Red Velvet Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Our landscaping is marching forward under this gorgeous weather. Other than going to see Billy Elliot The Musical tonight, we are not going anywhere else this long weekend. While I was chillaxing at home, I thought what other better way to celebrate Canada Day than bake some red velvet cup cakes and share with our neighbors that have been putting up with all the dirt and noise from our landscaping project, and our contractor that’s throwing in overtime to get things done for us?

See the “Selection II” Hand Mixer in the background? I inherited it from my mother-in-law, and this vintage piece works wonders. And that’s why you buy things “Made in Canada” because they last for-ever! 

Happy Canada Day everyone!

West Queen West

One of our investment properties is located in the West Queen West District, and naturally we go there from time to time to check on the area. It always amazes us to see the area has become so artsy and hip; new lifestyle and fashion boutiques are filling up both sides of the Queen Street West; and the shopping crowds are getting bigger and bigger each time we were there.

Another reason for us to go down there this weekend is to check out a few stores that I’ve always wanted to go but never got around to. One of them is Chatelet Home located at 717 Queen Street West. The store is small, but it’s packed with tons of quality and elegant furnishing and decor items: French Provincial and English Country are the predominant styles offered.

This is the store front of the Chatelet Home. If I still owned a bachelorette pad, I would definitely haul these two chairs home.
 And this pink headboard too!
 Love the trellis/lattice pattern in the lamp shade.
 Take a guess of the use of these cute little ceramic mushrooms…salt and pepper shakers they are!

I didn’t end up buying anything from Chatelet, but I did find this Mersman Mahogany End Table at Captain’s Treasure on Bloor West. The store is cramped and untidy, and there are piles and piles of junk all of the place, but if you look really hard, you might just find something of value and to your liking. This was my second time at the store (I call it Craptain :-)), and I found this Mersman Mahogany End Table made in 1920s for $39. The table is in perfect condition, and it’s valued at $250 at whole bunch of antique/collectible sites. So yet another super score to add to my “Design on a Dime” list.

And as if we didn’t have enough excitement in one day, we also went to West Elm to check out the Essex Upholstered Ottoman I was going to buy. The real thing looks even better than the pictures from their web site, and I really really love the feather grey Ikat fabric pattern and the turned bun feet. Unfortunately the ottoman is too short relative to my sofa and all other major pieces of furniture in my living room so I had to let it go.

 Love love the azure Ikat fabric!

Falling for Hermès…

I usually take the Spring clean time to replenish my wardrobe. Just like a Chanel suit can make a lady feel legit, I see Hermès scarf complete a career outfit.

I picked up this Grand Manège Silk twill scarf (36″ x 36″) from Hermès today. I am hoping it will add a dash of colors to my boring grey, black and indigo suits.

Take a look at the vibrant colors and vivid design patterns in it! I have this bad feeling that this scarf is going to trigger a whole chain of shopping spree — I am already onto their Home collection!
This is how the Grand Manège scarf looks like when knotted. There are supposedly 25 ways to knot a Hermes scarf.
And yes, I am already at the Home section! I’ve spotted this Avalon Signature H Blanket numerous times in decor shows and magazines, and I was totally in love with it. It seems so close to me now that I could almost sense the softness when my hands caress through it. All it takes are a few clicks away from my computer and a piece of plastic! However, at almost $1,500 after taxes and shipping, I think I will hold my horse for now and perhaps it will show up on our wedding anniversary day. (wink!)
 Doesn’t it look divine in this light grey shade? I know just where it’d go in my house! Do you, hubby?



Borghetto Flaminio Flea Market

While in Roma we set aside a couple of hours to go to Borghetto Flaminio Flea Market near Piazza della Marina. It’s only open on the first Sunday of April every year. To our great disappoint, the market is nothing but a household garage sale. Whatever other web site reviews tell you they are overrated. There are nonetheless a lot of varieties: antique silverware, porcelain, figurines, and picture frames, jewelry, clothing, etc. What it’s lack of is what I like and real solid quality pieces.
 This is FUGAZI Italian Style, baby! (Does it sound like Buddy Valastro from Cake Boss?)
 This vintage white chiffon dress is so pretty! Yep, I could probably fit into it when I was 18!
 More “Your Junk, Other People’s Future”
We walked out of the market, empty-handed.

I Am Hosting Christmas Dinner…

…and I want to look fab and smell nice. This year we are the lucky ones again to host family’s Christmas dinner, and I am determined to pick a few no-fuzz easy-to-prepare dishes so that I will have time to shower and look fresh when my guests arrive.

