Monday, July 31, 2006

photo du jour

Baseball at Christie Pits
The Maple Leafs in Intercounty League action at Christie Pits.

The team derived its name from the triple-A minor league Leafs (1895-1967 - the team moved to Louisville, then Pawtucket, where they continue as Boston's farm team). Dad frequently went to games at long-gone Maple Leaf Stadium with his grandfather in the early 1950s. He often rattled off period lineups with no prompting, starting with managers Burleigh Grimes or Bruno Betzel. A treasured signed ball still sits in the basement back home.

Taken near the beginning of a Toronto Psychogeography walk that stretched from the Pits to La Paloma at St. Clair and Lansdowne, July 27/06. - JB

Friday, July 28, 2006

i'll give you lars molin, horace speed, tom younghans and phil huffman for mark messier!

Scrolling through Slate the other day, I came across an article about how hard-core sports card collectors and investors ruined that hobby. It gave me a chuckle, as that was the mentality that drove me away from a childhood passion.

Dad was one of those kids whose mother got rid of his collection. He apparently had two 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles, though not in any condition even then to be worth much (he was a happy man when we bought a set of 1952 Topps reprints). He bought some cards in the early 70s, either out of childhood nostalgia or laying the groundwork for any future child's collection that wouldn't be given away because they weren't "educational". I started buying packs when I was five and remained hooked well into my teens.

The card pictured above is from one of my favourite sets, 1981 Topps baseball. Those early sets are the ones I treasure most, the ones I've come closest to completing. Topps baseball and football cards would have come from Woolworths and K-Mart in Detroit, while O-Pee-Chee baseball and hockey cards usually came from J&J Variety in Windsor (across the street from now-shuttered Grace Hospital, where Dad picked up his Sunday papers in the early-to-mid 80s) or at Joe's Confectionary (a variety store in Amherstburg run by one of the janitors at my high school, whose brother built our current family homestead). Dad also started to pick up Baseball Cards magazine, when it was primarily nostalgia/history-focused.

I never fell for the rookie card hype; the "commons" held my attention. These were the players you never heard of, who changed teams every year, who had names more memorable than their careers(Shooty Babbitt?), the dependable role players, the guys you could amass a pile in trade for one or two well-known players. I suspect I was among the last group of kids who traded to pick up cards they didn't have or from older sets handed down from older siblings or parents eager to start them early. Trading was the only way to get rid of all those Dave Lemanczyk or Larry Lozinski cards that popped up in every pack. There was one kid on my bus who I fleeced out of most of their pre-1980 cards over a year - we traded small amounts each week to keep the ball rolling.

I think it was when Baseball Cards placed a higher focus on the investor/rookie card mentality, along with the emergence of "higher-end" card manufacturers that started my decline in interest. Fewer bargains to be had at local card shows. Sour looks from dealers when you wanted to look through commons. A brief boom where sets and packs could be had cheaply, before prices and gimmicks rose. A move to other interests in general, coupled with a diminishing interest in the sports pages.

By the time I hit university, the thrill was gone. I picked up the odd pack, convincing myself I was doing this to keep a sense of continuity for future offspring. This stopped by the end of the 90s, when it seemed sets were no longer made for a general audience, just the crack-addict collectors. When I read in a newspaper about an "ultra-premium" set where the retail price of a pack was $100, that was the end. I have even considered tossing out most of the later cards, when I bought large amounts cheaply and indiscriminately, as they don't conjure up hours spent in the rec room spent sorting cards by team or trading at elementary school. - JB

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the big zucchini

The Big Zucchini
One of the first results from Amy's newest hobby, backyard gardening. There is enough room on her property for a sizeable vegetable patch, which is doing fine. Monster zucchinis quickly appeared, including this one I brought back last week. The size of a small torpedo, it served as an ingredient in three dishes (lasagne, chicken rogan josh and goulash soup). Not bitter at all. As for her other plants, peas were sprouting, a lone jalapeno appeared ready, bell peppers were on their way and carrots seemed lost amid the giant weeds Amy has fought a steady battle with. Fingers crossed I'll be able to raid the patch Labour Day weekend. - JB

