Stage 3 is, frankly speaking, not that extravagant of a departure.
Summer and ice cream go hand in hand, as do weekend drives out of the GTA (when fatigue trumps all potential for hiking).
Some may have found peak COVID periods to be restricting, though I personally found it an all-encompassing exercise of distinguishing the essentials from the ancillaries. And should some of those ancillary acts been near-crucial to one's overall wellbeing, a workaround would have been established. The pandemic hadn't eliminated safe outings executed by residents of the same household, nor had it hindered the progression of essential services and construction projects.
Stage 3 is, frankly speaking, not that extravagant of a departure.
Beyond playing doubles on the courts, making reservations to exercise, and dining in at your favourite restaurant, Ontarians are permitted to engage in their run-of-the-mill, seasonal activities - masks in tow, of course. Social distancing rules apply nonetheless; similarly, mandatory hand sanitization and one-way navigation persist in the "new normal".
COWS' sole outpost in the province featured quite the steady lineup on a Sunday afternoon. That said, the wait time wasn't nearly as lengthy as I had feared. Some fifteen minutes of lingering under the shade, we were invited into the premises by a masked staff member, a bottle of disinfectant readily harnessed in her hands.
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One of my biggest reliefs is CoCo accepting walk-in orders again.
It may not seem to be all that impressive of an arrangement, however these tiny tweaks are impressive improvements as far as conducting business in the COVID-compromised world.
Previously operating exclusively via food delivery services, such as UberEats or FoodHwy, or their proprietary mobile application, the stores are once again permitting face-to-face interactions and order placement. My local store re-configured their interior to allow for separate lineups: order placement and pick-up orders. Rigid plexiglass barriers were installed along the perimeter of the cashier, with mics installed on either side for clear communication. Tablets containing loyalty profile information were accessible by staff only; customers could no longer enter their own phone number.
Efficiency and friendliness of staff remained consistent, and patrons awaiting their orders were respectful of social distancing protocols.
I managed to secure the franchise's August promotion of Pearl Milk Tea Smoothie just prior to a heavy downpour. The concoction was tasty, albeit a tad watery at 0% sugar.
Back home, I unveiled a project in which I had been antsily preparing for the past few days. The pink fanatic was scheduled to make her return to Canadian turf shortly, and I was eager to welcome her back with a surprise.
Enlisting the assistance of family and ̶b̶o̶y̶f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶ now-fiancé, a Layered Matcha Cake was constructed and successfully transported to her quarantine accommodations without stirring suspicions.
Much like the Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cheesecake, it marked my first foray into a new recipe, albeit with less research and less meticulous conversions. Its components, top to bottom, were:
Several urgent tasks have led to a drop in interactions with the outside world.
Creaking open the fridge door to emptiness prompted my first foray into the world of UberEats, a foundationless service for those with reliable vehicle access. Yet, unforeseen circumstances arise from time to time: famine demands fulfillment. Alas, time is limited in the working world.
I surrendered my $2.49 delivery fee in exchange for Chipotle delivered straight to my workstation, accompanying me as I remainded embedded in meetings.
Beyond a compact dash for yogurt and milk, scarcely a moment had been spent submerged beneath the sun's rays.
Smile Tiger's Thunder Peel fueled my mornings in the caffeine department, while their Espresso Chocolate Chip Scone and Flourless Almond Chocolate Fudge Cookie were stories I wished would never end.
I shall not deny a greater dependence on the colourful cans gracing my top shelf. Highlights of the week were Seagram's Craft Cider and Lake of Bays' Red Ale - the former delectable without being overly sweet, and the latter zesty with a mild introductory note of hops.
A creature of nominal wanderlust, few regrets were spared towards Coronavirus' newly imposed limitations on air travel. Weekend getaways - or "staycations", as they are called - are more than sufficient in introducing respite in the chaotic lives of work-from-homers. Vital are changes in one's surroundings, yet with much of our immediate surroundings remaining unexplored, restricting international travel is not entirely a loss for local tourism.
With areas outside the GTA having entered Stage 3, we proceeded with a journey to the KW area. Milton was my previous northwest limit, and it was astounding just how quickly we were able to reach our destination, in spite of the bounceback congestion on 401.
Adopting the role of a tour guide in a foreign neighbourhood, we commenced with the Kitchener Market with the prospect that it would resemble the two-level Hamilton Farmer's Market at which I had lingered quite fondly.
To our surprise, access to the main entrance had been temporarily terminated, detouring visitors to an exposed side entrance. The former parking lot had been re-configured for one-way entry, with inanimate and animate guidance in the form of barriers and staff. Patrons were expected to pass through the indoor portion of the market, adhering to floor signage, then proceed to the outdoor produce area for egress.
