Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shoes with a conscience

You may know by now that...I'm obsessed with shoes!

Unlike pants, I seldom have an issue fitting into shoes.

I'm willing to pay more for shoes that have not only a nice style, but comfort and quality.

Enter into the picture Naya Shoes. Have no clue what I'm talking about? Stick around and be impressed.

Naya is a forward thinking, eco-friendly shoe company. You can follow them on Twitter too!

Naya uses natural and eco-friendly materials:
  • Vegetable-tanned leathers and linings
  • Natural or recycled content fabrics
  • Water-based cements
  • Footbeds containing natural cork
  • Boxes made with 80% recycled paper pulp, soy-based inks and water-based glue
The comfort is!

"We infuse each style with pure comfort using soft leathers, breathable leather linings and layers of premium cushioning."

As Naya says: Good for you and for the Earth!

I first stumbled on Naya at Sears (shock!). Yes, that's right, I saw their shoes on display and was instantly drawn to the craftsmanship and array of vivid shoe colours...yellow shoes (see below) and green shoes, among others. Nicely designed and with great attention to detail, all for a reasonable price point.

I tried on a pair and was reveling in the soft, cushiony insole and how butter soft the leather was. Very soft leather means no blister or sore spots. So I purchased a pair of their gladiator sandals back in June and I have been living in these sandals all Summer! Not a single blister I tell you.

A few weeks ago, Naya sent out a Tweet asking their followers if anybody would like to review their Fall shoes on their blog. Being a shoe fanatic and having previously owned (and loved!) a pair of Naya shoes, I offered to review a pair of Naya shoes from the Fall line. I am writing this review without payment and without an exchange of free merchandise. Just because I love shoes!

Naya has launched their Fall line and after I perused their on-line Fall catalogue, I instantly swooned over several pairs of their shoes. The one shoe design in particular, which caught my eye was the oxford-style shoe or as it is named in the Naya catalogue "Jasper." (Btw, these shoes are not mine, I'm borrowing them for this write up!)

What a stunning, vintage-inspired design. Satiny ribbon laces. The trademark Naya soft cushion sole is evident as soon as you slide your foot in the shoe. The exterior of the shoe reminded me of a modern, feminine version of the saddle shoe, but instead of the classic two-tone black and white, there are two contrasting materials: wool and leather. It's very feminine yet tailored. Perfect for this Fall's tweed or woolen pant suits. The heel is almost 3 inches high (way higher than I tend to wear) but it didn't feel very high (when I tried it on) probably due to the chunky heel. The heel also has a rustic look to it, further adding to it's vintage charm. Think 1900s Victorian boot meets 1940s glam.

If you're not feeling the rustic wood heel? That's okay because Naya has plenty of different shoes for you to choose from. Check out their Fall line. Try on a pair and you will be glad you did. Sleep peacefully knowing you are doing something good for your feet and for the environment.

"Renewing body, spirit, earth"

Friday, August 20, 2010

I ate my way through Montreal

It was hard to leave Montreal knowing I may have to wait a very long time before I sunk my teeth into another one of those buttery and flaky almond croissants. I developed an addiction to them and I did not feel one bit guilty!

The two days we spent in Montreal revolved around food.

For lunch there was a tasty, fresh vegan tofu sandwich with all kinds of veggies from Casa del Popolo.

For dinner there was diner food from Nickles, a Montreal chain restaurant. It was as good as to be expected given that it was diner food. We didn't go there for the food. It was the retro 1950s decor that lured us in, equipped with a jukebox, black and white tiled flooring, red vinyl stools and booths and chrome detailing. I kept it safe by ordering pan fried fish fillet and steamed veggies with a side Caesar salad. Yeah, I know, boring! No fries, no milkshake, no burger...

The second day in Montreal I struck gold! Breakfast was at a French-speaking restaurant. Luckily my husband is competent in French and did all the talking. I ordered Eggs Benedict with asparagus and mushrooms (a la forestiere) and the most ornate (and delicious) fruit salad I had ever seen!