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

vintage cbc radio ad of the day

Vintage Ad #39 - Variety Lives on CBC Radio in '72!
Variety. A concept you don't hear touted much as a format anymore. Hearing the term makes me think of variety shows, the kind that died off on TV in the 1970s - renting episodes of The Brady Bunch Hour and Pink Lady and Jeff at local video emporiums easily explained why. If this ad were produced today, the headline would be "Entertainment lives...", "Culture lives...", etc. Variety seems reserved for light rock or preprogrammed radio that tout their "better music variety", even if that means playing the same 63 songs on repeat instead of 60.

The artwork and colour scheme scream early 70s, down to the unidentified musicians in the bottom right corner, in vests, t-shirts, crazy facial hair and peace symbol.

Several of the shows listed were mentioned in our previous trip back to '72 on CBC Radio. A few notes about the others:

Based on the info in the ad, Family Favorites (note Canadian spelling not in use!) sounds as if it may have been the type of show designed for listeners still attached to "the old country". In this case, newsreaders from both sides of the Atlantic were hosts: CBC's Bill Paul and BBC's Michael Aspel. Paul went on to host Marketplace in the 80s, while Aspel hosted various UK chat shows and This Is Your Life.

(Side note: last night I watched The War Game, a 1965 BBC docudrama that was not aired on Auntie Beeb for 20 because its portrayal of the potential aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain was too violent and did not toe the line with official government views on survival. Still powerful 40 years after it was made. Aspel was one of the commentators).

Continental Holiday was one of several shows of Ukranian-centric music the Ivan Romanoff Orchestra and Chorus headlined from the 50s through 70s. Encyclopedia of Music in Canada entry.

Celebration (1971-74, moved to TV 1975-76) was a gospel show hosted by Tommy Ambrose, who had previously hosted a pop music show on CBC-TV in the early 60s. Encyclopedia of Music in Canada entry

Dr. Bundolo's Pandemonium Medicine Show (the ad has a typo) was a Vancouver-based sketch comedy show from that ran through most of the decade. 1974 promo ad for the show.

Source: Saturday Night, September 1972 - JB

Monday, July 24, 2006

tales from the vomit comet

It's not often that I have to use the TTC's late night service from downtown. Whenever I do, it's rare that the ride on the 320 Yonge, affectionately known as the "Vomit Comet" (2003 Toronto Life story) goes without any hitches or strange moments.

I spent Saturday night at a party east of the Don. Fueled by a combination of 3/4 of a bottle of Waupoos Seyval Blanc, 2 cups ginger ale and a bit of sparkling wine, I was tipsy, which most people can attest is a rare condition for me. I wandered over to Gerrard and Broadview to catch a streetcar to take me over to Yonge. It was just after 2, figured I'd be home by 3 at the latest.

Yeah, right.

When I hopped off at Yonge, I heard a screech that I hadn't heard in the while. A crowd of passengers were entertained by Toronto's foremost proponent of the power of push-ups, Zanta! (in case you're unfamiliar with Zanta, check out photos from The Narrative, podcast from Molar Radio) Several packed buses passed before anyone could board.

Just north of Carlton, a pack of loud, obnoxious rowdies hopped on, the type you would expect to bathe in Axe. Combined with another smashed group celebrating a friend's 19th birthday, the fun started. Apparently one soused dude was chatting with the driver, leading to cries of "hey bus driver, he likes penis!". Somewhere along the line, the green lights above the rear doors stayed lit, probably due to a drunk crowd leaning on them. The driver asked folks to step aside, but the lights stayed on. Obscene threats were lobbed at the driver from the rowdies, prompting an evacuation from the bus at Charles St due to "mechanical problems". The rowdies vanished before the driver could see who they were.

