Friends

You know those people who know everything about you (the good, the bad, and the drunken/crying ugly), love you despite your faults, sing out loud in cars with you during road trips or just a quick jaunt up to the grocery store for an ice cream and Doritos run, tell you when you’re being petty, stupid or wicked smart, have your back and are there for you when you need to talk to them, even when it’s 1am?

Your friends. The ones you’ve known for years and it’s just assumed they’ll be there for every major milestone. But life happens, boyfriends come along, families take priority, and babies are born. The once a day check in is in reality a hopefully once a week coffee catch up and texts to fill the void. Maybe, just maybe, if baby sitters can be arranged and husbands pacified, a weeknight dinner can be arranged.

Now try to imagine all of the above but with 14 hours’ time difference and the distance of the entire Pacific Ocean thrown into the mix. Getting schedules to coordinate for Skype calls can be a little tricky. “Oh, you’ve got skating lessons at that time? Sure, we can catch up another time”. “Oh, family obligations that day too? No problem, I’m good with any time”. “You’ve just put in 12 hours at work. Yup, totally understand. We’ll catch up next weekend”.

Life happens.

But no matter how long it’s been since you last caught up, when you do finally get together no one misses a beat. I returned to Canada for a few days last year and made the point to catch up with all my friends. It’s as though I never moved to the other side of the world. It took a few sessions to get fully caught up, but having that time with your friends to be the goofy, caring, sarcastic bitch – the multi-dimensional you! – the only place where that aspect of yourself is accepted, is such a cathartic and nurturing place to be and I missed it dearly.

I’ll be heading home soon and one of the very first things I’ll do is set up a time for my friends. The ones who have seen me in my highest and lowest moments, the ones who have been there for me through the thick and thin, the ones who know all the inside jokes, the ones who have shared some of the best experiences and memories in my life. My best friends.

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Getting pumped about Toronto

It’s begun. I’ve started a countdown to our glorious return to Toronto. Lists are being made, clothes and household items are being sorted into keep/donate/sell/burn piles, and the frantic thoughts of whether we have all our things sorted to move back have settled in nicely and act like a nice warm hug full of crazy. Australia has been lovely and beautiful and we’ll miss it dearly, especially all the friends we met here, but I feel it’s time to head back home.

I’m going to ignore the insanity and frustration that goes with moving house, let alone moving house to another country. My mind is focused on the most important thing about moving back to the GTA.

Food.

  • Tim Horton’s
    Tim Horton's tea and my favourite doughnut Image: CampusDish.com

    Tim Horton’s tea and my favourite doughnut
    Image: CampusDish.com

    A true Canadian classic. I’m not a coffee drinker but I can totally get behind Tim Horton’s steeped tea. I like tea that I can sip right away and don’t have to wait for. I’m a busy person with busy person things to do and don’t have time to wait for my tea to steep. And why am I paying for hot water and tea that I have to steep myself? If I wanted to steep my own tea, I’d do that in my kitchen for free. Pffffff. That’s just how I roll. I like Timmy’s because they steep it for me and put way more sugar in it than I normally would at home but hey, when in Rome! Did I mention I love doughnuts! I love doughnuts! I was extremely sad to hear that Timmy’s would be retiring some classics. One of them was my Dad’s favourite and I sent him a condolence card and a listing of all the local stores that still carried the remaining few. For his sake, I hope doughnuts freeze well.

  • California Sandwiches
    A delicious California Sandwich Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

    A delicious California Sandwich
    Image: CaliforniaSandwiches.com

    There was a California Sandwiches location near the place I use to work and every now and then I would treat myself to a veal with cheese on a Friday. The only thing stopping me from eating there five days a week was my neurotic, evil brain making me think that I was going to become their Norm from Cheers and as soon as I walked into the restaurant, people would think “geez, she’s here again? Gross.” Luckily for my pants (which never split) and my self-esteem, that didn’t happen. I tried to wean myself off of these delicious foil-wrapped, fried sandwiches (sorry, “sangwiches”) and suffered through salad after salad and tuna with cucumbers or tuna with olives until I broke the habit. Salad and tuna sucks compared to California Sandwiches. To explain what a CS is to someone who has never tried the delicious breaded and fried veal (chicken, steak, eggplant, meatball, sausage or veggie) cutlet, smothered in a delicious tomato sauce and topped with provolone cheese, sweet or hot peppers, sautéed onions or mushrooms, it might sound a little basic and maybe even boring. But when you get every component right, from the crispy coating of the tender veal cutlet, the right acidity and sweetness of the tomato sauce, the right amount of hot peppers that won’t put you out of commission for a day and team it with gooey cheese (and a Brio)… its heaven. I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ve got a few more months before I can reward myself with one of these and this is torture.

