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, February 27, 2013

Baked oatmeal with apples, cinnamon, and pomegranate (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

The world outside our window was covered in a fresh blanket of heavy snow again this morning, and I could hear the oats calling me from the kitchen cupboard as I made my way downstairs.  I often start my winter days with a steaming bowl of oatmeal topped with apples, cinnamon, nuts, and a splash of almond milk, but this morning I thought I would add a little excitement to the routine by trying something slightly different.  After seeing a beautiful looking dish of baked oatmeal on Pinterest, I was inspired to create my own version using some of my favourite flavour combinations.  What emerged from my oven in very little time was really pretty to look at, and more importantly, it was also scrumptious and satisfying to eat.

Baked Oatmeal with Apples, Cinnamon, and Pomegranate
(inspired by this recipe from Deliciously Ella)


1 cup certified pure gluten-free rolled oats
boiling water
1 apple (I used a Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure maple syrup
*plus an additional half an apple (cored and thinly sliced), some pomegranate arils, chopped pecans, and cinnamon, for sprinkling on top of the oatmeal
Preheat your oven to 375 F.  Place the gluten-free oats in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them stand for approximately ten minutes, or until the oats have absorbed the water.
Meanwhile, place the peeled, thinly sliced apples in a layer that covers the bottom of a small pie plate or other baking dish.  Sprinkle the apple slices with a bit of cinnamon, and then scatter the pomegranate arils on top.
Add the almond milk, pecans, cinnamon, and maple syrup to the soaked oats and stir to combine all ingredients.  (I usually don't sweeten my oatmeal with anything other than fruit, so 1 tsp of maple syrup was enough for my tastes, but if you prefer a sweeter oatmeal, you could add more syrup.)
Pour the oatmeal mixture over top of the apples and pomegranate arils in your baking dish and spread it out evenly.  Top the oatmeal with more thin apple slices, pomegranate arils, chopped pecans, and cinnamon, and then bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.
This delicious and healthy baked oatmeal is very easy to put together and makes a wonderful warm and filling breakfast on a winter day.  It can even be made ahead of time and then reheated in the oven in the morning to help keep things quick and simple. 
Now that our family has tried and loved this version of baked oatmeal, I can't wait to experiment with other fruit and nut combinations.  Next up:  a banana split version with bananas, strawberries, walnuts, and a sprinkling of coconut and finely chopped dark chocolate.  Mmmmmm.  I don't think I'll mind now if winter sticks around a little longer!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Give up! (but don't)

A friend recently posted this little card on Facebook and I had to laugh, because it perfectly captures how I feel sometimes when I am exasperated with a certain fiery eight year old boy who never tires of trying to prove that he's right.  I've realized that it's easy to see determination, persistence, and having strong convictions as positive qualities when you possess them yourself, but they somehow lose a little of their sparkle once you have a child who exhibits these traits in degrees that match (or exceed) your own!
If you count up all of the days we've had snow on the ground so far this winter, and add that number to the number of future days we will have snow on the ground before this winter is over, you will discover the exact number of mornings that Will will have argued with me about why he should not have to wear snow pants to school.  Every.Single.Time he gets ready for school, he runs through 1001 bullet points outlining the utter ridiculousness and uselessness of snow pants as far as he is concerned, and Every.Single.Time, I counter with 1001 points documenting why they are a necessity and an excellent idea this time of year.  This discussion only wraps up because it has to when we reach the school yard, and a disgruntled, snow-pants-wearing Will says good-bye to me, both of us knowing that somehow, we will be having the exact same debate the next morning.  You might say I should just let him not wear snow pants to school, that he would learn he wanted to wear them once he spent a few days being cold and wet, but I can tell you from experience that if I do that, and he falls in the snow and gets cold and wet, he will then present me (in an accusatory tone) with 1001 reasons for why I should have convinced him to wear his snow pants.  There is never any end to anything.
I keep telling myself that one day, all of that determination and persistence and all of those strong convictions are going to serve Will well, that when it is time for him to make his own decisions and find his own way in the world, he is going to know who he is and what he wants, and he's going to confidently blaze his own trail to get to where he wants to go.  That single, bright hope is the only thing that will get me through another round of the great snow pants debate tomorrow.... 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

From afar and up close

When I was little I used to like to sit and watch ants as they scurried along the patio stones in our backyard.  I must have found something fascinating in the way that they so determinedly went about their work; they always seemed like they were trying to accomplish something important.  They would tirelessly carry tiny grains of sand and other bits of nature to build themselves a hill and a life within it, and no matter how many times I swept their efforts away with the bottom of my foot, the ants would continue moving forward with purpose, marching against time and adversity to leave their mark upon the world.

