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.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
I finally stopped listening to the little voices several years ago, when I realized that giving into them was leaving me feeling very unwell. I save all of the candy for the trick-or-treaters now, but that's not to say that I don't still enjoy a sweet treat on days like today. I've just learned to choose ones that have ingredients that are healthier for me, and I make sure I enjoy them in moderation.
This Hallowe'en my sweet indulgence comes in the form of a delicious chocolate bark that I created very easily this morning. Made with flavonoid-rich dark chocolate, heart-healthy almonds, fruit-juice sweetened cranberries, and nutritious coconut, this bark is a great alternative to the typical chocolate treats found on store shelves this time of year.
Trail Mix Dark Chocolate Bark
2 85g bars of dark chocolate, chopped (I use Endangered Species brand, which is 72% cocoa)
1/3 cup natural almonds
1/8 cup unsweetened large coconut flakes
1/8 cup dried fruit-juice sweetened cranberries
Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with a piece of parchment paper.
Place a small dry skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat, and add the almonds to the pan. Toast them lightly, gently shaking the pan from time to time, and then remove the pan from the heat to allow the almonds to cool slightly.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chopped dark chocolate, stirring often. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour most of it out onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet. (Reserve a small amount of the chocolate for drizzling over the bark afterwards.) Spread the chocolate out in a fairly thin layer on the pan using a spatula.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds, the coconut flakes, and the dried cranberries evenly over the melted chocolate. Use a spoon to drizzle the reserved chocolate over top of the nuts and fruit.
Place the pan in the freezer for a couple of hours to allow the bark to firm up. Once solid, the chocolate treat can be broken up into pieces and enjoyed.
Making this indulgent chocolate bark takes very little time at all, and I think you'll really enjoy the end results. A batch of this better-for-you treat may be just the thing to silence those persistent little voices.
Wishing you and your family a safe and happy Hallowe'en!
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
There are stories told in the trees this time of year.
Sometimes I hear a story whispered in the rustling, faded leaves that grow older and more tired in the blowing autumn winds. I watch as the leaves eventually let go of their branches, each one fluttering downwards in a gentle, swaying motion to land silently on the earth below, the marks of a million life experiences etched carefully in the intricately patterned lines that make it unique. This falling sometimes makes me catch my breath with its honesty. It is a compelling image of life's final dance, reminding me that the spring and summers of my own life cannot last forever, that one day I, too, will feel the sun upon my face one last time and then it will be my turn to fall. The weight of this truth fills my heart with a sadness, and a tender longing for all of the lovely, fleeting moments of my life that have already come and gone.
More often during this season, though, I hear a story told jubilantly in the vibrant colours of the leaves still holding on among the branches. The brilliant reds and oranges and yellows that stand out so compellingly against the crisp blue autumn sky tell me that the storms we weather in earlier seasons make us all somehow more richly hued, that as I move through my own seasons of life, I too can become something still more beautiful. These leaves, whose striking colours sing so joyfully of their experience, inspire me to learn their secrets. I yearn to soak up both the challenging and the wonderful moments as I meet them, always growing in love, in acceptance, in courage, in perspective, so that when my own autumn arrives, I will glow brightly as the leaves do, knowing that I've lived a satisfying, meaningful life.
Wise storytellers, those leaves are.
Friday, October 25, 2013
I don't know if it's because there was a full moon recently, or maybe it's because Hallowe'en is just around the corner. Perhaps it has something to do with the early wake-up call I had from Will one morning this week, who whisper-yelled "MOM!" to jolt me awake, and then told me that he had heard a really weird noise and seen a strange grouping of orange lights in the dark sky outside his window. (A UFO maybe, and thus, perhaps my children have somehow been taken over by aliens?) Whatever it is, something has happened to Noah and Will.
