Shakes & Franks // Eating in Toronto

It’s important to choose a great dinner date no matter what the occasion. That’s the first thing I do when I discover a new-ish restaurant in Toronto that I am DYING to try.

When it came to Shakes & Franks (located on 2032 Queen Street East in the Beaches), I knew my besty Jess would be the perfect gal for the hot dog eating and milkshake drinking challenge. I first heard about Shakes & Franks from Alessandra, a girl I worked with early on at QMi/Sun Media, and it just so happens it’s her sister’s boyfriend who opened the place with his brother in 2012.

IMG_8389So, on a cold spring day – that felt a lot more like winter – Jess picked me up from work and we drove straight over for dinner. With pay parking right across the street, we were all set!  First on my list was the “Made with Nutella” milkshake. I had only heard FANTASTIC things, and trust me, they weren’t wrong. It was not only made with authentic Nutella, but real ice cream and whole milk too. DELICIOUS.

Choosing our franks (hot dogs) wasn’t easy. Thankfully, the staff had great suggestions and helped us through the selection process. Recently I’ve had a new obsession with pineapples on EVERYTHING. Naturally I selected the “Hula,” a bacon wrapped & deep fried dog with pineapple salsa and lemon garlic mayo toppings. You also can’t go wrong with mac & cheese, so “The Mac Attack” was our second pick. This was also bacon wrapped & deep fried, but topped with the original Mac N’Cheese that everyone knows and loves.

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IMG_8392Since Jess and I decided to split each dog in half (naturally what best friends do, so that you can try more than one item on the menu), we had to get fries too. Say hello to the “Fiesta Fries.” These spuds were covered in pico de gallo, sour cream and cotija cheese. YUM. I couldn’t stop eating them.

Everything was so fresh, tantalized my taste buds in a subtle yet impactful way, and I definitely need to go back for more when it’s warmer outside. Who doesn’t love a restaurant where you can get Coca Cola in a glass bottle? Tell me who.

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Survival Guide // 5 tips to surviving a break-up

IMG_8133With a few tricks up my sleeve for surviving a break-up, I’ve come to the consensus that there are 5 things a girl should do when her heart is broken.

1. Break the news to those closest to you (Keeping in mind that every time you tell someone new, you’re going to cry.)
A. Family First
Your mom is your best friend or at least your sister/sister-in-law is. Telling them will require ugly crying, but it will feel good to let them know right away. You don’t want them asking you, “Where is so and so?” Mom’s are the best because no matter how much they’ll miss him being around, they will always take your side first. You’re their daughter, and your heart is hurting. They know what to say and how to help. Sisters are great too! I think I would have completely crumbled and stayed in bed if it hadn’t been for Flo’s hugs and Toffee’s (her bichon-poo puppy’s) sweet kisses.

B. Call each best friend separately
You really want to utilize each best friends attention, and the way you do that is by telling them one by one. This not only allows you to tell the tragedy in full detail each time, but your friends are able to give you their advice and supportive thoughts in full as well. There is no time limit and you don’t risk getting overwhelmed by everyone’s responses all at once.

C. Tell your Bosses & Co-workers
When that Monday morning hits, and your adult responsibilities kick in, you’re going to have to force yourself to be emotionally stable. This is why you need to rip the band-aid immediately and let your bosses know. If you’re like me, and your bosses truly care about your well-being career wise as well as personally, it’s important to let them know you might not be yourself that week. Especially if you’re that A-type, determined to get the job done despite the circumstances gal, like me. Trust me, they will understand.

2. Get Waxed
Obviously this can’t be planned. It might not be that time of the month for you to get a Bikini Wax, but it was for me. So, I went the day after our breakup. To be honest, it was therapeutic. I’ve known Zoya (my waxing lady/quasi-therapist) for about two years now, so she’s up to date with my personal life. Of course I shared the whole story with her, cried, and was physically in pain when she pulled those strips. But, it helped … and I did it for myself.

3. Listen to Ariana Grande’s album My Everything (the Deluxe version) on repeat
Oh Ariana, why is your voice so beautiful and soothing? Though her pronunciation of words isn’t always accurate, her break-up and love songs really touched my soul. I highly recommend: One Last Time (which is on the radio now), Just a little bit of your heart, Break your heart back and My Everything – to get you through.

4. Revamp your everyday items … we’re talking bras and cheeky VS
Victoria’s Secret is the place to go after a break up. In need of some new things anyway, this was the perfect opportunity to restock my drawers. I purchased select items that would make me excited to get up and get dressed in the morning. What woman doesn’t need a little bit more colour in their lives? Even if it is just bras and something cheeky – get it?

5. Keep busy (an obvious one)
The best way for me to do this – was to commit to going to the gym after work during the week. It was great because my friend Vanessa would meet me there and we’d work out together. Going alone was beneficial too, I have to say. Here, you won’t obsessively keep thinking about what just happened, the break-up conversation, or be flooded with memories of the things you did together.

