Jun 28, 2010

Swell Elson

I like Karen Elson. A lot.



Not only is her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks (Third Man Records), haunting, rockin', eerily cool, and frankly, great, but she is charmingly self-effacing and honest in this interview.

Karen is the supermodel wife of Jack White, who produced her debut album. While this might be grounds for an auto-write--off for some, it's also grounds, in my books, for giving it a second (and third) listen. Karen has musical chops. Her bringing up pretty/good singing artists like Carla Bruni and Nico (the latter of whom I think she especially resembles, sound-wise) is very apt, and there's something about her dedication and lack of pretension I find wholly refreshing.

Give the interview, and the album, a listen. Delightful, cool, excellent: just some of the descriptors that come to mind. See what you think.

(thx to The Music Slut)

Jun 27, 2010

Peace Full

It's been a dramatic weekend in Toronto.

Amidst reports of police brutality and wanton violence, it's hard to know who or what to believe. My household, like many in the area, hunkered down with the TV, radio, and internet. The dreary, cloudy day didn't help the collective mood of the city -it made the sounds and images that much more depressing.

So it was that I spontaneously decided to cook. My kitchen really is my refuge.

Despite the humidity, soup felt right. It's comfort food, after all. I decided on a Jamaican-style sweet potato soup, owing to a half-bag of said veg in my cupboard, and the crying need for something hot, spicy and nourishing. As the news reports detailed more arrests (as well as -oh yeah! -actual progress at the G8 an G20 meetings), I held my soup bowl and felt, in my literal and figurative guts, that things would be okay. And they were, at least in my little world.


You will need:

  • olive oil
  • roughly 6-8 sweet potatoes (you can also use yams), chopped
  • roughly 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (about a third the size of your hand)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (depending on how runny you like your soup)
  • 2 medium-sized orange slices
  • 1 cup cream
  • Spices (in order of use): ground turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, organic brown sugar, fresh ground pepper, fresh nutmeg, cinnamon
  • salt to taste (I like sea salt)

Pour oil into a deep pot -make sure it's enough to cover the bottom and warm on a medium heat.

Place chopped garlic and ginger into pot; stir and let saute for about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of turmeric on top and stir.

Add chopped sweet potatoes (or yams). Stir so that the ginger and garlic covers the pieces. Saute for about a minute, and then add roughly a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir. Replace lid.

Note: you'll be repeating this add-stock-and-stir thing a lot, so be sure to keep a watch. You basically want to cook the sweet potatoes in stock until they're mushy.

During this time, be sure to add your spices: turmeric (about 1 tbsp), ground coriander (1/2 tbsp) and ground cumin (1 tsp). Add about 1/2 tbsp of brown sugar (less if you're using yams). Squeeze in the juice from the two orange slices with your hands. Stir it all and keep cooking.

Use the bottom of the spoon you're using to stir things to break the pieces apart. Keep adding stock and stirring. I like this slow method -it produces a rich flavour and you get to control how thick or thin the soup is.

When the potatoes are soft (and you have a decidedly soup-y looking concoction), add a bit more stock and stir. Using either a hand-blender or a traditional blender, puree the lot right down. This make take a few tries, as ginger tends to be stalky sometimes, but keep going. If you don't get every little bit, don't worry; you can always put the whole thing through a hand blender one more time later on, unless you like bits of spicy ginger in your soup.

In any case, post-puree, you should have a beautiful orange-yellow pap. Put back onto low heat and stir. Add cream, in little bits, constantly stirring and taking care you don't get any flare-ups from the thick soup (they hurt!).

Add the rest of the spices: a pinch of cinnamon, and a few good grates of the fresh nutmeg. Grind a good amount of fresh pepper straight into the pot as well as roughly 2 tbsp of salt and stir well. Cook on low heat (lid on) for about 15 minutes, stirring a few times.

If you still find the soup too thick, add more stock to taste, heat, and stir. Keep in mind -it's supposed to have that pungent, spicy hot-sweetness to it. The odd chunk of ginger is actually quite delightful. And it's even better the next day.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy.
Voila, comfort.

Jun 23, 2010

Lip-Smacking Listening

As I announced with a mix of nerves and excitement back in April, I've returned to broadcasting -a big passion of mine, and a world I feel infinitely comfortable and happy in.

Among the many, many interviews I've done since then, there are a few that stand out as favorites. I'll be posting a few of them in the next wee while. Here's the first. It's a chat with food journalist and educator Lucy Waverman and was originally aired on Take 5 in mid-May. There are some great recipe tips and tricks here, particularly with regards to yummy, easy method in preparing fresh fish.

Enjoy!

A Year in Lucy's Kitchen by CateKusti

Jun 22, 2010

Prima Rufus


The only things that seem to be suitable to listen to after seeing Rufus Wainwright live are classical music and Queen, which is exactly what I did driving home from his concert last week. Wainwright, the son of Canadian music royalty (his father is Loudan Wainwright III, his mother was Kate McGarrigle, who passed away in January), hit Toronto last week as part of the 2010 Luminato Festival of Arts and Culture. Along with premiering his opera, Prima Donna, during the artsy fest, the beautiful, deeply mercurial Wainwright launched the tour for his latest album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu.

Last week's show at the grand, gilded-lined Elgin Theatre was equal parts drama, camp, comedy, and bitchy commentary; infusing the entire evening was Wainwright's intense sense of musicality and flair for drama. The first half of the concert was strange, surreal, and not a little operatic. Before his appearance, the audience was duly informed that we were to hold our applause until the very end of the set, when Rufus had exited the stage. The lights dimmed and in he came, moving lowly and deliberately, his thin frame beddecked in feathers, eyeliner, and a very long black coat-dress. The look was very Mad-Max-meets-Monteverdi -not necessarily a bad thing if you're aiming for drama. Playing songs mainly from the new album, the effect was equal parts impressive and infuriating: Why isn't he looking at us? Why doesn't he want applause? What's with those giant blinky eyes? And that damn crazy outfit? Who does he think he is? DIVA! But maybe that was the point.

Turns out Rufus took inspiration from both silent and romance-horror films, as well as -surprise -opera. But for all the grand poetic majesty, it was obvious (sometimes painfully) that Rufus, with pale skin and fair locks, is a resolutely unapologetic, wildly insecure artist with a grand sense of talent and a keen awareness of its fragility. While he plumbs the depths of his own sonic genius, he isn't afraid to look back to the masters, either. Traces of Glass, Gerhswin, Liszt, Elton John and Jeff Buckley ran through each chord like gold threads through grey rocks. It was as musically magical as it was theatrically maddening to sit through at points. I wanted to run as much as I wanted to stay to see what he'd do next.

Entering in a floral-print suit for the show's second half (when we were -hurrah! -allowed to applaud), Rufus's warm smile banished any fears of poe-faced serious artiste attitude. With songs like "Matinee Idol" and "Moulin Rouge" played to marvelous, if marvelously playful effect, he threw in a slew of bitchy asides, including one directed at a recent review of his opera that likened the work to a Loblaws shopping bag. "That just proves you're label queens," he sniped, to cackling applause.

And as if to underline the importance of his connection with his fans, he made the point of recognizing the dedicated bunch who follow him around. "They're obviously very rich," he quiped, before adding, "Actually, they're probably not... but they're good at looking like they are."

Beat.

"Just like me!"

This refreshing lack of pretension, tinged with outlines of insecurity, sensitivity and deep feeling, made for an eminently watchable, involving performance. Again and again, we were reminded of just how damn great a musician Rufus really is. His performance of the controversial 2007 song "Going To A Town" was biting, angry, and bitter, and showed, to beautiful effect, his gorgeous, sonorous voice ringing through the deepe cavernous space of the Elgin. A showman, an artist, a diva, a child. And, in the end, a son. The concert ended with him playing "Walking Song", one of his mother's tunes about the happy times with family.



I left feeling confused, overwhelmed, and more than a little impressed. Between the strains of Ludwig van and the tender-loud yowls of Freddie Mercury driving home, I found a spot where drama, sound, and persona came together like so many crushing chords. Music doesn't always exist to coddle, entertain, amuse or remove; sometimes it's a complicated combination of notes, colors, feelings and memories, housed within palaces, hovels, and caves. We don't know the spot but we trudge ahead anyway, thanks to a trusty guide with a beautiful voice. Rufus as Pied Piper? Maybe. But if I wind up over a cliff, I'll hang onto that damn long coat for dear life. I want another tune, after all.

Jun 21, 2010

ELABorate Simplicity

In the last few years, I've developed a passion for consignment stories. They have, to my mind, the perfect combination of style and substance; like small collections of carefully-curated non-originals, they encourage the recycling ethos within a stylistic context.

So it was with much anticipation that I hopped off to LAB Consignment, located on Ossington Avenue in Toronto. Its owner, Lauren Baker, is a smart, sassy, refreshingly unpretentious woman dedicated to both fashion and environmentalism. We had a lively exchange of ideas around the rise of consignment stores, what they might symbolize in a larger sense, and the challenge of getting Bloor Street fashionista-types (the New York equivalent is Fifth Avenue, by the way) out of their big-label headspace and into a new, imaginative space where substance and style connect in a meaningful way.

How did you become interested in fashion?

I started reading fashion magazines when I was 11 years old. I was really drawn to the supermodels at that time (1992) as I'm sure most young girls were. I remember loving Bob Mackie and Issac Mizrahi. I still think Bob Mackie is a master at glitz.

How did you go from working in retail to being interested in consignment? To many, the two worlds are far apart.

I worked in retail for almost 10 years but always sold my clothes on consignment growing up. When I came up with the idea for LAB, I was actually working in the music industry for a woman who built her business from the ground up, which I really admired. I, however, wasn't made for the music-industry machine, I really didn't enjoy the stress. That's when I started to wonder how I can use my strengths and passion and turn it into a business that I enjoy. Consignment came to me almost right away.
Why do you think consignment and vintage-y stores have become so popular? Is it purely economic? Or is there something else at work?

I've been shopping at thrift stores since I was 14. In my home town (Dundas, Ontario) it was what everyone did and it was completely normal to me, so I can't say that I've noticed this as a trend. Maybe they've recently become more attractive to different clientele due to both the environmental benefits of recycling clothing and the economic downturn. Many shoppers feel that buying vintage is their way of giving back to the environment and saving a few bucks while they're at it.

How much have your friends' input shaped and influenced your style, as well as your career path?

I like to think I've always had my own individual sense of style. I tend to rely on intuition when building a wardrobe, rather than memorizing each collection from each major designer and trying to mimic those trends on a very tiny budget. Don't get me wrong, I love to watch the collections each season, but I don't put pressure on myself to be on-trend all of the time. But I do have some very stylish friends. My dear friend Vanessa Fischer is an amazing costume designer (she's designing my wedding dress) and I always like to bounce wardrobe ideas off of her.

As for my career path, I only told one friend that I had this idea because I didn't want it to get scooped, and she supported me 100%. She actually pushed me very hard to do it. Now she lives in London UK and hasn't even seen the store!

What are your future plans for LAB? You'd mentioned wanting to expand nationally. Do you think the fashion world is ready for consignment outlets?

Now that I've accomplished one dream, why stop there? I would love to have more than one location, but in reality it's a baby-steps process. For now, I'm going to concentrate on the Ossington store and make it the best it can be. I think Canadians in general would welcome consignment with open arms! Only a small percentage of Canadians can afford designer fashions; the rest of us are just maxing out credit cards, bidding on ebay, and stalking Gilt Groupe. Consignment stores would allow the majority of Canadian shoppers to have access to designer fashions for a fraction of the price. I'm also carrying samples from Rita Liefhebber and am in negotiations with other prominent designers in Canada and the UK to feature their wares.

Why do you think traditional fashionistas turns up their noses at consignment?

I'm not sure who these fashionistas are, because I've had quite a few fashionable and well-known Canadian ladies shopping in my store, as well as some name designers. Quality clothing is quality clothing, no matter where you buy it. If there is a portion of the fashion world that turns their noses up at consignment they won't for long. Who wouldn't want a gorgeous designer piece at a fraction of the price?

@LABconsignment

Jun 16, 2010

Bloomin' Great

Today is Bloomsday.

Not having read Ulysses in over a decade, much less looked through it (ironically, I left my annotated copy in Dublin), I decided it was the perfect day to pick up a copy. As I flipped through page after page of beautiful, confounding prose, I was reminded of the place writing once occupied in my life, and how my perceptions around it have changed.

It's not a higher calling to me anymore, nor is it some kind of holy act; it simply is, along with any number of other things people have a particular affinity for. I both fought and embraced the monikers of "writer" and "artist" for years, feeling, on the one hand I wasn't worthy of those titles, and, on the other, I was purely defined by them. Neither, life has shown me, is quite accurate.

And yet there's the same sense of wonder, joy, and wordless awe when I open Ulysses, just as there was way back when I first read it in the mid 1990s. The mad combination of drama, poetry, geography, and frankly... a jazz-like feeling of improvisation infuse every word in the 700+ page novel with wonder for me. It isn't polite, tidy, or precise; this is rough, edgy, coarse prose, the kind you might find your brain -much less (eeek) soul -getting cut on (badly) if you're looking for soothing respite. That's a big part of its appeal. Who wants soothing? There's yoga for that. Joyce's words are real, raw, crude, shrewd, raunchy, sad, infuriating, confusing ... and poetic. Like people. Like life.

This, of all days, feels like the right time to offer up a tribute, and I can think of no better way of saluting the book, and all of us still intoxicated by it. Yes, for real:



There's a beautiful roughness to this, without the 360 frills, that feels right for the poetic (dare I say Joycean) lyrics; the musical rawness here feels (and sounds) like the perfect dance partner for the pitbull-like aggression of the prose, and, conversely, the prose has a wild, unhinged musicality that becomes more muscular with the beefy sonic accompaniment. My first reaction when I heard this song was: Joyce. And it wasn't just the June 16th reference, either.

Words -they're not much, but they can get us through some dark times. They, like any art, don't define -they refine; the silence between syllables and the long yawning vowels become the music we understand. Writing isn't reformation but sublimation to a higher power: imagination.

"How moving the scene there in the gathering twilight, the last glimpse of Erin, the touching chime of those evening bells and at the same time a bat flew forth from the ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry. And she could see far away the lights of the lighthouses so picturesque she would have loved to do with a box of paints..."

Jun 13, 2010

Tiptoe Through The West Side


Joyful, quiet, exuberant, contemplative.

Who knew ballet could be so many things at once?

The National Ballet of Canada's summer mixed program, playing as part of this year's Luminato Festival in Toronto, is a heady mix of contradictions. The first third, "Pur ti Miro", features the music of Beethoven and Monteverdi; the choreography in the piece, by hot dance figure Jorma Elo, is regal and joyous. The second piece, "Opus 19/The Dreamer" features the choreography of Jerome Robbins and the music of Sergei Prokofiev. The last third is "West Side Story Suite", based on the legendary musical by Leonard Bernstein, features Robbins' choreography once more, along with colourful, lively dancing, snaps, and vocals.


With short sections, hummable music, and gorgeous visuals, the mixed program has a little something for everyone. It was with great delight that I noted the incredible number of enthralled children in attendance at Sunday's matinee performance, as well as numerous twenty-something hipsters. Kids get the liberating quality of dance that is, for the most part, sadly lost in adulthood. It was fascinating to observe their reactions to the music and the moves, and to observe their deep, immediate connection with the dancers.

I was equally struck by the various emotional chords that were hit within the show: funny, sad, whimsical, sad, sassy, melancholy, meditative... innumerable shades of the human experience were expressed with a turn, a hand, an arm wave, and even vocally. It's become something of a recent phenomenon to have dancers vocalize during a performance; as with Wen Wei Wang's Cock-Pit (presented in Toronto earlier this year), vocals are a pure enhancement of the inherent drama and silent magic of movement. We take talking -and moving -so much for granted, but to have both, within a kind of vacuum, be used for sheer expression, feels like a revolution. I could only help but wonder what Nureyev would think.

Still within the revolutionary vein, I was bowled over by seeing choreography to one of the most famous pieces of music in the classical canon. I grew up hearing Beethoven's sole violin concerto in a concert hall; it felt new, strange, and surreal to see dancers leaping around to the concerto's exuberant third movement. It was interesting to note how the program itself was structured as a kind of journey from traditional to pseudo-modern too; moving from the old-school world of Beethoven and Monteverdi, onto Prokofiev, and Bernstein, was like a nod to a variety of dance styles and expressions.

While I enjoyed the meditative nature of "Opus 19/The Dreamer" (the silent drama between Patrick Lavoie and Sonia Rodriguez was scintillating) and adored the vintage-thug moves and hip-swinging snaps of "West Side Story Suite", it was "Pur Ti Miro" (roughly translated as "I simply aim for you") that affected me most deeply. Call it sentiment, call it old-fashioned, but there was something in that old-meets-new ethos in that piece (a world premiere, no less) that felt completely provocative and, weirdly, new. Its juxtaposition with the more modern Robbins works felt like just the kind of balanced contradiction that shapes a festival like Luminato, and, I suspect, will come to define, in many ways, ballet of the twenty-first century.

Top photo: Jenna Savella with Sonia Rodriguez and Elena Lobsanova in Pur ti Miro.
Middle photo: Artists of the Ballet in West Side Story Suite.
Bottom photo: Sonia Rodriguez and Patrick Lavoie in Pur ti Miro.

All photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Jun 9, 2010

My Other Life


It's with great pleasure and huge excitement I announce that I've joined the team at the excellent celebrity blog Dipped In Cream.

I've long been a follower (and fan) of the site, adoring its irreverent style, cutting sarcasm, and ability to generate conversations around important issues; Editor Julia's entry about the entertainment industry's pressure on women to be thin utterly impressed me, and her commitment to exploring female body issues on her site -which revolves around celebrity news -feels like a big dose of Real, something the lifestyle-and-entertainment racket has needed for a long, long time. Editors take note: this is the kind of unpretentious, intelligent content women want (yes, even -or especially -the ones who saw Sex And The City 2). It's refreshing to see this kind of candor within the normally-worshipfull realm of fabulous-dahling celebrity-dom.

My first entry for Dipped In Cream was about the split between Al Gore and his wife of forty years, Tipper; my second is a muse on the not-so-myterious attraction of comedian Russell Brand.

Writing for a celebrity site is like going to the gym and working muscles you didn't know you had: initially strange but somehow empowering. Perhaps with time I'll get a bit of an ache... but keeping in shape otherwise (as in, writing on a variety of other things) might put that right. Who cares?

All in all, it's nice to be given a great outlet from which to muse on the nature of fame (and those who enjoy it) while celebrating its absurd contradictions and outrageous tendencies. Also? It's fun. I'll be sure to provide updates along this new ride.

Jun 7, 2010

Freaky-Good Frites

Yesterday's cooler weather inspired in me a desire to make stew. However, my inspiration changed as the grey skies cleared in the afternoon. After a spate of domestic-y work & long-overdue gardening, I felt like something less...stewy. Also, starting a stew at 7pm is never a good idea. So I decided on steak frites. The steak part -fine, easy-peasy; I had a nice clean BBQ to grill them on, which made things even easier.

The frites? Not so easy. I'd never made them, if you can believe it. Perhaps it's because I was never a spud person (though living in Ireland, I became one more out of necessity) and indeed, still am not entirely one -but the crisp, hot, carby goodness felt just right to end an afternoon of laundry, cupboard-cleaning and weed-pulling.

The response to my frites-making exploit on Facebook was so positive, I thought I'd share the recipe. I used one posted online as well as my own good common sense. Try it if you have a chance -easy, and yes, very good. This serves two people (or one very-hungry woman, natch).

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes

You will need:

4-5 medium-sized organic potatoes (Yukon Gold is best)
4-6 cups of ice water
roughly 2.5 to 3 cups canola oil
1 cup olive oil
sea salt
+ a whack of paper towels for blotting

Method:

Scrub potatoes and julienne. You want the shape to be long and skinny (do cut chunkier, a la pub style, if you like 'em that way, but mind they take longer to cook).

As you chop, place the julienned pieces in a big bowl of waiting ice water; mind the edges of the bowl are filled near the top, with plenty of ice (and keep adding cubes as you add the cut potatoes). I used a metal bowl to keep the temperature nice and cool.

Once you're done chopping and your taters are in the bowl, leave them to soak for 15 minutes. (Make something else, or pour a glass of wine to enjoy whilst admiring your garden handywork...)

At about the 10-minute mark, heat the canola oil in a large, broad pan on the stove; place on medium heat.

After 15 minutes, drain the potatoes from the ice water in a colander. Discard any ice cubes, leaving potatoes in the colander. Give a gentle shake. Spread paper towels out on a flat surface, then spread the potatoes on them. Cover with another paper towel and gently blot.

Turn the heat of the oil up to medium high.

Place half the potatoes in the hot oil. They should sizzle on contact (test with one if you're not sure). Mind that the oil covers them entirely.

When they're semi-done (yellow but not golden), remove with a broad slotted spoon or tongs (carefully) & place on fresh, dry paper towels. Gently blot.

Check to see if there's enough oil for the second batch of potatoes, and add as necessary. Again, you want the oil to cover the potatoes entirely. Repeat as before, removing the potatoes when they start to yellow and placing them on fresh, dry paper towels. Blot carefully.

Add the olive oil to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Wait about a minute (so it heats up), then place the first batch of potatoes in; shake the pan. Follow by placing the second batch in with the first, and shake again. The oil should be bubbling merrily, with the potatoes bouncing around inside.

Cook about ten to fifteen minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes or so.

When the potatoes turn that happy golden colour, your frites are ready. Using tongs or a broad slotted spoon, carefully remove them to a dry colander. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt and gently toss with your fingers.

Now... serve with your favorite accompaniment and enjoy.

Jun 1, 2010

Your Life



Amidst the stress of joejob work (whoops, I've been advised to call it "enable-job", because truly, attitude is everything), planning for (and conducting) radio interviews, chasing future stories for Play Anon, hosting company, and mad job applying, I really haven't been keeping up to date on my writing. And I feel bad about that. I came across this little treat via Twitter today, and wanted to share it. There's something in Tom Waits' plaintive, gruff delivery of this beautiful, simple poem that strikes a chord with me: the sense of struggle, of survival, of a shining, brilliant faith beaming forth amidst the crap of the world Hank was so familiar with.

Corny but true: "The Laughing Heart" makes a heart laugh. Enjoy. More soon.