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Christmas preparations

So, today marks clean up day after weeks of preparations. Some preparations were successful, others… not so much. I really enjoy Christmas and I tend to go overboard. I buy too much, I eat too much, I cook too much and I want everything to be perfect. To be fair, this is only the first year since all of my kids have been old enough to know our truth about Santa Claus and I may have had a small jolt of acknowledgement that I won’t ever have that responsibility of maintaining the myth for a child again. A mildly unsettling thought for someone who doesn’t consider herself old, but… I guess I’m reaching that part of the spectrum.

Back to preparations though: this year saw many batches of fudge (somehow, not as many as my children and husband could consume?), favourite Weight Watcher recipes (https://www.weightwatchers.com/ca/en) (No, I’m not advertising, but I don’t believe in mentioning organizations without giving credit where credit is due.) such as crisp rice macaroons, dark Christmas cake (with my sister participating heavily in the baking of this one!) and sugar cookies.

Christmas Eve day involved cooking food both for Wigilia (the Polish tradition my husband’s family introduced to me and maintained for him and our kids), with a careful accounting for twelve courses of no meat (they accept fish, but no land animals), including barszcz, paszdeciki with mushrooms and cabbage, sałatka, uszka, pierogi among the various dishes served. In addition, I try to jump start Christmas Day by making ahead a breakfast dish (this year was a French Toast bake casserole adapted for my family), and pre-cooking a cowboy hotpot casserole and scalloped potatoes. (Remember my “not-so-good” comment earlier? These were the guilty dishes that failed! Still reeling over those – they usually are so good!)

A few mishaps, some rolled eyes (maybe filling the stockings after wine and honey liqueur was not a good idea?) have humbled me that I am not perfect and I can’t think of everything in advance. However, with family and friends, it’s okay.

The day- and the celebration- has come and gone for another year. On to the next challenge!

Here is wishing everyone – no matter what their faith – a wonderful holiday season and all the best for 2019!

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A gathering of family…

Over the weekend, my husband and three of my kids took a quick overnight trip to Montreal to help celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.

The gathering was held at Il Fornetto (http://ilfornetto.com/fr/) in Lachine, Québec. My husband’s family frequently attends and they have spoken very highly of the food. We had high expectations.

As usual, I attempted to familiarize myself with the menu to find the “friendliest” meal to satisfy both my vegetarian needs and as close to keto as I could find without resigning myself to a cold salad. No pasta for me! (In an Italian restaurant you say? Pure folly!)

So, while the rest of my family ordered from the main courses, I resorted to the Antipasti. In particular, the Melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan). I was relieved to find the eggplant to not be breaded. I was also appreciative of the delicate flavour and tender texture. The only complaint was that this was not offered as a main and did not come with anything but the eggplant. This would make a delightful main course for like-minded individuals to me.

Although the serving staff were pleasant, and highly attentive to the family members they had previously met, there were times during the evening when familiarity bred overlooking others at the table. (My request for a latte after dinner was completely ignored and my husband took pity on my efforts to order dessert by being more forceful than I.). I understand that the larger size of our group and specific billing requirements added challenges to the servers and I also note that there were a few other parties in the upstairs dining area. It soured my opinion somewhat, but did not define the evening.

I will briefly go back to the subject of dessert. My choice – based on seeing my daughter’s choice and not the menu – was crème brulé. Perhaps it was rushed during preparation, but the taste was a little off. Normally, a crème brulé has a caramelized (read burnt sugar) crust over a light custard. Surprisingly, good crème brulé does not taste burnt nor eggy. The custard was light and not eggy. However, it was also a little flavourless and overpowered by the particularly burnt taste of the crust. Overdone. To be fair, my daughter had no such complaint, but I didn’t taste hers. (My youngest daughter has just added her opinion that the fettucine Alfredo was also a bit flavourless unless you add Parmesan. She does not like Parmesan and was underwhelmed.)

The only other current issue with the restaurant is the construction surrounding the area. The website provides a small foreshadowing of potential parking problems. A more detailed map on the website would likely help visitors. Otherwise, the interior was clean and modern and I’m certain that the location would be beautiful in the summer.

The price point is likely a bit higher than average with our bill for five (without alcohol – and without my missing latté!) was around the $260+ tip mark.

I’m not certain I would drive the two hours from Ottawa purely to visit Il Fornetto again, but I also wouldn’t avoid the restaurant. Overall, mostly a pleasant dining experience and obviously one more appreciated by our family than us. A solid 3/5 from me.

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Travelling on Keto

For the past week I have been at a conference in downtown Montreal. I was worried about finding keto-friendly, vegetarian options while planning my meals for the week. I did some planning in advance. (Knowing I could bring a few staples helped.) There were, however, unknown factors I didn’t know with certainty until I arrived.

I had hoped there would be a fridge and coffee maker (confirmed upon arrival), but couldn’t be sure if there would be a microwave in the room. (None in my room.). I also did not know how close the grocery store would be to where I am staying. The fridge and grocery store allowed me to stock up on healthy “snacks” that I could shape into meals. I did allow for a “cheat” night with my colleagues, but even then, my cheating was mostly limited to the nacho chips (with copious amounts of cheese) and sangria (only one!). The rest of the time, I had my lunch bag and assembled my food before leaving my room. This planning helped to keep me away from the starchy (read pastries and muffins!) that were offered occasionally during our breaks! I can’t promise that everyone will find a grocery store across from their hotels, but a little planning can certainly go a long way!

