Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dr. Seuss Canada Offers Unique Gifts and an Affiliate Program!

Dr. Seuss has always held a very special place in my heart and brings up warm, fuzzy childhood memories.  My grandparents had the entire collection of hard cover Dr. Seuss books on a shelf in their family room and I can remember what a treat it was to sit down and flip through them even before I could read.  My Dad loved to read these stories to us and always did so with great enthusiasm.  After Oliver was born, Dad told me that he was going to build him a library of Dr. Seuss books of his own and was so excited about this.  Unfortunately, my Dad was taken too soon and he didn't get a chance to build the library.  

Having said all of this, there's a happy twist to this post!  I was recently referred for the Dr. Seuss Canada affiliate program by the so kind Michael at 2 Blue Ducks (read this post for another fab product I reviewed that Michael carries).  I was delighted for the referral and even more so when I learned it was for Dr. Seuss products. is THE online retailer for Dr. Seuss products in Canada.  Simply put, their goal is to continue Dr. Seuss's outstanding legacy by offering wonderfully fun Seuss products to both adults and children across Canada.  I can definitely get behind that!   The offerings on the site currently include cute products like receiving blankets, sleepers, pajamas, bibs and dishware.  The selection will continue to grow as they source more Seuss merchandise from around the globe.  I have seen many of these products in person (via Michael) and they are great quality and so whimsical and fun!  Take a look at some of the images below from the site:

If you're looking for a fun and unique gift, give Dr. Seuss Canada a try!  It's not too late to shop for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Book Lovers Take Note: Penguin Canada Daily December Delights is on!

If you love to read as much as I do, then you don't want to miss Penguin Canada's fabulous holiday program that launched at the beginning of the month called Daily December Delights. Think Advent Calendar but with BOOKS.  Does it get any better than that?

Each day in December, Penguin will feature a different book on their website and through their social media channels (Facebook and Twitter). Visit each day this month for exclusive content, recipes, quizzes and... PRIZES.  And lots of them!  As a Star Blogger I've been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that there are some amazing titles this month, many of which are on my Christmas list, that you'll have the chance to win!  

There is also a contest to win an entire library of books worth $750 and you can enter each and every day.  Dream. Come. True.  You can get started by visiting Penguin Canada right now! 

Good luck and Happy Holidays! 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Make-Ahead Meals and Miracles

Several times a year my job takes me away from home for a few days at a time and I like to prepare meals for my family while I’m gone.  This week I’m heading to Orlando, Florida for the annual Children’s Miracle Network Celebration, an incredibly moving conference celebrating children who are battling or have overcome serious illness or injury.

The most rewarding part of my job at Dairy Queen Canada (and my favourite part) is the work I do to support Children’s Miracle Network – a non-profit agency that raises funds for children’s hospitals across North America.  DQ has a number of initiatives throughout the year to raise funds for these hospitals in Canada (the biggest being Miracle Treat Day) and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team that makes these programs happen. 

I also have a personal connection to Children’s Miracle Network as I’ve had to draw on the expertise of my local hospital, McMaster in Hamilton, many times.  From B’s specialized care by an orthopaedic surgeon after a bad break in his arm to O’s first days in the neo-natal intensive care unit and several trips to emergency, McMaster has provided us with incredible care and service. 

Now, back to the meals!  Today I spent a couple of hours preparing dinners for my boys to enjoy while I’m gone.  Don’t get me wrong, Jason is more than capable and willing to cook meals in my absence, but I like to make things at least a little bit easier for him while he’s single parenting for a few days (note I did NOT say babysitting!!).  Not to mention, cooking is really my “thing” in this family and it makes me feel like at least they’ll still have a little bit of my love when I can’t be there with them.

So, while I’m applauding and wiping tears as I watch the Champion children tell their stories and receive their medals, here’s what the boys will be eating:

Tuesday:  Lasagna and steamed broccoli
Wednesday:  Mexican Pasta and green beans
Thursday:  Crockpot Chicken Stew
Friday:  Take out!

These are really easy meals that are no-brainers.  Truly. They simply take a bit of time, that’s all.  No expertise required.

First up, lasagna.  Do I really need to write about it?  I mean, who hasn’t made a lasagna before?  Take the easy way out and buy oven-ready pasta and a jar of sauce if you want to.  I usually have some home made tomato sauce in the freezer for just such occasions, so that’s what I used today.  Cooked some ground chicken, mixed in the sauce, some cottage cheese (shhhhh don’t tell the teen!) and then layered it all with some mozzarella.  Seriously easy. And lasagna freezes well. When Jason puts it in the oven to finish cooking, he'll grate some more cheese on top and cook it uncovered for about 30 minutes. 

