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Thursday, 31 January 2013

I Can Azure You

Winterlicious, the Toronto food festival which features restaurants across the city offer discounted “prix fixe” three course lunch and dinner menus, kicked off it's tenth year this past Sunday (January 27, 2013).
The idea of a great meal at a reduced price makes my heart flutter.  Throw in a shoe sale and it’s the trifecta that would make make my heart pound similar to a bona fide cardio workout. 
The ‘licious festivals, (Winterlicious in Jan/Feb and Summerlicious in July), offer a great opportunity to try out new restaurants.  Some restaurants that I now frequent are a result of discovering them during a ‘licious festival.
Yesterday,  work mates Audrey and Sarah and I had reservations at Azure, the sleek, open concept restaurant located inside the Toronto Intercontinental Hotel.   We were greeted with a hostile reception by the hostess who apparently was doing us a massive favour by confirming our reservation and seating us at our table.  When I informed her that we were there for Winterlicious, you would have thought that we had just pulled up in the Jed Clampett mobile, fired our guns in the air yelling “YEE HAW” and asked for three glasses of their finest moonshine.  It was clear from the hostess’, and subsequently the waiter’s, attitude that Winterlicious customers were second class citizens to them. 
Here’s the thing – the lull between the December holiday season and Valentine's Day in mid February is not a great time of year for restaurants. Winterlicious is a great vehicle for restaurateurs to make money during a very slow period.  The City of Toronto chooses which restaurants get participate in the event.   Those who are not chosen feel the economic impact of not being included.  I’m sure that being located in a large hotel keeps business steady for Azure and if Winterlicious is so beneath them, why do they take a spot away from another restaurant that could use the cash flow?


The three of us chose the Organic Leaves salad with olives and fried goat cheese as our starters, which was the best dish of the three courses.  Based on the simplicity of the salad, this isn't saying much. 

Audrey chose the braised lamb pappardella as her main and said that it was tasty.  Sarah and I had the grilled flat iron steak sandwich with truffled fries.  Well colour me red neck, but the steak tasted like it was cooked by a hair stylists flat iron and the fries tasted like A & W's.  They were definitely frozen fries and they were not dressed with truffle oil as stated on the menu.   The waiter snidely asked us if we wanted ketchup for them.  I refrained from asking why he didn’t offer up any possum juice for the likes of us hillbillies. 
"That there is s'pose to be some fancy city food Jethro."

For dessert, we all finished with the upside down apple cake with sour cream ice cream, which was apparently like us – it had no taste.

Please do not let this put you off Winterlicious.  This is probably the first bad experience that I have had in the six years that I have been going to ‘licious.  It has grown from 35 restaurants participating restaurants in 2003 and now features 191 restaurants on the bill along with a host of other cool culinary events.  Winterlicious runs from now until February 7, 2013.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Northern Comfort

Did everyone survive the deep freeze this past week?  Bloody hell I hate the cold.  I am yearning for the dog days of summer.  I’m not a sun worshipper – one look at my pale blue Scottish skin will tell you that – but I love the heat and no matter how stinking hot it gets in July and August I will never complain.  
These redonkulous frigid temperatures have caused me lose my mojo.  I have literally done NOTHING all week except wake up – go to work – come home – put my jammies on.  I have a tonne of things to do but when it gets this cold I lose all motivation.   Time for some comfort food to nourish the soul.
I have read that men tend to prefer savoury comfort foods like soup, stews and casseroles and that women lean toward sweet foods such as chocolate, ice cream and cake.  Yet again my theory that I am a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body holds true, because comfort to me is all about the savoury….with a side of boozy. 

So tonight's menu was designed was designed to test these gender theories and to lift the spirits featuring comfort foods...with a twist.  Yes, the twists are kind of creative, but they are rooted in unabashed laziness.  Lack of mojo is the mother of invention I say.  Also, I am in the middle of moving, so all baking utensils and pretty glassware have been packed up already (sorry for the boring photos).

Turkey Pot Pie Soup

1 cup cooked turkey (I used turkey to finally use up the frozen left over Christmas turkey, but you can sub with chicken)
2 cups frozen vegetable mix
1 can condensed cream of potato soup
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups skim milk
Pepper (to taste)
Dried sage (to taste)
Poultry seasoning (to taste)
1 pre-made frozen pie crust

Combine turkey (or chicken), vegetables, soup mixes, milk and seasonings in a large sauce pan.  Simmer on low until it comes to a boil.  Note that the soup will be thin but this is what you want - the pie crust will thicken the final product.

Meanwhile, cook pie crust as per package directions.  Let cool and crumble with a potato masher.  

