Friday, July 6, 2018

Travel: Exploring London, Ontario

A Weekend Escape to London, ON

This summer, I want to explore and enjoy as much of Ontario as I can. We're so lucky to live in such a beautiful province that has so much to offer!

We kicked off this summer goal with a weekend in one of Southwest Ontario's larger cities- London.

I haven't been to London for about 13 years. I used to compete on a dance team and our annual competition was in London. However, since then, I've only ever driven through on our way to other destinations in Southern Ontario. It was about time I stopped to see what London has to offer - and verdict?  I was very happily surprised!

We found London has a nice combination of small town and big city vibes. You can definitely find quiet time as well as bustling night life here. Not to mention the up and coming culinary scene.

Below, I've shared from of my favourite places to eat and some fun things to do during a visit to London, Ontario if you decide to plan your own weekend escape!

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Hotel Metro, which is a boutique hotel right beside Convent Garden Market. We found the location to be perfect for us as it was walkable to Richmond Street and to many of the other places we wanted to go.


I also loved that the rooms were exceptionally spacious. We stayed in the Loft-style King room and it was perfect for us. I loved the high ceilings and exposed brick walls.

The room definitely had a special style and ambience. Despite the construction going on right outside, we heard nothing and slept very well on their extremely comfortable beds.

Black-out curtains are what we are used to at home, so they were a welcome change from standard hotel drapery. I slept like a baby and I'd highly recommend this hotel for comfort, location and ambience.

Where to Eat

The Bag Lady

The Bag Lady is the perfect place for brunch. It's a quaint vintage variety store and breakfast is served all day. The food here is delicious to say the least and it's affordable too!

We had the loaded Breakfast Burrito and the Breakfast Pizza - a thin and crispy crust, topped with eggs, veggies and cheese. It was all so delicious. I might have to go back for this!

DolcettoDolcetto is a lovely Italian restaurant with a relaxed and modern atmosphere. They serve great homemade pizzas, pasatas and other Italian dishes.

You can also find traditional brunch items on the menu on Sundays. We went for the Fico (Fig) Salad, Salmon Picatta with lemon, capers and angel hair pasta as well as the Portofino Pizza (mozzarella di bufala, house made spicy sausage, rapini and chilies.

The food here was great and especially loved their decor and patio.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos is a modern Mexican restaurant with a fantastic patio. If you sit outdoors, make sure you take a look at the wall art inside, it's outstanding! 

I loved the stuffed poblano pepper with rice, chorizo, salsa and cilantro. I'd also highly recommend their margaritas and tacos. We tried the pork belly, chicken thigh, cauliflower and carnita tacos - they were all delicious!

Hunter and Co

This was probably my favourite culinary stop over the weekend. Hunter & Co. offers a unique experience with chef-crafted dishes that are full of flavour. Personally, I loved the experience of dining here.

The menu is tapas style and they recommend ordering four to five dishes to share. Each dish comes out one at a time so you can fully enjoy and appreciate the flavour combinations.

I loved everything we ordered but my favourites were the stuffed boneless chicken wings and the cashew shrimp. The dishes were so delicious, I can see why this restaurant is always bustling! The service was also excellent and I'd highly reccommend dining here.

The Bungalow

The Bungalow is a low key restaurant with a family friendly vibe. We sat outdoors to enjoy the weather. This restaurant has been featured on the TV show, "You Gotta Eat Here" and I'd heard so much about the famous burgers that I decided to give one a try.

Hubby and I shared some grilled salmon with a salad and a lamb burger. I loved the long list of toppings available so you could get the perfect combo. I went with grilled pineapple, sauteed onions, tomato and jalapenos. The list of fancy and house made condiments was equally as long and impressive.

The burger was perfectly juicy - I'd say succulent even, and was quite honestly the best burger I've ever eaten. If you're a burger lover, I'd say - you gotta eat here.

The Tea Lounge

The Tea Lounge is a lovely place to stop in for an afternoon indulgence. They have over 150 varieties of ethically sourced tea. The owner, Michelle, also makes sure to pick the best quality leaves and teas to ensure that her customers maximize on the health benefits.

What I loved it that she also ensures all her suppliers, farmers and growers are paid fairly for their work. Got to love a company that has ethics at the heart of what they do.

We enjoyed the serenity of their porch and had a little down time as we sipped a beautiful blooming tea. You can also try their newly launched, lunch experience which includes soup, salad and a cheese board (or go for the vegan cheese board).

Our tea guide, Spencer, gave us a wonderful education about the proper way to pour and prepare tea. As a tea lover, I found this to be so interesting and loved learning more about one of my favourite beverages.

Haven's Creamery

Just down the road from The Tea Lounge is Haven's Creamery. They are a small batch ice cream shop and focus on bringing a high quality product to their customers.

