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Cooking for Couples

December 5th, 2011 by Kathy

Cooking for couples
By Greg Burliuk
Posted 3 days ago


What: Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two by Ellie Topp and Marilyn Booth is a collection of healthy recipes for couples and which often features simple four-dish meals. The recipes are meant to be cooked quickly.

Signing: Ellie Topp will be at the Kingston Seniors Centre, 56 Francis St., for a book sale and signing Monday, Dec. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of the soups from the book will be served. It's also available for $24.95 at the Novel Idea and Indigo Books.

Cookbooks have a bias against couples. And don't get me started on singles. Check out just about any recipe and you'll see it's just about always meant to feed four or more people.

Just cut it in half you say? That's fine if you're talking about a cup of flour, but how do you bisect an egg, for example? There are cookbooks for two out there but not many. That is why Ellie Topp decided to rectify the situation. Together with dietician Marilyn Booth, she's written Fresh and Healthy Cooking For Two.

I first talked to Ellie several years ago when she wrote a cookbook about small batch preserving. The current one was inspired by her own empty nest situation.

"It's the way I cook now that my kids have left home," she says. "I used to spend half the afternoon in the kitchen doing something complicated but you're not as tempted to do that when there's only two of you."

There are a lot of advantages to this cookbook, other than its smaller amounts. First of all, it's designed for couples who don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. The prep time for most of the dishes is under 30 minutes, so the cookbook is valuable not only for empty nesters, but also young couples just starting out who perhaps aren't that experienced in the kitchen.

Secondly, in the mains section, Ellie has designed a whole meal around a main, including a salad, vegetable and starch. So while your meat is cooking, you can whip up the salad and veg, and set the starch to going as well.

"They're everyday meals and if you're a single these recipes divide easily," she says.

The meals may be simple to make, but Ellie takes care to slip the unusual in there with ingredients like kale, rapini and kohlrabi, which don't show up on most of our plates with let's say regularity. "Things like kale, I can use in winter and they're wonderful in soups," she says.

Sometimes she'll take favourite recipes and tinker with them to get the calorie and salt count down. Such was the case with her version of gazpacho.

"That took a while to do, but I got it down quite a bit," she says, before adding a handy tip. "When you want a tomato flavour, tomato paste has almost zero calories and no salt whereas canned tomato sauce has a lot more of both calories and salt."

Ellie often has collaborators when she writes her books. "I like to work with a dietician," she says. "I've got my masters in food science, but I like to work with someone who's always up to date on dietary matters."

I made three complete meals with the cookbook and really enjoyed the fact that I could put out several dishes per meal in less time than I usually spend doing just one dish. I started out on Friday night with the most complicated one of the three and to our minds, the most successful.

The main was Indonesian-style chicken with savoury peanut sauce, and the sides were basmati rice with chutney, steamed green beans and kohlrabi and carrot salad with orange and cumin. Correction on that, I couldn't find kohlrabi at Loblaws, the store I figured was the best bet to have it. However, there was an informative booklet in the veggie section there where I discovered that some kind of cabbage would be a good substitute and provide the same kind of crunch. I bought some savoy cabbage, which is a milder form of this veggie.

I usually hate snapping green beans so I bought a package of pre-cut ones, which were simply steamed and then tossed with olive oil. The rice was made tastier by slipping in a couple of spoonfuls of mango chutney. The great brilliance of this meal was the way the chicken was cooked. I've seen this done before in restaurants, but had forgotten. You fry the chicken enough to get a crust and then finish it on high heat in the oven. The result is a spectacularly tender chicken, the only way we'll eat from now on when not stir-frying it.

The next night, we went vegetarian with three-cheese pasta bake with tomatoes and spinach, along with a mixed vegetable salad. I still had lots of the savoy left so I used that in the salad, whose dressing was made simply by mixing mayo and salsa and didn't turn out half bad. The pasta bake was very pretty to look at, and cheese lovers will be happy with it, but truth to tell, we felt it needed a little juicing up. My wife and daughter applied ketchup and I, a couple of shakes of hot sauce and all was well.

The last meal was another chicken one, baked chicken with a sesame crust, roasted potatoes and carrots provencale. There was also supposed to be a cabbage toss, but I still had some salad left over from the first night and served that. Not having any commercial bread crumbs, I made my own by tossing some light right bread into the food processor. I was pleased with the results as the chicken was once again baked, although it wasn't quite as tender because it was baked at a lower temperature. The big hit foGregr us was the carrots, which were tossed with garlic and black olives.

When our daughter leaves on her student exchange in February, I'm pretty sure we'll be coming back to this book a lot, although I'll probably add things to the recipes because in our house, we like things spicier and more garlicky.

Kim Firmston talks parkour, personal experience, and perspective

March 18th, 2014 by Kendra Martin

Stupid coverThis month we’re excited for one of the latest additions to our SideStreets series: Stupid, by Kim Firmston. Stupid has it all: teen angst, physical activity, and art—but it also touches on more serious issues like the misdiagnosis of illness or disability (in this book it’s ADHD and dyslexia) and preserving self-esteem, even in the face of parental disapproval. Through the main character, Martin, teens discover a new way of perceiving the world, one that some can use in their own lives as well.

Kim Firmston

In this interview, Firmston tells us a bit about her background as a writer and the history of the fast-paced and exciting pasttime of parkour.

1. How did you start out writing teen fiction? 

When I was a teen all I could find to read was novels about girls who rode horses and wanted boyfriends. I couldn’t relate at all. Then I picked up The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and my world was changed. I wanted more books like that and since I couldn’t find too many, I decided to write what I wanted to read. That’s how it all got started.  Well . . .  that and another twenty-plus years of practice. 

