Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Dinner: Jamie Oliver's Pan-Fried Chicken with a Delicate Pearl Barley, Pea and Lettuce Stew

I didn't go see Jamie Oliver today at Roy Thomson Hall, but we (Darcy actually) coincidentally made an Oliver recipe for dinner. We saw Jamie make it on the Food Network this morning and I couldn't think about anything else. It was called "Pan-Fried Game with a Delicate Pearl Barley, Pea and Lettuce Stew," but we didn't have access to partridges, so we used chicken (legs and breast) and it was amazing. The pan-fried poultry is served on top of a kind of barley and pea risotto with fresh lettuce mixed in at the last minute. So good. You can fin the recipe here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

If You Tweet It, He Will Come

My post about how Toronto comedian Bob Kerr used Twitter and Facebook to convince LA comedian Paul F. Tompkins to perform in Hogtown for the first time ever is up on Torontoist.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite post. I didn't initially plan on writing about this at all. I heard about Bob's campaign to get PFT here, but I thought it wasn't a necessarily "Toronto" story. I attended the show and completely fell in love with Paul within mere seconds. It was one of the best comedy shows I've ever seen, and I would put him right alongside Louis C.K. As the weeks went by after the show, all these new copycat Facebook groups started popping up, trying to do the same thing. At last count there were over thirty cities, mostly in North America, but also some as far as Sweden and Scotland! This was fast turning into something really big and it all started in our little city.

But, more than that, I was so happy for Bob. I feel like it must have taken so much courage to engage Paul, convince him to perform in Toronto, and take on the responsibility of making sure the audience showed up. It turned out better than he could have hoped and he even got to hang out with Paul after the show. I wish both Bob and Paul every success.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Save the Last Deli

Photo by Marcelo Ithurralde.

My post about David Sax's excellent book, Save the Deli finally went up today on Torontoist. I wrote the first draft last week, but my editor rightly asked me to give it another looking over, at which point I realized it was awful. So, I started again from scratch and also asked one of Torontoist's illustrators, Sasha Plotnikova, to do an original illustration, which I think came out beautifully. David Sax himself even found the post just a few hours after it went up and re-posted it on his blog (yay!).

I read this book in one weekend and I was amazed by how much research and legwork went into it. I can't imagine doing that many interviews, let alone ones with people who are running busy delis and don't have much time to talk. His stamina continues to amaze me as I follow his blog, describing his exhausting book tour.

Everyone seems to be fixated on the book as a deli travel guide, but I think the best part of it is the historical details of Jews in North America that lend context to the current situation—the disappearance of traditional Jewish delis. The point that stuck with me was that the source of this cuisine was all but extinguished during the Holocaust. As Sax says in his book, "Delis are cooking from the fading memories of a time and place that no longer exist."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Live-blogging Nuit Blanche for Torontoist

Last night, I had my first live-blogging experience as my star photographer friend Ayngelina and I tried to faithfully record the weird and wonderful things we saw throughout the night at Nuit Blanche: A note to anyone trying to do this in the future, you cannot count on free wifi, or even paid services like Boingo. I ended up texting my editor instead.

Not only did my editor, David Topping, put together the post on the site as the night unfolded, but pieces of it were also projected on a big, blank outer wall of the AGO. We got there at about 1AM. My friends patiently waited as I stood poised with my camera, waiting for one of mine to come up.

Nuit Blanche always sounds really good on paper, but more times than not, the execution lacks something. "Dance of the Cranes," a piece where construction cranes were supposed to move in tandem to music was just two cranes with monotone blue Christmas lights spinning slowly on their axes. And the "Wild Ride," which was two midway rides located in the middle of the Financial District and staffed by carnies in suits to represent the "wild ride" workers in banking have had this year, didn't put any emphasis on the dressed up operators and just looked like a regular carnival ride with hordes of people waiting to get on.

I think the coolest thing was the "plane" that flew across the ceiling inside the 24 hour grocery store in Liberty Village. People are shopping, everything is as usual, then the sound of a jumbo jet fills the store and the immense shadow of a plane crawls across the ceiling...then it's gone. Loved it.

I think Nuit Blanche needs an injection of theatre, performance, and people. How cool would it have been to see Cirque du Soleil-type acrobats crawling over those slow-moving cranes? And really making those Bay Street carnies standout with crisp suits and Venetian masks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oh, l'amour

On Friday, Ayngelina and I had so much fun at the public opening for Thirty in Twenty, which I wrote about for Torontoist. I had such a hard time composing this post because I was overwhelmed by the richness of Toni and Ria Harting's story and how refreshingly real and sweet they were. Seeing them in the room, alongside the precious photos that chronicle their French culinary adventure from almost 40 years ago, made me well up. The photos capture the essence of youth, adventure, fun, and love.

