The Perfect Dill Pickle – How to Make your Own

IMG_1871My mother has always made the best dill pickles! Ever since I was little I remember having homemade pickles. I remember going out to the valley in the summertime and picking mountains of cucumbers and how Mom always said I was a ‘good picker’ (which meant I would get in there and pick well and for hours until we were done).

I always enjoyed going up to the farmer at the end of our day and weighing the cukes to see how many pounds we had picked. Then we would head home and Mum would get to work pickling the cukes for the yummy pickles that were to come.

IMG_1917She made jars and jars of them. At least 80-100 each time, as we would go through a jar of pickles a week in our family. The kitchen was set up industriously, or it seemed so, while my Mum completed all the steps for making pickles. We often had sandwiches or leftovers for dinner during this time as Mum did not want to stop to make dinner! But we didn’t mind and it was what we expected at that time of year.

When I first moved away I asked my Mum to make me pickles and send them to me. I had become a pickle snob and I would only eat my Mum’s homemade. I would refuse to buy the ones in the store! She lovingly did this for a while, but when my parents moved to the Okanagan, it was then the perfect time for her to teach me the art of making the perfect dill pickle.

IMG_1867When the pickling cukes were ready she called and I packed up the family and went out to BC to make pickles. The first time I did it I don’t think I was paying that close attention – (ha ha sorry Mum), but I think I was just so excited to be making my own that the information on what I was doing didn’t stick. Last summer, when we were out of pickles and I headed to BC once more, was the time that it stuck on what to do.

I remember commenting to my mother how many steps there were and I didn’t realize that there were so many. Now I more fully understand why she was in the kitchen for days doing the cucumbers.

I had bought 40 lbs of cucumbers, which usually works out to about 40 jars of pickles; and some fresh dill from a local farm in Kelowna. With everything ready to go we set to work. We had soaked the cucumbers during the day so by the evening after supper we were ready to go.

Matthew assisted with the cleaning and scrubbing of the cucumbers as that night he was given the option of going to bed or scrubbing cucumbers. He chose the cukes! which I thought was a hilarious way to avoid going to sleep but enjoyed his company and appreciated his help nonetheless.

IMG_1913We moved through all the steps and in only a few hours had finished all the jars and were ready to put our feet up and relax. Now the traditional dill pickle recipe does call for a tablespoon of brown sugar, which due to living sugar free I had to make a decision. I decided to leave it as I loved these pickles so much. But what I did do was an experiment. I made a number of jars using coconut sugar in place of the brown sugar, then I marked those jars so I would be able to tell which ones were which. I have yet to open a jar in which we used the coconut sugar, but I am very interested to see how they taste. I am hoping of course that it works, then we can also make our dill pickles sugar free and just as delicious! Of course, once we open them and give them a taste I will definitely share the result!

In the meantime, here is the traditional recipe for fabulous homemade dill pickles. One of the things I really enjoy about making them is doing it together with my Mum (and Matthew when he’s wanting to help). Not only does it make the job go by faster but it is a great bonding experience, where we can chat and connect, while completing the task at hand.

The only downside is we have to wait a few months before we can eat them! as they are not instantly ready. But trust me, it is worth the wait – and you to will become a dill pickle snob :)

Dill Pickles  

freshly picked cucumbers in a variety of sizes (choose the size of pickles you like but it is also nice to have some small ones to fit the ‘holes’ in the jars)  1 lb cucumbers yields approx one quart jar

fresh dillIMG_1869

pickling salt

brown sugar (coconut sugar)

pickling vinegar

fresh garlic

water

1 quart jars

Prepare the Cucumbers:

IMG_1916Soak freshly picked cucumbers in ice water overnight or at least, six hours. (This aids in removing the prickles off the cucumber as well as cleansing them).   Add more ice, at least once, as water begins to cool.  Scrub each cucumber with a vegetable brush, and return to cold water.

Wash and sterilize the jars:

Wash jars in hot soapy water and rinse well.  Then add a bit of water, just to cover the bottom, in each jar.  Place the jars on the rack in the oven, heated to 200 F.  This will sterilze them and make them hot, which is what you want because you will be pouring hot brine into them.  Option:  jars can also be heated in the microwave, again bit of water in the bottom of each jar and heat on high for 2-3 minutes; time varies depending on the number of jars you do at one time.

