The answer was fresh air in the form of Light Up the Square.
Complimentary gifts from sponsors and children's games are common constituents of the event as well. Obtained from one year were touchscreen gloves and hot chocolate!
Between editing content from the previous week's happenings and mentally preparing for the Holiday Cookie Box (858) production line, little energy remained for further events. Ultimately, I deemed myself physically unfit for undertaking more test batches and in dire need of escaping the sporadic bursts of nonsense that would occasionally drift towards my ears.
The answer was fresh air in the form of Light Up the Square.
Past years evoke hazy experiences at Celebration Square, normally comprising of lights, hot beverages, and the occasional marketplace.
Complimentary gifts from sponsors and children's games are common constituents of the event as well. Obtained from one year were touchscreen gloves and hot chocolate!
We parked in the north garage underneath Celebration Square, and miraculously found the entrance to the elevators unlocked. Beyond the doors to P1 was tri-toned carpet bearing a pearly white City of Mississauga logo. Immediately beside the elevators were conveniently placed bathroom facilities, which we visited before heading to ground level.
The skating rink greeted us at City Hall's south entrance. Lights, music, and more had been set up for the season's opening evening. Differing from the previous year was the overall layout: the series of benches normally finding themselves at the north end of the rink were now sectioned off with glass panels to improve flow. A food truck vendor equipped with crêpes, coffee, waffles, and ice cream had now found itself at the northeast corner. The heated patio remained, but space was exceptionally limited.
Local artwork adorned the pillars on the northeast end of the rink, as well as on the northwest side by The Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Garden, named in honour of the late British monarch. Info boards had been erected in the proximity of each of these LED-equipped installations to shed additional information.
View the full album HERE!
Beyond surreal crystal-like formations and a display case of faux cakes, we found lanterns in the form of picnic-style offerings: watermelon slices, coolers, cookie tins, and even extending to include Krispy Kreme and Mr. Puffs boxes (Heartland sugar staples).
Truthfully, I dread Tuesday commutes. Congestion reverberates from all angles, in particular the return trip, which has seen travel times of 100-140 minutes - that's up to 2 hours and 10 minutes of merely sitting in traffic!
Alas, November 22nd was an exception: it was the long-awaited book signing event of Smitten Kitchen. Toronto has made the only Canadian stop on her tour, with the selected venue conveniently situated across my workplace, at the convenient hour of 5 PM to boot. With the official release of details, I proceeded to preorder the Smitten Kitchen Keepers without a moment's hesitation.
The district was noticeably more festive than the previous week, with dazzling holiday décor filling every inch of walkable space. In the lobby were wreaths and a tree decked in red and purple ornaments, the latter matching perfectly with yours truly.
Over lunch, I sauntered about the intersection, admittedly aimlessly. Having travelled south of the crossing for gelato (and formerly Isaan Der) and west for Isle of Coffee's signature lemon bear madeleines, I would this time embark northwards.
I've found Uptown Yonge as quite a cozy neighbourhood. The sidewalks are quite wide and maintained well - none of the uneven utility patches or chips of Yonge-Dundas. It can also be concluded that, as you navigate further from intersection, the number of homeless seemingly decrease.
Some early Black Friday sales had commenced; instead of browsing the array in person, I noted them for researching online at a later point in time. However, there was one shop that caught my attention: De Mello Palheta.
Having been the target of several of the boutique coffee roaster's web adertisements before, I had reviewed their assortment and even added an item or two to the cart, until discovering the presence of shipping fees. Surprised I was to discover their storefront by chance, and into the café I strode.
Seating was extremely limited, extending no more beyond bar seating before the window and one communal table. A narrow corridor led to the merchandise section, which I proceeded to examine for items of interest.
A 20-pack box of NomNom Instant Coffee was obtained from one of the wooden shelves. Nearing the cashier, I noticed that individual packets could also be purchased for one dollar each. The packets alone did not conform to the Buy 3 for $39 promotion, but could be combined with other roasts to achieve the discount. Intrigued, I enlisted the help of the two baristas, who assisted in providing additional details regarding roasts for espresso and filter.
Eventually, I emerged with the seasonal La Campanella, a light roast that is surprisingly suited for espresso, and Butterfly Kiss, a blend supposedly versatile enough for both of my preferred brewing methods. And the NomNom box, of course.
