December 30, 2011

A Condo with a View

The iconic Toronto skyline
Looking southward, to Lake Ontario

The skyline again, with the nothern portion of downtown

Looking south again onto Lamport Stadium

December 29, 2011

Someone's in the kitchen

We've returned safely from a week travelling to visit family and friends in three cities. It was wonderful to reunite with so many people we had not seen in a few months. We were blessed with many good laughs and also many thoughful gifts.

Cooking was a major theme this Christmas. I received four cookbooks as gifts--one each by Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, and David Rocco--as well as the aforementioned Morroccan cookbook.

While in Kingston I purchased a copy of the Curry Original Cookbook, which was just released in October. I have always wanted this great Kingston restaurant to publish a cookbook when I stumbled across it in Novel Idea I just had to have it. In fact, earlier tonight I tried my hand at making a home version of their Chicken Korma, Mark's favourite Indian dish. I was missing some of the ingredients but it turned out very good nonetheless.

My other exciting purchase with some gifted money was an impressive 7-piece Acacia wood cutlery set and matching steak knives by Schmidt Brothers, available at West Elm. These German stainless steel blades are wonderful to handle, thanks to the patented curve for your forefinger. The Acacia wood handles are beautifully constructed and nicely contain the blades.

All of this means that yours truly will be a busy boy in the kitchen over the rest of the holidays, trying out numerous new recipes and, hopefully, crafting some wonderful meals for my beloved. 

December 19, 2011

Marrakech Express

Mark gifted me with a wonderful starter kit so I can dive right into cooking Moroccan cuisine, including a beautiful tagine he found at Blue Banana Market in Kensington Market, and and awesome cookbook and  Moroccan spice box from The Spice Trader on Queen St. West.

I have never been to Morocco but I  have been to Turkey and the UAE, so I have enjoyed the wonders of Arabic food and hospitality. I've always been drawn to Moroccan cuisine, and have dabbled in a few dishes (I am most famous for a slow-roasted lamb and dried apricot + fig number served over a bed of couscous.  I am excited to broaden my knowledge and to bring the taste of Morocco home. 

Lordy, Lordy!

Today marks my 40th birthday! I thought I would share my favourite picture of myself, taken in a park in Ottawa in the mid 1970s.

I am pleased to have reached this milestone. I am happy with my life and my journey so far.

I am especially thankful for my friends who have sustained me and given me support, love, and so much laughter.

Most of all, I am happy that my beloved husband, Mark, literally walked into my life in 2001. We have had a wonderful journey together, filled with so much love, kindness, and warmth. I am a lucky little turtle indeed.

To many more adventures...

Fa La La T.O.

We hosted our first holiday party, Fa La La, in our new apartment in Toronto this past weekend.

December 15, 2011

The Saints went marching

In celebration of my upcoming 40th birthday my beloved Mark treated me to a surprise evening of fun, beginning with an outstanding dinner at Noce, a superb Italian restaurant on West Queen West.

We started our meals with a glass of Negroni cocktail and breads, then Mark had grilled Morroccan octopus while I had carpaccio as an appetizer.

For our mains, Mark enjoyed a braised veal cheek while I had a massive and succulent veal shank (osso buco) served on a bed of saffron risotto. I was stuffed so I passed on dessert but Mark could not resist a favourite, creme brulee.

Mark then passed me an envelope with the main surprise: two tickets to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Roy Thompson Hall!  The band play a distinctively New Orleans brand of Dixieland jazz, befitting their namesake base in the heart of the French Quarter.

It was a rousing 2 hours of spirited jazz, anchored by notable professionals doing what they do best. Each member of the band was on fire but I was particularlyimpressed with clarinetist Charlie Gabriel (b.1932) whereas Mark was blown away by the effortless drumming of Joseph Lastie, Jr. (b. 1958). It's safe to say the spirit of the Mississippi bayou was in downtown Toronto tonight.

December 13, 2011

I treated myself to a wonderful experience at Civello Salon & Spa during my lunch hour.

Civello is a leading Aveda lifestyle salon and spa and a beauty & wellness resource centre. They opened their first store in 1989. I went to the Queen St West location, which is literally 2 minutes from my office.

I was fortunate to get a walk-in appointment with an awesome stylist named Devin. My experience began by being walked back to a cafe/lounge area where I enjoyed a coffee and a biscotti. I was then walked to his chair and treated to a very relaxing head, neck & shoulder massage.

Devin was really focused on what I wanted for my cut and provided great advice and attention. I had a dry cut and then was lead back to a very relaxing reclined chair for a head wash followed by a face massage.

This was followed by some careful trimming to get it just perfect and off I was back into the real world. This was a wonderful experience with a fantastic attendant. The best part is when I left they gave me a $25 gift card to use on my next visit. Brilliant!

December 11, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree

We went to the massive Canadian Tire just off Dundas Square yesterday in search of our first ever artificial tree.

We thought it best not to try and drag a real tree up into our 19th floor condo. We figured the clean up come the first week in January would be too much bother.

So, we selected an imitation Canadian Spruce that my beloved not only assembled but also decorated all by himself. It's our tradition to have spiked eggnog and watch some classic Christmas shows while we trim the tree. This time around I just enjoyed the eggnog on the couch and kept Mark company while singing along to "We're a Couple of Misfits"*.

On Sunday night we were treated to a visit from our former Kingston neighbours Tammy & Mike, along with their daughter Bo and her boyfriend Bryan. It was so nice to catch up with them!

