I’m going to come out and admit it: I’m having a rough month.  I guess the anticipation of a new year is sometimes better than the new year itself, especially when you’re only 3 weeks into it.

I’ve been feeling bored and blah and sorry for myself, even though one of my new year’s resolutions was explicitly NOT to feel sorry for myself.  In fact, I’ve been having a hard time sticking to my resolutions in general and letting myself feel defeated.  I’ve found that even the most simple-sounding goals can be surprisingly difficult to put into action.

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The short days, monotony of the work week, and polar vortex are all obviously contributing, but the main reason I find myself in this funk might make you laugh.  When it comes to my self, I’m a bit of a serious perfectionist, which causes me to become overly dramatic when something goes wrong.  Right now, I’m feeling like a 62-year-old stuck in a 22-year-old’s body.  I’ve been working for months to rehabilitate my knees, only to start feeling more pain as well as clicks, cracks and pops in literally every single other joint.  I try to keep my mind off of it, but it’s hard when I feel/hear it with every move I make.  To cap it off, exactly three of my fingers and three of my toes are swollen, with X-rays and three rounds of blood work so far yielding no explanation.

“What is going on?!?!?! Do I have arthritis? Is it a lost cause? Am I never going to be able to do all the things I love, like run or dance, again?” – My brain.  Give me a break, brain.

I’m waiting for my beloved springtime, with its sunshine, flowers, birdsong and boundless hope, to come and rescue me.

In the meantime, I’m starting a gratitude journal.

Stay POSITIVE!!!,

Caj

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You’ve already read about my adventures in Québec with my family, but that only sums up half of my holiday travels.  The week after going to BSP, I flew out to Calgary to spend a week with Kyle.  Of course, no good travel plans go at least partially unfoiled – Kyle’s flight from Campbell River was delayed and he had to drive to Nanaimo, take the ferry to Vancouver and then race to the airport in order to barely make it onto a later flight to Calgary.  It was 4am Toronto time by the time we went to bed!

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Each morning was spent just the way I like it: leisurely, with a hearty breakfast.  We ate a lot of eggs, turkey bacon, and grapefruit. In fact, we made a lot of great meals that week–fish tacos, kale-sausage spaghetti and my personal favourite, bison chili.  We more or less followed this recipe from my August visit to CR but with a special ingredient that kicked it up an extra notch: Granville Island Lions Winter Ale.  The notes of vanilla, chocolate and caramel perfectly complement the bison meat and healthy dose of cinnamon.  Consumed while Kyle re-introduced me to the Star Wars saga (I haven’t seen the movies since I was really little, at which point I paid no attention to them anyways).

Other culinary highlights included taco take-out from Los Chilitos and my personal favourite, dinner at Home Tasting Room.  Kyle hates when I take photos of food when I am out with other people, but I obsessed so much over the bison tartare that I needed to document it for later reference.  Sorry, Kyle…

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Actually, of the two tasting plates we shared–this + a chive-ricotta gnocchi, pictured in the background–I much preferred the tartare and Kyle much preferred the gnocchi, so I was lucky enough to get most of the tartare to myself. 🙂 For our mains we both wanted to order the seared pork loin, but I changed my mind at the last minute and ordered duck l’orange and was SO glad I did.  I definitely recommend this restaurant if you are in the Calgary area.

Over the week, we did a bunch of walking around the city, exploring downtown and feeling super grateful that the buildings in the downtown core are all connected with overpasses so you don’t have to freeze your tush off.

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We took a little walk along Bow River, where families and friends were skating on the ice:

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And because I applied to the University of Calgary, we did a walkabout of the campus.

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After our homecooked pasta dinner on New Year’s Eve, we headed to National on 17th to ring in the New Year.  Included in our entry tickets were mussels, oysters, sliders, a craft beer tasting, and of course a champagne toast.  Oh and, can’t forget all the crucial NYE headgear and paraphernalia:

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^ Looks pretty empty in this picture, but it filled up quickly, and we amused ourselves with a lot of people-watching.  Another thing I should note about National 17th is that they have an amazing beer selection.

The most perplexing/amusing part of our week was when we drove to Lake Louise for a day of snowshoeing.  First we arrived at the hotel, where we couldn’t rent snowshoes but could take some pretty great photos…

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Then we made our way over to the ski resort, where we rented snowshoes before being told that it is “too dangerous” to go snowshoeing on your own.  We had to join a guided snowshoe tour, which we were totally fine with, but little did we know that this “tour” is actually “designed for beginners and includes a brief introduction to snowshoeing where your instructor will show you how to use this easy and fun equipment,” as described on the website.  In other words, do not do this tour unless you have never seen a snowshoe before.  We walked within viewing distance of the chairlift, stopping every 60 seconds to hear fun facts about the surrounding nature and wildlife.  So I guess, do this tour if you are more interested in nature and wildlife facts than you are about getting some exercise.

