Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year’s Resolutions



I do not make any, just to make my life simpler. When the time is right and I really want to do something and make changes I go for it. Otherwise it is just setting myself for failure. At this time of the year I could lose a couple of pounds but that does not mean I am signing up at the gym only to forgo it in 2 months’ time. That is how long most new gym memberships last.

I am not saying do not make resolutions. By all means DO but be realistic and specific.

I have always said that (if I made them), my resolutions would start in February; once I have eaten all the holiday goodies. See, that is realistic approach.


New Year is upon us, and in some places it already is 2016!!! 


I hope it will bring you all lots of happiness and opportunities for fulfillment!



Do you make resolutions and keep them? 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Share the Joy, Share the Spirit



As we are nearing Christmas Day, wrapped up in the last minute tasks, let’s take a little break to look around us. There may not be much time to volunteer one’s time but there are still many ways we can share the spirit of the season. 

When I think of Christmas I have this picture in my mind of a family gathered around the table, singing carols, tree shimmering and a snow falling outside. (No, there is no fireplace because even in my imagination someone has to clean it).
I know I am a dreamer.  I cannot help it. I love Christmas and I do not mind the work that goes with the holidays. For me it is worth it. 
That is why I think it is important to share with others what I can. I may not be able to provide someone with loving home but certainly will contribute to them having a nice meal or a safe place to stay.


There are many worthy charities that need our support all year round and now is a good  time to pick one to donate too.
You may want to drop of a toy at local toy drive, there are food collections at grocery stores, monetary donations can be made online. Check your closets and give any unwanted clothing to a local charity store.

It is really simple and will be a gratifying to know that you have helped someone in need. There are many ways in which we can be charitable and it does not have to be at a high expense.

Being kind and patient is totally free!



Just to give you an idea what organizations I support:
www.sickkidsfoundation.ca; www.goodwill.on.ca; www.werescuecats.ca and www.dailybread.ca


Do you have a favorite charity to support?


Thursday, 17 December 2015



 How to make Salt Dough Ornaments and Gift Tags



Are you having too much time on your hands? Let’s get busy. This is great activity for kids. 
A few years ago we made a bunch of ornaments using animal shapes. Kids had fun painting them all kinds of crazy designs.


My salt dough recipe is:
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup fine salt
½ cup water
For great smelling, faux gingerbreads, add 1 teaspoon of gingerbread spice
Or 1 teaspoon of cinnamon just for the colour.

You can make 26-30 larger ornaments (have a look at the picture to get an idea).

Mix the ingredients. Knelt the dough for 10 min. or as long as you can so it is really smooth.



Roll the dough out to about ¼” (5 mm) thick. I use silicon mat to prevent sticking. You may lightly flour the rolling pin or place the dough in between two thick poly folders, than roll it out.
If you like use small twigs, leaves of cedar wood or a doily to press the design.

Cut out desired shapes and place on aluminum foil (shiny side up) lined cookie sheet.  
Make holes large enough for you twine or ribbon. Remember that the dough will expand slightly and the holes will become smaller after drying. You can also use gardeners wire to make loops. Just cut ½” long pieces, make loop with pliers on one end and insert the straight end into the ornament.


Preheat oven to 200 F (90C). Dry ornaments for 30 min, than increase temperature 280F (140C) and dry for another hour. The last 10-15 minutes open the oven door a bit to let the moisture out.
It is important to let the ornaments dry well. Do not raise the temperature too much as the dough will raise and may burn.
Let cool completely before painting.

Use acrylic paints. After the paint dries, brush with Mod Podge of spray with acrylic lacquer. This will help moisture from penetrating and will preserve the ornaments.



Have fun and get creative. It is quick, easy and not messy activity. 
Let me know what you have made.

Monday, 14 December 2015

After Party Re-Energizing Shake

Every time I attend a party I know that next day is going to be hard. Mostly because usually I do not stay up late, try not to eat late and when I miss my bed time I have trouble sleeping.
This green smoothie is one of my favorites and I try to make it at least couple times per week. It is an energy bomb in a glass. 



