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.