I found myself looking at pictures that I had taken of Manhattan Beach and Naples Beach and, straight up, I can’t tell them apart. It’s like the Where’s Waldo game or Spot the Difference where you’re trying with all your might to focus on something that is out of place, and I’ve got nothing. It’s probably from reading the news too much, where the Blue and Red coasts are presented as more distant than night and day. California was always king, more similar in politics and lifestyle to Canada, despite wildfires and the constant threat of earthquakes. Florida was gators and hurricanes and guns so, not really somewhere where you would enjoy life. Alive anyway.
But Southwest Florida is quite friendly and charming. People are very kind. I landed in Fort Myers and wandered around there a bit, met some of the locals, got a bit of the lay of the land before heading over to Naples and enjoying lemon gelato and paella as if I were smack in the middle of the Mediterranean. I felt very much alive as my body unfolded itself from a permanent shiver, and even the dolphins seemed to mirror very accurately how I was feeling to be in the sun.
There are awesome little businesses there (Emily James, 5th Av Diner), great architecture (Gondolier Inn and Naples Mariner are as Americana as it gets for me), some great food (looking at you Mediterrano, Truluck’s and Brooks) entertainment (courtesy of The Naples Players and Gulfshore Playhouse) and of course, the gorgeous Naples pier, 3rd Street, and 5th Avenue Districts.
Goodbye winter, you harsh and bitter jerk. Give me a few months and maybe, maybe I will miss you again and we can have gluhwein and play Ticket to Ride by the fireplace.
For my fellow Torontonians looking for a little romance (having already watched The Age of Adaline) in the form of a wee road trip, you really need to look no further than Quebec City. It’s a little bit of old stony heaven that’s a 9 hour drive away, with accommodations way cheaper than you’d think and lots and lots of really good food.
I haven’t been there since I first arrived in Canada when I was 7. Basically all I remember is our car being broken into at a St. Hubert’s (which is like Quebec’s Swiss Chalet) and my mom crying, and as a sensitive little kid if you see your mom crying then you just cry too, and there ya go, that’s my memory of Quebec. Misery. Wailing. Broken windows. So for me it was reason enough to want to go to just rewire my association to it.
In the car I did a rough Google search of the food that we could get in Quebec, and right away adored Buvette Scott. It’s teeny tiny, super non-fussy, packed solid with people, the cutlery is all mismatched and as soon as you open the door it smells like heaven. They’re geeky as can be about the plates that they bring to you, and talk with genuine enthusiasm about blood sausage and deer bacon and all those Quebecois cheeses! and the funk music playing overhead. There’s minimal decor in the room, the majority of the light comes from candles, and there’s that hushed whispery blanket of chatter that exists in places where people are conversational, excited, engaged, but maturely aware that they are sharing a space with others and not screaming SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS at the tops of their lungs and just being annoying. They also insisted that while we’re in town we check out their favourites.
Such as Chez Biceps BBQ. John was absolutely in heaven here (and all the SHOTS folks are here ;)) and said that it was the perfect fusion of his favourite Austin joints, his general adoration of Southern food, and Quebecois hospitality and trademarks – such as maple syrup pork ribs and poutine. Chef Vincent and Jason-Mamoa-look-alike Jean-Simon Pouliot, who are warm and friendly and brawly, constantly chat to their clientele and tease their staff, and everyone seems to be having a genuinely fantastic time. Oh, and the place looks like this.
Then there’s Kraken Cru. Daaaaaaaamn that’s some good seafood.
For the athletic crew, there’s skiing, sledding and tubing all over Quebec, and if you’re into the older sights like the Citadel or the Parliament buildings, there’s that. There’s an amazing little street called Sault-au-Matelot that’s packed with galleries and opens into a square that has tilework on the ground like Rossio Square in Lisbon. I’m boring as dirt so I like to walk around and eat, maybe listen to some live music, go for a whirl on the slide from 1884 just to see if I fall off, gawk at what’s happening at La Bordee, take in the art and architecture. There’s always one artist that blows my mind to absolute smithereens, and this time it was Virginie Schroeder. At first glance looks like just another optical illusion celebrity painting, right? The white space is just done by sgraffito scrape-and-reveal, whatever right? Nope. Look closer. Her technique is crazy. I don’t know if she uses software to plan it out and then dabs plaster on and then paints over the plaster and cuts it and splatters over it or what. Mind blown.