On the way back, a Matcha Brown Sugar Pearl Milk Tea order was placed via the CoCo app. Despite speedy formulation and pleasant service, the drink was, quite possibly, the worst variation of matcha milk tea ever to be sampled: milk, bland, and nauseating. Furthermore, there was a distinct absence of brown sugar. The Woodchester location persists as my go-to CoCo destination.
Later that evening, around the 4:30 PM mark, I made my way over to Indigo.
Entry to the event was granted on the bases of cookbook preorders/purchases, and would involve either showing the physical copy of the book or an Indigo receipt. For those looking to partake in the book signing session, thin yellow slips were distributed for the designation of "group numbers". My arrival time had coincided with that of Group 4.
The idea of partaking in a charity bake sale had emerged from positive commentary towards my ever-evolving roster of sweet creations. Conducting business did not align with my personal baking goals, for the intent was to serve as a hobbyist, an enthusiast unbound by the expectations of others - usually those less learned in the field in which they are investing.
Baking succeeded in filling the void for scientific liberation: a process demanding precision, applications of principles, and proportional awareness, yet relieved from the numerous regulations, codes, and constraints governing the high-capital infrastructure works of the public realm.
As the holiday season looms, I began to investigate volunteer opportunities as a home baker, but found a sheer absence of events that permitted provision of baked goods followed by immediate departure. It was, after some debate (and fears surrounding burnout) that I resolved to undertake the mission as an independent campaigner. The exercise would essentially utilize all facets of business planning, without income. I quickly realized the impact of ingredient and packaging costs, along with labour time and physical deterioration of the body. As such, all proceeds (ie. earnings after deducting direct expenses only), would be donated.
Leading up to the event, test batches were prepared.
1) Peppermint Crinkle Cookies
SK's Browniest Cookie formula was revisited for the creation of Peppermint Crinkle Cookies. About 1/2 tsp of peppermint and mint extract was added to the batter, though, in reality, it could have used a greater quantity. I had erred on the conservative side to avoid sharp bitterness in the resulting product. The festive inclusion boasted a nice tingle of the tongue and lasting aftertaste, but its potency withered over the subsequent days, likely a result of drying out.
A small batch of seven were baked in the toaster oven for sampling purposes. Comments are as follows:
The annual hangout with my active July baby was delayed this year. Between my post-vacay exhaustion, unpredictable work transitions, conflicting work schedules, and general life matters, the event was eventually postponed well after the conclusion of summer and fall.
With temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, there were few outdoor activities of interest to us. And no, I wasn't about to pursue snowboarding - followed by three consecutive days of pain - on a whim again.
I stole the idea of Activate from friends of the sleepy polar bear, then later realized that each booking required a minimum of three people. (Alternatively, groups of two could book as three, but the games would prove more challenging and the three-person admission rate would still apply.) Naturally, we sought the schedule availability of the sleepy polar bear and friends.
Our booking had initially been made for the Burlington location, then modified to the Brampton outpost given the array of events taking place on the weekend. As the neighbourhood lacked restaurants of interest though, I proposed a mid-day meal at Yum's Kitchen before venturing northeast.
My first order of business was to rectify the incorrect number of points awarded to me. The lady behind the counter deferred my concerns to one of the co-owners, urging me to reach out via phone. I received a response of acknowledgement in record time, and my points were added to my account six days later.
Since my last dine-in visit, the eatery has invested in an order number calling system by the food preparation area. Ideal for periods of high visitor volume, order numbers are announced audibly throughout the dining floor and visibly by a digital display.
Our duo of Grilled Pork Steamed Baos were delivered first. Loaded generously into an unthinkably plush casing were marinaded, grilled meat, carrot slaw, and a few vibrant sprigs of cilantro. Tearing into the bao wrappers, I couldn't suppress my enthusiasm at its lush, satisfying texture.
Readiness of the Grilled Chicken Fresh Rolls was announced a few moments later, adopting a presentation akin to I Love Pho, but bearing a profile distinctly inferior. While I was appreciative of the sauce being less invasive than my go-to pho place of the year, its constituents were largely bland and the wrapper tough instead of tender.
