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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Step Away From the Yarn! I Repeat, Step Away From the Yarn!

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Alright hipsters, enough is enough. I don’t care if it’s art. I don’t care if it’s all adorably cute… y’all really need to stop with the crocheting/knitting of unnecessary items and find a new hobby.

I get it. When you first learn a craft, especially a yarn craft, you’re so excited to make things that you soon have a plethora of scarves, mittens and sweaters. And probably blankets. More than you could ever need. And after you’ve gifted everyone you know with knitted goods, after you’ve yarn-bombed entire parks (for the love of all that is holy, people, stop putting sweaters on trees!), and you still just can’t stop knitting, even though every stitch sends a burning twitch up your arm because you’ve given yourself carpal tunnel syndrome… you think to yourself, why not? Why NOT crochet shorts for men? Or an entire kitchen? Or massive food-shaped headgear? Look at you, you’re like a twee hipster version of Madame DuFarge.

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Theatre Review – BOOM

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Rick Miller’s BOOM. Image from the BOOM website.

 

In my house, the correct answer to the question “Beatles or Stones?” is “The Kinks”; the defining event of 1969 is not the moon landing but the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family. Which is to say, and is probably said so often I might sound like a broken record, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in mainstream culture. Even if it’s from a different era.

For the Boomer generation, who are now well into retirement, the mainstream culture of their youth is what they’re now remembering fondly. Shake-ups, assassinations, fear of war, sure, but as a whole, the weird and wonderful bits of the era tend to be forgotten in favour of a sometimes idealized, sanitized collection of events.

Rick Miller’s BOOM, then, while brilliantly executed, visually breath-taking, and painstakingly researched, is the mainstream version of the Boomer story.

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The Not So Secret (And Actually Overtly Sexual) History of Wonder Woman

lepore_wonder_woman_coverAt the Toronto book signing for Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a guy at the back of the room got up during the Q&A section and asked an elaborate question about a specific story in a specific issue of the comic. Before Lepore could reply, another audience member stood up, vehemently yelled, “I disagree!” and the two began to argue about the plot while Lepore looked vaguely terrified. Fortunately, moderator Nathalie Atkinson (a culture writer for The Globe and Mail who happens to be married to the owner of a comic shop; one can guess she’s witnessed such an exchange more than once in her life) shut down the argument quickly and expertly, allowing Lepore to reiterate a point she had made earlier in her presentation – she is a historian, not a comic expert and her book was written from that perspective.

This is a good thing to remember when looking at The Secret History of Wonder Woman alongside Wonder Woman – Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 by Noah Berlatsky. Berlatsky is the editor of a (mostly) comic-oriented blog called The Hooded Utilitarian. As such he comes at the story of Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston from a completely different perspective than Lepore. Which is why the two books work together so well to tell Marston’s story.

In fact, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is really the secret history of Marston, documenting his early life, his promising beginnings at Harvard where he earned degrees in both psychology and law, his marriage to Elizabeth Holloway and his subsequent relationship with his student/assistant Olive Byrne, who came to live with Marston and Holloway in a long-term poly-amorous relationship, giving birth to two children with him while also caring for his children with Holloway. Also important is the fact that Byrne’s family had a great effect on Marston – she was the niece of reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger, someone who Marston greatly admired. Lepore doesn’t even get to talking about Wonder Woman until page 180.

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Lucky Dip – A Selection of Strange and Awesome Stuff – January 15th, 2015

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Mötley Crüe rehearsal, 1983. Photo credit: Gary Leonard.

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by the Los Angeles Public Library and check out the fantastic exhibit From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989. Full of photos of some of your favourite bands (especially if you’re a GenXer) from gigs to publicity shots, and encompassing the full range of pop-ish music from rap to punk to metal with everyone from Quiet Riot to the Minutemen  to the Go-Gos.

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Autumn Hawk / 8″h x 5″w x 5″d / Hand-dyed Wool housed in a Glass Dome by Lana Crooks

Lana Crooks is a Chicago-based textile artist whose work, made with wool and silk, includes some spectacular pieces meant to look like bones and skeletons. Just as fascinating as the real (creepy) thing, but also art. [Via This Is Colossal and Geyser of Awesome]

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Book Review – Tasty by John McQuaid

tastyLiver, blue cheese, candy, chili peppers. Some people like these foods, others loathe them. But why? How is it that some humans love sweets but hate hot stuff? How can some beer drinkers go crazy for hops while others prefer nothing but sweet, malty stouts? The secret goes beyond our tongues to our very DNA.

Tasty by John McQuaid explores the whole history of taste, starting hundreds of millions of years ago with trilobites and progressing through the stages of evolution. McQuaid does this through five meals that show the progress of vertebrates, touching on the use of tools and ultimately fire.

It also seems a lot changed for humans when we moved off the African continent into other areas of the world and discovered a wider variety of things to eat. As we evolved, people in different parts of the world developed different tastes and this happened within our very genes, creating various levels of tasting ability from super-tasters down to those folks whose taste buds offer little in the way of reaction, allowing them to drink bottles of hot sauce without breaking a sweat.

