Things We Like Fridays

12 Aug

Where are you off to this weekend? Anywhere fun?

As you read this, Chris is packing her bags for a train trip to Kingston. When she gets on the train, she’s going to surprise S. with a picnic of treats from Murray’s Market. It’s the cutest shop with locally produced meats, cheese and bread. She’s thinking elk salami, Niagara prosciutto, a mix of cheese and veggies, along with fresh bread.

Have a great one!

~The Toque Girls


Training For A Half Marathon

11 Aug

The other day, I realized how quickly the Big Sur Half Marathon is coming up. My first thought: “Ooh, I better get on training for that.” My second thought: “Okay Michelle, try not do something stupid like accidentally tear ANOTHER toenail off.”

I have  to log some serious mileage the next few months and am in the midst of hunting for a great training schedule. My friend passed this one along from Shape magazine, and it looks pretty doable. It also looks flexible enough that I can incorporate strength training, which I don’t plan to give up. (If you have any recommendations on schedules you like, please let me know!)

I’m so excited for this race. Not only will it be a fun girls’ weekend — I’m meeting up with my friend Kelly, who lives in Cali — but it will be a chance to put all the training I’ve been doing this past year to good use. I also figure it will be great motivation to keep running outside once the cooler weather hits. (It pains me just to write “cooler weather.” Sigh.)

As excited as I am, I have a few concerns, things like:

  • Will my right knee give me shooting pains again? About 10 years ago, I was halfway through training for a full marathon when my knee konked out on me. When I was 13 years old, I messed my knee up while tubing at the lake and ripped some “non-essential tissue,” according to my sports doctor. But in the midst of my marathon training, the shooting pain started. I couldn’t run for two months and missed the race. (I also determined that my “non-essential tissue” seemed pretty, um, essential.) Anyways, I’m hopeful that by cutting down to a half marathon — and by increasing my mileage slowly — I’ll protect my knee from injury.
  • Will I be able to handle the hilly race? Hills scare me, but I’m getting better thanks to advice from a running guru. He suggested I lean forward slightly and land more on the balls of my feet (as opposed to the heels) while running up heels. It’s a big help.
  • Will competing in the 2011 Wineman Duathlon, which I covered last year for Maclean’s, hinder my training? If the name doesn’t give it away, the duathlon involves two things: running and drinking. I had fun just watching the race last year and think I could handle the “sprint” distance, which is three miles and four beers. Here are a few athletes from last year’s event:
Actually, I retract my concern. Being in a race with Shawn Muldrew, No. 436 pictured above, I’ll probably vastly improve my running. Shawn, the reigning champ, set a new record last year — he ran six miles and chugged seven beers in less than 37 minutes. Less than 37 minutes! Amazing. The best I can hope for is just to not break any of the rules.
  • Last but not least, I need a new running hat. What colour should I buy? Stressful, I know.

Training starts soon, so I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.


K-Way Jackets

10 Aug

I learned my lesson today. White shirts are dangerous and should never be worn in public without a backup.

No, I didn’t spill soy sauce or fall in the mud.

Instead, I walked to a coffee shop about 20 minutes from home while wearing a white boyfriend shirt with a black lace bra underneath. I didn’t bring a jacket or an umbrella.

Don’t forget the bra. That’s a critical detail.

Two hours later, I got up to head home. I packed up my things and walked out the door of the shop. Right then, the sky cracked. It started to rain cats and dogs and some elephants and monkeys, too.

And I started to run, looking very much like a girl who had been signed up in a wet T-shirt competition as a joke.

Lucky for me, I like coffee shops that are surrounded by fun independent boutiques. They don’t sell things like umbrellas. But they do sell….K-way jackets!

Do you remember these?

Remember the best part? You can pack them up like this…

This is me after my walk home.

My husband burst out laughing as soon as he saw me. Thus, the extreme lack of focus. Sorry about that. He was shaking and gasping for air at the time. I don’t know why. I thought I looked quite good for someone who just walked home in the rain with a bag full of groceries.

I know. You want a K-Way, too.


Toffee Almond Squares

9 Aug

Remember when I said I would have Martin and Chris over for brunch? I hosted them on Sunday, along with my friend, Jen.