I don’t really like to have pasta more than once a week, but it’s fast and easy and it’s not going to hurt anyone once in awhile to have it twice one week.   So, next up is Mexican Pasta.  We had this for dinner one night last week and knowing that I was going away this week, I made a double batch.  Again, super simple.  Ground chicken (or turkey), cumin, chili powder and garlic powder; just cook it all together (I wing it with quantities for spices but if you really want specifics go for say a tbsp, a tbsp and a tsp respectively).  Add some black beans and frozen corn then about a cup of salsa (I much prefer the fresh salsas you can find in the deli section of the grocery store).  Add in some already cooked elbow macaroni (approx 2 cups cooked) and then grate a bunch of Monterey Jack cheese into the mixture and stir.  Cheddar would work too, but the Monterey Jack we buy from the market is so good and worth every penny.  Top it with some avocado slices, some more grated cheese and some sour cream if you like.  Cook a green veg on the side or have a salad and call it dinner.  

Chicken Stew is next on the list.  I just wing this one too – no real recipe, but here’s what I do.  Peel and chop two carrots, two parsnips, one small rutabaga, two potatoes and put it all in a large bowl. Add some salt and pepper and some frozen peas.  Cut up a couple of chicken breasts into small bite-size pieces and add to the vegetables.  Crush up a chicken bouillon cube into the bowl.  Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme.  Stir it all up and put it in large freezer bags.  When it’s time to cook it, dump it in the crockpot (frozen is OK) with a cup to a cup and a half of water, stir it and let it cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.  About a half hour before you’re going to eat it, turn the crockpot to high.  Mix a tablespoon of flour with 2 tablespoons of cold water and add to the crockpot, give it a stir and let it bubble for about a half hour.  This will thicken it a bit, but this step is totally optional.  Done like dinner.  For real.

Making meals with real ingredients isn’t that difficult, it just takes a little bit of time.  To me, it’s super important to meal plan, eat dinner as a family and make fresh meals.  You can do it too.  It’s really pretty easy as I hope these meals have shown you! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

If it Swims... I Don't Eat it!

Dear Fish,
I'll cut right to the chase.  I'm just not that into you.  I've tried to like you, I really have, but the bottom line is, you're fish, you taste fishy and you smell fishy.  There's this mental block in my brain that just can NOT get over the thought of how you look all scaly and slimy and ugly swimming around when I'm about to put you in my mouth.  Yuck.

And then there's seafood.  All you lobster and crab lovers out there, I apologize, but I just don't get it.  It seems like an awful lot of work for a little bit of reward.  Not to mention it's messy and it isn't cheap.  

I recall going to Red Lobster once with a friend and her then boyfriend (you know who you are, SD) and watching the two of them devour the all-you-can-eat crab legs like a couple of savages.  While being subjected to the overwhelming aroma of the sea, I tried to choke down my pathetic and tasteless chicken counting the minutes till I could get the hell out of there.  

The hubs, on the other hand, loves fish.  He eats it every chance he gets (outside of our home, obvi) and doesn't understand how fish can taste "fishy". "It's fish!" is his response.  The teen isn't into fish at all but the toddler will gobble it up. I know it's good for you, blah, blah, blah, and I want said toddler to be open-minded when it comes to food.  So, over the years I've tried to like it and have attempted to cook it a handful of times. 

But... it doesn't matter what I do to it, I just don't like it.  I am pretty sure it's mostly a mind-over-matter thing, but the mind wins every time.  

Take tonight for example.  I made Fish Taco Bowls with a recipe I pinned from the blog, Pinch of Yum. Doesn't this LOOK good?

Black beans, corn, brown rice, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, red peppers, tomatoes, Monterrey Jack cheese, avocado (my fave thing ever) - all delicious. Topped with some salsa and sour cream.  Even better, right?  But underneath all that goodness, there was the FISH.  The fish was a RUINER!  A ruiner, I say!  I should have stuck to a Meatless Monday and left out the fish.  Dinner FAIL.  For me, not for the hubs and the toddler, they both liked it.  The teen and me - not so much. 

Fish recipe ideas (that don't taste AT ALL LIKE FISH) for me or suggestions for types of fish I should try would be greatly appreciated - leave me a comment!

