Say Hello to Stress-Free Meal Planning with HelloFresh Canada!

Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh
Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh

It’s the little things that make a big difference. Last week, not having to plan, shop, or think about my meals made my week so easy – this, thanks, to a delivery from HelloFresh Canada.

I usually do the meal planning, shopping, and cooking for my family and I love doing it. Being a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, I have more flexibility in shopping and cooking than most households but, every once in a while, I find myself in a rut and out of time and out of meal ideas. The kids complain that the meals aren’t up to their expectations and ‘why can’t we have something good’! I’m not upset when I hear those words – I just ask them to make a list of their top 5 favorite foods and I go from there.

Having said that, getting HelloFresh Canada delivered to my door last week was such a treat!

Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh
Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, HelloFresh is a service that makes meal prep and family time fun. The chefs at HelloFresh come up with meal ideas based on in-season produce, and they source everything locally, which I love.

All you have to do is go online, choose your meals, and then get everything delivered to your door. You choose the type of plan you want (pronto meals, which are ready in 30 minutes or less; family meals; or veggie meals), the number of people you want to feed, and the delivery date. It’s a subscription service that you can stop by following the instructions online.

HelloFresh Canada Delivery
HelloFresh Canada Delivery

I was so excited to open up the HelloFresh Canada box and so were my kids! . The box is corrugated and insulated and comes with ice packs in the bottom. The meat sits on these packs and is separated from the rest of the goodies by a piece of thick cardboard to avoid contamination. There were three bags in my box, for 4 people, and we got the family plan.

Each meal comes in a labelled brown bag. After you decide which meal you’re making, you find the instructions on the meal card, and you start. Other than the  basics like salt, pepper, and cooking oil, everything else like the meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, spices, mayo, sour cream, herbs, sesame seeds, and garlic are all provided and pre-measured.

Our meals last week consisted of Cajun-Spiced Chicken Burgers, Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce, and Sesame Beef Stir-Fry. All of the meals were delicious! It’s interesting to see the spices and flavors used because they’re so basic, yet have a big impact. For example, the cajun spices you dip the chicken burgers into made the whole meal taste yummy. And, the pork meal had these amazing sweet potatoes that you mash with smoked paprika. My teenaged daughter prepared the majority of two meals and found the illustrated instructions very helpful. She found it fun to open the brown bag of ingredients and begin figuring out what to do first. The family meals took on average 40 minutes to prepare.

Cajun-Spiced Chicken Burger by HelloFresh
Cajun-Spiced Chicken Burger by HelloFresh

I have to say that the best part of the HelloFresh experience was not worrying about dinner! I knew I had 3 brown bags of ingredients in the fridge, just waiting to be used. I felt like I had some extra time on my hands because I didn’t have to drive in traffic to the grocery store and I didn’t have to think too much about what I had on hand in the fridge. I really felt like I was on vacation!

What about the cost? On average, it’s about $10-12/person/meal. The amount of food is generous, and we always had leftovers for lunch the next day. Keep in mind that HelloFresh delivers to your doorstep, so you’re saving time, which you have to factor in when you consider convenience and cost.

Here are step-by-step photos of my daughter making the Sesame Beef Stir-Fry, plus photos of how the food is packaged:

We’d love to try other recipes like the Rosemary-Walnut Crusted Chicken, Golden Halloumi With Ratatouille, and Roasted Cauliflower Biryani. But, I’m sure these rotate as the seasons change, so who knows what creative meals you’ll find when your HelloFresh box is delivered!

Have you ever tried HelloFresh? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know what you think.

Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh
Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh

In Canada, you can use code SWEETLIFESTYLE40 to get 40% off your first box. This post is courtesy of Hello Fresh Canada, but all opinions are mine.

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8 Steps To Stress-Free Holiday Baking!

Holiday Baking TipsI love to bake and it’s something that I do several times a week, all year long! People ask me what I do with all the baked goodies, but the truth is that we eat most of them, take them for school lunches, and share them with friends. The latter is especially true around the holidays, because we end up gifting a lot of baked treats. It does take a bit of planning to get it done effortlessly, so I’m sharing my 8 steps for stress-free holiday baking!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 1: Make a list of what you want to bake
This step sort of starts itself around the beginning of October when you see holiday baking magazines in the check-out aisle. It’s easy to get inspired and reminded about what you want to bake. I usually take out holiday baking books from the library and do some online searches. I also ask my husband and kids what their favorite treats are, and I add them to my list. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes, because it’s always fun to find new favorites. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some new treats I’m going to bake this year!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 2: Clean out the freezer and fridge
Although we have a frost-free fridge, I still find that there is some frost build-up in the bottom of the freezer. This is probably because of the uneven temperatures in our kitchen and because we open and close the fridge a lot. I find the beginning of the holiday season to be the best time to do a big clean. Purging expired and freezer-burned food clears space for storing all of the holiday goodies. This takes me 24 hours to do as I let the fridge sit overnight, but it feels so good to start the holiday season with a clean and empty freezer!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 3: Take an audit of your ingredients, spices, and flavourings
This time of year seems to have its own smells and tastes, made possible by spices like nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cream of tartar. Flavors like peppermint and coconut, almond, and orange also figure in holiday baking. Take a few minutes to check out your supply and how old it is. If you can’t remember how long you’ve had some ingredients, toss them and get new ones.