Given the extremely compact operating hours of the market, it was disappointing to witness majority of vendors in the indoor market remained closed during our visit. Several were slowly commencing setup, though few items were deemed of interest. Caution tape barred the stairway to the second floor, which presumably offered dining in a food court-style setting.
Veering from my initial plan of obtaining sustenance from the market, we proceeded to explore the vicinity in search of an alternative.
At 2:57 PM on Monday afternoon, I joined the lineup for Bobooya. Food inventory was low at home, thus making for the perfect excuse for a trip to North York.
Katsuya's "sister brand" had secured a storefront at the densely-populated intersection of Yonge and Sheppard, south of Han Ba Tang and adjacent to Pujukan. With the stretch already saturated with similar pub-like establishments, it was a questionable location in terms of competition. However, given the team's success in launching specialized tonkatsu eateries throughout the GTA, I have high hopes for the new venture, which pays homage to their Korean roots.
The peculiar name was derived from their signature items: bossam ("bo") and budaejjigae ("boo"), however the true stunner was the jokbal. The fare was undoubtedly traditional, though zoning in on the niche market was an unprecedented step in the uptown dining scene.
As part of the restaurant's grand opening promotions, five menu items were granted a 50% off discount. Of these five items, only two were devoid of the "spicy" description. The full menu was more extensive, spanning Red Carbonara Bossam and BBQ Cheese Jobkal, but the cash-only event operated on a limited selection.
Despite being fourth in line, the ordeal demanded a lengthier slot than allocated. Succeeding a 10-minute wait to reach the front counter was 25-minute wait to receive my order. Thankfully, the nearby side street offered parking, albeit enforced by the metre. For commuters, the Yonge Sheppard centre acts as a source of A/C, retail therapy, and, most importantly, toilet facilities.
My order of a Large Bobooya Bossam and Large Bobooya Jokbal was packaged neatly in partitioned, spillproof packaging - Go Topokki-style (which apparently is no longer a go). More often than not, my driving tendencies possess the potential for unforeseen calamities. Secure casing was greatly appreciated in this regard; moreover, the recyclable containers prove more eco-conscious than Styrofoam, though are sadly not resealable.
At 50% off, the meal was a steal with extremely generous portions, wide array of toppings (ssam sauce and fresh garlic!), and phenomenal kimchi - dare I say, the best I've tasted in my lifetime. The quantity of romaine lettuce included was insufficient for wrapping. That said, the leaves were fresh, slightly damp, and free from visible curling or blackened edges.
Leftovers carried us through the week: While the bossam was great on the date of purchase, it grew tougher with each passing day. On the contrary, the jokbal grew tastier, attaining new depths of delectability. Reheating the slices rendered them positively tender, prompting instant dissolution.
With all that said, undertaking a visit at full price would constitute a topic of discussion. Bobooya's asking price is mind-bogglingly steep, with two large orders totalling over eighty dollars.
Sushi has been a luxury since the start of COVID - sushi of quality anyway.
As the province of Ontario entered Stage 2 and patio dining became permissible, I had flocked to the websites and social media accounts of many of my favourites to confirm their re-opening process. Much to my excitement, JaBistro's patio had reopened just in time for the annual celebratory event of summer babies.
Due to dismal weather, the dinner was postponed a week. Further delays of forty-five minutes ensued on the day of, a consequential occurrence of work happenings. The afternoon had consisted of ruthless rainfall, saturating any uncovered seating areas. As determined in a previous summer visit, a portion of the patio was equipped with protection from downward descending elements, meaning that the meal could proceed as planned.
We missed the restaurant entirely at first; I blame it on my lack of driving in the downtown core. On the second try, we quickly found a parking spot, noted the metre ID, and dashed across Richmond, nonetheless arriving far later than anticipated.
Inside, the hostess greeted us immediately. The interior dining hall had been closed off, with a small desk positioned by the entrance, a plexiglass barrier uprighted for staff protection. Constituting a member of the Kinka family, JaBistro required the completion of a Health Declaration Form, much like Kinton. Affixing one's signature on the sheet was synonymous to conformation of coronavirus-free conditions and safe health practices, where applicable. An aspect that surprised me was the deviation from website policy: safe body temperature was not verified for any member of our party.
Upstairs we were led, where two other parties were seated, six feet between them. A single member of staff was positioned on the patio, mask-donning and tablet-checking for updates from the ground floor. Paper menus were provided, though guests had the option of scanning a QR code for the web version - with the exception of the Daily Special - to limit contact with external surfaces.
The second level featured two single stall bathrooms, one per gender, and were cleaned once during our three-hour-ish stay.
