Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken and Rice Noodle Soup

Thai Peanut Chicken and Ramen Noodle Soup | halfbakedharvest.com
Original recipe with Ramen Noodles from
Half Baked Harvest
I snagged a post once that had links to tons of crock-pot recipes and have been trying them over the last few months with some winners and some that didn't work. I first tried this recipe from Teaghan at Half Baked Harvest for Thai Peanut Chicken and Ramen Noodle Soup using her crock-pot instructions and Ramen noodles. The taste was great, but I wasn't totally thrilled with the results.

In the crock-pot, the sweet potato disappeared and the Ramen noodles were too hard to get right, I only left them for a few minutes before serving, but they quickly became glue-y. The change I did make that worked was doubling the chicken as my family prefers a meatier soup and I personally like a mix of chicken breast and thighs.

As I liked the flavour overall, I wanted to give this recipe another try using her stove top directions, a different type of noodle cooked separately and making a few small changes to the cooking order. One bonus would be the leftover soup and noodles could be stored in separate bags. No soggy noodles when reheating!

While visiting my daughter in Kingston, Ontario, I decided it was the perfect time to try it again.  They like spicier food than my husband does and are both adventurous eaters. Her boyfriend usually comes home much later from work, so cooking and storing the noodles separately would work better with their lifestyle. I chose to use rice noodles this time as they are his personal favorite.

Early in the day I made the soup in one pot and let it sit covered on the stove. I then prepared the rice noodles according to package directions, rinsed them in cold water, drained them and tossed them with a little sesame oil to keep them from sticking. The noodles were then popped into a large Ziploc bag. At serving time I chopped a small amount of cilantro and peanuts while the soup was gently reheating. When ready, they each grabbed a bowl, added some rice noodles, ladled on the soup and sprinkled cilantro and peanuts to taste..

I'm happy to say this worked well and I will be making this spicy soup again. Thanks to Teaghan for the great recipe. Although I made a few minor changes, the flavor combination created with ingredients was all hers. You can check out the original recipe at the link above.

Spicy Thai Peanut Chicken and Rice Noodle
(Note - this is a fairly spicy dish, so not for those who like their food milder.)

2 T        Peanut or Vegetable Oil
2           Chicken Breast (skinless-boneless)
4           Chicken Thighs (skinless-boneless)
1 tsp      Fresh ginger, grated (you may add more to your liking)
1            Clove garlic, minced or grated
2            Red peppers, cut crosswise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
12 oz     Mushrooms, sliced
1/4 C     Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
2 tsp      Smoked Paprika
1            Dark Orange Yam - peeled (optional) and diced
1 can     Full Fat Coconut Milk
 4 C        Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1/4 C     Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce
2 T        Fish sauce
1/2 C     Creamy Peanut Butter
1            Lime, juiced
2 T        Brown sugar

To add at serving time - 
Cooked Rice Noodles - your favorite kind
Chopped Peanuts
Chopped Cilantro

Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and drain. Toss with small amount of oil to keep them from sticking and store in a sealed Ziploc bag.

Cut Chicken breasts and thighs into bit size pieces - small strips or cubes. Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add 1 T oil and brown chicken on all sides.. Remove and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil, garlic, red peppers, mushrooms and ginger. Saute for 5-10 minutes.. Add in the curry paste and smoked paprika, stirring until the curry paste has coated the veggies.

Add the chicken pieces back into the pot along with the diced yam, coconut milk, 3 cups of the chicken broth, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Simmer gently until chicken is cooked through and yams are tender.

In the meantime, add 1 cup of chicken broth to a heat safe bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute or until very hot. Carefully stir in the peanut butter until completely smooth.  Add to soup along with lime and brown sugar. Stir gently until fully incorporated.

For each guest, place noodles in bottom of large soup bowl, spoon the soup on top and offer bowls of peanuts and Cilantro to be sprinkled on top.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Innocence Lost Foundation - Fazineh Keita

Guest Article by Ava Vanderstarren

(Note: This is part two in a series on Innocence Lost Foundation founders Ava Vanderstarren and Fazineh Keita. To read part one on Ava - click HERE)

Fazineh Keita is truly an amazing individual. When you are near him you can't help but feel his passionate energy. It's infectious! He is a writer, actor, musician and activist. He is also a support worker with drug addicts in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver.

Growing up in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Fazineh was kidnapped by the rebel fighting group, the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), and fought as a child soldier during their civil war. After escaping from the RUF, he joined the country's army and fought on and off throughout his childhood and teenage years until the war ended.

Fazineh believes that because he survived his experiences, he has a purpose in this world - to bring about peace and healing. After the war he released a music album in his country that brought about change in the government system and encouraged people to go out and vote in their newly formed Democratic system. The hit song was "Political Paddy Dem." He moved to Canada in 2007 and lived first in Alberta, and then moved to British Columbia to attend the Vancouver Film School (VFS).

I had the privilege of meeting Fazineh and bringing him into my life in 2011 when we were in the acting program at VFS. He is the inspiration for our non-profit "Innocence Lost Foundation".

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Where were you born? where did you grow up? What were you like as a child/teen?

I was born in Kabala, northern Sierra Leone.  When I was five years old, my mom was struggling to make ends meet. She got me to go live with my uncle in the diamond mining town of Tongo Field which was on the other end of the country. My uncle, a wealthy diamond dealer paid for my schooling and took care of me.

When I was with my mom, I was troublesome. She used to let me get away with stuff. I was crazy but really vibrant and playful. I ran around all day. Sometimes my friends and I would steal mangoes and oranges and make a run for it. When we got caught, the owners would either give us more mangoes, trash us or take us to our parents and tell them what we did. 

