Friday, 13 September 2013

Crisp, Crumble or Crunch, it's all good

I love summer for, amongst other things, all the fresh fruit and vegetables it brings. The season kicks off for me with rhubarb and strawberry, two of my and B’s all time favourites. These are just about the best combination for crisp or crumble or crunch or whatever you call your sweetened fruit with an oatmeal, butter, sugar topping.
But it doesn’t stop there. As berries and fruit come into season, they are brought into the recipe either on their own or in a jumbleberry blend of any fruit combination available. What remains the same in every crisp made in my kitchen is the topping.
After some trial and error and experimentation I have found my perfect topping recipe. I like a sweet crunchy topping and if that’s what you like too, you might want to give this recipe a try.
What goes under the topping? Limitless possibilities. I have used it for individual fruits and berries or multiple different combinations. The topping recipe will cover up to an 8 x 8 inch pan of fruit, just double the recipe for a larger pan. I use 4 – 6 cups of fruit for the filling depending upon the size of pan I use. I have a small glass baking dish that is perfect for making a crisp for two, I'll use half the topping and freeze the rest for another time.
Add ¼ to ½ cup of white sugar depending upon how sweet or tart the fruit and 2 – 3 tablespoons of uncooked tapioca depending upon how juicy the fruit. I like the texture tapioca adds rather than using corn starch or flour as a thickener.
My last crumble filling consisted of rhubarb and strawberries I'd frozen earlier in the summer, peaches and wild blueberries purchased at the Alderney Farmers Market, gooseberries from the Summerside Farmers Market and a few raspberries and blackberries from the back yard. Best one yet!

Fruit Crisp Topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine softened
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Mix together first 3 ingredients.
  3. Blend in butter or margarine (I use my hands) til large clumps form.
  4. Sprinkle to cover fruit/berries.
  5. Bake for 30 -40 minutes until topping is golden brown & filling is bubbling.

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Yes, I know, it's been weeks, months even since my last post. Life happens. And that's a good thing. 
My gum paste sweet peas

We've been busy doing the Spring yard work, planting the flower and vegetable gardens. I've been carrying on with my Wilton cake decorating classes and about to finish up the last of the 4 courses. Really loving making the gum paste flowers.

Peas are blooming

I love this time of year because the local, berries and veg slowly start appearing at the market. We have enjoyed the asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb.The strawberries in our own small patch have started ripening this week and I've been having lots of salads with the lettuce & herbs from my deck planters. Won't be long now before we are eating peas from our garden.

Strawberries are ripening
When the early strawberries first appeared at the market I had to have a box. And while I enjoy the berries on their own or over ice cream I wanted to use them to put over cheesecake, one of B's favourite desserts. I've made quite a few cheesecakes over the years but find that making them in a 9" pan, well I can't let good cheesecake go to waste so it ends up going to my waist. So I got myself a 6" springform pan and began experimenting with recipes. The two I've tested are below. We get six small pieces from each cake, just enough to satisfy the craving but not so much as you're getting sick of it before it's halfway gone.

The Lemon Cheesecake can be made without the lemon zest of course and topped with whatever your imagination or available ingredients allow. 

B's youngest daughter recently returned from a 4 month teaching stint in Shanghai, China. She's a bit of a Nutella addict, well really, who isn't. Just before she returned, Costco had these huge 5 kg jars of Nutella for sale. I got one.

I made a couple batches of Nutella Brownies from MMMisForMommy's Blog, she got one of the giant jars too.  I decided to do a little experimenting today to see if I could adjust my cheesecake recipe to include Nutella....success.

So here are the two versions of my mini cheesecake experiments...enjoy.

Mini Lemon Cheesecake

  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place pan with water on lower grill in oven.
  2. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 6-inch springform pan. Cut parchment paper to just cover bottom of pan and place in pan.
  3. Mix graham cracker crumbs with 2 Tbsp of sugar and melted butter in a bowl until evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of pan and place in fridge to set.
  4. Mix flour, sour cream/yogurt, milk and vanilla extract in bowl. Set aside.
  5. Beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended.
  6. Add egg mix well.
  7. Add lemon zest and sour cream mixture; mix until just incorporated.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared springform pan.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven the surface of the cheesecake is firm except for a small spot in the center that will jiggle when the pan is gently shaken, about 35 minutes.
  10. When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and let it cool in the oven for 1 – 2 hours, this will help keep the cake from cracking.

