Cultureguru's Weblog

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


1 Comment

Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. :-)

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. :-)

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.


2 Comments

Toronto in pictures

Our annual “weekend in Toronto in winter because Jean has a conference” wasn’t terribly eventful—we drove back before da big storm really hit—but it did provide some photographic opportunities.

We visited the very crowded, kind of expensive, but still pretty neat Ripley’s Aquarium.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

The big draw seemed to be sharks swimming overhead.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

But there were other interesting critters, too

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

Hello moray

We had some trouble getting dinner reservations Saturday due to (I assume) Winterlicious being on. But we managed to get in at Frank, at the AGO. Jean had their Winterlicious items while I ordered from the main menu.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the mussel appetizer.

I had a roasted squash salad. For mains, we each had a tuna entree, but prepared different ways—both good.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the Winterlicious entree.

For wine, we had a bottle of a Spanish white, an albarino, that was on special. Quite nice, and appeared to be low in alcohol.

For dessert, Jean’s had rum raisin crème brulée. Yum.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I had the Tres Leches Cake—not too shaby, either.

For January, the weather wasn’t too bad. It was partly sunny on Saturday, and not that cold, especially when not in the wind. So we did do some walking around, and Jean took some photos.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Toronto City Hall

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

View from our hotel

Sunday we had some delicious dim sum (no photos), then visited the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the ROM. It was more to my taste than Jean’s. Therefore, you must now prepare for a precipitous decline in photo quality, because the following ones are mine.

If you look at the next image through the camera of your cell phone, they’ll look quite different than they do with the naked eye. It’s really weird. (And if you actually take the cell phone picture, you lose the effect.)

IMG_20150201_121624

I don’t know what you do if you’re looking at this post on your cell phone.

The exhibit was very pop art-like. One set of paintings was of QR codes that bring up phrases like “Sworn to fun, loyal to none” and “I wait and I wait and I wait for God to appear”, that you can then text to your friends to confuse them. Another was a large installation of found objects, arranged to represent the four quadrants of the brain, and the cerebellum.

The following photos might help you judge how interested you might find all this. How many of these coloured squares do you want to read?

IMG_20150201_121651

IMG_20150201_121706

I read them all.


Leave a comment

And a happy new year

With Verses closed, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do New Year’s Eve. We finally went with just a dinner at Marisol. And that was fine—food and service were good, as always—but it just wasn’t particularly special. Except for a salmon carpaccio starter and roast duck on duck confit main—both very good—it was just the regular menu.

But at least I got to wear a new dress.

Purple dress

Next year we might see if Haisai does anything for New Year’s. We did stop there on the drive up to Timmins, and meals there are always special!

Dessert at Haisai

The intriguing desserts at Haisai. (They tasted good, too.)

Yesterday the weather turned frightful with a winter storm, so it seemed a good day to do our new year’s cooking thing. We decided to return to some past fave items.

The starter was a tuna carpaccio with avocado quenelle, which we’d first made last year. This was the fastest, easiest item we prepared, but quite good, with its dressing of good olive oil and lime juice, And the Stratus 2010 white we had with it was complex and amazing.

Tuna starter with Stratus white

The main course took the main amount of time to prepare: Duck confit and mashed potato ravioli with white truffle sauce (first attempted in 2009). You have to prepare the mashed potatoes, and chop up and heat all the duck meat, then combine all that and stuff it into about 60 sets of wonton noodles… Fortunately, it really does taste amazing in the end.Duck ravioli and squash salad

We served that with a roasted butternut squash salad with pears and stilton, which was a new recipe. We followed the recipe except for cutting the squash a little thinner than we were supposed to (that was an accident, saved by less cooking time), using mixed greens instead of escarole (what is escarole?), and using “speck”—double smoked bacon we’d acquired from Michael Stadtlander’s farm after visiting Haisai—instead of regular bacon. It was very tasty, even when we forgot the dressing!

And the GSM wine we selected stood up well to all the strong flavors.

Dessert was chocolate souffle (from 2010). This year we got smart and only baked the two we planned to eat this night, since souffle really doesn’t hold up well to being a leftover. We served that with a raspberry wine that was less sweet than expected, but still a classic pairing for chocolate.

Chocolate souffle

And, I took the opportunity to wear another new dress. (I may have a dress problem.)

