Monday, November 30, 2009

Finished Training!

It feels like I've been at my job for a long time, but in actuality, I just finished training today. I think that means I've been there seven weeks. Tomorrow I start the real work. I've already met my boss though and he said that he's going to buddy me up with one of the more advanced analysts to watch my every move for the first week or so and hold my hand. So hopefully it will be a smooth transition. He seems nice and laid back, I think it's going to be a good work environment.

Starting my job for real also means that I will be working the night shift, 12pm to 8pm. And at the same time, John is starting his early shift (8:30am or 9am, I'm not sure which). So we're going to have to figure out how to make our schedules mesh. Tonight I made him lunch before bed so it will be ready for him in the morning, and I intend to make supper (lasagna) before work tomorrow at the same time that I pack my lunch, so it's ready when John gets home. Hopefully he gets his studying done in the evening so that by the time I get home we can hang out. We'll figure it out, I am sure.

The weekend was busy but fun. On Friday I went to see the new Twilight movie. It was pretty terrible (there were scenes when the whole the whole theatre full of Twi-hards actually burst out laughing, it was so cheesy) but I still really enjoyed it. I love a good terrible movie.

Saturday was our stay at home day. I did housework and some sewing while John studied. Today was the first day of his RIBO training, so he's pretty much out of commission for the next two weeks.

On Sunday we got up bright and early. We headed to Wal-mart to pick up a couple of Christmas gifts and then over to Chinatown for produce. I'm not sure what we're going to do when the weather gets cold and all of the outdoor fruit and vegetable stands are closed, I'm growing pretty dependent on them. When we got home, we dropped off our stuff and headed to a Dim Sum restaurant next door that I had been wanting to try. The food was absolutely amazing. Everything was in much smaller serving sizes than we expected, but it each bite was delectable. We had the best fried rice I've ever tasted in my life, deep fried taro dumplings, chicken curry and lotus stuffed pastries, peking duck pancakes, mango pudding shaped like a fish and hot sweet almond soup. And unlike any other dim sum experience I've had, it was hardly greasy at all. I loved it. I will definitely be going back.

In the afternoon I gave my sister a call and we chatted for a bit. I baked a mac & cheese casserole for dinner and so that I would have something to pack for lunches and we spent the evening watching cartoons, as usual. All in all, a good weekend.

My Christmas spirit is in full force now. I've got almost all of my shopping done, and the baking starts this weekend. My friend from work is going to come over and help me. The first weekend in December is the perfect time to bake freezable things like cookies in my opinion! I'm feeling really good about it, we'll get the tree up in the next couple of days. I'm so glad we didn't have to leave it behind in Halifax, for a while there I really thought we would. I only wish there were more hours in the day so I could find the time to practice carols on the piano.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Starting to get into the Christmas Spirit

We had a fun weekend. We actually left the apartment to do more than just grocery shop!

Friday night we just laid low, made snacks and watched a movie on TV. John fell asleep around 9:00pm if memory serves me correctly. I stayed up to watch Vampire Diaries.

Saturday morning, we made omelets for breakfast and spent the morning lazing around. I worked on a sewing project and John played video games. In the afternoon we went to see the movie 2012. What a great movie!! I love movies that show the graphic depiction of the planet being destroyed and this is the best one I've seen yet! It has taken the place of The Day After Tomorrow as my favorite destruction-of-Earth film of all time. They showed the world being blown apart in ways I couldn't even imagine. The effects were incredible and the story was great!

I know what you're thinking. "But Jacki, why were you sewing this weekend? What about the socks you were supposedly knitting?"

I finished them! Check it out!
I'm so proud of them, they turned out awesome!! They fit perfectly, the heel is reinforced, the top is ribbed, the yarn is so soft and the seam at the toe lines up exactly right. I can't wait to make my next pair but I need to see how they hold up in the dryer first to make sure that these are the right size (i.e, I may need to make the next ones bigger if these ones shrink). They're labour intensive to be sure, but I had a lot of fun making them. Once I got the hang of knitting with four tiny little needles, the rest was easy.