This left a fuming crowd standing outside of Payless Shoes, especially when several buses passed by with long intervals in between. Most thoughts in the crowd had an alcoholic haze to them. A group of teens were reminded of crowded buses in Hamilton. One person moaned the original bus driver was a chicken. Another thought a replacement bus should have been dispatched immediately. Sobering somewhat, I took a "c'est la vie" attitude. I also felt like an oldtimer compared to the others and those who'd caused the situation we were in.

Taxis took advantage of the anger, as the crowd slowly hopped into cabs. I felt like I was sobering up and figured that I could have made it home faster (if wobblier) by foot from Gerrard and Broadview. It was well after 3 before I was finally able to hop on a bus again, well past 3:30 by the time I reached the bunker.

Given the crowds I've seen the past few times I've used the Vomit Comet, I find it hard to believe that there isn't enough justification to keep at least the Yonge subway open to 2:30 or 3 on the weekend (say, service from Union to Finch to feed into the east-west Blue Light routes) - JB

Friday, July 21, 2006

dish du jour

Fish Soup
While in the same neighbourhood as today's Photo Du Jour...

Armando's has long been a family favourite for Mexican food. Just off the main "Mexicantown" strip, or at the part most Canadians head to, it offers up tasty versions of the standards. The tables are topped with ceramics, the entrance covered in signed photos of the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers. Canadian at-par coupons first lured us over, which Dad clipped out of the newspaper by the fistful.

Armando's one of the few places I've ever seen my family wash down large amounts of booze, thanks to cheap pitchers of margaritas. It's also the first place Amy drove to after passing her drivers test, just beating out the graduated license system.

We often go for the lunch buffet. Mexican food in Detroit tends to be heavy, so it's best to pick any restaurant for lunch and spend the rest of your day burning off the meal. Armando's buffet generally includes tacos, beef burritos (with chunks of beef, not ground), nachos, boiled potatoes, rice, ultra-cheesy enchiladas, marinated chicken, stewed beef, stewed pork, etc.

An infrequent visitor to the spread over the years is an item that doesn't appear to be on the regular menu that we've always referred to as "fish soup". It's a simple dish - chunks of shellfish simmered with tomato, zucchini and various veggies. The composition nevers seems the same, but its mellow taste is consistent.

Whenever the fish soup made an appearance, Dad was excited. It wasn't unusual for him to down a couple of bowls before touching anything else. He would go on about the soup for weeks afterwards. If memory serves, at least one uncle is also a fan.

If you ever happen to go to Armando's, I strongly recommend a trip to the Mexicantown Bakery across the street. Under the same ownership, its variations on sugar cookies are hard to resist, as are their fruit turnovers and pig-shaped molasses cookies.

Armando's 4242 W. Vernor Hwy at Clarkdale, Detroit.


The soup wasn't the only culinary reminder of the old man that day. Later on, we hit a Whole Foods-style grocery store in Novi. Among the items on special was four-packs of China Cola. You see the odd bottle in Toronto (the Big Carrot carries it) of this mix of herb extracts and sugar. Tastewise, it's halfway between cola and root beer. Dad and I used to buy it by the bottle whenever it showed up at Remark Farms in Windsor.

Fish soup. China Cola. The roadtrip down Grand River that took up the rest of the day. All things Dad and I loved. Almost makes one wonder if these were birthday gifts from beyond... - JB

photo du jour

Carnival Bar

Ladies and gentlemen, the latest trend in hip hangouts - the floorless bar.

Picture taken at Scotten and Vernor Hwy, Detroit, July 15/06 - JB

Thursday, July 20, 2006

eating in london (2)

Part 1

Day two of the trip began in the Camden Markets, which will be discussed in a general entry on Camden Town coming soon. One of the biggest changes I noticed was the explosion of fast food stalls. After passing a few, I began to wonder if they were all operated by the same vendor. The cuisines and menus varied, but the staff looked alike, pitches offering samples were closely related, foil mini-cake pan containers were the same and signage was similar.

