I AM NOT A FOODIE: #BramptonTweetup at Sul Irmaos Smokehouse

Above all else, #BramptonTweetup taught me never to say never, ’cause you never know when you’ll be eating those words.

Maybe Brampton gets worse a reputation than it deserves. In addition to the fact that there’s all too many Torontonians who couldn’t point to Brampton on a map, people often say it’s too far, too hard to get to it, or too dangerous. And were you speaking to a younger Casey Palmer, I might’ve agreed with you.

The Far Side of the GTA

Brampton’s a long way from home, but sometimes you’ve gotta venture into unfamiliar territory to try something new.

In early September, my friend Lat reached out to invite me to a tweetup in her hometown on Brampton, ON. For those not in the know, I’ve a long and sordid history with that little place.

Born and raised in Mississauga, ON, Brampton was always the city just north of us that we’d never visit. I mean — being Mississaugan had its societal pressures — too good for Brampton to the north; not rich enough for Oakville to the west; and nowhere near cool enough to hang with the kids of downtown Toronto to the east. But we always knew Brampton was there, it just wasn’t somewhere we’d go after dark.

Funny what a couple of decades can do to change growing cities and negative perspectives, right?

After an unexpected (and unwanted) adventure on the east side of Toronto, Christine and I made the trek to the northwest to join Lat Leger and friends for the first-ever #BramptonTweetup at the Sul Irmaos Smoke House in the Downtown Brampton neighbourhood.

Who is Lat Leger?

Lat Leger and Crystal Boese

I met Lat last year at either SaugaTweetup or After Work Drinks TO, and since then she’s become a solid friend. Living in Brampton, ON with her husband Garrett and their 3 kids, she’s more than just an award-winning mommy blogger: she’s a social media enthusiast and strategist; self-proclaimed foodie and really likes singing in the car with her windows rolled down. When you connect with her, you expect nothing but candor and authenticity, so it was no surprise to me when I walked into #BramptonTweetup to see a number of familiar and influential faces from the west side of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), as Lat’s a mutual friend to many of us.

After all, I’m not going back to the ‘burbs for just anybody.

Welcome to Sul Irmaos!

Welcome to Sul Irmaos (English translation = Southern Brothers) Smoke House website. We’re glad you paid us a visit. We are known as the sandwich specialist and if you try one of our delicious sandwiches, you’ll discover that this name fits our restaurant like a glove. We will satisfy your appetite with an assortment of choices from our menu including Po’ Boy, traditional, Portuguese Churrasco and pulled pork sandwiches. Eat in or take-out at your convenience and we also offer first class catering services for special/corporate events and more. Give us a call or visit our restaurant today! We look forward to making your day!

That’s Jonathan (left) and Jason Pereira (right) with the bandanas on!

If you’re in Brampton and looking for a good bite to eat, Sur Irmaos has some decent offerings. Dressed up as more of a lunchtime venue, it makes “slow food served fast”, which speaks to the daily effort that Jason and Jonathan Pereira put into assembling a menu that whets an appetite for smoked meats without investing the hours to do it yourself.

The Pereira brothers were nice enough to open up on a Monday evening for us (they normally close on Mondays for a well-deserved day off).

Many of their meats are seasoned, smoked for at least 8 hours and pulled, meant to infuse as much flavour as possible into their offerings. As a testament to their methods, after being rejected from joining Brampton’s annual Rotary Rib Fest, they decided to serve their own ribs, marinating their meat for 2 days and smoking it for 14 hours, with customers waiting up to 2 hours for a fresh batch when they ran out.

So the expectations were high going in to Sul Irmaos! Here’re some highlights from the experience!

Things That Were Great:

  • Mac ‘n’ Cheese Bites
  • Pulled Pork and Beanasaurus (even several days later, reheated in the toaster oven — Jason made me promise that I wouldn’t wreck my leftovers by microwaving them)
  • Pulled Pork Sandwiches
  • ATBs (I don’t know why they’re called ATBs, but they’re jalapeño peppers wrapped in pancetta bacon smoked for 4 hours and stuffed with herb cream cheese, dates and chorizo sausage. Truly a great appetizer!)

