September 17, 2013

When I came back from holidays when I was younger, the first thing I would do was go to the photo store and eagerly wait for them to develop my photos. Then I would rip open the package and sift through the photos so many times I gave them creases. I would then laid them out in a photo album with ticket stubs, brochures and programs from the trip. On some trips with my grandparents, we would write out everything we did each day and stick the notes in the album as well. Then I would take the album, bring it to my friend's houses and show off the the neat things I did on my trip--and my fancy scrap booking skills. When I come back from vacation now I usually say, "Did you see the photos I posted on Facebook? Did you see the food pictures I posted on Instagram?"

I still like to write about my experiences and go through the photos, but it's not the same as having a book. My trips these days are a little different and are always dependent on a guide book, online review or blog post. I won't go to any restaurant, attraction or museum without reading a review of it beforehand. Time is precious and I want to know I'm spending my time wisely. Also, my trips now seem to revolve a lot more around food.

Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide

Glam Media sent me a copy of their new release, Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide. Finally, instead of buying guidebooks for every single place to look up restaurants, I have a comprehensive list of the world's best restaurants. Now, when I get back from holidays I can officially say I went to one of the best restaurants in the world instead of just claiming the food was "the best in the world."

Glam Media editors partnered with a group of food experts from around the world to rate the best restaurants in their region and their favourites and came up with a list of the world's top 100 restaurants; that's not an easy feat. Each restaurant is profiled in the book with a photo of their feature dish or speciality, chef and a description of the restaurant. They were also picked for their exemplary dining experience, service and drinks.

You can tell where the major "foodie" centres are according to this book--mostly situated in France, Japan, the United States, Europe and Asia Pacific. The only thing I was disappointed in was there were no Canadian restaurants listed. Surely, we have one or two restaurants that would fit the bill?

I am not at the point in my traveling where I can really afford five-star restaurants and hotels, but I like that the book features restaurants that aren't necessarily the most expensive--big money doesn't always mean good food--and are rather rated on overall experience and exceptional food. I will have to document my journeys a little differently next time. Instead of a physical scrapbook I will collect crosses off a to-do, to-see and to-taste list.
Let's do a bit of a recap of what I have done so far:

Paris, France
Paris, 2009

The next time I go to France I will have to try L'Ambroisie (pg. 19) for its black truffle and foie gras puff pastry and langoustines on a bed of curry sauce. And then stop at L'Atelier De Joel Rubuchon Saint-German (pg. 25) for the "world's best mashed potatoes" and then maybe have a glass of wine from the 3,500 bottle wine list at Carre Des Feuillants (pg. 29). 21 out of the 100 restaurants listed are located in Paris, France.

Marseilles, France
Marseille, 2009

You can't forget the south of France though. Cannes, Marseille and Nice are equally as beautiful and romantic. I haven't been to Lagouile or Fontjoncouse. According to the book, Auberge Du Vieux Puits (pg. 73), a charming restaurant located in a cottage in a quaint mountain village and Bras (pg. 75) are reasons to go to even the most rural parts of France.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, 2012

There is still so much of Europe I want to explore. Last summer I went to Scotland for the first time and visited one of my favourite cities in world again, London, England. My heart will always be in London so I know next time I need to try the world-famous Fat Duck restaurant (pg. 193) in Bray. Bray isn't actually in London. The beautiful thing about England--and most of Europe--is that you can hop on a train and go anywhere you want in a few hours. About an hour outside of London, you can try Heston Blumenthal's quirky creations, including snail porridge or jelly of quail. The Waterside Inn (pg. 195) is also located in Bray and boasts a magnificent roast duck for two and a wine list of more than 1,000 French wines available.

London, England
London, 2009

Italy is another one of my favourites. If you like eating, they take it quite seriously there. Anais Nim said that we "write to taste life twice." I wrote about my European food experiences before, if only to re-live the decadent four-course meals, refreshing gelato and some of the best pizza in the world. There is more to Italian food than pizza though. In Venice, home to Osteria Alle Testiere (pg. 211), you would find stunning fresh and local seafood. There is history to discover and ancient legends to imagine  in your mind while walking amidst the historical ruins.

