Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

I’ve been busy! And the next couple of weeks will be even busier! I’m so excited to tell you about an amazing opportunity that’s come up, I have been actually assisting with real food styling jobs. One of the recent jobs was for Food & Drink magazine assisting a prominent stylist; the next one will be on location somewhere up north for three days! The Food & Drink magazine is a gorgeous magazine produced by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (the single largest purchaser of alcohol in the world). They have a lofty budget to produce this gorgeous, glossy magazine; I’m also booked for about 4 additional days in December with a couple of other equally talented stylists so my life has become rather exciting. But because I’m away from my computer and not able to access my phone while on set I’m sorry if I miss a comment on your blog in the next while but I hope you’ll understand.

Let me tell you about my experience so far in assisting. Sometimes it means grocery shopping; I was fortunate enough to shadow a food stylist assistant as she shopped Toronto grocery stores for some rather unique ingredients. It starts with an email list and a call with the food stylist to chat about what is needed that day. Often the groceries are perishable so we buy only for what will be used that very day. After we clearly understand what each ingredient is for, we make lists and action plans. Remember my cottage lists? Let me say that my list-making abilities will come in very handy. We began our grocery journey at around 10am at the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaw and were on the go until 3pm non-stop, visiting no less than 8 stores to pick up about $300 of various ingredients for recipe development. You may wonder what the most unique ingredient we sourced was? It was a mediterranean salt-cured fish which is also dried called Botargo (John – From the Bartolini Kitchens, please comment on what this might be used in). It was very expensive, clocking in at $79.99 for a piece that looked no more than 150 g or 5.5 oz! We also visited a very cool Asian grocer on Cherry Street called T&T where we bought fresh Galangal (Thai Ginger) and Chinese Chives (which are long, flat leaved, grass-like greens), but they had so much more. You just know I’ll be visiting that store again in the very near future. At the St. Lawrence Market we bought soft-shelled crabs, rabbit (did you know they leave the head on so you can be sure it’s not a cat?), Chorizo (raw and cured), farro and La Bomba rice (this is the same Paela rice I recently used here)! My imagination is going wild with the possibilities for these lovely ingredients. Our job is to buy the food ONLY. There is someone else called a Prop Stylist who is responsible to source all the cool props you may see included in a recipe photo.

But shopping is only half of it, the other half of assisting is advance preparation (which I haven’t done as yet) and on-site cooking where we are actually cooking the food for the camera. On my first shoot for F&D I had figured that I would be relegated to clean-up and general prep but I actually had the opportunity to cook for the actual shots — I made pesto, browned chicken, made savoury waffles to name a few! It was more than I dreamed it would be. The job is not for everyone, but I love being in the kitchen and I found it interesting and very satisfying. Working with the photographers, their assistants, the food stylist and prop stylist on-site is an amazing experience and I am excited and very grateful to be part of it. I think I’ve unexpectedly stumbled upon my dream job :-), which is pretty incredible because I thought I LOVED what I did before!

It’s definitely fall in Toronto, and while there are barely leaves clinging to the trees, while the colour of the sky has morphed into shades of grey (not fifty, let’s not go there), while the colour of the lake is more black than blue, our slow cookers are chugging away in our cozy kitchens up in Canada, brewing secret and not so secret recipes to fend away cold and flu season with the nutrition and comfort of soup. Take a look at any website, blog or even magazine and it’s about soup. I definitely have my favourites but I also like to switch it up a bit and so I’ve developed this tasty, all be it green, Broccoli Soup, without a spot of cream in it! Of course, you can add cream if you wish to your taste, but I’ll pass thank you very much.


The polenta fries were a nice touch and a perfect colour contrast

Creamed Broccoli Soup


  • 1 good-sized head of local organic broccoli, cut into even florets, woody stems removed.
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1-2 medium-sized parsnips, cut into cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Water or stock to cover
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Sauté the onion until translucent, add the garlic and parsnip and sauté 5 minutes longer.
  2. Add the broccoli and cover with water. Cook until all vegetables are fork tender.
  3. Using an emersion blender, blend until smooth adding water or stock to desired consistency, salt and pepper to taste. Press through a fine sieve. Serve hot with Cheddar Polenta ‘Fries’

There isn’t a spot of cream in this delightful soup

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Thank you Barb, your anniversary post inspired JT and I to make our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) this past Christmas for a quick holiday. We stayed at Harbour House a relatively new boutique hotel just off the beaten path in NOTL.  We stayed at this place shortly after it first opened 8-10 years ago and it was lovely, this time was no different. JT booked us into a gorgeous room with a fireplace and we were upgraded to a suite — now that’s sweet!


