diner love

 

Impossible to read Edward Keenan’s piece about the slow demise of family run diners (Toronto Star, Jan.26/19) without being overwhelmed by the urge to visit my own favourite local, aka: Whitby Diner, where the first time we ate there the chef came out onto the made-with-love scruffy little patio chock full of giant tomatoes growing in white plastic industrial sized buckets (originally home to feta cheese) and told us how he left Greece as a youngster and lived for a time in Newfoundland then moved to Toronto and, finally, Whitby where he spent many years making doughnuts at a number of local establishments but was happy to get out of that racket. He tells us with pride about the cucumbers he grows on his land just outside of town (his wife, apparently, is an amazing pickler and the pickles are for sale).

And so we head over on this snowy Saturday morning and while tucking into the best white toast (toast is an art), sausage and over not-entirely-easy/not-entirely-medium eggs (the chef at Whitby Diner really gets me)… I revel in the memory of a few historical faves.

Diana Sweets on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines where Howard Engel’s Benny Cooperman eats an egg salad sandwich (because Howard Engel is from St. Catharines and the Benny Cooperman series’ town of Grantham is actually based on St. Catharines) and where my older sister worked and where I loved hanging around because she was like a rock star in those white don’t-make-no-noise  shoes and aproned uniform and how — my god this was big! — she could go right into the back room and USE THE GESTETNER MACHINE to print out daily specials. I wasn’t allowed back there but just waiting for her to emerge with a handful of freshly minted menus was bliss. The glorious smell of the ink! I swear I’m still slightly high from that stuff.

And the stories.  Every day she’d come home and tell something. About staff, about customers like the Hells Angels or the elderly couple who wandered in and studied all the wooden booths trying to find the one they’d carved their names on when they were courting. They found it. (Carving names in the booths was apparently never discouraged, which was just one more groovy thing about ‘The Di’ that made me want to work there one day.) (I never did. Went straight into delis instead and from there I lucked out and got a receptionist gig in a denture clinic, which is when my career really took off.)

The diner across the Homer Bridge where my sister also worked (before the illustrious DS) and where buses didn’t run so my dad had to drive her and pick her up, during which transport I tagged along so that I could wait for her on a twirling counter stool and ask diner related questions like why are there so many flies on the windows? and where sometimes somebody gave me a slice of pie to shut me up.

The place in the old Towers plaza next to the Bank of Montreal where I would drop quarters into the jukebox and listen to John Lennon’s Imagine over and over and over while eating plates of fries with vinegar.

PJ’s in Whitby where the tables used to have built in PacMan games instead of place mats. Now they are just tables… *sniff* (but hands down still the best staff and the best place within walking distance for a cup of tea and/or brekkie and/or lunch and to soak up some beautiful unchanged over the years small town vibe).

Teddy’s in Oshawa. THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE FOR GRILLED CHEESE AND FRIES. None. (And none of yer fancy cheeses either… I’m talking process slices on Wonder bread. Once in a while, and done right, it is heaven.) (Technically more a family restaurant but I’m including it because it’s an ancient fixture on the landscape. And because of grilled cheese.)

A mere quick handful as I’m feeling peckish…

~

(All of which to say…. please, please, support your local diners! They are so much fun, essential to community and almost always run by interesting people, and because it is so very heart-warming to hear a waiter say “Hello, Betty/Jim/Stanislaus/Georgina… the usual? And how’s your mum doing…?”)

And this is a world in need of heart-warming.

~

All pics taken at Whitby Diner (where the jam is amazing). And for sale.

Thanks to Edward Keenan for loving diners and to the Toronto Star for the wonderfulness it publishes.
Support newspapers!

 

(Also… what have I missed?? Current favourites and all diner love memories welcome.)

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday: summer postcards

Postcard greetings of the market kind where a good time is being had by all. Not the least for having discovered the new shiitake vendor… AND scoring seed potatoes, ‘eating’ potatoes, BLACK CURRANTS!!, yellow plums, and a few more things in other and various hues.

