Coughing up dough left, right and cêntre-ville

Eat and sleep, lather rinse repeat. The holiday continues.

Today came the family brunch I’d been low key tentative about. I didn’t know who’d be there, who I’d know and how many people I wouldn’t forgotten. Part of me feared discovering that I had a bigoted or racist streak in my extended family. I still may, but it certainly didn’t surface at brunch. Brunch was nice, actually. A love of food permeates our lineage and, as we’re in Montreal and everything here is bread, there was an abundance of delicious bread. I may have eaten my weight in beer bread, flanked by sharp cheeses and preserves. The wild salads had been harvested at their peak, whether bean, potato and bacon, double tuna, egg or… salad (?) salad. Goddamn tasty is what they were. I ate twice my fill, then out came dessert. Baked apple pie, chocolate cake, scroggin muffins (chocolate chip, pumpkin seed, squash and whatever else fits in a trail mix), two ice creams and a baked blueberry scramble that didn’t manage to find purchase amongst the many other bread based dishes. You can only throw so much bread at people before they burst, Montreal.

It was sweet. I got to see my parents catch up with old friends, hear about mountaineering adventures and the local birdlife. I’m not gonna hazard a guess at what you’d call them in relation to me, but my uncle’s grandchildren were nice kids. The younger one showed me all his garbage can (something like that) toys, the older one had just gotten his D&D player’s handbook/DM guide and told me about the campaigns he was planning. Another of my cousins (?) was in his second year at McGill and loving it. I met my uncle’s ex-wife and heard about her theatre experiences. We all got together for family photos at the end, then my girlfriend and I went home to food coma out in bed.

The trip seems to have been defined by a mix of experiences new and familiar. We had an astoundingly good time last night catching up with friends who’d very, very recently (several days ago) moved to the city. We all got cocktails at Bootleggers L’Authentique and shot the shit. We headed off to Le Majestique Montreal for fries and further drinks. I asked the staff what happened to the toy train that used to run along the higher shelves, only to be informed that there had never been a toy train. It was all in my head. “Toy train, eh?” muttered one of the staff, jotting down notes. Look out for a toy train there next time you visit. There SHOULD be a next time, the bar kicks ass. Trendy for all the right reasons, the cocktails are delicious and the food is immaculately presented. Go there and tell the tale.

As always while on vacation, I feel like someone inside of me emerges. Like I give myself tacit permission to be myself. Living outside of routine, the stresses of appointment oriented existence fade into the background and I can breathe in experiences. It feels like it’s a hard but necessary line we tow. We have shit to do to make it through each day, week, year. Driving ourselves like taskmasters keeps us running to schedule, but at what cost? Concurrently, for all the joy that comes with bring unhinged from demands, I’m not sure Vacation Leon could last forever. The glee is in part because if its transitory nature. It’s special because it’s the exception. If it were to become the rule, would that really “rule” in the 90s sense?

Or would it actually be all kinds of phenomenal, but pretending the alternative makes for a tight little coping mechanism?

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Diving in face first

Sitting here at Foufounes Électriques, I start to wonder if it’d be my local if I were to live here in Montreal. Then I stop wondering. Of course it would be.

I can see that life all too clearly. I’d be a larger man, on account of all the excellent beer and bread in this town. Hell what’s beer if not mutant, undercooked bread? It’s Montreal. Everything’s bread. I’m drinking a delicious $4 Fin du Monde (wet bread) and nibbling at free pretzels (crunchy bread). Today I had a BBQ brisket taco (floppy corn bread), energy ball (peanut bread? Stretching it a bit) and Creole falafel (spicy chickpea bread? I think I may have broken the metaphor). In short, we’ve been eating our way across town. I’m hashtag blessed with a partner who enjoys eating as much as I do, so it tends to govern our movements (both logistical and bowel). Today we went off in search of the Atwater market. Neither of us knew if it’d be a swell, authentic experience or something gratuitously touristy, but we rolled that die. Thankfully we lucked into the last week of an international food court with a ton of great options.

