Camping in Long Point

Shots of the gang – almost all taken with our GoPro Hero 3+.

We just spent a wonderful week tucked away on a camp site in Long Point Provincial Park.

Long Point is one of our favourite parks in Ontario. Only two hours from our storage facility in Hamilton, it’s easily accessible via winding country lanes. We love the lush, green landscape of Norfolk County, so different from the harsher feel of Lake Huron. The shorter trip is ideal for the kids who tend to get cranky when we’re travelling for longer than four hours.

I had been in touch with Karen Matthews, manager of Burning Kiln Winery, to secure an overnight spot for our upcoming trip in August, but as Burning Kiln happened to be on our way to Long Point, we decided to drop by unannounced for a quick lunch. Karen graciously showed us around the winery, pointing out a spot by a forest where we’ll be staying when we’re returning in a couple of weeks.

airstream-at-burning-kiln

asbk
The Airstream parked at Burning Kiln

lunch-burning-kiln
A delicious lunch of Lake erie perch tacos, for the adults, and pizza, for the kids, later and we continued on our way to the campground.

The road out to the sandbank is a little like a fairy tale of summer. Old, rickety family cottages, some little better than shacks, sit next to newer buildings along the sandy shore. Little beach stores sell ice cream and sun screen, boats are everywhere.

Arriving at Long Point, I remembered just in time that the main dumping and fresh water station is actually outside the park – last year, we had to turn around and go back out. We had booked a campsite just opposite the playground, so the boys could just run across. What we hadn’t counted on was the prolific growth of poison ivy that the park rangers allowed to grow, so letting the kids run unsupervised wasn’t a possibility after all.

long-point-camp-site
Our campsite at Long Point

Add to this that our site was very exposed, I don’t think we ever had less privacy, and we’ll be choosing differently next time. On the plus side, we were very close to the beach and with the kids now all able to walk, we had a lot less work on our hands than we had last year, when we visited on our maiden journey.

When we arrived, I had the chance to try out my home made backup camera for the Airstream. Our GoPro Hero 3+ connects to a tablet or phone via its own WIFI network, streaming the camera view. The stated range is 600ft, but that’s line of sight with nothing between camera and receiver. A 34′ Airstream can cause quite a bit of an obstacle for a WIFI signal.

When we arrived at the Park, I mounted the camera to the back of the Airstream with a gopro suction cup, then connected our iPad to the camera’s WIFI signal. Driving on, the stream was clear, with perhaps a 1/2 second delay – ample for reversing into a tight spot.

gopro-backup
Testing the gopro on the way into the Park

The stream did stop and reconnect a couple of times on the last mile or so towards our camp site, so it’s not a perfect solution for a permanent rearview camera. But, as these are in the $800 range, I think we’ll make do with the gopro for now when we need to be able to see what’s happening behind us.

The next morning we were joined by our friends Ed and Marina and their kids, also from Toronto. After a fun day at the beach, and a shared dinner, we all retired, tired but happy. The kids all slept the second their heads touched the pillow and didn’t wake up until 8:30 the next morning.

Ed and company packed up to get back to the city for the week, which turned out to be a good thing as a heavy thunderstorm drenched the entire campground the following night. A bolt of lightning struck a tree nearby, knocking out the electrical system in a trailer parked underneath and even causing a small fire. Not much fun in a tent.

The following days were spent at the beach, when it was sunny, and exploring the surrounding area, when it was raining for two days. Norfolk and Elgin County reminded us of England, lush and green with gently undulating hills. We visited some amazing lavender farms and wineries, we ate fried lake fish, we saw some beautiful little villages and hamlets.

port-dover
Port Dover in the rain
What was interesting for me was that there were many opportunities to park the trailer for the night. Port Stanley has a huge, free, parking lot down by the harbour where one lonely Class C was already parked, the village of Sparta offered free parking to visitors as well and almost all the farms we visited would have allowed us to stay as well.

steed-lavender
Steed and Company, a beautiful horse and lavender farm deep in Elgin County

The week ended with a visit from more friends, more good food and then, all too soon, it was Sunday and time to hitch up and drive back to the city. We dropped the Airstream off at the storage facility and were soon home in our brick house again – until next time.

Favourite photo

DCIM101GOPRO

Felix, coming down the slide, a split second before splashing down into a puddle, soaking his pants. Anja, just realizing what was going to happen. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

For those who are thinking “bad dad”, these were swimming trunks and we had towels and a change of clothing with us.

Canada Day

After all the fun we had at Dufferin Grove last weekend, we decided to spend our Canada Day morning there as well. The second we left the house it started raining hard for ten minutes, but we decided to go on anyway.

In the end we were glad we did, as it cleared up into a bright and sunny day almost immediately. We bumped into old neighbours from Shirley Street days, we had coffee and an impromptu picnic and all the boys got suitably wet and tired.

I am having a lot of fun shooting with the GoPro Hero Three+. Out of the camera the images are a little washed out and pale, but that’s nothing a little time in Aperture and some adjustment using the Nik Collection couldn’t fix.

At the Dufferin Grove Playground

Today we spent a happy, muddy morning at the Dufferin Grove Adventure Playground. Water, sand, wood and shovels. Tasty hot dogs and macaroni cheese from a little volunteer manned cafe. It doesn’t get much better, especially in the middle of the city.

I took our waterproof GoPro Hero with me, so we could grab some pictures without worrying about a camera getting wet and muddy.

Lake Erie – a tour

We’ve always been fans of Lake Huron. The sandy beaches, the wonderful sunsets, the wide open spaces dotted with well kept Mennonite farms, those were the reasons we bought our little weekend getaway farm cottage near Kincardine some years ago.

Lake Erie via Landsat
Lake Erie via Landsat. The tongue sticking out from the top is Long Point Provincial Park.
But while we loved the cottage, we found that the upkeep of a rural property took too much of our time. We sold again and bought our Airstream instead. Since then, we started exploring Ontario’s most overlooked and often ignored lake – Lake Erie. With a reputation for danger, there are places where Lake Erie is known for its undertow, and pollution, much of which has been cleaned up, Lake Erie is a bit of the ugly stepsister of the Great Lakes. One of the results is that it’s actually possible to book sites in the Lake Erie Provincial Parks during August when pretty much anything else has been booked for months.

Airstream camping in Long Point Provincial Park
Long Point was the destination of our first trip after buying our Airstream – with three kids under three (at the time) it was quite the adventure.

This year we’ll be testing out three of the Parks – Long Point, which we know and love, but then also Port Burwell, which is getting good reviews and two nights at Selkirk, where the reviews are decidedly mixed. Some report that the beaches are dirty, but the sites look spacious and very well kept. We’ll see. One of the benefits of having wheels is that we can move on whenever we feel like it.

I’m also looking forward to exploring the surrounding countryside, farms and wineries. I just had a friendly chat, on twitter, with Director of Winery Operations for Burning Kiln Winery, Karen Mathews. Looks like we might be staying with them for one night. Burning Kiln take part in Harvest Hosts, which is exciting for us because that means we can use our membership for the first time. 

burning-kiln

“You can’t tow it with that”

instagram

Just got a lovely message on instagram, on a picture from last year as we were on our maiden trip to Long Point Provincial Park. We met a guy who asked the usual question, how do you tow an Airstream with a van, and I of course pointed him towards CanAm RV in London.

Turns out that he took that advice and got himself a beautiful 1976 31ft Sovereign, had his Toyota Sienna set up as a tow vehicle and has been all over the US with his rig. So yes, you can tow them with that, you just need to know what you’re doing – or know a man who knows what he’s doing, in my case Andrew Thompson.

