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It was my husband’s birthday yesterday, and as he often pines for Jaffa Cakes (as well as pies), I thought I’d try my hand at making some. They’re one of those very British products that I’ve never spotted for sale in Sudbury, so we’ve occasionally ordered them online from The Scottish Loft in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And I’m sure they’re available at all other good British import stores too :-)

I’d bookmarked a vegan Jaffa Cake recipe a long time ago and saved it to my collection in onetsp. I couldn’t locate the web site for that particular version but found what may be the original recipe here, helpfully converted to cups.  Although I prefer to weigh my ingredients for baking, my scales are so unreliable so I was happy to get out the measuring cups. I just had to do a little hunting for ingredients beforehand. My husband is diabetic, so I wanted to make a reduced sugar version.

Bag of flour and jar of marmalade

North American recipes typically don’t seem to use self-raising flour, so I wasn’t surprised to only find one brand at the grocery store–Brodie self raising cake & pastry flour. We’ve been moving over to Stevia in our house instead of Splenda, but as I still have a big bag of Splenda to use up, it was destined for the Jaffa Cakes instead of castor sugar. For a marmalade substitute I picked Smucker’s no sugar added orange spread. This is actually a mix of fruit and concentrated white grape juice.  The chocolate chips were regular old semi-sweet President’s Choice ones, so we couldn’t avoid the sugar entirely

The recipe is supposed to make 12-15 cakes. I ended up with 12, because I couldn’t be bothered greasing an extra tray :-) So, our Jaffa Cakes were on the fat side–as was I after scooping all the spare chocolate mixture out of the pan :-) I followed the baking time exactly, using the middle oven rack, and it worked perfectly.

Jaffa Cakes at pre-chocolate stage

These were really simple to make. The only slightly fiddly bit was spreading the ‘marmalade’ onto the bases. Here is my version.

Vegan, reduced-sugar Jaffa Cakes

Ingredients

1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup Splenda
100 ml soy milk
50ml canola oil (rapeseed oil if you’re in the UK)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup dairy-free margarine
grated zest of half an orange
marmalade or equivalent–about 1tsp per cake

Method

Grease a bun tray and pre-heat oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4

For the base, mix flour and sweetener until just combined. Then add the milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Spoon into tray and bake for about 8 minutes.

Cool in the tray for 2 minutes, the remove the cakes to cool on a wire rack. When they have completely cooled, spread a thin layer of marmalade over each cake.

For the chocolate topping, melt margarine and chocolate chips over a low heat, stirring constantly. Then remove from heat and add the orange zest.

This is the messy part: spoon on the chocolate topping to completely cover each cake. Make sure you have a plate underneath to catch the drips! Place in the fridge, still on the wire rack, for as long as needed to set. Enjoy!
Adding chocolate topping onto Jaffa Cakes

As a Canadian immigrant, it’s natural that you’ll want to hold on to your history and the culture of where you were born, and where you probably still have family. But when you move here, you’ll also want to fit in and feel at home in your new country. As Canada approaches its 150th birthday this year, it got me thinking about how Canadian I now feel and the things which have contributed to that.

The call of the loon

I arrived in Canada not long before the 2006 federal election. At that time I had no interest in, or understanding of, the Canadian political system – and of course wasn’t yet eligible to vote. Politics? Forget it! I was far too busy just navigating everyday life.

But one thing that did grab my attention was my local CBC radio morning show. From my earliest days here, the call of the loon that featured as part of their theme music, and the now familiar voice of the presenter, provided a sense of comfort and familiarity–of being “home.”

“Morning North,” “Up North” on the drive home, and “As It Happens” while I’m cooking dinner–all quickly became a part of my life here. I didn’t (and still don’t) have TV, so I relied a lot on the radio, gradually learning more about the local news scene and eventually the national picture.

Learning the lingo at Tim’s

Double double? Roll up the rim? Timbits? Despite now being owned by the American burger chain, Wendy’s, Tim Horton’s is a Canadian institution and you’ll feel extra Canadian once you decipher the lingo at “Tim’s” as it’s known.

