The scandal behind the portrait….

Posted: September 11th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

marchesa casati

Luisa Casati, Augustus John portrait in the Art Gallery of Ontario

Another crazy lady. Luisa Casati (d. 1957), featured in a lush picturebook The Marchesa Casati:Portraits of a Muse , is described as ”possibly the most artistically represented woman in history after the Virgin Mary and Cleopatra, the portraits, sculptures and photographs of her would fill a gallery. In a quest for immortality, she had herself painted by Giovanni Boldini, Augustus John, Kees Van Dongen, Romaine Brooks and Ignacio Zuloaga; sketched by Drian, Alberto Martini and Alastair; sculpted by Giacomo Balla, Catherine Barjansky and Jacob Epstein; and photographed by Man Ray….”

I remember her differently. In the lush green Thames Valley where I lived as a child, there was quite a buzz when it was known that we had our first commie nobs in the neighbourhood, an heir to a peerage and his wife Cristina – the daughter it was breathed of the scandalous Marchesa di Casati. ”Surely you remember,” a neighbour said over a glass of sherry and over the childrens’ heads ” she’s the woman who gave that ball and painted the gardener’s boys gold. “All over?’ “Yes” ”Oh No, what happened?” “Of course they died. “

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The Bolter: wildlife in Kenya (National Post book review)

Posted: September 11th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

MV5BMTI3OTc1MjE1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTkxNDQzMQ@@._V1._SX97_SY140_Does this sound familiar? Celebrities drugging, drinking, shagging each other, marrying and divorcing overnight?

Hollywood of course.

In the twenties and thirties, British nobs were doing exactly the same thing in Happy Valley, Kenya, a place so notorious that people used to ask "Are you married or do you live in Kenya?"

Happy Valley is the titillating terrain of The Bolter, Frances Osborne's tale of her great grandmother Lady Idina Sackville, an icon of debauchery, who tore through five marriages, and set her own standards of eyewidening behaviour. She welcomed guests as she lay in a green onyx bath, then dressed in front of them. Guests were made to swap partners, often ending up in her bed which was called "the battleground." Although there was no People magazine or a 7/24 news cycle, word of mouth among the privileged classes dribbled down and made Idina infamous. She was credited with inspiring a series of dissolute heroines from the poet Nancy Cunard to Iris March in Michael Arlen's twenties' bestseller, The Green Hat, which was made into a movie with Greta Garbo. Add countless bright young things of the Lost Generation, Hemingway's Brett Ashley, to Nancy Mitford's The Bolter, a woman who no sooner married than moved on.

Idina grew up with a tarnished spoon in her mouth. Her father came from an ancient family, her mother from rich industrialists. But after two children were born, Gilbert Sackville skipped off with a cancan dancer. Such affairs were common enough among the gentry who blinked and carried on. But Muriel Sackville decided to divorce him. Now this was breaking the upperclass code, a broken family undermined the stability of society. It also diminished a daughter's chances of making a good marriage at a time when women's survival depended on a male meal ticket. Idina, a chinless woman with a clotheshorse figure and lots of what used to be called "come on" might have found herself as marginalized as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth - damned for her outsider status. But she was lucky. She caught the roving eye of rich-rich Euan Wallace, a playboy with an inexhaustible bank balance.

Now right here the title of the book trips up the author. How much jollier it would have been if Idina had been Nancy Mitford's babytalking flapper throwing husbands away like Kleenex. In fact, Idina's life is one long slide into oblivion – she was rejected by her most of her husbands, she ran through her fortune, her sister betrayed her, her children were lost to her, her sons died in World War II. The wastrels of Happy Valley enabled her self destruction along with their own. Her best friend was the American heiress Alice de Janze who cuddled a lion cub in her lap, shot her lover, then shot herself, and that was before they got married. Joss Erroll, Idina's second husband, went through life with an open fly and was murdered by one of the many men h e had cuckolded.

Osborne's take on her ancester is that Idina was an early feminist, struggling to find herself. Perhaps. But the central fact of Idina's life was her addiction to sex to which Osborne makes only fleeting references. Apart from the single reference to Idina welcoming guests in her bath, specifics are wanting on the bed as battleground. Addiction is obsession, and without any exploration of the need for sex that shaped her character, Idina remains elusive. I had hopes for full disclosure after being told that the newly wed Idina "completed her introduction to sex: an activity not only for which she discovered she had a talent, but which she clearly found so intensely enjoyable that it rapidly became impossible for her to resist any opportunity for it." A mouthful for one word: nymphomaniac. That's what Idina's second husband called her. Did Euan abandon her because she was too sexually demanding?

