Latest @Pinterest #DIY (hint: not food-related)

Okay, this may not have anything to do with food, but it’s still kind of cool…

This is one of the many Pinterest projects I have saved to do on a rainy day: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/370772981799442870/

My lovely partner in crime managed to salvage an old, five-panel solid wood door from an old job site, and it’s been sitting in the garage for, oh… probably two years now, collecting dust and waiting for me to get off my butt.

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Well, Kevin is currently destroying finishing his garage/workshop, which means that there’s a whole lotta junk in there that’s gotta go… like the old door that I’ve been dreaming of turning into a headboard (as well as a few pallets, but I think he actually has plans for those).

So, on Canada Day, I finally dragged that old door out into the yard, and gave it a good cleaning. I scraped off a lot of the loose paint, and give it a really light sanding, but I didn’t bother stripping it down to the wood: I figured it would look more authentic with some texture under the paint.

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After letting it dry for a while, I busted out the paint spray gun and gave it a few light coats of a pretty light yellow cabinet paint I’ve had lying around for a while (originally purchased for this desk project).

A few days later, I made a trip to the local hardware store, where I snagged some crown moulding offcuts ($1 each!) and a piece of 1×6 pine, so Kevin could add a shelf to the edge of the door/headboard for me! Then I caulked all the joints and filled the nail holes he made, and give it a light sanding.

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The Pinterest link above suggested a more ornate piece of trim, but Kevin suggested the crown would look a bit more polished, and less antique-y… I agree:

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A few more coats of paint, and it was done! I let it fully dry in the garage for a few days, then Kevin mounted it on the wall for me!

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All told, this project probably only cost about $13 (for the crown and pine)… But that was because we had a lot of the materials we needed at home already.

God, I love Pinterest… and Kevin, of course, for helping out with all my ridiculous DIY projects! 🙂

My #BigDayDowntown: I visit @SpiritSpaHFX, Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery, @RousseauChoco, & @InkwellBoutique,

So, I’m feeling very spoiled: I kicked off the Labour Day long weekend with my highly anticipated (well, to me, anyways) Big Day Downtown.

The Big Day Downtown event is organized by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, and is designed to help promote businesses in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event). But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (like moi) are invited to participate, and were given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

This year, the theme was “People’s Choice,” which meant we had to consult with our readers and social media peeps when we were deciding how to spend the cash. I created three polls on my site, and asked people what I should do on my day downtown. The results were pretty overwhelmingly in support of visiting the spa (thanks, guys!), buying something ‘just for me,’ and eating somewhere I’ve never eaten. Sounded pretty damn good to me…

So, with my credit card practically burning a hole in my wallet, I headed downtown on Friday afternoon.

1st stop: Spirit Spa

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I managed to snag a last-minute appointment with the lovely Tiffany at Spirit Spa for a Sea Scrub body treatment. While I try to go for (semi) regular massage treatments, I’ve never been for a salt scrub, and it sounded kinda refreshing. According to their website:

“This body polish uses diatomaceous earth to exfoliate your skin and stimulate circulation. The treatment ends with a silky marine based body milk that will leave your skin supple for days.”

While “diatomaceous earth” sounded a bit fancy, it really just looked like this:

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It felt great, and was really quite relaxing. Plus, my skin felt SUPER smooth afterwards. It was my first trip to Spirit Spa, as well, which is a beautiful, tranquil space: plenty of natural materials, calming music and lots of pops of colour.

I rolled out feeling radiant, relaxed, and ready to eat!

TOTAL: $85.96 (including tax & tip)

2nd stop: Kee-Heong Cantonese Bakery

Just up around the corner is a tiny little Cantonese bakery I’ve been swearing to visit ever since I noticed it there:

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It was around 1 p.m. when I entered the dining room, ready for some dim sum. The lovely lady working behind the counter brought me a menu and informed me, when asked, that they had actually been open for 1 year and 10 months. Seriously?! I need to get out of Dartmouth more often.

I was the only person in the dining room, which made me a bit nervous at first, but I figured that it was likely because I was having a bit of a late lunch, so I settled in to review the menu. As it turns out, I was correct: plenty of others came in to place orders to take away, and eat in, after I placed my order.

