Christmas decorating happened late this year - with Matt travelling and the new floors being put in (!!!!! - post to come), we didn't get a tree until Friday the 19th and decorating didn't happen until Saturday. Now it's Monday and I'm starting to put stuff away (I like a fresh house for New Years). So here are a few little things we did this year:
Kitchen & Stairs to Basement
Christmas Eve & Morning
Last year a few girls from work, Marta, Dawn and I, headed to Marta's family cottage in Barrys Bay. I woke up one morning to a beautiful sunrise and spent an hour capturing these photos.
We went back this year, and while it was much more dreary and cloudy, I still took a little time to take a few pictures in the evening before the sun went down. Here's what I got (excuse the number of pics, I was just playing around with camera settings!):
Kit Lens Pics
50 mm Lens Pics
The south of France is absolutely beautiful, especially on the east coast. We took the train to Nice and cabbed it to Villefranche. My brother recommended a cab because of the hills, but you can take a train there for 6 euros (total) and it's a 5 minute walk to the hotel instead of the 50 euro cab ride. We took the train at the end when we went back to Nice (recommendation fail, Adam). What he did recommend well was staying in Villefranche instead of Nice. We actually spend no time in Nice at all - looked like a nice city, but we wanted to be away a bit from that and Villefranche was perfect. We were right at a harbour and close to Eze and Monaco by train or bus. You could also easily take the train to Cannes if you wanted.
View from our balcony of all the pretty boats
Sunset on the harbour. When we got there (around 4) we went right to the public beach just around the bay. It was nice to just sit in the sun and swim in the warm water for an hour or so before we headed back. Just what I needed.
Day 11 iPhone - hotel room at the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche (my brother and Jess stayed here on their honeymoon in 2012 and recommended it to us - it was great - right on the water and central to all the restaurants), the view from our balcony, dinner at L'Aparte on the street right behind our hotel - delicious, a little friend who stayed by me in hopes I would drop food (I named him Bouton), and me waiting for Matt to finish taking pictures.
On the walk to Beaulieu sur Mer to catch a bus to Eze - pretty flowers
Church in Beaulieu
This is St. Jean/Cap Ferat - a very exclusive place for yachts and to vacation in the south of France
Beaulieu would also be a nice quiet escape in lieu of Villefranche but there are less restaurants, though there are more Michelin-starred quite expensive ones in St. Jean.
We took the bus (#100) to Eze village (which is different than Eze sur Mer - by the sea) - this is up on a hill and the church is about half-way up to the very top.
At the top at Les Jardins Exotique - cacti!
Yeah okay let's everyone "summer" here next year!
Matt took all these garden ones - I hate that he's so much better than me without trying, haha.
I think Matt liked the colours in this picture?
On the way back to Villefranche
Day 12 iPhone - Beautiful streets in Eze, view from one side of Eze, our street at sunset.
I sort of had a meltdown on the way home from Eze - it took over an hour for our bus, the connecting bus drove right by us so we had to walk 45 mins home, all while I really had to pee but none of the pay bathrooms were working and I was just exhausted. We ordered room service and relaxed this night, haha, I did not want to leave.
Last day we went to Monaco - this place was just incredible...I wonder who lives here?
Walking through the gardens to the Monte Carlo casino
Hotel beside the casino - looks fancy!
Here it is - I thought there would be more of a grand staircase out front.
Lots of business and hotels in this city
More hotel views
Walked down to the harbour
Yachts - so many boats!
This is more my type of boat - a luxury sail versus a floating hotel.
Genetic research pays!
All the Monte Carlo hotels on the water
Sainte Devote chapel in the middle of all the high-rises of Monte Carlo
Back up to the casino lawn - view the sky!
Hermitage Hotel Monte Carlo - seen this in a lot of movies.
Day 13 iPhone - views of the sea from Matt's last run (he ran once in each place we visited - 6 times over 2 weeks is pretty good - I brought no workout clothes or shoes), me reading on the balcony in the morning (thank goodness for my Kobo because I read 9 books while away), 2 cruise ships in the harbour, yachts in Monte Carlo, the Monte Carlo Casino (Casino Royale!), a geeky concave/convex mirror shot for my science students, our hotel - Hotel welcome, drinks and nibbles on the patio, a few "last night in Villefranche" shots, gelato love, and random fireworks just outside our balcony to end off a great few days in the south of France.
Our fifth stop was the little town of Aix en Provence. It was definitely my least favourite stop, but I think it's because I expected it to be different. It's definitely a pretty town, lots of restaurants and shops, but I wanted to experience more of the Provence countryside, which is about an hour outside the city. I wanted to see the lavender fields and the country homes and fields of prettiness...which is not what a central city is about! I was also upset because they have an amazing flower market on Saturday but it ends at 1 p.m. and we got there right at one so we missed it. But we made the best of it and wandered around the streets and shops. We only spent one night here before heading East.
