Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.
Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.
Boiling Point (2021)
We were poking around on Hoopla looking for something else when this popped up. Love that Hoopla gets these odd new releases; love that a Toronto Public Library card gets you access to both Hoopla and Kanopy.
Anyway, Stephen Graham plays chef Andy Jones; his life is falling apart – he’s split up with his partner and is missing his kid, his water bottle is full of vodka, and he’s become a detriment to the smooth operation of his business, but it’s a Friday night and his hot new restaurant is full, so he’s busy with a health inspector, a kitchen team that are either high-strung or incompetent, front of house staff who are far too busy chatting with guests and each other, and a hostess/manager more interested in getting the place pumped up on social media than in competently managing her staff and ensuring good communication with the kitchen. His old boss/mentor shows up with a restaurant critic in tow, there’s a pending engagement proposal to a customer with a nut allergy on table 13, and the Black waitress refuses to tell anyone that she’s having trouble with a racist customer.
First we would smoke a big joint, purchased from the dealer who hung out at the Quoc Thé, the basement Vietnamese karaoke bar up the street with the dirty glassware and the overwhelming incense. Then, in search of munchies, we would head north to the 7-11, the only place in Kensington Market open after dark, other than the Portuguese billiards hall where I, a young woman of the Goth persuasion, was most definitely not welcome.
On nights when we didn’t load up with every form of chocolate then return to the flat to eat and pass out, we would walk around the city for hours. We walked because we were skint most of the time, or would rather save our money to buy drugs than pay for transit, but also because everything was within walking distance. Sort of. We thought nothing of leaving a club at 2am and walking three or four miles home, even in the freezing cold. Most stuff was closer. But on those nights when we intentionally went for a walk, we would just wander for hours. Sometimes it was down into the empty financial district, other times up to the posh enclaves of old mansions in the Annex or Yorkville where we peered curiously into windows to see people’s fancy decor.
We would come home after these walks, or any night we were out clubbing, staggering into the Market past the nausea-inducing stink of trucks full of live chickens parked and awaiting slaughter in the morning, to be greeted by a small black cat that sat at the end of the alleyway we traversed to get to our door. It would always run away before we got close to it, and over the months it never seemed to get any larger. But it was there every night, regardless of the weather, seemingly waiting for us.
It used to be that everything the average person needed to carry with them out into the world could fit in a few pockets. Well… sort of. Bespoke tailors regularly add extra pockets to custom-made suits for well-to-do clients. In a recent conversation my husband had with friends about how people used Crown Royal bags once the booze was gone, someone admitted that his grandfather would have the elegant pouches sewn into coats and jackets as extra pockets.
It seems we all have more to carry than we think.
Women, of course, didn’t even have the relative convenience of a couple of pockets. Before handbags became common in late Victorian times, they literally wore a small sack attached to a ribbon around their waist, accessed through a slit in their skirt seams. Housekeepers carried a small version of their tool kit around via a chatelaine; a large brooch that was pinned to the waist and which might include a pen, thimble, scissors or other items attached by small chains so as not to be lost or misplaced.
Times have changed, and we now carry a lot more stuff with us pretty much everywhere, to the point where bag-related neck and shoulder issues are common, especially for women. Clothes for the gym; the ubiquitous water bottle or reusable coffee cup; a phone at minimum, but probably also a tablet, e-reader or laptop; cosmetics; a wallet; probably a lot more if you have a kid, or any kind of health issue.
Shannon walked out of Nuts and Bolts just before last call expecting the air outside to be cool, or at least cooler than the soup of humidity that hung over the dance floor. But the early-August night offered no respite; no breeze with the heady scent of summer blooms, no drop in temperature from the sweltering heat of the daytime. It was hard to breathe, but she shrugged her leather jacket back on, the collection of buttons and badges of her favourite punk and industrial bands carefully arranged on the lapels clinking together as the heavy garment settled on her shoulders.
Her white t-shirt was soaked with sweat, and she hadn’t worn a bra. Usually it didn’t matter but this old shirt with The Smiths on the front had been worn so often it was getting faded and thin and while it hadn’t bothered her in the darkness of the club, on the street she felt self-conscious about the sheerness of the fabric.
Between the exertion of dancing and the temperature inside the club, what little make-up she had bothered to wear had mostly melted off her face, leaving her with only a messy smudge of black eyeliner under each eye.
The big old pine tree outside my office window looks like a flashback to an early 1970s Christmas when those cans of spray snow were popular and some drunken uncle would go overboard coating every branch of their tree with the sticky fluff, likely made of chemicals that would be banned today.
(Nope… so wrong, it still exists, and appears to be popular, given how many sites seem to be sold out of it. I’m not sure if that makes me happy or worriedly bemused.)
In any case, the real stuff, on the real tree outside, hangs in huge fluffy clumps. It’s perfect snowball snow, and I want to reach out and grab a handful, but the tree is too far from the window.
As the sun rises in the sky and shines directly on the tree, the snow reflects blindingly. Then… plop, the snow on each branch is warmed just enough that it melts slightly and slips down the long needles to the ground below.
Soon the branches will spring back up, no longer heavy under the weight of nature’s first attempt at holiday decorating.
I like winter less that I used to. It makes my bones ache now, and my little dog hates the snow and cold, making walks more of a chore and less of an adventure. But there’s still something magical about that first snowfall; no matter how much traffic it bungs up, or how cold it gets along with it; when the first snow of the year arrives with such drama, it’s hard not to find some joy and beauty in it.
By the end of the day, the tree will have lost its snowy flocking. A rise in temperatures tomorrow and rain the next day will quickly disappear nature’s grand gesture before it becomes too tedious. But I will appreciate it while it’s here. Because the second snowfall (or the eighteenth) is never quite as gorgeous.
Alison gave the exclusive restaurant’s private dining room a final once over. Everything had to be perfect this evening. She adjusted the forks at two place settings on her family’s side of the table, stopping to refold a napkin at the spot where her father would be seated.
The room was as elegant as she could want. A long cherry-stained table with cream-coloured velvet seats filled the centre of the space. Three walls of the room were exposed brick, with the fourth being glass that allowed the diners to view the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. The menu was mostly local ingredients prepared with classic French and Italian techniques, but without the piety of those nose-to-table places that told diners the name of the chicken they’d be eating. It had taken weeks to narrow down their choice to something that would suit everyone, and even now Alison feared that someone in her party this evening would have something to complain about.
She smoothed the skirt of her silk dress, admiring the sapphire colour, knowing that it made her eyes look even more blue. “I hope everyone can find the place,” she said, turning to Percy, her fiance, who was sorting the selection of wines arranged on a sideboard for their meal.
He sniffed as he replaced a bottle and turned to her. “It will be fine, Ali. Don’t get so stressed. There’s enough wine here to make your parents and my parents the best of friends.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she replied, admiring his stoicism. “Or that there’s enough wine to make everyone come to blows.”
I’ve been writing (and hoarding) short fiction over the pandemic so I thought I’d actually let some of it see the light of day. This piece is based on an encounter I watched some years ago at a local restaurant.
The restaurant was not what she had expected. Described by her co-workers, and the online rating website, as one of the city’s best seafood dining experiences, Malia expected The Oyster House to be a white tablecloth affair. Instead, the long narrow room was decorated in something akin to “upscale sea shanty”. The walls were bead board on the lower half, the raw wood treated to look weathered from exposure to the elements. The upper walls were painted light blue and were adorned with old signs with corny jokes as well as advertisements for crab shacks and oyster po’boys. Shelves above each table included huge dried starfish, glass balls attached to bits of fish netting, and knickknacks made out of lobster shells which Malia found oddly disturbing.
She had tried to get out of coming, but her workmates had insisted. A month into this new job and she still felt out of her element, but Darlene, her deskmate, would not take no for an answer.
“The whole department all go out together for lunch on the last Friday of each month,” the older woman explained. “Since there’s so few of us, we treat it as a team-building exercise. And management pays for half of our food bill.”
As Canadian Thanksgiving approaches, we ponder the annual question associated with this holiday with trepidation. Not what to be thankful for, but rather… will it be too hot in Toronto to actually cook a roast bird and five side dishes on Thanksgiving Day? It’s about a 50/50 draw; some years early October is cool and rainy, other years temperatures can hit the high 20s.
Since it’s just Greg and I, we usually just cook a chicken, but I don’t relish standing in a hot kitchen with the oven and all the burners going if it’s going to be a warm day with a humidex. Besides, I can roast a chicken any time, I don’t need a holiday to do it, so while we want to do something to celebrate the day, I’m never inclined to actually break a sweat.
For the past couple of years in pandemic times, upscale local restaurants have filled the void with gorgeous multi-course menus delivered to our door. One of the options we considered this year included seared foie gras, so there’s lots to be thankful for.
In the past, though, the delivery options got no more fancy than Swiss Chalet.
This question came up in an essay I read recently, and when I pondered it, it confused and bewildered me so much I had to write about it.
I’m always amused when movies about olde tymes show someone travelling with just a single small suitcase. Especially when they’re wearing crinolines and huge hats that you just know require multiple boxes and trunks and people to carry them. When we talk about emotional baggage I think about this comparison; the difference between people who can get their baggage all into one small carry-on versus the people who need a trunk.
Me, I carry my pain in two big steamer trunks. I imagine them as being like those gorgeous old Louis Vuitton wardrobes, with lots of little drawers and compartments, and the rod that pulls out for things that go on hangers.