Friday, August 30, 2013


            It’s August 28 [edit: this was written two days ago]. Yesterday marked two years since I moved to Toronto from Montreal, yet I haven’t lived in Toronto that whole time. As some of you may already know, I moved to Toronto in 2011, did my Master’s here, went to Italy for seven months in 2012, and returned to Toronto this past January, to a new apartment and on my very own, to commence my PhD.

At the Toronto Veg Festival in 2011, only days after moving to Toronto from Île Bizard, in the suburbs of Montreal. (I miss my long hair. Sniff.)
I spend a great deal of time in this rad kitchen. It's been my dream, since going vegan, of course, to have a 100% vegan kitchen. The dream is finally mine!
I spend a lot of time on this couch, too, favouring it over the more practical desk—and I even favour my kitchen table over my desk. What is it about practicality that has me instinctively rebel?
Suffice it to say, however, that Toronto’s been home for almost two full years—or, at least my belongings have been sheltered by the grace of this fine city for that whole time.
            I’m sitting by the west-facing window of the Green Beanery, on Bathurst and Bloor.

This exact photograph is replicated at least a dozen times in my cell phone's photo album. I am completely enamoured of this vegan peanut-butter banana muffin from the Green Beanery combined with soy cappuccino. The breakfast of champions, I say!
The flashy, showy, tacky, yet somehow charming Broadway lights of Honest Ed’s blink from across the street between the silhouettes of passersby—late-summer tourists; evening joggers; excited children with relaxed parents (school starts soon, after all); poor, gentle homeless souls—and wary cars, speeding taxis, and the Bathurst streetcars all but spilling with human beings zip through the quickly darkening sky. Immediately facing my own computer at this café table is its MacBook twin, on which a very handsome, bearded, hazel-eyed baseball-capped man types in a focussed, intent, and serious manner.
            This man is my boyfriend of almost five months. And in front of him sits an empty cup that, only an hour ago, housed a delicious, frothy soy cappuccino (Dane even let me drink up the leftover foam from the cappuccino. What can I say? He's a keeper). This man, one month ago, stated that he didn’t "drink coffee or any sort of hot beverage"; now he craves them, and I make him espressos in the morning. I feel like a religious missionary who has successfully and with divine zeal converted the most militant and stubborn of atheists. We now share this zeal when we praise the coffee gods together.
            Boy, do things ever change fast. And beautifully. Change is good.


            Almost nine months—262 days, to be precise—have passed since I last updated this blog, my baby from the days when I was a suburbanite. I often feel like a big fake when I post under this name, “Vegan in Suburbia,” but the fact remains that I’ve spent more of my life in the suburbs than I have in the, er, urbs (fun fact, thanks to my learning Latin this summer [yeah, yet another language has inundated my monkey mind]: the word for “city” in Latin is “urbs,” so if you’re ever attempting cheekiness by backforming “urbs” from “suburbs,” you’ve good reason and a solid etymological background under which to do so—even though you may end up sounding like an ass).
            The last time that I wrote, I was in two varieties of the less-than-suburbs—you know, the (Italian) countryside, where you and your nearest neighbour are separated by either half a kilometre or thick walls of 17th-century stone. I hadn’t had sushi, Indian food, pad thai, or bagels in months—wait, that’s a lie: my mum, when she’d visited me, brought me six blueberry bagels from Tim Horton’s. Oh, bless her…

I guarded and hoarded these with my whole being.
            Towards the end of my stay in Italy, at which point I was extremely eager to return to Canada, I was having one or two anxiety attacks a day. I failed to pinpoint whence these crises came, and they caught me completely unawares each time. They wouldn’t last long, but they scared the absolute crap out of me. Though it’s impossible to diagnose the source of this panic that I suffered, I came to believe that I had apprehension about what awaited me in Canada—about what had changed, what had remained the same, how I’d be different, how I might react to all of these changes or disconcerting consistencies.