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Typically, my eyes were bigger than my belly: I settled on a 3-piece order of pan-fried crispy shrimp dumplings ($3.50), a 6-piece order of pork with cilantro dumplings ($3.50) and a 2-piece order of steamed barbecue pork buns ($3.50).

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The cilantro pork dumplings were savory and packed with fresh cilantro flavour. I’m a big cilantro fan, but for anyone who doesn’t enjoy this distinct flavour, I’d definitely recommend ordering seconds (or thirds) of the pan-fried shrimp dumplings, which are phenomenal. These are like crispy little presents, loaded with shrimp, green onion, and garlic:

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I saved my steamed barbecue pork bun for last…  a slightly sweet, sticky, soft, doughy cloud enveloping a savory pork centre:

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This definitely isn’t a fancy place to go for lunch — the dining room is almost completely unadorned, and there isn’t much in the way of music to create much ambiance, but Kee-Heong offers authentic fare that is fresh and fairly priced.

The display of pastries was very tempting, but I managed to resist the urge to order one (or two) to go, because I was heading to another sweet spot….

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TOTAL: $13.89 (including tax & tip)

3rd stop: Rousseau Chocolatier

Rousseau Chocolatier tweeted at me when I was asking people for recommendations on where to go for my Big Day Downtown. And when I saw photos of their chocolates on their Facebook page, I was sold. They opened up shop on Hollis Street earlier this year, and have been getting lots of attention.

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And for good reason: they know their chocolate! Owned by a husband and wife team — Julien and Nathalie (who was working when I popped in on Friday) — they produce an impressive selection of handmade chocolates, using locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible. Incidentally, they ALSO make a KILLER coconut macaron. Fer reals:

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Plus, you can actually watch the chocolate being made in the adjoining space (which reminded me of when I visited a Swiss chocolatier many years ago). After staring at the chocolate display in awe for a couple of minutes, I finally settled on an assorted box to take home, along with a bag of chocolate dipped meringues.

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To my credit, I shared these with my boyfriend, which I think officially qualifies me as a the nicest girlfriend ever. My favourite chocolate was the feuilletine, which basically has thin crispy flakes in a creamy smooth milk chocolate:

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TOTAL: $29.90 (including tax)

4th stop: Inkwell Boutique

I meandered up to Market Street as a nibbled on the aforementioned coconut macaron, mentally totalling up my purchases en route. With just $20 left to spend, I knew selecting just one thing at Inkwell was going to be tough. I mean, come on:

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This is stationary geek heaven. I lapped the store probably five times before I caved and busted out my own debit card to use in conjunction with my prepaid Visa. I had to have the infamous “seven year pen” (which has an ink supply that’s supposed to last seven years). I’ve been in a need of a good “purse pen” (aka a pen that lives in my purse), and this totally fit the bill. Plus, there’s a strip of cartoon bacon on the clip. Sweet, right? I also snagged a birthday card that predominantly featured a unicorn, and a great print for my basement office area:

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TOTAL: $40.82 (including tax)

So, the grand total for my Big Day Downtown was *drum roll please*:$170.57. For that price, I was scrubbed, buffed and moisturized, well-fed, treated to sweets and even managed to pick up some local art. Plus, I discovered a few hidden gems and supported some great local businesses in the process!

All-in-all, a successful Big Day Downtown, if I do say so myself! 🙂

VOTE: How should I spend my #BigDayDowntown #Halifax ? (@DowntownHalifax)

Big Day Downtown package!

Guys, I’m kinda excited over here! The folks at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) have invited me to participate in their Big Day Downtown blogger event.

Wait, let’s start at the beginning:

A few years back, the DHBC launched the Big Day Downtown campaign, designed to help promote the pretty awesome array of businesses (restaurants, shops, services, etc…) in the downtown Halifax core. For four weeks, starting September 15th, they will be giving out $100 Visa gift cards via Facebook and Twitter to the public (follow them on Twitter @DowntownHalifax and like them on Facebook to keep tabs on the event).

But before that, some very fortunate local bloggers (myself included) are invited to participate, and are given $150 Visa gift cards to spend anywhere downtown!

Fer real.

