Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tequila. (In this case, it's building a liquor freezer, but that's just semantics.)

When talking mixed drinks, I'm not necessarily as fussy about the brand. But tequila's the name of my game when I'm buzzing through Duty Free. Because of our ridiculous liquor taxes, a good bottle can be $100 in Toronto, so saving half that always seems like a good idea every time.

I tend to reach for the reposados or anejos, be it Don Julio or Patron. They're smoother and their colour makes for a lovely margarita. When we're hosting, I tend to start the night right, serving good quality liquor. As the night wears on (and quality is replaced by quantity) I find it's okay to go to a more affordable brand, even Jose Cuervo is invited.


Our dear friend Chris taught me how to make a proper margarita. None of this triple sec bullshit. If you do it right, a margarita should taste like what it is: tequila, agave nectar (which is derived from the same source), lime juice, and salt. It shouldn't taste like other liquors, pineapple juice, lemons or any of the other abominations I've had.

The Classic Margarita

2 oz tequila
¾ oz agave nectar
The juice of one lime

Add all to a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and serve in a salt-rimmed rocks glass. None of these oversized Champagne saucers with their tipping over and their clumsiness. (Read: my clumsiness.)

TIP: Rim only half the glass. This allows the drinker to dip in for some salt, but not be inundated by it.

(Image swiped from the Internet. Thank you, Internet.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

MUCH LIKE BUILDING THE PERFECT LIQUOR CABINET, there are essentials when it comes to a fall wardrobe. If you're anything like me, you like to keep it lean and simple, just the basics.

Earlier this year I wrote about my WINTER WARDROBE, and the other seasons aren't different, in terms of my approach. I always pretty much rotate through a selection of similar looks I'm comfortable in. I don't spend a lot of money on my wardrobe and every piece needs to be essential and appropriate for all kinds of activity.

Every man needs a CASUAL WHITE OXFORD SHIRT. It can be worn with khakis or jeans, or dressed up for a slighty-more-formal occasion (ie. a Sunday brunch with new friends, a family reunion, a baby shower) with a tie or a sport coat.  

I like an Oxford for a few reasons.


2. The button-down keeps itself ORGANIZED AND NEAT.

3. The fabrication requires less in the way of upkeep. The material is thick enough that you can often get away with never running an iron over it. (TIP: Pull it out of the dryer while it's damp and hang to dry-fully.) And, UNLIKE MORE-FORMAL DRESS SHIRTS, it can hold up to a good ring-around-the-collar bleaching time and time again. 

4. THEY AGE WELL. While your favourite might move down the hierarchy to cottage-shirt or grocery-store-shirt, Oxfords don't expire the way a lot of button-downs do. LIKE A GOOD PAIR OF JEANS THEY JUST GET WORN-IN AND SOFT. A decent Oxford is such good value: you'll get a hundred wears out of it.


(The Matty Oxford, Club Monaco, $64.50)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

SOMETIMES YOU MEET PEOPLE IN A CERTAIN CONTEXT. You develop a sense of them based (largely) on the company they (appear to) keep and the circles they travel within. And while this was, in part, true of Odessa, I also knew immediately that she was something different

I met her at various "fashion events", the kind where most are purse-lipped and wide-eyed, surveying the room with the ferocity and exactitude of a SWAT team sniper. These places are filled with people holding their cards close and their $2000 clutches closer, so when Odessa let me take her picture (with mouth agape in a full-face laugh) I knew we'd be friends. She didn't seem to care that she be on. She networked with the best of them, but in a way that felt authentic and approachable. As we got to talking, piecemeal over the course of many months, I started counting on seeing her amidst the hoards, hoping she'd be there to temper my anxiety and the social balance of the room.

After a couple years dancing around each other, promising to share cocktails outside the ring, we finally, recently, ended up in New York at the same time. What better place to have our first date than there.

After spending the day shooting backstage at Marc Jacobs, I found myself with a couple of all-access passes stuffed in my bag and a drink date with Odessa. After some boozy encouragement we dashed back to the Armory and watched the show together, a thrill for the longtime Jacobs fan. It was fun to watch her eyes go wide at the sight of Carine Roitfeld and her "personal style icon", Kim Gordon. She was mostly silent, but I could tell her brain was spinning.

