5-A-Day Clutter Buster Challenge

Do you have clutter taking over your home or a part of your home?  I certainly do.  At my place, there are a few rooms that are a little out of control. Although I am not a neat freak, too much clutter leaves me feeling a little stressed.  Who needs additional stress?  I don’t.  I will conquer the clutter.

5-A-Day Clutter Buster Challenge

Gaye over at Calm.Healthy.Sexy has taken on a 30 Day Clutter Challenge and has invited her readers to participate.  She is challenging herself, and her readers, to get rid of five items per day, for thirty days. She has inspired me.  I’ve decided to join her in her challenge.  Broken down into small bits like this, that will likely take only about five minutes per day, this is achievable.  I can do it (this being said in an encouraging voice).

I have a clutter problem.  We have too much stuff, and not enough space to put it all.

I’ve tried tackling the issue before, unsuccessfully.  My most recent attempt was last summer, when I decided we would tackle our basement storage room.  We still have boxes in there that have not been unpacked since we moved into this house six years ago. Unpacked boxes just scream of stuff we don’t need.   I thought we could empty out one box a day, and get through the room in a few weeks.  Greg managed to go through his boxes, but I didn’t get through mine.  I was letting it pile up, making the task seem very time-consuming.

The storage room isn’t the only space with clutter.  Many of the horizontal surfaces in the house have too much stuff on them.  I think we have too many things.  We don’t buy a lot of stuff, but we probably don’t get rid of things much either.  I am also really bad about accumulating paper.

What do you have too much of at your place?  Is it too many toys for the kids?  Endless kitchen gadgets you don’t use?  A closet full of clothes you don’t wear?  Too many knick-knacks on the tables, collecting dust?  Or like me, is it not just one localized area, but just a bit too much here and there throughout the house?

Having too much stuff makes it hard to see what we do have.  Sometimes we forget about really useful things, because they are buried behind other things.  We don’t need as much stuff as we have.  Letting go of some of it will help me feel calmer.  Visual clutter is stressful.  Our eyes need a place to rest when we are looking around.  It gives our brain a moment to pause.

For the next 30 days, I will take about five minutes each day, to find five things that we don’t need.  Some items will be donated.  Some will go into the garbage.  Some, like all the paper taking over the house, will be recycled.  At the end of the 30 days, there will be 150 less things in my house.  They will be 150 things that I don’t need.  There are probably more than 150 unneeded things in my house, but 5 things a day for 30 days is a good place to start.

I will share my progress here with you in the form of a weekly check-in.

Why am I sharing my clutter problem with you?  Two reasons:

  1. Maybe you have unwanted clutter in your space that you would like to eliminate. In that case, perhaps reading about my progress will help you with yours.
  2. Making a public commitment will help me stay motivated to stay the course. Back in late January, when I decided my goal was to go to the gym three times a week, I posted about it on Facebook. Every week I reported how I did. At the end of the first month, I had created a new habit of going to the gym regularly, and no longer needed to check-in to keep up the motivation. Dealing with clutter has always been difficult for me. I need as much encouragement as possible to stay on track.

Do you have clutter you want to make disappear?  If so, join me in this 5-A-Day Clutter Buster Challenge.  There will be no guilt or recriminations here. If a day gets missed, there will be no blame.  The next day will be a new day, and I will find five things that aren’t needed. The goal is to de-clutter the spaces around us to help us to feel better, to bring more order, calm and peace into our lives.

If you want to join in the challenge, leave a comment to let me know.  I am sure that after 30 days, we will feel better about our spaces.

Dessert Recipe – Apricot Coconut Crisp

I think I have a new favorite dessert.  It’s this apricot coconut crisp.  Yes, it’s that good.

Apricot Coconut Crisp

My favorite dessert has always been apple crisp.  My mother makes the best apple crisp.  She still makes it for me when I visit.  Apple crisp is all about familiarity and comfort.

This apricot coconut crisp, on the other hand, is a bit exotic and tropical.  The apricots provide this dessert with vibrant colour.  The coconut gives the crisp topping a different type of crunch and pairs beautifully with the filling made from fresh apricots.  Apricot and coconut should be a classic combination, they go that well together.

