Sunday, September 30, 2007

who are you...

A couple of weekends ago, I headed into Toronto with my fellow Who Grrls, Elizabeth, Ann & Carly, and took in a screening of the new documentary, Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Who Grrls are a special bunch of ladies who share a love for one of the greatest rock bands ever. It's always great to spend time with them.

I like documentaries as much as the next person. And I am a big fan of The Who, although probably not quite as much as the previously mentioned Who Grrls. So I went into the movie expecting an enjoyable experience, but nothing earth shattering. What I got was an incredible, two hour look into how The Who became one of the biggest bands not only of their generation but of rock history . The film was full of exclusive and rare footage intermingled with interviews with the band and other key people in their history. This movie comes out in DVD form on November 5. If you are a Who fan or simply a music fan, buy this DVD! The movie is truly excellent and offers a fascinating glimpse into the development of an incredible and historically important rock band. And for the loyal Who fan, the DVD promises to be full of exciting bonus footage!

After we left the screening at the historic Elgin Theatre, we made our way to the Park Hyatt Hotel at Bloor & Avenue Road. The Hyatt has a lovely little bar on the 18th Floor called The Roof Lounge. It's a cozy room that serves excellent albeit expensive martinis & tapas. They have a small terrace with an incredible view of the city. Definitely a great place to go as a treat.

Here are some pics from the Hyatt terrace.

Aww, the ROM Crystal. This image depicts what I can't stand about the Crystal. On its own it would be a beautiful and striking piece of architecture. Instead, it crashes into an incredibly gorgeous old and historic building, destroying its beauty.

The ever-changing, condo-overloaded, Toronto skyline.

One of the things I love about Toronto is the trees. Here is the back view of Queen's Park, highlighting the lushly forested park behind the Legislature.

The ROM Crystal

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I love this bar...

Now this is my kind of restaurant!

In today's Globe and Mail Beppi Crosariol reported on a unique Vancouver restaurant. All they serve is wine, cheese and meat. No fancy kitchen or gourmet chef necessary. This is totally up my alley! One of my favourite dinners is what Steve and I call the snacky dinner. A couple of different cheeses, some nice cured meat, gourmet olives, a few crackers and a good bottle of red wine. Kind of a rustic European thing. In fact, the snacky dinner has kind of become our Christmas Eve tradition. We spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day with family so Christmas Eve is our time. We lay out a yummy spread and open the presents we bought for each other. Just the two of us. It's a nice tradition. But I digress.

I've included the article below even though I linked to it above. The Globe is one of those annoying newspapers that cuts off access to articles after a few days, unless you are an online subscriber.

Rise of the anti-restaurant
It's in a seedy alleyway, has no kitchen and never bothered to hire a chef. But Sean Heather's meat, cheese and wine bar is anything but a misstep - instead, it's turning the restaurant model on its ear


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
September 26, 2007 at 10:22 AM EDT

VANCOUVER — Want to succeed in the restaurant business? Consider some tips from Sean Heather:

Find a rundown space in a seedy alleyway with no pedestrian traffic or other businesses; replace the existing wood flooring with bare concrete; set up a long, picnic-style, communal table and offer patrons paper napkins instead of linen. Oh, and don't bother with unnecessary details like hiring a chef or installing a stove; buy ready-made food and slice it up onto plates.

Welcome to Salt Tasting Room, a 14-month-old charcuterie restaurant and wine bar in Vancouver's Gastown that has not only played to positive reviews but also emerged as one of the most envied, and unlikely, successes in this city's hyperactive fine-dining scene.

From a culinary standpoint, Salt taps the growing appetite for raw-milk cheeses and locally cured meats with farmhouse provenance. There's ash-covered camembert from Moonstruck Organic Cheese Inc. on Salt Spring Island, for example, and wild-boar headcheese that Mr. Heather sourced from Oyama Sausage Co. on Granville Island.

There's also no denying the cheap-chic allure of the minimalist design, complete with a chalkboard that serves as the menu and a Ferrari-red, hand-cranked Italian meat slicer - the latter one of several ideas borrowed from New York superchef Mario Batali.

But it's the novel - at least for Canada - kitchenless fine-dining concept that has been turning professional heads and pulling in a steady stream of hungry and curious chefs in their off hours.

"It's genius, it really is," said Jeff Van Geest, chef-owner of 4-1/2-year-old Aurora Bistro. "I think every restaurateur in the city is saying the same thing: 'Why didn't I think of that?' "

Mr. Van Geest says he resists even categorizing Salt as a restaurant because Mr. Heather and his business partner, Scott Hawthorn, have brilliantly turned the traditional business model on its ear, avoiding the crippling costs that can ultimately capsize even the best cooking.

