Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2017

An annual tradition, in which I dump out my categorized & ranked consumption for all to see. Everything’s listed alphabetically unless otherwise noted.

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My favourite albums of 2017

Turn Out The Lights by Julien Baker

Even if it wasn’t quite as powerful as her first album – so much of that power came from how stark it was, whereas this has undergone more/slicker production – it’s still more intense and beautiful than most artists can manage.

Hug Of Thunder by Broken Social Scene

Ever the mixed bag of songs from the various members, it’s a typical BSS album (as much as there can be such a thing), which means it’s likely good enough to make my list.

Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I’ve loved this band for a long time, and have adored all their albums, but this might be their best. It’s at least their best since the world-shaking Shake Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. The multi-part “Bosses Hang” is a masterpiece.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life by Japandroids

There’s something to be said for bands who can put out album after album after album of straight-ahead, high-energy, drum and guitar rock, and for it not to sound tired. Side note: it’s even better live.

DAMN by Kendrick Lamar

Me and everyone else, right? There’s a reason why so many people have this on, even atop, their year-end lists. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this, and using the label classic. It was a classic the day it dropped.

Every Country’s Sun by Mogwai

Any year Mogwai releases an album will be a year they make my top ten. The best journeys are the ones you can’t predict, and I’m guessing no one in the band could have predicted what their music would sound like in 2017 (given how different it is than their earliest stuff), but it’s still rough and vital and intimidating.

S/T by Rainer Maria

Their last album – Disaster Keeps Us Together, which I really liked — came out in 2006, and the band broke up shortly after. I didn’t know they’d reformed until I heard this album had been released, and I honestly didn’t expect much…but it was tremendous. It is tremendous. I’ve listened to it, start to finish, a dozen times since it came out.

Hot Thoughts by Spoon

As relentlessly catchy as Spoon albums tend to be. Just writing that title track’s name has it stuck in my head completely.

Masseduction by St. Vincent

Somewhere there’s a bubble chart with “innovation” on one axis and “talent” on the other and the size of the bubble is “catchiness” and Annie Clark is a big fat circle in the top right corner.

Out In The Storm by Waxahatchee

In the same vein as the Rainer Maria album, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this one. There’s not a single bad song on the album. It’s a little crunchier than her last album, and I especially like the demo version of each song that comes with the deluxe version. A little less polish actually makes them each better, but whichever version you choose this was one of my favourite offerings of the year.

Honourable mentions: Feist, LCD Soundsystem, The National, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Wolf Alice.

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My favourite songs of 2017

  1. Julien Baker . “Turn Out The Lights”
  2. Big Thief . “Mary”
  3. The Black Angels . “Comanche Moon”
  4. Broken Social Scene . “Protest Song”
  5. Feist . “Any Party”
  6. Girlpool . “Soup”
  7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Bosses Hang (parts I, II, and III)”
  8. Japandroids . “Arc Of Bar”
  9. Kendrick Lamar . “HUMBLE”
  10. Mogwai . “Don”t Believe The Fife”
  11. The National . “Carin At The Liquor Store”
  12. Rainer Maria . “Lower Worlds”
  13. Rural Alberta Advantage . “Wild Grin”
  14. Spoon . “Hot Thoughts”
  15. St. Vincent . “New York”
  16. Stars . “The Wanderers”
  17. Vagabon . “Alive And A Well”
  18. Waxahatchee . “Silver”
  19. Siobhan Wilson . “Whatever Works”
  20. Wolf Alice . “Don’t Delete The Kisses”

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My favourite movies of 2017

I’ve been SUPER slack on movies this year, which means I haven’t seen any of Blade Runner 2049, Call Me by Your Name, Florida Project, Jane, John Wick Chapter 2, The Meyerowitz Stories, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri yet. I would expect any number of those to penetrate this top ten, so consider this a temporary list.

Baby Driver

I really thought I’d hate this movie, given the trailer, but I ended up really liking it. Slick, entertaining, kind of sweet. Good soundtrack too.

The Big Sick

This was a surprise. I watched in on the flight home from Paris at Lindsay’s urging, expecting only light, cute comedy. I like Kumail Nanjiani from his role on Silicon Valley, but I didn’t know much about him, so this autobiographical story was interesting and poignant and funny and caught me off guard. Great chemistry with Zoe Kazan too.

Dunkirk

I hold Christopher Nolan in such high regard that I’ll watch anything he makes, and this one, while a big departure from his more sci-fi and effects-laden offerings of late, didn’t disappoint. Big, sweeping war epic, without very much combat at all – I don’t think we ever actually see the enemy fire a gun – with the now-well-known implications looming just out of sight.

Get Out

Mystery, family comedy, horror, biting social commentary… I expected a comedy from Jordan Peele, but not necessarily this. I hope Get Out ends up being a landmark movie that kicks off more of these, whatever they are.

I Am Not Your Negro

A documentary of sorts, assembled out of old footage of 60s/70s activist and intellectual James Baldwin interspersed with current-day footage, making it painfully and embarrassingly clear how the lessons he tried to impart 50 years ago still haven’t found enough ears.

