No one enjoys life in Toronto. Toronto is a city that takes fresh-faced, wide eyed wannabes and turns them into jaded crones in a matter of months. Anyone who has moved here from a different city and thinks otherwise is either lying to themselves or has their parents paying their rent. Because unless someone else is shelling out minimum 800$ a month for you to live here, it’s very difficult to work full time, pay an exorbitant amount of money in lodging fees and also live life to its fullest. If somehow you’ve managed to do all that…please come find me, I want to learn all your secrets to the world, the universe, and everything.
It’s true, life in the GTA is no longer an adventure. I moved here exactly 2 years ago in order to attend pastry school and become The Greatest Pastry Chef ever. Well, that was the dream at least. You can read all about the reality in my new series “Tips from a Cynical Industry Pro: If you’re getting paid, that makes you a professional”.
The reality is that Toronto is my home now. I may have left my family in Montreal and my heart in Amsterdam (I’m moving there one day, it’s happening…maybe…), but my life is in Toronto. It’s no longer a whirlwind of frantically searching for apartments and saving enough money to pay rent, or feeling sad and lonely and desperate for friends and community. I live here, I breathe here and, somehow, I enjoy life here.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Toronto lacks culture and sophistication. But I can deal with that. For now. The shoes are still terrible, the fashion still leaves something to be desired, and everything is too expensive, but Toronto is the face of the new Big Dream. This is where you’ll meet people from all walks of life just trying to carve out a better existence for themselves. Where businesses come and go like the change of seasons but at least people tried achieving their dreams. Where there’s a decent cup of coffee five minutes from your house, no matter where you live.
So here I sit, outside an espresso bar that opened two months ago in my neighbourhood, an unassuming neighbourhood that caters exclusively to the people who live here. No one goes to Wallace Emerson for any particular reason, and that’s what makes it so great. We are a community that sustains itself through the people who work and live around here. I have no idea how long this espresso bar will (the last one was here less than 8 months) but it’s here now and I’m celebrating my second year of independence with a pretty good brew of Hale Roastery beans and a healthy dose of sunshine.
Stay with me readers. Even though the adventure that was discovering Toronto is over, life is still happening. And life in the industry of food and service and hospitality is always a hell of an adventure…
I’ve had some pretty weird projects to do for school; I’ve compiled a Top-Secret dossier of my adventures in sub-saharan Africa where I was betrayed by my tour-guide-turned-lover Laurent and killed by Somali pirates; I’ve prepared a 3 course meal in order to better understand the human digestive system; I’ve starred in a short film in which I play a jilted girlfriend who dies in a car accident and proceeds to haunt her guilt-ridden ex-boyfriend.
Never before, however, had I been assigned to eat cake for grades.
The goal was simple: eat cake at two different establishments, compare and contrast, leave with a better understanding of why a cake from Dufflet Pastries is five bucks and a dessert from Cluny Boulangerie is $8.00. I also may have stopped by Nadege on my quest for cake ($15.00) to see what all the fuss was about. I was not impressed, but that’s a story for another day.
Needless to say, I’m a little sick of sweets at the moment.
Le Fancy Shmancy Sweet Shop: Cluny Boulangerie
Kelly and I had just aced our mock interview (although we may have missed the point completely and mocked everyone, including ourselves…) and were on our way to Roselle for a celebratory treat. Alas it wasn’t meant to be because apparently Roselle is closed on Tuesdays… Who closes their shop on a Tuesday?!?!
Luckily Kelly is well-versed in the language of Toronto sweet shops and quickly suggested Cluny as an alternative. Delicious baked goods AND the chance to finally visit the distillery distict! Hooray!
We strolled through the cobblestone streets, my giddy enthusiasm hampered only by my winces of pain as I meditated on my decision to wear patent leather pumps, my only pair of professional-looking shoes, and a hand-me-down from my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother who most certainly wishes me ill. My musings were interrupted by our arrival and I gawked at the itty bitty cafe.
