Chocolate Peanut Butter Delights

For the last five years, I basically cut refined sugar from my diet.  We all know what the experts say about it, and for me, they were right.  Often, I had awful migraines, a couple forcing me to stay in bed for a week, and when my acupuncturist suggested cutting refined sugar, I felt desperate enough to do anything.  Little did I know the difference it would make in my life.

Even though I felt lively and healthy, there were so many moments when my cravings for something sweet were almost unbearable.  Fruit was okay, but it didn’t satisfy that chocolately need that I wanted.  These treats saved me, and so, many years later, I thought I should share in case they can “save” someone else’s sweet tooth.

I absolutely LOVE baking, but when I bake in general, I often eye ball my measurements.  Hopefully my eye-to-true measurements are accurate enough!

Ingredients:
2 cups of pecans
2 cups of dates
2 cups of dark chocolate (source carefully and check the label!)
1 cup of peanut butter (natural, only peanuts! Add more if you want it more of a peanut butter flavour)

Steps:
1) Dump your pecans and dates into your food processor and blend until it starts clumping on the sides (around 2 minutes).
2) Pour the blended mixture into a 9×13 pan – or really any size you have. The smaller your pan, the thicker the squares will be. You might want to line your pan with parchment paper or tin foil so your clean up is essentially none! Spread out evenly into the pan, and pat down with your hand.
3) Melt your dark chocolate and peanut butter on low heat, on the stove top, stirring constantly.
4) Pour on top and spread evenly over the crust.
5) Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until hard, and then cut and serve!

Enjoy!

IMG_1794

Paddling the Bow

Upon awaking early Canada Day morning, I grabbed my phone in bed and checked to see the latest news on Facebook. A free kayaking ride picture posted by The Paddle Station caught my eye. For those who don’t know me well, I love nothing more than a good deal, and free is the best deal of all! I commented on the post, and low and behold an hour later Daniel and I were heading to Shouldice Park for a kayaking adventure.

Now, the worst part about floating down the Bow is the car situation. Whose car do we leave where? Where will our ride end? The list of organizational questions is vast. Due to our limited time before our ride was beginning, we had to make a decision fast. The Paddle Station’s starting location is at Shouldice Park, and excitingly much to our surprise is in a Car2Go zone! Problem #1 solved!

When we arrived, we were greeted by the enthusiastically friendly owner, Ravi. Meeting business owners can be an interesting experience, to say the least, but Ravi is made for the job. He’s so humble and passionate about his business that it’s refreshing to be around. His team was setting up their station for the day, and went above and beyond our expectations. We were given an adorable waterproof blue tooth speaker, and a much needed (which we found out later!) dry bag. Because our ride was free, we were asked to wear Paddle Station flags as we floated, which we happily did. We signed the waiver, hopped into our double kayak, and began our mini adventure with our river tunes playing.

Around 1.5 hours later, we saw a friendly wave as we arrived at our destination stop in St. Patrick’s Island. We were paddling hard to make the inlet pit stop, and before I knew what happened, we were flipped into the Bow River. I guess that’s what we get for complaining about the heat! Thank goodness for that dry sac! We were offered a towel to dry off, thanked them for the awesome ride, and walked through St. Patrick’s Island on route home.

Often people feel like they need to escape from the city and reconnect with nature to refuel. I’m of course, guilty of this too. But on this day, not only did I do these without leaving the city, but my love and appreciation of Calgary grew even more. Paddling along, listening to the birds chirping and the waves rolling, I felt like I could have been anywhere but a city.

If you’re looking for a way to spend a morning or afternoon, or want to float down the river and don’t want to spend a fortune, I highly recommend checking out The Paddle Station. You’ll have an overwhelmingly amount of fun while supporting a wonderful local business!

Life Lessons Through Elephant and Piggie

If you know my family, we have this weirdness with pig nicknames. Upon the arrival of my new niece last year, I wanted to start on her a book series, and while browsing our school book fair came across a story called Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. 


