good things to drink in Toronto: Bar Raval



Tuesday, early evening errands. Returning a Madhur Jaffrey and Hanya Yanigihara’s The People in the Trees, which has made me want to obsessively speak about her books with anyone who’s read them, and Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise, the first poetry anthology I’ve worked through this year, and about which I’m still gathering my thoughts. Then a trip to the grocery store, for bread and salami and cheese and kale for this kale-coconut-quinoa salad, for this week’s lunches, and eggs and dark chocolate for a big batch of brownies I promised my students to celebrate the end of classes for the year, on Thursday. This point in the term seems like a whirlpool of grading and grant applications and preparations for research trips, the minutiae that makes up so much of academic life, and I’ve been treading water amidst the pounds of flesh exacted from all directions.

In weeks like these, when we’re both working long hours, we sometimes treat ourselves to a drink in town, as entertainment that does not require a screen, and if you sit at the bar, as we like to do, that does not require you coming up with interesting points of conversation, because you can just spend an hour looking at how the bar man goes about his job, and listening to what other people talk about. (I am sure there are people who get home in the evening and have wonderfully stimulating conversations with their partners. I am not one of those people. If I have spent the day reading critical theory, like I do most days, or reading the work of students, like I do some others, I am so tired by the time night comes that I am only capable of having very basic conversations.)

Anyway. There are many amazing places to drink in Toronto, but this is one of our favourites, where we go for a drink to celebrate a special occasion. Long before we ever thought of Toronto as a place to live, we started curing meat (me in Arcadia, where I made guests share a bedroom with a pancetta having been hung to dry, and J in Southampton, with a washing line above his bed from which he suspended duck breast prosciutto), and in our research we happened upon a man named Grant van Gameren. Van Gameren was at that point writing a blog about his curing experiments at a bar that had just opened, named The Black Hoof. Anyway. We cured meat, eventually moved to Toronto, and by the time we arrived The Black Hoof was Toronto restaurant royalty, and since we’ve been in the city Van Gameren has opened two new restaurants, Bar Isabel, and our favourite, Bar Raval. A Basque pinxtos bar, Bar Raval looks like something designed by Gaudí if Gaudí worked in wood and hadn’t been hit by a tram. The menu constantly changes, so I can’t recommend a particular drink, but you’ll be good with whatever. The last time we were there Johannes had a Ten Lost Years, which was a combination of Lot 40 whiskey, Lustau Oloroso, Amaro Sibilla and Benedictine. I had The Walk Off, a combination of Bulleit bourbon, apricot liqueur, Cynar, peppercorn cordial, lime, grapefruit and absinthe. How is that not the best thing you’ve heard all day?

They also have good coffee in the mornings and delicious food throughout the day, but that’s for a later post. For now, I leave you with this delightful photograph of one of my old Arcadia pancettas, during a time where I spent the days thinking about Haneke and the evenings curing meat.






This has been a week of working very long hours. So we’re heading out of town for two days, to the garish streets of Niagara Falls and the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. And we are, for the first time in North America, staying in a motel. I AM BEYOND MYSELF. I’m bringing Dirty Old London: The Fight Against Filth, to read to Johannes in the car and in the mornings in bed.

In the meantime, I leave with you with this:

Watch these two bizarre documentaries I recently came across, Once We Were Naked, and Africa’s Naked Tribe, made by infamous South African nudist Beau Brummel, which features Charles Darwin, Beau Brummel’s ample chest hair, and the phrase “genetic urge” used far too often. Also, you get to see naked people go on game drives. BEST. (I shouldn’t have to add that there’s a LOT of problematic elements to these two films, including on the level of representation. You’ve been warned.)

Listen to the episode Status Update on This American Life. I am an unabashed fan of this radio show as many of you know, but this episode struck me especially on account of the first story, about teenage girls and how they use Instagram. The other stories on the episode are good too – an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a story on debt collection in an African-American neighbourhood in the States.

Look at Jim Shaw: The End is Here, a Tumblr that is part of an exhibition of Jim Shaw’s work, including his collection of thrift store paintings, where people can submit paintings they themselves have found at thrift stores.

