Posts Tagged With: Madison Violet

A Bespoke Christmas

Once upon a time, all my kid sister wanted for Christmas was “world peace.” (I’m sure this is still true.) However, she was also quite thrilled to get a Cabbage Patch Doll and the latest Babysitter Club books for her collection, in addition to world peace.

Our family has definitely shifted to the “experiential gifts” because we are truly want for nothing. That is, except for the circa 1860 Stockdale Feed Mill on Cold Creek in Frankford that just came on the real estate market today. We wouldn’t mind the keys to that place for Christmas. And some world peace. And a dozen of my mom’s butter-bomb shortbread.


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Admittedly, I do love looking at the extreme and unnecessary like the excess of the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Line or Nordstrom’s Dream Big Gift Guide suggestions. I love the Williams-Sonoma catalogs even more. But when I look at the Kitchen Aid Copper stand mixer for $959.00 I think of Africa and rationalize that I barely mix anything beyond cocktails anyway.

I think back to childhood, when we used to make stuff for gifts from “found objects.” It’s funny that it’s ‘trending’ now—this movement of ‘repurposing’ and ‘reloving’ when we really did it all along, especially way back when. As a kid with $9.82 in the piggy bank (or reasonable facsimile) shopping wasn’t a consideration. You could SAVE that $9.82 and make things out of teasels and dry milkweed pods and pinecones. Add silver sparkles, googly eyes and voila. (As I look at a few walnuts that the squirrels have yet to warehouse in our backyard I consider the Pinterest crafting possibilities by default. Hmm, grown- up craft: pressing some black walnut oil as used in a fancy cocktail with bourbon in a swishy place our friend Heidi took us to in Nashville). Maybe next year. I’m sure there’s a youtube video on it.

Or, I could just buy into the online “Orphan Barrel Project” that Neiman Marcus has on offer. For a paltry $125,000 “You and five bourbon-curious friends will visit the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, to go barrel hunting, taste recently discovered bourbons, and create two completely unique Orphan Barrel variants to be hand-bottled with labels designed exclusively for you. You’ll then receive 24 bottles each of the remaining stocks of eight different Orphan Barrel bourbons—including the variants created by you—along with a bespoke whiskey cabinet crafted in Kentucky to house the collection, barware, and a leather-bound book about your whiskey.”

Luckily we still have some Maker’s Mark in the cupboard.

Kim and I aren’t even exchanging gifts (well, we deemed our equatorial plane tickets to Las Terranas and Las Galleras in the Samana peninsula for the first two weeks of January “Christmas”).

If we really had to buy stuff (and we don’t because we both naturally avoid eye contact when “Secret Santa” is brought up in the workplace), we wouldn’t have to look too far. Our circle of friends are oozing talent and make stuff that’s awesome, and there’s a different kind of peace felt when you are contributing to an artist and making their life and creative path a little less overgrown.

Here are five sure-fire ways to light up a room though, from Iceland to a night in a frontier tent to adopting a donkey.

A Ticket to Iceland, With Two Precocious Cats


Our family friend (a friend of my sister first, but, we all liked her instantly and took shares), Jocey Asnong, recently published another children’s book called Nuptse and Lhotse Go to Iceland. When I first met Jocey, her Banff apartment was a spider web of clotheslines and clothes pegs—the humble beginnings of her first book’s illustrations, all hanging in sequence. Everything was colourful in her home, right down to the painted furniture that she also sold. It was like standing inside a kaleidoscope. By day, Jocey indulges her bookworm matrix at Café Books in Canmore, Alberta—but at night, her cat characters Nuptse and Lhotse take flight. They’ve already travelled around Nepal, and Iceland just made sense. Jocey seems to fly there whenever a seat sale is on, or when the glaciers move just so. Visit the land of ice and fire and see how a landscape can consume an artist and writer so innocently. If you have munchkins in your life or Iceland devotees, this gift just makes sense.

A blurb: “While digging in their garden, Nuptse and Lhotse uncover an ancient Viking helmet. Excited by their discovery, the two cats make their way to Iceland to find out more about the Vikings. Throughout their epic journey, the cats learn all sorts of new things related to Iceland: longboats, sweaters, horses, volcanoes, geysers, even local cuisine!  Nuptse & Lhotse Go to Iceland is a colourful, illustrated story for adventurers of all ages who long to travel to faraway places.”

Be Bound by the Beauty

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I met Alistair MacLellan on assignment. I had read about his new biz venture in the Waterloo Record and was instantly intrigued. I pitched a storyline to the editor of Grand magazine and she bit. Alistair was making hand-bound, hand-sewn books in his garage. Well, his parents’ garage—but, nonetheless, the journalism grad was kicking it old school and making money, making stuff. I liked the simplicity and possibility of his product. Like Steamwhistle—they make just one product, and they make it well. Alistair even sold his beloved (but never running) 1977 Honda CB550 motorcycle to help finance his business (temporarily setting his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ambitions aside). His story was not unlike Olympian Clara Hughes–she sold her crappy car (a Pinto I think) for $700 to buy her first pair of speed skates.

