Cancun: A Week in Pictures

As some of you know, my family and I returned on Saturday from a sunny vacation in Cancún, Mexico! We had six blissful days of swimming in the turquoise ocean, feeling the white sand between our toes, and gazing up at beautiful palm trees – quite a change from the cold Canadian winter we’re currently having. We didn’t venture into any cities or take any day trips (why waste a single minute of potential beach time?), so rather than boring you with descriptions of our daily routines, I’m going to show you what we did via the four hundred photos I took during our time away. (Oops.) Warning: photos may cause extreme envy!

Day 1 

We arrived in Cancún at 10:25AM and got to the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancún by lunchtime. The Royalton is a large and elegant hotel complex situated right on the beach, and the Hideaway is a smaller, adults-only section of the hotel where we stayed once before in 2015. The Royalton’s buffet food is fantastic (we couldn’t get enough fresh seafood and vegetables) and it boasts a great variety of restaurants. Everything is included, so you can eat to your heart’s delight. As soon as we checked in, we had a quick brunch at Dorado, the small restaurant within the Hideaway complex, and then headed to the beach for the afternoon. The beach and ocean were gorgeous, even with clouds and a ton of seaweed (results of a storm from the previous day). Luckily, the beach wasn’t too busy and we had no trouble finding umbrellas to lounge beneath. Before dinner, I went to the gym to work out in front of the sunset, which became my daily habit (while my mum swam laps in the pool). We ate at the Royalton’s Japanese restaurant, Zen – the food wasn’t as delicious as we remembered from 2015, and there was a frustrating hour-long wait for a table. Still, the food tasted fresh and the presentation was really inventive! (See the matcha cheesecake below.) The Royalton entertainment that evening was a terrifying yet impressive fire show where performers juggled flaming batons while leaping and dancing around the stage.

View from the gym

Giant chess set on the Royalton side

View from the lobby

View from my 4th-floor room


The green tea cheesecake was really tasty

Day 2

It was another partly cloudy beach day, which meant less burning from the sun and more gusty winds (both of which were welcome in 27 degrees). I caught a gorgeous sunset at the gym and we later ate at the Royalton’s Hunter Steakhouse, where my parents had scrumptious steaks and I had – don’t laugh – salmon. (I’m not much of a steak-eater, and the salmon was very fresh and cooked to perfection!)

Breakfast at Dorado

Stunning views of the beach from everywhere in the hotel!

Talented housekeeping staff

This view motivated me to work out every day!

Funny how the sun coming out for a few minutes totally changed the colours of the ocean

Back to partly cloudy skies.


Day 3

The sun was a little less shy today! It made several appearances during the afternoon and we finally got to put our sunglasses and beach hats to good use. We dined at Opa, the hotel’s Greek-sounding Mediterranean restaurant, where we started with warm pita bread and a selection of tasty dips, including roasted red pepper hummus. My dad and I had Greek salads and the fresh catch of the day (tender sea bass on a bed of risotto) and my mum had tagine, a flavourful Moroccan stew made with meat (often fish, chicken, or lamb), potatoes, coconut milk, and spices. Needless to say, the tagine was delicious! We shared three small desserts: French créme brûlée, a platter of Spanish manchego cheese, and a Sicilian cannolo (also known as cannoli).

Cute towel elephant from housekeeping

The lights in the hallways were mesmerizing at night

Sadly, use of those white beds was not included – there was a fee of USD $75 per day.

Créme brûlée

Cannolo/cannoli

Sea bass

Pita with dips

Greek salad

Picture-perfect.

Day 4

Today was a full beach day followed by dinner at Grazie, the Italian restaurant at the Royalton. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the sky was during the day! Hardly a cloud in sight, and bluer than I ever imagined it could be. Just gorgeous. But you don’t have to take my word for it – see for yourselves!

Tartufo (vanilla ice cream surrounded by a dome of hardened chocolate and dusted with cocoa)

Crepe with chocolate ice cream and some Nutella (chocolatey, hazelnut spread)

My pappardelle – slightly undercooked pasta, but still delicious

Lamb ravioli. Very tasty, but again, slightly undercooked

I lay here for hours, soaking up the sun’s rays and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves



Day 5

I woke up with the sunrise today, and thankfully my phone was by my side when I went out on the balcony to watch the sun come up. An hour later, the sky was even bluer than it was yesterday! We found a more secluded part of the beach where there was less noise (and much less seaweed) and properly swam in the ocean for the first time. What a perfect way to spend our last full day at the beach! Dinner was at Mexican restaurant Agave, which we assumed would have fantastic local dishes. Ironically, it was the most disappointing meal of the week. Apart from the delicious shrimp, guacamole, and freshly-baked tortilla chips, the food was surprisingly bland and lukewarm.

