Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday's Top Five - Easy Simple Recipes

It's no secret that I love food, especially if it's been made my someone other than myself.

That's rarely possible, though, so I'm constantly adding to my recipe collection with the hopes of discovering some new, healthy, easy-to-make meals that I can whip up in no time.

Obviously, not all new recipes I've tried recently have been a hit. In fact, some I've sworn to never make again, no matter how enticing they sound.

But then there are some other recipes that seem to have withstood the scrutiny of family and friends, and are so easy to make that I'm almost ashamed to admit how little I had to do to pull them off.

Here are some of my go-to favourites... and, yes, three of these five have been featured as the CFCW Recipe of the Day at some point or another. (Don't you judge me for being a CFCW junkie.)

Friday's Top Five - Easy Simple Recipes:

5) Low-Cal Berry Cobbler

1 box of white cake mix
2 -12oz. bags frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
1 can of Diet Sprite or 7-up

Place frozen fruit in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Add dry cake mix over the top. 
Pour soda slowly over cake mix (may need more than 1 can if there are still dry spots). 
Do not stir the cake mix and the soda or you'll get a cake-like topping.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

4) Easiest Oatmeal Cookies Ever

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup of uncooked quick oats (or instant oatmeal packets, any flavour)
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp ground ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a non-stick cookie sheet with cooking spray.
Combine the mashed bananas, oats, and ground ginger in a bowl.
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Place a tablespoon of the mix on a cookie sheet.
Bake 15 minutes. Makes 16 cookies.

3) Smoothies

2 cups frozen fruit mix
1 cup pina colada juice
1 cup coconut water
1 tsp hemp hearts
1 tsp chia seeds

Add all ingredients, in the order listed above, into a single-serve Magic Bullet.
Blend until smooth.

2) Bean Casserole

1 package of chopped, cooked bacon
1/2 cup each of chopped onion and pepper
1 cup chopped celery
2 cans baked beans
1 can mixed beans
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can chick peas
1 cup ketchup
1 cup brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a roasting pot.
Cover and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Tastes even better the following day, so you may want to make this in advance and then just warm it up.

1) Salsa Chicken

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (as many as you need)
Salsa (whatever kind you like)
1/2 cup brown sugar

Place the chicken breasts in a baking pan and cover completely with salsa and brown sugar.
Bake at 350 for about 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is done.

That's my list for this week. As per usual, check out my friends' blogs for their take on the same subjects: Divulge with Dani, The Brooding Woman, and A Piece of Apple.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Top Five - Movies I Have Watched Repeatedly

I remember when I was back in 8th grade and had a sleepover at my sister's house. Her friend was over, and we rented the Kevin Bacon movie Tremors. The film was so entertaining that, upon completion, my sister's friend looked at me and said, "Let's rewind it and watch it again!"

(This was back in the day when you could still easily rent movies, and VCRs were the norm. Be kind and rewind, y'all.)

At the time I remember thinking how great it was that there existed another human over the age of five who reveled in watching the same movies over and over again, just like me. It was fantastic.

And while the only things I tend to watch on repeat these days are Dora the Explorer episodes, I do often wish I could just relax one night and do nothing but watch one of my favourite older movies.

And, by older, I of course mean something from the 80s.

Friday's Top Five - Movies I Have Watched Repeatedly

5) A Few Good Men / The Fugitive (tie)

Even though these are both terrific movies, the sole reason I've seen them so many times is because they're constantly being aired on TV. Seriously. As in, at any given time on any given weekend, one of these films can be found airing somewhere on cable.

It used to always be TBS that played one or the other on rotation each weekend, but lately APTN has also made A Few Good Men a part of their regular schedule as well.

(I guess the fact that Demi Moore is 1/16th Cherokee was enough to qualify this movie as containing sufficient Aboriginal content for APTN.)

Regardless, it's worth watching again and again for no other reason than to listen to Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" monologue. It continues to give me goosebumps, despite having seen it at least a million times. (Only a mild exaggeration.)

4) Crazy Heart

This movie is the newest of all my selections this week, as it first came out in theatres back in 2009. I just love Jeff Bridges, and he was the perfect choice for the lead in this film, completely capturing the life of a has-been country singer performing in small town bars and bowling alleys.

Aside from his outstanding performance, there are two other things that make this movie memorable for me: the spectacular New Mexico scenery, and the music.

