The Mother of Adventure

A haircut, and so much more

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Ibraihim Musa, founder of Cuts for Kids.

One of the things I love best about freelance writing in Ottawa is the opportunity it brings to meet interesting, passionate people – those individuals who are working hard to make a difference, right here in my own community.

Ibrahim Musa is definitely a difference maker. This University of Ottawa political science student – who is only 18 years old – recently launched an organization called Cuts for Kids, which gives underprivileged kids a free haircut, and helps them feel better about themselves.

It was inspiring to talk to Musa about his motivation to give back and his desire to help new immigrants to Canada. This thoughtful teen is definitely going places in his academic and professional life – but he’s taking time to help those less fortunate along the way, which is something we can all learn from.

Read more about Musa and his work in Ottawa’s underprivileged communities in my recent article, “A haircut, and so much more” published in the latest issue of Parenting Times Magazine.

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Time for a change

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I love clocks. Especially ones with Roman numerals.

I read a cool quote earlier this month, which resonated with me: “Time is only boring if you’re waiting for something.”

I’ve been pondering those words for this first stretch of 2017, as I think about how I want to live out this fresh, new year. To me, it speaks of living in the moment and being present; it’s a reminder that I don’t have to constantly be focused on what’s next.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more relevant it is. I can be impatient in the little moments – waiting for my kids, or sitting at a red light. And I can be impatient in the big moments, too, such as waiting to develop a new skill or to take on an exciting, new writing assignment.

When you’re waiting for something, time can seem eternal. Waiting for your turn at the grocery store. Waiting for it to be time to go home from work. Waiting to catch the bus. Waiting for your next big career break. Mentally, if you choose to remain there, that time sucks. It’s torturous. It’s BORING.

But if I subtly shift my attitude, it can make a world of difference. Instead of fixating on the “wasted” minutes and the next task I “need” to complete, I can find contentment in the present. Maybe I can work on my own creative work till that next great assignment comes along. Maybe I can breathe the fresh air at the bus stop – and enjoy the fresh wind on my face, after sitting in front of a computer all day. Maybe I can just “be” and have that be enough.

When I’m able to do that – and it’s certainly not all day, every day – I find myself feeling so much more appreciative of where I’m at. And perhaps instead of waiting for what I want, I can shift that energy into going out and getting it.

So, what are you waiting for this year? Has January been flying by, or are you just waiting for it to end? Here’s wishing you a 2017 filled with going after the things you want – and enjoying the moments you already have.

 

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Gingerbread 101

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Catherine Beddall demonstrates her piping technique at a gingerbread workshop, held at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum earlier this month.

The Christmas season just isn’t complete without some of the wonderful food traditions we know and love, and gingerbread has to be near the top of the list.

Kids love decorating gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses; let’s face it – the candy sampling is the best part! But many of us – myself included – head to the store for one of those gingerbread kits, shying away from making it from scratch. The real stuff, however, tastes a heck of a lot better, and with a few expert tips, doesn’t seem as daunting to make.

I was lucky enough to attend a gingerbread workshop at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum, where pastry chef Catherine Beddall demonstrated her tips on making an assembling a gingerbread house (she had tasting samples, too – yummy!).

book-coverBeddall is the author of a brand-new book, The Magic of Gingerbread, and I was thrilled to interview her for a recent article, Living the Sweet Life, published in Edible Ottawa’s holiday issue.

At the end of the workshop, Beddall shared her incredible gingerbread recipe with the participants – and I’ve obtained her permission to share it with you here.

Happy baking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread

Ingredients:

  • 200g / 7oz / 1 cup shortening
  • 200g / 7oz / 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 160g / 5.5oz / 1/2 cup molasses (regular or “fancy”, not blackstrap)
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 480g / 17oz / 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

(For chocolate gingerbread, add 25g / 1 oz /1/4 cup of cocoa and a teaspoon of water.)

Method:

  1. Prehat oven to 350 F.
  2. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a sturdy hand mixer, beat the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add molasses and water and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl and beat again for another 30 seconds.
  4. Sift dry ingredients together and add all at once.
  5. Mix on slow speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough appears crumbly.
  6. When you press the dough with your hands, it will stick together.
  7. Once the dough has come together firmly in a ball, it’s ready to roll out.