Afterward we (husband and I) walked over to the Jean Talon farmer's market, which was nearby and we discovered the most amazing French bakery (Premiere Moisson) with mounds of pastries! I ordered a croissant aux almond (almond croissant), a decadent chocolate mousse bombe filled with molten caramel (chocolat piquant) and a bouchon (a less heady muffin oozing with caramel and pecans). So very delicious!

Just beyond the bakery was a vast expanse of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local farmer's market and I strolled the farmer's stalls ooh-ing and ahh-ing over all the beautiful produce. The mushroom stall with over 15 types of mushrooms really made me giddy with excitement. Lobster mushrooms and morel mushrooms along with your more familiar mushrooms oyster, shitake and cremini. I knew I had to come back again before we departed for Toronto the next morning.

For lunch I had...poutine! It was in the Old Montreal section at a touristy restaurant. It took over half an hour for the poutine to arrive but it was eaten in less than 10 minutes. It was good but I found the gravy a bit too salty for my taste. My favourite part was the cheese curds. If there were a "foods to eat before I die" list, I could now cross out poutine.

Just to digress briefly, although our trip was fantastic, there's also a lesson to be learned. Warning: Long convoluted story follows...

When we went to Old Montreal we parked the car in a metered parking lot nearby. We paid for a parking pass. Placed it on the dashboard and left. We arrived back to the lot after 3 hours and our car was gone! We soon discovered a sign above the parking meter machine, that we absent-mindedly did not see indicating that cars will be towed if they did not pay the correct amount for parking. We had paid our fare so why did we get towed? Seems the instructions for parking in this lot were very confusing - written with a pen on a piece of paper taped to the ticket machine and bleached out from the sun. Barely legible. Earlier that day we concluded that $10 should cover it as it was indicated on the scribbled paper that after 2pm it was $10 and we were coming up to 2pm...but it was in fact $13 maximum that we should have paid.

Our rental car had been towed!! A 20 minute cab ride and $12 later we were at a impounded car lot with a one-armed woman behind a shatterproof glass partition and a large barking German shepherd dog. No word of a lie. I know it sounds like a scene from a David Lynch (or Quentin Tarantino) movie. We had to pay the fine for being towed. This royally sucked big time. I insisted to my husband that we cancel our restaurant reservations at a fancy pants restaurant called Brasserie t! and instead we decided to go out for tapas. This was a smart decision!!!

Dinner was a phenomenal meal at a (recommended by friends) Spanish restaurant. Those feta cheese fried balls (in the photo below) drizzled with honey and caramelized onions were superb! The squid was soft and melted in your mouth. The stewed chickpeas had a hint of cumin and the rapini was al dente and garlicky. The Sangria was quite sweet (my kind of drink); I consumed 3 glasses of Sangria and quickly forgot about our towing drama of earlier.

The next morning prior to our departure from Montreal, we drove back up to the amazing bakery "Premiere Moisson" at Jean Talon's farmer's market. Another gorge-fest ensued with (again!) the fabulous almond croissant and a Chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) along with the freshest sandwiches ever. The bread was airy and light with a crispy crust on the outside. I had brie cheese with tomato and spinach sandwich on a mini olive baguette. The bread inside was slathered with fresh creamy butter. Oh man...fresh butter! So good!

Several stops at the fruit and veggie stands and my hands were hauling bags of sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh green beans, fresh fava beans, assorted coloured peppers (purple!), assorted coloured baby carrots (yes, purple too!), long white eggplant, a pound of juicy, tart apples, the sweetest and juiciest strawberries ever and a basket of ground cherries which are my new favourite fruit. Thank you Montreal for introducing them to me.

It was a bit sad to leave such an amazing food experience, we drove home with our farmer's market purchases and delicious pastries for the road trip. I savoured every crumb.

I can seriously see myself living in Montreal. The food alone is enough to lure me there. But I'm told the winters there are much harsher than in Toronto. Hmm, maybe I need to think about this a bit more.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Vacation time is here! I'm heading out to Montreal for a week.