When I started living with my uncle, I became different. He was very strict and had harsh disciplinary methods. I was mostly scared of him. He had a TV, VHS and a generator. There wasn’t electricity in the town and he was the only one who owned a generator for the longest time. He loved watching movies and that’s how I was introduced to movies. There were moments when I missed my mom and sisters a lot. I felt alone and abandoned. Then I got troublesome again

My happiest moments were when I was alone imagining myself as Rambo. In my imagination I was all grown up with huge muscles. I would run around shooting imaginary bad guys with imaginary guns. It was a way of escaping my reality. When I got caught up in the war, I became really angry. As I grew up life became more somber. I was confused and lost. I couldn't understand the war. You know, like why?

Please tell us about your experiences and anything you'd like to share about your time in the R.U.F or Army.

Charles Taylor is the name of the rebel leader that started the war in Liberia. He sponsored and helped Corporal Foday Sankoh an ex-Sierra Leonean soldier to invade Sierra Leone in 1991. Foday Sankoh’s group was called R.U.F.-  Revolutionary United Front. The RUF attacked Tongo Field when I was about eight years old. I was kidnapped by the RUF. They taught us how to shoot, dismantle and clean an AK47 and that was that. 

I escaped the RUF after three month and went back to Tongo Field. My uncle had left for Kenema where he was living with his family. A friend of mine, Bobson, who was already a soldier took me with him to the military head quarters in Topkumbu Buima. I volunteered as a recruit. I was with them for a year, then I couldn’t do it anymore so I went AWOL to Kenema and lived with my uncle for a bit. I didn't tell anyone that I was in the army, fearing revenge attacks, and I was partly ashamed of it. I thought my family would have never looked at me the same. My family was religious, peaceful and remained neutral in the war. They hated it.

My experience as a fighter in the war wasn't continuous. I'd be a school kid for a while, then get caught up in the war and join whichever side I thought had the upper hand. My objective was to stay alive. Unfortunately in wars, most casualties are civilians. I wasn't going to die in that war; I thought it was stupid. We were all Sierra Leoneans.  In battle I always looked for that decisive moment when your side starts loosing and I would sneak away. 

I moved around a lot, from one end of the country to the next. Fortunately I was always able to stumble upon a family that would take me in for a bit, like the Kamara family in Kissy Mess-mess. I had a long break from the war in my early teens when I was living in Freetown. My cousin Salmata took me in and enrolled me at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School which I attended for a year. I dropped out and worked for Natco, a biscuit and candy factory. Then the war found me again in January 1999. That was the last time I took part in it and it was the only time that it was personal.

Please share something about your personal life during this time.

My best friend in Kissy, Abu, was killed by Nigerian peace keepers. They thought he was a rebel because they found a bullet shell in his pocket. Abu was a good kid. He was kind and he preached peace all day. He hated the war. It was just a bullet shell he had found somewhere. So the morning the rebels attacked Freetown in January 1999, my first re-action was to get on board. I knew where the Nigerian peacekeepers were. After that I was done. I told my aunty to take me with her to Guinea.

Can you remember any stories from that time that highlight you would take this career path and found a charity?

There wasn't a particular story. It was just the inhumane stuff people do in war, you know. I used to pray that if I survived I would spend my life advocating peace in the world. I didn't know how I would do that but I thought somehow I had to.

How did you meet your co-founder Ava Vanderstarren and how did the idea to found Innocence Lost develop?

I met Ava at Vancouver Film School. We were taking the same program, I was one term ahead of her though so I was her senior. In some acting classes, I had to face my past in ways that I never dared before. It was painful, I was very vulnerable and mostly angry. She wasn't scared of me at all. She showed up and tried to help. I didn't want that. The thing with pain is when we live with it for a long time it is part of us and somehow we can be also scared of letting go.

Now I'm a lot happier and I can talk about stuff if I try. We are both passionate about humanitarian efforts. I work in the Downtown Eastside as a support worker and she would volunteer in some female and humanitarian causes around town. I never thought I was going to start a foundation at this time. I wanted to pursue my film career for a few years first. Then she took part in the Miss BC Beauty Pageant. Her platform was to rehabilitate child soldiers. Next thing you know she won and then it was just like, "I guess we have to start our own foundation." We could have volunteered for another foundation or charity, but I have been failed in many ways by NGOs (Non-governmental organizations). We wanted to create something new and transparent. 

What is the goal of this charity organization - now, 1 year, 5 years?

We will be empowering the young, spreading awareness at a grand scale. We will be building and running rehabilitation centres around the world and helping bring healing to communities after war.

Talk about some of the steps you've had to go through to establish Innocence Lost and to begin to raise funds?

A lot of paper work, research, school outreach. We will be starting major fundraising events pretty soon.

Interview on Novus TV

What has proven most challenging? 

Talking about the past. Other than that, things have turned out to be pretty easy. We are lucky to have found a lot of good people who are willing to work with us and help us along the way.

Can you share a high moment in this journey - something unexpected?

The first time we went to give a speech in Chilliwack at GW Graham Middle Secondary School, I thought the kids wouldn’t be interested in what was happening in the world with child soldiers. But then I found out that they were actually learning a lot about it and they had some great questions. They were also very interested in doing something for the common good of mankind. That was mind blowing and very inspirational. From then on it has been a smooth sail.

What are the many ways readers can support this charity?

Look up us up online on our website where it covers some of the ways you can become involved (www.innocencelostfoundation.com) and be sure to follow us on our Social Media sites - Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/InnocenceLostFoundation?fref=ts), Twitter (@Foundation_IL) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/innocencelostfoundation/). Come to a meeting and learn about the different ways you can help. We like our volunteers or future members to be creative and open. We want to do this together as a family, a team. We are open to new ideas and we need help in the ideas we already have on the go.

Anything else you would like to share that I didn't think to ask?

It takes a lot to change the world but if everyone one of us is doing the little we can it would be more than enough to change the world.

