Flower Path

The Flower Path, where signs indicate fascinating information about plants including medical use as well as mythological significance, is definitely something to try if you are in the Toggenburger region of Switzerland. 

The Chäserrugg, the highest of the seven Churfirsten, can be reached by a historic red funicular and then a cable car. 

Once at the summit, we were rewarded by spectacular views reaching six countries (Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, Italy and France) and over five hundred mountain peaks on this clear day! The almost perpendicular drop of 1800 meters to the shores of the Walensee is breathtaking. 

The lush, green pastures filled with wildflowers, dramatic cliffs as well as the spectacular view kept us motivated on the trail. There was plenty of exciting climbing as well as building stone towers for the kids on the way! While we weren't as lucky this year, it is common to spot Alipne ibex escalating the rocky mountain! The highlight of the children (remember, they live in Dubai) was finding a patch of snow in the month of July and starting a snowball fight! 

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For those who appreciate architecture, the stunning restaurant at the summit, designed by Herzog & de Meuron is definitely not your typical mountain hut! 

The hike down needed a little endurance, but if you fancy something a little more thrilliing, watch the video below and see how Jeb Corliss gets down the mountain! 

A Dubai Cooking Class Experience for the Whole Family

Experience Gifts instead of Material Gifts

Are you looking for that certain special gift for your loved one's next birthday, anniversary, special occasion? Why not steer away from material gifts and opt for an experience instead? Whether it's an experience that the whole family can participate in or one that is designed just for the recipient to enjoy, an experiential gift will be a sure hit with lasting memories.

Keeping with my husband and my tradition of giving experiences instead of material gifts, this year for my birthday the men in my life selected a family adventure in cooking at Dubai's Top Chef. We have been to many cooking classes as a family over the years and they have all been a hit. Top Chef was no exception.

As always, the planning was all classified as "Top Secret." It is carefully thought out via a Whats App group consisting of Rob and the boys, titled "Mom's big 44 bday" (or whatever the occasion may be.) So as we got in the car to head out, the destination was still a mystery to me. The boys were super excited.   As we turned onto Jumeirah Rd, I saw the Top Chef sign and the pieces quickly came together.

Dubai cooking class experience at Top Chef

The Main Course

 Our Top Chef, Anthony, was waiting for us at the entrance and quickly led us to the kitchen so we could jump right in. After a quick wash of our hands, we were ready for the cooking to begin. Our first course was a barley risotto with seared salmon and parmesan foam.

The kids were totally keen to take charge of everything they were preparing. There was nothing off limits and they were instructed about food and health safety along the way. Chef Anthony was super patient with all of us and didn't dumb anything down to make it easier for the kids. We (me) had lots of questions for him about food sourcing in Dubai.  These included where to source the best ingredients in Dubai, his  favourite restaurants, and best chef schools. He also told us about famous chefs that come to Dubai to give courses, who has the most Michelin stars, how Michelin stars are awarded, and why French food tastes so good. As typical as in any kitchen, we did a lot of chatting while we cooked. It all added up to an engaging experience of tastes, smells, education, and conversation.

Dessert

Our dessert was a fabulous recipe -  chocolate tart with raspberry coulis . Yum! My little guy happily did most of the preparing of this part of the meal.

The Mocktail

The final component of the meal was our beverage. As our middle son is a lover of all the fabulous Dubai mocktails and smoothies out there, we let him finish things off with a watermelon, raspberry and mint smoothie. I didn't actually get to taste this as the boys begged me for my portion but I can only assume it was delicious.

After all the preparation was complete, we plated our food and sat down to a lovely meal together. It was delicious right down to the last morsel. We all thought it was one of the best meals we had had in Dubai.  To top it off we had a fun night going through all the highlights of the year that had just passed by. It was a perfect evening that I know set the tone for my 44th year ahead. I hope there are many more cooking experiences in the years to come! 

Enjoying our Results!

