Friday, December 31, 2010

Vacation Rental from HEAVEN

I’ve experienced a few vacation rentals in my time. Some places exceed expectations, some are exactly how they look on the website, and some look like something someone stepped in.

We’ve done the condo thing and the hotel thing before and really when your kids are little and you’re just hanging by the pool or out at the beach all day, they are just fine. However, since Jacob has turned into a 6ft tall giant, and Zoe has taken to talking in her sleep, the hotel room doesn’t really cut it anymore. In fact, some of you will recall that I have had less than exceptional experiences in hotel rooms with my kids and family and have sworn on a stack of Bibles Placed by the Gideon's never to do it again. Why can’t they just go to sleep? What exactly is the issue?

Anyway. I digress.

So this time, as there is seven of us including a 3yr old, 9yr old and 14yrs old, we decided to find a house. And let me just say here that we found the most AMAZING house ever.

If you know Kauai then you will know that Poipu, which sounds like it might be something you would find in a healthfood store, is actually one of the most fabulous beaches around. It is very close to the funky town of Koloa and our house is just a hop skip and shuffle from it all.

Built in 1922, the house is originally a plantation manager’s home and so is located on 3 acres. It has been beautifully restored and comes with a pool, a games room, a 4-hole golf course, various fruit trees, a playground, bikes, and did I mention the pool?

I just love this Hawaiian aesthetic and the owners of this house have done a fantastic job of keeping the original character of the home -beautiful wide-plank fir floors, high ceilings, wainscoting, double hung sash windows that all open perfectly, school-house lighting – while adding all sorts of luxurious touches like fluffy white towels, huge comfy beds, all the dishes you need, wifi, etc.

Oh, and there is a pool, too.


The back veranda






Amazing master bedroom






Fruit picked on-site (it’s a pomegranate)



When we arrived, all the fallen Plumeria flowers had been arranged into a heart…DSC06680



Did I mention the pool? DSC06678


The back forty with holes 2 & 3.

As I write this, the New Year’s eve fireworks are going off over the beach at Poipu, and Zoe has passed out in my bed. Jacob is taking a dip in the pool under the stars and Silas is giving us all a running commentary of life as he knows it.

Life is good, right now, and I am thankful for everything I have.

Happy New Year!

Top 9 comments overheard in passing on the trip to Kauai (in no particular order…)

9. On the plane:

Me (to the flight attendant): Will we be arriving at 12:30?

Flight attendant: Nope. In about 1hour and 30 mins

Me: Wasn’t there an announcement saying we would arrive at 12:30?

Flight attendant: Yes but I was wrong.

Me: Oh…an hour and a half wrong?

Flight attendant: Would you like a drink or not?

8. In the hotel room:

Me, to Zoe, at 3:45am after the alarm had just gone off:

Did you have a good sleep?”

Zoe: Pretty good, but it would have been better if Dad hadn’t been breathing like Darth Vader

7. In the restaurant at Ikea (killing time in Vancouver)

Woman: Do you want a grilled cheese, Kevin?

Kevin: I thought this was supposed to be Swedish Food

Woman: It is. It’s a Swedish Grilled Cheese. It’s the type of bread they use. It’s probably Swedish. Do you want it or not?

Kevin: Fine.

6. In the ferry line-up for breakfast

Me: Yes I’ll have toast with a side of bacon

Ferry employee: Would you like any eggs?

Me: No, just the bacon and toast thanks.

Ferry employee: They’re really good today.

Me: Uhh…yeah thanks but I’m good with the toast and ba…

Ferry employee (interrupting): Does you daughter want eggs?

Me: I think she’s good with her oatmeal. But thanks.

Ferry employee: Ok just checking.

Me: Great.

5. On the phone with HSBC bank as to why they were not open anywhere in Canada:

Kent: So you’re not open at all?

HSBC: No we are closed, sir, due to the holidays

Kent: That’s ridiculous! Why are you closed on a Wednesday?

