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Picturesque Perennials

9 Jun

I find since moving to our home, I’m much more aware of the seasons and how they change.  I don’t know if it’s the responsibility for outdoor maintenance, or just the fact of passing more surburban-esque homes with their expansive tree-lined lots on my way to the bus stop.

Either way, I felt more keenly aware of autumn last year, seeing how the leaves changed their colours, then having to sweep and rake great heaps of them into large paper bags.  It was a bit of a short winter but we were certainly aware of the shovelling.  Then springtime started, early this year, and one of the first signs was our magnolia tree with its gorgeous pink blossoms (which, I found out, fall off almost as soon as they emerge– I had no idea they were so short-lived!)

The magnolia ushered in all the other blossomings which have happened one by one: first the tulips, which are gone now too, and then several other perennials that are poking around our front and backyard.  It’s a far cry from how Spring sprung a couple of years back

It’s our first spring at the house, and we’ve not planted any annuals, so I can’t take any credit for the lovely things that are blooming all around the garden.  But I can take lots of pictures!

Lunch and a Stroll

30 May

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East-end perk: cheap flicks!

11 Dec

I am a big fan of our neighbourhood movie theatre, the Cineplex Eglinton Town Centre.  For one, we randomly run into friends there (always nice), and secondly—as I found out earlier this week when two of us went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox for a grand total of $10.52—’cheap Tuesdays’ still exist in Toronto (or Scarborough, anyway!).  Even on a regular night tickets cost a reasonable $10.50 each.  This is at a very modern theatre with big screens.

Scarborough legend has it that several years back management at the theatre tried to introduce the higher pricing that is the norm pretty well everywhere else in Toronto, and it simply did not fly.  They lost a lot of business, and ended up keeping with (what was then) status quo.  Maybe they increased the price of popcorn to make up for it??  Who knows how long it’ll last but in the meantime…bonus!

The theatres I know of in Toronto stopped offering half-price Tuesdays years ago, but I looked into it and turns out there is actually something cheaper than Eglinton Town Centre!  Here’s a quick guide of where to go for cheaper movies in Toronto, if you’re willing to make a trek…

Note: Shortly after completing this entry, I remembered Rainbow Cinemas down at Market Square on Front Street.  This is a smaller theatre with ’90s-era tiny screens but it does show many first-run films.  Prices here appear to take the cake as the cheapest in the city—tickets are $4 for Tuesdays, $6 for matinees, and $8.50 on regular evenings—but there is a compromise in terms of the quality of the space.

Good eats… at recession prices!

22 Apr

Boxing Day pricing seemed to kick in earlier and continue on later this past holiday season than in any other year in recent memory—retailers’ response, one can safely assume, to the economic downturn and to the threats it posed on consumer spending.

Now, six months or so into this “recession,” or “depression” — it’s hard to keep track of what they’re calling it these days — there are a number of signs, at least in our neighbourhood of Little Italy, that discounts aren’t just for retail anymore.

On College Street alone, there are a number of restaurants offering limited-time menu specials, giving all of us a little extra incentive to eat out instead of in.

  • Boom! Breakfast & Co. | 808 College Street | $3.99 Egg-O-Nomic Bailout Breakfast, Mondays through Wednesdays until May 31, 2009
  • Il Gusto Ristorante | 796 College Street | $15 prix fixe menu, includes house salad, any pasta on the menu, dessert (offered weeklong, until further notice)
  • Sorriso | 588 College Street | $21 Winter Feature prix fixe menu, includes soup or salad, main course and dessert, Sundays through Wednesdays

This is just to name the ones I happen to have noticed—there are likely other restaurants on the strip (and elsewhere in the city, for that matter) offering similar menu specials.

The cynical among us may identify the reference to the recession as a clever marketing trick, but in this case, I prefer to call the possibility of eating out for less: a win-win situation!

Sneak Peek at Summer in Toronto (Things to look forward to…)

21 May

I spent last summer in Montreal trying desperately to stay focused on completing my thesis. Every day I would be confronted with some terribly tempting cultural event that would pit dedication to the work against fun in the city. (I could stay a few more hours at the library today. Orrrrr I could go see a tipsy Rachid Taha trip over his mic cord at the Jazz Fest. Hmmm. A toss up. —Not!)

Montreal as we know is a premiere summer city – festival after festival, week after week, from the Jazz Fest to Just for Laughs. Best of all, it’s mostly free and it’s mostly outdoors. It’s truly amazing anyone gets anything done from June to September.

Though I hope to make a trip back to Montreal sometime this season, I have to say that summer in Toronto is nothing to sneeze at. My mental calendar is already filling up with ideas of wonderful things to see and do in the months of sweltering heat that await. Here are some summer venues and upcoming events worth getting excited about.






There are many more of course – feel free to add!

May flowers confused, arrive early

22 Apr

All of this lovely sun over the past week or so has duped many a bud in the city into blossoming a fortnight early. Since our “garden” consists of an itty bitty pile of soil tossed in a corner and our household consists of one far-from-green thumb and one indoor plant enthusiast, here spring has sprung in a different way.

Late last week, we gained five new leafy, trunky, bulbous, or petal-bearing pals, bringing our total to 15 or thereabouts.

The current inventory of domestic flora is as follows:

  • Tropical Monstrosity (referred to as such for excellent reasons – however surely lovely for a pretend day at the beach, piña coladas not included)
  • Actually rather endearing Umbrella Tree
  • Cute Little Fat House Plant in Funky Vase
  • Bathroom tulips (still shy and tucked away) in sleek silver holder
  • Kitchen tulips
  • Vines/hanging plants (x2)
  • Single white orchid (tall and lovely, behind kitchen sink)
  • Three fuzzy aloe type things
  • Small red and yellow leafy potted plant
  • Other leafy green house plant
  • Thin-leaved excited potted plant
  • Mini rubber plant
  • Mini wannabe Christmas tree (out-of-doors)

*Note: May not be actual scientific names.