Moroccan Food Stall, Camden Market Moroccan Food Close Up
I went with "moroccan food", since its offerings weren't dominated by delights from the deep fryer. This stand served up a variety of meat and couscous dishes. I tried the lamb, drizzling half with harissa sauce, half with mint. Proved a good choice - the lamb was lean and flavourful, the vegetables well cooked, the mint sauce enhancing the dish.

I ate in an open area of picnic tables, where all of the accents were North American.

Bistro 1
Dinner that night was near Covent Garden, where I wandered for half-an-hour trying to decide which chalkboard had the greatest chance of luring me in. By the time I came to a decision, most restaurants had ended their pre-theatre prix fixe deals for the evening.

One that hadn't was Bistro 1 on Southampton St. Part of a mini-chain, it offers up decently-priced three-course prix-fixe meals. In my case, this meant shrimp with avocado salad, moussaka and an apple tart. Comfort food with fancy names for under 10 pounds that hit the spot after a day of walking. Time Out review.

The New Culture Revolution Bowl O' Noodles
Day three started in Camden Town again, this time at an old haunt. The New Culture Revolution is around the corner from where I lived and was dependable for a cheap noodle fix. Little has changed in the past decade; the noodle bowls remain filling. Pictured above is a mixture of chicken breast, roast beef and BBQ pork and greens. Being used to rare beef or other sections of the cow in local pho joints, the roast beef wasn't far removed from Sunday leftovers growing up took some adjusting, but tasted fine.Time Out review.

Masala Zone Masala Zone Chicken Grand Thali
For dinner, I wound up in Soho, at Masala Zone on Marshall St. One section of the restaurant was set aside for the England-Trinidad World Cup match, for which you could pay a slight surcharge to eat in front of a big screen. The area was crammed, so I sat near the window. Went with another sub-10 pound meal, the Chicken Grand Thali. Since the trip, I have attempted to duplicate the best item on the tray, potatoes seasoned with coconut and mustard seed (in the picture, just above the rice and pappadum). The butter chicken was tender, while the sauce, while standard, was not overwhelmed by tomato paste like other cheap versions I've had. Time Out review. - JB

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

talkin' tiger stadium blues

Tiger Stadium
Another piece of my childhood appears to be a goner, as plans have been announced to demolish Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I drove by "the corner" on Saturday. to catch a glimpse while it remains intact.

A brief history: professional baseball had been played at Michigan and Trumbull since 1895, when the Tigers' predecessor in the minor Western League moved to the spot (the league changed its name to the American League in 1900 and declared itself a major league the following year). The original field on the site was Bennett Park, named after Charlie Bennett, a star catcher with Detroit's short-lived National League Detroit Wolverines in the 1880s, who lost a leg in an accident.

In 1912, wooden Bennett Park was replaced by a new steel and concrete stadium, Navin Field (named after team owner Frank Navin). Several expansions over the next two decades brought the stadium to its current size. The name also changed, to Briggs Stadium (1938, after owner/auto executive Walter Briggs) and Tiger Stadium (1961). Besides baseball, the Detroit Lions took the field for nearly 40 seasons before moving out to Pontiac.

The last major renovations were made in the early 90s, after pizza baron/Red Wings owner/one-time Tiger prospect Mike Ilitch bought the team. This proved to be a stop-gap, as the team moved downtown to Comerica Park for the 2000 season. Apart from the occasional event, the park has sat vacant - its last major function was as the site for the Bud Bowl party during this year's Super Bowl.

Tunnel Bus Stop

The southeast corner of Michigan and Trumbull was the loading area for Transit Windsor's tunnel bus. We usually parked in a dilapidated barn at the end of Dufferin St in downtown Windsor (now replaced by a modern deck and tunnel plaza expansions), then hopped on the bus. Many memories of strange bus rides, from fans reenacting Bob Uecker Lite Beer commercials ("looks like it's going to be the front row!") to serenades from wandering Hare Krishnas after the game.

 Tiger Stadium Parking

Many parking signs still dot yards near the stadium. The lots ranged from Corktown homeowners looking for extra income to professional companies. This sign stands south of the stadium, along Trumbull.