Alistair is all passion, the kind of guy who would try to roast his own coffee beans, learn the art of beekeeping and/or soap making, and make his own jeans if he had time. He’s the real deal and his books are nifty. At MacLellan & Baetz Publishing House, “Making notebooks in a garage in Waterloo, Ontario is our life’s work. You can fill them with yours.”

Tune up Their iTunes With Madison Violet

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Madison Violet has been the soundtrack of our love life—and they could be yours too. We became groupies early on (in the late 1990s even, back when they were Mad Violet and playing at bookstores in the likes of Dunnville, Ontario). Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are a Juno-nominated powerhouse duo that have moved smooth as pudding from folk and fiddle to Euro pop and a distinct David Byrne meets Kate Bush meets Duran Duran electro feel. Not to be superficial, but, it also helps that they are foxy and girl-next-door-ish.

We routinely recruit cult members to their sound and concerts—some of which we’ve carried their precious cargo (guitars!) back from (i.e. Grenada to YYZ). I check out their tour schedule and send demanding emails to friends in Prince Edward Island and Tennessee and Vancouver Island to make the pilgrimage. We love them so much we flew to Le Petit Phare Bleu in Grenada to see them perform on a barge with dozens of fan-loaded dinghies lashed together at 12 degrees north latitude. Don’t miss them this April back in the Spice Island. Until then, check out their latest CD release, These Ships.

Intelligent Camping for the Lumbersexuals in Your Life


One of our favourite sleeps this year was at the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery in Prince Edward County. The founders, Jens and Inge, are like shook-up champagne. They’re all energy, vision and the kind of people who convince you to chase down your own dreams and make them real. Their passport stamps are enviable, and it was the Four Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong, Cambodia that really put the spell on them. They knew they could create something gobsmacking too—and they chose the County and a return to the frontier life.

Before you bark about the price, how much would you pay for solitude? What’s your price tag for an original experience, frying just-laid eggs in a cast iron pan, tending to the embers of a fire that unleashed so much conversation that life had been just too busy to share? Did I mention the intensely hot open-sky shower and King bed? If you’ve grown tired of the stiff back and soggy sleeping bags of traditional camping—this is the intelligent upgrade. Jens and Inge have also planted a massive garden where you are welcome to pluck some cilantro, red leaf lettuce, veg, dill—whatever is at the ready. North Beach Provincial Park is an easy stroll away if you dare leave the fairy-tale woods. In the very near future, the hops Jens has planted will be the source of the on-site brewery the couple has planned. Be part of the dream early-on. Just pack your marshmallows and daydreams and romance 101 is waiting for you. If you want to give a true “experience” gift, this is it. A night in the woods at Fronterra.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a donkey?


Nothing says I love you like a donkey. Since 1992, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a refuge for neglected and abandoned donkeys, mules and hinnies. To visit the 100 acre sanctuary is like putting your heart in a fondue pot. Which donkey you fall in love with is personal—you can read their profiles on line (each a heart crunching story) or actually visit the Guelph location and give them a good groom and nuzzle before deciding. For $50 you can become a guardian for a year. You can donate money towards specific needed products like fly masks, herbal supplements or pitchforks. Kim and I had a crush on Peter (his bangs!) and Sadie and became guardians. My mom swooned for Trooper and adopted him in a heartbeat. Which donkey will you give some festive love to? Find your donkey sweetheart now!

Make your gift-giving thoughtful, intelligent, creative and supportive this year.


If all else fails blend a dozen egg yolks, a carton of cream and a cup of sugar in your non-$959.00, non-copper, non-Kitchen Aid mixer. Add Mount Gay rum as family drama or (hopefully) merriment requires. Play A Jann Arden Christmas. Repeat both.

Best prescription: Watch Love Actually. Love the one you’re with.

Falalalala, heehaw, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours and theirs.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Rum Diaries Part 3: Grenada, with Madison Violet

It seems as though we’ve been on a destination concert-roadie streak as of late. There was the 60 hour jetsetter trip to see Alison Moyet in Manhattan in November, and booking flights to see Madison Violet in Calivigny Bay, Grenada last week was a no-brainer. Both were top-secret birthday surprises for Kim, though I blew New York early on. I had to avoid all words that began with “Gr” since August to avoid another slip-up.