Sterilize and heat lids:

Place the lids and tops of the jars in a pot filled with water to cover them and heat to the boiling point.  Turn down heat, but keep them hot to pack the jars.

Prepare the Brine:

water

pickling vinegar

For each 4 cups of water, add 3/4 cups of pickling vinegar. The total amount  you make will depend on how many jars of pickles you are making. Using a large dutch oven pot you can make a triple batch, and then more as needed.

Mix water and pickling vinegar together and bring to a boil.  Keep hot until ready to pour into packed jars.

Pack the Jars:

IMG_1915

Fresh Dill

Put about 3 medium size pieces of garlic in bottom of jar. Add fresh dill, approx 2-3 “sprays” including the stalk.  Bend and arrange to fit in jar. Pack cucumbers in jar, quite tightly, using smaller cucumbers to fill the top space.  Add 1 tbsp of pickling salt and 1 tbsp of brown sugar or coconut sugar on top of packed cucumbers.  Pour hot brine over everything in jar to just below the rim of jar.

Seal the Jars:

Wipe the top of the jar with a cloth to make sure there are no particles of anything to interfere with the seal.  Place hot lid on top.  Add screw top.  Press down on lid as you are turning the screw top to seal.  Tighten securely.

Cool and Store:

Let stand, away from drafts until jar cools completely.  Label and store in cool, dark place.  It will be approx eight weeks minimum before pickles will be ready to eat.  Best if left for 3-4 months.

Bonding 40 feet in the Trees

Bonding with my oldest son is a bit of a challenge these days. He’s 11 and into all kinds of things that are not a huge interest to me. I’m 41 and his Mom, so there are not a lot of things that I like that are of interest to him. We do have some common ground of course, we both love board games, especially Settlers of Catan, so you will often find us in the evenings battling it out for the longest road and the most settlements.

Sometimes it’s a timing thing to, I’m making supper, or having to tend to his younger brother and sister. So when we had the opportunity to go to Sky Trek in Revelstoke, British Columbia to do the high ropes course; I jumped all over it.

P7290215We had been to the Enchanted Forest next door earlier that morning with my Mom and the twins, which we thoroughly enjoyed. But Matthew and I were both kind of eyeing the course through the trees. I had always wanted to go there since they opened and though Matthew had had the opportunity when he was about 5 to do the kids course, he wanted to get up high in the trees. So when Matthew asked about the course I said well let’s go check it out.

His eyes lit up, he was so excited with just the prospect of ‘maybe’ going. We discovered that the course took 1-3 hours to complete and though reasonably priced we wondered what Gran and the twins would do for that long.

My Mom graciously offered to watch the twins while we went and did the course. So after a quick lunch, off we went! I grabbed my closed toed shoes from the car, which I was glad I had thrown in that morning, as there are no open toed or flip flops allowed. Though I wish I had also had the foresight to put in socks, which would have been much more comfortable.

Matthew and I were both excited and almost ran up to the clerk to get going. First of course we had to fill out waivers, then pay, then meet our guide to get geared up and ready to go.

online-skytrek-02The course consists of 4 components, each one getting higher and more difficult as you go. Training is first, where your guide gives you a demonstration of the elements and obstacles, what equipment to use and how to keep yourself strapped in and safe. We all had helmets, harnesses and carabiners. We had 2 that we needed to clip in and each had to be done in a certain way in a certain order. He showed us how to use our zipline attachment as well as telling us only 3 people to a platform and to remember to call clear after we completed an element – which was the cue for the next person to go.

Then there’s the green, blue and black courses, each one getting higher and more difficult as you go. So by the time you hit the black course you are 40 feet in the air and challenged!

Matthew went first and I was following along behind him. At points when we were waiting for others in front of us we would chat or connect, discussing the last element or what was coming up; continually moving higher and higher. I found the first 3 parts comfortable and easy to navigate, but by the time I hit the black I was not only tired but a little freaked out. Some of the elements were pretty tricky and they definitely pushed my comfort zone.

The very last leg of the black course you could choose to do the double black diamond or stay on the single. The double black offering shorter lengths, more rests, but more challenging (lots of swinging obstacles), while the single black was one long haul across a rope net, which was more tiring but a lot easier to do.