The living room with fireplace


Very spacious

A festive touch in our room

A festive touch in our room


The bedroom

A large jacuzzi tub, separate shower, double sink, what more could you want? Heated floors.

A large jacuzzi tub, separate shower, double sink, what more could you want? Heated floors.

We arrived on Boxing day (December 26) with no weather issues at all, which was a little surprising since they had predicted a bad storm to come through and dump 30cm (12 inches) of snow in the area. We waited and waited and eventually it did snow, but not nearly as much as predicted. NOTL is a picturesque village with nice restaurants, quaint shops and lovely homes, some of which have been converted to B&Bs. It is also very close to Ontario’s Wine Country.

We ate lunch at the Oban Inn, which is always a treat with lovely views of their manicured gardens. We shared the Dungeness Crab Cakes with Micro Greens, Horseradish Espresso Remoulade, Grilled Pineapple Salsa ($16). For my main I enjoyed Icewine Salmon Gravlax, Carrot Slaw, Citrus Creme Fraiche ($12) it was delicious. JT had the quiche with field greens. I would recommend this restaurant highly. Service was also excellent.

Dinner our first night was at Zee’s a restaurant in The Shaw Club a sister hotel. We shared the Cheese and Charcuterie platter with 5 items for $25. On it was TIGER BLUE rich, aromatic with an intense blue flavour, in the style of stilton, ROARING 40’S BLUE cow’s milk, full flavoured blue with a honeyed, slightly nutty quality, rindless, smooth and creamy and a cheddar which they had to substitute. The Charuterie portion was made up of HOT SOPRESATTA from the Calabria Region, red wine, chili spices and salt, texture of prosciutto, robust and spicy and CHORIZO blend of pork, pork fat, smoked dried paprika, distinct smoke flavour, cured and smoked and neither of these impressed us either, not spicy or smokey tasting. JT had the Nova Scotia Lobster Poutine which included house cut fries, a generous serving of butter poached lobster, white cheddar cheese curds, red wine veal jus and a home made hollandaise sauce. JT’s meal was excellent, although it would not have been something I would order. I had the Warm Mushroom & Smoked Bacon Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese, Sautéed Mushrooms & Smoked Bacon, Parsnip Chips & Apple Cider Vinaigrette ($10) and sadly it was neither warm nor did it have many mushrooms, so even at the low price of $10 it was disappointing.

Our hotel included a wonderful breakfast both days, made of a hot egg dish, pastries, cheeses, meats, scones, preserves, yogurt and fruit. There was also cereal, but who eats cereal on their vacation? Let’s just say we didn’t leave hungry! Our first full day we decided to brave the weather and head down to Niagara Falls, NY to do a little shopping at Walden Galleria which turned out to be nothing special. Lunch was at Bravo Italian Cucina which I suspect is a chain. We both had the soup and salad combo; I had the Italian Wedding soup but was lacking in flavour and JT had the Lobster Bisque which had good lobster flavour but was too creamy for my taste. Our waiter was very talkative and we enjoyed the interaction. Would I go back? Doubt it, nothing special. We returned to NOTL by way of the Rainbow bridge and although we both now have Nexus, I prefer to go the human route when we buy things outside of the allowances. With both cases you must declare what you bring in, but at least the human factor gives us the possibility of not having to pay the taxes and duty on the items (free trade my foot). And this time the lady clearing us in chastised me for not buying enough! Go figure.

That night we ate at the Cannery another sister hotel/restaurant. This is a slightly larger hotel catering to more family style stays. Most of the restaurants in NOTL are casual, so for the most part people don’t really dress up but JT and I always do! I started with Sea Scallops which were Seared Sea Scallops, Petite Village Salad, Seedlings, Smoked Paprika Oil  ($18) it was delicious (I didn’t take photos because it was too dark), JT had the caesar salad. My main course was an appetizer portion of Spicy Udon Noodles which were Tapioca Noodles, Spicy Yuzu Sesame Sauce, Pork Dumplings, Shiitake Mushrooms Prawns, Matchstick Vegetables ($15) again, delicious and a perfect portion for me! JT had the appetizer portion of the Tagliatelle Pasta which was Semolina Broad Noodles, Pulled Braised Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Truffle Paste, Asiago Shards ($15); we both enjoyed our meals. Having said that, the overall impression is kind of Cracker Barrel style decor, bright lighting and not much cozy ambiance.

