Category Archives: North America

Victoria Day Long Weekend Adventures

I now this is a little late but, it’s been a busy week. This has been one of my favourite long weekends I’ve had in a very long time. It was filled with adventures, food and spending time with friends and family.

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Friday night – Ribfest Toronto, Yonge and Dundas Square

An Aussie co-worker of mine had never had American ribs before so we decided to meet up along with his girlfriend (also an Aussie) and check it out. The event was put on as a part of the Northern Heat Rib Series, which is different from the Toronto Ribfest put on by the Rotary Club. Since the line-ups weren’t too long, we decided to get all our ribs from one vendor, Louisiana Bar-B-Que. Originally we wanted to get ribs and chicken but they didn’t have any available so we went with a full rack of ribs, beans and coleslaw. We lined up to get extra sauce – it was delicious and slightly sweet but tangy. Along with the ribs, I suggested we get a blooming onion – a whole onion is battered and deep fried and served with an amazing dipping sauce. For dessert, we got funnel cake, neither of them had eaten any of this before. I was happy to introduce them to some great food 🙂

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Saturday – Blood Donation and Yard Sale

In the morning, I went to donate blood. This is one habit I’ve been trying to keep up since it really is in me to give. I can give every 56 days but usually end up going every 2-3 months, depending on my schedule. Saturdays work best because I’m not in a rush to go somewhere afterwards. The last time I donated after work, I threw up and was nauseous since I didn’t eat much before getting to the clinic – learned my lesson.

After giving blood, I went over to my parents’ place and helped out with the yard sale. There have been a lot of changes happening at my parents’ house and with a much needed purge, a yard sale was bound to happen this year. It was extremely hot and sunny that day with no shade in the back yard – I burnt my shoulders slightly (thank goodness for aloe gel, it’s a skin saver!). There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic since it was a long weekend and due to the heat. However, at the end of the day, I did make a couple of sales and we ended up making a whopping $23! It was sad but then decided to have the yard sale on again the next day because things needed to go. 

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Sunday – Hiking and Waterfalls in Hamilton

Since I already made plans to go hiking, I couldn’t help out with the yard sale (I left that to my siblings and sister in law). The idea to go hiking started off as having a “gardening party at my place” to “let’s BBQ in the back yard” to “I want to go on a trek and have a picnic”. The last idea stuck and I suggested we go to Hamilton and see waterfalls (I love them!!). We decided on the Devil’s Punch Bowl in the Stoney Creek area and found this self guided walk. Stopped off at the Punch Bowl Market and Bakery and got some treats for the hike. To be honest, we were a little disappointed due to the lack of water from a very dry winter. However, it was still nice to take in all the nature. Failing to find the entrance to the Bruce Trail and getting to the Lower Punch Bowl, we walked 2km on the Dofasco 2000 Trail instead. Pretty but very flat and not quite the adventure we were looking for – wanted more inclined terrain so looked up another waterfall to hike, the East Glover Waterfall.Punch bowl1Punch bowl2Hamilton Hiking2Drove to the indicted parking area, which really was the side of the road and found the side trail leading to the Bruce Trail. It was clearly marked and when we go to the fork in the trail, we went left. This decision eventually led us to a waterfall, but not the one we were looking for. A fellow hiker told us it was Felker’s Falls. To see East Glover, we should have turned right instead. There was a lot more water at this one and we found a path that led us to the top before the cascading part. The water was calm but you can tell that the dry winter left the water line a lot lower than what it normally is. We stopped to have a snack and take in the scenery 🙂

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As a treat and the main purpose of going to Hamilton – we had dinner at Chicago Style Pizza (534 Upper Sherman Street). We ordered the goat cheese bruschetta, gnocchi with a non-meat pasta sauce and the No Self Respect (All Meat) stuffed pizza. It was delicious and there was so much meat!!!  The bottom crust was thin and solid for holding everything together.  The cheese was stringy when you separated the slices yet firm to taste. My friend was worried that there wasn’t enough meat since it didn’t look like that much from the top but once you took the first bite, the meat took over your mouth – what a great feeling. I must mention two things: 1) we arrived at 4:30pm and there was already a 30-45min wait so get there early on the weekends since they open a 4:00pm. 2) While you wait, there is a fantastic ice cream shop across the street that is a must try. They had moose tracks (vanilla ice cream with chocolate ribbon swirls and mini peanut butter cups), which was to die for.

