Sunday, April 30, 2006

sample 'til you explode

I spent Saturday out by the airport for the annual Good Food Festival. Early afternoon was a wise choice, as I never had to wait long for samples, unless the folks behind the booth were prepping a fresh batch. I spent two-and-a-half hours making the rounds, until I was too stuffed to try any more juices, curries or ice creams.
As with any show, there were hits and misses.

Most of the items at the Irie booth. I dropped most of my cash here, walking away with a bottle of coconut curry sauce, a jar of pineapple jam and two free packs of garlic pepper & herbs seasonings.

Lots of pepper jellies this year, all tasty. Highest thumbs-up to Simply Awesome Red Pepper Wine Jelly. Heavenly, but with a heavenly price tag (though I suspect it would have been worth it).

From agricultural producers, the beef farmer's BBQ sliced beef was good, as was the Purple Sweeties sweet potato soup. Lots of egg products - I was surprised how good the microwavable Omelette Express was, with no off-taste or weird green colour.

Diabetic-friendly banana bread made with xylitol had no hint of artificial taste. The tablet samples would be a good substitute for the ting-a-lings dumped into pillowcases and buckets at Halloween.

Smoothies made from Pete's Tofu were refreshing again this year. Their caramel tofu was undetectable when blended into a Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix.

Most Thai or Indian-based products made my tummy happy, though it was hard to single out any in particular.

Overall, most items from the giant conglomerates were disappointing or looked too awful to try. More proof that people should buy products from mom n' pop vendors and distributors. I resisted trying anything at the Schneider's booth - they were making a Lunchable-type pizza (Smartlunch) that looked anything but appetizing. Swanson express microwave pastas made me crave a Stouffer's lasagne.

Other duds: Chris and Tal's Better Burger was a beef-soy hybrid that combined the worst of both worlds: the mushy texture of a bad veggie burger with the blandness of a generic frozen hamburger. An Indonesian laksa was inedible, which may have been due to a small spoonful of shrimp paste I added. Yoso Soy Yogurt reminded me of an old Simpsons joke: "soy pops - now with gag suppressant" (though their soy sundried tomato spread and soy fruit smoothies were tasty).


I brought my camera along, but decided it would get in the way of grabbing samples. So, dear readers, you are sadly denied any pictures of parchment paper pitchmen or poses with Mr. Peanut.

The camera came in handy later on. Since it was a beautiful day, I decided to go on a short country drive...that ended in Orillia. I decided to wander as long as the sun was out, so I explored new territory, the shoreline of Lake Simcoe between Barrie and Orillia. Maybe I had the area in the back of my mind after hearing friends trade Barrie stories Friday night.

Found a great shot opportunity east of Hawkestone. 

Road of Trees
Lakeshore Rd E, between Oro-Medonte Line 13 and Line 14, Apr 29/06

Monday, April 24, 2006

toronto hot spots, 1985

Time for another trip in the local wayback machine, to live music venues and clubs from twenty years ago. Descriptions are taken from the "Hot Spots" section of the Dec/85 issue of Toronto Life, written by Melanie Reffes and Susan O'Connor.
First off, spots that still exist, if in name only. Venues names are the ones listed in the magazine (i.e. Cameron Hotel instead of Cameron House), links are from the current incarnations.

ALBERT'S HALL - An upstairs tavern that happens to feature the best blues and R&B acts from in and out of town (Etta James led off Dec/85). Downstairs is the Brunswick House (no official website found for current incarnation), a beer barn covered floor-to-ceiling in mucky pop art. The walls boast photos of wet T-shirt contestants. The draft is cheap. Carla and Irene do requests such as Is That All There Is? on the mournful old piano.

THE CAMERON HOTEL - A sign in front reads "This is Paradise". Here is where Queen Street's poorest residents drink (they include many of Toronto's artists) and watch sports on the TV in the back room. Home of Handsome Ned and other Queen Street luminaries, the club has a stage one foot high and furniture that's battered to death. Audience yelling and dancing is often unfettered.

HORSESHOE - The Last Pogo happened here, just before the punks were driven out. A brief country and western theme ensued. Now it's back in the hands of the local bands, though the scene is not half as rough as it once was. The young folks just play shuffleboard these days.

