Wednesday, January 30, 2008

hankerin' for haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,

While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut ye up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they strech an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit!' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o 'fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!
- Robert Burns, Address To The Haggis

As Mom's maiden name is Craig, I figure there's a drop of Scotsman buried in my background. Nobody's ever made a great deal out of this, which may explain why I had never been to a Robbie Burns Day celebration until last week. Nadia rounded up a group to check out the festivities at the Duke of York, with yours truly as the only non-philosopher of the group.

One of our key aims: to test the haggis!

Haggis and Tatties, Topped with Onion Gravy
You'll notice a distinct lack of neeps. Turnips and I maintain a tense relationship, so it seemed best to go for a double serving of tatties.

About to Attack the Haggis
Hilary about to dig in.


Sidebar: It is only in recent years that I have started to like meatloaf-style dishes. There could be several reasons I disliked meatloaf growing up, ranging from an excess of onions in Mom's version to a brief period where I disliked ground meat. I suspect if she made it now, I'd probably ask for seconds.


My hand didn't tremble when I took my first bite. It had no reason to, as I discovered I liked whatever had been ground into the giant slices sitting in front of me. It didn't take long for my plate to clear. Definitely had better seasonings and texture than scrapple.


Shortly after we finished eating, the ceremonial portion of the evening reached the second floor. A bagpiper led in the haggis, followed by the required recitation of Burns' Address To a Haggis.

Address To a Haggis
Fears of a man dressed as a haggis while uttering the ode were unfounded, though the delicacy's placement under the mens room sign was suspect. Oddly, the only full-blooded Scot at our table was the one person not to have haggis, opting for a veggie burger.

The Duke of York
39 Prince Arthur Avenue (at Bedford)

More on the meal at Squiddity. - JB

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

vintage teen-age love ad of the day

Vintage Ad #457: Chew Vel-X
Source: Teen-Age Love #70, May 1970

Word placement is crucial when trying to sell a product. The manufacturers of this low-end weight loss aid should have fired the ad designer or the 1930s-era doctor staring into his microscope for continuing to suggest that fattening foods are delicious. I suspect the designer was clumsy when pasting together the Dr. Kildare wannabe, text from the 1950s and a picture of his girlfriend from their Florida vacation three years ago.

Then again, the intent might be to subtly convince weight-conscious teens that sneaking a few snacks is OK, which leads to continued purchases of Vel-X to reduce extra flab that never quite disappears.

Also note the very small print near the bottom of the middle column that "your own experience may, of course, vary." Gullible readers were too exhausted by the sheer volume of text used in this ad (or the repetition of "thousands" of users, who were actually Lily and Janice Thousands of Cedarhurst, NY) to catch this important tidbit.

Teen-Age Love lasted 96 issues from 1958 to 1973. In her survey of female-oriented comics, From Girls to Grrrlz, Trina Robbins doesn't speak highly of the large number of romance titles Charlton churned out. "Each issue gave the impression that, after having blown their entire monthly budget on a beautiful cover, the editors parceled out the interior pages for peanuts to various talented high school student relatives of the staff. On top of the bad art, Charlton used mechanical lettering, which contributed a chilliness to their pages." In Charlton's defense, many of their artists had hung around the business for a long time, but low pay rates didn't induce sterling art (though the loose environment allowed artists like Steve Ditko to thrive).

The lead-off story in this issue is Tenderfoot's Kisses (artists: Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia). Ruth's father has talked for years about Jim Gaffney, his best friend during the Korean War. The Gaffney family moves besides Ruth's family. Among them is young Ted, who had no social life in his old home town and is jumpy around horses. Ted soon discovers Ruth's friends grill a mean steak. Ruth discovers "as I get to know Ted better, I like him better..." and is thrilled when the Air Force wannabe invites her for a plane ride (even though he doesn't go up with her). Ruth proceeds to have an awkward encounter with former flame Monte, which doesn't please him one bit ("I'm gonna fix his little red wagon, honey! I'm gonna make him crawl...then you c'n have what's left!"). The inevitable confrontation between Ted and Monte occurs, where it appears Ted has picked up dear old Dad's commie-fighting skills. Ted earns a cowboy hat. Cue a silent kiss.

End dialogue:
TED: How do I look doll?
RUTH: You are the greatest, dude...absolutely boss!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

bombay via eglinton

My name is Jamie and I am an Indian food addict.

