Archive for the ‘Recently Reviewed’ Category

Summer Reading: My 10 Essential Books of Creative Nonfiction

In Book Reviews, Recently Reviewed on July 20, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Take a look around these days and you’ll see just about everyone has a list of must-read books. There’s no shortage of material – the selection of topics encompasses every possible genre and category. With this vast range of subjects competing for our time and attention, where does one start?

Reading in the field – scanned 1881 engraving

This personal list of essential creative nonfiction books is specifically for writers. It incorporates key examples on how to craft creative nonfiction (CNF) plus stellar illustrations where writers used form and structure in unique ways throughout their memorable works. If writing CNF is an art, these manuals demonstrate the tricks of the trade or simply inspire because of their artistry.

  1. Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola. Miller and Paola are both English professors and present the nitty-gritty of writing and research basics. Different CNF forms are detailed and explained, from personal, lyrical, braided and hermit-crab essays to sketch portraits, collage and graphic memoirs, to mixed media and digital works. It’s no surprise this resource has become a standard reference in many CNF courses and programs.
  2. Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart. If you’re looking for succinct advice on how to craft narrative nonfiction, Hart clearly dissects and defines each element, from story, structure and point of view, to action and dialogue. He explains these principles in a no-nonsense, easy-to-follow style you would expect from an award-winning journalist and teacher. Hart’s helpful tips can immediately be applied to writing both shorter magazine pieces and longer book-length narratives.
  3. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. After attending a funeral and hearing many tributes, one struck Gornick as particularly memorable. The difference, she realized later, is that it had been composed, organized and structured. It raised the question: How do we tell our stories? Utilizing her years of teaching MFA programs, Gornick decided to tackle this question by showing readers how to recognize truth in writing, which she believes is the essence of what makes good writing.
  4. The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks by Susan Shapiro. Writers who yearn to be published take note – Shapiro promises fast results and cites five weeks or less. With more than 20 years of experience as a writing professor, she has tutored thousands of students using her popular “instant gratification takes too long” technique. For both emerging and experienced writers aiming to get past the slush pile, Shapiro’s results-driven approach is the how-to guide.
  5. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Another highly touted and often quoted tome by an award-winning author, Dillard uses this memoir as a vehicle to impart sage advice and motivation. She encourages writers to establish positive working routines, and to include activities such as regular reading and ongoing writing. She also cautions students not to save or hoard what they deem “good” passages for later use but to continue pushing ahead with the writing.
  6. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott. Elliott excels at using highly personal braided essays to explore complex issues within the Indigenous community. Within this construct, the Tuscarora writer examines how the trauma of colonialism has resulted in generational cycles of poverty, obesity and disease. In easy-to-understand prose, she outlines how this cause-and-effect sequence continues to shape her community’s experiences and environment today. Any writer unfamiliar (as I was) or contemplating utilizing a braided essay format, this instructive work provides tremendous insight on the design and assembly.
  7. Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear. In describing a difficult year, Maclear takes the reader on a month-by-month bird-watching adventure. Sparely written, she masterfully combines minimalist prose, expressive metaphors and philosophical musings to express her grief and anxiety over her father’s illness and resulting artistic slump. The writer and children’s book author contrasts this presentation with unusual stylistic conventions such as including lists and drawings. Filled with an ample array of writing methods and strokes of innovation, Maclear is sure to provide any CNF writer with imaginative ideas to consider.
  8. Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto. This memoir recounts the hardships of the Second World War from the different perspectives of Sakamoto’s interned Japanese Canadian grandmother and his Scottish grandfather who became a prisoner of war. These traumatic events provide the backdrop to the biracial writer’s own upbringing while skillfully interweaving Canadian history with themes of culture, ethnicity and identity.
  9. How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery. The idea for this beautifully illustrated memoir sprang to life after a TV interview. Montgomery, who has travelled the world and spent decades researching, writing about and living with animals, realized she had many life lessons to share. In introducing the reader to different species, she interweaves themes of loss, grief and depression. Through these creature portraits, she provides a window into her own troubled upbringing.
  10. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Scan any number of essential book lists and you’re likely to stumble upon this title. Thoreau’s account of his time spent in the solitude of nature, living in semi-isolation and near self-sufficiency, is viewed both directly and indirectly as a vast contribution to CNF. With his skill for prose, Thoreau is regarded as one of the greatest American writers, and is credited for his enormous influence on scores of seasoned writers in the areas of social reform, philosophy and the environment.

