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NY, NY (again! again!)

New York City has made an appearance on this site before: and why not? Each visit brings its own tales of fun and excitement, with new places to go, new things to do and new things to eat… My last visit was built around a wedding in NJ and an exhibit at the UN. Making it a super-long weekend was a no-brainer.

First half was ladies’ night: all night. And all day from Friday-Monday. Then first-born son arrived Monday in time to hang out with the grandparents, uncle and extendo-clan. Getting there was super-cheap. Porter offered up a load of flights at $220 return. Including tax.

We traipsed through Soho, bee-lining it to my favourite shops Olive & Bette’s and Scoop. Both had badass sales, including $20 tables and The 50%-off-the-lowest-sale-price Sales. I blew my load within two hours.

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But wait! There was more…. Despite warnings of “frigid” temperatures, walking through Nolita kept us warm. (Disclaimer: not only were we moving, we were popping into just about every cute spot with a remotely well-dressed window) Novelty shops were everywhere in the East Village. Cool cards, foldable hipster reading glasses, moustache lip balms and rock star cutout dolls a-plenty. All kinds of dollars spent on novelty gifts – for ourselves and our people. Head shops on Broadway, assorted West Village boutiques and even a quick shlep up to Bloomies and we’d exhausted our retail adventures. My son, however, didn’t exhaust his until a visit to Dylan’s Candy Bar a (where they had NONE of my childhood sweeties. I’m talking those uber-junkie day-glo marshmallow-ish bananas and strawberries) with a final stop at FAO Schwartz where we bought practically all the toys being demo’d…

Big Piano...never gets old...

The Big Piano: it never gets old…

 

Wandering the streetscapes was fun, but it was “Broadway Week” while we were there, complete with 2-for-1 tickets! Who knew? Erm….Not us. We kept seeing ads in cabs, but the only show we caught was Buyer & Cellar, set in the underground mall underneath Barbra Streisand’s house. That’s right. Funny one-man comedy (but funnier concept) . Off-b’way matinee’d, caught a flick, saw some friends. Hit the UN, the New Museum and the New Jersey Turnpike.

And then there was The Tenement Museum. This place was so cool I had to go twice – and I am not a museum person. But, alas, this is no regular museum. Home to thousands until it was boarded up in the 30’s, the building was opened up in the 80’s and essentially a time capsule was discovered. Since then, using years of research and census data, apartments have been restored and homes recreated. Tours through the building share the stories of the families who lived there. Interactive, personal, emotional: amazing.

Best thing about the weekend (company aside)? The food! We did our research so you don’t have to:

SnackSoho: Lovely little lunch spot. Room is tiny but portions are massive. Greek-ish and delish.

Café Gitane: get there by 10:30 because this joint is packed! At least the one on Mott St…. French with Morroccan flavours, fabulous coffee, great vibes, and awesome avocado on toast. Baked eggs are AOK too!

Dominique Ansel Bakery –Once I discovered this place, I didn’t bother going anywhere else. Home of the original Cronut, the lines are out the door. But if you skip the Cronut, you miss the queue too. Go for the pastries, stay for the coffee. And the homemade granola parfait. And do not miss the DKA – some sort of caramelized pastry thing. Addictive.

Photo courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery. I ate mine too quickly to snap pics.....

Photo courtesy of Dominique Ansel Bakery. I ate mine too quickly to snap pics…..

 

Empellon Cucina: Modern Mexican that’s still authentic. Their guacamole with 7 salsas (and some snazzy crisps) was incredible. Ditto the ceviche taco. And pineapple margaritas. (And the resto is way hipper than its website)

Red Farm: YUM!! I constantly crave this type of food. Yes, I still love the Pan Asian places. And seeing how packed this place is, I’m not alone. No reservations, but worth the wait. Crispy beef was insane. So was the pastrami egg roll. And the chicken dumplings.

Balaboosta: Hummous & pakoras & swiss chard spaghetti oh my! We wanted everything on this menu. Everything!!!! The “Israeli Street Fair” was just that: a full-on party on a plate. And the mortar ‘n pestle hummous kind of speaks for itself.

Minds out of the gutter! And back to the table.

Minds out of the gutter! And back to the table.

 

Also went to some classic spots with my 10-year old: Katz’s Deli, Smith & Wollensky, and Serendipity. He likes meat and fruit, chocolate and cookies. So these spots were good for a young, non-gourmando palate. They were about the experiences, not the food.

 

Yeah, we finished it. With some help from grandparents...

Yeah, we finished it. With some help from grandparents…

 

Only losers head to NYC mid-winter? Perhaps! But with cheap flights, reservations a-plenty, semi-private tours (and, apparently, 2-for-one shows) maybe it’s time to rethink your winter weekend getaway**.

 

**Or not. But despite the cold/snow/slush it wasn’t as bad as Toronto!

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February 5, 2014   No Comments

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MOAM BOOK CLUB

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“Sleighbells ring, are you listening….On the shelves, books are glistening.