Other than a menu in the family map box for the Himalaya restaurant in Windsor, I grew up with no exposure to Indian food. Dad occasionally swooned about it, but Mom never cared for curry so I suspect he had to live without it for years. I balked the first time he tried to introduce me to the cuisine, during a family trip to Toronto where I insisted everyone eat together since we had been separated all day. I suspect I was pooped from a long day of walking and wanted something familiar, which ended up being Swiss Chalet. Dad grumbled and I don't blame him.

I was open on his second attempt, during our annual session of watching the Christmas high school basketball tournament at the University of Windsor. Dad watched the games and chatted with fellow coaches from the county, while I tagged along for food. Usually we went to the long-defunct South Campus Place, where I was introduced to french onion soup in a crock. He discovered an Indian spot halfway between the U of W and downtown, the New Asian Curry House. An order of lamb and potato-stuffed naan had me hooked. Through the rest of high school, we went for regular curry fixes.

Addiction didn't take hold until a university semester in London. I quickly discovered a wide range of sauces at Sainsburys and cooked curries once a week. There was a cheap vegetarian buffet near Mornington Crescent that I often popped into - the food wasn't memorable, but it fit my student budget and provided ideas on dishes to make. Improvising dishes proved fun (curried adzuki beans anyone?), convincing my flatmates that I was a gourmet chef.

I eat Indian at least once a week. My cupboards are stuffed with spice packets and pastes, the fridge stocked with at least one bottle of Thums Up. If I don't prepare my own, I'll head out for a fix.

All of this is a preamble to January's Chowhound dinner at Bombay Masala.


Fish Koliwada
We started by ordering the entire appetizer menu except for soups. Nearly all items were battered, causing one diner to note how spectacularly they would photograph. My favourite was Fish Koliwada (pictured above), described as "deep fried market fish in chef's special batter." The catch of the day was salmon, a change from the pollack-based pakoras I'm used to.

Paneer Tikka
One of first mains to arrive was Paneer Tikka, giant cubes of tandoori-style cheese. It was one of the few non-meat dishes we ordered. Many of our choices were lamb-based, which proved tender and well-trimmed of fat.

Goan Fish Masala
Goan Fish Masala ("A Goan specialty traditionally cooked in coconut paste, tamarind and spices") was a table favourite. As with the earlier fish dish, this proved to be salmon.

Worries about ordering too little were groundless. I found it hard to resist nibbling long after my stomach tossed in the towel. Some ordered chai as a wind-down, which was served to us in glasses thanks to another large table. From a distance, it looked like we were drinking chocolate milk.

My fix was more than satisfied.

Bombay Masala
953 Eglinton Ave W., Toronto

Pictures taken January 4, 2008. Full set on Flickr. - JB

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

hey, this place is a zoo!

Today, another ad burned in the brain of anyone who watched Detroit television in the 1980s. To the strains of the theme from It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the residents of the Detroit Zoo gear up for another day of curious onlookers.

I usually encountered this ad while watching cartoons on Detroit's independent stations. Even as a kid I could sense which non-network channels were better than others. For the uninitiated, here are quick sketches of the three main indies during the 1980s:

Channel 50 (WKBD): The classiest of the bunch. Had a sister station in Chicago. Usually ran the better syndicated shows, movies and cartoon packages. Produced its own newscast, anchored for years by Amyre Makupson. Ran the odd editorial in between sitcom reruns. Carried Red Wings and Pistons games. Endless Star Trek reruns. Later an affiliate for Fox, UPN and CW.

Channel 20 (WXON): Production values were a step down from Channel 50 (weaker graphics, grainier station IDs, etc). Endless reruns of Leave it to Beaver, The Addams Family, Adam-12 and Blondie movies. Ran Hammer horror flicks on Saturday afternoons. Use a cheap cake to list kids' birthdays. Turned over part of its schedule to a pay TV service (ON-TV). Later an affiliate for WB and MYTV.

Channel 62 (WGPR): Very low budget, akin to public access cable on the open airwaves. Mostly in-house productions or the cheapest syndicated programming available. Auctioned items during movie commercial breaks. Home of The New Dance Show. Not much in the way of children's programming. Later an affiliate for CBS after their affiliate switched to Fox.

