Life with Dog.

Anyone who has met our dog learns very quickly that she is a perfect mix of Lab friendlieness and Pitbull playfulness.  It has never occured to her that she might be unwelcome anywhere and she is the class clown where ever she goes.


Another thing we learned early is that her energy level requires exercise to keep her from getting bored an becoming destructive.    Lots of excercise.  In our case, a younger Alexa needed so much excersice that we took up running!    We are all healthier and happier for it, and normally, I look forward to our morning runs or walks.  But, a restless night left me  feeling a tad lazy this morning, and since it wasn’t a running day, I decided on a very short walk to the neighbours, justifying my laziness because I do like to check on things in their absence.

I have grown accustomed to letting Alexa off of her leash at their house as the yard is fully fenced.  This gives her a chance to run around like an idiot for a few minutes while I do the house check.


This morning, I didn’t notice that their back gate was not latched. (sigh)  The back gate leads right into a mangrove forest on the edge the canal, which of course contains crocodiles.  I love my dog very much, but I was not about to leave the safety of the yard to go looking for her in THAT!


I called and called . . . nothing but silence.  Not even rustling in the underbrush.  I was sure that if a croc had gotten her, I would have heard some commotion.   Except for a crazy woman calling for her dog, the morning was as tranquil as it always is here.

I heard barking down the street, and headed to the front of the yard.  Maybe she didn’t go to the canal, maybe, somehow, she got onto the street instead.

The Mexican father and son standing in the driveway across the street said they had not seen any dogs.  Around and around the house I went for probably 20 minutes, calling and searching.  I even went back in the house, incase she was hiding in there.

I finally decided to go home, hoping that she would follow later on.  The Mexican man was smiling as he pointed into the neighbouring yard.  Yup.  There she was.  In the neighbours yard, looking quite pleased with herself.

She was trying to befriend the Pitbull who actually lives in the yard and who  was, understandably,  quite distressed by Alexas’ uninvited ingress into his yard while he was doing his best to guard it.

With no one home at the house, and Alexa unwilling or unable to find her way out of the yard she had just gotten herself into, I saw no other option but to leave her there for the day.


The Mexican man and his son were polite enough not to laugh out loud as I stomped back home, but they were grinning from ear to ear.

I knew Alexa would eventually win the Pitbull over, but I was worried about the reaction of the human inhabitants when they came home to find a strange dog in their yard.

Angry as I was with her, I still wanted to protect her from any potential danger so, I put my jeans on, grabbed a machete and marched back to the neighbours.  If Alexa got in thru the canal, I knew I could get her out, but I would have to slash my way over to their back fence while keeping my eyes peeled for all the dangers (real and imagined)  of the canal.  Right about then, I was wishing I had not felt so lazy earlier.

Anyway, as I approached the house, I noticed a new vehicle parked on the street, and my heart jumped.  YES!!   Someone had come home!!

WTF is the only description I have for the look on his face with Alexa standing in front of him, wagging her tail and giving him her friendliest look.

Fortunately for me, AND Alexa, they were very nice people and didn’t mind too much that she had broken into their yard.  They even let me pet their dog who, as predicted had been won over by Alexas’ exuberant nature.

As for Alexa, she knew I was mad at her, but she had had so much fun she could hardly begin to feel sorry for the trouble she caused.


Mango-Lime Ice

 It’s true.   Mango Season is here again and we at Casa Madera plan to take full advantage of this yummy fruit again this year!   As with tomatoes, there is no better mango than a tree ripened mango.   Their juicy goodness is beyond compare.  If you haven’t had the pleasure,  I invite you to join us here next June to experience the height of Vallarta’s Mango Season for yourselves.

We have several trees in our neighbourhood and we often see people with long sticks wandering down our street in hope of knocking down a few ripe ones.   Mango picking is fun, but be sure your picking partner is not standing under the branch you are knocking mangoes from!!  (Thinking of a particular Monty Python skit here….).

If foraging for mangoes is not your style, don’t worry.  They are easily found in the stores and are very inexpensive now too.   Depending on where you  live,  (Canada, for instance) you might find the frozen mangoes have a better flavour than the fresh ones and we are sad for you.

Seriously, Mangoes were 12 pesos a kilo in the market this week. That’s less than 50 cents a pound!