Our final lunch was at an old favourite at On the Twenty in Jordan, Ontario a short drive from NOTL and an exceptional restaurant which is connected to Cave Spring Cellars an award winning winery. We ate a lovely table overlooking their perennial gardens which were romantically blanketed with snow. I started with Heirloom Beet Salad of smoked goat cheese, Dave Irish’s breakfast radish, pickled red onion, pistachio brittle, honey mandarin vinaigrette ($12) and JT had the butternut squash soup ($10) and both were exceptional. I then had the Vintner’s Platter in-house smoked salmon, pâté en croute, house-made mustard, pickles, charcuterie, artisanal cheese ($19) which could have easily been shared and JT had the Grilled Venison Burger with Juniper berry-infused tomato relish, feta cheese aioli, baby arugula, fresh-cut fries, house-made ketchup ($17) which was OUTSTANDING. We each had an espresso for dessert. Service is always exceptional and the ambiance is lovely. If you ever come up to this area, you must dine at On the Twenty.

View from our room.

View from our room.


It’s these friendly touches that make this hotel


A delicious cookie for each of us.


It’s all in the details


Each evening between 4-5:30 wine and cheese were served in the lobby. We gathered to meet the other lovely guests, most of whom were Americans, as far away as Philly.


Our first lunch was at Oban Inn, these are most delicious crab cakes.


This was my second course at the Oban, a wonderful Gravlox Salmon, home cured. Most delicious combination of flavours and textures.


Our last lunch at Inn on the 20, a beet and goats cheese salad with pistachio brittle. Very tasty.

We made our way back home to find our driveway and walkways had been cleared of the massive dump of snow we got while we were away. We really do have the loveliest neighbours.


The snow in our backyard


The front yard, still snowing

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Start spreading the news. I am leaving today. I want to be a part of it. New York, New York …

Photo for Charles, to show that we can see the Empire State Building! It’s behind a condo which makes it look a little weird.
What a day! The weather was INCREDIBLE! Hot, sunny albeit a little humid (oh come on, it wasn’t that bad!)

Even though it was an anniversary trip, I like to have a day to myself when I can run amuck in a familiar city (like New York, Paris and Chicago) okay, who am I kidding? I want a day to shop, unburdened by ‘how much time do you need in there’ so JT and I have a quick breakfast and we kiss good bye and split for the day! Woohoo!
Get ready, I’m about to give you my secret low-down. Shhhhhhhh.
I have my game plan in Manhattan, it’s tried and true and has reaped many great finds over the years. I’ve had to modify a bit as we are residing in a different part of town this trip. Truth be known, I love this neck of the woods!
Stop #1 is Century 21 downtown in the financial district. I get there on the Yellow line using the R train. They have a great shoe department and two floors of designer clothing of various budget levels, but you have to get there early otherwise it’s a total zoo to try things on and pay! I was there about ten minutes after it opened and it was already packed! But the fitting rooms were not bad, no waiting in line! Whew!
I scooted back up north on the same train.
Stop #2 Union Square: DSW, Nordstrom Rack, Strawberry! There used to be a Filene’s Basement but sadly they are all gone now. Moment of silence.
Then I walked the remaining route. 11-3pm. Note to Kristy: I wore flats!
Stop #3: Loehmans. Similar to TJ Zmax and Marshall’s, but one level up.
Stop #4: Chelsea Market, mainly for the Bowery Kitchen Supply Store I bought a chocolate chipper fork and a tube for plating stacked courses! I sat down for 10 minutes had a quick bite of sashimi at The Lobster Place and a little limone Gelato from Buon Italiay a real treat for me!!

