Thursday, November 28, 2013

Curiosity and the Cat / © Hannes Lochner (South Africa)
I’ve been visiting the Royal Ontario Museum regularly, mainly through the Friday Night Live parties, and was fortunate to have a chance to wander through a couple of the special exhibitions the ROM is presenting right now.

Snow Moment / © Jasper Doest (The Netherlands)
Making its North American debut is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition from the Natural History Museum in London, now in its 49th year. It is simply amazing: a collection of some of the best wildlife photography on the planet, with 100 winning and commended photos culled from 43,000 entries. There wasn’t a disappointing photo in the whole gallery, with the intimacy and utter wonder of the natural world captured so beautifully. So many of those photos required patience, skill, and sometimes just being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. In an age of camera phones and Instagram, it’s a treat to see exceptional, world class photography on this scale.

Curiosity and the Cat / © Hannes Lochner (South Africa)
Plus, I’ve now added “toadspawn” and “dugongs” to my vocabulary.

A few of the photos are also utterly heartbreaking, notably in the “World in Our Hands” category, for photos which capture the sometimes destructive relationships humans have with nature. A photo essay on the ivory trade, shots of the oil sands in Alberta, and a painful photo of a shark caught on a hook painfully frame the impact on the natural world.

Water Bear / © Paul Souders (USA)
The Museum hosts the exhibition from November 23, 2013 to March 23, 2014 in the ROM’s Level 3, Centre Block. Tickets are an extra $5 in addition to regular admission to the ROM, and are available for purchase at the door or online here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photo by ElectriCITY Events
Toronto loves to party in unconventional places: galleries, libraries, brickworks. One of the favourite parties still going strong is the Friday Night Live at the Royal Ontario Museum. Something about running about a museum after close gives you joy, like you're getting away with something. With my friends, it's a case of giggling as we're making "Civilization" game jokes, eating the best turkey sandwich of my life, and running into so many more friends until you've collected a full out posse.

I spent last Friday shepherding some first-time FNLers, so here are a few tips:

Tickets: Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students. A limited number of tickets are released in advance online, usually selling out by the Monday or Tuesday before, with the remainder held for sales at the door. If you're buying at the door, get there early - line-ups form at least 30 minutes ahead of the event. And remember to bring your ID, as it's a licensed event.

Dress: you'll see a mix of all styles and comfort levels with outfits. My suggestion is go for fun cocktail wear. The coat and bag check at the ROM moves quite quickly, so don't be afraid to layer up for the winter cold out there.

Wander: FNLROM keeps the galleries open until 9:30, with galleries where bars are located open until 11pm. So if you're goal is to see as much of the museum as possible, prioritize your visit. The Dinosaurs and Teck Gem Gallery are open late and make popular social spots (FNLROM makes a great date night)

Eat and Drink: Food and drinks are typically $6 (or 1 ROM Buck) and offer a great selection of pop-up cuisine, with favourites like Little Tomato and Hot Bunzz supplying great walk around street food. There's a variety of dishes for most dietary needs, food stands in the main floor Currelly Gallery and Bronfman Hall on the second floor. Bars are plentiful, pouring VQA wines and beer (Amsterdam Brewery was the brewery on-hand the night I was there).

Learn: each night delivers the opportunity to spend time among the artifacts, without the crush of weekend and school crowds. For an extra $8 each, we got to take in the new Mesopotamia exhibit, an astounding collection of artifacts from Sumer, Assyria, and Babylon. It's awe inducing, seeing these 3,000 year old pieces in such well preserved condition. It's also terribly sad to see the end of the exhibit, where attention is given to he irreparable damage done in the wake of the Iraq War.

Pick Your Party: looking to dance your butt off? Hit the main floor dance floor in Currelly Gallery with DJs pumping up the party. Want to linger with your date over drinks? Hit the Teck Gallery on the second floor where you'll find live jazz amongst the shining gems. Or maybe the RBC Glass Room where you can grab a table and listen to live music in a beautifully unique performance space.

The Fall season of FNLROM is winding down, so make your plans to spend a night in the museum soon. Here's the line-up for the remaining nights:

Friday November 22: Get Wild - Tickets ON SALE at the Door 
Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Special Preview!)
Centre Block, Level 3, 7-9:30 PM
Special preview for FNLs! Experience the beauty and power of our natural world as the ROM presents the North American premiere of Wildlife Photographer of the Year from the Natural History Museum in London. 
National Geographic: Celebration of 125 Years Limited edition book
WPY Exhibit Store, 7-9:30 PM
In celebration of its 125th anniversary, National Geographic launches this highly anticipated book.