The only “twist” is that I need to get your input on how I should spend the $150!

See, there’s a lot on offer downtown: 174 restaurants & cafes; 23 salons/spas; 33 tourist attractions/museums/galleries; 45 clothing stores; 16 hotels/inns; 27 furniture/gifts/houseware stores; and 17 sports/hobby stores. So I’m going to need your help!

Ideally, I’d like to do more than one thing (aka I don’t want to blow the entire budget on a new dress at Biscuit), and since this is technically my food blog, I’d like at least one of the activities to involve, well, eating.

I’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, and am hoping you’ll give me your two cents to help inform my itinerary:



If you’d like to make some more detailed suggestions, PLEASE feel free to leave a comment below, or just get at me on Twitter! (@hfraught)

Storm snacks, anyone? Sorry, but #stormchips ain’t gonna cut it on a #snowday

Well, here we go again: another blizzard is headed our way. *sigh*

As we ready to hunker down and weather the storm, one of the most important things to consider are our provisions. I’m not talking bottled water here (that would be far too practical). Nope. I’m talking delicious, hearty, warm-you-to-the-bones grub that will make you perfectly content to go into full hermit mode.

My suggested pantry items/meals/snacks to help you survive any storm:

BOOZE

My elixir of choice is wine: I picked up a bottle of red (Trapiche Broquel Malbec) and white (Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay) on my way home the night before the blizzard. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on drinking both. If the storm isn’t too bad, the white will suffice. If I need to shovel 40 centimetres out of my driveway, well, the Malbec may be in order.

CAFFEINE

I stock up on espresso and made sure my tea selection hadn’t dwindled too badly… warm drinks are a must. Bailey’s isn’t a bad idea, either.

SOUPS & STEWS

Bust out the slowcooker, chuck in some root veg (I had onion, turnip, mini potatoes, carrots and parsnips on-hand), chunks of browned stewing beef, seasoning and some liquid, and you’ll have a warm, hearty dish to dig into for lunch and dinner (no need to make multiple meals). Best served with baguette and butter, of course:

Beef stew

If you’re a vegetarian, I suggest curry sweet potato soup, instead: roast 3-4 sweet potatoes in the oven and scoop out the insides. Set aside. In a large pot, saute a diced onion and two cloves of garlic in two tablespoons of melted butter, then add in 2 tbsp.of curry powder and 1 tsp. cumin. Stir until the spices are mixed in, then add your sweet potato and mix well. Add 4 cups of veggie stock and 1 cup of milk (I like the creaminess), plus salt and pepper to taste. Again, best served with baguette and butter (most things in life are).

SNACKS

Forget chips, give me cheese. After you’ve shoveled out the driveway, you’ll want something warm, gooey and delicious. My suggestion is cheese fondue. It isn’t hard to make (really) and you can even invite the neighbours over to share (especially if they’ve helped you shovel). I always use this recipe (http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/cheese_fondue/) minus the kirsch (because what the fuck is that anyways, and who actually has it in their kitchen?)

Cheese Fondue

Anyways, those are just my personal tips for surviving a blizzard. I’m sure you have your own suggestions! What are your favourite #stormsnacks?

Birthday celebrations with @Unwinedwmoira & friends!

My birthday is on Christmas Day *cue the sympathetic “ooh that must be awful” reaction*

Actually, I don’t really mind sharing my day of birth with the Big Guy’s son… To me, it just means there are usually more people around to celebrate! Growing up, I was also very spoiled by my parents, partially because I think they felt guilty about their timing… so they were always very careful to celebrate my birthday independently from Christmas (separate gifts, cards, a cake: you get the picture).

It can be kind of tough to manage to get people together this time of year, though, so this year, I tried to make it as appealing as possible: I decided to host a wine tasting party!

And since I know very little about wine, I brought in an expert to show us the ropes. Moira Peters, of Unwined Tasting Parties, is a certified Sommelier. She works with clients to select an assortment of wines, then comes to your home (or office, or other venue), to teach you a bit more about the art of enjoying and appreciating wine.

Even after spending a few years hobnobbing on Whistler’s fine dining scene, where I was fortunate enough to attend a few luxurious winemakers dinners, I must admit I still don’t know much about wine, apart from what I generally enjoy. So when I heard about Unwined, I was pretty excited.

