Saturday, April 30, 2011

destroy everything u touch

getting better. no, really.

despite my long-term anemia, my immune system has been top notch as of late, and my healing ability never ceases to amaze me (and my dentist, who has commented on my last two gum grafts that my blood clots "extremely well" and that i must have very healthy platelets). i'm thinking the primal diet should get the accolades for that; whenever someone asks why i haven't gotten sick when half the office has been taken out by the plague, i just credit "a lot of bacon and a lot of sleep". seriously, i keep my flour/sugar/grain intake to a bare minimum, eat a lot of healthy fats, exercise regularly and get 7-8 hours of solid sleep every night -- and look at that, mouth bounces right back after surgery. who'd have thought.

i'm kind of neurotic about my sleeping patterns, actually -- after so many years of being a night owl, working until late and being out at the bars until 3 a.m., i've settled into a much normal routine of getting tired around 10 p.m. and hitting the sack between 10:30 and 11. i'm usually out like a light by 11:30, and i sleep soundly until my internal clock nudges me awake around 7:30 -- every day, without fail. i feel like this is the kind of sleeping pattern that some people (insomniacs, mostly, plus my sleep apnea-afflicted significant other) would kill for.

and really, it works spectacularly for me because i hate being tired. can't deal with it. i don't mind some daytime sleepiness, but if i'm forcing myself to be out at a show past 11 p.m., i get droopy and lethargic. it's borderline embarrassing, especially considering my earlier ability to be up at all hours, but i keep reminding myself that that's the price i pay for having such a solid sleep schedule. i'm turning into such an old lady.

...complete with green thumb:

two weeks ago

two days ago

poking their heads up are zucchini (which will surely take over our balcony), bush tomatoes, a variety of mesclun lettuce, thyme and cilantro (basil and rosemary have yet to make appearances). inspired, i've since bought two more pots and another bag of soil, and just planted another pot of lettuce as well as something called "micro greens". all of this stuff is supposed to be fairly easy to grow, which is what i'm aiming for in my fledgling year as an urban gardener.

also: blueberry bush is in the mail, on its way to me.  i think i have a problem.

coming up on the schedule is...absolutely nothing.  preparing for chicago trip in less than a month (must pick up bus tickets; must drop $100+ on a new suitcase), trying to figure out if/when i'd be able to take a trip to kingston this summer, quietly rejoicing the fact that the boy just purchased an xbox 360 (we'll have one after all!), anticipating getting my hands on new tech gadgets this week, drinking vodka, hoping that the canucks crash and burn (it's a bitter leafs fan thing), and missing solid non-mushy/liquid food.  that's all, for now.

[ music | canucks vs. predators, game 2 ]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

bigmouth strikes again

third gum graft done this morning. bam.

here's the thing: i don't like pain. i'm sure there's some people who do - masochists, professional wrestlers, that guy from the girl who played with fire - but me, having never broken a bone or needing major surgery (touch wood on both), i'm a wuss. i don't play in any sports leagues either - which is something i keep considering as an adult; it'd be good for me, right? - so i rarely have cause to be hurting.

thus, pain threshold: not very high.  probably sounds a little weird coming from someone who has five tattoos and three piercings, and especially weird considering my abject fear of needles, but there you have it.  the thought of impending pain makes me whimper, and i remember last year, the weeks leading up to gum graft #2 were almost unbearable.  i think i almost nearly cancelled, too.

but i can entirely admit to having a pitiful attitude when i'm sick or injured -- this, i'm sure, is leftover from when i was a kid, and my sister - who has a rare genetic disability - was in and out of the hospital like clockwork.  thus, i always felt like i didn't get as much attention as she did, even when i was sick.  childish, i know, but there you have it.  also, the many years i spent living by myself far away from my family didn't make my pity party any easier; even now, i still get mopey and forlorn when i'm sick and alone.

i admit it: it's not feminist of me at all, but i want someone to take care of me when i'm injured or ill. the boy does what he can, but he's not the caregiver sort, and doesn't really know what to do. (also: i can get whiny and moody.) and so the little girl in me is left wanting for her mom to hug her, bring her some soup and tell her she'll be better soon.

...i guess all this doesn't really paint a very good picture of me, huh? oh well, call it blog honesty. also, call it a wakeup call to myself: maybe i do need to join some sports leagues or something, just to get my pain threshold back up there a little bit. take some more risks, not be afraid of a little blood.  might make things a little more interesting.

that said, though, i got home post-surgery around 11:30 this morning, and my mouth only slowed its bleeding about half an hour ago. (i also swallowed so much blood during the surgery that you might as well call me caitlin cullen.) i've gone through half a roll of paper towel (used to sponge the blood off my tongue since spitting isn't recommended for the first 24 hours) and half a dozen black tea bags (pressing a soaked one against the donor site apparently helps the blood clot, but i haven't seen that happen yet).  my stomach's turning itself inside out because i haven't eaten anything since 8 a.m., and i'm kind of scared to try now that the bleeding is finally petering off. 

but, you know, wahhhh-mbulance and all that.  i had today off work and i'm working from home tomorrow, so hopefully i can kick the immune system into high gear by just taking it easy for a few days.  in the meantime, i'm off to find some way to combat both this nausea and the ongoing taste of copper in my mouth (especially since i'm heavy mouth-breathing right now).

oh, and sorry, fellow "patriotic canadians" -- go bruins, and go blackhawks.

