My First Container Garden

I love to grow vegetables. I’m not necessarily good at it, but I get a lot of satisfaction from planning, preparing and planting the seeds and seedlings at the start of the growing season and then watching them grow over the summer. Back home, that whole exercise lasted approximately five to six months, tops. Here in Northern California the growing season never starts and stops. In fact, they have a saying here that there are only two seasons here: brown and green.

Fresh produce can be found in farmers’ fields, farmers’ markets and grocery stores year-round. There are certain times that are better than others to grow what might be referred to as “cold weather” crops and “hot weather” crops. Consider that in Toronto, Zone 5, cold weather crops constitute planting and harvesting lettuce, peas and radishes in early summer and warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are harvested during and after the heat of the summer, followed by root vegetables and squash as we move into Fall.

I think the same is true for Northern California, except the calendar starts a lot earlier–like, 2 months earlier–and you don’t ever stop planting–you can keep planting and growing vegetables, you just have to know what grows when in this zone, which happens to be Zone 10.

According to plantmaps.com, the first frost shows up around the beginning of December and the last frost is around the end of February. That’s a full 10 MONTHS of growing!!!

Many people here have fruit and even nut trees in their gardens–orange, lemon, lime, cherry, apricot, prune, grape vines, walnuts, even pomegranates. In fact, before this valley was turned into a bedroom community and tech hub it was covered in acres and acres of fruit orchards.

Photo of orchard in the Santa Clara Valley

I did the stereotypical thing and bought an orange tree within weeks of moving here. Even the woman at the nursery knew it–she said the firs thing people do when they first move here from a cold climate is buy a fruit tree. I guess I’m that predictable. It’s a dwarf navel orange variety, which means I can keep it in a giant planter.

Next I took out some books from the library on gardening in California and planting a container garden. They were good inspiration and helped me reel in my romantic images of a garden straight out of a Nancy Meyers movie set.

I decided to buy a bunch of light-weight containers, some cheap plastic ones, and a few more expensive resin ones. What’s the difference, other than the price point, you ask? They are both plastic, but true plastic is fairly flimsy and cracks easily, as I learned when one of them fell out of my car right after I bought it. The resin ones I got are a moulded plastic, equally light weight, but they seem to be a little more durable and sturdy. I made sure all of the pots had drainage holes in the bottom.

I also bought a few large bags of raised garden bed and planter mix, but it didn’t appear to have much if any soil in it. So I went back to the garden centre and asked. I was on the right track but needed to amend the mix with potting soil.

The helpful garden centre guy also recommended using some vegetable fertilizer. Boy did it stink something fierce! I added a small amount to the soil and mix combo before putting the plants in. I left the bag outside by my tools only to discover that some animal (possibly the four-legged one that lives in our house) got into it, and spilled its contents on the ground. It is so ferociously malodorous, I can’t imagine anyone or anything, enjoying something that smelly.

I know I might have gotten too ambitious with my plants, but since I don’t really have a garden to call my own here, I figured I could handle about a dozen pots.

Here’s what I got:

San Marzano tomatoes

Grape tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

Shishito peppers

Strawberries

Chives

And here are the seeds I planted:

Italian flat leaf parsley

Sweet basil

Golden beets

Nantes carrots

Giant sunflowers

Heavenly Blue morning glory

Nasturtium

Oh! And lil guy picked out a gerbera daisy, so we got one of those too.

I still have three pots laying fallow waiting to see which kind of vegetable they will host. I wish I could grow sugar snap peas, but I fear I might be a little late starting them now because soon it will get hot and there will definitely be no rain. Lil guy also picked out sugar baby watermelon seeds, but there really is no garden to speak of with lots of sunshine where a vine like that could grow. The entire backyard, while large is mostly hardscaped or covered in ivy and tall trees that throw a lot of shade.

I’ve got my eye on one spot on the north side of the house that seems to get continuous sun throughout the day. It would make a good spot for a raised bed, but it’s super close to the house, which is probably not a good thing–someone told me there are things called fruit rats here and I don’t want to have any close encounters with those.

So here are some photos of my work-in-progress container garden (and one little bed). It looks a little sad right now, but once the foliage fills out, I think it will look pretty darn good, and those veggies are going to taste delicious!

