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Friday, 21 August 2015

10 of My Favourite Pinterest Recipes

I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. It can be a major time suck, but it can also be so helpful! I pin ideas for school, home renos, and organization, but most often it's recipes. Pinterest is like a modern day recipe box. Of course, I've pinned many recipes that I haven't tried (and  probably never will,) but I have managed to find some favourites.  I thought I'd share some of them here. I've tried all of these recipes, often more than once, and recommend them. I can't say that I followed the recipes exactly the way they are written

1.  Loaded Philly Cheesesteak Baked Potato - from Skinnytaste.com
Try it. Seriously. It was delicious. It's on the menu plan for this week, but I think we'll just serve it on some crusty rolls instead of potatoes.

2.  My Favorite Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - from The Spiffy Cookie
These cookies take a long time to make, but the time is so worth it! They were crowned the chocolate chip cookie winner by my husband.

3.  Homemade Pizza Dough - from Favorite Family Recipes
This is my go-to pizza dough recipe. It freezes well and makes a good pizza!

4.  Oreo Ultimate Turtles Cheesecake - from Allrecipes.com
You definitely want to make this when people are coming over or if you need dessert to bring to a potluck. You don't want to be forced to eat it all. Trust me. It's really sweet. I have a pretty rich sweet tooth, and this cheesecake puts it to the test. This is definitely are "share with lots of people" recipe.

5.  The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe - from Add A Pinch
This is my favourite chocolate cake recipe. I've talked about it before (here and here). The espresso powder in the recipe makes it something special! Don't skip it. Just trust me. Now I want chocolate cake!

6.  Best Meatloaf. Ever. from South Your Mouth
Okay, I'm not exactly a meatloaf girl. I had visions of dried out ketchup covered ground beef. I'm telling you, this recipe is actually good. Give it a try.

7.  Rice Krispie Cookies from C and C Dish
These cookies remind me of the ones my grandmother used to make. Everyong called my grandmother Cookie Nan, and with a name like that, you know that she was known for her cookies!  I sadly don't have any of her cookie recipes, but these are close. Every time I make these delicious treats, I think of her. 

8.  Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli Soup from Farm Girl in the Suburbs
I have been to Olive Garden three times in my life.  The first time I went, I had this soup. This recipe isn't quite what I remember from the restaurant, but it is really good. I find it's a bit think, so don't expect it to be very soupy; it's more like a chili consistency. It freezes well, and that's always a bonus for work lunch planning.  

9.  Pepperoni Pizza Quesadillas - from Snixy Kitchen
I love pizza. I also like quesadillas. I never would have thought to put them together. It's a quick lunchtime meal.

10.  Turkey, Veggie Tray, & Barley Soup {Thanksgiving Leftover Recipe} from The Chic Life
I have only made this once, and had completely forgotten about this recipe, but I do remember that it was delicious. I love a good soup recipe and this one is awesome! It's also easy to change up depending on what you have in your fridge.


I've got some new Pinterest recipes to try this week in our weekly meal plan, and I'm excited to see if I can find any keepers for quick and easy weeknight meals. Have you found any go-to everyday recipes? Comment below and let me know!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Kingsbrae Garden - St.Andrews, NB

Kingsbrae Garden has always been on my list of places to visit. Despite only being about an hour away, I'd never been there. I thought it would be a fun place to explore with Little C, so we planned to visit the garden last week. It's been a horribly foggy summer, so we planned to go on the one day that was forecasting sun all day. Of course, when I woke up, I couldn't even see down the street. More fog. I didn't let that dampen my spirits though, and we hopped in the truck and headed to St. Andrews.


It was still foggy, but it made it look a little dreamy, didn't it?
The fog was already starting to move out when we arrived, and in fact, was kind of nice. It kept us cool, which was a good thing because Kingsbrae Garden is huge! I had heard it was big, but I really didn't know it was that big.

