When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hat magic

I have often wished for a fairy or an elf, some useful little magical creature who would come while I was sleeping and take care of laundry, or bathroom cleaning, or any other mundane task that needed to be done. I am still waiting for this kind of help to show up, however, the other night I did discover we have an elf among us who leaves us hats!

A few evenings ago, Noah was reading after dinner and in his book, he came across some instructions for making a hat out of an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper. Intrigued, he took a sheet from his doodle pad, followed the instructions, and was delighted to see that indeed, he had a funny little hat to perch upon his head. Because he's been very interested in all of the election talk of late, he decided to make it his "Prime Minister" hat, and I couldn't stop laughing when he showed up in the kitchen wearing it, with a "prime minister-ish" look on his face.

Deciding he could take this fun further, Noah then made himself another hat, this one bearing the name of his newly invented political organization: "The Kid Rights Party". (I was afraid to ask him exactly what "rights" he felt he needed to campaign for on behalf of the children....) After posing for me as the hat-wearing leader of this very important party, Noah headed upstairs to get ready for bed and I didn't think anything more about his hilarious homemade headwear.

A few hours later, when Matt and I went upstairs to turn in, we were both surprised and touched to see a unique little paper hat for each of us perched carefully on our respective nighttables. Matt's was decorated in a baseball theme (his favourite sport), and mine proclaimed my status as "a Deresti chef", announcing that I "make and bake Italia, the best food around"!

I hadn't heard Noah up and about at all after I tucked him in; he must have worked so quietly at his desk and then tiptoed around to make his deliveries. When I went in to check on a sleeping Will, he too had a special homemade hat -- it was decorated with a Super Mario theme and was waiting for him at the end of his bed so he'd see it as soon as he woke in the morning.

Noah's thoughtful gesture to all of us sent me to bed with a smile.

You know, I may be waiting forever for the cleaning and cooking fairies to show up at my house, but my sweet, funny hat elf more than makes up for their absence.

If you have a little elf who might enjoy making hats out of paper, simply follow these directions outlined in The Dangerous Book for Boys, Canadian Edition, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden.

1. Fold a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper in half, as shown.

2. Fold a central ine in the half-page and open out again.

3. Turn down the corners to that central line.

4. Fold one long strip up.

5. Fold over the corners as shown.

6. Flip paper over and fold up the other edge.

You now have a paper hat!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A bookworm's breakfast - 4

One of the things I love about watching the boys play is catching a glimpse of their vivid imaginations and their keen sense of adventure. In their minds they can dream up incredible escapades; they get to be anything, travel anywhere, and overcome any obstacle, free from the limits that their regular everyday life imposes on them. Some of the best children's books, I think, are the ones that appeal to this wonderful aspect of childhood. The three books highlighted in today's edition of A bookworm's breakfast are well-loved at our house for their imaginative content.

3-5 year olds: The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers

This beautiful picture book tells the tale of a young boy who sets off on an impromptu aeroplane adventure. When his plane runs out of petrol and he is stranded on the moon in the dark, he strikes up an unexpected and enduring friendship with a Martian who has also run into trouble. Jeffers' moving text appeals to every young child's desire to feel safe and loved, and his imaginative illustrations complement the story perfectly. Readers who delight in this book will also enjoy Jeffers' other tales about the young boy, including How to Catch a Star and Lost and Found.

6-8 year olds: Book of Big Brothers by Cary Fagan

Brothers make perfect partners when it comes to having adventures. In this text-rich picture book suitable for children in the primary grades, Fagan realistically portrays the ups and downs of brotherhood from the perspective of a boy who is the youngest brother of three. Readers will be enthralled with the comical antics and wild schemes of the the boys in the story, and they will also be touched by the affection and loyalty the brothers show to each other in their own ways. The Book of Big Brothers is sure to bring laughter and good feelings to any boy who knows from his own life what it's like to be a brother.

9-12 year olds: Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

(Noah has been inundated with writing projects for school this week, so he's letting me write this edition's 9-12 year old book recommendation. He did, however, give an enthusiastic thumbs up to this book and suggested it as this week's choice!)