On October 10th we will be having a music benefit concert called "Trading a Gun for a Guitar" at St. James Community Square. Come see the show!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Blanche Macdonald - Anahita Monzavi, Glassy Vision

Runway photos courtesy of Peter Jensen

While Blanche Macdonald usually offers one large fashion design grad show each November featuring all students who have graduated in the last twelve months, there is occasionally a group of students who merit their own show.  In May, ten such students took to the runway showcasing a truly outstanding group of collections. You can check out my show coverage for Metro Living Zine HERE.

I do my best to NEVER miss a local student show (supporting new talent is my number one passion), but as I was in Southern California at the time for a family event - I had to enjoy this show through the student's collection comments and the runway pictures by photographer Peter Jensen. I wasn't disappointed.

Next came the difficulty of picking just a few students from such a talented group to feature in solo articles. Anahita Monzavi and her Glassy Vision collection caught my eye. In following up, I was impressed with her extensive set of illustrations showcasing the diversity of this innovative and interesting grad collection.  It was no surprise to find she had received a special award.

I want to first offer you her words. This is followed with an intriguing Q and A covering her journey to this moment.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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ANAHITA MONZAVI – Awarded, Special Award for Innovative Use of Materials

“I was originally inspired by stained glass windows – the shapes and colors of the window really caught my eye. I knew it would be very hard task to create customize pieces of glass to use in my collection, but I had always wanted to do something different and challenging. I decided to take on the project...In my designs I used glass fusing, fabric fusing, beading, natural lamb leather and lacing, but the hardest part was making the mold for each piece and making holes in the bustier for the laces.” @fmanahitaa

Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Esfahan, Iran, till I was 28 years old. Then I got married and moved to VancouverCanada, about 2 years ago.

What you like when you were young?

I was always interested in Art and Design. I started knitting clothes for my dolls when I was six years old and than started painting from the very early age of eight, I used to paint at the professional level and display my paintings at different galleries . 

What were your interests in High School?
When I was in high school, I was in Iran's national badminton team which took most of my time . However I never stopped painting, mostly as a hobby. During my high school years I designed my own clothes and my mother helped me sew them.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

Well not really. I always knew I was interested in Arts and Design, but not fashion. However, When I was about 20 years old a friend of mine asked me if I could help her with her collection & Portfolio. It took us about 1 year and it was very successful. So I got really interested in creating my own collection. I knew I could do well as I was already good at sketching and had a good taste for fashion. I made a successful collection and started my show room in Iran at age 22. So that's how I started and in fact

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?
By age 28 (when I moved to Canada) I only had one dream and that was to become a fashion designer and create my own brand. I had a very successful showroom in Iran for 5 years so I knew I had a great potential and I knew moving to Canada would give me a better chance to succeed. Therefore, I decided to learn the academics of fashion as well as the new methods and trends in North America which I knew it would be different from what I had learned I Iran.

Of course it was very difficult for me to keep up with other students as English was my second language, but I tried very hard every day. My husband was very supportive and would help me through all the difficulties. 

Why did you choose to study at Blanche Macdonald?

I actually looked into many fashion schools before I decided to choose Blanche Macdonald. I found the school very professional and well known. I also knew a few people who attended the school and had the same feeling about it. When I was there to register, I was even more fascinated with the level of professionalism of the stuff and instructors, so I decided to register.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you, are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

When I started Blanche Macdonald I was truly terrified. The courses we were studying were very hard, especially for me as English was my second language. It was really hard to keep up with the class. It was almost impossible for me to believe I could even graduate. But with the support of the instructors and my husband, after three months I got used to the program and things become easier. 

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

I was originally inspired by stain window glass; the shape and colorful glass on the window really caught my eyes. I knew it would be very hard task to create customized pieces of glass and try using them in my collection, but as I always wanted to do something different and challenging I decided to take on the challenge. I decided to attend glass fusing, glass blowing and glass flaming classes in order to learn how to make my pieces. It was very time consuming and hard, I literally had to make each piece at least 15 to 20 times. Everyone's biggest concern was, glass pieces are really fragile , but the way I made them by fusing different layers of glass made each piece at least 3 times stronger and very hard to crack, yet still not too heavy to wear .

Describe your collection – customer, day-evening-sportswear-separates-casual-high end glamour-stage costuming-punk?

Glassy Vision is a combination of evening dress and sportswear with a hint of punk. I was mostly focused on the creativity more than creating a day to day wear type of dress.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

I think the colorful stainless glass stands out more against black background, therefore I used black lamb leather and suede fabric to create my pieces. 

Do you have a favorites look?

Yes my third look with the red bustier.

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

I really would like to improve on combining my designs using stainless glass to make a new look for today's fashion scene, and create a unique and elegant high end line to encourage the creativity in fashion for myself and other designers.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

Currently I'm working on my website, I would like to create my own brand and launch my own line as soon as possible and eventually be able to sell my designs at the international level.

Please share a fashion quote you love.

“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” - Marilyn Monroe 1952

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To contact Anahita Monzavi, please email anifaghih@gmail.com

For more information on the Fashion Design program at Blanche Macdonald go to http://www.blanchemacdonald.com/fashion/

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mile High Squat Club

Okay - mind out of the gutter. This article is NOT about joining the Mile High Club. However, I decided it would be fun to start with what most believe are the origins of this club. Believe it or not - legend has it gained its first members in 1916.

"Only true aviation geeks are likely to celebrate, or even notice, the milestone being celebrated this year in the history of aviation: the debut, a century ago, of the autopilot. In June 1914, at a historic aeronautical-safety competition in Paris, a 21-year-old American daredevil pilot-inventor named Lawrence Burst Sperry stunned the aviation world by using the instrument to keep a biplane flying straight and level along the Seine...By eliminating the need for taxing 'hand flying' on long journeys, and thereby reducing pilot fatigue, Sperry’s autopilot ultimately made flying much safer. But it had another, less obvious benefit. It freed up pilots to do other things with their hands—and bodies. 

