Rave: The perks of eating at home

It’s 6 p.m. Work
clothes are off, couch mode is fully activated. The tell-tale rumble of an
empty belly reminds you it’s been hours since sustenance. You: 

a)    Download the Pizza
Pizza app on your iPhone. Rollin’ with garlic dipping sauce in 40 minutes or
less (and with minimal human interaction).
b)    Treat yourself to a
can of Zoodles and a margarine sandwich.
c)    Take three shots of
NyQuil and pretend it never happened.

If you answered yes
to any of the above, for shame! Food is fuel for your bodies, people, and you
wouldn’t put sugar in a gas tank would you? Granted, stepping into the kitchen
for the first time can be a little daunting, and while there are a million and one
reasons not to, learning basic cooking skills is an integral part of an adult
life. Before you go spouting off the same old excuses as to why you should stay true to
take-out and frozen food staples, like “But I’m a terrible cook”  (Have
you tried trying?); “But it’s just so hard cooking for one!”  (It’s
called a freezer, rookie); “My kitchen is infested with raccoons and I’m
afraid to go in there.”  (
You need to address that ASAP); take a look
at all the perks of learning your way around a kitchen.

Start small and dedicate a week to eating at home and in no time you’ll find yourself:
1. Happier

We all have to start somewhere.

Just like with
anything, practice makes perfect. If it’s day one in the kitchen, we wouldn’t
suggest trying to whip up some coq au vin or puff pastry but there are plenty of recipes for beginners that are so delicious and straightforward, you’ll wonder why you
ever ordered Swiss Chalet in the first place. Even if your first forays into
culinary excellence are not so much Giada at Home and more Kitchen Nightmares,
learning to cook can be a hilarious and rewarding experience.
There’s a reason why
the cliché about the way to the heart being through your stomach exists. Think
about it. Being able to make a meal for somebody is proving that you’re able to
provide one of their most basic needs. Aside from how impressed your
friends will be when you coyly wink and say “Oh this? It was nothing”, the personal
feeling of pride and accomplishment that accompanies putting together a
beautiful meal for yourself is a real attitude changer. You could have that
every day!
2. Healthier
Make the healthy choice.
When you make the
decision to put together your own meals as opposed to relying on
take-out, delivery or pre-made meals, you’re taking charge of everything that goes
into your body. It is much easier to keep track of what’s going in when you’re
sourcing ingredients yourself, as opposed to making sense of nutritional labels
or in the case of most restaurants, having no nutritional information at all.
What do you think your body wants more: fresh food from your friendly
neighbourhood grocer? Or a stranger showing up to your house with food that
has passed through the hands of two or three other strangers before getting to
you? And it’s not just your health on the line, preparing food on your own
reduces the amount of packaging involved with take out and pre-packaged foods,
and Mother Nature thanks you for that.
3. Wealthier
A day at the market is more fun than fast-food any day (and cheaper in the long run).

Short term, hitting
up the McD’s dollar menu might seem more wallet friendly than going to the
grocery store but the trick is to keep a well stocked pantry of dry goods. Once
you’ve got the basics (things like rice noodles, pasta, rice, herbs and spices – all
stuff you can get on the cheap), you can supplement with fresh produce, tofu and meat
for meals that cost under $5 .
Places like Kensington Market, Chinatown, and St. Lawrence Market are a mecca
for frugal foodies, or if you’re really ambitious, roll your sleeves up and
start urban farming for unlimited fresh fruit and veg. If a
day in the market or digging in the garden just isn’t your bag, sign up for
organics delivery (like Organics Live) for delivery that won’t leave you with a wicked food hangover (but slightly lighter in the pocketbook).

Some of our favourite blogs for getting started with cooking are:

1. Smitten Kitchen: some recipes are advanced, but there are some very good basics here with tons of helpful tips and tricks. Plus, these dishes always turn out. 

2. Skinny Taste: Appealing food, pretty photos, lots of options for entrées and desserts, and most importantly, the recipes are healthy.

3. Food Network: This site, home to the popular chefs that you see on TV, has some great recipes and a ton of hints to get started if you’re a noob. Chef Michael Smith and Rachel Ray (seriously) are good ones to look to first.


City Living: Toronto Bucket List

This time of year, Toronto gets a bit of a bad rap. We’re constantly whining about the weather
and all of those cool summertime to-do’s must wait until the spring. No patios to hit up on a sunny afternoon. Despite this, we consider ourselves pretty
lucky to get to live in this awesome city. Toronto is home to some great sports
teams (well, 
that may be up for debate ), excellent theatre, concerts, cool
neighbourhoods and restaurants. There are endless options for things to do any
day of the week.
 We’ve put together a
list of the things we’ve always wanted to do in this great city of ours – sort of like a guide to being a tourist in your own city. 