Mini Nutella Cheesecake

  • 1/2 cup chocolate wafer crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup Nutella
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place pan with water on lower grill in oven.
  2. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 6-inch springform pan. Cut parchment paper to just cover bottom of pan and place in pan.
  3. Mix graham cracker crumbs with 2 Tbsp of sugar and melted butter in a bowl until evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of pan and place in fridge to set.
  4. Mix flour, milk and vanilla extract in bowl. Set aside.
  5. Beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended.
  6. Add egg mix well.
  7. Add Nutella and mix well.
  8. Add flour & milk mixture, mix until just incorporated.
  9. Pour mixture into prepared springform pan.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven the surface of the cheesecake is firm except for a small spot in the center that will jiggle when the pan is gently shaken, about 35 minutes.
  11. When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and let it cool in the oven for 1 – 2 hours, this will help keep the cake from cracking.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Open City Halifax Saturday, May 11, 2013

Getting a little excited about this weekend. We have a date night which coincides with one of our favourite new events in Halifax – Open City. It happens this Saturday, May 11.

What is it? Basically it’s a city wide open house for all Haligonians (residents of Halifax) to experience and explore their own city. It’s an opportunity to try new things, shop in new places and arm ourselves with answers for when our summer visitors & tourists ask, “Where do I go for the best ______ in Halifax”. Mind, you don’t have to be a Haligonian to be allowed to take part, everyone is welcome to come into the city and act like a tourist for a day. The goal is to highlight and support local business and attractions.

I believe the list of participants is now over 100, including local shops, restaurants, museums, artists, entertainers, organizations and attractions. One of the more popular aspects for many is the “Back Door Special” offered up by local restaurants. The mechanics of getting one of these special meals or snacks vary depending on the restaurant, some require a stealthy knock on the back door or others are available at “Pop-Ups” around the city. Some are cash only so you might want to have some on hand for the day. Many participants offer discounts or free samples. The list of participants and what they offer can be found here.  

Nova Scotia School of Art & Design: Artist for a Day

You might want to take a look at the website and start making you plan now, there's even an interactive map to plan your route. Participants are located all over the city, from the North End to the South End and points in between, on Quinpool and Spring Garden, on the Waterfront or in the Hydrostone. You can walk it or bike it or if you’re bringing your car there’s free parking for the day at all the My Waterfront parking lots.

This is the second year for Open City and it seems the list of participating business has grown, sounds like success to me, so successful they had a similar event in October and called it City Harvest. I’m hoping that event carries on as well.


We’ve already decided we’ll be returning to a couple of our favourites, Sugah! and Bishop’s cellar but we’ll be adding a few new.  And I’m pretty sure I have to visit Harbour City Bar & Grill at the Delta Halifax for their special, the “ Short Rib Poutine”. It's my favourite dish on their menu, I’m sure they put it on special just for me.

Short Rib Poutine from Habour City Bar & Grll

There are so many other tempting offerings around the city I can see the day might end in a food coma when we crash at our downtown home for the night, the Delta Barrington.

So wear your comfy walking shoes, buffet pants, bring some cash and get ready to sample Halifax like a tourist for a day and feel the Local Love.

Check out the website I Love Local Halifax

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Ultra Thin Crust Pizza

I love pizza. If I had to pick a food to live on for the rest of my life it would be pizza. What can’t you put on top of all that cheesy, bready goodness? Nothing! And yet, it is my nemesis. Typically pizza is so calorie laden and full of processed meats as to make any nutritional value negligible. The first time Brian and I made a pizza together, I swear, the toppings were 2 inches thick. Not a fan, I come from the school of thought that (contrary to the AT&T commercial) less is more, especially when it comes to pizza.
I did manage to get B to pare down the amount of toppings. Yet, when I once put our recipe into the Weight Watchers recipe builder I found that one slice from a 12 inch pizza, cut into 6 slices was 21 points. Yikes! Somehow I had to create a pizza that satisfied the palate without filling the calorie bank. 

My initial experiments were my version of a pizza margherita. Using a flour tortilla as the base, my toppings were slices of tomato and basil leaves from the garden and thin slices of fresh mozzarella. This was my go to lunch once the tomatoes in my garden were ripe. But Brian was not a fan. No meat!

The resort at which we stayed in Cuba served up a nice ultra thin crust pizza for lunch. We had them three of four times and both agreed we had to try recreating them at home. My sister had been making ultra thin crust pizza for some time so I asked how she did it. She explained that she used Buddy Valastro’s (the Cake Boss) dough recipe and divided it into six portions. She rolls the dough so thin you can see through it, each portion makes about a 12” pizza.
I found the dough recipe online, cut it in half, used all purpose flour instead of unbleached and now have a new Friday night favourite. Done right, I am able to get 3 pizzas from half the recipe. What is not used can be frozen. I also use a partially skimmed milk mozzarella so now we have a pizza with less calories eaten with less guilt.

Another recent discovery I made was pizza sauce in a squeezable bottle. I usually get the Compliments brand from Sobeys and get 3 – 4 pizzas covered with a bottle.  If we have a good tomato crop, I will make my own sauce and freeze it in portions for one pizza.