Me (whispering loudly): It’s Tuesday today!

Kent: I’m just saying that your bank should be open on a weekday during business hours! How am I going to get any money from my USD account?

HSBC: I am sorry sir but you will be able to access your account tomorrow. We are closed today due to the holidays falling on a Saturday and Sunday and…

Kent: I’m driving around on a Wednesday needing my bank and…

Me (whispering very loudly): Kent it’s Tuesday. IT’s not Wednesday today! Quit saying Wednesday! IT’S TUESDAY!!!

Kent (to me with a confused look): Whaa ?

Me: IT’S TUESDAY!!!!!!

Kent (to HSBC) I’m sorry I’ve just learned that it is Tuesday today….

4. On the phone with HSBC inquiring as to whether or not there is an HSBC branch on Kauai. No word of a lie, this is how it went:

Me: Yes hello I’m wondering if you can tell me if there is an HSBC branch on the island of Kauai in Haw….

HSBC: Where?

Me: The island of Kauai in Hawaii

HSBC: Can you spell that?

Me: Yes it’s K-A-U-A-I

HSBC: Hold please

HSBC five minutes later: Where did you say you needed a branch?

Me: Have you heard of Hawaii?

HSBC: Can you spell that please? (I am NOT KIDDING!)

Me: H-A-W-A-I-I

HSBC: Hold please

Me: Wait!….

HSBC three minutes later: I am sorry I will need more information to see if there is a branch in your requested location

Me: Can't you just google it? What’s going on?? I just want to know if there is a branch of YOUR bank, in Hawaii.

HSBC: I am sorry maam but I will need more information before I can complete that request..

Me: Ok let’s move on.

3. Name of a tile store in Richmond: Many Tile

Well, I guess that’s what they sell. No point in trying to be cute.

2. At Costco in Kauai with our lovely friends Mel and Pepi and Silas, buying some food for our stay:

Mel to Pepi: Do we need to buy those pineapples here? We should get some at a farmer’s market

Pepi, with a fake flower lei around his neck, holding two pineapples, one in each hand: “Oh come on! They’re good! I even saw Hawaiian people buying them!”

(Hawaiian person ahead of us in line smothers a laugh)

Mel: Oh alright then. If Hawaiian people are buying them…

Silas (3yrs old): Hey everyone quit arguing about Hawaiian People.

1. Observed on a HUGE sign, as you pass through the final check of US Customs at Vancouver Airport into the gates for departures to US destinations:


Have they not figured out that they are still in Vancouver Airport and that Vancouver Airport is actually still in CANADA??? Hello? Hello?? Who has the brain today? Apparently not the Department of Homeland Security. It’s actually so ridiculous that it’s kind of cute.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kauai, I Think I Love you


Kauai, for those of you who haven’t made it here yet, is a jewel. I have always loved Hawaii and would stay on any of the islands, but Kauai holds a special place in my heart.

I first came here when I was 10yrs old. My family had just finished a huge trip around the world for a year and Hawaii was our last stop(except for Disneyland). We stayed here for a month. My dad’s mum, known affectionately as Nanny, arrived shortly after we did, and we all stayed in a beautiful little house right on the ocean for a month. During those weeks, we played in the waves, visited remote beaches, stumbled onto a movie set, snorkelled, and generally relaxed. Believe it or not, we actually needed to relax after 12 months of packing and repacking, cramming ourselves into tiny accommodations, running for flights, being delayed, eating strange and wonderful food, and seeing the sights of the bigger world

So when it finally came time to leave, I was actually sad to go. I vowed to come back but it was almost 30yrs before I made it. Three years ago, Kent and I and the kids along with my Dad and my Uncle Pete, stayed here on the island for 10 days just before Christmas. My dad and I had a great time re-visiting all the places we had seen 30yrs before. And while there had been a couple of huge hurricanes in the intervening time that had managed to do some serious damage, things were much as we remembered them. In fact, I think some things were exactly the same, including the rusty bolt on the bathroom cubicle door, in the bathroom block at Poipu Beach, that I had been unable to open as a child. More on that later. And also the smell in Brenneke’s Beach Broiler. Yep that was definitely the same. Time to change the filter in the fan! Oh and also that Monk seal that spends all day in exactly the same spot on the beach – I’m pretty sure that is the same one that was there 30yrs ago too. But the tropical fish were the same vibrant colours and the sky the same brilliant blue and the green folds of the mountains were just as I remembered them.