RIVOLI - An important club with a testy, demanding art school crowd. The best of the local new wave create their followings here. the graffiti in the toilets at the rear ranks among the city's best, and the art on the walls of the restaurant up front is frequently interesting.


Next, tidbits from defunct venues...

CLUB Z (11A St. Joseph) - The walls of this multilevel warehouse space feature ancient Egyptian-style characters toting ghetto-blasters in phosphorescent paint. The radioactive, post-apocalyptic sensation is heightened by ruby lasers and music at terrific volumes. Events occur unannounced: fire-eaters, tigers, snakes, female impersonators.

GASWORKS (585 Yonge) - Once upon a time this was the home of the glam-rock set, subsequently something closer to a biker bar, and now a hard rock-heavy metal club on one of the meaner stretches of the Yonge Street strip. Curiously, kids with studded jackets are barred (Gasworks receives a passing mention in the September 2005 minutes of the Ontario Standing Committee on Justice Policy - the bouncers sound like they were something else).

LARRY'S HIDEAWAY (121 Carlton) - If Canadians weren't so self-effacing, this place would be as internationally known as CBGBs or the Marquee. Home of promoters the Garys, every important new band - local and important - must try its mettle here first. The lights and the sounds are raunchy and good. The club is filthy as hell. No such animal here as a regular night; acts run the gamut from reggae to thrash (a history of Larry's, later razed for an expansion of Allan Gardens). - JB

Additional Info from the Comments Section:
An attempt to turn the Gasworks into a pseudo-Hard Rock Cafe not long after the first incarnation closed, just a year after the Wayne's World movie, might've been well-intentioned, but a hopeless case in that neighbourhood ... wonder if the dollar store that recently replaced the Musclemag store will last ... - Marc Weisblott

Club Z is now 5ive, a big gay club. And I think Larry's burnt down, rather than being razed (or was razed after it burnt). The first [murmur] story we recorded was about the night Larry's Hideaway burnt down (but we have never put up the sign). If you're just east of the Church that sits at Carlton and Jarvis, you can still see the ghost of Larry's in the trees that surrounded the lot. - Shawn Micallef

Friday, April 21, 2006

a family clad in plaid is glad

Vintage Ad #29 - The Family Clad in Plaid Stays TogetherStudies from the 1950s showed that families clad in plaid robes were 75% happier than those that weren't.

I'm surprised father's tie doesn't match his robe. Must have been the only concession he made to schlepping around the house.

Source: Saturday Night, November 9, 1957 

Thursday, April 20, 2006

sketches of an imaginary small town

Context: this tale was inspired by a window display at George's Trains on Mount Pleasant Road.

Outside every large city, there lie charming small towns rich with character and history. One such place near the Warehouse is George City.

George City was founded in 1863 by Silas "Stinky Si" George, when he needed a place to hide after gunrunning for both sides during the American Civil War. George found the area, then known as Sulphur Gulch, a great hideaway for fellow tradesmen, as well as a great place to hide his poor personal hygiene. George was killed in a gunfight in September 1866 after he lost a card game and couldn't round up the 20 pounds of carrots his opponent, "Jackrabbit Slim" Hausenphefer demanded as payment. In tribute, the settlers renamed the town in George's honour and hold "Carrot Days" each September, complete with reenactments of George's final fight and "best Bugs Bunny imitation" contests.

Welcome to George City - See our Silos

Our first stop is out by the Farmer's Co-Op on the north side of town, with a site that may be oddly familiar to longtime North Toronto residents: the Dominion Coal Silos. George City was briefly home to a coal storage yard until mischievous school boys from the nearby Mackenzie Bowell Home for Wayward Youth lit a fire in May 1943 which burned for six months. Since then, the silos have stood as a memorial to the steady stream of area firefighters whose lives were shortening by this prime example of youthful tomfoolery. There is little chance these will make way for condominiums. Recent restoration efforts used a design closer to the Toronto silos, as the original paint had long faded.

Funeral in Blessed Relief Memorial Park

Many of the long-term victims of the coal fire currently reside in Blessed Relief Cemetery, just off of Main St behind Rusty's Cafe. This picture was taken during a recent memorial service, run by Father V.T Cann. Dr. Cann is reknown in the region for his rousing, revival-style burials. Mourners have been so swept up in the fervour and energy of Dr. Cann's speeches that their own funerals have followed in short order. - JB

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

one fine good friday in amherstburg

After Mom finished firing up the BBQ for dinner on Good Friday, I walked around town, trusty camera in hand.

