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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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White rabbit

Based on a positive review in the Waterloo Region Record, we decided go out with a couple friends to Waterloo’s White Rabbit bar and restaurant.

White Rabbit isn’t huge and doesn’t take reservations, so we thought a Tuesday night would be a safer bet than, say, a Friday. We were surprised just how busy it was on a Tuesday, but we were able to get a table at the back of the room.

Between the number of people and the soundtrack, it seemed rather loud. We feared conversation might prove impossible. At the back it wasn’t as bad as that, though. We did have to speak up, but not yell at each other. (Not a place for a quiet, romantic dinner, though.)

white-rabbit-heather-davidson

Photo by Heather Davidson of the table we sat at

As the place does specialize in cocktails and such, I took the unusual step of ordering one: the Rabbit Black Dog, which mixes bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and blueberries. It was nice—blueberry tasting, not too sweet. One of our friends went with a Scotch flight, complete with written tasting notes for each, which he enjoyed. They offer similar flights of bourbon, cocktails, and wine.

On the food front, Jean and I started with their cheese plate. It was really excellent. Five very good cheese, two from Ontario, two from Quebec, and one French. They were served with preserves, crackers, and grapes. Jean ordered a bottle (didn’t come by the glass, this one) of Oregon Pinot Noir to have with that.

As mains, two of us, including me, had the goat cheese agnolotti. I thought it was quite nice. Jean had the hangar steak. He said the meat was fine, but was especially impressed with the collard green side dish. It was similar for the friend who had the lobster roll: Protein was fine, but she found the side coleslaw outstanding.

We were all too full for the one homemade dessert on offer, though it did sound interesting. And we were a bit surprised to find they did not sell any tea or coffee. But we were happy they offered us the leftover bottle of wine to take home, even though they had decanted it. They just re-bottled and re-corked it for us.

No photographic proof, I’m afraid, but it was a fun place to go with friends.


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Welcome 2016 dinner

I vaguely wanted to do our New Year’s gourmet-ish, cooking together dinner again this year, but I was completely uninspired as to what to make.

But I had the week off before Christmas and New Year’s, and I had three-month trial subscription to Texture (formerly Next Issue) magazine app, with its multiple food magazines. So I decided to go through those virtual pages for ideas.

I hit pay dirt almost right away, in a Food and Wine magazine from December 2015. They had recipes for all these different theme parties. But instead of sticking with one theme, I picked and choosed among different ones. Preferred criteria were that they sound good, of course, but not require me to run all over town looking for obscure ingredients. And not having us slaving in the kitchen all day.

The one course not covered by this one Food and Wine issue was dessert. And I wasn’t finding much inspiration in other magazines, either. But that weekend’s Globe and Mail happened to feature a New Year’s Eve menu for two people—including a cake that made just two servings! We had a winner.

We did this on January 2. We started working around 4:00, and were dining by about 6:30.

Theoretically first up (really, most everything was ready at the same time) were marinated olives with oranges, which, at Jean’s suggestion, were served with almonds and walnuts.

Olive Apetizer

This involved frying up some garlic, orange zest, and hot pepper, to which olives were added. Then everything marinated in orange juice. So pretty simple.

I don’t how much that treatment enhanced the olives? But I was pleased to find that the Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc we’d selected went nicely with them.

The main course was a smoky mussel stew. For this one, potatoes and Brussels sprouts were roasted, while fresh mussels cooked in a mix of white wine, butter, shallots, and herbs. The mussels were then removed from the broth, and cream added. Everything then came together: potatoes, Brussels sprouts, mussels (shelled), with the addition of smoked mussels.

Smoked Mussel Stew!

This isn’t the prettiest dish ever, but it was some good! The slight smoky with the creamy and the butter and the roast veg… Even the fact that we had to use frozen Brussels sprouts (fresh unavailable!) couldn’t wreck this. Yum.

The side dish was brown basmati rice with coconut and turmeric; basically, rice cooked in coconut mik with turmeric and salt. And served with mint on top. It was fine, but nothing outstanding. Rice does turns a nice yellow colour, though.

The wine we had with was an Ontario Gewurtz. Great wine; not sure if it was the best possible match, however.

The salad was spinach with orange and goat wine, with a red wine vinaigrette. I wasn’t able to find blood oranges, so Jean suggested adding cranberries to make the pictures prettier. :-)

Goat Cheese and Orange Salad

The dessert, finally, was a gâteau Basque. You make it a bit like a pie crust, mixing together flour, egg, sugar, and butter, then forming it into a disk and putting it in the fridge. When ready to bake later, you roll it out to cake pan size.

