Faves of Spring 2014

It’s common knowledge on the East Coast that this past “Spring” was the shortest ever. This is because selfish Winter continued to steal Spring’s spotlight for far too many weeks; I mean, there was snow in April for god sake! So while I started this post in March, I never felt right posting it because it never felt like Spring. And with the blink of an eye, it is now over (and gorgeous summer has arrived today in full force). So here are a few of my favourite random things … They don’t really have anything to do with Spring, I just thought about them then ūüėČ

1. Renee’s blue cheese dressing – Chunky, creamy, perfectly tangy and very distinct but at the same time not overly pungent (let’s not lie, blue cheese isn’t for the faint of heart). Not only is this an amazing dressing, it’s thick enough to serve many other important purposes including raw veggie and hot wing dip.

2. Nutritional yeast – I have been hearing more about this hippy/vegan food (and I don’t say that with any judgment, just observation) but not yet ventured out to buy or try it. Given I love to experiment with all sorts of nutritious and weird things to balance out my obsession with rich and fried foods, I thought I’d give this a go. It’s often substituted in vegan or dairy free dishes to provide a cheese-like flavour. I sprinkled it on cooked cauliflower with pizza sauce and hot sauce and it actually tasted more like cheese than it smelled! Even better, I used a lot of it in a broccoli soup I made with unsweetened almond milk and fresh pepper and it turned out super! Not the same as cheese by any means, but nutritious and an interesting addition to sprinkle onto any dish (almost like an herb). I guess I shouldn’t be putting this into my “faves of Spring” because I would still choose real cheese over nutritional yeast any day but it’s not really meant to be a substitute – it’s kind of in that little category of healthy food additions I suppose we could all aim to have in our pantry (like chia seeds and hemp hearts).

3. pB2 – Again, while I still prefer real natural peanut butter, I’ve put pB2 on my list because it’s a nifty substitute for peanut butter that is lower in fat and calories and works well for shakes (or mixed into yogurt) because it’s a powder. It’s basically dehydrated peanuts and has some sugar added; the texture looks like hot chocolate powder but colour is more beige. A tbsp is 20 cals instead of 80-100 and the fat% is lower – for those of you watching your cholesterol or calories it may be a good option! I have tried it mixed with water as per the instructions, which turns it into a paste similar to PB … But I wouldn’t eat it this way if I has the option of regular PB (which just tastes better and has a more delectable texture). In a berry shake or Asian stir fry with soya sauce and ginger though, it’s really good!

4. Coursera – A website that offers a plethora of online courses on pretty much every topic under the sun, with instructors from all over the world (professors from well known universities, actually, such as Princeton, Stanford, UBC, etc.). If you take a course and do the work, you obtain a certificate of completion after and can use this for professional development or even – depending in your field and/or your college or regulatory body – could possibly count this towards your continuing education hours! Alternately, you may just want to take a course on childhood nutrition or investment or addictions. How cool! I hope to do a course sometime soon.

5. Songza – if you haven’t already heard of it, this is definitely something you should be using. You can go to the website on your computer or get the application free on your iPhone or iPad (or android equivalents). It’s basically millions of songs, and you can search by different decades, genres, moods or situations (e.g dinner party, working from home, romantic evening, dance lastly, pre-gaming, house cleaning, the list goes on!) What you get are playlists curated by experts. You’ll never get bored or have to repeat the same music (though you’ll likely save your favorite playlists and go back to them time and time again). You can relax and enjoy a worry free night of hosting, without having to change the CD or make a playlist ahead of time … The system is so advanced it will do all the work for you ūüôā

6. Naturally infused H20 – OK, So … I really don’t like water. I mean I love it to bathe in and understand its a necessity for the world, but drinking it plain and cold is just boring and I tend to dehydrate myself rather than sip or gulp on a glass of the stuff. I’ll drink hot water in the winter (or fall/spring, haha, I’m always cold) but not cold water. So instead of using Mio or Crystal light (fake sugars and chemicals) I have started making jugs of water with 5-6 green tea bags, some lemon juice, a few stevia packets or drops, and sliced cucumbers. Sometimes I’ll add mint too and sometimes I’ll just do the water and cucumber. It’s not ground breaking or anything, but just a nice option for the summer months.

7. Songs – Over the last few months I’ve been really into a few songs; they’re catchy and unique and complex. One of them is by Mo feat. Diplo – XXX 88. The other is by We are Twin – The way we touch. Finally, Little May – Hide.

Thanks for stopping in and Happy First Day of Summer!!

Xo

Daniela

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My First Pregnancy: 1st Trimester aka “The Sloth”

Hurray!!!!! It’s finally over!! The first trimester, that is. I can finally let out a sigh of relief (and maybe even a self-congratulatory squeal) now that we have officially made it to the second trimester. In all honesty, while it has been incredibly busy (work has been crazy, we bought a house, etc.) the last 7 weeks have – for me – moved at a bit of a snail’s pace. I think this is because I just wanted to get to the “safe zone” (i.e. post-12 weeks). I tried to enjoy the time and relish in the first months of knowing I was going to be a mom, but at the same time … every day I thought at least once about miscarrying, and also found myself questioning if this could be real. Don’t get me wrong – I was also on cloud 9 and it wasn’t as if I was a ball of anxiety (more like a lump of lazy flesh). I was just looking forward to my 12 week ultrasound, as most women would, I imagine!