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Keto concerns

Recently a family friend came to visit after being away for a few months. His story was that he had diabetes and had gained some weight. Over the summer he had asked what I was doing to lose weight and I indicated that I was “loosely” following the ketogenic diet.

As a responsible individual who was on insulin, our friend consulted with his doctor before beginning a stricter interpretation of keto than I. He was out of country when he first observed problems – sweats, light-headedness and general malaise.

A visit with Emergency doctors resulted in a reduction of his insulin. Still, the problems persisted. He is now entirely off the insulin and has now swung towards the hypoglycaemic side of the spectrum. He still adheres to the keto ( he has lost 34 lbs since he began!), but now needs to supplement his sugar to make sure he doesn’t collapse.

I guess the moral is to make sure with your doctor before you begin any strict diet change. It could save your life!

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Thanksgiving bird

I’ve mentioned before that I love animals. On Thanksgiving Monday, this was put to the test. Two of my daughters were heading to my son’s home with leftovers. We stopped by a friend to drop off cake when we spotted a seagull sitting by a sewer grill. It looked injured. We pulled over and were told by a neighbour that the bird had been hit.

We called the Ottawa Wild Bird Sanctuary https://wildbirdcarecentre.org/ and told to throw something over the gull’s head to calm him and to bring him to the sanctuary. This was not entirely an easy project, although we had a princess pillow case in the car. The same neighbour who had seen the car leave, provided us with a box to bring “Hope” (name given by my daughters along the way) to Moodie Drive.

A short drive and a small donation helped one seagull out of a nasty situation. We may not have gotten a picture of “our bird”, but we’re happy if this bird has a happier ending than many after being hit! Ottawa Wild Bird Centre does really great things in the community!

As an aside, my son did get his leftovers – just a little later than we had planned.

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Canadian Thanksgiving

This past weekend marked the occasion of Thanksgiving here in Canada. Many dishes are traditional and I do prepare a turkey for my non- vegetarian husband and kids. I also prepare an abundance of side dishes such as scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potato mash, cowboy hotpot, vegetable pies, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce. Our selection of desserts included the traditional pumpkin pies and apple pies, along with the less traditional maple pumpkin cheesecake – delicious!

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/66310/maple-pumpkin-cheesecake/

I have to commend this recipe – it is simple and almost foolproof. The maple cream is also worth making extra for use on other things like pancakes, apple pie, etc. Easy to prepare and astonishingly tasty! Anyhow, belated Thanksgiving wishes to all.

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Dairy good!

Today, as the official last day of summer, seemed like a good day to try out a dairy bar I heard about recently. Merry Dairy is located on Fairmount in the heart of Westboro in Ottawa. Located in a converted old corner store, it has a very hip and youthful feel, with a lovely “hangout” feeling.

The decor is simple and clean, and the staff is very friendly and helpful.

As a bonus, they also have a truck which you can find using their app.

I had three of my kids with me today, and we stuck with ice cream . The flavours are very creamy and appetizing – I had a salted caramel ice cream in a salted corn cone, imported from Brooklyn, NY (along with the red velvet cones my son and one of my daughters chose.). Lovely flavour combination and fun colours!

For four cones (and two drinks), the total was less than $30. Reasonable pricing for a quality product.

They also do ice cream cakes, popsicles and sundaes.

Strongly recommend this gem to anyone in the area!

Check out their website:

themerrydairy.com

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Random feeding

Sorry to anyone who may actually read my thoughts that I’ve been absent a while. I had some technical issues which I hope are now resolved.

Sorry to anyone who reads my thoughts for my absence. I had some technical issues which -I hope – are resolved.

As many of you may suspect, as a vegetarian, my main reason for becoming was because of my love of animals. (Maybe not 100% for the more reptilian ones, but I make it work for me!). As a result, I often find myself pushing the boundaries when it comes to getting close to nature. I believe you will catch a glimpse of my “dinner companion” in this post. My backyard chipmunk has – of late – taken to brazenly lifting peanuts off my lap to store for winter. Usually she will stuff them in her pouches, but sometimes she will stay and chow down with me as I snack on unsalted nuts. Just a fun little share for the day!

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Portobello Mushrooms

One of my favourite vegetarian foods is the portobello mushroom. As a vegetarian, it is versatile, full of texture and flavour. My recent discovery is the portobello Caprese. With a blend of mushroom, garlic butter, mozzarella cheese, basil and tomato and a smattering of spinach, it satisfies the taste test and is really easy to prepare. Within minutes of gathering and chopping/slicing ingredients, it can be heated beneath the broiler for a filling dish in less than half an hour. Delicious!

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Universal’s Islands of Adventure Afters

On Monday, our family tackled the Islands of Adventure. I could detail every aspect, but I won’t because most people are already familiar with the place. Most people are also already aware of the park’s policy of not allowing outside food, thus forcing families to pay a small fortune on feeding their brood during a long and hot day. There are some options for slightly healthier options (although still not terrifically affordable!). Our option was the Burger Dig in the Jurassic portion of the park. I was able to select a vegan burger and had a few options on the side, but chose to share fries. (It was hot and I walked a heck of a lot – don’t judge me!).
For us, the highlight of the days food (aside from the avacado and egg toast I made for breakfast.) was when we left the park and headed back towards Westgate Lakes on Turkey Lake Road. We called a restaurant we’d seen called “Thomkos Tavern” and ordered two pizzas: a thin-crusted vegetarian and a mushroom, green pepper and pepperoni pizza. They were excellent! Reasonable prices and gourmet taste, a great way to end a busy day at Universal. 5/5