[ music | the raveonettes, "recharge & revolt" ]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

great expectations

easter sunday! easter long weekend! which generally garners a shrug and a "meh" from me.

with the exception of my baptist stepmother, my family is not religious; both my parents were born protestant, and non-practicing as far as i know. there was certainly no practicing of religion when my sister and i were being brought up, and the closest i ever got to spiritual ceremonies were a few weddings of teenaged friends in high school (oh, and one disastrous attempt to take me to a christmas service at the village church when i was four years old, overtired and hopped-up on sugar).

and so easter weekend is never a huge occasion for me. i don't use it as an opportunity visit family like so many other do, whether religious or not. the only two concentrated times that i go back to kingston throughout the year are thanksgiving (which is also my birthday weekend) and christmas. and after the small personal revelations made last christmastime, i've been more active in acclimatizing myself to the fact that this is my home now. calling kingston my home and talking about "going home" is, more or less, false; with the exception of the eight months i lived in vancouver, i've been a denizen of toronto for ten years now, which is actually longer than i ever lived in kingston. (my family moved to kingston when i was thirteen, and i took off for toronto the year i turned nineteen. again, with that exception of vancouver, i haven't left since.)

anyway, today - mostly spent at home watching playoff hockey with the boy and going on walks around the neighbourhood to soak up some sunshine - still gave me pause to recollect easters past. my mom and dad did the whole hiding-chocolate-eggs-around-the-house thing for my older sister and i - which, given the monstrous size of our home, was such a damned feat that we would still find stale eggs months later - though i constantly longed instead for a stuffed bunny. (i already had too many stuffed animals as a child; my parents knew this.) once it was determined that my sister and i were too old for egg hunts, we were each gifted with one giant two-pound solid chocolate bunny, which i treated as a yearly endurance test: how much of this can i eat in one day? (easter sunday then mostly became synonymous with stomachaches and sugar crashes.)

om nom nom.

i guess i'm remembering this sort of wrong; there were indeed family get-togethers for easter when i was a kid, just never the kind that involved saying grace or talking about jesus. mostly, easter for me meant a big meal, a lot of chocolate, and having to put up with relatives every now and then. (of course, being a selfish kid, i remember often wondering bitterly why easter wasn't a holiday that included presents.) 

still, though -- that might go a long way in describing why i always feel a little empty today.  with so many people i know spending the weekend with their families, i start to wonder if i missed out on having a tradition.  it bums me out a bit to feel like i'm going without an opportunity to see my family -- i'm very close to them, ban on nonessential kingston travel or no.

of course, every few easters my father will mail me an easter card or oversized chocolate egg with a massive toy inside, and that makes everything right.

now?  for the last couple of years, my easter weekends have consisted of the boy's hockey tournaments (he has one every easter long weekend):

last year, at the hockey summit of the arts

this year, at the super cup

i'm a good hockey girlfriend.

this rambling sunday blog post brought to you by sheer boredom, a lack of interest in the flyers/sabres playoff series that's on t.v. right now, and my first few shoots of homegrown vegetables (mesclun lettuce, to be specific):

[ music | flyers vs. sabres, 3-2 blahhhhh ]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

springtime heart

as winter slowly (slowly) loosens its grip and spring is on the horizon, here are some sights and sounds from around the neighbourhood:

pretty planted flower boxes at the duke of york, the boy's and my "regular" pub (it's right across the street from us). yes, this is the place with my name on the menu. that definitely gives a girl a soft spot for pubgoing (as well as the fact that they offer deep-fried pepperoni) -- we're generally there once a week or so.

attending the annual parm cracking at the nearby whole foods market. once they put out the tweet saying that they'd be cracking open a giant wheel of cheese on saturday, i was there. because seriously, why not? (yes, i do all sorts of exciting shit on my weekends.)

some guy in front of me was calculating the cost of this entire wheel of two-year parmesan-reggiano (30 kilos!) to his companion, and i think he came up with something like $900. fortunately, the post-cracking samples were free. (though i totally cracked - ha ha - and picked up a chunk on sale afterward. i'm turning into a real cheese nerd.)

that same evening, torontonian alt-country rockers the sadies played a free gig at the toronto reference library as part of the make some noise, take some noise initiative. since the band members are friends of the boy's - he used to play hockey with some of them - and i'd never seen the sadies live before, we made the epic ten-minute walk to the library a few blocks away.

definitely a good way to spend a (free!) saturday night, despite the elementary-school assembly weirdness of most people sitting crosslegged on the floor as they watched. but the boy and i had a great time - and i think i found my mother & stepfather's new favourite band - and it was cool to see a concert in a rather unlikely venue. add to that some beers and some late hockey at the nearby pilot (and in case you were wondering, no, i am emphatically not cheering for either the habs or the canucks now that the leafs aren't in the running) and you have a pretty solid date night.

