Pages

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gastown Classic: Acme Cafe

I kind of can't believe I haven't written a review yet for my local favourite, Acme Cafe. If ever there was a place that was "my" place, it's Acme. It opened in April 2010, just months after I moved to Gastown in the fall of 2009, when things were really starting to take off here, It felt like we were in this together, rebuilding a neighbourhood we wanted to be a part of, and all of the staff at Acme, including its owner, Alan, have become familiar and friendly faces in the over five years that I've lived here. When their Lemon Meringue pie was featured on the cover of Vancouver magazine a few years back, they happily sold the famous pie to me for my 31st birthday party (my last name is Lemon, it seemed appropriate). I've had cookies and pie just out of the oven practically forced on me by chefs saying, "Just taste this and let me know what you think." It's like sitting in your mom or your aunt's kitchen. 

Located in the historic Paris block on Hastings, Acme hearkens back to the cafeterias and diners of old without being kitschy. It features a number of booths and a huge lunch counter for solo diners. As it's become more popular, they've squeezed a few more diner tables in as well, but it's still small enough that there is almost always a wait during peak hours.

The menu is straight-up comfort food. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, grilled cheeses, mac and cheese - this isn't pretentious West Coast dining and if you're not into carbs, this is likely not the place for you. The meatloaf plate is a favourite of mine, with a generous helping of meatloaf, accompanied by salad and mashed potatoes, if you're up for it. I also like the meatloaf sandwich, which comes on a pretzel bun. The "High Falutin' Grilled Cheese," featuring cranberry sauce as well as a number of cheeses, is also ridiculously decadent. I'm told the Shrimp Melt is to die for, if you like that sort of thing (shrimps = worms of the sea. I won't eat 'em). Sandwiches come with your choice of sides. Acme's coleslaw is worth asking for (which also comes with potato chips), as is the side of Mac n' Cheese if you have room for it - but please remember there's dessert.

Oh yeah, dessert. That's one of the main reasons to hit up Acme, and asking what pies are fresh BEFORE you order your main meal is always a good idea. The Lemon Meringue is ten feet tall, and if you're lucky enough to be there when they have a slice, order it. The chocolate cream pie with an Oreo crust is amazing, as is the Key Lime. There are also always a huge array of cakes, cookies and pastries on display at the espresso bar if pie isn't your thing (but if pie isn't your thing, we can't be friends).

There are always breakfast/lunch/dinner specials, and usually a soup and a quiche of the day.

Without a doubt one of my favourite spots in the city. Unpretentious, quality food and friendly people. In the new year I'm moving out of Gastown, and I'm actually sad that this place won't be right around the corner. However, I know I will definitely be making returns to my old 'hood to visit good old Acme cafe.

*this review originally featured on Yelp, where you can read my reviews on lots of places in Vancouver and elsewhere.  Thanks to Yelp for making me a member of their Elite Squad for 2014.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Buy a Megaphone Magazine.

Living and working in Gastown, I've gotten to know, or at least recognize, a number of the homeless (or at risk of being homeless) folks who frequent our neighbourhood.  My living room features a large piece of art I bought on the street from Ken Foster.  I always donate to the "condom lady," who walks around giving out condoms, lube and information on sexually transmitted diseases.  I never hesitate to walk around my neighbourhood, at night or any other time of day and have never felt the need to avoid the colourful cast of characters who form such a large part of Gastown's culture. 

There's one guy in particular who always sits outside the Tim Hortons in the bottom of my office building.  He doesn't say much, nor does he carry a sign of any kind.  He just sits cross-legged, sometimes gently rocking back and forth, and waits.  I've occasionally bought him meals, and have seen other people do the same.  I've always had a soft spot for this guy - I'm not sure why.  It may be because he doesn't ask for help, or demand my attention.  But it may also be - and this sounds terribly judgmental of me - because he looks so much like a regular everyday joe. 

It's easy to demonize some of the scarier people who approach you on the Downtown Eastside, with huge haunted eyes, arms riddled with track marks, clothes in rags, who scream obscenities at you when you don't give them what they want.  That's not this guy.  He just seems like a "normal" person who has been dealt so much bad luck that he's buckled under the weight of it.  In truth, all of these people deserve our attention and compassion, all of them have been the victim of personal tragedies.  All of them are living their own version of "normal."  I'm not saying it's right to judge any of them, or to feel more compassion for one than the other.  What I am saying is that this guy who sits outside the Tim Hortons has not become such a shell of his former self that I can't recognize a bit of myself in him.  I think that's why I feel personally affected by him.  

