a peek inside the fishbowl

Photo of vegan tofu, ginger tofu stir fry on bok choy

I made this for my lunch twice last week. Not only because I had a whole block of tofu to use up, but because it was so good I couldn’t wait to have it again.

It started with a craving for something spicy with ginger, tofu, and soy sauce. I figured a marinade would fit the bill, so I looked around and found this recipe for “ginger sweet tofu with pak choi.” (In case you weren’t sure, pak choi is the same as bok choy). The only think I did differently was add a splash of sesame oil to the marinade and sprinkle green onions, dried chilli peppers and sesame seeds over the whole thing at the end. I made this twice, and I found powdered ginger in the marinade to work a little better than the grated stuff (which had a tendency to stick to the tofu cubes and burn).

It had a great flavour, and by cutting the tofu into smaller pieces it takes on the marinade better, and in a shorter amount of time. A keeper recipe for sure!


23 May, 2015

Weekend reading: May 23 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

22 May, 2015

My summer cycling resolution

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Ottawa bike

For the past few years I’ve been trying to challenge myself on my birthday in some way: via terrifying roller coasters and arduous hikes. In my book, there is no better way to celebrate another year of living than by pushing one’s boundaries. This is why I decided that I wanted to bike to Carleton Place with Mark this summer. Why Carleton Place? Good question. I needed to have a destination and I was researching ideas for routes when I found this information. (This part made me laugh: “We can only assume that the firing range is set up in such a way so that no one is shooting in the direction of the trail.” Great!)

The trip from Ottawa to Carleton Place is approximately 50K (that’s only ONE kilometre, fifty times!). We’d stay somewhere overnight and complete the return trip to Ottawa the next day. (Or call my inlaws to pick us up, depending on how I’m feeling.)

I put the question to my Facebook friends awhile ago and basically everyone told me to start training NOW. Alrighty then! I began with a short run to Farm Boy to pick up a few groceries earlier this week. It’s a 5km ride along the river, which is manageable, right? Ha. My ride there was 10x harder than the return trip because of headwinds, and I found myself shifting gears like a mad woman and praying to god that the trip to Carleton Place isn’t (a) windy or (b) hilly.

I obviously need to spend more time on my bike, but I’ve since realized that my bike is in sad shape and I think I might need a new one. I need a helmet too. My current one is missing a buckle and was bought in 1999, in other words, IN THE LAST MILLENNIUM. And I’ll need a new pair of paniers to carry my stuff. Gah. I hate spending this kind of money on myself, but I have to face facts. I can’t realistically make that kind of trip on an old mountain bike with a bent pedal and clunky gears, can I?

I’ve been on the bike a few times after that eye-opening ride to Farm Boy and it’s all got me thinking about comfort. My bike isn’t comfortable, but I’m not really sure what that means any more. I know that bike comfort isn’t the same as couch comfort, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable, right?

I have a feeling I am more suited to upright riding than being hunched over, but can I do 100K in two days on something like this? I’d secretly like a purple bike with a banana seat, streamers, and a sissy bar but THAT is not going to happen any time soon. Sigh.

Any advice you’d care to share? I’m all ears.



One of the great things about where we live is our proximity to Gatineau Park. A visit doesn’t need to involve a 100 km bike ride or a daylong trail blazing trek, it can be much simpler. So on Sunday we decided to pop in the car and to check out two easy Gatineau Park hiking trails.

Sidebar: I recently stumbled upon a phrase which totally defines my approach to this kind of thing: Shinrin-yoku - which translates as “forest bathing” – a Japanese term for visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation. Isn’t that great? I am ALL ABOUT THE SHINRIN YOKU, yo.

We drove up to the Champlain Lookout and took a short hiking trail that’s in behind it. You’d hardly know it was there actually. We haven’t bothered with it on previous visits, but we were so glad we took an hour to do it this time around. It’s very scenic and quiet, and SHORT. At only 1.4K it’s pretty much a stroll in the park that can be achieved without too much perspiration.

Behold the moss! (I like moss.)

I am a fan of moss.

Trillium specimen

Trillium spotting is easy to do

Walking along the trail behind Champlain Lookout

Scenic lookout, from the tail behind Champlain Lookout

Visitors to Champlain Lookout will recognize the view, but it’s much quieter here. With no smokers or motorbikes revving up behind you. :|

I should point out that this area is part of the Eardley Escarpment and it’s home to some special flora and fauna that is exclusive to the area. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older but I do enjoy interpretive trails like this one. I get more enjoyment out of the experience when I know what I’m looking at, and plaques along the way are quite helpful and interesting. Also, there’s no getting lost!

