sleep over

Among the many things that people will tell you when having kids is that your life will never be the same and that you’ll never be able to live like you used to. Honestly this idea kinda petrified me -to think that I’d be sequestered to an isolated parental island void of all “normal” social contact and/or limited only to baby/parent talk.

However, I’ve suprisingly found that besides the obvious life changes invovled in having a child, life with some effort can be quite as it were pre-baby.

The beauty is to come up with novel ideas on how to continue to socialize and maintain social equilibrium.

Thus far we have found that life can take on many of the same ceremonious social rituals (however, I’m sure this too will change). We’ve managed to finagle going out for dinners, visiting with friends, and more often than not, these days having friends over. We must of course give thanks to our friends, who have continued to request our social presence.

There are challenges that do arise in trying to socialize. Especially when we want to meet up with friends who live out of town that also have kids. Between naps, dinner, baths and bed time, this all  leaves little room to get in a satisfactory visit.

So in honour of living life the way we used to like let’s say having dinner with some old friends from out of town, we pulled off our first ever parent sleep over and it was a success. Once the kids had their dinner and bath time, and it was all quiet on the western front. We parents camped out in the mainfloor of the house with wine, escargot, bubbly Italian beers and fondue -how so appropriately over the top adult like of us.

an assortment of snacks -pickled radish, turnip & carrots plus some other randoms

tempura oil fondue -a Japanese twist on a French meal

the next morning -starting the day off right with some colouring

mini kitchen reno

We did a mini kitchen reno back in December (when I say “we” I really mean Steve).

When we did our mega main floor reno over a year ago I had the crafty idea to paint over our old stained yellow vinyl floors (it was a bad idea by the way).

Although they looked great for about a week, it was a total fail. The floors stayed tacky with all kinds of dirt and grime sticking to them -so gross. In the end the floor was disgusting and it was not something that I could’ve lived with for much longer.

Knowing that it would be a long while until we would be able to do a full gut and reno of the kitchen, we decided over the Christmas holidays that we could manage a fast and cheap reno to tide us over until the real thing.

To fix the crap paint job I did on the vinyl floor we decided to try out using plywood for the floors and then figured we might as well redo the counter tops with plywood too.

We also replaced our backsplash with subway tiles. There’s plans to do a paint job for two accent walls. The paint has been purchased but has yet to make it onto any walls yet.

It was a fast and furious reno -did I mention that Steve did this entire reno in two days?!

During all this chaos we also organized our spice shelf and said good-bye to our kitchen tape collection.

Not to worry we didn’t get rid of the tapes! They’ve just found a new home up in the attic. I remember when we rediscovered our mixed tapes and old tape collections and got many solid nostalgic re-listens. We’ll have to wait a few more years before I willingly slide one of those tapes in the cassette player without letting out a mega groan.

still use this bad boy everyday

john street

Since moving to Hamilton, I have been keeping a close eye on a short stretch of John Street, South and North.

At first glance, the two-and-something blocks between Main East and King William may seem a semi-abandoned and derelict portion of a “typical” downtown Hamilton street. But if you look a little more closely you might notice signs of life, both old and new, and, dare I say it, rejuvenation.

I spend most of my walks downtown wandering with my eyes up, taking in the old architectural beauty of the Victorian cityscape and observing the history of the buildings that line the path of the daily meanderings.

There’s some great character and history to the buildings on John Street. Take, for example, the John Sopinka Courthouse (formerly the Dominion Public Building built in 1934). It’s a beauty of a building, the depth of an entire block, enveloped by Main, John and King streets. With its ornate Art Deco stonework and lettering on the exterior it’s not a surprise that on the inside, fitting with its architectural era, you’ll find glossy marble floors, and polished metal work decorating the elevators, tills and counters. Everything has a certain sparkle and sheen to it that you just can’t find in many buildings these days.

Across John Street, next to the abandoned Crazy Horse Saloon, you’ll find the old Royal Connaught. It’s hard to miss, as it too occupies nearly a full city corner (not to mention it’s been boarded up for the past 10 years).