Ladle soup into bowls and top with crushed pie shell.


Chocolate Cake Martini

1 part Cake Vodka
1 part Chocolate Vodka

Pour into shaker and shake well.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Wings Beneath My Wind

I've been feeling really nostalgic lately so when The Fella suggested going out to dinner earlier this week my choice of venues came from sentimental state of mind - The Gown & Gavel

The Gown & Gavel is a Hamilton institution. It was one of the first British pubs in Hamilton and has been the jewel in the former glorious crown that was Hess Village for close to three decades. 

I began frequenting "The Gown" in the late 80's and was in fact underage for the first two years of my patronage.  The regulars were a real motley crew ranging from students, yuppies, punk kids like myself and crusty old British blokes who grumbled about our mohawks and Doc Martens.  It was during these years at The Gown where I developed my love for beer.  In my teens I had tried Labatt's 50 and Budweiser at parties and decided (prematurely) that beer wasn't for me.  However, The Gown taught me what good beer was all about.  I began drinking pints of lager & lime, which was only a gateway drink that eventually led me to the good stuff.    I was encouraged to try Guinness by my friend Imants and I was immediately hooked.  My mind expanded and I began to try all of their lovely elixirs on tap -- Double Diamond, Harp, Newcastle, etc.  

The Gown became one of the premiere live music venues in the late 80's and early 90's featuring popular local bands such as The Dik Van Dykes, The Wet Spots and King Apparatus on the second floor.  There was also the record lounge, Moondogs, on the third floor that was run by Tom Wilson pre-Junk House fame.  Albums decorated the walls and they would spin an eclectic mix of vinyl.  I was asked to leave one evening for singing loudly along with the record (see beer lover explanation above).

It's not The Gown anymore.   The green velvet booths and tapestry wall paper are gone.   So is the entire third floor.  The Gown & Gavel  was completed renovated a few years back and it is now a sleek, modern space.  The second & third floor have been combined to make one space with high vaulted ceilings.  The great selection of British beers on tap has been ironically replaced by corporate beers such as Labatt's.  They have also bought the building next door and the patio space is now massive.  Don't get me wrong-it's a beautiful space, but it's simply not the same.  Neither is Hess Village for that matter.  It is no longer a cool, alternative pub area.  It is now a club area that mimics a mini version of Richmond Street in Toronto.  The dance music pounds, the police patrol for fights, the median age is of the patrons is 21 and it is now referred to as "Mess Village".  I am now the crusty old Brit who grumbles about this new generation.

One thing has the remained the same.  The Gown & Gavel still makes some of the best wings in the Hammer.  It was great to go back and have a few pints, eat some great wings and swap Gown stories with The Fella from our Hess Village glory days.  Those wings lifted my spirits, hence the reverse title of the Bette Midler song...well that and the wings were really the cause beneath the wind I had later that night...

Friday, 18 January 2013

Edge of Seventeen

If you have ever thrown a surprise party before you know how stressful it is.  Picking the venue, inviting the guests, creating an excuse to get the guest of honour to the party and all the other cloak and dagger manoeuvres involved in the planning and preparation, all the while hoping that no one inadvertently lets the cat out of the proverbial bag.   So, I ask you -- how do throw a surprise party at a popular Toronto club that is closed to the public, with approximately 160 guests, featuring the much anticipated reunion of  popular local band The Dik Van Dykes, who have not played together in 23 years?  And oh yeah, the party is for the band's drummer who will be expected to play the reunion show unbeknownst to him? 

To be honest, I have no idea how you pull it off - but pull it off they did.  Last month, drummer Stu Smith turned the big 5-0.  His surprise party was held at The Bovine Sex Club in Toronto -- the biggest surprise of all was having him get on stage and play with his former band mates for the first time since 1989. 
The Dik Van Dykes were pretty big in their day - in their four years together they played numerous clubs around Southern Ontario, released  a cassette and two albums (I did say it was the 80's) and opened for The Ramones over three nights in 1988 at R.P.M. in Toronto. 

I was seventeen years old the first time I saw The Dik Van Dykes at an art show in Hamilton.   They sounded like someone had take the Ramones, The B-52's and The Rezillos and shook them up in a bag.  Their lyrics were funny and poked fun at pop culture and local topics.  And they were so much damned fun on stage.  I was instantly hooked.  Shortly after this show, I made a concentrated effort to create a fake I.D. (which was pretty good and worked on most occasions) and I began sneaking into bars on a regular basis to see them play.  A turn of events which began my life long love of live music (and beer).

