December favourites pt. 2

I know, I know; I already wrote a December favourites post. But I’ve encountered such a number of wonderful products and activities since that I thought I would mention them in a part two. For Christmas this year, my family went to Horseshoe Valley in Barrie to do some skiing/snowboarding and to enjoy the spa facilities (and use up our remaining RMT benefits for the year.) It’s such a great time to get together with the family despite the cold weather… although I am also quite excited to escape to Cuba for the next few days.

Hope you are all enjoying your holidays! At the bottom is also a short list of the things that I would like to try in the new year (mostly restaurants haha).

Food:

Christmas buffet at Horseshoe Resort: This amazing buffet only happens once a year at Horsehoe; it’s $55 per person and well worth the price. There is a massive assortment of seafood such as smoked salmon, mackerel, trout, oysters, and a large variety of hot dishes including carved roast beef, butternut squash ravioli, turkey, and roasted root vegetables. The dessert spread is just as elaborate, featuring housemade sticky toffee pudding, cherries jubilee flambé over vanilla ice cream, crème brulee, and cheesecake. This is definitely a Christmas buffet worth trying. I know for a fact that a dinner spread as decadent as this could not be found for the same price in Toronto.

Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy chocolate fudge brownie: What a time to be alive, my vegan and lactose-intolerant friends – this amazing ice cream is made with almond milk and is nothing short of phenomenal. There is a strong aroma from the almonds, and the pint is loaded with lots and lots of gooey brownie bites. Finally a decadent alternative to the typical sorbet served as the non-dairy option.

Apple tempura from Ichiban Fish House: This is one of my family’s favourite places for sushi in Richmond Hill; we often order a medium sushi boat and side vegetable tempura to share. What’s special about Ichiban’s tempura is the type of vegetables they fry, which includes juicy shimeji mushrooms, asparagus, and even apples.

Activities

Horseshoe Resort Spa: I recently got an RMT at this spa and quite enjoyed my experience; the masseuse was well-knowledgeable and used heat pads and a remote reclining chair as part of the experience. Any spa services also include access to the pool, hot tub, and sauna.

Shopping at First Canadian Place (FCP): I never realized until recently how great the shops were in First Canadian Place; there’s a Drake General Store, Indigo, M Boutique, Papyrus, and many, many more. It makes it quite convenient to do some quick gift shopping on the weekdays since FCP is centrally located within the Path. I scored some great last-minute deals at Indigo and the Drake General Store.

Vinyasa Flow at Yoga Tree: I highly enjoyed Yoga Tree’s vinyasa yoga – an active, flowing class that helps improve strength and flexibility. What’s different about this class is that students place their mats in two horizontal lines facing each other rather than towards the mirror, creating a harmonious sense of unity within everyone in attendance.

Things I would like to try in the new year (in no particular order):

  • General Assembly Pizza
  • Assembly Chef’s Hall
  • Byblos
  • Make my own ravioli (with butternut squash stuffing??)
  • Mitzi’s café for brunch
  • Get pasta at that little Italian stand at St. Lawrence Market
  • Buca in King West
  • Try a Pilates class
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December favourites

December is by far one of my favourite months in the year. Reflecting back, I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is dealing with change – something that is irrevocably tied with the uncertainty of the future.

Most people tend to dislike change, understandably. It’s uncomfortable. It makes what was once familiar no longer, and our perception of the future ambiguous. But lately, I’ve come to the realization that change can be good. It’s uncomfortable at first because it was nice to have latched onto something for so long that when it’s gone, it creates a sense of emptiness. But in reality, that disappearance or shift isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. And that notion of something being different initially sets off alarms in our brains, signaling it as negative. But it’s not. Things have just changed, and maybe for the better. It may take a bit of time to get used to, but eventually, it will. And once it does, everything will be even better than it was before.

And sometimes it’s nice to just take a breather and get away for a little. I did a small road trip to Montreal this past weekend ad had a great time exploring this new city, trying new things, and eating different foods.

