Tic-Tac-Toe

Tic-Tac-Toe is a classic kids game that has been around for thousands of years, originating in ancient Egypt. This classic game is often referred to as an educational game for young kids because it teaches them and understanding of predictability, problem solving, hand-eye coordination, turn taking, and strategizing.  Although once they play it enough times and have a true understanding of the strategy, they soon realize that it is a game where no one wins.
I use to love playing this game with my daughter Emma when she was younger. Seeing the excitement on her face when she thought “this time, I’m going to win”  but sadly didn’t lol. She got bored of it really quickly and then we moved on to checkers after that.   But one afternoon I was trying to figure out a craft to do with a piece of wood from an old tree truck that we had cut down. I thought it might be cute to make a Tic-Tac-Toe board and to see if Emma wanted to help, so we had a nice little reminder of one of the first games we use to play together.  Plus, it was a great way to make something out of an old tree from our property.

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Well, as it turns out, Emma wasn’t that excited to make a Tic-Tac-Toe board with me so I decided to do it myself.

Here is how to make the Tic-Tac-Toe board:

  • Paul cut a piece of the tree trunk about 4 inches thick. I took an electric sander with 150 grit paper and sanded the top of what would be the grid surface, until it was smooth. I then took painters masking tape and taped off where I wanted the grid positioned and painted the grid lines with black acrylic paint.
  • Once the back paint was dry, I removed the masking tape and then varnished the surface and sides of the tree trunk with a water based clear varnish.
  • Once the varnish dried, I decided to show Emma in hopes that it would inspire her to want to help create the game pieces. Well, it worked. Momma got her wish and Emma was finally excited to help. We wanted to do something fun with the game pieces, so Emma and I looked up ideas on Pinterest. Instead of just the traditional X’s and O’s, we decided on ladybugs and bumble bees.
  • we went to the dollar store and purchased, a bag of smooth river rocks, yellow, red and white paint. We then turned 5 rocks into ladybugs and 5 rocks into bumble bees. I can’t tell you how much fun we had doing it and talking about how we use to play the game together.

    We placed the game board on a small side table in our outdoor sitting lounge. Every now and then we find ourselves wanting to play a game or telling someone who sees the board the story behind it. It’s moment like these that mean the most to me, I hope Emma will look back at these crafts we do together and smile and perhaps want to do them with her kids.

I hope this inspires you to be creative in your home- enjoy!

Summertime Sangria

When entertaining, I like to serve one main cocktail and then have some basic alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages on hand for those who don’t wish to partake in the beverage I have chosen to serve.  A few weeks ago I had some of Paul’s family here for food and cocktails and given that it was the start of the warm weather in Toronto, I decided to make a huge pitcher of sangria.

Sangria is one of those beverages that is perfect for summertime entertaining. On a hot summer day, there’s nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of sangria filled to the brim.

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Little is known about the origins of this flavourful Spanish drink but it has become a popular summertime beverage. It is generally believed that the word Sangria is taken from the Spanish word sangre meaning blood, in reference to the red color of this wonderful beverage.

You will find many versions of how to make sangria on the internet but the one I like the best is the one that I had when I was in Spain last year.

Here is what you will need:

  • One bottle of red wine (preferable Spanish)
  • 1/4 cup of brandy
  • 1/4 cup of Triple Sec or Quantro
  • 2 cups of orange juice (non pulp)
  • 2 cups of cranberry juice (like Tropicana)
  • Fresh cut fruit such as strawberries, blackberries, orange slices

Here is how to make it:

  • Add the sliced fruit to the bottom of a pitcher
  • Add the wine, brandy, Triple Sec, orange and cranberry juice to a pitcher
  • Let merry for a minimum of 30 minutes before serving

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

The Essentials – Pots And Pans Every Kitchen Should Have

The other day a friend of mine asked me my thoughts on what are the essential pots and pans every kitchen should have. I thought this was an interesting questions because with so many different sizes and styles, knowing which are the essentials can be difficult to figure out. Some things I think every cook needs to factor in before purchasing any cookware are; cookware material, maintenance, storage space and what if needed can work double duty in the kitchen.
Cookware material and maintenance are the big ones for me. There are certain materials that I do not want to work with like aluminum, because it is a reactive metal which means I need to avoid cooking high acid foods like tomato sauces. As for maintenance, I do not want to spend a lot of time caring for my cookware which, is different than abusing your cookware. Copper for example, is something that needs a bit of maintenance. Copper is an awesome heat conductor which is important and I enjoy cooking with my copper pot but, it is also a reactive metal that can colour food if not taken care of.  For this reason, I only have a couple of copper pots that I keep on hand when I am cooking.
Here is a snapshot of the essential pots and pans that you will find in my kitchen, It isn’t everything I have but these are my go to pots and pans that I couldn’t live without.