no stopping this week, either -- aside from it looking to be a hectic short week at work (you'd think having a four-day work week would be a positive; no, it just means you're trying to cram five days of work into four), there will be friend hangouts with allegra and brad on wednesday, japanese class #4 of 8 on thursday, leora's homecoming/nachocalypse at sneaky dee's on friday, dean's hockey tournament friday/saturday/sunday, volunteering at the food bank on easter monday, and spending next tuesday at the dentist having my gums sewn up.  hurrah.  (i also have to find time somewhere in there this week to put together my balcony planters; they need to stay inside for the next 6 weeks but they need to be planted first and foremost)

and finally, to celebrate the coming springtime and all things awesome, i preordered this t-shirt:

i am entertained by such simple things.

[ music | nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan ]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

into the mountain

back to the travel topic (because if i'm going to do it this year, i'm going to go as balls-out as i can manage): after careful budgeting and vacation-day allotment consideration, i've decided i'm going to spend the august long weekend in vancouver.

gorgeous photo of vancouver at dusk by lloyd k. barnes. oh, my heart.

the hopeful plan right now is to fly out on saturday july 30th and come back on wednesday august 3rd; with monday the 1st being a civic holiday, that means i only burn through two vacation days, leaving me with an additional four to use throughout the year (having already taken thanksgiving and christmas into consideration). it also means that i have to nut up and get ready to get back on an airplane, which isn't ideal considering how many media outlets are having field days with reporting plane malfunctions lately, but well. i have drugs now. hooray for drugs!

anyway, the original self-debate was whether or not i wanted to go to chicago or vancouver next month, and chicago won out. but then i started thinking about it, and i started rereading old blog posts, and i realized that i can't go without a vancouver trip this year. i missed out last year, but when i visited in 2009, it was something i so definitely needed that i vowed i'd try to make it to van at least once a year. like i said, it didn't happen in 2010 due to time and money constraints, but i've got enough of both right now.

also: i've never been to vancouver in the summer. really. i've been there october through may and that's it -- and i hear that the summertime with the beach and the mountains is unbelievable.

the thing is, there's just too much i miss about that city. referring back to this to-do list from 2009, and i feel like nothing's changed. i miss all the same places, all the same people (and oh god do i ever miss the food). i think i've mentioned it in here before, but there's a part of me i left behind on the west coast, and it keeps driving me back.  as i noted last time i visited, there's definitely a rosy tint to my nostalgia - i do have to remind myself that there were so many moments of absolute misery and loneliness - and though i don't think i could live there again, those months meant something to me.  that's becoming more and more obvious as my life gets further away from 2007-08.

as time passes over a few years, i'm finding that the previous years of my life are becoming more distant, and more like someone else's life -- or like something i watched on television once. and that scares me, the knowledge that even as i'm going forward and making new memories, i'm losing bits of my past. and going back to vancouver - even though i know it doesn't stay the same - feels like a way to travel to the past, sort of. it's like a reminder to myself that i lived here once, i had a life before this, remember where you came from. remember that this experience, and all the others, made you into who you are now.

no details given, but there was a moment this past week that i missed my old life so much i can't even put it into words.

[ music | rangers vs. capitals playoff hockey ]

Saturday, April 16, 2011

my best fix

another magical sugary creation from my favourite place: the kitchen.

this was a last-minute request from my best friend jenna's boyfriend: her surprise party was on friday, so could i bake a cake? although i figured my system was still prediabetic due to the bake sale madness the previous weekend, i agreed right away. baking for friends = favourite thing, for sure.

after conferring with mutual friend (and fellow baker) monique - who let me know that jenna's preferred cupcake to bake is vanilla - i pulled up this recipe for a basic yellow cake that i'd had my eye on for ages. as much as i love chocolate frosting with a yellow cake, i figured jenna would appreciate a vanilla icing as well. so after googling for a good vanilla buttercream frosting to use, i came across this "vanilla latte" frosting recipe from southern living. bingo -- jenna loves coffee and lattes. add on some rainbow sprinkles for fun and birthday candles for her to blow out, and you have yourself a homemade birthday cake that beats the crap out of anything store-bought.

in the wake of the bake sale last weekend - and anyone who might have made their way here on the trail of the goodies i made/sold - i guess i should answer two big questions:

why don't you have a food/cooking/baking blog?

i've thought about this before, but a few things obviously hold me back: for one, all the cooking and baking blogs i love appear to come up with their own recipes (at least, it's those blogs where i get all my recipes from). i'm not nearly that creative, or that patient. (also, i get either apoplectic with frustration when something i make doesn't turn out right.) so i'm not entirely sure what the draw would be for my blog, if people aren't showing up to grab new and different recipes. combine that with the fact that i'm a dunce in the ways of food photography, and i'd basically be a hopeless case. so for now, i'll just stick to sporadically posting semi-bad photos of the stuff i make (i have a whole "punk rock betty crocker" album on facebook that i use to torture my friends).

why don't you have your own business/work in a bakery?