We had a great trip and once again I was sad to leave.

And so I am unbelievably happy to be here, three years later, sitting in the most amazing house, 5 minutes from Poipu Beach listening to the trade winds blow through the palm trees outside my window.

And that Monk Seal was still there.

Up next: You won’t believe this house.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lavender Loveliness Cheesecake

I love lavender and anything to do with it and I also love cheesecake so combining the two can only be good. Lavender season is just coming to an end but you can still find it blooming in gardens. I find it irresistible and grab handfuls of it while out walking. If your lavender bush is one I have massacred, I’m sorry about that I just can’t help myself.

This is one of those recipes that you need to start the day before if you want the full effect of the sugared lavender adorning the cheesecake. So if you have people coming over tonight and you need something quick, better keep looking cuz this isn’t going to work for you unless you want to just go with non-sugared lavender. This dessert also needs to set in the fridge for a few hours.

You will need:

  • ladyfingers (one packet should be enough unless you are like me and keep crumbling them when you meant to break them instead…)
  • 250ml whipping cream
  • 1 and 1/2 boxes of cream cheese (and none of this ‘lite’ cream cheese please. yuck!)
  • 3/4 cup good honey like fireweed or blackberry. If you are really keen, you can infuse your honey with rose petals for 24hrs but they have to be from fragrant roses or nothing will happen and you will wonder what I was on about. It’s not necessary to do this but I LOVE the subtle scent of roses in my honey.
  • a handful of lavender buds that you have just picked from the garden. Unpicking the lavender sachet that has been in your underwear drawer for the past 10 years and trying to use that lavender will not work nearly as well and, frankly, is just plain wrong. And kind of gross. Anyway.
  • Some longer lavender sprigs that look pretty
  • about 1 and 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • A springform pan. Google it. Yes you need it.

OK here we go.

The night before, you are going to sugar the lavender. Kinda like the sugared rose petals but not really.

1. Make a simple sugar syrup. Put 2 cups of water in a saucepan, turn heat to medium, when it is warmish, dissolve 1 cup of sugar in the water. Keep heating it until it boils and then remove from heat. Let it cool.

2. Sort out the best of the lavender springs (you might need 7 or 8 for the final finishing touch on the cake)

3. One at a time, dip the sprigs in the sugar water and hold them there for a minute or so then remove and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Put them on a sheet of tinfoil to dry overnight.



They should look sort of like this. And really, who cares if they look completely different. It’s your cheesecake!

Alright now go and finish the laundry and clean up the bathroom and put all the shoes away and the kids to bed and I’ll meet you back here tomorrow.


Good morning :)

Ok first things first. Check your sugared lavender. Should look exactly the same as it did last night when you finally made it to bed except that now it will have hardened-up. Good job!

Now, get your springform pan and tighten it up. I’ve made the mistake before of not tightening it before making a dessert and that pretty much defeated the purpose of the whole thing so don’t get offended, just make sure it’s locked up.

Put the kettle on. Trust me.

Crack open the ladyfingers and lay a layer of them on the bottom of the pan. Yes, you will need to break them into smaller pieces so that they fit. Go crazy! I don’t recommend sampling them. They are kind of gross on their own and are much better when they have soaked up whatever it is they are meant to soak up.

Keep enough ladyfingers so that you can line the sides of the pan with them later. You will need to use a sharp knife to cut them in half (crossways).