Beaches or ski, Paper or “e”,

Reading in a Winter Wonderland……”

 

Road Ends – Mary Lawson

The third (unrelated) book by this author set in Ontario’s North, this one revolves around the supreme dysfunction of the Cartwright family. Set in the ’60’s, each chapter alternates between the eldest son, whose ambition and potential  were thwarted after a local tragedy; the only daughter who “quits” being the caretaker of her ever-growing brood of siblings and heads to London; and their father, a victim of his own history who holes himself up in his office rather than dealing with his wife and children. Bleak and harsh like the landscape in which it’s set, it’s a perfect winter read.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Stinson

Socially awkward and statistically-inclined Professor Don Tillman has decided he is going to find a wife. And so, using a complicated list of criteria, he sets out to find the perfect woman. In the course of his project, he meets Rosie who is, of course, everything he is not looking for. This is a happy, feel-good and hilarious story. A movie in the making, if the rights haven’t been snapped up yet, it’s only a matter of time before they will be.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

Devastating. Didion’s husband suffers a heart attack and dies as their daughter lies in a coma. It can’t get much worse than that, but Didion chronicles the days before and after in such a moving, tender and beautifully written way. Life changes in an instant. Reading this memoir and sharing someone else’s tragedy reinforces how lucky we are. We really are.

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

Two brothers. Best friends in childhood who grow apart as they grow up. One becomes a revolutionary, the other an academic. Eventually, ideology and geography separate them. Their futures could not be more different and yet, are ultimately intertwined forever. Sounds dramatic, because it is. No spoilers here. Just read it and weep….

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

This overwhelming and beautiful page-turner is, quite frankly, one of the best books I’ve read in years. Set in a broken Chechnya town, unforgettable characters take the readers on a poignant journey through a dark and brutal moment in history. Once you figure out who’s who – and please, stick with it until you do – you will be awed by this epic, magnificent novel. You may even want to read it again. I know I do.

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

At 42 and single, third-grade teacher and amateur artist Nora feels like an invisible woman. I’m not single (or 42) but I could relate. At first. But when Nora meets a sophisticated, completely out-of-her world family, she becomes entrenched in their lives to an unhealthy extent. Obsession, betrayal, love, art: it all swirls together in this infinitely readable novel about an angry young woman and the choices she makes. Or doesn’t.

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

This one is completely out of character for me. I had to read it as part of a work assignment, but found myself turning back to it, quoting it and generally being unable to get it out of my head. Author Gretchen Rubin seemingly has it all. So why isn’t she happy….enough? Is anyone? So much about this book resonated with me – and still does, long after I’ve put it away. Part self-help guide, part pop-culture philosophy, I found it intriguing and have already pre-ordered the next book, “Happiness at Home”. If happiness is a choice that we’ve got to work for, I’m willing to give it a whirl!

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – Sheila Weller

The title says it all. (Almost all. Could be subtitled: Plus James Taylor). This one’s love-or-loath. I read bits of this as an excerpt in Vanity fair years ago and was intrigued. With a movie version looming, I figured I’d better get to it before Taylor Swift (as Joni Mitchell!!) wrecks it for me. These 3 ladies had a profound effect on me throughout my adolescence (and beyond… but don’t tell anyone). I’m still mid-way though the book and, while it may not be the best-written of the lot, it’s compelling for this used-to-be-guitar-strumming, has-been-piano-playing campfire singer.

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December 11, 2013   No Comments

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DELICIOUS DISH

I recently had the pleasure of taking a Delicious Dish cooking class with Occupational Therapist-turned-self-taught-chef, Carolyn Cohen. I’d heard about her classes for years and was intrigued, mostly because the menus were hoarded secrets. Sharing recipes was considered to be horribly bad form. Verboten? Forbidden fruit? I wanted in!  After managing to coax a few tidbits from some willing rule-benders, I tried a couple of recipes.

And they were, indeed, delicious dishes.

It wasn’t long before I was on Carolyn’s email list. Schedules were listed, but menus were not. And while I debated whether to sign up, the classes would fill up and sell out within hours of being posted. Who was this Carolyn Cohen? And what was she serving??  Finally, a friend asked if I wanted to join a private group she was organizing and I jumped at the chance.

The class was designed to be healthy, family-friendly, good for entertaining, and gluten-free optional. I’m not so healthy, tho’ I try to start the week that way. My family rarely eats the masterpieces I cook, and I am nothing if not a glutton for gluten.

I was in.

A week before the event, the original organizer had to drop out, along with half the class. After a mad scramble to collect a minimum of ten bodies – ten $95 pre-paid bodies – we ended up with 13 and were rarin’ to go!

Carolyn called me to plan the menu. At her suggestion we swapped some of the original planned mains, and we agreed to go completely gluten-free. We had a celiac among us, as well as the founder of the Gluten-Free Garage. In fact, I’m honoured to have posted this piece as a guest-blogger on the GFG web-site.  Click here to check it out. You’ll find loads of gluten-free ideas and information. And no, you don’t have to be gluten-free to check it out.

But I digress….

The night of our class, we descended upon Carolyn’s kitchen, where she commandeered 13 of the chattiest ladies in town. Pouring glasses of red, to go with the quinoa pizza bites she’d provided as a starter, Carolyn got right down to business.

She was a mountain of information both healthy and practical. Onion goggles to stop the waterworks. Kevlar gloves to prevent slicing off fingers. A list of suppliers and shops – and salts. Kitchen scales. Dough scoopers. Slicers. Pine nuts. Olive oil. She had it all covered.

