Bacon in All Things

I love bacon. And so do my kids. They want everything with bacon. If I am making eggs they are asking if they are having it with bacon. Pancakes, waffles, etc. are we having bacon too? I am not sure if they inherently inherited this love of bacon from my younger sister who basically has bacon with everything!

IMG_3309In fact every time I see something with bacon I think of my sister and how much she loves it. I have noticed entire menus centered around bacon and would take pictures and send it to my sister, never really thinking much of it myself. I thought some of these combinations may be odd, but having never tried them I didn’t discount that it had possibilities.

A couple of weeks ago as I was listening to the radio in the car, I heard the morning show crew on KISS FM talking about things with bacon and how the one DJ put bacon on absolutely everything, including her brussel sprouts! I am not a fan of brussel sprouts, but I was intrigued when she mentioned bacon with her macaroni and cheese. Hmmm, I thought, that might actually be good.

Then later that week, while at Beerfest, I noticed that one of the food items being offered was macaroni and cheese with bacon. I was tempted to try some…

Instead I decided to come home and make my own macaroni and cheese with bacon, that way I could make a dairy free version and enjoy it much more (cause honestly once you go dairy free when you have even a trace of it it’s just not worth the symptoms afterwards and just feeling gross). So we finished up at Beerfest, no rush of course :), and then came home for dinner.

IMG_5261I made my mac and cheese like I usually do, using the Daiya cheddar cheese, almond milk and Earth Balance. I maybe added a little extra cheese and I felt this dish would be much better being a little cheesier. Then I cooked up the bacon, I usually use Mitchell’s, which is a brand that does not add sugar to their bacon when curing it. Most brands do unfortunately, but there are a few you can find, like Mitchell’s that do not have the added sugar. My mouth was watering as I was preparing everything, so excited to try this out.

Once everything was ready I crumbled up the bacon, served my mac and cheese and put the bacon on top. Then scooped up some and tasted it. Omg! was it ever good. The flavours worked so well together, the salty bacon giving it just the right taste sensation in my mouth. It was really hard not to overindulge on this dish.

The next week I made it for the kids, who of course gobbled it up! Now I understand how people can combine anything with bacon. There is just something about it that creates a flavour that your tastebuds will enjoy and be asking for more! I love too that I was able to make this in a way that meets my dietary choices of no dairy and no sugar, and still appreciate the combination.

Now I don’t know if I am going to be putting bacon with brussel sprouts anytime soon, maybe it will improve the taste? But I am definitely going to be more open about trying bacon with more things!

Do you have any dishes that you love adding bacon?

 

How to Set up an Easter Egg Hunt

easter-bunny-2This weekend I have the pleasure of spending Easter with my extended family. An unusual ocassion, my parents and two sisters with our families have come together in my parents BC home to celebrate my father’s 65th birthday. As an added bonus we get to throw Easter into the mix as it falls on the same weekend.

Growing up my sisters and I loved Easter morning. The Easter Bunny would often leave tracks and paw prints, as a a little dirt in the house, as well as fill and hide our baskets and Easter Eggs. We love hunting for everything, in fact this was as much fun as what was in the basket and eggs when we found them. The eggs were the best part. I think because there were so many of them. You’d find one and then there’d be more and more. And sometimes we’d even miss one or two, finding them later in the year because the Easter Bunny had hidden them so well. Now with my own children, I continue the tradition of hiding eggs.

CBs4Mg6UsAAzlJhMy children love it just as much as I did. Peeking out of their room Easter morning, discovering a trail of eggs from their bedroom and down the stairs. Sometimes they discover the Easter Bunny has even left one or two in their room! And they get so excited to learn that he was so close.

Of course over the years I have gotten creative with the hunt. Sometimes hiding eggs outside or making a scavenger hunt out of it with clues inside and a larger prize at the end. In my creativity I got curious, as I do, about the hunt for eggs even began, and what other people were doing with this fun fabulous event.

I discovered this traditional Easter activity has been done for many centuries. Part of a salute to spring it is done in a variety of ways.

The Easter Egg Hunt is a tradition that many children participate in all over the world every Easter. It is a simple activity of finding colored eggs and putting them in an Easter basket. No matter how the hunt is conducted children get excited about this yearly activity.

