Monday, 29 July 2013

ConBravo! 2013

This past weekend the Hamilton Convention Centre played host to a gaming and costuming convention called ConBravo! All three floors were utilized and the place was packed all weekend long. Citizens of Hamilton saw one or two unusual sights as they travelled down King Street as costumed attendees took to the streets when going out for food or to their hotel rooms.

ConBravo! was first held in 2010 in Oakville with an attendance of only about 350 and then Burlington the past two years increasing to around 1200 attendees in 2011 and doubling that the next year before making its way to Hamilton this year at the Hamilton Convention Centre with estimated attendance close to 2600. Running from Friday to Sunday it offered fun activities and sights to see for the geek in all of us with particular focus on anime, costuming and gaming. There was a huge dealers room that had a large assortment of artists displaying and selling their work and a variety of jewellery, clothes and other fannish goods for sale. The gaming room was huge and had arcade games, tabletop gaming and computer gaming, plus the Star Trek simulation game Artemis that is growing in popularity. There were also panels, gameshow style amusements, guest talks and autograph sessions, but for me the most fun part of the weekend is seeing all the costumes that people come up with. Some are standard and recognizable, some are more obscure and some are pure imagination.

Here is a link to my photos from the weekend. Please go have a look, but I'll post a few of my favourites here:

 Deadpool Thor.

 Gorgeous Tardis dress.

 Lots of anime fans.

 Steampunk Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas, complete with Steampunk Zero dog and a stuffed Oogie Boogie.

 I called these gals the "Sexy Ups" because they gave a decidedly feminine twist to the characters from the Pixar film "Up"!

 The view from my seat at the masquerade. The view in front of me was just as amusing as the costumers on the stage at times.

 Vanellope von Schweetz from "Wreck-It-Ralph". This girl had the perfect face for the costume. Talk about playing to your strengths.

This is the first "fem Loki" I've seen in person and she looked awesome.

Be sure to watch for ConBravo! next year by visting their website at
They've announced their dates for next year as July 18 - 20th, 2014.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Hamilton Fringe - Death Married My Daughter

 I got a chance to catch my first play in the Hamilton Fringe Festival last night - "Death Married My Daughter".  Performed at Hamilton Theatre Inc. (140 MacNab Street North), the show features Nina Gilmour and Danya Buonastella. Both actors attended  Humber College for Theatre Performance and  have since studied at the prestigious Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris, France.

The concept is pretty straight forward - "What would happen if Shakespeare's Ophelia and Desdemona entered the theatre together before our very eyes? What would happen if Ophelia and Desdemona came back from the very swamps of death where they have endured the longest exile?" From the start where the two characters dragged their rotting corpses onto the stage stating that they are seeking the catharsis they never found in life, you knew this was not going to be a typical Shakespearean commentary. The oppression these characters faced at the hands of the men in their lifetimes (husbands, fathers, etc.) were given a modern context by referencing Hitler, Mussolini etc. as well as controversial right wing figure Ann Coulter as examples of how womens' lives are not necessarily much better. However everything was done and said with a wink and a nod so that it did not come across as too heavy handed.

The director's notes in the programme call this "a biting, Bouffon-inspired satire that puts "Man" and his cheerleaders on trial". Bouffon is a modern theatre term referring to clowns who typically point out the uncomfortable truths through humorous mockery. This device was used frequently in Shakespeare's plays and it was done effectively in this play. 

 I found that the scenes where they acted out their deaths were very effective, in particular where we see Ophelia drowning, done with beautiful fluid movement making her appear to be underwater, while the other actress read out the "to be or not to be" monologue as this gave an interesting context to Hamlet's words. The reading was done in a mocking style as Hamlet mused about taking his life as Ophelia was experiencing the real thing.  While I would have liked to see more actual references to the Shakespearen plays, the performances were engaging and definitely held your attention. Some of it was a little unsettling, but this was not necessarily a bad thing. Definitely worth seeing, but very unusual.

"Death Married My Daughter" premiered at the Toronto Festival of Clowns in May and was performed earlier this month at the Fringe Festival of Toronto. It was co-created by Gilmour and Buonastella along with Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith who are co-directors.

