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.

I’m a bad son and a worse sun.

It’s Earth Day tomorrow! Don’t let the exclamation mark fool you, I’m having trouble mustering up enthusiasm for the holiday. It’s not that I don’t care about our dear Mother Earth, but I’m unused to offering her much thought in my day to day (I’m sure my blood mother probably feels the same). I mean, it’s also the National Day of Puppetry, which is neat. Plus International Marconi Day, which feels far more important. He did pioneer long distance radio transmission, which ties directly into the career I loved the most. Why isn’t International Marconi Day a bigger deal? Does the Earth think the universe revolves around it or something? So how to celebrate…

How about a playlist?

  • Ben Harper – “Ground on Down”
  • Pink Floyd – “Mother”
  • David Bowie – “Dust to Dust”
  • Foo Fighters – “Enough Space”
  • The Beatles – “Revolution 9”
  • Joy Division – “Atmosphere”
  • Grizzly Bear – “Deep Blue Sea”
  • Animal Collective – “Grass”
  • The Flaming Lips – “Do You Realize??”

Well that would fill all of 40 minutes. How else could I celebrate? I could…

  • Plant a tree.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Uproot those annoying plants in my backyard.
  • Stare once again at the pile of dead trees that’s been amassing for years in my carport, gradually forcing the fence to budge. Do nothing about it for another year.
  • Sow salt in the shape of a penis on my neighbour’s lawn.
  • Make a mudcake.
  • Marathon the BBC series Planet Earth.
  • Repeatedly hit the sidewalk with a sledgehammer as vengeance for the planet.
  • Think twice about reducing the rubbish I output on a daily basis. Fail to think a third time.
  • Reuse a single tissue 17 times.
  • Recycle any Earth Hour jokes I made last year.
  • Shed a tear thinking of the musician Seal trapped in one of those plastic six pack rings. A tear of laughter.

But instead I’m gonna play Call of Cthulhu and maybe listen to the radio instead. Sorry Mum.

Van Dammed if you do…

Every now and again I’ll get some reference stuck in my head and want so badly to find it a home. Of course I’ve got a stable of references ready to saddle up at any time, but not all references are equal. Some are super niche, requiring either a certain unlikely scenario to come to fruition. Elsewise the reference itself might be from something esoteric or lost to the past. Quoting Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t tough, but pulling from the 1990 Captain America film takes some work for very little payoff.

The question is why any of this matters. Ultimately, like most of my content, it doesn’t. Of course I want my references to be out of control, but if I navigated my life without constant pop-cultural quotes, I’d be doing alright in my lil’ Maslow pyramid. I’d probably talk less though. Why I do chase the ‘rush’ of a solid reference is truthfully a matter of pride. It feels fantastic to toss out something obscure and have acknowledgement flow back. It’s like the full body hum of making a room erupt into laughter. There’s nothing quite like the idea that even for a second, you were capable of making people happy. Absolutely nailing a reference has that same sensation, but on a much smaller and more concentrated level. You feel in sync with someone else. There’s this communal feeling of goodwill that exists between you. You’ve called to something hidden in the depths of their memory and that discovery brings them involuntary joy. Then you get to feel special for putting them in touch with it. Like I said, it’s silly and ephemeral, but that doesn’t make it any less of a goddamn delight.

All of this is to say, for the last day or two I’ve been searching every single conversation to drop the “For me, it was Tuesday” bomb.

A friend once laid me low with that very quote and I felt tickled inside and out. It resonated in my heart and mind, both of which grew three sizes (as a side effect, I got smarter). In that moment I felt connection and a certain kind of bliss. I don’t know if I’d attain that same glorious sensation when I imparted it upon someone else, but until I know I’m gonna keep chasing that dragon.

There’s a documented moment of me experiencing this kind of euphoria. In episode 14 of the pawdcast I cast out my net with an “I am Queen’s Boulevard” pull (at least I got something from my love/hatewatch of Entourage) and catch a whale. You can hear the joy in my voice as I reel from a successful delve into the deep. Witnessing that, it’s no wonder that I chase that high any time I can.

Once again, it’s stupid, but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t one of my favourite little moments of rapture. Then again, this would be news to nobody who’s read at least one of these entries.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.

Résistance banned.

I broke a piece of gym equipment yesterday. I felt immediately bad, but also unsure as to what my next course of action was to be. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I knew the right course of action was to fess up and bring the evidence to the front desk, but the seven year old in my head told me that I’d get in trouble and suffer repercussions. What if they took away my computer privileges for the week (as an aside, when I was a kid we had TV weeks and non-TV weeks that alternated. One week we’d be able to watch TV, the other there was no TV to be had. I fucking hated it then, but I’m kind of stoked now. It forced me to find other sources of entertainment like playing with my toys, reading books, drawing. As an adult I no longer have non-TV weeks. I’m tuned in all the time and as a result, it’s rare for me to engage in a ton of creative endeavours. There’s no argument I’d be significantly more productive if I wasn’t so concerned with missing a moment of the internet. That was all)? Bummertown USA.

