Community Features

Neat Christmas Gift Ideas: Franken Toys


I was at a baby shower for some friends this past weekend, and while the endless parade of cute clothes and recieving blankets will no doubt see their use, there’s one present that truly stuck out.  It was a baby doll — but not just any baby doll.  This one was wearing a hat made from the skin of Yo Gabba Gabba’s Brobee, had the ears of what appeared to be Gizmo, and had been somehow fused inside of the sea turtle from Finding Nemo.  It was a brilliant, charming, horrifying creation called a Franken Toy.

Franken Toys are unique works of art created by a Hamilton-based artist Rachel Peters.  Rachel takes a variety of stuffed animals, disassembles them, and then makes amazing — and slightly macabre — new toys by stitching together different body parts.  This can lead to everything from the cutesy (JackJackceratops) to the downright bizarre (Half and Half).

The current offering of dolls ranges in price from $24.95 to $74.50.  Is it a steep price to pay for $3 worth of toys from Valu Village stitched together?  Absolutely.  But it’s also a wholly unique piece of art that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

If you’re looking to give a one of a kind, totally unique gift to the friend on your list who loves things that are a little …eccentric, then these are pretty much guaranteed to satisfy.  Check out Franken Toys on Etsy.

Great Canadian Foods: Poutine


Most of our dietary intake is made up of common North American cuisine – vegetables, pasta, Hot Pockets – the list goes on and on. But some of the things on our menu are distinctly Canadian. Great Canadian Foods is a new weekly feature on SmartCanucks exploring the tastier side of Canadian living.

The other day I was at the market and saw something I hadn’t noticed there on any previous visit: a cheese vendor.  What’s more, he had a big sign advertising “FRESH CHEESE CURDS.”  As a good Canadian boy, what else was I to do?  I bought a small bag of curds, picked up a can of sauce on the way home, and made myself a nice deep dish of poutine.

Like any good modern food, the origins of poutine are largely up for debate.  A number of restaurant owners in la belle province lay claim to the title of poutine’s creator.  Regardless of who was the first to combine cheese curds with gravy on fries, everyone can seem to agree that it originated somewhere in Quebec, and sometime between 1957 and 1964.

The term “poutine” seems to have an equally cloudy origin.  The word itself is often viewed as a francicization of the English word “pudding.”  Prior to the deliciousness we know today as poutine, the word was used to described any dish created using a hodgepodge of leftovers or a combination of ingredients that seemingly make no sense together.  Considering what goes into a poutine, I couldn’t think of a more fitting description.

Since it’s birth into the world of Canadian cuisine half a century ago, poutine has become a staple of not only Quebec diners, but every fry truck and food court across the country.  Even international fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s have gotten in on the action, offering poutine on their menus in select regions throughout the country.

It’s cheap, it’s fatty, it’s delicious — and it might just be the most popular Canadian food item we have going.  So where can you get one?

Well, you can obviously order it just about anywhere — but if you want something truly delicious, I suggest checking out Smoke’s Poutinerie in Toronto.  I know, I know — you’re bound to have better in Quebec — but as a Southern Ontario resident, I’m bound by what I know.

Smoke’s has a number of locations, and — in addition to the traditional poutine — they offer more than a dozen flavor combinations to tempt the taste buds of every type of eater.  Curry Chicken Poutine?  They’ve got it.  Philly Cheese Steak Poutine?  They’ve got that too.  If you’re looking to host the world’s unhealthiest wedding, they even cater!

Make it at home, grab it at a diner, or treat yourself to Smoke’s — however you enjoy your poutine, just remember: gravy stains don’t always wash out.  😉

Neat Christmas Gift Ideas: LEGO Board Games


83 days until Christmas.  It may sound like a lot, but if you like getting a deal (and if you’re reading this, we know you do) then you’ll want to get your lists together early to keep an eye out for sales/clearances/other awesome deals.  While “Neat Christmas Gift Ideas” may not save you any cash directly, maybe it’ll get you thinking about great ways to spend all the savings you’ve stockpiled throughout the year thanks to SmartCanucks.