The show is curated by another beautiful couple, Johanna Reynolds and Zach Kellum, who have such wonderful taste and styled the room perfectly for the show.

If you're in Toronto, don't miss it. It's free and runs until September 26.

Photo by Toni Harting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Miracle on Queen Street

So, thanks to my Torontoist editor David Topping, who is a friend of Tyler Clark Burke, Ayngelina and I were able to attend a "miracle fruit" tasting last Thursday and we posted about it on Monday. Many high profile media people were there (Toronto Life, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CBC) as well as little old us. We were crammed together on a tiny back patio and it was really fun.

Due to my own mix-up, we were double-booked that night and had to go to the Performance Gallery at The Gladstone as well, which we were slightly late for. After having some berries (which make everything eaten afterwards taste sweet) and scarfing down too much of the test foods (lemons, salt-and-vingear chips, sour candy, hot peppers, vinegar, tequila), we made a hasty exit and had just 45 minutes to see all of the gallery's performances.

At one point, we were watching a fabulous performance called German Lollipop that took place in the bathroom on the second floor. The night's performances were supposed to be over already, but since we were media, they did an extra one for us. In the show, Hannah Cheesman played a German wife who was being gradually driven to madness by her husband. It was a creepy, powerful performance and it was fantastic. I loved it, but the door was shut and it was a million degrees in there and my stomach was super mad that I filled it with dietary acid at the party. Word of caution: do not make plans to do anything after a "flavour-tripping" party.

Photo by Ayngelina Brogan.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Theatre Buff

With all this writing for Torontoist, my own blog is getting terribly neglected. Between the Pride Parade and now, I've had the amazing opportunity to review plays for the Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks. I've always loved theatre and see quite a bit of it usually, but this is the first time I've written any formal reviews.

During the Fringe, I went to see about 16 plays, mostly with Marcelo, and loved every minute of it (well, the vast majority). I couldn't get enough. Even at lunchtime, I snuck away to the Factory Theatre (just down the street from my office) and squeezed in an extra play.

As for SummerWorks, so far, I've seen only three traditional SummerWorks plays, one SummerWalk, and one visit to the awesome Performance Gallery. I simply fell in love with Quietness by Anthony Bergamin. I am a sucker for opera or any singing really.

So, belatedly, here are the posts I wrote for the Fringe and SummerWorks (to date) for Torontoist:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Proud Crowds

Yesterday, Torontoist photographer Andrew Louis and I were so lucky to march in the 29th Annual Pride Parade with Heterosexuals for Same-Sex Equality. To do something a bit different, we took photos of the crowd instead of the floats to shine the spotlight on all the amazing people who came to show their support.

It was my very first time at the parade and I was overwhelmed. Everyone there was smiling, dancing, laughing, and cheering. Makes me tear up to think about it. Happy Pride to everyone!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Toronto a la Cart's First Thirty Days

My post on the hard-working Toronto a la Cart street food vendors is now up on Torontoist. I had originally thought I'd write about the food they were offering, but when interviewing them they told me so many exasperated stories about working with the City that I changed tack to focus on that.

These vendors are working incredibly hard. Young Jin Kim and her son, Simon, are downtown at 9 a.m. every day to pick up the cart. By ten, they're at Yonge and Eglinton and they stay until 9 p.m., after which Kim goes to her restaurant to do the dishes and prepare for the next day. These guys deserve all the help they can get. Please support them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Toronto Taste in USA Today

I'm so excited that USA Today linked to our post on Torontoist about Toronto Taste! And they pulled the closing quote by Mark McEwan out as well for their quotes page. It was a great quote. Mark McEwan is awesome.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Toronto Tastes Great

My post about Toronto Taste, Second Harvest's biggest yearly fundraiser, went up on Torontoist this morning, and happily just got linked in the Globe & Mail.

It was a star-studded event with many celebrity chefs and Food Network personalities, including Mark McEwan (Second Harvest's ambassador), Marc Thuet, Michael Smith, Laura Calder, Bob Blumer, Brad Long, and Donna Dooher. My girl, Olivia Bolano, was also there making her debut at Toronto Taste as Executive Chef of All the Best Fine Foods.

