Archive | December, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

24 Dec

The holidays are upon us, friends.

Which means a few things:

  1. We’re ensuring the essentials are packed for when we head home: a stack of novels and magazines, the PS3 and Buzz! QuizTV, the Baileys for our coffees and stretchy pants.
  2. We’re looking forward to catching up on sleep, relaxing with loved ones, watching lots of movies and playing outside. Some serious skiing is on the agenda.
  3. For the reasons listed in point #2, we’re bidding you adieu, but only for a short while.

We’ll be back on Monday, January 3. Till then, may you be filled with mirth, eggnog and shortbread cookies.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

~Chris and Michelle


Homemade Christmas Gifts

23 Dec

I was planning to write this morning about an odd remedy for a stomach bug. Not the cheeriest Christmas theme, I realize. But it’s a good story.

However, two nights ago, friends gave us a Christmas present that trumps stomach bugs for a Dec. 23 blog post. I love homemade gifts and this one is fantastic! It’s pretty, tasty and perfected suited to the boy and I. Homemade chocolates and alcohol — ah, these friends know us well.

First, they presented us with the bag, which made awesome clinking sounds as they passed it across the table:

Inside, there were bottles of homemade vanilla-cranberry vodka and spiced rum. The boy wanted to bust into the rum right there in the restaurant but I held him back. Note the awesome labels.

Next, we pulled out these brandied cherries. So cute, don’t you think?

And last but not least, perfect candy cane chocolate bark. I know it’s perfect because I did break into it right there in the restaurant. And, I had another piece with my coffee with morning. Because that’s what I do on Dec. 23.

Thank you so much, J&M!

~ Chris

Three More Sleeps

22 Dec

Christmas is just three sleeps away and, like a kid, I’m counting them down.

There are so many things I’m looking forward to. Here’s a handful of them:

  • Making sugar cookies with my mom while listening to Boney M.’s Christmas Album. (Mary’s Boy Child may be my favourite Christmas song ever.)
  • Cross-country skiing with my dad. It’s so much fun, great exercise and I always appreciate the refresher on how to wax my skis. Waxing is not my strong suit.
  • Sitting around the tree at my parents’ house on Christmas eve and eating mandarin oranges.
  • Waking up on Christmas morning. That’s it. Just waking. I love the first moment of the day,  knowing that fun, family and food is ahead. When I was a little girl, those first moments were awe-filled; the 24th was the only night my parents left the outdoor Christmas lights on overnight, and I thought the glow from them outside my window was actually from Santa’s sleigh. So exciting.
  • The pose my brother makes every Christmas morning. Whether it’s to feign surprise when opening socks or to pretend he’s using the cooking utensil he’s just been given, Brent’s pose makes me laugh every time.

  • Watching The Family Stone and Love Actually — my top two Christmas movies.
  • Playing Hearts with the whole family. And being prepared for when my dad inevitably goes for power; someone usually takes the bullet and keeps a heart or two to thwart his attempts.
  • Relaxing. It’s been a busy year. I’m pumped to spend plenty of time sipping hot chocolate, reading magazines and enjoying the view from my parents’ place:

Just three more sleeps. I can’t wait.


World’s Best Dark Chocolate Bark

21 Dec

Lovers of dark chocolate, be warned. What you are about to read could change your life. If not your life, definitely your waistline.

Several Christmases ago, I went on a mission to find the best dark chocolate bark recipe on the planet. I experimented with flavours, brands and toppings. I taste-tested myself into drawstring pants. Many recipes were pretty good (a pistachio/cherry version looked particularly Christmas-y) but one was mind-blowing. My take on this popular recipe from epicurious has become my go-to Christmas treat.

Milk chocolate and white chocolate lovers are always nonplussed by it. But to dark chocolate lovers, this stuff is the bomb. I still get chocolate requests from yoga teachers that I haven’t seen in years.


  • 6 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 2 cups dried chopped apricots
  • 2 cups almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped ginger
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
  • 36 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped (I’ve always preferred Bernard Callibaut. I haven’t been able to get my hands on Bernard’s new Papa Chocolat yet.)


  • Finely grind anise in an electric coffee/spice grinder.
  • Cover two baking sheets with apricots, figs, ginger and almonds.

  • Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a small saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

  • Stir anise into chocolate. Pour over fruit mixture.
  • Chill until firm, about 30 minutes, then break into pieces.

Put on drawstring pants. Enjoy!


A Calgary Christmas Miracle

20 Dec

“Your only option is a crane.”

These are words no one ever hopes to hear. Especially, I might add, when you’re a single girl who lives on the fourth floor of an apartment building and you’re watching delivery guys trying to squeeze a new couch through the front door.