Rome, Italy
Rome, 2009

There are also cozy, if sometimes loud, Italian restaurants full of people bonding. laughing and shouting over food. Milan was where I tried my first heavenly plate of Saffron Risotto, also the speciality of Milan (Risotto alla Milanese). In Milan, there is Il Luogo Di Aimo E Nadia (pg. 209) with something so simple, yet beautiful as spaghetti with green onion and hot pepper sauce causes the restaurant to be booked up weeks in advance. 

Milan, Italy
Milan, 2009

The last time I went to New York City, I was dead set on trying 99 cent Pizza and some of the best cheap eats I could find. I promise, next time I will expand my horizons and try Le Bernardin (pg. 145), restaurant of trusty sidekick to Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert. And of course Momofuku Ko (pg. 171) gets a mention as well with dessert obviously from Milk Bar next door. 


Before I went to New York I asked someone for a restaurant recommendation and they said, "the Olive Garden in Times Square." I answered with a "what now?" They promised me the view was worth suffering through the Olive Garden. I am not convinced. I would rather try Kurumazushi (pg. 163) or Soto (pg. 175) with its sushi on par with Tokyo or the performance art of food at Alinea (pg. 177). 

New York City
New York, 2010

On my recent trip to the Western United States I made the mistake of only scheduling one day in San Francisco. Because of time restraints and wanting to see so many other things along the coast, I made an error in judgement. I really did leave my heart in San Francisco (and my stomach) because I need to go back. California is waiting and Arnold keeps asking me "When can you start?" Does he mean eating from the guidebook and trying some of the world's best restaurants?

San Francisco, 2013

Benu (pg. 181) is the book's pick for San Francisco with the perfect reflection of the area demonstrated by its Asian-influenced contemporary American cuisine. In California, there are also the famous picks of Chez Panisse (pg. 183) and The French Laundry (pg. 185) where "diners can expect no mere meal but a culinary performance, one with multiple acts [and] surprise encores." 

San Francisco

Next year, the plan of action is Japan and/or Australia. There are many, many options for some of the world's best food in Japan, as the majority of restaurants listed in the book are located there. I am so lucky to have visited all of these great places and I hope to go back to each one of them again someday. I also look forward to many more adventures--and many meals documented. 

The restaurants in the book are also listed online on foodie.com and Glam Media. Buy Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide: Selected by the World's Top Critics and Glam Media's Foodie Editors for your next traveling food adventure.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experiences.
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September 12, 2013

So, you see something neat on Pinterest that you want to make. You study the D.I.Y instructions, hunt for supplies and try to re-create the vision. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it really doesn't. What if someone could help you along with your D.I.Y projects and also inspire you each month to keep being creative?

WhimseyBox already has many tutorials for gorgeous D.I.Y projects and embellishments to everyday items, such as this lightbulb vase. Their blog is also chalk full of Pinterest-worthy inspiration, favourites and photos. These are not kitschy crafts to do in your spare time by any means. They are actually things you could display proudly.

D.I.Y lightbulb vase

They have many, many wonderful tutorials and project ideas, but that's not the greatest thing. Imagine a service that sends you all of the supplies, instructions and help you need to make your own D.I.Y projects. It's like Arts and Crafts camp at home. No more braving the craft store on a weekend to find deals or searching through craft forums for the right instructions. (Check out these doodle coasters pictured below)

D.I.Y doodle coasters

WhimseyBox has a monthly craft kit subscription service. Each month they send a beautiful box of supplies and a project to tackle. Then subscribers share their creations and ideas online. The subscriptions ($15 a month plus $5 to ship to Canada) can be renewed for 3, 6 or 9 months. You can also purchase gift subscriptions for your favourite people. Imagine: all of the hassle of crafting taken away and a box placed on your doorstep with all the things you need to make beautiful things. Each box includes:

WhimseyBox craft subscription

You can also buy the boxes as separate kits without a subscription if you just want to tackle one or two projects.
I love this stenciled lavender sachet kit:

WhimseyBox lavender sachet kit

And this D.I.Y String Art Kit:

D.I.Y string art kit

I would be so much more inclined to craft if someone just sent me everything I needed and told me what to do. I love following instructions and lists. Now, if only someone would clean up afterwards too...

Learn more about a WhimseyBox monthly craft kit subscription
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September 09, 2013

I have to finish writing about summer before I can begin to prepare for fall. Please, just let me savour these last few moments. Hibernation mode will start soon and I need to store some energy before I begin my descent into burrowing under sweaters, blankets and mugs of hot chocolate. Scientists believe the function of hibernation is to conserve energy when there is no sufficient food available. 


