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! 

A Little Light in our World

PICT3214I have always felt it was important to give children one on one attention. But as parents though we know it would benefit our children as well as ourselves, it is sometimes difficult to do so in the run of our daily lives. Demands on time, routine and commitments, as well as other children, often pull us in many directions, not always toward our children.

There are lots of tips online on how to spend more one on one time with your children, make sure you acknowledge them when they come in the door afterschool, give them a hug, etc. but the main one is to consciously carve out time each week for each parent to spend some time with each child (which can still be challenging especially if you have lots of kids!)

I decided to do this with my oldest son, as I see him so much less than the twins and I knew that as he continued to get older if we did not maintain some form of connection that he would likely drift away, choosing to spend more time out or with friends. I wanted to nurture and maintain that connection so that at the very least, a solid foundation was laid for our relationship.

So for the past year or so Matthew and I have designated one night a week as Matthew and Mum night. This is a night where it is just him and I. We do it after his brother and sister are in bed and don’t allow anyone else to join in. We do any number of things, from play a board game, create/ cook something in the kitchen, or watch a show that we both enjoy. On the odd occasion, we’ll even go out and see a movie, dinner or grab a coffee.

MV5BMzEyNjQzOTQ5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzY5MjI2._V1_SX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Recently we have started watching Highway to Heaven starring Michael Landon (and also written and produced by him). Well known for his roles in Bonanza as Little Joe Cartwright, and Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, Michael brought magic to the screen. His series Highway to Heaven is a show about an angel who’s mission from God is to help different people with various trials and tribulations helping them see good or change their ways. These uplifting episodes always demonstrate the good in people and our world; and that sometimes we just get lost a little along the way. With Jonathan’s (Michael Landon’s) angelic guidance it always results in a tear jerking (have tissues on hand) episode that shows us the light in the world.

I suggested this show to Matthew after having various conversations with him. He was often telling me about this video game or that show, and they often had the theme of violence and death in them. Always a negative or what I considered dark theme or message. I wanted to show (and expose to) Matthew that there is more to our world than darkness and violence, balance things out and expose him to some good things, happy things. And show him how being helpful or kind (all themes of Highway to Heaven) can benefit not only others but yourself as well.

MV5BMjE1NTA5NTAzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzc2MTgyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Matthew loved the show from the first episode. He laughed and smiled, enjoying it immensely. So much so that he immediately asked for another episode. If my 11 year old boy was enjoying this, then I knew it must be a hit!

I feel that we need more of these kinds of shows in our world today. So many of them are competitive and/ or violent, with any number of deaths on a show. Yes it is our ‘society these days ‘ but why can’t we produce more of the good stuff? I know people want it and I know it is out there. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone watch a show like Highway to Heaven and say what a nice change that was, or I wish there were more shows like that.

Now don’t get me wrong, Highway to Heaven deals with some serious issues, like disability, alcoholism, divorce, prejudice, etc. but it is dealt with in a way that is real and kind; showing you that there are other ways of doing things, other paths to take. True, you may not always have an angel show up to lend a hand, but it demonstrates the power of people in general and how a kind word can make a world of difference to a person.

I look forward to our Mom and son nights, not only because of this show but because I get to spend that time with Matthew. I protect that night each week and work all my other commitments around it. I find Matthew behaves better, is more loving and pleasant when we have these opportunities. And we often have a little discussion afterwards about the theme/ issues that arose in the show.

IMG_1448Sadly, the show Highway to Heaven only lasted 5 seasons, running from 1984-1989. The ratings in the fourth season took a dive and NBC decided to cancel the show. Unfortunately, since then I haven’t seen a lot of shows that have that same kind of positive message. (I never get through an episode of Highway to Heaven with a dry eye) And I think it’s important that these kinds of shows exist.

For now, and thankfully, all 5 seasons are out on DVD, and I can watch them endlessly when I need a good release or pick me up. Even a little reminder that there is good in the world. Because I truly believe that there is more good, more light on this planet, but like these kinds of shows, they might just be buried a little bit.

To Drink Gingerbread

IMG_4491I know Christmas is over. And New Year’s is done too. And this is really something more suited to the Christmas season. But I couldn’t resist posting this martini I created over the holidays. Yes I created it!