Watch this footage of the remarkable piece of protest art, In Mourning and Rage, from 1977, when a group of feminist artists moved on City Hall in the wake of a series of violent rapes and murders in the Los Angeles area. It feels particularly apt after yesterday’s news about Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal.

Ps: I spent most of the week working at Café Pamenar in Kensington Market, and on Tuesday we discovered that Trinity Common, the beer hall next door, has buck-a-shuck deals happening. See, there really is no reason to ever leave the Market.




winter’s list


We rarely have spring or autumn in Pretoria. The only way you realise that summer may be over is in the way the light changes around March, and remains like that throughout the Highveld winter. It’s still bright, but it feels fundamentally despairing, the colour of the sky the colour of the dead grass on the side of the highway, a pale yellow for months on end. I hated winter in Pretoria.

It is with the changing of the light in the not-really-autumn of 2010 that I first started making lists in an effort to keep my head above the water. I was dreading how cold my apartment would be soon, how, with less daylight, I would suddenly have to do much more driving at night, and then there was the issue of the light. I started composing the first list in a car with friends, on our way to another friend’s 30th. I had not slept the night before, nor the night before that, and my most succinct memory of the trip is not the list I was composing but the way in which the driver of the car would make a quick swerve to the right every time we passed under any of the underpasses, taking us across three lanes of the empty highway in a matter of seconds, then returning to our original lane. There had been a slew of cases where men on the overpass waited for cars to approach and then threw large rocks or bricks through their windows from above, and we were trying to swerve out of the way of anything that might be dropped. We drove like that the entire way, and I, in the way I have by now come to accept as being both pityingly weak and yet the only means of self-preservation, started making a list of small things that would make the coming months feel less devastating. The vast majority of my list contained dishes ideally cooked or eaten in winter. This was how I was going to deal. Most of the list is lost, but I remember three items. Chicken korma, a Nigella Lawson recipe I made in those days, from Feast, heady with cinnamon and cardamom, laced with sultanas and cream. Roast chicken with leeks the size of my pinky, from the Boeremark, the outer leaves crisping up in the chicken’s juices. And vendusie vetkoek, or vetkoek* sliced in half with a piece of boerewors inside it, something my father used to eat as a little boy whenever he accompanied my grandfather to the vendusie, and which my mother made periodically throughout my childhood.

I still make that list every winter, that list and a lot of other lists besides, as lists have become the way I perform joie de vivre to myself when I want to die, and are a conduit of actual joy when I do not.

On the list for winter 2016 has been Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken with Jerusalem artichokes and lemon, from Jerusalem, which delivers garlicky pieces of chicken flecked with tarragon and caramelized slices of lemon. Also a pot of David Lebovitz’s short ribs braised in beer and hoisin, that also happens to contain a fuck load of garlic and ginger, so don’t make this if you have meetings the next day. Or do, YOLO. Best served with mashed potatoes. The list also sports an embarrassingly large number of recipes from Diane Henry’s A Bird in the Hand, one of those types of books where I want to cook everything. So one night last week J tackled my list and made Mexican chicken and pumpkin with pepita pesto, and it was exactly what we wanted to eat while watching House of Cards and discussing how long it’s going to take Claire Underwood and Tom Yates to start fucking. The leftover are also delicious, but best heated up. Nobody really likes cold pumpkin.

*Vetkoek, for those not familiar with it, is a type of savoury doughnut eaten in South Africa, a yeasted dough deep fried in oil and either eaten with jam, golden syrup, cheese, or ground, spiced beef. It is sold at every Afrikaner church fête or sports gathering or market, and it is deeply satisfying. Too many will kill you.


buckwheat, two ways

It’s weekend. I’ve been doing laundry and reading Svetlana Alexviech’s Voices from Chernobyl, which is devastating in the most ordinary way, which is often the most devastating way of all. Oral histories with a perspective that is mostly grounded in domesticity. I wish everything I read had that inflection.




