We are very much into the holiday season right now – and that means parties and gatherings of family and friends. This past weekend, my husband and I hosted our very first party in our new(ish) home, and it was such a great experience to bring our friends together, especially at this time of year. I’ll admit I was thinking a lot about all of the details. Everything from the music, to the food and drinks to even timing baking my classic chocolate chip sea salt cookies to right before everybody got there so that the whole house smelled delicious. It’s not about things being perfect – because trying to be perfect never works out, and is never really fun for anyone involved. I just want my family and friends to feel as welcome to my home as possible – not just during a party, but anytime…….Read More
…So I changed things – and everything changed. I focused on getting more good quality protein in my diet, more good fats, and less sugar. On the activity side, I added in more strength and high intensity interval training and eventually trained to become a certified Pilates instructor as well. I was leaner, my digestion was better – and so many of the nagging issues I had dealt with got better. …Read More
Last holiday season, I had so much fun spreading the word about the Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats for Toys program, that I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to the role this year. (You can see all the fun we had in 2017 here.) The program has everything I love about the holiday season going for it – delicious treats, the opportunity to give back, and the chance to spend some time with my son doing something that is fun. Because he’s now a little older, he was able to participate so much more this year and I really loved that.
For those of you not familiar with Treats for Toys, it really is a wonderful opportunity that allows everyone the chance to make a difference this holiday season. All you need to do is create a toy-shaped treat out of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, then snap a photo of it and either upload it to treatsfortoys.ca or share on social media using the #TreatsForToys hashtag. For every photo uploaded and or shared between now and December 31, 2018, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies will donate $20 to The Salvation Army to buy a real toy for a child in need. And here’s the exciting thing – this is the sixth year for Treats for Toys. In the past five years, the program has donated over 25,000 toys (which is amazing), so this year we want to get to the goal of 30,000 toys!Read More
The past almost six months since we moved into our new home have been - interesting. We’ve had a mini-flood, renovations that had to be re-done that had contractors here for weeks, plus a few other major homeowner hiccups. The result? Nothing felt finished or quite like home. We even held off buying major furniture items during the whole process - because where would we have put it with floors ripped up and things shuffled from one room to the next. But now, fortunately just as the holidays are approaching, things are starting to take shape. We do still have to paint, but we have a dining room table and several other things in place that make it truly feel like our home, and I am so incredibly thankful for that.
We also have about double the space we used to have (hence the ability to now have a dining room table!) and the first thing that meant to me was that we could entertain a little more. My husband and I are both really social, and while we love going to visit friends and family, we always felt bad that we couldn’t really reciprocate due to lack of space at our old condo (essentially, our home office took up a lot of space where we could have hosted people). So now we are looking forward to making up for that and having friends and family over to celebrate.
One of my favourite ways to both eat and serve food are charcuterie and cheese platters. For over ten years or so, I have always been at my happiest with a board of this or that, a glass of wine and really good conversation. It allows me to have the variety that I crave (I feel this must be a Gemini thing) and the ability to chat with friends and while not having to fuss with food too much. Other people must love it as much as I do, because boards have infiltrated restaurants and parties wherever I go, and there is even a book out now called On Boards that is pages and pages of just that. (Mental note to self: must get this book.)
While I love this way of doing things with food, I will also admit that at times I feel that there are …..gaps in my abilities when it comes to visual arts. I can write, I can produce video, I can talk on stage or on camera forever and ever and it’s all good. When it comes to making things look pretty with my hands….hmmm….well, I am a person of skills that are average, if not somewhat inconsistent. It’s not for lack of trying - in fact, I was so determined to be more skilled at all things artistic that I took Grade 12 art just because I wanted to be better at it (I can assure you that I was alone in this line of thought in my class. Most people take Grade 12 art because they are already good at it.) So there are time when I am attempting to put together a cheese, charcuterie, vegetable or whatever platter that I think that I just don’t have things quite right. I’m not a food stylist - though I do have my moments here and there. When I’m good, I’m good. When I’m not - I’m definitely not. (It would almost be easier if I was just not good at it ever.)
If you’ve watched The Marilyn Denis Show of late, no doubt you are familiar with the super-talented Irene Matys, who unlike me, is in fact a food stylist of very consistent skill and ability, and always makes things look incredible. With that in mind, and my upcoming want to have family and friends over during the holidays, I was very happy to get the chance to learn from her and Stonewall Kitchen how to throw something together that is low risk, high reward while looking and tasting fabulous. I was invited, along with some other food-loving friends that I know, to gather to learn from Irene while sipping wine and eating all sorts of delicious things. Twist my arm - pretty much.
Stonewall Kitchen really is a great partner for Irene for this, because their brand really has been all about bringing those extra special little touches to special occasions for so long now. They started out selling their preserves at a farmer’s market in New Hampshire back in 1991, and the business has grown now to the point where they produce 75, 000 jars lately at their current headquarters in Maine. Of course - the quality is all still there, which is why you find their products at better food stores (such as my favourite place ever, Cheese Boutique).
Irene assembled a pretty incredible pantry for us to work with, and then talked us through how she would go about putting together a board with charcuterie, cheeses veggies, pickles and then all sorts of delicious preserves, chutneys, aiolis, crackers and more from Stonewall Kitchen and Tillen Farms. What I really took away the most from the process that she took us through is that Irene starts with what is seasonal first and lets that dictate how the board will look. For example, because it is the time of year for rich fruits like figs and pomegranates, plus savoury herbs like rosemary and thyme, those are the things that set the “mood” if you will for how the board would play out.