Explore the ROM: Galleries open 7-9:30 PM
Arrive early! Stay late! See the museum in a whole new light! 
JD Edwards Band
Currelly Gallery, 8:30-9 PM
See this six-piece Winnipeg based group perform electric folk rock with a groovy soul vibe. A laid back acoustic experience not to be missed. 
Wilderness of Manitoba
GlassRoom Lounge, 9-11 PM
In its four year existence, the Wilderness of Manitoba has released three albums, two EPs and toured the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Canada and the US. The highlights range from their UK live debut at the End of the Road Festival where they received a standing ovation to playing the Philadelphia Folk Festival and meeting Levon Helm; from opening for such acts as Wilco and Aimee Mann to performing the WOMAD Festival in the UK with artists like Robert Plant. This year, they were nominated for two Canadian Folk Music Awards; one for the Pushing the Boundaries Award and one for Vocal Group of the Year. 
UofT Music Jazz Program
Level 2, Teck Gallery, 9-11 PM
See them perform eclectic and unconventional jazz.

Friday November 29: Light It Up
Jackie Levitt
Currelly Gallery & Bronfman Hall
Jackie Levitt is a strategic, holistic, and challenging Artist who uses light and colour to express ideas and expand people's visual environments.   
Spoken word poets/musicians
Explore the ROM
Galleries open 7-9:30 PM
Arrive early to see the museum, stay late and join in the party!   
Tia Brazda
Glass Room Lounge
The Globe and Mail declares her music “a technicolour swing that’s just the thing” and Metro New’s says, "Tia Brazda’s music pays homage to the golden era while still remaining daringly modern".   
UofT Music Jazz Program
Level 2, Teck Gallery, 8-11:30 PM
Performing eclectic and unconventional jazz. 

Friday December 6: Season Finale
Classical Theatre Project
Bronfman Hall & roaming
See the Classical Theatre Project bring Shakespeare to life. "ShakesBeer" takes performance off the stage and into the crowd.   
Ian Keteku
Glass Room Lounge
Spoken word poet/artist/journalist.   
Explore the ROM: Galleries open 7-9:30 PM
Arrive early! Stay late! See the museum in a whole new light!  
The Beauties
Currelly Gallery
The Beauties have been nominated for Best Band in Toronto by NOW Magazine. The band represents the darker and louder places where songs reside.   
UofT Jazz The Profs
Glass Room Lounge
Dave Young,Terry Promane, Mike Murley, David Braid are just a few of Canada’s illustrious jazz musicians who are professors at UofT Jazz Music Program.

Monday, July 22, 2013

In an effort to let you know about fun times to be had in Toronto, here's some events going on this week. This week offers a number of great performances in perfect, unique spaces:

Tuesday, July 23rd

Oshawa rock and rollers, Cuff the Duke hits the Dakota Tavern for the first of two Tuesday night shows. Perfect pairing of venue and band, come down and feel the twangy love. Come early and grab a bite, like the Dakota's excellent fried chicken or fish tacos.

An Evening with Cuff the Duke @ The Dakota Tavern
WHEN: July 23rd & 30th, doors at 9pm, show at 10pm
WHERE: The Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Avenue (north of Dundas Street W.)
TICKETS: $15 in advance (I wouldn't chance tickets at the door for this one):
July 23rd: Cuff the Duke Night One
July 30th: Cuff the Duke Night Two

Wednesday, July 23rd

Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr, The Rattlesnake Choir) is coordinating a series of salons in Parkdale, where the joy of music, food, and drinks can be shared amongst friends. The July installment features Grapes of Wrath’s Kevin Kane, with special guest, Patrick Brealey, performing in an unconventional setting, the "vintage mecca" Mrs. Huizenga's at the south end of Roncesvalles Avenue. I had a chance to see some of Mrs. Huizenga's wears at the Junction Flea Market recently, and I'm sure this salon will be a unique show in a place of wonder.

La Belle Éparkdale #2 with Kevin Kane (Grapes of Wrath), with special guest Patrick Brealey
Concert with libations & snacks by Krysta Oben
WHEN: Wed. July 24th, Doors at 7 p.m. show at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Mrs. Huizenga, 28 Roncesvalles Avenue
TICKETS: suggested PWYC - $10

Thursday, July 25th

The Toronto Botanical Garden's series of free outdoor concerts "Gardens of Song" continues with a turn to the classical with The Annex Quartet. Shows are each Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. until the end of August. Admission is FREE, and you're welcome to bring your own chairs, with stools available with a refundable $5 deposit.

Gardens of Songs: The Annex Quartet
WHEN: 7pm to 8:30pm
WHERE: Toronto Botanical Garden, 777 Lawrence Avenue E. at Leslie Avenue

Friday, July 26th

Modern love is a challenge, and when you find yourself dating after a four-year relationship, you have to figure out how this whole dating thing works. Ashley Gibson did just that, and presents "I KNOW IT'S TODAY". stories and songs about a journey that found her looking for love in right and a few wrong places. This follow-up to her debut cabaret show "Life is Sweet, Even in February" promises some stories that may have you cringe, likely giggle, and smile as Ashley sings some beautiful arrangements of songs you may know and love.

