Why I Got Married in Portugal {and why you should consider it too}

It’s literally sunny all the time.

I always knew I wanted an outdoor ceremony, but in Ottawa there is just no safe time of year that guarantees a perfect day. Sure, we have beautiful stretches of Canadian summer, but rain is always a possibility and stifling humidity isn’t much better … not to mention the mosquitoes!

Rather than take chances, I planned my wedding in one of the sunniest places on Earth: Estoril. Known as the Portuguese Riviera, the coastal area of Casscias and Estoril gets an average of only 10 days with rainfall in June, July, and August, as compared to 34 days in Ottawa. Even if it does rain in sunny Estoril, it will probably be a light refreshing sprinkle followed by a beautiful burst of sunshine. The average amount of rain that falls during that period is 27 mm as compared to a staggering 247 mm in Ottawa!

Portugal enjoys one of the most stable climates in the world with a moderate kind weather influenced by the sea. My wedding was at the end of August, but in Portugal, your chances for a warm bright day are high no matter what the time of year.
f4a3f-dsc_5393* Statistics according to WeatherWorldOnline.

Face it. Down-south all-inclusives have been done.

Sure they’re fun, easy, and have great weather, but do you really want to invite your guests to another resort wedding?  Chances are they have attended, or at least been invited to, a few already and may not be all that interested in taking the same type of vacation again. No matter where you go in the Caribbean, your wedding runs the risk of looking like every other resort wedding out there. … which is fine for some, but not for me.

While Portugal has all the ease and beauty of the Caribbean, it is an exotic unique choice that will intrigue and entice your guests.

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There are some seriously beautiful venues.

Our wedding was held in at the Villa São Paulo, a palace built in 1911 by a Mrs. Benedita Alves de Mello – A Portuguese millionairess who made her fortunes in the coffee plantations of Brazil. This little piece of history has been completely updated for a comfortable modern stay. TV, A/C, Wifi, what other acronyms could you need?

The Villa is positioned on a cliff directly facing the Atlantic Ocean, fifty private steps down to world-famous beaches. With 14 air-conditioned bedrooms, two fully equipped kitchens, a pool, and direct access to the beach, the Villa SP is a fantastic base for a Lisbon Coast vacation and an incredibly stunning location for a wedding.

VillaSaoPaulo3
from http://www.villa-sao-paulo.com

And I chose one of many many options. There are historic palaces, monasteries, luxury hotels, countryside mansions -many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful venues that are the stuff of fairy-tale princess bride dreams.

other venues
from http://www.lisbonweddingplanner.com

Everyone speaks your language.

Okay, maybe not every single person, but the vast majority of Lisboetas speak more than enough English to point out a metro station or direct you to a landmark. Portuguese people are notoriously warm and friendly and -I may have a slight bias here- are the nicest and most interesting people on the planet.

So not only do you have fascinating conversations with locals to look forward to, but also detailed discussions with wedding vendors regarding your decor ambitions, hair, makeup, floral preferences, et cetera.

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The food.

We’ve all had wedding food:. chicken/fish/beef, fingerling potatoes, with steamed seasonal vegetables. Yummy

Cocktail Hour
Beef Croquetes
Pastelinhas de Bacalhau (codfish fritters)
Rissoes de Camarao (shrimp dumplings)
Linguiça grelhada em tacinhas (grilled sausage)
Mozzarella skewers
Prosciuto wrapped pineapple

Dinner
Shrimp stuffed papaya with cream sauce
Seabass and clams in a bed of vegetables
Lemon sorbet
Roast lamb, vegetables, and potatoes
Chocolate and passion fruit mousse
Red Velvet wedding cake with raspberry filling

Not to mention all the champagne, wine, beer, and cocktails 35 people could possibly consume in one evening.  No one saw the bottom of a glass, ever.

And yes, I know that there are actually fantastic caterers in this wonderful Northern country that I live in who could absolutely compete with my menu, but they are certainly not the standard! You’d have to find them out, go for tastings, work with them on the menu, and pay them your first born child. In Portugal the standard for good food and fine entertaining is much higher. Everyone eats well all the time, so at weddings the fare is expected to be fabulous.

My menu was part of a package offered by The Villa São Paulo. It was Menu C and I didn’t taste a bite of it until we took our seats at our reception. But more importantly, I didn’t worry about it. Not once. Ever. I knew with absolute certainty that in Portugal, I would be feeding my guests far better than I could ever have hoped to back home.

menu

Easy to get there and around. 