Exploring The Pinery Provincial Park

The Pinery Provincial Park has a bit of a mythical status – hard to get in, forget it on a long weekend, it is supposed to be one of Ontario’s most beautiful Provincial Parks. The Pinery is home to North America’s last surviving oak savannah habitat, the dunes along the shoreline were formed more than 6000 years ago, when the last glaciers that had been covering the area retreated, leaving the Great Lakes behind.

We had been in Grand Bend before, the next town along the coast, and at the time thought it too touristy and a little tatty – think cheap tattoo parlours and dollar stores selling beach toys. Still, we figured that we should at least try for ourselves if the Park was as good as its reputation, so we went ahead and booked a site from Friday until Monday in late May.

pinery

What a difference two weeks can make. Whereas our trip to Point Farms was still somewhat chilly, now the trees were in full spring foliage and the sun was strong and warm.

We set out in the morning and after hitching up at our storage facility in Hamilton, we were soon on our way towards Kitchener, and then, leaving the major highways behind, Stratford and beyond.

Shortly after Kitchener the kids started to get hungry and we started to look out for a large parking lot, or picnic area, where we could break for lunch, a chance to let them run around, and perhaps even a nap. The next small town on Highway 7 turned out to be New Hamburg and as we slowed down to take a photo of the town sign (Anja is originally from close to the original Hamburg, in Germany) she spotted a large parking lot next to a cheese factory just off the highway.

Pulling into New Hamburg, a typical small Ontario town, with a 34′ trailer was a little nerve wracking. We had nowhere for a quick stop so we could check google maps to make sure there was an exit for us, but as it turned out there was no need to worry. Right next door to the cheese factory was a huge fairground, with tents indicating that there was an event of some sorts going on. Lots of space to turn around if we had to.

new-hamburg

We pulled in, stopped on the grass and walked over to a couple of guys in a pickup truck at the entrance, to ask if we could stay for an hour or so. What we learned was that the event that was being set up was the annual Mennonite quilt auction, raising funds for Mennonite Relief organizations.

Instead of just getting permission to have lunch, we were invited to stay overnight, free of charge, and directed to a lush, grassy field by the river at the edge of the fairground. Anja being an avid quilter herself, we decided that the opportunity was too good to miss and pulled up. We could always decide to pull out later in the day, if we wanted to move on towards Lake Huron after all.

We had a picnic lunch on the grass and the kids got ready to explore the playground. When we bought our Airstream, this was exactly the kind of thing we had been hoping for – having a home on wheels that could help us make the most of opportunities as they presented themselves. Not having to worry about finding accommodation for the night, or a place to eat or rest, gave us the flexibility to explore as much as we wanted; to make spontaneous decisions.

parked

DSCF9318
Not too shabby for a free campsite.

risotto
Risotto from our new gas grill. Gotta eat well when on the road.

The event was supposed to start at 5:00 in the afternoon, with auction proper starting the following morning at 5:30 – the Mennonites tend to be early risers during summer, and this was no exception. Soon it started to get busy and some huge rigs were setting up close to us; one especially large 5th wheel unit arrived with a commercial truck as a tow vehicle.

small
How to make a 34′ Airstream feel small.

While we were ok for power, our newly serviced solar panels are working perfectly now and our batteries were fully charged, we had no fresh water in our tank and the area where we were the only trailer at lunchtime was getting increasingly busy. We decided to take a look around, grab dinner and then drive the remaining two hours to the Pinery.

The quilts we saw were beautiful, in the traditional Mennonite style. Anja’s work is far more modern, which we both prefer. Still, it was great to see what was going on, the weather was warm and the people friendly.

Chips and grilled lamb sausages made for a delicious (junk food) dinner, and we were on our way again.

DSCF9347
Sometimes only chips and ketchup will do.

Two hours later via nearly deserted country highways, and way past the kid’s usual bedtime, we backed into our wooded spot. Our first impression was that the park was huge and the camp sites closer together than we would have liked. While there was ample greenery and trees separating us from our neighbours, we preferred Long Point Provincial Park which has a smaller, more intimate feel. The ground was sandy and on a little bit of a slope, just enough that for the first time in a Provincial park we broke out the levelling pads.

campsite
Site 115, in the Dunes campground

On the plus side, the nearby shower block was spotlessly clean and steps across the dunes to the beach were less than a minute’s walk away. A quick snack later the boys went to bed, one more reluctantly than the others, and we cracked open a beer.

One great step forward this year is that Oscar is sharing a bedroom with the twins. Last year he was too little to sleep in his bunk, so we had his bed made on the dinette. This meant that we couldn’t really use the trailer once the kids were asleep, now that they all have one private room we can just close the doors and watch a movie or read a book if we feel like it. It made a huge difference.

The night was chilly, so much so that we turned on the heat, but the next morning was warm and sunny again and after a pancake breakfast we set off towards the beach.

I’ve always preferred charcoal to gas grills, but our new Magma Marine Grill with the griddle top was a wise investment. We used it all weekend long, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Quick, controllable heat, there’s something to be said for that.

anja-cooks
Pancakes for breakfast. Also, probably the only Alessi kettle in the world to be used on a campground.

After herding the gang along the boardwalk that crosses the dunes, the boys settled in for a morning of throwing driftwood back into the lake. The beach turned out to be deserted, the water still a little cool but that didn’t stop anybody from splashing around.

DSCF9356

Crossing the dunes. Also, an excellent way to tire out the boys.

DSCF9405
Stick throwing. Endlessly entertaining.

And that was really all we did for the next couple of days, apart from a quick run into town for provisions and a new camp chair. Got up, went to the beach, napped at lunchtime, back to the beach, dinner and bed.

The campground emptied out on Sunday morning, removing a couple of the noisier parties who had clearly come to party. Although it never got loud enough to be really annoying, until Saturday evening there was always a background hum of music in the air. Next time we’ll make sure to camp in a radio-free zone again, where the sites also tend to be wider spaced. Once we’ve got more solar installed, hopefully next year, I will also get an inverter, so that we can run small 110V appliances for a while. This will really give us the freedom to camp on completely unserviced campsites, except during the hottest and muggiest months when the AC is much welcome.

There were of course several occasions where the Airstream, and the tow vehicle, attracted attention. Several guys inquired on how the Honda could tow a trailer that large and one gentleman shared that he was thinking about selling his house and start travelling full time in his own Airstream trailer.

We liked The Pinery well enough, in fact the longer we stayed the more we liked it, so much so that we even contemplated to stay for an extra day. But in the end we still preferred our stay in Long Point on Lake Erie last year – we’re already looking forward to the ten days that we’ve booked for summer. Partly due to its size, partly due to the neighbours we had it all felt just a little less friendly and personal than the other Parks we have stayed in.

Monday morning, with the thread of thunderstorms in the air, we broke camp and started on our way back. Knowing that the fairground in New Hamburg would be empty and easily accessible, we decided to stop there again for a quick lunch and playground break. The brothers instantly found an unlocked water tap, which kept them amused for quite some time, while we prepped for lunch.

trailer
Pulled up on the empty fairground
water
These boys will find water anywhere

All in all it was a great, fun, weekend. In two weeks we’ll be trying something completely different, going from a huge Provincial Park to a tiny one, Bronte Park.

brothers
felix
us

Made with map

madewithmap

I’ve got an early beta invitation for madewithmap.com, an easy to use mapping tool helping people to share their journeys by connecting images with locations. Anybody who has ever used google maps to create a custom map will appreciate the ease of use of madewithmap.com

However, while it looks great, I am not sure what problem the service is trying to solve. Instagram offers mapping, flickr offers mapping, Aperture on the Mac offers mapping and so on. It looks to me that madewithmap sees itself more as, yet another, social network and I am not sure if the niche they’re inhabiting is large enough for success.