Lady Bird

The coming-of-age genre is so tired, but this one – free of cliché, full of real drama and humour and friendship and difficult family relationships – felt so true and lovely I could hardly stand it. Remarkable that it came from a first-time director.

Logan

Taking a HARD turn from the other X-Men movies was a good choice. Marvel’s characters, and the X-Men especially, are compelling because they’re so flawed and vulnerable, and this movie played to that strength. A sick, run-down Wolverine. A senile Professor X. Dark, bloody violence, which was always missing from the X-Men movies. Rough, but worthwhile.

Logan Lucky

Big, dumb, fun movie from Steven Soderbergh, so it was infused with his famous style. As much style as there can be in a redneck heist flick, anyway. Adam Driver couldn’t quite manage a Virginia accent, but he was just great.

The Square

A Swedish import we saw at TIFF this year, The Square was a hard skewering of a bunch of things: postmodern art, marketing, empathy, and fundraising, for example. Ruben Ostling is making a real name out of making people feel uncomfortable.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

I don’t get why so many people are furious about it. It was as funny and impressive-looking as The Force Awakens, but had the darkness and overall plot thread of Empire. The Finn storyline was a little weak – I don’t think they quite knew what to do with him – but it was still one of the most entertaining things I saw this year.

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My favourite TV shows of 2017

I know I’m likely missing out by not watching Twin Peaks, Big Little Lies, Alias Grace, Dear White People, The Leftovers, The Good Place, Better Call Saul, Rick And Morty, The Americans, or Better Things, but I only have so many hours in the day.

Black Mirror

It’s hard to know whether the new episodes will live up to the other seasons — it dropped yesterday and I haven’t had a chance to watch them — but given the remarkable strength of the former episodes, I have no reason to think it won’t be among the best things I watched all year.

The Deuce

I had high hopes for this one given it’s directed by David Simon, and it didn’t disappoint. Long, slow builds. Deep looks. Texture, style. Rawness and grime, just like 42nd Street of that era really had.

Game Of Thrones

This shortest season so far felt rushed and clumsy compared to the others, but it’s still the one show I get psyched for watching in real time. And now I have Lindsay hooked.

Godless

A brutal western series (full of, oddly enough, a largely British cast) with a twist: a town populated mostly by women. Merritt Wever, long one of my favourites from her stint on Nurse Jackie, is exceptional here. The entire 7-episode season leads rather obviously to the climactic battle, but what a lead-up it is.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The series had a lot to live up to, given the source material, but I think they nailed it. In a horribly disturbing, this-seems-a-little-too-possible way. That horror was tough to square with the fact that it was shot in Toronto, including a short scene in Bonjour Brioche where we eat breakfast most weekends.

Last Week Tonight

Week after week John Oliver turns out irreverent, insightful commentary on a topic that needs investigating, even (especially?) if he does it with satire and extreme absurdity. He makes me not even miss Jon Stewart.

Manhunt: Unabomber

The second of two period pieces related to hunting serial killers we watched in the last few months. We’re not quite done this one yet, but any series that can make me feel empathy for the Unabomber must be doing something right.

Mindhunter

David Fincher + serial killers = sign me up, post haste. A genesis story for the behavioural sciences unit around which is centered my beloved Silence Of The Lambs, but also a style-heavy and engrossing string of procedurals.

Mr. Robot

I’ll be honest: I haven’t even watched the new season yet. I’m just assuming. Even if it’s bad it’s better than virtually everything else on TV.

Stranger Things

I didn’t think I’d like the first season but I did. I wasn’t sure I’d like the second season but I do. I still hate the 80s, but these kids somehow make it tolerable.

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My favourite books of 2017

Okay, fine, I only finished two, but October by China Miéville is a bit of a slow read. I can only remember so many Russian names at one time.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Probably my least favourite Michael Lewis book, but still interesting. It’s about two friends – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – who essentially invented the field of behavioural economics, and the dissolution of that friendship. Inspirational for its study of genius, but a touch sad for its reminder of how genius rarely gets along with other genius for long.

No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

This was rushed out in the wake of one Donald J Trump becoming president of the United States, as if to give voice to the collective Canadian wtf. I blazed through it in a few days, but even a month after its release it seemed woefully dated, as Trump and his clown car of a cabinet trundled, ablaze, down the road of absurdity.

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My favourite meals of 2017

Listed in chronological order. Note: I hit Maison Publique so many times in the winter that I can’t even distinguish my visits, so I’ve left them off, but not for lack of deliciousness.

Barrafina, London

I visited this killer tapas place with my CEO and a colleague during a short visit to London. I don’t even remember looking at a menu so much as just asking them to bring us what was good. They did, and we loved it all.

Le Filet, Montreal

On my last visit of the spring to Montreal we hit up Le Filet, in the shadow of Mont Royal, and ate a meal that had us freaking out the whole night: Hamachi, Wagyu, maple-glazed smoked duck, cavatelli w/ foie gras + veal cheek, and a transcendent bottle of Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Pinot Noir.