Having a chance to travel to outer space is surely an adventure many imaginative children dream of, and in Cosmic, Cottrell Boyce spins a captivating tale about what that experience could be like. Liam Digby is an unusually tall twelve year old boy who sees an opportunity in a contest for grown-ups that offers space travel as its prize; all he has to do to win it is convince people he is the greatest dad ever. Readers will cheer for Liam as he fibs his way to a place on the secret rocket mission, and will be riveted by the book's exciting, suspenseful, comical and sometimes moving scenes. For 9-12 year olds who are interested in technology, Cottrell Boyce's descriptions of futuristic amusement park rides, giant television walls, and a journey through space will certainly have great appeal.

When your children are ready to wind down from their own thrilling daytime adventures, I hope they'll enjoy curling up with one of these wonderfully creative books.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering Emilee

Today I am fondly remembering Emilee, a dear sister-in-law and friend who would have been turning 33 today. Emilee passed away last June after a courageous journey with brain cancer, and since losing her, our whole family has so often missed her vibrant personality, her kindness and love, her creativity and wonderful ideas, her bright smile and laughter. My heart feels such sorrow for Emilee's husband, her parents, her siblings, and her close-knit extended family, who must feel Emilee's absence so keenly because of the very special place she held in all of their lives.

I only had the pleasure of knowing Emilee for a few short years, but in that time, I felt like we were old, good friends. She and I were on the same page when it came to being organized in life; we liked to talk about our "lists" and the satisfaction we felt at crossing things off them. She was full of imaginative ideas for projects and thoughtful gifts, and I loved chatting with her about both of our latest creative endeavours. Emilee was a wonderful auntie to the boys, spending time sprawled on the floor with them drawing designs for buildings and fashioning structures out of Lego. Hours spent with Emilee were always happy and warm; she radiated an energy and love that made us all feel very much at home around her.

Last June, in the final week of Emilee's life with us, I vividly remember lying on the trampoline in our backyard with Will, gazing up at a brilliant, perfectly clear blue sky and trying to answer Will's questions about what it would be like to go to Heaven. It seemed to me then that early summer was such a sad, unfair time to die, when the world was just bursting with new beauty and promise. Like the flower blossoms that were just then opening up in the warm sunshine, Emilee's life was young and lovely, and there were so many things she should have been able to live to experience. It was hard not to feel utter despair for the sad, sad loss of such a wonderful woman.

As a small comfort, I try now to think about how Emilee's short presence in our lives touched us in the same way that those early summer blossoms do. We appreciate so dearly their cheerful hues and the happiness they bring to our hearts in their season. It's true that their beautiful lives are fleeting, but when we struggle through the darkness of winter, or sorrow, we can remember that someday, we will delight in their presence once again.

On Emilee's birthday and always, I feel so grateful to have had the chance to know such an inspiring woman. Today, Emilee, we all celebrate your life and the enthusiastic, honourable, and loving way you lived it. We sure miss you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Healthy Banana Oat Cookies (gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free)

The March Break has flown by all too quickly, and after a week filled with fun activities and a good dose of relaxation, it's back to the regular routine tomorrow morning for all of us. That means I'm back to packing school lunches and snacks for the boys this evening, a task that's been made a little easier by the multiple batches of baking I did during the week when I had some extra time. The boys always love getting a special little homemade something in their lunch bags, and I like knowing exactly what went into the snacks they're eating, as it's important to me that their bodies and minds are fuelled by healthy foods during their day at school.

This recipe for banana oat cookies is a slightly modified version of one I got from a like-minded friend I was chatting with recently about nutritious, kid-friendly foods for school. (Thanks, Joanne!)

Healthy Banana Oat Cookies

2 cups whole rolled oats (I use certified pure gluten-free ones)
3 cups rolled oats, ground in a food processor
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder

 4 large, overripe bananas

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp grapeseed oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the whole oats, ground oats, sea salt, cinnamon, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. 

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the bananas, maple syrup, vanilla, and grapeseed oil and process on high speed until smooth. 

Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.

Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are lightly golden.

(These cookies are also very good with frozen blueberries added into the mixture at the end.  Or, the boys really enjoy them with a few squares of finely chopped dark chocolate sprinkled and stirred into the batter before baking.)

