Category Archives: Culture

North is the New South: BBQ Restaurants North of the Mason-Dixon Line

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

One of things I love most about living in Kentucky is the food. Since moving here, I have fallen in love with Southern staples like shrimp n’ grits, fried green tomatoes, and barbeque. Folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line have discovered what they are missing out on and Southern-style restaurants are popping up all over the place. Toronto is never too far behind the trends, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that over half a dozen barbeque joints have opened up there in the last few months.

Electric Mud BBQ

As much as I like to eat global specialties that are not available in Louisville when I come home, it was impossible to resist trying the Canadian version of my beloved Southern cuisine on a recent visit. So I headed to Electric Mud BBQ, which has captured the aesthetic of a proper hole-in-the wall.

Menu at Parkdale's Electric MudMenu

Patrons crowd around a few small picnic tables or belly up to the bar to enjoy the small menu of smoked and fried delights. The small menu over the open kitchen displays both the expected (ribs, collard greens, coleslaw) and the exotic (duck ham!); a small, handwritten card offers even more Southern delights.

Hushpuppies

On this visit I stuck to the basics, starting out with an order of hushpuppies. Growing up, spring breaks were spent in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I developed an addiction to these little cornbread fritters. Electric Mud’s are even better than I those I remember, light and fluffy on the inside and delightfully crunchy on the outside. And the spicy horseraddish remoulade that they come with adds a whole new dimension to these little bites.

Crack Rolls at new BBQ joint Electric Mud in ParkdaleCrack Rolls

Who can resist something called Crack Rolls? Remeniscent of Parker rolls, these buns have a slightly more toothsome crust and a sprinkle of sesame seeds but what really makes them addictive is the compound butter made with spring onions and meat drippings. I would buy this spread by the bucket-full if I could.

Parkdale's new BBQ restaurant Electric Mud's RibsRibs

Electric Mud provides more twists on the classics- perfectly cooked ribs (tender meat that is not so overdone as to fall off the bone) are coated with a spicy-sweet sauce but then covered in a healthy dose of crushed peanuts and spring onions. I honestly don’t know why no one in the South has thought to do this before- the contrast of textures is out of this world!

BBQ Pork Belly at Electric MudPork Belly

While many variations of pork are standard barbeque fare, belly is a recent addition to Southern menus and Electric Mud’s take easily outshines those that I have tried back home. Presented as a variation of the pulled pork sandwich, slabs of the tender, slightly fatty flesh are served on toasted white bread with a pickle on the side. The accompanying sauce is somewhere between a Carolina mustard-based bbq sauce and the traditional brown sugar and mustard glaze used to top an Easter ham. Whatever the inspiration, it’s delicious.

Porch Crawler Drink at the Electric Mud in Parkdale TorontoPorch Crawler Cocktail

All this meat can make a girl thirsty. Here Miller Lite longnecks and cans of PBR are replaced with a selection from local brew pubs as well as a few cocktails. The Porch Crawler, which combines Thai basil, gin, and watermelon lemonade might just become my new summer tipple.

Bourbon Selection at Electric Mud in Toronto's ParkdaleBourbon Selection

I’m always aghast at the paltry selection of bourbons available at Ontario liquor stores but Electric Mud has three shelves of the stuff! And their Clydesdale cocktail, a bourbon-based margarita of sorts, is lip-smackingly good.

The Clydesdale at Toronto's Electric Mud in ParkdaleClydesdale

I was almost too full to try dessert but who can pass up banana cream pie?

Deconstructed Banana Cream Pie for dessert at the Electric Mud in TorontoDeconstructed Banana Cream Pie

Served in a mini Mason jar, this version layers graham cracker crumbs, custard, bruléed bananas, and a dollop of whipped cream. It’s light enough to justify a few bites after a big meal.

Toothpicks To Go at Electric Mud in Toronto's ParkdaleToothpicks To Go

I am thrilled to see that my hometown has not only embraced the barbeque tradition but made it its own. I hope y’all get out to try it!


Posted in Culture, Food

Superheroes at Home

Iron Man 3 is out right now, and Man of Steel and the Wolverine later this year. Sequels to Thor and Captain America are coming up, too — and I’m looking forward to see them all. I am far from being a die-hard comic book fan, but I do love those superhero movies!

My very first superhero crush was Superman. That a man could be so strong amazed me. He could lift huge and heavy objects with ease. And bullets? Not a problem. And best of all, he could fly! Christopher Reeve, to my little girl self, was the perfect male specimen. He was ridiculously handsome and charming, muscular too, but not in that scary, bulky, I-spend-too-much-time-in-the-gym way. And I totally fell for that bumbling shy guy Clark Kent alter-ego. All in all, he was dreamy.

Via The Justice Bulletin

Later on, there was a whole slew of superhero movies to feast on, starting with Michael Keaton as Batman, Tobey Maguire as Spiderman, and (swoon!) Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and the list goes on. M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable remains one of my favorite films of all time, which gave incredible insights into superhero and villain archetypes and their psyches.

