Saturday 12 April 2014

Buffalo Girls Weekend

A while back Mom and I heard of this old insane asylum located about 50 minutes outside of Buffalo, NY. It is called ‘Rolling Hills Asylum’ and was bought by a woman who turned it into a tourist destination. It apparently has a lot of supernatural occurrences, and you can do a number of tours, from a few hours in the afternoon to an entire night. This sounded awesome to us (we like strange things like this!), so Mom and I planned a Buffalo trip and bought tickets. We decided to drive in on the Thursday, stop in Amherst at a few stores, spend a few hours at Walden Galleria and then drive out and do the 7pm-11pm tour. Then on Friday, stop in a few local shops and areas, and spend the night at the Embassy Suites in downtown Buffalo.

We mentioned our upcoming plan to Nanny, who decided that it sounded like fun and she would be interested in coming. So we booked her another room and ticket. Once Nanny was all confirmed, we decided to also invite Aunt Honey – who was all for it! Our trip was now officially a “Girls Weekend”.

We left early on Thursday, and made it across the border by 10:30am. Out first stop was the outlet mall in Niagara Falls, NY where Aunt Honey and I spent the next two hours drooling over the purses at Coach, Kate Spade and Michael Kors (I bought one at Kate Spade, and she bought one at Coach. Nanny got one at Nine West – deciding that designer bags were overpriced!)

My bag!
Our next stop was to the White Linen tea house. Mom and I had found this place a few years ago after hearing an ad on 102.5 (our favorite radio station that is from Buffalo) and fell in love. It’s this amazing little tea house located in Shawnee, NY that has incredible food. We always have the afternoon tea, which consists of fresh baked scones, tea sandwich’s and baked pastries. Everything is made of fresh ingredients and is of a very high quality. I have tried afternoon tea at a number of places, and nothing compares to White Linen – not even tea at the Royal York. If I lived closer I would be sending everyone I know to this place, and visiting frequently. We had taken Aunt Honey here before, but it was Nanny’s first time. We all had a wonderful and delicious lunch!

If anyone is in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area I completely recommend trying this place out -

Mom and I have our Buffalo routine down to a science, so our next stop was over to Amherst. We spent a bit of time at a few clothing stores like Dress Barn and Lane Bryant, and then over to Premier Liquor and Gourmet. It was starting to get late and we wanted to get to the hotel near the Asylum before our tour, so we started to head out. 

Everything was going well, but suddenly mom missed an exit – one we have taken dozens of times. It was no big deal, since the GPS quickly rerouted us so we headed off the highway, and back around. All the sudden I heard a strange ticking sound and asked mom about it. She had had her car serviced just a few days before, so I was confused at what this possible sound could be. Mom had thought the ticking was Nanny or Honey, so she hadn’t been concerned until I mentioned it. Then all the gages went off – the radio, the lights, anything that was lit was now dark. At this point mom knew she needed to pull off, so she turned into an apartment complex. She turned off the car, and when she went to turn it back on there was nothing.

Nanny started to get upset at this point – but mom and I sprang into action. I called CAA who transferred me to AAA and we arranged for a tow to the nearest Ford dealership. We all waited together for about an hour, but it soon became clear that we weren’t making it to the Asylum that night. Directly across the street there were four hotels, one of which was a Hilton brand (what we were staying at) – seriously, it was an awesome place for us to break down! Mom called the Doubletree that we were facing and explained our predicament and they took care of everything. They called or other hotel and had the reservations transferred over, then they came and picked up Mom, Nanny and Aunt Honey along with all our luggage using their shuttle.  I stayed in the car in case the tow truck arrived, which it didn’t. Mom came back about 30 minutes later and we called AAA again. This time we were told it could be another 3 hours! So we called the hotel back and they got us another towing company who was there within 10 minutes. Fortunately, Mom’s CAA membership allowed her to submit the bill. As the tow truck driver was taking us to the Ford dealership, he explained that AAA used to use local towing companies in the area, but recently switched to only using their own. Since then wait times have skyrocketed, and people have been using other companies.

