Somewhere Spotlight: September 2020
In Somewhere Spotlight, you’ll find three sections – Explore, Food & Drink, Products – each with four elements. Hopefully you’ll find something new to try, whether it’s a brand, restaurant, neighbourhood or sweet treat.
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Elora is about an hour and a half drive north west from Toronto. It is known as one of Ontario’s most beautiful towns and is home to the Elora Mill – a gorgeous hotel and spa perched atop a small cliff adjacent to the Grand River.
My boyfriend, Dave, and I were visiting family in Guelph and decided to stop in Elora on the way. You can tell the town has become more touristy over the years – the streets are turned pedestrian-only on weekends and they sure get packed with people. We went on a cool early-September Saturday during COVID-19 and it was still quite busy. I also found the restaurant prices to be unusually steep for a small town.
It has, nonetheless, maintained it’s quaint charm. Many restaurants use locally sourced ingredients, the Elora Mill is as stunning as ever (thanks to a $27M renovation in 2018), and the walking trails are peaceful.
My recommended spots for a drink are Elora Distilling Company, The Elora Brewing Company or The Lost and Found Cafe. And recommended eats include The Friendly Society (for a relatively casual, but highly raved about, menu of mostly sandwiches, bowls and salads), The Evelyn (for a changing menu featuring local ingredients), The Wild Tart (for afternoon tea) and of course the Elora Mill (for spending a night, enjoying lunch overlooking the dam, or a relaxing spa escape).
Be sure to wander around – take a look at the Grand River from the bridge (you can’t miss it), then walk up the road past the Elora Mill and take the short trail (it’ll be on your left and you can’t miss it) over to the Elora Gorge Lookout. You can see the gorge from an elevated vantage point or walk down the staircase to the Grand River.
The pandemic has encouraged me to take more local day trips, and I am looking forward to many great adventures through fall. Read the second half of this post for some inspiration on lesser known day trips from Toronto.
My boyfriend and I got to enjoy some time up north at my dad’s cottage again. It was nice to be able to spend (albeit distanced) time with him amidst the ongoing pandemic, and Dave and I are thankful for the flexibility provided by our work from home situations. So which activity was the most fun? Fishing during work lunch breaks! It’s always so peaceful sitting in the boat, out on the calm lake, basking in the late summer sun. The fish in our lake are small, but it’s always great to get some competition going to see who can catch the most. Safe to say my dad always wins (I’m convinced he keeps the best lure for himself!).
Want to go fishing but don’t have access to a cottage? Well, you’re in luck because the number of cottages available for rent has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. Alternatively, get yourself a tent and book a campsite!
Since we have been working from home and expect to continue to do so well into next year, Dave and I decided to install built-in cabinets and a desk in our den. This would enable me to move my workstation off of the kitchen table, giving us some semblance of a normal home again. So what did we learn during the process? We learned a great deal about cabinetry, including different types of door finishes, which elements impact cost the most, push-to-open vs. regular door handles, soft-close doors, how to cover up a bulkhead in the most cost effective way, and more.
The most useful advice we got was from my mom, who said – before you finalize the design of your cabinets (including the cabinet box depth, the width of each door, deciding on drawers vs shelves, etc.), understand exactly what you want to store in the space. That way, you have no surprises once the cabinets are built on what items can fit where. Based off of this, we adjusted the cabinet sizes to ensure we could fit bulky items like dog food and wrapping paper. Now, our life is so much more organized and our home was puppy-proofed just in time for bringing our little guy, Leonard, home.
Three years ago, I renovated my old condo – including a full bathroom overhaul, popcorn ceiling removal, new flooring, closing in an old sliding door, and upgrading all lighting. I was incredibly happy with my contractor, Paul from Ciszko Contracting, who I found via HomeStars. Since then, homestars has become my go-to place to source a contractor – you can search for pros by category, see photos and read reviews from past projects. We used the website again for the cabinet project and were pleased with the number of countrators we were able to get in touch with and receive quotes from through the process.
My brother got into smoking meats this summer, which paid dividends for me as I got to sample smoked ribs and chicken.
For his birthday in September, my family wanted to gift him with some goodies that he could use as he continued to experiment with the smoker. My mom came across a great store called Dickson BBQ. It’s truly a BBQ lovers dream, with everything you’d ever want. The staff are also incredibly knowledgeable and they frequently highlight top selling products on the store’s Instagram. We ended up buying my brother a number of rubs and woodchips, as well as some smoking tools.
As a side note, a great book for anyone who loves smoked meat is Franklin BBQ: A Meat Smoking Manifesto. It is written by Aaron Franklin – the owner of Austin’s famed Franklin Barbeque and known as one of the best pitmasters in the US. So of course, we had to gift this to my brother as well. I’m looking forward to trying his next batch of smoked meats!
Food & Drink
Hands down, my favourite place that I ate at in September was Enoteca Sociale, an Italian restaurant tucked away in Little Portugal. They completed a renovation earlier this year and the result is a very homey space with terracotta floors, vintage stained-glass light fixtures, an open kitchen and a long bar with a brick backdrop running down one side of the space.
Enoteca Sociale has a philosophy of making ‘simple & honest Roman cuisine that can be shared with friends and family’, which may quite honestly be the tagline of my ideal restaurant.