Given the duration since my last encounter with the establishment, I requested a rundown from our server. Initially perplexed, he articulated comprehension with the word "recommendation", offering us a sample of the Kokuryu Black Dragon sake as we continued to streamline our options. The Junmai Ginjo variety was his personal favourite, for as "incredibly dry" as it may be, it harnessed "great flavour". For the likes of us (read: plebes of the sake world), it was indeed too dry to stomach, especially on stomachs that had yet to be filled.
Eventually, the final lineup emerged: Sashimi Platter, Hamachi Kama, and Aburicious.
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Everything in moderation.
Wise words they are, for the previous week's unsound intake was anything but, and I thereupon reaped the consequences of such actions.
Clear broths, congee with furikake, plenty of fluids, and even the rare mid-day recharging session ensured a rapid recovery. And to appease a returning appetite was Wonton Chai, in all its Dace Fish Ball and Fried Fish Skin glory.
By mid-week, my body had expressed the green light for caffeine again. Henceforth, a St. Lawrence detour was added to the itinerary.
Since my previous visit, Third Wave had added two housemade soft serves to the menu: Pistachio Cardamom and Saffron Hazelnut Black Tea. It was obvious that I had been itching to try the duo since laying eyes on their Insta-update, not forgoing the ever-essential Espresso Lemonade.
In keeping with the positive vibes acquired from Canada Day's Scenic Caves nature pursuit in Collingwood, I had proposed a subsequent hike with a fellow July baby (yes, another one). It was, coincidentally, another semi-annual meetup.
My original destination of Kortright - a name made familiar with while researching Maple Syrup Fest - was closed due to the pandemic, thus shifting the focus to other TRCA lands. Between the Nashville Conservation Reserve and Albion Hills Conservation Park, I settled on the latter out of consideration for its seemingly larger area of exploration.
High levels of humidity had been predicted for the day, though thunderstorms were, thankfully, at bay.
Setting out from opposite ends of the GTA, we converged at a nearby McDonald's for a late lunch (which was really intended to be "just lunch", but delayed due to tardiness to which I own complete responsibility). A McChicken and Spicy Habanero Chicken (not mine, clearly) later, we began the twenty-minute-ish drive north.
Admission fees were but a small chunk of Scenic Caves' at $6.50 per adult. That said, signage was extremely minimal - near nonexistent, really - and so were members of park staff. I pulled into the first parking lot to appear, with my partner-in-crime following suit. The supposed "Trail Access" vanished with the departures from our respective vehicles. Hopping back into the driver's seat(s), we proceeded to travel upon other barely labelled routes, eventually reaching staff-only areas and a dead end. It wasn't until we accidentally pulled onto the campground area that directions were obtained from two friendly cyclists.
Nearly thirty minutes following our arrival, the starting point of one trail was found at long last. It wasn't the trail I had planned to undertake, though it mattered not by this point; I was merely glad to finally disembark and start the adventure.
The dusty gravel lot housed only a handful of vehicles. Surrounding the area were several picnic tables, all sufficiently distanced. For the vast majority of our trek, not a single human was witnessed. Accompanying us on the journey instead was the force of Mother Nature: agonizing dry heat, obsolete tree cover, unkempt paths laden with weeds, and as many flying/skittering/crawly creatures as fathomable.
Even at the early point of entry, our fate had been foretold.
The burdensome weight on my back had been in vain, for views were dismal and insects were rampant. Maneuvering at arguably peaceful speeds rendered us targets for blood-sucking, and halting for swift snapshots was far worse. Commencing at marker no. 45, we plodded along the narrow grooves, constantly searching for indication that we had not strayed from the proper path. Much like the start of our journey, signage was extremely minimal; black and yellow arrows affixed to stout wooden poles served to guide us, though there was more than one occasion where a fork in the road coexisted with only one sign.
We headed in the direction of a river, which ultimately reared itself as an incredibly still strip of murkiness - an opaque beige of filth and other organic compounds. Stumbling upon a shaded strip of shrubbery, we somehow managed to catch a glimpse of a blueish reflective surface - water. Beyond the a barbed wire fence was a wider section of the river, and beyond that a single accomodation and connecting grade-separated roadway.
Much as The Tablo Podcast says, maturity is often depicted with a sense of minimalism, eradicating elements extraneous to one's overall functionality. The coming of age and its associated responsibilities as a contributing member of society nixes the need for abundant acquaintances and a house full of knickknacks.
With each passing day, I strive to reduce the count of material goods embedded in my immediate surroundings, shifting preference of nominal presents from barely familiar faces to financial stability and adequate food supply. This is not to say that the fewer the friends, the better. Rather, it is a nod to new experiences free from unnecessary frills.
The occasional dine-out pays homage to this quarantine-founded concept. Drearily has the past week passed me, with work tasks consuming the bulk of my waking hours (and even some of my subconscious ones in the form of apprehensive dreams). Well overdue was a weekday lunch, and with a crippling craving for ramen, I suggested a visit to Kinton.
