2019 Annual Report: Body Blows

After the stabilizing year that was 2018, 2019 continued in much the same vein…for the first half, at least. Things got bumpy in July. First Lindsay fell down our stairs and broke her ankle in three places. She spent the next several weeks in bed, while I played caretaker. Around the same time, I was reading texts and emails through sleep-deprived eyes about one of my oldest friends who died suddenly back home, and then about the sudden death of my cousin’s wife. It was a swirling haze for a month or so, followed by Lindsay starting her PhD program and me enduring an insanely busy work period through Thanksgiving and right into December. It’s only recently gotten back to some semblance of normalcy.

We did have to forego two trips — one back home to see family in August, the other a planned weekend trip to Niagara — due to the injury, but managed to fit in some good getaways in the first half of the year, like London for a work conference, a trip to Ottawa to testify before the senate, a drive to Ithaca to check out the Cornell campus, a long weekend in Washington DC built around a speaking gig for Lindsay, a long multi-city trip to Copenhagen, The Hague, and Amsterdam, and a serene & beautiful visit to Tofino and Vancouver. Once Lindsay was recovered enough for me to leave for a few days at a time I did squeeze in quick trips to Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal for work, and Banff/Calgary for work, before Lindsay’s ankle got good enough to do a long weekend in Chicago and to go home to Nova Scotia at Christmas.

We did plenty back in Toronto too, like a gallery opening, an Anderson .Paak concert, two regular-season Raptors games, an epic Raptors playoff game six against Milwaukee, two TIFF films, a Sasha Velour show at the Danforth, and a Stars concert/play. There were great meals at new places in town too, like Wynona, Kojin, the revamped Carisma, Aloette, and ēst. And we got to hang out with friends a bunch, including Maeg & Britt, two wine tastings with Laura, a long weekend hangout with Lindsay’s brother, a weekend at Mike & Heather’s cottage, drinks with CBJ, dinner at Wynona with CBGB visiting from Ottawa, a meal with our friend Sarah at Ruby Watchco, and a bunch of others I didn’t think to write about. We even got some friend meetup time in Copenhagen with Tess, and with Maeg & Immony in Vancouver.

In between all that fun I observed a few consumption-related switches:

  1. I leaned away from movies (26 this year, way down from 36 last year) in favour of TV (finishing 26 seasons this year, way up from 12 last year);
  2. I’ve cut way back on beer in favour of wine, leading me to sign up for my first (and probably not last) wine course at George Brown;
  3. My reading continues to shift to online & bite-size (still in RSS form, but increasingly podcasts too) as I finished only one book this year versus seven last year;
  4. I am re-discovering my pursuit of music, buying 13 new albums this year vs. 11 last year, with quite a few more to follow based on the backlog in my “to-listen” playlist.

One other big shift: Kramer. Last year he tolerated us but was pretty standoffish and mostly hissed at us. Now he constantly wants to play, and has taken to rubbing affectionately on our legs — especially Lindsay’s. Still no petting per se, but he’s getting some contact, and we can feel his fuzzy little body from time to time, so we’re happy.

So 2019 was a tale of two half-years, more or less, different for reasons almost too numerous to catalog. In the end, though, I remain as lucky and privileged to be writing this I was twelve months ago.

.:.

Annual reports from past years:

.:.

[Cover photo by Dylan Nolte via Unsplash]

Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The best of everything from 2019

Another year, another list of the stuff I liked the best. All listed alphabetically, unless otherwise noted.

My favourite albums of 2019

While I’m behind and haven’t yet fully processed the latest releases from Amanda Palmer, Better Oblivion Community Center, Big Brave, Big Thief, Brittany Howard, FKA Twigs, Mark Lanegan, The National, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Pedro The Lion, Tallest Man On Earth, or Wilco, I could still put together a pretty solid list of new albums this year:

Schlagenheim by black midi

This band sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard, any they look twelve years old. I don’t love all of the songs on this album, but what I love I love, and the rest I can just appreciate.

Destroyer by Black Mountain

Not quite as epic as IV, but as with all of their albums it gets better and better with each listen.

Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Ray

I was pretty sure I hated Lana Del Ray until I heard this. It’s so catchy and clever.

