1 Year Later & My Top 10 from 2013

One year ago I sat down and published the very first post on my blog titled “I’m Gonna Look“. And I was terrified. I had absolutely no idea about the ins and outs of blogging and I was sharing a very vulnerable piece with an unknown audience. Pretty scary stuff.

But I did it. And in pushing through my fear I connected with a community of bloggers, family, friends and like-minded individuals who indulged me in a journey of self-discovery. My initial intent was to simply use my blog as a vehicle for sharing family friendly recipes but it quickly evolved as I changed and learned and mustered up the courage to write about my successes, failures, insights and discoveries.

Thank you to everyone who has followed along (861 of you and counting!) and especially to my family and close friends for allowing me to write so candidly about our experiences. The creative process of writing for this blog has brought me more joy than I ever could have anticipated at this time last year.

To celebrate 1 year, I thought I’d share a Top 10 List of my own personal favourite posts from 2013:

1. Family Day Busy-ness

2. Vegan No-Bake Chocolate Caramels

3. Garbage In Garbage Out Featuring Scooby Doo

4. The Importance of Making Mistakes

5. A Manly Vegan Meal

6. How I Look

7. Why I Love My Vitamix and a Starter Green Smoothie Recipe

8. 10 Hilarious Ways to Lighten Things Up

9. My Summer of Indulgence

10. Kids Cook Night

If you have the time take a browse through some of my totally brilliant and insightful posts from last year ; )

And now for the big question: …….did I look? Well yes I did. And although I didn’t always like what I saw (oh hi new wrinkles), the more I  stared the more I came to realize that loving my image is just the first step in the journey. As much as I learn to adore my reflection in the mirror, the even bigger challenge is to love the person I am when I am sitting in stillness- to be brave enough to really get to know and love myself and to sit quietly in an effort to know my own mind.

So here is my personal intention for 2014: silence and discovery. And don’t worry if this seems to woo-woo for your tastes – I promise to keep posting my plant-based recipes and family friendly holistic discoveries.

But I do have a small favour to ask of all of you for this new year: please stay in touch! Write in the comments if you agree or disagree, share your own successes and failures and let me know if there is something you’d like me to write about. I appreciate your silent support but it would be even nicer to hear from you : )

Happy new year and cheers to a healthy 2014!

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5 Tips for Being More Present

My dad is a real estate agent and this has always afforded him a somewhat flexible schedule. When my sister and I were in high school we would often walk home for lunch and dad would join us if he wasn’t too busy. Sounds nice right? But here’s the thing – he was there with us but he wasn’t really there. He would be smack dab in the middle of a hectic work day and although he sat and shared our bologna sandwiches and sour cream and onion chips (our regular lunch staples) he would be lost in thoughts of meetings, transactions and sales. It actually got to a point where we told him not to bother coming home any more because we would talk to him and he wouldn’t even respond. And I don’t think he was intentionally being rude- he was just still working in his mind.

I’ll admit that it bugged the heck out of me as a child but now that I’m an adult I catch myself doing the same darn thing. I’ll be so focused on making dinner, getting the house clean, prepping my voice work, writing or even reading a book that I will completely ignore my family’s attempts to get my attention. This isn’t such a big deal when the topic revolves around a petty fight between siblings but it can be devastating if someone is endeavoring to share their feelings or an especially wonderful or painful experience and I brush them off in frustration (“can’t you see I’m doing the dishes!”) or ignore them completely.

This isn’t unique to my children – the same thing can happen with friends and family. Instead of taking the time to zoom in on a friend who wants to chat- their experience will trigger a memory of something that has happened in my own life and I’ll butt in with my own story. Or I’ll be watching my children in the background or thinking about an upcoming project and not be truly listening to what is being shared. And it’s only gotten worse with the advent of technology and obsessive email/cell phone/Facebook checking.

being present

Although I do think it’s necessary to focus on work and commitments, it’s equally important to practice being present in your own life and with the people you love. Here are a few things that have helped me keep myself in the moment:

1. Really Listen when someone is talking to you and focus on what they are saying. Try not to interject with an anecdote of your own – just pay attention to their words and give them your full and undivided attention. Try keeping quiet and simply listening.

2. Practice Active Listening. I took a course a few years ago with parenting expert Georgine Nash on Active Listening and the information I gained really helped me develop a skill for building rapport, understanding, and trust with the people in my life. Active Listening is the process of listening attentively while someone else speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what is said, and withholding judgement and advice. Essentially actively listening makes the speaker feel heard and encourages open conversation.