For the very best results of a nice crispy crust, you need a pizza stone and peel. I’ve had both for years now and love them. Just make sure you’ve got the peel well floured or covered in corn meal before placing the dough and building the pizza so it slides off onto the stone easily.
For toppings, your imagination is the limit. Our standards are Brothers pepperoni, lots of mushrooms, green pepper, thinly sliced onion and a few bacon bits. If I’m making pizza just for myself, some of my favourite toppings are thinly sliced tomatoes, ham & pineapple (do not scoff), switch out regular pizza sauce for BBQ sauce and top with chicken, cheese & veg. Sometimes I’ve used feta or blue cheese instead of mozzarella.

What are some of your favourite pizza topping combinations?

Pizza Dough

  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • ½  tsp sugar
  • 1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
  • About ½ cup lukewarm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Makes 2 – 3 Ultra thin crust pizzas


Put the yeast in stand mixer bowl. Warm 1/4 cup water (Approx 110° F) and pour it over the yeast, add sugar. Stir and let proof for 10 minutes.

Add the flour, remaining water, salt and olive oil to the yeast mixture in the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Paddle on low speed until the mixture comes together. Switch to the dough hook attachment and continue on medium-low speed until the dough comes together in a ball, another 3-4 minutes. Check the dough: If it’s too dry, mix in a bit more water. If too sticky, add more flour.  Continue with dough hook another 3 minutes.
Flour work surface. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball. Lightly grease a bowl with olive oil, set the ball of dough in the bottom of the bowl and lightly coat with oil, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Let rise by about half its size, 30-45 minutes. (If the house is too cold I sometimes turn the heat on in the oven til it warms a bit then turn it off and put the dough in the oven to rise.)

Clean and re-flour your work surface and transfer the dough to the surface. Cut the dough into thirds (or desired portions), and form into tight balls to press out the excess air. Let rest 10 -15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450° F with pizza stone in oven.

For ultra thin crust roll the dough as thinly as you like into a 10 - 12 inch circle. Placed rolled pizza crust onto well floured pizza peel with one edge slightly over the end of the peel. Add desired pizza toppings.  When oven has heated, carefully remove pizza stone and slide pizza from peel onto the stone.

Return stone to oven. Bake pizza for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is browned and crispy.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Celebrating Earth Day

At some point in my life, I’m sure the romantic ideal of living off the grid appealed to me. To live in a cabin in the woods, growing and foraging for food, hunkering down in the winter around the blazing wood stove and tanning hides to make my own clothes. And then age, knowledge and reality set in. Living off the grid means you pretty much spend every waking minute maintaining gardens, foraging for food, checking the traps, getting firewood and hauling water, just to survive. Yeah, I watch Yukon Men. 

I spent a good bit of time camping in tents, both with my family as a child and with Girl Guides as a leader. I picked up a few good survival skills and numerous life skills along the way and enjoyed many a wilderness experience for a weekend or even a week at a time. When B and I first met we enjoyed camping in a tent, up until a couple of years ago when I found it increasingly difficult to haul myself out of the tent in the wee hours to make my way to the bathroom. Now my idea of roughing it is having a hotel room without a Jacuzzi tub.
Actually, it’s not that bad. There are always the weekends at the cottage to give me a little taste of living off the grid. It’s really more of a rustic cabin built by B and his brothers several years ago. No electricity, no running water and an outhouse. It’s a good big cabin, with a livingroom/kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom (room with a bathtub and a solar shower bag hanging from the ceiling) and a huge loft as an extra sleeping area.

We were there this past weekend to celebrate Earth Day. Not really. We were there for our annual First Fishing of the Season Weekend. We go mid April pretty well every year. B and I and whoever else in the extended family wants to do a little fishing and have a lot of fun. We’ve had upwards of 8 or 9 people on different occasions but this year there were just 5 of us, and really only B and I til late Saturday afternoon.

We had a foggy drive to the cabin and arrived at dusk. It was a very spooky atmosphere with the fog on the river. We unloaded the car, got the wood stove going, plugged the lights into the battery and proceeded to sanitize the kitchen. Yeah, another joy of rustic living, mouse poop, it’s everywhere. We grab a bucket of water from the brook nearby for cleaning and bring it to a boil on the propane stove. Once the place is warmed up and sanitized we have just enough time to read our books (he the traditional type, me a Kobo reader) and then off too bed. 
Saturday is another drizzly day, not suitable for fair-weather fisherfolk.  We head into town for dinner supplies and a nice hot coffee at the local Irving station. On our way back we make a stop for drinking water at a nearby spring. Nothing better than fresh spring water for drinking. The afternoon is spent reading, watching the rain and listening to the squirrel, who seems to have moved into the upstairs loft, complaining about his new downstairs neighbours.