If you are interested in trying any of the above recipes we made at Top Chef, they are listed below. All recipes listed in this post belong to Top Chef.

Risotto, Chocolate Tart and Smoothie Recipes

WATERMELON, RASPBERRY AND MINT SMOOTHIE For 5 persons

 Ingredients:

250 gr watermelon

100 gr raspberries

20 gr mint

60 gr sugar

220 gr water

100 gr ice cubes

Preparation: 1. Cut the watermelon. 2. Blend the watermelon with the raspberry, mint leaf the ice, water, and sugar. 3. Blend until getting a smooth texture. Serve cold.

BARLEY RISOTTO WITH SEARED SALMON & PARMESAN FOAM 5 pax

Ingredients:

5 pcs salmon (140gr each)

300 gr barley

800 gr Chicken stock

2 pcs shallots, sliced

60 gr butter

150 gr Parmesan, grated

550 gr milk

40 gr butter

Preparation: 1. In a pan, warm the milk and add 100gr of grated Parmesan. 2. Blend and rectify the seasoning, transfer to a high container, and check the emulsion. 3. In a pan, sauté the sliced shallots, add 30 g butter and the barley. 4. Mix for a few seconds and add the strained chicken stock. 5. Boil until the barley absorbs all the stock, check if it’s cooked. If not add some extra stock. 6. Add the butter to the barley risotto and mix well then add the Parmesan cheese. Check the seasoning. Keep warm. 7. On a grill, sear the salmon to get the grill mark. Season and place the salmon in the oven at 50 C for 15 minutes.

Plating: 1. In a soup plate, place the barley risotto in centre. 2. Add on top the salmon. 3. Finish with the emulsion around and some edible flower or cress.

CHOCOLATE TART 5 pax

Ingredients:

Pate Sablee 

125 gr butter

50 gr sugar

55 gr almond powder

1 pc egg

180 gr flour

Chocolate mixture

50 gr milk

150 gr cream

2 pcs egg yolks

35 gr sugar

110 gr milk chocolate

Preparation: Dough: 1. In a mixing bowl, put the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. 2. Add the flour, almond powder, and cocoa powder. 3. Mix until smooth. Keep in the chiller for 30 minutes. 4. Spread the chocolate dough and fold the tart ring. Stick the tart shell with cupcake paper. 5. Cover the base of the tart with rice and bake in the oven at 160 degrees C for 15-20 minutes. Remove the rice. 6. Cool down and reserve.

Chocolate cremeux 1. In a pan, boil the milk and cream. Pour over the chocolate and mix well. 2. Mix the yolk with sugar. Add the chocolate mixture and mix well. 3. Pour the mixture in each tart and bake again at 140C for 6-8 minutes. Cool down.


A Movie Suggestion for Moms. Watch Mum's List (and have your tissues ready.)

The real Kate Greene of Mum's List

The real Kate Greene of Mum's List

When traveling on a plane, what is the first thing you look for when boarding? For myself, and my three children, the first thing we do, before even finding our seats, is to check the seat backs to see if there is an entertainment system. If there is, we all breath a giant sigh of relief. Then, immediately after finding our seats, we frantically scroll through the movie/tv list to see what is being offered, mentally preparing our movie viewing list for the flight.  Life is good, or at least as good as being cramped on a plane can be (especially on an Emirates plane because their entertainment system usually feels like an onboard, mini-iTunes.) 

This past week while flying, I went through the same scenario as above. I scrolled through the movie list and found one I had not heard of - Mum's List.  The description explained it as a true story of a mom who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. At this point, some of you might be saying "no, don't do it. Don't hit that play button." But I am usually a tiny bit steel-hearted when it comes to watching tear-jerker movies so I thought "sure, no big deal, I'll give this a try." I don't know if it was the fact that it was the end of the school year and I was exhausted or the fact that I was feeling extremely grateful to be with my three children and my fabulous (most of the time) husband heading out on a family trip of a lifetime, but.. wow.  The mantra, we hear over and over again, but never really seem to pay attention to, about being grateful for every moment, will hit you like a ton of bricks. I had tears rolling down my cheeks from the opening scene. Did I mention it was a True Story! Mum's List is my summer movie suggestion for moms (or anyone for that matter.) It will make you think about family, women fighting the battle with cancer, young love, old love, family love, tenderness, kindness, friendship, and grief that comes with all of this. Check out Mum's List. Just make sure to have the tissues handy.