I should note that the recipe is fab and I actually might try it with chicken (surprise, surprise...).  No disrespect meant at all to Pinch of Yum.  It's not you... it's the FISH.  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

What in the World Has Penne Been Up To?

Wow, it’s been a few months since I last wrote a blog post – shame on me!  I am going to plead extreme busyness (wow, that IS a word…) over the summer both professionally and personally.  Obviously, summer is the craziest time of year for us at DQ Canada and with our annual Miracle Treat Day fundraiser and a Guinness World Records event in Calgary for world’s largestfruit sculpture, I barely had time to catch my breath and do the regular stuff.   

In my home life, we kept super busy this summer with day trips to places like Port Dover on Lake Erie and African Lion Safari for O's 2nd birthday. We mostly stayed local and enjoyed lounging in our back yard on warm summer days.   Jason and I also went on a one-night getaway to Fergus and Elora where we hiked, ate, drank and rode our bikes.  If you've never been to this little gem in Ontario, you must check it out! 
World's Largest Fruit Sculpture.  3.06 meters tall!

Brew House on the Grand, Fergus, ON

In the kitchen, I’ve been up to my usual antics.  I continue to meal plan religiously and try a couple of new recipes every week.  Boy, I love to cook.  Like, really, really love it.  Had I known this 20 (OMG) years ago, perhaps I would have went to culinary school.  Although, given that I am the furthest thing from a night owl there is, I probably would have had to specialize in breakfast.   And, given that I am not a fan of breakfast (eggs – no thanks, waffles – yuck, pancakes – oh no) I just don’t see it working out for me as a chef.  But I digress….

Here’s something super cool that I’ve been doing in the kitchen though!  It’s no secret that I love Chatelaine magazine and its recipes, so when I saw that I could apply to be a home recipe tester I filled out those forms at lightning speed.  And, guess who was chosen to be a tester?  Yes, that’s right – ME!  I have now tested recipes for both the November and December issues of the magazine.   I’m sworn to secrecy on those recipes until they are in print, but I will tell you this – the ones I tested were delicious, fast and easy, true to Chatelaine form.  I could potentially be quoted in the mags when the recipes are printed, so I’ll let you know if I’m now a famous home-recipe-tester when they show up in my mailbox. 

I’ve cooked several super delicious meals lately and I don’t have time to elaborate on all, but I will tell you about one from last weekend.  This. Chicken. Is. Unbelievable.
Caprese Chicken with Balsamic Reduction
The original recipe is from this blog and I followed it pretty much to the letter.  I did buy one of those mozzarella balls which I think is much better than the brick mozzarella, although more expensive.  Fresh basil leaves are essential and I used Roma tomatoes as they tend to be less juicy and more firm.  One thing I did that the recipe did not call for was to marinate the chicken.  I threw it in a bowl with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, S and P and garlic powder for a few hours before BBQ-ing it.  I think it was a nice touch and added more flavour. 

On the side we had grilled asparagus and a very rich and delicious (read: full of butter, cheese and calories) Parmesan and garlic farfalle pasta.   It was a great meal shared with wonderful friends that I will most definitely make again.  

September always feels like the time for new beginnings for me, so I am going to make a concerted effort to blog at least once a week.  Mark my words!  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Southwest Turkey Meatballs turned Enchiladas turned Tacos. What?

Every Saturday morning I sit down and plan out a dinner menu for the upcoming week in advance of our weekly trip to the farmer’s market and grocery store.  As much as it pains me sometimes to put thought and effort into the menu, I never regret having done so when I get home from work and need (and want!) to get a home-cooked, delicious and fairly quick dinner on the table during the week.

Sometimes I find so many yummy recipes that I want to try and I start to make my grocery list before I’ve 100% confirmed what I’ll cook that week.  Then once I decide on the menu, I forget to edit my list.  Oops.  This was one of those weeks.  I had found three Mexican recipes I wanted to try, but after more thought I decided that all of these in one week might be a little much.

So, I scaled back on the fiesta week theme and settled on these Southwest Turkey Meatballs which were on the menu tonight.  While gathering everything for the recipe, I discovered I had a few extra ingredients on hand that were meant for those other meals that didn’t make the cut.  No problem, I love to improvise and create and wouldn't want these items to go to waste!

I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter (except for: using bread crumbs instead of panko, adding more cumin than it called for and no lime zest, just lime juice) and it was looking good.  

But then... instead of adding chicken broth, I added – wait for it – enchilada sauce.  Oh yesssss.  I let that simmer and cook down till the meatballs were cooked through.