Chicago Style Pizza

Monday – Woodbine Racetrack

It was my friend’s birthday and she wanted to go bet on some ponies, so we did. Most of the group had never been and we ended up having a great time! First, we learned how to bet. We stuck to the basic betting method:

  • WIN = Your horse must finish first (you get 100% of the winnings)
  • PLACE = Your horse must finish first or second (you get 60% of the winnings)
  • SHOW = Your horse must finish first, second or third (you get 30% of the winnings)

I like that the betting caters to both high and low risk takers since the bets start at $1. I kept it conservative and only made $2 bets. There was a race every 30 minutes so that gave us enough time to figure out who to bet on for the next race. The odds for each horse are shown on the screens and are based on the number of bets placed on it. We ended up staying for five races and I think I got the basic betting down. I lost a little bit of money but it was time well spent 🙂 I must say, the races appear more fun on TV. I only say this because the race itself only lasts for a minute and a half, then you have to wait the half an hour until the next one. On TV, it looks more exciting and as if there’s constant action.

Woodbine Racetrack

We were a big group so we headed to Boston Pizza for dinner, since they could accommodate 15 people. I waffled on whether I wanted to get a burger or tacos because I’ve been craving both. In the end, I had the shrimp tacos and it had great texture and flavour to it. They were soft tacos filled with lettuce, red onions, cilantro, cheddar and tomatoes with a hint of lime, topped with crunchy tortilla strips, a creamy sweet chili sauce. The breaded jalapeño shrimp was nice and crispy. Shrimp Taco

It was an activity filled weekend but I wouldn’t have changed anything. Now that the weather has gotten warmer, there will be more adventures to come 🙂

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Visiting Canadian Cities Part II

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As you may remember, I visited a couple of Canadian cities last year. For 2016, our events season is in full swing and this past week sent me to Calgary and Banff. We flew to Calgary a couple of days earlier to ensure everything was in place. On our way there, to our surprise, we got food on the plane (had forgotten that we pre-ordered food with our flight). That was one of the best decisions we could have made because there wasn’t enough time before getting on the plane to grab a bite to eat and we got served food first, which was a bonus. This would be my first time in Calgary and Banff.

Calgary, AB

I spent most of the time at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Calgary since that’s where our event was happening. We ate at both the hotel restaurants: Thomsons Restaurant and the Sandstone Lounge (there’s also an oyster bar restaurant that I didn’t get to try). Thomsons had a good buffet breakfast selection but it was pricey at $24. They had eggs benny to order and smoked salmon (see picture below). The Sandstone Lounge carried a variety of snacks and dinner options along with a good beer selection. The nachos were really delicious – the chip to cheese ratio was perfect and the cheese was layered. I also tried the pulled pork tacos with a light slaw on top, which was tasty but missing a crunch to it.

As for the banquet food, we got to do a tasting the day before our event and it was heavenly.

Calgary Food Tasting

Appetizers

  • Chorizo Meatball with Tomato Sauce
  • Smoked Local Lamb Loin, Onion Jam on a Crostini
  • Mini Haddock Fritter with Lime Aioli

Starters

  • Summer Corn Chowder, Peas and Corn
  • Chef’s Blend of Micro and Petit Greens, Sliced Strawberries, Pumpkin Seeds, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Entree

  • Roast Peppered Alberta Bison Tenderloin, Green Pepper Corn Jus, Potato-Mushroom Charlotte, Sauteed Baby Kale, Heirloom Carrots

Dessert

  • White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Prairie Berry Compote and Apricot Glazed Strawberry

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Since the hotel breakfast was pricey, I needed to find a cheaper option and that’s when Chef’s Cafe | Market (101 6 Ave. SW) came into the picture. My colleague and I went on our the second morning and I got a bagel with cream cheese and the potato vegetable hash. It was nicely flavoured and within budget (paid $4.81 for the pair!!). The next day we went back and ordered what the two guys in front of us ordered, the chef’s special thinking it was the breakfast wrap. It turned out to be an omelette with potato vegetable hash again – it was still very delicious and I ate it all! It was a good meal to have before getting into the car and driving one and a half hours to Banff. Calgary Breakfast food

Banff, AB

The drive into Banff started out uneventful but as we neared, we started seeing the mountains – granted it was raining/snowing so we didn’t see any of the peaks. It was raining/snowing, IN May, which was crazy and unexpected!! I’m really glad I brought a thicker jacket. The mountains, every direction that you turned, they were there. I couldn’t stop looking out the window and pointing at them – I was a child in awe and couldn’t contain my excitement, which is most of the time.
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Built in the year 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel was styled after a Scottish baronial castle (according to their website). This can be seen throughout the corridors and rooms, which were all beautiful and luxurious. The staff were friendly, attentive and helpful; my clogged sink was fixed with one phone call. There were restaurants, shops and lots of meeting spaces inside the hotel and plenty of green space, hiking trails and nature outside. Upon meeting our catering sales manager for our site inspection, I could tell we were in good hands. She was pleasant in manner and easy going, which was very comforting for us since we would be working with her over the next couple of months to make sure our October conference would run smoothly. The tour of the hotel and the meeting spaces gave us a good sense of how long it would take to get to one room to another and where to place tables and have registration, etc.

