Light Up the Night – Magical Musical Christmas Light Displays

IMG_2549Lights sparkle and shine as they dance with the music. Delight in the twins eyes as they wait in anticipation, the music building, wondering what will come. Then, in a crescendo of light and music together the spectacle really begins. Movement and rhythm, flowing and moving as their eyes follow the dance. This wonderful light display one of many that light up Calgary this holiday season.

I’ve always enjoyed those videos on youTube with the houses all decorated for Christmas and the musical accompaniment that goes in time with the light display. I always thought how cool that would be to see some of those live instead of just online. Little did I know that in Calgary there are a number of houses that do have such a light display. When my friend told me this a couple of years ago I was quite excited! So one night we went out and did a tour. It was wonderful! We enjoyed the light display from the comfort of our car, tuning into the posted radio station, which plays the music in time with the lights.

People are quite creative, incorporating all kinds of things with usually about 4 or 5 different songs before the show repeats. This year I took the kids out to see the lights for the first time. We made an evening of it, bringing hot chocolate and snacks to enjoy while we watched the lights. Luke and Chloe loved it! Dancing and moving it in the van while watching in wonder. We stayed at each house until the full set had run and then moved on to the next one.

IMG_2544The neat thing is that there are tons of them in Calgary and you can view as many or as few as you like. The site Lighten Up Calgary lists and maps out the houses that have such displays and you simply go to the site and create your route. We visited 3 houses when we went out last week but that was just the right amount for Luke and Chloe. And I thought it was great that they knew their limit and knew when it was time to go home. I would’ve have gone to one more, but they had seen, enjoyed and were ‘full’.

They fell asleep on our way home, tummies full of hot chocolate, and dreaming of dancing lights. Next year I’m sure we’ll go out again, as it’s another great free family activity to enjoy over the holidays. Most of them play every night in December and up until New Year’s. Who knows maybe one year we’ll even create our own display and be on the route – apparently it’s as simple as buying a kit. How fun will that be!

Sugar Free Hermit Cookies – a delectable soft Christmas Cookie

beet dyed & spinach dyed icingWhen I was growing  up one of the things I loved about Christmas time was all the delectable baking my Mum would make. She’d spend weeks making all kinds of recipes, putting them in containers and freezing them for the season. She’d make things like Isch Tarlets, Venetians and Neopolitans. The names alone sounded exotic and there was more!  We often found ourselves with a plethora of leftover baking come January and well, I happily ate threw it.
Of course we had the more common Christmas baking such as whipped shortbread with cherries on top and gingerbread, but I always loved the unique ones. In fact my favorite Christmas cookie was always Hermit cookies. A spicy, soft fruit drop cookie made with a little dash of coffee. The flavors in this cookie are divine, as they mellow with age and become even more delicious as the days pass. The good news was that my sisters and Dad didn’t care for them, only Mum and me, so I basically got the entire batch to myself!
When I ventured out on my own I would make these for my family, hoping that no one else would like them. As luck would have it my husband did not, but turned out that my son did.  So I shared, reluctantly.
IMG_0755When we went dairy and sugar free back in 2010, I didn’t make these cookies for a while as I could never get around the mixed fruit that goes into the cookie. Mixed fruit is deep in a thick sugary syrup, and though I tried to find alternatives or even make my own fruit mix, I could not find a way around it.
So this year I gave in. I really wanted these cookies! And I bought a container of mixed fruit to make these cookies. I modified the rest of the recipe for sugar free hermit cookies and resigned myself to the fact that if I wanted them I had to let this one thing go…for now.
I was so excited! As I was baking them I remembered all the unique flavors I love and the delectable cookie that would result at the end. I knew that my oldest would gobble them up, but these were new to the twins, so we would see if they liked them. The smells wafted through the kitchen and I couldn’t wait to try one!
Of course, they were excellent. Turning out perfectly. I was very pleased. And it turns out that Luke and Chloe do like them (taking after their mother), so I guess I have to share a little more 🙂
Sugar Free Hermit Cookies
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp saltIMG_6775
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. coconut sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. cold coffee
1 – 250 g container mixed fruit
1 c. golden raisins
1 c. walnuts (I usually omit these because I don’t care for nuts in my cookies but original recipe calls for them)
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves onto wax paper. Beat shortening, coconut sugar, egg and coffee together until fluffy and light. Stir in flour mixture, blending well. Add mixed fruit and raisins (and nuts if using), mix well. Drop by teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and bake at 375F for approximately 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Let cool on wire racks. Once cool store in airtight container. Flavors will mellow and voila you have a soft, fruity delicious cookie! Makes 3 dozen.