When it comes to not-to-be-missed recommendations, this list of essential craft and inspirational CNF works is only the tip of the iceberg. All writers can reap their benefits. Whether it’s a specific process to glean or an inventive example to emulate, there’s much we can all learn from these fellow writers and the wisdom they impart. Happy reading! – S.H.

Celebrating Asian Heritage Month

In Book Reviews, Recently Reviewed on May 16, 2021 at 5:34 pm

For our Saturday evening movie night, the family watched Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1958 version of The Ballad of Narayama. Based on the novel by Shichirō Fukazawa, the Japanese folk tale explores the practice of abandoning our elders. Resembling a kabuki stage production, it features incredible music and dramatic pre-CG scene changes. I had seen Shōhei Imamura’s 1982 remake of the film, but that was so many years ago, and I only had vague recollections of this story of sacrifice and honour.

Photo by Photography Maghradze PH on Pexels.com

In celebration of Asian Heritage month, I’m sharing reviews of works by three Japanese Canadian writers and encourage you to delve deeper into their writing.

Rediscovering Japanese Canadian Identity: A Journey Through Creative Nonfiction

Who am I? Where do I belong? We’ve all asked these fundamental questions of existence and identity at some point in our lives. From the earliest days of civilized living, philosophers have been trying to provide answers: From Descartes, Cogito, ergo sum–“I think, therefore I am,” to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Even if we feel secure in our identity, challenges or milestones can cause that sense of self to shift or change. And when faced with unexpected events that unhinge us or reopen old wounds, we may find ourselves questioning the very essence of our being. As Psychology Today reports, “…major life upheavals, such as divorce, retirement, or the death of a loved one, often lead people to explore and redefine their identities.”

Examining three Japanese Canadian (JC) memoirs, we meet Kyo Maclear, Joy Kogawa and Mark Sakamoto during difficult periods in their lives. Each author is on a metaphorical journey to regain their identity. Informing the writing are repeated themes: duty and responsibility; the complex child/parent relationship; and inherited traits. Questions arise, throughout their struggles, regarding ethnicity and its influence. While Maclear and Sakamoto are of mixed race, all authors share Japanese heritage, which creates an underlying thread of experience. Despite these commonalities, the structure and style of each memoir is completely different – and each writer follows their own unique path to resolution.

Flight of Fancy: A Whimsical Journey

If you wanted a summary of Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, the subtitles: “A Field Guide to the Small and Insignificant” or “A Year of Observation,” provide telling clues to the content although depending upon the edition, they’re not always included. On some covers, the title Birds Art Life is listed in three separate lines, and one wonders if it’s meant to be a loose reference to haiku since it succinctly summarizes the work and sets the tone with its sparsely written but explanatory text. 

The memoir introduces Maclear in a state of grief and anxiety after her British father suffers two strokes. She’s feeling lost and unnerved by her father’s illness, and has fallen into an artistic slump. Looking for inspiration, the writer and artist undertakes outside distractions and immersive hobbies, which allow the creative to take flight. Birdwatching provides a calming activity­­–a walking meditation punctuated by long periods of quiet watching and waiting. Maclear mirrors this in her deeply introspective compositions. Peppered with insightful observations, it’s an opportunity for Maclear to pose esoteric questions on identity and reflect upon the human condition. 