IMG_0009History of the Easter Egg Hunt

Easter originated as part of the pagan spring celebrations with both the egg and the rabbit as symbols of rebirth and fertility. The egg specifically was a symbol of the rebirth of the earth in the spring. These celebrations of spring and rebirth were adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In my search I learned that there is no known date as to when the Easter Egg Hunt originated, but that the Easter Egg itself has been around for many centuries. In Medieval Europe eggs were forbidden during the Lenten season and therefore were a prized gift when received on Easter Sunday. Eggs were often given wrapped in gold leaves or boiled with leaves or petals of certain flowers to create brightly colored eggs. This tradition eventually evolved into what is known as Egg Rolls and the Easter Egg Hunt.

Variations on How to Set Up an Easter Egg Hunt

There are many different ways to set up an Easter Egg Hunt. Depending on the ages of the participants and what is used in the hunt. All variations may be set up inside or outside.

You will need:

IMG_1226Eggs – colored hollow plastic eggs, chocolate eggs, hard-boiled colored eggs, paper eggs on colored paper (you could color your own eggs with the kids earlier in the week and hide those)

Baskets or fun container for collecting eggs (you could do an Easter craft making your own decorative container of basket)

  1. For each child that is hunting have them choose one color of egg (green, yellow, pink, etc.) Whatever color they choose is the only color egg that they are to retrieve. Hide the eggs inside or out, clearly outline the boundaries and let them hunt! This is great when kids of a variety of ages are hunting because it makes it fair. Older children will not take all the eggs because they are hunting only for their color and it gives the younger children an opportunity to hunt and enjoy themselves.
  2. Set up like a treasure hunt; hide paper eggs with clues on them. For young children, one can simply write the name of the place they need to go to next, like “living room” or “kitchen”. For older children one can develop clues or riddles that they have to solve in order to figure out where to go next. Make as many clues as desired. The last clue will lead the child to his Easter treat.
  3. When doing a hunt for a large group, hide only the colored plastic eggs. Children may use an Easter basket to collect their eggs and may collect as many as they can find. When they are done hunting children then return to the start and trade in all their colored eggs for an Easter treat.

I’m also a firm believer that adults can participate too! All adults need to play and I have watched countless adults enjoy games and treasure hunts. In fact last year I set up a hunt for my friend and he loved it. His eyes lit up and he was so excited as I watched him zoom around finding clues. And of course that is one of the reasons I love that I get to share Easter with my family this weekend. Both my parents and sisters love to play and love to celebrate the holidays, so tomorrow morning there will be a hunt for all of us. And I am sooo excited!!!

A Coffee Smoothie…yes!

warm capuccino-saidaonlineThere’s nothing like a good cup of coffee. That fragrant aroma wafting through the air, the warmth of your mug as you gently lift it up and breathe, pause, then take a sip. Ahhh…I love coffee. And lately I have been drinking a lot of it. Well a lot for me, comparatively to other people I really don’t drink much at all. I drink maybe a cup a day, and there are some days none at all, but for a girl who used to drink one cup of decaf maybe once a week, a full caffeinated brew every day is a lot!

It’s all those fantastic flavored coffees that have done me in, toasted coconut, cinnamon pastry. But they don’t come in decaf and it is the caffeine that sends me flying, high on energy and sometimes a little shaky, probably not so good for me. Yet when the german chocolate cake is calling…

IMG_4721Luckily there’s a smoothie for that :) Yes a way to still get my coffee fix, cause really I think what I am looking for is the flavor, and make it a more healthy choice and experience. It consists of all kinds of good things, like flax seed, cacao, honey and almond milk, with that little splash of coffee to finish it off.

It is quite yummy and satisfying. In fact, I made it for a friend of mine a couple of years ago, an avid coffee drinker and an avid smoothie avoider, and he loved it! He now enjoys them regularly. I also shared it with my mother this past weekend who is very much a smoothie drinker and loves her coffee, so it wasn’t really a hard sell, but she loved it and immediately asked for the recipe.

The recipe is quite simple, combining all the ingredients in the blender, mix and ready to serve. It can easily be made ahead and drunk later in the day, or right away, as I am sure you will not be able to wait.

Chocolate Mocha Smoothie

3/4 c. unsweetend almond milk

2 tbsp. cacao powder

1-2 oz. coffee (you can use decaf if you prefer, or any flavored coffee that you feel goes well with chocolate)

1 tbsp. flax seed oil

1 tbsp. vegan protein powder

1 tsp. honey

optional: 2 ice cubes (this thickens up your smoothie if prefered)

Put all ingredients into a Vitamix blender. Mix until smooth. Enjoy!

The Benefits of Human Touch

Years ago I was writing for a site called Suite 101, it was a great site with a variety of articles on a wide range of topics. I penned many articles there, of which my absolute favorite has always been the one on Human Touch. How we need it in our lives and how important good touch is to our health and survival.