*A reference to that beloved 1964 animated show "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" that might actually be a "surreal and disturbing tale of a child with a congenital deformity whose parents cower in shame, a child who can only find solace by running away from it all with a possibly gay, misfit elf that’s struggling with ethnic and class-based employment issues" 

When he walks down the street...

I snapped this rather blurry photo of the statue of Al Waxman yesterday afternoon as we strolled around Kensington Market.

Waxman (1935-2001) remains beloved for his iconic role as Larry King on CBC sitcom "King of Kensington" that ran from 1975-1980.

That show was a favourite of mine of that era, rivalled only by "Beachcombers" as must-see TV back in the days before cable, VCR, DVD, and Netflix. To me, growing up in the Outauoais region of Quebec, the Market--its characters and setting-- was Toronto. When I finally was able to travel to Toronto in my 20s, I made sure I went specifically to see where Larry King had lived.

Looking back, I have to praise CBC for having aired a show with such diverse characters, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. At first heavily popuated by Eastern European Jews, the 1950s brought in waves of Portoguese, East Asian, and Caribbean peoples. Today, Kensington Market has somehow managed to maintain its disctinctive counterculture, anti-corporate vibe, with dozens and dozens of independent vinatge stores, markets, cafes, and food suppliers.

After an amazing brunch with lovely friends Toni & Dave at Hotel Ocho on nearby Spadina, we strolled the narrow streets of Kensington, taking in quite a few vintage shops. Of special note was the Blue Banana Market, which features around 80+ vendor stalls nestled together in an indoor space with gift items of all kinds. We were amazed at the variety and impressed that all were independent artisans and/or operators. We also loved Bungalow, purveyor of funky clothing, housewares, and furniture, and we bought some essentials at SasMart, a Portuguese discount department store known for its stacks of houseware items.

After saying goodbye to our friends we headed down Dundas Street West to the massive Canadian Tire just off Dundas Square in search of our first ever artificial tree. We selected a Canadian Spruce that my beloved not only assembled it but decorated it all by himself, as we both enjoyed eggnog and some classic Christmas shows. 

December 9, 2011

The good type of plaque

On my way to catch the streetcar home last night I happened to spot this plaque just two streets south of my office building.

I was surprised to learn that from 1829 to 1891, Upper Canada College was located downtown in then-called "Russel Square" (bordered by King, Simcoe, Adelaide, and John streets).

The plaque marks 22 Duncan Street, and reads, "This is the last remaining building of Upper Canada College, located here 1831-1891. Built in the Georgian style in 1833, the student residence was altered and enlarged first in 1856 by Cumberland and Storm, architects, and again several times in later years. After the school moved to its present location on Lonsdale Road, most of the buildings on this site were demolished. The residence was then used as a factory until renovated in 1985 for commercial purposes".

A shame that the rest of the original buildings did not survive.

All play and no work

Earlier this week, we had a staff holiday lunch party with our colleagues in Marketing & Communications. We started our afternoon by enjoying an exquisite three-course lunch at The Chef's House, the restaurant operated by George Brown College's Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts.

I felt I was on an episode of Gordon Ramsay's F Word, as the place is ultra contemporary, the kitchen is completely open for viewing, and there are large TV screens showing you what's happening with your food.  By the way, both Ramsay and Jaimie Oliver have made appearances at the school!

After lunch a group of us continued into the gay village to a place called George's Play, a fun--albeit dilapidated--watering hole, where we played bingo for three hours. Seriously, I felt I had walked into a retirement home for old queens. Which means, lots of crass repartee and great laughs. Our team did well too, with three of our staff winning cash. Alas, none of us won either of the major jackpots but we all had a blast nonetheless. 

Next week the University is throwing a holiday party for staff and faculty at The Rex. What a lovely gesture! It's nice to be able to bond and have some fun with workmates.

December 8, 2011

Prayers for Virginia Tech

As of 3:00 pm this afternoon, Virginia Tech reported that an officer had been shot dead on campus during a routine traffic stop, and that the shooter fled on foot and then appeared to have shot and killed a second person.

In my blog posting "More tears at Virginia Tech" written in January of this year, I was aghast to learn that this venerable school and tight-knit campus had suffered through a string of gruesome murders since that infamous and horrific mass slaughter of 32 people in April 2007.

Today's tragic announcement will no doubt once again bring heart-ache to the VT community, and lead many to question how they could possibly endure yet another horrific event.

For Canadians, this sad news from our southern neighbours comes on the heels of Tuesday's  22nd anniversary of the massacre at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique. We share our grief and prayers with our Virginia Tech colleagues.


December 6, 2011

Wandering the PATH

While many know Toronto for its iconic sites such as the CN Tower, Casa Loma, and the CNE, visitors might not realize that below street level downtown is the world's largest underground shopping complex

With 28 km (17 miles) of shopping arcades PATH has 371,600 sq. metres (4 million sq. ft) of retail space, rivalling the West Edmonton Mall for size. The system connects 50 office buildings/towers and has roughly 1,200 stores. The City estimates that 100,000 commuters use PATH daily.

The first underground tunnels for shoppers and pedestrians were dug in 1900 to connect Eaton with its annex location, but the PATH really took off in the 1970s when two of the major complexes were joined by tunnels.   

I have been exploring PATH on my lunch hours to familiarize myself with the labyrinth as much as possible before the sub-zero temperatures arrive. One day last week I hopped on the subway at Queen + University and went down to Union Station. I walked all the way back to Queen Street underground (the equivalent of 5 city blocks), and popped up at City Hall. Totally cool!

