Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Remembering Camp Kvutza" is launched!

My personal thanks to everyone who came out to Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda last Sunday to reunite and pick up a copy of the new book, "Remembering Camp Kvutza".  There was an overwhelming turnout.  Well, I was overwhelmed, but Lori was confident that everyone who hadn't already migrated to warmer climes would hitch up the dogsleds and make an effort to show up....and, as usual, she was right!  By the end of the day, we only had about 25 copies left, and since then, they are fast disappearing, so it looks like there'll be another printing so we can put the book in stores, too!  The Ontario Camping Association has taken an interest, too, since they are trying to organize a history of Jewish Camping in Ontario.  You might say we started something big!

Here is a copy of the little speech I gave at the launch, for those of you who couldn't make it or came later:

Welcome, everyone.
You've probably heard the expression, "This book wrote itself"...In some ways, once I started writing about Camp Kvutza, I couldn't stop myself.  It was as if, by writing about it, I was reliving those wonderful summers we all spent together on Lake Erie over 50 years ago.

I don't know if it was because we were so young and idealistic, or because those short summer months of our youth were so intensely packed with great experiences, that so many details still seemed so fresh in my memory.  In my life, there are years, even decades, that have flown by, that I can't recall the way I can remember the most particular little details about camp.

From traipsing back to our cabins and tents after breakfast, eyes down, searching for four leaf clovers in the fields, to holding hands and swaying together to Rad Hayom, sending a little friendship squeeze all around our circle of friends....

And then, there were the larger Life Lessons that have stayed with us too.  Respect for other cultures, for learning and caring about our world, and, of course, a deep appreciation and love of Eretz Israel.  

For all I put into the book, there is still so much that could be added.  So we've left a little room at the back for you to personalize, to fill in with your own special memories and pictures and to gather autographs from your old camp friends, today.

I want to thank my publisher, Marc Giacomelli, of Invisible Books, and the designer, Margaret Jeronimo-Andrews, neither of whom had the good fortune to attend Kvutza, but who worked so hard with me to recapture its spirit and legacy in these pages.

A special thanks goes out to my Aunt Razy Stolberg, who helped make the arrangements here today and who led the way to Camp Kvutza for my sister Lori and I those many years ago.  

I especially want to thank my husband, Alan, who is my inspiration in all things creative, who has encouraged me all the 45 years we have shared all my endeavours, from the kitchen to the classroom to the keyboard.

And, of course, my little sister, Lori, to whom the book is dedicated....
For always being by my side, in my face, in my head and in my corner.  
Without her enthusiasm and encouragement, this book and this event, would never have happened.
On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank her.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you "Kvutzaniks" who encouraged me to put this into book form, who sent in their pictures and stories to enhance the collection in these pages, and who've come out here today to reunite and celebrate together.

For future news about the book and all things KVUTZA, go to  
Feel free to leave comments and news on this or that blog.

To get in touch for orders, please email:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Remembering Camp Kvutza 1944-65" is here!

If anybody is wondering where I have disappeared to all month, I've been very busy putting the finishing touches to my new book, "Remembering Camp Kvutza 1944-1965".  It's fresh from the printer and will be "launched" tomorrow at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue, up in Bathurst Manor, off Wilmington.  Everyone is welcome, lots of cookies and coffee, Kvutza alumni, friends and relatives will join in for an afternoon of fun.

There will be lots of Kleenex, for those who get emotional when celebrating their past!

Come and join in the fun, pick up a copy and get together with old friends for an hour or two.  If you can't make it and would like a copy of the book, just contact me at
and we can make arrangements for pickup, delivery or mailing.
Copies are flying off to Florida, California, Bloomington, Edmonton and Detroit already!  

We Kvutzaniks are far flung!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fickle Finger of Fate

I may be getting too old to be shocked, but Miley's desperate attempt to gain attention during a live production when, as we are warned at every opportunity, "anything can happen" was pretty mild when compared to some of the escapades I've seen on TV in my day.  

Even before the MTV video awards came on the scene, with their Madonna-Brittany smooches, Lady Gaga meat dresses and plunging JLO necklines, artists managed to  astound the stodgy masses with their antics, especially in the nether regions.  'Twerking' is today's 'Dirty Dancing'.  It doesn't look half as sexy or enjoyable when performed by the juvenile Miss Cyrus as the gyrations of the lusty dance crew in the popular movie.  The reaction to her 'moves' don't really seem that provocative when compared to the continental panic that ensued when Elvis made his debut on Ed Sullivan and the cameras had to cut 'The Pelvis' off, way above the knees, so to speak.  (I remember straining in vain, to see, on my 17" black and white and very blurry Sylvania, what the girls in the TV audience were collapsing over).  