Satay Boys and their skewers came highly recommended, with good reason. Look, I don’t ghost write for a food blog anymore. I’m not gonna make these entries purely a description of what’s made it down our gullets. But also, eating is almost all we’ve been doing. The BBQ brisket taco we had was awesome, but the coolest thing we saw them do was sandwich preparation. After grilling the buns and loading them up with fixins, they put a singular slice of cheddar atop the brisket. Then they fetched the blowtorch. It was rad to see and I’ve got zero doubt that alongside the wonderfully melted cheese slab they had a crispy bottom bun. Is it unfair to get food envy when you’ve already been served a fantastic meal of your own? If not, too bad. We had it.

Most of our meals have been via recommendation. It’s my favourite way to travel. The interesting thing is that by now I’m becoming reasonably familiar with Montreal, so new experiences seem to have become familiar locales. Like Foufounes Électriques, a dive bar I found way back when I first immigrated to Canada in 2013. I still love it in all its grungy, low class splendour. We’re heading off to Bootleggers L’Authentique afterwards to meet friends. It’s a prohibition themed cocktail bar my girlfriend and I found when we weren’t in the mood for a club. They serve Long Island iced teas in ginormous glass boots. After which we’re off to La Poule Mouillée, a churrasco chicken joint that does the best and most decadent poutine I’ve ever had. I discovered this spot Street a ride share en route to Montreal. My fellow back seat passenger was a chef and raved about their spices, moist chicken and absurd portions. We arrived in the city and went off to have a meal together. Great memories that served as a platform for me to make new memories with others. Fresh nostalgia, it’s one hell of a cocktail.

Which reminds me, shouldn’t we be off to meet our friends now? I could go for a tall, Long Island tout de suite.

If a guy was horny, but too baked to get it up, would he be between a stoned and a hard place?

Day four of JFL42 and I’ve entire abandoned any notion of doing reviews.

I’ve got a life outside of the festival, y’know. Even if I’m eschewing it entirely. I’m more than my ability to park in a chair and observe funnier people make funnier observations than I could. I’m also a) not getting paid to do so, b) trying to build up a portfolio or c) getting free shows out of it. Also d) literally nobody cares about them. Don’t worry, my feelings aren’t hurt. It just means I can continue in my usual vein of talking utter nonsense and not sleeping.

So here’s a thing. Weed is getting legalised in under a month and we’re not talking about it as much as we should be. That’s a pretty big fucking deal. It’s been a mainstream maligned substance for the better part of a century and suddenly it’s all gonna be kosher? Why aren’t we spending every day discussing the myriad of ways that society could change with its widespread adoption? Are prior convictions going to be overturned at all? Or will a likely overwhelmingly POC prison population be left to rot over archaic and outmoded laws? Are coppers still busting people to buff up the coffers?

Who can and can’t sell? Is it just going to be a governmental organisation like the LCBO? Or is the PC government planning on making a buttload of back pocket deals to license retailers? Will weed be available in bakeries? Bars? Cafes? Cannabis coffee/cocktails? Will weed products become more mainstream? Cosmetics like balms and lotions? Will hemp products face a resurgence? Will we be able to smoke everywhere or only in designated zones? Will smoking dope be treated as nicotine is? Will vaping be allowed indoors? Will there be weed only clubs, no alcohol allowed? What about in restaurants? Can you smoke while eating outside? What about the office? Will smoking weed be considered equivalent to alcohol? Not on company hours? Will it be looked down upon at work gatherings? Or once again be treated as alcohol is? What about medical marijuana? If you have a prescription because of anxiety or anything, will you be able to smoke up before coming back in the building to move numbers around a spreadsheet?

What industries are on the verge of emerging? Will we see an explosion of weed based journalism and editorial content? Will weed find its way into physical fitness? CBD based protein bars or smoothies? Will you be allowed to smoke then get behind the wheel? Will there be more accidents due to reduced reaction times? Will Chinese restaurants become governmentally run because of their vital importance to a stoned society? Will pizza pockets be covered by OHIP? What if you have The Munchies as a pre-existing condition?

How will social stigma impact use? Is it something that most people do/are doing already? Will legality only serve to make people talk openly about it? You’d be hard pressed to find any opinion leaders getting grilled over enjoying the occasional glass of whiskey or wine. What about a joint or edible? Will weed still be treated as the domain of unambitious layabouts? Or will assenting public figures help shift the tide of perspective?