Sometimes as an adult, I have surreal moments where I feel as if I'm watching human life from afar, much like I used to watch the ants years ago.  I've more than once in recent weeks felt an all-encompassing mixture of awe and panic as I've studied the incredible photos Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has been sharing from space, or suddenly noticed the streaks left behind by jet planes lit up like comets in a pink sky where the sun was just beginning to set, or laid back on the snowy ground to stare up in wonder at millions of crystalline flakes swirling and floating in the air above me.   In those moments, I've become suddenly and keenly aware of the sheer enormity of the universe and the absolute smallness of myself, of the infinite number of possibilities that exist in every second and of the finite number of days I have on this planet. The realization that in the incomprehensibly big picture of time and space and life, I am only a speck even smaller than an ant hits me with a force so strong sometimes that I feel like I can't breathe. 

When I do breathe, and feel myself once again planted firmly where I'm sitting, I remember that while the big picture is powerful and magnificent, it is missing something important.  It's like the difference between looking out at a field blanketed by snow (which is beautiful, indeed, in the way it sparkles in the afternoon sun) and examining in careful detail the perfect and intricate combination of points that make up a single, pretty snowflake.  The latter is also breathtaking in its own right.  While we may be small, each of us (and the tiny grains of sand we carry with us in the form of our hopes and dreams and heartfelt efforts in life) are unique and significant.  Some of us may not accomplish anything that will be visible from afar, but still, every one of us will leave our mark, somehow, through a meaningful life lived with passion and in the hearts we touch along the way.

I have an even greater appreciation for the ants now that I'm older.  Their implied message to move forward undeterred in the building of a good life holds a wisdom I value more with each passing day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Power-up smoothie (dairy-free)

I have long been a believer in the idea that breakfast is a very important meal each day.  Rather than reaching for highly processed convenience foods that don't offer much in the way of nutrition or staying power, I make a point of choosing wholesome, natural foods for breakfast, ones that pack a lot of punch in the form of fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  I find smoothies a wonderful way to start the day:  they're quick and simple to make, fun to experiment with, and they offer a great way to consume a number of healthy foods in one go.

Kale is considered to be a powerfully nutritious vegetable and one that many people seem to be trying to eat more of these days, but I'm willing to bet it's not something most of us would want to reach for at breakfast time.  Try adding kale to a smoothie that also has frozen berries and bananas, though, and I think you'll find that it's a delicious way to get your greens in the morning!

Power-up Smoothie (with kale, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, bananas, and some other good stuff!)

a handful of kale leaves, washed and torn
1/2 cup President's Choice Organics frozen Power Fruit Blend
half of a frozen banana
1 cup very cold water
1 tbsp natural almond butter
1 tbsp chia seeds

Place all ingredients in a blender or Magic Bullet and process on high speed until smooth.  Pour into a glass and enjoy.

This smoothie may not be the prettiest drink to look at in the morning, but neither is coffee, if you think about it.  ;)  The naturally sweet taste may pleasantly surprise you (and, in case you're a reluctant kale consumer, I promise you won't notice the kale at all!).  What other powerful foods do you like to put in your smoothies?  I'm always looking for new healthy ideas and would love to hear yours!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wacky, wild, and weird

I think the universe has sensed that February needs a bit of excitement to liven things up around here, because this has been one bizarre week.

The wacky:  After months of seeming to have moved past his tendency to leave many of his personal belongings behind, Noah, within the span of eight days, lost close to $90 worth of swim gear.  He left a brand new pair of Speedo jammers in the locker room at the regional meet in Brantford (which is an hour away), and didn't even realize it until the next day.  We were angry, he was upset and very apologetic and agreed to buy a replacement with his own money, and then a week later, he forgot his swim fins in his regular locker room after practice, and when Matt drove with him across town an hour later to go and pick them up, they were already gone.

After a few phone calls, emails, and several tense hours of disappointment and frustration at home, the swim fins thankfully turned up.  One of the swim coaches had saved the day (and Noah a lot of money!) by picking up the fins when he saw them; he had put them in a safe place so he could return them to Noah at the next practice.  We were all relieved that it was only the Speedo that we had to accept as a goner.

Fast forward a few days, and picture a determined Matt who happened to be somewhere near Brantford for work a week and half after the swim meet.  On a desperate hope, he stopped into the swim complex and inquired if they had a "Lost and Found"; he was then directed to a huge collection of random stuff that he could have easily become lost in himself.  When he mentioned that his son had forgotten something at Regionals, the staff member said, "OH, we have a whole OTHER Lost and Found for that weekend", and headed off to locate the whereabouts of four whole garbage bags of stuff that had been left behind in the pool area over a two-and-a-half day span. (FOUR WHOLE GARBAGE BAGS, PEOPLE!!)  Matt spent what must have been a rather unpleasant period of time sorting through goggles and water bottles and other random gear, his hopes rising every time he pulled a pair of black jammers out of the bag, and then finally, lo and behold, his hand rested on a pair that boldly displayed the name "Noah" in black Sharpie on the tag.  (Picture fireworks and trumpets here, because I'm sure that's how Matt felt when that Speedo emerged.)  I'm not sure what is more unbelievable in this story:  the fact that Matt actually managed to retrieve Noah's suit, or the fact that there were FOUR WHOLE GARBAGE BAGS of valuable stuff left behind at a weekend swim meet.  It's a small consolation, but at least we know now that our kid isn't the only one....