Okay, now that I've bored any boy who might be reading, here is the secret part of today's post: John said he was going out for drinks with Brandon tonight so I snuck away to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. Have I mentioned that I can go to the Eaton Centre from my apartment without once stepping outdoors? It was my first time there since University and I forgot how gorgeous the domed ceilings are from the inside. And this time there were giant sparkling star decorations hanging from the ceiling for Christmas. It was beautiful! And Aunt Debbie, I wish you could have seen the Christmas tree in the middle of the mall! It was was at least 50 feet tall with what must have been thousands of lights. And to top it all off, the tree was absolutely covered in Swarovski crystal snowflake ornaments! It wouldn't surprise me to find out there were ten thousand of them. I can't even begin to describe how it sparkled, it was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was absolutely incredible.

I didn't stay long because I knew what I was there for. Next time I go though, I would love to take an afternoon to explore it. The Sears alone is 5 floors! I hopped on a subway and headed back home. I sneaked into the apartment, happy to see I had beaten John home and stashed the goods in my secret hiding spot. Success! Okay, back to talking about the weekend.

As Saturday night rolled around, I lamented that I had no orange juice to mix with my vodka until I remembered that I had a whole bunch of limes in the fridge from the time they were 8/$1 in Chinatown. So I decided to try my hand at homemade limeade. Oh. Em. Gee. It was awesome! I just mixed the juice of 6 limes, 1/2 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water. It was super strong, and super sour. Adding the vodka watered it down a bit and the sourness was so overpowering that it completely eclipsed the taste of the vodka. This stuff is so smooth, it's deadly! I loved it.

Around 9pm we went out in search of a place to watch the UFC fights. I wanted to hit up a sports bar called Main Event but John suggested we try a place called Philthy McNasty's because they have a better setup of TVs.

So we that's where we went. At first it was pretty cool. There was a big screen TV right in front of us, a smaller TV built into the booth and the pizza was great. But around 11:30, the night crowd started moving in. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of a Saturday night pickup bar. There were lots of scantily clad girls, they started playing dance music - think The Palace. We laughed it off and stayed for the rest of the fights, but I think we won't going back. We lucked out in that the fights were really good this week. It was the return of Tito Ortiz and he didn't disappoint! It's been a few months since John and I have had a fight night out on the town, so we had both been looking forward to it and we had a lot of fun.

On Sunday we made our weekly pilgrimage to Chinatown for produce. This week limes happened to be 15/$1 so it looks like I will be making more limeade! Seriously, they barely fit in the fridge. Other great deals included 10lbs of potatoes for $1.59 and quarts of strawberries for 66 cents. I don't think I will ever get tired of watching them ring this stuff in! Although now I have to figure out what to do with 3 quarts of strawberries. Last week I made strawberry cheesecake tarts. This week I'm not sure. Coffee cake maybe? Anyone have any suggestions?

When we got home, John's friend Marc happened to be in our area, so he stopped by for a visit. He and John had a good chat over tea while I baked bread, peeled pomegranates and roasted chestnuts. I love puttering around the kitchen on a Sunday. I'd take it over housework any day of the week.

Sunday night was cartoons as usual, followed by early to bed to get a head start on the week.

Ooh, I forgot to mention that John brought home his RIBO books on Friday so that he can spend the next couple of weeks studying for his exam. I love it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still Having Fun!

I've been a bit lazy about posting. Time goes so fast!!

Our Christmas flights have been booked! We pretty much couldn't get any time off at all. So our visit will be super short, but it's better than nothing! We will arrive in Halifax late on Christmas Eve, stay the weekend and return early on Monday. Back to work Tuesday. I work untill 2pm on Christmas Eve, so we couldn't get home any earlier. All of my vacation requests got denied. Basically, if you want Christmas off, it has to be booked in January. This is what I figured would happen though, starting a job in October. So although it is not ideal, we are grateful for the time we do have and look forward to seeing our loved ones!

John is still loving his job. He comes home with big smiles every day. I'm still in training until the end of the month. It's pretty dull, but it's a stable routine at least. I'm definitely getting a better grasp on all of the insurance concepts and am remembering the little details better as well. So all is well there.

