Archive for November, 2010

A-Tuna Mattata

My father loves Costco – never has that been more apparent than the last time we went for a visit and I was gifted more than 20 cans of tuna that he bought because they were a “good deal”. 

 Determined not to let them go to waste I decided to make a tuna casserole – a one pot dinner that is quick and has an easy clean up.  My eight year old step daughter loves this meal, she says she loves the ‘cheesy’ taste, I love that you get all this flavour and it is still easy on your waist line. The trick is to use old cheddar with lots of flavour – it lets you use less cheese overall in the dish.



8 oz whole wheat fusilli pasta uncooked

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables – I used corn, broccoli and cauliflower
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 TSP minced garlic
1 TBSP flour
1/2 cup skim milk
1 1/2 cup cottage cheese
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 TSP dried mustard powder
Black pepper to taste
2 cans tuna in water, drained

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, add frozen vegetables to water for last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside. 

In a large non-stick pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic and onions. Cook 5 minutes until onions are soft. Add flour to coat onions and garlic – then add milk, cheeses, sour cream, mustard powder, pepper and tuna. Mix well and heat until sauce is bubbly and cheddar cheese has melted.

Add pasta and vegetables to the sauce, and stir to combine.  Serve warm.



Editor’s Note:  Please meet our new ‘Test Kitchen’ Blogger, Jodi.  We wanted to share even more great, nutritious and easy recipes with our readers and we’re lucky to have Jodi come aboard.  You will still find all the great Lunchtime Solutions that Tracey has been offering as well.  As moms, we know how stressful feeding our families can be, so hopefully these food posts will help, even if just a little.

Jodi Lariviere is a blogger and food writer with a real passion for healthy, local ingredients and she also writes two of her own blogs:  Simply Fresh – and the new Vegging for Two –

The multi-tasking chili

Moms and chefs love to multi-purpose and multi-task, and I am almost positive one of these hard working professions must have been the inspiration for these life saving words.  We all know without our multi-tasking super powers our day to day lives may well be very messy and chaotic.  Today’s Vegetarian Chili recipe is the edible embodiment of multi-tasking and multi-purpose and we all certainly need a go to recipe in our repertoire that works just as hard as we do!

I love this chili recipe because it works for vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers.  You can serve it for lunch, for dinner, for two or for a crowd.  It loves a pot, a crock-pot, a chafing dish, a freezer container and a thermos.  The recipe is simple, fast and allows you to complete another recipe, do the dishes or even walk the dog while it cooks.  Serve it simply or dress it up with sour cream, cheese or your favourite corn muffin or baked tortillas.

The recipe easily multiplies freezes, reheats and holds for service.  Most of the ingredients are easily stocked pantry items and vegetables that are easily sourced and store well.  This chili recipe is also very mildly spiced and appealing to a wide range of spice tolerances. 


Vegetarian Chili

1 Spanish onion

1 medium sized zucchini

1 small eggplant

1 green or red pepper

2 cloves garlic

½ cup canola oil

1.5 teaspoon chili powder

½ smoked chipotle pepper in adobe sauce (sold in cans and readily available in grocery stores)

1.5 teaspoon ground cumin

1 TB Italian seasoning or herbes de provence (rosemary, oregano, marjoram, basil etc)

28oz can of whole tomatoes (preferably Italian or organic)

14oz can chickpeas

14oz can kidney beans

½ lime

¼ bunch coriander

Prepare vegetables by cutting into ½ inch dice.  Sauté onions in oil until they have softened.  Add eggplant and cook until eggplant is soft.  Add garlic and spices and cook for several minutes to open up flavours of the spices.  Add peppers and zucchini and cook until they too soften.  Be sure to add some salt to vegetables while they are cooking at this stage to enhance flavour.

Add tomatoes and beans and simmer for 60 minutes until mixture darkens and thickens.  To finish, season with lime juice, chopped coriander and salt and pepper.

Book Review: The Present

My youngest daughter’s birthday is next week; she turns four. Four means it’s not so easy to make her gifts a surprise. I’ve had to really think of a good hiding spot to avoid her stumbling upon it.