Call it the anti-restaurant.

"The staffing issues, the equipment, all the overhead things that make our [profit] margins so tight in restaurants and make us struggle for every cent - he's eliminated all of that, and he's full most of the time," Mr. Van Geest said.

Salt is also the model around which Mr. Heather, who owns several other local establishments including the Irish Heather gastropub and Salty Tongue deli, is building his expansion plans. Get ready for a bigger original Salt in Blood Alley, two more Salts in Vancouver, a "seasonal" Salt for summer wine tourists in the Okanagan Valley and, if Mr. Heather can find the right eastern partners, a Toronto Salt.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Heather, 41, who grew up and trained as a chef in Ireland before moving to Canada and eventually launching the Irish Heather 11 years ago, spoke candidly about Salt's economics.

"We didn't have a lot of business today, but I still made a hundred bucks," he said, sitting at a 6-metre-long communal table that runs along one side of the dimly lit, main dining area. "I don't need to do a lot of business to make money. My rent is not high. I'm in an alleyway. I have no chef - that would cost me 50 or 60 grand a year. There's no waste. There's no gas. There's no grease trap, there's no [ventilation] hood."

Another key to Salt's profitability is the autocratic menu. The minimum food order must consist of at least three items, whether meat or cheese, at a cost of $15. You can't just taste one for $5, an option that has scuttled many a wine-bar concept in the past. Add a glass of good wine and the typical order doesn't take long to exceed $30.

"We have an average spend of 35 bucks a head here, and that rivals most restaurants, but we're not cooking anything," Mr. Heather boasted in a cheerful tone that suggested gratitude for what he calls his "Irish luck" rather than any sort of arrogance.

Because of Salt's success, Mr. Heather has dropped long-standing plans to open a more expensive, hot-food restaurant that was to be called Pepper. Instead, he says, he is now expanding into an unused basement area with Salt Cellar, virtually doubling the 800-square-foot dining space and storage area he now has. Then, next year, he will expand the concept to a location on Main Street and one in Kitsilano.

Not that salami-slinging wine bars are new. Italy has countless. But as Mr. Heather and other restaurateurs note, the bare-bones concept is virtually unknown in Canada.

In fact, Mr. Heather had to lay some blarney on provincial liquor inspectors to get his alcohol licence. Aware that "liquor-primary" licences for bars are rarely issued any longer, he decided to ask for a "food-primary" licence for his wine bar concept. But his kitchenless blueprint perplexed the booze patrol.

"So, about two weeks into discussions with these guys, we stopped calling it a tasting bar and we started calling it a sushi bar," Mr. Heather recalled, referring to the Japanese raw fish delicacy.

"Once they heard 'sushi,' they said, 'Oh, yeah.' They had a reference point. It was only until about two weeks before we opened that, when the guys came to do actual inspections, they were like, 'Where's the sushi?' I said, 'It's kind of like sushi, but it's meat and cheese.' ... We were a sushi bar on the books for a long time."

The other virtue of not needing a chef is that Vancouver is currently facing a shortage of culinary talent following a flurry of fine-dining openings during the past 18 months. "We could open up 20 of these and not have to worry about that problem."

With Salt, Mr. Heather has also shrewdly sidestepped another of the big nuisances of running a restaurant: customer complaints. "You go to a restaurant and you want your steak done medium-rare and it comes back medium, 'Nah, nah, nah.' You come here, if you've got a problem, we can say, 'Talk to the cheese maker. We just cut the cheese.' "

As for the competition, Mr. Heather believes he's eluded that, as well. "As more and more restaurants open up, we become a place that you could come to before or after. We're not competing. We're complementing all these new restaurants."

If Salt does eventually expand to Toronto, it could face competition there, however. Terroni, the popular downtown chain of southern Italian-style trattorias, is expanding to a big new location in the historic courthouse building on Adelaide Street East, with plans for an adjacent, but separate, wine bar that will offer a bare-bones cured-meat-and-cheese menu and have a strict policy of not serving hot food from the Terroni kitchen.

"They can have a nice cutting board with specialized meats, prosciuttos and salami," said Cosimo Mammoliti, Terroni's owner. "But they cannot have food in the bar."

Mr. Mammoliti says he believes Toronto is ripe for an "authentic" Italian wine bar. "People need a place like that to go to - even if they're going to dinner somewhere else," he said. "It's hard to find that any place in the city."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

almost as beautiful...

