The boot saga continues...

You almost have to laugh at the irony.

Less than 24 hours after I finally posted by "new winter boots" story, what do I notice?

The seam was coming un-stitched on the new ones!

Seriously? Yes. Seriously.

I was on my way out the door - heading to the mall (January is great for sales and I had a few things I wanted to get for the girls) so I didn't stop to change the boots, I just kept going.

After some shopping, I stopped in at Aldo to ask if they would do anything about my little problem.

The sales girls were actually awesome. No need to get pumped up, no need for incredible negotiation skills or even a little rage. They offered to order a new pair for me again (not having my size in the store) but that would mean that I'd have leave in my socks (which in Montreal, in the winter... was not going to happen) and they introduced me to some different but similar models (in hopes of not seeing me again!) that I could exchange the ones I was wearing for...

So it would seem that my little love affair with my full price winter boots has officially been squashed - the flame has been put out.

I now I have NEW new winter boots. I'm happy. The new ones are cute too and I like them... for real. But to be completely honest I'm a little sad all the same. I really loved those boots (they were SO comfortable!). And it's really unfair that I know someone with the exact same ones (but in black) and she has them for longer with NO problems. Sigh...

I guess it just wasn't meant to be!

These boots are made for walking...

It's rare that I buy anything "full price".

I'm the girl who browses through the front of the store but does my real shopping at the back - where the sale racks are. I may even have a weird sickness when it comes to getting a deal.

Just before Christmas, Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy developed the perfect sales tactic for people like me. The idea: Give the customer a coupon for 40% off of one item at regular price, the coupon is good on specific dates only (ex: every Wednesday of December). I'm sure it was a huge marketing success and whoever thought of it got a very nice Christmas bonus (well I hope they did anyway!). Needless to say, I was shopping at Banana Republic and Gap much more than normal because of the promotion. 40% off - I was sure to find something that I needed!

This leads me to the story of my new winter boots...

Here they are... these I actually paid full price for at the beginning of December. I needed new boots, I fell in love and I used a gift card to balance it all out in my mind. The icing on the cake is that they're super comfortable. I think they're the first pair of shoes/boots in years that I haven't had trouble breaking in. They instantly molded to my foot - am-A-zing!

So... you can imagine how irritated I was when less than 3 weeks after buying them, I noticed that the stitching was falling apart on one boot? WHAT? I was not only irritated... I was a little sad that my great boots weren't all I thought they were.

For some reason I think that if I pay full price for something it should be better made... doesn't matter months later (or weeks even) the same item might sell at a discounted price...
...there's just something about paying more that make me think I deserve more.

I pumped myself up to go back to the store where I bought them - ready to argue with the salesperson about how I shouldn't have to pay $140 for something that's going to start falling apart in less than a month - ready to ask for my money back... but really just hoping that they would give me a new pair of the same boots.

There was no heated debate. No argument. My furry was efficiently stifled when the sales girl simply took the boots and told me she would send them to be fixed. I'd have them within a couple days. OK - I thought - that's not too bad - AND I'll get my boots back.

When I went to pick them up, the stitching had not been re-done - the seam had been GLUED. I was a little miffed about that but as I hadn't had the time to "pump myself up" I simply smiled, said thank you and was on my way.

But then the glue came unglued - less than 3 days later. RRRRR.

I marched back into the store (2 kids in tow) within a couple hours of noticing. This time I was ready to ask for my money back. I went up to the cash and told the girl flat out -

"This is the second time I'm bringing these back. They were
supposed to be fixed, but the glue didn't work. I either want my money
back or I want a new pair of boots".

Once again... my furry was unnecessary. The salesgirl barely looked at me, went to the back to see if they had any in my size...and when they didn't, she offered to order them and have them shipped directly to my house. Thank you Aldo salesgirl! (and yes... I did thank her in person)

So now I'm on my second pair of "full price" new winter boots.

And so far so good.


A.O.K "trial" Gourmet (11) Crockpot Braised Lamb Shanks (overdone!)

***For an introduction to A.O.K "trial" Gourmet - click here***

I have never had so much lamb in my life! I don't think I ever ate it growing up and before filling our freezer with the meat from an entire lamb last fall - I think I can count the number of times we prepared lamb meat (usually lamb chops on the BBQ) on one hand.

All of that has changed. I've now tried several lamb recipes (some of which have been photographed and added to my "trial" gourmet series). steaks (or "slices") stews, roasts, kabobs, shepherd's pie, kefta, lamburgers(!)...

Last week it was time to try some shanks. I knew I was would be out for most of the day so I wanted to find a recipe for my slow cooker.... and I found just what I was looking for on the coup de pouce website. I don't know about you, but when I look for recipes I'm almost always looking for 2 things. 1) Do I have the ingredients on hand? and 2) Does it have simple instructions? For this particular recipe I had to substitute ground cumin for the fennel seeds that I didn't have (thanks to a quick Internet search!) --- otherwise the recipe met my search "criteria".