see what i wrote up above there, about how i get apoplectic with frustration when something i make doesn't turn out right? that's because i'm a perfectionist when it comes to cooking and baking, and though i suppose that can be a good thing in a baker or cook, it stresses me the hell out. i mean, i get stressed just watching cooking shows. there's just too many variables i can't control, and i'm definitely a control freak in the kitchen. also, i have no head for business, so put those two things together and you get someone who'd be hopeless at having her own bakery.  and as much as i sometimes think it'd be fun to work in one, i have no experience and no formal schooling, so it'd take me some time to get off the ground (and i, um, rather like my editor job right now).

but yeah -- it took me a while to find out just how much i love cooking and baking, though i'm pretty sure it all comes back to my mother (who's one of those moms that can pull recipes from the top of her head, and rarely ever had a baking fail that i can recall).  for a brief period of time when i was a kid, i wanted to be a chef and had vague plans to go to george brown college when i was older.  these days, though, it's more of a casual/happy hobby, and i don't really have plans to expand it otherwise.

(though if you're an acquaintance and wanted me to bake you something for some occasion, i would totally be down. i can't allow myself to eat a whole pan of brownies or whatever and the boy doesn't have a sweet tooth, so i love baking on request.)

also, the other dilemma is that baked goods don't fit into the primal blueprint. i'll dabble once and a while, but i'm such a sugar junkie that it's a terribly slippery slope for me. and i'm a baking purist: i don't believe in substitutions, whether it's almond or coconut flour and honey to make it paleo/primal or applesauce and flax to make it vegan. like i said, i'm a perfectionist when it comes to baked stuff, and in my mind, that only truly comes with flour, butter and eggs. so yes, i've tried primal baking - elana's gluten-free recipes are particularly fantastic - but it's never exactly what i crave. plus, it all comes back to trying to clamp down on ye olde sweet tooth, and that's tough.

i keep trying for fewer moments of weakness, though. reading gary taubes every now and again seems to keep me on track (because it basically scares the hell out of you) and staying active at least makes me feel a bit better, but i know it's not enough. cursing my taste buds right here.

in short, baking is a great hobby -- just so long as i'm not left to eat all of the results.

speaking of staying active, it's early-morning weekend gym time. make your saturday better and watch my newest obsession, pop tart cat (hit that link and turn your sound on):

[ music | nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan ]

Monday, April 11, 2011

indie coffee passport series - wrapup

well, that was a fun few months, eh?

when i started off the indie coffee passport journey last september, i was quick out of the gate, ready to tackle all 24 coffee shops and blog about my entire journey. seven(!) months later, i conceded to the fact that my daily schedule wasn't really able to accommodate jaunts all over the city, but damned if i wouldn't try my best to knock off as many spots as i could. sure enough, i didn't land all 24, but i hit a bit more than half, which i consider a good, caffeinated accomplishment. and who knows -- if i ever find myself in the deepest wilderness of the east or west ends of toronto, i might go ahead and visit the cafes that i missed, just for the hell of it. (of course, i'll have to pay for my coffee, but the passport paid itself off with those 14 visits.)

at the end of the road, i'd like to send a thank-you shoutout to the good people who created the indie coffee passport idea, adrienne and richard. this was a nifty concept that blossomed into a great time for all involved -- plus it's always nice to see people coming up with cool initiatives to get torontonians out and exploring the city.

if you also took the passport journey - and from the looks of it around the interwebs, a lot of people did! - take their feedback survey. it's short and sweet and could even be the predecessor for a second indie coffee passport someday.

now, without further ado, here are my top three from the fourteen cafes i visited:

1. manic coffee (review)

this shouldn't be a huge surprise if you read my review, and it might be copping out a bit to choose a cafe that i loved even before i visited it on the passport journey, but whatever, it's good. it's the quintessential cooler-than-thou indie coffee shop, with the nonchalant service and ironic-hipster regulars that you'd expect. it also doesn't offer wifi or outlets for laptops, so you're forced to - gasp! - interact with the person you're with, or else read a book while you drink your delicious caffeinated beverage. and somehow, all these things that might irk or repel others just draw me right in. i love manic, the end.

2. red rocket coffee (review)

another nostalgic favourite that remained one of my top stops during my indie coffee passport journey. i was glad for the excuse to go back to the east end, and even more glad to see that not much had changed in the cozy little half-basement cafe that i loved so much when i lived in the beaches. it had been a semi-new cafe when i left; now it looks like it's a neighbourhood staple, which is a delight to see. i didn't care much for their ultra-modern second location, but i'll always stop in at this location whenever i'm out east. red rockets for life.