Chef Carolyn Cohen in her onion goggles!

Chef Carolyn Cohen in her onion goggles!

We all laughed, learned and ate. A lot.

The Menu:

First up was quinoa with beets, radish and…wait for it….crispy Brussels sprouts. Anything with crispy Brussels sprouts and I’m in. But look how gorgeous this golden quinoa is with its beautiful Brussels sprout collar. Divine.

Winter Quinoa with Crispy Brussell Sprouts. Note the collar!

Herbed Quinoa with Crispy Brussels Sprouts. Note the collar!

 

Kale is the roughage du jour. The king of green. It’s everywhere. Healthy and tasty as it may be, I’ve always preferred mine wilted and tossed into a stir fry or sauce (or ratatouille! Yum!). But this Southern Italian Kale Salad, a cousin of the one at Toronto eatery Gusto, was crazy good. Made with black kale and Parmesan, it was totally addictive. I easily could’ve downed the entire platter….

Black Kale. Kavarro Nero. Lassi Nate. Call it what you will, it's sublime.

Black Kale.Dinosaur Kale. Cavalo Nero. Lacinato. Call it what you will, it’s sublime.

Chipotle Chicken burgers with Guacamame. These sliders were smoky goodness on a gluten-free bun. Spicy and beyond tasty and – get this – cooked under the broiler! Who knew? And that stunning bright green topper? It’s a dip! It’s a sauce! It’s NOT guacamole, but guacaMAME. Avocado + Edamame = one tasty topping. On anything. Or nothing!

Chipotle Chicken sliders with Guacamame Spread. Asombroso. Ole!

Chipotle Chicken sliders with Guacamame Spread. Asombroso. Ole!

My fave of the night was the Seared Tuna with Smoked Sea Salt, Sesame and Pepper crust. On a soy-maple glaze. This ain’t your gourmando’s ahi. It’s albacore! And it’s better, believe it or not. None of the gristle, all of the taste. And the glaze? Sublime! Instead of finishing it off on top, the seared tuna is sliced and sandwiched with a sliver of jalapeno before resting on a bed of glaze. Brilliant!!

Ladies prefer blondes. Blond - aka - albacore tuna. Nothin' like canned.

Ladies prefer blonde….tuna! Albacore, that is. Nothing like the canned.

And then there were the cookies: Granola cookies. Family-friendly, no doubt – if there are any left. Our crowd inhaled them, some of us even sneaking in extras. And by extras I mean thirds. OK, fourths. They taste neither gluten-free nor healthy, in the best possible way.

 

So good you won't believe they're not gluten. You may even think they're Quaker Harvest Crunch!

So good you won’t believe they’re not gluten. You may even think they’re Quaker Harvest Crunch!

Carolyn has generously allowed me to break with protocol and publish a recipe! Allow me to present The Granola Cookie, by Delicious Dish. Resistance is futile.

From DELICIOUSDISH: THE GRANOLA COOKIE

“These are cookies that you can bake and not feel guilty about eating them
afterwards! Make them and enjoy them; delicious cookies just don’t get any
healthier!” Carolyn Cohen.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups (8oz/225g) rolled oats, I like the large flake or old fashioned for these
1 cup (4½ oz/130 g) of brown rice flour (or any flour of your choice)
¾ cup (2 oz/55g) shredded unsweetened coconut
1 Tbs. cinnamon
¼ tsp. sea salt
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
½ cup small raisins or chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 325°F convection. Line several cookie sheets with parchment.
2. In a large bowl, combine, oats, flour, coconut, cinnamon and salt.
3. On a smaller bowl or measuring cup, stir together the maple syrup, oil and vanilla.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until evenly combined.
5. Fold in walnuts, raisins or chocolate chips.
6. Using a soup spoon, scoop batter into mounds onto the prepared cookie sheet. You may need to form them into mounds with you fingers. They may appear as if they are not coming together, but they bake up great! Don’t worry about crowding the pan a little, they do not spread.
7. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 3-4 dozen
Copyright 2013. May not be reproduced or used for commercial purposes without
permission of Delicious Dish/Carolyn Cohen.

For more info, contact Carolyn Cohen 416.200.3522 / deliciousdish@rogers.com

Carolyn offers classes all year round, day or evening. Private or GenPop. Your kitchen or hers. Be warned – if you head to her place I might be the one loitering outside, looking for scraps…..

 

 

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September 23, 2013   No Comments

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A LITTLE MORE TIFF 2013

Full confession: I’ve been more of a loiterer this year than a film-goer. I’m not sure what happened with the Gala screenings for 2013… Where was this year’s “Argo”? Or “King’s Speech”? How about the wonderfully random foreign film that may not get distributed but should? I think they hit up The Princess of Wales theatre. Or TIFF Bell Lightbox. Wherever they were, I’ll be seeing ’em in the regular theatres with the regular people.

Still, there is something to be said for ogling, right? Here are some shameless photo-ops!

I met Michael C Hall a couple of years ago, when no one else in the green room bothered chatting with him. He didn’t remember, but was still lovely.

Dexter and Shvitzer. Sweatiest night of the year.

Dexter and Shvitzer. Sweatiest night of the year.