So, what do we do with all these lovely beauties,  you ask.  Well, for breakfast,  we like them cubed, topped with a little of our home made greek yogurt and sprinkled with coconut.  Its a great way to start the day.  Kevin and I ate mangoes this way for breakfast every day last week and will do the same next week, and maybe even the week after that too.IMG_1474

As an afternoon snack, they taste great sprinkled with some lime juice and Tajin, which is a mixture of chile powder and salt that accents the mango beautifully.   For those of us who cant wait, this is a good way to get a head start on mango season as it makes an underripe mangoes taste especially good.

But, back to the rest of the mangoes sitting on our counter… all of them are now ripe, which means I have enough to make one of our our summer favourites – Mango-Lime Ice.  Just mangos, limes and a bit of sugar.   Your first taste will tell you this is well worth the effort.



Mango Ice

4 – 5 ripe mangoes (or about 1 1/2 kilos or 3 1/2 pounds of frozen mangoes)

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 to 1/1/2 cups of sugar, depending on your taste and ripeness of the mangoes.

Cube mangoes and place in bowl of food processor along with the lime zest and juice.

Process until mixture is fairly smooth.  Some small pieces of mango remaining are ok.  Taste and add sugar as needed.  Pulse a couple of more times to blend in sugar.

Pour into 8 x8 pan, cover with plastic wrap and pop in the freezer.

Freeze until the mixture is firm, but not fully frozen, about 2 hours.

Scrape out of pan and into food processor and pulse until mixture becomes slushy.  Pour slush back into the pan.  Freeze 1 hour, process in food processor and repeat freezing and processing once more.  These extra rounds in the food processor give your Mango-Lime Ice the fluff it needs.  Otherwise, you will end up with a frozen chunk of mango puree that you cant dig out of its container.  (Why, yes, I did learn this the hard way, thanks for asking.)

Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

This will keep, covered, in freezer for about 2 weeks.  But, if you are like us, you will finish it off long before that.

****  COOKS NOTE – I would be remiss if I did not tell you that after the first freezing, you can actually take some of that semi frozen mango mix and put it in a glass.  Add an ounce of tequila , a couple tablespoons of simple syrup and voila!  MANGO MARGARITA!!!   *****

Simple Syrup

You need this in your fridge.  Trust us.

Simple Syrup

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Stir water and sugar together in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat, simmer 3 minutes.

Cool completely.

Will keep in refrigerator for up to a month.

Use in margaritas, mojitos, mint juleps, most any drink that requires a bit of sweetener.

The First Long Weekend of Summer

With the exception of Christmas, the May Long weekend makes me more homesick than any other holiday of the year.   Yes, even living in the land of perpetual summer has its downside at times.

For this Alberta Girl, the May Long is about the first camping trip of the season, the first BBQ, the first gathering of friends and family after a long cold winter, to celebrate the coming summer, usually with a beverage in hand.

Fortunately, I have some great memories of long weekends past, spent with family and friends…and perhaps unfortunately, I also have photos of  of those memories.

Making shooters.

Sometimes, the weather was good, but, the most memorable weekends were when the weather was poor.  What I remember most is NOT how we waited indoors for good weather to arrive, it is how we braved the elements, in defiance of the bad  weather, to celebrate the coming of summer,



So, with that in mind, wherever you may happen to be, I offer you 2 beverage choices to help with your weekend fun.  We have tried them both, you will have to pick your favourite.


2 oranges
3 limes
1/4 cup sugar
6 cups ice
1 (10 ounce) bag frozen sweetened raspberries
1 cup silver tequila
1 bottle dry white wine
4 cups chilled lemon lime soda
1. Juice one orange and two limes to measure 1/4 cup juice each. Combine juices and sugar in a pitcher and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Thinly slice remaining orange and lime.
2. Add ice, orange and lime slices, raspberries, tequila and wine to the pitcher and stir to combine combined.   You can make it ahead to this point and keep in the fridge.
To serve, add soda, stir gently and serve!
Yield: 12 servings
And for the kids:
2 cups milk,
2 cups half and half
4 tablespoons of chocolate syrup (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mini Marshmallows for serving
Heat the milk and half and half in saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the chocolate syrup.   Add vanilla extract, stir to combine.  Pour into mugs sprinkle marshmallows over top and serve.   Of course you all know you can turn this into a grown-up drink by adding Peppermint Schnapps, Baileys, Amaretto or, you know,  whatever you happen to have on hand.
Please remember that whatever you are doing this weekend, always drink responsibly and never drink and drive.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Why We Like Sonigas!