Euan's diary, often quoted, reveals nothing. I don't suppose it's pleasant to rummage in an ancestor's dirty laundry but I think the reader is owed a few juicy details from a life lived for sex. Was Idina versatile? Of the high romantic school "Would you like to Sin/With Elinor Glyn/on a tiger skin?"

Idina is upstaged by Euan's second wife, Barbie, a socially ambitious woman with a calculator for a heart who took over Idina's sons. Now there's a novel: Barbie and Euan bought a haunted property with a curse which said no heir would live to inherit. Between them they had five sons: four were lost in World War II while one died too young.

A loose end. While her brothers are accounted for, Diana, the child of Joss and Idina vanishes at the end, her early death unrecorded. I wonder why.

Osborne prefers to dwell on Idina's need for love, the kind encountered in a Harlequin Romance, kiss but no grope. Style is Barbara Cartland "At the beginning of 1917 Euan and Idina were dangerously in love. Dangerously because at any moment Euan might ride into a hail of bullets…" I've never read about so many handsome rich men and beautiful women. Joss Erroll was the goldenest of golden men, Barbie was glamourous the way women never again were. You'd sure never know it from the small smudgy pictures of women in bosomless dresses and men in plus fours. But then times change, styles change, cameras change…

Something else. The story's creepy. Happy Valley denizens are as attractive as frog spawn. An earlier book, White Mischief by James Fox which was about Joss Erroll's murder, was also creepy and so was the movie made from it. I think it's because the people are so stubbornly willful. They never reveal their vulnerabilities. I suppose it's the old devil stiff upper lip. Victorian morality may have been necessary to maintain the empire and keep the Windsors on the throne, but it also crushed the happy sensuality which redeems the shabbiest story and makes the most wayward people alluring.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne. 300 pages. Knopf Canada $35

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For TIFF Visitors: resto guide

Posted: September 5th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

TIFF Guide to Restaurants ( will be added to daily…)

Toronto restaurants will get their biggest boost of the year during TIFF which opens this week. Visitors should have no trouble distinguishing Toronto from Vancouver or Montreal, neither which city has anything like the variety or substance or sheer entertainment of Toronto, which is a true melting pot of food. But be warned eager eater, you need advice to know where to go and how much it’s gonna cost, and how easy it is to find….and so on….which are the show places, where the good deals, which restaurants are uniquely Toronto…..

The following list will be updated regularly….all opinions are my own, most taken from published reviews….

Prices $ – cheap. $$ entrée under 20 $$$ entrée over 20

New! Ame, 19 Mercer St. 416 599 7246. a block from the Bell Lightbox. The Rubino Brothers makeover of Rain (Ame) is a shogun's palace with jujube cocktails, a eurotake on Japanese food, shared plates, great fish on the mellow robrata grill, $$(Reviewed Sept 12)

New! Liberty Noodle 171 East Liberty St. 15 mins from downtown, south of King. cab it. 416.588.4100 Looks like a commissary a Chinese assembly line. Still soft opening, no liquor yet, lunch only.

Lucien, 36 Wellington E. 416-504-9990, six blocks crosstown from BL. Elegant MOR with mild molecular influence, meat, veg sourced locally. Bar scene. Price $$$

Frank at Art Gallery of Ontario 317 Dundas Street W. 416-979-8888. Few blocks n. of BL. Eclectic menus emphasizing fresh/local for weekend brunch, weekday lunch and dinner. $$$ Basement caff a downer.

C 5 at Royal Ontario Museum,100 Queen's Park, 416-586-7928, ck website for hours. cab from BL. Green gastronomy, local sourcing, fusion twinge. $$$ Basement caff if you like sight of walking legs.

Sidecar Bar and Grill, 577 College, 416-536-7000. cab from BL. Unpretentious food, dinner, gt service. Grilled steak,salmon, weekday prix fixe $ cocktails. $

Mildred's Temple Kitchen ,85 Hanna Ave 416-588-5695, ten min cab from BL. Space station feeling with all over the map menus, burgers to pork and beans and up..lunch, dinner, weekend brunch. E $$-$$$

Lakes restaurant and wine bar, 1112 Yonge. 416-966-0185. Cab or Yonge subway to Rosedale, walk few blocks no. Pleasant Asian take on bistro faves $$

Trio ristorante and pizzeria, 3239 Yonge St 416-486-5786. Cab or Yonge subway to Lawrence, walk no 3 blocks. Naples in Toronto, the only authentic Neapolitan pizza, famous also for gnocchi. $

Le Gourmand, Hudson Bay food court (underneath store, by subway) LG3 32177 Yonge St. @ Eglinton on Yonge subway.$ pastrymeister/panini in french cafe, 152Spadina (adelaide) 416-504-4499

Far Niente 187 Bay St (416) 214-9922.$$$ Glossy slick bay street broker destination with MOR menu delivered with flair.

