Cover photo by Dani Ihtatho, used under Creative Commons license

2014 Annual Report: Focus

If last year was a year of adjustments, 2014 was a year where the focus shifted entirely. Our jobs become the dominating, and sometimes sole, draw on our attention.

Of course, we still consumed a lot, in all meanings of the word. Yes, we watched movies, but only 51 new ones. (That would probably seem like a lot to some people, but it’s well off our average.) My consumption of music fell considerably; I bought only 7 albums this year, compared to 20 last year and 14 the year before. There are plenty waiting to be evaluated on my hard drive, but my habit of listening to new music on my (short) daily commute has given way to a number of podcasts. I did, however, read 8 books this year…that might not seem like a lot to some people, but it’s more than I usually do, since my attention is typically drawn to hundreds of tweets, news feeds, and status updates every day. Just one more area of focus this year, I suppose.

Shifting from personal consumption to mass enjoyment, we did manage to engage in a few cultural and sporting events around Toronto this year. It was a paltry showing at both Hot Docs and TIFF, though we did get invited to our first-ever TIFF Gala. I hit up a Raptors game with some work partners on Nelson Mandela night, and attended a timely screening of Selma with the director and lead actor at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. We bought ticket packages for the Toronto portion of the World Juniors, much of which is being played in the final days of 2014. We made a trek with some colleagues out to Stratford to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We also packed a number of events — a Raptors game, the Alex Colville exhibit at the AGO, a Bob Dylan concert — into a long weekend with my parents in town.

We celebrated a few things too: Nellie’s 38th birthday, more Olympic hockey gold, Nellie’s friends’ wedding in Oakville, a new mayor (well, we didn’t celebrate the new one so much as sigh with relief that the old guard didn’t win), Christmas, and on a less significant note, a new phone at last.

We sampled quite a few Toronto eateries this year, some new, some old but new to us: Carbon BarMonk KitchenCampagnoloStockParts & LabourBoxcar SocialPatria (twice), ByblosPizzeria Libretto, and Michael’s On Simcoe. Beer became a focal point for our outings this year as well: festivals like Session, Toronto Beer Week, and Cask Days; visits from the Murphy Girls; and multiple hangs with friends who love beer as much as we do.

We did somehow find free weekends to get ourselves out of the city: twice to Niagara, twice to Bat Lake, and once to Prince Edward County. We got really out of the city six times this year: three times to Nova Scotia (twice to the family farm, once to Halifax for a weekend), once to Ottawa to surprise a friend for her birthday, once to Las Vegas (I spoke at a conference for the first half of the week; Nellie flew down and joined me for a long weekend at the end), and once to British Columbia for a week in the Okanagan and Vancouver. I also made flew to Miami and NYC for other conferences and speaking engagements; Nellie didn’t tag along for those.

Granted, it wasn’t all fun in the sun in 2014. I felt disappointed with the state of the world when I had to fend off a crazy guy from some girl I didn’t know, and when some racist homophobe ended my gaming hobby (both of which happened around the time gamergate was in the news), and when overdose and suicide took two actors who played roles which meant a lot to me. But those were all minor things that didn’t really have a lasting impact on us. Nothing like the sudden, heartbreaking loss of Michael. We really thought we had him for a few more years. He left behind a big hole in our daily lives. We still think about him all the time.

If you look at the list of trips above you might notice something: we had to abandon our plan, formed in 2012, to hit all seven continents before we turned 40. When I started my new job in October of last year and began lining up my two-year plan against the optimal time to travel to places like Antarctica, it became clear we couldn’t do everything before my fortieth birthday. So we shifted the cut-off to be before Nellie’s fortieth birthday, but when Nellie got a promotion to a bigger role earlier this year, we realized there was no way to pull that off either. The original plan for this year was to go somewhere — anywhere — in Asia, but work has been so busy for both of us that we couldn’t even plan such a thing, let alone get away for the 2-3 weeks necessary. A week in BC, where we were still in easy email contact, was as far as we could manage. And next year doesn’t look to be any more open.