The brilliant young Sperry himself soon grasped the possibilities. Legend has it that in late November 1916, while piloting a Curtiss Flying Boat C‑2 some 500 feet above the coast of Long Island, he used his instrument to administer a novel kind of flying lesson to one Cynthia Polk (whose husband was driving an ambulance in war-torn France). During their airborne antics, however, the two unwittingly managed to bump and disengage the autopilot, sending their plane into Great South Bay, where they were rescued, both stark naked, by duck hunters...For his caper, Sperry is generally considered the founder of the Mile High Club, a cohort that loosely includes all those who have ever 'done it'  in flight (though precisely what constitutes “it” remains a lurking definitional issue)." - The Atlantic

Since that time numerous couples have supposedly taken up the challenge. I am mildly claustrophobic, so an airplane bathroom is simply NOT a place I would like to be boxed in with another human being. There is barely enough room (or air) for me as far as I am concerned.  But on to my story.

My friend - recording artist Jody Quine - runs a Facebook squat challenge several times a year for anyone who wants to join.  You start out with 50 squats the first day and over 30 days increase until on the final day you complete a whopping 250. As the numbers get higher, most of us break them down into several sets over the course of the day. Every fourth day is a rest day.

I am definitely older than the other participants, but with great bravado took up the challenge for the first time a year and a half ago.  By the time I hit the 150 mark, I had irritated a lower back injury and could barely move. The second time around I chickened out. Then the third time Jody suggested I start at 25 and add one a day. My goal would be to try to reach 50 by the end. 

I liked the idea, but thought I was capable of more.  I can't remember what number I started at, but I split the squats into two sets - one morning, one late afternoon/evening to protect my back - and added two more squats to the number each day. By the end of the 30 days I accomplished 80 squats (in three sets) safely. This may not seem as impressive as 250, but I was personally elated.

During this challenge I left on a ten day trip to visit first my oldest brother in Colorado Springs and then my younger brother in Los Angeles. I was determined not to lose momentum, but the first travel day was difficult. We had to be at the airport too early to do them before leaving home and I didn't know what free time we would have on arrival.  What to do?

My legs get very antsy on a plane, so whether I need to or not, I always visit the bathroom just to be up and moving around. While sitting on the toilet in route to Colorado, I began to wonder if it was possible to do half my daily quota of 30 in this small space? If couples have sex in here, surely I could manage a few squats. The scientist in me kicked in and I started looking at angles and positions. Yes, it might be possible.

I finished my business, put down the lid, flushed the toilet and washed my hands.  Then I turned my back to the door and placed my feet shoulder width apart. Tentatively I completed one squat. Eureka! The spacing was just right - my knees slipped easily along each side of the toilet.  30 squats later I walked out of the bathroom slightly sweaty and out of breath.  I am sure those waiting in line were curious, but no one said a word.

This was a onetime feat for me. I won't be performing squats in another airplane bathroom in the future, but it was a crazy moment and I had a lot of fun proving it was possible this one time. Even better, the next day I was able to share my accomplishment on the squat Facebook posting.  As far as I know I am the only member of the Mile High Squat Club at this time - but I am hoping there will be others soon. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why I Am Anti-Gun

I know there will be a backlash, but sometimes it's important to stand up and be counted. I am and always will be anti-gun. While I can embrace skeet shooting, target practice and skill based uses with rules about storage and transportation, I do not endorse the right of every person walking the earth to own guns or carry guns in public. WHY? Because people use them.

I want first be VERY clear that I know guns are not the issue - people are. But when you give them instant access to a quick power fix, many just disengage their brains. They use it as a tool to threaten or even to win in a difficult situation. How many times do you actually hear about someone protecting themselves versus someone pulling their gun and shooting someone either mistakenly or in a dispute. And the accidental deaths (see chart below) are heartbreaking. Then there are those with emotional or mental issues that are not obvious. Putting guns in their hands is a time bomb waiting to go off. No on can dispute the fact that the fatality rate from guns is astronomically higher than from knife wounds or from beatings.

There are so many examples you see floating around in the news -  here are just a few:

1. Two men - one young, one old - in Colorado had a road rage incident. They both pulled over and got out of the car. At this point the older man drew his gun and killed the young man. He was given a pass in a court of law as he felt threatened.

2. Marvin Gaye was shot by his own father after a home dispute. No gun in the home, things would have been dealt with very differently.

3. My dental hygienist was visiting her brother in Texas - a doctor of radiology - and the first thing he said was do NOT get into a road rage incident. Just ignore the other person as they will shoot your car. Reading x-rays of bullet wound victims is the largest part of his work load.

4.  This June 2015 shooting in Ohio is just one more heartbreaking example of the a child getting a hold of a parent's gun with fatal results - 3-year-old Ohio boy kills himself with mother’s gun

4. Then there is the Charlestown shooting now dominating the news. The young man who killed all those innocents received the weapon from his father on his 21st birthday.

The list goes on. Different scenarios, but all disturbing as these are people you can meet anywhere in the US.  When travelling there, you have no idea who around you might be carrying a gun on their person.

Here is a list of statistics on accidental shootings in the US put out by  the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV).

While I have no illusion that anything will change, I do have two goals in publishing this piece.  First is to encourage anyone travelling in the US or abroad to realize the rules are different regarding guns. The best tack is to avoid volatile personal confrontations. The second is to express my hope that Canada never opens that Pandora's box.  We are fortunate to have the regulations we do. I feel safer.

Want to know what the Canadian regulations are?  You can check out this overview on the RCMP website - http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/fs-fd/restr-eng.htm.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lost, Found, Reborn - The Crazy Tale of Two Wedding Rings!