The result was great. It was super easy to make --- A very hearty (perfect for cold winter days) meal. And I'm sure you could easily substitute with a different the meat and it would be just as good!

So... before you start, here's a list of what you'll need. It takes a little under 30-minutes to get the meal put together and in the crock pot. Then the recipe calls for 8 hours + of cooking on low setting.
Just so you know - mine cooked for just under 7 hours and the meat was falling off the bones. I somehow doubt that a coup de pouce recipe (that's been tried in a test kitchen) could be so far off in the cooking time and so I have come to the conclusion that I have a faulty crock pot with a skewed "low" setting.
So... here's the list of ingredients for "Braised Lamb Shanks"(Jarrets d'agneau braisés)
6 lamb shanks (about 4 lbs total)*
(*I only used 2 lamb shanks - big ones!)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds*
(*I substituted with 2 teaspoons of ground cumin)
1 onion (diced)
2 carrots (diced)
2 celery stalks (diced)
6 garlic cloves (finely chopped or crushed)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup red wine
1 can of diced tomatoes (28 oz or 796 ml)
1/4 cup of tomato paste
1/4 cup of flour
3 tablespoons butter (softened)
To prepare your lamb (and other ingredients) for you slow cooker:

1. Prepare vegetables. Dice the onion, carrot and celery. Chop the garlic. Set aside.
2. Pepper the lamb shanks. In a large pot or pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the lamb on all sides (until golden) and place in the slow cooker.

3. Remove some of the grease from the pot and add the rest of the oil (about 1 tablespoon). Add fennel seeds and cook over medium heat about 10 seconds (until they start to pop) I used cumin so I skipped to the next step and added my spice just before putting everything in the slow cooker.

4. Cook onion, carrots, celery, garlic (salt & cumin), stir frequently, for about 5 minutes (or until the onion is tender).

5. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker.

6. Add the wine, diced tomatoes and tomato paste.

7. Cover and let cook up to 8 hours or until the lamb is coming off the bone.

8. Skim the fat off the surface of the mixture. In a small bowl mix together the butter and flour. Add to the mixture and increase to high heat for about 10 minutes (or until sauce thickens).

9. Serve with your choice of side dish. I made plain old white rice.

... and enjoy!

Making the most of naps

( Layla sleeping @ 1 year old)

When it comes to things like "nap time" and "schedules", there's quite a range of parenting approaches and philosophies. I am the type of mom who believes in routine, in flexible schedules and the great importance of naps. I don't know who said it, but I've found it to be very true - "a well rested baby will sleep better" - and be much more pleasant when they're awake!

At 2 years (& 9 months) and 9 months old, Layla and Meaghan are usually great nappers. I say usually because in the last year or so Layla has gone through a few "phases" where we thought she might be giving up her naps and nowadays she generally has good (60-90 minute) naps 4 or 5 out of 7 days a week. I can't really complain because even if she doesn't nap - she has quiet time in her room. Meaghan is still napping in the morning and the afternoon - fantastic!

I'm coming up to the final weeks of my maternity leave with Meaghan. It's hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly... and that she's getting so big... and that I may never do this again... but that's not my point (today. I'll surely share my feeling about all that at some point.). My point is this... after being "off work" for two (combined) years of maternity leave I'm left with the realization that I haven't always made the most of my days and I certainly haven't always made the most of nap time.

So how does one make the most out of naps? At first thought - there is only so much you can do since you're restricted to the house (or the yard... with a monitor). With a little more effort... and sometimes a little more creativity... nap time can be productive, restful or even fun.

Sooooo - I've made a list of some of the things I can do to make the most of nap time...


  1. Bake (cookies, muffins, cake... whatever) or cook (mom/food blogger the naptime chef has this down to a science!)

  2. Clean (de-clutter, dust, vacuum... it's amazing what you can get done 60-90 minutes... if you "focus")

  3. Laundry (maybe this should fall under "clean" but it's a whole other job which - I believe - deserves it's own #!)

  4. Home renovations (sanding, painting, etc.)

  5. Get outside (shovel, tidy the yard - scoop poop, tan, swim, garden... all depends on the weather!!)

  6. One on one time with an older child (Meaghan's morning nap is often craft time with Layla)

  7. Capture memories (order prints of all those digital pictures, organize your photo albums, scrapbook if you're into that...)

  8. Catch up with your "peeps" (e-mail is great... but a phone call usually works better for two-way conversation!)

  9. Catch up online (e-mail, facebook, twitter... etc. be careful though - this has often left me feeling like I wasted nap time clicking one thing to the next)

  10. Foster an interest or a hobby (writing, painting, whatever your pleasure... it may even fall into one of my other categories!)