December 4, 2011

A One-of-a-Kind Weekend

We were treated this weekend to a wonderful visit with our dearest and closest friends Ingrid & Edward. Ingrid was my best girl at my wedding, and Mark and I both stood for Ingrid and Edward at their wedding. It was our first visit with them since moving from Kingston so we were all so pleased to finally reunite.

They arrived Saturday morning and we started our weekend by brunching at Mildred's Temple Kitchen. We then walked around Liberty Village, showing them our favourite shops.

We took a break at our apartment to catch up and then headed back out into the downtown so they could check into the landmark Royal York Hotel. I then took everyone on a quick walk and we headed over for a superlative dinner at Le Select Bistro. Mark and I shared a delicious charchuterie plate and then for a main I had neck of lamb and Mark had beef cheek. I passed on dessert but Mark had a lovely chocolate mousse.

Since we were all pleasantly stuffed we decided to walk up to Queen Street West. We ended up stopping in a great vintage shop, where Ingrid bought a Patagonia fleece for a really great price. We then hopped on a streetcar and got off near our movie rental place (which we sadly learned is closing at the end of the month). We purchased a fun scary movie and went back to our apartment to cosy up on the couch, like old times.

We met up with Ingrid & Edward Sunday morning at Marben where we enjoyed a yummy brunch. I had sneakily arranged for a surprise reunion with an old housemate named Dutt (Ingrid and I had lived with him when we were at Queen's). We had not seen Dutt in nearly 15 years. When he walked in Ingrid literally screamed out "Oh my God!". It was a great reaction. We had a long chat, with some fun stories and catching up.

After we said goodbye to Dutt the four of us headed over to the Direct Energy Centtre to take in the One-of-a-Kind Christmas Show. It was awesome, albeit overwhelming. There were around 800 vendors, so it was a lot to take in. Mark was thrilled to find the Monster Factory booth.  After quite some time trying to decide which monster to adopt, Mark finally chose Donnie (pictured at left). Donnie seemed quite happy to be coming to our home. He smiled all the way out of the show.

Ingrid also adopted a monster and she found a beautiful dress too. We then had to let them get on the highway back to Kingston. We were sad to see them go but we were buoyed by the fact that we will see them later in the month.

December 2, 2011

Seeing, with a Conscience

I purchased these glasses recently at a great shop called Spec and Specs on Queen Street West. After scouring the store for that just-right fit, I fell in love with these Eco frames instantly.

What I did not know until after ordering them is that they are made with 95% recycled components, the only optical collection to be certified by the Underwriters Laboratory with a Environmental Claims Validation. The company also plants a tree for each frame sold. They are currently up to 625,505 trees! Now that's seeing good and doing good.

November 30, 2011

Creep Night

Being the horror genre fan he is, Mark has fallen for FX's chilling new show "American Horror Story". Of course, that means I have been watching it every Wednesday night alongside him.

It's a downright creepy show, with some genuinely scary elements. The series revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who moved from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish. Alas, their new home is the source of far deeper and demented problems than they could have ever imagined.

The cast is anchored around Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") as a psychiatrist; Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights"), who plays his wife, and newcomer Taissa Farmiga as their teenage daughter.

However, it's the supporting cast that is actually worth watching. The legendary Jessica Lange ("The Postman Always Rings Twice") plays the Harmon’s neighbor, chewing every scene like only few can. Evan Peters ("One Tree Hill") is memorable as a psychiatric patient and the remarkable Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") is the Harmon’s excessively devoted housekeeper. And then there's that guy in the rubber suit...

He Shops, He Scores!

This morning marked the opening of the much-hyped new Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Located on the ground floor, the store promises their Joe Fresh clothing line and a whole range of “food experiences” including a sushi bar, chocolate-by-the-chunk and “The Amazing Wall of Cheese,” an 18-foot-high wall of world cheeses complete with a 100-pound wheel of Stilton.

The upper two floors of the Gardens is being renovated into a new athletic facility for Ryerson University.

I have not visited the new store yet (it only opened 10 minutes ago!) but I applaud this creative mixed redevelopment of the Gardens, located in a part of the downtown core that is rather dilapidated. Hopefully it will help anchor a revitilization of the neighbourhood.   

November 27, 2011

We Went Walking

Sunday morning dawned overcast and rainy, but we did not let that stop us from having a grand adventure.

We started our day by meeting Mark's nephew Jordan for brunch in tony Yorkville, at celebrity chef Mark McEwan's  One Restaurant. This is the kind of place that takes your coat at the door and has full marble restrooms. The decor and layout were impressive. I was pleasantly surprised that our waiter was not only pleasant but down-to-earth. The service was very good and the food was also quite good. I had eggs Benedict and I appreciated that instead of the typical English muffin that it was served on a homemade brioche.

We then strolled around Yorkville, taking in some of the fabulous shops, including Teotro Verde (the most stunning home decor shop I have ever visited) and Pusateri's Fine Foods (an upscale grocery store and foodie haven). 

After saying goodbye to Jordan we checked out the men's department at venerable Holt Renfrew (Holt's, for those in the know) and then strolled westward into the Annex so Mark could go to Greg's Ice Cream for a cup of melted marshmellow ice cream (yummy!). We kept walking westward and entered into Bloor West Village, checking out a couple of bookstores, and just kept going, eventually dfinding ourselves at the famous Honest Ed's (I snapped the accompanying picture of its west facade).

