Archive for January, 2011

Soup’s On!

With midwinter temperatures’ dropping, weekends full of outdoor activities and more sniffles than we care to have, a classic chicken noodle soup fits the bill for a hearty school lunch or quick midweek dinner.  This recipe can be halved or doubled with ease or simply add your own twist to it. 

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

1 cup diced onion (1/2 onion)

1 cup diced celery (4 stalks)

1 cup diced carrot (2 medium carrots)

2 Litres chicken stock

2 cup cooked diced chicken (2 chicken breasts)

2 cups cooked pasta

Fresh thyme, garlic clove

2 TB canola or olive oil

Saute onion, celery and carrot in canola oil at medium heat until soft – approximately 20 minutes.  Be sure to add some salt at this point to bring the flavour out in the vegetables. Five sprigs of fresh thyme and 1 garlic clove can be added at the same time.  Once the vegetables are soft add the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Remove thyme and bay leaf and add cooked chicken and pasta.  Season with salt and pepper and serve. Serves 8

Cooking Class Notes:

Making it work in the lunchroom:

Choosing the right pasta can make this lunch option easier for kids to eat at school.  I chose a wagon wheel shape to sit on a spoon easily without slipping or being difficult to get out of a thermos.  I also increased the amount of pasta in the soup to make it thicker and heartier.  I figure the less liquid the better when it comes to kids.  If you plan on putting servings aside, cool the soup entirely before adding the pasta.  This will reduce the chance of overcooked soggy pasta.  You could even freeze the soup without the pasta and simply add cooked pasta when you are ready to serve.  Depending upon how many children you have, freeze the soup in the number of portions that you will require for a day.  I recommend 1 cup of soup per child.


The combination of onion, carrot and celery is a classic base for soups and in the French method is called mirepoix.  This stage of a soup is important for developing flavour in the soup and this is why it is important to cook the vegetables until soft.  Be sure to cut into a consistent ½ dice so the vegetables cook evenly.  A classic mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery and carrot.  (I chose to reduce amount of onion for my recipe)

Chicken stock:

 It is always best to make your own chicken stock but if this is not possible be sure to purchase low sodium or organic tetra pack stocks.  Specialty stores and some butchers also sell chicken stock made from scratch.  If you are making your own, make a large patch and freeze in litre or half litre containers.  Check out Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Chicken Stock.

Prep Ideas: 

The cooking time for this soup is fast and preparation is easy.  If you are cooking chicken in the week simply cook extra as part of your prep for the soup.  If you know you won’t have time to make the soup for a few days, simply dice, portion and freeze for later.   A quick dinner or school lunch is only 30 minutes away if you have your ingredients ready.

Outside the Classroom: Ottawa Edition – Winterlude!

February in Ottawa means Winterlude! It runs from Friday, February 4 until Monday, February 21.

One of the “must dos” is skating on the Rideau Canal. The canal is about 7km long, although it’s not necessary to skate the entire canal. There are lots of huts along the canal where skates can be put on. The very little ones like to be bundled up and pulled in a toboggan. There are skate and toboggan rentals (as well as skate sharpening) available near the NAC, Fifth Avenue, and Dow’s Lake. However, the Fifth Avenue location is only open on the weekends. Also, the NAC has a “Boot Check”.

Everyone loves the famous Beaver Tails. The pastries are worth the line-ups! Also on the canal, there are lots of activities including the Bedzzz Annual Bed Race, the Winterlude Triathlon, and the Great Canadian Beaver Cup Pond Hockey Classic.

The Ice Garden is held at Confederation Park. This is a hit with the children who are absolutely amazed at what the artists can create. It’s particularly beautiful at night when the ice sculptures are lit.

The Sun Life Snowflake Kingdom is held at Jacques-Cartier Park. This is Winterlude’s gift to children! The park is transformed into a winter playground with massive slides. Parents, too, can go down the slides with younger children. Don’t forget to visit the snow sculptures and obstacle courses. The Snowflake Kingdom is my family’s favorite Winterlude activity.

The Winterlude Opening Ceremonies will be held at the Museum of Civilization on February 4. There will be music and fireworks. There will be free Imax presentations. The museum itself will be free after 5pm. During the weekend (February 6-7), the museum will sponsor the Fokus Snow Jam. This is where all you snowboarders can show-off your stuff! Also, Saturday night, there will be “Igloofest” which is an outdoor party with music, videos and more.

It’s important to remember (and plan for!) road closures in the areas around the Winterlude sites. A great option is to take the Sno-Bus when going from one site to another. The cost is $3.50 for adults, and a transfer for the entire day will be issued. Children 11 and under are free.

