humorous and heartfelt stories ~ healthy recipes made without gluten, dairy, or eggs ~ ideas for living well


My youngest son Will has an endearing little habit of filling his pockets with the many "treasures" he encounters in his daily adventures. I don't always understand the value he sees in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks can one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one is beautiful and important. His habit got me thinking about how life is just like that on a larger scale; we gather up the precious bits of our many experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you will find a little something among the stories and ideas here that you'd like to keep in your own pocket. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Worth Keeping in Your Pockets -- October 2014

Around our house, fall feels all about staying warm and cozy, well-fed, well-read, and close to the ones we love.  That seems to be a fitting theme for today's edition of Worth Keeping in Your Pockets -- pull up a comfy chair and take a peek at some things my family and I have been enjoying lately!

Merino Wool Socks:  Cool, wet weather won this week; I gave up on the easy style of bare feet in ballet flats and switched to wearing socks and fall boots whenever I leave the house.  My feet have a tendency to feel cold almost always in late autumn and winter, so I'm often on a mission this time of year to find socks that are warm and comfortable, but also not ridiculously thick, for everyday wear. These merino wool socks are my new favourites -- they are super soft (not itchy like wool can be) and lightweight, have no bumpy seams at the toes, and they fit really well, with just the right amount of snugness.  I found them at Costco, where they're sold in four-packs in a variety of colours.  (Look Dad -- more stripes!!  ;)  )


Rainbow Carrots:  I went out to check on the remains of our vegetable garden last weekend and was happy to find that the last of the carrots were all ready to be picked.  We planted a rainbow variety this year, mostly just for the fun of pulling each carrot up by its green top and being surprised by what colour it turned out to be.  We got a lovely variety of white, yellow, orange, pink, and purple carrots in our harvest, and it's been so nice to enjoy the taste of homegrown vegetables just at a time when we're really starting to miss freshly picked food from the backyard.  I used some of our carrots to roast along with potatoes for dinner on Sunday; I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and pepper, tossed in some crushed garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, and orange zest and baked them in a 400 F oven for about an hour.  It's a pretty and delicious side dish that you can try, too -- just look for rainbow carrots in your grocery store.



Canadian Lit:  I learned recently that a fellow swim club mom I had met through Noah's group last year is an accomplished author with a new novel that was published this fall.  Excited to enjoy the hard work of a local writer to whom I actually had a connection, I bought Carrie Snyder's book, Girl Runner, and I've been completely drawn into her beautifully written story since I started reading it yesterday. The narrative weaves gracefully between the present, where 104 year old Aganetha Smart, a former famed Olympic runner and now a lonely nursing home resident, is taken on a mysterious excursion by two young strangers, and the past, which Aggie reveals to the reader through her vivid, tender memories of her personal and family history.  The novel is an excellent read so far; it's both exhilarating and deeply touching.  (I also discovered that Carrie Snyder writes a blog, and it too is lovely to read.  If you're interested in the thoughtful, sincere musings of a writer, a mom to four children, a teacher, and a runner, visit Obscure CanLit Mama.)



Handy Apple Slicer:  This is one of those kitchen gadgets that I should have acquired years ago, considering that my two boys have eaten tons of apples every year since they were small, and I've likely spent too many hours of my life coring and slicing fruit!  We've seen this slicer in action at the local farmers' market, where the vendors use them to offer samples of the different apple varieties to visitors. All you have to do is center this little metal contraption over the top of an apple, press down, and voila!  The apple is instantly cored and divided into ten neat little sections, ready for eating plain, or dipped in some natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter as Noah and Will like to do for a snack.  I ordered my apple slicer from a virtual Pampered Chef party that I attended recently and I'm really happy with its quality.  It's a great little time saver.



Fall Family Getaway:  When we can, Matt and the boys and I like to plan a little trip somewhere in November, a reprieve from the busyness of fall schedules and the usual routines that become somewhat tiresome during a long, gray, chilly month.  One of our favourite weekend getaways involves driving up to Frankenmuth, Michigan, where we stay at a family-friendly hotel with a waterpark and do some winter clothes shopping at the outlets in Birch Run.  Everyone is always happy on this trip -- the hotel is cheerful, comfortable and well-equipped, and located right next door to the world's largest Christmas store, whose twinkling lights smile at us through the window in the dark evenings.  The boys love the water slides and the hotel arcade filled with games of all kinds, and Matt and I love the deals we find in the stores.  We'll be heading up there again one weekend this November for some family fun; if you live within reasonable driving distance from Frankenmuth/Birch Run, it's a place well worth visiting.

