Candy Cane Hot Chocolate Gift Jars

Hot CocoaWhen I was a kid, it seemed that Christmas would never come. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I started counting down till the big day at some point in October, but I would go crazy with anticipation for Christmas Eve. And I could never understand how my parents were so ambivalent toward it. While I was literally counting down the minutes, adults all around me were complaining about how there wasn’t enough time until Christmas.

It wasn’t sheer gift greed that drove my Christmas fever, either. My family was strewn across a few different provinces, so Christmas was one the few times when we actually got together in the same room. To see my dad’s face light up like a kid’s while recounting some ridiculous childhood story with his brother was one of the best things about the holidays, and that’s what I loved the most about this time of year.

But this year seems different — rather than anxiously awaiting my most favourite day of the year, I’m cursing each day that passes, as it’s one less day to get everything on my to-do list done. I barely had time to get my little tree up, and with two days to go, I’m not even done my Christmas shopping. I am, as it turns out, an adult.

So, with just a few short days to go before Christmas, I’m trying to bring back my Christmas spirit by getting back to what it really means to me — showing the people I love just how much they mean to me. And since my absolute favourite way to do that is through food, these hot chocolate gift jars are the answer. They’re super-quick to make and with a little festive ribbon, they’re absolutely adorable to give out as gifts to your friends and family.

Hot cocoa 2

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate Gift Jars
This recipe is enough for 1 500-ml jar, so you can multiply this recipe for as many as you need. Each 500-ml jar makes 4 cups of hot chocolate.


8 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
8 tbsp white granulated sugar
1 tbsp crushed candy canes
1/4 cup mini marshmallows


1. Wash mason jar and lid thoroughly and let dry.

2. Spoon cocoa powder into jars. Top with sugar, candy canes and marshmallows. Seal.

Include the following directions with each jar, and note that each jar makes 4 servings.

1. Remove marshmallows and set aside.

2. Mix contents of jar thoroughly.

3. Heat 4 cups milk until warm. Stir in contents of jar until completely dissolved. Divide among mugs and top with marshmallows.

For adults, you can include the following tip:  For a naughty twist, add 4 tbsp creme de menthe to hot chocolate while heating.



Watermelon Gazpacho with Fresh Basil Cream

gazpacho 4

Every once in a while, we need a fresh start.

In order to grow, we need to every so often challenge ourselves, sweep the cobwebs, shake out the rug and take inventory of what we have. And most important, we need to determine whether what we have is what we really want.

You might have noticed my site looks a little different than it did the last time you visited. It’s fresher, brighter and a better reflection of the kind of person I really am and continue to strive to be.

Over the years, this blog has been a resource for me – it’s grounded me, taught me how to cook and given me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. In turn, I’m going to make this blog a resource for you. I’ll be incorporating short how-to videos and offering more instruction on how to make cooking healthier, easier and more enjoyable, and I’ll continue to share the recipes I’m concocting in my own kitchen.

I want to help you rediscover your kitchen as the creative oasis that it is. I want you to take joy in cooking and view dinner as something to be savoured each and every day – not something to dread the minute the five o’clock hunger pangs come along.

Please let me know what you think of the new look – I’d love to hear your thoughts! And special thanks to my friend, graphic designer and illustrator Bianca DiPietro, for creating my adorable logo at the top. For more of her work, check out her website.

I created this refreshing soup a few weeks ago, when we were suffering through a pretty intense heat wave here in Toronto and my stove and I just weren’t getting along that well. It’s a great mid-afternoon cool-me-down for those days when it really is just too bloody hot to eat, let alone cook, and it literally comes together in just a few steps. The basil cream is an indulgent and delicious topper, but totally optional. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Chop your watermelon into medium-size cubes.

watermelon chopped

2. Peel and halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds by running a spoon along the middle of each half.

seed cucumber

3. Purée it all in a food processor with lemon juice and white balsamic for a hint of acidity… and that’s it!


Watermelon Gazpacho with Fresh Basil Cream
Serves 6 to 8.

