Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chocolate Chip and Almond Biscotti


I love to bake cookies.
I love the process, testing the batter, smelling them while they bake, eating them fresh out of the oven with a cup of tea or a coffee… and not to brag (but I’m bragging) I bake a REALLY good cookie.
Unfortunately, with just Kris and I in the house, baking is a TAD ridiculous. What are two grown people going to do with 36 cookies?
Eat them all. Obviously.
So I tend to bake like a fiend at Christmas and distribute my goodies, so that we can have SOME, and then my loved ones get a treat. Generally this means hours in the kitchen baking biscotti and the world’s most epic ginger cookies.
This year, as a special treat, my mother in a braggadocios way (for which I love her) told the women organizing my shower that I would bake biscotti for all my guests as a thank you, that we would forgo just BUYING goodies for anyone.
So. 40 guests, 3 pieces of biscotti each… that’s 120 pieces of biscotti.
Each recipe makes about 20 pieces, and requires 45 minutes of baking time plus 15 minutes of prep… 6 hours of biscotti baking.
While I would NOT recommend baking for 6 hours as a fun way to spend an afternoon (the wine and Chinese food helped) we’ve since received feedback from my shower attendees that they MUST have my biscotti recipe because it is SOOOO good.
Well, you asked and I will oblige! Here is the recipe for my delicious chocolate chip and almond biscotti! passed down from person to person and tailored to what I think is a damn fine cookie recipe… just limit yourself to only 1-2 batches!

Chocolate Chip and Almond Biscotti (makes approx. 20 cookies)

Ingredients
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted buter (softened)
  • 1/2 cup golden brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp instant espresso powder**
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds***
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Notes on ingredients:
** The espresso powder shouldn’t say “with crema” - while it’s not a big ingredient, you don’t want to be adding extra powdered milk to a baking dish - no bueno, it won’t be as good (fine, but not GREAT)
*** The original recipe called for walnuts. This is delicious, but I find that the slivered almonds have a better taste to offset the coffee. You definitely want the slivered almonds though and NOT the shaved or pieces, you will be disappointed by both.
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 325 F
2) Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon & salt
In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugars & espresso powder. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy!
note: biscotti dough is REALLY dense and difficult to mix, even with an electric mixer. While you can safely double your recipe, I wouldn’t recommend trying to mix more than 2x the recipe at once.
3) Add eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time & beat until fluffy (about 2 minutes)
4) Mix in your almonds and chocolate chips!
5) Now add your flower mixture & mix until it is just blended.
6) Divide the dough in half. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using lightly floured hands, form each ball of dough into a log (about 3” wide and 3/4” high). Once the logs are formed, use a sharp knife to score slight diagonal lines along the top of the dough to outline the cookies, into about 1/2” slices. This will make it easier later!
7) Bake the cookies for 25 minutes - remove from the oven and let cool about 5 minutes, but leave that oven on!
8) Carefully transfer the logs to a flat cutting surface. Using a serrated knife, cut along the lines you scored earlier (1/2” diagonal slices).
9) Arrange the slices back on the baking sheet, cut side down & bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven, flip onto OTHER cut side, and bake again for 10 minutes.
10) Remove from oven for the final time, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool! When they’re easy to handle, serve with a piping hot coffee (or some of that espresso!) and try not to eat them all in one sitting… but no judgement!
Question: What is the “thing” you’re known for brining to the party? Do you bake, cook, make a mean spinach dip? I want to know!
xxox - Laura

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wedding Wednesday: How being a bridesmaid helped me plan my wedding

If there is one thing I know how to do, it's be a bridesmaid.

