Brussels Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust

Our first daytrip as a married couple went awry when we found ourselves sitting in an empty restaurant somewhere in the Croatian countryside, starving, and staring at an indecipherable menu.

The drive through the top corner of Croatia and neighbouring Slovenia had been beautiful, but about two hours past lunchtime, we were desperate. We hadn’t bothered to pack anything to eat from our villa back in Lake Balaton region of Hungary, planning to stop along the way and sample the local fare. After all, half the fun of spontaneous travel is tasting the regional cuisine; the only trouble was, we hadn’t seen anything other than the occasional farmhouse.

As our rented Opel Astra bumped along the absurdly narrow roads, I kept busy looking for a roadside restaurant or any sign of food. We finally pulled into a gravel parking lot where a low building flashed a neon Pizza sign in the window. Pizza? That was unexpected, but to us at the time it sounded glorious.

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Eat like the Irish: Baked Cheese Toasties

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As we discussed last year, part of my family hails from the Emerald Isle, and as every March 17th approaches, I eagerly anticipate another chance to cook food from the country of my ancestors.

You’re probably already familiar with Guinness beef stew, Colcannon, and soda bread/biscuits, traditional and popular Irish fare, not to mention the many green dishes that take over the table at this time of year.

I love most of these dishes, I truly do, but I’ve been increasingly interested in wanting to know a little more about the meals that aren’t the most familiar or famous, but are the hearty plates that a home cook prepares for their family on a daily basis, like today’s toasties.

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Feed a child, nourish a mind (Recipe: Tuna Cheddar Lunchbox Bites)

When my children first started school, I learned a vital lesson in nutrition, communication, and well, Mothering 101.

Here’s what happened: occasionally the boys would come home irritable; falling apart at the slightest grievance, snappy, and unable to focus. I’d power through those tough afternoons, admittedly breathing a sigh of relief when they were down for the night. As part of the evening kitchen clean-up, I’d tidy up their lunch boxes; often so tired or distracted that I hardly noticed what was left over.

Eventually, I connected the dots. On the difficult days, there was considerable leftover food in their lunch. Perhaps they had wasted time during their lunch hour or disliked what I had packed for them, but whatever the reason, their energy hadn’t been sustained for the whole day. It was a humbling moment for me as a mother. Of course. I had blood sugar crashes, so why wouldn’t they?

We started talking more about their preferences (how fortunate we are to have options). I encouraged them to help me prepare their lunch boxes in the morning and they had more of a say in fruits and vegetables. We baked together on weekends: chocolate chunk cookies, oatmeal muffins, and zucchini bread and froze the goodies for future lunches.

It broke my heart to think of them going hungry at school; I should have communicated better. Fortunately those crotchety after-school attitudes are now a thing of the past.

After that learning experience, I’ve had a heart for less privileged mothers who daily see the hunger signs in their own school children (oh, how they watch and ache) but are unable to provide even the most basic of lunch.

Today’s post is a little unusual, but it is one I am proud to share. In short,  I’ve partnered with a group of food bloggers to help provide school lunches for South African children. It’s really exciting! I’m also sharing a recipe for an absolute favourite (and totally simple) lunchbox staple, so please keep reading.

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A quick appetizer: Mediterranean Stuffed Mushrooms

I have a love/hate relationship with appetizers preceding a holiday meal.

Ideally they should tantalize the tongue, awaken the palate, and leave the guest eager for dinner, but we can all probably agree that they are often carb-heavy or cheese-laden. This type of fare can leave us feeling bloated as we gather around the table, with Gougères being the light and fluffy exception to the rule.

That said, I don’t think we should do away with the appetizer. The cocktail hour is a wonderful time to socialize, and I arrive starving, that plate of nibbles can be a lifeline and prevent me from crashing while awaiting the meal. If I’m being absolutely honest!

Instead, let’s serve more pre-dinner snacks that are gluten-free and vegetarian, leaving room for turkey or roast lamb with dinner. Today’s recipe for Mediterranean Stuffed Mushrooms are kind of what I have in mind.

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Classic Gruyère Gougères: A make-ahead party snack for holiday entertaining

I’ve spent the past two weeks preparing myself for the upcoming holidays by stocking a sizeable portion of my deep freeze with an assortment of homemade chewy caramel candies, sugar and gingerbread cookie doughs, pie crusts, soups for quick and nourishing weeknight dinners, and no less than five different varieties of gougères ready for last-minute entertaining and party-going in the coming month.

Lest you think I’m hyper-organized (okay, maybe I am a little), most of it is due to the large amount of recipe testing I’ve been doing for my forthcoming book, and the fact that December is my busiest working month of the year, and there is simply no time to let myself fall behind when it comes to holiday preparations.

While all of the items I’ve stockpiled are essential sanity-savers, none are more important to me than the gougères I mentioned above. They are my secret weapon when it comes to holiday gatherings, and I always, always have a bag ready to be baked between December and January, when surprise visitors pop by or I’m in need of a last-minute party nibble.

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