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Archive for September 2014

Bundt Cake with Berries

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

I've been making this delicious cake a thousands times already, since I tried it at my friend's house. It's super easy, quick, and tastes yummy! Also, it makes for a great dessert to bring over to your friends' house.

Ingredients:
- 1 cup melted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 8 oz. regular or Greek yogurt (I use ASTRO natural yogurt 6% fat; the fattier the better:)
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice

- 2 ½ cups flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt

- 12 oz. fresh strawberries/blueberries/raspberries (or any other fruit)
- 1 tablespoon of flour

Icing
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons of milk

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F, grease bundt pan with vegetable oil, sprinkle a bit of flour.
  2. Combine all wet ingredients, beat with a mixer a few minutes (I use a mixer with the knife blade in). Gradually mix in the dry ingredients (baking soda, salt, butter). Set aside.
  3. Mix the fruits with 1 tablespoon of flour. Set aside.
  4. Spoon about 1/3 of batter into the bottom of the bundt pan (so that when the cake is ready, the fruits don't fall out when you turn it over).  Spoon half of the fruits with flour into pan.  Add another 1/3 of batter on top. Add the remaining fruits, and then the remaining batter. 
  5. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Test with toothpick; ready once toothpick comes out dry.
  6. Let it cool down for about 1 hour. Put your pretty plate or platter over the pan, flip over the cake, and let it sit for a bit.
  7. Mix icing (I use my small mixer for this as well), and pour over the cake in a nice design, let drip down on the sides onto the plate.

Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy!
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What's in a Needle?

There continues to be an ongoing heated debate about vaccinations. Many studies suggest that vaccinating kids leads to autism, while doctors insist that as parents we must vaccinate our children according to a set schedule to prevent any harmful and serious illnesses for which there is no cure. Furthermore, many claim that vaccines given to children contain low or high amounts of mercury. Although I was recently advised by our pediatrician that vaccinations in Canada do not contain any mercury, this matter remains somewhat questionable to me. As a parent I still hesitate to vaccinate my kids against certain illnesses, especially while they're still infants and their immune system is not developed at all. And, is it really safe and wise to inject a needle into a 2-month old baby containing 3-5 different viruses?

If it were up to my husband, we wouldn't vaccinate our kids at all. I'm, on the other hand, believe in classic medicine, having my grandma who is a doctor, it's hard not to. With our boys, we vaccinated them according to the set schedule, except for chicken pox. My husband won the battle on that one, arguing that it would be much better for our son to get sick with chicken pox as a child than getting the vaccine. But when our daughter was born about 2 months ago, both boys got the vaccine to prevent any potential illnesses in the house with a tiny baby. 

According to VRAN (Vaccination Risk Awareness Network), the Canadian public health authorities recommend an average of 36 vaccination doses, containing 13-16 different vaccines for the first 18 months. And by age 12, children are advised to get 54 vaccine doses. Isn't that insane? Over the last 2 decades, there has been a significant increase in cases of autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), learning disabilities, ear infections, all types of allergies, asthma, and many others. Doctors insist that vaccinations prevent many serious and life-threatening diseases, but at what expense? I don't believe there is conclusive evidence linking vaccinations to autism, ADHD, allergies, and so on; however, there are more and more studies and cases showing that unvaccinated children have less allergies, ear infections, ADHD, colds and other illnesses. "For the first time in history... children are sicker than the generation before them. They're not just a little worse off, they are precipitously worse off, physically, emotionally, educationally, and developmentally.", adds Judy Converse, MPH, RD, a licensed registered dietitian specializing in medical nutrition therapies for children with developmental, growth, learning, behaviour and allergy problems. And apparently, the problems are more common in boys than girls.