Lately I have heard a lot in the news about touch, from the girls hockey teams in Ontario creating new rules for coaches around touch, to the things that are acceptable in classrooms as well as in our homes. It has reminded me how important this topic is. With the continued use and growth of electronics we continue to become a ‘touch phobic’ society, where the most innocent touch can be misinterpreted and looked upon as bad.

We are right when we say that need to teach our kids the difference between good and bad touch, as well as to not be afraid to hug and touch our children. People in general, we need hugs, or pats on the back, because some of us are very very lonely; and gestures like that can really make all the difference.

My original article is here below, to learn, to share, to teach, to see how important this sense is to us and to nurture it appropriately.

The Need for Touch in the Development of Healthy Adults and Children

Scientists have shown that the amount of body contact (touch) plays a vital role in people’s mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness as adults.

Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last sense to leave in old age. It is essential to the health and well being of human’s emotional, physical and mental development. It is so vital in fact that therapist and author, Virginia Satir, stated that human beings need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth.

A “Touch Phobic” Society

In today’s world, technology has reduced the amount of physical contact that people have with each other on a daily basis. With automatic bank machines, online shopping, internet, email and voice mail people can make appointments, dates or decisions without ever actually talking to or seeing another person. Those subtle contacts with others, once common on a daily basis are gone.

In addition, it is more common to hear about situations where touch has been used negatively or inappropriately. The news reports on child abuse cases, sexual harassment suits, and rapes. Parents are teaching children to be wary of strangers, and to be selective in how and what to touch. Though this is beneficial to keep children safe; this has created a society that has become “touch phobic” where the simplest and most innocent touch can be easily misconstrued as sexual, or inappropriate.

Dr. Barnaby Barratt from Santa Barbara Consulting and Healing highlights in his article on Nurturing Touch that “affectional touch is highly beneficial so long as it is experienced as “appropriate” to the situation, and does not impose greater intimacy than is desired, or is not part of some interpersonal “power play.” Touching should neither be coercive nor manipulative. It should be purely giving, and never used as a means to an ends, for example as a maneuver to get someone into unwanted sexual relations.”

Due to the overload of negative touch, society has become very guarded. When people are touched in any form it is often perceived as bad, or inappropriate. Unfortunately this change in perspective has denied people the simple opportunities to enhance their development and one of the key elements needed to thrive and grow.

Children and Touch

A child’s first and most important teacher is his sense of touch. It is the first sense he develops in the womb at only 8 weeks. Babies need it to survive and grow, and this need remains with us throughout our lives.

In the 1940’s, Doctor Fritz Talbot discovered on a visit to a children’s clinic, the connection between touch and babies ability to thrive. Babies that were being held, touched, and mothered were thriving when all other medical possibilities had been exhausted.

This need for touch is especially true with premature babies. In one study, premature babies who received gentle daily massage thrived better and had a 50% more daily weight gains than those that were untouched. In addition, these babies had a more efficient metabolism and were released from the hospital six days earlier.

For young infants and toddlers touch is a main source of learning about the world around them. They use their mouth and hands to explore and learn what things are and how things work. It is a key factor in their development as a child.

Benefits of Touch

The benefits of touch to a person’s health are phenomenal. Touch can reassure, relax and comfort. It reduces depression, anxiety, stress and physical pain; and can be healing. It increases the number of immune cells in the body, and has powerful affects on behaviour and moods. Touch can be used as a form of alternative healing in the form of touch therapy.

In the video Touch the Forgotten Sense produced by Max Films, a study was conducted where women who had been sexually abused were introduced to a good form of touch by receiving massage therapy. A masseuse of the same sex gave the massage, and this helped the women perceive touch as more positive. They also found that the massage reduced their stress level and depressed mood. This introduction of “safe touch” helped these women begin to become comfortable again with being touched.

In the same video, another study was conducted where researchers asked people who had spent no longer than fifteen minutes in a library how they rated their experience in the library. People who had brushed hands ‘accidentally’, with the planted librarian reported a more enjoyable time. In a similar study, people who were touched by their waitress, a brush of the hand, or a gentle touch on the shoulder, said they had a more enjoyable dining experience and left larger tips for the waitress as compared with those people who had no contact.

These studies also demonstrate that we don’t need to consciously notice the touch in order to reap the benefits. Of those that were touched in the library study, not all of the people remembered being touched, but still reported a more pleasant experience than those that weren’t touched at all. People use their sense of touch automatically and may take it for granted on a daily basis. Yet people really notice when there is a lack of it.

