If The Gang started a church would they Cultivate Mass?

Is it possible to have watched five seasons of show and still feel like a filthy casual? I certainly did last night at my friend’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia party. I watched the show years back and always enjoyed it, but had trouble bingeing episodes. The characters were such terrible, sociopathic human beings that I found it taxing to spend too much time with them. I thought it was hilarious and novel, pushing episodes into constantly unpredictable territory. Even so, it took me an age to get as far as I did. At some point I meandered off into other fictional worlds and never came back. Leaving me totally blindsided by the fact that there are now 12 seasons with a few more on the way. Insane. As a huge fan of FX Network’s support for creator driven content (Louie, Legion, Better Things, You’re the Worst, etc), I feel kind of indebted to IASIP for trailblazing and making it all possible.

I’d been catching up on important episodes using this handy dandy guide, but I’d only managed to get through five or so in the past week or two. Meaning that walking into the party was like taking a running leap into a bizarre wonderland. A couple of concepts seemed vaguely familiar, but for the most part it seemed an unreal mockery of the outside world. My friend always cranks her theme parties up to 11 and this was no exception. She’d decorated all the rooms with artwork from the series and imagery from various episodes. The “Pepe Silvia” and “Carol” conspiracy was strewn across the wall and the “Nightman” sun lit up the lounge. The playlist for the evening was composed purely of songs used in the show and there were games. OH, there were games.

What kind of Always Sunny party would it have been without “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games? The contest of strength was a game of twister, albeit with the various colours switched for iconic IASIP imagery. Denim Chicken, Original Hitler, Green Man and Rum Ham proved the battleground for drunken twisting. I took part in the contest of spirit, in a game that I understood zero percent. It was a four part contest whereby we had to “huff glue” (or rather, hyperventilate into a paper bag ten times), skull a beer then eat “cat food” (potato salad in gold painted cans) and “fall asleep” (lie down) before the “cats” (everyone else at the party) began to meow. Don’t ask me, but I’m sure it’s relevant. All I know is after years of negligence, skulling a beer is much harder than it used to be. I did most of it in one go, with a tiny sip left at the end. One of the contestants wasn’t so lucky, as she daintily sipped away while a catcophony surrounded her.

I’d planned to be sooo clever by bringing canned spaghetti in ziplock bags for people to snack on. Turns out I’d bought fucking Spaghettios by mistake. Curse this damned country and its novelty shaped foods. Fortunately the host had made her own real spaghetti for guests’ convenience. A partygoer had enough foresight to make an actual rum ham. It was surprisingly delicious. Suitably drenched and well roasted in rum. I felt well roasted after eating some anyway. I bought some “Milk Snacks” which I’d hastily written over in vivid to say “Milk Steaks” (though in my oversight I’d forgotten to bring jelly beans – raw). Someone even filled a large jug with “Riot Punch”, which made its way around most of the party. Glorious commitment to the theme all around.

If anything after the party I still feel like just as much of a damn dirty amateur. Though now with an insatiable thirst to learn more. Also for Fight Milk.

More like pizzazz party, amirite?

We played Boggle Pizza Party last night. Boggle Pizza Party is a subset of a regular pizza party, whereby the goal is to encourage innovative and unintuitive pizza creations. I’ve always loved Make Your Own style meals. We did it a ton growing up. A typical MYO night was Mexican. We’d have a selection of basic ingredients on the table (grated cheese, red onion, diced tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, mince) and a combination of hard and soft shelled tacos. It was fun assembling meals in different combos, or testing assorted structural arrangements (what happens if the mince is on the bottom? Or perhaps setting a bed of cheese first to soak up any juices and keep the taco crispy?). We had sushi nights where we’d make all sorts of rolls. Then we’d do pizzas. It’s hard not to enjoy pizzas.

