Canadian Tulip Festival

May 19, 2015


The tulip is a symbol of international friendship and is Ottawa's official flower. The tulip legacy dates back 70 years when the Dutch government and royal family made a gift of a thousand tulip bulbs to the people of Canada as an expression of deep gratitude and friendship for the sacrifice Canadian soldiers made in liberating the Netherlands near the end of the Second World War. In 1953 an annual festival of commemoration and celebration of the tulip legacy was born. Each year, the Dutch royal family still sends 20, 000 bulbs to Canada.
Since this past weekend Canada celebrated Victoria Day, my family and I couldn't think of a better place to visit than the capital city of Ottawa with its beautiful tulip festival. Millions of tulips adorned Parliament Hill, the banks of the Rideau Canal and Down's lake, hosting the biggest display and the festival itself. Despite the fact that some of them have already faded, I tried to capture the joy and colour of these delightful spring flowers brought to our day. 


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.
I hope you all have a splendid spring season! 




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Family Road Trip: Fort Lauderdale & Miami (Part 2)

May 15, 2015


There is no disputing the allure of the glistering acres of warm, golden sand that border 

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL

A 2-mile-long section of the ocean coastline is fronted by a beachfront promenade with palm threes and white wave walls where tourists like to walk while locals jog even before the sun rises. Arriving here, we were lucky enough to find a room at Sea Club Resort conveniently located right across the beach. (I would recommend this hotel as a good option if you want to stay on a budget in a great location by the ocean, attractions, and shops.) In fact, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale late at night, but nothing could stop us from going to the beach and jumping in the warm ocean under the clear night sky of the Sunshine State. Moments like that are unforgettable and are our simple answer to the decision of spending our money on experiences, not things. Seriously, there is a science behind prioritizing experiences over material goods. A psychological study suggests that you will get more happiness spending money on experiences like traveling, going to art exhibits, outdoor activities, learning new skills, etc. For the reason that "while happiness from material purchases diminish over time, experiences become  a bigger part of us and part of the stories we will tell to one another." And if you think about it, you would agree that a road trip can provide all of these experiences and stories all at once, can't it?

I read in a tour-book guide that there is a good reason why Fort Lauderdale is known as the Yachting Capital of the World and the Venice of America. In my opinion, in regards to yachts – yes – there are many yachts in Fort Lauderdale and most of them are big, humongous ones that made me ask "why". In addition, these boats replace cars as the type of transportation because of city's extensive network of canals and multimillion-dollar mansions with mega yachts casually parked in front of them in the water is a normal view in Fort Lauderdale. However, having been to Venice many times, I think the comparison with the "City of Bridges" is much exaggerated. Canal road systems aren't reserved for quaint European towns and there are canals in nearly every corner of the globe. We have to stop calling every city with canals "the Venice of (this geographical location)" because cities lose identities and uniqueness in this way. Fort Lauderdale has its own charm and vibe. It is beautiful and refined. And while we were strolling and window-shopping through Las Olas Boulevard, filled with shops, restaurants and galleries, we sensed downtown's Mediterranean ambience that invited us to stop for a latte at a side-walk cafe and engage in some beautiful life's moments watching.

We enjoyed Fort Lauderdale for five days (as one of them we spent in Miami) and then we headed to Key West.




Within an hour drive south from Fort Lauderdale through Ocean Drive, we reached one of the most vibrant, edgy and exciting cities

MIAMI, FL

We started our "one day in Miami" with an early morning visit to The Juice Spot as our son requested. It is an organic cold pressed juice and wifi bar, hidden away on a not so busy street, but it is LeBron James' wife's spot and that is why our big basketball fan and player himself was secretly wishing to see the King there. Guess what! He was there, sitting with his manager at the corner, frequently biting his nails. My son was ecstatic! How often does a boy who has been for the first time in his life to Florida, travelling 2600 km from Toronto to Miami on a family spring break, find himself randomly talking to one of the greatest basketball athletes of our time? It was quite an experience for all of us. Of course, James didn't sign an autograph, nor his own brand shoes, nor did he take a photo with my son, blaming the rules of the shop. However, no one stopped me from taking photos of my son in which LeBron James casually appeared in the background. It, in fact, raised a good conversation among us and lately our friends and relatives about famous people's privacy, personal space, star-fan relationship and so on. As mature as my son is, he didn't take any of this personally, he understood the "policy" and he was more than grateful for this opportunity fully realizing that such an encounter is one of those that would be remembered for life and should be celebrated. He even made a good joke out of it "I was so hoping it would turn kind of like a "Like Mike" moment where a teenage boy becomes an NBA superstar after trying on a pair of sneakers signed by "M.J"
Who knows, one day James' children might ask for my son's autograph, right?

Our day continued with exploring South Beach and its Art Deco District. Pastel pallets and symmetry and at the same time glamour and exuberance are perhaps what make this early Modernists style architectural area (some call it Tropical Deco) fascinating. There is no surprise that many filmmakers, fashion designers, artists and photographers find inspiration among these classic hotels, fanciful bars, dunes and magnificent beaches.
Traffic begun its slow crawl past the popular Colony, Boulevard and Beacon Hotel, a classic example of South Beach deco design. Colony Hotel (1935) is particularity noteworthy for being the earliest building to incorporate blue neon into its exterior and use this neon tactic to attract customers. Located one block north is the area's most infamous residence – the large white, 1930 Spanish style mansion, once the home of the Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was shot to death on the steps. Few blocks from that well-beaten path of Ocean Drive, full of beautiful people, we walk through the pedestrian-only Lincoln Road only to be amply rewarded with a nice urban sophisticated spot for comfort food and great desserts  Icebox Café (highly recommended).

