Friday, September 5, 2014

Item of the week: Chic finds from CiChic.com

I had a brief Twitter conversation the other day with someone who now felt too old for shopping at malls. Many of the big stores I used to frequent have either started to target younger shoppers or the styles are geared towards much younger people. Not that I'm THAT old to complain about what the kids are wearing these days. I have refined my style slightly in the last few years to be less about "going out" clothes and more about classic comfort.



That's where CiChic.com comes in. I found that I was pinning their styles over and over again on my style pin board. Besides having extremely affordable prices, they also have clothes that are a little bit quirky and highlight neat textures and graphics. CiChic even describes themselves as a place for those who are "looking for a distinctive style" and are "tired of going out shopping." In the midst of lamenting about my teen years spent in shopping malls, it seems online shopping has become my new safe place for style.

black plain round neck bat sleeve chiffon t-shirt, CiChic.com

I like a brand that embraces their Pinterest loving client. CiChic.com even has a "most pinned" section on their site. One of their most pinned has been this perfect black t-shirt staple.

Black plain round neck bat sleeve chiffon t-shirt, $21.51

black cat face print sleeveless cotton dress, CiChic.com

Just because I don blazers and blouses during the week doesn't mean I still can't have fun on the weekend. I have a t-shirt with a similar cat graphic and I would love this cat maxi dress too. I love pieces that get people to stop and stare--in a good way.

Black cat face print sleeveless cotton dress, $21.55

white plaid belt turndown collar sleeveless chiffon blouse, CiChic.com

For those days that I do dress up a bit more, I would definitely wear something flattering and fun like this plaid blouse. I like the graphic play on the plaid print and it would look good over a black skirt or even jeans.

White plaid belt turndown collar sleeveless chiffon blouse, $17.81


blue floral short sleeve loose denim blouse, CiChic.com

All of the recent trends with chambray shirts have really elevated the denim shirt. Denim shirts aren't just for Canadian tuxedos and can actually be quite classy with different shades and patterns, like this star patterned blouse with an interesting angled cut. 


green whale print round neck cotton blend t-shirt, CiChic.com

As the weather transitions from summer to fall, it's good to have some light shirts that aren't quite sweaters for those chillier nights. Just like the cat dress, I can't resist a fun animal print.

Green whale print round neck cotton blend t-shirt, $30.47

I found all of these styles browsing on Pinterest and then bookmarking even more on the CiChic.com website. I could buy all of these finds for about less than $100, so the next time I am thinking of going on a shopping spree I am definitely turning to some online inspiration. It got me thinking: At what point does Pinterest become your own personal wish list as opposed to something to share with others? I know for me, it has definitely become my own personal style diary.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

North America's First Cat Café: Le Café des Chats, Montreal

Montreal, Quebec

The one thing I don't like about living in Ottawa now is that it's so far away from Southwestern Ontario where I lived for the past 10 years and the Greater Toronto area (G.T.A) where I grew up. There is something nice about having so many places grouped together in such a short distance. However, I am excited to live in a brand, new part of Ontario and even more excited that I am now closer to places I haven't yet explored. Montreal is one of those places that I have been to briefly, but never really got to know. When it looked like we wouldn't be making the Labour Day long weekend trek back to Southwestern Ontario to visit family and friends because of the weather, we decided to take a day trip to Montreal instead. The day started with a small hike (i.e, drive and then walk from the parking lot) up to Mount Royal to get a panoramic overview of the city. 

Montreal Cat Cafe

In briefly researching things to do in Montreal over the long weekend, I came across an article promoting the Montreal opening of North America's first cat café. Did we go to Montreal just for the cat café or did it just happen to be opening that day? We will never know, but OH MY GOD, CAT CAFE! I was obviously excited. After a bit of walking around the city and lunch, we waited in line for about an hour with many other crazy cat people to be let into the new café. There was even a "cat café bouncer" who was only letting in a certain number of people at a time--obviously to not overwhelm the cats and the space. Yes, this is what I do with my Saturdays. 