Positive Touch Benefits Everyone

Touch is vital to the positive health and development of all human beings, regardless of age. Humans need to touch and be touched, just like they need food and water. It is a way of communicating, lifting their spirits, and experiencing happiness in their lives. Without it people experience sadness, loneliness and isolation. It is important to have this physical contact in people’s lives, yet in today’s society many people are removed from benefiting from it due to negative associations with touch or lack of someone to share touch with.

This is why people have started seeking other forms of human touch in their lives such as attending a Cuddle Party, going for a regular massage, or experiencing other forms of healthy touch.

Valentine’s Day Martini

IMG_4677As some of you know, I am really into martinis these days. It started last fall when my love of pumpkin helped me to discover a recipe for a pumpkin martini. I wasn’t a huge fan of martinis at the time as I had found that most of them were kind of sour, or way too strong for my liking. But I had tried a few, my youngest sister being a fan of them, her favorite being the Cosmo.

The pumpkin martini was absolutely divine! It became my new favorite and as a result I decided to venture out and try some other martini combinations. I’ve enjoyed Lavender one, Gingerbread, and a Poison Apple to name a few.

And now every time we approach a holiday, I am on the hunt for a new one to try that fits with theme of that holiday. Valentine’s Day was no exception, so earlier this week I set out searching the internet for a fabulous ‘Valentine’s’ recipe to try. There were so many to choose from, many with a common theme of red and some kind of fruit, either raspberries or strawberries. Many I have earmarked and saved to my Pinterest board for taste testing at a later date.

The Raspberry Chocolate Kiss Martini was the one that caught my eye and won the privledge of being ‘tested’ for this Valentine’s. Originally created by chef Michael Schulson, I had a few adjustments to make but knew it could be done. First off I had to figure out how to make my own simple syrup, which is basically sugar and water. I had thought before that I could probably do this with agave nectar instead of sugar and create the same thing, but had yet to try it. Well now was the time and I am happy to say it worked very well.

One thing I puzzled over though in the original recipe was the chocolate part (or lack of in my opinion). The only thing that presented any chocolate at all was the cookie rim that went on the glass, not really what I would consider enough chocolate to merit chocolate in the title! So I experimented. I tried making the martini and sprinkling cacao nibs on top. Honestly that did not do much. Then I tried chocolate shavings sprinkled on top, that was better.

I experimented a little more, rimming the martini glass in chocolate icing, ahhhh…now we’re talking. I also tried dipping the rim in melted chocolate and then letting it cool and solidify before adding the martini mix. All, I found were very good solutions to the chocolate I felt was truly missing in this drink. Which is the best? That’s hard to say. I think you should perhaps try them out and then let me know which one you think is the best :)

This martini in general is fabulous, a very delicious fruity sweet drink. I do advise you to be careful though as the sweet easily masks the vodka in it and it goes down very smoothly!

So serve your sweet something a little different this Valentine’s, or baby just make one for yourself and enjoy!

Raspberry Chocolate Martini

*1/4 c. mint infused syrup

10 raspberries

2 oz. vodka

2 tbsp. cranberry juice

ice cubes

Chocolate options:

rim glass with chocolate icing or

dip rim of martini glass in melted chocolate, let cool or

sprinkle chocolate shavings on top of drink

Place raspberries in a martini shaker and shake till crushed. Add mint infused syrup, shake again. Now add vodka, cranberry juice and ice. Shake well until chilled. Pour into martini glass, sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Enjoy! If rimming glass with icing or melted chocolate do this step before pouring martini into glass

*Mint Infused Syrup

1/4 c. agave nectar

1 c. water

1 bunch mint

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan on stove over medium heat. Stir and heat until agave nectar has dissolved. Take off heat and let cool. Strain through a sieve, syrup is ready to use. May be kept in fridge in an air tight container up to 2 weeks.

Everything Chocolate

IMG_4653Rich dark chocolate melting in your mouth, delighting the palate as it brings your tastebuds to life and activates natural soothing in the brain, making us feel oh so good.

Chocolate dating back to the Aztecs and Romans, has long since been considered an aphrodisiac, a treat associated with love and romance. Women love it, men crave it. Not only is it a popular gift, but a popular treat as well.

It’s no wonder that during the week of Valentine’s Day, a holiday long associated with love and romance, 58 million pounds of chocolates are sold, being the third largest holiday in sales of this popular treat (Halloween being first with Easter as the second).

The good news is that chocolate is actually good for you, as it contains fat, produces natural opiates which soothe nerves and make us feel good, as well as natural chemicals that lower your risk of cancer and heart disease (sounding pretty good doesn’t it?) Chocolate provides even more health benefits when made with cacao instead of cocoa, both derived from the same bean but processed differently, creating a superfood (cacao) that is rich in vitamins and minerals (getting better and better all the time).