We didn't go into Honest Ed's as our destination was the delightful street adjacent to the store called Mirvish Village. We were amazed by the one-of-a-kind shops, such as Beit Zatoun (a gallery and common space for social justice activism), comic book nirvana The Beguiling, movie poster, books, and collectibles mecca Hollywood Canteen, and our favourite find Vintage Video, home to 3,000 rare movie titles primarily from the 1930s to the 1970s as well as memorabilia and collectibles. 

We were completely in awe of Vintage Video. Opened in 1988 by a passionate cineophile named John Barthel. Mark was hoping to find a copy of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948) and lo and behold Mr. Barthel was easily able to find us one and give us a great history lesson on the movie. What a lovely man! We respected his passion and knowledge of classic movies and we look forward to returning to look for some more gems.

Before hopping on the streetcar to take us home we checked out Sonic Boom, which has to be the largest used CD, DVD, records store I have ever seen! Besides being the largest independent music store in Toronto, Sonic Boom is als known for its creative window displays.

November 26, 2011

In the Neighbourhood

I took this picture earlier today as we strolled through Roncesvalles Village, Toronto's Polish enclave. Just last month The New York Times described the eponymous main street as being filled with "indie bookstores, quirky coffeehouses and smart boutiques [that] feel more like small-town hangouts...with a blessed absence of the chain stores that have crept across Toronto".

Our day began with brunch at School in Liberty Village, and then we walked westward along Queen Street West into Parkdale Village, which has become a great source for funky vintage clothing stores and antique shops. We discovered a great vintage shop called Philistine, in which I found and purchased a beautiful Brooks Brothers Polo Button-Down shirt. This was a real find as it is was actually made in the USA, a rarity these days in the clothing retail industry.

The other fantastic vintage shop we found is called Studio 1686. The store is run by sisters Marya and Irene, who both worked in wardrobe in the film industry for 20 years. The clothing in the store was worn by stars. They cull all the cast-off clothing from various film productions. I tried on two beautiful shirts but did not take any home.

We kept walking west on Queen Street and were soon in Roncesvalles, and enjoyed the recently revitalized main street (Downtown Kingston BIA please take note), with its delis, cafes, bakeries, used book stores, and unique shops. We decided to have an early dinner, opting for authentic Polish cuisine at Bistro La La.  We each had a pint of Tyskie beer, and Mark opted for dumplings with goulash whereas I started with a delicious borscht, followed by a massive schnitzel. Tummies stuffed, we walked home to end our wonderful day of exploring.

November 24, 2011

Preppy Vitals

It's beginning to feel a lot like...

On the way back from a training session I took this picture of one of the wonderful windows of the flagship store of The Bay.

They have created a series of Christmas dioramas that are both heart-tugging in their sentiment and jaw-dropping in their detail.

Reminiscent of the famous Macy's windows in the Big Apple, I was impressed to see the creative investment in the displays alongside the very busy Queen Street West and Yonge Street facades of this very impressive building.

This is not your grandmother's The Bay. The flagship is decidedly upscale (including a gorgeous Burberry boutique), with a snazzy interior design, layout, and focus on customer service. I purchased some new Florsheim shoes there last week and received marvellous personal attention.

Speaking of attention, I patronized Truefitt & Hill Barber this week, since I was off-site all week in the Financial District. Although pricey, the experience was really, ahem, a cut above. When I arrived they took my coat, offered me a shoe shine, and then I was lead to my chair, given a very good cut, a lovely wash and scalp massage, then a neck and shoulder massage, and finally sent off with some proprietary aftershave. I will definitely return once in a while as a special treat. 


November 23, 2011

Up, up, and Beyond

Here's the view out our living room windows from earlier this evening. Thought you would like the sunset view on the Toronto skyline.

That very iconic skyline is the theme of this posting. New data reveals Toronto is building more high-rises than anywhere else in North America.

There are currently 132 high-rise buildings (meaning 12 to 40 floors) under construction in Toronto. For a sense of context, Mexico City ranks second with 88, New York City is third with 86, Chicago is fifth with 17, while Miami rounds out the top five with 16 high-rises in progress. Overall, Toronto has the second-highest number of completed high-rises and skyscrapers in North America, with 1,875.

Fueling the frantic building is a record year of Toronto condo sales of $10-billion. Soon to join the list is a just-announced 75-storey condo called 10 York which will, ahem, trump the soon-to-be-completed 60-storey Trump International Hotel & Tower. Trump has been proudly marketing itself as Canada's tallest residential tower, a title it may only enjoy for a couple of years.

The thousands of new residents will eventually get around downtown in a fleet of new TTC streetcars and new "Rocket" subway trains

November 20, 2011

Geeks, Wine, and a Reunion

This past weekend began with a wonderful reunion with two of our dearest friends from Kingston, Karen & Jen.

They arrived just before noon and, after a tour of our apartment, we set out into Liberty Village in search of brunch. My original plan was to take them to School but it was so packed that we decided to move on and we ended up at Liberty Bistro, an utterly charming, relaxed, and peaceful oasis. The food was great and the service even better!

After stuffing our tummies, we toured the girls around Liberty Village, making sure we hit favourite spots such as For the Love of Cake (for some yummy cupcakes), urban furniture store casalife, and the always fun decor store West Elm.

We then strolled over to West Queen West to take in Toronto's hippest hood, checking out places like the Drake General Store (the best little gift shop ever), BYOB (a one-of-a-kind cocktail emporium), and a pop-up shop operated by the Clothing Brand Experiment.  We finished the evening off with a fantastic dinner at Terroni before saying our goodbyes.

