Awesome Thing – Halloween Greetings

spidergirls

Back in olde times, Halloween wasn’t the big deal it is today. The trick or treating, the parties, it just wasn’t as prominent. Although, as the ladies above demonstrate, the “sexy” costume dates back to at least the 1920s (honestly, no idea where this image came from or if it’s at all Halloween-related, I just dig the flappers).

One thing that does seem to have a place in history is the Halloween postcard, and the Toronto Public Library has an extensive collection. Even better, a great number of the things are online for your enjoyment. Most seem to be from the early 20th century, and range from the adorable to the downright creepy.

halloweenpostcard

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Awesome Thing – Fashion Blows

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Anyone who follows fashion will have heard of Isabella Blow, the iconic stylist who was  fixture on the UK fashion scene. She was known for her fantastic wardrobe, purchasing Alexander McQueen’s entire 1992 St. Martin’s College MA collection and launching his career.

Blow committed suicide in 2007 and her entire wardrobe was sold to another UK fashion icon, Daphne Guinness.

As part of a fund-raising initiative for the Isabella Blow Foundation, Guinness has brought part of Blow’s collection, as well as a few piece from her own extensive wardrobe, to The Bay at Yonge and Queen in an exhibit entitled Fashion Blows.

The fund-raising part was a swank dinner, for the rest of us, the exhibit is free to view, set up throughout The Room, the Bay’s upscale fashion boutique. Blow’s well-worn pieces (complete with stains and cigarette burns – she didn’t believe in keeping fashion for special occasions) include many items by McQueen, as well as Galliano, Gaultier and Dior. It’s a beautiful selection of Blow’s memorable pieces (most with her famous Phillip Treacy hats) and the styling fully captures her spirit.

The exhibit runs until November 1st.

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Full press release here.

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Fixing the Vote – or Why Toronto Needs to Find a Better Way to Choose Its Politicians

vote-ballot-boxIt’s the day after election day, and like most people, you’re probably exhausted and feeling full of ennui. After a 10 month campaign, Toronto finally got rid of Rob Ford (sort of, but not really) and chose that other guy, solely because he is not a Ford.

The problem is less about our actual politicians, however, and more about how we got here in the first place. This election has been full of chaos, drama, racism, misogyny, and assorted other clusterfuckedness that made the whole process horrific.

So here are my humble suggestions…

Make It Shorter
A shorter campaign duration would be beneficial to everyone; candidates and voters. A 10 -month campaign just drags out the worst parts of the process (debates, mud-slinging) and by election day everyone is just frustrated.

There would need to be a way to allow candidates to raise funds, so we could begin registration in July, but prohibit debates, etc. until after Labour Day.

Speaking of fund-raising, we should also look at tightening campaign financing rules. The City of Toronto will be writing large tax receipts to residents of Mississauga who donated to Rob Ford’s campaign. This really shouldn’t happen and there needs to be a rule that candidates can only accept donations from Toronto residents.

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Awesome Thing – Brooches from StoryFolk

storyfolk

Who is your favourite fictional character? Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Goldilocks? Romeo and Juliet? Maybe Anna Karenina? Wouldn’t you love to have an adorable brooch with their image on it?

Christine Su is the mastermind behind StoryFolk, and creates felt brooches of a vast array of characters from literature, from the gingerbread man to Gatsby and Daisy. Her work is super cute and very well done and it’s incredibly hard to choose just one. She’ll also bring beloved characters to life via custom orders.

Perfect for the bookworm in your life for this upcoming gift-giving season.

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The Best of British TV

 

Happy Valley

Best may be a loaded term for a list such as this. Let’s say “best” given my own interests and predilections, which tend to run to the dark, weird, and slightly kooky, as opposed to more mainstream offerings. Because while my preference of UK over US shows is obvious, there are still travesties such as The Only Way Is Essex out there; the Brits can do trashy as well (or better) than the next guy. But because the seasons (or series, as they call them) tend to be short, and they’re usually not afraid to present a show as a 6-part series and have done with it, I find that UK shows tend to be able to do more in terms of pushing characters and developing plots.