This whimsical and nature-inspired excursion through quirky lists, side notes and hand-drawn illustrations benefits from its heavily structured format. Divided into sections: first by seasons and then by month, she covers the period of an entire year beginning with a Winter prologue and moves full circle with the epilogue. The book is neatly organized by the London (UK)-born writer who grew up in Toronto where most of the story is set. Each season is afforded a double-page photograph, and each month begins with an artfully presented title page and succinct summary–an effective method for creating separation and grounding the occasionally flighty content. 

Maclear visits an aviary in “January / Cages,” inspiring discussions on freedom and responsibility. As an only child, she often longed to run away, “I was running away from a story about dutiful daughters. I returned because I didn’t know where I would go or who I would be without these ideas. ”Strained relationships emerge beginning with her Japanese mother: “My mother is a mystery to me. Between us is a barrier of language and disposition. She does not divulge or publicly introspect.” Reflecting on this relationship, Maclear realizes she created the imagined narrative: As a failed artist, her mother chose to tolerate an unhappy marriage and to maintain family responsibilities instead of pursuing a creative life. Years later, her mother finally leaves her father, and he soon becomes ill. Her mother, in regaining her independence, becomes what Maclear terms “defiantly unnurturing.” But through fresh insight gained from birding, Maclear acknowledges she had imposed her own expectations upon her mother. Forced to assume a new identify as caregiver to her father, she embraces her role reversal, “I stepped in to fill the breach and discovered I had a talent for it.” A caged bird continues to sing.

Although Maclear doesn’t make large references to her Japanese heritage, in “February / Smallness,” she defends her preference for safety in the small: 

“Good girls are taught to make ourselves small until there is very little of ourselves left in the world, even as our hunger expands. If we are also ‘minorities,’ embracing smallness is a less mutinous and more predictable route. Little, petite, modest, delicate, submissive, soft-spoken, docile, cute, feminine, tidy…Asian women are not assumed to be particularly magisterial, with the exception of Yoko Ono, who is frequently and predictably belittled for her artistic hubris and over-the-top voice.”

The writing style has a Zen-like quality with its ability to poetically convey meaning through minimal details. Like many Japanese Canadians (JC), who grew up with systemic racism and distanced themselves from their community and culture, Maclear similarly keeps an arms-length distance from the reader: most characters remain anonymous, only known by their personas such as “the Musician” or “the Doctor.”

She also masterfully employs parallels to seemingly unrelated topics. In “August / Roaming” she credits the writers and poets who were her early influences. This inspires a shift to her mother the artist and her father the writer, where she concedes: “From my mother, I inherited my sometimes crooked humour and independence. From my father, curiosity about the world, a desire for seclusion.”

In her quest to find meaning again in her life, Maclear winds up her thoughtful expedition with many lessons learned: 

“There are no big reasons to live. Just little reasons. Make leeway for chance. Sometimes you don’t want to be driven to a point. Sometimes it is exactly when we lose our bearings or take a detour that life really gets going.”

Journey into Darkness: Return to Light

The idea for Joy Kogawa’s memoir was sparked by a physical place: “The title arrived as Gently to Nagasaki, and I had no idea what that meant. But what I know now, is that it’s my own personal hell.” This guidepost, as the title alludes, points her towards uncharted territory, a direction to follow as she embarks upon this spiritual pilgrimage.

Kogawa confesses it was extremely difficult for her to write this powerful chronicle: “My story is from the belly of the dark. I am forbidden to tell it and commanded to tell it. I am told that to speak is to slay and not to speak is to slay.” The first section takes us to Nagasaki, cataloguing the many effects of radiation and health consequences suffered by atomic bomb survivors. It’s a long preamble before Kogawa’s crushing revelation: 

“The truth was that the person I loved and admired more than anyone in the world, the one with whom I most identified with, the one who told stories and made life fun, who was tender and generous and wept and laughed and sang, who was good and did not give up, the one in whom I could see no wrong and who saw no wrong in me, my father, a visionary and charismatic priest in the Anglican Church, a man who had served his scattered flock and his people without letup: my adored father was a paedophile.”