We began Sunday with brunch at Marben, which has quickly become a favourite of ours. Then we were off to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to first embrace our inner geek hood at Toronto Comicon. This was a collector's paradise, with about 80 vendors selling their various wares. There were certainly every stereotype present, from the Kevin Smith lookalikes, to the anime costumed girls, to the pierced goth group. Overall, very good fun. I got excited when I stumbled across a Bloom County compendium, and Mark purchased a two-volume collection of  an Astonishing X-Men series written by our hero Joss Whedon.

Then we strolled over to the south building at the MTCC to take in the Food and Wine Expo.  I was in heaven, strolling around all of the various wine vendors. I took in a few tastings as well, notably a 21 year-old Balvenie Portwood single malt scotch, and a Cab Sauv from the Diamond Collection of Francis Ford Coppola.

November 17, 2011

Are You Ready to Go Back?

James Cameron's epic boat movie has been remastered and converted into 3D and will be back in theatres in March 2012. I loved "Titanic" and have never been embarrassed to admit so. I was never too cool for this movie, as so many claimed to be (As I like to joke, "Titanic" was the highest grossing film of all time for nearly 15 years that no one saw and that everyone hated). Looking forward to seeing this improved version of the film. Cameron proved with "Avatar" that 3D executed properly can be a marvel. My heart will go on...

November 14, 2011

If Only it Could Walk

I took this picture of the landmark building at OCAD U, the Sharp Centre for Design, last week on my way to a meeting. Known affectionately around the city as "the table top", the Sharp Centre has quickly become a tourist destination in its own right. 

I am always seeing folks stopping to take pictures of the Centre, which is nicely complemented by the CN Tower if you are looking southward (my picture was taken looking north). In fact, we can see the distinctive black-dotted, 12-legged monolith from our condo. 

Winner of a 2004 RIBA Worldwide Award, the building was described as "courageous, bold and just a little insane." It certainly added a whimsical jolt in 2004 to what had long been an architecturally staid section of the city (Frank Gehry's outstanding transformation of the neighbouring AGO was not completed until 2008).  

November 8, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

I snapped this picture of the Toronto skyline as seen from our living room on Saturday afternoon.  I love how the CN Tower is framed by the lines of our patio door and the balcony railing.

It's already been a month but I still get chills when I look out the window in the morning, and more so at night. It's a solid reminder that we're not in Kansas anymore, if you know what I mean.

This past weekend was more relaxed. Once again, we hit the Wellington Street Art Gallery for an opening of work done by a Kingston artist named Connie Morris. We also met up with a Kingston friend named Hugh at the WSAG, which was a nice treat.

On Sunday we explored the neighourhood immediately to the west of us, Parkdale. Home to one of the largest Tibetan diasporas in the world, Parkdale is very ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. We wandered along the Queen Street portion of the 'hood and I found it to be remarkably genuine, full of all sorts of interesting characters. The yuppy/hipster gentrification of nearby West Queen West has not fully reached into Parkdale, so there was a mix of the rough-and-tumble street folk as well as tons of immigrants, and the odd yuppy here and there. I felt I was walking in a real Toronto neighbourhood.

Our destination was actually to visit Glen, a friend of Mark's from OCAD U that he lived with in Campus Co-op with back in the '90s (in a lovely coincidence I was living in Science'44 Co-op in Kingston around the same time!). It was so nice to see these old friends reunite, and we made plans to see each other on a regular basis.

Closer to my office in the , I was thrilled to stumble across Little Nicky's, a fantastic, locally-owned coffee shop. It's tiny but adorable, with home made baked goodies and a very good coffee indeed. I loved the one-of-a-kind ambiance. I also checked out Canteen, the O&B joint on the ground floor of the Bell Lightbox (home of TIFF).  Their grab and go section is very well stocked and I could see this becoming a regular option for my morning coffee and treat.

November 4, 2011

A Gentleman's Oasis

I had the distinct pleasure to patronize Terminal Barber Shop 2 this week. Located a block west from the original landmark  shop (est. 1925), the second location is exactly what you expect a proper barber shop to look, feel, and even smell like.

Besides the warm and beautiful wood floors, the centrepieces of The Terminal are their vintage barber chairs. Absolutely stunning, they are magnificent works of craftsmanship.

Clients are treated to classical music emanating from hidden speakers as they hang their coats in a handsome wardrobe. With the comforting odour of talcum powder floating about, you slip into one of their leather lounge chairs, enjoy a newspaper or one of the neatly stacked men's magazines from the UK.

There are three barbers, neatly dressed in 3-button white coats, and they are meticulous, courteous, and very professional. I meet one of the owners, Karim Saaden, and he welcomes me and asks my name. My barber is Frank, and he quietly and efficiently works on my hair, with scissors, a very quiet shaver, and a straight razor. 

The experience harkens back to a centuries old tradition. I have to say this was one of the most civilized 30 minutes I have ever spent. I'm sure it was not that long ago one could have expected to be offered a scotch or a cigar. This was indeed a proper barber shop, not a "hair salon" or "stylist" or however else folks with scissors like to call themselves. This is the real deal, old school, musk and all. What a wonderful discovery amongst the cacophony of downtown Toronto.

October 31, 2011

Monday, Scary Monday

On this All Hallows' Eve we joined our friends Patrick & Raymond for dinner at yummy Just Thai, and then headed onto three city blocks of  Church Street closed to traffic for the annual "Halloweek" Block Party.