Ultimately, the purpose of this blog post is first and foremost to help me remember, years down the road, how everything unfolded, because I have been told by many a wise first-time moms that we are designed to forget all the unpleasant stuff (be it the pregnancy or the labour). And I (think) I kind of want to remember ALL of it (pleasant and unpleasant). Yes, this is probably one of my neurotic tendencies, which – if I psychoanalyze myself – is likely stemming out of fear: I am afraid of forgetting things, of memories fading away into the distance. Time just seems to go by so fast in life, and our minds – as magical as they are – aren’t infinite in their retention. I remember my dad telling me once that he remembers the day he could no longer precisely recall the sound of his mother’s voice after she had passed away; that is immensely difficult. Perhaps that is why he was so diligent about videotape and audiotape recordings of us as children, and photos as we got older. Nowadays we are even more fortunate, we have the luxury of taking videos/photos with ease and at no cost. The ability to blog and journal is similarly useful. So there you have it. Through writing and taking photos, my hope is that all of these important memories don’t fade away into oblivion but rather remain stowed away somewhere, even if it means they are buried in the basement of my brain.

Another reason I wanted to create a post on this topic is because I think it’s helpful for other first timers to see the breadth and variety of preggo symptoms and the trajectories that exist. Hopefully this information will help (or at least mildly entertain) someone, somewhere … and if not, at the very least I hope it will be useful as my personal journal, so I can look back in 30 years when my daughter (or son, if he is interested enough, haha) asks me what can be expected when expecting.

Week 4: In the early hours of May 6th (Tuesday) I had terrible insomnia and probably slept from 1130pm-3am. In that span of time, I got up to pee three times! I should also note that I had nose bleeds the two consecutive nights prior (and I am not a real nose-bleeder – in fact, I’d never had one until moving to Ottawa a few years ago and even then only had them a few times a year. Apparently with the increased blood flow you can experience bleeding from the nose, gums, etc. in early pregnancy. Delightful!) Anyways, in my zombie-like state I decided to have some coffee and do some paper work until 4am and then, something told me to take a HPT (home pregnancy test) – which I had plenty of, thanks to my mother in law, who had given me a bunch of free ones from her work after retiring. Low and behold, there was a faint, faint pink line! Of course, I took two within the hour because I just didn’t believe it (although we had been trying, it has been a long haul involving a few follow-ups and prescriptions). I then somehow managed to wait until 615am when Ryan woke up to share the news. I called the clinic right away and asked if I could come in for blood work, which I did that morning … and the positive (in more ways than one) results were ready that afternoon! It was the longest but most life-changing day I can remember. That weekend Ryan and I went on a pre-planned trip to Boston (and of course we had told my parents by Wednesday night via Skype and his parents on the Friday when we dropped Maggie off for her doggie sleep over). I loved Boston and remember drinking lots of soda and cranberry juice on patios, while Ryan indulged in ice cold wheat beer (grrrr …). I also remember experiencing extreme sensitivity to heat (feeling overheated/headachy), dizziness, shortness of breath – all out of the ordinary. I needed 3-hour siesta naps after the hours of walking (or sitting) in the heat … Which was fine – Ryan likes a good siesta as long as there are some sports highlights on the TV. It was a relaxing and wonderful way to celebrate the news.

Week 5: No major changes – lots of fatigue, felt bloated and that’s about it! I was lucky enough to have an ultrasound at about 5 weeks and things looked good (albeit indiscernible) … I was reassured that everything was “on track.”

Week 6: Same as above. Felt like a sloth, truly, in every sense of the word. It was like all I could do was eat, work, try not to fall asleep during the day (I had cut out caffeine and work was also really busy .. so this was a challenge!). I definitely wasn’t exercising or going for daily walks though I did go to one yoga class. Shortly after the yoga class (I don’t do yoga, so am totally new to this style of movement) I started having severe posterior sacro-iliac joint pain on my left side. It’s hard to describe but it is not lumbar or sciatic pain, it comes and goes and is precipitated by movement at the pelvis or waist (i.e. rolling in bed, getting up/down from couch, in/out of bed, bending forward and coming back up to straight). I would actually grimace in pain and sometimes couldn’t help but to make a whimpering noise because it was so sharp and severe. I don’t know if the onset of this symptom was related to the Relaxin hormone that’s floating around our bodies in pregnancy, which perhaps caused me to over-stretch a ligament (given I am not a yogi, I may have just done something wrong). I read that this pain normally happens later in pregnancy, so I really have no idea. In any case, it luckily only lasted a week and during that time I went to physio anyways (for my chronic ankle sprain and my TMJ issues) and learned some exercises to prevent the SI pain from worsening. I also got a lecture and lesson on kegals … Oh, the joy! I should note that while my jaw range of motion has been limited over the last year and I have sought treatment with not too much improvement, during pregnancy it has improved immensely and my physio told me this was because of the Relaxin hormone allowing more stretching and laxity in the tendons/ligaments … so I took advantage of this to do more traction exercises and push my jaw further. This has been a positive of pregnancy for sure.

