Dining Diaries: From lunch club to pálinka shots with the Gardiner Museum's Rea McNamara

We asked culture vulture Rea McNamara what she ate for a week


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To debut our new dining column, we enlisted the Gardiner Museum’s Rea McNamara, who worked on programming for this month’s Yoko Ono exhibit, to detail her most eventful meals over the course of a week.

MONDAY, JAN. 15
Just after Christmas, my mother-in-law died. She was a fiercely independent 20th-century woman who survived WWII and the Hungarian Revolution to become the first female doctor at St. Joe’s. She introduced me to so many delicious Hungarian dishes — gomboc, székelykáposzta and lángos are my favourites. For New Year’s Eve, I made a cholent, a Jewish beef stew, using Saveur recipe that originated at Budapest’s beloved Fülemüle Étterem restaurant. It turned out … OK. All this to explain why I ate cholent this evening — I froze half of the stew.

TUESDAY, JAN. 16
Today is lunch club. Here at the Gardiner, we have a group of about 10 gourmands that comes together weekly to break bread. This week was my co-worker Julia’s turn, and man, she killed it. We had Spanish tortilla, roasted eggplant with miso, Spanish-Mexican meatballs.… Julia’s Mexican, but her partner is Spanish, hence the meatballs. They were seasoned so well — my mom was born in Trinidad, so I grew up with Caribbean food and a love for spice. Next month is my turn. I’ve been meaning to go full Trini on everyone: garlic pork, callaloo, macaroni pie — the works! I like my co-workers, but I have to think hard if they’re worth the five days it takes to make garlic pork.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 17
I met this afternoon with local performance provocateur Keith Cole at Goldstruck Coffee on Cumberland. I got a cortado. He got a cappuccino. He wanted to give me my copy of The Valley of the Dolls that we’re reading for Fado’s Performance Club 2. Keith had me laughing about this poem he wrote about Marie Osmond’s Nutrifast commercial for my partner’s birthday.

THURSDAY, JAN. 18
I work in culture, so when possible, I’m at an opening on Thursday or Friday. It’s important for what I do to be aware of what’s happening and also to support local galleries and project spaces. It also means I’m working late and, therefore, I have a liquid dinner. The night began with a few glasses of white at Daniel Faria Gallery on St. Helens for the opening of Steven Beckly’s show, which runs until Feb. 24. Daniel’s openings are my favourite because he always has these absolutely fit men in black serving free wine and beer. Then I hopped in a cab to the Gladstone for Come Up To My Room. Afterwards? Pizza at Pizzaiolo. (I was hangry, and when I’m hangry, I’ll eat anything.)

FRIDAY, JAN. 19
I was at work late because I’m overseeing a public program all day tomorrow. I met my partner for dinner at Imanishi on Dundas West. I appreciate their staff, the wabi sabi decor vibes and the on-point playlists. They do this fried eggplant marinated in cold dashi ginger and sweet garlic Nagoya-style wings that are to die for.

SATURDAY, JAN. 20
I oversaw a one-day workshop intensive for artists and makers in ceramics. There was a lot of buzz and positivity, and I rode off on that energy to head over to Mount Pleasant Funeral Centre for my mom-in-law’s celebration of life. There was a toast with pálinka, which is a Hungarian fruit brandy. I grazed on cheese, cured meats, poğaça and my sister-in-law’s körözött, a delicious cheese spread that my mom-in-law used to make. I definitely had two (or three?) shots of the pálinka. I have no regrets.

SUNDAY, JAN. 21
Self-care Sunday! I’m a Taurus, so my favourite thing is to sleep in, snuggle with my three cats and read the paper. Eventually, I made an autumn gold carrot-yam soup from a Lorna Sass cookbook, aided by a martini and One Direction’s Made in the A.M. (Yes! I am a One Directioner. FIGHT ME.) Yoko Ono: The Riverbed opens at the Gardiner Museum Feb. 22.

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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