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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Super Salmon Tacos

Prep & cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 servings

Who says super nutritious can’t be super fun and delicious? These tangy “fried” tacos with deconstructed mango salsa feature salmon and avocado which are both chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Junior chefs can help with coating the fish in bread crumbs and picking off coriander leaves.

1/2 barbeque sauce or ketchup
1 cup bread crumbs
1 lb skinless salmon, cut into 1/2- inch strips (about 8 strips)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp lime juice, (1/2 lime)

1. Preheat oven to broil.
2. Pour barbeque sauce into a shallow bowl.
3. Spread bead crumbs on a plate.
4. Dip fish into sauce then roll in bread crumbs to coat.
5. Place on lighted greased sheet pan. Spray fish lightly with oil extra crisping.
6. Broil just prior to serving for 3 minutes a side or until fish is crisped and golden brown.
7. While fish is cooking, mix together yogurt and lime juice to drizzle over top of taco filling.
8. Break up fish strips into chunks and divide between warmed tacos. Set rest of add-in in bowls for passing at the table.

Mango Salsa Add-Ins:
1 each: avocado & small mango, peeled, pitted and diced and combined in a bowl, drizzle with lime juice from remaining half to prevent avocado from browning
1/4 cup coriander leaves
2 green onions, finely sliced
8 hard or soft taco shells

Also, last week a reader Oz asked Recipe Diva LeeAnne to recommend a non-cow's milk cheese that melts well. LeeAnne replies: "I would look at some great sheep's milk cheese to add to the mac and cheese. Two of my favourites are Manchego and any Pecorino varieties. Manchego is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese with a dark waxed covering that looks like it has a basket weave design pressed into it. The taste of Manchego changes from a little bit bland to a sharp nuttiness as it ages. It would go well with the sweetness of the squash. There are many varieties of Pecorino which literally translates from Italian as "little sheep". Pecorino Romano is a fabulous hard grating cheese with tons of flavour. Mixing a younger Pecorino with some aged cheese will give you a nice melting blend."

Feel free to send your food and recipe query to LeeAnne at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Soon he'll have his own blog

I’ve always been somewhat irritated by the term Slacker Mom being used to describe mothers who are loathe to enroll their children in a plethora of enriching activities.

But I can’t deny that I am loathe to enroll my child in a plethora of enriching activities.

I’ve never managed to get my butt to a mommy-and-me music class, I don’t own any flashcards and I never bothered with baby sign language because it just sounded like too much effort.

And so it was guilt, truthfully, that had me agreeing to try out the Early Start Active Reading Method when a representative contacted me a few weeks back.

Because while I may not always be ahead of the game when it comes to creating my very own toddler genius, I have always been passionate about reading and writing and I am committed to passing that passion along to Graham.

Graham loves his books, really loves them. The bottom shelf of our bookcase is all his and he loves to empty it and sit on the floor for ages thumbing through his favorite stories. He is read to every night before bedtime and usually at least once during the day. He’s been filling in sentences and pointing out details on the pages since he was two.

When My First Slide-Out Book of Colors arrived in the mail my first thought was that it was too young, too babyish for Graham: after all, he can already identify most of his colors. I read it to him once, carefully, thinking I would probably offer it as a give-away for someone with a younger child.

But Graham had other ideas.

When time came for his bedtime stories that night, he snatched up the book and insisted I read it to him again. And again. We read it six times and about halfway through the fifth, I realized the book was already too gummed up, and too valuable, to give away.

What I like about the book (which has been a favorite for four nights running now) is that each page provides ideas for asking questions about the objects pictured. What Graham likes about the book is that each page has a tab that pulls out, adding colors to the pictures. His fascination with pulling the tabs allows me to linger on each page and question him about the colors, the pictures and the letters each pictured object starts with.

And he is answering, which is wonderful. With only a little prompting he told me last night that green starts with g and so does grass and so does his name. He also confirmed that the banana was yellow, that banana starts with b and so does bath (where, incidentally, we were headed after we finished the book).

It’s really gratifying to see Graham respond so well to the book and I appreciate that the learning feels organic, as opposed to being the result of me quizzing him: I feel strongly that I never want to be the kind of mom who is constantly trying to drill and grill her child into intellectual superiority.

Even if that does make me a slacker mom.

You can find out more about the Early Start Active Reading Method by visiting It is a new company and the books are just becoming available now but I expect they will be everywhere before long. Shoot them an e-mail through the web site to enquire about ordering books and when and where they will be available in stores

Monday, June 9, 2008

Super Mac and Cheese

Prep & cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 6 servings

This macaroni might not actually be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the addition of nutritious butternut squash qualifies it for super-food status for moms and kids alike.