If you like country music even just a little bit, then you'll love the rawness of this movie. It's definitely a toe-tapper.

Do yourself a favour and at least watch the trailer below. I guarantee you'll want to then come over and watch the movie with us.

3) Up

There's a meme circulating on the Internet stating that the first 10 minutes of this animated movie is still a better love story than the entire Twilight saga. And it's so true.

There's next to no dialogue in the first 10 minutes of this film, but it will break you.

And once you make it passed those emotional scenes, you'll just laugh non-stop for the remainder of the movie. I loved it so much that I actually paid to see it twice in theatres, which is extremely telling, given that I hate paying full price for anything even once.

2) Forrest Gump

Similar to A Few Good Men and The Fugitive, this is another movie that seems to always be on constant rotation somewhere on cable. Which is perfect, given that it stars two of my favourite actors, Gary Sinise and Tom Hanks.

This movie has everything - you can watch it any time of year, given that it features historical scenes from all seasons, and it will make you both laugh and cry... sometimes at the same time.

Plus, the soundtrack alone is enough to take you on a whirlwind tour of history with all of its rollercoaster emotions in tote.

Hard to believe this movie came out nearly 20 years ago, as it really was ahead of its time and tells a story that is relevant still today.

1) Christmas Comes To Willow Creek / A Smokey Mountain Christmas (tie)

I can't even tell you how much I love these two movies. Back when I was in elementary school, these two films were made-for-TV movies that aired on CBS during the Christmas season and I, of course, recorded them onto a blank tape with my beloved VCR.

The first film was partially filmed in Canada (which elevated its level of coolness, in my opinion), and it starred Tom Wopat and John Schneider. Yes, this movie was just one more reason for me to love the good ol' Dukes of Hazard boys once more.

The second film featured Dolly Parton going back to her Smokey Mountain roots and eating squirrel stew while spending Christmas in an old log cabin with a bunch of poor orphans. You know, exactly the way Christmas SHOULD be spent.

Each of these films has a terrific soundtrack (if you're a country music fan and also enjoy Christmas carols, that is), and I've watched them so many times over the last 25+ years that I'm actually afraid to fast-forward through the commercials for fear that the VHS cassette tape might break for good.

But, let's be honest here. Watching some of those old holiday-themed commercials from the 80s are actually part of the draw for me. Just like the movies themselves, the commercials take me back to a time of innocence, when my biggest concern was whether or not I'd get hit with a snowball from my friends during our walk home after school.

Good times.

That's my list for this week. As per usual, check out my friends' blogs for their take on the same subjects: Divulge with Dani, The Brooding Woman, and A Piece of Apple.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday's Top Five - Myths Debunked

You know when you believe something to be the absolute truth, but then someone pulls up some facts for you and sets the record straight?

Yeah, that's happened to me on more than one occasion, and it's incredibly humbling. Or hilarious, depending on your perspective.

Friday's Top Five - Myths Debunked:

5) The ear canal leads to your stomach

When I was maybe five or six years old, my older sister and I were eating sunflower seeds while watching Magnum P.I. or Simon and Simon or some other 80's TV show equivalent. I got up to get a drink and -- for some reason known only to a five-year-old -- I placed a sunflower seed in my sister's ear as I walked away and gave her the instruction not to touch it.

I came back a minute later and, of course, the sunflower seed was gone. She told me it fell down her ear and was now in her stomach where it would probably grow into a sunflower plant.

I was horrified and couldn't stop staring at her ear.

How did it fit down there? How did it feel to have a plant growing in her stomach? And how was it that she could act so nonchalant about the whole thing?

I told all my friends and teachers about this the next day at school and continued to share this story every year thereafter until about 7th grade when it finally dawned on me out of the blue that, maybe, just maybe, the seed never made it down her ear after all.

Maybe she took the darn thing out herself when I wasn't looking!

I was officially mind blown by this revelation. And also extremely grateful that I figured it out on my own before reaching university.

Just goes to show that kids will believe anything, ANYTHING, you tell them. Which means I should probably stop telling my daughter that her tongue will fall out if she continues to stick it out at me.

4) Weight loss / maintenance is the same in all people

I had a friend in university who always brought these big, elaborate lunches to school and often had a chocolate bar for dessert each day, yet she barely weighed 100 lbs. A reasonable person would look at her and declare that, if I began eating exactly like her, then I, too, would weigh as little as she did. I mean, she must have been doing something right, right?