So, why pediatricians continue to deny to negative effects of vaccines, and insist on sticking to the public health vaccination schedule? And, why do parents continue to support pediatricians? I can't tell you how many times I've been to the doctor's office with my kids when they're sick (and so have you, I'm sure), and the usual response I get from our pediatrician is "There is nothing to do, just wait until it goes away, it's just a virus. Put on the humidifier". It is very frustrating, and you often wonder if these doctors really know what they're doing. I don't find much quality in our health care providers. We get about 3 minutes a visit, more often than not the doctor makes fun of my unusual questions and worries, rather than listening to the problems at stake, and not putting any effort at all interpreting my kids' growth, but rather adding a dot to his/her growth chart instead. What is the point of continuing down this road? And what options do we have as parents? I believe these are the very reasons (mentioned above) why many parents turn to alternative medicine.

With our daughter (who is just over 2 months old), we decided to wait on the vaccinations. If you're breast feeding, your baby should be immune to whatever you're immune as a mother. We are planning to start the vaccinations at 4 or 6 months, instead of 2, and may not do all of them according to the recommended schedule. But, the more I read about the possible consequences of vaccine doses, I wonder if they're worth the risk.

By the way, vaccination for school entry is NOT mandatory in Canada.

recommended vaccination schedule

Disclosure: All opinions are my own.

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The Pure Joy of Free Play

Monday, 29 September 2014


My husband and I constantly argue about if, when and in what type of extra-curricular activity we should register our kids. My husband is of the opinion that we should just let our kids be kids and enjoy free play until they are at least 5 or 6 years old. I, on the other hand, believe that kids should be stimulated and learn to co-exist in a structured environment playing sports, doing arts and crafts, or other activities with other kids; the more activities the better starting at about 3 years of age.


Our boys are 3 and 2 years old. This year is the first year we registered them into an extra-curricular activity: music. Sorry, I'm lying. We did sign up for swimming lessons before several times, but we would end up attending a maximum of 2 out of 9 or 12 lessons because the boys would always get sick. So, then my husband finally said no more swimming! "We'll take them ourselves leisurely; it's not like they're learning how to swim anyway.", he added.


My problem is that unless you register for lessons, you never make the time to actually take your kids anywhere; you always find an excuse to stay home, relax or 'let the kids be kids' (even if that means watching cartoons), and then I feel like we don't spend true quality time with our kids playing or participating in a fun activity. Moreover, boys always have too much energy that they need to spend somehow. Going outside to the playground or doing various activities is a way to stimulate them and a means to get their energy out instead of being restless inside the house and possibly destroying the home. For instance, yesterday our oldest decided to draw on the freshly painted walls in the playroom.


This year, with the music class, I see how much our boys enjoy themselves and can't wait to go back. It makes me so happy. But, I must admit that even this one music class (one scheduled during the week after daycare and another one Sunday mornings) is a challenge to fit into our busy schedule. The constant rush of getting everyone ready, making sure they're fed properly (and cleaned up), dressed, driving in traffic, infants (if you have any) screaming on top of their lungs at the most inopportune time, you know the drill, all to make sure you get to that extra-curricular activity on time. And, I'm not even going to mention the price tags for playing sports, such as hockey. 


Then comes the question of which after school activity. Do you let your kids decide or do you decide yourself.A few of my husband's buddies came over the other week and we started talking about registering our oldest in soccer. Then, the guys started analyzing the different types of sports boys normally play. There is hockey: the most popular - the national sport of Canada, and the most expensive because of the equipment you need to purchase, the time you need to invest, the politics, as well as the additional skill you need to acquire - skating - before you even begin to learn how to play hockey. There is soccer: less expensive and you're not dependent on the weather or additional skills like learning how to skate (and my husband is amazing at it and a huge fan, so that's definitely a plus). There is basketball, also another popular sport for boys, but I find that this sport is more for when you're older, i.e. once in elementary school at least. Then, there is baseball: "that's the best sport to register your kids in", exclaimed one of the guys and my husband concurred. "That's where you have the least amount of injuries and can earn lots of money, one of my husband's buddies added." It's unbelievable; the main activity or sport you choose for your kids becomes a calculated decision. Some of my friends choose hockey for their kids hoping that one day their boys can get a scholarship to go to university. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great if it works out and as a parent you don't have to pay for your kids' education, especially with the sky rocketing tuition prices nowadays. But, whatever happened to pure passion for sports, dance, arts, and excelling in something you love? How and when do you figure out about what your kids are passionate?