I was immediately drawn to the title, but in all honesty, the book itself didn’t look that appealing to me. It’s written in comic style, with colour-coordinated speech bubbles for the characters, Gerald and Piggie. However, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are so lovable, empathetic, and melted my heart. My cousin, of course, agreed!

It wasn’t until recently when I came across a different story from the series, and thought about reading it to my grade 4 class. I was hestitant because of the simplicity of the book, but was surprised with a loud applause after we read it. Like me, they too are now addicted! They seek the series out at the library, share them with each other, and are constantly recommending a new story from the series. “Why?” I wondered. 

Sometimes I think as teachers we’re caught up in the need to teach our kids to read. To teach them to challenge themselves. To encourage them to read chapters book. But have we forgotten to teach our kids to enjoy reading? Don’t we want them to connect and relate to the characters? Find humour in texts? Empathize? 

This series has opened the doors for me in my classroom to teach children about friendship, character, and life lessons, but more importantly to be able to find themselves in a book! I challenge you to do the same. 

The City of Love

We wanted our last day in Paris to be a relaxing one. No lines, waiting, or traveling but just enjoying the final day of our holiday. Waking up later than normal, we decided to have a nice, long, sit down breakfast, or brunch really, as we would call it back home based on the time. For a small €13.50, we both began with a savory type crepe that consisted of ham and cheese, and an egg on top. 


Our next course was a sweet crepe. I ordered the apricot and Daniel went for chocolate. 


We concluded with a tasty americano. 


Now that our bellies were full, we could officially start our day. We stopped to purchase a box of macaroons to bring with us as we walked along the banks of the river and throughout the gardens surrounding Notre Dame. With blooming flowers, cherry blossom trees, and the sun shining brightly, our day was off to a wonderful start. 



Recommended to us as a must visit, we decided to stop at a book store called Shakespeare and Company. This was the first English bookstore in Paris, which opened its’ doors in 1951. It was started by an American named George Whitman, who allowed people to sleep in the bookstore in exchange for helping out. Over 30,000 people have slept within the beds among the bookshelves since it’s opening. 


Entering the bookstore, you’re immediately met by the smell of old books and wooden floors. The store itself is full of nooks and crannies, and different rooms and levels, and is surrounded by and fully stocked with floor to ceiling book shelves. As you walk along, the floors creek underfoot reminding you of the age and history of the shop. Above one of the entrances, painted on the wall, you’re reminded of George Whitman’s philosophy: Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise. 

To the left of the bookstore, and with a separate entrance is the rare books selection. We entered the tiny room to see what constituted “rare” and were surprised not only by the age, but the price! The shop keeper informed us that his most expensive book that he housed was In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. This was Hemingway’s first major work, and was first published in Paris before being reeditioned in the U.K. and USA. It was priced at €2000. Your more mainstream books, like Ken Kesey’s One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was €800. 


Being as the sun was shining, we were feeling quite warm, and it was our last day, we felt it was essential to stop for a gelato. I had been eyeing up a shop since we arrived, who construct a beautiful rose shape out of gelato and then place a macaroon on the top. It was obvious this was where we had to stop. 


With our picnic lunch in hand, we wandered to Jardins du Luxembourg to relax. These gardens were constructed alongside the Luxembourg Palace in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France. The main pool and palace area is surrounded by numerous statues of queens and famous women of France. 


Each path you take leads you to a new garden or fountain which is beautiful and unique in its own way. 


After endless strolling, we finally decided on a place to sit down where we could open our newly purchased bottle of Veuve: a 2008 vintage rosé. Posing the bottle and snapping pictures, as any amateur photographer would, I was surprised when I turned around to see something else sparkling in the sunlight: a ring! As if anything couldn’t be more romantic, I of coursed said yes, we popped our champagne, and enjoyed our final day ever more! 


Leaving the gardens even more in love, we stopped at a little bakery to purchase our final treats. Being obsessed with macaroons, I tried a vanilla one, while Daniel stuck with his profiteroles. 


Next door was a wine shop, where we purchased a delicious €9 bottle from the cutest old man. He chilled the bottle for us, and even opened it so we could enjoy it right away in a park close by. 