IMG_4647Chocolate is also one of those things that goes with and can be used in just about anything, creating a myriad of delights for the palate to enjoy, a sensation of pleasure and joy in our human experience.

Since I have discovered how to make my own chocolate at home, (ready in about 10 minutes this really is a quick simple and easy way to make chocolate), we have not only been able to enjoy more chocolate in our home, but also enjoy lots of great things around the holidays.

For instance, this Valentine’s Day, we will enjoy heart shaped chocolates, Chocolate Dream Pie, Chocolate Truffles and if the spirit moves me, I may even make Chocolate Cupcakes with chocolate icing of course (even better these recipes are sugar free and dairy free). I love doing it up around the holidays and seeing what kind of fun things I can create; and the kids look forward to it!

Making your own chocolate is very easy, all you need is cacao butter, cacao powder, vanilla and natural sweetener of your choice (such as honey, pure maple syrup, etc.) I have a detailed post on how to make chocolate, as well as one on possible additions or variations you could use to flavor or fill your yummy chocolates.

IMG_4655This chocolate mix is also great for making Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (simply dip fresh strawberries in warm melted chocolate before it sets) or using it for Chocolate Fondue.

Other chocolate delights I have discovered, whether it be for Valentine’s Day or other, are Chocolate Macaroons (could shape them into little hearts for Valentine’s), Chocolate Pudding (one with chia seeds, one simple chocolate), Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Waffles, Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Smoothies and even Chocolate Marshmallows! And I love that they are all dairy free and naturally sweetened! On holidays, like Valentines, I often have a hard time picking only a few things to make :)

IMG_4658So now you know, you can live guilt free this Valentine’s Day and enjoy your chocolate; or you can venture out and make your own for yourself or to share with others (but you may not want to). Of course with anything, regardless of how good it is for you, everything in moderation (I know I just took all the fun out of it – but here’s the thing you can make MORE or try a new chocolate recipe, another version of chocolate).

So enjoy your chocolate with a great big smile this Valentine’s Day, and if no one gives you any, go get your own, it’s ok :)

*The majority of these recipes can be found on my blog or I have linked them to the appropriate site for you. Just click on the name and it will take you to the recipe. Enjoy!

Coconut Curry Chicken with Pineapple

IMG_3328I love barbequing! I love how it’s little dishes, less mess and usually very delicious! In fact, I enjoy barbequing so much that we usually bbq year round! Regardless if it is -30 or plus 30 C. (Thankfully it is not usually -30 C around here in the winter, but it is often below zero).

I know! You are probably thinking that this woman is crazy; but I’ve been out there in my winter boots flipping burgers or tending the steaks. Breath coming out in white whisps as it floats into the air. I never worry about the weather forecast or if it is ‘barbeque’ weather, as it is always barbeque weather for me!

It wasn’t until recently though that I actually learned to barbeque. Yes we were barbequing year round but it was my husband who was doing it. In fact I had never even made something as simple as the burgers! I would always mix the ground turkey or chicken and make the patties but never actually cooked them myself. I have no idea why I did this. Perhaps I thought it was the ‘mans job’, or perhaps it was just my way of diveying up the jobs, regardless a couple of years ago actually doing the cooking on the barbeque was a whole new thing to me.

Barbecue-gaz-1They say bbqing is an art and I would agree. Certain meats need lower temperatures and longer times, while others do better on a medium to high heat. I learned a little from my Dad and remembered what he said to do as I watched him barbeque over the years. And I did a little figuring it out myself. Overall I am a very good barbequer and I sometimes even take over that task when I am at my parents house!

The one thing about barbequing though, especially if you do it as often as I do, is variety. I believe there is more to barbequing than just burgers and steaks, so I like to explore what other recipes are out there and what other things you can do. I have found that the barbeque has way more options for cooking on it then I originally thought, expanding my reperatoire of dishes quite a bit. (Did you know you can do pizza on the barbeque? I did try it once, not so successfully mind you, but it can be done!)

A lot of barbeques these days come standard with rotisseries as well, which opens up a whole other path of options for you, such as chicken, roast or lamb. My mouth just waters at the thought of it….

One of my favorite recipes that I have discovered recently for the barbeque is Coconut Curry Chicken with grilled pineapple. It is really easy to do and creates a taste sensation in your mouth. It only takes a few minutes per side to cook and voila! dinner is ready. Just add rice and a nice salad (or other vegetable) and you have a complete delicious meal. The only trick is it does require a little bit of pre-planning as you need to marinate the chicken for a couple of hours before putting it on the barbeque.

