A Toronto Transformation

Toronto

Toronto’s Wildlife is Trying to Tell Me Something

Pink and purple flowers in a Toronto garden

Last week while I was enjoying a lunchtime picnic -for-one on a bench by a wee garden near my office, out of the corner of my eye I caught a tiny movement from the undergrowth to my right.

I had just enough time to think “chipmunk?” before the thing came streaking towards me. I shrieked “Woooooo!” in what I would like to think was a verrry dignified manner as it bumped gently into the side of my foot before scurrying back into the garden on the other side of the bench. I glimpsed its tail in the split second before it disappeared and realized that it was not in fact a chipmunk, but a small rat. Or a large mouse.

Because my life is clearly a thrill-a-minute at the moment, I found this little city wildlife adventure fairly exciting.

Until today that is.

This afternoon as I was sitting on a bench in an entirely different little garden finishing another solo lunch (I actually do have friends, I promise), I felt something come in contact with the back of my neck.

I involuntarily shuddered and reached back to slap it away as it lingered oddly for a moment, then turned my head slowly as I tried to figure out what the hell had just touched me. It felt so strange that I wondered for a second if someone had snuck through the tall grass behind me to cop a nervous feel? Of my neck? I’m usually pretty aware of my surroundings, but I did have excellent ear buds in so I guessed it was distantly possible. There was a guy in Toronto a while back who was slithering up behind women with long hair and fondling it. I glared into the garden behind me for a minute, then shrugged and turned back to pack up my lunch and reapply my lipstick.

I stood up, turned to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind and froze.

Five feed to the left of me was a low railing and on that low railing was the biggest damn hawk I’ve ever seen.

I swear to you, it was two feet tall.

We stared at each other for ten seconds while I grappled with my phone (which was still in selfie mode from the lipstick application – damn my vanity!) and he took off before I could snap a picture.

Watching him fly away I realized that’s exactly what that mysterious sensation on my neck had been. Not the nervous, fluttery fingers of a creepy hair molester, but the fluttery wings of a curious hawk doing a low fly-by!

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here. That my hair looks like a delicious squirrel from above when I wear it in a messy, low bun? That I am weird, (and kind of gross), urban Snow White? That I need to start wearing tall rubber boots and perhaps a helmet if I’m going to continue eating in Toronto gardens?

If we’re going in order of the food chain, I assume if I dine alfresco next week a wolf will just walk out from between some parked cars, shake my hand and eat salad out of my tupperware!

Of all the things to get me writing again, an encounter with a downtown bird of prey isn’t what I would have imagined, but when inspiration literally hits you out of the clear blue sky, I say roll with it.

What’s your weirdest urban animal encounter?

A Gorgeous Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum

Gatsby Garden Party - 1920s costumes

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had romantic ideas about travelling to another time and I’ve definitely always loved playing dress-up. So I jumped at the chance to attend this year’s Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum last weekend.

The Spadina Museum has been on my list of places to check out for years now, but I’d just never got around to it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

While the horrible weather made for more party and less garden, my gorgeous 1920s posse and I had a great time exploring the stunning time capsule of a mansion in all its jazz age glory (can you believe the family still lived there until the 1980s?)!

Oh, and we had almost as much fun coming up with our outfits. People went all out with their 1920s costumes, which really made the whole event feel about as close to time travel as it gets (minus our iphones, of course)

Gatsby2 The Solarium at the Spadina Museum in Toronto

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The Gatsby Garden Party at the Spadina Museum in Toronto

Low back 1920s-style gown at the Gatsby Garden Party

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Have you discovered any hidden gems in your city lately? Also, if you could time travel to any period, where (when?) would you go?

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10 Ways to Embrace Fall

10 Ways to Embrace Fall I know, I know, summer is barely in the ground and here I am telling you how to move on! It certainly didn’t feel terribly autumnal in Toronto this weekend as my darling cousin and I lounged around on a blanket in High Park, but fall is definitely on its way, and I for one, am determined not to let the winter blahs set in early! So, I’ve come up with a list of 10 ways to embrace fall:

1. Have a pumpkin carving party – If fall doesn’t leave you feeling nostalgic on its own, this ought to do the trick! Pro tip, if you eschew the usual grinning jack-o-lantern face for carving a lizard you perfected in 8th grade art class into your pumpkin, you’ll totally win the carving competition (even if said competition was not explicitly stated as part of the event. Ahem.)

