Thursday, June 29, 2006

speaking of food...

...this is a good time to bring up the Chowhound meal I went to on Saturday.

Dominican Restaurant
This month's pick was Dominican Fine Cuisine, on St. Clair west of Oakwood. Hard to pick it out in this pic - look under the orange and black sign on the left.

Continuing a trend when we go to restaurants serving Latin cuisine, we were serenaded with music. There was a birthday group behind us, who had the servers drumming on the top when the a candlelit flan was brought out.

Fried Chicken Beef Stew Snapper in Coconut Sauce Land and Sea
Left to right: chicharron de pollo (fried chicken), rancheta (beef stew), pargo a la coco (steamed snapper in coconut sauce), mar y tierra (sea and land platter.

I had the latter, which included barbecued chicken (a thigh, meaty and non-greasy), shrimp in a garlic wine sauce (we also ordered these as an appetizer, which disappeared quickly) and a grilled pork chop (very juicy, well-marinated, one of the best chops I've ever had). All meals included salad, rice, plantains and beans. We were relieved the salad was not tossed with Kraft dressing, but disappointed that the beans, while tasting fine, lacked texture.

eating in london (1)

Food and I have had a good relationship whenever I've been in London. In university, my housemates thought I was a gourmet chef, mostly because I spent my money on food instead of booze, avoiding the Marks & Spencer pasty/potato/50p chips diet others lived on. I didn't make anything spectacular, just stir-fries, curries and pasta based on store-bought sauces and individual-size cans of ingredients.

I rarely ate out while I lived there, usually grabbing mediocre-but-cheap Indian vegetarian near Mornington Crescent or tasty-and-cheap Italian in Soho (RIP Pollo). Exploring the nearby Sainsburys, Somerfield and Safeway was usually enough to keep my stomach content.

Key rule: don't bother to compare meal prices to North America. You'll cry. Go with the flow. When I couldn't decide where to go, I pulled the Time Out Cheap Eats Guide out of my backpack and let my fingers do the picking.

To make your digestion easier, food coverage will be split over several entries.

Day One
Weary from the flight over (where the guy next to me either requested too many bottles of vino and other booze or had a bad case of the shakes, often changing my video channel at the worst times), the high humidity and a mix-up with my keys at the residence, I craved something as I wandered into Camden Town.

That's when Pret A Manger's crayfish and rocket sandwich came to the rescue.

I love British sandwiches. Available at drugstores, supermarkets and sandwich shops, wrapped in plastics or cardboard boxes, prepared in combinations not usually available at your local coffee shop or Subway, these are a great way to grab a bite while you're on the go. I loaded up on sandwiches over the course of the trip, developing an addiction to my initial choice. If only Pret would expand beyond New York in North America...

When I lived in London, I occasionally popped into the food hall at Selfridges on Oxford Street to gawk at the goodies on display. It was a convenient rest stop while walking down Baker Street, made attractive by the free samples. Since then, several chains have set up shop inside the hall, ranging from conveyor-belt sushi to pie and mash.

Square Pie Box
I opted for the latter, courtesy of Square Pie. Figured it was best not to try anything remotely stomach-upsetting, in case I felt any after-effects from the flight that night. I ordered a classic pie meal deal (6.95) - mine consisted of mushroom and asparagus pie, mash, baked beans, gravy and a lemon Fanta.

Open the Box...
The meal was much better than this picture. The sauce in the pie was creamy, not gummy, the crust non-greasy, the veggies not too mushy. The mash was yellow and full of potato skins. The beans were just beans, larger and less saucy than canned versions. I was glad for the choice, given my antipathy towards green peas. - JB

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

one fine kung-fu friday at the revue

Side Marquee
Considering how many times I visited members of the Princess Party Patrol when they lived across from the Revue, it's surprising that I had never seen a movie there until Friday night. Especially given it is the oldest continuously operating movie house in TO.

A brief history of the Revue from Enright's Theatres of Canada.

Revue Cinema Misty Coming Attractions Flavoured Popcorn

It was also the last installment of Kung-Fu Fridays, a series that has bounced around town for a decade. I had checked it out once before, for Bondyra's birthday a couple of years ago. The flick that night was The Golden Mask aka Golden Killah (sound clips). He and a coworker also came for the final edition, preceded by a round of sushi over on Bloor.