I know one wouldn't normally associate turkey meatballs with corn tortillas, but I thought, why not!?  I heated up a stack and we built our meatball-tortilla-enchilada-taco-thingies on our plates with shredded Monterey Jack cheese (another item that wasn’t meant to be on this week’s list), salsa, sour cream and avocado. 

The hubs and I ate ours with a knife and fork, the teen rolled his up taco style, and the toddler, well he just went at it with his hands.  It was definitely a winner and I will make it again. 

Do you like to improvise and create in the kitchen or are you a stick-to-the-recipe kinda cook? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke - An Essential Summer Read

Once in a while a book comes along that captures my heart and really sticks with me.  This hasn't happened in a very long time, until I recently read Swimming at Night.  I was very grateful to receive a copy of Lucy Clarke's debut novel from Simon and Schuster Canada via the Yummy Mummy Book Club and I devoured it.

Swimming at Night tells the story of sisters Katie and Mia and their complicated relationship.  The book opens with Katie being notified that Mia has committed suicide by jumping off a cliff while traveling in Bali.  Katie is unconvinced that her sister killed herself and when she finds Mia's travel journal she decides to retrace her sister's steps to try to understand what really happened.

Swimming at Night takes you on a whirlwind of exotic locations and is cleverly written with the chapters alternating between the perspective of each sister; Katie reads a part of the journal and then Mia lives it out.  It is a very unique style and very well done.

The characters are well-developed and relatable. I felt like I really got to know them and was emotionally invested in their lives.  I was very sad when this book ended and it left me wanting to know more about these sisters.  I do hope Lucy Clarke keeps these characters alive in upcoming books.

Swimming at Night took me on an emotional rollercoaster and it really got to me, but in a good way. I think about this story often and it is one that I will re-read.  I truly admire Clarke's writing style and her story-telling abilities.  If you're looking for a great summer read - or anytime read for that matter - pick this one up.  You won't be disappointed.

Note:  The book is also called Sea Sisters in other parts of the world (I'm in Canada!).

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Twelve days to go. Twelve days until the anniversary of the day when grief struck like I never knew it could.  Twelve days until I relive that day and what I felt.

April 16, 2012 was a very sunny, unusually warm day; shorts and sandals weather.  I was at home with Oliver because I was on maternity leave.  At about 3:00 p.m. my cell phone rang and on the display was a recruiting firm from Kitchener.  I didn’t answer because I initially thought it was a wrong number. 

After I thought about it for a bit, I realized my cousin, Kevin, worked for a recruiter and that maybe it was him calling. We had been exchanging emails about some baby furniture he was looking to pass on. I checked my voice mail and Kevin had left a message to urgently call him.  My heart raced and a sense of panic overwhelmed me. I called him back and he told me he had a message for me to call Dr. Blank (can’t remember his name) at St. Mary’s hospital in Kitchener.  He said, “Jen, I’m sorry, but expect the worst”. 

I frantically dialed my sister, Bev’s number and all I can remember asking is, “Did he die? Did he die?” to which she responded, yes.  She had received the same call from Kevin and had spoken to the doctor already.  From there it’s a bit of a blur.  I know that Brayden had come home from school at some point and I started to cry out for him.  I needed him to take Oliver while I crouched on the floor crying and shouting, “No, No, No!”  I also somehow called my husband and my mom and shortly after Bev and Luigi arrived at my house. 

Luigi drove Bev and I and Brayden to the hospital in Kitchener so that we could see Dad one last time and make arrangements.  I’ll never forget walking into the room where he lay.  I relive that moment almost daily. It looked like he was sleeping, but he wasn’t.  He was lifeless.  His skin was grey.  He was cold to the touch.  But he was my Dad so I hugged him and kissed his cold forehead and sobbed.  From there, this happened.

That was a Monday.  The rest of the week was a blur and was very overwhelming.   Time flew by and stood still all at once.  Funeral arrangements, phone calls, emails, etc. filled my days.  My sleep was filled with dreams of Dad.  My waking hours were filled with thoughts of Dad. 

