a.o.k. "trial" gourmet (23) not so spicy...

For an introduction to the a.o.k. "trial" gourmet series - click here

Some weeks are better than others. Some weeks I'm Mrs. Organized...everything falls in to place as it should... I don't run late for work in the morning... I have my meals all planned out in advance... My clothes are cleaned and ironed and I'm... ready... ready for whatever life is going to throw at me.

Some weeks are harder. Nothing goes right... I can't get organized... dinners end up being thrown together last minute... I feel like I'm always late and I barely feel like trying to be better at it all.

You win some and you lose some, right? Well it certainly seems like I've been "losing" more than winning in my "trial" gourmet series these days. This week it's not the recipe though - it's my inability to follow instructions.

Home-Made Pancake Mix

Saturday morning breakfast is almost always "pancakes" in our house. This is mostly thanks to Brandon's love of maple syrup and his willingness to actually put the yummy things together and cook them. Have I mentioned lately that I love my husband! Well I do.

But seriously... who doesn't enjoy pancakes?!

... It is with this in mind that I am kicking off my fundraising efforts for Kilimanjaro 2011.
(read more)

Why Kilimanjaro? Why Make-A-Wish?

I was excited to announce my Kilimanjaro/Make-A-Wish project last week.

But some of you are wondering why I'm doing this...

The short answer...

1. I was inspired by the story of a little girl who died way to young.

2. I am incredibly thankful that my husband survived his fight against leukemia more than 20 years ago.

3. I don't have a clue what it's like to have a sick child but as a mom, my heart aches for those who do.

4. I long to make a difference in the world, big or small.

5. I know I'm going to be so proud of myself when it's all said and done.

The longer answer is a little more complex...

If you've been following a.o.k. for a while, then you know that I was profoundly affected by the story of Layla Grace Marsh this past winter. Layla - a beautiful, bubbly 2 year old - lost her fight against neuroblastoma on March 9, 2010 (or as her Mother so bitter-sweetly put it on twitter: Layla went to play with the angels early this morning. Rest in peace precious Layla).

Having been so touched by her story, I didn't want it to end there. I didn't want the experience to be like reading a sad book, crying, closing it, and moving on. I wanted to do something. Something to honor her memory.

It may seem odd to some people that it was (is) so important for me to honor the memory of a little girl I’ve never met. What can I say? Her name was Layla and she was just a few months younger than my first daughter, Layla. She fought a nasty cancer and my husband had childhood leukemia when he was just 3. Talking about her story, I learned more about what my husbands family went through so many years ago. I have no idea what it is to have a sick child. I can only imagine. But my heart aches for those who do.

So for reasons I can and can't explain, I knew I had to do something.

I started by "writing a cheque" and donating to the local Children's Hospital in her memory. I looked into volunteering opportunities. I read about different organizations... I asked for more information… And then one morning while I was reading the newspaper, an ad promoting an upcoming information session for the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s "2011 Kilimanjaro Expedition" caught my eye.

I think my heart may have literally skipped a beat as I wondered to myself "Is this it? Could I do something like this?". I looked for more information. I read more about the foundation. Before I knew it, I was talking to the event organizer and hanging up the phone with the biggest smile on my face, thinking…

"I'm so going to do this. I'll do it in memory of Layla Grace. I'll do it in honor of what Brandon and his family went through when he was so sick years ago… AND I'll live the experience of a lifetime... both in the challenge of raising the funds and in finding the physical strength and endurance to climb the mountain"

(...read more...)

Happy Birthday Meaghan!

Dear Meaghan,

You're one today. You've grown and transformed in the last year - in the last six months - in the last week!

After experiencing almost all my "firsts" as a mother with your sister Layla, and knowing that you might be my last baby -  I was determined to enjoy and cherish your first year from the very moment you were born. And I have. Even when you were tiny and waking to eat in the middle of the night. Even when you were teething and almost inconsolable in the evenings. I have enjoyed being your mom. I have cherished my moments with you. My dear sweet Meaghie. I love being your Mom.

9 months or so from now...

I'm really going to do this!

It's official. My spot is reserved. And I bought my first pair of real hiking boots a couple days ago. Whew!
I, Andrea Matte, am going to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2011 to raise $8,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation!
In doing so I'm going to help make at least one child's special wish come true… A child who may not have the opportunities that I've had. A child who is suffering from an illness that threatens his or her life. A child that might not have the luxury of saying “someday”…

It is very exciting. It's also very humbling.

{Read more}

Wordless Wednesday - GIRLFRIENDS ROCK!

Layla and Nadine are BFFs. They've been friends since before they were born.
The bond that they share is really something...

"trial" gourmet (22) not a hit with the family

My Very First Veal Parmigiana

This week's "trial gourmet" post begins with a confession of sorts. Since I started this recipe project last fall I haven't been completely forthcoming. At the beginning I intended to share it all - the good and the bad. But the truth is that I've actually cooked (and photographed) quite a few more meals than I've blogged about. My thinking behind this is simple - "why would I share something that didn't work?" (unless it's funny or there is a lesson to learn - like my jam making experience - groan!).