Still, for those of us who travel a lot, this might be a great storytelling tool.

If you want to see what my maps look like, take a look at madewithmap.com/andreas

mwm-andreas

Shakedown trip to Point Farms

We had booked a shakedown trip for the May long weekend, to Point Farms Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron.

We used to own an old farm worker’s cottage nearby, so we know the area well – agriculture and Mennonite farms as far as the eye can see, in a gently undulating landscape dotted with tall white wind turbines.

2747239355_36e51b9ab3_b

Grey County in summer

We had booked the trip some months ago and having never visited Point Farms before had really no idea what to expect. The weather had been cold, dreary and rainy for days but was clearing up as we left Toronto early in the morning to drive to our storage facility near Hamilton to hitch up and leave.

route-to-lake-huron

The GPS took us along the 401 to Kitchener and then on Highway 7 towards Stratford. Leaving Stratford, we decided to swing north and were rewarded with rural highways almost completely free from traffic, blue sky and an easy drive interrupted only by a stop for a pasta lunch at a scenic picnic lay-by. There’s nothing like having your house with you when travelling with kids who tend to get hungry on a schedule.

lunch-stop
The brothers getting some play time in while we’re stopped for lunch.

When we arrived in Point Farms, the fist thing we did was dump the tanks, emptying the last of the winter’s antifreeze, and fill up with fresh water.

Getting further into the park, the roads turned to dirt and the ground was still wet. Wet and muddy, so much so that I was worried we might not be able to back up into our campsite. The Honda is a great tow vehicle, but on occasions like this I do wish for four wheel drive. Carefully, slowly, with the help of Anja giving directions and our next door neighbour helping too we managed to back into our site without getting mired in the mud. The campers who had booked the site behind ours weren’t so lucky, despite driving a large truck, and decided to turn back.

DSCF9039
Made it without getting stuck

The sun was out, we packed Oscar into rubber boots, the twins into the yellow waterproofs (also referred to as their hazmats outfit) and went out to explore. The park is perched on a bluff and offers spectacular views of the blue water and beautiful sunsets of Lake Huron.

DSCF9056
Just around the corner from our campsite.

DSCF9047
Suited up and ready for adventure

The weather decided to turn sunny and stayed like this for the entire weekend, drying out the puddles and the mud. We settled into camp life. Which, in our case, means spending as much time as possible letting the kids run around and tire themselves out. The playground and the beach proved perfect destinations.

DSCF9064
Pebble beach – perfect for exploring

DSCF9080
Oscar with Anja, enjoying the sun

The temperature dropped overnight, so much that we switched the heat on. The Park provides 30amp power, so we didn’t have to worry about running the batteries empty.

Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, the heater blower developed a loud and annoying squeal, so we had to try and find the electric space heater we had stashed away – only the next morning I remembered that our AC unit also contains a capable heat pump that would have kept us warm without problem. We used that for the remainder of the stay, but I do want to get the heater fan fixed soon – I don’t like having to rely on the availability of external power.

Sunday was Oscar’s fourth birthday. Anja had brought decorations, there were presents, visiting friends and a rhubarb pie as a birthday cake from a local Mennonite bakery.

DSCF9133
Birthday decorations

DSCF9189
The traditional birthday rhubarb pie

DSCF9200
Birthday lunch in the woods

The remainder of the weekend was taken up with visiting friends, re-exploring the beautiful town of Goderich, almost completely re-built after the devastating tornado damage of two years ago, and just spending time playing and relaxing.

DSCF9204

DSCF9211
Tout le gang

DSCF9247
Smores! You gotta have smores.

DSCF9251
A Lake Huron sunset. The perfect end to a wonderful day

DSCF9277
Good night

The biggest improvement to the Airstream was without doubt our new dishwasher. I need to figure out exactly just how much water it uses, but it’s not much – I timed the water pump running, it was less than a minute in total for the entire wash-cycle.

Not having to wash dishes, and not having dirty dishes pile up in the sink, made a massive difference to the weekend. We run the dishwasher once a day, which takes care of an entire day’s haul.

dw2
The dishwasher takes the place of the old, and useless to us, microwave.

One more nice thing to happen over the weekend was that I, briefly, got to meet Steve and Jim from airforums.com in person. Both Steve and Jim are also members of the “You can’t tow it with that” club, Steve towing his Airstream with a Toyota Sienna and Jim opting for a Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel. We had actually seen Jim’s rig on the highway on Friday, but had no idea that it was him.

All to soon it was Monday morning and time to leave. We decided to drive back via Lucknow and Highway 86, our old and familiar route back to Toronto from when we owned our weekend home out there. Again, we stopped for lunch, this time at a creamery in the small town of Listowel where we were allowed to pull up on their forecourt and picnic on the grass. We find that Airstreams tend to get welcomed in most places.

The second we un-hitched back at storage, it started to rain a little. We’ll be out again in two weeks time, this time visiting the Pinery Provincial Park.

New (towing) tires for the Honda

I needed a set of new tires for our Odyssey. Not only is this our family vehicle, but we also use it to tow a 7500 lbs Airstream around, so we have some special needs to look after.

After talking to both Andy from CanAm RV and the towing expert at my local tire shop, Ossington Tire – run in the third generation by a Portuguese family stubbornly refusing to have their shop gentrified away – I decided to go with Yokohama AVID Ascend tires.

Andy had recommended the Goodyear Assurance Triple Tread in a 55 version, but in the end I didn’t want to change the tire size – it confuses the onboard computer and, more importantly, the Honda ABS doesn’t like it. According to my tire guy, the Yoko has even better grip than the Goodyear, and an even higher load rating.

The Honda takes P235/60R17 tires. What makes the Ascend so useful for towing is that it comes with a 103 load rating, which translates into a max 1929lbs per tire, far above what we’ll ever encounter. The higher load tires come with stiffer sidewalls, which makes them less soft and comfortable, but a lot more predictable under heavy load, for example when towing.

After the switch the ride was marginally rougher, but not excessively so – my wife didn’t even notice. Grip was excellent too, when leaving the CanAm forecourt there’s a little slippery strip where we always had a little spin with the old tires, but not this time.

I towed our trailer from London to her summer quarters near Toronto today and the tires were excellent. Arrow straight tracking and 100% stability – it was a quiet, steady tow.

If you’re looking, this might be an option worth exploring.

A new summer home for the home on wheels

airstream
On the scales today. Despite the impressive size this is a relatively light Airstream, weighing in at 7500lbs with a full tank of water and freshly filled propane. With her Hensley hitch, she tows like a dream.

Early this morning I drove down to CanAm in London to pick our Airstream up and tow her to her summer quarters near Hamilton. In the end, we chose RV Park & Go because of their location and professionalism. Secure, well looked after storage in a convenient place. Highway 6 takes us up towards Lake Huron, the 403 out west and towards Lake Erie – meaning two of our usual summer haunts are covered off.

as540

On the list of things to do: Clean and re-apply the new (old) WBCCI numbers. When we joined the club, we had the old number re-issued.

We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do with the somewhat dated 80′s interior. The fresh upholstery and new floor have made a massive difference, and I am tempted to wait with the full reno until the kids are a little older and not quite as likely to wreck everything.

