Friday, June 26, 2015

Brownie and Fruit Pizza Dessert Recipe

Now that we have our new deck, it will mean more summer entertaining, parties and BBQs, yippee!  We have our regular go-to dishes and desserts but I also wanted to add some new meal and dessert recipes to choose from! This is truly one of our most favourite, simple and delicious desserts and will absolutely be serving this during the summer! 

This brownie and fruit pizza dessert is not only simple, but fun to make with the kids! Jayden and Zack's Godmother came over with the ingredients to make this delicious kid- and adult-friendly summer treat!  The kids loved to help cut the fruit and ultimately decorate the brownie "pizza" any way they wanted to! The best part will be enjoying this together on our new deck on a warm summer night or taking it to a pot luck bbq!

Enjoy!
brownie and fruit pizza

Ingredients:
Brownie Mix (we chose a low fat mix)
Cream Cheese brick (we chose light variety, keep at room temperature before baking)
3/4 cup of sugar (or Splenda to keep it low sugar)
Fruit- strawberries, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, bananas, etc.
 
Directions:
1.  Make the brownie according to directions on the box and bake in a round pizza baking sheet.  Bake and let it cool before creating your pizza.
2.  Mix 3/4 of a brick of cream cheese with 3/4 cup of sugar until creamy.  Set aside.
3.  Get the kids to wash and help cut the fruit.  Leave blueberries and raspberries whole.  Cut strawberries, kiwis and bananas into thin slices and grapes in half.
4.  When brownie has cooled, gently spread the cream cheese and sugar mixture across the top for a thin layer.
5.  Let the kids decorate the top of the pizza by making shapes, strawberry flowers, writing their initials in blueberries or any abstract design (you can add in some summer math practice too)!

Be prepared for some "quality assurance" when you kids eat the fruits while they decorate!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Incredible Summer Pineapple Dessert Recipe

Okay, this one is totally NOT on my diet, but I had to share my mom's recipe for this incredible summer pineapple dessert.

Some people might call this Pineapple "Delight" but in all seriousness, it is worthy of a much better name, so I call it Pineapple Orgasm. My mom makes this dessert throughout the summer for her guests, and they keep coming back for more and more!!


Ingredients: 
1½ cups of graham cracker crumbs
1 cup of butter
2 eggs
1½ cups of icing sugar
250 ml whipping cream
1 can drained crushed pineapple

Directions: 
1.  Make a crust of 1½ cups of graham cracker crumbs and just a bit less than ½ cup of butter.
2.  Put it in a springform pan, so it is easy to serve. (A square or rectangular pan would work too.) Chill.
3.  Cream ½ cup of softened butter. Then mix with 2 unbeaten eggs and 1½ cups of icing sugar. Spread on top of the crust and chill again until firm.
4.  Whip 250ml of whipping cream and fold in 1 can of drained crushed pineapple.
5. Add to the top and chill.

Enjoy...I promise you'll want multiple pieces :-)

Finding the Right Look and the Right Prescription at Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry

I've been struggling with my eyes since I turned 40. 

Wearing contacts my whole life, I really didn't want to even consider the fact that I'd have to give them up for glasses everyday, when I started having headaches working on the computer. I've been really struggling with finding the right prescription that helps me with distance but also allows me to work comfortably at the computer. Don't even get me started on the number of people who suggested bifocals and reader glasses...I'm not going there (yet)!

I have a mad crush on my contact lenses and will never break up with them, but I have to admit that I do really like to switch up my look and wear my glasses out in the world. Most days, I only wear my glasses in bed at night to binge-watch my favourite shows on Netflix. 

Living with squinting while I drive and headaches on the computer led me to jump at the chance to visit Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry in Markham and have my eyes checked by Dr. Kevin. Not only is he hilarious, but he was understanding when I shared my concerns and he helped me find the balance I was looking for! Best of all, he gave me a week of daily contacts in my new prescription to try out! 
Having designer obsession with sunglasses (I have my Tom Ford and Marc Jacob faves), I'm becoming quite the snob when it comes to eyewear, so I was thrilled to see the selection AND the expertise on staff to help me decide. And just like many things I do, I took to social media to see if my friends had any opinions and boy did they ever! Luckily, the majority agreed on A and those are the Prada glasses I went with!