Am I too old to go on this?
The only flowers I saw this day...at a flower shop.
Window flowers are so pretty!
Only shot I could get of this church without interrupting the wedding pictures going on below
Day 10 iPhone - view of Marseille (train stop on the way to provence), our hotel room (stayed at the Adagio Aix en Provence Centre), pretty turquoise shutters, Cezanne painted many sites in Provence, pretty purple church doors, the main street at night)
So the next day while Matt was running I got up early and went to the Pavillion de Vendomme, which is a house and gardens, and took lots of pictures of their flowers. The least I could do after missing the flower market!
Now for too many florals...
Morning of Day 11 iPhone - Matt's morning run in city square, construction cover still looks like a church!
Our forth stop brought up across a body of water to France, and specifically, Paris. We spent 3 nights here before travelling south, but we also spent one more night here at the very end, before we went to London and flew home. It was a day of travelling to get here - East Coast rail from Edinburgh to London, and the Eurostar from London to Paris.
I got to use a lot of French - I was in immersion for about 5 years and took courses in high school and university too. I have enough conversational french to check in and out of hotels, order in restaurants, ask for directions, and make polite small talk. Nothing complicated, but enough.
I LOVED this city. A lot of people I know didn't love it, but I really did. Beautiful architecture, variety of culture, such good food. Yes, it is a bit dirty. It's pretty dirty actually. Compared to the UK anyway, that never seems to have garbage anywhere. But it's the city of love, and I definitely fell in love with Paris.
First day we got there late - so here are so iPhone pics from Day 7
Our hotel room - Residence Des Arts between the 5th and 6th arrondissement), Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower from afar
One of the many Ponts across the Seine
Entering the square around the Louvre (forget the name)
Louvre! We didn't go with with only 2.5 days there, but definitely a must-see on our next trip (that and Versailles).
Love the architecture - we really need more Ghostbuster-like gargoyles and angels in Toronto
Yes I would live here.
Pretty gardens on the walk to Les Champs Elysees
I made fun of this floral J.Crew shirt a lot - but I guess Paris the place to wear it, haha.
Figures Matt would stop traffic for the perfect shot.
Arch de Triomphe
Pretty places on the walk to the Eiffel Tower
Double camera work.
Seriously I love the buildings!
Day 8 iPhone - typical french breakfast perfection, selfies by the Louvre and Tower,
flats on les Champs Elysees, Arch de Triomphe, pretty lunch bakery & cafe,
Eiffel tour shots
Moulin Rouge - in a much scuzzier place than I imagined...I wish it still looked like it did in the movie, haha.
(Forgot my camera in the morning so this is later on in the day)
Sacre Coeur in Montmartre
I love that this shot looks like I left only the door red and made everything else grayscale.
View of Paris from Montmartre
A pair of great street musicians
I made Matt do a glamour shot. PS - love the blue socks babe.
Sacre Coeur at sunset
Day 9 iPhone - there's a lot since I forgot my camera in the morning
Matt's morning run, early morning of laundry and pretty drinks, Notre Dame (we lit a candle for all of our loved ones and those of friends and family), Notre Dame organ, love lock bridge, gorgeous square across the Seine, "space invader" street art, delicious salads (finally, vegetables!), a little chocolaterie gouter, Montmartre view, delicious dinner in Montmartre, Matt waiting for the "Midnight in Paris" coach (in the exact spot from the movie), random bike party in the middle of the night complete with music.
iPhone pictures from our extra night in Paris the day before we left Europe
Teeny hotel room for one night, last Notre Dame shot at sunset, gallery near the Sorbonne,
Pretty architecture in the 10th, Shakespeare and Company bookstore (the coolest book store, seriously), eating a crepe in the 5th (finally), amazing dinner near the Sorbonne, final Paris morning breakfast and hot chocolate.
Our third stop on the trip was Edinburgh, Scotland. We again took the East Coast Rail from York. We spent two days and two nights here, and I loved it. I thought it was a beautiful place, lots of sights, very clean, and lots of interesting history. Definitely my favourite place in the UK (Matt says I would have liked London more if it was not 35+ degrees every day and it was not so unbearable to be outside in the humidity, haha).
The Royal Mile
If you want to see churches, go to the UK and France!
Matt in front of Edinburgh Castle
Can't remember which King this is...
Walk up from the Grassmarket area (with a nice park that is supposedly where lots of bodies are buried...the grass is so green there...makes sense!)
Edinburgh understands my love of colourful buildings
Holyrood Castle - Charles and Camilla where there this day, but like Kate in Kensington, they did not answer...