We certainly wanted these new jobs, but they’ve required even more of our focus than we’d expected, and so…the other big ambitions take a back seat for a while. It’s the height of first world problems that our plans for more exotic travel will have to wait until our early forties, so we can’t complain too much. All we can do is focus on the task ahead and be patient.

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Cover photo by Dani Ihtatho, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2014

Rather than write a bunch of separate posts I’m smashing everything together into one gigantic lump. All lists are in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted.

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MY FAVOURITE MUSIC OF 2014

I am so massively behind my music-listening for 2014 that this is probably missing something…I haven’t had a chance to listen to the new albums from Allo Darlin’, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Fear Of Men, Jolie Holland, Mogwai, or Owen Pallet yet, and there’s a decent chance one of those would bump their way onto this list. But for now, these are my favourites.

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything by A Silver Mt. Zion

Year after year, album after album, the various permutations of this band (and their Godspeed You! Black Emperor parent) turn out the kind of deep, dark, contemplative, explosive music that al other post-rock bands emulate.

Morning Phase by Beck

It’s Sea Change redux, and I am super-okay with that.

Glass Boys by Fucked Up

One of the few bands (along with Cloud Nothings) still carrying the torch for melodic hard rock.

The Halls Of Wickwire by Cousins

The only album all year that got binge-listens out of me. “Body” and “Mess” both ended up on my best-songs-of-2014 playlist, and a couple more probably could have too. Weird side note: I’m, like, 30% convinced I once took a creative writing course at Ryerson with the drummer Leigh.

Age by The Hidden Cameras

Featuring an excellent first half, and a second half that goes way off the disco rails until recovering at the final song. Mid-album hiccups or not, the five good songs continue the Cameras’ trend of making the best power-pop on the go.

Lazaretto by Jack White

Not as good as Blunderbuss, but still good enough to land on this list. The best song — “High Ball Stepper” — doesn’t even have words…just whoops.

Do Not Engage by The Pack A.D.

Raw, messy, stripped-down garage rock has been done many times, but there’s something about The Pack A.D.’s method of it that still feels vital. It’s not ground-breaking or innovative. It’s just smash-mouth guitar and drums.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Pharoahe Monch

Well, this is unexpected. Rap ended up on my radar this year, and Pharoahe’s concept album was recommended. It’s ambitious and catchy and spastic and troubling and a cri de coeur all at once. In that way it’s not unlike any of the Godspeed or Silver Mt. Zion stuff I’ve been listening to for a decade.

RTJ2 by Run The Jewels

Part of the reason rap (good rap) finally resonated with me is that I tuned into the fact that it’s the new punk music. With the political climate in the US this year, the anger and resentment in rap sounds not unlike angry working-class British kids in the 70s and 80s.

Seeds by TV On The Radio

These guys keep picking up rock and roll by the throat and dragging it up the evolutionary ladder. The whole album felt completely new and yet totally familiar from start to end.

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MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2014

I can’t really declare this as the list. Not yet. We’re just so far behind on our movie-watching this year that we haven’t yet seen Boyhood, Starred Up, The Babadook, Life Itself, Citizenfour, Blue Ruin, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer, Birdman, Force Majeure, Frank, Wild, Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Wanted Man, Omar, Top Five, Locke, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant, Foxcatcher, Under the Skin, Cold in July, John Wick, Listen Up Philip, Night Moves, or Interstellar, so my list will be updated like crazy in the coming months.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Drop
  3. Gone Girl
  4. Guardians Of The Galaxy
  5. Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow
  6. Ned Rifle
  7. Selma
  8. The Skeleton Twins
  9. Willow Creek
  10. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

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MY FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2014

No shocks here. I feel like we’re pretty much right down the middle of the critical lists so I’ll just list them alphabetically. I don’t think I’m alone in putting together a list without a single show from a big US or Canadian network. I also don’t think I’m alone in being hugely disappointed by the final seasons of The Newsroom and Sons Of Anarchy.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

An outstanding final act to one of the best TV series of all time.