Watching the band I was immediately transported back in time and felt like I was seventeen again.  I jumped around and danced to all of their songs (yes that is my head that keeps obscuring the shot in the video below).  The next day my body (not so politely) reminded me that I was in fact no longer seventeen and had not been for some time.

The Dik Van Dykes sounded great - they were just as much fun as they were back in the late 80's.  Most of the members have continued playing in other bands over the past two decades and they sounded more polished and tighter than ever.  Here's hoping that this night was just not a one off.

Laslo Van Dyke

Pop Tarts Renee & Sarah

 Birthday guy Stu on Drums

Not the only one who went back in time

                                                   The lovely Robin & Eric
                                    Terry Pry-tooooo-la....Number six

Stu & The Lassie

Monday, 14 January 2013


Yep – you read that title correctly - but it’s not what you are think.  I am not talking Betty Ford clinic.  I need a Betty Crocker clinic.
My body has taken a beating lately.  If you read my blog then you know that I had an emergency appendectomy at the end of November which resulted in a six week ban on working out.   This hiatus coincided with the onset of the holiday season which at the best of time wreaks havac with a healthy diet. The inactivity made me crave (and eat) more “holiday” food then usual.  It was a steady intake of cheese, chocolate and other assorted treats.  I began to feel the effects and I knew that I had to do something to kick start my health.  I conducted some research on “cleanses” and “detox diets” to see what they were all about. 
“Cleanses” are fasting programs that allow only the intake of water combined with some sort of colonic.  Some religions have spiritual traditions that involve fasting, (e.g. Ramadan, Yom Kippur) and historical figures such as Gandhi, Plato and Socrates would practice fasting in order to obtain clarity of thought.  Fasting does not sound healthy to me in the least.  And let's face it, I am a heathen and what do I need clarity of thought for?  Karaoke?  Don't even get me started on the idea of a voluntary colonic.
“Detox diets” are short term dietary plans consisting of specific foods that have the ability to convert toxins into water soluble form in order to cleanse the body’s waste system (i.e. liver, kidneys, intestinal tract).  Food that is common in a detox diet is food that I like, so this sounded like a more appealing option, however it was not without its drawbacks.  This diet has a significant lack of protein and iron sources.   In addition, although I was willing to cut down on my caffeine intake, I knew that I could not give it up completely.  Commuting on the GO Train is a daily test of patience and tolerance, and if I didn’t have a cuppa tea in me in the morning somebody could get injured.
So I decided I would undertake a modified version of the detox diet – which I am calling Revised Eating Habits – or REHAB.   REHAB would be a modifed version of a detox diet but would allow for exceptions such as protein and iron (and moderate caffeine and sugar intake instead of an outright ban).    
Let me preface this by saying that I am NOT a medical professional, nor am I a nutritionist. This is simply a diary that documents my experiment that I conducted over a three day period.


** Note** I kept well hydrated all three days with lots of green tea and water.



Teawith a splash of skim milk and one sugar – this was non-negotiable.
Arbonne Vanilla Protein Shake I chose the Arbonne brand because it is made from pea and cranberry protein instead of the usual whey protein which can be hard to digest and it is also packed full of vitamins and selenium which has great cleansing properties.  I also liked the fact that it came in ready to use packages - simply mix a package with 255ml of water and shake vigorously.  On line reviews stated that shakes were delicious.  I don’t know who wrote these reviews, but I am sure that they must have been tree-bark eating druids.  It was awful!  It was gritty and had the consistency of wall paper paste.



I had to have at least one cup of coffee with a splash of milk and sugar to help stave off a caffeine withdrawal headache.    


Lunch was comprised of foods from a typical detox diet – miso soup, edamame, a blood orange and homemade coleslaw made from a ready to use bagged mixture containing cabbage and carrots which I combined with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and grainy Dijon mustard (condiments would not be permitted in a detox diet).   The coleslaw was impressive – tasted like the KFC coleslaw but way healthier.

Early Evening

This is where things went a bit pear-shaped.  On the evening train I started having massive sodium withdrawal.  I began to identify with Ewan Macgregor’s character in Trainspotting when he climbs into The Worst Toilet in Scotland for his last hit of heroin.  At this point I would have cheerfully stuck my face in the GO Train toilet to fish out a bag of potato chips.  To help the situation, I chose Morning Star Farms Veggie Buffalo Wings.  Since it is a processed food it would have been forbidden on a traditional detox diet, but it is loaded with protein and iron and it satisfied my sodium craving. 



