Vinho Verde Wine Tasting

By: Zena Rebello

I recently attended a charming garden party hosted by Ellen Douglas, a producer of CNBC's Wine Portfolio and Rea Kelly, a wonderfully talented local Toronto artist. They graciously guided their guests on a tasting of Vinho Verde wines. The event was an intimate backyard gathering of wine, food and lifestyle bloggers all of whom were curious about sampling wine from a small region of Portugal, which sits on the northern border Spain. 

While dinning on an assortment of cheeses and charcuteries, our host described the lush, cool, rainy, green countryside of the region. The name, Vinho Verde, means ‘green wine’ and it is indicative of the region’s terrain as well as the age of the grapes. Grape varieties such as Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto and Vinhao are picked before they mature and the wine is quickly bottled after the harvest to capture the grape's youthful character.

I engaged in stimulating conversations centered around wine and art with the guests. Kelly, exhibited some of her artwork and explained that to her, art, much like wine, was one of life’s great joys. As I eyed her work, admiring how she constructed each painting with dramatic colours, I couldn’t help but think about the bold reds, straw-coloured yellows and flowery pink colours of Vinho Verde wines. Wine with art make a truly formidable combination.

Throughout the evening I indulged with other guests in sampling a variety of white wines. As a red wine enthusiast, I assumed I would not enjoy the Vinho Verde wines as much as my favourite shiraz, but with each sample I quickly warmed up to them. All of the wines that I sampled were expressive with distinct aromas and flavours and high in acidity. Each wine was aromatic and crisp with citrus, floral, pear and apple flavours. Additionally, due to the granite-based soils in the region, delicate hints of mineral were imbued in the wines. 

My favourite wine of the evening was the Gazela, which is a dry, lightly carbonated white wine with citrus notes. It is also very reasonably priced at $8.95 and available at the LCBO, which makes Vinho Verde wine even more attractive!

Zena Rebello is an environmental and atmospheric chemist by day and an ardent Muay Thai practitioner by night.

Thirsty Buddha Coconut Water

By: Zena Rebello

Since I was a child, I have always loved drinking fresh coconut water. Some of my most vivid memories revolve around occasional journeys to the South Asian markets on Gerrard Street East with my parents to buy fresh coconuts. As my father would crack them open at home, I would stand with my glass, ready to catch the leaking, sugary water that seeped out. But cracking coconuts is not all that easy. 

When I moved out on my own and started buying my own groceries, I searched for great tasting natural coconut water in stores. However I only ever found products that were either loaded with sugar or listed filtered water as the main ingredient. That was, of course, until I discovered Thirsty Buddha. Thirsty Buddha coconut water is not only made from the best coconuts in Thailand, but is it made from real coconuts only! Thirsty Buddha is natural coconut water and comes in a BPA-free can. It has no added water, sugar or preservatives.As someone who is health conscious and active, this aspect of the product is very important to me.

Thirsty Buddha coconut water is light, natural and thirst quenching! Its purity is evident from the first to the last sip. Also, depending on one’s preference, it can be purchased with or without pulp. To add to its appeal, Thirsty Buddha is a 1% For the Planet member which is a global network of companies that donate at least 1% of their annual net revenues to environmental organizations.

I enjoy drinking Thirsty Buddha coconut water because it energizes me during the day, allows me to fuel and refuel before and after workouts, and tastes fantastic!

Zena Rebello is an environmental and atmospheric chemist by day and an ardent Muay Thai practitioner by night.

A Night at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: An Alpine Symphony

Sir Andrew Davis, TSO 4_Malcolm Cook photo.jpg.jpg

By: Zena Rebello

As a 20th century history buff and frequent patron of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), I was thrilled to attend a live performance of Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony. As part of the TSO's The Decades Project, its aim was to expose audiences to the mix of excitement, ingenuity, trepidation and emotions of the time by highlighting the music and spirit of the 20th century, one decade at a time.

The night’s program focused on the period from 1910 - 1919 which was largely consumed by apprehension, the ravages of the First World War, and the jubilation of the post-war years. As conductor Sir Andrew Davis pointed out during his preamble into the night’s program, the music of the decade reflected myriad of these emotions.

The program began with the jubilant work of American composer – and former insurance salesman – Charles Ives, entitled Decoration Day which is now known as Veterans Day in the United States. This celebratory orchestral piece which hails New England’s valiant soldiers was followed by the featured works of Czech composer Leoš Janáček and British composer Edward Elgar, which both centred on the themes of war. The former being colourful and grandiose; the latter being evocative and ominous in nature, kindling the regret and remorse of war. I found myself profoundly drawn into the music, with each composer eliciting different emotions. It was evident how the events of the decade impacted orchestral composition at the time.

During the intermission, the audience was serenaded by a special performance of the alphorn. The musicians were dressed in traditional Swiss Alpine attire and played their alphorns (long alpine horns) which were originally used for driving cattle up the mountains. I had only ever seen this instrument played by cartoon characters. To experience the alphorn live was magnificent! Its sound were both beautiful and bold, melodic and dominant. This was a harbinger for the focal piece of the evening.

After the intermission, I could see the orchestra reassembling. The various instruments being brought onto the stage included two harps, two sets of timpani, a plethora of horns and a wind machine. I had never witnessed such a massive ensemble of instruments before. As the orchestra began to play, Roy Thomson Hall was transformed into the Alpine hills.

The symphony – which is actually more like a tone poem – illustrated Strauss’ boyhood adventures in ascending and descending a mountain over a 24 hour period. The music started dark and low-pitched, then rose with splendour to mimic the rising sun. Themes of forests, flowering meadows and an alpine pasture complete with the sounds of cowbells and bird-songs were captivating. From the light percussion and wind machine emulating a waterfall to the climax of the trek when the summit is reached, the orchestra held the audience with every note.