The only visit I recall was a field trip in Kindergarten, though there may have been some family outings. All I remember are the ride over and eating a rare sno-cone. I suspect that my soon-to-develop uneasy relationship with the animal kingdom didn't place any zoo on my list of must-visit childhood destinations...or I was content to stare at the exotic birds and go for quick horse rides at Colasanti's Tropical Gardens.

Considering that school trip was over a quarter of a century ago, I may be overdue for a visit. The only danger would be the temptation to recite lines from the ad near certain animals or show Melvin the right direction to run in. - JB

Thursday, January 10, 2008

home for the holidays

Sights from a week back home...

Richmond Street on Christmas Morning
Christmas morning in downtown Amherstburg. I assumed everyone else in town was still busy opening presents. We opened ours on Christmas Eve and Santa was in a good mood this year. I'll be watching DVDs for months, Amy will be merrily making cookies with her KitchenAid, Gavin will relax with a Simpsons throw, Charlie will be chasing toys and Mom will go on a shopping spree.

The Three Wise Men
To work off Mom's turkey feast, Amy and I checked out River Lights in Navy Yard Park. This was the town's first major illuminated display (usually the extent of public lighting is Christmas trees on light poles) and the organizers pulled it off. Figures were strewn through the north end of the park. Some, like the three wise man, were formed in lines...

Gingerbreads on a See-Saw
...while other, like these see-sawing gingerbread men, were animated (even if the camera caught the moment the lights switched).

Wah Court Dim Sum (1)
Boxing Day saw Amy and I go for our annual dim sum feast at Wah Court. We may have been the smallest table in the restaurant, as we were surrounded by double-digit sized groups. This year's new item: shrimp wrapped in seaweed (the bottom dish in the picture). Another spot that wasn't insanely busy was Devonshire Mall, where we glided into a parking spot in the back of the lot.

Eastern Market (2)
One place we stopped at for the first time was Eastern Market in Detroit. I recall Dad and I attempted to go there once but parking posed a problem. I wound up dropping a few dollars at R. Hirt, a cheese shop/gourmet grocer loaded with goodies from cheap roll candies to high-end teas.

Brown Bag It
While waiting for a light to change on 14 Mile in downtown Clawson, Amy noticed this high-end boutique. Note the fans in the windows.

Washington Street Lights (2)
This is a fraction of a light display that covered two homes near downtown Royal Oak. We shuddered when we contemplated the electrical bill. Among the elements was a full-size "singing" choir.

Wal-Mart Rising The Remnant of White Woods Mall
Just before I headed back to TO, I wandered by the White Woods Mall site. Wal-Mart (left) was a hive of construction activity as opening day neared - this location will be a small supercentre. The sole remnant of the original mall (right) was being touched up. - JB

Monday, January 07, 2008

golden sunsets in 1970s amherstburg

Amherstburg Coast Guard at Sunset, early 1970s
Amherstburg Coast Guard station, looking towards Boblo Island, early 1970s

As is usual for the holidays, I drove back to Toronto with a full trunk. Tucked among the gifts, Trader Joe's bags and ironed shirts was a box of photos that sat around the house for years. Spurred by regular visits to historical image sites such as International Metropolis along with several Flickr contacts who recently posted vintage photos from their families, I figured there might be interesting shots lurking within.

While most of our family photos are housed in albums, there are a pile from the early 1970s that never earned this honour. Most of these photos were family candids, local landscapes or closeups of flowers. These photos were originally in a small box, then placed in a larger shoebox when pictures ranging from Granddad's 1950s fishing trips to Amy's university outtakes were added.

But it's the core photos that grabbed my attention. Why they weren't placed in an album is a mystery. Mom's speculation is that they may have belonged to somebody else in the family, though I have my doubts in most cases. My theories:

* There is only one album that covers the six years between my parents' marriage and my arrival. Perhaps it was assembled sometime after my birth and they decided to choose the highlights of the photos they took during this time. Basis for this theory: There are pictures of my parents on a picnic and candids of my cousins in the box that appear to be outtakes of those in the album.

* The albums were meant to show pictures of people only. Basis for this theory: Distinct lack of non-human shots.

* The landscape pictures in the box were done just for fun. Basis for this theory: My photo-taking habits.

* The world didn't need to know what high school secretaries did when they got together for dinner. Basis for this theory: Human nature. Relax Mom, those aren't going to be posted...

I have started scanning the sharpest or most historically-interesting shots and set up a folder on Flickr. I'll post several on here and the stories that may surround them.