Most importantly, will the public be educated on weed strains and their effects? The last thing we need is more businesses blowing smoke up our arses.

Please don’t read the cast list, it’s a memorial to wasted talent

You could watch Transformers: The Last Knight, but why would you?

I watched “TTLK” because I was exhausted on a Sunday and friends were doing a movie night. Don’t ask me why this was the chosen film. Maybe it was meant to be a Movie Knight and they’d already watched the unrelated trilogy of A Knight’s Tale, Knight and Day and Knight of Cups. Perhaps it was the fourth Knight in a fortnightly series. Whatever their justification, I would’ve preferred a frontal lobotomy so I could stop fretting over what a waste of money/time the glorified tyre fire was. I could’ve gone to sleep at 7pm instead and it would’ve been a better use of my life.

However long you think the film was, it was longer. I don’t know who decided a CGI orgy of racist robots and Mark Wahlberg running in tank tops needed to be two and a half hours, but they need to be retroactively fired. While we’re here, when did Hollywood decide that the average movie length needed to be over two hours? What was wrong with tightly scripted 90 minute films? If you’re gonna dominate viewers’ attention for that long, at least have the grace to hire a script editor. TTLK clearly didn’t. TTLK was three different movies smooshed together without trying to meld any story elements. Part National Treasure, The Matrix and Braveheart, but without any of the charisma or intriguing plot elements that made those popcorn flicks watchable. This movie has so many ideas. It’s a wonder that none of them are any good. Here are some of the plot points.

  • Firstly, Cybertron (though wasn’t it destroyed in the previous film or something?) is doing some kind of planar overlay with Earth. Mankind was in peril, etc etc. Oh, also Earth is actually Unicron, a transformer.
  • Optimus Prime goes back to Cybertron to see what the deal is. Some transformer god slaps him and he turns evil. Goes by the new moniker of Nemesis Prime (personally I would’ve gone for Pessimus Prime, but there’s a lot I would’ve done differently). Goes back to generally menace.
  • The world has outlawed Transformers. Mark Wahlberg is living in some junkyard taking care of rogue transformers. Oh, and he finds a talisman that’s talked about a bunch, but basically just gives him a sword for one scene. I think Wahlberg just had a dream about wielding a sword in front of robots and was like “hey, write this in.” Since they apparently didn’t hire a script writer, he just wrote it verbatim.
  • There’s some orphan who also fixes transformers or something? She seems like a main character, but stops mattering after the first half.
  • They spend a frustrating amount of time on Bumblebee’s voice box, which doesn’t play by its own mythology.
  • A historical professor who’s the last descendent of Merlin (oh shit, I forgot about the Merlin stuff. I’ll get back there in a minute) is used almost primarily for spinster jokes and to shoehorn in a romantic sub sub sub subplot (they’re even on a submarine at one point) into a movie about fighting robots and King Arthur.
  • Okay, Merlin stuff. Transformers coming to Earth in the first film is retconned and now they helped King Arthur in his battle against the Saxons. Magic is real, but also all the magic wielded is just technology? They kind of characteristically shat the bed on that one.
  • There’s a secret society who’ve aided the transformers throughout history. Also, transformers killed Hitler apparently. Anthony Hopkins is a direct descendant of Shia LaBeouf from the first film. He’s been given a lemon of a role and he juices it for everything he can. He also has a human sized robo butler called Cogman.
  • Megatron is back to destroy the earth. Or Unicron, whatever it is. It’s not clear why he wants to do this, but he starts working with the FBI or something to hunt down Wahlberg and his merry band.
  • There’s a whole kerfuffle about how the Merlin descendant professor is the only one who can wield this staff that’s linked to her DNA, but they sorta abandon it after Megatron steals it.

There are so many scenes in this film. 80% of them didn’t need to happen. The first hour and a half is exposition and backstory to stack up the convoluted plot elements of this CGI clusterfuck, then the last hour just does whatever it wants. There’s no payoff for any of the ideas. They’ll spend 15 minutes on a certain plot point that’ll only lead to one line before it’s dropped. Again and again. They go on unnecessary side chases that could’ve been tightened and cut. There’s no fucking point in the Nemesis Prime plotline beyond selling another toy. He doesn’t even look that different, it’s just one side of his face that turns pink.