Neither of us were satisfied with the portions, but my fellow July baby had another suggestion beyond Yum's small snack plates.
In the T&T plaza, where ShareTea and BlackBall had once occupied, a new contender for bubble tea had appeared. From Hero Tea's online platform, a White Peach Oolong Milk Tea w/ tapioca and cream-topped Mountainous White Peach Tea were ordered. Both drinks were ready for pickup at the time of arrival, but I paused to peer at the new interior.
And thankfully I did, for my White Peach Oolong Milk Tea was horrendously astringent at 0% sugar, resulting in an unpleasant aftertaste on the tongue. The beverage was gladly reconstructed with boost in sugar level. Even at 30% sugar though, the tea was still on the mild end, but tapioca compensated for sweetness.
Joined by the sleepy polar bear, we then headed towards Brampton City Hall. Much like in Mississauga, parking in the City Hall garage was free on weekends. The lot enabled easy access to the seasonal light fixtures just before the municipal building, as well as Gage Park, which had yet to be transformed into a rink.
Braving the gusty breezes, we began our trek towards the Alderlea building, which was only visible after rounding the residential corner of Wellington and Elizabeth. Within the building was an artist market, complete with free postcards and a button-making station in the foyer.
Vendor tables had been arranged in the adjacent rooms, each featuring a local Brampton artist. The various works spanned illustrations, paintings, accessories, and even quilted creations.
My eyes were set on Tree Lighting night, just they had been last year. The day actually played out similar to last year as well, in that I would be venturing downtown in advance of the afternoon rush, setting up a remote work station nearby, and trekking over as dusk fell upon the city.
The primary difference was the bonus of being chauffeured, which enabled me to continue working throughout the commute, redirecting my attention from the sleepy polar bear's sometimes aggressive roadway maneuvers to the multiple databases and email panel before me. For this year, they had removed the ticketing requirement for the ceremony, reinstating complimentary admission for the event's first night of operation.
Parking rates had, thankfully, not seen a spike since the rise in GTA-wide prices. The Cooperage garage remained at a $9 flat rate for any period over three hours. I proposed the location again due to its proximity to the market and outlet-equipped café.
At Dark Horse, I would continue my duties until the 4 PM mark. In the meantime, the sleepy polar bear, who had griped about my not requesting the day off to match (why would I?) but opted not to venture off solo, requested a Pumpkin Spice Latte for sipping. It was quite tasty, admittedly, in spite of the fall flavour's questionable track record in my books.
We then began to make our way over to the Distillery District. The path was identical to that of the previous year, with the exception of more construction signage, closed sidewalks, and patches of slushiness. It was, most likely, the warmest year of any Christmas Market attendance. (Obviously, this didn't stop the sleep polar bear from complaining though.)
Volunteers and other event staff had just started filing in at this time. The intersecting paths of bulbs were yet to be illuminated, but a faint glimmer could be observed on the premises: either the gentle flickering from the lampposts or the gleam of golden ornaments.
View the full album HERE !
Entering the week with a somewhat suppressed appetite, I requested I Love Pho as remedy.
#215 Lightly Fat Well-Done Beef & Tendon Brisket w/ Rice Noodle Soup aided in alleviating such woes, as it always does, with a flavourful (yet oddly gelatinous) broth, fresh veggies, crunchy bean sprouts, mild acidity from the lime wedge, tender brisket slices, and feel-good rice noodles.
The sleepy polar bear bestowed upon me a container of braised pork and egg from the larger household portion. Small cubes of marbled pork resided within, along with a foreboding-looking egg. Unaccustomed to pork pieces with such high fat content, I relayed my feedback as such; amongst the finely diced sections were either those comprising entirely of fat or those with a 70:30 fat to flesh ratio. Pork belly had been their costly cut of choice, but was hardly my preference beyond its uses in bossam and suyuk.
Despite having prepared myself for the worst, the lone egg was quite possibly the worst egg I had ever tasted in my lifetime. Overdone specimens adorning naemgmyeon had once been slotted in most despicable slot, but eggs braised beyond ingestibility has surpassed these in recent months. A rigid film had formed outside of the egg - a phenomenon I hadn't known to be possible! - while the insides were stiff, relatively bland, and wholly unenjoyable. Horrible was an understatement.
