29 Jul

Birthday Celebration

This weekend I celebrated my first annual 29th birthday. I’m getting old. On the bright side I did get carded at the LCBO on Sunday, so there’s that.

I planned on having another beach birthday party on Saturday afternoon but was worried about the dismal forecast that called for 60% risk thunderstorms. I had a back up plan that involved less sand & sun and more alcohol consumption but luckily (unluckily?) the weather cooperated and I was able to host my beach picnic after all.

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We went to Cedar Beach in Kingsville and by we I mean Matt and I and my friends Tina, Andrea, Jasmine, Dan, and Mike.

We did handstands on the beach. We tossed around the football like a hot potato. We swam in the potentially e.coli-contaminated lake (welcome to the Lake Erie north shore, folks).

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I made a muffuletta and a hummingbird cake. We drank mimosas and wine cocktails. It was a great birthday with friends!

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When the weather started to look dodgy we headed back to my friend Andrea’s house for a short while before calling it a night.

I woke up early on Sunday morning and taught a yoga class to a whopping 7 people (that sounds sarcastic but 7 is a lot for a crack-of-dawn class on a Sunday). I deadlifted and then went home and brewed a French press pot of the Jimmy’s coffee that I picked up while visiting my girlfriend in Toronto.

When my husband got home from his own weightlifting, he had me open my present which he was so excited to give me. I know he was excited because he actually took pictures of me opening it without needed me to prompt him to “Go get the camera. Why aren’t you taking pictures?”.

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A new messenger bag! (this one)

Brown leather, Roots, gorgeous. And also slightly too small so off we went to the mall trade it in for the same bag that was a size bigger (this one). Perfect.

I spent the rest of Sunday afternoon reading the history of Catherine the Great (fascinating read, by the way) and then made my way to teach another yoga class in the evening. I was excited that my friend Jasmine was able to make it to my class while she is in town from B.C. regardless of how late she was to the class 😉

Afterward, I met up with my family at Mauro’s on Erie Street for some good Italian food. Tableside penne carbonara and cherries jubilee, for the win.

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It was such a great weekend and I felt so much love from friends and family for my birthday.

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Today I piled together all my gifts. What a massive haul! I’m so grateful for everyone’s generosity and the thoughtfulness of every single gift I received regardless of value. Thank you all!

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Sheep sweater, ‘Is it Friday yet?’ mug, notebook, candle 1, candle 2, robot-shaped headphone splitter, teas, 2 brooches, muppets stickers, gift cards to Timmie’s, Starbucks, & Taloola, Roots messenger bag, Roots t-shirt, Under Armor workout shirt, Roots hoodie. Not pictured: money, a chocolate bar, and 2 peanut butter cookies.

28 Jan

Four Things

It was Matt’s BIG 30th birthday this weekend! Happy birthday husband! To celebrate, we spent Friday night with a big group of friends, an event which can be easily summed up by this photo:

Matt's Bday celebration

My gift to Matt was tickets to see Varekai, the Cirque de Soleil show that was in Windsor this weekend. This wasn’t my first Cirque show but I was still unbelievably impressed by the acrobatics that these performers pull off and make it look so goddamn easy.
It’s especially impressive when they do things that you’ve actually attempted in your life so you know how much work it takes (e.g. I can hardly hold a handstand, so it was amazing to watch this).

Varekai
(Source)

I really like my new agenda from PocketSquares. It’s the one I asked for but didn’t get for Christmas. I’ve never been much of an agenda person and have always been good about keeping up with my schedule in my head, which is less of a testament to my memory retention than to my non-existent social life.
No, I haven’t gotten any more social, but I have been busy teaching and it’s been helpful to have a way to keep track of it.

Agenda!Agenda!