Banff’s Santa Claus Parade

IMG_6729The main street is lined with people, children and adults alike. Lights all aglow, shops closed and waiting in anticipation for what’s to come. Snow glitters on the sidewalks and the majestic mountains surround us. It’s beautiful.

Excitement is in the air as children peek out from the crowd to look down the street to see if it’s begun. To see if Santa and his parade are coming. Waiting patiently, yet continually asking Mom and Dad if it’s time yet. This is Banff’s annual Santa Claus parade, held at night with the beauty and magic of Christmas lights all around.

IMG_6700We attended this beautiful event for the first time this year, and it is well worth the trip out to Banff. Currently run by Banff Lake Louise Tourism for the past 7 years, this event has been hosted by the Town of Banff for many years prior. The parade itself is actually the finale of a day filled with kid friendly and family activities such as face painting, balloon twisting, Christmas carols and a visit and photo with Santa down at the train station. There’s also horse drawn wagon rides, tasty treats and of if you’re up for it, a nice soak in the hot springs (which is available every day of the year but is always lovely).

I love touring Banff Avenue and spending time in the Christmas Shoppe. My youngest two, screaming in delight at the grand display of Christmas houses and towns. The ornaments are many, the options are delightful and there is no shortage of Christmas anywhere.

IMG_6723The parade itself is only half an hour long, which I feel is the perfect length for children, who remain engaged and excited the whole time. The floats were gorgeous, creative and unique all lit up as they moved down the street. From the Girl Guides to Sunshine Village there was an excellent representation of the town.

Of course I loved that it was at night. It just added to the atmosphere and excitement with all the floats magically lit up. Even my oldest son, who is 12 and I was unsure if he would like it, expressed that he did enjoy it and said it was “cool”, which meant we had success.

IMG_6677I think Santa Claus parades are such a fabulous idea and up until recently only knew of the big ones in Toronto and New York. I didn’t realize that many of the local towns in and around Calgary host their own Santa Claus Parades and they are quite well done! Parades are held in High River, Okotoks, Airdrie, and Cochrane (which if you still want to attend a Santa Claus Parade this season is this Saturday, December 12th). I think it’s a great way to celebrate the season and your community. And everyone has that little flare and does things a little differently, distinguishing themselves from the rest.

You can go to any of the town’s websites for details and pick the ones you want, or even do a tour! of Santa Parades – how fun would that be? We are already planning for Banff again next year, hoping to take full advantage of the day and all the activities they have to offer. We might even take the plunge and stay overnight!

IMG_6696It creates such great memories an event that I hope every family has the opportunity to enjoy.

Have you attended a Santa Claus parade this year? Share with us your memories and experience.

The Lions Festival of Lights – A Free Calgary Light Display

This weekend I attended the kickoff of the Lions Festival of Lights, a free drive by light display housed at Confederation Golf Course, and has been on in Calgary for 29 years.

IMG_6657Located along 14 St. NW, just south of 24 Ave., this light display has over 115,000 lights and is Calgary’s largest drive by display. Set up by over 3000 volunteer hours, this year the display is completely green with all LED lights.

Each year they kick off the event with family activities, concert and treats and this year was no exception. They were ice sculptures, Singing Santa and Mrs. Clause (who really got the crowd rocking) as well as free hot chocolate and cookies. I was having a great time enjoying the tunes and bee bopping with the crowd (Santa really was good and quite creative in his singing).

IMG_1355At 6 pm, the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, threw the switch to officially open and light up the park for the 2015 season. And to top it off a beautiful display of fireworks lit up the sky for everyone to enjoy. People were then invited to stay and enjoy the lights and the park.

In my 17 years in Calgary, this was the first time I had ever gone to see this lights display. I had heard of it but never attended. And this was the first time that I was aware that they did any kind of official kickoff – and honestly I was impressed. Not only with the event itself but the reasons why the display existed.

