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Have a Caribbean inspired Christmas in Toronto

What’s Christmas like in your home country ? I recently started thinking about the way people hold different Christmas traditions close to their heart. Some people dream of snow on Christmas and look forward to icy winters and warm hot chocolate. Christmas for me, however, has been different, growing up in a tropical country. If you can’t physically go to the Caribbean and experience the holiday season for yourself, here are some ways to have an island-inspired Christmas.

Caribbean Foods

Everyone loves good food — it’s one of the driving factors at every holiday celebration, no matter the culture. One of the more popular Christmas dishes you can expect to find in mostly all the islands is Christmas rum cake. This is a sponge cake with various dried fruits that has been soaked in rum, after baking. Splash more rum on the cake to add delicious flavour as well as preserve the cake for almost up to a year. Just don’t go too heavy on the rum or you’ll  become intoxicated from eating to much cake. Also, try Caribbean classics like sorrel punch and ginger beer.

Caribbean Decor

When you think of the islands, you think of warm sunshine and lots of palm trees! Palm trees are an amazing way to add a tropical touch to any room. Certain design ideas include making a Christmas wreath out of palm leaves or the funniest one that’s been circulating  on social media is a Christmas pineapple. For people that don’t want, or have time for a tree, a pineapple can easily be decorated to invoke that Christmas island feel. For the record, I have never done this and I don’t believe this is a Caribbean tradition, but its certainly festive and island-like.

Caribbean Music

Just like for any other season of the year, the creative geniuses and musical talents originating from Trinidad and Tobago know how to make Christmas in the Caribbean lively. There is a special genre of music called Parang that originated in Venezuela and Trinidad. The music revolves around an island christmas. Soca-Parang is a mixture of Soca beats and traditional Christmas songs. Similar to carolling , in some places in Trinidad people go home to home singing parang music in exchange for treats of sorrel drink or rum punch.

Caribbean Christmas Pop-up

If you’re considering what it would be like to experience a Caribbean island Christmas, there is a special Christmas pop up market coming to Toronto on Dec 16. The pop-up market is presented by Jamaican Eats Magazine and inspires  the taste, shop and style of the Caribbean. The event will be held at the Ralph Thornton Community Centre on Queen Street East. Expect to find more rum cake, a special treasure hunt and Caribbean inspired greeting cards.

Australian MP proposes to partner on House floor

Be prepared to tear up!

As Australia’s Parliament debated a bill that would legalize same sex marriage, conservative MP Tim Wilson proposed to his partner on the House floor.

“”In my first speech I defined our bond by the ring that sits on both of our left hands, and they are the answer to a question we cannot ask. There’s only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?”

His partner, a primary school teacher, sat in the public gallery and mouthed the word “yes” to the applause of other members of the House. He was grinning from ear to ear while Wilson, still trying to remain professional on the floor, tried to keep it together, albeit unsuccessfully. The proposal was recorded in the official parliamentary record.

“I should let Hansard note to record that that was a ‘yes’ — a resounding yes,” said the deputy speaker. “Congratulations.”

Wilson and Bolger have been partners for a long time, but did not want to get officially engaged until it was legal for them to get married. Wilson was one of the first lawmakers to support the bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

The bill is expected to pass based on a non-binary referendum took place in which 61.6 per cent of respondents voted to approve the legislation by Christmas. However, the Senate is fighting to include amendments to the bill that would allow those affiliated with the church, including wedding celebrants, to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.

Surprisingly, the Australian Prime Minister is supporting these amendments under the coin of religious freedom If the amendments aren’t approved, the bill could be delayed further.

Same-sex marriage was banned in Australia in 2004 when the Marriage Act was amended to define the union as being between a man and a woman. The government has received a lot of pressure to change the Act, especially after Ireland voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.

While couples throughout Australia wait to find out of they can finally marry the people they love, lets take the time to congratulate Wilson and Bolger on their engagement! And for making history as the first person ever to propose on Australia’s Parliament floor!

5 places in Toronto for chocolate lovers

Winter and chocolate go together like…summer and ice cream. Canada experiences some truly brutal storms throughout December and January, so to make up for it I like to consume as much chocolate as possible. What’s the relevance, you may ask? There is none — I just love chocolate!