To find this stuff you’ll have to make a bit of an effort. Some have made it to Netflix, some DVD, and some you’ll just have to break the law and download if you ever want to see it (seriously, I can’t wait for the day when we all abandon network TV and demand that everything be available on demand).

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Awesome Thing – That Time DEVO was on Square Pegs

Someone posted this yesterday on Facebook and, well, I had to re-post it here and share it with the world. Watching Square Pegs after 30 years is definitely (mostly) cringe-inducing, but the show was such an inspiration, and a weekly does of courage, for anyone who didn’t fit into the standard high school tropes.

Plus, it can’t be argued, DEVO continues to be all the awesome.

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Awesome Thing – A Floating Historical Garden

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Barges used to make up a large percentage of England’s boats. Used to haul pretty much everything up and down the interior waterways of the UK, the bottoms of these flat boats would be filled with ballast (rocks, earth, etc) to weigh down the vessels when they docked. This ballast was often dumped, leaving behind large quantities of plant seeds, many non-indigenous, that were preserved in the river beds.

Turns out “ballast seed” stays preserved pretty well. So well that designer Gitta Gschwendtner and artist Maria Thereza Alves have created this floating garden on an old barge in Bristol England, made entirely with non-native seeds dug up from English riverbeds, creating an interactive and natural bit of history.

The Ballast Seed Garden is located on Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

Full story at World Landscape Architecture. Discovered via Messy Nessy Chic.

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Smörgåsbord – Nuit Social

nuitsocial_meat

Nuit Social
1168 Queen Street West
647-350-6848

While Toronto is generally tired of “small plates” (which were really just a way to charge big prices for not much food), real tapas bars are still a novelty. Ones that pull off an authentic style of service as well as serving great food are even more rare, which is why I’m kind of stoked to have Nuit Social within walking distance of home.

Chef John Rosal’s menu is designed for sharing, but is completely customizable. Separate sections for meat, olives and cheese have around eight options each (plus specials) and are all available as one, three or five choices, allowing diners to create bespoke platters, and more importantly, try new selections.

An additional menu of shareable plates include sizeable portions of things like fried artichokes, arancini balls and scallops. The dessert menu is short with just three options but they are at least interesting twists on classic dishes.

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Awesome Thing – Toy Rebuilds from Professor Morbius

profmorbius

They walk, they talk, they play music. They’re cool and creepy at the same time. They’re the fantastical creations of one Professor Morbius who takes old toys, rebuilds them, steampunks the crap out of them, and sells them at local craft fairs as cool curiosities. Each piece moves, walks, sings, or crawls. All are one of a kind pieces of art created from upcycled toys and robots.

With prices ranging from $30 to $80 for most items (larger pieces and custom work is more), Prof Morbius’ birds, spiders, flying pigs and other critters all come with a little sign, and a couple of accessories. There’s even a page of sold items on the website that resembles an “adopted” page from an animal shelter.

If the steampunk fan in your life has more top hats and monocles than they know what to do with, perhaps one of Professor Morbius’ curious mechanical pets might fit the bill on the next gift-buying occasion.

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Theatre Review – Concord Floral

ConcordFloral

Do you remember being bullied as a teenager? Pretty much anyone who was ever a victim can probably relate their experiences down to the last detail – the pain, the humiliation, the embarrassment. But what about if you were the bully? By all accounts, the flow of time for bullies is elastic and forgiving, and the memories of the terrible things they once did fade easily in the glow of victory.

Or so it would seem. And this is my one issue with the otherwise stellar Concord Floral.

Set in an abandoned greenhouse and adjacent field in Vaughan the ten teenage actors of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral tell the story of a prank gone awry. A cellphone gets dropped, onto and then into, the remains of a dead girl. As she contacts the girls who discovered her via the left behind phone, the teens must come to terms with the energy and emotions she creates, ultimately accepting their own roles in what happened to her.

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Awesome Thing – Tibetan Shambaly

shambaly

The shambaly, which doesn’t seem to exist on the Internets at all, although all of the Tibetan restaurants in Toronto’s Parkdale have their own version, is a heftier cousin to the traditional Tibetan momo.

