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?

Advertisements

In Montreal, bread is what you earn and spend to buy

“Tu parle Anglais?” It’s become my defacto phrase over these past few days.

I’m trying, sometimes. Well, I’m “trying” at the best and blurst of times, but I’ve been putting in a modicum of effort to speak la langue while in Montreal. Today I even attempted to order my mocha entirely en Francais! She greeted me in English and I inverted my go-to. “Tu parle Francais?” “Oui.” “Je voudrais en mocha part a porter sil vous plait.” She laughed “boire a porter. Tres bon.” I *felt* pretty good, especially since we’d ordered from Dispatch, my girlfriend and my favourite coffee shop here in Montreal. A cute minimalist place with stellar coffee. It’s getting to the point where I’ve visited enough that I’m starting to get my bearings. I get to *have* favourite coffee shops now. That also feels great. At least between Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End. They’re both areas crammed with neat little niche stores and established locales. If I lived here I can imagine it’s where I’d hang out most often. I could live here, language and lack of beloved communities notwithstanding. It’s a vibrant city with kick ass aesthetics, awesome food scene and cheap booze. Its classy and seedy areas are mere parallel streets apart. It’s far from perfect; there’s a lot of shitty racism and separatist conservatism. Still, it DOES have a dollar cinema. That has to count for something.

I had a tremendously good meal last night with friends. While I had all the purest intentions of getting day drunk and wandering Montreal’s underground warrens, a friend arrived in town and messaged me mid bar hunt. It’s hard work finding an establishment that caters to degens such as myself. We spent the afternoon eating and hanging out as other friends arrived in town one by one. Once The Gang was assembled, we made a booking for Le Robin Square, an artisan family owned restaurant specialising in high end Quebecois comfort foods. The prices got up there and I balked a little. I dunno, I think I have deep seated class issues. The notion of flagrant spending on extravagant purchases feels kinda wrong on a base level to me. Because food at more affordable price points is easy to come by, paying $25 for an entree or $35-$40 for a main is a hard sell for me. Still, I was with friends and failing anything peer pressure may have helped me to expand my boundaries. Thankfully. I feel like if I’m unlikely to still be thinking about what I spent on a meal two months later, but the meal is still a salient memory, then that’s a fine purchase. This meal was a fine purchase.

We ordered four dishes to share and they arrived one by one. Testament to the kind of dining experience we had was the waiter replacing our plates and cutlery after each dish. First up was a fois gras croque monsieur. A beautifully crispy shell shaped like an eclair. The inside was rich and smooth. The expansive fatty taste lingered on the tongue, topped by a thin but dense layer of melted cheese. The calamari was soft and buttery, draped with onions and peppers that seemed almost caramelised. It was drenched in a creamy sauce that begged sopping up with crisp toast, which the waiter helpfully provided. Our two mains arrived. First, a pulled pork macaroni and cheese. Truffle butter permeated the cheesy concoction. Gloriously decadent, the epitome of comfort food. But like, comfort food for people who bleed money. Lastly came the gnocchi poutine. A blanket of gooey mozzarella covered soft mounds of flavour. The best part was the candied pear tying the whole dish together. That in itself was emblematic of haute cuisine. Dashing and unexpected tastes all drawn together by skilled chefs. There’s no way I could ever hope to stumble upon such concoctions in the kitchen and y’know, I feel like that like of experience is worth the price. It was not a meal I’m soon to forget.

I mean, we’re in Montreal. It was basically the only meal we’ve had that wasn’t just some variant on bread.

Here I am muddering to myself

Tough Mudder this year was…

…actually, I think that says enough. Tough Mudder this year was.

It existed. There was a path to run on. They had some obstacles. It was a Tough Mudder course, in the proprietary sense of the word.

It was also a real disappointment. Look. I’m a decently optimistic bloke. I really am. I look forward to this event every year. I train like mad to throw myself at everything the course puts in my way. Every year I have a total blast getting covered in mud, slipping and sliding, crawling, climbing, swinging and jumping. Everyone helps everyone else out, and we all make a time of it. Great event.