Are SING SINCK, SING by Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck

This sounds a lot like Efrim Menuck’s last solo album and all his other work, so it wasn’t a long run for me to like this too.

No Home Record by Kim Gordon

I did not see this coming in Kim Gordon’s solo debut. It’s like someone laid her breathy Sonic Youth vocals laid over heavy trap beats. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like. It misses almost as often as it hits, but when it hits, it hits big.

All Mirrors by Angel Olsen

An evolutionary step from Olsen’s torch-ish past to sweeping orchestral arrangements and soaring gut-punch vocals. Maybe the best album opener of the year too.

Act Surprised by Sebadoh

A throwback from an old favourite, Sebadoh came in hot with more of the same…and it was as good as always.

The Center Won’t Hold by Sleater-Kinney

Annie’s Clark’s production made this into something entirely unexpected, revealing that all band members are equal but some are more equal than others. It was the band’s biggest departure, and ultimately its undoing. But what a beautiful swan song it was.

Father Of The Bride by Vampire Weekend

Probably the most on-repeat album of 2019 for me, a low-key-romantic concept album with enough catchy hooks for two full releases.

Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten

An evolution like Angel Olsen’s in distance traveled, but unalike in method — this is stripped-down, electronic-tinged rawness.

Honourable mentions: Skylight by Pinegrove; In The Morse Code Of Brakelights by New Pornographers; Patience by Mannequin Pussy.

My favourite songs of 2019

  1. Angel Olsen . “Lark”
  2. Better Oblivion Community Center . “Dylan Thomas”
  3. Big Brave . “Holding Pattern”
  4. Big Thief . “Contact”
  5. black midi . “Western”
  6. Black Mountain . “High Rise”
  7. Bob Mould . “Send Me A Postcard”
  8. Bonnie Prince Billy . “Building A Fire”
  9. Corridor . “Domino”
  10. Jonathan Personne . “Comme Personne”
  11. Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck . “Do The Police Embrace?”
  12. Kim Gordon . “Hungry Baby”
  13. Lana Del Ray . “Mariners Apartment Complex”
  14. Mannequin Pussy . “Drunk (Part 2)”
  15. New Pornographers . “Colossus Of Rhodes”
  16. Sebadoh . “Fool”
  17. Sharon Van Etten . “Seventeen”
  18. Sleater-Kinney . “The Dog / The Body”
  19. Vampire Weekend . “We Belong Together”
  20. Young Thug . “Sup Mate (feat. future)”

My favourite movies of 2019

Granted, I have not yet seen Us, Knives Out, Parasite, Booksmart, Marriage Story, Dolemite Is My Name, 1917, or Uncut Gems.

Ad Astra

I did myself a disservice watching this on a plane TV, but I still found myself lost in it. I plan to watch it on a bigger screen, but it still warrants inclusion here.

Avengers: Endgame

The big conclusion to the big Marvel franchise was every bit the spectacle promised. Also: Fat Thor.

Deadwood

A welcome return to an old TV favourite. It took me some time to get back into the rhythm of the dialogue, but god it was good to see those characters again.

The Friend

A lot of critics felt it lost the spirit of the original Esquire article from which it sprung, but speaking as someone who was in the debut audience at TIFF, it hit the emotional mark. No dry eyes.

The Irishman

The master. The masters. Avengers assemble, indeed.

John Wick 3: Parabellum

Nothing new or exceptional about this installment in the John Wick series, except maybe the ways in which people die. Still a ridiculously stylish, ridiculously entertaining two hours. I eagerly await #4.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Tarantino flexes his muscle of texture and revisionist-history storytelling (amidst bursts of violence) once again.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I liked Homecoming plenty, but this might have been even better. I was a fan of the Tobey Maguire version, but this is shaping up to be my favourite Spider-Man incarnation.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Not a critical favourite, and maybe one of the weakest of the back-six Star Wars films, but on sheer emotion alone, this lifelong fan rates it highly.

They Shall Not Grow Old

A stunning re-visualization of old WWI footage, first shown on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war but released widely this year, brought new life to an old story that must be understand anew.

My favourite TV shows of 2019

I still haven’t seen the latest seasons of Mr. Robot, The Man In The High Castle, Black Mirror, Barry, The Deuce, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but with that said, here’s the best of what I did watch:

Big Mouth

On a matrix with sweetness on one axis and profanity in the other, Big Mouth is in the top right corner. And one of the funniest — probably produces more LOLs per minute than any other.

