Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A while back I shot a series of photos for Meezy & Co., the Toronto company that bought the Canadian rights to the super-classic Salt Water Sandal line.  After shooting the pictures, I was asked to design the lookbook too.  As a photographer, it's very nice to handle your own images, so I was happy to do the job and to spend a little more time with the adorable model, Mia.

Take a peek and get ready to outfit all your cutest little ones in these preppy and timeless shoes when they hit Canadian stores in the New Year.  (Hey Americans, you can snag some now at J. Crew!)

And guess what!  The generous folks at Meezy & Co. want you to win a pair!  It's a giveaway!  There must be a little girl or boy in your life (yes, fashionable boys can pull off certain colours and styles!) who will need a pair of washable, waterproof, all-terrain shoes!  I know it's hard to think of sandals right now, but you'll thank me later.

TO ENTER Post a comment here on the blog. For a bonus entry, follow my Twitter and tweet me something about this post with the hashtag #saltwatercanada.  (Contest closes January 15, 2010 at 6pm EST.)  Thanks for entering!

Check out the website for all of the models and images!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Last night my colleagues and I shared a bi-annual tradition: a fancy-pants dinner at a terrific Toronto restaurant.  This night we chose one of the few 4-stars in town: Mark McEwan's North 44 )°.  

You may remember our summer outing to another in his empire, One.  While not altogether dissimilar, North 44 is the original in his pack, and more formal than the others.  A bit old school (catering to a certain set who live in the neighbourhood) it could be fussy, but isn't.  The service is warm and malleable, appropriate for the old money as well as the new kids on the block. Esther, our gorgeous server, grew increasingly hilarious as the night (and booze) flowed.  At the end of our meal she heard us talking about the smoking-hot chef de cuisine in the open-kitchen behind us, and before we knew it, she was prancing proudly toward us, leading Handsome William to our table.  Jesus.  We were all afluster as he stood there, politely asking about our meal.  Turns out he was working the grill, and (with cocktails, wine, port, and scotch coarsing through my veins) it was all I could do not to thank him for his gorgeous meat.  

I was, for once, tight-lipped and demure.  

North 44 )° Caters (the restaurant's off-shoot featured on The Food Network's The Heat with Mark McEwan) is a favourite among the people who rent our venue for weddings and high-end events, so Executive Chef Sash Simpson is a bit of a regular around here.  After taking great care of us for dinner (sending out a throng of oysters, shrimp, duck confit, and an array of desserts between courses) he sat and had a beer as the kitchen geared-down.  He's about as interesting a guy as you can find, his rapid rise through the culinary world fascinating.

He was adopted out of an Indian orphanage at seven and is now one of thirty-two children in his family.  He told us about being a troublemaker in high school, soon dragged into the principal's office where the threat of calling his mother fell flat. Sash warned him not to bother.  He knew she saw bigger things in him and that some class-clowning was hardly worth worrying about.  No woman who adopts that many children sweats the small stuff.  

So, at 15 he started working in a restaurant, climbing the ranks from dishwasher to busboy and eventually found himself in the kitchen.  Barely 30, he's got to be one of the youngest (not to mention entirely untrained) Executive Chefs on the planet.  A beautiful dinner became super-special with this chat.  While we see Sash all the time, it's nice to see him in his element, running the most relaxed kitchen I've ever seen.  We were surprised and impressed to find out that, aside from the full dining room we enjoyed, there was a party of 50 upstairs ordering à la carte.  The sign of a well-run operation, not a single moment of chaos to be seen.

Conditions for photography were abysmal, so you'll have to imagine, but the meal was pitch-perfect.  Sash's food is fairly traditional, not gimmicky at all, which is, of course, how I like it.  Simple, perfectly-executed, and of the highest quality.  

I started with the roasted heirloom beet salad with mâche and the most-beautiful little goat cheese samosas.  Fresh and hearty.  After enjoying Sash's generous deliveries (the duck confit polenta and the tempura rock shrimp with chipotle-yuzu aioli and crispy parsnip shavings were out. of. this. world. ) I moved onto the beef tenderloin, topped with braised short rib, served with potato rosti and green beans.  I'm a sucker for tenderloin, as you know, so it's my usual go-to for a first-visit. And Handsome William nailed it.  (You can say that again.)  My friends were happy to share, so I happen to know the grilled branzino with herbed potatoes and swiss chard, the roasted lamb rack with braised lamb shank croquette and sweet peas, and the bison were immaculate

Dessert didn't disappoint: Butterscotch Pudding Profiteroles.  OMFG.  Perfect little pastry nuggets filled with the finest pudding I've ever tasted.  There are no words.