I’ve always been a fan of Gucci’s perfume such as the Original Rush (not the Rush II), so of course I can’t pass the Gucci Guilty with the same amber-based notes. The Gucci Guilty not only smells but looks sophisticated…I can already see how wonderful the bottle looks on my Sarah Richardson’s dresser.
I have my Christmas outfit already planned in my head — mostly from the pieces I already own: the GAP jeans, GAP Favourite Tee, BURBERRY Scarf, ECCO Bouillon Ballerina Flats and Swarovski earrings. The bottom line is — comfort and being myself.

I am not biting my nails yet about the Christmas dinner but I need to start the planning. I am not that type of hostess that has a few signature dishes up her sleeves, so perhaps I should turn to my trusted advisor — Williams-Sonoma’s cookbooks.
So here’s what I am thinking:
When guests arrive and before dinner is served: Smoked Salmon H’orderves (the bonus? I pretty much don’t need to cook anything in this dish.)
I am no wine pairing expert, but I know a thing or two about the wines I love. 2007 Pinot Noir from Speck Family Reserve is one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve tried so far; I always have a weakness for Shiraz and Rosemount Diamond Estate’s 2006 Shiraz fits the bill and taste; and of course who can go wrong with our own Ontario’s Henry of Pelham’s Chardonnay?

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus will be one of the appetizers. Hubby hates asparagus (or any vegetable), so I need to be creative to replace it with something else. Any suggestions?

I guess I do have one fool-proof dish after all — my Coq au Vin Blanc as the entrée. I can almost taste how wonderful it is pairing with Speck’s Pinot Noir, or the Chardonnay that’s already in the sauce.

And saving the best for last, how could we call it a Christmas Feast without Anthony’s famous Penne Arrabiata, right? The spicy Shiraz will undoubtedly kick up the flavour by another notch!

And Christmas Dinner is served! Dessert anyone?

All Set for Christmas!

Realizing how monochromatic my kitchen appears after the recent makeover, I am determined to introduce some color pops to create visual interests. And what better time to do so than Christmas, ‘tis the season to decorate with splashes and splashes of colors!

I fancy this Alessi Michael Graves Kettle with Small Bird-Shaped Whistle from Gabriel Ross for a while (or anything Alessi, I’ve been hooked on their designs since I did a MBA case study on them years ago), so I brought home this pretty lady online just in time for some high tea with girlfriends during holidays. I picked up the Paderno Pepper Mill in Blue from HomeSense by chance the other day, and since bought a Salt Mill in Yellow and another Pepper Mill in Red to complete the set. Paderno Canada web site has a great sale going on now where you can get these mills at 30% off. And how can I be all set for Christmas without the tree and lights?! This year I am also going for a chance: instead of one humongous 7-Ft tree I used to put up every year, I picked up two of these 5-Ft Prelit Potted Christmas Trees from Canadian Tire. I added some vintage balls (yes, they are from my mother-in-law and just as young as my husband) and voilà, I have them flank the entrance to the dining room to make my guests feel like VIPs.

We are adding exterior potlights before Christmas so that’s all we put up this year so far. That’s is for now.

Pearls, Little Black Dress and Good Bites

Recent Europe travel advisory has scared us into making last minute vacation change from London to DC. Though I’ve been to DC many times prior for work, the unplanned leisure trip turned out to be fun and relaxing. That goes to prove to an organized freak like me that spontaneity can be a bliss.

DC is a no-brainer for museum and gallery goers, just remember to slip in some changes as donation on our way in or out as most admissions are free.

Strolling in downtown DC and observing street scenes was entertaining:

  • People appear generally happier here than other metropolitans, unlike Hong Kong where smile has to be constantly reminded by street posters (yes, they actually have happy therapy signs everywhere).
  • I doubt you are going to be able to find more women in little black dresses and pearls, and men in suits and ties anywhere else — a.k.a. DC fashion style.

Restaurants with fancy food are much more available and affordable.

  • Zola is conveniently located next to Spy Museum and I loved their “create-your-own salad”.
  • Blue Ridge Grill‘s (Leesburg VA) lumpy Maryland style crab cakes are to die for.
  • Make sure you leave room for desserts at The Cheesecake Factory. Their vanilla bean cheesecake tastes like ice cream! I used to be a big fan of their Seafood Jambalaya Pasta but was disappointed this time as the flavour turned out quite flat.
  • Ladies with sweet tooth do not want to pass Fro-Zen-Yo, a self-serve frozen yogurt joint with tens of funky flavours.