Wednesday, February 10, 2016

simple classroom valentines

I've forgone the idea of baking classroom treats for this Friday's Valentine's Day classroom party.  (I call the Friday before Valentine's Day, "Sugar Rush Kids" Day).

To add fuel to the fire, sort of speak, I created a simple Valentine greeting to attach to the candy.  It's really quite simple...just create a table, and write the greeting in each box.  I made of play of words using the candy logos for the Valentine greeting...printed, cut and taped to the candy wrapper.  Voila, done!

Attached are free printables of the my can easily adapt or make your own.

Classroom Valentines Candy Wrapper Printable

Print out as many as your classroom requires.  The kids can sign their own names or you can add it on the label before you print.  Enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

iced over

Since we have uncharacteristically warm weather for the holidays, I figured we might as well embrace the fact that we will have a green Christmas, and I've added a twist to my holiday desserts to reflect the weather.

Using extra gingerbread cookies, here's the only cold and white stuff we'll see for a while.

Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwich
(makes approximately 6 sandwiches)
This uses a quick gingerbread recipe, which makes the cookies slightly softer in texture, making this cookie more ideal to use as an ice cream sandwich.

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 pkg.  (3.4 oz.) Butterscotch Instant Pudding
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp.  ground ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp.  ground cinnamon
  • Ice cream, flavour as desired (I used vanilla)
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  • Mix the butter, sugar, dry pudding mix and egg in large bowl until well blended. 
  • Mix in the flour, baking soda, ground ginger and cinnamon, beating well after each addition.
  • remaining ingredients. 
  • Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.
  • Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to ¼ inch thickness.
  • Cut into desired cookie shapes, preferably all the same size and shape to make sandwiches.
  • Place cookies on baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 min. or until edges are lightly browned. 
  • Cool on baking sheets.
  • Spread desired amount of ice cream between two cookies.

Friday, October 09, 2015

the comfort of thanksgiving

Now that it's officially autumn, relaxed beach visits of the summer are a distant memory as we start to seek the warmth and comfort of the season.  If the beginning of September is a symbolic way to hit the restart button as we dive into new school routines, then October, especially during the Thanksgiving season, is when we start settling into the comfort zone.  It's when we really reflect our home, and our busy world surrounding it.

It's been an interesting time as I've started spend more time offline than online.  The summer was a refreshing start to cleanse any old baggage and start the school year with fresh eyes and settle into a new routine.  The quest to disconnect for most of the summer meant that I could enjoy much more deeply, what is most meaningful in our family.  And I think I like this new focus.

The heart is where the home is, and there is something very comforting about the food made for holidays like Thanksgiving that speaks to my heart.  Certain scents like turkey in the oven that make a house smell like a home, and all the love of family gathered together for this special time.

I generally don't make stuffing as it's on the list of things that my Mom brings for our annual Thanksgiving dinner.  (she makes an excellent rice/sausage/bread stuffing...I need to get that recipe!).
However, on a whim, I decided to make this corn bread stuffing to go with a chicken dish.  It's a hybrid of various dressing recipes, and although I love my Mom's rice stuffing, this is quickly becoming a favourite too (especially since there are many corn bread lovers in this house).

To all my family, friends and Canadian readers...

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!!!

Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread Sausage Stuffing

You can purchase premade cornbread for this recipe.  I made two batches of cornbread from scratch in my cast iron skillet (using this cornbread muffin recipe, here). One batch was used for this recipe and the other one I froze to enjoy at a later date.