We had been whisked away to Paris. The soft lighting cast the room in a warm brass glow and the decorative tables lent a certain je ne sais quoi. Marble counters ran the length of the walls and a window behind the counter gave us a glimpse into the spacious kitchen beyond. The stainless steel espresso machine gleamed in the romantic lighting and I instantly felt at home. And, best of all, running the length of the counter was a brightly lit refrigerator housing dainty pastries, small cakes, tartlets, croissants of various shapes, sizes, and fillings, and sandwiches. Separated by yet another slab of marble and a sneeze guard, large macarons in pastel shades lay neatly in a box, their flavors proudly displayed on hand-written chalk signs. I don’t think I had ever been more ready for a pause cafe.
The whole effect was ruined, however, when the server opened her mouth and said “Hi there, how are you doing today?”
I had gotten so lost in the french-ness of it all that I fully expected the people who worked there to be French (and rude by proxy, because…well…French people).
I loved everything about this place: the copper cups hanging from the ceiling, patinas decaying in that Alsace-Lorraine paysanne style that the French prefer over polishing their copper; the beautiful tiled floor (I always get a kick out of hearing my heels tapping away on stone floors); the beautiful assortment of jams and preserves, cookies and packaged candies and chocolates for sale; and especially those gigantic pillars flanking the exit.
That last one was a joke. The pillars were hideous and if they hadn’t been supporting the entire building I would have bulldozed them already.
TASTING THE GOODS
Behold: the glory of the Cluny fridge.
Like a good French pastry shop, Cluny had a lovely assortment of their own takes on classic cakes and tarts. From eclairs to religieuse, they ran the gamut of flavors and colors. I’m a big fan of colorful tarts and that lime green cakey thing naturally caught my eye.
Nicknamed the “Key Lime My Way”, the server boxed up the small cake, charged me $7.50, a smile, offered me coffee, and sent us on our way:Despite the cuteness of the box, it was freaking impossible to open and I ripped the lid in my haste to get to the cakey goodness. Blue inked drawings of antique coffee pots, rolling pins and other baking paraphernalia decorated the off-white carton, and it was stamped on top with Cluny’s signature seal. We sat outside on their 12 seater terrace in surprisingly comfortable wrought iron chairs on a windy October afternoon. It was overcast and grey, but my brightly colored lime and coconut cake made my day a little sunnier:
Thick, luscious, and tart lime curd over a coconut, hazelnut, puffed rice shortbread crust, covered in a thin layer of hazardous-waste-green gelatin. The garnish was simple, a wedge of lime and the most perfect raspberry I’ve had past the month of July. Word of advice, don’t try to eat the little paper Cluny seal. It’s not edible.
The curd was absolutely divine: it wasn’t too sweet and tasted intensely of fresh, real lime while the crunchy crust offered texture and contrast so I actually got some use out of my teeth. Key lime pie is one of my favorite desserts and this little cake did not disappoint. Yes, I felt snobby and hoity-toity, but as a hoity-toity snob I was perfectly fine with this. I pretended to be french while eating my pastry (I also splurged on the most perfect Earl Grey macaron. Subtle hints of bergamot, not too sweet, I was in heaven) and Kelly pretended to understand me and we spent an altogether delightful afternoon in the Distillery.
What’s “Curd”?: Dufflet Pastries Exasperation
I’m not kidding, the young lady behind the counter at Dufflet actually asked me that.
Where Cluny was able to pull itself together and present a picture of competency, Dufflet was like the younger half-sibling who couldn’t seem to roll out of bed on time or find a decent shirt to wear (or at least one that wasn’t stained or smelling faintly of BO).
Walking into Dufflet was like walking into a dorm room: the walls were this awkward shade of light green that wasn’t quite Lime or Neon, but rather a pastel snot color. Posters hung haphazardly on the walls in unattractive clumps, reminiscent of cluttered band posters for concerts that already happened. A wooden barquette ran the length of the wall and the tables in the seating area fit maybe 20 cake-eaters at any given time plus an additional four pastry munchers at the bar in front of a large window overlooking Queen W.
