it out into a 10” diameter disk.
6. Let rise 15-20 minutes (no fear here-we are not looking for height). Pre-bake bases for 10 minutes then top with sauce and your favourite pizza toppings and bake for 10-12 minutes until bubbling and the cheese has melted and browned. You can do the second baking directly on the oven racks if you wish.

I dressed our pizza with tomato sauce, prosciutto, Asiago cheese and then topped the baked zza with baby Arugula. Yum

Only cooking for one? Pre-bake the remaining two crusts wrap and freeze for a quick person pizza dinner.

Silicone mats used in baking to provide a nonstick surface without fat or parchment paper. Silicone mats contain a glass weave that reinforces the silicone. Silpat is a popular French brand that comes in a variety of sizes to fit all pan shapes.

****** I got an e-mail last week from a reader and fellow blogger Kelly who writes over at Dash of Chaos. Kelly is an independent rep for Epicure Selections which offers a huge variety of spices and dips that are 99% gluten-free. If you're looking to spice up your pizza or anything else in your kitchen check out her web site - ********

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I will not be broken

I have never actually stepped on a land mine.

Unlike Jerry White I have never been physically been blown apart just when I least expected it.

But emotional blasts? Ah yes, I've survived a few. Like everyone else, I've had to confront my fair share and as I have slugged my way through I'm always reminded of the old saying "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."

Jerry White not only agrees with that statement, he wrote a book detailing how you can actually make the old proverb your truth. White is the author of I Will Not be Broken, 5 Steps to Overcoming A Life Crisis: I agreed to write a plug for his book because I think his work with American military veterans is an inspiration and I think sometimes we all need to be reminded of how to turn lemons into lemonade.

In 1984 Jerry White was a young college student backpacking around Israel when he stepped on a land mine. He lost his leg and nearly his life but he did not lose his spirit.

He was inspired by his experience to work to ban land mines and to co-found Survivor Corps, an organization that uses peer support to help survivors of armed conflict, including Iraq veterans, overcome their injuries, rebuild their lives and rejoin their communities.

Over the last two decades working with disaster and conflict survivors White has been able to pinpoint exactly how people may effectively take their horrible defining incidents and turn them into strengths. He even has a five step program:

1. Face facts
2. Choose life
3. Reach up
4. Get Moving
5. Give Back

I Will Not Be Broken features words of wisdom and experience from the likes of Lance Armstrong, Nelson Mandela and the late Princess Diana. It's an inspiring yet practical book which provides a road map for dealing with loss and putting your life back together again after tragedy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The post where we both learn something

Did you even know there was such a thing as "sight words"?

I didn't.

Despite the fact that my mother was a kindergarten teacher for 40 years, I had never even heard the term.

For my fellow cave dwellers, sight words - of, and, he and you, for example- are words that don't follow basic decoding rules and must be memorized by new readers. Kids who learn early to memorize these words - also called instant, star and high frequency words - find learning to read much less frustrating.

I only learned of this whole concept when the Parent Bloggers Network offered me a chance to review a DVD designed to help teach kids how to memorize sight words. Rob and I have been reading to Graham on a regular basis since he was a baby but I've never really considered the logistics involved in him learning to read for himself, so I thought perhaps it might be a good idea to give it a shot.

Graham and I tested out Meet the Sight Words 1, the first in a series of three DVDs which feature the words being read over and over while morphing from big block letters into animated characters. For example, he becomes a castle from which knights and horses ride and balloons (always a favorite around here) are released.

The first time I put on the DVD, as much as I tried to cheer lead, Graham was not engaged at all. The second time, after bribing him to stay put with some popcorn, he actually sat through nearly half an hour of it and was engrossed enough that I was able to slip into the bathroom.

"What are you watching?' I asked him upon my return.

"It's and mommy," he cried in reply. "Look mommy, it's and."

And is a start.

Later that night I pointed out and in one his bedtime stories. He didn't recognize the word right away, but once I prompted him he remembered it.

