18 Nov, 2012

I'm not proud of the long gap between my last blog post and this one. But I am super proud that I managed to stay away from distractions and spend every spare moment for the last couple of weeks working on these two very special projects.

Exhibit A:
*Edition 1, has typos.

Blurb: Making Books (Even More) Fun

23 October, 2012

I went on an awe-inspiring tour of the art work in the Center for Addiction and Mental Health a couple of weeks ago (full details here). Sadly, I spoke about the experience with 3 different people, and then I couldn't find the motivation to blog about it as well. 

To avoid that same mistake, here's an immediate take on last night's Blurb event at Joe Bidali's (no one's heard about this yet!) The meetup description sounded extremely meh-over-trying-salesy - getting together bloggers, affiliates, web marketers (a spammy group as is) to talk about Blurb's affiliate program is almost as hardcore sales as those resorts which call you out to 'free' events so that you go & stay at them afterwards. But in the interest of blog-fodder & getting to meet some people I hadn't seen in a while, I decided to go anyway - and I'm so glad that I did. 

The event was the most beautifully piece of executed salesmanship I've seen in a while. I first heard of Blurb (which lets you create & publish books) when my husband presented me with this lovely creation on my 25th birthday - it's thrilling to see a whole book full of stuff you wrote, and to have it hardbound and presented that awesomely - well. Definitely one of the best gifts I've received.

Let's face it, I completely judge a book by its cover, and also by how it looks on the inside, quite apart from the content of it. Blurb does a great job acing on those two scores - these books make you want to pick them up, regardless of what the content is. 

They're equally good at making their event feel similarly superlative - the first thing I noticed when I walked into Joe Bidali's was coffee table after coffee table lined with similar beautiful looking books for people to pick up and glance through at their own leisure. Next, the seriously generous spread of food, laid out to facilitate conversation around it. This picture on the right makes no sense at all (note the giant leg occupying most of it!), but it reflects the tone of the evening - it felt the complete opposite of salesy, and yet made you want to buy.

They did a short presentation on a couple of projects they'd worked with (my favorite was the story of 28 food bloggers who compiled a cookbook, the proceeds of which went toward Haiti earthquake relief), and just in case anyone needed more convincing, we all got gift certificates to publish a book for free. I'm definitely going to take them up on that offer, they did a stellar job of getting me re-excited about the product. Kudos to a great marketing team!

Nuit Blanche

30 September, 2012

My school had a drama workshop program for the 11th & 12th graders - it was a two-month emo extravaganza that usually produced far more drama than was ever seen by the audience in the final production. All-nighters were frequent, as is inevitable when scenes were rewritten about seven hundred times each.

I remember staying up one entire night watching the colors of the sky change, and discussing each phase in great detail with a senior. It was awesome, in a we'll-never-do-this-again(-and-thank-God-for-that-maybe) kind of way, and it was the memory I flashed back to when I first heard of Nuit Blanche.

Nuit Blanche, or White Night, is an all-night free-for-all cultural extravaganza which originated in France and made its way to multiple cities around the world. While that's exciting enough in itself (let's not forget I have a degree in art), some of the pieces' descriptions had me even more hooked.

Example: thought balloon, an installation where people typed out their thoughts which were projected real-time for everyone else to see. It's a reflection of how we share information in the age of social networks. I made a detailed map of all the things I wanted to see, but on the actual night, found it far more fascinating to just wander around looking at everything and everyone.

Many of the exhibits had an interactive element and as I walked through downtown checking out Nuit Blanche, I thought the audience defined the art as much as the piece itself. Though we walked fast and didn't stay longer than 10 minutes at any exhibit, it was an evening which gave me a lot to think about. I'm far too diplomatic to pick favorites, but my husband and a friend who came along agreed that their pick of the night was the Convenience Store exhibit.

It was written about in every single newspaper promoting Nuit Blanche as one of the highlights, and it took us 1.5 hours to view it, but it was worth it for the sheer effort the artists had put in and the overall effect of the convenience store. Can you believe each of those boxes in that picture is a mock item, with a tealight inside? We were each allowed to pick an item to take home - I chose the light bulb, that way I was the only one who got the product that the box said it carried!

My favorite take-away from the night was this Xerox copy that my husband and I created. As juvenile a concept as Xeroxing your body parts is, and as much as I resented the waste of paper (most people just threw their copies on the ground), this one was an unexpected keeper.

Opera Briefs

26 September, 2012

I'm not sure how I feel about opera, and I'm not sure I'd pay full ticket-price of $60 a head to find out. In fact, opera's just not something I thought about very much - India has it's own classical dance + music + drama forms.

So I volunteered for Tapestry's shows over last weekend to find out more. It's always a great idea volunteering my way into things which I don't have previous exposure to - it gives me a chance to talk with the people involved & learn more than I would as an audience member.

Opera Briefs, the show I helped out with, was a good place to start, though it wasn't traditional opera. In fact, Tapestry New Opera helps develop, as the name suggests, new pieces. Big advantage: they're in English, and have contemporary-ish themes, so I know what's going on rather than trying to frantically Google my way through the classics.