The cakes…well, they looked like they were masked by a talented 12 year old. Heavy dabs of buttercream, dry and cracking frosting, cupcakes piled high with icing, all looking worn and tired behind a fridge door collecting condensation. Call me a snob but I was ready to leave right then and there. Unfortunately I was having little success finding a pastry shop with any sort of Coconut-Lime cake and Dufflet miraculously had exactly what I was looking for:
I asked the girl behind the counter if she had anything with lime and coconut but, being brand new, she had no clue. Calling over her coworker, she repeated my query and he pointed me towards this little cakelet (not a trademark Dufflet Cakelet TM). I then asked what it had inside and whether or not there was lime curd and was met with blank stares. Fighting the urge to sigh dramatically I got a list of ingredients and sat down. The little cake was plopped rather unceremoniously on a heavy ceramic plate–the kind that was wildly reminiscent of my days at summer camp–handed to me at the cash with nary a “bon appetit” and that was that.
The cake was simple: three layers of coconut sponge filled with lime mousse, and glazed with white chocolate in an assortment of shapes, colors and consistencies. I have to congratulate Dufflet for coming up with 3 different ways to top this itty bitty cake with white chocolate but I also have to deduct points for the garnish being the most interesting part.
This cake had no texture to speak of. It was mushy and soft and, although I am a big fan of mushy foods, I would appreciate a bit more contrast and consistency in my desserts. Each bite was a soft pillow of overly sweet coconut sponge and lime mousse that tasted like bottled lemon juice concentrate (which, incidentally, was the source of the lime flavor). Although there was real cream, eggs, wheat flour, and sugar in this dessert, there was also an assortment of unpronounceable modified ingredients, the origins of which are questionable at best.
On the bright side, the bathroom was very clean and smelled nice.
The Great Divide: Comparing the two
Lime and Coconut, a la Moi
Key lime pie is one of my favorite desserts and I think both shops could have utilized the traditional pie ingredients to better effect. For example, Cluny’s Key Lime My Way could have had graham cracker crumbs in the crust (and since they’re fancy maybe they could use home-made graham crackers made with locally sourced honey or something equally pricey). Dufflet, meanwhile, needed some crunch to make the little cake more interesting; perhaps some toasted coconut flakes as a garnish and a graham cracker galette underneath to give the dessert more structure. I also found that my taste buds got a little lost in the huge mound of key lime curd at Cluny. Since they used a raspberry as a garnish, perhaps add a layer of Ontario raspberry coulis for a contrasting flavor, tartness, and color. Otherwise that little raspberry on top is superfluous and a little lonely.
I liked the curd at Cluny and the coconut sponge at Dufflet so my cake incorporates the two. Three layers of white-rum-syrup soaked coconut sponge with key lime curd, frosted in coconut whipped cream:
As you can see, I really like cake, but overly sweet desserts make my teeth ache. I find most pastry shops in north america use too much sugar so my cake has much less. This way the floral key lime retains its integrity and is paired with coconut in two different forms; flakes in the sponge and toasted chips on the sides for added crunch. Graham cracker crumbs line the bottom inch of the cake, and it is topped with rosettes of unsweetened coconut cream dusted with more crumbs. For a seasonal treat, I could line the curd with fresh raspberries for color and flavor and replace the graham crumbs on top of the cake with the ruby fruits. Unfortunately raspberries don’t keep very well. For the frosting, ideally I would use whipped coconut cream. It is, however, ridiculously expensive, so perhaps a stabilized whipped cream with a percentage of thick and creamy coconut milk would work better and be easier on my budget. There will be no unnatural green colors in this cake. I want it to look real so the curd will be the natural off white color of lime curd and no creepy green glaze on top.
And so, to Conclude:
It’s easy to say that Cluny is better than Dufflet; it uses fresh, real ingredients, more care is taken with each individual dessert, there is clearly a higher skill level involved, and the atmosphere of the shop is much more pleasant. But Cluny is a) in the Distillery district, a tourist trap, and b) a side-show to the Cluny Bistro, a ridiculously fancy restaurant that charges $15.00 for an appetizer and has a Sommelier on retainer. Dufflet, in comparison, is located in the heart of the Queen West fashion and design district. The demographic is completely different and they offer a different service. They have large, affordable, and tasty customized birthday/special occasion cakes that are made in a central kitchen in Etobicoke; this brick and mortar storefront probably isn’t making them that much money and it’s not their main focus.