  • 1 pan cornbread (8-inch square), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8 slices white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used 3 dinner loaves...white, pumpernickel and whole grain).
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used honey garlic maple sausage 500 g package or one or two 375g package of breakfast sausages)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced medium (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used roasted garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves (1 tsp. dried sage)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 3/4 cups chicken broth (I used turkey broth)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup of dried cranberry (to taste...I used about ¼ cup)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • Spread cornbread and bread on two rimmed baking sheets and bake until dry and golden, about 20 minutes. (you an do this ahead of time...just place toasted bread in a sealed ziplock bag for up to 2 days).
  • Meanwhile, in a 10" cast iron skillet, cook sausage over medium until fat is rendered and meat is browned, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add onion, roasted garlic and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in sage and transfer to a large bowl. (I used a stock pot...didn't have large enough bowls!)
  • Add toasted cornbread & bread, eggs, broth, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to bowl and toss until combined. Let sit 5 minutes, then toss again, this time with the cranberries (if using).
  • Spoon stuffing back into the cast iron skillet. 
  • Bake until top is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

happy canada day

the simple five: crowd pleaser

Last year we visited Ottawa during Canada Day, where the nation's capital hosted approximately 10,000+ visitors to celebrate in one location.  With many free events, concerts and museums to see and visit, fighting through an exceptionally large crowd (especially at night during fireworks) can be a daunting task (and at first, slightly overwhelming) especially when you have young children.

As seasoned travellers, we managed to cut through the crowds and enjoy visiting many attractions without melt downs or anxiety (well, at least not too much anxiety!)

The streets of downtown Ottawa on Canada Day.  A sea of red and white!

Here's a few tips to prepare yourself so you can maneuver through the crowds a little easier during the holidays (or any amusement park or popular destination) and make the day with the family more enjoyable.

1)  The early bird gets the worm.
Wake up early.  Yes, it's a holiday and it's your day off, but if at least one parent starts early, the organizing of the day begins, and the family doesn't seem rushed in the morning. Chances are, if everyone wakes up early, you'll beat the breakfast crowd and you'll get to see everything you wanted because you had a head start in the day.

2)  Pack for the day, the night before.
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but often while travelling, our normal routines are thrown out the window.  Plan a rough schedule the night before (look at the maps, figure out where you'll eat and set out your clothes).  Pack all the blankets and towels in the backpack ready by the door.  Morning "rush" will be eliminated, and again you can start your day early and seamlessly.

3)  Do the "back nine" first.
I always joke about this with my husband.  He's an avid golfer, so when I tell him this, he knows exactly what I want to do.  When you enter an amusement park, museum or attraction during a time when it's very busy, go to the back of the park or exhibit first, then work your way backwards towards the entrance.  This usually works for us, and sometimes there are moments when we go "upstream" through the crowds, but it gives the children a chance to really observe each exhibit without the chaos.

At the National Gallery of Canada.
With free admission on Canada Day,  this is one of the most popular destinations.
(you can see we missed the crowds here too!)

4)  Figure out your meals in advance, especially on holidays.
If we're travelling, I like breakfast packages that are offered with hotels. The hassle of walking around with hungry kids to find a place to eat, makes breakfast packages a no-brainer for me.  Even if one parent goes and grabs muffins from the local bakery or coffee shop to bring back to the hotel room (getting up early helps here) saves time and aggravation. The same logic goes with dinner...there are many apps where you can book restaurants a few weeks in advance.  Especially on statutory holidays, not all restaurants are open, book quickly or there are long wait lines to get a table.  Plan ahead.

5)  Always bring an extra bag.
I know this is a strange concept that most people think is unnecessary, but I can never have enough bags and I like to carry those foldable travel totes that can fold into your purse or backpack. Whether you've made unforeseeable purchases when you've stumbled upon a vendor or market or need a makeshift picnic bench cover if you're stopping to grab a quick bite, foldable travel totes are really handy and take up very little space.  It has saved me countless of trips back to the hotel to "drop stuff off".

Most importantly, go with the flow and enjoy the day. It is almost a guarantee that travel schedules don't always go according to plan, but if you're prepared, it's easier to be flexible and you can make the best of the day.

Happy Canada Day!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


A few weeks ago, I participated as a panelist to provide my thoughts on brand and digital marketing, and their role in the customer journey in today's retail environment. I was amongst a group of smart, professional women who all fit different demographics (age, marital status and life stage) and came from various backgrounds.