Have you discovered something useful, beautiful, or interesting lately that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.


***

I started writing this post lightheartedly this morning, before I heard the sad and shocking news of the tragedy that occurred in Ottawa today. The above descriptions of everyday things seem so insignificant in light of how our country is feeling right now that it seems almost ridiculous to post them. We are all shaken tonight, but I think it's important to remind ourselves that we still live in a place that is beautiful, and peaceful, and free, and that the violent actions of a few cannot destroy what is at the heart of our nation. We must continue to see the good that exists all around us, remembering more than ever to love and take good care of one another. My heart is with all those who were touched closely by today's awful events.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Individual Turkey Pot Pies (gluten-free, dairy-free)

"What should I do with the leftover turkey?"

If you're still looking for an answer to this question after Monday's Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, I have a delicious recipe for you today. This is one of my family's favourite ways to use up the leftovers once we've grown tired of the usual plate filled with carved turkey, cranberries, sweet potato casserole, and vegetables: individual pot pies nestled in a rich almond flour crust.  These warm, filling pies really hit the spot at the end of a busy fall day, and have won over even my two very particular eaters.

Turkey Pot Pies 
(adapted from a Chicken Pot Pie recipe in Elana Amsterdam's Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook)


For the crust:

1 1/2 cups firmly packed blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp water

For the filling:

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 large stalk of celery, halved lengthwise then chopped
2 carrots, halved lengthwise then chopped
2 cups of cooked turkey, cut into one-inch pieces
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup stock (homemade turkey stock is great if you have it; you could also use a gluten-free chicken or vegetable stock from a carton)
2 tbsp arrowroot flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F. To make the crust, combine the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda, and parsley in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the grapeseed oil and water, and add them to the dry ingredients.  Stir until a uniform mixture forms.

Set aside approximately two tablespoons of the almond flour dough, then divide the remaining dough between four ramekins.  (You could use a 9-inch pie plate instead if you prefer to make one larger pie rather than four individual ones.) Press the dough firmly into the bottom and up the sides of each ramekin to form a crust. Flatten out the dough you set aside to half-inch thickness, and cut out four decorative shapes using a small cookie cutter.  Place the ramekins and the cut-outs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the crusts from the oven and let them cool. 

To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, celery, carrots and sea salt and stir.  Reduce the heat to medium; cover the skillet and cook the vegetables for approximately 10 minutes, or until they are soft, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the cooked turkey, peas, and parsley and heat until the turkey and peas are warmed through. Season the mixture with pepper, to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk the arrowroot flour into the stock until it dissolves.  Turn the heat under the skillet up to high and add the stock mixture to the turkey and vegetables, stirring constantly for about a minute, until it thickens to a gravy-like consistency.

Spoon the filling into the ramekins, and place a baked decorative cut-out on top of each one.  Garnish with a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh parsley and serve hot.

If your turkey leftovers are already long gone, these pot pies are just as delicious when they are made with leftover roast chicken instead.  Either version makes for very satisfying comfort food when the weather is chilly.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding the Sunbeams

She's an old girl now; it's evident in the gray that runs through her fur and the age spots dotting her soft pink nose. Her walk is slower and more laboured than it once was; often times she chooses just to lie down in a favourite spot and sleep. These days she cannot hear much at all, and she howls in confusion in the early morning hours because she doesn't remember where her people are. But she has never forgotten the radiant warmth and joy found in a morning sunbeam as it peeks through the front windows of our home. Each day she seeks out its welcoming presence and stretches her limbs to bask in its relaxing glow. I don't think I've ever seen her happier than she is in those perfect moments of light.




I've not been good at taking time to enjoy the sunshine recently. There have been many to-do lists staring me in the face each morning, and I seem to have become a little too caught up in the ever-moving machine of busy family life. Routine and structure and organization are good things, to a point, but I find myself resenting them lately, for making me feel as if I can't ever stop and enjoy where I am right now, that I need to always be thinking ahead to what needs to be done next.

