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.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


This past week has been one of relative quiet at the end of a month of happy busy-ness.  We've spent the first part of our summer travelling to visit friends at two different cottages, attending and hosting bbqs, having my brother and niece and nephew here with us for a few days, swimming, swimming, and more swimming, hitting the farmer's market a couple of times a week, and the boys attended a week-long engaging summer camp program at one of the universities here in town.  It has been heaps of fun so far, and now over the past several days we've settled into a bit of a peaceful lull at home before we head into our next round of summer plans.  I am happy for these more laissez-faire days in the middle of the summer, and you would think that after everything our family has done recently, that everyone here would feel the same way.  You would think.

Will (you knew it was going to be him, didn't you?), enjoyed about one day of "laissez-faire" and then declared that he was bored and didn't know what to do.  Granted, the weather hasn't been very nice at all of late, and so many of his favourite outdoor summer activities had to be put on hold.  But we do have a house full of Lego and K'Nex, of science and electricity kits, of books and games and puzzles and music, of drawing and art supplies, of random objects that could be turned into something else with a little bit of creativity. (I even stocked up on Scotch tape before the summer!)  Unfortunately, every time I suggested any one of these activities to Will, his response was a half-hearted, "Nah", and he continued to lament his lack of something to do.

This started to grate on my nerves after awhile, and so, out of desperation on a rainy afternoon this weekend, I decided to sign up for the Khan Academy (a pretty amazing and free online learning resource that I had heard about on a TED Talk months ago and kept meaning to look into).  I browsed around to see how the site worked, added Will to my account, briefly showed him how to find something he wanted to learn about, and then set him loose at the computer.  The way his face lit up about three seconds into the first lesson he selected, you'd think I had handed him a million dollars and a shopping spree at the world's best candy store.  He has since been absolutely riveted, figuring out equations in algebra and listening to chemistry lectures on atoms and the periodic table of the elements.  I can almost see the lightbulbs going off above his head as he pieces together concepts that are new and exciting to him.

I try really hard to give both of my boys lots of unstructured, free time in the summer to give them a break from the demands of school and extra-curricular life that they experience all the other months of the year.  It's now clear (and kind of funny) to me that what Will really wants in his free time is summer school!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Go Bananas! Chocolate Almond "Ice Cream" Sandwiches (gluten-free, vegan)

Having both boys home all day with me during the summer months means that I hear the phrase, "What should I have for a snack?" more times than I can count.  I'm glad that during the non-school  months I don't have to worry about snacks being nut free, as it gives us many more options to choose from when the munchies strike.  Today I decided to try something a little different than the usual:  I altered the recipe for banana oat bundles (which I bake all the time) to turn them into chocolate almond butter cookies, which I then used as the top and bottom of a healthy "ice cream" sandwich made with banana soft-serve.  Preparing these yummy treats was very simple, and the boys and I all loved them!

Go Bananas! Chocolate Almond "Ice Cream" Sandwiches

For the cookies:

1 1/4 cups + 1/4 cup certified pure gluten-free oats
1 cup blanched almond flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup natural almond butter
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 squares of a dark chocolate bar, finely chopped 

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Grind 1/4 cup of the gluten-free oats (a Magic Bullet works really well for this), and combine the ground oats in a large bowl along with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of whole oats, plus the almond flour, cocoa powder, sea salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. 

Place the bananas, almond butter, maple syrup, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and process at high speed until the mixture is smooth. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until everything is well combined.  Fold in the finely chopped dark chocolate.

Drop dough by the spoonful onto the prepared baking sheet, and press the top of each mound flat with a fork.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool completely.  (This recipe makes 18 cookies.)

For the filling:

Break a frozen banana into chunks and drop the pieces into the bowl of a food processor.  Process on high speed, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary, until the bananas become the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.

*Note:  If your soft-serve ends up being too soft, put it in the freezer for awhile before assembling your "ice cream" sandwiches, or the filling will ooze all over the place about half a second after you put the top cookie on.  I learned this the hard way; my first attempts at photographing this creation were quite disastrous!  You want the banana filling to be somewhat firm.

To make the sandwiches:

Assemble your delicious little "ice cream" sandwiches by flipping one cookie upside down, gently spreading a spoonful of the soft-serve over the centre of it, and then placing a second cookie right side up on top.  Yum!

If you're not in the mood for making "ice cream" or you don't have any frozen bananas ready and simply can't wait, these cookies are scrumptious all by themselves, too!  I have a feeling this will be a frequently requested snack around here over the remaining weeks of summer holidays....

