The scoop on snow!

By Katharine Fletcher

The first snowfall is the perfect time to chat with kids about the science of snow. Just like human beings, no two snowflakes are precisely the same shape. There are many intriguing questions about snow, and some equally fascinating answers.

Who was “Snowflake” Bentley?

In the late 1800s, Wilson Alwyn Bentley wondered about snowflakes. So he got a microscope, looked at snowflakes, and discovered beautifully shaped, miniature ice sculptures. 

Inspired, he got a camera and, over the next forty or so years, took approximately 5,000 photographs of snowflakes. He identified more than 80 different categories of them – which is why he’s nicknamed “Snowflake” Bentley! (Go to bentley.sciencebuff.org/collection.asp to see some of his photographs, now in the Buffalo Museum of Science)

Snowflakes, as Bentley discovered, can be hollow, square, rectangular, multi-faceted, all kinds of shapes. One thing they have in common is that because water molecules fit together in a very particular way, most snowflakes are hexagonal (six-sided). This isn’t the only intriguing number associated with snowflakes: they’re comprised of as many as 180 billion water molecules!

How are snowflakes formed?

Think about how a pearl forms around a speck of sand that gets inside an oyster. Starry Skies website (starryskies.com) explains snowflakes actually begin as a droplet of water which condenses onto a speck of dust. 

“The droplet freezes and more droplets condense and freeze on it (remember how ice will stick to your tongue?). If the cloud temperature stays below freezing, enough droplets will freeze and collect to form a snowflake. When the snowflake gets heavy enough, it descends to Earth.”

Are there really no two alike?

Frankly, who’s to say? However, Snowflake Bentley never found any two that were identical, and it seems that no-one else has since, definitively, either.

How can kids examine a snowflake?

Wait for a snowfall. Then, grab a magnifying glass, a piece of black construction paper, and bundle up and head outside. Catch some flakes on the paper and look at them under the magnifying glass. Observe all of the different shapes, and see if you can find two that are identical! Later on, you can draw the ones you saw or make some out of folded paper.

Why can’t we always build a snowman or make a snowball?

Ahh, now that’s a good question! It’s because there are different types of snow, as well as snowflakes. As every one who’s tried to build a snowman knows, sometimes snow is too powdery and doesn’t make a ball. Ski enthusiasts also know that snow can be dry and powdery, wet and heavy, or anywhere in between. It’s all about moisture. If there’s enough moisture in the snow, it can be packed into balls and other shapes.

How many Inuit words are there for snow?

Inuktitut is the language of the northern peoples called Inuit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, because they live in a world of snow and ice, they have many words for these things. Entomologists (people who study words) suggest there may be as few as 12, while others say there are 52. Compare this to the Sami language spoken in Norway, Sweden and Finland. According to Wikipedia, Sami contains 180 words for snow and ice, and 1,000 for reindeer! Inuktitut words for snow include: pukak, crystalline snow on the ground; and aniu, snow used to make water. (For more info about Inuit words for snow see this entry at thecanadianencyclopedia.)

What’s the perfect snow for igloos?

While exploring Hudson Bay in winter with my Inuit guides Joseph and Mary Kidlapik, they taught me how to find snow to make an igdlu (“igloo”), the typical Inuit snow home. 

“It must be compact,” says Joseph. It must also be fine-grained and not too wet, otherwise, the engineering marvel of the finely tapered blocks of snow will be too heavy, and the igloo will collapse. I learned that the word for snow from which an igloo can be made is “illusaq.” Happily, I found snow and built an igloo; unhappily, it rained that night and the dome collapsed, but that’s another story.

Inuit guide Joseph Kidlapik demonstrates building an igloo on frozen Hudson Bay, but you can make one in your own backyard! Photo by Katharine Fletcher.

Inuit guide Joseph Kidlapik demonstrates building an igloo on frozen Hudson Bay, but you can make one in your own backyard! Photo by Katharine Fletcher.

Where can we find great snow?

You can find blue snow in the frozen foam of waterfalls at Hog’s Back or Rideau Falls in Ottawa, but you can build snow animals, people, and structures in city parks or in your own back yard. Just make sure you bundle up and wear sunglasses on sunny days before setting out to explore our winter wonderland. 

Katharine Fletcher is a keen outdoorswoman who loves to share her love of nature.

Stocking the holiday pantry (plus two recipes!)