For our final evening, we made a reservation at a place called Les Papilles to not only make our last meal a great one, but to also celebrate our exciting news. This restaurant has a set meal each night, which changes constantly, for around €40. We ordered a recommend bottle of wine and then our meal began with broccoli soup. They served us each separate, garnished bowls, and then the soup in a pot. It was heaven!


Our main course consisted of duck and vegetables. 


Next, to cleanse our palate we had a strong cheese, accompanied by a fig jam. 


Mango panna cotta was served for dessert, and of course we finished with an espresso. 


Our meal was perfect, and our day was perfect. Not only did I fall in love with Paris, but I fell even more in love with my new fiancé! 

The City of Long Lines

Paris is full of sites and opportunities to explore a city unlike no other. We set a big agenda out for ourselves to do everything super touristy that we could, and to see the main must sees on our list. Our first stop was the Louvre. We bought tickets ahead of time online, thinking this would help to avoid massive line ups, but instead it enables you to line up in a long line of people who bought tickets. Big tricksters! Once we went through security, we already had our plan mapped out to explore the Denon section of the museum, mainly the French paintings and the Greek and Roman area. 


No visit to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa, who although was smaller than I thought, was stunning. It was such a neat experience to see such a famous piece of art. 


After our visit, we walked through the brightly coloured Jardin de Tuileries, along the busy Champs-Elysées, to the massive Arc de Triomphe. We waited in the line to purchase tickets so that we could travel to the top for panoramic views of the city. 


The Arc itself was created to honor those who fought for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Along the arc itself, inscribed on the inside, are the names of the generals, and beneath the arc rests the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I. 


Once we climbed the 284 steps, we were at the top of the Arc, which provided stunning views of the city, including the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and the Eiffle Tower. 


Seeing the Eiffel Tower in the near distance, made us excited to continue heading to our final destination. We climbed back down the stairs, sauntered along the streets, and finally arrived at the monument that has only been in our dreams! 

In awe, we walked around the Tower, snapping photographs, before settling down in a nearby park for our packed lunch. Having the view of the Tower in the background provided the perfect, and most romantic lunch. 


Deciding that you can’t visit the Tower without actually going to the top, we waited in a ridiculous hour line to purchase our €17 each tickets to go to the very top. Once through the ticket purchasing line, we waited in several more lines for each time we needed to ascend or descend a level. However, the stunning views at the top and the surreal feeling of being on the Eiffel Tower made it all worth while. 


After our Tower experience it was after 7pm, and we decided that we had to stay to see the Tower in the evening. We had a quick pit stop for crepes and an espresso, purchased a bottle of wine, and returned to see the beautiful structure lit up and glowing. We spent some time taking photos, and then sat in the park enjoying our bottle of wine, and wondering, does life get any better than this?


Realizing that we hadn’t ate dinner yet and it was almost 11, we hopped on the metro to head back to our home base location. We tried a cheaper €15 set meal just to see if there was any difference, and needless to say there was. The quality and flavors of the food were lacking, but being hungry and exhausted, we didn’t overly mind. 

For our first course, I had a leek tart and Daniel had a smoked salmon salad, accompanied by a bottle of wine. 


Our next course consisted of lamb for me, and duck for Daniel. 


Finally, we ended with apple tart and profiteroles. For the first time, we skipped our evening espresso, and promptly headed back to our house, our stomaches satisfied and our hearts full. 

But First, Champagne 

Waking up bright and early this morning, one would expect we would explore the beautiful city of Paris, but we decided that it was essential to visit the Champagne region to experience the world’s finest. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve been turned on to champagne, primarily because of my mom’s obsession with it. But I will say that my love for those little bubbles has blossomed, and being in France, it seemed like we had to take advantage of the situation. 

We hopped on the closest metro and headed to the train station. With over an hour to spare, we had our classic pan de chocolate and espresso, only to realize that we had arrived at the wrong train station! Mad panic, hearts racing, and quick navigational decisions, we reached where we actually should have been, with only minutes to spare. We boarded the train, exhausted already, yet so excited for our day!


