Awesome Thing – A Floating Historical Garden

barge_garden

Barges used to make up a large percentage of England’s boats. Used to haul pretty much everything up and down the interior waterways of the UK, the bottoms of these flat boats would be filled with ballast (rocks, earth, etc) to weigh down the vessels when they docked. This ballast was often dumped, leaving behind large quantities of plant seeds, many non-indigenous, that were preserved in the river beds.

Turns out “ballast seed” stays preserved pretty well. So well that designer Gitta Gschwendtner and artist Maria Thereza Alves have created this floating garden on an old barge in Bristol England, made entirely with non-native seeds dug up from English riverbeds, creating an interactive and natural bit of history.

The Ballast Seed Garden is located on Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

Full story at World Landscape Architecture. Discovered via Messy Nessy Chic.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Smörgåsbord – Nuit Social

nuitsocial_meat

Nuit Social
1168 Queen Street West
647-350-6848

While Toronto is generally tired of “small plates” (which were really just a way to charge big prices for not much food), real tapas bars are still a novelty. Ones that pull off an authentic style of service as well as serving great food are even more rare, which is why I’m kind of stoked to have Nuit Social within walking distance of home.

Chef John Rosal’s menu is designed for sharing, but is completely customizable. Separate sections for meat, olives and cheese have around eight options each (plus specials) and are all available as one, three or five choices, allowing diners to create bespoke platters, and more importantly, try new selections.

An additional menu of shareable plates include sizeable portions of things like fried artichokes, arancini balls and scallops. The dessert menu is short with just three options but they are at least interesting twists on classic dishes.

Read More...

Read More

Awesome Thing – Toy Rebuilds from Professor Morbius

profmorbius

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Theatre Review – Concord Floral

ConcordFloral

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.

Read More...

Read More

Awesome Thing – Tibetan Shabaley

shambaly

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.

 

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – the Tourtiere at Victor

victor_tortiere

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Nature-Inspired Glassware

brad_copping

I’ve got a bit of a tree theme going on this week, but I was too enamoured of artist and glass blower Brad Copping‘s fantastic glassware, I had to share it.

Copping makes these fantastic shot glasses, tumblers and pitchers by shaping molten glass around the end of a tree branch, dusting the outside with a coloured, salt-like powder that melts and fuses with the glass, and then shaping each item further so that the rim of each glass is slightly wavy, and no two are exactly the same.

I came home from the last week’s Craft Ontario show at Wychwood Barns with two of his glasses and I can’t wait to get a few more. Copping lives in Apsley ON, so the best place to buy his work in Toronto (or online) is through the Craft Ontario website.

For a better look at Copping’s work, check out this site, or this one to see the glass he designed for the G8 summit in 2010.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Scones from Baker & Scone

bakerScone

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.)

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Skeletons as Art

skeleton2

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.

skeleton1

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Soma’s Birch Branch

soma_branch

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Modern Tea Cosies

flockofteacosies

At first glance, they look like hats. Beautiful, thick, felted wool, with nifty little flowers or fringe at the top. And then Flock of Tea Cosy creator Michaelle McLean pulls one up to reveal a teapot underneath. Or a bodum.

For tea drinkers with modern decor, grandma’s knitted tea cosy might look a bit out of place. But McLean’s felted works of art offer clean lines and quality, eco-friendly materials to fit into sleek kitchens and dining spaces. She also offers trivets and table runners, as well as coffee cosies to fit over French press coffee pots.

Why are they awesome? First of all, they’re art, and add a bright, cheerful touch to a table with none of the twee usually associated with tea. Second – eco-friendly, renewable resources. Third – they keep your tea (or coffee) warm so the second cup isn’t gross.

 

 

 

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Vintage Glassware

woohoo_glass

This festive display of fall-themed glassware caught my eye at a recent Annex Flea and drew me to it like a moth to a flame. Sonja Stefanovic of Woo Hoo Decor has a great eye and finds some really cool things that she then passes on to the public (at great prices – the two orange dishes at the lower right were $15 each) at local flea markets. Any of these pieces would look great on a Thanksgiving Day table.

Merchandise changes regularly, and Sonja vends at many local flea market events. Visit her at the upcoming Leslieville Flea (October 19, Ashbridge Estate, 1444 Queen Street East and November 30th, SH Armstrong Community Recreation Centre, 56 Woodfield Road ), Annex Flea (November 6th, December 13th & 14th, Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street) or Habitat for Humanity Durham Christmas Showcase at All Saints High School 3001 Country Lane, Whitby, December 6th & 7th.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Film Review – 20,000 Days on Earth

20000days

For what I am about to admit, the great Goth council will show up at my door and take away my Goth Card ™. But… I’ve never been a fan of Nick Cave.

I appreciate what he does. I understand and respect his influence. But his music has never moved me, and he doesn’t make me swoon. So I was able to go into 20,000 Days on Earth with no expectations, knowing very little about it, waiting to see if it made me like Cave more… or less.

Knowing something about the film beforehand would have helped, actually, as 20,000 Days on Earth is a fictional documentary. It’s Nick Cave playing Nick Cave. There is no official Nick Cave archive in a bunker in Brighton, England. Friends and co-workers such as Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld don’t actually appear in Cave’s car for a chat as he drives through the rain. (Digression – can I please have a documentary about Blixa Bargeld? Please?) Cave’s chat with his therapist is not real (the therapist, Darian Leader is a real psychoanalyst, but does not, apparently count Cave as one of his patients).

So what is the point of 20,000 Days?

Read More...

Read More

Awesome Thing – Cashmere Jockstraps

jockstraps

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Awesome Thing – Rose Hot Chocolate

cacao_vanrose
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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

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

adorabelles

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More

Vive Le Québec Dîner at Biff’s

biffs_scallop

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.

Read More...

Read More

Review – Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

Book_FictitiousDishes

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.

Read More...

Read More

Awesome Thing – Blueberry, Vanilla & Coffee Jam

preservationsociety_jam

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.

Bookmark and Share

Read More