April 23, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
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#ThrowbackThursday: Palawan’s Underground River, The Philippines

It’s a little depressing looking at vacation photos, right?

And so it is when I look back on our South East Asian adventure captured on my Instagram feed. But being able to experience one of the new seven Wonders of the World brings my total “Wonder” count to six. Depending on whose list you use, of course.

If you ever happen to be kicking around The Philippines, make your way to the still-untouched island of Palawan. It reminds me of what Boracay was like when I visited 15 years ago. You can’t beat the scenery, the local food is exquisite and — hey — you get to go by boat into an Underground River.

If you’re comfortable booking your tour outside of your resort, I suggest taking a 30-second walk to the left of the Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa to find Francis in his “office” — a small hut set back from the beach. For 800 pesos per person, you’ll get return transportation by boat to the Underground River and an official, guided tour. Complete with bat poop. (By comparison, our hotel wanted 1,500 pesos each for what is exactly the same trip.)

If you have a camera, be sure to sit in the SECOND row of the boat. The poor sucker in the pole position has to hold a flashlight during the entire tour.

Salamat!

 

April 20, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
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Restaurant review: The Verandah at The Peninsula hotel

The Verandah - The PeninsulaWhenever I go away without my kids, I try to eat at really nice restaurants. Because then I get to actually taste and savour my food. (And I think I’ve mentioned before just how much I love food.)

So when Big B and I recently visited Hong Kong, we had our concierge at The Mira hotel (Christian, who probably deserves a blog post all to himself) book us in at The Verandah, a highly-regarded buffet in the famed Peninsula hotel.

When I read that it was considered “the best buffet in Asia” and featured numerous lobster dishes, I threw caution to the wind and pressed on — despite the $125 per person price tag. I figured that if the very best buffet we’d ever had (at The Wynn in Las Vegas) was about $50 each, this buffet would be pretty stellar.

THE GOOD

There is a broad selection of food at The Verandah buffet — and most dishes are Western with Asian-fusion flare. There’s a table for appetizers, another for breads and cheese, another just for fruit, another two for desserts, a carving station and several stretches of entrées. You won’t leave with an empty stomach.

If you love seafood, The Verandah’s buffet is for you. Sushi and sashimi, smoked fish (like the notable Scottish salmon), escargots, lobster dishes, crab, shrimp done a few ways, scallops…you name it, it was there.

Food presentation is lovely, sometimes adorned with edible flowers and always with meticulous care.

If you’re a wine lover, there’s a really extensive wine-by-the-bottle list, including selections bottled solely for The Peninsula. Because the owner is apparently friends with a vintner in France. Of course. Just be price-aware (see gaffes).

Should you want to try interesting dishes that are a bit out of the ordinary, like lemongrass chicken or teriyaki ox tongue, there were some really unique flavours happening. In the end, the dishes seemed a lot like tasting menu-style items that all complemented each other nicely but were unique in their own right.

The dishes that were done really well were remarkable. Like the lobster salad sitting atop an avacado and mango salsa, which had the ideal balance of flavour and texture. And the Yorkshire pudding, which was melt-in-my-mouth as good as my Granny’s.

The most noteworthy dish of the night was the truly spectacular passion fruit souflée. Made to order at the end of our meal, it was light and airy and full of fresh passionfruit flavour. It melted in my mouth. Done to absolute perfection and probably one of the top five desserts of my life. And that’s saying a lot because I do love dessert and order it almost without fail.

You get to say you’ve been a guest in The Peninsula. Sort of.

(Keep reading for the GAFFES following this image…)

The Verandah - apps and entrees

THE GAFFE

Some food sat there for way too long. I watched to see the turnover of dishes and some were not turned over at all in the two hours we dined at The Verandah.

I was surprised to see people arrive in track pants. I read before coming that The Verandah is strict about dress code (no flip flops and not even shorts for men allowed), so to come to what we expected was a fine-dining establishment and see women in yoga pants and worse was worth a double-take.

There was some guy behind me whose phone, loudly, dinged at least three times a minute. Someone on staff should have said something. They didn’t speak English at the table, or I would have said something for sure.

Not all of the food was kept at the right temperature. I want my salads to be cold, not lukewarm; and I want mains and desserts that are meant to be hot to be served hot.

The cost of a glass of wine was astonishing. I paid about $30 for a single, 5-ounce glass of red wine; and before you ask, it was nothing special. It was good and if it had been $15, I think it would have gone down better. That’s all it was worth. I’ve paid $30 for a glass of wine before, but for OUTSTANDING wine.

The service was just OK. For a luxury hotel, I would have expected that the servers would know how to decipher the way I set my utensils. But, no. When I had to get up to use the facilities, I placed my fork and knife in the “I’m not finished” configuration, but my plate was gone when I returned. Just to test them, on another occasion, I spoke with a server while I was finishing off another plate of food and placed my fork and knife in the “I’m done” position before he returned. He didn’t take my plate with him when he left the second time. And, in fact, it sat there until we asked for the bill.