Last week, Women’s Post profiled Jennifer Snider, founder of SugarMommy, and it got us thinking: sending chocolate is great, but what if you just want to eat chocolate on your own? While I’m sure Snider would have no objection to creating a personalized basket for one…it is a little awkward. So, where do you go if you  If you are looking to indulge in some tasty chocolate, here are five place you can go!

Cacao70

There are three locations in Toronto – that isn’t enough! Cacao70 is a chocolate lover’s paradise. There are no canned or powdered hot chocolates to be found in this restaurant. Originating from Montreal, Cacao 70 specializes in fondue, crepes, waffles, and of course, dessert pizzas. It started with sipping chocolate, melted pure cacao that you could drink in a shot glass. It has since transformed to become one of the most talked about chocolate-themed restaurants in the city. I’ve eaten at this restaurant a few times, once for fondue and the other for a breakfast waffle and it was divine! The fondue is thick, creamy, and comes with loads of dip-able items like fruit, cookies, brownies, and marshmallows you can grill at your table. For brunch, I tried the apple bacon waffle, which has vanilla ice cream, white chocolate, bacon, and apples on top of a fluffy waffle with caramel drizzle. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back!

SOMA

This chocolate factory has a “bean to bar” philosophy that ensures top quality products you can’t get anywhere else. Founded in 2003, cacao beans are roasted and winnowed on site. Creators David Castellan and Cynthia Leung love to play around with different concoctions and mixtures of dark and milk combinations. Their bars are truly unique, topped with real ingredients like coconut, ginger, orange peels, or nuts. These ingredients aren’t mixed into the chocolate as is typical of a bar you would get from a regular grocery store. Instead, they are placed on top of the chocolate so as not to take away from the pure taste. There are two stores in Toronto, with the one in the distillery district being the most popular, especially around the holidays. They also have drinking chocolate, ice cream, truffles, cookies, and toffee.

Soul Chocolate

Chocolate really does affect the soul — in all the best ways that is!  This storefront specializes in single-origin chocolate bars, which means every bar is unique. They roast and refine beans from around the world, making sure to keep each bean’s special flavour and history in tact. The owners also pay top price for the beans they use in what they call a 100 per cent Direct Trade business model. Everything is ethically sourced and pure in taste. All of the bars sold at Soul Chocolate is vegan, with only cacao and organic cane sugar as ingredients. Visit their storefront on Gerrard and Broadview for a speciality coffee or a sipping chocolate shot.

MoRoCo Chocolat

While many will mourn the loss of MoRoCo Chocolat’s restaurant in Yorkville, where you could go and experience high tea like any self-respected Brit, their new storefront on Madison Ave is worth checking out. The owners now specialize in small chocolate delicacies like truffles and macaroons. This french-inspired boutique is beautifully classy, and will make you feel like purchasing a treat is a luxury you absolutely CAN afford. All the products are made in small batches to ensure freshness and quality.

Peace Treats

This is for the kid in all of us. Think back to your childhood and remember sitting down with your mom or dad and sharing a giant chocolate milkshake. Well, these milkshakes aren’t your typical childhood drink. Peace Treats on Ossington have a variety of incredibly gourmet concoctions available. They also have some pretty amazing hot chocolates if you aren’t feeling like ice cream in the winter (although who doesn’t feel like ice cream?)!

Do you have a favourite chocolate store in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below! 

Peace Treats milkshake.

What is a boutique hotel?

I’m currently looking for hotels in New York and I saw this term “boutique hotel” listed. To me, a boutique is a small, independent shop often found in a quaint neighbourhood that sell handmade items you can’t find anywhere else.

A boutique hotel is similar in a fashion. It is not operated by a large chain or brand. Instead, it is independently owned that provides individualized and custom service. Most have less than 100 rooms, meaning the experience can be quite intimate. At the same time, boutique hotels usually have a lot of character. The building may have a theme that seeps into every room.