With that being said and in spirit of the holiday season, these are a few of my favourite things that I’ve come across this month (in Toronto and Montreal)

Drink picks

Notorious G.R.E from IQ: This smoothie tastes as good as it is for your body. It’s made of spinach, kale, cucumber, parsley, celery, lemon juice, chia, coconut water and pineapple. For those who don’t usually like greens in their drinks, the tropical fruits in this mix perfectly balance and hide the more bitter taste of the greens.

Soy dark hot chocolate from Marche: The hot chocolate here is made with real blocks of dark cocoa. I get it with soy milk, as it nicely balances the sweet and bitter tones of the cocoa, creating the perfect cup of dark hot chocolate.

Chai latte with soy from Mos Mos: As you may or may not already know from previous posts, I am a big, big fan of Mos Mos in the Path. I recently tried their chai latte with soy milk, and would definitely add it to my list of must-try drinks from this place.

Latté from Strange Love: this is a lovely cozy café near the intersection of King and Spadina. I recently went there to get an almond milk latté and stayed much longer in their seating area than anticipated. It’s a great spot to hideaway from the cold; will be back to try some specialty drinks on their menu.

Food picks:

Artichokes from Buca: I recently went to the Yorkville location, and was overall quite impressed with the food and service of this Italian restaurant. In particular, I loved the crisp artichokes. They were fried to perfection, and carried a sweet taste from the prosciutto san daniele, saba, and parmigiano reggiano. I also strongly recommend the black cod, which was cooked so well it literally melted on my tongue like sweet butter.

Raw espresso cacao bar from Crave: This was the most amazing vegan brownie I’ve ever had. It has a bold, rich flavor from the espresso and cacao with a subtle nutty taste. Definitely makes for a good pick-me-up mid-afternoon!

Gingerbread cupcake from Prairie Girl Cupcakes: This beloved cupcake shop in the Path makes great cupcakes to start with, and their gingerbread holiday version is spectacular. The batter carries just the right amount of spice, and the topping is sweet and rich – paired together, they create the most delightful festive treat.

Good Thins, the beet one: these crispy air-like crackers are crimson in colour, with a strong savoury beet taste. Quite unique to other crackers on the shelves, I’d recommend giving this flavour a try!

Da Geppetto – Casoncelli ai Funghi Porcini: This beautiful new restaurant on Temperence makes some of the most wonderful Italian dishes in Toronto. I highly recommend trying the handmade Casoncelli filled with porcini and ricotta, butter, sage, and topped with parmigiano sauce and black truffle shavings. The pasta itself is cooked al dente and the filling is buttery and rich; make sure to save room for dessert though – the mini Nutella bombes are also delicious.

Montreal eat picks: Schwartz deli meat

Since the 1920’s, Schwartz has been making phenomenal smoked meat in Montreal. Their sandwiches are piled high with layers and layers of delectable deli meat, and the texture of these layers combined with the smoked flavour is absolutely remarkable. The restaurant itself is quite small and reminded me of the famous pizza place in Naples- always bustling and crowded even at two in the afternoon. However busy, making a stop here is a must when visiting Montreal. Their poutine and coleslaw are also amazing and worth a try while you’re here.

St. Viator bagels

One of the oldest places making authentic Montreal style bagels, St. Viator makes all sorts including my favourites, rosemary & salt and all-dressed. I recommend visiting the Mont-Royal location as there is a café seating area serving bagel sandwiches such as smoked meat and BLT. If you do visit, order along with your bagel a Colombian French-pressed coffee, which carries an impressively aromatic tropical citrus taste.

Things to do:

Four seasons spa: Nothing compares to this spa experience, especially in the deadpan of winter when the weather outside is dreadfully freezing. I got the aromatherapy relaxation massage using lavender oil; not only was the aroma heavenly but the massage itself was incredible, perfectly targeting all the tense areas. The facilities are also luxurious, clean, and the service highly attentive.

