How to Create a Hot Chocolate Bar

hot chocolate barDecadent hot chocolate, topped with yummy whip cream, drizzled with chocolate…. something you usually only see at your local cafe or coffee shop.

But imagine creating this in your own home, or creating some other tasty combination. Chocolate orange, Lavender White, Peanut butter… oh so yum! This is the beauty of a hot chocolate bar – a simple but yummy idea that enables you to create these wonderful, delicious combinations to enhance your hot chocolate experience.

The basis of a hot chocolate bar is that you make a plain hot chocolate and then have a number of different toppings and combinations to choose from to add to your hot chocolate that make it… oh, just a little more. Good hot chocolate can certainly be enjoyed plain and definitely warms you all the way down to your toes, but these additions make it a little more lavish, make it a little more fun.

hot chocolate barIt is also super easy to set up. It does not take a lot of time or effort, the most effort you’ll have to make is to decide what yummy toppings you are going to use! I did this twice over the holidays, once for a ladies only night at my place and second as a fun treat for my kids and nieces while away over Christmas. Everyone loved it! It was super fun. We all had half cups at a time experimenting with different tastes and flavors. I had created a list of suggested combinations but of course you could pick and choose whatever you liked. Plus just looking at the spread set out was not only nice to look at but made you want to try them all!

We had chocolate pieces, peanut butter, orange zest, hazelnut sticks, homemade marshmallows (mint and cinnamon), cinnamon sticks, coconut and some essentials oils like peppermint and lavender. We even had a little ‘adult’ version – a splash of Frangelico, if desired for those over 18.

How to Set Up Your Own Hot Chocolate Bar

Start out with your own base hot chocolate – you can either do this by the cup therefore creating and meeting people’s dietary needs, like dairy free, sugar free or use the just add water powder mix. Or you can make a big batch of your favorite hot chocolate in the slow cooker. I have done it both ways and both have their advantages.

Pick your toppings – there are so many to choose from!

  • chocolate chunks
  • orange zest
  • peppermint stickshot chocolate bar
  • 1-2 drops of peppermint extract or essential oil (if using essential oil you’ll need to use very little but depends on your brand. Also make sure the oil is ok for taking internally
  • coconut cream (for the dairy free) or whip cream
  • peanut butter – word to the wise if using this topping advise your guests that less is more with this one as too much pb makes it sink to the bottom and essentially gets wasted
  • shredded coconut
  • marshmallows
  • cinnamon sticks
  • hazelnut sticks
  • dash of cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • cayenne
  • lucuma
  • mesquite
  • or….

Add desired toppings and enjoy! Use suggested combinations or mix and match to make your own.

A hot chocolate bar literally takes about 5 minutes to set up. When I hosted the ladies it was the easiest and shortest prep I ever had to do for a party. And I loved how visually appealing it looked before everyone dug in.

hot chocolate barThis is also something you can set up in your home on the counter somewhere and leave for a bit for people to enjoy. Of course you’d have to put some of the items into the fridge when not in use but for the most part many of them can stay out.

The thing I love about the hot chocolate bar is it can easily be sugar free dairy free and be very yummy and enjoyable. When my kids participated out of all the choices I set out there were only 1 or 2 that they had to avoid. The rest was far game. So it was easy for them to try different things, experiment and enjoy the full experience.

I also love the versatility of it. You can create one for parties, after tobogganning, weddings, birthdays, after skating – and because of the variety of toppings there’s something for everyone!

If you love hot chocolate then you’ll be super excited for the upcoming YYC Hot Chocolate Fest which I am proud to be a part of this year! Watch for more details to come!

5 Easy at Home Workouts

easy at home workoutsIf one of your New Year’s resolutions is getting in better shape but the time and expense of a gym just doesn’t appeal to you – I have the solution for you with these 5 Easy at Home Workouts.

I get it, you’re a busy mom/ parent on the go. There are days when you are just happy you’ve had time for a shower and something to eat, let alone a little exercise. It’s also winter – and I don’t know about where you live, but right now it’s freezing and snowy outside! So though I love being outdoors and enjoying winter when I can – the reality is we tend to hibernate in winter. We don’t get out as much, and we tend to be less active in general.

easy at home workoutsFor me, I love things that I can do at home. Because though I do go to a gym and enjoy it, I also love the option of being able to get a workout in without having to go anywhere. Cause honestly sometimes you just don’t have the time to pack your bag, get in the car, drive to the gym… you get the idea. But you do have 10-15 minutes.

And truly 10-15 minutes can do wonders for your overall health, well being and exercise plan. You do not need a lot of fancy equipment to get the blood moving and the heart pumping or to notice the results of your efforts. Plus it’s easy, and I don’t know about you but I love easy. If it’s easy it makes it more of a reality that it is going to happen.