The other thing I learned from Irene that was quite different than what I have done in the past is that she takes all her items and scatters them in about 3 or 4 sections throughout the board, instead of clumping all of one thing together in one place. Which makes total sense, because it avoids traffic jams if you just happen to have a bunch of people that all love, say, prosciutto or parmigiano (you see where my preferences are, obviously).
Then, it was time to split into teams and get creating. I was partnered up with Liv Judd, who not only is known for her incredible style and attention to detail (lucky me), but approached this task with a laser focus that was enviable. We had a huge pantry full of items to choose from, and were also working with a number of great products from Stonewall Kitchen including Tillen Farms Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives and Horseradish Aioli, Hot Pepper Cranberry Jelly and Sea Salt Crackers from Stonewall Kitchen . We actually put the whole thing together in 10 -15 minutes, and I am really impressed with the result. All the preserves and little extra touches from Stonewall Kitchen really helped to pull everything together.
Now that I have these few simple tips, and the experience, I feel way less intimidated about putting something similar together for my family and friends in the next few weeks. The best part about this is that with just a little bit of prep work (like slicing veggies ahead of time) you get to spend less time in the kitchen, more time with your guests, and everyone is happy and fed.
All photos by Ksenja Hotić.
What really is authenticity, and does it really matter? Now hang on just a minute and think before you answer here. Don’t we all know people that rattle on and on about the importance of authenticity, when they themselves contradict the term on a regular basis? In fact - the word authentic is perhaps as overused as words like gourmet or designer (oh yes, you know it). Terms thrown around so much and so inappropriately that they are, effectively, meaningless. When everything is designer, gourmet and authentic…..NOTHING is. Right?
Since watching Ugly Delicious, the very entertaining and enlightening documentary series by David Chang and Peter Meehan on Netflix, I will admit that my view of the idea of the importance of authenticity when it comes to food may have gone through a bit of a shift. (And seriously, watch it if you haven’t already. It’s an important show.) Is local more important than authentic? Or vice versa. Or neither, perhaps. A lot of really important questions were raised as to the entire concept about what is authentic when it comes to food, because in the end food can be a very emotional thing. It can be evocative of a place, of a feeling, and of perhaps memories and connections that can be very sacred to us. Our hearts, souls and even our identities can be so tied up in what was on our plate then and there, and what we eat here and now.
So when it comes to food and wine - what exactly do we mean when we use the word “authentic” and how much does it really matter? There are going to be a lot of different opinions on this. Really, I think there is no blanket-statement approach to who can make what kind of food, or what ingredients must be used. But as we travel from country to country, or cuisine to cuisine - there are entities that exist that have been created to regulate, or better yet, designate what is and isn’t an authentic product. Italy takes this very seriously, for example, with a series of designations to identify authentic Italian products that are held to a certain standard. The system that has been set up for this can be mysterious to those who haven’t encountered it before.
Photos courtesy Jan K. Overwheel and Bottega Spa
But - I think one issue to consider is the fact that there are a lot of food and beverage products out there in the world, and not all of them are what they claim to be, or perhaps mislead consumers with branding that is meant to do just that. The Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario (ICCO for short), has been aware of this fact for decades now, and constantly work to raise awareness of why Italian-sounding products as opposed to authentic Italian products actually do matter. I’ve heard my friend Afrim Pristine, Mâitre Fromager of Cheese Boutique and author of For The Love of Cheese say more than once, ‘parmesan cheese” is definitely NOT Parmigiano-Reggiano. It just isn’t and it’s never going to be.
To avoid any confusion, the ICCO suggests the following when shopping for Italian foods as well as wine and other beverages: “Always check labels and look for the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin), IGP (Protected Geographical Indication), and DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) designations.” For reference, here are what DOP and IGP labels look like:
So - is this all necessary? Does using an authentic Italian product truly make a difference? For the answer, I turned to some of the people that I truly consider to be experts on the subjects. Franco Stalteri is the founder of secret dining series Charlie’s Burgers and the CB Wine Program, a monthly subscription service that provides incredible wines to members that they’re just not going to get at the LCBO. Having worked with him before at Taste of Toronto, I know that he knows his stuff. When I asked him what he thought about the importance of these designations that highlight authentic Italian products, this is what he had to say:
Which makes a ton of sense, because the size of the operation and access to such designations doesn’t always mean that the quality is better. A very small, exclusive winemaker in Italy might just not have the ability to get such a designation but can still make an exceptional product. Sandro Bottega, President of Bottega SpA, was recently in Toronto to speak about his world-famous prosecco and the process of making it. To give some perspective, there is a history of wine and grappa making in his family that extends back to the 1600s, his products can be found in 132 countries, and Bottega Gold is the #1 selling sparking wine in travel retail. He sees the benefits of these appellations for consumers and producers alike, though like Stalteri knows there are some cases where they may not be as applicable.
In many ways, this may be more relevant to big-business consumer items. Cheese, for example, and most certainly olive oil, which most of us have heard is a category that is plagued by impostors. Still - what about chefs that are living and working in the Toronto area making Italian food? This is a city that prides itself on local, but I found still in many or some more specific cases, authentic Italian products still are a priority for many chefs. Rob Gentile, Chef Director of King Street Food Company, who is responsible for bringing the magic that are Buca and Bar Buca to Toronto is one person that has helped define Italian food for diners in Toronto in the past decade, so obviously the quality of the food and wines he is working with is a huge priority.