My agenda also gave me a place to write in this upcoming endeavour: Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training! Believe it or not, I’m going to get certified to teach yoga to mommies-to-be. It is going to be a challenge for me to get up to speed even before training starts, because my knowledge of pregnancy is non-existent. As much as I’d like to keep the mysteries of gestation and labour just that, mysteries, everyone around me seems to be getting pregnant and I really want to be able to teach them yoga too.

Prenatal Teacher Training

28 Oct

On 90 Years and Being Happy

Nonna's Birthday

 

This weekend we celebrated my Nonna’s 90th birthday.

90 years, can you imagine? She was born in 1923 the year when, coincidentally, both insulin and the Milky Way bar were invented.  The year that Yankee Stadium was built. The year when the Ottoman Empire dissolved and domestic refrigerators were first coming onto the market. Nonna has seen a lot happen and experienced major changes in her own part of the world and in the world at large.

90 years is a long time. We don’t all get that many– my mom got just over half of that– but we seem to be moving in that direction as life expectancies go up.

It’s easy to get caught up in the carpe diem or you only live once culture. Everyone wants to be encouraged to chase their dreams and live every day like it was their last day on earth and do fun/exciting/crazy shit all the time. While that’s fine, life still comes with responsibilities. Life still means cleaning the toilet and going to work when you’d rather sleep in and changing crappy diapers and battling commuter traffic and paying bills on time. Life still has responsibilities that don’t go away because you’re going to die some day. Sure, you can live it up today like it’s your last day, but when you wake up tomorrow you may have to deal with the consequences.

Sorry for crapping all over your party but thems the facts, folks. That’s the reality.

One thing I learned from my grandmother is that the littlest things are awesome. Her gratitude for some of the most inconsequential things always seemed a bit over the top for me, but it’s genuine because there’s not much that she takes for granted. She never seems to be jaded by the simple things the way most of us are. She never strives for bigger and better experiences or ‘stuff’; she finds joy in every experience or object even if she’s ‘been there, done that, wrote the book’ a hundred times before.

I think that level of appreciation, of presence, of feeling that everything is special, is how you can feel like you’ve seized the day without always having to do something bigger or better.

You can’t carpe diem every diem. You can’t sky dive on your dream vacation after eating at a Michelin starred restaurant with your favourite actor every day. Maybe (let’s be honest, probably) you won’t even do that once.

Sometimes all you can do is seize hour or the second in between all the other crap that you have to do. Sometimes all you ca

n do is find something special about what you do have. Sometimes all you can do is try to see every experience with a fresh set of eyes like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it. Sometimes, instead of seizing the moment, all you can do is slow down and savour it.

Nonna's Birthday

 

29 Jul

28

This weekend marked 28 years of my existence. 28 pretty damn good years, I’d say. Happy Birthday to me! I spent Saturday doing forcing people to do things that I want to do. . . because, unless you’re an asshole, you can only do that once a year so it’s best to take advantage of it while you can.

I started the day out by teaching yoga in the park. Since graduating teacher training I’ve been trying to get some practice by offering free classes to my friends and family and whomever else shows up. I’ve had surprisingly good turnouts and even had a whopping 11 people one week! If you’re local and interested in coming, check out my facebook page.

Saturday morning it was raining pretty heavily, but I was pretty stoked to see 4 wonderful students brave the weather! (Probably because I made them cookies to celebrate my birth).

I napped away much of the day then Matt and I headed across the border in the late afternoon to check out the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History which I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time now. (I’m kind of a history nerd).

Wright Museum of African American HistoryMe at The Wright

The museum building is stunning, with a huge domed ceiling that echos your voice when you stand in the middle of the rotunda. The place was surprisingly (or, I guess, unsurprisingly– this is Detroit after all) quiet. We were able to take photos in the main lobby but we couldn’t take pictures in the main exhibit, And Still We Rise, which takes you through the entire history of from the first humans to present day African Americans.