My Essentials

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The following is a list of different pots and pans that you may want to consider when looking at essentials for your kitchen. it isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will get you started. These are the pots and pans that you’ll probably find that you use the most.

  1. Large Saute Pan: Has straight sides and a large surface area. I recommend having one that is at least 12-inches in diameter and 2 inches deep, which is ideal for sautéing, braising, frying, and making quick sauces.
  2. Sauce Pan: A saucepan is something that you will want to own if possible, in a couple of different sizes. I have 2 sizes,  a 2 quart and 4 quart. They are great to use for anything that needs gentle even heat like warming milk. They are also great for cooking vegetables, soups, rices, and pastas.
  3. Non Stick Skillet: A skillet is essentially a frying pan. Non stick is great to have on hand for food that you know there is a high probability of sticking, like omelets or frittatas. The thing to keep in mind with non stick is that they have a short life span and it is important not to use any metal utensils. For this reason, you may want to also have a metal skillet. I have both non stick and metal skillets in my kitchen.
  4. Cast Iron Skillet: Very sturdy and durable. I have had mine for almost 20 years and I use it all the time. I would also recommend a 10 – 12-inch size. Cast iron skillet retains its heat for a very long time. These skillets need to be seasoned before using for the first time.
  5. Enamel Dutch Oven: I love dutch ovens. They are coated cast iron pots that can go directly from the stove top to the oven. They are great for cooking hearty dishes like stews, soups and chili. If you are tight on storage space or budget, this pot can work double duty so you don’t have to by a stock pot.
  6. Roasting Pan: They are great because they come with a rack that allows the bird to sit above the drippings and get nice and crispy. You could get away with using a cast iron skillet if you can’t afford one but the challenge is keep the bird off the bottom and the size of the bird will matter.
  7. Baking sheet: Baking sheets are a must have for being able to bake cookies and dough but they also come in handy for roasting veggies in the oven. I have 2 sets of baking sheets, one for strictly baking purposes and a set for roasting. Using baking sheets to roast things like vegetables can beat up your pans quickly so it is helpful if possible to have a set for roasting and a set for baking, if your budget can afford it. I prefer aluminum or metal baking sheets vs non stick because the life span of non stick is a lot less.

Nice To Have

  1. Stock Pot: Most of what a stock pot does a dutch oven can do. However, if you want to make a larger quantity of something like chili or stock, then a stock pot can be a great essential in any kitchen.
  2. Casserole Dish: Functional for both baking and cooking. Casserole dish is great because it can go from the oven to the table and look good. It can also due double duty and be used to bake cakes and squares. I would recommend a 9×13 as the size tends to work for most cooking and baking needs.

Cookware Material

There are different types of cookware materials to choose from. It is important to think about what will suit your needs and budget before purchasing. I am of the mindset that you get what you pay for and it is important to do your homework. I would rather have fewer good quality essentials and add on over time vs having more essentials and having to replace them because of a short lifespan. Below is some information on the different materials that hopefully you will find helpful.

  • Stainless Steel: Non reactive, durable  but can be expensive.
  • Copper: Awesome heat conductor, expensive need to take special care, reactive and can colour food.
  • Aluminum: Heats up quickly, reactive metal so avoid cooking acidic foods like pasta sauce.
  • Non Stick: Shorter life span vs stainless steel, coating will wear over time , avoid using metal utensils.
  • Cast Iron: Retains its heat for a very long time. Need to be seasoned before using for the first time, special care so they do not rust.

I hope the above helps you find the essentials you need for your kitchen – enjoy!