I have happy memories of “Everything bagels” with cream cheese during our many house hunting trips over here. Having just flown in from England, which is 5 hours ahead on time, we were always up ridiculously early at the beginning of Canadian holidays. Since those days, the Tim’s menu–along with the calorie count–has expanded. I don’t tend to stop in there now unless we’re on the road, but I still enjoy a Tim’s steeped tea now and again.

Tim Horton's coffee

O Canada & hockey bewilderment

Attending my first and *embarrassed cough* only hockey game as a brand new immigrant was certainly an experience. Hockey–never “ice hockey”–is THE sport in Canada, so my husband and I figured we should turn out to see our local team in action – the Sudbury Wolves. I had no clue what was happening and knew none of the rules. I remember being astounded by the random violence that broke out on the ice on a regular basis–and this from two “junior” teams. The most emotional moment was the singing of the Canadian anthem before the game. I think I cried a little. We’d made it–we were finally here.

Room to roam on crown land

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, less than 11% of Canadian land is privately owned. The rest is classed as “Crown land,” controlled by either federal or provincial government. Despite the name, crown land is yours to roam through as you please, although non residents will need a permit. Moving here from a country full of private/keep out signs where everything is owned, being able to hike across crown land was a revelation. This sense of freedom is something I felt from my very first visit here. Now I’m lucky enough to have a house that backs onto crown land, I can walk out of my front door and wander for hours where I want.

Wanapitei River,

Shoveling all that snow and a real white Christmas

After all this time, it’s very easy to get jaded about winter. But during our first winter here, we enthusiastically bought shovels at Canadian Tire and rushed outside with excitement after the first major snowfall to begin clearing! We even took pictures! And every Dec 25th was a guaranteed white Christmas! Well okay, not quite. I think we’ve had two green Christmases since I moved here. But our first proper white Christmas was magical. And even now, when there’s fresh snow on the trees and the sun is shining, I still get that Canadian winter wonderland feeling.

Joining in the summer fun with our “toys”

Canadians love to play in summer, and after the long hard winter, who can blame them? We’re talking boats, RVs, classic cars, the cottage/camp/cabin (depends where you live). We’ve been lucky enough to get a taste of this on road trips and camping trips with our Corvette and camper van, as well as the occasional cottage rental. It’s been very special to be able to share in the typical Canadian summer lifestyle.

Camping at Killarney Park in March 2010

Those are some of the experiences that helped me very quickly feel at home here as a new immigrant. The moment when I felt most Canadian? Without a doubt, my Canadian citizenship ceremony–an emotional and very proud occasion. These days more than ever, Canada feels like a good place to be, and hopefully many more newcomers will get to discover Canada for themselves in its 150th year.

There have been lots of Canadian good news stories this week.  The New York Times voted us as the top country to visit in 2017. Book your flights now for the biggest party of the year in July when Canada turns 150. Party budget: over $200 million.

There was also a surprisingly positive employment report released for December. 50,000 new jobs were added in Canada, out of a total of 214,000 for the year, apparently making 2016 the “best year for job creation” since 2012.

If you speak French and are thinking of moving here, you’ll be interested in this video. It highlights success stories of immigrants who came here from France, Belgium, Congo, and Benin and settled in French-speaking communities outside of Quebec.

On to the weather report… Even Vancouver, known for its mild, if wet, winters, is getting one of its worst in a long time. I hear from relatives there that people are fighting over free buckets of salt and even going so far as to steal salt. Definitely not typical Canadian behaviour. And in Nova Scotia, they’re digging out today after a huge winter storm – up to 40cm of snow in some areas and more on the way.

Here in Northern Ontario, normal service has resumed after a late start to winter. Today is a high of -20, but at least it’s clear and bright and the snow-covered trees look beautiful . This week will be warming up, bringing with it more snow and no doubt some interesting driving conditions.

