Gourmet Gift baskets with a natural flair!

So here we are in fall already!!!! Actually it’s one of my favorite times of the year. It’s often a time when most of us return to heavier workloads, kids go back to school and we try to squeeze in as much of the last remaining days of nice weather.

I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed a lot of people are taking some time to rethink their priorities. What they need to do to be healthier and to live a more balanced lifestyle. Here’s a way that I’ve discovered to do both.

Take some time for yourself.
Take some well-deserved down time and jump in the car and drive out to the country, it doesn’t have to be far (at least from where I live in Toronto). I did the same not too long ago and found myself in St. George, Ontario. It’s not that far from Toronto – somewhere between Hamilton and Guelph – but quite a beautiful drive. While on my travels, I happened to see a sign for fresh eggs, so I stopped in, because what could be nicer (and healthier) than some farm fresh eggs.

But eggs, my new super food, were just the beginning.
I was pleasantly surprised to find an assortment of other healthy farm fresh products such as: soy free fresh organic chicken, grass fed beef and so much more. Did you know, grass-fed beef has the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats (3:1.). Grass-fed beef is loaded with other natural minerals and vitamins, plus it’s a great source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) a fat that reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes and a host of other immune disorders.

Our Fathers Farm ProductsHunza folk, what do they know?
With a collection of healthy choices in hand, I proceeded to the checkout where I discovered a whole line of dried fruits along with their famous apricot seeds. I didn’t know this, but it is a well-known fact to gerontologists that the Hunza people of North Pakistan (an apricot mecca with a population eating a lot of everything apricot) are the longest-living and healthiest people in the world. Studies have proven that 100% of its population had perfect vision, while cancer, and other diseases were virtually unknown conditions. Wow… I grabbed two bags of apricot seeds.

If you’d like to know more about all the farm fresh and healthy foods available at Our Fathers Farm, I’d encourage you to visit in person or at least go online – www.ourfathersfarm.com

It’s usually these spontaneous visits that provide me with such great gourmet gift basket products, and my recent visit to St. George, Ontario was no exception. Look for some of the above mentioned healthy products to appear in our gourmet gift baskets soon.

Fall is a great time if you’re a foodie like me!

Yes, I love food and I love to cook. I’m always on the lookout for great, unique food items and recipes that will influence our choice of items for our gourmet gift baskets.

Canadian Living CookbookOne of my favorite cookbooks is from Canadian Living. I have been using them forever and I always know whatever recipes I follow will be delicious! One of the things I like most is that they aren’t difficult to make and most recipes include a photo as a reference.

I love freshness, so I lean toward buying fresh herbs to add to my recipes as often as the season allows. This time of year every market has fresh basil…huge bundles are a plenty and they’re inexpensive. So this weekend I brought some home and will make a batch of fresh basil pesto. It’s so convenient to have some on hand to add at a moments notice to pastas, pizzas, chicken dishes and so much more.

One of my favorite recipes is, of course, from Canadian Living.

Basil Pesto ingredients and preparation:

2-1/2 cups (625 mL) packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup (75 mL) pine nuts
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper
1/2 cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

In food processor, finely chop together basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper. With motor running, add 1/3 cup (75 mL) of the oil in thin steady stream. Stir in garlic. Divide among four 4-oz (125 mL) airtight jars; top with remaining oil. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.)

Basil PestoBasil Pesto

So when you find yourself at a market looking at huge, cheap bunches of basil….don’t shy away, jump in and have some fun! 

Country business provides unique gift basket items

Unique Gourmet Food
Unique gourmet baskets should have unique gourmet food items in them. That’s what I believe. One of the things I love to do, and something I think makes our gift baskets special, is adding little recipe tip cards because not everyone knows the special ways to use a hot jelly (as chicken marinade for example) or an antipasto.

And one of our latest discoveries on our way up to Midland is Country Meat Cuts in Utopia (and finding this shop indeed made it Utopia!) where we found some incredible jellies, relishes and pickled white beats that we think will bring some real pizzazz to our gift baskets. Ond one of the things I totally loved about this shop was Rafee. He has lots of interesting and innovative ideas for use of these products (like mixing some hot jelly with cream cheese and smoked salmon and using it as a canapé spread topped with capers). We will be passing our favourites along to you in our blogs and on the tip cards in our gift baskets.

So if you’re ever in the area of Utopia, I encourage you to visit Country Meat Cuts, you won’t be disappointed.

And if you get to Midland, stop in at Ciboulette et Cie and pick up some of the best EVOO & rosemary crisps you’ve every had!

More about that next time.

New for Baby – lovely baby gift baskets

New baby Basket

Baby gifts, baby gifts! Here at Lifestyles Plus we are always searching for new, high quality, unique items to bring to our customers.