  • Fuzzy Peaches and Swedish Berries
    Maynards' Fuzzy Peaches Image: FanPop.com

    Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches
    Image: FanPop.com

    I’m more of a savoury foods person but every once in a while I’ll crave something ridiculously sweet. Something like Maynards’ Fuzzy Peaches or Swedish Berries. I have and will eat an entire bag of Swedish Berries. If you put money on it, well then challenge accepted. I’m hoping to finish an entire bag of Fuzzy Peaches but will have to work my way up to it. That’s my Olympic dream.

  • Poutine
    Gourmet poutine Image: ChowTrek.com

    Gourmet poutine
    Image: ChowTrek.com

    It’s not an everyday meal option for the GTA like it is in Montreal, but it’s a damn good one if you can get your hands on it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with poutine, it’s French fries with gravy and cheese curds. Again, it doesn’t sound that appetizing but done right and it’s amazing. When we left for Australia it had already cemented its place on trendy menus with luscious, high-end ingredients like butter-poached lobster and foie gras. We hacked out our very own version using frozen McCain Super Fries, instant St. Hubert Gravy and real cheese curds we found at Loblaws. Ghetto? Oh, you know it! I’m not going to say it was one of our proudest moments, and we ate it without making eye contact with each other but it satiated that salty, squeaky cheesy, gravy on carbs craving. Yummers!

  • Loblaws
    President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie

    A classic: President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, Image: Shalomlife.com

    I dig food. I dig good food. I dig making good food from scratch. I dig not paying a lot of money to make good food that I dig. I could go to the trendy gourmet supermarkets and pay 30-50% more for the same item but I’d rather go to a place where I know I can find affordably-priced items, right next to some bargain gems. Enter Loblaws. Oh how I’ve missed your flyers, Insider’s Report and commercials! You had me when I first tasted a Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie and saw Dave Nichols and his “Memories of …” commercials. I’m looking forward to meandering up and down your wide, neatly arranged aisles, taking my time to check out your frozen hors d’oeuvres, classic President’s Choice products and your new PC Black Label lineup. I might rent a space on the second level and camp out but don’t worry, it’s cool … I’m not weird.

Oh, right. So I forgot my family and friends might read this so for sure you guys are number one and up there on my list of priorities. Family and friends outrank food and I am absolutely not saying that to get a My Super Sweet 16 kind of welcome home party. That would be lame (but secretly I’m really hoping for one).

What foods do you adore from the GTA?

5 Aussie foods to try

If you happen to find yourself in Australia for a holiday, long-term stay or a big fat life change, here’s a helpful list of things you should try at least once.

The list is a collection from my own observations as a Canuck of some exciting Aussie foods that are a little different from the typical Canadian/North American diet. Not everything made the list: noble shout outs to damper bread (an Australian soda bread that’s best served warm with heaps of delicious Australian butter), the multitude of yummy treats like melting moments, Iced Vo Vos (sounds dirty but it’s not), Monte Carlos, and the patriotic ANZAC biscuit, meat pies, bircher muesli and of course crocodile. For a more, ahem, exotic listing of Australian things to eat, check out CNN’s travel blog “Australian food: 40 dishes locals like to call their own”.

  1. Vegemite
    Vegemite ... yummy  salt bomb

    Vegemite … yummy umami salt bomb
    Image: Kraft foods

    So my first description of what Vegemite tastes like, might not have done it justice but I think for a non-Australian who hasn’t grown up on the stuff, it was pretty accurate. There’s a definite umami flavour happening and chef, traveller and good geek Ben Starr writes a great post on describing the taste from another non-Australian. I liked Vegemite when I first tasted it. Despite the majority of items on this list being sweet, I tend to favour more savoury/salty foods. I would have it for breakfast on buttered toast and pair it with another piece of buttered toast but this one was topped with strawberry jam. The combination of salty, sweet and buttery was an awesome way to start your day and to top it with a perfectly brewed cup of tea … well I could have eaten that for breakfast for the rest of my life. No problem. I mean no worries, mate! I told a coworker about my salty-sweet morning breakfast and she looked at me in horror. I’m not sure if I committed some sort of national incident but other Australians that I’ve shared this with don’t see the genius of the dish and only tend to pair it with other savoury items like cheese, tomatoes, scrambled or poached eggs. All good choices to pair with Vegemite, but I still think my dish is a winner.