Apricot Coconut Crisp

The inspiration for this crisp comes from these apricot coconut muffins from Flavour the Moments.  As I was savoring the muffins I made using that recipe, I just knew I needed to use apricots in a crisp and use coconut in the topping.  It’s definitely not my usual topping for a crisp, but it’s the right one for a crisp made with fresh apricots.

My original plan was to use unsweetened coconut in the topping.  I was out of unsweetened as I had used the last of it for the muffins, so I used some sweetened shredded coconut I had on hand.  As a result, I cut back pretty dramatically on the brown sugar in the topping; otherwise it would have been way too sweet.  The result was just right.  A nice amount of sweetness, great crunch, and flavour I love, love, love. If you use unsweetened coconut, you might choose to add more brown sugar.

My apricots were not as ripe as I would have liked.  I should have left them out on the counter for a couple of days before making the crisp.  As they weren’t very sweet, I opted to add some maple syrup to the filling.  If your apricots are very ripe and sweet, you might want to adjust for that and cut back a bit on the sweetener.

I’ve been baking a lot of crisps lately, like this strawberry rhubarb crisp and this apple rhubarb crisp.  Crisps are such a great way to use summer fruit.  In the past I thought of crisp as a fall and winter dessert, but I have changed my mind.  Crisps should be enjoyed all year.

Recipe:  Apricot Coconut Crisp

Apricot Coconut Crisp

Ingredients

Crisp Topping:

  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup quick cooking oats
  • ¼ cup softened butter

Apricot Filling:

  • 3 ½ cups peeled, sliced fresh apricots (about 14 apricots)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Make crisp topping – In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, sugar, coconut and oats. Stir in butter and mix until crumbly. Set topping aside.
  3. In a 1.5 quart (1.4 L) oven safe dish, add apricots. Stir in maple syrup. Sprinkle cornstarch and stir fruit to distribute evenly.
  4. Spread crisp topping over fruit, distributing it evenly.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is golden and crisp. Let cool a bit, but serve warm.

13 Great Reasons to Go Camping

13 Great Reasons to Go Camping

School is out here and the weather has finally turned warm.  Yay, summer has arrived!  With the arrival of summer comes the time to plan summer adventures.  For Greg and me, our thoughts turn to camping.  Going camping is one of our favorite summer activities.  We are reminiscing about past camping trips and planning where we will go this summer.

Is camping part of your summer rituals?  Or is camping something you haven’t done in a long time? Maybe you’ve never gone camping?

If the thought of camping is new to you, here are 13 great reasons to go camping.

  • Being outside all day: So much of our daily life happens indoors. Going camping means spending the days outdoors. Each day is filled with different sights, sounds and smells when we spend it outdoors.
  • No schedule: While camping we eat when we are hungry, go for a walk when we feel the urge, go swimming when we are hot, go to bed when we are tired, get up when we are awake. There is no schedule, no need to do something at a specific time. I don’t have that freedom in my regular days, so really enjoy this when camping.
  • Swimming: Who doesn’t love going for a swim on a hot summer day? Here in Ontario most campgrounds are on or close to a lake or river, allowing lots of opportunities to swim while on the camping trip.
  • Wildlife viewing: Some of my greatest wildlife viewing opportunities have happened on camping trips. Last summer’s highlight was seeing a beaver swimming in the river, just ahead of our canoe. We were going in the same direction, so we followed him for probably about 5 minutes. Our presence didn’t seem to bother him, as he just did what he was planning. Typical wildlife encounters on camping trips include rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs and many kinds of ducks, but sometimes include turtles, deer, moose and porcupines. Big or small, it’s always exciting to glimpse wildlife.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Wildlife

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Wildlife

  • Paddling: We don’t own canoes or kayaks, or have easy access to them at home. Many of the parks where we go camping offer them for rent. Renting a canoe or a couple of kayaks for a day or several days gives us the opportunity to get out on the water and view the landscape from a different perspective. I love the peace and tranquility of an early morning paddle.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Paddling

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Paddling

  • Hiking: Most parks have several hiking trails, some long ones and some short ones, that allow us to get out and explore. Many hiking trails have some great viewpoints along them, with special things to see along the way. I love hiking; it’s exercise, fresh air and an adventure all rolled into one activity.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Hiking

  • Campfires: I love the tradition of a nightly campfire. There is something very primeval about sitting around a campfire, watching the flames, feeling their heat, telling stories and smelling that campfire smell.

