Winter Wassailing in Herefordshire, UK

Traipsing through apple orchards and slinging back ciders in the rural hamlet of Much Marcle, England, I learned a thing or two about this renaissance beverage, and the eccentric rituals and traditions the local farmers are keen to uphold.  (Cider has alcohol?)

Read more in the winter 2015 edition of GoodLife Mississauga magazine.                            GL-Herefordshire Winter Wassail There’s also a bit about a wassail that happens on the Canadian side of the pond, on the island of Prince Edward County, two hours east of Toronto.




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Taste of Toronto takes off at Fort York

It was a fun start to Taste of Toronto, with plenty of free samples and celebrity chef sightings to go with your $20 cover charge.  Foodies can eat, drink, participate in Metro Master Class, and stop by the Taste Theatre to see your favourite chefs. (Mark McEwan – top left and Drake’s Alexandra Feswick – top right.)  CTV weatherman Tom Brown stopped by to wish away the rain.  (June 15-18) @TasteofToronto


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Garden Gazing in Toronto

I’ve never been a gardener. But boy do I love flowers. An obvious influence must be that my childhood century home in the country sat on just shy of an acre of green grass, with  a glorious potpurri of wildflowers and splashes of vivid colours no matter where I explored.  The sweet peas in the vegetable garden were one of my favourite flowers, and it was fun to cut bunches to bring inside and display in a vase on the kitchen table.  There were lilac trees, an intoxicatingly fragrant mock orange tree as sweet as candy, lily of the valley, peonies, irises, daffodils, and so many more beautiful colours and smells.

Garden gazing can be a peaceful, meditative pastime, and may inspire your inner artist to pick up a paintbrush, camera or notebook… or even get gardening.

Here are four of my favourite Gorgeous Garden Escapes in Toronto:

1.) Spadina House – 285 Spadina Road


2.) Toronto Music Garden – 479 Queens Quay West

3.) Allan Gardens Conservatory – 19 Horticultural Avenue


4.) Edwards Gardens – 755 Lawrence Avenue East

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Done with winter? Celebrate spring with these five winter-busting remedies


It’s beginning to look a lot like…spring!  Canada Blooms opens in Toronto on March 10th. Brighten  your day and take some time to smell the roses…and lilacs and daffodils and….

(The following article was originally published March 26, 2014)

There’s so much more to spring than spring cleaning. And after Toronto’s deep freeze of a winter, we’re readier than ever for the spring thaw.

Celebrate the sunny season with these five uplifting antidotes:
1.) Allan Gardens Conservatory: If the closing of Canada Blooms Flower and Garden Festival has left you with “Wild” withdrawal, then get yourself over to Allan Gardens where the spring flower show is in full bloom. It’s like walking into a fairytale. This 16,000 square-foot oasis will instantly transport you to warmer locales. Exotic plants are housed in six green houses, the largest being the Palm House built in 1910.
2.) Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada: Ripley’s Aquarium is the closest thing on terra firma to scuba diving or snorkeling. The underwater viewing tunnel is jaw dropping. Guaranteed you will see sharks. And if you purchase the Ripley’s Aquarium package at the InterContinental Toronto Centre you’ll receive your very own pet fish in a bowl. You can take it home or donate it to a primary school classroom. The package includes a $100 voucher towards a spa treatment or Azure Restaurant and Bar, an overnight stay in the luxury hotel, and two passes to the Aquarium, conveniently located behind the hotel.
3.) Spa Intercontinental: Nothing says spring tune up better than a spa day. It’s time to peel off the Sorels and slough off your dry, weathered heels with a pampering pedicure at Spa InterContinental. Then kick up your heels and celebrate spring poolside with a golf-inspired signature cocktail – Fairway or Fore – ordered exclusively from the Azure Restaurant and Bar.
4.) Ice cream, Ice cream: Indulge in a scoop, or two. Chocolate and ice cream are largely a universal weakness, and Ed’s Reel Scoop has both. Located in both Leslieville and the Beach, Ed’s makes delicious, creamy homemade gelato, sorbet and ice cream. And to top it off, Ed’s lets you try two flavours on your small cone. With over 70 flavours, including Guinness Stout, Honey Ginger, and Red Hot Chili Chocolate, this spring fling should last well into summer.
5.) Go Jays Go: Take yourself out to a Toronto Blue Jays game! Nothing says spring like professional baseball’s spring training. And with only five days before the launch of the 2014 opening season, it’s beginning to smell a lot like hotdogs, beer and baseball turf at Rogers Centre. To open the roof, or not to open the roof? That is the question. The Jays play the New York Yankees in their season opener on April 4th. Peanuts anyone?