And that is a start.

I'm definitely going to throw on the Meet the Sight Words 1 DVD again but I think I'll wait for a month or so. The series is recommended for ages 15 months to six years so, at not yet three, Graham's still at the young end of the age range.

I don't intend to push anything on him, but I think the repetition and the animated characters will help him memorize his sight words and I now realize this is an important step in learning to read.

Even though I didn't know there was such a thing as sight words just a month ago.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gluten-free crispy honey almond bars

I know- the recipe doesn’t sound like it could possibly work.

No eggs, no flour, no butter, no typical bar-like ingredients. But believe me, these are great. Sorry all you nut-free people, the almonds are not optional. Also, you must let these bars cool completely in the pan before cutting or else they can crumble. If you want to speed things up, stash pan in the fridge until cool.

1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup each: almond slices & ground almonds (unblanched, if you can find them)
1/4 cup ground flax
1 cup dry skim milk powder
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Line an 8-9” square pan with parchment or foil and spray well with vegetable oil.
3. Toss cereal, almonds, flax and milk powder in a bowl.
4. Drizzle honey and oil over and mix well until all ingredients are completely incorporated. Add chocolate chips.
5. Pour dough into pan and press ingredient evenly down in pan.
6. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until lightly golden and set.
7. Leave in bars pan until completely cool. Cut into squares and serve or wrap individually and have a treat on the go.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Easy wheat-free lemon almond cake

Not too sweet, this texture-filled cake is perfect to top with berries or as a treat to eat with coffee. Wrap some up for an on-the-go snack.

Not only are almonds are good for you - filled with cholesterol-lowering HDL and packed with vitamin E and calcium - they taste great too.

You can make a glaze for this cake with juice from another lemon and icing sugar mixed together. Add a little Amaretto as well, if you have some hiding in your liquor cabinet.

1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup each: brown and white sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 eggs
1 3/4 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups ground blanched almonds (sometimes called almond flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 lemons, juice and zest-reserving some zest to garnish (about 1/3 cups juice)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease an 8” cake pan (a removable bottom is really handy) and line with parchment or use a bundt pan. Get the grease into all cracks for easy removal.
3. Beat butter, sugar and honey together. Beat in eggs, mixing after each one.
4. Add cornmeal, almonds and baking powder and stir to combine.
5. Stir in juice and zest then pour batter into prepared pan.
6. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the cake comes clean.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dark Summit winner announced

Forget - what's the fun in that?

First Graham and I wrote all the commentors' names on little sheets of paper, then we folded them all up and put them in a big pile.

And then he picked one.

And then, because the last give-away taught me that little names on little pieces of paper do not photograph well, Graham and I copied the winner's name in big easy-to-read letters.

Congratulations Vic! E-mail your address to me at and I'll get the folks at Random House Canada to send out your copy of Dark Summit by Nick Heil.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Best-ever gluten-free brownies

If you can't eat wheat or you're the type who wants to try something new? Say hello to teff, the Ethiopian wonder crop.

Teff is a whole grain, packed with fiber and protein-complete with all 8 essential amino acids. Since many gluten free flours have low fiber levels, teff is a great addition to any wheat free pantry.These brownies are more cake-like then chewy. I think this lets the chocolate shine, so this is the time to break out the really good chocolate such as Ghirardelli cocoa powder and its 60% cocoa bittersweet chips.

If you are Toronto based, head over to McCall’s baking supply shop on Bloor Street in Etobicoke. If not, troll the internet or head to your favourite bake supply shop. Teff flour (ground teff) can usually be found at stores that carry Bob’s Red Mill products such as Loblaws or bulk stores. You can also check out Bob’s website (yes, there really is a Bob).