A few years later, while the Beatles innocently bobbed their mop-tops up and down to "She Loves You", Mick Jagger was flaunting a codpiece full enough to make Anthony Weiner shrivel with envy, as he pranced around the stage complaining about not getting "Satisfaction"!

Did we all survive?  Somehow.

Janet's nip-slip, Madonna writhing on the floor in a pointy bra...can any of this compare to the shockwave that ran through the art world when Manet thrust his "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" on an unsuspecting public in 1862? I doubt it.

All the ranting and raving going on last week on everything from "Entertainment Tonight" to "Morning Joe" served only to emphasize, in the words of Peter Allen, "that everything old is new again".

Yes, those who don't remember history are condemned to be shocked, over and over, by the same old thing....after all, a tush waving in the air is really nothing new.

Just go to the zoo in the Spring.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

More Glass Houses

Original price: $155,000
Sitting here in my old rocking chair, thinking back to the old days, (notice I did not say "good old days") I am reminded of the sensation we caused among our elders when we considered purchasing our very first house.

"$39,000!!!! For a mutual driveway? Are you out of your minds?"

The house was a gracious Tudor side entry, centre-hall home, on a large pie-shaped lot framed by mature trees, just north-east of Yonge and Eglinton.  During our first visit, we had to step over the weeping, prostrate body of the young wife of the owner, who was chaining herself to the oak bannister in a pathetic attempt to discourage her husband from accepting the sudden transfer he was offered by his employer.  It seems they had just finished renovating and decorating their dream home and now, as fate would have it, they had to abandon ship, to mix a metaphor, and be on their way to a new life, in a galaxy far, far away.  They had to move quickly and so they had to 'give the house away', the agent confided.  It was perfect, except for that mutual driveway.

All we needed, honest-to-god, was $5000 down and we'd qualify for a mortgage.  But then, we'd have to suffer a lifetime of aggravation over the driveway, we were counselled.  

We were at the start of our first housing bubble, in the early 1970's, when prices were increasing by the thousands on a daily basis.  I don't want to make my younger readers weep, but this was when you could pick up a typical Toronto square plan, three bedroom, detached brick house in Upper Forest Hill Village for about $30,000.  With $5-10,000 down, it would carry like rent.  One couple we knew had just bought a home like this for $29,000 a few weeks before.  However, other friends, who had been reluctant to buy a lovely mansion for $50,000 because it was too big for a starter home, soon had to fork over $75,000 for something considerably smaller.

The pressure was on.

The question, the previous year, would have been,
"Why would you bother?"

In those days, there was no hurry to get into a house.
There was an order to the universe.  First things, first.
Remember that old taunt?
"First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes (insert your name here) with a baby carriage."

In between marriage, closer to carriage, came the appropriate time to consider looking for a home.
It wasn't about the money, just the responsibility.

We had moved into duplexes or exciting new dwellings called 'high rises' and we lived on one income, banking the second for a down payment sometime in the future.  (I use the term 'we' rather cavalierly, since the gamut ran from those who barely survived on two incomes to those who would never have to worry about a downpayment, given their family circumstances).  Some took wedding gift money or even money allocated for weddings to 'put down' on a house.  The point is, nobody worried too much about housing.  Prices were stable and fairly reasonable in that rent-to-purchase ratio we keep hearing about.  The one that no longer makes sense.

Then, all of a sudden, things went crazy.

It had something to do with the baby boom....didn't everything?  And because it was the first time in human memory this demand had so outstripped supply, those with the longest memories, our parents, thought the whole thing was an aberration and would soon blow over.

They counselled caution.
They were wrong.
They said we'd be sorry if we even considered a mutual driveway.
They were wrong again.
Within a year, we were paying double the amount that would have bought that dream house in North Toronto for a much smaller townhouse in far-flung Thornhill.  (And, of course, that lovely house we passed up is now worth well over a million dollars).

Since then, we've been through several 'booms' and 'bubbles'.  We've seen friends put their homes on the market for $800,000 and watch the value plummet to $400,000 by the time they could unload.  We've known people who tried to play the rising market by buying high, hanging on in hopes that their present domicile would rise enough to narrow the gap by closing time, only to have to walk away from everything when the tide turned.  We've had mortgages at 10% and even knew people who had to finance a first mortgage at 14%.

So I am in a quandry.  Am I suffering from that same 'old tyme thinking' of my parents' generation when I think house prices are insanely inflated and young people will be sorry if they buy into this crazy market?  That all hell is going to break loose, yet again?

Or am I prescient and wise?

The articles I read all emphasize the slowdown of sales and the glut of accommodations but there is still a lag in the area of 'price correction'.  If, indeed, home sales in the GTA have "plummeted 50% from the year before" as the Financial Post reported a few months ago, and The Economist reports Canada as topping the list of the "most overvalued housing market IN THE WORLD", can someone please explain why prices are still creeping up?  Does this make sense?  Something is very fishy.