Teawith a splash of skim milk and one sugar – again, this was non-negotiable.
Arbonne Vanilla Protein Shake Although the directions state that it should be mixed with water only, I took a risk and blended the sachet with ½ skim milk and ½ water, hoping that it wouldn't curdle the mixture, but based on how it tasted yesterday morning I am not sure that I would have noticed the difference if it was curdled.  Thankfully, it did improve the consistency of the shake.  It certainly didn’t make it delicious as the druids would have you believe, but it did make it smoother and more palatable.  Maybe it was because I prepared it in my cocktail shaker and the poor thing went into shock not having alcohol in it and tainted my tincture?


Again, I limited myself to one cup of coffee with milk and sugar. 


Again lunch featured a traditional detox diet food– boiled beets, chopped avocado, chick peas and lentils in garlic olive oil followed by a fruit salad with red grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries and cherries.

Early Evening

By the end of day two my appetite had been substantially curbed (which was not the purpose of this exercise).  For dinner I only had two baked potatoes (with a little salt & pepper & hot sauce) which was enough to satisfy me.   I did cheat on my REHAB, but it was very minor.  I had two fudge candies from my Cadbury Rose’s tin.   This makes me sound like I have a lot of will power, but the fact is that they were the only two decent sweets left in the tin – the rest were all the horrible orange & strawberry creams that I can’t stand.   














Teawith a splash of skim milk and one sugar – you get the picture.

Arbonne Vanilla Protein ShakeI went the full Monty this morning and mixed the power with skim milk only.  This was the most palatable version that I had tried thus far.  It was by far a lot smoother and it was hardly grainy at all.  Or perhaps my cocktail shaker had gotten over the shock and was resigning to a new life as a teetotaler.


Again, I limited myself to one cup of coffee with milk and sugar


Boiled beets, chick peas in garlic olive oil, a salad of lentils, split peas, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, followed by a fruit salad with red grapefruit, blueberries, mangoes, cantaloupe and cherries.

Early Evening

By this point I had come down with a cold.  I also had absolutely no appetite and couldn’t face eating.  Clearly germs like my newly cleansed system so I should keep my body as inhospitable as possible with sodium and Spiritz in the future.

Rehab results

I’m not sure if getting the cold was a result of the change in diet or if it was just a coincidence so I will put that fact aside, but it did impair the results since I am not sure if I would have had more energy or not.  Not to get into graphic gross detail, but let’s say that that my body did get a good cleanse and it is safe to say that there is no longer remnants of cheese ball or marzipan left in my system.  Lastly, not to make the men out there uncomfortable, but a note to the ladies – this is the first time in my life that I have not suffered from the monthly bloat. 

Rehab recap

Would I do this again?  Yes, I will try this at least another time down the road just to see if there was an increase in energy or if it results in suffering another cold.  I am glad that I did the experiment and I am now ready to continue on with a more balanced lifestyle – the good food with the bad – all in moderation. 

I am thinking of pitching a new show to the networks – Food Network Celebrity Rehab – in which I am Dr. Drew and I try to help Food Network hosts with their greasy food addiction.  After six years of hosting Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, I am sure Guy Fieri would be sweating Crisco during his detox.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


I am blessed to have such a great friend like Vivieen.   She has been there for thick and thin for me.  I know that she always has my back and vice versa.   We can also make each other laugh like a couple of preteens.  Like the time that we went to New York and took a guided tour of Manhattan.   Our guide had to officially be The. Worst. Tour. Guide. Ever.  As we walked on the tour we exchanged sarcastic barbs back and forth which led us into an uncontrollable laughing fit – you know the kind - when you are laughing so hard you are doubled over and can hardly breath, tears are rolling down your face and any sound that resembles actual laughter has ceased and has been replaced with a sound reminiscent of a whooping cough.  It was only when we were beginning to compose ourselves that we realized the tour group had stopped... at Ground Zero... for quite some time … along with several other tour groups.  They asked us never to return. 

I honestly don’t know what I would do without her in my life.
We recently celebrated our ninth “friend-iversary”.  Friend-iversary celebrations usually entail a lunch date and and long catch up natter. 
This year we chose the Earth to Table Bread Bar on Locke Street (  This venue is a bakery/pizzeria/restaurant that features local, fresh ingredients which results in delicious menu choices.  Vivieen had the chicken club sandwich which had prosciutto instead of the usual bacon.  I had the roasted mushroom and fontina cheese sandwich along with the soup of the day -- Jerusalem artichoke.  To finish we had lattes and the gingersnap bread pudding.  As usual, the food was fantastic.