Black dress


4 Comments

Chocolately, literary, comforting joyful Christmas (with an Eighties tinge)

This might be a record number of Christmas posts in a row, but it is more than a one-day event for me (albeit not 12 days), starting with our Noël à deux in advanced of December 25. I’ve already mentioned the meal we had, but we also do a small gift exchange. Jean’s main gift from me was a new watch of a brand he admired, but he got some other little things, like a Chromecast and “life-changing” Saxx underwear (as the ads I now encounter everywhere I go on the web remind me).

My main gift was a record player, which many people thought was an interestingly retro choice of gifts. What I didn’t mention too loudly was that this is actually my second record player (we won’t even talk about how many DVD players I have). The main feature the new one has that the other didn’t is a USB connection to make it easy to digitize LPs. (Because some songs are rather difficult to find digital versions of.) But it also has a nice Start function, and is hooked into the better stereo system. I’ve already listened to more LPs in the last 2 days than I have in the last 2 years.

I received other little items, including a great deal of chocolate: Not one, not two, but three boxes of Purdy’s chocolates; a raspberry chocolate bar; and mini snowballs! I also happened to win a Godiva chocolate basket at a Christmas dance. So the chocolate stores are shored up for a while.

Then we headed to Timmins, where it was weirdly mild this year, but not so mild as to melt the snow:

Gillies Lake in Timmins

We took advantage of the nice winter weather to go walking and snowshoeing, once on our own, once with toute la gang (almost).

Snow shoers

Five of the fourteen of us who went snowshoeing one day

A day after a fresh snow fall, the kids couldn’t resist doing this:

GIF of tree snow clearing

Christmas Eve my side of the family had dinner and stockings at my brother’s house, then the two of us went out to the Réveillon with Jean’s side of the family. As usual, everyone was fasting:

Réveillon food

A tiny sampler of the available food

There was a very good turnout, with only a few nieces and nephews away this year. The gift exchange from Jean’s side is an anonymous one on a theme, which this year was royal purple. I am now the proud recipient of two purple travel mugs. My lucky giftee now owns Prince’s Purple Rain on CD and BluRay.

With my family it was the first time in quite a few Christmas’s that all the siblings were up. We had a terrible time. :-)

Two siblings and an in-law

Two siblings and an in-law, as I don’t seem to have a photo of all siblings. Perhaps I’ll get one from Dad later.

We also attempted a theme this year, though it was only loosely adhered to: comfort and joy. Cozy scarves were a popular item.

jean with cashmere

Cashmere!

S-S and faux fur

S-S rockin’ the faux fur

As were books! I have, like, six new books now. Most everyone else got a least one, I think. I made my sister’s fit into the theme with the Pleasure in the title—pretty close to joy, right? (Plus, John Taylor—yummy! Joy!)

In the Pleasure Groove

To add to my haul and increase the utility of my earlier gift, I dug through the LPs from our teenage years that had been languishing at my parent’s house, and brought home a bag-ful. Duran Duran, Aha, Prefab Sprout, Adam Ant, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, The Housemartins, Paul Young, Squeeze, Echo and the Bunnymen, … I have quite the makings for an Eighties party.

80’s Music Medley from YouTube


Leave a comment

Pre – Christmas dinner

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

“Our” Christmas dinner à deux featured duck, which is becoming typical. Less typically, I wasn’t too lazy to make a jus for it from the drippings, featuring rhubarb and ginger. That give a nice zip to the rich, juicy meat.

The mashed red potatoes were seasoned with sour cream, butter, chicken broth, and wasabi paste. They were also a little zippy — and quite delicious.

I’m generally not a fan of stuffing, which usually seems too salty and greasy to me. But this version (cooked on the side, not in the bird) had base of quinoa, lentil, wild rice, and cranberry, to which I added some olive oil, and crisped whole-grain bread. It was very tasty, without all the salt and grease.

Not pictured but also cooked and eaten were maple-glazed butternut squash. And dessert was a custard pie (tarte au oeuf), whose lovely filling made up for the center crust being moderately underdone. The crust at the edge was lovely flaky.

Wishing everyone happy Christmas dining.


Leave a comment

November was a heavy month

At least in terms of activities. (And the news. But I won’t be getting into that here.)

I’ve already blogged about dining at Gilt and taking in Nightshift; seeing Swing in concert; and listening to Who’s Next live in the tiny seats at Massey Hall. Now a summary of the rest.

Footloose the Musical: Not just a frolic

What I remember of Footloose the movie is that a preacher in a small town has banned dancing. Kevin Bacon moves to that town, takes up with the minister’s daughter, and dances his way into convincing the town to lift the ban.