Through the depths of her grief, Kogawa becomes physically ill and is filled with a displaced sense of guilt. In the wake of coming to terms with these harsh realities, she travels through the decades tackling other serious issues: her fight to preserve her family home in Vancouver that was seized during World War Two, the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in Nanking and meeting some of her father’s victims. Stories she needed to recount, telling Image magazine, “Writing Gently to Nagasaki was a scream for mercy.” 

Divided into five parts, there is no table of contents or titles, only numbered chapters. It begins with a quote from the bible on healing, and ends with a poem of forgiveness, giving thanks for homecoming waters. Some chapters flow effortlessly into the next, others end suddenly. The Endnotes section requires careful study to decipher as there are no clear indications within the text and no footnotes included at the bottom of the pages. To contrast the weighty content, the book’s liberal use of white space acts as a momentary pause and breath of fresh air.

Kogawa’s writing style is as intense as the subject matter it covers yet the lyrical language reflects her background as a poet. Her straightforward approach of naming names and providing specifics is juxtaposed by cloaked references, which include a multitude of scripture citations, biblical stories, and Buddhist mythology. This density infuses the work with layer upon layer of meaning–some cryptic and others obvious, which might make some passages difficult to navigate for readers without a Christian upbringing or understanding of religion.

“Do we write to be free of our ghosts or to welcome them?” Kogawa asks us. Faced with criticism from the JC community for preserving her family home and coupled with her need to apologize for her father’s wrongdoings, she reclaims a sense of self in her absolute tenets: truth, love and trust. As her trek nears its completion, she visits her father’s ancestral home in Japan and wonders if she can symbolically leave behind the burden of guilt she’s carried throughout the years. Once there, the gentle culture returns her to her origins: 

“I was flung back to earliest childhood and Japanese motherhood: the solicitude, the quiet matter-of-factness, the way of knowing needs, the non-judgment, the slight indirection in the angle of the head. The deep trust established between mother and child is, I think, the foundation for the extraordinary trust in one another that exists in Japanese society.”

By exploring larger abstract questions, Kogawa pushes past narrow definitions of identity and embraces a higher perspective of oneness:

“We need to share our vulnerabilities — all humans are vulnerable — and come to our common humanity . . . . I think we need healing circles, like those of indigenous people. We need to see each other’s eyes, and see each other through each other’s eyes.”

Journey Through the Ages: Injustice Revisited 

For anyone seeking an epic odyssey, Mark Sakamoto is waiting to take you there in Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents. Beautifully told with the easy-going narrative of a seasoned storyteller, Sakamoto weaves the story of his grandparents: from their early beginnings, to how they survived the trials and tribulations of war and hard-scrabble living. It unfolds as an incredible drama that one could easily see portrayed on the big screen.

When his alcoholic mother dies after years of addiction Sakamoto, overcome with guilt and shame, falls into a state of depression. “I told friends and family I had found solace. I lied: I felt neither grace nor solace. I felt fear. I felt a mighty undercurrent and I was petrified it would sweep me under.” He finds his way back by returning to the history of his grandparents, remembering how they endured great suffering and injustices, and the forgiveness that followed. 

Sakamoto begins with a modern-day visit to his grandmother’s house, setting the scene in the prologue. From there he launches us back in history where the voyage starts afresh. Methodically divided into four parts with subchapters within them, he then skips back and forth between the lives of his Scottish grandfather and Japanese grandmother. This rising action skillfully leads us to Sakamoto’s crisis. He returns to the current time, and quickly summarizes his own role and involvement in the story. The epilogue provides the conclusion and consists of a personal thank you note to his grandparents for sharing their stories.

Filled with gripping reports and evocative scenes vividly told, other voices emerge, and Sakamoto successfully transports us into another time and era steeped in culture: 

“Yosuke tried to make life easier for his community and Mitsue tried to make life easier for him. The focus of family life was to assist and to be obedient, to make their parents proud. The sense of duty was constant.”