To Flame Broil No More!
Amherstburg's Burger King, shuttered in 2004. It was the first fast-food burger chain to roll into town when it opened in the late 80s. Big disappointment, as BK was my least favourite of the majors (Harvey's was our preferred choice, until they changed the fries). My main memory of BK was during rehearsals for Grease in grade 12 - the cast had a hankering for flame-broiled food, so I volunteered to drive over. Since most of them were petite, there might have been 8-9 people crammed into my '86 Calais.

Across the road, White Woods Mall (photo from Christmas) is in its death cycle, with Wal-Mart as its rumoured replacement.

Carnegie Library
Amherstburg was one of the many towns to receive Carnegie libraries. This one, located at the SW corner of Richmond and Sandwich, dates to 1911 and was in danger of closing until the access elevator on the left was built. Not shown: a new fountain on the north side, a new parking lot to the south (formerly Chan's Garden restaurant and H&R Block).

Onion Sets Are In
Gardeners take note! A notice on the window of Wigle's Pro Hardware, across the street from the library. We used to joke how crammed the store was, but it's held firm to its downtown location.

General Amherst - View from the Fence
A side view of General Amherst High School from North St. The centre portion is the original front of the school, opened in 1922. Dad taught on the second floor for years (206), until St. Thomas of Villanova high school used the space as on office in the late 80s/early 90s. At last check, it was part of Amherst's guidance office.

Centennial Murals, General Amherst High School
Murals on the west side of the school, along Laird Ave. The gymnasiums were opened in 1967, as Amherst burst at the seams. Students attended in shifts while new two schools were established (Sandwich and Western). To celebrate the Centennial year, murals were commissioned to depict the town's history (details here). Look for closeups this summer. Note 40 years of fading.

I walked back to Mom's along the river. Several construction projects (condos by Navy Yard Park, new approach to the Bois Blanc ferry) turned Dalhousie St into an obstacle course. Roadwork wasn't limited to downtown, as orange signs dotted the town. It may drive Mom bonkers, but it is good to see work on the town's infrastructure. Outside of the core, work was about to begin on the Big Creek bridge on Hwy 18 (sorry Harrisites, I'll never call it County Rd 20), where kids on my elementary school bus yelled racial slurs at Detroit fishermen.

Monday, April 17, 2006

vintage sports illustrated ad of the day

Vintage Ad #28 - Enjoy Before Everyone Drinks Too Much Old-Style Kentucky BourbonHere we have a nice, WASPy, suburban middle-class BBQ at the dawn of the 1960s. Mrs. Early has worked all day preparing her famous Bourbon-Style Salad. She taste-tested the dressing several times during preparation, hence her stare into a void, not at Mr. Early in the doorway.

Mr. Early occasionally casts a bemused glance towards Henderson and Miss Jones. He suspects they may be having an affair. This doesn't bother Mr. Early, since it leaves him more time to spend with the lovely Mrs. Henderson. Where is Mrs. Henderson? She's at home watching Tommy, who's recovering from a bout of recalcitrant plebney.

Henderson's expression tells you all you need to know about what's going down with Miss Jones, though he is puzzled why she spends an extraordinary amount of time with his sister Hilda.

Early Times was smooth stuff alright. Mr. Early had secured a case for the BBQ, which was emptied. Many secrets were revealed, one marriage ended, many hand and facial burns resulting from touching the grill nobody bothered to cool down. It was the stuff of a period tear-jerker.

The greatest tragedy: nobody touched the corn on the cob.

Source: Sports Illustrated, June 20, 1960 - JB

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

vintage toronto life ad of the day

Vintage Ad #24 - Do You Really Now?Village by the Grange opened on McCaul St in 1976. Any secrets the complex held by the time this ad appeared in 1984 were hidden in each model's shoulder. The toll of those stuck in narrow passages or otherwise injured by wide clothes in Toronto during the mid-80s is unknown (though if anyone wants to check 52 Division's records, your perseverance will be admired).

