Surviving Decembrrrs.

In just over 48 hours it will be December 1st, or as I like to call it, ‘Decembrrr’.

Although it’s not official until December 21st (also my birthday), winter seems to have arrived. What does that mean for Torontonians? As children we play in it, as teens we’re out shoveling it and by our thirties many of us are back out there (with children) playing in it. But what about us twenty-somethings? Well, most of us are trying to make the most of it.

Decembrrr – the last month of the year, a month of extended shopping hours, holiday craziness and the beginning of hibernation.

Here are five suggested ways to avoid the Decembrrrs:

1. Skating at Nathan Phillips Square

Honestly, this is something I’ve never done, but it’s at the top of my to-do list for my first winter as an official Torontonian. In the heart of the city, this seems to be a pretty popular destination in Toronto. I’ve checked it out a bit online and it looks like it’s now open for business 9:00 am – 10:00 pm everyday (weather permitting) until March. They even offer reasonably priced rentals.

2. Visit the Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District is officially open for business November 29th (tomorrow). Just like the markets in Europe, this Christmas Market has all the tree trimmings. Be sure to check out the vendors for some one of a kind gifts, listen to the carolers, and finish the afternoon with a nice hot cocoa.

3. Have a wild night in

Beat the lines by not leaving your home.  Have a group of friends over for dinner, perhaps suggest a potluck (friend disclaimer – I promise not to critique your food on my blog). Maybe have a games night; Cards Against Humanity is always a good time. Movie nights are also a win.

4. Take a mini-vacation

Sometimes it’s good to just get away.You could be like my roommate and take off to Miami as soon as it snows, but there are also a variety in-province mini-vacations to have. Time for a sublist, here are a few options:

[a] Head to the cottage – find a friend who has one or look into renting one, cottage country is BEAUTIFUL in the winter (but make sure you head up in an SUV).
[b] Blue Mountain – ski the slops, head to Scandinave for a massage, or just hang out in the outdoor pool at the Westin (don’t worry, it’s heated); there is something for everyone.
[c] Go home to visit  Mom and Dad (and hang out by the fire – most apartments do not have these).

5. Help those less fortunate.

During the holidays it’s important to remember those less fortunate. While fighting the crowds at the mall, don’t forget to stop by Salvation Army. Perhaps gather some friends and head to the nearest food bank, soup kitchen or shelter to lend a helping hand. A good deed goes a long way and you’ll feel great about doing it.

I plan to be partaking in all of the above during the month of Decembrrr and throughout the impending winter. Don’t be surprised if I blog about an experience or two (definitely numbers 1 & 2).

What are you doing to fight the Decembrrrs?

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Movember: What you need to Mo

Over the past month, men everywhere have been growing out the little bits of stubble up above their upper lip to raise both money and awareness for men’s health; this phenomena is known as Movember.

Movember began ten years ago in Melbourne, Australia with 30 friends growing out their mos. Over the past decade, Movember has expanded across the world; it first reached Canada in 2007 and there are now over 1.1 million participants across the world helping to raise money.

Movember is very twenty-something oriented. Each year, the majority of my twenty-something guy friends get involved and I feel like it becomes earlier and earlier each year that they start talking about it. There are also a variety of events which take place across the city to celebrate the end of Movember; women are excited for the impending clean faces and men are excited to show off their Mo-sterpiece.

Here are three awesome Movember events taking place in the next week throughout the city:

  1. Toronto Gala Parté – Friday, November 29th @ Kool Haus – This is the OFFICIAL Movember Finale event in Toronto. Thousands will come together to show off their mo and attempt to win a variety of very cool titles. Tickets are only $20, but some Mo-bro’s receive complimentary tickets for various fundraising milestones.
  2. Movember Challenge Karaoke – Thursday, November 28th @ Winchester Kitchen & Bar – At the 4th annual event, a $5 donation allows your to rock out to your favourite tune or $20 will allow for a group performance! Follow the performances on Twitter via #MoChaKaTO.
  3. eHealth Barber’s Shaving Auction – Thursday, November 28th @ The Duke of Somerset – Every lady’s dream at the end of the month is to watch the mo’s come off! Watch it happen, while continuing to raise money!