Batifole Bistro 744 Gerrard Street East(416) 462-9965 $$ cab it. Excellent French cooking on modest scale.

Madeline’s, 601 King Street West (416) 603-2205 $$ 10 mins from Lightbox. Sophisticated Eurofusion on shared plates

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National Post Resto Review Sept 5 2009 Eat this Flick!

Posted: September 5th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

Tiff Menu….Food is often the plat du jour in today's movies. Now it's time to match the movies to the real thing.

The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's dystopian novel, will send orthorexics, those who trash processed food and those who eat it, viral. All Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee can glean from the apocalyptic devastation is canned food. A coke's never looked so good. Nor will a big fat steak from Toronto's finest, Harbour Sixty (60 Harbour St. 416 777 2111) Harbour Sixty Bone in Rib Steak $51.95. Starter: pan seared foie gras, mango, icewine reduction $38.95.

Cooking with Stella could be a food network show: Canadian diplomat /chef Don McKellar gets cooking lessons in the complex art of Indian cooking from embassy housekeeper Seema Biswa. Taste buds will be activated full time so moviegoers are encouraged to make tracks for the fine Ayurveda cuisine at Curry Twist ( for 3034 Dundas W. 416-769-54600 – a bit of a hitch from downtown) for Baigan Bharta ,smoked mashed eggplant 9.95 Salmon in creamy masala sauce $13. house specials like Curry Twist Chicken.

Creation is a serious go at sexing up science, Charles Darwin as a human rather than an ape. On his deathbed, he allegedly reflected that sandwiches disproved evolution. So skip the food for thought and visit an oyster bar for fine array of mollusks from Malpeques to Galway Flats, Kumamotos, Belon– Rodney's by Bay (56 Temperance, 416-703-5111) or Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill (100 Adelaide E 416-366 7827).

Capitalism – A Love Story. What agro artist Michael Moore got up his supersized sleeve. Take him seriously and book in advance at The Fifth Grill and Terrace (25 Richmond St. W 416-979-3005), Toronto's ode to conspicuous consumption on top of Easy nightclub. Now offering a summer prix fixe $39 for three courses, $49 for four, including filet mignon with bearnaise, asparagus risotto.

Jennifer's Body is about a cheerleader (Megan Fox) turned cannibal, an insatiable Carrie with real teeth. Keep fright night going at Blowfish( 668 King St W 416 –860-0606 ) music bouncing off the walls, with quick eats, crispy crab, shrimp and scallop with lemon and tamari kewpie dips $10, roasted duck breast with fresh papaya, mango and honey pineapple sauce $22.

The Informant! Matt Damon is the whistleblower at Archer Daniels Midland — which is charged with cornering corn, one of the cornerstones of our processed food diet. If you're dining with an organichead, find meat that isn't finished with corn – like the filet of horse at Osteria Ciceri e Tria (106 Victoria St. 416-955-0258) taken from a Chinese style menu where nothing is more than $15.

The Men who stare at Goats. George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are new age warriors with paranormal techniques. Among them, they stare at goats and kill them. Can't face meat, so visit Ichi Riki (120 Bloor E 416-923-2997) and be entertained by Riki, maestro and storyteller of the raw fish narrative. Horse mackerel sashimi $9, yellow tail $13.

The Young Victoria. Early life of racy Empress of India glimpsed in demure Emily Blunt who's getting it on with Rupert Friend. Only the place to be seen will do for afterwards. The terrace at One in the Hazelton Hotel (118 Yorkville 416 961 9600) for grilled Dover sole with orange and hazelnut brown butter – market price.

Dorian Gray, Colin Firth and Ben Barnes now play the corrupter and corruptee in Oscar Wilde's danse macabre, Dorian Gray. Right place is elegant French hang the $58 prix fixe at Didier (1496 Yonge 416 925-8588) eggs in ramekins, black truffle, foie gras, Madeira sauce, sea bass and Hollandaise, contre-filet and frites.