Fitting the "Parent" demographic in our group, the retailers at the conference were keenly interested in my point of view as the primary purchaser, hoping to unlock the mystery of what marketing tactics appeal to me, and get a glimpse of how I maneuver through all the messages and products that we are bombarded with, to make the best (purchasing) decisions for our family. 

I think as a society, we are so bombarded with messages everywhere we turn, that it is even difficult for those who are sending these messages, to decipher.

As I listened to each panelist speak about their experiences in their role as a "consumer",  there was one common theme that seemed to resonate with all of us (a notion not relegated to only females).  We are all seeking BALANCE within the constraints of time. Time can be measured within a work week, trying to complete a project.  Or a school year, trying to accomplish specific academic achievements.  Or just trying to balance all the errands of the day before you tuck your kids into bed.

Listening to everyone's familiar sentiment confirmed what I've been seeking and sharing here on this blog, and made me realize that more than ever, we are seeking answers of simplicity.  To simplify our lives.  

Mobile devices are designed to save us time but as a society, we are quickly discovering that these same devices are the very culprit that distracts us from what we need to do to stay on task. We are constantly distracted with whatever interesting headline appears in our Twitter/Instagram/Facebook scroll.  Let me preface by saying this is not a scientific study (so I'm not 100% sure on it's accuracy), but according to someone (who did the math) on Reddit, we scroll on our devices on average 250km over a two year period. (That's about 125 km a year of strenuous thumb workouts!).  Even if we only do half of this amount of scrolling, that's a monumental amount of time and energy searching for/consuming information.

I think the need to find ways to save time resonated with the retailers but I think there is still disconnect...retailers want to know how to make it faster for me to buy something but often work in a bubble when it comes to customer service and not understanding other factors in that are in our lives that influence and help us make more informed decisions. There was so much to discuss beyond the 45 minutes of stage time we had.  It is a discussion that could be moved further to a wider audience as more and more access to more global brands than we've ever had, sifting through can become increasingly difficult.  As someone who spends most of my time researching on finding the best products for my family as well as myself, trying to balance between economics and time as well as many other factors such as environment, health, and goodwill is a full time task.

As many of my readers know, I have on occasion, written posts on products and services that have worked well with our family.  And earlier this year, I introduced mySimple Five series~ a series focusing on how to simplify a few of our our daily tasks, starting with recipes that are easy to make. With the many recent requests to speak further about what works for our busy household (and inspired by many of those who seek my advice), I will launch a spin off to my blog, starting with my Simple Five  series, showcasing my top five picks of various products, apps, services, how-to's and even companies (charity ones too!) that are SIMPLE, BEAUTIFUL and can help balance the need for NOW.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the simple five: chocolate hazelnut fudge

Fudge is one of those sweet pleasures that taste rich and satisfies a sweet tooth with just a small piece.
The sweetness of fudge often evokes that feeling of homemade treats.  I love visiting countryside bakeries that serve homemade treats. One can often find handmade fudge wrapped in saran wrap with a handwritten price sticker, offered on the counter.

When I make fudge, I like to switch the ingredients, using a variety of flavours (like maple or butterscotch).  However, this chocolate hazelnut recipe is a favourite in our house.


Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge
(makes approximately 12-16 servings).

  • 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate (you can use baker's chocolate or chocolate chips).
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter (optional, if you prefer a buttery fudge).
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (150ml)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (organic, homemade or Nutella)
  • Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with parchment paper leaving about an inch hangover on each side.
  • Chop chocolate (or use chips) in a microwave safe bowl with the butter (if using) and the condensed milk.
  • Microwave on high, stirring every minute, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove and stir in vanilla and chocolate hazelnut spread
  • Spread in the lined baking pan.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. 
  • Using the parchment paper overhang, lift the fudge out of the pan, and cut into squares.

Friday, April 10, 2015

the simple five : chocolate toffee crunch

Every year, I seem to miscalculate how much chocolate I should purchase for Easter.  My eyes are larger than my stomach (and wallet), and with other chocolates collected from the Easter Bunny, family and friends, our house can rival Willy Wonka.  I'm not complaining though.  It just gives me a reason to consume use up whatever is in the house.