  11. Curl up with a good book or magazine (self help, fantasy adventure, romance or thriller - once again... whatever your pleasure!)

  12. Watch a movie (illico is fantastic for the last minute chick flick rental if I just want to veg!)

  13. Catch up on your favorite tv series by watching an episode (or 2) online

  14. Bubble bath(as in relax... decompress... fall asleep a little surrounded by aromatherapy and bubbles...)

  15. Nap...too. (sometimes it's just what the doctor ordered and it fights off a looming cold)

  16. Exercise (and then shower!)

  17. Primp a little (straighten or curl your hair, give yourself a facial, cut and paint your nails...)

  18. Shower (as in bathe... get clean... )

  19. Shower for "2" (to save water... OR to Get it on... as in... the best waste of hot water ever!)

  20. One on one time with the husband/wife (What? It doesn't have to be in the shower!!)

6 months... already?

Yesterday was January 18, 2010 and it was my 6 month bloggiversary!

Someone told me that it takes about a year to get your first blog out there - to see if it's something that appeals to others... if you have an audience that extends past your supportive immediate family and close circle of friends. Now that I've been writing fairly regularly for 1/2 of that first year, it seems like it must be time to take stock.

If you look back to my very first post "my first time", I've written about most of the things that I set out to write about... sleeping through the night, my baby is smarter than yours, finding a hobby, recognizing the face in the mirror... and much more (including several on FOOD)! I have yet to find the right approach to topics like "jealous with a capital J" and "loving what he loves" - but it's coming. I promise!

Although this all started as a personal project, a creative outlet... and something to keep my brain cells stimulated while I nurse and coo at my sweet baby - it has quickly become something I not only really enjoy but an interesting learning experience. I'm discovering the world of blogging, twitter and a network of intelligent and accomplished mommy-bloggers who write beautifully and who for some - it's a full time job! (On a side-note here, I've been toying with the idea of doing a monthly post on some of the best mommy bloggers I've found so that some of you can see what I'm talking about... à suivre!)

If you check out my profile, you know that I have a background in communications and PR - I've attended some excellent workshops on social media - but this - this virtual mommy/ social media/ MACHINE (!) makes me feel like I'm completely inexperienced (or already a fossil - at 28!) in so-called communications and learning on the fly. On the bright side it's been a very unique opportunity for me to do some"professional development" during my year off work. Not bad for job love, huh?!

A lot of people have been really nice. Encouraging me, complimenting my writing style (excessive punctuation and all!) and best of all - telling me that they really enjoy the content - and that after reading my posts they're often left thinking "me too" and feeling a little less alone in the kind of stuff that they're going through. They relate to what I have to share - hearing this and getting feedback has been one of the best parts of the the whole experience.

Some people wonder why I write and what makes me think people even care what I have to say. To be perfectly honest with you, there is a part of me that hopes people care what I have to say or what I'm thinking about. There's a bigger part of me that does this for me. It's like a journal - tracking my thoughts, my experiences, my kitchen fumbles... special moments with my babies... It's also an outlet. A place for me to use my "voice", share with others - regardless of how few or how many there are reading. And in the end, it's become a hobby. Every once in a while I even try venturing away from the "compose" box that simplifies posting my stuff on the web in an attempt to figure CODE !!! Scary.

And now... with no idea how to close this off - I'm going to leave you with my favourite 10 posts from the last 6 months. You may not have read them, you may not agree... but here they are... in no particular order.

1. Dear Meaghan
2. Dear Layla
3. I was so sure I wanted boys
4. The Search for my very own hobby (or hobbies)
5. Raspberry/Apple Jam
6. A little teenage girl left in me
7. The moments we remember... and the ones we don't
8. Opposites Attract
9. Tuna Steak & Asparagus
10. Painting with Layla


Only two weeks in?

Thank you to those who left comments on my last post "Donate to help people in Haiti". As promised I have added $5 for every one who told me that they had or were going to donate to relief efforts (so an extra $50!)

If you're like me, the disaster in Haiti has left you in tears and feeling helpless. And when I log on to facebook or twitter, and find myself going about regular every day life - I can't help but cringe a little that life simply "goes on" for the rest of us when there is such chaos, destruction and sadness for so many people.

It makes me take a look at some of the "unimportant" things in my life that my thoughts tend to revolve around so much... from this ten in ten project to get my butt into gear and get exercising again... to really wanting to move some furniture around and 're-decorate' without spending anything...

So last week I was feeling pathetic - rolling my eyes at my lazy attempts to meet my 2010 workout goals... And this week... this week I'm feeling GUILTY. Guilty because this is my big challenge. Because I have the luxury to whine about things like working out and trying to figure out who I am and what I want. Because I didn't even meet all my goals for this week.

My first goal was to get in four 20-30 minute workouts. The week started well and I did my first two no problem. Then I let everything else come first, then the girls and I came down with a stomach flu (it was brief and not too intense - but still all 3 of us were barfing - and no one got a good night's sleep that night!)... and before you know it, it was was Sunday morning and I was telling Brandon that if I was going to meet my goals I had to do 2 workouts (20 minutes each) and 2 yoga sessions (10 minutes each) later in the day. He suggested I try a 60-minute P90X "core synergistic" video - which includes a lot of yoga type moves in the warm up and cool down. So that's what I did. Just barely meeting my goal. Barely.

As for my goal to eat only one sweet a day. Oh my goodness. I thought it would be easy. I was so wrong. Brownies, cookies, cake, ice cream, apple crisp... I think I ate 5 molasses ginger snap cookies one day (and probably a brownie)! I polished off the chocolate and caramel ice cream another day... and I'm almost positive that the only day I limited my sweet intake to "1" was Monday. And I'm not even a sweets girl. I prefer salt. It's as if the idea of not having the sweets made me crave them so much more. This has got to be why diets don't work.

So... here we go again. I am determined to continue exercising so I'm keeping my first goal and will do at least 4 workouts over the next week. I'm also determined to start cutting back on my calorie intake (with plans to start weaning Meaghan soon, I just won't be able to eat to my hearts content anymore :-( Nursing her has been using up lots and lots of my calories!!) so I'm going to try a little harder this week to be disciplined and truly limit the sweets to 1 per day (2 if it's something really small!).

And... like many of you I'm sure - my thoughts and prayers will be with the people of Haiti as I go about my week. When I exercise or avoid my sweets I will remember to be thankful that these are the trivial challenges that I have in my life. I will remember to count my blessings.


Donate to help the people in Haiti


On January 12, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck HAITI - near the capital of Port-au-Prince. Although there is still very little information about the extent of the damage - it is predicted to be catastrophic.

This morning I noticed that some bloggers (like the design girl) are raising funds help the people of Haiti. And I was inspired.

I'm not organized enough to set up a personal fundraiser - but I would like to invite you to donate to organizations that are helping in Haiti.

World Vision Canada is there and preparing to distribute emergency supplies to those affected.
The Canadian Red Cross is accepting donations to support Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.
Samaritan’s Purse is rushing to assist in Haiti
Unicef staff in Haiti are mounting rescue efforts.

That's not all...

Let me know if you are making a donation to one of the organizations above by leaving a comment at the end of this post and I will personally donate an extra $5 to the relief effort in Haiti for each donation you tell me about.

We have so much to be thankful for. Let's pass it on by helping those in need.


Rolling eyes, mental games and dog walks... what?

One week down... only nine to go!

My first week of “Ten weeks to healthy in 2010” has come to an end. And a successful end at that. Just give me sec while I take the time to give myself a little pat on the back...! Oh and now... please join me as I role my eyes because (one) it’s only been a week and (two) my goal for week 1 was relatively simple... and so in the end I’m left feeling like I didn’t really accomplish all that much. But I’m learning and I’m moving forward into week 2 with some “adjustments”.

You’re either right with me (rolling your eyes) and agreeing that getting in 4 twenty-minute workouts in one week really isn’t that big of a deal OR you’re thinking that I’m being too hard on myself. To that I can only say that this kind of thing is different for everyone and I know that I need to challenge myself some more.

My inner struggle (and dialogue!)

While I may be rolling my eyes at my goal for week 1 – if I am completely honest with you, it wasn’t easy for me to actually do the workouts. Or maybe I should rephrase that and say that it wasn’t easy for me to start doing the workouts. Sure I worked some muscles that probably haven’t even been used in a couple months and sure I was really sore – everywhere – but I’m not talking about how physically demanding the exercise was.

I’m talking about the mental game that goes on in my head as I convince myself that –YES – this is what I want to do for the next 20 to 30 minutes. And of course the mental game that continues as I’m actually exercising – “come on Andrea... focus on this muscle... 15 more minutes... feel that jiggle... you hate that... this is why you’re doing this... 12 more minutes... come on... 5 more minutes... just a few more... you’re almost done...”.

I feel like one of those people who spends more time thinking about how busy they are than actually being busy. All the thinking and struggling going on – without me lifting a finger – is really quite exhausting! I’m convinced it’s making all those squats and lunges more difficult...

My dog-walk epiphany

One of the most repeated suggestions for people who are trying to lose weight, increase physical activity or simply have a more active lifestyle is to WALK more. I had to smile when I read the post-partum recommendation to go for short walks in the days and weeks following having a baby (to increase blood flow, encourage healing, and let’s not forget... to get out of the house!!!).