I don’t quite understand the demographic of this film. Isn’t it a kids film? I’m no prude, but it felt a bit much for preteen audiences. I can’t help but imagine it only looks good through fratboy Monster Energy Drink coloured glasses. “Shit” is every sixth word. Characters straight up murder people. Lots of flying bodies everywhere. Robots try to outdo each other in being as edgy as possible. Much like the drunk person in an earthquake, you’d have to be borderline alcohol poisoned to make plausible sense of the plot.

I recommend this film for anyone who owns truck nuts. Or has ornamental samurai swords all over their bedroom. Maybe Al Bundy. As someone who intentionally watches poorly composed movies, I can’t in good conscience advise this as an enjoyably bad experience. Nothing about it is enjoyable. It’s not even a good hate watch, you’ll just end up hating yourself for watching it.

If Michael Bay ever dies, I don’t doubt he’ll be spinning in his grave after watching what he’s done here. Expecially because EVERY FUCKING SCENE HAS A SPINNING CAMERA. HAVE SOME FUCKING RESTRAINT.

In short, I’m saying the man should be jailed for his crimes.

Not exactly how we wanted our meal to go South

Here’s the anatomy of a shitty dining experience.

It starts well enough. You and your partner get a super cute little booth near the back. You almost have your own palanquin, which is all kinds of neat. You look down at the menu it looks great. I mean, you’ve been there before. You already know the menu is great. You’re not drinking, but you peruse the extensive bourbon menu for kicks. It’s kinda neat that they have something they specialise in.

The server comes around and asks what you’d like to drink. After you mention that you’re not drinking alcohol, his face physically pales. I get it, I do. If your table isn’t drinking, that means tips will generally be lower. That sucks. Still, you ask him what tasty non-alcoholic drinks they have. His face reboots to a neutral resting position and he says that there’s house made iced tea and lemonade. You get the iced tea. Your partner already got the lemonade and it was pretty damn great. The server returns with your iced tea and it’s similarly great. He’s kind of blunt and wanders off. That’s the last you’ll see of your server for the next 15 minutes.

A table is seated next to you. They tuck into the menu while you wait. Another server comes out to take your order. Your partner asks about some of the gluten free options. Your server disappears for another ten minutes. Eventually the original server comes back and takes your order. Buck a shuck is on, so you get six oysters just to try them. You’re in the process of acquiring a taste for this maritime snot and six seems a suitable number. Your girlfriend gets a small cornbread sample. You both order your mains. You order the seafood pasta. It’s been maybe a few years since you last ordered pasta at a restaurant and it sounds kind of exciting. The menu promises a creamy 8 spice mysterious voodoo sauce, which sounds enigmatic and delectable. Your girlfriend orders the ribs, marinated with honey, soya and rosemary, oven baked with bourbon BBQ sauce. Right? RIGHT? They sound awesome.

Your server comes back five minutes later with the oysters and you’re stoked with the quick service. He takes the order of the table next to you. You reorient yourself with how to eat oysters without filling your mouth with barnacle style sea grit. Your girlfriend’s cornbread arrives soon and it’s everything she wants. This is all fine, right? You will not see your server again for maybe another half hour. The table next to you, however, is already most of the way through their mains.

Your mains arrive and they’re, well, broadly uninspiring. The corn that comes with the ribs is charred black and pretty dry. The ribs themselves, those marinated with honey, soya and rosemary, oven baked with bourbon BBQ sauce ribs are also dry. What’d you think when you read the above description? Did you expect something closer to this? I’m sure you did. I’m sure you also expected maybe more than six ribs for $24? The pasta is soft and dense, but without extensive stirring it’s dry as hell. The creamy sauce is all down the bottom. After a good stir the pasta is well covered. It delivers on the texture of quality pasta. There are a bunch of small calamari rings and maybe four shrimps. The sauce is creamy, it’s lovingly spicy. It’s also bland as hell. The calamari tastes like chewing. The prawns are beautifully dense and juicy, but have no flavour outside of pepper. The dish had so much potential and squandered the most important part of it.