This year’s upgrade is a dishwasher, installed where the old microwave used to live – we don’t own one at home and we don’t need one on the road. A dishwasher however seemed like a great idea. With five people, there’s an awful lot of dishes that need washing and this little machine holds ten plates, cutlery and assorted glasses and mugs. Water consumption is approx 10 litres per wash, so we’ll only be using it once a day.

dw1
A perfect fit for the space that was originally occupied by the microwave.

dw2
Holds ten good sized plates and a ton of other stuff. Impressive.

dw3

One homeless trailer

trailer
Last year in November, going into winter storage

I am booked to pick up our Airstream from CanAm RV in London on the 5th of May – in just over a week.

As we live in downtown Toronto, we need a place to park when we’re not using the trailer. Last summer, we stored her away away at Milton Heights Campground, on a storage field. The setup is perfect, 40 minutes from home, five minutes from the 401, with fresh water and dumping facilities available. We even stayed overnight from Friday to Saturday a number of times, then left early the next morning for a weekend of camping.

So it came as an unpleasant surprise when I called to book a storage space for this summer only to be told they were all booked out. Last year, half the storage field was empty, so I didn’t give this much urgency. Had I known, I would have booked a space in early April. Bummer.

This is now leaving us scrambling to find a place to park during the week. I’ll be calling a number of campgrounds next week, but it looks like we might have to use a storage facility instead. RV Park & Go in Oakville looks best so far, but is asking for a 12 months contract. We’ll see what comes up. Worst comes to worst, we can always continue to store her with CanAm, but I’d much rather have her close to home.

The Fuji x100s

x100s-fuji

After jonesing for this camera for over a year, I finally bit the bullet and pushed the “order” button on amazon.

I’ve been wanting a compact digital rangefinder forever, but just could not justify the cost of a Leica. The x100s is the next best thing, in some ways perhaps even better. It’s everything a camera of this type is supposed to be, it delivers perfect results under challenging conditions, in short it’s the best camera I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Ken Rockwell calls it The World’s Best Digital Camera (in caps), and I am inclined to agree with him.

    The hybrid viewfinder is fantastic, delivering all the information you need and none of the distractions
    The controls are proper camera controls, located where they make sense.
    The lens is fast and sharp.
    The world will run out of light before this camera runs out of ability – I routinely shoot at 6400 with very, very little noise

I am not going to add another gushing review – there are enough of those available – but if you’re even half-serious about photography, go and get one. You won’t be disappointed.

felix

Whoa. A dishwasher for the Airstream?

dishwasher

Today I learned, much to my surprise, that there’s such a thing as a dishwasher that should fit in the empty space that originally housed a big, fat, 1980′s microwave in our 1984 Airstream.

And while camping in Provincial Parks, or even boondocking on crown land, and a built-in dishwasher might sound like a strange combination at first, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

We’re five people, and washing the dishes three times a day takes both time and water. The sink and the kitchen in a trailer are smaller than in a regular kitchen, so things can get cramped, quickly.

When reading up about the specs, it turns out that the dishwasher actually uses less water, 3 gallon on average, than washing the dishes by hand. If the measurements work out, this will be the next upgrade to the silver bullet.

Next year we’ll also be swapping the current RV toilet, which uses a black tank, for a composting toilet, most likely a Nature’s Head model. This will free up the current black tank for grey water, giving us more independence from services.

Deep Freeze Toronto

In the middle of the never-ending winter. -30º today.

A couple of years ago I spent time in Iqaluit, Nunavut. I was up there in April, when the average temperature was hovering around -40ºC. On that occasion, my Arctic Snowgoose jacket kept me warm, but I hadn’t really had an opportunity to wear it since.

Until this winter, when I wore it a bunch of times, walking to work.

2507160884_deb6031559_b
Iqaluit

2432221801_55106e2cb6_o
Staying warm in the Arctic

Pasta faces

Dramatic printer

Winter sky

Front Street in the snow #Toronto

#Toronto

I am going to miss my Kensington lunches.

From one tiny grill. Amazing

Dinner is looking good.

First trial run of the Cobb grill.

We bought a Cobb grill to take camping. It helps that the bottom keeps cool to the touch, so cool that Cobb have some amusing videos on their website showing a guy floating in a pool with a lit Cobb on his belly, but the real advantage is that this little grill works amazingly well.

It’s more of a portable oven than a full on BBQ, but for me that’s an advantage. A load of charcoal keeps the temperature at between 380º and 420º for about two hours, the perfect time to roast a chicken. Wrap some veggies up in tin foil, and they will happily steam alongside.

Good morning

Checking out a new day together

Desert

Smoke rapini

Happy Canada day

Weird things you were in Liberty Village

Way to spend a Friday evening

Canada vs Ireland.

Wednesday drinks

Good coffee at the office.

The best way to eat cauliflower. Roasted with anchovies and good olive oil.

Toronto alleyways

Kensington Market characters

Toronto alleyways

Toronto alleyways

Alleyways

In Kensington

Midweek Frittata. Asparagus, potatoes and anchovies in happy harmony.

Lunch at Seven Lives. Octopus, here we come.

Quick cut this morning at Garrison Barbers.

The things people do to animals at work

The games are about to begin.

The team getting ready

More Olympic medals in this room than I’ve ever seen.

Hanging with the Olympic athletes

Props ready to go. The studio smells delicious.

Prepping for a shoot in Montreal today.


The things you find in your coat pockets when there’s a two year old with a fire engine fetish in the house.

Aerial photography with a DJI Phantom Quadcopter

We’re now proud owners of a DJI Phantom Quadcopter, complete with GoPro mount. Expect to see all kinds of cool aerial shots in our videos soon.

quadrocopter

My new pocket camera – a Sony RX-100

I used to carry a Ricoh GR Digital II as a pocket and street photography camera. While it was a great camera when it came out, with a number of features specifically tailored for the street and architectural photographer, by today’s standards it is getting slow. Low light especially is a challenge for this little camera.

2491521398_4343efd78a_o2495460465_8db4c57b57_o

2496284568_3f0190a134_o

Shots taken with the Ricoh.

Enter the replacement: A Sony RX-100. So far, I am extremely impressed. Flawless RAW shooting, beautiful F1.8 Zeiss lens, a huge sensor (for a pocket camera, near micro 4/3s territory), this small camera gives low end DSLRs a run for the money. As far as size is concerned, it pretty much matches the Ricoh. Both are small enough to slip in the front pocket of a pair of jeans.

intro2

I considered selling the Ricoh, but in the end I decided to keep using it. It offers a number of features I really like that haven’t ever been matched by any other camera: Snap Focus, which is essentially a focus preset with no discernable shutter lag, the ability to switch off the viewfinder screen completely, allowing for total stealth shooting, screen can be set to preview in b/w and my absolute favourite: a square preset, my favourite shooting format.

Things that are taking up my time these days

GSP planning for the next three years at Volunteer Toronto, developing a Board Training strategy, there’s always something new to do.

One of the things I love about Cafe Pamenar on Augusta, our local coffee shop: The water comes nicely flavoured.

Pentax K1000 with HP5

Just stumbled across these scans from a roll of HP5 I took last year with an old Pentax K1000. One of my favourite camera/film combinations.

Lunch at El Trompo

I’ve always liked the gang at El Trompo, the little Mexican restaurant on Augusta Avenue that pretty much started the influx of Latin American businesses. Their tacos are simple, home made and the hospitality can’t be beat.