We found the most amazing Mexican restaurant last weekend. Erin and Alan, you must come visit so we can take you there! We went there to celebrate John's new job. Everything was from scratch, even the sour cream! And the flavours had both strong and subtle elements and were amazingly combined and balanced. I think it was the best meal we've had since we arrived in Toronto. (Do you know it's been almost 4 months we've been here?!?)

We also found a Vietnamese place where the prices are low, the portions are ridiculously big and the food is amazing! It was my first time trying pho and I fell in love. It was so good! The broth was light but so tasty, with scallions, Thai basil and other flavours I couldn't identify. And I think it was only $5 for a bowl that was more than I could finish.

That same afternoon, we went down to Dundas & Yonge and watched the Christmas parade for a few hours. It was awesome to see it in person rather than on TV for once. Plus we scored some candy canes. The crazy part is that it was so warm I took my sweater off and just wore my t-shirt. Kind of strange for a Christmas event! We probably watched it for an hour and a half before heading out, so we didn't see Santa, but it was still a good time.

Yesterday the subway was shut down south of our stop. Insanity!!! Apparently a contractor had been digging for one reason or another and accidently dug right into a subway tunnel! So rocks fell onto the track, and they weren't sure how stable everything was, so they had to shut it down. People were already upset because subway prices have just gone up ($3 a ride!) and I guess that when the service was shut down, they flipped out. I wasn't there myself but one of the girls at work said she was actually shoved into a train. Crazy. I guess there were three hundred thousand people stranded at Bloor and Yonge (the major intersection of the subway). I guess on this one street corner they were lined up right around the block waiting for shuttles.

So I am feeling quite fortunate to work on the same block that I live (not to mention the $120 I save each month by not buying a metropass). And John works in the North, so although delayed, he at least was able to get home on the subway.

I hear that the Olympic torch was carried across the bridge yesterday! I am sad to have missed this a once in a lifetime opportunity in Halifax. It seems like whenever I leave, that's precisely when the excitement happens.

John's brother Allan came to stay with us for most of the week. We have a pretty good deal: I made him cookies and he made dinner for us last night (mmm, porkchops). And I came home to a kitchen that had mysteriously been cleaned during the day. So that's a great kind of houseguest to have! John managed to get today off work so they could hang out.

That is the news around here for now! I'm going to go enjoy my first glass of eggnog of the season!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, Monday

I have a basket of guavas in my apartment.

I know this because the gorgeous, fresh scent of them greets me the moment I walk in. The aroma is incredible and the smell is so strong it permeates everything. So I've decided that guavas are the new potpourri.

We hit up Chinatown for produce this weekend and among other things, guavas were $3/dozen. I haven't figured out what to do with them though. They're sort of like tomatoes in that it's pretty much impossible to get at the flesh without eating a few seeds. The difference is that the seeds are hard and not particularly edible. So I'm thinking there must be some trick to it, but I haven't figured it out just yet. But honestly, I'm just happy to smell them, I don't really care if we eat them.

We didn't get up to much this weekend.

Friday night was popcorn and V for Vendetta on TV. I love that movie.

I was super productive on Saturday. I did all my laundry, baked bread, finished knitting my first sock, sewed pillow covers to match the drapes, made sauce out of all the leftover overripe raspberries, planned out the next week's meals \ and cleaned the apartment from top to bottom. I'm still figuring out the whole work/life balance thing so a lot gets put off to the weekend.

On Sunday we decided to head down to the St. Lawrence market for some stewing beef but when we got there it was closed. Apparently they shut down Sundays and Mondays. So instead we headed back up to Chinatown for more produce, dumplings and pastries. The best finds were pineapples for $1, Spanish onions 5/$1, and peppers for 20 cents each. We paid closer attention to the prices this time and the best guess we can come up with is that they take the price of everything, subtract $5 and then don't charge tax. It's the only way we can explain how we go up with $17 worth of ridiculously cheap produce and when they ring it in, it's $11.