I know from this time of year until Christmas, there is plenty--if too much--sufficient food available. Fruit preserving is a tradition that stemmed from the need to store the warm season's bounty over the winter months. According to many purists in the preserving world, good jam comes from good fruit. Technique, organization and strategy are crucial when it comes to preserving big batches of fresh fruit. You want them to be the right ripeness, taste, sweetness and acidity.

My strategy involves driving 20 minutes outside of town to Heeman's, a local strawberry farm and garden centre. Some people think because they are preserving fruit in large quantities that it doesn't have to be the best. I know that when I make pies, tarts and cakes that the fruit is just as important as the cake. The same goes with preserves: the love that goes into it is the same love you get when you open a can of jam in the winter months. 


Summer is also probably the only time I enjoy salads. For the rest of the year, salads can wait. I am not really the best of friends with salad. If I had to pick a salad as my favourite I would probably say Greek Salad or as I like to call it, "Cheese Salad." Seriously, am I not the only one who eats all of the vegetables and saves the feta cheese for last?

I remedied this salad by adding fresh watermelon to the salad, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers, and it was a more pleasant experience. My deciding factor in ordering a salad at a restaurant is seeing whether or not it comes with bread: "Where is the carb portion of this salad? I'm sorry. I need like, a bun or something, maybe a pita."


You certainly can't get fresh fruit or make meals like this in the winter. You also don't get farmer's markets, fresh local fruit and outdoor festivals. But now after some summer produce hoarding, I have enough fruit to make berries, tarts, pies and preserves for many months. This tart is like a custard pie with fruit mixed in and seems, but probably isn't, lighter than a traditional cherry pie. If you're sick of pie, this recipe is a good option and always looks nice when you can see the patterns of fruit scattered around the tart like marbling. 


Cherry Clafoutis Tart (recipe from Butter Baking) 

Ingredients: For the crust:

1/2 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cups unsalted butter
pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 cups of milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp flour
2 cups cherries, pitted

Directions:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F and butter a pie dish or tart tin.
2. To make the crust, add icing sugar to a stand mixer, then add the flour and salt. Mix on a low speed to combine. Add the butter on a low speed until a dough forms.
3. Pit and slice the cherries and set aside.
To pre-bake the crust of the Cherry Clafoutis, I placed parchment paper over the crust and then poured some uncooked black beans on top to weigh it down. This step, also known as "blind baking," is important because it prevents a soggy crust when you add the filling and sometimes the filling takes less time to cook than the pastry.
4. Pre-bake the crust for about 25-25 minutes.


5. For the filling, add milk, sugar, vanilla and salt to a small saucepan. Place on medium heat and bring to a slight boil to dissolve the sugar.
6. In a separate bowl, crack one egg, then add the flour and whisk together. Add the remaining eggs and whisk to combine.
7. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the heated milk.
8. Take the tart out of the oven and pour half of the filling onto the crust, then place the cherries around the tart.
9. While the tart is on the oven rack, carefully pour the remaining custard filling onto the tart.
10. Bake for 25-35 minutes.

When it is cooled, dust icing sugar on top of the tart. I also made mini versions of the tart in small ramekins. These were stored in the freezer and made perfect weekday desserts, although the crust got slightly soggy when re-heated. For the best result, eat as soon as it is cooled from the oven the first time you make it; everyone else will appreciate this sentiment as well.


There are pies, tarts, crostatas all to make with fruit and then there is fruitcake. theKitchn wrote a great piece on how to make an upside down cake with almost any fruit. They did not mention how to make an upside down cake with any pan though. With fruit comes the sweet nectar of those fruits and that sweet nectar can leak, spill and stick to everything it touches. This recipe also uses less sugar and butter than traditional cake recipes to let the natural sweetness of the fruit shine through. For this cake I used fresh blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and rhubarb. 


You're not supposed to flip this cake when it comes out of the pan as the point is that it is already upside down. I love those moments when you uncover or flip a cake for the first time and for a second you think everything is ruined. Then out of the somewhat sticky fruit ashes emerges a beautiful tasting (sometimes not always a looker) type of cake. 