After the site inspection, we went to the 1888 Chophouse since we couldn’t do a menu tasting – they had only released the banquet menu the week prior. I think we got the better deal because the food was exquisite.

  • Bread: Rye, French Baguette and Sourdough with whipped butter and whipped butter with bone marrow (I have no words to describe how good the bone marrow butter was)
  • Starter: Roasted Beet Salad (pecan, goat cheese, lemon, pear) and Alberta Beef Tartare (pickled Mann egg yolk, aïoli, potato skin)
  • Entree: Brant Lake Wagyu 8 oz, 1888 Classic AAA Filet Mignon 6 oz, and lobster
  • Sides: Roasted Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, Cranberries, and Mac and Cheese
  • Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding (Medjool dates, earl grey toffee, granola) and S’more Éclair (smoked milk chocolate ganache, graham crumble, vanilla marshmellow)

On top of the food, we also had champagne and wine. The company we kept was fantastic and the conversations were down to earth, definitely a night to remember! Stay tuned for more on Banff.

Banff food 1 Banff food 2

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Discovering Montreal

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This is part II of my short vacation. You can read about my Ottawa stay here.

A short train ride from Ottawa took me to Montreal, where I met up with my friends and hung out with them for a few days. They had moved to the St. Henri neighbourhood, which is a little further away from downtown Montreal. They have a family now so it’s a quieter neighbourhood and they have room to grow. I mainly stayed in the St. Henri neighbourhood and walked around, getting the lay of the land.

The weather improved a lot since Ottawa so on my first day, we took a long stroll along the canal to Chinatown. Gentrification has taken over the area with many new buildings under construction and new restaurants taking on old store fronts – this can be seen mainly along the canal. However, the neighbourhood has retained it’s charm – it can be seen at the local Atwater Market, the churches and the residents. The walk was really nice to finally feel the sun on my face, brightening up my day 🙂 I wasn’t aware that there was a path along the canal that took you all the way downtown to Old Montreal/Downtown.

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When we arrived, eating was first priority. Originally we wanted to eat Vietnamese but they didn’t have any high chairs so we went for dim sum at Le cristal chinoise. The service was slow (we were seated for 1.5 hours, with a 10 month old) and we had to remind them that there were still items missing. No cart service, you ordered from a list. However, the food was delicious when it arrived. Try going on a weekday instead of the weekend, it should be less busy. I didn’t realize how much I missed Chinese food until my stay in Montreal because my friend’s mom was also  in town and staying with them, so she cooked a few of the dinners while I was there and dim sum – it’s so good and tasty; think of it as Chinese tapas where the portions are bite sized and you can try a lot of different things. After eating, my friend and her mom did groceries and I wandered around with the baby and the baby’s dad. Many new sights and sounds but also very familiar – elderly people playing music in public had assembled to perform tai chi, the delicious smells of baked goods, various dialects of Chinese being spoken that I don’t understand, and people just standing in the middle of the sidewalk so you have to walk around them. It had been a long day and we headed home on the Métro instead of walking.

The night, we took advantage of them having them having mom around to be babysitter for a night so we went out for drinks at Ludger and then some snacks at Satay Brothers. Once again, the theme of Asian food continued and Satay Brothers had Singaporean/Malaysian street food to offer. We got some pork buns and some veggie fritters that were delicious. The best part was, one of the servers (maybe owners??), Phil started chatting with us and we got onto the topic of Hong Kong street food (he’s mixed, half Chinese and half French Canadian). It was so nice to talk to someone in Cantonese about some of my favourite foods – I had to translate for my friend and got her interested in possibly taking a trip to Hong Kong. I will definitely be paying them a visit on my next trip to Montreal in June.