Although it’s been a long, LONG, time since I’ve been four, I remember finding a gift hidden away for my birthday and trying to figure out what it was. That’s the premise of Bob Gill’s The Present (age 5+), published by Raincoast Books.  

The story opens with a young boy named Arthur who stumbles upon a package in the top shelf of his parent’s closet. His birthday is coming up so of course the gift must be for him. He imagines what the gift could be, what he would love it to be, what he doesn’t want it to be. Every day Arthur checks his parent’s closet to make sure the gift is still there.  The day before his birthday a visitor at Arthur’s house has him thinking about the package in his parent’s closet. Perhaps what’s hidden in the box isn’t as important as who really needs the box.

The story of discovering a package and imagining and hoping and anticipating the surprise hidden inside is something both parents and kids can relate to. Bob Gill does a great job showing a child’s thought process about what the small box could hold: a birthday cake, a gazillion chocolate bars, a bicycle tire. Each page covers one idea, like a child’s single thought, and is complimented by a large simple illustration.

The Present is rated for age 5+ but my 3-year old enjoyed reading it too. She loved the different things Arthur thought was in the book. The concept of giving the gift up might not be one a younger child would understand but it certainly gives you a starting point for a discussion. 

After reading the story the kids all took turns guessing what they thought would be in the gift, what they would like or not like to see in the gift. We also talked about needing and wanting things and how sometimes the line can be a little blurry.

The Present is a book your family can enjoy on two levels; there’s the anticipation and interactive discussion on what the gift could be, something everyone can relate too and there’s also the opportunity to open the discussion on giving to those who may not be as fortunate, perfect with the approaching Christmas season.

Thank you to Crystal at Raincoast Books for my review copy.

The Present

Bob Gill

Age 5+

Raincoast Books


Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

Energy Efficient Holiday Lights

image credit: flickr

That festive time of year has arrived. The time when many of us are running around preparing for holiday celebrations. For some of us, a big part of those preparations include decorating our homes both inside and out. But when it comes to lighting, what is best? Which type is more energy efficient than the other? (the answers: LED! and LED! Read on…)

When it comes to lighting, they are not all created equally. First off, you want to make sure that you purchase LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights. Be sure that the packaging says this. LED bulbs will save you 80-90% on your electricity bill according to the light manufacturer NOMA.

LED lights are also safer than traditional bulbs because they run cooler which means there is less risk for fire and less risk for burns when it comes to small children and pets.

The last positive point about LED lighting is their life span. On average, these bulbs last 200,000 hours. Incandescent last 2000. So no comparison needed in that department!

So in conclusion, you may have to spend a little bit more to purchase LED lighting to decorate your home, but the investment is obviously a worthy one. In fact, to save a little bit on your purchase, check with your local Canadian Tire store because they have a program running where they will take your old inefficient lighting in exchange for a discount off a new energy efficient set. Not bad! Happy decorating!

For more reading on Incandescent Lighting vs. LED lighting, click here.


**Additional note: Check in your community for light return drop offs/savings – stores such as Home Depot often do an exchange – your old lights for a coupon towards new LED lights.

Reading the Signs: Dyslexia


image credit: Flickr

Q:   What do all of the following parent statements have in common?

  • ”My aunt is a principal and she says almost all the dyslexic kids in her school are boys.”
  • “I know it’s not dyslexia because Suzie doesn’t see words backwards.”
  • “Jeremy is having some trouble reading now, but the teacher says he’ll grow out of it.”
  • “Liang’s tutor says it can’t be dyslexia because learning to read Chinese is different from learning to read English.”
  • “Dyslexia?  Don’t be ridiculous.  Her IQ is 129.”  


A:  They’re all statements made by parents who have contacted me.  And they all represent one of the many myths about dyslexia.

Many of the myths about dyslexia have been addressed by Dr. Sally Shaywitz in her 2003 publication, Overcoming Dyslexia (New York: Random House). 

Her comments below are reprinted from an interview conducted by Great Schools.

Q: What is dyslexia?