Matthew, the trooper, chose the double black. In fact in his mind there was no question as to whether he would do it or not. I applauded him, but said I was going to stick to the single. Matthew did very well, I was so proud of him. The last leg on the double black he was there legs spread apart between two triangle elements, and ‘resting’. I could tell he was tired, but he was almost there and he was determined. It was one of many moments that I was proud of him or maybe got a little teary eyed watching him and how he confidently navigated the course, though at times I knew he was a little freaked out like I was.

We completed the course with one final zip line to the bottom and high fived each other on the ground. We were surprised to discover that it had indeed taken us 3 hours to complete the course. No wonder we were tired!  And thirsty! as you can’t take water or any extra stuff up there with you. In fact I asked a lady on the ground if she would take a few photos of us and send them to me (unfortunately I don’t have them yet), as though there were times when I could have taken a really nice picture or two, there was no way I would have been able to carry the camera!

Some people may argue that because it was an individual activity that it was not really a bonding experience. But I would disagree. We connected and shared an experience where we both pushed our limits and can now share and discuss this experience. I also have etched in my mind some of those great ‘shots’ of him in the trees which will last forever in my mind.

I enjoy experiences like that with my kids and hope I get to have all kinds with each one of them. And I hope that they enjoy them to and that they will stand out in their minds as some of the best experiences they had, even though it was with Mom.

The Enchanted Forest

Winnie the Pooh and Friends

Winnie the Pooh and Friends

One of the most magical places on earth is The Enchanted Forest. Found along the TransCanada highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous, this beautiful old growth forest is like a child’s dream.

No matter how many times I there I always enjoy it. The beauty and energy of the old growth forest is calming and peaceful. With the delightful storybook and nursery rhyme characters in amongst the trees it truly makes for a magical and wonderful experience.

enchanted-forestIt is a must stop for our family and every time we drive by on the way to Oliver, BC the kids are asking if we can stop there. This summer was the first time for Luke and Chloe. Being 4 years old this was the perfect age for their first experience.

Once you enter your first stop is the Enchanted Castle where the resident wizard welcomes you. You can clamp yourself in the gallows (or any misbehaving children) or explore the dungeons below. Word of caution: the dungeons I find to be dark and scary and definitely not for small children.

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

You can climb the stairs to the tower and enjoy being ‘King of the Castle’, before you continue along the path through the forest. The path then takes you around the forest with stops along the way to play and enjoy the fairytale characters. There is everything from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, and Winnie the Pooh, to Hansel and Gretel, Old Mother Hubbard and the Cow that Jumped over the Moon.

The forest also hosts the biggest Tree house in British Columbia, with 3 levels and a gorgeous view at the top.

The Three Little Pigs House of Sticks

The Three Little Pigs House of Sticks

There is also a Nature Trail which takes you back further onto the property with opportunities to see beaver dams, row boats and explore other nature items.

Luke and Chloe dashed and explored everything. Checking out the houses, which are just the right size for 4 year olds, going down the slide at the Old Lady in the Shoe’s house and enjoying the cage at the witches house (Hansel and Gretel). At the end of the trail there is a duck pond where you can buy duck food for 25 cents to feed the ducks.

IMG_3270

Little Bo-Peep

You can easily spend a couple of hours in there and not feel rushed. The great thing is once you’ve paid your admission you can return to the forest throughout the day if you choose to. We went through it twice and they wanted to go a third!

Even my oldest who is almost 11, and has gone many times, still enjoys exploring here. Whether you are exploring the Revelstoke area or just passing through, the Enchanted Forest is a must see for all ages, children and adults alike.P7290227

Camping Essentials – Cinnamon Apple

Cinnamon Apple

Cinnamon Apple

I love the variety of neat camping recipes there are. Especially ones that you can do over the fire that are yummy and delicious. Usually done over hot coals and in tin foil it makes for even less dishes and a delicious treat or meal.

Our family camping trips always involved TFD’s, or Tin Foil Dinners, which my father usually requested that we have at least twice. But I often enjoyed the dessert options, like s’mores, banana boats and cinnamon apples. Cinnamon apples have always been my most favorite, as the brown sugar would melt and make a nice sticky syrup over the apples and raisins, so much that I would often lick the tin foil to make sure I did not miss one drop! Until recently, these camping desserts were something that I had to forgo until I figured out how to do it sugar and dairy free.