Towards the end of the novel, Sakamoto switches back to his own narrative and abruptly ties up all loose ends in what feels like a sprint to the finish. Three months after his mother dies, Sakamoto remains in what he calls a dull fog, not sleeping and paralyzed by fear, acknowledging he’s hit rock bottom. His partner tells him, “‘Remember what you’re made of,’ she said. I cried tears of gratitude. For her. For Grandma Mitsue and Grandpa Ralph–for showing me a way out.” And after that, he simply bounces back. Compared to the earlier accounts, it’s less emotionally charged and lacks the same depth of reflection found in previous chapters – almost too quick and tidy a summation to the events so movingly portrayed before. Writer Jack Hart would term this classic falling action or denouement, “Intensity faces. The pace slows. Things wind down.” Yet one wonders if Sakamoto has run out of steam by the time we get to his story or whether he’s using this approach to distance himself. 

In the final chapter, aptly titled “Journey’s End,” Sakamoto spreads his mother’s ashes in a symbolic act of closure signally he’s ready to move on. He resurfaces from the punishing ordeal with new-found philosophical insight: 

“Life happens one decision at a time. You have no idea where each will take you. Maybe it is fate. Maybe it is God’s will. Maybe everything does happen for a reason. All I know is you have to find a reason in it. The reason is usually the future.”

Grappling with life’s existential questions of identity is never easy, even during the best state of mind. How do I deal with trauma? Do these events define who I am? Am I the sum of my parent’s lives? Maclear, Kogawa and Sakamoto all faced similar questions on the road travelled back to self. Triggered by crisis, they all sought to rediscover their identity and using CNF were rewarded with rich metaphors for exploration. Each found resolution by taking a different route.

Maclear, Kogawa and Sakamoto may have gone in completely opposite directions in terms of style and structure, but managed to cover some of the same ground. We walked with them as they survived their parents’ broken marriages and experienced their role reversal when the child became caregiver to the parent. With both pride and ambivalence, they revealed how ethnicity had influenced their lives and in their shared Japanese heritage, all experienced feelings of displacement; an internal and external journey through diaspora and resettlement. They found themselves in the little things, the big things, the meaningful gestures. 

For those who have never experienced tragedy or loss, the incomprehensibility of grief and mourning, and the forms they take can be unrecognizable; the depths unfathomable. Maclear, Kogawa and Sakamoto are deeply reflective as they emerge from their dark nights and impart lasting words of wisdom to the reader. In regaining a semblance of order again in their lives, each author finds profound redemption – a triumph over adversity as a resilient identity emerges forged from fragments of the past.

Works Cited

Alexander, Daryl Royster, New York Times Word for Word/90-Second Philosophy; In Bite-Size Portions, The Wise Men Made Easy,” May 14, 2000,

Boers, Arthur and Braun, Connie T., Image magazine, Issue 95, “A Conversation with Joy Kogawa.”

Hart, Jack, Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

“Interview with Joy Kogawa,” George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, CBC, July 12, 2013.

Kogawa, Joy, Gently to Nagasaki, Caitlin Press, August 2016.

Maclear, Kyo, Birds Art Life, Doubleday Canada, January 2017

NAJC and Province of British Columbia, “BC Redress Community Consultations” paper, 2019.

Psychology Today website, “Identity,” accessed Oct. 31, 2019,

Sakamoto, Mark, Forgiveness: A Gift from My Grandparents, HarperCollins Canada, 2014.

Savage, Candace, Literary Review of Canada, Beauty and the Accidental: In watching birds, a writer finds solace, and lessons for the creative life.” 

What is Cupping?

In Body Fantastic on September 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm

A Cup Above

By now, most people have heard about acupuncture. If you haven’t, it’s an alternative treatment practised in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), whereby thin needles (more like very small pins) are inserted into the body at specific meridians of the body to treat various conditions. For those of you with needle phobia, these are not the traditional needles they use at the doctor’s office to take your blood. For many physiotherapists and people who treat sports injuries, acupuncture has become somewhat mainstream as it has been known to help ease arthritis as well as joint pain.

