a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Feb, 2016

Brewing cappuccinos like a BOSS

By andrea tomkins in Home/reno,Oh! Things!

Our espresso machine was given to us as a gift from my inlaws and for many years, it was truly the gift that kept on giving. Sadly, it was beginning to show its age and was dying a slow death. It was time for a replacement unit so we started to research a new one.

Coffee making is a science. I’m not even kidding. It is SCIENCE. This fact was hit home to me after reading a very long article in Scientific American about it this past summer. There are many factors at play when brewing a cup of coffee. It starts at the bean, scratch that, it starts before the bean. Soil, sun, shade: it is all part of the equation. Of course, the beans are picked and processed and packaged. And then they are shipped and sold. And then they are ground up and run through someone’s espresso maker in Ottawa. Chemistry plays a major role in the perfect coffee – heat, pressure – things happen on a molecular level to give us that Perfect Cup. It is truly alchemy.

As Mark and I poured over website reviews we realized that there is a very significant price range in espresso machines. You can spend thousands of dollars on a machine. Is this parallel to buying a Chevette vs. a Cadillac? I can certainly recognize a difference in the driving experience, but can my taste buds recognize the difference in the coffee experience?  I know what a bad coffee tastes like, but if espresso machine A is worth $500 and expresso machine B is worth $5000 and you make the same brand of beans in each one, could we be able to tell the difference? Somehow I don’t think so. Even if machine B’s coffee tasted 10% better than the cheaper unit, is it worth the extra money?

The marketing of espresso machines is designed to appeal to a person’s vanity and feeling of self-worth. You DESERVE the best coffee! You are a COFFEE CONNOISSEUR! One can’t help but nodding in agreement. I watched a YouTube video about the machine that we ended up buying. Sadly, the coffee experts concluded that our machine was good for entry-level espresso drinkers. To me, this suggests that if our tastes were more refined it wasn’t going to be good enough. The good news for us, we aren’t that refined. So we can spend less money in this department.

Anyway, this is the one we bought for ourselves at Christmas:

The new machine!

It’s the De’Longhi EC680 Dedica 15-Bar Pump Espresso Machine. (This link goes to Amazon if you want more info and read reviews.) What I like about it, other than the fact that it makes a stellar brew, is that it’s very slender, which was perfect for us because we don’t have a lot of extra counter space.

I think we all know by now that it’s cheaper to brew your own coffee at home. The question is: how much cheaper is it?

I like to buy our beans from Bridgehead. They’re fair trade beans, which means that farmers are being paid a fair wage and coffee harvesting practices are more sustainable than the norm. Unfortunately, Bridgehead just dropped their bean loyalty program, which was one of the things that kept me going back. They sell a brand of espresso beans and it only comes in one size, and it’s $14.00. The last time we bought a package we decided to keep track of how many coffees we were able to get out of one package.

Counting coffees

As it turned out, we were able to make 30 coffees from the one package: 29 doubles and one single. (I’m choosing to lump that singleton with the others.) By ‘double’ I mean I’m using more of the grounds to make a double shot of espresso for my beverage of choice: a cappuccino. (Related: watch this video if you’re not sure how to make a cappuccino. Be warned that after you watch it you may want to start planning your next vacation to Italy.)

At Bridgehead, a cappuccino costs $3.95. I’m sure prices are similar at our neighbourhood coffee shops (of which there are many in Westboro). Given that a bag of beans costs $14, this means that my home brewed cappuccino costs about 47 cents each. Sometimes I have two a day. I think this machine is going to pay for itself rather quickly, don’t you?

30 Jan, 2016

Weekend reading: January 30 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

January 25 #dailylunches - homemade mac and cheese

The other night I tweeted a plea for a new macaroni and cheese recipe. Our usual from Joy of Cooking is a household staple around here but I was in the mood for something a little different. Not TOO different, of course. The family wouldn’t tolerate the sudden inclusion of pureed squash or lentils. But I have been feeling restless lately so why not take it out on dinner?