These days, my time seems more and more limited. My dinner preparations are taking a back seat to everything... (or at least it feels that way) and I'm trying to get away with doing the least amount of work possible. Keeping it simple and finding quick supper solutions works most of the time. But sometimes... sometimes your meal is going to suffer... and your family is going to suffer right along with you when they eat it (sigh...)

Worldless Wednesday - Layla's Party!

The Happy 101 Blog Award!

What makes you happy? What are you passionate about?

These questions seem simple enough... and they are (or they should be). Unfortunately these are also questions that can lead me down a spiraling road of self-doubt, wondering if I'm living my life to the fullest, capturing the joy of each new day, doing the things that make me happy... oh and what are those things again...? Do I even know who I am...?


In the end I'd rather stick with the simple side of those questions. The obvious answers for me. The very first responses that come to my mind... the ones that bring a smile to my face.

A mom for 3 years!

Dear Layla,

Today is your third birthday. It's so hard to imagine my life without you. Sometimes it is as if you've always been around - peppering my days with your smiles and your shananigans and sharing your sweet and funny way of seeing the world. 

So many times in the last few months, you dad and I have wondered at the things that you say or do and exchanged a questioning smile "how old is she? is she really only 2?". But though you often seemed older than you were, I still can't believe you're now 3. And I can't believe I've been your mom... a mom... for 3 years!

a.o.k. "trial" gourmet (21) Dinner in less than 25 minutes!

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This past week has been very different for me. Not necessarily good or bad and not necessarily busier than usual - just different. If you've been following a.o.k. you know that it was my first week back at work.
Our morning routine suddenly changed from ultra-laid-back to counting the minutes... and putting make-up on(!). The evenings became the ideal time to tidy up, shower, choose my clothes for tomorrow and make lunch.... And of course...
The time allotted to preparing dinner was cut in half!

I'm fairly certain that this means the "trial" gourmet series will focus on quick and easy meals over the next few weeks - not that the focus was "elaborate and complicated" to begin with, but you know what I mean...

This weeks recipe/meal was super simple to throw together, but surprisingly tasty and healthy (healthier if you remove some of the butter!). It was perfect for the end of my first day back at work. Nothing fancy - just good food minus the frills. And I was pretty happy with how it looked on my plate... doesn't it just feel nice to eat a meal that looks nice?

Oven-baked salmon
with steamed green beans
& basil pesto pasta

For an introduction to the a.o.k. "trial" gourmet series - click here.

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Prepare green beans to steam (cut off tips if that's how you like them)
  • Butter the bottom of a casserole dish, place 4 small salmon filets in dish (skin-side down)
  • Melt 3 tablespoons of margarine (or butter) in a small glass dish. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of paprika. Pour mixture over fish.
  • Place dish in oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • Steam green beans and boil water for pasta.
  • Add 2-4 tablespoons of pre-made basil pesto to the pasta.
  • Check fish. Butter the beans. Serve.

That's it, that's all. The whole dinner preparation should take under 25 minutes from start to finish during which (while everything is cooking) you should have around 15 minutes to play with the kids, set the table or... do whatever you need to do!

a.o.k. "TIP": Try playing with the simple ingredients used for this meal. Replace the salmon filets with white fish filets, and the green beans with asparagus or brocoli and you'll have a whole new balanced (and just as simple) meal.

Not bad... if I do say so myself!



Enjoying the beautiful weather!

Montrealers were spoiled with an incredible Easter weekend - with record high temperatures for this time of year... perfect for openning up our tent-trailer for the first time, going out for ice cream and enjoying our first "nature" walk of Spring 2010!

I'm convinced that there is nothing like beautiful weather to lift your spirits and renew your energy...

Lucky Meaghi got to ride the whole walk...

The kids got to explore. Here are Layla & Mateo checking out the worms!

There were some sweet moments with Dad...

Layla & Noah had the chance to pitch rocks into the river...

After walking for more than an hour, we headed back to our friends place for a camp fire style BBQ lunch. Yum! Soon after which we packed our things up to head home.

The girls lasted (stayed awake) up until about 5 minutes before we pulled into our driveway and then both napped well into the afternoon!

Back to work. Tomorrow.

It's 9:30 p.m., the evening before my first day back at work.

I think I'm ready. I think. Laundry is done. Work clothes are ironed. Shower is taken. Hair is dried and straightened to require least possible morning maintenance. Lunch is made. Tomorrow's outfit is ready to slip into...

Am I forgetting anything? In my experience, no matter how prepared I think I am, no matter how organized - there are always little things that pop up at the last minute - always. Maybe one of the girls will have a bad night and I'll start off my day with less sleep than I was hoping to have. Maybe I'll spill something on my pre-picked outfit. Then again - maybe nothing unexpected will happen, maybe tomorrow morning will go smoothly and the entire day will go off without a hitch.