Ensuring you have solid plans on the weekends is another great time-filler. Your family and friends know you best, so if you’re a little depressed while hanging out – they won’t hold that against you. The girls and I had a Sex and the City marathon while painting our nails and applying Jamberry nail stickers.

IMG_8120Matthew and Flo’s wedding was a huge way to keep my brain busy and emotional breakdowns in check. It was great timing, really, as Flo’s bachelorette party was the following weekend. When planning a party you don’t have time for yourself, which was fantastic. That night I got to dress up, look sexy, drink a lot and dance it off.

Relationships, though fun and exciting, can be tough at times. This Survival Guide doesn’t insinuate that break-ups are easy. They aren’t. But I’m still a hopeless romantic. I know that will never change about me, even if I do decide to try out Tinder. Being single has its benefits and when I’m ready to get back in the game, I will.

To read more of my relationship//ex-boyfriend advice, click here. 

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Maya Angelou // I know why the caged bird sings

MayaI don’t research books before I read them. Instead, I love blissfully falling into the story – and the narrative. So, when Meagan told me that I know why the caged bird sings was Maya’s memoir, I was completely stunned. Immediately followed by me replaying all of my favourite scenes over and over in my head in disbelief.

Meagan was astounded by how Maya though “set up for failure” became a “successful black woman-artist.” I had to agree with her that she is pretty admirable and an intelligent writer.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Having been immersed in a few scenes – if not the entire novel – I couldn’t believe that Maya was raped. These scenes of Maya as a young girl and her mother’s boyfriend is the reason why this memoir is banned in certain American states. That boggles my mind. I don’t think literature should be banned, especially this novel, which has an inspirational story behind it. You can’t pretend certain tragedies don’t happen in life. Otherwise, how would people learn, make educated decisions and grow?

Then there was the part where Maya drives into Mexico with her father. This misadventure and unforeseen circumstances lends itself to Maya, under-age driving her drunken (passed out) father back into the U.S. Crazy! They literally almost died at one point, but she lived to tell the tale. How irresponsible her dad really was – to bring his daughter with him to a Mexican bar where he visits with his lover(s).

At the end of Maya’s memoir, I was left with many questions. Though, to be fair I didn’t realize it was part of a series. Yet, what happened to her brother? He moves out from their mother’s home and that’s it. We don’t hear anything more. Maya gets pregnant! And that’s basically where it ends. She decides to keep the baby – despite the baby daddy’s choice to abandon both her and their child.

It’s incredible. I was mesmerized by Maya’s descriptions of her mother as well. Such a mysterious woman, and one who would provide Maya with insight (or life lessons) at the most random moments.

“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” – Vivian Baxter (Maya’s mom)

This novel is an inspiration and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It was a birthday present from Meagan, and it took me a year to actually pick it up and read, but Maya’s humour in such dark situations is beyond empowering.

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Purple everything // Maid of Honour Duties

What. A. Day. Last Saturday my brother married Flo (my new sister-in-law) and I was thrilled to be the Maid of Honour at their wedding – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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I could say that the day started at 6:30am, but that would be a lie. All of the planning and preparations – from finding the gown, going to fittings, planning Flo’s bachelorette party, making the table numbers (which were actually places instead of numbers), editing their speeches, attending the makeup & hair trial, and helping in any way I could – well, that all began months and months before.

IMG_8247When Flo (her mom & dad, my mother and I) went to David’s Bridal in Mississauga none of us knew what to expect. The task was easy – find a dress. After trying on a couple that weren’t her style, Flo started to get frustrated. I could see the panic set in on her face. But then, she stepped out in the one. With a delicate layer of lace overlay.

We. Just. Knew.

I instantly started crying. It wasn’t even controllable. The first face Flo saw was her mom’s, and next she saw me – we both teared up. I couldn’t look at her without crying. There were no words.

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Left to right: Emilia (my mom), Silvia (Flo’s Mom) & Flo

I also fell in love that day, with my princess-y MOH gown. Maybe it was the pockets?

David’s Bridal does something really unique. Once you find the dress – they send you off with well-wishes and the bride rings a bell so that everyone in the store knows they’ve found their wedding dress.

Despite an early start to Flo & Matt’s wedding day, Flo was relaxed and mellow. We sat in the hair and makeup chairs, chatted with Julia and Julia Bridal and really enjoyed the morning. Soon the photographer and videographer arrived. A little overwhelmed, we continued to get ourselves ready while the set-up took place.

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Left to right: Mike (the best best man), me & Matthew (the groom & my brother)

Spending the rest of the day with Flo and Matt was an experience unlike any other. Somehow Toffee (their bichon-poo puppy) was forgotten upstairs in the condo, so he was a stow away in our limo ride downtown to Atlantis Pavilion.

