Tasty Tuesday – La Carnita

With four locations in Toronto, La Carnita boasts “Mexican street cuisine and graffiti with a gringo twist”. One look at their website and you’ll get a feel for their urban grunge vibe as well as a glimpse at some of their delicious looking eats. A browse through and a quick google map was enough for myself to make this a little early week treat as I made plans to have dinner with Matt and Keeragh before they head off to the Jays’ game without me. That was my choice by the way; being third wheel to my boyfriend and best friend at Riverdance two weeks ago was enough for me, and as it turns out Stephen Amell is wrong about some things: you don’t have to love what your partner loves.

Thank God because even though I own a Smoak Blue Jays t-shirt (for geeky Arrow related reasons clearly) I can’t stand baseball.

It’s not about baseball ⚾️🏹👩🏼‍💻

A post shared by Casandra Miller (@casandramillerr) on

Anyway, I snagged a reservation for 6pm giving us enough time to commute down after work, as well as the time to stuff our faces before the first pitch. La Carnita’s John Street location is just a ten minute walk from the Rogers Centre and not that far from St. Andrews station. It runs a bit cheaper than most of the sit-down restaurants in the theatre district and since we’d never been I decided to ignore some of the complaints about service that I read online in order to check it out for myself. After all, a lot of people won’t write a review online unless something was wrong so I like to give places a chance no matter what their rating is.

In terms of decor, La Carnita did not disappoint. One of Keeragh’s first comments through the door was “Casandra this is the most hipster place I’ve ever been to.” and she wasn’t exactly wrong. With low reddish lighting, a grungy industrial vibe and a mix of unique booth couches and metal chairs, La Carnita is quite charming. There is definitely an urban grunge vibe going on with the photograph walls and graffiti murals. Additionally the red toned lighting of the place certainly adds to this specific aesthetic. If only it didn’t make it so hard to photograph everything with an iPhone.

Like many restaurants, they definitely tried to squeeze as much seating into the place as possible making the restaurant a bit crowded especially right before a baseball game but we were lucky and got tucked away at a little table in the corner so things weren’t so bad.

I decided to have an unusual indulgence, well unusual for me. Most people who know me know that I don’t really drink that often anymore. I’ll maybe have a long island iced tea once every three months and that’s about it but after browsing the drink menu I decided to try the South Cider which was a can of Spirit Tree Cider mixed with peach juice, lemon juice and a sugar rim. The juices took the alcohol taste right out of the cider and made for an interesting mix. I’m not sure it was worth $10 but in general mixed drinks aren’t worth what they’re priced at. I suppose that makes it a lucky thing that I don’t indulge in them often.

Now, before we even got to the restaurant I had more or less decided what I was ordering. The number one on my list was the Mexican Street Corn because every picture on their website as well as their social media made my mouth water. My picture isn’t quite as great because of the red lighting but I promise you it was even better than it looked. The order of corn comes with two pieces of corn on the cob but you can add a third if you’re an odd number like we were. They come smothered in crema, queso añejo, árbol and ancho chili powder. And man oh man were they good.

I love corn on the cob to begin with but the toppings on these took them took the next level. There was just the right amount of spice with the chilli powder and it was balanced perfectly by the concoction of white sauces and cheese. I could have happily ate all three pieces but of course the whole point was to share.

With the corn out of the way it was time to focus on the tacos. It seems to be the going theme these days that most taco joints involve ordering single tacos at $5-8 a pop, which is maybe a bit expensive for a typically cheap meal but it works well when you want a little variety. After browsing through the list of eight different tacos I decided to start off with the In Cod We Trust and Mexican Chorizo. 

The tacos were small but they came fully loaded. The Mexican Chorizo had pork chorizo sausage, habanero mayo, cotija cheese, mango salsa, guacamole, chicharron and cilantro. Once again, there was just enough spice and a whole lot of flavour. The mango salsa really brought it together for me because I just love mango but the flavour palette in general was quite delicious. It’s definitely one I would order again.

As for the In Cod We Trust, it seemed very similar to the fish taco mom and I tried at Seven Lives but with some different toppings. The cod was good, crispy and warm, though I would have liked some more of the lime crema or even some cheese on this one. Still, I was happy with my choice but if I had to choose between this or the chorizo it would definitely be the latter.

Matt and Keeragh both tried the Carne Asada which was a taco with flat iron steak, chipotle mayo, tomatillo salsa, lime avocado, crispy shallots and cilantro. While I avoided this one because of the lime avocado, they both really enjoyed it, especially the steak itself. Ever the larger stomach, Matt also put back the Pollo Frito (crispy chicken thigh, peanut mole,honey, Rossy’s hot sauce, green cabbage & salsa fresca) and the Tostada de Ceviche (albacore Tuna, guacamole, coconut milk, habanero, tomato, cucumber) both of which he enjoyed. It seems that it was pretty hard for us to go wrong here.

 

Of what we tried the corn was my favourite but amongst the taco selections it was definitely the daily special that stood out amongst the crowd. It was the perfect way to end the meal. The special of the day happened to be beef flautas, a crispy rolled tortilla stuffed with meat and cheese. We were all so excited to try them that I didn’t really get a picture but trust me when I say they were delicious. The meat was nice and salty and the crispy fried tortilla had a really nice crunch. Plus they were smothered in salsa verde which I have recently discovered to be one of my favourite new things. A topping of diced apples was also a random but nice touch.