This year it felt like they phoned it in. I’ve heard rumours that they’re looking to sell the brand and, as such, they’re trying to maximise profit margins by scaling things back. Feels accurate, even if it’s just a rumour. Which sucks, because the event has always been a master class in price scalping. We’ve known this going in, but it’s been fun enough to compensate. You’re paying at least $150 for a ticket, $20-$30 for parking and $10 for bag drop.

The obstacles this year were altogether pretty tame. King Gorilla was almost farcical. It was a zig zag through a dry, flat field. In previous years, at least it’s been up and down a hill, adding some interesting dimension. This year it felt like they got pushed for time last minute and turned the line outside of bag check into an obstacle. This year the full course involved looping around to do a second lap of the course, with some divergent paths. There were a couple of obstacles you had to redo. It was sorta lazy, like they didn’t even try. The partner carry was weirdly short and Mud Mile 2.0 felt like a mildly inconvenient puddle. Most of the obstacles felt like smaller versions of the previous ones. It was like they wanted to make them accessible for the half course, but didn’t add an extra difficulty layer for those who wanted them. Funky Monkey 2.0 was a blast last year and downgrading to the regular version this year was disappointing. The new Kong was fun, for sure, but there was nothing this year on the awe inspiring scale of King of the Swingers from a few years back. In past years they’ve had extra obstacles for returning participants, extra challenging ones. Not this year. My team and I were halfway through the course thinking “sure, it’s nice to be outside and people are very friendly, but does this all seem pretty underwhelming to anyone else?”

This was my fourth, and it seems like each year they scale down food options. First time around there were energy gels, pre-workout and real protein bars at regular intervals. If you’re burning a couple hundred calories every hour in the hot sun, this stuff is important to keep you going. It’s kinda irresponsible not to keep participants fed, not least because they’re paying $150+ per ticket. You think they could spare a protein bar, energy gel and pre-workout per participant and still be laughing all the way to the bank.

It’s not all bad. Christie Lake Conservation Area was gorgeous. Truly lovely terrain to run through. It was nice to not have the constant hills of St Louis, but it would’ve been great for the difficulty level to compensate. The electronic waivers were excellent this year. The staff were friendly and helpful. When a guy in the beer tent started getting faint, medical responded quickly and helped him out. There was still the outstanding attitude of camaraderie and an admirably low douchebag quotient, given the hordes of shirtless dudebros. It was a nice day out in the sun and I’m stoked that they’ve developed accessible opportunities for burgeoning course-goers, but it would’ve been nice to have the challenge level of previous courses. Felt like a waste of training.

Will I go again next year? Every other year the answer would’ve been a resounding yes. This time? Maybe I’ll see what Spartan Race 2019 is like instead.

When Mudder Nature calls

It’s 5am and I’ve only been up for 40 minutes. I was in bed just after 9pm. I may have had six hours sleep altogether. Without any sarcasm whatsoever, for a Tough Mudder eve, things are on track.

I’m excited, like I am every year. Like every year, this year feels different. It’s a small group this time. Three of us. Every Tough Mudder I’ve loved approaching the challenge with a different team. Everyone brings their own attitude to the course. I’ve never been saddled with anyone who hasn’t given it their all. This year is my first time running with only veteran Mudders. Both my team mates know the score. It’s great basking in the camraderie of a large team, but you’re only as fast as your slowest member. A seven person team has a ton of variance. A three person team of individuals who’ve run the course before means that we can probably jog most of it. That’s exciting to me. I’m not the breed of competitive where my finishing time really matters. That said, previous years the course has taken over four hours, because not everyone spent the preceding months training in earnest. I get it, life gets busy and for most people it’s just a fun day excursion. Personally, having put gallons of sweat into my training, it’s been a bit of a let down to spend much of the course walking. Left me feeling overtrained, y’know? This year I’m hoping for maybe under three hours, just to say I did it. It’s not just a performance thing. You get long lines at a bunch of the obstacles and that’s out of your control. Having too much of an aggressive mindset would ruin the charm of the experience for me. I mean, I’ll be garbed in a bright pink shirt and purple leggings. Okay, “bright” is an overstating it. I pulled out my go to uniform last night. It still smells like mud. I’m bathing in nostalgia already. Just, muddy nostalgia.

