a peek inside the fishbowl

Last year I was part of a really cool initiative called Shop the Neighbourhood. The idea behind it is to encourage people to shop locally, which I love, because I truly believe that independent stores are the backbone of our community and help make it a great place to live. I’m very happy to announce that I’m collaborating with Shop the Neighbourhood on the 2015 edition (woot!) and the big day is Saturday November 28. (You can learn more about this  campaign on their Facebook event page.)

There’s a bunch of us, from coast to coast:

Me! And the other Shop the Neighbourhood ambassadors

Jessica Deeks took this photo of me at Westboro’s Truffle Treasures for an Ottawa Magazine piece awhile back!

I’m representing Ottawa, but Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver are hosting Shop the Neighbourhood events as well.

This year I will be roaming around Westboro and using my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page to share some of my favourite finds. I’ll be starting off at Winston Square where Shop The Neighbourhood representatives will be spreading local cheer, so if you’re in the area, make sure you stop by and grab some goodies. Look for the yellow, and if you see me, please say hello!

To help guide my shopping I’ll be consulting an app called YP Shopwise because it highlights all the exclusive deals that participating merchants are offering on the big day.

If you happen to be reading this from a place that is NOT Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver, I do encourage you to support your local business community in ways that make sense to you. There are lots of ways you can show a little local love:

  • grab a friend and poke your heads into a shop you haven’t explored yet (Christmas is coming after all!)
  • buy your hot beverage of choice at a cool local coffee shop
  • try that new take out place around the corner for lunch, or dine out at dinner (there are a few restaurants listed in the app!)
  • I haven’t even mentioned services: haircuts, beard trims, massage or yoga classes!

… and even if you aren’t in a position to spend on Saturday, recommendations go a long way to help small businesses, both offline or online. That being said, if you’re on Twitter, follow @shopthehood_ca (and #shopthehood too!) and you may see some tweets from me there as well. :)


Have you ever made anything using za’atar? I picked up a package at the Ottawa Fair Trade Festival the other day. It’s a savoury middle eastern blend of herbs and spices. It can be incorporated into almost anything (think: marinades, eggs, flat bread, salad dressings) but I thought I’d start with something super easy, such as homemade pita chips:

November 20 #dailylunches - Homemade pita chips

I was so happy with how they turned out: crispy and full of flavour. And they’re so simple to make. All you do is mix some za’atar with olive oil, spread it on pita, and bake it in the oven. Pro tip: use kitchen scissors to cut your pita into eighths. You’ll notice that each small triangle wants to flap open into two halves, like a duck bill. Split it so you have two equal triangles. The rough, inner part is where you spread the za’atar and olive oil paste.

You’ll need to experiment with quantities. I got a bit over excited with a few of these and spooned on too much. (Er. See above photo.) In terms of za’atar to olive oil ratio I started with 2 TBs of the spice mix with 3 TBs of olive oil and it seemed about right. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven and you have yourself a pretty good snack.

This particular brand of za’atar is produced by a volunteer-run organization called Zatoun, and it’s available at Ten Thousand Villages. Zatoun provides help to olive farmers who have no other means of generating income. You can read more about them here.

Want to sample some of this blend? All Extra Helping subscribers are automatically entered to win a gift pack of Zatoun za’atar this week and a lovely bottle of fair trade Zatoun olive oil to go with it. It would make a great pantry staple or a thoughtful gift for foodies (that is, if you’re able to part with it!) Don’t you just love gifts that keep on giving? :)

21 Nov, 2015

Weekend reading: November 21 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

I don’t think there are many places where you can fill your belly for pocket change so I will call this particular lunch a PERSONAL TRIUMPH.

I was coming home from a work assignment today. It was 1:00 p.m. I hadn’t eaten lunch and needed to pick up groceries, so I took a small detour to our local Farm Boy. I don’t usually buy meals from the prepared-foods fridges, especially for lunch, but I was starving and craving something that would excite my tastebuds.