Enoteca De Belem, Lisbon

Our first dinner in Lisbon was a truly superb find: a cozy little spot (only 5-6 tables in the place) with a well-curated wine list, and a relaxed feel. The whole menu – tiger prawns, lamb, desserts, the various wines – was terrific, but the grouper was sublime.

A Cevicheria, Lisbon

While we sat in Lisbon’s best beer bar, we did a quick search on our phones to figure out where we should eat, and this place popped up. We’re glad it did too – after a short wait, which we spent outside drinking giant G&T’s and talking with another couple from Toronto – we had an utterly delicious tasting menu. I can’t even remember a single thing we ate. I just know it was incredible.

Tagide, Lisbon

Speaking of incredible, we splurged on this place for our last meal in Lisbon. By far our fanciest of the week, it was also probably our only real departure from seafood – we ordered foie gras, quail, veal & duck instead. The view of the river at night didn’t let us forget where we were though.

Actionolite, Toronto

We had only the briefest of visits here, on an odd weeknight, as we were on our way to see an exhibition nearby, but we had an exceptional meal. Actinolite isn’t about large portions or overdoing it – it’s small, simple, natural flavours, and they nailed it. We resolved to visit again.

OMAW, Toronto

This place had a slightly weird (read: Ossington) vibe and inattentive bar staff, but the food made up for it. Especially the jambalaya formed into little black balls, the scallops in coconut cream, and the Nashville hot chicken.

Lake Inez, Toronto

Lake Inez, on the other hand, has already seen a return visit, given its proximity to us, but mostly because of our standout first visit. We met CBGB here for dinner one evening, and left raving about the place. Starters, mains, the vibe, the beer list…honestly, I’ve never even looked at the wine list because we’ve found so many rare beer bottles that pair perfectly.

Buvette, Paris

Our first dinner in France ended up being pound for pound (Euro for Euro?) our best of the trip. We sat at the unassuming bar of a cramped, dark (read: Parisian) restaurant and shared a simple but beautiful meal, and settled into a week in France.

Les Crayeres, Reims

Our chateau in Champagne featured a (two) Michelin starred restaurant, but we didn’t eat there, opting instead for the more relaxed (but still spectacular) bistro down the hill. We did eat breakfast in the main building, however, and it might have been one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. That’s right: breakfast. There weren’t even meat or eggs or vegetables of any kind, just fruit and pastries and preserves and so on. The food, the setting, the service: immaculate, all.

Honourable mentions: both visits to Jacobs & Co, dinners at Byblos and Opus, a work dinner at Daisho, and brunch at The Sparrow in Montreal

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My favourite (new) beer of 2017

My source for this list is Untappd, and I’m sure I forgot to log some, but that’s to be expected when you consume enough beer to make a top twenty list possible. Listed chronologically.

Dieu du Ciel! Péché Mortel Bourbon

Hard to believe, but one of the best beers I tasted all year was purchased at a tiny local grocery store in Montreal. All the deliciousness of Péché Mortel but with sweet, sweet bourbon.

Brasserie Dunham Oro Zuur (Batch 01 – Mosaic)

Lindsay and I shared a bottle of this sour at Vices & Versa in Montreal right before I had to fly back to Toronto. It’s nice to have easier access to Dunham’s stellar lineup when visiting Quebec.

Bellwoods Weft & Warp (2017)

We had this sour aged in Chardonnay barrels for the first time at The Wren, one of many outstanding bottles (mainly sours) we’ve shared there over burgers.

Cascade Brewing Noyaux

For my birthday Lindsay booked a table at King Taps, which turned out to be not at all the kind of place we were expecting, but the beer lineup made up for it. For a birthday treat she bought us this amazing bottle from Oregon’s Cascade.

À La Fût Co-Hop V – Rouge de Mékinac

A cold bottle on a sweltering day, put back in the tiny basement of Pub BreWskey in Montreal, this tasted like a local variant of Rodenbach. The bartender recommended this one, and she wasn’t wrong.

Russian River Brewing Consecration

Another bartender recommendation, this time in Philadelphia, in the back bar of Monk’s Café. I asked for a sour, and got a serious one in this Californian wild ale.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout

My first sip of this suggested that it was much too sweet. My second sip was better. My third, and every thereafter, slowly brought me around to realize that this was a stunning barrel aged stout.

Brouwerij Rodenbach Alexander

Also in Philadelphia, but an entirely different bar experience than Monk’s. Brü was loud, crowded, and mostly slinging crap beer, but if you dug down their list they had some tremendous stuff, like this one from Rodenbach. I drank it while drunk conference attendees bumped into me and spilled drinks on my menu and I didn’t even care that much.

Tatamagouche Brewing Jitney

A surprise late in the year, my brother had procured a few cans of this from a local NS brewery and kept them for me, and wow…a near-perfect dry-hopped sour.