The wonderful thing about these snacks for our family is that they don't contain any wheat flour, eggs, or butter like so many other baking recipes do, and so they're safe for both Noah and Will to take to school.  My boys and I are really happy to have found out about these easy-to-make little bundles of goodness. I hope you will be, too!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The picky eater problem

I am about to go out of my mind at mealtimes, thanks to a couple of particularly picky eaters I am responsible for feeding. Other parents of kids who repeatedly turn their noses up at food will understand exactly how frustrating it is to spend an hour preparing a delicious and healthy meal, only to have it received with grimaces, moans, and other Oscar-worthy dramatic performances as soon as it arrives at the table. Family food experts say that children may need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 20 times before they'll accept it. Those experts obviously have never met Noah and Will, who, after 100 to 200 exposures to some foods are still quite certain that they don't like them!

I'm pretty sure I ate almost everything as a kid, so I really don't understand how two little people can have such strong opinions against so many foods. (To be fair, I think there wasn't quite the same extensive variety available in grocery stores when I was younger, but my two guys balk even at some of the most ordinary meals.) Noah painstakingly picks invisible "seeds" out of seedless cucumbers, and complains that the blueberry fruit spread on his toast has blueberries in it. He'll eat orange melon but green melon "isn't good", and he carefully inspects all red pepper slices put before him, pleading for a pardon from eating any he thinks have "pustules" (?!), "white bits", or "wonky ends". Will sits for an hour staring blankly ahead, hoping if he doesn't move, people won't notice him and ask him to actually eat what's on his plate. When that fails, he tries other forms of food trickery, like discreetly dropping bits of food under the table, or partially covering his plate with his napkin to make us think it's empty. (Remember his most ingenious plan for dealing with peas?) I dread nights when I'm serving dishes where food groups are mixed together (such as chili, stir-fries, or shepherd's pie) because while the components of those meals are usually fine on their own, combining them apparently changes them so drastically that, in the boys' minds, they're rendered inedible. Perhaps most shocking and difficult to accept is the fact that I've got two boys with Italian blood in them who actually don't enjoy pasta with homemade tomato sauce!! (Shh -- don't tell my Grandma D.!)

Mealtimes around our family table are plagued with echoes of the "terrible toos" -- they're full of complaints that something is too mushy, too hot, too seedy, too bitter, too stringy, too crunchy, too brown, too bumpy, too strong, too much, or too disgusting to eat. The fact that I'm passionate about healthy cooking and eating makes their closed-mindedness about food especially hard for me to swallow. Throw in the little detail that Will has food sensitivites to eggs, dairy, gluten, and peanuts and you can see how it's a challenge for me not to want to throw in the kitchen towel and feed them nothing but apple slices and toast five times a day!

Unfortunately for the boys, though, it's going to take a lot more than their antics and complaining to derail my efforts to feed them well. I want the boys to recognize (and hopefully, someday, enjoy) many different foods that are good for them, so that when they are responsible for taking care of themselves, they'll do so wisely. While I may have to hear for the umpteenth time that they don't like something, I will continue to offer the boys a wide variety of healthy foods, expecting them to try a little bit of everything, because one time they might be pleasantly surprised. I keep reminding myself that what doesn't kill me in this daily food fiasco will, in the long run, make them stronger.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A bookworm's breakfast - 3

It's March Break here this week, and among all of the other activities we're enjoying with our free time together, the boys and I are glad for some extra opportunities to relax with a few great new books. When I peeked in on them this morning, Noah and Will were passing the hour before we left for our favourite indoor playground hanging out on Noah's bed. Will sat completely mesmerized while Noah read aloud one of Geronimo Stilton's recent adventures to him. I really love catching them in these moments of quiet comradery.

If you're looking to expand your children's library, this week is a great time to do so. Indigo/Chapters/Coles bookstores are offering 20% off all children's books in-store during the March Break (and they're also hosting some fun activities for kids at many of their locations). Perhaps your family will find a new book to love in one of today's recommendations.

3-5 year olds: Duck & Goose by Tad Hills

When Duck and Goose simultaneously discover a big, spotted "egg", each of them tries to claim ownership and gain control over what to do with it, initially resulting in scuffles and squabbles between them. However, while they are both determinedly sitting on the egg and waiting for it to hatch, the two birds realize that they have some important things in common. Duck and Goose may not get what they expected from trying to hatch the egg, but in sharing a special, selfless act together, each of them gains a wonderful new friend. Tad Hills' engaging text and expressive, colourful illustrations make this a truly appealing spring read for younger children.