Upcoming performances at HTI are Wednesday, July 24 at 9:30pm, Thursday, July 25 at 7:00pm, Saturday, July 27 at 4pm and the final performance will be Sunday, July 28 at 2pm.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Let's "Go Cooking"

I have to admit that I like learning about cooking almost as much as I enjoy eating what has been prepared. To hear someone who really knows what they're talking about is a bit of a treat for me and last night I attended one of the Go Cooking sessions put on at the Hamilton Spectator. Described as a "gastro-entertainment experience", each session features a chef from a local restaurant preparing a three-course meal and demonstrating the preparation of the recipes and answering questions during the process.
 Last night featured Brandon Ashby, Head Chef at the West Plains Bistro in Burlington assisted by his sous chef Ryan. Brandon previously was with the Rude Native and Limoncello here in Hamilton and he favours a mediterranean cooking style.

First on the menu was a dish of "Wine Steamed Clams with Lemon, Dill and Caper Butter". The 22 attendees were provided with copies of the recipe so that they could follow along and make notes as well as ask questions about the preparation techniques. It's a great opportunity to pick the brain of an actual chef on cooking challenges you may have faced yourself. You can also learn about ingredients that may be less familiar to you, such as caperberries which are the berries from the juniper bush and are used pickled in this recipe.

Sommelier Peter Kline from Bacchus Sommelier Services paired an Argentinian wine with this course and selected UMA Coleccion Torrontes which worked well with the citrus in the sauce. Another benefit of this series is that a sommelier is in attendance and pairs wines he has selected with the different dishes. He gives a bit of background on the wine and why it was chosen.
Next on the menu was "Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon and Lavender Glaze". Brandon provided some tips for ensuring that scallops are cooked properly so that they don't become too rubbery. He advises placing the scallops between two paper towels and gently patting them dry so they don't steam when they are cooked. He also says to cook until just golden in colour with a nice carmelization since scallops get chewy when even slightly over-cooked.

 While Brandon shows the preparation and cooks a single recipe size, sous chef Ryan begins preparing the larger sized meal for the group. He also prepared some golden beets and green beans to go along with the dish. They also showed how to prepare "Risotto with Chives" with tips on using a wooden spoon as opposed to plastic or metal and using warm stock. Phrases that stuck in my mind were "cook with your tongue, not your head" and "wine butter" which just sounds like the most wonderful thing to have with rice. A Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio wine from Italy was served with this course.

 The evening finished off with a lemon mousse and fresh berries in a phyllo cup. One attendee asked what to do with the leftover phyllo dough if you can't use it all up and Brandon said it's ok to refreeze it as he has done this and it tastes fine so long as it is well sealed. He also explained that these cups can be made a few days in advance and stored at room temperature in a sealed container. That makes this an easy make ahead dish that just requires assembly before serving. We were treated to Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut from Cava, Spain with this dish. This was a sparkling wine with a crisp grapefruit finish. Delicious.

 This is the 9th year that the Spectator has run the Go Cooking sessions and the current sessions run during July & August but there is another session that runs in May & June. They take place Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evenings from 7 - 9pm with some Wednesday afternoon sessions. There are sessions still running until the end of August with some availability remaining. The cost is $55 per person or $50 for Spectator subscribers which is easily the cost of a good dinner out and you get a floor show thrown in as well. For more information on the Go Cooking series, please visit and Bacchus Sommelier Services can be reached at

Monday, 15 July 2013

Brunch with Jack & Lois

Yesterday we got together with some friends for brunch at "Jack & Lois" at 301 James Street North, just north of Barton. Open for a little over a year, this place is a popular addition to the James Street North neighbourhood with their funky style and tasty food. It's kind of like old fashioned diner food, but much better.

 There's a wide selection of gourmet burgers that come alone ($7 - $11) or as a platter with slaw and soup ($10 - $14), parmesan sandwiches available in veal, chicken or vegetarian ($12 - $13) and the all day gourmet breakfast ($7 - $12).

Two of my friends opted for the "Hummingbird" breakfast which is "2 eggs your way, hash browns,  grilled American cheese fingers, 2 choices of meat OR (veg option) 2 stuffed angels & fresh fruit". That was some mighty fine looking bacon.

 The peameal bacon were big slices and too much for one person to eat all on their own. Luckily another diner at our table was able to assist. All breakfasts came with sliced fresh fruit and big chunks of hash browns. We were amused to learn that the "grilled American cheese fingers" were grilled cheese sandwiches that came with the meals. That was a lot of food. The breakfast items were declared to be delicious.