According to the brochure, it's 27-acres. Originally, the estate had been known for its fine gardens, and when the property was donated, they expanded on this tradition. Open since 1998, Kingsbrae includes a variety of gardens, starting with the White Garden that you pass through as you enter. There is also a Knot Garden, Perennial Garden, an Orchard, Edible Garden, Children's Fantasy Garden, ponds, a windmill, animals, play houses, and so much more.  There really is a lot to see.

When you pay your admission, they give you a map. There are 34 stops! (I told you it was big!) We started using it, but quickly gave up and just enjoyed the walk and views. A stroller, toddler, camera, and map are a bit too much to handle at once!

I'm sure the first question most parents would have is, "Is it good for kids?" I say, yes! First of all, it's outdoors. For my son, that's an immediate win. It's fairly stroller friendly. Although there are a few parts with stairs, you can always find an alternative path route. I would warn that the pathways are mostly gravel, so I would suggest that you have a stroller that will roll well on gravel. Of course, my son decided that he really didn't want to be in his stroller and walked around most of the garden stroller-free... after we had already brought the stroller into the garden.


Knot Garden - it was really pretty and structural


Perennial Garden - This was one of my favourites, a lot more wild
and not so perfect. There were many different flowers to look at. 


Little C stopped to smell almost all the flowers in the
perennial garden... but I had to stop him from
drinking the dew off the leaves!


The Children's Garden had mini houses that kids can actually
go inside. It was hard to move on from this spot!

One of the reasons we decided to visit in the morning, was the Lady Bug Release. It happens every morning at 10:30am. They release 1000 lady bugs to help combat aphids in the rose garden. When I heard about this, I had visions of lady bugs being set free from a basket, flying throughout the rose garden. That's not exactly what happened. One of the employees came to the garden with a bag of ladybugs! She opened it up and carefully moved the ladybugs from the bag to the roses. There were a lot of them! Although not what I expected, it was still neat to see. 

Ladybugs! There are 1000 in that bag. 

Our favourite part? The edible garden! You are welcome to try anything in the garden. Little C found the very last strawberry and gobbled up some high bush blueberries. He seemed to enjoy the unripe ones the best. Silly boy! We also tried three types of gooseberries and red currants, which we'd never had before.

Edible Garden - gooseberries, blueberries, and red currants

Another stand-out garden was the Scents & Sensitivity Garden. It was put together with the CNIB, and features plants with different textures and scents so those with visual impairments can enjoy. This is also a great thing for kids, because they can touch and smell everything! A child's dream. 
Scents & Sensitivity Garden


Scattered throughout the garden are sculptures. I'm a huge fan of public art, so I loved this aspect of Kingsbrae Garden. They hold a biannual sculpture contest with prizes of $20,000! It sounds like a pretty big deal, and by the look of the artwork throughout the garden (and in the dedicated sculpture garden) they attract very talents artists. 

There is so much to see at Kingsbrae Gardens - it's definitely more than just flowers. Next time, I will plan to stay for even longer, or plan to go for the morning and return later in the day, which your admission ticket allows. We were getting hungry (translation: a toddler meltdown was bubbling up!) and decided to leave around noon time. There is an on site restaurant, Savour in the Garden, which looks amazing, but I don't think it is for kids.  I guess if there was one negative, that would be it. Having said that, I understand that not every restaurant is kid-friendly, so I don't actually count that as a negative.  [Edit: Kingsbrae Garden tells me that they DO welcome children in the cafe! That's great news, and I will definitely be stopping in next time for lunch!]

If you are interested in art, gardening, animals, or just a peaceful walk in a unique setting, I would highly recommend a visit to Kingsbrae Garden. It's so much more than a garden!


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Parent Programs - Watch for Them!

When I was in the hospital after giving birth to my son, it seemed like there was a revolving door of people coming in - doctors, various nurses, staff dropping off (and then picking up) meals, and folks from the mommy and baby clinic. I was in the hospital for 5 days, so there were a lot of faces in and out of the room. After an unexpected C-section to welcome the most lovable and adorable baby who wouldn't sleep a blink at night, it was a bit overwhelming. 
At some point, in the hospital blur, I agreed to participate in a program through public health. They offer many different programs for new parents, depending on your circumstances, and I qualified for one program, because I was a first time mum. It would involve a public health nurse coming to my home every few weeks to weigh and measure my son, and help me navigate through life as a first time mum. Normally, having a stranger come into my home would be a bit scary, but I was nervous about parenthood and thought it would help having an "expert" available for me to ask questions and help get through rough patches. After all, let's be honest, I really didn't have a clue about what I was doing! 