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Throughout the rest of my trip, my friend had a back spasm and was immobile for a bit so I helped around the house and with the baby. It was really nice to spend time with her since I hadn’t been in Montreal for a couple of years and only get to see her when she’s home in Toronto. I did take some time for myself and walked around. I went back to the Atwater Market and got a Croque-monsieur to enjoy. Didn’t have as many pastries as I would have liked but there is my next trip. Also, a trip to anywhere really isn’t complete without getting tacos, so we went to Café Frida. It was a small place with seating for maybe 15 people max. The interior was bright and colourful. The food was delicious! I got the conchinita and carnita – one of each. I really do love food a lot!! Other than eating, I also spent a lot of time reading and napping, which are both things I haven’t done in a while. Since the weather was really nice, we also got to BBQ – made sausages from the Market and grilled eggplant.

For the train ride home, I got two sandwiches from Sandwicherie St Henri: a pork and a chicken salad since the ride was almost six hours. They really hit the spot. The train ride was pretty uneventful but I got a window seat and had a little table in front, rather than getting a fold down table like on the plane.

I cannot wait to go back to Montreal in June (will be there for work and I’ll be staying the weekend with my friends again).

List of places that I visited:

 

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Exploring Canada’s Capital City: Ottawa

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I recently took a mini-holiday to visit friends in Ottawa and Montreal (it’s been a long overdue visit). Taking the train (VIA Rail) was super relaxing and didn’t require all the hassle that comes with taking a flight – trekking out to the airport and having to arrive early. I got to Union Station, found the boarding gate and lined-up. Tickets get scanned and then you board, super simple. I would definitely recommend taking the train if you have the time for it (took 4.5 hours to get to Ottawa). Also, you can take in the scenery without having to fuss with traffic.

Ottawa, ON

Every trip that I had taken to Ottawa consisted of going to the Winterlude, skating on the Rideau Canal (the world’s largest skating rink), eating Beavertails and lots of drinking and birthday shenanigans. However, I have never actually explored Canada’s capital city so with this short trip, I decided I would do just that! The original plan was to spend time with my friends but they actually were driving back to Toronto on my second day so instead of cancelling my trip, I found an AirBnB place and spent the next two days seeing what Ottawa had to offer. I visited the Canadian Museum of Nature for free (they have free admissions every Thursday evening, 5:00-8:00pm), went up the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill (saw some great views of the city), walked to Byward Market and tried a lot of great food! It was very refreshing to be travelling by myself and being on my own. I talked with strangers and had a great time despite the heaps and heaps of snow that wouldn’t stop falling.

I love food so here is a list of all the places I tried:

  • Wilf and Ada’s (510 Bank Street) – the eggs in purgatory are a must-try!! Perfect blend of spicy and tomato goodness. I met to older gentlemen while having brunch by myself. One wanted to know if and what kind of phone he would need to get if he wanted to just access the Internet while he was hiking through northern Spain.
  • Arlington Five (5 Arlington Street) – same owners as Wilf and Ada’s and around the corner. Cute coffee shop and delicious muffins. I got one with pineapple and coconut, basically a Piña colada in muffin form. Super moist and filling.
  • Elgin Street Diner (374 Eligin Street) – a staple and must visit when in Ottawa. The burger was decent but the desserts were so good – we tried the peanut butter chocolate pie and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream.
  • Manx Pub (370 Elgin Street) – according to their website, they are “a social hub for Ottawa’s arts scene and those who cherish good food, beverages and even better conversation”. It definitely was a place of that since I met a Mexican artist there and talked a lot about food, especially tacos and Mexican foods. The bartenders are friendly and really know their beers. I tried two local beers: the Kichesippi seasonal (didn’t get the name of the brew) and from the Cassel Brewery, Lil’ Red Steamer (a delicious Irish red ale). Also ended up chatting with a Rhode Islander who’s daughter was working in Ottawa. She was a graphic designer and we talked about the printing industry (since it was her specialty). The description on the website is very true, for me anyways.
  • El Camino (380 Elgin Street) – This was a really hard place to get a seat at, even if you are by yourself. The wait was over an hour and I ended up getting take out instead. They don’t take reservations either, so if you want to go, get there early or put your name on the waiting list and then go to the Manx Pub for a couple of brews until they call you. I ordered the beef taco, ox tongue taco and Crispy Prawn Betel Leaf (these were my favourite!!). Everything was tasty but I could have gotten more of the prawns in betel leaf – something about the crunchiness on the outside and the sweetness of the prawns really worked. This was recommended to me from a Manx Pub bartender.
  • The Whalesbone Oyster House (430 Bank Street) – Oh man, this place had such a good vibe – super chill and relaxed place. I got a half dozen of oysters and a Kichesippi 1855 (recommended by the guy sitting next to me at the bar). There was homemade bread and whipped butter. The oysters were served with homemade sauces – Mignonette sauce, hot sauce and a third one I don’t remember. The hot sauce was made from a mix of ghost peppers and chilies that had a kick to it but didn’t linger too much. Oysters were super fresh. It was on the pricey side so I decided that the beer and oysters would be my appetizer.
  • Bramasole Diner (428 Bank Street, next door to The Whalesbone) – This was recommended by my AirBnB host (it was also down the street from where I was staying so didn’t need to go too far). Decent diner food. I got eggs, sausage, home fries, toast and coffee. There was a constant stream of people coming and going and the staff were friendly and service was fast.