In amongst the sushi, soups, and salsas, I spotted a lunch-sized container of tofu curry and rice for $3.29. It looked promising, and I was famished, so I popped it in the cart. I also picked up a small handful of snow peas in the veggie aisle, knowing that for another few cents it would make a lovely crunchy green addition to my dish.

The tofu and rice took two minutes to microwave. While that was heating up, I quickly sautéed the snow peas in a splash of buttery-flavoured olive oil from Emulsify. I had pine nuts in the pantry so I tossed a few in there, along with a shake of salt and a twist or two of freshly ground pepper.

All said and done, it took me five minutes, cost less than four dollars, and it was absolutely delicious.

November 19 #dailylunches - Farm boy tofu curry, rice, snow peas


My only regret is that I didn’t buy a second serving for tomorrow. ;)

This is probably the best time of year to take a moment and reflect on where our kids are at in terms of their education. Post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas craziness… at this point the kids have had ample time to settle into to school routine, get to know their teachers, and re-learn a few things they may have forgotten over the summer. (e.g. ALL THE MATH.)

And so, we have The Talk. I try not to frame it as The Talk, just gently bring school-related topics up at the dinner table. As a parent, I want to know what my kids are learning and whether they are thriving. Are they getting what they need? Could they use some additional help? Are they bored, inspired, excited about learning?

It’s more than just asking “how was school today” too, right?

Here’s where I have to confess that we are not as hyper-involved as many parents out there about what my kids are doing at school. First, we aren’t involved in parent-teacher councils. Second, our kids do their homework without direct supervision (although we do hear about their grades after the fact). This being said, I was very glad to find out that there are resources out there available to me, and in some particularly important areas of our kids’ school lives at that.

So, how much do you know about the Ontario College of Teachers? It turns out I had a lot to learn, and there’s a lot of information I didn’t even know was out there.

The Ontario College of Teachers regulates the teaching profession. It’s the body that licenses our public school teachers, sets professional and ethical standards, and approves teacher education programs. Ultimately it exists for the benefit of our children. The College also helps set the standard for great teaching practices by making sure teachers have the right tools in hand.

Good stuff for parents to know!

You can also sign up to receive The Standard, a College e-newsletter and read some great profiles in Professionally Speaking, the College’s official magazine. (Basically, tons of stuff I had no idea was even there before now.)

So if you’re going to have The Education Talk with your kids around the dinner table tonight, how about posing your questions this way:

Tell me more about what you’re learning right now.

  • What’s cool/exciting/boring?
  • What subjects are your strongest/most challenging? Why do you think that is?

Sarah in the playground

I also like to ask my kids to rate things on a scale of 1-10. It’s more likely to get them talking and expressing opinions, which is sometimes hard to do, especially when they’re young.

I’m secretly hoping all of this will give me a bit of extra information ahead of the next parent-teacher meeting. It’s definitely worth a look!

* This post is sponsored by the Ontario College of Teachers, who want parents to know more about the great resources on the College’s website!


14 Nov, 2015

Weekend reading: November 14 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading


NAC Nutcracker

Fall fun 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.

  • Heather: Thank you for the reminder. Having the REDBLACKS in the Grey Cup this year took over in the brain.
  • andrea tomkins: Claudette, I do love those mom and pop shops! We have lots in this area too. Binki, to answer your question, yes, I'm representing Ottawa, even th
  • binki: I don't get this. You are representing Ottawa? Just you...for the whole city?
  • Claudette: We live in a neighbourhood south of Lakeshore (along Lake Ontario) and all along Lakeshore there are many bustling little businesses, not chains, most
  • andrea tomkins: Brenda ... I haven't! I will definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!
  • Tricia: Oooh, I love this stuff!
  • Caroline: Zaatar pita chips crumbled instead of croutons. I just had the chips with homemade hummus and tabbouleh for lunch. Yum!

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

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

All hail the mighty Twitter