Earlier this year, LEGO has one of those “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before!” moments and unveiled a line of 12 board games made up entirely of LEGO pieces.  Players will need to construct their game boards before playing, and in many cases, be able to set the boards up differently to allow for different play experiences.  If someone on your shopping list is into board games even a little, these LEGO offerings would make a great purchase.

Much to our surprise, we’re not simply talking about 12 different versions of a similar game, either.  LEGO has gone all out, creating 12 wholly unique experiences.  One game will have you trying to collect pieces to assemble your own robot, for example, while another is a Snakes and Ladders inspired racing game.  You can choose games that let you mix potions, hide from a minotaur, and even show off your creative side as you build certain things out of LEGO in Creationary.  It’s a bottomless pit of fun!

So what’s the bottom line when it comes to cost?  $12.99-$44.99.  There are a wide range of games here, and LEGO has wisely priced them to suit every budget.  A $12.99 game like Robo Champ or Magikus might be smaller and less involved than the $45 Creationary, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be any less fun.

Want to learn more?  Check out the official LEGO Games website.  You can find these in just about every major retail outlet, so keep an eye out for a board game sale before picking one up for the gaming/LEGO aficionado on your list.

What are you giving out this Halloween?


I know, I know..  The obvious answer to this is “candy,” but don’t you want to be the one house on the block that does something different this year?  Something hip and cool?

There’s always the one house that gives out cans of pop and full size chocolate bars — and it’s pretty easy to become the most popular house on the block doing that — but what about doing something that’ll really stand out?

No, I’m not talking fast food gift certificates (though those are always nice) or something wacky (like a live squirrel) — I’m talking comic books.

Starting in 2009, certain comics publishers have been banding together each fall to offer Halloween mini-comics.  They’re small enough to fit in a child’s candy bag, big enough to read comfortably, and cost about the same as a quality candy product.  One of my local comic shops (featured previously on SmartCanucks) is selling them in bundles of 20 for $5.  We get 80-100 kids every year, so I dropped $30 and squared away my Halloween hand-out shopping early.  The best part?  Rather than giving kids more junk food (they’ll have every other house on the block for that) I’m giving them something that can stimulate their minds a little.  Plus, I’m not going to be tempted to eat the comics while waiting for 10/31 to roll around.

Thinking of doing the same?  Call your local comic shop to see if they’re carrying Halloween mini-comics.  Not thinking of doing the same?  Tell us what you’re giving out this Halloween!

SmartCanucks Caption Challenge: Week 36

Rough Ride

This week’s caption challenge comes to us courtesy of the wild world of mutton busting.  What’s mutton busting, you might ask?  It’s kind of like bull-riding, but for kids …and on a sheep.

Don’t be baa-shful.  Give us your best caption!

What are your kids dressing as this Halloween?


With back to school barely behind us, Halloween costumes and decorations are already out in full force in every store imaginable.  Heck — some already have their Halloween costumes on sale!

Do your kids already have their trick-or-treat plans all set?  What are they planning to go out as this Halloween?  How about you?

Great Canadian Foods: Ketchup Chips


Most of our dietary intake is made up of common North American cuisine – vegetables, pasta, Hot Pockets – the list goes on and on. But some of the things on our menu are distinctly Canadian. Great Canadian Foods is a new weekly feature on SmartCanucks exploring the tastier side of Canadian living.

While it’s still a fairly new column, I’d like to think that “Great Canadian Foods” has a bit of structure.  We talk a little bit about what the food is, where it came from, and great ways to find/prepare it.

Ketchup chips has none of that.

Everyone knows what they are, nobody seems to know where they came from, and you can find them in every corner store in the country. What makes ketchup chips so special is one unsolvable question: why are we the only ones who love them?

Evidence of the ketchup chip in Canada (or at least the evidence we could find) dates back as far as 1967.  While that may not be as historical as some Canadian foods, it’s still a treat that dates back generations.  And it’s well-loved, too.  Old Dutch says it’s one of their top two most popular flavors (the other is Salt & Vinegar.)  Even Seth Rogan sang it’s praises on Jimmy Kimmel a few years back. But in America? You can’t GIVE these things away.