Omnipollo Nua Pecan Mud

I usually publish this on Dec 30th assuming I won’t have any better beer in the final 36 hours of the year. This year I was wrong. Lindsay and I split a small bottle of this at Stillwell, and a small bottle was all we needed. It smelled and tasted like this incredibly rich chocolate/pecan cake. Absolutely stellar.

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My favourite moments of 2017

Tough to narrow it down this year, but here’s my best guess. In chronological order.

  1. Seeing Japandroids at Danforth Music Hall with Lindsay, one of the highest-energy shows I’ve ever witnessed
  2. After being shut out of Péché Day at the Dieu du Ciel brewpub, finding a special Péché Day 4-pack at – of all places – the Metro next to Lindsay’s Montreal apartment
  3. After eating lunch at Aqua Shard in London I used the facilities, and enjoyed the best view of London I’ve ever seen whilst standing at a urinal
  4. Being a proper German tourist, lifting a giant dunkel and eating apfelstrudel at Schneider Brauhaus in Munich
  5. Getting a fresh, warm pasteis from Pasteis de Belem, the original Portuguese custard tart, and finally understanding the hype
  6. Drinking 40-year-old port with the owner of Winebar do Castelo in Lisbon after an epic tasting session
  7. Hosting a friend’s quarter-centennial celebration in our building’s party room and, later, our loft
  8. Playing frisbee at Bramble Lane
  9. Tasting wine on a perfect summer day at Benjamin Bridge, looking out over the Gaspereau Valley
  10. Exploring the demoscene at Execute! From Scene To Screen, part of the Vector Festival
  11. Sitting on our balcony at the Hockley Valley Resort, celebrating our friends’ wedding and my 42nd birthday
  12. Eating and drinking on Pearl Morissette’s farm as they celebrated their tenth anniversary
  13. Ninja-ing our way out of a garden after being trapped outside of L’Orangerie museum in Liège, Belgium
  14. Standing in an ancient Roman cave, where Taittinger now ages their champagne
  15. Standing in front of Hanne Darboven’s work with Lindsay at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
  16. Singing along with Stars at The Great Hall
  17. Sitting in 8eleven Gallery after-hours, drinking Blood Brothers beer, talking about…everything
  18. Being beautifully destroyed, once again, by Mogwai
  19. Singing along to “Frank, AB” with the Rural Alberta Advantage and everyone else in the Danforth Music Hall
  20. Far and away the best moment of my whole year: getting the message from my brother letting me know my mom’s cancer was in remission

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

150

On Canada Day I was sitting in Your Father’s Moustache, a Halifax bar I haven’t been to in fifteen years, listening to some blues. The lead singer of Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band — Joe Murphy, presumably — interrupted one of his songs to talk about Canada Day, and how this 150th anniversary isn’t so cut-and-dried. He talked about the aboriginal peoples who were here for thousands of years before settlers arrived, before Confederation. It seemed an odd, but apt, place to hear it. I smiled and nodded. Lindsay applauded. Then we drank our drinks and listened to more blues.

Let me back up though. First: we weren’t in NS to listen to live blues. We were there for a planned vacation, not an unplanned whirlwind trip like two weeks ago, mostly to see my nephew graduate high school, but also to visit our families who live there. We’d flown out a week before Canada Day after eating a big, rushed brunch from Bonjour Brioche, and landed in Halifax in time for dinner at Lindsay’s mom’s house. We stayed there that night and rested up for a road trip.

Sunday

We’d all wanted to visit the Annapolis Valley wineries — me again, them for the first time — for quite a while, and it worked out nicely since a cottage Lindsay’s family likes is down that way. So we took two cars out toward Wolfville, ate at the excellent Port Pub in Port William, bought some Sea Level beer from their store (the cashier, it turned out, is the daughter of my friends M+LK), then hit some wineries.

After driving by Lightfoot & Wolfville and seeing that it wasn’t yet open, we started with Luckett Vineyards, which I hadn’t been to. I knew they had a beautiful setting, but I’d heard less-than-stellar things about their wine, so we were pleasantly surprised that we felt compelled to buy a bottle of white (Ortega) and red (Black Cab, a blend).

Next we drove to L’Acadie, which I’d visited years ago. When we arrived the place was overrun by passengers of the Magic Winery Bus, but we were spirited aside to a barrel where we tasted all five of their sparkling wines. They were hits with the ladies, and we left with some sparkling rosé after enjoying a few quiet moments post-bus-departure.

Next up was Gaspereau Vineyards, but as we approached we saw the bus again, so we sped on to my most coveted visit: Benjamin Bridge. It wasn’t easy to find, and we pulled in just as they were closing up, but they suggested we stop back the next day. We promised we would, and drove back to Gaspereau. Which was a gong show. My memories of this vineyard were of a quaint, scrappy contender, but this place was overrun by hordes of people ordering gimmicky samples (e.g., dessert wine in chocolate shot glasses), shirtless goons, pushy parties, etc. It was pretty awful. I couldn’t even stay in the tasting room. Pretty views though.