I will definitely be back in the warmer months, I know that buried under all that snow that Quebec has lots of spots for mushroom picking and maple syrup tapping, and you know… girl’s gotta eat.
I was coming back from a meeting last week and passed by the flagship Greenhouse Juice Co. just off of Yonge street, and got their recipe for Gingerbread cookies. Now my home smells like heaven and I have treats to share with my friends.
The holidays are a tricky time for many people. Not everyone has somewhere to be when the carollers are singing and the lights are twinkling, or where they do spend their holidays isn’t particularly peaceful. I missed my old friend Gray yesterday (having watched the beautiful Heisenberg at CanStage, which made me wholly reevaluate my minimalist-set-thumbs-down stance of yore), and remembered how crappy the holidays were always for him. I hope whatever you all do, and whomever you’re with, that you feel content. Much love to you all.
I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up, by my estimation, with a positive relationship with food. Yes, I did go through a phase in my teenage years when I thought I was ugly and fat and that maybe if I were skinnier the boy that I was infatuated with would fall madly in love with me. But then inevitably I would walk by a pizza parlour or a McDonald’s and those thoughts would be instantly cast aside. Food was frequently fun, and mostly social, and always necessary. Plus, growing up in Poland post WWII, you eat what’s in front of you, and if you work with children with Prader-Willi, you’re grateful that your body understands satiety signals, and that gives vanity little room to fester.
The hardest thing to deal with, of course, is growing up having an enviable metabolism and then hitting your 30’s, getting lazy, and not being able to shove burgers down your throat without instantly gaining weight. I’ve had to reevaluate the way I fuel my body, and most importantly my portion sizes. I can no longer eat like JugHead, and these days I crave a very different thing than I did in my 20’s. My body yearns for veggies and fruits. I gave up drinking pop ages ago, a can of sugary soda actually makes me nauseous now, but fried foods will always be my Kryptonite. Everything good always happened around fried food – pizza trips when I was little with Dad, Baltic summer beachside wanders full of fries and fried fish, McDonald’s after a night of dancing with friends, donuts at the office.
It’s also a question of taking time. When you’re young you’re constantly rushing, and fast food is just convenient. The cooking and the prepping and the peeling and the chopping is boring, the forethought into the contents of your grocery list, making the trip to the store, it just takes too much time. But as I’ve chilled out in my old age I take a much greater pleasure in preparing food, in feeding us food that makes us calm and happy, in fuelling our bodies in a way that makes us stronger and sharper and cosier and healthier. We make damn good food, we talk about everything while we eat, we take the time to connect and to unwind and to taste everything in front of us. John, being clearly the adult one of the two of us, was the one who always pushed for quality ingredients, and would always spend a little more for the “good stuff” and give me the stink eye when I grabbed a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
My mother considers it some kind of mystical power that allows me to prepare these meals today, but I remind her that this didn’t come overnight, I didn’t just magically know how to cook out of the womb. I worked in hotels, bars and kitchens while I studied at UofT, and I watched everything, all the time. I watched Didier Leroy torch, I watched David Adjey braise, I watched Stephen Ricci sauté, I watched J.P. Challet char, I watched Perin and Diane and Renee Foote bring chocolate to life. Food is magic, and it’s art.
I’m on a snacking kick lately, so I’ll tell you something – store-bought granola bars don’t do it for me, and as we’re running around like crazy people all the time, we need pick-me-ups. Something quick to grab and go, but something tasty, a little more complex than just a carrot or some nuts. And as much as I love my chia seed pudding, those don’t really travel that well.
Enter the Energy bite. Energy ball. Energy truffle. Whatever you want to call it, it keeps you going for several hours. The internet has gazillions of variations and though they take about five minutes to make, they’re expensive to buy. Make your own. Here I have some sesame, cinnamon, matcha and cocoa-dusted ones. I forgot about coconut flakes I have stashed in my pantry, would have been perfect to have cute little white ones. Oh well. Next time.