Welcome to SQM Picks!

We are very excited to announce the launch of SQM Picks… a feature about the businesses that SQM has grown to know and love. Our President, David Lipton, has years of experience in a variety of industries, and is very passionate about customer service. He is always coming across great businesses, and he believes that they should get the credit that they deserve. SQM Picks will be posted every Wednesday, so be sure to keep an eye out for our latest picks and some of the President’s top recommendations.

Do you know of a business that deserves a standing ovation and a mention in SQM Picks?  We’re always on the lookout for great businesses, and would love to hear about any that you feel should be featured in one of our articles. You can follow us and tweet us at @SQMInc, follow us and send us a message on Facebook at Sensors Quality Management – Mystery Shopping, or email us at sqm@sqm.ca

We hope that you enjoy what SQM Picks has to offer. What are you waiting for? Take your pick!

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Things to do for Victoria Day

Flat canadian victoria day illustration Free Vector

With sunny days ahead, and nicer weather coming up, May is the perfect time to get your daily dose of vitamin D. This Victoria Day take some time off and celebrate safely with friends and family. Here are a few ideas:

Take a hike or bike ride: Get in some exercise while the weather’s nice! Take a hike or a ride around your neighbourhood and enjoy the greenery at a nearby trail or park.

Have a picnic: Pack a lunch and a few snacks, and head to a nice outdoor area to enjoy a meal outside. May is prime time for picnics, as it may still be too cold for many insects to come out. Some nice places to have a picnic around Toronto are Ashbridges BayTrinity Bellwoods Park, and Bluffers Beach.

Have a backyard BBQ: It’s BBQ season! Have a personal cookout in your backyard. Depending on where you are, some cities might not be holding fireworks, but you may be able to do your own, depending on your local bylaws and guidelines.

Work on a personal garden: Now is a good time to develop your green thumb! If there are any home projects that you need to finish, consider getting some good work in on Victoria Day.

Help the community: Helping out others in the community is always time well-spent. Whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping take care of the homeless, or bringing a meal to someone who is in need, it could be a good idea to devote some time on the weekend to help others.

Go for a drive: Depending on your local guidelines, you could take a leisurely drive out in the country and enjoy the scenery.

Camping for the weekend: I personally am not a big fan of the cold or black flies, so I would wait for warmer weather, but camping can be an option for you (again, if you can do so safely)! And if camping grounds are not open due to the lockdown, try pitching a tent in your backyard.

Virtual concerts: Enjoy some of your favourite artists by attending a virtual concert. Musicians such as Twenty One Pilots and Jason Mraz are hosting concerts near Victoria Day weekend. For more information about upcoming virtual concerts, click here.

Brunch on the patio: If you don’t want to go too far from home, you could always try and set up a nice lunch out on your patio or balcony, while enjoying the sun. If you are allowed to do so, visiting loved ones could also be an idea.

Have a safe and socially distanced Victoria Day!

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Sweet Mother’s Day Gift

Baking is love…and we are all doing it these days!

Just before the pandemic, SQM was working on a project that involved a local startup: The World’s Best Vanilla Company. The original goal was to import the highest quality Madagascar vanilla to sell to the foodservice industry, but due to COVID-19, the strategy had to change.

Everyone was staying at home and baking, so the company decided to start selling to consumers. Some people use the vanilla for baking, or for making ice cream—many high end bakeries and ice cream parlours in the city purchase this company’s vanilla for use in their products.

In addition, other people buy vanilla because they want to make their own vanilla extract.  A lot of people don’t realize how simple the process is.  Slice the vanilla pods lengthwise, run your knife over the beans, scraping them out, and steep them in alcohol for approximately three months. The result is some of the best-tasting vanilla extract on the planet, to cook and bake with at your leisure.   This is a great way to undertake a fun family project, while saving yourself some money at the same time.

The World’s Best Vanilla Company also sells vanilla extract gift bottles. The bottles come in two different sizes and they make amazing gifts for people looking for something different.  Lately, we have been seeing people buy a bottle for themselves, and one (or more) for a friend.