Day 5 iPhone - our hotel (used the Ibis chain - Center South Bridge - very modern), lunch at Angels with Bagpipes, scary church at night, pretty terraced cafe, more graves at night, City of the Dead "double dead" ghost tour (very creepy).
Edinburgh castle (going in this time)
View of the city from the castle walls
I love the castle village
Oldest structure in Edinburgh - St. Margaret's Chapel
Why did the Queen get the key to the city so many times? Do they change the locks a lot?
Interesting display of weaponry in The Great Hall
I like the Scottish guards' uniforms better than the London ones...sorry London. Also they get weapons.
Matt taking in the view...plus a canon...
Okay, seriously, this castle is awesome.
Perfect place to take a break from the heat
Damn me wearing a white skirt...
Toronto needs more monuments in the middle of the city
Not just in Greece!
Took this right before the grass was cut
Hello again, Holyrood! Hill to Arthur's seat in the background too (Matt ran it the next morning).
Scotch Whisky Experience tour and tasting
Day 6 iPhone - Edinburgh Castle, McPherson hunting tartan, dinner at Castle Terrace (Michelin starred and so good), Scotch Whisky tasting, run up to Arthur's seat
Our second stop on the trip was a day in York. We took the East Coast Rail from King's Cross to York station which is a few hours north of London. We wanted to break up the long trip to Edinburgh and have heard York is a nice place to visit. It definitely was. You only need a day there, really, but it's worth a stop if you have the time.
Our lodgings - the Grange Manor House - festive as the Tour de France just went through the town.
York Minster Cathedral
View of houses from the wall surrounding the city
The Shambles - a very cool old street with shops and restaurants.
York iPhone: Lunch decor in York, proper English tea with scones and clotted cream, our manor house lodgings,
streets of York, true Yorkshire lunch including Yorkshire Pudding (this was Matt's), York selfie,
candles in the window of our York dinner, the wall around the city, Matt's morning run,
pretty river shot, pretty garden shot, and who defiles a walk named after Dame Judi Dench? HONESTLY.
Our first stop on our two week journey in the UK and France was to London. We flew in and arrived in the city in the early afternoon. After a brief nap, we were ready to explore!
Walking up from our little lower flat in West Kensington - used the "Castletown House" Apartments
Hello? Princess Kate? I'm here for tea! No one is answering my calls at the gate! HELLO????
Prettiest pub exterior in all of London. Churchill Arms in Kensington on the way to Notting Hill.
Day 1 iPhone - our flat, pub selfie, Notting Hill street,
Matt in Kensington park, dinner in Bayswater at "Hereford Road", more pretty Winston Churchill Pub
Day # 2 - The Tower of London! And the beginning of no hot hair styling tools...and humidity...
The Bloody Tower - oooooh I just got chills thinking of all that went on here...
Crown Jewels are kept here - they were very shiny and sparkly! I really need more tiaras and scepters...
Tower Green - poor Anne Boelyn and silly Catherine Howard...
(I read a lot of Phillipa Gregory and other English historical fiction authors)
The White Tower (slightly less bloody)
Another random tower...would have stayed here all day if we didn't only have a few days here!
Tower Bridge - I actually had no clue Matt was doing this while I took the picture until after. What a geek.
The Globe Theatre. Ohhhh how I love Shakespeare in Love - if only I could have seen the Rose too!
Hope says "ohhh isn't the Thames beautiful?"
Ummmm...well the architecture on each side is great, but are we looking at the same muddy body of water here?
St. Paul's Cathedral. Matt says he looks superimposed in this picture, haha.
Heading into the theatre district of London to pick up our tickets for Once.
This blue rooster in Trafalgar Square was so out of place with all the other structures - therefore I loved it.
National Gallery - spent a lovely couple of hours in the A/C here.
Jeff's recommendation of the best view of London in the city - he was RIGHT!
(standing at the base of Trafalgar square on top of a platform)
Whitehall - how I longed to see it before it became government offices.
This was one of the prettiest palaces way back when...
Horse Guard along the Whitehall road
Westminster Abby - we were 15 minutes too late to go in this day!
Seriously a beautiful place.
Day 2 iPhone - Dinner at the amazing Cork & Bottle in Leicester Square, Once the Musical Set (definitely see this for a different type of broadway show), The Pudding Bar (best dessert EVER - S'more cheesecake which is really peanut butter in the UK it seems).
Day # 3 - started off with brunch in Belgravia - very posh place!
Seemed we just arrived for the 11 a.m. playing of the Royal Guard Band. BUSY!
Royal-ish wedding? No clue but I liked the morning coats and horse-drawn carriage.
Seriously a lot of tourists.