Don’t be fooled though. This doesn’t mean the hotel is tacky. Most boutique hotels are actually quite luxurious. Because they are smaller than the typical hotel, it means more care is taken in the decor. Designer furnishings and unique pieces of art are common in each room. The best part is that, unlike your typical hotel, no two rooms are alike. Some rooms may have a quirky sense of humour while others may have a warm and cozy ambiance.

Because of the size of boutique hotels, owners are usually able to find prime locations to build upon.. This can result in some truly breathtaking views.

Each room will also have some luxury, hand-made and unique items available for use, like organic soaps, bath pillows, or even a linen selection. Prepare to enjoy some locally-grown foods as well as some art by local artisans.

There are also a few different kinds of boutique hotels. Historic or country boutiques, for example, offer accommodations with rustic charm — think stone walls, big fireplaces, detailed wood carvings, and homemade comfort food.  These buildings often have some sort of historic significance and rooms are designed to feel homey, yet still rich in culture and comfort.

Urban boutique hotels are often found in a city’s centre and caters too younger travelers looking for a tech-savvy and comfortable place to stay. They are generally located in neighbourhoods with lots of culture and nightlife. The rooms themselves use Smart technology and there are common areas for people to mingle.

Then there are the luxury boutiques. The rooms in this accommodation use high-quality materials and exclusive designer furnishings. They may have infinity pools, skylights, or even spa services available. Luxury boutiques pride themselves on personalizing your vacation experience, and ensuring you have the most fine wining and dining available.

Check out these boutique hotels in Toronto: Thompson Hotel, Le Germain, or The Drake (Nook room featured in photo above).

Luxury boutique hotel Barcelona Duquesa de Cardon
Boutique Hotel Bali

Would you donate to support Toronto’s roads?

Toronto’s roads needs your support!

Every day, these roads suffer. After decades of neglect and abuse, they deserve to be nurtured. There are too many car accidents and too many road deaths. But does anyone think of the roads themselves — they have gone through hell each time. They need your help! Without your support, they will continue to live in these terrible conditions.

Donate now!

Imagine you read this on a pamphlet or saw an advertisement on television asking you to donate funds to the city to help develop safety infrastructure for your neighbourhood. It sounds ridiculous right? And yet, not ridiculous enough to avoid becoming a recommendation to city council.

At this week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, a report on the city’s Vision Zero Road Plan actually recommended accepting donations from residents for local projects. It reads: “In addition, this report considers the feasibility of accepting donations from the public to provide funding support for local projects and recommends commencing the detailed planning and implementation process for an automated speed enforcement program to operate in school zones and community safety zones.”

City staff said that an additional $6.303 million in capital funding will be needed between 2019 and 2021. These funds can help “further accelerate” the Road Safety Plan. The cost of Vision Zero is already $80.3 million.

This report will be heading to city council on Dec. 5.

Now, I know funds are tight. There are very few outside revenue sources available to city staff, so it kind of makes sense they would resort to these type of suggestions.

HOWEVER, there is a serious socio-economic problem with this recommendation.

First of all, the report indicates the funding will support “local projects”. This means that donations in Regent Park will be used in Regent Park and donations in Forest Hill will be used in Forest Hill. The wealthier neighbourhoods — whose residents may be more inclined and able to make those donations to the city — will reap the benefits. The other neighbourhoods will be left behind.

This is unacceptable.

The whole idea of Vision Zero is to reduce fatalities and injuries on roads, aiming for zero traffic-related deaths and injuries. This will never happen if some neighbourhoods are safe and others are not. Instead, it will just reinforce the economic divisions within this city.

The truly disappointing part about this recommendation is that there was no amendment proposed by any committee member that would change this section of the report. No one said – well why don’t we look at increasing taxes or looking at outside revenue sources for this $6 million instead of asking people to donate funds to a government they already pay for.

We can only hope that council sees past this and is able to have an actual conversation about what crowd-funding for road safety really means. Because at the end of the day – safety is about the people, not the roads.