Tapestry had a program called LibLab where writers & composers were paired off in different combinations and they wrote short sketches that could be developed into full-length pieces based on audience feedback.

The sketches were funny, poignant, and much much more intriguing than any short story I've read. I think it was a combination of the writers being fantastic (I felt pangs of envy throughout) and the performance artists being nothing short of brilliant. The music was appropriate too, but I've to say, it was hard to isolate it given the force of the writer + artist brilliance.

I'm hoping to catch a full length, more classic opera piece tomorrow, to contrast... if I manage to leave office early enough to get door-tickets. Fingers crossed.

City Cider Festival

26 September, 2012

You'd think I'd notice when temperatures dropped from 33 to 14 and the sun stopped setting at 9 so it got dark out by 6:45. But honestly, the first time I noticed that summer had given way to fall was when I saw that *I* was the most scantily dressed person on the road and everyone else already had on their jackets and pants (I did a double-take when I saw pants on the road, I haven't seen anything full length for the last 3 months).

It gave me a jolt of pride really, given that I'm person who turns off the fan every now & then in Chennai. I'm assured that I'll feel the cold come winter, particularly when my nostril hairs freeze. That's an exact quote, not a witticism. Apparently it's a well documented physical phenomenon, one that I'm quite looking forward to after hearing the stories.

Anyway, long leadup to the fact that fall's here! And that means it's time for cider, soup, garlic (each of which have a festival dedicated to them!) and all the glory of comfort food. Bring. It. On.

Not Far From the Tree organized Toronto's 2nd City Cider Festival at the lovely Spadina Museum orchard a couple of Saturdays ago*. I love NFFT & anything they do (and I'm not alone in this - their founder Laura Reinsborough is one of the speakers at TEDx Toronto this year), so I offered to help. Awesome decision, as always.

Can you imagine anything more idyllic than picking apples from the orchard, then letting people press their own cider on the orchard grounds, while jesters and dancers wander around, and musicians play in the background? Oh yes, you can see the castle of Casa Loma in the background too. Talk about picture-postcard perfect. It really made me feel like I was getting the full Toronto fall experience.

More than 600 people came to the event, we churned out 200 liters of cider, and a fantastic time was had by all. I loved the turnout from families with kids, it's just such a great event to expose them to. Check out pictures here.

*Yes, I'm way behind schedule, as acknowledged and compensated for over the last 2 days.

Writer's Circle: Lillian H Smith Library

24 September, 2011

I'd just gotten back from Panama (read about it here) with a duty-free souvenir that was more painful than Customs, even. The husband and I got home at 1am (hello, 16 degrees in Toronto, happy to see you after 30-degree Panama weather), devoured a packet of banana chips because the airline's idea of a vegetarian meal was three slices of uncooked brinjal and a crusty piece of bread, and then, for some reason, decided to stay awake a while more.

My favorite notebook 
So I finally woke up jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, did three rounds of laundry (the downside to long vacations) and just as I was sitting down with a relieved sigh, my phone insistently reminded me that I'd foolishly committed to attending a mid-day writer's circle the day I got back. I groaned & deliberated but finally decided I'd go, because I was starting work soon and couldn't take a rain-check.

It was a memoir writing group, and while I don't plan to write memoirs just yet, it must be said I have a remarkable way of committing every single tiny detail to memory and being able to wax eloquent about each (just ask my husband about one of our early fights :D) I figured it was as good a writing exercise as any. The rest of the group consisted of seniors, and we essentially picked topics from a box, then wrote about whatever the topic inspired for 15 minutes before reading out what we'd written.

I took along my favorite notebook for inspiration, and soon had two pages of crossed-out scribblings while everyone else had written out three pages of solid text. Never in my life have I felt so tempted to copy :P I managed to string a couple of paragraphs together while the group read out their pieces, and the gasp of appreciation and the chorus of 'aaah's made. my. day. I should totally do this more often.


September 24, 2012

So, like I said here and here and here, I went vacationing in Panama and planned to blog all about it. After procrastinating while I mentally edited and reviewed all that I had to say, I realized there's no way to write more than just the highlights. Here they are then, along with some photos that I finally managed to un-lazify myself enough to upload.

- We spent the first couple of days in Panama City, soaking in the flavors (bajjis! bondas! roadside food! Except, of course, they call them other things. Still. Felt just like being in India. My stomach rejoiced.) and doing all the touristy stuff we'd been told to do.

Here's a picture of us at the Panama Canal. We're blocking the canal because we were slightly more interesting than it. Seriously, I thought it would be really dramatic, I mean, humans had shifted land and fused oceans and ships would be carried between oceans. It took half an hour and was kind of like watching the bathwater run out when you pull the plug. I felt more awe at my queso empanada.

- The next two days were spent at one of the lesser known San Blas islands, population: however many people were staying at the five resort cottages that week. What. A. WOW. Here's the Playon Chico airport where we landed, and that should give you a sense of exactly how rustic the place was. We were asked to weigh ourselves before boarding the flight (which, incidentally, made pitstops along the way, just like a local train), security consisted of sniffer dogs, we had to take a boat to go anywhere (including to the resort) and the whole thing was just too cute.