2. Go apple picking – another classic. Bonus points if you can work in a hay ride! Fall Activities - Apple-picking! 3. Picnic under the changing leaves in the park. Just because summer’s over doesn’t mean we need to stop dining alfresco. Just throw on a sweater and gloat over the fact that the wasps who plagued your August picnics are probably dead by now!

4. Have a fall feast – Speaking of dining, why not throw on a pot of borscht, slow cook some lamb stew and have some pals over for an evening of hearty fare, tasty wine and a game of drunken truth or dare…I mean, civilized discourse on current events! If you want to get really ambitious, try organizing one of those roaming dinner things where you eat a different course at each friend’s house before moving on to the next! Fall activities - pumpkin-carving! 5, Go on a ghost walk – grab a thermos of boozy tea (a little sortilege whisky maple syrup liquer should do the trick) and someone you can cling to in fear and head out for some campy, guided-tour fun.

6. Explore a new neighbourhood or a nearby town – There’s nothing like a little road (or rail!) trip to take in some fall foliage.

7. Match your lipstick to the leaves – you don’t have to go on an all-out spending spree to update your fall wardrobe. I like the look of Bite’s Matte Creme Lip Crayon in Truffle, or if you’re feeling crafty, you could even make your own lip stain with beets for a sexy, chemical-free fall pout! Fall Activities -picnic under the leaves in High Park!

8. Thrift for Sweaters – Emma, my champion thrifter pal recently snagged the most stunningly soft 2-ply cashmere sweater the world has ever known from a thrift shop on Queen West. I will not rest until I find its equal. And hey, thrift shopping is economical and environmentally-friendly!

9. Cemetery Scavenger hunt- If you dare! I love strolling through a gorgeous cemetery, although I do get the heebie-jeebies every so often. Race to find historical figures, dates, images, symbols or statues. But if you come across your own name, get out of there because you’re obviously now living the plot of a horror movie.

10. Tour a winery – I hardly think I need to sell this one. Wine country just about anywhere is notoriously gorgeous. Bring home a case of something unique to take to parties all winter long! Just remember to bring a designated driver!

How do will you guys keep yourselves entertained this fall? Let me know in the comments!

A Shucking Good Time at iYellow Wine Club

Successfully shucking my first oyster at iYellow Wine Club

Successfully shucking my first oyster at iYellow Wine Club

One of my earliest memories is of being a toddler on a road trip to Myrtle Beach with my mom and dad and one of my aunts.

I remember sitting in my little booster car seat, the backs of my dimpled knees sticking to the grey plastic and my bare back warm against the soft fabric of the seats in our brown Chevy. I remember building a castle and an impressive dragon in the sand with my mom, and trying to figure out in my little mind how we could possibly make a princess and then somehow get her inside the castle. I think I remember fireworks.

And I definitely remember my first taste of seawater, the salt sting on my lips. A glutton for sodium, I’m pretty sure I had to be closely monitored lest I completely dehydrate myself every time my parents took me into the water.

So I suppose it’s no surprise that I grew up to love the taste of seafood, and in particular, the creatures who put me the most in mind of my memories of fresh seawater: oysters. I’ll order them by the dozen on a night out, but I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of shucking my own. So I jumped at an invitation from iYellow Wine Club to swing by their wine cave last week for an evening of wine tasting and oysters, complete with a lesson on how to shuck oysters properly.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from iYellow, this being my first wine club event, and I was a little worried it might be a bit stuffy, or worse, I might be outed as the woefully uneducated wine drinker I am, despite it being my most frequent alcoholic beverage of choice. So I was happy to find that the club’s founder, Angela Aiello and her team were certainly knowledgable about grape products, they were also welcoming, enthusiastic and not the least bit condescending. In other words: the perfect sort of people to learn from while we sampled some tasty fruity and floral wines from Stoneleigh vinyards.

iYellow Wine Club's Toronto wine cave
iYellow’s wine cave, where the event took place, had a fun speakeasy feel, hidden away with the entrance in the alley behind Queen Street, with a stellar mix of cozy kitsch and elegant decor, and a layout perfect for mingling and/or just setting oneself up conveniently close to the beautiful cheese selection and befriending anyone else who lingered there, which is how I met lovely fellow Toronto bloggers and food enthusiasts, Janu (of aathma) and Danielle of Ginger Rose.