As for the service complaints I read about online we didn’t really have any problems ourselves. We got stuck at a two seater table because we showed up half an hour early for our reservation but that was our own fault. After that the staff was nothing but gracious. Our main waitress was lovely and the other staff were always checking in as they brought out food and cleared our plates. It definitely appeared to be a team oriented joint. The food came quickly and I don’t have anything to really complain about. I think, like most places, it all depends on who you get and what is going on that night. Sometimes you’re just unlucky. Tonight, we were not.

I think I’d still pick Seven Lives over this place but that doesn’t negate the fact that La Carnita was quite tasty. Plus, it allowed for an actual sit down meal which is much harder to do at the small Kensington Market shop. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back, especially since La Carnita is partnered with a little Toronto gem known as Sweet Jesus which is where we got our dessert. You can order some of their desserts up in the restaurant but since I’ve been dying to try their soft ice cream concoctions we headed downstairs, happy to find that there wasn’t a line like there had been on Sunday. I suppose the on and off rain probably helped. I don’t want to ramble on too much (mainly because I’m trying to get to bed) but I will say their fully loaded ice creams are definitely worth the cheat.

So that’s another not so healthy Tasty Tuesday under my belt. Tomorrow it’s off to work and back to eating well. Still, I think it’s important to remember it is okay to indulge sometimes. I know my life wouldn’t be the same without great food. Sometimes that food is good for you and sometimes it’s rolled in cookie crumbs.

Continue Reading

Doors Open Toronto

This is another late in the day adventure post because we literally just got back in from exploring the city all day (25,000 steps and 32 flights of stairs later) but here it goes. This weekend was the annual Doors Open event here in Toronto. Doors Open is a city-wide event featuring over 150 of Toronto’s unique buildings which grant explorers free access to get a look inside some of the more cultural, historical, and architectural significant spaces that aren’t always open to the public or that usually charge admission. The event has been running for the past eighteen years and always take place sometime in May. This was actually my first time hearing about it as well as my first time taking part. Moving here has opened me up to so many new experiences and this one was definitely unique.

We started our day at Spadina Museum is a historic manor kept intact as a museum. It is actually the neighbour to grande old Casa Loma which features in another one of my adventure day posts which you can read here. I was excited to check out Spadina House because later next month they are hosting a Great Gatsby Party that I’m thinking about getting tickets to. Unfortunately, tickets to tour the house are already sold out so if I do go I’ll just be going for the outside events. That’s alright though because today I got to tour the house for free.

As was the case with many of the buildings we visited there were lots of volunteers and staff members always willing to answer questions and give bits of information about the locations we were visiting. We toured around each of the manor’s grand rooms before heading back out to the yard. The house itself was neat and has been beautifully maintained but soaking in the sun was a little bit nicer. It was beautiful out so of course I couldn’t resist taking a selfie before we headed back down the intimidating stairs leading up to Spadina House.

It was then off to our next stop.

Now, before we headed out on this adventure, my dad had sent me a list of the buildings he wanted to go to so it was a bit more manageable than the overall list of 150. I mapped his spots all out on a custom google map and got rid of the ones that were way out of the way. I then planned out a grand ole plan of how to be effective with our time and hit as much as possible. We didn’t follow it perfectly but it certainly helped us get around a little bit. Two $12.50 group passes for the TTC also made getting around a lot easier, and yet it seems we mostly walked everywhere.

We left Spadina House and headed to our local seat of provincial parliament the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park. I remember being in this building during elementary school but since then it’s just been a big pretty building we’d drive by on our regular route out of downtown (back when we used to drive there). Today I got to take another look inside via a self guided tour throughout some of the major areas of the building.

By the time we left Queen’s Park it was apparent that we were going to have to readjust our plans since everyone was getting hungry. We started the cheats of the day off at at Fancy Franks, a local gourmet hot dog chain specializing in fully loaded hot dogs. Matt and I have actually checked out Fancy Franks before but since that was over two years ago we decided it would be a good spot to check out again.

Mom and I shared their Coney Island Dog (a chilli dog) and their Corn Dog, both of which were delicious. Meanwhile, Matt and my dad both went for a some wilder choices; Matt grabbed the Franks Got Seoul which had Korean beef ribs, kimchi, sesame seeds, and scallions while my dad opted for the Chi-Town Fancy which was topped with tomatoes, chopped onions, pickle, pepporancini, mustard, and celery salt. We all shared an order of fries and onion rings as well as some refreshing fountain drinks. It is pricey for hot dogs but dogs are delicious and definitely unique. The batter on the corn dog was especially different and easily made it my favourite part of the meal. I do love some good street meat but Frank’s is a good place to go if you’re looking for something more.

In addition to the Doors Open event and our lunch stop at Frank’s, we also strolled down to Kensington Market for the first Pedestrian Sundy of the season. There were buskers and street artists out on the street as well as a number of stalls to buy goods from the local stores and eateries. I fell in love with Kensington Market last year and while I didn’t buy anything this time around I really do enjoy a good stroll through the area and doing so while the streets were closed down was pretty cool.

After pushing through the crowds at Kensington, we ventured back to University Avenue to continue our Open Doors tour. While the Canada Life Building was a letdown because the elevator was broken, our stop afterwards was one of the best of the tour. In fact, it was my favourite. Osgoode Hall is a historical landmark building on the corner of Queen and Avenue. It should come as no surprise that there was a couple taking their wedding pictures here, it’s quite a striking building, inside and out.

From the court rooms to the entrance hall, Osgoode Hall is definitely a lovely piece of preserved history.