This week we are eating lots of buckwheat. I’ve been reading Magnus Nillsen’s Fäviken, which is interesting in a conceptual way and not really meant for home cooking, but his recipe for wholegrain porridge, called Johny’s porridge in the book, felt like the right thing for us to try. You mix steel cut oats with a variety of other whole grains (in our case, buckwheat kernels, kamut flakes, spelt flakes) with a bunch of seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame), soak them overnight and cook the next morning, like you would do with a normal pot of oats. We’re still deciding how we feel about it – in the words of my mother-in-law, having this much fiber first thing in the morning makes you feel very virtuous, but at the same time it feels as if you’re Nils Holgersson, and I’m not sure that’s an experience I want every day.




But maybe my larger issue is the buckwheat kernels. They’re just too overpowering. I told J I think I prefer buckwheat flour, and he said, you mean white people’s buckwheat? Touchè. (By the way, if you’re wondering why the above photograph is more a showcase for braised cherries than it is for the porridge, that’s because making porridge look appetising in a photograph is an impossible task I have given up on. If you don’t believe me, look at this lovely collection of porridge photos and try not to kill yourself.)




Back to buckwheat. These are buckwheat crêpes. You have to make the batter the night before, and then allow it to reach room temperature before you start baking, so with all that schlep I advise baking up a bunch and then freezing them. They defrost really quickly, and you can briefly pop them in a dry pan to heat them up again. My afternoons are infinitely better when I know I can take a 4pm break for coffee and a Nutella crêpe.


This weekend we’re watching some films by George Kuchar and Arthur Ginsberg, bottling wine and buying plants for the apartment, because It. Is. Spring. On Sunday we’re cooking brunch for some friends, which means we’ll also spend a substantial part of the next two days cleaning the house.

I leave you with the work of Paulina Olowska, which I discovered this week. These paintings are all from the 2010 series Applied Fantastic, and are based on vintage Polish knitting patterns. (I know. I know.)

PO_580Klaun, 2010. Oil on canvas, 68.9 x 49.21 inches

PO_630Wooly Jumpers, 2010. Oil on canvas, 68.9 x 49.21 inches

4e894c61-lgCardigan Jedrek, 2010. Oil on canvas, 76.77 x 55.12 inches




Images from Metro Pictures Gallery and Contemporary Art Daily. Titles and dimensions included if they were available.

potato galette with gravlax



We’re working from home today. This means Johannes is at his desk in the living room, soldering something, and I’m at the dining table in the same room, making notes from Kristeva’s book on Hannah Arendt. It also means that we had this beauty for lunch, with the last of the gravlax. It’s basically a giant potato rösti but without the heavy duty frying work that rösti or latkes usually entail. It gets topped with the salmon, sliced onion and a herby mix of sour cream and cream cheese (what type of person has both of those in the fridge? I do.)

Friday night dinner party



This is what Friday looked like.

Wake up. Realise I never woke up during the night, as was the plan, to place chicken still cooling down when I went to bed, in the fridge, to serve to a dinner party the next night. Consider the likelihood of salmonella poisoning. Think about the fact that I’m still friends with friends who accidentally gave me salmonella poisoning, and that I will absolutely eat their food again. Decide to risk it. (Johannes takes it upon himself to be the guinea pig for early salmonella detection, and periodically eats a few bites of chicken throughout the day in the hope that, if it’s gone bad, we’ll know before we serve the guests. This is what white bourgeois Russian roulette looks like, courtesy of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, which I spent hours making last night, during which I also reminded myself never again to make any dish that needs to serve ten people that also involves browning the meat, because I cannot spend an entire day thinking about schizophrenia and performativity and French feminist theory from the 70s and then have to stand and fry shit for two hours. No.)

Have coffee and a hot cross bun. Read 46 messages in family chat group that accumulated while I was asleep, mostly about a braai I can’t go to because it would involve 2 10-hour flights and another 10-hour layover in Frankfurt.

Take a bath. Then, clean the bathroom. Am reminded of the pain and existential dread that manual labour inevitably entails. Think about a Koos Kombuis interview where he mentions how in the 80s he lived with a bunch of men in an apartment in Sunnyside, where they never washed any dishes or threw out any of the rotisserie chicken carcasses that they lived off of, until it got so bad that they one day just closed the door of the kitchen and never entered it again until the day they moved out of the apartment.