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I surreptitiously researched the Spice Isle with a squirreled away Bradt guide from the library while she was working and sleeping. I learned that “lambie souse” had no lambie in it. The traditional dish is actually made from conch (lambie). Pig souse is a dish of knuckles and trotters with grated cuke. I made note of the “oil down” (pronounced “oil dong”)—the marriage of breadfruit, salted meat, coconut milk and spice–which sounded more palatable than the manicou (opossum).
I secretly read The Spice Necklace by Ann Vanderhoof. Years ago I salivated over her cookbook meets travel memoir, The Embarrassment of Mangoes.  Her second book is a continuation of her glam yachtie life cruising the West Indies, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Dominican, Haiti and beyond with her salty dog husband. The Spice Necklace includes several moorings and delicious reflections on their time in Grenada. Her crash-course galley encounters with tropical fruits and veg (if you’ve ever attempted anything with breadfruit, you will nod along here) and spice discoveries is as seductive as the Barefoot Contessa and her talk of all things butter and cream.
Now I get Vanderhoof’s love affair with 12 degrees latitude. Situated 100 miles north of Venezuela, Grenada is so perfumed with wild cilantro, oregano and nutmeg, that a simple walk outdoors smells like you are deep inside a kitchen. My near-achilles-snapping runs along the roller coaster road through Egmont were infused with intoxicating natural incense. It’s a shame that the only recognizable waft in Canada is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Oh, and passing by a mushroom farm. Ugh.

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I knew before we left that we’d be well fed and rummed in Grenada (there are three official rum distilleries—Clarke’s Court being our paralyzing go-to). And entertained. Madison Violet was scheduled to perform twice during our stay at Le Phare Bleu Boutique Hotel. I first crossed paths with Madison Violet in Dunnville, Ontario at a tiny bookstore called The Reader’s Cafe. Dunnville is still primarily a one stoplight town with five tired chicken wing and pizza roadhouses, a legion and a (now shuttered) Bick’s pickle factory and that’s it. To have a bookstore open in the town was revolutionary. To have talent and the likes of Madison Violet in house was probably the last great thing to happen in Dunnville.

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Superficially speaking, it was a foxy picture of the Madison Violet girls—Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac that lured me to their show. They were hot babes with guitars and sly smiles, so that alone was grounds for a night out.
Rather instantly, Madison Violet became the soundtrack of our love life. Their folk + pop smash-up lyrics intertwine classic themes: love and home—with musings pulled directly from Brenley’s roots in Kincardine (Lake Huron, Ontario)and Lisa’s Creignish, Nova Scotia upbringing. Brenley’s distinct voice (think of the sexy purr of Kim Carnes, Demi Moore and Holly Hunter) and Lisa’s high-octane fiddle and violin riffs are unmatchable.

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Their syrupy vocals of longing, desire and anticipation pumped out of Kim’s BMW on repeat a decade ago. I’ve run to the girls on my iPod from Uganda to Grenada. To see them in such a unique environment—bobbing on a barge at a dinghy concert, set the concert-goer bar even higher.

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We were well-spoiled at Le Phare Bleu—the Madison Violet VIP package and beachfront villa accommodation has really ruined us for any future hotel stays. Owners Dieter Burkhalter and Jana Caniga fused their passions of sailing, restaurant ownership and live music into a property that holds you captive with its commitment to guest satisfaction (you don’t even have to worry about packing your own adaptor plug for recharging stuff. And, the soundtrack poolside from The Deck restaurant at Le Phare is like listening to my own playlist. None of the annoying thumpathumpa all-inclusive resort slop on repeat).

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Really, Kim and I could only bear to pry ourselves a way from Le Phare for a day—mostly to get a more educated glimpse of the island, outside the boutique hotel property.
Rum-punched at Grand Anse

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We subjected ourselves to the adventure that is synonymous with the local bus system. Let’s just say, for $2.50 EC (East Caribbean dollar–about $1.10 CAD), we received full value for our wide-eyed hell ride through the rabbit warren-like neighbourhoods and hilly hairpins of St. George. Picture this: a reggae-blasting kamikaze mini-van cum sardine can-missile.
With velvet humidity upping the “feels-like” temp to 42 we made our way to Morne Rouge to get rum-punched and search out salt cod cakes. A few sinewy boys did beach calisthenics, another lean baggy-shorted group were bending it like Beckham. The cerulean water matched the sky.
Three hours later we discovered that we’d been dropped off at Grand Anse beach (a 3km stretch of sand—Grenada’s most famed beach), not Morne Rouge as we requested—but, regardless, we had the beach entirely to ourselves.
That is, until we had visitors. No one wanted to braid our hair (something white people should never do) or charge us for a photo with a cranky iguana wearing sunglasses. There was none of the usual beach nonsense (annoying figure-8-ing jet skis, snorkelling trip pushers) found in hot spots like Mexico, Dominican or Cuba. Instead we were offered pot, nutmeg syrup, shark teeth, a hand massage slash palm reading (slash sex offer) or a full-body aloe vera rub.