The reason Osgoode Hall ended up being my favourite spot on the tour was because of the library. There are two portions of it and the first is relatively compact but it’s really quite beautiful. It’s one of those rooms out of a storybook with spiral iron staircases leading up to higher stacks. The volumes upon volumes of law and legislative books that line the shelves are definitely not what I’d be picking up as some light reading but just standing in the room itself was quite magical.

In the end we hit seven of the spots on our list. Unfortunately we did miss out on the #1 on my list just because of timing but Massey Hall has been around forever and I’m sure it’ll still be there for next year’s Open Doors event. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to check out more next year.

I truly believe you don’t need an event like this one as an excuse to explore your own city or the ones around you. You’ll be surprised what you can find if you just venture out for a walk. You can find places you’ve never seen before or even known about. There’s always something to see, you just have to be willing to look.

Continue Reading

Fitness Friday – Dancing Queen

For those of you who don’t know me well enough to have been by my side while line dancing at a country bar or bouncing along to blasted tunes in a basement, I’ll tell you straight up: I’m a horrible dancer. I struggled through basic choreography in my elementary school dance classes (thank goodness that only lasted a year), I made sure I was in the back of the group during my high school’s flash mob, and it took quite a few shots of liquid courage to get me to even attempt learning any line dances. But despite my fumbling, my two left feet, and my overall lack of rhythm, I have still always loved to dance.

Now, when I say I love to dance I mean I love to bounce along to upbeat music or throw my hands into the air while screaming out lyrics to whatever catchy Taylor Swift song is blasting overhead. I’m not really one for learning choreography and getting the moves right but that’s never stopped me from hitting the dance floor. Which, most often, is just the hardwood of my apartment.

Random dance parties in the kitchen were a big part of my childhood and they remain one of the ways I like to blow off some steam. I like to turn on music when I’m cooking and cleaning in order to make it go by much quicker but more recently I’ve turned to dance parties as an actual form of exercise. For any of you who have spent a couple hours jumping around at a concert or shuffling about at the club, you know that dancing is a pretty damn good workout. I also have friends who are much more talented when it comes to dance and they’re big inspirations on how it can make you look good and feel good.

So with all this in mind, last week I turned on some tunes and danced my way around the apartment. You could call it a mix of contemporary, jazz and hip hop, but really it was just a mess of flailing limbs and me hoping the floors are thick enough that my neighbours won’t be coming to kill me any time soon. I put on three of DJ Earworm’s United States of Pop mash-ups and just went to town. By the end of it I had a thin layer of sweat on my skin and I was completely warmed up for the pilates workout I was going to do. And to top it all off, my Fitbit counted the dancing as over 1,000 steps.

Now that we’ve got the preamble out of the way, I’d like to officially announce a new instalment into my Fitness Friday routine. I really want this blog to be about more than just telling everyone about my experiences, I want to be able to provide useful tips and resources for others to enjoy and use as well. With that in mind, I have decided that random Fitness Fridays will feature a dance party mix. I will be sharing little clusters of feel good dance music that I use to warm up and dance it out. The playlists will be short (10-20 minutes) and are just meant to get you up and moving. Sometimes they will be themed, other times it’ll be a really random mix of songs that I just like to dance to.

So here’s Volume One:

If you have the time, why not get up and bounce around right now? You don’t have to make it through the whole mix but it’s never a bad idea to shake out your muscles and get moving. Little changes like dancing around every day can lead to big changes in the end, and you might just have some fun while you’re at it.

Continue Reading

Tasty Tuesday – Shepherd’s Pie

After a weekend of stuffing my face with way too much food I figured it would be good to come back to Tasty Tuesday with a hearty home favourite. To me, Shepherd’s Pie is one of those classic home cooked meals that is just really tasty, satisfying, and actually pretty balanced depending on how you make it. I go for a lot of veggies, a thin layer of potatoes, and enough lean ground beef to get a good serving of protein in. Also, I take out the step of having to worry about gravy by using cream corn instead. It makes for a slightly different flavour combination but it’s definitely still tasty and probably a bit healthier.

So, without any further ado, here’s my recipe for a simple Shepherd’s Pie:

Ingredients

  • Lean ground beef
  • 1 can of cream corn
  • Canned vegetables of your choosing
  • 1/2 sweet potato
  • 1 medium white potato
  • Butter/margarine & milk (to whip the potatoes)
  • Salt, pepper, and other preferred seasonings (I use summer savoury)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get to work on peeling your potatoes. Normally I just do the regular potatoes on top but to make it a little more nutritious this time around I boiled half a sweet potato as well. I threw the potatoes together in a pot to boil and then tossed the ground beef into a frying pan to brown up. The amount you use is really up to you depending on how meaty you want your pie to be. My beef filled a regular sized frying pan and covered the bottom layer of my long pyrex dish but you can definitely experiment with how much you want.

While the beef and potatoes are cooking you can go ahead and start emptying your cans of veggies into a glass dish. I used a can of mixed peas and carrots and a can of green beans. Wait for your beef to be browned before you mix in the cream corn, this is what you use as the binding agent / sauce instead of gravy. It’s a little bit healthier and a lot quicker. Once the beef if browned mix it into the vegetable medley and pour the cream corn in afterwards. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper, giving it all a nice mix before patting it down into a nearly even layer.