Game Of Thrones (HBO)

Year after year, I find myself excited for every single episode, even though I’ve already read the books.

Homeland (Showtime)

This year recovered nicely from the mess of last season, though it turned almost too action-y for an episode or two there. Still, their once-best character had become a weight around their necks, and the series looks to have found new life.

House Of Cards (Netflix)

This show didn’t introduce us to binge-watching, but it may have perfected the process. Kevin Spacey’s time doing Shakespeare at the Old Vic has come in handy.

Mad Men (AMC)

There is no more textured, styled, and crafted show on TV. To keep watching these people, and one man especially, on the verge of self-destruction for so long is a quiet thrill.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

The show focused less on Piper’s love life this season and more on prison politics this year, which was a welcome shift. The best part of each episode is the infusion of backstory to help color a character’s current, or even past, actions. Morello’s backstory episode was one of the most heartbreaking things I watched all year.

Sherlock (BBC)

The format takes some getting used to — it’s easier to treat it as 9 30-minute episodes rather than 3 90-minute episodes, I find — but the performances are just so on: Cumberbatch as the manic, Freeman as the depressive, all else as the comic relief and dramatic tension.

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Who’d have thunk it: HBO made the best half-hour comedy of the year (though New Girl was close). It was a funny series all along, nicely excoriating the valley mentality, until it peaked (see what I did there?) in episode 8. That finale, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency”, was simultaneously the crudest and cleverest joke on TV all year.

True Detective (HBO)

This show has been discussed, dissected, and interrogated a thousand times already. I have nothing to add, except that I’m excited for season 2. I love the concept of moving from story to story with new characters but similar formats. I just don’t know if they can recreate the alchemy. They have an incredibly high bar to get over.

Walking Dead (AMC)

The gory deaths and shambling piles of disgusting are just window-dressing. This is a show about humans under incredible pressure, not so much from walkers — as the show explained, pretty much everyone left alive is a badass now — but from each other.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2014

Which is to say, the only books I read in 2014.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Brutal, beautiful, poetic. Not unlike the country we live in, the country it’s about. There are images drawn in this book that I’ll never forget.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I admit to being biased — I am deeply in love with the author — but this is an impressive story of how to succeed by working your ass off and scaring yourself.

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

I bought this right after watching the (surprisingly good) film. In truth, what Marcus Luttrell went through was even more brutal than the film portrayed. The most gripping part for me, though, was the account of his Navy Seal training. It provides context for how he survives his post-combat ordeal, but it was also a fascinating look inside how they separate elite warriors from great ones. The anti-liberal tirades get a little boring after a while, but the guy’s earned the right to vent at whoever he wants to.

Curse Of The Narrows by Laura MacDonald

I started reading this on December 6th of last year, the anniversary of the Halifax explosion. I picked it up and put it down into the new year, finally finishing it in January. I’ve read many accounts of the disaster but this was the most expertly conceived, and detailed in explanation of the aftermath.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Recommended to me by my writing instructor several years ago, this sat on my shelf for the longest time. I wish it hadn’t. It was brilliant. Almost like a much softer, more grounded Slaughterhouse Five.

Anchorboy by Jay Onrait

I read this on the flights to and from Halifax. It’s really just a collection of funny anecdotes from Onrait’s career as a sports anchor, but it was damned funny.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

I remember this book sitting on my dad’s bookshelf years ago, but never read it. The latest Ebola outbreak spurred conversation between CBJ and myself, and he mentioned that he read this — and that it scared the crap out of him. I bought it the next day, and read it in a weekend. And now I am sufficiently crapless as well.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Astounding. The best sci-fi writers couldn’t have made this story up. I would have preferred a little less focus on the family and a little more focus on the science & circumstances, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

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THE BEST MEALS I ATE IN 2014

I’ve never tried a list like this before. It’s by nature incomplete since I couldn’t possibly remember all the great meals Nellie made just for us this year, and have therefore chosen to only include out-of-home meals. Even then, I’m sure I’m missing a few outings, but here are the ones that stick in my mind. In chronological order:

Jacobs & Co.Toronto

I’ll say it again: this is the best steakhouse in Toronto. Way back in January I went with a former vendor (so, sans Nellie, which I paid for) who didn’t believe my hype. They proved him wrong.