A Ruthys Cakes in Chelsea Market

Beautiful Barbie Cake

Cool lanterns at the Chelsea Market
Stop #5: TJ Maxx and Marshall’s around 17th and 6th. It’s around 3pm by the time I hit those two places and they were packed (did no one leave Manhattan for Memorial Day?). I spec out a few things but won’t wait the hour+ to buy them! Time to call it quits and I plan to head back the next morning.
The next day I went up to JCP, Daffy’s and Macy’s at 6th and 34th. I reach Macy’s after 4 and its a total zoo. Conspicuous consumption at its best. The variety and selection are absolutely overwhelming; like going to Ikea or Costco without a list! I am a dear in headlights! Why did I come here? The ladies shoe department is on the fourth and fifth floors! Two? I might think I’m in heaven. Well, not really. It’s a MESS! So many people you’d think they were giving them away for free. Shoes EVERYWHERE strewn on the floor. It’s so sad. I can’t even be bothered to search for my size. The selection is overwhelming. I think Macy’s best be done from 10-10:30 right when it opens. I leave empty handed :(.
Overall a good shopping trip. Next time I will plan to do it only from opening to noon over two days. I just don’t do crowds well anymore!

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Marrakech’s Medina is a step back in time; traditionally dressed people, souks (markets), confusing little alleys in the souks, noise, sounds, sites and smells. The rush of the motor bikes speeding past you, the stink of the diesel and the cigaret smoking. And there are the cats! All over the place! They walk in everywhere. It’s really mayhem, mad, crazy.
Once outside the Medina you could be in Paris, or even Budapest (not quite North America as there aren’t the sky scrapers of the west). The roads are wider, there are motor cycle lanes (although I don’t know why, no one stays within the lines). We ventured out to the suburbs to a ‘mall’. I suspect only westerners or the wealthy shop here, Benneton, a few French shops and some I don’t recognize. Our cab said he would come back for us, what time? Mall, shopping, come on now, ladies? 2.5 hours including lunch? Ok, 2pm! I was done in half an hour! There are stores, yes, but the quality just was a miss. We stop at Virgin Cafe for lunch. The temperatures are finally in the realm of what we’ve been expecting (little too late, I am fighting a head cold!) and we eat outside.
After lunch we notice another level to this mall; OMG, there is a grocery store (my weakness in a foreign country). We have just enough time to buy the olive oil I wanted (26,95 dirhams, which is about $3 for 500mL!) I am so excited. Sadly it is 2pm and we don’t want to be late for our driver. Our driver shows up and as expected it is the brother. We only paid the first guy 1/2 the agreed cost on the way here, so I am hoping the brother is expecting the other half and does not argue. I am already trying to figure out my French argument! My head hurts from trying to communicate (sadly most of the cabbies only speak French or Arabic and it’s very difficult to communicate a place name that is Arabic/French when I can barely speak French! We’ve tried to write it down – but have discovered most cannot read anything other than Arabic!). Our driver accepts the agreed fee. We go on our merry way.
We bump into our guide from Maison MK cooking class, he recognizes us, and is so HAPPY to meet again, shakes our hands, asks how we enjoyed the class. We ask him if he can make reservations for dinner tonight at Maison MK; he calls on his cell (they call the cell phone GSM) right away. Sadly they are full. We shake hands, he bids us farewell and off we go.
We now need to go to the train station to see if we can buy a first class ticket to Casablanca for tomorrow (1st class is about $10 more!). We bump into our first cabby from this morning and he recognizes us, he comes over and shakes our hand and he gives me his calling card. We take our on/off tour bus (for which we paid two days) to the train station – we should have taken the cab! We are now on Moroccan time (Caribbean time but slower!) getting the train ticket is easier than expected; the station is beautiful, it’s very new and apparently designed in contemporary Moroccan style – it is lovely!
We return to our Ryad, and we’re greeted by Hayat (our guide and translator for our first cooking class) she is SO HAPPY to see us! I asked her if would recommend a place to buy a tajine for me to take home, she asks what size and the next thing I know she’s come up to our room and she’s bought one for us as a gift!!! Have you ever heard of such a thing?
We are now off to Casablanca where we go not get free WIFI, so until next time…
My roast beef sandwich and JTs club did not disappoint.



