One of a Kind Fashion Finds

The One Of a Kind artisan show takes place in Toronto twice a year (there’s also a version in Chicago), and the holiday event attracts almost 800 artisans, designers and craftspeople. While the goods range from tasty to twee, OOAK has become a major event for many indie clothing and accessory designers from across Canada. We scoured the aisles for the coolest duds, with an eye – of course – to things suitable for folks with a “still weird” sensibility.

Everything mentioned is available online. A couple of caveats; while women’s wear is quite prevalent, we found very little in the way of cool clothing for men. And of the ladies wear, plus sizes were often hard to come by, although some designers did carry stuff up to about an 18 or 20.

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This linen Gusto vest from Ruby Diego comes in three colours and can be worn year-round. Beautiful seaming down the front creates an hourglass effect.

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When Style and Art Combine

Most of the people I know who have come out of alternative music scenes also tend to have an alternative sense of style. They work really hard to ensure they look unique, avoiding the mall or mainstream stores, as well as specific sub-culture clichés, in order to rock a look that is all their own. They usually do this by shopping from small artisans making one-of-a-kind goods.

Recently we had the opportunity to attend two events here in Toronto that celebrate indie artisans; The Wearable Art Show is a small annual, curated event that features designers and makers of clothing, jewelry and accessories. The Bazaar of the Bizarre occurs in Toronto 3 times a year, and bills itself as a “marketplace for all things different, interesting and macabre…”

While each event attracts a different audience, we found goodies at both that might appeal to anyone looking for some unique pieces to incorporate into a more daring or offbeat wardrobe.

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Toronto’s Got Fleas!

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While most people will still flock to the mall for their shopping needs, Toronto has a whole sub-culture of individuals who are looking for unique and interesting stuff – whether that’s clothing, food, or gift and decor items – and they’ve been finding these cool and creative wares at one of the many neighbourhood-based flea markets that have popped up around the city over the past couple of years.

These are not the junky flea markets of the 70s, full of bags of tube sox and rock band logos silkscreened onto mirrors (not that there’s anything wrong with those fleas – they have a special place in our hearts). Nor are these events a “yard sale” type set-up where individuals sell stuff from their attic or basement. Rather, the new breed of fleas are a carefully curated blend of work by young designers, artisans, and artists, along with some of the best vintage vendors in the city.

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Taste of Toronto Festival

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Toronto may not be included in the Michelin guide, but we’re the only North American city to be part of the Taste Festival series, which visits 22 cities each year, bringing together some of the best local food businesses and restaurants for a weekend-long celebration of cuisine.

A well-curated selection of small food businesses (Mad Mexican, Mary Mcleod’s Shortbread), innovative products (Ninutik Maple Sugar, hisbicus tea from Nuba Tisane), local restaurants both small and large, and some larger corporate exhibitors (Pilsner Urquell, San Pellegrino) along with a variety of stages featuring chefs both local and international (Mark McEwan, Jonathan Waxman, Masaharu Morimoto, who is opening a restaurant in Toronto soon), make the Taste of Toronto festival accessible and interesting to everyone.

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Join Me For Dinner – May 5th at The Depanneur

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So the brilliant folks at The Depanneur have started a cool weekly new program called Table Talks where they invite people involved in the Toronto food scene – from farmers and producers to local food writers – to drop by each week for an hour-long informal “around the kitchen table” sort of talk. Owner Len Senater cooks up something tasty and everyone shares a meal while discussing a pre-determined issue or topic related to that week’s guest.

I’ll be the featured guest on Tuesday, May 5th from 7 – 8pm where I’ll be talking about Canadian long-form food writing; specifically the lack of diverse voices and foodways in Canadian food writing and why we should all care about not just keeping the food stories of our past alive but why we should be expanding our views to encompass all Canadians.

There will be copies of Stained Pages Press titles for sale and a stack of my favourite Canadian food books to peruse. Not sure what Len is planning on cooking up just yet, but it’s guarantee to be tasty and inexpensive.

The Depanneur is at 1033 College Street, and the talk takes place on Tuesday May 5th at 7pm.

I hope to see you there!

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Chowing Down for Change

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Last week I had the chance to attend a fantastic dinner event called Chefs For Change. Yes, there are a variety of these types of events taking place throughout the year, many of which are formal with a high ticket price. However, this very reasonably-priced event ($75, drinks extra) not only directed funds to a very worthy cause, it was one of those great occasions when guests got to see a gang of local chefs from different restaurants all working together. Food was mostly served family-style with all the chefs and a team of students from George Brown College creating the dishes.

This series of events (there are three more – Jan 30th, Feb 20th & Feb 27th – all sold out) all take place at Propeller Coffee, a spacious coffee roastery on Wade Avenue (Bloor/Lansdowne) that has both a huge prep area and event space.

