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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Allergy-free Paradise:
Sparkling Hill, Vernon, BC

Recently, my husband and I enjoyed some much-needed R&R at a jewel of a place in Vernon, BC.

Sparkling Hill Resort sits atop a cliff overlooking the pristine Lake Okanagan.

We were fortunate enough to be able to spend six nights at Sparkling Hill Resort, and by the end it felt a little like we were leaving home.

Sparkling Hill Resort is the brainchild of Austrian Gernot Langes-Swarovski. The design includes 1.9 million Swarovski crystals. We found them in all sorts of places, studding the backs of chairs and even hanging from trees outside our window, catching the sunlight and sending shards of colour across the sky.

The rooms overlooking the lake offer unobstructed views of the ever-changing skies over Lake Okanagan and the Okanagan valley.

Lake view room at Sparkling Hill.

All of the rooms include a crystal fireplace, deep soaker tub and spectacular views. The decor and design of the rooms is much like the rest of the resort, elegant and minimalistic. There is just what you need and nothing more. It's not particularly lush, which surprised me. That's because it's designed to meet Austrian standards of excellence for a spa resort. I am told that since opening, the resort has made some changes to accommodate a North American palate, such as the use of soft linens in the spa (Austrians use only paper). While I think the rest of the resort is lovely, I do think the rooms could use a little more luxury and decor.

The spa is the main attraction here and is adult-oriented. Children are not allowed in the spa which is where the resort's only pools are and where adults can enjoy European hour from 9:00 to 10:00 pm (clothing is optional). I do not recommend this resort for families. It's an absolute oasis for adults, and the perfect place for couples.

The serenity room at Sparkling Hill.

The spa provides just about every service you can imagine. We enjoyed quiet time in the serenity and tea rooms, swam in the indoor and outdoor pools, soaked in the hot tub, and wended our way through the Kneipp waterway, a kind of river about mid-calf deep filled alternately with hot and cold water for stimulation of the nervous and lymphatic systems. There are seven unique steam rooms and saunas, as well as a cryotherapy cold sauna. We were also able to meet with the spa's very knowledgable and helpful kinesiologist, Paul, who developed a plan to target areas of balance, strength and cardiovascular endurance that we were interested in working on. We partook of the yoga classes in the movement studio overlooking the lush landscape and Predator Ridge golf course, and I even enjoyed an aquafit class led by the charming Justin.

Kneipp Waterway at Sparkling Hill Resort

The one-on-one kinesiologist consultations and exercise classes were included with our package, as were a number of spa services. We were able to customize our services as we liked. I had hot stone massages, a wonderful service called Crystal Rain, a pedicure, a facial, a moor mud wrap and a crystal scrub, all of which were fabulous! I also tried the moor mud bath, which I likely wouldn't do again, and a reflexology treatment, which was really just a foot massage. While all of the clinicians working at the spa were wonderful and friendly, I highly recommend booking with Mariza, Heidi and Christie. Thank-you to all of the ladies at the front of the spa, including Fernanda who patiently rearranged our schedule several times to suit our needs. You can read all about the spa's many services here: http://www.sparklinghill.com/kurspa The services are on the pricey side. You're paying for the atmosphere and all of the extras (steam rooms, saunas, tea room, serenity pool, outdoor infinity pool, Kneipp walkway and so on). It's well worth it, in my opinion.

Now about the meals… Oh, how we ate! Before embarking on this adventure, I contacted the resort's head chef who assured me that they would look after us. Executive chef Marco sent me a detailed menu ahead of time for my approval. We participated in the resort's Whole Body Wellness program (one of several packages they offer), so all of our meals were included. Because of our diet restrictions, it was safest to eat all of our meals at PeakFine, the resort's main, fine dining restaurant, but we did have the option to also eat breakfast and lunches at Barrique and Java, a smaller café. Normally, I am a grazer, which is to say I eat pretty much all day long. While at Sparkling Hill, I ate such full and balanced meals, that I had no interest in snacks of any kind. The meals were so good.

It is common to see some guests at breakfast and lunch in their robes, enjoying a meal between spa treatments. While we never did dine in our robes, we did enjoy this spectacular view at each of our meals. For dinner they recommend a "smart casual" dress code. Men, bring at least two pairs of pants (not denim) and a number of collared shirts for a week-long stay. Do make reservations for dinner, and do book an early time to enjoy the best seating.

PeakFine at Sparkling Hill

If you do decide to go for a full week, you will be outrageously pampered. The operations manager, Jana, made a point of finding us early on to welcome us and checked on us regularly. They love their weekly guests and they show it. By about the third day, everyone knew us. The staff at the restaurant were aware of our specialized menu and brought us food that was safe for us to eat, beautifully presented, and supremely delicious. I need to express my great gratitude to all of the kitchen and serving staff for making our week truly a delight. A special thank-you to pastry chef Stephanie for preparing delicious allergy-conscious bread and desserts for us to enjoy, and to all of the servers who made our dining experience such a pleasure, in particular Nikki, Brigitte, and Nick.

A note about the time of year to visit: We were there at the beginning of June and this was, for us, the perfect time to visit. It was warm enough to enjoy the outdoor pool deck for at least part of the day, and quiet enough to enjoy the solitude we were looking for. If this sounds like your cup of tea, book in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). If you're looking for a getaway from the cold, go in the winter and enjoy the saunas and steam rooms to your heart's content. If you're a pool lounger, sun-god/goddess sort, you'll want to visit in July or August. The summer is the resort's busiest time, so book your spa treatments ahead of your visit and prepare for a slightly less quiet experience.