I'm one of those girls that is ALWAYS in a bridal party. I have a love-hate relationship with the job, but ultimately when I'm up there on my friend's special day (crying. always crying.) I really do feel that it is an honour to be there.
For all of that though, when I got engaged, the #1 upside to being a bridesmaid so many times?
I knew EXACTLY what I wanted, and didn't want out of my wedding.
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese! And I have to say that in my 5 pre-wedding bridesmaid stints, I've collected a lot of delicious cheddar... er... ideas on what works (and doesn't) at a wedding, and also how I wanted to behave as a bride.
So let's break it down, bridesmaid style!
1) Expecting help from your maids, your mom, your fiancé...
People offering to help out with stuff is SO kind. I've stuffed an envelope or two (or 50) in my day... but I've also skipped appointments because I had other things to do.
No one cares more about your wedding than you do. People have other commitments, and you can't expect that anyone will be at your beck and call to get stuff done.
If they offer, that's wonderful! But don't expect it. You can maybe expect a little more help from your parents/fiance, but even there you may find yourself doing most of it.
If you want a guaranteed helper, hire an event planner. 
2) What not to wear, what to wear, and how to find out
I've been dress shopping with many a bride. Every one of them had a "vision" as to what they wanted to wear... and everyone of them ended up in something different.
My friend who wanted princess, went trumpet. My friend who wanted slinky and sexy went FULL ballgown. My most decisive friend ended up returning her first dress and getting a second one! 
My point is, wedding dress shopping is confusing. There are too many options and you only get to walk down the aisle in one of them. Try on everything with an open mind before you start narrowing down your choices. You might be surprised by what you like!
Also: another "what not to wear/what to wear"... make sure your bridesmaids feel pretty. Pick a colour they like and be conscious of their body types! They're your friends, not your props.
3) Food. Then some food... and maybe after that more food.
I don't know why people keep saying to me "well you don't want to have TOO much food!"
Yes. Yes I do. There is NOTHING worse than being hungry at a wedding, because you have no options to get more food. I have been at that wedding, I have been IN that wedding, it sucks.
I would much rather have some of the food go uneaten, than have people leaving early so that they can order a pizza. 
Also, check in with your vegetarian guests. If you have some options for a veggie meal, run it by them so that they are happy with what you pick (and so that you can be sure it's enough food!)
4) Put your sanity first
Know yourself. Know your stress trigger points up ahead as you get closer to the day, or on the day.
Know that your makeup artist can cover a zit. Know how you will react if you're stuck in traffic on the way to the church because you didn't stay near by. Know that if you don't have a snack at 2pm, you will sulk/pass out/rage at some point during the evening.
Know yourself, and then make plans to alleviate every single one of those stress points. 
(I had a zit the day of my trial, covered! I booked a hotel near my venue, no stress! My MOH is on snack duty, that's love!)
I've seen so many meltdowns in the last 10-days, 2-days, 24-hours. I've seen a bride slip into shock right before her walk down the aisle, I've seen a bride furious at her guests in the days leading up, I've seen a bride frantically writing a speech on the morning of her wedding. I've also seen relaxed and prepared brides having the time of their lives because their MOH brought snacks.
Maybe the advice here is bring snacks...
5) Flowers - mix up that DIY and Professional flair
Flowers are expensive, they were easily the most expensive thing quoted for my wedding (aside from the venue/food costs). I couldn't believe what even just MY bouquet ran.
I love the florist I picked, I think she's going to do an amazing job... but I'm only having her do handheld/worn flowers, and the arrangement for the head table.
Everything else, we're DIY-ing with Costco wholesale flowers, vases we ordered in bulk, and easy-buy supplies from any garden centre, Walmart or dollar store... It's going to cost us less than 1/3 the price to do it this way.
We're saving a boat load on centrepieces because of this. It's a bit of extra work, but we did this for a wedding recently and it was SUCH a fun activity the day before the wedding. Making centrepieces, drinking Starbucks (and champagne) and then getting post-flower manicures. I loved it, and everything looked beautiful.
6) Skip the cake
Seriously. No one eats it.
I have never once eaten wedding cake at a wedding. This is not because I don't like cake, but because no one ever serves wedding cake at a wedding... because all venues serve dessert.
I don't want dessert and THEN cake. If you must cut something, cut something small and make it ceremonial, don't bother with a big one that is a waste of INSANE amounts of money that no one really wants.
"But Laura!" I hear you say "What if we get cupcakes instead!"
Yep, been in not one, but TWO weddings that went that route, the "cupcakes are here if you want them, just crab them"
In both instances, only about 5 cupcakes got eaten, and the rest were taken home by the B&G at the end of the night. Seriously. Just skip the cake. It's as dead as bouquet tosses and flash mobs.
7) (Not so) open mic nights
Please.... please.... for the love of all that is holy do NOT have an open-mic policy at your wedding. Don't let anyone but designated speakers, the DJ and your MC touch the mic. 
Open mic speeches go on WAY too long and are often super awkward because they haven't been thought out ahead of time (not ideal... and presumably fuelled by alcohol)
Also, don't shove all your speeches at the end of the night. Disperse them through dinner so that when dessert is done, the dancing can begin!
8) Skip the fancy shoes
No one sees them, they're uncomfortable, you end up taking them off to wear something else before the end of the night.
My sister-in-law wore adorable flats to her wedding. She might just be a genius. I went with an inexpensive navy kitten heel, but (like my friend Emily did) I plan on changing into some sweet kicks after the first dance.
9) Be AGGRESSIVE about your dress fittings
When you're at your fitting, and your dress doesn't feel quite right.. channel your inner bridezilla.
Now, I'm not saying rage around the store and demand that the seamstress magically create a dress bibiddi-bobbidi-boo... but I am saying to be honest and get real about the fit.
I've had friends holding up their dress all night because it didn't fit right. I've had friends who got talked into a bad bustle that kept coming undone. I've had friends who had HORRIBLE bruises because the dress was digging into their sides.
The cost of altering a wedding dress is not insignificant. Be your own best advocate so you feel beautiful AND comfortable on the big day.
10) Get the vendor's numbers
I saved the best tip for last: GET THE VENDOR INFO OF THE PEOPLE YOU LIKED FROM YOUR FRIEND'S WEDDINGS! I can't even tell you how much time it will save you when you get around to planning.
Vendor selection is a stab in the dark. It's mostly just hours of staring at websites trying to decide which style of photographs will best capture your wedding day. If you've been in a wedding where you loved the photographer's attitude and work, or the makeup artist did an incredible job on your face, or the flowers looked like angels made them, BOOK THAT VENDOR.
Granted, if you and your friend's budget are hugely different, you may need to make some difficult choices (or do more dreaded vendor research) but don't be afraid to use someone just because your friend did. Recommendations are the best way to find people who will do great work, and sometimes they even give you a discount if you're coming through another bride. SO worth it!
Question time: Have you ever been in a wedding? What did you learn from the experience? Were you a bridesmaid before you got married, after? Let me know!

xxox - Laura

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Shiitake & Walnut Pasta On Sweet Potato Noodles