I was on a gingerbread kick over Christmas, looking for different ways to enjoy this delectable Christmas flavor. I had already discovered and tested gingerbread waffles, gingerbread muffins and of course gingerbread cookies (classic). Earlier this Fall I was delving into the martini world, trying some Halloween ones, pumpkin one, and a few others. I thought there must be a gingerbread one I can make.

So I hopped on Pinterest, my new favorite go to for recipes and looked it up. I found a number of recipes but most of them had Baileys in it and I wanted to avoid the dairy. There were some that were almost but not quite. So I decided to experiment, I took parts that I liked from different recipes and combined and adjusted them, creating my own version of the gingerbread martini. Dairy free, not quite sugar free, there’s just a teensy bit in it, I tried to get it completely sugar free but couldn’t quite do it (maybe down the road I’ll figure it out get it completely sugar free). Though honestly you would never know, this is a very sweet martini and extremely delicious.

Once I got all the components right and tried it, I phoned my Mum to share. She immediately wanted the recipe and went to try it herself. 20 minutes later she phoned back with one word, “Yum”.

Now I realize it is not the Christmas season when gingerbread is most popular but I could not sit on this delectable recipe for an entire year! Besides isn’t gingerbread good any time of year? Valentine’s? or Christmas in July.

Give it a try. If you like gingerbread you’ll love this. Enjoy!IMG_4493

Gingerbread Martini

1 1/2 ounces (3 tbsp.) vodka

1 ounce (2 tbsp.) gingerbread syrup*

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) Creme de cacao

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) unsweetened coconut milk (I used Silk unsweetened coconut milk)

Put all ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake to mix. Pour into martini glass. May adorn glass with mini gingerbread cookie if desired.

*Gingerbread Syrup

IMG_4497

Gingerbread Syrup

1/2 c. water

1/2 c. coconut sugar

4 tbsp. barley malt

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, mix together water, coconut sugar, barley malt, ginger and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool before using in drink. May be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

To Dip or not to Dip?

IMG_4481There’s nothing like a good dip at a party! Something warm, cheesy and delectable to dip that cracker or tortilla chip in. Yum! Of course there are lots of other yummy dips that are served cool and aren’t as heavy or dense as the cheesy ones. In fact I have discovered some great ones over the past few months, usually from sampling at Community Natural Foods, our local natural food store, such as a sweet carrot dip and spinach dip.

I think dips make great snacks, not only are they good at parties but they are also great for that late night munching, especially if you are looking for something a little more healthy. Things like hummus, black bean dip and the above veggie dips are very tasty and satisfying. Though I have to say sometimes I just want a nice creamy, cheesy warm dip, full of flavor and taste!

That’s why when I discovered this yummy dip back in the spring I was in heaven. I was hosting a Pampered Chef party and this was the recipe I chose to try. The original recipe was so full of dairy but I knew I could substitute and it would turn out fantastic. And I was right, it was fantastic!

images-36I was so pleased that I now had a yummy dairy free creamy cheese warm dip to make (I know that’s a mouthful). It is a super simple recipe, done all in your microwave (though I am not a huge fan of making it in the microwave I have yet to figure out how to get around that). It takes no time at all to make. It’s a great dip for parties, snacking or New Year’s Eve gatherings, made with ingredients that you’ll likely have around at home (unless this is your first recipe that’s dairy free than maybe not, but trust me the dairy free version is worth it and provides lots of health benefits. Plus it has Kale, that’s a superfood)

Kale and Artichoke Dip

1 – 12oz jar artichokes, drained

1 – 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts

2 c. Daiya mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 c. grated vegan parmesan cheese (I use Go Veggie Soy Parmesan)

1/2 c. veganaiseIMG_4479

1/2 c. vegan sour cream

2 cloves, garlic

3 c. fresh kale leaves, stems removed and torn into pieces

baked pita chips, triscuit crackers or cut up vegetables for dipping

Place artichokes and water chestnuts in a manual food processor. Process until coarsley chopped and place in a microwave safe glass or ceramic covered dish (8×8 square or round).

Add mozzarella, parmesan, veganaise and sour cream. Mince garlic and add to baker, or use garlic press.

Microwave on High for 2 minutes until cheeses begin to melt. Remove from microwave and mix with spatula until well blended.

Place kale in food processor and process until finely chopped. Add kale to cheese mixture and stir in well. Put covered dish back in microwave and cook on High for 2-3 minutes. Stirring halfway through, until hot and bubbly.