I was so intimidated to talk to Mark McEwan and Marc Thuet, but they were both extremely accomodating. McEwan talked to me at length about how devoted he is to Second Harvest, and how he does everything he can to help them, using his incredible influence in the industry.

We almost didn't talk to Marc Thuet, but as we were leaving we caught him having a cigarette with one of his cooks outside the grounds. In real life, he is as magnificent as a lion, and I think Ayngelina captured that so well in her photograph (see the post).

Debra Hubner from Second Harvest told us that 1200 people were in attendance that night, making over $250,000 for the charity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Original Fifteen

My post about the Basic Culinary Skills Training program at the YMCA on Charles Street went up today on Torontoist. It's an amazing job skills program that helps people on social assistance learn how to cook professionally and find jobs in the hospitality industry.

To research this piece, I spent several hours at their bustling kitchen in the basement of the YMCA, talking to the director, Kelvin Ramjattan, and instructors. All of them are former restaurant cooks and two of them, Dan Prewer and Adam Lariviere, left restaurants less than two years ago to begin teaching. What blew me away was how much they care about their students and mentor them to not only cook, but also cope with working and life in general. They help them figure out how to deal with conflicts, stress, gossip, language barriers, money, and countless other things.

Seeing these chefs run this kind of program day in and day out for 25 years is one of the most hopeful sights I've ever witnessed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ontario Ribfests 2009

It's finally here, guys. The first ribfest of the season is this weekend in Pickering. And even if you live in Toronto and don't have a car (like me), it's like a kilometre or so from the Pickering GO station. And here is the GO Train schedule for the train between Toronto and Pickering.

View Larger Map

I haven't decided if I'm actually going to go or not, but I seem to have done a lot of research. Mmmmm. Can't resist.

If you'd like to plan out the rest of your rib summer, Darcy updated the calendar we made last year for 2009.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Small Boxes at Summerhill

On Monday night, my talented photographer friend Ayngelina and I went to the grand opening of the Shops st Summerhill, an amazing cluster of shops close to Summerhill subway station that have excellent quality food and have been around for about 30 years. My friend Olivia Bolano is the executive chef at one of the shops, All the Best Fine Foods, which is probably why I was invited at all. Lots of top tier media were there, including the Star, the Globe, and Toronto Life.

We did a sort of "shop crawl" for about an hour followed by a sit-down dinner at MBCo. Pisces Gourmet had by far the most impressive display. They had an actual shark, a whole monkfish, and a gorgeous parrotfish, among many other things, all arranged beautifully in the cases. The fish were so fresh and bright-eyed that they really did look alive. And even though the shop had tonnes of product, it might as well have been a clothing store because it didn't smell fishy in the least. How fresh is that?

The shops were amazing too. These are all high end shops, so not cheap, but the quality is incredible.

My post about the shops went up this morning on Torontoist and it was picked to be linked on the Globe and Mail's Toronto hub. Eee!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lineup at the Don Jail

Yesterday, ace Torontoist photographer Michael Chrisman and I were so lucky to be able to get a preview of the Don Jail before the poor crowds who waited for hours in the sun. We arrived at 9 a.m. and by the time I left at 11, the line-up looked like this:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blustery Brunch at Mildred's Temple Kitchen

What is up with this 5 °C on the May long weekend? I braved the wind and cold this morning and finally went back to Mildred's Temple Kitchen for brunch today with friends I don't get to see nearly enough. And we solved the problem of how to have the blueberry pancakes and try something new at the same time: order one plate for the table and share. It worked like a charm (as long as you have four people). Note that the pancakes now come pre-dressed with the sweet and delicious Lanark County maple syrup.

Fans of the old Mildred's have dished out a lot of criticism on their new modern decor, but it's a fresh, clean, and airy space with very comfortable chairs, and the waitstaff don't pressure you to hurry up and leave (apologies to everyone waiting for a table this morning; we had too much fun catching up). And the food is flawless, as usual.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cluck, Grunt, and Lowdown

The information around the closure of Cluck, Grunt & Low is pretty sketchy at best, and it looks like they took off in a hurry (i.e. without paying their staff).

I went to this place a few times, but not recently. Their beef ribs were amazing (and enormous). I also liked the fried green tomatoes. Torontonians love barbecue and aside from Phil's Original, there really isn't anywhere to go. If any southerner came up here and started an authentic Carolina, Kansas, or Texas joint, they'd make a killing.

