Wedding Planning in the Age of Pinterest

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Photo Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I often wonder how my mom would have managed if she had thousands of early 80's images to compare herself to, when planning her own wedding back in pre-internet 1982. Would she have reconsidered the hat shaped like a little boat, if it was deemed to be last year's style? Would she have fretted over appetizers that were not curated down to the infused bone marrow (is that even a thing)? How would my parent's generation have reacted to an influx of 'Best Day Ever' signage on top of wedding cakes, when we all know that there are a lot of other really, really good friggin' days out there? Like, maybe, my best day ever was when I drank a lot of wine with my best friend and passed out on the couch after she gifted me a fragrant bouquet of cilantro?

I've raided through my parent's wedding album and found some pictures taken by my mom's brother (no professional photographers needed, folks). If anyone is posing, it's less of a smug 'all eyes are on me' kind of pose and more of a 'deer caught in headlights' kind of pose. People seemed to be less accustomed to the spotlight back then. Perhaps because they didn't need to heavily brand their weddings, or their love. They simply got married, if that was their kind of thing.  

Now we spring for engagement photos, and fairy lights, in hopes that a friend will say 'this is so unique. I haven't seen it on Pinterest a million times yet." It sometimes feels like I'm trying to one-up every other bride that has ever gone through the process before. Maybe add some lavender to my baby's breath bouquets so that I'm not just doing the typical-rustic-outdoor-wedding thing. Oh shit, someone's already done that, too. There's a certain relief in knowing you can't be original these days, because it opens up the possibility of being flawed, and real.

Having been with my partner for almost ten years, I know that the real moments are on the couch watching television when we should be at the gym. If I could host all my loved ones on my couch we'd probably get married there. And yet for this one stressful, delightful, fairytale, overdone night we are going to dress in clothes nicer than the ones we have in our closet, we are going to give you the highlight reel of our past that probably doesn't include the time we whipped our Courtney Love/Kurt Cobain Halloween wigs at each other after a big blowout, and we're going to get hitched.

Maybe none of moments will be Instagram-worthy, maybe they will. But I'm quickly realizing that's not what I should be setting the bar for. So let the chips fall where they may. Maybe my cake will melt a bit. Maybe I'll rip my dress or get too drunk and say something awkward. And maybe in those moments you'll catch a glimmer of the two of us, the people that we really are, the imperfectionists who just happen to love eachother. 

 

The Grey Day Toddy

Sunday comfort can be equal parts virtue (tea) and vice (whisky) when you are nursing a sore throat and also thinking about loved ones during difficult times. A hot toddy is the alcoholic equivalent of a bear hug. So when you make yours, don't skimp on the whisky.

The Grey Day Toddy (Original Recipe)

1.5 oz Single Malt Whisky

1 tea bag of Earl Grey Tea

2 Star Anise Pods

2 Cardamom Pods

1 tsp. Liquid Honey

-Boil your water and steep your tea for a couple of minutes (2-3).

-Add in your whisky and spice pods and let steep for an extra minute.

-Stir in your honey and enjoy while piping hot.

-Follow up with a warm bath and a couple of episodes of the Gilmour Girls for good measure.

The Prelude to Comfort and Joy

Photo by brickrena/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by brickrena/iStock / Getty Images

Many people claim that the holidays are a tough time for them, especially when they’re alone, find themselves far away from home, or have not-so-fond memories of the ‘most wonderful time of the year’. For me, it’s the lead-up to the holidays, the gray zone of November and early December, when it hasn’t quite snowed yet but most of the trees are bare and remind me of arthritic hands. If I’ve ever thought of myself as a well-adjusted person, all the weather has to do is remain grey, and suddenly I want to rent out a sizable rock to crawl under until it’s time to put up decorations.

As much as I like to partake in a variety of holiday festivities, I’m not what you’d call a true, blue die-hard. No feverish Xmas countdowns or full-grown man elf will appear anywhere on my social media newsfeeds. The holidays, for me, are more about the light, both literally and figuratively. My anxiety-riddled brain seems to rebel when the hours get shorter and shorter and there’s a certain existential dread that washes over me. I find it harder to take in those little moments of joy during the day and I can’t wait to get home to drown myself in wine and mediocre television series.

The minute the soft glow of holiday lights start lining the streets, and glittery decal can spotted in just about every storefront, it somehow counteracts my ennui.  I’ve wept outside holiday displays for no good reason, where little mice under floorboards are being tucked into bed on Christmas Eve. I’ve reveled in the glimmer of a beautiful menorah. I’ve rejoiced in the light that is reflected off of heaps of snow, and would welcome a mammoth snowstorm over a splash of winter rain.

I’ve never been tested for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I know I’m not the only one who finds the slow descent into winter tough. It seems to me that we all retreat further into ourselves around this time of year. I live with my fiancée and come home to a warm meal and a sweet gray house cat. My life is filled with plenty of friends and books to ignite my imagination and transport me from this northern climate. Still, with the ammunition of a relatively happy life, I find it no match for the fear that the darkness will one day swallow me whole. I know it’s just a fear, but it’s potent when it brews inside my head for too long.