p.s. Am slightly addicted to the greenhouse tomatoes Meredith sells (I wanted to wait for the vine-ripened, I swear I did, and I thought I could just taste ONE of the greenhouse beauties, I thought I could handle it, that they’d have no power over me.) I had it sliced on toast with mayo. Do not send help.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from somewhere west of Toronto, way west (but not as far as Calgary) (or even Windsor). No idea what’s inside this museum as we didn’t stop, or it wasn’t open, who can remember. What is recalled is the infamous garden at the swanky inn where we stayed (a gift to us from kind souls else we’d never have gone the way of such swankiness). I’d looked forward to staying there mostly because they are known for their enormous vegetable gardens and famously claim almost everything on their menu is seasonal and made with their own produce… but what we saw on the menu didn’t jibe with their marketing schpiel (butternut squash and cauliflower in July for instance). In fact almost everything on the menu was out of season  and when we asked the waiter what was up he got a little jumpy and said he’d check with the kitchen but in fact he never came back to our table. Someone else brought the bill. Later, walking in the infamous gardens of menu mythology, we asked a couple of gardeners where the celery was, and the frisee (two of very few things on the menu that were in season) and were told they didn’t grow celery or frisee and so we mentioned the marketing that spoke of how all this magnificent produce was used in the kitchen. Ha!  they snorted. The garden, it seems is pretty much for show… while rows and rows of produce go unpicked, none of it on the menu. Not a single string bean, not an onion. Even in the face of oodles of evidence, we didn’t want to believe it… a vegetable garden of this size, being used only as a marketing tool??? Nah. Can’t be true. But in the morning, as we set out for a walk, we watched a delivery arrive from a huge commercial vegetable supplier whose name was painted very clearly on the side of the truck.

I wrote a letter to the inn, asking them about this.

Didn’t hear back.

(Summer, 2015)

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

friday fete-ish

 
Although I haven’t worked in an office for years I still work office-ish hours.
So Fridays are very TGIF for me and this one in particular seemed in need of some goodness. A distraction, a need to play hookey, to get away from it all. Bird seed seemed the logical answer. So off I took myself to a nearby town where a source told me I could score some excellent Ethiopian nyger at the local feed shop.

I got twenty five pounds.

It was noon by then so I stayed for lunch. The first place I stopped didn’t want me to sit at a table by the window as I was just one person and that’s primo seating. So could I please move to another table at the back? No, as a matter of fact, no thank you… I do not care to sit at the worst table in a half filled room as penance for being a single diner.

Ta ta, said I.

And wandered down the street feeling oddly buoyant.

dsc08530The next place I landed reminded me why things happen the way they do. Had the other folks been nicer I may have never have discovered this  place, which not only said sit where you like — it was ten times busier, had a merry vibe, a shelf of books for reading not for decor, people actually seemed happy to see you and the food was out of this world delicious.

AND they had mussels… so………..

I read a cookbook about seasonal food.

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Moral of the story — How being faced with the unkind or unjust can still have a good outcome if you put your heart into it, trust your gut, stand for what you believe in, and other bodily metaphors… and how fete-ing myself on Fridays might just become a thing.

Also moral of the story — It’s one way to remain sane. 

every party needs a pooper, that’s why you invited *me*…

 
Here’s the thing.

The Blue Jays.

Winning.

How great. I mean, it’s really great. I get that. Even though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t give much of a rat’s back-end about sports.

I do, however, like happy people, I like the excitement, the joie de vivre all over the place (on game days), the way revellers make room for traffic. I love us. We deserve this, the winning, the mad happiness. Who wouldn’t love it?

They say this kind of thing brings people together. On game days. And the economy gets a boost. Liquor and beer stores, junk food purveyors. Hotels, TV networks, airlines. You know, the people who need a boost.

Oh, and Rogers Communications. Owners of the Blue Jays dynasty. Apparently their shares have gone up rather noticeably during this period of frenzied winning/not winning/winning. The TSX, on the other hand, went down during the same period. But let us not concern ourselves with negatives.

The Jays are winning!

And we are being brought together as a community.

On game days.

However, in between and especially after the game days are over … it is, sadly, business as usual. That’s to say the homeless (‘boosted’ too by all the Blue Jay excitement) will still be homeless. Children will go to school hungry. If they go at all. Women will be beaten by spouses, some of them sports *stars* high-on-winning  adrenaline, some just assholes, others on welfare, most somewhere in the middle. Old people will still die alone and prisons will continue to fill and the rest of us will still hate and judge and hate some more. No matter how big, how grand or how much money is thrown at sporting events, no matter how exciting or how often we are told these things bring people together… there are no games that have brought the world, or even a city, or even a community, together in a way that sticks beyond the game days. As far as I know, no Olympics or World Series has erased persecution, corruption or any manner of ‘isms’. After the winning, a handful of men will wander off into the horizon with truckloads of gold while the rest of us are scraping cold pizza off our couches. Nothing will be any different. Aboriginal communities will still have undrinkable water and mould on their paper thin walls and the oceans will still be clogged with the debris of our need to turn away, to be distracted by something more pleasant than reality, like the easy god of sports and winning. (Remind me…winning for the sake of what again?)

Oh yeah. Because winning is fun.

Right.

I get that. I do.

It just seems so trivial. The players and owners, I understand why they want to win. (And it’s not for the joie de vivre.) But what do we get?