And of course, good chefs know this alredy, and great ones certainly do. What this truly comes down to is educating that person that is standing in the the grocery aisle, wine or cheese shop - or any kind of specialty store. Once they are armed with the right information, they can make the food they want. I mean hey - if someone really really wants those shreds of parmesan on their pasta - let them go there! At least they’ll be making an informed choice.
But if you’re nor that person, or are interested in learning more about authentic food and wine or just celebrating it, the ICCO will host a series of events in partnership with Centennial College called CENTItalia from November 13-16th. It’s a great opportunity to take part in workshops and master classes on the topics, meet a delegation of chefs and other culinary professionals from Italy, and of course eat all the delicious things. It’s open to the public, and the programming is free! Can’t argue with that- get your tickets
And while I believe that great food and wine are truly born of love, pure intentions (and in many cases, great technique) I do believe that it’s important to educate ourselves about the ingredients we are choosing. I’m not Italian (in case hat wasn’t clear), but it’s totally ok if I like to make it or eat it (obviouosly). Italian food and wine are revered around the world - and therefore a target for imitation (which really never is flattery, by the way). This is where appellation systems come in handy. It’s not to stop people that are not Italian from making and enjoying Italian food, not by any means. It’s about getting the real deal when you are looking for it.
I have a confession to make. I love summer. I really, really love the sun and the heat and humidity, and I loathe the cold (not unlike a lizard). So when the warm weather arrives, I revel in it. Now, I have never been one to just lay in the sun and bake (generally, too boring), and I have been a religious wearer of sunscreen since my high school years. But from May through September I am going to be OUTSIDE, baby. From dawn to dusk, and beyond, and I am going to love every darn moment of it. Add to that having a toddler (meaning it’s park and playground life every day) and a more flexible schedule than many that allows me to be not bound to a cubicle all day, and you get the picture. Wonderful, right? You bet. However, my skin may tell you something different.Read More
For picky eaters (young and old), vegetables are sometimes a challenge. So sometimes, the best thing to ensure that everyone is getting the right nutrition is to be a little sneaky! And while I fully believe in putting visible veggies on plates at every possible meal to get little ones used to the sight, taste and texture in a positive and encouraging way - I have developed a few tricks and tips to covertly getting kids to eat their greens, beets, and even cauliflower!!! (Hint: Pizza definitely has something to do with that last one!)Read More
One of the things I love most about being a parent is all of the milestones that we get to watch our son reach. First foods, first words, first steps, and from there there are so many changes that happen so fast, it's hard to keep track. One of those changes is moving from a crib to a big kid bed. We actually should have done this a while back. We had taken the side off my son's crib well over a year ago, because he was constantly trying to climb out, which was dangerous (he's quite the little climber!) and he had been sleeping it sort of like a daybed ever since. But as he got taller, we knew we needed to change. We also knew that we wanted to move somewhere bigger, and there was no point buying furniture for his then rather tiny bedroom. So, we waited until we moved to our new place about a month ago, and set about planning out a new room for our rapidly growing boy.
We wanted furniture that was modern, safe, accessible for him and that would grow with him. So a low dresser with drawers that slid easily with black and white colour blocking seemed perfect. Of course, the most crucial piece of the puzzle was the bed (we decided on a double with a sleek grey frame), and especially the mattress. His comfort and safety were a huge part of making the decision on what kind of mattress to get for him. I wanted him to have the most comfortable sleep possible (because decent sleep makes life better, especially when you are growing and learning so much) and I wanted to avoid nasty chemicals off-gassing from his mattress while he slept. We considered a few different options, but because these were my priorities, going with a Casper was an easy choice for us.
Casper has really thought all of this through. Of course it's super convenient to order their mattresses and accessories and have them shipped straight to your door (with free shipping!), but there is so much more than that. Their four-layer foam mattresses are all CertiPUR® certified, requiring that they are made without formaldehyde, ozone depleters, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals. This certification also requires the foam to have low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million). All of that, no funny chemical smell and no chemical flame retardants. ( Instead, Casper mattresses have this genius woven silica sock that’s just under the cover. In the event of a fire, the sock melts on itself and suffocates the oxygen needed for the fire to burn.) When it comes to the little guy getting a good night's rest, comfort is the other factor that Casper has really figured out. Their layered foam ensures breathability and the right amount of support where he needs it - and the 100 risk free trial means that it's.....well, risk free. So far he's been sleeping peacefully on it for weeks, but we have plenty of time to make sure it's what he needs and I love that.
Because a comfortable sleep is about more than the mattress, it's super convenient that Casper also delivers dreamy pillows and high quality sheets as well. The pillows have this amazing pillow-in-pillow design that simultaneously provide softness and support. Casper sheets are 400 thread count Supima cotton, which keeps things cool and breathable. (Somehow, my high school job of working at the bedding and linens section of a department store has really paid off, because I know what to look for when it comes to these things!) The other thing I love about the sheets is the stylist, minimalist design of white with a grey border.
All of this spells out a great night's sleep for him - and hopefully for my husband and I as well! It certainly makes story time a lot more comfortable for me, because I was sitting on the floor before this little upgrade. From what I can tell, Archer is loving his new room and new bed as well! And while I mostly want to push the pause button on his growing up, somehow seeing this guy snoozing in his new big kid bed makes him even more adorable.