When I walk by the old Connaught I sometimes get a waft of the musty dankness seeping from the cracks of its boarded-up windows, and with that I usually feel a little pang of despair as I wonder about its fate. Wrecking ball or refurbish? Word on the street as of late is that the Connaught will indeed see new life again. I can’t wait. What a difference it will make to the core and surrounding areas. Is it too early to say aloud the silent chanting I’ve secretly been saying in my head: “Ren-nai-sance! Ren-nai-sance!”?

Just past the courthouse and the Connaught, over the tail end of Gore Park and past the old 1940s Pagoda Chinese restaurant sign at King and John, you’ll find a scene that is typically Hamilton. It’s no frills. Hamilton is what it is and that’s what I like about it.

You’ll see folks going in and out of the John Street Clinic (one of the city’s methadone dispensaries), or waiting for the bus, leaning against the backdrop of yet another stretch of seemingly abandoned buildings such as the Golden Fortune Restaurant or Treble Hall.

However, despite the description, things here are not quite as they seem. This little stretch is teeming with life both old and new. There’s change happening here on John, slowly but surely.

Take Treble Hall, for example, one of my favourite buildings in the city. Built 134 years ago (that’s 1879), Treble Hall has been undergoing a full-haul restoration by owner Jeff Feswick of Historia Restoration. Moulin Rouge, a French-inspired café and clothing store, occupies two of Treble’s street-level retail spaces. A bit of Paris in Hamilton? Why not?

Just across the street from Treble Hall you’ll see Downtown Bike Hounds, which a few years back made the move to John (relocating from Cannon and James streets). Maybe owner Sean Burak had the same inklings of optimism about John that I do. Regardless, every downtown needs an urban bicycle shop and bike rental place in its core. Next to Bike Hounds is the tasty and always busy My Thai restaurant that has been going strong for a decade already.

If you are old enough to remember taking a dinner “vacation” to the Grotta Azzurra at the Capri Ristorante Italiano — a destination-themed restaurant from the ’60s — then you’ll know the Capri is a Hamilton fixture. Although the second floor “grotto” is no longer open, Capri is still serving up classic pizza and pasta on its main floor.

Recent to the block is my new favourite art gallery, the Nathaniel Hughson Gallery. The gallery features some fabulous established Ontario artists. It’s named after one of Hamilton’s city founders, who at one time owned much of the prime downtown real estate from James to Mary streets and from Main to the bay.

At King William and John is Lulu’s, serving one of the best shawarmas in the city. If you haven’t tried their chicken shawarma, you’ve been missing out.

There are many new and old businesses on John, ranging from shoe repair, hair weave and beauty supply to the London Tap House, a Greek restaurant, Korean BBQ and Chinese hotpot. They’re all — a pretty amazing and eclectic mix — on just these two downtown Hamilton blocks.

Let’s be honest: John, like much of downtown Hamilton, still has a long way to go. But I’m optimistic and excited to see these changing downtown streets start to take shape. I hope one day to see streets like James North, King William, John and King — all of them coming back to life — start to connect together. Imagine that, a full chunk of our city core hustling and bustling like it did back in the day.

Some may say my optimism, and my daydreams of the Hamilton I want to see, show me to be naïve. Perhaps I am. But how will Hamilton ever change if we don’t start to see the potential for all that we’ve already got?

Hamilton, you’ve got a soft spot in my heart. I’m here for the long haul.

 

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on Saturday, March 16th 2013. You can see the article from The Spec website here.

 

soup

One of the best things about soup, besides eating it, is that if you make a big ol’ pot you can freeze some for another soup meal.

We’ve been doing precisely that all winter long.

One of my favourite soups that Steve makes is a bacon, kale and bowtie pasta soup. We modify the recipe from a lovely soup book we own called Sunday Soup by Betty Rosbottom. She covers soups for every season that are really easy to make.

Making soup stalk from scracth. A whole little chicken was added to this.

bacon, kale, bowtie pasta soup

potato & leek soup and a grilled cheese

 

With Steve working from home we’re able to enjoy some pretty cute lunches together slurping away at our soups.

plan b

We don’t always, but when we can we try and by local and/or organic.