So I'm still a bit bummed about missing Blue Rodeo's series of guerrilla concerts throughout downtown Toronto on Tuesday. Then I checked my You Tube subscriptions and found this piece of footage from the concert outside of the ROM, steps from my office. It broke my heart to watch it. I so should have been there!

I especially love what Jim says about The Crystal. ;)

There is also footage of them performing "C'mon" outside of the Eaton Centre. Check out the Starfish Entertains page for more!

I'm listening to the new album, Small Miracles, as I write this. And it is fantastic! Blue Rodeo fans will not be disappointed.

And I will lay off Blue Rodeo as a topic for a while. Promise.

Monday, September 24, 2007

bad timing...

I've been battling a stupid cold for about a month now. Just when I start to feel better, it gets worse again. After a long night of coughing and sleeplessness I woke up with a fever and decided it was best to stay home from work today. Nothing pisses me off more than staying home sick. I just hate being home alone, unable to get anything done, while surrounded by so much stuff to do. Our house is an endless project. Reorganizing, redecorating, general tidying. You get the picture.

Well today was probably the worst day I could have spent away from the office. Not because I would be farther behind in my work, but because Blue Rodeo was playing a bunch of impromptu concerts around downtown Toronto today to promote the release of their new album Small Miracles tomorrow. Given the location of my office it was fairly likely that I would be near one of these surprise locations. A little after 4pm today, they performed a set at the south west corner of Bloor St. W. and Avenue Rd. in front of the ROM. That's approximately a one minute walk from my office. And I missed it.

At least I have the new album to look forward to. And I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to download it so that I can listen to it on the way into work, and at work, and on the way home from work...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

i saw the sign...

This sign at my local LCBO made my chuckle.

A rather redundant statement, don't you think?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

i got game...

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently celebrated a birthday. My 35th to be exact. Birthdays don't generally bother me but I have to admit, this one left me a bit rattled. 35. Five years away from 40. The thought that I've been on this earth almost 40 years is a bit mind-boggling. I'm starting to understand the mid-life crisis thing. Not that I'm planning to have one any time soon.

Well just to prove that I have no plans to grow up anytime soon, my awesome husband who knows me oh-so-well, bought me this.

My very own Nintendo Wii!

That's right people. I'm an adult in my mid-30's, I love Nintendo and I don't care who knows it!

My Wii, unboxed and ready for action!

I haven't been able to spend too much time with it yet, with work being hell on earth at the moment. But I can honestly say that the Wii is the most incredible gaming system ever! The fact that you can play tennis and actually be making the motions that you would be if you had a tennis racket in your hand is amazing. Sadly, I wasn't surprised to learn that I suck at sports just as much in video game land as I do in real life.

You may ask, why Nintendo? What about Xbox or Playstation? One word. Mario. Mario is one of the most enduring characters in video game history. And he's just an ordinary, blue-collar guy. A hard-working, Italian plumber with a heart of gold and the will and determination to do anything for his woman, Princess Peach. Seriously, how could you not love him!

Ahh, Mario. You had me at hello.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I even get excited when I see the North Pole...

I love You Tube. Especially when I come across gems like this.

Oh how I miss Corky and the Juice Pigs!

Once upon a time, I drank a little wine, was as happy as could be...

I celebrated my 35th birthday last week. My awesome assistant Eddy brought an excellent bottle of wine to work to celebrate. We did not consume it on my birthday, but a few days later, after a particularly crazy day at work.

Spanish wine rocks and the Castillo de Almansa Reserva 2001 is no exception. Dark cherry in colour with a nose of black pepper and ripe berries. This is a big, intense wine, heavy on the black pepper and oak flavours with a sweet, cherry finish. At $20.10 (at the LCBO) this is not your every day chugger but a damn fine wine. Thanks Eddy!

Monday, September 10, 2007

I hope...

"You make a living by what you get.
You make a life by what you give."

Winston Churchill

This past weekend, I walked in The Weekend to End Breast Cancer in Toronto. This was my first year walking the event and it is was an exhilarating experience that I will never forget.

The weekend started on Friday night, or Day Zero. I showed up at Exhibition Place for registration. Although the line was long, the process was very well organized and it went quite smoothly. I watched the mandatory safety video, handed in my last minute donations, picked up my package and received a truck assignment for my bag. (Those who choose to camp also received their tent assignments.)