I would most likely never move to live in Miami (first on my current list of places in the USA is Savannah, GA :), but I can understand why many people choose to do that. Miami is exciting. Life happens here in a very colourful, fiesta kind of way. Miami feels like a never-ending feast for the senses especially to tourists. Glamour seems part of everyday life. Light is different and makes the city glow. Cultural diversity and cultural heritage are tangible. It is a magnificent blend of people who bring their music, food, aesthetic and zest for life to the party and "everyone wants to join that party."
Miami may be indeed the Magic City (and not only because of its rapid growth from where the city's nickname originates).





Have you been to Florida? Are you planning on visiting the Sunshine State? What do you like most about Miami?  
I would love for you to share your thoughts here. 

Thank you kindly. 



Old Faithful Shop

May 8, 2015



They had me at "Old Faithful Shop". Don't you just like this name for a shop. It's original, intriguing, and descriptive. And if you are imagining an old-fashioned general store that sells well-made products for simple everyday living such as kettles, wooden sugar spoons, balls of twine, blankets, soaps, brooms and dustpans, books, cutting boards and canvas totes; in other words, products that will age along side with us and stand the test of time, well, you are not far from the truth. These products reminiscent of the kind of goods that our grandparents used to buy - crafted by an artisan's hand, designed with a soul and thoughtfulness, woven by stories. 
Old Faithful Shop was first created in Vancouver by Walter Manning and co-founder Savannah Olsen. Inspired by the convenience store of Manning's grandparents, they succeed in establishing a modern day version of it, dedicated to traditional handcrafts and great quality household goods. The interior of the shop – simple, minimalistic and inviting – embodies the wise saying that "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". The attention to detail is impressive. When I first opened the door of the shop, adjectives such as beautiful, simple, honest, organic, clean, inspiring, aesthetically pleasant were jumping around in my head. Truth be told, I felt the need to spend money here, not only because I wanted every single item from the shelves, but mostly because I wanted to support such a great effort of creating something meaningful in a thoughtful and generous manner. Something like a movement of going back to the roots of making things and selling them in the most human, friendly way. I wanted to give my vote for the vision of a modern general store where shopping becomes a human experience, where a sense of community is fostered and where craftsmanship, longevity of the product and the support of the independent artists is a philosophy. I wanted to vote for a sensible, sustainable consumer culture opposite to purchasing either cheap or unreasonably expensive, hidden behind big brands, mass-produced merchandise.
And I voted and I will again. 
   


As we will celebrate Mother's Day this weekend, give your mother or yourself  a gift of a visit to an independent local store that sells unique hand-crafted products. Ones such as this wonderful Old Faithful Shop on 886 Queen St. West, Toronto. 

Old Faithful Shop is not paying me for writing this post. The owner and the manager were extremely kind and helpful in giving me the pleasure to photograph inside. 


Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful women out there! 



Carrot Cake for Easter

April 4, 2015


An early, kind of lonely, but fresh from the light rain morning.
At the store's parking lot, while I was putting bunches of flowers into my car, a friendly, elderly gentleman smiled at me "You are buying Spring, eh?" 
Was I really trying to buy Spring? Was that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Could I buy Spring in a world where pretty much everything can be purchased? It made me ponder... I didn't have an answer, but one thing for sure, I was and still am in desperate need for spring, for colours, for light, for happy birds, green trees and scented flowers.
But Spring heralds more than a change in nature. With the rebirth of the earth, I start to feel inspired and brave, alive and ready for a transformational change in my mind, in my life. There is always this tangible sense of anticipation. There is always new energy that envelops the body. New Awakening!
Spring in my soul, in my spirit, in my self. Gladness in my heart. Vigor in my faith in sanity of the world, in the morality of others, in the power of suffering and forgiveness. Going back to my self. Touching my true nature - being one with the Light, unafraid of pain and joy, being Here. Whole! 
  
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." 
                                                                                                                                                                                                       ~Paulo Coelho 


To all of you who celebrate Easter, I wish you enlightenment. When He raises the crucified man and gives him eternal life, may He rise us all to the highest awakening of being humans - spiritual, vulnerable, humble, brave, honest, non-judgmental, compassionate, generous and forgiving. May He rise us to the understanding that the strongest, graceful soul "emerges out of suffering." Once we truly understand hardship, we understand happiness. Thank you all for making me believe in me, in you, in the goodness of humanity. 





Carrot Cake 

This is my first ever carrot cake, and I have to tell you, it is the best carrot cake I have ever made. Seriously, beneath this unpretentious look, lie multiple layers (not very even) of moist and chewy, back-to-the-basics flavourful cake rich on sweet carrots, walnuts, little bits of raisins, exotic spices and delicious cheese frosting. I combined several recipes to come up with this one. 


Ingredients:

2 cups finely grated carrots
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup oil
4 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 1/4 all- purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmegs
1/4 tsp/ allspice (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 pkg. (250gr. each) cream cheese, softened
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp. pure vanilla
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. honey  


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour.


2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. 


3. In a large bowl, beat together sugars, oil, eggs (one at a time), vanilla, and orange zest. Whisk in the dry ingredients, until well combined. Using a spoon, stir in the carrots, walnuts and raisins. 


4. Divide batter into the two prepared pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pans on a wire rack. 

 5. Make the icing by blending the cream cheese, butter, vanilla lemon juice and honey. Gradually add sugar, beating until incorporated. 

 6. Place one of the layers on a serving plate. Spread 1 cup frosting over cake. Top with second cake and spread the remaining frosting over top and side. 




Enjoy and have a Happy Easter!







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