Serve this chilled soup as a refreshing light summer lunch, or spoon it into small mason jars for a cute dessert option!


6 cups cubed watermelon
3 cups peeled, seeded and roughly chopped cucumber
2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped

Basil Cream
1 cup heavy (35%) cream
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped (TIP: Basil bruises and browns quickly, so wait until you’re ready to fold the basil into the cream before you chop it.)


1. In a food processor or blender, purée watermelon, cucumber, lemon juice and vinegar until smooth. (TIP: You may need to work in batches, depending on the size of your food processor or blender.) Refrigerate until chilled.

2. In a large chilled bowl, add cream. With an electric hand mixer or whisk, beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in basil.

3. Serve gazpacho in chilled bowls with a dollop of basil cream. Garnish with avocado.



Blueberry Lime Ice Cream

ice cream final

You know when you go into one of those frozen yogurt bars and get just a little carried away?

It all happens so fast. You get really excited because your favourite flavour is back – then the featured flavour catches your eye and that swirl option just looks oh-so-tempting and before you know it, you’ve got a 1/2 pint of mango-crème brûlée-oreo cookie crumble staring back at you.

And don’t get me started on the toppings. As soon as I see the rainbow of colourful fruits and gummies and chocolates, I think to myself, “This is what’s really going to pull this act together.”

That excitement – that no-holds-barred risk-taking creativity – that’s how you should approach your kitchen every single day.

Sure, you need to reign it in just a little (I don’t know how many times I’ve told my boyfriend that I will NOT make a hamburger topped with caramel sauce), but keep in mind that all of your favourite recipes are the result of someone, somewhere saying, “why not?”.

I found the best way to get myself into the groove of cooking off the books was to start making tiny variations on recipes I already know by heart. For example, make a simple fettuccine alfredo recipe, but toss in some fresh asparagus, or knead up Alton Brown’s pizza dough, but top it with whatever you have in your fridge instead of making a special trip to the store for someone else’s idea of what should go on your pie.

Ice cream is an incredibly easy and fun food to customize – I know it can sound complicated at first, but once you familiarize yourself with my three-step system, you’ll be leaving your ice cream maker out on the counter from now until October!

First, you want to make your custard. A custard is basically just a mixture of egg yolks, sugar and cream. To make it, whisk together the yolks and sugar (and sometimes vanilla and salt for flavour). Meanwhile, heat the cream until small bubbles form around the edge. Then you want to very slowly whisk the cream into your yolk mixture – a really handy trick to whisk in the cream without the bowl roaming around your counter is to anchor the bowl in a pot, like I’ve done here. You can also add in any last-minute flavourings for the base ice cream here – for a bit of tartness, I opted for a squirt of lime juice and a hint of zest. Be sure to chill the custard to room temperature before storing it in your fridge to chill completely.

Next, make your flavouring. The options are pretty much endless – caramel ripples, raspberry swirls, fudgey trails – think back to the frozen yogurt story and let your inner mixmaster free. For my ice cream, I opted for a simple blueberry sauce. With any fruit sauce, you want to cook it with a little bit of sugar and some lemon juice to really bring out the flavour. This mixture should also be chilled before you add it to your ice cream.

Lastly, churn and swirl. Place your pre-chilled ice cream maker bowl into the unit and turn it on. Slowly pour in the cold custard while the machine is running and let it churn for about 45 minutes. Depending on your unit and the temperature in your kitchen, the custard may not reach that ice cream consistency you’re looking for, so you want to transfer it to a shallow container and freeze it for another hour or so. But before you do so, you’ll want to swirl in your flavouring. Here’s a quick video I made that shows how I do it.

Now you just need to freeze it until firm! Here’s my recipe below (I adapted it from a basic ice cream recipe from Cuisinart).

ice cream 4

Blueberry Lime Ice Cream
Makes 1.5 quarts.