The kids love it and my oldest usually gobbles up two chicken breasts on his own (yes he may be a growing boy but he can also be a bit of a picky eater, he will not eat things he doesn’t like no matter how hungry he is).

So whether you feel like barbequing tonight or saving this recipe for warmer weather, you’ll want to give this tasty chicken a try. Completely dairy free, sugar free and gluten free, it is a dish that will be enjoyed by all.

Coconut Curry Chicken with Pineapple

4 boneless chicken breastsIMG_3324

**1 1/2c. coconut curry marinade

1/2 c. unsweetened coconut

4 fresh pineapple rings

Place chicken in a large ziploc bag. Add coconut curry marinade and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for 2-6 hours.

In a non stick skillet, heat coconut on medium heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Turn BBQ on and heat to medium high. Lightly oil grate with olive oil (I find best is to brush on with heat resistant pastry brush). Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towel. Place chicken on grill and reduce heat to medium low (I find with chicken a little lower heat and a little longer time, keeps it moist and prevents it from drying out). Grill chicken until cooked through, about 3-5 minutes per side.

If you have room on your grill with the chicken place pineapple rings on and cook until lightly charred, about 2 minutes per side. If you don’t then you can do the pineapple at the end quickly once chicken is cooked.

To serve, sprinkle toasted coconut on chicken and one ring of pineapple on top of each  chicken breast.

Serves 4*

*I have found that marinade can easily accommodate 5 or 6 breasts and creates less waste

**Coconut Curry Marinade

2 c. coconut milk

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Can be used on chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables.

The Healing Waters of Rotorua’s GeoThermal Hot Pools

IMG_3460Imagine yourself sitting in the natural waters of a geothermal hot pool, surrounded by lush green majestic trees and a waterfall cascading beside you. Soaking up warmth into your body, healing, relaxing, purifying.

Geothermal hot pools like this abound in New Zealand‘s Volcanic Zone in and around the town of Rotorua. Just a 3 hour drive from Auckland, this elegant, beautiful ‘hot spot’ is tucked in the lush area of the North Island’s east coast, known as the lake district (also including area down to Taupo).

The town itself literally sits in the crater of an active volcano, creating the abundance of geothermal activity in the area. Sights such as geysers, mud pools and hot pools abound. Where the earth bubbles, boils, spits and oozes offering a plethora of unique sights to behold.

IMG_0268You can explore the town and surrounding area, finding many public hot pools to enjoy, some regulated by private parties and charging admission (Blue Baths, Polynesian Spa, Hell’s Gate and Waikite Vallley Thermal Pools), while other spots have been left natural and available to the public free of charge (such as Kuirau Park, Kerosene Creek and Waiotapu Stream).

IMG_0247When we were there, we ventured to Kerosene Creek, as we thought it would be a neat experience to be in a natural environment. We were not opposed to paying to enjoy the waters somewhere else, but thought that experiencing the pool in a natural environment would be a lovely experience. Plus our hostess at the Tuck Inn, where we were staying, a beautiful farm tucked in the lush New Zealand landscape, recommended we go there.

I was a little nervous at first, it was a little off the beaten track and there weren’t a lot of people around. When we arrived at the parking lot, we decided to just get out and take a walk first, check things out, and if it didn’t meet our expectations then we would head back to the Waikite Hot Pools, which weren’t that far down the road.

It was a beautiful spot, lush native bush with the creek running through. You could walk along the path beside the creek, discovering various pools along the way where you could pop in for a soak. We did meet a few other people who were enjoying the waters and I started to relax a little. The best spot was a large pool at the base of a waterfall. Easy to get down to and large enough for quite a number of people.

IMG_3455The kids all wanted to get in, I was still unsure. Was it safe, what if someone came by and grabbed our stuff? Plus it was a little nippy outside, I was not looking forward to stripping down even though it would be warm in the end.

Finally, I decided we might as well. So we grabbed our suits and got everyone changed. Matthew was in first and floating around, then D’Wayne ready to receive the twins once I got them ready. It wasn’t too deep, the twins could easily stand up safely in some areas of the pool. I quickly changed myself and got in with everyone else.

Oh my! It was absolutely lovely. I felt all my troubles and stress melt away almost immediately. The sand beneath my feet was warm and felt good between my toes. You had to be careful though, if you dug your feet in under the sand it could get quite hot, almost burning.