The artificial light is both a distraction and a promise. It signals that in less than a week's time, I will get on a bus and travel the six hours home to Montreal to visit my parents. I will wake up to an old, diabetic Yorkshire terrier at my feet named Roxy, she will hop onto my lap and snort, making me feel whole again. I will listen to my father talk about his tennis buddies, and watch my mother knit another hat for me in lime green yarn. I will wear it no matter what it ends up looking like. My brother will talk too loud and I will love him for it. I will mockingly roll my eyes at him with his wife, but we both know deep down that we wouldn’t be complete without him. I will try on my wedding dress while chugging back eggnog and hope that I can still fit into it by June of next year. I will silently thank the universe for allowing me to lean on my family, time and time again. I will wait for my fiancée to join us and he will see a subtle change in my face, lines easing from the number of hours I’ve spent staring into the family fireplace. Light therapy in its most basic form.

Now, just to get through the rest of the week.  I tell myself that I have to resist making excuses.  That I have to urge myself to walk outside even when my bones feel chilled, or show up to parties even when I find myself more easily distracted and less in the mood to talk. To resist overfilling myself on coffee and croissants, thinking they could magically protect me from my worries. To resist falling asleep at 7pm because it feels much easier than staying awake.  I joke with coworkers that I’ve got a case of the ‘Pre-Holiday Blahs’, package it up in a way that can be easily understood. Because what exactly is the truth? That I’m a full-grown woman who’s still afraid of the dark? I’d rather hum underneath my breath “let it glow, let it glow, let it glow” until someone answers my plea.

In Praise of The Dancing Buddy

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Photo Source: Universal Studios

It's been said that each friend fulfills a different need in our lives. There's the 'shoulder-to-cry-on' friend, the 'tough-love' friend, the 'redecorate your apartment' friend. Depending on how many friends you have, the list can fan out longer than a country kilometer. 

But if, like me, you're a newly-minted thirty-something who's been in a relationship for almost a decade, goes to bed around 9pm every night, and takes a lot of 'artful' pictures of your cat, then no friend is more useful in helping you create a balance in your life then the 'always up for dancing' buddy.

I met my own dancing buddy when I was doing my MA in Journalism at Western University in 2011. I found that as long as I kept dancing, I missed my family and boyfriend far less. It was a compulsion that burned a lot of calories, better than, say, crying myself to sleep with a bottle of wine on my nightstand (I did that sometimes, too). And so we danced, a lot.

What I didn't realize is that I'd keep up this habit of dancing my stress away long after I was back in my natural 9-5 habitat. Rain or shine, work night or weekend, my dancing buddy is still always up for an adventure. Unlike our early twenties, when the object of the dance floor was to look as cool as possible, anything goes now. We once wore rain boots to a bar because it just seemed practical on a drizzly night. We've also dragged along my partner, who functions more as our chaperone as he gently sways to the music and gives the stink-eye to anyone who gets too close.

She's the reason why I've mail-ordered a tight, sequined dress, even though I'm 30 pounds overweight, the reason why I sometimes eat pizza at 2am and witness polite convicts getting arrested while making small talk with us about Canada (this was in NYC last summer). Heck, she's the reason why I rightfully feel young, and have adopted the catchphrase "she makes me feel young, goshdarnit!"

And so to everyone who's feeling a little lackluster with their day to day routine, I suggest you seek out your own dancing buddy (if that's your thing) or if you've already got one, thank 'em. 

"We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should"-Fatboy Slim

Mood & Food: A Meditation in 'Bad' Habits

                         

                         

As I sit on the couch, this beautiful Sunday afternoon, scooping Arahova spinach dip onto bacon cheese slider flavoured chips, I think long and hard about why I chose this particular snack instead of say, baby carrots and dip. I am in no way, shape or form a food expert, nor do I pretend to be, but rather a human, who like many other humans, has a not so simple relationship with food.

I mean, I love it, worship it, praise it and sometimes want to make out with it when I'm feeling blue, but lately I wonder if all foods love me back equally. To understand myself better I thought I'd do what I always do,  which is to write out my relationship to something, in this case grub, and see what surfaces.

As a kid, food was pretty much insignificant to me. I ate it when I needed to fuel up, or in between climbing a tree or throwing a temper tantrum. I remember liking generic stuff like Kraft Singles. The 80s were an awesome time where suburban parents kind of just fed their kids whatever was there, without worrying that they weren't getting enough kale in their diets.

As a teenager, I deprived myself of many of the comfort foods that I now enjoy today, not because I was heavy, but rather because I thought that it would clear up my acne-ridden skin. I was acutely aware of what seemed to me at the time, pock-marked skin, and the only way I felt I could control my self-disgust was by eliminating everything I thought caused breakouts.

By my twenties, my skin cleared up on its own and I started experimenting with calorific foods like poutine, croissant, and ice cream in all its varieties. I was still quite active back then, so the food renaissance hardly impacted my waistline. I remember when I started to date my partner, I could split a steak with his mom and not yearn for the taste of more. Food wasn't the last thing on my mind, but it also wasn't always the first thing.