He wasn’t here to discuss Dexter (sadly. Rita in the bathtub??!! The best!). He was here with Daniel Radcliffe for Kill Your Darlings. We were too hot ‘n bothered to stay for the flick but wee Mr Radcliffe’s fans were out in full force. They hung around the perimeter of Roy Thompson Hall in the crazy heat, waiting for a glimpse of Harry. Potter.

Look! Here he is!!

 

Dex  n the boy Wizard

Dexter
‘n the Boy Wizard

And then there’s Kurt Russell. Looking somewhat…erm..different but handsome. And very accommodating. Why, in my old age, am I getting him mixed up with Jeff Bridges? Weird, right? BTW – still love “Overboard”….

Papa Kurt.

Papa Kurt.

Despite skipping out on the movie, I had to acknowledge Jay Baruchel. “This is the End” was bloody brilliant!! We went opening night. I was probably the only person in the theatre who wasn’t stoned but was still laughing so hard I nearly peed. OK, I may have. Genius!!  So I had to tell him. We stopped short of holding hands and jumping up and down with glee, but he was almost as excited about the acknowledgement as I was. Almost.

Go Jay Go!

Go Jay Go!

And then there were the back-to-back-to-back rom coms.

One was from India: A Random Desi Romance. Super long, full-on Bollywood, total cheese and lots of fun! We were late so no pics. But lots of gorgeous people in gorgeous outfits. Nuff said.

Next up: Canadian flick The Right Kind of Wrong. I was sort of dreading it – that title? Jason Stackhouse as the big star? Um…..But we watched and we laughed. You probably won’t, nor should you race out, but if you find yourself flipping channels or on an airplane, it’s cute. Or I have TIFF fever and can no longer tell good from bad. That’s very possible.

I prefer him in BonTemps, but still appealing, shorn 'n all....

I prefer him in BonTemps, but still appealing, shorn ‘n all….

And for my personal final flick: The Love Punch. A Brit caper starring the beyond charming Peirce Brosnan and the spectacularly divine Emma Thompson, this one was sweet, clever and – at times – laugh out loud funny. Premise – retired divorced couple lose their pension to a business shark and plot a diamond heist to get it back – isn’t as good as the movie itself. The stars brought their A-game, bantering with fans, posing barefoot, being self-deprecating and witty and fun – maybe that’s why the audience went back shit for the film. It’s so much easier to enjoy a movie when its stars make you want to like it – because you like them, right?!

Who wouldn't love them?!?

Who wouldn’t love them?!?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September 13, 2013   No Comments

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TIFF 2013

It’s been a different kind of TIFF for the Green Room girls. Lots of sponsors, eagerly awaiting their close-ups, and a lot less stars. Or, rather, less stars ready, willing or able to hang our with the civilians. They come in like exotic animals, surrounded by handlers and managers and hangers-on, and, a quick sip later they’re gone, leaving nothing but fairy dust and frazzled publicists in their wake.

Still, I did manage to catch a few flicks as well as a few glimpses of those ethereal, elusive creatures we know as celebs…

THE 5TH ESTATE

You know, the one about Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks movie. Great performances, interesting film, mediocre movie. Less Social Network and more made-for-tv. But still worth seeing. On Netflix. Or an airplane. Or if there’s nothing else to see (which, going into fall, I find hard to believe.). But the awesomely named Benedict Cumberbatch lived up to the expectations of his Cumberbitches (yeah, he has those) and was terrific. Daniel Bruhl was no slouch either.

Benedict

THE RAILWAY MAN

Colin Firth wasn’t nearly as friendly as he’s been in recent years. Maybe because he’s hungry? He looked awfully thin. And speaking of thin, Nicole Kidman breezed in and out, posing with sponsors and doing her job. I actually felt a bit badly for her, as the second she walked into the room she was mobbed. She really is a delicate flower! With magnificent skin. Whatever’s she’s done has been worth every penny. A beauty. Unlike the film. The true story upon which it was based is extraordinary, and I have no doubt the book was spectacular. But the epilogue card had more emotional resonance than the two hours that preceded it. A shame.

IMG_6548 2

 

PARKLAND

This docu-drama is set in the aftermath of the JKF assassination. It’s about all the minor players: the doctors and nurses who worked on the president, as well as his shooter; Robert Oswald, the brother of Lee Harvey; a man who filmed the entire thing on his super-8 camera; the secret service detail, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, considering the big draw was…Zac Efron.

Zac Ephron

Baby Efron

He was one of the excellent ensemble. And he had more babysitters in the Green Room than I’d ever seen. Bodyguards, publicists, and more bodyguards. A mini, girlier, Rob Lowe, he didn’t do it for me. Unlike Tom Welling, the tall gorgeous man being ignored at the bar. Re-ow! Smallville’s Clark Kent is nothing short of stunning – and sweet and modest to boot! Superman indeed.

Pic doesn't do him justice. Super stunning superman....

No, it’s not Ryan Seacrest. It’s Super Stunning Superman. Pic doesn’t do him justice.

MANDELA

Idris Elba. Idris Elba. Idris Elba. Word is this is one extraordinary performance among several in the sure-to-be Oscar bait, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. My mother couldn’t stop raving about the man, the movie, the cast. Sadly, it’s one of the few gala films I missed! Green roomed, yes, but didn’t catch the film. Loser.

Two hugely enthusiastic thumbs up from my mother!