Wright Museum of African American HistoryAnd Still We Rise: Wright Museum of African American History

Once the docents kicked us out (Actually that’s a lie. They were really nice about letting us stay to finish the exhibit even though it was 20 minutes past closing time- woops!) we headed for dinner and drinks in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighbourhood, which is, at present, most famously known for this most classic example of Motown ruin porn:

Train Station - Detroit

Dinner was burgers at the Mercury Burger Bar. The burgers were good and totally loaded with toppings (I love toppings! I say, the more toppings the merrier.) I thoroughly enjoyed the food, but I think the place was a little busier than it probably deserved to be. Then again, it’s basically one of two restaurants in Corktown.

Mercury Burger BarThe SW Detroit Burger

After dinner we crossed the street for drinks at Sugar House, a prohibition-style speakeasy with an extensive drinks menu of period cocktails. I’m not usually one to imbibe but, like I said, I’m a history geek so anything old-timey is going to appeal to my sense of nostalgia (even especially for a period in which I wasn’t even alive).

My dad, his ladyfriend Silvia, my sister Vicki, and brother-in-law Sean all met us for libations. The Sugar House was packed at 7:30 and we had to wait for a table for 6, but by 8pm a lot of the patrons cleared out. I guess people drink early here.

Sugar HouseDad, Victoria, Me

My dad, my (pregnant!) sister, and me

The place was super dark inside and it took a while to adjust to the low light. Needless to say, I hardly got any pictures inside the bar.

I was disappointed that the Plate of Cookies, which is on the online menu, isn’t available any more. (You all know how much I like cookies!) The drinks were good enough to satisfy us though. My sister was able to get a really amazing virgin drink. Silvia let the waiter surprise her and scored a really tasty cucumber cocktail. I thought the punch service was really cool, so Sean, Matt, and I split a half bowl of The Class Act tropical punch, which certainly packed a punch.

My sister kept our drinks bottomless so I proceeded to get properly fuddled. But hey, it was my birthday!

Punch Service at Sugar House

 

At 28, I have no goals or desires for my 29th year of life and I’m okay with that. That just means that things are going well for me. All I want is to keep doing what I’m doing. To keep teaching yoga (okay, maybe teach a little more than I do), to keep lifting heavy, to keep rockin’ bikinis, to keep travelling, to keep loving, to keep reading, to keep baking, and to keep being me.

07 Apr

Four Things

Today is my sister’s 30th birthday!

We celebrated by going out for dim sum yesterday and wood oven pizza today. . . followed up by these amazing ‘goddess kisses’ (fried dough balls tossed in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with chocolate)

Aside from being a milestone, her Dirty Thirty birthday is an especially exciting one since she and my brother-in-law don’t have to worry about driving back home to Illinois today. They’ve moved back to Windsor, for good! And they bought the house right next door to ours! Doesn’t get much better than that.

Vicki's BirthdayHappy Birthday Vicki!

Spring is in the air!

The weather has finally started to take a turn for the better and the signs of spring are starting: waking up to the birds chirping, seeing the tulips and daffodils sprout, and being able to go out without a jacket without developing hypothermia.

My favourite sign of spring started to appear a while ago though: Cadbury Mini Eggs!

Mini EggsMini Eggs mean Easter, spring, and deliciousness

I started and finished reading Sarah’s Key this week.

The book club that I was in last year was on hiatus and is finally being revived and Sarah’s Key was April’s selection. I enjoyed this book about a woman’s journey to investigate a young girl’s experience during The Holocaust but would have liked more Holocaust story and less of the modern day. It was no Night, but it was good.

In any case, it just feels good to be able to finish a book in less than a month’s time, after having read Storm of Swords and Feast for Crows.

DSCF2271Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

I bought another 10 class pass to the Moksha Yoga studio.

In yesterday’s class I almost got myself into full expression of peacock pose (mayurasana). I got closer than ever. I was really excited. Now I have yet another pose that I’m keen on mastering.