Getting Into The Kung-Fu Friday Spirit...
Let's just say they were in the spirit of the evening...or a George Romero film fest. Take your pick.

The trailers were a laugh riot, mostly from the 70s. The one above came from a flick about children and the undead, beings that shouldn't mix. Also featured was one I wanted to call Russ Meyer's Wonder Woman, as the heroine spun like Lynda Carter and breasts were not of the A-cup variety. After a raffle and a few gifts, it was time for the feature presentation: Crippled Avengers (reviews from Kung Fu Cinema and Subway Cinema). Basic plot: bad guy maims four people (one blinded, one made deaf and mute, one made legless and one turned into an idiot after a headcrushing), who learn martial arts and gain their revenge. Great fun to watch with a capacity crowd.

After the Fists Stopped Flying
Alas, this was the last of closing Festival cinemas I had a chance to go to. With any luck, the rumours that the Revue and Royal may have a future ahead of them will come to pass. - JB

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

vintage leaside high school yearbook ad of the day

Thanks From the Simpson's Collegiate Club

Clearing out some of the old scanned material before moving on to a fresh batch of recent finds. Let's just say I recently came into the possession of a stack of 70s goodness...

We're setting the wayback machine to 1961 for today's presentation, discovered in the back of one of my father's high school yearbooks. For those of you new to these woods, Simpson's was a Canadian department store chain whose flagship store was located at Queen and Yonge, later used as the setting for Today's Special. They were partners in bringing Sears to Canada in the 1950s (the Canadian branch was known as Simpsons-Sears for years, a tag which remained on many Sears doors for years after the partnership ended). Hudson's Bay Company acquired Simpson's in 1978, gradually converting stores to The Bay moniker until the name was retired in 1991.

Wikipedia lists where stores were located - I remember being excited when the basement of the Windsor store would convert entirely to toys at Christmas. That store bears few remaining traces of its Simpson's days inside (its Arcadian Court was converted to retail floor space - I remember eating in its large seats as an occasional change from burgers at the cafeteria in Sears), though the side entrance maintains its bright, curvy orange tile.

I have not found any information online about Simpson's high school program, or its claim to be "Canada's Youth Centre". My guess is these folks kept dibs on what was popular so that the store could tailor products towards the emerging teen market. Imagine the furor if Wal-Mart sought volunteers to act as its reps in city schools. Just guessing that two folks in greeter outfits from the Bentonville Behemoth would be greeted with jeers and worse.

Source: Leaside High School Clan Call, 1960/61 edition - JB

Monday, June 26, 2006

down in the grove

Went on a Psychogeography walk Thursday night, this time circling Dufferin Grove Park. I've brushed past the park several times, but never taken a good look at it before.

I would have loved this place as a kid.

There is a strong sense of community behind Dufferin Grove, complete with an extensive website from its Friends. My cynical nature was nicely shaken - nobody has walked away with the toys? The cooking area is not a vandalized shambles?

Conversations in the Yurt Roof of the Yurt
The first structure we noticed was an Uzbekistani yurt, raised a few weeks earlier. The left photo gives an inkling of how large the interior is, while the roof is on the right.

Notice for Climbers Kitchen (1)
Next was the cob courtyard and cooking area. The structure reminded me of Southwestern adobe-style. Methinks I'll be back when the ovens are in use.

Kitchen (2)
The taps were still on and the bottle of Sunlight was full, which came in handy when I accidentally touched an item that might have been an old diaper.

Orphaned Pants
Do these pants belong to anyone?

Nearby was a giant sandpit, complete with shovels and hoses for moats, canals, etc. This would have been up my alley as a kid, with all the waterways I attempted to build at Holiday Beach or Malden. The sand stretched out for half-a-block, providing plenty of space for kids to get dirty. Alas, the water was off, so no chance to see how my sand moat skills hold up.

After, we meandered south along side streets, nearly ending up at Dundas. On the way back, discovered the following signs:

My Fence is Sacred
One wonders how much of a deterrent this is. There was debated about whose snow might be exempt from this decree.