Matthew enjoying his Cinnamon Apple

Matthew enjoying his Cinnamon Apple

As with any recipe I am ‘transforming’, my goal is to figure out how to make so that it is the same as the original, or only a slight difference in taste. My Mum was actually the one who figured this one out this time. A couple of summers ago she bought coconut sugar and tried it out with the cinnamon apple. It worked perfectly! (Coconut sugar is an excellent natural substitute for brown sugar. It melts just like brown sugar and gives you the syrupy juice.)

I have also figured out how to do banana boats sugar free, also very good, but have yet to try it out on the campfire. (Will post it once I do! )I believe though that it will turn out just as yummy.

Cinnamon apples are easy to make and worth a try on your next camping trip this summer.

Cinnamon Apple

1 apple

cinnamon

coconut sugar

raisins

spoon of Earth Balance vegan buttery spread

heavy duty tin foil

Tear off a large square of heavy duty tin foil. With the shiny side up do the following:

Using Earth Balance, butter middle of tin foil, spreading evenly around. A spoonful is good but if you like you can use more. Slice and core apple, put apple on top of buttered area spreading out slices so they are not on top of each other. Best to slice apples thinly as opposed to in chunks as they soften and cook more quickly. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste, add raisins. Sprinkle a couple of spoonfuls of coconut sugar over apple mixture. The more coconut sugar you use the more juice you will create. You may add a few dollops of Earth Balance on top also to create more juices.IMG_3357

Close foil by matching the edges and folding it down until it is tight.IMG_3361

Then fold over and close each side.IMG_3362

Place foil packet on top of hot coals. Important – ensure that there is no flame amongst your coals otherwise it will burn. Let cook for 5 minutes, then flip over using tongs. You’ll hear the apple sizzling. Check after a few more minutes. Apple should be soft and coconut sugar and butter melted. If it’s not ready wrap it back up and put it back onto the coals and cook for a few more minutes.Bed-Of-Hot-Coals

Once ready unwrap and enjoy! Caution Cinnamon Apple will be very hot. If giving it to small children unwrap and let it cool some before they enjoy.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

IMG_3349The other day one of my neighbors offered me some fresh rhubarb from her garden. I am not a big fan of rhubarb (and don’t really know a lot about what to do with it) but I do really enjoy strawberry rhubarb pie (and I love making things with ingredients fresh from the garden). Years ago I had found a recipe and tried it. So when Matthew came in and said the neighbor asked if we wanted some I said yes! right away.

IMG_3330Rhubarb is a tart fruit that on its own is not to my liking but combined with strawberries I find the whole thing delicious. Now those years ago when I first made this pie it was the traditional white sugar filled filling, so this was my first attempt making it sugar free. I was a little nervous because it called for mixing the flour and sugar together but thought that would not work well with the agave nectar (what I chose to substitute for the sugar) being a liquid.

What I decided to do was to mix the flour and salt together and then once everything was in the pie shell to then pour the agave over top, letting it fill in the holes, as well as being on top.

IMG_3335The kids of course love pie, so it didn’t matter to them what kind of pie I was making, just that we were having pie after supper. Chloe actually helped me make the pie and enjoyed assisting in rolling out the pie crust. She also watched me cut the fruit and asked many questions along the way as to why I was doing this or that.

Once the pie was in the oven, everyone settled down. But as soon as it came out after supper I barely had time to let it cool before everyone was asking for a piece. I would have prefered to let it cool much more to allow for the filling to set but they weren’t having any of it. So I cut pieces for everyone and topped it with ice cream.

Oh. my. God. It was delicious! In fact it was even better than the sugar version I had made before. The kids licked and practically ate the plates it was on. And then promptly asked for more!

I feel that anything made fresh and with fresh garden grown ingredients is going to turn out quite well. But this was beyond my expectations, it was sooo good. With just the right combination of sweet.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

2-9 inch pie crusts (one for top and bottom)IMG_3331

2/3 c. agave nectar

¼ c. flour

¼ tsp. salt

3 c. chopped rhubarb

3 c. sliced strawberries

Mix flour and salt together, put 1/3 of mixture on the bottom of the pie crust. Add fruit in pie shell, leave slight mound in the center, and pour remaining dry ingredients on top. Pour agave nectar over top of fruit and dry ingredients. Cover with top crust. Pinch edges together to seal. Cut small slits in top of crust.

Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and bake for 40-50 minutes. Let pie cool for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to cool and set.IMG_3345

Camping Essentials – Making your own Firestarters

IMG_3240I’m an avid lover of camping. All my family vacations growing up were camping and exploring different places in the Maritimes and I have many fond memories of those trips. Luckily my kids are also avid campers and when I introduced camping to the twins last summer, we kicked off the ‘rebirth’ of camping in our family (after a short siesta between when the twins were born and still quite little). We got out quite a bit last season and even snuck in one final night in mid September.

So when this season kicked off I started looking at the calendar to plan in as much camping as possible between my part time work schedule and other regular commitments. I’m pretty impressed with myself as so far in about 2 weeks we have done 3 different camping trips and places. Some old some new, but loving it all the same.

Drumheller, AB

Drumheller, AB

I think everyone in our household (and probably most campers) would agree that one of the best things about camping is having a fire. Whether you are cooking on it to make dinner or just sitting around and enjoying it, it really is essential. It’s so lovely to sit around the fire on a summer evening and relax, chat or just hang out.

Even when its raining, if you can get a fire going it just makes that camping experience so much nicer. When I was in Girl Guides growing up, of course one to the things I learned was fire building. There is the traditional log house or teepee style, some use newspaper or  dry moss to start the fire. But the best thing that I have ever discovered (and did learn how to make these in Girl Guides) is a firestarter. Made out of materials that you have around the home anyway, these firestarters will burn for 20 minutes and will work easily in the rain. They make starting a fire quick and easy and I won’t go camping without them!

IMG_3059All you need to make them is a cardboard egg carton (stryofoam ones do not work), some dryer fluff and some wax (you know all those candle ends and bits of wax you throw out? Keep them in a ziploc bag and save it for making firestarters). See easy. And you’re probably thinking wow that’s great that I can use dryer fluff for something other than just throwing it out!

Here’s how you do it:

  • cardboard egg carton
  • dryer fluff
  • melted wax
  • newspaper
  1. Cut top off of the egg carton.
  2. Place egg carton on top of a sheet of newspaper.
  3. Fill each hole in the egg carton with dryer fluff. Be generous and stuff them full!
  4. Then pour melted wax over the egg carton – ensuring that each ‘hole’ is filled with wax and has soaked through all the way to the bottom. This is very important as the wax needs to cover it in it’s entirety in order for the firestarter to work properly.
  5. Leave egg carton on newspaper and let wax dry completely.
  6. Once wax is dry cut between the holes in the carton to make 12 firestarters. Store in a large ziploc bag and voila! Done!

IMG_3062You can do more than one egg carton at a time depending on how much dryer fluff and wax you have available. I made 2 dozen last week and that’ll likely be enough for the summer.

I also recommend that you melt the wax slowly on low heat on the stove. And once you use that pot designate it as the wax melting pot and just keep it for when you make more.

I was amazed how easy and well these worked when I first discovered them. I don’t remember who exactly in Girl Guides came up with it, but thank you so much they are awesome!

IMG_3068

Completed Firestarter

So if you’re going camping this summer, or just like having an outdoor fire, make some of these and give them a try.

The Ease of Pallet Gardening

IMG_3026More and more people are going back to growing their own gardens. With the move to eating more organically, and taking care of our planet, many are reconnecting to the Earth. Nurturing and growing flowers, fruits and vegetables is increasing. From community to container gardening people are making the most of what they have to produce organic sustainable gardens.

For many though the challenge is space. With the newer houses and smaller yards – to put in a decent garden would take up a good part or all the yard space! Not to mention people who are in apartments or condos, where do you put it?

containergardenonstepsWith container gardening being one solution, the newest discovery is pallet gardening, using an old pallet to grow plants or vegetables in. When I first learned about this last year I thought this was a really great idea. It allowed me to put the pallet wherever I wanted, so it did not take up space on my grass, I could expand my garden and grow more! and it was using materials that were easy to find and inexpensive. I could also move it around if I wanted to, though a bit heavy it’s great to have that option.

To make your own pallet garden you need:

  • an old pallet
  • landscape fabric
  • stapler
  • dirt
  • whatever you would like to plant

When you are looking for a pallet, you want one that is in good condition, not rotting, nails sticking out or broken boards. (And if you are growing vegetables in it you should opt for one that is heat treat as opposed to fumigated).

Measure out landscape fabric so that it covers the back and up the sides. Do this twice, as using a double layer will make it more durable and stronger. Once you have the fabric to size, put both pieces on top of one another and staple along the bottom, doing one corner, then pulling it taught and securing the opposite corner, etc. until all corners are secured. Then go along the bottom edge of the rest of the pallet. Pull the fabric taught and staple the sides.