Well, not exactly. The truth is, if I ate like she did, I'd probably weigh more than I do now.

This girl was incredibly active and fit, had a high metabolism, and was blessed with some incredible super-human genes.

I, on the other hand, have no metabolism at all. Of this I'm convinced.

So, while it's not fair that she's half my size and can eat whatever she wants, that's just the way it is. Much to my chagrin.

3) WWE wrestling is real

I still remember when I first became enamored with wrestling as a kid in the 80s. Back in those days, it was still referred to as the World Wrestling Federation, and I always looked forward to their Saturday Night Main Events on NBC.

Even back then it was like a soap opera for adults, except that I was a little kid who believed it all to be real.

Would the Hulkster be able to overcome evil in his match against Andre the Giant? Would Macho Man Randy Savage succeed in rescuing Miss Elizabeth from Ravishing Rick Rude's clutches? And how did that referee not notice that Bam Bam Bigelow was totally just cheating there?

I can't even tell you how disheartened I was to learn wrestling wasn't real. It was like finding out about Santa all over again.

I so badly wanted to believe all those athletes were who they said they were and not just a bunch of bulked-up wannabe actors.

But what's even more shocking than the fact I believed all these storylines to be true is that Hulk Hogan is the only person of all those listed above who is still alive.

2) Exhausting your child guarantees she'll sleep better

For most of the summer, my husband took our daughter to half a dozen parks each week in an effort to tire her out. And, when that wasn't possible, he instead conducted what he calls The Nuggett Olympics, which is a timed event consisting of a series of obstacles in our home. Like the park, it's designed to wear her down in the evenings.

Now that my husband is teaching two nights a week, I'm on my own in terms of exhausting our daughter and then putting her to bed on those nights. So one evening in September, when it was still warm enough and light enough to be outside after work, my daughter and I went for a walk around Laurier Park.

We walked to the swing set and slide and played there for a bit before stalking investigating the largest Pileated woodpecker I've ever seen. Then we ran through a large field, counted all the picnic tables, and walked off the beaten path to get to the river.

While there, we picked rocks, splashed some water, and waved at rowers that moved swiftly passed us in the water. Then we turned around, walked back up the hill, and retraced our steps back to the car.

On the way back, my daughter stopped walking and just knelt down in the grass for a while, declaring that she was too tired to go on.

Yes, I thought to myself. This was a good sign that she would just collapse when we got home and go straight to bed. And, in theory, that's what should have happened, too. But, of course, it didn't.

Instead, we got home, performed the bedtime routine, and then got into bed..... but that's not where my daughter stayed.

Rather than falling fast asleep from exhaustion, my daughter proceeded to execute every stalling tactic known to man in an attempt to stay awake and keep me from falling asleep, too.

This went on for two hours, yo. TWO FREAKIN' HOURS.

I still don't really know what I did wrong. More often than not, working a child to the point of sheer exhaustion should do the trick.... but not always.

Turns out there are just no guarantees when it comes to three-year-olds, no matter how badly I want things to work out as predicted.

1) Mean girls learn their lesson and grow up to be nice adults

I was pretty lucky back in grade school in that I mostly managed to go unnoticed and stay out of harm's way from the plethora of bullies that lined the halls of my junior high school.

(Read: I was kind of like the token quiet castaway on Survivor who manages to fly under the radar for most of the game and then somehow make it to the end without having actually done anything. Yeah, that's how I like to roll.)

But, like I said, there was no shortage of bullies or Mean Girls back then, and I vividly remember thinking to myself that one day they'd grow up and realize what jerks they were, and they'd be forever remorseful for this and vow to teach their children to behave differently.

Turns out, I was completely wrong in this regard. Bullies don't grow up to be nice.... they just grow up to be adult bullies.

I know it's completely unfair for me to paint everyone with the same brush, as I'm sure it's possible for some people to actually grow up and mature into thoughtful, responsible adults.... but, frankly, 9 out of the 10 people I've encountered are exactly the same as they were back then.

And what incentive is there for them to change, anyway? Being a Mean Girl is part of what got them everything they wanted, so why alter that behaviour now?

I read this blog post last month, and it really struck a chord in me. The author is absolutely right in that, not only do Mean Girls not change their spots, but they also teach this behaviour to their children.

The thought of my daughter having to endure the wrath of their offspring is enough to make me want to keep her living in a safe, happy bubble forever. That's right. FOREVER.