By Paula Roy

You know those people who just love to go overboard at Christmas? That’s me. My house gets decorated from top to bottom, inside and out and I start planning holiday menus before the leaves are off the trees

I genuinely enjoy opening our home to family and friends, often spontaneously. While making the holidays happy for everyone does require a little bit of advance planning, having a party-ready pantry keeps the season from getting too hectic.

I like to have a good selection of party foods on hand so I can issue last-minute invitations without needing to run to the store. One of the easiest tricks is to have all the fixings for a great charcuterie platter. Weeks before the holidays, I roast up big batches of spiced nuts in both sweet and savoury versions, then purchase dry-cured salumi and packaged cheeses (rather than freshly-cut wedges from the deli) which last for weeks in the refrigerator. Add in some crostini, olives, artichokes, gherkins and dried apricots and you can assemble a very tasty party platter in just minutes. 

The recipe at right for spicy cheddar cookies is one of my holiday traditions; you can make the dough ahead and bake as needed. As for sweets, I keep it simple with just a few favourite cookie recipes. 

One easy tip is to dip one end of pre-baked, frozen shortbread cookies in melted semi-sweet, dark or mint chocolate chips, taking a holiday classic from plain to pumped up. The chocolate will firm up quickly on the cookies and they can be arranged on a pretty plate or packaged up to transport to an event. 

Open my freezer any time after December 1 and you’ll find a good assortment of party foods at the ready – packages of smoked salmon, fillable tart shells, unbaked cookie dough balls and more. For parties, I find it’s often easier, and just as effective, to offer fewer selections but in sufficient quantities to leave guests feeling satisfied.

Most party planners today recommend having a signature cocktail ready to welcome guests as they arrive; it’s a great way to set a festive mood for any gathering. Bubbles – whether in cocktail or mocktail form – always seem to get a party started in style. Try pouring an ounce of chilled ice wine in the bottom of your champagne flutes, then top with sparkling wine; for a non-alcoholic option, ice syrup – unfermented ice wine – is delicious mixed with sparkling water. 

A great new local product called TreeWell carbonated maple sap makes a wonderful beverage on its own (or as a base for cocktails). Last year, I purchased a Sodastream machine and it’s been a great investment – we never run out of fizzy water and our kids enjoy making different flavoured concoctions with the machine.

By stocking up on some of these entertaining essentials, I always feel more prepared and inclined to invite people over on the spur of the moment, plus I’ve always got a stash of edible hostess gifts for any last-minute invitations we receive. I can’t wait for the holiday season to begin!

This Spicy Cheddar Cookie recipe by Paula Roy is sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering. 

This Spicy Cheddar Cookie recipe by Paula Roy is sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering. 

Spicy Cheddar Cookies

These savoury delights have a nice texture and delicious flavour; they make lovely cocktail party nibbles or hostess gifts. While a cookie press lets you create fancy shapes, you can also cut the roll of prepared dough into slices instead. The best part? You can either bake and freeze the cheddar cookies, or freeze rolls of dough and bake up as needed.

You will need:

  •  4.4 oz (125g) sharp (old) Cheddar cheese to yield 1 cup when shredded
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  2. With the fine side of a grater, shred the Cheddar when cold then let come up to room temperature.
  3. Combine the flour, salt and cayenne; set aside.
  4. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and cheese together.
  5. Add the flour mixture in three parts, blending well after each addition.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. With your hands, shape it into a roll about 1.25 inches (3 cm) in diameter.
  7.  Wrap the roll of dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the dough (double-wrapped) for longer storage and thaw completely before proceeding.
  8. Put the roll of dough in your cookie press and squeeze out shapes onto an ungreased cookie tray, spacing 3/4 inch (1.25 cm) apart.
  9. Alternatively, slice the roll of dough into 3/4 inch rounds and lay out on the cookie sheet.
  10. Bake 10 – 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to racks to cool. Makes about 3-dozen savoury cookies.

Gougères

These tasty little choux pastry bites are said to hail from the Burgundy region of France, where they are often served at room temperature to accompany tastings in wine cellars although they also make regular appearances served warm as appetizers. Composed of only butter, water (or milk), flour and eggs, it puffs up beautifully thanks to the air incorporated by beating the batter vigorously, as well as by steam created while the very moist dough is baking. They are the perfect pop-in-your-mouth offering for parties where you want to be sure guests are balancing their drinking with eating. Best of all, they can be made ahead – you can even freeze the shaped dough for several weeks and bake it as needed.