Think positive, right? Right. It's not like this is my first "first day back". I've been here before. I've felt the anticipation (both good and bad) of returning to the office after being off for a year (a whole year!) on maternity leave. I've worried about my choices, and hoped I was making the right ones. I've debated the pros and cons of staying home, working more, working less. I've stressed over everything, from leaving my girls in daycare and whether they're napping enough (or not) to picking the right outfit and managing to jump back into my professional roles and responsibilities... all while hoping that no one will notice that I'm worried or stressed about any of it!

With that said, it actually seems easier this time around. I've known this day was coming for a while, it didn't just creep up on me. The idea of going back to work has had the time to sink in. A spot opened up for Meaghan at the same daycare as Layla (in my office building!) a few months earlier than expected and her integration over the last few weeks has been an absolute dream. Meaghan's happy, Layla's happy (as I was putting her to bed tonight she actually said she was happy I would be working upstairs while she was at daycare!)... they'll both be less than 2 minutes away from me as I go about my day... and so I am happy.

At the moment I'm mostly anxious to get the first day (or the first few days) over with. Ignoring the fact that I will miss my girls and continue to worry about whether they're napping enough. Ignoring the fact that my home is what will probably suffer most (laundry will pile up, chores will get put off to the weekend...) I know this change is coming and I want to get the transition part over with. I want to figure out the new morning routine and to have the chance to re-integrate and prove myself at work. And to be completely honest - I'm anxious to have a reason to dress up, to indulge in adult conversation and bring my expertise to new and ongoing projects.

Wish me luck!


a.o.k. "trial" gourmet (20) more maple syrup!

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Maple-Roasted Chicken Breasts
For an introduction to my "trial" gourmet series, click here.

After my last post you would think that I would be all maple-syruped out already. Not so much. I think I'm on a maple syrup roll. Since last Saturday we've had maple glazed pork tenderloin, cinnamon french toast, blueberry pancakes and maple chicken (the trial gourmet recipe of the week)! Have I mentioned that we love maple syrup? That it's maple season in Quebec? That the local farmers are having a very good year collecting sap from the trees?

What yumminess!

Unfortunately we don't always have the real stuff on hand as the price of a can of maple syrup usually runs between $8 and $10 (for 500 ml). But these days you can find it for as low as $5/can at local grocery stores. We also happen to know a guy (a.k.a. my FIL) who buys a gallon around this time every year (which Brandon assumes is for him...). Suffice to say, there is no shortage of authentic maple syrup at our place!

I think it's become very clear by now that I'm always looking for quick and easy recipes to add to my regular rotation of dinner ideas. I snipped this maple chicken recipe from the Montreal Gazette a few week ago (Thank you Julian Armstrong!) and as easy as it was to make, it took me a while to get organized enough to put it together... (i.e.) Have the right ingredients on hand, remember to take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw and start marinating the meat with enough time left to make dinner...

I finally made it this week and was pretty happy with the result. Not ecstatic. It reminded me of a maple glazed pork tenderloin recipe that I've been making for a few years now - but not as good. On a scale from one to ten I would give it a 7... maybe even a 6.5 (?). Although the flavour was very good, the chicken breast was a little too dry for my taste (maybe it would have been better if I'd marinated it for longer? maybe I just prefer the taste and texture of darker meat?) and the sauce was a little to thin and soupy. With that said, the girls gobbled this up without hesitation and so I'll probably make it again (marinating it longer and possibly with chicken thighs instead of breasts).

Maple-roasted Chicken Breasts
(serves 8)
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups medium or dark maple syrup
1 whole head of garlic
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Place chicken in wide, shallow dish. Pour 1 cup maple syrup over chicken.

2. Peel all the garlic cloves, crush them by banging each with flat side of a knife and sprinkle all but two cloves over chicken.

3. Add 1/3 cup of malt vinegar and stir and turn to coat all sides with mixture.

4. Cover and let marinate an hour at room temperature or six hours in the refrigerator (bring to room temperature before baking).

**On a side note I *love* this marinating container by Tupperware (and no - I am not being paid to say that!). Once sealed shut you can flip it to make sure that your meat (or whatever it is you are marinating) is coated evenly. Pretty nifty.

5. Grease a roasting pan and transfer chicken to pan, shaking off marinade and reserving it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake uncovered, in oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 25 minutes (my chicken breasts were particularly fat and took an extra 10 minutes).

6. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes while making sauce.

7. In a small saucepan, simmer reserved marinade and the remaining half cup maple syrup, three tablespoons of vinegar and two cloves of garlic over low-medium heat for three minutes (up to 10 minutes if you're using a lighter maple syrup).

8. Slice each chicken breast in three pieces on the diagonal and place on 8 warmed serving plates (um... for real? who actually warms their serving plates?) Spoon warm sauce over chicken.

... and Enjoy!

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