February 23, 2018

DIY Mosaic Tile Backdrop

I take a LOT of pictures. Like tons. Thousands. Tell me I'm not the only one.

I'm also always trying to find cool backdrops and settings for my amateur shots and social feeds. Problem is, I don't have really funky tiles or marble counter tops, nor have I travelled to Morocco or any exotic places in the last little while. But that doesn't mean you can't make those looks yourself.

There's nothing wrong with a little faking, in the interest of artistic creation, right? Ok -- so I'm not saying PRETEND you have all these things when you don't; I'm totally admitting it, so no pulling wool over the eyes. 

But a little project or DIY is always a good idea. Watch this video for a VERY easily DIY Backdrop Hack, perfect for flatlays and social photography.

Let me know your thoughts and send your ideas on what else we can use for a faux backdrop!


February 14, 2018

I Love You In the Kitchen #CPChef #CPDateNight

Happy Valentine's Day! 

It's the one day a year people openly profess their love for one another. It may be a bit too much at times -- too commercial, cheesy, unnecessary even. 

Honestly, I love love. I've said it before, but I'm a hopeless romantic. For me, the cheesier the better. (That goes for real cheese too, btw). I can watch the same lovey-dovey movies over and over again, and still get butterflies. But I can also totally understand the pressures VDay puts on couples, to show a love you feel all the time.

Donny and I have never really "celebrated" Valentine's Day with large, lavish gifts. There are usually flowers, cards, small gifts. But the best gift of all, is time. 

Ever since we started dating, our Valentine's tradition has been to prepare a meal together. Not used to playing chef in our parents' kitchens, we would buy WAY too much food for two people and it would take us hours to make, and by the time it was done cooking, we weren't even hungry. But, we had fun. And we laughed. And we spent time. (We even took pictures, and if I could find them, I would totally put them up here!)

Now that we're married (almost 9 years!) and have the girls, we often spend time in the kitchen, and involve the kids as much as possible. It may not be as romantic as it once was, but it's cooperative. And we still laugh, joke, and have fun -- even if our meals are a bit more "pressed" for time.

I was recently sent two meals from Chef's Plate to try, and thought this would be a good opportunity to show everyone how you can work together in the kitchen. The best part: Chef's Plate does all the thinking and prep. All you need to do is follow the recipe.

Meals take about 30 minutes to prepare, and are fairly easy to understand and execute. If your partner isn't much of a cook, it's also a good chance to get them involved. And if YOU'RE not the best cook, it's an even better way to SURPRISE your loved one with a home-cooked meal. 

Here are our finished meals: 

Meal 1: Creamy Sundried Tomato Chicken Linguine

Meal 2: Goat Cheese and Lemon Risotto with honey roasted broccoli

Both meals were tasty, and easy to create. And as for our little Valentine's Day photoshoot, props go out to Isabelle for taking all the photos, as she refused to be in the pics.

Enjoy Valentine's Day this evening, and if you're celebrating at home, there's nothing wrong with saying I Love You In the Kitchen!

For more info on Chef's Plate, visit their website.

Disclaimer: I was sent two meals from Chef's Plate in order to write this post. As always, the opinion expressed on my blog are my own.

February 11, 2018

Breakfast to Love

We're heard it a million times -- breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Mmmhm. 

For most of my life, I didn't eat breakfast. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Now, I'm not a nutritionist or doctor, so I can't comment on the "most important" part, but I'll tell you what happens now when I eat a good breakfast: I set myself up for a day of success.

Since I've started working with my friend Gina, I've been paying more attention to my breakfast choices, opting for ideas that include a protein, a fat and most importantly, are easy. I'm not one to make a huge breakfast any day of the week, but that doesn't mean you need to resort to a sugar-filled carb that you pop into the toaster.

Most times, simple works. And when you get sick of the hard boiled eggs (that happens to me), it's nice to have some new flavours that'll jive with your morning -- and your morning java.

Here's my newest breakfast to love, and, because it's all red, would make a nice treat on Valentine's Day morning!

So, there's no cooking involved. And I even feel guilty calling it a recipe. 

Wash and cut strawberries and raspberries. Add a handful of shredded coconut and a mound of hemp hearts. Optional: you can throw some PLAIN Greek Yogurt underneath if you eat dairy.

It's actually quite pretty and snowy like, but it's fresh and satisfying and meets all my breakfast requirements. It's my new breakfast to love.

What's your favourite thing to eat for breakfast?

February 01, 2018

On the Day You Were Born & A Letter to My 6 Year Old

The quote below is from a little story book we used to read to my belly -- Oh, Baby, The Places You'll Go! -- an adaptation of Dr. Seuss classics. Little did we know, Dr. Seuss quotes are used often in NICUs all over the world.
Baby, oh, baby the places you’ll go!
The worlds you will visit!
The friends you will know!
The horn-tooting apes
From the Jungles of Jorn,
Will hoot a big toot
On the day you are born. (~Excerpt, Oh, Baby the Places You'll Go!)