Two hugely enthusiastic thumbs up from my mother!

WORDS & PICTURES

Speaking of losers….this was a dud. An interesting conceit, yes: which has more power: words or pictures? Set up a competition between two flawed teachers at a New England prep school and, well, you can guess what happens. Students are inspired, teachers are transformed, people fall in love, and they all agree that both are intensely powerful, just like love itself. Blah blah blah. Saccharine-sweet, with few surprises. There were several witty bits, but they got lost within the sentimental tone that defined this. Clive Owen was charming – on screen and in person, despite his current moustache.Yeah, it’s not Movember, but he’s sporting a ‘stache. Somewhat Clouseau-esque but he can pull it off. Kind of.

MOAM 'n 'Stache Owen

MOAM ‘n ‘Stache Owen

RUSH
Wow. Daniel Bruhl – our guy from the 5th Estate – steals the show as serious-as-a-heart-attack Austrian Nicki Lauda. Drop dead gorgeous Chris Hemsworth is dashing Brit playboy/partier James Hunt. ¿Quién es más macho? Loud, sexy, intense and true, it’s Formula 1 racing drama in the 70’s. Beautifully shot, superbly done and, while not perfect, is a damn fine flick. Verrrry manly, yes, but I liked it too. A great story and a big-screen must see.

Zoinks! Stu-nning!

Zoinks! Stu-nning!

 

Bruhl ruled the Galas....

Bruhl ruled the Galas….

 

Also fun was the star-packed greenroom….Just not with the stars of the movie!

Jason Sudeikis was there to support his gorgeous fiancee, Olivia Wilde. And guess what? He’s gorgeous too!

Clearly NOT his wife. What? He was cracking me up!

Clearly NOT his wife. Nor my best shot. What? He was cracking me up!

And Chris Hemsworth had his hot family around him. He’s the middle brother of 3. It took a while for most of us to figure out who was who. Luckily his magnificent wife Elsa Pataky was able to set us straight!!

 

Yes, it runs in the family.

The youngest, Liam. Yes, it runs in the family.

 

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Yes, I saw it. Yes, it was brilliant. The writing! The performances! Breathtaking!!! This one’s guaranteed Oscar bait, no question.

So why didn’t I cry?!

Maybe it was too theatrical. Too much in the head and not enough in the heart? I don’t know. I appreciated it as a piece of work, but didn’t have the visceral reaction I thought I would.

My old doppelganger Dylan McDermott was there, as was Juliet Lewis. Ewan MacGregor? Still got it. And Julia Roberts?!?!? Always has, always will.

Love.

Love.

 

Still more to come! Stay tuned……

 

 

 

 

 

 

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September 11, 2013   No Comments

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MOAM Book Club

Summer is almost over….But before you pack in your flipflops and break out your boots, here are some good reads to get you through to Labor/Labour Day and beyond….

THE MIDDLESTEINS by Jami Attenberg

A Jewish family living in the burbs outside Chicago never mention the one thing no one can stop thinking about: Edie Middlestein’s obsession with food and eating. She’s massive. And will die if she doesn’t do something about it. So she emotional eats. When Edie’s husband of over thirty years ups and leaves her, the rest of the family must band together to save itself. This smart, funny, and quick-paced novel is told from each of the Middlestein’s points of view as they try to figure out how to save Edie – or who to blame.

THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer

This author is very zeitgeisty for me. I over-identify with so many of her characters and/or the premises of her books that I have to read them all. I don’t always adore them, but I always find them, well, interesting! This one centers around a group of creative people who met at sleepover camp. Who will end up where? Doing what? It follows them as they live out their lives in shockingly unexpected, totally interesting and even decidedly boring ways…

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

Cue the s-s-s-s-s-cary music, ‘cuz this one is creepy and magical and beautiful all at the same time. A man revisits the house he grew up in, and memories of childhood come flooding back. From mysterious deaths of neighbours young and old (and feline) to the terrifying nanny who is not at all what she appears to be. Only the house of women at the end of the lane can save him. A fantastical tale of childhood innocence lost and found. It’s billed as being for kids and adults but, while beautiful, it’s also nightmarish. Ssssspppoooooky!!!

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

I love a good love story. Especially a first-love love story. And a doomed one? Even better!!! This one, set in the late 80’s – in high school – doesn’t disappoint. Two misfits from two staggeringly different worlds are all alone in their lives – they think – until stars cross and they find each other. This book felt like a cross-cultural John Hughes movie. Read it. Enjoy it. Don’t wait for the flick. No doubt it’s on its way.

DEFENDING JACOB – William Landay
RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA: A NOVEL – Kimberley McCreight

I lumped these two together because both are legal thrillers. Both have young protagonists. And both are about lawyer parents trying to get to the bottom of a death in which their child may or may not be involved.

Amelia’s mother, Kate, gets a call that her daughter had been caught cheating at her exclusive Brooklyn school. By the time she reaches the gates, her daughter is dead. An apparent suicide. Then Kate receives an anonymous text: “She didn’t jump” Flashbacks, texts, and facebook postings tell alternating stories of Amelia, her friends, and her “friends”. Only her mother’s sheer determination can figure out exactly what happened to her beloved daughter.

