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


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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


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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


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Pre – Christmas dinner

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“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.


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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.

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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.


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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.


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Sleeping in Seattle

Near Mount Rainier, we stayed at the Copper Creek Inn, which provides an unusual “do it yourself” experience in hospital. You pay the cost upfront—not unknown in online booking online—but then they send you an access code and directions for getting into your room. That is, you never check in: You get there and let yourself into the building, then into the room. The all-important wifi password is posted on the wall, and any other documentation you might need is also in the room.

No one makes your bed or gives you fresh towels for the second day, either (though apparently, if we had stayed a third day, that would have happened). And when you’re ready to leave—you guessed it—you don’t check out; you just leave.

It was odd, but fine.The room was really cute, with a seating area, apart from the bedroom:

Seating area in Roselea's Suite at Copper Creek Inn

And even a small hot tub;

Small hot tub in Roselea's Suite at Copper Creek Inn

It also had some nice touches like an iPod dock.

And, it was right above a restaurant. The placed focused on more “homey” food like potatoes and pie, but on our first supper there, we concluded that everything was quite good. Our waitress was also great. We were hemming and hawing over which Washington wine to try, so she brought a tasting portion of all five house reds! (All quite decent, and we settled on a blend.) We also found the prices really reasonable—$90 for two fish entrees, which came with soup or salad, two pieces of pie, and the bottle of wine.

So except for one lunch in the park cafeteria, we ate all our Rainier meals there—breakfast and dinner,

Lake Crescent Lodge, at Olympic Park, had a beautiful setting:

Lake Crescent Lodge, Washington

But we almost had crisis there, because we didn’t have wifi in our room! We knew about the no TV or phones (staff there communicated via walkie-talkie), but no wifi? That’s crazy! (I was also out of cell phone range, so that was no help.)

Fortunately, we found that there was wifi at the main lodge. Not as convenient, but enough to feed the addiction. :-)

Our room at Lake Crescent featured cool-looking wood furniture, but was overall more barren than at Copper Creek. They were very environmentally focused: It was the first hotel room I’d ever seen with a compost along with a recycle bin. Possibly related, the shower water temperature was somewhat… Uneven. But it was otherwise a comfortable place to stay.

And the food at their restaurants, my friends… That was good stuff!

Meals there admittedly tended to be more than $90 for dinner, but it was a more gourmet approach than Copper Creek, as per this fancy plate presentation:

Wow! Heirloom Tomato Salad!

Heirloom tomatoes with sorbet, arugula, and toasts

And the items generally tasted as good as they looked. Particular standouts were their roasted Brussel sprouts and boar bacon appetizer, the crab Hollandaise breakfast (Jean had that), the pictured Heirloom tomato appetizer, and the seared scallops with lemon foam:

Scallops ... fresh!

We ate all our meals at that restaurant, while in the park.

In Seattle itself we stayed at The Maxwell Hotel, a very modern-looking place with a bright colour scheme. Our room was quite spacious and had all the amenities one could want, including open wifi (though that was a little flaky at times).

Queen room at Maxwell Hotel

A room at the Maxwell. Not *our* room, but gives you the idea.

They also had pretty friendly staff, offered free cupcakes daily (tiny but good), and the food at the bar restaurant was considerably better than we’d expected it to be.

But that was the only meal we ate there. We were in Seattle! Too many other options to explore.

  • Breakfast daily was at a cafe three blocks down, that the hotel staff recommended. I don’t seem to have noted its name, but it was very good, offering a lot of crepes.
  • Local 360 had a menu focused on ingredients from within 100 miles (or something like that). It was also the first restaurant I’d been to that wouldn’t seat us until the other two members of our party arrived, Hmm. And, the print on its menu was too small for me to read by candlelight. Grumble.
    But on the plus side, food was good—weirdly, I started with a cheese plate while Jean had salad—and the waiter was very helpful with wine suggestions (given I couldn’t read the menu myself!).
  • Black Bottle was an excellent tapas restaurant. The highlight were the clams in garlic sauce, rivaling those we’d had in Spain, but no complaints about any dishes, which included deep-fired olives, raw oysters, and lemon tart on a lavender crust. On arrival, we feared the place would be too noisy, but they sat us in back where the volume was quite reasonable.
  • The Chihuly Museum had a good restaurant in it, the Collection Cafe, which was quite convenient for lunch on our “running around to museums” day in Seattle. With museum entry, you got a free small appetizer or dessert with your meal.
  • La Vita e Bella was a very enjoyable Italian restaurant, with generous serving sizes and very well-prepared food, Jean had a rigatoni with chanterelle mushrooms in white wine sauce, which was very delicious. I couldn’t resist having fish again, so went with their fresh halibut special.
  • Cafe Presse, in the Capitol Hill area, effectively revived memories of our trips to France with its menu of rillettes, fromage, and olives marinés. (Our French pronunciation on ordering threw the waiter off a bit, though! Menu items really were in French, but with English descriptions.) We ordered only appetizers, but still ended up with too much food. All good, though. And French wine.

Making several of these meals more special was that we had another couple joining us! (And we even got a delicious, home-cooked brunch out of the deal.)

E. and I were matched as “pen pals” (remember those?) many years ago, when we were both around 13, via some teen magazine. I had quite a few pen pals back in those pre-email / Facebook days, and some of those correspondences endured for years. But only this one has endured to this day.

This was the first time we’d spent any amount of time together “in person”, filling in those details of real life that you’re never going to write each other about. And, it was the first opportunity to get to know E.’s husband in his own words, not hers. It was great. Jean commented after the first meeting how comfortable it all was. By the end of the trip, he was musing that spending time with them might have been his favorite activity of all.

There is magic in long-distance friendships.


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Ode to Verses

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got

Takin’ a break from all your worries sure would help a lot

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

For Norm Peters, that place was Boston bar Cheers. For Jean and me, it was Verses Restaurant.

Now, a white-linen, four-diamond restaurant likely seems a curious place to name as somewhere so comfortable, you can forget all your worries and just revel in the companionship. Yet, that’s how it was, The waiters may have been in suits, but they were never stuffy. The menu may have contained items you’d never heard of, but they were always delighted to explain it to you. And they had a remarkable ability to remember you, and your name.

But after 11 years in business, Verses is closing its doors as of September 27.

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The news was a shock. This was our place. Our New Year’s Eve destination. The one spot my parents always want to go when they visit. The place where we catch up with friends. Where we have Christmas parties, celebrate anniversaries, partake in multi-course and surprise dining experiments.

We went in for one last dinner. Waiter Ken joked about people’s reaction: “People keep saying, ‘Where will I go now?’ Excuse me if I can’t sympathize too much, given that I just lost my job!” Hmm, good point.

But last two weeks or not, the food and service quality was impeccable as always.

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What wasn’t quite so usual were the many conversations about what other restaurants the various staff might be ending up at, the promise that we would be emailed everyone’s final destinations, and the round of hugs for everyone at the end—along with some bonus chocolate mint truffles.

The fact is, there aren’t any other restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo that offer the same level of creative, high-quality cuisine as Verses.

But it isn’t the food I’m going to miss the most.

Gallery of Verses photos through the years

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