And then it was my birthday that Thursday, April 19th.  I received sympathy cards instead of birthday cards.  I shopped for an outfit to wear to a funeral instead of to wear to a birthday celebration.  I was angry at Dad for ruining my birthday, but at the same time grateful that he had sent a card and gift ahead of time that I had already received.  That was so unlike him; he usually had to ask Bev when my birthday was and was rarely on time with wishes and cards.  Maybe he knew…

This year as the first anniversary of Dad’s passing approaches I’m feeling anxious, sad and, I don’t know, weird, I guess.  I am determined, however, to have a good birthday. I am taking the day off and treating myself to a pedicure and a great big cupcake.  I’m going to do what I want to do and thoroughly enjoy the day.  I know Dad would want it that way. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Flour-Less Blueberry Oat Muffins

Who doesn’t love a good muffin?  After all, most muffins are really just cupcakes without the icing, right?  Knowing this, I’m not comfortable baking a standard white flour and sugar-based “cupcake” for my toddler, so I went in search of a healthier muffin recipe for the little guy and came across this fantastic one for Oatmeal Banana Breakfast Muffins.

This quickly became my favourite quick and easy muffin recipe and I have whipped up several batches in the last couple of months.  I have modified the recipe a bit by reducing the sugar (each time I put less and less in) and increasing the bananas – I use three instead of two.  While they can’t be called gluten-free unless made with certified gluten-free oats, they are flour-free and include the goodness of Greek yogurt (yes, that’s right!). 

Last weekend when the hubs came home from the market with a ton of blueberries, the wheels quickly started turning in my head about how to modify the muffin recipe to make them blueberry.  It was a precarious experiment, as an expert baker I am not, but I’m happy to say it worked!  

I like to make minis and regular-sized muffins so this recipe made 12 minis (cups full) and 6 very large regulars.  Here’s my recipe:

Flour-Less Blueberry Oat Muffins

The Ingredients:
2.5 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (you choose the fat content!)
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar (or less!)
1 ½  teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

The Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (the original recipe says 400 degrees but my gas oven gets super hot, so 375 is plenty hot enough). 

Spray tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with muffin cups.  I make a combination of mini and regular muffins.
Place yogurt, eggs, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, apple sauce and ½ cup oats in a blender or food processor, and blend until oats are smooth.  Add the oats half a cup at a time and continue blending.

Add blueberries after blending is complete and stir until just mixed.

Pour batter into muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. 

Bubbly blueberries fresh out of the oven!
Let me know how these turn out and if you have any other variations you’d like me to try!


Friday, January 04, 2013

The Pearl Ring

The start of a new year often brings about feelings of and desire for change.  Be healthier, exercise more, eat less, quit this, start that, and on and on.  Really, at the root of all of these ‘resolutions’ is just to BE better. BE happier. BE healthier.  Just BE a good person.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions because I know that I probably won’t keep them.  When I make a change it has to be because I really want to and because a mental switch has gone off in my head that says, “NOW, it’s time, NOW, you’re ready”, not because the calendar year has changed.

Early in 2012 I wrote about my Grandmother, Violet Alger.  I wrote about what she meant to me and I told the story of my pearl ring – a posthumous gift for my 18th birthday.  I wrote this memoir with passion, and while I still think about my grandmother pretty much every day, the pearl ring was put out of my mind.

Last week Little O was playing in my bedroom, opening drawers and pulling out treasures.  He came across a small jewelry box that I had all but forgotten I owned.  I took it from his little hands and opened it to have a peek to see what was inside.  A couple of pairs of tarnished silver earrings, half of a gold “Best Friends” pendant, and other assorted baubles adorned the small case.  Then I noticed a fabric pouch.  Tucked carefully inside was my pearl ring.

I’m 38 years old now, which means that I’ve had the ring for 20 years.  I wore it for maybe a year after I first received it, but scared to lose it, break it, or ruin the pearl, I tucked it away for safe keeping and special occasions.

The pearl is set in yellow gold and I now only wear silver or white gold jewelry.  Yellow gold just isn’t my taste anymore and my first instinct was to return it to the pouch I found it in.  But while I held the ring and thought about what it meant to me I just couldn’t put it back in the jewelry box.   I slipped it on my right hand ring finger and thought about my grandmother.  She wouldn’t have wanted the ring to sit in a jewelry case for 20 years.  She would have wanted me to wear it and enjoy it and think of her when I look at it.

I am now wearing the ring every day and I am using it as inspiration for my ‘mantra’ for 2013: treat every day like a special occasion and remember those who have passed with love and happiness.  2012 was a bit rough for a few reasons, not the least of which was losing my Dad, so I aspire to live a bit more ‘fuller’ in 2013. The hardest lesson I learned last year was that life can be over in the blink of an eye and you only get one chance on this earth.  To that end, I aspire to BE happier and better and healthier.  This isn’t an easy thing to do and it’s not going to happen overnight, but I am going to try my hardest.

What do you aspire to BE in 2013?