Restaurant Review – Alder

Alder
Ace Hotel
51 Camden Street
Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm – 10pm
fully accessible via ramp/elevator in hotel lobby

“Just book it now, or we’ll never get a table!”

The hungry husband and I are looking at the Tock reservation system for Alder, the new restaurant in the newly-opened Ace Hotel Toronto, helmed by Chef Patrick Kriss of Alo. Knowing how hard it is to get a table at Kriss’ other restaurants, we figure we have to move fast. Alder launched a few days prior and still has plenty of tables for its first weekend open to the public, but we don’t expect it to stay that way. As it is, we take a 5:15pm reservation and are pleased as punch. We don’t normally eat on “Vegas time”, but we also don’t normally go to King West willingly on a Saturday night, so needs must. Continue reading “Restaurant Review – Alder”

Book Review – A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting
Sophie Irwin

Back in the days when I ran a food and drink website, I regularly had people applying to write for me who intentionally emulated the style of Anthony Bourdain. When I would reply to them and tell them to find their own voice, they would get angry at me. “I want to be the next Bourdain!” they’d write back emphatically. But here’s the thing, we only ever needed one Bourdain. Everything else, every person who wrote anything in a style of flowery, meandering prose punctuated with sharpish observations of the world, would always be second rate. Solely because they weren’t Anthony Bourdain. And it wasn’t that their stories, or observations, were bad, or even badly written; it was just hard to get past how desperately they were trying to be like someone else.

Such is the case with writers who emulate Jane Austen.

I get that the Regency era is hot right now. I get that the fashions are fun and that the etiquette and social rules of the time make for lots of opportunities for the drama, intrigue and misunderstandings that are the backbone of a good story, romance or otherwise. But there’s got to be some plotline other than of a plucky young woman fighting for her family, or against the unfairness of social hierarchy, who overcomes the odds and falls in love with her (rich!) nemesis. As much as I want to adore Kitty Talbot, out on the hunt for a rich man to save her household of young, orphaned women from certain ruin, I just can’t help reading A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting and thinking how this is just trying to be so, so hard to emulate Austen.

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Tiny Stories – Girl’s Weekend

“You sit here, and Trish and I will share this seat, and Sally, you sit there by Loretta.”

Everyone did as Brenda said, even though it meant cramming into a space on the streetcar that left them all cramped and awkward. Of all of them, she was the only one who had been to Toronto before.

After a few minutes, Brenda jumped up. “There’s one of those cute step-up four-seater areas open! C’mon!”

Loretta, tired of walking all day, and tired of being bossed around, dared to question her friend’s demand. “Can’t we just sit here, it’s fine.”

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Short Fiction — Fair Game

“What’s that up ahead, is it a balloon?”

Grant slowed the car to a crawl and they both gawked at what turned out to be a deflated beach ball on the gravel shoulder of the road.

They had been driving around for an hour, the GPS system all but useless as they looked for a turn-off marked by a balloon and a sign.

“Okay, let me check the invite again?” Katie said, pulling a card out of her brown leather shoulder bag. “Ten miles west of the wrecking yard on highway 31, look for the balloon and the sign, park in the clearing?”

Grant was sure they were on the correct road, but there had been no balloon anywhere. They were in the middle of nowhere, they hadn’t even seen another car in over half an hour.

The trees rose up green and lush on both sides of the highway, deep gutters were full of young bulrushes not yet at the fluffy catkin stage, and the sun beat down bright and hot on the black asphalt ribbon in front of them. They had passed road kill in various states of decay, a murder of crows prancing down the centre yellow lines, and a rusty, abandoned shopping cart, but there was absolutely no sign of the entrance to the restaurant where they had a coveted reservation for dinner.

“We’ve gone more than ten miles, maybe we should double back,” Grant said, squinting through the windshield, the waves of heat dancing up from the road distorting his vision and making him doubt his own mind.

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The Queen of Puddings – Jubilee Tea at the King Edward Hotel

There she is in all her glory, the winning Jubilee pudding, offered up in a single serving portion as part of the Jubilee-themed afternoon tea service at The Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

We’re not royalists, but we do like a good afternoon tea, and as food history nerds, we were itching to get a taste of the winning dessert, without having to make it ourselves, because, well… trifle. Ultimately, it’s soggy cake, right? But also, as Canada barely offered a nod to this milestone, who the heck else could we convince to eat soggy cake with us? So we certainly weren’t making a whole massive trifle for the two of us.

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Short Fiction — I Am a Cliché

Debra rounded the side of the school just as the skies opened up. She shifted boxes of snacks as she struggled with her umbrella and rushed over to the visiting team’s bench.

She was only ten minutes late but this part of the city confounded her with its labyrinth of tiny narrow streets. She hoped Melanie would forgive her. She made a big deal of waving frantically when her daughter looked up and noticed her as she settled into a spot on the bleachers with the other parents from the visiting school.