In the winter, there is different kind of fruitcake. I absolutely love holiday fruitcake and have made it myself for the last few holidays. And guess what? It is also the kind of fruit (and cake) that lasts for many, many months until you're longing for summer again and even perhaps a fresh salad.
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September 05, 2013

A few weeks ago, a friend gave me a collection of vintage teacups she was trying to get rid of, as she had way too many. I know these will be used somehow in future wedding decor. Right now I have them displayed on a shelf next to the television and my commemorative Royal Couple tea tin. 

vintage teacups

Finding vintage items is fun and rewarding, as I've written about before. If you're coordinating a vintage theme for a wedding though, it can be hard work. Finding the right pieces--and multiple pieces of the same colour or theme--and making sure they stay in tact and spotless in time for their debut takes some work. Sometimes it's nice to have someone else do all of the work for you.

I love this collection featured this week on Charlie Ford Vintage curated by Jillian Harris. Jillian Harris, co-host of Love it or List it Vancouver and former Bachelorette, is now a designer on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. She is also Canadian and has a design blog, Jillian Harris Design Inc, so she knows a thing or two about beautiful things. From September 5-11, Charlie Ford Vintage is featuring a fall vintage wedding collection with items handpicked by Jillian. The items are all one of a kind, so they will go fast and you can say you have something handpicked and unique for your wedding.

pink glass vintage cream and sugar

Pink glass vintage cream and sugar, $55

I love the idea of mismatched vintage tableware along with coloured glass on wedding reception tables. If you pick the items selectively and deliberately and don't crowd the tables with knick knacks, they can do a lot to add character to guest's dinnerware. Even if you don't want to go to the trouble of antique plates for everyone, you can always negotiate vintage cups and saucers for after-dinner coffee and tea.

vintage candy store scale

Vintage Candy Store Scale, $245

This would be cool on a candy buffet table. I went a little crazy at the last wedding I went to that had a candy buffet. In my opinion, every wedding should have one. I am already starting to collect antique bowls, glasses and jars to display candy for this future wedding of mine. It's probably not a good idea to weigh the candy--or yourself--before you eat it, but it makes a nice prop.

painted Italian vanity

Painted Italian Vanity, $1900

Alright, this one is a little on the pricy side. I watched The Great Gatsby on the weekend and this vanity reminded me of those romantically sad women putting on strings of diamonds as they mope around their mansions. A wedding isn't a sad occasion--although it is the epitome of romance--but if vintage glamour is your thing, this would be perfect to pose in front of during "getting ready" photos.

railroad lantern

Railroad lantern, $96

I have seen vintage lanterns of all shapes and forms, as well as mason jars with candles and the whole thing; however, I have not seen a vintage railroad lantern before and after seeing a beautiful old railway station venue the other week, this one got me inspired.

Also, some of these items are even on sale. Instead of zapping registry items with a laser gun at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I want to go around an antique store and pick out all of the things I like. Although every time I find something at a vintage market or sale, I then have to figure out where to store or display it in my house.

porcelain cake server

Porcelain Cake Server, $15

Remember how I said be selective and don't overdo it with the antique finds? Jillian has selected the perfect vintage pieces to get you started on classic and elegant wedding designs. I'm sure you could find something special and at a good price in this collection without having to haggle for it yourself.

Check out the Charlie Ford vintage store and this limited edition collection until September 11. For some options a little closer to home, try Hazlitt Vintage wedding design based in Ontario.
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September 03, 2013

The only problem with taking summer vacation at the end of the summer is that when you get back, summer is pretty much over. Last summer, while on vacation, I read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and I have been obsessed with the Pacific Northwest ever since. Actually, my enamour with the West Coast began on a trip to British Columbia when I was younger where I saw and experienced the beauty, peacefulness and rustic feel of the area. I saw Vancouver, Whistler, Vancouver Island and knew even then that there was a lot more to discover on that side of the continent.

My dream is to rent or buy an R.V and take a long trip across the United States and Canada. This time, I would not be trekking through more than a thousand miles of trails by myself and enduring the elements like the book. We did however, have a lot of ground to cover in one week and our chosen mode of transportation was a car. Our mission was to drive down from Seattle, Washington to San Francisco, California and see whatever we felt like in between. Of course, in true West Coast fashion, we rented a Prius to be environmentally friendly, which is about as friendly as you can get flying across the country and driving about 1,200 miles.