(I know that certain players and individuals contribute privately to various organizations with their time and money… it’s not about individuals. This really is about the owners, the corporate aspect of sports.)

So I was thinking, what if we got something too… what if the corporate aspect, the people that make the ten trillion dollars from our love of the game celebrated each win by donating some of their gold to the community. To feed those kids or build some housing or offer opportunities to people who’d otherwise have none. There are agencies in every city that would gratefully accept a few thousand bucks. A few hundred  thousand, for every game won during playoffs… well, that could change  a city.

Now that would be worth cheering for, winning  for, no?

“Big Sports” (and it’s always ‘male sporting events’) are a powerful vehicle. By adding this element we lose none of the fun. All we do is add ‘goodness’. It stuns me that we don’t demand it.

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Just an idea.

From your neighbourhood party pooper.

xo

(p.s. go jays.)

a post about nothing at all

 
I meet a friend mid-way between her town and mine in a town the size of a walnut that neither of us know.

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The kind of place where you can buy a summer dress, ice cream and a box of worms in the same store. Time-saving ingenuity, this, and sadly lacking in larger urban centres.

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My friend brings her dog, a border collie named Becky, whose goal, given the amount of attention she gives the trees and hydrants, is to pretty much own the town.

We wander through the cemetery (where it always feels too weird to take pictures) and talk about people who come to tend their loved one’s graves and those who don’t and how it’s impossible to judge these things.

A reminder about judgment generally.

I tell her about a certain Olive and Burt, who now reside in the ground side by side but for years it was just Olive that was buried and her plot was never without the most beautiful arrangements, Bird of Paradise, that kind of thing. I’d notice them when I went to visit my sister there. Then one day the flowers stopped. Soon after Burt’s name was added to the headstone.

Here people leave more ‘things’ than flowers and I wonder why that is. Stuffed animals, a yellow toy truck, one of those windmilly doodads you hold up as you run and it flutters… I wonder at the stories behind them all. My favourite is the solar powered dog light. No story required.

We walk down side streets where the houses are made for jewellery’d windows…

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…and the porches for sitting a while.

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And if you’re wondering where all the flamingos went, they’re here in this walnut-sized town.

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We walk across Becky’s newly christened bridge…

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… past places no one has the heart to tear down but which I would love to see used and maintained before they fall down.

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There’s a gas station, a grocery store, a place to sit outside and eat fish and chips, a shady corner to park the cars…

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…and a bakery that opens at 5 a.m. to feed farmers and town workers and people driving into the city, and people who come in later too, people who’ve known each other close to forty years and still don’t run out of things to say, who come to do nothing at all except wander in this nut-sized town and eat freshly baked cheese bread with a few deli slices on the side…

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take a city

Take a city. Any city.

Take one that despite its city status has a crazy small town vibe where people still say “Oh, you mean where the Boychyns used to live?” of a house where the Boychyns have not lived for decades. Where everybody seems to have gone to school with somebody that somebody else knows and where possibly one of the best chip trucks in the country is parked on a distinctly unglamorous corner.

And where, because it’s a city, terrible things happen—women and children end up in shelters and young men are sometimes shot. There are daily lineups outside the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and a crowd of smokers huddle outside the Timmy’s. There’s sadness on the streets, insanity too, but if you stop someone for directions chances are you’ll be surprised by kindness, by the thoughtfulness of the answer.

Take a city where you are stuck behind a woman at the corner shop whose husband has a new hip and the cashier wants to know how things are going with Ted. Be prepared to shift about, to be on the verge of muttering unpleasantries when you’re overcome with relief to hear that things are on the mend, that Ted is doing okay. And just as you consider taking up peevishness again, the silver-haired woman turns to you and says “Men, eh! The old farts don’t know how good they’ve got it!”  When she snaps her purse shut with a happy cackle, you can see her kitchen, the apron on a chrome chair, a kettle that’s always just boiled, her whole house smelling of pie and Hamburger Helper… and as she leaves you almost want to shout “Say hello to Ted for me!”

Take this city and its factories, its history of lunch pails, shift work and layoffs, picnics at the lake, fights at the bar, a gallery of fine art. A city where people who live there wouldn’t live anywhere else and those who’ve never visited have crystal clear misconceptions.

Where economic nose dives hit extremely hard. Hard enough to close down small businesses. But not all… people are loyal to old favourites.

And new favourites emerge from the rubble.

Take a city where, among the alleys and row houses, brick bungalows, flats over tattoo parlours, funky cafes, restaurants and thrift shops, among empty storefronts… a group of local artists have invadedfilling spaces behind doors that are normally locked with ‘For Lease’ signs in their windows… filling those spaces with people, art and music.

At least for a short while.
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Take a city that can’t be broke.