After that we stumbled around the East Village for a few more hours (and a few more cocktails at Elsa, a favourite NYC go-to) and, as far as first dates go, it was one for the record books.

I'm happy to start a new series. In Your Corner will feature neat people in their favourite nook.

Meet Odessa Paloma Parker. She's the Editorial Director (and co-founder) of Plaid - a twice-annual print magazine based in Toronto - and a fashion stylist. She also volunteers with a visiting program for seniors; her pal Sophie is 93. Odessa lives in Toronto with her husband, James, and their two enormous cats. She was recently selected as one of Toronto's 25 Most Stylish people by Toronto Life Magazine.

She is currently preparing (emotionally and physically) to get a mushroom cut, á la 90s-era Linda Evangelista. She rocked it then (with oversized sweatshirts and slouch socks) and I'm quite sure she can pull it off today.

Below are some out of context moments from our two-hour conversation.

Anna Dello Russo has PIGEON-HOLED HERSELF into this quirky thing and she can't get out.

For me, my relationship with clothes was never about coveting something because it was expensive or the thing to have. I liked it because I WANTED TO TOUCH IT. Especially vintage.

I don't care if my bag was $10. I'm not going to pretend I can afford a $1400 bag. IT'S NOT IMPORTANT TO ME.

People mocked me in high school BECAUSE I HAD A MUSHROOM CUT.

If you think too much about the industry you have to ask yourself, 'Why don't I work in a bookstore in Cobourg or something.' Which is my SECRET FANTASY LIFE.

I mean, I DON'T WANT TO OUT MY MOM AS A GROUPIE, but she spent time on a few tour buses.

In our day, Tavi would've been SHUNNED. But now she can exist and kids can say, 'Oh, it's okay to be quirky and strange and wear clothes with cats on them. I have somebody to look up to who is cool because of it.' But you have to think: Tavi's wearing Prada. She exists in a very specific kind of QUIRKINESS.

I created Plaid because I have a lot of creative impulses, but I'm very shy about putting it out there. For a long time I wanted to be a fashion designer. BUT I DRAW TERRIBLY. In my head it looks really great, but it doesn't really translate.

I FEEL LIKE women get really offended by the notion of 'age appropriateness', like it's some thing that people have come up with to, like, hold women down. Like 'One more thing women can't do is dress how they want!' I mean, nobody's trying to take away your youth. But don't dress like a teenager.

I studied voice for a long time and wanted to be an opera singer. But in front of people I'd sweat and my throat would close and I'd freak out. I HATED PERFORMING. Which isn't conducive to being a performer.

A lot of people lack the understanding that YOU CAN HAVE A LOT OF FACETS. I've always known that and have understood it. I would be just as happy and fulfilled working in music or any number of things

I DON'T REALLY LIKE  MOVIES. I'd rather watch one of my favourite movies 100 times than something new.

Even though I dress kind of OUTLANDISHLY, I'm very shy.

I wasn't that confident growing up. I know people thought I looked STRANGE.

My Mom always used to say to me, 'One day you'll meet your true friends,' There was this sense that, in a lot of ways, IT WASN'T MY TIME THEN.

(Shot on-location in Odessa's home office in midtown Toronto on September 25, 2012.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

When we have friends over, my first question before they've even crossed the threshold is "What can I get you to drink?" The inevitable answer is always some variation of "Oh, whatever you've got!" to which I notoriously re-ask my question, but with more bitch in my voice.

You see, I want to have on-hand all the various things someone might desire. And while I don't go as far as stocking housemade bitters or every garnish imaginable, I do like to have a good selection of beer, liquor and wine.

And so we'll start this ongoing series with my personal jam: Gin. Most of our friends are gin drinkers, too, and we've been known to polish off more than a bottle on particularly special occasions.

Personally, I don't like the way Hendrick's tastes with tonic, so tend to have a big jug of Tanqueray at-the-ready for those who like a cocktail. With its heavy rose and cucumber infusion, Hendrick's is unlike any other gin and, for me, best served on the rocks.

It's for people who like gin.


But since she had one up her sleeve, Tara O'Brady (of Seven Spoons and my real life friendship) offers this amazing recipe, perfect for these early days of autumn. (Everything below straight from the horse's mouth!)