Needed Work:

  • Pulled Chicken with Sweet Chili Aioli
  • the Sumol (I tried both Pineapple and Passion Fruit, and can tell you I loved the Passion Fruit far more, but were it served in a glass, it would’ve been easier to stir when the sediment started settling to the bottom)

The Skinny on Sul Irmaos

Despite sorely needing a haircut, I still had a great time at Sul Irmaos!

We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, but what was clear, however, was that this was Sul Irmaos’ first foray in the world of tweetups. Things to note:

  • the first course of food didn’t make it out ’til Christine and I arrived, and we were a half-hour late
  • the amount of food didn’t satisfy the number of guests, which may have been indirect incentive to buy meals, but you don’t invite people to your restaurants and tell the guests it’s BYOF when they get there, right?

I don’t know whether Sul Irmaos offers enough to get Torontonians jumping behind the wheel for the 40-minute trek for a Po’ Boy, however, for Brampton’s 500,000 and Mississauga’s 750,000 — if you want something filling, delicious and a mere stone’s throw away from your backyard, the Southern Brothers have you covered.

In the end, it looks like Brampton’s come up a bit over the years — perhaps enough to have a recurring #BramptonTweetup to rival the very popular #SaugaTweetup from its southern neighbours (ironically run in part by Rob Sarjoo, another Brampton resident!)? But to get to that point, Brampton’s going to need the support of its people — it can’t survive on the efforts of a few people alone.

Shout-outs to:

  • Raj Kutty, who’s friends with the owners and made sure to give my bag a solid place to rest behind the counter
  • If it weren’t for Christine, who made sure I made it to BramptonTweetup, even when I was trying to avoid a major TTC delay
  • Davindra Ramnarine, who’s all about the food and put a review together of Sul Irmaos before it changed its name

And of course, thanks to Lat for a solid event and getting me to return to the ‘burbs. Not an easy feat by any measure, but it’s good to remember that you can only live in a box for so long before you start to lose sight of the bigger picture.

It’s a massive world out there — go explore it!

Adeus and get your nom on,

–case p.

WHAT YOU MISSED: #AfterWorkDrinksTO 8 — The Dress for Success Edition

As an event becomes more popular, you can’t keep it free forever. From its humble beginnings in February 2012 where every tweetup starts — a group of people from Twitter meeting up to go out and have a good time — After Work Drinks Toronto keeps raising the (wait for it) bar for events of its kind, building greater partnerships to make sure that anyone going can have an amazing time.

There’s only one way to start this post — I’ve never seen a tweetup get so full so quickly. By the time the event was an hour in, there were easily already 40-50 people in the bar area, ready to slake their thirsts with Mount Gay Silver Mojito cocktails (ridiculously addictive), Melville’s Craft Lager and Innis & Gunn beers and a decent selection of red and white wines!

Much like before, I volunteered my time and camera to Amanda and Graham because I believe in what they’re doing with After Work Drinks Toronto (or AWDTO for short). [Disclaimer: In return, they were kind enough to give me a free ticket, but that’s not why I offered my services in the first place.] Nothing worthwhile happens overnight, and through their hard work and diligence, AWDTO is really coming into its own. Each instalment continues to set the bar higher, and I hope we continue to see many more as we finally head into the summer!

 

The night went well — it was a mish-mash of food; drink, comments from our wonderful organizers (Amanda and Graham, as mentioned above) and sponsors (Mahit Lehang from First Choice Bartenders representing Melville’s Craft Lager and Innis & Gunn; representatives from Mount Gay Rum; and of course, Robin James Wynne, mixologist at Fynn’s Temple Bar); prize giveaways (none of which I won, don’t worry); caricatures (by Valerie White); music (by Matt Morgan and Craig Johnston of the Emerson Street Rhythm Band — at times accompanied by Joey deVilla); and just a lot of being social.