2. Where did parkour originate from?

Parkour, or free running, was officially invented by David Belle in the 1980s, but its origin started a bit earlier. Before WWI the French naval officer Georges Hébert was inspired by the natural gymnastic skills of the indigenous African tribes he met and used it to create "parcours", an obstacle course now standard in military training. Flash forward to 1946, when seven-year-old Raymond Belle ended up in a military orphanage. Scared and alone, he decided he was never going to be a victim and trained harder than everyone else on campus, sneaking out to use the parcours course at night. In the 1980s Raymond’s son, David Belle, fed up with gymnastics in a safe, padded environment, not getting along very well in school, and looking for some direction in his life, discovered his father’s past. Deciding to train the same way his father did, mixing it with his father’s personal philosophy, and using the city as his parcours course, David found the inspiration and drive that was lacking in his life. He called this newfound activity “parkour,” and soon attracted other people who wanted not only to practice the physical aspects of parkour but also to explore the philosophical aspects.

3. What inspired you to write about parkour?

I have always thought parkour was really cool. It looks like gravity doesn’t even affect the people who do it. It’s like watching real life superheroes. I also love the philosophy behind parkour– overcoming mental and physical barriers in the most efficient and straightforward ways possible.  It’s a really positive message.

Lorimer - Childrens - Stupid 

Image Credit: 

Parkour Olahraga Ekstreme, Gerakan Ala Ninja! ~ Sealkazz Blog 


4. What research did you do about parkour for Stupid?

I had a couple of friends who did parkour, so I contacted them. They were really enthusiastic about the project. They answered questions, helped me set up interviews, and explained tricks. Through them I met other parkour practitioners, or traceurs as they are actually called in parkour speak. I was completely welcomed into the parkour community. One time I went down to the park to do some filming in order to plan out the tricks in the book and I ran into a traceur I didn’t know. He thought I was a tourist and offered to take a picture of me with my camera. When I explained the project to him, he ran some lines around the park for me to film in order to make writing them easier. A couple of the local coaches even read an early draft of Stupid and critiqued the parkour in it to help make it perfect. The parkour community is quite amazing. 

5. Did you do any training yourself?

No way! I'm like Martin in Stupid. I'm clumsy and uncoordinated and I'd probably die. Though the kids keep telling me, anyone can do parkour, so maybe I’m just chicken.

6. Do you know any teens with mis-diagnosed dyslexia?

I know way too many kids and teens with mis-diagnosed or undiagnosed dyslexia. I’m constantly frustrated by the school system, which is all over the map when it comes to helping them. While the school system as a whole says they are ready and willing to help, individual teachers can have a wide variety of ideas on how to deal with it. Even good teachers can become overwhelmed when faced with lack of funding and overcrowded classrooms. I think the biggest issue kids with dyslexia face is that many parents and teachers don’t really understand the ways in which dyslexia affects the people who have it. I’m hoping this book will help change that.

7. What advice do you have for children and teens struggling with dyslexia?

Don’t give up on yourself and don’t let others set the bar for you. Choose your own goals. Set your own standards. Dyslexia sucks, but it’s also really cool too. People with dyslexia get see the world in a way that no one else does. Be brave and be gentle with yourself when you do make a mistake. Use your strengths and work on your issues. is one of many amazing free online resources which can help. Dyslexia can actually make you successful in what you want to do if you know how to use it.

8. What were your experiences growing up with dyslexia?

I was diagnosed with a learning disability at an early age. I went to a special school in Edmonton for the first two years of my life. I really liked school back then, but even at that I struggled with reading. In Grade 3 I ended up at a regular school, and that’s when things really fell apart. I had a hard time. It wasn’t until I went to summer school that year that I actually learned to read well. But even back then I loved reading and writing. I wrote every day and I read mountains of comic books. In grade four I went to a new school and my teacher was told I had a learning disability. As a result I was sent to the back of the classroom to colour for the year. In my teacher’s mind, having a learning disability meant one simply could not learn.  Later during my journey through school I met up with some wonderful teachers who were able to help me discover the best ways for me to learn – even if they were different from everyone else’s. Now I tell people I have dyslexia right off the bat. That way when they say, “Good afternoon.” and I blurt out “Good morning.” we can laugh it off. Dyslexia always seems to make the opposite thing come out of my mouth. It can be really frustrating, like when I’m trying to give directions, but most of the time it’s just good for a giggle and no big deal.

9. What have you learned from your experience?

I actually learned more about my own dyslexia during my research. I thought I understood it pretty well, but I was blown away by how far the science has come. I was also so impressed with the parkour community of Calgary. I’m glad that the young people of my city have such amazing mentors.

10. What else would you like to tell us?

I love how the parkour philosophy applies to just about anything from dyslexia, to studying for a test, to life in general. The ideas of altruism, self-improvement, and the ability to overcome obstacles (both mentally and physically) can improve anyone’s life. If everyone took up just the philosophy of parkour, the world would be an amazing place. Of course, training in parkour is great for health too. But if you are going to try parkour, find a reputable coach or gym. Or if there isn’t one around – start small, and find videos and books which teach this. Trying to imitate the pros right off the bat or doing a big jump over a gap between buildings when you’ve never done it on the ground is a good way to die. Gravity does exist. Gyms have foam pits and foam pits are fun!

KIM FIRMSTON is the author of the SideStreets novels SchizoHook Up (a Resource Links Year's Best), and Touch. She lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she gives writing workshops for teens. Visit her website at!! 

Click here for more info or to order Stupid.



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