Plum Ginger Gimlet

Now here’s where I’m a jerk and don’t tell you the exact recipe, instead supplying ranges and estimates.

The thing is, the nice part of making individual cocktails for friends is that you can tailor their drinks to their specific tastes. See below for how I like mine, but adjust yours accordingly — you might prefer it stronger, sweeter, tangier, or with a little more fizz. Taste to test, fiddle as needed, and taste again.

Gimlets are classically shaken with ice and served in a cocktail glass. I go rogue and reach for a Collins or Old Fashioned glass, depending on how icy I want my sip to be. For the gin, listen to Jason and don’t use anything that will clash with the fruit that’s steeped into the syrup. Speaking of, the syrup should be enough to make 8-10 cocktails.

For the plum syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 2-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled, sliced thinish into rounds
6 red plums, pitted and cut into eighths

For each cocktail 
1-2 ounces plum ginger syrup
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Ice, for serving
2 ounces gin
1 ounce Prosecco or Cava
A few fresh, skinny plum wedge for garnish

To make the syrup, stir the sugar with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the ginger and plums. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Strain into a clean jug through a fine-meshed sieve — do not press the fruit too hard while straining, or the syrup will be cloudy. Refrigerate until cold.

 In the glass of your choice, stir 1 ounce plum syrup with the juice of half a lime. Add a handful of ice, pour the gin over, and give it a swirl. Top with a splash of Prosecco and tuck in a few pieces of plum to make it pretty. Cheers.

Thanks, Tara!

(Image from the Hendrick's website.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Some places seem more Instagram-friendly than others. One flip through your feed will tell you that people love bridges and skylines, meadows and big skies. The tropics are popular, too. 

We're about to make our triumphant return to sunny Florida. We were last here in May, before it got unbearably hot, and will be back again in just a couple of weeks. As fall and winter progress in Toronto, I love the way my Instagram feed vacillates between the greys and browns of one season into the blues and oranges of Tropical America. 


Obviously the greatest gift The Internet has given is the ability to see so much of the world, at a glance. Instagram takes it to a new level, allowing us to enjoy both the ultra-mundane and the incredibly rich aspects of the entire world, with such ease, throughout the day. We get to peek into the lives of friends and strangers all over the globe making it, once again, even smaller. All manner of trips to the market, dinners with friends, streetscapes and coffee cups. And aside from the day-to-day stuff, we also get a front row seat to monuments, sites and rarely-seen places all over the globe. We wake each day to the sunsets of dozens of locales, or get an inside-scoop on cities that we may never reach.

But remember: Your city is unique and exotic and interesting to somebody. Try to be a tourist in your own town. Show it off as if it's the Great Wall of China. And while Fort Lauderdale, Florida isn't Paris or the bubbling baths of Iceland, it is another place, another string connected to yet another pin on a map we're all creating together.

A great example of all the things I've "Schooled" in this series, @JessaWorks is traveling across America in an Airstream trailer with her husband and kids, capturing every tiny moment and also showing us parts of the US with which we may not be so familiar. She's consistent and artful and her family is beautiful, which doesn't hurt. Most recently she's been in Iceland (though I think they left the Airstream stateside) and her images there haven't disappointed. (And imagine being able to say you're "Location independent." Ugh, the dream!)

My real-life friend Ryan Marshall (@ryanmarshall__) has taken to Instagram on a one-man mission of another sort. As a born-and-bred Floridian, he wants to show you the Florida he knows. Not the Mickey Mouse Florida or the debauched southern tip, but the middle parts and the Panhandle and the gorgeous, mysterious areas we never hear about. This summer his family zigzagged across the state to show us rivers and springs and the Forgotten Coast. Ryan's Florida is one I'd like to visit.

Check these feeds out, and consider using your Instagram as a platform for proudly showing off the places you go. Tell us the story of somewhere, even if it's "just" the town you've called home for 25 years. Show us how you love it and remember that even the most mundane moments in the place you are is a vicarious trip to an exotic place for somebody, somewhere else.

Snapseed (Available here. It's $4.99, but well worth it. I am in no way affiliated with this app.)