Needless to say, I set out the next day to reinstate my faith in eggs. A written recipe had never resulted from my countless iterations of Soy Braised Eggs, however I recalled the constituents and procedure sufficiently to produce a batch of five.
Patience is the key to success for this recipe, but more specifically: time and temperature control.
It is critical to remove the eggs as soon as they reach a soft-boiled state, then shocked with cold water to prevent the yolks from cooking in residual heat. The braising liquid should also be allowed to cool fully before submerging the eggs within, for the same reason of preventing further solidification of the yolks. The eggs should then be allowed to rest within the braising liquid, ideally entirely submerged, for 48 to 72 hours.
I had previously tested eggs at 24 hours (inadequate complexity) and 48 hours (passable, but not fascinating), until finally admitting that 3 days' worth of chilling was needed to attain the luxurious, golden goodness of slow-braised eggs.
These scrumptious units were consumed in conjunction with Steamed Tofu with Scallion-Infused Soy Sauce and Vermicelli with Napa Cabbage, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Pork Meatballs.
Seasonal exclusives from The Flying Monkey were added to the to-drink collection. Meanwhile, the final five Pecan White Chocolate Cookies were retrieved from the freezer, then paired alongside Lavender Carbonated Water from NEOB. Frankly, this combination is not recommended due to the potent properties of the cookie and subdued nature of lavender.
In a span of two weeks and three visits to the Yonge-Eglinton client office, I was pretty much onboarded to the project. Neither a handover document nor an up-to-date manual had been provided for my reference. Instead, the "training" process had merely comprised of haphazard meetings with hours upon hours of unsynchronized thoughts. "Talking at me" was the best way to describe it.
The first day of the work week closed on a celebratory note with a shrimp cocktail ring and Rosé Cider from Chudleigh's. Admittedly, the finish was quite dry and evoked a palette more reminiscent of wine than cider.
Given the brutal drive home last week, I opted to undertake a multimodal commute to ease my stresses. The plan was to park by York Mills station, then board Line 1 for two stops. I had my initial qualms towards the dilapidated asphalt lot being an uncovered space, though the neighbourhood was relatively safe and attention was paid no further. Around 8 AM, there remained an ample number of spots. Proceeding to pull into the next available slot, I disembarked to pay my daily dues. The lot was operated by Canada Wide Parking instead of my preferred Green P.
The machine was finnicky and ultimately doubled my charges: the flat rate of $13 during business hours became $26 instead. I took these concerns to their customer service department, eventually reached them the following day, and received promise of a refund - after their $1 administration fee, that is.
The two-stop commute towards Eglinton station was smoother than pictured, and I arrived at the chaotic construction scene roughly ten minutes later.
Over lunch, I began to explore the area once more. The following discoveries were made:
Also surprisingly was the name change of Punto Gelato to Gemma Gelateria. The Thai ahgase and I had chanced across the dessert parlour after a dinner of Isaan Der. My visit roughly one year later was met with an unfamiliar name, yet an interior relatively consistent with my recollection.
Having escaped my memory, though, was the gelato shop's minimum purchase requirement for credit card payments. Transactions under ten dollars were restricted to cash or debit payments only, neither of which I had on hand. Glancing between the lady behind the counter and my small Cappuccino gelato, I offered to add other items to the bill to make up ten dollars.
A $3.50 pack of Nocciolcono cialde per gelato Ventagli In Cialda cookies was placed on the counter.
"Is that enough?" I warily asked.
Continuing with the Halloweekend celebrations was dinner at Rouges.
The booking had been made a few weeks prior, after evaluating several contenders for Italian cuisine in the GTA.
Another relatively close, longstanding local spot, I had yet to visit despite my numerous years of identifying as "Sauga born and bred". Frankly, I can't recall a time I had ventured into its housing plaza since the odd stopover at The Apricot Tree Cafe.
The restaurant was utterly empty besides a lone table that hosted the chef and a lady outfitted in a grey blazer and spectacles. It would appear that the pre-Halloween rush had vacated the dining floor, for the hostess informed us of bustling conditions just the previous evening.
Drink orders were taken by our suspender-donning server, and a bread basket with piped butter was provided shortly afterwards. In response to requests for hot water, one set of wine glasses were removed from the table. The latter set was collected upon confirmation that we would not be consuming wine.
