The Mother of Adventure

Time for a change

clock

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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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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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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Ticket giveaway – Ottawa Parent & Child Expo

Dora the Explorer“Maybe watch one Dora?”

Many moons ago, this was one of my daughter Elissa’s first phrases. Now that she’s 11 (going on 15!), it seems a lifetime away; but from time to time, my husband and I jokingly bring up that phrase; gently teasing her about her early obsession with Dora the Explorer. As a toddler, she actually bore a striking resemblance to Dora – she had the same bobbed hair and chubby cheeks. In retrospect, we totally should have dressed her up as Dora for Halloween while we had the chance!

These days, the mass appeal of Dora rages on, and if you have a little fan (or two) at your house, you won’t want to miss the chance to say “Hola!” next weekend at the Ottawa Parent and Child Expo. In fact, I have some free passes to give away for admission this Saturday, April 16.

RobotSponsored by Parenting Times – Ottawa’s most read parenting magazine – the expo promises to have something to appeal to kids (and parents!) of all ages. If your children have long outgrown the Dora stage, they might be enticed by hearing a performance from the Mini Pops, watching a magic show performed by Ottawa magician Ian Quick, or even test-driving a VEX IQ robot from ProBots (heck, even I would like to try that…out of the way, kids!).

For parents, the expo features about 100 different exhibitors, offering all sorts of parenting information from toddlers through to the teenage years. Talk with area experts about education, French immersion and tutoring options. Find out about summer camps and child care choices for the upcoming summer – or consider sport and music registration options. Find tips on family health and wellness, and shop new products and gifts.

Want to snag a free pass – valid for one parent and one child this Saturday, April 16? Just comment on this post – and let me know your favourite thing about Parenting Times magazine. You’ll be entered in a random draw (winners to be announced Tuesday, April 12). Good luck!

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Mermaid 101

Poolside

Lily gives her best mermaid smile.

It was a scene that would have made Ariel proud – a pool full of little girls, learning how to swim like a mermaid. Think of it as “Mermaid 101.”

My eight-year-old daughter, Lily, was over the moon (or would it be “over the corral” in this case??) when I told her about the introductory class with AquaMermaid, which took place at the University of Ottawa pool last weekend.

While mermaids have always captured the imagination of young kids, I’ve watched them climb in popularity over the past few years as “mermaid tails” have hit the market. These water toys allow you to learn how to swim like a fish – using both legs as a fish tail and your core muscles to propel forward.

Lily was very excited for her hour-long, introductory session – which included a tail rental. Right away, I could tell she was thrilled to pick out a mermaid tail in her (current) favourite colour – teal. The tails are made of a stretchy, Spandex-type material and go up to the swimmer’s waist.

Putting on the tail

The girls receive instructions for putting on their mermaid tails.

The first step was learning to put the tail on. A plastic compartment inside the tail – called a monfin – holds both of the swimmer’s feet in place with an adjustable strap. Lily’s feet are tiny, which meant that they slipped out a couple of times – but the instructors were very patient with helping her get them adjusted properly.

With tails on, the girls were ready to get into the water and try swimming (basic swimming skills are a prerequisite for the class). The kids started out gliding on their sides, with one arm extended, and then added the dolphin kick.

Although Lily is a solid swimmer, there was a lot to learn. The class put a unique spin on regular swimming – teaching the kids how to swim like a fish. The instructors demonstrated how, with multiples arms placement variations, you can perform a variety of swimming activities, including swimming through hoops underwater.

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An instructor gives Lily some tips on her technique.

A new Canadian mermaid school, AquaMermaid operates out of Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. Founder Marielle Chartier Hénault fused her own mermaid dream with a passion for swimming to create the school, which brings a high-energy alternative to traditional swimming clubs. And it’s not just for little girls – AquaMermaid draws a diverse group of members of all ages and swimming levels.

The atmosphere was fun and incorporated games for the kids; Lily loved diving for different-coloured pool toys from the bottom of the pool. Her one complaint was the the water was colder than she’s used to – as the University of Ottawa pool is a competitive facility. But once she got moving around in the water she was having too much fun to complain.

If you have a young mermaid fan at home, keep AquaMermaid in mind for lessons – or even a kid’s birthday party. Letting your little one spend the day as a mermaid is sure to make a splash – and some great memories.

 

 

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Keeping warm with Norm

Warm Norm

Ian gets cozy with northern New Brunswick’s “Warm Norm.”

It seems the people of northern New Brunswick really know how to have fun – and stay warm – on a cold winter’s night in Ottawa.

Actually, a lot of it involves thinking ahead to warmer weather – and dreaming of all the fun things it will bring with it. Throw in some tasty drinks and traditional New Brunswick cuisine, and you’ve got yourself a party…Warm Norm style!

“Warm Norm” is northern New Brunswick’s tourism ambassador. A friendly lumberjack who sports a Paul Bunyan-style beard, Warm Norm (otherwise known as Beresford-born actor Nathan Dimitroff), recreated a little bit of northern New Brunswick at Union Local 613 – an Ottawa restaurant and pub – last month.

Warm Norm 2

French Acadian flatbread, known as “ploye”, comes hot off the griddle.

My husband and I kicked off the evening by tasting some foods from the region, including beef tortiere and “ploye” – a French Acadian flatbread served warm, often with butter and sugar or maple syrup.

Warm Norm’s down-to-earth, friendly entourage gave us some great travel ideas for New Brunswick destinations like Edmundston, Bathurst, Campbellton and the Acadian Peninsula. I learned that the area is truly a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts – boasting 400 acres of some of the best fresh-air trails in Atlantic Canada. Tourists who are avid cyclists love exploring the 45 kilometers of International Mountain Bike Association approved trails.

The City of Bathurst grabbed my attention, too. It’s situated on Chaleur Bay, and looks absolutely breathtaking. The area is known for its natural saltwater beach, and the nearby Daly Point Nature Reserve.

Warm Norm

Ian and I dreaming of the saltwater beaches of northern New Brunswick.

I grew up in Alberta, and didn’t get the opportunity to go “out east” until 2010. That was when our young family took one of our best-ever road trips – to PEI. While we did drive through New Brunswick en route from Ottawa, we didn’t take the time to stop and explore.

The northern New Brunswick tourism evening left me feeling inspired to explore a new part of the country. And if everyone there is as laid back and warm as Norm and his friends, I’m sure it would be a trip to remember.

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