Gateaux Basque with Warm Cream!

It was served with a simple cream sauce of whipping cream, sherry, and sugar, and topped with raspberries.

It was yummy, yummy this. As was the sparkling Moscato D’Asti we had with. Though supposedly only two servings, we had enough left to enjoy the next day, also.

Happy start to 2016.


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New year’s eve in Berlin

No, not that Berlin. (Though stay tuned on that score.)

We didn’t have any New Year’s Eve plans until mere days before. Still kind of in mourning for Verses New Year’s, nothing else seemed to be working out. Langdon Hall sold out ages ago. Solé’s menu didn’t look that interesting. The meal at the club where our ballroom dance friends were going seemed even less enticing.

12362206_548974178612796_1918227964_nBut a new restaurant named The Berlin, by a former Langdon Hall chef, opened on December 21. And on December 26, they tweeted that they would be doing a New Year’s Eve dinner. Though just announced, already the only times available were 5:00, 5:30… Then 9:00 or later.

Apparently, many people were just waiting for the right dinner to appear. (We went with 9:00.)

The Berlin has a nice room, but it was packed that evening, and just the proximity of so many neighbours did make it a bit loud. And, unsurprisingly for a restaurant so newly opened, there were a few glitches in the service.

But the food, though.

On offer was a four-course menu with four or five choices at each stop, for $75. Optional wine pairings were an additional $45.

Jean started with a poached egg item, while I was intrigued by smoked roasted beets with sour cream, bread crumbs, and herbs. I don’t know how you smoke beets, but oh my God, were they delicious (as long as you like beets, I guess).

Smoked Beets! Great Dish ... yes both!

Suddenly, I don’t care so much about the noise

In one service glitch, the food arrived before our matching wines. But once notified, the Sommelier came over and apologized, and poured us each a sparkling wine: a fine champagne rosé for me and an even better brut reserva for Jean (which, by the bottle, was half the price of mine, by the way).

For the appetizer course, we did that rare thing of both ordering the same item: Potted duck leg with duck liver parfait, and apple chutney. Fortunately, it was divine. And served with a really intriguing, off-dry Niagara Chenin Blanc from Big Head winery. We did get that before the food, and had to resist drinking it all ahead of time.

Duck in a pot ... lovely duck meat under that paté

Onto the mains! (Although not before they tried to bring us some starters again, in another small glitch. But honestly, we didn’t mind a bit of wait at this point.) Jean went with the pork belly served with chick peas and cabbage stew. I had trout with wild mushroom and leek. Both were excellently prepared and flavorful.

Pork Belly ... now in my belly :)

Not the trout

Jean got a really interesting red Italian wine with this, called Etna Terre Nerre Rosso. I had a nice Riesling.

This was a good amount of food, but it’s true there’s always room for dessert. Mine was an amazing dark chocolate terrine with lavendar ice cream. It was served, believe it or not, with this spicy dark beer! Which totally complemented the chocolate!
Have to have CHocolate, with a weird spicy beer - not  a bad combination!

Jean’s cheese dessert was frankly richer and creamier than the chocolate, and served with this freakin’ amazing truffle honey. The earthy truffle, plus the sweetness… Whoah. He got an off-dry wine from Spain with this.

Gobs of double creme Cheese with a truffled honey ... very very good!

We were done around 11:15 or so, so we made it home to ring in the New Year there. Cheers, everyone!


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The Christmas after

For our Christmas travels I’d lost the argument about flying this year, so we drove off after work on December 22 and made it to Huntsville, then finished the journey the next day. Our unseasonably mild and snow-less winter made for a good drive, fog being the only challenge at times.

Timmins did have snow, albeit far less than usual, and it seemed almost freakishly warm (up to +3 C!).

My younger sister and family flew to Timmins without issues, but my older one had the unpleasant experience of her flight getting all the way to Timmins, then refusing to land due to fog! (Though other airlines were landing in the same conditions.) So she ended up spending Christmas in Toronto after all.

Celebrations began on the 23rd with a belated 80th birthday party for my Dad, held at my brother’s. Pretty well-attended, considering the busy time of year.

