Thursday, January 31, 2013

The prospect of February always seems daunting – the coldest, greyest of months, it seems predisposed to being an emotional minefield. For Ashley Gibson, you add in the anniversary of your mother’s death and it seems like the bleakest of months. But out of something bleak, Ashley has created something inspiring and beautiful, with her first solo cabaret show, LIFE IS SWEET, EVEN IN FEBRUARY, both honouring her mother’s memory, and benefiting the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

LIFE IS SWEET, EVEN IN FEBRUARY is a solo cabaret show on February 22nd at 9:30pm, with Ashley singing a number of songs that her mom enjoyed, and sharing stories from her own life, about the impact of mental illness and her journey back after her mom’s suicide.  Ashley’s been open about her mother’s suicide, and how it’s affected her. It’s inspiring that someone has made an effort to share that part of themselves, fighting the stigma of mental illness and letting everyone dealing with mental illness, loss, depression, anxiety, to let all of them know:  “You are not alone”.

Mental health is something which affects us all – when 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, the odds are you or someone in your life is dealing with mental illness. We don’t always talk about it, we don’t necessarily know how to recognize, or know how to help. But, through the work of people like Ashley, we can have these conversations and end the stigma of mental health. We can move forward, together.

In addition to the show, Gibson will be featuring a number of guest writers on her blog who will write about their experiences with mental illness, depression, and loss – 
“Over the month of February I will be hosting blog posts from friends, family and bloggers who will be sharing their personal accounts of experience with mental illness, depression, anxiety and loss. I am so proud of all of these people for sharing their stories, and believe that in the act of sharing we will truly confirm that no one is alone. I've utilized my network to also include posts from practitioners on strategies for dealing with mental illness, as well as posts on working through challenges in life and finding the light and love in all of it. “
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ashley through my Loser Karaoke group, and she always lights up the room when she sings. Her outlook is infectious, moving, and I’m proud to know her. Buy a ticket, take part in something special, and you’ll be lucky too.

In the greyest of days, Ashley shares an outlook I admire: life can be sweet. Yes, even in February.


Learn more about Ashley's #lifeissweet month on her blog - or by following her on Twitter -@ashleydtl

Life is Sweet, Even in February
Produced and performed by Ashley Gibson, Music Direction by Tara Litvack
February 22, 2013 – 9:30PM
The Flying Beaver Pubaret
488 Parliament Street – Toronto, ON
Tickets: $15 in advance / $20 at the door
Tickets are available at the Flying Beaver Pubaret or online at

 Facebook event page - Life Is Sweet, Even in February

Friday, January 25, 2013

You ever have that moment where you realize playing bingo on a Saturday afternoon in honky tonk basement bar, with old country vinyl playing, drinking caesars and eating chicken & waffles with your friends was a highlight of your week? And you smile, like you're getting away with something? Wouldn’t you want to keep going back as often as you can?
The Dakota Tavern started Beer Barrel Bingo, hosted by Colonel Tom, on Saturday afternoons a few months ago. It’s a weekly event, running from 2pm – 5pm every Saturday, no cover charge. 

On a typical afternoon, we pile in with a gang of friends, claim a large table and kick things off with a round of drinks. Day drinking adds to the feeling your playing hooky from everything else and the drink specials are perfect for the afternoon with $6 caesars, $5 pints of Molson Stock Ale, and $5 Wiarton Weddings (rye & ginger ale, the country champagne).  The menu is a Saturday afternoon mainstay of chicken and waffles with fruit topping.  The chicken is fantastic, and there are options for pulled pork or baked beans (for vegetarians) with your waffles.

Bingo is the reason we show up, and the Dakota gives it a country flavour, in no small part to our charming bingo caller and host, Colonel Tom Parker. With his extensive collection of country vinyl playing, his easy going manner and occasional drop of trivia, many a bingo hall would be the better for such a host. Cards are typically 1 for $1 for 12 cards for $5, and you can play as many or as few as you’d like during each game. It is bizarre how quickly you get invested in trying to complete a line on a Bingo card, mentally trying to influence which number gets called next, keeping an eye on your neighbour's card. The winning is sometimes more important than the prize, but the prizes are sweet for those luck few to shout “BINGO!” – records, t-shirts, all sorts of beer paraphernalia. There is a grand prize game towards the end of every Beer Barrel Bingo session – the grand prize in past weeks have included tickets to see Aerosmith, the Dakota New Year’s Eve, and to Elliott Brood concert at the Dakota on January 30th.

You occasionally look over at your friends, laughing while we wait for the next number to be called out, and figure “this is a pretty good thing we got going on here”. We go week after week, and we think we'd get tired of it, but it's really the best thing Saturday afternoon ever.

Try to get there between 2pm and 3pm to get a table or you may end up riding the bar rail. If you have a large group, the earlier, the better of course, and the afternoon, like the Dakota’s brilliant Sunday Bluegrass Brunch, is kid friendly. 