Brought to us instead were individual platters bearing two wedges of lemon and a ceramic teapot and cup duo. The lemon had, thankfully, been placed adjacent to the cup rather than positioned on its rim. Shallow slits in the wedges often lead to eventual plummeting of the wedge into the water, releasing an irrefutable bitterness from the rind.
View the full album HERE !
With black cloth napkins laid on our laps, we each retrieved a thick slice of bread and began smearing a generous portion of butter on its porous - yet sturdy - surface. The first bite was met with slight resistance: an initial unyielding in its mildly crunchy crust, followed by eventual submission - teeth sinking into its soft centre. In the meantime, the menu was browsed for items of interest.
It is not uncommon for me to request an additional day of rest following a concert. This time around, it was particularly necessary.
I spent the start of my short work week cozying up Larry, who is now capable of sporting Sulley gloves, should he desire.
Meals comprised of leftover KFC Popcorn Chicken - dipped in HP Sauce for a tangy-savoury kick - and homemade components contrasting in the nutrition department: Scrambled eggs with SPAM, steamed pork and tofu (satisfying both iron and protein needs!), and blanched broccoli over Rice.
The last of my apple inventory was finally depleted via conventional consumption of their raw (and quickly oxidizing) form. Pecan White Chocolate Chip Cookies from the freezer were also baked on a whim to satisfy sweet-crunchy cravings.
One of three new Spooky Halloween concoctions from CoCo was obtained for sampling. The Vampire's Jello Slush was a modified take on the franchise's Real Fruit Grape Dream Slush, launched in late summer. Kept consistent were the macchiato cream (milk foam) topping and overall composition of the grape slush; the sole variant was the substitution of Passion Fruit Jelly for Crystal Pearls.
The sleepy polar bear managed to adjust the macchiato content to be as minimal as possible, nixing the despicable milkshake-like qualities found in the Real Strawberry Slush. However, even at 30% sugar, the icy beverage was too sweet for my liking. (A splash of Peach Soju rounded out its profile successfully.)
In discussions with the sleepy polar bear, we deemed the Chocolate Taro Magic Smoothie a peculiar combination, likely excessive in sugar content due to additions of chocolate syrup and pudding. The XXL 3 Monsters was a steal at $5.50 (or $5.00 for CoCo VIPs such as myself), but sold out at most GTA locations.
The following day, I set out for downtown - Midtown, really. Skies were shrouded in grimness at my time of departure, but slowly illuminated over the course of my hour-long drive.
On a dreary, drizzly day, I waited patiently for the QEW staged ramp access to permit me through, then again on local streets amidst their consistent stop-go conditions. Unknown to Google Maps, the EB Gardiner on-ramp had been closed from its west access; I detoured through the vacant POLAR and CNE grounds before locating the east access.
At long last, I would reach my destination of Yonge-Eglinton.
It was utter chaos, just as news articles had painted the intersection out to be. With steady rainfall throughout the day, the streets were unpleasant to walk. Pedestrian-friendly corridors had already been constrained due to construction fences, however surface discontinuities had begun to pool due to the precipitation, further limiting areas of walkability.
A whopping 1211 days have passed since the last Ahgabong-equipped public excursion. Naturally, I have taken to waving the bird within my humble abode during comeback times, member solo MV releases, and the HOMECOMING Fancon. Though, these instances hardly accumulate to the same degree of excitement as a live performance with the company of other lightstick-waving attendees.
I geared up in mismatching feather earrings - my "ahgase" jewellery - and laced up a newly acquired pair of Vans high tops. They were a dazzling white, untainted from the scuffles of concerts. The platform sole was considerably thinner than my go-to pair of concert shoes. But, wary of the weariness sustained from extended periods of wear, I opted for a footwear swap should the day prove longer than anticipated (Spoiler: It did).
GO train service commencing from Clarkson had coincidentally halted as of the morning, shifting dependence towards local services such as miway and TTC. I would embark on a trip to Kipling station and connect to Line 2 to reach The Phoenix.
Somehow, in spite of my entire lifetime of concert participation, I had forgotten my camera. Charged, fitted in its case, and situated adjacent to my waistpouch, I had managed to omit it during the packing phase. Having only realized it 75% of the way there, we looped back, then embarked on the trip once again.
