Awesome Thing – Toy Rebuilds from Professor Morbius

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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

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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 Shabaley

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The shabaley, 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. Shabaley, 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.

Shabaley 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.

Shabaley 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 shabaley 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

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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 – Scones from Baker & Scone

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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

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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.

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Awesome Thing – Soma’s Birch Branch

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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 – Cashmere Jockstraps

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So… being neither a guy, or a jock, I can’t speak to the quality and comfort of the wares of Happenis Jockstraps (Get the play on words? Cute, huh?), but when I came across Phred Stewart and his display at the Etsy Made In Canada event, I had to declare the things awesome.

Each jockstrap is handmade out of reclaimed cashmere. So not only are the things soft and cozy, they make great use of old bits of lovely sweaters that are no longer wearable, keeping lots of fabric from becoming landfill. Phred even details the original garment in each Etsy listing. Items are sized for a comfortable fit, and custom orders are available.

Why are they awesome? Come on – how can you not love something that is cheeky, upcycled and fuzzy? These would make the best Christmas gift for the jock in your life.

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Awesome Thing – Rose Hot Chocolate

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Photo from Flying Bird Botanicals website.

It’s fairly common for rose flavour to appear in tea. But outside of the UK, it seldom appears in candy. To the North American palate, it can go a little soapy. The funny thing is, this hot chocolate mix from Flying Bird Botanicals in Washington state flavoured with vanilla and rose is lush and sweet without being overpowering – absolutely no soapy flavour here, just pretty floral notes. The balance of flavours is such that it makes me think of the French author Colette, having her morning chocolat at a table in a window overlooking a garden.

This hot chocolate would be a lovely option at an afternoon tea, or to enjoy right now, in early autumn, as the last of the summer’s roses fade. There’s a lavender mint version as well.

I found the line of Flying Bird Botanicals chocolates at Zebuu (1265 Bloor Street West), a charming shop just east of Lansdowne on Bloor Street. While their website is stark, Zebuu owners Craig Williamson and Geraldo Valerio have filled their shop with lovely art, books, handicrafts, food and bodycare products, mostly from small artisans. Valerio’s artwork and children’s books are featured as well.

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Awesome Thing – The Adora Belle Pin Up Art of Nic ter Horst

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This is another great score from last weekend’s Etsy Made In Canada Day. Illustrator/animator Nic ter Horst was at the event selling prints and copies of her zine, full of the most, well, adorable pin-up art I’ve come across in a long while.

Adora Belles features a number of quite adorable characters, two poses to each two-page spread. Besides fairies, unicorns and mermaids, there’s also a selection of femme fatales, sailors and flappers, as well as cute girls in typical pin-up poses.

What I love about Horst’s work is the very stylized nature. Tiny waists are paired with disproportionately large booties and thick legs. Every girl has rosy cheeks (face and bottom) and those pink spots we all have on our knees. Also I love, love, love the way the space girls fit all their hair into the bubble helmets.

See more of Horst’s other work on Instagram, or buy a copy of Adora Belles or other artwork – including original prints – at her Etsy shop.

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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 – Blueberry, Vanilla & Coffee Jam

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I know. But it works. No, wait, just listen… it shouldn’t. It should be awful. But it’s not. It’s actually quite lovely.

I met Camilla Wynne Ingr of Preservation Society a couple of weeks back at the Well Preserved Kitchen Party event at Harbourfront Centre. She was one of the vendors set up selling various types of preserves. Her company does a variety of small batch jams and pickles, and she had an array of really interesting flavour combinations. We tried a few but this one really knocked our socks off.

The blueberry and vanilla is pretty standard, but the coffee gives this jam a kick. I’d compare it to drinking a really hearty red wine, or a stout or porter if we were comparing it to beer. It might not be for everyone – it’s not a wallflower, as far as jams go. I’m looking for a way to pair it with chocolate, which I think will balance the assertiveness.

Preservation Society products are sold mostly in the Montreal area, but in Toronto can be found at The Pink Grapefruit (106 Queen Street East) and BYOB Cocktail Emporium (972 Queen Street West). Products are also available to order via the website.

Even if the blueberry and coffee combination isn’t for you, the other products are very much worth checking out.

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Review – Erasure at Danforth Music Hall – Needs More Vince Clarke

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Pared down.

While Vince Clarke and Andy Bell showed up and delivered the goods last night at the Danforth Music Hall, long-term fans, and anybody who has seen their previous live shows, would have come away with the same term – pared down.

Working with a basic laptop, and occasionally an acoustic guitar, Clarke’s synth grooves remained as lush and infectious as ever, but compared to their 2011 show at Sound Academy and the stand shaped like a giant gargoyle (complete with light-up eyes), or the 1997 performance at the Molson Ampitheatre (for the album Cowboy) where Clarke had so much gear it was mounted on scaffolding that he regularly climbed up and down, there was little going on, and little for the talented keyboardist to do. Whole songs from the new album The Violet Flame, with many tracks emulating a Northern Soul sound, left Clarke with nothing to do – he was spotted for long periods during songs standing with his hands by his sides. Like we say about just about everything “Needs more Vince Clarke!”

Missing also was the sense of humour and dynamic between Clarke and lead singer Andy Bell. In 2011, Clarke came out to help Bell with a costume change, using an extra-large pair of scissors to cut a red satin corset off Bell’s body. Nothing like that occurred last night, and Bell’s costume change, where he stripped down to a tank top and sequinned shorts, was done off stage.