I recently read a very illuminating article about 'tiger parenting' (haven't even heard of this term before) referring to the parents who over-schedule, over-instruct and over-push their kids by registering their kids in way too many after school activities. And believe me, I'm not judging anyone. If anything, I'm definitely on track of becoming that tiger parent. Luckily, my husband is there to slow me down. Our oldest is not even 4 years old yet, and if it were up to me, he'd be registered into 3 different after school activities this year. There is substantial research suggesting that many kids are so overcharged with all kinds of extra curricular activities, in addition to their daily homework, that they don't get enough sleep or rest, weakening their immune system, which results in more illnesses throughout the year.

And, how do you find the balance for your kids in our competitive society where peer pressure plays such an important role? When you see your friends registering their kids into hockey, soccer, swimming, arts, and language schools, all at the same time, how do you keep your own child 'be a kid' at home? It seems that we are constantly racing and competing against all those who can do more. And what about life balance for the parents? It seems that our wife duty is to be a super soccer mom, no ifs or buts. My husband's soccer (scheduling) comes first (before me or the kids). What about 'me time'? Where can I fit that in, between my husband's and my kids' extra-curricular activities? And then, what's left for couple time? And do we get to sleep sometime? 

Disclosure: All opinions are my own.
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Creamy Vegetable Pasta

Friday, 26 September 2014



This is a great wholesome dish that kids will enjoy. If you can, I recommend using whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat pasta is a complex carbohydrate which keeps the child feeling full for a long time. Bite-size colourful vegetables give this dish a lively look. Watch the hungry mouths gobble up this pasta full of cheese and cream!


Serves 2. (I usually triple the recipe amounts below for our family.)


Ingredients: 
- 1 cup whole wheat pasta, or any other pasta of your choice (I use small bow pasta that my boys love)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup chopped mixed vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, zucchini, canned corn, sweet peas - I use these, but you can add/change any of these)
- 4 tablespoons ready-made tomato puree (tomato paste will do as well)
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Creamy Mixture
- 1/4 cup cream (I use cooking cream)
- 2 tablespoons cheese spread (I use cream cheese)
- 3 tablespoons milk

Directions:
  1. Boil 6 cups water with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Add pasta to boiling water. Boil for 8-10 minutes until pasta is al dente (soft). Remove from heat and strain. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon olive oil on the pasta and keep aside in the strainer for the water to drip off.
  2. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan, add garlic and onions and cook for 1/2 minute.
  3. Add your vegetables and cook for 4-5 minutes or till vegetables are tender.
  4. Add boiled pasta and cook for 1/2 minute.
  5. Add tomato puree and sugar. Cook for a minute. Keep aside till serving time.
  6. At serving time, mix cream, cheese spread and milk together in a bowl till mixture becomes smooth. Stir mixture into the pasta, and cook for about 2 minutes. The cream sauce would thicken and coat the pasta. Serve hot (with garlic bread if you like).
Note: If you don't like tomato sauce, just omit the tomato puree and sugar.

Enjoy!

Disclosure: Original recipe by Nita Mehta.


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Chicken Kebabs in Honey-Soy Marinade

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Almost every single person who tasted these at our house asked me for this recipe. Kids will love these kebabs as they are a bit sweet.








Ingredients:
  • 12 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed (1 large pack)
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 10 tablespoons liquid honey
  • 10 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced,
  • 2 large onion, cut up




Directions:
  1. Pick a large container, where you will marinate your chicken.
  2. Cut up 2 large yellow onions and put inside container, spreading it all over on the bottom.
  3. Add, and mix in minced garlic with the onions.
  4. Cut up the chicken thighs into cubes and lay all on top of onion and garlic mix.
  5. In a food processor, with knife blade in, mix together olive oil, honey, soy sauce, cumin, and cayenne pepper.
  6. Pour in marinade on top of the chicken, and mix it all well with your hands.
  7. Close container and refrigerate overnight.
  8. Prepare wooden skewers, the day you plan on making the kebabs. Soak wooden skewers in lemon water for at least 4 hours before using them to prevent burning.
  9. Place chicken cubes on wooden skewers and BBQ for 12-15 minutes or until done. Keep turning to cook throughout. You can also cook the chicken skewers in the oven at about 400°F by placing them onto a tray with parchment paper, cook for about 30 minutes in the oven, turning them over once half-way.
Serves about 8.
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Potatoes with Garlic, Rosemary, and Oregano


This is a great, quick and easy side dish to make, and it goes with any meat.