We just laughed it off, and I happily sipped some Bailey’s hot chocolate on the drive back home (I hope this is implied, but I was not driving).

We wrapped up the week with a leisurely coffee date at Caffe Beano, a super-hip coffee shop a few blocks down the street.  It was cozy, my hazelnut latte was perfection and the fresh-baked bread smelled amazing.  If I lived in Calgary I think it would become a regular haunt.

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Keep exploring!

Caj

P.S. I’ve seen a lot of great Oscar-buzz movies in the last little while: Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, but I can’t stop raving about Her.  Have you seen it?  What’s your pick for best movie?

The week of Christmas, I went away with my family to the charming little town of Baie-Saint-Paul (henceforth known as BSP), Québec, about an hour and a half north-east of Québec City.  It was the first time all five of us had gone away together in five years, and it was almost surprising how much of a blast we had in that little town.  Our time away taught me that you really don’t have to go that far to take a much-welcomed break from reality–and to experience an entirely different culture and landscape.

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To be fair, though BSP doesn’t seem like it would be that far, it was a huge struggle to get there.  Because of the ice storm, our flight was delayed over and over until it was finally cancelled 8 hours after we arrived at the airport.  From there, our only option was to take the 10-hour train (plus a 90 min drive) the next day.

All totally worth it.

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We stayed at Hôtel La Ferme, a farm-inspired yet completely modern hotel in the heart of BSP.  It has multiple buildings, and each has gorgeous rooms of entirely different layouts and styles.  They really think of everything there – you can tell that every last detail has been carefully planned.

Some highlights of the hotel include delicious food, including a killer breakfast buffet (not pictured):

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(Food was also great in town; shout-out to Mouton Noir for the biggest and best pork roast/pot pie I will ever consume)

$5 skate rentals, plus a rink in the courtyard (side note: this was my first time skating.  I quit my lessons at age 6, telling my parents I only liked going for the fries and poutine I got to eat afterwards…no comment):

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A spa, and a little train to and from the ski hills:

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The main attraction for our trip was the skiing/snowboarding at Le Massif de Charlevoix, just a short drive away.  After all our travelling, we decided just to ease into our winter sports by snowshoeing on our first day.

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On Christmas morning, we woke up bright and early, indulged in the breakfast buffet, and then made our way back over to Le Massif for 8:30am sledding.  The entire adventure took two hours on a 7.5 km trail, and it was SO FUN.  I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.  DO IT if you ever get the chance.

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And one day we actually, y’know, just went skiing.  Jaclyn and I hadn’t attempted it in 12 years, so we took a lesson to begin with.  Our instructor Simon (pronounced the French way, see-MOH) was a little disconcerted after we told him we were beginners, and especially after seeing my attempt to “skate” to the chairlift, but eventually decided we were amusing and cheered us on as we made it down the mountain.  For real, I faced a couple of fears that week in learning to ski and skate – winter sports have never been my forté.

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On our last day, we took the time to explore the town of BSP.  The town is known for its arts and culture, and the streets are literally lined with art galleries and artisans, like this little shop of woolen goods:

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(Soaps coated in wool for washing and exfoliating)

And Fraîcheurs et Saveurs, where my dad was happy as a kid in a candy store:

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Restez fougueux,

Carly

I love new years and the promise they bring: a fresh start, a new and sunny outlook.  I am an avid goal-setter, so coming up with resolutions is no difficult task for me.  What is difficult is refining my list.  Here’s my problem: it’s so easy for me to generate a super-long list of resolutions just by visualizing my “ideal self”, but I’m never going to realize that ideal if I try to improve upon every single aspect of myself at once.  I’d be better off choosing a select few goals at a time (it feels like high school when I was always struggling to shave that extra page off my essays…some things never change).

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The other no-no is making goals that are at all broad or vague, and I’m guilty of many: “eat fewer treats”, “prioritize better”, “be kinder to others”.  All admirable goals, but I accomplish way more if I choose things on which I can actually measure my progress, or even better, cross right off my to-do list.  My floss-every-day resolution circa 2011?  I’m still goin’ strong.

So, what are my priorities right now (even for the month of January alone)?  And how can I break them down to make them realistic?

  1. Be in the moment, by:
  • Putting away my phone when with friends/family, when at work, or when trying to focus on a task.
  • Catching myself when my mind wanders in conversation.
  • Engaging more in small talk.
  • Really savouring every bite and every sip.

      2.  Prioritize and be punctual, by:

  • Actually getting up when my alarm goes off.
  • Making a list of the three (more or less) most important things to get done that day, and not worrying so much about everything else.
  • Leaving home with enough time + at least 10 minutes to get where I need to be.