Chernobyl

Terrifying, gripping, enthralling, crazily true to reality. Maybe my favourite thing on TV this year.

The Good Place

As it heads toward its finale in 2020, this remains a cute, smart delight.

Killing Eve

Season two wasn’t quite as wonderful as season one, but it was still a treat. The two leads are just magical.

Last Week Tonight

Still, and always, the smartest and funniest show of its kind on TV right now.

Mindhunter

The yellowcake face makeup was entirely unnerving, but it didn’t change the texture, tension, or intrigue.

Russian Doll

From out of nowhere came this dark looping fiesta of weirdness, Natasha Lyonne’s charm, and perfect supporting characters.

Silicon Valley

Maybe a nostalgic entrant in the top ten as the final season wasn’t the strongest, but still — what a series.

Watchmen

I didn’t read the graphic novel. I did see the bad movie. This new show — set in an alternative current-day timeline and tackling white supremacy head-on — had me hooked.

When They See Us

I vaguely remember this story being in the news when I was a kid, but Ava DuVernay’s masterful telling of the Central Park Five’s story was intense and infuriating and heartbreaking.

Honourable mentions: True Detective; Stranger Things.

My favourite books of 2019

Embarrassingly, I read only one new book all year. I mean, I probably over-counted last year’s total in that I hadn’t finished the Michael Lewis book at the end of the year, so I could claim that one. But whatever. Life was busy and most of my reading is on screen, not paper.

Banker Builder Blockade Runner by Pat Lotz

This story of early Halifax and the Bank of Nova Scotia’s very first cashier, from a little independent NS press, was peak home province for me this year.

My favourite podcasts of 2019

99% Invisible

Come for the engaging, enlightening stories about design and architecture. Stay for Roman Mars’ voice.

Against The Rules

Michael Lewis’ podcast about the role of the referee in today’s society. Not just sports (though the series does start with a discussion about NBA referees) but language, law, and so on.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

In which author John Green reviews two things specifically related to our human-shaped epoch per episode and rates them, Amazon-like, on a scale of 1 to 5. Example episodes: “Teddy Bears + Penalty Shootouts”; “Tetris + Seed Potatoes Of Leningrad”; “Hawaiian Pizza + Viral Meningitis”.

The Office Ladies

Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey bring their goofily adorable friendship to a podcast with behind-the-scenes looks at each individual episode of the American Office series.

Oppo

My favourite Canadian politics podcast featured a foul-mouthed gay liberal journalist from Nova Scotia and a foul-mouthed pregnant conservative journalist from Alberta. Sadly Justin Ling is leaving the podcast so I’m not sure where it’ll go in 2020, but it sure was fun up ’til now.

Passenger List

A narrative podcast featuring Kelly Marie Tran which does an amazing amount of storytelling with script and soundtrack alone.

Reveal

Consistently my favourite investigative journalism podcast.

Revisionist History

As much as I poke at Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, this podcast remains one of the more entertaining things on my phone.

Slow Burn

The first two seasons (about the downfall of Richard Nixon and impeachment of Bill Clinton) were fantastic and instructive, but the third season took a left turn and told the story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Very different, but extremely interesting.

This American Life

Always, probably.

My favourite meals of 2019

In chronological order.

Hawksmoor, London

I’ve been to most of this London restaurant’s outposts now (two on this trip alone!) but this might have been my favourite, a solo climb up the face of a 14oz ribeye.

A Rake’s Progress, Washington, DC

Lindsay and I went to this restaurant in our DC hotel with her friend Shannon, and it killed. Food aside, our server was some sort of angelic being sent to help us eat.

Kojin, Toronto

There’s a reason Toronto Life rated this their favourite new restaurant in the city last year. It lived up to the hype: the steak was phenomenal, but the griddled corn flatbread floored us.

The Pointe, Tofino

I could point (get it?) to any one of many meals we ate at this restaurant in The Wick during our stay, but the one that stands out is the tasting menu on our final night.

Black + Blue Steakhouse, Vancouver

We were aiming for a simple meal but it turned out to be a pretty involved dinner with a mind-blowing Wagyu and a lobster pasta intermezzo just for shits and giggles.