Saturday morning arrived and Steve dropped me off at Exhibition Place bright at early at 6:15 am. The grounds were already buzzing with thousands of people. I dropped off my bag at the designated truck, grabbed some coffee and a muffin and waited for the opening ceremonies to begin. My friend Deb, my walking partner for the weekend, was meeting me there along with a few of her friends. We tried to connect before the walk started but weren't able to so we agreed, after many cell phone calls, to hook up at the first rest stop. During the opening ceremonies we learned that the 5,521 walkers had raised $17.3 million for Princess Margaret Hospital. After a beautiful and inspiring speech from a breast cancer survivor we were on our way.

Departing Exhibition Place

Near the start of the route, along the Lakeshore

I started out at the very back of the pack and slowly worked my way up in an effort to catch up with Deb and her friends. Along the way, I had the honour of walking with Dr. Tak Mak, Director of the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research. He told me a bit about his team's research and gave me some interesting statistics about breast cancer. Currently, 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. That's right, 1 in 8! When he was in medical school, it was 1 in 25. And through research, they've been able to determine that women who wait until 35 or older to have children increase their likelihood of developing breast cancer. Since I just celebrated my 35th birthday and have not yet had children, this one really hit home. It was fascinating to speak with Dr. Mak and I'm thrilled that I had the opportunity to walk with this incredible man. He leads one of the world's best cancer research teams and is working hard to eradicate this horrible disease.

I did finally manage to meet up with Deb and her friends Tanya, Brenda, Cammy (sorry, not sure if I've spelled that correctly) and Karen. The six of us walked together for a while and then broke off into two groups of 3 as, Tanya, Brenda & Cammy went on ahead. We hung back a bit but kept up a good pace. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, luckily not humid, but still quite warm. I was starting to slow down as we neared our lunch spot and was very thankful for the kind people handing out popsicles near Rathburn Road. It was exactly the sugar rush I needed to get me through to the lunch stop. The kindness and generosity of the people along the route was overwhelming. Citizens of Toronto decorated their houses, offered us food and water and cheered us on all along the 60km route. And there were signs all along the way, some hand drawn by children and strapped to telephone poles. The amount of support was amazing.

Drawn by a Grade 2 student from St. Agnes School

A musician entertained us as we walked along the Humber River.

Somewhere in Etobicoke, a local resident lends her support.

An amazingly decorated house in Weston.

The people in Weston were awesome!!!

One of the most amazing supporters was Rob. We first spotted him in Bloor West Village, unmissable in his shocking pink hair. He kept reappearing along the route. He would wait until he saw the last walkers and then would hop on his gorgeous Yamaha motorcycle and meet up with the front of the pack and watch us walk past again. Every time we came upon him, we were rejuvenated!

Karen, Rob & Deb somewhere in Etobicoke.

And speaking of support, the volunteer crew that policed the intersections, drove the sweep trucks and staffed the rest stops were unbelievable. They kept our spirits up the whole time.

Somewhere around 5pm we made it to Downsview Park, the end of Saturday's 33km route. As soon as we saw the "tent city" we were thrilled to be staying in a hotel. I enjoy camping, but this was a bit much for me.

We grabbed some dinner, I retrieved my bag, and we headed to the Travelodge for a shower, some rest and a celebratory drink.

Me, Deb, Cammy, Brenda, Tanya

We awoke on Sunday morning to rain. It was chilly and damp when we set out at 8am, but the rainfall had stopped. Deb and I were much more energetic that those who had camped at Downsview, probably because we were drier and warmer. The crowd was obviously walking slower and I was dragging my butt due to the pain in my hips. But we made a conscious effort to pick up the pace and catch up to Tanya, Brenda and Cammy who were a few kilometers ahead of us. Once again we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people along the route who were feeding us and cheering us on.

Deb and I on Sunday morning, rested and ready for the final 27 km.

Sunday was a bit of a Toronto nostalgia trip for me as we walked by my former and current places of employment as well as my first Toronto apartment. Deb didn't make too much fun of me as I told her where we were and stopped to take pictures of almost anything. (Thanks Deb!)

We were fading once again as we approached our lunch spot and were thrilled to turn the corner into Rosedale off the Bayview extension where the awesome people from Xerox were handing out popsicles. And not just any popsicles, but yummy Breyer's treats. I happily devoured my Firecracker, thrilled by the sugar rush. We then lunched in beautiful Chorley Park and headed into the last leg of our journey.