Something to do on a Hot Summer Dubai Day. Etihad Museum is Worth a Visit

Are you looking for something to do to during these scorching summer Dubai days? Instead of wilting in the heat or being lazy at home, we decided to give Etihad Museum a visit. When I say "we," I really mean "me." My children would have been happy staying perched on the couch texting and watching YouTube clips but a parent can only stand to watch that happening for so long. So after a few eye rolls, we were in the car and headed to Jumeirah for some cultural enrichment.

The museum is set up to give the public a better understanding of the history of the formation of the UAE, particularly between the years of 1968 and 1974. Its location in Jumeirah is noteworthy as it is the same site as the original Union House, the place where the first constitution was signed in 1971, establishing the UAE's independence. At that moment, the UAE became the first federation of the Arab world.

The sleek modern design of the building, with its symbolic curved white roof, was intended to represent the folded constitution. It is held up by seven columns which represent the seven pens used by the founding rulers to sign the original agreement. I have only seen the exterior by day, which was very pretty, but, like most buildings in Dubai, it comes to life at night. (Another mission during these hot summer days is to go back at night and take a sparkly photo.)

For me, the interior of the museum was more impressive than the exterior. Big open spaces, sweeping staircases, soft lines, and beautiful lighting make the museum stand up to the standard we have come to expect with most buildings in the city. It really was impressive walking in, and we hadn't even gotten to a single exhibit yet.

The museum's main focus is honouring the country's founding rulers and the formation of the UAE as we know it today. There are also exhibits explaining the beginning of the postal service in the UAE, a photography exhibit, a passport exhibit, etc.... What really interested my kids was the short movie on the founding rulers (shown in a beautiful small theatre) and the modern interactive displays. If there is a screen, swiping, dragging, or pointing involved, then you will have their attention. Etihad museum checked those boxes for them.

Don't expect this to be a full day outing. You can easily get through it in less than two hours (which was perfect for us.) The price is quite low at 25AED per adult and 10AED for each child (tip- you need to pay in cash.) If you happen to get hungry, there is a very nice restaurant on the top floor surrounded by natural light. Of course, underground parking is free and plentiful from what I saw. The surrounding grounds seem like they will be a place to relax in the cooler months but with the current weather situation, enjoying the outside is not what we were interested in. All in all, Etihad museum is worth a visit, especially on a hot summer Dubai day!


Unplugged!

On Saturday night, my husband and I brought our two boys to the airport. A suitcase each in hand, off they went on their adventure: ten days with their grandparents and a full week at a local camp in Switzerland. Fresh mountain air, stunning scenery, outdoor play, hikes, fishing, fresh berries, cherries and lots of chocolate awaits them! 

One thing they didn't pack is their phone nor iPad. When mentioning this to friends I get a puzzled look - "you are punishing them on holiday?" Quite the contrary - I am giving them a break - a well deserved break from all the information and from being constantly connected!

I strongly feel that they need some time to themselves. Time to let the noise, stimulus and information subside. 

The aim is for them to simply be - truly engage in face-to-face conversations, make personal connections with old and new friends and family. Think about it - how do you unwind? Reading a book? Taking an early morning yoga class? Going for a walk? Enjoying a nice meal with a friend? Flicking through Facebook or Instagram? Watching TV? The virtual world is always there, tempting you to learn more, see more, know more. I know how difficult it is to unplug and that's the reason I hope my kids take advantage to connect with the real world and allow their minds to wonder using their imagination - just for a couple of weeks, at least! 