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Awesome Thing – Geraldine’s Parisienne Milk Punch

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At the beginning of January, the last thing anybody wants to hear about is milk punch, am I right? Weeks of parties full of cloying egg nog, resolutions to get fit… there is no place in there for a punch made with milk. Or so I thought.

On New Year’s Eve the hubbs and I celebrated our 17th anniversary at the lovely Geraldine restaurant (1564 Queen Street West). The menu was resplendent with oysters, foie gras and duck, and despite a massive hangover from a party the night before I was tempted by a couple of the fabulous cocktails created by bar manager Michael Mooney. Specifically the Parisienne Milk Punch, inspired by the Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide from 1862,which balances absinthe with a variety of aromatics, juices, rums and tea along with milk. Milk? Ugh! I was skeptical, but our server convinced me with a “just wait and see!”

The end result is not a creamy, gloppy drink at all, but a light, refreshing, fruity cocktail that is surprisingly clear but also amusingly smooth. Flavourwise, it reminded me of a very intricate Tiger Tail ice cream, which is never a bad thing.

It turns out that the trick to this type of milk cocktail is to mix all of the fruit, juices, herbs and liquors together to infuse, then add hot milk… and let it curdle. Yep. The drink is then strained so that the curds are removed, leaving the whey of the milk behind to create that silky smoothness.

The folks at Geraldine were kind enough to share the recipe with Sarah Parniak of NOW last month in a piece about party punches, but the recipe serves 30, includes 14 ingredients, and must infuse for 48 hours. Easier to just head over to Geraldine where a single Parisienne Milk Punch will set you back $13 or get the “tea service” (for the table, wink wink) for $48.

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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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Book Review – Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

stein1Chris Stein /Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Chris Stein
Rizzoli, 2014, 208 pages

Chris love Debbie.

If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?

While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.

In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the 70s.

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Book Reviews – Women In Clothes & It’s So You

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Women In Clothes
by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
2014, Blue Rider Press, 528 pages

It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style
edited by Michelle Tea
2007, Seal Press, 300 pages

No matter what we wear, we all think about fashion to some extent, even if it’s just to give a shirt off the floor the sniff test to see if it can go another day. To be honest, I find the whole “no judgment” trend seen on various blogs a bit disingenuous. We all judge each other’s appearance. We’re hardwired to do so, if only to weed out safe people from unsafe people. And most of us judge ourselves more harshly than we do strangers.

Thinking about what we wear, as well as our sources of inspiration for our fashion choices, and how we judge ourselves and others, is the topic of a couple of books I’ve come across lately.

Women In Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton is a massive tome of snippets from a massive survey about clothing completed by hundreds of women. Questions range from familial influences to admiring women on the street, the difference in taste versus style, the process of getting dressed in the morning, political messages within clothing choices, etc. It’s extensive to the point of exhaustive, and must certainly have been overwhelming to many of the women who completed it.

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Theatre Review – The Stronger Variations

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Christmas Eve – a woman walks into a cafe to see her friend, who also happens to be her husband’s mistress, sitting alone at a table. A confrontation ensues – one-sided, in which the wife talks and the mistress listens, reacting only via facial expressions or laughter. The play from 1889 by August Strindberg is a mere ten minutes long, but is so easily open to interpretation, to variances and nuances, that the variations Theatre Rusticle present under the direction of Allyson McMackon could be endless.

Set in the 1950s and originally presented with a cast of three (Liza Balkan, Viv Moore, Lucy Rupert) this most recent adaptation of the play runs with the addition of Chala Hunter and Andrya Duff, allowing even more variations as each actress takes turns playing either the wife or the mistress with the use of simple props such as a hat or a shopping bag full of presents.

The variations range from sweet and naive to bitter and pained; Moore (my friend and neighbour) offers the mistress as demon early on in one of the funniest interpretations; while Hunter and Duff, in a scene choreographed by Simon Fon, give us a full-on WWF-worthy knock-down drag-out cat fight complete with hair pulling and face scratching. Sure, it’s slightly predictable, but how else do you create momentum in a show that is the same dialogue over and over? Besides it was brilliantly executed and completely fun to watch. As was the delightful slipper dance scene. More poignantly, some variations appear to verge on emotional breakdown as the wife details how the mistress, without any contact or communication, seems to have inserted herself into the wife’s very soul.

While the bulk of the dialogue centres around a (slightly updated) version of Strindberg’s original play, McMackon has wisely added a few scenes of additional dialogue that give the characters more depth and empathy, such as each actor in the role of the mistress remembering their first kiss, or a scene where the wife runs around the stage as the other actors dance about, begging them to stop repeating the same sad story – after all, the work, written in 1889, is still relevant today.

In fact, I desperately wanted a variation where wife and mistress commiserated, said “ahhh, to hell with him and his stupid slippers with the tulip embroidery” and shared a drink while they trashed dear husband and his philandering ways. But Strindberg’s original theme remains clear; despite the wife’s claims of inner strength, or the audience’s hope she will achieve some form of self-actualization – family – home and family, come first. Has she fought for her man and won, or is she the sad loser headed home to the man who cheated on her?

The Stronger Variations runs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until December 7th.