I also like variety. I don’t always want to do the same thing everyday so I like to have options to choose from when I want to switch it up. These 5 Easy at Home Workouts offer a variety of options that are more than just weights and constant repetitions. They are short and great for getting up and moving. They are also easy to do with or involve the kids if you want to. It can even be contagious! My daughter does my 5 minute yoga routine with me most mornings and now does her own periodically throughout the day!

5 Easy at Home Workouts

Easy 10 Minute Workout – Simply using your body and a chair, this workout routine provides 8 strength training exercises to strengthen and tone.

easy at home workouts

Mini Trampoline Workout – Move to your favorite tunes with this low impact workout. I love this idea as you just cue up enough music for the length of time you want – 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. and then you jump and move and play. That’s it! Easy. Yes you need a mini trampoline but they are inexpensive. They are also portable and fit just about anywhere.

easy at home workouts

Fun Hoola Hoop Exercise Routine – I think this my favorite one. Even though I am terrible at using one, the laughter and joy from doing this would be beneficial in itself. Besides they say practice makes perfect and if no one is watching you (another benefit of doing it at home) then there’s no need to be self conscious. Give it your all!

easy at home workouts

 

5 Minute Yoga Routine – This has become my cornerstone in my daily routine. I do it each morning and I love it because it is only 5 minutes. It’s easy, it gets me moving and if on the odd occassion I don’t do it first thing like usual, I can easily fit it into my day somewhere else. Because it’s only 5 minutes! Don’t worry if you haven’t done yoga before. Krista takes you through all the moves in the video.

easy at home workouts

 

Easy at-home Exercises – 10 minutes, your body and a couple of soup cans. Voila! Easiest at home workout ever.

easy at home workouts

So before you decide to throw out the idea of getting more exercise this year pick one of these workouts and give it a try. If one doesn’t appeal to you try a different one. It’s only a few minutes, it’s easy and you’ll be thanking yourself later.

Regardless of which one you choose, and you could even do a combination, you’ll easily reap the benefits of regular exercise in the comfort of your own home. Tone, strengthen and relieve stress.

Plus there’s no financial investment. You don’t even need workout gear, you could simply do them in your pyjamas (seriously I do it – who’s watching). The biggest thing is to be consistent, even if you only do it once a week but do it consistently it’ll make a difference. So go for it! Make exercise easy and have fun with it. I’m off to play with my hula hoop…

40 Wintery Date Ideas – That You’ll Want to Plan Right Away

wintery date ideas

It’s date night. It’s wintery, it’s cold and all you want to do is cuddle up on the couch in your pyjama’s instead of heading out with your partner on the same old date for dinner and a movie. You’d like a spark of heat, forget any spark of romance.

Wintery dates can be challenging as we are naturally more sedentary during this season. Days are shorter, it’s darker sooner, and we don’t have the same levels of energy as the summer time. But it’s important to keep that connection with your partner, that time for just the two of you through all the seasons.

And it doesn’t have to be the same old same old all the time. Because honestly it gets boring right? No matter how much you love your partner and want to spend time with them you’d like to change it up a bit. Not only does changing it up a bit make things more exciting it’s really good for your relationship. Remember that anticipation of getting together when you first met and were newly dating? Getting a little creative with your dates can create those fun and exciting feelings again. And that’s exciting!

So here are 40 Wintery Date Ideas that will not only make it easy to do something different, but add in that spark of creativity and fun, even anticipation, that was present when you first started dating.

40 Wintery Date Ideas

The Budget Friendly

One of the reasons some couples don’t go on dates as much as they’d like is because it can be quite expensive. So they choose to stay home or do nothing at all. Here are some easy budget friendly ideas for a great wintery date.