We splashed and played in the pool for 45 minutes, almost having the entire place to ourselves. A few others drifted by, and a few got in towards the end of our time. It was heavenly and so relaxing! We could have stayed longer but we wanted to also check out the mud pool and were getting hungry as well. Everyone felt relaxed yet revitalized and ready for the next adventure.

IMG_0264We hopped out and changed quickly, now that was a little nippy! But felt great! We snapped a few more pictures on our way back to the car, and then ventured off to the Mud Pool.

The Mud Pool was super cool. And was actually only a short 5 minute drive down the road near the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland (also the home to the Lady Knox Geyser and a plethora of trails and other thermal sites to see). The Thermal Wonderland does have an admission fee, but the Mud Pool is just outside of this area.

IMG_0267It was amazing. Mud literally spurting, spitting and bubbling. The smell is also fantastic! That lovely rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, which is well known throughout Rotorua (though I did find that depending on the area depended on how strong the smell was, some hardly noticable or not so bad, the mud pool was definitely the worst!)

There is a little boardwalk to view the mud pool from, as well as a short trail to take you up above to look down upon the pool below. It was just fascinating.

The mud and hot pools are enough to keep you busy for a number of days. Just enjoying the natural wonders of this area. But Rotorua and the surrounding valley is also rich in Maori culture (the indigenous people of New Zealand) and history, dating back hundreds of years. As a result there are lots of things to experience and see around this, such as The Living Thermal Village, the Buried Village TeWairoa and Te Puia.

Rotorua is so rich in these experiences, we wanted to do them all, but since we were only there for a short time we had to pick and choose a little. Te Puia called to us the most (and turns out has the most fantastic geyser), and was an absolutely fabulous experience! And one that I will share with you in my next post.

It’s Green….eewww

IMG_4568Greens, greens, greens, one of the first things I hear when talking about diet is that we should eat more greens. There certainly is a variety to choose from like spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, dandelion, etc. all fall into this category. They are rich in fiber, vitamins (like vitamin C, K, E), minerals and have many disease fighting benefits.

But honestly, greens are not always that appetizing. Seriously, I can only eat so many salads, so many different ways and then my body is craving something else. A totally different texture and sweetness even. I don’t care how good for you they are, I get to a point when I cannot possible eat another leafy thing. (You’re with me aren’t you?) Salads can get boring even after you have come up with all different kinds of ways to spice them up! Whether it be nuts, dried fruit, salad dressing etc. You need a change!

So how do you get those oh so beneficial greens in on a daily basis? In fact vegetables in general sometimes I can find a challenge. They recommend 5 servings of veg a day and often I get to supper and may not have had even one.

What I have discovered is the magic of smoothies! They are a great way to get all kinds of things into your body in a quick, easy and yummy way. There are all kinds of great recipes and combinations out there that are absolutely delicious. And sometimes you may not even notice the ‘good stuff’ (like spinach) that’s in there because you can’t really taste it.

IMG_4309Every morning I make a delicious tasting green smoothie that includes a bunch of greens and some fruit to sweeten it up. That way first thing I am getting not only some vegetables, but some green vegetables right away! I make it religiously and even my kids love it and enjoy it as well, asking for some when I make it. (Score!) I miss it on the odd day that I do not make it, usually because I am out of some ingredient and haven’t gone to the store yet.

Now there are lots of variations on a green smoothie out there an honestly some of them are not very good. They look a gross colored green when mixed, they don’t taste that great, and though good for you I end up choking it down, trying not to bring it back up. Gross! Who wants to drink that! I don’t care how good it is for me.

IMG_4573I had tried one before that was cucumber, spinach, celery, parsley, lemon, banana and water. It was ok and I drank it, got the health benefits, but honestly it was not that tasty. And seriously if I am going to eat healthy then I want it to taste good to. I am not a believer in healthy having it taste like cardboard, or having to choke it down. Food is supposed to taste good, we are supposed to enjoy our food. It is one of pleasures of being on this planet and being human, food! So I did this first version for a while and then gave up, it just didn’t provide the taste I was looking for. So good for me or not, I ditched it. (Though for someone else this may be totally the kind of taste and smoothie you are looking for! To each his own right?)

It was when I was in Hawaii a couple of years ago that I discovered my recent combination for a green smoothie. Spinach, mint, papaya and more this smoothie not only looked a lovely vibrant green it tasted absolutely delicious! I was sold. I wrote down the ingredients and came home to create my own. I played a little bit with the amounts, got it how I wanted and now everyday I enjoy this yummy, sweet, nice looking green delicious smoothie. I even have both my mother and sister (and sometimes even my Dad and that’s saying something because my Dad is not really a smoothie guy) enjoying this smoothie everyday. Once I shared it with them and they tasted it, they were hooked as well.