5 food trends you need to leave behind in 2017

Another week and another chance to list five irritating things to leave behind in 2017. Last week, Women’s Post decided to target five beauty trends and this week it’s all about those ‘insta-worthy’ food trends we have been seeing on our timelines. Let us give food a chance to be food in 2018@

Charcoal Ice Cream

I love ice cream. It’s the perfect creamy treat in the summer (and in the winter). But, then something happened in the summer of 2017 I didn’t quite understand. ‘Charcoal infused’ found its way to this delicious dessert. Ice cream became dark — literally the colour of midnight. While this made for lovely images and witty captions like ‘an ice-cream to match my soul’, it kind of left you with a black tongue, which is never attractive. Plus, standing in line for hours for a pile of black sweet cream was not worth it.

Oversized Foods

While we are on the topic of ice cream, I came across a food video featuring a cafe in Chicago that serves up an ice cream sundae with 25… yes 25… scoops. Are we living in an age where we are so gluttonous we need 25 scoops of ice cream at once?. Maybe this works for a table of 20, but for one or two people, this is definitely insulting. Other oversized food trends include giant pizza slices offered by Lamanna Bakery in Toronto. It has 3 cups of cheese, 50 pepperoni slices, and weighs 5,5lbs.

Rainbow Bagels

The Bagel Store in Brooklyn, New York had been known to offer their famous rainbow bagel. This is not just any rainbow bread, The unicorn rainbow bagel offers rainbow, or funfetti, cream cheese, rainbow sprinkles, and rainbow sugar. While this bagel looks fascinating, many people are just getting these bagels to post an ‘insta-worthy’ picture. It is also closely related to the unicorn trend, which seems un-ending.

Gold Flaked/Crusted – ‘ I just want to show off my money’ anything

Edible gold. What is this ridiculousness? A few sprinkles of some 24-carat edible gold leaves on your food and you’ve turned it into the most expensive food. I am talking about the $2000 pizza topped with flakes of edible gold. While it looks good, nutritionists deem it tasteless and just decorative. There is the $666 ‘Douche Burger’ that features a beef patty wrapped in 6 sheets of gold leaf, and topped with lobster, caviar and truffles. Are all these overly expensive foods necessary?  I rather wear my gold than eat it.

‘Poke’ me one more time 

I’m talking about those poke bowls (pronounced po-kayy). Over the months, I’ve been slowly watching this food trend gain momentum. Shop after shop has opened up on Yonge street in downtown Toronto. Maybe it’s because I am not a fan of sashimi, but I just don’t get the appeal of colourful raw fish and vegetables displayed beautifully in a bowl. In my opinion, the poke bowl has taken the place of several other trending bowls we have seen over the years — acai bowl, chia pudding bowls? While I have full respect for this popular dish in Hawaii, why is it suddenly so popular in this form?

What other trends would you like to see left behind in 2017. Comment below!

Justin Trudeau issues apology to the LGBTQ community

In a bold, historic and heartwarming moment, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an apology to the LGBTQ community after decades of discrimination. Trudeau made the apology in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov 28.

The chambers held a lot of emotion, as even Trudeau wiped away tears at the end of his speech. Trudeau was able to express the regret, shame, and sorrow the Canadian government has taken responsibility for in the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ Canadians. The rejection and treatment of the LGBTQ community was a state-sponsored and witch-hunting event to purposely exclude people from society based on their sexual orientation.

“You are professionals. You are patriots, and above all, you are innocent. And for all your suffering, you deserve justice and you deserve peace. He said  ” It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated. And it is our collective shame that this apology took so long— many who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that we are truly sorry.”

Many LGBTQ Canadians faced such discrimination and harsh treatment from others that were not willing to understand nor accept people with non-conforming sexual orientation and desire. Between the 1950’s to the 1990’s thousands of federal workers were fired based on their sexual orientation. This was part of  a “national security’ purge. In the 1960’s alone, there was a database collected by the RCMP of over 9000 suspected gay and lesbian federal workers and suggestions of demotion and denial of promotion.

In June of 2016, members of the advocacy group Egale Canada released a report on the systematic discrimination members of the LGBT community has faced over the years. This prompted them to issue ways in which the treatment and viewpoint of the LGBTQ community can be changed in Canada. One of the recommendations was a formal apology issued by Ottawa. In May of 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he will issue a formal apology on Nov 28, and as he promised this was delivered to a packed house.