Flip the pallet over and fill it with dirt. I would recommend a bag of dirt from your local garden center as it will contain more nutrients than the soil from your garden/ yard. Soils like organic potting soil or triple mix are excellent choices.

Plant your plants in rows between the slats of your pallet. You can start from seed or plant plants that have already been started inside or purchased. Water pallet well.

Stacking pallets

Stacking pallets

Now comes the fun part. If you have planted plants that are already started you can wait a few days until the roots are established then you can move your pallet. You can set it upright against a wall or fence. You could also plant another pallet and stack pallets on top of each other. This takes a bit of planning to ensure that everything is getting enough sun, but it is a great space saver and create a huge garden in a small space.

If you have planted from seed, you will have to wait longer if you wish to stack or put the pallet upright, as things need to be established before doing this.

Remember to water your pallet regularly as they tend to dry out much quicker than your regular garden.

plants-in-a-palletThe great thing about pallet gardening is that you can get really creative with it. Anne Gibson from the microgardener has a post with 20 creative ideas to use your pallet, which I found very interesting and useful. There is no end to what you can with your pallet!

I also think this is a great way to garden with kids, as they can get really creative. Not only are they able to help you with planting but could also decorate the pallet by painting or suggesting ideas on what to create.

It is also easy and accessible for them. Both Luke and Chloe helped me plant our pallet this year and enjoyed picking the seeds to put in. We usually plant vegetables in our pallet as we love to eat the fresh veggies from the garden. This year we have green and yellow beans, spinach, two kinds of lettuce, and a variety of herbs. Some we started from seed and some were all ready small plants we had purchased.

It sits on our deck which gets lots of sun, but is a great place for the kids to ‘watch’ what is happening as we go by it everyday on our way out to the car. So far our beans have started to come up as well as the spinach. Looking forward to seeing what the harvest brings this year :)

Sugar the Good, the Bad and Why it’s important to know the difference

teaspoon_of_sugar_photoThere have been an increasing number of articles recently on sugar; the astounding amounts we consume to the effects it has our body. From National Geographic to MacLean’s magazine they produce astounding stats about sugar. As a result this has spring boarded various responses from the public either agreeing with these articles or disputing them.

Recently I read a blog post on todaysparent.com that stated that ‘fear mongering‘ does not teach our children how to eat healthy and that labeling sugar bad or good was not a good thing. I agree with this blogger in part but I also disagree with her as well.

It is important to distinguish between the different types of sugar. Sugar in natural forms, such as fruit and honey, are good for us and we do need it to assist our body’s functions (as Jen Pinarski states). It is the refined sugars, the ones that are processed from their original forms and remove things such as fiber or other beneficial ingredients that are the concern. Things like white sugar, molasses and corn syrups to name a few.

Fruit has natural sugar that our bodies metabolize and use positively

Fruit has natural sugar that our bodies metabolize and use positively

It is also the amount of these sugars that we are consuming in our daily lives, as 80% of our foods do have some form of processed sugar added to it. This is what creates the astounding amounts that we consume on a daily basis. Yes some of it is choice and yes many people can read labels but many people don’t. They assume that because it is tomato sauce it is good for them and there is no problem, but many brands add processed sugar.

I agree that we need to educate our children about the pros and cons of sugar, and teach them the differences between natural and processed sugars. But how does a kid get that processed sugars are addictive, suppress our immune systems, and create mood swings? They don’t. We have been sugar free in our home for almost 3 years now and I still struggle with my oldest son understanding why we do this. There are days he’s cool with it and there are days that he’s not; and in our case he is one of these people who is highly affected by sugar and it wreaks havoc on our lives when he consumes it). I am trying to teach him that he is a leader for others and that he is sick less or for not as long (to name a few benefits). It’s over his head, he doesn’t care. He wants the coffee crisp that the kid beside him is having, because its prepackaged and ‘everyone else’ has one. Never mind that I can offer him an alternative that is pretty much the same but made with whole ingredients and natural sweeteners.