Cat Cafe


The idea behind the Le Café des Chats Montreal cafe--located at 3435 Rue Saint Denis--is to be a new and original space for coffee lovers in the city and also promote the therapeutic benefits of spending time with cats. When cats are not shedding fur all over your carpet, hacking up hairballs or jumping on your face to ask for food, their presence is actually quite soothing to the average person. Plus themed cafés seem to be all the rage now too, including ones centred around board games, art and vintage knick knacks, cartoon characters and trendy foods.

Cat cafés have been popular in Asia for awhile now and more recently in Europe. The first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998. The trend quickly caught on in Japan which is now home to almost 40 cat cafés. Many North American travellers seem to like the idea as well and there are now plans to open them in Toronto and Vancouver. I can see why the idea is so popular in urban settings. Coffee shops are already an oasis for the weary, caffeine-addicted, lonely urbanite and adding cute and cuddly cats into the mix is definitely a recipe for success. 

Cats, Cat Cafe Montreal

You have to be quite a social and attention seeking cat to want to work here. These also might be some of the most photographed cats in Canada at the moment. When I finally got inside, it was like a full-on cat photo shoot. The atmosphere will be busy for the next few weeks, so I don't foresee the cats getting any less attention; however, I suspect once it dies down a little that you will be able to sip on a coffee in a quiet room and the cats will likely approach you instead of you hunting them down with your iPhone. Enough talking. I'm sure you want see photos of all of the kitties! There are black ones, fluffy ones, coloured ones, long ones and sleepy ones--many, many sleepy ones. 

Cafe de Chats

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal

Cat Cafe rules

The café doesn't charge a cover fee as far as I know. They also encourage you to use hand sanitizer before and after you enter and watch the door carefully so the cats don't run out. There are of course, rules to the whole thing to protect the welfare of the cats, which are as follows: 

1. Do not feed the cats
2. No flash photography
3. Don't sneak up on the cats and make loud noises
4. Let the cats sleep
5. Don't pull on the cat's tails or whiskers
6. No children under the age of 12 are allowed
7. Do not pick up the cats

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal

Le Cafe de Chats, Montreal Quebec

The space itself is quite nice with big windows, a lot of seating and many cat trees, tubes, perches and toys, making one ponder if the space is built to be an oasis for the humans or the cats. The menu contained standard coffee shop fare with some cat-themed names, including "cat-puccinos" and "meow-cchiatos." On the opening day, they were handing out free iced coffee and dessert samples. The prime spot seemed to be the rocking chairs and lounging arm chairs by the front windows. In my experience, cats will gravitate naturally to any window and they all seemed to be congregated at that spot. It was also later in the day, so I understand why they were so tuckered out from the attention of the opening day. 

Cat Cafe Montreal

Playing with cats at Cat Cafe

Playing with cats at Cat Cafe Montreal

I love this shot of a group of people hovering over this gorgeous Maine Coon cat. All of the eight cats were adopted from the S.P.C.A and I assume live at the café. Having never been to a cat café, it is an interesting experience not only for the cats but for the people watching. Cat people are normally quite solitary people who confine their cat love to the comfort of their own homes. Bring them out in the open to a place with other people, and cats, and you have some interesting dynamics. Also, the fact that they are not your own cats, makes you feel a little bit of a betrayal at scratching the chins and petting the bellies of other cats. I joked to my husband when we got home that our cat was mad because she knew we were "out on the town seeing other cats." 

Le Cafe de Chats Cat Cafe Montreal Quebec

Cat Cafe Montreal

Like my cat, these cats also sleep a lot. The rule that you can't disturb the cats if they are sleeping is in place for a reason. But surely it can be broken a few times to take into the account that the average cat sleeps an average of 20 hours a day. The residents of Le Café des Chats also have a separate litter box room, feeding station and quiet room for when they are too tired of the spotlight. Every cat is special and different in their own little way and some like the attention more than others I presume.