Second city – The Good the bad & the ugly sweater: I am a big fan of Second City, and their holiday special show was absolutely hilarious. The sketches exaggerate the situations we often find ourselves in during the holiday, yet remain highly relatable. Definitely worth watching for a good laugh! Fun fact: the star of Heartland got cold-called up to the stage as an audience guest during the show that I attended.

ROM FNL: I love visiting museums, and the Friday Night Live experience at the ROM takes it to the next level. Drinks and finger foods are available for purchase as guests wander around; the grand hall is also converted to a dance floor. Definitely a fun way to explore and learn (or not) about all the different exhibits! I went while the Christian Dior exhibit was playing, which showcases many of the designer’s stunning pieces.

November favourites

Can’t believe it’s the end of November.

It’s been such a busy time; I feel like everyone is trying to get as much stuff done as possible before the holidays. Then again – I am so excited for the upcoming festive season. I recently went to the Christmas Market in the Distillery District, which was so beautiful – and really getting me into the holiday spirit!

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Here are some of my favourites that I’ve come across this month:

Beauty

Ilia lip crayon: Finally a lipstick that doesn’t dry my lips out – the Ilia lip crayon applies on smoothly and is packed with healing oils of coconut, sesame and cranberry seed. I recommend the 99 balloons shade for a subtle dark red tint.

Lancome makeup remover: I highly recommend this gentle makeup remover, which powerfully wipes away eye makeup, including waterproof types. It leaves my eyes feeling cool and refreshed, with no oily residue, and is ideal for contact lens wearers as well.

Lancome eyebrow pencil: This pencil is known for its “ultra precision” advantage; the automatic twist-up system is easy-to-use and gives a natural yet defined look to the brows.

 

Food

Haagen Dazs cookie dough dynamo: a classic done right, I highly recommend – especially when served with carrot cake or apple pie.

Kupfert and Kim raw cacao vanilla energy balls: these vegan treats are my absolute favourite mid-day snack or dessert – they’re rich and chocolatey but made with wholesome ingredients.

Mimi & Liloo’s Dark Chocolate Sweet Cinammon: this chocolate bar has immediately become one of my favourites; it’s creamy and pairs the bold taste of dark cacao with delicious hints of cinnamon.

 

Recipes

Matcha green tea energy bites: These are delicious for breakfast or for snack, packed full of rich flavor from the matcha and coconut flakes. I also add in 4-5 dates, which I find helpful in making the batter stick together better.

 

Wellness

Hot stone RMT at Step up: I was initially scared to try hot stone, but after my first one, I’ve realized that the heat from the hot stones are able to give a much deeper touch of relaxation than most regular RMTs. Highly recommend if you are feeling increased soreness or tension in your muscles.

Tea tree oil: Recently ordered this product form Amazon, and I love it – the scent is soothing and the oil is particularly healing for the skin when mixed with creams, shampoos, or carrier oils.

Tweet Tweet Deodorant: After reading a few articles about the harmful toxins in many deodorants, I’ve switched to one made of all-natural ingredients. I highly recommend the lavender Tweet Tweet deodorant, which is made with natural and organic ingredients (and carries an amazing scent as well).

Niagara picks

There are many, many sides to Niagara.

First, there’s the Falls and all the touristy attractions on Clifton Hill. Then there’s the “more refined” side by Niagara-on-the-lake, which consists of all the different vineyards, wineries, and boutique food shops. I did a roadtrip to Niagara this past weekend, and thought I would share my top picks in this region (as the number of options in this area can be a bit overwhelming).

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Vineyard picks

Konzelmann Estate Winery: I would highly recommend doing a tour at this vineyard; we were also able to find a Groupon for an intimate winery tour with tasting for about $7 each. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable at explaining the entire wine process and answering any questions. The tasting in the winery’s cellar was also quite elaborate, serving a complimentary assortment of cheese & meats, and featured many different wines from the estate. I recommend trying Konzelmann’s peach white wine, which is made with peaches from local farms in Niagara.