Footloose the Musical, which we saw at the St. Jacob’s Playhouse, was very well-done, but the sadness running through the whole piece was a surprise to me. If also in the movie, I had forgotten about the abandoning father, the dead son and brother, the silenced women. Those people really needed to dance!

Jean was mostly sad that a piece that we first saw as contemporary is now an item of nostalgia.

A 100-mile feast with 7000 km theme

It’s somewhat confusing that 100-mile dinner of local food has a theme of A Tour of Italy, a country 7169 km away (says Google). But that’s what the Waterloo Inn had an offer, as sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and in benefit of local physician recruitment.

It was the place to be if you wanted to network. We were there for the food, but gathered up various business cards nonetheless. We were encouraged to Tweet during dinner, and so I did, and as a real rarity, also acted as food “photographer.” (I did all five courses, but will stick to three here.)

The Importance of Being Earnest: Reliably entertaining

I’ve seen the play before, I’ve seen the movie, yet I didn’t hesitate when invited to the University of Waterloo production of this Oscar Wilde play—and not only because the tickets were free (for me, because I’m special :-). I never remember the story that well; just that I really enjoyed watching it play out! This production, in the newly renovated Humanities Theatre, was no exception.

More people need to go to Marisol

We dined there before the Swing concert, and it was lovely as always, but alarmingly quiet for a Friday night. More people need to find this place! We can’t keep losing the area’s best restaurants.

Christmas parties

Some companies still have these. If yours doesn’t, I recommend marrying into one that does. It’s worked out for me.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Writers on music: Like dancing about architecture?

That’s the saying, eh, that writing is about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, the KW Symphony begs to differ, and recently had a concert featuring novelists Miriam Toews and Wayne Grady, whose recent books (All My Puny Sorrows and Emancipation Day) have musicians as main characters.

Each novelist got half of the program, in which they read from their work, had the symphony play a piece related to what they read, discussed music and writing with the conductor, then listened to a modern work by the symphony and read a response to that.

it was a fascinating evening. The symphony were “forced” into genres they don’t typically tackle—jazz and piano concertos (featuring a lovely soloist from Wilfrid Laurier), and I’m sure the novelists hadn’t been previously familiar with the work they commented on.

And I have two new novels on my reading list.


1 Comment

Gilt-y dining

Cork is a restaurant in Elora, Ontario that we enjoy going to. Elora is a bit of a hike, though, so we were happy to hear that the owners were opening a second restaurant in Kitchener: Gilt.

Gilt opened in late September, and we tried it out on November 1. It’s relatively small and has a contemporary look, with a bar area along with its tables. It was a little loud but not to the point of not being able to hear each other. Service was good–attentive and wel- informed about the menu items.

And that menu is all tasting plates; that is, tapas-style, appetizer-size dishes. The regular menu items are supplemented by three varying specials: from the sea, from land, and raw feature. The waiter recommended that we order two to four items per person.

So we got a variety. We liked that their oyster menu detailed exactly which were available, and let you select as many of each type as you want. (They do similarly with their cheese plate, though we didn’t try that.) We went three East Coast options, six oysters in total. Still on the seafood theme, we tried their raw ceviche tun special, and some cooked scallops.

To that we added brie and pear flatbreads (an item we’d enjoyed at Cork), duck confit steam buns, BC wild mushrooms, and peanut butter & jam foie gras! Except for the mushrooms, which seemed a bit underseasoned, we were happy with all items. Jean was impressed with their take on foie gras, the only issue being perhaps a bit too much salt topping.

They have a pretty good wine list, offering many by the large or small glass, 1/2 half liter, or full bottle. Given the variety of food, we got 1/2 liter of Sauvignon and a glass of Malbec to share.

We were reasonably full after that, and ready to skip dessert, until they described the house specialty, nitro ice cream. For this, you get to go back to the kitchen and watch them make the ice cream with liquid nitrogen. It’s kind of fun. And the results are very delicious!

We took no photos during dinner, but afterward we went to check out the Kitchener Nightshift, a sort of nuit blanche event with outdoor installations and many stores and restaurants open until 2:00 AM. It was unfortunately a somewhat chilly night for it, though many participants had hot beverages on offer. We found this Gloss installation interesting, though feared the models might be chilly:

Gloss installation at Kitchener Nightshift

We later went into the Gloss store for the first time, and I emerged with a nifty new lace top.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 215 other followers