Despite the pervasiveness of the festive season, not everybody gives a damn about turkey and stuffing and sitting around with the family listening to some pop singer butcher the holiday favourites, for a whole variety of reasons. Some folks might want a more low-key celebration (one in which they don’t have to do the washing up) and for others, it’s just, well, Tuesday.
I’ve been putting together a “Christmas Day dining for heathens” list since the first year we ran TasteTO, and it was very popular last year when I was writing for Toronto.com. So here it is again, modified and updated and fact-checked for your dining pleasure. (Parkdalers – the Beaver is closed on Christmas Day this year, so check the list below before heading out!)
As usual, I’ve not included a lot of Chinese restaurants because they are usually open on Christmas Day as a default. However, because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, and many Chinese-owned businesses are closed on Tuesdays, do yourself a favour and call ahead if you’ve got a favourite spot in mind.
Also, reservations are required for all of the options offered at hotels.
For people of my generation or younger, basically anyone born in the mid-60s or later, it is expected that we all have some level of internet presence. Whether it’s a Twitter or Facebook account, or a history of posts made back in the days of usenet, our activity, our lives, has all been documented. Facebook’s Timeline even encourages people to go back and add photos and events from their pre-Facebook years to create a full picture. Pretty much everything we do is documented in some way.
But the generations before us, from the Boomers back, do not really exist online unless someone else puts them there. Either through genealogy resources, or someone who has taken the time to post old stories and photos, unless people are really famous (and thus deserving of continued adoration), we have no recollection of them other than our own memories.
I’ve been thinking of this recently because I’ve been trying to track down anything I can find about someone I used to know – someone who should, by rights, be famous enough to warrant some historical respect – but the internet continually tells me No.
It read like an April Fool’s Day joke. Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran a story about a Woodbridge woman who wanted oak trees near her sons’ school cut down because her two boys are allergic to tree nuts.
The obvious rebuttals come to mind:
- acorns are not food, there’s no plausible reason for teenaged boys to be eating them
- they’re teenagers, not toddlers, and if allergic, should know enough to avoid oak trees during acorn season
- um… don’t roll around under oak trees?
On one hand, you’ve gotta feel really sorry for her kids who have enough stress dealing with real allergens (the article says they’re allergic to peanuts and their school – indoors – is nut-free), and now have to deal with being the spawn of crazy acorn lady.
But there’s also the risk now that the very real concerns regarding allergies – both of her kids and the rest of us – won’t be taken seriously because of the over-reaction and helicopter parenting of one woman who made the news.
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.
As a collector of pin-up art, and the wife of a beer writer, I am probably more exposed to, and less bothered by, cheeky and puerile beer labels and tap handles than other women. I don’t know if beer labels with cute (hot) cartoon babes actually sell more beer – that would be kind of a sad thing, actually – but they certainly are out there. Here in Ontario, we’re all familiar with Niagara Brewery’s Niagara’s Best Blonde, with the 40s era bombshell on the label. She is not scantily clad, mind you, in fact she’s downright wholesome, but I can see where some women would take issue with an image of a woman being used to sell and promote beer.
Of course, busty women have been a marketing default for beer companies for years, and it’s only lately, with the rising popularity of craft beer, that mainstream brewers have changed gears to be more inclusive of women, portraying them more as beer consumers and less as a set of tits in a bikini top, emerging from a lake to bring the man in the ad a crisp, cold one.
Oddly enough, the “sexy-making” in the beer industry has seemed to revert back to the little guy, with craft brewers, especially in the UK, using sexual imagery and innuendo to gain attention for their products in a market that is becoming ever more saturated with competition.
I am, in terms of family history and genealogy, a bit of a mutt. The name Kirby, derived from Kerr, and meaning “by the Kerr”; Kerr being a copse or wood, arrived in England with the Norman invasion and spread to most parts of England, Scotland and even Ireland. The Kirbys have both English and Irish tartans and crests. As far as I know, my family, way way back, came from northern England, around Yorkshire, but no one in our family has ever traced the tree back that far to say for sure. (There’s also a story that gets told when family members have had a bit too much to drink that links us to pirates but the veracity of this yarn is unproven. Still.. yarr!)
In any case, I spent my youth not really feeling as if I had a “culture” per se. Which was alright growing up in Nova Scotia, since most of us were pasty anglo-saxons who had little clue as to what part of the Isles we came from.
It wasn’t until I was older, and when someone else pointed it out as a positive trait, that I looked to my Nova Scotian upbringing as part of my own “culture”.