    Great Reasons to Go Camping - Campfires

    Photo by Cape Cod Cyclist – Used under licence CC BY-NC 2.0

  • Roasting marshmallows:  That campfire creates the opportunity for roasting marshmallows. Did you roast marshmallows on the charcoal grill after are bbq dinner as a child?  I sure did. Now that we have a gas grill, roasting marshmallows isn’t an option. We always pack marshmallows when going camping. Sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows always creates a bit of competition, seeing who can roast the perfect one. Roasting marshmallows around the campfire is a great experience for kids, and an opportunity for adults to relive childhood memories.
Great Reasons to Go Camping - Roasting Marshmallows

photo by Nina Hale – used under licence CC BY 2.0

  • Spectacular views of the stars: With all the light pollution in most cities, the view we get of the stars at home is nothing compared to the views when we go camping. A dark clear night and an opening in the trees are all that is required to do some stargazing. While out camping we see thousands of stars and even see the Milky Way, which just isn’t visible in the city. If we are extra lucky we are there on a night when the Northern Lights are active. Seeing the Northern Lights dance across the sky is pure magic.
Great Reasons to Go Camping - Stars

photo of Milky Way by Steve Jurvetson – used under licence CC BY 2.0

  • Great night’s sleep: Nothing helps me get a great night’s sleep better than spending the entire day outdoors. All that fresh air really lulls me to sleep at night. Of course, we do have one trick that helps with the great sleep. We have an air mattress. Sleeping on an air mattress is a completely different experience than sleeping on the hard ground.
  • Get away from the everyday: I have no worries while camping. There are no obligations, or tasks waiting for me. No work emergencies, or things that must get done right now. We are in our own little bubble while camping, with no knowledge or care of what is happening in the world around us.
  • Connecting with family/friends: Going camping means spending a lot of time with the people with you. You do everything together. You make new discoveries and have adventures together. It’s a wonderful opportunity to really connect with them.

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Connecting with Family

  • Camping is fun: There is so much fun on each and every camping trip. Isn’t that the best reason of all?

Great Reasons to Go Camping - Fun

 

Greg and I are veteran campers.  We’ve been camping together for more than 10 years, and both of us were camping long before that.  We’ve done it with and without kids. Each camping trip is an adventure, with new things to do, new places to explore, new things to experience, and special memories to be created.  I hope we never feel too old, too tired or too busy to plan a camping adventure.

There are so many great reasons to go camping.  Why do you go camping?  If you’ve never been, I urge you to give it a try.  There is a great adventure waiting for you and your family.

 

A Note About Photos:  Most of the photos in this post were taken by me, and as such are copyrighted to me, Julie Rivet.  They can be used if proper attribution is made, with a link back to this post.

The three photos that are not my own are used under various creative commons licences, as noted in the caption under each photo.  

Dessert Recipe – Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

Now that summer has arrived are you looking for easy-to-make desserts to serve at family gatherings? These chocolate ganache raspberry tarts fit the bill. Not only are they easy-to-make, they also look elegant and will likely leave your guests thinking that you slaved away in the kitchen to make them.

Chcolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

Chocolate and raspberry is a classic combination for a reason. They taste great together. The chocolate ganache is rich, smooth and melts in your mouth. Don’t you love the sparkle the sugared raspberries add? This was my first time sugaring raspberries, but I will totally do that again, as I love the look.

Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

When I was researching how to sugar raspberries, every recipe I saw called for using egg white on the berries to get the sugar to stick. As they don’t get cooked, I did not want to do that. I’m not a big fan of using raw eggs in my food. I improvised instead. I mixed a bit of granulated sugar with a bit of water, creating some thick syrup. I lightly coated the berries with the syrup, and then rolled them in sugar. It did the trick, and there are no raw eggs in these tarts.

I opted to take the time to sugar the raspberries, as I wanted them to look special. Plain raspberries could be used instead, to reduce the amount of sugar and/or to save a bit of time. That said, sugaring the raspberries is not difficult. It just requires some time to allow them to dry before placing them on the tarts. When selecting your raspberries, choose the firmest ones, as they will hold up best to the sugaring process.

I took one shortcut with these tarts that saved me a lot of time and effort. I used frozen tart shells. You could make your own pie crust if you wanted. Unless I am baking a large batch of pies, I usually use ready-made ones.

Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

These chocolate ganache raspberry tarts are elegant and taste great. They are also a decadent treat.  They are a good choice for a special occasion. I will make some again next week when our family gets together to celebrate Canada Day. They would be a great addition to a Fourth of July get together too.

 

Recipe: Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

Chocolate Ganache Raspberry Tarts

Ingredients

• Granulated sugar
• 12 fresh raspberries, washed and patted dry
• 12 tart shells (I used frozen tart shells)
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• ½ cup milk chocolate chips
• ½ heavy cream (I used table cream, 18%)

Directions

1. Sugar the raspberries. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, dissolve a bit of granulated sugar in a small amount of water, to make a thick syrupy mixture. On a dry plate, pour some granulated sugar. Coat each raspberry with the syrup, and then roll raspberry in sugar, to cover all sides. Gently place the raspberry on the parchment paper to dry. Let dry completely, at least one hour.
2. While raspberries are drying, place tart shells on baking sheet to thaw. Prick the dough with a fork in several places on bottom and sides before baking, so crust doesn’t bubble. Bake according to package directions. Let tart shells cool completely before filling, at least 30 minutes.
3. Make the chocolate ganache. In a medium size microwave-safe bowl, place semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips and cream. Heat in microwave on medium-high for 60 seconds. Stir until chocolate chips are melted, smooth and totally blended with the cream.
4. Pour ganache into the tart shells, filling to top edge. Let ganache settle and cool for about 15 minutes.
5. Place one raspberry on top of each tart, in the centre.
6. Serve and enjoy the oohs and ahhs when your family/guests see the tarts.

Grilling Vegetables – Lemon Dill Grilled Green Beans

Now that summer has arrived, have you moved your cooking out to the grill?  We certainly have.  Even though we are grilling several nights a week, we are still eating lots of vegetables, and not only salads.  We grill many vegetables, including these delicious lemon dill green beans.

Lemon Dill Grilled Green Beans

I love cooking on the barbecue because it helps us to keep the house cool on hot summer days, without having to turn on the air conditioning.  I also love the flavour it gives food.

Many of the vegetables that I roast in the cooler months are grilled in the hot summer.  There are a few different ways to do so.  You can use a grill basket and place your vegetables in it.  The basket method hasn’t worked out really well for me, but both of my sisters swear by them.

Another method is to place your vegetables inside a foil papillotte, which is sort of like an envelope, and place it on the grill.  The heat from the trapped steam cooks the contents when using this method.

My favorite method is placing the vegetables directly on the pre-heated grill plate, and turning down the heat of that burner.  This works well for larger vegetables that won’t fall through the grate.  Beans are big enough to use this method.

Lemon Dill Grilled Green Beans

My grate runs front to back, so I place the green beans side to side, going across the grate.  Try to spread out the beans in a single layer, so that they can roast evenly.

Although I love the flavour of grilled beans, I wanted to change these up and add something more.  I had some dill from my CSA box that was crying out to be used.  I created some lemon dill dressing to add to the warm green beans.

I can now tell you that dill and green beans go well together. These beans were a hit.  I made more the next day.

I made the dressing about an hour before dinner, to give it time to sit and for the flavours to meld together.