The Verandah is, simply put, way overpriced. I have had some beautiful, high-end meals in my life, and I can honestly say that this buffet is not worth $125 of your hard-earned dollars. Hong Kong, however, isn’t your average city; it’s more expensive than Toronto, London, NYC or Chicago. If it was in the $50-75 region, I’d say it would be still high but more appropriate. Again, comparing it to the buffet at The Wynn, which is less than half the price, it has nothing on it. At all.

(Keep reading to find out my rating, following this pic…)

The Verandah - desserts

THE GEARS

3.5/5

April 17, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
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Hotel review: The Mira Hong Kong

When I lived in Asia back in 2000-2001, I did my share of travelling in the region. But all these years later, I still regretted never making it to Hong Kong. I’d been to mainland China, but never the unique city that was under British rule until just a few years ago.

Still very British in many ways — driving on the left and one of the best underground tube (subway) systems in the world — Big B and I spent three fabulous days exploring the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Hong Kong. And we made The Mira hotel our home away from home while we were there.

The Mira Hong Kong

THE GOOD

Centrally located on Nathan Road, less than a five-minute walk from the Tsim Tsa Tsui MTR station, The Mira is easy to find as soon as you land in Hong Kong. Take the fast and inexpensive Airport Express from the airport (HK$90 each or HK$140 for a two-person pack) to Kowloon Station and either hop on the MTR or jump in a taxi. The former will run you about HK$15 each or the latter around HK$60 total, including two suitcases and tip. Once you’re settled in, it’s easy to get out and explore by foot. Right across the road is the MiraMall — a huge shopping centre with tonnes of international brands and an unmissable, gigantic plush MiRabbit hung from the ceiling in the atrium — and to the other side, Kowloon Park — which features about a dozen statues of animated superheroes, banyan trees and stunning flowers. You’ll probably see groups of older adults doing tai chi, and if you walk to the north entrance of the park, you can also find the beginning of Shanghai Street. Only a 10-minute walk south of The Mira, and you’re at the famous harbourfront.

Because space is at a premium in Hong Kong, it’s pretty rare to find rooms with king-size beds. A must for my 6’6″ husband. Not only do many of the standard rooms at The Mira have king beds, but they also offer a one-foot extension upon request, making the bed super-duper long.

The rain shower is full of hot water with unwavering temperature and excellent pressure. And it’s spacious enough for two.

The vanity is beautiful, and there’s a mirror for closeup makeup application, which these 40-year-old eyes really appreciate.

So. Much. Light. Because the shower, toilet and bathtub enclosures are all glass, the natural light coming in from the windows floods the entire room. We never needed the lights on during the day.

The room décor is stunning. A contemporary Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair sits in one corner, flanked by a full length bevelled-edge mirror in which you can do a killer selfie and check your outfit head to toe before heading out on the town.

Your bed at The Mira will wash away any residual jet-lag. It’s extraordinarily comfortable and swathed in beautiful linens. And if the already-amazing pillows don’t suit you, there’s a Pillow Menu with seven other options, including buckwheat-filled pillows, body pillows and lavender-scented pillows. If I’d brought more than just carry-on luggage for this trip, I dare say that The Mira would have seen two fewer pillows on the bed when we checked out. They were THAT cozy.

If you’d rather stay in the hotel to dine, there are heaps of options. Yamm puts on a fantastic buffet breakfast, and there’s no beating Cuisine Cuisine for an all-you-can-eat (and all-you-can-drink!) dim sum lunch. There’s an outdoor patio that really gets going after dark, and a wine bar with a unique twist: at-cost wine. No markup. You read that right.

Probably my favourite part of our stay at The Mira was the Heat Experience Zone. Down on level B3, there’s a stunning swimming pool, and when you wander into the men’s and ladies’ areas, you’ll find free lockers (that are actually big enough for all your stuff), a hot tub, a row of private showers with two showerheads (one rain, one handheld), a sauna, a steam room and — the pièce de résistance — the Floatation Lounge.

The Floatation Lounge deserves its own paragraph. Because it’s the epitome of total relaxation. Picture three single-sized waterbeds, shrouded in soft, translucent netting. Add a magazine rack and spa music, plus dim lighting, and you’ve found the perfect place to either unwind after a long flight or replenish your energy before you leave the hotel. We did both. And both times, fell asleep for a good two hours. There should be Floatation Lounges in every hotel. It was, well, WOW.

Staff are only too pleased to help. We encountered nothing but polite, friendly, eager staff at The Mira during our entire stay. It was certainly on par with the likes of The Langham and Waldorf Astoria.

One of our favourite perks of staying at The Mira was the free Samsung Galaxy smartphone in our room. Equipped with Google Maps, free calls to Canada and the U.S., and unlimited Internet access and data usage both in the hotel and throughout Hong Kong, we took this mobile device with us everywhere. It was invaluable as we tried to navigate Hong Kong and the island by foot, or locate an MTR station. We called home several times on their tab, much to the delight of our children and parents. Such a thoughtful addition to the overall five-star experience.

Free WiFi worked in every corner of the hotel, from rooms to lobby to restaurants. Which, if you’re a social media over-sharer like me, you’ll appreciate.

There’s a Nespresso machine in every room, though we didn’t make use of ours once I discovered Hojicha tea lattes at the local Starbucks.

