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


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Tapas at Haisai

Haisai, in the small town of Singhampton, is an unusual-looking restaurant.

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When we drove up to it on Sunday, we weren’t even sure it was open. But the young guitarist outside confirmed that it was. And the fact that there was a young guitarist outside–in jeans, with a beard, and electric guitar–tells you something about the place as well.

Haisai has a strong focus on sustainable and natural food. You are given tap water there, not offered bottled. Both house wines are Ontario. Most of the ingredients are from the owner’s farm. I don’t know if it actually has an organic designation, but it’s certainly no factory farm, but just a small operation with pigs, chickens, vegetables, and fruit.

And, that owner / farmer also happens to be a world-reknowned chef, Michael Stadtlander. He’s no longer the chef at Haisai, however, but he does the guide the menu, which offers tapas-size dishes along with stone-oven pizza.

We went for four of the tapas plates: French bean salad with speck and mustard dressing, speck and Cheddar pierogi, vegetarian gyoza (dumplings), and roast pork on peach ravioli. (As you see, there is a lot “speck” on the menu. That is a delicious long-smoked pork.)

Not having been prepared by Michael Stadtlander, not everything tasted like a miracle in your mouth. But it was all very good, and the offerings were creative. And, not having been prepared by Michael Stadtlander, each dish was only $6 to $9. (The whole meal, with a glass of wine each, and dessert each, came to $75.)

Singhampton, Ontario, Canada
Yet another picture of me in front of food

Speaking of desserts, Jean declared that my trio of ice creams was some of the best ice cream he’d ever had. I felt much the same. (I can’t remember all the flavors–lavendar, peach, another…?) His apple crumble with maple cream was perfectly acceptable too, though.

Haisai. It’s worth the drive to Singhampton.


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A midsummer night’s dream

The original idea was to see King Lear. But instead we were drawn to the controversial Stratford production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Would we hate it–like the Toronto Star critic did? Or would we love it–like the Globe and Mail critic did?

Either way, it would certainly be cheerier than King Lear. (Which we may still see, in the fall. Although Stratford plays aren’t exactly cheap, are they?)

This production of Midsummer’s Night begins with a same-sex, mixed-race wedding, then presents the familiar Shakespeare play with the premise that Lysander is a woman, and hence not the suitor Hermia’s father prefers. I thought this was a rather effective retelling in our time, and interestingly, it was one thing that both Star and Globe critics appreciated as well.

It’s everything else that also gets thrown into this version of the play that the critics didn’t agree on. For example, that isn’t the only gender switching that goes on: most notable of the others is that the Fairy Queen is played by a gent, and a hairy one at that. And the play seems to be set (somewhat) in modern times, featuring modern pop music (most effectively, “Bizarre Love Triangle”) and a scene where the characters gather around a cell phone to look up the phases of the moon (though the answer is ultimately found in a paper almanac). And there is a whole lot of slapstick, physical humor: cake fights, slipping into water, almost-sex in a tent.

It’s certainly a memorable version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And a funny one–especially the second half. I don’t know that I loved it quite as much as the Globe critic, but I most certainly didn’t hate it as much the Star one. Though if I have to pick between love it or hate it, as they say, then I’m going with love.

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Avocado for dessert

Wish I’d thought of it, but thought I could at least share it…

This dessert was quick, easy, and (for a dessert) pretty healthy…

  1. Alternate slices of pear and avocado on a plate (about ½ each per person).
  2. If you have them, add some sliced strawberry on the edges. (We can still get local strawberries.)
    I think blueberries sprinkled on would be nice as an alternative.
  3. Sprinkle each plate with about 1 Tbsp of blue cheese.
  4. Pour a little port over each plate.
  5. Grind on a bit of black pepper.
Avocado pear strawberry dessert

I didn’t stack the avocado and pear like this, but gives you the idea…

Sounds weird, but it was really quite delicious all together.

(Though keep in mind that I like all of those ingredients on their own as well. If you don’t… Your mileage on the taste front could vary.)


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Things we did in Toronto when not at a rock concert

Queen + Adam Lambert capped off our Toronto weekend, but before that, we….

1. Learned about sake

The Distillery District was our first destination (after checking into the hotel), where I happily shopped while Jean felt uncomfortable due to the crowds. (For a people person, he can be surprisingly squeamish about people.)

But we both enjoyed the one-hour sake tasting and tour we signed up for, at Ontario Spring Water Sake.

We had much to learn. I wasn’t even sure I remembered that it was made from rice, let alone what the other three ingredients were—one of which is Ontario water, though not from Toronto! And bacteria also plays an important role in the production, and since bacterial mix is always changing, so no two sake batches are ever quite the same.