Peacock PoseMayurasana – What a cute print! (source)

18 Feb

Drinks and ‘Skating’

Three cheers for a day off! It’s Family Day and I’m relaxing on the couch with Bagigis after a good workout and a few chores. It’s a nice change from Monday mornings in the office that’s for sure.

This weekend we went out to celebrate my friend Tina’s birthday which was this week. Last weekend I made her a panettone for her birthday (I’m trying to hone my panettone making skills) which turned out pretty good, though I think I would have liked it a bit sweeter.

Panettone (8)

This weekend we went out to celebrate.

The plan was to go ice skating at Charles Clark Square downtown Windsor and then head for drinks somewhere. Since we ended up getting at least an inch of snow that afternoon, the rink was closed for cleaning when we got there so we headed straight for the bar instead—The Kilt and Fiddle.

Tina's Birthday

Late in the night when we had our fill of drinking we decided to try skating again. . . only everyone was too cold to bother putting their skates (except one brave soul: Kyle) on so we ended up just sliding around the ice in our shoes.

Charles Clark SquareTina at Charles Clark SquareMe at Charles Clark SquareThe Group at Charles Clark Square

I really wanted to actually skate . . . but at least I still have a few weeks of cold weather ahead of me to get out on the ice.

Happy Birthday Tina!

Tina's Birthday

10 Jan

12 Months of 2012 – pt. 2

Read  Part 1, my January to June recap here.


July

This epic month involved two and a half glorious weeks in Greece, which has been my dream vacation for so long.

We explored the labyrinthine streets of Chania, hiked the gorges of Loutro, visited the Minoan palace of Knossos in Heraklion, saw the blue domed churches and whitewashed buildings of Santorini and took in ancient Greek culture at the archaeological sites of Athens.

Chania Crete (34)

Matt and I had our 4th wedding anniversary.

I had my champagne birthday27 on the 27th.

And for my birthday Matt and I went to Chicago to experience the best new restaurant in the US, Next, and their Sicily menu– 13 courses including this roasted pork shoulder, the most delicious piece of meat I’ve ever eaten.

Pork Shoulder

August

I was an extra in a movie.

I’m ready for my close up!

I was inspired by the summer Olympics to start incorporate Olympic Weightlifting (Cleans, Jerks, & Snatches) into my workouts and I’ve been loving them ever since.

And I started a plan to lose 6cm from my waist, which is still in progress right now, but may have stalled a bit over the Christmas holidays. I’m tracking my progress in the right sidebar.

Progress Sept 1 2012

September

I cooked up a big batch of my favourite soup ever: Fire Roasted Corn Chowder.

Fire Roasted Corn Chowder

My ciabatta bread won second place at the sham show otherwise known as the Harrow Fair. The judges must have taste buds in their eyes since they managed to pick a winner without even tasting the bread.

Harrow Fair (9)

I kicked off the long and boring football season by going to the Detroit Lions home opener at Ford Field with my dad, his girlfriend Silvia, and Matt. I admit it was an exciting game with the Lions scoring the winning touchdown in the last 10 seconds.

Matt and I in Ford FieldMatt and I in Ford Field

October

I captained a team in the Run for the Cure for the 7th consecutive year in honour of my mom who passed away from breast cancer in 2006.

Run for the Cure 2012

I went Apple Picking.

Apple Picking at Wagner's

And I dressed up as Mary Poppins for kicks Hallowe’en and handed out full-sized chocolate bars.

Mary Poppins

November

I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K race in downtown Chicago with Vicki and Tina that culminated with a hot chocolate and fondue party in Grant Park.

Hot Chocolate 15K ChicagoTina, Vicki, and me post race.

I got a personal record on my deadlift with a 225lb lift.

I watched Matt coach his football team to their first ever division victory.


Lasers Coaches. Matt is second from the left.

I baked these amazing Filipino date & walnut bars appropriately named Food for the Gods.

Photo Source

December

I did 14 straight days of Moksha Hot Yoga.