My friends and I are headed to the Toronto Gala Parté next Friday with hopes of winning the ‘Ultimate Mo’ title. I can’t share with you our theme yet, but I promise to blog about it after.

If you are attending one of the above, or perhaps a different party, please let me know.

Don’t forget there is still time to donate towards Movember’s cause!! If you haven’t already done so and maybe don’t know of a fundraising mo, donate to my favourite moustache in town – my cousin Rob who fundraisers in honour of his dad (my uncle).

A mo in pro(gress)

A mo in pro(gress)

For more about this history of Movember, visit: http://ca.movember.com/about
For more Toronto Movember events, visit: http://ca.movember.com/events/

Toula, Toronto’s Other 360 Restaurant

Over the past few days I have been attending an industry-related conference at the Westin Harbour Castle, located right at Bay & Queens Quay.

On the first night, I was lucky enough to be invited to a reception at Toula. The restaurant, which is located on the top floor of the hotel, has been known as Toronto’s ‘other’ revolving restaurant. For many years, much like the restaurant atop the CN Tower, Toula slowly revolved which allowed for patrons to have a beautiful 360-degree view of Toronto and its waterfront. Sadly, the restaurant no longer revolves. As it turns out, the restaurant underwent renovations a few years ago which involved a new floor and the end of the revolving floor.

Aside from the lack of rotation, the view from Toula is absolutely breathtaking and the food was fantastic. Attending for a special event with a large group meant that we were ordering off of a fixed menu; I ordered a green salad and pasta, with ice cream for dessert. The food was so favourable, I had absolutely no complaints; a definite change from my last blog post. Following the event, I checked out the regular menu online and it looked even better than what I was offered.

Although the menu is a bit pricier than the majority of Toronto hot-spots, I would definitely recommend this restaurant to other twenty-somethings. Probably not a casual Monday-night venue, but definitely a very good option for any type of special celebration such as a birthday, anniversary or engagement.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap many photos from this event; I didn’t want to be that young professional constantly on her phone taking pictures. I did manage to snap a quick picture of my dessert; as you can tell, it was delicious!

Delicious dessert at Toula!

Delicious dessert at Toula!

For more about Toula, visit:  http://www.toularestaurant.com

Navigating TO’s GWFE

This past weekend was Toronto’s annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo (GFWE). The event, which takes place each year at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, is positioned to be one of the biggest food and drink events of the year, welcoming over 45,000 Torontonians and tourists over the event’s 4-day run.

For an event so large, with so much promotional marketing and so many big name sponsors, I honestly was not very impressed with the overall execution. The event was severely overcrowded, almost impossible to navigate and certainly did not have the typical atmosphere anyone would expect for anything gourmet.

When Lisa and I first arrived we were excited to get inside to start eating and drinking (we were starving). After navigating our way through the Convention Centre we finally arrived at the event’s entrance and the massive line that came with it. We arrived at 6:00 PM, thinking it was a reasonable time to arrive given that our tickets were for 5:00 PM or later, and assuming the majority of ticket holders would show up later before heading out to a club, bar or party. There were probably about 1,000 people or more in front of us in line and we almost left, worried that we would be waiting for over an hour to get in. Both luckily and surprisingly, the line moved fairly quickly and we were at the front, happy we didn’t ditch our plans.

But all of the people previously in front of us in line were now inside the event. The place was packed; what I had hoped to be a casual stroll through the venue to try a variety of wines and foods ended up being a struggle through the crowds just to see what each booth had to offer. There were also a few booths that I wanted to go back to, but they were hard to relocate in the jungle that was the GFWE. Perhaps next year it would be helpful if there were maps that listed where each of the exhibitors were located.