Family movie night dinner option (hint-it's not pizza!)

Family movie night dinner option

What do you feel like at weeks end? Exhausted? Depleted? Do you arrive home late, with everyone in tow, describing in detail how hungry they are as they push through the front door? Good times, right? Well, I have the perfect Thursday/Friday night solution for you. In our house it's called Tapas Night (it's not really tapas, but because we eat from small plates and a shared tray of food, my kids think of it as tapas.) It's dinner in front of the tv that the whole family can enjoy.

While the boys are discussing which bad teenage movie we are all going to have to suffer through, I quickly put our meal together (or more often than not, it is already prepared and waiting in the fridge to make its way to the coffee table.). It is all based around two Ikea turning platters. Typically one platter is home to fruits, nuts, and cheeses, while the other platter houses the dried meats, sausage, vegetables, olives, and pickles. There are no rules here, just odds and ends from the fridge that need to be finished up. The point is, it is all very simple, easy to eat, finger foods.

Guess what the kids go for first? You got it, all the fruit. They are like savages going in for the kill on the berries! There are no rules to the sequence of eating off the trays, you want fruit first, then eat fruit first. The veggies will be waiting.

Grazing is the best way to eat in front of the tv. Most of the time people don't even realize they are eating while zoned into the screen. That's a good thing here, because bit by bit, all the food gets eaten up. Even the veggies!

Friday night dinner in front of the tv ideas

And just as the movie is coming to an end, the last bites are taken. You can go to bed knowing that everyone had a super healthy dinner that required very little effort.

A real perk of this meal is the easy clean-up. For us, there are just 5 small plates and 5 glasses to go in the dishwasher. A quick wash of the trays et voila, dinner is cleaned up! The perfect ending to a hectic week!

Friday night dinner in front of the tv ideas

Don't Forget to Pack this Photo App!

What’s a holiday without some good photos? With summer around the corner; it’s a good time to download a good app that will make these cherished moments look even better.

To be honest; we are spoiled for choices. But after numerous downloads; I have to say my favorite would be, queue drumrolls:  Snapseed from Google app.

snapseed photo editing

Not to say that other free apps like Instagram, VSCO or TouchRetouch aren’t great photo editing apps but I guess it just comes down to that personal level of control and user interface that you are most comfortable with.

Aside from having an impressive range of editing options and filters, which I will leave for you to discover; Snapseed stands out for me for these reasons:

1.  The tools are multi-dimensional; every tool has settings that give you control over the level of enhancement you want to apply.

You can use any tool, let’s say the color and light tuning, in a straightforward manner but then you can also adjust the sharpness, brightness or contrast in a specific area of the photo with different intensities. If you want to blur your photo; it will give you control over the blur intensity, center, transition…etc.

This is done through gesture based editing. For some tools like the brightness and contrast; you will swipe horizontally to increase/ decrease intensity; with other like blurring you will need to pinch in and out. This might be annoying for some at first but then becomes real fun. This photo app shows changes in real time and so you get to play around until the photo looks just right.

 If you’re not fussed or tight on time; you can always use quick edits. Use the magic wand that will automatically adjust all the brightness, contrast, saturation ..etc for your photo.

Now think of this when using filters, most photo editing apps like instagram offer great filters but may give your pics that over-stylized look. With Snapseed filters, you control the attributes like the filter strength, saturation , grain , noise..etc depending on the filter type.

I found that this high level of control over your photo editing tools and filter gives you endless possibilities.

2.      User Interface

Within the app, you can select an image already on your phone. At the bottom of the screen, insights will call up a number of tutorials you can watch.

Once the photo is open; the pencil sign bottom-right corner calls up the great Snapseed grid of editing tools and filters. When you pick a tool or filter, there's a control panel at the bottom of the screen where you can adjust the tools and save or discard your edits.

So far so good.  However, unique to Snapseed is the edits feature at the top which allow you to undo, redo, revert the file or apply last edits.