A: Dyslexia refers to a difficulty in learning to read in a person who has good intelligence, strong motivation, and who has received appropriate teaching. … It is exciting that scientists now understand exactly why otherwise smart children and adults can have trouble reading and know how to help them. There are now highly effective methods for diagnosing and treating children and adults with dyslexia at all levels and all ages.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about people who are dyslexic?

A: Perhaps the most common myth about dyslexia is that people who are dyslexic see words backward (“dog” as “god” or “was” as “saw”). This assumption is wrong.

Another myth is that children outgrow reading problems. They don’t. This means that it is imperative that dyslexia be detected early and treated seriously.

A third myth is that dyslexia affects only (or mostly) boys. In a study published in 1990 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we demonstrated that dyslexia affects comparable numbers of boys and girls.

A fourth myth holds that people who struggle to read are not very smart. On the contrary, some of the very brightest boys and girls struggle to read.  Dyslexia occurs at all levels of intelligence, average, above average, and highly gifted. The writer John Irving and the financier Charles Schwab are both dyslexic and I have included their stories in Overcoming Dyslexia not only because they dispel myths about dyslexia but also because they provide wonderful examples of how boys and girls who struggle can become highly successful men and women.

A fifth myth is that dyslexia only occurs in languages that use the alphabet and so it does not occur in countries like China and Japan whose languages are logographic (based on characters or pictures). Studies have shown that reading problems are as prevalent in these countries as they are in the United States and that struggling readers in China and Japan tend to make the same types of phonologic or sound-based errors as do their counterparts speaking English or other alphabetic languages.

Q: At what age can signs of dyslexia first be detected? What are the early warning signs?

A: Today, most children who struggle to read are not recognized until third grade, though some are identified earlier. Many more go undetected until much later. Some are not identified until they are adults.

Scientists have discovered that almost all cases of dyslexia reflect a problem in getting to the basic sounds of words. Children who are dyslexic are unable to attend to the individual sounds (called phonemes) making up all words. For example, the word “bat” has three phonemes – b – aaaa – t. It is important for children to be able to detect the individual sounds making up a spoken word because that is how they go about solving the reading puzzle.

In Overcoming Dyslexia I review, step-by-step, how children learn to read and which signs tell a parent that a child is not on track for becoming a reader. The earliest clues can come from listening to a child’s spoken language; a mild delay in learning to talk or a difficulty learning words that rhyme are often very early indicators of a possible reading problem.

A little later, difficulty learning the names of the letters of the alphabet and then the sounds of the letters may be signs of an imminent reading difficulty.

But once these vulnerabilities are identified there are now scientifically proven early reading programs that bring a child up to speed and allow her to catch up to and keep pace with her classmates.

Q: What is the most important thing a parent can do to help her dyslexic child?

A: A knowledgeable and proactive parent is often the critical factor responsible for transforming an unhappy struggling reader into a happy, proficient one. A parent plays a determining role in ensuring that her child:

  1. is accurately and promptly diagnosed;
  2. is provided reading programs that are scientifically proven to work; and
  3. develops a lasting positive sense of himself.


Would you like to read more of what Dr. Shaywitz has to say?  The entire interview is available online at

If you have concerns about your child’s reading, contact his/her teacher. If you still need help, contact a literacy specialist.

Until next time,


Want to write for Best Tools for Schools?

Want to write for Best Tools for Schools?

Best Tools for Schools is fortunate to have some great bloggers contributing to our site.  They provide you, our readers, with useful information about books, food, education, parenting, organizing, green living and more.

But there’s still more that we want to share with you so we are looking for 2 new bloggers to join our team.

Please see the blog descriptions below and let us know if you think you would be a great fit!

What are we looking for in a contributor?

 -2-4 posts a month.

-Knowledge/ability to write about one of the topics listed below.

Please note that contributions are voluntary positions but we will gladly include your link/blog information in the bio section of the blog.

Why write for Best Tools?

-A great readership of parents, educators and more

-Link to your blog/website

-The opportunity to work with a community driven business, and some pretty fun people.

What 2 new blogs would we like to start?