Thanks to Sash and Handsome William and Beautiful Esther for one of those great, great dinner experiences.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I love this wheel of seasonal vegetables so much.  Click to enlarge the pretty and meticulous cycle of produce made by the clever Italians at ToDo.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December: 'Tis the season for many things, not the least of which is the glut of social engagements we're all slated to enjoy. And while seasonal music is nice, it gets a bit tedious, and sometimes a break is needed while hosting a party.

Here are songs that pair well with all sorts of booze.  They run the gamut from loungey to full-blown-danceability.  When assembling a playlist for a party, it's important that it starts out a little slowly.  There's nothing more jarring than being an early-arriver to a party, only to be blasted with a too-big-song.  Ease into the festivities with something a little more restrained, then ramp it up.  Oh, and every playlist needs a few old school hits (SEE: Tina Turner's "Steel Claw".  Amazing.)


1. Ensure nary a glass runs dry.
2. Put out a pitcher of water and some small tumblers so people can self-serve a glass without having to endure the shame of asking for water at a cocktail party.
3. Lighting, lighting, lighting.
4. Intercept new friends and introduce with thoughtful details (Thanks, Bridget.)
5. If you're over the age of 30, "BYOB" has no place on your invite.

1. Never come empty-handed. Wine is nice, but not if it costs less than $12 or can be found on the list of your local hole-in-the-wall pub.  Your hosts likely spent hundreds of dollars on this shindig: Bring something decent.  
2. Don't get wasted and start playing bartender.  Nobody cares about your gross concoctions.
3. Same goes for DJ'ing.  Have your own party.
4. And know when to leave.

(These rules do not apply to anyone who is under 25 or a full-time student.  These rules also do not apply if you're a guest in the host's home more than 5 times annually.  And check out more tips to being a good guest from an old post, August 2008.)

Songs for Winter Cocktailing

  1. The First Taste - Fiona Apple
  2. Valerie - Amy Winehouse
  3. Wanna Be Loved - Jill Scott
  4. Could Have Been You - Joss Stone
  5. Speak Low (Bent Remix) - Billie Holiday
  6. Brothers - Hot Chip
  7. Change of Heart (Rakamonie Remix) - El Perro Del Mar
  8. Dear Miami - Roisin Murphy
  9. Lilac Wine (The Album Leaf Remix) - Nina Simone
10. We Dance to the Beat - Robyn
11. And I Was a Boy From School - Hot Chip
12. Clap Your Hands - Sia
13. You Can Dance - Chilly Gonzales
14. Don't Make Me Wait - Jazmine Sullivan
15. Paranoid - Kanye West
16. Heavy Cross - Gossip
17. We're in a Thunderstorm - Gentleman Reg
18. I'm Not Afraid - Jill Scott
19. Criminal Intent - Robyn
20. Alive - Goldfrapp
21. You Know Me Better - Roisin Murphy
22. Listen Up! - Gossip
23. Steel Claw - Tina Turner
24. Love is a Stranger - Eurythmics
25. Head First - Goldfrapp
26. Just One of Those Things (Brazilian Girls Remix) - Blossom Dearie
27. Get Myself Together - Robyn
28. Brave - Kelis

(PS: I've changed the way I host these playlists, so it's a few steps easier now.  Just click the word Download and the file will start comin'atcha.  Again, to retain the order of the songs, drag the contents of the folder into a Playlist you've created in iTunes.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

If it isn't obvious, I'm big into music.

This year there were a few albums that had me, start to finish.  In an increasingly single-focused industry, it's rare to find full-length records that are consistently good.  There was a day when artists released on vinyl, which limited the length to 8 or 10 tracks, meaning they were all pretty solid.  Then CDs came around, which could hold more, so a bad trend started: 20 tracks, half of them bad (SEE: Janet Jackson's 90s catalogue).  Editing and objectivity went out the window and quantity took over quality.  Then people stopped buying music altogether, instead pirating the hottest new singles and forgoing the album-experience.  So then you'd get a CD with one or two good "singles" and a bunch of filler.  Awful.