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Storm damage

Late yesterday afternoon we returned home after a few wonderful days spent visiting a dear old friend of mine and her family at their summer cottage.   We hadn't seen these friends since last summer, but the moment we arrived, we all just picked up exactly where we left off all those months ago.  The four boys immediately ran off together to have adventures:  they played various sports and games like tennis and dodge ball, went swimming, made action-packed movies they starred in themselves, learned how to play the board game Settlers of Catan and became completely hooked on it, tried waterskiing and tubing, caught giant toads, skipped stones on the water, and made s'mores.  The grown ups enjoyed catching up on all of the stories of our lives (lived in cities very far apart from one another) over the past year, while savouring some relaxed dinners and drinks at a patio table with a beautiful view of the lake we all grew up knowing, and while watching our kids have so much fun together.

Matt and the boys and I were all so glad for the time we spent with our friends, despite the fact that the weather did not cooperate very well.  The heavy rain that came and went actually kept both families fascinated one evening; as we watched a storm roll in off the lake, we were mesmerized by the streaks of lightning that zigzagged across the darkening sky, and lulled by the sounds of the heavy downpour that ricocheted rhythmically on the rocky shore.  Little did we know that less than twenty-four hours later, a much more vicious storm would wreak havoc on our home while it waited quietly for us to return.

This is what we discovered when we arrived home yesterday:

The evergreen tree on the left used to stand as tall as its twin.  The wind tore it right in two.

This used to be a majestic, whole willow tree.  Sadly, more of it will have to be removed now as there are several broken large limbs way up high.

This fallen section of fence completely flattened a whole area of our flower garden.

Thankfully the fallen half of the tree just missed the pool.
Notice the lopsided fence section to the left of the gate -- it was also torn right off by the wind.

Despite the fact that friends of ours had been in touch with us the night before to let us know what had happened in our yard, it was still quite shocking to drive onto our street.  Almost every home had enormous piles of debris from trees piled in the front yard and spilling out onto the road; there were neighbours gathered in clusters, sharing stories and recommendations for tree and fence companies, and the buzz of chainsaws could be heard coming from all directions.  A neighbour told me that the storm had come on suddenly and violently, and that the damage had been done in a span of only five minutes.  I can't imagine how terrifying it would have been to have been home during it.

We have many, many things to be grateful for in this scary situation.  Our neighbours and friends all stayed safe, our house and pool were unharmed, and we were on the receiving end of several acts of kindness from good people who checked on our house, propped up our blown-down sections of fence with wood until we could get home, and loaned us chainsaws and some helping hands to get our yard cleaned up today.  I'd be lying though, if I didn't say I was a little heartbroken over the irreparable damage done to some of our gentle giants, those beautiful trees that have provided shelter for so many little critters and given our family a shady place to rest and to play and a great sense of peace over the years that we've lived here.   It feels a little like losing some dear old friends.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Worth keeping in your pockets: July 2013

The summer months seem to be all about enjoying the simple pleasures in life:  good food, fun times with family and friends, opportunities to really relax in the great outdoors.  Today I'm sharing some favourite things I've been loving lately, in a summer edition of Worth keeping in your pockets.  I hope you'll find something here you might enjoy, too!

Black raspberries: Earlier this season, Matt was about to cut back some thorny bushes that were growing through our fence from the wild lot behind us where they're still doing construction.  Despite the fact that I'd been finding the prickly branches a nuisance myself, I asked him to wait, because I was pretty sure they belonged to a raspberry bush.  Sure enough, this week we were able to harvest the rewards of having put up with the pesky plant:  we each gathered a handful of sweet, sunkissed black raspberries to savour, and declared them some of the tastiest berries we've ever had.  If you've never tried black raspberries before, you may want to keep an eye out for them at a local farmers' market. (There is one booth at ours that has been selling little boxes of them for the past week or so.)  You won't be disappointed -- these little beauties are lovely sprinkled on salads or over granola, baked into pies or crisps, or simply eaten plain, by the handful!

A good salad spinner:  I have owned several salad spinners since Matt and I got married, but most of them were pretty pathetic.  It seemed I was always wrestling with the darn things, and a task as simple as drying off washed greens somehow ended up becoming an epic battle of sorts.  Last month, I saw a sturdy-looking KitchenAid salad spinner at Costco and decided it would be worth the $20 it cost if it meant I never had to wrestle with wet lettuce again.  The thing works beautifully (and even the boys like to use it with its easy to pump handle, see through bottom (wheeeeee!), and magic stop button).  It has made cleaning the huge bunches of lettuce, spinach, kale, and arugula we've already harvested from our gardens a pleasure!  If you have a wimpy salad spinner you're looking to replace, I highly recommend this one.