The rest of the gang arrived late Saturday afternoon. Typically we fish during the day and in the evenings we have a great huge bonfire, toast some marshmallows, make s'mores, maybe have a few games of cribbage and imbibe a few too many adult beverages. With the poor weather during this particular weekend, the evenings consisted mostly of the latter.The battery didn't last too long into the second evening so candles shed light on the indoor party.

Sunday was a better day and we all managed to make a few casts into the cold river waters. There were a few May flies on the water but we weren't seeing too much evidence of the fish taking them. In the end, I was the only one that hooked one poor trout. Two or three of the same size might have made a good snack but figuring that wasn't going to happen, I released him to let him fatten up for another day. 

I do enjoy these weekends at the cottage and would likely spend more time there but for one thing, the outhouse. Not the most delightful but certainly one of the more necessary places to have at a camp. I always feel like I want to slip into the rubber boots and hazmat suit, a respirator wouldn't go astray either. In the Spring it's a cold damp trudge up the hill and the summers bring battles with the spiders and flies for squatting rights.

So if I were ever to live off the grid, the first thing I would invest in?  A composting toilet. I could lug spring water everyday and cook over a wood fire for the rest of my life but an indoor toilet is the creature comfort I have come to believe I cannot live without.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Saltscapes Expo

If you never go to another expo, tradeshow or fair again, you must go to the Saltscapes East Coast Expo. This expo encompasses all the rest and IMHO, does it best. 2013 marks the 9th for this exposition of everything east coast. I discovered the expo a few years ago after I moved to NS and started subscribing to the Saltscapes magazine.

As you walk through Exhibition Park you will discover the five different categories; Savour the Flavour, Unique Retail, Home, Cottage & Garden, Culture, Music & Travel and finally Living Healthy in Atlantic Canada.

Savour the Flavour

This might just be my favourite part of the expo. Here you will find producers and purveyors of Altlantic Canadian food, wine, beer, spirits and other beverages. You can sample your way through tasty seafood tidbits, locally raised meat, or chef inspired morsels from many Nova Scotia restaurants. A must stop for us is the Tangled Garden booth to sample and buy some of their herb infused liqueur and jelly. There's a reason why they were featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Many of our favourite Nova Scotia wines are represented and a bottle or two of L'Acadie Blanc or Baco Noir always seem to make it into my shopping bag. Be sure to take in the culinary seminars, competitions and demonstrations featuring Atlantic Canadian Chefs.

Unique Retail

Want to get a little head start on your Christmas shopping? This is your spot. Everything from fine art to door mats, hand crafted jewelry to soap, something to spice up your dinner or your wardrobe, ironwork sculptures and garden furniture, it’s all here. Stop by Paul Hannon’s booth and check out his colourful art. I have a print of one of his works hanging in my kitchen, love his use of primary colours and local scenic vistas.

Home, Cottage & Garden

Are you thinking of renovating your kitchen or bathroom? Want to find the best plants for your landscaping project? Thinking a hot tub is the perfect addition to your cottage? Or maybe you’re looking to build or buy. This section of the expo has you covered. At past expos there have been gardening seminars at which I’ve picked up some good ideas. Also found an ideal deck design for my wish list.

Culture, Music & Travel

This is where the expo really shines. Representatives from every possible east coast destination are here to showcase the best we have to offer. Tourism groups, accommodation proprietors, tour operators and entertainment venues give you just a taste of what awaits you in their part of the world. All four Atlantic provinces are well represented. But wait, there's more, you can also find out more about the Gaspe, Iles de la Madeleine, Maine and even Iceland, exotic locations only a short trip from home.
Music and dance from the various regions can be heard and seen on the main entertainment stage or in the various destination locations. I usually run into a familiar face or two from home (PEI) and catch up on news. I've found lots of staycation ideas and more than once found myself saying "I didn't know we had that here in the Maritimes". Every year I take one of the Icelandair brochures and one day I might just make the trip.

Living Healthy

Just when you think you've see it all and your feet are getting a little tired, you stumble across the Healthy Living venue. Here you can find lots of businesses and organizations to help you keep fit, deal with health issues or advise how to avoid them. Sign up for the Bluenose Marathon or learn about sleep disorders. Healthy eating is important and here you might just meet a local farmer who is happy to discuss the fresh, healthy food being produced locally. You might want to make a stop at the Island Abbey Foods Science booth, their Honibe dried honey products made it to the Dragon's Den and their throat lozenges have got me through more than a few colds.