We have a dog. To be more specific - we have an Australian shepherd named Reuben. While he’s no longer a puppy and has lost some (a very negligible some) of his energy – he is a dog that needs to be walked – twice a day if possible. Needless to say, I walk (the dog), almost every day, twice a day for between 20 and 40 minutes each time. We walk as a family. We walk Brandon to work. We walk to-and-through the park. We walk after supper (there is nothing better to distract and calm two tired girls at the end of the day). I carry Meaghan a lot of the time. I push the two girls in our SUV double stroller (a chariot which I *heart*love*heart*). I carry one and push the other.... However it’s being done – it’s being done. And it must be burning some calories.

But that's not my point. So what is? Well... not only am I getting in some physical activity on these walks, it’s probably the times where I do my best thinking (or talking when I’m with B). So one day this week while I was walking (...and carrying Meaghan) I had an idea...

“I should promise myself a reward for sticking to the whole exercise thing”

I know... I know... the toning up and being healthier in general should be pretty good and all... but this girl needs a little extra motivation. I’m just like a kid who needs to be bribed with an allowance to clean her room on a regular basis! And since I’m doing all my exercising at home (and not spending any money on an expensive gym membership) I feel that it isn't completely ridiculous to consider the idea of a reward or an “allowance” that I only get if I follow through and complete the exercise goals that I set for myself each week or each month (I haven’t settled on a time frame yet).

Now I just need to decide what I want. What is something that would motivate me when I’m just not feeling it...? Dinner out at a nice restaurant? New shoes? A new microwave with a built in stove fan installed and all (don’t laugh... I really do want that!!)?

Something to think about... Maybe you have some ideas for me?

Now it’s time to set some goals for week 2

I think I’m going to keep my original goal from week one...

Complete at least 4 20-30 minute workouts

... and add...

Complete 2 yoga sessions


Limit cookies or other “dessert” type treats to one per day

(oh, that's right... I never mentioned how poorly I ate over the last week... another reason I was rolling my eyes when I sat down to start writing this post...sigh...)

So... Wish me luck!


A.O.K "trial" Gourmet (10) What does one do with ground lamb?

***For an introduction to A.O.K "trial" Gourmet - click here***

If you've been following my A.O.K Gourmet posts you know that our family is trying something new this year... or last year(?) - buying some of our meat from local farms. We're almost finished the meat from the half-cow we purchased at the end of last summer and we're making (& learning) our way through the lamb that we bought in the fall. The beef has been fantastic and I've already reserved another cow for this Spring. The lamb... well... it's been a learning experience and I don't know if we would purchase an entire lamb again (maybe we'll split one next time).

When we received our meat and I saw the pounds of ground lamb I was like - "What the heck am I going to make with ground lamb?". As it turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with ground lamb. Spice it, wrap it on a skewer and BBQ for some lamb-kabobs. Lamb burgers (actually very tasty). And some pretty authentic "shepherd's" pie (get it?!).

The other night I was looking through one of my new cookbooks (thanks hun!) - Easy Hot & Spicy (Ryland Peters & Small) - searching for new ideas for all the lamb in my freezer and this recipe for "Kefta" (a.k.a meatballs) stood out. I didn't have all the ingredients (fresh herbs, a red chili, etc.) but I made do with what was in my kitchen and was quite pleased with the outcome.

It would have been really neat if I had an actual tagine to cook the meal in
- should have bought one when I visited Morocco way back when... but my new (used... it was a wedding gift for my parents... 30 years ago!) creuset was put to very good use for this recipe. As a my friend Aimee would say - they're great because they don't hold the flavour of whatever you're cooking. You can make a garlicky sauce in the creuset one night and then a creamy chocolate sauce the next morning and you're chocolate won't taste like garlic - which is a very very good thing.

Tagine of spicy kefta with lemon
serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or ghee (clarified butter)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, halved and crushed
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chili, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
a small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
a small bunch of mint, chopped
freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (I didn't have a lemon, so I used 1/4 cup of "real lemon").
1 lemon, cut into 4 or 6 segments, with pips removed (...again, I didn't have a lemon, so I chopped up some green pepper to add bulk to the tagine)

KEFTA(aka meatballs)
1 lb. finely ground lamb (or beef)
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper , or 1 teaspoon paprika
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the kefta:
1. pound the ground meat with your knuckles in a bowl. Using your hands, lift up the lump of ground meat and slap it back down into the bowl.
2. Add the onion, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, and season to taste with salt and black pepper (but don't actually taste anything yet!! haha!!)
3. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together and knead well, pounding the mixture for a few minutes.
4. Take pieces of the mixture and shape into walnut-sized balls, so that you end up with about 16 kefta. (NOTE: These can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in the refrigerator)

To make the sauce and cook the kefta:
1. Heat the oil and butter together in a tagine or heavy-based casserole dish (or creuset!) Stir in the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili and saute until they begin to brown.
2. Add the turmeric and half the cilantro and mint, and pour in roughly 1 1/4 cups of water.
3. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered for about 10 minutes.
4. Carefully place the kefta in the liquid, cover, and poach the kefta for about 15 minutes, rolling them in the liquid from time to time so they are cooked well on all sides.
5. Pour over the lemon juice, season with salt, tuck the lemon segment (or in my case green pepper chunks) around the kefta. Poach for a further 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and mint. Serve hot.