Now you need to make the lavender infusion. You will need about 3 or 4 tablespoons of lavender buds. Using a mortar and pestle, crush them so that they just start to turn brown.


Put the crushed buds in a small bowl and add about 6 tablespoons of hot water (that you have previously boiled and allowed to cool slightly– see I told you to put the kettle on).

The water should just cover the lavender. Allow the buds to soak for about 15 minutes. The buds will be a nasty brown colour and the water will be tea-coloured.


While the lavender infusion is infusing, find a big mixing bowl and whip up your whipped cream. Set it aside.

Find another bowl. I don’t know how else to tell you to mix the honey and cream cheese together other than to say “mix the cream cheese and honey together now or you will mess up the timing”. Timing is everything people. Stay with me here!


cream cheese and honey is a match made in heaven.

Ok so by now your infusion will be ready. Less is more when it comes to lavender so go easy and spoon in about a tablespoon of the lavender water (the liquid only) into the cream cheese/honey mixture. Try it for taste and add a LITTLE bit more if you like. We are going for subtle here, people, not overwhelming. Lavender can be overpowering if you use too much.

Ok now whip that all together and admire for a moment.

Now get the bowl of whipped cream DSC06308

add about 1 and 1/2 cups of whipped cream to the cream cheese/honey/lavender mixture. You can use beaters if you like to whip everything together, but don’t overwhip or too much air will get into everything and we don’t want that.


It should look like this.

Now take your bowl of whipped loveliness over to the springform pan and spoon it onto the ladyfingers so that it completely covers the ladyfingers on the bottom of the pan.

Then slide in the ladyfinger halves (that you cut earlier) all around the inside of the pan

DSC06311 DSC06310


Now put the whole thing in the fridge and come back in a few hours (minimum 2)  when it has set.

Now the fun part! Take your sugared lavender sprigs and arrange on top of your masterpiece. Remove the springform just before serving. Tip: loosen the springform slowly and gently ease it up over the ladyfingers, using your fingers to hold them in place while doing so. I find this keeps everything together nicely.

And if I had been organized, I would have taken a picture of my own finished masterpiece before it was consumed at a birthday party but alas I did not so you will have to enjoy your own instead :)


Monday, July 26, 2010

Everything’s Coming Up Roses! Jane’s Rose Petal Cake (with apologies to Persian Love Cake)


I love this time of year for many reasons but a fragrant rose has to be one of my most favourite things. I recently came across a bottle of rose water for sale at a local deli and couldn’t resist it. When I found a recipe for Persian Love Cake featuring rose water and candied rose petals, well I figured it was all just meant to be. I will admit here that I modified it slightly. So for those of you who are Persian and feel like I may have committed a crime, well, I’m sorry.

*You need to plan ahead to make this cake because the rose petals need a day and night to cure or set or candy or whatever it is they do.

This is a great recipe to make with little girls:)

You will need:

Candied rose petals

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • A bunch of rose petals that have not been sprayed with something evil. Make sure they smell good too– not all roses are fragrant, people.


  • 1 cup flour (No, you shouldn’t use whole wheat. It’s a cake)
  • 14 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground whole cardamom seeds (removed from about 5 green cardamom pods). And if, by some chance, you can’t actually find whole green cardamom pods because we don’t live in Sri Lanka or wherever whole green cardamom pods are from, just grind up whatever you can find at Safeway or wherever. It’s OK. Relax.


  • 2/3 cup icing sugar or more…
  • as much water as you need so that it’s not too thick and not too runny- start with a couple of tablespoons.
  • 1 teaspoon rose water (that’s right – only 1 teaspoon. Trust me. It’s freakin’ strong stuff. Well. Ok – you could use a little more if you want but I’d say NO MORE that 2 teaspoons or you will wish you hadn’t)
  • 2 tablespoons natural unsalted pistachios (Or not. We were fresh out of natural unsalted pistachios at our house and judging by the number of people who asked, “hey! Where are the natural unsalted pistachios?” (which was exactly None) I think you’re good to go without them).