Small Talks Vineyard is mostly popularly known for its Shiny Apple Cider. Tastings here are fairly inexpensive, and there are many discount packages available online as well. I highly recommend trying the Shiny Bootleg Spice Cider, which has a nice spice kick to the typical cider taste, as well as the Dessert Anyone Riesling Icewine.

Trius Winery: This vineyard is so beautiful and grand, and its shop offers affordable tastings of many different wines. My favourite was the Showcase Cabernet Franc Icewine 2015, which carries a strong bold flavor that contrasts nicely with the sweet icewine. However, at its $90 price point, I got the Late Harvest Vidal Icewine 2015 for $22 (which still tastes incredible!) Pro tip – if you eat at the Trius restaurant, use the receipt to get a $5 discount on any purchase in-store.

 

Food picks

Trius wines brunch: The three-course brunch at this beautiful restaurant at Trius Wines in Niagara is a bit on the pricier side ($42) but well worth the value for the quality and quantity. As a pro tip, inform your waiter if you are visiting to celebrate a special occasion, as everyone at the table will receive a complimentary full glass of sparkling white wine!

For starters, I got the fresh Ontario mozzarella with cured prosciutto, red wine pear, and organic arugula. The cheese was so fresh, and tasted incredible when paired with the sweet pear and salty cured meat. 

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For my main, I got the Atlantic lobster cakes served with icewine smoked salmon, poached hens eggs, and icewine beets. The lobster meat was so tender and flavourful, and it complemented the strong taste of the smoked salmon and creamy egg yolk perfectly.

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For dessert, I got the Icewine pear, served with a caramel, chocolate, and cheese cake bar. The icewine pear was divine, soaked in the sweet boozy taste of Niagara’s famous icewine, and it contrasted nicely with the nutty caramel taste of the cheese cake bar.

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Koutouki Niagara: This Greek restaurant near Clifton Hill is quite homey, and is perfect for ordering sharing plates for large format dinners. I would recommend trying the chicken souvlaki, which was incredibly tender and juicy, as well as the combination spread platter to try the restaurant’s assortment of Greek-style dips.

 

Activity picks

Winter Festival of Lights: The holiday lights at Niagara are beautiful (even when it’s raining), so I highly recommend driving through to take a look.

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Clifton hill fun pack: Glow-in-the dark mini put is actually a lot of fun, as are the other activities here like the laser maze and the canon ball shoot (even for a couple of twenty-year-old’s).

Butterfly conservatory: This Niagara Parks Botanical Garden features over 2,000 butterflies, made up of 45 different species, that may flutter up to visitors (perfect for photo opportunities!)

 

September Favourites

September’s been a relatively busy month. I’ve started work and have since flown twice to Chicago for training sessions. I’ve also been drinking more coffee (getting back in that work routine) so there are a few caffeine drinks part of this month’s picks. I also went to the Stratford Festival one weekend, which was a great small-town getaway, and below you’ll find a gem of a restaurant recommended.

On the whole, here are a bunch of great little products and places I’ve come across this month.

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DRINK PICKS 

  • Balzac’s Iced Americano: The Americano at Balzac’s is bold and crisp – just the way I like it (I despise watered down coffee beverages). This café also provides free of charge soy, almond, or coconut milk to add in beverages.
  • MOS MOS: This tiny coffee front inside the Toronto Path is always bustling – don’t be frightened by the long lines though, they tend to move very quickly. I usually go for the regular coffee with one milk and one sugar, a combination that almost tastes of a HK style milk coffee. I’ve recently also tried the chai matcha latte with soy milk, which is absolutely phenomenal.

 

FASHION PICKS

  • Frank + Oak Women Jeans: I went to the Frank + Oak warehouse sale and got two pairs of jeans: a black pair, fitted at the top and flared at the bottom, and another pair that is white and fitted. I love the jean material, thick and sturdy. Each pair retails for $90 but the price dropped to $30 for this sale event.
  • Topshop Cigarette Cropped Dress Pants: I find it difficult to find work pants that aren’t baggy or boxy in shape, so I was quite happy to find the cigarette style ones at Topshop. These pants are high-waisted, tight at the waist and well-fitted. I bought a pair in black and navy blue, $45 each.