Irony though: 1. The indigenous Kuna village of Playon Chico had wifi and huge TV's, and our resort didn't... shows you what visitors want! 2. It was easily the best-run resort I've ever been to, bar none. Excellent food, three courses served promptly at each  meal, two tours a day to different islands, a trip to the mangroves where they let us hold ocean creatures briefly (not that I volunteered, eurgh), all-inclusive price, I can't rave enough about it.

- We took the boat-flight-bus over to David (pronounced Dhaaveeerd). The bus part was super interesting - we were the only non-locals on the bus, and there was this awesome salesman who gave out freebies for quiz questions, got everyone's attention, and then sold hard. Respect. We kept going out and getting lost in David, so we ended up seeing quite a bit of the city.

- We spent a day on the highlands at Boquette, which I was very excited about because I'd heard of three fantabulous restaurants there. When we got there though, I got distracted by all the trees - there were fruits growing from every tree, you could make yourself a dessert bowl! It made me very happy, so then I skipped up the hills and sang Bollywood songs because it felt like the right atmosphere for it, and my husband was very embarrassed because I finally managed to beat him at something, even if it was only Antakshari.

- Last two days (thank God for that, this blog post is getting annoyingly long now) were at Bocas del Toro, the most popular island, though I can't say why - there were sand flies and about 5ftx25ft of sand, and extremely weedy water, and two restaurants with touristy prices, and, and this annoys me the most - everyone spoke English. For the rest of our trip thus far, we'd had to communicate via Google Translate screenshots which we'd saved as photos (no wifi anywhere!) and we spent our time at Bocas missing San Blas very much.

I'd write a concluding paragraph, but I think this post has gone on quite long enough, so I'll just say this: go to Panama. Where else can you get a 3-course meal for 2 people for $5? Grazie, senor.

Hello again, brain: My new job

24 September, 2012

I'm exactly five blog posts behind schedule at the moment - I meant to write about Panama, a writer's group I wrote with (oh, the irony), the Cider Festival, Opera Briefs, and (and this probably explains why none of the other posts have materialized), my new job

I was super kicked when I heard I got the job, particularly since it meant I'd finally get to introduce myself in Toronto as a single entity rather than a part of a couple (RIP 10,000 versions of this conversation - Person: So, what do you do?/What are you doing in Toronto? | Me: Well, I moved here with my husband, his job transferred him, so...) 

It's been a week since I started working, and it's definitely the most challenging role I've taken up so far - as you can probably tell by the fact that I tweet about once in two days at the moment (my personal internet time's been relegated to between 6:50am and 7:20am). But I love feeling like I'm stretching myself and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

My office is about half an hour away, but there's an underground path pretty much from my house, all the way up to the reception at my workplace. It makes me feel like the boy who dug a route to China, it's kind of lovely not having to be above ground and combating traffic at all. Plus, I've discovered that the subway's so smooth, it can't even give me motion-sickness, so I've been polishing off a book a day on the commute. Now that's what I call productive use of my time.

Tomorrow's one of those pressure-packed days where I've back-to-back meetings, including lunch & dinner appointments (alleluiah! no 6:15am-6:45am lunch prep for me!). My husband's schedule conveniently cooperated by making his day like that today (double bonus! early dinner for just me!). So I've the next hour to catch up on all those posts. Here we go.

Writer's Group
City Cider Festival
The New Job

Panama Souvenirs & Ontario Health Cards

12 September, 2012

Half my husband's salary gets deducted towards Canadian taxes (I wish I were exaggerating). The taxes are meant to sponsor our healthcare & child benefits, which is funny because I can't remember the last time I saw a doctor in India, and I don't plan to have kids in the near future. 

So it's kind of ironic that the day my (much resented and hard earned) Health Card arrived in the mail, I had to use it. Turns out I brought back a heat boil from Panama - one that morphed slowly and painfully into an aching, huge abscess.I don't recommend Googling that, they're not pretty. 

I waited patiently for it to go away by itself but woke up this morning feeling like I'd been fighting all night and was barely able to sit, so given the Health Card was in the mail, I figured I may as well put it to good use. Plus, it's the prettiest picture I've seen of me on a Government-issued card (I have a low bar, clearly) and I was eager to show it off. I take my kicks where I can get them.

I finished an entire novel by the time the doctor called me in, but except for the wait-time of about twenty minutes, the whole experience was remarkably smooth (and I say that despite having been injected, cut open, and then drained). The doctor was friendly, went straight into action, and warned me when things were going to get painful - and may I just say, as someone who's gotten a tattoo on a very bony finger - this was way more intense. She did a pretty good job distracting me.

Same story at the pharmacy - I'd to wait ten minutes while the prescription was scanned and sent to my insurance company, but at the end of it I was handed over a bag of antibiotics with incredibly detailed instructions on how to use them (I love my family pharmacist in Chennai, I do, but I can't imagine him having the time to sketch things out for me that clearly!) and no bill.

I'm happy to see the taxes are being put to good use. It's going to be hard cribbing about them if I can get a good night's sleep.