Ingredients:
  • 2 packs of small red or white-skinned potatoes (I like to use white/yellow ones)
  • about 1 cup olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of minced garlic
  • salt to taste
  • pepper (freshly ground) to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of dry rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano



Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare large rectangular flat aluminum tray, and place parchment paper on top.
  3. Wash (if not pre-washed already) and cut potatoes in half and place each half flesh down on tray.
  4. Prepare marinade. In a food processor, with a knife blade in, mix olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano together.
  5. Brush potatoes with prepared mixture, and place in oven.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and crispy looking.
Place into a nice bowl and serve!
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Fun Filled Days Picking Apples and Pumpkins

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

It's that time of the year again! Enjoy a fun filled day with your entire family picking apples and pumpkins from a pumpkin patch! We just came home from Whittamore's Farm, and the kids had a blast. It was a beautiful day outside and there was tons to do for the kids, even on a weekday, and it wasn't the usual zoo as it is often on weekends.

Tips for when you go
- Don't forget the kids! :), and the camera!
- Bring water (sippy cups), snacks/lunch
- Bring wipes and hand sanitizer (and toilet paper, as it always runs out in the potty stations)
- Bring plastic cups to put farm animal food inside (easy to hold when feeding the farm animals); also you will need quarters to purchase the animal food
- Sunscreen and hats
- Dress your child in a bright colour so that you can easily spot him/her in the crowd

Apple Picking at Applewood Farm Winery
If you like taking your kids to pick your own fruits and vegetables (seasonal), now is the time to go apple picking. If you live in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), I recommend going to the Applewood Farm Winery. The farm is located in Stouffville, close to home (an important factor to consider when you have small kids). They also have a winery. I like this farm because it’s not extremely busy (as Whittamore for example), and offers families to pick a variety of apples during this time of the year, as well as kids to enjoy a small petting zoo, haystacks, and a pumpkin patch.


Applewood Farm Winery hours are:
Wednesday-Friday 12-5pm
Weekends and holidays 9am-5pm
The farm is located at 12416 McCowan Rd. in Stouffville
General admission is $7.50 per person ages 3-65 (apples are an additional charge).

More details can be found at http://www.applewoodfarmwinery.com/index.html.

Pumpkinland at Whittamore Farm
Go and have fun with the entire family at the Whittamore farm. This is my favourite one to go to with kids for the fun activities, especially for some pumpkin fun before Halloween. The farm is located beside the Rouge River Valley in Markham. The farm has tons to offer for kids, including wagon rides, slides, a corn maze, swings, bounce castles, spider web climb and much more. You can also go to pick your own fruits and vegetables (check the website for a detailed list), or check out the farm shop for fresh produce. The farm also hosts birthday parties for children ages 3-8, if you’re interested, from May 10th to October 26th.
 


 


Currently, Whittamore farm is transformed into pumpkinland throughout the month of October. There are many pumpkin attractions to visit, however some are only open on weekends and holidays, so make sure to check the farm website for details. The new attractions this year are the Jumbo Pumpkin Jumper and Jumbo Corn Jumper, both open weekends only and weather permitting). Pumpkin canon shows and wagon rides through the spooky forest are offered weekdays and weekends.
 


Whittamore Farm hours are:
Pumpkinland is open daily 10am-5pm.
Pick Your Own Fall Season (autumn strawberries and raspberries, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) is open weekends only 9am-5pm (minimum purchase of $5 is required).

The farm is located at 8100 Steeles Ave. E. in Markham.
General Admission is $8 (+HST) per person on weekdays and $12 (+HST) per person on weekends and Thanksgiving Monday, ages 2 and over.