A number of leading US chip manufacturers have tried to offer this delicious ketchup treat, and every time they fall flat on their face.  A few smaller US snack companies produce them, but the average American consumer is going to have to special order/go on a manhunt if they ever want to taste it’s deliciousness without travelling across the border.

Do you have any thoughts on this mystery?  Why do Americans have no interest in our most-beloved potato chip flavour?  And when was the last time you bit into a tasty ketchup chip?

Would you want the NFL in Canada?


Week 2 of the NFL is well underway, and as I settle in for a long afternoon of football and writing, I can’t help but ponder the future of football in Canada.

The CFL has seen a big resurgence in recent years.  In fact, not a season has gone by in the last decade where we haven’t heard about average attendance numbers going up.  But as much as we’ve re-learned to love Canadian pigskin in recent years, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find a CFL fan that isn’t an NFL fan too.  Despite this, Canada has never had an NFL team.

We’re in the NHL, NBA, MLB and even the MLS (go Toronto FC!)  — the only major American league we don’t have representation in is the NFL.  But do we need to?  The Bills seem to think so.

Since 2008, the Bills have been playing both a pre-season game and a regular season game in Toronto.  It makes sense, since the team has a pretty strong fanbase in Southern Ontario — but it also feels a little like testing the waters.  Due to economic problems in the Buffalo area, the Bills have to keep their ticket prices far lower than their competition.  A move to Toronto would address this — after all, look at how much we’re willing to pay for Leafs tickets. 😛

Whether it’s the Bills, Toronto, or any other mix — would you want to see the NFL in Canada?  Or are you happy to have the CFL in your backyard, watching American Football from a comfortable distance?

As I type this I’m watching the Packers pummel the Bills.  Keep that in mind before you cast your vote for the NFL’s most lovable losers.  (for more info on seeing the Bills in Toronto, check out the official website.)

Fun things to do with your free 3D glasses


Tomorrow night, CBC will be hosting a very special presentation of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation… in 3D! As a result, Canada Post’s across the country are offering free pairs of 3D glasses so you can enjoy the experience from the comfort of your own home… but you knew that already, didn’t you?

While checking the Queen out in three dimensions is all kinds of patriotic cool, there are lots of fun things you can do with those free glasses after the event. Here’s a few ideas;

  • Make your own 3D movies/pictures – It may sound like a crazy idea that requires a frightening amount of technology, but doing this falls under the “if they could do it in the 50’s, you can probably do it on your phone” school of thought.  All you’ll need is a digital camera and some photo editing software.  Here’s a great tutorial to make images, and here’s one to make videos.  Videos are a little tougher — you’ll need two cameras and a basic understanding of video editing — but it’s still well within the range of a DIY film geek.
  • Be Biff Tannen’s friend for Hallowe’en Back to the Future is the greatest film ever made.  It’s better than Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Soul Plane combined.  Name one movie better than Back to the Future, and I’ll hop in my DeLorean and make sure that it doesn’t get made.  Here’s a quick pic to remind you of how cool Biff’s gang looked, and how easily you could be a part of it with your free glasses this Hallowe’en.
  • Play 3D games on your iPhone – A number of iPhone games in recent months have offered a special 3D mode that takes advantage of the old red and blue technology.  Both Crash Course and Ground Effect support 3D glasses, but if you want to just fiddle around for free, check out the trial version of Fly Effect Real 3D for the low low price of $0.
  • Search out 3D images online – Just want to use your 3D glasses without having to bother closing your browser window?  No worries!  Do a Google image search for “anaglyph” and you’ll instantly be delivered to hundreds of different 3D pictures to check out.  The same goes for a search of “3D” on YouTube.  Or even just stick “3D images” into your favorite search engine.  The results are seemingly endless. My personal favorite? These 3D images of the sun that NASA released a few years back.
  • Fall asleep with them on, wake up FREAKED OUT! – On second thought, this might not be that great of an idea.  Maybe keep a spare pair in your pocket to slip on the next stranger you find sleeping on the bus.