6 years ago today, February 1, 2012, our first daughter, Isabelle was born. Only, it wasn't a big toot. There was happiness, of course, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't overshadowed by overwhelming relief and fear. 
You see, Isabelle wasn't supposed to be born on Feb 1. She was due April 10. 10 weeks before my due date, I got very sick and developed HELLP syndrome. You can read more about HELLP and my journey, here. After 24 hours of care, lots of questions, and an emergency c-section, Isabelle came out. There was no other option. (HELLP syndrome affects mom, not babe. Many pre-term babies are born as a result of premature labour. I never went into labour. Baby needed to come out so I could get better.)
New moms often gush about those first few bonding moments with their newborns. Mine was different. I didn't hear her cry, although Donny did, thankfully. I didn't even see her for about 4 hours, and when I did, it was for a minute before she was whisked away to the NICU. She couldn't be without oxygen for very long. I had to wait a full 24 hours before I could hold her. I dare anyone to tell me you don't bond with a baby if you don't hold them immediately.
But let me tell you what else happened in those first few days, as I was recuperating. (Photo is from a week after birth, when we were both looking a bit healthier) 2 pound Isabelle made it through the day with few "desats" -- that's hospital jargon for desaturation, when baby doesn't get enough oxygen to the red blood cells. And she didn't have a "spell"; a brady spell is when oxygen levels dip below 80. We didn't know what any of this meant at the beginning, but towards the end of our stay we were using the same terms as the doctors and nurses. Truthfully, I had to remind myself of the terms in order to write this -- it's funny how you quickly you forget.
So, that was good, we were told. We had a long road ahead, but we were on our way. Isabelle also gave the nurses a glimpse of her personality in those first few days. She constantly ripped out her feeding tube, often grabbed onto a bar in her isolette when she was lifted, and tried to take off her oxygen mask. "She's a feisty one," our nurse told us. "We like feisty. We need feisty."
I try not to dwell on Isabelle's preemie story, but every so often (especially leading up to her Birthday), I take a few moments to reflect on the day she was born. It was also the day I became a mom. And so, together, with Donny, we started our family -- a bit side-tracked, and scary, but with lots of support and care all around us.
I continue to share this story with whoever will listen. Especially new moms, who may be going through it. After all, it could save a life, or two. Preemie mom life isn't easy. It certainly is NOT easy. And no one will really understand unless they've been there. A very smart neonatologist once told me to be an advocate for my daughter. Fight for her. I will always. Both of them. 
Photo: Silvana Marshall Photography
Without her even knowing, Isabelle shows us her feistiness every single day. She is determined and strong, and so smart. She's creative and analytical, piecing projects together and finding new ways to do things. (We kid she gets the creativity from me and the analytical skills from her dad) But she's silly, and funny and kind, loves bugs and snails and is the best big sister. 
And this is what we try to remind her -- on her birthday and as she goes through life. Take these amazing qualities and turn them into something and someone even more outstanding. (Like historically breaking ground on the new hospital in Vaughan!)

Isabelle, as you celebrate your 6th Birthday, 
Know that you are unique and there isn't anyone in the world who is you. Don't be afraid to try things that make you scared. We didn't really have a choice, but look what we got out of it -- you! Don't be afraid to take the lead, but collaborate fairly as well. Be kind and honest, a good friend and supportive sister. Use your skills, your voice, and your talents to do what you love, but also to help others. You can do great things in your life, and we know you will. 
And, always remember to embrace a little silly.
I love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.

January 30, 2018

Sweet Idea for Your Sweetheart

Valentine's Day is around the corner, and while Donny and I don't really spoil one another on February 14 (we both have winter birthdays and are still coming off holiday highs), it's really nice to pay tribute to the love of your life.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to give you some really easy, cost effective solutions that'll put a smile on your sweetheart's face, and you in the good books.

Every morning, Donny brings me my latte before he leaves for work. How about wowing your love with some caffe art?

Truthfully, I tried to do a fancy leaf that I see all over Instagram. It didn't work. But I'll keep trying. So I opted for the universal symbol of love -- the heart. 

This is so unbelievably simple -- I can't even tell you. Make a latte or cappuccino as you normally would, then find a scrap piece of cardboard, cardstock or harder paper. I used a flyer that came in the mail! Bonus points if you use a special mug. 

Fold in half and cut out a heart, small enough to fit in the centre of the cup. 

Lay your heart stencil on top of the mug and sprinkle powdered chocolate or cinnamon onto the latte, being mindful not to move the stencil. That's it!

Present to your love on a tray in bed and wait for the surprise reaction. Oh, and take a cool picture and brag about your sweetness on Instagram.

 Stay tuned for more love-ly ideas!