1) Test Kitchen

We get some great food tips, recipes and entertaining ideas from our fabulous blogger Tracey Black, but this new blog would focus solely on recipes or possibly food products that you use/test in your kitchen with the focus on:

-Quick and timely recipes


-Do the kids approve? (and we know that the kids won’t like every recipe, but we’re curious to know their thoughts!)

2) Outside the classroom

We know that parents, students and teachers have a lot going on outside of the classroom; Hockey practice, school fundraisers, community engagement and more.  This blog will focus on what’s happening in and around schools and communities, what students are doing after school (sports? Other programs?).  On occasion, the blogger will receive some information for their blogs from Best Tools for Schools.

If you are interested in joining the Best Tools for Schools Blogging team, please email us a bit about yourself, the blog you are interested in and why you’d be a good fit to by Friday, November 19.

Thanks for helping us continue to provide great information to our readers.

Remembrance Day Activities for Kids

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day.  With young children it’s hard to know how much information to give them about November 11.  Most will have a ceremony or assembly at their school, but it’s our responsibility as parents to open that dialogue as well.  When I put on my red poppy pin the other day, my son asked me why I was wearing it.  For some reason I hesitated at first, carefully trying to decide my words.  And then I realized I was protecting him from nothing by not using words like veterans, war, remembering.  So we started talking.

I wanted to keep it simple, so mostly stuck with poppy discussions and war planes (because we are huge Aviation Museum fans).  We went online to find some resources to talk about that were age appropriate for him (he’s four) and then today went to the Aviation Museum to spot airplanes that were used in the wars.

 It was a fruitful discussion, kept as light as we could for his age, but started a conversation that is important to have.  He needs to know why on November 11 we remember.

Here are a few websites with some Remembrance day activities to do with the kids! Grab your Crayola Paints, Elmer’s Glue and Fiskars scissors and get ready.

Veteran Affairs Canada – resources for parents and teachers.  Read the story about Animals and War and play the board game (print out).  It was well received by my son.

Word Scramble/Word Search

Coffee Filter Poppy

The Take Out Queen

I do really love cooking, I do.  But after a full day of being on the go for work, and enjoying my personal life, I don’t always FEEL like cooking.  We’re a busy couple, always on the go, and sometimes, more often than it should happen, we’re ordering take-out because it’s easier.
Eating on the go isn’t always eating while going somewhere.  We’re always on the go, and ordering in while we’re still working around the house or still doing work from the day. We’re pretty partial to ordering pizza, Chinese food or Swiss Chalet.  Yeah.  Welcome to Calorie-City, population, your thighs and rump.
Not only are we packing in the calories ordering in food like this, we’re also wreaking havic on our minds between the overload of carbs and msg.  These 2 things combined slow down thought processes and make our bodies weak.  Not to mention the cost of ordering take out.
Our plan for the future is to start meal planning.  Sitting down on Sunday, going through the freezer and pantry and taking time to meal plan, writing out for each day what we’re going to be eating each night, and defrosting what needs to be defrosted the morning of in preparation.
Of course, there are going to be the nights where we will treat ourselves, but we plan on keeping that to twice a month, concentrating on eating healthy while we’re still on the go, even while we’re at home.
What have you done to ensure that you’re eating healthy while on the go?

Happy & healthy eating!

*Editor’s Note: After months of writing this blog about Heatlhy Eating on the Go, this will be Leslie’s last post.  She is busy exploring many other exciting opportunities and we wish her the best.  Best Tools for Schools thanks her for all of her contributions and participation, and for shedding light on how to try to be concious about our meal choices when eating out.  Good luck Leslie!

What do neighbours, lunch snacks and quick oats have in common?

When people ask me how do I ever manage to make time for my family and home, my business, my friends and my horse, I feel my face instantly take this puzzled look as to say, ‘do I really manage all those things?’ because it feels like I actually don’t.  In the day to day routine of my week I feel as if I don’t accomplish much except for a constant rush of the next priority.  Sound familiar? As I write this post, (an uncomfortably long time since my last one), I feel as if I have just stepped out of a work time-warp that I usually only experience at Christmas.  This usually consists of one or two days off in a month, no sleep, a few 15 hour days and the constant feeling of never catching up.  I really don’t recollect much of the last two months but I am happy to say that my kids did go to school with a litter-less and made from scratch lunch each day.  How did I manage?  Neighbours and granola bars.

