Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On My Nightstand - The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours (560) – By Kate Morton

On the Back Cover:
It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie’s mother on a Sunday afternoon.  The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle, where the eccentric Blythe spinsters live and where, she discovers, her mother was billeted during World War II.  The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives caring for their younger sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiancĂ© jilted her in 1941. 
Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother’s past but soon learns there are other secret hidden in its walls.  The truth of what happened in “the distant hours” has been waiting for a long time for someone to find it.  In this enthralling romantic thriller, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.

My thoughts:
I love Kate Morton!  I love her writing style, I love her characters and I love her books.
So far she has published 3 books, this one being her third and I have read them all.  All of them are quite long (all of them being over 500 pages) and what I love about books that are that long is it really allows you to get to know the characters.  I can read a 250 page book in 2-3 days and I almost always feel like I barely got to know the characters and the book is done and that is the end.  Not with Kate Morton’s books.
She has some great character development that does not leave you borred and wondering when the story is going to start.

This book in particular she not only developed the characters, she also spent a lot of time developing the castle as a character. 
All of her books have an element of mystery around the story and this one did not disappoint.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What about you?  What is on your nightstand?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All About Me

I have started writing this post at least 10 times.  And every time I find it going into another direction, I start talking about my I blog, the thoughts behind the blog title, I even go onto a tangent about our dog.
But what I want to write is a post about me. Why do I find it so hard to write about myself.  I can tell you everything about my kids, but turn the spotlight on me (and I actually do like the spotlight on me), and I find it hard to find the words.
Here is a little bit about me (in point form so I can’t get distracted and go off about my kids)

-          I am in my early thirties
-          I am married to a wonderful man.

-          We have 2 kids together – Little Girl is 4 ½ and Little Boy just turned 3.
-          We have a 6 year old Long Haired Miniature Dachshund – names Brutis!

-          We live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

-          I work full time out of the house.
-          I love to cook and bake.
-          I make most meals from scratch in our house, but I do have Kraft Dinner and Hamburger Helper in the pantry too.
-          I grew up in a small town but moved to Calgary just  2 weeks out of high school.
-          I always said I would never again live in a small town, but now with kids I can see the benefits of it.
-          I really doubt we will ever move to a small town.  I have told hubby – it would have to have a Starbucks at a minimum!
-          I love coffee, red wine and Coca-Cola – all bad for me but I don’t care.

-          I don’t really like chocolate; it all goes to Hubby and the kids.
-          I love to read; I read about a book a week.
-          I am in 2 book clubs.
-          I planted a vegetable garden for the first time last year – and loved it!

-          I have 1 sister and 2 bothers – all are married, all live in Calgary and no one has kids but me.
-          I drive a minivan – big surprise!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spiced Turkey Meatballs

I made these for dinner the other day and they turned out way better than I could have hoped for.  They were delish.  Both hubby and I found the sauce on it's own a bit much to take, but once you have baked it with the meatballs - super yummy!
I will be making these for parties instead of opening a box from now on.

Spiced Turkey Meatballs

1 egg, beaten
½ cup dry bread crumbs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey

½ cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

In a bowl mix together all the meatball ingredients, make sure to mix well to incorporate the spices properly (a well washed hand works well).
Form into 1 inch balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake, uncovered at 350 convection for 15 minutes, or less depending on the size of your meatball.  Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan; cook and stir until heated through.  Brush each meatball with the sauce, and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until done.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Christmas To-Do List

As we quickly approach the end of November, my Christmas to-do list keeps growing.
Here is what I have right now:

Christmas baking – I have so many great memories growing up and helping my Mom do some Christmas baking – I also have memories of sneaking into the freezer and eating frozen Christmas cookies – how can I not want that for my kids too?
My Christmas baking deserves its own post – I will do that in a few days.

Christmas shopping – So far I have managed to buy a lot of great stocking stuffers for the kids – Michael’s is awesome by the way.  They have lots of inexpensive things for kids – weather it be a small colouring book, markers with Princesses or Car’s characters on it, they even have socks – Spider Man and Cinderella – you can’t go wrong!

Last year - right after Santa stopped by.
But actual presents – nothing so far – right now Little Boy is asking for a cement truck – he wants one that actually spins etc.  But do you know how hard this is to find?  I have started looking – because another thing on our list is Letter’s to Santa – I want to know I can find the item my kids are asking for before we write to Santa and then he doesn’t deliver.  If anyone has a line on a good cement truck - please let me know!

Family photos – a lot of people I know go to a studio, or meet up with a professional photographer in the fall and do their family photos – I guess I am too cheap – usually we just ask a family member to come over and take a picture of us in front of our Christmas tree.


 2009 is missing - I did not get organized in time so we jsut send a picture of the kids that our day home lady took - and of course right now I can't find a digital copy of it.