We learned about the types of sake, notably pasteurized and unpasteurized, and “first press”, and about sake etiquette and its place in Japanese life. We were even treated to a beat boxing session at the end, as our guide does that on the side. He was very good!

We got to taste five samples, all notably different from one another for all being sake by the same company. Jean and I agree on our two favorites and bought a bottle of each.

2. Walked. A lot!

We were car-less in Toronto. We took the bus in, which itself involved a walk from our chosen parking lot to the Kitchener bus station. But except for some rain Sunday morning, it was nice weekend, so we just walked wherever we wanted to go rather than take transit. Jean figures we got in about 30 K in two days.

Roy Thompson Hall

Roy Thompson Hall (I think)

Buildings in Toronto

Things will be great when you’re downtown

Mall interior, Toronto

The malls are quiet at night

3. Visited the AGO

We spent a few hours there. We didn’t see the feature exhibit, on Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, but did see “Fan the Flames: Queer Positions in Photography.” That was installed, I assume, in coordination with the recent World Pride. It was an interesting collection, with combinations of video, collage collections, commercial photography, and work by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe.

We also saw most of the “Art as Therapy”, where they gathered various pieces of the permanent collection under themes such as love, money, and politics. That made for some interesting juxtapositions as well.

4. Ate out

We had no bad meals in Toronto, but none were particularly spectacular, either. We decided to try Blowfish Sushi and Sake Bar based on a list that rated it the best sushi restaurant in downtown Toronto. While it was good, we didn’t agree that it was better than Ki, the supposed second-best one. But they did have some creativity in combinations and presentations.

Sushi platter

The truffle oil on these was nice. The garlic chip looked cool, but didn’t cohere as a taste. Better on its own…

Foamy sushi dish

Foamy!

Though we went here after the sake tasting, it was actually no help in picking one from the menu. (Not like they had any from Ontario Spring Water Sake company.) Fortunately the waitress was able to guide us toward one we enjoyed.

Breakfast, though very fine, is just breakfast, and was mainly notable for our managing to get a table just before the lineup for a table started, a feat we had also achieved on Saturday at Balzac’s coffee shop in The Distillery District.

Lunch was at Bangkok Garden, which was featuring a $15 three-course Summerlicious menu. It was very tasty, and a good deal, but mainly about the company, as we met up with my sister and brother-in-law there.

Dinner was another Summerlicious event, at Toula’s on Harbourfront, selected largely for being near the Air Canada Centre. It is a very cool room, though, on the 23rd floor, with windows all around.

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It’s an Italian place, and we liked the food. Jean had lobster ravioli as his main; I had gnocchi in tomato sauce. The service was also quite friendly and professional. But the room itself was the highlight.

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Enver’s of Morriston

Morriston is a tiny town about 40 minutes west of KW. Enver’s is a fine dining restaurant that, inexplicably, is located in this town. I’ve been curious to try it for, oh, 20 years—but it’s just hard to find a reason to drive to Morriston for dinner.

Finally, though, last Friday, another couple invited us to a wine tasting dinner there.

The food was matched with these Tandem wines, none of which are available from the LCBO:

  • Coal Pit Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  • Coal Pit Pinot Noir 2011
  • Teusmer GMS “Joshua” 2012

These were all were quite nice. The Sauvignon was very complex and lovely; the Pinot was fruity but not excessively slow—still had tannins; the GMS was big but sophisticated.

Unfortunately, the wine seems to have clouded my recall for how the food was, exactly.

Truly, it’s a bit sad how tipsy I feel from a mere three glasses of wine over about three hours. And what’s with the waking up all sweaty about 4:00 in the morning after? Is that some “old lady” thing I have now?

I do have the menu, so I do know exactly what we had. There is some photographic evidence as well, though the photos didn’t turn out as well as usual. And I definitely enjoyed the company; it was a fun night.

But the food? Hmm…

Well, the amuse was definitely nice: “Maple hot smoked wild spring salmon on buckwheat blini with crème fraiche, rhubarb “caviar” and chive flowers.” A bit hard to eat, standing, but very tasty.

And the appetizer featured spot prawns, from BC, which apparently are quite the delicacy, and only available for a short time of the year. Those were served with avocado frozen yogurt, grapefruit, passionfruit coulis, and shaved asparagus salad.

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Unfortunately, travel doesn’t seem to suit spot prawns, and they were just not as tasty as good prawns can be. All the sides were good, though.

Then, the menu informs me, we had porchetta with baked romano beans on rye toast and beets. Very homey. And I think everything tasted.. fine? [Lamest blog post ever!]