Week 7: This was a special week because I had my second ultrasound and Ryan was able to come. We got to see the yolk sac and other goodies (again, though, nothing that was really identifiable to us!) … but to see the heart beat was pretty amazing. Things started to feel a little more real. This is also the week that my “morning sickness” started (i.e. feeling hungover/woozy/out of it at various times throughout the day). I also started to notice increased smell sensitivity, though not too severe, and some aversions. Specifically, I did not feel like eating the Double Chocolate Quest bars I would have normally devoured. I suddenly decided I wasn’t a fan of olives, and strangely enough, veggies/salad were not as enticing as they normally were to me. I was also not particularly in the mood for bbq’d or plain chicken (though it was fine with me in a curry, sandwich, or deep fried!) I would say the strongest aversion of all were the Double Chocolate quest bars (I still have 3 left in the box at 13.5 weeks and I would normally eat up to 2 a day if I had them in the house). All I wanted were starchy and carb-filled foods: Pasta, bread, potatoes, anything deep fried or doughy, and fruit. Seriously. I had to watch to make sure I got enough protein (I tried using greek yogurt in my smoothies, sneaking egg whites snuck into things, etc.) because I had stopped using protein powders given the chemicals in there and label indicating not to use when pregnant. I would honestly say that from Week 7 – 11 I ate more fast food sandwiches (almost daily), pasta (several times per week), pizza (at least one a week) and bread (multiple times a day) than I ever have in a consecutive period. And this is not because I used to refrain from eating carbs – it’s more that I didn’t really crave them to the same extent (ie. for every meal and snack). I used to crave things like chicken wings or avocados and eggs, in addition to carbs. I’ve decided that it can’t be true that our bodies crave what they need … because there is no way my body (or baby) needed to have Kraft Dinner and Oreo icecream or pizza multiple times or Tim Horton’s sandwiches 3 days in a row! I think it’s partially the fatigue at the root of the cravings and of course the hormones too; when I am tired (pregnant or not) I crave carbs. So be ready for that! Plus, when you are feeling a little nauseous the only thing that helps is eating continuously throughout the day (and the easiest things to digest are crackers, toast, simple carbs basically). Later in my first trimester, all I wanted in terms of protein were hamburgers (Ryan’s home-made ones), fried eggs, and pork (e.g. sausages). The chicken and fish were still not high up on my list.

Week 7

Week 8 – 10: I continued to be lazy, sloth-like, and literally only managed to work/sleep/eat. I did not even take Maggie for walks because Ryan was doing everything as he was off work for 6 weeks in my first trimester (kind of a blessing looking back). In week 9 I started to send my parents weekly updates of my little fluctuating food-baby belly and a written update on construction paper (e.g. baby is the size of a grape, embryo is now a fetus, my symptoms/cravings are ___). It was something I wanted to do so they could feel a part of this, and it was also for me; having your loved ones across the country is really hard during such a special and pivotal time in your life (and theirs, as first time grandparents, uncles/aunts, etc.).

As the weeks progressed into double digits I noticed less frequent night-time peeing … maybe 1-2 times rather than 3 times. I had a few bad nights of insomnia. I was also noticeably bloated and could not fit into any of my pants/shorts so started wearing looser clothing, grumbling at everything in my closet, and caving in to buy consignment maternity clothing. Best decision EVER! It felt amazing – like a marriage of well-worn lulu lemons and the most comfortable pajamas, in the form of a high-waisted pant! Oh lord, sooo good. Non-preggo people would benefit from these for sure, especially after a Christmas dinner or wings and beer.

I remember at one point during this few week period feeling kind of down, and specifically – guilty. Like – what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get up and do something? Especially after reading blogs or hearing other people talk about how they continued cross-fit or daily yoga throughout their pregnancy, or – heaven forbid – doing this while also managing the care of another child and working full-time. I kept thinking, yah, then there’s me; I feel lucky if I can put my clothes away at the end of the day and take a shower! At some point in the weeks that followed, I stopped beating myself up about having transitioned from functional human to sloth. Ryan also helped with that, by reminding me that I was “making a baby” and that this took energy. The one thing I would have changed in the first 11 weeks would have been to work a bit less than 170+ hours in a month and to go for some 10-15 minute walks … more for mood than anything else. Next time I guess!

Week 11: I was still very fatigued, maybe not quite as bad, and definitely felt less nauseas/woozy. However … the infamous indigestion and major bloating arrived in full force. That being said, I didn’t really do anything to help myself in this regard. If you didn’t already know, putting Frank’s hot sauce on practically everything and eating heavy foods doesn’t help mitigate or relieve indigestion. But it just tastes so damn good. I’ll admit it: I made my bed, and slept in it!

Week 12: This week I had my 12 week ultrasound with blood work and a visit to the OBGYN. Understandably, I felt so much more positive and also began really embracing that I was indeed pregnant. Seeing a little baby-like creature and hearing the heart-beat makes a huge difference; plus, you can tell people and finally provide a valid excuse for having bailed out on fun events! As cliche as it sounds, I have to say I really had no more morning sickness nearing the end of week 12! I was also going pee once a night closer to the morning rather than multiple times. The migraine headaches (near the end of the day, particularly if hot out or if I was tired) continued and nose bleeds also, a few times per week. The fatigue was definitely improving and I suddenly had the motivation to THINK about booking in a pilates class or a walk. This was a huge improvement. I had cancelled my GoodLife Gym membership as soon as I found out we were pregnant in part to save money and in part because I figured I would be doing more outdoor stuff. Hopefully in the next few months that vision will become a reality now that I am progressing back to resembling a somewhat functional human.