We had a beautiful view of Kowloon Park from our room, which was a Parkview upgrade. Personally, I’m not bothered by views because I use our hotel rooms primarily just for sleeping and grabbing a bite at breakfast. So to keep costs down, I would definitely recommend just sticking with the standard Cityview.

THE GAFFE

Unless you draw the blinds around the tub, you have to do your business on the toilet with your partner or family watching. I know for most moms, it’s not unusual to be used to peeing with the bathroom door open, but when on vacation, a little privacy is nice.

Like any five-star hotel, The Mira does not come with an inexpensive price tag. Travel during a weekend when Rugby 7s are on, like we did, and you can expect your bill to be even pricier. But if you want a five-star hotel with a king bed in one of the world’s most expensive cities, you should expect to budget at least $400-500 a night for the most basic room. We do consider this a big splurge, but it was the first time Big B and I have ever been away together without the kids, so it was worth celebrating.

The service charges in Hong Kong are standard on every bill (10 per cent) — from a drink in a bar to your restaurant bill, as well as your hotel charges. On a $500 per night stay, this really adds up and it was a bit of a shock when we went to pay.

Very low ceilings in every hallway. Because The Mira used to be a bigger hotel, when the current owner renovated, he kept the basic shell of the building but used the hallway ceilings to run new electrical and piping. So you’re left with a ceiling height not exceeding about 6’7″-6’8″ or so. Big B was always worried about hitting his head walking to our room. If you’re taller than 6’7″ — DUCK. The good news is that the ceilings in all main areas and in the rooms is much, much higher.

THE GEARS

4.5/5

April 5, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

2015 GMC Acadia

There are few brands with whom I’ve been as excited to partner as I am with General Motors. Because it’s in my DNA.

And just when I thought I was part of a three-generation GM family, it turns out that it’s actually four generations, so my mom told me the other day when I brought home a shiny GMC Acadia for the ultimate test drive: an entire week (March Break, no less) going here, there and everywhere.

I won’t wax on about my affinity for GM vehicles, lest I get too emotional and fry my laptop with dripping tears. Especially because there’s just so much to say about the 2015 Acadia and I’d like to get this post published in 2015.

I’ve included a slideshow at the end of this review to showcase some of my fave features, but let’s start with what I loved and what I think could use some extra thought.

One upfront note before we d(r)ive in: if you’ve come looking for information about torque or how many litres this bad boy gets to the mile (er, kilometre) or anything to do with horses and their power, this is the wrong review for you. Please go back to Google. I don’t know about any of these things. But if you’re a parent who wants to know if the GMC Acadia can prevent your kids from duking it out in the back seat and if a stroller fits in the trunk, please read on.

THE GOOD

Coming from a Chevrolet Equinox, which I’ve been driving for nearly eight years, I was a bit worried that the GMC Acadia would feel big. I mean, it’s a seven-seater and I’ve never driven anything that can cart around that many humans before. Fortunately, it felt remarkably similar to my Equinox; technically, the Acadia is still a crossover vehicle according to GM, so perhaps it’s that “big” feeling that moves something into the SUV category.

Just like my Equinox, the GMC Acadia drives like a car. And despite its extra size, it’s still just as easy to park with confidence.

Even though the GMC Acadia isn’t that much more expensive than my Equinox, it feels MILES more luxurious. Now, part of that is down to the fact that I was provided with one featuring a Denali package, but there’s a clear difference.

Let me start with my personal experience in the driver’s seat:

  • I felt like I fit really well in it, and I simply loved having all of the extra room to get comfy — on either side of my arms and above my head, all very noticeable. Even Big B didn’t fit too badly in the passenger side (and at 6’6″ and 300 lbs., that’s an accomplishment)
  • The automatic controls to get the seat and steering wheel in just the right positions for my body and preferences were a welcome change from the minimal customization I get in my current vehicle
  • The hologram-like image that subtly shows your speed between the dashboard and the horizon — right on your windshield glass — is incredible and it’s one of the key features I miss the most. I love being able to see my exact speed at all times without taking my eyes off the road for even a second. And when you’re operating the navigation system, your turn-by-turn directions appear here, too. These are called “head-up controls” and it’s going on my must-have list when we buy our next vehicle
  • Everything is in just the right spot, from the two cup holders to the USB port right beside the “cigarette lighter” charging outlet (does anyone ever actually get cigarette lighters anymore?). And, hey — there’s a USB port!
  • Dual climate control. A must when you have a husband who never seems to feel cold
  • Power-heated (and cooled) seats. Because winter sucks and because my bum appreciates being toasty
  • The rear-vision camera can’t be beat. Though I still didn’t master using only the screen to guide me backing into a parking spot, I felt so much safer backing out of my driveway across a sidewalk that’s usually laden with small children. A friend of mine had a neighbour who killed his own child by accidentally backing over him with the family car, and that story sticks in my mind every single time I back out
  • I didn’t have cause to use OnStar services, but they were there and I liked knowing that at the touch of a button I could be connected with someone should I need help
  • The pick-up is amazing, especially considering the GMC Acadia is not a small or light vehicle. So if it’s 5:55 and your kids are at one of those daycares that charges $1 a minute for every minute you’re late after 6 p.m., all I’m going to say is that if you have an Acadia, you can make it
  • The windshield wipers are fantastic! (Note to self: get new windshield wipers)
  • Two of my very, very, VERY favourite features on the Acadia are sound- and light-based: first, when there’s a vehicle in either blind spot, a little “don’t crash!” icon pops up in the upper-outside corners of each side mirror; and, second, if a vehicle in front of you slams on the brakes and you don’t do the same immediately, there’s a sensor that knows you need to be alerted and signals you with a loud “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” and makes a little flash on your windshield (around the same spot as where your speed appears). I do a lot of highway driving and this alert helped me on at least four occasions during my one-week test drive