And then there’s Jacob. Jacob’s Dad, Andy, is an assistant DA called in when a local kid is found dead. It’s the end of the innocence for this bucolic New England town, and Andy vows to find the boy’s killer. Until his own 14-year old son is charged with the crime. The more Andy uncovers, the more he wonders how well he really knows his own son – and himself. Suspense, betrayal, loyalty…I smell a potboiler!!!

THE NEWLYWEDS by Nell Freudenberger

What would’ve been called a mail-order bride is now an e-mail order bride when a young Bangladeshi woman moves across the planet to marry a man in Rochester NY. Their newlywedded bliss is soon interrupted as secrets from both sides come pouring out. Will they keep it together, together? Should they? A quiet, moving, extremely well-written book that captures the experience of strangers in a strange land. Even in their homelands….

THE DINNER by Herman Koch

Theatre alert! This one reads like a play. A dramatic, sibling-rivalry-ridden, angsty, dramatic play. A morality play. Two families get together over dinner to discuss a spot of trouble their sons have got in together. And shit happens. Lots of it. Parenting values, politics, and family “values” are examined – and skewered. Great bait for dinner party conversation…

Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD by Therese Anne Fowler
This is exactly what it says it is! It’s the Jazz Age. Rebellious debutante and southern belle Zelda is plucked from her small Alabama life by dashing army captain F Scott Fitzgerald and the rest, is history. Crazy, bittersweet, legendary history. The depiction of the “Jazz Age”, the international literary world and the passionate and destructive personalities within it makes it tragic and gripping even though we know the ending right from the start.

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson

We all have those Sliding Doors/Groundhog Day moments: how would you live your life differently? Does each moment, each decision, and each chance encounter colour your future? Kate Atkinson deftly explores these themes in this best-selling novel. If you could live your life over and over again, how would it turn out? Good question. I liked, didn’t love, this one. But I may be alone in that consensus.

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

High-flying, great looking, successful banker has it all – until a fluke motorcycle accident shatters his life. And his spinal column. Needless to say, he is miserable. When a young local girl is hired as his caregiver, she finally breaks through and devises a plan to help him actually enjoy his life. Will it work? Will you care? Readers are obsessed with this book so I daren’t omit it from my list! But, truth be told, it left me kinda cold.

Happy rest-of-summer! Happy reading! And please – recommendations are always welcome!

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August 19, 2013   No Comments

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KIWI CRATE

Kiwi4

As many of you know, I am often sent stuff to review on my site. As many of you may not know, I only review the stuff I actually like. Yes, I’ll diss something lame, but not if it’s sent over gratis. That’s just rude.

Last week a box arrived from Kiwi Crate.. Y’know when you’re done? You don’t want to play, you don’t want to fight over not-playing, and you don’t really want to reach for the remote (even though you know you will)? This is for those times. Kiwi Crate sends your 3-7 year old a monthly activity box filled with environmentally-friendly, crafty projects your child can do – with or without you.

Ours came addressed to my almost-5 year old and he was immediately intrigued. As well he should be! When we opened this little shoebox a world of wonder – no joke – lay inside. And by “wonder” I mean a serious time killer, in the best possible way.

My guy immediately got to work on decorating a reusable bag. Everything he/we needed was the box: flower/leaves for printmaking, washable ink, the reinforced paper bag, putty to make his own stamper. He wouldn’t let me help even if I wanted to.

Box o fun!

Box o fun!

This wasn’t your ordinary do-it-yourself stamp pad. With this he actually fashioned the stamper and – get this – when he was done he peeled off the tiny wildflower, poked a hole in the top of the “stamp” and let it dry. Voila: a necklace!

But the fun didn’t stop there. He was obsessed. And this is a boy who doesn’t sit still. Ever. Unless there are animated characters on a screen in front of him. The next morning he was up early, making his own paper.

Kiwi 2

Kiwi 1

While the greeting cards didn’t quite work out – because he refused to let me help him – making a mess of coloured stuff that looked and felt like paper was equally exciting. There’s a handy help-o-meter attached to each project, just so you know what you’re getting into. In our case, there was minimal adult involvement required (and none available) and it still worked out. And just when you think you/your child is done, they even throw in some extra low-maintenance ideas if you’re ever looking to get crafty.

Kiwi3

They do single crates, party favor crates, even a “no-fight” sibling add-on option. And, until May 12th, they do discounts! Take advantage of our very own special MOAM reader offer: 25% off the first month of a new subscription (not valid on sibling add-ons) by entering Promo Code “maven25” at www.kiwicrate.com

At $220 for an annual subscription, or $19.95/month, it ain’t cheap. But having your child amuse him/herself in a creative way for a solid couple of hours? That’s priceless.

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May 8, 2013   No Comments

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MOAM BOOK CLUB

Readers, I apologize. It’s been many months since my last Book Club. But don’t fret. We’ve had a long Canadian winter, and I’ve read a shitload of books. Herewith, quite a few of the faves.

(and yes, Virginia, you can buy them directly from this site, right here, right now. Simply click on the image of book!)

BRING UP THE BODIES
WOLF HALL
by Hilary Mantel
These are two massive historical novels. These are two Booker winners. These are two beyond brilliant stories about Thomas Cromwell before and during the reign of King Henry VII – and Anne Boleyn. They’ll have you puzzled: everyone’s named Thomas. They’ll have you intimidated – page count is way past what’s comfortable. They’ll have you googling up a storm – unless you know your Tudors from your Stuarts. They’ll leave you breathless.