CarismaToronto

This has become a neighbourhood regular for us, but one meal stands out: celebrating Nellie’s job promotion, we asked for a special bottle to go with my lamb and Nellie’s steak. Our server pulled one of his favourites, the 1997 Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bricco De Neueis Riserva. Since that night he’s always recognized us, and I’ve always trusted his recommendations implicitly. That wine, the food, the service…everything came together as it so often does there: simple, perfectly executed Italian.

CarnevinoLas Vegas

This was probably the most expensive meal we’ve ever eaten. But it was also one of the best steaks, and one of the best meals, we’ve ever eaten. And what’s Vegas for, if not to spend money? Plus, bonus points for great music.

CampagnoloToronto

We attended a couple of wine-related events at restaurants this year, and usually the food at such things is mediocre at best. But this event, put on by Tawse for their wine club members to introduce their new Redstone wines, was outstanding. Not just “good for an event like this”, but some of the tastiest food we ate all year. What makes it all the more impressive is that the kitchen was serving the same thing to a room of ~60 people at the same time.

BazaarMiami

Certainly the most adventurous meal I ate all year, this was an event put on by a vendor at a Miami conference at which I’d spoken the day before. My friend T-Bone and I had to explain what we were eating to the couple sitting next to us — their midwestern diet consisted mostly of various forms of bratwurst and cheese, so things like salmon roe, dragon fruit ceviche, bone marrow, churrasco, jamón ibérico, etc. really confused them. Terrific cocktails too.

Pretty much every mealBat Lake

Grilled ribeyes, seafood feasts, chardonnay verticals, smoked pork shoulders, charcuterie, vintage sparkling…every visit to our friends’ cottage is an extravagant affair where we try to one-up the previous visit with food and drink.

EDNAHalifax

In a rapid-fire weekend of eating and drinking with friends back on the east coast, our brunch at EDNA after an epic night of beer sampling not only saved us, but stood out as the most memorable meal. It was also one of the coolest places we’ve ever tried in Halifax. I see it becoming a mainstay for future visits.

RauDZKelowna

We ate well all up and down the Okanagan on our trip there this past fall, but RauDZ hurdled the bar on our very last night there. There was nothing particularly fancy about the meal — they just cooked everything perfectly is all. The saffron risotto was the ideal introduction. My duck was among the best I’ve ever eaten. The sides, simple local vegetables, were shockingly flavourful. The wine pairing, a Pinot from a winery we’d visited just hours before, was a perfect match. I declared it the best meal I’d eaten all year. I still stand by that, but had I known what I’d be eating for dinner 24 hours later I’d have at least paused for thought.

HawksworthVancouver

Hawksworth may have cost twice what RauDZ did, but that’s probably to be expected at the #1 restaurant in Vancouver. The food was both adventurous and precise, especially our starters. And when there’s a rack of lamb special, you share that shit. Worth every penny.

PatriaToronto

We’d never really jumped into the big Spanish restaurant trend (quickly followed by the lo-fi, then hi-fi, Mexican trend) in Toronto, but a work event at Patria had me wanting to return. When I took Nellie we simply placed ourselves in the capable hands of the staff: chef chose our meal, and our server chose the pairings. It worked out incredibly well, especially considering there wasn’t a “traditional” table wine pairing to be had.

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THE BEST BEERS I DRANK IN 2014

The great thing about an app like Untappd is that I can (and do) record every beer I drink. To the best of my recollection, these are the best beers I tried for the first time in 2014…I didn’t include perennial favourites. Sadly, I don’t have an Untappd-equivalent app for wine the way I do with beer, and so don’t have a similar list.