IMG_6650The Lions Club does this display every year as a way of thanking Calgarians for all their support and generosity throughout the year. The Confederation Golf Course supports the display as part of their mandate is to provide other activities than golf for Calgarians, which is why they not only open up their grounds for the Christmas display but also for cross country skiing and sledding in the winter months. I think this is a fantastic way for everyone to give back to the community and benefit!

IMG_1348 - Version 2Even though this is largely a drive by display, it is just as enjoyable to park and take a walk through the park enjoying the lights in a more intimate way. The display really is quite phenomenal and the best part about it is it’s free! I find there are so many additional costs at this time of year that is it pleasant to be able to enjoy something at no cost.

So pack up the family, friends, significant others, even grab some hot chocolate and take a tour down to Confederation Golf Course and check out the Lions Festival of Lights! They are open nightly from 6 pm to midnight until January 8.

How to Set up an Easter Egg Hunt

Easter Egg HuntThis weekend I have the pleasure of spending Easter with my extended family. An unusual occasion, my parents and two sisters with our families have come together in my parents BC home to celebrate my father’s 65th birthday. As an added bonus we get to throw Easter into the mix as it falls on the same weekend.

Growing up my sisters and I loved Easter morning. The Easter Bunny would often leave tracks and paw prints, as a a little dirt in the house, as well as fill and hide our baskets and Easter Eggs. We love hunting for everything, in fact this was as much fun as what was in the basket and eggs when we found them. The eggs were the best part. I think because there were so many of them. You’d find one and then there’d be more and more. And sometimes we’d even miss one or two, finding them later in the year because the Easter Bunny had hidden them so well. Now with my own children, I continue the tradition of hiding eggs.

Easter weekend in OliverMy children love it just as much as I did. Peeking out of their room Easter morning, discovering a trail of eggs from their bedroom and down the stairs. Sometimes they discover the Easter Bunny has even left one or two in their room! And they get so excited to learn that he was so close.

Of course over the years I have gotten creative with the hunt. Sometimes hiding eggs outside or making a scavenger hunt out of it with clues inside and a larger prize at the end. In my creativity I got curious, as I do, about the hunt for eggs even began, and what other people were doing with this fun fabulous event.

I discovered this traditional Easter activity has been done for many centuries. Part of a salute to spring it is done in a variety of ways.

The Easter Egg Hunt is a tradition that many children participate in all over the world every Easter. It is a simple activity of finding colored eggs and putting them in an Easter basket. No matter how the hunt is conducted children get excited about this yearly activity.

Easter Egg HuntHistory of the Easter Egg Hunt

Easter originated as part of the pagan spring celebrations with both the egg and the rabbit as symbols of rebirth and fertility. The egg specifically was a symbol of the rebirth of the earth in the spring. These celebrations of spring and rebirth were adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In my search I learned that there is no known date as to when the Easter Egg Hunt originated, but that the Easter Egg itself has been around for many centuries. In Medieval Europe eggs were forbidden during the Lenten season and therefore were a prized gift when received on Easter Sunday. Eggs were often given wrapped in gold leaves or boiled with leaves or petals of certain flowers to create brightly colored eggs. This tradition eventually evolved into what is known as Egg Rolls and the Easter Egg Hunt.

Variations on How to Set Up an Easter Egg Hunt

There are many different ways to set up an Easter Egg Hunt. Depending on the ages of the participants and what is used in the hunt. All variations may be set up inside or outside.

You will need:

Easter EggsEggs – colored hollow plastic eggs, chocolate eggs, hard-boiled colored eggs, paper eggs on colored paper (you could color your own eggs with the kids earlier in the week and hide those)

Baskets or fun container for collecting eggs (you could do an Easter craft making your own decorative container or basket)

  1. For each child that is hunting have them choose one color of egg (green, yellow, pink, etc.) Whatever color they choose is the only color egg that they are to retrieve. Hide the eggs inside or out, clearly outline the boundaries and let them hunt! This is great when kids of a variety of ages are hunting because it makes it fair. Older children will not take all the eggs because they are hunting only for their color and it gives the younger children an opportunity to hunt and enjoy themselves.
  2. Set up like a treasure hunt; hide paper eggs with clues on them. For young children, one can simply write the name of the place they need to go to next, like “living room” or “kitchen”. For older children one can develop clues or riddles that they have to solve in order to figure out where to go next. Make as many clues as desired. The last clue will lead the child to his Easter treat.
  3. When doing a hunt for a large group, hide only the colored plastic eggs. Children may use an Easter basket to collect their eggs and may collect as many as they can find. When they are done hunting children then return to the start and trade in all their colored eggs for an Easter treat.