Billed as the largest outdoor Hallowe'en party in Canada, the block party was filled with thousands of revellers, most of whom outfitted in costumes, from sexy to scary.

I snapped this picture of a giant and fearsome rat, who towered over everybody. We saw many fantastic outfits, featuring some great creativity and imagination. I can't recall the last time I had so much fun!

October 27, 2011

Art, Music, and Clubs, Oh My!

Thursday night kicked off our upcoming three days of culture madness, as we headed to the second floor of The Gladstone Hotel to take in the opening night of their annual upArt Contemporary Art Fair.

We went to see some friends of Mark's named Marc Ngui and Magda Wojtyra whose huge textile piece "Polytopia" was hung at the entrance to the exhibit.

Friday night we will be attending an art party at the Wellington Street Art Gallery, owned by our friend Patrick McNeil. He will be featuring the work of artist Imam Azhari, who uses both traditional and modern Trompe L'oeil techniques.

After the party we will be trekking up to The Press Club to watch our friend Dave perform with his band, Ravaged By Wolves, an experimental/punk/rock collective.

Saturday will feature a visit from longtime Kingston friend Rebecca and then we are off to the Toronto International Art Fair.  The fair will feature 109 fine art galleries from 13 countries and is the largest and most celebrated indoor visual art event in Canada.

October 24, 2011

Sunday Morning, You Look Fine

We started gorgeous Sunday with a very hearty egg, cheese, and veggie scramble, courtesy of my beloved. Then it was a two-streetcar ride up to the corner of Bloor St. West and Bathurst St. to start our tour.

Our first stop was Mark's favourite bookshop, the Annex location of Book City.  He was quickly drooling over their art section. We then discovered Theodore 1922, a high-end men's store that had us both drooling. The quality of the fabrics alone was stunning, and we were very impressed with the colours and styling.

We then strolled towards the "Magnificent Mile" section of Bloor Street and visited the lower end of the scale retailers, such as Club Monaco, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, before continuing east into the Village.

By this time it was 4 pm so we had a quick bite to eat at the quaint and friendly Church St Diner before heading to a favourite clothing store, Out on the Street. The latter occupies three floors of a townhouse and has amazing deals on stylish men's clothing. We each found and bought handsome zipped cardigan sweater; mine is made by Penguin, while Mark's is made by Alexander Christian.

A streetcar dropped us off near our place and we settled down on the couch to rest our feet and enjoy a viewing of "Monsters vs. Aliens", a very fun animated movie!

October 23, 2011

Viva West Queen West!

After countless hours setting up our new apartment, we pledged that we would finally spend this weekend exploring the city, especially our neighbourhood to the north, West Queen West.

We met up with my dear friend Dana after work on Friday and had dinner at the Queen St location of Terroni, the stalwart home of  southern Italian cuisine. We finished the evening at so-hip-it-hurts The Gladstone Hotel.

On Saturday morning we met Mark's longtime friend Toni at Cafe Bernate, where we started our afternoon with the most delectable home style brunch. I enjoyed an asparagus and Swiss cheese scramble that was just perfect.  We can't wait to go back with our friends from out-of-town.

We then hit the galleries on Ossington Street, with our favourite being AWOL. Returning back to West Queen West, we were accosted by thousands of Zombies, gathering for the 9th annual Zombie Walk. Yes, you read that correctly. Literally thousands of people were fully decked out with some pretty awesome zombie makeup and costumes, both old and young alike.

After the galleries it was time to hit the design stores, including 70s kitsch bar store BYOB, pretentiously named but cool Industrial Storm,  organizers' heaven Neat, and our favourite, Style Garage.

We had to then part with Toni and rush back home to prepare dinner for our friends Patrick & Raymond, owners of the Wellington Street Art Gallery--where we shall be this coming week for their next show opening.

More adventures in the city to come!

October 14, 2011

The Streetcar Shuffle (and other news)

Day four of commuting by streetcar has allowed me to observe the peculiar ritual that I am naming the "streetcar shuffle". Basically you are supposed to enter the car from the front only, then either (1) stand along the perimeter facing toward the window or (2) if perimeter is full, enter car as quickly as possible and slowly move down the centre of your aisle. This shuffle usually happens over the course of a few stops so you can strategically situate yourself as close to the rear exit doors in anticipation of your intended stop. This may or may not work according to the volume of bodies packed in the car.

For the most part I have found my fellow city residents to be a friendly and civil lot. There have certainly been some interesting characters but overall I am pleasantly surprised. In fact, I have had far more "Hello", "Excuse Me", and general courtesies on a per capita basis than I would encounter in a typical day in Kingston (population 125,000)!! 
There is a West Elm in Liberty Village and we took a peruse and found a gorgeous bath mat for our en-suite bathroom. I had not heard of West Elm before. They are part of the Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn group of stores. We loved the store and we met the sweetest and most helpful staff member too.

Mark's long-time friends Toni and Dave suggested we meet at Bier Mrkt on Wednesday night to take advantage of Oktoberfest specials. This place has over 100 beers on the menu, and the limited-time-only Bavarian Pretzels were awesome.
As I was getting shaggy, I ventured this week to one of the great barber shops of Toronto, Aristotelis. I managed to get seated within 20 minutes and got an amazing and attentive cut from Tito, a Venezuelan who emigrated to Canada 31 years ago. 

Looking forward to having our first moved-in weekend. We are brunching with a friend on Saturday and then planning to head to IKEA on Sunday to get some bookshelves so we can put all our books in place. 

