food & drinks, journalism

Bread and Women

It’s the day after we hosted a day-long brunch for our friends to celebrate H’s birthday. Though we often host dinner parties with homemade dishes that take a full day to prepare for, we opted for a menu of the least possible preparation. When feeding more than a dozen people (this time it was 30ish), it’s best to make them do most of the work. In the kitchen, we spread out our DIY Caesar bar with celery sticks, pickles, peppers, olives, two kinds of rim, vodka, gin and Clamato. On the dining table, a bagel bar, cheese plate, bacon, vegetables and every spread from cream cheese to Nutella. It was carb-filled afternoon/evening and a warm way to spend a November Saturday.

Although all our guests were gone by 10 pm, we slept in this morning. It’s a luxury for H who has been working 13 hour days that start with an alarm at 5:50 a.m. I made coffee and then a pot of milk oolong to keep us warm and opened the Food Issue of The New Yorker. With the smell of toasted sesame bagels still in the air, it seemed appropriate to start with Adam Gopnik’s “Bread and Women,” his personal essay on learning to bake bread through the women in his life. I will resist the urge to explain why this piece resonated with me because I’m bound to over-explain it. I’ll simply end with two of my favourite paragraphs from the article. All you need to know is that Gopnik  goes to his childhood home in rural Ontario to spend a week learning to bake from his mother.

As we mixed and kneaded, the comforting sounds of my childhood reasserted themselves: the steady hum of the powerful electric mixer my mother uses, the dough hook humming and coughing as it turned, and, in harmony with it, the sound of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the background, offering its perpetual mixture of grave-sounding news and bright-sounding Baroque music. (A certain kind of Canadian keeps the CBC on from early morning to bedtime, indiscriminately.)

And later…

I realized that I had never once thanked her for all that bread. On the long drive to the airport and the short flight to LaGuardia, with all her bread in my bag, I reflected that the thank-yous we do say to our parents, like the ones I hear from my own kids now—our over-cheery “Great to see you!”s and “We’ll catch you in October!”s; our evasive “Christmas would be great! Let’s see how the kids are set up”—are never remotely sufficient, yet we feel constrained against saying more. (We end our conversations by saying, “Love you!” to our parents; somehow, adding the “I” seems to…schmutzy, too filled with wild yeast from the hidden corners of life, likely to rise and grow unpredictably.) We imagine that our existence is thank-you enough.

food & drinks, montreal, travel, vancouver

Tales from Two Cities


In the past two weeks:

  1. We flew to Vancouver and  attended a wedding at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Its Lobby Bar is my new favourite hotel bar, possibly second to the Rum House in New York City. I often thought about how Cory Monteith had died in the same building only two weeks before. Outside, just around the corner from the main entrance, a teddy bear and lone flower leaned up against the wall. I wonder how long the hotel will keep them there, if they’re there still and where they go when they’re removed.
  2. The day after the wedding, we woke up at 7:30 to get the first of our hotel’s bike rentals.  H’s front tire caught a tack somewhere between First and Second Beach on Stanley’s westside and our plans to see the city were briefly foiled until we got it fixed. Still, we managed to see much of the park and trekked up and through the Burrard Bridge to brunch in Granville Island at Edible Canada and sake at Artisan Sake Maker. H fell in love with the world music store, here’s our little video of her playing just some of the instruments. I’ve always had good weather on my visits to Vancouver and it almost tricks me into thinking, “yeah, I could live here.”
  3. We flew back to Toronto on WestJet and watched eight episodes of Parks and Recreation during the flight. There were some LOLs, to the chagrin of our aisle-mate.
  4. We finished all of Orange Is The New Black and gasped at the end of the finale.
  5. Two days later, we drove to Montreal with three friends squished in the back seat. Everyone played DJ and we stopped in Kingston to lunch at Pan Chanco, home of my favourite olives. At Maison Publique, all seven of us got the tasting menu and drank some delicious Blue Mountain Pinot Noir and local sparkling cider. I want more. Get the fried smelts, that tartar sauce is out of this freakin’ world.
  6. We then spent the next three days drinking shitty Coors Light and tallboys of Bacardi drinks at Osheaga. The food was marginally better.  I avoided the crowded walk and long wait at the gourmet food trucks  and ate hot dogs covered in mustard. I found out about the St. Hubert stall too late, but it didn’t matter, the snack bar poutine was excellent. Real cheese curds!
  7. By Monday morning, my Sperry Top Siders were toast, covered in mud and totally unsalvageable. It was a sign of a seriously intense weekend of mud, gravel, dancing in the company of 45,000 other people every day. Fantastic weekend of live performances, too many to mention. Now it’s over and it’s back to real life…

It Gets Better from the CBC

It’s Bullying Awareness Week in Canada and my colleague Ryan Couldrey and I produced an It Gets Better video featuring CBC folks we work with. It Gets Better is an online video project that Dan Savage started and focuses on homophobic bullying. While Ryan and I worked on it, we did think about how opening our video up to be more generally anti-bullying would be interpreted. One colleague asked if we were concerned about diluting the original issue surrounding LGBT teens.