I love the rationale that these properties are really inexpensive compared to world prices.  I guess that works for the international absentee investor, but for me?  Nope!

After all, a cubbyhole in New York, Paris or London is IN NEW YORK, PARIS OR LONDON!

See what I mean about not making sense?

I am haunted by those images of empty cities and shopping malls, in China, rebroadcast on 60 Minutes last week, when Leslie Stahl toured these monuments to speculative greed.  Unlike ancient cities, left abandoned by war or pestilence, these places have never known human occupation. Nor are they likely to.  Their owners are still waiting to collect.

As for now, I think I'll avoid the Yorkville area for awhile until they crazy-glue those beautiful, shimmery glass panels back in place at the Four Seasons.

Call me 'Chicken Little', but don't say I didn't warn you that the sky was falling!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It Takes a Glass Condo to Fall on Them

From The National Post, 21/8/13
A falling pane of glass from the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Tuesday caused minor damage to two high-end vehicles, and prompted the temporary closure of Yorkville Avenue. The glass fell from the 53rd floor around 10 a.m., smashing onto the pavement below. No injuries were reported.  Toronto police were investigating what might have caused the falling glass, the latest in a string of such incidents in the city core. A number of other falling-glass occurrences in recent months have prompted safety questions, legal action and new provincial building-code rules.

A while back, before what is nostalgically referred to as 'the housing crisis' in our neighbour to the south...and come to think of the British Isles and the European nations, and everywhere else that the banks weren't regulated, I ran around like 'Chicken Little' warning everyone that doom was imminent. I got this impression from the TV shows I was watching at the time.  For their escapist value, I was wallowing in various HGTV programs that showed couples with no savings, no assets, and occasionally, no jobs, expressing keen disappointment that the palaces they were checking out didn't have granite countertops in the designer kitchens, double sinks in the master spa bathroom or 'man caves' in the basement..... whatever those are.

(Are they what we used to call Rec Rooms?)

It just seemed to defy common sense that so many people were buying houses with no money down.... Without establishing what we used to call 'equity'.

The hostesses of these programs would say such ridiculous things as:
"Let's see....You have a golden retriever, so you need a large yard, three kids who need a safe cul de sac and good schools, you have no money down, you've been approved for $500,000 by the bank and the government is kicking in another $50,000, so you can offer $750,000 for this shack!"
Or something like that.

Then the couple would sneer at the size of the chandelier or the colour of the walls in the 'great room' and go on to look for something even more expensive.  Something slightly 'over their budget'.

And I would shake my head with chagrin.

The novelty that attracted me to these shows has worn off, so I don't watch them much anymore, but lately when I do flip by, I notice that a lot of the houses that people WITH jobs are inspecting are empty shells and need to be bought from the bank on something called a 'forced sale'.

Hmmm.  They don't like to use the nasty word 'foreclosure' on TV.
(I'm surprised no one has come up with a series that follows the former owners as they wander from relatives to motels to the streets for survival.  Sounds like a natural).

All this is to say that I was right to be skeptical.  And now, I wish to add my voice to the doomsayers who are grumbling about the condo market in our city.  Call me Cassandra, if you like, but it just doesn't make common sense to me that it's a good idea for our city to have so many buildings filled with tiny units, bought up by people from very far away as 'investments', who have no intention of living in them, but are hoping to flip them at a profit either before or right after closing.

This ranks pretty high on my personal list of list of impending disasters for everyone involved.  Although the shabby building standards which result in falling windows from brand new luxury buildings is, admittedly, something new for me to worry about, I've witnessed several real estate crashes in my lifetime, so the possibility of the sudden evaporation of nest-egg equity is not so far-fetched to me as it seems to be to many others.

I also suffer from the misfortune of having had a pretty good liberal arts education which included a brief mention of the Dutch tulip bulb bubble of 1637.  I am a big fan of tulips, especially after a recent visit to the annual spring celebration of the flower in Keukenhof, Holland, where you can wander among acres of tulip beds to your heart's content, but if I were living in 17th C. Europe, I don't think I'd have thought it was a good idea to spend over $1000 on one bulb.  I would have been right then, and I think I might be right about this little bubble now.

I have lots of concerns.  All of them founded on experience.

I, myself, have lived in three, count 'em, three, condos in my tenure here on the planet, so I know a little whereof I speak.  While it's true, my experience is limited to townhouse developments, the arrangements are pretty much similar to high rise units.  Condos are run by relatively active member-elected boards and 'managed' by companies who are just recently being regulated and whose 'managers' are finally being required to be certified.  I've been very lucky in that department, but others I know of, not so much.  There have been recent reports of boards deciding to cut costs by closing perks like pools, or, at the other extreme, assessing owners for lavish lobby upgrades.  Some are too lax, others, too fascistic.  You never know.