I just got back from a truly unique week in Panama, and I've plenty of stories about the most well-planned vacation I've ever taken (could be because the husband was in charge of the agenda - we spent two days each in the city, the highlands, the beach islands, and two very memorable days on one of the indegenous islands - I feel like I know the country really well now).

That said, I've 1.5 years' worth of vacation memories carefully preserved on my camera which haven't even made it to my computer yet, so I'm not sure when these Panama stories will make it to this blog.

Soon, hopefully. I'm aiming at writing something up by Friday.

Mid-week Treats

August 31, 2012

We stay in Downtown Toronto, and it's summer. It seems almost sacrilegous to take a metro pass when everything is within walking distance (walking distance being 6km given the lovely weather... and the fact that I feel guilty about not hitting the gym as often as I could. Read: ever).

But. When you travel the metro pass way, you suddenly see all these ads about fun events you may otherwise never have heard of. Like the Old Town Toronto re-enactment of the 1812 Battle of York. History fascinates me, and I've been trying to read/watch more about Canada's, so I was really looking forward to this.

Unfortunately, when I got to Berzy park at noon yesterday, all I saw was this:

Not a soldier in sight! I was extremely disappointed, especially having double-checked their Twitter account for updates on the 1812 show before I left the house.

Serious decadence
The husband kindly improved my mood though, by whisking me off for a surprise lunch. Everyone keeps saying summer's over, (though it's still 25 degrees out) so to make the most of the remaining sunshine, we ate a giant fudge brownie sundae on the park-benches lining Yonge Street as part of the Celebrate Yonge summer event (and, because my mum's reading this, I should clarify that's not all we ate for lunch =))

Social Media & The Global Poverty Project

August 28, 2012

Despite all my best intentions, I never seem to write about the panel discussions and informational meetups I go to. Maybe it's because it's hard to condense one hours' worth of debate on digital media into one blog post... especially when there are no hard and fast conclusions that come out of it. Still, meetups with the Social Media Ref were thought provoking, and I really enjoyed the Non-Profit Technology Network's latest workshop on using social media for social justice (details over here)

d'Arcy Lunn, the Canadian Campaign manager for The Global Poverty Project's Polio campaign, led the group, with a quick overview of global poverty and the things that the Global Poverty Group had been doing in the digital space to get the word out etc. 

One of the biggest problems with digital campaigns is that they're short-lived and superficial - peoples' interest shifts to the next thing that comes along etc. So I was hooked by the fact that for an upcoming concert in New York, tickets are free, but people earn their way in by reading articles, sharing them, signing online petitions etc - and these people are kept  on a database which ensures they get follow-ups about other projects which need similar action. It'll be interesting to see how that works.

Another aspect that had me hooked was d'Arcy's emphasis on Google+ being a great medium for projects like this - the GPG's making better use of G+ than most for-profit organizations I've seen, and it's definitely working fantastically for them. I've worked with Google.org to build out search & display campaigns for non-profits, and also used Google Pages to build simple sites for some projects, but I think adding social to the mix definitely broadens any project's scope.

... There are so many ideas that came up while I was talking to the group, but like I said at the beginning, it's hard to figure out which ones to put down, and they rarely make sense out of context. That said, I thought this particular meetup was worth writing about, just to get the word out about GPG (their website's here). 

The Expendables: Completely Expendable Experience

August 27, 2012

Remember last week, when my Meetup group had free tickets to The Expendables 2 premiere (like that movie needed a sequel!)? The theater had solidly overbooked and so we were asked to come back later. We should have listened to all the reviews we heard over the week, and just skipped the movie altogether. But it's hard to say no to free tickets, and so we found ourselves at the Scotiabank Theater, even vaguely excited about finally getting to watch the movie.

You can Photoshop movie posters, but you can't ease away the wrinkles from the cast in every single frame - Bruce Willis' face was the only one still capable of movement. Personally, I found it painful watching yester-year greats try to rehash their signature moves for a forced script that tried to massage everyone's egos... give me their individual classic movies any day. 

Storyline: When Nepal, China, Albania, and Russia are all part of a single story, you stop looking for lines weaving them together. Quick summary: everyone tried to kill everyone else just because they could, and I would have liked it if more people had succeeded. 

Constant gunfire with the occasional explosion made for a pretty consistent soundtrack, occasionally interrupted by man-grunts, which made up the majority of the dialogue. The rest of the dialogue consisted of cliches so trite that Bollywood would turn its back on them. 

As you can see, the movie annoyed me on several levels. If it were a rom-com, I may have been able to dismiss it as mindless entertainment. Yesterday though, when I was watching all the pointless violence and the throw-away references to justified wars, all I could think of was this:

Busker Fest 2012

25 August 2012

When I landed in Toronto, I was all touristy-eyed about attending the city's most talked-about festivals... in most cases (as with Luminato which I wrote about here) I had no clue what the festival was actually about, but I thought the name sounded promising. Similarly so with the Busker Fest (I started wildly thinking about snow sleds and dogs, which, actually, isn't too far fetched, if all that people tell me about Canadian winters is true).