There is nothing I enjoy more than finding new and exciting things to add to our baby gift selection. Baby gifts that are hand made, or unique in some way. Things you don’t see everywhere.

It is always astonishing to me how many incredibly talented people there are out there! Out of the mainstream and usually a little tricky to find, but very special people nonetheless.

Baby blanket

New this season – quilted blankets, creams and washes for baby and mom.

This summer on my travels to Nova Scotia, I met the loveliest woman who is in her 60’s and is just a dynamo! Marge not only has a whole line of preserves she makes using berries from her own property, she also sews, knits and crochets (as well as other things, I am quite sure). She and I hit it off instantly and now I am awaiting the final shipment of baby products I ordered from her – knitted baby hats, beautiful baby blankets, and so much more.

As well, I recently was travelling in northern Ontario, and met another lady who makes her own natural soaps, creams and lotions! And she has a whole baby line which will enable us to add natural baby soaps and creams to our baby gift line!

So, when you are thinking of your next baby gift, and you’re looking for something unique, remember we have already done the search and we continue to bring you wonderful new products to our line of baby gifts.

Choosing the right gift selection all the time

As gift consultants and specialists in the gift basket, gift giving business we constantly push ourselves to ensure each gift is not only unique but that each gift basket is the right fit for each recipient.

Unique Gifts for Men

We do a lot of gift baskets for corporations where it’s important that we match the right gifts to the individual. After all what’s the point in sending a basket full of gifts that no one will appreciate.

Recently I revisited some gifts for corporate clients that are often received by men, and in the process I came up with a few new ideas that I thought I’d pass on.

Ready to eat meals – Hey ladies, this is a no-brainer. Let’s face it, what person (particularly men) wouldn’t love to receive imported Italian pasta and sauces, Caesar salad dressing, bread sticks, etc., along with easy instructions that show you how to serve it up easily in no time.

Entertaining items – Bloody Mary/Caesar mixes with a jar of spicy green beans to serve as a side dish.

Antipasto and crackers – with handy tip cards that show you how to serve it to your guests and what to serve it on.

Pick up your corporate colors – bows that not only incorporate your colors (after all it is about you!) with a wired rope addition – my new favorite – the metro man bow!

And of course, sweets – chocolate covered granola, chocolate bark

Gift baskets for men! Often a conundrum? Not for us!  If you have any ideas on unique gifts for men that you’ve found, we’d like to hear from you.

To order a collection of unique gifts or to customize a personalized gift basket please call Lifestyles Plus.

Stolen Sirius radio leads to personal concierge service

I had lunch recently with a dear friend and while catching up on business he confided: “ Lin, a lot of people don’t know how to use your concierge service. They don’t understand what kinds of things a concierge service like yours would look after”! So I took Bill’s well-respected message and stashed it away for future thought and consideration. That was Thursday.

A good concierge service will take care of the things that you can’t find the time to deal with

A good concierge service will
take care of the things that you can’t
find the time to deal with.

Behold Friday morning I found myself standing frozen in my driveway facing a vandalized car. My lovely Altima had a brick thrown through the passenger window and low and behold my satellite Serius radio was gone. What a way to start my day. I’ll pause here because that’s when I remembered my conversation with my friend Bill.

On any given day we’re all way too busy –
I’m a busy gal – probably like most of you. I already have too much to do with too little time. Yet here I was, faced with multiple tasks that morning beyond what I had already promised my day. So, I found myself detailing the events of the morning to a number of agents and partners that were going to make it all go away.

Then it came to me –
This is exactly what my friend Bill was alluding to. This is exactly what a good concierge service can offer. They take the ‘waste of time’ and make it theirs. Let’s look at what your concierge partner would do for you in this scenario.

  • Make the call to your insurance broker (they already have personal details on file including: license and insurance numbers, so no need to provide all that)
  • Make the call to a tow truck company (they already have your CAA or favorite auto repair company on file as well, so know need to worry about that either)
  • Through the above calls they arrange to have a rental for you within the hour (major credit card is already with them on file – another ‘need not to worry’)
  • The details of the accident will also be reported to the necessary authorities as well as the new satellite radio is being purchased and installed at the time of the repairs
  • All ongoing follow-up calls with any remaining details are being looked after by your super efficient, timesaving personal concierge assistant.

Any good concierge service will partner with you. They take the worry out of how to deal with things that you can’t find the time to deal with. They become your trusted and best friend. If you find yourself running on empty with more mileage still to cover, it may be time to investigate the advantages of having your very own time managing, convenient, super-duper concierge professional on your side.

After all, time is the best investment you can make for yourself.