Ballast Point Victory At Sea (with ghost peppers)

The stand out for me from this year’s Cask Days. This is a perfect porter which happened to be infused with the world’s hottest pepper, resulting in a kind of burn I’ve never felt before. I don’t mean that it was the hottest burn I’ve ever felt, but rather that it burned in a pleasant way that didn’t affect the flavour. All the heat was in the back of my throat and not on my tongue. I couldn’t really describe it. But it was tremendous.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

I had this in Las Vegas, while Nellie and I sat on the patio at the Todd English P.U.B., keeping dry under the overhang of a Daniel Libeskind crystal structure. We had many beers that day; this oatmeal stout was my favourite.

Founders Porter

In New York for work, I grabbed a quiet hour or two at The Ginger Man, one of the top beer spots in Manhattan. I used two flights to cover every porter and stout on their (rather considerable) list, and this classic porter was my favourite. The New Holland Dragon’s Milk Stout was a close second.

Gueuzerie Tilquin Oude Gueuze Tilquin (quetsche)

Knowing my fondness for Gueuze Tilquin, our friends Steph & Jeff brought two bottles of it back for me from a road trip. We shared the larger bottle, with Quetsche (plum), on my birthday. It was outstanding. What amazing friends.

Indie Ale House Fallen Idol

Sampled during a visit from one of the Murphy Girls, she and I both fell for this sour whilst devouring some of Indie’s fried chicken.

Nickel Brook Cuvée 2013 Reserve

At the very end of our second night — and second consecutive visit to Brother’s Beer Bistro in Ottawa — our server had to go deep into the beer list to find something which would catch my fancy, and he found it with this spicy, bourbon-y, almost gruit-y reserve. I could still taste it (mostly in a good way) when I woke up five hours later.

Sawdust City X Bar Hop Blood Of Cthulhu

Another Cask Days debut. Not quite as stellar as the Ballast Point fireball, but pretty badass nonetheless. And bonus points for the Lovecraft reference. It was hilarious to listen people try to figure out how to order it.

Silversmith Knuckles of ‘Frisco

Sometimes, when you’re in wine country, you need a beer. Such was the case after a long morning of sampling wines through the Niagara peninsula, when we stopped in at Silversmith to buy some brews. Without sampling I took a bottle of their latest nut brown ale; we tried it later that night and I immediately regretted not buying more. It tasted as good as Black Oak’s nut brown, my favourite of the style.

Trou Du Diable Volo 25th Anniversary Ale

Just after Cask Days we retreated to Wvrst for some food, wherein Adam and I felt compelled to keep drinking great beer. We began pulling bottles from their collection, including this beautiful sour ale. Felt special. Certainly cost special.

Wellington Chocolate Milk Stout

My favourite at this year’s Session Toronto beer festival. Granted, I’ve fallen hard for milk stouts of late — last year Tom Green’s milk stout collaboration with Beau’s was my favourite at Session — but this one had extra complexity. There’s a bottle of it ageing in my wine fridge right now.

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MY FAVOURITE MOMENTS OF 2014

It’s totally arbitrary and almost certainly incomplete, but these are the moments I’ll likely remember from 2014.

  1. Nellie drinking bubbly right from the bottle on her birthday
  2. Watching Canada win another gold medal in men’s and women’s hockey
  3. Setting down inside the Grand Canyon in a helicopter
  4. Le Rêve at the Wynn Theatre in Las Vegas
  5. Watching Montreal beat Boston in game 7, at our friend Steph’s place, while drinking Gueuze Tilquin
  6. Meeting my new nephew
  7. Not one, but two extraordinary sunsets at Bat Lake
  8. The view from the rooftop bar at the Viceroy Hotel in Manhattan
  9. The Okanagan Valley
  10. While on vacation in BC, seeing a big male killer whale swim toward our boat and dive right underneath us
  11. My first experience at Cask Days
  12. Breathing a sigh of relief when we knew there’d be no more mayor Ford
  13. Watching Bob Dylan play “Lovesick”, with my dad
  14. Surprising our friend Carolyn in line for brunch in Ottawa
  15. My family’s farm, every single time
  16. Last-minute (literally) addition: New Year’s Eve at Bat Lake.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from the Michael's On Simcoe site

Michael’s on Simcoe

Yesterday was our 11th anniversary. We spent it watching hockey. That’s how cool my wife is.