(Originally published March 26, 2014)

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Five favourite things about Canada’s favourite spa


Upon entering the serene stone-walled grounds to Ste. Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario, it’s easy to imagine stealing away into the transformed secret garden described in famous children’s author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden. Built in 1858 by settler Samuel Massey, some locals still call Ste. Anne’s “The Grafton Castle”. Located in Haldimand Hills Township, 80 minutes east of Toronto, Canada, Ste. Anne’s is a picturesque rural retreat offering high end, four-season all-inclusive getaways.

There’s something for everyone at Canada’s favourite spa. Whether it’s lounging poolside devouring a good book, gently swaying in a hammock under the trees, or a dose of horse therapy at the stable, you can customize your getaway perfectly to meet your needs. Here are five favourite things about Ste. Anne’s Spa:
1) Stress Express  You don’t need a car to escape to the seclusion of Ste. Anne’s for the day or overnight. Take the Via train and a Ste. Anne’s employee will greet you at the station in Cobourg before whisking you away to the property; leaving you more time to speed through your mystery or romance novel instead of fighting traffic on the 401.
2) The Main Inn and Cottages – Choose from 16 elegant rooms in the Main Inn or seven unique cottages all within 5 to 10 minutes walking distance to the Main Inn. These rural dwellings are decked out with all the comforts of home, except for a television. And the only tweeting should be from the sounds of birds. From the Farmhouse to Ste. Anne’s newest spa cottage, Vista Lago, you’ll feel at home sweet home. As a special touch, hire a Ste. Anne’s private chef to cook for you in your cottage!

3) Facilities/Gardens – Ste. Anne’s is built on a natural aquifer, which supplies the Inn with all of its spring water. This means the outdoor swimming pool is filled with, you guessed it, spring water. Add the eucalyptus steam room, hot tub, plunge pool, and lap pool. All spring water. The new fitness facility boasts an outdoor endless pool where you can swim against currents and use the underwater treadmill.

Breathe in the fresh country air and explore all 400 rolling acres, which includes walking and snowshoe trails through a cedar forest, a healing herb garden, rose garden, and serenity garden. There’s an outdoor tennis court, bicycles, fitness room, yoga classes, and a shuttle service to the nearby Shelter Valley Pines Golf Course. Let’s not forget the traditional healing spa treatments, which you can request be performed in a garden gazebo, and the Ste. Anne’s Spa signature skin care line made from herbs and botanicals grown on the property. New to the walking trail is the poustinia, a tiny spiritual retreat for meditation and reflection.

4) Farm and Stables/Horse Therapy – Zip up your riding boots and enrol in Ste. Anne’s Equine Program. You’re not the only one who’ll be primping and preening. Book some grooming time with one of the horses and let Stable Caretaker and certified equine coach, Kareylee White show you how to brush its coat and mane, pick its hooves, and massage sore muscles.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, sign up for Morning Muck or Evening Turn-in. Cleaning the stables and leading your horse out to pasture is all in a day’s chores. Ambitious horse lovers can achieve the Learn to Ride certificate, which is the completion of eight horsemanship levels, beginning with grooming your horse and progressing to trotting.

5) The Bakery – Let them eat flourless chocolate cake! The Ste. Anne’s Bakery is only 1.2 km from the Main Inn. Request a lift, or work up an appetite with a scenic walk along the rolling concession roads. As a special treat, Pastry Chef Khushroo offers culinary demonstrations three days a week. Eye popping goodies from banana loaf, butter tarts, and chocolate hazelnut terrine are on display for the taking. Choose from gluten-free desserts, organic meats, and salad dishes with ingredients sourced from the Ste. Anne’s herb garden.

You’ll want to return every season, so don’t forget to ask about the Loyalty Program.

(Originally published September 9, 2013)

Northumberland Tourism

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Fall for cycling in Northumberland County

Switch gears this fall with an invigorating cycling trip in Ontario’s countryside. Autumn is the best time of year to push off on a cycling adventure. Make a day of it or book an overnight stay. What better way to explore the magic of nature as the lush greenery gives way to fall’s vibrant tones of yellow, orange and red, and the sunshine and crisp fresh air keep things comfortable while you peddle.

Cobourg in Northumberland County is only one hour east of Toronto, on Lake Ontario. It boasts some of the best cycling trails in Ontario, including routes on the Waterfront Trail, the Trans Canada Trail and the Rice Lake Ramble. From the rolling Northumberland hills to the flatter terrain of an abandoned CN rail line, there’s a path for everyone to enjoy.