Lately I have become obsessed with sweet potato noodles.
Ditching grain/rice/quinoa noodles and leaning in to cooking with veggies (part of my wedding health regime) means I've tried plenty of different noodle types.
Zucchini, butternut squash, spaghetti squash... all are good, but if you want a true pasta replacement, sweet potato noodles are the best. They cook up to a nice al dante, giving you the best faux-noodle texture!
So when I had the opportunity the other night to make myself a fancy dinner-for-one at my parent's home, these noodles were top of my list. 
(Why was I staying at my parents? My building super ripped out my toilet. true story. On the bright side my parent's have a nicer kitchen than I do and their home backs on to Lake Ontario so it was a gorgeous spot for dinner!) 
So my noodles were picked, but that's really just the BASE, I had to decide what to put on top. 
Sticking with the veggie theme, I opted to make my own red sauce with some chilli peppers for kick. Forgoing meat, I decided on some shiitake mushrooms and walnuts, and a smidge of goat cheese as a treat to me.
Holy cow! do we EVER have a winner. Not only was dinner delicious, but it was pretty to boot (Oh, and healthy. We can't forget healthy)
This dish takes about 5 minutes to prep, and 20 minutes to make (if you're patient enough on the simmer!). I promise you'll be feeling full and fancy by the time you've cleaned your plate. I know I did!
Shiitake & Walnut Pasta on Sweet Potato Noodles (serves 2)
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups sweet potato noodles
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 hot chilli pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme (plus a sprig for garnish)
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts (plus some extra for garnish)
  • 2 tbsp goat cheese
  • coconut oil for cooking
Directions
  1. Start by prepping your vegetables (slice, dice, and mince!) While you do that, put your noodles on the stove in a non-stick pan with 1 tbsp of coconut oil. Cook over a medium-low heat (closer to low) for about 10 minutes, stirring very occasionally and VERY gently! after 10 minutes remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large pan over medium-high heat, add shiitake mushrooms and 1 tsp coconut oil and cook about 4 minutes (until reduced in size). Remove from pan and then add the garlic and pepper to the pan with another tsp coconut oil. Stir until garlic begins to brown and then remove from pan, setting aside with the mushrooms.
  3. In the same large pan, add your diced tomatoes and reduce heat to medium. Dash in a splash of white wine (optional, but encouraged) and let cook for 8-10 minutes until the tomatoes begin to break down. Then stir in your tomato paste and 2 tsp of fresh thyme, set the range to low and let simmer on the range for 5 minutes.
  4. Fold in your mushrooms, peppers, garlic, and then add 2 tbsp of chopped walnuts. Once mixed in, let simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Ready to serve! Spoon your noodles out on to two plates, and then top with a generous helping of your sauce. Garnish with some extra walnuts, 1 tbsp of goat cheese per plate, and a sprig of fresh thyme.
  6. Eat! preferrably with wine! Bon appetit!

A note on why I chose to cook with

shiitake mushrooms and walnuts: 

Since my dad was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, we've been learning a LOT about food (and we were already a family of food nuts... pun intended). Not only because of the immediate need to change his diet due to his Whipple operation, but also because the foods you eat can have a big impact on how cancer reacts in your body.
When it comes to food, shiitake mushrooms were at the top of the list for "must eats" for dad. studies show that they can boost your immune system, as well as inhibit tumour growth, especially when tumours are present in the stomach, pancreas and liver. 
Similarly, studies are being done (though it is early days!) showing that walnuts may not only inhibit tumour growth, but may actually help in the process of killing cancer cells. They also help with detoxification in the liver; so when your liver isn't working at full capacity due to illness, walnuts can help alleviate some of the stress.
I've been focusing more and more on cooking with health in mind, and specifically the health-related concerns that directly impact my family. This is why the all veggie, shiitake and walnut meal came to be on my plate. Moving forward, if I cook meals in the future with particular health aspects in mind I'll be sure to include a note on the post.

But now a question for you: How do you cook with your health in mind? do you have any foods that you rely on for health and detoxification? How do you prep them and include them in your meals? I'd love to know!
xxox - Laura

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wedding Wednesday - Picking Your Bridal Party

