Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hendrick's Gin

I added Hendrick's Gin to my "Recently Discovered" list on the right, but I just feel like I have to dedicate a whole post to it seeing as it's THAT GOOD.

A friend who was recently in from Dawson City introduced me to Hendrick's Gin. He'd bought a bottle because it's (tragically) unavailable up there in the Yukon, (although I'm sure they've got a whole whack o' hooch of their own that's tragically unavailable down here, too). I was already a fan of gin (a trait I've inherited from my dear Ma), but my stock usually only featured the respectable but predictable Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray. Fine with some tonic and lime on a hot summer's weeknight sitting on the back porch, but really, nothing to call mom about.

Hendrick's Gin was established in 1886 and is distilled and bottled in Glasgow (of all glorious places). Not the first bevvie that comes to mind when I think of Scotland, but I've now added it to the list of things to love about that place. Hendrick's stout, black bottle looks like something you'd pour into your car engine. It's got a cork-topper that screams 'moonshine', and an old fashioned label that's the perfect throwback to turn-of-the-century prohibition. Classy. Their website continues this 19th century theme, greeting you with bombastic music that instantly puts you in the mood for a tipple. 

Hendrick's is best taken straight so as to better enjoy its' distinct flavour. The back label lists ingredients such as juniper, coriander and citrus peel. Plus, "the 'unexpected' infusion of cucumber and rose petals results in a most iconoclastic gin. IT IS NOT FOR EVERYONE." True, and that's why it's so special.

And if you're the type whose self-control flies out the window in the presence of alcohol, you'll be pleased to know that the relatively low amounts of congeners in clear alcoholic beverages such as gin or vodka, make for less severe hangovers. You'll still feel like you've been run over, but at least your head will be relatively pain-free. Cheers to that!

CBC: Smells like 18-35 demographic

There's a bit of a rhubarb going on now about the proposed
changes (again?) to CBC Radio 2 programming coming this September. Radio 2, the classical music wing of the Mother ship, is fiercely guarded by its loyal core audience. As it should. Those who prefer Bach over Bublé have few other options when it comes to air play.
But this latest brouhaha is the same argument we've heard about making the CBC more 'accessible' to younger and/or more diverse audiences. What this means for Radio 2 is a reduction in programming hours devoted strictly to classical music (Radio 2 is currently about 85% classical). Now there will be a daily 5 hour afternoon slot, and a few weekend slots, such as Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. The rest of the airtime, namely the drive-in and drive-home shows, will be shared by an 'eclectic array' of jazz, folk, Joni Mitchell, world music, R & B, more Joni Mitchell, and probably a lot of Michael Bublé. This, apparently, is the end of civilization. Now scores of Radio 2 fans are whingeing about it, hugging their hi-fis like mother bears ready to slap the CBC management heads who keep messing things up. I don't blame them for complaining. Whenever the CBC decides to shake things up a bit (which seems to be, oh, about every 10 months or so), they move toward the same changes every time. It's frustrating. People get attached to their programs. You live with this stuff every day, then suddenly it's like someone you don't know is moving in and chucking out your favourite chair because they don't like it. In this case though, the change stings a lot more because classical music is already a marginalized and hyper-specialized form of music, only truly, fully and deeply appreciated by a slim portion of the population. Radio 2 is all they've got! I may not listen to it that much, but I like knowing it's there.
I feel their pain.

In the March 29 edition of the Globe and Mail, staff writer Jeffrey Simpson ("Mr. President, will you fight for a CBC of intelligence?" page A19) claims that these proposed changes signal yet another dumbing down of CBC content, as epitomized on the TV side by programs like The Hour (weeknights at 11pm): "The CBC has forgotten, or at least marginalized, its statutory mandate to 'inform, enlighten and entertain' by reversing the order of priorities, such that instead of appealing to intelligence, the cardinal rule for public broadcasting, it has insulted that intelligence on the television side with programs such as The Hour."