I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did. Maybe that was a bit delusional. Walking down the aisle with Matthew’s best man Mike, hearing the violins play, and seeing my brother standing at the front of the room – I was overwhelmed with happiness for him.

He found the love of his life.

During the ceremony, I had to sneak over to the front row and help one of the flower girls (Flo’s 4-year-old niece) remove a pin that was sticking out in her bouquet. I slowly walked back to my spot, stood next to Flo and placed the pin into my own bouquet. Discrete I know.

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Flo, Toffee & Mike (the best man)

When it came time for our speeches, again I was caught off guard with my emotional outbursts. I had practiced my speech a few times and always managed to save my tears for the end. But not that day. The minute I opened my mouth to speak – I had to simultaneously pull out my handkerchief to cry into. I barely kept it together.

And last, there was a professional photo-booth followed by dancing, the most amazing people (family & friends) and some alcohol.

The memories from that day will be with me the rest of my life. The love you have for your sibling(s) is unlike any other. You truly want the best for them no matter how much you scream and yell at each other along the way. I fight with him because I care about him. That’s the truth. And I expect a lot from him when it comes to his own life choices. We’ve always been this way. I’m just glad that Flo and I are so connected too! Right from the start I had no problem calling her my sister. I love them both very much and truly wish them all the happiness life has to offer.

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With the lights on and everyone gone, the Montreal Canadians joined the party. A tired bride and groom headed to their hotel room. Welcome to the family Mrs. Holmes.

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It’s a Woman’s World // Bachelorette Party-ing

The day started with plenty of decorating and the purchasing of a large fruit platter. In my excitement, I almost forgot to buy balloons! It was Flo’s Bachelorette Party and exactly 1 month before the wedding.  We prepared many DIY decorations and games (that I ‘stole’ from Pinterest), but I must say, ours looked pretty damn professional. And to be honest, we didn’t think it would turn out this beautiful. Let me show you…

DIY Miss To Mrs Banner

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In the Condo’s party room there was a fireplace that turned out to be the perfect mantle for our Miss to Mrs banner. It was the first thing you saw when you walked into the room. At Michaels (a Canadian arts and crafts store), Flo and I hand-picked the paper we wanted to use for this project.

We started by cutting out evenly sized squares on brown, textured paper. I hand traced the lettering and hearts, which wasn’t too difficult. After cutting them out we used a glue-gun to stick the lettering on the square backing. After hole-punching the top two corners, we strung the letters together!

DIY Name Tags

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We chose even more coloured paper – and this time a gradation of purple and grey – for custom name tag necklaces! These were hilarious, each guest chose a name-tag as they walked in, and one they thought suited their personality best. With titles like: All Talk, Hot Mess, Bad Influence, Shameless, Just Turned 19 and Bitch of Honour (that would be me), everyone had a big laugh over them. We bought a variety of ribbon to mix and match too. Cutting out the base for this was tricky, but it was well worth it! 

DIY Photo-booth & Props

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At Michaels there are packs of thick, sparkly paper (all different colours). I’m talking THICK paper. Flo and I had sore fingers from all the circles we cut out and the resistance between scissors versus paper. Not to mention, sparkles were everywhere. 

First we used a large mug to trace each circle. Once done, we began cutting each one out. We realized we needed to poke two holes at the top end of each circle in order to string them together. We ended up using a meat (turkey) thermometer because it was the perfect size and sturdy enough to poke the hole through the cardboard paper. Next, we “sewed” string through the front, then the back, and through the front again before adding another circle. 

<We had to purchase non-peel tape so that it wouldn’t destroy the paint on the walls, but it was a beautiful backdrop!>

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The props were SUPER fun to make. After copying a few: Team Groom, Team Bride, Crowns, and lips…we had to make some personalized ones. We went with: Don’t stop the party, CORRECT (an inside, long-standing joke in our family), and Bachelorette Party.

DIY Bachelorette Jeopardy

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This board game was extremely fun to make. Flo and I bought a pack of q-cards, my old bristol board came in handy, and Crayola markers. I spent the afternoon with Matthew (my brother) and soon to be sister-in-law to come up with questions for each category. The 5 categories were: The Early Years, Education & Jobs, Sports & Activities, The IN-Laws (Siblings too) and Lovers. 

The rules went a little something like this, if you got the question wrong, you had to consume a certain amount of alcohol. Flo and I were a mascot for each team and at the very end of the game, the losing team had to do a team shot (mascot included). This was by far the most entertaining part of the night.

DIY  Party Favours 

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In the centre of each plate we placed our Party Favours for each guest. These were a hangover kit that included 1. Tylenol (for headaches) 2. Creaseless Hair ties (in case someone got sick) 3. Colourful Ankle Socks (after a night of dancing). Each gal was very appreciative of this little gift, and we even used the left over q-cards to write out an explanation on the back of each one.