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Where To Eat in Toronto on Christmas Day – 2014 Edition

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You crazy kids have been hitting the 2012 edition of this post so much (there wasn’t one last year), my site stats are going to be pitiful come December 26th. But it seems that there are an awful lot of you out there who have no intention of sitting around with the family wearing those silly hats that come in the Christmas crackers, and who instead want to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning for you on the big day.

I have concentrated on downtown Toronto, but if you’re in the burbs, I think David Ort of Post City is planning a list with a wider range. Even though my list is cross-referenced and confirmed, I’d still recommend calling to book a reservation at anything other than the most casual places, and reservations are required for any of the hotel restaurants.

Enjoy!

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War Stories – The Great War as Seen on Television

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Ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, one for each British fatality of World War 1. Photo: BBC

Canadians have given more attention to Remembrance Day this year, mostly due to the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton-based soldier who was killed last month by a lone shooter who also breached security on Parliament Hill. The death of a soldier defending a cenotaph is most definitely an understandable reason to set aside one’s ambivalence and embrace a sense of patriotism, but I had expected that Canada would have made more of an effort to acknowledge the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war.

With Britain from the very start, Canada’s contribution included 67,000 dead and 250,000 wounded. Yet there appears to be little mention of the Great War, or the important anniversary, at all this Remembrance Day.

Quite the opposite from the activity in the UK where massive memorials are taking place – over the summer, the moat of the Tower of London has been progressively filled with 888,246 poppies created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins.

On the telly, much of the year’s programming has included shows about or referencing World War 1, including a number of regular historical drama series.

Here’s where to learn more about The Great War:

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Vive Le Québec Dîner at Biff’s

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The Oliver & Bonacini Group is a diverse collection of restaurants, many of which serve a specific niche, and a specific style of food.  Biff’s Bistro is well known for their French bistro cuisine, but the food tends to be more France-French than Quebec-French. Fortunately, O&B also gives their chefs creative license to do special events and dinners, which is how we ended up at Biff’s earlier this week for their Vive le Québec Dîner – a five-course dinner in which Chef Amanda Ray created a menu of the best French Canadian cuisine, all paired with Quebec beers (pairings by Peter Campagna, Certified Ciccerone) and ciders (paired by Mel Hilton).

These dinners are one-off events and most dishes don’t show up on the regular menu, so they’re worth checking out as they really give the chefs the opportunity to offer items and ingredients they they might not normally get to work with or serve. The Vive le Québec Dîner was $85 all in, and included five dishes with drink pairings as well as a welcome drink.

For more info on upcoming dinners, check out the Oliver & Bonacini website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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Awesome Thing – Well Preserved Picnic Blankets

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Last weekend, the husband and I headed down to Well Preserved‘s Home Ec Big Outdoor Kitchen Party event at Harbourfront. It was a wonderful gathering of producers of preserved food, as well as a series of lectures and presentations on the various aspects of preserving. Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison at Well Preserved have done a fantastic job of promoting local businesses as well as the overall art of preserving in our city and it was a delightful and well-planned event.

One of the things that caught our eye while we were there was this basket of blankets, clearly marked as being available to borrow at the event so people could sit on the grass by the lake while enjoying some of the tasty offerings from the participating vendors.

Why it’s awesome: because Joel and Dana obviously put enough thought into their event that they not only had blankets available but also had signage made to let people know. It’s awesome because they’re trusting enough to let people wander off with what looked like some nice quality blankets. And it’s awesome because they thought about the kind of atmosphere they wanted to create and did a simple little thing that was so kind and gracious.

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Coming Up – Toronto Indie Arts Market Spring Fashion Extravaganza

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Yes, another post where I blather on about neglecting poor old blog. This place never gets any love. I should change that, I know, but in the meantime, my energies have been elsewhere. Specifically, putting together the super cool Toronto Indie Arts Market.

And even better – the Spring Fashion Extravaganza event on March 15th that features 50 local artisans, designers and makers of beautiful clothing, jewellery and accessories.

If you’re in Toronto, please come check it out. It’s been a long winter and we all need a little something pretty and sparkly to make us hopeful that Spring will come soon.

Also, we’re donating 40% of the admission sales to The Corsage Project – an amazing organization that puts together prom outfits for under-privileged teens.

Go check out the TIAM website for a full list of participants. Plus, members of our mailing list will have a chance to win passes.

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You’re Invited! Beer and Butter Tarts Launch Party!

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If I haven’t been around the old blog much lately, it’s because I’ve been working on other stuff – most notably, the first issue of Beer and Butter Tarts, a Canadian literary food journal, which features work by writers and artists from right across Canada.

If you’re in the Toronto-area, please check out the details below and come on by. Otherwise, copies are available by mail-order from Stained Pages Press.