Of note: There is a Winterlude App you can download.  Also, follow @winterlude on Twitter and the Winterlude Facebook page for updates.

I can’t make winter go away, but I can make good memories. So, grab your camera and your children and throw yourself into Winterlude. It’s worth it!

Gwen blogs at She can also be found on Twitter @GwenVsTheKids

Dessert Tofu

The other day I was grocery shopping when I happened upon something called dessert tofu. I figured I had to give it a try – we often give my step daughter dessert and like it to be as healthy as possible; this seemed right up our alley.

According to the package, you can eat it alone, with fruit or have it blended in a smoothie. Having bought a peach mango flavour, I decided to just let her have at it as is. It didn’t go so well. One bite and my step daughter was opting to forgo dessert entirely rather than eating any more of it. I tried some, then had to agree with her assessment that “the flavour is good, but it feels like Jello and juice in my mouth at once”. There were definitely texture issues.

The next day I opted to use the second half of the package to make a smoothie – much better! I just substituted the dessert tofu for yogurt in my regular smoothie recipe. Turned out great!

Peach Mango Tofu Smoothie

2 cups sliced peaches, pit removed
1/2 cup milk
150g peach mango dessert tofu
handful of ice cubes
dash of nutmeg

Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until desired consistency.

*image credit: Flickr

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 –

Top 10 Reasons to Practice Yoga During Pregnancy

Is there a new addition coming to your family in the coming months? With the joys of pregnancy can come nausea, aches, pains, fatigue and stress.   Take time to free your mind, relax, stretch and strength the mind and body as you prepare for your new bundle of joy to be placed in your arms.  I receive a lot of questions regarding prenatal yoga and who should be participating and what the benefits may be to them.  Here are my top 10 reasons for having a yoga practice throughout your pregnancy.  Most public libraries have DVDs from well-respected yoga teachers, check out the schedule at your local yoga studio, and visit your local book store to find a book that may suit you.

1. Ease symptoms such as morning sickness, backaches, and shortness of breath and fatigued limbs in a safe manner.  Reduce leg swelling and insomnia.

2. Celebrate the life of your child in a calming way that centers your mind, body and spirit.

3. Prepare your body for the adjustments and adaptations the body will make throughout the pregnancy.

4. Take time out for yourself. We get so busy at work, other family events and preparing for the birth of the child that we sometimes forget about ourselves. Celebrate YOU!

5. Maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy can create a faster post-partum recovery.

6.  Meet women who are pregnant and preparing for their birth, just like you! Who knows you may just make a new best friend or have future play dates for your little one.

7. Centre your mind, body and spirit as you prepare for the birth of your child. Your mind-body connection will assist you throughout the labouring process.

8. Become more in tune with your body.  Individuals who understand their body have found the pushing process of labour to go faster.

9.  Prepare for the labour and birth of your child by opening your hips, using meditation and calming breathing techniques.

10. You deserve this class and so does your child!



DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus Yoga programs may be found at  & 

Follow @littlelotusyoga on twitter for up to date information, recommended resources and to continue enjoying yoga with your children.

Join our “Little Lotus Yoga” fan page on Facebook to access pictures of postures, yoga sequences, guided meditations and recommended resources.

*Image credit: stock.xchng

Preventing Problems (or turning them around) at the Elementary Level

Why do so many parents look for tutoring support for their elementary-school aged children?

Admittedly, some parents have very high expectations for their children, and are not happy with anything less than a level 4 (“A”) on a report card.

Other parents, new to Canada, are concerned about their children’s ability to progress through the system without some extra support in their new language, English.

But most (at least in my long experience) start looking for support because there is a disconnect between the child’s intellectual ability and his/her performance at school.

Most often that disconnect will show up in language, specifically written language – in the child’s ability to learn to read and write.   In fact, reading disability accounts for 70 to 80% of all learning disabilities.  In Canada that means well over 2 million people.

But not all children who struggle with reading and writing have a congenital neurological condition ~ what is commonly known as a learning disability.  Some simply require more direct instruction or a more personally-tailored approach than those who learn to read easily. 

Whatever the cause of a child’s struggle to become literate, research has shown that early detection of the signs of future reading difficulties, coupled with early intervention, can help many avoid the struggle and go on to become successful readers.

Early identification is not difficult, but it requires a commitment of time and resources from schools and individual teachers to assess children’s skills in the following areas:

  • ·         Listening comprehension
  • ·         Vocabulary knowledge
  • ·         Phonological awareness
  • ·         Print awareness, concept of word awareness, and the alphabetic principle
  • ·         Phonemic awareness
  • ·         Blending strategies
  • ·         Sight word knowledge
  • ·         Comprehending Strategies
  • ·         Fluency

I have, for many years, strongly advocated that students’ literacy skills be assessed from the time they enter SK until they reach the end of grade 3.  Here, I am not talking about the EQAO, but rather of individualized assessment for the purpose of detecting early problems and developing individualized or small group remedial programming. 