I’m gonna be quite clear. And in doing so I’m going to swear. Because this is how I honestly feel about picking a bridal party.
Picking a bridal party, was fucking hard. 
The whole process is super weird. “Hey! Let’s sit down and rank our friends and make our FAVOURITES spend extra time, money, and energy on our behalf out of obligation” 
...Okay, that’s not really what it is, but it can feel that way at first.
The Bridal Party question was one of the first things Kris and I tackled when we sat down to talk wedding. That and what our colours would be (because bridal party = bridesmaid dresses, and if he'd had it his way they'd all be wearing orange). 
It was a confusing conversation... do we have EVERYONE who would consider asking and have 12 on each side? Would we have none? Maybe one each? Family only? Even on each side, or are we good with uneven bridesmaid to groomsmen ratios? What social politics can we safely maneuver here?
Seriously, this decision took a WHILE. We intentionally waited a month to ask anyone because we wanted to be sure (and full disclosure, Kris STILL ISNT DONE, because men.) 
In the end, we set down a few guidelines that helped us narrow down who would be up there with us on the day which had us feeling confident in our decisions.
1) Pick family - much like your graduation is about your parents, so too is your wedding about your families. NOW some families are complicated and choosing them can be a hassle, but if you're pretty good with your sibs (and partner's sibs!) then make the easy choice.
2) Mismatch the sides - Gone are the days when you need to have perfect symmetry on either side of the aisle. Also gone? The days where you can only have girls on one side and boys on the other! 
While Kris and I ended up with traditional genders on each side, we agreed uneven numbers (within 2 people) was fine. We're good with uneven, but we also didn't want it to be a 3:1 ratio.
A note on picking a brides-man who stands with the ladies: The last wedding I was in had one and He. Was. A. ROCKSTAR! Wow, the day was so much easier for having him around running errands, cracking jokes and filling up mimosas. He even brought all of us to tears when he got his first look at the bride all done up. perfection.
3) Pick either 0 or 2+, but less than 8 attendants a side - Kris and I briefly considered one on each side (Kris' brother and my BFF, who is also Kris' cousin). We ultimately decided that while that would be EASIEST, some of the fun of the day would be missing. Getting married at 30 inevitably means that the bridal party sleepover the night before, or the week long trip for a bachelorette are unreasonable (half of my maids have babies...) but it’s a bridal PARTY. Two people aren’t a party. 
On the flip side though, try to keep the numbers down, and more in line with the number of guests you're having. If you're having a small wedding, a few attendants is fine, but 10 on each side might be a tad ridiculous. On the other hand, if you're having a 600+ wedding, go to town!
4) Remember that your attendants are not a planning committee - Having been a bridesmaid, and now a bride, and also a close friend of many a bride, here is what I know: Everyone wants to help... until they don't. I sometimes feel guilty about NOT having things for my maids to do, but the truth is that I don't really WANT them to do a whole lot. I picked them to stand up with me, not spend hours and hours running errands on my behalf.
That said, it's nice to know that if I needed them, they would be there. Whether it meant wine and a hot glue gun, a last minute appointment, or licking 200 envelopes. But don't pick attendants based on the quality of labour you're hoping to receive.

In the end, I have 6 beautiful women who will stand up with me:
  • My BFF (aka, future cousin in law #takinghermaidenname)
  • My oldest friend (going on 26 years of friendship!)
  • My surrogate little sister (and #1 brunch companion, travel companion, and virtual shopping companion)
  • My ACTUAL little sister (who will tell me I'm ugly all day, but won't mean it... that's how we are)
  • My Sister-in-Law (10 years with my family and she STILL married in, she's a saint)
  • My closest friend from Uni and literal Soul Sister (seriously... we found out after 2 years of being friends that her parents bought their house from MY parents... she grew up in the house I lived in until I was 4... the universe man!)
While I couldn't have all of my friends (though I seriously considered it) I can't wait to dance the night away with every last one of the wonderful women in my life... and my husband of course!
How lucky can one girl get?
if you’re gearing up to be a bride, I’d love to hear how you’re handling your bridal party in the comments!
if you’re a maid, check out THIS POST on how to rock it, from me, the 5x professional (with more on the way!)
xxox... Laura

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Homemade Poke Bowl (AKA: Laura's Lazy Sushi!)

I LOVE poke.
I don't let myself buy lunch very often during the work week, but when I do you're likely to find me at Rolltation, or Poke Guys, or Calii Love getting myself a delicious bowl of rice, veggies and fish!
If you follow my instastories, you're bound to see at least one poke bowl featured a month (at LEAST), like a one woman mission to discover the best poke in Toronto. 
The trouble comes when I'm at home in the suburbs craving poke from my favourite lunch spots, but the commute is just too unreasonable for raw fish. So whenever I'm in the mood for poke in the evenings I live by one of my favourite philosophies:
If you can't eat 'em, join 'em! 
Full disclosure: making your own poke is very easy in a step-by-step way, but it took me a few times to get it right. It's not just making sure your fish won't make you sick (though that's important) but using the right rice and having the right vegetables, and knowing that your avocado is RIPE but not TOO ripe, or worse... not ripe enough (#avocadostruggles)
My recommendation? Don't make poke at home until you've gone somewhere that does it RIGHT. You'll have a better understanding of the flavours you like in  your bowl and you won't waste your money on fish you won't eat.
If you're a sushi lover that doesn't feel like making up all those little rolls (so time consuming!) indulge in some lazy sushi, make yourself a poke bowl!

Homemade Poke Bowl (Laura’s Lazy Sushi) - serves 2

ingredients: 
  • 1 lb fresh salmon (or tuna if that’s your thing) - cut into small pieces
  • 1 .5 tsp sriracha sauce
  • 2" piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 2 cups fresh spring mix lettuce (I like arugula in there!)  alternatively, try a mix of carrot and zucchini noodles!
  • 1 serving brown sticky rice 
  • green onion
  • 1 oz pickled ginger 
  • sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped zucchini
  • other toppings you love!
  • serve with a dollop of wasabi and spicy mayo drizzled on top!
Directions
1) Get your rice on! I like to use a brown sticky rice (or sticky rice in general) but pick your poison! Make according to the package. My recommendation for poke in general is to make 1/2 serving of rice per poke bowl.
2) Mix together your salmon, sriracha, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Set aside so that the fish cooks slightly in the marinade (about 20 minutes)
3) While the rice finishes cooking and your salmon marinates, cut up and prepare your toppings (avocado, zucchini, spicy mayo, etc.).
4) Time to assemble! Split the rice into two bowls, and then put in a healthy amount of spring mix (a handful or two, depending on how hungry you are!). Using a slotted spoon to strain out excess marinade, distribute the salmon evenly across the bowls. Last but not least, top up with your fixings and drizzle the spicy mayo over top!
See? so few directions, and fairly easy ingredients for an AMAZING dinner! Enjoy your lazy sushi!

