In Full Bloom

When the last dregs of winter have finally dissipated, and the scent of jewel-toned florals are ushered in by long warm afternoons, Torontonians emerge from hibernation and take off in a feverish scurry for the city’s beloved spring ritual, the cherry blossom festival in High Park. Much like tulip buds peeking through the soil, or the sight of fluffy goslings being herded across the street, cherry blossoms are the greeting call that spring has finally reclaimed its rightful place.

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After having just missed the peak bloom period 2 years in a row, I was determined to catch the delicate pink blossoms in their prime this year. As luck would have it, the day before I was set to go, I sustained a fairly serious back injury. One wrong move and suddenly I found myself unable to walk down the stairs, lie down or even get into the car without bursting into a flood of tears from sheer agony.

Immediately, I went for an intense and painful session of acupuncture, and was put on bed rest for the remainder of the evening. After the most fitful night of sleep, during which I kept wondering, “What if I don’t recover in time to see the cherry blossoms tomorrow?” dawn finally broke. Although I still had to move slowly and gingerly (which is difficult when your mind hasn’t fully accepted that you’re injured, and still wants to go at 100 mph), I was thankfully able to resume my usual movements without crying at the drop of a hat.

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In springtime, our senses are delighted by the vivid colours of new beginnings, and even the most ordinary of streets is transformed into a garden by the presence of dogwood, crabapple or magnolia blossoms. But none is more beautiful or more majestic than the cherry blossoms. Their gentle, understated grace, coupled with their fleeting beauty, makes their appearance all the more precious.

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Standing in awe in their presence, it was humbling to be reminded of the impermanence of life. Cherry blossoms live brilliantly and die fast, but for us, life is only just beginning.

Cynthia

Last summer, before my close friend Cynthia packed up and moved halfway around the world (just kidding, Vancouver) to be with her fiancé, we spent one last glorious day together doing the YMCA in public and force-feeding her French pastries. The date started off as every great date should – with brunch. Word on the street was that Lady Marmalade boasted the best Eggs Benedict in Toronto, and I definitely had a thing for Benny.IMG_7706

Brunch was pretty good (although calling it ‘best in Toronto’ might have been an oversell), but I had a bigger surprise in store for Cynthia.

She had made no secret of her aversion towards macarons, which I stubbornly took to mean that she had just never eaten a good macaron. After all, they are made of sugar and delightfulness. So after brunch, I took her for a walk without divulging our next destination. When we arrived at my most beloved bakery in the city, Bobbette and Belle, Cynthia realized what was about to go down. Despite her protests of betrayal, she agreed to try a salted caramel macaron. And she liked it, ha!

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Mission accomplished!

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We then visited some of my favourite spots in the city, including a little hidden garden where Cynthia took the opportunity to feel me up, under the guise of “that other couple over there is doing it.”

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Some time and inappropriate behaviour later, we arrived at the very beautiful but very much closed Spadina Museum. It was only 4 o’clock in the afternoon, but I guess the garden needed its beauty rest. To compensate, we hung around outside the beautiful grounds, startling passerbys with our interpretative dancing (it was practice for the wedding!)

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The final mission of the day was getting Cynthia to Grazie for dinner, which she presumed would only be the two of us, but was actually a little surprise gathering of some close friends. Annoyingly, the restaurant would not seat anyone until the entire party was there, so we ended up having to surprise Cynthia at the door!

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Niagara-on-the-Lake

Having just spent the most incredible morning at the Chateau des Charmes, it was hard to imagine how the rest of Niagara-on-the-Lake could possibly measure up. Luckily, it did not disappoint in the least. Every building, every street corner looked like a postcard snapshot. It was an impossibly charming town, and impossible not to love.IMG_3959 IMG_3961 IMG_3963 IMG_3965 Moments after these photographs were taken, we were horrified to discover that the quirky large ice-cream cone we had just hugged was, in fact, a garbage can. Oh, mon dieu! IMG_3973 IMG_3975 Luckily, just around the corner was a little wading pool to help us wash off and (try to) forget what we had just done! IMG_3982 IMG_3986 IMG_3990 IMG_3992 IMG_4013 And oh – the flowers! Nothing brings a smile to my face faster than the sight and smell of flowers in bloom. And there were flowers everywhere. IMG_4020 IMG_4021 IMG_4024 IMG_4034 For dinner, we ducked into this little Italian restaurant whose name escapes me now, as it was some time ago, but the feeling of absurd happiness that this meal brought still remains. IMG_4094 IMG_4095 As we made our way home, we passed an open field that we had driven by at least five times already that day. The sun was beginning its descent, and the light being cast over the field was incredible. I couldn’t resist asking Erin to pull over so that we could get some photos. The grass was long and overgrown and tickled as we laughed and stumbled our way onto the field. IMG_4101 IMG_4123 IMG_4149 IMG_4155 IMG_4160 And we twirled on and on and on.

