a peek inside the fishbowl

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

As some of you already know, I’m a big fan of making my own pizza dough. I use this recipe. It can easily be made by hand but it’s suuuuper quick with the help of a stand mixer. I usually make two batches and freeze the extra one (sometimes I cut it in two to make two thin crust pizzas) and it always works out well.

Last night I made a fresh batch of dough. I wanted to use up the last of some pulled pork – a heavier topping that isn’t the best for a thin crust pizza – so I didn’t divide the dough this time around. I did, however, shave off a smallish corner of it, roll it in a bit of extra flour, put it in a plastic baggie and pop it in the fridge for lunch the next day. That was today. I took the dough out of the fridge in the morning so it would warm up a bit. When I was ready to go I rolled the dough into a paddle shape, brushed it with a bit of olive oil and BBQ sauce and topped it with diced/cooked bacon and some grated mozzarella.

While I was prepping the toppings I preheated the oven and the pizza stone. Do you use a pizza stone? I’ve had ours for years and I will never make a pizza without it. It makes an excellent crust and as a bonus, it keeps pizza warm long after you take it out of the oven. Pizza stones aren’t very expensive and you can find them almost any store that carries kitchen supplies. If you decide to take the plunge and buy one (although it’s not that much of a plunge, really) there are a few things you might want to keep in mind.

  • When I first got out the pizza stone I was enthralled with how nice and white it was. Well, don’t get too attached. It’s made out of a material that will darken as it bakes. Which reminds me…
  • Never wash your pizza stone in soapy water or use any cleaners or detergent on it. The material is very porous and it will absorb it. All you need to do is give it a good scrub under hot running water.
  • I bake my pizza at 475F and I pop the stone in the oven as soon as I turn it on (so it heats up along with the oven). The hotter the stone gets, the better the crust. If you can leave it in there an extra 20 minutes while you prepare your toppings, do it.
  • In terms of process, you make the dough first (let it rise etc.) and roll it out on the counter. Preheat the stone. Then transfer your dough over to the hot stone. THEN quickly add your toppings. You can’t transfer a fully loaded pizza to a pizza stone.

So today I made my lunch using the pizza stone and the leftover dough. I wanted to add some diced tomato and avocado but didn’t want to eat hot tomatoes (I don’t like hot cooked tomatoes, go figure) so I added them after I pulled my pizza out of the oven. And you know what? A pizza with both hot and cold toppings is totally delish. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.

Pizza stone lunch

January 22 #dailylunches - pizza

I also drizzled it with spicy honey. Which is something I am now going to pour over all of my food. I got the idea from here but would love to buy it locally.

It’s funny how much pizza toppings have evolved over time, isn’t it? When I was a kid, the only pizza toppings were pepperoni, green peppers, and mushrooms. I remember the first time someone suggested I try a pizza with pineapple on it. It seemed like such a bizarre thing to do but now it’s actually one of my favourite toppings for pizza (as long as it’s accompanied with bacon, of course). What do you put on your pizza?

Ages ago I bookmarked a post on the Ottawa Mommy Club website aptly named: Canadian Fried Dough Pastry. I’m assuming it’s called this because it’s not associated in any way with BEAVERTAILS®, which is a registered trademark.

If you’ve never experienced this delicious treat, you are seriously missing out. This hot, deep-fried, sweet pastry is available at many places in Ottawa and is almost always associated with some kind of outdoor activity, whether it’s skating on the canal (which is where we tend to buy them) or checking out the annual tulip festival.

Something must have come over me – or aliens must have taken over the person formerly known as Andrea Tomkins – because I’ve made this recipe twice in the space of one week. If you know me you know that I generally don’t like to bake and I don’t generally indulge in sweet things, but there it is.

If you have a stand mixer, this recipe comes together very easily. The more time-consuming part is rolling out each “tail” but a second pair of hands (even little ones) will come in handy at this point. The frying and sugaring is also quick. Here’s the thing, this recipe made SO MANY. Maybe we were making them on the smaller side; as each of our tails was about the length of a hand span. We stuffed our faces and gave some away to friends – and we didn’t even use all of the dough! (We froze the leftover dough, which I defrosted and made again on Saturday night at which point I discovered that they truly are best dipped in the traditional cinnamon/sugar mix and a post-sugaring squirt of fresh lemon juice.)

I made a second batch on Sunday afternoon with the intent of dividing up the dough and freezing it for future use. I am happy to report that we now have 31 golf-ball-sized portions tucked away in the freezer.

Beaver Tail dough, frozen and ready to go!

When we decide to make them again I’ll just pull a bunch out of the freezer and let them defrost on the counter. When I’m ready, I’ll roll ‘em out and fry ‘em up. At this point I figure I have enough to last us all winter long. (!)



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

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  • binki: Exercise bike instead of walking? I walk to work, which I love. Fast walking is the BEST thing a person can do. The mall-walkers are my new heroes.
  • maryatparenthood: Maybe you can try a different kind of exercise in the meantime? Hope you are feeling better soon!
  • Deborah: I have had plantar fasciitis several times. My doctor told me to wear supportive shoes like my aerobics shoes all the time - starting first thing in t
  • sassygirl: sorry to hear about the foot woes! I am a 20,000+ steps per day walker and wow! when I injured my foot it made me extremely unhappy. :/ take i
  • Heather: Hi Andrea, Sorry to hear about your heel. Hope you can heal soon and have the same momentum again that you had to start your treadmilling! Your posts
  • andrea tomkins: Thanks for the tips Anne! It's crazy how much it hurt at first. Quite alarming, actually. Thankfully it is getting better. Sigh.
  • Anne: Andrea, I've had Plantar Fasciitis twice. It hurts, doesn't it? It does eventually go away. The best thing I found was while sitting in a chair, ro

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.

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The #dailylunches project – 1000 lunches and counting

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

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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.


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