Have you ever had poke? What are your favourite poke fish and toppings? Do you like sushi but don't want to bother with the rolls? Does the idea of raw fish completely terrify you? Let me know in the comments below!
xxox - Laura

Monday, May 14, 2018

Organization Tip of the Week: Shifting your 9-5 grind

"Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin'
Out on the street the traffic starts jumpin'
With the folks like me on the job from 9 to 5"
In the immortal words of Dolly Parton.... what a way to make a livin'!
But the truth is, that the days of clocking in at 9 and clocking out at 5 are disappearing. 
In the past 10-15 years, the discussion of how our tech means our work can come home with us has begun shifting into a very different conversation; this conversation is less about the concern that we're working too much (though we arguable still are), but instead focuses on the flexibility that it can bring to our lives.
I respect that not everyone has this flexibility in their work day. Some people are very strictly 9-5, on shift work, or don't have the luxury that many do of working from home.
But more and more the business world is moving toward no-fixed-desks, work from home attitudes, and employers who want to see the work get done no matter where you are or when you do it.

With this shift in work-life balance where the two become more and more interconnected, I've developed a guideline on how to shift your 9-5 grind to maximize your output at work, and not overdo it on interrupting life.
And trust me: I learned these tips the hard way, and they have not only improved my sanity but allow me to have a positive outlook on my job (that place I spend 1/3 of my life!). So here are my...
Tips On Shifting Your 9-5 Grind To Work For You!
1) Make it an 8-4 grind: (or 7:30 - 3:30...) Get up early! it sucks for a little while but being able to leave early means more time to make a healthy dinner, get to the gym, and spend time with your loved ones. Also if you have to work a long day (and hey, that happens) "late" is just leaving at a standard time instead of really late into your evening
2) Work on the weekend: OKAY I know this goes against EVERYTHING everyone writes with regards to WLB... but hear me out: I would rather get in 3 hours of work on the weekend than grind late nights during the week. If you have to work the hours ANYWAY because it's a busy time at work, it can be more effective to spread them out.
I usually spend an hour or two on Sundays reviewing the previous week's tasks that are outstanding, preparing for my Monday and Tuesday meetings, and sending out a few emails that I need quick responses on early in the week. That organization leads to an easier Monday/Tuesday where I can actually get stuff done rather than doing frantic organizing between calls. And speaking of calls...
3) Try to book all your meetings in the morning, Tuesday - Thursday: If your job is anything like mine, your meeting schedule is totally insanity. I log probably 10-15 hours of meetings every week. That's a STANDARD amount of meetings for me. I do my best to keep Monday and Fridays mostly meeting free (maybe one on each day) and then to batch the rest on Tuesday - Thursday mornings.
I'm fresher in the morning, and it gives me the opportunity to immediately follow up tasks in the afternoon. This also means that with my afternoons meeting free, I have flexibility to take a proper lunch, hit the gym, or commute home early and work a few hours in the evening if I'm dealing with fatigue. 
4) Work out in the middle of the day: If you have the flexibility to get a work out in between meetings, do it. Or go for a mid day walk. You've got to fit this in to your hours worked, but it can be good to get away from your desk.
Giving yourself flexibility to do something else during those times when you have brain fog and then pick up work again later, is amazing for getting good work done. Just don't cheat your employer; work the hours and get it done!
5) Work from home 1 day a week: If you're allowed to work from home, do it. BUT start your day earlier, don't start at 9 (or 8! see #1!).
Sleep in a few extra minutes, have a good breakfast, and then start working at the time you would normally leave for work. This time is great for getting tasks ticked off before people get in for the day and start sending you other stuff to do.
The other benefit of working from home? Getting light chores done during the day. I like to get my laundry done on work from home days so it frees up my weekend time, or I'll book a lunch time dentist appointment, or drop my car off for service. By getting these chores done that don't require you to get too distracted, you can get a good day of work in and still get a few domestic things done. Plus at the end of the day (and work a FULL one) you're home AND your chores are done; the evening is all yours to enjoy!
And for my final bonus tip: LISTEN TO YOUR EMPLOYER WHEN THEY SAY YOU HAVE FLEXIBILITY!
I think so often when we're told this flexibility exists, we tend to think that it can't be true or that if we choose to make the most of it we'll be seen as a "bad employee"... and I'm not going to lie to you, sometimes bad employees will take advantage of this system (ruining it for the rest of us).
BUT HERE'S THE THING: If you're motivated, good at your job, and can be effective with a shifted schedule, your employers truly won't care where you work. Suddenly taking a working vacation becomes a real possibility. You'll find that working those long days during the week means leaving early on a Friday without anyone feeling resentful about it.
Be honest, be proactive. Have a dialogue with your employer about what flexibility means to you (and make sure they're good with it!) and give your job your all. Then say goodbye to your 9-5 grind and take off early to enjoy the LIFE side of that infamous balance.
Question: Do you work at a flexible office, or if you're self employed what hours do you like to work? Are you still in a situation where you work a strict schedule (and have you considered asking about flexibility?!) Let me know in the comments!
xxox - Laura

Monday, May 7, 2018

Organization Tip Of The Week: Making Your Commute Count!