I’m all packed. I’ve had my first bowel movement on the day (if you’ve never run an intense physical trial you have no idea how impotant food timing and bathroom sequencing is. Seriously). The goal is to eat breakfast around three hours before reaching the starting line. Some good hearty porridge, packed with carbs, fats and protein. A cup of lemon water on the side helps settle your stomach. My team mate, literal angel that she is, has baked some paleo chocolate chip banana bread to give us some extra stodge to run on, so we’ll have that in the car on the way over. An hour before hitting the starting line I’ll have a banana. Not too much fibre, but just a little. Then 30 minutes before starting I’ll have a big ol’ double dose of pre workout. Get that caffeine flowing. Fingers crossed that leads to another bathroom break around 20 minutes pre-liftoff, so I feel energised by all the packing, but not bogged down. The mindset is, your body really needs food on the course. At the very least, you’re probably running through 300-400 calories an hour, depending on your pace. We’re likely to be there for two and a half to three hours, so that’s a hefty amount of calories burned. There will be food on the course, they usually have bananas, energy gummies, pre workout and protein bars at intervals across the race. At the same time, too much food can leave you feeling bloated, with an uneasy stomach. If you’re pulling yourself over sheer walls, having an unhappy gut makes it a lot harder.

Goddammit, I’m really bloody excited now. Perhaps that’s pre race jitters or literal jitters from the bottle of cold brew coursing through my body. A brutally sunny day today. 27 degrees. Thank fuck we have an early start time of 9.30am. It’s gonna be murder out there.

Righto, time for bowel movement number two. Get it? Number two?

A long wait was butter than nothing

Spoliers: We got to Stratford after all.

It took an hour and a half to get our rental vehicle, but we got it. We didn’t get the compact vehicle we’d ordered, but they asked if anyone wanted a pick up truck and we were happy to take whatever they had. So we had this ginormous, fuck-off sized monstrosity under our control. I’ve driven vans and an RV before, this Dodge Ram was still an excessive wheeled juggernaut. Thankfully it had an aux cord and let us get the fuck out of the airport. Next time we’re renting from a downtown location. They gave us a $25 voucher for our troubles, which was like a sticking plaster over an open wound, but was better than nothing. With our trip delayed so much, we didn’t get there until after 3pm. Honestly, it kind of fucked over the day a bit. Despite our best intentions to check out the small town and make the most of it, we got coffee, went to a diner, stopped off for a beer and went home.

It sounds a bit shit when you say it that way though, so let’s expand.

We got into town and found a park. We fretted about paying for parking, then discovered it was $1 per hour. Or in other words, it may as well have been free. We parked our mobile tank and wandered around looking for coffee. We stopped in at a local business informational tent and they let us know where to find Revel, a cafe the internet had recommended. It was a sweet little place with a darling patio. We got nitro infused drinks, which we weren’t allowed to leave the store with. Ostensibly it’s because the nitro could be confused for Guinness (?), but also that the owner had misgivings about how it tasted in to-go cups. I have no issues with people having standards, so we sat on the cute back patio and sipped away. We thought about how it’d be to grow up in a small town, at which ages would freedom become stifling instead? As a kid you’d be able to zip around on bikes and everyone would know you. As a teenager, especially if you were mainstream divergent in any manner, you’d no doubt spend your time dreaming of bigger ponds. Stratford certainly didn’t seem regressive, but it was still quite small. The other end of town was 30 minutes away on foot. Not large by any metric.

We got back on foot and went to check out Features, a local diner that the internet once more had recommended. It shut at 3pm, 30 minutes prior to our arrival. Too bad we had to wait for an hour and a half for a car, maybe we could’ve had a meal. Fuck Hertz. I looked up the other reddit recommendation, Madelyn’s Diner. It was a 20 minute walk, but that seemed precisely what we were looking to do in a small town. A helpful local said we should drive, but gave us walking instructions that turned out to be misleading and we got lost. We passed by where the informational tent had been and it’d disappeared. Perhaps our lack of caffeine had created an odd shared psychosis, hallucinating a local guide. No matter. We walked past the Shakespeare garden and picturesque river. We found ourselves in the large field of a school, then on idyllic small town streets with colossal houses. No doubt people had been murdered in all of them. That kinda vibe. We jaywalked over a condemned (under construction at least) bridge and eventually overcame starvation to reach our destination.