I was relieved to be back in Canada with dogs that were friends of mine.
            Everything was fine and, well, normal when I returned. My former world was relatively static. Actually, this is false: I returned to a Canada that had discontinued its penny; a Canada in which cell phones had doubled in size; a Quebec that had a separatist premier; a name to which two new initials had been added in my absence (my graduation had taken place in Toronto while I was abroad, but I still got to hoist those fabulous M.A. letters in my own heart!); two friends who’d jumped from engaged to married; a cousin and a high-school friend who’d gotten engaged; a sister who’d turned 30; a family that contained one member that had been diagnosed with and had defeated cancer within the seven months that I’d spent abroad.
            Like I said earlier, how swiftly things change, and how mercilessly.


            As for myself, I’d tested and challenged myself in ways that I had never and could not ever have anticipated. I won’t dump the dull details on you about my personal progression, but the ways in which I’d transformed hadn’t made themselves apparent, really, until weeks or months after my return.
             For instance, my fear of untended canines continued to grip me, only easing its terrifying grasp recently (see this post if you don’t understand why this animal-adoring vegan developed a devastating dread of dogs in Italy).
            (MR. CONDUCTOR, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO ABANDON THE ALLITERATION TRAIN. I’m on a more-or-less unintentional roll, but there’s gotta be such a thing as alliteration abuse, no?)

These doggies were gentle fluff monsters and not mean like the one that caused my fears to form. They followed me home one day and then always wanted to hang out with us. They were sheep dogs, though, and their farmer boss got upset with us, thinking that we were feeding them (we were not), thus causing them to return to us. No, they kept returning because we showered them with cuddles!
            Anyway, alliteration abuse and dread of dogs aside, my assimilation of and into Italian culture made itself apparent upon my return to Canada in funny ways—like when I would have an internal freakout upon seeing a Quebec or Ontario license plate on a car, or when I would see a person sporting a t-shirt with the Canadian flag, because neither of those visions occurred, ever, in Italy. I would be surprised when the water pressure was consistent and didn’t shut off arbitrarily. Additionally, the abundance of ATMs thrilled me, since we would have to drive ten or fifteen minutes from Labro to gain access to one. My ears would perk up when I heard English spoken in public places. I was impressed when the bus showed up on time, or at all.
            Becoming re-accustomed to food in Canada had its own surprises, too, since the quality of fresh produce in Italy is far superior to that of Canada, since the produce is frequently, if not exclusively, local and seasonal, and GMOs are never used. In Canada, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to purchase tomatoes from the grocery store until the beginning of this very summer, and even that was a less than satisfactory experience and very short-lived, so the only tomatoes that I have consumed have been sundried, canned, or from my Nonno’s garden. 

Nonno's tomato vines make tomatoey goodness
I had to hold back, while gallivanting along Toronto streets, from picking fruit off of trees that weren’t on my own property (untended roadside crabapple trees and blackberry bushes in Italy often bore the assault of our gluttonous hands).

Pomegranates on our property in Italy
            The funniest and most peculiar instances of reverse culture shock, I think, are the following two. First, I can’t begin to explain how confused I was about ordering coffee in Italian-style bars or coffee shops in Toronto. Sure, they looked like Italian bars and sold Italian coffee, but they were neither in Italy nor would they accept the Euros that inevitably still commingled with my Canadian change (pennies included. Old habits die hard). They probably would’ve understood me had I inadvertently ordered in Italian, but I felt awkward enough as it was. But where should I order my coffee: at the counter or at the cash? Did I need to pay right away or once my coffee was imbibed? Could I drink the espresso at the bar or did I need to be seated and they would bring my beverage to me? This crisis occurred in my brain unbeknownst to the bar staff, but it’s possible that my eyes betrayed the tiniest traces of panic.

How to avoid coffee awkwardness: make it at home.
            The second instance was when I had moved into my new apartment in Toronto, a charming and absolutely exquisite basement apartment located only two or three minutes from my old abode in Toronto. My landlords had found me on Craigslist (people, seriously! If you’re looking for an apartment, don’t just search the ads—post your own ad. It works!) after I’d posted an ad from Italy. They are two of the most lovely, generous, and supportive individuals that I’ve encountered, and my every interaction with them reminds me of how fortunate and blessed I am to have them—especially since bad-landlord horror stories seem to be the rule rather than the exception, unfortunately.