Mothers Day is coming!  If you’re looking for a unique gift for Mom (and if you are lucky, she will bake for you…), or looking to support a small business, I highly recommend you check out The World’s Best Vanilla Company. Happy baking!

The World’s Best Vanilla Company
416-847-1029
https://www.worldsbestvanilla.com/

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How To Celebrate Valentine’s Day During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Like all holidays celebrated recently, this year’s Valentine’s will be slightly different from the rest. Whether you’re in a lockdown, quarantine, or just trying to stay safe during the pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the Valentine’s Day long weekend with your loved ones:

Treat yourself: Whether or not you’re in a relationship, it is always important to take some time (especially during the holiday season), to treat yourself. Order from your favourite restaurant, binge-watch your favourite tv show or do whatever it is that you find relaxing. Make an effort to have some valuable “me time”.

Romantic Dinner: There is no shame in the take-out game! This is the perfect time to support your local small businesses. Where possible, pick up the food directly from the restaurant instead of using UberEats or SkipTheDishes.

Cook at home: Show off those cooking skills you learned during lockdown/quarantine! If you’re looking to enhance your cooking skills, consider staying in and cooking, using ingredients from high-end grocery stores, such as Pusateri’s or Bruno’s Fine Foods. Cooking as a couple is a great way to bond.

Splurge On Dessert: Dessert is arguably the best part of any meal. If you or your significant other has a sweet tooth, here are some of our favourite bakeries in Toronto that you should try:  Bobbette & Belle have an excellent variety of artisanal pastries that you can order online, R Bakery Cafe boasts excellent customized cakes, as well as an impressive breakfast menu, The Rolling Pin has different daily flavours for their cupcakes, Dufflet Pastries allows you to mail a cookie to your loved one for Valentine’s, and Phipps Bakery has an assortment of unique pies and cakes to choose from.

Afternoon Tea: You are cordially invited to high tea at The Windsor Arms, which is currently offering a tea at home for 2 program. The package also comes with a variety of scones, sandwiches, and cakes. 

Gourmet Chocolates: You could go the old-fashioned route and get your partner a nice box of chocolates. SOMA Chocolate Maker has unique shapes and custom orders, Ambience chocolat carries gourmet chocolate boxes, and The Chocolateria has chocolate bars, cookies, and an assortment of gifts.

Take your date outdoors: Skating is a way of getting out and getting some great exercise—although you have to book in advance. Skating rinks that are available for booking are High Park, Nathan Phillips Square, Mel Lastman Square, and Rosedale Park.

Volunteer in a soup kitchen: At a time when everyone’s trying to help others, you could consider putting off your date night to deliver foods to the homeless or help out at a soup kitchen. Some kitchens and food banks around Toronto that are accepting volunteers include the Daily Bread Food Bank, and The Salvation Army.

DIY Vanilla Extract Kits: If you’re buying your partner a gift, why not get them something from the World’s Best Vanilla Company! I’m involved with this company and want to let you know about the Valentine’s Day version of our popular, Make Your Own Vanilla Extract bottles.

Just add your choice of alcohol, follow the instructions, and in a few weeks, you will have some amazing extract to bake with.

If you’re interested, check us out on Facebook or email info@worldsbestvanilla.com

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Most Important Meal of the Day

In Praise of the Perfect Diner Breakfast

If anyone’s in the mood for a classic American breakfast, there’s a quaint diner called Norval Pancake Factory at 71 Mountainview Road North in Georgetown, that serves some amazing waffles, pancakes, omelettes, and other brunch items.

I first stumbled across the diner when it was at a different location, about 15 years ago. It was the first time I met Effie, the owner of Norval Pancake Factory. Effie is superb when it comes to customer service—she’s great at making sure both the service and food are excellent. The restaurant serves anything from all-day breakfast to club sandwiches, and of course, pancakes. At one point, they switched over to a fancier night diner, but to my knowledge, they’ve switched back to doing breakfast.