3.   Make more of my own meals, by:

  • Generating meal ideas, and going grocery shopping, on Sundays.
  • Preparing work lunches (and breakfasts, if necessary) the night before.

      4.   Be more fearless, by:

  • No longer googling every last symptom, in order to stop feeling sorry for myself.
  • Stop letting my knee problems hold me back from doing the things I really love – it’s not worth it.
  • Putting a smile on my face as much as possible.

I’m a little skeptical about whether #3 will stick, but I’m feeling good about the others.

Stay ambitious,

Caj

P.S. Stay tuned for more regular posts in 2014!

While my more-mature big sister has come to terms with the bleak realities associated with December birthdays, I haven’t quite reached that point.  I will confess that my birthday is still a big deal to me–perhaps childishly so.  The thing is, as long as I can remember, it has fallen right smack in the middle of holiday madness and–until this year–exams.  Without fail, my schedule would gift me with an exam the day after my birthday, keeping me cooped up in the library while my friends were either also studying or already home (yes, I am requesting a tiny violin).

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I don’t mean to sound demanding or self-indulgent: For me, it’s just become about finding ways to inject little sources of joy into my day.  That could mean getting a free Starbucks drink, redeeming my mini beauty gift at Sephora, wearing my favourite outfit, or making a reservation at one of the many restaurants on my list.  With time, I have mastered the art of finding joy in the little things.  This year felt a little extra-special, though: I was lucky enough to ring in my day at the Beyoncert (a term I have just coined, you’re welcome) and to celebrate with a group of 20+ friends, and I felt completely dumbstruck, blessed and ecstatic about both.

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More than anything, though, I have been humbled as always by the outpouring of love from friends and family.  To me, this is the magic of birthdays, and the reason I hope I never get over them: It is one day a year, just for you, that serves as a reminder of how much you are loved.  Of course that may be true all 365 days, but sometimes it can be easy to forget.

P.S. You may or may not have noticed that I now have my very own domain, keepingitcaj.com.  A gift from an extra-special person in my life. 🙂

So, I know that I promised sweet treat recipes in the next couple of weeks. And I was fully game to start on that yesterday, as it was the perfect snowy day to stay inside and bake. But then it occurred to me that I have cake coming my way in the next few days, and then I’ll be away the two weeks after that.

That’s no excuse not to have a sweet treat, though.

After a dinner involving my first attempt at kale chips (my first time making AND eating them–so good, granted I showered them in chili powder and red pepper flakes), I figured I’d reward myself with some guilty pleasures:

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There isn’t really a recipe for this, just make hot chocolate as you usually would and stir in a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream. I mixed a teaspoon of cocoa powder with a teaspoon of sugar in my mug, poured boiling water over top and stirred the Bailey’s in at the end.

Cheers!

Caj

For:

1. Advent calendars: an excuse to eat chocolate every morning when I wake up every day for 24 days.

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2. Ugly (?) Christmas sweaters. Let’s be honest: they’re beautiful.

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3. Festive baking. Expect some more recipes for sweet treats in the next couple of weeks!

4. Christmas movies, old and new. I never get bored of watching Love Actually or The Holiday, and I’m still a sucker for the animated Frosty/Rudolph movies. A red-nosed reindeer and a misfit wannabe dentist? I’ll take it.

And most importantly:

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5. Holiday cards and handwritten notes. I love making personalized, handwritten notes all year round, and get even more into the spirit during the holiday festivities. Personally, I’ve always disliked picking out a generic greeting card and adding a brief “Happy birthday!”, “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy holidays!”; these are opportunities to tell others how much they mean to you, in a unique and personal way. Give that person something they can hold on to and re-read many years down the road, evoking nostalgia and happy memories. Even better, if you’re the creative type, get crafty and make the card from scratch!

Stay jolly!

Caj

Life has been busy: full-time work, 13 applications, appointments, Christmas shopping, birthday planning, and trying to find a little time for me.  For the record, I have been doing pretty well with most of my end-of-year goals: I planned all of my Christmas gifts, including stocking stuffers, by December 1st (and bought all of them by December 3rd); I’ve been working diligently on my applications, though my phone is admittedly still in my presence for 25% of that time; and I like to think I’ve generally been more happy and positive. As soon as I come to terms with the fact that my knees will always be cracky and crunchy (yum!!), it will be back to Barreworks for me.

Last night, Fiona and I finally made it to Friday Night Live @ the ROM, which we’ve been trying and failing to go to for about 4 weeks now. It was the “Season Finale”, and even though all the online tickets had sold out, we committed and lined up at the door. Little did we know the line would wrap halfway around the block. After waiting for an hour and a half–to the point that I could no longer feel my fingers, toes, or lips (thank you, Raynaud’s)–some wonderful saviours came around selling 2 extra tickets and we jumped at the chance.