Rolling the dough

  1. Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a flat work surface. The sheet of parchment should be no larger than the size of your baking tray.
  2. Transfer the dough fro your mixing bowl onto the parchment paper and press down slightly to spread it out a bit.
  3. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top.
  4. Roll out the gingerbread, occasionally turning your rolling pin to ensure even spread of the dough, until it’s about 1/8″ thick. Don’t worry if the dough has come past the edges of the parchment paper – you can just cut the edges away.
  5. Remove the top piece of parchment paper, and there you have it – a smooth, even sheet of gingerbread dough ready for cutting shapes.

Cutting shapes

  1. Place the cutter directly on the dough and push down firmly. Remove the cutter. Cut as many shapes as desired or as the sheet of dough will allow, leaving about 1/2″ of space between the shapes.
  2. When all the shapes are cut, use the tip of a paring knife to pick up the excess dough and lift it off the baking sheet. Continue until all the excess dough has been removed (the excess can be gathered together and rolled out again).
  3. Holding an edge of each side of the parchment paper, lift and place it directly onto the baking tray.
  4. The shapes can go straight in the oven. They don’t need to be refrigerated first.
  5. Bake until the edges of the cookies are just slightly darkened (about 12-14 minutes).

 

Royal icing

Ingredients:

  • 520g / 18oz / 4 cups icing sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
  • 8 Tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice (optional)

Method:

  1. Sift together icing sugar and meringue powder
  2. Add water and lemon juice and beat at low speed until combined.
  3. Beat at high speed for five minutes or until icing forms soft peaks.
  4. Add color as desired and use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to a month.
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A Taste of NYC

img_5246New York City is one of the best places in the world for foodies.

In the “city that never sleeps,” you can eat really eat whatever you want – whenever you want. And I was lucky enough to do just that – for three blissful days in October. My “birthday buddy” Cathy and I took a trip to celebrate our 40th birthdays; we were born on the same day, same year (cool, right??). Our birthdays actually happened last year, but then…life kindof got in the way. So a year and a bit later…happy 40th to us!! (Does that mean I’m still just 40?!?).

We had an absolutely fabulous time, and a big part of our enjoyment centred around the FOOD. We’re both busy, working moms of young kids, and it was a massive indulgence to not have to lift a finger to prepare or clean up a meal for three WHOLE days!

So instead of recounting everything we did, I thought I’d focus solely on the glorious meals we enjoyed. We found some stellar restaurants, including:

img_5126Eataly

Located in the Flatiron District (200 Fifth Avenue) this gem was actually a recommendation from a colleague of Cathy’s, who is a chef/professor at Algonquin College. For Ottawa/TO peeps, I would liken it to the Marché – on STEROIDS. Picture an enormous, incredibly funky space – which includes six different restaurants under one roof, as well as a huge marketplace of food products. We put our name in for the pizza & pasta restaurant, then sat at the wine bar while we waited. Since I was ready to eat my ARM out of hunger, we shared an order of ‘mozzarella di bufala’ imported from Italy, served with homemade pesto and fresh bread. Oh BABY, it was soooo good! If you’re a cheese lover like I am, this is a must try. The appetizer may have trumped the main for me; I had a meat-stuffed tortellini which, while hearty and satisfying, left something to be desired. I actually had a bad case of food envy; Cathy had a pasta with this lemon-pistachio sauce that was incredible…very unique flavour. Must try to replicate at home.

Friedman’s

img_5141If you seriously love brunch (and I do), this is the place to go. A hop, skip and a jump from our hotel, Friedman’s is in Herald Square at 132 W 31st Street (there are other locations, including the flagship Chelsea Market restaurant). Good things come to those who wait, and wait you will; be prepared for up to a 45-minute wait on a weekend. But it’s so worth it; this family-run business is no greasy spoon. As a huge eggs Benny fan, I literally swooned over their ‘Nova Benny’ with poached eggs, smoked salmon, potato hash and hollandaise. It was so good we went back on our last day – and I also loved the Mexican-inspired ‘Chilaquiles’ which featured sunny side eggs, shredded chicken, fried tortillas, tomatillo salsa, avocado, cotija cheese, red onion and crema.

Izakaya Mew

If you’re looking for a trendy Japanese restaurant in NYC, look no further. This place is so cool it’s actually hard to find – which only contributes to its mystique.

izakayamewWe walked up and down the street and had to ask a concierge at a nearby hotel before we finally found the discreet sign, and a blasé stairwell leading to the basement. It led to a funky, industrial-style spot packed with Asian millennials (clearly, I fit right in…).

