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Archive for March 2015

Yummy Passover Seder Recipes

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

As I mentioned in my previous post before on making your Passover Seder special and unique, I like to try and add new and tasty meals and traditions to our family's seder table every year.

Here are some of my favourite and newly tried tasty recipes.

Turkish Charoset
There are many variations on charoset. But, I absolutely love this one!!! And, everyone who tried it last year asked me for this recipe. So, here it is:).

  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup dried figs
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup almonds or walnuts
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and cored
  • zest from 1/2 orange
  • sweet red wine
  • In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, chop the raisins, dates, figs, and apricots.
  • Add the walnuts, apple, and orange zest. 
  • Pulse to a smooth paste. Drizzle with wine to reach desired consistency. You can leave this charoset chunkier or ground to a thick paste.

Passover Kugel
This is a great substitute for the traditional noodle kugels, and it will be a big success with the kids as it is sweet:)!

  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 large apple, shredded
  • 2-3 small russet potatoes, shredded
  • 1/2 cup matzoh meal
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • /4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
Note: To save time, look for pre-shredded carrots in the produce section of your supermarket. 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Spray a 1-quart baking dish or gratin dish with cooking spray or grease it with vegetable oil.
  • Mix all ingredients together. Pour into prepared baking dish.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes until golden.

Potato Mini Muffins
This is a great stylish side dish that allows you easily keep kosher during Passover.
"Boil and mash potatoes, shape them nice and round. Put them in the oven until they're golden brown!"

  • 4 potatoes
  • water to fill a large pot
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Note: You will need muffin pan and cupcake liners for this recipe. You can make these muffins pretty by using cake decorating tools (optional).

  • Peel potatoes and place in large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 25 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Turn off heat and drain in colander.
  • Place potatoes in large pot and mash with fork or potato masher.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Pour 1/4 cup of vegetable oil into frying pan. Add diced onions and saute until golden brown.
  • Transfer onions and oil to potatoes. Add additional 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 eggs, potato starch, salt and pepper, and mix well.
  • Line muffin pan with cupcake liners. Fill liners 3/4 full with potato mixture.
  • Brush tops with egg and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
You'll get approximately 18 mini muffins.

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Disclaimer: This post was written by Stella V.

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Preparing the Seder - the creative DIY way

Monday, 30 March 2015

As Pesach (Passover) is just around the corner, many of us are getting pretty frantic about hosting Passover Seder. Hosting Passover is a big task, and with three little monsters at the house it's never been more challenging.

The preparations are time-consuming and the meal planning (and there are many meals) can be overwhelming. And, I don't know about you, I always want to make the dinner table beautiful and stand out in terms of decorations. So, here are a few unique and creative ideas I'd like to share with you from my past hosting experiences:).

By the way, the word 'seder' means 'order', in case you didn't know. There is a reason for everything found on the seder table. Holidays are a personal celebration and should reflect your family's traditions; this includes foods that have been around your table for generations. However, I love introducing new foods to the old and present what I like to call 'pretty varieties'.

I made these matzah covers with my boys:). All you need is some felt, sticky foam shapes, big shiny letter stickers and more stickers - all accessories can be found at the dollar store!
Today, I will share my decor ideas for the seder plate in particular. Tomorrow, I'll let you in on some of my favourite simple to make yummy seder recipes.

Think Outside the Box...
Are you annoyed to wait patiently every seder as the bowl of charoset or vegetables for dipping get passed around? If you answer yes, then you will love this stylish idea. Last year, I experimented with setting my holiday seder table with an inviting round colourful sectional plate at each person's place. Even for the kids, I placed a sectional plat, and they were overly excited about it:).

It was not easy and took a lot of preparation and planning, in addition to all the other meals you have to worry about (and of course keeping all kosher for Passover). I purchased these simple plates from Walmart for $1 each:)!  I believe I recently saw them even at the dollar store. They are typically used to serve vegetables or fruits with a dip as birthday platters, and are divided into compartments. In each compartment I placed one of the ceremonial seder items. There is a portion of charoset, maror, a divided section that holds salt water for dipping in the middle, and separate sections for karpas (a vegetable - celery, parsley, boiled potato, carrot), z'roa (roasted bone) and beitzah (roasted egg).

Another creative and unique option is to use a bento box (you know the one they use for sushi), but it may require more effort to find and will most likely be pricier.

Don't be turned off by the bright colours and modern look. The latest trend is a mix of modern and traditional. Plus, who cares what everyone else thinks?! It's your family and you're hosting! Although, I still use a golden traditional seder plate as the religious centerpiece of the table.