Boggle Pizza Night differs with the idea of “points” as incentive. Much like Whose Line, the points don’t matter for much more than bragging rights. If you somehow haven’t played Boggle (I hadn’t until 2013), the goal is to find as many words as you can in a block of letters (“super” in this instance) in a limited amount of time. Once the round is over everyone runs through the words they found. If anyone had the same words as someone else, nobody gets points for those words. Unique words only. Like Scattergories, really. This way people are encouraged to think outside the box and bring creative toppings. We supplied the basics. We had gluten-free tortillas to use as bases (my GF is GF, geddit?), which surprisingly worked gangbusters. We put two together with a thin layer of cheese between for adhesion purposes. They came out crispy and thin, which also meant we could make/eat a ton of them without getting instantly full from the dough. We had cheddar and an assortment of pizza sauces (tomato and garlic, hot and spicy and “authentic”, which low key sets up a classist divide between pizza sauces that I never expected to see). From there, we set sail with others’ creativity.

One of the couples was really late, so they just brought pizza with them. No points awarded (until later when we cut up chunks of the cheese pizza to use as meta toppings). We had ham (because of course we did), pineapple, mushrooms (a friend brought more. NO POINTS), cranberry sauce (in case anyone wanted to try a Thanksgiving pizza), garlic slices and, well, a fridge worth of backups (like pickles, etc). Our other friends won by a one-two punch of sheer quantity and ingenuity. Sundried tomatoes, regular tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, artichokes, salami, baby eggplants, brussels sprouts, broccoli and potatoes. Their choices were mind Boggling.

Then creation happened. We chopped and sautéed up the eggplant (because we didn’t want it going in raw) and put it together with olives, thin potato slices, salami and artichokes. We had a Canadian special with ham, pineapple, mushrooms and garlic. A vegetarian sundried tomato, broccoli, olive, artichoke and mozzarella special. The mandolin was pulled out for more potato work and my friend assembled a pizza base from thinly sliced spuds that looked a little like a scalloped potato mandala. It could’ve used a little bit longer to crisp up but it was surprisingly excellent. Will try again.

The wine kept flowing, which kept the conversation going. We had a constant production line of pizzas baking, topping assemblage and base prepping. Boggle Pizza Night was tons of fun for the whole family.

Next time, Scattergories Pizza Party.

Possibly more of a double-edged fork.

The Easter weekend has been a double-edged sword for friend hosting purposes. On the basest level, it’s meant that I’ve been around while she has. Having Friday and today free has allowed me to spend tons of time with her. We’ve been able to venture across Toronto together, with my limited knowledge and expertise at her disposal. It’s dawned on me over the past couple of days that without guidance or navigation, Toronto could be a pretty boring place. The best parts of Toronto are festival and event related. The food rocks, but if you’re stuck in the city centre it can be tricky to source great meals from interesting, innovative restaurants. It’s lousy with chain stores and a big part of escaping their clutches involves being in the right areas. My friend is well travelled, I’m sure she would’ve been fine otherwise. There is however a very visceral alternate reality where she came to Toronto and missed all the good bits. Instead she wandered the downtown core, got coffee at Aroma, Tim Hortons donuts, and the culinary highlight of her trip was trying Swiss Chalet sauce for the first time. Bleak.

The double-edge of the Easter holiday was a bunch of great places being closed. Bakerbots for ice cream cookie sandwiches? Nope. The Big Mac pizza slice at Apiecalypse Now? Closed. No vegetarian poutine from Poutini’s for her. Disappointment abounded! Tacos El Astador was open, but totally rammed. The dude assured us a table would be available soon enough, but looking around the restaurant, 90% of tables hadn’t been served yet. We’d be able to sit, but eating would no doubt be off the menu for a while. We resigned ourselves to Sky Blue Sky, the Wilco themed sandwich restaurant. I mean, it wasn’t colossal resignation, their sandwiches are fucking awesome. We’d just been hoping for Mexican after vegan pizza was a no go. TOO BAD proclaimed the door, or said as much. They hadn’t been paying their rent and had been locked out. A big notice of termination on the front door. Fuck. According to the site they’re closed for renovations. I don’t know who to believe (but I know who I want to believe). Thankfully their King Street location is both a) still in operation and b) closer to my work.