I’m also a firm believer that adults can participate too! All adults need to play and I have watched countless adults enjoy games and treasure hunts. In fact last year I set up a hunt for my friend and he loved it. His eyes lit up and he was so excited as I watched him zoom around finding clues. And of course that is one of the reasons I love that I get to share Easter with my family this weekend. Both my parents and sisters love to play and love to celebrate the holidays, so tomorrow morning there will be a hunt for all of us. And I am sooo excited!!!

Valentine’s Day Martini

IMG_4677As some of you know, I am really into martinis these days. It started last fall when my love of pumpkin helped me to discover a recipe for a pumpkin martini. I wasn’t a huge fan of martinis at the time as I had found that most of them were kind of sour, or way too strong for my liking. But I had tried a few, my youngest sister being a fan of them, her favorite being the Cosmo.

The pumpkin martini was absolutely divine! It became my new favorite and as a result I decided to venture out and try some other martini combinations. I’ve enjoyed Lavender one, Gingerbread, and a Poison Apple to name a few.

And now every time we approach a holiday, I am on the hunt for a new one to try that fits with theme of that holiday. Valentine’s Day was no exception, so earlier this week I set out searching the internet for a fabulous ‘Valentine’s’ recipe to try. There were so many to choose from, many with a common theme of red and some kind of fruit, either raspberries or strawberries. Many I have earmarked and saved to my Pinterest board for taste testing at a later date.

The Raspberry Chocolate Kiss Martini was the one that caught my eye and won the privilege of being ‘tested’ for this Valentine’s. Originally created by chef Michael Schulson, I had a few adjustments to make but knew it could be done. First off I had to figure out how to make my own simple syrup, which is basically sugar and water. I had thought before that I could probably do this with agave nectar instead of sugar and create the same thing, but had yet to try it. Well now was the time and I am happy to say it worked very well.

One thing I puzzled over though in the original recipe was the chocolate part (or lack of in my opinion). The only thing that presented any chocolate at all was the cookie rim that went on the glass, not really what I would consider enough chocolate to merit chocolate in the title! So I experimented. I tried making the martini and sprinkling cacao nibs on top. Honestly that did not do much. Then I tried chocolate shavings sprinkled on top, that was better.

I experimented a little more, rimming the martini glass in chocolate icing, ahhhh…now we’re talking. I also tried dipping the rim in melted chocolate and then letting it cool and solidify before adding the martini mix. All, I found were very good solutions to the chocolate I felt was truly missing in this drink. Which is the best? That’s hard to say. I think you should perhaps try them out and then let me know which one you think is the best 🙂

This martini in general is fabulous, a very delicious fruity sweet drink. I do advise you to be careful though as the sweet easily masks the vodka in it and it goes down very smoothly!

So serve your sweet something a little different this Valentine’s, or baby just make one for yourself and enjoy!

Raspberry Chocolate Martini

*1/4 c. mint infused syrup

10 raspberries

2 oz. vodka

2 tbsp. cranberry juice

ice cubes

Chocolate options:

rim glass with chocolate icing or

dip rim of martini glass in melted chocolate, let cool or

sprinkle chocolate shavings on top of drink

Place raspberries in a martini shaker and shake till crushed. Add mint infused syrup, shake again. Now add vodka, cranberry juice and ice. Shake well until chilled. Pour into martini glass, sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Enjoy! If rimming glass with icing or melted chocolate do this step before pouring martini into glass

*Mint Infused Syrup

1/4 c. agave nectar

1 c. water

1 bunch mint

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan on stove over medium heat. Stir and heat until agave nectar has dissolved. Take off heat and let cool. Strain through a sieve, syrup is ready to use. May be kept in fridge in an air tight container up to 2 weeks.