"Car's being towed, but first - lemme take a selfie!"
We dropped the car off at the shop, and then grabbed a taxi to take us to a car rental place which was inside the Buffalo airport. At this point it was almost 8:00pm, and it was dark and raining. The stress was starting to get to mom, and she was ready to just cab it back to the hotel and rely on cabs for the rest of the trip. I managed to talk her down, and soon we were in a beautiful, red Toyota Rav 4 heading back to the Doubletree.

By the time we arrived Nanny was much calmer, and her and Aunt Honey were in the restaurant having a glass of wine. I was applauded as being the hero who handled the situation amazingly. We shared some pizzas and appetizers and had a really fun evening. It wasn’t the way we planned to spend it, or the place we planned on being, but it was still a great night.

The next morning we packed up after breakfast and headed back to the gourmet store. Aunt Honey hasn’t had a chance to see it the day before and was curious. I think the two of us spent over an hour there looking at all the different products and buying a few of the non-perishables. We both wished we could get some of the meats and cheeses, because the deli had an incredible selection with plenty of varieties you never see in Canada.    

Having fun in the morning 

Yup, got my Nanny on the luggage cart!

Nanny came down to breakfast with this….

Our rental car to the rescue 

Nanny like this better then sassy.
We traveled on to the Galleria Mall, where we spent a few hours and split up. I bought a bunch of dresses, a few shirts and a pair of shoes. Mom as always bought tops, and Nanny got a pair of shoes. Aunt Honey bought a wallet that matched the purse she had bought the day before. I was disappointed my favorite cooking store had gone under as I planned on getting some more of this awesome sauce I use on everything. I’ll have to track down another location and hope they sell it, as I can’t be without this stuff! It makes chicken and seafood taste amazing.

The dealership called while we were at the mall, so we went over to pick it up. It was the alternator and they were able to fix it easily. Aunt Honey drove Sassy (my mom’s name for her car) and Mom followed in the rental car. We dropped off the rental, and Nanny was a bit disappointed. For the rest of the trip and even now, she continues to tell my mom she needs a new car – one more like the beautiful Rav 4.

I found us a back-road route to our next hotel, which was a bit of a mistake. Mom wanted to avoid highways since it was getting close to 5:00pm and Nanny was seeming a bit frazzled being back in Mom’s car. The route I found went straight from Cheektowaga to downtown Buffalo, but it crossed some pretty rough areas. I think that freaked everyone out even more then the highways would have. We made it through fine, and to be honest I wasn’t that bothered. Brian and I have driven through MUCH worse in Baltimore, and it was still daylight. But that route has been marked down as a “don’t ever take again”. Our rooms at the embassy suites were amazing as always, and we had a great dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant.

The next morning we crossed the border right after breakfast, and then traveled the Niagara wine route, all through Niagara Parkway and past all the gorgeous homes. When I win my lottery, that’s where I am going to live!

We stopped for a snack at the Pie Plate, this awesome little spot Brian and I discovered in Virgil. They make the best pies and tarts, and have some incredible lunch specials. We also stopped at the Twenty Bees winery, where Aunt Honey and I bought sparkling wine and ice wine. They were having an artisans market next door, so we spent a few minutes wandering through there.

We shopped!

I started to have some shoppers remorse that I didn’t find my iPad case at Kate Spade, so I convinced mom to stop at the Halton Hills outlet mall on our drive back. The place was insane since it was a Saturday – no parking, and lines for most of the stores. Mom was awesome and dropped me off, so I was able to run in. I had to wait in line for 10 minutes just to get in the store, and of course they didn’t have it either. I felt bad for making them stop and the matching wallet to my purse caught my eye, so I didn’t leave empty handed!

Our last two stops were for dinner at the Pickle Barrel, and then a tour of the dance studio where my mom works. Finally we arrived home! Pappy came to get Nanny, and Uncle Beau and the kids came to get Honey, so we had an impromptu family hangout for about an hour in the living room.