They were a conservative-looking bunch under their umbrellas and hooded jackets; polo shirts and khakis for the very occasional dad, with the mothers dolled up in their upper middle-class soccer mom finery of cropped pants, ballet flats and pretty cashmere sweaters. Debra cheered enthusiastically when Melanie’s team got control of the ball.

On the next set of bleachers, the home team parents were a rougher-looking bunch.

“Goodness, it’s all very ‘urban’, isn’t it?” asked Ginny Wilson, the goalie’s mother, as the home team parents erupted in a raucous cheer when one of theirs scored a goal.

Debra tried to ignore the racist insinuation in Ginny’s comment. They came from a very white suburb and this was obviously a very mixed community; kids and parents were clearly from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, represented by everything from blue dreadlocks and tattoos to hijabs, turbans and door-knocker earrings.

“It’s good for the kids to meet new and different people,” she replied, trying to sound open-minded without triggering a debate. Debra liked the folks in her community well enough but found some of them excessively narrow in their views on other cultures. She hated debating with them, and made a point of avoiding discussions on anything resembling differences. It wasn’t that she agreed with Ginny but she’d rather not have to defend her point of view.

Ginny sniffed with disdain. “I guess, but there are some people I’d rather my kids not interact with, you know?”

At that moment the home team scored another goal and a bunch of parents stood up to cheer. One women in particular was louder than the others, her distinctive voice echoing across the field.

“That’s it Katy, kick ’em in the bleedin’ arse!!”

The visiting parents uttered a collective gasp at the swear word, loud enough to be heard, and the woman turned to look at them with a wide grin on her face as she twirled her umbrella. “Oi, you bunch of pearl-clutchers! Get over yourselves!”

It was then that Debra paired the woman’s distinctive voice with her wild, curly hair, big eyes and sarcastic smile. Patty Smash. THE Patty Smash. At her daughter’s soccer game.

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Book Review – The Maid

The Maid
Nita Prose

This New York Times best-seller is getting a lot of press and the folks who like it really like it. As in, book club picks, and a Netflix movie deal with the main character already cast. However, readers who dislike it, really dislike it. Both sides have valid points.

Molly the maid (really) works in a grand hotel and digs her job. The order and cleanliness and restoring rooms to a state of perfection make her very happy. Molly misses a lot of social cues and people around her mostly think she’s weird. It’s never explicit that Molly is neurodivergent but Prose gives so many signs that she might as well hit the reader smack in the face with a big cartoon-style diagram that says “Autism Spectrum”.

One day while cleaning rooms, Molly finds a dead body. Comes with the job when you’re hotel housekeeping staff, honestly. And then Molly gets framed for killing the dead guy. Also a standard occupational hazard. Being the polite, naive soul that she is, with no one to guide her since her Gran passed away some months previous, Molly has put her trust in the wrong people.

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What Now?

It feels as if we’re on the precipice of a new era. Spring is about to burst forth, and the trauma of the past two years is hopefully behind us. So much has changed. So much has stayed the same.

For those of us who languished over the past two years, the urge to stay in the same lane is too compelling. It’s easier to do nothing, stay at home, avoid the world, than it is to face the potential danger of being around others and getting sick. Even if, for most of us, that illness might now actually be minimal. Sure, there’s always the risk that you’re one of the unlucky few who get hit badly. But the majority of Covid cases post-Omicron seem to be people who were bewildered at how mild it actually was. Especially if they’ve been vaccinated and boosted. We all have to determine our level of comfort and assess our own risk, but I think I’d prefer to get out into the world than hide from it and continue on this downward spiral of sadness and despair.

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Short Fiction – Babies

Val glanced up at the clock above the bar as she finished filling carafes of water. Twenty five past nine. Through the large front windows she could already see a line forming; a grizzled older couple, Lonny and Margie, who had been regulars here since the days when it had been a dive bar; a group of four millennials and three, no, four sets of parents with strollers. Fuck Sunday brunch, she though to herself vehemently as one of the parents knocked loudly on the window and then gestured to his wrist.

“It’s freezing out there, you know,” he said with a snarky tone as Val unlocked the door and everyone filed in.

“We open at 9:30,” Val replied, making a note to herself to replace his coffee with decaf.

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Book Review – When We Lost Our Heads

When We Lost Our Heads
by Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill’s unique voice makes for engaging storytelling. Her interest in telling the stories of talented or precocious children, with recurring themes of circuses, repressive living situations such as schools or orphanages, special powers, and life-long relationships, make for books that read very much like fairy tales. In the process of visualizing O’Neill’s words, I see her stories as if they were animations of drawings by Edward Gorey.

How We Lost Our Heads is a tale of two girls in late 19th century Montreal, a grave accident, and the separation and then coming together (twice) of these same characters. In the interim, they lead very different lives, and come to represent two different ways of looking at the world.

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