Gerry_McN_BDay2015_(14_of_43)_151223

The birthday boy (foreground)

December 24 brought very high winds, then widespread power outages to Timmins. But power was back most everywhere by mid-afternoon. We attended mass at my Dad’s church, then headed off to Réveillon celebrations, first at my cousin’s, then at Lefebvre’s.

Dad's gonna PieFace her! .. or he takes one for her :)

The “pie in face” game was delighting the kids this year. (I abstained from play.)

Always too much food! ... it' s Christmas

We didn’t lack for food

The “left / right” gift exchange theme this year was “computers,” and the price limit is pretty modest. That meant a lot of USB sticks going around.

and the Grrraand Prize goes to Come, he also get's the clown.

But some people were more creative (and no, Jean did not come up with this mouse pad himself)

Christmas morning was at McNair’s, where we tried a new approach of the “stealing” game.

Caleb showing enthousiasm ;)

This resulted in some kids getting items they were less-than-enthused about

Master Skyper John!

The Toronto folks participated via Skype

A round of trading afterward produced more satisfactory results, at least for some. (I took the mini-Cuisinart off my nephew’s hands and he got my cool gift pack of gourmet popcorn and DVDs.)

A few specific gifts were handed out as well.

S-S modeling her

You’ll never guess who gave my niece this Buffy T-shirt

Champagne instead of coffee in the morning ... That's how you know it's Christmas :)

And we enjoyed the morning Champagne

The afternoon was consumed with helping Dad prepare the Christmas turkey and fixings. We had 13 people over for dinner, and everything turned out great.

On Boxing Day we resisted the sales, but managed to get together with some Timmins friends at a local coffee shop, which was very nice.

We departed the following afternoon, and except for the car having a mysterious battery failure (solved with a boost), the two-part drive home was uneventful. We even found a very good restaurant in Hunstville for dinner (3 Guys and a Stove).


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Sonos your kitchen

Although the best music setup in the house is the surround sound system in the TV room, the room in which I listen to music most often is the kitchen. I do so while cooking, while cleaning, and even occasionally while eating.

4

The music setup in the kitchen was as follows: an audio receiver, a CD player, and iPod dock / headphone jack (for my tablet) connected to two small speakers. All wired; no remote control access. Sound quality was OK, and I was sufficiently accustomed to docking my iPod (classic; no bluetooth, no wifi) or connecting my tablet via headphone jack that it didn’t seem especially inconvenient.

But the whole system was at the back at the kitchen, and I mostly worked at the front. Apart from the fact that it was a bit annoying to have to stop cooking and walk over to change the volume or song selection, I often just couldn’t hear the music properly once the fans and frying got going.

A first-world problem for sure. Nevertheless, for Christmas I requested some way to get my music playing closer to where I was cooking.

Much research ensued, and wireless seemed the way to go. But wireless meant somehow still playing my iTunes library despite my not owning any “modern” iDevices. And that certainly suggested Sonos as one option.

What is Sonos?

Sonos TV commercial

Essentially, Sonos is a family of wireless speakers and components that are all controlled by an app that runs on Android, iOs, and Windows. The key marketing features are:

  1. Easy setup. “It just works.”
  2. Access to “all the music in the world”: your owned music, streamed music, online radio—all available through one interface, combined in whatever way you choose.
  3. Full-house control; that is, ability to play different (or the exact same) queues of music in any room in the house that has a Sonos-connected speaker.

The main downside? Price. But, we figured that we could start with just one speaker—the new Play 5—for the kitchen. Then if we liked the Sonos app, expand from there.

The setup

The Sonos Play:5 just sat around in its box for about 2 weeks before we got the courage to try to set it up. (Yes, I opened my Christmas present early. Not like it was a surprise.)

And it started out well. Getting the Play 5 onto our wifi network was simple. Downloading the app on tablet and PCs—no problem. Linking in my Google Play, SoundCloud, LastFM, Spotify accounts (note that you need a paid account)—also a breeze.

The problem was the iTunes playlist, because I had a somewhat non-standard setup: music files on a NAS (network attached storage), iTunes music library (playlist data) on PC.

To get the thing working, Sonos needed two connection points: one to the music directory on the NAS, another to then PC iTunes library location. Retrospectively, that seems obvious, and in fact it wasn’t hard to do.

computer-repair

But figuring out that’s all we had to do required a lot of experimentation, caused a few tears, and took the better part of an afternoon. (And yes, I did read the documentation!)

Using Sonos: The things I fretted about vs. the reality

Ahead of time, I was a little concerned (and obviously only in between bigger worries about climate change and world peace and such) about the following regarding use of this system.