Château des Charmes

It’s been almost a year since this trip took place, and there’s a huge backlog of photos just collecting dust and waiting to be blogged, but I decided to start with this trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake from last July because it was one of the happiest days I can remember. I took the train into Burlington that morning, and Erin drove us the rest of the way. We had the names of a few wineries we wanted to visit, but other than that, there were no set plans. Moments after pulling off the highway, we spotted the most beautiful and majestic vineyard, and knew we had to take a look.

Château des Charmes was quite the sight, with immaculate flowerbeds everywhere and a large welcoming fountain by the entrance, like something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Erin and I weren’t big into the wine tasting, but we sampled something fruity and something bubbly (the best way I can describe it!) and both were delicious.

We weren’t big into the wine cellar tours either, preferring to explore the estate on our own. Here we are laughing because I accidentally set the self-timer on the camera to take 10 continuous photos instead of 1. It happens more than you’d think.

Next, we took to exploring the vineyards, and since no one was around, did some interpretive dance in between the grape vines. As it turned out, we weren’t actually allowed to go back there and disrupt the grapes…oops. (In our defense, we were just trying to wish them good luck on the harvest).

Despite getting kicked out of the vines, we sat around and enjoyed the sunshine for a bit longer, discussing our hypothetical plans to get married here someday among the roses and forbidden grapes.

We didn’t want to leave, but the day was young and we figured there were other gorgeous wineries to visit. By the end however, we realized that we had actually just lucked out and hit the jackpot on the first try. No other vineyard in all of Niagara on the Lake quite measured up to the splendor of Château des Charmes.

(NOTL adventures to be continued…)

Little White Dress

Oh, summer. It feels like you’ve only just arrived, and in the blink of an eye, you’ve left us again. Personally, I have a very low tolerance for heat and humidity, so this past summer of mild (and sometimes downright chilly!) weather has been just fine with me. I keep thinking I should move to a place where it’s mild all year round, but then again, I could never give up my beloved Toronto so easily (except for my dream city…)

As the summer races towards its inevitable end (it is still summer, isn’t it?), I wanted to share with you my favourite summertime outfit, the cotton LWD. Oh little white dress, what is not to love here? It’s light and breathable; the perfect antidote to those unbearably muggy days when just the thought of getting dressed causes you to break out in sweat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of my closet, riffling through every item I own, only to end up reaching for the same reliable dress. My advice to you: if you ever find that perfect little white dress that resonates with you; that deep down, you know you could not live without, just buy it and don’t look back! It will serve you well time and time again, you’ll see.

Mangia!

The Taste of Little Italy adventures continued on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon – balmy without being hot, breezy without even the slightest hint of a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfect day for stuffing my face, part 2.

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After picking Erin up from Union Station, we headed towards Harbourfront for a light lunch and some lighter banter.IMG_3538 IMG_3543 IMG_3551 IMG_3552Gradually, we made our way towards the festival, taking in the delightful smells and rambunctious sounds of thousands of Torontonians gathered together for the sole appreciation and enjoyment of all things Italian.