We were afraid it’d be a mirage, or worse, that it’d be closed. Our worst fears were allayed. It was not only open, but precisely what we wanted. Madelyn’s had sizeable portions for decent prices. Everything on the menu sounded great, whether it was from their selection of big sammies, burgers or all day breakfasts. Fish and chips were a popular favourite. I had food envy of everyone else before even ordering, because I wanted one of each. I ended up with a club sandwich and sweet potato fries. My girlfriend got the peameal bacon sandwich with poutine and our friend had the hot turkey sandwich. They were enormous. My sandwich necessitated disengaging my jaw, which I almost managed. None of this deli-meat bullshit, it had real carved roast turkey and crunchy bacon. My girlfriend’s peameal sandwich was stacked with around four thick slices. The hot turkey sandwich was doused in gravy with a side of chunky home fries. It was wonderful. Someone on the table next to us ordered a slice of banana cream pie and I had to fight to keep my jaw off the table. It looked amazing. They’d heavily signposted how beloved their butter tarts were and I had a crisis of conscience over whether I should get one or a pie slice. Against my better judgement, I opted for the butter tart. They’d sold 7,800 of them in August alone, I figured they were lauded for a reason. A damn good reason, as it turns out. I got a rhubarb one, which was outstanding. Flaky pastry with a nice little crunch to it. The filling was gooey and decadent, not like this bullshit gelatinous pre-made bollocks. The rhubarb, honestly, was a little hard to taste over the filling. Nonetheless, there was a hint of tartness to slice the sweetness just enough. I’d happily eat one of those each day for the rest of my life. I don’t think they’d ever get old.

On the way back we spotted a garage sale and we popped in. There was a good dog my girlfriend wanted to pet. I was hoping to find a cheap weed whacker. We both got our wishes. For $10 (they offered the option to barter if I wanted a cheaper price, but I thought $10 was cheap enough) I took it away. They also threw in some long stemmed lighters for free, just ’cause I asked. After the dude took a sec to show me how it worked (it also came with extra nylon spool) I wandered town with this thing on my shoulder. A dream come true and a souvenir of our fun day trip.

That was about it. Stratford was fun to visit, it was close enough to Toronto that it was pretty accessible. I’d love to go back for another day trip, or even spend a night sometime.

To be entirely clear, I’d also go back just for the butter tarts. I don’t need more incentive than that.

It’s a bumpy ride, but someone’s gotta do it

I’ve spent enough hours procrastinating that if I don’t start now, I never will.

Do you think if a Power Ranger was in the hospital having an injury treated they’d be all “It’s Morphine Time”? Thank you. I’ll be here for the next 30 minutes.

It’s a long weekend and we’re going on a road trip. My girlfriend and I are renting a car with our friend and driving to Stratford, Ontario. By the sounds of it, Stratford is a cute little town with a thriving theatre community. Touristy, but non-offensively so. My dream is that we’ll find a homey diner where a matronly old waitress will call all of us “darling”. The portions will be both gratuitous and delicious, especially flanked by a spearmint milkshake. We’ll walk around thrift stores and antique spots, seeing weird and slightly odd relics. Maybe we’ll walk around and read a plaque or two, then grab a quick last bite before driving back to Toronto. We’ll listen to something we all know and sing along on the ride back. By the time we return to the city, the sun will have set and we’ll feel comfortably pooped from the long day.

Sounds ideal, right?

I used to love owning a car. Sure, it meant semi-regular maintenance and uncomfortably regular fill ups, but that kind of freedom on tap was amazing. If we wanted to drive 40 minutes out of town to visit a neat cafe, we could. We had the ability to go somewhere for an excuse to hang out in motion. Changing scenery meant there was always something to talk about. There’s something reassuring about the exact kind of privacy a car affords. It’s your own space where you can freely see the world around you, but you’re out of earshot. I guess it’s like how houses protect you from the elements, that sort of security. Except a car is security you can take with you. I don’t miss having to think when I’m stuck in traffic. I actually quite appreciate public transit in Toronto. Still, having unlimited access to an automobile was a delightful privilege.