Difficulty in making decisions is just one more side effect of turning 40...I can't seem to decide on anything alone! Luckily my bestie and my boys were at Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry too and helped me decide. I was so interested to hear the "science" behind picking a frame and buying glasses that you love. Here are the tips from the frame stylists at Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry;


1. Face shape- frames that contrast the natural shape of your face is quite completing. For example, square shaped faces would best be suited with oval or round rectangles and rounder faces- best suited with rectangular frames. That's why it's great to be helped with an experienced frame stylist to help guide in your selection.

2.  Eyes should be well centered in the frame- frames too wide may make the eyes seem too close together.

3.  Don't be afraid to have fun- glasses are such an important accessory worn on a daily basis for many, so having 1-2 pairs to change up the mood or feel for the day is great. Glasses are an investment and since they are worn on your face, it should also reflect your personality. Don't be afraid of colour, bold looks and trying something out of your comfort zone.

4.  Sunglasses- these are just as important as your regular glasses. Just like suncreen protects your skin, sunglasses protect your eyes! Have fun with the beautiful bold colours and oversized styles. 

5. Glasses are a great accessory to put a finishing touch on any outfit- you can run out of the house without make up and in sweatshirts and transform the look with a gorgeous pair of glasses.

6. You need more than one pair- we don't own just 1 purse, 1 pair of shoes etc., so why just 1 pair of glasses. Take the chance to switch it up by having a couple of pairs you love or try one simple frame and one more trendy frame to alternate or reflect your mood.

7. You get what you pay for- so good quality lenses and good quality glasses will last you a long time and you will enjoy the comfort and vision. 
The boys want glasses now!

Keep connected to hear the latest trends from the experts. Follow Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry on Facebook and Instagram.

Since you are my friends and family, they’ll give you a 20% discount (valid until July 15th) when you mention my blog.


Don't forget about the man in your life! Enter their fabulous Father's Day contest to win a round of golf at Angus Glen and a pair of Oakley shades. Value of the prize is $600. Click here for more info. Contest ends June 27th, 2015. 

I received my fabulous new glasses in exchange for a review of the amazing service and selection at Shoppes of Angus Glen Optometry. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tips to Help Stay on Budget This Summer


Do you talk to your kids about money? We do.  

We've had times where money was tight, especially during summer months when expenses are through the roof. We’ve taking the opportunity to be honest with our kids about how much things cost and allowed them to be part of the decision-making process. Sometimes it means that they can’t go to the $500 a week camp that their friends are going to but it’s all a chance to help them learn the tough choices we all have to make, when it comes to money. Staying on budget in the summer is very challenging!

Another way we engage the kids in our money-making decisions is by giving them an allowance to start to make their own choices about money decisions. We often remind them to bring their wallets to family outings, on vacation in the summer or even to their camp “tuck shop” to buy a treat. I love watching both boys as they process the pros and cons of taking a crisp bill out of their wallets to pay for something they want or the seeing the agony of deciding to save for something else bigger.

A recent study done by TD Bank, found that 55% of Canadian parents with children under the age of 18 take on additional costs during the summer; in fact, 71% of them spend up to $999 per child. Our family has already booked and paid for the summer camps to keep the kids entertained and busy while Paul and I go to work every day. This study inspired me to calculate our own summer expenses and I was blown away to realize that we had over $2500 in summer costs including; summer camp, summer hockey leagues and tutoring. This is not even considering a family vacation or getaway or the fact that we have to pay for rep hockey this summer and fall! When you consider that our summer is only 2 months in Canada, that’s a tremendous expense!