Here's a quick way to use up some of that overabundance of chocolate.  This recipe is a variation of the "crunch" bars found on the back of those "Baker's chocolate" packages, using ingredients I already have in my cupboards...including all the sweetness left behind by the Easter Bunny.


Chocolate Toffee Crunch
(makes approximately 12 small servings)

  • 35  whole wheat saltine crackers
  • ½ cup  butter
  • ½  cup  packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup of chocolate, chopped in small pieces.  (I used 3/4 cup milk chocolate left over from Easter and ¼ cup white can use chocolate chips).
  • 1 cup of a variety of the "crunchy topping".  (You can use crushed candy, nuts or even dried fruit. I used ¼  cup finely chopped toffee bits like Hershey's Skor Chipits, found in the baking section and 3/4  cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped).
  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Place the crackers in single layer on a parchment covered baking sheet.
  • Heat butter and sugar in saucepan on medium-high heat until butter is melted and mixture is well blended, stirring occasionally. 
  • Bring to boil; cook 2 min. (Do not stir.) 
  • Spread onto crackers.
  • Bake for approximately 7 min. or until topping is golden brown. 
  • Immediately sprinkle with the chocolate chips; let stand 5 min. or until melted.  
  • Using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate chips evenly over the crackers.  
  • Top with the white chocolate chips, and swirl onto into the chocolate to make a marble design.
  • While the chocolate is still soft, top with the crunchy stuff...toffee pieces and or peanuts.
  • Cool, then break into pieces.

Friday, March 27, 2015

the simple five: anchovy infused orecchiette with broccoli

Orecchiette is a uniquely disc shaped pasta that originates from Southern Italy.  Once cooked, this pasta creates little "bowls", making it ideal for light sauces, as most of the flavour is retained within the hollows of the pasta.

This recipe is an easy adaptation a traditional Italian dish, but as usual, uses only five ingredients (and easy to find ingredients).  Tuna would work well with this dish, but I chose anchovies to add flavourful depth, as the saltiness of the anchovies are balanced out with the broccoli. Anchovies are an acquired taste, but if you like food that with has a salty "bite" in flavour, this is your dish.


Anchovy Infused Orecchiette with Broccoli 
(makes approximately 4-8 servings)

  • 450g box of orecchiette pasta
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets in oil, chopped (reserve 1 tbsp oil)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ tbsp (about ½ of a lemon, juiced)
  • 1 small broccoli, cut into florets
  • Cook the orecchiette according to the package. 
  • Mince/chop the anchovy.  Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil and 1 tbsp of the oil from the anchovies in saute pan/pot. 
  • Add the garlic until the garlic is slightly golden. 
  • Add the anchovies and lemon juice, and cook for 1-2 mins more until the anchovies "dissolve" and become part of the sauce.
  • Toss with the pasta.
  • Add the broccoli and toss with the pasta until the broccoli is bright green.
  • Season with salt, pepper or parmesan (if desired), and serve.

Friday, March 20, 2015

the simple five: grilled gouda and smoked salmon baguette

While we approach the finish line of March Break and school lunches are on the back of my mind (very back), here's a really lovely grilled cheese sandwich geared for adults (although my kids love this too) that slowly gets us back to making sandwiches.

Enjoy the remainder of March Break.

Grilled Gouda and Smoked Salmon Baguette
(Makes 2 sandwiches)

  • 4 slices of french baguette bread
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks and allowed to soften
  • 150g package of smoked salmon
  • 4 oz Gouda, thinly sliced
  • Extra butter for the pan; if needed

  • Heat a large pan or griddle over medium-heat. 
  • Place bread on a clean surface
  • Layer 1/2 of the cheese on one side, and 1/2 of the salmon on the other side
  • Repeat for all the slices of bread.
  • Spread each side of bread with one tablespoon of butter.
  • Place sandwich in the prepared grill and heat on each side for about 3 minutes each, or until the bread has crisped and the cheese has melted.