The individual seder plates will be so convenient, stylish, unique and a cutting-edge addition to your Passover Seder Table. I encourage you to try it!

Make It a Unique Wine Conversation...

During the Passover Seder we are required to drink four cups of wine - one cup at four specific points. This represents the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Torah. "To enhance the concept of redemption and freedom, we recline while we drink, have others pour the wine for us, and select red wines which are considered of importance in Judaic tradition."

If I have the time, I would like to try this creative idea this year. (Last year it was too much for me to handle on top of my to do list.) Try to select wines that speak to you. For example, I spent about five years living in France, so I like to select red wines from France, especially the regions where I enjoyed living the most. It is also nice to connect your wine selection to the Jewish community, for example selecting a bottle from places where the Jews were exiled in history, and learn and speak about that at the seder table.

I hope your Passover Seder will be a special one this year.

Chag Sameach to all those celebrating Passover!

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Disclaimer: This post has been written by Stella V.

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Your Entertainment for Passover - Who said it's all about the food?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Dear Busy Mama Readers,

If you're hosting Passover Seder, you're probably wondering what you should do for entertainment, especially if you have a bigger family and need something to make this year's seder a special and fun time at the same time.

So, here are some ideas for you:

#1 - FAMILY FEUD - If you've never seen the show, here is how you play this game. It is a competition in which two families must name the most popular responses to a survey question posed to 100 people in order to win cash and prizes. 

My version for the Passover Seder - Most likely, if you're hosting, you will have in-laws coming over. So, pick two people to compete for each round, representing each family. You can use small flags or bells, or even squeaky toys for each competitor, to know who will answer first. I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation with 4 or 5 questions (with possible answers) pertaining to the history of Passover. It has the real Family Feud music and visual effects and sounds - it will be fun, I'm sure. And of course, there is a prize to be won in the end. You can buy a box of matza and macaroons (kosher for Passover) as the prize for example. Ask me for my Passover Family Feud while there is still time!

#2 - PASSOVER TRIVIA - Use my Passover Trivia to amaze your friends and family at your Seder!!!  The story of Passover hasn't changed in the last 3,000 years. But that doesn't mean you won't have anything new to discuss. Ask me for my Passover Trivia to spice up your seder! Mine is a multiple choice with 10 questions, set up as a PowerPoint presentation (answers are given in the notes section). And, as always, there is a prize to be won in the end!

Here is an interesting fact to arouse your curiosity:
"According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's largest matzah ball was unveiled in Tucson, Arizona, in 2010. Weighing in at 488 pounds, this giant matzah ball was made from more than 1,000 eggs and 25 pounds of matzah meal."


Game rules:

  • Instruct all of your guests bring a small gift that costs under $10 (or whatever budget you'd like). You'll need to have one gift for everyone attending. (You may want to have some spares just in case.) 
  • The gifts can be anything from gag gifts to wine to movie tickets, hot sauces, teddy bear, anything goes. I ask my guest to bring a gift related to Passover for under $10.
  • As guest arrive place the gifts in one central area. Once everyone is there, put numbers (1 for each guest) on pieces of paper (1 per piece), fold and put in a hat and have the guests choose a number, this determines who goes first. 
  • The guest with number 1 goes first and selects a gift from the pile. 
  • The person who is number 2 has a choice take Number 1's gift or select one from the pile, if Number 2 takes Number 1's gift then number 1 can pick from the pile again. 
  • Once you get to the 4, 5, and 6th guest, it will get tricky because only two people can steal gifts from the other guests per turn.

Example: Guest 5 - takes Guest 3's gift (One gift grab)

Guest 3 in turn takes Guest's 2's gift (Two gift grabs) 
Stop: Now guest 2 must pick a new gift from the pile.
Now we proceed to Guest #6 and so on.
Remember there is no gift grab if a gift is chosen from the pile.

  • This continues until the person with the highest number goes and either grabs a gift from another or chooses the last gift from the pile. 

More Rules: 
  • You can not grab a gift back from the person who grabbed your gift.  So if 5 takes 3’s gift, then 3 can NOT take 5’s gift. They must choose from 1, 2, 4 or the pile.
  • Some people limit the number of times that a gift can be stolen to 3 or 4 times. This means that the last person to steal that gift gets to keep it and no one else can steal it. If there is a large group the easiest way to track this is to put those little Post it flags on the gifts and after each time they are stolen remove one. Then when there are no more flags the gift is theirs.
Game Variations:
  • When to unwrap? Unwrap after gift selected from the pile or unwrap once everyone has a gift.
  • Number of gift grabs per turn? Limit to 2, 3 or more 
  • Gift stealing – 3 times and it can no longer be taken or unlimited stealing

#4 - PASSOVER BINGO - Don't forget the kids!