Ok First you have to make the candied rose petals. Choose the best petals. Spray a drying rack with olive oil. Whip up the egg whites.  Spread half a cup of sugar out on a plate or in a shallow bowl. OK ready? Dip a rose petal in the foamy egg whites (you’ll need to keep going crazy on those egg whites with a fork to keep them foamy), then either dip it in the sugar (easier if you are 8yrs old), or put the petal down on a plate and sprinkle evenly with sugar on both sides (easier if you are older than 8)



When you are done they will look sort of like this. Now go do something else for the rest of the day and come back tomorrow.

Alright feeling refreshed?


Preheat to 325. Find two round pans that are approx. the same size and grease them however you like to grease your pans (go crazy).

Mix up the flour, 7 TBSP sugar, baking powder and salt. Find another bowl and mix up the yolks, water, oil, lemon zest, and the ground cardamom. I always forget if you’re supposed to add the wet to the dry or the dry to the wet and I know my Grade 7 Home Ec. teacher is rolling in her grave (her name escapes me…anyone?) but really, people, I don’t think it matters. Mix them together however you like. I hate preachy recipes. It will look like this:


Ok now you need to beat the crap out of the egg whites, while periodically adding a tbsp of sugar, until the egg whites stand up on their own and you have added 7 tbsp total.

Add them into the other bowl of batter.


Resist the urge to eat the raw batter.

Pour the batter into the two cake pans and bake ‘em up! About 25 mins, don’t overcook or tomorrow, you will lock your keys in your car. Or something.

And…take them out when they are done (you will know they are done because when you stab them with a knife, the knife is clean when it comes out). Let them cool for a bit and then turn them out on to racks to cool completely. Your daughter will want to rush this next part but I’m telling you now, it you don't let them cool completely, the icing will run off the cakes and you will have two soggy cakes, no icing, and will feel bad. Just sayin’.

Icing – mix water and icing sugar together. I’m sure you have done this before. If not, well, just mix them together. Add the rose water. and add a little more icing sugar. If you are doing this with little girls, you may want to add a drop of red food colouring or squeeze a beet or whatever it is you do to make it a nice shade of pink. Boys will want it to be green. I know this to be true. Whatever, people, whatever. Make sure you can still pour the icing because that’s what you are going to do next.

If you like, you can either ice between the cakes, or spread a layer of jam (yum) or whatever. Then stick one cake on top of the other and admire your work.

Then pour the icing all over the two cakes. Keep going until it is covered and who cares if it's not perfect. It should look something like this:



Now the fun part! Get your beautiful candied rose petals from yesterday (they are just over there on the counter behind you) and have your daughter artfully arrange them on the cake. She will likely overdo it, but who cares.


Then stand back together and admire your beautiful cake.


And if perhaps, you have a 14yr old son like I do, you can wait for him to say “Hey it’s a pepperoni cake” like mine did :)


Cheers and happy baking!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Island Hopping Part 2 – Sunshine Coast, Neil Diamond and Smitty’s Oyster House. Sigh…

I’m on my back staring at the deep blue summer sky. Tiny waves lap and splash under the dock and my world rocks gently back and forth.  While it’s probably carcinogenic, the smell of the creosote and tar that coat the pilings, the salty ocean and the sun baked wood of the dock combine forces and take me back years and years to when I was a girl and lay on this exact spot.

Gambier Island is an annual pilgrimage for me and I look forward to my next visit the very second I have left for this year. I could go on and on but instead I’ll give you my top-10 reasons  (in no particular order) why I love this particular part of the BC coast:

10. The waters of Howe Sound are actually warm enough to swim in without causing complete paralysis. There’s no sand, but there are docks and pier and the jumping and swimming is endless.


Witness Jacob in mid-leap off the pier at Gambier Harbour.