Everything Chocolate

IMG_4653Rich dark chocolate melting in your mouth, delighting the palate as it brings your tastebuds to life and activates natural soothing in the brain, making us feel oh so good.

Chocolate dating back to the Aztecs and Romans, has long since been considered an aphrodisiac, a treat associated with love and romance. Women love it, men crave it. Not only is it a popular gift, but a popular treat as well.

It’s no wonder that during the week of Valentine’s Day, a holiday long associated with love and romance, 58 million pounds of chocolates are sold, being the third largest holiday in sales of this popular treat (Halloween being first with Easter as the second).

The good news is that chocolate is actually good for you, as it contains fat, produces natural opiates which soothe nerves and make us feel good, as well as natural chemicals that lower your risk of cancer and heart disease (sounding pretty good doesn’t it?) Chocolate provides even more health benefits when made with cacao instead of cocoa, both derived from the same bean but processed differently, creating a superfood (cacao) that is rich in vitamins and minerals (getting better and better all the time).

IMG_4647Chocolate is also one of those things that goes with and can be used in just about anything, creating a myriad of delights for the palate to enjoy, a sensation of pleasure and joy in our human experience.

Since I have discovered how to make my own chocolate at home, (ready in about 10 minutes this really is a quick simple and easy way to make chocolate), we have not only been able to enjoy more chocolate in our home, but also enjoy lots of great things around the holidays.

For instance, this Valentine’s Day, we will enjoy heart shaped chocolates, Chocolate Dream Pie, Chocolate Truffles and if the spirit moves me, I may even make Chocolate Cupcakes with chocolate icing of course (even better these recipes are sugar free and dairy free). I love doing it up around the holidays and seeing what kind of fun things I can create; and the kids look forward to it!

Making your own chocolate is very easy, all you need is cacao butter, cacao powder, vanilla and natural sweetener of your choice (such as honey, pure maple syrup, etc.) I have a detailed post on how to make chocolate, as well as one on possible additions or variations you could use to flavor or fill your yummy chocolates.

IMG_4655This chocolate mix is also great for making Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (simply dip fresh strawberries in warm melted chocolate before it sets) or using it for Chocolate Fondue.

Other chocolate delights I have discovered, whether it be for Valentine’s Day or other, are Chocolate Macaroons (could shape them into little hearts for Valentine’s), Chocolate Pudding (one with chia seeds, one simple chocolate), Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Waffles, Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Smoothies and even Chocolate Marshmallows! And I love that they are all dairy free and naturally sweetened! On holidays, like Valentines, I often have a hard time picking only a few things to make 🙂

IMG_4658So now you know, you can live guilt free this Valentine’s Day and enjoy your chocolate; or you can venture out and make your own for yourself or to share with others (but you may not want to). Of course with anything, regardless of how good it is for you, everything in moderation (I know I just took all the fun out of it – but here’s the thing you can make MORE or try a new chocolate recipe, another version of chocolate).

So enjoy your chocolate with a great big smile this Valentine’s Day, and if no one gives you any, go get your own, it’s ok 🙂

*The majority of these recipes can be found on my blog or I have linked them to the appropriate site for you. Just click on the name and it will take you to the recipe. Enjoy!

The Healing Waters of Rotorua’s GeoThermal Hot Pools

IMG_3460Imagine yourself sitting in the natural waters of a geothermal hot pool, surrounded by lush green majestic trees and a waterfall cascading beside you. Soaking up warmth into your body, healing, relaxing, purifying.

Geothermal hot pools like this abound in New Zealand‘s Volcanic Zone in and around the town of Rotorua. Just a 3 hour drive from Auckland, this elegant, beautiful ‘hot spot’ is tucked in the lush area of the North Island’s east coast, known as the lake district (also including area down to Taupo).

The town itself literally sits in the crater of an active volcano, creating the abundance of geothermal activity in the area. Sights such as geysers, mud pools and hot pools abound. Where the earth bubbles, boils, spits and oozes offering a plethora of unique sights to behold.