There was all sorts of activity going on, from discussion to dancing — if you looked out the corner of your eye, you could even see Christine helping run her weekly #RBchat Twitter chat at one of the tables! When you got in, you got an envelope containing tickets for beer sampling (of the Melville’s Fruit Beer — Innis & Gunn beer was on special for $5 a pint, though!), a Mount Gay Silver Mojito and  wine; a raffle ticket; and a playing card to play in the Best Poker Hand Draw, where you’d team up with four other people to come up with the best poker hand for a prize (a clever icebreaker)! They also drew for the person who was best-dressed as voted by the crowd, with the winner going to the County in the City festival with a friend!

While not conducive to heavy foot traffic, the Fynn’s of Temple Bar definitely has all the makings of an excellent pub…

Food Was Amazing

If I wasn’t trying to take photos and mingle, I would’ve stolen plates of bacon-wrapped scallops, pulled pork taquitos and duck confit on tangy pineapple flatbread and sat in a corner all night stuffing my face. The apps were glorious, and my stomach wasn’t taking “no” for an answer! The full list of food was as follows:

  • Duck confit on tangy pineapple flatbread
  • Pulled pork taquitos
  • Seared mahi mahi sliders
  • Potato & kale croquettes
  • Bacon-wrapped scallops with red pepper mayo
  • Spicy pork dumplings

Drinks A-Flowin’

I only had time to try a Melville’s raspberry Craft Lager and a Mount Gay Silver Mojito (which, again, was utterly delicious and ridiculously addictive), but there was a ton being offered up that night:

  • Mount Gay Silver Mojito (a strawberry basil peppered mojito)
  • Beer samples: Innis & Gunn’s Melville’s Fruit Beers in strawberry, raspberry and ginger beer flavours
  • Wines
    • Whites: Henry of Pelham Spring rivalry, Domain Faively Chablis, Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc, and Uma Torrontes
    • Reds: Creekside Estates Shiraz, Torres Tempranillo, Pelham Catherine Cuvee Rose, Malivoire Ladybug Rose

Live Music

 

The night’s entertainment were Matt Morgan and Craig Johnston of the Emerson Street Rhythm Band who were both talented and entertaining, doing a mix of crowd-pleasers (see Neil Diamonds “Sweet Caroline”, for example) and always making sure to interact with the crowd and keep the energy levels riding high! You can see some more details on the experience on Joey deVilla’s blog, who would accompany them for several songs later into the night!

Great Service

Robin and his Fynn’s staff were amazing — all smiles and service as they made sure that gusts were well-fed and having a great time (I will not confirm whether the alcohol samples paid any contribution to the great time being had)!

Killer Caricatures

I just missed the window to get one done, but Valerie White was super-talented, whipping up amazing profile drawings of various attendees in mere minutes for a pay-what-you-can donation to Dress for Success! Here’s some of the awesome that she whipped up:

What You Missed

In the end the event raised $383.45 for Dress for Success, and though I don’t know the specific turnout, from the photos and who I know was there, I’d guess a good 50 or so people in attendance, experiencing what AWDTO had to offer.

But that’s not what you missed.

 

What you really missed at After Work Drinks Toronto this time around was an opportunity to expand your social circles beyond what they are right now. The chance to meet people actually interested in exploring new things with you and not just out to give you excuses for why they can’t come (I heard of at least 2 groups of new friends going out for a bite after the event!) Events like AWDTO help remind us that we’re in control of our lives — in control of who we choose to hang around and what we choose to do with our time.

After Work Drinks Toronto reeks of possibility — so hopefully you make it out to the 9th instalment!

Change your life!

You can see more about the event at any of the links below.

The Epilogger run-down of After Works Drinks Toronto 8

My full gallery of 113 photos from the event on Google+

–case p.

WHAT YOU MISSED: The #WBHILaunch Event!