All the food is served hot and fresh. I once ordered a club sandwich and it took a little longer than average to get it to my table because they were grilling the chicken and bacon fresh. The meals are good portions, and everything is reasonably priced.

I was a little concerned about dining in, because I haven’t dined in many restaurants over the past few months, but it was great to see that the booths were separated by plexiglass, staff were all wearing face masks, and tables were spaced out appropriately. Effie visited tables just as she used to and asked how everyone’s meals were. Staff were extremely friendly, well trained, and familiar with the menu.

If you’re looking for somewhere to grab some unique breakfast items (smarties pancakes, cinnamon apple pancakes, and caramel pancakes), I highly recommend Pancake Factory.

Norval Pancake Factory
905-873-9080
http://www.thenorvalpancakefactory.com/

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Top Ten Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving During COVID-19

Obviously, this year’s Thanksgiving is going to look a little different from last. Family get-togethers will be much smaller—if they happen at all.  But that doesn’t mean you and your loved ones can’t have as much fun this Thanksgiving weekend. Here’s a list of ideas and events that are happening around the GTA.

1. Take a hike and enjoy nature:
Take the opportunity to get out and stretch your legs while the weather’s still warm! The Scarborough Bluffs has 11 parks featuring trails, gardens, and beaches along the shore of Lake Ontario. Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton has an amazing view of autumnal colours as the trees change with the season. The Elora Gorge Trail is also a favourite, as it showcases a 20m waterfall and 10km of scenery.

2. Fishing at Glen Haffy:
If recreational fishing is what you crave, Glen Haffy supplies rainbow trout from a hatchery, and visitors may fish from two ponds. The conservation area also offers a variety of nature trails that are ideal for bird watching.

3. Apple Picking:
Apples are in season! Carl Laidlaw Orchards, located in Brampton, are open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays for September and October. Chudleigh’s is also open for apple picking and has an animal farm and hiking trails for visitors to enjoy. Tickets must be purchased in advance. They are busy, so plan to go early to avoid lineups!

4. Take a drive in the country
It’s the perfect time of year to take a relaxing road trip out of town—go and pick up a pumpkin or some corn from your local farmer and enjoy the fall colours along the way. Take a trip up to the Apple Factory to get your fill of specialty products, or drive up to Collingwood to get a view of Blue Mountain.

5. St. Jacob’s Market:
Drive out to St. Jacob’s Market near Waterloo for a variety of different specialty vendors that include baked goods, books and toys, handmade crafts, and meat and seafood. You also have the option of purchasing a Market Meal Kit for 2 for $35, which includes cheese, dinner buns, a mini peach pie, and more. The market is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

6. Picard’s Peanuts:
There is tons to do at Niagara-on-The-Lake!  Wineries, lunch on a patio, if the weather permits, and don’t forget to hit up  Picard’s Peanuts for some freshly roasted peanuts and unique snacks, such as potato chip covered peanuts, chocolate covered marshmallow and sponge toffee and chocolate-covered peanuts.

7. Support a local restaurant:
Take a well-deserved break and have a night out. Order in from your favourite local restaurant or dine out to help support local businesses. There’s no need to stress yourself out over cooking a Thanksgiving feast!

8. Have a picnic:
Organize an outdoor picnic or BBQ at a local park. There are a number of parks around Toronto that have firepits and BBQs available, or you have the option of bringing in your own grill. High Park, Centennial Park, and Earl Bales Park all allow visitors to bring their own grill.

9. Virtual Oktoberfest:
The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest has moved its event entirely online. On October 9th and 10th, tune into their stream to enjoy both live and pre-recorded events, including cowbells and yodelling, keg tapping, and Oktoberfest trivia.

10. Stay active:

Before the weather gets too cold, now’s the perfect time to get out and go for a bike ride or a jog. Enjoy the fresh air as you take a walk down to the beaches. ActiveTO has extended major road closures into October to encourage more space for cycling and walking. Road closures change from weekend to weekend, so check their website for updates.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be well and stay safe.