Sportsland USA

The block to the east of the stadium is an odd mix of nicely-restored storefronts that match the homes in Corktown with remnants of businesses that died when the Tigers moved. I suspect Sportsland USA falls into the latter camp, though this site indicates it hung on as late as 2002. At one point, Sportsland also had locations in regional outlet malls, selling sports memorabilia and clothing (if memory serves, Monroe and Birch Run had locations).

Maxie's Deli

Another shuttered business, on the SW corner. Maxie (Silk) passed away several years ago; I'm not sure when it closed.

They Plump When You Cook Them

The ads and concession stand signs remain intact. Ball Park Franks were a longtime sponsor of the team - full page ads in scorebooks and yearbooks, spots on the Channel 4 broadcasts. The city of Detroit owns the property and has spent millions on upkeep since the team departed. Plans and rumours for the site over the years have included housing, community centres, preserving various parts of the stadium and a Wal-Mart superstore.

If any contents are placed for sale, any guesses as to how much the bathroom troughs would go for? The obstructed view posts?

No Tickets Today

The ticket booth. Apart from the bottom half of the "e", this could still dispense seating assignments today.

Sticker Courtesy The Mike Ilitch Fan Club

Just in case anyone missed the news years ago. This bumper sticker is one of the few signs of fan commentary on the front side of the stadium. Ilitch has had a bumpy ride with the Tigers, unlike the resurrection job he performed with the Red Wings (or Dead Things, as they were for a decade before his ownership). Bad management choices and perceived penny-pinching sent the Tigers into a decade-long droop. The decision to move out of Tiger Stadium did not go down well with tradionalists, whose efforts to keep the team at Michigan and Trumbull failed.

How ironic that the stadium is slated to come down as the Tigers enjoy their best season since leaving the corner.


I last saw a game at The Corner around '90-'91, when a high school friend of my father's was in town on a business trip. He managed to land seats for us on top of the Tigers dugout, a great place to stretch one's legs. All I remember of the game is Lloyd Moseby cursing after striking out. I didn't take advantage of the seat to grab autographs - I suspect I thought I was "too old" for that after seeing young kids rushing down, or figured the players didn't need to be bothered further.

Another memory of The Corner here. Stories from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. All pictures taken July 15/06. - JB

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

gourmet's gallery: baxters royal game soup

Even though my body and canned soup generally have issues with each other these days, I don't mind the occasional can of an oddball flavour.

Not sure what to expect at security, I decided to only bring back one can of any of the soups tempting me from the shelf at the Camden Town Sainsbury's. Trying to remember flavours I liked that are not/rarely available hear, I settled on dependable old Baxter's. One coin flip later, a can of Royal Game found its way into my cart.

As usual, my worries didn't come to pass. Heathrow security had no problem with the soup, chuckling that I could leave it in my backpack.

Packaging: tasteful black fading into foresty background, complete with tartan cloth and regal-looking deer.

The back has a miniature of the front, plus a backstory for the contents inside.
I'll never forget the story about my grandmother Ethel, making this soup in her kitchen. It's the very first recipe she created & what a soup to start on! Highland venison & pheasant in a rich stock make it a soup of distinction. A crisp Autumn day is the only accompaniment you need. - Audrey Baxter

It's also low in sodium, calories (about 150) and fat (1.2 g).

As for the soup itself, it looks like mock turtle or beef without any extras.

How Does It Taste: Meaty. There's definitely game in there, though the flavour is not super-gamey. Shreds of potato and carrot boost the texture.

Would You Buy This Again?: Definitely. - JB

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

radio lives on cbc

Vintage Ad #35 - Radio Lives On
The first of several vintage CBC radio and television ads found in the Warehouse's back room...

Having survived changes in the radio market from the onslaught of television, CBC Radio was in the midst of its so-called "radio revolution" in 1972, This entailed moves such as dumping short shows for longer ones and interviewing guests by phone instead of in-studio. Ratings rose.