 The "Lighter Side" breakfast featured "Balkan yogurt w/ a side of organic granola, two egg omelette & fresh fruit".

 As we were nearing the lunch hour I chose a sandwich from the Parm options. "The Chancellor" features "breaded free range, grain fed chicken breast cutlets, Chef’s red sauce, asiago, basil, butter fried mushrooms, caramelized onion on an ‘Ace’ bakery baguette". Wow!!! This was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. It had everything I like in it and the flavours blended together beautifully. It comes with a side Asian slaw and Spicy Thai soup. This was wonderful and filled me up for the rest of the day.

The "Soprano" is "8oz of fresh hand pressed, seasoned beef, fresh basil, tomato, asiago cheese, balsamic caramelized onions on a garlic toasted ‘Cake & Loaf’ bun".  This photo is actually from my lunch there two weeks ago. This was a truly great burger. Beautifully seasoned meat that was full of flavour.

 The "Mona Lisa" grilled cheese is a "variation on the classic grilled cheese crafted with bocconcini, asiago, caramelized onions, fresh basil & tomatoes, balsamic vinegar".  Yum!

 The interior of the restaurant is an eclectic design style with a chandelier on the ceiling and 3D pictures of kittens, vintage record albums and funky wallpaper. If you look closely, you 'll notice that there is an autographed photo of Canadian actor William Shatner over the bar. Owner Eric Bowden works in the film industry in Toronto and got a chance to meet Shatner so this photo is a personal momento. Another nod to Bowden's interest in the film industry is the placement of movie scripts at the tables next to the menus. I could imagine us sitting there reading out scenes from the "Inglorious Basterds" script we found at our table. Platters are served in empty film cannisters adding to the theme.

 There are specials made fresh daily and the menu claims that they have "a King’s ransom of the finest Hot Sauces hand selected by the Chief of Fire from the molten underbelly of a flavour volcano located on the Equator". That's pretty impressive!!

Hours are Sundays 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM, closed Mondays, Tuesdays 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM and Wednesday & Thursday from 11:00AM - 9:00PM, Fridays 11:00AM - 9:00PM and Saturdays 9:00AM - 11:00PM. We didn't get a chance to check out the patio that is now open but we'll be back for that for sure. Yet another tasty reason to visit James Street North.  For more info, visit

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Game Night

 I love to play board games. Getting together with a group of friends to have a fun and social game of "Lords of Water Deep" or "Settlers of Catan" is both relaxing and entertaining. When I heard a few months back that Hamilton would be getting its own board game lounge I was thrilled. There are several of these popping up in different cities and one of the better known ones in the GTA is "Snakes and Lattes" in Toronto where you pay a minimal cover charge and get access to all the various board games in stock and a table to play them with your friends. Usually snacks and beverages are available for purchase. It's a great idea. It's basically a coffee shop with a theme, and a great draw for those looking for a fun night out but too young to go to a bar or just people who want to try out different games before purchasing them.

After waiting for several months to get through the process of opening a business, the doors of Gameopolis, Hamilton's first board game lounge, officially opened tonight at 223 King Street East. Owners Nick and Jessica are boardgamers themselves and saw a need for this kind of business in Hamilton. Tonight some friends and I went to try it out and got in a couple of good games of "King of Tokyo" in honour of Pacific Rim opening at theatres this weekend, plus "Flashpoint" which is a firefighter game where you have to rescue people from a burning house before it collapses. We also  tried some card games with "Flux" and "Smash Up" which combines wizards, ninjas, pirates, dinosaurs and more. Oh my! Other than "Flux", I'd never played any of these games before and they were a lot of fun and easy to catch on!

Gameopolis has a great variety of games, boasting over 550 in stock. There's also something for everyone as one table had a young child playing Hungry Hippos and others were trying out "Ticket to Ride" and "Small World". There were the familiar games we all know from our childhood like Monopoly, Clue, Mousetrap, etc. There are also a whole slew of movie and tv themed games such as Star Wars Monopoly, the Price is Right, a Grizzly Adams board game and more than a few that made me feel much older than I think I am. I even saw a Hardy Boys board game. You're also going to see one or two that you've never heard of before that may seem a little intimidating, but give them a chance. There are some wonderful adventures to be had in that wall of cardboard and plastic.