October 9, 2011

Reporting Live from Toronto

This marks my first posting as a resident of Toronto. I took the attached picture from our balcony. This is our actual view eastward from our condo apartment!

I keep pinching myself, as I can't believe that this is what I now wake up and see each morning as I make my morning coffee (thank the Maker my Bodum made the trip safely!).

We've spent the last couple of days buried in a sea of boxes, trying to make sense of the mess and putting our new apartment together. We finally crossed the magic line when it became home, helped immensely by Mark hanging our art work and photographs.

We did sneek out a couple of times, to get breakfast; first to the homey Liberty Village Market & Cafe on Friday and then to the hip School bakery and cafe on Saturday morning.  I also enjoyed a cappuccino at the gorgeous Liberty Village location of Balzac's.

The next couple of days we will take some much-needed rest, get some supplies, and start to explore the nearby fantastic neighbourhoods that make up West Queen West and King West Village.  

October 3, 2011

Farewell to Kingston

Mark and I enjoyed a farwell dinner at celebrated Kingston restaurant Chez Piggy, thanks to a generous gift certificate from my colleagues at Yonge House. We enjoyed a fantastic three-course table d'hote that featured a superb carved Muscovy Dusk.

Chez Piggy is one of those Kingston landmarks that we shall very much miss as well as its companion bakery, Pan Chancho.  We shall also be looking to somehow replace Classic Video, whose back collection of TV shows and movies is nothing short of amazing. Of course, I will also miss my beloved Queen's but I plan on being heavily involved with the Queen's  Toronto Alumni Branch.

Other things we will miss about Kingston are the Farmer's Market, the waterfront near the Kingston Yacht Club, and strolling along historic King Street.

I came to age in Kingston and, after 20 years, I am grateful for my time in the city and am looking forward to our new chapter and adventures in Toronto. Still, Kingston will always have a very special place in my heart.

September 26, 2011

Dub, Black Dub

Legendary Canadian record  producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young) has formed a band called Black Dub

Featuring a wicked lead vocalist named Trixie Whitley and the most brilliant drummer named Brian Blade, Black Dub is a great musical foursome.

One of my favourite songs is called "Ring the Alarm" as it showcases each person's great talents so well.  Fans of Lanois will quickly recognize his signature guitar sound and production, recently so well crafted on Neil Young's album Le Noise (check out stand out song "Walk With Me".)

Part soul, part rock, part reggae, part magic, Black Dub create a wonderful noise together. 

September 24, 2011

Maple Cheese

By complete accident, I caught a great documentary on CBC called "Rise Up: Canadian Pop Music in the 1980s". What a wonderful trip down nostalgia lane!

The early 80s saw the origin of music video television, first in the US with MTV and then here in Canada with MuchMusic. But since there were so few music videos, Canadian acts who managed to produce videos ended up getting copious amounts of playtime on both sides of the border. I am sure many folks assumed many of the pop hits of the decade were American or European bands as a result.

The documentary shows how MuchMusic really broke new music outside of album-oriented classic rock that had dominated the radio stations. The Vee-Jay was born (I had a massive crush on Erica Ehm) and the MuchMusic open studio, wobbly camera style became a signature style. The other thing the doc effectively illustrates is how incredibly influential Toronto's Queen St West was on the Canadian pop music scene.

Although not quite chronologically ordered, the documentary plays like a checklist of essential Canadian 1980's pop hits.  And it's an impressive list indeed. Bands such as Chilliwack, Glass Tiger,  Red Rider, The Pursuit of Happiness, Slow, 54-40, Blue Rodeo, Parachute Club, Triumph, Cowboy Junkies, Men Without Hats, The Box, and The Grapes of Wrath.

The decade also gave us some huge solo acts, such as Maestro Fresh-Wes, Daniel Lavoie, Gowan, Bruce Cockburn, Corey Hart, Jane Siberry, Robbie Robertson, Daniel Lanois, Tom Cochrane, k.d. lang, Kim Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan and, the biggest of them all, Bryan Adams.

Ah, what terrible fun.

September 22, 2011

REM Goes to Sleep

REM announced yesterday on their web site that they are disbanding.

For those of us in high school in the '80s and university in the '90s REM was the quintessential alternative rock band. They pretty much owned the college radio crown during that period.

In 1990 there was a guy named Vasilio who lived on the same floor as me in Leonard Hall residence at Queen's. He would blast REM's "Superman" over and over and over. I think there were threats of bodily harm shouted around the hall quite a few times.
Ah, what good memories.

I have always loved and respected REM. Their catalogue is incredible and they have given us a collection of lasting and influential songs. Thank you, REM, for your passion and for your heart breaking  and beautiful music.

As a tribute, here is one ardent's fan guide to the 20 best REM songs. Enjoy!! 

September 12, 2011

OCAD University celebrates 135 years

This year marks the 135th anniversary of my new workplace, Ontario College of Art & Design University.

To mark this significant milestone, OCAD U has launched a 135 Website, to provide a one-stop resource for the series of events and campus initiatives.

As part of my duties I will be attending an alumni social next week at Toronto's famed art hotel,  Gladstone Hotel.

What an exciting new adventure! 

September 8, 2011

From the Sky Down

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of U2's groundbreaking album Achtung Baby. I'll give you a moment to let that one sink in...

