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 here that you'd like to keep in your own pocket. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Past, Present, Future


Two days ago, Noah and I took a four hour road trip to Queen's University in Kingston, where he was registered to participate in the SEEDS in Residence Program for the week. It's a learning and life experience we've both been very excited about for him all year, and the two of us could hardly wait to be on the highway when the morning of departure finally arrived.


I dropped an eager Noah off at Victoria Hall, the very same residence I lived in during my first year as a student at Queen's, when I was just dipping my toe into adulthood. He was coincidentally assigned to the same floor where I had stayed, and his room was just down the hall from my old one. I stood for a moment and stared at the door that had once been mine, its black letter and numbers still looking exactly as I remembered them, as if nothing had changed in the intervening years between then and now. I looked at Noah standing there beside me and I was overcome suddenly by a strong wave of emotion. It's quite something when your past, present, and future all come rushing to meet you at once.

In that instant I caught a glimpse of myself again as a hopeful, determined young woman with ambitious plans, and I simultaneously recognized the same kind of light shining brightly in my son's eyes. His future paths are taking a clearer shape before him these days, and it won’t be long, really, before he’s testing the waters of adulthood himself, with all of its decisions and challenges and rewards. I look back now and wonder what the university-aged me would think of whom and what I’ve become since those days when everything felt possible.

Today I am still in Kingston, writing this in the university library, a building that was brand new in one of my last years here and whose spiral staircase is now noticeably worn by the footsteps of all the students who have since climbed its winding stones on the way to their futures. I'm very glad for my decision to stay and enjoy the week here on my own until it's time to pick Noah up. It has been such a pleasure to revisit the beautiful city and campus I loved back when they were my temporary home.

I've spent many of the past forty-eight hours walking -- through the city streets whose layout I've still not forgotten, by the picturesque waterfront, through the majestic old buildings and well-travelled pathways of Queen's University. The campus buildings are rich with history; their walls whisper of the dreams and efforts of generations of young people who have studied within them. I've found myself welling up with feeling more than once as I've strolled down still familiar routes to class and peeked into lecture halls. It's because my early hopes and dreams are held lovingly within these walls, too, and in being here I've caught a glimpse of a former version of myself that is now tucked away beyond my physical reach, accessible only through memories.

It was fitting that I came across this quotation from Azar Nafisi in a post by a fellow blogger today:

“You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, I told him, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.” 

It seemed sad, but right, that the door to my old residence room was closed and locked when I walked past it this week. Those exciting, emotional days of youthful striving are gone now; I can only revisit them as a sentimental tourist of my past. I find joy in the fact, though, that Noah's excitement for learning has led him to the same inspiring place mine did all those years ago. The walls of these beautiful, timeless limestone buildings now tell a happy part of his story, too.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lovely Lilacs

The lilac trees in our backyard are in full bloom right now, their delicate purple flowers diffusing an enchanting fragrance that I can breathe in no matter where I choose to sit. Lilacs always remind me happily of my childhood; in their welcoming presence I relive spring evenings spent swinging barefoot with the breeze rushing through my long hair, secret clubs in a little playhouse, small hands clutching a bouquet of freshly picked blossoms to bring to a well-liked teacher. I still like to bury my nose within the soft flower clusters and inhale all the heady sweetness of youth. The lilacs, I imagine, will always be my favourite.



I wonder if, many years from now, when the warm spring air coaxes the lilacs to their full glory and their graceful scent kisses my tired, wrinkled face, I'll be happily reminded of just how wonderful it was to be where I am at this very moment: immersed in the richness of life in full bloom.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones (gluten-free, vegan)

Last year my mom-in-law kindly sent me part of one of her rhubarb plants so I could start growing the pretty pink and green vegetable in my own yard. I've always loved rhubarb; its mouth-puckering tartness signifies the coming of summer and is so delicious baked into pies and muffins and crisps. Last week while I was doing some spring gardening, I was happy to see that the little rhubarb plant was happy and thriving in its new home, and there were some stalks almost ready to be picked and enjoyed. This fact definitely called for some baking in the near future!

I wanted to try something different than my usual rhubarb recipes, so today I decided to create some scones with rhubarb and strawberries baked into them. The scones I made are loosely based on this recipe from Elana's Pantry, which is one of my family's favourites for special occasion breakfasts.

I even had a little helper while I baked this morning. (Well, sort of. Iris's idea of helping is leaping from the back of a kitchen chair onto the counter, knocking things over, then sprawling out in the middle of everything so she can get a close up view of what's happening... and hopefully something to eat in the process!)

Who, me?

Iris didn't get to eat any scones, but the human members of my family all enjoyed them very much!

