Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Work hard. Play hard.


This weekend was life-affirming in so very many ways.  We got so much done and we got to do so much!  It's mind-blowing.  Sometimes I have anxiety that being a parent means the end of all fun but weekends like this past one make all those reservations disappear into the ether.

Friday night takeout night was a Little India blowout.  Somehow we spent $40?!?  The Dotytron bullied me into it.  We went to Bombay Chowpatty - a DVD rental/street snack emporium.  The food was fantastic - we had their paneer kathi, which is scrambled paneer flecked with chilies, rolled up in a flaky, buttery roti.  Ummm...DELICIOUS.  We also got their samosa chat and one of their Indian "burgers" (potato patty).  Obviously, our little Tamil Tiger Big Yam was loving life.  That kind can handle spice like you wouldn't believe.  His face scrunches up and he complains, "Hot!" but then he just goes back for more.  He ate a tonne of food.  The Dotytron was convinced that the snacks I ordered wasn't enough so he got this beef shank curry which was kind of lame - just TWO pieces of beef shank (1.5" cubes) floating in a flavourless, oil-slicked sauce.  Never doing that again (this was from a different place).  He was still worried that we didn't have enough food so then we got kebabs and naan from the Pakistani place on the corner.  Last week Lolly was trying to convince me that we should sell Lil' Ugmo and trade up (which is actually impossible - to get something bigger than our current house in our 'hood, we'd have to pay around 800gs), but when I can have this Indo-Pakistani feast after a 5 minute walk, why would I?  The alternatives are too grim (e.g. moving to a desolate stretch of the East side that borders on Scarborough).  No thanks!

Especially once you consider that we chased the meal with hangs with the neighbs and all the rugrats outside into the early summer evening.  I love my street and I love my 'hood too much.

Saturday morning I woke up at 5am and was UP.   So I banged off a batch of scones so they'd be warm out of the oven when the rest of my household woke up, threw on some laundry, and went to work planning our back deck.  This job was originally one we were going to postpone, but I don't think I can countenance another summer at Lil' Ugmo without the option of entertaining.  Plus, the idea that we'll have three kids with us this summer and the twerps will be so wee just made me dream of filling up a pool of water for the Big Yam and dozing under the shade of the giant tree back there, with a baby in each arm, on a lounge chair, listening to the sound of ice clink in the Dotytron's gin and tonic.  I like the idea that we can just have a day outside in our own home instead of having to pack everyone up to go to the beach (which is like, 5 minutes away, so I don't really know why I'm complaining) or to the pool (which is 2 minutes away, LOL!)  I just miss having people over for big dinners in the summer.  Plus, it'll be a relatively cheap job, I think?  Anyway, I got all the planning and conceptualizing done and was feeling pretty good about life.

We went to the garden centre and picked out our mulch and flowers for the Dotytron's big backyard revitalization project and by that time our babysitter showed up and the Dotytron and I went to see our afternoon documentary.  We saw VH1's Finding the Funk which is produced by Questlove and Nelson George (a prominent author who writes about black modern musics).  This documentary was okay.  It was kind of a primer and didn't really go into any great depth.  The Dotytron knew most of the stuff already so it was kind of a gloss on the genre, but it doesn't make sense because you would think that if you were into funk enough to want to see a documentary, you would already know all the intro stuff.  I think they didn't have the opportunity to clear the rights to the songs, which was kind of a let down, because you didn't get a chance to hear snippets when they referenced particular tracks and so you were kind of working blind.

We went with our friends B & G and then hung out on a patio with them and then split off and went on a failed test-drive mission.  We ended up doing an aimless walk in Little Italy (it is so so so lovely to do an aimless walk with your beau!  It's a treat I rarely get nowadays) and then went to meet Dr. Rei and Hanbo for dinner at this new restaurant, Bar Isabel.  It's opened by someone I used to work with at Canoe and it's a Spanish-influenced tavern-type place.  The vibe is incredible.  I loved the space - it's all moulded wood panels and hanging blown glass lanterns and a beautiful Mosaic tile floor and archways.  As soon as you step foot through the door it's like you've wandered into some European bar - it feels so different from any restaurant in Toronto right now and very uncontrived and entirely original and welcoming.  We ate like pigs!

A sampling of our starts: devilled eggs with blood sausage, salt cod, and hollandaise; the salumi plate; and the boquerones (little teeny tiny boneless marinated fish fillets) - which came with roasted red pepper and thinly sliced pickled chili and with impeccable chips for eating them with.  The boquerones were one of my favorite dishes of the night.  Love little fishes!  

The cheese plate.

Roasted bone marrow - very simply served with salt and grilled bread.  After eating the bone marrow and snails at Porzia, this simple preparation is still delicious, but is missing a little something.

Larger dishes now - fried chicken and sweet eggplant.  The eggplant was like custard and the chicken was moist beyond belief.  The two elements of the dish didn't really harmonize for me, but both components were delicious in their own right.  Just not sure they should be served together.

Octopus (perfectly cooked - so tender), chorizo, and potatoes.  A classic Spanish dish.  All the parts were expertly prepared.  This dish didn't blow my mind, but it's very much a faithful rendition of a Spanish tapas classic.

Tripe with soft boiled egg.