Tips from TD for Budgeting for Summer Activities:
Half (51%) of surveyed parents found budgeting for these additional summer costs stressful, so after speaking with Linda MacKay, Senior Vice President, Retail Savings and Investing and Shirley Malloy Associate Vice President, Acquisition & Sales Management from TD Canada Trust I have compiled some tips on how to avoid the financial heat wave summer can bring:
  • Get a season's pass for your favourite family experience in the city - our family LOVES our Canada's Wonderland pass. For $70 each, your family can enjoy the park and waterslides all summer! Be sure to eat before you go and you won't have to open your wallet once! Other ideas are the AGO, ROM or the Toronto Zoo.
  • It's never too late to save! Even if you haven't prepared for this summer's expenses, start saving early for next year by putting a little money away each month into your TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account).
  • Shop around for camps that are run through the city or the school board. They are often less money and just as much fun!
  • Check your rewards balance – redeem some of your loyalty rewards, such as points from your First Class Travel Credit Card, to help fund family activities and travel.
  • Don’t schedule the kids to death! Kids just love the FREE fun they can have at the park and with their friends in the neighbourhood, so our boys have chosen ONE summer activity, 3-on-3 hockey, to keep them busy one night a week and stick to our budget.
  • Try some online budgeting tools, like the ones at tdcanadatrust.com, to determine how much you can save at the end of the year, with just a few dollars a week, you could have your summer paid for with savings!
  • File your receipts – some summer costs could be tax deductible as a child care expense or under the child fitness tax credit on your tax return.
  • Investigate the newly increased and expanded UCCB (Universal Child Care Benefit). The new enhancements include kids age 7-18 (it used to stop at age 6). All families will receive a cheque this summer - a nice bonus to cover summer costs or save for the fall programs for the kids!
 How do YOU stay on budget during the summer? Any tips to share?

This post has been sponsored by TD Canada Trust, but the opinions are my own. For more information, please visit http://www.tdcanadatrust.com.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Making the Perfect Gift for a Special Teacher

Is anyone else like me and struggling to find a unique and thoughtful gift for a teacher who has made a difference in your child's life? 

I've thought of just about every kind of gift card, walked the aisles of HomeSense and thought of making a donation but they just don't seem right for Jayden's teacher. This year has been challenging, but positive.  Slow but steady. While the progress hasn't moved quite as quickly as we'd like, Mrs. M has really helped him this year to try his best, focus more in class and help him find success at school. She's completed paperwork that we've needed for referrals, met with me several times and even made several accommodations in class that she knew would help Jayden do well. She took Jayden under her wing and even spoke to me "mom-to-mom" in a way that let me know that she cared for our amazing and creative little boy.

Even though we've decided to move forward with private testing to see if he may be struggling with a learning difference (after academic tests show he is average or above in his knowledge), we know that without her support and open dialogue, he would not be ending off the year feeling like he was successful. We are really proud of the process he's made with the help of a special teacher.


See why this gift means so much to us? 

So on the way home from the first 3 hours of private testing, it hit me...Jayden and I need to create a word cloud and frame it like we did for another special teacher. Handing Jayden the pad and pen, we started to write down the words that came to mind when we thought of Mrs. M.

Armed with the words that represent Mrs. M, we hit my favourite word cloud site, Tagxedo.  You must first download the software, but then the instructions are simple to follow.  

Tips:
1. When you choose CREATE, you can enter the words that you'd like to use to describe the person you are honouring. What are things they love to do with that person?  What silly stories or words describe them?  What are their favourite things? One hint is to not use spaces between phrases (ie.  type "bestteacher" not "best teacher") so that they words stay together in the cloud.

3. Choose a SHAPE that represents the person or the holiday- we used an apple for a favourite teacher and a heart for Valentine's Day.  There are tons of shapes to use, so be creative!  
3. Have fun with themes and colours!  If you will be framing the final image, think of what colour frame you will be using. 
4. Once you create your cloud, remember to save it as a "jpeg" so that you can use it for printing or even photos gifts. Use editing software, like PicMonkey.com to edit and crop the image for 8x10 and upload to any photo printing site (we love to use Costco).
What do you think of our homemade gift for our very special teacher? 

We even made one for Ty's amazing teacher!
 



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Grief is like wearing a new pair of glasses

Grief is like wearing a new pair of glasses that I wear everyday. That's how I explained it to someone the other day. 

It's a lens through which I now see all aspects of my life. It's the experience that I can't escape and that has become a part of who I am.