Week 12

Week 13: I am writing this post nearing the end of my 13th week and I am definitely feeling better. I’m still a bit tired here and there, but it’s hard to say if it’s the lack of caffeine and/or Blues Fest music that keeps us up until 11pm (gasp, so late) during the weekdays, or the pregnancy itself. Another change is that I think I finally have a little bump (though it turns into what looks more like fat rolls when I sit down and I would bet that anyone who doesn’t know me would question if it’s just a food baby). I’ve also started to go for 30 minute walks every day and am trying to do 20 or so minutes of prenatal youtube videos or a yoga/pilates class at least a few times per week. I hope this trajectory continues!

A NOTE ON BABY BRAIN: I definitely felt less than sharp, particularly between weeks 4-11. I remember telling Ryan that he could clean our car (we only have one) between 2-3pm when we were at his parents, while I drove to Walmart to get groceries. … How would that work, exactly? And I would only realize the stupidity of what I’d said after a few second delay. Which made me look even more dense. I was also forgetting to put things into my phone (e.g. appointments, reminders), found myself misplacing items, and having major difficulty multitasking. That’s all gotten reasonably better in the start of the second trimester, but I wouldn’t say I’m back to my pre-pregnancy cognitive functioning by any means!

A NOTE ON “PREGNANCY GLOW”: Not going to lie, I didn’t have it (at least not in the first trimester). My hair was not more lustrous (in fact it seemed more dry and brittle), and it continued to fall out/shed at a normal if not more rapid rate (even though I’ve read that pregnancy makes women’s hair thicker because it doesn’t shed as much). I looked really pale (too much time hiding from the heat and the world at large I presume) and had dark under-eye circles most of the time. Also, because I didn’t really have the energy or motivation to do much of anything, let alone deal with the annoyance of finding clothing in my closet that didn’t muffin-top or sausage-case me, I pretty much had my hair up (and was lucky if I washed it every few days) and the same few bag-lady outfits on repeat … OK I am maybe exagerrating a little bit … but only slightly! So if “pregnancy glow” means “on-the-verge of getting sick and super tired” then that’s about right in terms of my experience. I actually had a client of mine, whom I have known since 2011, ask me how I “was doing” and tell me I looked “really tired”- Yikes! Never a good sign, particularly when you are working with people who have experienced significant trauma and years of persistent pain (i.e. they shouldn’t be asking me how I am doing). So while you may be one of the lucky ones who prances around with a heavenly glow and shiny locks, I have to say I just looked tired and bloated. Now that the second trimester has started, I am starting to look a little brighter though I am now facing breakouts on my forehead. Thank you hormones! That said, it could just be the humidity in Ottawa. Who knows. I don’t really care … as long as I eventually birth a healthy boy or girl (preferably one of the two), it’s all good and well worth it.

Looking forward to the next 3 months and I will update once I have successfully journeyed into the third trimester. By that time we will also have moved into our house and I will have visited my family back in Vancouver, so there should be lots to celebrate!

xo

Daniela

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Which U.S city is beautiful yet modest, rooted in history while keeping up with the times, seafood-filled and totally walkable?

BOSTON.

Ryan and I recently visited for a four-day weekend. It was my first time there, and his first time as an adult. We absolutely loved it and would go back without a doubt. Ryan happily used his IATA card to get us a discounted Fairmont rate (like, a 70% discount) so we were able to spend two nights at Copley Plaza Fairmont and one night at Battery Wharf Fairmont. We flew to Boston from Ottawa (on points, of course) and that was painless, as was the free bus and the $2.50 subway from the airport to our hotel. The subway system is great; very efficient, and the people are really pretty friendly everywhere.

In our three and a half days there, we leisurely strolled through most of the major neighborhoods in central Boston, including Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Waterfront, North End (Italian), Chinatown, Faneuil Hall Marketplace as well as venturing to Cambridge (Harvard). We literally covered almost the entire greater Boston area – mostly on foot, although a few times we used the subway one-way (i.e. in the pouring rain, and en route to Harvard – though it turns out the walk was only just over an hour from downtown to the Campus, which we found out on the scenic stroll back).

The city is structurally beautiful and without many high-rises, which is a change from Toronto, New York or Vancouver. There are also ample green space and beautiful parks, which really makes the city exude a more peaceful and less frenetic energy and pace of life. There were definitely upscale areas with fancy store-fronts and an older, classic feel (e.g. brick-lined sidewalks, gas lamps, and historic buildings) and then there were the areas that felt more like South Granville in Vancouver (urban and concrete). The Faneuil Hall marketplace was a fun place to be as was the waterfront.

The food in Boston was great! Pictured below is the best calamari we have ever had, from “Barking Crab” – alongside deep fried oysters. The batter was so crunchy, but not oily, and the seafood was textured and flavoured like it had literally just come out of the ocean – SO tender. Without a doubt, we decided unanimously that this was the most tender calamari we’d ever had (and we have probably had over 50 different calamari dishes). While I can’t compare the deep fried oysters to anything else because I’ve only ever had them fresh, BBQ’d or in a burger, I really couldn’t imagine them being any more tender or tasty. We both liked the calamari more, probably just because we have a deep love for this dish (as you may have already guessed from our glutinous and mounting 50+ count …). It was lightly seasoned and garnished with little flakes of what looked like parsley, a hint of garlic, grilled lemon wedge, and banana peppers alongside. If you are in Boston, check this place out – it’s casual, very kid friendly, and open-air dining on a dock. We also went to several other patios and one or two dive-bars while we were there, and were all around happy with the service and the food quality (not to mention the price – pints for $3 and two mains for $15! You’d be hard pressed to find that in Canada’s major cities, that’s for sure). There was also a place called the Rattlesnake near Copley Square that had a funky rooftop patio I’d happily go back to.