A few decades ago, I injured my lower back in a slip-and-fall accident, and every now and again my back decides to seize up. While normal rest and some exercises helped my back, it was the debilitating pain of migraines that finally drove me to discover acupuncture. If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know what I’m talking about. Fortunately, many family members recommended a physiotherapist who I was more than happy to meet, and over the years she has relieved my back pain and aging body aches with a combination of acupuncture and physio. Since her office is on the other side of town, when a local TCM clinic opened within walking distance from my home and a colleague highly recommended one of the doctors, I decided to give it a try. Once there, I discovered their TCM acupuncture methods were more effective than the physio.

Fast forward, a year later and my back and neck were clenched – I need acupuncture badly. My TCM doctor assessed the situation as I laid face down and agreed. “I think you need cupping today to loosen your tight muscles…” she says. I’d heard of the practice but had never had the procedure done before – since I’m already in pain I think, how bad can it be? “OK…” I say.

No Pain, No Gain

Within a few moments, I hear the clinking of glass containers on a cart rattle in. The flick of a lighter is followed by a puff of incense-scented smoke and suddenly I feel a cold circle of suction on my back. As I endure the first few cups with only mild discomfort,   I think to myself, “This isn’t so bad.” But as she gets to my lower back and attaches the next two cups, I gasp out loud to which she responds, “if you can manage the pain, it is better if you try and hang on…”

FullSizeRenderWincing, my mind now conjures visions of booster cables pinching off nerve endings. “Remember why you went in the first place,” I try and tell myself. If you’ve endured crushing migraine or screaming lower back pain, then you can easily breathe through a few moments of this stinging. Memories of childbirth drift back into my thoughts although this time, it feels like I’ve got 20 pounds of glass pressing down on my back.

Mercifully, the time passes quickly. As the suction cups are removed they release a whoosh of air, and I simultaneously experience a sign of relief! That night, I fall into a deep sleep and am drenched in sweat when I awake feeling light and nimble, able-bodied and healed! And those angry red lesions that cover my back and worry my family gradually subside over the next few days.

Sitting Pretty at Sorelle

In Good Eats, Recently Reviewed on July 22, 2018 at 6:38 pm

In the ever-changing Toronto landscape, it seems like there’s a new vegan restaurant or café popping up at regular intervals no matter what neighbourhood you find yourself in.

Sorelle.pgIf you happen to have a sweet tooth – rush down to Sorelle and Co., and be prepared to be amazed by the confection selection. Feast your eyes on the prettiest non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, nut-free and preservative-free food you’ve ever seen.

Mind you, if you like to people watch in upscale Yorkville, it’s a great place to simply soak in the swanky decor. Be warned – unless you’re there to grab and go, be prepared to wait for a table.

Clearly it’s never been more trendy to be vegan, which to me is good news all around. Marie Antoinette would approve of the lush setting, elegant dishware and decadent desserts. It’s always a cause for celebration when vegans can have our cake and eat it, too!

Made It By A Nose

In Book Reviews, Food For Thought on August 3, 2017 at 10:51 pm

BookCoverImageIt’s here! Yes, it took me another year to complete but the paperback version of My Father’s Nose has just been released on CreateSpace.com. It should be widely available on Amazon.ca by the end of the week.

Thanks to everyone for their encouraging words with this ongoing endeavour. It’s certainly been a labour of love – as all creative projects are – with the added bonus of learning new computer programs. Fingers crossed, the next book won’t take as long!

Happy Birthday Dad – didn’t think I’d get it together on time, but here it is. Hope all is well with you in the great beyond.

Disclosure Notice: We participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, which earns fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. Our participation does not influence our content decisions but helps to offset the costs involved in maintaining this website.