Space Needle

Our trip began in Seattle, Washington. If we had more time I would have liked to have seen Vancouver again, but the thought of renting a car and taking it across borders seemed like more a hassle than necessary. Seattle, also known as the "Emerald City" is a really cool, laid back city with lots of great food, coffee and surrounding natural beauty. It also the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and home to some successful businesses you may have heard of, such as Starbucks and Microsoft.


The first stop was Pike Place Market. I have seen this market on various cooking competition shows and the back and forth singing of the fish mongers and bustle of the crowds crammed into coffee bars and speciality shops is the place to be on any day of the week. The market was founded in 1907 and is now one of the oldest running markets in the United States.



As well as finding local food and specialities there are always those weird and wacky things you find that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Where else can you buy oyster shooters, ready-to-eat shrimp cocktails and trail mix with beef, cheese and jerky? The seafood, fresh produce and flowers were plentiful, as well as trinkets and Seattle souvenirs. We only scratched the surface of the nine-acre market and as usual I headed straight for the food.


Seattle is all about focusing on West Coast ingredients, such as fresh fish, foraged ingredients (like berries and mushrooms) and the best coffee around. There is also a lot of fusion in the food choices with the influence of Asian cultures. Any type of ethnic food is available somewhere in Seattle and the market is a great place to browse the source of most of those dishes. The historic building overlooks Elliot Bay, so you can snack on your specialities with a view of the water. 



We picked up some dried mangoes, kiwi, beet and apple chips at Simply the Best for some on-the-road snacks. There were way too many options for lunch at the market, so in true indecisive fashion I let the people decide and picked the place with the biggest line: Pike Place Chowder. I later learned that they will ship quarts of their chowder to your house. I tried the chowder of the day, which was Oyster and Clam with Chorizo. There were many types of chowder, including New England Style, Smoke Salmon, Manhattan Style, Seafood Bisque and even a Vegan Chowder. I feel like they might scoff at you if you try to order the vegan chowder because even if you are lactose intolerant like me, the regular chowder is still worth it. 

Don't worry about the cream and butter for a few seconds and just enjoy dipping sourdough bread into a bowl of seafood heaven. I also ordered the Dungeness crab roll on sourdough bread. It had the perfect amount of seafood, zest and tang along with the satisfying chew of the warm sourdough. 

Pike Place Chowder Restaurant


The first (or one of the first? I have heard conflicting reports) Starbucks is also located at Pike Place Market. As expected, there was a line a mile long of people wanting to try a coffee from the famous chain's first location. The barista actually takes your order while you are waiting in line as there are so many people crammed in the store trying to get a glimpse. 

Original Starbucks sign

Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 at the market and the store still retains its historic look. The drinks are the same as every other Starbucks although the menu is limited, as it's more of a tourist attraction than a relaxing stop for a coffee. You can buy original Starbucks souvenirs and reflect for a moment on how the quaint coffee shop became an empire with now more than 20,000 stores worldwide.


Our hip hotel, The University Inn, was right near, or actually in, the University of Washington. Any place that has free coffee, tea and cupcakes in the lobby every afternoon is four stars for me. The U (University) District is great for finding cheap ethnic eats and lots of small, cozy places to go for a bite or drink. We actually went to two out of the three places recommended in the Lonely Planet book for this area. On the first night we wandered down the street to Flowers Bar and Restaurant. 


On the second night we tried the waterfront gem on Portage Bay, Agua Verde. This cafe serving up fish tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, is also a paddling club and rents kayaks. The cute exteriour also has an espresso window and tacos to go for those on the run in between classes. We sat on the deck and tried the lemon pepper cod and spicy catfish tacos with a side of pureed black beans and green rice. Admittedly not the best meal to eat right before a road trip, but you can't leave the West without having fish tacos along with a heap of fresh tortilla chips and homemade spicy salsa. 


After a bit more than a day in Seattle we began our road trip adventure down the West Coast. Of course there are other wonderful things to see in Washington; Mount Rainier and Mt St Helens are just two of the state's beautiful natural wonders that we saw. I am a city girl at heart, but I don't mind venturing off the road once in awhile to see the other things a place has to offer. Maybe if I had more courage I would delve deeper into the landscape and hike through the area's trails like Cheryl Strayed. 



Learn more about where to go and what to do in Washington with Lonely Planet Washington Oregon and the Pacific Northwest 5th Ed.
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