Condo developments are not just tall buildings.  They are communities, if you will.  And communities are made up of people.  People who live there and make important decisions about matters, like what to do with the often exorbitant 'fees' that are collected each month, if they are, indeed, collected.

It's sometimes difficult to get them from absentee or bankrupt owners and investors (just ask people who own condos in Florida after the recent upheavals).  And then, what?

Resident owners take care of things, and watch out for each other and the kids, if there are any.  Absentee owners don't really care too much about the day-to-day operations.  If they decide to rent their units, and they don't actually reside in town, they must hand off this chore to others with little interest in the process past their commission.  (They might even discover a rental agent has been renting out units without the owner's knowledge, pocketing the money. It happens).

How would you like to find a drug den or grow-op in the unit next to yours?

Possibly even worse, I once looked at a unit in new luxury building on a floor that had recently 'opened up' for sale because the private boys' school across the street had reneged on its deal to buy two floors for student residences.  I didn't notice this arrangement outlined in the fancy sales brochure when I first looked at the building.  Two floors of 'dormed' male high school kids in a luxury condo.
Sounds like such a good idea!

If absentee owners decide to hang in there and not rent out their properties, well, the thought of living in a 'ghost' building has little appeal to me. If you think I exaggerate, let me tell you that there are quite a few buildings I've been keeping an eye on in my area and I don't think many of the units are actually occupied.  How do I know?  Well, when month after month there are very few lights on in most of the windows in the evenings, it strongly suggests either the occupants are fanatical conservationists or, more likely, "the lights are off because nobody's home."

The residents can't all be in Florida.  In August.

(For your enjoyment, I am using the popular technique, employed by the mainstream media, of illustrating depressing content with gorgeous pictures, so you won't notice the negative message).  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Members Only

It doesn't matter anymore to whom this missive was addressed when I sent it last year.  He or she is probably long-gone in the routine housecleaning that occurs in such underfunded cultural organizations.  If not, then it's even more disconcerting, since there was never any acknowledgement of this effort on my part to improve the world, one institution at a time, so whoever received it, obviously disregarded it as the ravings of a curmudgeonette of no importance.  Probably true. However, I subsequently declined to renew my  annual membership, in spite of numerous harassing 'membership campaign' phone calls promising me the moon.  Sadly, at this point in my pensioned-off life, I have to be selective about which organizations I favour with my measly donations.  I don't like to encourage this kind of tackiness.

Your email address is given at the bottom of the page about the Norma Ridley Members' Lounge, so I am writing directly to you about a couple of concerns that surfaced today during a visit at lunch time.  If you are not the individual to address these issues, please pass this information along to the correct person.

As a longtime member, it has been my experience that the food is delicious and the servers delightful, but I feel it is important to let someone know about these details so the lounge can live up to the standard we all expect from a 'retreat' that is touted as being a significant enticement to membership at a leading national art gallery. 

My friend and I arrived just before the rush so had a choice of tables, ALL of which were covered in a film of dust, which shows up easily on black surfaces.  At no time during our visit were any of the tables wiped down.  Surely, someone should dust the tables in anticipation of the lunch hour.  

(In a more creative mood, I might have been tempted to draw a little picture with my finger, to make the point.)

We sat by the large window which looks out at the park ....or it would, if the window was clean and transparent.  It was filthy and streaky.  Rather unsettling.  I remember it was like that when I visited in the fall.  Since it is at ground floor level, it would be a simple matter to have someone in maintenance take swipe at it once in awhile.  I know there are financial problems all around, but surely, letting the building deteriorate so visibly cannot be a good idea.

While we dined, many other members wandered through the now-filled room, looking for places to sit, to no avail.  There was no hostess to welcome them and show them to a seat, or politely ask them to wait in the lobby area for availability.  Instead, they moseyed around, checking out who might possibly be asking for their bill.  Some hovered impatiently over people still eating, staking their claims.  Very disorganized and unsettling, again.

The biggest disappointment may sound trivial, but is just another indication that standards have plummeted from the days when the Members' Lounge was a haven for refinement and elegance, a place to feel special.  My late, elegant Aunt Nettie, who was from Montreal, and hence a mavenette in such matters, and who often liked to visit the M.L. for tea on her many visits, is probably spinning in her velvet casket over this infraction:

I ordered tea and was served a cup of lukewarm water with a tea bag floating in it!

In all my days (and there have been many), I have never been served good quality tea in such a way.  (I assume it is good quality, since it costs $3 and is stuffed in a silken bag!  I don't know who was more offended, me or the fancy tea bag!) 

As any old Canadian who has seen a Red Rose TV plug knows, good tea needs to steep.  In a teapot of boiling water!  It used to be done this way, in the old M.L., to my recollection.  I asked my friends and they concur.  You used to serve it in little china teapots with matching china cups on little trays.  Very classy!