Was the dude at top left on his way to audition as a backup singer for Talking Heads?

As time passed, more emphasis was placed on the apartments and condos in the complex. OCAD acquired space in 1998. The food court came to provide quick, cheap eats. The parking lot underneath was my favoured spot whenever I drove downtown from Guelph or had too many other errands to run to use the TTC.

Fast forward to the present: A food court overview from BlogTO, along with a review of one of its occupants, where I've downed the odd slurpy bowl of noodles. Apartment complex info. OCAD campus overview.

Source: Toronto Life, December 1984 - JB

Thursday, April 06, 2006

dining out in detroit, 1970

Detroit Dating Advice (One) | (Two)
Ontario Drinking Rules

Continuing with our ongoing look at Detroit in 1970 through the eye of a hipster guide, it's time to find a place to eat.

Bob's Picture Bar (Grand River & Cass) - "About forty years ago Bob came up with this rather grand scheme of chronicling human progress by covering the walls of his bar with pictures (and spicing up uninteresting periods with cartoons from Esquire). Unfortunately for the historically-minded, it looks as if human progess stopped about 1940...the floor is so uneven your knees may buckle as you walk."

Cabaret LaBoheme (Ponchartrain Hotel) - "If a genuine bohemian ever walked in the here he would probably be booted the 23 floors down."

Flaming Embers (Grand Circus Park) - "This is the place to go to get your bad $1.29 steak for $1.76. And you get to watch as they scorch it."

Ham Heaven (E. Congress) - "The sign of a good sandwich shop is that there are always two or three cops hanging around the counter."

Kow-Kow Inn (McNichols, W of Woodward) "The Kow-Kow confirms the rumour that for really good Chinese food you should head in the direction of a Jewish neighbourhood."

Mauna Loa (W. Grand Blvd, across from GM Building) - "The Mauna Loa is more psychedelic than anything you will read about in our UNDERGROUND chapter. Every inch of its enormous interior is splashed with colors and shapes, optimistically intended to evoke images of Polynesian catamarans slung from the ceiling...don'r be afraid to stroll around and stare; there's no one who isn't a hick in this place. The Bombay Room is billed as 'an authentic touch of India', which if you've ever been to India, is the kind of joke that makes you want to cry."

Meyer's Sea Food (Michigan Ave in Dearborn) - "Decor is early French Brothel."

Shakey's Pizza Parlor (8 Mile east of Van Dyke) - "No amount of public relations and gimmickry will ever give Shakey's any soulfulness. Sorry."

Tom's Tavern (7 Mile and Wyoming) - "At 74, Tom has no patience with restaurant pomp. The menu is in his head. If you're concerned about the price, then help with the meal. The less bother you are, the less it will cost. When finished with your lunch, simply pick up your dishes, walk into the kitchen and clear them off. If you want another beer, go pull it out of the cooler; it will just be assumed that you are a regular customer." (Note: Tom ran the place until he was 95!)

To maintain our Canadian content requirement, we'll cover Windsor eats and other notes about the Rose City next time. - JB

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Time fades away...

It was five years ago today that my father passed away. Sure doesn't seem like that much time has past, proving the clock moves faster with age.

In his memory, I have posted nearly two dozen photos spread across his life on Flickr. Here's a few stories to go along with them, even if he hated tributes like this.

Ho! Ho! Ho!
Dad always said A Christmas Story was an accurate reflection of his youth, which this picture bears out. The crying kid, the scary-looking Santa...all that's missing is a request for a BB gun. I suspect this was shot at Eaton's around 1945, slightly early for the Punkinhead books I flipped through at my grandparents.

The Monkey Suit Bradburns in Niagara
A couple of shots from the early 50s. On the left is his dreaded childhood suit. Except for the end of his teaching career, I rarely recall him heading off to the classroom in jacket and tie and this explains why. The city was still in its stiff, stuffy "Toronto the Good" phase as he grew up, which helps explain his loathing towards TO as he aged (he mellowed in later years). Next to him is his sister Judith, who died in a playground accident when she was 9. There are other pictures of them where the resemblance between them and childhood shots of Amy and I are eerie.

The picture on the right appears to have been a family trip to Niagara Falls. My great-grandparents are shown: I was named after the man on the right, who farmed outside of Blackstock. The farmhouse still exists, on a road now named after the family.