It was a crazy trip, with some ups and downs, but overall it all worked out fine and we had a fantastic time. Mom and I plan on rescheduling our visit to the asylum for the fall, but Nanny and Aunt Honey aren’t so sure they are going to come. They both feel this all happened for a reason, and something or someone was keeping us away. They don’t want to tempt fate and go back. Who knows, maybe we were kept away for a reason that dark and rainy night, but I am open to trying again!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Steeped Tea

About a year ago my Aunt Honey got involved with a company called “Steeped Tea”. The best way to describe it is direct person-person sales like Avon, Silpada, Epicure etc. I had actually heard of the company months before this, while watching Dragons Den with my dad. Dragons Den is the Canadian version of Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitch their idea/business to a bunch of investors in the hopes of securing funding. When I watched the episode I remember thinking it was the silliest idea, and was surprised when two of the Dragons went in on it.
My thinking (as an avid tea drinker) had been that there were more then enough places out there to buy tea – shops like Teopia, Teavana, and David’s Tea that specialized in unique, high quality tea, in addition to all the grocery store brands you can buy anywhere. In all honestly, I thought this company would be a bust.

So when Aunt Honey mentioned her interest I was skeptical. She smartly decided to host a party herself in order to try the products and see the sales pitch. She invited mom, Nanny and I to come, in addition to her friends and neighbors. I went into that party still skeptical, and not planning on buying anything! While my favorite tea seller Teaopia had been bought out by Teavana (a company whose teas I didn’t much like), I had doubts that this company would have anywhere near the quality/taste I was used to.

I was so wrong!

Every tea we sampled was amazing. Even their Blueberry tea I loved, and I hate both blueberries and fruit tea! I walked away from that party having bought a number of teas, and signing up for the tea-of-the-month club.

When Aunt Honey became an official consultant, I was an immediate customer. Every time I was at her house I was sampling new types of tea, and pouring over the catalogue deciding what else to buy. At current time, I have an entire basket filled to the brim with various flavors.  

Of all the teas I have bought or received from the club, there have only been two I haven’t liked. I drink Steeped Tea daily, and have gotten other people hooked on them. I find myself loving a bunch of fruit flavoured rooibos teas like Clementine Biscotti, Cherry Pie and Georgia Peach – and again, I was the tea drinker that hated anything fruit flavoured  Honestly there is a different type of tea for whatever my mood is! Steeped Tea has completely converted me to their products! I no longer order any tea from Timmy’s or Starbucks, and have given up on my previous favourite brand - Tea Forte. 

Back in October we hosted a party for Honey, where she was able to showcase the teas. Me being the planner I am, I went a bit overboard and turned it into a tea party event. But it was tons of fun! We made Mar-tea-ni’s with one of the products, a heated cider with another, as well as sampled a bunch of the other teas. I also got Uncle Beau to create this really awesome cutout of a tea pot that we had people pose in front of.

For sandwiches we served cucumber-dill-cream cheese, egg salad, salmon, roast beef, turkey, prosciutto and cream cheese pinwheels and banana peanut butter pinwheels. We also served shrimps in martini glasses, mozzarella and tomato skewers, various cheeses and fruits as well as deviled eggs. For deserts I made my famous Baileys cupcakes, as well as a bunch of products from the Steeped Tea line – after eight brownies, oatmeal chai cookies, and caramel walnut scones. (Their baked goods are just as awesome at their teas! And they also have a bath line – and the almond honey soap is the absolute best soap I have ever used!)

We played a bunch of games:
-       Identify the tea game where they had to smell various bags filled with loose tea Steeped Tea items and match them
-       Don’t say tea game where each guest was given Mardi Gras beads that they would lose if they said the word “Tea”
-       Tea-words where guests had to come up with a list of words that had the word “tea”  in it – i.e – chateau, brainteaser, etc.

We gave all the guests party favors of cookies from Monsieur FĂ©lix & Mr. Norton (an amazing cookie shop in Markham). It was a wonderful night, and a super fun way to spend an afternoon with some friends and family.

I completely recommend Steeped Tea to anyone and everyone. There are even hot chocolates mixes for non-tea drinkers!

For more information on Steeped Tea - click here!