9. BC Ferries always figures prominently in the trip to Gambier as it requires three ferries.  It’s usually a beautiful trip and the kids are always in a good mood which slightly counteracts the fact that I did miss three ferries on the way there. So, to be clear, I don’t actually LIKE BC ferries, but I do find they offer significant blog material. For example, I’m pretty sure the 20 or so cars that made it as far as the on-ramp on to the Langdale Ferry at Horseshoe Bay also do not like BC Ferries. How exactly the ferry workers mis-judged that one I do not know. All I know is that nobody was happy at the prospect of having to back off the ramp, which is what all the cars and motorcycles had to do. As the lower deck was also full, they missed the ferry. Whoops!


8. Signage on BC Ferries.

Jacob and I also spent most of the 40 minute trip from Horseshoe Bay (or Horse-Poo Bay as the kids refer to it, based on the absolute lack of anything interesting or stimulating to be found there) laughing hysterically at the sign below. WTF.DSC06188

We were very unclear on what exactly the message was here but came up with several suggestions:

  • Caution: Assemble here for Human/Dwarf merging
  • Caution: Human/Giant Merging station
  • Caution: Angry Elves may appear from any direction – protect your children at all times

Any more suggestions? I’m going to send them to BC Ferries.

7. Lunch at Smitty’s Oyster House in Gibson’s. Once an marine shop, this funky building has undergone extensive renos and did they ever do an amazing job. Loved the bright blue brick walls, the black woodwork, the amazing old windows that seem to open 10 different ways, as well as the original boom that reaches out over the boardwalk and was used to bring engines right into the shop to be worked on. My cousin Mel, her husband Stuart, and Jacob and I came for lunch but would happily have stayed for dinner if we hadn’t had to catch a ferry. We were seated outside on the patio at a huge long table where we were instructed by our slightly offensive, but hysterically funny server, to sit in twos opposite each other. Other people joined us and it soon felt like one big lunch party. The wine and conversation flowed, oysters arrived, delicious crab cakes were devoured, halibut fritters (cooked to perfection) consumed in vast quantities, and all the while boats came and went from the marina, waves lapped under the pier, and happiness reigned. I will definitely be back at the next opportunity, if not sooner :)

6. Commotion by the Ocean. This was my second time attending this annual event on Gambier Island. Held as a fundraiser for the Island’s Community Centre, the concert features Island native Bobby Bruce who is perhaps better known as Nearly Neil as in Nearly Neil Diamond. I have never been a huge Neil Diamond fan, except in a ironic sort of way but can say that I am now a huge Bobby Bruce fan. In my humble opinion, this guy is BETTER than Neil Diamond. The concert consisted of a set of Nearly Neil (excellent) followed by an appearance by Abba Kid Abra, an Abba tribute band that I could have skipped, another set by the Gambier Band who were just awesome, and then another set by Bobby Bruce singing some tunes written by Gambier Island songwriters, some of his own work and a bunch of covers. This guy can sing with the best of them. Throw in a beer garden, pulled pork sandwiches and corn on the cob, and it was a great night. Slightly surreal, but great none-the-less.


Nice shirt, Neil.

5. My Aunt and Uncle’s house. I may have gone off about this before but it really is a little slice of heaven. The garden is idyllic, the house so cool and comfortable, and the company is always wonderful.

DSC06232 DSC06231





4. Cousins.






3. Potter Organics (AKA my uncles garden)DSC04374


2. My Aunt Louise’s Kitchen.

While she claims it’s all in the reading of the recipe, I beg to differ. Every last thing that comes out of this kitchen is delicious. Jacob will attest to this – he ate three full plates of Turkey dinner, followed by pie, as will Zoe who starts talking about my aunt’s strawberry shortcake about 11 months before we are due to go.

1. It really is sunny on the sunshine coast and it makes everyone smile. Just look at this blue sky:


Can’t wait to go back!