Ashley Gibson: I Know It's Today: A Cabaret of Stories and Songs 
WHEN: Fri. July 26th, 7:00 pm show
WHERE: The Flying Beaver Pubaret, 488 Parliament Street, Toronto
TICKETS: Tix: $15advance/$20 door
Advance tickets can be bought at the Pubaret or online here.
Facebook Event: Ashley Gibson: I Know It's Today

Saturday, July 27th

Two Hours Traffic has been a favourite band of mine for years, ever since they first caught my ear with their second album "Little Jabs". It's the kind of music that's perfect for summer, urgent pop rocks that send you biking downhill, face to the sun, breeze pulling on your bare skin. It's sort of perfect we get a summertime visit in the form of free show by Two Hours Traffic at Sonic Boom, as they celebrate their newest release "Foolish Blood". Pair it with a visit over to the bars of Mirvish Village like The Victory Cafe, I'm sure they could use some love.

Two Hours Traffic - free in-store at Sonic Boom Records
WHEN: Sat July 27th, 5:00 pm
WHERE: Sonic Boom Records, 782 Bathurst St, Toronto
Facebook Event: Two Hours Traffic - free in-store

Sunday, July 28th

One of my favourite things about a Toronto summer is the number of free movies being shown outdoors. The Christie Pits Film Festival has been presenting a great series "Hits in the Pits: Outdoor movies about the rise and fall of great bands", and this Sunday's finale is one of the best, as they present "The Last Waltz", which finds director Martin Scorscese taking us to the final performance of seminal Canadian rockers, The Band. Pack a picnic and some libations, find a grassy spot on the hill, and take in this classic concert film.

The Last Waltz - presented by the Christie Pits Film Festival
WHEN: Sun., July 28th, 9:00 pm
WHERE: Christie Pits Park, 750 Bloor St W, Toronto
Facebook Event: Christie Pits Film Festival - The Last Waltz

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Photo c/o Toronto Botanical Gardens
I've seen concerts in a lot of unconventional venues, but I can't think of any more picturesque than the Toronto Botanical Gardens, where a free summer concert series is underway. 

The Edwards Summer music series "Gardens of Song" presents a new artist every Thursday, for free, in the lush, vibrant grounds of the Botanical Gardens. It's a chance to see great range of artists, from the piano-pop of Darrelle London, the classical Annex Quartet, the heartbreaking country ballads of Whitney Rose, or the indie rock talents of Bry Webb.

Shows are each Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. until the end of August. Admission is FREE, and you're welcome to bring your own chairs, with stools available with a refundable $5 deposit. 

This year offers an excellent line-up:
June 24 – Choir! Choir! Choir!
July 4 – Trent Severn
July 11 – Darelle London
July 18 – Matuto
July 25 – Annex Quartet
August 1 – Whitney Rose
August 8 – The Strumbellas
August 15 – Alanna Gurr
August 22 – John Southworth and the South Seas
August 29 – Bry Webb
See more at:

The Toronto Botanical Gardens can be found at Leslie St and Lawrence Avenue, and is accessible by car, TTC, foot, and bike. Directions and Hours

Friday, May 24, 2013

Jurassic Park IV: The Search for Cupcakes
The third season of the FNLROM museum parties are in full swing, so I dropped by one of my favourite Toronto cultural events for some food and fossils. I'm happy to say the events are lively and thriving, and still continuing to evolve with each season.

I wrote about FNLROM in the past season and talked about how much I love exploring the museum after hours. Right from the start, I was happy to see changes made to make the experience better. For one thing, the currency system has been streamlined. You used to buy individual ROM Bucks to pay for food and drinks. Now, you buy a ROM Buck for $6 and that ROM Buck buys you what you want - basically you buy 1 ROM Buck and that's what each dish costs. Some dishes, like tacos, are 2 for $6, while drinks and other dishes $6 each, but it's far simpler than past seasons.

And don't worry about what you'll spend your bucks on, as the variety of food vendors on site has grown, with expansion beyond the main lobby. Bronfman Hall on the 2nd level has been transformed into sort of a pop-up food court and bar, making excellent use of the space. There's every imaginable variation on street food available, from tacos and cupcakes to Filipino sisig fries and samosas - there should be a few things to appeal to those with vegan and gluten dietary needs.