If you can only find the whole teff grains, get out your trusty coffee mill and grind away - it will add a slight mocha flavour to your brownies but that would probably taste pretty good.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup teff flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease a 9” square pan with cooking spray or butter.
3. In a medium sized glass bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Add the chocolate chips and microwave for another 30-45 seconds. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar until smooth.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
5. Stir in the vanilla.
6. In a small bowl combine flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.
7. Stir in the flour mixture into chocolate mixture until smooth.
8. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until it feels slightly firm. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and cool completely in pan.

Serve with ice cream or sprinkle with icing sugar.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where humanity and hubris intersect

I have always been intrigued by Nepal and specifically by Mount Everest.

In June of 2001 Rob and I were on our way to a travel agency to discuss a flight to Kathmandu and a trek to Everest base camp when we heard over the car radio that Nepal's Crown Prince Diprendra had shot and killed his parents and seven other members of royal family before committing suicide during a dinner party.

Plan B was formulated on our (correct) assumption that the murders would throw the country into political turmoil and instead in October 2001 we trekked in the Andes Mountains in Peru where we hiked a 4,200 metre peak (13, 780 ft) and, incidentally, got engaged.

A trip to Everest remains a distant dream for both of us and when I say Everest, I mean Everest base camp, which at 5,208 metres (17, 090 ft) is the highest I would ever attempt to climb, remembering as I do the nausea, headaches and fatigue we experienced as a result of oxygen deprivation in Peru.

Everest stands 8,848 metres (29, 029 feet). Anything above 8,000 metres is considered the death zone: a place where the brain swells, blood vessels leak and fluid accumulates in the lungs. I am both fascinated and horrified by human compulsion to summit Everest and so when Random House offered me a review copy of Nick Heil's Dark Summit, The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Climbing Season, I jumped at it.

Dark Summit is a detailed account of the 2006 season during which 10 climbers lost their lives attempting to conquer Everest. One of them, an Englishman named David Sharp, lay dying near the top while 40 other climbers walked past him on the way to the summit.

Nick Heil is a measured and restrained storyteller but he nonetheless manages to clearly show how the commercialism at the roof of the world encourages naked ambition over compassionate humanity.

He writes of the aftermath of that deadly season:

"Beyond the lurid spectacle of men and women suffering slow deaths at high altitude was the suggestion that the modern circus on Everest had exposed something essential about who we are as human beings...because Everest was such a grand stage, one on which players performed so close to the limits of self-preservation, it had the unique ability to magnify...basic drives and behaviours."

Heil, a former senior editor at Outside magazine, is guilty of being almost too detailed as he moves the reader through the cast of characters, from various teams and expeditions, who assembled at Everest base camp that spring. The writing is sharp and crisp, but it is still difficult to keep everyone straight: it is clear Heil has taken pains to be exhaustive lest Dark Summit be seen as just another one of the shrill and judgemental voices that flooded the media once the 2006 death toll became apparent.

Dark Summit really shines in the last few chapters when he uses his considerable gift for writing to best effect by indulging his inner philosopher. He asks, but refuses to answer, difficult questions of many people - the mostly affluent climbers, the commercial operators on the mountain, the people and governments of China and Nepal and even people like me who romanticize the achievements of early mountaineers like George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Fans of Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's book about the deadly 1996 season on Everest, will be similarly enthralled by Dark Summit. Long after the final page has been read climbers and non-climbers alike are likely to find themselves pondering, as I did, the mystique of a mountain where human achievement and hubris intersect with deadly results on such a regular basis.

Leave a comment to win your very own copy of Dark Summit. I'll close comments Thursday, August 14th at 6 p.m. and announce the winner on Friday the 15th.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Salmon grilled in banana leaves

Banana leaves and maple syrup give this grilled salmon a sweet, Asian flair.

Banana leaves are usually in the freezer section of an Asian grocery store. They keep the fish moist. Serve fish with jasmine rice and a quick stir fry of snow peas.