Grilling the green beans is quick and easy.  If you are grilling meat, the meat will take longer, so put the beans on when the meat is almost done, so they can finish cooking while the meat is resting.

I enjoy grilling vegetables because often the entire meal ends up being prepared on the barbecue.  It makes for a compact cooking space, it’s easy, and best of all, there are fewer dishes to wash.

Do you grill your vegetables? Which ones are your favorite on the grill?

 

Recipe:  Lemon Dill Grilled Green Beans - serves 4

Lemon Dill Grilled Green Beans

Ingredients

Lemon Dill Dressing

  • 2 green onions (scallions) finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Beans

  • 1 pound (454 g) green beans, washed, trimmed and dried
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Directions

  1. Prepare dressing: In small bowl, add green onions, dill, lemon juice and vinegar. Whisk together. Slowly pour in olive oil while whisking. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  2. Pace green beans in a large bowl. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and mix until oil coats beans.
  3. Pre-heat grill to 400 F
  4. Turn one burner down to low heat. Place beans on that portion of grill. Grill beans for 6 to 8 minutes, turning several times to prevent burning. It’s okay if they get some dark spots. As long as the entire bean isn’t charred, it won’t taste burnt.
  5. When beans are done, transfer them to serving dish. Add three tablespoons dressing and toss. Drizzle a bit more dressing on top of the beans and serve.

What’s In Bloom – Bladder Campion

I’ve always liked Bladder Campion.  The flowers, with their distinct inflated bladder, have always intrigued me.  Aesthetically, this white flower is very pleasing to me.

What's In Bloom - Bladder Campion

Native to Europe, here in North America Bladder Campion is considered to be a weed. It grows easily in well-drained soils, and can be seen blooming along the side of many trails and in open fields throughout the summer.

It is likely a familiar sight to many, although you might not have gotten up close and personal to examine it.  I can’t resist examining anything and everything in bloom when I go out for a walk or a hike.  This drives Greg crazy sometimes as it has a tendency to slow us down.

What's In Bloom - Bladder Camption

I consider Bladder Campion to be a pretty wildflower.  The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture considers it to be a weed.  I think it’s quite interesting how humans have grown to consider most plants that they have not planted themselves, and that they therefore do not consider to be useful, to be a nuisance plant, i.e. a weed.

To me, pretty flowers are useful just because they are pretty.  They make me smile.  Seeing them helps me relax.  Plus I am sure that some animals benefit from their presence.  They must be a source of food for something.

What's In Bloom - Bladder Camption

The leaves of Bladder Campion are considered to be edible and are harvested and consumed in some parts of Europe.  The leaves are small, so I would think there is much work for small reward in harvesting these.

What is your favorite wildflower?

Vegetable Recipe: Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

It is asparagus season in Ontario.  Fresh local asparagus has been making an appearance in grocery stores, at farmers markets and in CSA boxes across the province.  Several of my family members wait for asparagus season with much anticipation each year.

When a vegetable is as loved as this, sometimes the best way to prepare it is to aim for simple and allow the full flavour to shine through.  This roasted asparagus with parmesan cheese does that.

Roasting brings out the sweet flavour of the asparagus.  It also softens the spears a bit; not enough to turn them to mush, but just enough to make them easy to eat.  Roasting needs to be done on high heat; otherwise you won’t achieve the outer crispness that makes roasted vegetables so delightful.

Storing Fresh Asparagus

Fresh asparagus is best consumed within a few days.  The best way to store asparagus is to place it standing in a container with about 1” (2.5 cm) water.  Change water each day until you eat the asparagus.   This will prolong the life of your asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Recipe:  Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

Ingredients

  • Asparagus spears, about 6-7 per person
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Place oven rack in highest or second highest position. Pre-heat oven to 425 F.
  2. Wash asparagus and pat dry. Snap woody bottom off each spear, about 1”.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place asparagus baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Spread asparagus out in a single layer.
  4. Roast for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and flip asparagus. Roast for an additional 6 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle parmesan cheese over asparagus. Roast for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, watching so the cheese doesn’t burn.