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Three recommendations

In no particular order… But brought to you by the letter C.

Chef (movie)

This Jon Favreau movie (he stars and directs) is about a talented chef whose restlessness with the owner-imposed constraints of his restaurant come to a head in spectacular fashion when a prominent food critic gives him a bad review. In the aftermath, he starts a new chapter of his life—in the unlikely confines of a food truck.

This movie features three things I love: well-prepared food, travel, and Twitter! And they’re all wrapped up in a funny and endearing story, chock full of great actors in parts big and small. I didn’t buy that—even with his great cooking—Jon Favreau’s character could attract not only Sofia Vergara but Scarlett Johansson, but I’ll forgive him that, as I found everything else so wonderful.

Available on US Netflix (among other places, I’m sure)

Chef trailer

Catastrophe (TV show)

CatastropheAfter a hookup that leads to a week of wild sex, irish teacher Sharon is horrified to find that American Rob has impregnated her. So the two make an attempt at having a real relationship despite the challenges of immigration visas, unsupportive family members, dubious friends, and the health problems that can occur when a 42-year-old gets pregnant. Fortunately, they really like each other…

This is one of the funniest series I’ve seen in a long time. Often crude, but we’re all adults here, aren’t we? And it was nice that the backbone of the series was a couple who are growing in fondness for each other in the midst of considerable craziness and stress.

Also great, in the world of “peak television”, was that this series has only six episodes, and each is only about 25 minutes long! Mind, it did end on a bit of a cliffhanger. But apparently season 2 is on the way soon.

Available on Shomi (Canada), Amazon (US), and BBC4 (UK)

Cabernet Franc (wine)

Sometimes, when at a winery tasting, you get caught up in the fun and excitement—and the effects of alcohol—and you buy and bunch of bottles. But when back at home, with the daily grind, you open them… And you can’t remember what the big deal was. They’re fine, but kind of meh.

Well, that just hasn’t happened with wines we were most impressed with on our Lake Erie winery trip this summer: the Cabernet Franc. We’ve by now had one bottle of the Aleksander (2012) and one of the Cooper’s Hawk (2013) and remain rather wowed by both. Fruity, delicious, vanilla accents, maybe? But not overwhelming. “Can be eaten with food.” Thing is, I don’t remember Cabernet Franc being such a wow grape. Has it improved, have my tastes changed, were those just especially good years?

At any rate, if you’ve been dismissive of Cabernet Franc, you might want to give it another whirl.

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Guanaquita! We tried something new

Guanaquita is a Salvadorean restaurant. The second and fourth Tuesday of every month they have a salsa night. Friends of ours suggested we go check it out.

It was our first time for Salvadorean food—we couldn’t tell our papusas from our pastelitos. Fortunately, the waitress was helpful in guiding us through and pointing out the most popular options.

Salvadorean food is something like Mexican; indeed, part of the menu was “Mexican with a Salvadorean touch”. Jean and I shared the Guanaquita platter of pork papusa (a stuffed, Naan-like bread); zucchini pastelito (similar, only deep fried); a chicken enchilada, and corn tamale (corn in a soft tortilla-like bread). That was actually a one-person sampler ($10.95), so we also shared Mexican pork enchilada entree, served with rice and beans ($8.95).

Food of El Salvador

Picture of Salvadorean food taken by someone–not us

It isn’t gourmet cooking, but everything was quite good, really. They said they made it all fresh and we believed it, as it took a good hour to get our food! In the meantime, we enjoyed the decent bottle of off-dry Pinot Grigio ($28) that we shared.

Then it was time to shake our booties. It started with a lesson in a Latin dance called, I think, the Kizomba. To me, it seemed similar to the Merengue. He started by showing the basic steps to everyone in a line. (We missed some of that, as we were finishing dinner.) Then we paired up to learn a couple’s routine.

Keep Calm and Dance Kizomba

(Or whatever the heck dance it actually was!)

At first I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the instructor’s plan for us to move around the room, switching partners til we danced with most everyone. Did I mention that one of the moves involved the guy raising your arms above your head, then sliding his hands down your arms (which you have raised, at this point), your sides, and onto your hips?

But I decided to get with the program—it didn’t hurt that there were a number of young and frankly quite good-looking men participating. (There were also a good number of people our age and older, so didn’t we feel like we had crashed a university kegger or anything.) And it was interesting to partner with people of such varying skills: those counting the steps out loud, the many staring down at their feet —contrasted to those who actually knew how to lead!