After we watched Sweden smoke Denmark (accompanied by two hours of loud, drunk commentary by the world’s most annoying human behind us, who was mercifully tossed from the building before the final period) and Switzerland manhandle the Czechs, with a couple of heavy beers (Black Oak Nutcracker porter and the Muskoka Winter Jacket) at Corks in between games, we got ourselves tucked in for dinner at Michael’s On Simcoe. It’s a steak place we’ve been meaning to try since it opened over a year ago.

When we walked in we noticed most of the activity was in the dining room ahead of us, but they led us into the stark, quiet bar at the front. It seemed like they dropped the tables they expected to be lightweights into the bar area, and but for one table and a single dude at the bar we were alone in the whole section. No matter; the food would be the same.

It turns out our server had been in Nova Scotia last week, just as we were, and also grew up near where Nellie’s family was stationed for years. So that’s why she was so nice.

We started with glasses of Veuve Clicquot and Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay (which took us back to our days in Cape Town) to go with our starters: aragosta gnocchi w/ fresh lobster, spiced tomato, garlic, lobster stock, and fresh basil for Nellie, and tonno crudo (fresh tuna, basil, cucumber, shallot, crisp chick peas, and tomato dressing) for me. For our main we split a 25oz bone-in ribeye, w/ sides of shredded brussels sprouts with apple and bacon, and heirloom tomato & cucumber salad. We paired it with a bottle of 2006 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was rich but not overwhelming in the way that some California cabs are. Strong but subtle, it paired beautifully with the steak. The steak was excellent. Maybe not the best I’ve ever had — it was a little overcooked at the edges — but definitely worthy of a celebration.

We underestimated the size of their desserts and ordered one each: a maple walnut butter tart w/ cinnamon ice cream and poached pear for me, and sticky toffee pudding w/ a caramelized apple for Nellie. My butter tart was more like a butter tray, so I’m glad I ordered a smoky bourbon to counter the overwhelming sweetness. Nellie ordered Amarone with her dessert; we’re not quite sure what she got but it wasn’t Amarone.

We had no complaints about our meal — on the contrary, we quite enjoyed it. But it did nothing to knock Jacobs & Co out of our #1 choice for Toronto steakhouses.

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Cover photo from the Michael’s On Simcoe site

#HereWeGo

It’s an annual Christmastime tradition to me, watching the World Junior hockey tournament. Since this year’s tournament is being split between Toronto and Montreal we bought four ticket packages — two for us, two for CBJ+M. We won’t see Canada play any preliminary round games, but we’ll see them in the playoffs. Assuming they make the playoffs. *gulp*

We missed the exhibition game against Russia last week while we were in NS, so our tournament started with the official games. We watched Russia barely squeak past Denmark in what turned out to be a very exciting game. Apart from pockets of Russian fans the entirety of the ACC was cheering for the underdog Danes, and with a 2-0 lead they nearly pulled it off. Alas, by the time it got to a shootout the Russian skill took over.

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We had almost two hours to kill before our second game, so we wandered over to Maple Leaf Square. The Real Sports Bar was predictably packed, so we went in search of Corks, a rumoured craft beer bar in the back corner of a Longo’s supermarket…no, seriously. We found it, and chose from a very solid list of local craft beer and wine. I had a Black Oak Nut Brown; Nellie had a Collective Arts Rhyme & Reason pale. Nellie was full from her earlier bucket of Coors Light at the game but I had an additional half pint — alas, the Great Lakes Winter Ale special tap was off, tasting flat & watery. Still, at $6 for a pint of craft and with local wines from Tawse, Fielding, Malivoire, etc. on tap I can see this being a regular hangout during the tournament.