Members' Lounges in aspirational Canadian public institutions should be ashamed of themselves for slinging tea at its members as if they are at a food court in a mall.  You might as well abandon the porcelain and just plunk a paper cup on your dusty tables!  

Even Timmy's steeps tea!

This member is not feeling so special.  

If you continue to let the lounge deteriorate, it can hardly be held up as a perk (excuse me) for membership.

On another point, you might want to consider using the immediate outdoor patio area for a lovely al fresco dining area in the warmer weather....the way they do at the Rodin Museum in Paris, for example.  It seems a shame not to take advantage of its accessibility and proximity to the lounge area.  

It would be a great incentive for membership, especially if you brought out your old china tea pots and wiped off the black tables once in a while!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To Market, To Market

The South Market
The St. Lawrence Market, on Front Street, in downtown Toronto, is a relic from the past, in a city that has no sentimental attachments to its history.
It's a good thing Toronto isn't Paris or Rome, or even Montreal, or there'd be no more Eiffel Tower, Colossium or Vieux-Ville.

In their place there would be 82-storey condos.

The North Market

The 'Market' has been clinging to life for decades, as everything around it has been demolished, developed and gentrified, to the extent that it has now become a 'landmark', an actual enhancement for a new generation which values what it offers: the novelty of produce which has a passing acquaintance with the earth and the people who till it.  

There is definitely a revitalization of the old phenomenon known as  'Farmers' Markets' in our city.  It has resulted in several new versions opening up in various repurposed venues around town, like 'The Brickworks' along the Bayview extension and 'The Art Barns' at St. Clair and Christie.  


There are also Farmers' Markets which pop up all around the city, in summer, in assorted civic and church parking lots where agricultural entrepreneurs set up produce stands on predesignated days, each week, in case you prefer local, fresh-picked fruits and veggies to the plastic-encased, hormonally enhanced versions shipped to supermarket chains from agribusiness plantations south of the border, or, depending on the season, south of the equator.  

Here is the lovely "Rose" and her beautiful, hard-working daughter, Lena, from Bowmanville Farms, proffering their Niagara peaches and plums at the little pop-up market across from my house on Tuesdays.  Samples are cut up and set around on plates tempting you to load up on different varieties of tomatoes or beans, just to compare.  

How can I resist the elegant ruffles of the emerald kale?  
I have no idea what to do with it, of course.  Kale, as far as I know it, is a 'new food' and has never came up in any of my cookbooks before.  
Julia, Marcella, kale.  Did Lillian Kaplan know from kale?  
I can't find a recipe in 'Second Helpings' either.

What am I going to do with all the ruby radishes I couldn't resist?  How much 'farmer's salad' can a family consume?  

(Farmer's salad, or 'smetannik' for those of you not raised on this Jewish staple, is a mixture of Daiter's cottage cheese, sour cream, chopped scallions and radishes and whatever else you want to 'shit arein' ...Yiddish for throw in)

I've been going to markets for years, on and off.  I even make it my business to visit food markets wherever I travel.  A wooden table covered with boxes of zucchini blossoms or baby pink radishes with white tips is as exciting a sight to me as the Duomo.  (Well, maybe not quite, but almost.)

Veggie stand in Lerici, Italy (sigh!)

So it was of interest to me to learn that our very own St. Lawrence Market, the one I've been shopping at for decades, has officially been recognized as one of the best markets in the whole wide world!  I'm not sure who counted the votes, but I'm inclined to believe the propaganda.  It's certainly the most fun. Perhaps this international recognition will spare it from the developers for a few more years.

We try to pop down at least one Saturday morning a month, to stock up on fresh food and market specialties, but mostly it's for the entire aesthetic experience. Winter or summer, there's nothing like it. 

Free Samples

Everyone is friendly and personal, unlike the cranky or, at best, indifferent chain supermarket employees I've encountered my entire life.       

We begin with steaming cups of cappuccino from Pasta Mia on the lower level opposite the huge Stonemill Bakery.  Here's where we often sit and enjoy breakfast with friends and their kiddies, if we can wrangle enough chairs to cram around a little table.

My husband holds out for the "breakfast on a bun" offered to the line of eager patrons upstairs at "The Carousel" bakery.  This treat consists of fried eggs and melted cheese atop a pile of pea meal bacon encased in a fluffy bun.  A market special, it's available all week and was a big favourite with the police reinforcements during the G20 Conference.                                                                                                                                                                  

We cross over Front Street to the North Farmer's Market, where seasonal produce is flaunted on outdoor stands surrounding the building. The grocers in the South Market will tell you, even if you don't ask, that the 'farmers' aren't all that genuine and they get their veggies from the same sources as the regular, full-time vendors in the old market on the south side! (Who, by the way, have to pay a higher rent for their stalls!)  I don't like to get in the middle of this....I'm an equal opportunity shopper.