6:45AM sunrise above the Hideaway complex

There was so much lush greenery on the property.

That brown structure is a wedding chapel overlooking the beach! We actually spotted a bride and groom there the following day.

Can’t decide whether sunrise or sunset was more beautiful…

Paradise!

Not a bad nighttime view!

The fish tacos were nowhere near as tasty as they were when we ate here in 2015

Vegetable tacos – cold, no spices or sauces, and the only flavour came from the corn!

Chicken salad – three cubes of chicken, hard cheese, and tasteless vegetables. Another pass!

Black bean tamale…awful. I noticed we weren’t the only diners leaving more food than usual on the plates.

Delicious! Fresh and juicy shrimps, which we each had as an appetizer.

Incredible fresh tortilla chips and guacamole! We filled up on these.

 

Day 6

Today was our last morning in paradise, so we spent it wisely: early morning wake-up call, an hour walking and relaxing on the beach, and one last buffet brunch. The blue sky shone brilliantly and the turquoise ocean was calm and glinting, making me wish we could stay just one more day in Cancún. Overall, the hotel was fantastic – friendly staff, not too crowded, a great variety of (mostly) excellent food, plenty of beach chairs and loungers, tons of activities for kids and adults, great nighttime entertainment, a clean gym with many machines, filtered water everywhere on the property so you don’t need to worry about falling ill, etc. If you’re travelling as a couple or as a group of adults, I’d recommend staying in the adults-only Hideaway section rather than in the main Royalton buildings; it’s a little more exclusive, more private, and the staff are more attentive as they cater to fewer guests (there are 340 rooms in the Hideaway section versus 800 in the Royalton). There were some little glitches here and there, but that’s usually to be expected in large resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean. I can’t wait to go back!

Me, taking it all in.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hello, readers! How are you celebrating the women in your life today? 

International Women’s Day is a wonderful yearly reminder of the strength and resilience of the women who gave us life, raised us, and overcame numerous obstacles to get where they are today. Those of us lucky enough to come from families where women are wholeheartedly celebrated, supported, and encouraged to succeed have been given extraordinary role models; we can learn so much from the triumphs of our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. 

This day is particularly important in 2017, which, just 9.5 weeks in, has already seen worldwide marches and protests against the sexist comments and bigoted views of Donald Trump. Today, the organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington encouraged women around the world to go on strike in a “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity…recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system – while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequalities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” Go, ladies!

You can check out some awesome history and facts about International Women’s Day here. Thanks for reading! 

In the Spirit of Family Day, Here Are 5 Meaningful Ways to Help Local Families in Need

For those of you who may not know, Family Day is a statutory holiday in February that occurs in certain Canadian provinces. As the title suggests, the holiday was created so Canadians could spend the day at home with their families instead of at work or school. It’s a cute concept, right?

I spent the long weekend enjoying time with my family as we soaked up the unexpected sunshine and had a barbecue for the first time since October. As we ate, however, I couldn’t help feeling sad for those people who were unable to gather with their families this past weekend. We often forget that so many Canadians come from broken homes, live below the poverty line, and/or are homeless. According to Canada Without Poverty, an estimated 1 in 7 Canadians are currently experiencing conditions of poverty. That’s not okay.

Here’s a quick list of how you can help families in need. Remember, every little bit counts…

  1. Make a donation to a Canadian charity. Whether you can spare $25 0r $250, this is one of the simplest ways to make a difference. Here is an excellent list of the top-rated charities and foundations across the country – they’ll put your money to good use.
  2. Donate your old clothes, toys, books, and furniture to those who would cherish your used items. Ideally, this is something you should already be doing! We all have old items sitting around and collecting dust. Torontonians can check out this list of where to donate and which organizations offer free pick-ups.
  3. Volunteer. Try local homeless shelters, Indigenous groups, soup kitchens, poverty organizations, and social justice foundations – they’re often searching for more help.
  4. Get involved. Become an advocate for a charity, foundation or organization that helps eliminate poverty, such as Make Poverty History Canada. Sign petitions and help spread messages of how we can help eradicate poverty in our country.
  5. Take action. You can sponsor a refugee to come to Canada and reunite with their family, you can protect trafficked persons in Canada, you can build homes for homeless families…the list goes on!

There are so many ways for you to roll up your sleeves and help make a difference in the lives of those in need. Don’t forget to ask your family and friends to get involved with you – you’ll be able to enjoy time together while joining forces to ease the burdens of other families. Thanks for reading!