Playing with cats at Le Cafe de Chats

North America's first cat cafe in Montreal

I would feel sorry for the poor soul who came to the café thinking it was merely a cat-themed name and walk in to discover many cats wandering around while they tried to order a coffee. The same goes for the allergy sufferers of the world; it might no be the best place for you. I know at my house I find cat hair in almost everything I try to eat and drink. In reading about other cat cafés in the world, I like the idea that cat cafés are a place for people who can't have cats at home because of their living situation. Or maybe they want more cats but can only have one. If dog lovers can have dog parks and meet other like-minded dog people, why can't cat people have a communal space too?

Le Cafe de Chats Cat Cafe Montreal

As well as a novelty idea, it's also a way for business owners to adopt cats who need forever homes and give them a life of leisure and all of the Internet attention they could want. I hope to visit Le Café de Chats next time I am in Montreal and see how the concept progresses. It is a beautiful city that has many European influences. Anthony Bourdain has called Montreal his favourite Canadian city and as my idol and a great orator of all things food, he is always right. 

Notre Dame Basilica Montreal Quebec

Any stop in Montreal is not complete without either a bagel or smoked meat sandwich experience. Schwartz's Deli is a Montreal institution on par with Katz's Deli in New York City. It's one of those places where you wait in a ridiculous line (although I would rather wait in line for a cat café) and get one of four sandwich options and shame on you if you ask for any kind of substitutions, non-standard sauce or anything else besides meat and mustard. 

Schwartz's Deli, Montreal

After all that cat play at the cattery, we wandered around Old Montreal for awhile and felt like some hearty Polish food from Stash Café. The smells of the hearty stews, keilbasa and cabbage rolls will entice you from the street and so will the amazing piano player who tinkers on the piano all night long with relaxing jazz standards played from memory. It's like if Rick's Café from Casablanca was set in Montreal instead of Morocco and served good and affordable Eastern European food.

Stash Cafe, Montreal

We started with perogies with cheese and potato filling and then the Bigos, a traditional polish "after hunt" stew with cabbage, mushrooms and roasted meats. I had the breaded filet de sole with salad and potatoes. I was eyeing those cabbage rolls though. It's a great, little place that is not too pretentious amongst the hip Old Town food scene. There are no cats there though. You will have to go to Le Café de Chats for that and hopefully to the other Canadian affiliates that are apparently opening in other cities soon. I really wonder if the concept will stick around like it has in other places and what weird and wonderful café concept will be next. What do you think will be the next craze? 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Braised Beef and Potato Pie

gallery wall

I believe that people re-discover themselves in their late 20s. One of those things of re-discovery is hobbies. You need hobbies when you're older for something to do on the weekends, something to talk about at parties and something to express yourself. I was one of those kids with a massively booked schedule of classes, sports and groups and I found later in life without the structure of school or living at home, those things started to drop by the wayside. In University, there isn't that much time for hobbies, unless you count drinking as a hobby. Many people at the time even considered it a sport. 

I have discovered new things in my 20s that I enjoy doing, such as writing, cooking, baking, yoga, gardening and D.I.Y projects. If the Internet is considered a hobby, I would be one of those people with an obsessive collection. I also like re-discovering things I did when I was younger, such as art, which is why I was so excited when I signed up for a local PaintNite event as a date night activity. We have a bit of a collection going on a gallery wall I put up in our house of prints and photos from places we've travelled (see photo above); however, there aren't any pictures that we have painted ourselves--until now. 

Paint Nite

PaintNite is a painting event usually held at a pub or bar where participants have a few drinks, learn how to paint and work on a canvas masterpiece. You choose what night you would like to go based on that night's painting and everyone learns to paint the same design. I thought it was neat to see what other people were doing and how creative people were being based on the main painting. I hadn't painted anything for years and I thought it was a lot of fun to use those skills again and do something a little different on a weeknight--plus, it's kind of relaxing to immerse yourself in something creative. 