IMG_0268You can explore the town and surrounding area, finding many public hot pools to enjoy, some regulated by private parties and charging admission (Blue Baths, Polynesian Spa, Hell’s Gate and Waikite Vallley Thermal Pools), while other spots have been left natural and available to the public free of charge (such as Kuirau Park, Kerosene Creek and Waiotapu Stream).

IMG_0247When we were there, we ventured to Kerosene Creek, as we thought it would be a neat experience to be in a natural environment. We were not opposed to paying to enjoy the waters somewhere else, but thought that experiencing the pool in a natural environment would be a lovely experience. Plus our hostess at the Tuck Inn, where we were staying, a beautiful farm tucked in the lush New Zealand landscape, recommended we go there.

I was a little nervous at first, it was a little off the beaten track and there weren’t a lot of people around. When we arrived at the parking lot, we decided to just get out and take a walk first, check things out, and if it didn’t meet our expectations then we would head back to the Waikite Hot Pools, which weren’t that far down the road.

It was a beautiful spot, lush native bush with the creek running through. You could walk along the path beside the creek, discovering various pools along the way where you could pop in for a soak. We did meet a few other people who were enjoying the waters and I started to relax a little. The best spot was a large pool at the base of a waterfall. Easy to get down to and large enough for quite a number of people.

IMG_3455The kids all wanted to get in, I was still unsure. Was it safe, what if someone came by and grabbed our stuff? Plus it was a little nippy outside, I was not looking forward to stripping down even though it would be warm in the end.

Finally, I decided we might as well. So we grabbed our suits and got everyone changed. Matthew was in first and floating around, then D’Wayne ready to receive the twins once I got them ready. It wasn’t too deep, the twins could easily stand up safely in some areas of the pool. I quickly changed myself and got in with everyone else.

Oh my! It was absolutely lovely. I felt all my troubles and stress melt away almost immediately. The sand beneath my feet was warm and felt good between my toes. You had to be careful though, if you dug your feet in under the sand it could get quite hot, almost burning.

We splashed and played in the pool for 45 minutes, almost having the entire place to ourselves. A few others drifted by, and a few got in towards the end of our time. It was heavenly and so relaxing! We could have stayed longer but we wanted to also check out the mud pool and were getting hungry as well. Everyone felt relaxed yet revitalized and ready for the next adventure.

IMG_0264We hopped out and changed quickly, now that was a little nippy! But felt great! We snapped a few more pictures on our way back to the car, and then ventured off to the Mud Pool.

The Mud Pool was super cool. And was actually only a short 5 minute drive down the road near the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland (also the home to the Lady Knox Geyser and a plethora of trails and other thermal sites to see). The Thermal Wonderland does have an admission fee, but the Mud Pool is just outside of this area.

IMG_0267It was amazing. Mud literally spurting, spitting and bubbling. The smell is also fantastic! That lovely rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, which is well known throughout Rotorua (though I did find that depending on the area depended on how strong the smell was, some hardly noticable or not so bad, the mud pool was definitely the worst!)

There is a little boardwalk to view the mud pool from, as well as a short trail to take you up above to look down upon the pool below. It was just fascinating.

The mud and hot pools are enough to keep you busy for a number of days. Just enjoying the natural wonders of this area. But Rotorua and the surrounding valley is also rich in Maori culture (the indigenous people of New Zealand) and history, dating back hundreds of years. As a result there are lots of things to experience and see around this, such as The Living Thermal Village, the Buried Village TeWairoa and Te Puia.

Rotorua is so rich in these experiences, we wanted to do them all, but since we were only there for a short time we had to pick and choose a little. Te Puia called to us the most (and turns out has the most fantastic geyser), and was an absolutely fabulous experience! And one that I will share with you in my next post.

To Drink Gingerbread

IMG_4491I know Christmas is over. And New Year’s is done too. And this is really something more suited to the Christmas season. But I couldn’t resist posting this martini I created over the holidays. Yes I created it!

I was on a gingerbread kick over Christmas, looking for different ways to enjoy this delectable Christmas flavor. I had already discovered and tested gingerbread waffles, gingerbread muffins and of course gingerbread cookies (classic). Earlier this Fall I was delving into the martini world, trying some Halloween ones, pumpkin one, and a few others. I thought there must be a gingerbread one I can make.