It’s Better in Nova Scotia – Part 2

As I mentioned in my last blog, meeting Donna at the Sobey’s in Liverpool, NS was such a treat! She chose beautiful live lobsters for our first meal there, all the while pointing out how to choose a great lobster. That is, ensuring the shells are hard and also how to tell the difference between a female (to get the roe) and a male lobster. And Donna’s best way to cook a lobster dinner for two, well here you go:

Lobster

  • Buy the lobsters from Donna
  • Take a large boiling pot down to the beach and fill it with about 5/6 inches of ocean water bring pot to a boil
  • Insert the lobsters head first and on their backs
  • Cover and steam until cooked (ours took about 15 minutes)

And how do you know they’re done?

  • Lobsters will turn their characteristic bright red colour well before the meat is thoroughly cooked inside
  • Tug on an antennae or pull off one of the small walking legs. They both will come off easily when the lobster is done. (I love that one!)
  • The meat inside will be firm, white and opaque
  • The tomalley, which fills much of the body cavity, will be green
  • The roe in female lobsters will be bright red and firm. If it is a dark greenish black, with an oily tar-like consistency, the lobster is undercooked
  • The internal temperature will be 180F (80C)
  • If the lobsters will not be eaten right away, they must be cooled quickly in ice water. Drain the chilled lobsters, cover and keep refrigerated. You can keep cooked lobsters in your refrigerator for 1 or 2 days

Who knew!!

Donna also introduced me to summer savory, something I have always had in my spice cupboard and never really knew when to use it, unless specifically called for in a recipe. And that was how I discovered the best summer savory ever! In fact I am planning to bring it in this fall for inclusion into our gift packs. So here’s Donna’s recipe for fish cakes (or at least my interpretation of Donna’s instructions):

Fish Cakes

  • Fish fillets (any kind) – I used haddock because it was fresh that day (about four)
  • Sauté them in a frying pan in a little butter
  • Mush them up in a bowl and add summer savory to taste
  • Add just enough mashed potatoes to bind (I found a ratio of approximately 1 part potatoes to 3 parts fish worked well)
  • Add one egg
  • Form this into small balls and coat in panko or cornflake crumbs and sauté in a little butter until browned. At this point they can be cooled and frozen and reheated on another occasion. To freeze them, lay them on a cookie sheet in the freezer just until frozen and bag them.

A little tip (I learned this the hard way), don’t add milk and butter to your mashed potatoes, save that for the turkey dinner!!

It’s Better in Nova Scotia

Nova ScotiaOne of my life travel goals was to travel to the East Coast and eat my way though it as best possible getting recipes and searching for new and interesting product. And what a trip it was!  If you have any inclination to go to that area, here is a great spot for you.

What I found funny was, on arrival, I asked everyone where the fish market was and was constantly referred to the local Sobey’s which I found very odd, but upon meeting Donna at the Sobey’s fish counter, I knew we were in good hands!  But I digress…more about Donna and her wonderful cooking tips later….

I must say that we have always been very lucky when travelling and this trip was no exception. We decided on the south western shore of Nova Scotia where we were extremely lucky to find a terrific cottage to rent – very reasonably priced and right on the ocean and just two minutes walk from Carter’s Beach.

Nova ScotiaIt was the loveliest, cleanest best equipped rental you could possibly want. And very thoughtfully equipped, right down to the bathroom with fresh soaps, razors, fresh linens all through the house and lots of information booklets on the area including the best restaurants. What an absolute find!

The owners, Mary and Rob, live right across the street (which I must admit, unnerved me a bit at first!) and they are the loveliest couple we could have hoped to meet; always helpful, and there if you needed something and not the least bit intrusive. Truth is we ended up have a great time with them on several occasions and we look forward to returning to Carter’s Beach very soon.

KayakingBy the way, an exceptional delight was finding out that Rob was a certified Sea Kayaking guide and with their guidance and Rob’s expertise, the four of us had the most beautiful day kayaking around the area. Its so easy and gives a wonderfully different perspective in terms of views and beauty…and we finally found a lighthouse!

The other discovery I made was how ‘crafty’ the east coast people are and we were able to bring lots of fabulous new things home and I am currently waiting for an additional shipment of handmade baby blankets, baby hats, and other items that will be included in our fall selection for our gift baskets.

So if you are planning a trip and the East Coast is a considered destination, hop on Porter Airlines (the absolute best way to travel – so stress free and easy), book your car rental at the other end, and head to Halifax and down to Carter’s Beach Cottage in Port Mouton.

For more information, go to: www.cartersbeachcottage.com and have the trip of a lifetime!

Happy Shopping!