This story is one I've been wanting to write for a long time. I have already shared it with a few friends, but here we go. It begins simply............I lost my wedding ring.

When Glen and I were married in 1984, we were both poor as church mice. He didn't want a ring as he worked in the trades and it just wasn't a safe thing to wear, so we bought him an 18" gold serpentine chain.  I fidget, so didn't want a ring with anything that stuck up - not a gem, not a sculptural element. I would have ended up twirling it constantly and driving everyone crazy.

The best option financially that fit the bill was a simple ring in the style above. The small diamonds are inset so that the whole surface of the ring is flat. Of course it came in several sizes (the diamonds getting bigger as the price rose), but we could only afford the most modest version. That was fine with me. I was just happy to begin my new life with Glen and as a symbol of our choice to spend our lives together, it was perfect.

When the oldest of my three kids was in grade 11, he took a great class that taught a variety of fun skills including jewellery casting. He wanted to make me a silver ring of his own design, but needed to know my ring size. So I pulled off my wedding ring - something I NEVER did - and let him measure it.  This is the moment I totally messed up. I didn't put the ring back on right away, just sat on the couch talking with him while holding the ring in my hand.

It was over three hours before I realized the ring was no longer on my finger and I had no idea where I dropped it. For the next several years Glen and I carefully checked the vacuum bag after sweeping and regularly dug into the folds of the couch I had been sitting on. It was no use. My ring was gone and I was heartbroken. It may have been simple, but it was filled with memories. Finally. as we neared our wedding anniversary, I decided I wanted to replace it. We headed out together and picked the same design, just one more up the scale. It wasn't the original, but the symbolism was still the same.

Now is where it gets really fun.  We sold our house that same fall and were packing up everything to prepare for the move to our new home.  Magically, the ring appeared, but you'll never guess where. It was at the back on a shelf in our wall unit behind two rows of books!!! How it arrived at this location and why did I not hear it drop onto the shelf if it fell out of my hands here is a mystery that will never have an answer.

Image by Wayne Mah for Fame'd Magazine
Article by Lisa Wong still online at http://bit.ly/1dIpHQE
I was so happy to have the ring back and began wearing it on my right hand. Unfortunately the fit was not great and it kept dropping off, especially while we were travelling in Europe exploring Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Many days I would realize my ring was missing while we were out touring, only to sigh with relief when we got back to the hotel to find the maid had turned it in.  Something had to be done.

Years ago I had connected with an amazing, uber talented goldsmith - Pernilla Ahrnstedt of Aurum-Argentum on Granville Island - and included her story in Fame'd Magazine. I made an appointment to have her resize the original to match the new one and then find a way to combine them into one ring. We went over several designs and in the end decided the best choice was to have her create a burnished gold spacer ring, then fuse the three together.

I just picked up my new/old ring this week and couldn't be more thrilled! It not only has sentimental value, but a unique history that is fun to share.  Now to find my son's ring which I also lost, found and then lost again at the new house. SIGH! Another story in the making.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Apple and Cheddar Penne Pie

I was going to wait a few days and do a couple of non-food posts before I put this one up, but changed my mind. I shared my intention to try this recipe on Facebook and a few people asked for the recipe. As I really didn't have a different post ready for today, I decided to go ahead and strike while the iron was hot.

When visiting my younger brother in Los Angeles recently, I mentioned that he was the gourmet cook of the family.  He makes the most amazing food - all from scratch - and does it with such ease. Well, he filled me in that he really isn't that much of a true chef and probably won't cook again once his kids are grown. To keep inspired, and to keep feeding his family home cooked and healthy meals, he has to prime the pump with great cookbooks and new kitchen gadgets. Everything he makes comes from recipes and he doesn't get creative with them. I was floored.

With his permission I took one of his old cookbooks home - Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen - and then proceeded to unpack all my cookbooks and food magazines that have been in storage since our move. It was time to find some inspiration of my own.  One of the first food magazines I picked up had many recipes I wanted to try, It was a Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest issue from 2014 called Make and Take (still available as a Nook Book HERE). Inside you'll find tons of recipes for get-togethers, potlucks and more.

As I wanted to try a recipe for Turkey Koftas, I decided to select a side dish from this magazine -

hence my decision to try Apple and Cheddar Penne Pie.  There is a bit of history that drew me to this recipe as well. When I was a very young child, my paternal grandmother introduced me to the old fashioned wonder of placing a slice of good quality aged cheddar cheese on a piece of hot apple pie and letting it melt slightly before eating. It was WONDERFUL!  It's been years since I thought about that time, but when I heard the words apple and cheddar in the same sentence, the memories came rolling back.

Last night the koftas were only just good, but I felt the Penne Pie was a true success. 2 of my guys packed the extras to take to work for lunch the next day.  I did make the pie earlier and reheated it at serving time, but think next time I will just prepare through step 3 and set everything aside. Then at the right time it can be quickly assembled and popped in the oven so it can be served piping hot.

Note - as with any dish including cheese, it's really important to purchase a good quality aged cheese to get the best flavour and texture. This is not the time to cut corners.  So take the time and spend the money to get the best cheese you can.

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Apple and Cheddar Penne Pie
8 servings


2 T            Butter or margarine, softened
2/3 C         Panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) - separated
3 tsp          Fresh thyme, snipped
12 oz        Dried penne pasta (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 C           Chopped peeled tart cooking apples (about 3 medium)
1/2 C        Chopped sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla (1 small)
3 T           Butter
3 T           All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp      Salt
1/4 tsp     Ground black pepper
2 C          Whole milk (I actually used non-fat cream for more flavour)
1/2 C       Apple cider (instead of regular I used Grower's Extra Dry Apple Cider - yum)
6 oz.        Cream cheese, softened and cut in cubes
1 1/2 C    Shredded GOOD QUALITY aged white cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan with 1 tablespoon of the softened butter. Sprinkle sides of pan with 1/3 cup of the panko to coat; set aside. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon softened butter. Stir the remaining 1/3 cup panko and 1 teaspoon of the thyme into melted butter; set aside.

2. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than directed by package directions; drain. Return pasta to pan; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan cook apples and onion in the 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. Add flour, salt, and pepper to saucepan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in milk and apple cider. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat to low. Add cheeses and the remaining 2 teaspoons thyme; stir until cheese melts.

4. Add sauce mixture to pasta; stir to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved panko mixture.

t. Bake, uncovered, about 40 minutes or until edges are bubbly. Let stand on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove sides of pan. Using a serrated knife, cut pie into eight wedges (it does crumble a bit so just add those bits to the serving). If desired, top with fresh thyme sprigs.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie

Can't remember where I first ran across this recipe, but it's from the Pillsbury site. I always approach these types of recipes with caution. Sometimes they are just designed to use lots of the company's products, but don't offer much flavour.

What drew me to give it a try?  The recipe is a quiche style vegetarian option using zucchini. I love zucchini, but only have a few go-to recipes.  I tuck it into stir-fries, include it in my Roasted Vegetables with Maple Balsamic Vinegar, make Zucchini Bread and occasionally offer it as the vegetable on it's own with a meal. The fact that it can be overcooked so easily makes me tend to shy away from using it more often. I get distracted in the kitchen.

I also love vegetarian food, but struggle to work it into the menu for a family of committed carnivores. What I told them when I served this was if they wanted meat they could make themselves some bacon. No one bothered. In the end their plates were clean and there was nary a complaint, so that's as good a thumbs up as you'll get for a meatless dish in this house..

The final draw for me was the super easy crust. Making crust takes time to accomplish and the rolling out process always creates a mess. The front of my shirt in particular ends up covered in a dusting of white flour.  Here you take a tube of crescent rolls (I chose the wheat option) from the refrigerator section of your local grocery store, open it and press the dough into a pie plate. How easy is that?

I did make a few changes to the original recipe.  The garlic powder was replaced with minced fresh garlic and the suggested Mozzarella or Muenster cheese was replaced with a flavour filled smoked Gouda.  The final dish was still VERY mild, so I'm glad I chose a stronger cheese. There are only 2 eggs in this and 2 cups of cheese, so taking bites meant occasionally dealing with long strings of cheese just like with pizza. Enjoy!

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Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie
6 servings (370 Calories each serving)

Ingredients -
2 T                  Butter or margarine
1C                  Chopped onions
1                     Large clove garlic, minced
4 C                 Thinly sliced zucchini
1/2 C              Chopped Parsley
1/2 tsp            Salt or Herb Salt
1/2 tsp            Pepper
1/2 tsp            Italian Herbs
2                     Eggs, well beaten
2 C                Smoked Gouda or other cheese with a stronger flavour
1                    Can (8 oz)Refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
2 tsp              Dijon mustard

Heat oven to 375°F. In 12-inch skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add zucchini and continue to saute stirring occasionally, until tender. Stir in parsley, salt, pepper and italian herbs. Cool to room temperature.
In large bowl, mix eggs and cheese. Add cooked vegetables; stir gently to mix. Separate dough into 8 triangles. Place in ungreased 10-inch glass pie plate, 12x8-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish or 11-inch quiche pan; press over bottom and up sides to form crust. Firmly press perforations to seal. Spread crust with mustard. Pour egg mixture evenly into crust-lined pie plate.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. If necessary, cover edge of crust with strips of foil during last 10 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Kwantlen Polytechnic University - Amy Wan, Pearl

Runway images by Christopher Pike Photography
Editorial Images by Elvin Lai

It's always inspiring to attend a large student show with a diverse number of collections. Kwantlen Polytechnic University's The Show 2015 at the River Rock Casino Theatre in Richmond offered just that. 39 graduating fashion design students took to the runway with a wide range of target markets including menswear, womenswear, children's wear, maternity wear, sports wear and more.

It was not possible to feature every student - so I picked a baker's dozen to feature in my show overview for Metro Living Zine (check it out by clicking HERE). I mined that same list to find students to cover in solo articles.

As always, it's a mix of what I see on the runway, the availability of illustrations and honestly, just responding to the email and filling out the questionnaire. Over the years it's been surprising how many never followed through. It takes innate talent, excellent construction skills, an eye for good design and more than anything else, sheer drive to succeed in this tough industry.  Responding quickly to my email is always a great sign that the new grad has what it takes and is motivated.

When selecting solo articles, I also try to feature a mix target markets. In that vein, today I decided to include one dear to my heart - maternity.  Wan's Pearl collection offered soft silhouettes, a lovely palette, comfortable and breathable bamboo fabric and a beautiful dyed ombre effect at the bottom of one dress (created with eco friendly logwood). These beautiful pieces are a far cry from the tent-shaped maternity wear I had available. And I love the thought put into the name of her collection. Want to why she chose Pearl?  The answer is in the Q and A below.

Without further ado - here is a look behind the scenes with fashion designer Amy Wan where she shares about her journey to this moment and the inspiration for her collection - Pearl.

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Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born in Shun De, China and my family immigrated to Canada in 2000. I grew up in Vancouver, B.C.

What you like when you were young?

I was a very active girl. I liked to play sports and spend time with my friends. During my quiet times, I liked to play with fabrics and sewing quickly became my hobby.

What were your interests in High School?

Because of this hobby from a young age, I was strongly attracted to all the sewing classes that was offered in my high school including arts and crafts, pattern making and design.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

I still remember when I was young cutting up all the curtains in the house just to make garments for my dolls. My mother was really mad at me for a while, but she was also really glad that I found a hobby.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

It was really clear to me what I wanted to study after high school. However, I kept my opportunities open and tried different subject areas, such as liberal arts and business. But after a year, my strong interest in fashion drew me back to the path of studying design.