Serve immediately with chips or veggies. Serves 30

What Turkey, Christmas and Pizza have in common

photo 2One of the things I absolutely love about the big holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, is the big delicious feasts we have. All the decadent recipes we enjoy, from classic to traditional, to the new one you always wanted to try. So yummy! My mouth is watering just sitting here thinking about it (or maybe that’s the quiche I currently have in the oven?)

And of course there’s all the leftovers, usually enough at our house that we are eating turkey for a week before we tire of it and freeze the rest. Sometimes we’ll just enjoy the turkey on its own with the gravy, potatoes and leftover veg, or we’ll make something new out of the turkey, creating a whole new fantastic dish to enjoy!

From hot turkey sandwiches to omelettes and casseroles, there are endless delicious turkey leftover recipes to create. My absolute favorite though is hands down, turkey crepes. My mother found this recipe years ago, when I was probably 11 or 12. She made them one Boxing Day. I remember asking Mum what was for supper and looking at her like she was crazy when she responded. I thought ‘oh yeah those will be delicious…gross.’

Boy was I surprised. The rule in our house was that you always tried something once and if you didn’t like it fair enough, but you couldn’t say you didn’t like it if you had never tried it before. Plus that was what was for supper, if I didn’t eat it, there was nothing else. So I tentatively took a bite. OMG! These things were fantastic, they tasted just like pizza, but were lighter and fluffier. My sisters and I gobbled them up and eagerly asked for more. They quickly became the family favorite and the traditional dish on Boxing Day.

Now I make them for Christmas Day, as we have simplified the meal (and by simplify I mean reduce the amount of prep) on Christmas Day to allow more family time, and less time in the kitchen cooking. I have also adjusted the recipe to meet our dairy free requirements and they are just as delicious! In fact we have had a few guests over on Christmas Day and they are none the wiser (and also gobbling them up, in fact D’Wayne’s nephew requested the leftovers this year). D’Wayne too is also salivating as I am wrapping them up and putting them into the oven.

It is a fairly simple recipe, with some of the cooking being done easily in advance. I usually make the crepes a few days ahead (or if I am really organized earlier and freeze them), and the filling and final touches the day of the meal. Everybody loves them.

So if you are in need of a new yummy recipe for all the leftover turkey you have (or just want to try something new) definitely give this recipe a try!

Turkey Crepes

16-20 8″ crepes (recipe below)

3c. cubed turkey

1/4 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

2 onions finely chopped

1 c. sliced mushrooms

1 clove garlic, minced

2 – 5 oz jars artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

3 c. shredded Daiya mozzarella

1 – 28 oz. can tomato sauce

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper

Crepes:

4 eggs

3/4 c. water

1/2 c. almond milk

1 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

Beat eggs and stir in flour. Add water, almond milk and salt, mixing until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour to let flour absorb liquid (can be left in fridge overnight if desired). Just before making crepes, melt Earth Balance in pan; stir excess butter into crepe batter. Batter should be consistency of light cream. If batter seems a bit thick blend in more water to get it to the right consistency.

Pour 1/4 c. of batter into pan and swirl to form a circle. Cook crepe until lightly browned, turn and cook other side for 1 minute. Repeat with remaining crepes. Stack cooked crepes between layers of wax paper until ready to use. Crepes can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time and kept wrapped in the fridge. Crepes may also be frozen for longer storage.

Makes 16- 20 crepes

Filling:

In a large skillet, melt Earth Balance over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender.  Add mushrooms and continue cooking until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in turkey and half the artichokes. Heat through, then remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place crepes on work surface with light colored sides up. Divide turkey mixture equally among crepes and roll up. Place crepes seam side down in a single layer in a greased 9×13 ovenproof dish.

In a medium size bowl, combine tomato sauce and remaining artichokes. Stir in basil and oregano and spoon over prepared crepes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8

Festive Ham and Dairy Free Scallop Potatoes

IMG_4425Years ago we were away over Christmas for the first time ever, well not including university years or when we went somewhere else to visit. This was the first time we were not somewhere spending Christmas with other family or friends. We were in Australia, part of our 3 month stint back in 2007, and the beginning of a love affair with the Aussies (cause as you know we’ve been back since to Australia and there’s talk of going again).

This was the first time that we as a family were in a place where they was no family or friends to visit or stay with. We had no traditions that we had to uphold (not that there is anything wrong with traditions, everyone calls me a very traditional gal. I love them and uphold many, but there are times to break from or form new traditions) and no particular place that we needed to be. We were in Tasmania, the only island state in Australia, staying in Launceston at a lovely place called the Penny Royal Apartments (which are refurbished historical buildings turned into apartment accommodations). It was a lovely place.