My landlords left this absolutely beautiful and thoughtful welcome package on my counter when I moved in, because they'd recalled that I said that I baked a lot (actually, in my Craigslist ad, I'd mentioned that they ought not to be surprised if they smelled brownies baking at 2 a.m.). Can you see why I love them?
            So, since I moved in in January, it was bitterly cold, as one can imagine any Canadian city east of Vancouver to be. Though my apartment is equipped with two old-school radiators, they just barely heat the entire space—unless the heat is on full-blast, in which case the upstairs tenants would be positively boiling, since they control the heat and, also, as we know, heat rises. Anyway, my landlords kept asking me if I was comfortable; if it was too cold; if I wanted them to purchase a space-heater for me. Upon hearing these questions, I would smile beneath my tuque, two sweaters, doubled socks, and sweatpants, politely declining their offer and insisting that I was “just fine.” 

It was cold, yo.
Well, I wasn’t just fine, and I also had not become re-assimilated into Canadian customs and expectations. I was used to such basic amenities as heat and running water to be inconsistent or nonexistent and out of my control in Italy; I was accustomed to dealing and coping with whatever circumstances were thrown my way, being resourceful with what was at my disposal. So, I hadn't thought of doing anything other than grinning and bearing the cold in my apartment. My mum pointed out this strange and illogical behaviour of mine.
            I ended up with a space-heater.


            Like I keep saying, a lot can change in the span of a few months. While all of those events and traits evolved and transformed both within and without me while I was in Italy, a period of time equal to that which I spent in Italy has passed since my last entry, and I find myself with many events to enumerate.
            I’m a PhD student now. I taught my first undergraduate class. I corrected exams and papers and stood in the way of a passing or failing grade for two dozen 20-year-olds, some of whom absolutely needed to pass in order to graduate (it'll take a while before I get used to that frightening amount of power). I chopped off all my hair and donated it.

Ta-da! Short hairs!
My student made my heart explode when he thanked me—and called me Signora, which is as formal as calling me "Mrs." (though I am unmarried)—at the end of his composition.
I took this photograph for my best buddy, Maritsa, because she had this inane idea for me to ask one of my students to photograph me while I was teaching. Instead, I opted to awkwardly take a picture of myself in my empty classroom writing nothing on the blackboard.
I got back together with an ex-boyfriend and we broke up after mere weeks. My cousin surprised me in Toronto, with his fiancée to whom he'd proposed that very night. My other cousin got married and had a mostly-vegan wedding (!!!). I had a chimichanga for the first time in my life and it was positively dripping with melted Daiya. I attended my first baseball game and enjoyed it immensely, and I've been to several more since (I even have a Blue Jays cap now, thanks to my love [I'm sorry, Matthew!]).

Usually, I'm stuck eating fruit salad or bits of cream-free marzipan as a dessert at weddings and other formal events. So, naturally, because all of the dessert was vegan, from Auntie Loo's, I made sure to have one of each at my cousin's wedding. Booya.
I love you. (The love is courtesy of Rancho Relaxo on College Street.)
Trying to look cool—the keyword being "trying."
My best buddy and brother, Matthew, scored us these seats at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. We watched his favourite team, the Dodgers, and the Jays play. This is why I apologised to him (above) for wearing a Blue Jays hat.
I composed a poem about zombie love, inspired by the above-mentioned breakup and the film Warm Bodies, and performed it at an open mic for the first time in my life (wine may or may not have boosted my confidence). The Universe, or Fate, or Serendipity, or Cupid, or all of the above caused me and the aforementioned handsome bearded man to cross each other’s paths. This moment of kismet occurred precisely at that point in our respective lives when our hearts were open to allow the other to walk next to us on our paths. Thank you, Dane. And thank you for drinking coffee with me.

Abundant laughter with Dane, as per usual, at my birthday brunch at Hogtown Vegan
            I learned Latin in three months (and I pray that I don’t lose it as quickly). I (unknowingly) took part in a hidden-camera game show with a dear friend of mine—and I also said goodbye to this same gem of a friend who moved to Vancouver to pursue bigger, better things. An article that I’d written about my recent time spent in Italy was published in T.O.F.U. Magazine (*cough* shameless self-promotion *cough*). I volunteered a whole bunch of times with the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) and became reacquainted with that beautiful and compassionate community. I joined a food co-op, the Karma Co-op.