Turns out what actually happens at busker fests is almost as awesome - buskers are essentially street performers - everyone from jesters, to jugglers, to magicians, tightrope walkers, fire-eaters, what have you. Entertainment medieval style. Nothing I say is going to do it justice anyway, so I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking.


I pretty much wandered through with my mouth agape and eyes wide open for the most part, so all the pictures above aren't mine, they're from Busker Fest Toronto's Facebook page. The full collection's here.

Now here's what I found truly amazing: all of this stuff was available for free. The audience didn't have to pay to watch, the performers weren't paid to perform. Some of them came from other countries, just for the joy of performing. Any money they made was from tips. And not one person who watched any show walked away without leaving a tip. I think that's what made the whole thing completely phenomenal for me. 

All proceeds from the theater in the area, as well as donations made from those attending the event, went towards supporting Epilepsy Toronto. I'm definitely going to volunteer as well as attend next year, it's a great event that ensures people who attend willingly donate what they can.

The Week that Was

August 19, 2012

Expendables premiere, which got overbooked, and we were told to come back next week. So really, this was a Jack Astors social instead. I learned that JA makes the most amazingly cheesy bruschetta, so I can't say it was a wasted evening in any way.

TEDx salon on where our food's coming from. A ton of very passionate views, including my husband's, which is that he really doesn't care. (The scandal that caused in his small group discussion must have been great fun.)

First time I made pizza from scratch.... for 20 people. With vegan flour, at that. Worked out amazingly well, although I must confess I got annoyed with the dough not rolling out evenly, and just tore it up and pieced it together like Play-dough on the plate. Who can tell the difference once the toppings hide the Frakensteinness? Exactly.

Very brief visit to Scarborough - it definitely felt like a little piece of India. And where else can you get your face done for $5? While listening to some random Bollywood music so outdated you can barely even place it? Epic win.

Bling swap at Uniiverse. I'm great at sharing, but that generosity flags a bit when it comes to giving away my precious earrings (it had to be earrings, there's no way I'm giving away my shoes). Though I have six pairs of hoop earrings that are essentially identical, and I wear exactly two of those, I still had the hardest time picking which one I'd give away. It was all worth it in the end though because I picked up two very cute cloth belts.

Chinatown kitchen accessories hunt (finally, finally found a rolling pin  - and proceeded to make rotis. My forearms feel more toned already).

Putting together the last piece of Ikea furniture ourselves. Splinters galore flew about in every direction, but the couch is finally in the color I want it to be.

Several library visits. Several rounds of phone calls and suchlike.

And those are just the highlights. It was a bizarrely full week. Here's hoping this one gives me slightly more time to chill at home.

Of this, that, and the nothing

August 11, 2012
Scary immortal flowers

These are undoubtedly mutant flowers. It's been three weeks since I put them in a no-sunlight no-water air-conditioned environment, and they're still surviving. If only plants that were still attached to their roots behaved like that, I'd totally grow my own herbs.

I'm torn between awe at the flowers' resilience and worry about any produce I buy being similarly mutated. Either way, it's a good thing to bear in mind as I go into this week's TEDx salon on where our food comes from (I wrote about my last TEDx experience here).

In the meanwhile, the weather's like something out of a Bollywood movie. It's glorious sunshine one minute, and then it rains long enough for you to have a song-and-dance sequence (if you're so inclined) before being sunny again. The husband has tickets to the Roger's Cup semifinals, and it strikes me as being less tennis, more gambling - if Djokovic and Tipsarevic play for 40 minutes before it rains, there are no refunds. Time will tell.

To tide me over the weekend
As you can see, this post has no real point - it's more of a guilty update because I realize I've been ignoring this space of late. What can I say? I discovered the Toronto Public Library, and I'm completely devoted to it.

They do have wifi though, so I should make it a point to take my laptop along more often and just blog from there.

Hot Yam!

August 8, 2012

You'd think that staying in an area fairly close to schools would mean access to somewhat cheap food in the vicinity, right? But despite being in the shadow of U of T, we're still very much in Downtown Toronto, the area of the overpriced restaurants. I wondered how students afforded it, and did a little digging around. Voila, there emerged Hot Yam!

Hot Yam! (I love the exclamation at the end, very Yahoo!) is a student volunteer-run group which prepares a 4-course vegan meal every Wednesday with mostly local, mostly organic food. Priced at a whopping $4, no tax. 

The lunch, served at the Center of International Experience, typically draws in a crowd of 80-100, some nice enough to get along their own Tupperware boxes so that the group of 10-12 volunteers have a slightly easier time cleaning up.
I personally loved volunteering at Hot Yam!, it felt a lot like having your own little restaurant with a staff of really passionate foodies. Cooking for 100 people is surprisingly easy when you divide the work up into prep time on Tuesday and cooking time on Wednesday, and have an uncomplicated menu (spicy red lentil soup, bulgur pulao, kale salad, baklava)... but the clean-up afterwards is as much of a pain as it is in my own home. 

