The Mother of Adventure

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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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.

image4

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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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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Spread the curd: It’s poutine mania in Ottawa

It seems spring is synonymous with poutine in Ottawa, and I for one am not complaining.

Last Saturday, my family headed downtown to check out the ‘Great Canadian Fork Off’ on Sparks Street. Poutine affectionados were out in full force – and didn’t seem to mind waiting in long lines to taste traditional and exotic variations of one of Canada’s most iconic foods.

I decided to try ‘Beef Souvlaki’ poutine, which was your classic poutine topped with some slices of Greek-style beef. It was pretty yummy – though I found the beef portion to be a bit skimpy!

Our kids, ages 11 and eight, opted for the tried-and-true classic poutine. You really can’t go wrong with freshly-cut fries topped with cheese curds and gooey, gravy goodness…it definitely got the thumbs up.

If you’re moaning that you inadvertently missed the Sparks Street festivities, fear not – more gravy-drenched deliciousness will hit Ottawa this coming weekend with the second-annual Ottawa PoutineFest, taking place May 5 to 8 at Ottawa City Hall. Our family took this one in last year – with my husband, Ian, acting as a judge, and it was a ton of fun.

This year, the festival is advertising 30 Poutiners and food vendors. One of the festival highlights is sure to be a world record attempt for the biggest poutine. And if you pride yourself on being a big eater, here’s a challenge for you – Ottawa PoutineFest is accepting names via Facebook and Twitter for a poutine-eating contest!

So this may not be the weekend for healthy eating, but it does promise to be a whole lot of tasty fun. And remember – Ottawa Race Weekend is right around the corner, so just consider this a pre-race carb-loading session.

 

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A little taste of heaven

KitchenI’ve always thought there must be food in heaven. Let’s be clear – I’m not referring to simple sustenance here; I’m dreaming of food so sublime that, in my case, it just doesn’t come along every day (at least not on earth).

Earlier this month, I had the chance to taste a meal that definitely qualified as “heaven sent” – compliments of the CrEATe Kitchen located inside Ottawa’s Shaw Centre.

A hidden gem in the national capital’s culinary scene, CrEATe is a “kitchen studio” that manages to be cutting edge yet intimate. Offering a unique format, the CrEATe Kitchen offers interactive cooking and dining experiences – for everything from team building to private celebrations. Basically, CrEATe can be what you want it to be. On this particular Saturday night, it was a wonderland of culinary creativity led by Chef Geoffrey Morden – who demonstrated his craft before a room of Ottawa’s hungriest food critics.

OystersOur delicious evening began with two beautiful oysters, one crispy fried west coast and the other prosecco-chilled east coast. While I’m a westerner at heart (you can take the girl out of Alberta, but you can’t take Alberta out of the girl!), I definitely preferred the east coast oyster for its ever-so-slightly sweet and refreshing qualities.

Bone marrowNext up was short rib ravioli, roasted veal marrow, served with beef fume and root pearls. While I loved the ravioli, I am admittedly a newcomer to veal marrow; its intense richness overwhelmed me a bit, though I can imagine aquiring a taste for it over time.

 

LambThe feature presentation – overnight roasted lamb rack with cauliflower puree, cashew crust and natural jus – was truly divine. Cooked to perfection (the delicate dance of cooking lamb just so always scares me off; Chef Morden openly admitted he uses a digital thermometer to get it just so), it was absolute, melt-in-your-mouth tender. I loved the artful plating in pristine, stainless-steel frying pans.

SaladAfter bringing out the heavy hitter, the menu blissfully dialed it back with a deliciously fresh salad – served in adorable, miniature colanders. Mache, hothouse greens and pea tendrils were treated to a dressing of cherry vinegar and truffle olive oil, and finished with dehydrated roma petals.

 

CrispsPalate cleansed…just in time for triple cream brie, sour cherry syrup and crisps – the pre-dessert dessert (no complaints here!).

 

DessertThe crowning glory of this incredible meal was a warm pineapple fritter, dusted with vanilla sugar and served with a perfect little pool of caramel. On the side was a small cup of chocolate fondant, topped with a rich puddle of raspberry sauce.

It was a thrill to see Chef Morden and his amazing team at work in their element, crafting such incredible dishes right before our eyes. With such an approachable, down-to-earth personality, Chef Morden made it easy for the guests to ask questions about his cooking techniques, the source for his food ingredients or details about the amazing wines served alongside each course.

Any foodie would undoubtedly enjoy such a unique culinary experience, which is why I would definitely consider the CrEATe Kitchen as a location for a truly memorable evening with friends – perhaps for a milestone birthday or another special celebration.