I can see how he would think this. It's hard to get past the Much Music-ness of the program. From the opening theme song (by Canada's own The New Pornographers - and they have NOTHING to do with skin mags, ma), to its seizure-inducing video graphics, to its just-a-bit-too-cool host, my boyfriend George Stombou (hang on...) Stroumboulopoulos, the show reeks of the 18-35 demographic, which Jeffrey Simpson seems to have rather little faith in. But does this mean it has no substance? Why do classical music and opera always trump all other forms when it comes to 'intelligent music'? Do all people who listen to classical music really have such narrow taste? Are they really completely intolerant of Joni Mitchell? (She paints, you know.)
But the point is, The Hour is not trying to be The National, or Ideas, or The Sunday Edition. It doesn't need to be. The Hour, however, is the CBC's 18-35 dream come true. Yes, it has stupid features that probably make more people cringe than they realize (i.e. "The Greatest Thing Ever" segment. NIX IT!), but it also has Desmond Tutu, Roméo Dallaire, Elizabeth May, Ricky Gervais, Debbie Harry, and hey - Peter Mansbridge! (They had a rollicking good time on that one. I've never seen Peter so relaxed. He even wore a black mock turtleneck for the occasion.) Plus hundreds of other interesting guests you've never heard of who are doing amazing things with their lives.
In all of my TV news-watching life, no matter how many times Peter tries to explain it to me, I can barely wrap my head around what's going on in Iraq. But 3 minutes with George and it all makes sense. Does this mean I can't understand complex warfare unless it's broken down into manageable bits of information? That after missing a few episodes of The National I've been left in the dust of ignorance? (just like what happened with Twin Peaks). Not really. But so what if The Hour is the Coles Notes of The National. Maybe people will accidentally learn something.

But TV is a whole other thing (and I have a whole lot to whinge about myself in that regard). When it comes to radio, though, I've long thought the CBC's preoccupation with that ever-elusive youth market was a misguided obsession. CBC radio is something you mature into. You grow to love it for precisely the same reasons you hated it when you were 14. Because your parents listen to it, because it reminds you of home, because it's good for you, because it goes down well with dinner, because it's familiar, intelligent, always there, and you can listen to it with your grandma.

So stop panicking. There's room for everyone on this Mother ship, even if we don't all get along.

P.S. (June 11/08) I've gone back to watch some more of The Hour in recent weeks, and I fear my tolerance for George has crashed. Aïe aïe aïe. I think his too-tight pants may be impeding the flow of blood to his head.

* * *

An informal poll with my friend Donna recently revealed who's hot and who's not on our CBC radio list of hosts. Voici la liste:

Jian Ghomeshi (Q. We were actually split on this one but since it's my blog he gets the HOT vote. I know I am alone on this one.)
Patti Schmidt (Inside the Music. AND she plays hockey)
Eleanor Wachtel (Writers and Company. Her liquid honey voice makes my guy friends weak in the knees)
Paul Kennedy (Ideas)
Jonathan Goldstein (Wiretap. Marry me.)
Tom Allen (Music & Company)
Rex "perspicacious" Murphy (Cross Country Checkup/catchup/ketchup)
Ian Brown (Talking Books. Marry me if Jonathan is unavailable.)

Shelagh Rogers (Sounds Like Canada. "how did you feel?" ad nauseam)
Stewart McLean (Vinyl Café. Drunk on the sound of his own voice, methinks)
Gregory Charles (In the Key of Charles. SHUT UP!)
Randy Bachman (Randy's Vinyl Tap. Drunk on the sound of his own guitar noodling. Forgive me for dissing a Canadian rock n' roll legend and fellow former 'Pegger)
Sook-Yin Lee (DNTO. "Celebrities on helium"?!? Come ON)
Brent Bambury (Go! The cool, sharp edge he'd honed on Brave New Waves was lost forever when he co-hosted CBC TV's Midday. Now he's just a butter-knife. /cry)

Ian Finkleman (Finkleman's 45s'irascible old crank)
Peter Gzowski (Morningside's irascible old crank. R.I.P.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

By request, here is my Aunt Dora's oatmeal-based cereal recipe. She's a health fanatic and prepared this for my mom while taking care of her after her triple-bypass surgery. Good for the ol' ticker, lowers your cholesterol, and your intestinal tract will thank you. I've been having this for breakfast every morning for the past 2 years and I'm still not sick of it. The beauty of it is you can switch it up to vary the flavour and texture. Plus it's cheap, especially if you buy the ingredients in bulk. Get creative.

1 part rolled oats (none of that 'minute-oats' stuff)
1 part natural oat bran
1/3 part natural wheat germ (keep in fridge)
1/3 part ground flax seeds (ground flax is better as more nutrients are released) 
2 T brown sugar (optional)
cinnamon & nutmeg as desired
any combination of dried fruits, seeds and nuts. I like dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chopped dried apricots, sliced almonds.

Keep the whole batch in the fridge as that natural wheat germ can go bad. 

Place 3/4 to 1 cup in small saucepan and add desired liquid (water, milk, soy milk, apple or grape juice) - enough to cover it well as the liquids get soaked up quickly. Cook over medium-low heat 5 min or until done. Chuck in some chopped apple for more fibre. Top with more milk or juice if desired.

Put 3/4 - 1 cup in bowl and add desired liquid. Nuke on high for 1:30. Add additional milk if desired.

Soak in juice overnight, add to yogurt and eat cold.
If you want a more gruel-like consistency, prepare 1/2 cup and add more liquid. You can also pass the oats through a coffee grinder to give you a finer texture (recommended for those with sensitive digestion).
Top with fresh seasonal fruit.
Sprinkle with psyllium husks for that extra cleanse.
Drizzle with maple syrup or honey.