View of my back yard

View of my back yard

Many towns and cities have their own variation of a winter carnival to break up the long season. The Fire and Ice Festival happening in Bracebridge, Ontario later this month is a little out of the ordinary—complete with “The Fire Guy” and a tubing hill right on the main street, set up with specially imported snow.

For something a little less frenetic, I’m excited that we have a new park in Sudbury offering more opportunities for winter hiking, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing. Check out a dog’s view of Kivi Park or look at some fun winter photos including a snow horse and a snow husky!

That’s all for now. Stay warm!

The first year of Express Entry (2015) was generally seen as a success with 31,000 ITAs (invitations to apply) being issued (that’s out of a pool of just over 191,000 applications) and 80% of cases processed within the target six month time frame. However, I have to admit to being surprised when I saw the list of top occupations for successful applicants:

food service workers and cooks
information systems analysts, software engineers, computer programmers and interactive media developers
university professors and lecturers
retail sales supervisors
graphic designers and illustrators
financial auditors and accountants, and financial investment analysts

With the exception of IT, these don’t immediately strike me as areas where Canada is lacking in job applicants. Where are the engineers, trades people, or medical professionals? It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s a big difference to the make-up of this list in a year or two after the latest changes to Express Entry.

The new rules which took effect on November 19th, are aiming to “better attract some of the best minds in the world, including former international students, experienced professionals and talented workers who will strengthen Canada’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.” Let’s take a look at the changes and what they might mean for you.

Job offers

The biggest change is in the area of job offers. Previously, a job offer supported by an LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) would gain you a hefty 600 CRS (Comprehensive Ranking System) points towards your application. This has now been drastically reduced and depends on what NOC category the job falls into. Anything classed as 00 qualifies for 200 points; 0/A/B just 50 points.

Previously, all applicants with a job offer had to provide an LMIA. Now if you’re already working in Canada on an LMIA-exempt work permit, you’ll qualify for job offer points without the LMIA, so long as you’ve been working for your employer for at least a year. And your job offer no longer has to be for a permanent post, just a minimum of a year’s contract.

Education gained in Canada

Anyone from outside of Canada who has gained a qualification here higher than high school level, from 1 and 2 diplomas up, will receive extra education points. A one or two year diploma gains you an extra 15 points. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, it’s 30 points.

More time!

You’ll now have longer to complete your application after receiving the invitation to apply – 90 days instead of 60. Remembering how long it took me to organise police checks from 2 countries and the very long wait for medical checks, more time is definitely a good thing!

Good or bad?

The new changes are great news for temporary workers in Canada, especially those in more contract-based professions such as the trades, and for Canada’s international students too. And it makes complete sense that Canada would want to retain them. They are already settled here, have built connections and have the language skills. During the first year of Express Entry, almost 80% of successful applicants were drawn from people already living in Canada, so this figure could well increase.

But what about the thousands of skilled workers trying to move here from outside Canada? Will it now be even more difficult to get in? Certainly the job offer is not going to help you as much. However, if you don’t have a job offer and have specialised skills that are in demand in Canada, you’ll now stand a better chance of acceptance. The prime focus now is on bringing in highly skilled individuals to fulfill specific demands. So if you have skills that Canada desperately needs, the lack of job offer is not a deal breaker.

For official details of the changes, go to

http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/notices/2016-11-19.asp

We’ve been enjoying amazingly warm temperatures for the time of year, but sadly that’s coming to an end this weekend. So I figured it was time to update my winter prep post from 2013. As I pointed out back then, I don’t remember ever making any special preparations for winter when I lived in England. But here it’s a very different story! If this is your first winter in Canada, here are some of the things you might need to think about.

Snow removal
Get those shovels ready by the front door and if you own one, make sure your snow blower is working. Be prepared for icy windshields (windscreens) and have an ice scraper ready. You’ll also want a container of ice melter to make your paths less treacherous to walk on. You may prefer to hire someone to clear your snow. If so, start looking early as many people who offer this service are fully booked very quickly. I’ve been lucky enough to find someone local to take of our plowing the last few years. As we have a gravel yard, after the first major snowfall we drive back and forth over the snow to pack it down and make it easier for plowing. We didn’t do this the first time we used our snow blower and we had gravel flying everywhere! If you live in a rented apartment, snow clearing should be taken care of for you. And if you get little or no snow where you live, feel free to  ignore this section!