Today's first pick is one of several photos showing golden sunsets around Amherstburg and along the Detroit River. Dad always like to drive or walk along the Detroit River at dusk and I don't blame him. The high level of pollution in the air, mostly from the heavy industrial plants upstream, produce spectacular colours. Combine this with boats, a shimmering river and the skyline of islands or the American shoreline and you have a recipe for a spectacular sight to end the day. Slight aging of the photo paper adds to the rich colour.

I suspect this picture was shot from the apartment building across the street from the Coast Guard, where my parents lived for a few years before I was born. Taking the same shot today would yield similar results - the only major changes would be the types of vehicles in the parking lot and residences on Boblo Island.

Backyards at Sunset, early 1970s
Another sunset, this time taken from the backyard of the house I grew up in. My guess on the date is 1973-75. The intersection in the background is Pickering and Hawthorn/Cherrylawn. This would be the early days of this subdivision as few trees are evident - three-and-a-half decades of growth have now made the neighbourhood semi-shaded. The fences have also inched higher over the years, though we kept the low fence for as long as we lived there. Neighbour and playmate visits tend to involve a climb or jump over the fence. Very little of our yard is visible in this shot, so even if there wasn't a foot of snow covering everything I couldn't point out the flower beds Dad took pride in or the evergreen I used to run behind as a toddler to...never mind.

Looking Out the Front Door, early 1970s
The view from the front yard. Amherst Quarries is in the background, from which we felt occasional blasts. The plants sticking up are rising from a large ditch, which we sledded down one year thanks to leftover Liberal election signs. Our school bus stop was one door over but our porch was used as a shelter whenever the sky opened up. The field remained as it was until recent construction of a new elementary school - rainbows often formed over it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

roy square fading away

Roy Square Subway Exit
A few shots of Roy Square before the One Bloor East condo tower sends this little corner of the city into the history books.

Death Notice for Roy Square Navy Club
Left: the notice indicating the end is near. Right: the Naval Club, a fixture in the neighbourhood for decades, is among the businesses and organizations moving out.

Full set of photos.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

adios 2007, allo 2008

Burn Baby Burn (2)
Day 365. Usually it's my first full day back in the city after spending a week with the family, a day to get reacquainted with Toronto. The last day of 2007 was no exception to the rule.

I started off with a trip downtown to catch some lingering Boxing Week sales, causing damage to my pocketbook. Mirvish Village yielded several cookbooks and a half-dozen mangl..well-loved comics from the 50s through 70s. Kensington Market yielded a bag of poblano peppers and several on-the-go snacks. A clearance sale at The Bay at Queen and Yonge added to the new wardrobe I built up over the Christmas break.

Discovery of the day: while passing by Honeydale Mall on a west-end grocery run, I noticed the bees over the doorway had vanished, replaced with non-descript lettering (mental note to take camera on next trip to that area for a future "before/after" post).

The early evening was spent batch scanning photos from the early 1970s that lay in a box back home - more on those in the near future. After finding scattered photos of myself from high school in the same box, I came face-to-face with the roots of my mild form of photophobia, even if in reality the shots are not much worse than your average awkward teenager.

Around 11, I headed downtown to join friends to see out 2007. The TTC was busy, but it didn't look as if too many people had started the party early. The closest I saw to out-and-out inebriation was a hyperactive 10-year old literally bouncing off the walls on the subway. Laughing louder than a happy drunk, the kid ran into other passengers. The parents laughed along, the other passengers didn't. When I got off at Bloor, I noticed the car behind mine was packed with revellers singing in an Eastern language, accompanied by drums. The platform was lined with police, most appearing to be in cheery mood.

The last quarter of the year was rough for many people I know, so it felt right to put a stake through the heart of the year...or burn it in effigy.

Enter Nadia's creation, who quickly earned the moniker "General F**kwittery".

General (name not printed to preserve innocent browsers) Burn Baby Burn (1)

We scrawled things we'd rather forget about 2007 on the General. Come midnight he burned quite nicely, despite a few false starts due to the snowfall.

Afterwards, we headed indoors for drinks, munchies, Kanye West and exposure to the strange pairing of August Strindberg and helium. I headed home just before 3AM, perfecting ways to dodge corn chowder on the floors of various subway stations. A reveller on the Eglinton bus merrily greeted oncoming passengers, proclaiming himself Father Time.

2008 was getting off to a good start.