Teaching children about the spirit of giving

"Helping people is the nice thing to do, and it makes them feel happy,” says Hannah Gregory (8). Photo by Sarah Niman

"Helping people is the nice thing to do, and it makes them feel happy,” says Hannah Gregory (8). Photo by Sarah Niman

By Sarah Niman

They’ve written their wish lists and checked them twice, but the anticipation of gifts makes it is easy for kids to miss the true meaning of the holidays.

Parents looking to teach their kids about the spirit of giving can take advantage of many activities built into the holiday season in Ottawa, from volunteering time to small gestures of kindness.

Hannah Gregory, 8, said her family has a tradition of going to the toy store, choosing items they really want, and then donating them to kids who may otherwise not receive any gifts.

“Helping people is the nice thing to do, and it makes them feel happy,” she said. Her family of eight is quite busy, so they have found ways to make a difference to others that don’t take away from their packed schedules.

“We collect food for the food bank, give the toys we pick, and give Gifts of Hope,” she said, referring to the online catalog at plancanada.ca. In previous years, the Gregory family has given pigs, chicks, malaria nets and school supplies to children and families in third world countries. Organizations like Unicef, World Vision and Oxfam also have websites that make it easy for children to choose gifts, with a parent’s help, and learn how those gifts will improve a real family’s life. 

The next time you and the kids hear a radio advertisement for toy sales listing the most coveted items, seize the opportunity to steer the conversation to thinking of those who could use some kindness and generosity. 

Encouraging kids to contemplate ways to help others who are grieving, sick, lonely or less fortunate starts a journey of generosity that extends well beyond the holiday season. 

As their growing minds process inequality, hardship and tragedy, giving them ways to help, even a little, empowers them to make positive changes through meaningful acts of kindness.

In Ottawa, there are many churches and community outreach groups that organize food hamper programs, and many need volunteers to help deliver the packages of food, toiletries and small gifts. Including kids in the delivery process can take conversations about generosity and kindness to a more tangible level. 

Delivering handmade cards to seniors in long-term care facilities or colouring a picture for a sick neighbor teaches children to practice empathy. 

The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa’s annual Angel Tree program also needs volunteers to help distribute gifts to children who may otherwise not receive any, as well as gift donations. 

Instilling a spirit of generosity doesn’t require big gestures. Parents worried about spreading themselves thin over the holidays can turn everyday activities into opportunities to help others. 

If your child hosts a play date, set them up with colouring supplies to make holiday cards to bring to a nearby seniors residence, brightening someone’s day. Ottawa’s Bruce House also collects handwritten cards by mail, and gives them to residents living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

If you’re feeling festive, choose toys at the store that your kids can then donate to charity. 

When busy in the kitchen with holiday baking, invite your child up to the counter to stir, crack eggs, and discuss who might enjoy receiving the treats. Letting them direct the act of goodwill encourages them to think of those who may be feeling sad or lonely, and provides them a concrete way to help.

Whether your family’s holidays are chock full of events or tend to be more laid back, there are endless ways to practice the art of giving. When parents make the decision to shift the holiday’s focus from gifts to giving, children begin to see the world beyond their front door as a place where people help those who can’t always help themselves.

 

HO HO H2O! Give the gift of water this season

Is your child getting enough water? Read on to find out how you can keep your kids hydrated.

Is your child getting enough water? Read on to find out how you can keep your kids hydrated.

By Jason Haug, Program & Project Management Officer, Ottawa Public Health

It’s that time of year again – the lead up to the holidays. Blankets of snow and sheets of ice cover the ground. We sometimes forget that all this snow and ice we see around us comes from water. Yes H2O, the magical fluid that helps us stay alive.

Water is essential for the body. In fact, without water, we would only survive two to four days. Drinking water helps the body control its temperature, digest food, and carry nutrients around in the body. Water cushions joints and organs and helps the body get rid of waste. This is all good information to know, but what does it mean for a child who would probably rather drink something sweet and sugary? We’ve listed some fun ways to make drinking water cool this winter. 

Straws with special shapes 

Some products are designed for one reason and one reason only: to make ordinary things a little more fun! Why not pick up a special straw to get your kids drinking more water? Specialty straws come in many fun shapes and sizes that make the experience of drinking water feel more like a treat. (For one example, see the Editor’s Faves column on page 2 of the digital issue!)  

Make it easy

One cup, two cup, red cup, blue cup. Leave a cup in different rooms around the house so that your child knows that they can get water any time. Having cups in the kitchen, bathrooms, play area, and bedroom is a good start. The more available it is, the more likely they are to have a drink. A special no-spill cup or water bottle for when you leave the house is a good idea too. 

Mix it up

When weaning off sugary drinks in favour of water, your child might have something to say about the taste. Adjusting to water with a half juice, half water mixture is often a good start. Next, try to reduce it to one-quarter juice, three-quarter water mixture. When they are ready, try switching out the juice in favour of more water. Gradual changes can make a big difference.

Juice cubes

We often think of adding ice cubes to juice, but have you ever thought about adding juice cubes to water? Fill an ice cube tray with 100% pure fruit juice and add 1 or 2 “juice cubes” in your child’s water before serving. Not only does this turn the juice/water balance in favour of the water, but it also adds a splash of colour. 

You can take it one step further by making ice in novelty ice cube trays to crank up the fun-o-meter: dinosaurs, numbers, fish, stars, hearts, and flowers – you name it! There are also freezable (non-edible) ice cubes that come in a variety of shapes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a food product to add a little bit of colour and fun. 

Pretty and tasty

Introducing slices of real fruit into a pitcher of water can add some flavour. Also, think of how beautiful a glass pitcher looks with slices of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, or mint leaves. You can also freeze small pieces of fruit in ice cube trays to add a hint of flavour. 

It’s all about the cup 

Depending on the age of your child, the type of cup they are drinking from might make all the difference. Try letting your child pick out a cup that has special meaning for them. Perhaps it has a design featuring their favourite character, or is double-walled with a fun design that moves when it’s being used. There are also many drinking cups that allow kids to create their own designs. The trick is to have this special cup only hold water. Don’t forget to make sure the plastic cups you choose are BPA-free. 

Model the way

Children will often follow the lead of parents. By setting a good example and choosing water more often, your child is more likely to do the same. Your child will quickly learn that it is the better choice. 

Limit the options

As parents, you ultimately have control over what comes into the house. By having healthier choices like water or milk on hand, there is little room for argument. 

For more information visit ottawa.ca/health or call 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656). You can also connect with OPH on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and on Pinterest.

 

Pinterest roundup: Gettin' crafty with holiday cards kids can make

It's Monday! And once again we're sharing our favourite pins from our Pinterest board. This week we're thinking about Christmas cards. (I KNOW.) It seems early, but we can't help ourselves. We're feeling the holiday spirit! But we also know that if we don't get started now it will never get done. Sigh. Here are a few of our favourite ideas:

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!

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.