One of the best parts about working downtown for me is taking the train to work every day.
If I'm catching an early train, it gives me a chance to close my eyes and zone out. If I'm meeting up with friends after work for a cocktail (or five....) I don't need to worry about how I'm getting myself home.
Taking the train has been really great for my life (and not just because I save a bundle on gas and car maintenance), and it's one of the things about my day I really enjoy.
But the best part about my commute? It's an extra hour a day (30 minutes each way) where I can get. stuff. DONE!
Taking the train is not just about reading a book or catching up on some sleep (unless it's really early in the morning) but a great opportunity to catch up on emails, make lists, and organize your thoughts.
On the way to work every day I review my email inbox, make note of any early morning meetings, prioritize things I need to do when I arrive in the office... and if there's time I catch up on some instagram stuff for the blog.
On the way home? While sometimes I might bust out my laptop and get a few things done, this is usually the best time for me to get blog stuff done! I'll pin, Instagram, read other blogger's work, or even write posts on my square space app to edit and finalize when I get home.
These days, My 30 minute commute home has been all about wedding planning. Contacting vendors, confirming appointments and researching companies that will run movie-theater style popcorn machines for our midnight snack (YUM!) 
But the best thing about my commute? It is NEVER wasted time! This way when I get to work, or get home, I'm not scrambling to prepare myself, it's already done! That means I can just make dinner and then relax. Total bliss.
"But Laura", I hear you saying, "I drive to work!"
I have BEEN THERE! Driving to work obviously requires more concentration than public transit, since you need to stay in your lane and you shouldn't be on your phone (seriously... put it away!), but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to maximize your time!
Listen to an informative podcast or audio book, take verbal notes using your phone, practice for an upcoming presentation, or just brainstorm while you drive.
If your total commute is an hour a day, you're gaining almost an entire work day of time where you can't do anything else anyway! How much can you get done in 5 hours? I'll bet it's a whole lot.

So I want to know! How do you commute to work? By car? By train? Walking? And what do you do during that time? Let me know in the comments down below.
xxox - Laura

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wedding Wednesday: Finalizing Vendors For Our Downtown Toronto Wedding