The result?

Layla's first comment about the meal? "the meat is dirty"... goodness! This was because of the bits of parsley and other spices in the meatballs.

My initial reaction was that it was really very tasty. I love the mix of garlic, ginger and turmeric... and cinnamon... go figure! Although FULL of flavour, my kefta was not spicy at all (which may have something to do with the missing red chili... maybe!)and had just a hint of lemon (also may have something to do with the fact that I didn't use an actual lemon in the recipe...) which was perfect for me (too much lemon always seems to make things taste... fake). And 10 minutes of poaching was a little too long for the green pepper. So if you're making the same modifications as I did to the recipe - add the green pepper a little later in the cooking process.

One more thing. Okay two more things. One - the recipe was VERY easy (despite the fact that I had to look up "tagine" to make sure I wasn't missing an ingredient!!). TWO - the colour of turmeric?? Does anyone else think it looks lie it's going to glow in the dark or something?


A.O.K "trial" Gourmet (9) My not so traditional Christmas

***For an introduction to A.O.K "trial" Gourmet - click here***

It was the morning after Christmas.

I was sitting in my sister-in-law's kitchen, watching her mother-in-law begin the preparations for a classic Indian brunch recipe - ROTI - which I couldn't wait to try (mmm... Indian food... it's so yummy and I just don't get to eat it enough).

And I started reflecting on this year's not so traditional Christmas.

I realized that in the my eleven Christmas' with Brandon... we seem to have started and stopped several different holiday "traditions". I realized that although I seem to be "in love" with the idea of traditions... I also really like to change things up from time to time.

For one reason or another, when B & I were dating we always did 3 Christmas gifts - a regular gift (think sweater, watch,...), a meaningful gift (think reflective, sentimental, spiritual, ...) and a handmade gift (among which were scarves, blankets, photo albums and miniature Christmas trees). It was fun... especially figuring out what to make for each other. If I remember right, that tradition died the year before we got married because we were running out of ideas.

Over the years we've established a busy Christmas schedule sharing our time with families and friends. For the last three years (this year excluded) we hosted a "pre-Christmas" cocktail party to get in some holiday time with friends. And right around the big day... we have Christmas eve church followed by a hot/cold buffet with my side of the family, Christmas morning with our little family (which now includes stocking from Santa for the babies and a "fun" breakfast) and then the rest of Christmas day with Brandon's side of the family. On Boxing day we are off to the "country" to visit Brandon's extended family. That leaves new year's day for visiting my own extended family. OOF. It sounds like a lot when I actually write it down - but I know we've managed to keep things much more manageable than a lot of people I know.

So why do I say things were a little less on the traditional side this year? Well - for starters we didn't get it together to host our pre-Christmas cocktail party this year. A good friend picked up our slack and hosted one - and he did a FANTASTIC job! And on the family side of things, we spent the time with Brandon's family at his sister's place in Ottawa this year (she was 38 weeks pregnant - 'nough said!) and I offered to cook Christmas dinner - and (gasp)decided to forego the turkey and stuffing (which surprised a lot of people since I am a faithful lover of turkey dinner)!

Some traditions (like 3 Christmas gifts or the location of Christmas dinner) are okay to play around with. Some should be left alone. Case in point - My Christmas dinner fiasco in my SIL's kitchen (with her MIL wondering what is wrong with this white girl - she calls this a holiday meal?... actually her MIL was super sweet and even complimented my cooking... but if I were her... I would have been wondering...)

THE MENU*recipes at the end of this post*

Baked brie with chutney
Herb rubbed rib roast w/ horseradish sauce
Asparagus spears with pine nuts and parmesan
Garlic mashed potatoes
Lemon mousse cheesecake

It sounds good enough.
The menu was even a suggested Christmas meal from my "how to entertain with confidence" cookbook. The flavours of the evening included rosemary, garlic, cheese... all of which are very tasty and go very well together.

But you know... I didn't really have any idea what it meant to cook a big meal in an unfamiliar kitchen. I'm no pro... I just enjoy cooking... so this presented a challenge that I wasn't expecting. Knowing that we have different cooking styles (and generally use different spices) my SIL told me to "assume nothing" when sending her a list of groceries. I probably should have taken her more seriously.