Oddly enough, my little indulgences only caught up with me at 23, after another brief period of depriving myself while struggling with a particularly rough bout of anxiety and depression. As the story often goes, as soon as I felt better, my appetite seemed to triple, as did my girth. Everything not only tasted good again, but out-of-this world. It's something I've since never really gotten a handle on, not that I think that weight management is something you can just lasso. 

You see the thing is, I'm not someone who will tell you that upon deep reflection I finally saw the light and I now swear by detoxifying smoothies and kombucha-what-have-you. I like those things just fine but I also like slathering liver pate onto a French baguette. At a deeper level, the thing I struggle with is that I'm the kind of person who regulates my mood with food. If I'm feeling tired I eat. If I'm feeling stressed I eat. If I'm feeling overjoyed I eat. Which is to say that it's not only life's lows but also its highs that catapult me into a place where I eat too much.

I was at a party last night, and I could almost see snapshots of myself in my mind's eye, reaching for just one more slice of pumpernickle bread, one more forkful of key lime pie, just another swig of grapefruit beer. All these things are not inherently bad, just that I often feel like I'm reaching beyond them for that spiritual fulness that I never quite achieve. A wise man once told me that if you want to lose weight, you need to think up more creative and long term reasons for doing so than to just look good. And so, as I mull over ideas on how to be more mindful towards both my body and well, mind, I come up with the following reasons:

-Because I want to be kinder towards my heart

-Because I want to run faster when playing soccer

-Because I want to climb my apartment stairs without panting

-Because I want to bend down with the graceful ease of a ballerina

-Because I want to really savour the food I taste, whether it be pizza or pineapple, without squirming in anticipation of the next bite

-Because I want to teach my future children that you can enjoy everything without guilt, but also respect your body enough to feed it a fruit or veggie once in a while

-Because, because, because...the list goes on forever. But I know that whether I get married next year in a size 10 dress or a size 4, as long as my body feels strong and active, and as long as I continue to hash out my relationship with food, I'll be happy.

So stranger, what's your food story?

Game of Cookies

It's been a while since I've posted, but the 5th season of Game of Thrones deserves some sort of commemorative nod. I've been searching for years for a simple sweet and salty chocolate chip cookie recipe that could overthrow all other recipes and rule over the Seven Kingdoms.

Of course, one never has to look further than Bon Appétit to find greatness.  This classic cookie is both chewy and crispy, sweet and savoury.  Perfect!

So take tonight for yourself.  Pour yourself a glass of wine or crack open a beer.  Leave the drama to the TV set or laptop as you indulge in the world's favourite show.

Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies (based on this BA recipe)

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup Turbinado sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup of powdered sugar

2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup of chocolate chips

a few pinches of kosher salt to sprinkle on top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

1- With an electric mixer handy, mix the sugars and butter together for a couple of minutes.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.

2- Pour your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) into the wet ingredients, mixing little by little until well combined.

3- Fold in your chocolate chips and roll into palm-sized balls.  Flatten a bit with your hands and sprinkle each unbaked cookie with a tiny bit of kosher salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges and bottoms of your cookies are golden.

These cookies taste phenomenal right out of the oven, so tell anyone who wants to wait for them to cool to take a hike.  Royalty waits for no one.

 

On Secrets & Surprises

I'm extremely impatient and can rarely keep secrets. My closest friends know this about me, which is why it's a good thing they didn't fill me in prior on some events that transpired last weekend.

I'm the kind of person that will describe to you, in great detail, the present I bought you for your birthday before I gift it to you, just in case you don't like it. My motto is over-sharing is caring, which makes it hard for me to keep tight-lipped about anything.

But last weekend, as my fiancee and I walked into a room of our closest friends, not knowing we were being thrown a surprise Southern-Themed engagement party on Valentine's Day, it finally clicked. People keep secrets and plan surprises because it's that much more magical when it happens!!! That evening, I almost collapsed on the floor of excitement as I realized our v-day dinner was actually a gathering of friends both near and out-of-town, who had spent the whole day cooking and planning and decorating just for us.

It's hard to describe the surreal feeling of that much love and thought channeled into one room, so I'll leave it to pictures, mostly of delicious southern-inspired food (think mac n' cheese, fried chicken and okra) and mason jars filled with delicate flowers, plus a sweet Earl Gray cake that I won't soon forget.

It's interesting how the events leading up to a wedding are sometimes a celebration, not just of a union, but of unions. I feel closer than ever to my friends, connected by each others ups and downs, appreciative of this generous slice of joy they've gifted us.  

What is one of the sweetest surprises that you can recall in your life? How did you feel after it happened? Please share.

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Ideas To Ditch The Flowers & Dinner Reservations

When it comes to Valentine's Day, I'm like a sponge that soaks up everyone's feelings about it, the enthusiasts, the skeptics and the downright haters. There are so many different vibes about this overly-commercial day that I'm kind of happy it falls on a Saturday this year.  Not because I plan to forgo celebrating, but because I think it gives everyone the flexibility to make it whatever they want it to be. Single, taken, whatever!