I loved the ambience and the delicious ice cream which really hit the spot during the summer heat.

Roli Poli Ice Cream

If you're looking to try something different, you may want to stop in at Roli Poli's on Richmond Street. They specialize in hand rolled ice cream. Choose your ingredients (fruits, candies, toppings) and they are hand mixed into the cream.

 Then the cream is frozen on a stainless steel plate and rolled by hand. The result is paper-thin ice cream rolls which are then topped with fruit and whipped cream. 

Things To Do

There are so many ways to spend some time in London and I had the opportunity to explore quite a bit when I was in the area.

Richmond Row  

Richmond Street (also known as Richmond Row) is the main street for shopping and browsing in London, Ontario. There are over 200 businesses in this area including, but not limited to, clothing boutiques, health and beauty shops, restaurants, bars and pubs.

We spent some time walking up and down the street, admiring the rooftop beer garden at Toboggan and the churches we passed.

My favourite shop here was a peaceful botanical haven called "Grow and Bloom". I just loved the decor, ambience and the little home decor treasures that I found here!

London Libations Pedal Pub

One of the reasons I wanted to come to London for this weekend was to experience their brand new Pedal Pub. This is something I've wanted to try out for the last few years while on vacation but it never worked out. I was so excited to learn that this experience is now available in Ontario. The Pedal Pub is a giant bicycle that seats about 10 pedallers, 1 driver and 5 people who can just enjoy the ride. London Libations offers a two hour tour with stops scheduled at some of London's craft brewhouses.

The tour I was on stopped at Anderson Craft Ales and The London Brewing Co-op . We had 4-6 tastings at each stop.

Pedal Pub costs about $60 and was such a  fun experience. We rode with a group of friends who were celebrating a birthday. This is the perfect group activity. It was an exciting way to get from brewery to brewery and perfectly safe as a designated driver does all the steering.

Currently, there's a facebook contest going on, check it out for a chance to win passes for a London Libations Pedal Pub tour!

Budweiser Gardens

While visiting London, I had the chance to catch a show at Budweiser Gardens. But it wasn't just any show, it was my first Cirque Du Soleil experience! I saw a breathtaking show called "Crystal". It was a classic Cirque show with acrobats, jugglers, corde lisse and lots of stunts but it was all on ice!
Added to that, was the indoor snow fall, live music, incredible lighting and ice dancing. It was a magical experience!

If you're in town and Cirque isn't, you can always catch other shows at the Gardens. This summer, Shania Twain will be in town, as well as the Smashing Pumpkins. The Gardens will also host Keith Urban in the fall.

Tree Trekking

If you love physical activity, make sure to check out Boler Mountain for an amazing tree trekking adventure. It's an outdoor adventure park that consists of rope bridges, swinging tires, wooden platforms and swings that connect between trees.

Did I mention the park is suspended about 40 feet above ground? It's definitely an exhilarating way to test your strength and agility. I enjoyed channeling my inner Indiana Jones and trekking from platform to platform.

Don't miss the zip-line course which consists solely of zip-lines of various lengths. It's so much fun and will really give you that free-flying experience. If heights aren't your thing, Boler Mountain also has hiking trails and bike rentals that would suit anyone who'd rather keep their feet on the ground.

Covent Garden Farmer's Market

One of my favourite things to do in any city I'm visiting is to check out the local farmer's market. It's a great way to get to know a community and to become a part of it.

In London, I loved wandering through the rows of market vendors at Covent Garden Farmer's Market. It's a large indoor market in the heart of downtown London.

At the market you can find fresh local produce, craft batch condiments, gourmet jams and delicious cheeses. You will also come across bakeries, florists, homeopaths and Kombucha brewers. On Thursdays and Saturdays there is also an outdoor market featuring local artisans, wineries and growers.

Jill's Table

This is a lovely foodie stop with incredible local sauces, jam and honey. At Jill's Table, you'll find the perfect hostess gifts as well as some amazing kitchen tools and gourmet ingredients. You can also take a hands-on cooking class taught by guest chefs, each with their own areas of expertise.


Victoria Park

We stumbled upon Victoria Park as we explored Richmond Street and just loved it! It's a large green space in the middle of the city and was a great place for a stroll. If you're planning to visit with your family, Victoria Park would be a great place for a picnic and some outdoor fun for kids. Many outdoor festivals are held here, so definitely check out what's on in local events while planning your trip.

We had a great time exploring London, Ontario for a weekend. It's a lovely city with a great food scene and lots to do! If you have any favourite things to do or see in London, please let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @angeliesood.