It started on Monday evening, when I made the brave (ludicrous, really) decision to make turkey pot pie for dinner. Now if you've been around here for awhile, you will know that (much to my chagrin) the boys do not eat dishes that involve various food groups all jumbled up together, and that there has been quite a bit of drama at our family's table over similar types of meals served in the past. But I had leftover turkey from Thanksgiving in the freezer, it was cold and rainy outside, and turkey pot pie seemed just the thing for such an evening, so I braced myself and went ahead and made it, anyway.
Noah was at swim practice that night, and had eaten a different dinner earlier, so I hoped that the fallout might be a little less with only Will around to complain. I cheerfully served him a wedge of the delicious pie and watched him with baited breath. The smile of delight and the enthusiastic words of praise that came bubbling forth from him were utterly unexpected. People, this turkey pot pie had cooked carrots and peas and ONIONS in it and he LOVED it!!! He loved it so much that the next morning I found this message sprawled across the side of our fridge:
Word of this wonderful pot pie spread to Noah over the next twenty-four hours. He was quite skeptical about it at first, but Will built it up to such legendary status with his constant praise that Noah felt compelled to have the leftover pie the next night before swim practice. AND PEOPLE, NOAH LOVED THE TURKEY POT PIE, TOO!!!
As if the gobbling up of turkey pot pie by both boys wasn't strange enough, there was a clothing incident later in the week that left me similarly dumbfounded. I picked up a hoody for each of the boys while I was out shopping one day, carefully following the firm "no stripes" rule that Noah has insisted on for the past several years. (The hoody I bought for Will did have stripes, though, because he's more flexible in the clothing department.) When I showed Noah the two hoodies and told him the plain coloured one was for him, he declared that he didn't really like it, and that he much preferred the one with stripes. What?!
I should be thrilled about these two very unexpected developments, certainly, but after all these years of hearing boys loudly proclaiming their disdain for things like jumbled up food groups and patterned clothing, I'm finding it hard to believe that there's not something amiss. If you live in our neighbourhood, you may want to carefully screen your trick-or-treaters next week. Beware of aliens wearing stripes and demanding turkey pot pie.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
An amazing little apple gadget: My sister- and brother-in-law gave me this very useful apple peeler-corer-slicer as a birthday gift quite a few years ago, and it is still one of my favourite fall kitchen tools. I love how quickly it makes the not-so-fun job of getting apples ready for applesauce, pies, and other baked goods go by, and it's easy and entertaining enough to use that the kids like to work it, too, with supervision. Once we're finished with the apples we need for whatever we're making, the boys love making "apple slinkies" for themselves to eat! You can find this handy gadget here.
A thoughtful parenting book: I just recently picked up the newest edition of the bestselling book Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld, PhD and Gabor Mate, MD, after it was highly recommended by several friends (one of whom works with children and families as a therapist.) The book discusses the problems created by the phenomenon of young people looking to their peers for direction rather than to their parents, and offers suggestions to help families restore intuitive attachments so that their children can mature in emotionally healthy ways. The updated version of the book also contains guidelines for managing the effects of social media and video game culture. As the parent of an almost-teenager, I think this book will offer me great insights and advice.
A frightfully fun Hallowe'en decoration: Last weekend when my aunt and her family came to visit for Thanksgiving, she brought us this great little mummy lantern that she had crafted out of a mason jar, some gauze, some glue, and a couple of googly eyes. She added a little battery operated tea light inside to create a perfect illuminated Hallowe'en decoration, one that's just right for my tastes (fun and not too creepy!) We're all enjoying the glow this mummy lantern gives off in the evenings, and we're looking forward to greeting trick-or-treaters with it on the 31st. With a few supplies, you can easily make your own mummy lanterns, too!
A perfect pumpkin breakfast idea: Didn't get enough pumpkin pie last weekend, and find yourself wishing you could have a taste of it again? Why not try making some pumpkin pie oatmeal for breakfast? Prepare the oats according to the package directions, then stir in a big spoonful of pumpkin puree, some raisins and chopped nuts, a little maple syrup, a sprinkling of cinnamon and ginger, and a splash of almond milk. I love the delicious fall flavour of this warm, hearty bowl of goodness in the morning!