There is an instructor who takes you through each step of making the design and basic techniques. All of the supplies, paints and colours are there when you start and they guide you through everything in an almost "paint by numbers" fashion. I ended up with a painting I was pretty proud of for a first effort. Currently, PaintNites are only operating in 12 Canadian cities. Hopefully they will grow to many more because it's a neat concept for a night out and also a cheap and fun way to learn how to paint, or brush up on your skills. It's a great idea for a date night, girl's night out or something different to try instead of just drinking at the bar. Check out the PaintNite website

PaintNite

After recently coming back from a trip to Australia where we discovered the fastfood chain "Pie Face" and many amazing meat pies, I had a hankering for making one myself. In Australia, I had a meat pie with mushy peas in it and it was legendary. This pie is kind of like a work of art too with the decorative potato topping and a slight resemblance to apple pie. It's like one of those Top Chef challenges where they have to make an ingredient look and taste like something else. This recipe is also adapted from one by the queen of crafts, Martha Stewart. Her Braised Short Ribs, Stout and Potato Potpies inspired me to use potatoes as a decorative pie topping. 

Braised beef and potato pie
Braised Beef and Potato Pie
Ingredients:
One 3-5 pound beef roast
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion or shallot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Rosemary, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper
1 pre-made or frozen pie crust

braised beef

Directions:
1. Season the roast with salt and pepper and then dip them in a bit of flour to coat. Heat oil in a dutch oven on high and brown the meat for about a minute per side. Transfer to a plate.
2. Reduce the heat in the dutch oven to medium. All the onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Then add the beef broth and place the meat back on top of the vegetables. Add the herbs and seasoning that you would like.


3. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 2-2 1/2 hours on the stove. Near the end of the cooking time, add the flour to thicken the sauce and stir to avoid clumps. Then start to break apart the meat and mix everything together. You can add a little bit of water if you find the sauce doesn't have enough "gravy."


4. Pre-bake the pie crust in the oven for 15 minutes at 350F. Transfer the filling to the pie crust and smooth over. Arrange the sliced potatoes over the filling and drizzle with a bit of olive oil on top. Bake the pie in the oven for 45 minutes at 375F. 

braised beef and potato pie
When you think about it, cooking and art are quite similar. It takes a certain knack to make it look good, you have to be delicate and precise and ingredients (or paints) go a long way. I think the process of turning a piece of meat into slow cooked gravy and then into a pie should be considered an art form. I'm not saying this is the best meat pie ever made. This is just me perfecting my own skills and creating something to express my own creativity. Food is a beautiful thing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lemon, Blueberry and Almond Cookies

Etsy Road Trip Canada

It is so cool when things on the internet merge into real life. I have been a fan of Etsy for so long and heard that this summer they were doing a cross-Canada road trip to bring their products to life. Yes, there is life outside of the internet and Etsy did a great job of making Etsy into a real-life experience with real people (part of what makes their brand so effective) rather than aimless internet shopping. It's like when you meet a celebrity in real life.

It was NOT in fact like the time my Mom took me to see Sailor Moon at my dentist's office. I wondered what Sailor Moon would actually look like in real life--and the logistics of meeting someone who is actually animated--and waited in line to see a lady dressed up in a homemade costume who was clearly not Sailor Moon. I don't know what I was actually expecting, but somehow I was disappointed. For a second there was some childhood hope that a promise would turn into something magical even though I knew it was impossible. All hope wasn't lost, as my Mom took me to the Baskin Robbins ice cream store located right next door to my dentist. And I thought, maybe Sailor Moon is cool to me when I can draw her and watch her on T.V; she doesn't need to be a real person. 

Etsy Road Trip Canada, Ottawa

The Etsy Road Trip was not disappointing in any way, even if the Ottawa stop was somewhat lacking in vendors. The experience itself was neat to see. They did it in the coolest way possible with a gorgeous airstream trailer, rad photo booth and extremely stylish people browsing for crafts. They also had local food trucks and a lot of swag. Seriously, though. I got a swag bag that had about 100 Etsy buttons in it. I don't know what to do with that many Etsy buttons. Maybe I could sell them on Etsy? The trip stopped in four cities over 10 days (Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto) and I liked how it was an opportunity for other less Toronto-centric craft lovers to see what Etsy has to offer. I especially liked these knitted cactuses (pictured above) from Yeff Knits. If you haven't already, check out my page on Etsy for all of my favourite online finds. 