A handful of NFC tags

We got these for our guided video tours we produce for the Princess Margaret Home Lottery prize homes. These are leftovers, we’re currently trying to come up with a clever use for them.

nice

Economics for non-economists

Fascinating read and a book I am sure to check up with in the future. I am constantly surprised by how few marketing people try to understand the basics of economics, anthropology and behavioral psychology.

dyie

Back to pen and paper

I recently went back to pen and notebook vs. taking notes on my iPad or Nexus. Turns out that taking notes by hand leads to significantly higher memory retention than taking notes by typing. If you want to remember, or recall, the content of a note, write it, don’t type it.

I haven’t seen any research that compares writing on a screen vs writing on paper and the resulting recall, but if it exists, I’d be interested in reading it.

If I need screen backup, my Nexus 7 fits perfectly against the back of a standard Moleskine notebook.

moleskine

moleskine2

Reality check

You’re not the CEO of a startup, you’re running a small business. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, either.

Smoky cauliflower frittata. Yum.

From Plenty, my new go-to vegetarian cookbook. Cauliflower, smoked mozzarella, eggs, sour creme, chives and smoked paprika.

Delicious.

Great presentation by Rory Sutherland at FFW

When I first moved to London as a green 21 year old graphic designer, I was lucky enough to snag a job as a junior Art Director at Ogilvy & Mather. I had arrived in London six months earlier, with all my earthly belongings stuffed in a duffle bag and £600 in my back pocket.

It was the best possible introduction into the world of advertising anybody could hope for. I was being paid a pittance, but I worked in Soho Square, right in the heart of London. Next to Madison Avenue, this was the centre of the marketing universe. Then as now O&M was great at training people and even today I still make use of lessons learned all these years ago.

The office was located on Rumor had it that the building had a history as a brothel in Edwardian days.

Part of the gaggle of young talent at O&M was Rory Sutherland, a recent Cambridge graduate, scarily bright and working in the planning department. Rory’s uniform, then as now, consisted of a tweed jacket, a silk cravatte and a constantly glowing pipe.

We worked, laughed and drank together for three years. I left O&M for another Soho agency when they moved further east in search of cheaper rent and larger spaces; I wasn’t ready to leave the Bar Italia or the Dog and Duck behind.

Rory stayed at O&M and steadily climbed the ranks. I moved from agency to agency and did the same, ending up as the Creative Director and Director of Broadcast for the Banner Corporation, an agency within the Y&R network back in London; now as one of the principals of my own shop here in Toronto.

Rory has always been an excellent speaker and presenter, so when I learned that he was coming to Toronto to give the keynote speech at the FFW opening lunch, I got myself a ticket and shot off a mail, asking if he had time for a coffee afterwards. He did, his presentation was predictably amazing and we managed to even squeeze in a late lunch.

It was great catching up after all these years.

Next up – a 1984 34ft Sovereign

After the 31′ Sovereign turned out to be too damp and dingy for us we decided to take a look at a 1984 triple axle.

1984

From the outside, this is a beast and considerably longer a trailer that I had envisaged for us – I had hoped to find a 25 or 27 footer. But once we saw the inside, a lot of things made sense. First off, it is build like an absolute rock. Outside the frame looks rock solid, no sag or signs of front or back separation. On the inside, everything is solid wood, cedar lined wardrobes, a spacious back bedroom ready to take bunk beds for the kids, a large galley and a dinette that will make it easy to feed the hungry mob. All points in its favour.

Owners swear that, despite the intimidating size, this is one of the easiest Airstream trailers to tow, with a very low centre of gravity and straight tracking. Yes, six wheels and three axles are more expensive to service than four, but the increase in cost isn’t a deal-breaker for us.

The trailer is semi-renovated, with many of the systems that make it work either new or recent replacements. Some work still needs to be done, mostly upholstery and flooring. Right now we’re getting quotes in to see if this is the one – if it all makes financial sense we might just pull the trigger on this model.

floorplan

as 033

as 034

Why we’re buying a vintage Airstream

We used to own a sweet little farm worker’s cottage in the country, nestled away in a hamlet close to Lake Huron in the heart of Mennonite country.

As a weekend property, it was close to perfect. Heat came from a wood fired stove, our property sloped down to a lake, we were close to the sandy beaches of Lake Huron. Still, after a couple of years we decided to sell, mostly because we were getting bored going to the same place weekend after weekend but also because looking after the rural property was just too much work.

Grass needed cutting, firewood needed stacking, trees trimming. The jobs never stopped and we used to return to the city on a Sunday evening ready for another weekend.

When we bought a new house in Toronto, with a large backyard, we decided enough was enough. We sold the cottage and spent our weekends exploring Toronto.

Some years later we found ourselves as parents to three little boys, one older brother and the baby twins. We started thinking about finding another weekend home, ideally by a beach for the kids to play on. But once bitten by the work involved with dual home ownership we decided that we also wanted to be a: low maintenance and b: mobile.

It didn’t take us long to decide that the answer to our needs was an Airstream trailer. Airstreams last forever, over 70% of all Airstream trailers ever build are still in use, they have an iconic look and they tow better than most other trailers. It sounded like the ideal solution to our needs.

The first Airstream we took a look at

A 1979 31′ Sovereign, with front bath and twin beds. This wasn’t the one. While the frame was straight and the body in good condition, inside it reminded us of “that” apartment you see when you’re a student that you really want to like – but then take a pass on because it’s just that little bit too grotty.

The first warning signal was the smell. Temperatures were well below freezing and still the inside of the trailer smelled damp. This usually means that it’ll smell really bad once it gets warmer, as pointed out by the ever helpful folks over on airforums.com. It also means that the smell sits, in all likelihood, in the insulation and that there are, or were, issues with leaks.

Ripping out the interior skin of an Airstream and replacing the innards is more work than I am willing to invest at this time, so we’ll be giving this one a miss.

Why I stopped buying ebooks

I jumped on the ebook bandwagon as an early adopter. I owned an early Sony reader, with a dreadful store, especially up here in Canada. I owned a Kindle and I used various readers on my iPad. I loved the portability, the convenience, the instant gratification. I told all of my friends that paper was dead, done and over.

But recently a funny thing happened. During the last year, I found myself buying fewer and fewer ebooks and returning to good old paper instead. Rather than browsing amazon, I am visiting book stores. It started as a health concern, when I learned about the correlation between evening screen time and interrupted sleep patterns. Sleep is precious to me, especially with three young children in the house. As I do a lot of my reading in the evening, this was important.

Then I read the licensing terms for ebooks and didn’t like them one bit. My paper books I own. I’ve got the right of first sale. I can legally lend them to a friend, sell them on if I feel like it. With ebooks, I own nothing. Also, short of breaking into my house, amazon will have a hard time removing books from my shelves, the way they have done from people’s kindle accounts.

But the thing that clinched the change back to paper for me was that I remembered how much I like to be surrounded by books, real books.

I like browsing a well stocked library and picking out a book for the evening. I like the smell of books, the feel of paper. I like that paper books don’t need to be recharged, they don’t go down when the power does. I like that real books age. I like that fact that ink on paper will still be around and relevant when today’s ebook standards will long be forgotten. I like that my children’s children will be able to read my books the way I read my grandfather’s books.

I still think there’s a place for ebooks. The convenience can’t be beat, especially when travelling. I still don’t understand why paper books don’t come with download codes the way music on vinyl does these days. I’d happily pay an extra dollar or two for the privilege.