Further outside of the central core, we really enjoyed touring the Harvard campus and being able to take in some of the history that makes this city so interesting. While you could easily “do Boston” in 2 full days, it would be “go go go” and there would be very little time for patio-sitting or sun-basking (or siesta naps, haha) so I quite enjoyed our 3.5 days. It’s also a place you could easily take kids as it’s not as sprawling as New York (i.e. not as much walking required) and there is an Aquarium as well as the beautiful Boston Common garden. We didn’t make it to a baseball game, but that would also be a fun activity with kids.

In summary — Boston is a breath of fresh air. It’s walkable, beautiful, historical, and not that far away from us Canadians living on the East Coast!

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Whether you are an artist, or a wine-o, or both (or neither) – Don’t miss Paint Nite. It’s a blast! (locations vary, Ottawa)

OK. So this lovely girl I met at the dog-park, who happens to be from Vancouver too, emailed me a Groupon link for Paint Nite in Ottawa a few weeks ago. It sounded a lot like Raw Canvas in Vancity (except at Paint Nite, you can sign up for different paintings on different dates, at different pubs across the city). The idea of getting to pick a painting of your choice (from easy to hard) is really ingenious, as it means you can pick something you like and also choose an evening and pub location that works for you. The other appealing part of the night, beyond the fact that you actually learn how to paint something with acrylics (rather than drunkenly smear oil paint on a canvas and call it “abstract” – not a reference to my experience at Raw Canvas at all, haha) is that you are allowed to drink and eat WHILE you are painting. I mean, that really is all kinds of awesome.

Needless to say, I bought the Groupon (50% off = $25 total), partially as part of my “Happiness Project” (i.e. do one creative thing a week) and partially because I admired the friendly “go-getter” attitude of this girl I had only met twice. She had already invited me to a beading night that I unfortunately could not attend so I figured this time, I’d say yes!

The Paint Nite we chose was on Wednesday night in the Market at Pub 101, and the painting happened to be “hard” (yikes, what had I gotten myself into!?). The reason we signed up for this one was because these Paint Nites were filling up SUPER FAST (and actually, right now they are all sold out until July! Talk about getting popular quickly).

This is an overview of how the night went and what you can expect:

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Arrive, grab a drink and head on upstairs (in this case, we had the whole upstairs – other establishments may be laid out differently). Get a friendly greeting, an apron, and choose your seat at one of the tables (covered with a cloth, setup with an aisle, canvas (16″x20″), a paper plate with blobs of primary acrylic paint colours waiting to be used, two paintbrushes, a cup of water and paper towel).

Chat, laugh nervously about how you haven’t painted since grade 3, have a drink to ease your nerves (this is literally a play by play of my pre-painting behavior). Realize slowly, as you look around the pub, that people are here to have fun and it’s really not scary at all.

Watch, as the instructor is working on the painting at the front of the room, ever so casually, drink in one hand and iPhone in the other (with the picture of the original painting on the screen so that it could be replicated here).

Paint, for two hours (or in our case – three) with a few breaks here and there to stand up, walk-around, chat, and let your paint dry.

Finish (whatever that means – because with painting, you could easily keep going and going, and loose yourself – trust me!), get your picture taken with your friends and your paintings, have a friendly bartender offer plastic bags to cover your works of art as you walk home in the rain and smile to yourself because you’ve done something creative AND social, you haven’t thought about work for 3 whole hours, and it’s a Wednesday night! How fun are you??

—–

The instructors (who are trained artists, but are casual about it, very approachable, and clearly having a great time) guide you step by step through the painting until you’ve created your own version of what’s at the front of the room. They literally go through every step (e.g. paint entire lower portion of canvas green, draw white trees, starting here and here, etc.). There’s a real feeling that everyone’s there together – jokes are made, there’s laughter, encouragement and compliments given all around (as well as self-deprecation in my case), and drinks are definitely imbibed. There were certainly some artists there (I was flanked by two – the girls I came with!), a few couples on dates, a table or two of girls who seemed to be enjoying time away from their young ones at home (maybe a birthday or stagette?) and overall, a mixed bag of people. I’d say the room was half male, half female and ages ranged from 20 to 50.

The pair that taught us (we were the second Paint Nite group ever in Ottawa – the first taking place the night before) were from Toronto. There were 5-10 artists being “trained” that evening and watching, so they could carry on the Paint Nite tradition for the next few months. If you want to read more about it, here’s the link: http://paintnite.ca/pages/events/index/ottawa/#date:1

I will 100% be going again, and am already excited for it … It’ll just be a matter of getting a reservation! Check-out the list of dates and pubs, and see if there’s one in your area. The Paint Nite coordinators are interested in feedback to find out if there are preferred locations (e.g. a pub in Kanata that is popular) so I’m sure you could always email the contact person to give your two cents if there’s nothing in your neck of the woods.

That’s all for now, folks. Try Paint Nite. It’s $25 with the Groupon (still for sale) and you get hours of fun, plus a take-home painting. That’s a wild deal, in my opinion. A few photos for your enjoyment ūüôā

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These mini cheesecakes are TO DIE FOR (quite literally, you might die if you are lactose intolerant or gluten sensitive).

Hello!