Although as bakers we would like to be able to use natural ingredients at all cost, industrial grade baking doesn’t have that luxury; it’s too expensive and doesn’t keep. Although their storefront needs some work (a fresh coat of paint would do wonders…), Dufflet has created an excellent product line and a dedicated following. Their cakes are perfect for the busy parent who doesn’t have time to bake a cake for birthdays. They look homemade, and are tasty and affordable and don’t pretend to be anything they’re not.
I really appreciated the care and attention to detail in Cluny’s products. The flavors shine through, the chefs use fresh, top quality ingredients, and the atmosphere made me want to stay longer than the hour and a half we spent on their terrasse. Will I go back? Absolutely. Will it make my wallet cringe? Of course. Will I regret it?
Toronto in the summertime is an eclectic yet distasteful mix of Urban Outfitters model wannabes and so-called “ratchet” culture. If you’re not walking around in flowy linen pants, wedge sandals, and crochet crop tops (without a bra, no judgement, it’s a lot comfier) then it’s daisy dukes, spartans, and ill fitting belly shirts. Naturally, with it come popping up the officialnotices on my facebook newsfeed that No, apparently I’m not allowed to make fun of you when it’s 30 degrees out for your poor fashion choices and the decision to walk around with your pants undone and pulled down over your underwear so you can show off your sparkly new belly button piercing.
No, of course I’m not joking.
Fashion faux-pas aside, life in the 6ix is an interesting series of ups and downs, where life starts off on a high…and then steadily plummets downward, only to get better again, and then get worse and so on and so forth.
For example, last week was Victoria Day weekend which meant HALLELUJAH I DON’T HAVE CLASS ON MONDAY.
What that also meant was SHIT I MISS AN ENTIRE LECTURE BEFORE OUR FIRST TEST NEXT WEEK.
In the meantime, however, it also meant FUCK YEAH LONG WEEKEND.
While in reality that meant GODDAMNIT I’M WORKING 30+ HOURS OVER THE LONG WEEKEND AND HAVING TO DEAL WITH LOTS AND LOTS OF TOURISTS.
But finally that also meant YAY MY FRIEND CAME TO VISIT.
And of course when she left there was a lot of I’M SO SAD AND LONELY WHY DON’T PEOPLE LOOOOOVEEEE MEEEEEEEE.
In hindsight I realized that I was pms’ing really hard that week. I’m also surprised that I don’t have whiplash yet.
On an unrelated note, here are some pictures from baking school (I mean, that’s why I’m here, aren’t I?)
As you can see, I am now a professional-grade baker.
Who am I kidding, it’s been three weeks since class started and my hand is cramping from the hours of piping practice they force us to do during downtime. Never again I say! Also I’m fairly certain I’ve developed a permanent twitch in my right eye from all the coffee I’ve been drinking to wake up in the morning. #caffeineaddict
But since I’ve now been here a month, it’s time to move on with my life. And I mean that quite literally, I’ve been apartment hunting for two weeks and had a few interesting experiences.
The first place I visited, a basement apartment in the Kensington Market, looked promising. Three bedrooms, short walk to Chinatown, UofT, heart of downtown, sounded pretty good!
What I learned here is that looks can be deceiving and that I don’t want an overweight, pot-smoking, face-piercing basement dweller as my roommate, nor do I want to live in an unfurnished basement with a very small window and an odor suspiciously reminiscent of previously smoked week that has been left to rot.
Lesson learned: if the description doesn’t say “fully furnished”, you will need your own furniture.
The next place I looked was fucking fantastic but I was only able to move in at the beginning of July. Mildly problematic since I would have to vacate my current apartment as of June 4th. So back to Craigslist I went, frantically searching for a place just for the month of June.
What I learned there is that people are selfish bastards. They think that because you just need the place for a month you are probably desperate (check!) and therefore are willing to pay any sum (check!) because you’re probably searching for a place at the last minute (check!) since you don’t know how to manage your time (check! check!) and have just a few days to move (not really but in the spirit of things, CHECK!). A shitty room that would normally go for 600 would be 850, a beautiful room would go for 1200. There would be no haggling or bartering bags of wheat and goats for cheaper rent. TORONTO DOES NOT CARE FOR YOUR STRUGGLE, MORTALS.