Danielle and I took a moment to brush up on our wine facts and exchange restaurant recommendations.

Danielle and I took a moment to brush up on our wine facts and exchange restaurant recommendations.

While I roped my pal Emma into coming along with me this time, we both agreed that an iYellow wine school class in the cave would make for a fun alternative to a typical dinner/movie date night with a less platonic companion.

I mean, wine, oysters, and a mysterious “cave”, what could be more romantic?

Although, I might skip putting my hand into the communal oyster-shucking gloves for that one.
 
Have you guys ever been to a wine club? Are you aficionados or just indiscriminately enthusiastic wine drinkers like yours truly?

A Bug’s Eye View of Riverdale Farm

Siberian Squill macro photo closeup at Riverdale Farm

Ever since babyhood, one of my favourite places in Toronto has been Riverdale Farm.

This charming little piece of rural Ontario makes for a charming stroll or picnic locale in summer, and while the colourful gardens aren’t yet in full bloom, there are already tons of brave little blossoms leading the way into spring.

CapturingSiberianSquill

I didn’t feel like carting around my beloved camera today, but I did have my photojojo macro and wide angle lenses handy to capture a few of them and I’m pretty happy with the results!

As far as I can tell, these gorgeous tiny blue flowers might be Siberian Squill. Any botany enthusiasts care to help me out with that one?

 

Siberian Squill at Riverdale Farm

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Don’t the ends of these teensy stems look like mini macarons? Or am I just dessert-obsessed?

Riverdale Farm gates hough park bench

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Baby Goat at Riverdale Farm Spring 2014No visit to Riverdale Farm would be complete without saying hello to the creatures that live here. The goats are by far my favourite. They’re so dear and silly and friendly. I once overheard a tiny tot on his dad’s shoulders exclaim, “MONKEYS!” upon spotting some of the new baby goats in their enclosure. It was a great reminder of how important it is for city kids to have the chance to learn a bit about farm animals, if only so that they don’t go around confusing goats and monkeys their whole lives.

Riverdale Farm windmill

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How to Beat the Winter Blahs

snow-covered City of Toronto Bench at the waterfront

It’s getting to that point in the winter where it’s hard to remember a time when Toronto didn’t seem to be auditioning for the part of Narnia under the rule of scary Tilda Swinton.

I can see my friends and myself getting a bit batty about the unrelenting winter.

So what can we do when we can’t afford to catch a jet to Australia?

I’ve got a few ideas:

Canada Goose Graffiti

I got excited because I saw some actual Canada geese as well as this guy this weekend. Then I realized they were flying south. Because winter is never leaving.

How to Beat the Winter Blahs

1. Get out in it!

Unless you live in the Arctic, in which case you are probably laughing your head off at Torontonians like myself being utter babies about a proper frostbitey winter, odds are that while it might be impolitely cold out there, there are at least a few days when it’s not blisteringly windy, dark or dangerously cold. And when those days arrive, throw off your heated blankets, pull on six pairs of socks and seize them! You’ll be calmer and sleep better with some fresh air and a winter walk under your belt.

snow-covered bridge in Toronto

I spent my weekend on this bridge entreating the sky to reveal the sun to us. No dice. But at least I got some fresh air!

And on that note…

2. Don’t skip exercise.

I’ve been finding it much more difficult to get my butt to Barreworks these days. The thought of how much work it takes just to walk there on treacherously slippery sidewalks has me exhausted before I’ve even begun, but staying in the habit is easier than trying to re-start the habit. Plus that exercise-induced serotonin hit is a pretty unbeatable mood booster! If you’re in Toronto, try combining 1 and 2 and get your exercise at DJ skate night at Harbourfront!

3. Wear the right gear.

Maybe I’m just getting ancient before my time but when I walk by groups of women miserably huddled together outside a bar, bare legs nearly blue from the cold, I am convinced that I was never young or drunk enough to dress so colossally inappropriately for the weather. I shiver sympathetically, and burrow deeper into the layers of sweaters and fleece-lined leggings under my down coat. Miami this is not, my friends. And no amount of wishful thinking and bandage dresses in December will make it so.