Bris Tas and Melbourne (244)

Penny Royal Apartments

For Christmas, we kept it low key, enjoying a nice dinner on Christmas Eve and preparations for Santa Claus, with our paper tree and actual socks hung up for stockings. Christmas morning was even simpler with a present from Santa, some goodies in our stockings and a nice breakfast of french toast. Matthew was 4, and was super happy with his little Tonka trucks from Santa Claus and his few small gifts from us.

Bris Tas and Melbourne (246)We went to the beach for the day, we came back and went to a Christmas buffet at another local hotel. No one had to cook the big meal, no fuss, no muss, relaxing, easy. Simple. It was so nice because we got to spend time with each other, it was not about the toys and gifts, or the big Christmas dinner. There was no stress to have things perfect or a timeline to abide by. It was cool, it was authentic and was one of the best Christmases I have ever enjoyed.

Bris Tas and Melbourne (247)When we returned from Australia we decided to shift our focus, and make Christmas about the things we really want, which we had identified as being together, enjoying each other’s company, it didn’t matter what we were going to do. So we simplified things, we ordered pizza on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day we had turkey crepes (a fabulous dish made with leftover turkey, that is not only delicious but simple and can be made ahead of time, reducing time in the kitchen on Christmas Day). We still had a nice meal and used the nice dishes, we still exchanged gifts, but now no one was stuck in the kitchen all day making dinner. Which for was usually just us anyway and was all over in about 20 minutes. Now I make the big meal 2-3 weeks earlier, chop and freeze the turkey and toss the crepes together on Christmas day, takes maybe 30 minutes.

That being said I do love the spread at Christmas and I still love all the traditional items on the menu, like turkey and stuffing, ham and potatoes, with all the dressings. So I usually do a bigger meal a little bit before Christmas, when I have more time, less things competing for my time and can afford a day in the kitchen.

The beach Christmas Day 2007

The beach Christmas Day 2007

In fact just this past weekend I decided to make a ham and scallop potatoes, often a favorite on many Christmas dinner tables. I was so excited because this was the first time that I was making the scallop potatoes dairy free. I love scallop potatoes but for some reason since going dairy free I thought I couldn’t make them, that adjusting the recipe would be too complicated. I have no idea why I thought this, but for some reason the other day this ‘block’ lifted and I decided I could do it and what I would do. I knew exactly what I was going to do and what substitutes I was going to try.

Oh my goodness! The potatoes turned out so well. They were absolutely fabulous and I couldn’t believe that I had waited so long to adjust this recipe, or that I thought I couldn’t! It was really quite simple and easy (and in case you haven’t noticed I like simple and easy).

The ham was fabulous as well, I use my own mix to glaze and flavour the ham, though I have discovered that it is near impossible to find a ham that is not cured with sugar of some kind (at the moment anyway, I believe that will come). I ended up buying one from the local butcher, no hormones, no steriods, grain fed, but still cured in a brine that did contain a little bit of sugar, though the butcher assured me that it was much less than what you would find in the local grocery store. Rounded out with a nice green salad it was a fabulous meal and one that we all enjoyed. It was the first time the twins had scallop potatoes and though Luke rejected them because they looked different, once he tasted them, he gobbled them up.

So if you’re doing the Christmas spread this year and want to try a dairy free scallop potato recipe (you may have a lactose intolerant aunt who you can finally make a dish for) or have decided to keep it more simple (you could make the slow cooker version of these potatoes), enjoy yourselves, remember what is most important to you and make that your focus, when you do Christmas day will be perfect no matter what.

Glazed Ham

dry mustardIMG_4424

coconut sugar

water

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together to make a smooth paste. Be careful not to add too much water as you do not want it runny. Amounts of mustard and coconut sugar depend on preference for sweetness and tart, as well as size of ham. Spread mixture over ham. Place in covered roaster and roast for 2 hours at 350F for a 3.5 kg ham (increase or decrease cooking time according to size).

Scallop Potatoes

4 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan spread

4 tbsp. flour

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

2 c. coconut milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage, slightly thinner than regular coconut milk)

6 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly slicedIMG_4430

1 large onion, thinly sliced in rings

*optional 1/2 c. Daiya dairy free cheddar

In a medium saucepan melt Earth Balance. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Add coconut milk and stir. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. If adding cheese stir into sauce.