As you’re making your holiday baking list and taking stock of what’s in your cupboards, keep a list of what ingredients you need. This includes spices as well as basics like flour, the sugars (granulated, brown, powdered, turbinado, etc.), baking soda and baking powder, vanilla, cocoa, and molasses. Don’t forget icing tubes, sprinkles, and food coloring. I always have a steady stock of butter, milk, condensed and evaporated milk, eggs, and cream cheese on hand as well.

Holiday Baking TipsStep 4: Take an audit of storage containers and food wrap
If you’re like me, your storage containers have been to school or to friends’ houses and the tops and bottoms don’t fit together so well. Take out your containers and figure out what needs to be replaced and what new items you need. This includes parchment and wax paper, as well as ziplock and airtight containers. To make things as stress-free as possible, I recommend you have your containers lined up before you do any baking and I recommend using similar-looking containers that stack easily together.

Holiday Baking TipsStep 5: Gather all of the gifting containers
If you love to bake, then your holiday baking treats provide you with a ready supply of gifts for friends, family, teachers, hairdressers, work colleagues, etc. Take an inventory of the gift containers you have and supplement with new, creative containers that you find at the dollar store or nearby discount stores. My favorite stores for holiday packaging containers are: Dollarama, Winners (TJ Maxx), Homesense, Bulk Barn, Wal-mart, Canadian Tire, and Michaels. Each year I’m tempted by the new designs and types of containers – they are just so cute!

You can also use tea cups, cello bags, or paper treat bags as containers. Make sure you have wrapping paper, twine, baker’s twine, tags, and ribbon for wrapping your gifts. And, stay tuned for an upcoming post on ideas for packaging homemade goodies!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 6: Shop for your ingredients and supplies
If you’re a baker, you’re probably missing only a few items. If not, you might find that your next shopping trip will be focused on baking ingredients! I usually shop for all of my ingredients and supplies about a week before I know I’m going to be baking up a storm.

Step 7: Start baking
I think 4-6 weeks before Christmas is a good time to start your holiday baking, especially if you’re having a holiday party in the weeks leading up to Christmas. If you spend the good part of one week and one weekend baking (a recipe every night and a couple on the weekend), you should be in good shape. Involve the kids or friends to help out. Have a holiday baking evening with friends or neighbors. It’s more fun and people love getting together this time of year for some festive fun.

Holiday Baking TipsStep 8: Package on demand
Remember when I talked about cleaning out the freezer? Well, if there’s only one tip you follow, it’s to have your freezer almost all dedicated to frozen baked goods. When you need to prepare a gift, grab the gift container and pull out all of your treat boxes and take a couple of cookies or bars from each box, and assemble your gift!

What steps, tips, and tricks do you have for getting your holiday baking done right? Enjoy!

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Wearing Purples and Browns Together

Wearing Purples amd Browns Together
Wearing Purples amd Browns Together

If you follow my blog, you know I like to write posts about pairing colors together (here and here). I love my navy colors, but I also like mixing it up from time to time. Enter wearing purple and brown together.

Brown is a good winter neutral. It’s not as harsh as black or navy because it’s got more of a warm tone to it. And, purple is an interesting color because it’s made of blue and red. Actually, both brown (made by combining red, yellow, and black) and purple are considered composite colors. Purple and brown go very well together and you may see them combined on shirts, sweaters, and other items.

In this post, I’ve paired a light purple sweater with brown brocade floral pants. There are hints of purple in the pants, but not a lot. The lavender shade of the sweater brings out the similar tones in the pants. Interestingly, the complementary color to purple is yellow, not brown, but because brown has warm undertones in it, the combination works!

Wearing Purple and Brown Together
Wearing Purple and Brown Together

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7 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired By The Toronto Gift Fair!

It’s mid-November which means it’s the Christmas and holiday season everywhere you look! Given that clothing, shoe, electronic, department, and jewelry stores derive anywhere from 20-30% of their annual revenue from holiday sales, it makes sense that stores are heavily promoting gift-giving!

And, for us consumers, getting a head start on holiday shopping is always a good way to enjoy a stress-free holiday season. I’m always amazed by my friends and family who are so ahead of the game. You know what I mean: that friend whose house is all decorated by December 1st and whose shopping list is done. This is the friend who’s enjoying the holidays the way they’re meant to be enjoyed: relaxing in front of the fireplace and listening to Christmas carols – doing anything except shopping at the mall! Every year, I say I’m going to get more and more things done ahead of time, and I do a pretty decent job, especially with my holiday baking! (more on this in a future post).

Because buying gifts is the most time-consuming and most difficult part of the holiday season, I thought I’d suggest some ideas for preparing and completing your list. Here are some ways to think about your holiday gifts, as inspired by the Toronto Gift Fair. Continue reading

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Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Recently one evening, my daughter came home from a school event, with two big cookies that looked like oatmeal cookies. She said they were ‘breakfast cookies’. They looked (and tasted) delicious and contained one of my favorite baking ingredients: oatmeal. I had to figure out how to make them. Luckily, they’re made at the school and they were able to give me the recipe.