Next time, I want to venture further out into the suburbs, such as Hintonburg (there’s a place called Hintonburger, with a name like that – I need to try it!!).

More to come on my trip couple days in Montreal 🙂

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My first all-inclusive vacation

By the pool

Wow, I can’t believe another year has come and gone. I know it’s a little late but it’s my first post of the new year! For the holidays, the bf and I decided to go on our first vacation together. We did research online for destinations and resorts to go to that ended with us booking our stay at the Memories Holguin Beach Resort, outside of Holguin, Cuba. It was my first time at an all-inclusive and wasn’t really sure what to expect other than unlimited food, alcohol and pool/beach time. We even splurged and got their “Diamond Club” upgrade. Unfortunately, there were perks to the upgrade that we weren’t aware of and inconsistencies carried out as we found out while talking to other travellers.

The facilities were nice: 5 pools, 3 bars (including a swim-up one), 4 a la carte restaurants, 1 main buffet restaurant, 1-24hr snack bar, beach access, grounds were nicely maintained, and much more. Check out Sunwing’s website. One thing we didn’t expect were the amount of stairs. Our room was in the 300s, which was closest to the lower pools but to get to the main restaurants, we had to hike up a lot of stairs – it was leg day, everyday.

My favourite was the swim-up bar because the bartender was awesome and kept us very inebriated most of the time. It was a good flow of drinks. Also, this was where we met a lot of other guests, mainly Canadians (not sure if the Americans have been travelling to Cuba yet, due to the lifting of the embargo).  It was a delight when the entertainment staff would yell out Canadian provinces rather than American cities when asking where you’re from. Since I’ve never been to an all-inclusive, the drinks kept on flowing and after the second night, I realized that I can no longer drink like I used to from my university days, which I was absolutely okay with. It can be super dangerous and now that I’m an “adult”, I need to be responsible for myself.

I’m really glad we did the day trip to Holguin and got to get a glimpse of Cuban life (even though I was very hungover – too many rum and cokes the night before). We visited a cigar factory but it was closed for the holidays, so we only went to the shop and got a couple cigars. In the town of Holguin, we had free time to wander around and visited a couple of churches. Life seemed hectic but also a lot calmer than home, in downtown Toronto. For lunch, we had to climb to the top of the Hill of the Cross (Loma de la Cruz). It was a great view of the city! I have to say though, it felt like we had travelled back in time because a lot of the vehicles on the road were old American cars that some had seen better days, while others were in pristine condition. Then there was the tricycle taxis (see image below) that looked like a makeshift vehicle but was definitely cheaper to get around than in a real taxi.

Before leaving, we are also warned about the food. However, to much of our surprise, it was quite good – and there was ketchup available on the resort (they had started importing it from Mexico, about six months ago). The food was plentiful and mostly delicious. They know how to do a great pork! We found out that one of the restaurants close to our room also did breakfast (Cuban Restaurant) so we didn’t have to trek all the way up to the main buffet one. The staff were friendly and service was quick.

After spending a week of relaxation, I was ready to go home. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy it but I wanted more adventure and less confinement to one location. Onto my next adventure soon!

 

 

 

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Visiting Canadian Cities

It’s been a busy couple of months – I got a new job, moved out of my parents’ house and have been on the road.

With work, we are hosting events in different Canadian cities so I’ve had the opportunity to glimpse into some cities in Western Canada: Vancouver, Fort McMurray, and Saskatoon.

Vancouver, BC 

I was there for 36 hours since I needed to be home for a wedding the morning after our event. I fell in love with the place (mainly the hotel and being able to see water from my hotel room). The city is vibrant and chill at the same time – they have mountains! I managed to eat at Fatburger, lemon meringue dessert at the Fairmont Waterfront (that’s where we stayed and had our event) and had a great view of the water.