Layer half of prepared potatoes and onions in large (2.5 quart) casserole dish, alternating a layer of potatoes, a layer of onion. Pour half the sauce over potatoes and onion. Layer the rest of the potatoes and onions the same way, then pour the rest of the sauce over top.

Bake covered at 350 F for 50 minutes. Remove cover and bake 15 minutes more to brown slightly. Potatoes should be tender, sauce warm and bubbling.

Serves 6

Ginger Tea

IMG_4420Years ago when I was seeing an acupuncturist, she gave me a recipe for ginger tea. At the time I was experiencing some nausea and she said that ginger tea was a great remedy. Little did I know just how beneficial ginger tea was! Not only does it combat nausea and vomiting, it has a meerad of other health benefits that are fantastic!

Ginger itself is high in vitamin C, magnesium and many other minerals. Which makes it great for battling colds and flu. I was surprised that ginger would have such a high vitamin C content myself, maybe because it is brown, who knows, but it’s definitely beneficial!

Other benefits include reduced inflammation, menstrual discomfort, and stress. Increases blood circulation, fertility, improves digestion and strengthens immunity. It also is a really yummy tea that is great to enjoy on a cold winter day. The flavors and smells are delightful, and for me, I like a drink that has an extra little kick, as it can get quite spicy the longer it sits. During the fall and winter months, I often have a cup of ginger tea on the go.

The tea itself is easy to make. Simply boil 4 cups of water in a medium size pot. Peel and slice a 2-3 inch piece of ginger. Once the water is boiling put the ginger pieces in the pot, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes. That’s it! It’ll keep in the fridge for a good week and once you run out it is easy to make some more!

honeyMy kids find it a bit spicy, as it does have a bit of a kick, and the longer it sits the more spicy it gets. But I enjoy it with a teaspoon of honey (also with many health benefits) to sweeten it up. It also is a great tea to use when making a hot tottie, (honey, cinnamon, rum and tea), tastes really good.

Quick, simple, easy and probably something you have in your house on a fairly regular basis.

Ginger Tea

4 c. water

2-3 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Peel and slice ginger, when water comes to a boil place ginger pieces in pot and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Makes 4 cups

For the Love of Board Games

images-34I absolutely love board games! Growing up we played them all the time and had all kinds of them. From the traditional Monopoly to the unique and complicated Shadowlord, we would play board games for hours. My parents played with us to, especially my Mom, who still loves playing to this day.

Each year for Christmas we would get a new game. It was the family gift from Mom and we would wait in anticipation for what would come from under the tree. The challenge was of course as we got older, finding a game that we didn’t already have! But somehow Mom would find one and most of them were pretty good (cause some of them were not, though honestly I could not tell you the names).

images-32I have endeavored to continue the tradition with my kids, each year seeking out what’s new and hot, or faulting to some of the classics (cause yes all the games are still at my Mom’s house, so we have to buy our own. Which is totally ok cause then we have lots to play when we visit her). I have noticed over the years some of our favorites when growing up, are no longer available or have changed; like Survive (no longer available and not to be confused with Survivor), Pay Day (we really like the old version best) and Careers (also no longer available, but we loved!)

As a result my kids also enjoy board games, for which I am grateful, cause they will play with me! I also know that board games offer lots of learning in a fun way, like introducing colors and counting in Candy Land Board or strategies in games Settlers of Catan
as well as the basic concept of winning and losing and good sportsmanship.

I was very excited this year to find out what was new and hot in board games this year and discovered some great games. Some we already have but some we do not. Now the question is which one to buy for under the tree?

Hottest Games this Christmas

Settlers of Catan - hot and the current favorite in our house, Settlers is a strategy game, where players are trading and building in the mythical world of Catan. Dice is rolled to earn resources in which to build settlements, cities and roads and earn victory points. With the game board changing each time you play (and expansion sets to grow your game) you will never tire of this game.

Ticket To Ride - October 2, 1900 – it’s 28 years to the day that noted London eccentric, Phileas Fogg accepted and then won a bet that he could travel “Around the World in 80 Days.” Now, at the dawn of the century, some old friends have gathered to celebrate Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble – and to propose a new wager of their own. The stakes: $1 million in a winner-takes-all competition. The objective: to see the most cities in North America – in just 7 days. Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure game. Players collect train cards that enable them to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.