Now of course, I am going to share it with you, and I hope you love it! If you’re not a sweet kind of person it may not work for you but give it a go and see. Kids for sure will love it and it is such a fabulous easy way to get in those vegetables and fruits that we may not be getting in daily. Smoothies in general  have endless possibilities…. but that is another post.

Green Smoothie

1 c. spinachIMG_4567

3-4 stems of parsley

1 sprig of mint

*1/2 c. papaya

1/2 c. pineapple

1/2 c. mango

1/2 -3/4 c. apple juice

Put all ingredients in Vitamix blender. Start on low moving up to high. Blend on high for 1 minute or until smooth. Enjoy!

*I usually use orange or yellow papaya as I like it better and find it sweeter; but you can also use red papaya

**vary the amounts of fruit to make it sweeter or less sweet to taste

Makes one glass of yummy green smoothie

 

The Many Forms of Love

I am getting a little sentimental here today. I’ve been pondering all week about my posts, planning what to write, continuing adventures in Australia and New Zealand, a good recipe of course, and then something happened earlier this week that sent a bit of a shock through my system. I had a scare with a loved one, well and that put things into a different perspective. So I’ve been thinking, contemplating and feeling that really we need to love each other more…

There are many kinds of love in this world. Love for a sister or brother, parents, friends, love for your spouse or partner. Romantic love, passionate love, lasting love. Even love for a stranger can exist. Love comes in all different shapes and sizes. It is the essence of who we are and why we exist. Without love there is nothing.

We all express our love in different ways and hope to share it with others. A warm hug can mean so much, or a simple smile. A hand extended in friendship, an ear to listen to our woes, or a loved one performing an act of service, are all demonstrations of this wonderful feeling, this tie that binds us all together.

Yet so often we forget to show our love to others, to express it and let them know that they are cared for. Twice in the past 4 months I have come close to losing someone that I love in my life. Two shocking traumatic, scary experiences that reminded me instantly of how I did not want this person gone from my life. That they were important to me and meant a lot. Thankfully all turned out well and I have had the chance to tell them how much I care for them and appreciate them, which honestly I was doing before, but was I doing it enough?

Often we get so busy with life and activities and other things that are just happening that we just don’t connect with those that are important to us (or not as often). We get stressed and tired and distance ourselves from them because we may be just trying to get through the day, or complete the 20th thing on our list. Our heads are down and we forget to look into the eyes of a loved one and take a minute to smile or hold them close.

I know reminders like these pop up all the time, “Tell the people you love you care about them often, Don’t go to bed mad, etc.” And we all go yes of course I do that. But how often really do we remember? Do we really do it on a regular basis?

I am totally guilty of it to. I know better, and I know my life would be better, my relationships, if I just told people that I loved them and I liked having them around. I also know as human beings it’s hard, we get so stuck in our ‘stuff’ that we just let things like that slide. Hoping that those we love will still be there when we pull our heads up.

Love is a wonderful thing, but it needs to be nurtured, it needs to be tendered and cared for, appreciated and held close to your heart. It cannot be just left to fend for itself, it’ll grow cold, stagnant, or even fade away.

Self love, relationships, friendships, even love for nature and the planet, all need to be nurtured and appreciated. So here’s my challenge to you, look at one place where there is love in your life and decide on one thing you will do to nurture it each day. This could be for you (like I said self love), or for a person (doing something nice for them telling them how much you like something they do), or even nature (deciding to pick up a piece of litter). It does not have to be huge. Make it easy, something you’ll enjoy doing. Then once you’ve done that for awhile, expand to doing other things (cause love expands) and more often. Again only do what is easy, so you might only add one thing at a time.

You could also find a buddy to help you in this challenge (someone you love :) I know often if I am struggling with something or starting something new, when I have the support of someone else doing it with me, it helps, it motivates me, and is always nice to discuss it with someone. (It’ll even strengthen your relationship with them)

So decide what you’d like to do and get started today! Come back and post a comment on what you’ve done and how it has made your life happier and more full of love! Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

Write your spouse a note and put it in their coffee cup to find in the morning

Send a friend a text telling them about a quality you appreciate in them

Pick up litter in your neighborhood

Look at yourself in the mirror and smile (don’t analyze it just smile and appreciate the smile!)

Hold the door for another person

Say ‘Good morning/ afternoon’ to a stranger

Give your kids an extra hug

Tell someone you love them

I’ll start… Thank you to all my wonderful loyal readers out there. I appreciate you very much  and hope that you all have an awesome day!