And yet, there we were. The guys, my gorgeous new Leo sofa from EQ3 wedged between my door and the stairwell opening, and me. Before I had time to panic on a grand scale — I was already envisioning my couch sitting outside overnight, giving wild dogs a place to burrow — the delivery guy suggested I call a crane operator.

A crane?

As if, I thought. Even if the crane operator could lift the sofa to (and through) my balcony doors, what are the chances he’d be free when we called?

Pretty good, actually.

Dennis picked up on the first ring, showed up within the hour and, within 20 minutes, had lifted my sofa to my balcony doors. To me, he was Santa, performing a Christmas miracle with his crane of a sleigh.

Now, here’s what amazes me about Calgary. A few weeks ago, I tried to catch a cab from a friend’s Christmas party. It took me a full hour to reach a taxi company and another two before one even showed up.

Catching a cab in Calgary? Impossible. Having a crane show up at your door? Easy peasy.


An Outfit for Christmas Morning

17 Dec

I laughed when a friend asked if we still sleep at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. Of course we do! And we probably always will. Where else will Santa find us?

There’s something enchanting about being at my parent’s home on Christmas Eve, drinking wine on the couch as my mom goes through the night-before preparations. I perform the very important job of providing the evening’s entertainment — like impromptu Lady Gaga dance-off’s and taste-testing baklava. Eventually, my parents go to bed and I, in my old age, have adopted the role of chief elf. I stuff the stockings, put the presents under the tree and set the breakfast table for the morning.

Our morning routine is pretty typical. We sit around in our p.j.’s, opening presents and snacking on chocolate. Someone usually runs about with a camera, recording the family bedhead and worn-out sweatpants for posterity.

Which is why it’s a wise idea to put a little planning into my Christmas morning outfit. Here’s a look that I’m loving for this year…

These cute striped pyjamas from Idlewild London (For our American readers, Canadians spell p.j.’s “pyjamas,” not “pajamas.” One of those British empire holdovers, I suppose.):

With my crazy curly hair, I’ll be rocking a monster afro Christmas morning. I’d love to keep a lid on the curls with this luxury cashmere Santa hat from Karen Meyer’s Etsy shop:

I have chronically cold feet so warm slippers are a must. At a recent local art market, I spotted these super soft slippers by the small Ontario company Hides in Hand. I’ve been dreaming of them ever since:

I’ll be picture-perfect and present-ready.


PS — One of my favourite boutiques, Shisomiso, has 25% off all clothing right now. If anyone wants to buy me the blue-and-white coat in the window, I’m cool with that.

Run, Eat, Love the Recipe

16 Dec

My typical Sunday morning routine involves peanut butter and jam on toast, coffee, a stack of newspapers and magazines, and an extreme aversion to changing out of my pajamas.

Last Sunday morning was not typical. At 10:30 a.m., I met up with my fantastic trainer from Innovative Personal Fitness, Kevin, and other gym clients and trainers for a trail run in a southeast Calgary neighbourhood. The weather was chilly — minus 10 — but it didn’t matter.  Hearing snow crunch under my runners, feeling cold air in my lungs and conquering weather that would usually keep me indoors felt amazing.

(Really, I was just proud of myself for putting on real clothes before 2 p.m.)

We ran six kilometres and ended the run feeling warm-ish and hungry. That’s when we headed to a nearby Superstore for a cooking class. The theme? Healthy Christmas recipes.

The standout recipe was the appetizer, called Smoked Tuna Boats. We all loved these simple, fresh and uber tasty wraps. I think they’d be perfect to serve when hosting a Christmas dinner or party of your own. Or to serve yourself, when you’re flying solo, need a quick dinner and are tired of eating Mini Wheats.

Smoked Tuna Boats

  • 1 tbsp creamy horseradish sauce *you can buy this at Superstore, another grocery store or just make your own
  • 12 Belgian endive leaves
  • 1 package (150 g) PC Smoked Wild Albacore Tuna
  • 1 small radish, halved and thinly sliced
  • 12 thin slices green onion, cut on diagonal

Place a tiny dollop of horseradish sauce on rectangular end of each endive leaf. Divide smoked tuna slices among endive leaves, placing on top of horseradish sauce. Top each with a slice of radish and a slice of green onion. Enjoy.

The whole experience — the run, the class, the laughs — was so fantastic that I thought, “From now on, I will do more with my Sunday mornings. There are trails to run and mountains to ski!”

And then I thought, “But, let’s not act crazy. That stack of magazines won’t read itself.”

I have the sneaking suspicion that a complete overhaul of my Sunday morning routine is not going to pan out.