Hopefully at that point your potatoes are boiled and you can strained them to be mashed up and whipped. Mashed potatoes work perfectly fine but if you’re looking for that smoother traditional texture of Shepherd’s Pie you can pull out a beater and whip your potatoes together, adding a little milk and butter as needed. Closer to the end I’ll add a couple shakes of summer savoury to add some extra flavouring to the pie (you can mix your seasoning into your vegetable and meat medley as well, it’s totally up to you).

Once the potatoes are nice and smooth, spoon them out on to the top of your dish, spreading them out until they cover the entire surface. Pop the dish into the oven and then bake for 30-40 minutes. And that’s it!

Make this in a big dish and you’ll have lots of leftovers or you can feed a small army at once. You can also go the extra mile and make it with fresh vegetables instead of canned ones but if you’re looking to cut down some cook time the canned veggies work just fine.

What have you been making this week? If you have any recipes (your own or ones you’ve found) that you think I’d like then please drop them in the comments. And if you try any of my recipes please let me know what you think of them!

Continue Reading

The World’s A Stage

I’ve come to notice lately that in most of my posts I’m talking about my health and fitness changes, and while that’s been beneficial for me in order to track progress and really motivate myself it isn’t actually the reason I started this blog. When I first purchased my domain and started to set this place up my hope was to just put some of my thoughts out into the world in a way that was a little more organized and structured than a rampant Facebook post. I wanted to share the things I love in life not only to brighten the days of others but to make myself smile as well. While my fitness posts have been full of positivity and personal enlightenment, I am more than what workout I did or how many calories I consumed. In order to get back to posting more about life in general I’ve decided that today I’m going to talk a little bit about a place that is near and dear to my heart: the theatre.

Growing up, it was always the expectation in my household that every year I would be part of at least one extracurricular activity. I was never the type to be on multiple (or any) sports teams and it’d be a far cry to find me in a number of after school clubs but I stuck by the rule and tried one thing every year. One year was clogging, another involved adventure camps, but theatre was the thing that stuck. My first dramatic arts experience was as Merlin in The Sword in the Stone at our local YMCA. I went back to that club a year later and played Lord Farquad in Shrek, though I had desperately auditioned for the park of Donkey. I spent the show on my knees, got a lot of laughs, and had a ton of fun.

Throughout elementary school I was part of little in class productions and somehow came up with the horrid idea to reenact a scene from the Van Helsing movie as part of a school talent show. As campy and ridiculous as it all was it was something that was absolutely instrumental in creating the young woman I am today. When high school rolled around I nervously auditioned for the school’s student written production and somehow made the cut. Even when stupid braces gave me a lisp my directors and the cast stood by me, letting me know I was still a valuable part of that theatre family.

With each passing year I auditioned for the next production and enrolled in whatever drama class I could. As someone who was incredibly shy when it came to social situations, theatre was an outlet that helped bolster my confidence. In my senior year of high school the final act of that confidence came in the form of a little show called On the Line which I had written. That show, although it was definitely the prime example of unpolished writing of a seventeen year old, remains one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. The kind words I heard from teachers I dearly respected, and the sense of family I got from that drama class are unparalleled in many ways.

But as high school ended and the treacherous days of university began I found that I pulled away from the home I’d made myself in the dramatic arts. I had friends who dove into studying the arts while I went off to what I then considered a more practical route in Psychology and Sociology. But despite all of this, I never lost my love of theatre, I just started to be a part of it from the other side of the curtain.

I’ve had some great opportunities to sit in the audience of some wonderful shows and to watch others on the big screen. I have more ticket stubs stashed away from the past fifteen years of my life than most people would have for their lifetime. I’ve sat in the very back row and the very front. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve cheered, and my heart has come home in those theatre seats time and time again. It was never about being on stage or even behind it, to me it was always that sense of belonging I got from being there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my love of the theatre recently because this past Friday I have began a return to my performing roots. While my stage will now be the streets of Toronto and my character is simply myself in a cloak, carrying a latern, my adventure as part of the Haunted Walks team is something I’m regarding as kismet. As I begin to memorize the stories I’ll be telling this summer, I’m excited for my return to performing and I believe it will be something that does more than put some money in my bank account.

So I guess this is my love letter to not only the theatre but to all the people who made it part of my life. To my grandmother who sewed that first costume for my role as Merlin, to my parents who picked me up from rehearsals and allowed me to raid our family home for props and costumes. To Mrs. Hinch, my first drama teacher who encouraged me to stick with it and to Mr. Coo, who spent an entire rehearsal with me annunciating vowels over my jaw widener so people would actually understand me when show time came. To Katie and Kimiko, the brilliant creators of that first show I was in who empowered a shy grade nine into a life loving the stage. To Mz. JP who believed in the power of my writing and who never failed to remind me that it was my show. To every cast member I’ve acted alongside or have had the pleasure of directing, to every crew member who trusted me to lead them in set changes and entrance cues. To the friends and family who sat on uncomfortable cafeteria benches to watch me get stuck down a garbage shoot (a set piece, not a real one) or to clap along as I came out for a final bow. Thank you. Thank you so much. I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of you.

Finally, to every artist on the stage or behind it whose audience I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of, thank you for keeping theatre alive and well in my heart. Thank you for bringing me home again.

Continue Reading

Fitness Friday – You Can Change Your Mind

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

Back in January, I made a list of reasons why I believed getting a fitness tracker would not do anything to help my performance. I figured I would hit my goals and then use it as an excuse to stagnate for the rest of the day and I figured that I would only use the calories burned calculation as an excuse to cheat. These were real worries and at the time they accurately reflected where I was in my journey which is why I’m not here to criticize myself or to say I was wrong. Instead, I’m here to accept the fact that things have changed.