The world is in pain. There’s so much going on and so many problems that our response can often be to become numb to it and grow apathetic, but that is the completely wrong response. We need to stop complaining about the world around us and do more to make it the world we want to live in.

And that’s where events like the Women’s Brain Health Initiative Launch come in.

Food and Film For Thought

Designed around the premise that Alzheimer’s attacks women proportionally more than men, yet all the Alzheimer’s studies focus on their male counterparts*, the Women’s Brain Health Initiative (or WBHI for short) represents and advocates for the at-risk population of women who may eventually face Alzheimer’s and its debilitating effects.

 

Attending as Christine Pantazis‘ +1, the night started at Tryst Nightclub, where they plied us with as much food and drink as our bellies could handle; met old friends and made new ones; and prepared for the not-quite-long-at-all trek to Cineplex’s Scotiabank Theatre to see the premiere of Michael McGowan’s Still Mine, a film about an elderly New Brunswicker couple’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and how it profoundly affects their lives.

 

While generally not one for dramas, I’ll admit that Still Mine is a great film. I haven’t been exposed to very much Canadian cinema (nor have i been farther east than Montreal within Canada), but I’d recommend this film to anyone. The story of Craig and Irene Morrison (as portrayed by Academy Award nominees James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold) and how it affects their family and town of St. Martins is a profound one. The love and witty banter they exchange after 61 years of marriage are things I think many audiences could relate to.

 

Kirstine Stewart, Chair of the WBHI (and fresh from her transition from CBC’s Vice President of English Language Services to the Managing Director of the very new Twitter Canada), bookended the showing with comments as well as a Q&A with the film’s director, Michael McGowan. It was within that Q&A that we learned that despite Craig Morrison’s November 2010 triumphs as detailed in the film, the celebration was sadly short-lived with his death this past February
at the age of 93.

So What Can We Learn From All of This?

What I took away from the event is that Alzheimer’s for women is a very real concern and that the WBHI would love your help in funding research and hopefully finding a cure.

But that’s not all I learned.

I learned that people care. That people want a better world, but realize that it won’t happen overnight. It requires generosity. It requires empathy. It requires all of us to see the bigger picture and to take action today for a better tomorrow.

Find a cause you believe in, get up and help out. Our world isn’t going to fix itself!

–case p.

* After publishing this post, an old classmate — who is conducting studies on Alzheimer’s — pointed out that while the argument is well-intended, it isn’t completely accurate:

I can see where the argument is coming from, it’s just over-generalized and giving people the wrong idea. Studies for safety, which are generally conducted before studies for efficacy, are usually done in healthy volunteers, often male, because you don’t have to worry about things like pregnancy or menopause. However, once it’s shown to be safe, then studies for efficacy are conducted in both men and women.”

Abby Li, Research Assistant at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

THE GREAT SOCIAL MEDIA STORY: Man in the Mirror

“Brrrrrrrr. What happened to that boy?”

–Birdman (featuring The Clipse), “What Happened to that Boy?”, Birdman, 2002

I decided to stay away from blogging until I had something worthwhile to say. I’m not just an event blogger. I don’t just take photos of food and share stories from my past.

I used to draw. I used to write novels. I used to spend months on projects instead of trying to crank content out to keep — what, relevant? Popular? To show how good I am at social media?

Whatever the reason, I was lost. I was blogging out of control with no end in sight.

This wasn’t the way it meant to be.

An Epiphany

After two solid years of spending the lion’s share of my time on social media and events related to it, I’ve figured out that I’m far happier investing time in creating quality projects than I am doing lots of little things daily to keep fresh in everyone’s mind. I wasn’t doing anything for myself anymore — I was starting to do things because of so many other obligations, and not simply because I could. It was like being 16 all over again.

We might be the sum of our experiences, but we are measured by the sum of what we put out into the world around us — and if we put stuff out that we can’t always stand behind, then what does that add up to?