The Greenbelt Route is the newest trail, which cuts through the countryside stretching from Queenston on the Niagara River to the south shore of Rice Lake in the Kawarthas. The inaugural launch of the 475 Kilometre route kicked off in August with the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure 2015, a six-day cycling trek along the newly marked route.

Getting There: Take your bike on the VIA train to Cobourg, affectionately dubbed Ontario’s “feel good” town. Bikes are easily stored in a baggage car for $25 each way. There is only one bike train daily from Toronto and it arrives in Cobourg at 1pm. From the train station it’s a quick 5-minute ride into town to access shops and restaurants, and stock up on energy drinks before hitting the trails. If you take your bike it will be an overnight trip, unless you plan on riding your bike back to the city. The bike train leaves Cobourg daily at 2:21pm for Toronto. Alternatively, take your bike on the Go Train to Oshawa and access the trails from there if you’re up for more distance.

Renting a bike: Green Canoe Outfitters is easy to find at 90 King Street West in Cobourg, a quick 15-minute walk from the Via station.


Lang Hastings Trail

Suggested bike stops enroute:

You’ll soon discover why cycling in this area is so appealing. The Waterfront Trail takes you along scenic rural concession roads past apple orchards and farms. A quick detour will lead you to the Nawautin Nature Sanctuary south of Grafton, with access to a quiet hidden stretch of the beach. This 13-acre wetland is a must-see stop for birders and nature lovers, and an opportunity to dip your tired cycling toes into Lake Ontario. Deer and rabbit sightings are not unusual.

Above Photos by Jean Simard – Cobourg, Ontario

Moore Orchards: Northumberland has loads of pick your own fruit and flowers farms to invade. Pluck some juicy crunchy apples straight from the tree at Moore Orchards, #12 on the “55 Farm Fresh Destinations” map. There’s plenty of pies, pumpkins, preserves and apple cider for Thanksgiving dinner. But why wait?

Lang Pioneer Village: Explore this outdoor living museum and replica of a 19th century hamlet. The authentic rural experience showcases over 25 buildings including the Keene Hotel where you can visit for tea and snacks. Fall guided tours and historic literary walks are on through mid September.

Westben Arts Festival Theatre: See concerts and live theatre in the outdoor venue, The Barn, and the new Clock Tower Cultural Centre, both in Campbellford.

Ron Windebanks Outdoor Art: Artist Ron Windebanks does a lot of paintings on barn board and displays his outdoor botanical art at his farm in Warkworth. Step inside his barns, converted into a rustic creative space for his art gallery, and explore the country garden, which has more whimsical pieces on display.

Kokimo Candleland: If you’re crazy for candles, stop into the solar powered Kokimo Candleland factory outlet in Castleton. Here you can buy the original handmade candy scented candle and a selection of other scents and accessories.

Cross Wind Farm: This dairy goat farm in Keene, Ontario, is a short detour off the Lang Hastings Trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail. It’s the spot to stock up on artisan goat products such as milk, yogourt, cheese and soap.

Banjo’s Grill: While in Hastings stop in for homestyle comfort food at Banjo’s Grill, overlooking the Trent Severn Waterway at Lock 18.

World’s Finest Chocolate Factory Outlet: Follow your nose. This diversion in Campbellford will ensure your chocolate cravings don’t get the best of you. Besides, this little cocoa bean from heaven will give you energy to keep the spokes spinning.

Wicklow Way Farm: This organic farm in Colbourne sells every vegetable under the sun. A specialty organic sourdough bread is available from June to September. Pumpkin bread with toasted pumpkin seeds, honey raisin bran, and beet bread are a few of the flavours straight from the brick oven.


Rice Lake, Lang Hastings Trail

Places to Stay:
Hastings House B&B: Gear it up, Ontario! offers an array of themed guided cycling tours. The Hastings House B&B bike tour is a 33 kilometre flat terrain ride from Peterborough to Hastings on the Lang Hastings trail, formerly the CN rail line, and is part of the Trans Canada Trail. The package includes an overnight stay at the charming Hastings House B&B, once a blacksmith shop built in the 19th century, steps away from the Trent Severn Waterway. Dinner and breakfast is included for only $120.


Hastings House B&B –  Hastings, Ontario

Ste. Anne’s Spa: Once known as “Grafton Castle”, Canada’s leading destination spa on 400 acres is a luxury getaway worth every nickel. The seasonal Pumpkin Spice Paradise body treatment sounds like the perfect fall “apres cycle” tonic for tired legs and road-weary wanderers. Then head over to the guilt free and gluten free Ste. Anne’s Bakery for a hot drink and a syrupy butter tart, as it’s recently been added to Kawartha’s popular Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. Don’t miss the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Taste-off, at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market on Saturday, September 24th.


