Friday, June 27, 2014

What if...

Imagine if the whole world was your bed? 

You'd just be able to curl up anywhere and comfortably fall asleep, with confidence that 
what you were doing was OK. You were meant to sleep there. 
There would be no obstructions, like your size, or the lack of a pillow.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Get to Know Your Cupcakes, Toronto

If you check this blog regularly, you will likely know that I've been very busy this spring planning all kinds of parties and showers for my sister and friends who are getting married and having babies. Yesterday was another such event - my sister's wedding shower - and I have officially executed all of my duties. Now I'm free to sit back and relax and enjoy the weddings and other events.

Celebratory parties are fun, but planning them always comes with stress. There are invitations to send, food to order, drinks to plan, flowers to arrange, photos to take, and ultimately, as planner and host, you are responsible for the success of the event. You must facilitate the fun. I have been feeling the stress of the various events I've planned lately, and on Saturday night I even had dreams about cupcakes. Telling Drew about the dreams while arranging real-life cupcakes in attractive formations on cake stands the next day, I realized that I've tasted enough cupcakes and placed enough orders to have become a bit of an aficionado about Toronto's cupcake scene. I'm here today to share what I've learned.

Prairie Girl's cupcakes (pink and white) with Bobbette and Belle's cupcakes
(topped with blue hydrangea) and colourful meringues.
 When taste is your primary concern (as it should be), then Prairie Girl bakery is the only way to go. Their strawberry icing is the best cake-topping-substance I've ever tasted. It's like an old-school strawberry frozen yoghurt, where they put the little square of yoghurt into the machine and pull a lever down, then add scoops of frozen strawberries and pull the lever down again, then take a waffle cone and twirl the mixture into a heaping tower with a surprise flavour at the bottom (the previous person's order), except that Prairie Girl's icing is sweeter than the yoghurt, and not frozen. Can you imagine the fresh strawberry flavour? And the tart sweetness? That's what I'm talking about. The other flavours of cupcakes are also delicious - their chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing, and banana cupcake with peanut butter icing are tied for second place in my books; the chocolate cupcake with strawberry icing is a blue ribbon winner.

Bobbette and Belle's
hydrangea-topped and
Prairie Girl's lemon cupcakes
When looks are your primary concern (as is sometimes appropriate), then Bobbette and Belle are for you. These magicians turn icing into the most beautiful edible creations, but you won't want to eat them. They're too pretty. The cupcakes themselves are good, but not mind-blowing; the cake isn't as moist as Prairie Girl, and I can't fault them for not having icing as delicious. But that's OK! When you order these, and I think you should for special times, know that you're getting an acceptably tasty cupcake that looks completely gorgeous.

If you want to get good cupcakes that are also good for your soul, then check out Eat My Words. This organization bakes fresh cupcakes (and other things) and sells them with the proceeds going to the Stephen Lewis Foundation for HIV/AIDS-related work. They're no slouches in the decorating department, either.

A Bobbette and Belle meringue, with Prairie Girl cupcakes,
surrounded by Paulette's mini-doughnuts cut into halves
If you're tired of cupcakes altogether (and I am with you there), then you may want to check out Paulette's Original doughnuts. Paulette had her own store front on Queen St. East for a little while, but has given that up to sell her amazing cake doughnuts online and through Delica Kitchen. There are doughnut flavours that you've never even dreamed of, and all of them are simply delightful. The vanilla doughnut covered in blueberry-balsamic icing is one of my favourites, followed by pecan-crunch cinnamon bun. Doesn't that sound amazing? It truly is.

Also in the doughnut-is-the-new-cupcake category, I wholeheartedly recommend Von Doughnuts. Whereas Paulette specializes in cake doughnuts, Von's are the fried kind, so come out fluffier and larger in appearance. It's hard to choose a favourite here, but chica cherry cola and mangiacake both stand out.

I have to say, as a final thought, that even after tasting all of the yummy cupcakes in Toronto, the lemon tart cupcake at Petits Gâteaux in Montreal with it's meringue icing is still my very favourite.

If you have other places that you like in Toronto, or want more recommendations (I know a good vegan bakery with great cupcakes, too), leave a note in the comments!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hazy Thoughts in June

Summer begins this weekend with the solstice, and I can feel it in my bones. The sunlight gives me energy and strength, and I feel like a tree stretching up and out into the sky. I can see the sunset in the north-west, and imagine the ring of light on the horizon in Whitehorse. I want to go there some day to experience the midnight sun in person.

Summer makes me want to take long road trips, driving with the windows down. I imagine driving through New Brunswick at dusk, with the smell of grass and trees blowing into the car on balmy air, vigilant for wandering moose. The Mounties made the perfect song for this, and I'm sad that Drew and I won't be making our annual pilgrimage to PEI this year so that I could sing along to it while flying down Highway 2.