Contrary to what you might expect from a wine tasting, this is NOT a pretentious affair. I gathered a group of about 10 friends & family members into my almost-completely-renovated basement, Moira brought along all the stemware, tasting notes, clipboards, pencils and spitcups (don’t worry, we didn’t waste too much), and we started sniffing, swirling and sipping the night away!Unwined Tasting

Moira does a great job of making the world of wine accessible to everyone, explaining how to evaluate any wine with the eye, nose and mouth. Personally, I learned quite a bit from the evening: like what “legs” are, and that you should never judge a wine at first sip! I think it’s also safe to say we had loads of fun in the process, too… with some Christmas carols playing in the background and a few goodies to nibble on throughout!

Tasting notes!

Ladies wine tasting

I think the pricing for the event was reasonable, as well: Moira’s fee varies depending on the size of the group, and the price also depends on wine package you select (she actually kind of blended 2 packages for me). Our evening of wine tasting at home with 10 friends (and no glassware to wash at the end of the night), was under $400. Well worth the experience, I’d say!

Happy Birthday to me! 🙂

 

Saturday morning delivery!

Weekly food box delivery

I dislike grocery shopping. I know, seems weird, right? Because I love to cook. I used to love to go to the grocery store… In fact, I have an excellent system that makes sure nothing gets missed, and we’re in and out pretty quickly. But lately, I’ve been having trouble finding the time to do a weekly shop to make sure we’re fully stocked up.

That’s when I saw an ad for Home Grown Organic Foods. This small, locally-owned and operated business recently relocated to a new storefront location on Gottingen Street, and to mark the occasion, they offered a promotion through CoastMart. I signed up, of course, and we’ve been getting their weekly food box deliveries for a few weeks now!

It’s pretty awesome, actually: You pick the size of box you want (we started with the double but found it to be too much for us), then let them know if there are any products you absolutely don’t want to receive (so, if you hate cauliflower or something, let them know, and you won’t get any in your delivery) and if there are any items that you absolutely love! Since we live in Dartmouth, they deliver to us on Saturdays, which actually works really well for us. If we aren’t home, we’ve designated a spot for them to leave our order, and we try and make sure we remember to leave out the container from last week’s delivery.

The service costs us $30 a week, and I find it’s a pretty good value, considering we receive good-quality organic produce right to our doorstep. I’m sure we’re paying a bit of a premium for the delivery, but it’s convenient, and we’re supporting a local, independent business, so I’m okay with that. Also, because we didn’t stipulate what we want to receive/don’t want to receive, it’s a veritable goody-box to open up each Saturday morning, and it usually contains at least one item I wouldn’t have normally purchased, so it also challenges me to try new recipes, etc…

This week’s delivery contained: a head of lettuce; generous bag of mushrooms; potatoes; garlic; 3 oranges; 6 apples; broccoli; red cabbage; carrots; and a green pepper.

All-in-all, we’re pretty pleased with the service!

How does #Halifax Taste? Pretty damn good… @MorrisEast @DaMaurizio @TwoIfBySeaCafe @SeasonsAtlantic @Armview @NimbusPub

I love a good cookbook: one chock-full of great, tried-tested-and-true recipes, and mouth-watering photos that make you want to get into the kitchen, immediately, to try and recreate what you see before you.

Well, a new one with a local focus just hit bookshelves near you, thanks to the efforts of author and all-around food guru, Liz Feltham, photographer Scott Munn, and Nimbus Publishing.

"Halifax Tastes"

“Halifax Tastes” was released in late May, and will make a great addition to any home cook’s kitchen. Feltham asked chefs at restaurants from around Halifax to share one recipe with her and, in turn, her readers. I’m guessing it wasn’t an easy feat to get some of the chefs to reveal their secrets (some flat-out refused) — especially for recipes like crab dumplings from the Press Gang. But the collection of recipes Feltham was able to amass is impressive: the book features everything from elegant starters, like the smokey corn and haddock chowder from Fid Resto, to the peppered proscuitto-wrapped halibut with mango salsa, courtesy of Nectar Social House. Just as important (for me, at least), is that each recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photo of the dish (so home cooks like me can kind of tell if they were successful in replicating the dish, and get tips for presentation and plating!) To be honest, I totally judge a (cook)book by it’s cover, and this one is a winner.

