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. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lifestyle: Freedom from Mobile

The Life-Changing Magic of Putting Your Phone Away

Feeling drained and exhausted more than you feel rested? That was me. Then I started doing one simple thing every day, which I swear has changed my life for the better.

I put my phone away.



It isn't difficult (well, maybe sometimes) and it costs nothing. I can't believe I didn't do this more before.

It's so simple but completely life-changing.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I've made a conscious effort to place my phone out of reach during meals and while "unwinding" in the evenings.

This was more than a social media cleanse for me. It was about using technology in a way that was beneficial and positive.

The impact this one decision has had on my daily life is really unbelievable, so I thought I would share what I've learned through this little social experiment.

Photo by Jag Gundu


I am able to focus better with less distractions.


It sounds pretty obvious, but once your phone is out of your hands, you realize how much scrolling you actually do. While I love social media for many reasons and do much of my work online, I find that it can easily become a habit to click and scroll on your phone, taking time away from yourself and your loved ones.

Like anything else, social media is wonderful when you use it in moderation and knowing when your use has gone from productive to mindless, is half of the battle.

Tip: when you find that you are are no longer engaging online, reading captions or slowing down to enjoy a photo, it's time to log off.


I have more energy


While we think of mindless scrolling as a relaxing pastime, I actually feel it depletes my energy a bit. As I said, I enjoy using social media and I do so actively, but once I feel I am not consuming productively, it can quickly turn into an energy suck.

Too much exposure to a screen can leave your eyes and your mind feeling tired and drained - especially if you are scrolling while watching TV. Doing two things at once, is actually not saving you time - it's making you feel more exhausted - but more on that later.

Give your eyes and your mind a break - you will feel the difference.



I actually relax during downtime


I used to think I was too busy to truly relax and that I had too many things to do. It turns out, the reason I was feeling so tired and overworked was because I wasn't turning it off, even after I had "finished for the day."

Putting my phone away in the evenings has been key to me feeling like I have a life other than wearing my multiple job hats. In addition to my traditional work, I'm thinking about video editing, blog writing, photography and pitching - needless to say, there is always something to do all day long and into the evenings. I find it can be a struggle to put it aside but I've learned that having a cut-off time for myself really helps.

There will always be something to do, but it's important to be protective of what you need to recharge and feel good.

It's not that we don't have enough time, it's that we don't have clear priorities. Making myself and my personal downtime a priority has made an incredible difference in how I feel.


Multitasking is overrated 


We come from a generation that once glamorized multi-tasking. In some cases, it's a great skill - like when you can prep lunch while you have dinner bubbling on the stove.

At other times, it does more harm than good. It's another distraction and keeps you from focusing on one task at a time, making you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Even something as simple as checking your twitter feed while watching TV can leave you feeling like you didn't have any downtime at all.

Do one thing at at time. You will be surprised that you feel like you have more hours in the day. Slowing your mind down a little, allows you to truly rejuvenate in the down time you do have.




I feel more content with the time I have to myself. 


After putting my phone away, I notice I am more present during conversations, I have time for other things I enjoy like reading and I actually begin to recharge.

These days when 10:00 pm rolls around, I'm ok with calling it a night and I feel pretty satisfied with "what I did that evening".

Without the distraction of my phone in my hand, I feel like I've spent quality time with loved ones and that I'm more in the moment. I feel like I'm increasing my attention span and making time to connect with myself by disconnecting a little from the outside world.

When I watch a Netflix documentary or a movie, I enjoy it so much more (probably because I actually pay attention!) and my hubby and I feel as though we actually hung out.

Photo by Banga Studios

Hang up to Hang Out


It's crazy how something that is supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient can actually be detrimental if we don't use it properly.

Putting away our phones when we are with family, friends or even just doing something that matters to us, is a sign of respect - towards others and ourselves. It's also respecting w
hat you need in order to perform at your best level.

Decide what works for you, what you're ok with and then set your own limits. I find taking a picture in the moment is fine, but scrolling/texting while I am supposed to be doing something else is too much.

While I haven't sworn off social media, apps, online reading and attending to my email inbox in the evenings, I have purposefully readjusted my priorities. It's a work in progress but one that I think can be so beneficial to so many of us.

Do you find you spend a lot of time scrolling on your phone while you're relaxing in the evenings?

Do you have any tricks to make sure you're not distracted while doing other things that are important to you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave me a comment below or find me on Instagram @angeliesood


Monday, April 2, 2018

Travel Guide: Maui, Hawaii

Finding Paradise in Maui


One of the most beautiful places that I've ever laid eyes on has been Maui, Hawaii.

Believe all the hype. It is sheer paradise.



I've been lucky enough to have travelled quite a bit in my life, but I have to say that Maui is up there in my top three. I'd go back in a heartbeat and I think I'd enjoy it even more.

Maui


Maui is completely stunning! Hillsides, volcanoes, lush green forests and power sand beaches. Lots of sunshine and occasional rain showers (they are usually quick), there's rainbows in the sky every few days (sometimes everyday).