Why did you choose to study at Kwantlen Polytechnic University?

I chose to study at Kwantlen because this school has a very good reputation for its fashion school. It is also the only school that offers a Bachelor Degree in Fashion in the Greater Vancouver area.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you, are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

My time in school was fun! I enjoyed every minute of it. There were many hard times and struggles to complete a project that satisfied the teacher's marking criteria as well as my expectations. I often reflected and reviewed my own performance after each project. Some of the questions that I often ask myself are - what have I learn through this project and what should I improve on for the next project.

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

The inspiration for my grad collection was babies. When I look at them, I often think of all the hard times as well as the happy times that a mother goes through during her pregnancy. This inspired me to create something not only fashionable, but also functional and comfortable so the mother can still be as fabulous as she was before and will be again after pregnancy. Each garment is transitional and can be worn as nursing garments after the baby is born.

The theme of the collection is “Pearl.” Pearls are embedded and grown in the lining of shells known as the “mother of pearls”. Both mother of pearls and pearls symbolize purity, generosity, integrity, and the loyalty of its wearer. A mother also shares characteristics of the mother of pearl. They hold the strength and will to weather the elements while keeping what’s most precious to them safe, the baby. There is hidden beauty here that I respect and tried to capture in my collection. With soothing, neutral colors on the outside and beautiful highlights on the inside, it complements the hidden strength and beauty that only a pregnant women has.

Describe your collection.

Aymee is a stylish maternity wear line that can transition into nursing wear. The collection is designed for mothers who value quality and functionality.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

The palette has a soft and soothing feel to it. The fabric used is mainlyBamboo Jersey because of it soft and breathable texture.

Do you have a favorite look?

I love my collection. If I really have to choose a look. The Grace Dress would be my favorite look. I used a natural dye - logwood - to get the ombre effect accenting the bottom of this dress. It was inspired by the shadow of a pearl.

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?


Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for a while, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

Take a break from school and start working towards my goals in life.

Please share a quote on what fashion means to you.

“Creating something that is stylish and functional”

AMYWANcrop.jpg= = = = = =

To contact Amy Wan or see more of her work, please visit her website at amy-wan.com.

For more information on the fashion design program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University go to http://www.kpu.ca/fashion

Friday, June 12, 2015

No Limits by Leah Goldstein

I have been very fortunate to hear Leah Goldstein (speaker, coach, athlete) speak twice at WOW annual conferences - first in Vancouver a year ago and then at the Sparkling Hills Resort in Vernon this spring.  Both times I sat in awe as she shared her life's journey. Why? This is just the kind of interview that gives me goosebumps from start to finish. I was too far along in the process of finishing my first book in 2014 - Life Outside The Box - or I would have immediately scheduled an interview and added her to the manuscript.

Goldstein, in collaboration with No Finish Line Living business partner Lori Moger (kinesiologist, speaker, fitness coach), had already begun work on her autobiography when I heard her speak in 2014. By 2015 she was just a month away from it's release. This time I didn't take any chances, and quickly scheduled an interview as well as asked for a PDF pre-release media copy of her new book - No Limits: The Powerful True Story of Leah Goldstein: World Kickboxing Champion, Israeli Undercover Police and Cycling Champion (links to purchase below). It took only one afternoon/evening to read as I was unable to put the book down - consuming it from cover to cover.

No Limits begins by sharing her life through flashbacks while riding the grueling Race Across America Marathon (RAAM) competition. Several things quickly become apparent. Goldstein is mentally tough - probably the toughest person I have met to date. What she sets her mind to becomes a driving force - a tsunami that pushes her to greater effort.

Bullied from the beginning for being shy, having a lisp and one leg shorter than the other, the determination built from a very young age to be strong. She started by doing sit-ups for 5 minutes a day (in secret). Riding a bike was also a daily joy and she spent hours pushing herself to cut corners sharper, go that just a little bit faster, try to beat her last time.

Another facet I love is that Goldstein is never apologetic about walking away from a road that no longer serves her. Over her life she embraced Taekwondo to Kick Boxing, the Israeli Secret Service, champion professional cyclist, champion marathon cyclist, personal trainer and motivational speaker. Each is just one part of her life journey, a new direction to embrace, and every new challenge always receives her very best effort.  I think that's an important lesson for each of us. You don't need to have one perfect goal in life. Putting aside goals that have run their course and embracing new opportunities are what keeps life interesting.

There are so many things I would love to share about this book - how she approached much bigger adversaries at martial art competitions, her amazing recoveries from what could have been career ending crashes, the hilarious story of her first chase on foot in the secret service where she cornered the suspect but realized she had lost her gun and the list goes on. In the end I decided to end with this one. From a young age Goldstein has always been afraid of mentally freezing. She has carried this as a driving force through life and offers this wisdom when she speaks - Do something. Make a choice. It could turn out to be a good decision or a bad decision, but that doesn't matter. What matters is to always keep moving forward.

Top - Goldstein
Bottom - Moger

For more information on Leah Goldstein go to - http://www.leahgoldstein.com/

To learn more about Goldstein and Moger's company No Finish Line Living (motivational/wellness speaking, nutritional planning, group training and personal training) go to - http://www.nofinishlineliving.com/

No Limits is available in the U.S. at -
Barnes and Noble

No Limits is available in Canada at
No Finish Line

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Meatless Grilled Portobello Mushroom Tacos from Pink Taco

I truly make an effort to never post a recipe unless I have tried it myself, but saw this gem yesterday and was totally smitten. The next month is crazy with travel and deadlines, so I won't have a chance to give these meatless tacos a go for at least another three to four weeks. By then would I remember? The only solution was to share the recipe in a blog post which I can come back to in mid-July when there is more time.