So, the other day I decided to make a bit of a fancier dessert than my usual go-to cookies or bars. Why? Because I was in the mood, and also, we were invited to dinner at some friends of ours who happen to be really, really exquisite cooks. Naturally, I was nervous and wanted to make something super tasty, a little bit different, easy to transport and easy to serve. I also wanted something that involved little to no prep or fussing in the moments prior to serving (in other words, creme brulee and chocolate lava cakes were not options, unless of course the endeavour was to risk a mini-panic attack at our hosts’ house. I mean, let’s face it, nothing makes an evening more enjoyable than your guest having an emotional meltdown in your kitchen. Amiright?).

Back to the recipe. I perused various sites and recipe books, and came to the decision that I would make something “mini” (not sure what, but this was a start in the realm of decision-making). As we were going to be having home-made gourmet wings and pizza for dinner, I thought a smaller yet rich dessert might be a nice way to finish off the meal. I came across this website and ultimately adapted the following recipe: http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/11/18/salted-caramel-chocolate-chip-mini-cheesecakes/. And my review, you ask? … If I do say so myself, they turned out super well! I loved how the blogger gave step by step pictures for the caramel sauce – it made the process a lot easier. I have marked my own substitutions with an asterisk (*) and explained the general steps, as well as providing a link to the salted caramel sauce below:

Ingredients:

OREO COOKIE CRUST
– 18 whole Oreos (*I used regular, not double-stuffed)
– 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

CHEESECAKE FILLING
– 16 oz (448g) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature (*I used half and half cream cheese and Oikos greek yogurt cream cheese)
– 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
– 1/4 cup yogurt (*I used full-fat sour-cream)
– 2 large eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (*I used regular sized chips, and milk chocolate as they didn’t have semi-sweet. A travesty of sorts, I know. But they turned out fine.)
– Homemade salted caramel sauce (Here’s the incredible recipe, which I altered by using table cream instead of whipping cream, unsalted butter instead of salted, and a few tsp of kosher salt once the sauce had cooled slightly and thickened a bit (to taste): http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-salted-caramel-recipe/)

Directions:

– Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line one 12-count cupcake or muffin pans with 12 liners.

– For the crust: In a food processor, pulse the whole Oreos into fairly fine crumbs (some chunks are yummy, in my opinion!). Stir the cookie crumbs and melted butter together in a medium sized bowl. Press 2 heaping tbsp of mixture into the bottom of each liner. Bake for 5 minutes and allow to slightly cool as you prepare the filling.

– For the filling: In a large bowl using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium until completely smooth. Add the sugar and yogurt and beat on medium until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla extract and chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into the crusts until nearly full. Bake for 23-25 minutes. The centers of each cheesecake will be slightly soft-looking and that’s fine. Take out of the oven and allow them to cool for an hour at least. You can then transfer them to the fridge and chill (at least 2 hours).

Right before serving, top each cheesecake with salted caramel (and chunks of Oreo or toffee, as I did, for eye appeal. Carnations are not necessary).

photo 1 (6) photo 3 (5) photo 2 (2)

SUMMARY:

My husband says he doesn’t like desserts. He ate 4 of these in a 24 hour period plus a leftover unformed blob of cream-cheese-Oreo-sourcream mixture from the freezer, topped with all the extra salted caramel sauce that remained. He said it was one of the best desserts I’d made, and mentioned it a few times at that. He also said I should make “a giant one” next time (to which I said, “you mean a regular cheesecake?” and further explained that this would mean the crust-filling-sauce ratio would not be the same (e.g. more filling, less Oreo). I think with this additional and very imperative information, he realized that maybe we should just leave the recipe as is. I mean, why mess with perfection? ….. Toot toot!! (I am tooting my own horn, in case you were wondering what that was all about).

Enjoy!

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Stellar Stay at Mt. Tremblant: Sunshine, Superior Service & Spring Skiing (Does it get any better?)

So, you’d think that¬†two nights at the Fairmont¬†at¬†one of Quebec’s finest ski hills, plus two days of skiing, could¬†not feasibly be considered a “reasonable” weekend trip from a cost perspective. However, if you are married to an IATA card holder (or in this case, married to someone¬†who still has his IATA card but is no longer working in the travel industry and is trying to get the most bang for his buck before it expires in June) you may understand the perks that I am about to detail: Fairmont, regularly priced at¬†$269 (minimum) per night, we got for $89. The ski passes, usually $80 per full-day, we got for $40 through some¬†special ticket outlet online (non-refundable or transferable, so there is a risk …. but there’s also a heck of a reward!) Meals out were also similar in cost to those¬†in Ottawa (which totally surprised me) and while we did indulge (e.g. a margarita and a daiquiri in the pool for a hefty $10 a hit) we generally limited ourselves to pub-type¬†things like nachos, wings, burgers (all that health food) rather than go out for fondue or a four-course meal. Overall, the weekend at Tremblant was amazing and did not break the bank. We would go back in a heart-beat.

SKIING:

Our visit took place on¬†the last weekend before the ski hill closed. As such, the snow was very soft (and the temperatures well above zero – yay!!) so not the ideal conditions, but also not the worst. I have to say, I do prefer skiing in soft-ish (and yes, sometimes slow) snow over icy conditions¬†or blistery cold weather. Yes, even if I were given the choice between -15 weather and powdery snow¬†blanketing the ground, versus 10 degree weather and somewhat slushy conditions,¬†I’d pick the latter. I just can’t focus on enjoying myself when I feel like I am expending¬†all my mental and physical energy on fighting¬†hypothermia.¬†Anyways, only¬†about a third of the 95¬†runs were open, but that was fine with us! There were little to no line-ups to get up the gondola or the chairs, and to top it all off – we were able to ski right to the hotel as it was the closest one to the hill (kind of on the hill, actually). The whole experience was painless … well, minus the shin, calf and quad pain we both felt from being completely¬†deconditioned.