I'm often reminded of my glasses when I'm on a date with Paul, as we're driving to our destination. Our time together inevitably weaves its way into a discussion about Zack, how much we miss him, the impact of his death on our boys and our own lives. We try to change the subject back to work, our dreams and try desperately to have fun on our date night.

During a discussion about "risky play" outdoors and letting our kids have fun alone at the local creek or park, it's very clear to me that my parenting choices are impacted by my grief. I'm fiercely protective of the boys. The lens through which I make important decisions for my sons is forever tinted because I've lost a child.

I wore my grief glasses last week, during a comedy show about parenting. I was laughing out loud until the comedian mentioned her son's days at SickKids. In that moment, grief hit me again, like a wave. I wasn't the only one in the room who remembered that I had my grief glasses on, as I saw supportive messages come through my phone.

Planning Father's Day for Paul makes me acutely aware that while we continue to celebrate, it's not the same. As I order some family photos as a gift, I'm reminded that now we are four and that our day will include time at the driving range, some homemade gifts and a visit to the cemetery. 
 
There are fleeting moments when my grief might be forgotten, but then in an instant, there is a reminder that it's there and that he's gone.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Family Dinner Time: Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese

Tonight we are excited to have a special dinner with all of us sitting around the table, having our meal together. But this is definitely not the norm during the week. For us, it's Paul's crazy work and travel schedule plus his daily commute downtown that makes it next to impossible to eat more than one meal a week together. We also know that when we DO have a chance to sit together as a family, we engage more, laugh more and even hear stories we otherwise wouldn't have heard. We stay connected to the boys with undivided attention and we really enjoy the time together to go around the table and hear the best and worst parts of each of our days.
For tonight's family dinner, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food; mac and cheese. I've never tried to make it from scratch, but the boys and I wanted to do something together in the kitchen.  We looked around online for some inspiration and really created our own version, below. Now that I'm eating gluten free and low carb, I've been avoiding pasta, but Barilla has a gluten free option made with corn and rice flour for me to try (in small portions of course!), plus one with high protein or even high fibre whole wheat pasta.

Here's our favourite family dinner recipe- homemade baked mac and cheese;


Ingredients:
1 package pasta (I used Barilla Gluten Free Fusilli)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 cups low fat milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
3 cups of any type of shredded cheese (I used what I had in the fridge; mozzarella, marble and old cheddar)
salt and pepper to taste


Directions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.
2.  In a large pot of salted water, half-cook the macaroni noodles.
3.  Whisk the egg and milk together then add melted butter or margarine.  Stir well.
4.  Add 2 1/2 cups of cheese (saving the remaining 1/2 cup) and breadcrumbs to the bowl.  Mix well.
5.  Place the lightly cooked pasta in the prepared baking dish. Pour the egg, crumbs, milk and cheese liquid over the macaroni and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix again.
6.  Top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. 
7.  Bake uncovered, for about 30 or until the top is brown and crispy (if you like it softer, cover for half of the cooking time).

Tip:  You can't go wrong by mixing and matching up the cheeses.  Find what you have in the fridge and don't be afraid to mix a few together!  You can add some kick with a tex mex blend of cheese or stick to just medium cheddar.  It's up to you!
What about you? 

Do you eat dinner together every night? What gets in the way of your ability to have regular family dinners through the week?  
A new study hosted on the Angus Reid Forum for Barilla Canada reveals that although nearly all (96 per cent) Canadian parents surveyed feel sharing meals is important to connecting with their children, less than half (46 per cent) have family meals every day. These stats prove that we are not the only ones that struggle to share the table during the week. Eighty-seven percent of parents also feel that they're more connected to their children's lives when they eat dinner together, so Barilla has launched a new initiative to encourage more families to Share the Table™ (#SharetheTable on Twitter and Instagram). With games to have some fun while you eat, family placemats to create together, and recipes the kids will love.

Here's to more family dinners together!

Don't forget to enter to win one of three trips to Italy! Families are asked to visit Barilla.ca and submit photos or text demonstrating how they are making dinner a more significant, fun and meaningful occasion. Share your photos with #SharetheTable and submissions will be entered to win a trip for four to Italy until July 31, 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Family Fun and Adventure at Blue Mountain in the Summer!