However, there are still some people who thought the apology was not enough to make up for years of hurt and damage caused in many communities. The fact is, this ‘purge’ was a systematic event that lasted longer than necessary and changed many lives.

In 1969 the House of Commons voted to pass a bill that decriminalized homosexuality and in 1967 the bill was first introduced by the acting Justice Minister at that time, and future Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau, who said, “The view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Now 50 years later, his son has taken the opportunity to offer an apology for government actions that were truly vile, invasive, discriminatory and un-Canadian.

This is yet another historic moment in the LGBTQ community in Canada. Comment below.

Toronto approves move to Phase Two of Rail Deck Park

The proposed Rail Deck Park has multiple functions — providing much-needed green public space as well as becoming a connecting area for GO Transit commuters.

This idea was reinforced with an amendment at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting. In addition to recommending staff advance to the second stage of the work plan in 2018-19, staff will also assess opportunities to create “new connections to Rail Deck Park”, including the Green Line along the hydro lands and extensions of the West Toronto Railpath.

Rail Deck Park is expected to be a sprawling 21-acre green space in the heart of the city, built above pre-existing transit lines that stretch from Bathurst Ave. to Blue Jays Way. According to the report presented to the executive committee, it will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley.

“If this growth is to continue, there is a need for significant new infrastructure, including parkland, to ensure the quality of life, health, and sustainability of Downtown neighbourhoods. If this cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for the City to reconsider the pace and amount of future development in the Downtown.”

The cost for the project will be an estimated $1.665 billion, or $83 million per acre. This estimate includes about over $600 million in contingencies. The city plans on taking advantage of Section 42, also known as cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication funds. This revenue is collected from new developments with the sole purpose of developing and acquiring parkland. Not much is known about how the park will be funded other than the city will explore sponsorships, donations, and contributions from other levels of governments.

 

The city of Toronto is growing rapidly, and the downtown core is in great need of more green space to off-set future development. There is also an advantage of ensuring connectivity by integrating access to GO Rail.

City staff will report back on the financial feasibility of Phase Two in a few months.

What do you think of the Rail Deck Park? Let us know in the comments below!

Send the gift of chocolate this holiday season

 

What says “thank you” or “thinking of you” better than a beautifully arranged and decorated chocolate platter, especially around the holidays?

Nothing — or at least that’s what Jennifer Snider, founder of Sugar Mommy Inc., believes. “It goes with it,” she said in an interview with Women’s Post. “You think of holidays you think of chocolate.”

SugarMommy is a chocolate and treats company that specializes in packaged gifts and decorative arrangements. Their clients are mostly corporate; however they also cater to special functions and seasonal occasions.

The chocolate sold by SugarMommy is different than something you may purchase at a drugstore or a specialty-shop. First of all, the chocolate is delectably smooth. Made from quality ingredients, Snider’s treats are all hand made and sold at reasonable prices. Everything is customizable, so you only get the chocolates you want.

“I use products that are gourmet, but not so gourmet that people can’t afford it,” she said. Snider made it clear she is not out to gauge anyone’s pocketbooks this holiday season — she wants people to enjoy her chocolate, even if they only have $30 to spend.

The other difference is the presentation, something Snider says gets her a lot of compliments. Her platters, pails, and baskets are all meticulously prepared, with special emphasis on colour balance and variety. Whatever you choose make sure it includes the chocolate bark. The mint white chocolate and the toasted coconut bark are absolutely divine. Other top selling items include fudge toffee, white chocolate popcorn, Oreo bark, and sponge toffee.

Every single item is put together with care to create a work of art.

“It’s really important to me,” she said. “It’s handmade stuff and if you put passion into what you do, it comes across in your work.”

Most of Snider’s clientele come from corporate offices or medical offices looking for referral gifts for their own clients. She has also expanded to provide treats for parties and events. Her pails and baskets contain individually-wrapped treats and her martini glasses can be customized to fit specific colour schemes. She describes her work more as a centrepiece than a dessert.

One of the newest additions to SugarMommy is the candy table, beautifully decorated with martini glasses and an array of colours. Snider says it’s great for kids, but also for the parents as the presentation can appear quite elegant. “People take bags and fill them up, and they go crazy. It’s unique. It’s quite different and it looks beautiful and people love it.”