The entertainment system worked out really well with the kids, and whether you agree with screen time at home or not, I think we can all agree that on road trips, that little screen that drops from the ceiling is like pennies from heaven. Better still? There’s a second-row entertainment system that allows the kids to watch what they’re watching or listen to their own music using headphones, while you enjoy your own mommy music in the front seat.

Although I swore I would never get a sunroof again, this test driving may have changed that. Not one but two sunroofs grace the GMC Acadia. But that’s not what turned it all around for me: it’s the screens that can be open or closed while the roofs are open. They cut the wind noise dramatically and also help prevent that sweeping gush of wind that can ruin even the best blowout in less than five minutes on the road.

Gas consumption was pretty darn good! Again, bigger vehicle so I assumed it would be worse on gas than my Equinox, but this really wasn’t the case. I drove to and from Toronto twice (making many intra-city stops each time), to the GO Station and back, and all around Durham Region and Clarington (sprawling!) getting the kids to school and activities. The tank lasted me a good four or five days, and I filled up within two minutes of the gas warning light coming on and it was only about $65 to fill the tank (gas that day was about $1.03 per litre). I was impressed.

There are cup holders built into the doors in the second row! This is genius. It’s like the designers know that too many kids’ car seats and boosters are lacking cup holders of their own, and want to help protect your beautiful vehicle from the wrath of an angry four year old who has a penchant for throwing anything she’s holding when happy/sad/frustrated/mad. Having a cup holder is a necessity with Miss Q in the house.

When we get our next vehicle, I now know for certain that I’ll be getting captain’s chairs in the second row. First off, reaching around The K Man’s high-back booster seat to do up his seatbelt was notably easier than in my Equinox or in Big B’s pickup truck. Plus, the extra space between the kids made for great loose storage, and my kids weren’t as easily able to irritate each other because they had that physical separation of space. Yes, this choice means you go from seating eight people to seating seven, but if it means World War: Kid Edition doesn’t break out on the way to the grocery store, I’m good with that.

Although the trunk is on the smaller side when the third-row seating is erect, the seats fold down quickly and easily, churning out a PILE of trunk space. Oh, and the super-handy trunk opener on the key fob became my new best friend. Because you know as a parent that you’re carrying way more than any person should. In one trip. There’s even a secret storage space behind the third row under the floor of the trunk.

Speaking of the trunk, you’ll be glad to know that an UPPAbaby Vista stroller (with a piggyBACK board attached!) fits perfectly fine in the Acadia’s trunk without folding either of the third-row seats down.

THE GAFFE

With the front seats moved all the way back to accommodate long legs, kids in car seats and boosters whose legs aren’t long enough to flop down 90 degrees at the knees are going to feel cramped.

The touch-screen dashboard is nowhere near as sensitive to touch as, say, a tablet or mobile phone. So I found myself frustrated on more than one occasion that it just wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted it to do.

The exterior shape in the rear end seems to have changed this year, and I happen to prefer the older shape. It’s more streamlined now, but if it gets much more square, I fear it’ll look boxy. Not a look I go for.

Voice recognition (such as when setting up GPS co-ordinates) is spotty at times.

While I adore the rear-vision camera, the warning beeps alerting me to a vehicle (or wall, or pillar) to which I was getting too close was quite conservative. It beeps slowly as you back into a spot and start getting close to hitting something, and really gets going as you inch closer and closer. But when I got out to investigate the first time I let it beep wildly, I was still at least two feet away from where I could have been without doing any damage to the car behind me.

I do wish there was something similar (even just a sensor) for the front end of the vehicle, too. I had a tough time pulling into my parking garage spot at work because I was worried the Acadia’s nose was going to kiss concrete.

THE GEARS

4/5

  • 2015 GMC Acadia

    Here she is. Quite a beauty.

  • "Infotainment" screen

    Easily viewable by both kids in the second row, there's literally no way I'm buying another vehicle without one of these in it.

  • Second row entertainment

    This allows your kids to customize what they hear, independently from what YOU hear. 

    Win-win.

  • Console storage

    It might seem strange that a little hidden storage and a shiftable console would make me giddy, but 'tis true. Being able to move the console back a bit meant I could fit my purse in between both front seats when my husband was occupying the passenger seat (and refusing to hold my lovely bag in his lap).

    But even that had a little secret lurking beneath it: MORE STORAGE.

  • Dashboard hiding spot

    Even the dashboard had secrets! 

    More storage up here, perfect for mobile phones, wallets, Cheerios. You name it.