Make a Day Of It

Or a weekend. It takes us about three hours just to meander through the whole expo. One could easily spend the whole day taking in the various seminars and demonstrations, never mind enjoying the entertainment and striking up conversations with the many exhibitors. There are lots of samples to taste and numerous draws to be entered besides the main door prize draws. I would suggest doing up labels with your name and phone number to enter all the draws or you may find yourself getting writer's cramp after the first hour.

Another suggestion, buy your tickets in advance online, there can be quite a long lineup develop at certain times of the day. Purchase tickets online here. You can save $1.50 on a single day admission of $13.50.  

Want to keep up on the latest news, visit the Saltscapes Facebook page here and the Saltscapes website here.

Follow on twitter @saltscapes and #saltexpo.

Live in the Toronto area? Next year you can enjoy the Saltscapes Toronto Expo travelling show, this is a pared down version of the east coast show and a bi-annual event. Check the website often to find out the 2014 date.

So put on your comfy walking shoes, wear your buffet pants, grab a couple cloth shopping bags (you'll come home with a ton of brochures if not any goodies) and come on out to Exhibition Park April 26, 27 & 28, 2013.  I'll guarantee you're bound to learn something new about the east coast and leave with a head full of ideas to keep you going til next year's expo.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Hug your children, give them hope

My mind has been wrapped up with the Rehtaeh Parsons story this week.  No matter where you live in the world you’ve likely heard the story, it’s made international news. Her story breaks my heart. I do have some hope that justice will prevail. What makes me most sad however, was the incessant bullying and taunting she endured. I can only imagine how despondent she felt when her fellow students and so called friends participated in and prolonged the abuse.
I don’t want to paint all young people with the same brush. I’m betting the majority are pretty darned good kids, in fact I’m counting on it.
When I was a child, the stereotypical bully was the hulk of a boy who used physical intimidation and ridicule to make himself look superior. For me the bully came in the form of the pretty rich girl who teased and made fun of how I looked and what I did. It wasn’t just me she bullied but some days it seemed that way. There were others who teased and joked at my expense and when I reacted, accused me of not being able to take a joke or they excused it by saying they were just kidding. It was hurtful and may have had some lasting effects. I remember the teenage angst, the embarrassment and some days thinking I just wanted to die. But I muddled through with the support of some good friends and mentors and never lost hope. Like most young people, all I wanted was to fit in and be loved.
I am no angel, I confess I have been cowardly, have ridiculed or judged others behind their back. I do my very best not to say something hurtful to another or make a joke at another’s expense. Living by the golden rule is something I strive for and yes, some days I fail. I still run into the occasional adult bully hiding behind the same old excuses. Shame on them. 

Today, bullying has been ratcheted up several notches. It’s not just the mean girls anymore, social media has widened the scope exponentially. We can feel helpless, even hopeless. But let’s not wallow in that hopelessness, let’s strive to make change. Let each of us make a commitment to live by the golden rule, to treat others as we want to be treated. Let’s not remain silent when we see abuse. Parents, please be vigilant, know what your children are doing and experiencing in their lives. Talk to your children about consequences.  Love them, hug them and tell them no one has the right to bully and abuse them. Don’t let Rehtaeh and Amanda Todd & Jamie Hubley have died in vain. 
Please remember, just because everyone is laughing, doesn’t mean it’s funny.

Monday, 8 April 2013

National Grilled Cheese Month

What is it about being sick that makes us yearn for the comfort foods of our youth and our moms to spoil us. And of all things to be suffering with, an earache. If that doesn't scream " I want my mommy!" I don't know what does.  And why would the doctor prescribe ear drops instead of oral antibiotics for an adult? How inconvenient, especially since I have to put them in both ears, thankfully I have B to help out. Hate the feeling of the drops going in the ears, sure does bring back the memories of mom dropping the warm oil in my ears when I had earaches as a child.

So what do I crave when I'm sick? Well what is more quintessential as comfort food then the grilled cheese sandwich? Maybe a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. But today, all I wanted was the sandwich.  Grilled cheese has come a long way since the days of my childhood. Artisanal bread, hundreds of varieties of cheese and all sorts of additives, some best left to the imagination. And while I have experimented with many combinations of each, I always come back to my favourite, the egg dipped grilled cheese, with a side dollop of ketchup for dipping. And this is what I had for breakfast this morning. 

B sticks to his favourite of white bread and Kraft (and they must be Kraft) Cheese Slices. From this he never wavers except to occasionally add a couple slices of bacon.