 

FOOD PICKS

  • Bijou Crostini, Escargot, Weth Mushrooms, 63 Degree Egg, Smoked Cheese at BijouThis beautiful restaurant in Stratford served one of the best dishes I’ve ever had – a textural delight of escargot, creamy poached egg, and silky cheese; all-paired with a thick, crisp crostini. All the flavours worked incredibly well together.
  • Hungry Hippo Coconut Crisps: This snack is so flavourful, crisp, and relatively healthy. I got these coconut crisps at the annual Veg Fest in Toronto, but they’re also available at many grocery stores.
  • IKEA Veggie Meatballs: These veggie balls contain only natural ingredients, including corn, peas, and carrots, which you can actually see as whole pieces inside the balls. They’re flavourful and filling, and make for a healthy substitute to regular meatballs.

 

TRAVEL PICKS

  • Lavender Oil Applicator: I stayed at the Westin hotel in Chicago, which provided in every room a small oil applicator scented with lavender. Its gentle scent is soothing, and it’s quite nice to apply some on the wrists or temples when trying to relax or before sleeping.
  • Samsonite Spinner Suitcase: The inside of this suitcase has straps to secure clothing and interior pockets to hold smaller items, helping users stay organized throughout their travels. The wheels also move any direction, allowing users to wheel their suitcase beside them in tighter corridors.

Last Stop: Athens

I realize that I never wrote about my last stop in Europe, which was to Athens, Greece. We flew there from the island of Santorini, which was only about an hour flight away. Warning: If you go to Athens in June, it is crazy hot. Many shops and restaurants close during the hottest hours in the afternoon (between 2 to 5 pm), which our Airbnb host described as a siesta-like period for Greeks.

There are many important historic monuments to check out in Athens, as well as cool flea markets and shops. As the capital of Greece and a major transportation hub, Athens is also a convenient place to do day trips from.

Here are a list of things to do (and around) Athens:

1. Acropolis of Athens

The main feature at the Acropolis is the Parthenon, dedicated by the Athenians to Athena Parthenos, the patron of their city. I highly recommend visiting this site in the morning, as it tends to be less hot since the sun hasn’t reached its full peak yet.

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2. Take a ferry to Hydra

Athens is close to many islands, one of them being the island of Hydra, which is located in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf. There are short hikes you can do in Hydra to some beautiful beaches, where the water is as blue and clear as the sky. A one-way ferry trip to Hydra from Athens takes less than an hour.

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3. Watch the sunset over the water

This is just one of those classic vacation things you must do in Greece. The photo below was taken while we were waiting at the dock in Hydra for our ferry back to Athens.

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4. Visit the farmers market in Athens

It’s a little hard to communicate with vendors, who for the most part only speak Greek, but the farmer market in Athens was quite an interesting and fun experience. The produce here is really cheap; for instance, I bought a large bag of plump, juicy cherries (around 3 lbs) for two euros.

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5. Explore Monastiraki

This flea market area is always buzzing with tourists and locals alike. There are tons of cool shops, cafes, bars, and souvenir shops to check out. I recommend trying a fish foot massage at Doctor Fish Athens, where you place your feet inside a tank and little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. The sensation was really ticklish at first, but it soon became soothing and even nice. My feet also did in fact feel softer afterwards.

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6. Buy some Greek sesame snacks & honey

We bought a lot of souvenirs, such as snacks and beauty products, to share with our friends back home. Most of the snacks we found in Greece contain either honey and/or sesame seeds. There were also a lot of olive oil products for sale in the markets; we bought cream and shampoo containing this ingredient, as well as some olive wood products.

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7. Explore Coffee Shops

During the hottest hours of the afternoon (between two to five), many shops and restaurants are closed and it also tends to get too hot to wander outside – making it the perfect time to explore Athens’ coffee shops. There are tons of really neat ones around the city, my favourite being the cozy Little Tree Books & Coffee.

