Category Archives: cheap fun

Beer and barbecue pairings

Jason Rees, Pork Ninjas

A couple of weeks back, The Grid had to cut my Hopped Up column, well, pretty brutally. I was writing about how to pair beer with barbecue, so I spoke to two men that love both things deeply: Ryan Donovan, the butcher at Marben, and Jason Rees, pitmaster of barbecue team, Pork Ninjas.

Sadly Rees was cut from the story (I’m sorry Jason!), he spends a lot of time smoking meat, and drinking craft beer, and I wanted to share his expertise here. I also gave both Donovan and Rees the challenge of pairing beers you can buy or drink in Toronto with their favourite BBQ — and I asked them to comment on one another’s suggestions — most of these were cut too.

So I’m pasting the entire article here for your barbecue-and-beer-pairing pleasure:

Ryan Donovan has the ultimate man cave: a brand-new walk-in keg fridge, its walls lined with barrels of craft brews like Muskoka, Beau’s and F&M. And in the centre, hanging from the ceiling, there’s usually one huge cut of meat or another—loin, ribs, flank. King West restaurant Marben (488 Wellington Street West) is known for its monthly pig roasts conducted under resident butcher Donovan’s watch, and he says the merger is fitting—any carnivore knows that ale and barbecue is a natural pairing.

Donovan, who ran the Healthy Butcher and worked at Cowbell before moving to Marben, learned what beers to match with barbecue from practice, and by talking to the brewers who supply his restaurant.

Donovan reccomends Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA to cut through the rich, pink meat of a roasted pig. For lighter fare, like grilled fish or chicken, Donovan likes Muskoka’s Weissbier for its sweet banana character, or Duggan’s zingy, No. 5 Sorachi Lager. “When it’s hot outside it’s tough to drink a lot of beer,” he says, “so a lighter, effervescent lager is best.”

Some beers are better than others to drink with barbecue. And while there are some rules of thumb: go for brews that compliment, contrast or cut your food; a sweet taste should be paired with even sweeter beers, tart with tart — brewers, butchers and beer nerds don’t always play by them.

Jason Rees, for example, never serves lager with barbecue. The pitmaster for Pork Ninjas, a Toronto-based competitive barbecue team, Rees spends upwards of 16 hours over a cooker. And that’s when he relies on lager. “I love my double IPAs and imperial stouts but if I was to drink those for 12 to 16 hours, my palate would be completely polluted, and I wouldn’t be able to tell if my spicing was correct.” His go to? Anything by Muskoka, preferably in a can, or Yuengling Lager, which he picks up at Walmart in the States.

Like Donovan, Rees likes the IPA’s ability to cut through sweet, rich barbecue. But he also likes the complimentary pairing of a sweeter brown ale, like Neustadt 10W40, with spicy ribs smothered in brown sugar. What to serve to your Coors Light loving Dad? Try Black Oak Pale Ale, says Rees, “it doesn’t offend anyone.”

At your next dinner party, Rees advises, choosing six kinds of Ontario beer, giving everyone a small glass, and trying different beers throughout the meal, starting with lightest and moving to the heavier, more alcoholic beers.

“Beer is so much easier to pair with barbecue than wine, because when you serve the real spicy stuff, some wines can taste like vinegar. But even a poor beer pairing is still going to be drinkable,” he says.

Jason Rees’s beer and barbecue pairings, Ryan Donovan weighs in

Denison’s Weissbier with burger with goat cheese
Donovan: “I would pair this as well, but only if I could have two beers.”

Sweet and tangy baby back pork ribs with Muskoka Cream Ale
Donovan: “Mmmmmm tangy”

Smoked sausages with Kozliks German Style mustard with Church Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale
Donovan: “Church Key is one of my favourite breweries, great choice.”

 Jerk Chicken with Muskoka Mad Tom IPA
Donovan: “British + India + Jamaica = Bracebridge.  A classic pairing.”

Grilled chocolate pound cake with scoop of chocolate ice cream & hot cherry sauce with Black Oak Double Chocolate Cherry Stout
Donovan: “I’ll bring the beer if you take care of cooking this.”

 Rib-eye steak rubbed with coffee, salt and pepper with Muskoka Dark Ale or Wellington County Dark Ale
Donovan: “Wellington County Dark is one the best beers I’ve ever had.”

Orange marmalade glazed duck breast cooked over Basques Charcoal, (made from sugar maple) with Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze
Donovan: “Orange?????Duck Breast???????? can I have a beer now?”

Note: Most of these recipes are Rees’s and are on his website at

Ryan Donovan’s Beer & Barbecue Pairings, Jason Rees weighs in

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA with Patio Pig Roast
Rees:I absolutely love the Muskoka IPA, but I think it lends itself better to spicy food, and a whole hog has a lot of different delicate flavours. I’d rather see that paired with a pilsner.”