Kissed with tart lime, this custard-style ice cream features a brilliant blue swirl of fresh local blueberries.


2 cups heavy cream (35%)
2 cups whole milk
5 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch sea salt
1 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest

Blueberry Swirl
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Pinch sea salt


1. In a medium saucepan, combine cream and milk. Heat on medium and cook uncovered until edges begin to bubble; do not bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt. Slowly stream in cream mixture, whisking constantly, until combined. (TIP: To keep the bowl steady while whisking in the cream, arrange a damp towel over a separate pot and place bowl in pot as shown here.)

3. Return mixture to pot and heat on low, whisking often, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

4. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a large shallow container and refrigerate until cold, 2 to 4 hours, but ideally overnight.

5. Meanwhile, prepare blueberry swirl: In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and heat on medium. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered until berries begin to break down and mixture thickens to a rich sauce. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to a separate bowl and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

6. Turn on ice cream maker and pour in chilled cream mixture while motor is running. Churn according to manufacturer directions. Return mixture to the large, shallow container. Pour blueberry mixture into centre of mixture and swirl through mixture with a butter knife. Freeze until firm. Ice cream will stay good in your freezer for four to five days.



Maple Pecan Shortbread Cookies


Where I come from, spring is marked each year by the ritual tapping of trees.

It’s a silent act; you rarely see them attaching their rustic metal buckets to the maples that dot the roads and form the woods of the county. You’re lucky to catch them at work, collecting the golden sap that later ends up in shiny bottles on local store shelves.

It’s one of few true labours of love I’ve ever seen. It’s intensive, barely profitable and time-consuming, but I don’t think you’ll ever meet a sap-maker who’s ever so much as considered not tapping each spring. And if you’ve had the pleasure of tasting fresh, still-warm maple syrup, you’ll understand why they do it – it’s nature’s pure unadulterated caramel.

When I was a kid, one of the highlights of the spring thaw was visiting the sugar camps in the height of the season. They were always out in the middle of nowhere, at least an hour’s drive away, but the anticipation of it all made every agonizing mile stuck in the back seat of the car well worth it.

I remember the steam bursting from the boiling buildings, visible as soon as you got within a five-mile radius of the camp. If you rolled down the window, you could smell the air perfumed with sugar.

Most of all, I remember the maple syrup lollypops – these were the highlight of each trip. Workers would bring a simmering bucket of syrup out to a wooden block filled with fresh snow – they’d drizzle steaming sap over the ice crystals as us kids jammed wooden sticks into the gooey mixture, swirling them around madly to get as much sugary syrup as gravity would allow. We’d rush to jam the lollypops into our mouths before they cooled down too much – the heat, after all, was the best part.

I still love everything about maple syrup – the rich, smooth texture and bold earthy-sweet taste. And that smell – one whiff of it and I’m home. If life were easy, I’d swear I’d ditch the city in a flash and give it all away for a sugar camp.

It was during one of these maple sugar daydreams that I dreamt up this twist on the classic shortbread. Each cookie has just a hint of maple, but when combined with this super-easy maple syrup glaze, it’s like you’ve died and gone to a sugar camp.



Maple Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Makes 32 to 36 cookies.


3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 – 1 1/2 tsp maple extract
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1 3/4 cup cake and pastry flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
32 – 36 pecan halves

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup icing sugar


1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and shortening until smooth. Gradually add sugar, stirring on low until light, fluffy and no lumps remain. Add maple extract and salt and stir until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and gradually stir in eggs.

3. In a large bowl, sift flours. Gradually mix into batter until just combined. Working in batches, transfer batter to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe batter in a tight, circular formation to form 1 1/2 inch-wide rosettes. Top with pecans and bake until bottoms are golden, 8 to 12 minutes.

(NOTE: If you’re not into piping, simply gather the dough into a ball, chill it for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up, then roll out and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.)

4. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

5. Prepare glaze: In a small saucepan, heat maple syrup on medium. Add to clean stand mixer and gradually mix in icing sugar until smooth and slightly thick. Let cool.

6. Once cookies and glaze are cool, transfer glaze to a re-sealable ziplock bag and seal tightly. Snip a small hole in one corner of bag. Using bag, drizzle glaze over cookies. Set aside until glaze is set.



Apple Pie Cookies

Historically, I haven’t been very good at taking care of myself. I eat well and I exercise, but I’ve never really paid attention to what I really need, which is something a little less superficial.

Because every once in a while, I feel myself slipping. It’s tempting to ignore, to pretend it’s not lurking there under the surface. A really good counselor once told me that I need to make appointments with myself. Write it in your day planner, she said. “7 pm – 7:45 pm: Read a book/watch tv/go for a walk. Whatever you want.”

Except I never did it. And here I am, six years later, still struggling with the same issues that brought her to give me that advice. So call this an early New Years’ resolution, or my own personal Happiness Project of sorts, but as of today, I’m going to take care of myself.

After much consideration, deliberation and flat-out day-dreaming, I have come to the conclusion that the key to keeping my sanity, staying cool and being myself lies within the following items/events/random compilation of things I like:

Evenings. I love ‘em. Cozy jammies, hot tea and a good book are heaven to me. For some reason, they never seem to feel as good when the sun’s out.

Cat Cuddles. If you’ve ever so much as ran into me on the subway platform, you probably gained from my fur-covered pea coat that I like to spend quality kitty time.

Writing. It should come as no surprise that writing is my therapy – there’s something cathartic about transforming the dozens of thoughts that race through my mind at once into words that I can organize into logical sense.

Water. I was born in what was literally called a “cottage” hospital beside the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Newfoundland’s north west coast. I grew up in a small town known for having the highest tides in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to shake that intrinsic need to be near water, and I’ll never fully understand the sense of belonging that comes over me when I hear the sound of a tide lapping against a nearby rock.

Jodi Picoult. Yeah, yeah, she’s hardly Jane Austen, but I’ll be damned if I can put one of her books down once I’ve opened the paperback spine.

Mashed Potatoes. Only my boyfriend knows this about me, but when I’m really stressed, I’ve been known to fill a bowl with a heaping pile of mashed potatoes, gravy and as much cheese as I can rummage from the fridge – then microwave the lot until it’s greasy and bubbling. There is nothing better.

Apples. When I was a kid, I would buzz through these by the bushel. Some of my clearest memories are from visiting the apple stands that would dot the country road not far from where I grew up. The smell of the Jonagolds, Galas and Spartans would drive me into such a frenzy that my dad would have to pull over the car before we got home just to wash one off for me to eat right then and there.

Pie. What’s not to love about a flaky crust and warm juicy filling with a heaping, melting scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top?

Cookies. There’s just something so irresistible about a dessert you can palm. I love them moist and chewy, with lots and lots of rich chocolate chunks.

So whether it’s enjoying an evening on my couch with a book (perhaps with a furry cat nestled on my lap) or taking a walk down to the lake, I’m going to make at least one of these things part of my everyday.

Which brings me to the topic of this post – to get a jumpstart on this daily task, I’ve compiled three of my absolute favourite things – apples, pie and cookies – into these adorable little treats.

I can’t take credit for the idea – they were inspired by the apple pie cookies at this cozy restaurant around the corner from my apartment called The Good Fork. If you’re ever in Toronto’s Bloor West Village, check them out. Or you can save yourself the trip and just make these pies yourself.

They’re a lot easier than they might look – once your dough is made and chilled, roll it out very thin. If it’s too thick, your cookies will be too dense, and that’s no fun. Then you punch out the circles, dollop some apple filling on top and cover with a second circle. Voila! Apple pie cookies!

Apple Pie Cookies
Makes 30 to 36 cookies.