Books for Bookworms

15 Dec

I read like mad. I always did. When I was a kid, I read so much that the local librarian called my mom. She was worried about how much time I spent reading. I think she thought I’d grow up to be weird.

Moving right along, I thought you might enjoy my favourite reads from 2010. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Room, by Emma Donoghue

Michelle gave me this book for my birthday, with her glowing recommendation. Even so, I was stunned at this book. I picked it up one afternoon for a quick break from work. I ended up skipping the rest of the day and played hooky from yoga that night. I wolfed dinner and crawled in bed until it was finished. I wish I’d read it slower so that I could’ve relished it for more than one day.

2. The Most Beautiful Book in the World, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

I attended a reading by Schmitt during the 2009 WordFest and I’ve loved him ever since. My favourite line: “That day she became categorically certain of two things: that he annoyed her, profoundly, and, if she could, she would never leave him.”

3. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

I picked this up for a feature I was writing a piece on happiness for the Calgary Herald. Rubin applies a lot of common sense ideas about happiness to real life. This book made me clean out my closet.

4. When A Crocodiles Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, by Peter Godwin.

Africa comes to life. Godwin is an amazing writer. The following passage reminds me of my family’s home in Cyprus:

“If I were a swallow, Chimanimani is the place that my avian navigation system would draw me back to. It’s my true north, the fixed
point by which I situate all other points, the closest place I have to a spiritual home.”

5. Born to Run:A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Fascinating for anyone who loves to run or for anyone who wants to love to run.

6. A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, written by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Werner Zimmerman

I wish there were more little kids in my life so I could buy them this book. I read in last weekend in Fernie. Gorgeous photos and some very funny Canadian-isms like curling squirrels and Maple Leaf’s a-leaping.

Healthy Takeout from The Coup

14 Dec

We spent the weekend in Fernie, the first of many weekend trips we’ll take to this BC ski town over winter. What a fun start to the season: the snow was in abundance for early December but the crowds were not. We skied ourselves silly and toasted to our sore muscles with beers at the Griz bar on Saturday afternoon. It was a weekend of catching up with family and friends, of eating delicious sushi at Yamagoya and of devouring bagels from Big Bang Bagels, our favorite bagels outside of Montreal.

It was not a weekend with a notable presence of vegetables.

As we were driving back into Calgary Sunday night, I complained of tiredness. I pointed out tiredness is a symptom of scurvy and I, like the sailors of old, had developed scurvy due to insufficient fruit and veggie intake.  S. questioned the scurvy diagnosis but agreed veggies for dinner would be well-advised.

Easier said than done, however. We were in the middle of nowhere with two growling stomachs and a overwhelming desire get home and stay home. Unfortunately, at home, sat an empty fridge.

We debated takeout pizza but pie wouldn’t cut it. Grocery store? My legs hurt just at the thought. Restaurant? S. said his head would fall off, bounce off the table and roll down the floor.

Then, divine inspiration struck. I remembered that the Coup — that local worship-house for vegetarians — offers takeaway.

We called in our order and, 100-plus kilometers later, we picked up our recyclable boxes stuffed with veggie tacos, falafel quesadillas and heaping colourful salads.

We ate dinner sitting in front of the TV because we were too tired to sit at the table.

The verdict: Fantastic. Even the boy liked it. The Coup continues to have the best veggie fare in the city. Now, it gets my vote for healthiest takeout, too. And, in case you were wondering, turns out I don’t have scurvy.


A Toque For Everyone On Your List

13 Dec

Is anyone else stressed that Christmas is less than two weeks away? We’ve still got parents, siblings and friends to shop for. We’re buying — what else? — toques.

In case you’re in the same gift-shopping predicament, here’s a sampling of some of the coolest ones we’ve come across so far.

For the stylish friend who always complains of cold, this fun, furry number from American Eagle:

For the stylish friend who loves all things high-end and French, one of these Columbia Berets by Louis Vuitton:

For the dad who always wears crazy party sweaters, this colourful — but not overly bright — Coal toque, available at Purr:

For the mom who swears she does not look good in hats, this soft, chunky knit toque from J. Crew:

For the brother who still wears that black toque he’s worn for the last decade, this Fair Isle beanie from Banana Republic. It’s super soft and quietly stylish enough that he won’t groan when he opens it:

For the sister with crazy curly hair who frequently needs a hair disguise, this swinging tassel trapper from Anthropologie:

For the world’s cutest baby — the one that never cries when you hold it — this elf-cute stocking hat from Adorable Organics’ Etsy shop:

Last but not least, for you — because you deserve it — this chunky wool beanie from FCUK:

Have fun shopping!

~The Toque Girls

PS – Club Monaco has 30% off on their toques today.

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