Strawberry Rhubarb Scones



3 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup thinly sliced strawberries
1/3 cup thinly sliced rhubarb
natural sliced almonds, for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, cinnamon, and baking soda. Whisk together the almond milk, maple syrup, and vanilla in a smaller bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well, until a slightly crumbly dough forms. Fold in the strawberries and rhubarb.

Knead the dough briefly with your hands to make it all stick together in one ball, then place it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Press the dough into a flat disk that is about an inch and a half high. Using a sharp knife, cut the disk into eight triangles. Separate the triangles from each other on the pan, and sprinkle the top of each one with sliced almonds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown. Let them cool slightly, then serve.

Delicious scones like these ones, filled with sweet/tart fruit and toasted almonds, make a wonderful breakfast treat or a perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea.

What is your favourite way to use rhubarb this time of year?


This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Stuntman

"I want to be a stuntman when I grow up," Will announced to me out of the blue this morning. "You know, the guy who does all of the awesome tricks like smashing through fake glass and jumping from plane to plane and shooting a body of water to break its current and then plunging into it from really high up. That would be my dream job, so thrilling and fun!"

He will change his mind by tomorrow, probably. He's wanted to be so many different things when he grows up, everything from a lawyer to a rapper to a chef to Nobel Prize winning physicist. This is not surprising for a boy who has endless energy and a curiosity that is never, ever satisfied.

But if I had to judge based on the dismaying state of Will's legs since the arrival of biking and scootering season, I would say that "stuntman" seems just about right for him.


Friday, May 8, 2015

A Perfect Day

We were on the road as the sun was coming up yesterday morning, en route to Collingwood for a dance competition for Will. The drive along back country roads was especially peaceful and pretty at that time of the morning (if you ignored the sound of the moaning, shrieking children in the backseat of the car, who were repulsed by the pungent odour of manure that filled the air when I rolled down the window to snap a photo).


"Mom, CLOSE the WINDOW!!!  You're KILLING us!!!" 

We had decided to make it a family day, allowing Noah to miss a day of school as well as Will, so we could all cheer for our dancer in the morning and then spend the afternoon enjoying the beautiful Blue Mountain area together. The weather smiled favourably on our plans -- it was amazingly warm and sunny all day long -- and we had one of those days that we all felt was absolutely perfect.

We packed breakfast for the car so that we wouldn't have to start our early day by nagging the boys to hurry up and eat before we left, which made everyone more relaxed first thing in the morning. The dance competition was fun to watch; Will and his hip hop teammates lit up the stage with their bright smiles and energy and closed their competition season with a great performance. 


It's always a treat to watch these boys doing what makes them so happy. 

While we were waiting for the adjudication to start, Matt and Noah and I headed outside with some of the other dance families to soak up the warm sun, and Noah decided to run all the way up to the top of the muddy ski hill. He just couldn't pass up such an inviting opportunity for cross-country training! When he made it to the top, legs burning, he felt quite a sense of accomplishment (Matt and I couldn't believe how quickly he made it up there!), and he was rewarded for his efforts with some gorgeous natural views from a new vantage point.


Noah = the tiny, running speck at the top of the hill

Once Will was finished at the competition, we went exploring at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, where there were, as you might guess, scenic caves, and a marvel-worthy suspension bridge with an inspiring view of Georgian Bay. Will had initially complained about these plans when we made them earlier in the week, thinking that we were going to go for a walk (boring, in his opinion) and look inside a cave (big deal, he thought), but he was very pleasantly surprised by how cool the whole experience was. The suspension bridge swayed teasingly as we walked across it and made our knees feel like jelly at its highest point.



The caves were a fascinating labyrinth of rocks to climb, crevices to peer into, and passageways to crawl through. There was still ice and snow at the bottom of some of the caves, so it was refreshing to feel the very noticeable dropping temperatures as we descended into the rocky shelters and then be warmed again as we made our way back up into the sunlight.




The hike through the beautiful natural area at the end of the afternoon left us all both invigorated and pleasantly worn out, which made the drive back home a peaceful, thoughtful one. When we arrived in our home town, it was already dinner time, so we stopped at one of our favourite local restaurants to eat, where we first happily bumped into and chatted with a family friend we hadn't seen in awhile, and then realized David Chilton from Dragons' Den was sitting only a few tables away from us. Matt recognized him just as Mr. Chilton was getting up to leave, and when he quietly pointed him out to the rest of us, Will got so excited he tried to chase him out of the restaurant so he could introduce himself! (We stopped him from doing that, and now I'm feeling that maybe we shouldn't have, because I think Will, with all of his enthusiasm and big ideas, might have made something of an impression on David Chilton....)