4. Invest in a light therapy “Happy Lamp.”

I’ve never used one myself, but I have a couple of friends who suffer from seasonal affective disorder who swear that sitting in front of one of these bad boys makes a huge difference in their mood throughout the winter months.

5. Hibernate as needed.

Invest in board games and hot chocolate (or host a clothing swap like I did this weekend) to lure friends over for days when you just can’t make yourself brave the cold, or give yourself permission to binge watch something (I recommend season one of Orphan Black if you haven’t watched it  yet). Or you can always do a bit of both: brave the cold and get some exercise and then spend the rest of the day holed up in a cozy, cheerful pub, ideally with a roaring fireplace

The Yukon, Toronto

How do you guys keep from becoming cranky weirdos in the deepest, darkest winter? I’d love to see more tips in the comments!

Out of Hibernation in Toronto

snow creature

This tiny snow creature outside a restaurant made me laugh. I do love a little whimsy in my day.

There comes a point every winter where despite my hibernatory instincts, I get so sick of being indoors that I get an irresistible urge to drag my friends out and play in the snow.

Apparently that point was yesterday.

I eased into my winter in Toronto activities with a snowy walk in the park and lured two adorable redheads out with the promise of hot chocolate at Nadege to follow despite the freezing rain warnings in the forecast (again).

Redheads in Winter

No fear of the cold here. Though Red and I were appalled at Niall’s inappropriate footwear. This is boots weather, my friend!

St. Bernard

Making new friends. This is Shamrock.

Toronto TTC Streetcar

The Queen Car. TTC isn’t always as reliable as one might hope, but it sure is cute in the winter.

Trinity Bellwoods park gate

Trinity Bellwoods Park gate.

Candy Cane macarons at Nadege

Candy Cane macarons at Nadege. Just so damned delicious.

snow and lamps in Trinity Bellwoods park

I love the way the park looks at dusk when all the lights come on in the snow. It’s like Narnia!

View of the CN Tower from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Januaru

Well, it’s like Narnia if you could see the CN Tower from Aslan’s house.

Next up, DJ Skate Night at Harbourfront!

Are you guys hibernaters or do you get out and enjoy winter activities?

 

Escaping Winter at Coriander Girl

Coriander Girl florists Toronto

Gardening was probably the furthest thing from most Torontonians’ minds this weekend. We finally had our first real blast of snowy, Canadian winter, and I’m sure most of the saner residents stayed close to home.

But not this intrepid blogger. There were birthdays and holiday parties to attend, and, on Sunday I was on bridesmaid detail and our mission was floral in nature. So I bundled up and braved the cold to meet my lovely betrothed pal and a couple other members of the bridal party at Coriander Girl, which turned out to be the cutest damned florist I’ve ever encountered.

Antique Buggy at Coriander Girl Toronto

Cards and antiques at Coriander Girl, Toronto

Antique cash register at Coriander Girl, Toronto

Coriander Girl Toronto

Wedding consult at Coriander Girl Flowers Toronto

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I was clearly a huge help in making flower decisions as I could not stop wandering around and snapping photos of the sweet antiques and curios that fill every little corner of this treasure trove of a shop.

Luckily, Tellie, the shop’s wedding co-ordinator is clearly a pro (started at age 13!) and had lots of sage (heh) advice to offer.

I sometimes get a little squirmy about wedding industry related consults, but the vibe of the shop and the women working there was really warm and relaxed.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, I definitely recommend popping in to say hello, if only for a little breath of spring in winter.

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A Toronto Holiday Gift Guide

Love these Christmas in Toronto streetcar cards by Paper E. Clips from the Paper Place. via metamorphocity.com

Love these Christmas in Toronto cards by Paper E. Clips I picked up at the Paper Place.

My family makes a pretty solid attempt to not focus too much on the presents part of the holidays. Especially now that my brother and I are grown, it’s a lot easier to just bask in each other’s company and the warm glow of being home together.

We are also lucky enough to all have work, so when it comes to stuff, there’s not a lot we need (not to mention, none of us live in gigantic places with room for too much excess.