But there is a pleasure in the analogue that the virtual has a hard time matching. So please excuse my while I put my iPad down, put a vinyl record on my vintage turntable and go read a good book.

Things that happen in our test kitchen.

Reasons to love winter. Baked apples.

One of my favourite winter treats: baked apples.

Core apples, butter an ovenproof form or pan. Fill apple core with raisins, walnuts, brown sugar and a dab of butter. A splash of maple syrup, perhaps some rum.

Bake at 400 degrees until it looks like the picture above, about 20-30 minutes. If at all possible, eat by a fire with the snow falling outside.

Chemex for the coffee win.

After ten years of drinking tea exclusively, and in the process turning into quite the tea dork, I recently re-introduced myself to coffee.

In my case the gateway drug were Americanos, especially when pulled by my friend Pouria of Cafe Pamenar in Kensington Market.

The next challenge was to brew decent coffee at home. I have never managed to recreate a good Americano with a domestic espresso maker and I’m not a fan of the I’m-gonna-punch-your-face-in type coffee that’s so typical for a French press. Too much oil, too much acid for my taste.

I decided to try a Chemex, figuring that at under $40, if I hated it I could just put it on craigslist. Truth is, I love it. I picked up the six cup model at The Green Beanery, with 1/2 a pound of awesome Sumatra coffee.

The folks at the Beanery recommended quite a fine grind, coarser than espresso but finer than normal drip. The results are amazing, exactly what I had been hoping for. A bright, floral, full flavoured cup with no oily residue or acidity.

The fact that the Chemex has an awesome back story, it was invented by a madman/genius during WW2 to preserve metal for the war effort, is icing on the cake. Also, that it has a permanent place at MOMA and appears in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, From Russia with Love.

Getting there with the Little Free Library project. #littlefreelibrary

Midnight snow clearing. Finally winter.

A late white Christmas.

The hipsters are having kids. My local coffee shop is adapting.

Reasons to love winter: Simmerpots. Cloves, fir, cinnamon and orange

Some years ago, friends gave us this lovely cast iron simmerpot for Christmas. In goes a stick of cinnamon, a handful of cloves, little twigs snipped of a fir or similar tree and an old apple or orange, sliced. Fill up with hot water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat as low as it will go, keeping the pot at just a simmer. Your house will smell amazing. While this pot looks lovely, any old pot will do. If you have a wood burning stove in the house, just place it on there.

The feast continues. Venison braised in Mill Street Coffee Porter, with roots and home cured pancetta.

Merry Christmas

Surf and turf

Cranberry glazed ham. This might be to much food.

Half a leg, smoked, Mennonite raised on a farm just outside Toronto. This year’s Christmas ham.

I braised it with molasses, cloves and a handful of other spices for four hours on a low, low heat, then roasted it with a mustard-cranberry glaze until it was crackled and burnished.

Confit de canard.

I normally make my own duck confit for Christmas, but with three young kids in the house this year it didn’t happen.

Thankfully the Christmas elves at Peter Sanagan’s Meat Locker had been busy and I managed to pick up four duck legs, all prepped for the oven. Here they are, in my old blue steel saute pan, ready for a good roasting.

A simple recipe for puy lentils to accompany a duck confit

Cook puy lentils in water with 1/2 an onion studded with 5 or 6 cloves, one or two bay leaves and a smashed clove of garlic. I had some thyme that needed using in the fridge, so in it went.

Season with salt and pepper, then finish with a good, peppery glug of olive oil and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.

Serve with duck confit.

Cheese and good things

Who needs turkey…

Out for a morning stroll

Roast that cauliflower. Anchovies, olive oil and capers.

See you on the other side. Never forget, if you’re using a free service, you are the product.

New in the Market. Beautiful things.

Date night.

Gracie wants to share your balance pad.

At the Distillery District Christmas Market.

Tuesday team lunch with the fisheye crew.

Oh Canada.

Fisheye Christmas lunch with the gang. Molluscs beware.

Canadian winter rituals: the annual fitting of the snow tires.

Kinship.

Mushroom chestnut soup.

If you need a Christmas present for a two to three year old, this book is awesome.

Parked in the neighbourhood.

On location, our team is covering the draw of the Princess Margaret Hospital Lottery.

Brotherly love. Oscar reading to the twins.

Another day, another shoot

Home

Styling props for an upcoming food shoot.

One of the many benefits of walking to and from work – you get to see things that you’d just pass by when driving. Found an entire box of old cutlery in a little antique/vintage store on Queen West.

We’re doing a lot of food photography at the moment, so these will come in extremely useful.

Chat with on google+ or twitter

Nigella Lawson’s pancake mix.

Beautiful morning in Toronto. Coffee, then board of directors meeting @VolunteerTO

We’re testing the new fisheye IPA. Delicious.

New standup desks at fisheye HQ

Our new stand-up desks are ready. We now have communal desks in three different heights: tall, medium and short.

In typical fisheye fashion, we designed and build the desks ourselves, from 3/4″ black iron pipes and furniture grade plywood. We became good friends with our local Home Hardware in the process and the results look amazing.

The fever seems to be catching on, as even Ian, our video editor, has now expressed interest in working standing up.


Julian hard at work. We did run a router around the edges of the wood, then whitewashed and varnished it.


Kendel behind her desk, made-to-measure for her 6’1″ frame. A mat on the floor makes standing comfortable.

Chat with on google+ or twitter

In Toronto harbour, a shoot on top of a mountain of sugar.

Redpath Sugar has a problem. The St. Lawrence Seaway, which is the route ships take to Toronto Harbour, freezes in winter, cutting the city off from the ocean. This means that for several months, no fresh deliveries of raw sugar make it to the Toronto plant.

To keep production going, Redpath stores raw sugar in Toronto Harbour, delivered during summer and ready for winter, safely tucked away in concrete basins underneath heavy duty tarpaulins.

Yesterday we climbed one of these sugar mountains to shoot a portrait of Jonathan Bamberger, President of Redpath Sugar. The view from the top was awesome, all over the city and Lake Ontario. We’ll post pictures when they’re ready for publication.

Chat with on google+ and twitter.

Zonked.

Little Felix, after a long day of playing.

Happiness is a slowly smoking smoker full of bacon.

Dinner time

New desks

Ian Graham, a new fisheye director, is getting his picture taken.

We’re shooting a bacon making video with Peter Sanagan. Fun way to start a Friday.

Building stand-up desks at the office.

Plumbing pipe and plywood. We’re building a bunch of stand-up desks for everybody. Total cost for 3 desks in various heights – each desk accommodates up to four people – came to under $500.00.

Google Sketchup

Google Sketchup is a 3D modelling program. It’s awesome.

I’ve started using it at work, to show clients what their booths at trade shows will look like, and at home, to plan out the Airstream reno.

It’s amazingly powerful, it’s easy to use and it’s free. What more can you ask for.

Should I buy a Blomberg Appliance?

If you’ve perhaps typed the above into google and as a result ended up here, and if you’re looking for more information on Blomberg appliances and if you might have chatted with a sales person who gave you the German Quality spiel and if you might still be a trifle undecided:

Don’t do it.

We got talked into buying a Blomberg Dishwasher and a Blomberg fridge and have regretted both purchases. The dishwasher is four years old and finally gave up the ghost for good. In these four years our kitchen got flooded twice, for reasons unknown, the cleaning has gotten progressively worse and worse, bits fell off the baskets, the seal deteriorated, etc, etc.

Yesterday, finally, the control panel stopped working, giving us an excuse to send it to the Big Heap of Garbage in the sky, where it belongs.