With all the sun and all this green (minus the thumbs), it might not be May yet, but it sure feels like it.

Bored? Board!

13 Apr
  • Scenario #1: You suspect that your partner doesn’t love dogs like he says he does. You need a subtle way to broach the issue. Randomly asking, “Would $50,000 be enough money to induce you to take a loyal, healthy pet to the vet to be put to sleep?” won’t do.
  • Scenario #2: You forgot to study for your anatomy test – a dissection on a small mammal. You need a last-minute cram session.
  • Scenario #3: You left home without this essential item.
  • Scenario #4: You’re bored, and you crave poutine.

The above situations are common. We’ve all been there. And we’ve all been searching for ways to overcome.

The answer is board games. At a pub.

Below, brief reviews of several joints well-equipped to come to the rescue, and a list of their excellent game offerings—from Scruples, to Operation, to Backgammon and everything in between.

The Bishop and the Belcher | corner of Church Street & Hayden (175 Bloor Street East)

The Bishop and the Belcher is a popular spot located on Church Street just steps south of Bloor. Come 6 p.m. on a weekday, it’s bustling with businessfolk winding down in gregarious groups of three or more. It’s a large venue too, the kind of place that a party of 10 could go relatively unnoticed.

A variety of new and vintage editions of classic board games are available for the picking. How long has it been since you’ve played Jenga (‘Jumbling Towers’)? Connect 4? Trouble? Things could get pretty silly. (Or if you think you’re too mature for those, every table has its own deck of Trivial Pursuit cards.)

On offer:

Clinton’s | 693 Bloor Street West

The first sight you see upon walking into Clinton’s (right after the row of regulars at the bar) is a bookshelf holding two dozen board games. Among them are the classics (Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit) as well as the retro favourites like the Game of Life and Mastermind, their original 1960s and 1970s boxes showing some healthy wear and tear. Then there’s the random games that have been all but forgotten. Parker Bros.’ Probe (1964) is hailed not immodestly in the instruction booklet as “the most provocative game of words since the invention of the modern alphabet.” (Makes you wonder why it’s not Probulous making waves on Facebook.)

Just add friends and a couple of pints.

On offer:

The Old Nick | 123 Danforth Avenue

The Old Nick has a very solid collection of games, with as many new ones (Sex and the City Trivia Game, Cranium) as older ones (Monopoly, Risk). It’s also the only pub I know of where you can get a “Greek Chicken Burger”– your classic burger, garnished with tzatiki, feta, and roasted red pepper.

Highly recommended. The cozy alcove in the back of the bar, right underneath the dartboard, is where they keep the goods.

On offer:

C’est What | 67 Front Street

Slimmer pickings than elsewhere — but hey, there’s always pool.

On offer:

Drake Hotel | 1150 Queen Street West

And what if none of your friends are as enthusiastic about board games as you are? Room 101 Games was started a couple of years ago to bring together strangers in Sunday evening board game and Charades gatherings. Drake Hotel played host.

The Room 101 Website describes how this all went down. I’m not sure if this is still ongoing. I joined the mailing list a few weeks back, but so far no news.

Of breakfasts, brunches, and petit déjeuners…

8 Oct

In Montreal one of my favourite things to do with friends on a Sunday morning—or any day or time, really—was to go for brunch. In undergrad, we got our breakfast fix at places like Oxford Café on Ste-Catherine, Place Milton in the McGill Ghetto, and Moe’s, a 24-hour diner near Concordia’s downtown campus. At Oxford there is a menu item called something like Elvis’ Breakfast which is french toast with bananas, peanut butter, and maple syrup. That’s my idea of delicious. (Maybe it’s just me and Elvis.) Place Milton and Moe’s are greasy spoons that serve cheap, tasty food, and still have their charm.

In grad school, my breakfast tastes got a little more refined. We’d have poached eggs served in avocado or mango at Senzala, morning glories and goat cheese & pear crêpes at El Dorado (‘the-place-across-from-L’Avenue’) or we’d beat L’Avenue‘s notorious lineup by brunching on a weekday. There and at La Grand-mère poule there are so many breakfast choices it takes half an hour to decide.

Since I’ve been back in Toronto, I’ve been enjoying trying out breakfasts around the city. Kilgour’s on Bloor has always been one of my preferred places for Eggs Benny; they serve one with roasted red pepper. Yum. I recently checked out Boom! Breakfast & Company in Little Italy. The fries are great and the service friendly.

Another new discovery is Aunties and Uncles, near College and Bathurst. The potato salad with just the right amount of dill is a nice twist—you wouldn’t think potato salad with breakfast, but in fact, it’s delicious.

Stroll down Dundas Street west of Bathurst on a Saturday morning and you can’t miss Saving Grace, rumoured to be one of Sarah Polley’s favourite breakfast joints. On a weekend, count on waiting at least twenty minutes for a table after marking your name on the sign up sheet at the entrance—it’s worth the wait. I’ve been there twice now: I had one of the day’s specials, a pumpkin frittata, the first time around and an old cheddar sandwich on raisin bread from the menu on the second visit (I was more impressed by the former, mainly because, despite the rave reviews, I felt like I could have easily made the sandwich at home). The Vietnamese iced coffee was very much to my liking (though my friend was disappointed—it was not as bitter as the coffees at her favourite pho places in Montreal and Toronto). Continue reading