I ran some errands at lunch today, and as I returned to the office, I saw him.  Standing on the corner - the first time in however many years that I've seen him standing up - was Tim Hortons Guy.  He was up, dressed, and selling copies of Megaphone magazine and also the Hope in Shadows calendar.  I did a double take as I walked by him  - was that really him?  It was!  I was almost in the office door before I turned around.  "How much is the calendar," I shouted back to him.  "Twenty," he yelled back.  "And the magazine?"  "Two bucks."  I dug in my purse for my wallet, walking back to him.

"I don't have a twenty," I said apologetically.  "But I'll take a magazine."  He looked at me quizzically.  "Didn't I already sell you a calendar?" he asked.  "No," I said, "but I'm glad you're selling them!"  He grinned.  I handed him my toonie, took my magazine, and went into the building.  I felt so proud of this guy, so happy to see him standing on his own two feet, in every sense of the word, wishing I could tweet/Facebook/text every single person to go and buy a magazine, a calendar, whatever this guy was selling, now that he'd decided he was worth the effort.  It completely made my day.  

For those who aren't familiar with Megaphone, it's a street paper, that operates much the same way that the Big Issue program does in the UK.  Sellers buy the magazines for 75 cents.  They sell them for $2, which means they make $1.25 for each magazine they sell.  If you see a vendor, pick one up.  There is a "Find a Vendor" function on the Megaphone website that can point you towards sellers.  

Megaphone also released a report this week on homelessness deaths, based on data they had compiled from the BC Coroner's Service.  The average life expectancy for a homeless person in BC is between 40 and 49 years of age, around half the life expectancy for a British Columbian, generally speaking.  There are approximately 16,000 homeless people in the province.  That's a lot of us who are at risk.  If it only costs you $2 to help a person make their life a little better, or a little longer, will you do it?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Take a Breath, Not a Side.

As much as I love Q, I am not going to engage in lamenting Jian Ghomeshi's fate nor will I engage in CBC or victim/accuser bashing just yet.

I completely agree that no one should be fired from their job for their tastes in the bedroom. People must be free to be who they are in their private lives - what happens between consenting adults should stay there.

I completely agree that Ghomeshi is a great broadcaster and his interviews are second to none. I am devastated he is not going to say "Hi there - Happy Monday" to me tomorrow.

However, I tend to think CBC's legal team would have had to tread very carefully here. Give them some credit. Do you think the CBC drops their biggest star, syndicated in 180 markets, without serious consideration? Further, the Toronto Star has just published some very upsetting accounts from multiple sources of a violent and disrespectful pattern of behaviour. Wait until both sides are heard before you pick a side, if you must pick one at all.

Reporting sexual assault, even in the most straightforward of cases, is very difficult for a woman. There are statistics that prove this fact. Now, imagine throwing a celebrity into the mix. Or imagine some of these female accusers (there are multiple according to the Star) really had said yes to some BDSM - just not to what he did. "Well yes officer, I told him he could whip me, but not punch me in the face." It becomes a very grey, very messy, very embarrassing area very quickly. So women stay silent.

I personally want to encourage a culture where women feel comfortable to come forward or challenge those that have wronged them - as I think most of us do. Keep that in mind before jumping to Jian's defence based on his very moving personal statement.

We do not know the whole story. But we do know there are two sides to it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Letting Go of Perfect.

My name is Danielle, and I'm a perfectionist.

I feel like for those who know me well, this statement is not a surprise.   It is a surprise to me.  I dislike enough things about myself to believe that everyone reading this will scoff, "You're clearly not a perfectionist - look at you!"  

Well - yes.  Look at me.  I am looking at me.  And that voice that criticizes myself, that dark corner of my heart that despises so many things about myself? That's the perfectionist.   It's the perfectionist who loudly declares how RIDICULOUS I am, that everyone can SEE that, what a JOKE.  The perfectionist does not see the lawyer, scholar, singer, writer, actress, world traveller, volunteer, devoted kitty-mama and friend.  The perfectionist sees a loud, ugly, fat, obnoxious loner who doesn't own a house, doesn't have a husband, doesn't have kids, is too old to continue auditioning for musical theatre, and isn't as good a lawyer as she pretends to be.  That perfectionist voice is the last one I hear before I go to bed.  It's the first one I hear when I wake up in the morning.    