This winter we decided to buy a winter share with Plan B Organic Farms. It’s the second time we’ve ordered a share with Plan B. What I like about it is that it cuts down on trips to the grocery store, and it helps us decide what meals to make for the week.

With Plan B you have the option of buying entirely local, or with a mix of international and local organics goods. You can get a weekly or bi-weekly share, and you can order a small or large box. They can deliver directly to your home or you can check to see where they do free local drop-offs in your neighbourhood.

We opted for a small bi-weekly box for 10 weeks (we added on an order of coffee and eggs too), which we pick up at a local store a short walk from our house.

Plan B has been perfect for this winter stretch, as it’s helped to tide us over until things get hopping at the local farmer’s markets for spring and until our summer garden gets into full-swing.

We make a lot of soups and enjoy having fresh pea sprouts on our lunchtime sandwiches and garnished on salads.

culantro

Oddly enough I fell in love with Peruvian food when I was living in Japan (of all places). There was a delectable Peruvian restaurant in the city I was living in that served anticuchos, deep fried plantains, civiche, salchipapa and purple chicha corn drink. Mmmm. However, having left Japan over a decade ago and with the lack of Peruvian restaurants in Southern Ontario, I had not had the pleasure of indulging in any Peruvian delicacies in a looong time. So I was pretty excited to hear about the opening of a Peruvian restaurant right here in Hamilton.

Culantro Peruvian Cookery has only been open a few months but they have already garnered rave reviews and drool worthy pleasantries with regards to their food.

So on an impromptu early dinner meet up with a few friends, we decided to check Culantro out for ourselves.

We were greeted by the super hospitable chef and Co-owner Juan Castillo, who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome, and to ensure that everything that we ordered was totally perfect (and it was).

I ordered two empanadas; one carne and one pollo with a side of sweet potato fries.

culantro empanadas & carne, hamilton

Steve ordered two empanadas with the veggie salad

The empanadas and sauces were super delicious and totally hit the spot. I wanted to eat about a dozen more. In fact, I remember saying out loud that I kinda wanted to sleep on a pillow of empanadas so that whenever I woke up I could just go “omnomnom” and then fall back to sleep dreaming of eating more empanadas.

The carne empanada was stuffed with prime ontario steak, olives, raisins, and a boiled egg. I know a boiled egg! It may seem a little weird to some, but you have to trust me, it was so super delicious.

On the menu there’s also quarter, half and whole marinated rotisserie chickens (polo a la brasa), which someone at our table also ordered and it was mega yum!

Before our meals were complete Juan came out to chat with us, and to bring us all a little sample of their chicha morada, which is a drink made from purple corn juice with a twist of lime, pineapple and a hint of cinnamon. It was beautifully refreshing with all different sorts of  subtle hints of flavours that tickled my tastebuds.

To find out a little more about the story behind what brought Co-owners Juan, and his sister in law, Catharine to open up a Peruvian restaurant in Hamilton check out their blog here.

In the mean time if you haven’t been to Culantro yet, you should. You can’t go wrong with their empanadas.

The next time that I hear they’ve got pork belly and ceviche on their daily special I’ll have to pop in for another visit, and maybe I’ll indulge in another empanada (or two).

*47 King William St. 905.777.0060 @culantrocookery

seedy sunday

This Sunday Steve and I did our annual visit to Seedy Sunday. It’s always an exciting time of year because it gets me thinking about spring with the anticipation that in fact winter will not last forever.

Before heading to the exchange we took stock of our seed inventory.

Steve sketched up a little map of our garden boxes to figure out what we plan on growing in our garden this summer. He even made a list of specific seeds to purchase to fill in the gap in our inventory. But despite this list and our amply stocked inventory, when I got to the seed exchange, as per usual, I reverted back to kid-in-candy-store mode and went seed crazy.

What made me really happy, despite being surrounded by seeds and promises of spring, was that this year’s exchange had a little coffee stall from Homegrown Coffee! It offered the perfect afternoon kick, which is just what I needed.

I indulged in my second coffee of the day and with our new seed purchases we hit the road.

secret heart

I’m not someone who does a crazy amount of planning for special occasions. But I do often have little mini ideas mapped out in my head for treats that can easily be cooked up at any given time.