Instead, we're going to Chicago for five days in August, and we're going to spend a lot of time celebrating happy occasions with friends. We will be dancing at weddings until the early morning hours, with stars in our eyes and cocktails in our hands. No coats, no socks, open air, and dewy grass.

We're going to picnic, and frisbee, and bike, and lie by the water. We're going to work, too, but we're going to be watching out the windows until we can get back outside. We're going to wear sunscreen and get tan lines anyway. We're going to sleep with the windows open, and drink coffee on the roof. We're going to pick strawberries and eat them until we don't feel so good, then freeze the rest to make jam in September. We're going to drink much beer on many patios. We're going to wear sandals and tank tops.

We're going to wish summer lasted forever and lament how fast it goes. We're going to look forward to autumn and anticipate the change it brings.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rooftop Garden - Third Time's the Charm

a view of our plants in their raccoon protected safety zone
This is the third summer that Drew and I have been in our apartment, and for the third time we're testing our green-thumb skills. The last couple of years yielded mixed results, but we've channeled those into improving the plant choices and arrangements.

parsley and oregano, in a brief moment of shade
We're repeating a few things that we had last year, like tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, and dill. We did not get onions this year, though they did well, and we didn't get a few herbs, like sage. The reason for not getting onions and sage is primarily that we don't use them enough. The onions didn't have quite enough space and so they stayed quite small. That was OK in the end, because I decided to make cocktail onions with them, and they turned out really well, but without the space to spread out the onions and let them really grow, they're not as desirable. When it comes to sage, that stuff grows until it resembles a small conifer unless you're constantly trimming it and using it, and we just don't make enough food with sage. Some of the new things we have are Italian oregano, which is growing like crazy, and kale, which was a bit of a gamble but is paying off so far.

I've learned a few things about the unique conditions present on our roof. It's very sunny, very hot, and very humid through most of the summer. Tomatoes love the sunniest spots, which afford 15 hours of sunlight in June, but last summer the pots they were in didn't drain well enough. The plants grew tall and spindly instead of thick and lush. We still had a bunch of tomatoes from them, but not as many as we'd get from a healthy plant. This year we've drilled extra holes into the bottom of the pots, and I can see that there's already an improvement.

baby dill plants, enjoying a cozy 10L bucket
The dill did not do well last summer. It was in a trough-style planter with other herbs, and did not like it, so this year it's living in a much deeper pot with no other plants around. It's also doing much better than last year even at this early stage.

The kale, which currently feels like my gardening crowning achievement, is doing great. It loves the sun, and it needs a lot of water - more than the tomatoes even - but we've been diligent and have already harvested leaves off of the four plants we have twice. I'm not sure how they'll hold up over the entire summer because they apparently grow quite tall and like to have lots of root space, which unfortunately isn't possible in container gardening. I hope that the limited area for rooting won't stunt them, but will report back.

We have planted our standard array of sun-loving herbs - thyme, lavender, and basil - and of course we've got mint growing off in a corner by itself. As many people who have tried to garden with mint know well, it does not play well with others.

Finally, we've got some flowers, just to add colour to our garden. Petunias, delphinia, dusty miller, snap dragons, and gerbera daisies soak up the sun and give back their colours. On the roof among the plants is my very favourite place to be.

sorry, mint. you have to stay by yourself.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Great Expectations

Shower flowers, in Amy's yard
My best friend, Amy, is going to have a baby. It's the first baby among my close friends, though in my extended friend group there's already some babies and toddlers. It's very exciting, and also very strange because suddenly someone I'm close to is going to be a mother. I still don't feel like I'm at the right age for that kind of responsibility, but maybe no one really ever does - they just go ahead with it anyway. That seems like the right idea. Initiation by fire. 

Last weekend we had a baby shower for Amy, and held it in her back yard. Fortunately, her middle sister and a couple of her friends are also expecting, and have babies already, so she is surrounded by women who can give her lots of advice and tips, and prepare her for what's coming (a la lightening crotch, which sounds terrible. 

She got a lot of really adorable presents, and we ate delicious food and drank delicious drinks. The shower may have spurred on a little more anxiety than we'd bargained for, but that's OK too. There's A LOT of stuff that a person needs for a tiny baby (or allegedly needs, according our particular culture, though we all know that many millions of women have and raise babies without all the junk we call essential). It's actually mind-boggling. 

I'm so excited for Amy to have her little bambino! It's due in two and a half months (a Virgo). I can't wait to meet it and shower it with love. 

Me and Amy - she's 6.5 months pregnant and
you can barely tell!