CANADA by Richard Ford
The year is 1960. When his parents are arrested after a bank robbery gone wrong, a 15-year old boy goes on the lam…to Canada. Fans of Richard Ford will love this epic sweeper of a story. And those who aren’t fans yet, will be when they finish this lyrical novel about a family falling apart.

THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach
A baseball novel about a surprising college star. Twists, turns, and so much more than bats, balls and gloves.And boys. It was a riveting read and I couldn’t put it down. (And yes, I’m surprised I loved it too!)

THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller
Who doesn’t love a good Greek Myth? To know and love the Greek Gods is to know and love all their infighting and sexual escapades. This is a new twist on the story of Achilles and the Trojan War. Modern tone, classic tale. Fabulous.

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple
15-year-old Bee’s mom is a freak: an artist, a genius, a Seattle-loather. When she disappears on the eve of a trip to Antarctica to celebrate Bee’s straight-A average, Bee is determined to track her down. Hilarious. Original. Quirky. Unconventional. Don’t wait for the film (yes, it’s being adapted).

SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan
It’s the ’70’s. A love-torn Cambridge student drops out to join British Intelligence. Espionage. Cold War. Romance. Seduction. Cultural warfare?? It’s a page-turner. And it’s Ian McEwan. It can’t get much better than this.

ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO -Jonathan Tropper
Jonathan Tropper kills me. And while this isn’t his best, he has such a way with words. And his characters? Too much. This time it’s a rock star. Or, rather, a has-been drummer, who is now broke, down on his luck and require life-saving surgery. The man who can save his life is his ex-wife’s fiancee and his somewhat estranged Princeton-bound daughter is pregnant. He’s got a lot to deal with. If he makes it.

THE SUBMISSION by Amy Waldman
An anonymous submission process for a memorial to victims of a terrorist attack results in the selection of a mysterious Muslim-American architect. A timely post-9/11 novel for a divided country. It divided readers too, though I thought it was fantastic, moving and super sharp.

THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe
When journalist Will Schwalbe’s extraordinary and dynamic mother is diagnosed with cancer, they bond over books during during her chemo treatments. Sounds hokey, but this is a truly inspiring and lovely memoir about a mother, her son, and the power of reading.

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE by Ayana Mathis
Hattie escapes Georgia for a better life up north. This book starts in the 1920’s with the birth of her first children. It’s a devastating start to a devastating life. Each chapter is told from the point of view of subsequent children. Bleak, dark, and beautifully written, Oprah claimed it for her book club, and I’m claiming it for mine.

TIGERS IN RED WEATHER by Liza Klaussmann
Two cousins, so close they’re like sisters. Or are they? One follows her WW2 vet husband to steamy Florida. The other heads off to Hollywood. Over the course of 12 years we follow them as their dreams unfold and disappear, until they eventually reunite, children in tow, at the family beach house where there’s been a murder. Melodrama at its finest.

THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henkin
A clan gathers to remember a fallen son, a journalist killed in action in Iraq. Identity crises abound and secrets spill as the parents try to deal with the future of their marriage, the sisters try to understand who they’ve become and the widow tries to contemplate her future. Classic American family drama…at the cottage.

And, for those looking for some simple beach reads, these are a sliver above the usual cheese. Fluffy, yes, but a little over-identification goes a long way when it comes to quick ‘n easy reads!

BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter
Starts in Italy in the ’60’s, where a young Italian fisherman meets falls a glamorous American actress. Meanwhile, 50 years later, the story, and several others, continue in Hollywood…

PROSPECT PARK WEST by Amy Sohn
Cheating parents. Klepto Oscar winners. Sexually confused mothers. Real estate obsessives. Just another day in the life in Prospect Park. White people’s problems? You betcha. And if you’re really into it, there’s even a sequel: Motherland….

Meanwhile, over in Tribeca….

TRIBURBIA by Karl Greenfield.
Mommy fiction. For dads. These are hipster Daddies, sorting out their shit. Rich people’s problems? Absolutely. So?

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May 1, 2013   No Comments

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BUMPED!

Everyone has their air travel horror stories. And I get it: shit happens. But what happens when a family of 5 with three young kids can’t book seats together? They get bumped, that’s what.

This isn’t the “bump” of yesteryear, where volunteers are called upon and rewarded with free flights, hotels, food. This is a completely arbitrary bump. A bump that began at check-in and didn’t stop: for nearly 7 hours.

When we arrived at YYZ for our flight to Puerto Vallarta, my Man and I and our 3 boys (ages 4, 7, and 9) were a little tense. We’d reserved seats together but when I went to check-in online, I saw that we’d been scattered across the plane. Instead of printing the boarding passes then and there, I figured we’d deal with it at the airport. Big mistake.

At the desk, the agent told us he’d found us seats together in the back. But before he could print the boarding passes, he informed us that there was a weight restriction on the plane. Meaning:
a) headwinds were heavy so extra fuel was needed and, therefore, something had to give
b) there was cargo that had priority.
c) They needed a way to re-route travelers stranded by “Nemo”

(We would go on to get different answers at each stop.)