In terms of service, it was obviously very busy and for the most part the vendors were doing as much as they could to serve customers in a friendly manner; except for some. Clearly the Alcohol & Gaming Commission was not out to play at this event, otherwise some of the vendors probably would have thought twice about drinking while on the job. I get it, it’s a wine tasting event, but that doesn’t mean the staff working it should be more inebriated than the guests. There were more than a few instances where you could tell that some of the staff had been drinking; at one booth I fully witnessed a vendor crack open a Budweiser, pour the contents into his glass and chug without shame!! Totally unprofessional!! Obviously these people do not directly work for GFWE, but there should be a strict policy put into place for these situations.

Now, not everything was terrible; the food was phenomenal. I tried a variety of different dishes including a cheddar, brie and cranberry grilled cheese, vegetable spring rolls, flat bread, cannolis, rice, a variety of Matt & Steve’s Extreme Bean items and a very delicious ‘eco-taco’ from Feel Good Guru.

Delicious!

Eco-Taco!!

GFWE

Yummies @ GFWE!!

In theory this event is a great concept and a phenomenal business opportunity for up and coming brands to get their name out in Toronto. A $25 entry fee is fairly reasonable – especially since the summer version of this event, Beerfest, was outdoors but double the price. The idea of selling $1 tickets to be used towards food and drink allows for speedy service without the hustle and wait time for change. Hosting at the Metro Convention Centre rather than somewhere else in the city, such as Exhibition place, is also great because it is easily accessible via Union Station and its many modes of transportation (TTC, GO, VIA).

As for next year, I think I’m going to sit this one out. If you decide to test your luck (and remember this post while doing so), please feel free to let me know if they’ve made any positive changes.

For more about the Gourmet Wine & Food Expo, visit: http://www.foodandwineexpo.ca

6 Months

Six months ago I made a decision that was going to change my life. Six months ago I took a leap of faith and made the decision that it was time to try something new. Six months ago I stepped out of my comfort zone. Six months ago I moved to Toronto.

Wow, I can’t believe I’ve already been here for half of a year. It seems like yesterday I was sitting in my kitchen trying to convince my Dad that I am a grownup and that Toronto is a ‘safe place’.

Over the past six months I’ve learnt a lot about the city, but I’ve also learnt a lot about myself.

10 things I’ve learnt in the last six months:

  1. Always try the sketchy looking restaurants; the food there is likely amazing. But always check with DineSafe first.
  2. Act on a whim, nothing new and exciting ever happened living life on a strict schedule.
  3. Don’t take the TTC if you don’t have to; getting lost on adventures allows you to discover new things.
  4. Speaking of the TTC, always have tokens in your change purse; they’re cheaper in bulk and you’ll often need a ride when you have no loonies or toonies.
  5. NEVER make eye contact with the homeless and/or preachers at Dundas Square; you will never be able to shake them.
  6. Kensington might look like a complete dump, but there are lots of hidden treasures.
  7. Never go east of Jarvis alone, even if it’s still light out.
  8. Make a serious effort to stay in and have dinner with your roommate; with crazy schedules these are key to catch up with each other. It helps to have a BBQ and a wicked patio.
  9. Almost all twenty-somethings living in the city are living on a budget, but doing what they need to get by while still having fun.
  10. Cleaning and cooking sucks, but I’m slowly starting to get good at it.

Moving downtown has really been a new experience for me. Sometimes I ponder if I made the right decision; maybe I should move home, save money and eventually get my own place. But then I remember my old suburbia life versus my new and exciting downtown life; I definitely don’t want to play tradsies on that.

Here’s to the next six months!

Catching up with the Queen’s Mum

As I am sure many other twenty-somethings would agree, one of the most popular ways to socialize and catch up with old friends is to meet up for some good food at one of Toronto’s many restaurants.