Christmas decorations – although we used to put up all our decorations on the first weekend of December, we have no switched it to the last weekend in November.  We always seem to have Christmas parties early December, so it is nice to have everything up before that happens – so tree and decorations are all going up this weekend.

This is our tree last year.
What about you?  How is your Christmas to-do list shaping up? 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Conversation With a 3 Year Old

Let me first start by tell you all I have NO privacy what-so-ever at home.
If you have or had small kids, you know what I am talking about, if not, trust me.
I consider myself a pretty smart parent.  I usually wait until they are fully engrossed in their favourite TV show or a new craft to get just a little bit of privacy, to use the washroom.
But there is something that happens to every child when you vacate a room.  Their spidey sense perks up and notices almost immediately that they have been abandoned for obviously a much better option.

So needless to say, I snuck away to use the bathroom, praying for peace, but Little Boy followed me.  Here is our conversation:

Little Boy: Mommy, what are you doing?
Me: I am pooping honey; can you go see what Daddy is doing?
Little Boy: no, I see your poo?
Me: (Should I ignore him?) No honey. Go find Daddy.
Little Boy: No, I stay with you!
Me: Okay, let’s weigh you and find out how much you weigh!!
(a little later after we have weighed him a few times)
Little Boy: Bye, bye monster poo!!!

I could not help but laugh. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chores & Allowances

Did you do chores as a child?

Do you have your children do chores?

At what age should chores be assigned?

I grew up with 2 brothers and a sister, and let me tell you – we all did our fair share of chores.
I remember shovelling snow in the winter, cutting grass and weeding in the summer, cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming year round.
(The list is much longer – but do you really want me to list it all?)

I remember thinking the reason my parents had 4 kids was so they wouldn’t have to do any work around the house.  Funny how differently you look at things when suddenly you are the one working all day to pay the bills and buy stuff for the kids.

But what is the right age to start assigning chores?

Right now we don’t have the kids do much more than pick up their toys (sometimes that is sporadic at best), put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, and go back to the front door and put their shoes, jackets, mitts and toques away.

I guess this leads into my next question – allowances! 
What is the right age to start giving an allowance? 
Do I make the kids do chores to get their allowance, or should they be expected to do those chores and the allowance is a bonus?

Anyone have any suggestions for things that have worked for them in the past, or currently?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On My Nightstand - The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

The Glass Room (405) By Simon Mawer

On the back cover:
On honeymoon in Venice in 1928, Viktor and Liesel Landauer face a new world when they meet brilliant architect Rainer von Abt.  Soon, on a hillside near a provincial Czech town, the Landauer house with its celebrated Glass Room will become a modernist masterpiece of travertine floors and onyx walls, filled with light and optimism.  But as Viktor is Jewish, when Nazi troops arrive the family must flee.

The house slips from hand to hand, Nazi to Soviet and finally to the Czechoslovak state.  It becomes a laboratory, a shelter from the storm of war, and a place where the broken and the ruined find some kind of comfort until, with the collapse of Communism, the Landauers can finally return to where their story began.

My thoughts:
I have had this book on my list to read for quite some time, and when I finally got around to borrowing it from the library; I was even more excited to read it.
It is set in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, my Mom’s parents both came from there, and Mom has been back to visit relatives once.  I was so looking forward to telling my Mom about it and maybe even buying it for her.
But then I read the book.  I did not mind it, I actually liked it.  But there are some graphic scenes and affair that gets weird if not a little creepy.
But the story, the story is wonderful.  Not only do you follow the Landauer family, but mostly you follow the house – the house is the main character in this book.  It really tells the story of the war, how people disappeared and so many people lost touch with close friends and family and decades later the lucky ones were able to re-connect with each other.

 My rating: 4 out of 5.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cupcakes for Sale

If you know me in real life, or even if you have been following my blog for a little while, it is no secret I love to spend time in the kitchen.
I love cooking and baking.
There is only one problem with my love of baking, I don’t really eat much of it.  I am not a big chocolate fan, I rarely crave cookies, so when I do make these wonderful things, someone has to eat them.
Usually that task falls to poor Hubby, but as much as he loves my baking, what do you do when you have a whole cake, or 12 leftover cupcakes?
There is no way he should eat it all. (I say should because I know he can, but he really shouldn’t.)

So I have blessed many of my co-workers with the test batches and leftovers of my baking adventures.

We recently had some leftover birthday cupcakes and when I brought them to the office, I got my very first paid baking job.
I was hired to make a dozen white and a dozen chocolate cupcakes for a baby shower a co-worker was putting on.

So this past weekend I baked to my heart’s content, and earned a little Christmas money on the side.

I had a great time, doing something I love doing as a hobby, I heard the cupcakes went over well, who knows, I just might have something here?

