The Five O'Clock Scramble: 5 Steps To Dinnertime Bliss

Create dinner bliss with these five easy steps

The Five O'Clock Scramble: 5 Steps To Dinnertime Bliss

Here's the situation: the clock has just struck five. The floor is littered with bookbags that are stuffed with forms that need to be filled out and lunchbags that need to be emptied, not to mention homework projects that need completion. The calendar on the fridge shows that tonight — and every other night — is filled with varying activities that will require chauffeuring back and forth, even though you really need to get some work done at home. The toddler flings himself to the floor in a hunger-induced rage, the older kids are bickering. You need to get dinner on the table, immediately, but a quick glance into the fridge shows nothing that can be put together in a hurry. You grab the phone and a take-out menu, again.

Does this grimness sound familiar? It doesn't have to be that way. Beat the grim and bring back the bliss with these five easy steps!

This sounds daunting, I know, but it makes the 5:00 hour infinitely easier when the "what's for dinner" decision is taken out of the equation. I make a weekly plan and add it to my calendar, IN PEN. Deciding on Sunday afternoon what we will eat on Wednesday night might seem strange at first, but it simplifies life immensely. My children never ask what's for dinner anymore; they just look at my calendar. That alone is worth making a meal plan.
Using the meal plan, create a shopping list — and remember to take it with you! The meal plan will be useless unless the ingredients are in-house.

I was a Girl Guide, and I've carried the "Be Prepared" motto with me since my days of badge earning and campfire songs. Some days just do not go according to plan, and for those days I keep a package of flatbreads in the freezer and canned pizza sauce in the cupboard; along with some cheese and veggies, mini homemade pizzas are a quick and healthy alternative to calling the pizzeria. Not a pizza fan? Rice and canned beans in the cupboard, along with veggies and chicken in the freezer means that putting together a stirfry is a snap on hectic weeknights. Keep staples such as these in the kitchen and you'll always have something to throw together.

Speaking of quick meals, having a selection in the freezer to defrost and serve cannot be beat for convenience. I batch cook whenever I can: spaghetti sauce, meatballs, lasagna are all meals can be doubled or tripled easily, and then frozen for later consumption.
Out of my seven-day meal plan, three or four of those meals appear on a weekly rotation. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact, the children will enjoy seeing their favourite meals on a weekly basis. So what if every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday, or if every Friday is Stir-Friday? A mix of old favourites and new culinary adventures makes for a blissful week of dinners!


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"Pot of Gold" Chocolate Cupcakes


"Pot of Gold" Chocolate Cupcakes

chocolate cupcakes with various frostings

It was my younger son’s eighth birthday over the weekend, and you know what that means! Cupcakes for everyone! In my house, chocolate cupcakes are where it’s at, but when it comes to frosting, preferences are all over the map.

When I was a kid, every holiday that we celebrated with my grandparents featured a box of Pot of Gold chocolates. As a result, I associate Pot of Gold chocolates with old people, festivity, and doom. Even when I used the guide that described what filling went with which shape, I would inevitably make a mistake and then find myself sadly stuck with a coffee cream or nougat, when what I really wanted was a fruit or mint centre. I’m not great with culinary surprises, let’s leave it at that.

Dark Chocolate and Cream Cheese Cake

The basic premise of a box of chocolates is — like Forrest Gump’s mother said — you never know what you’re going to get. Wouldn’t it be nicer if you did know? This is the idea behind my Pot of Gold chocolate cupcakes: it’s a choose-your-own-frosting-adventure. One of my children is devoted to vanilla, the other loves fruity flavours. I love a mint and chocolate combination, my husband is a double-double kind of guy: chocolate frosting atop chocolate cupcakes. So in the interest of family cupcake harmony, I make all the flavours! Everyone wins! And no one has to bite into something that they think is going to be delicious, delicious strawberry but ends up being mocha.

This is a fun recipe to make with kids, not just because of the absolute lickability of the bowl, but because there is a lot of snap-crackle-popping and bubbling due to the chemical reactions of cocoa, water, soda, and vinegar. The cupcakes themselves are vegan, although the buttercream is not. I have added a vegan recipe for frosting at the end; feel free to add flavour any way you wish. The possibilities are scrumptiously endless!


For the cupcakes:

3 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

  Add water, oil, and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Stir in vinegar.

  Divide batter among paper-lined muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

  Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting (basic buttercream):
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk


  To make the basic frosting, beat butter for one minute; beat in sugar in 1/2 cup increments. Add milk in 1 tablespoon increments until fluffy consistency is reached. Then choose your own flavour; divide among bowls if more than one flavour is desired.

  Vanilla: add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

  Chocolate: add 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Additional milk may be required to maintain consistency.

  Peppermint: add 2 teaspoons peppermint extract.

  Berry: add 1/2 cup pureed berries plus 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

  Coconut: add 2 teaspoons coconut extract OR for a vegan frosting, use 1 cup coconut oil with 4 cups icing sugar, adding 2-4 tablespoons of coconut or other non-dairy milk to obtain a fluffy consistency.

Looking for more cupcake recipes? Try my Va-Va-Va-Voom Velvet Cupcakes, Maija's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes, or Karen's Guinness Cupcakes (bonus: you can drink the leftover Guinness!).

Watch how easy it is to make your own buttercream frosting:


Grilled Eggplant Recipe


Grilled Eggplant Recipe

Grilled Eggplant

It’s been an unseasonably warm September where I live, and I’m desperately holding on to the last vestiges of summer. In other words, we have been barbequing a lot around here! The boys have been eating a lot of grilled steaks and pork chops; I made this eggplant dish for myself, so as to not be left out of the barbeque festivities.

When he was very small, my younger son used to get excited when we went grocery shopping; the eggplant displays in the produce section enthralled him. He called the eggplants “doggies” and would often ask me to buy one so he could carry his doggy home. Please note that we have an actual, live dog at home; I think he was so taken with the shape and texture of a fresh eggplant that he couldn’t resist stroking its shiny skin. They are lovely looking vegetables, aren’t they, so smooth and purple. I never minded buying them since they are very versatile and can be used in so many dishes. I just always needed to ensure I prepared the eggplant quickly without my son noticing that I was chopping up his doggy.

Oh, the other day I was in the grocery store and I spotted a few young moms with babies and toddlers in the grocery store, the little ones admiring the shiny produce, and I was so taken with nostalgia that I grabbed an eggplant and ran my hand down its smooth surface. When I got the eggplant home I almost couldn’t prepare it for this recipe, I was so full of wistfulness and memory. Remember how much you used to love playing with eggplants? I said to my son, who will be eight in a few days. Remember how you called them your doggies? He looked at me for a minute and then said, brusquely, yet somehow gently, Yeah, Mom, but I was little then.


1 medium eggplant
Sea salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder


  Slice eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Arrange on a tea towel or paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. Let sit for 30 minutes so the eggplant can “sweat.” Wipe dry.

  Meanwhile, whisk together vinegar and oil. Stir in chopped basil and garlic powder.

  Marinate eggplant rounds in vinaigrette for 30 minutes.

  Grill on an oiled barbeque over medium heat for 5 minutes per side.

Want more vegetarian barbeque recipes? Try a Balsamic Portobello "Not Dog" or a Quinoa Black Bean Burger.