Regardless, we were reassured the gate would take care of us, seat us together and send us on our merry way. After all, and yeah, I quote: “no one wants to sit beside kids”.

Then he stuck STANDBY tags on our bags. I knew we were doomed. But rather than admit it, and let us try to sort something out, he urged us to “stay positive” and deal with it at the desk.

Bumped to the gate. Which was already packed with irate passengers, but no one from Air Canada. I grabbed a spot in the line. 30 minutes after the gate was due to open, an agent arrived. One by one passengers were told they were on stand-by and to take a seat in the lounge until they were paged. When it was my turn, I asked if there was any chance our family would get on that plane. The response was, at least, an honest one: not likely. I was bumped to Customer Service.

While my Man chased, corralled, fed and entertained our three sons, even the other bumpees felt our pain. No one wants to sit beside kids on the plane, sometimes not even their own parents! But when they’re stuck with them in the terminal, they’re all friendly babysitters.

Post-bump calm before the re-book storm.

Post-bump calm before the re-book storm.

I was one of the lucky ones. After 45 minutes in line at Customer Service, I reached the agent. It started off swell. She informed me she’d get us to PVR via Chicago. We’d be on a flight to O’Hare first thing the next day, with 45 minutes to catch the connector. “Ummm…don’t they close the gate 30 minutes before departure?” I asked.

Oops.

The agent then spent another 20 minutes trying to find us a different flight to Chicago. She refused to put us up in a local Chicago hotel – until I overheard the agent at the next counter offer to put up another Mexico-bound couple up in Houston. She relented and offered us a night in Chi-Town. Fun! Adventure! Right? Wrong. In the time it took the other agents to re-book passengers via Houston (and Dallas and San Francisco) ours still couldn’t confirm us. And when, another 25 minutes later, she suggested that we leave the area and head to United Airlines’ ticket counter to confirm the flight, I lost it. A manager arrived and I burst into tears. I’d been waiting by that counter for well over an hour by this point. My kids were running riot. Everyone else was being re-booked and we were stuck.

After all, it was hard enough to rebook a pair of tickets, let alone a party of 5!

Then my Man arrived. Bad Cop to my Good. Complete gender stereotypes. While I played nice and eventually broke down and cried, he barged up to the counter guns a-blazing. He’s a very tall fellow. With an exceptionally loud voice. And he lost in. Completely. And when he started in on our agent, her colleague advised her to ignore him and threatened to call security. At this point, our agent begged off, saying she needed to leave. To catch a flight perhaps?? I’m sure she was just as exhausted as we were – only she was being paid and part of the customer service department while we were the paying customers not getting any service.

And then something clicked. Two managers took over. And, after much more ado and another hour of furious typing and kids now wrestling at my feet, we were blessed with a direct flight the next day. From YYZ. They gave us $100 in food vouchers – and then took back half of them. When they heard about the +5-hour backlog at park ‘n fly, they sweetened the pot with return car service from the airport and back again. I had to remind them that every other passenger had been offered compensation to the tune of $200 off future travel with Air Canada. After checking with someone else (another 15 minutes) they sent us off with promises that our 5 travel vouchers would be emailed to me ASAP. So far, I’ve only received 4.

What airline bumps a party of 5?? In a hellish prime-time travel situation? Deuces and triples were being rerouted within minutes. And singles had no issue whatsoever! But our motley group of 3 under-9’s plus parents? Turfed.

And now, instead of tacos and tequila on the beach, we’re at home with an empty fridge. We’re battle-weary, but trying to stay positive – all the while on hold with Air Canada to find our missing voucher and inquire about compensation for our lost hotel night.

After 2 hours and 57 minutes of being on-hold (speakerphone), they answered! I was to write an email asking for the missing voucher and any further reimbursement. There was nothing they could do.

Bumped again.

It’s been a long day.

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February 11, 2013   No Comments

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UBER: If you click it, they will come….

For the past few months, in lieu of taxis, my Man and I have been grabbing UBER cars whenever we hit the town. UBER is a San Fran-based service that has spread its wheels to Toronto and beyond. And it’s fabulous.

Basically, you download the app, or register with their website. Then, anytime you need a ride you click and they send. You choose whether you want a Black Car (aka Town Car), a 3-row SUV, or a plain ol’ taxi. You’ll get a confirmation text within seconds, followed by a call from the driver giving you the ETA. While they use GPS to find you, you can stalk/track your car so you know exactly how much time you have before it shows up.

Cleaner, more efficient and downright sexier than your regular street-side stinky cab, once you go UBER, it’s hard to go back. They’re a bit pricier (about 25% with tip included) but well worth it to arrive in style (and not smell like diesel. Or someone else’s supper). Best of all, you can “hail” an UBER car from anywhere – restaurant, bar, house or street corner. And you can send your babysitter home in it to if you need to. The GPS ensures everyone gets home safe and sound. It’s your very own, on-call chauffeur!

To sweeten the deal, MOAM readers get a special treat! First time users who register at www.uber.com by the end of Feb will enjoy $20 off their first Black Car ride (valid Feb and March). Go online or download the app and enter promo code: MOAMTORONTO

Your chariot awaits!

lincoln-town-car-2

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February 6, 2013   No Comments

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