Fort McMurray, AB

It snowed when I got off the plane and continued snowing until I got the plane. This was my first solo work trip was so I was a little nervous about running the show on our event. However, everyone was extremely nice and the venue staff all pitched in and we put on a great keynote presentation. I got to try a local beer, Wood Buffalo Brewing Co.‘s Overtime IPA and the cheese burger was awesome!  Also, at the Sawridge Hotel & Conference Centre, they have a pool, Jacuzzi, koi pond and palm trees in the centre of the hotel portion. It was very humid. Who would have thought there would be palm trees in the middle of Alberta??

I also learned that there is a huge transient work population where people fly in from all over the country to work in the oil fields (95% of the people on my flights were men). I sat next to a welder who was doing a 2 week on, 2 week off work schedule and flying in from the east coast.  It dawned on me that I don’t know much about the oil industry at all because the impact that it has on a community is felt by all – whether it’s a good or bad. Previous events we’ve held in Fort McMurray were attended by over 200 whereas this time, we had around 120, which isn’t bad but not like when the area was booming. However, after talking to some people, the community is still growing but at a slower pace. Amenities that were slated to be built are coming later than expected but it’s still in the schedule. Overall, it was a great experience, too bad we aren’t doing an event there next year.

Saskatoon, SK

It snowed when I got off the plane and continued snowing until I got the plane. This time we landed in a huge storm. My manager couldn’t resist and had to take a pic of me bundled up in my snow gear to send to co-workers. In the office, it has now become a running joke of what cold place to send Gloria next – we’re going to Yellowknife in March 2016 😉 Anyways, we arrived 2 days earlier before our event as neither my manager nor myself had seen the event space (it was booked a year in advance). The TCU Place (Saskatoon Arts Centre) was massive and after doing the walk through of the place, I felt better but was hesitant about the timing since we needed to be on schedule for our Conference. The day of the event was great! We received a lot of positive feedback and people can’t wait to attend next year’s Conference 🙂

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Saskatoon Downtown. Now, before you say anything about staying at a Holiday Inn, this one was fantastic and fairly new (built 4-5 years ago). The restaurant downstairs, The Hub had fantastic food to the point where we had all our meals there! The staff were friendly and accommodating while the rooms were spacious and clean. I say accommodating because I was missing my bf’s boxing match back home so we brought a laptop down to dinner and set it up so we could stream it while having our meal. It was a great meal but a disappointing loss for the bf (split decision from the judges). Overall it was a great stay and we’d definitely go back!

Summer Vacation on Manitoulin Island

The last couple months have been hectic at work and I’m going to be moving out of my parents’ place soon (I’m super excited but also scared at the same time) so my mind has been in other places. It’s time to get back to writing and sharing my adventures.

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Puppy digging

I went up to Manitoulin Island for Canada’s Day week with the bf, some friends, and a puppy for some much needed relaxation and electronics free time. It was so nice not to have my cellphone on or internet – just tv, books, cards and the beach! There was a huge change to the property from last year. The septic system and tank needed to be replaced because the tree roots had damaged the tank so all the trees were cut down 😦 It was for the best but now the front yard is mainly sand/dust, ant hills and some grass. There are a lot of ants on the Island.

I spent a lot of time reading and finally finished Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth“. A light-hearted and optimistic book that speaks to his life experiences and advice on how you can live a more fulfilling life. I started on a sci-fi book called “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Not usually into sci-fi but seeing how intrigued the bf was, I wanted to read it as well. Basically, it’s about surviving on Mars, alone and relying on your instincts and abilities. I don’t want to spoil the book for those who are planning to read it. Let’s say it was a page-turner and I couldn’t put it down.

We did some swimming and hiking on the Cup and Saucer trail as well as out to the lighthouse on the other side of the bay. I miss climbing rocks and jumping over water – can’t do that in the city. Though when I tried to jump over water, it was too far and I ended up with a wet sock and running shoe for the remainder of the hike.

On Canada’s Day, there were fireworks down at the beach. It was awesome! There is something so magical about explosives being blown up in the air to create beautiful images. The bf also took his camera down there and got some amazing shots. It’s been a while since I’ve taken time to go see fireworks on July 1st because it’s always crowded at home so it was nice to have some space on the beach to ourselves.

We ate really well on the Island. Breakfast and lunch were casual meals but for dinner, on most nights we barbequed and ate together at the picnic table. We even managed to catch the pancake breakfast at the curling club, since it only happens on the first Thursday morning of every month. There is a butcher shop called Manitoulin Island Meats where we got sausage, bacon and burgers. It used to be Papa’s Meat & Deli but they took it over and it’s lost some of the mom and pop feel to the place. However, the meat is still delicious. For farm fresh eggs, we go to a nearby B&B that has a bar fridge stocked with cartons of eggs where you put money into a mason jar and take a carton of eggs. the first time we saw the sign, it was very shocking that people are very honest and only take what they pay for. It would never work in the city, which is another reason why I love being up there.

