Willie Watson, Folksinger Vol. 2 Review

A few posts back I wrote about my serendipitous and probably irresponsible purchase of tickets to see Willie Watson at the Fremont Abbey in Seattle. I mean, the tickets were a straight up bargain; the flight and hotel were maybe pushing the boundaries of fiscal responsibility. But sometimes -most times- you oughta just go for broke. Plus, my dearest friend lives in Seattle, so there was no question that a good time was gonna be had.

I’ve been wanting to see Willie Watson live since I heard his first solo album (Folksinger Vol. 1) and he didn’t disappoint. He opened the show with “Take This Hammer,” and his incomparable voice in that little room…well, I think my heart might have stopped.

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Not by best shot, but I didn’t want to use a flash.

The Lead Belly classic is my favourite track on Folksinger Vol. 2, a record of back to back standout songs. On the album version, Watson is accompanied by the Fairfield Four, who bring all the power and depth you’d expect from one of the greatest gospel groups in the world.

The record, produced by David Rawlings for he and Gillian Welch’s Acony Records label, kicks off with a rousing version of “Samson and Delilah” with the Fairfield Four. “Gallows Pole” is haunting and perfectly suited to Watson’s high and keening sound. “Dry Bones,” “Walking Boss,” “The Cuckoo Bird,” and “John Henry” are fresh-sounding folk standards, and the blues are solidly represented by “When My Baby Left Me,” and “Leavin’ Blues.” The Blind Alfred Reed song “Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down” is lifted up (see what I did there? 🙄) by the addition of a woodwind ensemble which lends an orchestral (almost minstrel) feel to the track.

The jugband sound of “On The Road Again” features the Fairfield Four and Gillian Welch, and makes for a pretty great sing-a-long, though I had to look up what a “natural-born eastman” was. (From what I could gather, I think it was a term for a man who lived off of a woman; kind of a pimp. And man, pimps are always fun to sing about, I don’t care who you are.)

Big pimpin’.

I was lucky to meet Willie after the Seattle show and he couldn’t have been kinder or more humble. I used to be the hospitality coordinator for a popular venue that hosted all of my favourite bands and I’ve never been nervous to meet anyone in my life, but I think I was a nervy spaz when I met Willie Watson! I’m frequently captured by music, but I was deeply moved at his show. It had me all kinds of emotional, and my sarcastic shell was cracked for the night (don’t worry, it grew back.)

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I’m hoping to see him again on this tour, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll play in some state nearer to Winnipeg, and the legion of folkies we’ve got here.

I tend to carry on when I love something this much; yesterday, my husband asked me if I had a crush on Willie Watson. I said “No, sweetie, I have a crush on Blair Redford. I just have a deep and abiding musical devotion to Willie Watson.” You will, too, so get on out there and buy yourself a copy of Folksinger Vol. 2, and if you have a chance to see Willie live, take it!

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Taste of Toronto

Vegetarian and vegan eats in the heart of Toronto

I go to Toronto a couple of times a year for work. I usually spend two days working and three days hanging out (read: eating) so I’ve spent a fair amount of time seeking out great places to eat. I eat a mostly vegan diet (I’m a lactose-intolerant vegetarian 🙄) so eating while traveling isn’t always straightforward or simple. Toronto makes it so easy!

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I went for a quick visit last week and if someone looked at my Instagram over those few days, you’d figure all I did was eat. They wouldn’t be far off.

I didn’t get to all of my regular haunts this time around (there’s never enough time!) but I’ll include them in this list of favourites:

Karine’s

When I’m in Toronto, I eat breakfast at Karine’s almost every single day; it’s hands down the BEST breakfast in all of Toronto, and Karine is all about spoiling her customers with positivity in addition to the food.

Karine’s is in the food court of the Ontario College of Art and Design, so it’s not someplace you’d see from the street. You need to go inside the “Village on the Grange” building (53 McCaul Street, right next to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where you’re gonna go anyway, right?) Then just look for the big green sign.

Sometimes I get things that AREN’T pancakes or waffles. Not this time.

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Vegan banana chocolate chip pancakes with potatoes, fruit, salad, roast veggies and this savoury cold tofu thing. (I don’t know what it is, but I like it.)

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Pineapple-mango-watermelon juice is basically sunrise in a glass.

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Karine’s idea of a light snack.

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The woman, the myth, the legend.

Fresh Restaurants

There are four Fresh restaurants in Toronto (and one in Mexico City!) and they’re equally spectacular. The menu is vegan, large and diverse. The Fresh bowls are hugely popular, wholesome and filling, and that’s what I go for when I’m being a good, plant-power healthy-eater. But when I want comfort food (almost always, it’s a problem) I go for the Squash Tacos. Damn, now I’m thinking about squash tacos and I’m sad I don’t have any. I digress, as is my custom.

More standout dishes are the BBQ Burger and the Black Bean Burrito. And there’s no getting around the fact that you’re gonna order the quinoa-battered onion rings. Everyone does. Eventually you see 10 orders of it being served to the people sitting around you and you order your own. (The peanut sauce tastes great with theses, and the garlic mayo is silky and fantastic, too.) The fresh pressed juices and desserts are everything you could hope for, and the weekend brunch is worth standing in line.

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Squash tacos, I miss you.

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Quinoa-battered onion rings, and one of the daily soup specials.