After much debating, last week I went out and grabbed myself a Fitbit Flex 2 since they were on mega sale at Indigo and I still had a number of gift cards just burning a hole in my pocket. This was a well thought out decision on my part as I’ve been looking at the trackers for over a month now. Here are the five thoughts that led me to eventually saying yes:

  1. I would be able to track my swimming in addition to my steps.
  2. I would be getting more accurate counts of my steps without carrying my phone all day.
  3. I would be continuing to track my food without the Fitbit to ensure I don’t start consuming extra calories just because I can.
  4. The calorie tracker would actually help me adjust my food intake on days when I worked out hard and need to consumer more. This would help solve my issue of under eating after workouts which often led to binging at night.
  5. If wearing the tracker on my wrist actually bothered me too much the Flex has the option of buying a necklace holder to wear instead so that worry could be taken off the table.

It has been over a week since I’ve bought the Flex and currently I’m quite happy with how I’ve been using it. It’s pushed me to get to 10,000 steps a day and it has been a good way for me to log my food in addition to the meal plan I keep in my bullet journal. My mom got one as well so we’ve been exploring the neat little piece of technology together and so far it’s been pretty great.

But this post isn’t meant to be a promotional advertisement for Fitbit or any other sort of activity tracker. Instead, I wanted to use my own little change to promote how important it is to be willing to adapt as you make progress. Whether you’re working towards a fitness goal, a weight loss goal, or something totally unrelated to the two, being able to flex and adapt as you move forward is incredibly important. You will find things that work for you and things that don’t, you don’t have to charge forward on the same path just because you think it’s the right one. It might be the right one for someone else, even a majority of people, but that doesn’t mean it has to be your path. Sometimes you will even find that the things that work in the beginning burn out over time and don’t give you the same results as before. It’s good to challenge yourself and to stick with things when times are tough but it’s also important to realize when a strategy doesn’t work for you.

In my case, I realized something I thought wouldn’t be beneficial for me had the power to be just that.

I have found my motivation again, not because of some tracker on my wrist, but because of some mixups I’ve made in my meals and my workouts, as well as the way I’m tracking my progress. I could have kept pushing through, dragging myself through workouts I wasn’t enjoying and eating meals that weren’t completely satisfying me but that increased the risk of me giving up. Instead I gave some new things a try and they’ve been working out pretty well. Will these strategies last forever? Probably not. But when the time comes, I’ll be ready to adapt and change as needed. What about you?

Continue Reading

Tasty Tuesday – Queen Street Adventures

Last Tuesday was one of my planned adventure days for the month which meant healthy eating went right out the window. I had a fairly light breakfast and lunch but once I headed downtown with my mom and my best friend to catch Mirvish’s production of Strictly Ballroom at the Princess of Wales Theatre, all thoughts about keeping my calorie count low went out the window.

Whenever we go downtown for dinner there is a constant struggle about where to eat. I have my favourites like Elephant & Castle, Paramount, and Blaze Pizza but there are so many different restaurants in Toronto that I always want to try something new. It’s a little intimidating pulling up lists of food in any area but I’ve always found it especially difficult to find an affordable delicious meal in the theatre district. The restaurants by the theatre all look intriguing but at $25-35 a plate it makes for a pricey night out.

With the hope to find an affordable and scrumptious dinner location we took ourselves up and over a couple streets to Queen Street. Queen Street, especially the portion past Spadina is a neighbourhood I’ve just begun exploring this year and it’s been a lot of fun to check out. There are tons of different unique shops and restaurants to check out. We picked three different places at first and then narrowed it down to Fresh Off The Boat, an asian inspired seafood joint.

The front of the restaurant, like many near the Kensington Market neighbourhood, is quite small. There are a couple hightop seats along a counter on the wall and then two long tables with bench / booth seating. Despite being so small, the restaurant has a lot of charm. I think I’ve mentioned this before but I love a good nautical aesthetic and this place really pulls it off. The turquoise accents really stick out around the hard wood features and the seafaring decorations. The most impressive piece is the light fixture made of sailing rope and tesla bulbs. It really made the little fish joint feel special.

Although I took another look at the menu once we got there, I sort of already had my meal in mind when I saw the very unique soft-shell crab sandwich on their website. The full crab is deep-fried so the visual effect is quite unique, even a little jarring at first. We joked about how I had a small sea monster as a meal but once I took the first bite I was happy I went with the slightly whacky looking choice. The crab was juicy (maybe a bit too juicy as we kept getting attacked by bursts of crab juice) and it was delicious. The broccoli slaw and the fresh fries that came with the sandwich tied the meal together and left me completely full with half the box still sitting there.

Mom ordered the lobster roll which wasn’t quite as filling but was on par with Buster’s Sea Cove at the St. Lawrence Market which is my favourite place to go for seafood in the city. Nothing beats a lobster dinner with my family on Prince Edward Island but this would be another good substitute to hold me over until the next visit.

Finally, I didn’t snap a picture of Keeragh’s sandwich which was called The FOB and is the restaurant’s speciality but I did try a piece of the catfish and it was awesome. The FOB is their twist on asian poboy banh mi and was covered in a fair amount of burned aioli, piled into a fresh bun. Like my meal, there was plenty to the dish and a fair share of fries sitting underneath it so there was no worry about going hungry.