We had a few first-time travelers on our guest-list who were nervous about making their first jump across the Atlantic to this mysterious little sliver of Europe. But the direct Air Canada fights out of Toronto and Montreal made it a breeze for everyone, and the Lisbon airport is a seriously well-laid out facility. English signage is everywhere at airport and tourist areas, so being lost is always temporary.

Our guests arrived to us at the Villa São Paulo in several ways. Seasoned travel veterans rented cars at the airport and hopped on the highway out to Estoril. The adventurous crowd used the metro and train station, finding it all extremely cheap and easy. And for the group of 12 that were flying out together, consisting of my 80 year old grandma and some virgin-travelers, I arranged a private van transfer that was perfectly prompt and professional.

We were also constantly taking cabs to and from the centers of  Casscias and Estoril. Both a beautiful sea-side walk away, but it was sometimes more pleasant to take a 7€ cab ride  after a day of shopping or evening of eating.

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Euro goes a little bit further.

You can spend as much or as little on a wedding as you want. Weather you hire a white elephant to whisk you away, or if you walk to a bar after a ceremony at City Hall, it will still be your  wedding and will be romantic and memorable. Me, I wanted everything short of a white elephant, and in Portugal I got what I wanted.

I’m not saying that it was cheap!

We still spent a tone of money on our wedding, like a tone. But we certainly got a lot more bang for our canuck bucks. As already mentioned, the quality and style of catering far surpasses the North American standard for about the same cost, and alcohol was far cheaper. Videography was also a great deal. The video that would have cost us thousands here at home was an add-on to our photography package for mere hundreds (I’ll post the video soon I promise!). Hair & makeup and flowers & decor were right on par with Canadian prices. And other vendors like the officiant, security, DJ and musicians came up to a bit under what I would expect to pay here.

A lot of this assembling of fantastic services had to do with my wedding planner Claudia. She has a circle of top-notch wedding professionals around her that she brings with her own expertise and attention to every wedding held at the Villa a São Paulo. I would not have had my dream wedding without her.

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It’s a built-in Honeymoon.

Trust me, you wont want to leave. After your dream wedding, you can head to the Algarve for much needed time doing nothing but relaxing on the beach. Need a little more adventure? Well the waves around Sintra are some of the best in the world for surfing. Scuba diving, sea kayaking, fishing, and dolphin watching are also all on offer all along the coast. Not into water sports? Head into the cities to explore centuries of history and culture. Take in a Fado show for some chillingly beautiful Portuguese language ballads, or bob your head as you watch folkloric dancers perform in traditional village garb.

If you do want to branch out and see more of the world, Portugal is an excellent jumping off point to a host of other destinations. We had an opportunity to travel with family through Morocco and our flight to Casablanca out of Lisbon only cost us about $200. Many of our guests also took advantage of being in Europe and tagged on France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of the Meditarian onto attending our destination wedding.

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Basement Reveal

We’ve cleaned out the cobwebs, removed the wallpaper (and put some up!), ripped out the carpet, and made multiple trips to Ikea. We’ve painted, cut, screwed, scraped, stretched, hammered, and stapled … and now it’s done. An entire floor of our house has been renovated and it looks awesome!

BA pole
We mostly stuck to The Plan, but a few things changed along the way. The wood paneling ended up getting painted grey instead of white in order to tone down the blue which looked much bluer than anticipated. I actually love how it turned out … a bit of a twist on the traditional colour pairing. As always, the paint is from Dulux; Clear Sailing and Frost Grey.

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The floor was a great deal from Lowes; a Special Buy 12 mm click-laminate by Mohawk Floors that cost us 99¢ /sq foot. I originally wanted a much lighter grey-wash, but the hubby talked me into this more natural looking one with just an hint of grey. Given what we ended up painting the walls, I’m very happy I listened to him. The floor went down fairly easily, thanks to help from my mom & dad, and was a hugely rewarding 1 day DIY project.