The wild:  I was backing out of the driveway a couple of mornings ago, lost in thought on my way to run some boring old errands, when this suddenly caught my attention:

Yes, that is a raccoon on our roof.  I slammed on the brakes and sat there in the middle of the road in a true "What the....?!"  kind of moment, and then decided I had to pull back into the driveway, because how could I just drive away when there was a raccoon sitting on our roof?!  I ran into the house to grab the camera, pleading with the little critter telepathically to please not leave right away because I had to have a photo to show the boys, but I needn't have worried, because the critter didn't go anywhere for awhile.  He just sat there and looked at me.

Well hello, little fella!

I have no idea where he came from or why he chose our house to sit on -- we've never seen raccoons around the neighbourhood before -- but if his arrival is supposed to be a sign of something, I don't think I want to know what it is.

The weird:  Will emerged from the school doors one day this week wearing his winter coat, his warm hat, and these (which were a prize he had chosen from his teacher's treasure box for something good he had done):

I don't think I need to say anything else about this, except that I love this kid's kind of weirdness.

Happy weekend, everyone.  May it be filled with just enough of the wacky, wild, and/or weird to keep things interesting!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Room Redo: For the Tweenaged Boy

For me, long winter months with many days spent mostly indoors inevitably leads to a desire to redecorate somewhere in our house.   I don't think Matt is ever quite as enthusiastic about this mid-winter transformation as I am, but being the good-natured husband that he is, he always humours me and plays along. This January it was Noah's turn to benefit from my boredom-busting project.  Because he was in need of a larger dresser and some more book storage, anyway, I decided we would give his room a makeover to better reflect the personality of the interesting tweenaged boy he has become.  Noah's walls were already painted a nice neutral shade of gray, so I figured we'd be able to just make some simple changes and transform his room without too much time or effort.

It's funny how one home improvement project always leads to others, though.  I had the "brilliant" idea of taking the two bookshelves from our living room to use for Noah, and to buy a larger single new unit for the books in the living room, so we'd only have to acquire and assemble one new shelf instead of two.  Well, that move resulted in needing to sort through all of the children's story books that the boys have now outgrown (which had me sitting on the living room floor with a lump in my throat as I packed the familiar and well-loved volumes away in boxes, all the while remembering the feeling of sweet little heads resting on my shoulders while we read words that I still know by heart).  It also meant that I had to repaint the section of the living room wall that was behind the bookshelves, and that I am still, more than two weeks later, dealing with books piled all over our living room floor because the replacement bookshelf we wanted sold out the day Matt drove all the way to IKEA to get it! 

There was chaos everywhere the weekend most of this redecorating project took place:  Matt was assembling furniture in the upstairs hallway, I had picture frames spread out all over the floor trying to come up with appealing arrangements, Noah was sorting through years of "treasures" of the kind young boys like to accumulate.

The whole thing ended up being more work and more of a time commitment than my impatient self had originally estimated, but I am really happy with the end result, and more importantly, so is Noah.

We flanked Noah's bed with two large bookshelves since he spends so much time reading in his room.  This area is now affectionately referred to as Noah's "cave".

I added some colourful storage cubes and throw cushions to provide extra seating for friends (or for a certain younger brother on the rare occasion that he's invited to hang out in Noah's room).

A larger dresser now holds the clothes that were threatening to burst out of the old one, and Noah's original desk was moved in front of the window to give him an inspiring view of the sky while he works.

Noah loves comics, so I created some inexpensive art displays using pages out of Calvin and Hobbes and Big Nate books, and some IKEA frames.  It felt wrong to cut pages out of books, but I used Noah's well-loved, dog-eared copies for that purpose, and bought him new copies of the two books to put back on his shelves.
This room received a hearty show of approval from the tweenaged boy who occupies it, and I've got the redecorating bug out of my system for now. I'm really glad I took the time to document Noah's new room in its freshly redecorated state, because I can assure you that it will never, ever be that tidy again! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Chocolate banana pancakes (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

This morning we woke up to a blustery winter wonderland outside and the news that school would be closed due to the massive winter storm that had hit overnight.   School closures are rare here, so rare that before today, Will had never had an official "snow day" and Noah, as far as I can remember, had only ever experienced one. You can imagine the absolute joy and excitement in our house this morning when the boys realized that they suddenly had been given a free day at home. Last night Will went to bed with his pyjamas on inside-out and a spoon under his pillow, because his teacher had let his class in on a secret:  apparently if enough students slept that way, it just might bring about a snow day. When Will realized this morning that that was indeed the case, he danced around laughing and shrieking, "It worked!  It worked!".  I love that he still believes in that special kind of magic.