We were bummed and while we didn’t feel hopeless, it seemed like potential was slipping away from us. FEAR NOT, DEAR READER, things turn out alright for your heroes. Just east of Bathurst lay the constant unobtainable jewel of brunch. Insomnia. Known also for their excellent pizzas and late night eats, Insomnia’s been a jewel in the heart of The Annex for years. On multiple occasions my girlfriend and I had tried to get in on some brunch action. Each time we were famished and couldn’t stomach the 20-30 minute wait for a table. Being a Monday and in the 1pm time range (brunch went till 3pm) we slipped in and found a table easily. Leafing through the menu, it was easy to see why they’d been so prized. An assortment of dishes across the spectrum of brunchdom. A variety of sweet options, sandwiches, two rancheros options and the bennies. As a gluten free option they had these delicious rice curry cakes that had a croquette-ish texture and a not-overpowering, but excellent curry taste. My pulled pork benny was a cavalcade of flavours. So decadent. The “legendary” home fries sauce had a real bbq taste, and the consistency was almost candied. Plus they had La Fin Du Monde on tap, always a sign of a venue with impeccable class. We may never manage to get a table for brunch again, but my heart will haunt that menu for years to come.

It’s been delightful being a tourist in my own city. Using my visiting friend as an excuse to gorge myself meal after meal. As a last hurrah, it’s time to ice that cake with comfort food. Onwards to Disgraceland!

Each child a different variety of Eldritch nightmare fuel. HOW ARE ALL OF THEIR PROPORTIONS UNIQUELY WRONG?

It’s pretty awesome having a good friend in town. An excuse to show off city pride and all that. I cleared off my whole weekend to be malleable around what she’s looking to get up to. She’s independent, but also looking for a simple time away hanging out, looking at things, eating delicious meals and drinking. So all the things I’d be doing in a foreign country too. As a result, I’ve taken Easter weekend as a holiday in Toronto. She’s on vacation and I’m riding that vibe alongside her. She’ll tell me the kind of things she’s looking to get up to and I’ll help facilitate them. What kind of stuff do you want to eat? What sort of sights are you aiming to see? Let me shape the holiday you seek kind of stuff.

It’s interesting putting myself into the role of a tourist in my own city, cause it’s making me look at it in another light. It’s been years since I was a Toronto newcomer and I’ve kind of forgotten what it was like to roam the streets seeking out potential. When I leave the house these days there’s often a vague intentionality to my movement. I’ll go out to pick something up, eat at specific restaurants, etc. This weekend however, I’m wandering the streets, stopping when the mood strikes my friend or I. As a result I tried out Duggan’s brewery for the first time, nabbing myself a delicious chocolate ale. I stopped into a few vintage and boutique stores I never would’ve set foot inside, because they’re her kinds of places. You know what? They had neat stuff and may well be my kind of places. Knowledge is power and I’m powering up my Toronto experience.

I’m also soaking up her #views. She lives in London and was a New Yorker for some time. Wandering the streets, she couldn’t believe how hard it was to find a bar open on a sunny afternoon. 2pm beers didn’t seem to exist outside of restaurants or late brunches. I’d never really thought about it. How often do I roam around looking for an afternoon beer on a weekend? Yet again, it comes back to purpose. When I’m out during the day, I’m not often trying to grab a beer. You know what though? When we did stop off for afternoon drinks, it was fucking great. Why the hell don’t I roam around aimlessly with mates on the weekend? Instead of being so driven by specifics, we could surf that holiday wave any week. Summer’s coming up and patio season will be upon us. I better start training.

Much as I’m “on vacation”, I’m coming to a realisation. A few times in the past couple of days I’ve helped out strangers looking for advice or guidance. Toronto has felt like home for some time. The creeping awareness that’s dawned on me this weekend is not only do I call Toronto home in the heart sense, but I really do feel like a local. This is my backyard now. A corner of my mind holds mental maps of the city, restaurants and stores, parks and where the closest LCBOs are. Not merely static information, it’s coloured by emotion. Places I love, small corners that freak me out or have an unspoken here be dragons clipped on. This city is a part of my life and this weekend I get to share that with someone who’s been part of my life for years. It’s several shades of radness.

The other side of sharing my city is holding a strange personal sense of responsibility. If my city doesn’t deliver, it feels like I’m not delivering. I love this city, if she doesn’t, does that mean I’ve misplaced my affections? What if I’ve latched onto a minefield and looked past the flags strewn about? What have I walked into?