food_labelsIt is the parents/ adults we need to educate first, teach them how to make healthy choices for their families and how to teach their children to do so as well. I have always felt the best way to teach children is to model, they are so impressionable and often do and say what they’ve seen rather than what we have said. Not that saying informing to is not effective, we need to do that as well, but our actions truly speak the loudest. So parents need to read labels, switch out soft drinks for healthier choices, etc. and do it happily. The kids will start to do it as well. My son often will pick up something and read a label before he asks for it, he knows what to look for and the twins do as well, though they cannot read yet, they are doing the action and know why :)

Almond Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Almond Butter Rice Krispie Treats

It’s the titles of these articles that are the problem. Though they catch people’s attention and are quite factual, the titles such as “death”, “anti-sugar”, “fear mongering” are the things that turn me off and send me looking for another source. But no matter how it is titled, the bottom line is processed sugars are bad, there’s no two buts about it. If it was invented today it would not be approved for consumption. It is an addictive substance that has many negative effects on our body. This does not take the joy out of eating but allows us the opportunity to get creative and find sweet healthy alternatives (with natural sweeteners). I can make quite the variety of treats that taste yummy and one would not know the difference if it was sweetened with processed or natural sugar.

It also provides us all with the opportunity to learn more about our foods and where they come from, how they affect our bodies. I believe the government and schools have to start somewhere and I fully support them removing pop and candy machines from their buildings. Perhaps their message is a bit skewed in how they’re communicating it, but they can work on that. The next step is to offer healthy choices in lieu of, as well as teaching children why a is better than b.

Taste of Nature – a Fabulous Sugar Dairy & Gluten Free Snack in a Package

Today I am very excited to be doing my first official product review!

When we decided to go sugar free in our home, it meant making a lot of things that we normally purchased and enjoyed, from scratch. Bread, salad dressings, treats, and granola bars were some of the items that contain refined sugars, which was one of the ingredients we were avoiding. I spent hours in the kitchen creating and trying new recipes, finding things that worked and we liked. And though I was happy to be making this healthy change for my family, I was not loving being in the kitchen for most of my day. My oldest son, was also struggling with wanting the prepackaged stuff that everyone else had even though what I was providing was indeed tastier and better for him.

IMG_2951Each time I went to the grocery store I would look in the organic/ health food section to see what ‘packaged’ products they had come up with. Yes you could find all kinds but they usually contained ingredients that we couldn’t have, like dairy, refined sugar and on some occasions gluten. I could find a dairy free product but it had gluten, or sugar free but it had dairy and nowhere could I find one that met all 3 (and tasted good, we have tried some that looked promising but they did not taste good at all).

So last week when doing my regular shopping trip I was very pleased to discover these fruit and nut bars by Taste of Nature! A Canadian company, these organic snack bars are delicious and come in a variety of flavors such as Canadian Maple Forest, Quebec Cranberry Carnival and California Almond Valley. Each flavor is a different mix of nuts, seeds and fruit, such as raisins, almonds, sesame seeds to exotic ingredients like dried cherries, pomegranite and cashews.

I immediately bought a couple and brought them home to try. We didn’t even make it out of the parking lot and the twins were asking to have one. So we sampled and shared the Brazilian Nut Fiesta. Wow! These bars were good! Sweetened with agave nectar and brown rice syrup these bars contain no artificial flavors or additives, have no dairy and no gluten! They are also certified organic, vegan, and kosher! We had hit the mother load!

I was so excited to have found these that I immediately came home and checked out their website. I was thrilled to see that they offered many more flavors such as Niagara Apple Country, Nova Scotia Blueberry Fields and Persian Pomegranite Garden. This is where I also learned this company aims to produce zero carbon footprint, uses green business practices and that providing quality products and caring for our environment are very important to them.

IMG_2955I was sold! This was a great company and one that met all our dietary needs. Woohoo! I could now spend a little less time in the kitchen :)

Over the course of the next week we tried a few more flavors, Canadian Maple Forest, Quebec Cranberry Carnival and Louisianna Pecan Parade (one of their newest flavors and my favorite as it has cashews and dried cherries in it!) Their other new flavor is Polynesian Coconut Breeze, which I am very excited to try as I love coconut as well!

Of course the twins have enjoyed all the flavors and my oldest son’s favorite is also the Louisianna Pecan Parade.

I am so pleased to see Canadian companies being innovative and creating products that are meeting the growing demands and changes of a healthier population and recognizing that there is a need and market out there. And the variety that this company provides is fabulous!

The other thing I was pleased with was the price for this product. At less than $2 per bar I thought this was quite reasonable considering the quality and variety of ingredients. We will definitely be purchasing more of these great bars and adding them to our healthy snacks!