You will need:

  • ½ cup (125 mL) water
  • ½ cup (125 mL) milk
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon (.25 grams) cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon (.5 grams) freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon (.25 grams) salt
  • 2 teaspoons (4 grams) fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup (125 grams) flour
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) of finely shredded Gruyère, Emmentaler or Comté cheese
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature

 Method

  1. Measure and prepare all ingredients before you begin cooking.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F, positioning rack in lower third of the oven.
  3. Line two large or three medium baking trays with parchment paper.
  4. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, add water, milk and butter. Heat until the mixture just begins to boil and the butter has melted.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cayenne, pepper, salt and thyme leaves.
  6. Stir in all the flour at once. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture so that it comes together in a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
  7. Transfer the batter to a bowl – use a stand mixer if you have one – and let it cool for about 5 minutes so the eggs don’t get cooked when you add them. Stir the mixture periodically with a wooden spoon as it cools to encourage the heat to dissipate.
  8. When the dough is no longer really hot, add the eggs one at a time and beat vigorously for at least full minute after adding each one. As mentioned, a stand mixer makes easy work of this job; you can also use an electric beater or even a wooden spoon plus a generous helping of elbow grease.
  9. Don’t rush to incorporate the eggs – make sure you beat each one in thoroughly and then beat for two more full minutes just to be sure. Don’t worry if the dough looks a little curdled; that is normal and when you have finished beating in all four eggs it should look like a thick, glossy cake batter.
  10. Add the grated cheese and beat for one minute longer.
  11. Drop onto lined cookie sheets with a small cookie dough scoop or 2 teaspoons; you are aiming for uniformly sized blobs about 1.25 inches (4 cm) maximum, spaced about two inches (5 cm) apart. If you are adept with piping bags you can shape your gougères this way instead.
  12. Working with one tray at a time, put the tray in the preheated oven. Bake at 400F for 5 minutes then reduce heat to 375F.
  13. Bake until puffed and golden; about 15 minutes more.
  14. Remove the tray from the oven and quickly make a small hole or slit in the side of each puff with the tip of a sharp knife. Return the tray to the oven for 2 minutes more; this step ensures that the centres of the gougères are nice and dry.
  15. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking tray then transfer to a wire rack.
  16. Turn the oven back up to 400F and bake the remaining trays per the instructions above.

Note: it is important to shape the gougères as soon as the dough is ready; it is not good for it to sit in the bowl. If you don’t want to bake them up right away, they can be frozen on the baking trays then transferred to airtight containers and stored for several weeks. When ready to bake them, preheat oven and put the frozen dough balls on a lined baking sheet and bake immediately.

Serving: I love these at room temperature but if you would like to serve them warm, you can make them up to two days ahead and reheat on a baking sheet in a 225F oven for 5 – 8 minutes just before serving. Cooked gougères prepared ahead of time can also be frozen and reheated in this same manner, although it may take a little more time to warm them up.

Makes about 3 dozen puffs.

 

Santa Claus parades in and around Ottawa

By Misty Pratt

If there’s one thing to be said about Ottawa, it’s that there’s no shortage of parades and holiday festivals. Lucky for us,  Santa is often the guest of honour at these fun events. Many children love meeting Santa and telling him all the special things they want for Christmas.

Santa-parades-Ottawa

If your child is too frightened to sit with Santa for a photo, going to see a parade is a great opportunity to see Santa without getting too up-close and personal. It’s a good time to be charitable too; several of the parades around town are hosted by the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association. Firefighters walk alongside the floats collecting cash donations or toys, so bring your loonies and toonies!

Before heading out to a parade, check the website for parade routes, and plan accordingly. It’s sometimes easier to take public transit to these events, and plan on getting there early enough to score a great spot so the kids can see. Don’t forget snacks, warm clothing, and blankets if the kids want to sit down to rest their feet. 

The big question now is – will there be snow for Santa?

Ottawa area parades

Help Santa Toy Parade 
Saturday November 22, 11 a.m.
This is the big one that takes place downtown and is favoured by many in the Ottawa area. Fire fighters collect new toys and cash donations along the route. Can’t bring your toy donation? They will also accept new toys at any Ottawa Fire Station up until mid December. Depending on your spot along the route it can get busy, so keep this in mind if your family doesn’t like crowds. 