Digging out: my first Canadian winter

Digging out: my first Canadian winter

Keep warm inside…
Have your heating system inspected and serviced. Heating contractors get very busy at this time of year. Our propane contractor told us he’s just done 60 installations in one month! This is probably people switching over from oil heat, as we did in September. We live in a rural area without natural gas.

and outside…
Dig out the winter coats, boots, scarves, gloves, thermals… If you don’t own any (or can’t find them!), prepare for a shopping trip. It’ll soon be time to bundle up.

Getting around…
Winter vehicle maintenance is extremely important. Have your winter vehicle fitted with proper winter tires. I was late calling to make an appointment for a tire change this year so I’ll be negotiating a week or so of winter weather with my summer tires. Check tire pressure, oil levels and make sure your windshield washer fluid is winter grade. You’ll get through a lot of this very quickly. Also consider fitting your vehicle out with an emergency kit: food supplies, blankets, flashlights (torches), emergency flares, plus a shovel and tow rope in case you ever need to dig yourself out. If your area has really cold temperatures and you have to park your car outside, check to see if your vehicle is fitted with a block heater. You can plug this into an electrical outlet overnight to help protect the engine and make your vehicle easier to start. My car is housed in a heavy duty canvas garage, but I still plug in. And if I’m going to be at home for a while and not driving anywhere, which usually happens over the Christmas vacation, I run the car engine every other day to try and avoid flat batteries.

Winter driving

Don’t try and drive anywhere when it’s like this! (Insane British tourists near Algonquin Park, winter 2004)


…or staying parked

If you have vehicles you don’t plan to drive this winter, call your insurance company to remove the collision portion of the insurance. Then it’s time to “winterize” them. This also applies for garden equipment such as lawn mowers. If you still have gas (petrol) in the tank, add some fuel stabilizer such as Stabil, which you can buy at Canadian Tire and other auto stores. Remove vehicle batteries or keep them on a trickle charge. There’s nothing worse than trying to start up your pride and joy in the spring only to discover the battery is flat.

Outdoor clean-up
Clear any supplies from outside that might not survive the cold temperatures– car cleaning products, deck stain, paint etc. I’m no gardener, but I notice that lots of people protect their trees and shrubs with burlap or special tree wrap. I’ve also seen temporary “screens” used to shield trees that are close to the road.

And once all this is done, put your feet up, grab a Bailey’s and give yourself a well-earned break. Now you can start planning for the spring!

Here in Northern Ontario, we’ve had record temperatures for November! In past years there would usually have been snow on the ground by now and we’d be settling into the long winter. But last weekend I was on the road with my husband in our Corvette, for our final trip of the year.

20161106_122258

We took one of our favourite scenic routes via Field, stopping off for a quick peek inside Marten River Provincial Park. Sadly it’s all closed up for the season now, so we parked by the gate and had a quick stroll down to the water.

20161106_122055

Then it was on to one of our regular eating spots – Average Joe’s, overlooking Trout Lake in North Bay. It was beautiful looking out onto the water with the sun streaming in. I had delicious flatbread with roasted veggies (with enough to take home for Monday’s lunch!) followed up by a “Peppermint Patty”–peppermint schnapps with hot chocolate. Mmm!

20161106_142118

The next day we managed to fit in a final car wash before putting the vette away for the winter. So this year for once I’m actually fairly organised and have most of my winter prep jobs done before the snow and freezing temperatures arrive! There’s nothing worse than fumbling with numb fingers to finish outdoor jobs in below zero. Sadly I’m less organised with Christmas gifts as I’ve missed the surface mail deadline for Europe by a long way.