Being on the Island always makes me feel so free and joyful. I’d love to be up there all summer, like Matt, of the Lake Huron Fish & Chips. He’s opened up shop on the Victoria Day long weekend and will be up there for a couple of months. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met and the fish and chips are delicious! We went a couple of times for lunch and there’s always a line up but totally worth the wait.

For next year, the bf wants to have a bat house building contest. There used to be a lot of bats in the old garage until it was rebuilt to keep them out so he wants to create homes for them again (on the outside of the garage). On the plus side is, bats eat mosquitoes and their poop is good for fertilizing. Everyone wins!

Very glad we got to spend the week instead of a couple of days at the cottage because sometimes, you need to take a step back from the hectic city life and be able to enjoy a campfire with friends.

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New York City

I recently went on a business trip to New York City with two co-workers for a youth event called “Serve Your Youth 2014” in support of the Israel Tennis Centers Foundation.  This was the first year I’ve attended and it was really great to see so many people come together in an evening where you gather and network with other like-minded youth as well as supporting a great cause. It was held at the Bowery Hotel, a beautiful venue in the Lower East Side. Speeches were made alongside a silent auction. I’m really glad I went.

I flew with Porter Airlines, a Toronto based airline that flies to major cities along the Canada/USA boarder and the east coast. It was my first time and a great experience: easy online check-in and security check, nice lounge with free beverages and snacks, wi-fi throughout, boarding was easy and fast. The on-board crew and service provided was excellent. One and a half hour flight, you land at Newark Airport. Same experience on the way back.

From Newark Airport, you can take the NJ Transit train into Penn Station – New York. It’s a 30 minute train ride that will cost $12.50 USD compared to a cab ride that will put you back by at least $60. However, the only setback about taking the train is that you have to get to them from your terminal and that takes time so the entire journey took about an hour.

Once in New York City, the walk to my hotel was about 10-15 minutes. I stayed at the New York Marriott Marquis with a room overlooking Times Square. It was crazy because of the Super Bowl weekend where festivities were set-up. We even got woken at 6:30am by cheerleaders because that’s how close we were! The elevator system was interesting since you had to type your desired floor and go to the assigned elevator rather than pressing a floor button. The elevators then go to only the floors assigned. I really wanted to stay the weekend but with rates at $465 USD (+taxes) a night, it wasn’t financially sound. It came out to ~$630 CAD for one night.

Cabs were pretty cheap to take since the base fare started at $2.50 USD ($2.75 CAD) compared to the rates in Toronto where it’s $4.00 once you get in the door. Also, the cabbies were really nice – I met a Mexican who had moved to NYC 20 years ago and considers himself more of a New Yorker than Mexican, another where I’m sure he was high or something because the things he said did not make sense – we just went with it. If taking cabs are too much, there was always the option to walk. Manhattan is set-up as a grid with the street names are mostly numbered so you can’t get lost. We walked to Central Park and FAO Schwarz after a meeting. It was too cold to walk around the park (an incentive to come back during warmer weather) so we went to the toy store, home of the Big Piano!

Food, I’m very sad I didn’t get any foods that are famous to New York except pizza and it was delicious. Next time I come back, I’m going for it: hotdogs, cheesecake, cocktails, Pastrami sandwiches, and goodies from Magnolia Bakery.

I can’t wait to go back, probably in the summer time because there are so many more places that I want to explore!

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Island Time

I spent five days on Manitoulin Island (in Lake Huron) at the cottage with the bf and family. It felt so great to be away from civilization – no cell service, Internet or satellite TV – just campfires, hiking, beach and lounging. My first time on Manitoulin Island and I must say, I will definitely go back. There’s not a lot of people who live there so you have a lot of privacy and as well as very little traffic. I woke up one morning to the sound of cars and the bf said it must be people trying to catch the ferry to mainland or it had just arrived. When I saw traffic, I really mean five cars driving past the cottage 😉

We spent a lot of time outdoors and managed to keep a daily routine – get up, make breakfast, spend time outdoors, eat dinner, make fire, sleep and repeat. Every time I take vacation, it makes me realize how much more I love being outdoors and nothing beats fresh air and the open waters. We hiked the Cup and Saucer Trail was a 14km hike up the escarpment that included an adventure trail! We got to climb up rocks and into caves – very thankful that I’m short because I got to walk through most of the tight spaces rather than crawling on my knees. It was very picturesque and we took a lot of photos from the various lookout points.