  1. wintery date ideasGo Skating – most communities have free ice for skating or a local rink where you pay a small admission, all you need is your skates and maybe some hot chocolate and you’re off!
  2. Make a fondue – whether it be dessert style chocolate and fruit or a whole meal, fondues are inexpensive and easy to put together. All you need is a fondue pot and your foods of choice.
  3. Spa date night – create a soothing atmosphere at home with soft music, candles and oils for massaging. Create your spa services menu, then lay back and relax. You can even provide fluffy terry towel robes and slippers so it’s the real deal!
  4. Scavenger Hunt – remember loving these as a kid. Why not do one now? You can create a scavenger hunt list for in the house, the neighborhood or even city wide! Alternatively, you could create clues that send your partner from place to place on a specific route and you could be waiting at the end at the selected location (coffee shop for cozy hot chocolate, wine bar, the bedroom… just saying)
  5. wintery date ideasPlay in the snow – how often as adults do we actually get out and play in the snow anymore? Build a snow fort, a snowman, snow angels or have a snowball fight.
  6. Bubble bath for two – fill your tub with warm water and bubbles. Add a little essential oil to relax and calm, you could even light candles and have a glass of wine.
  7. Watch cartoons – when I discovered this idea I thought it was fantastic! Put on your pj’s, have breakfast for supper and watch your favorite cartoons from when you were a kid.
  8. Date Night Theme – stay in and have a theme for the night i.e. Hawaiian, Australia, Winter Wonderland, Paris, the beach. Create food and dishes according to your theme, dress and decorate appropriately and see where the night takes you.
  9. wintery date ideasDIY Photo Shoot – Grab a camera, head out and start shooting. Trade off being the photographer and the model, trying different poses, outfits and backgrounds. Or shoot nature shots and landscapes around the city. They’ll be no lack of inspiration.
  10. Nerf Hide and Seek – I saw this on Facebook once. The husband came home to find a nerf gun sitting at the front door with a note on it “Saying you’re it, if you can find me”. Seriously how fun is that?
  11. Enjoy a Glass of Wine by the Fire – If you have a fireplace, stoke it up and cuddle up. (If you don’t have a fireplace grab one of those ‘Fireplace in a Box‘ DVDs – seriously they are great and create the atmosphere you want). Enjoy your favorite wine and good conversation with your partner. If you want some conversation inspiration grab The Book Of Questions to learn more about your partner and provoke some interesting conversations.
  12. wintery date ideasBoard Game Night – I personally love board games and really enjoy when anyone plays with me. Pick your favorite board game or two and enjoy some friendly competition with your partner. (Did you know a little friendly competition can be good for your relationship?) Try ones like Taboo, Pictionary and Speed Scrabble.
  13. Bookstore Date Night – this can be done in one of two ways a) go to your favorite book store when they’re hosting an author reading. Whether they’re an author you know or not you’ll expand your horizons and maybe learn something new. b) Or you could try this bookstore date idea from the Dating Divas, which I love, as you not only get out of the house for an inexpensive date but you also learn a little more about your partner.
  14. Set Up Your Backyard as a Winter Wonderland – put up white lights, play music and dance in the snow, blankets, fire pit if you have one, hot chocolate or glass of wine. I have a bench that is perfect for two to cuddle up on wrapped in blankets together. Don’t have any snow, make snowflakes and place them around the yard.
  15. Volunteer Together – find an organization you both care about and check out their website for ways to get involved. Volunteering together can be an incredible shared experience.
  16. wintery date ideas Build a Fort – yes like you did when you were little. Chairs, blankets, do not enter signs. How fun was that to create your own space and hide? Make it big enough for both of you then decide what you’ll do inside your fort – read, play a board game, have a sleepover…
  17. Make Your Own Pizza Night – create in the kitchen with your partner making pizza from scratch. Grab a pizza crust from the store (or be even more adventurous and make your own from scratch), add your favorite ingredients and voila! yummy pizza. Fee each other if you desire or add your favorite wine.
  18. Power Outage Night – have fun without electricity. Pretend that the power has gone out for the evening. Light candles, play games by flashlight, tell ghost stories. You could even adorn yourselves with glow stick jewelry.

The Outdoor Lovers

Participating in outdoor activities with your partner not only gets you outside and active in the winter months it is also great for your relationship as research shows that doing physical activities together make people feel more bonded.