Follow some of the #FNLROM food vendors on Twitter:

Marlin tacos from Gourmet Gringos, giant buns from Hot Bunzz, and incredible duck egg and peameal sandwiches from Little Tomato

Food is only part of the indulgence of FNLROM, so after a quick bite, it was off to explore. Keep in mind, while FNLROM runs until 11pm, the galleries are only open until 9:30pm (Dinosaur and Gem galleries are open later), so make the most of your time.

Only slightly dramatic looking prairie dog.
Doctor What?
I have to take a moment to praise the staff and volunteers who keep FNLROM running. We had some wonderful interactions with ROM Volunteers among the galleries. There's a sarcophagus in the Egyptian gallery that I've passed a dozen times, but until a ROM Volunteer chatted with us, I'd never realized it wasn't wood but an ancient form of papier-mâché that was used to seal the body. Who expected to go to the museum and learn something?

This is the coffin of Djed-maat-es-ankh, an Egyptian woman who died of a massive dental cyst that burst.
One of the things you really need to make an effort to see is a stunning photo exhibition "Sebastião Salgado GENESIS". It's an amazing array with 275 of Sebastião Salgado's photographs from all points of the earth, capturing how utterly jaw-dropping the majesty of the world can be, and why we need to preserve it. The exhibit runs until September 2nd, 2013.

The Brooks Range, Alaska. Sebastião Salgado
Iceberg between Paulet Island and the South Shetland Islands on the Weddell Sea. Antarctic Peninsula. Sebastião Salgado.
Once the galleries close, there are still some spaces to explore. The Dinosaur gallery plays hosts to a bar, cupcakes from Curbside Bliss, and the charming and talented folks at Manual Labour Coffee, who introduced me to "Coffee Pop" - fresh brewed ice coffee mixed with soda water. It was remarkable the way my brain kept expecting "sweet" but I tasted "bitter' and shut up brain and enjoy the deliciousness (tip: don't add milk, it doesn't mix well)

A wander through the Teck Gallery of gems, minerals, and rocks was accompanied by the live music form students of the U of T jazz program, while you marvel at what the shiny wonders time and geology create.

A rare Cerussite gem, 896 carats, shining with fiery intensity.  Shiny.

Acicular mineral, bristles with crystal.
Rock stars

This goethite mineral, like stretched taffy.
Museum adventures are always best enjoyed with friends, and my companion was sure to contribute her thoughts on FNLROM as a first-timer

We're sitting in the ROM, munching food and drinking out beer, while the sounds of the band Wildlife echo throughout and it all feels rather epic, and good. I'd like to see more things epic and good in this city.

FNLROM runs until June 21st. Make plans, buy your tickets online, and enjoy your night at the museum.

Tickets for all remaining FNLROM events are available for online purchase now.

Friday May 24: ROMic-con
Dust off your cape, channel your inner super hero and come dressed in your crime fighting best! Check out a retrospective of super heroes, take a lesson in designing your own comic, and laugh away your end of week stress with improv from The Second City, the world’s premiere improv and sketch comedy theatre.
Friday May 31: Indo Pop
Experience the best of Bollywood style and colour. Presented by international hip/hop dancer/choreographer Chase Constantino, performance by Bollywood dance troupe Broken Dance Company and YouTube superstar Superwoman. Digital art by London-based Inkquisitive, South Asian fashion, and mehndi (henna) demonstrations. 
Friday June 7: Indigenous Arts
Celebrate Aboriginal History Month with DJ Bear Witness from A Tribe Called Red, Craig James Laur and Duke Redbird. See fashion by designers Charm Logan and Sage Paul, experience visual/installation art by Amanda Strong and learn how to make a canoe (by hand). In partnership with the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts (ANDPVA).
Friday June 14: Fashion
Be prepared to strut your style - we’re bringing big fashion direct from the runway win the ROM’s BIG exhibition. Canadian fashion on display, as well as music by Joseph and the Mercurials.
Friday June 21: Mesopotamia
Be the first to see the ROM’s blockbuster exhibition, Mesopotamia presented by RSA Insurance before it opens to the public. This night celebrates Middle Eastern culture with a yoga rave with Linda Malone from Iam Yoga, live performance by west coast composer/DJ Adham Shaikh and JUNO-nominee Jaffa Road.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Every spring, there's this narrow window of opportunity when the sakura cherry trees in High Park bloom in a burst of colour. Swarms of people teem through the park, gawking and clicking photos as they take in the seasonal spectacle. And as short as the blossoms last, and as crazy as the park can get, it's still well worth stealing a bit of time to seek out some beauty.
Crowds stream through High Park every year, captivated by the cherry blossoms.
The weekends, of course, are a bit of a madhouse when the trees are in bloom, so I found some time during the week to head in. The sakuras bloom usually during that first run of consistently warm weather, and last a week and a bit, pending any strong wind or rain storms. You have to seize your moment before their gone. Too many people drive, especially considering how transit friendly the park is. The Carlton/College streetcar terminates in High Park, and High Park subway is right across the street from the park. If you were to drive, I'd recommend parking in the nearby neighborhoods and walk the 10-15 minutes into the park. Cycling is also a pretty popular option.

Impromptu picnic - grabbed some roast chicken, cheese, salad
 and assorted nibbling bits from  the nearby Loblaws and shops on Roncesvalles Avenue.
I grabbed some food from local grocery stores (and a cider or two from the LCBO) and walked in from High Park subway on Tuesday late-afternoon. I find the area down towards Grenadier Pond tend to be a little less hectic than the sakuras at the top of the hill near Grenadier Cafe, so I strolled down and found plenty of space. Groups were picnicking, some doing sunset yoga, and a group of adults playing hide & seek tag. There was plenty of space to spread out take in the scenery. Twilight in High Park makes for a very pretty sight. Once I'd eaten, it was time to stroll the trails and snap a few photos.

Cherry Blossom canopy

Sky full of sakura

In bloom.
People take advantage of the blooms to stage some inventive portraits.
Cosplayer photoshoot - original version of Psylocke from "X-Men", the perfect costume colour scheme for cherry blossoms
Picnic in the park
Cherry glow.

A little peace from the crowds.
Tips for enjoying blossom season:
- if you want to enjoy yourself, number one tip is to go during off-peak hours.
- plan ahead: there aren't enough washrooms to keep up with the demand. 
- there's food onsite at the Grenadier cafe, but I find it's better to bring some food with you. If cooking isn't your thing, nearby Roncesvalles Avenue and Bloor West have plenty of shops to help you improvise an excellent picnic.
- remember to clean up after yourself and pick up your trash: you'd think it's common sense, but yet...
- that being said, if you're picnicking, bring a garbage bag just in case the park garbage is swamped. 
- leave the car at home and take transit or bike. Seriously.
- don't be a dick and shake blossoms loose just to make it rain and DON'T BREAK OFF BRANCHES AS A SOUVENIR. You're damaging the park and shortening how long the blossoms will be around to enjoy.
- consider leaving screaming toddlers or your skittish dogs at home. The park is going to busy enough to cause a headache in this case, so why contribute to the stress.

- MOST IMPORTANTLY take a few moments, put down the camera, and just look around you and take in this unique, beautiful landscape we have in our city. Go on, I'll wait.

For some more info on the park and trees, check out High Park's website.

Torontoist has an interesting post on the origin of the sakura trees in High Park as well.

All photos here are mine, and can be found in my Flickr album: Cherry Blossoms in High Park (2013). If you want to use any of them, just drop me a line.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

There’s something I love about a well told story: it unfolds in a way that you can’t predict. It could be entertaining and inspired. It could be deeply shattering. It can make you think “I’m not the only one that’s happened to”. It can stop you in your tracks as you wonder what you would do in the same situation. The unexpected is a reason why the monthly Raconteurs storytelling night is a mainstay in my events calendar.

Raconteurs is held on the second Wednesday of every month at No One Writes To The Colonel, a cozy bar on College St. Ten storytellers are selected in advance, based on story pitches, and make up the night’s entertainment. The rules are simple: the stories must be true and have happened to the storyteller, must be told without the use of notes or cards, and usually in the 5-10 minute range. You get a variety of people participating, from writers and professional storytellers, to first-timers who just have an interesting story to tell. The stories can be funny, but don’t confuse it with an open-mic  night at the Chuckle Hut – this isn’t the place to practice your stand-up act. No one wants to sit and hear your disjointed rant or pitch for your business. You’re relating a narrative.

Each event is based around a theme, which is announced in advance, and prospective storytellers submit their pitches to the event organizers. The themes are open-ended enough to create a variety of angles and approaches: “Games” led to stories about survival games, Monopoly, and the dynamics of family game night. “Born Again” had a range of stories from being literally a Born Again Christian who falls out of faith, being born again poor, surviving a bear attack,  and surviving ourselves.

I find the audience reaction to be an interesting phenomenon: we’re an audience reacting to sometimes funny anecdotes, sometimes heart breaking confessions. There are sometimes blips of nervous laughter at awkward moments. My favourite times when there’s a moment in the story, and we all nod in silent recognition of familiarity, of sympathy or shared pain. It could be subtitled "A Night of Truths, Both Awkward and Familiar".