Every once in awhile, and often when least expected, someone in the business of Customer Service will absolutely blow my socks off with a standard of care far above and beyond my wildest expectations.   Such has been our experience with Sonigas and this is my opportunity to publicly thank them for their excellent service.

Street view from a truck!

Our propane (el gas) is delivered to our house by truck.  Getting the tank filled is as simple as flagging down a passing gas truck.  Many of our visitors have experienced Kevin or I suddenly yelling “GAS!!” and racing out the front door to stop the truck as it passes our casa.   Yeah, we could just call the office, but where would the fun be in that?

Our propane consumption has been increasing at an alarming rate over  the past 6 months.  Where $500 pesos used to last us 6 weeks or longer, the last $1000 pesos we added was gone in less than 3 weeks.  A week later, another $500 pesos worth of gas – gone!!

Even with a house full of guests, this is a LOT of gas!

We checked all our lines for leaks several times, and found none.  When we bought the last batch of gas, we asked the guys from the Sonigas truck for their recommendation.   They suggested we call their office and ask them to send a technician out to have a look.

So, I did, and they promised to send someone out that afternoon to have a look.   I admit, I was skeptical.  We have heard that promise many times  before, and “this afternoon” often means “tomorrow”.    Sometimes it actually means “call us again next week”.    You can imagine, then, how delighted we were to have a technician at our door just a couple of hours later!

Our propane tank, catching some rays.

The technicians name was Gabriel.  He was polite and thoroughly professional.  I really did think he was an angel!  He checked all our connections, lines and appliances for leaks.  He found one small leak, which he fixed.  He was not convinced that one tiny leak could be the source of our problems, so he marked the gas meter and left strict instructions to call again in a few days if the gas dropped more than a couple of points.

Which I did, our meter having fallen from 30 to 15 in just 7 days.   We and our guests do love to cook, but not THAT much!

Our rooms have the cutest stoves.

A different technician this time,  just as professional and thorough in checking as Gabriel was.  Every stove was pulled (we have 4), all the lines checked and again, a miniscule leak was found.  He fixed that, but questioned that this tiny leak would cause that much propane loss.  He also gave us a quick lesson in the care of our propane tank.  Did you know it likes to be in the sun?  We didn’t, and had allowed our trees to grow quite wild around it.  He suggested that we cut all the branches back and allow the sun to reach it to prevent premature rust issues.  Ok.  Done.


With the second small leak now fixed, we flagged the truck down on its way past the other morning.   I was surprised when the  drivers asked if the leak issue had been solved.  I told them that the technicians had checked everything, but were unable to find the reason for our disappearing propane.  I joked that Kevin would just have to take me out to dinner more often so I wouldn’t be using our gas stove so much.

Eatng out… no cooking, no dishes!

The next day, we received a phone call from the Sonigas office telling us they were not completely satisfied that our problem had been dealt with and they were sending an independent contractor with additional technical equipment to search for our leak.  I had to repeat all this back to her to be sure I understood because this NEVER happens, but yes, she confirmed that THEY wanted to send someone else out to check for us, if it was alright with us.  UMmmm, ok.

Sergio Martinez arrived that very afternoon with the usual  tricks of the trade designed to find and repair gas leaks, plus several more.  He was here a couple of hours and found no new leaks.  He even went so far as to call the office, to confirm the last couple of deliveries, thinking that the pump on the gas truck may be improperly calibrated.  Wow.

He taught us the calculation so we can be sure that we are getting all the gas we are paying for and told us to do the calculation BEFORE we pay for the gas each and EVERY time!   I asked if the drivers would not be offended that we were checking on them, and he said “no,  they are probably wondering why you aren’t already doing it.”  Ok, I will do it, but it will feel weird.  He just smiled.

The Calculation:  read your meter before gas goes in and after.  Subtract one from the other and multipy that number by how many litres your tank holds.  That will give you the number of litres pumped into your tank, which should match the number of litres on your bill.  Simple.  

We are leak free, by the way, and the calculation has confirmed the truck is pumping the correct amount of gas into our tank.  After much frustration and discussion, we have narrowed the source of our disappearing gas to our hot water heater.  It works well, but it is old, and perhaps inefficient.  So, we have drained and cleaned it and if that doesn’t work, we could be calling  Sr Martinez  ( to install a new  hot water tank.