First we're staying at a cottage north of Montreal with friends for a few days and then we're going into downtown Montreal for some sightseeing and of course, good eats.

One thing I plan to do is to finally try some poutine because I have never had it before and people are shocked when I mention this fact about myself. I know it's just fries with gravy and squeaky cheese curds but I very rarely eat french fries with gravy in Toronto so I guess, as the saying goes...'when in Rome'... or rather 'when in Montreal.'

I've been to Montreal once before. It was a short trip mainly focusing on meeting with some friends from abroad, so we did things as a group. I didn't get to visit the places I wanted to nor eat at the restaurants I wanted to because...we made decisions as a group. We went to pubs that served primarily beer and I don't drink beer. (Beer drinkers, I know I won't get any sympathy from you!) We ate at a restaurant that was over my budget at the time. I somehow managed to piss off the server when I didn't order a pre-dinner Port like everybody else at the table did. The server obviously had her own agenda.

This time I have an agenda. Bakeries to visit are at the top of my list. Bagels and smoked Montreal meat are not my thing, so I won't be hunting down any authentic bagel shops like St-Viateur Bagel, or deli meat shops, like Schwartz's.

I would like to go back to Old Montreal and explore it more. The quaint shops especially. There is also an art exhibit I would like to check out. The artist is a friend of a friend and I really like her paintings.

All in all, a time for me in Montreal.

If you have any (affordable!) suggestions about what to see, eat and do while in Montreal, please leave me a comment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

dreamy and creamy

I have been jumping on the homemade ice cream/gelato bandwagon lately and enjoying the ride.

There is something quite satisfying about making your own ice cream. You get to adjust the ingredients to your liking. If you don't want it too sweet, reduce the sugar. If you want it low-fat, use 1% milk or soy milk OR make sorbet. If you want it crunchy, add some nuts or chocolate chips. If you don't want eggs in your ice cream custard, skip them.

Anyway you choose it, it's your own creation, so none of the additives and chemicals that you would find with commercial supermarket ice cream. Just spoonfuls of creamy, cold goodness.

With the rosewater ice cream , I followed the recipe loosely (see link). I omitted the eggs in the recipe and just made a simple cream base and added rosewater (God, how I love thee). I also added chocolate chips, which I don't think really went well with the flowery, delicate flavour of the rosewater. Oh well, next time I'll add pistachio nuts or candied lemon peel. See what I mean? You're the boss...

Of all these ice cream flavours below, my favourite so far was the lemon gelato. Oh boy! I've made it twice already. Just 4 ingredients. You can't go wrong with that!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's getting there...

Well I'll be...I have banana peppers growing! Hot banana peppers! Yeah!

I foresee a dish of hot banana peppers stuffed with ricotta cheese or chèvre and fresh herbs and pan fried in olive oil. So very yum!

I also had a tiny green bell pepper but a pesky squirrel came around and scooped out the innards, i.e. the seeds. So my husband built some kind of protective barrier around the potted pepper plant to protect them. So far I think it's worked.

The rest of these images are just a few snap shots of the herbs growing in the herb garden.




So, all in all, a good decision on my part to grow herbs on the front lawn! I can only imagine how luscious the tomatoes would have turned out on the front lawn with 8 hours of sunlight. I sense a "told you so" moment arising.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Brown thumb turns Green

This year when planning my gardening repertoire, I decided that I would create a front lawn veggie garden. My thinking: lots of sunshine would definitely yield to a successful crop. Last year, I tried to plant a series of veggies and herbs (tomato, pumpkin, raspberry, onions, garlic, mint, celery) in the backyard but with two tall and leafy trees casting shade and shadows over our yard, nothing came to fruition, except 3 little raspberries and some mint.

This is what our backyard garden looked like in May 2009:

This is our back yard garden now in June 2010:

See how dark and shady the backyard is...
it's great for keeping the house cool in the summer though.