Banana leaves
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp freshly squeeze orange juice + zest
4 5 oz pieces of salmon fillet, skin removed
1 2 –inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and julienne

1. Combine maple syrup, soy sauce, cumin and orange juice. Pour into a sealable bag. Add salmon pieces then press air out of bag and seal. Refrigerate one hour or up to six.
2. Using one 12-inch square of banana leaf, place salmon in the middle of the top one third of the leaf. Top with some ginger and orange zest and wrap completely in banana leaf. Tie with a string to secure.
3. Grill in pre-heated barbeque over high heat for 8- 10 minutes depending on thickness of fillets.
4. Serve and cut open banana leaf at the table to let the aroma steam out.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Grilled Chicken with Pesto Mayonnaise

Sure, anyone can throw some chicken on the grill, but the accompanying pesto mayonnaise makes this dish really special.

And if you're feeling fancy you can even jazz up the chicken with a filling. Cut a pocket in the middle of the thickest part of the chicken breast and fill with two sundried tomatoes (the ones in oil) and a teaspoon each of goat cheese and pesto. Secure with a toothpick. Proceed with recipe as written but cook a few minutes longer.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast, patted dry
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup each of pesto and mayonnaise

1. Preheat barbeque to high.
2. Toss chicken in a bowl with garlic and oil to coat then season with salt and pepper. This is a good job for young helpers.
3. Grill chicken about 6 minutes per side or until completely cooked. Reduce heat slightly if you are getting flare-ups. The breast should feel firm at its thickest part.
4. Stir pesto and mayonnaise together in a bowl.
5. Serve chicken immediately with a large dollop of pesto mayonnaise.
Makes 4 servings.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Grilled Haloumi with White Corn and Apple Salsa

This is an easy-to-make appetizer that is sure to impress guests. Haloumi is a white cheese from Cyprus with a pleasant, refreshing taste and a very firm texture. It is made with goat's or sheep's milk or a combination of the two. It is usually grilled (Saganaki anyone?) until a golden crust has formed on both sides and eaten hot. Haloumi cheese may be purchased at any cheese shop and is great for vegetarian meals - kebabs on the BBQ or fried to perfection.

Make 12 appetizers
Prep time: 10 minutes
On the table: 15 minutes

1 tart apple, peeled, cored and finely diced (1/8” sized), approximately 1 cup
1/2 cup defrosted frozen white corn
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Thai bird chilli peppers, seeded and finely sliced
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp ouzo
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for brushing on cheese
12 oz haloumi, cut into 1/4” slices

1. Combine diced apple, corn, onion and peppers in a bowl. Toss with lime juice, ouzo and oil. Season lightly with salt and white pepper.
2. Lightly brush each side of the cheese with olive oil.
3. Using a non-stick grill pan over high heat, cook the haloumi slices 1 minute per side or until golden.
4. Spoon one tablespoon of salsa on top of cheese and serve immediately.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lamb chops with gremolata

Why not give steaks and chicken the night off and try something a little different?

Look for frozen lamb chops when they are on sale at the grocery store and stash a few in your freezer. Marinate the lamb in some lemon juice and olive oil only if you can do it in advance; otherwise go straight to the gremolata.

Gremolata is a traditional Italian accompaniment which typically contains garlic, parsley and grated lemon peel, some of the ingredients that I always keep on hand.

I like to serve this with a simple dish of orzo (rice-shaped pasta) that cooks fast. I boil 3 cups of chicken stock, add orzo and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes or until it is tender. Crumble in some goat cheese, a squeeze of lemon and it is a perfect duo with the lamb. A pre-washed package of mixed greens with your favourite bottled vinaigrette brings it all together in less than 20 minutes.

1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 lb lamb loin chops

1. Combine lemon juice with garlic, olive oil and parsley in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Season lamb with salt and pepper.
3. Pre-heat grill to high heat.
4. Cook chops for about 5 minutes per side or until medium-rare**. Cover with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with gremolata.