Until then, I will have to content myself by gazing longingly at my photos of a night I won’t soon forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale – CTV’s Morning Show

ctv-ottawa3Ottawa’s Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale had a great opportunity to appear on CTV’s Morning Show today, with host Melissa Lamb!

In today’s segment, we talked about this week’s ‘Foodie Festival Friday’ taking place alongside the sale at the Ottawa Mennonite Church. Professional pastry chef Catherine Beddall explains how she crafted her beautiful gingerbread house – which will be given away to a lucky winner this Friday, Nov. 7!

Adorit Boutique owner Emma Inns also joined us to talk about her role in the ‘Fair Trade Fashion Show,’ scheduled for Friday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. Click here to watch our CTV segment, and for full details on the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale click here. Hope to see you there!

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Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Completed squash mealWhen I worked as managing editor of iRun Magazine many moons ago, I remember one of the bright spots in my in-box were the recipe submissions from contributing chef Dwayne Botchar. Although we never met – and lived in different cities – Dwayne’s emails always had an easy-going, positive tone – and with all of his culinary experience, I was always intrigued to see what new concoction he would cook up with next.

One of my favourite recipes – that I typed out, printed and cook till this day – is Dwayne’s Spaghetti Squash Casserole. At the time, I was new to cooking with squash – and it expanded my kitchen repertoire just a little. This recipe is a personal fave because it’s easy to make, healthy and has an interesting presentation – using the hollowed-out-shells of the squash.

Recently, I made it for our girls and they both *loved* it. Vegetarians can substitute ground beef for lentils, making it versatile for any audience.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe…thanks again to Dwayne for granting me permission to share it!

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash, halved, baked and scraped into a bowl
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, chopped
  • ½ green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 lb. of lean ground beef or meat alternative (lentils are great)
  • ½ bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ c. fresh, grated Romano
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil

Preparation

1)     To bake spaghetti squash, simply cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and centre wool, then place the halves on a deep baking sheet with some water in the bottom (this will steam the squash and speed up the cooking process slightly). Bake it for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the skin depresses when you push into it. Cool and scrape out the spaghetti squash (it should come out in spaghetti-style strands). Set aside the skin shells for later use.

2)     Preheat a large skillet or pot. Pour in the oil and when it starts to ripple, add in ground beef. When the beef is almost cooked, add in the onions, garlic and peppers.

3)     Once the beef is completely cooked, add in the tomatoes, spaghetti squash and fresh herbs. Season to taste.

4)     Scoop the cooked mixture back into the squash skins. Sprinkle the cheeses on to the two halves. Bake at 425 F, or until the cheese has melted and browned lightly.

Cooking Tip: If you are using the meat alternative, cook the veggies first, then add in the lentils near the end to simply heat it up. And don’t forget – better to slightly undercook your vegetables; they will cook more when you bake the casserole.

Makes 4 – 6 portions.

 

 

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The Turkey Coma

Salad

My post-turkey-coma salad, which – if you look very carefully – actually has some tiny bits of turkey in it (the addict must withdraw slowly).

It’s almost noon, and I just awoke from what can only be described as a profound turkey coma.

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? Turkey coma can be contracted by innocently participating in a traditional, family meal, such as that held over Thanksgiving weekend. Those affected – like me – may have a deep passion for roasted turkey dinners (and mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing…), to the point that their perspective on what constitutes “a healthy serving” may become a tad distorted.

Your chances of contracting turkey coma can be raised by returning to the aforementioned turkey and trimmings only hours later…to take yet another portion and re-heat it in the microwave. The consumption of alcohol alongside said meal can also be indicative of the onset of turkey coma.

Then…WHAM-O, turkey coma hits, and it hits hard. Symptoms include profound sleepiness, severe lethargy and a general sense of well being. Be warned, however, that turkey coma is not always resolved after a good night’s sleep. This morning – after waking up and even having a cup of coffee – my turkey coma resumed – along with a slight, nagging headache – and I was overwhelmed with the urge to go back to bed.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Thankfully, I have a very wise husband, with extensive experience with turkey. Slowly and seriously, he offered up his simple diagnosis, “You have a case of turkey coma.”

His remedy was to unplug the phone, then leave me curled up on the couch with a fleecy blanket while he took the kids out to a Disney movie (Isn’t he great? He happens to be pretty easy on the eyes, too…but I digress).

To be honest, I had to resist the urge to get up and be productive, and shut out the laundry list of things the logical side of my brain was telling me I should be doing…go for a run! Clean up after your guests! Respond to those emails!