I switched up my weightlifting routine to build strength in 2013 with Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 programme.

I finished the year with yet another wonderful Holiday Season where I cooked a lot, got together with my family, watched my stunning cousin marry her perfect match, and ate fondue with friends.

The Melting Pot


Read Part 1, my January to June recap here.

26 Oct

Juniper Chocolate Cake for Nonna’s Birthday

Today is my Nonna’s birthday. She’s a young 89.

Nonna's Birthday

Everyone comments on how cute she is. All. the. time. There’s something about her Italian accent combined with her emotional expressions of gratitude and her height of 4’10” that makes people find her adorable.

I hope people think I’m cute at 89.

Anyway, I made her a cake because 1) It’s her birthday (obviously), and 2) she likes sweets almost as much as I do.

The Cake

I used this recipe for Juniper Chocolate Cake which I thought sounded delicious (I love the pinecone-y taste of juniper berries). It burnt a little at the top, but I wasn’t worried because I was going to cut the top off to even it out and frost it. Matt sampled some of the trimmings last night after I baked the cake.

“Umm. . . it tastes really burnt.”

I taste it.

“It’s not that burnt, are you sure that’s not the juniper that you’re tasting?”

“Oh. So, it’s supposed to taste like that?” . . . followed by a disgusted face that Matt was trying very hard to disguise.

*Sigh*.

Disregarding Matt’s opinions, I thought the texture of the cake was great. It was nice and dense and substantial (which I really like in a cake). I didn’t mind the taste, and actually the more cake that I ate the more I liked it. But, yeah, the juniper flavour was a tad on the strong side and I could have lived without it.

The Frosting

I topped the cake with this recipe from Joe Pastry for Heritage Frosting, which is buttercream for poor people (or calorie conscious people, if that’s your bag). It uses a cooked flour&milk combo beaten into the standard butter&sugar combo of buttercream. It’s dead simple to make and while it doesn’t taste quite as rich as American buttercream, it is still very sweet—just the way frosting was meant to be.

Juniper Chocolate Cake

It’s nothing fancy, but you all know I can’t make anything look nice.

The Result

So I made a dense chocolate cake with sugary frosting that was surprisingly quick and easy to pull together. Were it not for the strong juniper taste this would have been the perfect cake.

Nonna liked it, but she likes just about anything that contains sugar and butter (and, God bless her, she’s 89 and not diabetic. I hope I have her genes.).

Back in the old country in the 1920s, if you were lucky, for your birthday they would make pinza: just flour mixed with figs and cooked under embers until you got a rock hard ‘cake’ that would, according to Nonna, “break your toes if you dropped it on your foot.”

I guess anything is better than the pinza.

31 Jul

Next – Sicily

On Saturday night I had the best dining experience of my life at Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant in Chicago.

If you don’t know anything about Next, it is a restaurant in Chicago’s meatpacking district owned by the famous chef Grant Achatz (of the high-end molecular gastronomy restaurant Alinea). Next opened last year and won the James Beard for Best New Restaurant in the US. The restaurant has a prix fixe menu centred on a certain theme that changes every few months and you don’t make reservations to Next, you buy the nearly impossible-to-score tickets.

So let me back-track to May 31 when I noticed a facebook post from Next Restaurant:

Next FB Update

It’s GO TIME.

In a flurry on excitement, I logged onto the Next website within seconds of this post and whipped out my credit card (highly unlike me if you know anything about my spending habits—or lack thereof). Even 2 minutes after the tickets went on sale, most of the tables at reasonable dining times were booked. After taking far too much time trying to decide which weekend my sister would most likely be in Illinois (so I could crash at her place) I settled on my birthday weekend (happy birthday to me!)at the only seating left: 10:30pm.

I’ve been spending the last 2 months explaining to everyone I know why they should be ridiculously excited for slash jealous of me for having these tickets.

So on Saturday night after an early pre-dinner in Geneva with Vicki, Matt and I got all dressed up and headed downtown Chicago for our late, late dinner.