Re-Energzing Green Smoothie
Time: 10 min  Serves: 6

2 cups kale
1 cup parsley
3 celery stalks
½ lemon juiced
1 avocado
1 ripe pear
1 cup ice
2 cups water (or use 3 cups cold water)

Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Add more water if too thick. It can be stored in the fridge for 2 days.

This shake is rich in vitamins and minerals. Parsley helps to flush the toxins from the body. Lemon provides Vit. C and leaves alkaline residue in our digestive tract. Why this is important you can read in this post http://findinglifebalancewithagnes.blogspot.com/2015/06/alkaline-vs.html
Kale has plenty of potassium, calcium and Vit. B and is great for heart health. Also celery is potassium and Vit. B6 rich. Potassium is necessary for the heart and kidneys to work properly.
If you would like to make a juice with these ingredients, you can but you should drink it within a couple of hours of being made. I like blending my greens because it can be stored for up to 2 days in the fridge and none of the fibre is being wasted.
It makes for a wonderful start to any day, not only after the party.


Enjoy! Do you have a favorite rejuvenating shake?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Tips on how to enjoy the food and stay slim this holiday season.

With all the holiday parties, gifts of sweets and at home baking I can already fill the tightening of my clothes. Perhaps I should find some with more spandex in them?



It does not have to be that way, which, unfortunately, means practicing self-restraint. I just wish it came in a pill. Don't you?
Developing self-restraint on my own is quite challenging.

When I think of all the work that I need to put in every year into losing the extra weight and getting the energy back I have decided I'd rather to skip a cookie or two or five. 
If you have a sweet tooth you know how it goes.

So this is how I am approaching this year’s celebrations.
  1. Do not go hungry to the party. Do not skip lunch and bring a healthy snack if going straight from work.
  2. Stay away from eggnog – at 380 cal it is a caloric bomb. A glass of white wine in 100 calories. Much better choice.
  3. Drink a lot of water with lemon. It keeps you hydrated, fills up and lemon helps with detoxing.
  4. Practice self-restraint – cut portions by 30 %. It is not huge difference per serving but at the end of the night you will feel much lighter. It also stops you from mindless eating.
  5. The day after party – start with green smoothie – to cleanse and energize.
  6. Keep the meals light outside of parties.

Seems like a reasonable plan. What do you think?  

Friday, 4 December 2015


Dear Santa! The High and the Low Wish Lists.

Just in case things are a bit tight at The North Pole my letter comes in two versions. Better be safe than sorry, right?
Kids do not need much encouragement to write their letters. My daughter started thinking of what she wants is late September! Talk about being keen!
I wish adults wrote theirs as well, don’t you? (Especially the low budget option). Santa’s work would have been much, much easier than.






1. This red heart just screams Christmas, $249.00 CAD
2. For years I wanted SMEG fridge, I will settle for a kettle $159.00 CAD
3. Wireless USB – now this is progress –price varies depending on memory, 128 GB around $100. 00 CAD
4. Finally a dryer that helps reduce frizz with an attachment for curly hair! $213.00 CAD
5. Cannot get enough of this fragrance $ 150.00 CAD and up
6. Very elegant and understated, just the way I like it. $1995.00 CAD
7. DKNY Red Leather Tote would make dreary winter much brighter $179.00 USD
8.  You can make all the fancy coffees in the world, there is a burr grinder built in and most importantly this machine CLEANS ITSELF –no more work! This one feature makes it worth the price.