3. the tampered press (review)

awww, the tampered press. my indie coffee passport brought me here for the first time, and it's one of the things i miss a lot about not living in the west end anymore (literally, i used to walk past it every day on my way to/from work). again, this is another one of those places that i actually saw being constructed, so i've seen it go from an empty storefront to one of the cutest shops on the west end. what sets it apart from the other half-dozen indie cafes on dundas between bathurst and dovercourt? aside from a very active twitter account, they have a real focus on the community and being a communal meeting space, which is a bonus when you're that close to trinity-bellwoods park. also, you can't beat that front window for people-watching.

so, at the end of the day (or, well, the passport journey), i really tried to make it more of an introspective on my life and how it's been intertwined with so many cafes and locations around this city. i didn't want to make it just about the coffee -- i wanted to make it about toronto and my enduring relationship with this gorgeous city. here's hoping that i managed to convey that properly, and not boring everyone with banal descriptions of how coffee tastes -- well, not too much anyway.

what's next? well, there's rumblings of a second indie coffee passport being put together at some point in the future - check out the cute little letter from adrienne and richard on their site - so until then, i'm going to make more of a concentrated effort to visit local indie shops, especially ones i haven't ventured into before. keep the caffeinated magic - and the spirit of java adventure - going all year long, as it were.

thanks for reading and supporting my journey of caffeine and nostalgia!

[ music | depeche mode, "people are people" ]

Sunday, April 10, 2011

love from the kitchen

an event recap!

some of you may recall this post from last month, where i detailed how i signed up for the toronto bakes for japan event. it actually went off earlier today in a bunch of different locations across the city, so i wanted to do a quick recap/photo blog of the experience.

for me, the madness was meticulously planned out and mapped, as usual -- i shopped for all the necessary supplies the weekend beforehand (including buying bananas a week and a half ahead of time, so they'd have enough time to age), baked the granola ahead of time on wednesday night, prepped the blondie batter on friday night (it had to be refrigerated overnight), and spent the entirety of saturday morning baking banana bread, cookies and blondies. add to that a volunteer orientation session at the organizer's on saturday afternoon and an early sunday morning spent wrapping/packaging all of my contributions, and you have a rather exhausted blogger-baker.

here's what i contributed goodie-wise, as twitpic'd earlier:

five jars of granola (complete with little scoops!)

sixteen chocolate-chip peanut-butter oatmeal cookies

fifteen loaded blondies (which i unfortunately had to throw out because they ended up not being cooked in the middle -- and as much as i love half-baked goodies, i didn't want to take any chances with other peoples' tastes) - i substituted a couple bags of ginger macadamia brownie bites

eight slices of peanut-butter banana bread

all this hard work in the kitchen was for a good cause -- all profits went to the japanese red cross for their tsunami relief fund. as an additional neat twist, the event organizers decided to make all the items pay-what-you-can (with a hopeful minumum donation of at least five dollars), which left it up to the buyers to decide what their purchases were worth.

with me, here's the thing: i've never been huge on volunteering for things. when i was a teenager, my parents were constantly pushing me to find volunteer opportunities, if only because "it looks good on a resume/university application" -- but i was a lazy, self-centered teenager, and to a certain degree i'm still a lazy, self-centered adult. i think many of us are, really (especially if the rise of "slacktivism" is anything to go by). still, i'm rarely motivated enough to go out and take part in things, let along charity-volunteering ventures.

as i've grown up, though, i've realized the importance of volunteering your time 1) when you have enough to spare and 2) when you find a cause you really believe in, so it doesn't feel like a chore. i waded into the pool a bit in 2009, when i volunteered to feed kittens at the humane society for four hours every tuesday evening; it was fun, but not easy, and not totally fulfilling (especially given the toronto humane society scandal that was just about to break at the time). last january, i took part in the daily bread food bank's post-christmas food sort, and i did their post-thanksgiving sort last fall (plus i'll be going back to do their spring sort on monday the 26th) -- i find it a ton of fun.

and so here i was, donating money for ingredients and materials, a good chunk of my personal time to bake all these things, and the entirety of a sunday to help the event run smoothly. my lazy-ass teenage self would've been impressed, i think.

but as i mentioned in this post, the japan tragedy hit hard for me, and even almost one month later, it still makes me feel awful inside. so there was absolutely no question that i would use my baking skillz to help raise money for the japanese red cross, and sure, why not volunteer my time to help out as well? it felt like a no-brainer to me.

so this was what my parents were talking about all those years ago -- and damn if they weren't right in saying that it definitely feels good inside to know that you're doing something to help others.

anyway! the bake sale. i'd volunteered to help out at the rivoli location downtown, and gathered there with the rest of the volunteers at 9:30 in the morning. as we set up the tables - along with the general melee of confusion that accompanies a number of relative strangers attempting to set up a sale of goods together - a lot of us were glancing nervously at the sky, which was getting darker and more threatening by the minute.

the weather network had said it would be plus-18 celsius. it was not plus-18 celsius. it was more like 5 celsius, and it was absolutely pissing rain.

and so the large group of us huddled together under the dripping awning, probably looking like miserable lonely kittens that were trying to keep from drowning. despite the dire lack of foot traffic - not out of the ordinary for queen street west when the weather is absolute ass - we managed to get quite a few sales done in the morning, mostly to the umbrella-toting masses who were curious about what was going on. happily, i saw my items disappear in just a couple of hours. (i also included my twitter handle on all the labels on my baked goods, and received a few very nice messages from their buyers afterward.)

shots of the cellophane'd chaos:

in total, i was standing on the patio from 10 a.m. until close to 4 p.m., subsisting on coffee, tea, a macaron, and a raw vegan brownie. (i hit up the salty bacon pretty hard when i got home, along with a savory egg casserole that i wisely cooked last night because i knew i'd be dead on my feet today.) yep, it was an exhausting day, but well worth it -- i haven't heard the exact total yet, but the rumblings on twitter report that the combined locations raised over $10,000 for the japanese red cross. holy shit. go team!

so: thank you to everyone who came out, bought delicious stuff and supported relief efforts for japan! (to acquaintances who promised to come but flaked out: lamesauce.) now i'm off to go relax with red wine and an avowed sugar detox for the next couple of weeks.