* Lamb chops can vary in thickness. Most common supermarket thickness is 1 inch. For thicker chops, more grilling time will be necessary.
** Lamb will be medium-rare if you remove from the heat at 140 F and let rest to redistribute the internal juices.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

La petite winner est...

Before I announce the winner of a hardcover copy of Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson I'd like to clear up a few things:

!. Yes, Graham was absolutely thrilled to be entrusted with the chore of picking the name of the lucky reader.

2. No, I didn't realize until just now that you can't actually read the name written on the paper.

3. Yes, those are the remnants of Graham's dinner clinging to his face.

Alrighty then, without further ado...

Congratulations LaskiGal!

E-mail me with your address and I'll ship your book right away...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Photography by design

I have always gotten by with a little help from my friends.

I admit my photography skills leave something to be desired, but I know they are improving thanks to two of my very talented friends.

There is OHMommy ,of course, who is running periodic photography challenges, complete with her best tips.

And then there’s a friend I met in the local mom’s group I was almost too cool (or too scared?) to join waaay back when our sons were both mere infants. (That's her second son up top)

I noticed Kelly MacDonald right away and quickly sought her friendship. And why not? She was engaging and stylish, with a quick wit and an intriguing background in the arts.

One day, I figured, she could probably teach me a thing or two.

Well that day has arrived, my friends.

Kelly has just started her own photography business, with a twist. She has married her photography skills to her visual arts background to produce stylized children’s photos featuring saturated colors and labor intensive post production work.

AND she’s offering a discount and her best tips to all my friends, including YOU.

“They are so many great photographers out there right now, I just want to deliver something a little different,” Kelly says.

“My photographs are pretty punchy – saturated colors, close crops and never a posed smile. With a background in visual arts and design driving me, I tend towards a more artistic look.”

Dashing my fervent hopes for regular play dates, Kelly moved from Toronto last year and now resides in Woodstock Ontario with her husband and sons Quincy, three, and Theo, one. She books leisurely photo sessions that allow her to spend hours with children and their families.

“It’s about the complete experience – the one-on-one attention for a couple of hours. I know how to relate to kids, what they like to do and talk about. I work around naptimes and snack times and I expect diaper changes and accidents,” she says.

“Kids basically rule my shoots – I’m just going along wherever they lead me. I do find that my style changes to suit the child I’m shooting. A quiet, introvert may not suit a bold look.”

Kelly says that, in addition to spending a lot of time in post-production, a lot of the time a professional photographer can bring out a different side of a child than mom can.

“Parents tend to be too worried about getting the perfect smile or catching their good side, making sure their clothes are neat and their hair perfect.”

But she does offer these tips for amateur photographers:

“Go down to their level – be it on your knees or your belly – get down. Let them be themselves - capture them when they're busy being them - you want to remember how you saw them every day not on one occasion in their Sunday best, sitting and smiling how they were told. And don't be afraid to get close - you want to remember their faces, expressions etc., not the flowers behind them in your garden.”

Advice I will definitely be taking to heart.

You can check out more of Kelly’s stunning work at the web site for Kelly MacDonald Photography. She is offering a 15% discount on session fees and products to readers of Don Mills Diva until August 31st.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Flaxseed hermit cookies

Prep & cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes 28 cookies

These delicious cookies are guilt-free as flax is a super-good source of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and cranberries are chock-full of antioxidants. Junior chefs like LeeAnne's daughter below can help by mixing and spooning cookie mixture onto baking pans. You can store flax meal in your freezer to maintain freshness.

1/2 cup each: butter and packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned style oatmeal
1/3 cups flax meal
1/2 tsp each: baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and combined. Beat in eggs, and then add molasses and vanilla.
3. In separate bowl combine flour, oatmeal, flax, soda, spices and salt. Mix into creamed mixture, thoroughly combining. Stir in cranberries and chocolate chips.
4. Drop tablespoon balls of cookie dough onto prepared pan. Leave about one and half inches between balls to accommodate spreading.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until firm to the touch. Let cookies cool on baking sheet a few minutes before moving to cooling rack.