6-8 year olds: Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

This absolutely delightful book describes the escapades and enduring friendship of two unique girls through three different adventures. Bink is a dishevelled, enthusiastic young lover of outrageous socks, pancakes, and pet goldfish, while Gollie is a more reserved, well-spoken adventurer and a quick-thinking problem solver. Their personalities and ways of seeing the world differ, but these two girls are truly "marvelous companions" and always figure out a way to compromise. Primary grade readers will find DiCamillo and McGhee's portrayal of Bink and Gollie's relationship both incredibly funny and tender, and Tony Fucile's brightly coloured illustrations set among black and white ones are as vivid and intriguing as the two girls' adventures.

9-12 year olds: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This week's 9-12 year old book recommendation was once again written by my 9 year old son, Noah, who is extremely happy about all of the uninterrupted hours of reading time he has over March Break!

Hugo Cabret, an orphan, clock keeper, and a thief, has found an automaton, a machine that's identical to a human. Before he was dead, Hugo's father had told him the automaton could write, so Hugo is desperate to continue his father's work and discover the automaton's message. This book has beautiful illustrations and has even won the Caldecott Medal. The drawings were amazing and I was stunned when I first saw them because of how realistic they looked. The pictures tell the story almost as well as the words do. Out of 533 pages, 284 of them are drawings, but I still knew exactly what was happening. If readers are looking for a cross between a picture book and a novel, this book is perfect. (Thanks, Noah!)

As always, I'd love to hear what you love about these and other great children's books in the comments section below. Have a wonderful March Break!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Delicious roast chicken dinner

There are few more inviting aromas than that of a delicious dinner roasting in the oven on a Sunday afternoon. The combination of the oven gently warming the house over several hours and the wafting scent of roasting meat, herbs and vegetables gets everyone happily anticipating a relaxing, enjoyable evening meal together.

In recent months, my favourite Sunday family dinner has been lemon and herb roasted chicken, prepared according to the directions in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution cookbook. I never used to make a habit of roasting whole chickens, as my aversion to excessively handling raw poultry led me to avoid that activity unless absolutely necessary. (My brother Frank feels the same way about whole raw chickens or turkeys. We're not sure why, but we suspect it might have something to do with the time(s?) my mom jokingly chased us through the kitchen when we were kids, holding a 25 pound turkey by the legs and gobbling at us!! But I digress.) I had to get over my whole-fowl-handling-phobia when Matt and I decided last fall to order several roasting chickens from an organic farm, and after trying Jamie Oliver's recipe, I decided the end result was definitely worth a few moments of squeamishness while prepping the bird for the oven.

To make scrumptious roast chicken the way Jamie does, you will need:

1 x approximately 3 1/2 pound chicken
2 medium onions
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 bulb of garlic
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
a small bunch of fresh thyme, rosemary, bay, or sage, or a mixture

Preheat oven to 475 F. Wash vegetables (leave the skins on) and roughly chop them. Break the garlic bulb into cloves, leaving them unpeeled as well. Pile all of the vegetables and garlic into the middle of a large roasting pan and drizzle them with olive oil.
Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper, rubbing it all over the bird. Carefully prick the lemon all over with the tip of a sharp knife. Put the lemon inside the chicken's cavity, with the bunch of herbs.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan and put it into the preheated oven. Turn the oven down immediately to 400 F and cook the chicken for one hour and 20 minutes. Baste the chicken halfway through cooking and if the vegetables in the roast pan look dry, add a splash of water to keep them from burning.
When the chicken is cooked, take the pan out of the oven and transfer the chicken to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes or so, covered with a layer of aluminum foil and a kitchen towel.
Carve chicken and serve. (We love to enjoy our chicken with roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, as well as brussel sprouts that have been steamed and then sauteed with olive oil and garlic. Fantastic!)

I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but if you've never roasted a chicken stuffed with a lemon and fresh herbs, you really want to try it! The flavour of the chicken once it's roasted this way is absolutely incredible, and the carcass makes a delicious pot of soup for a later meal. (See here for a healthy homemade chicken noodle soup recipe.)