This is part of my response which I hope explains our decision to include everyone:

When we started asking colleagues to get involved, a couple contacted us and asked to be participate even though they’re not gay. They still wanted to do it because they too, were bullied for being different, whether it was for the colour of their skin, their love of “nerdy” things or their physical disability.

This reminded us that bullying isn’t limited to gay kids or kids who appear to be gay. Ryan, who is straight, was tortured by other kids on a daily basis, even beat up regularly. And though I am gay, I wasn’t picked on for being a tom boy, I was picked on for being the only Asian kid in a white classroom.

Everyone we’ve interviewed share the common experience of being different and being different in high school is not an encouraged thing. It leads to bullying and in extreme cases, bullying leads to kids hurting themselves.

Since the goal of this is to prevent kids from committing suicide, we did not want to exclude people from sharing their stories. Kids who are bullied aren’t less immune to suicidal thoughts just because they don’t also identify as queer. So if we can discourage those kids from hurting themselves and encourage them to get help, then it makes it worthwhile.

Note: Rick Mercer used the term “It Gets Better” in his anti-bullying rant back in 2007–and it wasn’t just directed at kids of the LGBT community.

food & drinks

Dinner parties

I have a bad habit of announcing goals on this blog and failing to follow through. One of my secret, unpublished goals is to have more dinner parties.

Barbecues have been great this summer, but tend to be gatherings of 10+. This make it difficult to have meaningful conversations with people and with so many in your home, there’s always someone who needs something (a fork, a wine glass, more ice). For this reason, I prefer hosting smaller get-togethers, even if it means I can’t get away with disposable tableware.

I love the idea of inviting friends from different social circles to come over, drink some wine and share a meal. Part of the excitement is the experiment of introducing friends to each other. How will the full-time fiddle-playing hippie get along with the high school friend turned pharmacist? I’m hoping these parties will force me to dust off my cookbooks and make something new. So what if I’ve never made pavlova before? Let’s give it a whirl!

It’s been a while since I’ve hosted anything that required more than grilling a burger so I’d be grateful for your suggestions on how to host a fun, casual dinner party.

What is your secret to hosting astress-free dinner party? Tell me about the most memorable dinner party you’ve ever attended.


Hitting reset: detox time!

I am starting a 10-day detox tomorrow. After months of some pretty darn good food and wine, it’s time to hit reset. Before I go further, I should explain I am not attempting anything as drastic as the Master Cleanse (aka cayenne pepper cleanse). I’m not that brave.

Instead, I’ll be doing a natropathic detox. I’ll be cutting out sugars, processed foods, all meat except fish and organic chicken, dairy, some grains (wheat, rye, kamut, spelt,) alcohol and (gasp) caffeine. It may seem daunting, especially the last two, but the list of things I can eat is also very long: all fruits and vegetables (except corn and grapefruit), chicken, fish, green and herbal teas, some grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, steel-cut oats), beans, olive oil, herbs and spices.

I’m not sure what to expect except that everyone who has done this or a similar detox has praised its results. They report increased energy and an appreciation for new foods. It’ll be an interesting challenge to see what kind of meals I can make without dairy or what I come up with when quinoa’s the main ingredient.

I’m always excited by the challenge of a new project and now that I’ve typed out this blog entry and have tweeted about it, I have no choice but to stick with this detox. Hold me accountable, dear readers! My self-control will be tested.

Question: Have you done a detox or cleanse? Which one and what did you think of it?

food & drinks, wine

New to wine

If wine were a video game, I’d be on beginner level one.

After organizing and attending last week’s Foodie Meet (wine edition), I’ve gained a little more understanding of wine, but if anything, I’ve learned that there’s more to wine than I imagined. The experience has only increased my interest in learning more about the good grape and I know I’m not the only one.

Starting today, on a semi-regular basis, I’ll be posting my wine-learning experience and knowledge here.

I’m starting off on my wine journey by keeping a wine journal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s OK to like what you like. Wine is intimidating because of the snobbery associated with it, but at the end of the day, if you enjoy it, no one should tell you otherwise.

If you have any suggestions for how I and other wine newbies should start learning about wine, please leave a comment. Whether it’s a book, a website or something else you think would help get us started in the wonderful world of wine, please let us know!

@TOfoodie, food & drinks, Toronto

What and where is your favourite hangover cure?

(Photo by hfabulous)

After an evening of over indulgence, I woke up with a pounding headache and dry mouth. Eight bottles of red wine between five women will do that to you. My party days are pretty much over, but I talking about foods and drink. Through my TOfoodie Twitter, I asked “What and where is your favourite hangover cure?”