Spins lettuce so well that it has an exclamation mark on the lid!

Overnight oats:  I eat oatmeal with chopped nuts and fruit for breakfast almost every morning, because I like a hearty bowl of something nutritious to start off the day.  In the summer months, though, I find that sometimes I don't really feel like having a hot breakfast.  The solution?  Overnight oats, an idea that comes from Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows.  I soak certified pure gluten-free oats and chia seeds with unsweetened almond milk in a covered bowl in the fridge overnight, and then in the morning, I simply create a cool parfait using the thickened oat mixture, nuts, coconut, bananas, and berries.  (Angela has lots of ideas for other add-ins as well -- see the overnight oats link above for specific instructions.)  It's a perfect breakfast for summer mornings -- no cooking required! It also makes a great breakfast to take on the go for summer road trips if you make the parfait in a mason jar with a lid.  (Just don't forget to bring a spoon with you.  :) )

Photo Credit:  Angela Liddon at Oh She Glows

An organized recipe binder:  Once when Noah was very little, I spent about a week of his afternoon naptime putting together a recipe binder.  I created sections, carefully organized all of the recipes I had cut out of newspapers and magazines and written down on slips of paper over the years into plastic sleeves, and created a useful kitchen reference for myself where it was easy to find whatever I was looking for.  Over the busy years of raising little boys, my enthusiasm for putting each new recipe I found in a proper place in the binder wore off, and most of my more recent clippings or print outs ended up being stuffed in the front pocket of the binder "to be filed later".  In recent years (and especially since our family changed the way we eat with the discovery of our food sensitivities), it seemed most of the time I was rifling through that pocket to find a recipe rather than in the binder itself!  Finally, this week while the boys were at a summer day camp program, I redid my entire binder, getting rid of recipes I no longer use, and finding a proper home for each scrap of paper I had stuffed in the front pouch.  It was satisfying work, and as an added bonus to now being able to easily find whatever recipe I'm looking for, I've also rediscovered a whole bunch of new ideas I had wanted to try.  Stay tuned for new recipes here that have been inspired by what I found!

Hammock swings:  Every summer when we visit my parents, there is one favourite spot that all of the kids flock to:  the hammock my mom and dad have hanging in a shady and pretty back corner of their yard.  For as long as I can remember, Noah and Will have always loved taking their turns sitting and gently swinging in that hammock with a good book when we're there, and I've always been sorry that we don't have a proper place in our yard where we could hang a hammock of our own.  A few weeks ago, though, I noticed a hammock swing in the Canadian Tire flyer, and was excited to see that it could be hung from a single spot instead of between two.  It took a rain cheque and a return trip to the store to finally acquire one of these swings because they sold out so quickly, but this weekend we were finally able to bring one home.  It was really easy to hang using some chain and a quick link fastener , and it has instantly become a favourite peaceful spot for everyone in the family.

A perfect picture of summer relaxation!

A fun word game:  Our family is always on the lookout for fun word games to play together.  I know I've already mentioned our love for  Bananagrams , but we've also recently discovered another favourite:  PDQ (or Pretty Darn Quick).  This simple card game, which involves being the first to create a word from the three letter cards that are played on each turn, is easy to learn and play;  it's also addictive!  It's a great game for playing at the patio table on summer evenings or lazy afternoons, and its small size makes it ideal to take along on summer travels, too! 

That's all for now, but I'd love to hear what you've been loving so far this summer, too!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A bookworm's breakfast -- 18 (Summer reading for boys + Little Free Libraries)

Sometime last summer, I remember reading a post from a blogger in the United States who wrote about a "secret library" her two young sons had been thrilled to find while out for a bike ride in their neighbourhood one day.  It turned out that this library was part of the international Little Free Library movement, which encourages citizens to build miniature weatherproof "houses", install them on posts on their properties, and fill them with books.  Visitors to the little libraries are free to borrow and return these books, or take them and leave other books in their place.   I loved this story when I read it, and thought the little library project was a really wonderful way to encourage literacy and community.   I had never seen anything like it anywhere I've lived.