A vibrant selection of fresh strawberries.IMG_3560

The cutest lemonade stand, made cuter only by Erin.IMG_3562

Ohmagad! So good to see you, girl!!IMG_3563IMG_3564

Our double dates for the afternoon looking just darling.IMG_3566

The anticipation is palpable – take the picture so we can devour our Churros!IMG_3583

Life doesn’t get much better than mini ice-cream cones for a dollar. Which begs the question – what is Andy doing holding a fork?!IMG_3589 IMG_3598

Dinnertime rolled around and it seemed like the right thing to do to finally sit down for a proper meal (after walking four laps of the entire festival), even though we were still digesting the various goodies sampled throughout the afternoon. Luckily, I had learned from the cheeseless, tomato-sauceless fiasco from two nights ago. This time, I came prepared to try a highly-rated Italian restaurant, meticulously chosen after hours of cross-referencing online reviews (pasta is no joke). The restaurant, Marinella, definitely lived up to its reputation; I enjoyed every bite of their delicious handmade pasta!IMG_3609 IMG_3610 IMG_3614 IMG_3620

Cynthia’s penne alla vodka with prosciutto, mushroom, and vodka-infused tomato cream sauce!IMG_3628

Erin’s margherita pizza. IMG_3631

Andy (fellow possessor of excellent taste) and I both ordered the fettuccine alfredo with mushrooms, diced tomatoes (and sautéed chicken for Andy!)IMG_3629

Later, standing in line for Dolce Gelato (a tradition), I caught an anxious Erin glancing at her watch and wondering whether to ditch the gelato in favour of catching the train on time. “Trust me,” I whispered, “Once you taste the pistachio gelato, you will understand – this is all worth it.”IMG_3634

And it was.

Mozarella

If you are wondering why my recent posts have been split into two parts, it is most likely because I don’t want to overload you, my dear reader, with too many photos at once. But in this particular case, it is actually because I attended the Taste of Little Italy on two separate days this year (once was just not enough…pasta)! The first night, Nicolas and I arrived promptly at 6 pm, which, in street-festival time, meant that we were too early. For lack of better things to do, we took to exploring the little side streets along College St., which were beautifully lined with a canopy of lush green trees, and were surprisingly quiet and quaint for being so close to a major road. Along the way, we came upon our first vendors of the night – two young children who had set up a homemade-lemonade stand on their front lawn! For a dollar a cup, we just couldn’t say no!IMGP1645Heading back to the festival, we were relieved to see that the traffic barricades had finally been set up, and the cafes and restaurants had poured out onto the sidewalks, beckoning us to their stalls of fresh gelato and delectable cannolis. One of the best parts of these street festivals, though, is finding the free samples! (Even if it is just Starbucks).IMGP1654The free Barilla pasta tent has been spotted! Better finish off that iced coffee…IMGP1655IMGP1658Pink and green balloons! Any guess where this might be? ;)IMGP1665

My favourite cow tray at my favourite mini ice-cream cone stand! I look for this little guy every year.IMGP1674 IMGP1684There are dozens of musicians and performers at the Taste of Little Italy, but for me, there is only Antonella (the lady singing on the right). This year, she even brought her daughter, who was a fantastic addition to the family band! You can watch her performance (and me dancing awkwardly along) here.IMGP1680Sometime later, we found ourselves standing in line at Vivoli (because longer line-ups = better food, right?) and although we were seated relatively quickly, our food sure took its time making its way to us. Of course, being seated right next to the giant wood burning pizza oven meant watching it like a hawk for the next 45 minutes in the hopes that the next pizza to come out would be ours.IMGP1712Nicolas was all smiles and patience.IMGP1700

I was definitely eavesdropping on our neighbouring table.IMGP1716When our meals finally (FINALLY!) arrived, everything looked delicious, but one bite into the pizza and I realized that something was terribly wrong. Sure, it had all the makings of a delicious vegetarian pizza (red bell peppers, goat cheese, eggplant, zucchini) but it was in fact missing tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese! I was NOT pleased – a pizza without the most basic of ingredients? Is that even possible? (Perhaps it is, kindly excuse my ignorance if this is normal in authentic Italian pizza, and I’m simply too Canadian-ized) Admittedly, I am a sucker for gooey, stringy melted cheese, and what lay before me was more like…flatbread.IMGP1722Thankfully, Nicolas was a good sport and said he didn’t mind finishing the alien pizza, allowing me to devour his delicious shrimp linguine instead (minus the shrimp, obvs).IMGP1723Now I know, the next time I order pizza at an Italian restaurant, or whenever we get around to taking that trip to Italy, to make sure the words “pomodoro” and “mozzarella” are listed in the ingredients!