A few days after getting home, I received a phone call, asking if I was still interested, and I'm so glad that I said yes! They told me I could decide to "quit" at any time I wanted, and the support would be there until my son was 2 years old. Initially, the nurse came to my house every couple of weeks. This was great when I had questions about breastfeeding, sleeping, and all the other questions mums have in the first couple of months. 
At each visit, the nurse would see how things were going, ask if I had any questions, review milestones and leave me with questionnaires to complete with my husband before our next appointment, to help us track his progress. She would always leave helpful handouts on feeding guidelines and activity suggestions for each stage. The feeding guidelines really came in handy when I was introducing solids, so I would have an idea of when and how much to feed him. These guides had a permanent place on the side of my fridge so they could be easily referred to and I've shared them with others. The activity suggestions were also helpful when he was really little, because I was always looking for new things to do throughout the day that would also support his development.
One of the handouts I always looked forward to receiving was the "get to know me" sheet each month. It outlined things that children typically enjoy doing at that age, which helped me better understand child development and figure out what to expect from our baby as he progressed. It was all new to us, so it was really helpful! 
Over time, the nurse came less frequently, especially after I returned to work, but I always had her phone number and email if I had a question.  Feeding and sleeping were always big topics for conversation early on. It was so comforting to have someone who could give a suggestion that worked for someone else, or just to have her say, "It's okay. This is totally normal!"

Today was our last visit with the nurse. It's sad to say good-bye to the program, but at the same time, I think I'm good to go now! I feel so much more confident in my mom skills and have also learned to ask for help when I need it, and have learned who to reach out to.

So, why am I sharing this? Well, I write this, because I think parents often try to do it all on your own, but all parents, especially first-time parents, can use all the support they can get. Take advantage of programs like this, even if you don't need it long-term, you could learn something from it. It takes a village to raise a child, and it's always nice to be able add a new member to your village!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Quick and Easy Chili

I love chili and often make it in my slow cooker. Sadly, a slow cooker is slow. Last week, I really wanted some homemade chili. It was a rainy, foggy day, and chili just seemed like a good choice. The problem? It was 4pm. I couldn't really break out the slow cooker and expect it to be ready for 5:30. I had hamburger thawed in the fridge, some beans and tomatoes in the pantry, so I decided to freehand it for some stovetop chili! This is what I came up with:



Quick & Easy Chili:
  • 2t oil
  • 1lb of ground beef (a 1/2 lb would work if you want to cut down on the meat... Or use a mix of different ground meats-Turkey, sausage, beef... The options are endless!)
  • 2 packages of mushrooms - sliced, diced, or chopped - use more or less, to your own preference 
  • 1 onion, diced
  • garlic - a clove or two, diced
  • bell pepper, chopped - any kind and as much as you want. (I used half an orange pepper)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes (you could use two cans of diced, if you prefer)
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed to get rid of the bean "sauce"
  • 2T chili powder (or more or less, your choice)
  • 1t cumin
  • 1/2C or so of your favourite salsa - optional, but I find it adds some quick flavour!
  • salt & pepper, to taste
Directions: 
1. Add a little oil to a good sized pot and heat, then add ground beef, breaking it up as it cooks. (While it is cooking, cut up mushrooms, onion, garlic, and pepper.)
2. Once no longer pink, drain fat from ground beef, and add onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms have released liquid and it has evaporated a bit. (I love mushrooms, but hate it when mushroom juice waters down my food!) Add peppers and cook for a couple more minutes. If you want them crunchy, don't good for too long.
3. Add tomatoes (diced and crushed), beans, spices. Heat until it's simmering and reduce heat. 
4. After about 10 minutes, taste and make adjustments to spices, if needed.
5. Simmer for another 10 minutes, and you're good to go!