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Our winery visits ended there, and we drove on to the afore-mentioned cottage. I was more than happy to get out from behind the wheel, play some frisbee and ping pong, eat soem steak, drink some beer (from Sea Level) and wine (the Luckett red and the L’Acadie sparkling, which I sabred open), cook smores at the fire, and boil myself in the hot tub.

Monday

After a feed of fluffy pancakes Lindsay and I made good on our promise to return to Benjamin Bridge. This time it was empty when we arrived, and we sat down for a tasting. Their sparkling is just world-class, and to try it in that setting was simply extraordinary.

We weren’t quite done with the Valley yet, so we stopped at Luckett on the way out for lunch. Pete himself sat us at our table, and a nice server soon moved us up to an even more picturesque 2-top before our food arrived.

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Before long we were back in Bedford, then into Halifax for a brief visit with my mom & dad, then back to Bedford for a feed of pasta which pretty much knocked me out.

Tuesday

Tuesday got off to a bit of a slow start, just hanging out and eating leftovers and doing a bit of work and sampling beer in the back yard.

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Before long, though, we were driving downtown to meet Lindsay’s dad at the Stillwell beer garden just off Spring Garden Road. What a spot. What a lovely spot. I had two pints, and some snacks, and we all had some caramel/activated charcoal + vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream (a mouthful in every way) before heading back to Bedford and taxiing to the local Italian spot: Il Mercato. I’d been to the old one on Spring Garden, but this one exceeded expectations. We drank Taittinger, shared starters (shrimp, mussels), ate beef tenderloin and ravioli and rack of lamb, drank a lovely bottle of Antinori 2012 Chianti, forced in dessert, and all but rolled home and fall asleep whilst watching the latest John Oliver.

Wednesday

Another lazy morning. In what would turn out to be an all-seafood day, we began our meals with bagels + salmon + cream cheese, then left Bedford for my family’s farm. Partway there we stopped at Catch Of The Bay at Masstown Market, where the fish and chips had drawn raves from both my brothers. They were not wrong.

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From there we turned down the old shore road along the Minas Basin, rather than the highway, so I could show Lindsay the sights. We admired the view, stopped at That Dutchman for cheese, powered through a downpour, and stopped at Diane’s for clams and ice cream. Yes, we’d just eaten lunch an hour before, what of it?

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We arrived at the farm, said hi to the dogs and my parents, and once my brother and his family got home, hung out with them drinking the wine and cheese we’d brought.

Thursday

We awoke to find some absolutely delicious brown bread and coffee instructions. Bless my family.

We hung around for a bit, then did a little tour of the farm, then drove to Amherst for some groceries, then visited my old high school to see my nephew graduate, then celebrated my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, and finally had a celebratory beer with brother #2. One down, two to go. (Just kidding.)

Friday

On Friday we did a quick run to Truro with my mom, through thick fog and some absolutely pounding rain. While we waited for my mom’s appointment to finish we zipped into town and checked out Novel Tea, a bookstore / coffee shop. There were cool books and lovely curios and nice coffee and tasty snacks and Dylan/CCR on the speakers and I never wanted to leave. But leave we did, and pick up my mom, and drive back through more pounding rain to the farm, where we played crib (Lindsay beat me and skunked my dad) and came to a party for my nephew and had late night drinks involving a pork sword.

Saturday

Canada Day. I started it in the place where I feel most Canadian — the farm. It keeps calling me back. I couldn’t live there, but I love it more each time I go back. Same with the province as a whole. I find I miss it more each year.

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We said our goodbyes and drove back to Halifax, passing through yet another brutal rainstorm, then fog so thick we couldn’t see the harbour from the bridge. With less-than-expected traffic we got to our hotel and checked in just long enough to get cleaned up before heading out. We grabbed a (disappointing) coffee and some books from Trident before meeting up with Lindsay’s dad and brother at Your Father’s Moustache.

Which brings us back to where we started. I’ve had a complicated view of this Canada 150 celebration. Not that I don’t love my country, or believe strongly in it — I absolutely do, and am incredibly thankful that I live here. I cannot think of another country I want to live in, honestly. But we have to confront the things that are problematic about our country, and at the forefront of that is how we European settlers (and all those who followed) treated, and continue to treat, those who lived here first. And as much as we should celebrate the milestones of a mostly successful, mostly peaceful nation, throwing a year-long party for the 150th anniversary of what was, in fact, the drawing of lines by white settlers with no particular right to draw them (other than the right gained through force) just highlighted this particular sickness at our core. Look, I’m incredibly proud to be Canadian, but I want to be even more proud because we take a hard look in the mirror, accept that we can’t absolve ourselves of this particular sin, and look for ways to heal. So all that to say: we didn’t celebrate Canada 150 quite as patriotically as some did (and god bless), but I’m not sure the stumbling-drunk goons in the Sheraton lobby or the people at the Deadmau5 concert in the Commons were nailing it either. There was a range, we were in it (not against it), and I love Canada as much today as I did last week. So.

