Pasta with Friends (at a safe distance)

I’m not the biggest fan of pasta, but when I saw this recipe slide across my Insta stories, I thought it looked pretty delicious, and super easy.

When I hear of a creamy, cheesy pasta…I instantly think heavy but comforting. This one is definitely comforting, but light and delicious.

After taking one bite, K instantly asked what our friends were doing for dinner, and if they’d like to come join. In a time where we have been self isolating and social distancing for thirteen days, this sounded like a dream world — but we did manage to bring a little bowl of it to our friends while on our after-dinner walk around campus.


Sausage and Pea Pasta

Recipe adapted from A Life from Scratch.

  • 1 pound pasta (any short pasta type you’d prefer)
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 1 cup half and half cream, or milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1 cup peas
  • Fresh basil
  • Zest of one lemon

In a pot of water, cook the pasta according to the package’s directions.

In a sauté pan, brown the sausage until fully cooked. Remove the sausage rom the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, combine the cream, chicken stock, Parmesan, garlic powder and lemon pepper. Bring it to a soft boil, and cook the liquid for approximately 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Once thickened a little, add the peas and lemon zest, and continue to stir until peas as warmed through. Add half a cup of the pasta water to thin out the sauce – and toss the sauce with the cooked pasta.

Top with more Parmesan, fresh basil, and more lemon zest.

Update: A great way to heat up the leftover pasta (without the pasta getting mushy, and leaving the peas still with a pop) is to put the pasta mixture in an oven-sage dish and cover with tin foil. Put the dish in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 350°F, the pasta will be perfectly heated in about half an hour!

A Perfectly Festive Treat

One of the best ways to spend an evening with twenty girls is to celebrate a birthday. From the massive card they create (with the loveliest of words shared), to the Brazilian tradition of cutting cakes from the bottom up for good luck, to the hearty singing that erupts from our common room—celebrating birthdays is a special, and wonderful time.

Another tradition in Memorial House is that each girl chooses her favourite treat to share with the house on her special day.

On this day, the birthday girl shared her favourite birthday treat is “ice cream! (cookie dough / birthday cake)”… so I combined it and created these delicious ice cream sandwiches with a funfetti blondie and cookie dough ice cream.

After a raucous rendition of Happy Birthday, silence washed over the room as the girls devoured these treats!



Funfetti Birthday Ice Cream Sandwiches

Recipe adapted from Country Cleaver

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup vanilla cake mix
  • 1 cup sprinkles (jimmies)
  • 1 container cookie dough ice cream, softened

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter two rimmed baking sheets, then line each with parchment paper (not wax paper) and leave 2 inches of parchment paper hanging over the short edges of the pans, this helps with lifting the blondies out of the pan. Butter parchment paper as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugar. Whisk in eggs and salt, followed by the flour and yellow cake mix until just smooth. Spread into a thin layer all over to the edges of the pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the blondies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Using the overhanging paper, gently remove the blondies from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

When completely cooled, spread the softened ice cream and top with other cooled blondie. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for about two hours, until set. Cut into 20 sandwiches. Wrap each sandwich with parchment paper for storage and place in an air tight container.

An Early Taste of Fall

It has been a crazy week in the residence…a crazy week of food. Five days, five snacks (three of which were birthday snacks).

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… The people who give you their food give you their heart.” -Cesar Chavez

Coming together in the evenings for a celebration and a snack has allowed the girls an extra moment in the day to bond, chat, ask questions, get to know each other more, and most importantly, just be with each other.

It is so easy for teenagers today to retreat to their rooms, throw in a movie on their computer and just disconnect from the world. These evening moments bring the girls together and just let them enjoy being themselves, surrounded by supportive and loving friends.

Tonight’s mini autumn cheesecakes are the perfect combination of silky smoothie cheesecake with a warm vanilla taste, and topped with season-perfect stewed apples with cinnamon and brown sugar.