BA bar 2The bar  was a point of contention for a while. We first painted the paneling grey just like the walls and Liam thought it looked good enough. I felt that it was awkwardly blending into the background and wanted to add tiles or stone veneer. We compromised on a wallpaper option from Bouclair. The irony of first taking down wallpaper from the walls to just put some up on the bar was not lost on us, but I’m happy in the end. Sure, we aren’t fooling anyone with stone wall paper, but the image of piled slate brings all the colours of the room together and the darkness of the stained “classic black” wood creates a grounding focal point to the space.

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We actually already had the bar stools, shelves, and glasses for this area, all hand-me-downs (like everything else we own). But it all looks so much better in a space that has been dressed up to match it! Who knows, we might even hang out down here now.

BA stairsNot wanting to deal with installing laminate flooring on the stairs, we lucked out that this Ikea runner was EXACTLY the same width as our staircase. Leaving the foam and tack strips from the old carpet, we stapled in the runners, making sure the connections happened under the stair nosing. The result is wall-to-wall carpeting in an indoor/outdoor material that should wear really well and didn’t break the bank.BA cab

We did end up going with the Ikea Borgsjo system; two shelf units with doors and one TV bench. It makes more sense to have a media center in the basement rather than a set of wardrobes, and gives me enough storage for extra kitcheny stuff.

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The fireplace was a great Costco grab. Not only does it look down right cool with its colour changing LED back-lights and crystal flames, but it also puts out a decent amount of heat in a chilly basement.

w fire place
ooooo, ahhhh

I accessorized the room as planned; with pictures from our trip to Cape Cod, and small objects we brought back from there. My favourites are the old glass fishing-net floats on the window; they are so pretty when they catch the light. The drift wood is actually from the lake at our cottage … I’ll keep my eyes out this summer for a second piece for the other unit. accesoroes

With two sitting rooms upstairs, we have no need to furnish the basement any more than it is. At least now its a welcoming part of the house, ready for use when needed. Maybe for at-home yoga sessions, a game room for hubby’s poker nights, a play room when the nieces & nephews visit, or just straight-up overflow room during parties.

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Although all the work we did down here was “easy” (wall paper removal, painting, laying floor, etc.), scale-wise it was by far the largest project we have yet tackled. It was a tremendous amount of work sacrificing many evenings and weekends, but we have a huge sense of accomplishment now that and entire floor of our house is completely done …which is good, because we still haven’t finished with the kitchen!

Basement Makeover Plans

So there haven’t been many posts lately … okay none at all. But we’ve been busy! Busy fixing up our drab, dusty, cobwebby basement. It was always a project we wanted to get around to, but a leaky frozen pipe, a nasty water stain, and the fear of mold meant we had to get a move on. Here is the plan: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeriously who needs TWO wardrobes in a basement? How much clothes did the previous owners have? These are all warped and wobbly but I count on them as extra household storage. I’m sure there’s a better, more attractive option. Something like:

besta
Ikea BESTA

Ooo, or better yet:

borgsjo
Ikea BORGSJO

And although we don’t use the basement all that much -and are not planning on buying furniture for it- I do want it to be a finished part of the house. Something on the walls and a few decor items will go a long way. I’m going for a beachy feel with the basement. Not an original theme, but one that can really take a dark underground space and bring it out into the light and fresh air. I’m thinking some personal beach flotsam in shadow boxes, a casual poofy valence, and a mixture of natural materials in the form of baskets and carpet with something stone to ground it all.

decor items

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

In all honestly, we are well over half way done this project as a I write. Some of the above plans have changed, but mostly we are right on track and will be reporting the final result soon!

Christmas Pledge Check Up

So its December 1st and time to see how we did with our Christmas Pledge.

Shopping: 20% to go

There are a few DIY gifts I’m working on, and a couple hard-to shop-for names still on the list. I have back-up ideas for those people in case I don’t think of something absolutely perfect for them soon. These things need to percolate.

Wrapping: 20% to go

Everything I have is wrapped and out of the cats’ reach.

gifts

Holiday cooking prep: done

And the appetizers came in handy for a last minute Holiday Potluck we went to on Friday.

Christmas Cards: done

Ready for the post-office.

mail

Outside decorating: done

Although its all kind of sad without snow on the ground, but I’m not complaining.

Inside decorating: done

Just have the tree left but its more fun to make a night of it.

Christmas decor

Holiday Party Outfits: done

We bought a few pieces that should suffice, although I’ll keep my eye out for a new festive tie for the Mr. clothes

All in all we have done very well and are looking forward to a relaxed and fun December.