The last part of the walk seemed to go really fast, probably because we where in the part of town I knew best and have walked through countless times. One of the most emotional moments for me was when we walked past Princess Margaret Hospital. We were greeted by a crowd of people including Dr. Tak Mak and other hospital staff, shaking our hands and giving us high fives. I cried like a baby as I realized that this huge building was full not only of people suffering from all types of cancer but of doctors, nurses and staff dedicated to battling this disease in all its forms. I thought back to about ten years ago, when by friend Karmen was battling leukemia, and my mom and I came to Princess Margaret to visit her. At that time, they were fundraising for a building expansion. There was a plexiglass box in the lobby in front of a mock up of what the new building would look like. I think my mom and I stuffed all the money we had in our wallets in that box after seeing our friend in pain and witnessing the incredible care she received. Thankfully, Karmen is happy and healthy and enjoying life as a newlywed.

A sculpture in front of Princess Margaret Hospital, presumably decorated by walkers.

Feeling re-energized after this emotional moment, Deb and I continued down University Avenue and arranged to meet up with the others at the final pit stop. We were thrilled to find out that the last stop was located on the grounds of the Steam Whistle Brewery and that walkers were being treated to free beer! We sped past the water station and straight into the brewery. After two days of walking, this was a huge treat! Thank you Steam Whistle!!!

After a brief rest and a yummy beer, we set out on our last 3 km towards our final destination, Exhibition Place.

Somewhere in that crowd in front of the Princes' Gates is my husband Steve...

After a hug and a kiss from Steve (who graciously took our picture with many cameras - see group shot below), we headed towards the Direct Energy Centre for the closing ceremonies. We walked through a huge crowd of supporters and our fellow walkers who greeted us with smiles, tears and high fives. Once again, I was overcome with emotion and the joy of actually completing the walk. I never once thought that I couldn't do it, but I was still so proud to have made it to the end.

We did it!

Deb and I, in pain but victorious!

Once we picked up our victory t-shirts, we waited for the last walkers to gather in the holding area. When it was time for the closing ceremonies to begin, the breast cancer survivors were asked to gather and head towards the front of the pack. It felt like the stream of survivors was never ending. How awesome is that! So many people who have fought and won the battle against breast cancer.

Walkers gathering for the closing ceremonies.

The closing ceremonies began and it was time to celebrate our accomplishment. All of the muscle ache and blisters were worth it, not only raise money to fight breast cancer but to feel like little old me could actually help. I'm not a scientist, so I won't be finding a cure for any disease any time soon. I'm not a doctor or nurse, so I am not only to care for the sick. But I can do my part to help the process along. And if that means walking 60km and personally raising over $2,500 I sure as hell am going to do it! In his speech at the closing ceremonies, Dr. Tak Mak summed it up best with this quote:

“I am only one, but still, I am one.
I cannot do everything but I can do something.
And, because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do what I can."

Edward Everett Hale

Sunday, September 2, 2007

and it was just like a vacation...

Actually, not so much.

Every Labour Day weekend, Steve and I go camping with a bunch of our good friends. We look forward to this weekend every year. Even though it marks the end of summer and the start of a new school year, we always know that we are going to have a fantastic time with our friends. Take last year for example. It rained from Friday night until Sunday morning, but we still managed to make the most of it and have a great time.

So this year we'd been watching The Weather Network religiously, checking the 14 day forecast several times a day. The forecast just kept getting better and as the weekend drew near we knew it would be perfect camping weather. Sunny and hot, but not humid and not too cold at night. Excitedly, I did the shopping and packed everything up on Thursday night, even though I was exhausted and weak from the cold I had been battling since the week before. I was determined to kick the cold before camping weekend arrived and I had fooled myself, through doses of NeoCitran and NyQuil, into believing that I was well enough to go. Then the inevitable happened. Steve had caught the cold too. On Thursday night he complained of aches and pains. I didn't think too much of it because Steve is the man who never gets sick. I'm the one who gets sick 3 times a year and drags the germs home. But Steve is the one who never picks up the germs and always feels fine. I can count the number of sick days he's taken on one hand and still have fingers left over. This time, we weren't so lucky. It was painfully evident on Friday morning that we would not be camping this year. I however remained optimistic. I went to work thinking that if he just slept a while longer he would feel better. By the time I got home he would have the truck packed and we'd be off. But it wasn't to be. He was going through exactly what I had the week earlier. Fever, chills, full body aches, sore throat, congested sinuses. He was in no shape to sleep in a tent all weekend and truthfully, neither was I.

So we've spent most of this weekend housebound. I was well enough to do a bit of housework and a bit of essential shopping. Truthfully, it wasn't until a couple of hours ago that I actually started to feel like myself. I'm still pretty bummed about missing the camping trip but I know there wasn't a lot we could do about it. I just hope the weather is as good next year...