3. Set a Time. If you really just can’t focus on the person who desires your attention, set a time in the near future when you will be able to offer your ears. For example, with my kids I could say “I see you really want to talk to me about your new soccer moves and I want to hear all about them. It will take me 5 minutes to change your brother’s poopy bum and them I’m all yours!” or with a friend: “I can’t wait to hear all about your awesome new job but my children are currently beating each other senseless with the television remote. Can I call you back in half an hour once things calm down?”

4. Meditate. Honestly nothing has helped me more with staying present than my mediation practice. I’m only a few months into a regular routine and already I’ve noticed a greater awareness of myself, my stress triggers and my ability to stay more present and calm in day-to-day life. I started out with 5 minutes a day of just sitting quietly with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing and I’m up to 20 minutes now. I recommend downloading a meditation video to get started or attending a meditation class at a local yoga studio for inspiration.

5. Be Honest about your current state of mind. I attended a seminar with the brilliant educator and counselor Barry MacDonald a few years ago and he recommended coming home after work and announcing at the door a number value reflecting your current state of mind. For example, if you’ve had a particularly stressful day at the office, you might say “Hey everyone. Today I’m at a 10 on the stress scale. I had a tough day and I need 5 minutes or so to decompress and then I’ll be ready to help make supper.” This provides you with an opportunity to pull yourself together before anyone makes demands on your attention and it teaches your children that it’s ok to be open and honest about your needs and feelings.

Personally, I have a hard time relaxing when there are dishes in the sink or a bed is unmade but I have to remind myself that the dirty cups and messy sheets will get tidied up eventually, but the opportunity for a genuine connection with someone I love may pass me by if I’m not careful. Maybe it’s time to put down the iPhone, walk away from the kitchen, ignore the television and really engage with the people in my life.

How do you stay in the moment?

Reflections on 15 Years

My husband and I are celebrating our anniversary today. I can hardly believe it’s been 15 years since a wide-eyed young couple walked down the aisle and began a life together that would include world travel, job changes, more than a few late-night parties, relocations, renovations, a dietary overhaul, some blow-out fights, lots of laughs, 3 beautiful children and a deep lasting love and friendship.

anniversary

Thanks to a brilliant suggestion from our close friends (who are also celebrating 15 years of wedded bliss), we decided to mark this milestone year with a trip to a spa in Grafton, Ontario called St. Anne’s. For 2 busy couples with 3 children apiece, this was a rare opportunity to focus on ourselves, relax and enjoy some much-needed pampering. And a few days away from the often hectic pace of our everyday lives gave us all some perspective on the things that really matter.

So in honour of the past 15 years, here are a few important insights that I took away from our anniversary spa getaway:

1. Sometimes just sitting together, holding hands and saying nothing at all can be as powerful as a deep conversation.

2. It’s important to treasure close friends. The time we spent laughing, talking, swimming, relaxing, playing euchre, drinking wine and eating gourmet food together was more potent for stress relief than months of therapy.

3. It’s healthy to talk about things other than the kids every once in a while. Oh yah – we had a life before those little rug rats came along!

4. A spa treatment involving disrobing and being sprayed down with a scotch hose will wind up being the butt of endless jokes ; )

5. Being pampered and focusing on ourselves isn’t a selfish act – it actually makes us better parents, partners and friends.

6. It’s super liberating to walk around all day in a bathrobe with no makeup on and a pound of massage oil in your hair.

5. The world won’t come to an end and my children won’t be heartsick if I leave them in the capable hands of their grandparents for a few days. In fact, they barely noticed I was gone.

6. Even after 15 years, I still marvel at my husband’s wacky sense of humour, his easy-going nature, his enduring patience and his unwavering kindness. Plus he looks pretty hot in a bathrobe!

And the biggest lesson of all? Perspective. Life is still busy, hectic and often uncontrollable- but I can reflect back on the peace I felt during those few days away, take a couple of deep breaths and bring that calmness into any situation that is thrown my way. It also helps if I’m wearing my robe.

Happy Anniversary Mark! I love you!

Week #1 Family Learning Report – Laughter & Fun

fun

We kicked off our first Summer Learning week with Laughter & Fun as the topic to set the tone for an enjoyable summer break. We brainstormed some ideas as a family and this is what we came up with:

– See a funny movie (Despicable Me 2 was hilarious!)
– Water balloon fight (we blew up 20 but the toddler smashed them all before we could have a proper battle. We’ll try again soon)
– Pull off a prank (this one is still in the works….)
– Dance Party (we shook our booties in the living room to Macklemore, The Black Eyed Peas and Robin Thicke)
– Sleep outside in the tent (too hot but planned for this week if it cools down)
– Learn some good clean jokes (Why did the spider cross the road? To get to his web site!)