Follow them on Twitter at @thedakotatavern and on Facebook

The Dakota Tavern
249 Ossington Avenue,
Toronto, ON M6J 3A1

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Riverdale Park, at the magic hour during a rare warm winter day.
An ongoing series of my favourite people, places and things about Toronto.

Whenever I can find the time, I love to go to Riverdale Park to sit and take in how beautiful this city is. On Broadview Avenue, the upper part of the park offers some spectacular views of the Don Valley and the city spread behind it. In snowy winter, it's one of the most popular sledding spots in Toronto. In spring, you see people walking their dogs, as they bound and tear along, making you want to have a dog of your own. In summer, you look down at the athletic track and sports fields, watching everyone at play. In autumn, you just watch the trees in the Don Valley burst with colour. The park draws an array of photographers, kite flyers, soccer games, and picnics - even in a flurry of activity, it's a pretty, joyful place, this gateway to the East End.
Riverdale Park, early summer.
There's a perfect little coffeehouse right there, Rooster Coffee House. The espressos and lattes are sublime, the pastries fresh and savoury. You get an Americano crafted perfectly and a chocolate croissant, and sit along the front window or out on the patio facing the park, and do what you need: chat, write, sit and regain your peace.
How do I find it? It's on Broadview Avenue, south of Danforth Avenue, north of Gerard Avenue. The 504 Dundas streetcar passes by on the way to Broadview Station. Take the subway to Broadview Station and it's just a short walk down. There's some street parking along Broadview and there's a Green P lot up by Broadview Station.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Margarita and a tostada with swordfish ceviche. Bliss.
It’s hard to think of a better follow-up to a day exploring the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Art Gallery of Ontario than a meal at La Carnita. What started as an intention to have some chips and guacamole quickly escalated into full-fledged food bliss.

I’ve followed the story of La Carnita since they started as a pop-up restaurant, serving their tacos at events like Toronto Underground Market. As buzz and business grew, it was a welcome sight when they opened up a permanent restaurant on College St. last summer. It had been a few months since my last visit to – a sampling of every taco on the menu was time well spent – and the occasion of foodie friend @laurendorphin’s birthday guaranteed the choice of an excellent restaurant with great dining companions. Our group of 8 managed to grab a large table at 6:30pm on a Saturday, and the large and lively space filled up quickly by 7:30pm. With long tables and many booths, the place seems meant to invite groups of diners to share a meal.

The menu gets refreshed regularly, but offers a reliable array of appetizers sharing plates and tacos, reasonably priced, which gives you the perfect excuse to try a little bit of everything.  A tempting array of cocktails, beers, and wine are available, but I went with the classic margarita. Or two.

Corn and rice frituras, perfect for sharing.
We ordered housemade tortilla chips & guacamole – dusted with ancho chili powder, making an excellent complement to the sweetness of my cocktail. The corn & rice frituras, 4 to an order and each about the size of a pool ball, and an avocado mango salad were perfect for sharing, ranging from $6.50-$8. Every taco on the menu made an appearance at our table ($5 each). Saturday’s menu offered up their iconic cod fish taco, braised beef cheek, fried chicken, fried avocado, and chorizo, all with fresh flavour and pleasant but not overwhelming taste of heat. The tostada was a swordfish ceviche ($7) which perfectly, indulgently good. Sheer bliss.
Key-lime paletas - pie on stick? What is this sorcery?
The capper was dessert. The churros are popular, but I went with the “paletas” ($4 each). Different flavours every day, but I didn’t quite know what a paleta was. I assumed it was a tart of some sort when I heard that chocolate-peanut butter and key lime were being offered. I was delighted and surprised to be presented with a paleta – basically an ice pop. The key lime was like a tart creamsicle, rolled in graham crackers. Outstanding.

I’d recommend going with a group of 6-8 friends to get a nice cross-section of the menu. While they don’t take reservations, you may need to just get the timing right to get a table, with 7p – 9p being prime time. I’ve had two successful visits and intend to make more. Make sure to browse some of their fantastic Mexican street art for sale as well.

Check their website for their current menu, and follow them on Twitter at @la_carnita for updates on daily specials.

501 College St., west of Bathurst St. on the south side
Sun - Mon 5 - 10pm
Tues - Sat 5 - 11pm

Reservations: None, first come, first serve.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Edmonton Police launched the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign in 2010,targeting potential offenders rather than victims of sexual assault - letting perpetrators know it’s not “okay” to take advantage of someone who had too much to drink. It’s not “taking advantage” - it’s sexual assault. If you don’t have ongoing consent, it’s sexual assault. These posters communicate and educate this point clearly. It’s “a rape prevention campaign targeted at potential rapists rather than potential victims”
The campaign was relaunched at the end of 2012 in Edmonton, and has proven so effective that other Canadian cities have adopted it, including Vancouver (which saw a 10% drop in assaults), Ottawa, and Regina. Nothing in Toronto yet, but maybe that can change. These should be on every campus and in every bar.