Neither of you are particularly pleased with your meals, but you halfheartedly go through them. Well, your partner ends up leaving most of it to take home. Nobody checks in to see how your meal is going, because it’s roughly another 30-40 minutes before anyone comes back to your table, and only after you’ve pushed the plates right to the side. It takes another ten minutes for a different server to check if you need a bill and another ten minutes before they let you pay. $80 seems a pretty steep cost for the experience, but whatever. If the quality of the food lived up to the promise of the menu, it would’ve been totally fine.

So here’s the deal. I’m making a point not to mention the name of the restaurant because honestly, both of us like the place. We’ve had great experiences there before and honestly, I think it was an off night. I have a really hard time complaining at restaurants and I’ll usually swallow my pride then commence shit talking as soon as I’m out the door. My partner talked to the host and got the low down. They were severely understaffed, given that it was a Monday and a surprise 40th birthday party turned up 30 minutes before we did. Otherwise, we were pretty much the first in the restaurant. The host apologised for the server and said that, despite being busy, that was no excuse for the shitty service. It was kind of gutting that it was my girlfriend’s birthday and we were both pretty excited about a tasty meal. We don’t eat out much and usually go for cheap eats when we do. A nice dining experience is something that means a lot to us when it happens.

I’ll get over all of this pretty quickly. It happened, bad meals are a part of life. We’re also not gonna blacklist the place either. They do a bitchin’ brunch and I’d be remiss if I went without that from here on out. Still, it’s okay to be disappointed when something fails to meet your expectations. Especially when it’s your girlfriend’s birthday.

It’s fine, we bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, I put a candle in it and sung her Happy Birthday. We’ll survive.

All hail Torontosaurus Rex!

Getting visitors to come to Toronto is always a hard sell.

I don’t blame them. Toronto on the surface looks boring as fuck. Hey, we have a tall tower. It looks like any other North American city, but without the unique attractions. Gentrification is making Toronto more homogeneous than ever before. Also Ontario has a draconian attitude towards liquor so beer is more expensive.

They’re not wrong. The big Toronto attractions are phenomenally bland. Shopping sucks. There’s a lot of terrific and affordable food, but without knowing where to go, you’ll just end up at terrible North American chains. Ditto for the coffee. It’s not spectacular, but please don’t judge it after trying Tim Hortons. There are good places, I swear. Toronto has a booming nightlife, but it’s not in the downtown core. The clubs are universally shitty and nobody knows how to have fun. I can see every reason why people wouldn’t want to come to Toronto.

Also, in many ways they’re wrong.

Toronto has a plethora of good spots if you know where to look. There are cute neighbourhood dives and quality cheap eats. It’s composed of a cluster of loosely organised cultural areas. There’s a Little Italy, Little Portugal, Little India, Chinatown, etc. It’s certainly not official, but Ossington/Bloor has fantastic Ethiopean restaurants. Awesome new breweries are opening up all over Toronto. Bars all across the city host regular dance events of assorted styles. Wanna go out for disco or 90s guilty pleasures? Toronto has your back. There’s dancehall and synth. Even a party that advances chronologically as the night does. You can blow off your hangover with stellar brunch spots and greasy spoons. If you’re planning on going all out, pre-drinking is a pre-requisite. Just sayin’, it’s not hard to have a great night with good advice.

Most visitors don’t. They’ll have some top 5 Trip Advisor spots which will tell them to go to the Aquarium, an overpriced food market, the CN Tower and to take a food tour. What a fucking waste of a trip. Save your pennies and stay home.

My personal bias is coming in. When I travel I want to immerse myself in the local culture rather than skim the surface. I get all Type A and make a colour coded map of everything that seems great about a prospective destination. I’ll put in dive bars, theme bars, cheap eats, day and nighttime attractions, more expensive spots. By the time I arrive, I won’t have an itinerary. Instead I’ll be able to look at a map and easily see areas that seem appealing for that day. It means that plans can be flexible, but I don’t need to miss out on opportunities.

I’ve had friends visit and I haven’t had this kind of stuff on hand. Then I feel shitty that they’re not getting to see the same Toronto that I do. I love this city and I want the people I care about to see why. Maybe I’m merely trying to justify travelling halfway across the world to a place where sometimes catastrophic ice storms happen. Who knows? It all comes out in the wash.

