December 2013


TRAVEL: Pret-a-porter Paris

Melanie & Doreen – Style md – are Toronto-based wardrobe consultants and personal stylists.

By Melanie Jennings

I was recently in Paris with my daughter for a short holiday. It was the first time I had been there in about twenty years. Before arriving, I wondered how different it would be from when I was there earlier.

I remember a city of beauty, with fashionably dressed women everywhere.  It was so great to be back. It was exactly as I remembered it. Nothing had really changed. The French know: When you get something right, leave it alone, and let it be.

As we wandered the streets and looked in shops, I saw that everything we have here, they also have. But the big difference is what they have is infused with so much more creativity, beauty and style in addition to choice. Inside Bon Marche, an upscale department store near our hotel, we were upstairs admiring the gorgeous bedding in exquisite colours and the softest cotton imaginable. Then we came to the notions department. It was the most beautiful notions department I have ever seen. There were buttons galore in every colour, texture and shape imaginable, beautiful wools and ribbons in exquisite colors, and soft weaves, millinery supplies of all types – such an abundance of choice that was almost overwhelming.

The same can be said about the fashion. All of my favourite designers have free standing stores in Paris, and usually more than one. That kind of selection is mind boggling. I’m a recent fan of Manoush, a whimsical, fun label from Paris that was at the downtown Bay in The Room.  They carried a capsule collection last fall. When I came upon a Manoush store in the groovy Marais district, I immediately went in to investigate. The store was gorgeous, done in pinks, golds and cream, and was full of beautiful garments. I carefully looked at each exquisite garment and ended up purchasing something I absolutely love. And being July, everything is on sale in Paris. What a bonus!

From Galleries Lafayette with a whole floor devoted to shoes, to Monoprix, the Paris version of Target, to the flea markets where I found the best linen dress ever for next to nothing, Paris is still one of my favourite cities. The fashion is inspiring and the city is truly beautiful. I’ve been away for a long time, but it was great to be back and see it again. It’s like an old friend that you may lose touch with, but once you’re together again it’s like no time has gone by at all.

RECIPE: Applesauce cranberry cake

Anne Lindsay, author of Lighthearted at Home, shares a recipe for a scrumptious and health conscious Applesauce Cranberry Cake. At only 159 calories a slice, it’s the perfect holiday treat. The recipe is also certified by the Heart & Stroke Health Check program, meaning it’s nutritionally sound and totally good for you!

Applesauce Cranberry Cake

Makes 24 slices

Full of flavor, this delicious moist cake looks attractive when made in a Bundt or tube pan. It’s easy to make and keeps well. Serve with fresh fruit desserts, poached pears or sorbets.

¾ cups granulated sugar (425 mL)
¼ cup      soft margarine, at room temperature (50 mL)
1             egg
½ cup      low-fat plain yogurt (25 mL)
2 cups     applesauce (500 mL)
1 tsp       pure vanilla extract (5 mL)
1             Grated rind of 1 medium orange
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (375 mL)
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat flour (300 mL)
1 cup       dried cranberries or raisins (250 mL)
¼ cup      wheat bran (50 mL)
4 tsp        cinnamon (20 mL)
2 tsp        baking soda (10 mL)
½ tsp       ground nutmeg (2 mL)

Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch (25 cm) Bundt pan.

In mixing bowl, beat sugar with margarine until well mixed. Beat in egg until light in colour. Beat in yogurt until mixed. Beat in applesauce, vanilla and orange rind.

In separate bowl, combine all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, cranberries, bran, cinnamon, baking soda and nutmeg; stir to mix. Pour over applesauce mixture and stir just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake in 325°F (160°C) oven for 60 to 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes, then turn out onto rack and let cool completely.

MAKE AHEAD: Wrap well and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

PER SLICE: 159 calories, 2 g protein, 3 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrate, 2 g fibre, 138 mg sodium, 81 mg potassium
Excerpted from Lighthearted at Home. Copyright © 2010 by Anne Lindsay and Associates. Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.


The merchants at Union Station ban live music from a public realm

What could be worse at Christmas then to ban the Salvation Army brass band at Union Station, where it has played each and every year for the past 50 years? One might well wonder how a location like Union Station, paid for with our tax dollars, could so brazenly take away something most of us have grown to look forward to?