The fridge is still working but produces the most amazing amount of condensation, meaning water collects at the bottom and stuff freezes to the back of the fridge.

So, if you’re asking me, no I will never buy anything made by Blomberg, ever again.

From cottage to caravan

We used to own a beautiful old farmer’s cottage close to Lake Huron.

We sold it when we moved from a house with a tiny backyard, and no kids, to our current home with a yard full of trees and enough space for our newly aquired children to play. While beautiful, the cottage wasn’t close enough to water and maintaining it took just too much time.

The current answer to “where will we be spending our summers?” is this:

Yes, we’re looking into buying an Airstream trailer, then parking it close to a lake for the summer. Both my wife and myself are clamouring for a classic model, from the 1970′s or even older.

In constant rotation right now

So good!

USB cufflinks

I am way too proud of this project but come on – this is cool stuff.

A client of ours needed a leave behind for select high-value sales conversations. We came up with this idea: what if we’d create USB cufflinks, then load them with a self running presentation. Was it possible? Could we find components small enough? Could we get the tolerances right?

We talked to Made You Look, a jeweller in Parkdale, who decided to give it a go. Three weeks, many prototypes and much research later and these beautiful cufflinks saw the light of day.

And because I like to document the work we do, here’s how it all came together.

Our backyard used as location

Recently we used our backyard at home as the location for one of the Redpath Sugar recipe video we’re producing.

Baking on the BBQ; cupcakes baked in grapefruit. It was Anna’s first presenting job in front of a camera, she did really well.

The Little Free Library project

With the twins still needing pretty much full time attention, there isn’t much time at the moment for fun and games, but I’ve still managed to plan out the measurements for the Little Free Library I am planning to build.

A scrap piece of 3/4″ plywood in the garage will be put to good use. I’ll post pics of the build, when it finally happens.

20120820-212414.jpg

Fall clouds

20120820-211119.jpg

This was the sky tonight, from the No Frills parking lot. I know, I lead the most exciting of all lives.

With the recent cooler temperatures and the light turning golden, the first hint of fall is in the air.

A lifeline home

These big old satellite dishes used to stream TV from the Azores to the Portuguese immigrants in Toronto’s Little Portugal.

How to fit three kids under three into a Honda Odyssey

A bit of an off-topic post for this blog, but then again it’s been pretty free-wheeling recently so maybe this is just the logical extension.

Our family of three grew recently, with the addition of two lovely twin boys. Our little Mercedes B-Class wasn’t able to cope with three kids under the age of three, so we did the sensible thing and purchased a Honda Odyssey van. Off lease, at a great price.

I spent considerable time researching the best seating setup for three kids, all of whom need child seats. Iif you’re in the same position, here’s what works for us.

The Honda Odyssey has two anchor points for child seats on the third bench. We’ve got the twins back there, with space in the middle for mom or dad if required. We then removed one of the second row seats, creating easy access to the back.

Out two year old sits on the remaining seat in row two. It works extremely well. We have easy access to all kids and the seats slide in and our easily. If needed, putting the car back together takes all of two minutes.

Wood fired bread

Our backyard served as a location for a recipe shoot today – baking on the BBQ. Once the crew had left I fired the oven up once more for my own use. A spelt loaf with oats and flax.

I started baking bread three years ago. It’s easy to go down the geeky, takes-a-lifetime-to-master, rabbit hole with this, but for now I am happy that my personal bread mojo is good enough to churn out reliably awesome loafs based on Michael Ruhlman’s 5/3 ratio:

  • 500g flour – I use 250g King Arthur bread flour*, 50g oats and 200 whatever takes my fancy. Spelt, rye, Red Fife…
  • 300ml filtered water. Filtered because chlorine kills yeast.
  • 8g salt
  • 1tsp instant yeast (I used to own a sourdough starter, but with three kids under three in the house that was just one too many thing to keep alive)
  • 1tsp ascorbic acid (powdered vitamin C). This keeps the bread fresher longer, especially during the hot humid summer days here in Toronto, and the yeast loves it.

*expensive, especially with shipping to Canada, but worth every cent. 

The serenity of the lanes

Watching the soccer

Toronto, condo city

This week’s pictures

Monday Morning

Kensington

This weekend’s pictures


Queen Street West

Queen and Spadina, early Saturday morning

The Vision Grill – update

There’s a fair amount of traffic coming to my initial review of the Vision Grill; a Big Green Egg look-a-like, but considerably cheaper.

Having used the Vision now for a couple of weeks, it’s time for a quick update.

In a nutshell, we love it. I’ve used it to bake bread, I’ve used it to smoke pork shoulder for pulled pork tacos and we’ve used it as a straight-up BBQ. It’s been performing flawlessly. It holds a low heat for ten hours at a time, it goes up to 700C without even trying and it stays warm for hours, ideal for slow cooked stews.

If you’re thinking of buying one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

How to make Turkish tea

We drink a lot of tea, at home and at work. Some years ago, my wife and I took the tea sommelier course at George Brown Culinary College, I’ve been geeking out about tea ever since.

My everyday teas tend to be Oolongs, with perhaps a white tea thrown in on a sunny Sunday morning.

At least, until recently.

Three years ago, my good friend David met a Turkish girl. Things clicked, David ended up living in Turkey for a year and now the two of them are back in Toronto, happily married. An ex-chef, David is busy exploring Turkish culinary traditions. Last weekeend, this led to a number of friends sitting in his backyard, devouring a Turkish style brunch.

At this brunch, David served tea, from a two tier teapot. A smaller pot at the top contained a strong tea concentrate, the bigger pot at the bottom hot water. Pour some concentrate into the traditional glass, then dilute to taste.

Lena, David’s wife, told me that the tea concentrate gets to steep for up to 15 minutes before it is ready. This of course went against everything I had learned about tea.

In the Chinese tradition, white teas can steep for as little as 30 seconds, Oolongs rarely longer than 90 seconds and even red tea, what we in the west call black tea, rarely steeps for longer than two minutes. Steeping any tea for 15 minutes was bound to create a bitter, tannin laden brew. Or so I thought.

The reality was that the tea David served was delicate, floral and light. Lena suggested adding a single small mint leaf, a little bit of sugar, which took an already wonderful drink and made it even better. I had to learn more.

Later that week I made my way to the Marche Istanbul, a small Turkish store in North York that came with a bunch of good Yelp reviews. The owner had been in business in Montreal for over 20 years, then decided to open an additional store in Toronto.

I walked out laden with olives, cheeses, sesame encrusted bread, a traditional two tier teapot and a package of tea grown in Northern Turkey, at the Black Sea.

The preparation is intriguing. Fill the bottom pot with water. Add two tablespoons of tea to the top pot, and just moisten the tea with a little water. Put the top pot on top of the bottom pot, then put them both on the stove. The water in the bottom pot will boil, gently heating the tea in the top pot, steaming the leaves open.

This I believe is the reason the tea doesn’t get bitter – the steeping happens at a relatively low temperature. When the water in the bottom pot has boiled, take the pots of the heat and wait for 60 seconds. Fill the top pot with hot water, refill the bottom pot with cold, fresh water and put back on the flame – but make sure to keep the flame low to avoid boiling the tea.

After 10 to 15 minutes the tea leaves in the top pot will have sunk to the bottom, indicating that the tea is ready to be drunk. Dilute to taste with hot water, add sugar to taste, and enjoy.

I finally found my lovely Ricoh GR Digital II again – after looking for it for over two years. Somehow it had made its way into the basement, on top of a cabinet.