We grab a number at "El Gaucho" and wait our turn to select from their amazing array of fresh sausages ( funny stuff-ing!)  While we wait, we sample the merchandise, slivers of fresh cooked sausages, piled high on the counter.

A sweet potato muffin at the next table and then, in early summer, we grab a bouquet of spikey delphiniums or later on, in August, gigantic dahlias. from the Mennonite farmer at the next table.  By 10 am., he's sold out. In winter, he features many varieties of potatoes. Out of the earth, not plastic bags!  With mud still on them. In fall, if you catch him on the right Saturday, he has a stash of freshly plucked Muscovy ducks in his van, on Jarvis, which you can score, if you happen to know to ask about them.  

There's something very appealing about the whole thing, especially in mid-summer, when the fruit starts piling up from the Niagara orchards. The 'melon lady' offers free samples. I dare you to resist her overpriced cantaloupes!  Berries spill out of boxes, sunflowers brighten up the sidewalks.

Crossing back over, we are offered a free newspaper and make a donation to the street folks who graciously hold open doors for the heavily burdened customers.

We buy our seafood and fish and glorious hand-sliced smoked salmon from the guys at Mike's.  They'll make suggestions, kibbitz around a bit and vacuum pack your purchases if you want to freeze them.

See what I mean about happy?  (Try this with the checkout lady at offense....but really.  After 40 years of patronage, couldn't someone, anyone, ever give me a hello?)  This team is what makes shopping here such a terrific experience.

It's over to Scheffler's Deli for sliced meats and olives and a few slivers of prosciutto di Parma, offered up in dainty paper cups as tempting samples for grazers.  

Specialty olive oils and vinegars, cheeses and wonderful tapenade, artichoke and asiago dip and, of course, the ever-popular 'la bomba' sit in huge tubs ready for scooping.

Olives and antipasto fill the tubs around the entrance.  Juggling your purchases while you reach up high for the plastic containers for the food is an acquired skill.  At this point, I am definitely glad I travel with my very own 'shlepper'....he has very long arms after a morning of shopping at The Market.  For some reason, we've never invested in a cart. He's such a good sport!

If we need something very special in the meat and fowl category, we like to pop over to Whitehouse where they have everything. 
I haven't had the guts to try the Kangaroo or Camel, but Bison is pretty good.

Sometimes they even give us free veal bones for our stock making. 
Great stuff! 
Great woman in charge and hilarious guys who work for her. 
But order your holiday turkeys in advance!  The lineups can get pretty daunting come Thanksgiving or Christmas.
 Kozlick's array of mustards lures my husband for a taste....always something yummy to dip with the little pretzel sticks or cubes of ham they proffer.

We like to buy our produce downstairs at Phil's. In spring, he stocks fiddleheads and ramps. Everything is super fresh and fairly reasonable for the market. It's not a bargain kind of place but you feel you are getting good value. 

But I'm not married to Phil.  Upstairs, at Golden Orchard Fine Foods, they feature wonderful organic produce, including the world's very best sweet corn, available for just a couple of weeks in August.  (That's how you know it's freshest).  

Grown right here in Ontari-ari-ari-o!

Before we go, I check out Rube's where I stock up on rice and many varieties to choose from, scooped into paper baggies and weighed.  The old gent just passed away this year and is missed by all. You get to know the people who work there, and, best of all, they get to know you.  Talk about 'interactive'!

Of course, there are many other purveyors, too many to list.  You can't go too wrong.  You can skip the cooking altogether and just pick up Churrasco chicken, barbecued pork, chilli, fresh pasta, cheeses from all over the world and breads from every ethnicity.  

And then there's the music!  String quartets, jazz saxophonists, a kid with a guitar and big dreams, Peruvian wind bands and folk singers, among many others, encourage the kiddies  to erupt into spontaneous dancing.  Me too, sometimes.

I love The Market.  It's a party.  
Everything I buy there looks and tastes incredible.  Everyone smiles.  

It's my happy place.

Do you have any favourites?

TIP 1:  Sat. Mornings, early, are best for selection and room to move. The place gets crowded by 10:30 am and can be difficult to navigate, but it's still lots of fun. Parking gets tricky, too, especially since all the surrounding parking lots have been usurped by developers and turned into condos.  You can usually find a spot in a parking garage around the edges.

TIP 2: If you like a bargain, shop later in the day. Around 2:30 pm they start to pack it in and lower the prices on fresh food just to get rid of it. Especially the seafood. The market is closed on Sun. And Mon. so they can't leave it lying around.  Nobody wants old fish!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Past My Bedtime

The other day, my husband broke all the long-established patterns of our social life and booked a reservation, ON HIS OWN, without asking me...that is, independently, without consultation with the CEO of our little outfit...that is to say, moi.

The Great Deferrer displaced the Great Decider.