The music then took a thunderous turn signifying an alpine storm where every instrument was banged, plucked, blown and strung in ordered chaos. Watching the musicians play their instruments in unison, with such intensity was the highlight of the evening. This instalment of the Decade’s Project was intoxicating and I look forward to experiencing the 1920s with the TSO!

To learn more about the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, visit

Photo by Malcolm Cook.

Zena Rebello is an environmentalist, traveller and budding blogger. She has a Masters degree in Atmospheric Science and is always looking for exciting adventures which introduce her to new foods, cultures, and people.

Oikos Creations: Greek Yogurt Never Tasted So Good!

By: Zena Rebello

Healthy living, including regular exercise and eating right, has always been a part of my life. I'm an avid Muay Thai practitioner and strive to make healthy food choices. When it comes to snacks, I've always enjoyed the smooth and creamy taste of Greek yogurt. I eat it in the morning, during my afternoon break and even sometimes as a late night delight. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to sample Danone's new Oikos Creations. I got to try the coolest new flavours including Lemon Meringue, Banana Choco, Coco Flakes and Raspberry Choco. Each flavour I tried was better than the one before it. For all the ice cream lovers, the Banana Choco flavour is reminiscent of a banana split. My personal favourite is the Lemon Meringue. The light, tantalizing taste of the much-loved lemony dessert melted in my mouth. Its rich, creamy texture reminds me more of a decadent dessert than a healthy snack. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that each little decadent cup of Oikos Creations has 100 calories, 8 grams of protein and nine essential amino acids and active yogurt cultures. After sampling each flavour, my mind started buzzing with all of the creative things I could do with the yogurt. I could make frozen yogurt pops with Raspberry Choco, or give my morning smoothie an island twist with the addition of Coco Flakes. 

One morning, I decided to make Banana Choco pancakes. I followed my go-to pancake recipe (any pancake recipe that calls for yogurt will do) and substituted the Banana Choco Oikos Creations for plain yogurt. The pancakes turned out fluffy and fantastic! With hints of banana and the taste of chocolate, this heavenly protein-rich breakfast was so yummy that my boyfriend and I devoured them immediately! 

The freshness of the flavours combined with the nutritional value left me highly satisfied. With a variety of flavours that Oikos Creations offers, there is a something to appease everyone's cravings!

Zena Rebello is an environmental and atmospheric chemist by day and an ardent Muay Thai practitioner by night.

Learning the Art of Muay Thai

By: Zena Rebello

I moved back to Toronto four years ago after finishing graduate school in Waterloo and was looking for new and challenging activities to participate in. A friend of mine mentioned that he started practicing Muay Thai and that he absolutely loved it. Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing is one of the oldest martial arts in the world that originated in Thailand. It is called the ‘Science of Eight Limbs’ because fists, feet, knees and elbows are all used in the art.

As someone who never shies away from new challenges, I decided to try it out, unaware of how much it would change my life for the better. I decided to go for a trial class at a school called York Muay Thai. When I got there, I was greeted by the owner and head instructor Kru Jenypher Lanthier (Kru means instructor in Thai). Right away the traditional male dominated, testosterone filled stereotype of martial arts gyms was dispelled because the head honcho here was a female. 

Going into class, I was very excited. However, as the class progressed, I wanted to cry. I was surprised by the physical demands and level of conditioning required to properly practice Muay Thai. Additionally, it also took a large amount of mental strength to not give up in the middle of a ‘warm up’, which is really a euphemism for a super challenging workout. After 40 push-ups in a row followed by squats, sit-ups and anything else the instructor throws at you, one’s body tends to scream 'UNCLE!'. The class was almost unbearable, but when it was finished I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and I was hooked!

Whether one is advanced or a newbie, Muay Thai is a tough martial art to practice. At every class, I look around and see people of all genders, shapes, sizes and athletic abilities pushing themselves to new limits and finding their inner strength. Every month, we focus on a new skill to develop, be it crosses, jabs, hooks or swing kicks. We learn how to use the body as a weapon in both offensive and defensive situations. This month is ‘teep’ month. A teep, also called a push-kick, is when you strike your opponent (usually in the solar plexus) with the ball of your foot. Some other useful techniques I have learned are: 

Crosses: A commanding weapon that involves hitting your opponent with your rear fist while rotating your entire body to extend your reach and increase power.  
Elbows: This is one of the most powerful close-range weapons in Muay Thai. If done correctly, it can knock out your opponent. There are many types of elbow moves: upper-cut, rear, lead and downward elbow.
Swing Kicks: The most well-known weapons in Muay Thai are swing kicks, which involve kicking your opponent with your shins. Swing kicks are tough to learn because they involve the integration of core strength, balance and technique in order to execute correctly. For me, they are a work in progress.
Learning these skills have helped me to increase both my endurance and stamina.

There is also an innate sense of community that has developed among the participants at school. Whether we are encouraging each other in class, sharing tips online or socializing over a traditional Thai dinner at our annual Christmas party, all participants, new and seasoned, are a part of a centuries old cultural tradition. 

After having practiced for the last four years, I look back and compare my current self to my old self and I am amazed at how resilient I have become physically and more so, mentally. I know that at 5’1’’ and 110 pounds if I can spar against men twice my height and weight, I have the moxie to handle any challenge that life presents. I always prided myself on my overall toughness, but with Muay Thai I have found a new dimension in myself that can be translated to everyday life. I am more disciplined, agile and stronger than ever.

York Muay Thai offers a free trial for one week. Visit for more information. 
Twitter: @YorkMuayThai 
Photos courtesy of York Muay Thai.

Zena Rebello is an environmental and atmospheric chemist by day and an ardent Muay Thai practitioner by night.