Sonigas has won us over as loyal clients and I can promise that we will be calling Sergio Martinez for any future gas/pluming/electrical work.

I should also mention that ALL of this care and attention we have received from Sonigas has been free of charge and always with a smile.  In a world where the negative often overshadows the positive, I could not allow the opportunity to tell a happy story and to say THANK YOU to a business that offers such excellent customer service slip by me.

Thank you, Sonigas!!
Thank you, Sonigas!!

Stevia- What can you do with it??!!!

About 2 years ago, I answered a request in a local gmail group to help someone with a project.  The project entailed a grow – op, and had us meeting a complete stranger in the Wal-Mart parking lot to pick up some plants.

Now that I have your attention, the plants we picked up were Stevia seedlings.  And the “clandestine” transaction  took place at 2 o’clock in the afternoon under the blazing summer sun within, sight of parking lot security could not have been less interested in whatever plants we were trading.

So, about the seedlings… they were TINY (yes, “tiny” in caps could be considered an oxymoron)!   Having barely passed the 2 leaf stage, there must have been 30 of those little guys all clumped together in a couple of  tiny seedling trays – you know the ones I mean, sort of  like ice cube trays, except for plants –  all hoping for a great new home in their own pot.  They were so tiny, the instruction video (which I was required to watch prior to picking them up), included a gardener lovingly swishing the little plants thru water in order to gently separate their roots.

I can promise you the gardener in the video had more patience for this type of thing than I did, but I did manage to successfully transplant only 6 of the little guys, 3 of which succumbed to my poor gardening skills within the first month of being transplanted. Sigh.

I kept the three survivors in filtered sunlight for the first year of their little lives hoping for some sign of strength in the plant, and living in fear that the person who had entrusted these little guys to my care would call for them back.

A year later, those little guys still had not died, but they weren’t thriving either.  They looked too delicate for full sun, but out of desperation, I moved them to a much sunnier (and HOTTER) location.  Soon I had 3 much happier plants which very shortly needed transplanting to larger pots.   Turns out, they LOVE full sun during the Puerto Vallarta winters but need to be babied a little in the heat of our summers.


It seems that Stevia will never be the full bodied beauty I had imagined it would be.  It is straggly, unruly and never quite behaves the way I want it to.  Much like my hair, only on good days, the stevia is greener than my hair.

As I said earlier, we were offered these plants as part of an “experiment” but after all this time, we have never learned what that experiment was, but the plants continue to thrive in their pots by our pool.

The sweetness of the leaves when eaten right off the plant has become a topic of fascination and conversation amongst us and our guests, and more often than not, I am asked how I use this plant.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an answer for that, which, as you can imagine made me crazy.

So, I finally decided to see just what I can do with our plants.

Naturally, I turned to Pinterest for ideas and  I was not disappointed!  So many entries, I chose to try making my own Stevia Extract.  … pack a jar full of stevia leaves, add vodka, wait a couple of days, heat (to remove the alcohol), strain and enjoy.

Being too cheap to use the “good vodka”, on an experiment, I opted for a much cheaper brand, “Salamander”, with which to conduct this experiment.    Figuring that the alcohol was just an agent to extract the sweetness from the stevia, I concluded that the flavour of the vodka before being added to the leaves would be unimportant.

The results of the “Salamander” vodka experiment, while sweet, had a very strong and rather unpleasant aftertaste, much like the vodka itself.   If you go this route, heed this  warning and use a decent vodka.  Mine was barely palatable mixed with tea or coffee.  In a glass of limonada, it was more bearable because the lime juice somewhat masked its taste.

In spite of the aftertaste, I considered trying this in baking, as a sugar substitute.  Alas, it is a liquid,  and I was not able to translate that to a sugar substitute in baked goods.

Still unwilling to give up on finding a purpose for this plant,  (and trying to avoid potentially wasting 2 cups of “the good vodka”),  I grabbed some leaves yesterday, stuffed them in a jar and poured boiling water over them.


After about 4 hours I had a wonderfully sweet “tea”.   I left the whole thing in the fridge overnight to extract maximum flavour from the leaves and then strained the leaves out and wow, what flavour!  Still a tiny aftertaste, but not too bad.  For those of you who use artificial sweeteners already, you won’t even notice it.