The Howling Fantods

After poor little Zoe the chihuahua was abducted by a coyote in the Beaches in late February, media both near and far covered the story and solicited reams of passionate comments. In addition to local residents concerned with the safety of their pets and children, rural folks also weighed in reminding us that we’re not the only ones with a problem.

In the frenzied days immediately following the Zoe incident, the initial response was to euthanize the animal (dubbed “Neville” by local residents), but this tactic proved to be wildly unpopular, so they changed tack and decided to trap and relocate it humanely. Normally, the Ministry of Natural Resources advises that animals be moved no further than one kilometre from their origin because of the possibility of spreading disease (e.g. rabies) and the fact that beasties don’t do well when introduced into unfamiliar territory. For this particular case, Toronto Animal Services got special permission to move the coyote further away in order to get him outside city limits. (As of today, Neville still remains at large.)

The problem, as outlined by Owen Roberts in The Guelph Mercury and by some commenters, is that the country already has their fair share of coyotes that not only interfere with pets, but also with livestock (i.e. their livelihoods). Unwanted wildlife dumped in the countryside, especially urbanized animals that rely on humans for their food, most likely will either perish or seek out new hosts.

The end result is a quandary where wildlife is first being unintentionally domesticated, and then pushed into the narrowing spaces between all of us humans, city and country dwellers alike.

And coyotes aren’t even close to being the most populous wild species in the city. Kathleen Quinn, a supervisor at Toronto Animal Services, tells me that the top five (according to their numbers) are raccoons, squirrels, skunks, opossums, and groundhogs. The difference is that these animals are generally easier to live with and have not made off with anyone’s pets (yet).

When I asked Jolanta Kowalski, Senior Media Relations Officer at the Ministry of Natural Resources, if there is a province-wide plan for dealing with problematic species like coyotes, she told me “the best way to avoid problems with any wildlife is to remove any food attractants...and never feed them. Learning to peacefully co-exist with wildlife is always the preferred option.” So it seems all we can do is try to make our dumpsters and backyards less of a buffet, and hope these critters prefer the wild...or what's left of it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Best of Home for a Short Holiday

Last week after an insanely exhausting and unhealthy month of working far too much, Darcy and I popped home to Nova Scotia for a quick holiday that involved lots of fresh sea air, walks along the coast looking at all the stuff that washed up, visiting family, and eating amazing food. If you're planning on visiting Nova Scotia, Halifax or otherwise, the best food really can only be eaten at someone's house. My advice would be to rent a place with kitchen facilities and a car and go out to buy your own lobster, crab, mussels, and smoked fish. Here is some of the best stuff we ate, in chronological order:

  1. Dim sum at Zen Chinese Cuisine in Clayton Park, Halifax. Awesome dim sum in a relaxed, sunny restaurant with menus only—no carts. My parents go every week.

  2. Lobster from Fisherman's Market. These were 1.5 pound hard shell; very tough to crack and full of meat. They were also selling jumbo lobsters that were two feet long. You could cook one and serve it like a turkey.

  3. Lobster roll made from leftover lobster tails, celery, mayo,and the whitest white hotdog buns.

  4. Prime rib roast with asparagus, Yorkshire pudding, and mushroom gravy. This is one my favourite mom foods that we haven't had in years. And we cooked it at Mom and Dad's new seaside house, which made it even more fun.

  5. Soba noodle soup made from 80% buckwheat noodles bought at Sanko Trading Co. in Toronto. One of my favourite things in the world.

  6. Japanese barbecue dinner: wakame salad, onigiri, and yakitori (I grilled the yakitori myself!)

  7. Smoked fish from Willy Krauch's in Tangier. We went to the actual smoking facility and it's a tiny little place with just a small stock available for sale in store, but they do a huge mail order business. They use wood and brick ovens with hardwood smoke and they made smoked trout, mackerel, eel, and two kinds of salmon: hot and cold. The cold is the raw type and the hot is chunks of smokey cooked salmon.

  8. Seafood Platter at Harbour Fish 'n' Fries in Musquodoboit Harbour. It's the best place for fish and chips in the world. They opened about 15-20 years ago as a chip truck that turned into a shack that they added onto and now they seat about 40 total (indoors and out), which is good because they're packed at lunchtime. They're open from April to November.

  9. Scallop pasta chez Mom and Dad. Only at home can you get as many scallops as you want. Yum.

  10. Dad's ramen. Made with egg white noodles and homemade pork stock and char siu.

  11. Mom's gyoza. Made with chopped pork (not ground), garlic chives, shiitake mushrooms, and napa cabbage.