I may have been desperate, but I wasn’t THAT desperate. So I persevered, found a couple places, met with an investigative journalist who liked to have different people stay with him each month. Was less than impressed with the apartment and, when asked to sit down for a chat, felt condescension. Something that I’ve been experiencing more and more lately from men not so much older than I…
(BEING CONDESCENDING MAKES YOU LIKE LADY CATHERINE DEBURGH. DO NOT BE HERE. SHE IS A PHONY. HAD SHE LEARNED TO PLAY THE PIANOFORTE SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN PROFICIENT BUT DID SHE TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN? NOPE.)
Luckily for me, the couple that owned the house I would be moving into were not only extremely lovely, but also cared about the well-being of their tenants. And after the hazardous-to-my-health-basement in the Kensington Market, a brightly lit, fully furnished, renovated, three story house in the Annex was some bloody good luck.
Moving to Toronto wasn’t such a big deal. To everyone but me, apparently.
“I’m leaving next week!” I told all my friends. “I’m so excited and scared but excited! But mostly terrified!”
“Don’t be!” They ALL said. And then along came the barrage of what I call the UAFEIK Effect: Unsolicited Advice From Everyone I Know. This is when people offer up heartfelt yet often pedantic advice they’ve heard from others or taken from their own experiences and apply it to your own. Which is nice, the first…two times. But once you’ve heard “omg rent in Toronto is like, so crazy expensive, be careful!” seven…or twelve times, you tend to associate UAFEIK less with goodwill and more with people’s desire to be the center of attention. Not that this is a horrible thing, it’s just that….*sigh*…
It began innocuously enough, with my mom and my best friend (who had been living on her own for over a year) offering advice of the dont-be-scared variety, and don’t-neglect-your-laundry, and don’t-eat-crap-for-dinner. This was great advice for the 22-year-old-still-living-at-home but then, all of a sudden, it seemed that everyone was an expert in living solo. It was really sweet that everyone wanted to be so helpful, but there comes a point where you notice the not-so-subtle difference between sincerely helpful and “I have a lot of advice because I like giving advice even though my life experiences are so different from yours” (I read that in a Montreal-Jewish-Mom accent and it sounded both better and 100 times worse).
A lot of the advice I got was on not being scared. Personally, I think fear is a perfectly valid feeling (and not the mind killer nor the little death that brings about total oblivion). Especially when the person experiencing it has never spent more than three months away from home. Besides, this wasn’t the crippling, debilitating fear that dances around to extremely loud music wearing nothing but a party hat. This was the healthy and completely normal fear of someone who suddenly has no idea what they’re doing with their life. And to be told that there’s nothing to be afraid of is neither soothing nor helpful because it’s not true! Moving is a scary business, some people thrive on it and some crumple and die. Not literally, that would be upsetting.
Having said that, I’m having a pretty great time right now so perhaps I was overreacting just a teensy bit? Honestly, life here isn’t so bad. There’s easy access to better coffee (the french press phenomenon is quite widespread here and I’ve managed to triple my caffeine intake); the public transit system is, for the moment, much more reliable than that in Montreal, and it’s easy to get around.
The nice thing about Toronto is that it’s very walkable. Sure, I live about 4 or 5 km from the downtown area but that hasn’t stopped me from walking an hour or more just to explore this new city. The one piece of advice, however, that I had filed under “useless” and should definitely have filed under “EXTREMELY USEFUL” was that Toronto, similarly to Montreal, is a giant hill. The further north you go, the higher the incline. In one of my more dimwitted moments, I thought “OH! I’ll bring my bike and save money on transportation!”
Well, not only did I end up living at the top of a very long hill (6 km uphill from my campus, to be precise) but it turned out going back up wasn’t my biggest problem: it was getting down. To those of you who are unfamiliar with Toronto, Yonge St is the big street that runs north/south through the entire city, from the waterfront to further up into York and beyond (!). It’s easily one of the longest streets in Canada (take that, Sherbrooke!). The other fun fact about Yonge is that, once you pass Bloor St, cars aren’t allowed to turn until they get further down, which makes for a lot of heavy traffic at all hours. Now imagine you’re a cyclist going 20 or 30 km/h down this very long street with cars who have even less respect for cyclists than motorists in Montreal, on a route that has absolutely no parking anywhere therefore allowing you the barest of modicums of space. And finally imagine that you carefully packed all your stuff the night before you left and, to your chagrin, left your bulbous yet safety-insured helmet back home, six hours away, far, far out of your reach.
