Tuesday 20 August 2013

Cupcakes Out; Macaroons In

I’m so over cupcakes

Sure, they are pretty with swirls of pastel, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth icing.  But enough.  I’m done with the cupcake television shows—do we really need them? Are we all wiser for watching cupcakes wage war on each other?  Has everyone rushed out to buy red velvet cake mix? Really.  I’m so over cupcakes.

But we need something sweet and pretty and dainty to fill our souls and warm our hearts. Do we not? What then is the new cupcake? Macaroons perhaps?  Yes.  Look around.  They are everywhere.

Macaroons—crispy meringue outside; soft buttercream or ganache inside. They are candy heaven in every bite.   Usually presented in tight little lines, like soldiers just waiting for their marching orders—come to me my pretties—they instantly make you feel oh-so-continental. Stare at them long enough and scenes from Moulin Rouge will start scrolling through your mind. 

Just biting into one of these little treats makes you feel special in a raise-your-pinky-finger kind of way.  You don’t chomp at a macaroon. You indulge in it, taking one small bit at a time, savouring its delicateness.  Compare that to taking a whomph bite out of a cupcake, which inevitably always leaves the tip of your nose covered in icing, and that right there is never an attractive sight.
There is debate about where the macaroon originated.  Some believe Italy. Others hold firm to the belief that it was created in Cormery in central France in 1791.  There is a distinct difference between the Italian and the French version.  Italian macaroons tend to be a little heavier and sweeter due to use of hot syrup.  The French macaroon calls for granular sugar, which makes the macaroon lighter.   The French recipe, is the one adopted internationally. 

So, you are in Toronto and craving a macaroon.  Where do you go?

If you are downtown, head to Petit Thuet where you will find more than 12 varieties including rose water, hazelnut and raspberry. You will also find a tower of macaroons, if that is how you wish to take them home.

Slightly more uptown, check out The Cake Opera Company.  Flavours such as pistachio, coffee and roasted hazelnut await you.

In Yorkville, indulge your taste buds at Morocco Chocolat where you can customize and personalize your macaroons.

At La Bamboche on Avenue Road, you will find exciting flavours such as Caramel Sea Salt, Crème de Cassis, Green Tea and Mango, and their Mystery macaroon.  It’s an adventure. Go for it.

If you can’t get to any of these, but your local supermarket has a great bakery, you will most likely find them there.  Loblaws for example, in the old Maple Leaf Garden building has a great selection.

Time to wipe the icing off your nose, make a cup-a-tea and embrace the elegance of the macaroon.  You’ll thank me later. 

Wednesday 7 August 2013


(shared from

Shangri-La Hotel, Qufu

The Shangri-La Hotel, Qufu, China, opened August 1. This is the first luxury hotel in the city, which is located in the Shandong province in northwestern China. Chinese architecture sets the tone of the hotel, with the hotel’s exterior designed to resemble a traditional Chinese pavilion.The property has 211 rooms, a signature Chinese restaurant named Shang Palace, lobby lounge, bridal room and 'the Hall of Wisdom VIP room'.

New luxury hotel openings 2013
Shangri-La Hotel, Qufu

St. Regis Abu Dhabi

The St. Regis Abu Dhabi opens August 15.  It will be located on the Cornice, with many of the hotel's 283 rooms having views of the Arabian Gulf.  With this hotel being in the UAE, it will have a unique feature as has come to be expected from properties in the UAE. The hotel is composed of two towers and the three-bedroom Abu Dhabi Suite will be suspended between them. Standing 200 metres above the ground, it will be the world's highest suspended presidential suite.