For this year’s Valentine’s Day I picked up a few gifts locally for some little surprises for my Valentine.

We love coffee at our house and since being home full-time I’ve seen my coffee consumption double! Steve, as of late, has been branching off from our traditionally consumed French-pressed coffee to espressos. So I thought I would indulge in his new coffee interest and get him a cute one-shot stove-top espresso maker. I picked one up from Faema on James North. They’ve got a pretty good selection of espresso machines, with a not-bad retro looking used one that we might actually be able to afford -eeek! If we end up getting it, it’ll soon be lattes and espressos all day long chez nous!

I also stopped by Ola Bakery for some Portuguese sweets. Ola has some lovely fluffy, flaky baked goods (and I’ve heard they do a great sandwich too).

As a Valentine’s mid-morning surprise I managed to put this spread together with a quickly crafted homemade Valentine’s Day card. Steve’s been really busy at work so it was nice to be able to share a quick coffee break midday in his at-home office while Omi napped.

I executed this next surprise Valentine’s treat that Steve has still yet to discover.

I recently saw a cute DIY post on Design Sponge about patching little moth eaten holes in sweaters with felted hearts. I really need to invest in some lavender sachets or a cedar something or another but I haven’t and so Steve and I both have a couple of sweaters with a few sad moth munched holes in them.

So besides needing a sweater with a hole, you’ll also need some felting wool and felting needles. I picked mine up from Needlework on James North.

You’ll also need 2 sponges to stack under the sweater for when you’re jabbing your wool with the needle. That way you won’t give yourself multiple stab wounds.

Next make a little stencil for the shape and size of the felted patch that you want. Flip your sweater so that you start felting your patch on the reverse side. Take a nice size bit of wool and start to felt away!

Once the shape is pretty solid from the reverse side, turn your sweater right side out. You should see the shape of the heart clearly. Take smaller and thinner pieces of wool to shape the heart and felt it until the heart looks nice and full.

I practiced first on my sweater with this red heart and did Steve’s hearts with grey wool. I thought the grey hearts on his grey sweater would be more subtle as I wasn’t so sure how he’d feel having bright red hearts felted everywhere.

Can’t wait for the day when he pulls the sweater out of the closet to wear and sees a few cute little grey hearts on his sleeve. Until then, shhh -don’t say a word.

not a pancake

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again my favourite meal of the day is…. brunch!

I know it’s Pancake Tuesday and everything, however, this post isn’t about pancakes but about my latest brunch discovery the croque madame.

To make this decadent brunch treat you need a fresh loaf of French bread. Slice it up and get it ready for some classic pan-fried French toast.

For every 5 slices of bread I use 2 eggs and about 1 cup of milk. I usually mix into the eggs a pinch of cinnamon and an even tinier pinch of clove powder. Slide a small pad of butter onto the pan and start French toasting away. If you want your French toast to be a little sweet sprinkle a bit of sugar on the side that’s up and hasn’t been flipped yet. Voila! Fluffy golden brown French toast.

Once you have your French toasts toasted you’re going to sandwich it up. First, spread a thin layer of dijon mustard  (I used a lovely maple dijon mustard & that little bit of sweetness was just right), then a slice or two of black forest ham and a generous amount of grated Swiss, gruyere or Emmantal cheese. Close up your sandwich with another piece of French toast. Heat up your oven to 400.

Next prepare your béchamel sauce. Which consists of butter, flour, milk and cheese with a pinch of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I used a béchamel sauce recipe from here.

Top your sandwich with the béchamel sauce and add a generous sprinkle of cheese on top. Then bake in the oven until the top is golden brown (about 10 minutes).

What’s in the oven is a complete croque monsieur. You can leave it at just that OR you can take it one notch up and add a poached or fried egg atop of the sandwich to make it a croque madame, which is what I did.

croque monsieur -a baked french toast sandwich with ham, swiss cheese and béchamel cream sauce.

 

So, while these beauties are browning and melting in the oven, get your eggs poaching or frying. I did my eggs fried sunny-side up, and garnished with some market fresh thick bacon.

Served this madame up with a nice light salad, oven roasted tomatoes and pan-fried crisp potato medallions.

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