9. You will have these for life. Peugeot Salt and Pepper wood grinders $90.00 to 150.00 CAD depending on the size






1. I met Agie at a craft show. She offers great selection of good quality silver jewelry that you can have personalized. She has an online store as well. This Erin bracelet is $52.00CAD
2.  I love this Metalic Red Kettle from Betty Crocker $49.99 CAD
3. This Minion USB makes great stocking stuffer for both adults and kids $19.99 CAD
4. You do not need high heat to quickly dry your hair. This one prevents damage! Coolway Go Pro Dryer $ 89.99 CAD
5.  Euphoria Blossom - Calvin Klein 30ml $45.00
6. So Chic, Jeannie Lottie GEORGIA $128.00
7.  Gold and black necklace $995.00 CAD
8. No frills, powerful at 15 bars, espresso machine $300. 00 CAD
9. Cole & Mason ‘Morley Crank’ Salt & Pepper Mill Set $34.99 CAD each

This is not a sponsored post, the items that made it on the list are either things that I have and enjoy or would really like to get.  (Are you listening Santa?)


I hope you enjoyed my picks. What would you like to get this year?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

5 Easy Advent Calendars

For many years the only advent calendar in our household was of a chocolate variety. Last year I bought a Lego version. It was fun to pull out those tiny blocks and build a winter scene.

This year I have decided to do something different. Each day will have an activity like going out for hot chocolate or making an ornament ,or other activity coupon.... there may be a cookie in it too.
For little kids you can take play set or a wooden train set apart or divide small puzzle, use mini figures Lego, action figures,  put in money, hair clips or mini cars, the possibilities are endless.

As for calendar design I am utilizing my freshly made blackboard (formerly a dresser mirror). I will add a photo later since I wanted to post this before December 1 and I am not finished putting the calendar together yet.

I have found many ideas that I liked but blackboard one seemed like the easiest for me.

Have a look at some other very creative advent calendars.

This one requires a bit of work but I love the fact that it is free standing



Free printable calendar




Clothespin Advent Calendar that can be made in minutes.

it is from Sunday In Bed

Paper Bag Calendar





And my favorite one:


Muffin pan calendar




Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to stay sane and on budget this Black Friday. Checklist.

If you are buying a lot of gifts it makes sense to take advantage of the sales. Keep in mind that it  is very easy to get carried away and buy way more than necessary.




Here is my Christmas shopping strategy: 

 ⎕ Make a list of what gifts you need to buy. Divide by age, gender or store category. This way, when in a toy store you do not scroll through a foot long list, risking that you miss someone and have to go back.
Create your own shopping strategy. Make it in a way that would improve and expedite the whole process.  I thing of every recipient individually and make a little notation by each name with gift ideas.

⎕ Have a BUDGET – based on experience assign approximate amount per person, and that does not have to mean the same per person.

⎕ Go for quality not quantity – if there are going to be gifts from many people under the tree.

⎕ Resist deals like buy 2 get 3rd for whatever if you only need one sweater. Yes they end up being cheaper per piece but you now have 2 sweaters that you do not need and have spent money that were for other gifts. This is a sure way to very quickly going over budget.

⎕I find that pre-Christmas sales are best for big ticket items – and if you have done your due diligence, you may be able to take advantage of some good deals. I need a new computer so am definitely keeping my eyes on the flyers!

The hardest one:

⎕Do not buy anything for yourself. Every time I go shopping all I can see are things that I like and probably could use and almost nothing that is on my list. RESIST. Unless it is really, really great deal and you would but it anyway.

Having a plan works for me.

What are your time and money saving shopping strategies?

Monday, 23 November 2015


6  Thanksgiving Table Decorations

I must admit that my table is usually set at light speed and not much beyond variety of candle holders and fresh bouquet of flowers goes on it. Or should I say that the table is too small for both the food, plates and elaborate decorations so I do not think much about setting it?

I do admire what others do with their tables. Here are a few decorating ideas that really caught my eye.

This simple idea would work long after Thanksgiving. Don’t you think?



 Not too complicated. I could pull it off.



White pumpkins seem to be “IT” thing in decorating.






 Very Old World – I love it.



The outdoor setting. We were so lucky this year with temperatures high enough to actually eat outside. First time in 20 years. Another reason to be thankful.