I have no photographic evidence of the food, as we actually grabbed a take-out order and ate in our hotel room before rushing off to see Cirque de Soleil – but the sushi was amazing.

The highlight: a fried chicken sushi roll…so different!

img_5247Snack EOS

Our “last supper” of the trip was late on a Sunday night. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, so Monday was our travel day back. We were actually on the hunt for Thai that evening, but since it was late on a Sunday we found a lot of places were getting set to close their kitchens just when we wanted to sit down for our meal.

That’s when we stumbled ass-backwards onto Snack EOS, a tiny little Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of historic Hell’s Kitchen. The size of a modest family room, the interior had a very welcoming, warm glow.

Over cocktails, Cath and I enjoyed a series of delicious small plates. A sampler platter of pita and dips came with delectable tzatziki, muhammara and melitzanosalata. But my favourite had to be the melt-in-your-mouth lamb triangles, accented with capers and baked in flaky phyllo.

Oh New York…I miss you so much I can still taste you! And so much more wonderful food yet undiscovered. Until next time!

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The Wild Life – Movie ticket give-away!

The Wild LifeIf you’re like me, the first hint of cooler weather has you cringing that summer is starting to come to an end. It has been a fantastic summer and I’ll be sorry to see it go. But while the new school year might be right around the corner, there’s still time for some kid-friendly fun at the movies!

I’m happy to offer a movie ticket give-away for an advanced screening of The Wild Life – courtesy of eOne Films. Based on the world-renowned story of Robinson Crusoe, The Wild Life follows a shipwrecked and lost Crusoe as he fights to build a treehouse. Hilarity ensues for Crusoe and a cast of zany, wild animals as they all fight for survival. The Wild Life is fun for children of all ages and will be a great way to spend time with the family this September.

If you’d like to be entered in a random draw for four passes, just leave a comment on this post telling me why you love watching movies with your kids (or share the name of your fave family flicks)! Please include your email address – or send it to me privately at: soniam@bell.net. I will make the draw on Monday, August 29th and will announce the winners here at TheMotherofAdventure.com! Good luck!

The Wild Life

Advance Screening: Saturday, September 3, 10 a.m. – Cineplex Ottawa, 3090 Carling Ave, Ottawa, ON K2B 7K2

Starring: Ron Allen, George Babbit, Laila Berzins, Ilka Bessin, Joey Camen, Jeff Doucette, Sandy Fox

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83JCockD1-I

Synopsis: From the over-exuberant parrot Mak to the snack-obsessed tapir Rosie, from the persnickety echidna Epi to the acrobatic pangolin Pango, from the ditzy goat Scrubby to the commonsensical kingfisher Kiki and the always-cool chameleon Carmello, things are larger-than-life on a tropical isle that is pure wild animal paradise. Then Robinson Crusoe, a marooned human, arrives in the midst of a furious storm, and their lives are forever changed by this bewildering new “creature.” No matter their differences, castaway human and quirky animals embark on an hilarious new adventure, building the island’s first tree-house and surviving together. But when two conniving members of the animal kingdom — the savage cats Mal & May – pounce into a battle for control of the island, Crusoe and his animal posse must uncover the true power of friendship against all odds (even savage cats).

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Opa with a twist

image1If you’ve ever partied with the Greeks, you probably know that “Opa!” is a word used to express a feeling of joy, high spirits and happiness. It’s often shouted out during celebrations or dancing in Greece.

Growing up in a German-Mennonite household, however, “Opa” is the traditional word for “grandpa.” So every August, I have a pleasant mixture of childhood memories with my Opa as I head to Greekfest in Ottawa.

We went to GreekFest on August 11 – opening night. But the good news is this is a long festival – if you haven’t been there yet, you have another week to take in the festivities.

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My plate of beef gyros…you can see my moussaka peeking out in the background.

I’m going to be really honest – we’re there for the food. There’s a lot of other cool things going on, but when I arrive, I’ve got a one track mind for the delicious Greek cuisine I’m about to enjoy.

The beef gyros are a perennial favourite for our family. But this year, I also tried the traditional moussaka and it did not disappoint! If you’ve never had moussaka, it’s the Greek version of lasagna; it consists of sliced eggplant, ground beef, spices, tomatoes, potatoes topped with Béchamel sauce.