Over the years, my fondest V-Day memories with my partner have been the times when we botched it up royally. In the early days, he once slaved over a home-cooked dinner by candlelight only to have me stub my toe on a nail and worry that I might have tetanus throughout the whole meal. Another year, we made plans to go to this darling little restaurant not thinking that a late brunch of blood pudding and sausages would affect our appetites. By the time we got to dinner, we were so queasy neither of us could take a bite.  It's those kind of hilarious memories that shine brighter than jewels.

With that spirit in mind, here are some suggestions to make the day memorable, no flowers and hard-to-get restaurant seats required:

Celebrate your love of learning- Whether traveling in a pack, a twosome, or solo, a Saturday love-fest means that you can see the latest art exhibit at the AGO, watch the fishes swim at the aquarium, or contemplate the marvels of the universe at the science centre (sorry for being so Toronto-centric, but you get the point). I don't know about you, but nothing pulls at my heart strings quite like someone explaining the big bang theory to me.

Celebrate your love of food- Why spend a ton on an overpriced meal when you can have a culinary adventure in your own home? For a bit of food-nerd trivia, why not pick up a couple of diverse cheeses and cured meats each, and try to guess which region they came from. You can do the same with wine! I'll leave whether you want to include blindfolds and awards for good guesses up to your own discretion.

Celebrate your love of togetherness- With all the hyper-focus on romance during this one day, it's easy to forget about all the other sources of love in your life. Why not take a parent out on the town, get your in-laws a token gift, snuggle with your pooch or spend some time with your best friends watching movies?  This year we are getting together with a bunch of our closest buddies to have a family-style meal celebration. I can't think of a better way to spend the day!

Celebrate yourself- No matter what relationship status you tick off on your government forms, a little self-love is never a bad thing. I know that I'll take some extra care to make sure I exercise and drink my favourite tea, before truly starting my day on Saturday. What makes you feel energized and inspired? Ask yourself those questions.

Cocktail of the Moment: Lemon Lover's Spritzer

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I've got a bad case of Italiamania. Blame it on The Sopranos.  I only started watching the series this year, almost (not quite) 10 years since the final episode aired. I am happy that I waited until I was no longer a teen/young twenty-something to take in the complexity that is 'T' and his family.  I can honestly say that other than Six Feet Under and The West Wing (both of which I also starting watching years after they wrapped), The Sopranos is the best series that television has ever produced.

So you can understand how I'm in serious withdrawal since I said goodbye to the hilarious, tragic, hedonistic, masochistic, and sometimes even slightly heroic characters that make up the The Sopranos.   My heart aches with the knowledge that there can be no come-back movie because of the passing of James Gandolfini.  It just wouldn't be the same.

So I ween myself off of The Sopranos slowly by watching Lilyhammer (with Steve Van Zandt aka Silvio Dante from The Sopranos) and making myself a stiff Lemon Lover's Spritzer.

Limoncello is one of those liqueurs that is, in my opinion, very hard to stomach on its own due to its sweetness.  I remember buying a bottle of it when I was 17-years old and in Sorrento for the first time in my life,  totally enamoured with the lemon groves and the sea cliffs.  That first trip left such an impression on me that I even considered getting a lemon tattoo for a while.

I still dream of going back to the south of Italy with my soon-to-be husband, Jeremy, even though I visited as recently as 2006.   Perhaps our honeymoon will bring me back there for a third time.   At least now I'll have enough money to buy myself a real leather purse, maybe even a Vespa (not quite).

Until then, here's my recipe for Lemon Lover's Spritzer, a diluted version of the digestive that can be served after a hearty meal,  or even for dessert!

Lemon Lover's Spritzer

Ingredients:

1 oz. Limoncello

1/2 cup of Perrier

1 Lemon Slice

Instructions:

Measure out 1 oz. of Limoncello liqueur and pour into a flute or slim glass.  Fill the rest of your glass with Perrier. Take a slice of lemon and squeeze for extra tartness.  Throw the slice in and let sit in your glass.  Prepare to pucker your lips as you enjoy this drink.  I imagine that you could also switch out the Perrier for Prosecco for an extra boozy version of this Spritzer.

Salut!

On Perfectionism & Taking a Blog Breather

You've seen it happen before.

Blogs fall off the face of the earth, are left unattended and become a time capsule for their last post. I noticed my posts slowing down recently, before they came to an abrupt halt in November. I told myself it's because I was using a new program to blog that wasn't as easy to work with, or that I was too busy with other freelance projects. I told myself that it was because it was winter and it's hard to feel inspired in January.  I told myself a lot of things.

The truth is that it's a mix of fear and laziness that caused me to take a pause from blogging.

There are so many blogs out there that have nailed down the whole lifestyle thing perfectly. So many coquette versions of the 'dream life' out there that I myself subscribe to, that I sometimes wonder what the point is of continuing to write little soundbites about food, makeup, wine etc. when so many people do it better.