Atom Egoyan's Chloe is a steamy triangulated tale of sexual jealousy starriing Juliannne Moore, Liam Neesom, Amanda Seyfried. Prepare for screening with breakfast at Union (72 Ossington Ave, 416-850-0093) in the city's hot neighbourhood, the nearest thing to a Paris café, pastis, homemade baguette, or an early lunch pork and shrimp burger topped with a fried egg $12.

The Invention of Lies posits that without lies, there is no fantasy or fiction. After writer Ricky Gervais tells his first lie, his world turns upside down. Digest this wisdom at Splendido (88 Harbord St 929 7788) and celebrate with pappardelle, pulled rabbit, artichokes $17, and particularly the cheese plate featuring Canadian winners like Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Fifth Town’s hard goat cheese, Quebec’s Grey owl and more at $7 a slice.

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Toronto City Council – Listen up

Posted: September 4th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

Peter Davies, Mayor of Doncaster is enjoying increasing media exposure because of his outrageous agenda which, against all the tenets of consensual British politics, consists of doing what the public wants, blogs Gerald Warner at the Daily Telegraph.

In his first week in office he cut his own salary from £73,000 to £30,000, which is putting one's money where one's mouth is. He also scrapped the mayoral limousine. He is ending Doncaster's twinning with five towns around the world, an arrangement which he describes as "just for people to fly off and have a binge at the council's expense". He intends now to reduce (that's right, reduce) council tax by 3 per cent this year.

The "diversity" portfolio has been abolished from the council's cabinet. From next year no more funding will be given to the town's "Gay Pride" event, on the grounds that people do not need to parade their sexuality, whatever it may be, at taxpayers' expense. Black History Month, International Women's Day and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month are similarly destined to become history.

Council funding of translation services for immigrants has been scrapped because he believes incomers should take the trouble to learn English. Officials have been ordered to abandon bureaucratic gobbledegook language. Davies is saving the taxpayers £80,000 by disaffiliating from the pointless Local Government Association and the Local Government Information Unit. He aims to abolish all non-jobs on the council, as epitomised by "community cohesion officers". He is taking advice from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Campaign Against Political Correctness.

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First flash on AME

Posted: September 4th, 2009 by Gina Mallet

152-194x290Robata grilled whole sea bream on cedar $18 fantastic at AME, the Rubino Bros new Shogun’s palace at 19 Mercer St….only Robata grill in town, white charcoal started by gas, giving the food a mellow flavour, grilled Japanese lime particularly good…

picture by Davida Aronovitch

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noodling on liberty

Posted: September 2nd, 2009 by Gina Mallet

newest ramen hang — liberty noodle, open four days , a high tech hangar that looks like the commissary for midlevel workers in the neighbourhood’s show business industry. great raspberry tea, hot and sour ramen with grilled chicken, shitake in a deep intense broth that is excellent despite not being either hot or sour. sweet and sour shrimp with noodles hits the spot. For now, Liberty Noodle is serving lunch only. Different noodles, a liguor license and dinner follow soon…… jyz53jz2.JPG


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should the obamas have vacationed at martha’s vineyard?

Posted: September 2nd, 2009 by Gina Mallet

Martha’s Vineyard is usually described as the liberal elite dream vacation, free of class and race division, where little organic growers produce tempting PC produce. Last year , an NYT story told of its ”economy of eating, one in which modern capitalism takes a back seat to a looser, island-grown style of bartering”

In this happy collective, people help each other out through the lean winter months.

”Swapping and borrowing isn’t institutionalized on the Vineyard,” said Carl Flanders, a fisherman in summer and a carpenter in winter. ”If I catch some fish in summer, I’ll sell it to Larsen’s Fish Market but I’ll just give the rest away to friends. I don’t expect anything in return.”

Not so fast. The WSJ reports that MV’s two newspapers the broadsheet Gazette and tabloid Times describe two different islands. ” Last week both the Times and Gazette had prominent stories about Alley’s General Store, a 151-year-old island landmark. The Gazette: “Alley’s: So Much More Than Just a Store.” The Times: “Police Investigate Thefts at Alley’s, Garcia’s.”

The Daily Telegraph digs deeper “Martha’s Vineyard’s dark little secret is one of desperately high levels of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and even suicide attempts among a population that struggles to make ends meet in a billionaire’s playground when the billionaires have all left.

