5 Of My Favorite Tomato Dishes

img_0738I love tomatoes!  And, it’s still tomato season in Ontario.   Maybe, like me, you have a few too many in your fridge if you were tempted by the tomato baskets at the grocery store and at farmer’s markets.  It’s been hot and dry this season, making conditions perfect for growing beautiful tomatoes.  So, I thought I would share a few recipe ideas and links in hopes of inspiring you to try something new.

But, first, let’s take a look at why tomatoes deserve our attention:

  • Although they have a ‘season’, tomatoes are available year-round (thanks to hot-houses) so they are affordable and you can try different recipes all year long.
  • There are so many varieties of tomatoes that come in different shapes, colors, and sizes (roma, plum, heirloom, beefsteak, grape, cherry, etc. ) making it easy to mix things up and keep dishes colorful.
  • Tomatoes are good for you: they are 95 % water, contain Vitamin C, and are low in calories.
  • Tomatoes make a great snack, especially the smaller ones that can easily be packed into a lunch or for eating on the go.
  • There are so many ways to use tomatoes: in sauces, in quick salads, and in cooked dishes.  My family does not can or jar tomatoes, but I know that many families have the tradition of spending a fun day making tomato sauce to be stored and used  all year long.
  • Finally, tomatoes are easy to serve.  They are often my fall-back dish. You can slice them, drizzle them with oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, add some basil, and you have a salad in minutes.

img_0314While I was researching this post, I came across this fun fact:  An Ontario Member of Parliament, Mike Colle, proposed a bill to make July 15th Tomato Day and to make the tomato the official vegetable of Ontario.  The current status of the bill is: First Reading Carried, so stay tuned!

Here are a few of my favorite tomato dishes in photos.  There are so many obvious dishes that I haven’t put in here like caprese salad, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza, and green salads.  Because the point of this post was to get you thinking about some different tomato uses, I’ve linked recipes rather than including them in full.

Quinoa Tabouli: Being Lebanese, I grew up eating tabouli as the main salad at family meals.  My mom makes it 3-4 times a week, and it makes sense to have a quinoa version. Here’s one you can try from Epicurious.img_2351

Tomato Tart: When I watched Martha Stewart make this dish, I knew it was for me because the pate brise makes this dish more fancy and even a bit sweet.  I use this recipe as a guideline and use whatever cheeses I have in the fridge.  It’s one of my favorite dishes this time of year.img_0757

Israeli Salad: This is a staple in many Middle Eastern restaurants and my husband and one daughter love it.  The ingredients are simple: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley. Some recipes call for bell peppers, but I omitted them here. Sometimes I add the dried mint, sometimes not.  Here’s one recipe you can try.img_2221

Bruschetta: We love this dish because it tastes so fresh.  My daughter even has leftovers the next day as her after-school snack.  There are lots of recipes out there, including this one.img_2346

Loubieh Bi Zayt: This is one of my favorite Lebanese dishes because I love vegetarian food.  My mom makes this dish for me all the time and I like it because I get to eat it using the pita bread as a ‘spoon’!  The name literally means ‘beans in oil’ but it’s basically sauteed onions, beans, and tomatoes in a reduced tomato sauce.  Here’s a recipe to try.fullsizerender

I’d love to hear about your favorite tomato dishes!  Enjoy!

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Mad Men in Napa: The Wedding

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The Elegant Chuppa; Flowers by Fleurs de France

This past Labor Day Weekend, my husband and I were invited to the most exquisite wedding celebration we have ever attended.  My friend Paul married his partner Eliav, at the Calistoga Ranch in California’s Napa Valley, in a ‘Mad Men In Napa’, 1960s- themed wedding.

Friends and family participated in three days of wedding festivities which included lots of wine and food, love and laughter, and renewed friendships.

This is, by far, the most elegant, generous, and thoughtful wedding I have ever attended!

