Spice it up

carrot and squash soupWhen it comes to food, I have a terrible handicap. I’m Scottish.

Scots aren’t exactly known for their culinary prowess. I had a meat and potatoes kind of childhood. Growing up, the only spices I remember in my house were salt, salt, and more salt.

Today we are blessed to live in an era when delicacies and aromatic spices from around the world can be found in any market. We just need an adventurous spirit to experiment with different flavours and combinations.

My favourite “go to” spices these days are cumin, curry and coriander. This weekend I made a yummy carrot squash soup with coconut milk with these three spices from Greta Podleski’s new cookbook, Yum and Yummer. I was too lazy to roast the sweet potatoes and carrots, so just dumped them in the pot. It was spicy and delicious.

When Dave and I were in Zanzibar, we toured a spice plantation. Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island—it was a key trading route and stop in the nineteenth century for slave traders and spice merchants off the coast of Africa. We learned about the medicinal properties of spices, ate cinnamon shaved right off the tree, and brought back a treasure trove of spices in our suitcases. I still use all of these spices in my dishes.

man in coconut tree
Our guide climbing a coconut tree in Zanzibar

Most spices have medicinal properties. Cinnamon has been called a medical powerhouse, lowering blood sugar, aiding digestion and battling ailments like bronchitis. I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee at work every day for a healthy, tasty start to my day. I even use cinnamon in some of my rice dishes and most of my baked goods.

And then there’s the Italian spices—oregano, basil, thyme. So many spices, so little time!

Four spices that I haven’t cooked with as much are cardamom, tamarind, saffron and garam marsala. If any of you have any great tips or recipes for these spices, please share.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spice it up. Put the salt shaker away and discover the spice of your life.

Inspired reading and viewing: I watched a movie a few weeks ago that will inspire you to spice up your culinary creations—The Hundred Foot Journey. It’s the story of an Indian family that starts a restaurant directly across from a French haute cuisine restaurant in the French countryside. The story centres around Hassan whose secret spice box propels him to become one of the top chefs of France. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time—I’m reading the book right now.


Let’s hear it for the cheap seats

Face off at centre ice

Yesterday, we watched two great hockey games. And it didn’t cost us a dime.

We cheered on the Queen’s University women’s hockey team to an 8-1 victory over Windsor at the Memorial Centre. There were only about 100 people in the stands.

Then we watched one of Grace’s friends, who plays competitive hockey take on Ajax. It was amazing to me even at that age (14), at that level, what great hockey it was. Kingston came out on top 2-1.

Entertainment costs today have spiralled out of control. According to Forbes magazine, the average ticket price for a Toronto Maple Leafs ticket is now $368.60, the highest in the league.

Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays announced they’d be hiking ticket prices for the 2018 season. 200 level seats within the bases will cost over $50 a ticket.

My brother recently attended the Canada vs. Finland World Junior Hockey game in Buffalo. They paid $120 a ticket and the stands were half empty.

empty hockey stadium

Every week I see Facebook posts of people who have taken their kids to $100 concerts.

It’s almost become cost prohibitive for a family of four to go to any of these events.

In every community, there are local sporting events and concerts for free or that are relatively cheap. You can also get much closer to the action.

Yesterday, I sat right behind the penalty box and Queen’s bench for a period of the game. It’s cool to see the interaction of the officials, coaches and players—you could hear all the conversations and see the coaching staff in action.

And unlike at a Blue Jays or Maple Leafs game where you’d pay $12 a beer and $8 a hot dog, we spent $4 for four bags of popcorn.

So let’s hear it for the cheap seats. If you like hockey, here are some cheap events coming up in our region:

  • The Carr-Harris Cup at the KRock Centre on February 1st—watch Queen’s take on RMC for just $12 a ticket
  • The Queen’s Women’s hockey team is taking on the Western Mustangs today (Sunday, January 21) at the Memorial Centre at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 each and a bag of popcorn is only a buck. You can check out all the Queen’s sports games at gogaelsgo.com. I’ve taken the kids to their basketball double header nights (women and mens) and it’s a great night of entertainment.

Queen's hockey bench

Timing is everything

Time's Up poster

There is a new book on my reading list for 2018: best-selling author Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Pink’s book focuses on the science of timing to help us make smart decisions in our lives.

Our lives are a never-ending stream of “when” decisions. There are little “when” decisions: when is the best time to study for an exam, when are you most productive at work. And there are the big “when” decisions: when to start a business, start a family or change careers.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Toronto Star have written articles on Pink’s new book. The article in The Star focused on New Year’s resolutions and why “fresh starts” like at the beginning of the year, really work.

To establish a fresh start, people use two types of “temporal landmarks”— social and personal. Social landmarks are those that everyone shares Mondays, the beginning of a new month, national holidays. The personal ones are unique to each person: birthdays, anniversaries, job changes.

These time markers allow us to clear the slate on the past and help us see beyond the minutiae of day to day living to see “the forest beyond the trees” for a fresh start.

I am hopeful that 2018 is a fresh start for all of us and that #TimesUp.

You don’t have to tell Tarana Burke timing is everything.