Gridiron Star Bulldog Power
Football loomed large in his life, whether as a player at Leaside (1959 shot on left) or coaching at Amherst (1980 shot on right - he's in the middle row, second from right, wearing under his jacket the yellow Adidas track suit that would be in style now). Good luck tearing him away from college games on a Saturday afternoon, which is why I have 1980s Prudential Insurance commercials burned in my brain.

Non-football weekends involved a trip in the car, with CBC Stereo (Eclectic Circus, Max Ferguson, Air Farce) to keep us company on Saturdays, WJR's Patterns in Music, WWWW's Country Music Countdown or classic rock on Sundays. Always went to Windsor on Sundays to pick up the New York Times, groceries at Remark Farms and indulge my need to explore every back road in Windsor and Essex County.

Love and Marriage
Dad got around in the 60s. His chronology after graduating from U of T in '65 is a blur: a short-lived attempted to earn an MA at Western, teacher's college in Toronto, museum researcher in Ottawa (he claimed to have accidentally stepped on Dief the Chief's foot while working there), first teaching job at Eastern Commerce, running a swimming pool in Leaside.

In January 1969, he escaped Toronto for good. Apparently it came down to a choice between teaching posts in Parry Sound or Amherstburg.

He made a wise choice.

Within a few months, he was dating one of the secretaries. By October, they were hitched. From a speedy courtship came a loving marriage that lasted over 30 years.

A 1960s Style Attitude Towards Authority Moving In On The Kill
General Amherst yearbook shots from '69 and '72. His casual attitude to school authority is evident here (keeping the principal out or about to attack the department head), which helped in his popularity with students. He loved the classroom and continued to act as a resource for students after he went on sick leave. He was an animated teacher, not afraid to walk across desks, reenact battles or provide his imitation of King James I (whose tongue was larger than his mouth). I come by my loopiness naturally.

Where did it come from? Was it his way of fighting against the stifling conformity back in Toronto? Was it a natural rebellious streak? Was it the times? Was it the bullet lodged in his nose?

Bad Hair Day?
The latter explains the 'do from '74. This may have been his only attempt to compensate for this thinning hair.

First Christmas With Child
A big change happened in 1975: me. Here's our first Christmas together. I wonder whose antics Mom is more amused by.

One Fine Summer Day In Mirvish Village
Pounding the pavement on Markham St during a visit to my grandparents, summer of '78. On these trips, I followed along as he visited old haunts or browsed in the used book stores that lined Queen West. Running up turrets at U of T, eating burgers at the Eaton Centre, looking at the same books on every trip, digging through mounds of old stamps, seeing if I could keep up as we walked up Beverley and St. George...

Mom and Dad, Late 1990s
One of the last pictures I have of Dad, from my cousin Shannon's wedding. Creeping infirmities had slowed him, but couldn't keep him down. He grew more social, discovered the fine taste of coffee and beer, travelled more and reconnected with his past. Every time I came down for a weekend, we'd cross the border and try crazy new restaurants he read about in the paper. We'd return with stacks of $1 records and other treasures. He'd scan the Toronto papers for events he thought I might be interested in. His urgings landed me in Arts House at U of T and he was always there on the phone whenever I had a panic attack while writing an essay or needed to vent at the latest shenanigans at The Ontarion.

Mostly, he wanted me to keep an open mind about the world around me...unless the people involved were a-holes.

Dad may have only been around 58 years, but he packed in several lifetimes. I hope I'm accomplishing the same. Wherever he may be, I know one thing: he's smiling at how Paul Martin's career destructed. - JB

Monday, April 03, 2006

old family photos of the day

1979While preparing an upcoming entry, I couldn't resist scanning this page from our many family photo albums. We guess the date is sometime in March of '79, as these were close to Amy's 2nd birthday pictures (which makes me 3-1/2). Poor Amy seems to be slumped in the shot with Granddad, or subtly hinting to Dad that she'd rather play with the doll than pose for the 127th shot that day.

What was in those sandwiches to cause those hand and facial gestures? At least they made Nana laugh. The meat looks like some sort of overprocessed loaf, the kind I haven't eaten for 20 years (no mac n' cheese or pizza loaf will touch these lips now!). - JB