I love seafood and I love finding good seafood that actually has flavour to it. I can’t tell you how many tasteless bites of lobster or scallops I’ve had over the years but I can remember all the good ones I’ve tried because they leave a lasting impression. Fresh Off The Boat has definitely joined this list and as far as repeat meals go, I wouldn’t mind trying it again.

Although we’d had our fair share of fried foods and our tummies were no doubt full, we decided a little treat before the show was in order. For dessert we crossed the street and wandered west a little further to Butter Avenue, a delicate little patisserie that mom and I had walked past on my first post of Mother Daughter Adventures which you can read here. The store is quite large (length-wise at least) for a shop in that area and all the white makes the colourful little cakes and macaroons really stand out.

Since we had just stuffed our faces we decided to go light on dessert options and skipped the delicate and beautiful cakes for something smaller. Mom ordered a marshmallow cookie which ended up being an upscale viva puff with a Turkish delight-like centre. Keeragh and I each got a single macaron to go; she ordered lemon poppyseed and I grabbed an orange chocolate.

The little desserts were just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth without pushing me into that uncomfortable zone of full. Butter Avenue is a little pricey which seems to be a trend amongst places that sell macarons. Still, it was a nice little treat and I wouldn’t hesitate going there again. You pay a lot for a little but in a way I really didn’t need anything bigger.

So that was our little adventure to Queen Street last week. Afterwards we walked around for a little bit to kill some time and to settle our stomachs. Strictly Ballroom was a lot of fun, though I’m not sure Keeragh is going to ever forgive them for the lacklustre Paso Doble that they did in the finale. As for me, I really didn’t know any different.

Continue Reading

The Superhero I Call Mom

Any of you who read this blog regularly or just know me personally in any capacity are probably aware of the fact that my mom is my best friend. We spend a lot of time together and even if we’re not together you can bet we’ve talked on the phone multiple times throughout the day. She calls me when she’s driving to work, I call her on my walk to the subway; basically if it weren’t for those anytime unlimited minutes on our phones we would be broke from just calling each other.

Regardless, I’d still dial her number every time.

Today is Mother’s Day (at least on my side of the world) and while a date on the calendar shouldn’t dictate when you show your love and affection for someone, it is a good prompt to take some time to reflect on the relationships in your life. I think about how lucky I am to have her as a mom every day but this Mother’s Day I have decided to take the time to reflect on some of the life lessons my mother has imparted and I’ve decided to share them here, not only to thank her but to maybe help pass those lessons on to others. So here they are, five things my superhero of a mom has taught me over the years:

1. How to speak up for myself

This was probably one of the bigger lessons I ever needed to learn. As someone who remained completely quiet while she was being bullied by her peer group, I was an easy victim. At many stages in my life I had found myself amongst friends who took advantage of me and it was something I struggled with on my own. My mom, to this day, confirms that she had no idea that this was going on until well after the fact because I didn’t tell her anything about it. Despite this, she’s someone who helped me out of it inadvertently. Watching her stand up to family members, co-workers, and others in life who tried to push her around showed me that I didn’t always have to be silent. She encouraged me to speak out when I didn’t agree with something or when someone was playing with my emotions. It’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn, especially because I just love avoiding conflict but learning this from her has been an important part in my development. It has actually allowed me to make certain friendships stronger and it has helped me cut out the ones that were toxic.

2. How to say no (thank you)

Whether it be FOMO (fear of missing out) or just the fact that I don’t like to disappoint people there have been way too many times where I’ve said yes to something out of obligation or to avoid conflict. I have put myself in situations that I didn’t want to be in and I have made myself uncomfortable just because I didn’t say no. Most of the time it was just going out when I didn’t feel like it or making too many plans and overloading myself. This is a lesson I’m still learning but it most definitely comes from my mom. She’s always been firm on the fact that sometimes it’s fine to just say no, I don’t feel like it today even if I don’t have a real excuse not to go. I’m not 100% there yet but becoming more comfortable with turning things down has allowed me to find a better balance in life and I have her to thank for that.

3. To work hard even when others won’t

Any time I’ve gone to visit my mom at her job I’ve always noticed how hard she works. She runs all over the place and she puts on this charming waitress demeanour that sometimes makes me giggle because it’s so not who she is. I can imagine her internally rolling her eyes and wanting to tear her hair out after every difficult customer. Still, she’s good at her job and she knows it. I remember her telling me a story about a new bartender cashing everyone out at night and seeing that her tip total was a a lot larger than the others, they asked why and she just responded with “Hello, I’m Tracey Miller.” as if that was enough to explain her excellence. Of course, it goes so much deeper than that. My mom is a hard worker, she isn’t lazy and she doesn’t tend to slack off even when she has the opportunity to. It’s something she instilled in me from a young age. It was why I was given so much responsibility in my part-time job in high school and I believe it is why I have succeeded in so many different positions. I go above and beyond in my work just like my mom, and I don’t half-ass anything.

4. How to have fun by myself

Recently this post showed up on my FB and I immediately shared it, excited that someone had put my feelings about doing things alone into words. I do a lot of things on my own and I know some people find that weird, especially since I have a boyfriend I could drag along with me, parents who will come visit whenever I want, and a core set friends who are pretty much down for anything when they are able to around (or when one of them isn’t all the way in New York City). But the fact of the matter is I’m comfortable on my own and I always have been. What I wasn’t always comfortable with was going out on my own. I would worry what people would think or that I’d get bored by myself so I just stayed home and did nothing. It probably wasn’t very good for me but thankfully over the years my mom has taught me this lesson by leading by example. It was nothing for her to take in a movie by herself and she always talked about how much she enjoyed it. I remember the first time in university I decided to do the same. It was awkward at first but in the end the experience was enjoyable. Now, it’s something I do all the time and it’s not just the movies anymore: I’ll go to dinner by myself, I’ll venture around a museum, or I’ll just head into the city to walk around. It’s something I’ve found is actually very good for my mental health and I’m thankful to be so comfortable by myself, even when I do have others to lean on.

