Review – Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

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The sign of a good writer is whether or not the imagery they commit to the page elicits a response in the reader. Can they make the place, the character, or the event vivid and real to the person reading the story? Oddly, one of the most difficult things for fiction writers to describe is food or meals, especially if the scene is integral to the story. But when the writing is well-done, the description of a repast (sumptuous or otherwise) not only progresses the plot but can be so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dishes described on the page.

In Fictitious Dishes, New York Graphic designer Dinah Fried thought to take the process one step further – she cooked, styled, and photographed foods from great works of fiction. Amassing a vast collection of props along the way (plates, tablecloths, cutlery), she chose 50 works of literature and set about bringing a meal from each to life.

Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk from The Catcher in the Rye grace a Formica diner table. The potato salad and coconut cake from East of Eden adorn a picnic table and make the mouth water. And the spread of hors d’oeuvres from The Great Gatsby will have every reader wishing for an invitation to the party.

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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 – Charley Harper Pint Glasses

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Have you ever come across something that you needed desperately but didn’t know you needed desperately because you didn’t know it existed? For me, that thing was this set of bird glasses by artist Charley Harper. I’ve been a Harper fan for years, and my dream sleeve tattoo (come on, everyone has a dream sleeve tattoo… that ink work you’d get if money was no object) is actually a series of Harper-esque birds.

Harper’s nature artwork, done originally for school textbooks, is pretty much the epitome of mid-century modern art, and although the artist passed away in 2007, there is a great deal of renewed interest due to the fact that designer Todd Oldham has been working with the estate to create some great books and lines of houseware products.

Besides the typical prints and artwork, Harper’s work now graces mugs, Christmas ornaments, phone cases, tea towels and dishes. Many of the items were created in conjunction with New York housewares shop Fishes Eddy, but the full collection can be found on the Charley Harper web site.

I actually found this set at Cookery, the newly-opened cookware shop at 303 Roncesvalles Avenue. Reasonably-priced at $36 (glasses are also sold individually for slightly more), the glasses are a full 20-oz pint, making them perfect for stylish beer drinkers.

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Awesome Thing – Chocolate from Sugah!

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My wee niece has discerning tastes, so for my birthday recently, she sent Aunty Sheryl something wonderfully awesome – some chocolate bars from Sugah! in Halifax.

Sugah! is a confectionery shop on the boardwalk in downtown Halifax, and they make a point of using local ingredients in their unique products whenever possible. Which is how I ended up with chocolate bars made with seaweed and maple sugar.

The Canadian Maple Sugar bar is a white chocolate bar sprinkled with granulated maple sugar. It’s a nice flavour combination and an interesting texture. The Kraaken bar (available in milk or dark chocolate) is loaded with Nova Scotia seaweed. This is an odd bar and not to everyone’s taste (my husband dislikes it vehemently) – as the chocolate melts away the dried seaweed softens up and slightly expands, much like tea leaves. It can be disconcerting on the tongue but the flavour pairing is lovely and for this old Bluenoser, it’s a touch of home.

Why are these awesome? Because the flavour pairings, as well as many of the other products at Sugah! are unique, and because their dedication to using local products in their goods (Lunenburg cranberries, Nova Scotia sea salt, locally-roasted coffee, malt from a local craft brewery) means they’re supporting other local businesses and food artisans.

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Awesome Thing – Artsy Sunday – Malkovich, A Clockwork Orange, Chalk Art

Some awesome art I’ve come across online this week…

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Sandro Miller, Albert Watson / Alfred Hitchcock with Goose (1973), 2014

Yes, that is actor John Malkovich, recreating the photo of Alfred Hitchcock by Albert Watson. Photographer Sandro Miller teamed up with Malkovich for an exhibit entitled Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Homage to Photographic Masters in which the actor poses for recreations of 35 iconic images from American Gothic to Marilyn Monroe with roses. The show runs from November 7th to January 31st, 2015 at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago. Most of the photographs are on the gallery website.