A special thank you to my friends at Ontario's Southwest and London Tourism for partnering on this post. As always, all views and opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Food: Some "Awesome-sauce" BBQ Inspiration with Stonewall Kitchen

Get your Grill on...

In Toronto, we love summer. Everyone is in a great mood, we have more sunlight, longer days and generally, everyone wants to be outside as much as possible.

Cue the BBQ plans. Whether it's a quick weeknight meal or a full on fiesta with friends on the weekend, the grill is out and we vow to use it until October (at least).

When you want to fire up the charcoal every day or two, you need some inspiration to keep the menu mouthwatering. I often change up my side dishes but sometimes, you really want the main attraction (aka the meat) to stand out and steal the show.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Thankfully, I got the inspiration I needed when I had the chance to attend a Stonewall Kitchen event at the Drake Commissary last week. It was a social mixer with some fellow bloggers and we had a blast trying out all the delicious featured grille sauces. It definitely got my creative juices flowing in time for BBQ season.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

What is Stonewall Kitchen?

Before I share about the amazing food we ate that night, a little about the brand - Stonewall Kitchen got their start selling jams and jellies at the farmers' markets in York, Maine in 1991. Over the last 25 years, they have become the most awarded specialty food company and have expanded their line to include sauces, mustards, ketchup, baking mixes and more.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Stonewall Kitchen makes craft batches and they remake each of their products on a monthly basis to ensure only the freshest products are on the shelves.

What I love about their line is that the focus is on creating a gourmet product using healthy, real ingredients. In fact, 95% of the ingredients are natural. There's no corn syrup in these sauces - they use real cane sugar - I checked!

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

As someone who cares about their health and looks for quality ingredients, this really matters to me. I love that some of the sauces only had about 4 ingredients in them and that they were all things I recognized!

In case you're wondering where to get some of their delectable sauces in the GTA, you can find their products at Sobey's, Metro, Hudson's Bay, Pusateris, McEwan's and Whole Foods.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

The Spread

Now back to the food...

The Drake's Chef Ted Corrado really spoiled us that night with some innovative dishes featuring Stonewall Kitchen's delicious sauces.

Here's a look at the exclusive menu he created for us:

Roasted Apple Grille Sauce Pork & Cheddar Sausage
(Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Apple Grille Sauce)

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Boozy Bacon Roasted Argentinean Shrimp
(Stonewall Kitchen Boozy Bacon BBQ Sauce)

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Curried Mango Glazed Cauliflower, Pepitas, Puffed Lentils, Cilantro & Aleppo Chili
(Stonewall Kitchen Curried Mango Grille Sauce)

Commissary Brisket Maple Chipotle Style
(Stonewall Kitchen Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce)

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Ready, Set - BBQ Season!

If you want to amp up your BBQ game and you're not sure what to pick up, you really can't go wrong with any sauce or condiment from Stonewall Kitchen.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

But if you're looking for something tried and tested, my favourites so far are the:

  • Roasted Apple Grille Sauce
  • Country Ketchup (like a gourmet, adult version of ketchup with tomato chunks!)
  • Mango Habanero Aioli 
  • Spicy Corn Relish

Start with any one of these and you will definitely be coming back for more.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Need some inspo on how to serve them?

The Roasted Apple Grille Sauce would be perfect with some roasted veggies, sausage, pork chops or lamb burgers, while the ketchup, aioli and relish would make a flavourful accompaniment to a burger or hot dog.

Photography by Joel Levy courtesy of Stonewall Kitchen

Trust me, even the most discerning of palettes would love a simple hot dog if it was topped with some Country Ketchup and Spicy Corn Relish.

In fact, now I can't stop thinking about eating one myself....

Final word? Get your hands on some Stonewall Kitchen condiments this summer, your BBQs will be awesome-sauce!

Thanks so much to my friends at Stonewall Kitchen and Branding and Buzzing for sponsoring this post. As always, all views and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lifestyle: 5 tips for a Successful Kitchen Reno

A Little Fixer-Upper

A year and half ago, my husband and I took the plunge and purchased our first home. It was a tough process - especially considering the overpriced real estate market in and around Toronto and we were outbid (by a lot) many times before we found our little nest.

When we finally found the one- we just knew. It had more than what we expected of our first home and it made it so clear that all of those offers we had previously lost out on, we lost because our perfect little place was waiting for us somewhere else.

All that being said, there was (and is) still work to be done to bring the house up to our vision. Obviously, I had my sights set on fixing up our kitchen first, but there were other more pressing situations around our home that needed attention right away.

Anyone who has undergone a kitchen renovation knows that they cost a pretty penny and require a lot of moving parts to come together.

Today, I thought I'd share my tips on getting through a kitchen renovation - unscathed, smiling and while staying on your budget in case you're about to take a project on yourself.