Another one of my faves is the spanakopita…these are delicious little triangles of phyllo pastry, stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. Our girls really seemed to enjoy the dolmades – grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices. And of course, you can’t forget the Greek salad…yum!

image3Once you’ve eaten your fill, it’s fun to watch the traditional Greek dancing. When we were there, a few kids’ groups were performing, which was fun to watch. I think we left a bit too early and missed the famous Zorba show – which is actually really impressive.

The festival also has a small area dedicated to kids’ activities. Our daughters got a real kick out of climbing the rope ladders – and trying to get to the end before falling onto the air mattress below. There was a bouncy castle for the wee littles, too. It cost $1 or $2 per child to participate in this area. There was also a table set up offering free face painting.

image2So if you want to take a break from cooking one night this week, think about checking out GreekFest! You can’t go wrong with the food – and we could all use a little more “Opa” in our lives.

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A heat wave, a road trip and a cabin in the woods

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Cheryl and I exploring the banks of the Potomac River.

Hello and happy August!!

Geez – I can hardly believe it’s August already – I haven’t posted in ages, but being busy with family vacation is a good excuse, right?!?

Our little family recently got back from a 10-day road trip to Virginia – to visit my husband’s parents, who live just outside of Washington, DC. We had a fantastic trip – but man, it was HOT!

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It’s tough to get into a car with black leather interior when it’s above 45C.

Now, Ottawa can get pretty toasty in the summer, and the humidex can make things pretty intense at times (it took this Alberta girl a while to get used to it here). But Washington – and really all of the eastern seaboard in the US – just takes it to a whole new level. We’re talking 28 C before 8 a.m…and then a steady climb to the mid-40s from there. Of course, in the US everyone talks in Fahrenheit which is confusing for us Canadians. Take a look at the pic on the left to see what our dashboard thermometer read most days we got in the car; 114F = 45.5C (and hey – stop judging me for my satellite radio choice; the 90s had some great tunes, OK??).

Despite the high heat and humidity, we had a ton of fun catching up with family. My husband’s aunt, uncle and their two kids – along with their spouses and little ones – came down from Toronto, and my sister-in-law and my niece flew all the way from Vancouver. So we rented a big ol’ cabin in the woods – on the banks of the Potomac River. It was the perfect blend of nature right outside our door, with civilization just a short drive away.

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The fish were too smart – or too hot and sleepy – to show themselves to us.

On our second day at the cabin, my husband’s uncle took all of the kids fishing. It was the first time for most of them, which meant Uncle Conrad spent the morning running back and forth – giving lessons and trouble-shooting. I think the man has the patience of a saint, because we were a very large and unskilled group – and it was suuuuper hot and sticky that morning! I guess the old adage of the early bird getting the worm must be true, because we didn’t get so much as a nibble! We should have gotten up at dawn instead of sauntering to the river around 10 a.m., I suppose.

The rest of the trip was a pleasant blur of outdoor pool time, mini golf and outlet shopping (back-to-school shopping is DONE – hooray!). Oh – and there *might* have been one decadent trip to the Cheesecake Factory; unfortunately, no photographic evidence as the dessert was devoured too quickly.

Every evening, we listened to the prominent “singing” of the cicadas in the trees as we hung out on the deck by the river. A little research taught me that this high-pitched song is actually a mating call belted out by males; each species has its own distinctive song that only attracts females of its own kind. Cicadas are the only insects capable of producing such a unique and loud sound. Some larger species can produce a call in excess of 120 decibels at close range – which is approaching the pain threshold of the human ear.

So there’s your science lesson for the day…and I hope you’re having a most fabulous summer, too! Let me know how you’re keeping busy – and what cool vacation spots you’ve discovered.

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Just “kitten” around…

Just for CatsMy name is Sonia and sometimes, when I’m hanging out with my kids, I watch cat videos.

There; I’ve put it out there! After all, they say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution, right??

Then again – cat videos can have a positive effect on the world. How on earth is that, you might ask? Well, the Just for Cats Video Festival is coming to Ottawa tomorrow – and it supports a national initiative to increase the welfare of cats across the country.

Yeah, a cat video festival! It’s a real thing – and it’s actually pretty big! It’s happening across the country – so if you don’t live in Ottawa, be sure to check their web site for a festival taking place near you.