CN Tower EdgeWalk

A few of us want to conquer this crazy trip up the (former) world’s largest free standing structure.  Despite the high price, “Toronto’s Most Extreme Attraction” has been super popular and is now in its second season. The videos look crazy and this only for the bravest of the brave.
If you want to gear up and spend 30 minutes at the top of our city, try it out!
Season two lasts until this Sunday – it’s your final weekend!
Brave and stylish 😉
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One of the perks of being a publicist is getting to go to a lot of unique events around
town.  However, sometimes 
this doesn’t leave time for the obvious Toronto activities. It’s a
bit embarrassing but a couple of us have yet to explore
Kensington Market,
Toronto’s most vibrant and unique neighbourhood. Just west of Chinatown, with College Street to
the north and Dundas Street to the south, Kensington is home to great
vintage shops with spending-hours-hunting-worthy music, clothing and jewellery. On top of that, there’s a whole slew of spots to eat and drink. We love the new pub Thirsty and Miserable (wicked beer selection), the Bellevue and 
Big Fat Burrito (sometimes, you just need a big, fat burrito).

No shortage of character.
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Love the eclectic and colourful buildings in the market.
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Try some cool, new (or old) restaurants

For some of us, our weekends revolve around a new
restaurant or food trend that we’ve been dying to try. Next up for us? Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs.
Newly open on College Street, this unique place offers some “haute-couture”
hot dogs. A little something to remind you of your childhood, with a grown-up twist – especially with toppings like shrimp, lettuce horseradish mayo and hot sauce on their Po’Boy Gets Fancy or BBQ pork and cabbage slaw on the Southern Fancy. 

Even fancier than these dogs.
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Window shop on Bloor Street

We may love fashion, but that doesn’t mean we can afford
it! As
previously posted, we love Joe Fresh for affordable and stylish pieces,
wouldn’t it be nice to purchase something from Chanel? Of course it would! With the holiday season around the corner, retail shops are dressing up their windows with extra-special displays, making it the perfect time to grab a hot chocolate and stroll down Bloor. Window shopping on Toronto’s version of Rodeo Drive is one of those things that we always recommend that visitors do, but rarely make the time ourselves. The holiday season is the perfect time to get on it.
Every girl’s dream.
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Yum, Yum: Dr. Augusta’s Samitorium

If the name hasn’t already piqued your interest, just trust us and keep reading. Dr. Augusta’s Samitorium is Toronto’s newest player
in the gourmet sammy market (in Kensington Market, no less) and we’re happy it’s arrived. 

Owned by Chris Bobbitt and Vlad Vujovic, who met while working together at
Canoe, this spot has an old-school feel and offers fresh, new flavours. Besides the fact that the pair’s creations are
delicious, they make homemade sodas that, to our delight, can be made into
an ice cream float – inducing thoughts of Archie’s favourite hangout, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe.

Dr. Augusta’s Samitorium is a welcome addition to the gourmet sammy market in Toronto.

It took us a good 10 minutes to decide which sandwich we wanted, and in the end we settled on the breakfast biscuit ($7.65). Now, before you judge us for getting a breakfast sammy for dinner, let us say two things: 1. Breakfast is good any time of day, and 2. The breakfast biscuit consists of braised pork belly in a soy ginger glaze with a fried egg, all topped with aged cheddar between two homemade flaky buttermilk biscuits. So breakfast for dinner is sounding pretty good now, isn’t it?

Start the day off right with the braised pork belly breakfast sammy. 
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As for the sodas ($2.75 or $5.75 for a float), we sampled cream soda and root beer, and only need one word to sum it up: YUM. These are no “Italian sodas” that you get in chain coffee shops. No, these are the real deal. The Samitorium uses a century-old recipe for their syrup-based concoctions. Root beer was spicy and sweet at the same time, while the (not pink!) cream soda made us imagine we were in a 1950’s soda shop. Other flavours include lemon, ginger and grape. 

Sodas from a century-old recipe are made right in front of you.

We’ll definitely be back for the lobster roll, the po’boy (which is now a menu staple after moonlighting as a special), roasted pork sandwich and homemade soups. What makes this place even better is that they source almost everything they use locally; it doesn’t get fresher than baked bread from Blackbird Baking Co. and meat from Sanagan’s Meat Locker. We only wish it was closer to the fourth floor!

We’ll definitely be making a return trip to this Samitorium. 
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Dr. Augusta’s Samitorium is located at 602 Dundas St. W. (corner of Dundas and Augusta) and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Follow them on Twitter at @DoctorAugusta or visit them on Facebook

Fashion-able: Thrifting Tips

Come January, we find both our wallets and clothing a little stretched. If you’re fighting the urge to spend on new clothes, consider adding to your wardrobe while sticking to a budget with a few vintage or thrift store finds. We love a good hunt through racks and racks of odd clothing, in hopes we’ll spot that one perfect find hidden behind the moth-eaten sweaters and ’80s sequined dresses. Here are some tips for making the most of vintage shopping.