Would anyone be surprised to learn that a small group of vocal, scheming merchants have taken control of the station, convincing city management to ban instruments in the concourse?  I’m not sure if this is simply greed from merchants worried the coins going to the Salvation Army won’t get into their till, or utter stupidity on the part of management who have forgotten the station belongs to the public and not the merchants we allow to be there!


I wonder what goes through the minds of all those musicians who have volunteered, who have spent hours practicing and rehearsing so that they can bring music to the ears of frazzled travellers passing through this busy transit hub in hope that they might donate to a very worthy cause? Are they too picturing the merchants at Union rolling their hands together thinking they will get more coins in their tills. I for one will boycott those merchants until they decide to allow instruments back into Union Station and I encourage the city staff enabling this small band of merchants to grow some balls and stand up to them. Remember that having a store location in Union station is a special opportunity that the public has given them.  Their action to ban instruments from Union Station has demonstrated that these merchants have grown too powerful and are trying to influence control over a public space. The city bureaucrat who allowed this to happen should be shown the door quickly.


I want to thank those musicians who volunteer their time to bring that music to our ears. They bring a smile to many a soul… and for that deserve our support. I am glad the TTC allows the busker to play at the Bloor station; I smile at the guitarist who plays at the corner of College and Yonge everyday. It is these small things that make Toronto a wonderful place to live.


Next time you go through Union station think twice about making a purchase, and remember how these merchants banned the salvation army from bringing their music to your ears.


Avocados: the super fruit

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to try some recipes with Mexican avocadoes. I love avocadoes. I probably eat at least two avocados a day, maybe more. But if you had asked me 20 years ago if I liked avocados I would have said, “I have never tasted one.”

Yes, I am one of those who ate meat and potatoes and a little seasonal fruit most days. Foods like cilantro, avocados, arugula, and anything else that was green, except frozen peas, were probably not high on my list, nor was it served at our supper table.

Then my life became all about food allergies and what the heck was there left to eat. Avocados were on the ‘Can Eat’ list. So I tried one and, well, I loved them. They are so smooth and creamy and I can’t imagine how I had lived without them.

I first tried avocados in a local vegetarian restaurant where they had made them into an avocado and onion salad with lemon juice, uembushi vinegar, olive oil and salt. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Since that day I have never looked back and every time I go grocery shopping, which is fairly often, I pick up at least six avocados.

My significant other was like me, and when we met a few years ago I tried to get him to eat avocados. He would always say “I don’t really care for them”, and I would say,” have you ever tried them?”

Now he eats more avocados than I do. His favourite way to eat them is sliced on toast or with a chicken sandwich. He also loves them with his eggs on the weekend, or on homemade flax crackers.

My girlfriend always carries an avocado in her purse when she goes out for dinner, just in case there is nothing on the menu that she can eat. She will ask the waitress to bring her some olive oil and lemon and voila she has a healthy snack.

I put sliced avocado into all my salads. Whether it is a green lettuce salad, a cabbage salad or kale salad, avocado always makes it taste so much better.

Avocados are full of healthy fats and help keep the body alkaline, which helps us to keep disease away. Avocados contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, folate, and more potassium than a banana. Avocados can help lower cholesterol, so why not pick up a few avocados at your local supermarket.

It is best to buy avocados that are green and firm. You know they are ready to eat when the skin changes from green to almost black and is slightly soft to the touch.

What about avocados for dessert?

Last night I decided to make an avocado pudding.


2 avocados
1 banana
5 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup coconut milk


Mix all ingredients in a food processor until smooth and enjoy.

I found this a little sweet, but my husband loves sweet things (guess that is why he loves me). If I were making this just for me, I would put in less sweetener, but I have to say the fresh maple syrup that we just picked up at the sugar bush last month makes this a delicious and healthy avocado-banana pudding.


Want to try more of Shirley’s recipes? Enter our contest to win her cookbook, Finally…Food I Can Eat.

REAL ESTATE ETHICS: Dealing with property stigmas and dark pasts

One year ago, almost to the day, the entire nation was rocked by the discovery of 33-year-old university student Jun Lin’s torso in a suitcase behind a Montreal apartment building. Luka Magnotta, 30, now faces first-degree murder charges with allegations that Lin was actually killed and dismembered in his apartment.

That bachelor apartment sat vacant for more than six months following the international manhunt that led to Magnotta’s arrest. The building’s superintendent, Eric Schorer, confirms that it has now been rented to a man he describes as a foreigner who may not know anything about the past of his current home.