The service has always been good but the last few times I have been here there has been a wait time issue.  It’s not that I fault the restaurant for having a wait time as I am not surprised based on how good the food is.  My beef is how they handle the waiting list.   They allow people to leave their cell phone numbers and leave the the line up to go shopping on Locke Street.  If their table comes up, everyone in line has to wait until they come back while people in the line have to stand and look at empty tables while people are out strolling about.  Not cool.
However, Vivieen and I lucked out and ended up with the window seat which is perfect for people watching.  We threw out some ideas on how to celebrate our tenth friend-iversary next year.   Safe to say that Ground Zero is out of the question.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Downton Abbey Season 3

Who is pumped for the North American debut of Downton Abbey Season 3?  Cannot wait until Shirley Maclaine makes her debut as Lady Grantham’s mother and I am eagerly awaiting the acid jibes that is sure to be exchanged with Lady Violet. 

Season 3 of Downton will take us up to the early 1920's.  I am obsessed with the Roaring Twenties.  How can you not love Jazz Age Flappers?  They defied convention by wearing short skirts and lots of make-up, they cursed, acted outlandish and drank cocktails.  Hellz yeah!  And despite Prohibition in the U.S. and parts of Canada, there sure was a lot of Spiritz happening! 

Get your jazz age on by dropping some of these slang words popular back in the day.
Barneymugging-- Sex
Bee's Knees -- The ultimate
Brooksy--Classy dresser
Cat's Meow--Something great or stylish
Cellar Smeller--A young man who always turns up where liquor is to be had without cost
Edisoned--Being asked a lot of questions
Father Time--Any man over 30 years of age
Giggle Water -- An alcoholic beverage
Lemon Squeezer--An elevator
Rock of Ages--Any woman over 30 years of age
Spiffy -- All dressed up
Swell -- Wonderful
Tomato--A young woman shy of brains

You sure don’t have to be a tomato to know that it sure is swell to be a rock of ages cellar smeller who likes to barneymug my father time in a lemon squeezer after some giggle water. 

Thankfully there is no need to swill any bathtub gin tomorrow night.  Instead behold the
Louise Brooks Martini 


1-1/2 oz Chambord Vodka


Shake with ice and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a blackberry and a lime twist.

Check out this great blog written by Hari - she blogs about all things flapper I am a little jealous as she is from the U.K. and has already seen Season 3 of Downton Abbey.

"I wish I could drink like a lady.
I can take one or two at the most.
Three and I’m under the table.
Four and I’m under the host." -- Dorothy Parker

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and all the best to you in 2013.  How I remember 2012 like it was only yesterday (well, it was!).

The Fella and I had a great time at our friend Greg's annual New Years Eve soiree.  This year Greg kept it low key - just a few friends and family.  They say that how you spend New Years Eve is how you will spend the year ahead.   I don't particularly believe this theory, however, if it is true, I welcome 2013 as a year spent with people who truly matter, enhanced with cocktails, music and good food - pretty much what I try to keep The Free Spiritz based upon.  I am also not a believer in New Years resolutions, but I am an obsessive list maker.  So, no 2013 declarations for me - just a few things on my to do list.

  1. MOVE!  --  I have outgrown my veal pen in the sky.  I need a bigger place (or I need to stop buying that is going to happen!).  This is taking priority number one and starting tomorrow I will beginning the search for a bigger fab place to put down my roots.
  2. Home Decor -- I will begin a year long preoccupation with paint colour combos as I jazz up my future new abode.
  3. Make more wine -- I really got into wine making the later part of last year and I will be making another batch of white and red within the next few weeks.
  4. Drink more wine -- This goes without saying....I mean why else would I be making it.
  5. Photography -- Despite being a major Instagram geek, I know absolutely nothing about photography.   This year I will make an attempt to learn more about it and hopefully develop a new skill.
  6. Spend more time with friends -- I need to be less obsessed with work and spend more valued time with my spesh mates.
  7. Go back to the gym -- Since my appendectomy five weeks ago, I have been restricted from going to the gym.  I have one more week on my ban.  I usually work out every lunch hour and I have felt totally lethargic since I stopped going to the gym.  I know that I won't be able to handle my normal routine so I plan to ease back into it.  I'll start with a few yoga classes and work my way up from there.  Let's just say that after six weeks of not working out and indulging in the four holiday food groups of cheese balls, marzipan, gravy and chocolate, that first downward dog will not be pretty.
  8. Going with the flow -- I plan to live in the moment and not sweat it when things don't go as planned.  For example, I would usually I would obsess about making this list an even ten. So, to go with the flow I will end it here at unusual number eight.

   Me and The Fella in our tiaras

                                                              The fab host, Greg

                                          Baby Maggie and her first New Years Party