Get inspired

Inspiration is key when you're starting any home reno. I've been dreaming and drooling over kitchens since I was about ten years old (I'm the kid that watched HGTV religiously at ten years old). When it came time to tackling my own kitchen, I knew the exact look I was going for. Since my kitchen is also my studio for a lot of my video and photo projects, it had to be functional and photogenic too.
I wanted a kitchen that was light, bright and airy and we definitely lucked out in the natural lighting department.

If, you weren't a decor obsessed kid like I was and you don't know what you're looking for exactly, I'd suggest looking at magazines, Pinterest or Instagram to define your decor style. Once you have a few pictures you like, study them for themes or linking features. Is there a colour, finish, style or element you are drawn to? Slowly picking out design features that you are attracted to, will help you decide what your personal style is.

Make changes in stages

My biggest tip is to make changes in stages. Yes, this means that your renovation project may take longer than you anticipated, but it also means your stress level will be more manageable and you can also be mindful of your budget. I cook a lot of homemade meals so my main goal was to never be out of a working kitchen for more than 24 hours. So far, we have managed to stick with that goal and we are about 80% finished with this project.

Working in stages also allows for you to stop, step back and make sure everything has a cohesive look. When you are too close to a project for any period of time, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. Step back and see if everything looks the way you imagined and make any changes or tweaks to your plan as needed.

We decided to change what we absolutely could not live with first, as it would make the biggest impact in the space. We started with our cabinets and went from there, making the more noticeable changes first to extend our budget.

Think outside the box

Just because the previous owners had a certain setup, doesn't mean you need to follow suit. Try to think outside the box to maximize your space and impact.

The previous owners of our home used the dining area as an extra living space with a couch and television.

We knew that wouldn't work for us as we wanted to be able to host friends and family for dinner. We added a dining table that extends to allow for larger gatherings. We also felt there was some wasted space around our island and cabinetry. By giving ourselves some time, we were able to figure out some imaginative, affordable solutions to maximize our space, add some design elements and shop around for savings.

Splurge and Save

My personal style is a blend of high and low price-point items which combine to create a beautiful finished look. Think about your dream items and where your dollars will make the most impact.

I knew I wanted to upgrade our existing cabinetry, appliances, countertops and sink. I also wanted to add beautiful lighting.

When we looked a little closer, we realized our existing cabinets were solid oak and in amazing condition. We decided to paint out our cabinets, which allowed us to save thousands of dollars on the project.

We also DIY-ed our cabinet and shelving extension which gave us extra space without breaking the bank.

This allowed us to really upgrade on dream elements like our incredible white with grey veins quartz countertop, marble backsplash and my favourite - our white SILGRANIT sink from BLANCO Canada.

Silgranit is a natural granite composite material and comes in a variety of colours. Going with a white undermount sink, really elevated the look in our kitchen as it blends so perfectly with our counters. Once I heard that the sink was scratch, heat and stain resistant - I was sold. Plus- the sinks are made in Canada and Germany!

I selected the PRECIS 1 3/4  - a sink with two basins - with one of them being 3/4 of the size. I wanted everything in the kitchen to have a purpose, whether it be aesthetic or functional, so I was excited to see that Blanco also has gorgeous faucets. I was looking for that professional chef style so I went with the DIVA Faucet in Stainless Steel.

I also love that I could add accessories which help me to attain that sleek look I was going for, like the capflows which hide any little food bits trapped in the drain and the steel grid which allows me to dry dishes in the sink itself so I don't have to clutter my counters with a drying rack.

There's nothing worse than seeing dirty dishes on the counter or piled in the sink when you're trying to relax. In our open concept home, it was important to select a sink that is deep enough to hide our dishes from sight until we are ready to wash them!

By saving on certain elements of our kitchen design we could use more of our budget on luxury items that increase the value of our home and elevate the look of our living space. So I'd recommend you look for elements you can save on, so you can spend a little more where it counts!

Allot extra time

As with any renovation project, expect to hit some snags. For us - we approached many custom cabinet builders to take on our extension project. Contractors would commit and then cancel since it was such a small job.

We decided to take it on ourselves and DIY it but coming up with a feasible and affordable solution took us a little longer than we expected. Also, when you're looking for a specific stone or tile, you can expect to have to wait for a special order or even make a cross border shopping trip happen. Make sure you allot extra time so that you can slow down and make the best decisions for your reno project. Allow the time to measure twice and cut once - you'll be glad you did.

Hope these tips and tricks help you out when you take on your own home/kitchen reno project. Let me know if you have any tips you would add! I'm sure I'll need them when I tackle the bathrooms. 

A special thank you to BLANCO Canada for sponsoring this blog post. As always - all views and opinions are my own.