For many years I was a vegetarian. Then I married a total meat lover and began having children.  I felt my husband had a right to the food he preferred and made the choice that our children should grow up being allowed to make their own decisions about what they liked. I have always done my best to expose everyone to a wide variety of food - meat dishes, vegetarian, vegan, fusion, cultural dishes - you name it.  I wanted them figure out what they loved.  Needless to say, it didn't always agree with what I loved, but that's a price I was willing to pay.

To fill the void, I often choose to indulge in unique vegetarian dishes when eating out. Creativity is a real plus for me, so when I saw thes unique tacos from the chef at the Pink Taco in Los Angles, I just had to share it. The next time I'm in town visiting, I will definitely be giving this restaurant a try.

I'll add my personal feedback later, but for now I can only offer you the picture and recipe posted by Sam Anguiano on the Food Republic website. If you try making these before I do - please leave your comments below.

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Grilled Portobello Mushroom Tacos

Servings:12 tacos

Truffle Aioli -
3 teaspoons champagne vinegar
1 head garlic, roasted
1/4 shallot, minced
3 teaspoons white truffle oil
1 cup mayonnaise

Mushrooms -
6 large portobello mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil

Caramelized Onions -
1 red onion, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice

For the tacos -
12 (4-inch) corn tortillas
6 large radishes, thinly sliced
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced
2 cups pea shoots


Truffle aioli:  Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender and process until well-combined.
Reserve in the refrigerator until needed.

Grilled mushrooms:  Preheat grill to medium high heat. Remove stems from portobellos and discard. Brush mushrooms with olive oil on all sides and season with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms onto hot grill and cook for 4-5 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from grill, rest for 10 minutes, slice them into 24 even pieces about 1/2-inch thick and set aside.

Caramelized onions: Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add olive oil.  Add onions, salt and pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook. Move the onions in the pan until they have turned a nice light brown color. (Check out our easy guide to caramelizing onions here) Once onions are caramelized, add fresh orange juice and continue to cook for 15 minutes.

Tacos: Warm all tortillas and hold in a tortilla warmer or in aluminum foil. Add 1 tablespoon of truffle aioli to the center of the tortilla from end to end, creating a line. Place 2 slices of grilled mushrooms on top of truffle aioli. Place 1 tablespoon of caramelized onions on top of the mushrooms, spreading them evenly. Place thinly sliced radishes on top of the onions and thin parmesan cheese slices on top of the radishes. Top with 4-5 sprigs of pea shoots and serve.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Return to Biking and New Goals for 2015

For all who do not know - in May of 2014, I pulled my 29 year old bicycle out of storage and started riding again. Why?  Glen and I had booked a 16-day trip to Prague, Vienna and Budapest in the fall. He is an avid biker, so I decided to add a full day bike trip in Prague and a second in Vienna to our self-directed tour organized by David Manley at Go Real Europe. The second was labeled as dead easy - the first would be more of a challenge with a lot of hills to climb. I needed to start riding again or I wouldn't keep up.

Getting back on a bicycle after so many years was interesting.  Fortunately I owned a great quality 5-speed commuter that was still in great shape. It just took a little oil and tuning up to hit the road. From the first push of the pedal, I realized you never loose the knack of riding.  Off we went on our first short hop. BUT, oh my. the behind did not enjoy the experience and I tired after a really short distance. I am a great walker - but just didn't use those pedalling muscles much. Fortunately, Richmond where I live is very flat so I didn't have to deal with hills while I built up endurance.

By the time we left for Europe in late September, I was consistently riding 20K a day. A side benefit - I lost 20 pounds. The daily ride also helped me deal with the tremendous stress of trying to finish my first book which was well past its completion date and I was sleeping better. Vancouver had beautiful weather almost every day that summer. I loved the feel of wind in my face and how I came home with a clear, quiet mind.  One down side of riding daily was numb private parts.  It took a few tries to find a seat that worked for me, but once that was in place I became a riding maniac. Unfortunately, over the cold, wet winter I lost momentum.

By spring 2015, I was struggling to get back to consistently riding. I was starting to make progress, but then left for 10 days to visit family. When I returned it just seemed constant obstacles arose to keep me off the road. Yesterday I woke up committed. I would get out on that bike.  Fate also stepped in with a much needed push. My husband forgot his pants at home and needed me to bring them to work. You heard me - forgot his pants.

Glen rides to work everyday. Once and awhile he forgets part of his work clothes. He was stuck in the office in his lycra biking gear - not a hit with the company. So instead of my normal 20K, I adjusted the loop to pass by his office. This unfortunately meant instead of a more box shaped route that constantly changed into and out of the wind - it was a long straight shot each way. Riding with the wind at my back was dead easy, but riding straight into the wind for a long stretch after my break was challenging, I'm proud to say I was triumphant and finished all 20K - probably partly due to the strong legs from finishing singer/songwriter Jody Quine's recent squat challenge.

While I rode I thought back over my interview with pro-cyclist, trainer and motivational speaker, Leah Goldstein of No Limits and No Finish Line Living. While I don't want to train for racing, I did need to set some goals to keep myself motivated.  I came up with 2 -

1. Buy a newer, lighter bike with more gears (Leah - still concerned about a klutz like me with clip-in shoes, though I am seriously considering the purchase of an indoor bike next fall!) BUT I had to earn it by increasing my speed and strength until I was riding that 20K in 5th gear for the majority of the ride regardless of the wind I faced.

2. Finish my weight loss journey. The 20 pounds I lost was about 2/3 of my original goal. It was time to get serious about getting those last few extra pounds of unhealthy belly fat off. I want a real waist to join my slender arms and legs.

The course is set, the prize in view.  Time to get to work - back on my bike!