A healthy hand sanitizer: We like to take extra good care of ourselves in the fall and winter seasons to protect our family from catching the colds and flus that are going around. In addition to eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and taking probiotics, vitamin D, and fish oils, we all carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer with us for those times when it's difficult to practise good hand washing habits. I discovered an all-natural hand sanitizer made by Clean Well a couple of years ago that I really love. Made from thyme oil, it's free of alcohol and harsh chemicals, is non-stinging, and is safe for children. It comes in an easy-to-use spray dispenser, and the natural orange vanilla scented version is especially nice! You can find this product here, or in health food stores.
An amusing music video: The boys had been trying for a week to get me to watch some wacky You Tube video about a fox that they couldn't stop talking about. I finally caved after witnessing Will belting out the song at the top of his lungs and waving his arms around in a wild fashion, wearing only his pyjama bottoms, while he was supposed to be brushing his teeth. While I've often just rolled my eyes at the silly stuff the boys show me on You Tube, I have to say that this one really made me laugh. Chances are that if you have school-aged children at home, you've already seen this yourself, but if you haven't, it's worth a look and a chuckle.
Monday, October 14, 2013
This afternoon, after our company had headed for home, I thought it would be nice if Matt, Noah, Will and I took advantage of the beautiful, sunny fall day we were having by heading out for a walk together on a pretty trail not far from our house. The boys protested and came up with counter-offers in the way they usually do, declaring walking to be "boring" and suggesting that they bring some more exciting kind of transportation along with them. (In Noah's words, he had "a need for speed".) I agreed that they could bring their scooters, so we packed up those and the boys' helmets in the car and drove the short distance to the head of the trail.
Now I am very familiar with this trail, as I walk it almost every week with friends, and I knew that not far from the start of it there was a large hill that would be dangerous for the boys to go down on their scooters. Because they were so anxious to get moving, I allowed them to go on ahead of Matt and me, but I warned them very seriously that they must not go down the big hill on their scooters, that they should get off and walk them instead for their own safety. The boys agreed, and off they went.
I enjoyed about thirty seconds of peace, walking beside Matt in the glorious sunshine, and then I heard the kind of screaming that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, your stomach feel sick, and your heart start thumping wildly.
"MOM AND DAD!!!! MOM AND DAD!!!!"
It was Will, and as I ran in fear towards the sound down that big hill, I caught a glimpse of my two boys walking slowly back up it, one calmly, with blood oozing out of about five different places on his body, and one crying and yelling hysterically and oozing only slightly less than his big brother. I heard some jumbled up explanations about how they had walked down most the big hill, but then got on their scooters maybe too soon, about how there had been a jogger coming the other way and Noah had swerved to try to miss him, but lost control and wiped out, and about how Will had then swerved to try to miss Noah and wiped out, too. Matt and I tried to stop the bleeding as best we could with what we had in the car, but the afternoon walk was lost -- we had to head back home to finish up the first aid and give everyone (my shaking self included) a chance to recover.
I think most of us were feeling very badly about this whole situation; Noah and Will because they realized they didn't make a good choice and got injured as a result; me because I felt somehow guilty that maybe I didn't do all I should have done to protect them (and also because I was pretty angry with them at first because they hadn't listened to me). In the hours since, we have had lots of heartfelt "sorry"s, lots of stories told about how Matt and I had moments as kids where we also didn't use common sense (hello, stitches in my chin and a messed up jaw after riding my bike with no hands! Sorry Mom!), and lots of serious discussions about how important it is to think to avoid injury, rather than giving into a "need for speed". We've joked a little about the situation as a way of making us all feel better, too. Noah said he wondered if his horoscope today had mentioned anything about him having an accident, and I said, "Yes: Your lack of common sense will lead you down a dangerous path."
This is the way life goes, isn't it? Some days feel like they couldn't be more perfect, while others turn into a bloody mess just to remind us that we are not always in control of what happens. Time gives us some perspective, though, and I've realized in the past few hours that things could have been much, much worse. The boys' injuries, while nasty, were limited to surface flesh wounds, and did not involve any emergency visits for broken bones or concussions, chipped teeth, or stitches on this holiday Monday. Even on days like today, there is much to be thankful for, right?