We stopped for BOGO blizzards at the Chinatown Dairy Queen and then headed home to drop off our groceries. Then we headed back out for a walk around our neighbourhood to see if we could find a little butcher somewhere. We headed up Yonge and then back down Mount Pleasant, but all we found was an organic butcher which was too pricey for us.

But we had a nice walk in the 17 degree weather. I commented to John that Autumn feels like a season here whereas in Halifax it felt like a week. It actually makes sense here to buy transition weather clothes because there's lots of time to wear them. Today it was 19 degrees!

I'm also in love with the squirrels here. I loved them when I lived in Waterloo and then I totally forgot about them when I moved back home. They're black and as big as cats with the fluffiest tails! And they're friendlier than regular squirrels and not as afraid of humans.

By the time we got home, I was pretty tired so we just made some snacks and watched cartoons for the rest of the night.

John was up at 5am this morning, excitd for his first day of work. I packed him a bento and we parted ways. Turns out he didn't need it though, they took him out for lunch. When he came home tonight he was super excited about his new company. He said the people are wonderful and that for it only being his first day, he's already seeing lots of ways that he can contribute to the company's success. It makes me so happy to see him so enthusiastic about it.

So life is good. I feel like we're pretty far off the track that we planned for ourselves when we were in Halifax planning to come here, but I'm really happy with the track we're on. I'm starting to be able to see how our lives are going to shape up six months down the road which is the furthest I've been able to guess at yet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

John Got a New Job!

John is not very good at being unemployed. He didn't spend a single day in his pyjamas. He didn't beat a single video game. He didn't watch any soap operas or gain any weight. I never found empty boxes of bonbons on the coffee table.

Although he was great for making dinner every night and taking care of all the apartment stuff. So I guess he was good at that part of being unemployed.

But he wasn't good enough at it to stay unemployed. He's been doing interviews since the first day he was off work and yesterday he was offered a new job!

Yesterday, he greeted me outside of my work when I got off tonight, dressed in a suit from yet another interview. He said that while he was at said interview, one of the companies he's been interviewing with for weeks called and left a voicemail that he got the job. Then today he got his letter of offer and he starts working Monday!

The short version is that he will be managing a team of insurance agents and he has to write the same exam that I just did (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). For the long version, you'll have to give me a call (or have me call you) as John is not always cool with me posting all the details of his life on the internet.

So we are very happy to have that all figured out because it we've been on a pretty tight budget for the past couple of months and we're eager to get back out there and experience more of what Toronto has to offer. For the first time in over a year, we're back to being DINKS (a fun acronym for dual-income, no kids).

I'm still puttering along in training, so no change there. I'm learning lots though! I start actually working on Dec 1st. Mom, you'll be glad to know I put in my request for vacation for Christmas yesterday, although I haven't heard anything back yet.

This evening when I got home, I found that John had invented a new type of soup/casserole that is so delicious! It has a million ingredients, the highlights being hominy, tomatoes, chicken and cheddar cheese. It turns out the hominy is not actually a bean, it's kernels of corn that have have the outer peel removed. And it turns out I love it! It tastes like corn, but it has the texture of a bean and it's really filling You would use it as the main starch in a meal. I love trying new ingredients!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Evening with Friends and Eating for Cheap

For the first time in four weeks, I got to actually leave my apartment this weekend! No studying!

I got off work at 6:00pm on Friday and we headed straight over to Marc and Alisha's place over on St. Clair West. It was the first time we've been over there since Marc was back in Toronto, and they were having us over for dinner.

Alisha is a wonderful cook. She made baked and breaded chicken breasts stuffed with cheese, garlic and onions and topped with raspberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes with walnuts and steamed asparagus with pecans. It was so delicious and there was so much food I almost couldn't finish it all. I brought some cupcakes leftover from the ones I made for work, although no one had room for them until much later in the evening.

After dinner, Marc made lychee martinis for Alisha and I, the boys found some beer and we had a nice evening just hanging out, chatting and getting caught up . We had such a nice time that we decided we should do dinner together more often, maybe a couple of times a month.

One of the nice things about Toronto is that the transit runs really late, so you don't have to feel like Cinderella, running home before the clock strikes twelve. I think we left around 12:30 or 1:00 and went straight to bed when we got home.