7 Wonders - 7 Wonders is a game that lasts 3 ages. In each age players receive cards from a particular deck. Cards are played simultaneously in each age to pay or collect resources as needed. Each card has different strengths and advantages making it important to pay attention to your neighbor. This strategic card playing game will engage ages young and old alike.

Classics

images-33Jenga - I still remember the commercial for this game when growing up. “Take a block from the bottom and put it on top, take a block from the middle and put it on top. Jenga, Jenga, j-j-j jenga”. This classic block stacking game, challenges each player to build and then take turns removing blocks without the stack crashing.

Twister - A great fun family game, this is the game that ties you up in knots. Using the spinner each player has to place a hand or foot on the appropriate color. It gets challenging when the color start to run out or are a little too far away!

Clue - Figure out who killed Mr. Body by going from room to room in the mansion and making guesses. All the classic characters, all the classic weapons.

Pictionary - Get your partner to guess what you’re drawing before the timer runs out. Play against other teams and score points for correct guesses.

Chess – Trap your opponents King using your knights and pawns. An excellent game of strategy.

Checkers – Through moving and jumping the goal is to claim all of your opponents pieces.

Games for Toddlers

Hungry Hungry Hippos - I have always loved this game. It makes a lot of noise but is so much fun! Hippo mouths chomping to eat the most marbles, whoever eats the most wins.

Trouble - a younger version of Sorry, Trouble is a fun way to introduce children to moving their pieces around the board. As they race towards the finish, they also have to be careful to not get bumped back to the beginning. The best part of this game is the popper in the middle, so much fun to pop!

Let’s Go Fishin’ - The first time I played this game was actually with my niece a couple of years ago. It’s hilarious! (and also not that easy) watching these fish mouths open and close as you use your fishing rod to hook them and take them out. I laughed my head off it was so much fun. Is great for enhancing hand eye coordination and just a giggle to watch those gaping fish move all around.

 

Candyland

Candyland

Candy Land - Choose your sweet character and dance your way along the rainbow path to Peppermint Forest, the Lagoon of Lord Licorice and Princess Frostine’s Ice Palace! Let your imagination soar as you make your way to King Kandy’s Castle to win.

Connect 4 - Drop your round discs into the slots to create a line of 4, while trying to stop your opponent from doing the same. Sounds easy, but you can only drop one at a time!

All Round Favorites at our House

The Game of Life - Move around the board and try your hand at ‘life’. Choose college and student loans, marriage, kids, a new car. Goal is to build your wealth and see what kind of life you can create.

Sorry - A great game of slide and collide, as you move your men around the board trying to get home before the other players. Drawing cards to move your men, you try to bump others back to the beginning before they bump you!

Scattergories - A fun game using letters. Pick a theme card and roll the dice. From the list each player must come up with something that fits that item starting with the letter rolled. Sound easy? Well there is a time limit of course

Cranium - Cranium is a great game with 4 elements to it, allowing everyone to shine. Acting, drawing, data or words complete tasks in these categories to win points and advance around the board.

images-35

Blokus

Blokus - This is a great strategy game we discovered a few years ago. The goal is to place as many of your pieces on the board while preventing the other colors from doing the same. The challenge is the pieces are in different number of tiles and shapes

Battleship - This classic game of who sunk my Battleship takes me back to days of asking for E4 with my sister. A two person game, each person places their battleships and then takes turns guessing on the grid to try and find and sink the opponents. They also have electronic Battleship, which is super fun, with all the explosion sounds and such.

Yahtzee - A great family dice game, rack up points by getting groups of numbers, straights and maybe even a Yahtzee. This game of luck and strategy makes it both challenging and exciting.

Taboo - Try and get your partner to guess the word on your card without using that word or any of the five other words on the card.

Survive, Careers, Trust Me (all no longer available :(, but have to mention – Ok Survive is the best! You build an island that is sinking and have to save all your men and get them to the safe islands on the outer rim, before the volcano explodes. Careers classic, create your formula of happiness, fame and fortune then go around the board on different career paths to achieve your dreams! (We love this game so much my Mother recreated the board so that we could play it at my house) Trust Me is a great game of buying, bluffing and making deals all for the most cash! (it is really too bad you can’t get these games anymore, I’ll never give mine up!)

Do you enjoy board games at your house? What are your favorites?