[ music | marlies vs. heat on t.v., 6-0 for toronto hell yes ]

Saturday, April 9, 2011

a thousand flowers blooming

last entry's reverb 11 prompt inspired this post -- under the "something you probably don't know about me" file: i have a somewhat maniacal green thumb, and i'm pretty sure my mother is to blame.

when i was a kid, i grew up on a farm in the country, and one-third of our property was garden. rock gardens, vegetable gardens, tiny little side-plots, flower beds surrounding the house. and this was all landscaped and cultivated by my mother, who could probably have had a career as a home decor/landscape designer. being the impressionable young daughter, i was always keen to help my mother out with the gardening, even if my attention span didn't hold well to hours of weeding. still, i could often be found poring over her gardening magazines, plotting out which flowers i wanted and what supplies i'd need to have my own garden someday.

this love of flowering green things carried over into adolescence, when i worked as a florist for a couple of years. well, okay, so it was in the floral department of a supermarket, but i exulted in working with flowers all the time. to this day, i can still throw together a pretty badass bouquet. (and, like many girls, i absolutely delight at receiving flowers, even though this has happened maybe twice in my life)

however, as an adult, i'd never gotten the chance to have a garden, because i constantly occupied basement apartments (which don't often have yards exclusive to one tenant or a sun-lit balcony/deck). the closest i could get to appeasing my green thumb was having indoor plants stuck in whatever sunny window i happened to have; today, i have two plants: an aloe vera that's slowly starting to take over, and this beast of a christmas cactus:

worth noting that i got this cactus from my father when i was seventeen. it's somehow managed to stay with me for the last ten years. it's like the herpes of houseplants.

but now, finally(!!), i live above ground - 23 floors up, to be exact - and in a prime spot for a balcony garden. we're high up enough that i don't think the birds and bugs will come bothering, plus the balcony is well-protected from wind and gets 3-4 hours of sunlight in the early/mid afternoon. and, as expected, i have been jonesing to get planting stuff like a junkie just getting off smack. i still have to wait another week - i'm going to start the seedlings indoors for a month first - but that hasn't stopped me from planning and scheming and dreaming about having green things to take care of, finally.

one significant change from my childhood, though: i'm no longer into it for aesthetic purposes -- now, i want a garden with function. thus, i'm planting a variety of vegetables and herbs -- cherry tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, thyme, cilantro, basil. lots of salad veggies - the boy and i are huge whores for salads - and herbs that i'm constantly using to cook with. to me, this entire initiative is part-locavore, part-frugal foodie -- i love the idea of growing my own food, and i especially love the idea of it helping me save money at the grocery store.

so! there we have it. i won't bore you with constant photos of potting soil, but i'll snap a few pics here and there over the course of the summer to show the progress. i mean, if there is any -- the whole thing could be a complete bust for all i know, but at the very least i'll have given the whole diy-home-project thing a shot.

these. i want. (image from rockwood gardens.)

any recommendations for what i should attempt to grow? (berries like the ones above, perhaps?) drop a comment and let me know -- it's my first year, so anything goes.

[ music | the national, "bloodbuzz ohio" ]

Thursday, April 7, 2011

blue blue sky

April Prompt: What's blossoming?

oh man, any number of things, both literal and metaphorical.

things have just been brighter, for sure. i guess it's mostly the influence of the change of season, and the knowledge that springtime - with its greenery and sunshine and warmer weather - is coming back, but life is really starting to pick up. i'm finally making good on - or at least making the steps toward, in some cases - my vows in 2010 to do more things with my life outside of work, home and sleep. i'm taking a language class, i'm planning for spring travel, i've got some home projects that i'm prepping for, my health is good and well-taken care of, my budget and finances are under control, and i'm just generally feeling more optimistic than i have been the last few months.

so i suppose that's what's blossoming: optimism for the year ahead. january through march were hard months, both on my moods and my mental well-being. (it's also worth noting that i've been off the pill since january, which likely has something to do with it. i've forgotten how black-hole my moods get during natural pms.) but now the sun's returning, and thoughts of trips and patios and good times with friends are coming back with it. it's funny what a change in season can do for a temperament, eh?

i've always been a pretty pessimistic person by nature ("i'm not a pessimist, i'm a realist," i used to snark at my mother), but i'd like to start changing that, little by little. 2011 might be a good year to start.