Le Club Chasse et Peche, Montreal

I suggested this place for a group dinner in Montreal, and everyone now thinks I’m some kind of foodie savant.

Smyth, Chicago

This 2 Michelin star destination was impressive in every way. Almost overwhelmingly so, frankly, but definitely the kind of creative meal we won’t soon forget.

Cherry Circle Room, Chicago

Back in our Chicago hotel we had our second big meal in two nights, in a very cool room, with very cool cocktails, and very delicious food.

Est, Toronto

This place had been open down the street from us for a few months before we finally popped in. The tasting menu didn’t have a single weak point, and once again, a flatbread (bannock, this time) might have stolen the show.

The Ostrich Club, Halifax

An impromptu dinner out with the brother, at a place I’d never heard of in the Hydrostone. It ended up being fantastic. I even got to try a wine varietal I’d never heard of — Petite Arvine.

My favourite (new) beer of 2019

Listed in chronological order. I admit, my beer intake is falling off sharply as I prioritize wine more and more. I should probably have a favourite wine of the year list, but haven’t yet found a reasonable way to track + rate everything I consume. (I’m not sure such a beast even exists.)

Fairweather Brewing Beki

Eastbound always brings in guest taps, often sours, and this was the best of the lot.

Dark Revolution Black Magic + The Wild Beer Co Millionaire

Two absolutely standout stouts at a newish beer joint in London

Aslin Beer Company Sorbet

On a drop-in trip to The Partisan in Washington DC I had this milkshake IPA for lunch. Not normally the style that would show up on my best of the year list, but this one nailed it.

De Struise Black Damnation XXVI / Froggie

The next day I was back at The Partisan and had this insanely dark, heavy Russian Imperial stout. It took me about an hour to drink.

Mikkeller Recipe 1000 (Chardonnay)

A bottle of strong ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, shared with Lindsay and Tess at Mikkeller’s Øl & Brød restaurant in Copenhagen.

Bokke Vlierbloesem (2017)

A rare, special bottle of (unofficial) Lambic, again shared with Lindsay and Tess in Copenhagen.

BrewDog Abstrakt AB:20

An insanely strong, flavourful, barleywine we shared at BEER loves FOOD in Amsterdam

Rainhard Brewing Dark Fire

Part of the reason I love working at Boxcar Social is the random beers on their list, like this stellar stout.

Blood Brothers Captain Howdy

This was another crazily intense imperial stout that got better with a bit of age.

My favourite moments of 2019

  1. Finding a quiet little London wine bar for lunch in between conference sessions
  2. Appearing before the Canadian Senate
  3. Hanging out in the gorgeous Uris library at Cornell
  4. Shit-talking Malcolm Gladwell while he walked right behind us in Washington DC
  5. Sharing a bottle of Bokkeryeder with Lindsay & Tess in Copenhagen
  6. Watching the Raptors come back to win game six against Milwaukee, to reach the NBA finals for the first time
  7. Sitting in Riverdale Park on a perfect sunny day, eating a picnic and drinking beer with Lindsay’s brother
  8. Watching Anderson .Paak at Echo Beach just as a crazy fog bank roll in
  9. Watching the Raptors win their first NBA title
  10. Walking on the beach at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino
  11. Seeing grey whales, sea lions, otters, harbour porpoises, and a bald eagle in one afternoon in Tofino
  12. Enjoying the peace and reuniting with an old friend at Mike & Heather’s cottage
  13. The first time Kramer rubbed against my bare legs
  14. Tasting verticals of Hidden Bench reds with Laura
  15. An ever-so-brief lunch amidst the mountains afforded by a quick work trip to Banff
  16. Drinking vintage champagne and eating French fries in the middle of an afternoon in Chicago
  17. The first time I nailed the tasting portion of my intro wine course exams
  18. When Sasha Velour hand-jived to a Le Tigre song at the Danforth
  19. Semi-awkward musical confession time with Stars at the Crows theatre
  20. Singing a bunch of 80s songs (for some godforsaken reason) along with my brothers and their partners at the farm at Christmas time

.:.

[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]

Xmas 2019

We just got back from ten-ish days in Nova Scotia. We’d intended to skip Christmas this year in favour of a summer visit, but Lindsay’s broken ankle saw to that.