  1. wintery date ideasGo Toboganning – enjoy the fresh air and the wind blowing through your hair as you slide down the hill. You can either share a toboggan with your partner or go down on your own. Perhaps even a race is in order? The size of the hill doesn’t matter, as long as you can slide to the bottom it’ll do the trick.
  2. Take a Sleigh Ride – horse drawn sleigh rides can be romantic and are relaxing and festive. Appreciate the winter wonderland as you cuddle up under a wool blanket and maybe even enjoy a warm drink.
  3. Experience Dogsledding – this is a magical and amazing recreational experience. Originally used as a means of transport by the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic it’s another opportunity to snuggle up and enjoy the beauty of winter.
  4. Try snowshoeing – it’s a very neat experience to literally walk on top of the snow. Strap on a pair of snowshoes, grab your partner and explore. The great thing about this activity is if there’s enough snow in the city you can go snowshoeing in city parks or use it as an opportunity to escape the city and go to the country.
  5. wintery date ideasGo Skiing – whether cross country or downhill skiing is a full body activity that makes great use of the snow! Chase your partner down the mountain or challenge them to a race. Either way you’ll feel exhilarated after.
  6. Take a Walk in the Snow – there’s nothing like a cozy walk in the cool crisp air enjoying the beauty of winter. Dress warm, hold hands and enjoy each others company as you walk side by side. Enjoy great tech free conversation, the scenery and maybe even some snowflakes (I love taking a walk through the softly falling snow, there’s just something magical about it).
  7. Snow Tubing -an exhilarating and less expensive way to hit the slopes snow tubing is a fantastic outdoor activity to do with your partner. There’s usually a magic carpet so you don’t have to tire out those legs going back up the hill and tubes are provided onsite.
  8. wintery date ideasGo Skating – I know I said this above already but this idea really appeals to me, there’s something very romantic about it! Especially if you can go at night and they have twinkling lights, firepit and music playing over speakers. All you need is your skates and maybe a thermos of hot chocolate and you’re off!
  9. Have a Winter Picnic – Pack up some homemade cookies and a thermos of hot chocolate and head out to the nearest park or even just the backyard. Bring a nice wool blanket and dress warmly (includes snowpants if you have them!) If you go during the day enjoy the sunshine, if you’re out at night perhaps you can even do a little stargazing.
  10. Attend a Winter Festival – there are many winter festivals and events. Check out online what the winter festivals are near you.

The Indoor Adventurers

  1. Laser Tag – combine the classic games of hide-and-seek and tag with a high tech twist. Can you catch your partner? Or will you team up and take out the rest of your group?
  2. Cooking Classes – this is really a good way to spend time with your partner, discover what they like about meals and hopefully transfer some of those skills to the home.
  3. wintery date ideasBowling – is a ridiculously fun way to go out and play with your partner. Yes the shoes are ridiculous (but you have to wear them), you’ll likely discover muscles you never thought you had and possibly twist your body in a way you never thought you could. And it’s so fun. Plus you’ll learn just a little more about your partner in a unique way.
  4. Go to an Extreme Air Park – this is a huge enclosed space with interlocking trampolines with a variety of different activities to choose from. Reasonably priced you can jump to your heart’s content from an hour to an all day pass.
  5. Indoor Go-Karting – zoom around the track with your partner at speeds of up to 75km/hour (depending on where you’re racing). It’s a complete adrenaline rush to race around on go-karts and see how fast you can go.
  6. wintery date ideasCouples Massage – a wonderful relaxing experience, having a couples massage increases feelings of affection, brings you to the present moment and reconnect with little effort.
  7. Indoor Rock Climbing – not only is this activity one where you work together and support each other it is also an activity that boosts brain function and reduces stress, as well as many other benefits. Wow! Who knew? You’ll melt away the stress of the day and then come home relaxed and ready for other types of connection.
  8. Date Night at the Science Center – this is such a neat idea. At my local Science Center there’s an Adult Only evening. They bring out more involved challenges, a fully licensed bar and dj. Each night features a different theme and new riskier science to experiment with. This may be local to only my area but I am guessing that if you google it in yours you’ll find one.
  9. Go to the Theatre – a night at the theatre can open up so many avenues as a couple. Different styles and kinds of theatre can broaden your horizon as a couple and learn more about yourself as well. Some theatres offer dinner before the show so you may not even have to cook!
  10. wintery date ideasGo to a Hockey Game – support your home team and get rowdy (or enjoy quietly) a live hockey game. The excitement of a live game cheering and getting into it is a great bonding experience.
  11. Pottery Night – check out your local pottery studio and get messy with clay! You may even get to have a “Ghost” moment, which yes is so cliche but super fun.
  12. Be Tourists – check out your own backyard as if you were visiting the city for the first time. What are the sites to see? Museums, monuments, etc. Don’t forget your camera!
  13. Go for Hot Chocolate – and not just any hot chocolate. Lots of cafes and local shops usually have a signature hot chocolate that’s just a little out of the ordinary and super yummy! Check out what’s near you and go check it out.

One thing I really enjoy about winter dates is you often come back and want to warm up and cuddle up. So it really creates more opportunities for cuddling and hot chocolate! And who doesn’t want more of that?

These wintery date ideas are not only creative and fun but they instigate a strong sense of play in most of them. Something we adults don’t do enough of! Plus they say that couples who play together stay together! Why? because you are creating experiences, connection and good feelings not only in your relationship but towards your partner. Besides a little creativity breaks up the boredom and adds back that little bit of spice you might be looking for.

wintery date ideas

Have a great wintery date idea? Share in the comments below.