The instructor was quite good, though, and whatever the level each person started with, it seemed that everyone could keep up, basically.

Then it was lights down, music up, and time for free-range Latin dancing. We learn some styles as part of ballroom lessons, but this place offered a wider ranges of beats, so we had to improvise on that. Some people were really good! One guy asked me to dance while Jean was settling the dinner bill, and he was an effective enough leader that I could pretty easily follow even though it wasn’t in the dance style to which I was accustomed. (Though it did seem as though that song went on forever… Maybe it was a medley of songs.)

The place was very hot (temperature-wise I mean, this time) on this steamy September night, and it was a school night, so we didn’t stay out that late. But we had good time. Good enough that we’d like to try it again sometime…

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Recipe: Roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Though yesterday’s supper featured pork chops (certified humane raised) in a buttery, wine shallot sauce, Jean declared that the vegetables were really the highlight of the meal. Quite easy to prepare, and Ontario broccoli and cauliflower are in season now.

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

  1. Toss 750 g broccoli and cauliflower florets in 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil. Roast on a baking tray at 400° F for 20 minutes.
  2. Whisk together the zest of ½ lemon, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. each extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan, hot water, and chopped toasted pine nuts. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Toss with the roasted florets.
Roasted brcccoli and cauliflower

Not our photo! But a reasonable facsimile.

Recipe from the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Nutrition Action Newsletter. Their recipes are nearly always excellent.

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Three cities, three suppers, one price

“What? Where is this place?”

Timmins, Ontario is not exactly known as a fine dining destination. So when jean posted photos of us eating items such as lobster bisque, caprese salad, rack of lamb, and crème brulée, some of the locals couldn’t believe the meal was had in Timmins.

Rack of lamb at 1800

Rack of lamb

Creme brulee at 1800

Amaretto crème brulée

The restaurant is relatively new. It is called 1800 Restaurant, and it is located in the somewhat tired-looking Ramada Inn on Riverside. (When we went for dinner, the hotel seemed eerily quiet, as though almost no one was staying there.) But they’ve done a reasonable job of sprucing up the dining room, even if the cushioned seats were a bit low for the vertically challenged.

And the food was… pretty decent, actually. Jean’s lobster bisque had a good base, but was too salty for our taste buds; it might have been fine for some people. Caprese salad is admittedly an easy dish (as long as you have good tomatoes), but some restaurants still manage to get it wrong. This one didn’t. Our dining companions seemed to enjoy their appetizers of seared scallops and fried rice balls, respectively.

As my main, I had pickerel almandine—pickerel being a local fish. My brother reported that on an earlier visit, that dish had been too salty. They have rectified that problem. My only issue was the lemon seasoning not being applied consistently to the fish, so in some spots being too intense. Overall it was still a good dish, though, with crisp vegetables and mashed potatoes. (Will note that one diner judged the mashed potatoes too dry, but I was fine with them—matter of taste, I guess.)

Seafood cappelini and goat cheese at 1800

Two people had the seafood cappelini with goat cheese, which was quite nicely executed.

The house-made desserts of creme caramel and creme brulee, each infused with a different type of alcohol, were successful, the brulée slightly more than the caramel.

The service was acceptable, but by no means fine dining levels. For example, the bottle of German Riesling we ordered (just $35) was opened for us, but not poured. Just plunked on the table. That seemed really odd. And getting our bill at the end took ages—a good 45 minutes after we were done—as staff kept disappearing into back rooms. Our waitress was perfectly pleasant all evening. But the service was just… not refined.

Still, I do hope this place survives, particularly if they keep improving, as they seem to be.

On our drive back from Timmins, we stayed in the sleepy town of Singhampton and dined at Haisai. We’ve been to Haisai several times before, but hadn’t been for dinner in several years. All the dim sum items available at lunch are also on offer for dinner (though the wood-burning oven pizzas are not), but since we’d already tried a number of those, we decided to go the more traditional appetizer / entree / dessert route.

Jean declared his zucchini soup the best ever and—I can’t remember what my appetizer was. But I’m pretty sure I liked it as well. They had only three entree items on the menu. I went with the white fish, while Jean had the suckling pig. Both were well-prepared, seasoned, and arranged. Delish, For dessert we shared the peach and almond tart with chantilly cream.

Suckling pig entree at Haisai

Our mains at Haisai, as always built around local ingredients

Talking with Hermann Stadtlander, restaurant host, we found out that the future of Haisai is somewhat in doubt. Several of the kitchen apprentices are moving on, and Hermann himself is off to apprentice in Europe for about a year. So it’s far from certain that the restaurant will even be open this fall and winter.