As we plan our summer vacation for this year, we are dreaming about our trip to Blue Mountain two years ago.  The last time we traveled to Blue Mountain together was with our son Zack, who passed away, so this trip was extra special to us.  Not only were we treated to a beautiful two bedroom suite at the Westin, we were given passes to explore all that Blue has to do.  My husband even made up a song "too much to do at Blue" because we just couldn't seem to fit it all into our three days!  From gondolas to mini golf and every adventure in between, we did things we had never done as a family and instantly fell in love with the active side of a #SummeratBlue.

Here is my family's top 3 Reasons to Love Blue Mountain in the Summer;

1.  Facing your fears, together- 
Ty and I are the cautious ones in the family and we were really nervous about the adventures set out for us over our three days at Blue Mountain.  Once we were there, we both realized that we should face our fear of heights and truly experience the trip! Walking across the suspension bridge at the Scenic Caves, mastering the low ropes course in the Blue Mountain Village, enjoying a night time gondola ride with a breathtaking view and even braving the Ridge Runner, Ontario's first mountain roller coaster...we did it all with pride and pushed ourselves to face our fears with shear exhilaration.
face your fears at Blue Mountain
 
2.  Wining and Dining Choices for everyone and every budget-
There is something for all tastes at Blue Mountain.  Fine dining by candlelight, beer and wings on a patio, the BEST pizza at Firehall Pizza Co. or even a quick pita while you explore, there are literally tons of choices for grown ups and the kids!  Don't want to spend a fortune on meals? It's easy to keep to a budget with the kitchenettes available in most accommodations in the Village, so that you can cook your own food. 
dining for everyone at Blue Mountain
 
3.  Keeping active as a family-
Keep the electronics at home and pack your running shoes, because this is an outdoor trip that will keep you active and fit as a family. Whether it was climbing the mountain together along the beautiful paths, paddling a kayak in the Blue Mountain pond or even sliding down the slide at Plunge! Aquatic Centre, we stayed active and had a blast doing it!
activities at Blue Mountain
 
Our amazingly memorable getaway truly showcased all that Blue Mountain has to offer in the "green season".  Not only is Blue Mountain Resort the perfect place for a quick summer escape with the family, it is also ideal for back-to-school weekend breaks for the upcoming fall season or even last-minute end-of-summer retreats with the family. Check out the Blue Mountain Family Packages and don't forget to include the Base Camp Active Pack for your family to take advantage of the activities at the base of the mountain (an $80 value!).

We can't wait to book our next stay!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Favourite Crunchy Asian Slaw Salad Recipe

Who every said salads were boring? Definitely no one that tried this crunchy Asian slaw salad! It's become a staple in our house, especially for summer backyard entertaining! Now that I'm on a great weight loss plan and eating healthy everyday, I want to share some of my favourite salad recipes and go-to meals that keep me on track and don't make me feel like I'm missing out at all!

My girlfriend is famous for making this incredible salad. It's perfect for healthy dinners at home (my kids LOVE it) or an easy and quick option for a "potluck" event. While I can't totally make it as well as she does, I've tried with her recipe below! You will love the Asian flavour and especially the crunch! A great healthy meal choice that keeps you on track!
Ingredients:
For the Dressing
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon peanut butter (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1  large garlic clove, minced

For the Salad
4 cups prepared shredded coleslaw (I use the pre-shredded bags in the grocery store with added veggies)
2 cups prepared shredded carrots (or match size in bags)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup chilled, cooked and shelled edamame
2  medium scallions, finely sliced (optional)
1/2 cup chopped or whole salted peanuts (optional)
 

1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
handful of crunchy Chinese noodles for topping (the best part!)

Instructions:
1. Combine the ingredients to make the dressing.  If adding peanut butter, it takes a while to dissolve.  Set aside.
2. Combine the salad ingredients to make the "slaw".
3.  Add the dressing and toss well. Let sit at least ten minutes so vegetables have a chance to soak up the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. 
4.  This salad actually tastes really good the next day.  Just add in fresh peanuts and crunchy noodles!  Perfect to take to work!