10 Yummy Sugar Free Christmas Recipes

sugar free christmas recipes

Christmas is that time of year when delicious treats and baking abound. Everywhere you go, there is something else to indulge in, something else that tempts you. You try to resist, but …

The good news is there’s no need to deny yourself. You can enjoy delicious sweet treats guilt free this Christmas by creating one (or more) of these yummy sugar free Christmas recipes. Super easy to make and all naturally sweetened they are actually healthy and good for you – so you can feel good about what you are eating and indulge guilt free.

sugar free Christmas recipes

Coconut Balls – Healthy Christmas Truffles

sugar free Christmas recipes

Peanutty Blondie Bars

sugar free Christmas recipes

Chocolate Quinoa Cupcakes

sugar free Christmas recipes

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cereal Squares

sugar free Christmas recipes

Gingerbread Cookies – A Traditional Cookie

sugar free Christmas recipes

Classic Sweet Butter Tarts

sugar free Christmas recipes

Best Paleo Buckeyes

sugar free Christmas recipes

Easy Homemade Paleo Mint Dark Chocolate

sugar free Christmas recipes

Festive Gingerbread Protein Bites

sugar free Christmas recipes

Hermit Cookies – A Soft Delectable Christmas Cookie

Do you have a favorite sugar free Christmas recipes? Share in the comments below.

10-yummy-sugar-free-christmas-recipes-pinterest

Gingerbread Smoothie – A Christmas Smoothie to Indulge In

 

gingerbread smoothieI love gingerbread and thoroughly enjoy all the different possibilities during the Christmas season. Last year I discovered this yummy gingerbread smoothie!

Last Christmas I had the unique opportunity and pleasure to spend it with my parents all by myself. No kids, no siblings, just me and Mom and Dad. It was a real treat to just spend time with them and not have to compete with everyone else. Because no offense I love and enjoy the company of all those other people but the visit becomes different.

gingerbread muffinsDuring this relaxing and enjoyable time with them I decided to get creative and experiment with a few festive smoothies. Many of the favorite holiday flavors like orange cranberry, peppermint, gingerbread. Why not? I had the time and it was the holidays after all.

This is when I discovered this yummy gingerbread smoothie! I had already explored gingerbread waffles and gingerbread muffins and knew that a smoothie would be a wonderful addition to my compilation.

So as I do, I hopped on the net and researched some gingerbread smoothie recipes. I found a few that I liked and in the end ended up combining ideas and creating my own.

Gingerbread Smoothie

1 cup non-dairy milk (almond, coconut, etc.)

1-2 tbsp. barley malt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. fresh gingergingerbread smoothie

1 tsp. vanilla

1 banana

1 tbsp. chia seeds

sprinkle of nutmeg

Place all ingredients except the barley malt into the blender. Blend until smooth. Now add the barley malt a little bit at a time. If you like the flavor add closer to 2 tbsp.; if you want it more sublte then just add 1. Blend well, pour into glass and enjoy.

Note: Make the smoothie and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. This allows the flavors to infuse and gives you a much stronger flavor than if consumed right away.

Serves 1

The smoothie was a hit! My parents and I enjoyed it quite a bit and I love the fact that you have chia seeds in there. They have many health benefits such as high in nutrients such as fiber, protein, antioxidants and low in calories!

I did not drink mine quickly as I was multi tasking at the time doing a bunch of different things and this is how I discovered that if you let it sit the flavors become stronger. Because honestly at first sip I thought it was a bit weak in the gingerbread flavor area.

orange cranberry smoothie

Of course after the time at my parents I came home and made it for the kids. Also a hit with them as well – though their favorite was the Orange Cranberry Smoothie I had created.

Glorified Turkey – Quick Easy Turkey Leftovers

turkey leftoversOne of the many things I love about Thanksgiving is all the turkey leftovers! There are so many yummy recipes out there to use up my turkey. In fact, I usually buy a turkey that’s a little bit larger than we need just to make sure we have some leftover.

First of all I love just having leftover turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes for meals during the week. I also love turkey sandwiches, especially hot turkey sandwiches (smothered in gravy – yum!) Then there’s all the fabulous turkey recipes I have to use up the rest.

Our absolute favorite turkey leftover recipe is definitely Turkey Crepes, which we usually make a on Christmas Day in lieu of the big dinner. We decided to do this years ago when we experienced a super simple Christmas and re-examined what we really wanted at Christmas – what was the most important. Making a simple yet yummy meal frees me up in the kitchen and allows me to play and enjoy on Christmas Day. But I digress, we also love Glorified Turkey which is a quick easy turkey leftover recipe that’s ready in 30 minutes. Just add rice or mashed potatoes and your favorite veg and you have a fast healthy meal.