You can buy this simple game at Sobeys (at Dufferin & Clark) or the Judaica store. The kids will love playing it! I recommend it for ages 4+ (although it says for ages 6+).

Like what you read?  Follow Busy Mama to receive our Weekly Newsletter, and email me at to receive my game versions:)!

Disclaimer: This post has been written by Stella V.
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Bon Appetit My Little One!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Dear Busy Mama Readers,

There is nothing better than a tasty and hot soup to warm you up during the cold winter and spring days we're experiencing currently. And, your little one can enjoy this healthy and sweet treat together with you! I started giving this soup to my daughter when she turned 6 months, eventually adding different meats to it, and she still loves it!!!

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup raw cashews (optional)
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 2 lbs. butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus more to thin if desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
If I'm making this soup for my infant daughter, I use half the quantities of all of the above.

Note: You will need a blender or a food processor to puree the soup once ready.

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, cooking until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cashes and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the carrot, apple, squash, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, allowing to simmer until the squash is easily pierced with a knife, about 20-25 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.

  3. Allow the soup to cool to room temperature. Working in batches, ladle the soup into your blender or food processor, and puree it. Heat soup to desired temperature before serving.

Bon Appetit Little One!

Disclaimer: This post was written by Stella V.

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Win Jolly Phonics Books for Your Loved One(s)!!!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Dear Busy Mama Readers,
Are you ready to enter another great contest to win Jolly Phonics goodies for your Loved One(s)?

You've probably read my story about the great wonders of Jolly Phonics, a wonderful educational program for kids from JK-Grade 6 to learn and practice reading and grammar. Now you have a chance to win the amazing Jolly Phonics Activity Books for additional practice and fun at home (without the connotation of ‘homework’)! I love to teach my son (almost 4 years old) ahead of what he is going to learn in daycare. The activities in the Jolly Phonics Activity Books are a great help; my son loves doing all of them!!! Jolly Phonics is a lovely program to teach letter sounds, pronunciation, reading, grammar, and much more!  It really works!!! I recommend these books (and the Jolly Phonics Program) to all parents in order to give their children a strong and sound (pun intended:)) foundation in English and reading.

So, hurry and enter our contest today!

Good Luck to All!

Congratulations to @Vikki Hingah on winning the Jolly 

Phonics Activity Books!!!

Disclaimer: Giveaway sponsor for this contest is Jolly Phonics.  This is not a paid advertisement. This contest is coordinated by Stella V.

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It's All Fun and Games!

Monday, 9 March 2015

There is a point in time when your child turns about 2 and a half and something clicks. For some kids, it's at the age of 3. This is a time when you notice that your child is ready for more family fun and greater attention span - it's time for some board games!

For the last two months, our evening family time has been all about board games. The kids are having so much fun, and so are we. And, no one is whining and asking to put on the cartoons!!! I say it's a win-win situation, especially when you add educational value and imagination to it. How can you go wrong?!

My fellow Busy Mamas and Daddys, let me introduce you to my wonderful world of board games!!!


My boys, ages 2.5 and 3.5 must play this game every evening before bed time! Your child will love exploring the wonderful world of Toopy and Binoo. I'm sure s/he is already in love with the cartoon and can't get enough of Toopy and Binoo:). This board game is so colourful and beautifully illustrated. It introduces and teaches little ones about food, sports, activities, means of transportation and music. While playing this game, your child will observe, learn and practice many skills such as language, coordination and much more. I highly recommend it!!!

Included in the game: 4 game boards included, 36 cards, and game rules
MY Recommended age: 2-4 (works great for 2-4 players)
Game rules: The aim is to complete a game board using cards picked out randomly. 

Available from Walmart online for only $14.93 -


My best friend recommended this fun, quick and easy game for both, kids and adults alike. And, it's definitely a winner in our home:). The monkeys have curved tails which makes the game much more fun because the tails hang on to the sticks and to other monkeys. My 2-year old loves throwing the die to see which coloured stick he will need to pull out. When you pull out the multi-coloured sticks in Tumblin' Monkeys, sometimes a few monkeys fall out, but sometimes they just hang onto the next lower level of sticks, which makes the fun last longer:). The game is rated for ages 5 and up, but as I said, my 2-year old and 3-year old can't get enough of this game. Adults will also have fun playing this game. The game is easy and fun to assemble, even for a child, and easy to take apart and store in the box when you are finished playing.