Now I shall lie on the couch, wrapped in my blankie with cotton stuffed in my ears and in lieu of cartoons I will watch the Food Network for the rest of the day

Egg Dipped Grilled Cheese

  • 1 Egg lightly beaten with a teaspoon of milk
  • Two slices of bread
  • Old Cheddar sliced about 1/8" - 1/4" inch thickness
  • 1 TBSP Butter
  1. Melt butter in heated frying pan
  2. Soak bread slices in egg mixture
  3. Place egg side down in pan and add cheese slices.
  4. Cover with second slice of bread.
  5. When first side is a golden brown flip the sandwich and finish cooking til cheese has melted.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

In Case Of Emergency

Most of us in Nova Scotia and in the rest of the Maritimes have been closely following the story of the senior gentleman that drove off the end of a ferry into a river in Cape Breton last week. With swift currents and ice hindering the search, it took more then a week to find the vehicle and it's driver at the bottom of the river. What I found most disturbing was that it took a few days before there was any idea of who might have been in the vehicle and it was 3 days before his family even knew he was missing.

As someone who has done a fair bit of solo travel, it reminded me how important it is to let someone know when and where you are going and when you'll be back. I'm not talking about everytime you leave the house but any time you'll be going away for a day or more, doesn't matter how old you are.

As we age and retire from the daily work routine, as partners pass away, children move out and we are left on our own, there is an increased risk of someone not noticing if something is amiss. More often, medical emergencies arise, leaving us unable to speak for ourselves or alerting help. There have been stories in the news of seniors being dead for weeks in their homes before being discovered, while rare and the extreme it is not out of the realm of possibility for some. If you don't have a regular routine that brings you in contact with others on a daily basis, find some way to check in with someone every day or two. Maybe chat with a neighbour, get involved with a senior's group or regularly call a distant family member or friend. If you live next to a senior that doesn't seem to have frequent visitors or go out much, maybe you could become their “lifeline”.

And, no matter what age, always, always, carry ID with you. Whether out walking the dog, going for a bike ride or just a quick run to the store. If something happens that you can't speak for yourself, emergency response will look for some identification. You might have seen an email going around that you should put an ICE (In case of emergency) contact on your cell phone for just such an instance.

While travelling, I carry a laminated photocopy of my passport ID page with emergency information on the back. That ID comes with me everywhere. When I travelled solo, I would always try to make friends with couples or groups of people wherever I was staying. I would make plans to meet up with them for a drink before dinner every day or have breakfast together. When I was going on an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef, I started chatting with a couple on our way out to the reef. There were a few hundred people on the boat so I asked that they meet me at a certain spot on the boat on the way back, just to make sure someone would know if I was missing. Of course this was only a few weeks after a couple had been left behind on a diving expedition to the reef and were never found.

“Call us when you get home.” My parents still request that we call when we arrive safely home. It only takes a minute and keeps them from worry. A good habit to get into.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Fearless in the Kitchen

Back in my 20's I met a gal who admitted she literally didn't know how to boil water. She was 23, going to move into her own apartment but was going to take a cooking course before hand. Her mother had done all of the cooking, laundry and cleaning for her, she knew nothing on how to cope on her own. At that moment I silently thanked my mother for letting me loose in her kitchen, regardless of how much extra work it made for her.

I think the first thing I made at home was chocolate chip cookies, not sure what I did wrong but they melted into a paper thin, chocolate globbed mess, the first of many cooking fails in my life. I learned to make french toast at guide camp and we probably had french toast for many Sunday breakfasts after that. Later, in Home Ec class, I learned to make a cheese souffle that turned into a frequent Sunday brunch dish. Occasionally, in my early teens I was left at home on a Sunday, on those days my friend Karen and I made a meal of buttered minute rice. My current Food Network addiction has encouraged many Sunday afternoon experiments in the kitchen, some complete failures, others becoming part of our regular meal repertoire. It's not always pretty or ladylike (just ask B what he's heard coming from the kitchen) but always a learning experience.

If I remember correctly I think my first cookbook came from my Aunt Eileen as a graduation present, The Joy of Cooking. I still have that well worn volume and learned many of the basics from it. When Aunt Eileen's children were young, I would go over and help with the baking.  She had an old recipe for molasses cookies in which you added baking soda to molasses in a pan on the burner (don't try this at home). We had a great laugh when the whole thing bubbled up over the pan and over the stove top. 

Then my Aunt Betty turned me on to the Best of Bridge series of cook books. I used many of those recipes for dinner parties and pot lucks. And then, in the eighties, my Aunt Lorraine was my mentor in the kitchen and introduced me to Martha Stewart's cook books. Aunt Lorraine always made me whip cream with a hand beater and she always gave the job to me because I "was so good at it", til I finally caught on and whipped it into butter. Don't think she asked after that. Of course Aunt Kitty was always good for some ooey gooey squares recipes.