Marching Band. I wish we had seen when they played the Game of Thrones intro song!
Watch that HERE.
Wandering through St. James and Green park. Hello SWAN.
Yes I will live here please! Great view of Buckingham, lots of flowers, random swans...
Canadian flag has prime location!
This time we actually got to go in Westminster - oh I wish I could have taken pictures inside. Seriously a great place - did an audio tour here. Definitely recommended so you can really understand all you're seeing.
Day 3 iPhone - Matt's morning run in Kensington Park, brunch in Belgravia, Buckingham,
Tower of London at night and bridge, random cute statue,
dinner at Dalston Yard Street Feast (foodie heaven - great food trucks in an abandoned old warehouse), random monument amidst construction, Street Feast selfi
Each year I have a few March Break goals. Last year it was mainly to paint the kitchen and redo the grout. Well this year I took a more relaxing approach. It was much more enjoyable!
My goals. Though "make bunting" was not one of them, I think it turned out nicely and matches my kitchen colours.
First night of the break we went to dinner with our friends Jeff and Liz at Goods & Provisions.
Jeff, like me, likes to takes pictures of food.
Sunday dinner by Matt - coq au vin blanc with potatoes and bacon.
Birthday Manicure from Miyuki at Tips Nail Bar
It was tbt so I decided to do a collage of past birthday fun
Lie to me and tell me I don't look 31!
Oh yeah, remember THIS CAKE? I made that. No big deal.
My brother and Jessica had us over for dinner the following day - pretty tulips!
Delicious salad my parents brought. Going to modify it a bit and add quinoa for dinner tomorrow.
I said no birthday candles so instead I had to blow out a tea light from the bottom of the Eiffel Tour
Okay so many I am really proud of this cake.
See how Adam's right eye is more dilated than the left? Yeah he got beat up by a nerf gun by a child...it's a sensitive topic. That's why I'm writing about it here. LOVE YOU!
Then we listened to some records - love the baby blue player!
I am very proud of my first attempt at fancy cake icing for my own birthday cake this week. Matt and I went out to dinner on Thursday for my actual birthday, but since we were headed to my brother's house to celebrate the following evening, I decided to make a birthday cake!
The recipe I used for the cake is Martha Stewart's White Cake. White because it has only egg whites and no yolks (or "no yellows" as I couldn't remember the word yolk when describing it yesterday...). The recipe says it yields 3 9-inch rounds, but I used 4 8-inch rounds, though they weren't completely full, which was fine. 4 layers is a LOT of layers...
You will need a lot of butter (though to be fair some of that was for the buttercream icing)
And room temperature eggs...
And of course good old cobalt KitchenAid mixer
Adding the colours was not that challenging. I added the pale pink to the entire mix, poured about a quarter of it into the first baking pan, added some more colour and mixed, poured, etc. Oh by the way, I have Wilton brand gel food colouring - it makes the cake and icing less runny. There is an actual pink colour, it's not red. I would suggest investing in the colour set - I've had them a long time and you only need a tiny amount to get a lot of colour. Once it's cooked, it doesn't look as pretty because of the slight browning of the outside due to the flour llining, but if you scrape off a bit you will see that indeed the inside cake is the perfect pink colour!
Ghetto but effective way of warming up butter without melting it, haha.
The icing is Martha Stewart's Swiss Meringue Buttercream with Vanilla Bean. The vanilla bean part just entailed slicing open a vanilla bean and putting it in the egg/sugar melting mixture (the first step in the recipe), and then removing it along with any large pieces once it was all melted together. You can use vanilla extract too, but this just adds more vanilla flavour to it. You NEED to make sure that for both the cake and icing, that the butter is room temperature, especially the icing. I made enough icing to ice between each of the layers and ice the sides, but then I only did a bit of fancy icing before I ran out. The butter I had sitting out for the second batch was not as warm so it made for a lumpy buttercream. Luckily a quick Google search led me to using my hair dryer to warm the buttercream while it mixed which completely smoothed it out!
The above is what one batch of buttercream did. With so many layers I ran out, but I just made another half-batch which finished the job. I tinted it a bit darker to do the middle layers once the top was done, then again to do the bottom. I used the exact same method as I did for the cake. Note to people - gloves may be beneficial...
Yeah it lasted for a while...
And now for a ridiculous amount of beautiful cake pictures - I am very proud!!!!
The piping was done using a Wilton 2D tip. I literally just squeezed down and pulled up. Really simple and quick - honestly. This tip also makes pretty roses if you swirl it, but this was my first try so I stuck to the basics.
OOoooooOOOOohhh almost too pretty to eat...
It was really tasty...though again, 4 layers is a lot of cake...
6 people only polished off that much - definitely will serve 15 easily!