Nimbus generously invited a few local food bloggers — myself included — to go on a tour of a handful of the participating restaurants to sample some of the dishes they featured, and to chat with the author about her latest project. I believe this is at least the fifth book Feltham has authored (I also have her “Chowders and Soups” tome, which served me very well over the bitter cold winter months).

The all-lady crew of food bloggers kick-started the evening at Two If By Sea Cafe (a stop I missed because I was tied up at the office). But I caught up quickly, and met them at the second stop, daMaurizio. There, we were treated to a delicate appetizer of “Gamberi Santa Maria”: spice roasted jumbo shrimp stopped with with a fresg cucumber, mango and red onion salsa and drizzled with smoked chili aioli:

Shrimp, mango and red pepper aioli from daMaurizioI blissfully sipped away on their ginger margarita, a combination of Patron tequila, ginger-infused syrup, Cointreau and lime), and savoured each bite of the shrimp dish.

Ginger margarita from daMaurizio

After we polished off our cocktails, we hopped in our limo (yep, they hooked us up with a limo; how ballin’ is that?!) and headed to Morris East.

Now, Morris East is one of my FAVOURITE places to go for a bite with friends: it’s cozy and hip without being pretentious, and a has fresh, seasonally-inspired menu. They prepared their peach and prosciutto pizza with maple rosemary aioli for us: topped with sauteed onions, grilled peaches, arugula and goat cheese, it really is the perfect summertime pizza, especially when accompanied by a refreshing wine spritzer with a pineapple ginger syrup.

A slice of peach & proscuitto goodness   Peach & proscuitto pizza from Morris East

Dining at Morris East

Wine spritzer with pineapple ginger syrup

Liz Feltham actually popped by on this stop to meet with the bloggers, chat, and sign our cookbooks… which was pretty cool, since I grew up on a steady literary diet of her food columns in The Coast, back in the day! It was also a great opportunity to discuss the inspiration and effort that went into her latest project…

Author Liz Feltham signs copies of her latest book, "Taste Halifax"

After we had eaten our fill of the delicate, thin-crust pizza (with purse snacks to go!) and sipped the last of our cocktails, we happily trundled back to our waiting ride, and headed to Seasons at the Atlantica Hotel on the corner of Quinpool & Robie.

I must admit, I was most excited about this stop on our tour, as I had heard many good things about this restaurant, but had not yet  had a chance to visit. We were treated to a table-side visit from head chef, Luis Clavel. I was impressed by the clear passion he has for his craft, and for food, in general. He prepared a kind of deconstructed lobster curry chowder: presenting us with a mason jar filled with cold-poached lobster and sweet potato, all infused with a Carribbean curry. It was presented with a crispy pakora, filled with creamy chickpea puree, and a rich broth was poured into the mason jar, tableside, creating an incredible sensory experience, with the spicy curry scent wafting down the table.

Place setting at Seasons

Pakora to dip in lobster curry chowder

Lobster curry chowder, step 1

Lobster curry chowder, step 2

Our last stop on this culinary tour was The Armview, a long-time staple on the Halifax dining scene, which was reinvented/refreshed by new owners a few years back. I love the decor/ambiance of the space: it has a definite diner feel, but with a trendy twist. Think slick, retro colour scheme, bar stools and booths, and funky artwork. There, we were treated to a dish of their incredibly creamy mac n’ cheese, which is riddled with chorizo sausage and manchego cheese, and served with a side of creamy, garlicky Caesar salad: definitely a recipe I would attempt, at home!

The "Armview Storm"

Mac n' cheese, a la Armview

Mac n' cheese loaded with creamy manchego cheese & chorizo

It was a whirlwind of great food, drinks and company, and we headed home with our appetites sated and a new cookbook filled with new recipes to add to our repertoire! Thanks to Nimbus for the lovely evening, and to TIBS, daMaurizio, Morris East, Seasons and the Armview for welcoming our group in for the evening!