Although what will be tested will be different in SK than in grade 3, the principle is the same.  Catch the difficulty early, before it becomes a real problem.  It’s important.  Children who don’t read well by the end of grade 3 are in real danger of not ever reading well if they don’t get the support they need ~ and that deficiency will be carried over into everything they do at school.

Does the school you teach in ~ or the school your child attends ~ offer yearly assessment of children’s literacy skills?  If not, it’s time for some serious discussion.

Local area support is available for schools, teachers, and parents. You just have to pick up the phone.

Snow much Fun!

The BEST thing about snow is the fun that we can have frolicking in the cold and fluffy white stuff!  What to do in T.O.? 


January is smack down in the middle of the outdoor skating season and there are many outdoor rinks that are great for family skates.  I think that I have to especially mention Samuel Smith Park near Humber College at Lakeshore and Kipling.  This park is home to Toronto’s FIRST skate trail!  Our friends at 1 LOVE TO talk about it here.  Find all other outdoor rinks here.

For those who would rather skate in the controlled weather environments of indoor rinks, find a list of Toronto arenas here.


Yes… we can ski and snowboard in Toronto!  Centennial and Earl Bales Parks have great hills that are run by the city and offer lessons and equipment rental for the beginners. 



 Any hill would do for a great day of toboganning, but the hills that have gained fame for being the best hills in Toronto for an awesome sled run are found in Riverdale Park, Christie Pits Park and Lithuania Park.

…and then of course we can never go wrong with making snow men, snow angels and forts in our backyards!

Have fun and be safe!

*image credit:

❤❤❤❤ Peace, Love and Cupcakes

~ Nerissa





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Lunchtime Solution: Flexible Fried Rice

For those of you that have read my past posts, you know I am a big fan of the quick, no-rules, multi-meal recipe.  If I can substitute ingredients, do fast easy prep in advance and use a meal more than once, I’m in. Even better is a recipe that can be pulled together when you did not get a chance to go grocery shopping and you need to put together a school lunch or dinner with the handful of items in the fridge and pantry.  What is that dish you ask?  Fried Rice. 

I had not made fried rice in years and although I love it, usually avoid it when ordering Chinese.  When eating out, it is the kind of dish that tastes so good upon the first few bites but leaves you with a salty fat feeling.  My family and I were vacationing in Hawaii over the holidays and rice is an important staple in the local diet.  Rice is always an optional side and a typical Hawaiian “plate” lunch is served with steamed rice and macaroni.  We had rented a house on the Big Island so we made 2 of our 3 meals each day and served a lot of steamed rice which naturally resulted in leftovers.  Hawaii has the most geographically isolated population so food is expensive and you really don’t want to waste any. The cuisine is also heavily influenced by Asian cultures so fried rice was a perfect way to use up leftover proteins, vegetables and herbs from previous meals.  By the end of my trip, fried rice with Kalua pork and fried egg became my favourite breakfast.

This recipe for fried rice met all my qualifications for a good school lunch option.  Fast, adaptable to kids preferences, made from leftovers or prepped alongside another meal, and healthy.  Yes, fried rice can be unhealthy but there is no reason to use the amount of salt and fat in restaurant versions.  I used brown rice, light soy sauce and very little fat.  My base version incorporates ingredients I know will hold well for a few hours in a thermos, I know my kids will eat and I almost always have on hand. 

Use this recipe as a guideline for really there are no rules when it comes to fried rice.   In one of my test versions, I used Swiss chard, salmon and cilantro.  You can season with soy sauce or even hoisin, or oyster sauce or just salt and pepper and fresh herbs.  When using soy sauce or chilli sauce I would just caution to season at the end and add incrementally as you can always add more.


Vegetable Fried Rice

(4-6 side dish servings)

2 cups cooked brown rice (best made 1 day in advance or fully cooled to fridge temp)

2 eggs beaten lightly

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 green onion

½ cup corn

1 tsp grated ginger

2 TB light  soy sauce **

2 TB vegetable oil

Add a small amount of oil to the pan.  Add eggs stirring occasionally until cooked.  Break eggs apart in pan and set aside.  Alternately you can cook eggs omelette style and slice into ribbons.

Heat skillet to medium heat and add vegetable oil.  Sauté onion and celery until soft.  Add ginger and sauté for one minute.  Stir so ginger does not burn.  Add mushrooms and cook until all vegetables are cooked through.  Add rice and corn and sauté until heated through. Incorporate egg and then season with soy sauce.  Green onion can also be added at this point or used as a garnish.