I wasn’t even doing anything egregious when it broke. It was one of those rubber tube things for resistance work. As it turns out, it couldn’t resist my pure herculean strength. Or else I wasn’t using it correctly. I guess we’ll never know. I have no earthly idea what the exercise I was doing is called. I learned it while I was in physio and it always kicked my arse back then. You get the tubing (in retrospect, I’d probably previously used one of those more solid black bands) and place it on the ground. Next, stand on top of the tubing, feet about shoulder width apart. Pick up the handles in the opposite hands so that the band makes a kind of ‘x’ shape in the middle. Then raise your arms above your shoulders, ensuring that they’re extended straight. Then hinge at your hips while keeping your arms straight, very similar to the mid position of an overhead squat. From there it’s a matter of crab walking with arms held high. Take care to keep your body aligned (rather than leaning to one side), in order to prevent work going into your back. Crab (verb) in one direction for 8-12 decently sized steps, then crab back still facing the same way to work the other side. It’ll burn your glutes to bits and with the arms raised, becomes a great full body exercise (though keep your neutral spine as best you can to once again prevent back pain).

I kept up my side of the bargain, but the tubing couldn’t keep up its side. I felt gutted and thought about the other members who’d want to use a piece of equipment that was no longer available. It wasn’t the only one there, but who knows how often they replace their gear? In the end I took it up to the front desk and awaited my reprimand. By reflex I almost put my hand out for a slap on the wrist, but no rebuke was forthcoming. They thanked me for bringing it in and the only sore part was my butt after two and a half sets.

Maybe it doesn’t always hurt to do the right thing. Maybe this is a lesson to quash my constant flight response in favour of crusading for justice. Will I suddenly no longer be a bystander at heart? Will I turn over a new leaf towards bold new growth?

Of course not. They might take away my TV privileges.

A sure shank redemption.

I’ve been 30 for several months now and 30 is great. I’ve felt more secure in the ‘me’ I bring to the world. Cared less about what others thought and put focus into the energy I’ve exuded. There’s been no fear of having peaked, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that I’ve got more of my life in front of me than behind. Tonight though, it all changes. Tonight I soar upwards into a crescendo. I’ll high five my zenith and coast for the rest of my life secure in the knowledge that not only have I lived, but for one night was magnificently alive, positively charged with potential. Tomorrow I’ll step foot into a plodding decline but tonight? Tonight I’m the master of my own destiny.

I’m speaking of course of the fact that there’s currently eight kilos of bone in ham shank waiting to be carved in my kitchen.

Eight goddamn kilos. That’s so much fucking ham. All for the low low price of $16. I’m sure you think you know how much eight kilos is, but you’ll find that you’re mistaken. If you were to have a ham sandwich, 150 grams would be a decent sandwich. I could have 60 of those. I’ve got enough ham that I can experiment. Ever had ham curry? Neither have I, but what if it’s a taste sensation waiting to happen? Summer’s coming up. If I’m overheated and hungry, why not kill two birds with small frozen chunks of pig? I could have a hamburger, but with literal ham in lieu of buns. A world of possiblity is unfolding in front of my eyes.

The last time something like this (though not nearly the same magnitude. I’m pretty sure that was a mere four kilos) I had spiral cut ham to work with. It was pre-sliced and hard to truly mess up. This time it’s just meat on a bone. I’m gonna need to employ actual technique in order to maximise meatficciency. This ain’t no two bit operation, it’s a big bite operation. I’ve done my research, but theory has nothing on practice. Thankfully it’s pretty methodical. I need to cut a few slices from the narrower side in order to have a flat base to work from. With that achieved, I can cut thin vertical slices from the top of the shank down to the bone. I then simply cut along the bone horizontally and the slices will fall off. Repeating as such for all four sides will have the job virtually finished and all I’ll need to do with be straighten out the odd shaped bits. Likely with my mouth, in all honesty. It sounds possible, I just need to think confidently. If all goes terribly wrong, at least the whole eight kilos is divided between two shanks. If I butcher the first (maybe the one situation where that verb falls flat), by the second, I’ll have ascended to mastery. Or butchery, as the case may be.

Holy shit folks, I’m just about to walk in the door. Are you excited? Doesn’t matter. I’m excited enough for all of you combined. TIME TO PIG OUT.

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.