5 1/4 cups flour, plus additional for dusting
1 tbsp plus 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided
2 tbsp plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 lb shortening, chilled
2 large eggs, divided
2 Gala apples, peeled and diced (1/4 inch)
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground clove


1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp granulated sugar. With a pastry cutter, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, beat 1 egg and enough cold water to make 1 cup. Slowly add to flour mixture, mixing with a fork; add only enough liquid to make the pastry form a ball.

3. Turn pastry onto floured cutting board and knead until mixture is just smooth; do not over-mix. Divide into thirds and refrigerate for one hour.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine apples, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, 1/4 tsp salt and clove, stirring to coat. Refrigerate until ready to use. (TIP: If refrigerating for a while, drizzle with a few drops of lemon to prevent apples from browning.)

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Dust work surface with flour. Roll one-third of dough about 1/8-inch thick. The dough should be thin and pliable, but thick enough to hold the filling. With a 2-inch round cookie cutter, punch out circles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

6. In a small bowl, beat remaining 1 egg. To assemble cookies, spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon of apple mixture into center of 1 dough circle. Take a second dough circle and brush its underside edges with egg. Place over top of filling, pressing edges to seal. Push the tines of the back of a fork up against edges of cookie to seal completely. Cut 4 slits in top of cookie. Repeat with remaining dough circles and apple mixture.

7. Brush tops with egg and sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, until tops are golden. Let cool on sheets for 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

I love them served warm with ice cream, but they’re a great on-the-go snack, too. Enjoy!


Nova Scotia Blueberry Pie

It’s hard to be easy on yourself.

Like most, I’ve long been aware of the fact that I truly am my worst critic. No one obsesses over my mistakes and translates them into failures quite as harshly as myself.

Case in point:

I’ve been having a hard time with school lately. Working full time and then rushing to class two nights a week is draining, and to be honest, I haven’t been enjoying chef school as much as I thought I would. It’s hard – really, really hard – in a way that I’m not used to. As it turns out, a liberal arts degree doesn’t really make you cut out for a hard-ass chef’s kitchen.

But this week was different. Despite my usual fretting and mad scrambling to get everything done on time for the chef, I received a really good compliment from him. Like really good.

After I got over my initial shock, I was elated. I danced in my car on the drive home from class. I cried a little. I actually believed that maybe going to chef school wasn’t just some frivolous pipe dream, but could actually lead to something I never thought myself capable of. I was, as I announced to my boyfriend that night, proud of myself.

And then something stupid happened. I’m not 100 per cent sure where it came from, but suddenly the idea popped in my head that maybe I hadn’t turned the gas oven off at school.

At this point, a normal person would probably brush the worry aside and go back to basking in their temporary glory.

But not me. I neurotically fixated on this minute detail, going through all of the nightmarish possibilities over and over until well past 1 am. Visions of the George Brown campus bursting into flames danced over my eyelids, but most of all, I pictured the chef peering down at me next class, taking back what he’d said that had made me feel so good.

It’s almost like a perverse denial of self-respect, like my mind couldn’t allow myself to be proud, so it desperately sought out some way to cloud my happiness. It’s frustrating, but sadly not something that’s by any means foreign to my psyche.

My mom is no stranger to this self-deprecating behavior. Despite being a successful overachiever, over the years I’ve watched her struggle with her own doubts and fears. So naturally, I knew who to call when I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling.

As expected, she knew exactly what I was going through, and had had a similar situation just last week. But what she said really stuck with me. Probably because it was true.

We don’t let ourselves accept compliments when we don’t think we deserve them, she said. We find some way to negate the positive, some justification for our own feelings of self-doubt.

Most of the successful people I know suffer from this, so I guess in a way I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for being hard on myself. But nonetheless, if you have any pointers for getting over this – or at the very least, pushing them aside in order to sleep at night – I’d love to hear them.

This recipe comes from my mom, who’s aptly from Nova Scotia. Every fall, she hauls out her classic old Nova Scotia recipe book and automatically thumbs her way to the blueberry-spattered page. It’s a favourite of mine too, especially since it’s such a simple dessert to throw together when you’re busy trying to get dinner on the table.