Anyone need some Christmas baking done? 

Smothered Chicken & Barley

Smothered Chicken & Barley
If you are looking for a wonderful one-dish comfort food recipe this winter, this is it. 

1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon
chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon dried mint flakes
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon crushed
chili flakes
4 boneless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon
soy sauce
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 ¼ cups uncooked pearl barley
1 (398 ml) can diced tomatoes
2 green onions, chopped

In a small bowl, combine cumin,
chili powder, cinnamon, mint flakes, garlic powder and crushed chili flakes in a small bowl. Rub the chicken with half the mixture.

Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook for 1 minute on each side or until chicken is browned. Remove chicken; set aside.

Add onion, red pepper and
soy sauce to the skillet; cook over med-high heat for 3 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned. Add chicken broth, barley, diced tomatoes and remaining spice mixture, stirring well. Add chicken to skillet, nestling into veggie mixture. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes or until chicken is done and barley had reached desired tenderness.
Sprinkle with green onions and serve.

Friday, November 18, 2011


I am a little late on this post but I thought I would share some Halloween pictures of the kids.

Little Girl is Cinderella, and Little Boy - well he thought he was a duck and no amount of convincing could get him to realize he was actually a chicken, so I called him a chicken with an identity crisis.

This year was our coldest Halloween yet, but no snow on the ground - I take that as a win!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

Peanut Butter Cup Cake
The recipe I followed made one 2-layer cake, but I found I should have made it a 3-llayer instead.  I had too much batter for my 2 cake pans.

For the cake:
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup and 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

For the filling:
2 ¼ cups whipping cream
½ cup light brown sugar
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
½ cup creamy peanut butter

For the chocolate frosting:
1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
Pinch salt
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

3 cups chocolate peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and peanut butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
5. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the brown sugar.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
7. Add the vanilla, mixing well.
8. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, mixing until just incorporated.
9. Divide the batter between your prepared cake pans and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
10. Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.
11. For the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream and brown sugar to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
12. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
13. Add the bittersweet chocolate chips to the saucepan and let stand for one minute.
14. Whisk in the creamy peanut butter until smooth.  Chill the filling until ready to assemble the cake.
15. For the frosting: Using your stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt.  Mix the ingredients together until smooth.
16. With the mixer running, slowly add the corn syrup and vanilla, mixing until smooth.
17. Add the melted chocolate to the mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is creamy and thoroughly combined.
18. To assemble the cake: Cover the outside and middle of the cake with the filling mixture, chill the entire cake (I did this the day before) and then frosted it with the chocolate frosting, topping it with the chopped peanut butter cups.


Source: adapted slightly from Curvy Carrot Blog

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Banana Bites

Banana Bites
This is an incredibly easy recipe that allows for lots of creativity.

1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

In a microwavable bowl, add chocolate chips, butter and peanut butter.  Microwave on high until melted in 30 second increments, stirring after each one.  (You will probably need 90 seconds total).

Peel and cut up your bananas into 1 ½ inch pieces.  Using a toothpick or wooden skewer, roll each banana piece in the chocolate and then sprinkle with sprinkles.
Place on parchment lined baking sheet, and then refrigerate until ready to eat.

Source: Modified from My Favorite Recipes by Annabel Karmel

Chicken on a Stick

Chicken Satays – or as she called it – Chicken on a Stick

2 chicken breasts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons shredded fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
Bamboo skewers

Soak your bamboo skewers in water.
Slice the chicken breasts into thin strips, and set aside.
In a bowl large enough to marinades your chicken, mix together the soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, garlic, peanut butter and honey.  Add in chicken strips, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 convection.
Thread your chicken strips onto the bamboo skewers and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Cook 10-15 minutes (depending on how thick your chicken is sliced) turning once.


Source: Modified from My Favorite Recipes by Annabel Karmel

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In the Kitchen with Mom

One of my wishes for my kids is that they enjoy the kitchen as much as I do, and if they maybe are not that person that loves to cook, at least I want them to know how to cook a nice meal and bake a cake from scratch.

So we spend a lot of time together in the kitchen.  Usually it is making cookies or cakes – really anything with the stand mixer and they are involved.

But recently Little Girl for a kid’s cookbook as a gift, so this past Sunday, I sat her down and told her to pick a recipe and we will make it together for dinner.

Well, she did me one better, she picked 2 recipes – dinner and dessert.

So on Sunday afternoon, while Little Boy napped, we made dinner and dessert.  She was so proud of herself! 

Recipes will follow tomorrow!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garden Recap - Tomatoes

Since I decided to plant a garden in April, I did not have time to plant my tomatoes from seed – so I purchased all of them from a local garden centre.
I bought 3 cherry tomato plants, 4 Roma tomato plants, and 4 Grape tomato plants.