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Turkey Dinner, Reinvented (How to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal that's gluten, dairy, and egg-free)
Roast Turkey with Gravy
We ordered a fresh, local turkey from Eating Well Organically in Waterloo for our family's Thanksgiving meal. When it comes time to roast the turkey this weekend, we'll stuff the cavity with a lemon or an orange (or both), and a bunch of mixed fresh herbs (we like to use rosemary and thyme). We'll rub the turkey all over with extra virgin olive oil, season it with sea salt and pepper, and place it in a roast pan on top of a mixture of roughly chopped vegetables (onion, carrots, celery, and garlic) that have also been drizzled with olive oil. (Thanks to Jamie Oliver's perfect roast chicken recipe for this method!)
Once the turkey is done (see this handy table for cooking guidelines), I'll make gravy using Jamie Oliver's method, substituting arrowroot flour for the white flour, and making sure that the stock I use is gluten-free. (The Imagine brand of organic, low sodium vegetable broth is gluten-free and doesn't contain any questionable ingredients.) This gravy is easy to make, delicious, and makes a perfect accompaniment to the roasted turkey for those who prefer gravy to cranberry sauce.
This is my favourite accompaniment to turkey at Thanksgiving! I've adapted my mom and my grandma's recipe here to make a less sweet version of the sauce.
Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, and Parsnips with Olive Oil, Garlic, Rosemary, and Citrus Zest
I love to roast vegetables for dinner using this recipe, also by Jamie Oliver. The only change I make is to add a bit of fresh lemon and orange zest to the veggies along with the garlic and rosemary -- it adds a little something extra for holiday meals.
Sweet Potato Casserole
This family favourite is based on a delicious casserole that my mom has made for years on special occasions. I've changed her recipe here to make it free of eggs, dairy, and refined sugar. I'm quite certain that Noah would declare it was "The Best Thanksgiving Ever!" if I just placed this whole casserole in front of him with a spoon for his dinner. (Well, okay, maybe he'd want a little turkey, too!)
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
We make this vegetable side dish very simply by cutting the bottoms off of the sprouts and removing the outer leaves, slicing the sprouts in half, tossing them with a bit of olive oil, minced garlic, sea salt and pepper, and roasting them in a 375 or 400 F oven for about 30 minutes.
No explanation required here -- we simply use frozen peas and cook them in boiling water just long enough that they're hot but still bright green. The peas are mostly for the young ones in our family who aren't fond of brussel sprouts!
Mixed Greens Salad with Celery, Apples, and Toasted Walnuts
I quickly assemble this easy but tasty salad (I use fresh, crispy local apples such as Empires) and toss it with a vinaigrette made by mixing equal parts olive oil and white wine vinegar, a bit of Dijon mustard and pure maple syrup, and a dash of sea salt and pepper.
Mini Pumpkin Pies with Coconut Whipped Cream
I came up with this recipe last year at Thanksgiving, and we all can't wait to enjoy these yummy pumpkin treats for dessert again this weekend! Because the pies are mini-sized, you might just have room to sample an apple dessert as well. :)
Apple Galette with Coconut Milk Ice Cream
I often make this apple crisp as a second dessert for Thanksgiving, but this year (at Will's request) I'm going to try modifying the berry galette recipe I developed this summer to turn it into an apple version. I plan to use 4 cups of peeled, sliced apples, 2 tablespoons of apple juice, 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon for the filling; the crust will remain exactly the same. Vanilla Island Coconut Bliss makes a perfect dairy-free topping for either one of these apple treats.
Our family is so thankful to have a long weekend to spend together, enjoying each other's company, the beautiful fall weather that we're having, and some delicious foods that we've all helped to make. I hope your family enjoys the same! Happy Thanksgiving.
This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.
Monday, October 7, 2013
"You can do this. You really should do this."
