Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Around the World in 80 ... Years: Portimão, Portugal

I can't believe it has already been over 2 years since we took our trip to Portugal. Truth be told, it was actually my first commercial flight ever. Yep. At the ripe age of 24! It took a lot of pep-talking to get me excited about the trip because I was so nervous. But I survived and had a really great time - imagine that!

We first flew into Lisbon, and took a train down the coast to the lovely little town of Portimão, located in the region of Algarve. At the southernmost tip of Portugal, we had the pleasure of enjoying some of the most beautiful seaside caves in the the world.

I want to picnic on that little hunk of sand!

We stayed at the Tivoli Marina, steps away from the sea. Its bright colours and clean atmosphere were easy to love. And the resort-like setting meant that we didn't need to go far to enjoy the nightlife. A few minutes drive from the hotel is the town's center, where you'll find traditional restaurants serving up loads of seafood.

We were only in Portugal for a few days, but I would have loved to stay and explore a little longer. I learned, though, that the wine is cheap and good. Between meals, we mostly snacked on fresh breads, cheeses, and wines. Sounds legitimately snobby, but seems much more rustic when you're in the midst.
Tivoli Marina Hotel harbour
On the beach.
Lurking in a sea cave.
Can you smell the food cooking?
The dining scene in town is lively, but still relaxed.
The town's waterfront bustles at night with merchants, cafes, bars, and snack opportunities.

Historically rich, and comfortable setting.
 The Dona Barca, a local favourite restaurant. Home to dishes that contain just about any creature you can pull out of the waters of Portugal. Cute, long tables are set up family-style. I was bumping elbows with a stranger, but it was all good! That is, until the cuttle fish arrived. What. Is. That?
Dun, dun, dunnnnn

For a vegetarian who decided to start eating seafood just before leaving for Portugal, the cuttle fish was just too much for me to handle. I did try it, but only once.

I loved that Portimão was a seaside town. Of course, most of Portugal is rich in seafoods and known for its sardines. But the atmosphere was very nautical, from the decor right down to the immense (real!) pirate ship that looms in the canal downtown. If you're in town, be sure to check that one out. Word of caution: do so on a not-so-hungover stomach, ok?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Progress in the Dining Room: Textiles

After finishing (sort of) my daughter's room, I promised myself that I'd get moving on the dining room. Since it is heavily used every day, it was about time for some sprucing up.

For over two years, it looked something like this:

Check out that cornucopia of fruit on the table. Yay, summer!

Um, yeah. I would look at this every day and just be frustrated because I didn't know where to start. The most difficult part was finding a dining set that I love, but was still within our budget. The metal and glass set above was my husband's bachelor furniture and it just wasn't doing it for me. The glass was impossible to keep clean with the kids around and the "hooks" on the backs of those chairs were always attacking me (I swear). After loads of time scouring the internet, I found our current set in the local classifieds. It has tons of potential - staining and upholstering are other projects on the list.

So I finally chose a paint colour (Rona Smooth Velvet in 'Sesame Oil') and got to work. I swear by the Shur-Line 2" Angle Brush for edges and corners - taping is unreliable and takes a crazy amount of time. It's amazing how little effort it actually takes to cut in by hand! In order to provide a more accurate sense of the colour, the following photos were edited a little - so don't alarmed if the woods seem a little bright and orange-y.

First thing's first. That light fixture is offensive. I just haven't found "the One" to replace it with. Second, my floor is filthy. The little dude eats in a frenzy that always involves the dog "cleaning" up afterwards. I actually stopped to wash it between uploading and posting it. And finally, those curtain panels are boring. We picked them up at Zellers a year ago because I just needed something to cover the window to filter light. I'm also planning on hanging the new window coverings a little higher than they're sitting right now. While my ceiling won't accomodate a full 96" panel, I may be able to get away with an 90" or so.

That brings us to the great online fabric hunt. I had decided a while back that I wanted to have cobalt blue or navy as a secondary colour in this room. So here are some samples I've been eyeing: 

Ok, so the last one has zero cobalt or navy, but I really like it anyway. And it happens to be the cheapest. Though I haven't yet checked out the local fabric supply store, it seems that online shopping is providing a lot more variety in pattern and price.

Decisions, decisions need to be made ...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Home Decor: Equestrian Style

If you know me personally, this post should come as no surprise to you. After over a decade of living horse-free, I recently hopped back into the saddle and now wish I'd never left. Two kids and 12 years does a number on your body and psyche.

You've probably seen at least a handful of rooms that incorporate equestrian elements. The style tends to have a slight colonial vibe, as opposed to the Western cowboy/Sante Fe variety of furniture and accents - think dark woods & warm leather, not pine log and Navajo prints. Reminiscent of English fox hunting and traditional riding practices, the classic equestrian decor is best done in hints - a little goes a long way with inspired pieces. Too much can feel a bit hokey, like a semi-permanent theme party.