Even if you’re not interested in the Queen, there’s lots to do with a free pair of anaglyph 3D glasses.  If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your pair at Canada Post — and let us know what cool 3D fun you end up having with them!

SmartCanucks Caption Challenge: Week 35


I don’t know about where you live, but in my part of Canada things just got real cold real quick. Two weeks ago I was still in shorts. Last week it was jeans and a fall coat. This morning I had to add a sweater into the mix. It’s not snow weather yet, but it’s definitely been a chilly reminder that fluffy flurries are coming… and soon!

In celebration of all things cold, this week’s caption challenge sees a cute little terrier with a terrible case of dandruff winter fun. What cute little thoughts can your words put in that poor puppy’s head?

Happy birthday Mario? Not quite


Yesterday was Mario’s 25th birthday — but you knew that already, didn’t you? Whether you’ve seen it as a status update from a Facebook friend or even just as a fluff piece on the news, word of Mario’s quarter century milestone seemed to spread like wildfire…. only none of it was true.

It is true that Super Mario Bros. was first released on September 13th, 1985 — but that’s far from the first appearance of Mario. In fact, it was his fourth.

Mario made his debut as “Jumpman” in Donkey Kong back in 1981, returned under the new name “Mario” in Donkey Kong Jr. the following year, and starred alongside his newly introduced brother Luigi in Mario Bros. the year after that — all well before his supposed 1985 date of birth.

Am I just being a nitpicky nerd? Probably. But the whole thing feels dirty, like how my mother has been “45” for the last 20 years. Lying about your age — or worse yet, the age of a fictional character — just feels downright silly.

So don’t be fooled by the public relations train! Mario is 29 years old, and he’s far from over the hill. Pac-Man and I both turn 30 this year, and neither of us seem to feel the least bit uncomfortable with this fact. Have you ever lied about your age?

Great Canadian Foods: Nanaimo Bars


Most of our dietary intake is made up of common North American cuisine – vegetables, pasta, Hot Pockets – the list goes on and on. But some of the things on our menu are distinctly Canadian. Great Canadian Foods is a new weekly feature on SmartCanucks exploring the tastier side of Canadian living.

From Tim Horton’s to maple-flavored… well… everything, Canadians have a well-documented sweet tooth that’s seemingly impossible to satisfy. Case in point: Nanaimo Bars.

This no-bake dessert starts out with a graham wafer bottom, a midsection made of custard, and a top made out of chocolate. There seem to be infinite variations, ranging from mint to Grand Marnier, but that doesn’t make the original any less delicious.

As you can probably guess from the name, the Nanaimo Bar was popularized just outside of Nanaimo, British Columbia — but was it actually born there? The origins of this delicious chocolaty treat are a subject of great debate amongst dessert loving food historians.

The first time a recipe for Nanaimo Bars showed up in print was in the 1952 “The Woman’s Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook.” At that time, the treat was referred to as “Chocolate Slices.” Two years later the term “Nanaimo Bars” began showing up in print — a term that some suggest was popularized by US tourists who would indulge in the tasty treat when vacationing in the region. But where did this recipe actually come from?

One claim suggests that the treat originated in New Brunswick. Another suggests it was a New York recipe from the 30’s. Some even think the treats may have originated in England in the late 1800’s, with the bars being shipped by relatives to coal workers in Nanaimo (though considering the lack of adequate refrigeration back then, this seems to be an unlikely scenario at best.)

The most compelling evidence suggests that these date back to the early 1930’s in Alberta, where “smog bars” were relatively common, and shared a virtually identical recipe.

Regardless of it’s origins, few Canadian treats are as sweet or as tasty as a Nanaimo Bar. Why not try to make your own? Try this recipe from Joyce Harscastle — it was declared the ultimate Nanaimo Bar recipe by the City of Nanaimo back in 1986!

SmartCanucks Caption Challenge: Week 34


I know kids are doing dangerous sports younger and younger nowadays, but this is ridiculous! 😛

This week’s caption contest comes to us courtesy of an ad for little itty bitty skate shoes aimed at the “not quite ready to walk” crowd.