I don’t know how I feel about this. As a Realtor, current legislation requires that I disclose to potential buyers or renters any physical defects of a property that may be hidden from view. That’s not a choice or a business decision. That’s the law. But there is no law that requires that I disclose any stigmas or dark pasts and revelations about a home. So do I let the new owners know that the property was the site of a murder? A suicide? It has nothing to do with the structure of the property itself, but even my appraiser agrees that certain events will impact a property’s value, even if it doesn’t impact the physical structure.

Talkative neighbours could impact future sales, and prospective buyers who aren’t even suspicious of any negative events could pull up an old news story just by Googling the address of a property. The financial impact is real, but even foregoing that element of a Realtor’s duty, in metropolitan cities like Montreal and Toronto, the number of buyers and renters with cultural backgrounds that could make them sensitive to these stigmas has to be taken into consideration.

I started this article unsure of how I felt about this topic. There are financial realities that impact both sides, and I suppose it comes down to a case by case issue as to what needs to be disclosed – the murder last year vs. the neighbourhood kids think the place is haunted. But in reality, it comes down to a pretty simple rule that should be guiding every decision I make in business.

It is my duty as a Realtor to do right by my clients and the individuals that I work with, and that includes following the letter of the law in addition to staying true to my moral compass and disclosing what I think needs to be disclosed to the young couple renting their first condo, the young family buying their first home, the business partners buying another investment property, and everyone in between. All hands on deck and all cards on the table – people deserve to know all the details behind what will most likely be the single largest transaction of their lives, and I have an obligation as a professional and as a good person to make sure that that happens.


Follow Chellie on Twitter: @ChellieMejia

Flirting: Turning heads when you’re taken still feels nice

Last night I was at a party with a friend when a cute guy started talking to me, a really cute guy, and before I knew it he was flirting with me — rather drunkenly, but he was definitely flirting.  At most parties and events I’m either with Boyfriend or everyone there knows about him so there’s never any flirting; I’d almost forgotten how great it can feel to have a total stranger find you attractive.

Nothing happened; I laughed, I flirted back a little but I was never concerned about what he thought because I found my person more than a year ago. Flirting when you want to go home with someone or get their number is so much more WORK than when you know you don’t want either of those things. Before I met Boyfriend I used to go out to bars and flirt through hockey games, Irish jigs, and more than a few ill advised shots of tequila. It was always work; I had practiced lines, I had looks and moves and I knew exactly how much cleavage to show.

Last night I showed up in the same dress and tights I’d worn to work, I was more concerned about having a good time with my friend than I was with meeting a new dude and I guess it showed. Maybe there’s a reason that people say as soon as you wear an engagement ring or a wedding band people start hitting on you; maybe it has nothing to do with the ring and everything to do with the fact that you just don’t care anymore.  The less you care about hooking up, the easier it is.

Standing in front of this man there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be faithful to Boyfriend, I love him and I’m not interested in cheating. But I liked the attention I liked knowing that someone else found me pretty. It may sound terribly vain but sometimes I just want someone to look at me and think, “Damn.” Sometimes I don’t care if they think I’m entertaining or funny or wild or weird I just want them to appreciate that I put effort into my appearance. Boyfriend loves me and of course he finds me attractive but he knows me and that taints the opinion; when it comes to appearance the opinion of a stranger will always be more honest than someone who cares about whether or not they are hurting your feelings.

I’m a happy lady and I can’t see a future that doesn’t have Boyfriend in it (or maybe I just don’t want to) and I don’t care about what’s-his-name from last night’s party, I will probably never see him again, but it’s really nice to know that I can still turn a head or two when I want to.

Christmas shopping: Can I find the perfect gift for the perfect guy?

Normally I love shopping for Christmas presents. I like finding the perfect gift for each person and I consider it a personal triumph when I make someone cry; tears are a clear sign of victory. But Boyfriend is impossible to buy for and he’s far better than me at getting presents because everything he gets me is something personal and deeply meaningful; at this point I wish he’d show up with an iPod shuffle and an ugly Christmas sweater in a box that says, “To: Janet.” At least then I wouldn’t feel like such a failure.

For our anniversary Boyfriend made me, literally made, a Zombie Boyfriend Munny doll that he had hand drawn and coloured in. For my birthday he had someone make me a one-of-a-kind Sasquatch stuffed creature wearing a red vest because when he sat next to me in the hospital and I was doped up beyond recognition I told him I had a conversation with a Sasquatch wearing a red vest.