Tartan prints and monograms as accents
Here's a roundup (har-har) of some equestrian inspired things that would be perfect for the horse person in your life, without going overboard ...

Lladro Equus Coffee Cups and Saucers (176 pounds - set of four)
Hunt Boot Bookends ($68), Horse and Hound.
Reproduction 1960's Potomac Hunt Map ($60), Fox Hunt Shop.
Wall Mounted Horse Head ($99 - on sale!), Z Gallerie.

Rebecca Ray Harness Pillow (from $205), Rebecca Ray Designs.
Lattice Bamboo Arm Chair, Furniture Classics Ltd.
angelo: HOME Sutton Saddle Brown Renu Leather Sofa ($573), Overstock.

Part of me wants to be out at the barn right now, actually. But I'm battling a head cold and think it's best that I take advantage of baby nap time at the homestead. Cheers!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Everyday, I'm Shovelin'

Sorry, had to.

 Now that winter has actually arrived, I feel like I'm out standing in the driveway more than I've been driving on it. Winter used to be my absolute most hated season. HATED. But, ever since we moved to this house, I'm starting to like it more and more. In fact, we went for a brisk walk in the -14 degree weather this morning. By choice. For recreation! No worries - both dog and baby were incredibly bundled. I think people were staring.

When you're out of shape like I am and feel the need to get moving, it seems like winter can be a bit of a blessing, to be honest. No overheating and no exercise-induced migraines. My arms are (good) sore from shoveling mounds of snow and walking anywhere takes just that much more effort when you're pulling a sleigh full of baby - to be clear, my son is more man than baby.

Yay, winter! Get back to me in a month and see how I feel though because Febru-hairy is coming. By then, I'm so down about the unrelenting weather that I just give up and stop shaving my legs. You're welcome, husband. We'll just consider it payback for the hideousness of Movember.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The San Marino Sandwich

When you're a vegetarian, you learn to become creative with the foods that you like. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get the tastes you crave and still make healthy choices. But mama hit the jackpot today ...

Meet the San Marino Sandwich: warm Italian fococcia bread, San Marino lettuce mix, cream cheese, Feta cheese, and ajvar spread. Ahhhmazing!

San ajvar, what?

San Marino mix consists of arugula, baby spinach, lolla rosa (the purple leaf), and mizuna, among lettuces. The mix is crunchy and a little peppery, thanks to the arugula.

And if you've never heard of ajvar, I don't blame you. But you need to become acquainted! Ajvar is a Croatian/Serbian/Turkish (depending on the type) spread usually made from roasted red pepper and eggplant. The variety I have lends a slightly sweet, but spicy flavour to my sandwiches and crackers. It's great on eggs, too!

Oh, and this sandwich goes great with a glass of Valpolicella ...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Oh, Heyyyy ... Pancakes.

Mmm, hm. The husband is out of town on some work duties, so I took it upon myself to make a lazy and unconventional dinner: breakfast. Oh, how I love me some pancakes.

The thing is, this is the only recipe I know legitimately by heart. I've made these suckers so many times, but it never gets old. In fact, I'm going to say that I make the best damn pancakes you've ever had. Yeah, I said it.

For optimal results, cover freshly cooked pancakes with foil. They will stay soft and pillow-y until served!
The original recipe came from a crazily battered copy of The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook that pre-dates my existence (1980, holla). My mom's copy is so well loved that it's stained and pretty yellowed, but man ... the pancakes. My mom lovingly wrote out this recipe for us kids so that we could make the batter early in the AM and not wake her up until it was time to cook them (the jig's up, Ma).

Anywho, here's the recipe ...

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Puppy, It's Cold Outside!

Well, I woke up this morning to a lovely -21 degrees Celcius happening outside my door. You know, the morning I decided I was going to start taking the hound out for early morning walks. There are probably a lot of Canadians and Upper Americans (yeah, that's a term now) who treat their chilly dogs to coats, neckwarmers, and boots. And my hound is no different.

Since we just adopted our Greyhound in April, this is really our first winter with her. Since I sort of grew up with a Golden Retriever, the idea that a responsible dog owner should put clothing on their dog is a foreign one to me. But, due to my dog's low body fat percentage and her bald spots, it's necessary to keep her warm in this type of weather.

So I went on the online hunt for a custom made coat that wouldn't break the bank. Why, custom? Well, I can't sew very well. And Greyhounds have a naturally contorted body shape that is hard to fit with "off-the-rack" coats. Then I met (well, online) Amy from Warm Wags. Not only are her coats and snoods CUTE, but she's also super friendly and easy to work with. (By the way, a snood is a neckwarmer). After a few consultations of back and forth messages, Amy sent me this beautiful outfit ...