Several of the shows featured in this ad are still on the air today. Those are: Ideas (launched in 1965), The World at 6, Symphony Hall (1962), As It Happens (1968) and Cross Country Check-Up (1965).

Other notes about those pictured:
Sunday NHL Hockey: The radio version of Hockey Night in Canada, moved over to Sundays once the Saturday telecast took hold.

The Entertainers: a long-running variety program, originally hosted by "Our Pet" Juliette in 1972. Juliette (Sysak) was a singer who gained famed from her TV show, which aired after Hockey Night in Canada in the 50s and 60s.

Our Native Land: native affairs show. The History of Canadian Broadcasting gives its run as 1978-85, though obviously it was on long before that. Pictured is host Johnny Yesno, who can be heard on this clip from New Year's Day 1972.

The Max Ferguson Show: ran 1962-98, it was usually on in the car on Saturday morning drives during my childhood. Ferguson (in the chair)had previously hosted the satirical Rawhide daily. By the 90s, the playlist leaned towards British Isles-inspired material. On his left is announcer Allen McFee, notorious for his on-air antics and host of another show from childhood, Eclectic Circus (1972-89). Useless trivia: Ferguson provided the voice of the Incredible Hulk in the barely-animated 1966 Marvel Super Heroes series.

CBC Vancouver schedule, Fall 1972

Source: Saturday Night, March 1972 - JB

Monday, July 10, 2006

spit takes

Busy weekend in the city, with at least 10 official events, fans going wild after Italy's World Cup victory, usual summer happenings, etc.

Naturally, I escaped it all by heading to the Leslie Street spit, aka Tommy Thompson Park.

Tommy Thompson Park Entrance

While I usually explore the spit by bicycle, this time I felt like a quiet walk away from downtown. Being late afternoon, I didn't reach the end, but put in an hour's worth of strolling and photo taking.

Where to Phone on the Leslie Street Spit
Trailers next to the disposal gates. Surprised to see a Bell phone. The park is constructed from a combination of dredging from the harbour, fill from construction projects and the remnants of the peninsula that once linked the Toronto Islands to the mainland.

The Lonely Turnstile
Perhaps the loneliest turnstile in Toronto. Wonder how many people use this for a quick laugh.

Cinder Block Memorial Memorial Site?
Along the south shore lie mounds of rubble that resemble memorial sites, an impression created by the shredded ribbon of white police tape flying over each pile. These add to the post-apocalyptic feel of the surrounding shore.

Forever Under Construction
Permanently under construction?

March of the Geese
No shortage of Canada geese on the spit. This group sat around remnants of bricks, walking calmly as I attempted to snap their picture. Several backyard gardens could be fertilized by the amount of goose shit lying on the road in this section of the park.

Rock with the Blues Aqua Stairs
Blue boulders and stairs. Any guesses as to where the steps originated?

This Caterpillar provided entertainment for several kids before I snapped this picture. - JB

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Growing up, I looked forward to the boxes of chocolates Mom made for Christmas. Sitting in white boxes in the dry sink in the basement, labelled for easy identification, it was hard not to sneak the occasional treat filled with cherries or whatever else she tried her hand at that year.

Those memories came back while trying my hand at making chocolates during a workshop last week at JS Bonbons.

Gettin' Ready to Make Chocolate Dipping the Balloons Bowl at Rest Chocolate-Covered Strawberries Truffle Tray
Left to right: the tools for the evening; dipping balloons in milk chocolate to produce bowls; my bowl forming; dipped strawberries (I make no claims to be able to pipe pretty patterns on any food item); a pan of truffles (the choices were rum, maple, lavender and rosemary).

Lessons learned:
* I have lost the ability to tie a balloon.
* Rosemary and chocolate are a good match.
* When celebrating a new job, like the organizer of this evening, a food-making workshop is a terrific idea.

The Final Result
The final result. My bowl held together after it was loaded with samples of all of the truffles.

Mom has hinted she may try her hand at chocolates again this year, after the bunnies she made for Easter worked out. She may have some competition. - JB