 

 

 

Holiday RED Bridesmaids

I’ve been to one winter wedding, and it was totally beautiful. I was a bridesmaid in a long silk purple dress, the ballroom was filled with elegant tapered candles, and the bride and groom shot some stunning portraits in the snow.

As part of my wedding-withdraw, I find myself imaging different versions of my wedding in every situation. Most recently;  an elegant holly and mistletoe decked soiree celebrating love and the festivities of the Season. Featuring a set of these bridesmaid dresses from J Crew.

Holiday Red
J.Crew Floral Lace Shift / Cathleen / Alexa / Tinsley / Elsa / Pamela dresses in Poppy

These would be stunning on any set of women, and the girls would love having a bridesmaid’s dress that can do double duty at the office Christmas party.

 

Holiday Prep Cooking Day

How to Make Five Recipes in One Day

As promised in my Christmas Pledge, I spent yesterday locked in my kitchen, making 2 appetizer and 3 cookie recipes to freeze in preparation of the Holidays. I made:

  • Stuffed Mushroom Caps
  • g
    Gougères
  • mm
    Mint Meringues
  • goc
    Ginger Orange Cookies
  • gb
    Gingerbread

To make the most of my day, I scheduled these recipes into 12 steps that make the most efficient use of my mixer, oven, and freezer time.

Step 1 {Prep your unique ingredients}
Measuring things like flour and sugar is easy to do as you go, but chopping and softening butter needs to happen now. 

Stuffed Mushroom Cups: Finely dice 120g pancetta, ⅓c red pepper, and ¼c red onion, mince 2 cloves of garlic, shred ½c Cheddar cheese, remove stems from 50 mushrooms and finely dice the stems.

Gougère: Cut up 1 stick of butter. Bring 5 eggs into room temperature, and grate 1 ½c Gruyère cheese.

Mint Meringues: Separate 3 egg whites and leave them at room temperature.

Ginger Orange Cookies: Take out ½c of butter. Finely chop ½c crystallized ginger and 2 tsp orange peel.

Gingerbread: Take out 1 ½ sticks of butter to soften at room temperature.

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Step 2 (Prep the Mushroom Caps}

Stuffed Mushroom Caps: Heat oven to 400°F (200°C).  Place mushroom caps, hollow side down, on parchment paper-lined or greased rimmed baking sheet. Spritz with oil.

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Step 3 (Start the Ginger Orange Cookie Dough while Mushrooms cook}

Stuffed Mushroom Cups: Bake in oven until slightly softened, about 8 minutes.

Ginger Orange Cookies: In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds. Add ¾c granulated sugar, 1½ tsp baking powder, and ⅛ tsp salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

Step 4 {Finish the Ginger Orange Cookie Dough while Mushrooms cool}

Stuff Mushroom Cups: Remove mushrooms from oven and let cool.

Ginger Orange Cookies: Beat in egg and the 1 tbs milk until combined. Beat in as much of the 2c flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour, the crystallized ginger, and orange peel. If necessary, knead dough until it comes together.

Divide dough into three portions. On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion into a 7-inch roll. Spread sugar on the work surface and roll each log in sugar to coat. Wrap each roll in waxed paper or plastic wrap and freeze.

orange cookies

*** Now is a good time to clean up your work surface. Wash the measuring cups that you will need again and give the counter-tops a good wipe. Make yourself a cuppa tea. ***

Step 5 {Make the Mushroom Stuffing} 

Stuffed Mushroom Caps: Drain off liquid. Place, hollow side up, on clean foil-lined baking sheet. In nonstick skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain off fat. Add red pepper, onion, garlic, mushroom stems, salt and pepper to skillet; cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about 4 minutes.

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Step 6 {Start on the Gingerbread while Pancetta cools} 

Stuffed Mushroom Caps: Let pancetta mixture cool.

Gingerbread: Whisk 6 cups of flour, ½ tsp baking powder, 4 tsp ground ginger, 4 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ground cloves, and ½ tsp salt together thoroughly.

Step 7 {Stuff and finish the Mushroom Caps}

Stuff Mushroom Caps: In bowl, stir goat cheese with Cheddar cheese; stir in pancetta mixture. Spoon heaping tablespoonful into each mushroom cap. Freeze.