Living in Toronto, surrounded by ethnic groups where people kept close ties to the motherland and continued to live within their culture (through religion, food, music and even dress), I felt a little lost. Embracing my Nova Scotian upbringing was a anchor for me in a sea of otherness.
In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.
I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.
The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.
The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.
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.
It’s that time of year again – the growing season is in full swing and people everywhere are heading out to the markets to get in on all the tasty fruits and vegetables. But it can get a little crazy out there. A little bit “every man for himself” in what should really be a fun and relaxing experience. Here then, are a few helpful tips.
- Go with change. Not, you know, in your life overall, but rather in your pocket or perhaps a small change purse. Farmers will love you if you have anything close to exact change. (That’s why most items are priced at either rounded dollar figures or something-fifty. They’re desperately hoping not to have to crack a twenty.) Unless you need your loonies and toonies for the bus or laundry, consider keeping a dish and tossing your loose ones in there for market day.
- Go with bags. Here in Toronto, many farmers I’ve talked to are super cranky about the city’s looming plastic bag ban, especially farmers who grow things that need to be kept moist, such as greens. So most definitely go with backpacks or reusable bags, but consider bringing a few plastic bags as well for wet or messy stuff.
- Park the cart. And the stroller. Some outdoor markets are spread out enough that strollers, dogs or shopping buggies are not an encumbrance for other shoppers, but for indoor markets with tiny aisles, please, please, please, leave the wheelie things outside. Not only do you impede the flow, but I’ve actually had my foot driven over. And then gotten yelled at by the entitled Yummy Mummy pushing said stroller for daring to say “Ow!”
- You squish it, you buy it. Many farmers pick their products at various stages of ripeness. Some of these products (peaches, tomatoes, berries) can be quite delicate when fully ripe. Before you get all touchy-feely, ask. Tell the vendor what you’re looking for, and when you plan on eating/cooking it. They’ll know which items are more ripe or more green and can direct you to the appropriate products. Or they’ll show you how to properly squeeze a peach without turning it into a mushy mess.
- You knock it on the ground, you buy it.
- Try the free samples when they’re offered, but keep your five sticky fingers out of the boxes of berries until you’ve paid for them.
- You get the number of items (berries, beans, etc.) that the farmer puts in the box, which is generally determined by weight. Don’t be stealing extra berries from other boxes to top up your own.
- An ear of corn includes the husks. Take that shit home and throw it away in your own garbage. Or better yet, a compost bin.
- Speaking of garbage, if you must carry your coffee cup around the market with you, find an actual garbage bin to discard it in, don’t leave it on some farmer’s table.
- Lookie-loos, rubberneckers, lollygaggers and tourists – yes, the vegetables are pretty aren’t they? But you know what, some of us are here to get our groceries, so if you need to stand there in awe, kindly step to the side so as not to impede the flow of traffic.
- Get to know your farmers – but not if there is a line-up behind you. These folks are working and the rest of us have shopping to do. You want to hang out with the guy who grows your beans, make a date and do it on your own time.
- Be patient. Some markets open as early as 5am, and the farmers have been up since midnight loading their trucks. If they’re not moving as quickly as you’d like (I bought berries last week from a young guy who could barely keep his eyes open), take the time to meditate on how truly fortunate you are to be here at the market on a lovely day, and able to afford beautiful, fresh locally-grown produce.
- Thank a farmer. They work hard to put food on our plates.
Let me tell you about my bags. I have many.
My black knapsack is my go-to bag for any kind of shopping. I bought it for $15 in 2003 in Chinatown during the SARS epidemic, half off because the shop owner was just so delighted that anybody was in his store at all. Nine years later, it’s seen better days – it’s faded, a couple of parts are broken, and I’ve had to reattach the straps a couple of times. I’ve started looking for a replacement because eventually this bag will die, but in the meantime, I use it at least a few times a week for grocery shopping, running books back and forth to the library and pretty much any other situation where I need to carry stuff. It’s stylish and I get many compliments on the ginormous zipper.
Being car-free (I don’t even have a driver’s licence), all of my shopping requires the process of carrying it home, either by foot or TTC, and in addition to the knapsack, I also use a couple of canvas bags. The Hudson’s Bay bag was purchased for $1 in 1991 and has been used at least once a week for the past 21 years. It used to have a mate but the bottom of that one gave out a few years back, so now I use this canvas bag that I got when I ran the food and drink website TasteTO. It’s not as roomy as the Bay bag, but it’s good and sturdy.
Those three bags are the backbone of most of my shopping expeditions, and I almost never use a plastic bag unless I have bought more stuff than will fit in my regular trio. For really big loads, I also have a shopping buggy, but it’s unwieldy and I try to avoid it if I can.