The stories are all recorded, with a number of them available on the Raconteurs YouTube channel. If you’re considering telling a story, take a look here to see some examples of what works. Some recent highlights include:

Based on the theme “MONEY” - Jeremy Greenberg - "The 64-bit Friendship"

Based on the theme “MONEY” - Chris Graham - "Carbon Footprint"

Based on the theme "FIRE & ICE" - Alex Nursall - "The Sober Brit"

There are still tickets for this Wednesday's show, on February 13th. This month’s theme “Fish Out Of Water” should produce some interesting results: "ten true tales about being out of your element. Our theme this month is FISH OUT OF WATER and we’re bringing you stories of being out of place, out of sync, and out of touch."

Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30.
$7 in advance
$10 at the door

Tickets on sale here.

I recommend subscribing to the Raconteurs page on Facebook to keep up to date on themes and event details. There’s also the main Raconteurs webpage with submission and event information.

Raconteurs - a live storytelling event
Every 2nd Wednesday of the month @ No One Writes to the Colonel (460 College St.)

Friday, February 01, 2013

Farmhouse Tavern is the type of restaurant you want to tell people about, but want to keep to yourself too.  It’s been open for a few months in the Junction and has been gaining positive word of mouth through friends in the neighborhood. he Farmhouse does a brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays from 11a-3p, and it’s a great concept: like their dinner service, there’s no set menu, with the days menu of “farm driven food” scrawled on a chalkboard. A Sunday brunch with friends provided the perfect excuse to visit.

We settled into the front tavern space – there’s a main dining room “farmhouse” and the private room “Hunt Club” in the back as well. As soon as we settled in, we took a moment to take in the charm of the room. It’s a flea market of knick knacks, with a comfortable indie soundtrack playing underneath the chatter. It’s sunny and bright, with a clear view of a well-stocked bar. There's a noticeable focus on VQA wines, craft beers like Beaus, and cocktails.

I was driving, so I skipped the smoked caesar (and regretted it - LOOK AT THIS THING) and went straight for the coffee, again and again – mornings, amirightfolks? What? Oh, right, brunch. Here’s what was on the board that Sunday:
Typical brunch menu at the Farmhouse Tavern
My immediate question – what the heck is the Mother and Child Reunion? Some sort of chicken and egg creation? When the waitress told me it was duck eggs, soft boiled and then rolled in panko and fried, with some duck prosciutto, I muttered a silent apology to Daffy Duck and ordered it. With gusto.

Once the waitress answered our questions and took the orders, she spun around and headed to the back.
“Our waitress is skipping,” I think to myself. This is a good sign. She returned with drinks and a delicious welcome basket of chocolate chip and cornbread muffins that restore your faith in breakfast pastry and makes regret every mealy franchise café muffin you ever forced down. And that's a thing I notice and start to love about Farmhouse Tavern - that extra effort on fresh ingredients, or a combination that elevates standard brunch fare: the mimosas were made with sparking wine from Hinterland Wine, the coffee was a satisfying Reunion Island roast. You feel spoiled, but it's really just how things should be at their best.

Our table full of, oh, let’s say Twitter-heavy users, almost collectively dropped their phones when the food showed up and we dug in: everything was incredibly delicious. My eggs had a crunchy outer layer, but a soft yolk that I mopped up with a hunk of toasted, buttery bread. The other table favourite was the smoked chicken crepe, with chicken smoked on site and a slice of brie melted on top. The gluten-free/vegetarian friendly mushroom frittata was also well received. The side salads served with our meals were also bright and fresh, as we tried to identify a couple of the delicious veggies – it was watermelon radish that baffled us. The whole meal was outstanding.
The Mother n' Child Reunion - duck eggs, soft boiled and deep fried, with streaks of duck prosciutto, hunk of tasted bread and a salad. That might be a chuck of foie gras on the side.
We lingered for a while, coffees refreshed and mimosas poured down.  We didn’t feel rushed or crowded. It was how brunch is supposed to be: restorative, social, engaging.

Farmhouse Tavern has been around a short while, but it’s made a deep impression. I will return.

Sample dinner menu at Farmhouse Tavern
Farmhouse Tavern is open for dinner service Thurs – Sunday – follow them on Twitter and Facebook for menus and special culinary events. One of the highlights is the F*ck Monday events on Sundays – a schedule of hourly evening specials that culminates in a half-priced menu kicking in at 9pm.

Farmhouse Tavern
1627 Dupont St. (between Dufferin Ave and Symington Ave).
Serving Dinner Thursday through Sunday @ 6pm.
Brunch on Saturday & Sunday @ 11am-3pm.