"What if I can't, though? What if I get down there and there is no one who wants to talk to me? What if they find me boring? What if they've read my work and think I'm a terrible writer? What if I look like an idiot?"
"You know that's ridiculous. And even if it wasn't, so what? Really, what is the worst thing that can happen?"
"I know. But I don't HAVE to do this. I could stay here safely in my room where there is nothing that makes me feel uncomfortable."
"Is that what you came here for?"
"No. You're right. Okay, yes, I'm going. I'm going!"
I took a deep breath, held my head up to model the confidence I wanted to feel, and walked determinedly out the door.
"Keep moving forward."
I spent the weekend at Blissdom Canada, a fantastic and engaging conference that brings together bloggers and social media specialists from across the country to inspire and learn from one another. My days were filled with incredible opportunities to discover something new, through motivating and moving speakers, informative and practical sessions, and high-energy hands-on workshops. While the thought of walking into large rooms full of people I didn't know made me feel very anxious, I am so glad that I pushed myself out of my usual comfort zone and participated fully in the weekend. Taking that risk has changed the way I see myself and my work, and has lit a fire inside that I really want to keep burning in the months ahead.
I was incredibly moved by the courage of Glen Canning, father of Rehtaeh Parsons, who spoke so candidly at the conference about his heartbreaking experiences in seeking justice for his daughter. I was uplifted by the inspiring anecdotes of "lollipop moments" described by Drew Dudley. I had a chance to experience a fast-paced, high-output creative brainstorming session led by Marilyn Barefoot, which completely pushed me outside of my usual introverted realm of individual creativity and allowed me to look at things in a different way. I was given the helpful guidelines and encouragement I needed to pursue my goal of writing for print publications in a discussion with Tracy Chappell and in a presentation by Julie Van Rosendaal and Caroline Fernandez. And listening to the personal stories and sage advice of writers such as Glennon Doyle Melton, Elan Morgan, Haley Overland, Rebecca Stanisic , Ali Martell, and Erica Ehm made me think about my own voice and not being afraid to make it heard in a way that feels right to me.
Without a safety net of familiar faces to turn to at Blissdom for company, I was encouraged to reach out to some unfamiliar ones and get to know something about them. This resulted in some wonderful conversations and new friendships with a gluten-free mom who shares many of my day-to-day realities when it comes to feeding her family, a green mom with an admirable passion for what she believes in, and a talented writer mom whose real-life presence radiates the same warmth and genuineness as the beautiful words she puts on paper. Spending time with these and many other wonderful women at Blissdom has reminded me that even when we don't know each other well, as women, as human beings, we are all connected to each other in some meaningful way.
The resounding message that sings in my head and my heart since my weekend at Blissdom is that no matter who we are, no matter what strengths and weaknesses we possess, we all have the ability to make a difference in the world. There is power in our words and actions; each one of us can use our unique gifts to create positive change. Comparing ourselves to others and feeling somehow less than what we are because we think we can't do it as well as someone else is counterproductive. We need to use our voices, our hands, to spread kindness and love in the world (and by example, teach our children to do the same). Nothing else really matters.
What are any of us afraid of? Let's challenge ourselves to do things that make us uncomfortable so that we can grow into our best selves. Let's all keep moving forward.
Thank you to the entire Blissdom Canada team for a truly amazing experience!
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Mini Pumpkin Cranberry Loaves
2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 cup ground certified pure gluten-free oats (I use a Magic Bullet to grind the oats)
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp water (let mixture stand for a minute to form a gel)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I use ones sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp coconut sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, ground oats, brown rice flour, sea salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add in the chia seed gel and whisk again.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the walnuts and dried cranberries.
Divide the pumpkin mixture between three mini loaf pans. In a small bowl, stir together the walnuts, coconut sugar, and cinnamon to make the topping, and then sprinkle this mixture over each one of the mini loaves.
Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Cool, remove loaves from baking pans, slice, and serve.
In what other ways do you like to use pumpkin in your kitchen this time of year?
This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.