I will give you all of the fun and fancy details in a bit, but let’s begin with love and friendship which is what Mad Men in Napa was really all about.

img_1789Let’s Talk About The Love…

Paul and Eliav have been together for over 22 years, after Paul answered an ad in The Chicago Reader newspaper.  Eliav knew before Paul that they were meant to be together, but it didn’t take Paul that much longer to figure this out!  Both partners love traveling, fine dining, collecting wine, and taking in cultural events.  They also love spending time with family and friends and, from the speeches given, these treasured relationships have only grown deeper over time.

Paul and Eliav’s wedding was even more special not only because we know how long-lasting and solid their love is after more than 20 years together, but because it was a celebration of life yesterday, today, and tomorrow, coincident with the landmark Obergefell vs Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage in every state.  As such, the grooms’ marriage is symbolic of the natural progression of rights over time as well as a blending of the grooms’ families, cultures, and religions.

IMG_1821…Let’s Talk About The Friendships…

I met Paul in London a long, long time ago.  We were on a Junior Year Abroad program at the London School of Economics where we lived in a flat at 37 Nottingham Place, with about 25 other students from various American colleges.  We had a group of friends that traveled together to places like Scotland, Wales, Spain, and the then Soviet Union.  We explored London neighborhoods and attended the theater on Tuesdays when it was student discount day.  And, of course, we spent many many nights at the local pub, talking about Ronald Reagan and politics!  Although we were only in London for about 3 months, the friendships and bonds we made would last for a long time and attending Paul and Eliav’s wedding confirmed this.

Paul has been the one who has kept us all connected over the years.  He has been the hub of our friendship network, spending time with me when he would come to Toronto on business.  On a couple of these trips, Eliav joined Paul, and our families met.  When Paul and I saw each other in Toronto, we would visit an art exhibit or a local antique store. Paul would always send me an email in advance with lists and links to the best new restaurants in my own city!  Yes, if you know Paul and Eliav, you know what I’m talking about.

Paul would also fill me in on our ‘LSE friends’ that he would see over the years. Sometimes I would just get a quick email saying that he had been in Chicago or New York over the weekend and that he had seen one of our friends.  So, bringing us together after all of these years seemed like the most natural of things.  Meeting each other’s spouses and significant others was a real treat.  And, by extension, meeting and getting to know invited friends and family of the grooms was easy because of the close connections with the couple that we all share.

img_2055…And Now, Let’s Talk About All Of The Fun!

As you’ve read, this is no ordinary love…and the celebrations were no ordinary celebrations!

The planning for Mad Men In Napa was a year in the making, the wedding lasted for three days, and the memories are forever.  Here’s the journey we experienced as guests.

In January, we received a ‘Save the Date’ in the form of a boarding pass, with the wedding dates and a pin indicating Napa Valley as the destination.  In other words, consider your Labor Day Weekend 2016 plans made.  We also received a website address to keep us informed of up-to-date wedding details.  Did I mention that a Mad Men in Napa logo had been developed with the silhouette of two men holding wine looking out a vineyards?  The grooms are fanatics of the 1960s and Mad Men (the TV show depicting the lives of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 60s) and even own pieces of furniture from the set like Don Draper’s office couch and Roger Sterling’s cocktail table. You already know they love wine, hence…a Mad Men in Napa wedding it would be!

In June, guests received another box full of wine corks (the Save the Date also came in a box with wine corks and a corkscrew), a Mad Men in Napa Game, and more wedding details.  My daughter commented “They must like wine” to which I answered “How did you guess?”  (By the way, Ceci New York designed each part of the amazing custom invitations that you see below).  I planned my 1960s outfits and asked Paul to approve my Day One outfit.  He asked me if I had the Jackie O glasses to match.  I told him I would try to find some…

img_2063In July, we received a tube with some parchment paper: in lieu of gifts, all 180 guests were asked to fill a scrapbook page with a message, a memory, advice, something meaningful, for the grooms.  We had homework, but I knew what I would send in right away.  I had made a scrapbook from our London days and so I copied and submitted the page with all of the theater stubs.  My husband submitted his favorite poem.