Le sigh.

My hairdresser had mentioned a new restaurant called Fork and Cork that she thought was downtown Kitchener. When I looked it up, though, I found that it was actually on Weber East, near Fairview Mall.

But it sounded kind of promising: Chef trained at Stratford cooking school, with past experience at Toronto’s Buca, offering a menu with a focus on local foods. So we rather spontaneously decided to go eat there on Friday.

The place was larger and busier than we were expecting. It also had those wonderful open ceilings that make rooms noisier than they need to be! Yay! Jean described the overall atmosphere as somewhat industrial. (Nice detail, though: They seem to have their own water spritzer, so you can get carbonated water without paying San Pelligrino prices.)

But they do know how to cook here. Jean continued his soup run, and declared the corn chowder with pork hocks the best he’s ever had. (That’s two “best ever” soups within two weeks, if you’re counting.) I had the lamb skewers, which were nicely seasoned and cooked. It is a bother to have a pull meat off sticks, though.

Best corn chowder I've ever had :)

Fork and Cork appetizers

We are all about the pasta for our mains. Both the spaghettoni with braised duck leg and the ravioli stuffed with peas and goat cheese were pretty amazing, really. And the Italian ripasso we picked out went well. (They have quite a few local wines also, and pretty reasonable prices—many bottles around $40. The ripasso, at $62, was one of the most expensive.)

Main courses at Fork and Cork

Not sure what I’m pointing at here…

The only slightly disappointing item was one of the desserts. The peaches with ginger ice cream and sesame brittle sounded great in theory, but the ingredients didn’t work together in practice (though they all tasted fine on their own). The flourless brownie was just delicious, though.

The service was good, our waitress attentive and knowledgeable. The pace of the meal was a bit fast, though. Each course came out a bit more quickly than we were expecting—albeit never before we were done with the last. So this is no place for a long, leisurely romantic dinner or catch-up with friends.

My title says one price, which is a bit of an exaggeration. Of course the totals of each meal weren’t identical, but they were all in the same ballpark for two people, three courses, one bottle of wine (likely the biggest variable). The totals for each including tax and tip: 1800 was $162, Haisai was $176, and Fork and Cork was $185.

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10 things we learned on our Civic Holiday getaway

Mettawas Mediteranean Grill, Kingsville Ontario

Mettawas Mediteranean Grill, Kingsville, Ontario

  1. Even at fairly late date, it’s not that hard to get a hotel room in the Leamington / Kingsville area for the August long weekend, and they accept one-night stays.
    However… when your hotel says it has free wifi, that doesn’t necessarily mean said wifi will actually work. (Too bad, as otherwise we have no complaints about King’s Hotel, which had nice rooms, was a good deal, and conveniently located.)
  2. M.E. and Suzie’s, a wonderful restaurant in Port Stanley, has closed.
  3. The restaurant now residing at the former M.E. and Suzie’s location has some of the worst food we’ve ever had. The lowlights were the supposedly “lighly breaded” smelts that actually were deep-fried mush and the “pork” dumplings that contained something brownish that didn’t really look or taste like pork.
    The highlight of that meal was the wine. (Malivoire “Guilty Man” white.)
  4. Aleksander Winery is fun to visit. They don’t really limit how many wines you can taste. You can opt to have cheese with your wine. (Jean filled up on that after our poor lunch.) The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. And the wines—pretty good! We ended up buying a case of various types. The highlights were:
    • Chardonnay Barique, an oaked Chardonnay that didn’t taste very oaked. It improved as we tasted it. (And it was the first one, so drunkenness wasn’t a factor in our judgment.)
    • Charmbourcin, a less-common, light red wine that originated in France, but isn’t much respected there. Very food friendly.
    • Baco Noir, full-bodied and delicious.
    • Cabernet Franc, lighter than the Baco, heavier than the Chambourcin, and well-balanced all around.
  5. During this last tough winter, Aleksander Winery lost 90% of its grapes. So don’t look too hard for their 2014 vintage in the future.
  6. Cooper’s Hawk winery is also pretty fun to visit! It was busy when we got there so they took longer to get us set up with wine, but then were quite friendly and knowledgeable and not too strict on tasting numbers. We had been here before, and found they were still really good with their off-dry whites. We left with several types of those: a Gewurtz, a Riesling / Gewurtz blend called Touché, and a Chardonnay Musque. But we also quite liked their Cabernet Franc, and the Pinot  Noir Rosé that our server confessed was a really hard sell for them. “People just don’t like it!” It is very dry, which might not be what people expect in a rosé, but I think it’s going to be fabulous with food.
  7. Mettawas Station in Kinsgville is, fortunately, still a good place to have a meal. Very casual, but nice pastas with fresh ingredients, and a decent list of area wines by the glass.Eyeing my Gnocchi!
  8. Thunder can be so loud it rattles your hotel room. The #onstorm that hit KW earlier arrived after midnight there, waking us with a start.
  9. Mango Rock Cafe in Kingsville is great place to have breakfast. Very friendly staff and quite decent, creative cooking here, like whole-grain pancakes with glazed walnuts and steamed apples. Yummy coffee also.
  10. Kingsville is kind of far. It’s a good three-hour drive. It’s really too far to go away for a one-nighter. Be a good destination if you can spare two nights, though. Then we would have had time for more than a brief look at Point Pelee National Park.