So where did things go wrong?
The moment I forgot to pack my meat thermometer!

This is what happened to the one we borrowed from their neighbour. We replaced it. Obviously. But how embarrassing. As I'm sticking the roasts in the oven, my BIL asks if the meat thermometer can go in the oven. I confidently replied "yeah, they're made to go in the oven". Less than ten minutes later I was wondering what the burning smell was... and then I was eating my words.

So... with no meat thermometer, cooking the roast was a real guessing game. There are lots of tips on the web for time per pound - but all those tips are accompanied by a "disclaimer" that strongly recommends using a meat thermometer to attain the best roast. After putting the meat back in the oven a few times, my asparagus was getting a little "droopy" and my mashed potatoes weren't as light and fluffy (and hot) as they should have been. Sigh.

In hindsight, the meal (& recipes) probably had way more potential that what we experienced for our Christmas dinner. Although my food was pretty cold by the time we were all sitting around the table, the actual mix of flavours was really excellent - and so - even though I had some trouble with my roast which led to trouble timing "done" times for everything else - I'm still recommending the menu. Go figure. I'm also recommending that you buy a good meat thermometer and that you make sure to know if it can or can't stay in the meat while it cooks!

Bonne appetit!


RECIPES (all directly from or modifcations of recipes in "How to Entertain with Confidence")

Baked Brie with Chutney
1 round or wedge (8 oz) of Brie Cheese
1 jar of chutney of your choice (cranberries are particularly festive)

1- Heat oven to 350.
2- Lightly brush a round pan with vegetable oil. Do not peel the white from the cheese. Place the cheese in the center of the pan.
3- Bake uncovered for 8-10 minutes (or until cheese is warm and soft, but not runny)
4- Remove cheese from oven, carefully place on serving platter, top with chutney
5- Serve with bread and/or crackers

Herb-rubbed Rib Roast
4 lb beef rib roast
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 ½ teaspoons dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1- Preheat oven to 450.
2- Peel 1 clove of garlic, cut in half. Rub the garlic over the beef. Spread mustard over top and sides.
3- Peel and finely chop remaining 2 cloves of garlic. Mix the chopped garlic, parsley, thyme and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir in the oil. Spread mixture over tops and sides of beef.
4- *Insert meat thermometer* so the tip is in the thickest part of the beef and does not touch bone or fat.
5 – Place the roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and cook until desired doneness is reached. Count on between 12 to 20 minutes a pound for rare (depending on the cut), but it’s best to check the temperature frequently. For a rare roast, remove from oven at about 120 F (it will come up to 130 F after resting). For medium rare, remove at 125 F (rests to 135 - 140 F). For medium, remove at 135 F (rests to 145 F).
6- Remove from the oven. Cover loosely with a ten of aluminum foil and let stand for 15 minutes or so.

Peppery Horseradish Sauce
(*this was actually very tasty with the beef)

1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon horseradish sauce (not prepared horseradish)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

1- Mix the sour cream, horseradish sauce, mustard and pepper in a small glass bowl.
2- Cover and let chill at least one hour to blend flavours. Cover and refrigerate any remaining sauce.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
*It seems silly to be putting this recipe in. The only change to regular mashed potatoes is cooking the garlic cloves with the potatoes and then mashing everything together.

6-7 medium potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt

1- Wash and peel potatoes, cut into large pieces.
2- Peel garlic.
3- Add 1-inch of water to saucepan. Cover and heat until boiling. Add potatoes and garlic. Bring to boiling once again. Once water is boiling reduce heat just enough so water bubbles gently.
4- Cook covered 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain water.
5- Return potatoes to saucepan and cook over high heat for 1 minute to dry them. Shake pan often to keep potatoes from burning and sticking.
6- Place potatoes in a medium bowl to be mashed (or mash them in the saucepan if it won’t damage it)
7- Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer until there are no lumps. Add milk in small amounts, beating after each addition. Add margarine, salt and pepper. Beat until potatoes are light and fluffy.

Asparagus spears with toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese
*If you like asparagus and parmesan cheese – you’ll love this!

1 lb asparagus spears
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese

1- Break off the end of asparagus stalks where they snap easily. Discard ends.
2- Heat the water in the skillet to boiling over high heat. Add asparagus. Once water is boiling, reduce heat just enough so water bubbles gently. Cook covered 4-6 minutes or until asparagus are crisp tender.
3- While asparagus is cooking, melt butter in saucepan and add pine nuts to toast.
4- Add asparagus and shake saucepan to coat it with butter and pine nuts.
5- Place in serving platter, sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

My ten weeks to HEALTHY in 2010...