Soon barbecue season will be here, and we'll be trading in our Sunday roast dinners for grilled meats and outdoor dining. (Ahhh, spring and summer!) In the meantime, we'll share a few more lovely roasted chickens at our cozy kitchen table, enjoying good times spent together over savoury comfort food.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lucky number seven

Will is seven years old today (!), and in his brightly excited, happy birthday grin this morning, I couldn't help notice the very wiggly front top tooth that will soon fall out, leaving a gap in his cute baby-face smile and changing the way he looks forever. It was one of those moments of revelation for me, a reminder that my littlest boy is really not very little anymore, and it made me feel quite sentimental in the quieter moments of my morning.

According to family legend, seven is generally an unlucky year, as is evidenced by the many unfortunate incidents that have occurred when various relatives were seven years old. (I personally earned my place in the bad-luck-sevens family album by riding my bike no-hands like a maniac, crashing violently face-first into the pavement, and ending up with stitches, mouth injuries, and an insanely swollen jaw. Sorry, Mom!) However, I am going to ignore my genetically programmed tendency to imagine any "worst-case scenarios" for this coming year and believe instead that seven is a wonderfully lucky number. Will deserves a fortunate year after some of the bumps he's faced in recent ones. I know for me, raising this sensitive, deep boy whose personality has unfolded so complexly and so beautifully over the past seven years makes me feel like an incredibly lucky mom.

There are seven million reasons to love my seven year old birthday boy today. His wonderful curiosity and keen eye for detail have given me new ways of looking at the world around me, allowing me to find wonder and beauty where I might not otherwise have noticed it. His fine-tuned sensitivity to feelings makes him affectionate and caring; he is kind to all creatures, concerned about those who are sad or hurt, and still likes to slip his warm hand snugly into mine when he's climbing the stairs up to bed. His laughter is huge and genuine, and it's impossible not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm and passion for all of the things he finds exciting in life. His determination, his perseverance, and his constant questioning (sometimes challenging) have taught me to be more patient and resourceful; I've had to learn so much about both him and myself, and have become a better parent and person as a result.

The truth is, we don't need any new dramatic events in this year of Will being seven; the years leading up to this one have already been a pretty wild ride at times! Still, at 7:33 this evening, when I'm getting ready to tuck my newly-minted seven year old boy into bed, I'll be ever thankful for that same moment seven years ago that brought such a precious gift to my life. Happy Birthday, Will! I wish you many times seven more joyful years to keep growing into an ever more wonderful you!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A bookworm's breakfast - 2

Books have been an important part of our family's evenings for many years now. The well-loved routine of sharing a good story at bedtime has always helped the boys to settle happily to sleep after the busy-ness of their day, and we all enjoy the quiet closeness that reading together allows. Even now, every night before the boys go to bed, Matt and I read a few chapters out loud with each of them, and both Noah and Will also read on their own in their rooms until they get tired and turn out the lights. I smiled a few nights ago when I went upstairs at 10pm (an hour after Noah's usual lights out time) and discovered the scene captured in this photograph. I had just brought home a new stack of books from the library that day and I guess this one was simply too good for Noah to put down!

I have three wonderful books to share in today's edition of A bookworm's breakfast. Maybe one of them will be perfect for some bedtime reading at your house.

3-5 year olds: Please, Louise! by Frieda Wishinsky and Marie-Louise Gay

This delightful picture book captures a true-to-life relationship between siblings that will be familiar to many families. Louise is a feisty little sister who is intent on always being around her big brother Jake, while he wants nothing more than to be left alone. When Jake thinks that a desperate wish he's made has come true, he realizes that he actually values his little sister more than he knew. Adoring younger siblings everywhere will relate wholeheartedly to Louise's comical and unrelenting efforts to worm her way into her brother's room and activities, and the book's friendly conclusion celebrates the special bond between brothers and sisters.

6-8 year olds: Stuart's Cape by Sara Pennypacker

In this shorter chapter book, Sara Pennypacker highlights the wonderful power of children's imaginations through the character of Stuart, a third grade boy whose family has just moved to a new neighbourhood. Feeling bored, and worried about starting the school year in a new place, Stuart entertains himself by fashioning a cape out of a bunch of old ties. The adventures that follow prove Stuart's theory that when you have cape, life is more interesting! Primary level readers will appreciate the silly humour in this book, and will empathize with Stuart's very real longing for friendship.

9-12 year olds: The Chicken Doesn't Skate by Gordon Korman

(Once again, this age group's novel recommendation was written by Noah, 9 year old bookworm extraordinaire!)