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HOTEL – FAIRMONT:

We were able to check in right away (9am) which was amazing given the place was apparently booked solid. Our room was modern with a mountain view, and the hotel staff were all super friendly. The pool and hot-tub was also lovely and situated right on the mountain. Unfortunately though, it was hard to “people watch” (i.e. gawk at talented skiiers/boarders, point and laugh at people who probably ski as poorly as you). That is one thing I love abut the Fairmont Chateau Whistler – the hot-tub and outdoor pool has incredible people watching!¬†Alas, I digress …

FOOD & VILLAGE:

We like to eat. We like to eat well, but we also like to eat fun, unhealthy foods (to the point where I have been to wake-up on a Sunday and just crave raw vegetables and fruit and water because my body feels like it is dying inside). Well the good thing about doing something active (like skiing or hiking) is that you work up an appetite and can more comfortably justify pigging out! It’s all about balance, right? So we indulged in a few patios, and thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the sun and drinking beer to wash down¬†the following (remember this was over a two day period only): nachos, deep-fried pickles, wings, onion rings, chicken tenders, fries, popcorn shrimp, pizza ….. Oh my god that is actually horrifying to write out! I am kind of grossed out, but not grossed out enough to never do it again. You know, kind of like McDonalds. So, the food at a few of the patios close to the hill was OK, not great however the people watching, sunshine and super friendly service made up for the lack of extravagant grub.

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With that said, there were a few places we tried that we would¬†100%¬†recommend (yes … we ate more). The prices were also surprisingly reasonable (I had heard Tremblant was pricey, as you would expect from a tourist destination – not the case):

(1) La Diable (http://www.microladiable.com/): A cute, cozy micro-brewery with great service and a warm ambience. Ryan and I had our usual “senior’s special” dinner (i.e. we ate at like, 545pm) and I ordered the lamb burger with a salad (yes, I did ingest something green during that 48 hour period!) and Ryan got the regular burger and fries. My burger was the best lamb burger I’d ever had – it was lean enough, not greasy, but very flavorful and perfectly seasoned. The microgreens were piled high and the balsamic dressing was great. Ryan’s burger was equally fresh tasting, nicely grilled and plentiful. His fries were delish¬†and home-cooked (as in fresh potatoes, deep fried rather than frozen and pre-cooked). It makes SUCH a difference. Our meals were really reasonable ($16 or so each) which is really¬†no different than a pub like the Royal Oak in Ottawa (and the food here is¬†so, soooo much better). Our server was also really friendly and efficient, but not over-bearing. Oh, and next time we’d try the rib platter because it looked ridiculously finger-lickin’.

(2) Pizza at Yaoooo Pizza Bar (Yes, there are that many “O’s” and yes that really is the name) (http://www.yaoooo.com/menus/): We came here after the above-mentioned¬†glutonous afternoon of patio lounging, and¬†subsequent to¬†having already imbibed a lot of beer, wine and fried food (read: we were not remotely hungry). We arrived at¬†around 430 or 5pm on a Saturday evening, after the Caribou slush event (google it, it’s entertaining) and were surprised¬†to see how many young people (i.e. younger than us, like 20-27) were loitering about at the various adjacent patios. There were even people packed into the walkways between the pubs, some donning¬†ski/board clothes, others in regular clothing. It was a mixed bag, but one thing was for sure – everyone was in vacation mode. The Yaoooo (I keep having to count the ‘o’s) had space on the patio, which filled up fast so we were lucky to grab a spot when we did.¬†We ordered a pizza and more wine and beer because we are fun like that. I expected to have one piece for good measures and leave it at that, given the fact that I was already beyond satiated. Well let me tell you, it was some of the best thin-crust pizza (soft and fresh dough) I’ve ever had (we ordered the Mexican) – and we finished it. The cheese was perfect, there was a spicy kick to it and it was not at all greasy nor were the toppings sparse. It costs us¬†$16, and was definitely¬†enough for two people to split and be comfortably full … or in our case, on the verge of exploding. Highly recommend this place, and this pizza.

(3) Creperie Catherine (http://www.creperiecatherine.ca/): After a solid 9 or 10 hours of sleep (i.e. in bed by 7, asleep by 10 – hockey playoffs were¬†on – both nights) we still felt the food hangover!¬†Nonetheless, we decided to face the difficult task of eating more and going for the infamous crepes at Creperie Catherine. Haha. First world problems coming at you left, right and centre, eh? Anyways, this little place is probably 15 steps away from the aforementioned pizza place and is cute as as button. There are shelves lined¬†with¬†chef figures¬†(from chunky porcelain french men to dog dolls wearing aprons). The waitresses seemed genuinely happy to be there (and some were quite a bit older – in their 60’s) and you could see the crepes being made in the tiny kitchen right beside the tables. I ordered the “Catherine” (ham, cheese, eggs, mushrooms … nom nom – no bechamel, though you could have¬†gotten that too). Ryan had the “Expert” (stuffed with goodies and served with sausage, ham and baked beans on the side). We were both SO impressed. The ingredients were fresh, the crepes were SO full of goodies and the crepe itself was perfect – tender, crispy and yet soft and just sweet enough. We would both go back and next time I’d like to try the seafood or the mushroom crepe. The menu is like 5 pages long so you could go back many, many times and still not make a dent.