I got some good feedback, which was awesome (and made me very hungry). I wanted to share a bunch of the recipes here for reference:

I ultimately used this recipe for a classic baked macaroni and cheese that @Tarahcm shared. At first glance, I assumed it was a little too close to my Joy of Cooking version, but I was wrong. Not that mac and cheese is an overly complicated dish, but this version was easy to pull together overall, and in the end, it was delicious. It was just the thing my tummy needed! I added a dash of paprika to the cheese mixture and topped the whole kit n’ kaboodle with a layer of panko (panko has pretty much changed my life) I had tossed with a bit of melted butter and one clove of minced garlic. The recipe is a keeper for sure, although the recipes listed above may still come into play later on. Woot! There will never be a shortage of great mac & cheese recipes in my life from now on! :)

This is the time of year that many Ottawa parents start to think ahead to school enrollment for their kids. September seems very far away, but in terms of school planning, it isn’t. Choosing a school is a big consideration and I know how stressful and overwhelming it can be.

I asked Derek Rhodenizer, Assistant Head of Joan of Arc Academy*, to tell me what parents should look for when they attend a school’s open house. What kind of questions should they ask? (I tend to focus on the artwork on the walls, but there’s more to it than that!)

Joan of Arc Academy

Derek says parents often ask these two questions: How do you quantify the difference from one school to another and what makes your school different from other schools?

“Class size, curriculum, facilities, teacher and administration qualifications are probably the most obvious, and are very important,” says Derek. “After that, it’s hard to get a tangible understanding of what a school is and what makes it the place for your child or not.”

Derek says a great way to kickstart your research process is to visit the school during the day when students are in class. You want to see how the school works on a day-to-day basis.

“A school is a community, and it is the intangibles that you will notice right away,” says Derek. “How do people interact in the school? Look to see how the students interact with each other, with adults they know (teacher and administrators) and adults they don’t (you). Do you notice that a lot of pride is taken in the school? Are the display boards well put together? Are there creative projects happening? This is a great chance to get a feeling for the atmosphere. It should be busy with learning but not out of control.”

It is very important to get a good understanding of the overall program. In terms of questions to ask at the school’s open house, Derek says your list should include the following:

  • What courses are being taught, what educational experiences will my child get outside of the curriculum?
  • How do you approach discipline?
  • How do you foster a positive attitude towards learning at your school?

“I believe that last one one sums it up,” says Derek. “If you have students that are comfortable at school then they will be prepared to take risks. If they are prepared to take risks, then they have the chance to succeed.”

Talk to the administration. They should be able to explain how the school fosters positivity. If it fits with your own philosophy perhaps this is the best school for your child.

So, to summarize: get into the schools you are looking at, walk the hallways with the administrator, and make sure you meet some teachers and students. When you find the right school, you’ll know!

*Joan of Arc Academy is a Fishbowl patron. (You can read a previous post about JOA here.)  For the past 60 years, Joan of Arc has provided an outstanding enriched bilingual education for girls from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8. JOA is hosting an open house on January 28. It’s a great opportunity to visit, ask questions, and see what they’re all about!

23 Jan, 2016

Weekend reading: the January 23 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the bookshelf: River of the Brokenhearted


NAC Vikings

Annual pass at Saunders Farm!

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

OMS Ottawa Montessori schools

terra20 Ottawa

Bugs at the Canadian Museum of Nature Ottawa

Click me!


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Regenere Cream: I just like the helpful info you provide on your articles. I'll bookmark your weblog and test once more here regularly. I'm relatively sure I will b
  • Laurel: I always transfer my loaded pizza to my stone:) I have the wood pizza slider and I roll on there on top of cornmeal and slide in-tricky sometimes but
  • andrea tomkins: Ohhh! Good tip Kate! Thanks!
  • Kate: Do you know what is even better than panko on mac and cheese? Crushed up homemade croutons from Parma Ravioli on Wellington St, mixed with a little pa
  • andrea tomkins: Sassy: I would love the addition of the squash. Sigh. I like the idea of the gnocchi too! binki: do try it! Let me know how it works out!
  • binki: Panko in Mac'nCheese. That is brilliant. I must try this.
  • sassymonkey: It's too bad you can't sell them on the squash because it's actually really good. The next time you want to shake things up, use gnocchi instead o

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (16) and Sarah (14). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 1000 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter