Jul 23, 2009

Yummy Humpday

No sooner had I posted a blog mentioning the Gladstone Hotel's Harvest Wednesdays' Tasting Evenings than I received an invite for one of their HW prix fixe meals. Aww! May the wonders of the web never cease! (Note to publicists who think the web isn't legit media: think again.)

Set in the hotel's casually-grandiose left-side bar & dining area, the meal was what I'd consider a culmination of the tasting evening I'd experienced a few weeks back. That is to say that it was full-service, full-size meals, instead of little tidbits on trays, with everything inspired by locally-grown ingredients and seasonal availability. the Gladstone Hotel is actively involved with Chick-a-Biddy Acres, an organization devoted to community-shared agriculture, as well as a number of other local, sustainable, organically-minded businesses.

Now, I'd had a very long day, and had recently come from a tiring dance class. Frankly -and I know this will be shocking for some of you to read -I'd been too busy yesterday (and indeed most of this week) to sit down to a proper, adult meal. For me, that's tantamount to sacrilege. I love eating, and I love cooking, and I've not made time for either much of late. So I was really craving a good, balanced, decent adult meal -the sorts of life-giving qualities only such an experience can provide. Greater than merely satisfying a physical need, but providing nourishment to a spiritual one as well. I'm happy to report that is exactly what Chef Marc Breton and his team gave me. Mmmm.

The meal kicked off with two starts -the first, a yummy vegetarian wrap with tofu, veggies, and mint. Its combination of crunch and soft was sensuously satisfying, and the cider-maple and mustard dip that accompanied it wasn't too overpowering but provided a sweet zing that complemented the bland smoothness of the tofu (organic and non-GMO, provided by Ying Ying Soy Foods, the menu tells me). It was the lightest, most fresh kind of appetizer, the perfect palette-prep for the heavier qualities of the second appetizer, a delicious zuccini salad. Its gorgeous feathery courgettes -green and yellow -were sliced paper-thin and ribboned like feathery jewels against buttery pieces of Niagara prosciutto (yum) and the lot was lightly dressed with a chive-yogurt concoction that wound its way around the tongue slowly, counterbalancing rich and light simultaneously.

For the main course, there was a choice of Eggplant and Mozzarella Croquettes with new potatoes and ramps, or Arctic Char with potato/chard gallettes. I don't get enough fish in my diet, so I opted for the latter, but was a bit shocked when it was brought, head and all, to the table. I know, I know, the head attached is a sign of freshness, blahblahblah. But fishhead-whilst-dining-at-the-end-of-a-long-day is where my squeamish girlie-hood becomes obvious. I demurely sliced said head onto a sideplate and turned it round, allowing my dinner companion to be given the char-stare through her own meal. Lucky her.

The fish, sustainably farmed by Jim Giggie in Tottenham, Ontario (again, the menu tells me so), was utterly gorgeous: moist, flaky, succulent and sweet. It sat in a wonderfully unctuous sorrel beurre blanc that proved the perfect swampy pool in which to soak, sop and greedily devour the accompanying crispy galettes. But carby flights of fancy aside, the char was the real star. If I could find fish like this anywhere, at any given time, I might eat more of it. Sides were shared -a heaping plate of lemon-glazed steamed veg, including broccoli, carrots, green beans and baby beets -all luscious in their colourful freshness and delicate shapes (though I confess to wishing for more of the latter). The song I heard upon consuming said piece of Arctic char was my happy, previously-very-hungry tummy singing.

Just when I thought I couldn't eat another bite, dessert glasses filled with moist Blackforest Trifle were presented, complete with sour cherries on top and luscious layers of real whipped cream. Gorgeous, if very rich, especially after the fish. The prior dishes -two appetizers, plus amuse bouches beforehand -were well-stacked so as to be just satisfying enough for the healthy indulgence of the main course; our appetites sated, serving such a sweet, Fredericks-Of-Hollywood-style piece at the finish seemed a bit askew. But what do I know? I'm not a dessert person. It was a tasty little treat, and went nicely with my pinot gris, part of the flight of wines I ordered to pair with each course. Starting off was a Pellar Estates Rose Private Reserve VQA, then Flatrock Chardonnay (again VQA) to match the fish, and finally the Flat Rock Pinot Noir (VQA) to finish. Each was a really well-chosen match that provided me with another avenue in my ever-growing mental city of foodie-ism, even if I'm not sure it'll make me a fan of Niagara wines in the longrun.

The Gladstone is holding their yummy Harvest Wednesday prix fixe dinners nearly every Wednesday through to October. They're $35 -which is super-cheap considering a/ it's Queen West; b/ it's all ethical, so you can feel good about yourself for eating it, & c/ you get a whacking heap of beautifully-prepared, lovingly-grown/raised food. Oh, and it's a really lovely atmosphere too -no loud blaring music or bustling atmosphere, but rather, a calm, soothing room with warm wooden flourishes and flickering tealights. Chef Marc Breton even comes around later to chat. Aww. Talk about the perfect way to end a frenzied hump-day.

Jul 22, 2009

Lately... An Interview


Here's my video interview with playwright David French. It was a real honour to speak with him -I've been a fan of his work for literally decades. Enjoy!

Jul 21, 2009

Try This (or this)

I've been so busy over the past few weeks, I haven't been updating as much as I'd like. And I can't blame the weather, because summer seems to have generally missed much of the country. Still, here are a few ideas for things that have been inspiring me lately:

1. Sundays @ the Young -Started by Albert Schultz when he announced his Resident Artists back in December, the series of Sunday shows is a nice, classy mix of urban sounds and crunchy Canadiana.

I attended this past Sunday's tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, which featured the talents of Patricia O'Callaghan, Gregory Hoskins, Andrew Craig, Miranda Mulholland, Lori Cullen, and others, all under the direction of actor/musician Mike Ross. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was a real highlight, with a swampy, Raising Sand-esque vibe, and the sight/sound of the feisty, gorgeous Mulholland belting out "That's What You Get For Lovin' Me" was just... excellent (Lightfoot's work definitely takes on a whole new spirit when his words are sung by women!). Actor Kenneth Welsh, currently acting in Soulpepper's production of the David French play Of The Fields Lately, joined the musicians, offering his own rousing, passionate interpretations of Gordie's work.

If this concert is anything to go by, the series -running through to mid-August -should be sizzling. Oh, and one more thing: this is just the kind of proper, adult entertainment I happen to really like for a Sunday afternoon. Good music, beautiful surroundings, and easy access to nice bars. Well done, YC.

2. Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel -I was initially a bit nervous about attending a Tasting Wednesday. Would it be full of hippie farmers wagging fingers at me for eating meat and wearing leather? or populated by urban foodie snobs rolling their eyes over the latest resto reviews? Turns out I was wrong on both accounts.

While the Gladstone's beautiful second floor did, indeed feature hippie farmers and in-the-know foodies, everyone was super-friendly, informed, and extremely helpful. The crowd was a nice mix of old and young, urban, suburban, and rural -everyone was interested in talking, connecting, and sharing ideas over plate-fulls of fresh veggies and glasses of wine or beer. The vibe was refreshingly relaxed, if also equally curious. There was a live two-man band playing good roots-style music, and there were plenty of smiling faces in every room.

Now, what exactly is Harvest Wednesdays? Well, exactly what it implies. No, they don't make you go into a yard on Queen West and pick berries or husk corn. Rather, every Wednesday features either a tasting (monthly) or a prix fixe meal (three consecutive weeks), with a spotlight on local growers and seasonal ingredients. On the night I attended, Chef Marc Breton's menu consisted of lovely little nibblies served by chatty, friendly servers who walked around and offered their edible wares to people who were perusing and interacting with food producers of all stripes spreading across the rooms on the hotel's second floor space. My favourite tastings: lamb meatballs and sausages, + dessert crepes made with red fife and filled with strawberries and lavender-rhubarb cream. Mmmm.

Tasting Wednesdays are a great way to meet and connect with other casual foodies, as well as with those who grow the food (and sometimes feature their own neat foodie evenings!). Also, to quote a friend I met up with the next day, "it seems like a really nice, fun, adult thing to do during the week." Yes! And delicious too!

(Photo courtesy of the Gladstone Hotel's Flickr Photostream)


3. Amadou and Mariam -The Magic Couple -I love this album. I wish I'd seen them live when they were here in Toronto. Bah. The Malian pair are currently the opening musical act for a little band called Coldplay. Chris Martin & co. are not the only famous fans they have, though. Keith Richards and Robert Plant are also fans. If you're into blues sounds -heck, if you just plain love rock and roll - you'll love Amadou amd Mariam. Their best-of compilation is the perfect introduction to their work. I dare you to listen to "Beki Miri" without dancing.

(Photo courtesy of Wrasse Records)

4. The Beaches Jazz Festival - Now in its 25th year (eeek, I'm getting old), the big outdoor music party officially kicked off this past Friday. I interviewed rapper PHATT Al from the band God Made Me Funky and will be seeing them play live this Thursday along Queen Street East. As with Amadou and Mariam, if you haven't seen/heard GMMF play -especially live- this is one show to put on your calendar. Their infectious brand of fusion-funk, with traceable influences of Stevie Wonder, Grandmaster Flash, and of course, George Clinton, is ideal music for chasing away the clouds, be they mental or physical.

5. I still haven't found a book to satisfy. I'm looking for fiction, in the vein of Miriam Toews-meets-Nicole Krauss-esque. Anyone have suggestions?

Jul 6, 2009

Literary Ennui

Amidst the busy times of the past few weeks, I find I've been craving an old friend: a good book. Not only do I miss the act of reading (it's the perfect excuse for getting away from the too-addictive computer), I miss the magical, enthralling spell that's cast by the pull of a wonderful book. In no particular order, I felt this inimitable tug of magic over the following works:

-Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje. I generally love anything Ondaatje -I think of him as a poet who happens to write novels. Every time I see him out publicly at an event or opening, we exchange little smiles. I'm sure he's used to people (okay, women) swooning over his work. No one tells a story (or indeed, reads their own work) the way he does. Beautiful, magical, breathtaking -just a few words to describe his work, and indeed, the wonderous rapture I was sent into reading Divisadero. I read it in four days.

-The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. I hadn't realized when I picked this up that Krauss is the spouse of another of my favourite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer (more on him below). This is only her second work, but it packed a huge wallop. I read it when I got back from my last trip to Hungary in 2006; it turned out to be the last time I saw my father. Reading Krauss' work, about family, community, memory, but most of all, love, was an emotional trip of the highest order, and yet one of the most solemn, quiet experiences too. I remember not wanting to finish it, and purposely limiting how much I would read at once. I cried when I did finally finish it. Magnificent.

-Extremely Close And Incredibly Loud, Jonathan Safran Foer. Like Krauss' book (above), Foer's work involves the interactions of kids and adults, in sometimes-scary, sometimes-confusing situations. The brilliance of the work, and what really struck me when I read it, was the way Foer used words on the page, and the design of a book itself, to facilitate telling his story. It wasn't just words; it was images. Typeface was used as narrative at points. And this cleverness was never an end in itself, either -the book has a huge, wonderful beating heart. Again, cried when I finished it. Tried reading his earlier work, Everything Is Illuminated, but just couldn't get into it. Alas.

-The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time, Mark Haddon. Another book involving a curious child. Maybe it's an unconscious attraction on my part (some kind of scratching at innocence?), but this book, like Foer's and Krauss', deeply touched a nerve -or several -in me. The outright vulnerability of its main character, a brilliant, autistic boy, and the way he views the world -including his bickering parents, and a murdered neighbour's dog -is gorgeous, heartbreaking, and enthralling. I motored through it in a week.

-The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews. Two kids travel across North America with their loopy aunt to find their father. Sounds a bit like a sitcom, right? Well it's better than that. Sure, it's laugh-out-loud hilarious (which I actually did, at points, do) but it's also utterly heartbreaking at points, unsettling at others, and always shot through with Toews gorgeous blend of wry observation and loving care. To borrow a Blakean phrase, I love the mix of innocence and experience in this work, which I read in about five days. I interviewed Toews for this too, which was a huge treat.

-Atonement, Ian McEwan. Okay, maybe there's a theme here; this one involves children too, specifically the grand lie told by one malicious little girl, who grows to be absolutely tormented by it. No, I didn't see the movie. Like many people who adore the original book version, I was worried it wouldn't live up to my imagination (how could it, really? Can any book? Ah, that's another blog... ). McEwan's tale of family, memory, responsibility, and again, love, is deeply haunting. I love it when a book stays with me -and Atonement was floating around my consciousness for weeks after I'd finished it. That's a mark of its greatness.

But, after riffling through my basement, with boxes full of books still unpacked from my time living in Stratford, as well as numerous bookshelves all around the house lined with works, I still haven't found something to pique my curiosity or passion. And I'm absolutely craving a wonderful, enthralling, delicious read. I'm not a "summer book" kind of girl. Yes, I went through the Sophie Kinsella phase... but that's over now. And I'm seeking a proper meal of a book. The rediscovery/embrace of my gypsy past has me leaning towards a good fictional tale that incorporates real-life elements of that culture, but I'm open to ideas. Anyone have suggestions? Bueller?