Archer's new big kid mattress was generously provided by Casper, but all opinions here are very much my own.
(This is long, and this is personal, so brace yourselves. Thank you so much for reading. For the TL:DR version, head to my instagram post.)
We were supposed to meet you somewhere around November 23rd, but that isn't ever going to happen. A couple months ago, on the day after Mother's Day, the day we were supposed to find out if you were a boy or a girl, we found out that you didn't have a heartbeat. And likely hadn't for about three weeks before that. It was a missed miscarriage, which something I never thought would happen to us. (Overconfidence, perhaps.) Although that day and that week, and the weeks that would follow were very sad and surreal, the information I started to gather then made the months leading up to that day make so much more sense. Because looking back, even though I tried to accept that all was going well, things felt very wrong.
After a couple of years of not planning to have another baby, my husband and I decided that we were open to the idea this past January, while we were away for a family trip to Taiwan. "What's worse" I said, "saying no now and changing our minds in five years when it might be more difficult, or just being open to the idea now and working it all out later if it happens?" I didn't exactly start on the road to parenthood early (to say the least) so I was worried that down the road would be too late. So, by mid March, I was pregnant. Easy! Was I (appropriately) thrilled? No. I was hit by a crushing wave of anxiety, depression, and physical illness that basically shut me down as a person. But isn't this how pregnancy works? Not in my past experience. I felt incredible for most of my first pregnancy, minus some very mild nausea for a few weeks in the first trimester. I worked out until the day I went into labour. I assumed my next pregnancy would be the same. When I was pregnant with my son, despite the fact that I was dealing with a pretty miserable situation at work at the time, I was optimistic and happy. This time, I could barely get up off the couch some days and didn't want to eat because I felt so sick. My brain was so foggy that things I said or wrote were riddled with errors, and I was so anxious about having another baby suddenly that I was just not functional for a while. When I told people this, I believed their well-meaning theories about all of that indicating that the pregnancy was healthy, or maybe I was just having a girl this time.
Not so much. There was an early additional clue that something was maybe wrong. My B hCG levels were tested at around 4 weeks in both pregnancies. But this time they were 5-6 times higher. Was I pregnant with multiples, maybe? It was possible, so my doctor sent me off for an ultrasound at 6.5 weeks. No - just one baby, and all looked normal. He mentioned that maybe I was just having my pregnancy blood test a little later than I thought this time vs. last, as B hCG levels double every couple of days at this stage. So it was possible my calculations were off.
So I continued on, sicker than sick, with an abdomen that felt curiously bloated instead of pregnant at times, brain in a fog. We realized that our current living situation was already cramped for the three of us, with both my husband and I having home offices, so we bought a bigger place to live in anticipation of our new arrival in the fall. Yup. We rushed out and BOUGHT A TOWNHOUSE (this is a big thing in a market like Toronto, to clarify). So let's let that sink in for a second. It was a big step for us that was definitely stretching our limits, but we thought it the best plan for our family. So another surge of anxiety around that. We told family and close friends around the nine week mark, and yes I know that is early but again, we felt confident based on past experience and sometimes you just need to explain why you are so irritable and feel like a pile of hot flaming garbage. I couldn't work out very much because I was so sick - I felt overheated and nauseous constantly, felt pretty miserable, and entirely unlike myself, body and mind. I wasn't happy at all. I realized at one point that I didn't even think about the baby at all, and I felt guilty for not feeling connected to this life in some way. It was just so different than before, and now of course I look back and see that my body and subconscious were throwing up all sorts of alarm signals.
So, what happened? The kind doctor that reviewed our ultrasound in those first few awful minutes gave us our first clues. He said that some things pointed to a couple of conditions - triploidy and partial molar pregnancy. (I know, you've probably never heard of these. And neither had I because they are pretty rare.) Often, but not always, they go hand in hand. Triploidy is a chromosomal abnormality that is always fatal, where the baby has 69 sets of chromosomes instead of 46. There is no genetic predisposition for this, no real correlation to parental age or anything else - it's just a random occurrence that rarely repeats itself in future pregnancies. It often coexists with a partial molar pregnancy - which is really tough to explain here, but can result in a placenta full of cysts that are multiplying out of control....and in even rarer cases can lead to or be a malignancy called choriocarcinoma. What happens in these cases is that your B hCG levels skyrocket more so than in normal pregnancies, leading to a lot of the symptoms I was feeling. So all of that was more sad and scary news. And let's remember....the baby was still there, even though it had probably passed a few weeks earlier.
I was booked for a D + C surgery to complete the miscarriage. Even that was complicated - I wanted this done ASAP for a number of reasons (my health in case I had a growing malignancy in my uterus, plus my peace of mind to end the pregnancy officially) - and I had to fight to get it done that week. I found out on a Monday and the surgery was schedule for the upcoming Friday afternoon at a different hospital. The hospital my OB was affiliated with wanted me to wait until the following Tuesday and I was just not having it as I was feeling increasingly ill, both physically and mentally. So that was a comedy of errors trying to make that happen - at one point I had to physically walk paperwork from one hospital to another to make sure the surgery happened. (Wow.) My husband (let's not forget he was going through this loss too) had a huge photoshoot booked for that week as well, and I told him I absolutely wanted him to go ahead with it, so he had to compartmentalize all of his emotions and move forward for that. So that week I pretty much cancelled everything and just mostly wandered around in a daze when I wasn't at medical appointments or taking care of our three year old son. He didn't know what was going on as we hadn't told him I was pregnant yet, but he definitely knew something was wrong with me, and he was affected by it. That was really hard for me to see. And, because we had told people that we were expecting, we had to go back and tell all of those people (though I am sure I missed a few) that I we were now not expecting. Thankfully, we had a wonderful support unit of family, friends and colleagues that made things easier for us, and I am eternally grateful for that.