Wow it's been a while since I did a Wedding Wednesday!!!!
It's been pretty crazy around here, but with only 6 months until we tie the knot that can be expected!
Luckily, Kris and I have finally reached "the lull" - that magical phase of wedding planning where you've picked all of your vendors and paid your deposits, and now it's just dreaming and waiting until September... when we will begin our 2 months of finalizing details blitz, bound to test our limits.
People have said that we're slightly insane for turning a proposal into a marriage in 10 months, but I wouldn't have it any other way! Now that we have vendors picked, I couldn't imagine just WAITING for months and months and months! 
Did we have to compromise on vendors because of our short timeline? Not even for a minute. A wedding myth I am HAPPY to be squashing.
Now, we are getting married in early November so it's not exactly "wedding season", but throwing a wedding in downtown Toronto on any weekend is bound to mean competition. We've been very lucky through this process to not need to compromise on the vendors we want.
So who are these magical people who are going to make our day so special? Let's review!
Ceremony & reception venue/bar/catering: The Fermenting Cellar - Distillery Events
We were initially hesitant to book a Distillery District wedding in November. It's a beautiful spot, but half way through the month the area is FLOODED with people there to enjoy the Christmas market (Us included! In fact it was one of the locations Kris considered proposing)
As soon as we saw The Fermenting Cellar though we were hooked. I keep telling people I'm getting married in a basement (and technically we are!), but it's so much more than that. Soaring ceilings, cool rustic walls, steel beams and romantic nooks and old whisky fermenting barrels. 
It's a blank canvas venue which means we're responsible for most of the decor, but honestly the room is so cool we're going to keep it simple with low flower arrangements, candles, and a few rustic touches.
And luckily, our wedding will take place before the market starts, so we'll get the big Christmas tree decor and lights, but none of the crowds!
Our officiant Charles was a hit before we met him. A Toronto area chef, who is on the board of two different theatre societies, enjoys bike riding in his spare time... Kris and I read his bio and felt this was someone we could be FRIENDS with. The only thing remaining was to get him on the phone and make sure our assumptions were correct.
Charles was lovely. Not only does he have a calm and clear voice (important) he talked us through our ceremony, some of the details to make sure things run smoothly, and gave some good advice about writing our vows. Picked!
Picking a DJ was the hardest part of planning. Our venue is pre-wired for sound which makes it a bit cheaper on the DJ front, but there are certain noise restrictions because it's in a residential area. On top of that we need someone to run music from 4:30pm straight through to 2am. That's a LONG day of DJ ing with various styles of music ranging from ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and the EPIC DANCE PARTY I am hoping for.
Luckily our venue pointed us in the direction of Magen Boys, as did Kleinfeld when I bought my dress from them. They're working with us (through what appears to be a 600 question sheet for us to fill out) to find the perfect DJ for our tastes, and know exactly what is required for audio setup and pushing the rules on sound.
You can't have an epic dance party without pushing a few rules
Florists! Another hard thing to find! For our wedding we're only having bridal party/family florals done, and an arrangement for the head table; Costco and good old fashioned bridesmaid sweatshop labour (I love you all! I do I do I do!) will be responsible for the table arrangements.
Because of this, getting quotes from florists was a bit of a chore. At one point someone told me it would be "between 3000 - 6000 dollars" and I thought "No. Not ok with ANYTHING in that range."
I've got a bit of a pragmatic view of wedding decor... which is that most people don't really notice it. It's good to HAVE flowers, but who is finding DEEP disappointment with DIY decor? Those people would find discontentment with something else even if I did shell out 6K on flowers, so I'd rather go light on decor and spend money on TONS of food. That's what people remember anyway, not whether I went with roses or tulips or daisies.
I sat down with Amber of Cool Green & Shady in her shop and she just GOT me. Not only was it a warm, beautiful and lush place to sit and have a meeting, away from a cold early spring rain storm, but I came away feeling happy with the cost and the work that would be done.
Amber was a delight, laid back and efficient. She had spreadsheet templates all ready to fill in (woman after my own heart) helped me compile a Pinterest page for her to work from, and told me she could recreate the bright orange bouquet I'm after! She had some great ideas for pulling in fall colours and having the right balance of punchy oranges and softer tones. I was thrilled and I can't WAIT to see the final product.
Day of coordinator: A Lush Affair
Alusha of A Lush Affair (get it!?) and I met over coffee... after me blowing her off about 3 times due to various issues (illness, getting grounded in Boston during a nor-easter, insane work). I immediately took to her. Not only is she a freaking stunner inside and out, but she used to work for Distillery Events and knows all of the ins and outs of throwing an event at my venue.
We talked through her month-of services, and what she'll do on the day to make things run smoothly, and I was suddenly breathing easier about timetables and some of my day-of concerns that had been creeping in to my bride-brain.
I'm a project manager, so planning this wedding never daunted me. I knew even with a quick turn around time I could get it done; but I can't be EVERYWHERE on my wedding day, and frankly I would rather not be.
With my work schedule, it's good to know I'll have someone coordinating vendors leading up to the day, and on the day while I get myself all prettied up with my family and my girls, that someone has got my decor covered and is going to bat to make sure my day is perfect. 
Alusha is my wedding day goddess, I feel so much better after saying yes to a coordinator.
Dress: ...Wouldn't you like to know!
No spoilers on that, you can wait ;) I'll say that it's beautiful and I 100% cried when I put it on my body. Like INSTANTLY just broke in to tears. The woman helping me was all "should I go get your mom?" and I'm just standing there sobbing like "no, but maybe some Kleenex?" while I tried to compose myself.
Then she brought me Champagne. Kleinfeld Toronto is freaking bridal heaven. 
Anyway, you can wait until November for the grand reveal!
Wedding planning really does leave you with so much to think about, but I'm happy to have all of these vendor boxes ticked. It's time for my hair and makeup trials and a bit of pampering during the lull.
And maybe some more dedicated gym sessions.
xxox, Laura

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wedding Wednesday: Letting Go Of My Childhood Make Believe Wedding

Like any little girl, I played wedding a billion times.
As I got older I drunkenly told at least 30 different women "I love you, one day you'll be my bridesmaid!" and pictured the EXACT big white dress I would wear to marry my tall dark and handsome faceless man.
But a funny thing happened when Kris and I started dating and I realized he was IT: All the things I had always thought I would want (dress, venues, music, flowers) got SUPER fuzzy (even though he is tall, dark and handsome).
The wedding that I wanted became this thing of the past as it was replaced with the life we were building together.
OKAY: that sounds SUPER cheesy I know, but now I find myself engaged (finally, like FINALLY!) and I am totally clueless about those BIG details that came so easily when I was younger.
So here's what I have decided about that: I'm good with it.
I am completely fine with letting go of the wedding I wanted as a girl, to plan the wedding that we want as adults... knowing full well I'll probably still plan about 90% of it, but dammit Kris want's orange so I'm making it one of our colours (even though I wouldn't have picked it). And while we both wanted a more traditional ceremony, we've talked over the benefits of a first look, and I think we might do it!
The truth of the matter is this: I really don't care what kind of flowers I get, I'm sure they'll be pretty. I'm not too concerned about crafting the most beautiful place cards that ever graced a table, and I'll survive if I'm not getting married in a barn at sunset (which would be super bad for Kris' asthma).
I was also 100% clueless about my dress. CLUELESS. I had no idea what I wanted so my mom and I went so I could try on EVERYTHING (turns out, I am NOT a ballgown or princess kind of girl).
As for my bridesmaids? I decided that 30 was probably too many, but I've picked 6 wonderful women who have been with me for over a decade (or two) of bad boyfriends, playing hooky from school, good news, terrible news, vacation fun, theater performances, rock star karaoke moments, tears, laughter and just growing up.
At least 4 of them got the drunk bridesmaid speech, and most of the other women will be there celebrating with me on the day.
So it's already not the wedding I had always dreamed of, and the jury is still out on whether it will be better (since I probably can't have an elephant petting zoo...) but I'm still so so so excited to be planning it, to have it, and (surprisingly) to put it behind me so we can just make this thing official already!
On the planning note...
We're signing away a large chunk of change this week to finalize our venue selection and date! Wedding planning is going to be more and more of a fixture in my life so expect regular Wedding Wednesday updates!
Some of them might just be me asking why I ever thought this would be fun...

Married? What were the things that surprised you about what you did on the day vs. what you dreamed up when you were younger?
Unmarried/planning? Do you have any vague notions of what you might want or are you clueless? I'm so curious!
xxox, Laura

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dry January - A Recap of my Month Without Alcohol

Well, the end of the month is finally here!
I have a little under 48 hours until I am allowed to indulge in a cocktail (or six), and I have to say I'm pretty excited.
This month, I challenged myself to not drink alcohol (with the exception of my Brother's wedding) to give my body a break after the holiday season, recharge for the new year, stay focused, and manage my health a bit.
So how did I do?
All in all, I would give this monthly challenge a rate of 75% Success, 25% Mess.
There were a few slip ups. I did really well up until the wedding, but as soon as I allowed myself that pass, it was so easy to say "just a small white wine spritzer" when I was having dinner with a friend, or after wedding dress shopping with my mom.
The truth is, my life is full of celebrating these days, and celebrating often means alcohol. 
Though, for all that I didn't slip that much. There were nights out with friends where I stuck to soda water, absolutely no drinking at home, and even Kris cut back in solidarity for most of the month.
Would I do it again?
No.
Scaling back entirely is a wonderful thing if you can do it, but it's not for me. 
My first few weeks of no drinking were AMAZING. My skin was glowing, I lost weight, I was sleeping better and felt better... but after the first 10 - 14 days, the benefits kind of plateaued. I cleansed again after the wedding (I don't even want to know how much champagne I drank) but I bounced back fairly quickly and then... nothing.
If you caught my post from the weekend you may remember that I've been really stressed. I've been going back and forth on whether not drinking during this time has been a good thing or a bad thing. A relaxer was very much needed, but staying focused when I'm that busy was SO important that I think alcohol would have hindered more than helped.
I'm also wondering if the stress is impacting my health so that I am not noticing the effects of not drinking.
So what are my next steps?
I'm going to keep up my existing "No Drinking on School Nights" rule; it serves me well and keeps me productive at work (and calories out)
I'm also going to take more steps to drinking LESS when out with friends. It's such a habit to be holding a drink and sipping along during a party or when out at a bar... but if you switch to water you don't feel awkward or out of place... just less drunk, and more in control.
Finally: if I'm just hanging out at home, no drinking. Unless Kris and I are having a date night and feel like having some wine or beer together, I don't think either of us really need it. 

As for alleviating stress? I think it's time to explore new methods that aren't substance related for that... but more on that on February first for my next monthly challenge!
If you're considering a month off drinking, I encourage you to give it a try, even if only for a few weeks. 
It's a tough change at first but you really will feel a lot better at first. It can also help you overcome some social anxieties about NOT drinking around friends so you can reevaluate your habits. Even if you decide like me not to make it a regular thing, it can be good to get back in touch with yourself and reestablish a baseline.
You might find that you're just as charming and wonderful without the booze as you are with it!
Have you ever taken a month off drinking? How did you find it? Do you have any tricks for not drinking overly much when  you go out? Share them in the comments!
xxox, Laura

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Life Around Here Lately

HEY!
Hey Reader! Hi! It's been so quiet around here lately... I'm sorry about that.... I promise that I haven't gone and done anything crazy like fallen down a well, or quit blogging forever.
The truth is, life got INSANELY busy. I mean, just totally and completely mental... Here's a rundown:
  1. I got engaged just before the Holidays... and therefore am now wedding planning
  2. Christmas (need I say more?)
  3. Took a trip between Christmas and New Years to escape the Canadian Cold
  4. I came back and less than 2 weeks later my brother got married
  5. Did I mention the wedding planning?
  6. I got given a bunch more responsibility at work (while also taking care of my old responsibilities)
If you saw my Instagram stories this weekend, you may have clued in that I'm a little stressed.
I'm working very long days, nights, early mornings and also weekends, and trying to fit in wedding planning in between. Roll in my other responsibilities, trying (trying) to keep my house clean, and just generally keeping myself fed and I am completely tapped out. 
On top of that, early January is a very busy time of year for Kris work wise, so it's hard for him to pick up my slack.
I've had one of those months where I feel like I'm always scrambling towards the next thing. I notice it most when I'm talking to other people and I'm not focused, loud, and kind of aggressive.
But the name of the blog is Successes AND Messes... not "Look how successful everything is in my life" (that would be boring). So I am here to tell you that right now my life is MESSY, and I'm forging my way through it as best as I can.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all of this chaos the blog took a hit. I wasn't able to keep up with a good posting schedule or really spend much time on it at all. 
The good news? I have some changes coming up professionally that should help, and on top of that we've selected our venue and date (a BIG load off my mind) so wedding planning is less of an urgent issue now. 
Hopefully this means getting back into more regular blogging, getting to the gym, and eating less pizza. Oh and sleep.
So this sorta-but-not-really post is just to let you know that I'm not in a coma, I'm just WAY too overly programmed. On the bright side this means a new challenge on finding an outlet for letting out stress, calming my mind and re energizing. 
I smell a potential blog post series!
Misery loves company so tell me stories of busy lives, and ways to get through the insanity! The funnier the better (because after all, laughter is the best medicine)
xxox, Laura

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