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People of the 1980s: The Street Fashion Photography of Derek Ridgers and Amy Arbus

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When I say 1980s fashion, most people are probably prone to shudder and reply “ugh!” Yes, the 80s were a bad time for mainstream fashion – big hair, big shoulders, jelly bracelets, parachute pants… it was all pretty awful. Which undoubtedly makes it confusing when I then say that the 80s were the best era for fashion – alternative fashion, that is.

In places like London and New York, the political climate encouraged lots of people who didn’t fit into the mainstream to express themselves via their clothing. Punk, post punk, new wave, no wave, goth and more all had their origins in the late 70s or early 80s, and while those trends gave way to rave and club culture on both sides of the Atlantic, the fashion of the decade was marked with an independent creativity that hasn’t really been achieved since.

Two books of street fashion demonstrate this point beautifully.

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Smörgåsbord – A Week of Meat at Amsterdam Brewhouse, Canoe and Pork Ninjas

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Good luck, bad luck and multi-course dinners with lots of meat – all things that come in threes, apparently, as Greg and I discovered this past week as we tucked in to three very different mighty meaty meals, each amazing in its own way.

On Thursday, November 20th, we joined the brewers at Amsterdam Brewhouse for a fantastic meal that paired each course with both a beer from Amsterdam and a wine from Good Earth Winery. They’ve done a few of these events before and it’s always fun to see which works better with the food – beer or wine. Chef Avaughn Wells sent out some wonderful dishes so we were all happy campers indeed.

Amsterdam does these events with some regularity and at an average of $65 per person, they’re a great deal, especially when you consider the meal included a bottle of Amsterdam’s 2014 Barrel Aged Sour Cherry Imperial Stout to take home.

(Above: Hand-cut fettuccine with brown sage butter, roasted butternut squash, charred collard greens, roasted chestnut and charred lemon. Paired with Amsterdam’s 18 Hands – Rustic Pale Ale and Good Earth’s 2010 Chardonnay.)

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Awesome Thing (That I Made!) – Scones That Are Flaky not Cakey

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When did flaky scones become a thing?

Growing up in Nova Scotia, scones in our house were always fried. We had tea biscuits, which are the closest in texture to what we now refer to as a scone, but they were dense and cakey, never flaky with discernible layers. We had heard of Southern biscuits, which were known to be flaky, and were served with savoury foods such as chicken and gravy, but they never graced our plates. If a bread product made an appearance at supper it was a nice white dinner roll, or possibly brown bread (made with molasses).

But the flaky scone is what we’re all after here in Toronto. I’ve no idea if flaky is what they go for at Betty Windsor’s house, but here, we can’t get enough of those layers and layers of rich, buttery dough. There are a few places now to buy gorgeous flaky scones, and it was after reading an interview with the owner of shop Baker & Scone that I resumed my search for a decent recipe.

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Book Review – Eating Delancey – A Celebration of Jewish Food

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Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps
Powerhouse Books, 224 pages

In olde tymes, publishers would send a hard copy of a book to critics for review. In rare cases, this would be a galley copy, with a weird cerlox binding and double-wide pages, but usually it was something that resembled the finished version of the book. Technology has made this process much easier and cheaper – PDF files sent via the Cloud or email have replaced hard copies sent by mail, and pretty much everyone is happier for it, even reviewers who, while they often considered the reward of hard copies part of their (usually very minimal) pay structure, tended to find themselves with stacks of samples of things (books, CDs, jars of weird jams) that they really didn’t want.

The roundabout point of my complaint here is that, with a PDF file for review, I’m now going to have to go out and buy myself a copy of Eating Delancey. That’s right, even after reading it for free, I enjoyed this book so much I’m still going to buy my own copy.

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Awesome Thing (That I Made!) – Feathered Hat Pins

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For decades, I wasn’t able to wear hats. The things just didn’t look right on me. Then a year or so ago I changed my hair slightly and all of a sudden, hats looked grand! I celebrated by buying many of the things. Which was suddenly easy because hats had become stylish again. Or at least basic hats had become stylish again. Fedoras, pork pies, cloches in basic colours. Outside of weddings and horse races, women still weren’t getting their Downton on, even though I think we all secretly wanted to. Damn Toronto’s conservative streak.

In any case, I was tired of wearing plain hats so I started making feathery pins that I could mix and match amongst my hat collection. A couple of these are reworked pins from hats I bought long ago from the amazing Gina at Retro G when she had a shop on Queen West (and never wore, because hats looked dumb on me then), but the majority are whipped up from a pile of goodies bought at Sussman’s on Queen West.

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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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Here, There, Everywhere Vermeer

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The inscrutable Johannes Vermeer – a limited number of photo-realistic paintings, not a great deal of information available about the painter himself (at a time when artists tended to be very proud of the CVs), x-rayed works that show no sketches on the canvas meaning he worked without an outline, and an ongoing furor over his works – and techniques – more than 300 years after his death.

I’ve had a whole lot of Vermeer synergy happening lately – he’s popping up everywhere, it seems, and here are a couple of things that I’d recommend to anyone interested in his work and, almost more intriguingly – the interest that others have in his work.

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