At Kipling, I would endure a painstaking delay of thirty minutes: 20 minutes owed to an emergency at Spadina station, then another 10 when the train suddenly announced termination at Jane station. What a mess.
Around 5PM, I found the Thai ahgase in line. Thankfully, the VVIP and VIP entry had been delayed. The original estimate of 5:15 - 5:45 PM passed us by. We moved lines in the process, but hadn't made any progress towards the door.
I dashed to the nearest eatery for sustenance and washrooms. My tardy return the night before meant that breakfast had been pushed to lunchtime, and lunchtime had been eliminated altogether. A Chicken Wrap was requested from the sole worker of the restaurant. Then, I made my way down to the basement level to use the lavatory - a revolting stall with a splattered toilet cover, rickety doors, and staggeringly low positioning of the sink and mirror.
As the Thai ahgase's frantic messages filled my phone, I continued to observe the girl behind the cashier prepare my order in an unhurried manner. Requesting her to skip the onions, my order emerged in the next five minutes. The wrap set me back $9.99 plus tax, but comprised of no more than a few sparse pieces of chicken, an obscene amount of fishy-smelling shredded lettuce, and a thorough squeeze of ranch dressing.
By this point, the constituents of the wrap mattered less to me than the allocated timeframe for its consumption. I wolfed down the creation, anxious that we would be summoned for entry on short notice.
Eventually, we inched our way towards the doors, where a surprisingly thorough bag search would ensue. Water bottles were confiscated and left outside by the door for collection afterwards. My neck fan, which had supplied me with breathable conditions during the Junny show, had been confiscated on the grounds that it could be utilized "as a weapon". The case was tagged for retrieval from security after conclusion of the show.
Those that had purchased the priciest tier, known as $500+ VVIP tickets, had the benefit of a Meet & Greet session and an individual photo with Mark himself. VIP ticketholders, who had paid approximately $250 less, would not partake in the direct engagement portion but enjoyed all the same benefits of early entry, soundcheck access, crowd-free merch shopping, complimentary signed poster, and pop socket. The Thai ahgase and I had justified the price of the VIP tier, and filed into the venue vaguely around 6 PM.
We continued to hover about our spots until Mark suddenly revealed himself around the 6:19 PM mark. The hall dimmed, and Mark proceeded to introduce himself to the crowd while singing snippets of song requests as part of the soundcheck (and lighting check).
There hadn't been any introduction leading up to his unexpected appearance, yet we responded nonetheless enthusiastically. The soundcheck portion would comprise of:
At 6:39 PM, Mark would disappear backstage. During this time, we continued to chat with two other fans in the proximity. Both revealed themselves nearly a decade younger than the Thai ahgase and I. They had just commenced post-secondary education and spoke with a greater degree of familiarity to new generation artists than in-depth knowledge of the Ahga-world. One had travelled from New Brunswick, while the other from Montréal. Neither held Ahgabongs in their hands.
We waited and waited, until way past the 7 PM Doors Open estimate. GA ticket holders slowly began to fill the venue, with a constant stream entering even beyond the 8 PM mark.
At 8:12 PM, the opening artist, named weswes, would introduce himself to us in an all-white ensemble. His voice was rung throughout the hall, but his face was barely visible underneath his white bucket hat.
His set comprised of a few melodical tracks, with his last two radiating R&B vibes à la pH-1. He disappeared around 8:39 PM, but not before FaceTime calling a friend in a rut (using the audience for emotional support) and urging us to chant Mark's name with him, affectionately referring to him as "Markie".
"Markie" Tuan entered the stage shortly afterwards at 8:46 PM.
View the full album HERE !
Who Am I?
Formerly an avid owner of several interest-based portals, Random Thoughts of a Quirky Blogger presents precisely the elements expected. From experiments in the kitchen to miscellaneous musings, from IGOT7 reflections to developments in transportation infrastructure, it's all consolidated here. Welcome to the raw, unfiltered side of Quirky Aesthetics.
WHAT DOES "QUIRKY AESTHETICS" MEAN?
Quirky = a term that commonly refers to something/someone distinctly different and unique
Join our mailing list today!