Mini Autumn Cheesecake

Recipe adapted from Life, Love and Sugar

Crust

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

Topping

  • Apples, peeled
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325°F. Add cupcake liners to a regular-sizes cupcake pan (not mini).

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Divide the mixture between the cupcake liners (about 2 tablespoons per cup) and press into the bottoms.

Bake the crusts for 5 minutes then remove from oven. Allow to cool while you make the filling.

Reduce oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl (or in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment) mix the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until just combined (use low speed to keep less air from getting into the batter, which can cause cracks). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the sour cream and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed until well combined.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating slowly and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Divide the filling between the cheesecake cups until the cups are mostly full.

Bake the cheesecakes for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the door closed for another 10 minutes.

Crack the oven door and allow cheesecakes to cool for 15-20 minutes, then put in the fridge to finish cooling.

To prepare apple topping, chop apples into half-inch pieces. Add apples to melted butter, and add cinnamon and brown sugar. Stew apples until they are soft and golden brown.

Cool, and top the cheesecakes with the apple mixture.

Lemon, Ricotta, Mint Pasta—A Fresh Summer Dinner

K is off at summer camp, and I’ve been thinking all day about if she’s making friends, is she having fun, did she sleep well, is she liking the food? Of course I’m sure all the answers are yes, but I can’t help but wonder. After putting together a care package for her (and of course the girls in her cabin), it was time to decide what to make for dinner…

A craving for pasta came across me…and when that craving comes on one of the hottest days of the year, this lemon, ricotta, mint pasta turned out to be the perfect fresh summer dinner.

I prefer to use spaghettoni noodles as they’re slightly thicker than the usual spaghetti noodles, and tend to grab a lot of the (super easy) sauce. Add together mint from the garden, creamy ricotta, peas that pop in your mouth, fresh lemon and spicy lemon pepper, and you get the perfect summer-fresh dinner.


Lemon, Ricotta, Mint Pasta

  • Spaghettoni, or your preferred long-noodle pasta—cooked as directed, reserving 1/4 cup water when draining
  • Peas—add to the pasta for the final two minutes of cooking to warm through
  • Ricotta—a couple of spoonfuls, enough to coat the pasta
  • Mint—roughly chopped
  • Lemon—zest and juice of one lemon
  • Lemon Pepper, my favourite is from Trader Joe’s—add a healthy amount to add a nice, spicy flavour to the pasta

Combine the ingredient together and top with more mint, lemon zest and lemon pepper. Serve warm.

Lunch and Learn

I am aware that as K grows older, there will be more difficult things to deal with — but one of the worst things right now, aged 10, is making lunches. It’s the on-going, never-ending process of making what she wants, what is nutritious and what is quick as inevitably she ‘never has time to finish!’.

This morning, after we finished our traditional Sunday breakfast…K shredded the cheese, cut the ham and mixed the 6 eggs with oat milk (our new fave!), and then I finished by pouring the mixture into mini tart shells. 15 minutes later (at 375ºF), we had two-bite quiches… and they are kid approved! This last week of school lunches are going to be a breeze!

We celebrate the end of June when school lunches end…but wait, there are lunches to be made for day camps. Today, I think we made real progress with the lunch trifecta—yummy, nutritious, and quick!

Organization Isn’t About Perfection…

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Everyone has a “junk drawer” in their kitchen…right? Well, I don’t. The closest I had was a disorganized corner in my main utensil drawer. And while it was only a small corner—and nearly everything was useful—it brought my stress every time I opened the drawer for a knife or spoon.

This weekend I bought a few connecting containers and after about 20 minutes this drawer now brings me some joy.

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I find it is always easier to keep things organized if you have a simple system to follow, but when does it go from being organized to being over organized? A system that improves your life is okay, but when it takes more time to use your organizational system than if it weren’t there—you may be over organizing.

The containers in my drawer allow each item to have a home, and it now takes very little thought when putting away cutlery, or when finding something to use.

The seconds of lifting other items to get at the ones beneath have been shaved off…and while seconds aren’t huge, the extra thought, the extra movement, the extra…stuff…all adds up.


“Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money and improving your overall quality of life.” -Christina Scalise

When you’re green, your growing

The weather is turning colder, and there is nothing better than a house full of delicious smelling foods.

Baking on the weekend always makes me feel more settled and ready to take on the week—knowing that we have a something homemade and yummy to add to K’s lunch, or an easy snack after school,

As I scooped the batter into the muffin tins, K walked over took a look and said “Those look deeeeeelishi—wait, what’s that green stuff?” I quickly told her the muffins were packed full of vanilla, cinnamon and best of all – chocolate chips. She skeptically said okay, and waited for them to be ready.

The delightful smell filled the house, and before the muffins could even cool off, K was diving into them. She seemed to have completely forgotten about “green stuff,” dove right into them, and through a full mouth managed to say “these are the most delicious muffins…ever.” Our favourite lunchbox muffins have been banana—and while we still love banana muffins, these ones aren’t as sweet and have a bonus hint of vegetables!

Another batch will be made very soon—these will definitely not last all week!



Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins
Recipe from A Life From Scratch.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, oil, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until batter is formed—fold in zucchini and chocolate chips. Fill greased muffin cups two-thirds full.

Bake in a 350ºF oven until lightly browned on top, 12 – 14 minutes.

Glorious Baking

There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked goodies in the house. This weekend’s baking checked a few boxes:
√ smells delicious, √ tastes delicious and √ great for K’s school lunches.

“Morning Glory” muffins were on this week’s schedule. If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love these muffins…cinnamon, carrots, apple, raisins, pineapple, and if you’re not sending these along to school – walnuts and coconut!

Carrot cake has a special place in my family’s heart—a long-time summer tradition staple at the local coffee shop, a birthday cake flavour favourite—and so these muffins are a nice ode to a family favourite dessert.



Morning Glory Muffins

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed
  • 1 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup nuts (I prefer toasted walnuts – omit if you’re sending these along to a nut-free school)
  • 1/2 cup coconut (I like to toast the coconut – omit if you’re sending these along to a nut-free school)
  • 1 apple – peeled, cored and grated
  • 1 can crushed pineapple – drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, flax seed, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Mix in the carrot, raisins, nuts, coconut, apple, pineapple.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla.

Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until the batter is just combined – do not over-mix as it will lead to cake-y muffins.

Pour the batter into paper lined muffin pan cups – be sure to fill to the top.

Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden.

This recipe makes 14 – 18 large muffins.

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

If you know me, you know that I like things to be organized. My desk at work, my kitchen at home, my handwriting in notebooks, everything.

There has been a problem-spot in my house that has driven me crazy since moving in, but I managed to close the door and not worry about it – until I would open it again and I would go crazy inside.  Our hall closet.  A somewhat organized, yet still very chaotic mess.



After being inspired (and intimidated) by The Home Edit, I thought it was time to tackle this closet (as well as the bedroom and guest closets), and it seems to have settled my insides.



Now, everything has it’s place, and it’s easy to find. No more opening multiple boxes and moving items to find something as small as a bandaid. This was such a great time to throw away the items that were expired or haven’t been used in a while, as well as do a complete restock of medicine and other necessities.

Spring is always a good time to take an inventory of your home – the windows are open, the birds are chirping, and there’s a freshness in the air. Start small…a drawer in the kitchen, then move to the next. Thinking you have to tackle an entire room is too daunting – start small and keep going.

Here are four tips about how I tackled the closets…

Tip One: Remove all items from the space you’re trying to tackle (drawer, cupboard, closet, etc.). You can’t get a full view of the space while there are still pieces in the space, and you don’t know what you need to organize if you can’t see it all laid out.

Tip Two: Create categories for the items you’re organizing – but don’t make the categories too specific. You want to be able to give everything a home without being too constrained. In our hall closet, we have boxes for Allergy and Aches, Pharmacy, Hair, etc.