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In summary, it was a great¬†weekend in a lovely, quaint ski village, with perfect weather, amazing food and service, super accommodations (didn’t hurt that we got 66% percent off, not gonna lie) and wonderful company. To anyone¬†living around the area – go to Mont Tremblant, even for one¬†night. It’s¬†just over two¬†hours from Ottawa and the drive is fairly scenic (compared to the¬†Ottawa-Montreal drive). We will definitely be back next year … Now,¬†to keep our eyes peeled for Groupons and specials, as we say a sad goodbye¬†to Ryan’s IATA card *sniff, sniff.

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Best Dosa in Vancouver lives at THIS Corner in South-East Van

Yet another Vancouver restaurant review! This time, though, it’s more of a lunch place than a fancy-pants dinner restaurant. As you are likely aware, Vancouver is well-known for its Asian influence (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc.). In my 26 years living in Greater Vancouver, I have had the luxury of trying several Indian places with my family … most of them being situated in South East Vancouver (spanning the distance from Kingsway to SE Marine), one in Richmond, and a few catered birthdays and weddings hosted by my family friends, the Khoslas (who put on the most amazing parties!).

All in all, I have to say that this randomly located joint – at the corner of South East Marine and Fraser Street – has the best dosas I have ever eaten. I can’t attest to the other items (e.g. currey, pakora, channa bhatura, etc.) because my dad and I went straight for the raved-about (by my mom and her friends) dosas. We had lassis as our beverage of choice. In case you didn’t know, this yogurt based drink is a commonplace order because it tastes delicious AND yogurt/buttermilk helps with offsetting spice far better than anything fizzy, like pop or beer (which actually makes it worse!).

So for those of you who are new to the “dosa” it is essentially a, “fermented crepe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils. This staple dish is widely popular in all southern Indian states Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well as being popular in other countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore.” Yes, I have stolen Wikipedia’s definition. I have to say, though, anyone who knows me wouldn’t put it past me to research the specific ingredients and detailed origin of a beloved food item. I think that stuff is really interesting … but then again, I am a self-proclaimed weirdo. Every time I travel, I tend to ask what the signature drink is (alcoholic, yes … how did you know?!) and about the region’s staple dish (for locals, not tourists). I think food and drink is a huge part of culture; it unveils a lot of other things. Enough already, right? Another episode of verbal diarrhea. I get SO sidetracked! Now I am thinking about the made-from-scratch green curry my brother and I concocted in Chiang Mai and the Pisco Sour I created in Miraflores. Ahhh … memories.

Anyways, back to the main event. My dad and I split the eggplant dosa (as per my mom’s instruction and also because my dad and I are eggplant aficionados) and the lamb and vegetable dosa. The lamb dosa is pictured below.

Overall, I would have to say …. HOLY MOTHER OF INDIAN FOOD – the food was amazing!! The sambar (spicy lentil-based soup pictured in larger white container) was the best I have ever had; not bland at all, like some. The chutneys (pictured in smaller white containers) were also perfectly seasoned. I have always loved the cilantro-coconut (light green). That one, and a good tamarind chutney (which goes well with pakoras) are probably my all-time faves. A close second/third would be mango chutney … though neither of those are included with a typical dosa.

Anyways, the cook at Dosa Corner really knows how to make the dosa batter authentic, and crisp it up to perfection; it’s chewy and warm yet has a crunch to it. It pulls apart perfectly but is not soggy. I love eating the batter from each side and ripping it off bit by bit, dipping it into the sambar and chutneys, and then … once I get to the filling (which spans 3-4 inches across the middle of the crepe) I tend to use a fork and knife (though I don’t think this is culturally accurate as in India I believe one would use his/her hands; I am just too clumsy. I mean, seriously, I splatter pasta sauce all over myself when I roll up the saucy noodles on my fork. Soo …. Yeah.).

The eggplant dosa was full of eggplant that was perfectly prepared. The lamb was also superb; melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfectly seasoned. The only thing I’d say is maybe get the palak (rather than mixed vegetable) lamb dosa because palak (which is cooked spinach) would have gone better with the lamb. The vegetables were a bit odd (especially the carrots and green beans) as I am used to cauliflower, onions, potato, okra and chickpeas (which are all common vegetables, for a reason, in Indian dishes).

The lassis were both really tasty. I tend to like the sweet versus salty variety.

With respect to cost, the place was very reasonable. If you check out their menu online, especially the lunch specials, you will see what I mean! Gotta love a good deal, especially if it involves fresh food and authentic flavours.

In terms of ambience … well, there isn’t any. Seriously; it’s situated amongst industrial buildings, the floor and walls are tile (for easy cleaning?) and it is fairly cold inside. Although I’m always cold (seriously, even in the Dominican Republic, my husband shrieked when I tried to apply sunscreen to his back) … so am perhaps not the best person to comment on temperature! Criticisms aside, the service was very friendly, decently efficient and the place (as well as the kitchen) was clean. I like when you can look into a kitchen … It’s …. Comforting?

In summary, if you are in Vancouver and like Indian food, you HAVE to go here for a late breakfast (as dosas are a breakfast food in India), lunch or a very casual dinner. I can’t wait to go back!!

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