Reservations can be sent via text to: 416-561-9114

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The prospect of February always seems daunting – the coldest, greyest of months, it seems predisposed to being an emotional minefield. For Ashley Gibson, you add in the anniversary of your mother’s death and it seems like the bleakest of months. But out of something bleak, Ashley has created something inspiring and beautiful, with her first solo cabaret show, LIFE IS SWEET, EVEN IN FEBRUARY, both honouring her mother’s memory, and benefiting the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

LIFE IS SWEET, EVEN IN FEBRUARY is a solo cabaret show on February 22nd at 9:30pm, with Ashley singing a number of songs that her mom enjoyed, and sharing stories from her own life, about the impact of mental illness and her journey back after her mom’s suicide.  Ashley’s been open about her mother’s suicide, and how it’s affected her. It’s inspiring that someone has made an effort to share that part of themselves, fighting the stigma of mental illness and letting everyone dealing with mental illness, loss, depression, anxiety, to let all of them know:  “You are not alone”.

Mental health is something which affects us all – when 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, the odds are you or someone in your life is dealing with mental illness. We don’t always talk about it, we don’t necessarily know how to recognize, or know how to help. But, through the work of people like Ashley, we can have these conversations and end the stigma of mental health. We can move forward, together.

In addition to the show, Gibson will be featuring a number of guest writers on her blog who will write about their experiences with mental illness, depression, and loss – 
“Over the month of February I will be hosting blog posts from friends, family and bloggers who will be sharing their personal accounts of experience with mental illness, depression, anxiety and loss. I am so proud of all of these people for sharing their stories, and believe that in the act of sharing we will truly confirm that no one is alone. I've utilized my network to also include posts from practitioners on strategies for dealing with mental illness, as well as posts on working through challenges in life and finding the light and love in all of it. “
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ashley through my Loser Karaoke group, and she always lights up the room when she sings. Her outlook is infectious, moving, and I’m proud to know her. Buy a ticket, take part in something special, and you’ll be lucky too.

In the greyest of days, Ashley shares an outlook I admire: life can be sweet. Yes, even in February.


Learn more about Ashley's #lifeissweet month on her blog - or by following her on Twitter -@ashleydtl

Life is Sweet, Even in February
Produced and performed by Ashley Gibson, Music Direction by Tara Litvack
February 22, 2013 – 9:30PM
The Flying Beaver Pubaret
488 Parliament Street – Toronto, ON
Tickets: $15 in advance / $20 at the door
Tickets are available at the Flying Beaver Pubaret or online at

 Facebook event page - Life Is Sweet, Even in February

Friday, January 25, 2013

You ever have that moment where you realize playing bingo on a Saturday afternoon in honky tonk basement bar, with old country vinyl playing, drinking caesars and eating chicken & waffles with your friends was a highlight of your week? And you smile, like you're getting away with something? Wouldn’t you want to keep going back as often as you can?
The Dakota Tavern started Beer Barrel Bingo, hosted by Colonel Tom, on Saturday afternoons a few months ago. It’s a weekly event, running from 2pm – 5pm every Saturday, no cover charge. 

On a typical afternoon, we pile in with a gang of friends, claim a large table and kick things off with a round of drinks. Day drinking adds to the feeling your playing hooky from everything else and the drink specials are perfect for the afternoon with $6 caesars, $5 pints of Molson Stock Ale, and $5 Wiarton Weddings (rye & ginger ale, the country champagne).  The menu is a Saturday afternoon mainstay of chicken and waffles with fruit topping.  The chicken is fantastic, and there are options for pulled pork or baked beans (for vegetarians) with your waffles.

Bingo is the reason we show up, and the Dakota gives it a country flavour, in no small part to our charming bingo caller and host, Colonel Tom Parker. With his extensive collection of country vinyl playing, his easy going manner and occasional drop of trivia, many a bingo hall would be the better for such a host. Cards are typically 1 for $1 for 12 cards for $5, and you can play as many or as few as you’d like during each game. It is bizarre how quickly you get invested in trying to complete a line on a Bingo card, mentally trying to influence which number gets called next, keeping an eye on your neighbour's card. The winning is sometimes more important than the prize, but the prizes are sweet for those luck few to shout “BINGO!” – records, t-shirts, all sorts of beer paraphernalia. There is a grand prize game towards the end of every Beer Barrel Bingo session – the grand prize in past weeks have included tickets to see Aerosmith, the Dakota New Year’s Eve, and to Elliott Brood concert at the Dakota on January 30th.

You occasionally look over at your friends, laughing while we wait for the next number to be called out, and figure “this is a pretty good thing we got going on here”. We go week after week, and we think we'd get tired of it, but it's really the best thing Saturday afternoon ever.

Try to get there between 2pm and 3pm to get a table or you may end up riding the bar rail. If you have a large group, the earlier, the better of course, and the afternoon, like the Dakota’s brilliant Sunday Bluegrass Brunch, is kid friendly. 

Follow them on Twitter at @thedakotatavern and on Facebook

The Dakota Tavern
249 Ossington Avenue,
Toronto, ON M6J 3A1

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Riverdale Park, at the magic hour during a rare warm winter day.
An ongoing series of my favourite people, places and things about Toronto.