Their food may be ‘simple’, but it is by no means lacklustre. Their Roman classics – like cacio e pepe and bucatini all’amatriciana – are incredible, and I have eaten my way through several plates of these dishes at many great restaurants in plenty of cities. We also indulged on the blistered tomato caprese, arancini with bufula mozzarella & nduja, and tagliatelle with mushroom ragu & parmigiano (because why eat two pastas when you can eat three?).
Enoteca Sociale has officially secured a spot as one of my favourite restaurants in the city and I am thoroughly looking forward to returning.
My favourite drink in September was the raspberry lemonade kennel sour, from Black Lab Brewing. I tried it for the first time when I visited on a Friday evening for an oyster night on their patio. We enjoyed a couple of beers and freshly shucked oysters before heading to a nearby favourite – Tabule – for dinner. Be sure to check out the brewery’s Facebook page for updates on the latest events. They just recently held another oyster night and always have something fun going on!
It’s worth noting that Black Lab Brewing is currently selling a PYNK Hibiscus Pale Ale in support of Breast Cancer. You can purchase it on their website or via some bars in the city (find the latest list on Black Lab Brewing’s Instagram page). $1 from every pour and bottle sold of PYNK Hibiscus Pale Ale will be donated to PYNK in support of their efforts to address the special clinical, psychological, research and educational needs of younger women with breast cancer. Read more about Sunnybrook’s PYNK program here.
Also, in case you missed it, check out our interview with Billy Madden, the owner of Black Lab Brewing.
Okay, I will go ahead and admit that the make-at-home section this month is hardly ‘make-at-home’. Instead, we can call it ‘reheat at home’.
After bringing home our puppy, we bought a few premade goodies that we could easily reheat at home. Some of my favourites have included: red curry & coconut chicken soup and fresh mac & cheese from Stock T.C. at Yonge & Eglinton, frozen meat lasagna from Pasta Pantry at Yonge & Davisville, and butternut squash from Tutto Pronto on Bayview in Leaside.
Take a sneak peek inside the new Stock T.C. here!
Back in June, a friend of mine introduced me to Padaria, a Brazilian Bakery near Yonge & Davisville. In September, I finally popped by and enjoyed some of their most popular treats, including: an ooey gooey chocolate Brigadeiro, a “Carolina” pastry (filled with dulce de lèche and covered in chocolate), and pāo de queijo (soft cheese bread (pictured)). You can also get frozen packs of pāo de queijo to bake fresh at home. Even if you don’t live in the area, I recommend taking time to pop by the bakery – it was quite busy, and for good reason.
I always wash my face in the shower, using my beloved Foreo cleansing tool, and recently switched my cleanser to Tula Skincare – Keep It Clear. The product contains a number of superfoods and is cruelty-free. Of all of the cleansers that I’ve tried this year, I find this one does the best job by far. It manages to clear away all of the bumps in every nook and cranny on my face (even the groove between my chin and lower lip, which is a problem area for me). The only downside is I find it to be quite drying. However, I just follow up with the ultra-moisturizing Tarte Drink of H2O Moisturizer right after my shower.
As we were planning to bring home our pup, @leonardthedood, in early September, we were on the hunt for reasonably good looking dog bowls and toys. We knew that his toys would end up strewn across our living room floor, and thought it might be nice to invest in something more stylish than the standard pet store brands. We also wanted to find a collar that was poly coated (versus fabric) so that it would be easy to keep clean.
Let me tell you – modern dog accessories sure are hard to find! But eventually we came across Wild One – a brand out of the US that focuses on simply designed products with a function-first mindset. We ended up getting the walk kit, toy kit and bowls. We love all of the items and definitely recommend checking them out. The only downside was that we got dinged with customs charges as the products were shipped to Canada.
Psst – if you are interested in shopping, message me and I can email you a $20 off code.
Clothing & Accessories
I have loved Province of Canada for a long time; their products are all made in Canada and their designs play a nice homage to Canada without feeling too ‘Canadiana’.
Earlier this year I bought the ‘dad’ sweatshirt for my dad for Father’s Day. In September, I decided to treat myself with the Everyday Leggings, the Everyday Bike Shorts and the Monday Crop Top. The fabrics are a nice thickness (not see through!!), are soft and super comfortable. And look, I can no longer wear a crop top like I used to. I’m also tall, with a long torso, so a crop top is usually even shorter on me than most people. But I’ve been eyeing Province of Canada’s crop for some time as they described it as: “unlike your average crop top, we’ve added a little extra length so you don’t have to show off your belly button”. The length is perfect – if I raise my arms, you’ll catch a glimpse of skin, but when I move around normally, it sits right at the top of the high waisted leggings and shorts. It’s short enough to look more tailored, without being too cropped! Hallelujah!
In August, I visited Alimentari in Roncesvalles and asked for a recommendation on olive oil. They kindly brought the chef out of the kitchen to walk me through their selection. I landed on a finishing oil and an olive oil that I could also use for cooking. The latter was the same brand that the chef uses at home: Primagoccia Di Macina. I was expecting to splurge a bit on great olive oil, but 1L ended up only costing $16 which is almost on par with the grocery store brand I was previously using. I finally cracked open this new bottle in September and let me tell you – it’s fantastic. So flavourful and a huge step up from the grocery store brand. I highly recommend visiting Alimentari and picking up some great pantry items, including Primagoccia Di Macina Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
There can be so much pressure with finding the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. My recommendation is to find something sentimental or with a story, that way, your gift ends up being more than just an object.
The top places to order takeout from in Toronto for Valentine’s Day 2022. These takeout options are certainly meant to impress!
73 Questions with the Founder of Middle of Somewhere