You may never eat anything else for as long as you live.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Romancing the Peg

"Winnipeg. Winnipeg. Winnipeg.
Snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg.
My home for my entire life.
My entire life.
I must leave it.
I must leave it.
I must leave it now."

So begins Guy Maddin's latest release, My Winnipeg, which premiered to much acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall of 2007. In it, Maddin captures a version of Winnipeg that is equal parts pride and bile, which seems like a common enough sentiment for locals and ex-pats alike, and is possibly the result of knowing you live in a city whose time has come and gone. All that talk today about the booming prairies fails to mention that Winnipeg's boom happened a hundred years ago, just before the General Strike of 1919. The Chicago of the North, as it was then called, Winnipeg was set to be the major railway hub for the transportation of goods across the continent, given its geographic location at the longitudinal and latitudinal centre of North America. Then the Panama Canal opened, favouring trade via waterways over railways, thereby greatly affecting the city's economic growth.

You can marvel and revel in the impact this had by visiting one of many huge furniture warehouses in the Exchange District, just off Portage and Main, where floor after floor is packed to the rafters with antique furniture, frozen in time since the 1930s, where it was stored waiting to be shipped via rail to cities around the continent. In one particular warehouse, each floor has furniture from a different decade, from the 1880's to the 1960's. Much of it shockingly cheap. An entire house can be furnished, vintage style, for beans (well, Toronto or Vancouver beans, anyway).

Here now, as promised in an earlier post ("Wicked!", August 2006) are a few more examples of why dormant states can make a place pretty interesting, if urban history turns your cultural studies crank.

Portage and Main
The city's largest and most infamous intersection. Reviled by most citizens (yet still the instant referent) due to the asinine decision to block access to pedestrians. People have been forbidden to cross Portage and Main, on any corner, for as long as I can remember (early 1970s). If you are, say, at the TD Bank corner and need to get to Lombard Place directly across Main Street, you have to go underground and pass through, in a literally roundabout way, a shopping complex called Winnipeg Square, built expressly for the purpose of tricking pedestrians into purchasing things they don't need, and would never have bought in the first place, had they been allowed to cross the street like normal human beings instead of forcibly impersonating a colony of gophers. Such a detour will lengthen your journey by at least 5 minutes. It's maddening. It's only 8 lanes of traffic! They do it in all the other big cities! Ugh. Maybe some day this decision will be reversed and people will once again be free to cross, like the big adults that they are, in all safety and comfort.
And now I have just discovered that our own humble little Portage and Main has made New York City's Project for Public Spaces website's Hall of Shame. Way to go.

The Bay
Like in many Canadian cities, The Bay's flagship store is the Grande Dame of the downtown. And like any grande dame, the bloom is off the rose, and that's partly why I love it so. It pretty much hasn't changed a bit for the last couple decades, so going back is a wicked trip down memory lane. First stop, The Paddlwheel Restaurant. I remember coming here with my mom after my monthly visits to the orthodontist. Nothing soothes the throbbing pain of forcible dental re-alignment like a cool bowl of cubed Jell-O. They've spruced the place up a bit, in that kind of misguided, half-conscious way old businesses do when they feel they have to keep up with the times. Take the sign, for instance. It was probably made in China 'cause it's got nothing to do with the character of the place. Sigh. The dining room is brighter than I remember, but they've mercifully left the paddlewheel a-churnin' (although the water is long gone).

I treated myself to the roast beef dinner, complete with Yorkshire puddin', horseradish, over-cooked vegetable medley, mashed potatoes, gravy, tea and good old Jell-O, and took my seat amongst the afternoon crowd having their afternoon glucose/fructose snack, and taking a break from returning or exchanging the Christmas presents they didn't like.

Speaking of fading beauties, the bathrooms on the 5th floor are rife with pathos. Fake pink flowers nicely offsetting the grey and beige colour scheme, rows of half-lit vanities, a well-worn door handle... It's pretty clean, but it's also pretty sad.

I love how they readily admit their elevators are slower than frozen molasses. Those seniors haven't got all day you know, especially on Bay Days.

Winnipeg's first Salisbury House Restaurant opened on Fort Street in 1931. It's trademark red roof (legendarily painted with leftover barn paint) made them easy to spot, and soon Sal's could be seen sprouting all over the city. Sal's is famous for its 'Nip' burger, and to my delight, they even offer a kielbassa and perogy platter. Fans of the Guess Who will know that Burton Cummings wrote many songs while sitting at his local Sal's (worthy of another one of those 'Heritage Minute' commercials). When they redesigned the Provencher bridge (complete with that bizarro 'what is it?' giant spire) spanning between downtown and St. Boniface, Winnipeg's French quarter, the idea came about that a restaurant should be built at the half-way point on the pedestrian walkway. The choice to make it a Sal's, and not a classier, French-themed crêperie or four-star resto, put many of St. B's elite in a snit, given the general perception of Sal's as a bit of a low-brow diner. It is. But on opening weekend, people lined up for hours to get in, and business has been brisk since.