  • A USB port!

    Say goodbye to cellphone car chargers, my friends. The GMC Acadia has a USB port within easy reach from either front seat.

  • The gas cap

    Another little thing that I quite liked was the touch-activated gas cap door. Just a small push and it opened enough to tuck a finger inside to open it completely.

     

  • Auto-trunk pop

    Coming out of the grocery store with my kids, I always feel like I need to haul a cart all the way to the car -- even if I only have a bag or two. And that's because between the groceries themselves, with two small kids in tow, I dare not let go of their hands in the parking lot.

    So being able to pop the trunk before I even walk out the main doors is huge. 

    And if you just want to look cool and posh, this is definitely one way to do it.

  • 2015 GMC Acadia's tires and hub caps

    My guess is that these big, beautiful tires are part of the Denali package, but I had to take a picture of them. They're big but still pretty. And pretty is important to this mommy.

  • Split seat

    Since the third row folds down two-thirds of the way on the left and a third on the right, you can quickly customize your available trunk space, and even keep a sixth passenger seated while expanding your trunk fairly significantly.

March 29, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

Signatures restaurant at the InterContinental Yorkville

I love food.

I am a foodie.

I take pictures to make “food porn” because, well, I love food. Even just looking at it. Though eating it is better.

I have a pretty discerning palate, and I’ll try anything once (you don’t want to know).

I’ve enjoyed some of the finest restaurants, eating at the likes of Nougatine at Jean Georges in NYC, Buca and Lee in Toronto, Murray Street in Ottawa, and the list goes on. So, I feel like I have a good appreciation for food that’s not only served with exquisite presentation but also has a whole whack of flavour and texture going on beneath the creative aesthetics.

I tell you all of this because I hope it clears a path for me to credibly write about the yumminess that is Signatures restaurant.

Located in the InterContinental Yorkville hotel, Signatures is about to spring into a new menu. (See what I did just there?) And my lovely #FamilyTravelCA team — comprised of Lena, Stephanie, Sheri and Candace – was there for a first taste a couple of weeks ago.

And taste, we did. And drool. And oooh. And ahhh. Signatures is one of Yorkville’s best-kept secrets.

Because Chef Andy (who generously took these photos for us in the bright kitchen light) is doing some pretty innovative work, with ingredients you know and love and some that might make you go hmmm, but — trust me — you have to try.

Not pictured here but exceptionally notable:

  • The marinated octopus and tomato salad, with black olive crumble, baby basil and olive oil. There isn’t a bit of rubber in Chef Andy’s octopus — it’s meaty but light, and melts in your mouth in a way you’ve probably never experienced with octopus. Set among the black olives and tomatoes, it’s almost like a ceviche in its presentation. Like all of the salads we try, it just screams fresh
  • The seared Euro seabass (a.k.a. branzino) was on the menu in lieu of the black cod, which is what I tried to order. Chef Andy didn’t like the looks of the cod that day and sent it back to the fish monger, instead choosing this Euro-bass and preparing it with the same sides as the black cod. It was done to perfection, which can be tough with white fish, and the cauliflower base was really interesting and more flavourful than one might expect with what can be a rather boring vegetable when cheese isn’t involved
  • The avocado ball filled with delectable crab, atop a smear of jalapeno guacamole. WOW. One of my absolute favourite dishes throughout the night and one I plan to try re-creating at home flavour-wise (because there’s really no way I can make it look as spectacularly perfect as Chef Andy did)
  • The butter tart was beautiful; not too sweet and served warm with maple ice cream
  • Signatures beet and watermelon salad

    Fresh watermelon medallions surrounded by gorgeous golden beets, with presentation so pretty you probably need to Instagram it before you eat it. I've never had these two flavours together, but they're so perfectly complementary that I wondered why they aren't paired together more often on menus.

  • Signatures foie gras

    Oh, foie gras, how do I love thee? 

    Let me count the ways...

    I've had foie gras in cities all over the world, and I've had it prepared a few different ways. But my favourite is a foie gras paté, like it's served at Signatures. But on this menu, Chef Andy pops a coiffed patty on top of rye toast and nestles it beside cherries, macadamia nuts and a tasty little kumquat marmalade that makes "kumquat" sexy.

  • Signatures radish salad

    This radish salad is Signature's "signature" salad. I'm generally not a radish fan, but being able to try various radishes prepared in at least six different ways was a fascinatingly delicious experience. And, look how pretty it is!

    Plus, anything paired with creme fraiche gets my vote.

  • Signatures steak

    I didn't order the steak because, really, you can get steak anywhere. But when I saw Lena's face taking her first few bites, I accepted her offer to try a bite.

    OMG. Food orgasm.

    This cut of meat was so tender, so melt-in-your-mouth, that I'm salivating as I write this.

    I loved my fish dish, but I'm not ashamed to say that if Lena had left a bite behind, I'd have stuffed it into my full belly.

    (All photos courtesy of Chef Andrew Frastacky.)

March 22, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

Wheat Canada: spring/summer ’15

If there’s one thing we know for sure about springtime in Canada, it’s that we don’t know a damn thing.