I know, right? It's fab. Apparently, this new combo of hot pink snood and black & white houndstooth coat is becoming quite a popular design around Warm Wags. But Amy also makes adorable martingale collars, too.

Dog Blanket by Shedrow

Another great option for cost effective coats is at Greenhawk, which is typically a horse and livestock supply store. But their waterproof coats are well made and fit quite well. The best part is that they are so affordable - about $30!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Nom-Nom-Nom: Vegetarian Potato Lasagne

I'd love to take full credit for coming up with the concept of a potato lasagne. But the folks at Prince Edward Island Potato (yup, that's a legit site) e-mailed me a recipe after I entered one of their contests. I like this recipe for a few reasons. Meal planning is not really my forte, so I never seem to have lasagne noodles in my pantry. Aaaand, I'm always looking for an excuse to eat potatoes.

You can check out their (non-veg) recipe by clicking the link above, but I'll share my vegetarian interpretation. Mostly, I really wanted to use a load of spinach to fool my toddler into eating leafy greens. Guess what? It worked! Since potatoes are one of his favourite foods right now, I made sure to point those out while we were eating. Yay, Mom!

Vegetarian Potato Lasagne
Serves 4-6

  • 2 medium white potatoes (the P.E.I. ones will work - ha!)
  • 3 cups of your favourite pasta sauce (or a jar of Prego)
  • 2 cups cooked whole wheat egg noodles
  • 1 block (300g) frozen spinach
  • 1 yellow onion
  • few cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup cheese of your choice (I used a medium cheddar)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water

Monday, 9 January 2012

Deep Purple: Creating a Grown Up Room

In a previous post, I mentioned how we made a customized cork board from a thrift store frame for my daughter's room. You see, my daughter went on vacation with her grandparents for a few weeks, so I took the opportunity to re-vamp her space to reflect her growing maturity. When we moved into this house, the paint in her room looked like this:

Which was fine (and actually pretty awesome) for a 7 year old. But as she grew older, I think she was craving a more sophisticated vibe. So, since her room was unoccupied for a full three weeks, I decided to take it over. I chose a saturated dark berry colour - 'Valhalla' by CIL. It is still feminine and cute, but definitely more mature than the bubblegum pink that was happening at the time. Little did I know, I was in it for the long haul ...

Oh my gosh. What have I done?

Ohhh, that's what a third coat looks like!

Ok. So I always fall victim to the first coat willies. No matter what colour you're painting, your walls almost always look like garbage after the first coat. How disappointing. But persistence pays off. A few days later, I got this yummy colour:

Finished product .. missing a dresser still.

I have to say, the coated paint tray from Home Depot was a lifesaver.
Teflon-coated paint tray from Home Depot.

Laying down some foil or plastic wrap on a regular plastic tray will be helpful, too. But, hey ... this Teflon business is pretty neat! Anyway, after a few (too many) coats of paint, I got started on the details. One of the best finds for this room was the ceiling-mounted curtain hardware from Debbie Travis' Canadian Tire collection. I sort of want to replace all my hardware with this. You see, it hangs panels from the ceiling so that you're not making a mess of your newly painted walls. It is so much easier to patch a drill hole in the white ceiling than having to patch and paint a wall.
Replacing the black ceiling fan with For Living Nadia Chrome Chandelier

Hanging smoothly.

I also ordered some chalkboard contact paper to make a sort of headboard above my girl's new daybed. I used this idea as an inspiration. With a little white acrylic paint and a monogram I found at Winner's, I came up with this:

Chalkboard contact paper sticks to the wall and is easily removeable.

Pardon the unfinished daybed build. The kit was missing some pieces, so I had to wait a week or two for the hardware to come in. But I did cut out some labels from the aforementioned chalkboard contact paper for her clothing drawers underneath the bed. The ALVINE KVIST duvet cover is from IKEA.

Glass of wine is optional, but highly recommended.
Here's a snapshot from the bedside. A thrift store frame houses an intro page from an old copy of 'Black Beauty', which was a great gift from an old friend. My daughter has since read the book and loved the motion picture. (Really, who wouldn't? *Sniff, sniff*)

The other photos are all personal favourites, framed by dollar store gems. Two of the "photos" are actually framed pieces of fabric that were left over from mending the living room curtain panels (also from IKEA, but I can't find them online anymore).

I picked up the acrylic lamp from Walmart and the chartreuse trellis-printed storage box from Winner's.