When the palm trees sway in the warm breeze and the sun sparkles on the water just right- you will swear Maui is heaven on earth. I'd recommend at least 5-6 days to get a good sense of the island. I visited for 6 days and 5 nights. It was the perfect amount of time to get to know the island and want to come back for more!




Weather


The weather in Maui is pretty warm year round. In December - January you can expect highs of about 21 degrees celsius and lows of about 15 degrees celsius.


You will get sunshine but it's relatively wetter at this time of year, so expect some rain too. The bright side is that all the islands have warmer and drier regions that you can head to on a rainy day. If you're visiting in the winter, stay on the south side of Maui in regions like Wailea or Kihei for more sunshine. Winter is actually Maui's high season and it's whale watching time too so there are lots of reasons to head to Maui at this time of year.


Summer months (June, July, August) are another peak time that tourists visit Maui. Highs around 30 degrees celsius and lows are around 21 degrees celsius. Expect to enjoy optimal sunshine, pay higher rates and deal with crowded beaches at this time of year.

The best times to visit are April-May or September- November as these months are considered shoulder season. The spring and fall offer the best weather, less crowds and lower hotel rates too.


Where to Stay 


Aside from the natural beauty, in my opinion, Maui has something for everyone. Maui is a great mix of high-end resorts and low-key local spots. Whatever your vacation style is, I'm pretty sure you could find it on Maui. There's hostels, campsites, small BNBs and swanky hotels.

Before you book, you should know that Maui is a bit on the pricey side. You can expect to pay about $300 per night for mid-range hotel accommodations (more if it's high season).

If you choose options like Homeaway or Air BnB, the per night rate could be around $150 but these options sell out fast (they book about 3 months in advance) and there will be additional charges like cleaning fees (about $150 on top).

That being said, these apartment style accommodations might be best for you if you are travelling with a family or if you're hoping to make some of your own meals to save a little money on the trip.

The Westin Ka'anapali

I stayed at the Westin Ka'anapali Resort and maintained the vacation budget by using some Starwood points towards our stay and then paying the difference.

Side note: We were actually able to earn more than half of our points back by attending a 90 minute information session one afternoon about time-share properties.


This hotel is stunning and I'd highly recommend it for someone looking to experience some of Hawaii's luxury. It's in a great location on a perfectly maintained beach - walkable to an amazing spot for snorkelling with sea turtles!



When we checked in, we were greeted with shell leis, cool towels and some fruit infused water. It felt like a special vacation as soon as we entered the building.


The hotel lobby opened up into an incredible outdoor atrium complete with tropical flowers, waterfalls, koi ponds, swans and flamingos.


We absolutely loved staying at the Westin and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Maui. It was in a fabulous location with spacious and updated rooms. The Westin had great amenities (huge pool with waterslides, beautiful spa), amazing beach access and was an incredible spot to catch some epic sunsets.


We also took advantage of the activities offered by the hotel- a marketplace with local vendors was set up one afternoon, a local farmer was there to teach about pineapples and vanilla beans each day and we even enjoyed a ukelele lesson too.



They also have a restaurant onsite and we enjoyed the breakfast there on our last day. Staying at the Westin was one of the best decisions we made on this trip!




Where to Eat

Grocery stores

On our first night in Maui, we went to the ABC store and Walmart to get a few things.

We knew we'd be doing a lot of day trips and beach days, so I bought things like cheese, crackers, veggies and dip, fruit, yogurt, wraps, hummus etc. so that we could enjoy lunches on the go.

 I also packed a few lightweight tupperware containers and a cooler bag in my luggage so that we could take picnic lunches on most days. Having something like ziplock bags with you will also mean you can take ice from the hotel to fill your cooler each day. This was a total life and budget saver. Plus, it ensured we ate healthy and didn't just resort to things like french fries on the beach everyday.



Farmers' Markets

The fruits on Maui are delicious. Stop at the many roadside markets to pick up what's fresh and in season- you won't regret it. Some of my favourite things were the pineapple, peaches and avocados! In fact, I'd say the fresh fruit stands on Maui were one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me.
P.S if you bring me back a Maui avocado, I'll be your friend for life!


Mama's Fish House

This restaurant gave us a truly unforgettable experience in Maui. It's located near the airport, so I booked a lunch here right after we landed. I loved visiting the restaurant during the day because it's right on it's own private beach. It's an open concept dining room, and we were seated right in front of the open floor to ceiling glass windows. The breeze was blowing and the view was spectacular.




With Hawaiian tunes playing, this was such an incredible "pinch me, I'm here" moment. The food is equally spectacular. Local fish caught by the fishermen and dropped off in the morning are worked into the menu each day. The menu is reprinted daily to reflect what's fresh and the chef creates flavour combinations that are truly magical. For more on Mama's Fish House, check out my blog post here or watch the video below.