Much of my world is about gifts – corporate gifts, Canadian made gifts, personal gifts, earth day gifts… so today I thought I would share five of my latest finds with you.

Imagine running around your yard or house (omg!) trying to shoot down a flying toy duck, not only that, but you have to hit the duck three times to down it! I love this gift and will be getting one shortly. Best of all it’s Canadian! You have to take a moment to visit Interactive Toy and have a peek. It’s too funny… get your camo hat on! It also comes in Duck Hunter Extreme, of course it does!!

Etch A Sketch ArtI thought this was pretty amazing, mostly because I had an Etch A Sketch a very long time ago and I know this isn’t easy. This fellow, George, has transformed the Etch A Sketch from a toy into a rare collection of pop art. His artwork has been featured in museums and galleries, and now sells for thousands of dollars. People around the world have commissioned him to do his original one-of-a-kind Etches. Check out GV Art and Design, the work is totally amazing!

Next, I loved this Brookstone iConvert digital frame with built-in scanner – it lets you convert print pics into digital images by just sliding your photos into the built in scanner. Your images are then stored directly in the 8” frame. How cool is that!?!

Riverstone DesignsLove, love, love this gift idea! In fact, I found out about Riverstone Designs jewelry from a friend and have referred several people because I think it’s just so fabulous. I am lucky to have the Swarovski crystal and silver cube bracelet and matching necklace… absolutely delicious… all thanks to my lovely new husband (and my bff, P). Visit Riverstone Designs’ website and click on Lovelinx and be sure to tell Christie you read about it here.

Lastly, there is a line of Mexican pewter pieces that I will be carrying on my site very soon. These are beautiful tableware pieces and the perfect gift for any occasion. Come back soon and have a look!

In the meantime, happy shopping!

Keep the Saran in the fridge!

Moving BoxesFamily day in Ontario… it was an extra day off. Yahoo! Well, if you have your own business, holidays and long weekends come and go and you are no more the wiser.

This year, I was aware of the long weekend coming after several reminders and I thought, “Good, I’ll try to take advantage and do something special.” Usually that thought comes and goes, the weekend comes and goes and I never do anything special.

This year, on Family Day weekend, Lawrence and I had agreed to help my Auntie Jo-Anne move from her big rambling house. It was time for her to get something more practical, without stairs, easier to clean, no snow to shovel, no raking to do… yet accommodating to her lifestyle, which is crazy busy to say the least.

My darling aunt is in her 80s and has raised six beautiful children in that house, tragically lost her husband several years ago in that house, and has a lifetime of memories in that big, old house. Along with those memories comes a lot of stuff – all those dishes, the Doultons, the knick knacks…

So I was in charge of sandwiches, etc. for the lunch break. It’s not easy feeding the Larman crowd – trust me we are eaters – but off we went. A day of the boys moving the heavy stuff and the girls unpacking at the cute new apartment. My dear, totally organized cousin, Laurie, had been in charge of the move for the most part with all my other cousins helping as best possible. She is just a take-charge kinda gal so we happily went with it and deferred to her.

“So what’s in this box, Laurie?” someone asked. And she replied, “Well it is clearly written on the outside… in detail.” Okey-dokey. Well, not quite, but we trundled along and, oh my goodness, the memories abound! At one point Patti came to me with about 10 turkey wish bones, and Auntie Jo-Anne, with her brilliant sense of humour said, “Yes. Okay, chuck ’em.” You just knew she had been saving them for years and could probably tell which year each one was from. Of course there were giggles all around and at the end of the day everyone had taken a suitable amount of kidding and we all got set for the departure.

There I was with my Auntie Jo-Anne, tidying up the kitchen and packing up a few of the left over sandwiches for our trip back to Toronto (did I mention we are eaters in our family?). Darling Auntie Jo-Anne was leaning over the small (ha, ha) tray of sandwiches wrapping them with Saran wrap and said to me, “You know, I always keep this in the fridge.” Uh huh, I thought – she must be very tired. At which point my sense of humour jumped back in and I said, “What, the Saran wrap?” To which she replied, “Yes, it keeps it from bunching up like this. I’ve done it for years.” Well, how about that! By the way, I now keep my Saran wrap in the fridge and it truly works!

So, as I came away from that Family Day weekend, I have to say that for me it truly was a Family Day weekend – totally by accident, but a wonderful accident. A chance to be with all the people who are my family.

I have tapped in to Auntie Jo-Anne since then to send me a list of those tips she has secreted away and I will keep prodding her for them. But you know the committees, the scrap booking, the lunches with friends, the speaking engagements, keep my favourite Auntie pretty busy so don’t hold your breath!

In the meantime, did you know Coca Cola is good for cleaning tires? Seriously, check out the site below: