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.

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 to Toronto.

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 Toronto.

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 in Toronto 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 Toronto or the GTA?

Melbourne: The Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere

A few weeks ago, my guy and I headed south to the lovely state of Victoria to take in all the sights and sounds of its capital city, Melbourne. We’d been to other states like Cairns (Queensland), Sydney (New South Wales), and Perth (Western Australia) but we always heard from others, locals and expats alike, to visit Melbourne. So last Australia Day, we set out to spend the long weekend and explore the city, which turned out to be one of my favourite places in Australia.

Here’s a photo of the Crown Casino’s hourly fire show. Yes, this happens hourly outside the complex.

Hourly fire show at Melbourne's Crown Casino

Hourly fire show at Melbourne’s Crown Casino

Here’s why: it reminded me so much of Toronto. Am I pinning for Toronto? Completely, without a doubt. I had been back to Toronto eight months ago, and that visit only made me miss it more. The sights, sounds, smells, and even the traffic made me realize how much I had missed it over the year and a half of living abroad. It felt as though my two weeks were compressed into only a few short days and I desperately wanted to drink it all in. I would live in Melbourne without hesitation if it weren’t for the fact that we moved from Toronto to find something different. It would have been a a disappointment to make the long haul journey to Australia and end up pretty much in a city that’s eerily similar to the one we left.

Locals describe Melbourne as the European city of Australia. It’s not like Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, and definitely not like Cairns. Melbourne has a unique history and is generally known as the melting pot of Australia as many immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, and Vietnam made Melbourne their home. It’s a beautiful and welcoming city, and equally fantastic as Toronto.

Here’s my theory on why Melbourne is the Toronto of the Southern Hemisphere:

Streetcars.

Public transportation geeks unite! Melbourne offers a free City Circle Tram that travels around the city centre and provides a recorded message of some of the interesting points of buildings, local attractions and neighbourhoods. Yup, free. Could you see Toronto offering a service like this? In addition to the free city centre service, it was very comforting to hear the sounds of cars driving over the streetcar tracks.

City Circle Tram

Melbourne’s free City Circle Tram [image courtesy of onlymelbourne.com.au]

It was cold.

Like 17C cold when we arrived. In my opinion, that’s not normal for Australia during the summertime. People who live in Melbourne say they can go through all four seasons in a day and I completely believe them. It was like Toronto on a cool autumn day.

Amazing food. 

Here’s where things get “European” in my opinion. Like many European cities, Melbourne has dozens of laneways and alleyways where amazing food is served day and night. That’s the only difference in terms of where you actually find food. Toronto doesn’t have the alleyway restaurant culture simply because of the weather. If Toronto had the same climate as the South of France where the only threat comes from a chilly day and potentially rain, then Toronto would all over it. Unfortunately, Toronto is faced with -32C, snow, sleet, hail and everything else that drives outdoor eating inside.

Diversity.

Not just for food but cultures and people. It was incredible to walk down the street and see different nationalities and cultures living in one area. Melbourne, in my opinion is the most diverse city in Australia.

Gardens, boulevards, and parks.

Parliament Garden

Parliament Gardens

Like Toronto, Melbourne is full of green space. We’d walk past numerous parks and will the streetcars going by, the large open areas, it felt as though we were walking into High Park.

If you’re ever on this side of the world and are pinning for a bit of Toronto, then head over to Melbourne for a few days. With its mixtures of cultures, from Europe, Asia and of course Australia, it’ll satisfy any craving. Bonus: no Rob Ford.

 

From maple syrup, double-doubles and beavers to Vegemite, flat whites and kangaroos

My guy and I moved from Mississauga to Brisbane back in April 2012. Our plan was to live in Brisbane for two years then head back to the Great White North where we’d again face the realities of family and non-family commitments, four distinct seasons and possibly a polar vortex. Living in a tropical climate has its perks for sure.

Brisbane’s population just surpassed 1.8 million making it the third largest city in Australia. Not as many as Toronto’s 2.7 million, but they’re getting there. Despite the third from the top ranking, there’s still a sense of small town living that you don’t experience in Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and which you certainly don’t experience in Toronto. Is it the noticeable lack of commuter traffic, really quiet neighbourhoods and plenty of sandy, beautiful beaches that lends to this sense of space?

Here’s a promotional video from VisitBrisbane.com.au

For those of you contemplating a move to Brisbane, here’s the nitty-gritty from an insider ex pat.

The good

The weather in Brisbane is simply amazing. Countless days of nothing but blue skies. Seriously. Not even the white fluffy kind in the distance. Same with the beaches. They’re breathtaking. There are so many beaches that there’s no need to cram everyone onto one so there’s always space to spread out and get comfy.

There’s nothing quite like the taste of Vegemite. Really. Having never tried it before coming to Australia, we heard a lot about it and made sure it was one of the first items on our grocery list. I like it. I like it a lot. It’s salty, savoury, and yeasty. My guy describes it as “super concentrated, salty pan drippings”. That’s a pretty good description. It’s actually quite healthy as it’s made up of all the B vitamins. All in a salty flavour bomb.

Vegemite ... yummy salt bomb

Vegemite … yummy salt bomb

Kangaroo is delicious. It’s lean, flavourful and best served medium-rare. That’s all I’m going to say.

I don’t drink coffee, but I hear a flat white is the best coffee. Ever. If you want to order one in North America, it’s a ‘no-foam cappuccino’. It’s from Australia/New Zealand. Many Aussies who visit North America are heart-broken (and sometimes fuming) when they can’t get a decent flat white abroad.

The bad

Despite being geographically located near many Asian countries, Brisbane’s cultural diversity is nothing like Toronto’s. This is probably one of the things that disappoints me most about being here. We were so privileged to have lived in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. We saw a diverse view of different cultures and had access to any and all type of cuisine. Brisbane is just starting to embrace the different cultures which reside within but it’s a long road to get to where Toronto is. Melbourne and Sydney are up there with decades of immigration from all over the world contributing to its diversity in food, landscape, and architecture. It took ages to find a Vietnamese restaurant who could make a decent phở and it’s still not as good as the one we get back in Toronto. They have Mexican and Italian restaurants here, but they’re more “Mexican’ish” or “Italian’ish”. I think the issue is that they’re catering to the Brisbane palate, where their idea of cheesecake is cream cheese and sugar spread onto a pre-baked cookie base. I’m sorry but that’s not a cheesecake. That’s what I throw together when I’m craving something fast and sweet to eat and don’t mind being ghetto. Same with hot dogs or sausages. They deserve the respect of a proper sausage/hot dog bun, not a slice of white bread.

Television and movies are far behind that there’s no wonder people download movies illegally. If you want to watch shows as they air on regular cable in North America, you have to pay for premium cable or wait weeks, months sometimes even years before you can watch it. Australia just aired the first season of their version of The Bachelor. Welcome to 2002!!! The movie 12 Years a Slave is only just being released this week.

Need I say more?

The ugly

Chauvinism is alive and well here. And it’s accepted. That’s right, not just tolerated, but accepted. I once had a supervisor tell me that the next person they hired in the department would have to be male because the group they would be working with didn’t want to work with a female. The supervisor was male. Is that even legal? I put it forward to HR but nothing came of it. A male was hired for the role, just in case you were wondering. Is this due to the small town mentality where men run businesses and women get together with other women only for coffee catch ups and brunch all while wearing pricey yoga gear and full make-up? This whole ‘full make-up yoga outfit wearing’ thing kills me. Are you going to the gym or out for eggs benny? Does that crazy expensive shiny watch have a timer so you know when to transition from a run to a walk? I don’t get it.

Australia has a drinking culture unlike anything I’ve seen in North America. It’s as though people want to find any excuse to drink and drink to excess. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people stumbling out of bars completely drunk off their faces. The route I walked to into work in the morning had me passing by three bars and after a football, rugby or cricket match, there was always remnants of someone’s sick on the sidewalk. Not pleasant and not pleasant to think about as Australia loves sports so there’s always a game on and yes, another reason to drink. Melbourne Cup is a notorious event for people drinking to excess. The horse race, held annually in November, is all about drinking. The main race is held around lunchtime and only lasts for 10 minutes… tops. People get dolled up in their finery, ladies wear fascinators, men wear suits and they look fantastic. The drinking starts at 10:30am and doesn’t stop until 8pm. I’ve seen extremely large men stumbling home, walking out in front of traffic and almost causing accidents because they were too intoxicated to walk. Tragically, there has been a number of alcohol-fuelled deaths. The number of ‘king hits’ (what we call a sucker punch to the head) are on the increase as a result of booze-fuelled violence.

So, having gone through the good and the bad of living in Brisbane, I can honestly say it’s been a great experience; one that I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life. We’re set to head back this June and I’m sure it will be difficult to leave such a wonderful and beautiful place.