Will it be sunny? Rainy? Warm? Cool? Or all of the above in the same day? Yes, yes. Probably that last bit.

So that means we need layers. Lots of them. To hit up the mall/park/movie theatre/indoor playground/insert-other-fun-activity-or-location-here without the option of going from five degrees up to 25 degrees, and you’re going to end up with those horrific noises children make when they’re too hot or too cold. (And not in that cute Goldilocks kind of way.)

This is what I love about my friends over at Wheat kids’ clothing — they get it. They get that parents want fashionable, comfy clothes that all go together without being too matchy-matchy or too cutesy. And the newer collections also still need to go with the older collections because some stuff actually still fits from the previous season.

Welcome to Wheat Canada’s SS15 (spring/summer 2015) collection. It’s a beauty. As always, the clothes are “contemporary adorable” and blend seamlessly with most of the pieces we already own.

Wheat Canada SS15 - girls

But if you’re not quite sure how to narrow it down, or you’re just starting out on your Wheat obsession, I’d encourage you to let Wheat do the choosing by purchasing a Mystery Bundle. For a fixed price point (usually around the $100 mark), all you do is provide your child’s size and sex, and Wheat will hand-pick several co-ordinating items and ship them to your front door.

The best part? You get every item at a discount because of the bundle promotion. You’ll save at least 20 per cent more than if you’d bought the items separately. And way more if you consider what Wheat sells for in the U.S. and Europe — where prices are double what we pay here for many of the pieces.

The only downside of the Mystery Bundle, of course, is that you might get foundation garments (socks, undershirts and underwear) when you really didn’t need any. Or you might get nearly white-coloured leggings for your daughter who thinks playing in the mud is hilarious. But those are about the only downsides as far as I could tell after Wheat Canada sent Miss Q and The K Man their own Mystery Bundles.

Miss Q’s arrived with an underwear set (one tank and two pairs of boy-shorts in a pink polka-dot pattern), a pair of ivory leggings, a fitted pale pink T, a looser graphic T that dips down around the bum giving it a great shape, a lightweight ribbed pink cardigan and a bamboo floral-print dress that buttons up the back.

The K Man got a lovely light blue cotton “poor boy”-style dress shirt, fitted navy T, graphic-print T, a pair of slate cargo-style capris (that fold up into long shorts), a set of three pairs of navy socks and an underwear set consisting of a tank and two pairs of boxer-briefs with great button detail.

Wheat Canada SS15 - boys

As always, there are pieces from the Danish-designed collection that can’t go in the dryer, which I don’t love. Because I wash way more laundry than I’d like to as it is, and stopping to hang stuff up slows me down. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Wheat’s clothes are just lovely. Soft-to-the-touch cotton, silky bamboo, and beautiful details.

If you’re concerned about ordering kids’ clothes online without trying for fit first, the fit is somewhere in between GAP Kids and H&M. If it helps, Miss Q is a tall four year old who is already well into size 5s and 6s in these brands; above, she’s wearing a size 5 from Wheat in all but the leggings and undergarments — those are both 6s. She would be fine in a size 5 legging from Wheat but the 6s give her a good inch or two of room to grow and they’re still narrow enough around the waist that they actually stay up. The K Man, a six year old who’s also on the taller side and wears a size 8 from GAP Kids and a 7/8 from H&M is shown wearing a size 8 in Wheat, except for the undergarments, which are a 10.

In between working with Wheat Canada for a couple of posts (like this one and this one), I’ve also purchased a few (OK, a lot) of clothing — not only for my own kids but for birthday gifts, too. Shhhhh! Don’t tell my nieces! And that’s because it’s a brand I trust, and one I’m proud to support beyond my blog, too.

But don’t just take my word for it; check out all the new Wheat Canada spring/summer ’15 pieces for yourself. And be sure to watch Wheat Canada’s Facebook page for Mystery Bundle offers.

 

March 20, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
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Travel FOMO? Join us for this month’s #FamilyTravelCA chat!

Travel FOMOJust the other day, I read that those who suffer most from FOMO (fear of missing out) are considered upper middle-class.

Imagine that.

It’s a group of relatively high income earners — the top two per cent once you’re past the $150,000 per year mark, in fact — who are worried about what YOU’RE doing. So worried, actually, that there’s a new “it” word.

Social media doesn’t help, obviously. And it’s probably what piques my own FOMO. Seeing images of the loveliest cocktails, beautiful handbags, white sandy beaches or adventures in yonder lands is enough to make just about anyone feel a bit anxious about what’s on her own bucket list — or shopping list.

But let’s face it: FOMO can also be a healthy driver, as long as it doesn’t sink us into debt. It’s what makes someone start surfing the net for the next family vacation, for example. And that’s all about memories. I’ll probably die penniless for this attitude, but I really do believe that you can always make money, but you can never get time back to make memories.

So join your @FamilyTravelCA crew for a chit-chat about travel FOMO this Tuesday, March 24 at 8 p.m. (ET).  Joined by @NickCowling from Citizen Relations, we’re talking FOMO and how it impacts people’s travel planning and purchases.