</rant>

Anyway. We walked back toward the hotel and stopped along the way for magazines at Atlantic News and a grunter (aka, mini-growler) of beer at Tidehouse before chilling hard at the hotel. We were resting up for dinner at Bicycle Thief, a restaurant we’d tried to go to our last time in town before something came up and derailed us. It was a mixed experience, frankly. The good: great table, nice server, delicious tuna tartare starter, very good seafood pasta second course, and good (if huge) mains. The bad: blah wine recommendation (I really need to trust my own judgment more), and a table of loud, obnoxious yobs next to us.

Much better was the new wine bar next door, Little Oak. We stopped in for a drink after dinner, and loved it. The decor, the laid-back feel, and the outstanding wine selection. Lindsay had a nice California Syrah, and I had a gorgeous Contesse de Cherisey Meursault 1er Cru 2014 pour from the Coravin. This will be a regular stop for me anytime I’m in Halifax from now on.

Sunday

We had a big ol’ lie-in in that Sheraton bed, trying to sleep off all the food. (It didn’t work.) Our only real plan for the morning was to visit the Seaport Farmer’s Market. And man, did we: coffee from Java Blend, a pretzel, crepes, jerk chicken, a bbq pork bun, noodles, groceries for lunch, and local salt to bring back to Toronto. All while staring out the window at the ginormous aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower anchored off George’s Island, and the Chilean tall ship Esmeralda, whose crew had mustered on deck as they departed.

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Stuffed and sufficiently-Halifaxed, we checked out, drove to Bedford for a few last visits (and games of crib), and drove to the airport for our flight home. The flight was unremarkable, except that they were serving Aberlour on the second leg, and we got to see the giant rubber duck as we landed in Toronto.

Cover photo by Patrick Gage, used under Creative Commons license

My stomach, liver, and social anxiety would like a break please

That weekend was a lot.

Thursday we left work, went to Wvrst, hit the Descorchados South American wine tasting event, and grabbed dinner at Byblos.

Friday, after a long day of meetings, was drinks with a friend of Lindsay’s at Boxcar, then REDS, then dinner at Libretto.

Saturday we met said friend (and two of her friends) at Bonjour Brioche for brunch, then wandered around Leslieville for a bit before heading out to a talk at a contemporary art gallery. After that we hiked back across town for a quick bite at Duke’s Refresher before attending the 2017 instance of the Session craft beer festival. Here’s what I drank:

  1. Muskoka “Hazed & Confused” IPA
  2. Nickel Brook “Raspberry Uber” Berliner Weisse
  3. Stack “Expansion” Sour IPA
  4. Barnstormer “Wind-Shear” Watermelon Summer Ale
  5. 3 Brasseurs “Sanssouci” Berliner Weiss W/ Strawberry & Hibiscus
  6. Sawdust City “I Swear Sugarpants, It Was Your Idea” Brown Ale
  7. Big Rock “Withorse” Witbier
  8. St-Ambroise Baltic Porter
  9. Sawdust City “Olde BA Johnston’s Finest” Malt Liquor
  10. Whitewater “Midnight” Oatmeal Milk Stout

For the second year in a row, 3 Brasseurs surprised me and probably won the day. After the fest we met up with friends at Barrio Cerveceria on their enormous patio.

Sunday we met brother #1 for breakfast at Over Easy during a stopover on his way to a work thing. We kind of assumed we’d have some time to relax after that, but the friend-in-town had some more time free so Lindsay spent time with her roasting to death in a park while I cleaned up a bit, then we met at Sweet Jesus for decadent soft-serve and went back to Barrio for patio drinks. To end the weekend Lindsay made a delicious cheese + spinach pasta with chorizo sausage for dinner, and then we died.

.:.

Cover photo by Patrick Gage, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Trina Brandon, used under Creative Commons license

SiblingFood

Brother #2 was here this weekend, along with his lovely wife. They were hanging out for the weekend, meeting Lindsay, and celebrating a little. We did what was expected: we ate and drank like damn kings.

Dinner on Friday, after a delayed flight, was at Tabule. We had falafel and flash-fried cauliflower and akaawi cheese. We had lamb chops and veal skewers and grilled shrimp. We had muhalabiya (lebanese custard topped off with pistachios and rose water syrup) and baklava w/ pistachio and cashews. It was a goddamn delicious meal. Afterward we had a drink at Chez Nous, and a little more wine back at ours before retiring laaaaaaaate in the evening.

The next morning we got up, rather earlier than we probably should have, for brunch at Bonjour Brioche followed by coffee at Boxcar Social. After that we relaxed for a bit, then went out to do a little shopping. Unsuccessful on Queen Street, we walked north to Gerrard; we used that as the excuse to finally try Double D’s Chicago-style pizza. That pizza was delicious as shit, by the way. I will walk to that pizza many, many times this summer. After that we walked back down to Queen and sampled a few things at Radical Road Brewing. We all crashed that afternoon before finally going to dinner at AFT (after a brief stop at KT Sports Bar) and stuffing ourselves with BBQ platters. God, we were full.