Read. Specifically, Amelia Hastie’s Cabinets of Curiosity. Then, roast rolled oats in the oven. Read some more. Make a chocolate ganache. Think about desire. And temporality. Take out the recycling. Make lunch. Clean the oil sputters from last night’s frying off the adjacent wall. Make notes on Michael Haneke. Blind bake pastry for Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, which is the evening’s dessert. Start grant application, then sweep the entryway. Combine roasted oats with sugar, corn syrup, butter, vinegar and vanilla. Realise we’re out of eggs. Run to store to buy eggs. Come back, add eggs to pie mix, pour in ganache-lined pastry shell, bake. Leave husband to check pie, go to talk. Listen to papers on sensory ethnography. Leave before the Q&A, subway back. Husband has washed the kitchen floor and sweeped the living room and baked a focaccia while I was away, instead of dying of salmonella poisoning. #Blessed.

The guests arrive.




About the food: I made Ina Garten’s version of chicken with 40 cloves of garlic because I had a lot of Marsala I wanted to swop in for the white wine Garten calls for, and it worked beautifully. I also like her addition of some cream right at the end, especially if you’re eating this in the Canadian winter. I usually serve this with bread for mopping up the sauce as sauce is kind of the point of this dish – you could even not eat any of the chicken and you’ll still feel mighty pleased with yourself. The bread was Johannes’s baby, and as far as I know it’s a focaccia from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a book that Johannes takes incredibly seriously. He topped it with sundried tomatoes, olives and herbs. Dessert was from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, and the title, Black Bottom Oat Pie, is more seductive than the pie actually was. Dubbed the poor man’s pecan pie, it was satisfying, with a layer of ganache at the bottom of the pie, the syrupy oats layer on top, but despite adjusting the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe it still felt too sweet.




Plans for this weekend include having a drink at Bar Begonia in the Annex, spending a day finishing my Ginger skirt and making headway on my Cabin shift dress at The Workroom, and having a waffle brunch at the home of some friends. And reading! I’m currently stuck into Attica Locke’s Pleasantville, and dipping in and out of the delightful Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.

But I’ll leave you with a list of good things to watch, read or listen for the next few days –

Watch The New Rijksmuseum, a documentary by Oeke Hoogendijk, which chronicles the painful renovation process of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I especially love the parts of the film that deal with the ferocious fietsersbond (the cycling union), and the mere fact that a union for cyclists is something that exists makes my heart weep with joy for the beauty of the Dutch. Also, getting to see how an institution like the Rijksmuseum stores the hundreds of thousands of pieces in its collection is astounding.

Read Ariel Levy’s devastating Thanksgiving in Mongolia. This is one of those pieces of which it is better to know nothing about beforehand, so I’ll leave it at that.

Listen to the episode Ask Leah from the now-defunct TLDR podcast, about a young woman who, quite by accident, became the giver of advice to geeky teenage boys in the early days of the Internet, on the gaming website IGN. This podcast reminded me how the best part of being an adult is that I never have to be any of the ages between fourteen and twenty-one again.

Read this article on the preppers of Pinterest, about one of the best intersections to come out of the Internet, and –

Watch this delightful compilation of advertisements on douching.


Sometimes it feels as if I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways not to eat bread for breakfast. And the fact that I just wrote that line makes me sad on so many levels.

Anyway. Over the last while we’ve had steel-cut oats with braised cherries (affordable frozen cherries are one of the most exciting things about shopping in Canada). I usually braise cherries (or rhubarb, when in season) in orange juice, on the stove if we’re talking cherries, in the oven if it’s rhubarb.




Another day I roasted broccoli in a very hot oven, topped with some lemon juice, zest and parmesan, and topped with a fried egg (there is a club where people consider anything topped with a fried egg a meal, and I now belong to that club.)

And then we’ve been having gravlax with scrambled eggs. (And toast. Fuck that shit. I love bread.)




If you’re looking for non-bready breakfasts, read this piece by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. (Although I can for the life of me not see myself making risotto for breakfast. Enough already.)