My little container garden collection–and orange tree.
Seeds by the little garden bed where they were planted

 

 

Friday Fitness

The sun was shining this morning so there was no excuse to keep me from exercising. So I pulled on the spandex and quick-dry, laced up the runners and headed out with my fellow Canuck for a looooooooong walk along a path that follows a river to Almaden “Lake” (by “lake” I mean a man-made reservoir that collects all the rain water that flows down from the foothills in the surrounding area).

Once we got there, here was the view looking back towards where we came from:

Almaden “Lake” on a sunny day in March

All told, we walked about 10 kilometres there and back, but I kept a running tally going for the day until I sat down for dinner and started typing this. When I checked my pedometer I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

Giving Forest Gump a run for his money

I would LOVE to burn over 500 calories a day EVERY day! Can you imagine??? All I have to do is walk or run ten kilometres! That should be a cinch! (not)

I admit, my puppies were barking a bit after that walk. My arthritic foot with the bunion, especially. But as they say, “no pain, no gain.” Or in this case, “no weight loss.

The only problem with that is, as I have said before, I am my own worst enemy. I got in the car and this is what I proceeded to do:

Damn you, chocolate!

So there go 200 of those 500 calories.

But I persevered. I had healthy snacks today on my walk and I had a glass of red wine with the most amazing dinner. E.V.E.R.

Best. Meal. Ever.

That’s spaghetti with white truffle oil, roasted garlic, fresh campari tomatoes, wilted baby spinach, fresh arugula and shaved parmesan cheese. I think I could eat this meal every day if I had to. It’s the white truffle oil and roasted garlic that does it for me. I think I am part Italian or it’s somewhere buried deep in my genetic code.

Tomorrow’s project: container gardening. It might not help me burn 500 calories, but I’ll definitely get something out of it for all the effort I put in. We got all the planters, soil, fertilizer, seeds and plants. Now we just have to put it all together and we have an instant vegetable garden! I’ll post pictures soon…

California Beach Body: Soft Launch

Moving to the surfing mecca of the world means moving to the Land of the Beach Body, which I do not possess (yet). So I figured it was high time I got one. Problem is, it’s really, really, really hard to get a Beach Body. They are highly coveted and contrary to popular belief, require a lot of work to maintain. The amount of time and energy spent on cultivating and nurturing a true Beach Body pretty much means having no other hobbies (or a 9 to 5 job so I’m told) and following a very strict eating regimen (not the ‘d’ word). Many publications have done a fantastic sell job convincing women like me that we, too, can have a Beach Body, if we just follow these 10 easy steps in 30 days!!!!  If only it were that easy, we would all have them and those publications would be obsolete.

I also heard one of the must-haves for a Beach Body is self discipline.  While writing this, I scarfed down a delicious bowl of pasta with garlic, tomatoes, spinach and arugula, followed by a few freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. This Beach Body thing isn’t going to be easy to get.

And then I remind myself, “you used to be a high-performance athlete and coach. You ate self-discipline for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This should be a cinch!

HA! No, double HA! Those were the pre-children, high metabolism, I’ve-got-all-the-time-in-the-world-and-I-can-eat-anything days.

Motherhood, gravity and a general lack of motivation have taken up residence in my body over the last twenty years. I can’t exactly evict them so the Beach Body can move in, but maybe there’s still some room in that there body of mine for a new look and feel, or so I think.

Today was my “soft launch” to getting a Beach Body. It started with a simple Yes/No decision: are you going for a run today?

It was a crappy weather day, but I said “yes.”

I managed a short and fast run…

Short n’ Fast (for me)

Food is a different story. When it comes to will power the outlook is pretty grim. Why? Because I. Love. Carbs. And. Sugar.

Here’s a rundown of what I consumed today:

Raisin bread with natural peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam

Tea with honey

Vanilla yogurt with a handful of coconut cashew granola and fresh strawberries

A slice of sourdough bread with tuna, tomato and cucumber

Hummus and sugar snap peas

A navel orange

5 mini peanut butter chocolate cups (that’s like 300 calories!!!)

Spaghetti with garlic, fresh tomatoes, spinach and arugula with some parmesan

5 mini homemade chocolate chip cookies (that’s like 300 calories!!!)