Make ahead tip: Double the recipe and safe half for later. An easy method is to freeze individual cookie balls on a baking sheet then once frozen, toss the balls into a freezer bag. Pop frozen cookies onto a sheet pan and bake. Or freeze baked cookies and put frozen cookies into lunch bags as needed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The blog as veil: a cautionary tale

How well do you know me?

And is it Kelly you know or is it the Don Mills Diva?

Are they the same person or is one an alter-ego, a character, constructed to appeal to, or provoke a reaction from, my readers?

Would it surprise you to hear me confess that the latter question is one I have asked myself on more than one occasion?

There are so many, many things about blogging that fascinate me and foremost among them is the notion that a blog might provide a space in which a person can construct an alternate identity.

That’s probably why I have spent the last several days obsessively reading Catherine Sanderson’s book Petite Anglaise to the detriment of pretty much everything else in my life.

Petite Anglaise is also the name of a blog that Sanderson has written since 2005 to document her life as an English ex-pat working and raising her toddler daughter in Paris. In Petite Anglaise the book, she provides an unflinching account of the events that lead her to leave her child’s father for one of her blog’s commenters and how the increasing popularity of her blog started to inform the way she viewed herself and ultimately conducted her life.

Even if you are not a blogger or particularly interested in the world of blogging, Petite Anglaise is a juicy read. Thanks to the breezy writing, the details about Sanderson’s day-to-day life as a working mom in Paris and the scandalous nature of her romantic entanglement, the book is likely to ratchet up the best-sellers list as this summer’s guilty pleasure.

But for me and for thousands of other bloggers, Petite Anglaise is also a cautionary tale about what can happen when the identity we construct in the blogosphere starts to seem more interesting and relevant than one we inhabit in real life.

There are people who claim they present themselves on their blog exactly as they appear in real life. I say that’s impossible. Even bloggers who strive to write with an authentic voice are still choosing the words and photos they feel best reflect who they are, and their perception of who they are might be different from that of others.

I’d be lying if I told you that Kelly was as articulate as the Don Mills Diva: she’s not. The words I write here have been carefully chosen and arranged for maximum effect and I make no apologies for that. What is skillful writing, after all, if not the ability to choose and arrange words in a pleasing and effective fashion?

I do try and resist the urge to buff and polish my alter-ego to a degree that would make her unrecognizable to my friends and family, but obviously the temptation is there. I’m constantly asking myself whether I would be so empathic or sarcastic or cheeky if I were discussing something, rather than writing about it.

While Sanderson frequently admits to making her alter ego – Petite Anglaise – appear more engaging and together than the woman behind the blog, she resists that tendency in the book, something I found ironic, and incredibly brave. She doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that the intoxicating quality of her love affair was heightened by thousands of blog readers cheering her on. She doesn’t gloss over how quickly she was seduced by the attention or how the escapism of blogging led her to make choices that wreaked havoc on people in her life, particularly the father of her child.

But the fact that Sanderson allows herself to come across so poorly in the book suggests that she has learned a lesson about the dangers of presenting yourself as a character, no matter how lonely and unappreciated you feel.

And the fact that Sanderson was so very lonely and unappreciated when she started her blog saves her from being entirely unlikable. Most parents will find themselves nodding in recognition when she details how she and her partner, exhausted by the demands of parenting, descend into a mire of bickering and petty desperation.

What I also find particularly fascinating about the whole sequence of events outlined in Petite Anglaise is that visitors to Sanderson’s blog can poke around in her archives and read the original exchanges that lead to the climatic events in the book: they are the literary equivalent of DVD extras and after I finished the book I found myself attacking her archives with the same fervor I applied to her book.

Petite Anglaise is available in bookstores across Europe and North America. At its Toronto launch a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to snag an extra copy for a lucky reader. Leave a comment to enter to win your own copy. I’ll close comments June 26th at midnight and announce a winner shortly after.