The momo, Tibet’s version of the dumpling, can be steamed or fried, and comes with a variety of fillings, usually vegetable or beef. Momos are approximately 2 inches in diameter and are typically made from one round of dough, expertly crimped in the centre. Shambaly, on the other hand, are closer to 4 inches across, are made from two rounds of dough crimped around the circumference, are always filled with a beef, onion and spice mixture, and are always deep-fried. In terms of appearance, they vaguely resemble an empanada.

Shambaly filling (like most Tibetan food) isn’t spicy but is a unique layering of flavours that is enhanced at the table with soy and hot sauces. The pastry is thicker than the delicate momo wrapper, crisp on the outside while slightly airy inside, and vaguely, but not overwhelmingly, sweet.

Shambaly are usually served as an appetizer, four to an order, but they are extremely filling and reheat nicely the next day if you (ahem) can’t finish them all.

The shambaly pictured above come from Norling Tibetan and Hakka Cuisine (1512 Queen Street West), but most of the Tibetan restaurants in Parkdale include a version on their menus.

 

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Awesome Thing – the Tourtiere at Victor

victor_tortiere

With no family nearby and a great fear and loathing of travelling during peak times, the husband and I typically spend the winter Solstice holidays in Toronto, just the two of us. Over the years we have made up our own traditions, which usually includes going out somewhere for dinner on Christmas Eve. Last year we found ourselves at Victor in the Hotel le Germain (30 Mercer Street) because Chef David Chrystian had put his family’s tourtiere recipe on the menu as a special, and the husband, being of Acadian stock, was jonesing for some. It was fantastic;  rich, flaky pastry (thicker than regular pie crust) and a spicy filling made up of a variety of meats. We made plans to repeat the experience this Christmas.

Turns out, lots of other people liked the tourtiere too, so much so that Chrystian has added it to Victor’s brunch menu. It’s available as a single portion with fries and salad, or as a whole pie for the table.

If you’re not such a fan of tourtiere (which, really, is just crazy talk, but I’ll let it go), there are plenty of other great offerings on Victor’s brunch menu. Chrystian even creates some eggy Toronto-inspired brunch dishes with flavours and ingredients reminiscent of our various neighbourhoods.

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Awesome Thing – Nature-Inspired Glassware

brad_copping

I’ve got a bit of a tree theme going on this week, but I was too enamoured of artist and glass blower Brad Copping‘s fantastic glassware, I had to share it.

Copping makes these fantastic shot glasses, tumblers and pitchers by shaping molten glass around the end of a tree branch, dusting the outside with a coloured, salt-like powder that melts and fuses with the glass, and then shaping each item further so that the rim of each glass is slightly wavy, and no two are exactly the same.

I came home from the last week’s Craft Ontario show at Wychwood Barns with two of his glasses and I can’t wait to get a few more. Copping lives in Apsley ON, so the best place to buy his work in Toronto (or online) is through the Craft Ontario website.

For a better look at Copping’s work, check out this site, or this one to see the glass he designed for the G8 summit in 2010.

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Awesome Thing – Scones from Baker & Scone

bakerScone

I am so addicted to the scones at Baker & Scone (693 St. Clair Avenue West) that I have started to make up excuses to go to the Hillcrest neighbourhood. Thankfully there’s often something going on at Wychwood Barns, so it’s easy to make a stop on the corner of Christie and St. Clair West and come home with a box of Sandra Katsiou’s flaky, layered delights.

Arranged in the bright, pretty shop in tall apothecary jars, the fresh-baked delights come in 35 sweet flavours and 8 savoury, with around a dozen sweet and one or two savoury versions available at any time. So far, Toasted Coconut and Salted Caramel are my favourites, with the Old White Cheddar, Dill and Chive scones winning my favourite savoury flavour.

Why are they awesome? Katsiou’s got a great technique (folding and re-folding the dough like puff pastry) that creates high, layered scones, and her flavour combinations are fantastic. The scones are slightly cheaper by the dozen, which is just a great excuse to try one of every flavour in the shop. (Yes, I have done this. It was awesome.)