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Black Bean Burrito, with kale slaw side.

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Did I mention that Fresh is on UberEats, so you can get it delivered right to your AirBnB?

El Catrin

This place is far from vegetarian, but they do have veggie options. I love it here cuz I’m a Day of The Dead kind of girl. The menu is a little too “foodie” for my personal tastes (I like simple and casual…I don’t need plantain mash and asparagus in my burritos) but that may be right up your alley! The drinks here are fantastic and El Catrin has one of the largest selections of tequila and mezcal in the country. I try to come in the mid-afternoon for the ambience and a snack (guacamole made at the table and the best churros I’ve had in Toronto, which has a surprising amount of churro places.) And if I see a Mexican Coca-Cola on a menu anywhere, I get it. I’m not a pop-drinker and I almost never have caffeine, so when I do, I’m like a toddler who’s been given a bag of pixie stix and an espresso. EVEN MORE FUN TO BE AROUND!

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Table-side guacamole, and a Mexican coke. Someone better strap me down, cuz I’m about to get giddy.

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Soft and delicious churros, with chocolate, strawberry and caramel sauces.

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The whole restaurant is decked out in Day of the Dead art!

Kensington Market has a hot ton of vegan and vegetarian options, including a natural grocery store and some smaller Latino markets/veggie stands. A new discovery for me was Moo Frites, a tiny place selling nothing but Belgian fries. Damn, dudes. Soft on the inside, super crispy on the outside with lots of dipping sauces to choose from (vegan dips, too.)

Moo Frites

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Frites with garlic mayo.

If you’re in the (Kensington) market for a gluten-free, vegan dessert, you’ll probably want to hit up Bunners, the 💯 % vegan  and gluten free bakery on Augusta Avenue. Get your sugar-high on before you pop in to The Blue Banana Market next door. It’s one of my go-to shops in Toronto.

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I don’t remember what this was, but it was tasty.

Some other Kensington Market faves are:

Hibiscus – Sweet and savoury crepes, dairy-free ice cream

Cosmic Treats – Comfort-food, taco Tuesdays, deep-fried mac and cheeze balls, vegan desserts

Urban Herbivore Sandwiches, bowls, soups and juices to stay or to go.

I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Hogtown Vegan. This is one of those places that vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters all like. It’s NOT health food. It’s Unchicken and Waffles, Mac and Cheeze, “Beef” and Dumplings, Pulled “Pork” sandwiches and the like.

I didn’t get there this time, and I’m still kicking myself.

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Do you have any favourites that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments, cuz I really, REALLY like veggie restaurant recommendations!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling, not-traveling and my favourite place in the world.

Around this time of year, I’m normally knee-deep in travel planning. I’m a pretty savvy budget-traveler, but this year I have some majorly expensive projects on the go, and can’t swing my usual August trip. I typically spend the last few weeks of the summer in Chiapas (southern Mexico) which is dear to my heart. I spend half the time in Palenque, staying in a hippie jungle compound and waking up with howler monkeys, and the other half in my favourite place in the world, San Cristobal, a colonial mountain town. I was just reminded of this story I posted to facebook on my last trip there, and thought I’d share.

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Palenque ruins and a spider monkey (cuter than a howler monkey, but not nearly as terrifying.)

“If we survive this, it’ll make a pretty good story.”

We left San Cristobal on a bus at 8:30 a.m. for the one hour ride to the Tuxtla airport. About 20 minutes in, there was a group of Federales. We couldn’t take the normal route, they said, as there’s an indigenous uprising, and they’ve created a blockade. “What if we tried anyways?” asked the driver. “They might let you walk through, and meet another vehicle on the other side” agreed the head Federale. “Why not?” said the dozen of us on the bus. “We’ve got flights to catch.” A beautiful drive up the mountain led us to a backlog of maybe 20 vehicles. “No pase” said the other drivers. “I’ll check” said our intrepid conductor. He walks away. Comes back in 20 minutes, “We can walk across, but I can’t get a hold of a bus from Tuxtla to come get you yet.” We all get off the bus, unload our bags and trek through a mountain. It’s a Zapatista uprising, and we’re right in the middle of it. I see a hand-lettered sign…the Chamulan villagers are demanding drinkable water. There is whispered concern that the large group of indigenous protesters will insist we go back, but no, one of them removes one of the small boulders they’ve used to block the way, so we can roll our suitcases through. Now we walk a few kilometres down the mountain road, but there are no buses available to get us to Tuxtla. After about 40 minutes, we fight our way into an eight-passenger van with 20 others, and sit on our suitcases for the ride to town. Once we’re past another group of police, we’re able to get out of the van and flag down a taxi to the airport. The airport is so far out of town, that I briefly consider that we may be being kidnapped, but no, that’d be too much for one day. We make it to baggage check 7 minutes before the gates close. And now we wait another hour for our plane.

So here we sit in this tiny airport, thankful for our drivers, a group of peaceful protesters, the fact that I thought “I should pee before I leave this bus,” a beautiful mountain to walk through, no rain and drinkable water. And a good story.

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Little pieces of my favourite place.

 

*The Indigenous Maya, like most of the indigenous peoples throughout the world are marginalized, often without clean drinking water, and have less opportunities to receive an education. A grassroots organization that I support is Schools for Chiapas, who work to educate indigenous children, empower women, plant food forests and create employment opportunities in Chiapas.