Aside from Instagram itself, Snapseed is the most-used app in my phone. I edit (to some degree) every image that goes through my feed. No shame! You can adjust the basics (brightness, contrast) and also next-level stuff like sharpness and white balance. My favourite tool is Selective Adjust, which allows you to place edit points on the image and manipulate details, whether it be brightening a face, lightening an underexposed doorway or adding contrast where there wasn't enough. It allows you so much control and can save a throw-away photo.

BONUS TIP: When White Balance just won't do, use Selective Adjust to clean up your whites. Isolate the item (most-often a plate in my case) and Brighten it a little, then drag out the Saturation so it's neutral. Brannan (my filter of choice) tends to warm up whites, so I sometimes overcompensate by cooling an image more than I might normally, in order to balance it out.

The app is quite comprehensive, so feel free to make it work for you. 

Instagrammar School 1 (June 26, 2012)
Instagrammar School 2 (July 5, 2012)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

There's nothing quite like the moment when you feel like you're home, even when you're not. After 5 trips to New York in one short year, a few places have become old haunts, real quick.

The most-notable is Tipsy Parson, an American soul food charmer in Chelsea.

It provides what a good restaurant should: great food, a terrific space, and a little bit of magic. I like my meals (especially those that require leaving the house in a clean shirt) to have something special, to leave me wanting more and be ever-so-slightly indescribable. Like having dinner at a friend's house, a level of comfort and service that is familiar and welcoming. Maybe something like Cheers.

Now, I should say: There's no way of knowing (as my server) that I want you  to crack crude jokes or rest a hand on my shoulder as you describe the entrées. And while I think my friends and I are a pretty open book, demonstrating immediately that we're not fussy or demanding, I wouldn't expect you to lean in and tell me honestly how you feel about tonight's fish special. So, when it happens, I know I've found a place I'll return time and time again. (Here's looking at you, Jimmy!)

Tipsy offers a seasonal menu of familiar southern food, but (as is the trend) updated and tweaked here and there, making it uniquely theirs. We tend to start with a few snacks, from devilled eggs (perfection) to a heap of hushpuppies served with warm pimento cheese. Then, whether it's the flank steak, the skillet chicken or short ribs with a side of mac and cheese (with bacon) it hardly matters because every plate becomes shared, if you're there with me. But first things first, you order a cocktail from their clever menu and get sweet-talked into the full-size, made-to-order pie/crumble/crisp on offer. To be ready for dessert, you've gotta order it upfront. Done.

Pause, boo. Let's go back a little.

Maybe you're not familiar with hush puppies and pimento cheese. They're a sort of cornmeal dumpling, deep-fried and golden served alongside sharp cheddar blended with cream cheese, pickling liquid and other stuff. To this northerner, it sounds kind of awful, but it's magic.

I'm thrilled to say that Tipsy owner, Julie Taras Wallach, has graciously shared the recipe. They're sure to be a hit at your next cocktail party. Go ahead, get Southern.

Hush Puppies

2 cups cornmeal
2 T AP flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1½ t salt
½ cup grated onion
½ cup thinly sliced green onion
1 egg yolk
1½ -2 cups buttermilk
3 egg whites
1t Aleppo pepper

Whisk to blend cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, Aleppo pepper and salt. Add grated and sliced onions, egg yolk and 1½ cups of the buttermilk. Stir vigorously until batter is well blended and the consistency of loose mashed potatoes.

Whip egg whites until they begin to mound (not stiff peaks). Quickly fold whites into batter. Batter should be thick enough to mound on spoon. If too stiff, add more buttermilk.

Drop by rounded teaspoons into 340°F oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from oil, drain on a paper towel-lined cooling rack. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

with Pimento Cheese

8oz extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated, at room temperature)
5oz cream cheese (at room temp)
1T pimentos (to blend with cheese)
1t fresh lemon juice
1t dry mustard
¼ t cayenne pepper
½ t Worcestershire sauce
1T pepper pickling liquid (substitute pickle juice)
3 oz. artichoke hearts, small dice 5 oz. pimentos (small dice)
2T parsley
2T chives lemon
salt and white pepper (to taste)

Thoroughly blend together cheddar cheese and cream cheese until smooth in your Cuisinart. Gradually add 1T pimentos, lemon juice, dry mustard, cayenne peppers, worchestershire, and pickling liquid. Pulse in artichoke hearts – they should stay slightly chunky. Transfer cheese mixture to medium bowl. Fold in pimentos and herbs. Adjust seasoning. Julie's Tip: You can use this as a spread, a dip for crudite, or as a sandwich or hamburger topping.