January 22, 2018

Raving about Ricotta

If you grew up in an Italian household, chances are, you're familiar with ricotta. Ricotta (pronounced ree-co-ta, not ree-caw-ta), is a creamy white and mild fresh cheese. The word ricotta translates to "re-cooked", and actually, not only is it re-cooked, it's recycled, too. Ricotta was originally created from the leftover whey from mozzarella and provolone production. 

Talk about making something out of scrap. 

Ricotta is such a versatile soft cheese, with a smooth and sweet consistency. Some people may compare it to a cottage cheese, often interchangeable in recipes, but I respectfully disagree. Cottage cheese is much chunkier with visible curds. 

Nutritionally, they are similar -- ricotta is higher in fat (although you can buy skim versions -- I don't), and lower in salt, as compared to cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is super high in protein, and low in calories; ricotta is low in calories, although it's protein count is also lower, too. (In 1/4 cup ricotta, 100 calories and 7 g of protein)

In my quest to find new and interesting meals that are delicious, I turned to my old-time favourite: ricotta. If you can buy it fresh, do so, otherwise, a tub'll do. One of my favourite ways to use ricotta is as a spread on toast or crackers. Now, I'm not eating crackers or toast, so I settle for a Ryvita cracker, which is low in calories and taste. (It's honestly not that bad if you put some yumminess on top)

Add a beautiful drizzle of Ontario Honey and a sprinkle of Pink Himalayan Salt and this is a breakfast that went from bland to blissful in all of 3 seconds.  

Do you enjoy ricotta? What's your favourite way to eat it?

January 10, 2018

Faux Fancy Breakfast

A few months ago, I started working with my friend and weight loss expert, Gina Livy, to change my eating habits, and well, lose weight.

I didn't overly broadcast this, because, truthfully, I wanted to make sure I could do it. Often, I jump into a new regime or diet and tell the world, only to quit a few weeks later. But there's no quitting this, because it's not a diet. It's a retrain, and it's a work-in-progress. Some days are easier than others. Some days I indulge. And then I get back on the horse and continue where I left off. 

I'm a bit of a control freak and food is a weakness to me. I use the word weakness because it makes me weaker. Controlling what I eat and when I eat and how much to eat is a challenge because I love food, and food is a big, HUGE part of my life. So I've learned (and am learning) at channelling this love and creating new meals and snacks that excite me but are still good for me.

I told Gina when we started this process that I NEED to be able to eat good (tasting) food. And I don't want to eat salads every single day. And she assured me that was possible. And then there's the social aspect -- I eat socially all the time. Especially over the holidays. And that's when I become a bottomless pit and the food just funnels in. And the snacking. The eating after dinner. It's not easy telling your brain to shut off. Sometimes, I cave. But I'm also trying to eliminate the guilt and if I'm going to snack or treat myself, see it as a treat, enjoy it, and move on. 

The good news -- I love food and I love cooking. Many people would see that as a detriment, but I've made it my positive. I love experimenting with recipes. Truthfully, I haven't eliminated much, except sugar, and the biggie -- bread. I wasn't happy about eliminating bread (and pasta!) from my diet, even though I thought I didn't consume that much. I've learned that, too, was not true. I DID consume a lot/too much -- at least once a day. Don't get me wrong, I've had some pasta and bread and pizza in the last few months. Of course I have. It's still one of my favourite things. But now, every bite of bread or pasta is calculated and methodical, and that's not meant to have a negative connotation. Rather, it's a reminder to myself to enjoy it when I want it. Don't over-indulge. Measure it, eat it, savour it, move on. 

I won't go into all the specifics of this new way of eating, cause you can bug Gina about that, but I will be taking some time and space to share some great new recipes I've been trying that are yummy and good for you, too.

One thing I've tried to do is incorporate protein into every single meal or snack. Breakfast is sometimes a challenge. I don't eat cereal, and toast is out of the question. I love eggs, but even that can get boring if you're eating them every single day. So I created one of those fancy breakfast bowls that we see all the time -- only, mine isn't so fancy, it just looks it.

There's no cooking involved here, because I used PC Blue Menu Instant Steel Cut Oats (made with water and microwaved). Don't like the microwave? Opt for the non-instant version and make it on the stove. I drizzled a tsp of maple syrup to make it slightly sweeter. Then, I topped with some shredded coconut, some chia, and a sliced apricot. Apricots are loaded with sweet, tangy flavour and they're super high in fibre and potassium. But if I'm being super honest, it's the only fruit I had in the fridge that wasn't an apple or an orange. I really wanted some berries in here, but that's ok. The apricot was delicious. And I was out of hemp seeds, or I could have put those in there too.

Basically, use what you have. Assemble the dish and voila. 

It's colourful and quite tasty. High in protein, a little bit of fat, little bit of sugar and filling enough to get you through until snack time. And there's no bread (steel cut oats are ok because they're a whole grain and slow release sugar), no milk, and no animal products (though I'm not vegan, this breakfast is). 

And it's fancy. Not really, but whatever makes you happy to eat healthy!