It seems he had an overwhelming urge to set foot out of the house, after dark, to attend a lively evening at the good ol' Horseshoe Tavern in beautiful downtown Toronto...well, at Queen and Spadina.  The 'Shoe', as it is affectionately known to its many fans (among which I am not regularly numbered) is a rundown, albeit 'legendary' venue which features touring live entertainment on a tiny stage at the end of a large open room, half of which has scattered tables and stools, the other half, ample standing room in which to sway to the music while clinging to your beverage of choice. The room is painted black, and it's just as well.  You wouldn't want to see anything stuck to the floor, walls or tables, believe me.  The ductwork on the ceiling emits gusts of freezing air over the crowd, in an effort, I suppose, to moderate the 'hot time' enjoyed by all as the evening progresses.

What lured my sweetie out past our usual hunkering-down time, was the rare appearance in these-here parts of one Pokey LeFarge and his band.  He'd seen him on Letterman a few days previous, and was enchanted, so it just seemed like fate that he was passing through our little town so soon after.

I agreed to gussy-up and accompany him, even though, with a little research, I discovered, to my chagrin, that good ol' Pokey was preceded by no less than two warmup acts, which put his appearance somewhere around 11:30 PM.....way past the time I usually 'hit the hay'.  Had I researched a little more, I would have also discovered that 'gussying-up' was not a requirement.... unless you consider plaid shirts and jeans that can stand by themselves, 'party-wear'!

Wending and cursing our way downtown, through the road closures and detours customary in Toronto in the summer, we arrived early, at 9:30 pm.  We flourished our print-at-home tickets and got our hands stamped (in case we wanted to go out for a smoke, I guess).  We were just in time to enjoy the opening act, Miss Kayla Howran, a lovely young cowgirl from Peterborough.  She seemed to me to be as good, if not a lot better than most vocalists of this genre, capably strumming her "gee-tar" and wailing her broken heart out for a very entertaining hour.  (In Country and Western, the heart is always breaking or broken, it seems).  She was followed by a group called, "The Millwinders", who had lots of fans and family present to cheer on their enthusiastic and energetic set.  Their musicianship was terrific and they took turns singing wonderful songs that set our toes a-tappin'.

We were 'warmed up'.

While all this was going on, we found ourselves shifting our seats periodically.  Just like in a Jackie Mason routine, the first spot we chose was way too drafty.  The freezing air blew down from the overhead exposed ductwork like the tornado in "The Wizard of Oz", so we moved back a bit and perched on a couple of tiny stools which offered an excellent view of the stage.  Not for long, however.  Three of the biggest fellas you ever did see soon took seats at the table in front of us, obliterating any view of the goings-on, so we shuffled back and over a bit and joined a table of other fogies who were happy for the age-appropriate company.

"Do you come here often?" I actually asked the woman, who didn't get it, but replied that this was their first time at The Horseshoe.  They, too, were groupies of the previously mentioned Pokey-man.

"Last time he was in town," she offered, "there were only 32 people in the audience.  Now there's a big crowd."

(Chalk it up to YouTube)

By the time the headliners came out, the place was jammed with young'uns, all standing up around the stage, so we had to perch on the tables in order to catch a glimpse of the action.  My back and backside were, by this time, begging for upholstery. The crowd 'went wild', as they say on such occasions, and Pokey and the band were still regaling them with their original renditions when my husband turned to me, at 1 AM, and re-establishing the order of the universe, said, deferentially,

"If you want to go, it's ok by me."
We went.

"Boy, that took me back twenty years!" he said, as we shuffled our paralyzed tushes out past all the guys and gals playing pool and hugging the bar at the front of the place, through the crowd huddling over their smokes outside the entrance, towards our handicapped parking spot just down the street.

"Twenty?" I replied.
"More like FIFTY!"

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Form Trumps Function - Origin North

Just got home from a delightful get together with my 'girls' at the new place to be in Bayview Village...'Origin North' (to distinguish it from all the other Origins that exist in different directions in this city, I guess).  We have whined and dined on that very spot in the suburban parking lot in no fewer than two other restaurants, over the years, both of which have been demolished to make way for this modern new shrine to upscale eating.  It's probably just as well, since no one wants to visit a buffet laden with cold salads and tuna pasta anymore, although one of my friends was kind of addicted to a melange they featured called, 'Ambrosia' in which Kraft miniature marshmallows are folded into cubes of brightly coloured Jello, whipped topping and canned fruit.  
(There are still many recipes for this online if you feel nostalgic for the Old South).

There's no Ambrosia at Origin North.  It's all new food, which is to say, tiny bits of edible matter formed into elegant sculptural forms presented on geometric white plates as, they suggest, 'kind of tapas for sharing'.  This is all the rage in Toronto these days.....the opportunity to order several dishes and sample a range of goodies among friends and associates.  