[ music | sleigh bells, "infinity" ]

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

never come down

fabulous travel news on the horizon: i'm going to be spending the may long weekend in my most favourite of all american cities, chicago.

photo i shot coming in to chicago at like 4 a.m.

i've been to chicago four times in my life; twice for kill hannah hometown concerts (new heart for xmas IV and the one they filmed for their live dvd in 2004), once for lollapalooza in 2006, and once more when i was on the road with the black halos in 2007. this city has my heart, no doubt about it -- it reminds me of a prettier, cleaner, more green toronto, with much more preserved history. the buildings and architecture are beautiful, the parks are lovely, and there's so much to see and do there. i've never been bored in chicago, and i've never felt out of sorts there. really, i have so many great memories there that i'd definitely live in chicago in a heartbeat. (i even briefly considered trying to do additional schooling in columbia's journalism program, but got too intimidated at all the costs and red tape involved in going to college in america)

anyway, spring 2007 was the last time i'd seen chicago, and though it was one of the more fun trips of the lot - gallivanting through the city's late-night streets with a group of black-clad punk rockers while wearing pvc, stilettos and a leather trenchcoat is a wonderful experience - i haven't been back since. don't know why, exactly -- no time or money, i suppose. when i had the choice of travel last fall, i wanted to go to new york city a tiny bit more, so that's where i ended up.

but now, i've got an upcoming long weekend to myself and vacation days to burn, so i figure that will be as good a time as any. and with that, i booked may 21st to the 25th at the hostelling international location in chicago, where i stayed during lollapalooza five years ago and had a decent time. (i'm out and about so much when i travel for fun that i never really need any amenities as far as accommodations -- just a generally clean place with a bed, shower and roof over my head is good enough) next up will be booking the greyhound trip; yes, it takes 10-12 hours longer than a plane ride would, but it's also $160 versus $350> -- plus it's, you know, not an airplane. whew. (i also justify my choice of cheap hostel + cheap bus ride as me being a frugal traveler -- leaves more money for shopping and fun stuff once i get there)

grant park during lolla '06

first order of business: i haven't seen my dear ex-halo brother adam since '08 (he lives in chicago), so i'm stoked to see him again, and i'm finally going to meet former coworker/copy-friend betsy, who also lives and works there. sure, solo travel is super-fun travel, but it's always nice to go to a place where you know you'll meet up with friends.

what else to do? well, i've never been a proper tourist on any of the past four times i've been to chitown, so i'm thinking i might do nerdy things like museums and tour trolleys. i'm going to be stocking up on goods at trader joe's (apparently there's one within short walking distance from my hostel, so guess where i'm going to be every friggin' day) and bottles of stoli vanil (will probably grab two this time). i've got fancy dinner plans set up with betsy, plus i'm sure there's a bunch of old favourite - and new must-try - chicago food hangouts for me to hit up. i don't know if there are any big concerts yet during that five-day period, but you can bet i'll have an eye out for them. and of course, i'll be bringing my laptop and camera, so there'll be plenty of blogging as well.

there will also be a lot of drinking. of course.

so, there are my spring vacation plans. like most humans, i always operate a little better when i have something to look forward to, and for me, a fun trip is one of the best things to be excited about. it'll also be a good reward for me suffering through gum graft #3 at the end of this month...oy.

if you've got any recommendations for things to see/do/eat in chicago, let me know in the comments!

[ music | joy division, "digital" ]

Sunday, April 3, 2011

indie coffee passport series - part 14

the indie coffee passport is a fun initiative invented to get torontonians out to try the city's independent coffee shops. from september 1st, 2010 to march 31, 2011, $20 gets you a little paper pass that lists off 24 participating coffee shops, and allows you to a free coffee up to $5.

i'm not affiliated with the good people behind this idea, but i figured it'd be a blast to get a passport and try to hit up all 24 cafes in the next seven months. (in the interest of fairness, i will get the same thing at every cafe -- a large drip coffee, with cream but no sugar.) i love coffee - it's been flowing through my veins since i was fifteen - and given that i've been a barista, cafe supervisor and cafe manager across toronto and vancouver over the years, i feel like i'm up to the highly-caffeinated task!

fourteenth passport stop: quaff cafe

yes, i was hellbound and determined to get one more stop in before the end of the passport program. (also, i'm slightly superstitious and didn't want to leave it at thirteen stops. what if it causes all my coffee orders for the rest of the year to turn out wrong?)

so, the situation: it was march 31st, the final day of eligibility for the indie coffee passport (thus, the final day to score some sweet free coffee), and i wanted to make the most of it. although i'd already admitted that i wouldn't be able to hit my goal of visiting all 24 cafes in the time allotted, i wanted to try for just one more. i was hooked like that.

anyway, that evening was my first japanese class and, since it was running for two hours, i would most definitely need a pick-me-up to keep me going after my work day. however, the closest unvisited stop on my passport was quaff cafe, all the way down at queen west and tecumseth. that didn't deter me, though; instead, i planned to leave super-early so i could head down there, grab coffee, then chug quickly while rushing back the way i came to get to the class. i'd be tight for time, but it'd be worth it to get one more passport stamp and a little boost for my evening learnings.