This will actually show you the steps you’ve done once you save the photo, pretty cool.

 If you’re a Photoshop or Adobe family user, you will feel very familiar with these. 

In addition, Snapseed has double exposure and face enhancements tools. With the face enhancement, you can not only play around with the skin smoothness and such but also change smile, pupil size or tilt the head in a different directions. Try it!

In conclusion, I think Snapseed is a great app for all but is best suited for those who like to control the level of polish to their photos. It might come off as overwhelming at first, but I think the time you put in will be worth it

Snapseed is for  (iOS|Android) and is completely free.


Croatia road trip. Plitvice Lakes National Park, a Labyrinth of Waterfalls

Our last stop on our Croatian journey was to Plitvice Lakes National Park. For this last leg of the journey, we left Dubrovnik and headed straight back up the Dalmatian coast until Zadar at which point we heading inland to the Park. The whole journey took the bulk of the day to complete. As the organizer of this trip, I'm pretty sure our team members were questioning whether our one day at the park was going to be worth all the time in the car. I can confidently say, "it was!"

When booking accommodations online, for a group, on somewhat of a budget, you never know what you are really going to get. For Plitvice Lakes, we were more than happy with our selection of apartment/hotel. It was located in the greenest of settings, a short drive from the entrance to the park. With one step out of the car, the kids were instantly transformed from cranksters to happy, rambunctious kids, noisily running around kicking a deflated soccer ball. I only recommend places we have stayed if they really checked all the boxes for our family- ease of check in, decent sleeping arrangement (for a family of 5 this is not easy), good price, nice people, great setting, and good food. This totally checked all the boxes. So here you go, if heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park, I recommend you drop House Tina a line.

After the kids burned off a day of built up energy it was time to eat. There wasn't much in the close vicinity in ways of restaurants so we opted to have a BBQ dinner prepared by our hosts at House Tina. What a smart decision that was! It was so good that we did it again the next night. The owner's son prepared a huge BBQ dinner with yummy salads all presented al fresco. To top it all off we had a sweeping view of the lush countryside. The kids ate, ran around, and then returned to eat some more, while the parents and grandparents relaxed with good wine, good food, and a great view. A perfect summer night family dinner.

We were warned that tour bus upon tour bus shows up to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park so the early you can arrive the better. Dreading the thought of hoards of people, we made sure we were first in line at the entrance the next morning. Being from Canada, Niagra Falls is what comes to mind when you speak about waterfalls. This needed to be erased from our minds as the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes were nothing like this. Instead of one massive forceful waterfall, you will find dozens upon dozens of beautiful flowing falls. some big, some small, some with force, and some just trickling. Lush green trees gave shelter from the sun and helped keep the air cool. At times the path was shown by carefully groomed boardwalks while at other times the path was just mother nature's dirt floor. There were trees to climb, water to cross, fish to watch and waterfall after waterfall to gaze at. It was spectacular.

At one point along the trail, you will reach the lake. Here you can take a few minutes to relax while you are chauffeured across in an open ferry. The water is so clear throughout the park that it almost didn't seem real. While in the ferry, really take a moment to take in just how clean this water is. Incredible.

The bulk of our day was taken up walking the park and at the end, we still wished we could do more. I'm happy to report that we did beat the crowds for the most part- victory! Be warned, we heard over and over again that waiting until later in the morning to arrive is a disaster. you are pretty much guaranteed to be walking shoulder to shoulder with your fellow tourist (at least in the summer months.) So make the most of it and arrive as soon as it opens (even 10 minutes before :-) And bring plenty of water and snacks as there is no opportunity to buy them on the trails.