Trying out new recipes for company completely and totally stresses me out, but I couldn’t let the fear stop me — there were too many new things I wanted to try. In the end, I chose not one, two or three new recipes. No sirree. I made six new recipes and am delighted to say that I’d make them all again.

First, we had a peach white wine sangria and prosciutto crescent rolls. Next, we had bacon-wrapped eggs with polenta (recipe is here) served on a bed of spring greens with sherry vinaigrette (and find that here). Last, we had toffee almond squares, as well as a fruit salad spiked with Triple Sec and topped with lemon yogurt.

Before I get to the squares, let’s discuss the bacon-wrapped eggs with polenta. I may be addicted. They look gourmet and taste just as great — even reheated the next day. Something to note: I drove around trying to find a muffin tin with extra-big cups for this recipe. I’ll save you the journey and suggest you head to Williams-Sonoma to grab the Brooksters pan. Works like a charm.

As for the squares, I’d been wanting to try a recipe from the Island Lake Lodge cookbook forever. Forever = since Christina gave it to me nearly a year ago as a thank you for reading at her beautiful wedding in Fernie.

Many of the book’s recipes are quite involved, but I figured I could handle the toffee almond squares. Plus, anything toffee reminds me of how much I used to love Mackintosh’s Toffee as a kid. So, off I went. And eat and enjoy them, we did.

Toffee Almond Squares


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tbsp water
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • 2 oz. good-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
BASE Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In a medium bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until well combined. Beat in butter and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture until well combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into centre of base comes out clean.
TOPPING In a small saucepan, heat sugar, syrup, butter, water and salt over medium heat, stirring until melted. Bring to a boil, then boil gently for 4 minutes. Pour over base. Sprinkle evenly with almonds. Return pan to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes or until just set. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack.
In a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt chocolate until almost smooth. Remove bowl from the heat. Stir chocolate until smooth. With the tines of a fork, drizzle chocolate evenly over almonds. Set aside until chocolate sets. Cut into squares.
Makes about 24.

Whether you try the egg dish or the squares (or both, to which I would say, “good call”) I hope you enjoy.


Airport Manicures

8 Aug

I hate leaving on a trip without a fresh manicure. But a pre-trip manicure rarely happens. More often than not, I leave for the airport with my nails in a state of disgrace. That’s the way I roll.

On our trip to Ottawa last weekend, I tried out a new-to-me concept: the airport manicure. Usually, my poorly-cared-for nails and I just sprint by the airport spas without a glance. But with a long unplanned delay in Toronto, I headed over for a manicure at 10 Minute Manicure.

Consider me sold. The staff are great about asking when your flight boards and where your gate is so you’re not late. They take into account whether you’re wearing flipflops before considering a pedicure. They made sure my id and boarding pass were in a wet-nail-accessible place. And the prices are great for an airport. A 10-minute mani starts at $15.

I’m done stressing about pre-trip manicures. From now on, I’m all about the airport spa. Check out all their airport locations here.

Now, we just need a nail bar beyond the security barrier in the Calgary airport. If they can build a tunnel to the airport, surely a decent manicure spot is a reasonable request?


Things We Like Fridays

5 Aug

Yo-ho, Friday! The workweek always feels so tough after a long weekend, don’t you think?

And when you move halfway across the country over the long weekend and the first morning back at work comes two hours earlier than normal, the workweek happens on a whole different level of horror.

Chris plans to spend the weekend setting a PB for hours spent on patios, offset by some geeky touristing on bikes. Michelle’s weekend will involve a girls’ night out, good workouts and some freelance work, too.

On our list for the week:

  • Our jaws dropped at this photo essay called “Where Children Sleep“.
  • And we loved this piece by Joanna Goddard on how to talk to little girls. It’ll forever change what we say to little girls. (Hmmm, there’s a kid theme this week. Someone misses their nephews terribly.)
  • Skype works well for cooing at nephews from a distance. But the best tool for making free long distance calls to a land line is Google Talk. It’s a lifesaver for freelancers working away from home.
  • Our limbs thanked us for purchasing exfoliating gloves from Quorra. We are now smooth from head to toe.
  • Burgers at The Trop. Michelle ate there for the first time this week and was impressed. She was even more impressed when she discovered The Trop allows you to choose two side sishes. Yum.
  • Paddywax candles, made with recycled wine bottles, make for a beautiful hostess or housewarming gift. The collection, found recently at Steeling Home, features fantastic scent combos like Bordeaux Fig and Vetiver.