Now Hallowe’en is over and the clocks have gone back, we’re full swing into the Christmas season. Sudbury has its annual Santa Claus parade coming up–always held in November to avoid the worst of the weather. Plus there’s the Festival of Lights at Science North. I hope to get to at least one of these events this year. We also have many local craft fairs, ideal for gift hunting.

As an immigrant, it can definitely take a while to adjust to the shifting seasons and the change in routine this brings. But I’ve found that learning about and participating in those seasonal rituals and traditions is part of what makes you start to feel really at home here. More than ever, I feel very lucky to be living in Canada. If you’re reading this and interested in moving here, but have no idea where to start, please get in touch. I’m happy to try and help point you in the right direction.

If you’ve been thinking about applying to move to Canada, now could be a good time to start that paperwork. The Canadian government recently announced its immigration targets  for 2017. The overall figure is the same as 2016, but over half of new immigrants (172,500) will be brought in through economic immigration. This is a 7% increase on 2016 levels. We continually hear about Canada’s declining labour force and aging population and in fact it won’t be long before immigration accounts for all the net labour force growth in Canada.

It’s interesting to look at the breakdown of numbers for the different economic programs. Out in front, not too surprisingly, is the federal economic program with 73,700 projected immigrants in 2017. That’s still how the majority of economic immigrants–myself included–make it to Canada. But coming a fairly close second is the Provincial Nominee Program with 51,000, reflecting the attractiveness of this route both to applicants and Canada’s provinces.

The Quebec skilled worker and business programs are projected to account for almost 17% of the total (29,300), making that province a good bet if you have the language skills. A surprisingly large number of immigrants are likely to come here through the Federal Caregiver program–it’s that aging population again. Lastly, the Federal Business program should account for 500 applicants.

The overall figure for immigration targets is expected to grow to as much as 450,000 for 2021, so it’s likely that opportunities for economic immigrants are only going to increase. Definitely a good news story! For full details of the 2017 immigration plan, go to http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1145379

 

I love this time of year when the days are long and hot here in Northern Ontario and the pace of life has slowed up for the summer. This weekend I’m hoping for some road trips with my husband in our Corvette–something we’ve not been able to do in a long time. So that will make this Canada Day holiday extra special.

This last week has made me reflect how lucky we are to have moved here. Canada may not be perfect, but compared to the turmoil in some other countries right now, I think we have it pretty good. You can read about my top ten best things about living here and my best moments so far.

Lake of the Woods trail - the newest trail at Killarney Park

In my post about Canadian immigration changes for 2016, I mentioned the spike in “Move to Canada’ searches from people in the US. With Trump now the official Republican candidate, US interest in moving north will surely only increase.

And now we have the Brexit effect. Apparently Google statistics showed at one point that moving to Canada was a hotter topic in the UK than even David Beckham. I thought the vote would be close, but really wasn’t expecting that result. It makes me sad, especially as the West Midlands, where I’m originally from, had the highest percentage vote for “leave”. I didn’t vote. Perhaps I could have done as I still hold a UK passport, but didn’t feel I had the right to now I no longer live there.

Canadian and UK passports

Brits or Americans considering moving here will be in good company.  The UK and the US are in the top ten source countries for Canadian immigrants and the US is also one of the top ten sources of international students in Canada. Sharing a common language and similar culture definitely helps ease the transition during those first weeks and months.

Immigrants mostly settle in large cities within Ontario, B.C., Quebec, and Alberta and almost two thirds opt for the big three: Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Calgary and Ottawa are the next most popular choices. But don’t feel that these are the only options. Canada’s smaller provinces and smaller towns can also provide a fantastic quality of life (I can testify to that!) and are keen to grow their immigrant populations.

So will we see a big influx of Canadian immigrants from the UK and US in the next few years? I think it will depend in large part on how political events unfold. For anyone thinking of making the move, best of luck in your research and Happy Canada Day!

It’s the May long weekend, the beginning of cottage/camping/boating season, and for once the weather has cooperated! Everything is greening up here and there’s plenty of wildlife out and about in my garden: a grouse, fox, and rabbits (and blackflies… ). Not to mention the squirrel that’s found a way into the house more than once. We’re still trying to work out where it’s getting in.