Inside, we were greeted by this familiar dino:

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…delicious food choices, including these lobster-, thai beef- and roasted beet-stuffed buns from Hot Bunzz:

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…comforting drinks and giant sea creatures:

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…wildlife photography (we didn’t quite make it inside the gallery, hence the reflection):

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…impromptu Shakespeare (photo credit to Fiona’s Instagram):

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…and live music. Unfortunately, the bat cave was closed, so we did some exploring instead and came across a gallery of minerals, gems, fossils and meteorites:

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…before roaming among the dinosaurs and other various extinct species:

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^ This is a prehistoric sloth. You read that right–those adorable little lazy sloths we all know and love used to be…this. I can’t.

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^ Giant armadillo and turtle.

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^ Friends we made on the staircase.

On our way back to the main floor, we came across a room where people were designing miniature castles on iPads, which where then actually created for them using 3D printers. They look like espresso machines, but those things are pretty freaking amazing.

To cap off the night, we made our way to the sugar waffle table where we aggressively made sure that we received two of the final dozen of the night. Feeling like Leslie Knope, we smeared the whipped cream over the top and ate our waffles with our hands while people twerked all around us.

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Stay curious, and keep exploring!

Caj

There’s nothing quite like the first snowfall of the year.  Sure, by February the whole snow thing gets old (okay, by January), but the first snowfall just always feels so magical for me, and yesterday was no different.  I was home alone for the day, and perfectly content to hole up in my comfiest outfit (i.e., basically pajamas), right after some holiday shopping and a trip to Starbucks for a peppermint mocha.

Naturally, the next logical step was to bake something (semi-)festive.

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Sometime last week I was driving home from work wondering how biscotti was made, and when I arrived home I found that my mom had cut out a recipe for biscotti from the Globe & Mail.  It was the weirdest thing.  And so, with a whole afternoon in front of me, I set to work on Stephanie Eddy’s recipe.  Side note: these scones were also Stephanie’s brainchildren, and they are TO DIE FOR, so I knew I was pretty safe with these.

They weren’t hard to make–easier than I thought, actually–but the process was a little long, so I won’t bore you with the list of ingredients and instructions, especially because you can find them word-for-word in the original recipe.

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^ After the first round of baking.

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^ After the second round of baking and the all-important drizzling of white chocolate.

Now to dip one into a warm cup of tea!

Stay hungry,

Caj

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these reviews.  I had big plans for myself to try out a ton of new brunch places in the last couple months–brunch being my absolute favourite–and then write a post reviewing all of them, but I only ended up going to one.  What a shame…

If I could only choose one, though, I think I picked the right place.  Six of my friends and I headed out to Saving Grace on Dundas West one morning at 11am, and miraculously got a table within 15 minutes (apparently unheard of there, because it’s such a popular spot).  I spent roughly 10-15 minutes going back and forth between the regular and specials menus, ultimately settling for the coconut-black sesame waffles from the specials:

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…With a side of sausage. Clearly, they were to die for. I was the only one to go the sweet direction: other popular choices at our table were the savory french toast, old white cheddar sandwich, and open-face brie (brie, pear, walnuts and honey on baguette).  Everyone was perfectly happy with their meals.  The service was kind of slow, even for our coffee and lattes, but the staff was friendly and accommodating.

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^ Isabelle’s breakfast. I can’t remember what it was, but it looks delicious, and that’s what matters, right?

Verdict: 4/5. If they improve the speed of service, that would take it up another notch for me (and improve the usually-long wait times). My only other real complaint is that Dundas West is such a trek (for me, at least).

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Smith isn’t new for me – I went for my third time with my mom on Sunday – but it’s become one of my favourites. It feels trendy yet cozy, has a great hidden patio for warm weather, is relatively close to my house, and most importantly has all of the things you really want for brunch: scones, eggs benedict, waffles, frittatas, crepes, huevos, and your classic eggs-toast-home fries-bacon/peameal/sausage meal. They’ll just usually fancy it up a bit, and I can’t complain about that.

This Sunday, my mom got the “Smith” (see classic meal described above) and I got this wonderful concoction:

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^ The brisket hash: poached eggs, beef brisket, and breakfast potatoes cooked and served in a cast-iron skillet with béarnaise sauce and salsa. It was amazing but super filling, so I brought the leftovers home, and alas they have since disappeared… The woes of living with your parents. I can’t blame them, though.

Verdict: 4.5/5. I really like this place. I even celebrated my birthday there last year (mimosas and all). I’m hesitant to give anything a 5 (even Gusto 101, though I may have to revise that), but I highly recommend Smith. It’s well-decorated and homey, the service is friendly, and the food will leave you satisfied.