But not so full we couldn’t eat brunch the next day at Lil’ Baci. We all got Baci Balls: classic for me, spicy pork for the brother, turducken for the ladies. Three of us: Caesars. One of us: mimosa. Finchy: lager. Unfortunately, somewhere in the course of the morning I did something to royally fuck up my back. Like, to the point that I thought I had kidney stones again, and spent Monday at St. Mike’s. Anyway, after sister-in-law #1 left, we crashed (again) for a bit, then went to Eastbound Brewing for dinner and languished, pained, on the couch watching Game Of Thrones. Lindsay’s becoming a fan, you see.

It was a short visit — barely 48 hours — but a fun one. Come back anytime, kids.

 

Holifax? Halidays? I can’t choose.

Well now. That was a fairly relaxing vacation. Not quite as relaxing as I’d intended, but not bad overall. I’ve been in Nova Scotia for a little over a week, and barely looked at work email at all. I flew here with Lindsay (my girlfriend, whose family is also from here), had lunch at a pub near her mom’s house, and dropped her off before getting on the road.

I then spent five days at my family’s farm, and it was just as uneventful as I’d hoped: nothing but family time, eating, crib games, eating, sleeping, eating, playing with dogs, eating, eating, then eating, and also some eating.

After the annual family reunion in Truro, a quick gathering in St. Margaret’s Bay, a speed run back to Truro to pick up the luggage I’d forgotten on the farm (which brother #2 very graciously brought half-way), and a hot turkey sandwich (turns out I like these, after years of thinking I didn’t) I was back in Halifax, enjoying some city downtime. Some highlights:

Tuesday

 

 

 

 

Wednesday

  • Cappuccino with brother #1 at Julien’s in the Hydrostone
  • Brunch, also with brother #1, at Black Sheep. He had breakfast poutine; I had the fried chicken sandwich and a very spicy Caesar made with pork jerky and steak spice.
  • A look-around inside the new Port (up-scale version of the NSLC) which netted a rare find, at least for an Ontarian: Kavalan Taiwanese whisky.
  • A look around brother #1’s beautiful new home.
  • Rogue One
  • Coffee and some exceptional macarons from Le French Fix
  • Pre-dinner drinks (Oban, gin + tonics) with Lindsay at my hotel bar
  • Dinner with brother #1 at Primal Kitchen, a newish carnivore-friendly spot just off Spring Garden. The tuna was very nice, the charcuterie was excellent, and my short rib was delicious. Would definitely go back.

 

 

 

Thursday

 

 

 

 

 

I had a lot more planned for the weekend, but Friday and half of Saturday turned into something else entirely, for which I cut my Halifax visit short. I did manage to get back into the city just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Lindsay, though, at a Codapop house party.

Happy 2017 everybody!

 

Cover photo by Patrick Q, used under Creative Commons license

In which brother #2 and I eat and drink our way around Toronto

Brother #2 arrived Friday night, hungry and thirsty after a week of local work. We fixed that.

Friday night we had beers and food at C’est What, along with a surprise Burlchester sighting, and a wee bit of bourbon at home after.

Saturday we started with coffee and scones at XO Bisous, did a little tasting at Left Field, had lunch at The Wren, had one more beer at The Only, saw Star Trek: Beyond (imdb | rotten tomatoes) which was crap, and finally had dinner at Triple A.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BL3x6TUgyCo/?taken-by=dadickin

https://www.instagram.com/p/BL31khZgrtf/?taken-by=dadickin

This morning we got extra-large coffees from Fahrenheit and then, after running a few errands, ate brunch at Batch. Then he was off, like he was never here except a few pounds heavier.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BL6RdjuAX3E/?taken-by=dadickin

Come back anytime bro.

.:.

Cover photo by Patrick Q, used under Creative Commons license

The Dickinson tour

Totally forgot to talk about brother #1’s visit last Sunday. That’s been a rarity — living abroad has meant brother #1’s excursions to Toronto have been few and far between.

After picking him up at his hotel and escaping the hordes of Jays fans + World Cup of Hockey attendees, I took him on a gastro tour familiar to any Dickinson brother: Quantum for coffee, Wvrst for drinks, and Patria for some dinner. It was a beautiful fall day but did cool off a bit. Still, with Patria’s outdoor heaters it was just warm enough to sit outside, even in my t-shirt.

.:.

Cover photo by Tom Magliery, used under Creative Commons license

CA+DA Day

We’ve just had a bit of a whirlwind visit from brother #2 and his better half. They arrived Thursday; that night we had dinner at Batch and attacked our wine inventory.

On Saturday we armed ourselves with umbrellas and coffee and drove around the lake to hit some wineries:

  • First: lunch and a tasting at Redstone, and wow what a burger. Can’t wait to go back there when their patio is open.
  • A tasting appointment at Pearl Morissette with the lovely Melissa. It was just the four of us and one other couple, who ended up with the patented Dan’s Shortlist Of Wineries To Visit Whilst In The Okanagan.
  • A quick stop at 13th Street.
  • An even quicker stop at Tawse, which was much too crowded. Pretty sure I’m done with that place for a while.
  • A much more in-depth visit to Back 10 Cellars, a first for all of us. We sat and tasted their entire lineup, and Nellie and I left with 4 bottles. I’ll be curious to see if the second taste justifies the enthusiasm we had on the spot.
  • A big haul from Hidden Bench: a dozen made up mostly of 2012 Terroir Caché and La Brunante. After the buying was done and the wine was shlepped to the car, we sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a glass in the shade.