There are still some veggies in the backyard. I thought I'd give the tomato idea another run and planted three of them, directly under a sunny spot where tree branches had been trimmed back. There are also two pepper plants in a pot, a hot one and a mild one. They too, are strategically placed under a sunny spot. There are also garlic shoots, raspberry plants, spring onions, mint (which is resilient and grows like weeds) and more basil in planters, as I love the stuff and plan to make basil ice cream one day!

Planting a front lawn veggie garden did come with resistance. My husband was against the idea as he didn't want our house to look like a Greek - Italian immigrants front lawn with sticks supporting tall tomato plants and a smorgasborg of miscellaneous, unruly crops. He likes order, symmetry, neatness, and colour. So I struck a deal with him. I suggested an herb garden. He agreed and so I (we) set off deciding what to plant in the front lawn.

This is what our front lawn looked like before:

This is sand by the way, which is under everybody's lawn.

We removed the sand and mixed some of it with nutrient rich compost soil.

And this is what our herb garden looks like now:

Big rock in lower corner is covering the city water main valve.

Some of the plants in my herb garden include: basil, purple basil, dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, sage and cilantro.

I've already dipped into my basil, rosemary and oregano yesterday to add to my pizza toppings. The cilantro is taking a bit longer as it was planted from seed. The other herbs were planted from plants that were already grown.

There is no doubt in my mind that this herb garden will be a success unless "Orange" the neighbourhood tom cat pees on it, or if neighbours run off with my herbs. The intense sunlight of about 6 to 8 hours worth is perfect for herbs on the front lawn. Notice in one of the photos that the grass is brown? That's because the intense sunlight fries the grass, which generally requires watering everyday. Such a waste of water for something as completely useless as lawn grass.

Ultimately, my husband has huge dreams of tearing out all the discoloured lawn grass and turning our front lawn into a urban oasis - haha - but maybe that's just wishful thinking...only time will tell.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sewing 101: The dress, the curtains & the birds.

Remember the dress I mentioned I was sewing a few months ago? Well, it is now finished!

Despite a few sewing glitches around the neckline and a 2-week hiatus from completing the hem of the dress, I can now say that not only is the dress finished - but I also wore it!

The dress is form-fitting and slimming. The fit is absolutely perfect as it should be because it was made to fit my body. My favourite part of the dress is the neckline and the bodice area. There is something to be said about making your own clothing. Not just from the satisfaction of finishing a project, but that you actually get to use the finished product, and the end result looks damn good too! FYI - This photo does not do the dress justice.

Truth is, I had help making this dress. My sewing skills from Grade 7 and 8, just didn't cut it to complete this dress flawlessly. I must give credit to my good friend and sewing tutor, Cara of Leopard Spotted Designs. Cara's background is in costume design and she has worked in numerous films and movies as a professional costumer, dressing many famous celebs. She also teaches sewing at a Toronto-based sewing studio.

Cara also made these lovely kitchen curtains for me from (get this) cheese cloth fabric!! This loosely woven fabric, provides privacy, while allowing natural light to penetrate through. Clean, simple and with no frills. I LOVE my new curtains! Thanks Cara!!

And because all good things come in threes, Cara also sewed up these adorable fabric birds for me and I stuffed them with polyester fiber fill. I also added some rhinestone eyes to the birds, just because. I have a vase with some branches in my living room and these birds will look just perfect on there, once I've finished attaching the ribbon on them, of course.

So this ends my foray into sewing 101. I don't think I will be sewing anything else at the moment as I must tend to other pressing matters, like my neglected Etsy jewellery shop.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Accessorize like Cleopatra

If you have a fascination with Ancient Egypt, mummies and curses, you're probably a nerd like me. And you've probably watched all "The Mummy" films too. Okay maybe not.

As a volunteer at the Royal Ontario Museum, I often browse the jewellery section at the Ancient Greece, Roman and Egyptian exhibits. Yes, I am a huge fan of antiquity and as a teenager I wanted to become an archeologist. No lie. I would have had to go away to study at McMaster University. The only Ontario post secondary institution offering an archeology program in the 1990s. Going away to study was unheard of in my family and as such, I never pursued my dream of traveling to distant lands and digging in dirt to find ancient relics...sniff.