How to get to the Champlain Lookout trail in Gatineau Park:

  1. Check the NCC website to find your preferred way to get to Champlain Lookout.
  2. Park in the large lot.
  3. The trail begins underneath the paved lookout area. You’ll take a set of stairs downwards. The trail is a loop that ends closer to the parking lot where you started. Easy peasy.

(Good to know: there are outhouses in the parking lot!)

On the way home we decided to check out the Waterfall Trail. It’s the other side of the Mackenzie King estate, which is also a worthwhile visit.

How old was this tree?

Stay on the trail kid!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen water in the waterfall before. It’s always been dry, so I was happy to see it alive and well again.

The waterfall at the end of Waterfall Trail, Mackenzie King Estate

It was a pretty nice stroll for a Sunday!

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately, and the fact that you can’t have a strong community without some strong people in it. It’s important to recognize those people because more often than not, they don’t want to shine the spotlight on themselves. This is what I like about the United Way Community Builder Awards. It’s an opportunity for the United Way to thank people who are truly making a difference, but it’s also a chance to inspire other people in the community as well.

United Way Ottawa asked me if I was interested in meeting Cindy Simpson, Executive Director of Youville Centre, and writing a blog post about her. Cindy is a co-recipient of the 2015 Growing up Great Award, which will be presented at the United Way Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala. Youville Centre is a non-profit, registered charity that offers a variety of key services to a vulnerable part of our community: adolescent mothers and their children. Here’s a post I wrote about this organization awhile back but getting to know one of the women behind it was my motivating factor this time around.

So, who is Cindy Simpson?

Photo of Youville Centre's Cindy Simpson

Cindy Simpson has spent her entire working life with young people. She was a teacher for 20 years before she got into the admin side of things as a vice-principal and eventually, principal. She was with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for 33 years and was thinking of retiring when she got a call from the ED of Youville at that time.

“One visit, and I was sold,” says Cindy. “I’m very blessed with the career I chose. It’s the family business,” she laughs. This is kind of true. The act of giving was the fabric of her family growing up. She says she learned about the United Way from her father’s knee.

“He did all kinds of work with the United Way,” recalls Cindy. But it was more than that. Her father was the kind of person who’d bring random kids home for dinner. “In our family it wasn’t IF you gave to the community, it was WHAT are you going to give to your community.”

Cindy grew up on Elmira Drive in a tiny bungalow with low income housing down the street. She believed her family was wealthy because they had more than the other kids. Little Cindy was always in trouble for losing her mittens. Her mother used to chastise her for the frequent losses.

“I never told her that I gave them away, because the other children didn’t have mitts,” remembers Cindy. She just assumed her parents can easily replace them (after all, they were wealthy!), and she didn’t tell her mother about all those lost mittens until she was in her twenties.

“It was just the way my parents taught us to be. It was just who we were,” says Cindy. “You have one hand to help yourself, and one to help others. It was the tacit assumption of our family.”

Three of Cindy’s four siblings are educators, and she picked up some sage advice from one of them when she was 21. She was in teacher’s college and her brother – who was a few years ahead in terms of his teaching career – told her: “If you reach one person, truly change one person every year, you will have had a very successful career.”

This is ultimately what inspires her at Youville every day, changing one life at a time.

“We are seeing the change,” says Cindy. “When they walk in the door, they don’t walk in with a light in their eyes but they leave with a light in their eyes as they discover a world of possibilities for them and their child. That’s what we do.”

Cindy says the young mothers at Youville have one thing in common: they have all made a total commitment to being good mothers, although they don’t necessarily know what that means.

“Many of them may not have had role models, they’re living in poverty, or may have anxiety or depression or addiction issues and often have not been successful in school,” she explains. Another thing they have in common: “90 per cent of our girls have been victims of some sort of physical, emotional or sexual assault.”

Youville is breaking patterns that in some cases may go back generations. “We are trying to break an intergenerational cycle of insecure attachment, trauma – all of those things – by stepping in and stopping it,” says Cindy.

This got me thinking. When the folks at Youville spend time showing a young mother who’s had zero parenting experience – and no role models – how to keep her baby happy and healthy, it affects a lot more people than just the mother. What the young mother learns at Youville is passed to her children, and also her partner, her family and friends, and beyond. It’s a trickle down effect. And who knows how many people benefit down the line.

Cindy’s first thought when she was first contacted about receiving the United Way Growing Up Great award was: “Are you sure?”

“I still can’t believe it’s true,” she says. Cindy insists she’s “not very good at winning awards” but I get the feeling that it feels strange to win an award for something she has dedicated her life to.