Ultimately, I know that’s dumb. She was looking to chill out and she’s getting to do just that. Toronto will deliver, because it doesn’t have to be London or New York. It’s got its own flavour and that’s made of people like me who love it. Whether we’re conscious of it, we’re shaping the space we live in so that when friends visit, they’ll see why we’re proud of it.

Certainly not the Ossington Childcare mural. That thing is a fucking horror show.

Why do they call it horseradish and not foaliage?

I think my stomach is hungover from Passover. Why is this night not like any other? Because the pendulum swings wildly from starvation to overindulgence. It feels like years since I last took part in some semblance of a service. As kids (and while we still had grandparents) my parents put some effort into engaging us with our cultural heritage. Once we were old enough for the afikomen to skew gimmicky (as much as a treasure hunt can be), our family experience evolved into something more along the lines of “Baruch atah Adonai. Let’s eat.” The horseradish, parsley and salty eggs ended up as dishes on the table rather than items of religious significance. Once my grandparents passed, the holiday sort of died out with them.

Here in Toronto, I have extended family, who invite me along to their gatherings. North America being significantly more Jew-esque than New Zealand, it’s a significant larger affair. It’s a full table and, now that there are younger kids, the family leans into the holiday with a tad more fervour. As with my family growing up, it’s more for the kids than anything else. We were seated with little booklets we could read along with. The songs all had transliterations and the “service” even had a simple ten minute play in the middle. It was kind of neat.

The other side of this was being bound from eating by tradition. Offerings during the service were piecemeal and followed ceremonial moments. A sliver of pickle here, a sprig of parsley there. The one-two punch of a potato chunk and half a hard boiled egg only whet the anticipation for the real meal to begin. I’m not implying we were hard done by, I’d just been deliberately under-eating all day. Anyway, you read the intro. You know I don’t starve. Also there were three occasions when we were supposed to down our wine glasses. I only counted three.

Once the meal came though, holy shit did they ever make it rain. Big fluffy matzoh balls in chicken soup. Maple pecan salmon and chunky lemon chicken. Sweet potato, spinach and quinoa casserole. Ratatouille and green beans with slivered almonds. I knew my stomach only had so much room and I ate twice that much. Then came the dessert. Cheesecake and decadent pavlova draped in berry sauce. Brownies and double chocolate meringues. A huge stack of fresh fruit and chocolate matzoh bark to top it off. The Jews may be experts in suffering, but they’re no slouches in making up for lost time.

I, of course, tried every single thing on the table. In direct violation of the holiday, there was not one dish I passed over.

Ours is not to reason why, but when.

Much like acclaimed musician, philosopher and scientist Pitbull, I went “Back In Time” last night. Toronto has a semi-regular event called Chronologic, a dance party spanning the years of 1890 to 2017. What does 1890s dance music sound like? NO IDEA. The event started at 10pm, moving forward through the years towards 2017. I’d wager very few people arrive early enough to hear the good ol’ baroque-n beats. By the time we got there (after hanging out, catching up and downing a few Lokoschewitz’ (Four Loko and Manishcewitz, obviously)), close to 11pm, we’d already reached the 60s or so. Some choice Motown tracks informed us we were in the right place. Without further ado, bullet points:

  • Since the playlist spanned such a massive period of time, it gave the DJs so many endless gems to work with. I’m seriously not trying to belittle anything in saying that low hanging fruit was the name of the game. Every track seemed to be a time tested dancefloor classic.
  • The douchebag quotient was astonishingly low. I didn’t see anyone having fun at the expense of others. The crowd was generally respectful, with no pushing or assorted friction.
  • People really came to dance, which I guess was the point. Given the lack of specific genre cohesion, the event required some ability to move along to a range of beats and styles. Something like that takes commitment, at least more than a focused playlist. Some dancers though, knew their shit big time.
  • At some stage the projector at the back of the stage was screening game footage from the 1983 Nintendo Entertainment System game Track and Field. On one hand it was quirky and neat to watch in the background. On the other, you feel so powerless watching people who are average at video games. If you feel like you could do better, there’s almost a phantom itch imploring you to get your hands on the controller.
  • People were friendly and well behaved, but concurrently I’m not sure I’ve been on a dancefloor with so much broken glass. Was it just that attendees were super drunk and clumsy? Or were staff not hyper vigilant about clearing the mess on the floor?
  • At one point my friend and I climbed up to the stage to dance along with twenty or so others. As I got up, a small shard of glass stuck in my hand. A woman offered to pull it out with her self proclaimed tiny hands, averting tragedy. At some stage later I looked down and my hand was covered in blood. Worried about getting it on my clothes (personal well-being was nowhere near the top of my concerns), I cleaned it in the bathroom and it stopped bleeding rather rapidly. If this is a sign I’m becoming Wolverine, I couldn’t be more stoked.
  • It’s not uncommon at dance events for a stranger to come up to me and compliment me on my dancing. Something along the lines of “Hey man, I’ve been seeing you dance the whole night and it looks like you’re having a blast. It’s awesome.” It’s true that I don’t take myself seriously when I dance and focus on having an awesome night. I’ve never detected a tone of sarcasm, they seem genuine every time. It’s the most delightful thing. Last night it happened twice. I was understandably chuffed.
  • I think I’ve deeply underestimated how much Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time” crushes a dancefloor. The whole place collectively lost its shit. “Toxic” came later and was suitably huge, but didn’t dominate to the same extent.
  • At some point in the night I noticed a massive sweat stain taking up around 60% of my shirt. By the time the event finished (over three hours of dancing later), my clothes felt like I’d been swimming. Pants soaked entirely through. The best way to get your cardio on.
  • Pitbull’s “Back In Time” was notably absent.

Chronologic. It’s a trip!

A new ginsation.

It’s not every day you can feel all Mad Men at the office, but today was far from an everyday occurrence. For years, contra has been part and parcel of working at a media company. Contra budgets aren’t quite what they used to be (oh those days of student radio, skulling cases of free vodka energy drinks. It was a very good year), but occasionally we still get fun experiences rolling on through work. Today’s entertainment came via Bombay Sapphire and an assortment of paired tonics/tinctures. We had a bonafide alcopothecary in our work kitchen doing tastings.

People from assorted departments scrambled to find a vessel with which to join in. I darted back to my desk to find something, anything that could a) hold gin and b) look pretty. I returned with a one litre Pyrex beaker that I scavenged for inscrutable purposes, none of which I’d yet discovered. Finally came the beaker’s time to shine. The host regarded it with a raised eyebrow and an approving nod. He tipped a generous quantity of Bombay into my “chalice”.

He taught us how to properly smell spirits as opposed to wine. With wine, the idea is to get in and fill your nose with the scent. Spirits, having a much higher proof, benefit from a lighter touch. Open your mouth he said, to enjoy the aromas without the burn of alcohol. It made a huge difference, the flavours came through unimpeded by the alcoholic odour. Maybe this dude knew what he was talking about. I took a quaff of gin and ended up with most of it in my beard. One litre beakers are messy to drink from. With such an unwieldy vessel, it’s impossible to gauge when it’s actually gonna hit your mouth. I sheepishly traded it in for a small plastic cup.

He gave out plastic spoons and we sampled a bunch of the different flavour infusions he had on hand. A couple of variants on orange, keffir lime, lemongrass, cinnamon, lavender. The tastes varied wildly, but not just from one another. He urged us to try the small drops of infusions we were each given, then follow them with sips of gin to see how it changed the taste. Dramatically, was the answer. Adding the gin opened up dimensions in each flavour. One of them tasted kind of like jalapeños on its own, but with the gin a sweetness enveloped it. As a group he got us to come to a consensus on our favourite three infusions. After we’d decided on a cinnamon, lime and lemongrass combo, he took out a micro measure (that’s my word for it) and inserted them one at a time (quantities according to relative strength of flavour) passing around tasters with each addition. It was crazy how much the flavour grew as new infusions were mixed in.

He made up a bunch of our consensus based signature cocktail and passed them around. We were informed that in a week or so, we were gonna be sent a pre-mixed bottle of our combination, enough for thirty or so drinks. All I can say is that next Thursday will be an excellent lead in to a very Good Friday.