We slept in late on Saturday and dawdled away the morning. John made egg sandwiches and I played some Pikmin on the Wii. We spent most of the afternoon going for a walk up north towards Lawrence street.

The weather was nice and warm so we didn't need coats. John somehow knew about some parks up there so we went exploring. We found some paths and even a couple of streams. We found one park that was sort of nature-y wilderness and one that was neatly manicured with cement walkways. The leaves on the trees are almost finished turning so it was just beautiful. The ground was completely covered with layers of fallen leaves. We saw lots of people out walking their dogs and that made us want one (although that's obviously not practical while we're in a one bedroom apartment). It felt as rural as anywhere in Dartmouth, it was hard to believe we were in the heart of Toronto. After a few hours, we were getting tired so we stopped into a little market for some ginger beer and came back home.

We didn't end up going out for Halloween. There were a few parties going on but I don't think either of us was really feeling like getting dressed up. Instead, we stayed in and ate hot beef sandwiches and watched the original Dracula. I quite enjoyed it, although I must say vampires have come a long way since then.

The clocks fell back an hour last night so although we slept in a bit this morning, technically we were up bright and early according to the clocks.

We needed groceries but we decided that rather than hit up the Metro, we would venture out into the city in search of better prices. We did amazingly well I think.

The first stop was Dufferin station where we hit up Wal-Mart for discount Halloween candy. It was pretty picked over, but we did pick up some sour peaches and swedish berries for 91 cents a bag. From there we headed across the street to La Tortillarie where you can get homemade corn tortillas that they make fresh daily for $1.75 per half kilo. We use them to make amazing tacos, or enchiladas, nacho chips, etc. John also picked up a can of hominy because he saw a recipe for hominy soup that he wants to try. I think it's a some kind of bean, but I'm not actually sure.

Next we hit up Chinatown. The first stop was the Ding Dong bakery where we went a little overboard. I can't help it though, I love it so much! We got barbecue pork buns, barbecue pork pastries, wintermelon pastries, egg tarts, coconut and red bean mochi, something called Japanese pumpkin cake that looks like a Swiss roll, and two pizza style buns that we ate while we shopped. Their mochi is so incredibly fresh and sticky that it's almost impossible to peel off the wrapper. It's so good, I think they actually use coconut milk in the mochi itself. Eighteen items and everything came to less than $12, taxes in. Ridiculous.

Then we hit the fruit stands. We bought:
  • 3 little pomegranates and 1 huge one
  • 3 half pints of rasberries
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 lotus root
  • 1 broccoli crown
  • a pound of chestnuts
  • a bundle of asparagus
  • 6 tomatoes
  • 7 plums
  • 3 persimmons
  • a bunch of bananas
for $13. Seriously. Containers of raspberries were 3/$1 and they look great. Chestnuts were $0.99/lb. Bananas were $0.29/lb.

We walked past a Chinese herb shop so I popped in and found blooming tea balls that were 3/$2. Usually I see these for $2.50 each so I picked up a couple. They're basically loose tea leaves that are shaped into a ball and they bloom into a flower when you put them in the hot water.

The big splurge of the day was when we found a shop that makes homemade dumplings. They had a huge list of combinations but I just stuck with my favorite, pork and Chinese cabbage. $10 for 3 dozen, but the truth is, it would cost me $8 or $9 to make a batch of about 60 dumplings from scratch and it takes two hours, so it was worth the price to me.

So when all was said and done, we ended up with all of this:
for under $40.

Not bad I think.

We have some whole chickens in the freezer, so I think we're going to thaw one of those out and pick up some ground beef and we'll be set for the week! I think I'm actually going to pack bento lunches this week since we have all the stuff for them.

I'm so in love with the fact that you can get homemade, quality foods for such low prices if you know where to look. And I know we're only going to find more great places to shop the longer we live here.

And in other news, any of you who remember Michelle Chouinard will be happy to hear that she had her baby. Joseph Pierre Ferguson was born healthy into the world on October 26th. Congratulations Michelle!