See?! There is literally no competing with him at gift giving.

I wanted to get us a trip to somewhere warm and toasty for New Years Eve, even if it was just a couple days, but then I took a new job and a last minute trip seemed like a pretty terrible idea.  Boyfriend has never been on a vacation, ever, so it would have been the perfect gift for him but unless Flight Centre wants to gift us three days in the Bahamas I don’t think that’s happening this year. I’m back to square one.

After the vacation idea I thought I had found a great gift, a comic book artist who would make a print based on our story; beautiful, simple and so very perfect for my comic book loving manfriend. But I didn’t think far enough ahead so it wouldn’t arrive until after Christmas and that’s just not going to work, maybe I’ll do that for his birthday in April.

Right now I’m out of ideas, I’m 100% sure that he’s ordered something or made something that is brilliant, sweet and something I didn’t even realize I needed in my life. At this point I’ll probably end up getting him something he wants but wouldn’t buy for himself, like a new TV he needs a new TV.  The worst part is that he will probably love whatever I get him, he’ll probably think it’s great but so far there’s nothing I can think of that will even compare to the things he’s already given me.

Is dating always this hard? We did the, “I love you thing.” Shouldn’t I be calmer about what gifts I get him? Shouldn’t holidays be easier now? Maybe it never gets easier, maybe when you love someone you spend the rest of your life trying to make theirs better whether that’s a gift, a favour or a phone call to check in after a bad day.

I guess I’ll spend the rest of my days wondering if I’ll ever be able to beat him at gift giving.

Challenge accepted.

Art in Iceland

There’s a broken rainbow at Keflavik airport. Its steel frame arches out of the parking lot, reaching into the sky. And when the sun hits it just right, the rectangle cuts of stained glass inside the sculpture make a colourful mosaic on the ground.

The airport was a military base in a past life and is surrounded by lava fields sheathed in a verdant coat of moss. I press my nose to the bus window as we head to Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city, and eye the volcano-looking mountains in the background. It’s hard not to wonder if they’re active, dormant, extinct, or even volcanoes all.

I traveled to Iceland for the Nordic culture and the diversity of the landscape. It is, after all, smaller than Newfoundland and is home to Europe’s largest glacier. As we tumbled along, from airport to city, the lava fields diminish and ardent architecture, painted brightly with European charm emerge.

It was early August and wet, but the constant rain didn’t seem to dampen the mood of city-goers bouncing along. Cafés, each with a signature style, were perched on almost every corner and not one was a Starbucks.

The streets of Reykjavik are hilly and I realize I’ve come unprepared. No raincoat or wellies. Not even an umbrella to keep my hair from having that ‘just showered’ look.

Everything is expensive, food included, and it makes sense. Iceland is a country dependent on imports. It wasn’t until my traveling companion and I rented a car that we realized how little room there is for garden-variety agriculture.

Since Iceland is going to be our temporary home for nearly five weeks we pop our tent in a campground outside the city’s core. It’s a short walk to the ocean and there’s a smooth trail weaving along the waterfront with sculptures here and there.

Reykjavik is a walkable city and, on one such walk, I discovered Ásmundur Sveinsson’s sculpture garden and studio – a breathtaking collection with additional pieces all over the country. I didn’t go to Iceland with the intent of falling madly in love with Sveinsson’s work. It just happened; kind of like how the moment I discovered hot pots I quickly got over my inhibitions about showering naked with strangers – it’s a bit of an insult if you don’t.

Hot pots are pools of relaxation, gossiping grounds for locals and for tourists. They’re filled with natural minerals, geothermally-heated, and can be found all over the country. The locals know where the best ones are and those are often kept secret.
Renting a car is certainly the best way to explore. For roughly two weeks I cruised the Golden Circle where the original geyser – the one all other geysers are named after – puts on a rare, but spectacular show. The Ring Road circles the country. Sheep on the hillside are plentiful. Seals can be seen swimming around icebergs in the blue lagoon. Icelandic horses graze at leisure; and puffins bob out to sea.

We didn’t hesitate to take an off-road trip to Husavik, a quaint fishing town with a phallus museum – it lives up to its expectations. And the isolated Westfjords were unlike any other part of the country. It’s a hiker’s dream – the hills were laden with blueberries.