Now the logical supposition is that if the intention is to share dishes, then the portions should be sufficient enough to give everyone at least a bite, but logic is not the guiding principle here.  So be warned, if you should decide to go, that you do have to order several dishes to constitute what used to be considered a meal.  Everything is pretty and tasty but very expensive, given the ingredients and amounts.  

Perhaps I should have stated my dining prejudices at the outset.  The generosity and abundance typical of an Italian or Chinese meal, platters laden with fresh, high quality vegetables and delicious seafood and meats, is what I enjoy the most about eating in or out.  I was brought up on Jewish cooking, with its tendency to 'gedempt' (ie. overcook) everything.  No dinner plate was complete without at least three brownish items.  I didn't know vegetables could be green till I was 20!   Newly married, celebrating domesticity as a creative outlet, I quickly cottoned on to the delicacy of French cuisine as soon as I got my hands on Julia's premiere tome.  Long before "Julie and Julia", and, come to think of it, blogging, I cooked my way through 'Mastering the Art' and the Time-Life series of international cookbooks. 
My dinner parties were a hot invite.  I've never turned back.

It seems to me that this new concept of toy food is designed, in more ways than one, for what we used to call 'picky eaters'.  

For example, call me old fashioned, but I cannot live without a carb or two in my life, so I judge a restaurant, in part, by the quality of the bread it serves.  When we asked for some bread at Origin, four slim, dry slivers of stale baguette arrived, almost as a reproach, two slices with burned grill marks, two unsinged.  Very strange.  No olive oil, no butter....since the restaurant is not exactly Italian, Asian or even North American, I guess it's having an condiment identity crisis.

As suggested, we 'shared' a few of their specialities.  The duck tacos with hoisin and sour cream (two tiny tacos per order) were so-so for anyone who has experienced the wonder of Peking Duck in many of Toronto's Chinese restaurants (that would be me).  Breaded calamari in a mixed slaw with a few chunks of pineapple and strips of ginger were pretty to look at but $15! Have you ever purchased fresh squid?  It's practically free!  The chocolate dessert, a fingerling-sized 'crunch bar', was good, beautifully presented with fresh (but not wild, in-season) blueberries and powdery crunchy stuff scattered on the plate.  (This may be the detritus of the nitrogen-processing now in vogue....we saw a misty demonstration going on for a large business gathering across the room). I think I detected a teaspoon of some pink ice, too, but it was gone in two spoonfuls before my turn came and that was that!

The service was enthusiastic and friendly.  A little too eager, perhaps.  Dishes were removed before people had finished eating.  Several times.  I have a new pet peeve with restaurants.  Plates should not be snatched away while some people at the table are still eating .  Who wants to be the only one left with a half-finished plate in front of them?  I asked our server if she was in a hurry to move our table, even though the restaurant wasn't full?  She disclosed that they were told that lunch diners were in a hurry.....had to get back to work...  

I assured her that after a lifetime of work, we were no longer in a hurry....we were there to enjoy each other's company, so she could take it easy.

Conversation was frustrated by the volume of 'house' music chosen to drown out all attempts at it.  As the room filled, the noise increased to an unpleasant level...our server was forced to scream at us when describing dessert options.  One of our party, a lovely woman who apparently doesn't get out much anymore, commented....a few times, till she was heard,  that it all reminded her of being in a 'disco'.  

The pretty young waitress had no idea what she was talking about.

Did I mention that all the employees were gorgeous?  Even the chefs....who are on full and adorable display.  This is not meant to be a criticism, just an observation.  
Just wondering what the hiring process must be like, though. 

On behalf of my readers, I visited the Ladies Room to inspect the facilities.  I needed to turn on the flashlight App on my iPhone to see where I was going.  (I am nothing if not current and well equipped). My immediate impression was that this room had to have been designed by a man.  (A man with little knowledge a lady's bathroom requirements).  Besides the dim, romantic lighting, there was no place to put your purse near the mirrored wall if you, say, wanted to comb your bangs or apply a little lip gloss. The whimsical trough/fountain, standing sculpturally, in the centre of the room took me right back to Junior High.  Remember those sinks where you have to step on a bar near the floor to generate a little shpritz from a circular spray arm?  And your purse falls off your shoulder into the basin below?  

There is an attractive website and many reviews online, and at various foodie blogs, praising less faintly than mine.  Some diners were more miserable and disappointed than I was, some happier.  I do notice, co-incidentally, that the highest praises are being sung by the fortunate few who acknowledge that they were invited to the 'opening party', where they were plied with abundant food and drinks for free and, therefore, had a more reciprocal obligation to be complimentary.  It is on those sites where you can gape at colourful shots of the various offerings, so I'm not adding pictures today.  

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my telephoto lens.

Besides, with a quartet of hungry diners, there wasn't enough time to position a camera before the plates were cleaned!  (And whisked away!)