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Today is our last day in Marrakech. At this time as in most holidays I have a slight feeling if panic – OMG, did we do everything, see everything, experience everything we possibly could have? We didn’t do this, or that, or even that! This holiday is no different. I have regret that we didn’t really step out of our very square box and go to the dessert, but having said that, I am very fatalistic, things happen for a reason, and I am in no position to turn my nose up at fate, and do the opposite! Our time in Marrakech has been enjoyable, and I shall have fond memories of her sites and sounds and the kindness of a few gentle souls.
OK, enough of the mush, back to reality. Yesterday we did a couple of bus tours to get a better lay of the land, I shall add my crappy iPhone shots below, the Canon will come in good time (patience, grasshopper!)
We began our day by walking to the spot where we can find the bus. We are greeted on the street by one of our Ryad servers; he is wearing his ‘celebration best’ and looks quite fetching. He is a man about my age, perhaps a few years younger, with a kind, soft, gentle face. He is SO HAPPY to see us! Have we seen where true Moroccan’s shop? Only the souks, we say. Bah, that’s for tourists, come, come, I’ll show you. We don’t feel threatened or taken. At one point I say to him “you are a great guide” and he responds, taking my hand “no, I am a friend” very touching, and sincerely delivered. He takes us to his favorite Épicier (spice vendor). It’s in the middle of the Jewish area with the synagogue across from it. The guy is young and kind, not pushy. I buy stuff, of course, and he gives us ‘gifts’ a little extra of this, a gift of that. I really enjoyed myself. He was not forceful. I ask us he has Moroccan olive oil, he does, but sadly it is not labelled (probably family made) and I am unsure whether customs would allow it. It has a rich olive taste, unlike any olive oil I’ve tried. It takes a bit to explain why I cannot take it, but he understands and is not insulted. I told him I would cry if customs took it away, which is likely true. We continued on a little tour with our new friend, and then he leaves us with a pleasant goodbye. We bump into him later in the day, meeting on the streets of the medina like old friends. THIS IS MY MOROCCO!
We continue to the bus tour and enjoy the scenes.
Modern Marrakech outside the Medina

McDonalds is here too!

The camels with the Date Palm gardens (did you know dates grew on Palm trees?)

The tallest minaret at the Koutoubia Mosque

Lunch in a contemporary French restaurant of Niçoisse Salad and Vino (come to momma!)



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We made a great breakfast of fried eggs, breakfast sausage, hash-browns and muffins – all made outside on the griddle! We ate plein air at the picnic table. It was a little muggy, but at least it wasn’t raining…yet. Within minutes of cleaning up, the skies opened up and the rain came down like there was no tomorrow! It lasted about an hour, so we waited it out!
We hopped in the car and ventured to down town Montreal, a 30 minute drive. This was Paul and Ts, first time and Bill and Jan’s second time (they were here about 40 or so years ago). As a child, I lived in Montreal in 1967 for a few months when my Dad worked in Expo 67! JT and I have been here many, many times while dating and as a married couple! It’s our little taste of Europe. In Québec, French is their primary language; people do speak English, but everything is French first!
We suggested the gang take a hop on hop off bus tour, which they did; it’s a great way to get an overview of the city. These tours are pretty pricey (~$48 pp) so JT and I opted out. First stop was lunch: http://www.jardinnelson.com/ we stumbled upon a fantastic inner courtyard at Jardin Nelson with a three piece jazz band! What a find. I had a real taste for a crèpe with béchamel sauce! We shared an order of Caprese salad (in season mini tomatoes and fresh bufalo Mozarrela) with a little pesto and balsamic, yum, yum, yum! And a wonderful spinach and ham crèpe. I find crépes are expensive in Canada, and this one was no different, around $16.
Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 3.5/5, Noise: 3/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).
We reunited with the gang for cocktails at our hotel. The Nelligan (highly recommended) has an incredible roof top patio. I had a delicious vodka martini, straight up, very dry, no olives. I prefer mine stirred and not shaken ;-).
Dinner was our plan from the previous evening: Holder http://www.restaurantholder.com/
I had another caprese salad-I couldn’t help myself, and a very traditionally seasoned steak tartar. Very tasty indeed!
Overall rating (in my opinion): Decor 4/5, service 4/5, food 4/5, Value 4/5, Noise: 2/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).
(I’m posting from my iPhone and the ap doesn’t allow me to re-order my photos, they post where they post!)
I added a few pics of the inside of the rock star bus.






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