Not egregious, but not exactly a lean diet either. I know I can do better. I just have to want to do better.

These pictures might just be the motivation I need. They are the unvarnished truth that I cannot deny–my mom body. It doesn’t help that my face is beet-red from running.

So here’s what I know about me: if I can train for a half marathon, then I can train for the beach. I will never deny myself foods and even junk foods that I enjoy. I had to when I was 15 and competing on the national rhythmic gymnastics team and I think subconsciously I will rebel against that for the rest of my life. Okay, not so subconsciously. I like goals; tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it: reps, weights, exercises, activities, I’m your girl. I’m competitive (no shit!). I will eat the 500 calories I burned even after I tell myself not to. I think being lean and muscular is way more attractive than being skinny.

Based on what I know about myself and my patterns of behaviour, here is the challenge I am setting for myself:

2 months of fitness (running, weights, gym, yoga, whatever) EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I could be setting myself up for failure here, but even if it’s a long walk or a half hour of abdominals and arms, I’ll take what I can get.

Health(ier) eating habits.

There is no sense in setting unrealistic goals so I’m not going to bother. There’s already a bunch of stuff I can’t eat (mostly dairy) because it upsets my stomach, so I’m just going to do my best to make healthier choices. A little less bread, a little more veg.

Logging my activity and eating.

This is really what will keep me honest. I will see plain as day where I am falling into old habits and what I can change.

Writing about my experience.

I love writing. I don’t care if anybody reads my personal ramblings about self improvement or what I did on any given day. Journaling is known to help boost one’s IQ, increase mindfulness, strengthen self-discipline and help achieve goals.

There are no contractual obligations or penalties if for some reason I don’t follow this plan religiously. Maybe taking the pressure off will make it easier for me to follow. We’ll see!

Not your average walk in the park

One of the advantages of living in California is the weather. On average, San Jose has 300 days of sunshine in a year. That is astonishing to someone like me who is a weather-obsessed Canadian, used to grey, rainy, snowy days for about five months of the year.

Yesterday was a prime example of that sunny weather. It was perfectly clear–blue skies, a soft, warm breeze and temperatures hovering in the mid-twenties (it was 76 fahrenheit, but I have no idea how to convert from fahrenheit to celsius–yet!). This kind of weather makes it possible to spend a lot of time outdoors. For some that means lounging on a patio sipping a cold drink and reading a good book. For me, it means communing with nature (to a point). I met up with a friend and we decided to go for a walk. Until yesterday that meant wandering through the neighbourhood critiquing the houses and landscaping, but we decided to change things up and find a trail. Our neighbourhood backs on to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. These foothills are covered in hiking trails. On any given day we have seen deer, quail and wild turkeys. If you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view), you might also see coyotes, rattlesnakes, bobcats and wild pigs. We picked a trailhead that took us to the top of our neighbourhood and gave us a great view of our surroundings.

View of San Jose from Webb Canyon Trail

I thought it would be a quick up and down, and then we’d head back home. Alas, no, we decided to take another trail. I have no complaints. The fields and forests are all picture postcard worthy. We even saw a gaggle of wild turkeys! We didn’t actually stray that far from our neighbourhood, but the foothills can be deceiving–the ups, downs, twists and turns can take you to all sorts of hidden corners and get you so turned around you can lose your internal compass. (that’s when the sun really comes in handy!)

A bucolic view of the trail and surrounding wilderness

Our morning jaunt through the neighbourhood turned into a two and a half hour, 12 kilometre hike through the hills.

Lessons learned for next time: bring water, bring snacks and bring some pocket money–although there were no stores in the immediate vicinity! And definitely remember sunscreen and a hat, which I did.

I also think my kids would have loved this hike, even if they do complain about hiking when we have taken them. Just remember: bring food and water if you are planning on bringing kids.

I think this will become my new favourite recreational activity–it’s not too intense, it’s social, it’s great exercise and the vistas are absolutely stunning.

Yes, it snows in California!