 

German Red Cabbage

One of the great things about my job is that it requires me to travel to some really cool places that I probably wouldn’t normally get to see on my own. I like to take advantage of my time abroad and really explore the country or city I am visiting –  site see, shop, experience the culture and of course try as much of the local cuisine as possible. On a recent trip to Dusseldorf Germany, I was able to do just that. I didn’t know what to expect given that it was March, not the best time of year to be in Germany weather wise, but it turned out to be a pretty nice trip regardless of the time of year. I did get a chance to visit some pretty cool restaurants in the old part of the city, where there was a cool outdoor market, cobblestone roads and no cars allowed in the city center. One night I was fortunate enough to go on a brewery tour at Uerige Brewery and also have dinner there. It was a preset menu served buffet style, giving us a taste of the local beer and German cuisine.  For dinner we had a beautiful roast with dumplings and red cabbage on the side. I’m not a big fan of cabbage but given that it is a very popular side dish in Germany and given that I was in Germany, I thought I needed to give it a try and I am so glad I did. The taste surprised me, it has such a nice balance of sweet and sour and all I could think of is making this side dish at home for my family. I asked the chef if I could have his recipe and he gave it to me. I made it a few days after I came home and my family loved it! So, here it is.

German Red Cabbage

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Here is what you will need:

  • 3 tbs of butter
  • 1/2 of 1 red cabbage shredded
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Pinch of clove
  • 1 cup of sliced green apple
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of pepper

How to make the German Red Cabbage:

  • Place butter, cabbage, apples, and sugar into a large pot. Pour in the vinegar and water, and season with salt, pepper, and clove.
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cabbage is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

I hope this recipe inspires you to be creative in your kitchen – enjoy!

Saving money momma

Everyone wants to save money when they shop, I certainly do. Shopping for weekly groceries can be expensive, not only because of the cost of food today but also because I found we weren’t always eating what we bought and ended up throwing food away. The best way I have been able to ease the dent in my wallet and eat what we buy is by planning ahead. Planning ahead helped us be more conscious of what we were eating on a weekly basis, helped to make healthier food choices and helped to save money off our grocery bill each week. However, trying to create a weekly meal plan for 3 meals a day was a bit overwhelming. So I started out by focusing on planning ahead our weekly dinners only. Dinners for us, is our most expensive meal of the day. So, I creating a menu board (that is really just a chalkboard) that hangs in the kitchen and I fill in what we are having for dinner every night of the week.

By planning for what we are eating every night, I was able to look at what we had on hand and only shop for the foods we needed to make the dinners. I was also able to see how balanced the dinner menus were i.e. eating too much meat or carbs or not incorporating enough fruits and veggies. It really helped us to make healthier choices.

I also started to make as much as I could from scratch (bread, pasta noodles, crackers, etc) so we could limit the amount of processed food we were buying.  This way, when I went shopping I was able to focus on the foods that are on the outer perimeter of the supermarket first, which tend to be where the fresh produce, meats, etc., are kept vs. the inner isles where most of the processed food is.

Once I got in to a routine about planning our weekly dinners before grocery shopping, being conscious of what we have on hand and what we need to buy for breakfast and lunch also became a natural part of the process.

It still amazes me that this simple DIY craft of creating a chalkboard has helped us save money, be much more aware of what we have on hand and helped to avoid the mid-week runs for forgotten items. But, what amazes me the most has nothing to do with these things (even though that is the main reason I did it), it is that everyone gets involved. Everyone sees what is planned for the week and because of this, they started making dinner suggestions  – which is kind of cool. It eases the pressure off of me to always think of dinner ideas and it has become something we do as a family.

The menu board

 

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The menu board doesn’t have to be fancy. I have a string that hangs from the board for the chalk and eraser to hang in a maple syrup can. I also draw a smaller box in chalk off to the side of the menu to remind me of the things I need to make that week. For example in the picture above, I need to make bread for our BLTs plus dog food and cookies for our dog Clarence.

To make the menu board I used an old framed print I had hanging around the house I had bought many moons ago at Winners or HomeSense, sprayed it with chalkboard paint that we purchased from the Home Depot and voila!

However, if you don’t have an old framed print hanging around you can very easily make a menu board by taking an old frame, cut a board to fit the frame and paint the board with several layers of chalkboard paint.

Regardless of how you make your chalkboard, I recommend to respray with a fresh coat of chalkboard paint from time to time.

I hope that this craft has inspired you to be creative in your home – enjoy!