All of this is to say that finally, I’m working on a Toronto map. It’s gonna be a colossal, crowdsourced, colour coded creation. It’ll be split into sections that make it easy to parse and handy for making plans on the fly. I’m gonna try to put together a series of places that help make Toronto what it is. There’ll no doubt be a bias towards an early 20s to late 30s mindset, but I’m comfortable with that. Frankly, anyone younger than that isn’t making their own plans and anyone older than that probably already has the Trip Advisor top 5 list. Best of all, once it’s made I want to make it freely accessible. It’ll be a lot of work and I’ll need a bunch of help, but my ardent hope is that it’ll sweeten the pot for anyone doubting that Toronto has a soul. Y’all want your friends to visit you, right?

Any suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments.

What’s a Facebook live tweet called?

Well last night was a wild ride.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. I had plans. I was going on a date, then meeting friends for disco dancing later on. Simple. Uncomplicated. It didn’t work out like that at all.

Firstly, the date. To be honest, I was pretty ho hum about it in the first place. It more felt like I was going on a date for going on a date’s sake. Sometimes it’s nice to meet someone new, be charming and riff a bunch. It was a friend of a friend, and I know this friend to have good taste in friends. She’s my friend after all, right? To her credit, the date seemed like a nice person, but I wasn’t excited about it. A while back I resolved to quit it with dating for the hell of it. It was gonna be Fuck Yes or No. Zero time to mess around with anything I wasn’t enthusiastic about. As the Aussies say, I’m not here to fuck spiders. We were gonna grab drinks and go out for dinner. Then she messaged to say she was working late, could we meet up at 9? It felt shitty to get someone to go out of their way to meet up, then leave an hour and a half later to go dance with friends. I suggested we maybe push it to another night. Now I’ve gotta figure out how to nicely tell her that my heart isn’t really in it, but that’s a qualm for another day.

Turns out my friends who were into dancing all backed out, so I had no plans. I messaged around but everyone flaked. Bummer. Maybe I should’ve just gone on the date? Nope! I resolved to drink at home alone instead, like a reasonable adult. I started watching some shitty Netflix romcom called Set It Up. It was not chill. Eschewing “show, don’t tell” for heavy handed spoken exposition, it had all the subtlety of a brick. The leads were charmless and, almost an hour in, the characters they were trying to set up were too unlikeable to root for. Don’t get me wrong, I legitimately love romcoms. I just hate shitty movies.

I posted on Facebook “I’m drunk and hate watching Set It Up. AMA.” The questions flooded in. What was Set It Up? Why would I do this to myself? I moaned about the film and praised the oven fries I made, which were more substantive than anything in the film. In the Meantime (thanks Spacehog), friends messaged me that they were heading to a “club” club with the guy’s old uni mates. I hate clubs more than most things, but not as much as I love an adventure after 6 or 7 drinks. He said he’d pay my cover and line skip if I came along. I was in, and the AMA changed course. It was now a club live tweet. I could give a wrap up, but unlike Set It Up, I understand “show, don’t tell”. Here we go:

“Plot twist, I’m gonna meet friends at a “club” club. My most hated environment. This has potential for much better character development than anything in this film.

I’m gonna bribe the bouncer like a cool dude, but my secret? I have earplugs in my pocket. I’m not even close to being cool.

I paid $20 for line skip, which put me in a shorter line. There are several tiers here and I’m a second class citizen. So, business as normal.

Do bartenders get bored of Jaegerbombs? Is this how the industry gets RSI?

How many Mackelmore clones are in this place? Is this a front for his new music video?

Some guy called, Tyler sincerely complimented me on my smile while waiting in line for overpriced drinks. I think I just had a genuine conversation with a human being.

My mum just sent me a photo of her trademark brown sugar and soy ribs and frankly, it’s more enticing than anything happening in this club.

We somehow managed to finagle ourselves into the VIP area. Man, wealthy people have no idea how to have fun. They’re not even dancing.

People are doing selfies in the DJ booth, but also not dancing whatsoever. Maintaining an image is hard work.

I met some Aussie dude and we did the Macarena then chatted about Accent Privilege. Basically my generic club experience.

Overall, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the club he didn’t bring a knee brace. I’m too old for this shit.”

And now I’m on a boat, going to a clothing optional beach so I can take up that option. Life’s can be a rollercoaster if you let it in.