The idea of my blog in the first place was to celebrate imperfection, but I still find myself wishing that my pictures were a little more curated, that my outfits were actually 'post-worthy' and that my audience was the size of Texas. All these modern tools that allow us to share our lives with each other also seem to, at times, set the bar higher than any of us can reach.

This post is not a goodbye so much as a plan to get back to my original intention when I started blogging.  To celebrate the messier side of life and to deliver posts 'without a glossy finish'. What that looks like, well, I'm not sure yet. But I hope to have fun doing it.

Comfort, Joy and All of that Other Stuff

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I am writing this post in a dark room with only the twinkle of my fake Christmas tree and the glow of my laptop to light my way.  It's November 30th, arguably a day too early to be putting up decorations but since December decided to fall on a Monday and wreck everyone's plans, this will have to do. I've done no Christmas shopping, have gained enough 'winter' weight already that most of my holiday dresses from years past don't fit and haven't bought my tickets home for the holidays yet. Comfort and Joy. Anxiety and Lethargy.

The subway stop banners near my apartment building perfectly sum up the potpourri of emotions that December brings out in many of us.  On the one side there is an ad for a warm coffee that promises you that every sip will be filled with ideal holiday cheer, and to the left of this banner is an ad for a number to call if you are in emotional distress.

As always, I fall somewhere in between, as I imagine most people around this time of year do.  Sometimes my nerves will make me feel like I'm trapped in a monochrome nightmare and sometimes I'll buck up, put on my ugliest snowflake sweater and rejoice in a sliver of momentary peace of mind.  If you're experiencing holiday stress or just general life stress and can relate, here's a little list of super obvious dos and don'ts that I find helpful around this time of year:

Do

1. Curl up with a good book near the tree 2. Meditate 3. Exercise, even just a little stretching helps 4. Lose yourself in your favourite TV series (just don't binge watch or you might feel even worst when you surface)  5. Dab a few drop of essential oil on your face (lavender does the trick)  6. Call a friend (chances are a familiar voice will perk you up) 7. Cuddle up under a knit blanket (nothing beats the sensation of being all wrapped up and toasty)

Don't

1. Dwell on all of the stuff you need to get done 2. Check your bank account constantly 3. Compare your holiday decorating flair to anything you see on Pinterest (those crafty types always make everything look so simple, but I bet in truth they were pulling their hair out hand-painting ornaments and acorns) 4. Tell yourself this will be the best Christmas ever (setting yourself up for disappointment) 5. Micromanage your family around the holidays (nobody likes a bossy-pants Santa)  6. Worry too much about your cooking (aim for edible)

Remember folks, it's only a month and after that we can all focus on something new, like breaking our New Years resolutions.

Sesame-Covered Halloumi Bites

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The idea of taking my favourite cheese, covering it in flour and sesame, and then pan frying it to perfection was almost too much excitement to handle this weekend. I'd seen the recipe in Chatelaine and wanted to try it out as an appetizer because, who knows, maybe I'll serve it for Christmas this year. My family is half Middle-Eastern so I know it would be a big hit.

One word to the wise, though. Make sure if you are serving these crispy little cubes before supper that you eat light afterwards. I ate my share of these bites and then was unable to touch my dinner.  Fried cheese is delicious but filling as heck. This popular cheese from Cyprus has a high melting point which makes it ideal for heat. Serve with a bit of drizzled honey or honey on the side to cut the saltiness. We paired these bites with a nice white wine from Galillee.

Sesame-Covered Halloumi Bites -recipe adapted from Chatelaine

Ingredients

I pckg of Halloumi cheese, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup of sesame seeds or enough to coat your pieces

1/2 cup of flour or enough to coat your pieces

A generous amount of sesame oil to coat frying pan

1 egg

2-3 tbsp of honey to serve

Instructions

1- Prepare cut cheese on one plate. Prepare another small plate with flour, and one with sesame seeds. 

2-in a shallow bowl, crack your egg and beat lightly.  Take your pieces of cheese, one by one, and coat in flour.  After coating in flour, dip each piece of cheese into the egg and then coat in sesame seeds.

3-Once all pieces are generously coated in both flour and sesame seeds, heat your oil on medium heat and pan-fry the pieces until golden brown on all sides. This process should take a couple of minutes only. Pieces should look crisp but not burnt.

4-Serve with drizzled honey, or your choice of dipping sauces. If you have any left over you can also serve in a salad. Enjoy!

Does Absence Really Make The Adult Heart Grow Fonder?

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The next couple of weeks of my life will be celebrating milestones and reunions.  There will be a dinner with a friend whose recently became a home owner, followed by my eight year anniversary with my boyfriend, and then a visit from my mom in early November.

It seems that much of my adult life recently has been lived in the anticipation of seeing people again, people who a mere decade ago or less were either right around the corner from me or living under the same roof. Unlike many of my friends, I never lived away from home during undergrad or took a semester abroad. It was only later on, during my Masters, that I resided in Ontario while my family and boyfriend remained in Quebec.  I think the result is that many of my amigos had an earlier taste of freedom, and the challenges that sometimes accompany it, than I did.