When I was able to (mostly) shut out that irritatingly chipper voice of productivity, what followed was something highly unusual…there were a couple of hours that I really can’t account for because I was in somewhat of a vegetative state. I finally arose feeling an overwhelming sense of relaxation, with my headache and turkey coma seemingly gone.

But most of all, I just feel thankful…thankful to live in such a blessed part of the world that overindulgent dinners are possible, and thankful that I have a family who will gracefully step aside while my turkey coma runs its course.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Mutant, move-it Monday!

Apple 3Happy Monday, all!

I decided to kick-start this week with a run. Lately, the mornings have been *such* a lovely temperature for running – and the afternoons heat up to a summer-like heat. Great to get the workout in early and set a positive tone for the day.

Typically, I run with my iPod. I get a lot of motivation out of cranking some upbeat tunes – there are certain songs that can totally inspire me to pick up my pace (runner friends – what is your fave running tune??). Today, however, I decided to leave the tunes at home – just to mix it up a little.

It was nice to break from the music and enjoy a quiet run. I found it caused me to focus on my breathing, to be more aware of the rhythm of my feet on the trail and the depth of the oxygen filling my lungs. I tuned in to the sound of the insects humming on the “off road” portion of my run, and noticed the birds sounding their chirpy, morning greetings.

Apple 2Back at home, I’ve got a pile of projects to tackle this week. One of them is deciding what to do with my crabapples – thus the ‘mutant’ reference in the post title! We have a lovely, young apple tree in our backyard, but this year its yield is nothing short of bizarre. There were not a ton of apples, and almost every one has an irregular, lumpy shape to it. Why did they grow like that? Any green thumbs out there that might know?

In addition to their strange shape, some of the apples seem to have been eaten by bugs. But it’s hard to tell, as some of them – when I slice them open have a small, black spot inside but no outside holes – which lead me to believe it’s not bugs after all.

AppleWondering what to do with these weird little fruits…I hate to waste food, so should I just salvage the good parts and bake something up? The unmarred sections taste great – a bit tart, perfect for baking.

A bit disappointed as two summers ago, I had an incredible yield of at least 100 big, perfect crabapples. Now I’m stuck with a bunch of mutants! I’ve got a lot to learn about gardening, so it seems.

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Home-run snacks for little athletes

Lily's first gameOur six-year-old daughter is in Little League again this spring, and I can’t decide what’s cuter: The proud look on Lily’s face when she gets a run or the over-the-moon proud look on her dad’s face (he is arguably the world’s biggest baseball fan).

Well, I think Lily wins the cute contest; it’s pretty hard to beat that face…but I digress.

A couple of weeks ago, it was our family’s turn to bring post-game snacks for the little athletes. Since the coach’s wife had brought these adorable fruit skewers – with a chocolate-dipped marshmallow at the end – as the snack after the first game, the bar had been set pretty high. A careless bag of ‘Chips Ahoy’ were just not going to cut it – I had to come up with something a bit funkier.

A bit of messing around on Google images turned up a bunch of baseball-themed snack ideas, including these Rice Krispie snacks. Clearly I didn’t re-invent the wheel here, but it was fun to put a new twist on an old classic – and it turned out to be a total hit (get it? Hit? Ahh…the puns just keep coming!).

Here’s how I made them – the basic recipe is from the back of a box of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies:

IngredientsIngredients:

  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 5 cups miniature or 40 regular marshmallows
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 cups Kellogg’s Rice Krispies

Method:

1. In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2. Add cereal and stir until well coated.

3. Using a buttered spatula or wax paper, evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Allow to cool.

Decoration:

So here’s where the fun part begins – turning a regular old pan of Rice Krispies into a plateful of little baseballs!

1. Use a round cookie cutter to cut your Rice Krispies into ‘baseballs.’ If you’re preparing them for a team, make sure you cut them small enough that everyone gets one (with a couple to spare for little siblings at the game!).

2. Spread a layer of white icing over the top of each circle (I used a store-bought jar of icing).

3. Allow the icing to cool and dry; I put my tray into the fridge for about half an hour.

4. Using a tube of red decorator’s icing, pipe semi-circles on top of each ‘baseball’ to make the main lines for the stitching.

5. On either side of your two red lines, carefully pipe a few smaller red lines for the side stitches.

Did the kids like the treats, you ask? Well, let’s just say I hardly got the lid off my Tupperware before they disappeared in about 2.7 seconds…I felt a bit like a piece of meat being attacked by a team of hungry piranhas.

Now that’s what I call hitting it out of the park.

 

 

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