Let’s start at the very beginning

Last weekend we went to see Stratford’s production of The Sound of Music, with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who were visiting.

The Sound of Music trailer on YouTube

Critics are correct in their assessment that this is very women-positive production. It’s women-dominant, for one, what with all the nuns, five out of seven Von Trapp children being girls, and the Baroness character. And there is a whole lot of smarts among these ladies: Mother Superior dispensing sage advice, Maria giving the children exactly what they need (despite only faking her confidence), young Brigitta speaking truth to power, the Baroness’ business acumen.

Not bad for a play written by two dudes.

Donna Feore’s direction highlights all of this, and skilfully manoeuvres through the most problematic song of the production, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. During the song, Liesl suppresses giggles at her suitor’s claim of greater wisdom, and delivers her own verse with a smirk, her goal of winning a kiss clearly in mind.

And apart from satisfying the inner feminist, the play was just plain enjoyable. The dance sequences were gorgeous, the singers and performers very gifted (with tiny Zoë Brown a particular delight), and the whole story moves along at a good pace. And it’s an engaging one; the increasing display of Nazi banners as the play progresses is honestly distressing.

Last weekend also happened to be our 23rd wedding anniversary. While Sound of Music didn’t initially seem, to me, an obvious selection for an anniversary (of course, we actually chose the outing more with our visitors in mind), it actually is a very romantic story of Maria and the Captain unexpectedly falling in love. It did the trick!

Having visitors also meant a couple opportunities to go out to dine. We had dinner at Pazzo, in Stratford. The food was very good—my roast duck main was a highlight, but the smoked trout starter wasn’t bad either—but it was crowded and pretty loud until the numbers of diners lowered. Sunday we took in lunch at Wilk’s Bar in Langdon Hall. No problems with volume or food quality here, even if the pace of service isn’t quite what it (presumably) would be in the dining hall.

Oysters from Wilk's Bar at Langdon Hall

Oysters from Wilk’s Bar at Langdon Hall

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How to make a Canadian quilt

In honour of Canada Day, I just installed the Canadian English Dictionary extension for Firefox, so now WordPress doesn’t mark “honour” with a “u” as a typo. Yay!

I also spent some time (badly) photographing possibly the most Canadian item I own: A red and white quilt signed by various Canadian celebrities. My mother won it in a museum fundraiser back in 1997, and I recently inherited it.

Since 1997, some of the signatures have faded, and some of the “celebrities” have become obscure. But a number remain fun to look over.

Mr. Dressup signature and image

Aw, Mr. Dressup!

Jann Arden, Pamela Lee sigzantures

So Pamela Anderson was still married to Tommy Lee in ’97. And an interesting juxtaposition beside Jann Arden’s drawing (yes, that angel is naked. As angels are.).

Pamela Wallin and Jean Chretien signatures

Speaking of Pamelas and juxtapositions, Pamela Wallin was then just a TV journalist, not a disgraced Conservative Senator. The modest signature below hers is that of the Prime Minister of the day, Liberal Jean Chrétien.

Shania Twain, Stompin Tom, and Michelle Wright signatures

Stompin’ Tom was still was us in 1997, and Shania Twain is still with us today. Not sure what’s up with Michelle Wright these days…

Lynn Johson signature

And this one is just lovely

A few more items in Canada’s tapestry:

Google logo, Canada Day

Google’s logo today

Songza’s curated Canada Day playlists.

Raccoon on deck

A recent deck visitor

Trout, spinach, and roseRaspberries, strawberries, and dessert

Some fine local food.

Happy July 1, everyone! Canada flag


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