IMG_0703Flo’s bachelorette was such a fun girls night, and the best way to send Flo off into marriage. We photo-boothed it up and  danced the night away at El Convento Rico in downtown Toronto. The laughter didn’t stop and I woke up with sore cheeks and ribs.

Of course, I can’t tell you everything that happened, but hopefully these DIY’s get you inspired for your next party.

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Not that kind of Girl // Lena’s memoir & my thoughts

If you were to ask me, ‘what got you through Cuba?’ I’d answer ‘Andrew and Lena Dunham’s memoir.’ To me, Not that kind of Girl was the perfect beach read (especially while I was sick).

My perspective is a little more forgiving than Meagan’s, and it’s definitely okay to disagree overall. That’s what our book club for two discussions are for! To discuss.

Sidenote: I’m a huge fan of GIRLS too, and this may make me biased.

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I think that overall Lena was really brave throughout each chapter. She talks about her vagina, being raped, her sexcapades, OCD and anxiety problems. I admired her as she exposed herself in an honest way for the majority of the book, and was able to laugh at herself while reflecting.

There were a lot of things that I couldn’t relate too. It was strange to me, though, being born in the 80s like Lena – you’d think I would catch on to her social, cultural and entertainment references, but I just didn’t get it sometimes.

Without giving anything away, the beginning was the most funny. Somehow it got less funny as I continued to read. Lena’s sarcasm was appreciated though, and her truthful remarks did open my eyes to some life lessons I might have missed during my early 20’s.

Lena is a voice of our (female) generation, and being a big fan of GIRLS I found it hard to separate my suspended disbelief from the TV series and the book. Her protagonist Hannah sounds a lot like her in the novel. Scenes that stood out in GIRLS would mix with my interpretation of Lena’s real-life experiences and exaggerated life events in Not that kind of Girl.

I wasn’t necessarily shocked about Lena looking into her sister’s vagina when she was young. Maybe I’m desensitized from GIRLS, but it seemed like a natural and harmless exploration. Here, Lena found rocks and her mom came to remove them from her sister’s private area. Apparently, this was a controversial scene?

The timing of when I read this memoir counts for something too. I was suffering from a lot of anxiety on our trip (Varadero, Cuba) because I had gotten severely ill from something I ate or the drinking water. Knowing that someone else suffers from anxiety and panic attacks really helped me stay calm and live day by day. Reading on the beach is also something I love to do, and I was glad this memoir suit my needs.

I know Meagan referred to herself as NOT marking up her book and highlighting quotes, but I did. I’m going to leave you with a little something,

“But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”

– Lena Dunham

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Guest Post: Here’s the thing, I didn’t enjoy reading Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl.

By: Meagan Laroque

So if you’re madly in love with the woman and not open to critically discussing elements of this book, I highly suggest you stop reading this post. Maybe just click on Daniela’s link instead. It’s okay, we can bond over something else later, like baby elephants, chai tea, travel adventures, or this –>

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You know those people who mark off favourite quotes as they read? Daniela and I both do that. I have a solid collection of memorable quotes from some of the best novels I have read. But with Lena’s book, I found myself marking off quotes or pages that instead of inspiring me or provoking belly laughs, made me want to use the book in a D.I.Y. craft project that involves transforming the book to a point where it’s illegible.

imagejpeg_2Overall, I felt the novel was a series of arbitrary rambles targeted towards spoiled, upper-class twentysomethings. I found myself thinking ‘wait, what?’ far too often. Here’s an example: There’s a section called ‘Friendship’, where friendship is never actually discussed. It’s literally an entire section dedicated to Lena’s “bi-curious” nature and her falling for other girls. I’m all for gay rights; I even have a T-Shirt that says so! But that’s not friendship. Friendship is unconditional love without sexual desire.

How can you write a memoir that dedicates more than half the book to relationships, and not once reflect on friendship?

The section ‘Love and Sex’ is a documentation of Lena’s past relationships. After reading that section, all I could think about was how important it was to her self-worth, and how much weight she put on being in a relationship. There was nothing empowering about this message. It was as though she was condemning the unattached and single, letting us know we aren’t truly valuable and worthy until we’re loved by another person.

Sorry Lena, but Sahaj Kohli said it best: “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.”

Don’t get me wrong – I still have some respect for Lena. She really put it all out there (right down to the nipple hair), free of secrets with no hesitation. I sincerely enjoyed her section about therapy and becoming secret bffs with her therapists’ daughter. There are parts of the novel that made me laugh, gasp, or even stop and relate to my own personal experiences. But those moments were rare.

Which is why I give this book one half thumbs down!

The (hilarious and sometimes witty) illustrations throughout the book, on the other hand, get an A++.

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