The men in my family are no strangers to the kitchen either. Dad was the chief cook for Sunday breakfast, preparing the eggs and crispy bacon. Once when my mom was away, he made hamburgers and apple pie for dinner for us kids. He had followed a recipe for each but put a tablespoon of salt in the hamburgers rather then a tablespoon which made them rather inedible but the apple pie was great! Uncles Donnie & Paul each created seafood chowder to die for and Uncle Bob did lamb on the rotisserie grill that was beyond anything I had ever tasted before.

My mother was very resourceful, it couldn't have been easy feeding a family of five on a budget but I always remember eating well. It was amazing what she could do with a can of tuna or pound of ground beef. I remember lots of casseroles and one pot dishes, most of them containing a can of Campbell's soup, either tomato or cream of mushroom. There was my brother “Rob's Favourite Casserole”, that's actually what I remember calling it, layers of sliced potatoes, carrots, peas and ground beef with a can of tomato soup poured over it. I recall having “American Chili” quite a bit, again using tomato soup and macaroni noodles instead of kidney beans. Lasagna made from the recipe on the box of Catelli noodles. A box of Dainty Chinese Fried Rice with hamburger was something I looked forward to, especially with a piece of buttered home made bread.

One of the favourite comfort foods of my youth is what mom called Swiss Steak. It's a mushroom sauce that can be used with steak, pork or chicken. I still frequently make this quick and simple dinner. I always make enough sauce so that I can have just the sauce and rice for lunch the next day.

So parents, though it may be messier and more time consuming, please let your children into the kitchen to help with meal preparation. Let them experiment and fail and try again. You may just be nurturing the next top chef.

Pork Chops in Mushroom Sauce

  • One can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • One medium pepper sliced in sticks
  • One medium onion sliced thick
  • 12 button mushrooms sliced thick

  • ¼ cup flour
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 pork chops or meat of your choice (beef, pork or chicken)

  1. Mix salt & pepper into flour.
  2. Coat the meat in flour (You can use whole steaks, pork chops or chicken breasts or chop up into smaller pieces before coating).
  3. In a large fry pan over medium heat add oil & brown meat.
  4. Put meat aside add more oil and sautes pepper, onion & mushroom til soft.
  5. Add ½ cup water to pan.
  6. Stir in contents of one can cream of mushroom soup.
  7. Add meat back into pan.
  8. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes til sauce is reduced and meat is fully cooked.
  9. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Best Value For Your Vacation $$

Playing the last minute travel game is a delicate balance; don't wait long enough and you pay more then you could, wait too long and the best places get booked up. If you have your heart set on a particular place or are travelling with a group then you are best to book well in advance. Most companies will offer discounts and incentives for early booking or large groups.

With just the two of us, we are relatively flexible with where and when we travel. I do have some requirements, we tend to stick with 4 star resorts and like to travel in February. I check online sites daily, and are my go to sites. The last few years we've booked an Air Canada Vacations package. We have found some good deals with ACV and feel confident flying with Air Canada, so far we have had excellent experiences with them. Once I find a package at a price I am happy with, I contact our neighbour who also happens to be a TPI travel agent, Debbie Ford, I like the security of having someone to rely on if things go wrong while travelling and generally TA's can match any deal you find online.

The key is to book a place you are happy with, at a price you are willing to pay. If you are not sure about a particular resort, has thousands of reviews on pretty well any resort around the world. The trick to reading and understanding reviews is to read multiple, look to see how the majority of reviewers have rated the resort and take those as the most likely reality. Keep in mind, what you are looking for in a vacation may be the opposite of what someone else is looking for, that's why all reviews, good and bad have some value. The forums are also great for asking questions of experienced travellers. I use it extensively, whether I'm booking a hotel in DT Halifax or and AI in the Caribbean.  A little research can help with meeting expectations and avoiding disappointment. 

From the East Coast Canada you are going to get your better deals just about anytime other than the first three weeks of March, schools in NS, NB and PEI all have breaks in March. I tend to find good deals a couple weeks out but if you're not fussy about where you stay and flexible on when you can leave, you can find smokin' last minute deals two or three days before departure. Right now you can get in to some 5 star resorts departing in the next few days from Halifax for under $1500 for two people taxes in. Warning, once you've booked at a price you are happy with, don't keep looking, that occasionally leads to buyer's remorse.

In my experience, if you can book an All Inclusive vacation at a good price, it's about the best value vacation you can get, anywhere.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Blau Costa Verde, Cuba

More about the Blau Costa Verde Beach Resort....

The grounds are beautiful with lovely gardens throughout. I love the layout of the place, as it is now, it is such that you are never more then a few minutes walk from anything, including the beach.

The main building houses reception, lobby bar, shops, internet room, a small stage used for the evening shows during inclement weather, the main buffet restaurant, as well as guest rooms. There are 6 blocks of rooms in the old part of the resort, these are connected by covered pedways so you can travel to the main areas under cover, great during inclement weather.