Best Baba-ghanouj By Far

In Good Eats, Recently Reviewed on June 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Move over hummus. If you eat a lot of dips, like we do, then I highly recommend Sunflower Kitchen’s classic eggplant dip. Fresh, non-GMO, kosher – this company makes some of the best-quality dips you’ll ever taste. This all-time favourite makes a perfect appetizer or snack with veggies and crackers. Try it as a spread on wraps or in sandwiches. We also love it as part of a meal with flatbread or naan.


Sunflower Kitchen Baba-Ghanouj (www.sunflowerkitchen.com). However you spell it: baba ghanoush, baba ganoush, or Sunflower’s preferred baba-ghanouj  – this is one delicious dip. Almost as good as homemade, perhaps even better since there’s no prep time or cleanup – it’s already made and ready to serve! PRODUCT NOTES Wonderful, smooth texture with real eggplant pieces, skin and all. Has just the right flavouring that comes from roasting the eggplant. BOTTOM LINE Look for the large container, as the small one won’t last! I normally buy two large containers each time I’m out shopping, as it seems to disappear overnight in my house. Plus, I’ve noticed it sells out fast, so clearly I’m not the only one who has discovered it. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back to any other brand. (And if you do find a better one, I’d like to know about it!)


Fur-rific Fable is Fetching Fun!

In Book Reviews, Recently Reviewed on May 3, 2017 at 9:25 pm

MissMoonCoverIf you’re a cat person, the mere mention of dogs may conjure up images of simple, scruffy ruffians. But before you go and get your hackles raised, fear not – Miss Moon is here to lead the pack on raising well-mannered dogs (and their people, too). Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill (Tundra Books, 2016) is a beautifully illustrated picture book filled with valuable life lessons. Perhaps even a cat, or two, might learn some new tricks. Readers with a keen eye, no doubt, will be certain to spot the few cat cameos.

Based in Stratford, Ont., author Janet Hill is also the book illustrator and known for her elegant and whimsical artwork, which has been featured in various magazines as well as both private and corporate collections.

The story begins on an island off the coast of France, where Miss Moon began her career minding 67 dogs. Instead of running for the hills, she realized her lifelong calling was to become a dog governess. Refined dog owners everywhere will certainly agree that there is a terrible shortage, as it is extremely difficult to find anyone who specializes in imparting good manners to pampered pooches – let alone someone as experienced and dedicated as Miss Moon. Now before you go barking up the wrong tree, a simple visit to your neighbourhood park will prove how sorely these services are needed. Be sure to watch where you step, and don’t be surprised to find yourself overrun with common dog walkers and their motley crew of wild, canine charges.

Easy to read and broken into 20 life lessons, Miss Moon’s terrific tips and gorgeous artwork will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat. Lesson Eighteen, for example, will appeal to eco-warriors and homesteaders alike – “Nurture the environment and you’ll never be hungry.” A delightful tale for young and old.

Disclosure Notice: We participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, which earns fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. Our participation does not influence our content decisions but helps to offset the costs involved in maintaining this website.

Coffee: The Life-Saving Beverage

In Good Eats, Recently Reviewed on March 16, 2017 at 9:00 am

Not a day goes by when I don’t drink coffee. Although there may be small blips of time – like during pregnancy with my daughter, or the odd illness here and there over the years that keep me from eating. That said, we’re not talking Timmy’s here. It’s only premium whole bean, dark roasted, organic, fair trade coffee that makes the grade in our house. Yes, we refer to this black, liquid gold as our “life-saving beverage” of choice. While “please” and “thank you” have their place in our home, the real magic words uttered are, “the coffee light’s on!”

So when I became vegan, I wondered how coffee would fit into this plan since I drink my coffee regular (cream and sugar). Sure, I tried every type of non-dairy milk from hemp to almond, rice and soy milk but these watery additions only led to a sad, sludge-like end product. If you’ve ever put skim or one per cent milk into your coffee, then you know what that’s like. One glorious day, I happened on the soy creamer that dreams are made of…and once again, the day was saved – by coffee!