Serve it with last week’s healthy, mini turkey meat loaves and kids will be so pumped they’ll feel like heroes. Junior chefs can help by making the cheese sauce and mixing pasta and sauce altogether.

300 gr. whole wheat with flax cork screw (rotini) pasta (4 1/2 cups)
2 cups frozen diced butternut squash
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups grated cheddar cheese (7 oz)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Bring of large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions adding the squash in the last three minutes of cooking time. Drain well and return to pot.
2. Melt butter in microwave in a medium sized glass bowl. Whisk in flour then stock. Microwave 3-5 minutes, whisking every 60 seconds until sauce has reached the consistency of pudding.
3. Stir in cheddar cheese and microwave another 60 seconds or until cheese has melted smoothly into sauce.
4. Stir sauce into pasta and squash, add parmesan cheese if using and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cleaning without chemicals

I have always thought that cleaning products were a necessary evil.

And when I say evil I mean exactly that because I, more than most people, know how dangerous they can be.

My adult niece was a young toddler when another baby around her age pulled a common household disinfectant out from under the kitchen sink at her babysitter’s house and sprayed it in her eye.

Both of them were too young to understand or explain what happened and by the time my niece got proper medical attention it was too late. Her eye was so badly damaged it had to be removed.

To ensure this never happens to someone you love, you can, should, and probably do, lock up your cleaning products. But even if you manage to keep them out of your child’s reach you can’t deny their environmental impact: chemical cleaners not only ultimately enter our water systems, they leave a residue that lingers on household surfaces. Many scientists are now questioning whether these residues are linked to everything from cancer to the increasing rates of childhood asthma and autism.

A necessary evil?

Absolutely not, says Judy Benson-Jones.

Judy contacted me a few months back hoping to spread the word about a revolutionary cleaning system that replaces chemicals with micro fibre technology. It’s called Enjo and as soon as I looked into it, the science geek in me was immediately intrigued.

It actually took me a while to wrap my head around how Enjo works, but essentially it’s a mechanical rather than a chemical cleaning system. You clean with nothing but water, using gloves and cloths that look quite ordinary but are actually composed of thousands of microscopically small fibres: the fibres are so tiny they can actually disinfect by removing up to100% of invisible bacteria as opposed to chemicals which kill it.

It sounds crazy but it's true!

Judy gave me a bathroom glove and drying cloth to try out and when I did it honestly freaked me out a bit. I put on the glove and wet it and gave my (admittedly grimy and soap-stained) counter a once over. All the grime and stains lifted the same way they do when I really scrub, but I wasn’t scrubbing – I was just gently wiping. I did the rest of the room and I dried everything afterwards with the cloth (which has a 2,500 thread count) and the joint was as clean and shiny as I have ever seen it.

Total cleaning time? About five minutes – swear to God.

The Enjo system, which uses color-coded cloths and gloves for different rooms of your home, is quite new, but appears to be taking the world by storm. It was pioneered in Austria in 1990 and is now sold by representatives (not in stores) on five continents. In 2006 it won a Gold Award at the Eco Products International Fair in Singapore where it was heralded as an innovative product that contributes towards environmental sustainability, while being economically viable.

What that means straight up is that, in addition to protecting your child, you save money because you never have to buy any cleaning products and you save the earth because neither cleaning chemicals nor the plastic bottles they come in, end up in landfill.

If the Enjo system intrigues you and you live in the Toronto area, please drop Judy Benson-Jones a line at She can tell you more about it and even help you host an in-home demo or party. You can also visit the Enjo web site for more information and to find a representative in your area.

Turkey Veggie Mini Meat Loaves & Apricot Glaze

So many superfoods!

Whole grain shredded wheat, zucchini and lean ground turkey make these meat loaves a triple threat. Your Junior Chef can flex super muscles grating, crushing and even mixing the meat loaf.

Prep and cooking time total only 45 minutes leaving you lots of time to in indulge in a glass of wine - my personal favorite superfood. Makes four servings.

3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp mustard
1 lb ground turkey
1 small zucchini (5oz), grated on smallest hole on box grater (about 3/4 cup)
1 onion, grated, (1/2 cup)
1 tsp finely minced garlic (jarred)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cups crushed shredded wheat (2 muffets crushed)
1 egg
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray sized medium sized 8-muffin tin lightly with oil. (just over one-third cup capacity in each muffin holder). Mix together jam and mustard in small bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Divide meat into tin. Bake for 25 minutes then generously spread jam mixture on top of each meat loaf. Continue to bake another 10 minutes.

To pump up the nutritional value even more you can serve these bad boys with whole wheat pasta Super Mac and Cheese, which - wouldn't ya know it - will be our featured recipe next week.

See you then - happy cooking!