I've been chasing perfect for a long time.  For every A I got, there was an A+ to be had.  For every degree I got, there was another one I had to reach for (I'd still be going if the money hadn't run out).  For every law firm I got a job at, there was another, BIGGER law firm to get a job at.  For every show I got to perform in, there was another one that I really needed to be in.   When I've got a night to myself at home, I beat myself up about not going out.  If the house isn't perfectly tidy and doesn't look like a magazine, no one can come over, and I can't relax and read a book.  If people come for dinner, that better be the most perfect, Martha Stewart-inspired party you've ever seen.   I've falsely confused perfection with being loved, and being loveable, even to myself. 

My perfectionism doesn't come out of some extreme self-love, a desire to strive for the best because I'm worth it.  I know this because the flip side of my perfectionism is shame. I strive for perfection to outrun the shame, but because I can never achieve that perfection, I spend much more time mired in the quicksand of shame than celebrating my successes.   For everything that I  have "failed" at, whether that was true failure or just failing to meet my own ridiculous standards, I feel a deep, deep shame and dislike for myself.  My weight yo-yo's are the perfect example of that.  Gained a pound?  Well, I'd better give up then, because I failed.  Pass the cookies, it's all over.  I'll punish myself by eating another one.  And maybe another.   The vicious cycle continues.  I hate myself for not being perfect, so I eat another metaphorical cookie, I become further away from perfect, I hate myself some more.  Dating, too.  I've put up with horrible treatment from horrible people that I would never introduce to my worst enemy, because I think that's what I deserve, because I'm so horribly flawed.  I have not dared to let myself love people who I think I do not measure up to.

Criticism, even from people who have no business being critical, or whose opinions we should not care about, becomes deeply wounding to perfectionists like me, because we attach a sense of shame and blame to having "failed" to measure up to some real or imagined standard.  

I don't know where this idea that I had to be perfect came from. I do not blame my parents for some deep dark wrong they did to me as a child.  I was a difficult kid - I hear those stories a lot - but they also loved me so hard it hurt.  And yet somewhere along the way, I heard and internalized the message that to be loved by myself and others, I need to be perfect.  I love other people whole-heartedly, flaws and all, but myself, no.  

Perfectionism is an insidious thing.  It means that when I accomplish, I must accomplish more.  It means when I fail, I feel a shame so deep I feel embarrassed to be around others, and would gladly avoid myself if possibly could (that's not a suicidal thought, mind you, just a desire to not be me).    

But lately, I have started to ask myself, what is the end goal of my being perfect?  What's at the end of the rainbow, that unattainable goal that I keep striving for?   Where am I killing myself to get to?  What is it that is so worth being so terribly hard on myself every step along the way to obtain?

It's love.  Being loved.

I'm not talking just romantic love (although that's always nice).  I feel loved by my friends, and my family.  I have felt loved by romantic partners.  But the key ingredient that's missing is loving myself.  Not only do I keep thinking I need to be perfect so someone else will love me - I need to be perfect so I can love myself.   

And that's the tragedy of it.  I will never be perfect.  And unless I seriously start thinking about how I think and feel, and changing some of these damaging thoughts and behaviours, I'll never love myself.  And that's a really, really sad place to be.  

So I'm letting go of perfect.  I have to.

I have zero idea how to do this. Honestly, I don't.  I have no idea how you put aside something that you feel in the very core of your being and choose to feel something else.  We as a society cannot explain what makes us fall in love with other people, how the hell can we explain or teach how to fall in love with ourselves?  So I know this is going to be a long, long, difficult, sad, frustrating process full of demons and discomfort and roadblocks. I don't know where the road even starts, but I know that much.  I also know that I am so very very tired of aiming for perfect, and failing miserably, and feeling such shame at my own existence.  There is so much beauty in the world, and it is so, so sad that I don't let myself be part of it.  

It's a big thing for me to be this honest on my blog.  I have always limited myself to humorous, witty posts about "perfect" moments in my life - world travel, cooking adventures, theatrical endeavours, and other accomplishments that make me appear very together, a real whole person living a fabulous life.  I have a lot of fear around putting these words out into the world, admitting that Oz the Magnificent is nothing but a facade.  But I also feel like I have to give voice to some of the things I'm struggling with, so that I can benefit from the wisdom and understanding of the people in my life who have maybe been in the same place.  Or the people who are already able to be their own best friends, who can teach me the tricks of the trade.   I'm committed to living with the discomfort.  There's really no other choice.

I'm letting go of perfect, and settling for loved.  Let the journey commence.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Secret Allies.