Now you understand the North/South Paradox that is Toronto.
So maybe I won’t be taking my bike out of the safety of it’s locker, for the time being. But that hasn’t stopped me from taking a good look at what this city has to offer. From the readily accessible and delicious coffee, to the korean-italian fusion cuisine, better and cheaper sushi, terrible fashion sense and even worse footwear, and the easily-navigable streets, Toronto has a lot more to offer than the average Montrealer is aware of.
20 Things that Happen When You’re an Unemployed Dropout and Your Friends are in Class 24/7
You cannot listen to one more person complain about finals because you, too, have lived through that and it is quickly driving you insane.
Your boyfriend becomes your best friend (especially since your best friend is in Toronto busy with finals and becoming a world-famous opera singer).
The best friend that stayed in town–who isn’t your boyfriend–usually texts you every single day but hasn’t texted you in 2 weeks because she eats, breathes, and lives studying.
Every week that goes by without a paycheck is a failure week so you’ve clung desperately to that one day a week you halfheartedly agreed to because you’re friends with the owner.
You’ve developed an unhealthy need to be validated for everything you do.
You develop a slight case of paranoia for no apparent reason.
Trawling Craigslist and Kijiji becomes a full time job: one that doesn’t pay very well unfortunately.
When someone does call you in for an interview, your immediate reaction is to think that they won’t hire you because you don’t have enough experience.
You keep telling yourself that you’re going to go to the gym and get yourself in shape a la new year’s resolutions (but you know it’s not going to happen).
You cling to the things in your life that still work and get irrationally upset if something goes wrong.
You jump at the first chance you get to work, even if you have a feeling that you’re going to hate it…
…all the while maintaining a modicum of self-respect (“No mom, I am NOT applying to A&W’s”).
Finding your vocation (in the medieval sense of the word, aka “your life’s purpose”) becomes less of a spiritual quest for fulfillment and more of a number-one-priority–have-to-figure-it-out-right-now-or-else kind of thing.
And it’s problematic because vocational training centers offer a lot of programs that are a) uninteresting, b) demanding of skills that you do not possess, c) crazy expensive, or d) ALL OF THE ABOVE.
And after days of research and praying and binge-watching bad Netflix originals and eating too much cake, you come to the only reasonable conclusion that you need to go far, far away from all of this.
And you get really excited because new places are fun and exciting and shiny.
But then the fear and anxiety set in and you start pushing ev
eryone you love away until your boyfriend sternly tells you to stop trying to break up with him because he actually doesn’t like it when you do that (Who Knew?) and teaches you a great life lesson about enjoying the time you have left with those you love.
And then you go from witty and cynical to lovey and mushy in the span of two sentences.
And you learn to respect your friends for the ridiculous amount of hard work they are putting into their classes and schoolwork for that BA that may or may not be helpful later in life but at least they are doing what they love (or not, but for the time being they think they are) and have an impressive amount of self-discipline that you can only aspire to.
And you get crazy excited for them when they get into grad school because The Universe has recently decided that a Master’s is the only way anyone is getting ahead in life, and you look at your acceptance to community college and the pile of stuff that you have to move… and the whole cycles starts all over again.
Despite the overwhelming stereotypes and stigmas associated with the genre, the Montreal Metal Army is surprisingly well behaved.
When you hear the term “metal” as a genre of music, an image or two immediately spring to mind: perhaps its the skinny, nerdy looking male in a baggy band t-shirt. Or maybe it’s a fringy, off-kilter fellow wearing too much black clothing covered in too many studs. While these most certainly do exist, the face remains that there is no shortage of soccer moms, yuppies, bros, and even children under legal German drinking ages at any given metal concert in Montreal.
You know, it’s kind of funny how un-Canadian Quebec is compared to the rest of the country. I decided that, since I am obviously a crazy globetrotter, it was time to check out some of the not-so-hidden gems that Canada had to offer. You can find my travel blog from my journey to Prince Edward Island here, but stick around for some of the things I learned on my weekend pilgrimage to Niagara Falls–12,000 years of water cascading between Canada and the United States. Sounds exciting right?