Glorified Turkey

Glorified Turkey is a creamy hearty meal that uses mushroom soup, onion and cheese and creates a delectable meal. I have created a dairy free version, which is super yummy, but you can easily substitute dairy in if you wish.

turkey leftovers2 c. cubed turkey

1/4 c. flour

1/4 c. Earth Balance Vegan Spread

2/3 c. almond milk (or non dairy milk of choice)

1 – 10 oz. can *mushroom soup

1 c. Daiya shredded cheddar

3/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/2 grated onion

1 can or sliced fresh mushrooms

sprinkle of paprika

Coat turkey pieces with flour. Put coated turkey into medium sized casserole dish with melted Earth Balance and heat in 325 F oven while preparing the rest.turkey leftoves

In a medium bowl mix together almond milk, soup, cheese, salt and pepper.

Grate onion and slice mushrooms. Add onion and mushrooms to heated turkey and stir well. Pour liquid mixture over turkey and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable for a perfect meal.

Serves 4

*I usually make my own mushroom soup, which is dairy free and fabulous btw – 3 kinds of mushrooms, creamy and thick. I also love that the recipe has lima beans in it. But you certainly don’t have to. Canned soup works just as well depending on your own dietary needs.

The kids love this dish! In fact we had it the other night and Luke expressed how he “Loved this dish!” and asked for some more. He even hoped there was leftovers and was asking if he could have that for supper the next day.

You can also get a little creative with this dish by using a variety of cheeses – mix of dairy free mozza, cheddar and even gouda. If you enjoy mushrooms you can increase the amount to suit your desire. The thing I love about this recipe is that it is a totally different taste from the regular turkey dinner and leftovers and how quick it is to make!

Halloween Dinner Ideas – Monster Brains

halloween dinner ideasEach year for Halloween I love to dive into the food and all the creative ideas there are. There are so many fabulous ideas on how to create spooky, fun and healthy meals and snacks that I often have a hard time picking just one.

We usually have an entire day of Halloween meals and snacks, starting with pumpkin pancakes in the morning in fun Halloween shapes, then boo-nanas for snacks and something creative for supper. In the past I have made dinners such as monster face pizzas and hot dog mummies.

Last year I happened to be at my girlfriends house just before Halloween and she had this cooking show on tv that was highlighting some spooky Halloween dinner ideas. Of course they had lots of fun things going on but the one that stood out for me was the idea for Monster Brains. It is a super easy creative idea to make spaghetti and meatballs and give it a Halloween twist. I loved it! and decided right then that I was going to make it for Halloween dinner.

I was super excited as it was not only going to be fun but quick and easy to make. I am all about getting creative but sometimes I need creative to be fast!

Monster Brains

halloween dinner ideasred, yellow, orange peppers (number of peppers depends on how many people you’re serving as it is 1 per person)

cooked spaghetti

cooked meatballs

tomato sauce

Cut off the top of your pepper like you would when carving a pumpkin – around the top in a circle so you can take the lid off. Clean out the seeds.

Cut a face on the front of your pepper. Design it any way you like. You can go with fancy but that takes more time! I went with simple triangle eyes, nose and slit mouth.

Bake meatballs in oven (I make my own and premade these the day before and just reheated them). Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Rinse spaghetti with hot water in a colander. Fill each pepper with spaghetti and meatballs. Top with tomato sauce and place ‘lid’ of pepper on top. Have some of the spaghetti spilling out the sides for effect. Voila! one spooky monster brain supper!

halloween dinner ideas

My kids of course absolutely loved these and are already asking me if they can have that again for Halloween dinner this year. We may… or I may get creative and do something else!halloween dinner ideas

5 Family Fall Festivals to Attend this Year

fall festivals

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love getting out and enjoying the season, whether it be simply heading outside enoying the fall colors, a walk or out to one of the many Family Fall Festivals in and around Calgary.

I love taking the kids out to the many different festivals and events that celebrate Fall in and around Calgary. And there are definitely a lot to choose from! Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, apple festivals, harvest festivals and more. I actually didn’t realize just how many there were. I knew of the more common and popular ones but when I started researching I was surprised to find 20 or more to choose from. And there was a nice variety from free to ticketed events, days or evenings with activities that appeal to every age.

fall festivalsI was very excited about some of these and couldn’t wait to get out and attend, experiencing first hand what they were all about. Ones like the Torch Handbuilt Motorcycle Festival, the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival and BBQ on the Bow all sounded fantastic.

We do though have our favorites. Ones that we tend to go to each year due to the fact that they appeal to everyone in the family and are very well structured family events. At each of these, there is always something of interest for everyone.