Whenever I can find the time, I love to go to Riverdale Park to sit and take in how beautiful this city is. On Broadview Avenue, the upper part of the park offers some spectacular views of the Don Valley and the city spread behind it. In snowy winter, it's one of the most popular sledding spots in Toronto. In spring, you see people walking their dogs, as they bound and tear along, making you want to have a dog of your own. In summer, you look down at the athletic track and sports fields, watching everyone at play. In autumn, you just watch the trees in the Don Valley burst with colour. The park draws an array of photographers, kite flyers, soccer games, and picnics - even in a flurry of activity, it's a pretty, joyful place, this gateway to the East End.
Riverdale Park, early summer.
There's a perfect little coffeehouse right there, Rooster Coffee House. The espressos and lattes are sublime, the pastries fresh and savoury. You get an Americano crafted perfectly and a chocolate croissant, and sit along the front window or out on the patio facing the park, and do what you need: chat, write, sit and regain your peace.
How do I find it? It's on Broadview Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue, north of Gerard Avenue. The 504 Dundas streetcar passes by on the way to Broadview Station. Take the subway to Broadview Station and it's just a short walk down. There's some street parking along Broadview and there's a Green P lot up by Broadview Station.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Margarita and a tostada with swordfish ceviche. Bliss.
It’s hard to think of a better follow-up to a day exploring the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Art Gallery of Ontario than a meal at La Carnita. What started as an intention to have some chips and guacamole quickly escalated into full-fledged food bliss.

I’ve followed the story of La Carnita since they started as a pop-up restaurant, serving their tacos at events like Toronto Underground Market. As buzz and business grew, it was a welcome sight when they opened up a permanent restaurant on College St. last summer. It had been a few months since my last visit to – a sampling of every taco on the menu was time well spent – and the occasion of foodie friend @laurendorphin’s birthday guaranteed the choice of an excellent restaurant with great dining companions. Our group of 8 managed to grab a large table at 6:30pm on a Saturday, and the large and lively space filled up quickly by 7:30pm. With long tables and many booths, the place seems meant to invite groups of diners to share a meal.

The menu gets refreshed regularly, but offers a reliable array of appetizers sharing plates and tacos, reasonably priced, which gives you the perfect excuse to try a little bit of everything.  A tempting array of cocktails, beers, and wine are available, but I went with the classic margarita. Or two.

Corn and rice frituras, perfect for sharing.
We ordered housemade tortilla chips & guacamole – dusted with ancho chili powder, making an excellent complement to the sweetness of my cocktail. The corn & rice frituras, 4 to an order and each about the size of a pool ball, and an avocado mango salad were perfect for sharing, ranging from $6.50-$8. Every taco on the menu made an appearance at our table ($5 each). Saturday’s menu offered up their iconic cod fish taco, braised beef cheek, fried chicken, fried avocado, and chorizo, all with fresh flavour and pleasant but not overwhelming taste of heat. The tostada was a swordfish ceviche ($7) which perfectly, indulgently good. Sheer bliss.
Key-lime paletas - pie on stick? What is this sorcery?
The capper was dessert. The churros are popular, but I went with the “paletas” ($4 each). Different flavours every day, but I didn’t quite know what a paleta was. I assumed it was a tart of some sort when I heard that chocolate-peanut butter and key lime were being offered. I was delighted and surprised to be presented with a paleta – basically an ice pop. The key lime was like a tart creamsicle, rolled in graham crackers. Outstanding.

I’d recommend going with a group of 6-8 friends to get a nice cross-section of the menu. While they don’t take reservations, you may need to just get the timing right to get a table, with 7p – 9p being prime time. I’ve had two successful visits and intend to make more. Make sure to browse some of their fantastic Mexican street art for sale as well.

Check their website for their current menu, and follow them on Twitter at @la_carnita for updates on daily specials.

501 College St., west of Bathurst St. on the south side
Sun - Mon 5 - 10pm
Tues - Sat 5 - 11pm

Reservations: None, first come, first serve.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Edmonton Police launched the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign in 2010,targeting potential offenders rather than victims of sexual assault - letting perpetrators know it’s not “okay” to take advantage of someone who had too much to drink. It’s not “taking advantage” - it’s sexual assault. If you don’t have ongoing consent, it’s sexual assault. These posters communicate and educate this point clearly. It’s “a rape prevention campaign targeted at potential rapists rather than potential victims”
The campaign was relaunched at the end of 2012 in Edmonton, and has proven so effective that other Canadian cities have adopted it, including Vancouver (which saw a 10% drop in assaults), Ottawa, and Regina. Nothing in Toronto yet, but maybe that can change. These should be on every campus and in every bar.