View from our room 5314
This trip we were in Building 5 on the third floor just above the main buffet. The room was refurbished within the last couple years. The bathroom had not been renovated and could probably use one. There was occasional noise from the 24 hour snack bar and pool area but after midnight it's generally pretty quiet. We liked the room location, easy access to all areas of the resort. The room is high enough that you do get a small view of the ocean but it's not something I would bother paying extra for. Absolutely no complaints about housekeeping, A/C, water availability or pressure. The water did sometimes run hot and cold but this was usually right before dinner when the showers are probably used the most. Never saw a bug of any kind in our room.

There is plenty of closet and drawer space for two people. The beds, two twin beds pushed together, were hard but I never had a problem getting a good night’s sleep. There were new bed covers and pillows this year, a nice improvement. There is a fridge stocked with soft drinks, beer and bottled water daily. There is a safe in the closet, TV with couple Canadian channels,HBO, CNN and a few other channels including Spanish, German and Chinese, and a hair dryer in the bathroom. The bathtub/shower is quite deep so it may be a chore for some with restricted mobility to get in and out of. That being said, there were handles on the tub and wall to assist with getting in and out.

There are lots of organized activities up around the pool and down on the beach. There is a listing of activities outside the main buffet. Announcements were made at the stage when an activity was about to begin. There are games and contests throughout the day and before the show in the evening certificates are presented to those who participated. We don't participate in the organized activities but there seems plenty to do if you wanted to be active. 

We couldn't have ordered better weather, over 30 degrees Celsius and sunny every day. It's not always that way, we have experienced rain and cool temps on other visits, sad but true. My best advice, don’t stress about the weather. If you get bad weather, there’s no one to blame. It’s not the resort’s fault, or the country’s fault or your tour company, nobody can guarantee good weather, you pay your money you take your chances. You have two choices, you can sit around, moan and be miserable or make the best of the situation. Participate in the activities, get to know some of your fellow guests, your server, housekeeper or bartender. There’s a bit of a library down at the beach if you want to find something to read. The gym, pool table and ping pong table are all under cover so there’s no excuse!

Every day there are crafts people that set up in the hall between the lobby and the buffet. I usually just pick up the few souvenirs I want from them but this year we took a trip in to Guardalavaca on the double decker bus. During the week we were there it left the Blau at 9:15, 10:15 and 11:15, the cost is 5 CUC per person for the return ticket. We took the 10:15 bus in and we met it at 1:30 p.m. to return. There are many crafts people in the market so there's a bit more variety and the prices a little more competitive.

We spend most of our time at the beach as opposed to the pool. We usually go snorkelling a couple times a day. We brought our own masks & snorkels and if you plan on doing much snorkelling, I would suggest doing the same. We brought a couple of air mattresses which we put on the hard plastic loungers, made for a more comfortable seat if you were there any length of time. We also took advantage of a sail on the catamaran but ran out of time to use the pedal boats.

The Cuban Day party on the beach Friday is great fun. They had a pig roasting all day down by the beach. Later in the day they set up on the beach and serve up the pork on a bun. There were also a couple bands on the beach, one wandering around and the other one playing near the beach bar had an old calliope. There are a few demos set up on pressing sugar cane, making coffee the Cuban way and of course making mojitos.

We didn't see all the evening shows but what we did see we enjoyed. The local talent is amazing, musicians, singers, dancers, they were very entertaining. There are usually bands playing in the restaurants in the evening.

Lobby bar, the calm before the chaos
There are two bars in the central area of the resort, the 24 hour snack bar and the lobby bar. We generally would have our pre-dinner drink in the lobby bar and after dinner cappuccino and drinks in the snack bar. Be sure to get Rosa in the Lobby bar to make you a mojito, they are amazing. We had some pretty nice Spanish coffees there as well. They have a drink menu with quite a variety of cocktails available, something for everyone. There is a bar at the beach, drinks there are served in small 8 oz plastic glasses, even the beer. Most Canadians will tell you, it's recommended you take a thermal mug for use on the beach. It's easier to transport your drink to your chair and it keeps your drink colder longer. I generally got a lemon slushie when I hit the beach in the morning and there was still ice in it by afternoon.

Things are changing at the Blau. I think there will be plenty of trial and error going on so things we experienced may be different on any given day as construction progresses and new areas open up.

I am including here the recipe for a mojito, my favourite drink while in Cuba and with a potted mint plant on my back deck it is now my favourite summer drink at home.


Put 1 tsp sugar (or as much as you like) along with a couple sprigs of fresh mint in a high sided glass. Muddle these together (you have to get yourself a muddler!)

Add ice to the glass, 1.5 ounces of rum, juice of half a lime and top up with soda water. Give it a quick stir and voila, a refreshing summer drink!