The four of us all agreed that our day, filled with good company, lively conversations, fun activities and cheerful coincidences, was a truly wonderful one. The boys wished they could take Friday off school, too, and I have to admit that I kind of wished I could have let them so we could do it all again. The day that we swapped busy highways for rolling country roads, and work and school schedules for free time together, gave us great memories and a renewed appreciation for all that is good about the world and each other. We all realized, though, as the boys headed back to school this morning, that it was the novelty of our experience, a one-off on what should have been a regular Thursday, that made it so special. We'll have to remember how important and rejuvenating those one-of-a kind days are in the midst of a busy time of our life, and make sure we take advantage of good opportunities to enjoy them.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Baked Salmon Cakes (gluten-free, egg-free)

In the summer months, Matt and I love eating fresh wild salmon that he grills on the barbecue and brushes with a maple glaze -- it's one of our favourite warm weather dinners. It will still be a couple of months before the fresh salmon is available at our local fish counter, so right now I'm still thinking of appealing ways to use canned wild salmon, which is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, in some of our meals.

Today I tried making fish cakes by combining salmon with mashed potatoes, green onions, fresh herbs, and lemon and baking them in the oven. Served over pea shoot greens, these salmon cakes made a tasty and satisfying lunch that was simple to put together, too!

Baked Salmon Cakes


2 medium sized yukon gold potatoes (enough to make 2 cups of mashed potatoes)
2 105g cans of boneless, skinless wild salmon, drained
2 tbsp thinly sliced green onion
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsely
1 tsp Dijon mustard
the zest of one small lemon
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks, and boil them in a pot of water over high heat on the stove for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are tender. Drain the water from the potatoes and mash them thoroughly. Spread the mashed potatoes out over the bottom of a mixing bowl and set them in the fridge to cool for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Once the potatoes have cooled, flake the salmon into the bowl and add the green onion, parsley, Dijon mustard, lemon zest, sea salt and pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients.

Divide the salmon and potato mixture into six equal parts, and form each part into a patty with your hands. Place the patties on a baking sheet. Bake the salmon cakes for 8 minutes, then gently flip them with a spatula and bake them for another 8 minutes.

Serve the salmon cakes warm, on a bed of pea shoots or other greens drizzled with a simple dressing made from olive oil, fresh lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Great Pencil Collection of 2015

I generally try to stay out of the boys' school backpacks, partly because I'm not sure I want to know what strange items might be lurking at the bottom of them, but mostly because I feel that it should be Noah and Will's responsibility to empty them after each school day, pulling out any homework that needs completing and any forms that need my attention, and to pack them back up in the morning with everything they need for the day ahead.

One recent morning, though, I noticed that Will was having a difficult time trying to stuff everything into his backpack before leaving for school, so I came over to offer my assistance. As I started pulling things out of the bag to rearrange them and make space, I suddenly had the feeling I was in one of those movie scenes where more and more clowns keep coming out of a tiny car. Inside Will's backpack I found the following:

Three dog-eared duotangs. One school agenda. Four months' worth of loose completed worksheets and marked assignments, wadded up into unrecognizable shapes. One ball glove. One orange and yellow safety vest. An empty gum package. One Minecraft character key chain, broken into two pieces. One superball. Two paper clips. One half of an eraser. One deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. One laminated late pass from the office that was supposed to have been given to his teacher when he returned to school after his orthodontist appointment on Tuesday. Four rulers. A half package of Kleenex. A strange, unidentifiable contraption made out of drinking straws and duct tape. Sand.

I also found this many pencils, just lying loose in the bottom of his bag:


Twenty-four (24!!) pencils (+2, actually, because I later found two more in another pocket of his bag. I especially like the one that is sharpened at both ends. 


This pencil discovery in Will's backpack has led me to several very important realizations:

1.  Despite the fact that Will and I have similar physical features and personality traits, we have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to organization.

2.  If I ever need a pencil (heck, if everyone in the whole neighbourhood ever needs a pencil!), I know exactly whom to ask.

3.  I will owe Will's teacher an entire Costco-sized box of pencils by the end of this school year.

When I was puzzling over Will's vast collection of pencils aloud to Matt, he told me that there was once a partner in his workplace who had exactly the same habit; if he came into your office, he would inevitably leave absent-mindedly with one of your writing implements.  I found reassurance in this story that Will's penchant for pencil collecting would not necessarily impede him from future career success. (Incidentally, when this partner from Matt's office moved on to a new job, they found a Costco-sized box worth of other people's pencils in his desk.)

Last week a notice came home from the principal of the boys' school, stating that they were starting to develop plans for next September and that if we had any reasonable requests for our children's class placements, we should submit them in writing to the office by the end of this week.  I am not too concerned about which teacher Will ends up with or which of his peers are in his class, but I am thinking I should probably write a letter anyway.  Will needs to be in a classroom with a lot of pencils.