(this wasn't the wisest idea later, though, when i had the typically patchy terrible sleep that follows when i drink caffeine after 2 p.m., but i can't say i wasn't asking for it.)

and so i was off and running on thursday night, hauling my ass down bathurst only to get an unpleasant surprise: the location where i thought quaff was was actually home to niche cafe instead.  quaff wasn't for another couple of blocks, and i was running short on time.  do i turn back, or do i keep on going?  i checked the building numbers and decided well, fuck it -- this is my last day for a passport stop, so go for it.

i'd never set foot in quaff cafe before, but it's definitely one of the crop of "classier" cafes that have been popping up on queen street between bathurst and ossington in the last couple of years. inside, it's a long, narrow space done up in whites and grays, with muted lighting that makes it look pretty suitable as a date spot. despite all the class, it was fairly quiet and low-key when i came screeching in just after six, and the one smiling barista behind the counter was happy to interrupt her cleaning duties to grab me a coffee.

pastry case was also tempting - as were the free samples laid out - but i didn't want a sugar crash, plus the one dude sitting nearby on his laptop was already eyeballing me funny for snapping photos of the place.  and though the condiment bar was a little hard to find (i feel like i get disoriented 95% of the time whenever i enter a new coffee shop and try to find where the condiments are), it was towards the back, near this cute/strange little tableau of a springtime shrine:

like so.  its cuteness almost made me forget my frustration at skim milk being the only liquid out on the condiment bar.  (blechhhh.)

this photo is blurry because i'm obviously moving fast. go class go!

of course, the danger in going to a coffee shop within their last hour of daily operation and ordering a plain coffee is that you're probably going to get the lukewarm dregs of whatever's left.  (it's generally wiser to get something made to order, like an americano or a tea)  and while my cup of coffee was pretty lukewarm, it definitely wasn't the dregs; rather, it was a smooth, almost floral blend that went down easily and without a huge punch to my esophagus.  because of its temperature, i chugged it down pretty quickly, and was pleased to find that there wasn't a heavy aftertaste that would necessitate a breath mint (because i didn't have any).  still, i couldn't help but be a little wistful about how the taste would have been affected had it not been watered down with that cheap blue-white substance called "skim milk".  oh well, maybe black next time.

anyway, overall, quaff cafe is one of those places that has something for everyone - coffee, tea, espresso-based beverages, food, desserts - and so it would definitely make a cute date spot, or even a nice refuge from the general craziness of queen street west.  just make sure to ask for cream.

Quaff Cafe
668 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON
(647) 344-8558

Friday, April 1, 2011

capital results

and lo, the saga for a sustainable exercise routine continues.

long story made short: the whole xbox plan didn't quite work out.  much as i still want one with every fiber of my being, the apartment we inhabit right now is sadly too small to accommodate any dancing fun.  well, damn.  (apartment of the future, for sure.) 

what are my exercise options, then? well...still considering. i need physical exercise in my life, for sure (especially with the whole sitting-on-my-ass-for-eight-hours thing), but i'm fed up with gyms and wary of what mark sisson terms "chronic cardio". to that end, though, there is a small gym on the main floor of our apartment building, but last i checked the bike machine was busted and the elliptical was permanently stuck on the highest incline. free, sure, not exactly ideal.

so, i don't know. i'm not motivated enough to create a home workout regime and stick to it regularly, which means that my only other choice is to rejoin a gym, but as i mentioned above, i'm sick of 'em. things like regular classes and boot camps are also out of the question, because i loathe those things with ever fiber of my being. (also see: personal trainer appointments.) i've thought about picking up jogging again, but i never really enjoyed that either. basically, i want to find a kind of exercise i can do regularly and not hate and/or try to find ways to get out of.

i know it's a tall (probably crazy) order, but suggestions are welcomed.

now, for the other new venture in my life: japanese classes.

i had my first class of eight last night, and it's safe to say that, albeit a bit rusty from so many years of disuse, my japanese skills are still pretty solid. a lot of the students in the class (17 in all) had taken the beginner class together, so they all knew each other...and then there was me, asking "教師、もう一度ください" when we needed a question repeated and "よかった!" when the teacher announced that there would be no tests or exams in the class. yeah, i got a lot of weird looks, but my confidence in speaking in the language was definitely bolstered. which is why i'm taking this class, after all. (i can read japanese well, but my extended conversational speaking needs work, as does my writing)

otherwise, it's a pretty full class of varying levels of skill, and i chatted with a few people about their experiences and their trips to japan. I've never been to japan myself, so it was interesting to hear about the places they'd been and their ambitions to keep learning the language. all in all, i think it's going to be a fun eight weeks, even though i'm not entirely sure if i'll even remember what i learned from week to week. stupid sieve brain.

(also, in the very first class, i had to face my past japanese-language nemesis: trying to tell time. i stumbled but did passably okay, whew.)

alright, i'm off to go hack it with the rundown gym downstairs -- anything to help alleviate these cramps of doom. happy friday/april!

[ music | white stripes, "seven nation army" ]