The rice can also be done in a wok at high heat, however, instead of adding grated ginger, season the oil with a piece of ginger prior to sautéing vegetables.

There are of course limitless variations on this dish using different proteins, vegetables and grains.  In addition to rice, try roasted buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, bulgur or even couscous.

** Light soy sauce contains almost half of the sodium of regular soy sauce.  1 TB of light soy sauce contains 24% of daily sodium intake.  This recipe would contain 12% of daily sodium requirement.

Tracey is owner of Epicuria and mother of two young boys.  Watch for her lunchtime solutions here at Best Tools for Schools. Follow her on Twitter @epicuriadotca

Outside the Classroom: Ottawa Edition – Winter Family Fun

I love the outdoors, but mostly from April to October. From November until the end of March, I hibernate. I didn’t realise this until I went through the thousands and thousands of pictures I had taken of my children last year, and saw that there were very few shots of them outside in the winter. I felt badly that they were missing out on some of the wonderful winter activities that I enjoyed so much as a child. This year, I have decided to change the way I approach the winter, and introduce my children to winter fun and exercise.

This year, my children and I have already been out tobogganing. We all had so much fun. What I found to be very helpful was the City of Ottawa list of approved toboggan hills.  This is a great resource because each toboggan hill has a short blurb written about the hill. The description includes the size of the hill, whether or not there is parking, and further relevant information pertaining to each particular hill. This allows you to choose a hill that will best suit your family.

There are 248 outdoor skating rinks in Ottawa. On the City of Ottawa website, there is a complete list. The list is divided into east and west locations. It also includes the type of ice surface and whether there are washrooms available. It also lets you know if each rink has boards, lights, and supervision. The only thing left to do is to get out and skate. Don’t forget your camera!

The easiest winter activity to do as a family is to build a snow fort. This can be as simple or as challenging as you make it. When I was a kid, my older brother used to build extreme forts, with tunnels and towers. I used to decorate the site with snow angels and snowmen. The point was, we could do this together, it costs no money, and it’s fun. The best part? The snowball fights at the end!

Gwen H.

Gwen blogs at She can also be found on Twitter @GwenVsTheKids


How are you using your E Reader?

Many people I know now own a Kobo Reader.  I haven’t played around with mine too much, but something made me give it a second chance.  Yesterday Author David Bach sent out a link to his new book Debt Free For Life as a free Ebook.

Now I love free things, but do not enjoy reading a novel on my computer.  I sent out some posts on Facebook and Twitter wondering if Kobo now had the capability to download Ebooks.  One of my friends said that someone in her office treated it like an external hard drive and was able to download it.  Now that I knew it was possible, I had to figure it out.

The end result was SUCCESS!

Here are the steps I took

  • Have your Kobo connected to your computer. 
  • Go to this link
  • Select Save As, BUT don’t pick anything from the list
  • Select COMPUTER & a new window pops up
  • Select you’re KOBO port (in my case it was J)
  • Select OPEN-then at the bottom of the screen a save/download status bar shows up (then do whatever happens next-I cant recall)
  • Then go back & save it to your hard drive too just in case ;)

After it’s finished it should be listed on the front page of your Kobo under “I’m Reading”

*Note if your Kobo battery need charging (like mine did) the listing won’t show up until the Kobo has been disconnected after the battery has been revived.

Lisa is a Mother to one son.  Co-Host of MeFest, Half of @Those2Girls & a lover of all things Facebook & Twitter.

Book Review: Rude Stories

Christmas is behind us. The holiday stories have been put away and the kids are settling back into their regular routine. Time to break out the Rude Stories. Yup you read that correctly. Tundra Book’s Rude Stories (age 6-9 ) written by Jan Andrews and illustrated by Francis Blake, is a a book containing 8 rude stories based on folklore from around the world. And they are rude, kid-friendly rude. My 6 year old son listened to the stories intently; he loved a story that tossed in subject matter he joked about with his friends and younger sister.

To give you an idea of what I mean by rude, The Magic Bottom Fan is a story about a magical fan that can make bottoms big if you fan it with the patterned side and make bottoms smaller if you fan them with the plain side. Yes, ‘bottoms’ does refer to what you think it does. The Skeleton in the Rocking Chair is about a man’s dead wife who decided she’s not ready to die and hangs out in the rocking chair.

The stories are short and make a quick read in an afternoon or before bed. If you have a reluctant story reader and listener, like my son, Rude Stories might appeal them.

I have to thank Sylvia from Tundra Books for my review copy

Rude Stories

written by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Francis Blake

age 6-9

Tundra 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.

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