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Thursday, February 15, 2007

winterlicious at bloom

Inside Toronto's restaurants, foodies have been warming up over the past couple of months with winterlicious.

Along with culinary events, Winterlicious sets up prix fixe menus with restaurants all around the city. Most of these restaurants offer a three-course menu for lunch and dinner at a reasonable price.

In France almost every restaurant offers a set menu, and I always miss the indulgence of three courses while I'm back in North America. Without the option, or the funds to pay for each course seperately, I always settle on a main, and leave without the taste of dessert lingering in my mouth.

My friend Ashleigh, who I met in Paris, has been enjoying winterlicious at several restaurants and suggested we do lunch.

Never saying no to a meal, I suggested Bloom, a restaurant I've had my eye on since I moved to Bloor West village.

The decor at Bloom is modern, clean, and sweet, with a subtle flower theme and a couple of rounded tables with sheer curtains draped around them.

I met Ashleigh at 1 p.m. in the back booth. Armed with a cold, but never without an appetite, I ordered hot lemon tea from our waiter with a charming accent. I would've succombed to wine, but I'm a walking cough and sneeze right now, so I decided to be good.

I started with salad of blonde frisee lettuce, bosc pear, blue cheese and a honey vinaigrette. I have always believed blue cheese and pear to be a killer combination, and they made me proud with this dish. The honey vinaigrette was laced with poppyseeds, and the cheese bit my tongue before melting into it.

Next up I had the quartet of barbequed white shrimp with wild rice salsa. From what I saw on my plate, I believe they were actually prawns. These were good, and nicely barbecued, but there was no flavour that left me salivating and wishing for more. I was also surprised that the wild rice salsa was cold, and although I would love to re-create this at home, a hot rice salsa would've impressed me more.

For dessert I ordered the passion fruit chocolate tart, because Ashleigh had ordered the rosemary creme brulee and I wanted to try as much as possible.

The tart was good, but the passion fruit was overwhelming and slightly reminiscent of fruit juice. I liked the texture of the chocolate, but the fruit taste really took away from the richness of it. The rosemary however, was strong and beautiful in the creme brulee, and Ashleigh was more than pleased with her dessert.

I was happy to have the luxury of a three-course lunch in such good company, as well as a chance to finally check Bloom off of my list of restaurants to visit.

Winterlicious is now over at most restaurants, but runs until February 24th at Bloom, if anyone in the area is interested in checking it out.

Bon appetit!

Blonde frisee
Quartet of shrimp

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are you lonesome tonight?

"Excuse me, Miss?"

The man at the table closest to me is calling me over.

"Yes?" I ask, already knowing the cold air coming in is bothering him.

"Is there anyway we can move tables? Every time the door opens my wife gets a blast of cold hair and I think she's going to kill me if I don't try to do something about it..." He's kind but there's nothing I can do. They are a walk-in table and the rest of the restaurant is booked.

"I'm sorry sir, I have to give the walk-in customers tables by the door, because everyone else has reserved, and if they come and I seat them here they'll slit my throat."

It's Valentines Day, I'm sick with a feverish cold, the phone is ringing off the hook, the restaurant is booked to capacity, and I've lost my ability to communicate with human beings. I wince at the thought of just saying a customer would "slit my throat", and crawl back behind my hostess station.

I have received no roses today. I'm over it, but with the stress building along with the flem in my throat, I'm feeling like it's just not my day.

When a waiter asks me how I'm doing, I grin and answer: "Sick and single, how are you?"

I walk home at 11 p.m., wind and snow blowing in my face, my body weak, and my face freezing. I love being single, but nights like this can feel like it's me against the world. No one will massage my soar back tonight, or tell me I'm beautiful, and my single bed is a mess, the sheets torn off the bed and sitting in the washer.

It isn't until I stand in the living room and let out a final rant to my room mate that I can smile, "I'm going to break. My clothes are everywhere, the dishes are all dirty, my sheets are in the dryer, I'm sick, I'm single, and I'm tired!" I finish by breaking into laughter, realizing I really don't have much to worry about.

Because at the end of the day I have a lot of love. I love my family, my friends around the world, the women I live with, the chefs I work with, Toronto's blue skies, fresh snow, and hell, I even love myself.

Romantic love will come when it wants to. It's something I've never been able to force.

I'm no stranger to love, I sometimes just have to remind myself how close I am to it.

valentines gifts for roomies

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

grocery shopping in style

Inside a small bakery in Chinatown, I share a table with a couple and clutch a lotus bun. I rip open the pastry to find a thick brown paste. It's rich, and the paste taste like sweet chestnuts. Outside the wind blows snow everywhere while I get lost in my foreign pastry.

I decided to do some food shopping while wandering today. To be honest, I'm always grocery shopping. Instead of bulking up on groceries once a week, I shop daily, aiming for variety and freshness.

Back outside the snow has stopped and the sky is bright blue. I stop and buy a Chinese pear and a papaya, then head towards Kensington Market.

Deep in one of the many vintage stores I dig through a bin of scarves for two dollars. I settle for leopard print and a man with a twisted moustache, glasses, and a lovable smile lets me pay without tax because he can’t remember how much it adds up to.

Afterwards I stop in a natural foods store and buy some loose tea, some bulk cinnamon, extra strong mustard, and other pleasures I’ve been meaning to stock up on.

Out in the streets a man yells out to me, “Buy some dried fruit, some nuts!” He’s tall and Mexican, and he’s out there every day, trying to coax people into buying dried goods. This time I can’t let him down, and I fill a bag with dried apricots and nuts, and find some oils inside. As I leave the woman says “Hello, amigos!” To the next customer, and I warm up to the sound of her accent, to the foreign touches everywhere in this city.