I recently met up with three friends who I became very close with during my four years at McMaster University. It was Asha’s turn to pick and she suggested we get together at Queen Mother Cafe. As the name implies, this restaurant is located on Queen St, just steps west of University Ave (and Osgoode Station). I was slightly shocked that I had never visited or even heard of this restaurant before given the countless times I have walked past it over the last ten plus years; it really goes to show just how saturated (yet ever-changing) the restaurant industry is in this city we call home.

I was the last to arrive and felt like I was in a maze to find my friends who were on the other end of the restaurant. The set-up for Queen Mother is strange; because there are stairs to a lower level right in the middle of the restaurant, it is one big U-shape that you need to navigate around. None the less, I eventually found my friends who had a table by the window.

The restaurant was packed and I’m surprised that we didn’t have to wait for a table. However, the servers felt the pinch of the busy restaurant and our service was quite slow. It took a considerable amount of time for our first drink order, have the drinks delivered, order food, receive our food and finally pay our bills.

Although service was slow, the menu made up for it. I started with a vegetable lentil soup and then split two salads with Asha; she ordered the kale, roasted tomato and green lentil, while I ordered the quinoa salad. Mixing the two salads into one was probably one of the best decisions I made all evening; the fusion was absolutely phenomenal. Asha chose not to mix hers and commented that they were equally as delicious solo. Portions ended up being considerably larger than I expected and if I had known this, I probably would have skipped the soup; although I’m glad I got to try it. Everything on the menu seemed to be fairly reasonably priced. My meal was under $20 which is usually rare when ordering more than one item. Check out how yummy it all looks:

Vegetable Lentil Soup

Vegetable Lentil Soup

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

Kale, Roasted Tomato and Green Lentil Salad

Kale, Roasted Tomato and Green Lentil Salad

In terms of atmosphere, this was a great place to catch up. Although the restaurant was very busy during our visit, the noise level was bearable and I could easily hear what the rest of my table was saying. When all was said and done, I was happy that Asha introduced me to this spot; I will definitely be back.

Have you been to Queen Mother Cafe, what did you think? What other restaurants around the city would you like me visit?

For more information on Queen Mother, visit: http://www.queenmothercafe.ca

Where, with who, and how to live in TO

As a twenty-something who’s looking to move out, it’s important to focus on where, with who, and how to live in the city. For me, these items were heavy on my mind for a considerable amount of time before I swapped my lifelong family roommates for someone new.

First, think about where you would like to live. It’s important to move to a neighbourhood and living environment that you’re comfortable with and is convenient for your lifestyle. For me, I knew I needed to live in an apartment because I needed parking (while most houses will say they have access to parking in their online posting, most property managers will later tell you to just get a street permit) – this meant I likely wasn’t living in the Annex or Ossington. I also knew I wanted to downtown versus midtown or somewhere too east or west along the Bloor line.

Second, it’s important to seriously consider who you would like to live with. As much as I love my best friends, there are some of them I know I absolutely could never live with. Some people know they want to live alone, but I knew I’d get lonely without a roommate. When I was first planning to move to the city I intended to live with one of my girlfriends from school, but it didn’t work out and I ended up living with an acquaintance. Although Mike and I didn’t know each other very well, before we made the final decision to move in together, we had a serious and honest conversation. We provided our expectations of each other, lifestyle choices and regular routines. So far, so good. Communication is important.

Lastly, it’s important to plan how to live. When I first moved out on my own, I quickly discovered that I could not live the same way I did when living with Mom & Dad. The reality is rent eats a significant portion of my paycheck, and most twenty-somethings have a similar experience. I definitely had to cut down my spending, but it gets easier and easier each month. A few tips:

  • walk as much as possible, take the TTC when needed, but try to avoid cabs at all costs;
  • while it’s okay to eat out every now and then, go grocery shopping and pack lunches;
  • visit the sale rack; and
  • always ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”

Believe me, your wallet will thank you.

Do you have any tips for adjusting to moving out of the nest? Please share 🙂