This morning I woke up to the site of snow in the not-too-distant foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and on the east side of the Bay, MORE snow on the Santa Teresa foothills, which are part of the Sierra Nevada. At first I thought I was hallucinating, that I was having some sort of Freudian episode, pining for my land of snow and ice (which, ironically, is having a bit of a warm spell right now). But it was real. Unfortunately it was too far away for me to snap a photo, but the newspapers and television stations covered it aplenty!

Here’s a photo of the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, which is about an hour northeast of where we live.

Lick Observatory Mt. Hamilton
Photo Credit: Gary Reyes/East Bay News Group

Contrary to popular belief, it gets quite cool in Northern California during the “winter” months. I still haven’t mastered the conversion from celsius to fahrenheit (and I may never), but I can tell you it dips down to nearly zero celsius overnight and warms up somewhere between the low to mid teens by the afternoon. I have no complaints about the sunshine–there seems to be an abundance of it. But sometimes I like the variation in weather and don’t mind a rainy day or the sight of clouds hanging low in the foothills. Wet weather here lulls people into a false sense of security, because the truth is there is never enough water. I drive past reservoirs and they all look desperately low. I see trucks from the Santa Clara Valley Water Authority driving about with workers checking on the sluices of the creeks that run through residential neighbourhoods, but there isn’t much to check. The creeks are barely a trickle most of the time.

At this time of the year the hills and trees are a vibrant green, drinking up every drop of water that falls. The birdsong is a beautiful sound to wake up to in the morning. I am particularly fond of listening to the hummingbirds banter with each other. We also have many birds of prey and some of them like to perch high atop the tall pines that adorn our backyard. Their distinctive piercing cry drives the dog crazy and he runs back and forth across the yard growling and barking from his land-bound posting.

The vegetation is varied and interesting and I hope to snap some more photos to share with you. I have no idea how to garden in this climate, but I’m going to try. So far I’ve purchased a dwarf navel orange tree. The woman at the nursery told me EVERYONE who moves here does that, so I guess I’m not that original. I’ve planted it in a giant planter so that we can take it with us should we decide to move. I’ve also planted a tomato plant, some basil and chives. I’d love to grow more vegetables, but it’s early days. Spring doesn’t really start until March here, so I’ve got some time to do the research, plan and prepare a kick ass container garden.

With that I can now fade off to sleep dreaming about Meyer lemons, fresh figs and rosemary bushes that never die!!!

If you’ve got any advice on what vegetables I should try to grow here, I’m open to suggestions!

 

54 Days….(but who’s counting???)

It’s late on a Sunday night. We just got home after a day spent driving up to Sonoma County to watch our eldest play a hockey game. We drove to Santa Rosa where I had visions of a scorched-earth landscape after last Fall’s devastating fires. But there was no apocalyptic scenery, just bucolic rolling hills with homes tucked into their sides and grazing cattle dotting the landscape. I guess we didn’t drive far enough into the countryside. We did, however, see plenty of signs in storefronts thanking First Responders for their help.

We made a day of it, packing a lunch and spending the afternoon at the Charles M Schulz Museum. We read all about how Charlie Brown and Snoopy came to be. We found out what “Sparky” (Schulz’s nickname) would eat every morning, what his office looked like and even how prominent hockey figured in his life. Snoopy’s Home Ice is right beside the museum, so we didn’t have very far to travel to the hockey game!

On the drive up, I saw signs for many of the dairy and produce companies whose products I see in the supermarkets here. I must say, it’s nice to know your milk, cheese, eggs, fruits and vegetables come from nearby. I guess that’s the advantage of living in a climate where you can produce food all year round. The biggest worry right now is the lack of rain. California has always struggled with water shortages and droughts. But as far as I can tell, the farmers still manage to get fruit and vegetables to market. It remains to be seen if the dry spell we’ve been having will result in a crisis.

My latest crisis of conscience is about where we decided to live–this is the first time I have moved in nearly 17 years. In the last week I have vacillated about where we have chosen to live–in the suburbs. Did we pick the right neighbourhood? Is it too far from amenities? Is it too quiet? Is it too great a commute for my husband? Should we have stuck with the big city instead of the suburbs? Will our kids fit in at the schools? The good news is we are renting, which means if we feel this isn’t the right fit for us, there is nothing preventing us from relocating again. The bad news is if it doesn’t work out, it means uprooting the kids yet again and having to resettle ourselves yet again. I am not much for a nomadic life. I like my creature comforts, I like to decorate and garden and make my home cozy and inviting. That’s hard to do when you feel like you are a visitor staying in someone else’s home. But this line of thinking is all a bit premature; after all we have only been here for 54 days. But who’s counting?