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8. See the Acropolis at night

There are many restaurants with rooftop patios near the Acropolis of Athens, allowing guests to see the beautiful Acropolis light up at night. We visited Kuzina, as recommended to us by our local Airbnb host. This restaurant tends to get quite busy so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.

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9. Daytrip to Delphi

From Athens we took a day trip to Delphi, a famous ancient sanctuary about a two-hour drive away from Athens. The site is on the south-western slope of Mount Parnassus, overlooking the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis. Showcasing monuments built by important ancient Greek city-statess, Delphi embodies Hellenic unity and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Must-Try Foods 

Not only is Greece absolutely beautiful, but the country’s cuisine is also phenomenal. From street souvlaki to grilled squid, everything I ate was incredible – and at prices that I know I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Here are some dishes you have to try when in Greece:

1. Gyro and Souvlaki

Gyro is a special Greek delicacy consisting of meat, onion, tomato and tzatziki sauce served with pita bread. The gyro meat is cooked slowly on a vertical rotisserie and is served as strips or small slices of meat. Souvlaki is also a Greek dish, but is prepared as small meat cubes and grilled vegetables on a skewer. A great place to try these dishes is at Sfika, a restaurant that serves some of the best grilled meats in the city, according to our local host.

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2. Greek Salad

Made with the perfect balance of feta cheese, crisp vegetables, and buttery croutons, the Greek salad at Kuzina Restaurant was absolute perfection.

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3. Greek Frappé Coffee

The traditional frappé coffee is a Greek foam-covered iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, water and sugar. The frappé has become a hallmark of Greek coffee culture, and is available in virtually all coffee shops across Athens. I got one at Coffee Island, which sells a real strong traditional Greek frappé for 1.10 euros.

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4. Asian Greek Fusion at Mr. Dim

This may sound almost silly, but this Greek Asian fusion shop called Mr. Dim served one of the best bao creations I’ve ever tasted. The tender, juicy gyros meat worked so well with the flavours of the Chinese sesame bao; even my Asian parents adored this fusion dish.

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5. Grilled Squid

I highly recommend the grilled squid at Smile Restaurant, a local family-run business. I normally don’t love grilled squid because it tends to be too chewy for my liking, but the texture of this one was amazing and grilled to perfection.

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6. Moussaka

This traditional Greek dish is either eggplant- or potato-based, and is layered with ground meat in a fashion similar to that of a lasagna.

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7. Koulouria Thessalonikis

These giant sesame bagel-like treats are sold everywhere on the streets in Athens for typically less than one euro. They’re deliciously chewy on the inside, and carry a fragrant toasted sesame taste – perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

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Happy traveling!

August Favourites

My birthday is in August, making it my favourite month by default. I also find that the long weekend in August is also a good time for my family to get together for trips. This year, we went to the Tobermory and Collingwood (Blue Mountain) area to do some hiking, picnic lunches, and boat riding. Here are my favourite products that I’ve encountered throughout this month:

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APP PICKS

  • Carrot Rewards App: Linked to a user’s Aeroplan, Petro-Points, More Rewards, or Cineplex’s Scene, the Carrot Rewards App allows a user to complete surveys about health and fitness for reward points. This app has recently been subsidized by the Canadian government in hopes of promoting better nutrition and fitness among Canadians. Use the code jasmineh5166 to redeem bonus points when you sign-up!
  • Ritual: With a large number of restaurants on the app, Ritual allows users to conveniently order food for pick-up. Every order collects points, which can be used to redeem discounts or special offers. Use this link in your mobile browser to get $10 off your first order.

 

BEAUTY PICKS

  • Kiehl’s Mango Lip Balm: My lips became severely chapped after hiking in the sun during the August long weekend. After a day’s use of the Kiehl’s lip balm, I could see significant improvements in repairing the damage of my skin. This product is more expensive than regular lip balms ($12), so I would only strongly recommend it if your lips are severely chapped.