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Awesome Thing – Skeletons as Art

skeleton2

I want to be able to tell you all more about today’s Awesome Thing but the URL on the card I got doesn’t mention any work with skeletons or reconstruction. Brian Martland is a Toronto-area artist, but his website hasn’t been updated since 2012.

What I can tell you is that I came across this work at the Annex Flea, that it was reasonably-priced and that it was created with an artistic eye in terms of display and presentation. I’m kind of surprised to have not come across these pieces before at events such as Steam on Queen or the Bazaar of the Bizarre as they would seem to be a perfect fit for shoppers and collectors with a macabre sensibility, or anyone into Victoriana, or biological science.

skeleton1

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Awesome Thing – Soma’s Birch Branch

soma_branch

Two secrets that I will admit to you about today’s awesome thing – I have been known to break into the log song while cutting slices of this delicious treat.  I have also been known to cradle it in my arm like the log lady from Twin Peaks (timely, huh?), except you can’t do that for too long because it will start to melt.

Alright, technically, the folks at SOMA Chocolatemaker consider this treat to be a branch because the mould was made from a birch tree branch from the forests of Lindsey Ontario. Either way, it’s one of the coolest chocolate treats you’ll come across.

Filled with a sour cherry jelly and hazelnut crunch, it’s a really lovely and unique creation that typifies the quality we’ve grown to expect from SOMA. And given that it might cause you to break into song, it definitely qualifies as awesome.

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Awesome Thing – Modern Tea Cosies

flockofteacosies

At first glance, they look like hats. Beautiful, thick, felted wool, with nifty little flowers or fringe at the top. And then Flock of Tea Cosy creator Michaelle McLean pulls one up to reveal a teapot underneath. Or a bodum.

For tea drinkers with modern decor, grandma’s knitted tea cosy might look a bit out of place. But McLean’s felted works of art offer clean lines and quality, eco-friendly materials to fit into sleek kitchens and dining spaces. She also offers trivets and table runners, as well as coffee cosies to fit over French press coffee pots.

Why are they awesome? First of all, they’re art, and add a bright, cheerful touch to a table with none of the twee usually associated with tea. Second – eco-friendly, renewable resources. Third – they keep your tea (or coffee) warm so the second cup isn’t gross.

 

 

 

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Awesome Thing – Vintage Glassware

woohoo_glass

This festive display of fall-themed glassware caught my eye at a recent Annex Flea and drew me to it like a moth to a flame. Sonja Stefanovic of Woo Hoo Decor has a great eye and finds some really cool things that she then passes on to the public (at great prices – the two orange dishes at the lower right were $15 each) at local flea markets. Any of these pieces would look great on a Thanksgiving Day table.

Merchandise changes regularly, and Sonja vends at many local flea market events. Visit her at the upcoming Leslieville Flea (October 19, Ashbridge Estate, 1444 Queen Street East and November 30th, SH Armstrong Community Recreation Centre, 56 Woodfield Road ), Annex Flea (November 6th, December 13th & 14th, Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street) or Habitat for Humanity Durham Christmas Showcase at All Saints High School 3001 Country Lane, Whitby, December 6th & 7th.

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Film Review – 20,000 Days on Earth

20000days

For what I am about to admit, the great Goth council will show up at my door and take away my Goth Card ™. But… I’ve never been a fan of Nick Cave.

I appreciate what he does. I understand and respect his influence. But his music has never moved me, and he doesn’t make me swoon. So I was able to go into 20,000 Days on Earth with no expectations, knowing very little about it, waiting to see if it made me like Cave more… or less.

Knowing something about the film beforehand would have helped, actually, as 20,000 Days on Earth is a fictional documentary. It’s Nick Cave playing Nick Cave. There is no official Nick Cave archive in a bunker in Brighton, England. Friends and co-workers such as Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld don’t actually appear in Cave’s car for a chat as he drives through the rain. (Digression – can I please have a documentary about Blixa Bargeld? Please?) Cave’s chat with his therapist is not real (the therapist, Darian Leader is a real psychoanalyst, but does not, apparently count Cave as one of his patients).

So what is the point of 20,000 Days?

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