Top 5 Family Fall Festivals

Calgary Corn Maze – Autumn Pumpkin Festival & Flashlight Nights

fall festivalsThere are a number of pumpkin patch events around Calgary but the Calgary Corn Maze is currently the one closest to us. They boast pumpkin games and crafts, as well as the pumpkin explosion! (this is something you just have to see). You can also enjoy fun farm activities as well as pick your own pumpkin from the pumpkin patch to purchase and take home. Plus you can still explore the maze, which is pretty beat down by this time of year but the kids still love cruising through it!

Flashlight Nights are on Friday evenings where you navigate the maze in the dark. If you arrive early you can still take in many of the family fun events before heading into the maze. It’s super fun to navigate in the dark and definitely gives you a whole new experience.

Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo

The first time we attended this Illuminasia I was absolutely amazed. These handcrafted authentic Chinese Lanterns are gorgeous and definitely a sight to see. They are so beautiful as they “light up the zoo and set the stage for an experience like no other.” They fall festivalsare amazing. We went 3 times last year and enjoyed it every time. The Stage Show is not to miss as it is very well done and entertaining for all ages! It is a fantastic cultural event. There are other added activities such as Learning How a Lantern is made, musical performances, garden displays and learning about the national animals of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Heritage Park – Fall Themed Weekends

Heritage Park has always been a favorite in our family. In the fall they are open weekends only until Thanksgiving and offer different themes for each of their weekends. Events such as the Harvest Sale and Railway Days feature different family activities and events around their theme. My kids love Railway Days as we all love trains! Of course as it gets closer to Halloween they offer a great kid friendly event, Ghoul’s Night Out.

Okotoks Harvest & Blues Festival

fall festivalsThis is a weekend of concerts, exhibits & activities to celebrate harvest and blues music! There are free family activities on Saturday, that include carnival games, face painting, wagon rides and a full blues concert from the back of a flatbed truck! There are also evening concerts (ticketed events) that feature various blues performers.

Calaway Park – Halloweekends

Open weekends in the Fall, Calaway Park celebrates Halloween all season with their Halloweekends. This family friendly Fall/ Halloween event is a great way to head out of town (just a little bit) and enjoy the Fall season. Wear family friendly costumes and stroll down Hallo Street, if you dare. Enjoy tricks and treats and spooktacular rides.

These family friendly fall festivals alone will keep you busy and the kids busy every weekend til Halloween, not to mention the other great festivals that I haven’t even mentioned yet. I certainly love our favorites but I would also recommend branching out a little bit and trying something new. I kind of make it a goal each season to go to one that we haven’t been to before and see what it’s all about.

One event that is coming up this weekend is Alberta Culture Days. Celebrated around the province this a vibrant, three-day celebration with a variety of events in your area. Not having attended this one before I am looking forward to checking it out this weekend!

fall festivalsI find that there are so many opportunities to get out and explore our city and surrounding area. Not only enjoying this beautiful Fall season but also learning a little bit more about our culture, heritage and community.

What Fall events are you attending this Fall?

A Plethora of Apples – Yummy Apple Recipes for Your Fall Harvest

apple recipes

Each Fall we end up with an abundance of fresh apples. Whether it be from our own tree or given to us by the grandparents we usually have large buckets of them. As a result over the years I have created and tested many different apple recipes to make use of all these delicious apples. Of course we make the traditional apple crumble and pie, but as yummy as that is, we do like a little variety. And I do like to experiment.

The kids love just coming home and grabbing a fresh apple from the bucket to enjoy. In fact they eat so many apples that you would think that we might actually make a dent in them. Unfortunately this is not the case – so baking it is! (and other creative uses)

I found and/ or developed a number of dairy free, sugar free and even some gluten free recipes that use apples. Giving us lots to choose from and enjoying whatever suits us on any particular day. I am still on the hunt though for a recipe that uses a large quantity of apples at once, as many of these recipes use maybe 4 apples at once. That’s a super long process of getting through our bucket! Even when I double the recipe.

If you have a plethora of apples this Fall or are just looking for some yummy apple recipes – here’s what I’ve discovered and tested so far:

Yummy Apple Recipes

Muffins:

Cakes:

Crumble:

Pie:

Pancakes:

Smoothies:

Snacks:

  • Apples & Peanut Butter (simply slice your apple and dip in peanut butter)
  • Apples & Caramel Dip (don’t be deceived this is a sugar free healthy dip)

I have yet to try an apple cookie – but it’s on the list! and when I am getting towards the bottom of the bucket I usually start to make apple juice with our juicer, or even apple sauce (just boil the apples til soft, drain and puree in blender, add a little cinnamon and voila!).