 

CLOSET PICKS

  • Fitness Leggings by FableticsThe material of these leggings is comfortable, breathable, and most importantly, opaque. Some leggings on this site also have outside pockets to store your phone/iPod, which is ideal for jogging. New members of Fabletics also receive special discounts, including workout leggings for 2 for $24.  I’ve searched around and trust me, getting two pairs of such high quality for less than $25 is an amazing deal. 

 

FOOD PICKS

  • AYCE Sushi at KaKa: I love All-You-Can-Eat (AYCE) sushi dinners every once in a while. My visit to KaKa this month was actually my first AYCE this year, and it was incredible. The restaurant has an impressive range of items, as well as specialties including torched sushi, pressed sushi, spring egg soup, and takoyaki balls. I absolutely love the taste of torched fish, so having an AYCE experience with it was amazing.
  • Black Sesame Ice Cream at Kekou Gelato: I’ve tasted quite a number of black sesame ice creams before, but the one at this gelato shop was impressively creamy and rich in flavour. Kekou also has many other interesting flavours, such as Vietnamese Ice Coffee, Oolong Tea, and Whiskey Green Tea.
  • Cornish Hen at Peoples Eatery: This unassuming restaurant in Chinatown Toronto always seems to be buzzing with people, and for good reason. I finally tried eating here this month with some friends and loved it; everything from the atmosphere to the food was amazing. I would highly recommend trying the Cornish Hen, General Tso Tofu, and HDB (sashimi salad). I shared these three dishes among four friends, and it left us all completely full.

8 LA Things to Do

There are some things in life you can only ever experience in Los Angeles, such as movie screenings inside a cemetery, or a food market where people line up for almost half an hour to eat deep fried shrimps from the inside of a pineapple. Either way, here are some things that I think are worth experiencing while in La La Land.

1. Cinespia

Cinespia is an outdoor movie screening in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (yes, a cemetery). The shows almost always sell out every week, and people often get to Cinespia right when gates open to reserve a nice spot for the movie. Visitors bring either their lawn chairs or their picnic blankets, as well as some wine and snacks. I even saw some people with a full-out buffet-style picnic spread.

A movie in a cemetery – I really don’t know where else you can find this.

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2. Rockin Roe Bowl at The Korean Mkt.

Poke has become a growing trend recently, but only in LA have I ever seen it taken to the extreme – filling rice bowls with colourful fish roe instead of the usual raw fish. I highly recommend this bowl (if you like roe), which is available at The Korean Mkt in Sawtelle. Everything else at this small shop is delicious too.

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3. Throwing exploding rocks on the ground in Chinatown

As we were strolling through Chinatown one evening, all we could hear was the sound of tiny explosions. They were too quiet to sound threatening, yet frequent enough to raise mild concern. We realized that a lot of children here had bought popping rocks – tiny bundles that make a small explosion noise when thrown on the ground – and were continuously smashing them on the ground all around the streets. We bought a small pack too ($0.25) to play with, since all the cool kids seemed to be doing it.

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4. Smorgasburg

This is basically where people get “instagrammable” food; lineups for the most popular vendors tend to have wait times anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. To be fair though, the two items that I tried (passion fruit strawberry shaved ice and Hawaiian shrimp pineapple rice) were both really delicious.

The Smorgasburg market is also in NYC, understandably.

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5. The Getty Center

Entrance to this stunning garden and museum is free and iPhone audio guides are also free for use. Many gardens that I’ve visited before had an entrance fee, so take advantage of this free opportunity!

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8. Buffet at The Dodgers Stadium

For ten more dollars than a regular ticket, you can opt to sit at the Coca Cola Pavillion at the Dodgers Stadium, where there are all-you-can-eat nachos, popcorn, hot dogs, peanuts, and bottomless soft drinks. Although the Dodgers lost the night I went, the buffet made it all worth it.