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And after that came, says menu, saddle of lamb on braised lamb and mint ravioli with porcini mushrooms and currants. As for taste and texture, I got nothing. But Jean said the ravioli, while not bad, was not as good as he was hoping. The lamb looks nice in the picture, though:

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Dessert, wine-less and photo-less, I do recall being rather light and pleasant. (Will say that with the number of courses, they did a good job of making sure the serving sizes were reasonable.) It was a rhubarb tart with citrus curd. Refreshing!

But overall, that was a most unsatisfactory review. We’re just going to have to go again. (And I’m just going to have to stick to two glasses of wine.)


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Movie review: Fed Up

*** Fed Up (May 2014) – Theatre

Fed Up posterDocumentary about the obesity epidemic, linking it to changes in the food industry, particularly increased use of sugar.

He says: That was depressing.

She says: Fed Up gives the stats on the increasing obesity rates, particularly among children, and includes interviews with several such young people and teenagers. You can’t help but feel for how miserable their weight makes them, and how tough is it to lose.

Various experts than give their views that just saying “kids need to exercise more” is misguided, because the amount of calories burnt during exercise is so limited. (This is further bolstered by showing that one of the obese teens profiled is very active, every day, yet can’t seem to get the weight off.) Instead, they point to the changes in the food industry in the past 40 years, and how these track with increasing rates of obesity in America—and increasingly, around the world. This has had terrible and unprecedented effects on health, such as teenagers developing Type 2 diabetes.

The problematic changes include greatly increased amounts of sugar, greater use of cheese, and making conveniences food available everywhere—like at the checkout counters of stores that sell other things. Several examples are shown of governments trying to make changes to the food supply to make it healthier, and the food industry resisting them. This started with the McGovern Report in 1977 and continues to this day with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign which started as a call to action to change the actual food supply, but now seems to be more about getting kids to exercise. (Ms. Obama refused to be interviewed for the documentary.)

It’s an interesting movie, and a compelling argument. It ends with some tips for what you can do while waiting for a better world :-), but I got to say, until that happens, it really is difficult.

For instance. In talking about the problem with sugar, the movie emphasizes that it’s not naturally occurring sugar in fruit, for example, that’s a problem. It’s added sugar. The movie also points out that in ingredient lists, sugar can be listed under many different names (corn syrup, malodrexin, sucrose, fructose, etc. — it was a huge list).

But what the movie doesn’t cover is that nutrition labels don’t distinguish naturally occurring and and added sugar. They just say Sugar. (This is the same in the US and Canada.) So if you look at a nutrition label on frozen peas, for example—just peas, now, no added anything—it says Sugar: 4g.

Well OK, you know it’s only peas, so you won’t worry about that “sugar”. But what if you buy a frozen dinner or something else with multiple ingredients? How much of that is naturally occurring and how much added on? Unless you understand absolutely every item in the ingredients list and can confidently recognize it all as real food, you have no way to know.

Michelle Obama proposed changing nutrition labels to spell out the two types of sugar – video link: http://fw.to/KXR6e3W

The food industry is “considering” it. They say it would be expensive, and change would not be possible for several years.


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Dinner and a concert: Times three

As previously mentioned, May was a big concert month for us. Unusually for us, we went out to eat before three of these outings.

1. Food trucks and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are a band who play retro, swinging jazz music. Before their concert at Centre in the Square, the Waterloo Hep Cat Hoppers were offering a dance lesson in the lobby. We wanted to take part in that, but it was at 6:30 pm on a work night, which seemed a bit tight.

So when Centre in the Square announced they’d have a couple food trucks there that night starting at 6:00, that seemed like a good option.

Seemed. But while food trucks are a whole big thing right now, they have a few problems.

  1. Weather. At least the rain held off until we’d gotten our food and eaten it, but it was windy and cool, making it less than fabulous for eating outdoors.
  2. Eating standing up. I’m a big fan of working standing up, but eating a meal is best enjoyed sitting down. Using metal and not plastic cutlery.
  3. Standing in line. Just not my favorite activity. Made worst by the fact that while we were there promptly at 6:00, the trucks were not really ready until 6:15, allowing other people to get ahead of us in line, and making us a bit late for the dance lesson.

As for food quality… Meh… Jean didn’t particularly enjoy his Tandoori grilled cheese. I thought my Mediterranean crepe wasn’t bad, but not really worth braving weather / eating standing up / standing in line for again, unless I was stuck.

The dance lesson, though, was fine. What we were taught was very similar to the jive that Jean and I know well, only instead of backstep / step / step (or triple step), it was back-step / kick / kick. It was really hard to remember to do the kick / kick when we were so used to the step / step. Occasionally we just rebelled and reverted to jive dancing. But a good time.