Muskoka Dark with fermented Thuringer
Rees: “The marjoram spice in this sausage would be very tasty with the Muskoka Dark Ale.”

Anchor Steam with BBQ Brisket from West Side Beef
Rees: “I think I would enjoy Anchor Steam with a brisket, but I usually pair it with raw oysters.”

Creemore with anything BBQ’d outside at The New Farm
Rees: “My theory that you need something easy drinking while bbq’ing seems evident from his pick of Creemore. I’ve done the same thing when I can’t find cans of Muskoka, I enjoy Creemore’s Kellerbeir more than their lager.”

Tsing Tao with #76 at Pho Phuong
Rees:I can barely get my nose into a Tsing Tao beer, so it must stay in the bottle and be served extra, extra cold so I can barely smell it. It’s just another large batch adjunct beer that I wouldn’t normally consume… but I will admit to consuming it as a last resort beer on many occasions in the many amazing Asian restaurants in the city.”

Beau’s Lug Tread Ale with a porchetta roast from The Healthy Butcher
Rees: “I have not tried the Healthy Butcher’s porchetta as I make my own, and mine has lots and lots of fennel seeds in it, is cooked over apple wood, and injected with apple juice brine. It would marry well with the Beau’s Lug Tread, but I have a serious love of pork and apple, so I usually drink my porchetta with Wapoos Cider from the County Cider Company.

Rogue Dead Guy IPA with Pulled Pork
Rees: “The Dead Guy IPA is a very well-balanced beer, and I’ve enjoyed it with pulled pork on several occasions.”


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Havana & Varadero in the rain: art, nightlife and the odd slice of bikini

The trouble with all-inclusive beach resort vacations (aside from the clinical removal of any ‘authentic’ culture in the country of visit) is bad weather.

This happens rarely.  But when it does, every tourist at the resort is in serious need of a Valium to stop their chins from sinking into the white marble floor (these are available over-the-counter here, but in a cruel Communist joke, only in Departures at the Varadero airport).

Luckily we’d split the week – three days in Havana and four in Varadero.  The dilapidated capital of Cuba is so charming, it looks even better in the rain.  The pastel blues, peaches and greens of the once grand houses, now chipped away so one paint layer revels another like a patchwork rainbow, glisten bright against a dull, white sky.  After cancelling our “social projects” walking tour (bigged up in the LP) because of the torrential downpour, we skipped under the narrow concrete awnings of the buildings in the Old Town, jockeying for sidewalk space every few blocks with the rare local desperate enough to brave the wet, and into the Cuban section of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.  A mesmerizing introduction to Cuban history and culture, we tagged surreptitiously, behind an Jewish couple from New York, being led around by a Cuban-born American thick in art knowledge and connections (“Oh, his work is finally in major demand, I’ve got one of his in my living room…”) and less narcissistic, more artistic, commentary.

We chose one of the Spanish Club’s for lunch, waiting in line of course, and walked three flights of winding stairs into the club complete with suited-up waiters and the skulls of bulls decorating the ornate, cavernous restaurant.  The food was the best we had in the city at a cheaper price than most.That evening we went out late, to a lounge, El Gato Tuerto, near the highly recommended Hotel Nacional.  It was as if we’d been plucked into 1950’s Cuba.  You could imagine American gangsters smoking cigars at the rickety metal tables and plastic black chairs crowding the L-shaped lounge, drinking rum served by the tuxedoed bartenders. Well, you could imagine it if you stripped away some of the more modern clientele.  We played a guessing game: pick out the prostitutes, easily spotting a middle-aged British couple and the round, young Cuban woman they’d hired for the week; Her boot in his lap while his wife danced drunkenly, dizzily pulling a Cuban man toward her after lighting his cigarette at the bar.

And the music.  Hard to describe.  A short, fat woman, caked in makeup, her brows darkened like her bouffant hair-do (complete with thick black headband) to cover the grey, lips full and red, chins waggling, stepped on stage with a four-piece band and her voice – like sweet, dark caramel – enveloped the room, willing dancers to the floor.  (Check her out here). I later found via a tripadvisor post, that Migdalia Hechevarria, is a regular weekend headliner at the bar.

That was our best day in Havana.  The next morning we boarded the Hershey Train for a ride on a once luxurious three-car sugar train, built to chug sugar from the plantations in central Havana and Veradero to the coast.  Since the closure of the Hershey plant around 2003, the thing still goes four times a day, stopping every ten minutes or so at seemingly any village, house or crossing along the way, it’s main function is transporting locals – many on the dole now – from one village to the next.

It’s a rich slice of Cuban life – one that shouldn’t be missed.  Just be prepared with books, blankets (in case of cold weather, it’s open air), and stamina to endure what feels and sounds like a four-hour ride on the Mighty Canadian Minebuster, one of the oldest, most rickety, wooden rollercoasters in North America.  It’s worth it.