~The Toque Girls

7 Ways To Improve Your Health

4 Aug

In June, I gave a presentation to a group of accountants at the Hyatt. The subject? How to slim down, power up and improve overall health and wellbeing.

I’ve written about health for a long time, for publications like the Calgary Herald (where I had a heath column for three years) and magazines like Chatelaine and Maclean’s.

So when I was asked to speak about health, I decided to talk about some of the top tips I’ve received from the experts — the advice that I incorporate into my own life and am always yakking about to friends and family.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, not only to share the advice but also to give you the heads up about a wicked presentation tool called Prezi.  I won’t try to explain it, but you can check out my Prezi here to see what it’s all about. Just hit the arrow at the bottom to scroll through or hit the home icon at the top of the pop-up menu on the right side to see it from afar.

Now, back to the advice. I grouped the seven tips into two categories: things we should all do a little less of and things we should all do a little more of. I based it all on interviews I’ve done with health gurus like Andrew Weil, John Berardi, Sam Graci and Dr. Oz.

Without further ado, here are the 3 things we should all do a little less of:

  • Drink booze. We all know alcohol has some downfalls, like containing empty calories, fueling drunken eating sessions (not to mention decisions) and being hard on the liver. But what really caught my attention was a series of studies that came out a few years ago and linked alcohol to cancer. The most comprehensive came from the World Cancer Research Fund and said that, ideally, we would all avoid alcohol. If we must drink, the organization recommends sticking to one drink a day for women, two a day for men.
  • Eat salt. Studies show that Canadians consume way too much salt and that roughly 3/4 of it comes from processed foods — not the salt you add to your own foods. That’s why it’s important to avoid packaged, processed foods and stick to whole, homemade foods as often as possible. And a little trick for when you’re eating out, a la Sam Graci: ask the chef to add no salt to your entree.
  • Eat white food. Andrew Weil says that consumption of white flour and sugar  is driving today’s obesity epidemic. So, it makes sense that his No. 1 weight loss tip is to stop eating all things made with white flour and sugar (or to reduce what you consume, as best you can).

And the 4 things we should all do a little more of:

  • Eat a high-quality, high-protein breakfast soon after waking. Eating a good breakfast first thing in the morning means you kickstart your metabolism and set yourself up for success throughout the day. Ditching high-sugar foods like cereal and instant, flavoured oatmeal is a good idea, as is adding good proteins like eggs, cottage cheese and lean turkey. Studies have shown that protein-rich breakfasts encourage greater weight loss and a smaller waist size. Tim Ferriss is a big believer in breakfast and adheres to the “30 within 30” rule: 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking. That’s a lot of protein, but it’s a good way to remember that incorporating protein at breakfast is key.
  • Eat veggies. John Berardi once told me he eats 10 to 15 servings of veggies a day. Impressive stuff. I’ve always tried to emulate his veggie-eating ways, by doing things like making a big green salad for breakfast and topping it with eggs or using grated veggies as “noodles’ in pasta dishes. (I’ve written about that before here.)
  • Lift weights. Strength training, whether with actual weights or just your own body weight, is so important. It’s good for building and maintaining muscle mass, it burns calories well after you’ve finished exercising and it gives your body that toned, strong look. Dr. Oz stresses that strength training is extra important as we age, because we produce less muscle-building hormones.
  • Sleep. Aim to get 7 to 8 hours a night and enlist the help of some sleeping tools, if need be. I use the Philips dawn simulator to wake up and I often use a sleeping mask to fall asleep. One tip: hide the mask before you have house parties, otherwise your friends will discover it, think it’s hilarious and hijack it for pictures. See evidence in the Prezi. Or just see below:

And that’s all, friends. I hope you were able to glean one or two helpful nuggets from this crazy long blog post. If not, I hope it lulled you into a restful sleep — something we all could use a little more of, anyway.