A perpetual late bloomer, I feel like the past few years have been a tardy onset of learning how to fend for myself in the great big world.  I've felt this most acutely with my parents. I often wondered if I remained in Montreal and tried to build a life for myself there, would I run to their house each time I had a hiccup or felt discouraged?  As it is, they are the first people I call in times of doubt. Although even in that respect, I like to think that I've gotten better at consoling myself.

My mom's impending visit, and my excitement around it, have got me thinking of the pros and cons of living away from one's immediate family.  It helps that we are six hours apart and not overseas, but I still wonder if quality really trumps quantity. I know that if I was still living in Montreal I'd probably be over every Sunday for dinner (at the very least) but would I be as jazzed to see her as I am now? 

Would I be working on an itinerary for what to do on our visit with such fervor, making sure that we hit all the places that I've wanted to share with her, the tastes, sounds, sights, that make Toronto more than just an alien city to me? 

I don't really have an answer quite yet.  All I know is that in the absence of physical proximity to my family, I sure think about them a lot more.  My mom, my dad, my brother and sister-in law, and of course the family pets.  I wonder whether I'll look back on these years and think that it was a mistake to live so far away from them, or that it was exactly what I needed to see them with the amount of love, respect and individuality that each one of them deserves. To see us each as separate but together and bound by deeper ties than just an area code.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

                                                          These muffins are worth risking a muffin-top midriff for.

                                                          These muffins are worth risking a muffin-top midriff for.

I was at a wedding a few years ago when I told a group of guests that I hated mashed potatoes more than life. To the dismay of everyone at my table, I went on and on about how horrible they were just to get a rise out of people. I mean...who hates mashed potatoes? They are so utterly harmless and fluffy. Now I eat them whenever I get the chance, because I'm a walking contradiction. My taste buds did a back flip on me and forced me to eat my words. I don't know how it happened. I just started loving the very thing that I hated.

Similarly, I've never really liked pumpkin spice (or so I thought).  Pumpkin-spiced beverages are so chock-full of chemicals that you risk glowing neon orange after drinking one. I even wrote an earlier post about how I wanted to wait until it was officially Fall to have my one obligatory Pumpkin Spice Latte before being done with it for the season. Kind of like how you drink eggnog around Xmas for family photo-ops until you realize how gross it is that you're gulping down liquid egg goop.

But the commercialization of all things Autumnal must be a powerful drug, because I'm suddenly craving pumpkin spice everything, 24-7. I figured I'd channel my desire into a healthy batch of spiced muffins. I mean, who can resist a muffin so versatile it can be dipped in coffee for breakfast or glazed with cream-cheese icing for dessert?  Here's the darn recipe.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins (Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

Pinch of cloves

1 cup of sour cream

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

4 cups (2 cans) of canned pumpkin puree

1/2 cup of butter, melted

Instructions (preheat oven 325 or 350, depending on how hot your oven is, and line muffin tin with baking cups):

1-In a small bowl, mix your flour, spices, and baking powder together and set aside. 

2-In a large bowl, mix together your sugars, butter, eggs, sour cream and pumpkin puree until well combined.  Add your flour and mix-well until your dough is formed. Should be wet but firm enough to stay together. 

3-Fill cups completely so that your muffins are massive suckers, and bake for about 35 minutes.  Let muffins cool for 30 mins or longer before consuming.

This recipe made a ton of batter so I saved some to make a few pumpkin loaves for Thanksgiving. The batter keeps in the freezer for up to a week.

Glossless Loves...Bookish Details

Somewhere around September, mid-month, I ran out of things to blog about.  Anyone who has ever blogged on a semi-steady schedule has probably felt this way before. I looked around for inspiration but nothing did the trick.  Blogs elsewhere were doing it better, faster, and to larger audiences.  Sure, I still wrote during that time, but mostly chipping away at essays that didn't fit into the blogging format. And I read. Devoted whole weekends to reading while the leaves changed outside my window without me noticing.

There's a comfort in books, even when the well of ideas and posts run dry, even when your bones ache with fatigue or ennui. So here's some bookish paraphernalia that has delighted me this fall, to inspire you when everything seems rather blah:

1.  A book on the wall/Soho Art Custom Framing/ $15 

These small frames are perfect for for tiny spaces. We hang ours over our nightstand next to our bookshelf. Duh...

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2. A book-Inspired onesie/Out Of Print/ $22

There's a new-ish baby in the family and this book swag is way to precious to handle.

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Weekend Wine Pick: Harvest Gold 2013 Dry Mead

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As a wine lover, It's hard to believe that two weeks have passed since I last took a sip of the good stuff. The truth is I've had really bad stomach issues lately, and alcohol isn't exactly known to be the best cure-all for digestive ailments. I figured that a splash of dessert wine couldn't hurt though.