New luxury hotel openings 2013
St. Regis Abu Dhabi

Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

The Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is located on the Arabian Peninsula, 50 minutes away from Dubai International Airport.This 346-room property, inspired by the palaces of the region, includes a total of 10 restaurants, lounges and bars, a large spa, private 350-metre beach and an 18-hole golf course.

new luxury hotel openings 2013
 Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

Mahali Mzuri, Kenya

Sir Richard Branson's Mahali Mzuri opens this month in Kenya. The name means 'beautiful place' in Swahili, and the property's 12 luxury tented suites are surrounded by 13,500 hectares of reserve.  Guests will have plenty to explore here and can participate in guided bush walks, participate in game drives as well as enjoy evenings cooling down in the outdoor infinity pool.

luxury hotel openings around the world 2013
Mahali Mzuri, Kenya

Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei, Chongqing

Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei is 40 minutes away from the city of Chongqing in central China. It is a sprawling resort with 107 suites and villas.  Quiet and remote, the property will offer guests access to a number of outdoor and indoor hot spring pools, an extensive spa and other modern facilities.

luxury hotel openings around the world
Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei, Chongqing

Saturday 3 August 2013

30 Years Ago a Bird Died

It’s been 30 (that’s T-H-I-R-T-Y) years since a seagull met with a baseball in Toronto and died.

For those of you who may not remember, or were not born, or perhaps were not even a twinkle in your parents' eyes, here’s what happened.

It was a hot hazy evening on August 4, 1983.  The Blue Jays were playing the New York Yankees at Exhibition Stadium, uh…this is where games were played before the dome was built.  There was a crowd of 36,000 people, all happy and joyous, sipping their beers and enjoying their nuts.  They had no way of knowing the horror that was about to befall on them.

Exhibition Stadium
At the end of the fifth inning warm-up, a Yankee player by the name of Dave Winfield, threw a ball which, to this day, is unbeatable in terms of the lengthy “excitement” that followed.  The ball he threw, had the disastrous consequence of meeting a seagull that had been minding its own business (and perhaps enjoying the game) from the right centre-field.  Just like that, the bird lay dead on the astro-turf. 

A very bad day indeed for that seagull.  And worse for the ball boy who was sent out to retrieve both ball and bird.  Imagine the trauma that poor kid would have suffered.  He could still be in therapy today.  Upon realizing what they had just witnessed, the crowd went crazy.  Now in a fowl mood they booed, and chanted, “Winfield sucks.”  In Toronto, that’s as ugly as it got in 1983.

Before Winfield could say, “Oh poop,” he was arrested.   There were witnesses after all, 36,000 in fact.  Some claimed the bird had been watching the game for the last three innings and causing no one any harm.  Others claimed the bird looked sort of sickly to start with. One woman was so distraught, she has never returned to see a baseball game.  The main witness however, was a cop from 14 division. He saw the whole thing play out—bird, ball, collision, dead. 

The ball that killed the bird

Clearly, despite how this police officer felt about the whole incident, he must have been a serious baseball fan at heart.  He waited until the game was over (Yankees-3; Blue Jays-1) to make the arrest. Dave Winfield was charged with “unnecessary suffering to an animal”, a charge which would later be dropped.

August of 1983 was slow for news in the city.  The Winfield/seagull story was pretty much all the media outlets covered that month—oh wait, we didn’t have the Fords at city hall back then. 

For weeks following the seagull event, the citizens of Toronto sought answers and debated:  Was the bird injured prior to its untimely meeting with the ball? Did Winfield aim the ball intentionally at the bird? Why was the feathered creature there in the first place? 

In 1983, Toronto had a seagull problem.  There were simply too many.  The squirmish at Exhibition Stadium became the springboard for discussions on what should be done about the bird population.  That was the real issue.  Up until the evening of August 4th, to deal with the excessive number of seagulls, citizens of Toronto simply protected their food and hosed car and self as required. No big deal. 

But the sudden presence of a dead seagull in front of thousands of people, well, it was just too much.  Something had to be done.  One suggestion was to bring Winfield back to Toronto and let him at them.  That didn’t fly.

In 1984 Toronto initiated strict bird control. Seagulls be gone.

And Dave Winfield did return to the city.  He played for the Blue Jays during the 1992 season, driving home the winning run during the World Series championship. 

All the flapping from August of 1983 was forgiven.