It’s also swell just to pursue a different location. It’s a journey, an adventure, like all those 80s family movies I was talking about the other day. Who knows what strange phenomenon we’ll uncover. Maybe we’ll run into a local urban legend, or find ourselves high tailing it from the police on a high octane misadventure. Maybe we’ll accidentally kill a guy, flay him and dissolve his skin in acid. Who knows where the day will take us? Maybe we’ll even find that matronly old waitress who’ll call us “darling”. The opportunities are nigh endless.

It’s so easy to get stuck in your habits (like clumsy nuns) and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when life is nothing but habitual (like workaholic nuns). I’ve found over the past few years that breaking up the norm a little here and there often releases tensions I didn’t realise I was carrying. It’s like we have our defences up about certain things at all times, because that aspect of auto pilot helps process the world around us more efficiently. Toronto is very busy. Automatically filtering out people who’d impede your route makes it easier to get around faster. In Stratford though, I Have My Doubts it’ll be as hectic a pace. Maybe having the time to smell the roses will also be time to reflect. Maybe I’ll reflect on roses, or get mirrored rose tinted glasses to make my view of the world that much more insular and palatable.

Maybe I’ll even check up places to buy acid in Stratford. Just to know, y’know?

I Don’t Give A Friday

I don’t know how your day is going, but I heard a man ask his pregnant acquaintance what “kind” of baby it was. I dearly hope the answer was “goat”.

My day has actually been going swimmingly for once. I woke up and asked myself what day it was. I think it’s Monday, my brain replied. I looked at my phone, which told me it was Friday. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced that sensation, but it’s freedom incarnate. Instead of facing a heavy uphill slog, it’s like boarding a hydroslide. Nothing but the sweet rush of leisure at your behest. It entirely transformed my day. Nothing seemed like an obstacle when I was mentally cartwheeling ad infinitum. I cycled through artists until I landed on Anderson .Paak and practically bounded out of the house.

It was hard to feel down when my brain was filled with helium. It’s amazing what a good sleep and a positive mindset can do. All my public transit seemed to align and I waited no longer than three minutes for any vehicle. Before I got to work my stomach was rumbling, so I hopped off the bus early to grab coffee/a snack. Crossing the road I saw two friends walking towards me, so I wrapped them in a big hug mid cross and went on my very merry way. The flat white was perfectly poured and went down terrifically with the breakfast biscuit kind of thing I got. It was basically a glorified firm breakfast muffin condensed into a puck. It was a great pairing with dance-walking my way to work in the morning sunshine.

I had very little work to do today, so I took the time to help train a co-worker. I also drank excessive amounts of coffee, which only added to my helium mentality. I started furiously writing dumb jokes on Facebook. I listened to the sublime Harmontown episode 300. I helped another co-worker find restaurant recommendations and events for her Chicago trip. I got to leave work at around 12.30pm and go to physio. I went for an afternoon gym session and it wasn’t totally crammed. I came home and played some Magic. I’d be hard pressed to find a more ideal day.

The thing is, none of those outcomes are especially unusual. Sure, my workload was light and it was a short day in the office, but it’s not like I’m normally unbearably burdened at my desk. The sunny weather wasn’t an anomaly. I overdo the coffee often. I listen to good music practically every day. Today was set apart from most others entirely because of my outlook. To that end, I’ve got a very open night that could go any number of ways. I know that I’m not pigeonholed into any outcome and all I need to do is follow my bliss. If I don’t speak to another human being until tomorrow, that’s fine by me. If I catch up with friends, also ideal. The only major concern I have is eating something delicious, and that’s both easily said and done. I have cooking skills and/or a bank account. The future is so bright it’s practically a critically panned Netflix original mash-up of Training Day and D&D.

Before my excessive positivity lingers like a bad smell, I’ll leave you with where I was at earlier today:

“For 63% of a second I seriously considered shitting into a urinal how’s your Friday going?”