5. How to come back from defeat and adversity

Finally, I think this lesson has been the most important. Without it, I would not be here. My mom has always been there for me when I needed it, she’d helped me through dark times that I thought would never end. More than that, she’s seen herself through hard times. I’ve watched her fight a hard battle with grief after losing my grandmother. I’ve watched her look out for my grandfather when he won’t take care of himself. I’ve watched her conquer through a complete lifestyle change after being diagnosed with diabetes. And most difficultly, I’ve watched her stay strong through some of the scariest days of our lives when I wasn’t myself and her fear of losing me was undoubtedly unimaginable. I’ve watched her hurt and cry too but that only showed me how it’s okay to break before you put yourself back together. My mom’s life has not been easy, there are others who have it harder but there’s been a few rough hands dealt out to her. Seeing her triumph after heartbreak and pain has taught me how to be more resilient and it’s helped me to keep going. It’s the lesson that gets me through every single day and it’s the one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to repay her for.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have a strong circle of friends with equally amazing mothers who have taught me things as well. I have seen such amazingly strong bonds between the mother and daughters in my life through all sorts of good times and bad. I couldn’t be more thankful for that experience and I can do nothing but wish that for all of you as well. Happy Mothers day to all the strong mothers out there and to the women and men who have stepped up into that role as well, we’re lucky to have you.

Mom, I love you and I always will, thank you for being my superhero.

Continue Reading

Fitness Friday – Get on your Feet

No, I’m not about to start droning on for my secret love for Gloria Estefan (though you have to admit the song is great and Josh Segarra looks absolutely dreamy in the musical), instead I’m here to blog a little bit about the importance of getting up and moving about every day no matter. I know it’s kind of common sense but that also makes it something that is easy to forget about, especially if you’re in the position that I am where you don’t have a job that gets you up and moving a lot. To be completely transparent at the current moment I don’t really have a job (it’s seasonal and starts soon) which is why I’ve been so inactive lately outside of my regular workouts. Since my work hasn’t started yet a lot of my day (if not all of it) is spent at home.

What prompted me to start thinking about how much I’m actually active outside of my workouts was a lovely post from Jess, the blogger who runs Does Running Late Count As Cardio; she recently posted about how all the walking she did in Disneyland helped balance out the not so healthy choices one makes while on vacation. You can read the whole post here and check out the rest of her blog while you’re at it.

This post got me thinking about my own walking habits, the regular ones I have and those Disney level step counts. I’ve been to Disney enough times that I know how easy it is to smash through that 20,000 mark in one day at the parks. I never have an issue with doing all those steps either, even when I was at my highest weight and completely inactive. I’m quite tough when it comes to what my family calls Disney Commando which is park open to close, or at least pretty damn close. I too have had the experience where the amount I walked in Disney helped deal with all the wonderfully delicious treats I had during the vacation. In fact, on one trip I came home down five pounds even after eating nothing but crap for a week.

Reflecting on that has really reminded me of the power of just walking and moving about. Last year when my mom lost so much weight she did so without ever stepping inside of a gym. She adjusted her diet and we walked, a lot. That’s the thing: you don’t have to run, you don’t have to do grape vines down the street, you can just walk.

 

Now that the awful snow and dreary winter weather seems to finally be behind us, I have no real excuse to sit inside all day. It’s time to get off that sick of squats ass of mine and start moving about. I have the time and the ability so there’s no reason not to. With this mindset, I set out for an early morning walk last week and hit 5,000 steps before 10AM. I also got to get a closer look of this really awesome graffiti mural we have near our place, which is why this post is riddled with those pictures. The group of artists responsible for this beautiful mural are called Essencia Art Collective and you can check them out here.

With all this information about why I’m choosing to get up and walk more, I thought I’d share some helpful tips that I have found to be motivating and useful when making more time to be up and active. So here they are:

Start small and build up

You don’t need to jump into your first day and walk for two hours just to prove a point. There is nothing wrong with going all in but it may very well create burnout so you have to be careful. Plus, you might not have two hours to spare. Instead, try to go smaller when you start out. Even if it just involves walking around your work for ten minutes of your lunch break or taking a stroll in your neighbourhood when you get home. Start with ten minutes and build from there. Remember that any activity is good for you.

Make sure you’re well nourished

Getting hungry during any sort of physical activity is the absolute worst. It demotivates you and it makes it so hard to push on. Typically you’ll be burned out a lot quicker and you’ll cut the time short. Any type of physical activity, even the light stuff, is going to burn off energy so you need to make sure you have some in your reserves. Having a good meal before you get up and head out is way better than going on an empty stomach. You’re not going to burn more fat that way anyway!

Take breaks

If you’re like me and sometimes decide to go out for a whole day of walking it’s a good idea to kind of have some breaks planned into your day. Maybe you’ll stop for a bit at a park and go sit in the grass, maybe there’s a store you want to check out or a coffee shop you’d like to chill at. Whatever it is, breaking up your walking with these little breaks will allow you to recover so you can keep going. It also stops you from getting bored. It’s exactly the same mentality that applies at Disney World where the rides act as your breaks between those thousands upon thousands of steps. It’s what seems to allow you to go longer and farther by breaking up the walk.