I recovered quickly and immediately started feeling more like myself - which in itself helped in the healing process, even though we were definitely grieving. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster of hormonal emotional craziness coupled with tons of medical tests and appointments. My family doctor and TCM doctor were superstars in the level of care and compassion they have given me during this recovery. The pathology reports confirmed triploidy, but for some reason that is completely, frustratingly unbeknownst to me, leave out whether or not my placenta was tested for partial molar pregnancy, and the pathologist seems to have vanished because no one can track him/her down. Good times - because who would want THAT information? (sarcasm) I now have my blood tested regularly to track my B hCG levels, and thankfully they have dropped back down to where they should be (it could have taken much longer). As long as they stay there for a few months, I am in the clear in terms of choriocarcinoma. But I am not allowed to try and get pregnant again for now. As I mentioned, I'm on the older side of this maternity thing, so that makes me feel uneasy. Amongst other things.
And now, with all of that, you know why I call this miscarriage "very complicated." In no way am I trying to diminish what others have gone through. No way. Anyone that experiences pregnancy loss is going through an incredibly difficult set of physical and emotional circumstances. The nature of my condition, the health care system hiccups and especially the incomplete pathology report all are very frustrating. Will we try again? We'll see.
But at this point, I am feeling physically strong and mentally stronger as well, and I am thankful for that. I've gone through the guilt and the grief, the sadness and the anger. I don't write this to gain any sort of sympathy - we really feel like we have worked through this as a family and are emerging through to the other side. I'm sharing my story now because the thing that helped me the most - other than a wonderful group of family, close friends and medical professionals - are the people that shared their stories with me (you know who you are, and I thank you so much) because it made me feel less alone. I don't want anyone going through something like this to feel like they need to battle those emotions from a lonely place. The other things I have re-learned through this process are the following: you need to advocate for yourself in any health care scenario, listen to your body, and be kind - because you never know what someone else is going through.
And most importantly, there is power in telling your own story.
Eggs are always a go-to for me when I am cooking for myself or my family, because they are a great source of so many nutrients that we need every day. Egg yolks were one of my son’s first foods (along with avocado and butternut squash), so you know I am a believer in the benefits of eating them. And for us, eggs are a regular part of our meals all week long.
But I have a little confession to make: I love eggs, but I don’t do runny yolks.
I know, I know…..everybody loves an ooze-y Eggs Benny, right? But it’s just not for me. I like to think of myself as being quite adventurous when it comes to food (hosting 54 episodes of a show about food and travelling a lot will do that to a person) but I just don’t like runny yolks, and I am ok with that. The rest of the family doesn’t agree with me on this, of course. So, just so we don’t have scrambled eggs over and over (not that I mind of course) I look for creative ways to incorporate eggs into our meals, such as a frittata at dinner, to keep things interesting, because I want us to keep enjoying the goodness of eggs as much as possible.
Of course it also matters to me where my food comes from. Eating local is a priority, so when it comes to eggs, Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 eggs are a great option. Produced by proud farmers and their families in Southwestern Ontario, they are Foodland Ontario certified.
From a nutritional standpoint, it’s important to know that Omega-3 polyunsaturates are essential fatty acids from your health (I’m digging deep into my nutrition course from university here) because they do wonders such as lower blood pressure and can help prevent and manage heart disease. Your body doesn’t produce them, so you need to get Omega-3s from your diet. Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 eggs are a great source of this nutritional powerhouse because they are produced by hens that are fed an all-grain diet, enriched with flax seed, a source of DHA omega-3 polyunsaturates. One large free run omega-3 egg contains 0.4 g of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The brown eggs are also enriched with of lutein, an antioxidant that supports healthy vision, with 1 mg per egg. That is one powerfully perfect food.
Because I am often short on time in the mornings (and I mean, who isn’t?) I love making these delicious egg muffins – or crustless quiche, if you will – as a fast, nutritious option. Make a batch when you have the time, and warm them up when you are on the go.
GAME-CHANGER EGG MUFFINS
These protein and veggie-packed breakfast muffins are the perfect fuel to start the day. Made with real whole food ingredients and surprisingly simple to make, they are an absolute game-changer when it comes to having a healthy breakfast that takes very little time, because you can make ahead of time and reheat for busy mornings. Eggcellent (see what I did there?) served with your favourite hot sauce and some sliced avocado for extra good fats power.
- 1 cup broccoli, cut into small florets
1 cup red pepper, diced
1 cup yellow pepper, diced
½ sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
9 Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 Eggs, whisked
½ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
¼ cup whole milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil (grease if using foil).
In a large bowl, toss together the broccoli, red pepper, yellow pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil.
Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the broccoli are browned.
Line 12 muffin cups with silicone or parchment muffin liners.
When the veggies are done, remove from oven but keep oven on. Divide vegetable mixture between the 12 muffin cups.