Next Blau Varadero, a lovely high-rise resort built just five years ago.  This modern monstrosity is everything a simple all-inclusive should be, and it’s friendly, central bar was chalk full of Brits, French Canadians, and (English ones too, although they tend not to park it at the bar for as long).  The beach hut disco is good times, and we had two days of partial sun, warm enough for me to brave a bikini, pulling off my towel every 15  minutes or so when the clouds parted (and for Conor to pull his towel back on so as not to burn his whiter than white, freckled body).

That’s it.


Pictures?  You want pictures?  Check ’em all out here.

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Girl Guides of Canada on its deathbed and it’s killing me inside


When I heard the news that the Girl Guides of Canada have lost 40 percent of their members in the last ten years, I felt kind of sad.  It’s slightly hypocritical of me to mourn the death of this 100-year-old citizen building organization though.  I followed my older sister into Brownies (they didn’t have Sparks then) and quickly moved up the ranks from Seconder to Sixer.  Both proud moments.  How I loved that little brown change pouch on my belt, although I don’t recall what the hell it was for.  I took pride in tying my scarf correctly, standing in line while our Guider checked our knots.  This was as far as our camping skills went.  We mostly just hung in the church basement with our “Brown Owl and a toadstool made of cloth.  We sat in a circle, sang songs, told stories.  On Halloween the leaders turned the whole thing into a Haunted House – we put blindfolds on and stuck our hands in bowls of eyeballs (the hours one mother must have spent peeling those grapes).


When it came time to become a Girl Guide, I was bored.  I wanted out.  But my mom went and signed me up anyway.  I was pissed.  My older sister, who loved Guiding, was smug.  After that, for a reason I still can’t quite fathom, I stuck with it.  Yes.  I was a Girl Guide (OK technically a Ranger) until I was 18.  I wasn’t a particularly good one.  I never won a trip or a scholarship.  Our troop won second in a singing contest once I think.  I even coaxed my best friend to join.  My first boyfriend was a Scout. We went camping in the winter, spring, summer and fall.  I won a bronze in the cross-country ski race at the Jamboree and then danced with pimply-faced Boy Scouts to Stairway to Heaven and first heard the swear chant to AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long.  My older sister and I were in cahoots when it came to the rest of our group – a rare time of sister solidarity among the hormonal teenage infighting at home.  I did my first backpacking trip and sold flowers for cancer at the mall.  Most of the time I was pretty bored.


The whole thing feels a little grey.  So why then do I feel sad at what looks to be the slow death of Guiding?  I suppose my patriotic, community-oriented, girl-needing-guidance-outside-of-Teen-Magazine-and-Barbie is upset that there aren’t many spaces for girls to hang out together without hating on each other, to do stuff that doesn’t involve tube tops and bikini waxes in your pre-teens; to work toward a shitty little badge in cooking, volunteering or even bird-watching.  Life should slow down when it comes to growing up.  Guiding helps.


Filed under cheap fun, ethical living

recession meal #1 – cod, old squash & my roomate’s rice

Despite my lack of a recession-induced layoff, I am shaking-down my piggy bank these days due to my New Year’s decision to try freelance journalism full-time.

I actually have earned some pay cheques  – it’s waiting for the cheques that’s making me blow up my bike tires to save paying for the street car.

I spend money on three things in this order:  1) RENT  2) GOING OUT DRINKING 3) GROCERIES.

Obviously the only place I can really cut down is groceries.  So I’ve made a commitment to use everything in my freezer and cupboards and until they’re gone, never to set foot in a grocery store.  To avoid scurvy and a soar stomach, I am buying whatever fruits and vegetables I want, as long as they’re purchased in Chinatown.

My first supper wasn’t bad considering I’m a mediocre chef at best, here it is:

recession meal numero uno

Cooking it was a bit scary.  I baked the spagetti squash (which looked so nice sitting on my window sill I’d forgotten to cook it since picking it at a local farm in October), defrosted a pack of five cod sticks, then made a batter of sorts using frozen hot dog buns from last summer’s bbq.  I was already really hungry so as I tried a few spoonfuls of spagetti squash as I scooped it all out, and it tasted mushier than usual, but I’m still not sure if that was my inability to believe the squash could still be good after all that time.  Then the faint burnt smell from the toaster as the hot dogs buns were so dry with freezer burn they went up like matchsticks.  I took a bite from the less burned half and it tasted like, well, freezer burn.

But I soldiered on. Scraping burnt bits from dog buns, whizzing them in the cuisine art, throwing in parmesan cheese and lots and lots of ground pepper.  Then I coated the fish sticks with milk, then a little flour, then more milk, then the batter.  Cook for six minutes – done.