Go somewhere new

You don’t have to do this all the time but if you do find your lacking the motivation to get up and go out on your usual hike consider checking out somewhere you’ve never been. Do your research and find a neighbourhood that interests you or a part of the city you’ve never checked out before. We’ve found some awesome places in Toronto the past couple months just from wandering around neighbourhoods we’d never been to.

Of course, keep safety in mind when you’re doing something like that. It’s probably best to avoid late night walking in areas you’re not familiar with. And don’t go down random alleys if you don’t know where you are.

Work with the weather

If it’s pouring outside you’re probably not going to feel like getting that walk in but you should still try to get up and stretch those muscles of yours. Consider going to the mall and wandering around for a bit, if you live near a big mall like I do you’ll be amazed by how many steps you can get in just by walking from one end to the other. Plus, there’s no harm in window shopping.

Another option, if you happen to live in an apartment building, is to just walk the different floors. Take the stairs for an added bonus, walk from one stairwell to the next to keep ascending or descending floors. You’ll get some movement in without ever having to venture outside. Or, if you want to go for the extreme, you can pace around your apartment like I talked about in this old post. Any movement is good!

I encourage you to get up and walk around, even if it’s just around your house or around the block. After a long day at the office I know you might just want to go put your feet up and call it a day but taking the time to move around a bit can really make a difference, especially if you are sedentary in your work. A little bit of extra movement every day could be the thing that pushes you over the roadblock slowing your progress, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for.

And now, just to help motivate you to get up and move, a little Cuban rhythm:

 

Continue Reading

One Last Wish

I know I don’t usually post on Thursday but today I’m making an exception because I’m saying goodbye to an old friend.

Tonight marks the final performance of Walt Disney World’s Wishes: A Nighttime Spectacular. The show debuted in October of 2003, a few months before I would take my first trip to the most magical place on earth. Back then, I had no idea that Walt Disney World would become so important to me; it was just a trip I had always wanted to go on but my mom had decided to wait until I was old enough to remember. At this point, I don’t remember every detail of every trip but that’s only because we’ve been fifteen times.

Amongst all the Disney magic you get while visiting Walt Disney World, Wishes has always held a special place in my heart, not only because it was the first Disney fireworks show I ever experienced but because it’s become a symbol of much more than that over the years. Our first Disney trip was taken shortly after my grandmother passed away. The trip was something we were planning to do with her but unfortunately, as is the case with many cancer stories, the timeline we were given was far too generous. I never got to walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom with my grandmother but she was always there in my heart. Still, my biggest wish was always that she could have been right there beside me.

Over the next fourteen years my family made Disney World our second home. Trips were taken almost annually, if not more often. We tried different restaurants, we stayed in different hotels, but we always made sure to catch at least one showing of Wishes. At this point I’ve seen the show from all angles: the front and the back of the castle, the beach at the Polynesian Resort, through the twists and turns of the Tomorrowland PeopleMover, and even while working at a little ice cream cart in Frontierland. I’ve never got bored of it, and to be quite honest I wouldn’t have minded if they had kept this show around for another ten or twenty years.

Wishes to me really captures the spirit of Disney. It’s a show that tied so many classic Disney elements together to inspire the audience to dream, to wish. It empowers you to face adversity with courage, and to always let your conscience be your guide. I think it’s message is relevant to everyone from the smallest kid in their oversized Mickey ears to the eldest guest standing on Main Street.

And for a twenty something year old girl who sometimes loses hope, the message is everything.

In 2012, after a hard battle with mental health, Wishes became something different for me, it became more than just a fireworks show. We had taken off on yet another trip just a week after my first year exams ended. I was so happy to be out of there, to have made it to May; there were many times when I worried I wouldn’t. I can still remember standing in the hub of the Magic Kingdom, the sky lighting up with one of my favourite shows Disney has to offer. The usual smile was plastered on my lips as Tinker Bell flew down across the skyline, prompting shouts of excitement from the young and old alike. The display moved onward, different characters announcing their presence, making their wishes, bolts of light shot behind Cinderella’s castle in the same order they had the year before and the year before that. I’d seen this same show so many times that I had it all committed to memory, and I thought for sure there would be no surprises.

But then, something different happened.

The difference was not with the show but with me. As the familiar triumphing cords of I Can Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules began to flow through the air around us I found myself crying. My throat closed up and tears ran down my cheeks but that smile on my lips remained. Jiminy Cricket’s words came in over the music with a reminder that felt like it was made just for me: “Any wish is possible, all it takes it a little courage to set it free.” All I could think about was how if hadn’t been for the courage of my friends and my family, and of course the courage I found in myself, I might’ve not been standing there that night. But I had wished for things to be better and while the hard days were far from over, I had still made it.

In the five or six trips we’ve taken since that one in 2012 I have found that it doesn’t matter how many times I watch the show the moment those notes start playing I choke right up. In fact, I don’t even have to be there in person, listening to the music is more than enough. People often wonder what brings us back to Walt Disney World year after year when we could be trying new adventures; it is moments like this that make that big ole theme park in Florida our home. Wishes will always be a part of my Disney experience but more than that it’s been a part of my recovery, and nothing can take that from me.

Thank you Disney for this beautiful show, and for almost fourteen years that it helped make wishes come true.

Continue Reading