Get your 1 free admission coupon to Whittamore Farm at http://www.toronto4kids.com/images/geobase/26089/WhittamoresCoupon.pdf

More details on Whittamore farm can be found at http://www.whittamoresfarm.com

Teachers!!! Apples and Pumpkins together for the Whole Class
Have a fun, educational and holistic experience at Willowgrove Farm in Stouffville. More information can be found at http://www.willowgrove.ca/Outdoor-Education/Fall-Programs. They have great programs for daycares and schools.
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The Step2 Company Shootin' Hoops Junior Basketball Set

I'm not sure who has more fun shooting the basketball, my husband or the boys:)! Since I got this toy, the boys can't get enough of it, and it is a way to spend their energy and play together. It comes with one small basketball. Since we have 2 boys, I gave one a small soccer ball so that they don't fight over the one ball to throw in; works great! The height is adjustable too, and is suitable for ages 2-6.
I really like Step 2 products in general; they are safe, sturdy and last a long time.
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My Challah Recipe

Here is the challah recipe for the plain challah, but there are many different challahs you can bake.




 
Ingredients:
  • 1 ¾ cups of warm water (I use 2 cups; it's fluffier then)
  • 2 tablespoon quick rise yeast
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs (+ 1 more egg to brush the challah)
  • 6-7 cups flour
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Directions:

Prepare the warm water by mixing hot boiled water and cold water, and make it more on the very warm side. For all challah dough, it is best if you start by pouring the yeast into the warm water. Without mixing, let mixture sit for a few minutes until it bubbles.  Then mix in the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, and salt. Add the flour last, 1 cup at a time (make sure you measure exactly 1 cup at a time).  Slowly add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing as you go.  I usually mix with a fork until 5 cups are in, then I start kneading with my hands. Stop at 6 cups. You must have at least 6 cups of flour, then if you still need more flour add another half a cup; you should not add more than 7 cups of flour.

When reaching a nice consistency, knead dough for 5-10 minutes so you get it evenly mixed. Allow dough to rise, covered (I usually cover with a damp cloth napkin), for 2-3 hours. Braid or shape (don’t use a rolling pin, use your hands only; I use a knife to cut the dough into 6 equal parts, then prepare 6 equal rolls with my hands to make 2 challahs, 3 rolls each) as desired.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Once you braid the challah, you prepare one egg mixture (just like for an omelette) to brush the challah with the egg mixture.  Prepare an aluminum tray or a cookie sheet and put parchment paper on top. Place braided challah on it and place it in the oven. Bake for ½ hour to 40 minutes, until bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Once it's golden on top (about 10 minutes before it's done) but not baked yet, I cover with aluminum foil until it's done.

I usually make 2 small challahs in addition on a stick for the boys shaped differently; they love getting their own mini challahJ!


Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom!
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Honey Cookies

This is a great recipe for Rosh Hashanah (if you celebrate the Jewish New Year)! It’s quick, simple and fun to do with your toddlers or preschoolers. You don’t even need an electric mixer. I always have fun baking these cookies with my boys, who are 2 and 3 years old.








Ingredients: 
·         2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon cinnamon
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon baking soda
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         ¾ cup melted butter
·         ½ cup liquid honey
·         ⅓ cup granulated sugar
·         1 egg beaten
·         Sprinkles

Materials:
·         Medium bowl
·         Large bowl
·         Fork
·         Wooden spoon
·         Rolling pin
·         Cookie cutters
·         Cookie sheet
·         Parchment paper
·         Extra flour

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream together, butter, honey, and sugar until smooth. Then, beat in the egg.
3. Stir in flour mixture, mixing well.  Cover and refrigerate dough for about 1½ hours or until firm enough to roll and cut.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface, about one-third of the dough at a time. Sprinkle some flour onto the rolling pin each time you roll out the dough.
6. Cut dough into desired shapes using floured cookie cutters.
7. Place parchment paper onto cookie sheet, and place your cut out shapes on the cookie sheet. Add some sprinkles.
8. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned and firm to the touch.


    Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.
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