Hep Cat Hoppers performance on YouTube

As for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performance, that was hard not to enjoy also, as the music is so lively and fun. I hadn’t known that the band, the same group of people, had been together since 1995. Jean wasn’t in the greatest mood that night (and I’m sure the grilled cheese didn’t help), but he could still recognize that they gave a really good show. (Should point out that this concert was his idea for a change, rather than mine.)

Video: Mr. Pinstripe Suit by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

2. Three Kretans and Ballroom with a Twist

Three Kretans is a Greek restaurant very close to Centre in the Square. For the past year or two, Centre in the Square’s parking lot has been under construction, making it a challenge to find a spot to leave your car before shows. So Three Kretans has come up with a pretty smart offer: Have dinner there, leave your car in their parking lot (for free), and walk to theatre. They have a pre-theatre menu that gets you to the show on time. With the ballroom concert at 7:00 on a week night, we decided to go that right.

The food isn’t bad. It is a casual Greek restaurnt, so you get your lamb, chicken, or pork skewers with potatoes and rice and Greek salad. And baklava-type dessert, if you want.

But Jean was underwhelmed. “I get better food than this at home,” he pointed out. [Ah, the perils of being such a fantastic home cook! :-) ]

The show, fortunately was in no way disappointing. Music was all provided by the KW Symphony, and the evening was hosted by Kym Johnson and Tristan MacManus of Dancing with the Stars, and also featured other dancers that show. That fact probably would have been more exciting if I watched Dancing with the Stars. (By the way, everyone in our ballroom dance class thinks it’s highly peculiar that we don’t watch that show.) And there were a couple singers from American Idol, which, again, I don’t watch, so I didn’t know who they were. But while the woman certainly had a nice voice, I will admit to being particularly impressed by the dude, one Von Smith, who had most impressive range and control.

Mainly, though, this was about dancing. It featured group numbers, solos, duets, mostly in the Latin and ballroom genres (though in that showy TV style with all the lifts and whatnot), but the twist was the inclusion of some modern and hip hop dancing as well. This was largely due to the inclusion of a couple dancers I had heard of: Legacy and Randi Lynn Strong, from So You Think You Can Dance. Their numbers were definitely my favorites. Very cool how the So You Think… training allows them to join the ballroom dancers in that genre, but also shine in their own.

Ballroom with a Twist promo video

At one point, the hosts even got the audience up dancing! All very fun.

Afterward we got to attend a reception with the performers, though I continued my tradition of never knowing what to say when in these situations. Still, what we learned from other people’s question were:

  • This was their only Canadian performance.
  • They don’t always get to perform with a live symphony, but like it when they do
  • … except when the symphony can’t keep the beat. But apparently, that was not a problem with the KW Symphony.
Randi Lynn Strong at reception

Randi Lynn Strong at Centre in the Square reception

After taking a few crappy phone photos, we headed home.

3. Marisol and KW Symphony Superheroes

Jean pointed out that Marisol restaurant is also close to Centre in the Square, but offers better food than Three Kretans. So though I hadn’t planned to go out to eat again this month, as we hadn’t been there in a while, I made a reservation before the final month’s concert.

It was a very enjoyable dinner. As an appetizer, we shared six small but delicious raspberry point oysters (they actually gave us seven, probably due to the size) and marinated sardines, served with a salad. There’s no beating fresh sardines from Portugal, but marinating them proved a rather good choice for those of us farther from the sea. We were so excited about these, we forgot to get a picture until almost done:

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The remnants of our appetizers

As the wine, the waiter suggested a Portuguese Viognier-Sauvignon Blanc blend that was lemony and well-suited to the food.

I continued the seafood theme through dinner, having the fish of the day, which was sea bream. Served whole, it was really easy to fillet, and had been cooked very nicely. The side was a pasta made in-house, dressed simply with lemon, olive oil, and parsley.

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Jean went with the lemon-tomato gnocchi. The texture of the pasta was perfect, and the flavor was more subtle than one usually gets with gnocchi. Not a bad thing.

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For dessert, we share a creme caramel and forgot to take pictures, again.

We were in plenty of time to walk over for our concert, which the KW Symphony performing music from Superhero movies. This was conducted by John Morris Phillips, Cincinnati Pops conductor, who is always a lot of fun.

The only themes I knew in advance was Darth Vadar’s from Star Wars, but I found most quite engaging. The themes from Dark Knight, Supergirl, and X-Men were particularly striking. A lot were almost hilariously short, though; just the length of the opening credits, I guess! In some cases they put a few scores together to make a somewhat longer “theme” piece. Nothing that ever really taxed the attention span, though.

It was a great way to showcase the symphony’s skill, and it was nice to see a very full house in attendance.

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