We got back to the ACC in time for game 2, wherein Sweden thumped the Czechs. The Toronto fans were delighted when their prospect, William Nylander, scored a goal. Shortly thereafter a “Go Leafs Go!” chant went up, which was as sad and painful as it sounds. With the game safely in hand we left ahead of the crowd and found some dinner.

We found it in the latest outpost of Pizzeria Libretto, which we’d never visited on Ossington or the Danforth. The lineups at the original when it opened put us off for a long time, but the hype is real: the plain old pepperoni special was a perfect pizza. I can see this place becoming a new favourite. We left for home, full but not too full, and watched Canada destroy Slovakia 8-0.

Today we’ll head back to the ACC to see whether Denmark can make a game of it with Sweden, and to see Switzerland make their debut.

Cover photo by Adriana Lukas, used under Creative Commons license

“I’m a soldier, man. I like guns.”

And so, the great ‘sprint to watch the highest-rated films of 2014 because we’ve been slack all year’ begins. We started last night with two fairly quirky ones:

We could see why The Guest (imdb | rotten tomatoes) played in the Midnight Madness program at this year’s TIFF: it’s got that mixture of violence, dark humour, and weirdness. I’m not sure that Nellie knows what happened in the movie though; she was too lost in Dan Stevens’ eyes.

Speaking of dark humour, The Skeleton Twins (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was about as dark as it gets, but it also featured two actors so used to playing off one another — Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig — that the funny stuff felt natural. Well, mostly; I can only imagine that the Starship scene happened once or twice during SNL rehearsals.

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Cover photo by Adriana Lukas, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by ByronV2, used under Creative Commons license

I cannot stuff any more food in my face

As is usually the case when we spend Christmas in Toronto, Nellie has prepared a Christmas feast. Or a series of feasts, as it were.

Christmas Eve

  • soppressata, prosciutto, cheese, and baguette w/ a Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013
  • scallops, shrimp, calamari, and red peppers w/ a Five Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2012
  • Green & Black’s sea salt dark chocolate w/ La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Première ice cider

Christmas morning

  • bacon and biscuits w/ Hinterland 2013 Whitecap mimosas

Christmas lunch

  • more of the soppressata, prosciutto, cheese, and sourdough bread w/ a Hidden Bench 2009 Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay

Christmas dinner

  • Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, turnip, carrots w/ a Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir

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Cover photo by ByronV2, used under Creative Commons license

Hello, new phone

Three years ago I bought my first (!) real smartphone after living with Blackberries for a long time.

I loved my Galaxy Nexus and it served me well for a very long time. Through a combination of stubbornness and my perceived lack of compelling alternative I didn’t bother upgrading. For the last several months, though, my phone has gotten old and worn out, and unable to keep up with the demands of today’s apps and content. Nellie implored me to get a new phone and stop yelling at this one.

I resisted though, holding out for the Nexus 6. I waited patiently (but not really) for the late 2014 release date, then waited while it made its way to Canada. It had the speed, power, camera, and battery life that I craved, but I was always concerned about the size of the phone. A 6-inch screen would make it nearly the size of my Nexus 7 tablet (which I still quite like), not to mention heavy and awkward. I played around with iPhone 6 Pluses and, when I could finally get my hands on one, Nexus 6s. It was as I feared — too big, too heavy, too hard to use with one hand. Maybe I could have gotten used to it, but I didn’t want to chance it.

I ended up picking up a Nexus 5 before Google decommissions them, and frankly it still feels amazing to me. It’s everything I wanted from my old phone but in more or less the same form factor. It was also about $500 cheaper than the Nexus 6, so even if a new device comes out next year I won’t mind paying for it.