Ululani's Shaved Ice

Ululani's Shaved Ice is an iconic dessert stand all over the island. They serve the softest shaved ice I've ever eaten - it literally melts in your mouth! With so many incredible tropical flavours to choose from, you will definitely find the one for you. But make sure you share because these are one huge treat! There's always a line up here, so make sure you're on Hawaiian time.


Where to Drink

Andaz Maui

The Andaz Maui is truly an incredible place to enjoy a drink while watching the sun go down over the pool. The ambience and decor here is truly something special. The expert bartender made us an incredible jalepeno infused drink, complete with a floating "palm tree" garnish. So special.




Fairmont Kea Lani

The Fairmont in Maui is another incredible place to enjoy a spectacular cocktail with a view. Time  your visit with sunset for an incredible moment (to photograph) and cherish forever.


Things to Do

Luau


You're in Hawaii, so attending an authentic Luau is a must. I did my research and found the Old Lahaina Luau to be the oldest and most traditional Luau on Maui.





It was such an incredible evening full of music, culture, dance and great food. We had an amazing time enjoying the traditional foods (and Mai Tais) at the feast.



You even get a chance to see how the pork is roasted in an Imu - a  traditional underground oven.


Other foods to enjoy: Hawaiian fried rice, salads, chicken and fish dishes as well as poke and other traditional foods like taro. A ticket to a luau will be on average about $120 per adult and about $75 per child. Keep in mind, within that price you get access to hula lessons, an incredible Hula and fire show as well as an All you can eat/drink feast. It's definitely an experience that is worth the splurge.


Road to Hana


The Road to Hana is probably one of the most talked about experiences on Maui. It is truly a remarkable - albeit terrifying- drive and one that you won't soon forget.





The whole experience is really about the journey and not the destination. It's the hairpin turns that lead you to a breathtaking waterfall and the off-road treks that take you through a magical bamboo forest.


The Road to Hana offers some great sights and stops along the way - including the infamous black sand beach where my husband lost his wedding ring to the wild waves. (It was a quiet car ride back from Hana to say the least lol.)





Keep in mind, you don't need to do the entire Road to Hana. Reserve the afternoon for this, but make sure to head back before sunset as the road can be quiet dangerous in the dark. Get an early start on the day, pack your lunch as well as watershoes, a towel and swimwear so you can make the most of this adventure in Hawaii!


Snorkelling

Snorkelling in the waters of Maui has to be one of my favourite travel experiences to date. We brought our own snorkel gear from home so that we'd always be ready for some under water exploring. We found our favourite place to snorkel just off of Ka'anapali beach at a place called Black Rock. Black Rock is a rock formation that juts into the water and makes for a great platform to jump off of.



I'm into calmer activities so I preferred snorkelling around the rock there. This is where I experienced swimming with two sea turtles and a countless variety of beautiful fish! The turtles were very friendly and acted like synchronized swimmers under water. It was such a magical experience!




Haleakala National Park

Visiting Haleakala for sunrise was a decision we struggled with but it was also by far the best decision we've ever made while on vacation. The sunrise here on top of the volcano is just spectacular. We woke up at about 3:00 am to get ready and start the drive to the National Park.



The drive up is very steep and pretty nerve wrecking. It's also freezing up there in the mornings! But when the sky erupted in pink, orange, purple and red hues, all was forgotten. I can promise you have never experienced anything this magical in your life!  If you only have time for one excursion while you are in Maui, I'd say it needs to be this!



Lavender Farms

On the way down from Mount Haleakala, there is a small Lavender farm. It's a nice little stop for a quick bite and to take a stroll through the gardens and small patches of lavender.

Paia and Hookipa Lookout Point

Paia is a small town in Maui. It has a main street with some boutique stores that you can stroll along. It also is a local hangout. My favourite spot here is Hookipa Lookout Point. It's a great place to hang out at the beach. You'll have a great time experiencing a taste of local life and seeing how the surfers hang and catch waves.


General Tips


  • Rent a car on Maui. You can expect to spend about $300-$400 on a car rental for 5 days in Maui. In my opinion, having a car is essential to be able to explore the island. 
  • Stock up on things like water, juice, veggies and fruits at a local market or grocery store.
  • You could spend a lot of time driving around if you don't plan your time wisely. Check out a map of the island and schedule a few stops when you land at the airport (Paia and Mama's Fish House are about 30 minutes from the airport while Ka'anapali is about 1 hour away). If you plan your time and avoid excessive driving, you'll save a lot of time
  • Make the most of the time difference and plan your sunrise viewing at the beginning of the trip. Trust me- you'll be waking up at an ungodly hour anyway!
  • If you do decide to go to Halekala National Park, make sure you pack some layers with you from home. I brought a down filled vest, a few sweaters, long-sleeved shirts and even a tuque and mittens. We also took the hotel's down filled comforter with us for our trek and believe me - we used all of our layers while we waited for the sun to warm us up. 
  • Above all, slow down and use your visit to really get a sense of that Aloha mentality. Enjoy Maui, but I'm sure you'll be back!