We arrived back in Toronto, dropped the car, relaxed for a bit, and then went to dinner at Patria. We were a little slow getting into it (it’d been a long day already) but quickly picked up the pace. And what a feed it ended up being:

  • Pan Con Tomate (bread + tomato)
  • Aceitunas (house marinated olives)
  • Pimientos de padrón (blistered peppers + sea salt)
  • Sátiles (dates + ibérico bacon + manchego + guindillas)
  • Selección De Embutidos (ibérico lomo + ibérico chorizo + jamón serrano + salchichón)
  • Pulpo (octopus + olive oil + paprika)
  • Bombas con salsa brava (chorizo + aioli + spicy piquillo sauce)
  • Albondigas (wagyu meatballs + spicy tomato piperade + onion + manchego)
  • Brussales Bravas (brussels sprouts + spicy tomato + aioli + chorizo)
  • Paella De Bogavante (lobster + gulf shrimp + chorizo + peas)
  • Desserts (churros, chocolate pudding, mousse, etc.)

We struggled home, barely able to walk. I was still full the next morning when we woke up. After a while we did head off to Hank’s for brunch while Nellie slept in, then to the market, then back to Fahrenheit, and then off to Wvrst. Unfortunately Wvrst was already rammed in preparation for the Germany/Italy game and we couldn’t find a decent table. We left there and walked to the new(ish) Bar Hop, finding a spot on their fantastic rooftop patio. Well, three spots: we gingers had to keep moving out of the sun. We drank excellent beer and cider and had a very decent lunch — I’d heard troubling things about the food at the new Brewco, but my pork belly steamed buns were fantastic.

We swung back to Spadina to get some Quantum coffee and Soma chocolate, then trundled home. It was still beautiful outside so we drank gin + tonics on the balcony and enjoyed the day. Eventually Nellie started cooking, and over the next 5 (?) hours we ate seared Yellowfin tuna (with a Five Rows Pinot Gris), a small rack of lamb (with a Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc), and two ribeyes  (with a Church & State Quintessential Bordeaux blend from the Okanagan). At that point we were done all around…too full, too tired, too richly-fed over the past 48 hours. We all kind of threw in the towel.

They left this morning, and hopefully their flights home went smoothly. As for us, we took advantage of the sunshine in our last few hours of long weekend, having beers and lunch on the near-empty Bier Markt patio.

Come back anytime, guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover photo by szczel, used under Creative Commons license

Choosing memories

Earlier this week one of our closest family friends, a lovely man named Cecil, died. He was actually a relative, by marriage — my father’s step-brother — but we considered him (and his wife, still) to be family as close as any blood relative we have.

He became very ill late last year, and everyone (including him) knew that this past Christmas would probably be his last. We were back in Nova Scotia for the holidays, and thought about going to see him at church with my family on Christmas Eve, but we didn’t. Intentionally. I know that seems mean, or chicken, or something, but I still feel it was the right thing to do. I saw the look on my dad’s face when he described how sick and weak Cecil had gotten, and knew I didn’t want to remember him like that. To me Cecil was always a scamp, an imp, a sharp (and sharp-tongued) little guy who loved his land like my dad loves his. It’s still how I think of him now — laughing, and making us laugh.

Maybe it’s selfish to only want to remember him that way. Maybe I’m projecting — I think I’ll want people to remember me in my strongest and best days, and I dread that they’ll remember me in my weakest and worst, but maybe I don’t understand yet what I’ll truly want when those days come. But right now, right this second, I’m picturing him making a joke and smiling so big his face looks like a carved mask. I’m not sure I can even summon up another picture of the man — that smile is the first and last thing I associate with him.

We should all be so lucky.

.:.

Cover photo by szczel, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Tom Magliery, used under Creative Commons license

“It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.”

We just got home from a vacation in NS a few hours ago. It was comprised of the usual eastern downtime: family, relaxation, food, drink, cribbage, dogs, driving, etc. It was like any other Christmas, except shockingly warm on the 25th (I walked across the yard in jeans and a t-shirt).

We did also manage to watch two new movies. Nellie and I already had tickets booked to see the new Star Wars on the 28th, but we knew we couldn’t wait that long, so we went in Truro.

I thought Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was fantastic. It wasn’t high art — it was largely derivative of the original trilogy — but it was completely necessary to restore people’s faith in the series. It was completely reverential of the original trilogy, and miles ahead of the three prequels. A re-watch of Revenge Of The Sith (the least bad of the three) just confirmed that.

We also watched Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which was surprisingly entertaining. Non-stop action, pretty good story. I’ll keep watching these until Tom Cruise is in a walker, as long as they’re like this.

.:.

Cover photo by Tom Magliery, used under Creative Commons license