TOP HONOURS Well, Robyn might be changing the game again.  This year she wrote, recorded and released three mini-albums, all while touring and collaborating with all sorts of people.  Her three-part Body Talk has kept the world's interest for more than half the year, all infectious hooks and plentiful heart, and rolled-out to international acclaim.  She manages to write electronic dance music that sits with you, some unexpected folksy warmth, against all odds.  She often transforms her pop tracks into quiet acoustic versions (SEE: "Hang with Me", Body Talk Pt. 1) which puts them in a different genre altogether.  While her profile increases slowly, I predict she's about to become the Björk of this generation.  Big words, sure, but mark 'em.

Kelis produced one of the most organic hardcore dance albums of the decade.  Most known for her ridiculous song "Milkshake" in 2003, she should not be judged by one track alone.  Flesh Tone is thoughtful and, at an economical 9 tracks, it's restrained and perfect, front to back.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ray LaMontagne's collaboration with his Pariah Dogs on God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise is pure magic.  He produced the entire album, and it shows.  It feels deeply personal and well-tended.  Mark these words: We'll be listening to LaMontagne until we're old, rocking in chairs, remembering our youth.  He's the Johnny Cash of our generation.

A favourite of mine, as you're well aware, is Antony and the Johnsons.  Increasingly prolific, he released his most-recent only 18 months after his wholly magnificent The Crying Light (2009).  I wrote extensively about this year's Swanlights, and suffice it to say, the album hasn't left regular rotation.

Sia's follow-up to 2008's Some People Have Real Problems took it up a notch.  We are Born has the same quirkiness, but with more polish.  Lyrically, she's come leaps and bounds (SEE: The cringe-worthy "Little Black Sandals" from Problems) and apexes on "I'm in Here", a terribly sad song, which gets sadder on the piano-vocal version released later.  Her cover of Madonna's "Oh Father" is, alone, worth the price of the download.

Sade came out of the shadows to release her first album in a decade.  Soldier of Love is straight out of one of my favourite genres, one she herself originated.  80s Drama Rock, as I call it, includes the likes of Sinead O'Connor and Annie Lennox and gets me going in all the right ways.  It's unabashedly emotional and direct.  It pulls no punches and utilizes a lot of synthesizers.  That's not to say Soldier sounds dated: it doesn't.

Laura Marling turned a great corner with the release of I Speak Because I Can.  It's easily the most-mature offering from someone born in the 1990s, ever.  I thoroughly covered it here.

Owen Pallett shifted away from his Final Fantasy moniker this year with a full-length release (Heartland) and an EP, Swedish Love Story.  Both show growth and quirk and everything you might expect from him.  Rich, beautiful strings.  He makes me proud to be Canadian.  "Don't Stop" has been a constant this fall and was featured on a mix I offered in October.  Love.

Sufjan Stevens continues to reign the kooky-indie music world with his various releases this year.  It's hard to find the words to explain his place in music, you just sort of need to dive into it and see for yourself.  His 2010 EP All Delighted People is a great place to start.

Rufus Wainwright's introspective All the Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is as obtuse as its title, in a good way.  Then: Covered it here.  Now: love it more than ever.

Sarah Harmer is a Canadian treasure.  Not only does she fight to maintain its majesty through environmental protection, but she oozes local charm with every word and pluck.  This year's Oh Little Fire is more of the same from her, but it's welcomed and cherished.  I wrote about it here.

And then there are the albums Jeff and I can enjoy together, on long Friday night drives to the cottage, or around the fire when we get there.  Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip, Caribou, Tegan & Sara, Spoon and the Black Keys each released albums he's happy to hear as much as I am. While he's a huge consumer of music and loves what he loves, we certainly have differing tastes.  He makes many references to my "lesbian music" and really can't stand most of it.  I've learned to ignore his judgment and sit proudly in the comfort of my own good taste.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A few days ago Natasha and I shared a special afternoon.  We both had the day off, so we went to the market to see what might inspire us.  Would it be fish or a roast, perhaps pasta?  Thinking back on the gorgeous meal I had at The Harbord Room, we knew what it would be: meatballs with miniature gnocchi in tomato and red wine sauce.