If you like stories told from different points of view, this book about a science fair project gone chaotic is for you. You get chapters written as study notes from Milo, the science geek, Rangers updates from hockey team captain Adam Lurie, files from screenplay writer Zachary Gustafson, and short stories from a kid psychologist.

This book has everything. You want hockey? It's got hockey. You want science notes? It's got science notes. You want insane, destructive baby brothers throwing six blocks at a time at a computer? It's got that too.

This is a brief summary of the story: Milo has a problem. He has gotten a baby chicken, and plans to feed it to the judges at the science fair to represent its link in the food chain. But then chaos strikes. The hockey team needs the chicken as a lucky mascot, and the Grade 6 class has adopted it as a pet! Read the book to see if the hockey team wins the championship, and to see how this mess gets sorted out. (Thanks, Noah!)

I hope your young loved ones enjoy some good books and sweet dreams this week!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

So said the cat

At the risk of sounding like I either have too much free time on my hands or am losing my mind (neither of which is true, I assure you), I'm going to admit here that I realized something valuable while watching my cat one morning this past week.

I had just come back home after walking the boys to school, and my thoughts were already racing with the million things I wanted to accomplish in the next several hours. The week had felt heavy up to that point, filled with more bumps in the road and worries than average, and I'd been feeling pretty weary and frazzled from its weight. When I started up the stairs to grab the laundry basket, I was stopped suddenly by the sight of Maggie on the level above me. She sat with her head poking through the railing, looking utterly relaxed, in the one beam of sunlight that had found its way through an upstairs window. The warmth of that sunbeam was obviously making her happy, and it was clear that she had sought out that specific spot, claiming her very own little piece of bliss.

I realized in that moment that what Maggie had found was exactly what I needed. While I obviously couldn't abandon all of my responsibilities to adopt a cat's life of leisure, I was also suddenly quite certain that the world would not fall apart if I stopped for a bit to recharge myself. I made a cup of tea, grabbed my pencil and notebook, and found my own bright, warm spot on the living room couch, where the morning rays were lighting up a space just the right size for sitting in. It felt wonderful having that warmth on my face, a rare experience over the last several long winter months, and the act of sitting and taking some time to think calmly made the constant buzzing I'd been hearing all week grow dim. Sure, I still had a million things to do, but the quiet moments I claimed for my own that morning made the mountain seem more manageable. I was grateful for Maggie's reminder that sometimes, less is more.

I think many of us could probably benefit from following Maggie's quiet, sun-seeking lead a little more often. She's a smart girl, that cat... and when I remember sometimes to imitate her perfected style of relaxation, so am I.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Easy peasy pasta with peppers

The other day I was rummaging through my cupboards and fridge late in the afternoon, looking to find inspiration for dressing up the pasta we were having as a side dish for dinner. I found a jar of roasted red bell peppers and some fresh basil and came up with this idea for a super quick and easy sauce. The rich red of the peppers and deep green of the basil was pretty and pleasing to the eye, and the sauce was robustly flavourful and delicious!

1 jar (370 mL) of whole roasted red bell peppers (approximately 4 peppers), sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 cubes of frozen basil saved from your previous summer's harvest -- see here
for instructions on how to do this)
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
approximately 2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and stir for one minute, or until fragrant. Add roasted red peppers and basil and cook until hot, stirring frequently.
Transfer pepper, basil, garlic and oil mixture to a food processor or blender and puree until fairly smooth.
Just before serving, reheat sauce in a saucepan over medium heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your favourite cooked pasta and serve warm.

We savoured this impromptu sauce over brown rice fettucini and served it alongside grilled turkey tenderloin and asparagus (which we also grilled and then sprinkled with lemon juice). We were very pleased with the end result!

The key to being able to quickly pull off a nutritious meal that your family will enjoy is keeping your fridge, freezer, and pantry well-stocked with healthful foods that can easily be combined in interesting ways. Keeping a selection of lean, naturally-raised meats in the freezer, crispers full of many colours of veggies and flavourful herbs in the fridge, and pantry shelves lined with staples like olive oil, vinegars, whole grain rices and pastas, varieties of no-salt-added canned beans and tomatoes, organic broths, and numerous spices will make it easier to come up with something creative and tasty when the dinner hour approaches. I'd love to hear your great ideas for healthy last-minute meals, too -- I hope you'll share them in the comments section below!