I'm in Orlando for work, and heading to Atlanta tomorrow.  As I was heading to my hotel room tonight, I passed a teenage girl with the same green hair as me.  We gave each other the secret cool-green-hair-girl salute.  Her mom gasped and insisted we take a picture together.   Afterwards, I told the girl a secret: "I'm a corporate lawyer.  Please remember, you can be whatever you want to be, it doesn't matter what colour your hair is."  I hope she remembers.  She promised me she would. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dinner Time: Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

I love, love, love this recipe from My Fitness Pal.  This spaghetti squash pad thai is satisfying and tasty, and under 300 calories a serving.  I don't miss the noodles at all!




Friday, August 15, 2014

London Theatre: Once

In 2007 I fell in love with a little Irish film called Once, starring Glen Hansard as a heartbroken musician-cum-vacuum repairman, who meets a young Czech immigrant, played by Marketa Irglova, and strikes up an intense romance, mostly unspoken and unfulfilled, except for the music they create together (which was written by the two lead actors themselves).  The song "Falling Slowly" won the Oscar for best song, but a number of tunes from the film have been in regular rotation on my playlists for years.  When Once was adapted for the stage, I was skeptical, despite the 8 Tony awards it eventually won.   I'm weary of the trend that turns hit movies into musicals.  The latest: The Bodyguard? (???)

The other night I had a hankering to see a show and I found a cheap ticket to Once, playing at the Phoenix Theatre, so I swallowed my fears and bought the ticket.  It was a great deal - I paid 19.50 but was upgraded to the 37.50 ticket - and when I got to the theatre was upgraded once again to the Dress Circle - so I ended up paying about 1/3 of the face price of my ticket.  Yay!  I figured I could suck up even a horrible show for that price.

I actually loved it.  When I entered the theatre the entire cast was on stage (which is a pub that doubles as a number of locales) jamming, playing Irish and Czech folk songs (all of the cast play instruments throughout the show - guitars, violins and even a cello), while they were surrounded by some of the audience.  The set had become a working bar.  They played a few numbers, and then as the audience was shown off the set, the music trailed off, until eventually only one actor, the unnamed male lead, credited only as "Guy" (played by David Hunter), was onstage.  He launched into the heartbreaking "Leave" as the lights dimmed, and the actual show began.   The conscious acknowledgement of the audience, and of the deliberate artifice of the performance, made the theatre nerd in me smile, but soon I was engrossed in the characters enough that I forgot it was a performance - and was caught up in the love story all over again.

There are significant differences in the book for Once, by Enda Walsh, that make it a completely different work than the film.  Supporting characters are fleshed out and given story lines - in particular Billy, the music store owner who lends "Girl" his piano - becomes an outrageous rocker and the comic relief of the show, with an unrequited crush on "Girl," and a hilarious one-night stand with "Girl"'s sexpot roommate, Reza.  We met "Girl"'s mother and Czech roommates, whose immigrant stories give a sense of what modern, post-EU life in Dublin must be like.  The romance between "Guy" and "Girl," ever-so-understated in the film, is definitive here, developed to a point that makes it clear to the audience what each is feeling, even if their circumstances mean they cannot act on the emotions.  

The music is woven into the story in a clever and interesting way - unlike a traditional musical where characters simply burst into song, and we the audience are expected to understand that they aren't necessarily aware they are singing - the characters in Once are all musicians.  They sing because they love the songs, and the music.  It's not a storytelling tool here - it's part of the characters' expression of themselves, something they consciously engage in.   

There are a few parts of the musical that I didn't think quite hit the mark.  The story is always very clear that "Guy" is talented - "Guy" is going to be a big hit - "Guy" needs to go to New York (London in the movie), not just to win back his ex-girlfriend but to be a successful musician.  He needs to be "un-stuck," as "Girl" puts it.  And all of this, is achieved.  The show ends when Guy makes it to New York.  But what about "Girl"?  Her relationship with her estranged husband, her own musical ambitions, her love for "Guy" - nothing is resolved for "Girl."  I found that to be a weakness in this story - "Girl" seemed to exist merely to admire, help and pine after "Guy."  I didn't feel that the imbalance between "Guy" and "Girl"'s story lines was so marked in the film.  In fact, there is a moment in the first jam session in the movie, where Irglova harmonizes with Hansard for the first time, where his eyes light up in recognition of a fellow artist.  It might be too subtle a moment to capture in theatre, but I felt the absence of that artistic kinship in the musical.  Yes, "Guy" is attracted to "Girl" - her sheer force of will and her drive to push him forward seem to be the attraction, though, not a musical connection.