So when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. As a result, nowadays I make jewellery reminiscent of ancient civilizations.

Case in point, these Egyptian-inspired sterling silver earrings. They are shaped like a pyramid and are made with (thin yet sturdy) 22 gauge sterling silver wire shaped with pliers. The beads are made of lead crystal, also known as Swarovski crystals. I chose red crystals for their vivid colour and how nicely they looked juxtaposed against the silver triangles.

They look just gorgeous in the sunlight as the crystals pick up the light. I will be making more pairs of these earring using other coloured beads, so if you would like to see another colour in these earrings, leave me a comment here or send me a message via Etsy.

Next on the agenda, Grecian key pattern jewellery...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All things blue...

I'm briefly resurfacing ~ from resume writing ~ to tell you all that I have a new feature in my Etsy shop. And it'!

I'm introducing Gift Certificates! I've had the idea bouncing around in my head for some time and then this week I thought "why not?" Why not just design some digital gift certificates for my Etsy shop, so that friends can give each other the gift of jewellery without committing to one specific item. There's nothing worse that buying something for your girlfriend or mom only to never see them wear it because...{insert one of many reasons} they don't wear red, or pink, or earrings, or bracelets....

I've got the certificates in denominations of $10, $15 and $20 dollars but customers can also request a higher denomination if they like. Just send me a message vie Etsy and I'll whip one up for you in no time.

Two new and blue jewellery items that I've added to my Etsy shop:

1) A playful pair of genuine aquamarine (icy blue) and sterling silver earrings.

2) An Egyptian inspired 3-strand necklace with genuine turquoise "marquis" stones and a durable sterling silver clasp.

As an aside, the weather here in Toronto has perked up considerably, the skies are blue and I have started to go for leisurely, (okay, who am I kidding)....intense (huffing and puffing) uphill/downhill bike rides along city streets, bike trails and paths in my neighbourhood.

For those that are into bicycles, here's a pic of my 2 year old turquoise blue bike. Cute, eh? It would look even nicer with a basket on the front.

This long weekend, I'll be riding my bike...among other things.

To my fellow Canadians, how will you be spending the Victoria Day long weekend? Or the weekend in general?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I'm posting a recipe!

That's right! I've decided to post a recipe here on my blog, aside from the usual rants about design, jewellery and joblessness.

I did try starting up a food blog over a year ago and although I was excited about it at first, reality quickly sunk in that I kind of sucked at it! There are so many talented food Bloggers out there, that I just didn't feel I could successfully join the ranks and keep plugging away at it long term. So, I gave up on my food blog only after a few months, but I still love trying out new recipes and eating delicious food and of course, commenting on other Blogger's food blogs.

Here is the first official (sweet!) recipe on Keep it Simple: Walnut Fudge Truffles.

I love my desserts and I love my chocolate. What I don't enjoy are my wide Mediterranean hips - the first place I tend to gain weight and the last place I tend to lose the weight.

This recipe for chocolate truffles is taken from a fantastic cookbook called: Carb-Conscious Vegetarian by Robin Robertson. I've been creating recipes from this cookbook for the past 4 months and I have enjoyed every one of them. I've also managed to shed about 13 lbs in that time span yet have not deprived myself of fantastic food and desserts!

I've made these truffles before and loved the intense cocoa flavour combined with the buttery, creamy texture. Hard to believe these truffles are low-carb. And they are made with prunes...prunes! They were so amazingly good and were consumed so quickly that I forgot to snap a photo of them. The illustration I've posted does not do these justice.