Whisk together eggs, milk, cheese, salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the veggies and bake for 15-20 minutes until the eggs are set.
Makes 12 Egg Muffins.
Store extras in fridge and reheat during the week when you are short on time.
This content was generously sponsored by Conestoga Farms, but the love of eggs is all my own!
Field Trip 2018 is happening SOON (June 2nd and 3rd), and it’s the ideal festival for music (and food) lovers of all ages.Read More
When it comes to travel articles, you'll find all sorts of content out there about travelling with babies, toddlers and even older children to all-inclusive resorts to places that are not so far away. I'm talking about destinations like Florida, Mexico or the Caribbean, often to all-inclusive resorts, where you have all your meals taken care of and there are built-in activities for young and old. Get on the plane, show up to the resort, do your thing for a week, then leave. There is a lot of great info out there about this kind of travel.
This is not one of these articles.
Maybe it's because I seem to do nothing the easy or conventional way, or perhaps it's because my travel history has always been a little more adventurous. I like wandering a city as much as I love lying on the beach - and maybe even more. (This is why I love Barcelona so much, because it has all the most wonderful things about city and beach together in one gorgeous package.) Please know that I have nothing against resorts, I just seem to have more experience travelling in other ways.
My son Archer is now 3 years old, and the first time we travelled with him was when he was 13 months old, to San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. A five hour flight during which he barely slept, and just used as human jungle gyms throughout was challenging, but not unbearable by any means. Since then my husband and I took a one week trip by ourselves to Spain for a wedding (oh...how we slept IN. It was glorious) but missed the little guy so much. So - when the opportunity arose to travel back to my husband's home country of Taiwan - both to collaborate on a travel article for a publication and to visit some of his family - and just to generally adventure around for three weeks, we knew we wanted to bring our then 2 and 3/4 year old with us. First, it was an incredible and meaningful opportunity for my husband to introduce him to his heritage. And really, we just didn't want to be away from him for that long. Archer speaks and understands Mandarin, and is familiar with the food - so we figured, even if he is even more active than the usual almost 3 year old, it would be a relatively smooth transition.
Well - yes and no. There were definitely failures, and we definitely learned a lot. A LOT. But before I get to those lessons and tips, let me tell you a little about our trip.
Taipei is - give or take - a 15 hour flight from Toronto. Direct. Let that sink in for a second. Obviously, we figured direct would be a better idea than a stopover (unless we did a midway stopover that we could spend a few days in, maybe). Personally, I have a hard time sitting still for more than one hour (perhaps where my son gets it from) so we braced ourselves for that to be a challenge. But things went a little more smoothly than I had feared. In our past travels to Taiwan we had flown with EVA Air, which is a Taiwanese airline that has in my experience, always provided us with excellent service. We booked with them again, and were really happy with their Premium Economy service. Extra comfy seats, extra legroom, really fantastic food and beverage options, service and other little luxuries. Plus, there were extra goodies for my son to keep him occupied, and we really appreciated how kind the cabin crew were to him. If you can fly an airline that offers this kind of experience, I highly recommend it. But still - once he got over his initial excitement of being on an airplane, then dozed a little, he was extra wiggly. So we needed to devise some strategies for that. (More on that soon).
Once we reached Taipei, we had three weeks and 5 different places to stay. That's right. FIVE. Not simple, not straightforward. But each one was great in its own way. This included a vacation condo to the northwest of Taipei in the city of Keelung that my husband's Aunt owned (and was currently not staying at, so we'd be solo there), Taipei Mariott and W Hotel Taipei, both luxurious hotels in their own right but with very different personalities in different neighbourhoods. In between the stays at these two we were back at the condo in Keelung for a few days. Then there was Grand View Resort Beitou, a luxury hot springs resort in the northernmost portion of Taipei. And finally, a very central and practical little Airbnb for our last few days. Plus many restaurants, cafes and nightmarkets to check out, both for our own desires and for article research.
So - I know. This was complicated, and looking back, I'd say the first lesson I learned is NOT to try and write a non-family focused travel article whilst travelling with a toddler. Trust me. But in the end, it was a wonderful adventure. We learned a lot about travel with a little one in general, especially when it comes to longer stay and long distance. So just in case you are considering such a thing, let me share some tips with you.
1) BRING A LITTLE BIT OF HOME WITH YOU - I can't imagine what two 15 hour flights, 5 locations and three weeks away would have been like if we hadn't brought some of my son's familiar comfort items with him. Blankie, stuffed toys, familiar books and definitely familiar snacks are all a great idea. I hadn't banked on the snacks being as important as they ended up being. At times, our little guy was adventurous and at others he just refused to try food in restaurants that was even similar to what he would eat at home (see point # 4 below). So the snacks we did bring came in very handy to tame the hangry. But, the fun thing also was that I was able to find some news things in Taiwan that he absolutely loved - liked dried (unsulphured, unsweetened) mini bananas. He loved them so much that I cleaned out one store where I found them so that I had enough for the trip and to bring home.