Etsy Road Trip Canada

That little outing inspired me to start some of my own crafty projects. My first was giving my cat's food station a bit of a makeover solely inspired by Pinterest and this tutorial from Beauty Lab. There are so many other priorities in our new place that "remodelling" something for the cat seems somewhat trivial; however, sometimes doing something small can make the bigger things seem less daunting. Like Pinterest so often does, it tends to lead you down into crazy, D.I.Y rabbit holes. Obviously my cat deserves to eat her meals in style even though all of her food comes out of cans.

Cat feeding station with IKEA tray

Her previous food mat was hard to clean and kind of gross, so I bought a new white tray from IKEA and treated her to a new water dish from PetSmart and the transformation was complete all for less than $20. But not before writing her name on the tray and drawing a paw mark with a Sharpie. Now all of the cat food mess is hopefully contained on the easy-to-wash tray that looks a little nicer than a crusty mat. I'm pretty sure she likes it and is thinking "Oh wow, thank you so much for making the place I eat so nice now." Or not...

D.I.Y cat feeding station makeover
That's alright. She's worth it. If owning a cat is like having kids, then I am set! All you have to do is put out some food for them twice a day, cuddle with them a bit and throw a ball around, right? Don't worry. I'm kidding. And in no way do I consider myself a pet "Mom" or "parent." She is my pet and I am her owner. I do nice things for her and she does nice things back...or pukes on the carpet and then hides under the bed.


You know what IS tricky for me? Making cookies. Most of the time the cookies either turn out like melted pancakes or like rock hard discs. I have experienced the dreaded "cakie" aftermath of a bad batch of cookies before and it is not a good feeling for your baking ego. So just like obsessively wanting to try every Pinterest project I see, raising kids or owning "fur babies," I found a little trick to make my life a little saner. The trick to these cookies is Jello instant lemon pudding mix. The mix adds a sweet and creamy lemon flavour to the cookies and ensures the cookie texture is chewy, soft and slightly crunchy like a good cookie.

Lemon, blueberry and almond cookies
These cookies were inspired by this recipe from Amy's Healthy BakingI to make something light, summery and colourful for dessert. You don't even need to have fresh lemons in your house to make lemon cookies with this recipe. I don't usually agree with recipes that solely use cake mixes as their base. I can agree with the way the pudding mix is used in this recipe to add more flavour and texture. There's nothing wrong with adding a little something, something to your recipes. I also swapped out the white chocolate chips from the original recipe and added fresh blueberries and sliced almonds instead. 

Lemon pudding cookies with almonds and blueberries
Lemon, Blueberry and Almond Cookies

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp butter, slightly melted
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 box instant Jello lemon pudding mix
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with greased parchment paper. 
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. If you're using salted butter, then omit the salt in this step. In a separate bowl, whisk the butter, eggs and vanilla together. Add in the sugar and pudding mix (do not add the ingredients listed on the pudding mix) and the lemon juice. Fold in the blueberries and almonds. Mix together, but not too much to avoid a grey colour from the blueberries. 
3. Chill the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
4. Drop the dough into the baking sheets and press down slightly to flatten. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes.

Lemon pudding cookies
Cookies are so hit and miss for me, that it's glorious when they turn out as perfect as this. I loved the combination of the lemon flavour, fresh berries and crunch from the almonds. As long as you don't over mix the dough, they will turn out the wonderful, bright yellow colour like little orbs of summer sun. These are something you will see on the internet that will definitely live up to your expectations in real life, trust me on this one.

Have you done any neat craft projects lately? Or baked some delicious cookies? I would love some tips for baking the perfect cookie!

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