The pièce de résistance?  My roomate’s homeade “Mexican rice” leftover from a weekend dinner party.  Topped with her Feta cheese.  I have to admit this was the best thing on my plate, and sadly, not my own.

What other delights in my cupboard and freezer await my creative talents?  Maybe I’ll skip dinner tomorrow.

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Free ways to wish Toronto a Happy 175th

Baked Creations cupcake

Baked Creations cupcake

It’s the city’s birthday today but celebrations will last well into the year.

Here are my picks (insert nerdy history bias here) for not-to-be missed, FREE, happenings:


The Bohemian Embassy Revival – Toronto Public Library City Hall Branch 7-8:30 pm.

Watch Toronto in Six Words:


Go to Fort York it’s free all weekend!  After all, we’re also nearing the 2ooth anniversary of the War of 1812 (I know you’re flush with excitement).

Starting tomorrow until  June 13th — Lit City: Toronto through the Eyes of Authors and Artists @ The Market Gallery, The Market Gallery, 2nd floor, South St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East



Fabled City: Red Square – The Great Depression in the Township of York
York Museum, 2694 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
Saturday May 2, 1 – 2 p.m.

In the 1930s many families in the Township of York lost were forced to move into tent “cities”. One (located at the current site of George Harvey Collegiate) was labeled “Red Square” because of the political agitation of its residents. Hear compelling stories from Red Square during the depression.

Free, Please RSVP as seating is limited: 416-394-2759


Lit City: Yorkville
Yorkville Branch, 22 Yorkville Ave.
Wednesday April 29, 7 p.m.
Ray Robertson reads from Moody Food, set in the village’s 1960s era. Katrina Onstad reads from How Happy To Be, set during the madness of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Lit City: Friday Nights with Diaspora Dialogues
Palmerston Branch, 560 Palmerston Ave.
Fridays, April 17, 24 and May 1, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Diaspora Dialogues returns with its popular Friday night series of free readings and performances. Sample a captivating cross-section of our city’s writers, performers, and artistic forms, including fiction, poetry, spoken word, theatre, and music!

  • April 17: Priscilla Uppal and more
  • April 24: Anthony De Sa and more
  • May 1: Nino Ricci, Sherri Vanderveen and more

Photo credit top: A Baked Creation


Filed under cheap fun, family, news, recession, thrifty, Toronto

Five-pin on Family Day: A photo essay

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nfb_logo_canadian_designFinally! Maple-coated films like Blackfly (1991) Beaver Family (1929) and Being Caribou (2004), are all freely available online. And those are just three of my favourites from the “B” section of the National Film Board of Canada’s new Online Screening Room.

As part of it’s 200th (? me so crazy) 70th anniversary the NFB launched its free digital archives, putting 400 full-length feature films and another 300 shorts and clips online.  And while I have a personal penchant for films featuring Canadian wildlife (especially those in northern Ontario), urban sophisticates, do not fear. Try Ryan Larkin’s Street Musique (1972) an animated take on a group of Montreal buskers; Murray Siple’s Carts of Darkness (2008), a doc about bottle collectors/extreme sport inventors in Vancouver; and Sad Song of the Yellow Skin, a 1970 film by three American journalists following ordinary Saigon residents living in the midst of war.

We talked to NFB Chair and Government Film Commissioner on Take 5 last Thursday, when the site went live.  As someone who’s written for a public broadcaster’s digital archives website, I was curious to know how much the project had cost – paying performers, animators and musicians for rights is expensive and often determines what ends up online – but Perlmutter didn’t divulge figures, saying only that NFB had shifted other priorities to pay for this project.  He did say the 700 films now online are only a start and the NFB plans to continue adding to its online archives.  Maybe one day all 13,000 films will be available to Canadians, bringing back hazy memories of sitting in darkened classrooms watching The Sweater.

And if you don’t trust my recommendations (you should really check out Alanis Obomsawin’s work), who better than the Government Film Commissioner himself?

Perlmutter’s picks:

Norman McLaren’s 1952 Oscar-winning stop-motion animated short, Neighbours (to see footage of McLaren at work check out this CBC Archives clip)

And Pour la Suite du Monde, by Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault (1962) a french-language “classic that changed the nature of looking at the world,” according to Perlmutter.  (An English synopsis).

He also recommended Ryan – an animated film on brilliant, former NFB producer Ryan Larkin’s struggle with addiction – but sadly, I can’t find this in the Screening Room.

Which brings me to other complaints about the site.  The search engine needs tweaking (a search for Pour la Suite du Monde brings up five films, but not that one…), and on the main page for the film on the NFB site, there is no indication that one can go to the Screening Room page and view the film for free, just a link to buy it.

Moaning aside, it’s sweet to have access to these homegrown gems.  So pop the corn and cozy up to your laptop.


Filed under cheap fun, journalism, thrifty