Christine recently asked me a question that caught me dead in my tracks. It was so alarmingly simple that I’m surprised I hadn’t thought on it before, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that I’d lost my way and needed to stop figure out what exactly I was doing. It was only four words, but they captured much of what I’ve felt lately — and that question is this:

“What are your goals?”

Why Am I Doing This?

I usually start things for one reason: because they’re interesting. When I started blogging on LiveJournal in 2002, it was because it gave me an outlet to express myself through all the emotional turmoil and confusion that was my transition from high school to university. When I started doomsdayblaze.com and Fish ‘n’ Chimps in 2003, I was looking to develop my coding skills even further and put a regular webcomic out about the characters I’d grown to love. I started using Facebook in 2005 because it was “cool” and gave me a better place to represent myself than I would anonymously on other sites like AsianAvenue or BlackPlanet.

I start things because they interest me, and social media was no different. When I started with a Twitter account in ’08, I barely used it, and no one was listening to me. That would change when I finally started meeting people at tweetups by the end of 2010 and building a network of peers, friends and business associates to work with.

But there lies the problem — work at something enough, and it reaches a tipping point where what was fun and interesting suddenly becomes serious. You become marketable. That thing you dabbled in suddenly becomes work.

LiveJournal became less important to keep up as my life became more routine and I found less wonder in each day — forcing myself to write about myself became an uphill battle that I didn’t want to fight. With school, work and a social life, I found myself at home less and less often, which meant my art suffered from my absence, and my content for doomsdayblaze.com with it. And while I still use Facebook and connect with my friends, I’ve stopped broadcasting my every thought like I used to and started sharing — almost instinctively — the ideas which I think others would actually respond to.

But social media took that tipping point to an entirely new level.

Blogging Outta Control

I’ve changed a lot over the years of social media, blogging attempts and general Internet consumption… but is it for the better?

Okay, let’s be real — for the most part, bloggers don’t know what the heck they’re doing. They like to party, they like to get free stuff and they like to feel important — but why are they blogging? Ask a blogger what their goals are for their blog and wait to see if they have an answer. What story are they trying to tell? Who is their audience? Does it make them happy?

When I hit that first tweetup a little over two years ago, it was an amazing experience for someone who thrives off of the energy level in a room — I met dozens of new people, tried new places — it was a rush.

My calendar would fill with more and more of these events, like HoHoTO shortly afterwards — one of the craziest parties I’d hit up in a while; TwestivalTO and DefineTO which merged dancing, drinking and competitive karaoke; or even the upcoming Bloggers in Sin City, an unconference specifically for bloggers which I wouldn’t have considered investing in during those earlier days.

Twitter’s very likely been one of the last steps in my transition to becoming a complete adult from the big kid I’ve always been. I’ve held jobs pretty steadily for the last 15 years, but never in any of them did I have to work on being a brand. I was given tasks and I did them — but that’s a heck of a lot simpler than doing things while trying to stand out from a crowd. Or trying to develop your own personal signature or way of doing things. Working a job and trying to do things for a boss is simple cause and effect — but social media sees a lot of effort going toward cause… but without the effects being as obvious when you fire things out into the ether, it’s not the same at all.

The Art of Selling Out

Back in the early days of my social media journey, there were others I looked up to with what was almost a reverence, wondering how they managed to make a name for themselves. The Zaighams, the Jos, the Craigs and the Casies of the world – the people I saw out there with thousands of followers; everyone knew their names, and they just seemed to exist on an entirely different level.

The years go by, though, and you see that everyone else is just as human as you are. Everyone else might have some idea of what they’re doing, but they’re not working any less than you are. They’re not any luckier than you are. Oftentimes, that person you’re envying is probably who you could be if you were willing to put the years of work, network building and sheer effort needed to get there.

I’ve learned that nothing comes easy, but in that quest for the best, you can lose sight of who you are. Of what you’re supposed to do. Of why you’re doing it.

Waking Up

So, social media, my eyes are open and I’m awake for the first time in a good while. There’s a lot I need to do, but you know what?

I have all the time in the world to get it done.

Until the next post,

–case p.