Oh, but what would a #FamilyTravelCA chat be without some prizes? RSVP using this here linky and join us for the chat, and you’ll be eligible to win $500 in Future Shop gift cards (including one $250 grand prize gift card)! HOW? Enter your Twitter handle “@yourTwitterhandle” in the Link/Blog Title field, and your Twitter URL “www.twitter.com/yourtwitterhandle” in the Link Field.

Until Tuesday…



March 17, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Have a very KINDER® Easter!

KINDER Egg Hunt KitWhat’s better than finding a KINDER® SURPRISE® egg inside of a Hollow (chocolate!) Bunny this Easter? Winning an Easter basket filled to the brim with everything you need to create one heck of a memorable holiday.

But that would just be fun, right? KINDER® is going to take fun up a notch and turn it into amazing with its Unwrap the KINDER® SURPRISE® to Win contest and Easter-fun content for your family. How does it work?

  • From March 16 through 31, 2015, open the new KINDER® Easter app tab
  • Digitally “tap to unwrap” the 100-gram egg
  • Once “unwrapped,” the egg will reveal an instant prize or the option to try again
  • You will be automatically entered to win a $3,000 grand prize gift card to create some family awesomeness

After you’ve tried your hand at winning, stick around and check out all of the additional Easter-themed activities, games, crafts, recipes (and so on and so on…). There’ll be new stuff every day until March 31 — so keep coming back for more!

 

DISCLAIMER: KINDER® Canada is my client. And yes, I love the product, brand and the people who work on my team. Opinions are all still my own.

March 15, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Pawsh Pads pad your puppy’s paws

This winter has been brutal. And for many of us across the Eastern Seaboard, it’s far from over. So if you thought you could escape the slush and snow and salt…think again.

And with that in mind, are you really surprised to hear that I’m on Chester’s fifth pair of dog footwear?

We’ve tried Muttluks (hard to get on when your pup has protruding dewclaws; plus they flipped off as soon as he took a leap); Pawz (which stay on through 85 per cent of fast and rough dog-park play but are essentially tiny balloons…so look like balloons on your dog’s feet); Neo-Paws (which are pretty fantastic but involve a time commitment to get outside); and dog socks (that don’t stay on for longer than 12 seconds if you have a puppy who has a thing about chewing socks).

So when I saw Pawsh Pads Paw Protectors at a posh puppy place in the city, I knew I had to try them with our dear Chester. Thanks for sending us a set to review, Pawsh Pads peeps!

Pawsh Pads Paw ProtectorsTHE GOOD

Easy peasy to get on your dog’s paw. They slip on like a sock, but they’re wide so there’s no cajoling stray toes or dewclaws to co-operate. Then you just fasten Velcro around itself at the base of the paw and then up around the ankle (or whatever ankle-like area exists on a dog if it’s not actually called an ankle). You don’t need a PhD or rocket science-worthy instructions to get Pawsh Pads on, which will come in handy when we leave Chester with my parents who took one look at our Neo-Paws booties and cackled at me.

They’re perfect for keeping salt and gravel or other small bits of debris out of your pup’s paws.

Pawsh Pads stay on. Period. We took Chester to the dog park on the weekend and he raced around for more than an hour, probably covering 10 kilometres by the time he’d finished running about. Unlike the Pawz balloon-type boots, these stayed on all four paws through the entire park visit.

Since we’ve only tested them for about a week, I can’t tell you how Pawsh Pads are going to do durability-wise, but we’ve been through wet, muddy, dirty, snowy and icy areas (welcome to March in Ontario!) and they’ve performed well.

THE GAFFE

They’re soft-structured, so unless you fasten them on REAL good, you might find one or two of them twist around a bit, leaving the bottom suede part sort of on its side. Practise will help.

Pawsh Pads are perfect for cool temps but I found Chester’s paws were very chilly in the coldest weather; for those days, I’ll revert to the Neo-Paws for sure.

I do find the design a bit wide around the ball of Chester’s paw, but I suppose not everyone has a skinny dog like I do, so this is probably not going to be a universal gaffe.

THE GEARS

4/5

So…where can you get them?

March 12, 2015
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

The InterContinental Yorkville is your March Break hub

I love me a good staycation. You still get the thrill of a getaway and new scenery without having to spend much to get there, and you’re close to home, so if something goes awry it’s easy to race back.

Now that we don’t live in Toronto anymore, there’s something about sneaking off to the city (with our whole family or by myself like I did last week) that lights a little fire in me. I love the energy of the shopping, restaurants and people — all racing to get…somewhere.

And with March Break just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to tell you what’s happening in the city and feature a standout hotel that you could make “home base” while you’re off discovering all that Toronto has to offer families.

A standard room at the InterContinental Yorkville, with a king bed and plenty of space to play and lounge.

A standard room at the InterContinental Yorkville, with a king bed and plenty of space to play and lounge. For longer stays or those who need more space, book a suite.

First, let me tell you a bit about the InterContinental Yorkville. It sits at the most western end of the Bloor-Yorkville area, a few steps away from Avenue Road. If you happen to find a couple of hours just for yourself, take advantage of the shopping. I rarely make it up to that end of Bloor and forgot about the great shops like Club Monaco and InterMix, but the Winners on Bloor with its Runway section is pretty fab.