Studying Latin became my entire life from May until August. As a result, soy cappuccinos imbibed at cafés (usually the Green Beanery, but I switched it up on this day, heading to nearby Faema instead) were a staple of my diet.
The gorgeous spread of decadent vegan baked goods at a TVA fundraiser, held in front of their resource centre. Those doughnuts went fast (one of them went fast into my face).
I saw mothafrakkin Green Day in concert, in addition to The Shins, Amos the Transparent, Hey Rosetta!, The New Pornographers, and a slew of fantastic acts at Osheaga (where do I begin? JIMMY EAT WORLD, dude, and Mumford and Sons, and a little band named The Head and the Heart that actually caused me to sob during one of their songs).

I was seated preeetty far from the stage at the Air Canada Centre, but I could hear Green Day, so that's what mattered. Boom.
I MET JIAN GHOMESHI. I chanted and marched in an anti-GMO rally. I was visited by countless loved ones. I celebrated my 27th birthday with my sister, her love, my love, and dear new friends. I survived TORONTO FLOOD 2013 (hahaha:

Heck yeah, you are!
Me and Mr. Ghomeshi. I babbled incoherently, naturally, as he signed my book. Holy swoonage.
The requisite outdoor-festival porta-potty shot, taken on the first day of Osheaga (my sister and I went for the full three days).
Cooking over candlelight during the power outages that resulted from the massive rainfalls. It turned out to be a very romantic evening for me and Dane, who kicked it and dined with me in the darkness. In case you were wondering, veggie burgers take about 45 minutes to heat in a cast-iron pan over three candle flames. Now you know.
             I know that I’m forgetting important events, or simply omitting them, but most of you have probably stopped reading (good for you. No one ought to suffer through such verbosity) or, for those whose eyes my words are still targeting, I’ll spare you the play-by-play of details that are of little consequence to you, but I'm grateful for your attention, as always.
            The second semester of my PhD resumes in under two weeks, and I know that I will be exceedingly swamped with academia. So, if my writing was sparse as of late, I can only dream about when my next entry will be. Then again, I do pride myself on counting myself amongst the Masters of Procrastination and, as such, I’m sure that I’ll find a way to sneak in a few entries here and there. And if I don’t, it’s probably because I’ve chosen to bake bread instead—or something with peas and potatoes or baba ghannouj. Seriously, I have a baba ghanniction.

Raisin bread
Rosemary and rock salt bread
Peas and nori and onions and rice, all destined for my primary face hole
Peas, onions, and potatoes. Say whaaat!
Does one really need anything else though? Dude: baba ghannouj and red peppers are where it's at. Sometimes, I mix in avocado, thyme, and rock salt. Don't tell anyone.
So, until next time, I bid you fare well. If you're starting school in any capacity, I wish you much luck, sanity, and productivity. I received some excellent advice, while I was in Italy, about how to maintain tranquillity and perspective while pursuing an education: "fly a kite at least once a semester." Allow yourself to do something peaceful but that produces no fruit, visible or otherwise. You owe yourself some time and space to nourish your soul and brain with divine silence. And if you're not going back to school in September but you'll be sharing spaces with hordes of new and returning students, I send to you wishes of patience and peace when you are veritably surrounded in trains, buses, streetcars, and bike paths. Send one of them a smile; they may need it.

And I am sending you love, gratitude, smiles, and the aroma of freshly-baked raisin bread.


Vegan in the Urbia

P.S. Oh, snap! I just realised: September marks the ten-year anniversary of my going completely vegan (okay, now I feel like I have to write a follow-up post to mark this occasion. Hold me to it, okay?)! Hooray! To give you an idea of the emo kid that I was when I made this unprecedented (at least, given my personality, my upbringing, and my age at the time) and life-transforming decision, take a gander at this photo, taken at the Vans Warped Tour maybe one or two years after I'd made the best decision of my life.

This was in my self-righteous phase. Can you tell? I appear unimpressed.