I’d like to thank Taste of Nature who provided a variety of their fabulous bars for us to try. Thank you! They are delicious!

Tips and Ideas for a Sugar Free Easter

IMG_2914It has been 3 years since we have had to eliminate all refined sugars from our diet. This was for the benefit of my son who was not only experiencing extreme mood and behavior but was having trouble sleeping as well.

Though it was challenging to do in our everyday lives, the real challenge came around the holidays, as in our culture there is a lot of focus around food and feasts, especially sweets. As you can imagine Halloween is the biggest, with the entire focus of trick or treating being on collecting candy, with Easter being a close second.

P4240615Over the years we have found many different tips and tricks to enjoy these holidays without the focus being on all the candy and chocolates. I have to admit our first sugar free Easter was a bit of a challenge. My son, who was only 7 at the time, was old enough to remember the basket and eggs full of chocolates and jelly beans, so when Easter morning he discovered a basket full of socks and books, he was a little disappointed and understandably so.

I did my best to compensate by making our usual Easter Brunch, complete with eggs and sausages, waffles and fruit of which he enjoyed immensely. He then got treated with a new pair of sneakers from Grandpa and a cactus for his room. He soon forgot about all the things he was missing and was enjoying what he had.

The next year was better, as in the interim I had taken a class on how to make raw organic chocolates so was able to make chocolates we could enjoy, in addition to the new treats that the Easter Bunny brought for us.

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Easter Chick

For the twins, it has been a non issue as a sugar free Easter is the only kind of Easter they have known. I imagine as they get older they will learn what other children do for Easter and it may or may not matter to them, but I believe that because they will have known our way since birth that they will have a strong foundation and may feel very happy with our Easter regardless.

Now Easter is back to being another fun holiday that we all enjoy with our various traditions and ‘treats’. The kids baskets are full of non candy items, the eggs full of cash, and a wonderful mid morning feast of our favorite breakfast foods. Of course we add in other things from year to year, but those are the ‘basics’. No one feels denied or left out, nor focuses are what’s missing but appreciates and gets excited about what we have.

If you are looking to reduce the sugar during this holiday here are some tips on how to do so without the kids feeling disappointed:

  1. Fill Easter baskets with toys, socks, books, sunglasses, seeds, gardening gloves, bubbles, chalk, etc. I like to buy things that are inexpensive but not cheap, as well as things that they will enjoy and use. One year Matthew got a movie he wanted and a few smaller items but that was it. It can vary from year to year but I am not one to buy junkie trinkets just to fill the basket.
  2. Make your own chocolate with natural sweeteners. It is easy to make your own chocolates; you can get Easter molds and add anything you want to it. You could even get the kids to make them with you, ready for Easter morning.IMG_2904
  3. Plan an Easter Egg Hunt. We have lots of those plastic Easter eggs that I fill with coins or stickers. Usually I leave a little trail from their bedrooms down the stairs and hide them all over the main level. Sometimes they even get hidden outside. There are many ways you can set up the hunt and ideas for non candy items to put in the eggs.  They could just be clues that will lead the kids to a prize of some sort at the end.
  4. Make a yummy (sugar free) Easter brunch or breakfast. If the kids are looking forward to their favorite french toast or waffles, they will likely be distracted and awaiting that yummy feast.
  5. Do Easter crafts or activities. Most kids love crafts, even my 10 year old son will still sit down and do a craft, painting or art project.
  6. Decorate the house for Easter. If the kids get into decorating the house this takes the focus off the candies and onto other stuff. The twins have been ‘decorating’ for weeks, setting up army men around the Easter tree or hanging crafts they made at preschool in their room. Decorating also makes it more than just about the one day and makes it more of an event.
  7. Get others on board. Encourage other family members and friends to get non sugary treats for everyone; then the kids see that everyone is getting the same, so it must be ok.
  8. IMG_2903Color eggs. You can do this on Easter as an activity or prior to. Either way it is another way of removing the focus and putting it onto something else that is fun and enjoyable.
  9. Be grateful. Encourage the kids to be grateful for what they have. Create a gratitude jar or choose another gratitude activity to do do with them.
  10. No matter what you do have fun. Whether you are creating new traditions, foods, crafts etc. enjoy the Easter holiday as a family and remember why we celebrate, and what is most important to you as a family this holiday.