Included in the game: 1 palm tree, 1 die, 30 sticks and 30 monkeys
MY Recommended age: 2-5 (works great for 2-5/6 players)
Official game rules: Who can keep all the monkeys on the tree?
OUR FAMILY RULES - MUCH MORE FUN!: Who can get all the monkeys from the tree? (You need to pull out the top (highest) level sticks first.)

Available from Walmart online for only $19.93 -

#3 - SPOT IT!
Let's go on a spotting safari journey! Be on the lookout for creatures of the land, sky, and sea. This popular junior edition of the popular card game Spot it! (ages 7+) has a fun and entertaining them that kids will love. And, that's not all! This travel-friendly (game cards are stored in a durable tin canister and it's so small to easily fit into a backpack) matching game can be played five different ways, so you won't be bored!

This game is played with 31 cards that are each decorated with six colourful animals. The animals may vary in size and position, but there is always one, and only one, animal match between any two cards. The aim of the games is always the same: be the fist to spot the matching animal between any two cards. The first person to call it wins the hand, and then two new cards are played. You can play this game in different ways: the player with the most cards or the player with no cards wins.

Your child will learn to name over 30 animals, expanding their vocabulary and inspiring their curiosity about the animal kingdom:). I love educational and entertaining games.

Recommended age: 4+ and adults will find it challenging as well!
Available from Indigo for $13.95:

Discover more Spot it! editions
Spot it! Shapes & Numbers
Spot it! ABCs

I also bought the original Spot It! edition for my husband and I to play:)!


It's all about finding board games that will be fun for the entire family, and especially the kids. This is a simple and easy board game that allows children to start using strategy, colour recognition, and stportsmanship. It's great for ages 3 and 4. If your child has a low attention span, this game will perfect! The object of the game is to fill your log with all five coloured acorns to feed the hungry squirrels in the winter. Kids get to use adorable squirrel plastic tweezers to grab the acorns, which they will really enjoy doing:).

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel game is perfect for preschoolers to develop matching skills, fine motor skills, social skills and strategic thinking skills. So, really you can't go wrong with this game. In this game kids are not only learning their colours, but also decision-making as they pick which acorn they need and learn good sportsmanship when their turn is skipped.

It's a wonderful game for both boys and girls. My boys love picking the acorns with the squirrel tweezers the most;)!

I hope you will try some of these entertaining games with your family and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones!

Disclaimer: This post was written by Stella V. All opinions are my own.
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Teaching Your Child to Read - Success Tips and Strategies from a Teacher

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dear Busy Mamas,

I would like to introduce you to the wonderful world of synthetic phonics - the effective way of learning to read. When it comes to teaching ‘the ABCs’ to your child, I have 2 words for you: JOLLY PHONICS!

While teaching SK and grade 1 at a wonderful semi-private school in France, I found out about this amazing reading program called Jolly Phonics. It is the most fun and successful reading program for kids I've seen so far that works wonders for little ones.

Hurry and meet Snake, Inky and Bee (available in puppet form), 3 great friends who will take your little ones on a wonderful journey! Now that I have my own munchkins who are learning their ABCs, I've invested my own resources - money, time, energy, and lots of fun and love - to teach my own sons how to read using this program.

I assure you that this is not a paid advertisement; it is simply friendly and genuine advice from a fellow Busy Mama and teacher. :)

So, here is what you should know....

What is Jolly Phonics?

The Jolly Phonics Program is developed for children by UK authors Sara Wernham and Sue Lloyd and is used to teach children from JK through to Grade 6 (according to the Common Core Standards!) It is also popular as a remedy program for older children who have reading and writing challenges and for children who are learning English as a second language. I find that this reading program is unique because it is a efficient and effective yet FUN approach to teach a child how to read regardless of his/her learning preferences and abilities. The principles of Jolly Phonics are a child-centered and multi-sensory approach that motivates any child to learn how to read or write through fun and easy interactive activities. I would like to strongly emphasize the key words "child-centered" and “multi-sensory”!!