Rae & Jerry's
Oh boy - here it is - my all-time favourite lounge in the whole world, with its flashing neon arrow, calling me, beckoning. ENTER.

Yes, it's that red. And the lighting is low, so unfortunately, my pictures are blurry (this was before the martini, too). But suffice to say, the place is bathed in red and black. The lounge is pure '70s glam, with floor to ceiling black velvet curtains, red carpet, red vinyl chairs, a roaring fireplace, and mirrored ceiling. The drinks are cheap as borscht, ya. The Vodka Martini with a twist is $6.50. And, the place is completely void of obnoxious hipsters. Unreal!

Mitchell Fabrics
For the crafty sewing crowd, a visit to Mitchell Fabrics is a must. As I am rather fond of unusual (some might say horribly kitsch) prints, I scored myself a meter and a half of classic 'dogs playing poker' which I will soon turn into a skirt. I'm happy to see they've hired themselves a good web designer. Their on-line face is pretty slick, but first time visitors to the actual store may be surprised (or pleased) that it's a rather dusty, old-school kinda joint. Heavy users include the province's Hutterite community. Oh, and you may notice it's in the so-called 'bad' part of town. Free parking at the rear. Multiple public transit options. Walking distance from the Exchange (if you like to walk).

Hotel Fort Garry
Part of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway nation-wide hotel empire, the Fort Garry is a triple threat. In addition to being a beauty to behold on its own, it also houses the Palm Room (also known as the Palm Lounge or Oval Room, but not the Oval Palm), and the adjacent Royal Crown Revolving Restaurant and Lounge. On Sunday mornings, the hotel hosts the most orgiastic buffet I have ever seen. For $35, you can ingest all the crêpes, fruit, omelets, pig, salmon, toast and lobster you can eat. You can even pass your entire plate under the endless stream of the three-tiered chocolate fountain. It's obscene. I've only been to it once, the morning after my brother's wedding, but I'd go again. If your motto is I ain't leavin' til I'm heavin', this is the brunch for you, my friend.

The Palm Room
Well the martinis are definitely not $6.50, but the décor will make you feel like a million bucks. And for the love of God, please, dress up a little. There's nothing worse than having your 1920s fantasy come alive rudely killed by a dude in yellow Crocs and a baseball cap. Have a little class!

The Royal Crown Revolving Restaurant and Lounge
The Hotel Fort Garry may be synonymous with upper-class elegance, but its neighbour Royal Crown is for the bargain lover. If the fringy valance and chintz doesn't distract you from the view, and your stomach can handle the combination of booze, rich food, and the not-at-all-subtle turning motion, then add this to your list. The amenities are a little worse for wear, but so would you be if you'd been spinning on your axis for 25 years. I'd like to point out the questionable women's restroom sign below. Very odd. Highlights include the $4.50 vodka martini. Combined with the view and the added bonus spinning effect, it's a cheap drunk's ideal night out.

More on the Fort Garry Hotel here

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Leslie Hall: Large and In Charge

If you haven't seen or heard of Iowa artist and satirical rapper Leslie Hall, consider this your official introduction. Currently touring North America with her band Leslie and the Ly's, they stopped in for a show on February 8 at Montreal's funkiest fire-trap, ZooBizarre.
I first came across Leslie Hall through her photo series of self-portraits wearing hundreds of gem sweaters she's rescued from the thrift stores and landfills of mid-west America and beyond (now safely housed in her touring Gem Sweater Museum RV).  In these she transforms herself into the perfect '80s outcast with her oversized glasses, bouffant hair-do and gold spandex pants. Amazingly, she manages to convey dignity and poignancy while working with all the 'wrong' elements. The full effect of this series is best experienced on her MySpace page where the images cycle through in rapid-fire succession. Check that out here.

On the music side of things, Leslie and the Ly's are the perfect satirists - both paying homage to and taking the piss out of a musical genre with a notoriously narrow view of male/female relations, fashion and lyrical content.  This chick is hilarious. Her music should be compulsory listening for every teenage girl (and boy) in the land as a perfect antidote to that Spice Girls pre-fab, anti-flab, 'girl power' (retch!) vapid rhetoric which always sets my blood to an instant boil. This woman is the antithesis of all that. She is Large and in Charge! She's the new corn-fed feminist icon for the 21st century!