 

 

New Year, New Chapter in Life

Well, this is definitely a big one. I wish I had a good idiom to open this post–something from a revered monk or a world renowned scientist, but I don’t. So I’ll tell it like it is: we moved clear across the continent to California. At first blush, the decision didn’t seem that difficult; who can resist California?!?! Sunshine, ocean, mountains, and did I mention sunshine all year round???

But shortly after the euphoria of the opportunity subsided, reality set in: uprooting our family, packing up our worldly possessions, bidding farewell to our family and friends and everything we’ve ever known to take a chance on a new job in a new place in Trumpland. There were many days and nights of anxiety, misgivings, tears and even terror. But we faced them with bravery and a sense of adventure with the knowledge that home will always be home. And the home we make with our kids will always be their home because we’ll be there with them.

We have, for the most part, settled into a routine in our new abode. The kids are in school, they still have hockey and we still go to Costco! The perks, at least for the kids, include wearing shorts and riding a bike to school every day. The difference is we have to factor in three hours before picking up the phone to call friends and family.

I know it will take time to adjust, make friends, create a community and make it feel like home. I’m not the most patient person so I will have to remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In the meantime I am enjoying seeing and hearing hummingbirds every single day, riding my bike with the kids to and from school, exploring the different towns in the Bay area and learning to live like a Californian.

 

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 2)

If anyone reading this has been on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah circuit in Toronto, you can probably tell someone who doesn’t know any better what to expect at a typical evening reception for a 13-year-old kid:

  • Gender stereotypical themes like Tiffany boxes and fashion labels for the girls, pro sports teams and rock n’ roll for the boys
  • Obnoxiously loud pop music, flashing lights and a couple of sweaty dancers charged with enticing reluctant self-conscious pre-teens on to the dance floor by baiting them with made-in-China giveaways
  • Barely teenaged girls in barely there dresses, high heels and Kardashian-style smokey eye make up
  • A sit down dinner for the adults who attempt to exchange pleasantries but can’t hear each other over the thumping bass music
  • A buffet of fast food favourites for the scores of kids that generally include burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and french fries
  • A photo booth with tacky feather boas, sparkling cardboard top hats and wacky glass frames for accessories that dole out pictures not meant for any photo album
  • A kids’ candy buffet overflowing with gummies, gum balls, sour keys and every other sugar-laden treat imaginable the adults secretly covet

We decided to forego the serial (and predictable) evening reception for something a little different. I call it a 13-year-old boy’s birthday bash extraordinaire.

Mere hours after the brunch reception that followed the Bar Mitzvah service, we changed out of our fancy duds for jeans and cozy sweaters and headed down to the William P Wilder Arena at Upper Canada College.

We rented one of the ice rinks for an hour and a half for the kids (and any adults who wanted to) to skate and play some shinny. We hired a former hockey trainer of the boys’ to do some fun games and activities on the ice–we did have giveaways for the kids, but they didn’t know it. We slipped the trainer some gift cards to give to kids who participated in the activities.

On the ice……

We also rented out the lounge that overlooks the ice rink–this is where non-skaters and the few adults invited could hang out and watch the skating.

My son likes music but isn’t into dance parties, so he made a playlist on Spotify to play over the sound system inside the rink. I had my playlist going over the speakers in the lounge.

I hired Jacqui, who owns TWSS Balloons, to do a big balloon display over the entrance to the lounge as well as a couple of balloon bouquets inside the room–nothing crazy, but definitely festive.

Balloon display by TWSS balloons

I also brought some board games from home for those who didn’t want to skate and were looking for something to do. I was glad I brought them because it kept some of the younger kids entertained while the adults could enjoy a drink and conversation.

My son’s favourite colour is red, so I purposely decorated the tables with inexpensive red table cloths with a small stack of hockey pucks and a votive candle for a centrepiece. This was a kids’ party after all, so any effort on decor was for my benefit–not the kids’.