Barrhaven Lions Santa Parade 
Sunday November 23, 5:30 p.m.
The Annual Barrhaven Lions Club Light Up the Night Santa Claus Parade starts on Strandherd Drive. Forget to pack snacks? There will be food vendors along the route.

Santa’s Parade of Lights 
Saturday November 29, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
The route for the Orleans parade is along St. Joseph Blvd. (from Youville to Prestone Drive). Toys and cash donations will be collected along the route.

Stittsville Parade of Lights 
Saturday November 29, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
The parade will proceed south on Stittsville Main Street, from just south of Hazeldean Road to Carleton Cathcart Street. Parade goers are welcome to stay for the lighting of Village Square Park, and hot chocolate.

Other places to see Santa

Almonte’s Light Up the Night! 
Friday December 5, 7 p.m.
Bundle up, this is an open-air concert and fireworks display on Main Street. Watch the Snow Queen and her Twinkle Fairies wave their magic wands to bring the jolliest Christmas elf of them all... Santa Claus!

Merrickville - Breakfast with Santa
Saturday December 6, 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Sponsored by the Merrickville Royal Canadian Legion this is one of the most popular Christmas- in-Merrickville events. You and your family can enjoy a hearty, home-style breakfast with Santa at the Royal Canadian Legion. After breakfast, your children can share their wish list with Santa, or you can enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride as a family. The wagon stop is right outside the Legion’s door. Donations for the horse-drawn wagon rides are appreciated. Breakfast with Santa costs $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children.  

Cumberland Heritage Village Museum: Vintage Village of Lights 
Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from November 29 through December 21 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
30,000 Christmas lights, decorations everywhere, gigantic reindeer and sleigh and – of course! – a visit with Santa Claus in his workshop! Kids will have fun sledding, playing broomball or street hockey, making a snow globe, decorating gingerbread, and sending your Christmas wish list to Santa via telegram. Regular admission applies.

Nepean Museum - Noël at Nepean 
December 14 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Explore some of Nepean’s local landmarks while satisfying your sweet tooth with an afternoon of making gingerbread houses! And if you’re nice, Santa may even stop in for a visit. Cost: $6/person, $10/pair, $16/family.

The CP Holiday Train 
You may not see Santa here, but this is a great event all the same, The CP Holiday Train started in 1999 and raises money and food for the Food Bank. Over the three weeks of the program, musicians will play more than 150 concerts from a boxcar that’s been turned into a travelling stage. Stops close to Ottawa include Merrickville and Smith’s Falls. 

Photos with Santa

Bayshore Shopping Centre 
Santa and his elves will be arriving at Bayshore on November 23 at 10 a.m. Santa will be spreading holiday cheer in his never-before-seen new crystal Santa village located in Centre Court.

Place D’Orleans
Santa arrives in Orleans on November 16 and stays until December 24. Pose for photos, and don’t forget to bring your letters!

What's your favourite place to go Santa spotting? We'd love to hear about it!

Pinterest roundup: the granola edition

It's Monday! And that means we're sharing some of our favourite pins from our Pinterest boards. Today we've decided to start the week off on the right foot: with a good breakfast. Have you ever made your own granola? Once you try making a batch you won't believe how cheap and easy it is, AND as an added bonus, you get to customize your blend however you like. We also like the fact that we have a solid overview of what goes into our granola and control the sugar. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Are you following Capital Parent on Pinterest? You can find us right here. Follow us for family crafts, great kid-friendly activities, recipes and more. You can read all of our past Pinterest round-ups right here!

Q&A with Ottawa's gingerbread queen (plus a recipe!)

This is one of Catherine Beddalls’ delicious gingerbread creations. She’s got some great advice for those who want to try making their own. Read on!

This is one of Catherine Beddalls’ delicious gingerbread creations. She’s got some great advice for those who want to try making their own. Read on!

Catherine Beddall is a professional pastry chef and owner of Catherine’s Cakery (catherinescakery.ca). Although Catherine is known for her cakes, she also is a wonder with gingerbread. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her wonderful creations before we set out to try our hand at making our own this year.

CP: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with baking and pastries?