The repeated dishwasher runs and surface sanitizing was made slightly more exciting by the fact that a food & health safety inspector actually checked your work afterwards and told you if you'd passed. I'd heard many horror stories and was looking forward to the inquest, but on the day, the inspector was distracted by the baklava and only asked us for the recipe before beaming all around and exiting. I've to admit, I was a tad disappointed. But the baklava really was all kinds of yummy.

Many people said it'd been the best Hot Yam! meal of the summer, and I was glad I got to work on it.  Hot Yam!'s out for the rest of the month while the student-volunteers write their exams & then go on vacation (thank God I'm past that phase of my life!) but it'll be back mid-September. Again: $4.  4 courses. Best deal in the neighbourhood!

Weekend Getaway: Kingston (1000 Islands)

August 7, 2012

All my weekends are long weekends at the moment, but my husband, with a full-time job, was really looking forward to his chance to get away from Toronto. We just got back from an extremely relaxed three days at Kingston, a charming little college town about three hours away from Toronto (well, three hours away when you go there anyway - on your way back, you get stuck in traffic and it's more like four and a half).

My husband decided to put me in charge of the itinerary - always a mistake if you want to just relax, because I am, of course, research expert extraordinaire. I got particularly carried away with the ghost stories I came across, the most grisly of which involved the town's building a park about a foot above a mass public graveyard, because they realized, after digging up 10,000 bodies that they didn't have the resources to transport the bodies to another burial site (they'd apparently expected only a tenth of those bodies). My overactive imagination and I had great fun with that one.

In the manner of Goldilocks, our first day at Kingston was too sunny, the second too rainy, and the third just perfect. But no matter what the weather was like, we went out undaunted, and got a feel of the place's history and patriotism by wandering everywhere on foot, and reading every plaque we could find.

Being near water puts me in a great mood in general, and the Wolfe Islander III, a Government run free cruise to Wolfe Island, the largest of the 1000 Islands, was an especial highlight. The ship splashed water at us from every direction, it was fantastic! The island itself seemed like an idyllic place - we nearly ended up buying a house there, but I talked him out of it when I realized there were only three restaurants on the island (though they did serve really good food).

Fort Henry was another highlight of our trip - we've been reading/watching a lot about US politics from the time of WWII, and this was another piece to put the period in context. We also saw a particularly impressive display outlining the evolution of guns over the ages, which made my day.

Best of all, I think the weekend gave us a chance to catch up on our reading (we took our books to the pubs and unabashedly read through the music playing!) and exchange long conversations about life. I definitely feel re-energized for the week ahead.

Art Attack: Exploring Queen West

August 2, 2012

On the first Thursday of every month, the W. Queen West Business Improvement Area organizes an art + design + food walk through the area. I repeat: Art. Design. Food. My own idea of heaven, really; particularly given a string quartet was playing at St James on the same day as the August walk, and so music could be thrown into the mix too.

The walk took a group of about 30 people into three warehouse style galleries along Tecumseth Street - Birch Libralto, Georgia Scherman, and Susan Hobbs. The art work ranged in style from beaded ideograms to wood sculptures, from abstract paintings to digitally generated colour-field paintings (where the colours are determined by algorithms rather than the artist - imagine the science fiction possibilities!).

Like I said, I'd been super excited about the walk, and think it's a great idea in theory -  but I actually didn't enjoy it very much. I tend to think of art as a personal experience absorbed by different people at different speeds and in different ways. The guide's style of asking leading questions to elicit responses from the crowd didn't sit well with me, and, in fact, took away from the artwork for me personally. 

At one point, three people in the group decided to just break away and explore the galleries on our own. We even managed to fit in a walk down the graffiti-filled alleys, all the way up to Bathurst. Street art always puts me in a great mood, it reminds me of San Francisco and the Mission area in the best possible way. So the purpose of the evening was definitely achieved!

We rounded off the evening with organic handmade fair-trade ice-cream from Delight (805 QSW if you're interested in checking it out), sponsored for those on the walk by Royal LePage realtor Suzanne Manvell. Classic case of all's well that ends deliciously :)

Utter Butter Showdown at the Drake Hotel

July 31, 2012

One of the best things about my marriage is that we're both struck with healthy doses of wanderlust. Combine that with my usual love for food, and you have me getting moon-eyed about trying out local delicacies wherever we go.

Picture from FiestaFarms.ca
In Toronto, it's kind of hard to determine what a 'local' delicacy is, because there's so much diversity, and food from all over the world is represented fairly authentically. I've asked people what I should be trying, and the answers are varied - maple syrup, poutine, steak. Nearly everyone makes a mention of desserts, and there's one dessert in particular that people in Ontario fondly turn to - the butter tart. 

The earliest noted recipe for the butter tart dates back to 1900, when it made an appearance in the Women's Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, published in Ontario. Since then, it's been revised and refined with each chef adding their own touch to the filling and pastry of this otherwise remarkably simple dish. Butter, sugar, pastry. What's not to love.

Tarts being set up
When I heard about a butter tart Blue Ribbon showdown at the Drake Hotel, I knew I had to go. Hosted by Ivy Knight, gastronome and food writer, the event brought together 8 delicious tarts from chefs all over TO - and let the audience judge which was the best in a blind tasting. Not only did this give me a chance to sample tarts from  ACCBestellenthe Flaky Tartthe GabardineOrigin Liberty Village, and even the George Brown Chef School, but also, it gave me a chance to fell all Masterchef-like, which is always fantastic.