We’re having a party to celebrate the launch of our first issue!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014, 7pm
The Rhino Restaurant & Bar (skylight room)
1249 Queen Street West
free admission

Tasty nibbles, fab beer, plus selected readings from the first issue by contributors Dorianne Emmerton, David Huebert and others.

Copies of Issue #1 will be available for purchase.

Please join us!

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Join Me at Toronto Indie Arts Market

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So by now, most regular readers/followers know that I’ve spent the past few months putting together a series of mixed media markets, the first of which takes place this Saturday, September 14th, at the Gladstone Hotel.

We did a trial run back in the Spring and we’re hoping that we can create a regular place for small-scale artisans, in a variety of mediums, to sell their work to the public.

Besides running the thing, I will also be selling my book Kitchen Party. In fact, it will be available at the door, and if you buy a copy for $15, you’ll get in for free. (And don’t worry, I’ll still donate $2 of that total to our partner charity, the Annex Cat Rescue.)

We’ll have over 50 great vendors selling everything from fine art to comics, clothing to housewares, so please come out and show your support for local artisans.

As an added incentive, admission is free before 11am, and the first 100 paying customers will receive a 2-for-1 pass for our October market.

So please come out and join us. It’s supposed to be a lovely day – cool but sunny –  perfect for a stroll along Queen Street West. Hope to see you there.

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Fleeing the Flea

My family is not religious. Most of us have been baptized in the Anglican church, but aside from weddings, baptisms and funerals, as a child growing up, I can’t ever remember getting up to go to church. In fact, when questioned about religion, I’ve often joked that our religion was the flea market, because that’s where you could find us on any given Sunday morning in the late 70s or early 80s.

As far back as I can remember Halifax had a Sunday flea market at The Forum, an aging sports arena in the north end of town. But especially in the summer, the flea market motherload was just outside of town, in Sackville.

Originally held during the summer months at the Sackville drive-in, vendors would pull in, park their cars and open their trunks to willing shoppers. There was a parking hierarchy, with regular vendors of new goods (yay, tube sox!) taking the best spots by the entrance, followed by farmers, antique dealers and then the non-regular vendors who were looking to unload crap from their attic or basement. The ground got worse the further back you went, transitioning from pavement to crushed gravel to something akin to boulders near the back, but in the summer, there would be vendors crammed in, sometimes two to a space, selling everything under the sun. Literally – few people used tents back in those days.

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The Group of 7 Chefs – Go Fish

I’m not sure how I failed to attend a dinner by the Group of 7 Chefs up until now. Timing, finances, their predilection for odd bits of the insides of animals… all may play a role. But when they announced they would be doing a fish and beer dinner, teaming up with Bellwoods Brewery and serving sustainable fish, Greg and I knew we had to go.

The Group of 7 Chefs is actually comprised of more than seven local chefs. Scott Vivian (Beast), Rob Gentile (Buca), Mark Cutrara (Cowbell), Kevin McKenna (Globe and Earth), Matty Matheson (Parts & Labour), Chris Brown (The Stop), Bertrand Alepee (The Tempered Chef), and Marc Dufour (Globe and Earth) are the main crew, but they have been joined occasionally by local chefs Nick Liu (GwaiLo), Guy Rawlings and others, depending on the specific dinner and individual availability.

The premise is that the chefs get together once a month, on a Monday, when they’re all off from their regular gigs, and work together to create a multi-course dinner. There are a few sous chefs helping out, but most of the work is done by the chefs themselves, with everyone helping to cook and plate each others’ dishes, and a grand sense of fun and camaraderie, despite the stress and hard work.

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Get Into the Grove

A couple of weeks back, I got an email inviting Greg and I to a pop-up dinner called The Loving Plateful. This was the real deal, taking part in a wood shop at Dufferin and Dupont, and organized by First Drop Canada, a group run by Adam Pesce of Reunion Island Coffee, that works to improve the lives of coffee farmers and their families. The $100 donation for the dinner went to Greenest City and Food4Farmers.

What intrigued me about this particular dinner, though, was that the food would be prepared by Chef Ben Heaton (formerly of Globe), as a preview to his soon-to-open Dundas West restaurant The Grove. A sneak peek at what Heaton would be offering his customers come (hopefully) mid-December would be quite a coupe.

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Chowdah!

Yeah, I know, I’m a slowpoke these day when it comes to getting event reviews up. Life overwhelms me, what can I say?

In any case, last Wednesday (November 2nd) was the 2nd annual Chowder Chowdown at the Royal York Hotel. Sponsored by Oceanwise, the premise is simple, restaurants create a chowder made with sustainable seafood, and pair it with a beer from Mill Street Brewery. A panel of judges chooses their favourite, but the crowd also gets to vote for a people’s choice selection.

And while Pangaea easily took the prize for both awards last year, there were a couple of upsets this time.

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