The day has so far seemed like a gift to me and to the boys.  We have nowhere we have to be and nothing that needs to get done right away, so we've had plenty of time for building forts out of sheets and painting pictures of robots and reading and playing happily out in the mounds and mounds of soft, fluffy snow.  This morning was also the perfect opportunity for me to try out a new chocolate banana pancake recipe I've been dreaming of since last week, because I had two eager taste testers home to help me.  These scrumptious pancakes are a modified version of our favourite hearty oatmeal pancake recipe -- they're made from wholesome ingredients and are free of gluten, dairy, and eggs.  Yum! 

Chocolate Banana Pancakes

1 1/2 cups certified pure oats
2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup ground certified pure oats (I use a Magic Bullet to grind them)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp coconut sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp warm water (stir and let stand to make a gel)
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 mashed ripe banana

Pour the almond milk over the whole oats and let them sit for ten minutes. Sift the ground oats, cocoa powder, coconut sugar, sea salt, cinnamon, and baking powder together, then add them to the oat/almond milk mixture and stir to combine. Add the chia seed gel, melted coconut oil, and vanilla, and mix well.  Fold in the mashed banana.

Ladle the batter onto an oiled hot griddle. Flip the pancakes when the edges begin to set, and then cook the pancakes on the other side until they are cooked through.  (This recipe makes approximately 12 pancakes.)

To serve these pancakes, I topped a stack of them with a dollop of cashew cream (you can find instructions for making that here), then added a few fresh strawberry hearts and a sprinkling of finely chopped dark chocolate and drizzled them with pure maple syrup.  Oh my.

Noah and Will gave a very enthusiastic thumbs up to these decadent (and still healthy!) chocolate pancakes this morning after they inhaled them.  The pancakes were a delicious snow day treat and would also make a perfect breakfast for Valentine's Day next week.  I hope you enjoy them too!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Yesterday afternoon when I called Will to come for dinner, he showed up in the kitchen with bare feet, a big grin, and some very oddly shaped lumps where his biceps would be.  I took the opportunity to snap some photos (because when Will grows up and asks me what he was like as a boy, I want to have documentation to back up the outrageous stories). 

Will asked me if I was going to blog about him, and said that I was allowed to share these photos of him as long as I told everyone that those lumps in his shirt were his REAL muscles.  So here are some pictures of Will and his very BIG, very STRONG, very REAL muscles:

And now I will give you one guess as to where the very soggy socks he was wearing when he arrived home from school went.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Easy beef, tomato and veggie ragout

Ugh.  I think that pretty much sums up how I (and probably many other people) feel by this point in the winter.  Too many gray days filled with slush or snow or rain, freezing temperatures, coughs and sniffles and earaches, and not much exciting happening all lead to a good case of the winter blahs.  Months like these call for comfort food, I think, the kind that fills the air with an inviting aroma and bellies with something warm and nourishing to help cheer everyone up. 
This recipe for a hearty ragout is based on something my mom used to make that I really enjoyed eating when I was a kid.  I've added more veggies to it over the years, and I switched to serving it over brown rice pasta once we started eating gluten-free.  It remains one of my go-to recipes for reliably getting a quick and nutritious meal to the family dinner table.

Easy Beef, Tomato and Veggie Ragout
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef (I prefer to use pasture-raised beef, for health reasons and for flavour)
1 small onion, diced
1- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sweet bell pepper (red, orange or yellow), diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced (or grated, if you prefer)
1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
5-6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 796mL can of diced tomatoes (look for ones packed in BPA-free cans)
chopped fresh basil, oregano, and parsley to taste (or use dried herbs if fresh is not available)
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg whole grain pasta of your choice (I use Rizopia gluten-free brown rice fusilli)
In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add ground beef to pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned. 
Stir in the onion, garlic, bell pepper, celery, carrot, zucchini, mushrooms, sea salt, and pepper and cook mixture for approximately five minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened.
Add in the diced tomatoes and stir until they are well combined with the meat and veggies.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low.  Stir in dried herbs (if using them) at this point, then cover and simmer the mixture for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.   (If using fresh herbs, stir these in for the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking).
While the ragout is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions. 
Serve ragout over cooked pasta, with a green salad on the side.  It's easy peasy, tastes really good, and is good for you, too!