And so, on September 2nd, we arrived in Calistoga to begin Day One of Mad Men in Napa. The first activity was a wine-blending competition held at the Franciscan Estate in St. Helena.  Guests were put into Mad Men character teams like Team Roger, Don, and Megan.  Each team had a variety of red wines, pipettes, funnels, and colored pencils.  We had to come up with a blend, bottle it, and label it with a name.  Our team came up with Lucky Strike ‘The Perfect Blend’ and we won the smoothest wine category.  As each team pitched their ‘wine and reason’ to the grooms, guests enjoyed a cheese board and wine.

The second activity was an appetizer cooking class and a cocktail making class at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  This time we were Team Fleishmann’s, as in the mayonnaise. Chefs taught us how to make 1960s appetizers like onion dip, deviled eggs, ambrosia salad, and pigs-in-a-blanket.  We all wore aprons and Mad Men chef’s hats.  Then guests had a cocktail making class where we learned how to make Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.  An elegant dinner and family speeches followed in the wine cellar of the Culinary Institute with Baked Alaska (what else) for dessert.

The wedding ceremony took place on Day Two, at the Calistoga Ranch as the sun was setting.  The chuppa was elegantly decorated (by Fleurs de France) with white flowers and stood against the vineyard. Naturally, the grooms walked in down the aisle between the vineyard rows!  A reading about Obergefell vs Hodges and the history of rights in America set the stage for family and friends to read poems and share memories before the vows were made.  Paul’s niece beautifully sang Etta James’ very fitting ‘At Last’. The ceremony ended with the breaking of a glass and the grooms blending Israeli and Greek wine to symbolically represent their union, in a cup presented to them by Eliav’s family. And, they took their first selfie together under the chuppa, as a married couple!

After the ceremony, guests posed for photos and enjoyed champagne at the reception. The grooms drove a 1965 Pontiac LeMans Convertible to the elegant wedding dinner site on the lawn next to Lommel Lake.  We all ogled over the wedding cake, which was layers of cheese wheels with a 3D printed cake topper of the grooms.  The likeness was uncanny.

We found our seats at one of two long tables set for 90 guests each.  The tables were exquisitely decorated with purple, green, and white floral arrangements and succulents. Each guest had a menu indicating the salad, starters, main entrees, and dessert, with accompanying wines for each course.  As the sun set, we enjoyed the most delicious food, wine, impeccable service, and company, with candles lighting up the night and the milky way visible above us.

When dinner was over, we walked the short distance to the Wine Cave where dessert, coffee, a Whisky Bar, and dancing awaited.  After the grooms’ first dance to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’, we danced to ‘Thriller’, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, and ended with ‘Last Dance’.  What a magical night!

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Day Three, we had to return home, but the remaining guests were treated to a champagne tour and brunch at Domain Chandon which included a doughnut machine, a crepe table, fresh prosciutto, seafood and sushi tables,  and frozen whipped nutmeg puffs in liquid nitrogen as coffee toppings.

You should also know that the grooms, along with their wedding planners Cole Drake Events, thought of everything: buses took guests from their hotels to all of the wedding venues and brought them back.  Every part of each meal had an accompanying wine. Open bars served whatever you ordered.  (I had a Long Island Iced Tea among other drinks.)  Multiple photographers and videographers recorded each event.  A drone took a group photo at the Culinary Institute.  All programs, menus, napkins and bottled water had the Mad Men in Napa logo on them.  The caterers perfectly attended to allergies and food preferences.  Golf carts shuttled guests as required. Pashmina shawls, heel protectors, and flip-flops were provided for the outdoor dinner and for after dancing. Every need and want was met and it all seemed effortless.  Guests were treated like royalty.

We felt very very special to be invited to this celebration of long-lasting love, this blending of cultures and friends.  And, we wish the grooms a continued lifetime of love, laughter, and adventures together…Mazel Tov!

(Photo of the LSE friends, grooms in the car and the brunch buffet were taken by other wedding guests and used with permission)

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Peach Crumble Because It’s Still Peach Season!

IMG_1104It’s the first day of September and, in Ontario, it’s still  peach season!  You can find peaches in the grocery stores and at farmers’ markets.  And, they are delicious.