Superheroes are larger-than-life characters that embody the best (and in certain moments, the worst) of very human qualities. They serve as some sort or role models for us normal mortals. Some of them, like the X-men mutants, invite us to discover and embrace our uniqueness. Others, like Spiderman, inspire us to move our focus beyond ourselves and use our gifts for the good of others. And still some, like Batman, give us hope that we can survive our traumas and tragedies, and be all the stronger for them. We see our dilemmas in theirs, and our journeys in their stories.

So, although I don’t think I’ll be collecting any action figures, or buying any life-size models, I get how profoundly some people identify themselves with a particular hero or other, and how much they want these characters represented in their homes. If it comes to that, there are ways that it could actually work, as these images show.

Via Pianeta Mamma

Via Muralsdirect

I think one insight into making it work is to resist the urge to cram the superheroes into every single nook and cranny. Restraint is the word. Confining the characters to murals, for example, is a wonderful way to bring in the the big guys and gals and still have a lot of decorating leeway for the rest of the room. Appropriating the color palette of the mural helps pull in the rest of the room so everything is a cohesive whole.

Hanging some comic book art or wall decals works too. I especially like the simplified graphics in this bedroom below.

Via La Maisonette

Via BS2H

Via Inthralld

But if you must go all out, then go for it. But keep the actual logos and figures to a minimum, and go for atmospheric elements that enhance the theme — play with textures and other elements that are related to the hero’s universe. Check out that awesome chest in the image above.

Via Pitut

The Batcave above will be a wonderful hideout for wannabe Bruce Waynes out there. And the brick walls below are just the kind that Peter Parkers would love to climb.

Via Inthralld

I am far from being a die-hard comic book fan, but I do love those superhero movies!

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

Art + Nature Collaborations

A piece from the Hakona Open Air Museum. Via A.K.A. Wayward.

I think within every artist are two desires that smolder alongside their fiery passion to create — mastery and immortality.

First, they want to be good at what they do, whether it be painting, writing, or playing the cello. They generally aspire to achieve an optimum level of expertise. This means mastering their skills, and conquering, mastering, controlling their medium, making pigments, words, or sounds obey and do their bidding. Even in spontaneity and exuberance, in improvisation and working on the fly, all such actions always tend toward taming the paint or marble, coaxing it into submission.

And then what artist doesn’t want to live on through their works? Even though they do tend to be their own worst critics, and want to banish from existence all works that are considered sub-par, the creations that survive this merciless judgment –these they want to live on — at least past their lifetimes, if not forever. These masterpieces are wrought from their minds and souls, brought forth from their depths not without difficulty, usually with much anguish. It is but natural instinct to want to preserve the perfection of their works and protect them from destruction.

For all these reasons I feel great admiration for the artists behind the installations featured in today’s post. They are hugely ambitious in scope and scale of their works, but they relinquish control of what their art will ultimately become. They give up any hope for their works’ longevity in engaging in a kind of partnership with a very unpredictable, temperamental and ever-shifting collaborator — Mother Nature. They do their part, and allow their partner the freedom to finish it, and to eventually take it apart and ingest it. It seems awfully counter-intuitive, to surrender the products of their efforts to the elements, but there’s something achingly beautiful and infinitely joyful and transcendent about the letting go, the embracing of the unknown, the acceptance that everything is fleeting and transitory.

Via Photography Heat

Yarn Bombing - by B-Arbeiten. Via Street Art Utopia.

There’s so much playful exuberance in this work of “yarn bombing”. I can imagine the joy that it brings to all who see it.

By Jonna Pohjalainen - In Turku, Finland. Via Street Art Utopia.

The logs turned giant color pencils, bring a touch of rustic whimsy to the landscape.

Via Le Cahier Josephine

More woodsy cuteness!

By Dimitri Xenakis via Around Homes

Via Photography Heat

Found this really funny and quite brilliant. Who says art has to be all serious?

By Jason de Caires via Inhabitat

By Jason de Caires via Inhabitat

These last couple of pieces deserve special mention. They started out as sculptures made of cement created by Jason de Caires. What they eventually became are coral reefs and homes for various species of marine life. De Caires has placed many of his works in the ocean, making a vast underwater sculpture garden, which Nature has indeed put its own spin on, adding color and texture to the sculptor’s various figures.


Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

Chowing Down in Chi-Town: A Visit to Slurping Turtle

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Chicago is known for many things: incredible architecture, world-class museums, endless shopping. And food, don’t forget the food! Years ago I would have been referring to deep-dish pizza or massive steaks but lately big name chefs have been filling the city with hot spots that feature cuisine from around the globe.

Image: Slurping Turtle

I’m a huge fan of Top Chef and dream about visiting all the contestants’ restaurants in this town, including season four winner Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner) and fan-favourite  Fabio Vivani (Siena Tavern).  Top Chef Masters are also well represented: Tony Mantuan owns Spiaggia, while Rick Bayless has a plethora of Mexican restaurants in town. But the Master who really wins my heart is Takashi Yagihashi.