Don’t Get Angry About Donald Trump’s Presidency – Get Educated!

Well, folks, the thing we never thought would happen has just happened. This morning, American businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and not many people are happy about it. 

After the nation made the progressive decision to elect Barack Obama as president in 2008 and again in 2012, a certain amount of excitement and hope surrounded the 2016 election: was America finally going to elect a female president? The numbers were close, but ultimately, the people of the United States made the mind-boggling decision to elect a man who appeared completely unqualified to lead the most powerful country in the world. 

Even Canadians (such as myself) know that Trump was one of the least popular presidential candidates in U.S. history. Examples: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election against him, despite losing the presidency. Multiple world-famous performers declined invitations to perform at his inauguration ceremony. His vulgar and shockingly offensive comments about women and minorities kicked off protests and marches in at least 60 countries. Frustratingly, many Americans – women and minorities included – still support both him and his agenda.

If you’re angry, devastated and/or thoroughly confused about Trump being elected, my advice is to educate yourself and others about local and global issues that will be affected by his presidency. Think climate change, women’s rights, immigration, LGBT rights, international trade and relations, etc. Once you know the facts, let others know what his being elected actually means. Find out his plans (or lack thereof) to resolve society’s most urgent and important issues. Reread his latest speeches and learn more about who he has appointed to his cabinet. Knowledge is power, friends! Use it wisely. 

Hollandaise Diner (Danforth East) 

If you’ve seen my Instagram posts over the last few weeks, you’ll know how much I love Toronto’s Hollandaise Diner. After eating there three times in the last six weeks, I figured it was high time to tell all of you what makes this place so great!

Chef Josh prepared a massive feast for us! You can see why I’ve been back twice.

Located just east of Woodbine, this cozy brunch spot opened a little over a year ago. I first heard of it when a fellow Instagrammer (find her awesome page at @reesestdot) invited me to an event for “influencers”, i.e. bloggers/active people on social media who often post about Toronto eateries and are able to reach a large audience. In a nutshell, the influencers show up, take pictures of the dishes the chef has prepared (to later post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and then get to share the food. It’s a win-win: the restaurant gets free advertising, and the influencers get a free meal and great company.

That Thursday evening, after the diner had closed for the day (it’s open daily from 7 AM to 3 PM), owners Josh and Marisa greeted us at the door. A young and friendly couple, Josh is the head chef and Marisa pulls double duty as a waitress and hostess. The influencers were a small group – just five of us – but, during the course of the evening, Josh was busy whipping up seven or eight of the diner’s most popular brunch items. I love brunch food, especially eggs Benedict, so I was in heaven! Their delicious Hollandaise sauce comes in five varieties (original, zesty, coconut, Cajun, and HP-infused) and is made in-house and from scratch, as are their lightly-fried home fries. Of their seven eggs benny combinations on their menu, they served us four of their favourites, listed below.

The Classic ($10.62), an English muffin with peameal bacon, two poached eggs, classic Hollandaise sauce and paprika:

The Coconut ($11.95), bitter greens and grilled tomato topped with two poached eggs, coconut Hollandaise sauce and toasted coconut:


The Cajun ($11.95), two pieces of baked polenta, sautéed Cajun spice peppers, two poached eggs, Cajun Hollandaise sauce and fresh chives:


The Meatloaf ($11.95), two pieces of meatloaf on top of a ketchup glaze with sautéed mushrooms, two poached eggs, HP-infused Hollandaise sauce and fresh parsley:


I’ve also had their Florentine eggs benny ($10.62), which substitutes sautéed spinach for meat:


Of the eggs bennies, Coconut and Florentine are my favourites. The melt-in-your-mouth Coconut benny is a lighter option as it substitutes grilled tomato for English muffins, while the Florentine benny is simple and delicious comfort food. FYI, Marisa and Josh were happy to do whatever they could to accommodate allergies, substitutions, and dietary restrictions. They even have an awesome vegan option called The Mighty Vegan ($12.95) – a tofu-based baked frittata with asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers, and served with a side of fresh fruit.

Next up were to die for coconut pancakes ($8.85), made with coconut milk and infused with bits of toasted coconut. They’re so good that I couldn’t resist ordering an extra coconut pancake on the side the last time I ate there! Homemade blueberry sauce added to the mouthwatering flavour. Clearly each of us influencers was in the mood for pancakes, because these disappeared in seconds!

