2017 – year of the recluse

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With only a few days left in 2017 – I find myself reflecting on the last 360 or so days.  In 2017 I became a bit of a recluse. While everyone I knew was planning a wedding, a family or a vacation, I put my head down and went through the motions of my days. I worked, ate, Netflixed, read, wrote, slept and repeated. I stopped sharing as much as I used to, I took a good hard look at my relationships, my work, and an even longer stare in the mirror. I didn’t like a lot of what I saw so I pulled back as much as I could and tried to figure out what would make me a happier, better person.

I deleted Instagram (more on that here) and then got it back but with an entirely new perspective. I finally understood the importance of using my time wisely and how a filtered collection of photos doesn’t show the whole truth. I looked at photos for what they were and stopped looking for a deeping meaning. I also stopped comparing my life to what I see on Instagram – which was HUGE for me.

I tried to navigate my first year of marriage and all of the speed bumps that came along with it (I wrote about it for SDTC, hopefully it’s published soon). My marriage requires compromise, especially since my husband and I are very different. For 2018 I plan on being less of a nag, being more open to compromise, and letting go of things that don’t matter in the long run.  If there is one thing I learned about marriage it’s that no one will truly understand someone else’s relationship so you’re better off minding your business and worrying about your own.

Amanda and I started a writing group and every month for the last year we’ve met to discuss out work. We recently added a new member to the group which is exciting and scary. She’s still a stranger to me and so talented that sometimes I get shy showing her my work but this group has been an entirely new kind of support system. They’ve pushed me to take chances with my writing and its paid off. I wrote a lot of personal essays and dug as deep as I possibly could, learning that I’m not a bad person but I can also be an asshole. Learning that the best writing is that which people can relate to and if you’re not being real, there’s no point in writing. FOUR of my life stories have been published on SDTC and something else I wrote will be in the 4th issue of Feels Zine. I am beyond thankful for this writing group and the new friendships its yielding.

Speaking of friendships, I realized that just like people, those change too. And that’s okay. There’s no need to beat yourself up about friendships that fade. Embrace the new people who come into your life and be thankful for the friendships that made you who you are today. I spent 24 hours in Blue Mountain with a friend that I’ve known since the tenth grade. We talked continuously for those 24 hours. We are honest and always open to constructive criticism. We’re supportive and can be ourselved with one another. I might see her once every six months but we can always pick up where we left off. It’s those kinds of friendships I will continue to hold on to.

2017 felt immensely draining. I spent a lot of the year in my own head and I still feel a bit lost. As people make plans for the new year and jot down their goals for the future, I’m having a hard time putting mine into words. Sure, I’d love to travel a bit (Boston is on my radar this in the Fall), get more writing published, eat better, work out more, and read more, but there’s something missing…

In a few months I’ll turn 29 and the number 30 is already looming above me. It’s such a huge number and I not sure I’ve lived up to it. What have I really accomplised? Have I used my time wisely? My boss is constantly encouraging me to do things in my spare time that nourish my soul and I haven’t – this could account for feeling lost, inadequate, and bored.

So for 2018 I have one goal to do more things that nourish my soul that make me feel full on life.

Yours,

Vanessa xo

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Foodie Friday – Where I’ve Been

I took a break from blogging but hat doesn’t mean I took a break from eating and exploring the city (two of my favourite things). Recently I’ve been to iHalo Krunch, Sud Forno, Ricarda’s, and Baro.

After seeing black and purple ice cream on my Instagram feed for months, I decided to see if my husband would be interested in trying it. After several failed attempts (and by that I mean we refused who wait in a lineup that went to the end of the block) we finally got to hold two charcoal ice team and ice cream cones in our hands. I don’t know what I was expecting but after the first few licks a wave of disappointment flooded over me.

Yes, the ice cream was tasty, yes the photo I got was pretty rad, yes the cone had an interesting flavour BUT there was nothing special about it. The ice cream tasted like regular soft serve, the charcoal stained my teeth (which NO ONE on social media warns you about), and I could have purchased quite a few coffees for the $13.00 we spent on two cones. I’m not trying to rag on iHalo; the shop is minimalist and adorable, the staff is super friendly, and the service is quick and painless. The idea of charcoal ice cream is awesome and I understand the fascination behind it. I think I’m just bitter about being sucked into another social media trend and not getting the instant gratification I was promised.

One morning we headed to Sud Forno on Yonge for breakfast. My husband and I love having bread, sweets, Nutella, croissants, and muffins for breakfast so Sud Forno was just up our alley! This location is big, bright and beautiful. I instantly fell in love with the high ceilings with crisscrossing wooden planks, the tiled floor with various Italian wording throughout, the lush blue booths, and stunning light fixtures. From their stacked bar and hot/cold table to their freshly baked bread wall (yes you read that correctly) they have everything you need for a quick and delicious breakfast or lunch. I haven’t been to their second floor dining space but I can only imagine what beautiful Italian dishes are created up there!

Recently we tried out a Mediterranean inspired restaurant on Peter Street. Ricarda’s is another giant space with ample lighting, comfortable seating, a bar, dining area, and a lounge. They have a breakfast, dinner, lunch, jazz brunch, and tapas menu plus an extensive cocktail list AND bakery. I started my meal with a (much deserved) aperol spritz and it’s the best one I’ve had all summer.

We chose some very familiar dishes; a lemon saffron linguine with calamaretti and mushrooms, pappardelle with duck ragu, a flatbread (which was really a pizza) with mushrooms artichokes, chard, and truffle oil. I have ZERO complaints about the food, atmosphere or service. In fact, the service is what stood out most to me. There was always someone around to answer a question or show you where to find the bathroom. The staff was kind, professional, and knowledgable and they knew when to come to your table and when to give you space.

Last but certainly not least is Baro. I’ve been wanting to try out Baro since it opened and I am so glad we did. If you’re looking for a vibrant, fresh, and colourful restaurant to drown out your crappy work week, Baro is the perfect place to go to on a Friday night. The atmosphere is electric, the music on fire, and the staff super friendly.

We shared five dishes from their menu and not one disappointed! My favourite are actually not photographed; simply since they were eaten faster than I could think to pick up my phone. The fish tacos, wings, and empanadas were AMAZING! I also loved the Chori Papa (chorizo, potato, peppers, chipotle golf, and goat cheese on tortillas).

If you can only try out just one of these I would recommend Baro. It makes for a memorable night with a satisfied stomach.

Hungrily yours,

Vanessa xo

Seeking Value

After watching a minimalism documentary on Netflix and rereading The Minimalists first book, I’ve become obsessed with the role things and people play in my life. If something or someone doesn’t add value to my life, what’s the point of keeping it around?

I’d been playing around with the idea of getting off of Instagram for almost a year but I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t actually need it until I thought about what it did to or for me. When I would ask people for advice they would say things like:

You’re a writer, you should definitely keep your account active (I recently got an essay published and it wasn’t because of my social media. None of my accounts were even linked to the post)

Aren’t you like a blogger? Don’t they need Instagram? (I’m a writer who happens to have a blog. I am not a interior designer, artist, fashion blogger or influencer. I don’t need Instagram.)

You spent years acquiring those followers (And? I don’t interact with any of them. If they need to get ahold of me, they can find my website OR they’ll already have my contact information.)

How will you connect with people? (I will email, call, or text. I will stay in the “know” by reading magazines, blogs, and by experiencing since I’ll have more time to do so.)

Are you crazy? (If feeling alive, unburdened, and in control for the first time in years is crazy then yes.)

I’ve been battling anxiety for a few years now and it’s become blatantly clear that some of this anxiety is due to my use of Instagram (and social media in general). I start my day scrolling through news feeds over my morning coffee, check them again several times during the day (even while driving), and spend my evenings with one hand glued to my phone. I couldn’t go to bed without one final look at Instagram.

Every so often I’ll log onto my Rogers account to see how much data my husband and I have left until our next billing cycle. Last week I noticed that we only had 3 GB to last us fourteen more days. 3 GB for some people is a lot but as my husband is always on the road for work with little to no access to wifi and my office space doesn’t have wifi, it isn’t a lot for us. Since I really didn’t need access to social media while at work I decided to turn off the cellular data for my two most used apps, Twitter and Instagram.

It didn’t take long for me to see how productive I could be at work without social media around to tempt me. I decided that I would keep the cellular data off while at work; it made me more present and exponentially more focused. On the Friday evening of that week, we went to dinner with another couple and I actually didn’t need my phone. I was fully present and took an active role in the conversations being had. Yes, I took a few photos of the food but I didn’t post them and then continue to look at my phone to see how many likes I got. When we got home that evening, I checked Instagram before bed and the more I scrolled the faster the feeling of happiness left me. The high I had from great conversation and a delicious meal was practically forgotten.