The founder of the #MeToo movement has been quietly, tenaciously, devoting her life for ten years promoting empowerment through empathy, raising awareness of inequality and sexual harassment against women.

But it wasn’t until actress Alyssa Milano urged women this past fall on social media to speak up using the hashtag #MeToo that we were able to crest the tipping point to create a wave of support and change the dialogue and power imbalance between men and women on sexual harassment.

The wave became a tidal wave this January with the creation of #TimesUp, a legal organization formed to pay for and provide legal support for victims of sexual assault and the platform and voices of powerful women like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon.

Yes, timing is everything.

I am hopeful it is finally our time—time for women to be truly viewed and treated as equals.

I am hopeful that every organization will look within its own walls with a microscopic lens and make changes to ensure equal pay for equal work, and equal representation of women on boards and in the C-suite.

That every government implements policies to ensure women are protected, can receive an education, and can live freely without fear of retribution or harm.

That every father and grandfather teaches their sons and grandsons to treat women as we deserve.

And that some day soon, every woman will feel finally, it is our time.

52 Walks in 52 Weeks

Author in front of her office ready to walkThis year, my New Year’s resolution is to take 52 walks in 52 weeks in 2018.

Let me explain.

I have many friends at work, but work is so busy, I often don’t have time to catch up with them. Occasionally, we meet for lunch, but this eats up our lunch hour and budget and adds unwanted pounds.

So here is my plan. Every week this year, I am going to invite one co-worker to walk with me for half an hour one day a week at lunch. It may be a good friend, someone I’ve met I want to get to know better, or maybe even a complete stranger.

My goals are to get in shape, save money, and stay connected with my co-workers and what’s happening in the company, which will benefit my job.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Leave a comment. Don’t miss next week’s post on the secret to being successful at keeping resolutions.

Top 10 Happy Acts of 2017

Happy New Year, from our family to yours

Got the post-holiday blues? Tired of winter already? Why not brighten your day by revisiting some of the best happy acts from 2017.

To inspire you in 2018

  1. Be a child genius: see what Aldous Huxley and Ron Howard have in common
  2. Always see with your heart: a tribute to a very special dog
  3. Swimming in a fish bowl: My eyes filled with tears reading this post again.

Happiness at work

  1. The rise of incivility in the workplace: fight stress and the impulse to snap back when the pressure is on at work
  2. How to be happier at work: learn three simple things you can do to up your happiness quotient in the workplace

Life on the home front

  1. Eight tips for achieving family life balance: struggling to keep up with your to do list at home? Read this post or watch Bad Moms Christmas.
  2. The most important decision you’ll ever make: a must read if you have kids.
  3. Make friends with fearsome creatures: I was surprised at the vociferous reaction to this post on snakes.

Just for giggles

9. What if your best friend was a robot? 2018 may be the year machines take over the world. We might as well make friends with them.

10. Check out my top predictions for 2017—hey at least I got one call right—my dogs did manage to get off the couch once this year before 11 a.m.

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to more happy acts and the world being a happier place in 2018.

Giving beyond the holidays

Loblaw gift card

This week, Loblaw Corporation announced it will give anyone who registers online and who states they bought certain types of bread at their stores from 2011 to 2015 a $25 gift card as a goodwill gesture for price-fixing that took place in their stores during that time period. Registration will open around January 8th.

I plan to register, but I also plan to give my gift card to the local food bank when I get it. I can’t take credit for this idea—at a retirement function the other day, people were talking about the Loblaw gift card and someone suggested we all register and do this.

We give so much to the people we love over the holidays. This week’s #HappyAct to to continue the spirit of giving beyond this weekend.

And kudos to Loblaw Corporation. I’d much rather see millions of Canadians receive a gift card in a positive gesture that can do great good than see the money frittered away in a nasty class action lawsuit.

Be sure to check back next week for my top 10 happy acts of 2017. Happy holidays!

May the songs of the season fill your heart with joy

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

One of the greatest joys this time of year is the music of the holiday season. Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of pathetic Christmas songs on the radio lately (what are some of these artists thinking?)

Music has always been a huge part of the holidays for me. This year, I’ve been to five events and concerts. While I enjoy the kids’ school concerts and piano recitals, my favourite concerts have been our local church cantata, and the Kingston Choral Society’s concert of the Messiah at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, which was magnificent. This Thursday, I’m hoping to catch one of the final advent lunchtime concerts at St. George’s cathedral with guitar player Jeff Hanlon.

Here are a few interesting facts about seasonal music:

  • The singer who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” Thurl Ravenscroft was the same singer/actor who was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes “
  • The word carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy. Carols used to be written and sung all year-round, but over time, the tradition of singing carols is now associated with Christmas.
  • Many modern-day Christmas songs were actually written by Jewish composers like Irving Berlin and Johnny Marks
  • Jingle Bells was actually written to celebrate Thanksgiving (my Ryerson alumni team got this answer wrong at a recent trivia night)
  • If you’re looking for some last minute gifts, Sia, 98 Degrees, Josh Groban and Gwen Stefani all have new Christmas albums out this year.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to old familiar carols play and songs of joyful ring. What’s your favourite Christmas song? Leave a comment.

Church concert
Christmas concert at Trinity United Church in Verona