Of course, the go-to option has never veered from Kenzo - er, now Kamen. It is with remarkable regret that the re-branded restaurant offers no patio for in-store dining. Thus, the less preferable alternative was sought out.
Tables were relatively empty at the late lunchhour of 2 PM. The franchise's storefront faced Confederation Parkway, where patrons were successfully shaded from the blaze of the sun though subject to the comparatively less desirable state of wind and rampant dust particles from traversing construction trucks. Despite landing ourselves at a loathsome location of a patio, we proceeded with the meal with consideration to stomach emptiness, glancing back to our vehicle every so often in fear of parking enforcement crews. (What a travesty metred parking spots are.)
Upon entry, one member of each party was required to input information on a Health Declaration Form. The list requested details including guest name, phone number, entry time, and a signature; a pen - wrapped in neither plastic nor visibly sanitized resided adjacent. In spite of the declarative application, no temperatures were taken. Servers wore masks, though guests were not required to do the same, even when accessing washroom facilities. For the most part, we complied with the masking, even in the absence of others in our 2-metre radius, for the gusts of granular material were as unpleasant as could be.
We enlisted a member of the waitstaff for a wipedown of our sand-speckled table, who took to a damp cloth that brushed ours before immediately navigating to a different one. The utilization of a single cleansing cloth was common practice amongst waitstaff prior to COVID-19, however the scene induced a questionable eyebrow raise in today's times.
Guests were provided the options of individually packaged disposable utensils and plastic cups or the franchise's array of standard eating equipment, inclusive of a funky smelling ladle and Stainless steel water cups.
We took to orders of Takoyaki, Pork Original ramen with thin noodles, and seasonal Chilled Tsukemen, discarding mindfulness of their atrocious prices and overly rich broth in the moment.
Four teensy pieces of very, very average Takoyaki set us back a whopping $5.50. Surrendering bonito flakes to the wind, the morsels were left with tonkatsu sauce and mayo as toppings. For the record, this was an instance where fat (deep frying) did not equate to flavour.
Those under the impression that Chilled Tsukemen would be on the same page as refreshing Korean naengmyeon couldn't be further from the truth. Thick starchy noodles coated in an obscene amount of oil was delivered to the table, sans dipping sauce. I appreciated the generous portion of sesame seeds, as well as the grated daikon. For a Japanese establishment though, I expected wasabi that was less powdery and scallions more finely chopped. The dish was far too slick for a summer afternoon - or any meal at any time of day, really - leading me to halt consumption within a few mouthfuls, despite being famished. The soy broth, once it eventually arrived, was also heavier than expected. Surprisingly, the two thin slices of pork shoulder were the least greasy of the entire composition.
Much like sushi, carbohydrates is a food group I could never possibly surrender. Complex or refined, they deserve distinct placement in my diet and serve as valuable sources of energy.
Day-to-day activities rarely deviate from the standard cycle of work, errand-running, chore-doing, and cooking, so when the opportunity to make a departure from routine arises, I'll gladly oblige.
I had bookmarked Tatsu's Bread for several seasons, though had constantly put off the drive as neither its coordinates nor operating hours were in agreement with my schedule. As the loaf on our countertop began to wither away to nothingness, I took it as a sign to venture along Lakeshore and snap up the last of the day's assortment.
To the left were pastries: individual cake slices and pudding cups; to the right were the various varieties of bread. Situated in the centre were cookies, croissants, muffins, and the like. A chalkboard menu hung high on the wall, just behind the cashier.
We took to a range of items before retreating back into the car, requesting disposable forks for consumption as the dining floor remained closed. With the exception of the Egg Bread and Cheese Stick, the remainder of our purchases were subject to HST - quite regrettable as these two happened to be the highlights of the visit.
Devoured in the car were a Chocolate Roll Cake, Lemon Roll Cake, and small Chocolate Croissant. Despite the croissant being less flaky than desired, the roll cakes were an interesting afternoon snack. Exceptionally moist with a layer of jam sandwiched between the sponge and whipping cream, neither piece proved particularly satiating. Lemon was the airier specimen of the two, unsurprisingly, while Chocolate featured a rather tart profile (with questionable bits of crackle reminiscent of crushed eggshells).
Consumed at a later point in time were two Pecan Tarts (not me) and an inexplicably mushy Potato Bagel.
Who Am I?
I'm the one that talks fashion and K-Pop randoms behind Quirky Aesthetics, the one who contributes honest opinions about commercial beauty items on Review Junkie, the one that obsessively shares photos of food on Pinterest, the one that loves her DSLR more than her own being and the one that wants to work in the transportation sector for a living.