Fret: Would I have to start my PC, and maybe even iTunes, just to play my music in the kitchen?

Reality: No, not with my music setup. Sonos copies in the iTunes playlist data, so neither iTunes nor the PC have to be running. It’s just the NAS that has to be on for the music files to be accessible. And the NAS  was already programmed to start when we got home from work and to be on all day on weekends. (It’s handy to be married to a handy husband.)

Fret: How can my Android tablet possibly control my iTunes playlist on a NAS it doesn’t even know about?

Reality: If you’re using Sonos, that “just works”. (The non-Sonos’ed can try the Retune app. Pretty cool! But iTunes does have to be running for that one.)

Fret: Would I still be able to use the Musixmatch lyrics app? (Because I kind of love that app.)

Reality: Yes. While Musicxmatch isn’t fully integrated into the Sonos app, it does work quite well in “Listening” mode.

Spotify Lyrics display

The rather esoteric lyrics to Queen’s “Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”

Fret: Can I continue playing a music list where I last left off? (This matters to me. Don’t judge.)

Reality: Sonos absolutely, by default, picks up where you left off.

Fret: Will it play our local CBC radio station? Can you program it to start and stop automatically at a certain time? (Otherwise, we won’t be able to expand Sonos to our bedroom. CBC is our alarm clock.)

Reality: Yes, local CBC radio is one of the ba-jillion radio stations included. And yes, Sonos has timer functionality.

Fret: When you change your iTunes playlists, how much of a pain is it to get the update into Sonos?

Reality: Haven’t actually done that yet, but appears to be a single-click process you can perform on PC or tablet (allowing time for it to re-scan the files).

Fret: Does it keep track of play counts and dates?

Reality: No, it does not. This is the one disappointing item.

In iTunes I created “smart” playlists with criteria such as “High-rated songs I haven’t played in the last six months” and “Songs I’ve played fewer than two times each”. And I use those playlists a lot to avoid “I’m sick of this song!” syndrome.

But Sonos has nothing like that built in. However, it does integrate with Last.fm, which does keep track of what I’ve played, on both iTunes / iPod and Sonos. And research indicates there might be some geeky, scripty ways to make use of that data. I will be looking into that more later.

last.fm

Sonos playlist data for the week, courtesy Last.fm. (I’m sure you’re all shocked about Top artist.)

Features I didn’t even realize I wanted, but turns out I do

10kindsoflonely_art-500x500This one seems dumb, but I’m a bit obsessive about album art, and I loved seeing some of that blown up in size on my 12.2 inch tablet when I’d previously only viewed it as a thumbnail.

More significantly, the much more dynamic (compared with iPod) song queue is fun! For example, I can:

  • Start with an iTunes playlist and add songs from Spotify or Soundcloud (or whatever)
  • Combine various playlists into one queue
  • See what songs are coming up, and edit the list if I want—without affecting the original playlists
  • Decide I want to, say, switch to a podcast now, listen to that, then automatically return to my same spot in the music queue
  • Save my current queue as a Sonos playlist for later reuse

But it’s a speaker. How does it sound?

Kids, this speaker sounds so good, I’d like to marry it and have its babies. :-)


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The naked oyster

“How did you even hear about this place?” my friend asked.

The Naked Oyster restaurant is in Cambridge, and none of us are too familiar with Cambridge restaurants.

But based on a good review in Waterloo Region Record (that’s how I heard about it, through the exotica of the local newspaper), it seemed worth trying.

It’s fairly small  and casual. The menu is written on a chalkboard, with a few additional items the waitress told us about. It’s not a great choice for those who don’t like seafood; they only had one meat entree to offer (though it did sound good). But we were all fans of the fish, so it worked for us.

The alcohol on offer is also quite limited: three whites, three reds, and one type of beer, along with mixed drink options. But among the whites was the excellent Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, so that’s what we ordered.

We started with two types of oysters: raw and Rockefeller. They were both lovely. The raw ones were from PEI, and served with three dipping sauce options. The Rockefeller were covered in butter, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan.

Oysters

Naked oyster selection

(The appetizer items not ordered included options such as salads and smoked salmon.)

For mains, two us of opted for the mussels, one in garlic and white wine sauce, the other in a more decadent smoked bacon and cream sauce. Both quite delicious, with very few mussels having to be discarded for being insufficiently open.