Nova Scotia Blueberry Pie
Serves 8 to 10.


1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup white sugar
4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 9-inch unbaked deep dish pie shell

1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, cold, cubed

Whipped Cream (optional)
1 cup heavy whipping cream (35%)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp white sugar, or to taste


1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.

2. In a large bowl, add 1/4 cup flour, white sugar and blueberries, stirring to coat berries. Stir in lemon juice and transfer to pie shell.

3. Prepare topping: In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, rubbing between your fingers if needed. Pack over berry mixture.

4. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350˚F and bake for 45 to 50 more minutes. (NOTE: If using fresh blueberries, bake for 10 to 15 minutes less.)

5. Prepare whipped cream: In a medium bowl, use an electric hand mixer to whip cream, vanilla and sugar until stiff peaks form. Taste for sweetness and adjust as desired. Serve over pie.



Orange Cranberry Bread

I’m easily overwhelmed.

I don’t always hold up under pressure.

I only assert myself when pushed, and even then, it’s not nearly enough.

And I have this nasty habit of not believing in myself.

That’s all to say that I really don’t have what it takes to be a good chef.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I rushed back and forth between my stovetop and workstation at school the other night, all under the critical eye of the chef who would eventually be judging my performance on a scale of one to 100.

“It’ll be fun,” I kept telling friends and family about my starting chef school this fall.

Fun isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe that first night. Terrifying is a bit more apt.

I was yelled at for using the wrong sink. I chopped too much onion and not enough leek. I spilled water on the gas burner and burned my finger on the oven rack. I stuttered when talking to the chef. And I got a $40 parking ticket at the end of it.

I couldn’t sleep later that night – just kept tossing and turning as I ran though every single screw-up, obsessing over how I could have done things better or whether or not the chef thinks I’m just another spastic 20-something going to chef school to “discover herself.”

It wasn’t a total flop, though. I made my chicken stock, then my soup, cleaned up my station and went home at the end of it. I learned what sink to use and where not to park. I learned that yelling “hot behind” when you’re carrying a hot pot isn’t nearly as embarrassing as it sounds, and that as much as I may want to pack it up and go home halfway through, I can stick it out and do just fine.

This experience is testing me, and will continue to test me over the next two years. It’s exposing my weaknesses, questioning my talents and thrusting me out of my comfort zone, into a competitive arena of people who are faster and better than me.

I’m not okay with it, but I’m going to have to adapt. I’ll always be the person who falls behind for stopping to help another student out, and I’ll probably never achieve the perfect brunoise. But I will learn to trust myself, and to keep my cool under pressure.

And at the very least, I’ll learn to cook with confidence.

Here’s one of my grandmother’s recipes that I’ve adapted, inspired by this amazing orange cranberry scone I had when I was in Ottawa last month with my mom and dad. And if you’d like to check out another of my grandmother’s recipes, check out my most recent post on Clean Eating magazine’s new blog!

Orange Cranberry Bread

My grandmother’s original recipe called for raisins instead of cranberries, so feel free to experiment with a variety of dried fruit, or try swapping out the orange for a large lemon.


1 medium orange, zested and juiced
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups white all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and dust with flour.

2. In a 1-cup measure, add orange zest and juice. Add enough boiling water to fill cup. Transfer to a small bowl and add cranberries.

3. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Stir in egg and vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and stir until just combined; do not over-mix. Fold in orange-cranberry mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared loaf pan, smoothing top with back of spoon. Bake in centre of oven for 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in centre.



Raspberry Lemonade Ice Pops

I once joked with a friend of mine who’s also from the Maritimes that if we eventually move back East, we’ll be so desperate to shake our hardened Toronto ways that we’ll drastically overcompensate by harassing poor bedraggled homeless people, begging to hear their stories and thrusting unsolicited toonies in their fists.