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And sometimes, even when you say no ten times, you find yourself getting sexual advice from the hand masseuse anyway (apparently I’m sexually frustrated according to my wrist bones), or, slathered/slimed in aloe by a persistent aloe salesman. Picture this: Ghostbusters-style sliming. Word to the wise: though aloe gel is clear it stains purple and yellow, like a massive bruise—as witnessed in my shoulder bag the day after being slimed and on Kim’s tank top and surf shorts.
After a good sliming and accepting my apparent sexual frustration, Kim and I found a rum source. Reminiscent of a lemonade stand—but better. For $20 EC ($10 CAD), we were totally rum-punched in the face. I actually asked Kim, semi-frightened for our health–“Oh my god, do you think this is actually gasoline?” If anyone lit a match near my mouth, whoa…

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We found palatable fish cakes, more greasy than memorable. A few dashes of any West Indies hot sauce and it was like eating flames—which led to more gasoline-rum chugging. Vicious circle.
After our day at Grand Anse we found a group of taxi drivers circled around a bottle of Vodka. They offered us some octopus soup (which was delicious—and who doesn’t like sharing parking lot soup with boozing taxi drivers?) One of them agreed to giving us a lift to the Aquarium. I had asked to go to Bananas, a night club where you could supposedly drink Carib in an actual cave, but, everyone we spoke with said, no, we wanted to go to Aquarium, not Bananas for the cave.
Aquarium was lovely, but, it was more of a rock face than a cave (we didn’t bother to pursue the Bananas cave). And, more of a fish tank (with two goldfish) than an aquarium. We trusted our vodka-schmoozed driver to return and pick us up an hour and a bit later (which he did, an hour +++ later). The lamb kofta and pesto spanokapita (Greek in Grenada?) were precious. Especially after our questionable fried fish cakes that seemed to spell diarrhea in the near future.
That was probably the biggest surprise about Grenada—no diarrhea! If you’ve read any of my blogs from Belize, the Congo or Egypt, you’ll know that I’m prone to shitting my pants around the world. In fact, you can actually drink the tap water in Grenada and not worry about having to finish your frozen pina colada on the toilet.

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Staying at Le Phare Bleu for six nights, we were privy to working our way through the menu. Hello whiskey burgers on the grill! Margherita pizzas studded with savoury oregano and heaps of stretchy cheese set on fire with hot sauce. Pancakes with the citrus perfume of rose-tinged nutmeg syrup. Nutmeg-kicked coffee. Chicken roti that was both fiery and filling. Perfectly turned and fluffed mushroom-stuffed omelettes and Cumberland sausages. Chunky fish cakes hot and golden off the griddle. Ginger beef with generous chunks of ginger and a sautéed buttery cabbage that begged for seconds.
At the hotel mini-market the creamy rum and raisin ice cream beckoned. Buckets of Carib at happy hour ($24 EC–$12 CAD) accompanied many a sunset. The Pain Killers (coconut milk, rum and nutmeg) did just as they suggested.
We ate like royalty, drank like robbers and fell to sleep to a mad chorus of tree frogs. The beds at Le Phare were like sleeping atop angel food cake. We made our way around all the seating in our villa—the balcony was a favourite perch for taking in the hummingbird traffic. It was difficult to read with the constant drive-by of hummingbirds, finches and flycatchers. And poolside–with the distraction of flashy catamarans gliding in and out of the marina. Yes, tough terrain.
We never did get to the oil down, lamb souse or soursop. But, you always have to leave something to return to—and though we had daily mongoose sightings and found a millipede as long as my arm, we need to go back to see the Mona monkey and an armadillo. And, to see the Madison Violet girls again, in their element. Stay tuned, they’re promising a return gig in 2014 at Le Phare Bleu.

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*The villas at Le Phare Bleu have fully equipped kitchens, luxe modern bathrooms (ultra-urban walk-in showers), cloud-like beds, complementary shampoos, shower gel and lotions that smell exactly like key lime pie. They also provide an oregano oil mosquito repellent. Wi-fi, kayaks and two Hobie cats are available for use. Each villa has a fridge with ice-maker and filtered water. The mini market on the hotel grounds sells beer, spirits and wine, snacks and has an ample selection of groceries–with a fresh fruit and veg market once a week. The Deck offers casual dining and poolside bar service with a Friendship Table on Wednesdays night (communal, family-style meals with a set menu). The Lighthouse Ship Restaurant only operates during high season while the lower ship deck serves as a museum. The hotel is located 20 minutes from the airport.

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Categories: Eat This, Passport Please, Sip That | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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