For me, the answer to the question “what do I do with it” became crystal clear – use it to sweeten tea!   It can’t be more simple.  Our guests this coming winter will be encouraged to add the fresh leaves to whatever tea they are brewing.  How many Stevia leaves will depend on personal tastes.

Because summer is on its way, I had to try some Sun Tea, which turned out rather well.   The recipe is below, if you want to try this at home.


Stevie Sun Tea – 4 cups water, 2 tea bags – any kind you like, Roiboos, Red, Green, or Black, 1 large handful stevia leaves.  Put everything in a glass pitcher or jar, and set in the sun for a few hours. Once the water has darkened, strain out the stevia and the tea bags, pour over ice and enjoy a refreshing, sweet, sugar -free, therefore guilt-free glass of goodness.


I encourage anyone interested in this fascinating little plant to check your local greenhouses.  Once established, it thrives here in PV, in the morning sun.  I recommend keeping it in a container, as it could be like mint and will overtake your garden if allowed to do so.   Oh, but one caution, Stevia can have side effects.  Click this link to read about that before totally committing to using this as your sweeter substitute



Guadalajara – The Markets

There is a song they sing about the city of Guadalajara, and included in the lyrics is hermosa.  That means beautiful.  And it is.

Our first trip here was with our Mexican friends.  Back then, we hardly had the confidence to leave the tourist areas in PV.   I cannot begin to describe how far out of our comfort zone our first trip to Guadalajara was!   Adding to our trepidation, was their announcement that we would be leaving  on the midnight bus!    After a restless night on the bus, we arrived at the Zapopan bus station around 5am, and finally, at the family home of one of our friends. In spite of the early hour, we were warmly welcomed by the entire family, even though we most likely looked like we had just rolled out of a ditch and they could not understand a word we said.

Our command of Spanish back then was less than poor, and we spent a lot of time sitting in their living room understanding nothing but our names, which seemed to be bandied about frequently.   In spite of the language difficulty, our hosts eagerly toured us through as much of the city and surrounding area as we could handle in 3 short days.    It was a weekend all of us will remember fondly for many years to come.


Now, 5 years later, our Spanish is a bit better; at least we can make ourselves understood, which also makes us better at translating street signs on the fly.


We have visited this great city several times since our first visit and have learned that the major streets in Guadalajara are fairly easy to navigate, but they are as busy as any other major city, and they come with their own set of rules and etiquette.   Coming from Edmonton, Alberta, population about 900,000 last time I checked, driving thru Guadalajara with its population of about 5million, we never cease to be amazed by the traffic here.   Kevin has figured most of the major streets in Guadalajara and where they will take us.  Aside from a little difficulty navigating around the construction for line 3 of the underground train system this trip, he got us to all our destinations with very few wrong turns.

gdl images

As always, the underlying reason for our trip was to visit the markets.  Its not like we actually NEED anything, but we both love to wander thru the stalls looking for something that might strike our fancy.


Our favourite and most frequented stop is the Tonola Market.  Thursdays and Sundays, a normally busy street becomes insane when vendors set up their tables and tarps to display everything from curtains to ceramics to wood work, pictures, artwork, furniture, lamps, cushions, name it, you can probably find it at the market.  Adding to the confusion, hawkers walk thru the narrow alleys selling everything from cold drinks to washing machine covers.   Whether we buy anything or not, we always see something new and enjoy the time we spend there.  Incidentally, all of the furnishings for our guest rooms came from this amazing place.

Kevin, navigator extraodinarre, has also taken time to figure out the subway lines.  From the Hotel Portobello, our home base for this visit, it was a 7 peso, 10 minute, subway ride to the Mercado San Juan de Dios.    At least one full city block, and 3 stories high, its immenseness is awesome.   Restaurants and electronics & accessories on the top floor, general goods, including clothing, saddles and leatherwork on the second and food on the bottom.  Meat vendor after meat vendor eventually gives way to cheese and dairy, dried beans and finally, fruit vendors towards the exits.


In between all that, stands selling Mexican Tortas large enough to feed a family of 4.  If not for Kevins funky wheat allergy, … There are a lot of repeat stalls, and regular visitors all have their favourite vendors.  My favourite vendor was the guy who sold me an new iPad mini cover for $160 pesos!  This place is amazing and surprisingly, does not duplicate the Tonala Market.


Our final market was one we had only recently heard of and our understanding was that it sold nothing but FOOD!!!!!  Count me in, I couldn’t wait to see it.