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Cat Prisoner by David Zinn.

Artist David Zinn has been been covering Ann Arbor, Michigan with street art for years. Using existing elements and adding cute and quirky characters, his ephemeral pieces done in chalk and charcoal last only until the next rain. He’s got a website and a Facebook page if you want to see his latest pieces. There’s also a book of his work from 2013 if you’d like to have these cute critters all to yourself. Or if you’d like to help support an independent artist.

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Artwork by Ben Jones from The Folio Society edition of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Finally, if you’ve only ever seen A Clockwork Orange and haven’t read the book, The Folio Society has just released a new edition with work by artist Ben Jones. Dangerous Minds has more of the artwork and a video of the illustrator.

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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 – SOMA’s Calamansi Lime Chocolate Bark

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How does that song go? You put the lime in the coconut… If lime and coconut are your thing, then this chocolate bark might also be for you. The awesome folks at SOMA Chocolatemaker have come up with this great combination, pairing the sour/sweet duo of the calamansi lime (sour juice and pulp but a sweet peel) with the sweetness of milk chocolate and roasted coconut. The touch of salt rounds it all out for a treat that exquisitely balanced.

Why it’s awesome: because it’s an interesting flavour combination that uses unique ingredients.

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Awesome Thing – Plates Covered in Ants (Sort Of)

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Yesterday, my awesome thing involved picnics, so I thought today would be a great day to promote ants. Actually, this plate is the work of German artist Evelyn Bracklow of La Philie. Each piece is handpainted and fired and is available via the artist’s Etsy page.

Why it’s awesome: because it’s disconcerting – bugs in your food! – while still being fun and quirky. Because it’s beautiful, and beautifully painted, but makes you do a double-take.

Discovered via the awesome folks at This Is Colossal. Make with the clicky for even more work by Evelyn Bracklow.

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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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The New Era of Awesome

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If you’re not changing, then you’re just staying the same, and what’s the fun in that?

This summer has seen the end of a few projects I’ve been working on. Both Toronto Indie Arts Market and Stained Pages Press were great learning experiences, but sometimes the smartest thing a creative person can do with a piece or project is to know when to end something, and in both cases, it was time.

TIAM suffered from an over-saturation in the arts/craft fair scene; it became hard to get vendors, and even harder to attract customers. As much as many of us preach the gospel of local, for the majority of people it only occurs to step away from the mall when their conscience pokes at them during the holidays.

Poor old Stained Pages Press also suffered from an over-saturation situation, as well as my poor skills at marketing. It makes sense that someone who hates being marketed TO would find the idea of pushing stuff AT people loathsome, and the fear of becoming one of those people everyone mutes on social media because they just won’t shut up about their book/band/whathaveyou overwhelmed me. I had high hopes that the print publishing industry wasn’t as bad off as everyone says, that people would rally behind a book of Canadian food writing out of some sense of nationalism (and supporting the little guy) but I grossly over-estimated the number of shits that would be given.

So. While I’m filling my time with other writing gigs – some behind the scenes writing and editing, as well as contributing to the super cool arts and culture website Vermicious, I thought I’d try and do something with dear old blog.

Starting today, I will post a daily Awesome Thing. The Awesome Thing (not to be confused with the site 1000 Awesome Things, which is more ephemeral experiential) is simply something I come across that I think is cool and worth sharing. It could be a food, a book, piece of art, a shop, a garment, a recipe… Just something that makes me happy and that I think will bring joy to others.

To keep track of the daily awesome things or other posts and reviews, please follow me on Facebook or Twitter. (The Twitter account is actually the old Stained Pages Press account, which before that was the TasteTO account. Hey, it would be awfully foolish to delete an account with over 5000 followers…)

Additionally, if you’ve got an Awesome Thing you think I’d like to write about, please drop me a line.