I vividly remember going to the now-closed brilliant Kingston music store called House of Sounds to purchase the album in cassette form on release day in November of 1991. I was in third year at Queen's and living in Victoria Hall residence. I recall sitting in my rez room with my best buddy Pravin, unwrapping the cassette and popping it in. The look on our faces when the opening distortion of "Zoo Station" was classic WTF?!

This was U2? We were hardcore second-generation U2 fans, raised on The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987), and especially Rattle and Hum (1988). We did not recognize our beloved band.  Where were the open landscapes, the poetry, the sound of rockabilly and desert hymns? 

It is forever to U2's credit that they released Achtung Baby. Considering the trio of albums that preceded it, it is almost hard to believe the same band created the sound that Bono famously referred to as "four men chopping down the Joshua tree". 

And yet Bono's quip is so very insightful. Achtung Baby was the album that U2 had to make in order to survive as a band and, ultimately, as friends. There was a great possibility of U2 imploding, and the crisis bore what many consider to be one of the finest and most influential rock albums of the past 25 years.

To mark the occasion, U2 allowed esteemed Academy Award winning documentarian David Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) to film the story of the making of Achtung Baby. The documentary, From the Sky Down, just opened the 2011 TIFF. You can catch a cool preview of the film here.

September 4, 2011

Our New 'Hood

We drove up to Toronto for the day on Friday to officially sign off on our new condo apartment. We arrived early enough so we could explore our new neighbouhood, Liberty Village.

According to Toronto Life, "with sexy new storefronts, high-gloss condos and plans to build a canopied walkway modelled after a Milanese arcade, the former factory blocks are poised to become the next Chelsea Market". Interestingly, this is exactly what Mark said as we were walking around the narrow streets between the repurposed 19th-century red brick buildings.

The area began as an industrial area, and was home to a prison and then a reformatory. The CNE began in the neighbourhood too. Today, Liberty Village is home to film companies, arts and design companies and dozens of cafes, restaurants, and quirky stores, such as For the Love of Cake, the Village Cheesemonger, and Beer Boutique, the newsest retail experience from the stodgy The Beer Store. The neighbourhood pub is called Brazen Head and there is a wicked lounge bar called Locus 144.

We also took a tour of King West Fitness, an awesome 18,000 sq ft gym club inside a warehouse. Mark is likely going to join for a few months, until our condo's gym and indoor pool are completed.

Suffice it to say, we are getting pretty darn excited! More to come...


August 22, 2011

New Job, New City

I am thrilled to announce that I have accepted a position at OCAD University!  Mark and I will be moving to Toronto on October 1 so I can be ready to begin my role as the Manager, Alumni Relations.

OCAD is "Canada's university of the imagination", offering degree programs in visual arts and design. Established in 1876, OCAD lies in the heart of downtown Toronto and offers a blend of studio-based and critical inquiry learning. Many people have seen or heard of OCAD because of the distinctive Sharp Centre for Design, which perches over the neighbourhood. The "tabletop" has quickly become one of Toronto's iconic buildings.

I will be responsible for providing leadership and strategic direction to the alumni relations portfolio and the University’s alumni organizations in order to strengthen the engagement of alumni in the life of the University and its students, and in support of its objectives for fundraising growth.

I will also be leading the development of programs and services that deliver value to alumni throughout their lives, deepening their engagement with the University and with each other, maximizing the power and pride of a fully engaged global alumni base of more than 10,000 individuals.

So, we are excited and thrilled to be heading to Toronto and are now apartment-hunting and just starting to realize that we have to leave our beloved Kingston circle of friends/family. The former will certainly be easier than the latter.


Canada lost a great citizen earlier today, the leader of the NDP and the Leader of the Opposition.

A true gentleman, and passionate advocate of the  disadvantaged, friend to the working class, and caring leader for his party.

He was a politician of a different ilk, a positive force and more of a man on the street than a man in a suit. May he rest in peace.

Jack Layton
1950 - 2011

August 4, 2011

Making a Difference

There's a quaint brown brick house on the lower campus of Queen's University that has been quietly and modestly making a difference in the lives of students for almost 40 years.

It's most likely that thousands of Queen's students have walked by the house without knowing the great influence the staff and volunteers have had over the past four decades.

The house is home to the Ban Righ Centre--operated by the Ban Righ Foundation for Continuing University Education--which supports the personal development and academic achievements of women entering Queen's as mature students, or re-entering after a time away, and facilitates their involvement in university life.

The Ban Righ Foundation grew out of the intrepid group of female Queen's alumnae who tirelessly campaigned to establish and build the first residence for women at Queen's in the early 1920s. These enterprising women raised $80,000 over 15 years to cover half of the project cost and the building, named Ban Righ Hall (Scottish Gaelic for "the sovereign woman"), opened in 1925.

Today a welcoming environment supports mature female students within the cozy confines of the Ban Righ Centre. Guest speakers, mentors, student advisors, daily lunches, lounge, kitchen, and study space await. The Centre also disburses quite a few wonderful bursaries and awards to help students offset the costs of attending university.

I am proud to say that I have recently finalized the process to become a benefactor to the Ban Righ Centre by creating an endowed bursary in my mother's name. The bursary will be awarded on the basis of financial need to mature female students who are either beginning or returning to their university studies. Preference will be given to students combining family, employment, and other responsibilities with their academic studies. The bursary will be awarded for the first time in 2012. I can't wait to meet our first recipient!!

The Centre has a wonderful fundraising initiative called Who Is She? that allows you to honour a woman who has made a difference in your life. You can make a gift to the Ban Righ Centre and then write a tribute to your special woman. For inspiration check out the tributes here.