This morning, perhaps because I was still feeling the calming effects of a long weekend of family and turkey, I decided to ignore the notepads full of lists and to take a long walk down one of my favourite local trails. It was unseasonably warm in the early sun-streaked daylight hours, and I knew I only had a short window of time to enjoy this rare autumn weather before a forecasted week of rain rolled in.

The trail was quiet and soothing in a way that felt different from the times I had walked it in the spring and summer. There was no sense of urgency anywhere; it was as if Mother Nature herself was whispering the wise words I needed to hear as my feet strode lightly along the paved path. I sensed it in the insects that hummed a low tune in the tall grasses beside me, and in the birds of prey whose powerful wings held them aloft, seemingly without any effort at all, as they hovered on the gentle breeze in the blue sky above. I noticed it in the woolly black and russet caterpillars who meandered across the trail, pausing every now and then to change direction, and in the golden leaves that fluttered gently towards the ground as they left their branches, their faces reflecting a last glimmer of beauty in the sunlight. As I breathed in the sweet earthy scent of the forest in fall, I heard the spent leaves rustling and crunching pleasantly underfoot, and the water in the stream trickling gently over smooth stones. It seemed so clear to me in those peaceful moments that really living is about being open to seeing and feeling the light.

The truth is that as living, breathing creatures we are all travelling a path whose end is both mysterious and certain. This season of falling leaves and suddenly bare branches reminds us that our time here is finite, that we do not ever really know what's around the next bend as we bustle about our day-to-day business. Let's all remind each other to slow down and take the time to be warmed and made happy by light in its many forms. It's waiting patiently for us to discover it in all kinds of lovely places.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes (healthy, gluten-free, vegan)

It's pumpkin season, and the fall-themed, cheerfully orange vegetable is making a delicious appearance paired with cinnamon in all kinds of foods and drinks everywhere we turn.  Our family has already enjoyed some pumpkin cranberry bread earlier this month, and we're looking forward to savouring our best-loved Thanksgiving dessert this upcoming weekend: mini pumpkin pies with whipped coconut cream.  Yum!  Today I was feeling inspired to do some experimenting with pumpkin in a breakfast food (because encouraging the family to eat pumpkin in healthy recipes any time of day is a good thing, right?). These pumpkin chocolate pancakes are a variation of our standard Saturday morning oatmeal pancakes; they are a hearty and scrumptious way to start off any fall day!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes


1 1/2 cups certified pure oats
2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup of ground certified pure oats (I use a Magic Bullet to grind the oats into oat flour)
1/3 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp water (stir and let stand for a couple of minutes)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 squares of a plain dark chocolate bar (minimum 70% cocoa), finely chopped

Place the whole oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the almond milk over them; stir and then let this mixture stand for about ten minutes.  Stir together the almond flour, ground oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice in another mixing bowl, then add the dry ingredients to the oat/almond milk mixture and stir until well-combined.  Stir in the pumpkin puree, then add the chia seed gel, grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and vanilla and mix well.  Fold in the chopped dark chocolate.

Ladle the batter in 1/3 cup portions onto a hot griddle coated in grapeseed oil.  Flip the pancakes when the edges begin to set and the first side is golden, then cook the pancakes on other side until they are completely cooked through.  Serve with a sprinkling of chopped pecans, cinnamon, and a drizzle of real maple syrup.  Makes approximately 14 pancakes.

These pancakes would be perfect for breakfast one morning on Thanksgiving weekend, especially if you have visitors who are gluten, dairy, or egg-sensitive.  I hope you and your family enjoy them!

If you're looking for ideas for a gluten, dairy, and egg-free Thanksgiving dinner, you can find a full menu of delicious recipes here


This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

On flying ants and fear


A strange thing happens here sometime every autumn.  Invariably, we arrive home one afternoon to find a massive colony of flying ants clustered on our front steps, except that they are not flying when we first see them; they are wandering about in every direction on the ground, and there are so many of them that it looks like the very steps themselves are crawling.  At first glance, this ant situation is about as horrifying as you're probably imagining right now. Will flat out refused to go in the front door when he discovered this year's winged ant explosion and instead burst breathlessly through the less-convenient back kitchen door to tell me what he had found.