“The last time the island’s social problems were publicly totted up – in 2005 – the number of cases of patients treated each year in hospital for alcohol or drug abuse had soared from almost 200 in 2002 to just over 750 three years later. The caseload of patients struggling with depression had grown from 40 in 2002 to 92 in 2005. Suicide attempts climbed almost tenfold, from three in 2002 to 29 in 2005.”

“Ironically, the liberal elites who spend a couple of months on the beach have created the problem, sending property prices and the cost of living sky high. ‘The financial stress – islanders are among the lowest earners in all of Massachusetts – and widespread unemployment (and boredom) leads to stress and anxiety, which in turn leads to drugs, drink and domestic abuse, say the experts.”

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Julia “despised” Meryl Streep

Posted: September 1st, 2009 by Gina Mallet

juliagreen apples
Is that parody of a performance in Julie and Julia Meryl Streep’s revenge on Julia Child?

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Street trashes Julia for refusing to participate in the National Resources Defence Council’s 1989 campaign against the use of Alar, a chemical which helped keep apples ripening on trees.

‘She was very resistant and she brushed us off quite brusquely," the Oscar-winning actress recalled. "She sent word back that she didn't have anything to say on the subject, and she really resisted making a connection between the high fat diet of a heavily laden cordon bleu-influenced cuisine and cholesterol levels. I remember being so disappointed that she was in the thrall of something called the American Council for Science and Health, which was a front organisation for agro-businesses and petrochemical businesses.’

For the record the NDRC is an enviro org with major liberal backing and ASCH is a group of scientists who debunk junk science with food industry backing.

"I knew Julia Child well," says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, "and I knew how much she despised Meryl Streep because of how Streep terrified consumers about the safety of their food. Posing as a toxicologist, the actress even orchestrated the great Alar scare of l989.”

Alar never posed a threat to children’s health. According to Dr. Joseph D. Rosen, a professor of food science at Rutgers University, whose study, “Much Ado About Alar,” appeared in the fall 1990 issue of Issues in Science and Technology, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences. “There was never any legitimate scientific study to justify the Alar scare.”

Streep says Julia came round to organics. She didn’t do her research. Julia Child split with Alice Waters because she persistently trashed conventional food, and to the end, she protested the vilification of the French classic cuisine by health fanatics.

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“Keep your self righteous fingers off my processed food”

Posted: August 31st, 2009 by Gina Mallet


The Push Back against the agri-intellectuals is gathering steam.

In yesterday’s L.A. Times, Charlotte Allen attacks the elite notion that we’re spending too LITTLE for the food we eat….making not for the first time the comparison between the food snobs and Marie Antoinette…”Never mind that U.S. job losses these days range from 200,000 to 500,000 a month, that foreclosures are up 32% over this time last year and that people are re-learning how to clip newspaper coupons so as to save at the supermarket. Dire economic circumstances don’t seem to faze these spending enthusiasts, who scold us for shopping at supermarkets instead of at farmer’s markets, where a loaf of “artisanal” (and also “sustainable”) rye bread sells for $8, ice cream for $6 a cup and organic tomatoes go for $4 a pound.”

She goes on: ”The most zealous of the spend-more crowd, however, are the food intellectuals who salivated, as it were, at a steep rise in the cost of groceries earlier this year, including such basics as milk and eggs. Some people might worry about the effect on recession-hit families of a 17% increase in the price of milk, but not Alice Waters, the food-activist owner of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant, who shudders at the thought of sampling so much as a strawberry that hasn’t been nourished by organic compost and picked that morning at a nearby farm — and thinks everyone else in America should shudder too. “Make a sacrifice on the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,” Waters airily informed the New York Times in April.”

Joining the Waters’ choir is Ontario organic farmer David Courmayer. In his bi-weekly newsletter, Courmayer reports he’s seen the green light on the left coast and now finds, by golly, that “Toronto suffers from the cheapest food in the world.”

He goes on ” Cheap food is boring. To provide the quality ingredients needed to save our Hospitality Industry, we need more unique and flavourful foods to create some overdue excitement. We really need to find ways to rid ourselves of debilitating cheap food policies.”

I wonder how all those people who need food banks feel about that?

I wonder if he’s noticed how restive populations are when food gets expensive?

I wonder if he’s ever been hungry.

Finally cheap food is smashing. I recall from the sparse diet of my childhood in post war England such delicacies as baked beans on toast, cheap Walls’ sausages, roe on toast, grilled kidneys….

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