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Step 8 {Finish the Gingerbread}

Gingerbread: Beat butter and 1 ½c brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the 2 eggs, 1c molasses, and 1 tbs of water and beat until well combined. Beat half of the dry mixture into the mixer until blended and smooth. Add the remaining flour mixture and then knead the dough until firm and manageable, but not dry. Add more flour if the dough is wet. Divide the dough in 2, and place each half in a zip-top bag to freeze.

gingerbread

Step 9 {Make the Meringues}

Mint Meringues: Preheat oven to 200°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat egg whites, ¼ tsp cream of tartar, ¼ tsp peppermint extract, and ⅛ tsp salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add ¾c of sugar, about 1 tbs at a time, beating on high until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight).

Using a Q-tip, brush stripes of red food coloring on the inside of a decorating bag fitted with a star tip. Carefully spoon egg white mixture into decorating bag. Pipe 2-inch stars 1 inch apart onto the cookie sheet.

meringues

Step 10 {Make the Gougères while Meringues bake}

Mint Meringues: Bake 2 hours, rotating sheets top-to-bottom-and back-to-front once or twice during baking time.

Gougères: Bring ½c whole milk, ½c water, butter, and ½ tsp salt to a rapid boil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Add 1c flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring with vigor for 2 min to dry the dough until very smooth. Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Let the dough sit for a minute, then add 4-5 eggs one by one and beat until the dough is thick and shiny, ensuring each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next (do not add the 5th egg if your dough is already a shiny smooth deep yellow). Beat in the grated cheese.

Using about 1 tbs for each gougère, drop or pipe the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets and freeze.

gougère

*** While the meringues are still cooking and everything else is getting nice and frozen, clean up the kitchen and take a little breather. You are almost done! ***

Step 11 {Finish the Meringues} 

Mint Meringues: Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

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Step 12. {Package & labeling}
Make sure everything is packaged in airtight wraps/bag/containers and label with the following instructions:

Stuffed Mushroom Caps: Bake from frozen on baking sheet in 375°F oven until golden, about 17 minutes.

Gougères: Bake from frozen on lined baking sheet placed in  a 425°F oven, immediately lowering to 375°F for 12 minutes. Rotate sheet and bake for another 12-15 minutes or until gougères are golden, firm, and puffed. Can be served warm or cooled.

Mint Meringues: Thaw and enjoy.

Ginger Orange Cookies: Thaw until slice-able, preheat oven to 350°F. Cut into ¼” slices and place on cookie sheet. Brush lightly with milk and bake for 8 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool and enjoy.

Gingerbread: Bring to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out dough and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 11 to 15 minutes or until light brown on greased cookie sheets. Cool before icing.

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And now I’m ready for the Holidays. Unexpected guests? No worries, I’ll just pop in these appetizers. Crazy snow storm? Cool, I’ll just bake these cookies and we’ll bunker down. Bring it on December!

Kitchen Update: How We Turned an Ugly Awkward Space into a Wine Cabinet

Every kitchen has a story. Ours is that once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was a new kitchen. As time went on it got old, very old, and one day the previous owners decided to make it look new again. They installed new doors and laminated the fronts, which was great. Sort of. Great except that, because the cabinets were so old, none of the doors fit properly and the tiny cabinet above the microwave was so small that doors did not exist for it at all.

above-the-microwave

And so it was left open and awkward, a collecting spot for knick-knacks, dust and a healthy helping of grease.

dust collecting

Covering it up wasn’t an option, as we needed access to the microwave plug, and even after searching all the land, doors seriously did not exist. So the current owner (me) applied the age old adage that goes something like:

When life gives you lemons, or weird open cabinets, you make a wine shelf!

wine shelf!

It was a really easy project. The Mr. and I took some measurements, cut two planks of wood to length with 45° edges, slapped on some white paint, glued it all in place and voilà! a wine shelf was born.

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I am floored every time I look at it … maybe because I’ve had too much wine, but. Shut up. I used to lay awake at night wondering what to do with the awkward ugly space above the microwave (a symptom of not enough wine), and now I’m actually happy it was there.  A wine shelf in the kitchen is a dream come true for this fairytale princess, and it really looks like an intentional built-in element of our kitchen.

diy wine shelf

It looks even better with wine in it.

wine

 

Can’t wait to show you how the rest of the room is coming along. Keep an eye on the Instagram feed to the right for sneak peeks!