For the last three weeks, I’ve made a Peach Crumble every week because I can only eat peaches cooked.  My family has been enjoying this recipe, too.  We seem to eat it for breakfast or snack or dessert.

Last summer, I shared a recipe for Peach and Strawberry Crumble.  You can read that post to understand the difference between crumbles, crisps, and cobblers.  Personally, I love oatmeal, so I go for the crumbles.IMG_0787

This summer, I went for a straight peach crumble, and I made it in a 9 by 13 inch pan.   If you want to make this in a smaller pan, go ahead.  Just make sure the crumble doesn’t go past the top of the pan.IMG_0783

You can serve this with ice cream, cream, or milk.  I use the latter if I want to have the crumble for breakfast.  Go ahead, live a little! Continue reading

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White Jeans In The Summer

FullSizeRenderIt’s summer and wearing white jeans seems, well, so obvious.  But, this wasn’t the case for me until last summer.  I used to think white jeans were impractical, meaning hard to keep clean and just too ‘fancy’ for every day wear.

Well, I was wrong because I’ve practically lived in white jeans for the past two summers.  Here are a few reasons why:

White jeans just spell summer.  What comes to mind are photos of people boating and walking along the beach, wearing white jeans with navy tops, striped tops, boat shoes, running shoes, etc.  You get the picture.

Note that when I say white jeans, I mean white jeans,  not white pants.  What I like about white denim is that it’s thicker than linen or other cotton pants, giving the pants a sturdier feel.  You don’t have to worry about ripping or snagging the jeans because of their thicker material.  Plus, you don’t have to worry about them being as delicate or as see-through as linen or thin cotton pants.

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Celebrating The Feast Of The Assumption In My Lebanese Family

Our Lady of Lebanon
Our Lady of Lebanon

Today is August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sounds like quite the esoteric topic for a post, but I wanted to share this day with you in the form of pictures and anecdotes because it’s a big deal in my family!

In Lebanon today, it is a statutory holiday and it is highly celebrated.  You go to church, you visit and spend time with everyone named Mary, and you even give them presents.  And, because my name is Mary, today is my day!

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Feast of the Assumption celebrates Mary when, upon her death, she was ‘taken up body and soul into heavenly glory’.

Our Lady of Lebanon
Our Lady of Lebanon

When my grandmother was alive, this day was her day, too – basically like a birthday celebration.  August 15th was bigger for her than any other day of the year because her name was Marie and she was very religious.  We would go over to her house and exchange gifts and have lunch with the extended family.

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Insta-Lately And That Summer Feeling

IMG_9720Are you in full summer mode?  What gives you that ‘summer feeling’?  And, what do I mean by that?

In this post, I’ll take you through some of the pleasures of summer, as seen lately on my Instagram feed.  I hope you’ll be inspired to take advantage of the remaining summer weeks and do some things you’ve had on your list.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost mid-August, which means that summer is two-thirds over, technically speaking.  In Toronto, it’s starting to get a tad bit cooler in the evenings and the sun has shifted lower in the sky as it moves from east to west. Daylight hours are dwindling slightly.  But, let’s forget about that for now and concentrate on the summer feeling I know we are all loving!

IMG_8532Summer is my favorite season – not even a question.  There’s something about being warm that I crave all year, living in Canada.  But even before I moved here, summertime was my favourite, anywhere I lived.

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Cirque du Soleil and Content Creation

Cirque du Soleil's Luzia at the Toronto Port Lands
Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia at the Toronto Port Lands

Let’s face it: we all crave new content constantly, be it on TV, at the movies, eating out, shopping, or traveling.  Our attention span is low and we want to be doing or experiencing ‘the latest’ – a result of the (social media) world we live in.

Furthermore, with limited time, we are pickier about where and how we spend our dollars and our free time.

Having said that, this week when my daughter and I went to watch one of Cirque du Soleil’s newest shows, Luzia, in Toronto, I knew that the company had to have made some serious changes for me to be impressed.  Cirque du Soleil did not disappoint!