Just for Cats 2The event showcases a reel of the best internet cat videos on the planet. Ottawa’s festival takes place at Dundonald Park on Saturday, June 25, in partnership with Centretown Movies – so the screening will be outdoors under the stars.

They’ll be kicking everything off with family-friendly activities – such as cat-inspired yoga, face-painting, dance and story time at 6:30 p.m. Don’t forget your lawn chairs or a picnic blanket – you’ll want them to get comfy for the screening of the Just for Cats reel at dusk (approximately 9 p.m.).

There will also be a silent auction with some great items – including a family photo session with Jerome – Photographer; nine holes of golf for four people from Thunderbird Sports Centre; four tickets to an Ottawa Fury FC home game; a Yogatown gift basket and introductory pass; a three-month subscription to Meow Box; a pet basket worth $150 from Dayna’s Pet Sitting Incorporated; and a gift basket from the Lil Bub Store with a tee, stickers, a plushie that purrs and meows just like Lil BUB and a Bub tote bag.

Lil BUBWhile the event is free, please consider giving a $5 to $10 donation per person. All funds go to the Ottawa Humane Society and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.

Hope to see you tomorrow for a celebration of all things feline!

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Nurturing our young Rembrandts

2016-04-30 11.54.18I love gaining new insight into how my kids see the world.

As parents, we’re constantly learning more about our children’s growing, changing personalities and looking for ways to help them express themselves. Drawing is a great way to do just that – and my two daughters have thoroughly enjoyed classes with the Young Rembrandts in Ottawa.

I’ll never forget when my youngest daughter, then six years old, came home with her own rendition of American Gothic. She was so keen to tell me the story behind the painting – interesting tidbits that she had gleaned from her instructor, who obviously knew the artist well. Her older sister, on the other hand, absolutely loved the cartooning classes – and came home with a series of clever sketches after each class. It’s a great way to get kids interested in the arts scene – and even generate interest in a trip to the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

2016-04-09 12.01.33I noticed that while taking drawing lessons, my girls were frequently inspired to pick up pencil and paper at home – creating new versions of what they had learned at class that week, or simply following their instinct to create something new and off the wall. As a parent who battles the magnetism of kids to TV and computer games, I find it so refreshing to see them entertaining themselves with paper and pencils.

In fact, drawing has been well documented in its positive effect on child development. It aids in the development of fine motor skills, helps with concentration and boosts creativity. It’s even recommended for kids on the autism spectrum – as those children tend to be more receptive to information that is experienced visually, instead of relying on words to communicate feelings and thoughts. I wrote about the positive effects of artistic expression for kids with autism in a Parenting Times article, “Colouring outside the lines.” 

IMG_2521If you’re looking for a fun, new activity to keep your child busy this summer, check out the Young Rembrandts course offerings. There’s literally something suited for every child – from preschool (age 3) to Grade 6.

This year, there are a number of new workshops – including “Anime Cartoon” and “Kings and Queens of Castles” – as well as weekly sessions available. Classes are held at elementary schools around the city. The Young Rembrandts will even arrange for drop-in visits to other summer camps or daycare.

After all, some of the most famous artists in history most admired the creativity inherent in children.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

~ Pablo Picasso

 

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Under the Tyranny of Vegetables (Edible Ottawa)

TomatoesSpring came late to the party in Ottawa this year – which makes it all the sweeter. This past weekend, I started scratching around in my backyard for the first time. I pulled a few weeds and dragged out the patio furniture, but mostly stood with my face turned to the sun, reveling in the warmth I’ve been missing all winter. I have a modest little veggie patch, and I’m already dreaming about the fresh herbs and juicy tomatoes I’ll be enjoying in a few months. Mmmm…Caprese salad, anyone??

Ottawa’s spring thaw must surely have Madeleine Maltby breathing a sigh of relief. Maltby and her partner, Matthew Mason-Phillips, are the urban farmers behind a great little business called Britannia Backyard Edibles. The ambitious pair will be cultivating “borrowed” garden plots around the city, generating high yields in small areas.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maltby and Mason-Phillips last winter, when they told me all about their business model and vision for organic community gardening. Read the full article, ‘Under the Tyranny of Vegetables‘ in Edible Ottawa magazine. Their love for fresh produce is the perfect inspiration for breaking some new ground this season.

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