So I hopped on Pinterest, my new favorite go to for recipes and looked it up. I found a number of recipes but most of them had Baileys in it and I wanted to avoid the dairy. There were some that were almost but not quite. So I decided to experiment, I took parts that I liked from different recipes and combined and adjusted them, creating my own version of the gingerbread martini. Dairy free, not quite sugar free, there’s just a teensy bit in it, I tried to get it completely sugar free but couldn’t quite do it (maybe down the road I’ll figure it out get it completely sugar free). Though honestly you would never know, this is a very sweet martini and extremely delicious.

Once I got all the components right and tried it, I phoned my Mum to share. She immediately wanted the recipe and went to try it herself. 20 minutes later she phoned back with one word, “Yum”.

Now I realize it is not the Christmas season when gingerbread is most popular but I could not sit on this delectable recipe for an entire year! Besides isn’t gingerbread good any time of year? Valentine’s? or Christmas in July.

Give it a try. If you like gingerbread you’ll love this. Enjoy!IMG_4493

Gingerbread Martini

1 1/2 ounces (3 tbsp.) vodka

1 ounce (2 tbsp.) gingerbread syrup*

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) Creme de cacao

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) unsweetened coconut milk (I used Silk unsweetened coconut milk)

Put all ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake to mix. Pour into martini glass. May adorn glass with mini gingerbread cookie if desired.

*Gingerbread Syrup

IMG_4497

Gingerbread Syrup

1/2 c. water

1/2 c. coconut sugar

4 tbsp. barley malt

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, mix together water, coconut sugar, barley malt, ginger and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool before using in drink. May be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

To Dip or not to Dip?

IMG_4481There’s nothing like a good dip at a party! Something warm, cheesy and delectable to dip that cracker or tortilla chip in. Yum! Of course there are lots of other yummy dips that are served cool and aren’t as heavy or dense as the cheesy ones. In fact I have discovered some great ones over the past few months, usually from sampling at Community Natural Foods, our local natural food store, such as a sweet carrot dip and spinach dip.

I think dips make great snacks, not only are they good at parties but they are also great for that late night munching, especially if you are looking for something a little more healthy. Things like hummus, black bean dip and the above veggie dips are very tasty and satisfying. Though I have to say sometimes I just want a nice creamy, cheesy warm dip, full of flavor and taste!

That’s why when I discovered this yummy dip back in the spring I was in heaven. I was hosting a Pampered Chef party and this was the recipe I chose to try. The original recipe was so full of dairy but I knew I could substitute and it would turn out fantastic. And I was right, it was fantastic!

images-36I was so pleased that I now had a yummy dairy free creamy cheese warm dip to make (I know that’s a mouthful). It is a super simple recipe, done all in your microwave (though I am not a huge fan of making it in the microwave I have yet to figure out how to get around that). It takes no time at all to make. It’s a great dip for parties, snacking or New Year’s Eve gatherings, made with ingredients that you’ll likely have around at home (unless this is your first recipe that’s dairy free than maybe not, but trust me the dairy free version is worth it and provides lots of health benefits. Plus it has Kale, that’s a superfood)

Kale and Artichoke Dip

1 – 12oz jar artichokes, drained

1 – 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts

2 c. Daiya mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 c. grated vegan parmesan cheese (I use Go Veggie Soy Parmesan)

1/2 c. veganaiseIMG_4479

1/2 c. vegan sour cream

2 cloves, garlic

3 c. fresh kale leaves, stems removed and torn into pieces

baked pita chips, triscuit crackers or cut up vegetables for dipping

Place artichokes and water chestnuts in a manual food processor. Process until coarsley chopped and place in a microwave safe glass or ceramic covered dish (8×8 square or round).

Add mozzarella, parmesan, veganaise and sour cream. Mince garlic and add to baker, or use garlic press.

Microwave on High for 2 minutes until cheeses begin to melt. Remove from microwave and mix with spatula until well blended.

Place kale in food processor and process until finely chopped. Add kale to cheese mixture and stir in well. Put covered dish back in microwave and cook on High for 2-3 minutes. Stirring halfway through, until hot and bubbly.

Serve immediately with chips or veggies. Serves 30