We got in plenty of family & pet time, both in Halifax and on the farm. We pied. We nogged. We saw friends. We played some crib. I drove around a lot. We had a weird night of singing 80s songs at brother #2’s house.

The (non-turkey-related) culinary highlight for me came early in the trip. Lindsay went out with her friends for dinner at EDNA, while brother #1 and I went to The Ostrich Club in the Hydrostone. It was really excellent food, and a fun time. I even got to try a wine varietal for the first time.

  • Koji aged bison crudo, porcini crème fraîche (Pearl Morissette Cuvee Blu Orange Wine)
  • Pan-seared halibut, chimichurri, vegetable pave (Grosjean Vigne Rovettaz Petite Arvine)
  • Chocolate tart, pine nut caramel, cultured cream sorbet (Port)

Already trying to figure out when I can slot in a return visit.

I already miss the family, but we’re back in Toronto for a quiet week, which we both sorely need. Kramer clearly missed us too; he hasn’t stopped silent-meowing at us since we got home.

“They fly now?” “They fly now.”

I’m back in Nova Scotia right now. More to come on the whole trip, but first this: on Boxing Day my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law and I went to Moncton to see Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (imdb | rotten tomatoes).

It wasn’t the best Star Wars movie by any stretch, but it was entertaining, and touching, and wrapped everything up nicely, and sent all fans of the franchise off with the warm and fuzzies.

Take-no-Tani Kuromame

I’ve been a dozen times but it’s always a treat to eat at Jacobs & Co. steakhouse, this time with two colleagues. We tried a three-wave approach.

We started with a Jacobs Manhattan, and then the classic: Jacobs Caesar Salad.

Round two was a 12oz Angus ribeye, La Morocha Farms (San Luis, Argentina) split three ways, with a side of sautéed rapini w/ anchovy butter and chili flakes. We had it with a bottle of Chateau Léoville Las Cases 2005 Grand Vin I brought with me.

The final wave was a phenomenal 8oz A5 Take-no-Tani Kuromame California cut striploin (Nagi-Okayama, Japan) with a side of beefsteak tomatoes w/ feta and oregano. This one we paired with something more subtle, a fruity and delicious Ferrer Bobet “Vinyes Velles” 2015 Priorat.

No one had room for dessert, so we made do with some Sauternes, and were off into the night.

“I’m just trying to understand how a person can buy a fish, and not know what kind it was.”

I’d been waiting for The Irishman (imdb | rotten tomatoes) to come out on Netflix, and then I had to wait for a 3+ hour window in which to watch it. But I did manage it last weekend.

It was…exactly what I expected. Which is to say, an amazing Scorsese flick. I do think there’s a bit of nostalgia embedded in that 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but I have no issue with lauding an impeccably* crafted story, even if it’s a fairly familiar one.

* Impeccable, except that digital anti-aging method. Yikes.

“Chekhov.”

Lindsay and I have both been so busy that we haven’t had much of a chance to just have a normal Saturday night out. Last night we finally managed it.

First we had dinner at The Civic in the Broadview Hotel:

  • Petite Thuet sourdough w/ cultured butter
  • freshly shucked west coast & east coast oysters w/ hot sauce, horseradish, lemon
    • glasses of Champagne
  • 36oz herb-crusted bone-in dry-aged ribeye w/ confit shallot, roasted sunchokes
  • crispy potatoes
    • bottle of Malbec

Then we went to the Crows Theatre to see Stars: Together, a play by and about the band Stars. It was musical-ish and autobiographical-ish, not quite like anything I’ve seen before.

We capped off the evening with glasses of wine (including one of the mulled variety) at Chez Nous.

Today we’re right back at it but it was nice to shut off for those few hours last night.

“And you were on a horsey!”

I watched a couple of movies while chilling the past couple of days, and inadvertently did myself a Brad Pitt double feature.

I can’t believe I waited so long to see Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood (imdb | rotten tomatoes) given it’s a Tarantino flick. It was incredibly entertaining, and such a colourful recreation of that particular time. Not sure whether it was a faithful retelling stylistically, but it sure looked great. Fun little Inglourious Basterds references too.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Ad Astra (imdb | rotten tomatoes) — I don’t even remember it coming out. It was okay…like a shorter, blander Interstellar.