Chef Josh also whipped up his original buttermilk pancakes ($8.85), which we were all eager to drizzle with maple syrup! A little magic in the kitchen turned them into colourful “Funfetti” pancakes, which Josh would be serving a few days after the influencer event, as part of a celebration for the diner’s one-year anniversary:


And finally, Josh brought us the Mushroom and Brie Frittata ($12.39) – three large eggs with portobello mushrooms, Brie, asparagus, and a side of sweet and spicy red pepper jelly:

At Hollandaise Diner, the food is delicious, the ingredients are fresh, the creations are unique, and the staff is warm and welcoming. They don’t take reservations, but the space sits 24, so even at peak hours you won’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a table. If you live in or around Toronto, you’ve gotta visit them at least once. Their menu truly has something for everyone, so you won’t be disappointed!

15 Awesome Things That Happened Around The World in 2016

There’s no denying that 2016 was a rough year for many. Situations in Syria and Istanbul worsened, terrorist attacks happened everywhere from Florida to France, and many issues surrounding climate change and human rights went unresolved. To those of us who were paying attention to the daily news, it felt like the bad stuff just kept piling on. However, like I wrote in my previous post, there’s no use in condemning the entire year because of what happened during it. 2016 saw many positive changes in the world, too! Here are some of them:

  1. Child mortality rates have decreased by more than half since 1990!
  2. Volunteers in India planted almost 50 million trees in one day in order to help reverse effects of deforestation and climate change! In a country where smog levels are at an all-time high, this is a big deal. Read more here.
  3. 600,000 square miles of Antarctica’s Ross Sea will be designated as the world’s largest marine life sanctuary, safe from detrimental human activity!
  4. Pakistan finally made “honour killings” punishable by law! More here.
  5. The World Health Organization has declared Sri Lanka malaria-free! The country has not reported a single locally-transmitted malaria case in three and a half years.
  6. Eight months of passionate protesting at the Sioux Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota resulted in the U.S. government rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline! It would have transported 450,000 barrels of crude oil daily underneath the Missouri River (close to the reservation), leaving the tribal land vulnerable to devastating oil spills. Major victory for locals, although the fight is not over.
  7. As of 2016, the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities agreement has been signed by 160 countries and parties! The international human rights treaty is intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
  8. Graduation rates have reached an all-time high in high schools across the United States!
  9. The Paris Climate Agreement, which has been joined by 122 parties (including China and India), entered into force on November 4, 2016! The central aim of the agreement, as stated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to “combat climate change and adapt to its effects.”
  10. The number of homeless veterans in the United States has decreased by half since 2010, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Interagency Council on Homelessness!
  11. The number of wild tigers is increasing for the first time in a century! Why is this important? Giant pandas and manatees were also taken off the endangered list in 2016.
  12. Groundbreaking peace talks happened between the Colombian Senate and the Farc (the country’s largest rebel group) after victims of the country’s bloody conflicts lobbied the government for peace! According to the BBC, the revised agreement aims to end an armed conflict that has killed 260,000 people over 50 years.
  13. Kenyan grandmothers in the shady Korogocho slum received praise for learning self-defense moves as a way of preparing to fight off potential attackers! You go, grannies!
  14. In 1999, Bertrand Piccard became the first person to fly successfully around the world in a hot-air balloon; in 2016, he completed the first circumnavigation of the globe without using any fuel, flying 40,000 km on solar power to promote the use of renewable energy! More on this incredible story here.
  15. 2016 was one of the safest years in aviation history! Despite the horrific plane crashes that did happen, there were relatively few crashes and deaths compared to other years – the current statistic is 1 death in every 10.7 million travellers.

There you have it, friends! A list of 15 incredible advances and accomplishments that 2016 should be remembered for. Feel free to leave a comment detailing other awesome changes that you know happened last year. We have a long way to go in making the world a near-perfect place, so here’s to hoping 2017 will see even more positive changes!

Happy 2017! Let’s Make This Our Best Year Ever

Welcome to 2017! Here’s to good health, happiness, and success. How did you all ring in the New Year?!

What a year 2016 was – there was a lot of devastation both locally and globally as well as a collective horrified disbelief at the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election. However, there were also a number of very positive things (coming up in my next post) that were happening in the world at the same time. This year, I really hope the scale of these positive changes will widen to include issues in countries that have ongoing crises, such as Syria, Turkey, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Congo. Additionally, I’m hoping to see more global developments in the areas of climate change, minority rights, women’s rights, persons with mental health issues and disabilities, and prison conditions. A few ways we can help include educating ourselves and others about world issues, becoming activists to represent issues we’re passionate about, doing what we can to ease the suffering of those who need help, and reminding ourselves and others to never lose hope. Continue reading