Red table cloths and coordinated balloons

I got lots of praise for the dinner menu, but credit really goes to my son, who asked for his favourites; burger sliders, chicken wings, caesar salad and penne in a pomodoro sauce. The food was catered by my neighbourhood friend, Suresh, who owns Avondale Foodworks. He’s catered for us before and he consistently produces delicious and flavourful meals that are always crowd pleasers.

Before dessert was served, the kids all gathered at one end of the lounge and were treated to a show by Magic Dan. He was great with the kids, held their attention, encouraged lots of participation and kept everyone, young and old, entertained. My youngest was particularly freaked out when Magic Dan made him float in the air!

Magic Dan performs to a rapt audience

Dessert was probably the most fun. I asked Suresh to order donuts and chocolate milk from Tim Hortons because what kid doesn’t like donuts and chocolate milk? And yes, there was another cake! I actually wanted to order a cake from a bakery because I really didn’t think I’d have the time or the energy to do another cake, but I made a deal with my husband that if I baked the cake (and prepared the icing), he would decorate it. So I baked four marble cakes, recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart. Then I left it to my husband to ice it. You can see the results below–a cake that looks like a giant hockey rink.

Hockey rink cake, anyone?

I did end up doing a candy table for the kids, but I had my rules: no bowls of open candy that grubby, germy paws could dig their hands into. I ordered retro candy and gum from a wholesaler and set it all up in galvanized metal trays and buckets. Kids would take a loot bag and fill it with their candy loot.

At the end of the candy table, kids picked up their parting gift: a red and white trucker-style baseball cap with a custom design embroidered on the front.

Nifty trucker baseball caps

All in all, it was a great party with lots of variety for the kids and the adults. The vibe was just right. There were still plenty of details to remember and lots of elements that maybe others would have happily left to a party planner, but I really enjoyed researching all the options and coming up with a party concept that I knew would be emblematic of my son.

The Big Bar Mitzvah (Part 1)

This post has been a long time coming…13 years to be exact! Although I didn’t know it thirteen years ago.

My oldest had his Bar Mitzvah just over a month ago and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the big event.

He did an amazing job reading from the Torah, giving his speech to our guests, and maintaining his confidence and composure the entire day. He really shone like a star that day and was deserving of all the accolades and attention.

My job was to set the scene for our guests after the pomp and circumstance and for that I spent many months planning, plotting, “pinning” and preparing. There were so many details and so many checklists, but here, I will give you a brief glimpse into the celebration that followed the ceremony.

Our brunch began by welcoming our guests to “the cottage.”

Welcome to the Cottage
This was the seating chart for the luncheon

I hired a graphic designer, gave her the guest list in a spread sheet with the table assignments along with some suggested fonts and icons and the dimensions for the foam core board. She was amazing to work with and had the poster delivered right to my front door. We simply mounted the board on an easel right inside the entrance to the reception room.

As people wandered in and found their tables, there was a slide show playing to music projected on to a drop cloth that I had hung on the wall, with patio lights framing it.  The “screen” was flanked by red plastic Muskoka chairs that were draped with wool camp blankets and throw pillows with wildlife imagery such as owls, deer and moose.

All the photos in the slide show were of the family at various family cottages in both summer and winter. Putting together that slide show was a labour of love. I also printed all the photos on to 4″ x 4″ paper, which were used as part of the centrepieces.

Each photo from the slide show was part of the centrepieces

My mother, my husband and I did an assembly line, punching holes into each photo and tying jute twine through the holes. These photos were then hung on the young birch branches in the centrepieces.

Speaking of the centrepieces–these were probably the cheapest DIY centrepieces ever and yet the most personal. I got little red socker plant pots at Ikea–there was a lot of red in the decor because that is my son’s favourite colour–filled them with pea gravel and off cuts of birch branches from my girlfriend’s cottage in North Bay, and the young birch branches were from my mom’s cottage on Georgian Bay.

We stood the pots on round wood “coins” that my husband cut with his chainsaw from fallen trees in the ravine in our neighbourhood. I just had to schlep them all to the car!

And the final touch were the rocks around the bottom of the pot, which were collected by me and my son from the harbour near my mom’s cottage.