In one of my first posts, I made mention of community kitchen:  a group cooking together and exchanging what they have prepared or just exchanging meals.  I am fortunate to have wonderful neighbours whom I spend a fair amount of time with.  We share common interests, our kids are very close in age and we are all working parents.  The moms make the school lunches, do the after school pick-ups and generally are in charge of all kid related organizing.  We are women who need some help.  So, we help each other.  Since September, most Sundays we bake or prepare items for school lunches and simply make enough for the other families.  There is no set schedule or structure and we simply contribute what we can.  With three food focused moms on the job, there is always something to be shared.  

For the many weekends that I worked in the past two months, I was either saved by having someone drop off baking for me, or I had an excess in the freezer to carry me over for the week.  I love the feeling of helping out another mom plus the added bonus of someone else doing the cooking!  Occasionally we also exchange dinners, desserts and even babysitting.  The concept is not new, and although it took us awhile of saying to each other “we should do this”, now that we are in a routine it has become very easy.

How do the granola bars fit in?  In yet another previous post I promised to rework the granola bar recipe as I was not fully satisfied with it.  During my Bento box post I discovered the blog  I adore Melissa’s blog and loved her idea for using silicone cups for granola bars.  I also had a good look at her recipe, gave it a try, made a few adaptations and have made it weekly for lunches and snacks since September.  The kids love it, the neighborhood kids love it and the silicone cup is pure genius.  No more crumbly and difficult to handle granola bars and best of all it is litter-less.  I have to say, I have also had pretty good success on the return rate of the silicone cups. 

Litter-less and Chewy Granola Bars

2 cups quick oats

1 cup crushed Vector or other cereal you have in the house

½ cup chocolate chips, or raisins, or dried cranberry etc. 

1/3 cup brown sugar

½ cup canola oil

1/3 cup maple syrup and corn syrup combined*. (or honey)

½ teaspoon vanilla

Mix the oil, syrups and vanilla together.  Crush the Vector with the back of a wooden spoon to break the flakes down to the same size as the quick oats.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.  You want to ensure all of the oats are covered so they stick to each other.  Add in chocolate chips etc and mix well.  Spoon into silicone baking cups and place on a baking tray.

Bake 350F for 12-14 minutes.  Cool completely.

Melissa makes two very good points in her recipe that I want to pass along.  Use only quick cook oats and not large flake as they produce crumbly granola bars.  I think size may be a factor as one reader successfully used large flake after pulsing them in the food processor to get a finer texture.  Also, let the bars sit overnight for best results.

This recipe can be competed start to finish in 20-25 minutes.  Once the granola bars are cool just store in an air-tight container.  They will stay fresh for a couple of weeks.  I simply pop one of the silicone cups into a square bento container and right into our laptop lunch box. 

*Note: the recipe previously read 1/3 cup each syrup.  It should be 1/3 cup combined.  Sorry for the confusion!



Tracey Black, Owner, Epicuria Fine Food Store and Catering

Best Tools for Schools and the United Way Give Back

On October 7, Candace and Laurie, owners of Best Tools for Schools, participated in the United Way Ottawa’s Community Action Day.

Together with volunteers from Accenture, United Way Loaned Volunteers and Surgenor, 400 kits were filled with school supplies and delivered to schools and students in need in Ottawa. 

Even though the school year had begun, many students still were struggling to have the tools they need in school.  Candace recalls that “a couple of staff members at one school actually cried tears of joy which in turn made us cry tears of joy.  It was sweet. Our volunteers loved seeing the gratitude on the recipients’ faces at the various schools. “

Candace and Laurie expressed their great appreciation and thanks to all of the volunteers and for local Real Estate Agent Paul Rushforth who not only contributed his moving truck to help haul supplies around, but also made a generous donation that ensured more kits could be delivered.

Thank you to everyone involved.

You can find out how to be a part of the United Way’s Community Action Days in various ways by visiting the United Way Ottawa website.

Next Page »


Candace also blogs for
the Yummy Mummy Club!