Other than hiking on the trail, we also visited Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong, hiked out to the “lighthouse” (the original one got burnt down so now it’s more of a tower with a light at the top), took the ATV out (my first time) and went to the beach. A lot of much needed downtime. I also learned how to play cribbage – combining my love of numbers and cards, all in one board game.

I saved the best for last. For food, we cooked most of our meals and got locally sourced meat from Papa’s Meat & Deli (lean ground beef, handmade sausages and bacon) – it was so good. I’ve been searching around Toronto for a local butcher, let me know if you know any good ones around town. We made bacon pancakes and they were delicious!!!!

Bacon Pancake

It was a wonderful couple of days to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Next time, I’d like to stay for a whole week or more 🙂

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Time to Relax

This was the first weekend in a long time where I could just relax.  It’s very hard to just slow down and take some time for myself, especially when there are so many things to see and do in the summer time – plus the summer season is so short that I want to maximize outdoor time. However, I do realize that there needs to be a time to just not have anything planned and just to enjoy the day. That is exactly what I did this weekend.

Saturday was spent wandering around downtown with the BF where we purchased two carboys for homebrewing and then splitting up for the rest of the weekend. We both went to the same birthday party at different times, since he was with his best friend and I had another event to go to. It was interesting when I showed up solo because everyone just asked where my other half was.  I just told them I had no clue since last I heard they were a bar somewhere. It’s usually the answer I give to everyone since I don’t need to keep tabs on where he is, he will get a hold of me one way or another when he needs to 🙂

The second half of the evening was spent at SpiritHouse. It’s tucked away at Adelaide and Portland so it wasn’t as busy or pretentious as I thought it would be. It was my first time there and I was delightfully surprised by the attention to detail and care the bartenders took to make our drinks and took the time to educate us on where the alcohols were from. We ended up sitting at the bar and my friend had been there a handful of times, so he knew the bartenders and they knew him. It was great because they were showcasing gin this month and it’s one of my favourites. I didn’t know what to order so I just told the bartender, Terry to make something with gin and he concocted something called Therapy. Not sure if it’s an industry name or something he came up with, but it was delicious! The cocktail list as well as whiskey lists were very extensive – full list can be found here. It was a great relaxing evening spent with friends.

SpiritHouse Menu

I spent most of Sunday by myself, which is something I seldom do anymore. I went for a swim in the morning and then did groceries. It’s been so long since I’ve gone out to get groceries and actually plan meals that it was very relaxing and exciting to be making my own food. This week’s menu includes:

Breakfast

  • Bacon
  • Egg whites
  • Mixed veggies (green peppers, onion, mushrooms and zucchini)

Lunch

  • Salad (green leaf lettuce, red onion, mushrooms with homemade dressing – garlic, olive oil, honey mustard, lemon juice and pepper)
  • Broccoli slaw (shredded broccoli/carrot/cabbage with dressing – mayo, honey mustard, lemon juice and pepper)
  • Zucchini patties (zucchini, Parmesan cheese, chili flakes, bread crumbs, egg and salt/pepper)
  • Spaghetti squash with a ground beef tomato sauce (I added zucchini, mushroom, onion, garlic, green pepper to a can of tomato sauce)
  • Possibly tuna cakes – but haven’t made them yet.

Dinner

  • Burger patties (extra lean ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, onion, mushroom, green onions, pepper and soy sauce)
  • Broccoli slaw
  • Salad
  • Zucchini patties
  • Baked salmon

Snacks

  • Nuts (almonds and cashews)
  • Fruit (pears, apples and mangos)
  • Raw veggies – forgot to pick up some celery and carrots, will do that tomorrow
  • Greek yogurt with flax seeds

I realized today that it’s pretty easy to make variations of foods with a few core ingredients. Cooking and prep work took about two hours but it was very rewarding at the end because now I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to eat for this week. This is something I like to have control over during the weekdays. It’s often too easy to go out and buy lunch. Not only is it unhealthy for the body but also the wallet.

Other than cooking today, I tackled some receipts sitting in my room. This was a daunting task because I try to keep track of my expenses so I hold onto receipts but I end up just tossing them onto my nightstand. As they accumulate, it looks more and more overwhelming so I end up letting it pile up to the point where they fly off the pile and I get fed-up with it that I spend an hour going through all of them and recording them.

All and all, it was nice to have time to myself this weekend. I feel more relaxed and ready to tackle this work week.

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