Serve it solo, in a bowl as it is, or with chips, sour cream, and/or cheese! Yummy comfort food!

- - -

It turned out pretty well, and I figured that it would be even better the next day, but sadly, my fuzzy mom-brain prevented that from happening, because I forgot to put it in the fridge overnight! I was one sad mama as I poured it into the compost bag. Next time, I need to remember to portion it out in containers and put it in the freezer right away!

What I love about a simple recipe is that it's easily changed up. Have some leftover corn from last night's corn boil? Throw it in! Tomatoes that didn't get used for your salad? Dice 'em up and toss them in! 

Any suggestions on how to make this quick recipe better?  I'd love to hear them, especially if you have any ideas on other vegetables to add in!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

#PEIVacation 2015

Last week I spent the week on Prince Edward Island with family, on vacation. Every summer we seem to find ourselves visiting PEI... even when we say we're not taking a vacation. It always pulls us in! Simply put, I love PEI. The scenery, the food, the attractions - I love it all. I'm sure that some find it touristy, but I like a little of that, and you can always avoid the tourist traps. After visiting PEI so many times, I can easily find my way around and have many favourites that I return to every year.  I always try to find something new, but finding new things to see and do can be a challenge, especially when looking for places that are fun for both adults and a very busy toddler!

This year, I knew that I wanted to explore the East Point Drive. Last year, we had driven to Souris and Kings Castle Provincial Park. We loved the spots, but it was a long drive. This year, I spent the week before we left looking for new sights. I scoured the PEI tourism book, scrolled through the travel forums on TripAdvisor, and browsed through some travel blogs. 

Planning vacations is a bit of joke in my house. Although my husband teases me for over-planning when we travel, I don't think I'm that bad.  Okay, I do like the planning part. Also, I like to have a good list of possibilities, so I don't have to waste time wondering what to do when we get up. For this trip, I knew that I had to find enough to do on the Points East Coastal Drive to make the drive worthwhile. Driving a couple of hours for one stop is not ideal when you are travelling with an almost 2 year old.

Since I always love finding blogs with their travel finds, I thought I'd share my new kid-friendly favourites from our latest trip to PEI.



1.  Orwell Corner Historic Village:

Last year, I had a visit to Kings Landing Historical Village on my summer bucket list but it didn't get checked off.  When I found Orwell Corner Historic Village listed in the Points East section of the PEI tourism guide, I added it to my list. I'm glad I did. It's not as big as other historical villages I've visited,  but when you have a little one, that's a good thing. You get to see what life was like, without having to walk 10 miles and go in and out of dozens of buildings. At Orwell Corner, there are about 10 stops nestled together. You start in the agricultural museum before moving into the village,3 set in the late 1800s, to see a cemetery, school, church (although it was closed for repairs when we visited), hall, store/home, barns, and my favourite - the blacksmith shop. My son could walk through the entire place without getting tired or needing to be carried.  We had brought a little umbrella stroller, but didn't even need to use it. As a bonus, it wasn't too crowded, so he was able to explore outside the buildings a little more independently, which is important to him.  He likes a little freedom.

There aren't any tours, but they give you a map and there are a few people scattered about, who are very willing to give you a history of the village and specifics on the area they are covering. This is also great for parents with little ones who have short attention spans, as you're not tied down to one spot for too long. In the afternoon, they offer wagon rides. We were too early for them, but I'm sure they would have been fun!

For budget travelers, this is also a great find. Adults are only $6 and preschoolers are free!  There is a little café in the hall. We stopped for a light lunch. I had the beef vegetable soup and biscuit and C had the grilled cheese. Both were very good. They also offered sandwiches, wraps, ice cream, scones, and cookies. A small menu, but a nice light lunch or snack. From what I read on their website, they will pack up a picnic basket for you to enjoy at one of the nearby picnic tables.  