The Drake Hotel itself is charming, with an ambiance that instantly has you feeling at home. I particularly loved the boxed-in flatscreen showing old cartoons, and the shelf of books/records behind the DJ. It's a theme that many pubs attempt but very few manage to get quite right. It was definitely the perfect backdrop to the decadence of stuffing your face with 8 tarts loaded with butter and sugar, all within the hour.

Some were drippy, some were caramely, and every single one screamed indulgence. My personal favorite was a not-too-sweet somewhat solid filling held in place by a melt-in-the-mouth tart shell, known, last night, as number 6. 

Heather Mordue from @BestellenTO walked away with the best tart of the night, with a well-deserved second place going to Allison Jones from @AirCanadaCenter. As for me, I walked away with a stomach full of happiness. That should really be the tagline for butter.

The Joy of Doing Absolutely Nothing: Visit to the Toronto Islands

July 23, 2012

Ever since we got to Toronto, I've been philandering around town checking out my new home-city. My husband, on the other hand, has largely been to work. And back. And repeat. (Hey I've to get some sadistic kicks out of being in between jobs :)) 

To make up for the lost time and reward me for being such a patient uncomplaining dedicated wife (my words, not his, unfortunately), the husband whisked me off for a surprise all-day picnic on the Toronto Islands this Sunday. He'd bought flowers home on Friday, and done the laundry on Saturday, so this was the absolute icing on the cake. Yes, I'm aware that I'm super lucky :) He's a ridiculously good husband.

From Toronto.ca
We turned our mobile phones' data off, picked up some books, and went off to have a touristy picnic on the Toronto Islands. Over the course of the day, we walked the 7-ish km between the three islands, read a lot, and reveled in doing absolutely nothing. The islands themselves are beautiful - you can see the city if you look really hard, but largely you see trees on one side, the beach on the other. It's a writer's haven. I should take along a journal next time.

Visiting the islands gave us a chance to see, in person, how much the coastline of Toronto had changed over the years. The former lighthouse is now in the middle of a landlocked territory. It supposedly takes nature only 10 years to reclaim urban land if left unhindered. That's scarily impressive. Very Jumanji.

I was delighted with how superbly maintained it all is though. These are the things that your admittedly super-high income tax goes into preserving. While I haven't felt the pinch of my own salary being deducted yet, I can see how it's worth it when you're spending a Sunday unwinding. I also wondered, as always, when the Ontario Tourism Board's going to start seriously promoting eco-tourism. It'd be a definite hit.

Peachy Saturday at the Hot & Spicy Food Festival

July 21, 2012

On the day you're married, people in India say, "Congrats!" They wait till the honeymoon's over before asking where your progeny are. No rush or anything. 

Much as I'm reluctant to have kids of my own at the moment, I love other peoples', particularly for short durations of time. I'd a complete blast volunteering for Not Far From The Tree's Kids Zone at the Harbourfront Centre's Hot & Spicy food festival.

I introduced Not Far From the Tree in this post, but to recap, they're an organization that helps tree owners pick their fruit. Four volunteers had been on a farm pick lately, and ended up with - wait for it - three. thousand. peaches. They decided to put the fruit to good use, and donated a lot of it back to the organization.

Which meant that come Saturday, we'd whole wagon-fulls of peaches waiting to be consumed by the kids who came out to the Hot & Spicy festival. The peaches were neither hot nor spicy, but they were ripe and sweet, a complete delight. We had the kids wash their hands (and the fruit!) in big tubs of water, before carefully cutting them into little pieces with plastic knives, mixing them in sugar & spices, and then sprinkling the whole mixture onto pre-made tartlets. 

The kids were completely absorbed in their work and made my heart melt about forty thousand times per hour.Some of them were really really young, and I was thrilled with how interested they were in cooking & eating. Mini-foodies! They also loved the idea of climbing trees to pick fruit ('Do you get paid too? Is it hot? Are the trees really tall?')

Earlier in the day, there'd been a bike-powered blender which turned the peaches into smoothies as the kids cycled in place. I'll have to get one of those for my kitchen, talk about a productive workout!

And then, of course, there was a side show - both the kids who'd come to cut, and the college kids who were helping out, were fascinated when they heard how old I was. Most flattering.

All in all, a Saturday brilliantly spent, though the food festival itself was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn't track down the Farmer's Market I'd been really keen to check out, and when I asked around, it seemed no one else had either. The kids told me there were plenty of super hot sauces around though, and they were glad for the peachy respite from it all :)

Online Publisher Networks in Canada

July 19, 2012

While I've worked with the Indian and US-based digital markets before, the Canadian space is still new to me. I'm fascinated by the two dichotomies. On the one hand, you've a larger percentage of internet users than any other country in the world. On the other hand, advertisers are still fairly conservative about investing in online strategies.