2) DO YOUR RESEARCH, TAKE THE RIGHT PRECAUTIONS AND LEAVE BEHIND WHAT YOU CAN - There are so many details you need to know about where you are travelling, obviously for health reasons. Can we drink the water? (Not unless we boiled it.) Are there any illnesses that are a potential risk? (We made sure we got the vaccines we all needed.) Are mosquitos an issue? (Fortunately for us, not when we were there in January. But in the summer? OH YEAH.) What about car seats? Do we need one, where can we rent one? Even if the laws are a little more lax where you are going, you're obviously going to want to keep up your standards of safety. If you need to bring your car seat from home - it can be done! Did we need to bring a million pull-ups or diapers? NO! Just enough to get us through our travel time there and our first day, which saved us a lot of space in our luggage, obviously. Here's one thing that some may not understand that was a lifesaver for us: We bought a little contraption for our son with one side that attaches to his wrist and the other to one of ours, with about a metre of cable between it. Some people call that a leash, some people call it terrible, but trust me - in an unfamiliar city with scooters whizzing by constantly, not always the widest walkways and a kid that is extra curious, I call it SANITY. And genius. And really, he kind of thought he was walking US. So he was thrilled. And so was I.
3) IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU (SO BUILD IN PLENTY OF FUN KID TIME) - I don't want to seem like a total idiot, but this may have been the biggest lesson that I learned on my trip, and I'm a little embarrassed about it. It's not that I planned to ignore my son's needs - and I didn't. But look, I could wander and explore places to eat and see (and ummm, shop) endlessly when I travel and even my husband gets weary of it. So you can only imagine how a toddler felt. So we quickly learned to look for playgrounds to stop at for regular intervals so my son could blow off some steam. Luckily, Taipei also has TONS of indoor playground options for kids as well (for when it is too rainy or too hot). So many more than Toronto, in fact, and so much more interesting for the kids that we were very impressed. So we would schedule days or evenings there as well. If you have any sort of network at your destination that might include kids - perhaps friends of friends of friends, that would help too. We didn't have too much time to spend with other kids directly, but one particular evening spent with some slightly older cousins was just the perfect break that our son needed from us, I am sure.
4) PACK PLENTY OF PATIENCE, EMPATHY AND A SENSE OF HUMOUR - ESPECIALLY if you are travelling with a toddler. There is a huge difference in travelling with toddlers vs. babies, by the way. (Babies sleep A LOT more, weigh less, and don't run around so IMHO it's easier to travel with them). The toddler years are a time of massive growth, development, discovering and asserting independence and likes, wants and dislikes. Don't underestimate this for a second. They need all the love and attention that babies need, but they will throw you curveballs of major league status. For example, my son, who is generally pretty cool with eating in restaurants (he is MY son, after all) and was relatively familiar with the kind of food we would be eating in Taipei was just suddenly....not....having....it. There were one or two locations where we entered a restaurant only to have him start yelling "NO DINNER!!!! NO DINNER!!" at the top of his lungs. (I can assure you, this garnered a few stares. It was not fun.) At first, it was incredibly frustrating, but firstly, that's what all the snacks were for (see point #1) and secondly, I had to realize that to him, meals often felt like they were interrupting the flow of his fun, because he couldn't run around in a restaurant, or it took him away from the playground we had just been at. So I just had to understand, and adapt. We discovered he loved teppanyaki, which is fortunately plentiful in Taipei. It's not my favourite, but kids love it, because they get to watch the action. (It's dinner and a show, right?) So I didn't hit every restaurant I wanted to, but in the end, it was ok. OH....and look, if you need to have an iPad with you so that you and everyone else can eat dinner in peace, USE IT. You are not a bad parent, they will not be damaged. It's worth it for the sake of your sanity.
5) IF YOU NEED A STROLLER, THE HAVING THE RIGHT ONE IS INVALUABLE - Especially for city travel. We have been devotees of our Bugaboo Bee 5 since our son was born, and for good reason. It is sturdy enough to be our every day stroller from the newborn stage (with pram body) on up, and light enough to be a travel stroller. It was FAR more comfortable for our little guy to nap in when needed (thus freeing me up to do all my exploring) than a flimsy umbrella stroller would be. Plus, it was his stroller, therefore familiar, and therefore far preferable to him.
6) SPEND YOUR TIME AND MONEY WITH COMPANIES THAT GET IT - I was really looking forward to staying at W Taipei for my own personal reasons (great service, design, food, atmosphere) but I didn't immediately expect how awesome they would be with kids. This is a place known for serious nightlife, so obviously I wasn't initially looking for them to be super kid-friendly. But I was so pleasantly surprised at how kind and patient all the staff were there, and the cute extra little details like crayons and colouring books at mealtime for my son, plus the cutest animal-shaped steamed buns for him to eat. Of course, my son loved their extra luxurious king sized bed as much as we did, though he equally loved the comfy single foldaway bed they placed in our room for him. There were so many details that made a huge difference to us, and I will definitely continue to be a repeat customer for that reason.
7) MAKE ALL THE MEMORIES - Sure, there were people that told me one simply shouldn't travel with babies and children. It's too dangerous, it's too inconvenient. I'm glad I decided to not listen to that for this trip. We had challenges, for sure, but so many incredible moments as well. I don't think I'll ever forget my son seeing the sun rise in Keelung with us, and saying "Oh, it's so beautiful" - a sentence that I had literally never heard him say before. Or him visiting my husband's childhood. This was a really special time for our family, and we have memories that will last forever from it.
There are plenty of food and drink events and festivals out there in Toronto, and some of them are incredible experiences. But there is one that is especially near and dear to my heart, and that is Toronto Taste. This is not only due to the sheer number of incredible calibre chefs and restaurants that participate (really, the very best and brightest in the city), but because it supports the very important cause of feeding the hungry through Second Harvest.