My very own table setting.


Almost “all white”? Why not. I like this fresh look.




I like the idea of having a buffet style dinner.



How is your table going to look like?



Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thanksgiving Roasted Turkey Recipe

Here in Canada we have celebrated Thanksgiving on October 12 but for my American readers this wonderful holiday is still ahead of them. 
You can read about my celebration here
I have not shared any recipes so perhaps this is a great opportunity to do so. I hope you will try them out for yourself.



Since we did not have a lot of guests this year my menu was quite simple.

Roasted turkey
Acorn squash with rice stuffing (vegan)
Cranberry and pear sauce (vegan)
Pumpkin Spice Cake – recipe here
Peach Crumble with vanilla ice cream
Fresh fruit platter

For a larger crowd I would also make roasted or mashed potatoes, tomato and cheese stuffed zucchini (recipe below), roasted Brussels sprouts, stewed apples with marjoram and cranberry stuffed glazed pears.

Let’s start with star of the night: Turkey

Always Moist Roasted Turkey
Prep time: 15 min Cook Time 2 hr 30 min Serves 10
12 – 14 pound turkey*
For the brine:
1 cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
4 liters vegetable stock ( I make mine using organic vegetable stock cubes)
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 ½ tsp candies ginger, chopped
1 tbsp dried thyme, when using fresh herbs, use 3 x more than recipe calls for
1 tbsp dried sage,
1 tbsp dried rosemary
Ice cold water

Oil
Sage butter or butter – 2 pieces, about 15 ml. each

*if you bought frozen turkey, begin thawing 2-3 days before roasting.

Combine brine ingredients in a stock pot that is large enough to fit the whole turkey. Wash the turkey, remove innards and place breast side down in a pot. Add cold water so the whole turkey is covered in liquid.. Mix a little to combine water with brine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove turkey from the brine. Rinse it well and pat dry.

Prepare aromatics:
1 apple, sliced
1 celery stalk
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
few leaves sage
1 cup water
Place all the ingredients in a small pot. Bring to boil. Drain the water and stuff the turkey with aromatics.
Brush turkey with oil.


I also put some sage butter on turkey breast. From the neck side loosen up gently the skin above breasts. Insert butter. As the bird roasts the melting butter will provide fat and aroma to the breast meat that tends to dry out quickly.

Preheat oven to 500 F. Roast the turkey for 30 min. Reduce temp. to 350 F and roast for 2 hours.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand for 15 minutes. Remove and discard aromatics.

 Warm Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
Prep time: 20 min. Total Time 50 min.

Warm Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream

1 peach per person min. of 6, sliced into thick wedges.

1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon of sugar
Mix in lemon juice and sugar in a bowl. Pour over peaches, mix gently.
Transfer to 6 small dishes or one large baking dish.

For top:
100 g unsalted butter, cut into cubs
½ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar (or less)

Chop all the ingredients till coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle the mixture over peaches.

Bake in 365 F (180 C) for about 30 minutes

Tomato and Cheese Stuffed Zucchini
Serves 4, Prep time: 10 min, Total time: 30 min


2 zucchini, about 8 “ long (20 cm)
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped – I double the amount of fresh herbs
½ tsp fresh thyme
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated

Trim ends and cut zucchini lengthwise in half. Scoop out seeds to make a long trench. Chop seeds and pulp. Place zucchini on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chopped zucchini, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes on medium –low heat. Add fresh herbs.

Spoon mixture into zucchini halves and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes in 365 F 
(180 C).

Acorn Squash with Rice Stuffing
Serves: 8 Prep Time 15 min Total time 1hr 20 min



1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp. salt divided
2 tbsp (30 ml) melted butter,divided
2 acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped
½ cup long grain rice
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, divided
Pepper to taste
2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 365 F (180 C). Combine brown sugar, half the salt and butte in a small bowl. Place squash halves cut side up on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Brush the butter mixture inside squash. Tent with foil and roast for 1 hour or until soft when pierced with a fork.


Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté onion for 2 min. Stir in garlic, walnuts, cranberries, rice, half the thyme, remaining salt and pepper. Saute for another 1 minute.

Add water and bring to simmer. Cover and cook on low for about 20 min until rice is tender. Remove cooked squash from oven and stuff with cooked rice mixture. Drizzle each half with remaining butter and sprinkle with thyme. Tent foil again and return to oven for 5 minutes.



Let me know how those dishes turned out if you try them.

I would love to hear what’s on your menu.


Happy cooking!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Discover many uses of pumpkin.



As promised here are some recipes to show you how many uses pumpkin has. You can eat it all day long and on any occasion. A few featured dishes were part of my Halloween menu, hence the décor. 
How to make pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Pancakes




1 ¼ cup flour
1 cup milk
½ cup water
1 tbsp. oil or ghee butter
1 egg
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree
1 apple (Russet, Granny Smith)
½ tsp. pumpkin spice

Peel and shred the apple. Mix wet ingredients add to flour. Mix well. Add pumpkin puree and shredded apple. Mix.

Coat frying pan lightly with oil. Heat it up well. Pour the batter on to the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Flip pancakes once the edges and a bit over sets.
Serve with maple syrup or icing sugar.

I cannot get enough of them.

Pumpkin Spice Shake 


½ cup roasted pumpkin puree
½ frozen banana
¾ cup almond milk
1 tbsp. almond butter
1 tsp. pumpkin spice
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. Cinnamon
2 scoops vanilla protein  (optional)
½ cup ice 

Blend all the ingredients until smooth.

This shake packs lots of fibre, protein and good fats.

It is simply delicious!!!

Pumpkin Curry Soup





3 cups roasted pumpkin puree
1 ½ cup diced potatoes
1 ½ onion
3 cloves of garlic
6 tsp. curry powder
2 heaping tsp. fresh ginger, grated
3 tbsp. Oil
½ tsp. salt
3 liters of broth (chicken, vegetable)

Sour cream or Greek yogurt to garnish         

Heat oil in large soup pot. Add in potatoes and salt. Cook stirring occasionally till potatoes are translucent.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes. Move aside and add garlic and ginger. Cook for 1-2 minutes till garlic becomes fragrant. Add curry. Stir all well. Add stock and pumpkin. Blend in batches. Return to pot once all of the soup has been blended. Heat thoroughly.
Serve with a dollop of cream or yogurt.

YUM!

Pumpkin Spice Cake - in a muffin version



Batter
½ cup (113 g)  unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (175 g) brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (200 g) sifted flour ( I use all purpose, unbleached)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (120 ml) buttermilk, room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces (114 g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 cup (28 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1.5 cups icing sugar, sifted
Garnish
½  cup (50 g) toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 355 F (180 C). Butter and flour 9-10” (24-26) cm cake pan.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla. Mix until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl whisk all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately to the pumpkin batter, in 3 additions, beginning and ending with dry mixture. Pour the batter into pan.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove cake from the pan. Let it cool completely before frosting.

Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. You can use food processor or a mixer. Add maple syrup and icing sugar. Combine (do not over mix or icing will be too thin). Add more syrup or sugar to achieve right consistency.
Frost top and sides of the cake and garnish with nuts.

As I used this recipe to make cupcakes – you will need 1 large muffin pan (makes 12) and one small (makes 12). I filled the muffin paper cups in ¾. 
Bake for 18 min. small ones and 23 minutes large ones. I placed both in the oven, removed mini muffins first. Let cool before frosting.

This recipe is adapted from one that I found on joyofbaking.com. 

It is a must on my Thanksgiving table. Kids love it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp. oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place seeds on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toss with with oil. Roast for 30 min.


Hope you lasted to the end. Do you have your favorite pumpkin recipe? Please share.