Advertising with Pipe Cleaners
How to grab a potential renter's attention: write your sign with pipe cleaners. This sign had a purple twin posted to the house. - JB

Friday, June 23, 2006

tainted deer

Haunch of Venison Yard (1)
Among the items on my list of things to do in London was snap shots of short, oddly-named streets a la the Backstreets of Toronto series. Every passage, every alley, even some narrow entrances to homes in central London have street names. The variety is staggering, as is how quickly streets may change their name.

One of my favourite names was discovered while wandering along the backstreets near Bond Street. It's hard to turn down the curiosity meter when you discover a lane named after a joint of meat.

I stumbled upon it again on the first day of the trip. Day one would end up as the lowpoint of the trip. The weather was unbearably humid, there had been torrential downpours, the keys were mixed up at my residence, etc. (at least the annoying stuff was out of the way early on - after these and the event outlined below, the trip was a blast).

Jimi Slept Here
Across from the start of Haunch of Venison Yard are two buildings marked with the ubiquitous blue "...lived here" plaques. Seems this section of Brook St has many musical connections. Jimi Hendrix spent a year at the building pictured above, while Handel lived next door.

Haunch of Venison Yard (2)
The street sign in context. The area is surrounded by boutiques and art dealers (include a large one named after the street).

However, it was with another art house that my problems began.

I made my way down the yard, which consists of two sections. I was snapping away in the second section when I heard an Eastern-European accent behind me.

"Is everything OK?"


"Why are you taking pictures of this street and that door?"

"I like the name of the street and wanted to take some pictures of it."

"It's illegal to take pictures of buildings in London. It's like leaving your window open for a thief."

Before I had a chance to explain this site, the man (a security guard just going off shift) proceeded to lecture me about last year's subway bombings, the terrorist threat, security and how sudden flashes on the close-circuit cameras wouldn't help my cause. I apologized for any unintended harm.

That wasn't good enough.

He was extremely sensitive about one building that appeared in the background of several shots and wouldn't let me go on my way until they were erased from my camera. He stood over my shoulder until the offending images were scotched, with repeated reminders about not shooting pictures of buildings and remembering what terrorists were capable of. He let the odd image go, such as this one of birds enjoying a drink of dirty water.

Birds Love Trays of Dirty Water

End of the Yard
Somehow, this shot of the inner section eluded his gaze. Once the wiping was over, we parted, though I doubt he heard me utter "bloody arse" under my breath as I headed out of the yard.

Scoreboard for Haunch of Venison Yard: Terrorists 1, Everyone Else 0.

Over the next few days, I noticed how security has increased in London. Every building has a minimum of one security company logo on it. More bobbies on patrol. Long treks to find any garbage can (I wound up using fast-food restaurants to toss the trash).

Spite Shot
On my last day, encouraged by a friend's assertion that I had met an overly paranoid guard, I wandered back and quickly snapped a shot down the yard from Brook St, a shot I took purely out of spite (I'm funny that way).

This experience served as a reminder of how fear has gripped certain people. While I'm not naive enough to believe no bombing incidents will happen again, or that some measures of security are necessary, there comes a point where it can get out of hand. If there was one thing that saddened me about London while I was there, it was this feeling that everything was a security threat. The atmosphere, the mood, the tone...a dark cast never seemed far from the street surface (disclaimer: I lived in London during the "Cool Britannia" era, so my perspective may be skewed).

Perhaps that's what a passport official at Heathrow meant when he said London wasn't like it used to me when I told him this was my first visit in a decade. - JB

Thursday, June 22, 2006

on the buses

You all know the image. Red double-decker Routemaster buses making their way down the streets of London. An instantly recognizable symbol that many tour operators have latched onto around the world.

When I lived in London, I rarely used buses. My feet took me to most places I needed to go, while the Underground was there for longer hauls. I recall only on kamikaze bus trip, where I hopped on to see where I wound up (answer: St. John's Wood). My main memory of any UK bus occurred in Edinburgh on a trip in grade 10, where the maroon/purple double-decker I was on passed by an accidentally caused by someone driving on the wrong side of the road.

"Lousy Canadians", the driver muttered.


Before heading over, I purchased a Zone 1-2 Travelcard (22 pounds), which allowed unlimited use of the transit system anytime outside of morning rush. Most commuters use the Oyster smart card system. If you lack a pass or Oyster card, you must purchase a ticket before hopping on a bus. Many stops are equipped with ticket machines, such as the one below. Tickets are also available at select corner stores.