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Other places worth mentioning are the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday evenings for its Twilight Concerts, By Chloe for its amazing vegan “fast food,” Sqirl for its locally-sourced creative brunch dishes, and Fly Wheel, a cycle class that allows participants to compete by keeping track of their progress on a scoreboard at the front of their room.

Happy exploring in Los Angeles!

Packing Tips

Packing for LA this time around, I’ve realized that I had become a lot faster at packing and that my suitcase was far less jammed than it had been the last time I went to LA. I guess I did learn a thing or two from my weekend travels around Europe for five months. Here are some of my tips and tricks around packing:

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BEAUTY

  • Whenever you stay at a hotel, take the complimentary mini shampoo bottles home. You can use them for your next trip, since the containers are travel size. Even if you don’t like the hotel’s shampoo, keep the containers to refill with your own shampoo for your next trip.
  • Don’t risk bringing any products that are over 100 ml. Even if a 200ml bottle of face cream is half empty, it’s the bottle size that matters, not the actual content. You can buy empty travel-size containers at the dollar store.

 

CLOTHES

  • Opt to do laundry rather than to overpack, especially if you are backpacking. If you plan to stay at an Airbnb, always filter to look for accommodations with a washing (and drying) machine. Otherwise, paying for laundry at the hostel/hotel or even finding a laundry facility outside is better than overpacking, especially if you are backpacking.
  • For girls, pack more skirts than dresses; skirts tend to be more versatile and can be worn in different ways.

 

GENERAL

  • Keep a list on your phone of the things you must remember to pack. A few days prior to my trip, I’m always randomly remembering to bring certain items, and I always jot it down on my list on my phone so I don’t forget. If you have items that you can’t pack until the morning of (e.g. toothbrush, phone charger), also make a separate list of them to check before you leave the house on the day of your departure.

 

MUST-PACK’S

  • If anything, remember to bring your passport, phone, and wallet.
  • Bring snacks for the airport/airplane so you don’t feel tempted to buy the their overpriced goods.
  • Earplugs are so key, especially if there are any crying babies on the aircraft.
  • Eye masks or Sunglasses are also great for creating your own “nighttime” on the plane if you want to take a nap.

Amalfi Coast

One of the places that I was most excited to see in Italy was the Amalfi Coast region, a 50-kilometer stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. For our trip, my family based ourselves in Sorrento and did day trips to Pompeii, Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello throughout the week.

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This region tends to get really hot in the summer; conveniently, around every corner in Sorrento is also a gelato shop. A great one to try is Gelateria Primavera, with over 50 unique flavours to choose from.

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The days seemed longer in Southern Italy (in a good way), with the sun fully setting at around 22:00. A good spot to watch the sunset is at the terrace cliff viewpoint in Sant’Angelo, since it offers a spectacular view over the coast and doesn’t get too crowded.

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There’s also a small restaurant there, good for dessert.

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The first day trip we did from Sorrento was to Pompeii, an ancient Roman town that was mostly destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. This eruption destroyed the city, killing all its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash.

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The site was lost for about 1,500 years, but rediscovered in 1599. Since then, Pompeii has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts over 2.5 million visitors each year.

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It’s easy taking day trips from Sorrento, and the trip to Pompeii cost less than 3 euros one-way by local train. However, getting to other regions like Amalfi and Ravello are a bit trickier since the local train doesn’t run there. Alternatives include taking the bus, renting a car, or joining a tour. We opted for a semi-private tour in a van that took us to Amalfi, Positano and Ravello in one day.

All around the Amalfi Coast are lemons – really, really big lemons – and tons of products made with this citrus fruit. Definitely try freshly squeezed lemonade and lemon sorbet when around this area.

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Positano was one of my favourite destinations, often referred to as the vertical city, as from afar, it seems as though its buildings are built directly on top of one another.

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Amalfi was also gorgeous, and its beaches were very ideal for swimming to cool off from the heat.

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I’m really glad I got the chance to explore Southern Italy – it was very different than the norther part the country where I had spent the prior four months.