Wanting to travel more I head to Little Tokyo, a Japanese food store. I buy sweets, tofu noodles and a sushi sandwich with sweet plum inside. These triangles of rice wrapped in seaweed are as tasty as they are appealing to look at. I’m always impressed in how the Japanese present everything so immaculately, always pretty with graceful touches.

Eventually I walk to the streetcar, my hands turning to ice and my hands full of shopping bags.

These are my favorite days, rich in tastes and textures.

It's hard to find the time to shop so luxuriously, but it's worth taking the day to do.


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Thursday, February 08, 2007

la créatrice

My friend Shirin and I were inseparable in highschool.

We used to go to Value Village almost every weekend. The bus ride to East Hastings is a freak show of lost souls, cokeheads, heroin addicts and prostitutes. But the store is goldmine of used clothing. There we would fill our carts with used t-shirts, handbags and shoes. We would stock up on pieces that we could take home and transform into our own with a needle and thread.

When we went to Hawaii together, we explored all of Waikiki, seduced most of the men, and decided we would return some day to open our own clothing store. This thought still keeps my heart beating.

We've done a lot together. We've walked arm in arm through Amsterdam, often with a bottle of wine and a supply of chocolate. We wandered down every street, saw a live sex show, tried one of their famous cafes, and swooned over the endless shoe stores. We travelled through Spain with my dad, tasting every tapa and swimming in the sea at night. We barbecued sardines in the South of France, and ran along the hilly country roads on the hottest summer days.

In grade 12 we would wake early and go hiking in the woods before class, or swimming in the icy water of the Pacific ocean. At night we were running side by side on the sea wall, whether it was raining or not, pushing our bodies and supporting each other.

We lived at each others houses and spent half our time experimenting with clothes, and the other half with cooking.

She is always inspiring me. She encourages my creativity, my style, and my hunger for life. When I want to keep walking she wants to stop and talk to people, find out who they are, what they're doing and what's going on. Her curiosity takes her in every direction.

Today, she is more successful than ever in her sewing adventures, selling her clothes worldwide through her website, and catching the eye of any fashionista looking for something different.

I deeply admire this woman with dark brown eyes, long eyelashes and a killer sense of style.

Happy Birthday beautiful, thanks for all the memories and colour you've added to my life.

shirin and gill

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Monday, February 05, 2007

baby, it's freezing outside

WIND 35 km/h W
GUSTS 44 km/h

This morning my alarm yelled at me to wake up.

Having barely slept the night before, I could hardly handle the thought of dragging my body to my early morning English class.

Outside my window the wind howled and snowflakes flung themselves in every direction. Needless to say, I put my tired head back under my covers and fell back asleep.

Life changes when it gets this cold. I avoid walking outside, I forget fashion altogether and bundle myself like a snowman, and I find myself leaving my heels safely tucked away in my closet to avoid icy accidents on the sidewalk.

I stay alive with the blue skies and sunny days. The snow shines and glitters in the sun, making chapped lips and dry hands worthwhile.

And I can always count on the warmth of good roomates, hot meals infused with spices, interesting classes at school (that I manage not to sleep through), and as a single girl in the city, the gaze of a beautiful stranger can warm me up anyday.

I've even decided to continue spending my weekends in the heat of the restaurant as a hostess, under the agreement that I'll be trained as a bartender in summer and that I work one less night a week.

January was bitter cold, but if I have anything to say about it, things will start to heat up this month.

cold canadian geese
lone ranger

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

should i stay or should i go now?

When I quit the restaurant I was working at in December, I had my reasons.

I blamed the management, the hours, the ambiance, and the underestimated title of “hostess” for my departure.

There were times I hated working there. Nights where I felt so ambushed by angry customers, waiting tables, dirty dishes and ringing phones that my stomach was in knots and my head felt like it was being stabbed by one of the chef’s sharp blades.

But not a night went by without laughter. Every night I walked home from the restaurant feeling strong and satisfied. Pulling off a busy night in a restaurant takes team work and the ability to hold your breath when you feel like cursing. I put my paychecks into my bank account every two weeks knowing I’d earned every cent I made.

Looking back now, I wonder if my main motive for leaving was change. I thrive off change. Change and fear of commitment is what moves me to pack my suitcases so often, and probably why every relationship I had has been short and fleeting.

After spending all of January dropping off resumes and feeling desperate for work, I was called by my manager who pleaded me to come back in for a weekend.

And so now I find myself, back at my hostess station, answering the phone, clearing tables, seating customers, and trying to keep the general public happy, even if they have reservations and I won’t be able to seat them for another half an hour.

The scary part is I like it. I can now do my job with confidence, slipping up less often, and keeping the crowds calmer.

“Don’t worry sir, I’m going to seat these ladies pronto then I’ll get you a seat at the bar.”
“Great, I need a beer. Can’t I get one now?”
“No, I’m sorry, you can’t drink while standing there waiting. But soon, I promise, you’ll be happier than you could ever imagine.”
“Want to come have some drinks with us?”
“No, I’m great. And look, the bar is free! Follow me sir.”

It’s all a game and I’ve started to enjoy playing it. I like running around for a few hours before sitting down to a free dinner, put together by a loving chef who forms smoked salmon into a rose on the centre of my plate.

And while I have an interview for a clothing store on Monday, they’ve asked me to stay and my heart feels torn. They've expressed that they need me, and it's possible that I need them to. Life is hard without free meals and regular pay.

Now the questions is: do I want a change, or do I want to stop running?

Maybe it’s time to start forming real relationships, to start making connections and building on what I have instead of starting something new.

I'm still thinking.

choosing the right path