The term ‘breakfast cookie’ is an interesting one because you don’t usually think of a cookie as a breakfast food. It sounds like you’re sort of tricking yourself by having a cookie with the word ‘breakfast’ in front of it! Let me be clear here: these cookies contain butter and sugar and no fruit. You’ll find lots of recipes online for healthier breakfast cookies out there, made with mashed bananas, almond or peanut butter, and coconut oil. This recipe doesn’t have any of those ingredients. So, in that sense, it really is more of a traditional cookie!

In fact, this recipe is basically the recipe for oatmeal cookies, except that it has proportionally more of the dry ingredients. And, the recipe calls for ground flax meal, which you can taste and notice with every bite.

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

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Honey Cake and Happy New Year Times Two!

Honey Cake & Pistachio Maamoul
Honey Cake & Pistachio Maamoul

I love to bake, so, by now, you’re used to all of the desserts you see on this blog. This time of year is always interesting with lots going on, like the beginning of the school year, sports tryouts, back-to-school shopping, and getting ready for fall activities like Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween.

One thing is for sure, though: I’m back to cooking and baking quite a bit more after the long summer break, where I apparently slacked off in the kitchen! Kids are always so honest. When I came back last week from a trip to Lebanon with tons of fun desserts like date and pistachio-filled maamoul (shown in the round box), pistachio nougats, and boxes of chocolate bars, I was surprised when my daughter said that I need to bake some desserts!

Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze
Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze

So, bake I did. I made brownies that are gone, and decided to make this Honey Cake (basically a coffee cake made with coffee and honey), which you may be seeing in stores as it’s popular this time of year for the Jewish New Year. By the way, this year the Muslim New Year and the Jewish New Year are on the same day, today – something that happens only once every 33 years! If you’ve ever wondered how the Jewish calendar observes the new year in late summer or early fall every year, despite being a lunar calendar, it’s because of the addition of ‘leap months’ into the lunar calendar to keep the holiday steady. You can read more about when the New Years collide here. Happy New Year! Continue reading

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Tie Front Tops Are Here To Stay!

It’s been a summer of all kinds of trendy tops, including cold shoulder, off the shoulder, lace-ups, and tie-fronts. And, if you’ve been watching the shop windows change, you’ll notice that these details are here to stay through the fall.

I did a post in the spring that included a long-sleeved wrap and tie top and I’m happy it’ll still be on trend come fall. This is a quick post on the tie-front tops that I’ve seen all summer. A tie-top is a bit different from a wrap top in that it doesn’t wrap – it’s just two pieces of fabric that tie in the front or side. I love the look because it’s dainty and dressy. It’s a bit frilly and girly and every time I’ve worn the top, I’ve received lots of compliments. I think it’s mainly because I’m usually in jeans and a t-shirt, but we’ll take it!

I’ve styled the top with white jeans because it’s a striped white and blue top and the white makes the top stand out. For fun, I’ve added floral, colorful sandals, and kept the bag a neutral beige.

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Exploring The Mini Shrines In The Villages of Christian Lebanon

Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon
Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon

Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my  March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!

Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.

In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.

This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:

Church veranda for public use and celebrations
Church veranda for public use and celebrations

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Bringing A Little Bit Of Europe To A Summer Outfit

Repeat Cashmere Top; Marc Cain Lug Soles; Furla Stacy Bucket BagThis post is a tip of the hat to European styling and designers. As I write this, I realize there’s a lot to talk about when you think about American vs European designers and the different approach to design and style. Hmm, I’m thinking this could be the topic of another blog post, but I digress.

This very simple outfit shown is a little bit outside of my comfort zone in that the top is flowy (where I usually prefer more fitted clothing) and the shoes are lug soles, which I’ve blogged about before (and a little higher than I would choose for every day wear). It’s a casual outfit, yet it has some details that make it more stylized.

Repeat Cashmere TopI gravitated towards this top because it’s navy and because it’s soft, made of silk. It’s also not plain, having some raw edging and tie-dye detailing which I like. The back has a keyhole button and loop closure and the slightly elasticized hem is a separate piece of fabric with more subtle tie-dye detailing along the seam. I paired it with classic white pants because I liked the contrast with the blue. This top is by Repeat Cashmere, a 40 year old clothing company based in Holland that I was familiar with because I love their winter sweaters and cotton blazers. Continue reading

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Wearing Orange…White, And Blue, For That Pop Of Color!

Wearing orange
Wearing orange

I’ve been told I wear navy all the time, and that’s true! It works for my skin tone, I’ve blogged about, and I’m just more comfortable in blues. One way to mix things up is to add bits of color to the blues I wear – and, orange is one of my favorite ways to do this. It’s not much different than red, white, and blue, which is often seen together. Orange is just a softer version of red.

In these photos, I’ve styled this orange merino wool sweater with white jeans. I like the contrast of the orange and white together. Merino wool in the summer is fine if it’s lightweight and a finer knit and it’s actually a good idea in the air-conditioned indoors. Continue reading

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