It was comforting and warm, hearty and filling.  Filled with pistachios and currants and served with a side of steamed rapini, it was a perfect meal for an icy cold night.

Veal and Pork Meatballs

This is one of those recipes you simply must toss together. There is no sure-fire way, rather, like chili or soup, requires a keen sense of flavour and a bit of bravery.  While I focused on dessert (a pear crisp with Mexican spiced oats) Natasha got her hands dirty, combining the meat, fresh pistachios, tiny black currants, salt, pepper, fresh oregano, parsley, garlic salt, fennel, breadcrumbs and eggs.  Once she was satisfied, she even rolled a small ball and fried it up, to test it, before adjusting her mixture with the delicate hand of a surgeon. 

Once perfect, she seared the formed meatballs (about the size of a billiard ball) in a large stock pot doused in olive oil, then set them aside.  She sautéed a medium-sized onion and several cloves of garlic in the same pot, before reducing a half-cup of red wine in the mix.  Then we added my Grandma's preserved tomatoes, allowed the flavours to meld and added the meat back in to cook-through.  On low heat they simmered away for nearly an hour.  

Once they were finished, she removed them again and kicked-up the heat on the sauce, adding more red wine and allowing it to thicken further.  We then boiled some adorably tiny gnocchi for just a moment.  Right before serving, a bit of fresh-chopped basil was added to the sauce then it was my job to plate and photograph it (the part Jeff hates, urging me to just. sit. down. already.)  On this grey day, the beautiful colours struck me, and I couldn't stop clicking away.

It really was an impeccable meal.  I will certainly try this one again, perhaps coming close to Natasha's example.  

A NOTE ON THE WINE We started with a Chardonnay, but moved onto Flying Kiwi South Island Pinot Noir, a bright and fruity, fairly typical pinot noir.  It was the featured wine at the liquor store, so certainly worth a shot.  And I like the label.  ($15.95, LCBO)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Last night Tommy Hilfiger unveiled the 2011 Spring collection from their TOMMY line at the west-end gallery Thrush Holmes Empire.  It's a great, raw space in a trendy neighbourhood; perfect for these clothes and this audience.

While it was a bit weird to be celebrating the bright colours and snappy patterns of Spring on a filthy-rotten December night, it was also refreshing.  Toqued and parka'd trendsters sipped prosecco and admired the new clothes, displayed like artwork on the walls.  Their easy and casual, no fuss whatsoever.  In the best way.  Everything looks like that great piece you forgot you had at the back of the closet.  Timeless and familiar, a blend of the current and the vintage.

After the event, the lovely Tommy Team took a few of us for dinner at one of the city's great restaurants.  The Harbord Room has a terrific reputation, in large part due to its dreamy and talented executive chef, Cory Vitiello.  His food is fairly traditional, just like I like.  I had veal meatballs with polenta, a warm stewy slew of comfort in a bowl.  

A NOTE ON THE LIQUOR I'm a gin drinker.  If it's Hendrick's or Tanqueray 10, I like it on the rocks.  If it's something less-desirable, it needs to be cut with some tonic.  My friend Brady introduced me to Victoria Gin, Canada's first premium one, just the other day - and it's delicious.  More floral than most, and smooth.  This could make gin-haters like gin.  And it's made a convert out of me.  ALSO Jesse is big into the fancy cocktails, and it should be noted that the Lavendar Sidecar (one of HR's signature drinks) is fantastic.  Brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice, lavender honey syrup and orange bitters make what we deemed Tang: For Grownups. Mmm.

Back to the food.  I was flanked on either side by a Giddings Boy.  (Gosh, I don't know how that happened!)  Jesse had a beautiful plate of venison (pictured, horrifically with flash, below), and Curtis had the aged ribeye. The table rounded-out with some risotto, a couple of their famed burgers, the smoked 'n poached char, and the requisite steak frites.  Everyone was deeply satisfied when we finally pulled ourselves away from the table close to midnight.