Although we didn’t hit everything on our list, we did have a mostly enjoyable week as the kids and I settled in to our new routine of spending a lot more time together (translation: the first few days were frustrating and challenging dealing with the incessant fighting. Arghhh!)
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Chocolate Fondue Fun

We recently had our good friends and their 4 children stay with us for the weekend. There were 11 of us in total and I really wanted to cook a homemade meal for everyone to enjoy. Coming up with a delicious plant-based dinner to please the entire crowd took some serious thinking and planning – but the dessert was an absolute no-brainer. It had to be chocolate fondue!

corbin

Doesn’t that adorable face just say it all?! I guarantee you this dessert will elicit loads of giggles, squeals of delight and gobs of chocolate on hands, clothes, the floor and all over faces. What fun! And hey – everyone will be eating a ton of fruit and soaking in antioxidants from the chocolate. It’s win-win.

You can get fancy and purchase a proper chocolate fondue set but I just melt my chocolate in a saucepan and then transfer it to a bowl, put it in the middle of a fruit platter, hand out some forks or wooden skewers and let the good times begin.

7 children and 4 adults – CHAOS. Lifeguarding the kids in the pool – STRESSFUL. Trying to reminisce about university days over the cacophony – TRICKY. Losing a euchre tournament to the guys yet again – FRUSTRATING. Sipping wine and watching chocolate drip down our smiling kid’s faces- PRICELESS.

Chocolate Fondue

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1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan or regular)
1 tsp coconut oil
2 bananas, chopped
1 container or strawberries, washed and stems removed
1/4 pineapple, cut into chunks
3 apples, sliced
Optional: marshmallows, plain cookies or cake cut into cubes, pretzels, orange slices, grapes, kiwi – or anything you love dipped in chocolate!

Cut up fruit and other dipping items and lay them out on a large tray or platter.
Melt chocolate and coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Place in the middle of the fruit tray.
Hand out skewers or forks and enjoy!

Swanky Dinner Party Part 3 – Gardein “Chicken” Scaloppini with Sake Gravy, Sauteed Pea Shoots and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

I will admit that when it came time to prepare the main course for our vegan dinner party, I had enjoyed one…or perhaps two glasses of red wine and I become deeply engrossed in a conversation with my girlfriend (I think we were either discussing the trials and tribulations of parenthood or planning out our next trip to Vegas ; ) So big kudos to the men who stepped up to prepare the entrée that I had planned out. Thanks guys!

The topic of “meat-like” products is hotly debated in the vegetarian/vegan world and they are often considered “Franken-food” or too highly processed to be true plant-like fare. Although I don’t eat them too often they are great as transition foods for newbie vegetarians, they can be handy as convenience foods and they are perfect for serving to non-veg friends to simulate a meaty taste and texture.

Gardein was actually invented in Montreal by Yves Potvin who also created the very first veggie hot dog and is passionate about making meat-like foods that are healthy and convenient. It’s essentially a blend of veggies and grains that are combined together to have the texture and nutrition of lean meat and it is now carried by most major supermarkets and health stores. According to Yves, although people consider this meat-like product to be highly processed – it’s really not. He says “the secret is in how we blend the ingredients together. Gardein, meaning a combination of garden and protein, is slow-cooked in special ovens to give it a meaty mouth feel.”

gardein 1

You can decide for yourself how often you want to partake in these products, but I can definitely recommend Gardein for its reasonable nutritional value, for an amazingly similar taste and texture to meat and as a delicious treat.

I’d have to ask Sam and Mark exactly how hard it was to prepare this main course but it didn’t look too bad. They worked away with beer in hand and it seemed to come together quite quickly. My husband is famous for his horseradish mashed potatoes and they were the perfect accompaniment to this faux-chicken dish adorned with delicate pea shoots. It was pretty to look at and tasted really yummy. We all devoured it and the guys patted themselves on the back for their chef-like prowess.

This dish is sure to impress vegetarian and non-veg friends alike. Just try to keep your wine consumption down before you start to make it!

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

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6-8 yukon gold potatoes, washed but not peeled
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
Dash freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 tbsp horseradish (depending on how spicy you like it)

Wash potatoes, cut them into quarters and place them in a large pot of water (enough to cover). Bring them to a boil and reduce to simmer until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain.

Add oil, salt, pepper and horseradish and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Cover until ready to serve.

Gardein “Chicken” Scaloppini with Sake Gravy and sautéed Pea Shoots
(adapted from The Conscious Cook, Tal Ronnen)
Serves 4

“Chicken”:
4 Gardein breasts
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly cracked black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of shitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into ¼ inch slices
1 cup of dry sake
½ cup vegetable broth
½ cup Earth Balance vegan margarine (or organic butter)
1 tbsp minced fresh chives

Flatten the Gardein with your hands and then slice each breast into 3 pieces. Season with salt and pepper and then dredge in the flour.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the Gardein breasts for approx 3 minutes per side until browned.  Remove from heat and place on a plate.