  2. Tim Tams

    A package of the most delicious biscuit in the world, Tim Tam. Image courtesy of Arnott’s

    The original – Tim Tams. Image: Arnott’s

    Two chocolate biscuits covered in chocolate and sandwiched between a delicious chocolate cream make this biscuit and Australian icon. Read about the Tim Tam Slam previous post on how to enjoy these delightfully decadent treats.

  3. Lamingtons

    Lamington Image: wikipedia.org

    Lamington
    Image: wikipedia.org

    Named after the wife of a Governor of Queensland, Lady Lamington, these delicate little cakes are made from a vanilla sponge cake, coated in a layer of chocolate, then a layer of shredded coconut. Variations include strawberry jam or cream-filled or my personal fav both with jam and cream. When we first arrived in Brisbane,we ate so many of these that we haven’t been able to touch them since, but since writing about them now, I think I might make a trip to the grocery store and pick some up. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon treat.

  4. Kangaroo and kanga bangas
    Kangaroo Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    Australia’s national animal: Kangaroo
    Image: Lindsey Lumsden

    I previously wrote about kangaroo. It’s flavourful and best served medium rare, maybe crusted with dukkah (a dry rub consisting of nuts, usually sesame seeds, pistachios, cumin, etc) and paired with a great glass of cab sauv or merlot. If chowing down on a kangaroo fillet isn’t your thing but you still want to try it as a dare, cross it off your bucket list, whatever the reason, then try it as a banga! Kanga Bangas (aka kangaroo bangers, as in sausages) is a pretty decent way to ease yourself into trying the national animal of Australia. Familiar enough to put you at ease but exhilarating at the same time because you’re eating kangaroo!

  5. Dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy

    Delicious creamy Australian dairy
    Image: thewellnesswarrior.com.au

    Australian and New Zealand cream, yoghurt, and butter is delicious. I haven’t visited the UK in a long time and can’t remember how good their dairy was but I know it’s up there. The cows, the grass that the cows eat (if they even eat grass), the process – I’m not sure what it is that makes Australian dairy taste so good. Like their English counterparts, they have a ton of variety that we just don’t see every day in Canada. Regular thickened cream, light thickened cream, extra light thickened cream, pure cream, double cream, dollop cream, cooking cream, double thick custard, pouring custard (yes, they sell eggnog-like containers of pouring custard all year long!), and a super thick sour cream. I needed cream for an Alfredo sauce one night after work and stood in front of the dairy case looking and acting like a mouth breather. How hard could it be to pick a cream? I finally put my half Italian pride on the side and asked a lady next to me. My Canadian accent must have thrown her because it looked like she took a moment to figure out what I had just asked. At least I hope it was my accent and not the fact that I was asking what cream I should be cooking with. That would have been awwwwkwaaard.

What are you up for tasting? Anything you would add to the list?

Falling back to Earth: Cai Guo-Qiang

I don’t consider myself an “artsy” person. The closest I’ve come to being artistic was when I was 11 years old and painted a picture of a flower for my parents. I was very proud of it. They must have been equally proud because they hung the painting in the laundry room, where all fine art pieces are displayed. I like art. I think. I like art for the reasons why other snooty people like art – it makes me sound like I’m smart, cultured, sophisticated, a lover of all the finer things in life and more in touch with the world. I’m a self-actualized human being sitting proud at the top of Maslow’s pyramid where creativity, morality, and lack of prejudice reign supreme. Yup, that’s the most honest and unbiased description of myself I’ve ever heard. I appreciate art for the skill that goes into each piece. The blood, sweat, tears and years of torture involved in an artist’s life. I spend way too much time trying to decide what my iPhone wallpaper is going to be so I can absolutely sympathize with artists on the labour of love aspect.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Heritage 2013” at Brisbane’s GOMA

Contemporary art has never really been my thing. I went to an exhibit once at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) but was drawn more to the old masters where in my opinion, antiquity brings credibility. But on my last visit to the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, I walked through Cai Guo Qiang’s (pronounced Tsai Gwo Chang) art piece, called Heritage 2013, which depicts 99 life-sized models of animals from around the world gathered around a drinking pond. Check out the video on Cai Guo-Qiang’s amazing exhibit “Falling Back to Earth” and hear from some of the top art experts about his work.

It was something that I’ve never seen before and something that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again. It was surreal to walk around the pond and see the meticulous detail that went in to all 99 animals. This was definitely something that I couldn’t replicate and I admit I was impressed.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition, “Falling Back to Earth” is on display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) running until May 11 2014.