November 26, 2013

Creamy Tomato Rice Soup

When a friend is getting married, you go out of your way to make sure she feels special. This particular friend didn't want a huge, over-the-top Bachelorette party. Like me, she enjoys hanging out low key-style with watching movies, playing boardgames and enjoying good conversation. So I suggested something more active, fun and adventurous.

I first heard about these new additions to Ontario Parks through their blog when they were promoting their "glamping" adventures this past summer. A few years back, I was invited to go "winter camping" and was not too pleased at the thought. I think the other girls were a little hesitant this time as well until they saw where we were staying. The soft-sided shelter had a stove heater, lighting, electricity, bunk beds with mattresses, a microwave and a fridge. When I plan a weekend getaway, I go in style and this definitely lived up to the "glamping" name. 

These types of yurts and cabins are only available at Pinery Provincial Park, Arrowhead Provincial Park and Murphy's Point in Ontario and fit a maximum of five people. We started the weekend by going for a hike around the park and then headed into town for dinner at a local pub. Afterwards, we went back to the yurt and spent the night playing games, chatting and staying warm by the fire. At one point we were complaining that the stove was turned too high and we were TOO warm. I felt a little bit sorry for the other people in the park camping in tents. The weather was gorgeous and not too cold and after two days we officially survived a weekend of "winter camping." 

Food is an important element of any weekend trip. In our old age, we tend to lean towards healthier snacks and no longer eat a whole bag of "Smart Food" in one sitting--unfortunately that was a regular occurrence for me in first year University. On this trip we had fruit, muffins, smoothies, cheese, crackers and vegetables. Look at us being so responsible and healthy. It was a Bachelorette Party though, so what happened at the campsite, stays at the campsite...

For lunch on Sunday, we were treated to some homemade soup made by the Bride herself. When I asked where she got the recipe, she said it was from the 2013 Milk Calendar. "The Milk Calendar, really?" I said. Yes, the same Milk Calendar I have had hanging right in front of my face this whole year. I stared at this soup for the month of May and I couldn't then recall seeing it. I guess it had become so ingrained in my brain that I knew I would make it eventually. We warmed up with bowls of soup and spent the morning playing more boardgames and hanging out before driving back to the city. 

Milk Calendar 2013

Creamy Tomato Rice Soup (recipe from the 2013 Milk Calendar)

1 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped onion
1 1/2 tsp dried basil, oregano or Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup sodium-reduced chicken or vegetable broth
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup cooked rice or mixed grains (quinoa or lentils would also work)
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)


1. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, basil, salt and pepper; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until tender.
2. Add tomatoes and broth; cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and boil gently, covered, for 10 minutes or until tomatoes are soft.
3. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender in pot or transferring soup in batches to a blender, puree soup until smooth. Return to post.
4. Whisk flour into milk; gradually pour into pot while whisking.
5. Stir in rice and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Season to taste with sugar, pepper and salt. 

Creamy Tomato Rice Soup
I don't know if it was because we were camping, it was November or I was hungry, but the soup was so good that when I got back I ripped the recipe off of the calendar and stuck in my "to-make" recipe file. This is such an easy and hearty soup that is also only 200 calories per serving. Just like girl's weekends, you can be responsible and still enjoy yourself--splurging is alright sometimes too. 
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November 14, 2013

Green beans with dates

We don't really have official date nights. The last time we had what I thought was a date night, my fiance asked: "Wait, is this a date night? Does that mean I can't go and play video games?" In my mind, watching a movie and going out for ice cream constitutes as a date night. I'm not the type of person who needs to label things anyway. A date is a date is a date, or is it? We'll get to that later, but first...

Canadian Parliament Building

Recently, we went to Ottawa for a family wedding. We like traveling together, so I suppose that is something we like instead of official date nights. I hadn't been to the capital city in a long time. It was nice to see the Parliament buildings and the many interesting museums. I thought it was neat to see people from all over the world interested in learning more about Canada.

However, anyone who has been following Canadian politics lately knows there is some tension in the goings on of the senate. Because we were there on a Saturday, it was fairly quiet. I am sure it is not so quiet during the week, especially in the senate room. I wouldn't mind hanging out at the library all the time though--or living there.

Senate Building

The highlight of the weekend was the wedding at the Museum of Nature. I never thought about having a wedding in a museum. It was like a night at the museum. We got to explore the dinosaur exhibit during cocktail hour and the reception hall was a beautiful, historic hall. 