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Bell is definitely an entertainer and an energetic one at that, but after opening the set with Oh L’Amour, we were treated to a series of tracks from both the new album and what could be referred to as “the muddy middle” of Erasure’s discography. Sorry boys, but the songs we all know and love are from the 80s and early 90s. Efforts to update or rework tracks didn’t always succeed. I commented before the encore that they were still to play Ship Of Fools, only to have my husband point out that they had done it already – hadn’t recognized it at all.

They made sure we left still loving them however, saving the best for last with Respect, Chains of Love, Sometimes, and Always.

Erasure will always have a place in my heart, mostly because they are so much fun to see live. Their show last night was still great, but was less than I’ve been used to. It was fine compared to most concerts you’d see of a similar genre, but Erasure is usually so much fun live that the pared down version felt lacking on a few fronts.

You can never go wrong with giving Vince more to do.

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Awesome Thing – Fabulous Felted Jewellery

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Cute right? Look again… these beaded necklaces are fuzzy! Which makes them even cooler, if you ask me.

I came across Sandra Negrete of Azul Nocturno at the Etsy Made In Canada event this past weekend, and I absolutely adore her jewellery made of felted beads. She makes a whole variety of bracelets and necklaces, and is happy to do custom work for weddings and events. The best part is her prices – bracelets start at $8 and necklaces at $25 so it’s easy to stock up and buy a pile for gifts.

More items on her Etsy page.

 

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Exhibit – Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics

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When you choose your outfit in the morning, do you ever think about the statement you’re making? Sure, what we wears tells the world about who we are, but what about consciously choosing to make a political statement to the world? The latest exhibit at the Design Exchange is all about people who do just that – and the clothes they’ve worn.

Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics, guest curated by Jeanne Beker, is really a two-part exhibit. In the first section, political statements through fashion are laid out semi-chronologically, starting with the 60s youth-quake in Britain and the raising of hemlines as a means of self-expression and creativity.

Issues such as the Vietnam war, sexual freedom (the topless swimsuit by Rudi Gernreich), homosexuality (Bowie’s boots, Klaus Nomi’s tuxedo, RuPaul’s corset for the MAC VivaGlam campaign), and racism (a selection of pieces by African-American designer Patrick Kelly, who intentionally incorporated imagery of racial stereotypes into his designs, as well as pieces from the 1998 collection of varying length chadors by Hussein Chalayan) are all represented.

Various western sub-cultures and their “uniforms” are also prevalent, with a vast selection of Vivienne Westwood pieces from the 70s punk era, as well as pieces demonstrating the mod and skinhead styles that were worn at the time.

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Awesome Thing – Mid-Century Modern Lamp

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I’m all up in the mid-century modern decor lately, and I’ve been on the look-out for amazing lamps, ideally in great condition.

This baby jumped out at me during a visit to Mrs. Huizenga (28 Roncesvalles Avenue) recently and I decided on the spot that it had to come home with me. At a reasonable $45, I overlooked the few small scratches in the swirly black wood part and touched them up easily with a marker when I got it home.

For some reason I’d never been into Mrs. Huizenga on Roncy before, but after this visit, it will be a regular destination on my “looking for awesome things” list. Everything is very nicely curated and arranged, prices are very reasonable, and staff were very accommodating (we had seen the lamp early in the day on our way to te Roncesvalles Polish Festival and returned at near-closing to grab it). It’s a full gamut vintage store with not just furniture and housewares but clothes and accessories as well.

Why is it awesome? Oh my god, look at it. 2nd best lamp ever! (I’ve got another awesome lamp in the queue that is slightly more awesome. Maybe. It could be a toss-up.)

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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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Awesome Thing – Funky Festive Gourds

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Festive gourd season! I know. It brings up images of dusty gourds, arranged in a basket, maybe with some Thanksgiving or Halloween tat to dress it up. But these are not the festive gourds of Grandma’s autumn table setting. These little guys are way cooler.

I came across this collection of festive gourds in a produce shop on Roncesvalles Avenue. $4.99 for the lot, they’re from a company called Sunrise Greenhouses and are marketed as “living decor”. They come packaged in a bubble tea cup and when arranged in a dish look like a cross between a bowl of fruit and a terrarium. They’re actually a selection of gourds, cucumbers and melons, and each container includes a red one, a white one, a green one, and five spiky/fuzzy ones. No, I couldn’t discover what each of them are called and the Sunrise website, sadly, has no info.

Why they’re awesome: because at any point, one of them might hatch an alien, or at least a small dragon. Also, because it’s a fun twist on a terribly twee tradition.

Bonus awesome: the fantastic green pressed glass dish that I scored for $2 at the big yard sale at Trinity Bellwoods park back in the spring.

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Awesome Thing – The Bristol’s Chicken and Waffles

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Sure, you can get chicken and waffles lots of place. The southern delicacy is pretty much ubiquitous in Toronto these days and the quality varies greatly. So what makes a dish that has otherwise been done to death stand out? Well, you’ve gotta put your own twist on it.

At The Bristol (1087 Queen Street West), Chef Davey Love has come up with a uniquely British way of presenting this dish. Let’s call it “Empire-inspired”. Rajcoe’s chicken and waffles is 3 pieces of tandoori chicken in an onion bhaji batter atop a waffle made with chickpea flour and spiced with cumin, coriander and green chilies. The maple syrup is mixed with mango, coconut and tamarind.

Why is it awesome? The chicken is super-moist and flavourful, with a double-dose of Indian spices in the tandoori masala and bhaji batter. The chickpea waffle is crisp – not soggy –  and the flavours (while there are a lot of them) are wonderfully balanced. Probably the only breakfast dish that you could justify drinking an IPA with.

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