Bus Tickets
Oyster users touch their cards to sensor, much like Speedpass on Esso gas pumps. Other users flash their ticket in front of the driver (though I was bawled out once for producing it too quickly). I suspect it would be easy to hop on the rear without any sort of payment, since only Oyster scanners exist there. Drivers are barricaded in a Plexiglas booth, preventing contact with other humans.

Request Stop
This sign marked my usual stop on this trip, across the road from the residence. Note that it is a request stop, which means that you need to hail down a bus like a taxi. Arm goes up, bus stops. Simple. Useful for avoiding confusion if your stops serves multiple routes.

Bus Stop
Each shelter comes with a map of local routes, helpful if your stop is served by six buses. Busier stops, such as those near Camden Town tube station, use pixelboards (Countdown) indicating the wait for the next 2-3 buses. This made the decision to walk or ride back to the residence easy, unless my feet refused to move further. More on Countdown.

As for the buses themselves, the classic Routemasters are only used on two "heritage" routes in touristy areas. The other routes mix modern double-deckers, standard buses and "bendy buses" (think of our joined streetcars, without the tracks or electricity). Expect sardine-can conditions on major routes. For breathing space and a nice view, hop on a double-decker and head to the top.

Nothing notable to report on any of my bus trips. Mostly people singing to each other, including a couple of teenagers working their way through the Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Dionne Warwicke songbook.

Official site for London's bus system

Coming soon: going Underground. - JB

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

farewell to paradise

Goodbye Paradise
This week and next likely mark the end of a good chunk of Toronto's rep cinemas. Last month, it wasa announced that the Royal, Revue, Kingsway and Paradise theatres will shut their doors on June 30th - you'll find plenty of links via this BlogTO story. Health and time permitting (I am currently battling a cold I may have picked up abroad), I'm trying to catch a flick at each before the doors are locked.

First stop was the Paradise on Bloor West. This was only the second time I'd seen a film there, the first being Nashville several years ago. Main memories were a grainy print and that the armrest on my seat was attached by duct tape, gum or a similarly sticky substance.

A brief history of the Paradise, from John Sebert's book The Nabes:

There has been a theatre on this site since the early teens; the first was the Bloor Palace. After World War One, it was changed to the Kitchener - a tip of the hat to the British Field Marshall, Lord Kitchener...In 1939, after a redo, by Kaplan & Sprachman, the theatre acquired its Art Deco facade and new name, the New Paradise. This was later shortened. (124)

Side View of Paradise
The first thing I noticed was the information on the marquee. Instead of indicating the bill, it noted the closing date and part of the Festival phone number. A few people waited in front for the box office to open. I estimate around 35-40 wound up watching the feature presentation, Dr. Strangelove.

Side Light Eye Exam Anyone?
Since my last visit, new seats had been installed. The slide show mixed in photos of local neon signs and 50s jazz legends with local advertisers.

While I own Dr. Strangelove on DVD, it's interesting to see old favourites on the big screen with a audience, seeing if they laugh at the same spots as you. This audience was hooked, roaring at most mentions of "precious bodily fluids" and the entire Colonel Bat Guano sequence. Here's one of my favourite scenes, where the President (Peter Sellers) explains to the Soviet premier why attack planes are heading towards Russian airspace: - JB

Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb... The *Bomb*, Dmitri... The *hydrogen* bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ah... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country... Ah... Well, let me finish, Dmitri... Let me finish, Dmitri... Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?... Can you *imagine* how I feel about it, Dmitri?... Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello?... *Of course* I like to speak to you!... *Of course* I like to say hello!... Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened... It's a *friendly* call. Of course it's a friendly call... Listen, if it wasn't friendly... you probably wouldn't have even got it...

Monday, June 19, 2006

how well do you know your plantagenets?

The game show that storming the world faster than (insert name of this week's hot game show)!

What the heck is a Plantagenet?
Besides being the name of a town east of Ottawa, Plantagenet is the name applied to the family that ruled over England (and, at various times, chunks of France as part of the Angevin empire) from 1154 to 1399. Technically, the Plantagenets carried on until 1485, but monarchs after 1399 tend to be classified as belonging to the Houses of Lancaster or York, the main combatants in the Wars of the Roses.