Rosewood Estates Winery Harvest Gold 2013 Dry Mead is a light honey wine the goes down smooth and kind of makes it okay that the summer is coming to an unceremonious end. I found that I had to drink it well-chilled, otherwise it tasted a bit off.  But once you pop it into the fridge for awhile it's quite nice, if you like a mix of floral and honey notes that aren't too heavy or syrupy.  Here's a bit more info about this harves mead:

Tasting notes: Honey, Floral

Pair with: Guiness Stew or Pot Pie

Cost:  $ 15.20 CDN

Perks: This dry mead is sure to provoke a lot of buzz (bad pun, sorry) at the dinner table. Your guests will no doubt be curious as to what mead is.

Cons: It tastes kind of gag-worthy if you don't refrigerate it well enough.

Overall Glossless Rating (based on totally unscientific and arbitrary values): 6.5/10

Why I Won't Drink Pumpkin Spice Lattes Until It's Actually Fall

Listen to the owl mug and love the moment

Listen to the owl mug and love the moment

First the temperature drops, then the leaves start to change, suddenly you're doing mental math about what percentage of your paycheck you'd have to put aside to afford those new Kate Spade wedge leather boots. Yes folks, It's the prelude to another fall, and for some reason people seem to love fussing about it.

Now, don't think of me as a hater, but as a bonafide summer girl who thinks life is best enjoyed outside in a light floral dress with a chilled glass of wine. Fall, to me, is just that season that comes after the best season ever.

So what really grates on me is when people start getting excited about fall and all of it's endless cozy possibilities while it's still summer out!  Aren't the summer months short enough without people everywhere starting to wax poetic about cable-knit sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy partaking in the commercial ploys and joys of fall to a certain degree as well.  I like going pumpkin picking, and am not totally immune to the buzz of colder weather fashion predictions.   But do me a solid and save all of your excitement until the Autumnal Equinox, which according to The Old Farmer's Almanac falls on September 22nd, 2014 at 10:29pm for all of us dwelling in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Then, and only then, will you find me curled up under my favourite crocheted blanket sipping on pumpkin spice at the stroke of midnight.  For the meantime, I hope you all will try to live in the moment and embrace the remainder of your summer, because summer it still is!

Pit Stop: Ma Maison aka. The GTA's Best Croissant

Long weekend? Lots of time on your hands? Well then, why not set off on the holy grail of all journeys to find the best croissant in the GTA?

I had heard a rumour that the most authentic tasting croissant in all of Torontoland and her humble surroundings could be found in the heart of Etobicoke.  That is to say, not exactly where the trend-setting types are hanging out.  You know you've traveled beyond the downtown core when you haven't seen a single hipster for kilometers and kilometers, when trendy coffee shops turn into mom and pop shops, turn into gas stops.  There is less foot traffic to be had in general, the streets are almost devoid of people. 

Now before you start calling out for help, you spot a sign on the left side of the street (you're on Dundas West, by the way) that says Ma Maison (4243 Dundas West), which translates into My House, for all of you non-Frenchies.  It doesn't look like much from the outside, but when you walk in, you suddenly realize where all of the population of Etobicoke has been hiding. There is a line inside that coils around most of the shop's interior. 

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Your eyes are assaulted with all sorts of French treats, madeleines, macarons, but you need to stay on task.  You came here for a croissant and you will leave with one.  You heard that the gentleman who runs the place, Patrick Alléguède, is a classically-trained, award-winning chef who amongst his many accomplishments was selected to be part of a culinary team for the pre-opening of EuroDisneyland, as per Ma Maison's website.  What's good enough for the French Mickey Mouse aught to be plenty good enough for you.

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You take one bite into the breakfast pastry and are transformed.  The butter is perfect, the ratio of flakiness to soft interior is just right.  You feel instantly sad for all the other croissants in the city that are being passed off as the real thing but are stale or undercooked or taste like cardboard. This guy and his staff know what they are doing.  You are in good hands. 


The inside of the shop is homey and highlights the many products that would make your life all that much better while expanding your midsection.  You could blow a whole paycheck on this joint but won't this time.  You're still savouring the croissant.

Best Croissant Runner-Up: Extra Butter (283 Roncesvalles Ave.)

Now all you pastry aficionados, let me know where you've tasted the best croissant in the GTA? 

Lessons We Can Learn from our 'Older' Parents


Photo Credit: Omega Photography 
                             
I was born when my father was 39. While that’s practically adolescent by today’s standards, back in 1985 I was one of the few kids on the block with a verging-on-middle-aged dad.
I remember being at a park with my parents as a kid and having someone ask me if my dad was my granddad. I was mortified that they could possibly mistake the handsome salt and pepper haired man that I was with for my gramps.  While I like to think that the honest mix-up had more to do with how baby-faced my mother was, she’s 13 years my dad’s junior, it taught me very early on to be protective of my dad.  
Fast-forward 29 years and dad’s now on the cusp of turning 70, while I’m quite anticlimactically inching towards the big 3-0.  Over the years we’ve celebrated most of our biggest age milestones together, 10 and 50, 20 and 60 and so on.
As the possibility of starting my own family becomes more of a reality, I’ve thought a lot about how being raised by a forty-something is more and more the norm these days, especially amongst young professionals.  
In many ways, I think ‘older’ parents are often more emotionally and financially ready to take on the task of raising kids, although there are plenty of exceptions, good and bad, on either end of the age spectrum.
Being raised by a slightly ‘older’ parent has taught me some valuable lessons over the years, some of which are worth sharing:

Lesson #1- Health Matters
Whether it’s bi-weekly trips to the tennis club or taking the dog for a long walk, dad’s always kept active.  At 69, he divides his time between golf rounds, yard work and pool maintenance.  While he’s not out running marathons, all the little things he’s done to keep fit over the years add up.  
He’s taught me firsthand that if you incorporate moderate exercise into your day and avoid things like smoking, you can really contribute to the quality of your life.
Lesson #2- Life is Not a Rat Race
Dad immigrated to Canada from Egypt when he was in his early 30's.  Despite having an engineering degree he started off his working life by loading textbooks onto a truck.  He finished his master’s degree at night school and finally landed a job in his field.  All of this took time and patience and I imagine more than a little faith that it’ll all work out in the end.  Yes, both the times and economy were different back then but he still had to work his b--- off.
Whenever I get down on myself for being almost 30 and not having all of my ducks in a row, I remind myself that we all come into our own at different stages in life and that's okay.
Lesson #3- You Have To Enjoy the Small Things
People always throw the ‘small things’ cliché around, but it’s one thing to say it and quite another to live it.
Whenever I call home, dad runs through a detailed list of what each one of our family pets is doing at the moment, or he will comment on the intricate details of what he and my mother are up to that day (usually a morning coffee, followed by a few rounds of tennis and maybe a trip to the market). 
My dad is a cancer survivor who knows firsthand that tomorrow holds no guarantees.  But instead of letting that paralyze him with fear he finds quiet beauty in his routine and truly enjoys the simple details in life. 
Lesson #4-Family Is Key
My dad has always been there for his immediate and extended family.  He’s helped family members get back on their feet and even came out of retirement to help put me through grad school.  He does all of these things with no expectation of return.  Instead of giving handouts, he gives hand ups.
Through his example, I’ve come to realize that a loving and supportive family (no matter what baggage comes attached) is an invaluable gift that needs to be tended to. 
Lesson #5-You Can Keep Your Youthful Spark Forever
My dad has a black and white photograph of his parents, siblings and himself framed on his dresser. They are at a beach in Alexandria.   In the photo he is the youngest, a little runt of a boy in swimming trunks with a big smile. I see that same smile reappear often- when he is telling jokes to friends, when he is sitting across the table enjoying a meal, when his favourite hockey team scores a goal! 
In his life, humour is the fountain of youth and it’s a public fountain that cost nothing and can nourish everyone.
Happy Birthday Dad!

Are We There Yet?


I've been doing kettlebell classes for a little over six months now and while I'm hardly an expert at it, I can tell you what the Turkish Get Up is, which is a long way from the person who was once terrified of any form of exercise that made you sweat.  I never realized how gratifying swinging a bell could be or that I'd look forward to planking for extra time.  It helps that my instructor always strikes a balance between praise and pushing us further and switches up the class enough so that we're never quite sure what's in store for us next.

Kettlebell classes have done a lot for my historically low confidence and while I still carry some extra weight around, a lot of the psychic weight has melted off of me, although it seems like there's an endless supply.  Getting in shape has been a slow process and one that I initially went into kicking and screaming.  I'm still not sure if I'm 'there yet' or will ever be.  The problem is that when I visualize 'in shape', I tend to demand absolute perfection.  So the perfectly in shape me would be someone who's slender and chiseled, who's happy and at ease, who's shiny and successful and with no hairs out of place even after swinging a 50lbs kettlebell. In other words, impossible.

Goals are like a moving target and if we are lucky enough to hit one once, it will just as soon reposition itself.  I learned that the hard way in class yesterday.  I had been told that my form had gotten a lot better in recent weeks and I carried around that praise with me like a girl scout badge.  But yesterday I was tired and sloppy and couldn't manage to execute a move called the clean and press while lunging without stumbling and cursing under my breath.  I was having trouble balancing (which is a theme that often comes up when I'm practicing yoga) and even when I tried the move with the lightest bell in the class I continued to have trouble with the move and was falling behind compared to the other students.

This made me so angry with myself that I considered walking out of the class, something I've never done before, just so that I didn't have to watch the mirror reflection of me sucking so hard.  There it was again, that demand for absolute perfection, egging me on from the sidelines and offering no constructive criticism.  I almost wanted to scream at myself "cut me some slack, I'm trying".  But then in the last minute of practicing I decided to stop looking around to see how quickly everyone else was getting through their reps and to just do mine as slowly and focused as I could in order to finish.  I was a bit steadier then I was before and I no longer wanted to crawl under a rock and cry. 

So what is the glaringly obvious moral of the story that I continue to learn in the almost third decade of my life? Wherever you are is there.  So why not buck up, suck it up, cut yourself some slack and focus on the task at hand?  Okay, now let me go practice my lunges.