Next Dinner

Our table ended up being about half an hour late which was a blessing in disguise because the host ended up giving us wine pairings for free! (I was far too cheap to pay the $65pp for those) and the hostess used our waiting time to give us a tour of the kitchens of both Next and The Aviary—the bar next door whose huge kitchen was exclusively for making ridiculously awesome cocktails—where we caught glimpses of Grant Achatz and Dave Beren.

Aviary KitchenAviary Kitchen

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Next Kitchen

Next KitchenNext Kitchen

Next’s kitchen was SO clean and organized. It was pretty impressive too how calm it seemed to be in contrast to the more frantic pace of The Aviary kitchen next door. The hostess showed us the information that they track on each table’s ticket which was extensive given the fact that everyone is eating the same thing. In addition to the obvious, like food allergies, they also kept track of where the woman was seated, when someone left the table to use the washroom, every time a dish was served or cleared from the table, and even whether someone in the party was left-handed! The attention to detail the staff paid to the diners made for some of the best service I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant (granted, I’ve never eaten at such a renowned restaurant before).

Aside from the fact that the food was amazing and the service was impeccable I liked that the staff gave us information about everything that we were eating and all the wines that we were drinking. Most of all though, the whole staff and even the restaurant itself felt very unpretentious a fact that I found surprising given that the restaurant itself has an air of exclusivity.

Next RestaurantPlace Setting

The menu was 13 courses of deliciousness with 1 apertivo and 4 wines.

(For pictures of the dishes that are actually good, check out this flickr stream. Whose it is, I have no clue.) 

Panelle: Fried chickpea flour crackers. These were tasty.

Panelle

Arancine: Stuffed with deliciously tender lamb. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce though.

Arancine

Caponata: Made with eggplant and celery and probably $30 worth of pine nuts. I <3 pine nuts.

Caponata

Charred Artichoke – You just eat the soft and deliciously charred tasting insides. SO good.

Charred Artichoke

Bucatini with Bottarga – I learned that night that I do not like bottarga.

bucatini con bottarga

Gemelli with Sardines – I do, however, love sardines. Matt doesn’t. He still thought this was the most delicious pasta ever. I could have stopped here, satisfied with probably one of the best pastas I’ve ever had (not counting my Nonna’s of course!). I was full…but there was so much more to come.

Sardine Gemelli

Swordfish with Roasted Garlic and Mint – I found the swordfish just slightly overcooked, but I loved the minty flavour.

Swordfish

A mix of boiled and fried chickpeas with a lemon dressing – probably my favourite dish of the night and the best chick peas I’ve ever had.

Chickpeas

Roasted Pork Shoulder – I was stuffed at this point but had to eat a generous portion of the shining star of the evening– pork shoulder. This bad boy was the most tender piece of meat I’ve ever sunken my teeth into.

Pork Shoulder

Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers in a Tomato Vinaigrette – Really flavourful. The fried zucchini flower was awesome.

Zucchini

Blood Orange Granita – this must have been made from really, really good blood oranges. A nice segue into desserts.

Blood Orange Granita

Cassata – it’s the official dessert of Sicily so it had to be featured on the menu. I loved this light and not too sweet cake (my birthday cake) a lot that I had no trouble clearing my dessert plate. The server brought it out to me with a little candle . . . a trick candle!

Cassata

Cannoli, Ravioli Fritti, and Sesame Honey Cookies – the cherries in the cannoli really made them good, otherwise I have to say that I’ve had better. The other cookies weren’t bad but I was too caught up with my cassata to really pay much attention.

Cookie Tray

I’m so stoked that I got a chance to eat and drink at Next, and to tour their kitchens. It was a pretty memorable experience and an awesome birthday present. I’m contemplating attempting to snag tickets for the next theme, Kyoto, but maybe I should pace myself and save it for another special occasion.