Agricultural Museum

One-room School house

Making Candles outside the school

My candle! A little wonky,
but I was pretty proud.


In back of and above the store, there was a house you could explore.


The blacksmith shop has always been my
favourite building to visit in a historical village.


Of course, there were animals!
Little C's favourite was the cat that kept running away.

2.  Avonlea Village

Avonlea Village is an old and new find. Up until this year, it was set up like a historical village based on Avonlea, the setting of L.M. Montgomery's Anne and Avonlea books. There were buildings to visit, shops, dramatic presentations set up throughout the village, games, and more. It was pretty pricey, but you could spend a lot of time there with so much to see, so you got a lot for your money. I was very disappointed to hear that the Avonlea that I knew and loved was gone. I didn't have much hope for the "new" Avonlea, but I was presently surprised.

I went in knowing that it was now a collection of shops. Some of my favourites have set up shop -  including Moonsnail Soapworks, Cows Ice Cream, and Anne of Green Gables Chocolates (the maple creams are my favourite!) and some new shops like Prestige Home Décor and a collection of craftspeople in the old barn. I wasn't planning on doing much shopping on my vacation, but I was able to find some unique gifts for family. Sprinkled among the shops are a wide variety of eateries. You can get fancy baked potatoes, lobster rolls, wood oven fired pizza, coffee, or grilled cheese. Lots to choose from, which is great for families. There is some outdoor seating, which would make it great for families with a variety of food preferences. Sadly, I didn't get to eat there, but I would have loved to try the pizza from piatto and the coffee from Samuel's.

All in all, a fun way to do some shopping. If the kids get bored, you can take breaks at the swings, listen to some live music, have a bite to eat, take a pony ride, or just wander around. Best of all, you don't have to pay to get in anymore, so you can walk through L.M. Montgomery's Avonlea free of charge.


3.  East Point Lighthouse
Since we were going to travel around the Points East Costal Drive, I figured, why not travel to the eastern tip of the island. You can actually travel to the top of the East Point lighthouse. There  are a lot of short flights of steep stairs, landings, and a steep ladder at the top, so you really need one adult for each child, if you have children going up with you, but it is pretty neat to be at the top of a lighthouse, which I'd never done before. The view is fantastic. On the landings between stairs, there are artifacts to look at, including various lenses for the lights and photographs.

On one section of the wall, there are very light pencil markings. If a sign hadn't been there, I wouldn't have seen them at all. When you look very closely, you see that the markings are signatures, and they're 133 years old. They are the signatures of the survivors from the HMS Phoenix shipwreck from 1882. It's quite amazing that they are still there.

One thing I missed out on was the "Tip-to-Tip Tour." If you plan to tour the entire island, it would be fun to participate in. When you visit the East Point Lighthouse, you ask for a ribbon. Take it to the North Cape lighthouse and you will receive a certificate to prove that you have been "tip to tip" on PEI! It would make a fun souvenir.


The East Point lighthouse and attached gift shop and restaurant.
 

The view from the top of the lighthouse.
 

Signatures of the survivors of a shipwreck in 1882
 
4.  Elmira Railway Museum & Miniature Railway:
I've seen this in the tourism guide for many years, but have never been. It was a suggested activity for a toddler, and since we were exploring that end of the island, I thought it would be perfect time to finally see it in person. The admission rates to the museum are very fair - $4 for an adult. We decided not to go into the museum, but did peak our heads in and it looked quite interesting. There used to be many trains on the Island. Elmira was the end of the line. I'd like to go back at some point to see the museum.

To be honest, we went for the miniature railway, not the museum. I had seen pictures in the guide, and thought Little C would love it. You get to ride on a little train through the woods! What's not to love? I expected it would take us in a little circle before returning to the "station," but I was in for a surprise! The train ride lasted a lot longer than I expected - maybe 10 minutes? It snaked through the woods, over a bridge, through a tunnel, passed cute wooden painted cutouts of animals, and walls covered in murals of the area. The seats were very small, but our group was the only one there, and I was able to sit Little C securely on my knee with his legs flopped onto the next seat, so we had a very comfortable ride.