We also try to be mindful of how lucky we are, and we do a fair bit of charitable giving in each other’s names. It’s a habit we developed years ago, and I really love taking some time every year to think about the people our donations to amazing organizations like the City of Joy, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and of course, the near and dear to my heart,  Mother Nature Partnership will help.

That said, I really love wrapping up a few little parcels and squirreling them away under the tree and watching my family open them Christmas morning. I also really love the idea of shopping locally whenever possible, so I’ve been amassing gift ideas that can all be purchased in Toronto to create an up-to-date Toronto holiday gift guide over on Pinterest, and thought I’d share a few here in case any of my fellow Torontonians (or anyone else, really) need some inspiration!

I think my top three have to be these guys:

Christmas Brew from Bellwoods Brewery via Metamorphocity.com

Christmas Brew! via Bellwoods Brewery

 

Gorgeous, cozy Ontario pullover sweater from The Drake General Store via metamorphocity.com

Gorgeous, cozy Ontario pullover sweater via The Drake General Store

holiday macarons from nadege via metamorphocity.com

A holiday pack of macarons via Nadege (so I don’t have to bake them myself!)

Check out my pinterest board here for more awesome local gift ideas!

Though nothing’s going to top last year’s Christmas gift to my dad.

Favourite Places – Astoria Restaurant

It can be overwhelming trying to explore a city as lively and diverse as Toronto. There is so much to see and do (and eat!) that it’s hard to know where to start.

Lucky for me, I’ve always had friends who lived in the city and could point me in the most delightful, delicious or entertaining directions. And lucky for you, I’ve decided to share some of their recommendations in a little series called  Favourite Places.

lunch at Astoria Restaurant Toronto

Long before I moved back to the city as (what apparently passes for) an adult, my very first Toronto guides were my mom and dad, who settled in the city for a few years as newlyweds after galavanting around Europe, building boats in France, camping on the beaches in Italy and just generally making the most of their 20s.

I definitely inherited my appreciation for and adoration of good food and my fairly adventurous palate from these two, and I love taking them to all of the new amazing restaurants I’ve come across in Toronto. Still, we can never go to long without a trip back to their old favourite: Astoria Shish Kebob House on the Danforth. 

When did you first discover Astoria?

Mom: We first went there with my roommate Jill when she and I were living in Cabbagetown. She learned about it from her office.

Dad: We first went to Astoria in the late 70s or early 80s when we were introduced to it by our good friend and sometimes roommate Gerry.

Glad we’ve got that straight. You two should be on the Newlywed Game. How did it become a favourite?

Mom: They served a giant plate of souvlaki with tons of garlicky tzatsiki and garlic bread and Greek potatoes and some very drinkable cheap Greek wine. I know they had other good stuff but we always had the same meal. The only difference is that now we get the smaller portions. Usually there were long line ups because the restaurant was about half the size it is now. It was always noisy and fun for big groups of friends and after we had kids, it was still the perfect family restaurant and we lived about 5 minutes away.

After we left the city we used to get take out if we were in Toronto. First we’d get the Greek food and then we’d get a box of our favourite Greek cakes around the corner on Pape. We’d put them in the trunk of the car and bring it all home to savour the food and the memories.

Dad: It became our favourite because the food was great, the prices were good and it was a noisy family place, always busy. Sometimes you had to wait either in the lobby or outside to get in. once we moved into the ‘hood, living on Eastmount and then Garnock ave. it became our first choice for restaurants. we did lots of eating in and lots of taking out. The takeout was always bigger.

What is the best item on the menu?

Dad: The best item on the menu when we first went there was the large souvlaki platter -on a platter not a plate. It was two giant skewers of bbq pork with rice, potatoes, salad and pita bread with killer tatziki.

Mom (listening in on dad’s answers at this point): We never had room for dessert.

What is your favourite memory/story from the restaurant?

Dad: When you guys were older, we were living in Stratford and drove in to go to the zoo, and we wrapped up the the day with dinner on the patio and watched a huge thunderstorm pass by to the north, and we found out later on the news that it washed out some of the roads to the zoo

Mom: Also, the old Greek men who were career waiters and who got to know us over the years, and always remembered us, and just the memory of when Sarah was little and would stand on the seats to peek over the booth and talk to everyone in the restaurant.

Some things never change.

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