Galaxy Nexus, I know I’ve been angry at you this year, but you did yeoman’s work for more than anyone could have expected. You’ve earned a place in the device hall of fame.*

Anyway, out with the old and in with the new and all that. So, without further ado, here is the new(ish) hotness:

nexus5

* my junk drawer

Cover photo by Scott Nelson, used under Creative Commons license

Early Christmastime

We did Christmas a bit differently this year: in order to be back in NS at the same time as a brother and his family we flew out last week — the week before Christmas — to see everyone. Nellie flew the day before I did to see her mother; I joined them Monday and drove to the farm Tuesday. I played with a baby, rough-housed with my favourite dogs, watched my niece’s basketball game (in my first return to my old high school, 21 years after graduation…I nearly broke out into hives), played many games of crib and one of trivial pursuit (brother #2 and his other daughter with a stunning come-from-behind win), ate dad’s ice cream and mom’s pie and drank my brother’s beer, and generally relaxed like it was my job.

We opened a few gifts at my parents’ place, but one very special surprise: a quilt for each of my brothers and I (and our dad) at the request of my grandmother years ago before she died. It took our mother quite a while to find someone who could make the exact pattern she requested (the Boston Common) but the wait paid off: they’re beauties, and now we have quilts from my mother, Nellie’s aunt, and both of my grandmothers.

Back at the mother-in-law’s place we did another early gift opening, and wound up with some terrific local Benjamin Bridge sparkling, and a very cool graphic novel and print from one of Nellie’s cousins. The next day we flew home to Toronto whilst sat next to a screaming toddler. We dropped our bags, grabbed a late lunch at Triple A, and decompressed for the last few hours of our vacation.

Merry early Christmas, everyone.

.:.

Cover photo by Scott Nelson, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Damian Entwistle, used under Creative Commons license

Selma

Last Wednesday, after meeting a buddy for drinks at Weslodge, I saw an advanced screening of Ava DuVernay’s movie Selma (imdb | rotten tomatoes). It’s not being released to theatres until January, but TIFF arranged a one-time preview with the director and lead actor in attendance for a Q&A.

Centered around the marches from Selma to Montgomery during the Civil Rights movement, the film switches the main focus of the original screenplay from Lyndon Johnson to Martin Luther King and the movement’s other leaders. David Oyelowo, playing Dr. King, did a tremendous job, though something in his physicality could never quite convince me he was King…I had to keep reminding myself who he was playing. He and DuVernay did focus much more on the quiet, personal moments of King — moments of doubt in a jail cell or a car, moments of strain with his wife, moments of compassion in a hospital, moments of levity in a friend’s kitchen — rather than constant speeches and fire, and that added something which I felt like I’d not seen before. Somehow, DuVernay pointed out, nearly 50 years after the event no feature film has ever been made about Selma with Dr. King at its centre.

Many of the questions from the audience related to the timing of the film, timing which DuVernay couldn’t have planned. The murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and police violence in the film sat heavy in a room full of people inundated with images of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and DuVernay did point out that she felt the US has reached a point of racial unrest and reaction she hadn’t seen in her lifetime, even pointing out that the name ‘Ferguson’ is now a symbol and rallying cry in much the same way that Selma has become. In a less urgent (but no less insidious) development, the purpose of the Selma marches — the Voting Rights Act — is being systematically dismantled through voter ID laws and district gerrymandering.

There’s no doubt this is an important movie, and will be considered more important because of the macro environment surrounding its release. But it’s also a very good movie, with tremendous performances, and worth seeing on its own merits.

.:.

Cover photo by Damian Entwistle, used under Creative Commons license

All they needed was a retired shooting guard

Another pretty good weekend: the Murphy girls were once again in town. But first I got to see the Raptors game Friday night which, despite the loss to Cleveland, was a pretty momentous game marking the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo, and Tracy McGrady were all there.

On Saturday I ran some errands and hit the last couple of days of the Union Station Holiday Market. That night, after the Murphy girls got home we drank some Blue Mountain sparkling and a bottle of Gueuze Tilquin, hit Beerbistro and Triple A and then came home to knock off a few special bottles. This morning we loaded up on breakfast at the Jason George before the ladies left; since then it’s just been a Game Of Thrones marathon. Not a bad weekend.

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