Here are their responses:

nicopop: Hair of the Dog Caesars at Hair of the Dog!
bigtrouble Juice! – wheatgrass, apple, carrot, celery, lemon, ginger. That and fresh air. Failing that, a Bellini or a Mimosa will do.
ericpl Believe it or not its a grilled eel on rice bowl at any decent Japanese resto…
ironsouschef hangover cure? There is only one. IRNBRU. Can be hard to find, but Metro usually carries it. Also, see this:
hjli Usually leftovers of my drunken appetite: Johnny’s Homeburgers (VP&Sheppard) for suburbia; King Palace (Bloor&Church) for downtown
jasotri A caesar usually does the trick!
ejcs Rehydration salts +late_night dim sum

I’m totally craving an apple, carrot and ginger juice now, thanks to @bigtrouble. Still, my ideal hangover cure is a greasy spoon grilled cheese sandwich with a strong cup of coffee, cold Coca-Cola and a tall glass of ice water. Maybe I’d have a side of fresh fruit for nutrition. What do you crave when you’re nursing a post-party sickness?

food & drinks, recipes

Fancy Mac & Cheese

Fancy Mac & Cheese

February has been the kind of month that makes me want to only eat chicken pot pie made by someone else, sleep and watch movies all day. I’ve come home on weeknights and found that the last thing I want to do is cook. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been busy and so instead of making something delicious, I’ve resorted to lazy solutions like fast food lunches, mediocre Japanese or Thai delivery and uninspired frozen dinners.

In times like these, I like to make “fancy mac & cheese.” I won’t pretend that this is exciting, inventive cooking. It wasn’t even my idea, but I make it somewhat often because a) I usually have all the ingredients on hand and b) it’s takes boxed mac & cheese up a notch.

I only made it once last month, but I doubled it and it gave me lunch for the rest of the week. Not everyone likes oysters, but I think it would also work with a tin of smoked mussels. The smokiness in the oil is key. It’s basically this recipe I found on Chow Hound with a few extra ingredients. I add a handful of cheese so I don’t sacrifice cheesiness with the additional ingredients. Also, the extra fat makes it reheat nicely if you have leftovers. Just pop it into the microwave with a few drops of water. I find regular Kraft Dinner to be too dry. Get President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese if you can.


1 tin of smoked oysters w/ oil
1 cup of cooked shrimp, peeled and cut into pieces
1 large onion (or 2 small ones), thinly sliced
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese (optional)
1 box of President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese (Kraft’s just isn’t nearly as good)
3/4 cup of milk


  1. Cook the macaroni, drain and reserve.
  2. In the empty pot, heat only the oil from the smoked oysters tin. Reserve the oysters. Sautée the onions in the oil until they’re soft.
  3. Add the macaroni back into the pot. Add the milk and cheese powder from the box.
  4. Stir in the vegetables and shrimp.
  5. Add the extra grated cheddar cheese and heat until it’s all melted.
  6. Add the oysters when just about read to serve.
  7. Add pepper and salt to taste.
food & drinks, Toronto

On brunch

Flickr user warein.holgado

Photo by: Flickr user warein.holgado

I don’t like eggs. I don’t eat pork. Because I don’t like eggs and I don’t eat pork, I don’t like breakfast.

I know, a lot of you love breakfast. You probably love breakfast so much you would (and do) eat it for lunch and dinner. I’m envious of your ability to eat eggs. Lately, I have made an effort to cook and like them, but I still can’t stomach them in great amounts. It takes effort to get through a hard boiled egg. Even a plate of eggs Benedict takes mental preparation.

I wouldn’t put so much effort into enjoying eggs if it was not for Sunday brunch. As The New York Times pointed out in 2005, “brunch is practically a competitive sport in Toronto.” This is still true. Despite hangovers, below freezing temperatures and lineups my friends will still trek (uphill, both ways) for a good plate of hollandaise sauce atop poached eggs.

Why does Toronto go crazy over brunch compared to other cities? I’m not sure, but I understand why the meal is often put on a pedestal. I am in love with the idea of Sunday brunch with friends. For me, it’s not about the food. Brunch is the bridge between the weekend’s indulgences and the work week’s responsibilities. It’s remembering last night while you still have its smell in your hair. It’s one last hurrah before groceries, laundry and Monday morning.

The meal is like a celebration, says Toronto chef Teo Paul. He admits his mixed feelings toward the 2-in-1 meal. As a chef, it’s a pain in the ass because brunch-goers are so fragile and yet demanding at the same time.

I appreciate it, but I have to do it a little differently. I read about a guy in New York who does the same brunch every weekend: a giant terrine of eggs stuffed with smoked salmon and whatever else, on a table piled with croissants. That’s good thinking. My kind of brunch is standing around a big barrel table eating oysters and charcuterie and drinking good, cheap wine with friends and old drunk French guys drinking wine out of silver ladles. That’s a celebration. I know I’m not in Paris, but I’d like to try to bring something new to Toronto, something different.

Most of my friends would say brunch doesn’t need anything different. But as someone who doesn’t like eggs, I’m cheering Teo on. I have no problem with eating oysters or drinking wine.

Question: Forget eggs and bacon. What would you like your Sunday brunch to consist of?