I really wish my daughter's room was still this tidy, months after I finished refurbishing it. Oh well, at least I have the photos to remember it by.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tried & Tested: Products I Love For Baby

When my daughter was born over nine years ago (what?!), I was ready and willing to accept all advice and try just about any product thrown my way. I was gullible and probably frightened by the fact that I was actually someone's mom and that there was no room for failure. Her life depended on me - how could I NOT buy the fancy bottles that prevented colic?! (For the record, she had colic for a full 3 months, despite all efforts.)

Given that this isn't my first rodeo (so to speak), picking out products that would work for me was slightly easier after my son was born in 2010. I'm a lot more realistic about needs and not so easily swayed by flashy advertisements that promise to practically make me a better mom. No, Pampers - store brand diapers aren't just "ok", they are actually pretty rad in my books.

So, over the last year and a half, I've found a few things that totally made sense to have around. While I could live without them, they make life a heck of a lot easier.

Inglesina Fast Table Chair

1. Inglesina Fast Table Chair

Portable, comfortable, and easy to clean. There's nothing fun about a giant high chair that doesn't fit at the table properly, so this was an easy choice for me. Since it folds up nicely, it fits easily into luggage for a baby on the go.

Green Sprouts Silicone Freezer Tray

2. Green Sprouts Silicone Freezer Tray

Deciding to make my son's first foods was so much easier when I found this tray. The frozen cubes pop easily out of the (non-toxic chemical leaching) soft silicone. The bonus is that it can also be used as a regular ice cube tray when you're not making pureed food anymore. At that price, I probably should have gotten a few. If you're wondering, I didn't buy the infamous Baby Bullet ... I borrowed my mom's little food processor.

Combi Zeus 360 Car Seat
3. Combi Zeus 360 Car Seat

Probably the best baby-related purchase of all time. Yep, I said it. This car seat answered my frustrated mom prayers. It can be used rear facing and forward facing with the flick of a button. That's because it rotates 360 degrees. Why is that a big deal, you ask? Because that means there's no more hauling hefty babies sideways into a car seat and ruining your back! The seat also sits a little higher so it's right at waist level in most SUVs. Ahhmazing.

None of these product shout-outs are sponsored - I really do love them. Two thumbs way up for these sanity saving finds! A little research totally pays off.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Around the World in 80 ... Years: Bangalore, India

Photo Courtesy: Corporate Suites Inc.
Last year marked a great travel milestone that I had wanted to hurdle for years. As a family of four, we took to the skies (a few times) around the world and landed in Bangalore, India. With a baby and a child in tow, you can imagine that it was quite the experience. Screams and poopy diapers aside, this trip proved to be the incredible journey I had hoped for.

Bangalore is a city of nearly 10 million people. With a population that big, you will see loads of folks from all walks of life. But this is no Toronto. The poor and the wealthy collide to form one crazy city full of life, smells, colour, and traffic. Holy - the traffic. When visiting India, brace yourself for some of the most thrilling car/rickshaw rides of your life.

Rush hour? Probably not.

View from the rickshaw. White-knuckling it.

A busy shopping street. Amazing deals to be found here.

If you're looking to grab a bite to eat in Bangalore, check out Koshy's Bar and Restaurant, where history meets the modern city. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the company of the man himself and his wonderful family. What a treat!

There is also The Rogue Elephant Terrace Bistro in Koramangala, where I scarfed down a superb bowl of pesto and bowtie pasta because, frankly, I was missing home a little.  This laid back place boasts a relaxing rooftop terrace with a tropical vibe and soothing water fountains. Chef Anand Chettur is not only talented, but charmingly entertaining, too!

Sometimes, a girl just needs some Italian food.

If you're looking to do some shopping, you're in luck. Bangalore is home to some of the finest clothing the world over. Not to mention the glittery shoes and accessories. The good news is that your dinero will likely go a long way when you're shopping. Haggling in markets is the norm, so don't be afraid to negotiate politely.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Getting the Hair Out of Your Eyes

A while back, I posted about a craft night that my friend, Kristen, and I held at her place. While I was not really busy making a wreath, my friend was hard at work crafting what seemed like a gazillion adorable felt and fabric flowers to make pins and hair accessories to be gifted at Christmas. There's no doubt that her gift recipients were stoked to see the goodies that Kristen handmade for them!

While at her place last week (uh, I go there a lot - we drink wine and sometimes get creative), she casually gave me an adorable and handmade hair band for my daughter. It was so cute that I put it on right away - it's awesome! I'd love to show you all the things that my talented friend makes, but I'll wait until she starts up her online shop (open an online shop, Kristen!). Anyway, since I have this hair band at my place, I'll give you a peek ...

Made with ribbon, elastic, a sweet herringbone fabric, feather, and a button.
Looks cute on my little girl, but I like to wear it, too :)
 Thanks, Kristen. Maybe it'll benefit my shaggy-haired son, too ...