I tucked that idea away in my mind, filed under "great ideas I'd love to try", and then last week, I became really excited when I was reading our local newspaper and a photograph of a Little Free Library installed in the front yard of someone in our community jumped out at me.  The accompanying article described how some local citizens are working to promote the movement in Kitchener-Waterloo, and provided a website to visit to learn more and to get involved.

I'm planning on ordering one of the little house kits that a local woodworker and contractor have created, so that our family can build a Little Free Library of our own.  I have visions of filling it with gently used children's books, and then watching joyfully as the neighbourhood children discover it and hopefully make good use of it.  If you live in Kitchener-Waterloo and would like to become involved in this worthwhile community project, you can visit the Little Libraries of KW website for more information.  If you live elsewhere, you can look at this map to see if there are Little Free Library locations near you! 

Summer provides a great opportunity for kids to find pleasure in reading books of their own choosing.   Due to some heavy rain we've had around here lately, Noah and Will have had ample time to discover some engaging new reads.  I asked them to share those titles here today, in case anyone is looking for some good books for their boys to enjoy in their free time. 
Noah's (age 11) recent favourites:
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Garfield comics by Jim Davis
Up next on Noah's reading list are these books:
Itch by Simon Mayo
House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini
Will's (age 9) recent favourites:
A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Big Nate: Game On by Lincoln Pierce
Canada's Weather by Chris St. Clair
(I saw this book at Costco this week and just had to buy it for Will, who has faithfully watched The Weather Network in fascination every morning for years!  He thinks it's a very interesting book.)
Weird Zone: Sports  (Owlkids Books)
And up next on Will's reading list:
Sidekicked by John David Anderson
Whether you find books at your local public library or bookstore, in a little free library somewhere in your neighbourhood, or simply by swapping personal collections with family members and friends, I hope reading and discovering new characters, worlds, and ideas will be a happy part of your family's summer!  :)
If you're still looking for more book recommendations, you might enjoy some of the earlier editions of A bookworm's breakfast, which you'll find here.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Beautiful Berry Galette (gluten-free, vegan)

Today has so far been an absolutely perfect summer day.  The whole family "slept in" (which means no one woke up before 7 a.m.), I took a trip to the bustling farmers' market this morning and came home with an arm load of beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables, I picked some greens and radishes from our own garden and made a salad which we enjoyed for lunch in the shade of our patio table, we spent a leisurely afternoon laughing and splashing together in the pool, and we're soon looking forward to a delicious grilled dinner complete with a homemade dessert.  Life doesn't get much better than this, I think!

Yesterday the August issue of Chatelaine magazine arrived in my mailbox, and I was immediately captivated by the cover photo of a gorgeous galette made with berries of all kinds.  I decided right then and there that I needed to create a gluten-free and vegan version of this summer treat for our family to enjoy.  I picked up some local strawberries and black raspberries at the market this morning, mixed up some almond flour pastry, and in very little time my own galette emerged fragrant and bubbling from the oven.  I am really happy with how it turned out!

Berry Galette

For the crust:

2 cups blanched almond flour
1 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp water

For the filling:

4 cups berries, washed  (I used sliced strawberries, whole black raspberries, and blueberries)
1 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tbsp coconut sugar

+ 1 tsp coconut sugar for sprinkling on the crust

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, cinnamon, sea salt, and baking soda. 

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and water until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until you achieve a uniform ball of dough.  Place the dough in the freezer to chill for approximately 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F.  Prepare the filling by combining one tablespoon of arrowroot flour and one tablespoon of coconut sugar in a large bowl, and then adding the berries.  Stir the berries gently until they are well coated.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat work surface.  Place the chilled dough on the paper, then place another piece of parchment paper over top and roll out the dough.  You should end up with a circle about 12 inches wide; the pastry will be thin and the edges will be uneven.  Remove the top piece of parchment paper and then transfer the bottom piece and the rolled out pastry to a baking sheet.

Tumble the berry mixture into the centre of the pastry, leaving about a one and a half inch border of crust all the way around.  Gently lift the parchment paper all the way around the circle to fold the edges of the crust over, just to cover the edge of the fruit.  (The centre of the pie should not be covered.)  If the pastry breaks at all, simply smooth it back together with your fingers, as the dough will be quite sticky and easy to repair.

Sprinkle the edges of the pastry with the remaining coconut sugar, and place the pie in the preheated oven.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. 

This galette is delicious served warm with a scoop of vanilla coconut milk ice cream.  It's a very easy yet impressive summer dessert!

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.