Monday, January 14, 2008

soursop juice

after reading a rave review of the food at Downsview market in The Star, we decide to head out to the 'burbs to check it out. first challenge: figuring out how to get there by TTC, because the article mistakenly assumes anyone going there will have a car. fortunately, the market is close to Downsview subway station (the last stop on the line)...and even more fortunately, a Shepherd West bus turns up at the station soon after we step off the subway, so we don't have to walk anywhere in the biting wind. the market is easy to spot from the bus, so we hop off & head in past the farmers' market.

the decent-looking vege are followed by nearly five hundred discount stalls, selling everything from ipods to shimmering religious clocks (Christ, Buddha, Ganesh, and Mecca all available, ranked equally in a neat row).past rows of Gucci purse knock-offs & antique teacups, right at the back, there's the food fair. the space is pretty spartan, weirdly punctuated by giant plastic green-blob-tree things. but i soon discover that in this anti-chain food court, the food is hand-made, carefully-considered, and made by people who really want you to enjoy your meal--call it food ambassadorship.

i kick off my meal with an amazing soursop smoothie at the Juicy Hut, sweetened with sugar cane (inspired by the drinks sold on the street in Vietnam, here they peel & grind the cane right in front of you--very cool).i'm browsing past the other stands trying to decide what to have (tacos? sushi? shark & bake?) when Niam Kabiri hands me a glass of Afghani tea. "Very good for your health," he says. i drink the tea (in a real glass) and decide to try a bolani, a kind of fried vegetable-stuffed bread. his wife rolls out a ball of dough, spreads it with vegetable paste, and makes it freshly just for me. while i'm waiting for it to finish cooking, i wander further down the line of stands, and get a bowl of West Indian ox-tail soup to go with the Afghani bread. my husband chooses a chicken roti from a different stand. it's all fantastic, and as the place gets crowded for lunch, people start sharing tables, plunking down plates of Italian and Guatelamalan and Chinese foods.
makes me think that Downsview's food court would make a better ambassador to the world than most of our politicians...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Salty Toronto

i hate the salt Toronto loads onto its sidewalks & roads at the slightest hint of frozen precipitation. i hate it, and my dog hates it even more (that's her, there, beside a heater to dry off her feet after i've washed them.) but now Laurie Varga has actually started a petition to try to convince the mayor to tone down the salt quotient on our streets...after all, if gravel & sand works just fine up North--where there are some fine connoisseurs of winter driving conditions--and if Calgary uses gravel & sand, if even Montreal--which gets way more snow than we do--has cut back on salt...WHY DOES TORONTO KEEP DUMPING THE STUFF ONTO THE ROAD? think of what it does to your boots & your car. now think about how it must affect the lawns, the trees, and the lake...because most of the salt you put on your front walkway eventually ends up in the lake. blech. so if you live in this city & you don't want Toronto to be out-classed by Cowtown (of all places)...and if you're tired of washing your dog so its paws aren't turned into smoked herring by the salt...then sign Laurie's petition. here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

architecture as catalyst

Architecture is a political act, says Cameron Sinclair during his talk at OCAD, and there's a smattering of applause from the largely student audience. i don't blame them: Sinclair is inspiring--and while he can sound aggravatingly smug, he's got good reason for his smirk: the man's a genius at getting ethical, sustainable projects built all over the map. as co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, he's been involved in strengthening communities through buildings from Sri Lanka to L.A., from the Mississippi to the Amazon. this is a photo from the Biloxi rebuilding project (sponsored by none other than Oprah).

most exciting to me is the fact that, after listening raptly to Sinclair talk for 90 minutes about how architecture today truly has to be about more than just the architect's ego, that buildings affect the lives of whole communities, that architecture is planning, not glamour...there is suddenly an unstoppable stampede of students wanting to talk to him about future projects, about getting a job with his organization, and about architecture as inspiration. i couldn't agree more.

ps. for more info about the Biloxi project, visit this participant's blog

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


noticed this frightening example of astro-turf in action near St. Claire & Bathurst recently. the funny thing about this as a photograph is that it looks okay. the lawn on the top-left looks eerily green & healthy compared to the normal post-slush grass on the right. but let me assure you, in real life, in person, the astroturf does not look okay. it looks really really weird. and don't even think about what the dogs in the neighborhood do to it. true, the owners don't have to mow it...astro-lawn doesn't look "messy" like the real grass in the next yard over...but really...what were they thinking?!?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

the mighty car

i haven't got much patience for cars in the urban environment...especially during slush season...but i was delighted by the "mighty cars" in the Tokyo fish market. looking like something from a Doctor Who episode, these are car stripped to the essentials: a smoke-spouting engine at the front, a massive steering wheel on top, a space to stand behind the wheel, and a flatbed to load whatever you might be carrying...generally fish.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

taking tea to...

my first day in Tokyo, i woke up at 5 am (thank you, jetlag) and went out for a wander. discovered a lovely little residential neighborhood, listened to Buddhist monks chanting in a shrine complex, and drank several green tea lattes (which are marvellous in Japan--fluffy bitter matcha & warm milk, fantastic! nothing like the weird melon-flavoured Starbucks version over here) . i was waiting for the department stores to open, so i could check out their famous food floors, where there are all kinds of sweets, teas, prepared bento boxes, name it. and then, what do i see first when i walk down to the food hall when it opens at 10am? yup...the French tea company Mariage Freres. because they're everywhere in Japan.

now, looking at the photo, you could imagine that's the sign in rue du Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais...only i know that it was taken at the front door of the Seita foodhall in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. thinking about the Marais, though, i wonder how all the Parisians are adjusting to their tea (& coffee) without smoke this morning. no more smoking in a French cafe--i can't imagine what my favourite places will look like, without that thick haze of Gitanes...bizarrely, the Japanese still can smoke in cafes. so those green tea lattes? i drank them with a thick haze of smoke billowing over from the smoking section...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

all the best for 2008!

back in the snow after a warm Christmas in Hong Kong overlooking Victoria Harbour. more about that very soon...but in the meantime, here's an atmospheric photograph from Christmas Eve, on the ferry.