I've been researching the space online of course, but I find great value in also talking to digital media professionals and getting their take. I love how friendly Canada is... almost everyone's willing to take time out to talk. Yesterday, I'd an informational call with Steve Macfarlane, the VP of Business Development at Suite 66

Suite 66 focuses on their publisher network, which includes some high-trafficked local sites such as BlogTo (my personal go-to for all things TO!). While Steve was quick to point out that Suite 66 isn't the biggest agency in the space, they do have an impressive set of long-established loyal clients, and plan to keep growing, a little bit every year. 

He confirmed a few theories I'd developed from my initial reading:

- There are quite a few competitors in the Canadian publisher market, but US still has fiercer competition 
- The majority of agencies in Toronto use 3rd party RTB systems & ad exchanges to allow for economies of scale
- The market's fairly well informed about ad exchanges and how they work 

The publisher side of things isn't my area of expertise, but if anyone's interested: he mentioned that several traffic monitoring agencies were looking to hire. You'll find the listings on the IAB Job Board

Next week, I'm talking to Sarah Trimble, Director of Interactive Marketing & Community at Sears. I've rather of gushing to do about Sears' innovative mobile strategy, but I'll reserve it for the post summarizing our conversation!

Exploring the Uniiverse: Stir-Fry Session

July 17, 2012

I'm back after an unexpectedly long, but much needed, hiatus. I spent the last week doing close to nothing, and I think it helped me deal with this. I did make it to Toronto's first TEDx salon for the year, a discussion on collaborative consumption based on this video

TEDx Salon, picture from site
I'm not necessarily persuaded by the speaker's conviction that barter-sites will, or should, replace consumption as we know it today. That said, I do use quite a few of these 'new-age' sites frequently, including AirBnB, Netflix, Freecycle, and Meetup... they've shown me Toronto in a way that conventional sites couldn't have, and I enjoy the open, sharing culture of this city.

Yesterday, I attended my first event from Uniiverse, 'the world's local platform for collaborative living.' Catchy, what? :) They've a great collection of listings, some free, some cheap, others justifiedly priced - and they invite you to host your own too. It's a fun way for people to share & showcase their, and other peoples', skills and/or products. 

Picture from site
I've been eyeing it for a while, and finally took the plunge with this stir-fry session. I'm an oil-wuss in my own kitchen, so it was definitely great partnering with someone gutsier. I also fell in love with Walmart's cut cauliflower/broccoli package and definitely need to change my vegetable shopping patterns. So those are my two big takeaways, other than a couple of boxes full of the yummy stuff we stirred up!

We spent an hour cooking up Tofu & Veg Stir Fry and Thai noodles with coriander, and then about ten minutes devouring it. The sad truth of relativity applied to cooking. It was a great meal though, and felt like it hardly took any effort at all to throw together. I'm definitely going to attend more of these in the future. 

A lot of people have been telling me I should host cooking sessions of my own in the free kitchen space at the Uniiverse office. I've to say, I'm tempted. Cooking together is way more fun than cooking alone. Let's see what August brings.

Moanday Blues

July 9, 2012

People often remind me that I just got to Toronto, and that I should enjoy my downtime between jobs. That sounds perfectly logical, and it was definitely helpful when I was searching for a house. But at the end of the day, as geeky as it sounds, not working is really just not my thing. As you can probably tell from how much stuff I did in TO last month, I'm not a stay-at-home person. 

That said, being in between jobs does have one enormous benefit: no Monday blues! It's almost worth it every time I see my husband angrily snooze his alarm every Monday morning. The simple sadistic pleasures of life. Not so this Monday though.

Today's been crazily busy. I've had to try tracking down a plumber and a handyman (when it rains, it pours - as my kitchen sink can tell you!). Then there was the coordination between various security personnel, the service elevator in the building, and deliverymen. I've been doing some research for an ex-company, and that means talking to a whole bunch of people.

In the background, I've been working on putting together content for a website in memory of my 100 year old grandfather. Much as I appreciate your support through this blog, I think he deserves a more concrete tribute, and I'm working on building it. That'll also be the place to look for more Mission: Obama updates as they happen.

Let's not forget that now that I technically found a house and have more or less furnished it, I have to officially start looking for a job. I do have a wishlist, but overall, I'm looking for something in the online marketing space, so let me know if you hear of something.

It's been the most emotionally draining weekend with the unexpected news about my granddad, and I don't feel up to doing too much this week other than deal with the stuff above. But I am going to be at the TedX Tuesday tomorrow, and I'm still going to volunteer with The Festival of India.

Mostly though, this is a heads-up that you may not hear too much from me for a bit.

Thank you

July 8, 2012

The internet's a strange place.

It gives you bad news faster than you wanted to hear it. But it also sends you instant reassurance from around the world.

Honestly, when I wrote the Mission Obama and Thatha posts, I was in a state of complete shock and grief. I didn't stop to think if there was a 'better' approach to the whole thing. I didn't even do a reality check to see if the whole thing made any sense, or if I should wait for a while, or whatever else I'd say if I was my usual self.

I'm touched by the number of you who responded by sharing and offering to spread the word. You make me believe this is something that's worth attempting. Thank you for all your support. It means a lot.