Walnut Fudge Truffles (taken from Carb-Conscious Vegetarian by Robin Robertson)

1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/3 cup pitted dried prunes
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp stevia, or to taste (I used about 2 tbs agave and was happy with the results)
4 tablespoons non-hydrogentated, trans-free margarine, at room temperature
(I used Earth Balance which is suitable for a vegan diet)
Ground toasted walnuts and unsweetened cocoa powder, for rolling truffles onto

  • In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts and the dried prunes.
  • Add the cocoa, stevia, and margarine; process until well blended. (Note: If you prefer a nuttier texture in the truffle, add the walnuts towards the end of the blending process to maintain a coarser textured mixture.)
  • Shape the mixture into 1" balls and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  • Consume as is, or to make them all fancy and pretty you can roll the truffles in the ground walnuts or cocoa, or a combination of each. (I loved them with the bitter cocoa on the outside).
  • Cover and refrigerate until firm and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Makes 12

Extra notes about recipe:

Variation: You can substitute butter for the margarine

The "dough" will be quite soft when it first comes out of the food processor, but it should roll up just fine and then firm up nicely in the refrigerator.

For a sweeter, firmer truffle, you can replace the dried prunes with dates. Keep in mind that dates are higher in carbs, because of their high natural sugar content.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Product Review: airplus™ shoe accessories

This past week I had a job interview. Yup! Finally, after all these months I had a call from an organization I had applied to asking to see ME! They were interested in my "diverse" resume, i.e. years of administration experience plus a design degree plus a former small business owner teamed with months of unemployment gaps.

In preparation for this job interview, I bought a business suit: a black jacket and black pants, a button down dress shirt in a baby blue shade, a new black handbag, and nude stockings - my least favourite kind. Yes, I know - very corporate. I also purchased some kind of new shoe inserts called "airplus™"... rubbery, gel cushion shoe insoles for my black pumps in order to avoid blisters. You see, I seldom wear high heels (no more than 2-inches) and when I do...ouch!

This product was a disappointment. The part that goes under the toes (the forefoot), cutely named "Gel Steppies" eventually became unglued from the shoe insole underneath and bunched up, and thus made walking very uncomfortable. I tried several times to fix the problem with no luck. The "steppies" just reverted back to their pre-disposed bunching. It made my one shoe much tighter. I hobbled home. I developed a blister as a result.

I also purchased the gel "heel cup" product from the same airplus™ line. The heel cup on the other hand was fine. I did not notice a significant improvement in my ability to walk in heels. In fact, I don't think that it did much. But thankfully I did not get any blisters!

Not only was I unimpressed with these products but it cost me around $22 for both the forefoot "steppies" and the gel heel cups. One more thing, the excessive plastic packaging REALLY annoyed me. When I got home, I kept thinking of ways that I could re-use the packaging rather than just discard it. Ultimately, I threw the packaging out after I realized how disappointed I was with their product.

One aspect that made this product somewhat redeeming was the pink ribbon symbol on the packaging, suggesting donations (or sponsoring) to breast cancer research.

What kind of product do you use to make your high heels more comfortable?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The weakest link

Hurray, I finally finished the second of two identical sterling silver bracelets. Chain Maille bracelets to be exact. If you're not familiar with Chain Maille, it is also called "Mail Armour" as it was used to make protective garments of armour in the Dark Ages, High Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. You can read some history about Chain Maille here.

Chain Maille jewellery is made from links (or jump rings) that are linked together (using small pliers) to create necklaces, bracelets, earrings, you name it. The end result is very beautiful and very strong and durable. Getting there is another story.

The first bracelet took me a total of about 6 hours to complete within a span of several days. The second bracelet took me even longer ( 10 hours maybe?) because I messed up half way through the bracelet and had to undo several rows of the mistake and start over. What a pain in the you know what!! Argh!

Anyway, both bracelets are now complete and I can send them off to Greece to the woman that ordered them from me. Chain Maille jewellery is not something I make very often due to the cost of the materials (ahem, customs and duty fees, shipping fees, weight of silver) and because of the duration it takes to make it.

Here is a photo of the finished product. Beautiful! It's called a "European 4-in-1" (4 rows in 1 bracelet). There are so many different styles and patterns that you can make just by following the detailed instructions that arrive with your supplies.

Check out my Etsy shop for another style of Chain Maille bracelet called the "3-in-3" bracelet. I've also added a genuine jade laughing Buddha charm on the bracelet for some visual interest and charm. Pardon the pun!