It’s been ten years since we saw a Cirque du Soleil show and a lot has changed.

When we saw Corteo in 2006, it was a show of talent with beautiful costumes. The acts were more classically circus-like with juggling, hand-balancing, vaulting, and tightroping.  This time around, Luzia has progressed to a Cirque du Soleil show with more insightful interpretations and deeper meaning to the acts.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 9.44.49 PMLuzia is ‘a waking dream of Mexico’, focusing on the migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico and on Mexico’s architecture, mythology, and climate.  The show has a Broadway-like feel in terms of the costumes and stage sets.  This isn’t your old-fashioned circus, not that Cirque ever was that; it is more about visually understanding the creative nuances via the costumes and acts.  It is also more dance-oriented in some segments with a ballet-like feeling. Continue reading

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Lemon Spaghetti…With Shrimp

IMG_0219It’s the summertime and I want to be outside as much as possible, meaning I want to be in the kitchen as little as possible!  Enter lemon spaghetti with shrimp. It’s one of my go-to meals because it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.  Plus, I always have shrimp in the freezer.  My family loves this dish and I make it a couple of times a month.

I first saw this recipe on Everyday Italian with Giada de Laurentiis on the Food Network.  I must have talked about the show a lot because that Mother’s Day, I received Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook.

A few months later, we were visiting my sister-in-law and I made lemon spaghetti for dinner when company was coming.  Everybody loved it, down to the toddler who ate only the lemon spaghetti!  It’s still a favorite at my sister-in-law’s house.

IMG_0216The recipe is so easy that you don’t really need the book.  I play around with the measurements sometimes and it still tastes great every time.

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Vancouver and Maui…Work, Then Play!

Ka'anapali Beach (Maui) with the island of Lanai in the background
Ka’anapali Beach (Maui) with the island of Lanai in the background

It seems that summer vacation has taken over my blog because I haven’t posted in about six weeks!  So, it’s no surprise that this post is about our recent trip to Vancouver and Maui.

Because I plan any family trips we take, I get to ultimately decide (with some input from my husband and kids, of course) what we do.  This puts quite a bit of pressure on me, but it’s always worth it and my family tells me that they see more than most people do in any given city!  Admittedly, I tend to cram a lot into each day.

One of the things that works for us is to sightsee first and then end up on a beach somewhere where we can just relax.  I’m sure many people do this.  It just makes sense to get the walking and touring out of the way, knowing that the reward is some serious downtime.

In mid-June this year, we went to Vancouver and Maui.  It wasn’t the original plan, but an itinerary change beyond our control allowed us to sneak in a few days in Vancouver before hitting the beach.  Here’s what we did.

Vancouver from Grouse Mountain
Vancouver from Grouse Mountain

Vancouver
To get to Maui from Toronto, there are no direct flights, so you have to stop somewhere along the way.  My husband and I had been to Vancouver many years ago and the stop in Vancouver was the perfect opportunity to visit again and take the kids to see the west coast of Canada. Continue reading

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New York City…Again!

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

Last summer, I blogged about our short trip to NYC in a post called “30 Hours in New York City“.  We covered a lot of the highlights (Top of the Rock, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Neue Galerie, Tenement Museum) that New York City has to offer in a short period of time and it was a lot of fun.

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few more days in New York City. But, this time, I had a completely different experience for three reasons: it was my second visit in less than a year, I had time to spend on my own, and I didn’t overschedule myself.

This got me thinking about how nice it is to visit a big city for the second, third, or fourth time.  So, what made this subsequent visit to New York City more meaningful?

For one, I was familiar with the pace and energy of the city and knew how to plan and what to expect.  I knew it would take time to get around so I factored that in and didn’t rush myself.  For those of you who know me well, I tend to run on the late side.  You would have been surprised at how on time I was this week!  I also anticipated the crowds and brought my patience. Finally, I walked on Park Ave more when I was in a hurry to avoid the crowds on Fifth Ave.

Park Avenue
Park Avenue

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