Infinity pool at Sparkling Hill

For the same amount of money as we spent on this trip, we might have instead enjoyed an all-inclusive week at a tropical resort, but the food would not have been anywhere near as good, nor would it have been safe for us to eat. It also would not have included the many spa amenities, special rock star treatment, and general zen-like feeling we were hankering for. This was one of my most favourite vacations to date. We look forward to returning to Sparkling Hill Resort.

Absolutely everyone at the resort was friendly and professional. One final shout-out goes to Sandy at the front desk: Thank-you for suggesting that we stop by Creative Chaos in Vernon on our way home. It truly must be "the largest craft sale in Western Canada." I did indeed find something to my liking.

Lobby at Sparkling Hill Resort

Lastly, I want to acknowledge Cindy Sacco of Little Italy Market and Deli in Vernon who was just a delight to interact with. We stopped at her store looking for a good quality olive oil. Not only did we get an education in olive oils (Cindy knows her stuff), but we were also pleasantly surprised to find that this little store also stocks allergy-conscious foods, such as gluten-free pasta, all sourced directly from Italy (Cindy has high standards). Cindy too has many diet restrictions and so the store also offers gluten-free, dairy-free pizza. You heard me right - pizza!! We were, sadly, not able to stay for lunch that day, but we will return!

You can follow Sparkling Hill on Facebook and Twitter.

And don't forget to follow our friend Cindy at Little Italy Market and Deli on Facebook.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Acceptance for Positive Change
- or -
Stop Nagging Already!


Today, I accepted the fact that I am a nag. I nag my son all morning long, beginning with light nags like "It's time to get dressed now" and "Don't forget to turn off the light in your bedroom." Eventually, no matter how many nags I issue, we are behind schedule and in our last five minutes the nags are coming fast and furious. "You've got x, y, and z still to do and you've got two minutes to do them in." "We need to be out the door in one minute." "We're late!" "RUN!!!"

Not only does this stress mama out, it creates a tension between junior and I that I don't like. After all, we only have this short hour of togetherness before he's gone to school all day. I also don't want the start to his day to be stressful. My constant reminders about what he has to do and when he has to do it also relieve him of any responsibility for anything. He knows I am watching the clock, so why should he? He knows I'll remind him if he forgets something, so why listen the first time?

Today, I decided to take responsibility for what I was doing, instead of blaming him for what he was not doing. Today was day one of my son's new life as a responsible six-and-a-half-year-old. This morning, he was responsible for everything, including keeping track of the time and what he had to get done. He has a watch and he can read it. He knows the morning routine. Guess what? We made it to the bus on time. Yes, we had to sprint, but we made it. No stress and a light workout. Awesome.

Have a responsible day! :)

Sue

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mama's Lasagna
made gluten-free, of course, and with a reduced glycemic index option

An aunt recently exclaimed about my lasagna that it was the best lasagna she has ever had. That's high praise considering it had been in the freezer for a year! We haven't eaten dairy in about that long, so it just sat there. I finally gave it to someone who would love it. I thought, since I am sharing the recipe with her, I would share it with you all too!

Photo source: Chatelaine.com

My mama's lasagna is super easy to make. Her recipe goes like this:

1. Prepare meat sauce
2. Grate cheddar cheese
3. In casserole layer [gluten-free] lasagna noodles, sauce, and cheese
4. Top with sliced mozzarella
5. Add a little water (~1/2 cup)
6. Bake covered with foil

Ya... it's not rocket science. You'll notice there are no measurements. Just think about the deliciousness of the lasagna you are preparing and let your love of cheese guide you in determining how much is enough. :) Generally, one box of lasagna noodles is enough to make one lasagna. I do recommend making two at a time and freezing one for a future meal.

I think the secret is in the sauce... which is mine, not mama's. I never really liked mama's sauce, as much as I loved mama and appreciated her efforts. Actually, it's not my sauce either. It's one I have copied for years, ever since I bought the Pasta Presto cookbook by Norman Kolpas as part of some book-of-the-month club I was too weak to resist. Totally worth it, just for this sauce.
Bolognese 
6 Tbsp olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
1 1/2 Tbsp double-concentrate tomato paste
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt 
     In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the garlic and onion; sauté until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
     Add the beef and raise the heat slightly. Sauté the beef until it has lost all its pink color and left a brown glaze on the pan, about 10 minutes.
     Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve the pan deposits. Stir in the remaining ingredients and gently boil until thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over cooked pasta. 
Source: Pasta Presto by Norman Kolpas 
If you want to reduce the glycemic index of this sauce, you can substitute coconut palm sugar or xylitol for the sugar. Click here to view the glycemic indexes of various sweeteners.

I hope you enjoy this lasagna as much as we used to. One day soon, now that we are a dairy-free household, I will try this recipe with some vegan cheese. Daiya makes a decent product. It doesn't melt completely the way that cheese does, but it does melt enough to give a cheesy texture and taste on the tongue. I've used it in this Spaghetti Pizza Pie and it was delish!

Bon appétit!

Sue

This recipe is linked up with my 
favourite monthly recipe exchange. 
Come join the fun!