The object of the game is to test your skill at recognizing Plantagenet monarchs from their tomb effigies. The pictures used in today's game were taken at the Cast Courts at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Click on the images for larger versions.

Ready to test your knowledge? Here we go...

(1) Plantagenet (1) (2) Plantagenet (2)
(3) Plantagenet (3) (4) Plantagenet (4)

(1) His brother also occupied the throne. In fiction, not a friend of Robin Hood.
(2) Inadvertently ordered the death of a friend he had fallen out with politically, the subject of a T.S. Eliot play that had nothing to do with cats.
(3) Spent just six months of his entire reign in England.
(4) First post-1066 child monarch of England. Son was nicknamed Longshanks.

Players may leave their guesses in the comments box. - JB

Thursday, June 15, 2006

letter from london

Hey folks,

Just taking time out to give my feet a rest as Thursday winds down across the pond. Other than an up-and-down first day (I'll save that for next week), the trip has gone well so far. Great sights. Great weather. Good meals for under £10. A sudden addiction to fizzy lemonade and diet Dandelion and Burdock. Mostly bought CDs so far, thanks to better-than-expected prices.

Days have fallen into a pattern. Start with wanderings around Camden Town to note changes (today's discovery: my old laundromat is gone). Head to a major attraction (today: the British Musuem). Wander around those neighbourhoods. End up resting my feet somewhere along Charing Cross, be it bookstores (Borders is open late) or, like tonight, storefronts offering cheap internet.

Every pub I passed today had a crowd spill out onto the street. England won, but, so far, I haven't noticed much car honking or general joy - maybe I'm too deep into the city for that. Still, local pride seems to reign, with storefronts full of paraphenalia with St. George's cross.

I'll file full reports when I return, including that exciting new game show, How Well Do You Know Your Plantagenets?


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

backstreets of toronto: tranby avenue

Welcome to Tranby Avenue
From our last entry, we head a block north to one of the best-preserved turn-of-the-century streets in the city.

The origin of the name Tranby is unknown, though the best guess I've seen is a town in Yorkshire. Tom Cruickshank and John De Visser's 2003 book Old Toronto Houses provides a brief sketch of the street's origins:

Tranby Avenue was an afterthought - an annex to the Annex, if you will - carved out of one of the last intact estate properties in the area. It is noticeably narrower than neighbouring streets and even more intimate. Lined with a random patchwork of brick terraces and duplexes, virtually all of Tranby Avenue went up between 1889 and 1892. But far from monotonous, the street is alive with gables and architectural curios, the whole unified by the omnipresence of warm, red brick. This has to be one of the most harmonious walks in all of Toronto. (202)

Tranby Ave (3)
From the City of Toronto's East Annex Heritage Conservation District Study:
The outlines of lot areas for Tranby coincided with the lines of an existing fence that had defined the three-acre lot of Bernard Saunders on Avenue Road, and it is the meanderings of the fence line with account for the irregularity of the of the lot sizes on both sides of Tranby. (128)

Favourite name among the original residents of the street: J.D. Clinkunbroomer, who resided at 71-73.

Looking East on Tranby Ave from Bedford Rd
The view looking east from Bedford Rd.

Tranby Ave (2) Toronto Historical Board Plaque
While walking down Tranby, you'll notice that nearly all of the homes bear a plaque from the Toronto Historical Board (now Heritage Toronto). Nearly all were placed in 1984, as part of the city's 150th birthday.

Tranby Ave (4)
Given the historical nature of the street, it's not surprising that there are so many notices pasted on the renovations to this home. Among the suggested guidelines from the Heritage Study:
Tranby has the greatest uniformity in its buildings of any of the East Annex streets. For that reason greater attention should be given to detail elements such as porches and front steps to reinforce and support the cohesive character of the general alterations should be discouraged on the front faces of buildings on Tranby, and alterations should be modelled on precedents within the street. (131)

Tranby Ave (5)
Interesting mix of old and new in the front of this home.

Facing East from Tranby and Avenue NW Corner of Tranby and Avenue
The end of Tranby, at Avenue Rd. Note directions to guide customers around the one-way.

Next: Backstreets travels across the pond for a few sidestreets of London...if I can remember how to get to Haunch of Venison Yard. - JB