My friend recently told me that there are many daycares and primary schools that use the Jolly Phonics method, which is great news! BUT... Unfortunately, not many of these daycares and schools follow thoroughly the Jolly Phonics approach. My son's daycare also follows this language program, but not the way they should, although my son's teacher constantly tells me that "Your son is so good knowing his ABCs; he is the smartest kid in the class!", and so on.

Most daycares combine the Jolly Phonics program with something else (another phonics or reading/writing method). While this is not unusual I think that often having more than one teaching method confuses the child.

What really frustrates me is that these daycares often refuse to invest money (very little is required) into necessary resources, such as the Jolly Phonics Handbook. The entire first year of literacy can be taught from the Jolly Phonics Handbook (and the Grammar Handbooks 1-5) with no additional resources for only $36! You can photocopy any of the content (and believe me there is a lot!) in the Handbook and use it year on year. Therefore, the Handbook is a great and must resource to have for both, teachers and parents (if you want to work with your child at home) alike. Additional resources range in price, from student books as low as $4.45 to the My Jolly Phonics Kit, which is $174.

For parents not teaching, a solid investment would be the JollyPhonics workbooks, which are about $20 on Amazon. These are essential for any child to learn the 42 main letter sounds. There is something about having your own colourful book to colour and practice the letter sounds, which is so attractive, fun and entertaining for any child learning his/her ABCs.

Teach it yourself!

Jolly Phonics is all about “multi-sensory” learning. It is important to follow along with your hands and mimicking (and songs which you can download from youtube if you want) when teaching the sounds. This is what makes the sounds stick. Not everyone gets it right. For example, instead of saying:

"The word 'snake' makes the sound 'ssssssssss'. Say it with me: sssssssssss”. (this is what most daycares and primary schools will do).”

You say:
"It was a sunny day today. I took my big German Shepherd dog for a walk in the morning. I threw a ball and my dog ran after it. Then, then my dog sniffed around in the grass and started barking. A large, spotty snake was sitting up and hissing, /ssssssssss/. I grabbed my dog and the snake slowly slithered away."

When you are saying /ssssssss/ you weave your hand in an "s" shape, like a snake, and say ssssssssss, and you get the children to also weave their hand like a snake. You also show them the letter ’S'. I also use my snake puppet when I tell the story and teach the sound to my boys; I go all out; I'm crazy like that! :)

The memorable auditory story, the kinaesthetic action associated with the visible letter ’S’ means that your child will learn to say 'ssssssssss' simply from seeing your hand weave in an "s" shape. This multi-sensory approach is how Jolly Phonics is meant to work.
But remember, you need to tell a story to which the children can relate. For example, in the Jolly Phonics worksheets, for the sound 'ck', a flamenco dancer with castanets is used for the storyline. How many children do you think will know what castanets are? Not many, right? So, you may want to go with a different storyline. I dance flamenco and have my own castanets, so I actually showed my boys and played castanets for them to make it real and fun:)! Again, this is just me doing my crazy teacher magic:)!

I get really into it with my 2 boys with the puppets and all, and they both love it. My oldest loves the work and activity books and catches on really quickly. He is only 3 and a half but is already learning to blend sounds together. (It does help that that my son's daycare follows the same approach, but I find that the 'lessons' we do at home are really what helps the most.)

Jolly Phonics divide this first year of teaching the letter sounds into 5 key skills for reading and writing: knowing the letter sounds, letter formation, how to blend sounds, how to segment the sounds in words and ‘tricky words’. Find out more about these on their website and check out this video on learning the letter sounds.

1. Jolly Stories - My son loves when we read this book together. It's so fun and colourful, and he knows all the characters. And, that's not all! He gets to practice all the sounds he learned! I recommend this resource if you have the extra money to spend as each word in the stories is carefully chosen to follow the Jolly Phonics program.

2. Jolly Phonics Activity Books - These are great for extra practice, again if you have the extra money to spend.

3. The Jolly Phonics Letter Sounds App - available on iPad or iPhone devices off the App store - only $7.99 - This is a wonderful app to incite and encourage your little one(s) to learn and practice all the 42 main letter sounds through a series of captivating and interactive games in the ‘Letter Sound garden’! My son absolutely loves it; the app improved his tracing ability a lot - I highly recommend it.

They have a tonne of additional FREE resources here on their website that you might also like to check out.

Click here to enter Busy Mama's Giveaway Contest and Win a Set of FREE Jolly Phonics Activity Books!

For more information about the Jolly Phonics program, please contact and don't hesitate to contact me at if you have any questions.

Disclaimer: This post was written by Stella V. All opinions are my own. This is not a paid advertisement.
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