Instead of photoshopping funny things into your photos, just take them next to real (well, somewhat real) dinosaurs. The decor was a mix of rustic and elegant and everyone took home a jar of jam as a favour. Plus, there was a candy bar, which is always my favourite part besides spending time with family. 

Back at home, I got a special treat and I officially pronounced it "date night." This treat, however, was from Natural Delights who sent me a tub of their Medjool Dates. These are not the dried up, stale dates you buy in the bulk store. Natural Delights Medjool dates are fresh with a caramel-like, chewy texture. They are soft, juicy and practically melt in your mouth. I learned that not all dates are the same. Sometimes, you need to proclaim an official date night to celebrate all the sweet things. 

Natural Delights Medjool Dates

My first thought was to make a dessert or squares with the dates. Instead, I added them to a green bean side dish instead of regular dried fruit. The dates made the dish quite sweet, so I would use them sparingly. 

Green Beans with Medjool Dates and Almonds

1 lb of green beans, trimmed
1/3 cup dates, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Green Beans


1. Trim and rinse the green beans and place them on a baking sheet. Toss them with the olive oil,  sugar and season with the salt and pepper.
2. Roast for about 20 minutes until slightly browned.
3. Toss with lemon juice, almonds and dates. 

Green Beans with Dates

I made these green beans for a side along with pork and pumpkin sage polenta. I know this is not so romantic, but green beans are good for you and a couple of Medjool Dates provides 12 per cent of your daily fibre, as well as plenty of potassium and polythenols. It is a happy ending for all. 

Disclosure: I received samples from Natural Delights for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  
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November 06, 2013

On the weekend when I was driving home, I saw the perfect tree. It was tall and had ample branches for climbing. I wanted to sit in the tree and watch the world go by. When I was younger, I loved climbing trees. Each one was a challenge, and even though I was afraid of heights, I loved climbing to the tallest branch and enjoying the peaceful feeling of looking over everything below; it was a kind of freedom. 

fall leaves

There is also that freedom of jumping into a pile of leaves. Have you ever seen a dog jumping and running around a pile of leaves? They are the picture of pure happiness. I was outside playing around with my camera and had to capture the warm yellow and brown colours of the season.

There is something so refreshing and crisp about fall. Speaking of crisp, I picked up a bag of Honey Crisp apples from a local apple farm. These apples aren't your puny, grocery store apples; they are in a league of their own.

I made "baked apples for two," which is a quick and easy apple crisp dessert without having to make an entire apple crisp. Unless you're in the mood for an entire apple crisp. Because of the price of Honey Crisp apples, I would suggest rationing them.

baked apples for two

I adapted the recipe from this "Stuffed baked apples with walnuts and dates" recipe from Family Fresh Cooking. The apples will be soft, almost like applesauce, and the filling isn't too sweet or rich.

Baked Apples For Two

2 apples, cored
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
4 dates or 1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coconut, soy or almond milk
Maple syrup and brown sugar to drizzle


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the oats, walnuts, dates and coconut milk and heat for a few minutes.
2. Pour the lemon juice into each apple and then the heated filling and bake in the oven covered at 350 for about 45 minutes.The apples will also fit in a muffin tin to bake individual portions. The ones I bought were abnormally large, so I had to fit them together into a casserole dish.

I also experimented with a few quinoa recipes I have seen and came up with my own. It's not quite a pilaf, bake or casserole. Quinoa is also a lot less heavy than using rice or pasta.

pork quinoa

Pork, Apple and Kale Quinoa

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 bunch kale (about 1 cup)
1 pork chop (approx. 1/2 lb or ground pork)
1 onion, diced
¼ cup walnuts, chopped


1. In a medium saucepan, brown the pork for a few minutes in 1 tsp of olive oil for about 4 minutes until slightly browned, then remove and set aside.
2. In the same saucepan, add the onions with a touch of olive oil, chopped apples and kale and saute for about 5 minutes. Make sure not to let the kale burn.  

3. Add the uncooked quinoa and toast for about a minute then add the chicken broth and water and let everything simmer until the quinoa is cooked. You can cook the quinoa beforehand if you would like and add it to the vegetables for a quicker cooking process. Transfer to a casserole or baking dish and add the pork back to the quinoa mixture. 

pork quinoa

4. Bake in the oven covered for about 20 minutes at 350F until pork is cooked through. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top to serve and any additional toppings. A dollop of applesauce or feta cheese also works well.

Once you've had this hearty meal with maybe a cup of hot apple cider, put your boots on, go outside and stomp on all of the piles of leaves you can find. Freedom is a beautiful thing. 
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