After the miniature train ride, we also rode the speeder. You have to pay for the rides ($5 for adults, $3.50 for kids), but when you pay for one, you get the second for half price. It's a neat experience, so I thought it was well worth the price. The speeder runs on the original Elmira train tracks and gives you a demonstration of how they would turn trains. It ran a bit faster than the miniature train.

I'm so glad to have found this place, and would definitely add it to the itinerary when heading to that end of the island again, so I can check out the museum.


Highlights from the miniature train ride


The train station (above left), speeder (top right),
museum (bottom left), and sign directing you
to all that the Elmira Railway Museum has to offer.

5.  Playground - Cardigan
When travelling with little ones, good pit stops are important. I had searched and searched for a couple of good stopping points on the way to Souris. I had posted on a TripAdvisor forum and someone said that Cardigan was a great spot to stop for a break. We got a little lost inside the small town, but someone doing some gardening at a restaurant pointed us in the right direction. If you decide to stop, look for the red building that is home to the farmer's market and tennis courts. Behind the building and court is a lovely little park that is perfect for a picnic. There is a great playground, with lots of different slides and a set of swings with toddler and "big kid" swings, so children of different ages can enjoy. Scattered throughout the park are benches, picnic tables, and a couple of gazebos with picnic tables in them, so you can stop even if it's raining. When you're a kid, a playground is the perfect break from a long drive.

Apparently, Cardigan is also home to Canada's smallest library, but I couldn't find it. I didn't spend too long looking for it though, because I wouldn't have been able to check out a book! I would have liked to have seen it though. It would be a neat picture to hang up in my classroom.



6.  Green Gables Post Office:

One morning, Little C and I went for a walk. We were staying at a cottage close to Cavendish Corner, and decided to do a little sightseeing within walking distance. Our first stop was the Green Gables Post Office. Why so significant? L.M. Montgomery grew up in a home that was also the Cavendish post office. This building is similar to the one she lived and wrote her now-famous stories in and mailed them away to publishers, hoping to be published.

In the building, there is a real post office and a little museum. You can buy postcards and mail them, and they will be stamped with the Green Gables stamp. Of course, we did that! I'm still waiting for the post card to arrive, to see what it looks like, but it's only been 3 business days since we sent it, so I have to be a little more patient.

Inside the museum, there is a quote of L.M. Montgomery that reads, "The manuscript lay in the hatbox until I came across it one winter day while rummaging... 'I'll try once more', I thought."  Interestingly, when she mailed her manuscript for Anne of Green Gables in February 1907, it had previously been rejected 5 times. Just imagine how different PEI would be if a publisher had never recognized how special that story was. I loved Anne growing up, and learned so much from her. Thank goodness L.M. Montgomery keep trying!


7.  Island Artifacts - Eclectic Gift Shop
I know what you're thinking - gift shop? with kids? In this case, it really works! An artisan gift shop is a surprising addition to a list of kid-friendly spots to stop at, but in this case, it is very deserving. I had driven past the sign many times, and I'm drawn to craft/artisan shops, but with a toddler, it's not a fun experience. It's a lot of hand holding, near-drops, and near-nervous breakdowns. On my final day in PEI, as we were just about to pass it, I said to my husband, let's go in. He would have just taken Little C for a walk in the yard, but when we pulled in, there was an even better option... goats!

The gift shop itself is an old barn - I think the owner said it was 100 years old. It doesn't look like much, but inside, there is so much to see! There is a lot of jewelry, art, photography, décor, candles, and lots more - a little something for everyone, but nothing super touristy. That's a big plus for me. As much as I like Anne, I have seen enough Anne dolls, movies, postcards, key chains, etc. I don't need any of that.

While I enjoyed looking around inside, C was out back with my husband with the goats. They got some goat treats in the shop and the goats were very friendly (and eager to get a snack!)



Those are my newest PEI finds. All toddler approved! Have you found any must-do attractions, shops, or better yet, dining options? I'd love to hear about them, so I can visit them the next time I'm on the island!