One thing that may surprise you is that instead of the traditional unhealthy diet associated with gamers, Gameopolis has some healthy options. Salads are available as well as nutritious sandwiches and dips. There are still traditional items like mini chocolate bars and desserts, but it's great to be able to make healthier choices. I asked for a glass of water at one point I was offered the option of a refreshing glass of cucumber water and it was these little touches that made this place stand out.

The cover charge is $5 for unlimited play and half price for children under 10 or for anyone on Tuesday evenings. What was great about this experience was that so many people were doing their own thing but they were so clearly having a lot of fun and were happy to recommend their games when asked. The atmosphere was friendly and casual and we'll definitely go back. Check out the website for Gameopolis at for a full list of games waiting to be played or just drop in as they're open Sunday - Tuesday & Thursday: 12pm - 10pm, Friday & Saturday: 12pm - 12am and closed on Wednesdays.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Seven Sundays at Gage Park

You just know it's going to be a fun night in Hamilton when you combine a hot summer night, food trucks and a free concert in Gage Park. I couldn't begin to count how many people came out for the first in the "Seven Sundays" concert series taking place at Gage Park every Sunday evening throughout the summer, but I'm guessing 300 - 400 would be a good estimate.

People were so friendly and chatting with each other while waiting in line for dinner from either Willy's Hotdog Wagon or Karma ChaMEALeon, the vegan food truck.

There was also an ice cream wagon serving soft serve cones and sundaes plus a snow cone stand, although there was a refreshing cross breeze across the park and it was very comfortable. Karma ChaMEALeon was serving Veggie tacos, Sunshine burgers, Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and veggie corndogs. These came with sides of coleslaw or fries.

At 7pm, the band for the night took the stage. The Dinner Belles are a six-piece group that are a little bit folk and a little bit country and a whole lot of fun. Their music was lively and the crowd was tapping their feet throughout and some even got up to dance.

One favourite of mine was when they did a rousing rendition of the Kooky Country classic "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road". I'll be humming that one for a while. Shortly after 8pm there were a few raindrops but people just pulled out their umbrellas and carried on. It never did start to shower and the band played until 8:20pm which is a very reasonable hour for those in attendance and those who live in the neighbourhood surrounding the park.

At one point I wandered over to the Gage Park rose garden and I could easily hear the band from there so it was nice to be able to move around and still enjoy the show. It was great to see people of all ages come out and having fun outdoors.

The concert series continues every Sunday evening in July and August with the food trucks at 6pm and the evening's band taking the stage at 7pm. It was confirmed at the end of the night that for the entire month of August, films would be shown at 9pm following the concert. For the full lineup or more info, please visit:  Coming up for the rest of July, the featured acts will be:

July 14 - The Silver Swing Big Band
July 21 - Dawn & Marra at 7pm followed by Terra Lightfoot at 8pm
July 28 - Matthew de Zoete

The Writing's On The Wall

Normally I don't particularly care for graffiti, however when done right it can be really beautiful and add spots of visual interest to urban areas. While walking downtown this afternoon I came upon a few outdoor areas where the walls have been "enhanced" with graffiti/art and I think they look much better for it. Let me show you what I saw all within a two block area.

On the outside wall of the Tivoli Theatre on James St. N. just north of Wilson St., the blank wall has been converted into an amazing space with fantastic imagery by local artists as part of the Tivoli Theatre Street Art Project. At the end of June, over 30 local artists came out to be part of this initiative to provide an outlet for local artists to engage in legal graffiti and inspire the community. On the main wall facing James Street, you are greeted by a rabbit riding a giant turtle and taking a turn around the corner to the left will show you even further wonders. A narrow alleyway is completely covered on the lower part on the right side and you can walk straight through to Hughson Street in this outdoor art gallery. To learn more about how the initiative started last year, and its goals, visit

If you follow the alley through to Hughson Street and turn right you'll see The Living Rock at the corner of Wilson and Hughson. In the parking lot behind the building is what is left of an art project from the 1990s that is now being partly reclaimed by nature and partly covered for practical purposes. However the graffiti art is still a big part of this urban environment, adding colour and personality to the area.

Walk across the parking lot and back towards Wilson and you'll see that on the side wall of Dr. Disc, on Wilson Street near James St. N., is a bold mural that was done last year by a Montreal group called En Masse. Assisted by some local artists this was commissioned for Supercrawl in September.  The mural will likely be replaced by something else at some point, as some parts are starting to peel off due to water damage. It will be exciting to see what might come next. If you're interested in seeing other work done by En Masse, visit their website at