So I think all told, we spent about $5 on each centrepiece and the biggest expense was the printing of the photographs.

The additional expense came with the guest keepsakes that I put on each table. These were maple syrup candles in tins. They certainly didn’t come cheap, but I thought it was important to give guests a small memento from the day as a thank you from us.

Each guest received a maple syrup candle as a memento

The brunch was delicious, catered by L-Eat. Niki and Tony did a fabulous job and the presentation of the food was simple and elegant. We made sure everything that was served were things we would typically eat for brunch: french toast with maple syrup, quiche, bagels with all the fixings, yogurt with granola and berries, and as a special treat we arranged to have smoked trout from Kolapore Springs trout farm up near my parents’ cottage.

But the best part of brunch was the dessert table! This is where I truly got to showcase my baking skills, with the help of my mom, sister and mother-in-law. First, I decorated the table with objects that represented my son and the cottage–Scrabble pieces that said “Help Yourself”, antlers, a red model sports car, an old cribbage board, a vintage waterski, red oil lanterns, and a photo of my husband holding our son as a newborn.

All the baked good were displayed on red tin trays, big glass cookie jars with red lids, even the waterski was used to display the homemade butter tarts.

There were homemade salted chocolate chunk cookies, s’mores bites, butter tarts, honey cake, shortbreads, poppy seed cookies, ginger cookies and also chelsea buns from the Thornbury bakery (the only thing I didn’t bake!).

The Dessert Table

 

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a cake, right? Of course I baked a cake! It’s the giant, incredibly chocolatey cake recipe from Deb Perlman’s Smitten Kitchen. It’s the same cake I baked for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, except this time I made marshmallows, charred them and put them on the cake. I also made banana chocolate chip cake “logs” and I made flames from melted red and orange lollipops. A candy maker I am not!

Campfire cake

I can’t say the cake turned out as nicely as I would have liked from a visual perspective, but it tasted damn good.

Credit for all the photos goes to Julius Ding of Julius and James Photography. This was their FIRST Bar Mitzvah photo shoot, and they really did capture the essence of the celebration, rather than the staged photos of the family and Bar Mitzvah boy that we all too often see. This was a celebration in real life and I’m so glad Julius was there to capture the moment.

There is so much more to tell you about the day because it didn’t end with the brunch! But I think I’ll save those details for another post. I’m starting to get tired just thinking about it again. Phew!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about what I did and how I did or where I got my ideas from.

121 Days….and counting

I have set myself a goal that I hope is achievable: 4 months to whip myself into shape (and get awesome looking arms in the process. ha!). Just in time for my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. The goal is this: exercise every day. Even if it’s only 20 minutes. And make it count. That means not undoing 20 minutes of exercise by mindlessly munching on potato chips while laying in bed watching Netflix. So I’ve printed out calendars to track my progress.

Four months to go!
Four months to go!

I know exercise is only half of the equation. Nutrition is the other half that tends to be my undoing. I’m pretty diligent about exercising. I am not so disciplined when it comes to making healthy choices. I don’t eat a lot of fast food or junk. I can’t–it would wreak havoc on my stomach. But I like sweets. Cutting out sugar–chocolate especially–is near to impossible for me. I’ve done 30 day challenges of no chocolate in the past. I’ve even cut out sugar. But I don’t believe it’s realistic for me to maintain that kind of rigor in my day-to-day life. So what it comes down to is moderation. Can I get through 121 days and be disciplined about what I do and don’t eat? I  honestly don’t know.

My days start out well with a breakfast of steel cut oats (sprinkled with cinnamon, maple syrup and almond milk), a banana and some yogurt. But things go downhill after lunch when the 3 o’clock munchies kick in and I’m like a raccoon on the prowl for hot neighbourhood garbage.

A typical breakfast of steel cut oats, yogurt and banana
A typical breakfast of steel cut oats, yogurt and banana

I know my intentions are not that noble–I would love for people to show up at our family function and whisper to each other, “she looks great! she doesn’t look like the mother of a 13-year-old!” And deep down I know this is about more than vanity. This is about my overall health and well-being. This shouldn’t just be about trying to fit into a dress or impress a crowd. But hey, it’s a good excuse.