We a bit of difficulty getting around the subway construction, but when we finally laid eyes on the Mercado de Abastos, our jaws dropped.  Covering a minimum of 5 streets, it never seemed to quit.

Here, we found onions for 8 pesos a kilo, tomatoes (yes, good ones) for 7 pesos, sweet corn! (who cares how much that cost, we rarely see it!), fennel, avocados for 16…oh, the list goes on and on, as far as your imagination can take you!  Some prices were so low we could hardly believe them, and others were similar to here.   If not for the 5 hour unrefrigerated drive ahead of us, I would have filled the back of the truck so fast it would have made Kevin’s head spin.


Aside from the low prices, it seemed everyone in Guadalajara was in there!  We had to gawk on the fly because of the river of people pushing us ever deeper into the market.  Get to the end, change sides and the river pushes us out again.  We highly recommend this stop, if only to have a good look at what organized chaos looks like from the outside.  The vendors never seem to stop moving, weighing this, bagging that, next customer.   It is one of the busiest places we have ever seen.


Across the street, behind the parking lot, which is very civilized when one considers all the confusion of the market, there is a sugar store.  And a bean store.  And a seed store selling everything from Amaranth to Quinoa, including Turin Chocolate in large chunks suitable for baking.  Take a number, because they are so busy, they don’t  have time to look at you until it is your turn.

Oddly, amongst all that food, we could locate only 1 stall selling prepared foods.  Their speciality was Tacos de Cabeza, which includes but is not limited to beef tongue, cheeks, lips and brains.  Already reeling from the sensory overload of the market, we opted to look for our breakfast in a quieter local.


Semana Pasqua

We are half way thru the second week of Easter, or, as they call it here, Semana Pasqua, which means the Easter holidays are drawing to a close.

I cannot describe the crush of people who come to Puerto Vallarta during this time.  Here, in Riviera Nayarit, our beaches go from something that normally looks like this


to this


There is almost an electrical charge in the air as the mood in the entire bay shifts to a slightly happier albeit busier plane.  Yes, it is true, traffic picks up, or grinds to a complete halt, depending on how one wants to view it and that table at our favourite restaurant may not be quite so easy to get.   There are waits at gas stations.  Grocery stores tend to be out of a few, (or a lot of!) things.   You know, all the stuff one would normally associate with the sudden influx of an enormous amount of people.   Think Summer Rental with John Candy.


Visitors to the bay, naturally, are all in high spirits.  They are on vacation after all.  As locals, we have learned to embrace rather than dread the crowds knowing that they are helping our economy perk along.  (Though, I must admit I have found it easier to embrace the crowds when we make sure to have purchased anything we think we might need in advance).


We were blessed again this year, to have had a full house over Easter, and our guests truly appreciated our quiet oasis after a full day of being entertained by all that Vallarta has to offer.


Today, our Easter guests have all headed back to Guadalajara and Mexico City and the house is quiet, for a few minutes, while we are in between check-outs and check-ins.

I can say with certainty that since we started in this business, life has never been dull, and without exception, the people we have met are exceptional!  The season will come to an end in a few weeks and we will spend the summer doing the usual maintenance, getting ready for what is already shaping up to be an even busier season than this year.




Good Friday, 2016

It is shaping up to be another fantastic weekend here at Casa Madera!   Easter guests began arriving yesterday and will continue to do so over the next couple of days.   Our rooms have been cleaned, dusted and freshened in anticipation of another full house.  Alexa is readying herself as the official greeter and the cats are peering in thru open doors as we do last minute prep to the rooms.    I tell myself they are taking an interest in our business, though, I suspect all they are really only looking for the next quiet place for an afternoon nap


Kevin is already enjoying a round of golf at Flamingos Golf Club,


and I intend to turn an afternoon of total freedom into one of frustration as I try to sew straight lines with my sewing machine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of sewing.  Taking a piece of fabric, any fabric, and turning it into something useful is a very rewarding experience.  Turning that same fabric into something useful AND beautiful, with nice seams and straight lines, to me, is a form of art.  One that I aspire to.


I must say that I was very fortunate this year to have had several guests who are practiced seamstresses and who were kind enough to share their tips and ideas for making my sewing experience a much happier one!   Ladies, I will be thinking of you this afternoon as I attempt to put all of your advice into practice.  Perhaps this time, I will get the measurements for those curtains correct!