And this week, for the first time since we moved here 11 years ago, we had a visit from a black bear. We’ve seen them before at a safe distance away, but never so close to the house. I instantly had visions of bear claws ripping through screens and destroying my screen room. But no–this bear just ambled around to the front of the house and settled down under the washing line to chew some grass. We watched him for a little while (safely from inside), then my husband figured he’d better yell at the bear to move it on–and it obligingly did so. No return visits–so far…

Our house is in the country and surrounded by crown land. So it’s not that much of a surprise that a bear would find its way into our yard. But with so much new construction taking place on what was previously green space, bear sightings can also be a concern if you live in more built-up areas in town. So it’s good to be aware of some of the “bear wise” basics:

Always clean up your barbecue thoroughly

Keep your garbage stored securely, and only take it to the curb the morning of collection, not the night before.

Don’t leave bird food–or pet food–outside during bear season.

For more information, including what to do if you encounter a bear, read the updated advice on the Ontario government web site. Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry no longer traps and relocates bears. So residents here are now instructed to call the police if a bear is displaying threatening behavior. Guidelines vary across the different provinces, but most have similar “Bear Wise” programs, such as Alberta BearSmart.

I’m happy that my screen room stayed intact as I plan on spending plenty of time in there during this beautiful sunny long weekend, as well as visiting Windy Lake Provincial Park. Hopefully I won’t encounter any bears!

Spring may have officially arrived on March 20, but it’s not felt too spring-like here until this week. Now the last stubborn patches of snow have vanished, most of the ice has melted on the lakes, and it looks like warmer temperatures are finally here! So it’s time to start working though the springtime checklist. Always more fun than prepping for winter, here’s a quick run-down of some of the things to consider.

Hopefully you put winter tires on your vehicle. Once the daytime temperature is consistently seven degrees or more, it’s time to switch them out  for summer tires. This is also a good opportunity to book a service and oil change on your vehicle. After negotiating all the new pot holes that appear each spring in Sudbury, our car always needs a bit of TLC. Not sure if your tires are still roadworthy? Canadian Tire has a helpful guide.

It’s time to bring out the lawnmower and put away the snow blower. Follow any recommended maintenance tasks, and if your mower has a battery it’ll need a charge after being stored all winter.

If you have vehicles you use just during summer, you’ll need to add collision coverage back on your insurance policy and check that the batteries are in working order. The May long weekend is traditionally the time to get your “summer toys” back on the road. But we were always impatient to get out in our Corvette or camper van as early as possible! Here we were camping at Killarney Park in March 2010.

Camping at Killarney Park in March 2010

Snow plows can leave your yard looking the worse for wear. Now is the time to remove all the sand off your lawn, or hire someone else to do it if you can. If you have a gravel driveway or yard like I do, the worst spring task is clearing all that gravel that’s  been thrown up onto the grass . Well, maybe not the worst…. I’m a former dog owner after all :-)

You may want to start planning your garden. It’s a little early here for planting, although the temporary garden centres at the grocery stores are almost ready to open up for business. If this is your first year in Canada, it’s a good time to take stock of your new yard and landscape. I’m not much of a gardener, but I like to have a few hanging baskets and pots around the place. If you’re a newbie Canadian gardener, Canadian Gardening is a helpful resource.

Be prepared for the bugs. I’ve already heard our annual frog chorus late at night, so I know the bugs won’t be too long in arriving. Check your supplies of repellent and anti-bite. Deet repellents are the only ones I’ve found to be effective around here, although there’s a wide range of alternatives to try.

Bug free!

If you’re thinking of putting up a gazebo or temporary screen room, now is a good time to work on that. We had a permanent screen room built last year, and I have to say I’m so happy we made that decision. Once the warm temperatures hit, dust down that patio furniture and barbecue (I still don’t have one!), set up your deck for the season, and treat yourself to a well-earned drink.

Cheers!

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