Go prepared to work

Cranky, tired, rushed, heavy bags, uncomfortable shoes: all setbacks to your search! Good thrifting calls for much more patience and persistence than regular shopping. While the thrill of the hunt energizes diehard thrifters, most of us need to be in a good head space to sort through racks of stained, ill-fitting articles for buried treasures. 

Where to start?

Bonus tip: wear a cross-body purse, so you can have two free hands to rummage through boxes of accessories. Also, wear a close-fitting outfit for slipping into your finds over your clothes.

Know what to look for and skip the rest

Enter the store with a plan and know what you’re looking for to keep from getting frustrated or overwhelmed. We love buying “fast fashion” brands like H&M or Old Navy in-store, but these can be passed over when shopping second-hand. They don’t hold up well to wear and tear from previous owners. Skip them. Ditto for the T-shirt racks. 

Mitzi Cocoa

Night Lights blog

Spend your time searching for well-made blazers, dresses, coats and skirts. These items are often worn less frequently before being donated, so they’ll be in better condition and you have a greater chance of scoring a fabulous item. Also look for scarves, jewellery and inexpensive accessories.
It’s a fun and very affordable way to spice up your winter wardrobe.

Check all sizes

Sizing varies depending on brand, country of origin and decade. Expect to size up considerably when trying on vintage dresses or skirts. Pull items of interest off the racks to see the size, rather than flicking past based on the tags. In stores that group items by size, check sections with smaller and larger sizes than you’d normally wear.

Quality checks

The holy grail of thrifting is finding authentic, undamaged Dior or Chanel that the shop owner has overlooked. While it happens enough to keep the myth alive, it’s much more likely that you’ll be looking at garments that are unlabelled or that you don’t recognize.

Use these quality indicators to get a sense of what you’re looking at:

  • Lining: if the manufacturer took the time to put a lining in, they probably took care with the rest of the construction.
  • Seams: high quality garments have finished seams (the edge of the garment isn’t a raw edge, it’s carefully and cleanly stitched under). Patterns on fabrics at seams are aligned on well-made items. 

A lovely finished seam. 

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  • Fabric: check the tags for fabrics like silk, wool, cashmere, cotton and linen. Try to avoid items that are primarily made of synthetic materials, unless you’ve scored a sweet polyester suit from the ’70s. Exceptions made for that.
  • Condition: use a critical eye to check for stains (especially under the arms; bring your nose into this one, too), tiny holes, rips, missing buttons, broken zippers, or fabric or stitching that is overly worn or stretched. You may be able to do some repair at home, but judge carefully to determine if it’s salvageable and worth the effort. Realistically, are you going to replace the buttons, re-hem the bottoms and stitch the three tiny tears?

Seek inspiration online
There are fantastic fashion blogs dedicated to showing and styling thrift store finds. Check out these sites for inspiration on how to modernize thrift store purchases so they’re wearable and hip. Some of our faves are My Edit, by Hamilton-based blogger Jentine, and Night Lights by Mitzi Cocoa in British Columbia.

Jentine from My Edit in a thrifted skirt and sweater.

Be smart with your money
Know your prices and be smart. Don’t be cheap, but at the same time don’t overpay for items that you could purchase new for a few dollars more. If there are too many “ifs”: this will be cute if I shorten the hem, this will work if I wear a sweater over it, this will be great if I lose/gain 10 pounds, then pass. It’s not a great find if it sits at the back of your closet until you continue the cycle and give it away.

Favourite spots in Toronto

While there’s an unwritten rule that a good thrifter never divulges her spots, these are a few spots to check out in and around Toronto:

  • Kensington Avenue and Augusta Street in Kensington Market: A bit picked over and sometimes overpriced, but worth a look. Don’t miss Courage My Love and Bungalow.
  • 69 Vintage: Carefully curated finds. Less digging through Grandma’s castoffs than most places.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store: Classic spot for thrifting, with lots of stock and quick turnover.
  • Goodwill: Similar story to Salvation Army.
  • Value Village: Controversial in the blogosphere due to perceived over-pricing, but worth a look. 
  • Out of Town: A lot less picked over and more likely to have a true “treasure”. Check out Talize (Mississauga, Hamilton, London, among others), Bibles for Missions (across Ontario) and the usual suspects (Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village). 
  • LAB Consignment: Designer goods at a fraction of the price. Toronto’s fashion set consign their barely-worn duds here.

Do you have a favourite thrift store in or around the GTA? Spill it! Tweet us @rockitpromo.