But I guess that's just the quiet, reserved junior high girl in me coming out. Guess I didn't change my spots either.

That's my list for this week. As per usual, check out my friends' blogs for their take on the same subjects: Divulge with Dani, The Brooding Woman, and A Piece of Apple.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday's Top Five - Favourite places to visit in Edmonton

It's true that many of us yearn to escape the places we live to go in search of greener pastures elsewhere, whether it be during a permanent move or on a short vacation.

Meanwhile, in this neverending quest for something better, it's easy for us to miss all the gems we've been blessed with right here in our very city. So, even though the weather has changed and summer's now over, there's still plenty to see and do around town this fall.

Friday's Top Five - Favourite places to visit in Edmonton

5) Farmer's Markets

Who's crazy about Farmer's Markets? THIS GIRL!

Sure, I'm always tempted to buy more food than our household can reasonably consume. And, sure, I feel the need to take home every little handmade trinket or piece of jewelry I stumble upon. But it's a Farmer's Market, baby!

These markets have actually been going on all summer long but, as Divulge with Dani mentioned in last week's post, there's a plethora of fresh veggies to be had now that the harvest is upon us.

Plus, with another magical Christmas season just around the corner, many markets will move indoors when the snow falls and will feature tons of decadent baked goods and seasonal crafts.

As a kid, those are the very things I used to live for, and it's great that these markets are available here in some form year-round.

4) Valley Zoo

Open 364 days a year, the Valley Zoo is another of Edmonton's great resources. Sure, it can't in any way be compared to the bigger, more expansive version down in Calgary, but it's still a great place to go for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon.

I volunteered here on and off from 1997 until 2006 and was lucky enough to go behind the scenes and help care for the animals alongside their keepers, so this place will always have a special place in my heart. Which is why I just can't stay away!

In this upcoming week, my husband and I will help chaperone our daughter's day care class on a field here, and I'm pretty sure I'll still have the most fun of anyone in attendance.

3) Devonian Botanic Garden

Located on the outskirts of west Edmonton, the Devonian Botanic Garden is another place to which I hold personal ties. Having worked here as an interpreter in the Nature Interpretation Program from 2001-2002, I always try to come back at least once a year to retrace the steps I used to take with school children in tote each day.

And though summer time in the gardens is my favourite time to visit, thanks to all the flora in bloom, some would argue that fall is actually when it's at it's most beautiful.

Feel free to decide for yourself, but you'll have to hurry as it's only open to the public until Thanksgiving each year.

2) Telus World of Science

To me, this place will always be known simply as "The Science Centre", because A) that's what it is, and B) I hate the evil empire of Telus. But I digress.

Regardless of it's unfortunate corporate name, this building houses some remarkable educational exhibits and a gift shop in which I always end up spending too much time and money.

And exactly how many IMAX shows have I seen here over the years? Almost all of them.

(Wait - should I be proud of this or ashamed...? Depends on who you ask, I guess!)

Since the exhibits here change regularly, the scenery is always fresh, so to speak. Plus, the centre is located relatively close to us, as we drive by at least once every week, so it's not as though we need to wait for a special occasion to head out and visit.

As our daughter gets a little older, this is definitely one place where we'll happily purchase a family membership so we can visit any time we want.

1) Sir Wilfred Laurier Park

Yeah, I know I sound like a broken record, but I really do love this place.

When I was a kid, long before anyone in my family had saved enough money to purchase cabins out of town, this is where we'd assemble for family picnics.

(I distinctly remember one particular outing in which I was following my cousins down a very steep embankment and nearly ended up in the river. Doh.)

I'm happy to report that I've had nothing but good experiences here, aside from that one time when I was an awkward pre-teen.

Lately I've been coming here every few days to help increase my daily 'steps taken' count -- weather permitting, of course.

You see, I'm a big wimp. I hate the cold, snow, and wind, and the only thing I dislike about Laurier Park is that it's largely inaccessible in winter for someone of my wimpy nature.

Maybe if I took up snow-shoeing or cross country skiing then it wouldn't be so bad.... but, let's be real. I'm not about to do any of those things, so I guess I'll have to push through and take advantage of the park for as long as it's still tolerable to me.

For all you winter enthusiasts, though, this is definitely a place still worth visiting once the snow begins to fall.

Okay, so that's my list. Head on over to Divulge with Dani, The Brooding Woman, and A Piece of Apple for their take on the places they love most in Edmonton.