You may think me strange, but even an afternoon making poor decisions about where to make that cut, bad measuring and miscalculated seam allowances, can feel like time well spent.  I can also state that in spite of all my sighing, cursing, toe tapping, groaning and seam ripping, sewing is a relaxing experience for me.   I think that is because when I am sewing, I think of nothing else.  There are no random thoughts cluttering my head.   Seriously,  all I think about is how to turn this latest mistake into something useable!

These chair slings practically cut themselves!  Loved the straight lines!DSCN9415

On the upside, every mistake I make teaches me something.  Lately, I have been applying the  lessons I have learned at my sewing machine to the bigger picture of “real life”.   And, it works.  In sewing, as in life, if there is something worth doing, it is worth doing right so that it turns out well. So, Heather, stop with the shortcuts, dig in and learn to do it right the first time.

It totally goes against my nature as I am always looking for the most efficient, simplest and easiest way to perform a task.  Sewing is teaching me that sometimes the simplest, easiest and most efficient way of doing things is to slow it down.  Take your time.  Stop looking for shortcuts.   Do it right the first time.   Learn from that process.  And remember, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  And to do it well, you have to do it right.

Happy Easter everyone, and whatever you choose to do this weekend, take time to slow it down and enjoy the process.  As they say, life is not about the destination, it is about enjoying the journey.   DSCN6193

Our Favourite Fried Chicken

If you are like Kevin and I, we don’t eat as much fried food as we used to.  But our love of fried foods still dwells within us!  The big difference being, that now, if we are eating something fried, it had better be good!  No longer do we settle for mediocre fast food fare to satisfy our cravings (though I will admit to a weakness for the onion rings at Carls Junior lately).   Mostly when we want something fried, we want the best darn fried food we can find, and for food snobs like us, that usually means making it at home.   

Enter Bon Appetit magazine and their recipe for southern-style fried chicken.   Originally published in 2012, I only discovered this recipe last year.   (Go ahead and make fun.  Food nerds like us are thrilled to have back issues that we can read at our leisure as many times as we like.)   The recipe actually calls for the chicken to be fried in oil stove top, so I balked at trying it for a long time.  Both Kevin and I, being career insurance people, know very well just how dangerous a pot of hot oil on the stove can be.  

However, their claim that this is “the only Fried Chicken recipe we will ever need” had us searching for a good deep fryer at every store we entered for the next 6 months.  This is not Canada, and while they are easy to find now, 3 years ago when we started looking, it was like hunting for hens teeth.

We eventually convinced ourselves that we live in a concrete house, with marble counters and finally, we talked ourselves into making this without a deep fryer!!  We should have videoed our first attempt, as I am sure all the precautions and worry we took were worth a sit com series but in the end, the finished product was well worth the effort and worry!   Juicy inside with a crispy crust, and the hot vinegar pulls it all together.

You will need to start the vinegar a week in advance, and the chicken does have to sit overnight, so there is some planning inovolved, but I promise you it will be worth it!   We are used to doing it stove top now, and are  happy with the results but if you prefer using a deep fryer,  just be sure that your oil is at the magical 350F before adding the chicken.  I am sure you will get the same results.    The real key to this is to use a smaller chicken and to let it sit in the dry brine over night.

I have tweaked the recipe a bit from the original, which you can find at

Here is my version of Skillet Fried Chicken:
(serves 4, 1 serving is approximately 616 calories)

2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 3 – 4 lb chicken cut into 10 pieces, back removed
1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 egg

3 cups flour
4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 litre canola oil for deep frying (more or less, depending on size of your pan)

  • Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.
  • Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2″ baking dish. 
  • Pour oil into a 10″–12″ heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of 3/4″.  Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.  You can try propping the thermometer in the pan, but I never have luck with that.  I just keep it close and check the temperature of the oil frequently.  Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet. 
  • Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place up to 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry, turning chicken with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and breasts and 12 minutes for thighs and legs. 
  • Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack. 
  • Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

    And voila, better than takeout any day!  Oh, and don’t forget the Spicy Vinegar!  

    1 cup white vinegar
    1 habanero chile
    1 serrano chile

    Slice chiles into quarters, lengthwise and place with vinegar in resealable jar.  Seal and shake.   Let sit at room temperature for 1 week before using, shake daily.  After that it will keep almost forever in the fridge.