It’s part of the IHG group of hotels, which boasts the world’s first (and largest) hotel loyalty program. The  next time you’re at an IHG property, grab a free rewards card; you’ll be closer to earning free hotel stays and it also gets you free WiFi in your room — ahem…around the world.

But back to the family stuff. The InterContinental is itself a nice place to spend time. There’s a pool — and not just any pool but a lap pool located on the penthouse level. You’ll feel posh. Even if your kids act like monkeys.

The hotel is pretty compact. With only around 200 rooms, you won’t feel like you can get lost in the hallways and there’s a distinct customer service flavour at the InterContinental that you can taste the minute you’re ushered through the revolving front doors. It’s a very personal, intimate feel that you often get only at a really high-end five-star property like Langham Place in NYC or the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando. I love that feeling — the one that makes you feel cared about as a person rather than just another customer.

The rooms are very quiet! There were kids staying a few doors down from me, and although I could hear them in the hallway, as soon as I retreated to my room and closed the door, there was nothing but silence and sunshine. I always hate the guilt that overcomes me when we bring our kids to a nice hotel and they’re loud at 6:45 a.m. and I know the guests beside us are affected. I wouldn’t worry about that here.

Oh, and it’s pet-friendly, too, which is now more important to us since bringing a pup into our home.

Best of all, the March Break package gets you a night at the hotel with valet parking (hello!) and early check-in/late check-out, a free in-room movie, popcorn for the whole fam (and pop, too, if you drink the stuff), a four-person family pass to the Bata Shoe Museum or the ROM. Just use the booking code “IKLS2″ online.

OK, so what’s happening in and around the city if you don’t want to swim all day at the InterContinental? PLENTY. This is just the tip of the March Break iceberg:

  • Royal Ontario Museum: it’s a “Futurology” theme at the ROM — which is located right across the road from the InterContinental — with most family activities happening between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., all of which are included with your museum admission. I strongly suggest you buy tickets in advance online because March Break is usually a bit of a circus when it comes to ticket lines at the city’s top family attractions, but the ROM is so worth a visit. We’ve been twice and our kids had an absolute blast each time. We’ll be heading there during March Break and I’m excited to check out the new Douglas Coupland-inspired exhibit “Build a city of the future,” and my water babies will be stoked to learn more about whales in the “Exploring whales” area. And I’m already brainstorming ideas to “Create a slogan for the 22nd century”
  • Wizard World 2015: I have to admit that I’ve never even heard of Wizard World, even though this is apparently its twelfth year. It’s a self-proclaimed “indoor March Break extravaganza” and it’s happening from March 15 to 22, 2015, at the Better Living Centre (Exhibition grounds). There are a couple dozen rides, a little tots area (kids under five only), arts and crafts, what’s supposed to be a hug exotic petting zoo, pony rides, shows and mascot meet and greets. Tickets appear to include unlimited rides, which is music to any parent’s ear who’s had to buy tickets at the fair
  • Glama Gals March Break Camp: It’s a beach tour, y’all! And who doesn’t need to feel a little sand and sun after the winter we’ve just had? You can send your little princess in for a day or a whole week of glam camp, and trust that she’ll be pampered AND empowered. If you don’t know much about Glama Gals and its philosophy, you can read all about it in my Glama Gals review. But trust me — it’s not all unicorns and nail polish. There’s a lot of confidence-building and girl power stuff happening, too, and for $275 a week, it’s not much more than even the community-run camps and I trust this program implicitly
  • Ripley’s Aquarium: If you haven’t been to the Aquarium yet, be sure to put it on your Toronto bucket list. Because it’s great. Like, really great. I’ve been twice and still feel like I need to go back a third time to dig even deeper. My kids ooohed and ahhhed at the marvels they discovered there and it’s one of those great attractions at which you can spend three hours or the whole day and feel like you got a lot out of the experience. Be forewarned, though: buy tickets online before you go, and get there EARLY. This is no joke, friends. It gets busy. The good news? From March 16 to 20, 2015, the Aquarium opens its doors at 8 a.m. so you have every opportunity to be the early bird. Don’t make me say “I told you so.” Get there before 9 a.m. during March Break and you get a cup of coffee and a SunRype snack…see? Even the Aquarium staff want you to come at the crack of dawn
  • Meet Thomas the Tank Engine at Ontario Science Centre: Spending the day at the Science Centre will be all the more merrier on Monday, March 16 if your little ones are Thomas fans. There’s a live, interactive show — which lasts about 20 minutes, so even the most impatient kids should be able to manage — at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. We’ve been to these shows before and they’re great fun, bubbling over with more energy than you’re probably able to muster in a whole month. Just arrive early to secure a spot; in our experience, people line up an hour before the show to get into these things! And remember, it’s a free show but you still have to pay for Science Centre admission and parking. You’ll want to do this on your way home from your Toronto staycation since it’s quite far from the downtown core

Have a fun March Break activity to share? Feel free to leave it in the comments.

 

DISCLAIMER: I work for the public relations agency that represents IHG, however I would never share positive news/products/services/travel destinations with you if I didn’t genuinely feel positively. Because that’s how I roll.