My favourite street photography camera. There’s faster and better out there by now, but I still love the original. I use this camera exclusively to shoot square format b/w.

First test run of the Vision Grill

Today I took my new Canadian Tire bought, Big Green Egg inspired but for half the money, Vision Grill for a first test smoke. I had picked up a nice piece of pork shoulder from Peter Sanagan’s Meat Locker, which got a rub with a mix of coriander, smoked paprika and chipotle powder.

I mixed wet wood chips with the charcoal, covered the bottom of the firebowl evenly, then lit one side. I set the air in and outlets to the suggested values and within 10 minutes the grill had reached about 230º. Which it them proceeded to hold, on the same load of charcoal, for nine hours.

The resulting pulled pork was awesome; moist, smoky and tender. I served it with Joe Beef’s Redneck BBQ Sauce – Coca Cola, Ketchup and instant coffee, which was pretty awesome.

More Polaroid Blue

Polaroid Blue, transfered on a paper napkin. Shot this morning at The Mascot, my local coffee shop.

Polaroid Blue

Shot with an old Polaroid 100, which admittedly doesn’t focus on anything closer than 10ft. Ever. But who cares, I was after shapes and colour.

The fisheye analog photo contest

Part of the let’s-upgrade-our-photo-skills mission we’ve got going at work is a competition. Everybody gets handed a Pentax K1000 and a roll of Ilford HP5. People have one week to shoot 36 images that need to be connected by a theme.

I walk to work whenever possible, a pleasant 30 minute stroll down Queen West and through Trinity Bellwood Park, which will be my theme for my entries.

Battery adapter for the Yashica Electro 35

Got this from the Yashica Guy, for an utterly reasonable $17.00, including a fresh battery. Awesome. This means I can use the Electro 35 with a modern battery.

A whole lotta film

The second Pentax K1000 arrived today, together with an order of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 black and white film. This means I am all ready to start the photo contest at work.

If you’re after a Pentax yourself, I purchased mine on ebay, for just over $100 a pop, in close to mint condition.

Eat your books – genius idea

This is a fantastic idea. Like many of my foodie friends I own a large library of cookery and recipe books. A library I don’t have access to when I am out and about, or shopping for ingredients.

Enter Eat your Books, an online database that makes the recipe books you own searchable, wherever you happen to be.

Try it out with five free books, if you see value in it then upgrade to the unlimited plan for $25.00/year.

Awesome

I so need one of these.

Nice little image presentation

Just had lunch with my wife in a new pizza place on Queen West and saw this. Nicely presented, with just a hint of varnish. The pizza was good too.

Look what the postman just delivered


Five packs of Polaroid Type 100 Blue, courtesy of the Impossible Project, via the Camera Store in Calgary.

I just had to try a quick transfer, despite having neither a timer at hand, nor the right kind of paper. This is the result.

I’ve got a feeling this is going to be good!

The Sisters Brothers

If you’re looking for something to read in these quiet days between Christmas and the new year, the Sisters Brothers has me utterly captivated.

Violent, bleak yet laugh-out-loud funny at the same time, the book takes the reader into the head of a hired killer in the American West of the 19th century.

As he journeys with his brother, and even more violent partner in crime, from Portland to California, where the next hit awaits, he begins to question his life, his destiny and his attitude towards dental hygiene in equal measure.

Polaroid transfers with Fuji FP-100C instant film

I’ve been experimenting with creating transfers, using Fuji instant film. Where the original, and discontinued, Polaroid film needed wet watercolour paper, the Fuji FP-100C works best on dry, absorbent print making paper. I am currently trying out different papers and settings, to see what works best.

So far my best results were achieved with a 90 second development time, with the transfer done out of direct light on Arches 88 paper.

No face? No problem!

Saw this in the window of an old Portuguese photo studio on my walk to work and thought it was pretty awesome. Sounds like a line out of a zombie movie.

Picking up a bunch of Pentax K-1000 cameras

Everybody I know, of my generation, who went to art school learned their photographic ropes using a battered and student-abused Pentax K-1000. The K-1000 was the undisputed workhorse of the photographic world, so successful that Pentax only discontinued the model in 1997.

I just bought two of them, in great condition, with the stock f/2.0 50mm lens. What struck me immediately is just how heavy and well built these cameras are. The shutter clacks with the same satisfying solidity the door on a Mercedes Benz closes, everything is precise…and mechanical. The only electronic part is the light meter, returning an evaluative average of the entire frame. In other words, in order to use one of them you need to know your stuff.

I’ll be using them to teach our team at work how cameras actually work, how light behaves when it travels through a lens and meets a light sensitive surface, be that film or an electronic sensor.

Right now people are relying far too much on machine intelligence for my liking. Time to use a camera that doesn’t have a “scene” setting, facial recognition or anything auto at all and start by understanding the basics. Nobody has ever become a great photographer by relying on the auto setting.

New, old, Yashica Electro 35 GSN Rangefinder

Picked up this lovely little Yashica with a sweet f/1.7 lens in mint condition. Matt Denton has this to say.

These cameras sell for about $100.00 on ebay, depending on condition. Because so many were made, they also make frequent appearances at yard-sales or even at charity stores. Well worth picking one up if you get a chance, they won’t be this cheap forever.

Goose Decoy

Nice typography on this bag, found at a rummage sale. My wife is planning to make a cushion out of it.

Seen in a local shop window

These guys are renovating and have covered the window with hand drawn vintage ads on brown paper. Sweet.

Beet painting

Parchment paper, after roasting beets. Looks like an expressionist painting of poppies to me.

Paper food wrapper at the Grand Electric

An awesome taco wrapper, from the Grand Electric in Parkdale.

At the coffee shop with the offspring

Hand lettering in the neighborhood

Hand lettered store signs are making a comeback in Parkdale, the neighbourhood of Toronto I live in. It started with a vintage clothing store, now everybody from coffee shops to restaurants are following the trend.

All I want for Christmas is a download code

Here’s a confession: I’ve always hated music CDs. Not for some imagined sound quality issue, I just don’t like the way they look. They try and mimic the design of a traditional vinyl album, but always without success. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever cracked the challenge to create a CD design that breaks truly new ground.

So when mp3 players first came out, I jumped ship immediately. CDs were banished to the basement and 90% of the time the music I listened to lived as a file on a drive. But I always kept my records and when I had time to truly listen to music, it was almost always done on the turntable. Even though it looked at the time that vinyl was finally dead.

Then something amazing happened. Bands started to release albums as records again, in heavy duty vinyl that sounded fantastic. Even more amazingly, they started to include a download code to the digital file with the record. Now I had access to a beautifully designed analogue copy and the convenience of a digital file for my iPod. Heaven.

Sadly, this model hasn’t translated into books. I am an avid reader and I love having all my books with me on my iPad. I use the Kindle, Kobo and iBooks apps with equal enthusiasm. But I still love books, real books, made from paper. I love standing in front of our bookshelves, deciding on a book to read for the evening. Come next year, we’ll be remodelling one room in our house to be a library. Empty shelves with an Pad or Kindle on display just aren’t the same.

Today, if I want to own both a paper and an electronic copy of a book, to read while travelling, commuting, waiting in line, I have to pay twice, something very few people are prepared to do. I get that the publishing industry needs to make a profit, but I don’t get why for a nominal extra payment, say $1.00, I can’t download an electronic copy of a book when buying the paper version. The ebook version exists anyway, and this would create easy extra income for the publishers.