Image: Tracey Eckersley

This past weekend I finally got to eat at his place, Slurping Turtle. The Japanese-born, Chicago-based chef is best known for the French-Asian fusion cuisine of his other restaurant, Takashi but since it is a little pricey for my graduate student-budget I am happy that there is a more affordable option.

Image: Random Acts of Kelliness

Given the name, it is not surprising that this place is known for its udon and ramen bowls, full of meat and veggies waiting to be slurped up noisily with the flavourful broths they come in. But the real star of the menu is the izakaya, small plates meant to paired with drinks (and there is a wonderful selection of Japanese beers, sakes, and creative cocktails to do just that).

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Much of these little bites have an Asian-American flair to them. The Duck Fat Fried Chicken is more succulent and juicy than anything the Colonel offers, in small pieces that seem to come from some exotic miniature species. What really puts this dish over the top is the accompanying dipping sauce, a wonderfully creamy, slightly spicy siracha mayo.

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Pork Belly Snack features tender meat enrobed in a rich, sweet soy caramel ginger glaze atop pieces of flattened bao dough. The pickled cucumber and onions are reminiscent of traditional southern bbq sandwiches; a small arugula salad with sweet onion vinaigrette, Asian pear, and black sesame seeds replaces American slaw.  I would take this over a pulled pork sammy any day- and that’s saying a lot!

Image: Slurping Turtle

The Bincho menu also offers an impressive variety of meats, veggies, and seafood cooked over white charcoal (known as bincho-tan in Japanese). I wish I had been with a group so that I could order a bigger selection (enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, shishito peppers with benito flakes, Washugyu beef, fried tofu- it all sounds awesome).

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Unfortunately by this time I was pretty stuffed but the bartender suggested I get the octopus and it was the perfect ending to my meal. The flesh was a little toothsome but with a clean, slightly briny flavour enhanced by the smoky charcoal.

Image: Foodspotting

I only wish that I had thought to grab a raspberry-wasabi or yuzu macaroon to go.

If you are in Chicago and looking for a satisfying meal, you should definitely check out the simple, fun food on offer at Slurping Turtle!


Posted in Culture, Food, Travel

Greening City

High Line nyc via house and gardening addicts

New York City’s High Line park is 2.3 km of landscaped public space that floats above the city on the old High Line tracks. Last time I was in New York we spent most of an afternoon exploring the park; it was a fabulous way to explore the city and it was amazing to see all the different people using the park, from wandering tourists to locals on their lunch breaks.

Today’s post is all about how people have managed to carve out a little piece of nature even in the busiest metropolises. As you will see it doesn’t just take a green thumb but also a willingness to think unconventionally.

Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai via tripify

One of the most majestic urban gardens is surely Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai. Created during the Ming Dynasty, strolling through the lush plant life and beautiful classic Chinese buildings is like stepping back in time. If you’re there see if you can spot the many sculptures, some of mythical creatures, as you make your way through the gardens many hidden spots.

Greenwall in MadridGreen Wall in Madrid via Treehugger

The Green Wall designed by Patrick Blanc is an extraordinary sight; it is almost as if you are looking at an optical illusion. The four story high garden can be found at the Caixa Forum, an arts and cultural space in the old industrial sector of Madrid.  The wall is home to 15,000 plants, proving that you don’t need to have a traditional large plot of land to create a greener city.

Brooklyn GrangeBrooklyn Grange via inhabitat

The Brooklyn Grange is the world’s largest rooftop farm, featuring 40,000 square feet of growing space for delicious produce. What I find most fascinating about large scale urban projects like this one is the vision of the people involved. To look at a concrete rooftop and see a thriving farm is amazing. Wouldn’t it be incredible if every city could have farms hidden in the sky?

Namba ParksNamba Parks in Osaka via daily tonic

In the densely populated city of Osaka there is little room for greenery, which makes spaces like Namba Parks so essential. The eight level garden is nestled between office and apartment buildings and the Namba train station.  The garden is fully integrated into its urban surroundings, providing an oasis from the chaos of city life.

BerlinPrinzessinnengarten, Berlin

The Prinzessinngarten in Berlin is a community garden built on a vacant lot that provides a place of solace, good food and community for numerous families and citizens in the city. Similar to other city parks, like The South Central Farm in L.A., the Prinzessingarten has had to fight for it’s survival, but those who love the park are working hard to ensure the garden is kept intact.

Nanyang Technological Institute in Singapore via freshome

The rooftop garden on the School of Art, Design and Media at the Nanyang Technical Institute in Singapore is a perfect marriage of architecture and garden design. The gently sloping roof is the perfect place for students to study, take breaks or look for inspiration. The result is a gorgeous building that shows that nature and progress can coexist.

These are just a few of the examples of urban gardening. Does your city have a public greenspace you’d like to tell us about? If you don’t think your city has enough of the green stuff then get planting. As you can see, rooftops, abandoned lots, and even walls can be places to grow.

Happy Friday Everyone!


Posted in Culture | Tagged , , ,