The musicianship of the entire cast made me envious (unless my violin vastly improves, I ain't getting cast in this show).  David Hunter as "Guy" was a talented guitarist and had a fantastic pop voice, bringing his own energy and interpretation to Glen Hansard's songs.  It didn't hurt that he was kind of dreamy and had a great Irish accent.  Jill Winternitz as "Girl" played the piano beautifully (although I must admit I found her Czech accent to be a bit heavy - and she never lost it, even when singing), and brought a humour and spark to the character of "Girl" that was entirely new to the character that Marketa Irglova played in the film.  The rest of the cast doubled as band and chorus, singing and playing on chairs (a la productions I've seen in recent years of Sweeney Todd, Company, and Sunset Boulevard - this especially seems to be a thing in the West End), and were uniformly strong as singers and actors.  The set design of the "pub" - which through lighting cues became various other settings, including a seaside cliff outside Dublin - was fantastic, with strategic mirrors placed so that even when a character was facing upstage, their reactions could be seen.  I wasn't surprised at all to read in the program that the original workshop of Once had been scene-specific - in a pub - and they've managed to retain that sense of a site-specific piece nicely, even in a conventional theatre setting.  

Even though I knew what would happen, I found myself sobbing my heart out at the finale, and was so glad I had seen what really was a unique piece of theatre, that is still, like the film, about the connections we make that change our lives in an instant.


The only thing missing?  My friend Linda saw the same show on Broadway on the same night - and Glen Hansard made a surprise appearance to celebrate the 1000th performance of Once on Broadway.    I think she wins.  

UK Update - GISHWHES and Snowdon

Last week I participated once again in GISHWHES - the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.  Created by Misha Collins (an actor most famous for his role on Supernatural), and raising money for the charity Random Acts, this video-and-photo hunt challenges people to move outside their comfort zone, attempt the impossible, and also perform random acts of kindness along the way.  I participated last year and this year, since I was going to be away from my team, I roped some colleagues in the UK into helping me.  It made for a fairly busy second week in Southampton, as I was arm wrestling movie theatre employees for tickets to Guardians of the Galaxy, creating art installations out of dishes (complete with artist statements), creating monuments to the founder of Rubber Gloves, Harris Packard, and dressing up co-workers as fish, the Flash and Batman for various ridiculous things.  

One of the major challenges on the list was to climb one of Table Mountain (South Africa), Mt. Fuji (Japan), Mt. Sinai (Egypt), Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), or Mt. Snowdon (Wales).  Being only a 5 hour drive from Wales, my paralegal Indy and I decided to give it a go, and got up very early last Friday morning to make the drive to Wales.

Wales (what I saw of it), was everything I hoped it would be.  Beautiful, idyllic, friendly, with sheep running everywhere...and don't forget the delicious, delicious Welsh cakes.  Snowdon was breathtakingly beautiful and we met up with several other teams at the summit, who we then walked back down the mountain with.  Without GISHWHES, I would never have gone to this beautiful place, or made new friends.  Plus it gave me like, 28,000 steps on my Fitbit for the day, which was rad.  

I wish we had stayed overnight, but instead we undertook the drive home, after getting down off the mountain at 9 pm or so.  We arrived home in the very early hours of Saturday morning, and I spent most of the weekend recovering, binge-watching Orphan Black and chilling out.  The remains of Hurricane Bertha hit Southampton last weekend, and you've never heard anything like the wind and rain that whistled around the flat all weekend. At one point the skylights in my flat, which is right on a pier, blew open and hail started pouring in.  I stumbled around the apartment on stiff-post-Snowdon legs, pushing the skylights back in with a pole, only to have them blow open again minutes later.  It was probably a comical sight, but I felt like I was in some sort of carnival game, trying to anticipate which one would blow open next.

I'm up in London now, which is obviously much more familiar turf.  I'm making a list of all the sights I was too lazy to see when I lived here, thinking I'd have all the time in the world, and am determined to check them all off before I leave in just over two weeks.  I am getting very homesick and lonely and at least this will give me something to do, rather than wallowing in those feelings.  I've also been asked to be a reviewer of submissions for some of the GISHWHES video tasks, which will keep me busy watching some of the craziness other GISHWHES teams around the world got up to.  So, lots to keep me distracted.  16 days until home.

I texted my brother to let him know I was in Wales. He made a joke about needing to get Welsh cakes and I was pleased to be able to text back this photo, saying, "Oh you mean THESE?"

Just breathtaking views on Snowdon, and so different from our BC landscape.

Indy and I at the summit of Snowdon.