Catherine Beddall: Even though I’ve loved to bake ever since I was a little girl, I never considered it as a full-time career until recently. For a number of years I worked full time as a graphic designer while making cakes as a small side business, and I finally decided to “take the plunge” and make baking and pastry my full-time career. I now split my time between my cake business, teaching in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at Algonquin College, and working at an Ottawa bakery. So my days are busy, but I’m getting experience in a lot of different areas and loving it!

So apparently you have a thing with gingerbread. Care to elaborate? (And what’s this about gingerbread furniture?) 

I absolutely love making gingerbread houses! A few years ago, I entered and won Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation/Habitat for Humanity’s Annual Gingerbread House Competition. That was my first gingerbread house, and I was hooked… even though my entry took about 60 hours to create, I enjoyed every minute of it. I love designing little homes (complete with edible furniture). I’ve always loved miniature, and I love the fantasy of living inside an edible house, decorated with candy and icing. All that combined with the wonderful smell of baking gingerbread makes creating these houses irresistible to me.

A lot of parents love the idea of baking and making gingerbread houses with their kids, but it seems so overwhelming. Do you have any tips that might help?

Definitely! Start with a cardboard template, and keep it simple the first time to avoid frustration. But it’s all in the recipes. I use a wonderful gingerbread recipe that bakes up firmly enough to give houses the structural support they need, and tastes absolutely delicious. The right icing is also very important. Gingerbread houses are “glued” together with Royal Icing which hardens as it dries. Any other type of icing may not hold the structure together properly.  Most importantly, have fun with it, and be sure to eat lots of gingerbread scraps along the way!

Catherine Beddall’s Gingerbread Recipe

(Adapted from Devon Bakery’s recipe, formerly in Manotick)
Makes: Dough for one gingerbread house and approximately 24 cookies

You will need:

  •  1 cup shortening
  •  1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp each nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add molasses and water; beat until incorporated.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together and add all at once. Mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate, at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Working on a hard surface, roll dough between two sheets of parchment paper, to a thickness of 4 mm.
  4. Remove and dispose of the top piece of parchment paper. Working on the lower sheet of parchment paper, cut out the cookie shapes and remove excess.
  5. Transfer shapes — still on the lower sheet of parchment paper — to an ungreased cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in the fridge and chill for 5 to 10 minutes before baking.
  6. Bake at 375 F for approximately 10 minutes; gingerbread should be crisp but not burned.

 Royal Icing Recipe

  •  3 tbsp meringue powder (available at bulk stores)
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp warm water

Beat all ingredients together until icing stiffens and forms peaks, about 5-7 minutes. Keep covered at all times when not in use.

 

Travel back in time with a visit to these ruins in Ottawa

By Andrea Tomkins

Going on a Sunday stroll in the woods is becoming the thing to do in Ottawa, and it’s easy to understand why. Burning off some steam and getting some fresh air while taking in pretty views is a great thing to do as a family. Plus it’s great family time! 

Checking out the stone ruins at Lime Kiln Trail in Ottawa’s west end. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

Checking out the stone ruins at Lime Kiln Trail in Ottawa’s west end.
Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

We’re fortunate here in Ottawa to be close to a number of different places to go for a walk, no matter what our skill and stamina level might be. 

Lime Kiln Trail is one of several short walks within the NCC network of trails. It’s in the Stony Swamp area, and it’s perfect for young families. It’s flat, short, and there’s something fun to see at the end. Kids love a good payoff, and in this case, it’s a group of old stone ruins, and hungry chickadees that are happy to fly to your hand for a snack.

The ruins at Lime Kiln are actually the remainders of an old pioneer lime factory that operated on this site in the 1800s. The factory originally comprised of five buildings, and the lime produced was used for agricultural purposes and by local industries for mortar and whitewash. The rocky walls are a great place to let your imagination run wild. 

Look way down! This is the view looking down into the kiln. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

Look way down! This is the view looking down into the kiln. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

And then there are the chickadees. They love small black sunflower seeds. You can some up where pet food is sold or at Bulk Barn. If they spot you with seed, they’ll land on your hand (or your hat!) to get it.

Getting there

Lime Kiln Trail is located on Moodie Drive. From downtown Ottawa, take the 417 W/Trans-Canada Hwy. Take the 416 exit, then exit 72 toward West Hunt Club Road. Turn right on to Hunt Club and after about 2 km, turn left onto Moodie Drive. Park at P10. The walk to the ruins and back to the parking lot is approximately 2 km. For maps and info about this scenic area go to: ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/greenbelt/stony-swamp.