A few weeks ago I signed up for the “Ten in ‘10 Healthy Challenge – a ten week commitment to making a healthy change in my life. Participants are challenging themselves to everything from eating healthier to gaining weight (don’t laugh – for some that IS a healthy change). My personal goal is to incorporate exercise back into my regular routine.

After giving birth to my second baby last April, I managed to lose the weight and get my body back into pretty decent shape relatively quickly. Over the summer months I got into a fantastic exercise “groove” which was in large part facilitated by the fact that my husband is a teacher and was off work. HOWEVER... last October I was feeling particularly unmotivated and decided to take a week OFF. Big mistake. A week easily turned into two... and then three... and then...

Well... here I find myself, making a resolution to get back into it. And why not invite you along for the ride by blogging about it? Maybe some of you will even join me by making the commitment to make a healthy change in your life over the next ten weeks. Will you start exercising? Try to eat healthier? Take more time to relax or unwind? Whatever it is, I’d love to know. I may dislike you a little if the change you need to make involves gaining weight instead of losing it... but I promise that is just my superficial self talking(!)

Since we're already 3 days into the new year and I haven't even looked at my running shoes or work out clothes yet - this whole ten in '10 thing may turn out to be a real challenge for me. Aside from having purchased a new and improved set of resistance bands I don't really have much of plan but I am determined that tomorrow will be day 1. My goal for this week (week 1 of 10) is to get in at least 4 20-minute work outs before next Saturday. I may end up doing 3 in a row next Saturday (oh gosh I hope not!) but I will get in at least 80 minutes of exercise this week.

I have this image of myself as an active woman, a fit role model for my children and an example of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately my reality doesn't really reflect that image (that dream!). I don't know why working out is such a chore for me, but it is. So any words of encouragement would much appreciated... and potentially needed if I'm going to stick to it this time around.

Expect an update about this time next week... with any luck I'll be ranting and complaining about my extremely sore legs and ass --- from all the lunges and squats I'll be doing of course!

Here goes...


Resolving Resolutions

It’s January 2nd
and even though I knew the holidays would go by in a flash – I’m still surprised to find myself sitting here on the second day of the new year, reflecting on 2009 (and more specifically the last 2 weeks) and a little unsure how I let so much time go by before writing a new post for A.O.K. (so much for my 2-a-week commitment – sigh)... I do have a few in the works though...

I really can’t complain that I haven’t had the chance to get online much recently. It’s because of all the extra opportunities that we’ve had to spend time with family and friends in the last few weeks. Like many of you, we had a busy but fun holiday season which is only now slowing down. We’re actually hosting one last casual dinner party tomorrow night (after which I’m done entertaining for a little while... at least a week...). I’m still not sure what I’m making, but whatever it is – it will be SIMPLE and QUICK.

So it’s 2010...

Happy New Year!

“2010” has a nice ring to it don’t you think? I’m not sure why but it seems like a nice round number, full of promise and possibilities. What does that mean? I don’t know, but I just bet it’s going to be a good year!!

It started with fireworks... that’s gotta be a good thing!

Here I am trying to get one of these fireworks ready... so concentrated...

Although in the past I’ve never been big on making New Year’s resolutions, I have a few changes and/or improvements that I’d like to make for 2010.

For starters, I am committed to continuting and improving this blog – A.O.K Okay with Andrea – in 2010. Since I started writing in July, I’ve learned some things about myself. 1) I really enjoy writing 2) I have the desire/need to have a “voice” 3) I’m liking having an outlet to share with others and 4) Writing about my life and experiences gives me a unique perspective on both – and a more positive one (go figure!).

So what can you expect for 2010?

A new design. I’m hoping to go from the generic template to something a little more original and personalized. I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to get my cards in order, but my goal is Spring 2010.

More food. More stories about my inability to follow instructions. Although I’ve let the ball drop a little in the last few weeks, I’ve been cooking up a storm and my A.O.K “trial” Gourmet series will be back on track very soon (expect to read about “my not-so-traditional Christmas dinner” and “eggs-3-ways” in the next week or so). I’ll continue to post one new recipe a week until next Thanksgiving. Maybe even after that...

10 in 10. I signed up for the “Ten in ‘10 Healthy Challenge” – a ten week commitment to making a healthy change in my life. Participants are challenging themselves to everything from eating healthier to gaining weight (...don’t laugh – for some that IS a healthy change). My personal goal is to incorporate exercise back into my regular routine.

Aside from A.O.K I plan on keeping busy with the girls, tightening up my budget to allow me the financial freedom to return to work part time when the time comes, continuing to figure out and improve this thing called love (& marriage)... and continuing to figure out and improve ME - physically, mentally, spritually.

What about you? Do you have any resolutions for 2010?


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