Thanks to the fine folks at Tipsy for making this out-of-towner feel like a New Yorker, every single time.

Artwork by the brilliant illustrator and designer Paul Dotey

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September is a weird one for me. I get caught somewhere between the hot and sunny days that linger, and the idea that summer. is. over.  

And so I'm unsure about what I want to eat. And cook. Emotionally I'm ready for heavier food: stews and things-thickened, those made with red wine and butter. But then I step outside on my way to the grocery store - still clad in shorts and t-shirts - and I'm not sure what I want. 

And so I'll ease-in, with turkey chili instead of the usual beef. I'll skip the carrots and potatoes, black beans and dark red kidney and instead use chickpeas and white beans and lentils. No rich tomato paste for density and I'll allow it to run a bit thinner, soupier. Brighter notes of heat with cayenne pepper and a splash of Corona when deglazing the pan.  And, instead of bread or heavy garlic toasts, I'll serve it with pitas or tortilla chips. Step gently into the new season.

Turkey Chili with White Beans and Lentils

Brown and crumble one pound of lean ground turkey in a large pot. Add a large onion, diced, and stir until translucent. Add several cloves of garlic. Mix in varying amounts of chili powder, cumin, maybe a dash of garam masala and some cayenne pepper. Salt. To taste, adjust throughout. Add a half-bottle of beer (I used Corona) and deglaze your pot, allowing the alcohol to burn off. Dump a can of crushed tomatoes, a half can of water, and whatever combination of beans and lentils you enjoy. I used white kidney, navy, chickpeas and white lentils. Taste often and allow flavours to combine for ... a while. 

Morning After Serve chili on a bed of undressed spinach, and split a rich, 4-minute egg over the top. Protein burst. Best breakfast ever.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I recently returned from New York where I spent 9 days. Aside from too many dinners and not enough sleep, I did some New York Fashion Week'ing. Just like last fall, I was lucky enough to catch all the ins-and-outs backstage at the Marc Jacobs shows.

The hustle and bustle of backstage can only be described as relentless. It's not an environment of compassion or patience. At a show like Marc Jacobs, it's painfully obvious how utterly expensive the whole thing is. From the leather tiles covering the 3000 square foot runway/stage to the sheer number of models - He uses one girl per look, where many designers double-up with a quick-change. Being familiar with theatre production, it's a real feat to watch unfold. Dozens of technical staffers create the entire set from scratch in a day. I think I saw 10 or more stage managers. There are no fewer than 20 follow-spot operators. The whole thing must run hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, might I remind you, once the show gets going, it's all over in less than 5 minutes, hurriedly dismantled and gone as if it never happened. (Kind of like fashion itself.)

So with all that in mind, you can imagine why tensions run high in the hours leading up.

Models are swept in and out, thrust into makeup chairs and then dragged across the room to hair. They are handled like the paper dolls they've agreed to be, but it's always jarring to see. The room is filled with directives ("Hurry up!!" "Come on, make it messier!" "Fix her eyes!") and heavy energy. And, amidst all the panic to contend with, there are hoards of press and photographers snapping away, squeezing between elbows, edging their way into tight spaces to get their shot. Some models, when done with their obligations, are happy to pose, often agreeably holding reflectors and preening as a dozen of the old guard shooters shout at them. The girls are sure to show off, in equal-measure, their hair, makeup and nails, awkwardly posing like top-of-their-class Barbizon graduates.

I prefer, as usual, to lurk around the edges, getting what I get. I feel so guilty pressing my way into close quarters where 50 hair and makeup professionals are just trying to do their jobs. And it always surprises me when photographers come with studio gear, blasting out the existing light with strobes, removing all the charm and mood of this bizarre place. It is, after all, a big white tent erected inside the bowels of an active US Military Armory.

The whole thing is kind of chaotic an unnerving, for somebody like me. And while I like being there, there's nothing like busting out into the sunny street when it's done.

New York Fashion Week (September 2011)
Another Fashion Week (February 2012)
New York City Realness (June 2011)