Snider started making chocolate when she was a teenager. “My mom taught me how to make it and I made it as gifts,” she said. “I think it was the creativeness [I liked]. I was never a great baker. It was the creative aspect that I loved – putting things together, making things pretty.”

She went to school for early childhood education and worked in the field until 2007. With five children of her own, Snider was spending most of her time at appointments. She continued to send out her chocolaty gifts until a few friends told her she should sell her creations. She decided to teach part-time and focus on building a business that he could run from her home.

“A lot of people pushed me and said you have a great product and you need to get out there. We put some money and investment into it,” she said. “Now we have a lot of return customers. They appreciate the hand-made touch to it. It is not the mass produce look. Clients take the time to send letters and emails appreciating the gift. It is much more personal then a gift card or a lunch.”

Snider is always on the lookout for new flavours and creations! Her inspiration come from her travels, as well as the trends in the market.

Interested in sending out the gift of chocolate this year? Holiday packages are available now! Go to sugarmommy.ca to check out all of the options. 

5 places to dine in Toronto this winter

Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean the fun has to end. A friend of mine said that her favourite thing to do is dress up and go out for dinner, a casual lunch or even an early morning breakfast. So here are five recommended spots by Women’s Post to dine this winter in Toronto.

Copacabana Brazilian Rodizio

You don’t have to go all they way to Brazil to experience an authentic way of cooking grilled Brazilian foods. Copacabana has four locations in Canada and two are based in downtown Toronto. This unique style of serving food is similar to many rodizio’s around the world. Rodizio refers to an all you can eat style Brazilian steakhouse, where servers bring large skewers of meats and grilled vegetables ( but mostly meat) around to your table and they carve off slices. The servers keep coming until you over indicate with a card you wish not to be served. Copacabana Toronto also adds lively Brazilian flair to their atmosphere by having samba dancers performing on Fridays and Saturdays as well as an aerial silk performer.

Blu Ristorante

As the name may suggest, this restaurant is self-proclaimed as the number one Italian restaurant in Toronto. It has actually been the recipient of Open Table’s Diner’s Choice for the past seven years in a row. This Yorkville-based restaurant offers an intimate and formal dining space with the ambiance of live music. Expect menu choices such as braised octopus with black kale pesto and fettuccine with Nova Scotia lobster tail, calamari and tiger prawn. Blu is the place to enjoy great Italian food and a wide selection of wine in a warm and inviting space.

Cactus Club Cafe

This trendy Adelaide West restaurant,located in the heart of the financial district is a personal favourite, no matter the season, Cactus Club Cafe will give you a lively and upbeat atmosphere even on a dreary Monday night. There are three levels to choose from, and a heated rooftop for those milder winter nights featuring a live DJ. With prompt and friendly service, you will certainly enjoy this restaurant as you dine on the creations of culinary masters and specially crafted cocktails for each season. This winter, bar operations manager Kris Jensen introduced two new seasonal creations, the Whiskey Ginger Smash and the LateHarvest Daiquiri with hints of Saskatoon berry and elderflower.

La Banane

Voted as one of the best new restaurants of 2017 by Toronto Life, La Banane offers eclectic french cuisine to the streets of Toronto. Located on Ossington Avenue, this stunning spot offers a fresh raw bar with mussels, oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, and scallops. Obviously, all that seafood pairs will the abundance of wine that this french bistro has to offer. La Banane is led by Chef Brandon Olsen, who has curated the menu consisting of his personal french inspired food passions.

Cacao 70

One of the key points of going out to eat in the winter is that you want to feel comfortable and cozy. Cacao 70 is located in the Distillery District and offers a Queen W. location as well. This popular chocolate drinking bar, originated in Montreal, but has slowly spread all over Canada. It is not just all about their speciality of Chocolate, but the restaurant offers the experience of using Chocolate in different flavour adventures. Enjoy drinks like Black Sesame hot cocoa and Champurrado, which features  hot chocolate with spicy cinnamon and whipped cream.

What’s your favourite Toronto restaurant?