Tip Three: Label the boxes – permanent marker, paper labels, sticker labels, anything will do.  It frees up the space in your mind (it really does!) when you don’t have to remember what is in each box, and where everything is.

Tip Four: Enjoy. Every time I walk by the closet I take a cleansing breath because everything looks so organized and clean. A few days after I finished the hall closet, I was just looking at it smiling and K said to me You just love organizing don’t you? It really makes  you happy. And I couldn’t help but smile back at her.

I no longer have an uneasiness in the undercurrent of my daily movements, and that’s a result of these closets. Who knew something so small and simple would calm me…even when I didn’t actively know it was causing so much strife inside.

Physical clutter is mental clutter

The beginning of a new year brings light, hope and a clean slate for everyone. While I don’t believe in new years resolutions – every day is a new beginning – I do believe there is a certain clarity that comes with a new calendar year.

As many of my friends know, I have deep respect and admiration for Emily Ley (a.k.a. my “planner lady”). She is a mother of three from Florida who has created an empire based on simplicity. A devoted fan of her Simplified Planner (I’m in my fifth year of using these magical planners), it’s not just the beauty of the book that keeps me coming back to it. Its clean lines, white space, and simplistic layout lets you breathe easier while planning crazy days. It sounds wacky – how can a planner let you breathe easier – well it can, it does, and I will never stray from these books (and I’ll bring as many people on the Simplified Planner journey with me as possible!). Enough about planners…

There is a new Facebook group, Simplified Community, an extension of Emily Ley’s newest book A Simplified Life. While I love seeing all the comments and questions about organizing and simplifying, it has led me to the bigger realization that we all have too much stuff. I’m a big believer that everything in your home should tell a story. If it doesn’t tell a story, or if it’s not necessary/functional, then why have it. Walk around your home…how much of your stuff tells a story – not just “it was pretty and I bought it with so-and-so,” but a real story or memory.

Here’s a story about the Royal Doulton enamel box below. In 2005, my dad visited me in England, and we shared a very memorable day. Me in my flip flops and Dad in his, comfortable for a short-time, loafers embarked on an unplanned 8+ hour walk throughout London. We wandered up and down streets, saw palaces and churches, meandered through parks and eventually ended up at Kensington Palace where he bought me the enamel box. We finally made it back to our hotel with blisters on our feet, sweat on our brows, and so much joy in our hearts – it one of the most memorable days that we spent together, and looking at the this box makes my heart swell with love.



Be ruthless – donate, throw away, or sell the things that don’t bring you joy, don’t tell a story or don’t have a functional reason for being there. It will bring you peace, clarity and calm.

As Emily Ley says, “Physical clutter creates mental clutter.”

Here are three ways I close out every year to bring a little bit of calm and clarity to the new year…

  1. Back-up photos: at the end of (almost) every month, and especially at the end of the year, I transfer all my photos from my phone to my computer, and delete them, yes, delete them off my phone. I then back those photos up to Google Photos as a back-up to the back-up. The nice thing about having all my photos on Google Photos (make note of the privacy settings), is that through the app, they are still on my phone without taking up storage or cluttering up my camera roll!
  2. Replenish Kitchen Staples: an easy way to get a step ahead of the back-to-school madness is to replenish all the stapes in the kitchen we regularly go through. Trips to Costco, Bulk Barn and the grocery store may be painful during the holidays, but it is so nice to have the kitchen stocked before we head back to school and work. The best part about this type of re-stock is that it doesn’t take any thought – no menu planning, no going through recipe books – just restock the staples.
  3. Family Year-End Photo Book: my favourite end-of-year tradition is to create a yearbook for all the memories we have made throughout the past year. These books serve as great display pieces, and are constantly looked at throughout the year. K and I must look through the books at least once a month…she always asks me to tell her the stories behind the photos, which serves as a great memory piece for both of us. My favourite site to use is Shutterfly – great quality, quick turnaround, easy to use, and there are always amazing deals!

I hope to use this space to share a few of my organizing and simplifying tricks that have served me well – and I hope will help you during this time of new beginnings and clarity.