Proceeds from this delicious event are in support of Second Harvest’s food rescue and delivery program for each ticket sold, they are able to provide 500 nutritious meals for people experiencing hunger in Toronto. Last year - and this is very special to me because I co-hosted the Chef's Challenge at Toronto Taste 2017 - a record-breaking total of $925 000 was raised, which provided 1.8 MILLION meals for those experiencing hunger and food insecurity in Toronto. That's a pretty amazing thing.
This year - let's aim to break that record again. And - all this can be done while you get to enjoy the very best from over 60 different top chefs and beverages from 30 different purveyors. What are you waiting for? Toronto Taste is happening soon - on June 3rd, and tickets are on sale here at www.torontotaste.ca. See you there!
Oh....and, CONTEST ALERT! Want to win two tickets to Toronto Taste 2018? Head to my instagram post here to find out how!
No two Mama's are alike - so keep that in mind when you are looking for the perfect gift for yours this Mother's Day. Now, of course, let me start by saying what your mom REALLY wants is to spend time with you. So make sure you do that above all else! But if you are also looking to get her a gift, I have some great suggestions based on her personality and needs - whether she's a gourmet, into glam, or just really, really needs a good night's sleep (hint: that's all mom's, really) I shared some great ideas on CH Morning Live (you can watch the segment here) and find all the links to the items below:
The Gourmet Mom
NESPRESSO CREATISTA UNO If your mom really loves GOOD coffee, this is the machine for her. The Creatista UNO, in sophisticated Black Sesame colour is the ultimate machine for creating espresso-based beverages. It produces café style quality right at home thanks to its fully automatic steam pipe to add a barista’s touch to your coffee. Plus, you can use the frothy milk to design your own latte art. Perfect all year round, especially for entertaining because the automatic steam pipe provides multiple milk temperatures for personal preferences and a self-cleaning setting (and who doesn’t love less clean-up, right?) Use with your favourite Nespresso capsules to create a perfect coffee experience.
VITAMIX A2500 ASCENT SERIES Let's face it - there are blenders, and then there is VITAMIX. For me, my Vitamix has revolutionized my time in the kitchen and upped my smoothie game ( because no one wants a chunky smoothie!) This particular model takes things event further so you can think beyond the smoothie. It has 3 settings – smoothie, hot soups, frozen desserts. Basically, this is an incredible all-around kitchen tool for anyone that loves to cook! It also has variable Speed Control and Pulse feature let you fine-tune the texture of any recipe. AND it features Built-In Wireless Connectivity - you can pair with the Vitamix Blend App that has 17 programs and over 500 recipes! It also has a built-in digital timer that removes the guesswork with recipes you process manually, helping you achieve the perfect texture every time. VItamix has a range of models and pricing as options as well, so you can find the one that's right for you!
The Glam Mom
TED BAKER Of course Ted is known for making incredible dresses (the gorgeous spring floral I wore in the segment, for example!) but if you are looking for something that's a little easier to gift, they make wonderful accessories as well. (And quite a few of them are on sale at the moment! This Parson Leather Cross Body Bag is the perfect finishing piece for your your Mama's outfit that is also super functional.
CHARLOTTE TILBURY CT just makes the ultimate in makeup luxury and formulations. Everything about her line is gorgeous. Brand new this season are here line of BEAUTY FILTERS, such as BIGGER BRIGHTER EYES, two palettes specifically designed to enhance eye size and sparkle (limited edition!). The HOLLYWOOD FLAWLESS FILTER is available in 7 shades, and acts like a primer, a highlighter and a filter all in one customizable product. Not to be missed is her range of always-perfect LIPSTICKS (at the great gifting price point of $39) in Matte Revolution or K.I.S.S.I.N.G. formulations - with tons of beautiful shades especially the most perfect reds and nudes.
TOWN SHOES If your Mama is a shoeaholic, you can't go wrong with adding to her collection this Mother's Day! (though be sure of her size first, of course!) These sparkly Glendi Mules by Kate Spade are not only on sale right now, but are the perfect mix of glam and practicality. If your mom is more into sneakers or heels though, Town has plenty of selections in both of those categories!
The Mom Who Loves Sleep (aka Every Mom)
CASPER You have likely heard about Casper's incredible line of mattresses that have revolutionized the industry. And while a mattress may be a super-big gift to buy for your Mom, you can explore their other products to make sure she gets the incredible sleep that she needs. Casper's Pillows are equally amazing, featuring a unique pillow-in-pillow system that supports side, back or front sleepers with the perfect blend of support and cushiness. Plus - their sheets are also a wonderful option: chic, 400 thread count supima cotton that breathes and feels wonderfully luxurious. All things that add up to extra zzzz's.
THIS WORKS Available exclusively at Sephora in Canada, this skin care line was developed by former beauty editors in the UK (you know, the people that test out ALL of the products out there, so they know what works!) And - this should come as not such a shock - what really works when it comes to beauty is getting more, good quality sleep. So in additon to their skincare products that help you get the most of your time between the sheets, they have also developed their DEEP SLEEP and SLEEP PLUS+ lines of pillow sprays, roll-ons, body creams, and a bath soak that work with properties of aromatherapy and microencapsulation to help your Mama (or you!) fall asleep faster, and deeper. Use (liberally), and repeat!