Fast forward to the next morning and I decided to delete the actual apps from my phone. This would mean no social media on my phone at ALL. I spent my Saturday actually writing, reading, talking to my parents, and playing with my nieces instead of saying I would and being glued to my phone. My mind didn’t feel as heavy or cluttered as it normally did and I was able to write a blog post, finish a book, and continue planning out my novel. It felt amazing to be doing things instead of looking at what other people were doing.

The more I thought about Instagram the more I realized that it wasn’t adding value to my life. It wasn’t helping me find a new job, it wasn’t giving me time to pursue my passion for writing, it wasn’t connecting me to people in a way provided growth or change, and it certainly wasn’t making me happy. So what was the point? That Sunday, without hesitation I quickly deleted (and not just deactivated) my Instagram account. I’d keep Twitter so that I’d still have a platform to connect with writers and share my work.

Although I know it won’t be easy, I’ll have pangs of regret surface and I may even feel like I’m missing out, I will eventually stop reaching for my cell phone for no reason. I will get used to life without feeling the pressure to post a picture or taking it personally when someone does something that I don’t have the funds to do myself. With the promise of minimal distraction I will be able to put more time and energy into the things I really enjoy and that will add the greatest amount of value to my life.

Yours,

Vanessa xo

Foodie Friday – B-day Dinner at Fabbrica

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I’ve been to Fabbrica several times over the years. Alex and I went during Winterlicious in 2013 and we’ve gone back for lunch or dinner dates. My sister even hosted my niece’s Baptism there as well. It is one of my favourite restaurants for many reasons but most important is their consistency. Whenever I’ve gone there the atmosphere, food, service and even wait staff has been consistent. For me, that’s super important. It doesn’t mean the menu shouldn’t change or that the decor should be the same forever, but the customer should still be able to see the heart behind the meal in front of them.

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I am a huge fan of familiarity and feeling at home when I’m out. At Fabbrica I recognize the cooks on the line, the hostesses, and the men and women who’ve taken my order or cleared my plate. On top of that, I’ve never had a bad meal there. So when Alex said he was planning a birthday dinner for me and he booked a table at Fabbrica, I was ecstatic.

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I can always count on my sister to take photos of her food when I’m too busy! Thanks Jess ❤

We started with the charcuterie board (paper-thin cured meat for the win), warm olives, mushroom pizza (their crust is heavenly), and bread.  As my main, I ordered the ricotta gnocchi with fresh tomato, basil and burrata and a side of rapini. The gnocchi were light as air and the portion very generous. The entire table got something different and it was nice to see everyone sending over forkfuls of their dish for someone else to try. Sharing food is a beautiful thing.

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When all of the plates were licked clean and wine glasses empty, the lights dimmed and the waiter appeared with a dessert board of full of cannoli and a sundae (vanilla gelato, fried banana, butter toffee, hazelnut, strawberry, hot fudge) with a candle burning brightly on top. The cannoli tasted of lime, pistachio, and chocolate, paired with their lavazza cappuccino it was the perfect ending to a terrific meal.

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Thank you to everyone at Fabbrica for making yet another amazing meal and to my friends and family who joined me for dinner, I love you!

 

Hungrily yours,

Vanessa xo

Foodie Friday – The Lockhart

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If Fred and George Weasley opened an underground bar for underage Wizards on the Hogwarts grounds, I like to think that it would look something like The Lockhart Cocktail Bar on Dundas. It’s small and dark, filled with numerous trinkets and antique-store finds. It has character and warmth. I’ve been bugging my husband to take me there since it opened and this week we finally went! We got there just after 5:00 PM so it was pretty empty, save for a few other people looking for magic after braving the cold.

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I immediately connected to their Muggle WiFi, took photos, and ordered some Harry Potter inspired cocktails and a few snacks. Alex had the Campfire Old Fashioned while I ordered the Real Tea; both drinks were tasty and made with precision. Their drink menu is amazing – the names alone will warm any Harry Potter fan’s heart.

To munch on  we ordered the herbology 101, flame roasted eggplant, and buttermilk fried horntail. What I love about trying new places in Toronto is that my taste buds are always surprised. Each tapas dish dripped with flavour, freshness, and a combination of seasonings I’ve never had before. The star dish was the fried horntail (chicken) it was sweet, savoury, and even a little tangy. I’m not quite sure what their batter is made of but it is heavenly!

I would definitely return to The Lockhart for drink and snacks (I still want to try their chocolate frogs). I would recommend it to anyone who has a love for Harry Potter, great drinks, friendly staff, and a little bit of magic…

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What a beautiful place… to be with friends. – Dobby

Hungrily yours,

Vanessa xo

Adventure is calling – his name is Alex

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 My husband and I often take separate cars when we make plans during the week since we meet up right after work. On our way home from whenever we are, Alex calls me as soon as we get in the car. We talk as I follow him home or he follows me. With our work schedules being rather different, it seems that these conversations (brought to you in part by Bluetooth), are the longest and most intense ones that we have. The only thing better would be being in the car with him.

On our way home from date-night last week the traffic was haunting; try turning onto highway 50 during rush hour and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I noticed a few cars turning down a street that I’d never traveled down before. I assumed that they were trying to avoid the traffic so I asked Alex if we should follow them. To that he said “Up to you babe.”

“Fuck it. Let’s try.” I said with a confidence that rarely makes an appearance, especially when it is really needed. On we drove. Paved roads turned into dirt ones, assumed roads lead to un-assumed ones. We came across buildings we didn’t know existed, new suburbs and abandoned farms, and a  deranged patch of land with sheds (or miniature homes) littered about. The entire way I kept asking Alex if we should keep going and to that he said “Fuck it babe, you only live once!”

After a series of steep hills and roads that wound so tightly I could barely stay on them, we ended up at a dead-end, nowhere near our home. I stopped the car and looked over at Alex sitting in his. The smile on his face was from ear to ear as he began to laugh. I immediately began to giggle.

Maybe it was the DELICIOUS white-wine sangria I had with dinner or the excitement in finding secret hidden places among the trees, but I felt sheer and utter joy. Nothing clouded my mind, I felt in control and calm and lost and safe. Life should be filled with these little adventures, where you enter into the unknown and find little pieces of yourself that you may have lost along the way.

You only live once.

Adventurously yours,

Vanessa xo

 

Foodie Friday – Carbs & Cake

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It came to me in a moment of panic. I was sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon contemplating my next move (something I tweet about regularly) when it hit me. I have been surrounded by food my entire life and nearly every job I’ve had has been connected to the food industry.

I spent ten years as a waitress in the best mom -and-pop pizza shop in Bolton and for the last two years I’ve been a Customer Service Coordinator for a Spanish cured meat and specialty food importer. On My Pen, My Voice I had the pleasure of working with Brand & Buzzing on several projects that had me headed to the city to try out new products or new restaurants.

No matter how hard or fast I run from the food industry I cannot get away.  It seems that I’m only running in circles. Instead of fighting it I’m going to embrace it! Foodie Friday is all about my love of food. Let’s be clear:  I am not a chef, baker or cook. I have absolutely no culinary training but when I taste a dish that has my taste-buds singing or experience wonderful service I have to talk about it. So, let’s talk.

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Last weekend my sister turned 30! In order to make it a little more memorable, myself and her husband planned a dinner for her in the city. After calling around to several restaurants we settled on Terroni on Adelaide. I’d been to Terroni dozens of times and never had a bad experience. They easily accommodate large groups and allow you to bring your own cake (with a $4.00 per person serving fee) and balloons without issue.

What I love about Terroni on Adelaide is their warm and welcoming atmosphere. Espeically their entrance and main dining room. I was a little disappointed when were shuffled upstairs by the hostess and brought into the room where they must have all of their larger groups. It looked like a cafeteria to me and didn’t have the sophisticated and special vibe I was hoping for for my sister’s big day. Thankfully being in a room full of other large groups meant that we could be as loud as we wanted to.

The cafeteria vible was completely forgotten when our appetizers showed up. I have never had a bad meal at any Terroni location and last Saturday did not break that streak. From appetizers to pizza to pasta to their drool-worthy cappuccino, everything I ate was delicious and fresh. The portions are large and quality abundant so you’d better arrive hungry.

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Pappardelle alla Iosa – a homemade spicy sausage, mushrooms, green pea pasta paradise

Perhaps my sister’s favourite part of the evening was the cutting of her cake. A special birthday had to be accompanied by a special cake! I found Nicole from Lipstick Baker on Instagram and after a few brief emails we came up with the perfect cake. A coffee inspired masterpiece made of red velvet cake and the sweetest fondant I’ve ever tasted. The cake didn’t just look fantastic it tasted wonderful too! It was fluffy and moist, yet rich and filling. Check out her Instagram account for some more of her amazing work.

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What’s your favourite restauarant in Toronto?

I’m looking to try somewhere new for my birthday.

Hungrily yours,

Vanessa xo