So what are you waiting for? Make with the captions already!

Great Canadian Foods: Tourtière


Most of our dietary intake is made up of common North American cuisine – vegetables, pasta, Hot Pockets – the list goes on and on. But some of the things on our menu are distinctly Canadian. Great Canadian Foods is a new weekly feature on SmartCanucks exploring the tastier side of Canadian living.

When starting a column on Canadian eating, it would be a culinary crime if I didn’t write about a personal favorite first. When I was a child I could pretty much eat my body weight in tourtière. As an adult, I’m not much better. But living in Southern Ontario, I often get a quizzical look from friends and family when mentioning this delicious French Canadian treat.

Toutiere is a delectable meat pie made from ground pork, often mixed with veal and beef. In Quebec the dish is customarily a food served during Christmas and New Year’s, though there’s very little reason to keep this deliciousness reserved for a single week of the year.

There’s some debate about the spices used in tourtière, with cinammon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and pepper appearing to be the most traditional non-meat elements. Dating back to 17th century France, these spices were largely discontinued in French cooking in later years but remained a staple of the tourtière in French Canada.

Other variations have seen ingredients like rolled oats that can be traced back to Scottish soldiers, as well as the Irish-influenced inclusion of the potato. The regional influences on tourtière can offer an interesting (and tasty) window into our nation’s past. There’s even a great radio discussion on the topic in the CBC Archives.

What goes into a traditional tourtière may be well-debated, but some places offer such a different take on the French Canadian meat pie that it’s earned itself a whole new name. Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean is a deep dish alternative filled with diced potatoes and various meats (including wild game) that could feed a small army.

Looking to try a taste of tourtière, but won’t be travelling to Quebec anytime soon? While the restaurants in the rest of Canada tend to overlook this great Canadian dish, the grocery stores don’t. Sure it’s not as good as the real thing, but the President’s Choice label offers up a delicious store-bought alternative. If you’re really crafty, you can always try to make your own! Here’s a delicious recipe that’s earned high praise from the cooking community on

Bon Appétit!

Happy Labour Day, Canada!


Another summer has come and gone for Canada, and while the calendar might tell us we still have another two weeks until fall, our social clocks are telling us something different. This is the last long weekend of the year — the last time for backyard BBQ’s, the last weekend the kids are home from school, and the last time we can really get away with shorts and a t-shirt. Depending on where you live, it might even be too late for that.

But what does Labour Day mean? No — we’re not talking about football again — what I want to know is, what does Labour Day really mean?

For those interested in a little history lesson, Labour Day got it’s start in Canada back in 1872 (or so says Wikipedia) when a parade was assembled in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike. Some workers were arrested for parading as a result of some archaic anti-union laws, and then Prime Minister John A. McDonald vowed to change it’s government’s stance, signing the Trade Union Act into law the following year.

Celebrations followed every spring to commemorate the strike parade, until in 1894 Prime Minister John Thompson declared the first Monday in September Labour Day. In the US, Grover Cleveland did the same.

The gesture may sound noble, but it’s quite likely that Labour Day was created as little more than a western tactic to replace the Communist-leaning International Workers Day that was created only 3 years earlier. More commonly referred to as “May Day,” International Workers Day was created out of a similar situation that left 8 Ohio workers dead after a protest in 1886. Considering May Day celebrations weren’t without some form of anarchy — riots broke out in Cleveland during the 1894 May Day — offering an official government holiday to honor the workers of North America could easily be seen as a way to placate the masses and prevent further riotous activities.

Despite the late 1800’s formation of the holiday, Labour Day didn’t become the national phenomenon it is today until the 1940’s. The post-war economy created all kinds of jobs in the steel and automotive sectors, and the Women’s Movement was in full swing. People of all genders and backgrounds were embracing the working world, and in turn embraced a holiday that celebrated all of their hard work.

And now? Now it’s a great weekend for carnivals, backyard BBQ’s, garage sales and parades. You’ve worked hard all year — now take the day and enjoy yourself!

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