The staff at Youville work hard to make sure that vulnerable mothers are armed with the skills, strategies and knowledge they need to succeed, and help their children succeed. Cindy proudly mentions a young mother who showed her a photo she snapped of her dinner simmering away in a slow cooker, a nutritious hot meal that was waiting to be enjoyed later that evening. The meal followed on the heels of a cooking class. One dinner may not seem like much, but it’s a success story in many ways. Here’s a mother, who didn’t know how to cook, prepare a healthy economical meal for her family. She had the confidence to do it. It’s the beginning of something.

Clarissa Arthur, the child development co-ordinator at Youville, says that 10 years ago, the young women who came to Youville required more of a “refuge” than specialized services, and that over the past few years there’s been a shift to programs that are attachment focused. The approach is now more holistic. They look at the whole mother, not just one facet of the mother, and the child care centre has morphed into more of a child development centre.

“The fire inside me burns really strong, I can identify what it means to be a student here and what the moms really need,” says Clarissa. And she means it. (You can hear about Clarissa’s story in this video.) Clarissa spoke to me about specialized programming for the mom and child together, as well as a deeper focus on infant mental health.

Infant mental health is not a phrase that is heard very often. As Clarissa explains it’s because people tend to view the term “mental health” as a diagnosis, but not as a state of being. Which makes sense, right? Mental health is a marker of our overall health, such as our physical health. Young children get vaccinated and weighed and monitored by health professionals. So why aren’t we all talking about good mental health for newborns and toddlers as well? Doesn’t social and emotional development start in infancy?

Youville has been working with stakeholders to make more progress in the area of infant mental health in the city of Ottawa.

“To be able to be regarded as pioneers on the early mental health journey is, I think, significant and exciting because we want all of our kids to grow up great,” says Cindy. “We’re going to be on the ground level of that swell of movement that’s going to happen in Ottawa.” It’s a renewed focus on mental health that wasn’t really there a decade ago, and it’s going to change lives for the better.

But let’s get back to Cindy.

“I think Cindy is great. Period!” laughs Clarissa. “She’s a leader who isn’t necessarily telling you what to do, and does a great job noticing your strengths, putting them to use, and challenging you.” Clarissa describes Cindy as a team player who loves organizational change, charting a course, and mentoring others.

“Cindy is really good at having a vision and finding a creative, collaborative way of working,” says Clarissa. “There’s a reason she is in this role,” she continues. “Youville is certainly a great place, but it’s been better because she’s here.”

So thank you Cindy Simpson and the team at Youville, for making so many positive changes, one family at a time.

Fishbowl readers, would you like to join me at the Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala and celebrate the people who make Ottawa such a great place to live?

The gala is taking place at the Shaw Centre on the evening of May 28 and I have four pairs of tickets to give away.  It is a really engaging and special event – and includes dinner! – and I promise it will leave you inspired. Interested? Just leave a comment below. I’ll pick four names at random at noon on May 26.

Would you like to help the Youville Centre?

  • Youville can always use donations and there are lots of ways to give. You want to know something cool? They’re thrilled when people think outside of the box. The latest thing is the “babyless baby shower.” Basically: a party in which the guests bring a donation for Youville, such as a package of diapers instead of a hostess gift or dessert. (Fact: there are 55 babies every day at Youville, and they provide the diapers and wipes!)
  • They’ve also had people donate Shoppers Optimum points, grocery store gift cards, and bus tickets. All are welcome!

There. That was a long post. Thank you for reading and sharing!



16 May, 2015

Weekend reading: May 16 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Animal Inside Out BodyWorlds, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

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  • andrea tomkins: We have winnerrrrrs! And they've all been contacted by email. Check your inboxes!
  • CB: You might find different opinions on this, but I switched from a mountain bike to an upright a few years ago and didn't like it at all. I found I fel
  • wheelee: Your bike is probably fine. Get it checked over at a bike shop - and get a list of what it might need (something broken or too used). Do not hand i
  • Louise: A very well-earned honour! What a great organization. I volunteered for years for Frontier College, who run free reading circles and homework clubs ar
  • Amanda: What a fantastic organization, I'd love to volunteer there some day. A timely read, too, because I have a bunch of baby clothes/ diapers/ etc. that my
  • Juli: when they forget points i send a email via app. they have been great so far. they xan look it up easily
  • Juli: I used to make sure I did my big monthly shop on the first Monday and Tuesday of each month. In addition to the special offers and in store offers Ext

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 (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of 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!


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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.


  • So I was feeling a bit ranty and wrote this post about raising children in an age of zero privacy in the hopes it will start some conversations! Please leave your two cents right here.

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  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

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  • I'm sharing some of my favourite lunch-related items over on the terra20 blog today. Whether you're packing a lunch for work, for your kids, or just eating at your desk at home, I bet there is something there for you. Check it out!

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On the nightstand

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