We wrapped our day up at the park around 3pm and decided to try and squeeze one more activity in before heading back to our apartment for the evening. The night before we had stopped at the tourist info and they had recommended that Barac Caves could be worth a stop. So we piled into our cars and headed to the caves. The guided tour of the caves took about an hour from start to finish so you don't have to commit too much time here. The cave formations were really interesting and it felt so nice to be out of the heat of the day. Be warned though, once again there are places in the caves where people with a fear of heights might not have much fun. The highlight came as we were exiting the cave and looked up to see a few upside down bats. What kid wouldn't get a thrill from that? All in all, the caves were a good pitstop but definitely not something you will be devastated by if you don't have time for a visit.

The next morning we were up early and headed back to Venice to catch our flights for each of our home destinations. The Croatia we saw was beyond our expectations. If you asked me if it should be on your European dream list I would answer without hesitation "ABSOLUTELY." When I asked the kids what they thought of the trip, they responded with a loud "we loved it!" So there you have it, a trip for everyone. Next time we return we will be heading to the famous Croatian Islands. Until then, I continue to dream of adventures.

Our route through Croatia.


Croatia Road trip. A Day trip from dubrovnik to beautiful Croatian Vineyards

After exploring Dubrovnik at length we decided we would take a day trip and check out a few vineyards we had been hearing so much about. Traveling with a family of wine drinkers, this was a welcomed suggestion. We hired a small coach to take the eleven of us to two vineyards and to visit the towns of Ston and Mali Ston.

First stop was the medieval town of Ston. Ston and Mali Ston are small towns that sit on the Peljesac peninsula about an hour and a half from Dubrovnik. The two towns are famous for their encompassing stone walls that were built to protect the cities. The walls are still very much intact and you are able to walk them. We, however, did not opt to stroll on top of the walls and just remained in the town centre. This might be part of the reason that Ston didn't leave a huge impression on me. It was nice, very nice, but after towns like Dubrovnik, Split, and Rovinj, this just wasn't quite the same. I think however that maybe a walk upon the walls might have increased my enthusiasm. However with 5 children in tow, we weighed the entrance price for the tickets, the high heat of the day, and the potential for child/parent meltdowns, and the team decision was to stay at ground level. Did we make a mistake?

Ston is also home to a large industry of salt production. It is said to be among the oldest salt producers in the Mediterranean. It is still harvested by the same method as nearly 4000 years ago. Seawater is left in pans to evaporate and then the remaining salt is shoveled into carts and brought to basins for production.

From Ston, we headed up to the vineyards. And when I say up, I mean up. If gaining altitude wasn't bad enough, we were doing it on the edge of a cliff that gave a crystal clear view of the Adriatic 100's of metres below. Before when I was discussing the driving in Dubrovnik and said it would get worse, this is exactly where things got worse. Sitting in the coach, you already feel very elevated but add to this the sheer drop off as you look down to the sea, combined with the absence of any guard rail protection what so ever, equals terrifying. The bus climbed up and up, on narrow often gravel roads,  switchback after switchback. The real kicker came when the driver, who knew we were all nervous, decided to take the "back way" home as it would get us down quicker. This was ten times worse than the original way! Even the coolest cucumber in our group was very uncomfortable. So you can imagine the family members who have severe height phobias were having mild heart attacks. No joke, the adults were very grumpy. The kids, however, had their devices and didn't look up once. I wish I could have been them. 

Croatia Road Trip. Crazy roads in Croatia.

Thankfully, the drive was not for nothing. The vineyards we visited were fabulous with super nice people giving the tours. We stopped at two different wineries, Matsuko and Vina Vukas. Both were great. A wine tasting tour doesn't sound like a child's preference for the day but we were pleasantly surprised how much the kids did enjoy themselves. At each tasting there were wine glasses set out for everyone, adults trying the wine and the kids could help themselves to a pitcher of apple juice. The wine was paired with nice selections of cheeses, biscuits, and sweets. At every stop in Croatia, we noticed how friendly and open the locals were to kids. The vineyards were no exception. While the adults sipped their wine the children were allowed to freely roam the cellars or go outside and play. There was no stress at all bringing young ones with us. As I am not a wine drinker, I can't personally comment on the degustation, but all the members of our group said the wine was superb.