After exploring touristy and remote corners of Iceland, returning to Reykjavik was refreshing. I’d wake up and explore in the silence of the morning just to watch the city break into chaos.

I left Iceland with wool souvenirs, fantastic exfoliated skin, and a love of sculpture without getting too close to the fire and ice.



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TRAVEL: The floating village in Cambodia

By Tania LaCaria

Life is different for the people who live in the Floating Village of Chong Khneas outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

A visit here is not soon forgotten – the architecture, the lifestyle, and the friendly villagers make for an incredible experience. All you have to do is find a Tuk Tuk driver in Siem Reap who will take you over to the village shore for a reasonable rate (put on your best negotiating face because the starting rate for a 45 minute drive will not come cheap).

After you reach the shore, you will have to pay for a ticket on a boat that will tour you around. Eager tourists are to blame for the heavily inflated boat ride prices, but at this point, the high prices are inevitable (Cambodia is notorious for exploiting tourist curiosity), and luckily still affordable by North American standards.

Tuk Tuk drivers assume the role of tour guide as they try to solicit tourists who are intrigued by the sounds of visiting a remote village on the water. Luckily for the fare-hungry drivers, most tourists cannot pass up the opportunity to catch a glimpse of such a different way of life – after all, who wouldn’t want to see an entire community made up of wood structures that are teetering on stilts over the Tonle Sap by boat?

Houses, temples and shops are constructed out of wood boards and stand a couple of metres above the water’s surface. The Tonle Sap stretches far and wide; it is actually the largest lake in all of Southeast Asia, and supplies the 1300 houseboats in the community with freshwater, fish, and one giant recreational swimming pool.

The homes in Chong Khneas are beautifully painted and fully functional. They have makeshift “driveways” with boats tethered to poles, ladders that lead up to the indoor living space, and a storage deck for cows and chickens that is suspended beneath the house (but still above the water).

It’s quite rare to see the trees and shrubs that grow right out of the water. If it weren’t for the deliberately elevated houses, one would think the area had been flooded. It’s a surreal sight to say the least, but it’s nothing more than everyday life as usual for the Chong Khneas community.

The drive over to the Floating Village is just as memorable as the village itself, especially since you cross paths with more smiling children walking along the side of a dusty gravel road than you can count. My experience with children in Cambodia up until I visited the Floating Village had been really sad. All of them in the main tourist areas of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap had approached me begging (literally, tugging on my clothing) for money, food, books, jewelry…anything that they could eat or sell. It is heart-breaking being unable to give money to a single child in a group of 20 kids that seems to turn into a group of 30 kids within a matter of minutes; but despite the poverty and harsh living conditions, the children of Chong Khneas will wave excitedly as you drive by and put on their best I-know-how-to-scream-’hello’-in-English show. It’s a beautiful (and equally heart wrenching) scene. You will be tempted to jump out of the Tuk Tuk and hug them all…which is no problem because they will all want to hug you too.

A visit to the Floating Village is particularly memorable during the Water Festival season. There are various water festivals celebrated in various parts of Cambodia throughout the year, but the most famous takes place in Phnom Penh during October and November. The festival marks the end of the rainy season when the flooded Mekong River finally redistributes its water back out to connected river arteries including the Tonle Sap, and the fishing season commences. In Chong Khneas, you will see children by the boatloads engaging in one giant water-fight on the lake.

They playfully attack each other with large buckets and plastic bags full of water (Cambodia’s version of the water balloon) all in the name of fun. The sounds of deep-belly laughter bounce off the lake and fill the air with genuine sounds of happiness. Even the local monks and novices participate in the celebration. It’s a strange albeit wonderful sight to witness a saffron-robed monk pelt a dripping wet opponent in a nearby tin boat with a water bomb.

It’s refreshing to witness such happiness in a country that is afflicted with the scars of recent genocide (even if it is naive to believe that the temporary laughter is indicative of emotional repair). The pain and suffering of the people of Cambodia knows no boundaries, and yet, most of the people are strong in spirit and determined to persevere in rebuilding a country that is safe, just and stable.

If you haven’t had a chance to experience warm-hearted-Cambodia, be sure to visit Chong Khneas. Just don’t forget to bring an open mind and plenty of benevolence.


Tania LaCaria is an award-winning Interior Designer and Decorator from Toronto, Canada.