Sad note: As of 2019 the company has stopped making this amazing product. When I reached out to them, they mentioned a new oat-based creamer would take it’s place. Haven’t tried it yet, but will let you know when I do.

Curry in a Hurry

In Food, Glorious Food, Recently Reviewed, Recipes on February 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm

While we love Indian food, if you’ve ever made curry from scratch you know, it can be a long, time-consuming process. To cut corners, I sometimes use ready-made sauces but it’s really hard to find prepackaged ones that not only taste good but are organic, not to mention vegan, gluten-free and nut-free.

For the most part, I find that store-bought sauces or mixes often need a bit of embellishment to make them more flavourful – so I end up having to add a ton of spices just to make them palatable. How happy I was to recently discover a new line of sauces that step up to the challenge! These sauces are made in small batches and are full of flavour on their own.


3          large potatoes, peeled and chopped

1          small cauliflower, chopped

1          large onion, diced

1          can chickpeas, rinsed (398 ml)

2          cloves garlic (2-3 tsp) minced

1          jar (485 ml) Perfect Chef Veg Curry

avocado or coconut oil

salt & pepper

Slower Method

Chop potatoes into bite-size pieces. Boil in salted water about 15 mins., until tender. Drain and set aside. While potatoes are boiling, heat oil in large Dutch oven or heavy pot with lid, add chopped onions and sauté on medium heat about 5 mins. Mix in garlic and cauliflower. Cover with lid and allow cauliflower to steam about 5-10 mins.

Once cauliflower has started to soften, stir in chickpeas and cooked potatoes. Add sauce and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper. If curry is too thick, add a small amount of water or unsweetened non-dairy milk (soy, rice, coconut or almond milk work well for a creamier sauce) to desired consistency.

Replace lid and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until sauce beings to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5-10 mins., until all vegetables are heated through. Serve with cooked basmati rice and flatbread or naan. Enjoy!

Make ahead tips:

The trick is to make parts of this meal ahead of time. Any prep you can do beforehand will cut down your overall cooking time.

Some suggestions:

-Boil the potatoes as above. Drain. Cool and store for later use.

-Wash and chop cauliflower, then store in container until ready to use. Or while you are boiling the potatoes, toss cauliflower with oil until lightly coated and roast in oven at 400°C for about 15 mins., until lightly browned. Cool and store for later use.

-Prechop garlic and store in a small amount of oil (or cheat and buy minced garlic).

-Sauté onions in oil until lightly browned.

Speedy Method

If all or most of your ingredients are cooked and ready to go, it’s a quick and simple assembly. Simply heat oil in Dutch oven, add onions and stir in garlic. Mix in cooked potatoes, roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and sauce. Season with salt and pepper and simmer 10-15 minutes until all vegetables are heated thoroughly.

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Relief in a Wrap

In Body Fantastic, Recently Reviewed on February 13, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Version 2

Been shovelling much? With all the recent snowfall, my back went out of whack… it was a lot of snow after all! Not one to take pain killers, I came across these heatwraps some time ago and in sharing my snow shock with others discovered that many people still don’t know about them. Well friends, suffer in silence no more!

Heatwraps with ThermaCare by Robax. Consider it a form-fitting hot water bottle or imagine a toasty, electric blanket on your back (or neck if you get the other style). PRODUCT NOTES The wraps come in individual packs, which makes them easy to transport and store as you never know when a simple bend, twist or lift can suddenly cause one of your body parts to flare up. Only open the package when you’re ready to put it on or you won’t enjoy the full 16 hours or so of relief. Yes, they really stay warm for that long! BOTTOM LINE Put pain on notice. Once you’ve test-driven these tried-and-true back aids you’ll always want to have a package on reserve to pull out just as those first few snowflakes start to fall. Get the jump on spring and stock up early before the cleaning season starts. Now gotta get back out to the shovelling…

Disclosure Notice: We participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, which earns fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. Our participation does not influence our content decisions but helps to offset the costs involved in maintaining this website.