Their "whole fish" ceviche - in this case, it was sea bream, seasoned impeccably with chunks of avocado and served with a tangle of frizzled scallion (I think).  They also fry the fish skeleton for you so that you can pick at cheek meat if you so desire.  I loved the ceviche but found the price a tad steep and also, I'm not used to eating ceviche without some kind of tortilla chip to go along with it.

Overall, I would go back there in a heartbeat.  All that food, 3 cocktails, and 3 or 4 beers came to $242.00, tax included and we were stuffed.  The service was great, the cocktails list was interesting, and my oenophile friends tell me the wine list is equally nice.  My only small quibble is that for certain dishes, like the tripe or the salumi/cheese plate, the server asked if you wanted bread with it.  A side of 5 slices of bread was $4!!!  To me, the tripe and the cheese plate should either come with bread or not.  Don't try to upsell me on the bread!  Jeez.  Even the Olive Garden includes unlimited bread!

Sunday was another lovely day.  I went and grabbed some fresh croissants from Bonjour Brioche - the best croissants in the city, as far as I'm concerned.  Being able to throw on a pair of grubby pants and go braless to bring home amazing pain au chocolat, almond croissants, and croissants (not to mention a superlative baguette) in under 5 minutes by car is one in yet another million reasons why I will never want to leave my 'hood.  We ate them with eggs scrambled with chunks of nduja and shallots:

Then we spent the morning gardening.  Behold, the fruits of my labour:

We splurged on the cacao shell mulch again this year.  Look at how nice and neat everything looks!  Still so much to come - my alliums, my peony, the poppies, the shasta daisies, my echinacea.  

We worked hard and then the Big Yam and I played in the front with the rugrats from the 'hood and they helped "water" the garden and then one of the neighbours distributed freezies and then the Big Yam barfed on my neighbour's steps when I tried to get him to eat a raw whole grape tomato.  Amazing.  After that, the Big Yam and the Dotytron rested and listened to Count Basie while I went to my happy place and assembled the Ikea dresser I had bought for the Big Yam's room.  We were pretty darned productive, I must say, which means we earned our fun that evening - my friend L hosted us at her place in High Park for a Russian Easter feast: guinea fowl eggs, Polish potato salad, roasted potatoes, roasted leg of lamb with gravy, asparagus, grated beet salad, lentils, and an arugula and baby dandelion greens salad (!!!!!)  We started with cocktails and olives on the porch and then moved to the back patio and sat under the shade of a gorgeous tree.  It was lovely - wine and vodka flowing with beautiful, interesting, talented people.  I made two desserts: a flourless chocolate roll cake and that hazelnut brown butter cake with a chocolate ganache.  The Dotytron always forgets to bring wine unless I ask him to, but I feel like if I'm bringing a component of the meal, that I shouldn't have to bring wine on top of it?  Is that weird?  I dunno...I feel like wine as a host present is the default thing you bring when you can't or don't bring anything else.  

We had Hot Docs tickets that night so our friends S & P took the Big Yam back to their place and looked after him so we could see the documentary.  They rule so hard.  P is the youngest of five kids (all sisters) who all have giant broods of their own and S is super-Polish so they are totally comfortable and experienced looking after kids.  It was so nice of them to do!  

We saw a documentary called, Brothers Hypnotic, about the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.  Here's a link to their song "War" which was featured in the Hunger Games.  No big deal (BIG DEAL!)  We were hipped to them from this Rub mix a couple of years back.  They are all blood brothers and the sons of this musician who used to play with Sun-Ra.  The stuff is amazing.  It was a really interesting look at the family dynamic and their rise to fame.  Their father was really into black empowerment and they grew up kind of poor in Chicago's south side, in a really unconventional, non-nuclear family arrangement.  Two or three mothers gave birth to like, 23 children or something like that (not all the kids are in the ensemble), and two of the three mothers raised all the kids, in a seemingly non-competitive, loving family.  It's kind of awesome, as a model.  The Dotytron's takeaway of an awesome model is that the father started each kid playing on a brass instrument at age 3 or 4.  The kids were indoctrinated and woke up at 5am for practice, which always started with a long tone (the ability to sustain a single tone, in key).  The dad would give a kid a mouthpiece and say that until they could make a sustained tone with the mouthpiece, they wouldn't be allowed an instrument, and the kids were so driven that they would go and practice all day to earn their instrument.  Totally amazing!

This is the tune that the Rub played in their mix (uhh, sorry about the cover photo for the video):

We came home at midnight, completely wrecked, but full of love and gratitude in our hearts.  To be able to do so much in a weekend and thanks to the amazing help from our family of friends, was beyond nice.

This is what we've been eating the past little while:

A fantastic spring bowl: roasted potatoes, roasted asparagus, fried haloumi chunks, all topped with a poached egg and a squeeze of lemon with a pinch of flaky sea salt.

A GIANT oyster po'boy - cornmeal crusted fried oysters on top of a fried green tomato, shredded lettuce, on a buttered toasted bun, slathered in remoulade.  This sandwich was no joke, 5" tall.

Russian dinner courtesy of stuff the Dotytron picked up from this Russian grocery (where the default cashier language is Russian) called Yummy Market.  That potato salad I'm obsessed with (it comes with peas, chunks of pickle, pieces of cooked carrot, and chunks of bologna!), beet salad, sausages we braised with beer and sauerkraut, and perogies we served with sour cream.

Last night we had a simple dinner of cheese tortellini in a sausage rosé sauce with arugula and grape tomato salad.


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