Mussels with Double Smoked bacon and Cream at
Not my meal, but somehow I’m still in the photo…

I had the Cioppino, a tomato-based seafood stew with mussels, clams, shrimp, and white fish. That was quite tasty as well.

Ciopino (Sea Food Stew - Italian) @

Dessert options were limited to two: bread pudding and crème brulée. But these were both quite fine as well. And a very cute size.

Bread Pudding
Bread pudding for two—though this didn’t stop Jean from trying to get extra

The service was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. There was, however, a big wait between taking our order and the appetizers being served. The reason wasn’t a mystery: They were dealing with a really big group who had arrived before we had. Still, it would have helped to at least have been given the bread ahead of time, or something.

After that initial hiccup, though, the pacing of each course was as one would hope and expect. And I would note that despite the restaurant being completely full this evening, it wasn’t overly loud. We could converse without shouting. Hurray for that.


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Kinky Boots on Halloween weekend

October 19 wasn’t only Election day, but was supposed to be the day I saw The Who in concert. Said concert had to be postponed until March due to Roger Daltrey coming down with a nasty case of viral meningitis. As it turns out, I was glad to be able to watch the election coverage instead.

But, we were planning to also take in the Mirvish play Kinky Boots when in Toronto for the concert, and that show will not be continuing until March [correction; It’s just been extended til March 6. But that wasn’t true until recently.] So when its tickets went on sale, we decided to do a weekend in Toronto built around just that play.

We often go to Toronto in February, so I kept getting thrown off by the unseasonably warm fall weather. I kept bundling up to go out then getting pleasantly surprised. It was quite the nice weekend.

Winston Churchill statue in Toronto

October 31 also happened to be the day that a J.M.W. Turner exhibit was opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This is a painter Jean is interested in, so we went there on Saturday. We started with a slightly extravagant brunch at their restaurant, Frank.

Lunch at Frank

I had a hankering for sparkling wine, which inspired Jean to order the same (Henry of Pelham’s Cuvee Catherine)…

Then some friends joined us for the actual exhibit, which was handy, as their being members meant we got in free. It was an interesting collection of Turner work—watercolours with an “evocative use of light” that foreshadowed Impressionism,

Dinner was supposed to be at an Italian restaurant called Aria, but they called us Friday with the mysterious news that their building had to be evacuated by 8:00 that night, which might not give us enough time to finish dinner. Though offered reservations at their sister restaurant, it was quite the hike to get to, so we decided to book with Ki Restaurant instead.

We’ve been to Ki a number of times—It’s kind of our go-to before rock concerts at the Air Canada Centre, in fact. But this was our nicest dinner there ever. It was much quieter than usual (I think it’s just more popular during the week), and the waitress was very helpful at steering us toward the best dishes on the menu: Items like maple-tamari Binnaga with pine nuts and wasabi crème fraiche, roasted Cauliflower with sesame tare and shiso gremolata, and Tai with truffle oil and cranberry ponzu. Lovely balance of flavours.

Tuna with maple

One of the amazing Ki dishes

It being a Halloween night of mild temperature, we decided to then go check out the Church Street Halloween party! We were not ourselves in costume, so were merely attending as gawkers. We weren’t entirely sure at which intersection it occurred, and it did turn out to be a substantial enough walk, but there were some pretty creative get-ups. And the crowd seemed to be in a very good mood.

Halloween party on Church Street

A photo of the event by someone else…

We walked back to the hotel on Yonge Street. This featured more of the club-going Halloween crowd, who weren’t quite as cheery as they waited in line to get in.

Sunday, after an overpriced hotel breakfast, we had some delicious dim sum with my sister before our matinee performance of Kinky Boots. Which was a fun musical.

Though I have seen the movie, that was long enough ago that I can’t tell you what was different about the play—apart from the fact that the movie is not a musical. And that both are built around the story of a struggling shoe factory that finds new life in making, essentially, boots for men who like to dress as women. It’s a good cast, particularly the star, Alan Mingo Jr. as Lola, and KW’s own AJ Bridel as the luminous Lauren. It moves along well, driven by the songs written by none other than Cyndi Lauper.

Jean commented, and I agreed, that Charles’ second act outburst, that creates a rift between him and Lola, isn’t entirely believable. It goes a bit too far. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the whole thing. Something has to set up the triumphant ending.

Halloween 2015

Finally, apropos of nothing, Jean did dress up for a Halloween party earlier in the week

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