It’s a constant struggle, every time someone in scraggly clothes begs for spare change or even just an ear to hear their troubles. One of the first things I learned when I moved here was to avoid eye contact, but nine out of ten times I slip up. More often than not, it ends with me emptying the contents of my change purse into their hands or winding down my car window to hand them a five dollar bill.

Except for today. Today I was all Toronto.

I was walking home from the bookstore this afternoon when a girl stopped me to ask for some change. She said she lost her bus pass and needed money to get back to Mississauga.

I took one look at her slightly grubby t-shirt and baggy pants and made a mental assessment that she was probably lying. I said I had no cash on me and walked away.

But as I started to walk up the steps to my apartment, my mind started racing with all of the possibilities. What if she wasn’t lying? What if she really was stuck in Toronto for the night with no place to go?

I was still wrestling with myself as I switched the lock on my apartment door and slipped my shoes off, arguing that I can’t give into every person who bums, that I’ll just be taken advantage of. But no more than five minutes later, I found myself rummaging through my wallet for change and running out the door.

I ran back to the spot where she approached me, but she was gone. I walked up and down the street, scoured the nearby subway station in case she’d gone in there, but she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Maybe she was trying to take advantage of me. Maybe they can sniff me out as vulnerable.

But that won’t stop me from opening my wallet the next time someone asks for change. Because I’d rather end my day a few bucks poorer than lose sight of who I am, and most of all, where I’m from.

Raspberry Lemonade Ice Pops
Makes 4 to 6 pops.

For a minty twist, boil one sprig fresh mint with the lemon mixture, or chop three or four sprigs and stir them into the lemon-yogurt mixture before you freeze the pops.


measuring cups and spoons
2 small saucepans
wooden spoon
small bowls
4- to 6-pop ice pop molds
wooden popsicle sticks


1 pint fresh raspberries
2 1/2 tbsp sugar, divided
Juice 2 lemons
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt, divided


1. In a small saucepan, combine raspberries, 3/4 cup water and 1 1/2 tbsp sugar. Heat on medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. In a separate small saucepan, combine lemon juice, 3/4 cup water and 1 tbsp sugar. Heat on medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced by half, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove raspberry and lemon mixtures from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to separate small bowls and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

4. To raspberry mixture, add 1/2 cup yogurt and stir to combine. To lemon mixture, add remaining 1/2 cup yogurt and stir to combine. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

5. Layer raspberry and lemon mixture in pop molds. Insert sticks 3/4 way into pops. Freeze until hardened, about 5 hours.


Melt Your Heart Blueberry Oat Muffins

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when your parents stop being just your parents, and become something a little bit more. If you’re anything like me, it happened around the same time that you started seeing little bits of Mom and Dad in your everyday motions and movements, in the little things that ultimately make you who you are.

As funny as it may sound, I first noticing these niggling bits of my parents in me when I adopted my cat, Suzie. I would, and still do, run back home after leaving for work to make sure – for the umpteenth time – that I did indeed turn off my hair straightener, lock the door, or put away all the sharp knives. Yes, it’s part OCD, but it’s also done out of love, because I know I’d never forgive myself if something were to happen to my little furry baby.

And because of this, I’ve now gained a new respect for my mom, who countless times throughout my childhood, would turn the car around not long after we left home so she could make sure her curling iron was off. It was annoying and frustrating at the time, but now I feel like it’s a common ground, shared between two very close friends.

My dad and I are two and the same – from the way we bob up and down when we walk to the way we always reach behind the product we want on a store shelf to select the second package in the row. It’s in the way we obsessively fixate on the most benign things, to the point where we bite our nails nervously while standing in front of our dressers every morning trying to decide what to wear. I’ll admit, these were once things that I teased my dad for doing – my teenage self likely made the occasional snarky comment when he refused to grab the first box of rice on the shelf at the supermarket. But now it’s just another quirk that I share with my dad, another reason to laugh when we catch each other doing one of these ridiculous things.