Ste. Anne’s Spa – Grafton, Ontario

After spending time exploring undiscovered country trails, visiting farms and sampling the produce in Northumberland’s towns and villages, one might say, “It’s all downhill from here.” And cyclists know that this is indeed a very good thing.

(Originally published Oct. 1, 2015)


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10 reasons to visit the CNE (August 19 to September 5, 2016)

CNE 2015 061


Maybe it’s the midway madness, the zany food concoctions, or the plethora of international shopping and culture that bring you to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto year after year. Whatever the appeal, Canada’s largest fair has been a crowd pleaser for 138 years strong. Here are 10 reasons to check out the Ex. Not to be missed is the special Time Travel with the CNE website for a captivating photo history of the CNE throughout the years. See what has changed and remained the same.

1.) Food – There’s no point in keeping to your diet because once you walk through the Princess Gates your options will include greasy and sugary. With the countdown on to the first day of school, the CNE knows better than to ruin our fun. Corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes and ice cream waffles are all CNE staples. Get your barbecue fix at Ribfest by the Bandshell, and head to the Food Building to be overwhelmed by international flavours. New this year is Lick’s Burgers, serving up their popular vegetarian nature burger. And for the more adventurous foodies, Bug Bistro (yes, bugs) serves up The Bug Dog, a hormone-free hot dog seasoned with crispy mustard crickets. Oh, you can add other toppings as well.
2.) Midway – From the games and prizes to the rides, the neon lights and sounds and energy of the midway will take you back to your youth. But who says the midway is only for kids? From the Ferris wheel to the Fire Ball, whatever your thrill threshold; it’s easy to get a ticket to ride.
3.) Warrior’s Day Parade (August 22) – The CNE has always honoured our WWI and WWII veterans in the annual Warrior’s Day Parade, held on the first Saturday of the fair. The CNE is most fitting because it was once the site of Stanley Barracks, which housed British troops, and was later used to train members of the North-West Mounted Police and the military, and for post-war housing. In this, the 95th edition of the parade, the veterans and Canadian Armed Forces marching in the parade are commemorating the 71st anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
4.) Shopping – Shopping at the Ex is like travelling around the globe, but no passport is required. From the International Pavilion to the Arts, Crafts & Hobbies Pavilion and the EnerCare Centre, your cultural shopping spree will take you to Peru, Hong Kong, India and beyond.
5.) Music – Admission to the grounds includes concerts at the CNE Bandshell every evening, with headliners such as Alan Frew with The Spoons, Randy Bachman and Jefferson Starship. Mosey on over to the Northern Comfort Saloon to see country bands including Kelly Prescott, Buck Twenty, and Tristan Horncastle.
6.) Canadian International Air Show – Plane spotting doesn’t get any better than this. Always a highlight, and sadly a sign that the Ex is coming to a close, The 67th Annual Canadian International Air Show swooshes (a.k.a. roars) over Lake Ontario Labour Day weekend. Sunglasses, earplugs and SPF lotion recommended. (12 pm to 3pm)
7.) Star Trek: “50 Artists. 50 Years” – The creators of Star Trek were spot on when they predicted everyone would be using communication gadgets in the future.  Trekkie fans can unite at this global art exhibit celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary. Stick around for selfies with your favourite characters. Now, if only William Shatner would make a special appearance. EnerCare Centre, Salon 105 (formerly Direct Energy Building).
8.) Hit List! Aerial Acrobatic & Ice Skating Show – Escape the heat to catch Canadian Olympic medalists, Joannie Rochette (except Aug. 23 to 25) and Elvis Stojko (Aug.23-Aug.25) perform alongside aerial acrobatic performers in two spectacular shows daily in the Ricoh Coliseum. Shows at 2pm and 5pm.
9.) The Great Canadian Water Ski Caper – Head out to the waterfront where expert water skiers splash, flip, spin and barefoot it on Lake Ontario. Two shows daily – 1:30 & 4:30pm, and Sept. 2 to 5 (4:30pm). Also catch the Wakeboard World Championships, August 25-28 (9 am to 6 pm).

10.) CNE Innovation Garage – A grand prize of $25,000 is up for grabs, as 25 young inventors compete in this revolutionary Tech conference and showcase the latest in consumer products. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen gives a special talk. (Aug. 19-21)

Special rates – Only $6 after 5pm Monday to Thursday

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