Forty minutes later, we arrived in the city of Reims, smiles on our faces and ready to explore. We took the bus into town with our first stop being the Notre Dame Cathedrale. Again, the beauty and architecture continues to amaze me. 


After a bit of walking around town, we headed to our first champagne stop: Taittinger. This winery dates back to 1734 with the relationship between Jacques Fourneaux and the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise. Although this winery has another site where the majority of their champagne is produced and stored, the location we visited still housed a mere three million bottles in the cellar. After a brief historical briefing and tour, we headed into the tasting room to try out their Brut Reserve and the Comtes de Champagne, the second of course being the older and better tasting!

After a quick snack, we headed to our next stop: Veuve Cliquot. This was a dream of mine to visit this winery and was truly spectacular. They offered world class service and provided a true “experience” that made our three hour visit one we’ll never forgot. The history and empowerment that you feel as a woman visiting the estate is inspiring. Madam Cliquot was widowed at 27 and took over the job of running the estate.  She was an unstoppable business woman who developed several techniques in the champagne making industry, consistently being innovative and ahead of her times. 

The tour itself was fantastic, with history of not only Madam Cliquot but also about the use of the cellars during WWI. Afterwards, we were taken into the tasting room where we tried the classic yellow label, as well as the Grand Dame. The difference in a good quality champagne has become so much clearer. We truly loved this experience!


Our final destination took us to a small winery called G.H Martel, where we only did a small tasting of three of their varieties. The final option was their reserve that is aged in oak barrels and had a very unique, but delicious, taste to it. 


We had a little time left before our train ride back to Paris, so we explored a little more of Reims. 


Returning to Paris, we captured some night shots of the beautiful Notre Dame cathedrale and the surrounding square. 


Finally, the moment you’re all waiting for…dinner!! Tonight we dined in style in the Latin Quarter for our traditional €65 dinner. 

Course 1: We both selected the French onion soup, to accompany our wine, and were not disappointed. 


Course 2: I ordered the beef bourguignon, and Daniel ordered the confit duck. 


Course 3: Tonight, I decided that Daniel should try the creme brûlée, so instead, I selected the apple tart. 


Let’s not forget our espressos! The little restaurant had a great atmosphere with a local artist playing a piano and singing some lovely tunes. 


​​

Paris: The City of Lights

We packed up our bags this morning, headed through our traboules to the train station, ready for our final destination: Paris! The train ride was a mere two hours, and with a baguette and cheese, the journey went rather quickly. 

Leaving the train station behind in a furry, we were ready to walk into the city of lights. Fun fact: Do you know why Paris is called the city of lights? Apparently, back in 1889, it was one of the first cities to start using streets lights. Using these lights meant that people no longer had to the spend the evenings in their houses, but could instead be safe and more productive. Perhaps that is why Paris is still a lively and bustling place!

Walking along the Seine River to our Air B&B, the sun shone brightly, the air blew through our hair (or maybe just mine), and we were completed surrounded by gorgeous views, every direction we looked: A long wavey river, massive boats, old buildings, and beautiful flowers. The view that caught my eye the most was that of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Pearched on the naturally formed Île de la Cité, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic French architecture, and home to the infamous Quasimodo. Although I thought I saw Quasi swinging to ring the church bell at 4:00pm, I know for certain what I saw was a gorgeous cathedrals surrounding by beautifully blooming cherry blossom trees. 


Finally, we checked into our adorably tiny but centrally located room, and set out to get our bearings in our new location. We ended up stopping along the way for another amazing dinner. We’re getting quite use to these €25 set meals. 

Course 1: For me mussels and for Daniel escargot, and of course an incredible bottle of Côte du Rhone wine. 


Course 2: I chose the duck while Daniel had the salmon. 


Course 3: I couldn’t resist a creme brûlée, and Daniel tried the profiteroles, and as always, was accompanied by an espresso. 


The crazy thing about Paris is everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by the most beautiful and incredibly old architecture. I just can’t get enough of it and am looking forward to exploring this city for the next few days.