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A Nostalgic Pastime of Mine

Photos: Awesome Bobby Orr pinball machine - CBSSports.com

As mentioned in a recent post of mine, many years ago, in my younger days, like many teenagers, I often went to arcades to play either pinball or video games.

When I was in my 20’s, I was over at a friend’s apartment, and much to my surprise he had bought a full-sized video game, known as Space Invaders. Since this was the first video game I ever played, I was feeling a touch of nostalgia, so he directed me to the company, where I too bought one.  After being bit by the bug, a couple of years later I added to my big boy toys, when I purchased my favourite pinball machine. Bobby Orr Powerplay.

At the time when I made the initial purchase, I was introduced to a woman by the name of Dallas, who was the owner of a company known as Toronto Coin Machine Exchange, also known as The Original Pinball Exchange Club.  Dallas and her husband run the company that sells, services, and repairs various pinball and video machines.  The company is based in Hamilton, but they work all over both the GTA as well as Ontario.

Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with Dallas, and every so often, I think about buying another machine (presently I have my eyes on adding a Dome Hockey game to my collection.  In the meantime, I enjoy my two machines, and they are near and dear to my heart.

In more recent times, one of the machines was damaged during a move, but Dallas and Toronto Coin came to the rescue.  Not only did they help repair the machine, but they performed maintenance that was long overdue.  The machine is now back up and running, and I’m having as much fun with it now as I did when I first bought it 20 years ago.

When I mention to others that I own these machines, I’ve been surprised to find out that many others also have games in their basements, and enjoy playing them for hours on end.  Some parents feel that they not only keep the kids occupied, but they enjoy both knowing that their kids and their friends are having fun, but also that they know where they are and close by.  In addition, given that a lot of people are cooped up, inside, and looking for some different activities. you just may want to consider adding these toys to your household.  They aren’t overly expensive and you’ll be surprised at all the fun you and the family can have.

 If you’re ever looking for a video game, pinball machine, jukebox or in need of repairs to one that you already own. don’t hesitate to reach out to Toronto Coin.

Toronto Coin Machine Exchange
http://www.pinballexchange.com/
416-789-1806

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In Need of a Party Planner?

As everyone knows, I often try to promote small and neighbourhood businesses on my blog. In my particular neighbourhood, Cathy Siegel owns the go-to store in midtown Toronto for anything and everything you would need for a party.

The store is called Party Rock and is located on Avenue Road between Lawrence Avenue and Wilson Avenue. Party Rock is a party supply and rental shop that has everything that you would need for a party – from balloons, to loot bag goodies.  If you’re looking for a themed party, she’s got everything from Star Wars themed balloons, napkins, plates, and cutlery to whatever craze is hot at the moment.  A lot of her party items are unique, so you won’t be able to find them in many other places.

Looking for everyday gifts?  Party Rock carries it all – from funky, fun socks to games the whole family can enjoy.   Sending the kids to overnight camp? Cathy’s selection of fun pillows, stationery and bunk decorations can’t be beat.  There are countless aisles of decorations, toys, and stuffers for any holiday that you can think of.  In more recent times, because everyone seems to be focused on puzzles, she’s started stocking a lot of different varieties, in all sizes and all levels of difficulty.

Cathy will also supply seasonal items, such as pool toys and swimming gear, and special occasion items, such as sombreros and piñatas for Cinco de Mayo. In addition, she’s able to do a variety of different balloons displays that include arches, names and numbers.  

Cathy and her staff also make for wonderful party consultants. People are known to use her for bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, where she’s able to tie the party theme together with matching invitations and decorations.  She’s also more than willing to source out items for you – just because she doesn’t have it in-store, doesn’t mean she won’t be able to get her hands on it.  Whether you’re having a kids birthday party, celebrating a special occasion, or if it’s a large-scale event like a bar mitzvah or engagement party, Cathy will be able to handle all of your party needs.

Once you’re inside Party Rock, you will be like a kid in a candy store!  And for the record, she has the candy too!

Party Rock
1919 Avenue Road
647-966-0019
CathyPartyRock@gmail.com

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