Life In Ottawa

3 Aug

I’m here in Ottawa, my home for the next month. The boy is completing a month of training in Ottawa and I came along for the adventure.

I spent five years here as an undergrad eons ago. We didn’t have blogs back in my time. Between then and now, I forgot what a wonderful city this is in the summer. Warm weather, great restaurants with reams of patio space, countless pubs, history, architecture, art, and running and biking paths galore.

We found a one-bedroom apartment to sublet in Lower Town. Depending on which direction you walk, we’re in a beautiful neighbourhood with grand old homes and a view of the Gatineau Hills or a super-dodgy urban hood where eye contact with strangers is ill-advised. We also have a view of Parliament Hill. See? (Look closely. We took this photo with my phone because I forgot my camera back in Alberta.)

The boy bikes to work along the canal every morning at 5:45. I sleep in for a bit and then do a home yoga practice. We both work all day and I finish off with a run along one of the great pathways. Tonight, for instance, I cruised by the Prime Minister’s residence.

Almost every evening so far, we’ve walked to Byward Market for dinner al fresco. Stella Osteria is my favourite so far. Check out this fig pizza:

Our kitchen is pretty small and poorly equipped. We have no spices, one cooking pot and two flimsy knives that bend on impact with a tomato. Still, I’m intent on cooking here if only to justify buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. Who could resist?

                                                                                   Photo by Brandon Senior

After all that eating, our plan is to rent road bikes one weekend and go riding in Gatineau Park. It’s an ambitious plan, which will involve a steep climb. But I think this looks pretty irresistible, don’t you?

                                                                                Photo from


Sharp Corners, Bad Owies

2 Aug

A few months ago, I banged my shin on the corner of my bed frame as I was making the bed. My skin split open and eventually bruised. Now, I have a lovely little scar as a reminder.

You’d think I’d be able to navigate the sharp corners of my own bed frame. It’s not new. It’s not in a different spot in my room. All this considered, I blame my clumsiness that day on my lack of caffeine.

However, maybe I should start blaming it on my genes.

Look closely at these three shins and see if you notice anything in particular:

That’s my shin on the left, my grandmother’s in the middle and my mom’s on the right — and we all have scars from sharp bed frame corners. My mom landed hers on my parents’ frame at home; my grandmother’s scar is more exotic and hails from a bed frame on a cruise ship.

Discovering that we’ve all cut ourselves up like this made me feel better. And I have a sneaking suspicion that we three ladies are not the only people to have lost a fight with the corner of our beds.

Regardless, next time I buy a bed, I might look for a rounded frame. And padded corners.


Things We Like

29 Jul

Hello friends.

Are you as excited about the long weekend as we are?

Michelle is off to her family’s cabin for some sun and relaxation, and Chris is off to Ottawa for a month-long working vacation — more work than vacation, likely. Do send your Ottawa recommendations, please! She needs running routes, shops, sushi spots, delicious pizza and sandwiches.

We’ll be back blogging on Tuesday. Till then, here’s what we’re digging this week:

  • Long summer weekends = many summer cocktails. Keep ’em healthy with these delicious recipes.
  • Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo Spray. On the days Michelle has used it to pump up her post-workout hair, she’s received more compliments than when her hair is squeaky clean. She may never wash her hair again.
  • So here’s the problem with our yoga poses at that time of the month.
  • Philosophy Hope In a Jar moisturizer. So lightweight and luxurious.
  • Did you know that you can make your own Crave Cupcakes at home? They’ve posted their favourite recipes.
  • With a float down the Bow River, a lunch catered by the Main Dish and all proceeds going to the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta, the inaugural Float To End Cancer on August 21 sounds like a blasty blast. Michelle’s friends, Shawna and Murray Heber — married chiropractors and owners of Elite Sports Therapy — are the wonderful people behind the cause.
We leave you with this picture, which was taken on the August long weekend last year. We were at Michelle’s cabin and coerced all our girlfriends to wear toques for some blog-friendly shots. Good sports, they were.
Happy long weekend!

~The Toque Girls

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