Now, where I once saw two authority figures in my life, I see two people whose words I covet and whose arms I seek the deepest of comfort in. They’re my parents, yes, but they’re also my friends, the people who I know I can always depend on, who see through any facade I try to present and always demand the truth from me.

And I think the real defining moment, when the relationship really started to blossom into what we have today, was when I realized that this dependence and comfort isn’t one-sided. I’m starting to see that just as much as I long for and need my mom and dad, they also lean on me, and depend on me, just like close friends.

I found this recipe in my grandmother’s archive of goodies. I’ve long been a fan of blueberry muffins, and the combination of gooey rolled oats and creamy buttermilk bring these muffins to the top of the recipe pile in my kitchen.

Melt Your Heart Blueberry Oat Muffins
Makes about 12 muffins.


Medium and large mixing bowls
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Rubber spatula
Muffin tins
Wire cooling rack


1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup brown sugar or Sucanat
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and well drained


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a medium bowl, combine oats and buttermilk. Let stand until needed.

3. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar until well combined. With a spoon, stir egg and butter into oat mixture and mix well. Add oat mixture to flour mixture all at once and stir until just moistened. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries; do not overmix.

4. Pour batter into greased muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake on middle rack for 15 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Remove from oven and let cool in tin for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on a wire rack.



Butter Tarts

My friend Emily once told me that there’s something to be said for subservience in a relationship.

My automatic reaction was to dismiss her. I’ve been raised to resist dependence, particularly on a boyfriend, and the idea of being subservient seemed, well, rather archaic.

But I keep coming back to this, the skill (yes, it’s a skill) that allows you to concede absolute control to someone else. I just can’t seem to do it – I can’t release my grip on the reins, even when I’m passing them over to someone I trust completely.

It’s taken me a while to come around to the idea that this is not always a redeeming quality. Sure, it’s great to be independent, but at some point, I’m going to have to let go.

This little problem of mine has been a constant handicap. For starters, the thought of going in a cab paralyzes me for the simple fact that I am nowhere near in control. Sadly enough, this also happens to apply to when my boyfriend, TJ, is driving.

My backseat driving is only the half of it. I get so bad that if TJ even tries to do something spontaneous (and dare I say, romantic), I panic. If I haven’t planned, mapped and predicted the day’s events, I can become a bit hysterical.

Which, I’m realizing, is not only affecting my own sanity and quality of life – it’s paying a pretty heavy toll on TJ, too. He can feel powerless, like he’s constantly sitting in the passenger’s seat of our relationship as I drive along as planned. Needless to say, this has caused issues.

So as much as it pains me (and that women’s studies degree I have lurking in my back closet), I am finally conceding that yes Emily, there is a lot to be said on mutual subservience in a relationship. And there certainly is a lot to be said on not just having trust, but actually showing it.

So let’s get talking.

Butter Tarts
Makes about 12 tarts.


Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Pastry blender
Plastic wrap
Muffin or tart tin
Cutting board
Circular cookie cutter
Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon


5 1/4 cups pastry flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cup all-vegetable shortening, chilled
1/2 cup ice water
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white sugar
Olive oil cooking spray

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 eggs


In a large bowl, sift flour. With a pastry blender, cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles pea-sized pellets. In a small bowl, combine water, salt and sugar until granules dissolve. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add water mixture all at once. With a fork, stir mixture until water is completely absorbed. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Mist a muffin or tart tin with cooking spray. On a flour-dusted board, roll out dough into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness. With a floured round cookie cutter or the rim of a glass (circle should be large enough for pastry to fit in tin cups), cut dough into circles and line tin with pastry; if desired, cup tart shells in the palm of a rounded hand to form into a flower shape before placing in tin. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter on medium-low. Add sugars, corn syrup, vinegar and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly to prevent mixture from burning, until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in eggs, one at a time. Divide mixture among tart shells, filling each 3/4-full. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.