Add remaining 2 tbsp of oil to the pan and heat over medium. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the sake and cook for 3-4 minutes more. Add the stock and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in the Earth Balance. Stir in the chives. Add the Gardein back to the pan and toss to coat with gravy. Cover to keep warm while you sauté the pea shoots.

Pea Shoots:

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Pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp pure sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup vegetable stock
2 cups of packed  pea shoots

Place a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Sprinkle bottom of pan with sea salt and heat for 1 minute. Add oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock and pea shoots and cook for 3-4 minutes until wilted. Drain the excess liquid.

To serve:

Place a large scoop of mashed potatoes on a plate. Cover with sautéed pea shoots and 3 pieces of Gardein. Spoon a little of the additional gravy over top. Enjoy!

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Swanky Dinner Party Part 1 – Vegetarian Cold Spring Rolls

We had some old friends over for dinner recently. The kind of friends who have known us for years and have seen us at our very best and very worst and still love us just the same. The conversation (and the wine) always flows naturally and we usually come around to stories of when we were young and carefree and marvel over the fact that our kids are growing up so quickly while we still look so young and vibrant ; )

These particular friends are the perfect pair for experimenting on with new foods – they are confirmed foodies and very open to trying new dishes and they are also the type of people who would be honest enough to tell me if something was really awful and we could just chuck the whole thing and order pizza.

I cracked open some of my more intimidating cookbooks (Tal Ronnen, Great Chefs Cook Vegan and The Joy of Cooking) and I pulled together a menu of new and fancy-ish dishes. I have been wanting to prepare a 100% vegan dinner party for some time but I usually cave and throw in some cheese or fish just to appeal to a broader range of food preferences. But this time I went all the way and I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Every course from the appetizer to the salad through the main course and a final act featuring a cheater dessert from our local vegan bakery was a resounding hit! Whew! It was a bit of work but it was definitely worth it.  And don’t be put off by the ingredient list or the preparation steps – this meal is very achievable even for novice cooks.

I started with a Vegetarian Cold Spring Roll appetizer and my 9-year-old daughter was my lovely assistant in preparing these delicate and delicious h’or doerves. They are a bit fiddley but come together quickly and the final product was light, flavourful and fresh. Everyone loved them and I put out 3 different dipping sauces to experiment with tastes – Asian sesame sauce, spicy Thai sauce and a dish of tamari.

It’s easiest if you have an extra set of hands to prepare these rolls so get all of your veggies and noodles prepped and try to recruit a helper when it comes time to roll.

I will post the rest of our meal items in the coming weeks but why not try out these rolls first as an appetizer or for a light lunch and I’m willing to bet you’ll love them as much as we did. And remember that they are best served with good friends, good wine and good stories!

Vegetarian Cold Spring Rolls (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

spring rolls on plate

1 package of rice papers
1 package of rice vermicelli noodles
1 beet, grated
2-3 carrots, grated
1 small zucchini, grated
3-4 cups of bean sprouts, washed
1 head of boston lettuce, washed and seperated
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Dipping sauces of choice

Break the vermicelli noodles in half and cook according to package directions. Rinse under cold water and set aside.

Grate carrots, zucchini and beets. Wash sprouts and lettuce and break leaves apart.

Gather the grated veggies, lettuce, noodles, sprouts and cilantro on your workspace.

Place a damp tea towel on your workspace and have another damp towel ready to put over top of the finished rolls to keep them moist (the rice papers harden quite quickly when exposed to the air). Fill a large bowl with hot water.

spring rolls rice paper 3

Take one rice paper and immerse it into the water until it softens – about a minute. Lay the paper in front of you and place a lettuce leaf in the middle of the paper. Down the middle line of the lettuce, place a row of noodles, veggies, cilantro and sprouts (approx 2 tbsp of fillings). Pull the bottom edge of the paper over the veggies and tug very gently to tighten. Fold in the sides and continue to roll until the wrap is snug. Use a bit of water on your fingers to seal the wrap in place. (I used this youtube video to help me with my first few wraps until I got the hang of it.) Some of my rice wraps tore while I was wrapping so I simply took another wrap and covered the first one to hide any imperfections.

Place the finished wraps on the damp towel and cover with the other damp towel. Repeat with remaining wraps.

spring rolls sauces

Just prior to serving, cut the rolls diagonally in the middle and place on a plate. Serve with dipping sauces of choice. Enjoy!