I was as startled by the ants as Will was, but I did not want to spook him further by freaking out over them, so I remained calm and encouraged him to come and watch them through the window with me from a safe spot inside the house. (Really, I didn't know what I could do about the swarm anyway, because as much as Will is afraid of ants, he is also a tender-hearted keeper of all creatures, and it would have upset him if I had exterminated even one of the creepy-crawling things.)  We both stood quietly for a while, our eyes following the tiny, determined insects as they slowly spread out in droves over the entire front walkway.  And then suddenly, one by one, the ants began to spread their delicate wings and rise above the earth.

It was a completely different story once those unnerving creatures began to fly.  The ants floated off one after the other like bubbles dancing in a gentle breeze, each small speck eventually disappearing on the bright blue horizon against the late afternoon sun, until finally there was not a single ant remaining. Will and I both experienced a moment of wonder witnessing them take this important flight to begin the next phase of their lives; the anticipation and possibility contained in that migration was palpable. And it hit me just then that often what we are most afraid of need only to be looked at in a different light to become something beautiful and inspiring instead.


***

This past weekend I attended BlissDom Canada, an exciting three-day blogging and social media conference packed with engaging sessions and powerful speakers, including Derreck Kayongo, whose lively telling of his Global Soap Project filled me with hope. I was thrilled to be there, and came away from the conference with a sense of connection and my brain buzzing with new and interesting ideas.  I was also confronted by some nagging anxieties over those three days. Despite the fact that it was my third year in attendance and many of the faces I saw there looked familiar, I still felt nervous and lacking in confidence. I couldn't muster up the courage to introduce myself to the some of the people I wanted to, and I felt self-conscious and tongue-tied sometimes when opportunities for conversations presented themselves.  I was reminded of the goals I had set for myself after the conference last year, and while I am pleased to say I accomplished some of them, I will also admit that fear has kept me from chasing some of my biggest dreams.  

This year's conference has ignited a spark in my mind and my heart and inspired me to look at what scares me from a new perspective. I will stop worrying about possible failure or disapproval should I venture into the unknown, and start imagining instead the possibility for success and deep personal satisfaction.  I want to spread my own wings in the warm sunshine and believe wholeheartedly that I have it in me to fly.  I'm excited to see where my new-found bravery might take me.... 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At the Apple Orchard: A Short Family History in Photos























Every fall I am so thankful for this little family excursion, with its peaceful drive down country roads lined by trees brave enough to show their beautiful true colours, its crisp blue skies and cool, fresh air, its perfectly crunchy red fruit enjoyed within the embrace of a welcoming orchard row.  I feel the laughter in my own heart echoed in the boys' happy voices and I'm reminded once again of everything that is truly important in life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trailblazer

A couple of weeks ago, Will came home from school enthusiastically waving an application form in his hand.  "I'm going to be a Trailblazer," he proclaimed with confidence as he set the form down on the kitchen table for me to read.

A Trailblazer, I've since learned, is a kind of safety patrol, one whose job it is to walk along a designated route each morning, meet up with younger students along the way and lead them safely to the school yard.  It's a walking school bus of sorts that aims to encourage more children to be active rather than getting a ride from a grownup.  This is the first year that Will has been old enough to take on this responsibility, and he was very excited about the chance to participate.

He filled out his form carefully, taking time to think about why he wanted to do this job and what sorts of leadership skills he had already demonstrated in the past, and then he offered up the completed page for me to sign.  He seemed so proud of the idea that he could make a positive contribution to his community and to the environment by taking on this role.

It did not surprise me at all that Will wanted to be a Trailblazer; he has always had a deep concern for others and a strong desire to be helpful.  Remember, this is the boy who organized an entire snow hill sledding safety protocol in his school yard last winter because he saw a need for one.  And I didn't think it hurt, either, that the job of Trailblazer would include a very official looking orange and yellow safety vest, which would give Will the authority he often craves to make sure people are doing as they should.

Will's application for the role of Trailblazer was accepted by his school, and he attended a training session one morning last week, where he learned more details about his responsibilities and some basic first aid skills. Yesterday afternoon when he arrived home, there was a newly assigned orange and yellow safety vest glowing among the books and snack containers inside his backpack, ready for his first day on the job.

I smiled warmly at our front door as I watched Will walk confidently down the street this morning, the adult-sized orange and yellow vest draping enormously over his proud little shoulders.  I had no doubt that he would fill that vest out beautifully.  The title of Trailblazer seems just right for him.