The Cherry tomatoes were pretty big when I got them (one already had a few small tomatoes and all of them had flowers already) they went in the ground in early May – and we got our first ripe tomato by late June.  We continued getting fruit all summer and I ripened the remainder inside after I pulled the plants Thanksgiving weekend.

Romas – these I also got at a larger size – but when they went in the ground mid-late May – they had not started to flower yet.  I noticed that these took much longer to go from flower to fruit than the cherry and grape tomatoes.
We were able to harvest our first ripe tomato in mid-September, but I ended up having to harvest the remainder of the tomatoes and ripen them in the basement (which we are still enjoying).  I got over 20 tomatoes from each of the 4 plants.

Grape Tomatoes – these I bought quite a bit smaller than the other 2 varieties.  I decided because of a lack of garden space – these were going to be potted on my deck. 
They did fantastic.  We had tons of fruit and they were sweeter than the cherry tomatoes.
I would defiantly plant these again next year.

Changes for next year: I plan on trying to plant my tomatoes from seed inside this winter - we will see how that goes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Garden Recap

Even though this is super late – it is more about me recording my thoughts about my garden this past year to help me figure out what I will do differently next year.

Overall I would have to say I had a fantastic first year at the garden.
We had more successes than failures.
-         Tomatoes – these deserve a post unto their own – but I had 11 plants total and all did fantastic
-         Peas – not only did we get a lot of great peas to eat – they kept coming, I eventually pulled the plants out in mid-September and there were still flowers.
-         Carrots – 2 different types, and although they were a little on the small and slower side – we had many yummy carrots and so did my co-workers.
-         Yellow Onions – these too were on the smaller side – but we still harvested them and enjoyed thoroughly.
-         Strawberries – we harvested strawberries right up until they froze – however the kids got most of the benefits.
-         Green Beans – my plants were incredibly small, but the beans they produced were normal size – but since the plant was so small we did not get the yield I was hoping for.

-         Beets – I have no idea why these did not really grow, but the largest beet I got was only the size of a golf ball.
-         Green Onions – again these did not grow big enough to harvest.
-         Spinach - my spinach grew very small leave and bolted before the leaves were bigger than a toonie.  I have no idea why.

Plans for next year:
This is something I will be working on this winter – post Christmas.
I plan on doing a lot of the same things, but making some changes to the foods the kids gravitate towards – I think cucumbers are on the list for next year.

What about you?  Did you plant a garden or even a pot of tomatoes this year?  Will you do the same next year?  Or make some changes?

Epic Salsa Weekend

I love making salsa. I love eating homemade salsa even more.
Last year I got together with my sister and we made a double batch of salsa.  It was an entire day, but it involved some wine and we had a blast.
The only problem was we each only ended up with 36 jars of salsa (500ml). 
Did I mention I really like homemade salsa?
I rationed it – only some close friends and a few family members were brought into the elite group and were rewarded with a jar.
So this year, I find out my sister still has 12 jars left (how this is possible I have no idea), so I thought I would make the same double batch of salsa by myself.  You see my thinking was 70+ jars for myself and this would allow me to give a few more as gifts.
Did I mention that a double batch of salsa requires 80 pounds of roma tomatoes? 
Let me tell you, this was EPIC salsa weekend.
80 lbs of tomatoes
20 lbs of onions
16 green peppers
16 red peppers
And a lot of jalapenos
I started at the farmers market – and discovered better pricing for different items at different markets – so 2 farmers markets later- all done Thursday and Friday during my lunch hours.
Friday after work / evening – start chopping the peppers and onions (I know most normal people use a food processor, but I have never had one until this year, and did not think about it until I was almost done).
Saturday – chopping all morning – head out with the family in the afternoon – Saturday evening – peel and chop 40 pounds of tomatoes.
Sunday – cook the first batch and peel and chop the other 40 pounds of tomatoes.
Process all the jars.
Not only did I end up being extremely exhausted, have very sore feet, but I got 76 – 500 ml jars of salsa!
If you are really nice to me – I just might share a jar with you!

Jenny’s Salsa
40 pounds Roma tomatoes
10 pounds onions
8 red peppers
8 green peppers
4 bulbs of garlic
20 jalapenos
10 fresh red or green chillies
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups vinegar
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup dried chilli flakes
4 cans (156 ml each) tomato paste
Chop the onions, red & green peppers, set aside.
Mince the garlic.
Seed the jalapenos and fresh chillies, process in food processor.
Peel and chop the tomatoes.

Divide everything between 2 extremely large pots; add in brown sugar, vinegar, salt, dried chillies and tomato paste.  Stir to combine, and place over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and continue to stir often.  Watch your heat, but you want to keep the salsa boiling.

Cook until it looks done – 45minute to an hour.

Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.