What are some of your favorite apple recipes? Share in the comments below

Easy Afterschool Snacks

easy afterschool snacks

It’s that time of day when the kids arrive home from school ravenous and hungry, ready to eat anything in sight! They are poking their heads in the fridge, looking for an easy afterschool snack. Eyeing things hopefully on the counter, hoping to grab a quick bite to fill their tummies. You’d like them to have something healthy and with sustenance what do you do?

Afterschool is one of those key times when kids need something nutritious and healthy, but not something that will fill them up so much they won’t eat their supper. You also want a combination of options that they can just grab and go or something that they can easily make themselves, so you don’t always have to pause what you’re doing and make it.

I love that my daughter will come home and grab her own yogurt, simply asking me for a bowl (and if I just move those into a bottom cupboard I wouldn’t even have to do that) and she scoops it up herself. This allows me to continue either working or making supper without having to stop and get her a snack.

The best afterschool snacks are ones that provide essential nutrients and that energy boost – so snacks that include protein, healthy fats and are rich in vitamins are important. Even a little of sweet or salty to please the palate.

Easy Afterschool Snacks

Some of the snack recipes and suggestions below are make ahead, but once made go into the fridge or freezer ready for the kids to help themselves. They are also easy recipes that you can make with the kids (so they can help), or depending on their age, may even be able to make it themselves.

Peanut Butter & Apples

easy afterschool snacksMy kids came home one day asking for this. I have no idea where they got the idea but it makes a great snack. Gives you your protein and sweet. For an extra added boost add in raisins or pumpkin seeds.

apple, sliced

big dollop of unsweetened peanut butter

Put peanut butter into a small bowl. Slice apple. Dip apple slices into peanut butter and enjoy.

Granola

Pumpkin seeds are a great energy food. High in magnesium, zinc phosphorus and omega 3’s they are also a great source of protein. Honey, a natural sweetener, has a long history of fighting infections and being good for colds, to name a few.

1 tbsp. honeyeasy afterschool snacks

1 tbsp. Earth Balance Vegan Spread

1/2 c. large flake rolled oats

2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. coconut

In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt Earth Balance and cook with honey for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook until golden. Let mixture cool for 5 minutes until dry. Break apart and enjoy.

Store in an airtight container to enjoy later.

Kale Chips

Kale is a superfood that is high in fiber, iron, vitamins (such as A, C, K), filled with antioxidants and a great anti-inflammatory food. This is a basic kale chip recipe but you can play with the flavor by using different spices.

easy afterschool snacks1 bunch of kale, stem cut out and chopped

olive oil

sea salt

Place chopped kale into medium size bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and massage the oil onto the leaves, making sure they are well covered. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Place onto a large bar pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 250 F for 3-5 minutes. When kale is crisp take them out and let cool.

Keep an eye on your kale as it may not take long depending on your oven and they can easily burn. 

Other Delicious Easy Afterschool Snack Ideas

tropical green smoothieSmoothies – power pack with your favorite fruits and throw in chia seeds, hemp seeds or flax for protein and fiber. You can even add in some vegetables like carrots or a handful of spinach. The kids won’t even know it’s there.

Yogurt Parfaits – 3 simple ingredients (fruit, granola, yogurt) this fun snack is something the kids can easily make themselves.

Veggies & Dip – my kids love veggies, but when there is dip, they eat them even faster. What kid doesn’t like to dip stuff?

Raw Chocolate Pudding – made with avocado (a great healthy fat and high in vitamin E), this yummy chocolate pudding will fill the kids up and replenish their energy.

Energy Bites – a favorite at our house, this peanut butter and honey in a ball is a quick easy treat that is packed with all kinds of good stuff. It is also a great recipe to make ahead with the kids that they can just grab and go.

Fruit & Yogurt – simple easy and fun to make, choose your favorite fruit and top with yogurt. And if you’re looking for non dairy there are some great non dairy brands out there like Yoso Coconut Yogurt.

energy bitesCoconut Truffles – another great make ahead and super easy. This yummy healthy sweet treat is made with dates, coconut and chocolate all rolled into one.

Honey Roasted Nuts & Fruits – this yummy sweet treat is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, healthy fats and protein.

Strawberry Banana Ice Cream – no dairy added to this ice cream and super easy to make! Just pop frozen strawberries and bananas into the blender and voila.

Afterschool is a time when you want the kids to be able to help themselves to nutritious healthy snacks that will fuel them without ruining dinner. And it’s a great way to start giving them a little independence. Make it easy, make it fun and get them to help create!

It’s also a perfect time to introduce some new foods by incorporating foods that they like with new ones. Make it fun and encourage them to try it. You can foster a loving and supportive environment to try it in; and with them having making it themselves and gaining a little more independence, you’ll have even more success.