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Book Review – Cat Person by Seo Kim

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Cat Person is a mostly charming collection of comics by Toronto artist Seo Kim. Full of cute, predominantly autobiographical strips about Kim, her cat Jimmy, her life, and her boyfriend Eddie, the book works either as individual strips, chapters (Jimmy the cat mostly appears in the first chapter titled Jimmy and Me) or an ongoing story with the appearance of of Eddie and his own cat Bubble in a later chapter.

Kim’s work, done in pencil and coloured in Photoshop is engaging although sometimes rough in terms of technique.

The cat chapter runs the gamut of life with a cat, from the feline obsession with running tap water to the way cat hair ends up on everything you own. Kim also references the various ways to hug a cat, head bonks, cat shapes (when they sleep all curled up) and fuzzy cat testicles. Fortunately, she switches gears right around the point when even the most ardent cat fan would start to get a little bored.

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The Mahvellous Bill Cunningham

Street fashion – and street fashion photography – is now ubiquitous in most cities. Online, there are even niche sites dedicated to older women, people of colour or particular style trends. But most of these blogs tend to simply record what’s out there, and what’s currently hot within mainstream fashion. Here in Toronto, where we’re definitely less adventurous than other cities, it’s not uncommon to visit street style websites, or even articles in our major papers, and see pretty young girls in the same trends – currently, cutoff jeans, brown suede boots and flowered shirts – from the typical fast fashion mall store.

But in New York, street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times doesn’t just record the fashions he sees on the streets, he takes an active part in setting trends and provoking stylish New Yorkers to follow suit.

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You Can Call Me Shithead

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First, some background – I am a fat lady. I am okay with being a fat lady, but like everyone, I need clothing. I am lucky in that I work from home, so I can spend my days in cheap yoga pants and t-shirts, and don’t need a lot of “work clothes”. I’m also lucky in that I sew reasonably well, and make about half of the clothing that I do need for functions outside of the house.

Occasionally, though, I need to buy an item of clothing from a store. And Toronto has a mere 17 places where a woman wearing plus sizes can do that. Ruling out the ones that are beyond my budget, or that cater to certain demographics (office wear, club wear), the number of places I have to choose from is very small. Which is why I do, occasionally, much against my will, end up at Addition Elle.

I don’t have an issue with the clothes at Addition Elle. They’re decently made, decently priced, and for the most part, are on trend. (As an old punk lady, this isn’t something that appeals to me personally, but for the majority of people, that would be a positive thing.) But I will do my damndest to avoid going into an Addition Elle store.

This wasn’t always the case, but in the past year or so, the chain has started a practice of asking a customer’s name as they are escorted to a change room. The customer’s name is then written on a small chalk board on the door of the change room, and the salespeople all make a point of addressing each customer by name… frequently.
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When Even Your Food Tries to Food Shame You

cupcakeWandering through the frozen food aisle of the supermarket yesterday, I spied something that made me livid. And the more I think about it, the angrier I become.

A selection of frozen cupcakes, most with cute and reasonable names until we got to… Cheat Day Chocolate Cupcakes.

I know, it’s supposed to be cute. Funny, even. It’s supposed to play into the idea that these are so good, they’re worth cheating on your diet for.

My issue is more the assumption that you’re on a diet.

Because. We’re. All. Supposed. To. Be. Always. On. A. Diet.

And therefore, if you are eating a stupid cupcake, then you must be cheating. Because “good” dieters don’t eat chocolate. Or cake. It’s too decadent, sinful, etc. etc. etc.

A “good” fatty, hell a “good” woman, must at least demonstrate some level of guilt and remorse when eating a bit of cake or chocolate (Or both!!). To fail to do so means that you’re just not making the effort. To fail to do so means that you might not have been sufficiently brainwashed by the $60 billion diet industry and might be so audacious as to have some remaining self esteem that isn’t totally tied into making you feel like shit about yourself so you will buy more crap – more diet drugs, more make-up, more clothing, more cupcakes… in the misplaced hope that this will be the thing that does the trick and makes you love yourself.

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